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   Chapter 18 REPENTANCE. 18

May Brooke By Anna Hanson Dorsey Characters: 27005

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:03


May was sitting in her neat little parlor, knitting and singing, when there came a curt, sharp rap on the door.

"Come in," she said, looking up; and Mr. Fielding walked in, heated and flurried. "I am very glad to see you, sir. Give me your hat, and let me fetch you a drink of cool water."

"No, ma'am; I am not in a sufficiently pleasant mood with you to accept your hospitalities. I came on legal business," he said, pursing up his mouth, and looking around.

"I am sorry that you are offended with me, sir. What shall I do to obtain your forgiveness?" replied May, with a grave smile.

"Do? What shall you do?" he said, mimicking her. "Do as you always do, and that is just what suits you, ma'am."

"No; I'll do better. I will beg your pardon, and tell you that I am really sorry to have grieved so kind a friend. And begging pardons don't suit me, Mr. Fielding, for you must know I am very proud."

"No doubt of it. You look proud here-living like a Parisian grisette in a garret, and delving from morning until night for your daily bread," he said, testily.

"Dear sir, I do not think I am like a grisette, and this is not a garret. Look around, and see if I am not very nice here. What can be purer and cleaner than this matting, which still smells of the sweet groves of Ceylon. See my chairs and sofa-did you ever see such incomparable chintz? the white ground covered with roses and blue-bells! Here are my books, there my flowers, and this-you know this, do you not?" said May, leading him up to her little oratory.

"No; I only know that the commandments order us not to worship graven images," he said, gruffly.

"You only say that, sir, for I am well assured that you believe no such monstrous thing. Oh no! no more than we worship the stars, which, in their sparkling beauty, lead our thoughts to God. In these sacred delineations we are reminded of our great examples, Jesus and Mary; they tell us better than books can do-better than our unfaithful hearts can, whenever our eyes rest on them, that for us the Divine Son and Immaculate Mother assumed the sin-offering of the world. These white hyacinths and violets are emblems of her purity and humility; and carved crucifix, the image of incarnate patience and undying love. Oh, dear Mr. Fielding, I should be worse than a pagan, if I did not keep these memorials of Jesus and Mary ever before me; if I did not let a shadow of my poor love for their infinite clemency and love express itself in veneration for those images which remind me continually of them."

"I didn't come here to talk polemics," said Mr. Fielding, turning away abruptly, and sitting down.

"And will you please, most grave sir, to open the business which has procured me the honor of this visit?" said May, seating herself primly in a chair opposite to him, and folding her little hands together with an air of dignity. Mr. Fielding coughed, to hide a laugh.

"Where is Dr. Burrell?" he inquired.

"Attending to his patients, I presume," she replied, while her face flushed up.

"So. When did your ladyship see him last?"

"I am not aware that it concerns you especially to know," she said, confused.

"Yes it does. I have a right to know every thing about you per fas et nefas. Any one who will burn up a will, which would have secured to her a half million in funds and real estate, or, in case she did not burn the will, won't consent to set one aside, which the testator declared on his death-bed was null and void; who refused to come and keep house for a childless old man, who would have treated her in every respect as an honored guest; who flew off like a fussy little wren, when her affluent cousin offered to provide for her; and who, last of all, rejects one of nature's noblemen-the best match in the city-the deuce knows for what; I consider non compos mentis, and quite unable to take care of herself."

May's countenance was a study while Mr. Fielding poured out this vial of wrath on her head. Smiles, and tears, and blushes flitted in bright tides over it, making it very radiant and beautiful; but when he summed up the evidence, and the true cause of his ire burst on her, she laughed outright, with such a clear, merry peal, that Mr. Fielding was obliged to yield to its influence.

"You are an incorrigible little wretch, May! But tell me, soberly, why you rejected Dr. Burrell?"

"Simply, sir, because I have not the remotest idea of marrying; and if I had, I do not think I should find those sympathies, affinities, and qualities in Dr. Burrell which would secure my happiness."

"Whew! whew!" exclaimed Mr. Fielding, waving his hat around his head; "Ne quid nimis!"

"Don't abuse me, sir, in an unknown tongue," said May, seriously.

"Child, do you expect to find so much excellence in one character on earth, as you desire?" said the old lawyer, putting his hat down.

"I fear not, sir: but until I do, I shall remain single."

"Well, you deserve to. If any one ever deserved the fate of an old maid, you do. But I want you to understand one thing. I have not given up my point about that will. According to your express commands, I have made no movement in the affair, but nem. con. I shall present the case at the present term of the Orphan's Court as a fraud. I have waited long enough for your prayers and novenas, or whatever it is you call them. It is very clear to me that the powers on high do not intend to trouble themselves about courts and questions of equity, and all that."

"You won't dare to do so yet, sir. I shall protest against it so far as I am concerned. I have faith in prayer, and shall wait," exclaimed May. "It is because every thing is draped in materialism that we do not receive more aid from the heavenly powers."

The door opened suddenly, and Walter Jerrold came in, looking pale and haggard. He grasped May's hand, and bowed to Mr. Fielding, who, muttering and angry, made his exit.

"What is the matter, Mr. Jerrold?" inquired May, kindly.

"Helen seems ill, and I have brought the carriage for you, May. She asks continually for you, and fears you will not come."

"I will go with you instantly," she said, and ran into her dressing closet to put on her hat and scarf. "What ails Helen?"

"That is more than I can tell you. She has feverish nights, and is silent and depressed. We made up a party last week to go to the cathedral, during the 'Mission,' to hear a celebrated preacher. Helen went very unwillingly, and since then she has been moping and starting, and altogether in a strange mood, for one who ought to be happy," replied Mr. Jerrold, with a gloomy air. By this time they had got down stairs, and May was seated in the splendid carriage, on her way to Upperton-square.

"Poor Helen! I hope it may be in my power to save her. What does her physician say?"

"That is the most singular part of the thing. She positively refuses to see one. Indeed, May, to be frank with you, I fear there is something dreadful preying on Helen's mind. She sees no company; and although she had prepared to go to Newport with my mother, she declined going: in fact, it's all a mist, and I am puzzled to death to find out the end of it."

"Mr. Jerrold," said straightforward May, "these are all the signs of a troubled conscience. Did you know that Helen was once a Catholic, and in virtually abandoning her religion, she is only suffering the pangs of a soul which cannot be at rest in its apostasy?"

"Do you really believe this, May?" he asked, eagerly.

"I really do. Religion is a vital principle. It cannot be torn from the soul without inflicting the most incurable wounds," she replied, while her eyes filled up with tears; "and these wounds give birth to an anguish, which is the prelude of eternal woe!"

"Why did she do it, May? I did not require it. It is true I was better pleased to have her a Protestant, but I thought she was exercising her own free will in the matter. Do you know it would grieve me sincerely if I thought I had influenced her? It would not a month ago, but now-hang it all!" said Mr. Jerrold, taking off his hat, and running his fingers through his hair.

"And why now, and not then?" inquired May, with interest.

"Why, you see, May, I was so delighted with the eloquence of the preacher the night we went to the 'Mission,' that I stepped in several times afterwards, and was considerably enlightened on some points; in fact, a great deal of prejudice and ignorance were removed by the clear, close, cogent arguments I heard. It would be a terrible thing, May-a devilish thing, to be guilty of soul-murder!"

"Terrible indeed. I cannot believe now that you would on any account oppose Helen in the practice of her faith?"

"No, unless it makes her gloomy and moping. But here we are, do you run up to her room. I will drive down to the post-office, and be back in a quarter of an hour," said Mr. Jerrold, handing May out, and opening the hall-door for her.

May ran through the gorgeous hall, and up the marble staircase, with its statues and vases; but so intent was she on her errand of charity that she noticed nothing of the rich splendors around her. She encountered Elise at the head of the staircase.

"Où alles-vous, mademoiselle?" she said, with an elegant courtesy.

"I am Mrs. Jerrold's cousin, and have come to see her. Show me her room," said May, with an air of dignity.

"Je vous demande pardon. Madame Jerrold est un peu indisposée. Entrez!" said Elise, throwing open Helen's door, without however, making the least noise. And there, amidst her almost oriental luxuries, she reclined; her heaped-up silken cushions-her ormolu tables-her Eastern vases, filled with spices and rose-leaves, until the air was heavy with fragrance-her rich and grotesque furniture-her rose-colored draperies, through which the light flowed in softly and radiantly-her jewels-her costly attire; amidst it all she reclined-faded, conscience-stricken, and trembling. There was a wild, feverish light in her eyes, and her white lips quivered incessantly.

"Helen-dear Helen!" said May, holding out her hands.

"'If you are sick, or sorrowful, or repentant, send for me.' You said this to me some time ago, May. The promise is claimed," she said, feebly.

"And I am here, dear Helen. How can I aid you?"

"First go and close that door. I have a most inconveniently zealous French waiting-maid, who pretends not to understand English, that she may gather as much information about one's private affairs as possible."

"I encountered her on the stairs," said May, closing the door carefully.

"Now, lay off your things, little woman. Sit here where I can see you, and tell me if you are not dazzled by all this splendor, and if you do not think I ought to be the happiest woman on earth?"

"No, dear Helen; it is very rich and beautiful, but it does not dazzle me. And so far from thinking you ought to be the happiest woman on earth, I think you ought to be the most miserable, until contrition and repentance lead you back, humble and weeping, to the sacraments you have deserted," said May, bravely.

"Just the same ridiculous little thing!" said Helen, with a faint smile. "But, May, suppose even that I felt those dispositions, do you know what it would cost me to practice them?"

"A few worldly pleasures, perhaps, which are so fleeting that they are not worth a thought-a few vain triumphs, full of envy-heart-burnings and aspirations, which, while they waste the energies of an immortal soul, rise no higher than your head, and fall like black, misshapen lava at your feet."

"Think you this is all, May Brooke? If it were, I could fling them from me as I do these leaves," said Helen, tearing to pieces a rich japonica, which she snatched from a vase near her, and scattering the soft, pure petals around her. "No, May, these would be trifles. I should have to tear up my heart with a burning ploughshare-put it under foot to be spurned and crushed! The storm it would raise would rage so wildly that I should become like a piece of drift-wood, at the mercy of wind and waves."

"If your eternal interests are at stake, let the burning ploughshare go over it, Helen, for it is better to suffer here than where the fire of wrath is everlasting; but, indeed, dear Helen, all this sounds exaggerated and impassioned to me! These obstacles which you dread must be temptations to deter you from the holiest duties. If you anticipate any difficulties from Mr. Jerrold's opposition, make your heart easy. He is quite miserable about you, and declares that he has not the least objection to you practising your Faith."

"Did he say that, May?"

"He did, indeed. I suggested that your happiness might be involved in these momentous questions, when he expressed not only his willingness, but his anxiety for you to do whatever your conscience demanded."

"Oh, May! Oh, little woman! simple-good soul!" cried Helen, bursting into tears. "I cannot tell you all. You do not understand. There is a terrible mystery, which, like an incubus, is brooding day and night in my soul, and drives back all good angels who would enter. I am its slave, May."

"What is it, Helen?" asked May, while the color faded from her cheeks, and she looked with mingled sorrow and dread on the miserable one.

"Hush! there is Walter's footsteps!" she exclaimed, starting. "Oh, May, I could not bear to lose my husband's affection-to be spurned by him."

"How are you now, Helle? Better, I

hope, now that May is with you?" said her husband, coming in. "And ready to pardon me for my insensibility to your happiness?"

"Oh, Walter!" said Helen, covering her face with her hands.

"I had hoped that these clouds would all be dispelled by the time I returned home. May and I were talking about you as we came along, and if she had not succeeded in making you believe that I wish you to be happy your own way, let this be a gage between us," said Mr. Jerrold, unfolding a small parcel he held in his hand, and handing her a Catholic prayer-book. It was bound in ivory, with an exquisite miniature painting of "Ecce Homo" on one back and "Mater Dolorosa" on the other. The paintings were covered with crystals, and set with a rim of gold and pearls. The edges and clasps were of the same exquisite finish. "If you will only promise to be happy, dear Helen, I will buy a pew in the cathedral for you, and escort you thither whenever you wish to go."

"Dear Walter, why bring me so costly a gift?" said Helen, looking at the sorrowful and sacred faces on the covers of the book, with a shudder. "Indeed, I am not worthy of such tender and restless affection."

"Look up, Helen-look up, my love! I am prouder of you this day than any king could be of his crown, but if religion is going to make you abject and tame, and mistrustful, I will have none of it," said the worldly man, in an impatient tone.

"Religion gives birth to nothing gloomy. Even in her penitential tears, there are rainbows," cried May, "She is the mother of all that is lovely, cheerful, amiable, and perfect. Even our tribulations must be borne with joy, because the divine hope which sanctifies them leads the soul up to God its Father."

"That seems right-it sounds right. I know positively nothing about it, and wish I did. If I could only get Helen out once more, I should be the happiest fellow on earth," said Mr. Jerrold, with a sad and puzzled expression on his fine face. "I suspected all along that perhaps some religious crank had got into Helle's head, from the circumstances of her allowing no picture but that Mater Dolorosa to come into her room. It was a queer fancy in one so devoted to paintings as she is. I have been wishing ever since she got it to buy a pendant for it. I found a splendid 'Niobe in Tears'-paid an exorbitant price for it-brought it home, thinking Helen would be charmed, but she banished it to the library. Then I purchased a 'Hecate'-a wonderfully beautiful thing, but that was also condemned, and sent into banishment. Was it not so Helen?"

"Dear Walter-dear May!" said Helen, lifting her white face up from the pillows, "the struggle is over. I must now, or never, yield to these impulses and warnings. Oh, Mother-oh, Mother!" she exclaimed, turning a look of agony towards the picture; "aid me in this mortal struggle! I can bear this no longer-this mystery and burden-this mantle of hypocrisy must be torn off, if it costs me your love, Walter, and my life! I must be free. I thought I was strong; I thought I could walk steadily along the way I have hewn out, but I have been haunted by a remorse which is inexorable, and that-that sacred, sorrowful face over which my sins forced so many bitter torrents. It has never left me day or night. In my revels and worldliness-in my dreams-in my solitude, it has followed me. I believe if my heart were opened, it would be found graven there," she gasped out.

"Oh, dear Helen, respond at once to that tender love which has so patiently pursued you. Remember that no one was ever lost who had recourse to her. She has placed herself between you and divine justice, by adopting-taking possession, as it were, of your heart; and uniting her dolors with those of her Divine Son, has given you no rest, until you seek it at the foot of the cross!" broke out May, with ardor. "Oh, Mother of Sorrows! pity this, thy poor child, who flies wounded and weeping to thy bosom."

Helen wept convulsively. A dark cloud had gathered on her husband's face. Her words had fallen like cold drops of lead into his heart. He knew not to what she alluded, and imagined strange and horrible things.

"Helen," he said, at last, "your words have a dark meaning! your language is strange for a wife, who has been so loved and trusted, to use!"

"There is the sting, Walter. I have been loved and trusted without deserving it; and what breaks down my proud nature most of all, is, to think that Heaven, who knows all my guilt, still bears with me," she said, while every feature worked with the agony this trial was causing her.

"You will set me mad, woman! Let me hear what this guilt is, of which you so often accuse yourself. By Heavens! all the wealth of India shall never cloak dishonor! I will tear it away, and throw it-with one who has dared to bring a stain on my name-off, as I would a soiled garment. Do you understand me?" he said, in a fury.

Helen started up, the red blood rushing in crimson tides to her cheeks and bosom, dyeing her arms down to the very tips of her fingers, at the imputation. "It is not that, Walter, thank God!" she said, in a firmer voice. "But there is no true repentance without restitution. In a few moments you shall know all my sin." She went into her dressing-closet; when she came back, she held a small package in her hand, which she laid on May's knee. "Take it, May-it is yours. I stole it from the closet the night Uncle Stillinghast was dying, while you slept."

"Helen, what is it?" said May, almost overcome, while she took the package up, and looked at it.

"It is the lost will, May, which it was supposed you had burnt. This is my guilt, Walter," she said, turning to her husband; "this is the barrier which has lifted itself, like a wall of lead, between my soul and heaven. Now spurn me, my husband-despise me, May; then, perhaps, loaded with disgrace, and forsaken and desolate, my Father in heaven may receive me once more."

"Base woman!" exclaimed her husband, turning from her.

"Sir," said May, grasping his hand; "Helen, whatever her faults may have been, is worthy of you now. As to the will, except certain bequests, legacies, and annuities to the poor, over which I have no control, I want none of it. Only promise to deal kindly with her in this her hour of genuine humility and repentance. But, see-she is falling."

"Unworthy, dishonorable Helen, how dare you wed me with this wicked act on your conscience?" said the outraged man, looking coldly down on the pale and prostrate form at his feet. "I will leave her with you, May."

"Where are you going, sir?" said May, kneeling down, and lifting

Helen's burning head to her breast.

"To destruction!" he replied, in a low, bitter tone.

"Do not dare leave us, sir," said May, in a commanding tone. "Help me to lift this penitent woman-so deserving now of your tender support-to the bed, and go for a physician and Father Fabian. Bring both immediately, for I believe a brain fever is coming on."

"Would that she had died before! Would that she had died ere my trust and love were so cruelly shaken!" he exclaimed wildly, as he raised her lifeless form from the floor, and laid it on the bed.

"Oh, Walter Jerrold! are you mad? To wish she had died without repentance-without proving that her nature, by rising through grace above the guilt of sin, is worthy of your highest esteem and love? Go, sir, unless you wish your servants to become acquainted with the whole affair, and to-morrow hear it recited at the corners of the streets by every newsboy in the city. I shall have to ring for assistance."

"Give me that will," he said, moodily.

"For what?"

"To place it in Mr. Fielding's hands, and tell him the disgraceful story, lest he afterwards think I have been an accessory to Helen's guilt," he replied.

"No, sir. It is entirely my affair, and I wish no interference. I will arrange it all myself, and be more tender of you and yours than you, in your savage mood, could be," replied May, holding the will firmly to her bosom.

When the physician came, he, after a careful examination, pronounced the case to be a violent attack of brain-fever. Helen was at times in a raving delirium; then she would lie for hours without sense or motion. Sometimes she implored in moving terms her husband's forgiveness; then, when the violence of the paroxysm was passing away, she would whisper, "Lead me, Mother! Lead me through this howling wilderness. Oh, save-save me! I am pursued. Hold me, my Mother-my sorrowful Mother!"

May could only follow implicitly the doctor's directions, and weep and pray. Father Fabian came-heard the story of her repentance, and desire to return to God; then returned to wrestle in earnest prayer at the altar that she-the penitent one-might be restored long enough to be purified and consoled by the Sacraments of the Church. For long weary days and nights her life was despaired of. Her husband, the shadow of his former self, never left her bedside. He had loved her well, with all his worldliness and pride. But now the crisis of the disease came on. Her life hung upon the most attenuated thread. The doctor gave them no hope of a favorable change.

It was past midnight. May, with Father Fabian, who had staid, hoping that a short interval of reason would occur before her agony came on-for they thought she was sinking-knelt, praying and imploring the mercy of heaven for her helpless soul. Mr. Jerrold, unmanned, and filled with bitter anguish, had gone out into the balcony, which overhung the garden, where, bowed down, he wept like a child.

A low moan escaped Helen's white lips, a quivering motion convulsed her limbs. Her long golden hair was thrown back in dishevelled curls from her marble face. She gasped for breath.

"Her agony is coming on!" whispered Father Fabian.

But suddenly there was a calm; the struggle ceased, and like one exhausted, she whispered, "Thanks, oh, my Mother!" and her large eyes, from which the film passed away, closed in a sweet and refreshing slumber.

"She will live," said Father Fabian; "but be silent-shade the light, and let in more air."

May wanted to kneel, and sing the glories of MARY; she would like to have declared to all the earth the power and tenderness of that Immaculate Heart, which pursues with importunity and tears those who fly from her Divine Son. Loving him, she cannot bear that those for whom he suffered should be recreant to their high destiny; but May could only commune with the unseen guardians of her soul, and through them declare her rapture, which ebbed and flowed in sweet numbers, like a life-tide through her soul.

Father Fabian followed Mr. Jerrold out on the balcony, and laying his hand on his shoulder, said, "Let us give thanks to God; your wife will live. Nay, sir, do not go in; the slightest agitation, before the equilibrium of nature is restored, might destroy her. Come with me into another room, and follow the advice which I shall give you, which is to lie down and sleep." Subdued and humble, the proud man was led like a child into another apartment, where, throwing himself on a lounge, exhausted with long and anxious watching, he fell into a profound sleep.

When Helen awoke the next day, she looked around her with a bewildered air-then gradually remembered all; and though a feeling of deep tribulation came over her, she felt a peace within herself that she had never known before. She breathed a prayer to JESUS and MARY for strength and patience in her desolation, for she thought that she was forsaken by all earthly love-but not friendship, because she saw May kneeling a little way off saying her rosary.

"A drop of water, dear May," she said.

May started as the clear, liquid tones of that voice, so long silent, fell upon her ear, and hastened to give her wine-and-water, which the doctor had ordered.

"How kind in you, May, to forgive me so entirely," she said, gently.

"Hush, dearest Helen! Do not speak. We are so anxious for your recovery, that we do not wish to hear the sound of your voice," said May, leaning over to kiss her forehead.

"We, May! Who?"

"We!" said May, pointing to Jerrold, who at that moment had entered the room, stepping so softly, that he was almost beside her before she saw him. Neither of them spoke; but after a long, earnest look into Helen's eyes, which were now lifted with a clear and unclouded, but humble expression to his, he stooped over and kissed her, while he murmured comforting words of forgiveness, and regret for his harshness.

"No more secrets, Walter," she said, in a calm, low voice.

"No, Helen. Together we will seek the Kingdom of Heaven-that kingdom of which I heard strange truths at the 'Mission.' We will be united from henceforth in soul, body, and estate."

"Come away now," said May, wiping away the fast falling tears; "she must not be agitated."

"And you, most determined little woman," said Mr. Jerrold, going away from the bedside, "have left me no rest. You have preached to me in actions of Faith, Hope, and Charity, ever since I first knew you. Doctrinal arguments I should have regarded as mere priestly sophisms if I had never known you-our good genius."

"Oh, Mr. Jerrold," said May, deeply wounded in her humility, "the grace of our powerful God needed no such poor instrument as I. His ways and designs are wonderful, and the operations of his divine mercy past all human comprehension. Give him the glory for evermore!"

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