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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe House Of Martha - Chapter 25. About Sylvia
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The House Of Martha - Chapter 25. About Sylvia Post by :JuvioSuccess Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :2817

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The House Of Martha - Chapter 25. About Sylvia


"Before I begin," continued my companion, slanting her hat so as to prevent the sun from meddling with the perfect tones of her complexion, "tell me what you already know about this young lady. I do not wish to waste any information."

"All I know," said I, "is that her family name is Raynor,--my grandmother told me that,--that she is absolutely, utterly, and even wickedly out of place in the House of Martha, and that I want her for my wife."

"Very good," said my companion, with a smile. "Now I know what not to tell you. I am very fond of Sylvia. In fact, I believe I love her better than any other woman in the world"--

"So do I," I interrupted.

She laughed. "For a lover in check you are entirely too ready to move. For years I have looked upon her as a younger sister, and there is no good thing which I would not have lavished upon her had I been able, but instead of that I did her an injury. At times I have thought it a terrible injury."

"You mean," I asked, "that you have allowed her to enter the House of Martha?"

"Your quickness is wonderful," she said, "but you do not put the case quite correctly. Had it been possible for me to prohibit her joining our sisterhood, I should have done so; but she was perfectly free to do as she pleased, and my advice against it was of no avail. It was my example which induced her to enter the House of Martha. She had had trouble. She wished to retire from the world, and devote herself to good works which should banish her trouble. I had so devoted myself. She loved me, and she followed me. I talked to her until I made her unhappy, and then I let her go her way. But the great object of my life for nearly a year has been to make that girl feel that her true way is out of the House of Martha."

"Then she is not bound by vows or promises?" I asked, with some excitement.

"Not in the least," said she. "She can leave us when she pleases. I do not think she likes her life or her duties, unless, indeed, they lead her in the direction of dictated literature; but she has a firm will, and, having joined us, has never shown the slightest sign of a desire to leave us. She always asserts that, when the proper time arrives, she shall vow herself a permanent member of our sisterhood."

"What preposterous absurdity!" I exclaimed. "She will never conform to your rules. She hates nursing. She has too much good sense to insult her fine womanly nature by degrading and unnecessary sacrifices."

"How delightfully confidential she must have been!--but I assure you, sir, that she never said that sort of thing to me. There were things she liked and things she did not like, but she showed no signs of rebellion."

"Which was wise," I said, "knowing that you thought she ought not to be there, any way."

"Oh, but she is a little serpent," exclaimed my companion, "and so wise to confide in you, and without flirting! It must have been charming to see."

I did not reply to this remark, which I considered flippant, and my mind was not inclined to flippancy.

"It may appear strange to you," she continued, "and would probably appear strange to any one who did not understand the case, that I should have allowed her to become your amanuensis, but this whole affair is a very peculiar one. In the first place, it is absolutely necessary that Sylvia should work. It is not only her duty as a sister, but without it she would fall into a morbid mental condition. She is not fitted in any way for the ordinary labors of our House, so I was glad to find something which would not only suit her, but would so interest her that it would help to draw her away from us, and back into the world, to which she rightfully belongs. This must appear an odd desire for a mother superior of a religious body, but it is founded on an earnest and conscientious regard for the true welfare of my young friend.

"And then there was another reason for my allowing her to come to you. You would smile if you could picture to yourself the mental image I had formed of you, which was founded entirely on your grandmother's remarks when she came to see me about engaging one of our sisters as your secretary. Before this matter was discussed I may have seen you in the village, but I never had known you even by sight, and from what that good lady said of you I supposed that you were decidedly middle-aged in feeling, if not in years; that you were extremely grave and studious, and wished, when engaged upon literary composition, to be entirely oblivious of your surroundings; and that you desired an amanuensis who should be simply a writing-machine,--who would in no way annoy you by intruding upon you any evidence that she possessed a personality. A sister from our House, your grandmother urged, would be the very person you needed, and infinitely better suited to the position than the somewhat frivolous young women who very often occupy positions as amanuenses.

"It was for these reasons that I sent Sylvia to write at the dictation of the sedate author of the forthcoming book on European travel. Even when I heard that a love-story had been introduced into the descriptions of countries, I concluded, after consideration, not to interfere. I did not think that it would be of any disadvantage to Sylvia if she should become a little interested in love affairs; but that you should become interested in a love affair, such as that you have mentioned to me, I did not imagine in the remotest degree."

"I am sure," said I, "that your motives as far as Sylvia was concerned, and your action as far as I am concerned, were heaven-born. And now, as we are speaking plainly here together, let me ask you if you do not think you would be fulfilling what you consider your duty to Sylvia by aiding me to make her my wife! There can surely be no better way for her to fill her proper place in the world than to marry a man who loves her with his whole heart. I know that I love her above all the world; I believe that I am worthy of her."

She answered me in a tone which was grave, but gentle. "Do you not know you are asking me to do something which is entirely impossible? In the first place, my official position precludes me from taking part in affairs of this nature; and although I am willing to admit that I see no reason why you might not be a suitable partner for Sylvia, I must also admit that, on the other hand, I have no reason to believe that Sylvia would be inclined to accept you as such a partner. I have no doubt that she has made herself very agreeable to you,--that is her nature; I know that she used to make herself very agreeable to people. You must remember that, even should Sylvia leave us, your chances may be no better than they are now."

"Madam," I said, leaning toward her, and speaking with great earnestness, "I will take all possible chances! What I ask and implore of you is, that if you should ever be able to do the least little thing which would give me the opportunity to plead my own suit before Sylvia, you would do it. I can give her position and fortune. I think I am suited to her, and if love can make me better suited, I have love enough. Now tell me, will you not do this thing? If you have the opportunity, and see no reason against it, will you not help me?"

"This is a hard position for me," she said, after a pause, "and all I can promise you is this: I love Sylvia, and I am going to do whatever I think will be of the greatest advantage to her."

"Then," I asserted with continued earnestness, "it shall be my labor to prove that to love the man who loves her as I do will be her greatest good! If I do that, will you be on my side?"

She smiled, looked at me a few moments, and then answered, "Yes."

"Your hand upon it!" I cried, leaning still farther forward. She laughed at the enthusiastic warmth of my manner, and gave me her hand.

"It is a promise!" I exclaimed, and was about to raise her fingers to my lips when she quickly drew them away.

"I declare," she said, rising as she spoke, "I did not suppose that you would forget that I am the Mother Superior of the House of Martha."

"Excuse me," I replied, "but you are not that; with your own mouth you have assured me that you are an Interpolation, and there is nothing in a social or moral law which forbids a suitable expression of gratitude to an Interpolation."

"Sir," said she, "I think I have seen quite as much as is necessary of the view which you asked me here to look upon."

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