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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe House Of Martha - Chapter 33. The Distant Topsail
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The House Of Martha - Chapter 33. The Distant Topsail Post by :Ndoki Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :931

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The House Of Martha - Chapter 33. The Distant Topsail


I found Walkirk still fishing near the place where I had left him.

"I was beginning to be surprised at your long absence," he said, "and was thinking of going to look for you. Have you had good luck?"

This was a hard question to answer. I smiled grimly. "I have not been fishing," I answered. "I have been dictating my story to my nun."

The rod dropped from the relaxed fingers of my under-study, and he stood blankly staring at me, and waiting for an explanation. I gave it.

Depressed as I was, I could not help feeling interested in the variety of expressions which passed over Walkirk's face, as I related what had happened since I had seen him. When I told him how near we were to our old camp on the Sand Lady's island, he was simply amazed; his astonishment, when he heard of the appearance of Sylvia on the scene, was almost overpowered by his amusement, as I related how she and I had continued the story of Tomaso and Lucilla, in the shade of the tree. But when I informed him of Sylvia's determination to devote her life to the work of the House of Martha, without regard to what I told her of my love, he was greatly moved, and I am sure sincerely grieved.

"This is too bad, too bad," he said. "I did not expect it."

"Miss Raynor is young," I answered, "but the strength and integrity of her soul are greater, and her devotion to what she believes her duty is stronger, than I supposed. Her character is marked by a simple sincerity and a noble dignity which I have never seen surpassed. I think that she positively dislikes the life of the sisterhood, but, having devoted herself to it, she will stand firmly by her resolutions and her promise no matter what happens. As regards myself, I do not suppose that her knowledge of my existence has any influence on her, one way or the other. I may have interested and amused her, but that is all. If I had finished the Italian love-story I had been telling her, I think she would have been satisfied never to see me again."

Walkirk shook his head. "I do not believe that," he said; "her determination to rivet the bonds which hold her to her sisterhood shows that she was afraid of her interest in you; and if it gave her reason to fear, it gives you reason to hope."

"Put that in the past tense, please," I replied; "whatever it may have given, it gives nothing now. To hope would be absurd."

"Mr. Vanderley," exclaimed Walkirk, "I would not give up in that way. I am certain, from what I know, that Miss Raynor's interest in you is plain not only to herself, but to her family and friends; and I tell you, sir, that sort of interest cannot be extinguished by promises and resolutions. If I were you, I would keep up the fight. She is not yet a vowed sister."

"Walkirk," said I, offering him my hand; "you are a good fellow, and, although I cannot believe what you say, I thank you for saying it."

It was now long past noon, and we were both ready for the luncheon which we had brought with us. Walkirk opened the basket, and as he arranged its contents on the broad napkin, which he spread upon the grass, he ruminated.

"I think," he remarked, as we were eating, "that I begin to understand the situation. At first I could not reconcile the facts with the Sand Lady's statement that no one lived on her island but her family, but now I see that this creek must make an island of her domain; and so it is that, although Captain Jabe is her neighbor, her statement is entirely correct."

Having finished our meal, I lighted my pipe and sat down under a tree, while Walkirk, with his rod, wandered away along the bank of the stream. After a while he returned, and proposed that we try fishing near the eastern outlet of the creek, where, as the tide was coming in, we might find better sport.

"That will be a very good thing for you to do," said I, "but I shall not fish. I am going to Mrs. Raynor's house."

"Where?" exclaimed Walkirk.

"I am going to speak to Mrs. Raynor," I answered, "whom I have known only as the Sand Lady, but whom I must now know as Sylvia's mother. I have determined to act boldly and openly in this matter. I have made suit to Mrs. Raynor's daughter. I have told other people of the state of my affections, and I think I should lose no time, having now the opportunity, in conferring with Mrs. Raynor herself."

Walkirk's face was troubled.

"You do not approve of that?" I asked.

"Since you ask me," he answered, "I must say that I do not think it a wise thing to do. If I properly understand Miss Raynor's character, her mother knows that you are here; and if she is willing to have you visit her, under the circumstances, she will make a sign. In fact, I now think that she will make some sort of sign, by which you can see how the land lies. Perhaps Mrs. Raynor is on your side; but I am afraid that if you should visit the house where Miss Raynor is, it would set her mother against you. I imagine she is a woman who would not like that sort of thing."

"Walkirk," said I, "your reasoning is very good; but this is not a time to reason,--it is a time to act; and I am going to see Mrs. Raynor this day."

"I hope it may all turn out well," he replied, and walked away gravely.

I did not start immediately for the Sand Lady's house. For a long time I sat and thought upon the subject of the approaching interview, planning and considering how I should plead my case, and what I should answer, and how I should overcome the difficulties which would probably be pointed out to me.

At last, like many another man when in a similar predicament, I concluded to let circumstances shape my plan of action, and set forth for Mrs. Raynor's house. The walk was a long one, but I turned in order to pass under the tree where I had begun to dictate to Sylvia; and glad I was that I did so, for to the twig on which I had hung the case containing her inkstand there was now attached a half sheet of note paper. I ran to the tree, eagerly seized the paper, and read these few words that were written on it:--

"Thank you very much for taking such good care of my little case."

"Now, then," said I to myself, proudly gazing at these lines, "this is only a small thing, but the girl who would write it, and who would expect me to read it, must be interested in me. She believes that I would not fail to come here again; therefore she believes in me. That is a great point."

For a moment I felt tempted to write something in reply, and hang it on the tree twig. But I refrained; what I would write to Sylvia must be read by no one but herself. That tree was in a very conspicuous position, and my tamest words to her must not hang upon it. I carefully folded the paper and put it in my pocket, and then, greatly encouraged, walked rapidly to the house.

On the front piazza I found an elderly woman, with a broom. She knew me, for she had frequently seen me during the time that I was encamped upon the island. She was now greatly surprised at my appearance on the scene.

"Why, sir," she exclaimed, without waiting for me to speak, "have you come back to your camp? It is too bad."

I did not like this salutation. But, making no answer to it, I asked quickly, "Can I see Mrs. Raynor?"

"No, indeed," said she; "they've gone, every one of them, and not an hour ago. What a pity they did not know you were here!"

"Gone!" I cried. "Where?"

"They've gone off in their yacht for a cruise," returned the woman. "The vessel has been at Brimley for more than a week, being repaired, and she got back this morning; and as she was all ready to sail, they just made up their minds that they'd go off in her, for one of their little voyages they are so fond of; and off they went, in less than two hours."

"How long do they expect to be gone?" I asked.

"Mrs. Raynor told me they would be away probably for a week or two," the woman answered, "and she would stop somewhere and telegraph to me when she was coming back. Of course there isn't any telegraph to this island, but when messages come to Brimley they send them over in a boat."

Having determined to speak to Mrs. Raynor, and having set out to do so, this undertaking appeared to me the most important thing in the world, and one in which I must press forward, without regard to obstacles of any kind.

"Are they going to any particular place?" I said. "Are they going to stop anywhere?"

"There is only one place that I know of," she answered, "and that's Sanpritchit, over on the mainland. They expect to stop there to get provisions for the cruise, for there was but little here that they could take with them. They wanted to get there before dark, and I don't doubt but that, with this wind, they'll do it. If you'll step to this end of the piazza, sir, perhaps you can see their topsail. I saw it just before you came, as they were beginning to make the long tack."

"Yes, there it is," she continued, when we reached the place referred to, from which a vast stretch of the bay could be seen, "but not so much of it as I saw just now."

"Their topsail!" I ejaculated.

"Yes, sir," she said. "You can't see their mainsail, because they are so far away, and it's behind the water, in a manner."

I stood silent for a few minutes, gazing at the little ship. Suddenly a thought struck me. "Do you think they will sail on Sunday?" I asked.

"No, sir," she replied; "Mrs. Raynor never sails on Sunday. And that's why I wondered, after they'd gone, why they'd started off on a Saturday. They will have to lay up at Sanpritchit all day to-morrow; and it seems to me it would have been a great deal pleasanter for them to stay here Sunday, and to have started on Monday. There's no church at Sanpritchit, or anything for them to do, so far as I know, unless Miss Raynor reads sermons to them, which she never did here, though she's a religious sister, which perhaps you didn't know, sir."

"Sanpritchit over Sunday," I repeated to myself.

"It's the greatest pity," said the woman, "that they didn't know you and the other gentleman--that is, if he is with you--were coming back to-day, for I am sure they would have been glad to take you with them. There's room enough on that yacht, and will be more; for Mr. Heming, the gentleman that collects shells, is not coming back with them. They are to put him off somewhere, and he is going home. I have an idea, though I wasn't told so, that Miss Raynor is not coming back with the rest. She brought very little baggage with her, but she took a lot of things on board the yacht, and that looks as if she wasn't coming back. But, bless me, they went off in such a hurry I didn't have time to ask questions."

I now turned to go, but the woman obliged me to inform her that I had not come to camp on the island, and that I was staying with Captain Jabe.

"When they go off in this way," she said, "they take the maids, and leave me and my husband in charge; and if you should fancy to come here and camp again, I know that Mrs. Raynor would wish me to make things as comfortable for you as I can, which, too, I'll be very glad to do."

I thanked her, and went away. "This good woman," said I to myself, "is the person who would have read my message to Sylvia, had I been foolish enough to hang one to the twig of the tree."

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