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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe House Of Martha - Chapter 37. The Performance Of My Under-Study
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The House Of Martha - Chapter 37. The Performance Of My Under-Study Post by :add2it Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :3192

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The House Of Martha - Chapter 37. The Performance Of My Under-Study


On the next day, when Walkirk came back, I received him coolly. To be sure, the time of his return was now of slight importance, but my manner showed him that on general principles I blamed his delay.

I did not care to hear his explanations, but proceeded at once to state the misfortunes which had befallen me. I told him in detail all that had happened since I left the floating grocery. I did not feel that it was at all necessary to do this, but there was a certain pleasure in talking of my mishaps and sorrows; I was so dreadfully tired of thinking of them.

As I told Walkirk of my interview with Mother Anastasia on the Maple Ridge road, he laughed aloud. He instantly checked himself and begged my pardon, but assured me that never had he heard of a man doing anything so entirely out of the common as to make an appointment with a Mother Superior to meet him under a tree. At first I resented his laugh, but I could not help seeing for myself that the situation, as he presented it, was certainly an odd one, and that a man with his mind free to ordinary emotions might be excused for being amused at it.

When I had finished, and had related how Mother Anastasia had proved to me that all possible connection between myself and Sylvia Raynor was now at an end, Walkirk was not nearly so much depressed as I thought he ought to be. In fact, he endeavored to cheer me, and did not agree with Mother Anastasia that there was no hope. At this I lost patience.

"Confound it!" I cried, "what you say is not only preposterous, but unfeeling. I hate this eternal making the best of things, when there is no best. With me everything is at its worst, and it is cruel to try to make it appear otherwise."

"I am sorry to annoy you," he said, "but I must insist that to me the situation does not appear to be without some encouraging features. Let me tell you what has happened to me since we parted."

I resumed the seat from which I had risen to stride up and down the room, and Walkirk began his narrative.

"I do not know, sir," he said, "that I ever have been so surprised as when I went on deck of the grocery boat, a short time before breakfast, and found that you were not on board. Captain Jabe and his man were equally astonished, and I should have feared that you had fallen overboard, if a man, who had come on the boat at a little pier where we had stopped very early in the morning, had not assured us that he had seen you go ashore at that place, but had not thought it worth while to mention so commonplace an occurrence. I wished to put back to the pier, but it was then far behind us, and Captain Jabe positively refused to do so. Both wind and tide would be against us, he said; and if you chose to go ashore without saying anything to anybody, that was your affair, and not his. I thought it possible you might have become tired with the slow progress of his vessel, and had left it, to hire a horse, to get to Sanpritchit before we did.

"When we reached Sanpritchit and you were not there, I was utterly unable to understand the situation; but Mrs. Raynor's yacht was there, just on the point of sailing, and I considered it my duty, as your representative, to hasten on board, and to apprise the lady that you were on your way to see her. Of course she wanted to know why you were coming, and all that; and as you were not there to do it yourself, I told her the nature of your errand, and impressed upon her the importance of delaying her departure until she had seen you and had heard what you had to say. She did not agree with me that the interview would be of importance to any one concerned, but she consented to wait for a time and see you. If you arrived, she agreed to meet you on shore; for she would not consent to your coming on board the yacht, where her daughter was. I went ashore, and waited there with great impatience until early in the afternoon, when a boy arrived, who said he had started to bring you to Sanpritchit, but that you had changed your mind, and he had conveyed you to a railroad station, where you had taken a western-bound train.

"I went to the yacht to report. I think Mrs. Raynor was relieved at your non-arrival; and as she knew I wished to join you as soon as possible, she invited me to sail with them to a little town on the coast,--I forget its name,--from which I could reach the railroad much quicker than from Sanpritchit."

"She did not object, then," said I, "to your being on the yacht with her daughter?"

"Oh, no," he answered, "for she found that Miss Raynor did not know me, or at least recognize me, and had no idea that I was in any way connected with you. Of course I accepted Mrs. Raynor's offer; but I did not save any time by it, for the wind fell off toward evening, and for hours there was no wind at all, and it was late the next afternoon when we reached the point where I went ashore."

"Did you see anything of Miss Raynor in all that time?" I inquired.

"Yes," he replied; "she was on deck a great deal, and I had several conversations with her."

"With her alone?" I asked.

"Yes," said he. "Mrs. Raynor is a great reader and fond of naps, and I think that the young lady was rather tired of the companionship of her uncle and the other gentleman, who were very much given to smoking, and was glad of the novelty of a new acquaintance. On my part, I felt it my duty to talk to her as much as possible, that I might faithfully report to you all that she said, and thus give you an idea of the state of her mind."

"Humph!" I exclaimed; "but what did she say?"

"Of course," continued Walkirk, "a great deal of our conversation was desultory and of no importance, but I endeavored, as circumspectly as I could, so to turn the conversation that she might say something which it would be worth while to report to you."

"Now, Walkirk," said I, "if I had known you were doing a thing of that sort, I should not have approved of it. But did she say anything that in any way referred to me?"

"Yes, she did," he answered, "and this is the way it came about. Something--I think it was the heat of the windless day--caused her to refer to the oppressive costume of the sisters of the House of Martha, and she then remarked that she supposed I knew she was one of that sisterhood. I replied that I had been so informed, and then betrayed as much natural interest in regard to the vocations and purposes of the organization as I thought would be prudent. I should have liked to bring up every possible argument against the folly of a young lady of her position and prospects extinguishing the very light of her existence in that hard, cold, soul-chilling house which I knew so well, but the circumstances did not warrant that. I was obliged to content myself with very simple questions.

"'How do the sisters employ themselves?' I inquired.

"'In all sorts of ways,' she said. 'Some nurse or teach, and others work for wages, like ordinary people, except that they do not have anything to do with the money they earn, which is paid directly to the house.'

"'I think,' I then remarked, 'that there are a good many employments which would give the sisters very pleasant occupation, such as decorative art or clerical work.'

"At this her face brightened. 'Clerical work is very nice. I tried that once, myself.'

"'Was it book-keeping?' I asked.

"'Oh, no,' she answered; 'I shouldn't have liked that. It was writing from dictation. I worked regularly so many hours every morning. It was a book which was dictated to me,--sketches of travel; that is, it was partly travel and partly fiction. It was very interesting.'

"'I should think it would be so,' I answered. 'To ladies of education and literary taste, I should say such employment would be highly congenial. Do you intend to devote yourself principally to that sort of thing?'

"'Oh, no,' said she, 'not at all. I like the work very much, but, for various reasons, I shall not do any more of it.'

"I endeavored mildly to remonstrate against such a decision, but she shook her head. 'I was not a full sister at the time,' she said, 'and this was an experiment. I shall do no more of it.'

"Her manner was very decided, but I did not drop the subject. 'If you do not fancy writing from dictation,' I said, 'why don't you try typewriting? I should think that would be very interesting, and it could be done in your own room. The work would not require you to go out at all, if you object to that.' Now this was a slip, because she had not told me that she had gone out, but she did not notice it.

"'A sister does not have a room of her own,' she answered, 'and I do not understand typewriting;' and with that she left me, and went below, looking very meditative.

"But my remark had had an effect. I think it was not half an hour afterward when she came to me.

"'I have been thinking about your suggestion of typewriting,' she said. 'Is it difficult to learn? Do you understand it? What use could I make of a machine in the House of Martha?'

"I told her that I understood the art, and gave her all the information I could in regard to it, taking care to make the vocation as attractive as my conscience would allow. As to the use she could make of it, I said that at present there was a constant demand for typewritten copies of all sorts of writings,--legal, literary, scientific, everything.

"'And people would send me things,' she asked, 'and I would copy them on the typewriter, and send them back, and that would be all?'

"'You have put it exactly,' I said. 'If you do not choose, you need have no communication whatever with persons ordering the work.'

"'And do you know of any one who would want such work done?'

"'Yes,' I said; 'I know people who would be very glad to send papers to be copied. I could procure you some work which would be in no hurry, and that would be an advantage to you in the beginning.'

"'Indeed it would,' she said; and then her mother joined us, and the subject of typewriting was dropped. The only time that it was referred to again was at the very end of my trip, when Miss Raynor came to me, just as I was preparing to leave the yacht, and told me that she had made up her mind to get a typewriter and to learn to use it; and she asked me, if I were still willing to assist her in securing work, to send my address to the Mother Superior of the House of Martha, which of course I assured her I would do."

"Why in the name of common sense," I cried, turning suddenly around in my chair and facing Walkirk, "did you put into Miss Raynor's head all that stuff about typewriting? Did you do it simply because you liked to talk to her?"

"By no means," he replied. "I did it solely on your account and for your benefit. If she learns to copy manuscripts on the typewriter, why should she not copy your manuscripts? Not immediately, perhaps, but in the natural course of business. If she should make me her agent, which I have no doubt she would be willing to do, I could easily manage all that. In this way you could establish regular communications with her. There would be no end to your opportunities, and I am sure you would know how to use them with such discretion and tact that they would be very effective."

I folded my arms, and looked at him. "Walkirk," said I, "you are positively, completely, and hopelessly off the track. Mother Anastasia has shown me exactly how I stand with Sylvia Raynor. She has vowed herself to that sisterhood because she thinks it is wrong to love me. She has made her decision, and has taken all the wretched steps which have rendered that decision final, and now I do not intend to try to make her do what she religiously believes is wrong."

"That is not my idea," answered Walkirk. "What I wish is that she shall get herself into such a state of mind that she shall think the sisterhood is wrong, and therefore leave it."

I gave a snort of despair and disgust, and began to stride up and down the room. Presently, however, I recovered my temper. "Walkirk," said I, "I am quite sure that you mean well, and I don't intend to find fault with you; but this sort of thing does not suit me; let us have no more of it."

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