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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe House Of Martha - Chapter 39. A Soul Whisper?
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The House Of Martha - Chapter 39. A Soul Whisper? Post by :codebluenj Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :3380

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The House Of Martha - Chapter 39. A Soul Whisper?

XXXIX. A SOUL WHISPER?

My meditations upon the Mother Superior of the House of Martha were not concluded during my homeward walk; the subject occupied my mind for the greater part of the rest of the day. I do not call myself a philosopher, but I am in the habit of looking into the nature and import of what happens about me. My reflections on Mother Anastasia gradually produced in me the conviction that there was something more in her words, her manner, and her actions than would appear to the ordinary observer.

In considering this matter, I went back to the very first of my intercourse with this beautiful woman, who, divested of the dismal disguise of her sisterhood, had produced upon my memory an impression which was so strong that, whenever I now thought of Mother Anastasia, she appeared before my mental vision in a white dress, with a broad hat and a bunch of flowers in her belt. In the character of a beautiful and sensible woman, and not at all in that of a Mother Superior, she had warmly commended my suit of Sylvia Raynor. With our regard for Sylvia as a basis, we had consulted, we had confided, we had shown ourselves to each other in a most frank and friendly manner.

Suddenly she had changed, she had deserted me without a word of explanation, and the next time I saw her she was totally opposed to my maintaining any connection whatever with Sylvia.

But there had been more than this. This woman, beautiful even in her gray garb, had shown an increasing interest in the subject, which could not be altogether explained by her interest in Sylvia. If she truly believed that that young sister would devote her life to the service of the House of Martha, that matter might be considered as settled; and what was her object in so earnestly endeavoring to impress upon my mind the fact that I could not marry Sylvia? It might be supposed that, in the ordinary course of events, I should be compelled to admit this point. But not only did she continually bring up this view of the subject, but she showed such a growing interest in me and my welfare that it made me uneasy.

It is almost impossible truly to understand a woman; most men will admit this. I could not say that I understood Mother Anastasia. At times I hoped I did not understand her. From what I knew of the constitution of the sisterhood, some of its members were vowed to it for life, and others for a stated period. Putting together this and that which Mother Anastasia had said to me about the organization, it did not appear to me that she felt that devotion to it which a sister for life would naturally feel. She had used all the art of a logician to impress upon me the conviction that Sylvia was a life sister, and could be nothing else. Was it possible--I scarcely dared to ask myself the question--that she had used the arts of a woman to intimate to me that she might be something else? It did not cross my mind for an instant that anything that Mother Anastasia had said to me, or anything that could be deduced from her manner, was in the slightest degree out of the way. A woman has a right to indicate her position in regard to a fellow-being, and in this age she generally does indicate it. If the true nature of Mother Anastasia had so far exerted itself as to impel her, perhaps involuntarily, to let me know that she was as much a woman as she was a Mother Superior, and that in time she would be all of the first and not any of the latter, she had truly done this with a delicate ingenuousness beyond compare. It had not been the exhalation by the flower of inviting perfume or its show of color; it had been the simple opening of the blossom to the free sun and air before my eyes.

My last interview with Mother Anastasia had crystallized in my mind a mist of suppositions and fancies which had vaguely floated there for some time. It is not surprising that I was greatly moved at the form the crystal took.

When Walkirk came, the next day, to make his usual reports, I talked to him of Mother Anastasia. Of course I did not intimate to him how I had been thinking of her, but I gave him as many facts as possible, in order that I might discover what he would think of her. When I had finished my account of the interview of the morning before, I could see that a very decided impression had been made upon him. His countenance twitched, he smiled, he looked upon the floor. For a moment I thought he was going to laugh.

"This amuses you," I remarked.

"Yes," he replied, his face having recovered its ordinary composure, "it is a little funny. Mother Anastasia seems to be a good deal of a manager."

"Yes," I said reflectively, "that is true. It is quite plain that, perceiving an opportunity of a private conference with me, she took advantage of the circumstances. We could have had an ordinary chat just as well in one place as another, but it was easy to see that she did not wish the boy who was unhitching the horse to hear even the first words of our conversation. As you say, she is a good manager, and I had my suspicions of that before you mentioned it." As I said this I could not help smiling, as I thought how surprised he would be if he knew in what direction my suspicions pointed. "Do you know," I continued, "if it is necessary that the head of a sisterhood should be a life member of it?"

"I have never heard," he answered, "but I have been informed that the organization of the House of Martha is a very independent one, and does not attempt to conform itself to that of any other sisterhood. The women who founded it had ideas of their own, and what rules and laws they made I do not know."

For a few moments I walked up and down the room; then I asked, "How did Mother Anastasia come to be the Mother Superior?"

"I have been told," said Walkirk, "that she gave most of the money for the founding of the institution, and it was natural enough that she should be placed at the head. I have an idea that she would not have been willing to enter the House except as its head."

"It is about four years since it was established, is it not?" I asked; and Walkirk assured me that I was correct.

All this information ranged itself on the side of conviction. She was just the woman to try a thing of this kind for a stated time; she was just the woman not to like it; and she was just the woman whose soul could not be prevented from whispering that the gates of the bright world were opening before her. But why should her soul whisper this to me? The whole matter troubled me very much.

I determined not to base any action upon what had thus forced itself upon my mind. I would wait. I would see what would happen next. I would persist in my determination never to give up Sylvia. And I will mention that there was a little point in connection with her which at this time greatly annoyed me: whenever I thought of her, she appeared before me in the gray dress of a sister, and not as I had seen her on the island. I wished very much that this were not the case.

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XL. AN INSPIRATIONI now found myself in an embarrassing situation. All my plans and hopes of tidings from Sylvia, or of any possible connection with her, were based upon Mother Anastasia. But would it be wise for me to continue my very friendly relations with the Mother Superior? On my side these relations were extremely pleasant, though that did not matter, one way or another. But would it be kind and just to her to meet with her on the footing I had enjoyed? In every point of this affair I wished to be honorable and considerate. Acting on these principles,
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