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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe House Of Martha - Chapter 40. An Inspiration
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The House Of Martha - Chapter 40. An Inspiration Post by :andrewteg Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :1127

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The House Of Martha - Chapter 40. An Inspiration

XL. AN INSPIRATION

I 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, I went away for two weeks. It was very hard for me to absent myself for so long a period from Arden, but it was my duty. To take the chances of another meeting with Mother Anastasia, following close upon the recent one, which had made so forcible an impression upon me, would be imprudent. A moderate absence might be of great advantage.

On my return I took to strolling about the village, especially in the neighborhood of the House of Martha; and if, in these strolls, I had met the Mother Superior, I should not have hesitated to accost her and ask news of Sylvia. For more reasons than one, I felt it was highly desirable that I should impress it on the mind of Mother Anastasia that my interest in Sylvia had not in the least abated.

But several days passed, and I met no one clad in gray bonnet and gown. I was disappointed; there were a good many questions about Sylvia which I wished to ask, and a good many things in regard to her that I wished to say. I might go to the House of Martha and boldly ask to see the Mother Superior; but a step like that might produce an undesirable impression, and naturally the position in which I had placed myself regarding Sylvia would prevent my going to visit her.

As I could do nothing for myself in this matter, I must ask some one to help me, and there was no one so willing and able to do this as my grandmother. She could go to the House of Martha and ask what questions she pleased. I went to the dear old lady and made known my desires. She laid down her knitting and gave me her whole attention.

"Now tell me exactly what it is you want," she said. "You cannot expect to be asked to take tea with the sisters, you know, though I see no reason why you should not. Say what they will, they are not nuns."

"What I want," I replied, "is to know how Sylvia is, what she is doing, all about her. I do not even know that she is still there."

"My dear boy," said my grandmother, very tenderly, "I suppose that even if you are obliged to give up all hope of ever having Sylvia for your own, you will want to know every day for the rest of your life just how she is getting on."

"Yes," I answered, "that is true."

"Poor fellow," said the old lady, her eyes a little dimmed as she spoke, "the fates have not been using you well. Is there anything else you want me to inquire about?"

"Oh, yes," I answered. "I take a great interest in the institution."

"Which is natural enough, since Sylvia is there," interpolated my grandmother.

"And I should be glad," I continued, "to know anything of interest regarding the sisterhood, from the Mother Superior down."

"Mother Anastasia is a very fine woman," said my grandmother, "and I should think you would be likely to be greatly interested in her. I am going to make some inquiries about the rules of the House of Martha. I see no reason why the sisters should not occasionally accept invitations to tea."

This remark startled me, and I was prompted to make a cautionary observation. But I restrained myself; in cases like this interference would be likely to provoke comment, and by my grandmother's desire I went to order the carriage.

In less than an hour she returned. I was promptly at hand to receive her report.

"Well," said she, "I have visited the sisters, but I am sorry I did not see Mother Anastasia. She was away."

"Away!" I exclaimed. "Where has she gone?"

"She went to Washington more than a week ago," was the answer.

"For a long stay?" I asked quickly.

"The sisters did not know," continued my grandmother, "but their impression is that she will return in a few days."

I knitted my brows.

"You are disappointed, and so am I. I intended to ask her here to tea next Friday, and to urge her, if she did not too greatly object, to bring Sylvia with her. There is nothing like quiet intercourse of that kind to break down obstacles."

"Alas," I said, "I am afraid there are obstacles"--

"But do not let us talk about them," she interrupted. "Nobody knows what will happen, and let us be as happy as we can."

"Did you see Sylvia?" I asked.

"Oh, yes," she answered, "and I had some talk with her, but it did not amount to much. She is trying to make a regular nun of herself,--that is, if a Protestant can be a nun,--but I do not think she will ever succeed. She admitted that she greatly disliked the ordinary work of the sisters, and wished to employ herself in some way which would be just as lucrative to the institution, and yet not so repugnant to her. Now you can see for yourself that that will not do. If she intends to be a sister of the House of Martha, she must do as the other sisters do. She cannot always expect to be an exception. At present she is learning typewriting."

I gave a great start. "Typewriting!" I exclaimed.

"Yes," said my grandmother. "Is it not odd that she should have taken up that? She has a machine, and practices steadily on it. She showed me some of her printed sheets, and I must say, so far as I am concerned, that I should prefer plain handwriting, where the letters are not so likely to get on top of one another. She wanted to know if I could give her any advice about getting work, when she thought she could do it well enough; but of course I know nothing about such things. My hope is that she will get to dislike that as much as she does nursing and apothecary work, and to find out that her real duty is to live like an ordinary human being, and so make herself and other people truly happy."

I do not know that there is any inherent connection between a typewriting machine and the emotions and sentiments of love, but in this case such a connection instantly established itself in my mind. It seemed plain to me that Walkirk's suggestion to Sylvia had taken root; and why did she wish to typewrite, if she did not wish to typewrite for me? Was this an endeavor of her tender heart to keep up a thread of connection with me which should not be inconsistent with the duties, the vows, and the purposes of her life? Dear girl! If the thing could be managed, she should typewrite for me as much as she wished, even if she piled the letters on one another as high as the Great Pyramid.

With much enthusiasm, I communicated to Walkirk my intention to employ Sylvia in typewriting, and requested his assistance in regard to the details of the business. I could easily furnish her material enough. I had lots of things I should like to have copied, and I was ready to prepare a great deal more. My under-study made no allusion to my previous reception of his suggestion about typewriting, but brought his practical mind to bear upon the matter, and advised that preliminary arrangements should be made immediately. In a case like this it was well to be in time, and to secure the services of Miss Raynor at once. I agreed with Walkirk that it was very wise to take time by the forelock, but Mother Anastasia was the only person who could properly regulate this affair, which should be instantly laid before her; and as it was impossible to find out when she would return to Arden, I felt that it was my duty to go to her. When I mentioned this plan to Walkirk, he offered to go in my place, but I declined. This was a very delicate affair, to which no one could attend as well as I could myself.

"Walkirk," said I, "do you suppose that the Mother Superior will appear in Washington under her real name, or as Mother Anastasia? And, by the way, what is her real name?"

"Is it possible," exclaimed Walkirk, "that you do not know it? It is Raynor,--Miss Marcia Raynor. She is a cousin of the younger lady."

"Oh, yes, I know that," I replied; "but it never occurred to me to inquire what name Mother Anastasia bore before she entered the House of Martha. The first thing for me to do is to get her Washington address."

"And may I ask," continued Walkirk, "how you are going to do that?"

I was not prepared to give an immediate answer to this question.

"I suppose," I remarked presently, "that it would not do to ask for the address at the House of Martha, but I could go to Sylvia's mother. I should like to call there, any way, and I have no doubt she would know where Mother Anastasia would be likely to stop."

My under-study shook his head. "Pardon me," he said, "but I do not think it would be wise to go to Mrs. Raynor. She would be sure to connect her daughter with your urgent desire to see Mother Anastasia, and she would not hesitate to question you on the matter. I think I understand her disposition in regard to you and Miss Raynor, and I am very certain that when she heard of the typewriting scheme she would instantly put her foot on it; and if I am not mistaken," he continued, with a noticeable deference in his tone, "that is the only reason you can give for your wish to confer with Mother Anastasia."

I strode impatiently up and down the room. "Certainly it is," said I, "and although it is reason enough, I suppose you are right, and it would not do to offer it to Mrs. Raynor; and, for the matter of that, Mother Anastasia may think it a very little thing to take me down to Washington."

"I had thought of that," said Walkirk, "and that was one reason why I proposed to go in your stead."

I made no answer to this remark. My mind was filled with annoying reflections about the unreasonableness of people who insist upon knowing people's reasons for doing things, and my annoyance was increased by the conviction, now that I looked more closely into the matter, that the only reason I could give for hastening after Mother Anastasia in this way was indeed a very little one.

"Walkirk," I exclaimed, "can't you think of some other reason for my seeing the Mother Superior without delay?"

"Truly," he replied, smiling, "it is rather difficult. You might offer to build an annex to the House of Martha, but such a matter could surely wait until the return of the Mother Superior."

I sniffed, and continued to stride. I must see Mother Anastasia in Washington, because there I might have a chance of speaking to her freely, which I could not expect to have anywhere else; and yet how was I going to explain to her, or to any one else, my desire to speak with her at all? It might have been difficult to explain this to myself; at all events, I did not try to do it. Suddenly an idea struck me.

"Annex!" I cried,--"capital!"

"My dear sir," said Walkirk, rising in much agitation, "I hope you do not think that I seriously proposed your building an annex to"--

"Building!" I interrupted. "Nonsense! The annex I am thinking of is quite different; and yet not altogether so, either. Walkirk, don't you think that a man in my position could do a great deal to help those sisters in their good work? Don't you think that he could act as an outside collaborator? I am sure there are many things he could do which might not be suitable for them to do, or which they might not want to do. For instance, this business that has taken Mother Anastasia to Washington. Perhaps it is something that she hates to do, and I might have done as well as not. I have a mind to propose to her to go in and take all this sort of thing off the hands of the sisters. I think that is a good practical idea, and it is very natural that I should wish to propose it to her at the very time she is engaged in this outside business."

"In a word," remarked Walkirk, "you would make yourself a brother of the House of Martha."

I laughed. "That is not a bad notion," I said; "in fact, it is a very good one. I do not know that I shall put the matter exactly in that light, but a brother of the House of Martha is what I should like to be. Then I should be free to discuss all sorts of things, and to do all sorts of things. And I could be of a lot of service, I am sure. But I shall approach the matter cautiously. I shall begin with a simple offer of service, and, perhaps, for the present I may drop the typewriting plan. Now for Mother Anastasia's address. I must get that without delay."

Walkirk did not seem to have paid attention to this last remark. His mind appeared occupied with amusing reflections.

"I beg your pardon," he said, in apologizing for his abstraction, "but I was thinking what a funny thing it would be to be a brother of the House of Martha. As to the address--let me see. Do you remember that lady who was staying with Mrs. Raynor, at her island, who called herself a Person,--Miss Laniston?"

"Of course I remember her," I answered, "and with the greatest disgust."

"I happen to know her address," said Walkirk, "and I think she is more likely to give you the information you want than Mrs. Raynor. If you do not care to confer with her, I can go to the city"--

"No, no, no!" I exclaimed. "She might object to giving you the address; I shall insist that she give it to me. I think I can manage the matter. She owes me something, and she knows it."

In fact, I did not care to trust Walkirk with this affair. It was plain that he did not thoroughly sympathize with me in the project. I was afraid he might make a blunder, or in some way fail me. Any way, this was a matter which I wished to attend to myself.

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