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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe House Of Martha - Chapter 41. Miss Laniston
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The House Of Martha - Chapter 41. Miss Laniston Post by :rlscott Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :2243

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The House Of Martha - Chapter 41. Miss Laniston

XLI. MISS LANISTON

At eight o'clock that evening I was at the house of Miss Laniston. The lady was at home, and received me. She advanced with both hands extended.

"Truly," she cried, "this is the most charming instance of masculine forgiveness I have ever witnessed."

I took one of her hands; this much for the sake of policy. "Madam," I said, "I am not thinking of forgiveness, or unforgiveness. I am here to ask a favor; and if you grant it, I am willing that it shall counterbalance everything between us which suggests forgiveness."

"Dear me!" she exclaimed, leading the way to a sofa. "Sit down, and let me know my opportunities."

I did not want to sit down, but, as I said before, I felt that I must be politic, and so took a seat on the other end of the sofa.

"My errand is a very simple one," I said. "I merely want to know the address of Mother Anastasia, in Washington."

The lady folded her hands in her lap, and looked at me steadily.

"Very simple, indeed," she said. "Why do you come to me for this address? Would not the sisters give it to you?"

"For various reasons I did not care to ask them," I replied.

"One of them being, I suppose, that you knew you would not get it."

I did not reply to this remark.

"If you know the address," I inquired, "will you kindly give it to me? It is necessary that I should have it at once."

"To telegraph?" she asked.

"No, I am going to her."

"Oh!" ejaculated the lady, and there was a pause in the conversation. "It does not strike me," she said presently, "that I have any authority to tell gentlemen where to find Mother Anastasia, but I can telegraph and ask her if she is willing that I shall send you to her."

This proposition did not suit me at all. I was quite sure that the Mother Superior would not consider it advisable that I should come to her, and would ask me to postpone my communication until she should return to Arden. But Arden, as I had found, would be a very poor place for the long and earnest interview which I desired.

"That would not do," I answered; "she would not understand. I wish to see her on an important matter, which can be explained only in a personal interview."

"You excite my curiosity," said Miss Laniston. "Why don't you make me your confidante? In that case, I might decide whether or not it would be proper to give you the address."

"Impossible," I said,--"that would be impossible."

Miss Laniston's eyes were of a blue gray, and very fine ones, and she fixed them upon me with a lively intentness.

"Do you still hope," she asked, "to marry Sylvia Raynor? Surely you must know that is impossible. She is now a member for life of the sisterhood."

"I know all that," I replied impatiently. "It is not about that matter that I wish to see the Mother Superior."

"Is it then about Mother Anastasia herself? Do you wish to marry her?"

I sprang to my feet in my excitement. "Why do you speak to me in that way," I exclaimed, "and about a woman who is at the head of a religious institution, and whose earthly existence is devoted to it?"

"Not at all," quietly answered the lady. "Mother Anastasia is not a life member of the sisterhood of the House of Martha."

At these words my blood began to boil within me in a manner which I could not comprehend. My eyeballs seemed to burn, as I stood and gazed speechlessly at my companion.

"You take such an interest in these sisters," she said, "that I supposed you knew that Mother Anastasia joined the sisterhood only for a term of years, now nearly expired. She was made Mother Superior because those who helped form the institution knew that no one else could so well fill the place, especially during its first years. I was one of those persons."

I do not remember a time when my mind was in such a state of ungovernable emotion. Not only was I unable to control my feelings, but I did not know what they were. One thing only could I comprehend: I must remove this impression from the mind of Miss Laniston, and I could think of no other way of doing it than to confide to her the business on which I wished to see Mother Anastasia. I reseated myself on the sofa, and without delay or preface I laid before her my plan of collaboration with the sisters of the House of Martha; explaining how much better a man could attend to certain outside business than the sisters could do it, and showing how, in a manner, I proposed to become a brother of the House of Martha. Thus only could I defend myself against her irrational and agitating suppositions.

She heard me to the end, and then she leaned back on the sofa and laughed,--laughed until I thought the people in the street must hear her. I was hurt, but said nothing.

"You must excuse me," she said, when she was able to speak, "but this is so sudden my mind is not prepared for it. And so you wish to become a brother of the House of Martha? I would be solemn about it if I could, but really I cannot," and again she laughed.

I was about to retire, but she checked me.

"Do not go," she said; "do not be angry. Forget that I laughed. Now perhaps I can help you. I will make you a promise. If you will agree faithfully to tell me how Mother Anastasia receives your proposition, I will give you her address."

"Promise," I said severely. "You may remember that this is not the first time you have made me a promise."

"Don't bring up that old affair!" she exclaimed. "What I did then could not be helped. When we had our talk about the sister with whom you had fallen in love, I had no idea she was Sylvia Raynor, the daughter of my hostess. When I discovered the truth, I had to drop the whole affair. Any person of honor would have done that. I could not help its being funny, you know."

I had become calmer, and was able to be politic again.

"If Mother Anastasia will allow me," I said, "I am willing to promise to tell you what she thinks of my plan."

"Very good," she replied, "it is a bargain. She is stopping with a friend, Mrs. Gardley, at 906 Alaska Avenue. I address her as 'Miss Raynor,' because I always do that when I have a chance, but I think it will be well for you to ask for Mother Anastasia."

I arose, and she followed my example.

"Now, then," said she, "we are friends," and her sparkling eyes seemed to have communicated their merriment to the gems upon the white hand which she held out to me.

I took the hand, and as I did so a politic idea flashed up within me. If I must be friends with this woman, why not make use of her? This was a moment when she was well disposed to serve me.

"If you are willing to consider me a friend," I replied, still holding her hand, "you will not refuse to tell me something which I have long wanted to know, and which I ought to know."

"What is it?" she asked.

"What was the trouble, which caused Sylvia Raynor to enter the House of Martha?"

She withdrew her hand and reflected for a moment.

"Man is an inquisitive animal," she answered, "but we cannot alter his nature, and there is some excuse for your wanting to know all about Sylvia. She is out of your reach, of course, but you have certainly taken as much interest in her as a man can take in a woman. The matter is not a close secret, and I suppose I may as well tell you that the cause of her entering the sisterhood was nothing at all out of the common. It was simply a thwarted love affair. You don't like that, I can see by your face."

"No, I do not like it, and I am very sorry to hear it."

"My dear sir," said she, "you must be early on hand and prompt in action to be Number One with a girl like Sylvia; but then, you know, a Number One seldom counts. In this case, however, he did count, for he made a Number Two impossible."

"Not so," I cried hotly. "I am Number Two, and shall always continue so."

She laughed. "I am afraid," she said, "that it will be necessary for a brother of the House of Martha to get rid of that sort of feeling."

"How was she thwarted?" I asked quickly.

"The story is briefly this," replied Miss Laniston: "A certain gentleman courted Sylvia's cousin, and everybody supposed they would be married; but in some way or other he treated her badly, and the match was broken off; then, a few years later, this same person fell in love with Sylvia, who knew nothing of the previous affair. The young girl found him a most attractive lover, and he surely would have won her had not her mother stepped in and put an extinguisher upon the whole affair. She knew what had happened before, and would not have the man in her family. Then it was that Sylvia found the world a blank, and concluded to enter the sisterhood."

"Do you mean," I asked, "that the cousin with whom the man was first in love was Marcia Raynor, Mother Anastasia?"

"Yes," answered Miss Laniston, "it was she. You do not like that?"

Like it! A cold and tingling pain ran through my body, and there sprang up in me an emotion of the intensest hatred for a person whom I had never seen.

My feelings were such as I could not express; the situation was one which I could not discuss. I took leave of Miss Laniston without giving sufficient consideration to her expression of countenance and to her final words now to be able to say whether they indicated amusement or sympathy.

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