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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe House Of Martha - Chapter 43. Was His Heart True To Poll?
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The House Of Martha - Chapter 43. Was His Heart True To Poll? Post by :runtonk Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :2478

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The House Of Martha - Chapter 43. Was His Heart True To Poll?

XLIII. WAS HIS HEART TRUE TO POLL?

Never before had any one spoken to me as Mother Anastasia had just spoken. Never before had I felt as I felt in leaving the house where she had spoken to me. I did not admit all that she had said; and yet not even to myself could I gainsay her statements. I was not convinced that I had been wrong, but I could not help feeling that she was right. I was angry, I was mortified, I was grieved. The world seemed cold and dark, and the coldest and darkest thing in it was the figure of Mother Anastasia, as she rose to leave me.

When I reached New York, I bethought myself of my promise to Miss Laniston. It tortured my soul to think of what had happened; I knew it would torture it still more to talk of these things. But I am a man who keeps his promises; besides, I wanted to see Miss Laniston. I did not like her very much, but the people whom I did like seemed to be falling away from me, and she was a woman of vigorous spirit, to whom one in my plight would naturally turn. That she could give me any encouragement was not likely, but she might offer me an enheartening sympathy; and, moreover, she was well acquainted with Mother Anastasia, and there were a good many questions I wanted to ask about that lady.

I found Miss Laniston at home, but I was obliged to wait a good while before she made her appearance.

"If you were any other man in this world," she said, "I should have felt obliged to excuse myself from seeing you, for I am engaged on most important business with a modiste who is designing a gown for me; but I am perfectly wild to hear about your interview with Mother Anastasia, and I was afraid, if I sent you away, that you would not come back again; so tell me about it, I pray you. I know you have seen her, for you look so uncommonly glum. I am afraid that you have not yet become a brother of the House of Martha."

There was nothing inspiring about this badinage, but I braced myself to the work, and told her what had happened in Washington.

"This is truly dreadful," she declared. "Of course I had no idea that Mother Anastasia would consider your plan as anything more than the wild outreachings of a baffled lover, but I did not imagine that she would take it in this way. This is very bad."

"It is," I answered. "Everything is knocked from under me."

"Oh, bless you," said the lady, "I wasn't thinking of you, but of Mother Anastasia. It was the happiest news I can remember when I heard that she was soon to drop that name and all that belonged to it, and to begin a life in which she would be a woman among her peers, no matter with what sex they happen to be classed. But if she stops short and remains in that miserable House of Martha, the result is bound to be disastrous. If she believes it is necessary to spend her life in protecting Sylvia from your assaults, she is the woman to spend her life in that way."

"What her friends should do," said I, "is to convince her that it is not necessary."

Miss Laniston gazed upon me fixedly. "You think it would be a great pity for a beautiful woman--a remarkably fine woman like Mother Anastasia--to hide herself away in that make-believe convent?"

"Indeed I do," I answered, with animation.

"And since one fine woman is shut up for life in that prison, you think it a shame that another one should remain within its walls?"

I assented warmly.

"Now, then," remarked Miss Laniston, rising, "it is absolutely necessary for me to go to the Frenchwoman, who, I know, is fuming for me, and whose time is very precious. I shall be with you again in about twenty minutes, and during that time I wish you would make up your mind with whom you are in love,--Mother Anastasia or Sylvia Raynor. When that point is settled, we will see what can be done."

It was a man of a bewildered mind who was left alone in that drawing-room. I did not understand what had been said to me, but now that ideas of this kind had been put into words, there seemed to be a certain familiarity about them. How dared she speak to me in that way? What ground had she for such words?

And yet--Sylvia was shut up for life in the House of Martha. I could not gainsay that.

I could not put my thoughts into form, and with my mind in chaos I strode up and down the room until Miss Laniston returned.

"What an uneasy person you are!" she said. "Have you settled that little point?"

"Settled it! There is nothing to settle."

She laughed. "I am not so sure about that. I thought I saw a change in the wind when you were here last, and it is natural enough that it should change. What is the good of its blowing steadfastly from the north, when the north is nothing but ice?"

"You have no right to talk in that way!" I exclaimed angrily. "I utterly repudiate your supposition."

"Come, come," she said, "let us be practical. I really take an interest in you, you know, and besides that, I take an interest in my friends; and it is quite plain to me that you must not be allowed to wander about in a detached way, making all sorts of trouble. You have made a good deal already. So if we must consider Sylvia Raynor as really out of the race, on account of being tied up by her sisterhood obligations, we must turn our attention to Mother Anastasia, who probably has not yet done anything definite in regard to retaining her position in the House of Martha. If anything can be done in this direction, it will be entirely satisfactory, because, if you get the ex-Mother Superior, of course you will be content to leave the young sister alone."

"Madam, you insult me!" I cried, springing to my feet.

"By which, I suppose," she answered, "you wish me to understand that your heart is true to Poll,--by Poll meaning Sylvia Raynor."

"You know that as well as I do," I replied. "I have taken you into my confidence; I have told you that I loved her, that I should always love her; and it is unwomanly in you"--

"That will do," she interrupted,--"that will do; don't say hard words to one of your best friends. If you will continue to be true to Poll, not as the sailor was in the song, but constant and steadfast in all sorts of weather, and without any regard to that mere material point of eventually getting her for your own, why then I am your fast friend to the end, and will do everything that I can to soften your woes and lighten your pathway; and all the reward I desire for my labors is the pleasure of knowing that there is at least one man in the world who can love truly and unchangeably without seeing any chance ahead of him of winning the woman he loves. Do you think you can fill that position?"

I looked at her sternly, and answered: "I have said all upon that point that is necessary to say. When I love a woman, I love her forever."

"Very good," said Miss Laniston,--"very good; and I dare say your little side flights didn't mean anything at all. And now I shall talk with Mother Anastasia as soon as possible, and make her understand that she has no right to sacrifice herself to Sylvia or any one else. If I can get her started off on the right road, I will see what I can do with the new Mother Superior, whoever she may be. Perhaps you may yet be able to establish that delightful brotherhood of the House of Martha. Any way, I promise you you shall have something. It may not be much and it may not be often, but it shall be enough to keep your love alive, and that, you see, is my great object. I want to make of you a monument of masculine constancy."

As I took leave of her, Miss Laniston gave my hand a vigorous pressure, which seemed to me to indicate that her intentions were better than her words. As I went away my mind was quieter, though not cheered. There was in it a certain void and emptiness, but this was compensated for by a sense of self-approbation which was strengthening and comforting. I was even able to smile at the notion of the interview between Miss Laniston and Sister Sarah, when the former should propose my plan of the brotherhood.

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