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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe House Of Martha - Chapter 44. Preliminary Brotherhood
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The House Of Martha - Chapter 44. Preliminary Brotherhood Post by :gabby Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :2735

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The House Of Martha - Chapter 44. Preliminary Brotherhood


When I returned to Arden, I gave Walkirk an outline of what had occurred, but I did not go into details, having no desire that the preposterous idea which had gotten into the head of Miss Laniston should enter that of my under-study. Walkirk was not in good spirits.

"I had hoped something," he said, "from your interview with Mother Anastasia, though perhaps not exactly in the line of a brotherhood. I thought if she came to thoroughly understand your earnestness in the matter, she might use her influence with Miss Raynor, which at some time or other, or in some way or other, might result to your advantage, and that of the young lady. I had and still have great belief in the capabilities of Mother Anastasia, but now I am forced to believe, very much against my will, that there is no hope ahead. With Mother Anastasia decidedly against us, the fight is lost."

"Us," I repeated.

"My dear sir," said he, "I am with you, soul and body."

Without a word I took him by the hand, and pressed it warmly.

"What do you think of continuing your recitals of travel?" Walkirk said to me later in the day. "I should think they would interest you, and I know they were vastly interesting to me. You must have a great deal more to tell."

"I have," I answered, "but I shall not tell it now. Instead of talking about travels, I have determined to travel. At present it is awkward for me to remain here. It is impossible for me to feel independent, and able to do what I please, and know that there are persons in the village who do not wish to meet me, and with whom it would be embarrassing and perhaps unpleasant to meet. I know I must meet them some time or other, unless they shut themselves up, or I shut myself up. That sort of thing I cannot endure, and I shall go to Turkey and Egypt. Those countries I have not visited. If it suits you, I shall take you with me, and I shall also take a stenographer, to whom I shall dictate, on the spot, the materials for my book."

"Do you mean," asked Walkirk, "that you will dispense altogether with that preparatory narration to me of what you intend afterwards to put into your book? I consider that a capital plan, and I think you found it of advantage."

"That is true," I answered; "the plan worked admirably. I did not propose to work in that way again, but I will do it. Every night I will tell you what I have done, and what I think about things, and the next morning I'll dictate that material, revised and shapen, to the stenographer, who can then have the rest of the day to write it out properly."

"A capital plan," said Walkirk, "and I shall be charmed to go with you."

I was indeed very anxious to leave Arden. I could not believe that Mother Anastasia had ever imagined any of the stuff that Miss Laniston had talked about, but she certainly had shown me that she was greatly offended with me, and nothing offends me so much as to have people offended with me. Such persons I do not wish to meet.

I did not immediately fix a date for my departure, for it was necessary for me to consider my grandmother's feelings and welfare, and arrange to make her as happy as possible while I should be gone. In the mean time, it was of course necessary that I should take air and exercise; and while doing this one morning in a pretty lane, just out of the village, a figure in the House of Martha gray came into sight a little distance ahead of me. Her back was toward me, and she was walking slower than I was. "Now, then," thought I, "here is a proof of the awkwardness of my position here. Even in a little walk like this, I must run up against one of those sisters. I must pass her, or turn around and go back, for I shall not slow up, and appear to be dogging her footsteps. But I shall not turn back,--that does not suit me." Consequently I walked on, and soon overtook the woman in gray. She did not turn her head as I approached, for the sisters are taught not to turn their heads to look at people. After all, it would be easy enough for me to adopt the same rule, and to pass her without turning my head, or paying the slightest attention to her. This was the manner indeed in which the general public was expected to act toward the inmates of the House of Martha when met outside their institution.

When I came up with her, I turned and looked into the bonnet. It was Sylvia. As my eyes fell upon the face of that startled angel, my impulse was to throw my arms around her, and rush away with her, gray bonnet, shawl and all, to some distant clime where there were no Houses of Martha, Mother Anastasias, or anything which could separate my dear love and me; but I crushed down this mad fancy, smothered, as well as I could, my wild emotions, and said, as calmly as possible,--

"Good morning, sister."

Over the quick flushes of her face there spread a smile of pleasure.

"I like that," she said; "I am glad to have you call me sister. I thought you would be prejudiced against it, and would not do it."

"Prejudiced!" I said; "not a bit of it. I am delighted to do so."

"That is really good of you," she said; "and how have you been? You look a little wan and tired. Have you been doing your own writing?"

"Oh, no," I said; "I have given up writing, at least for the present. I wish I could make you understand how glad I am to call you sister, and how it would joy my heart if you would call me brother."

"Oh, that would not do at all," she said, in a tone which indicated surprise at my ignorance; "that would be quite a different thing. I am a sister to everybody, but you are not a brother to anybody."

"When you hear what I have to say about this," I answered, "you will understand what I mean by wishing to be called brother. May I ask where you are going?"

"I am going to visit a sick person in that little house at the bottom of the hill. Sister Agatha came with me, but she had the toothache, and had to go back. I expect Sister Sarah will send some one of the others to join me, for she always wants us to go about in couples."

"She is entirely right," said I; "I did not know she had so much sense, and I shall make one of the couple this time. You ought not to be walking about here by yourself."

"I suppose I ought to have gone back with Sister Agatha," said she, "but I didn't want to. I'm dreadfully tired of staying in the House of Martha, trying to learn typewriting. I can do it pretty well now, but nothing has come of it. Sister Sarah got me one piece of work, which was to copy a lot of bad manuscript about local option. I am sure, if I am to do that sort of thing I shall not like typewriting."

"You shall not do that sort of thing," said I; "and now let us walk on slowly, while I tell you what I meant by the term brother." I was in a whirl of delight. Now I would talk to one who I believed would sympathize with my every thought, who would be in harmony with my outreachings, if she could do no more, and from whom I need expect neither ridicule nor revilings. We walked on slowly, and I laid before her my scheme for the brotherhood of the House of Martha.

I was not mistaken in my anticipation of Sylvia's sympathy. She listened with sparkling eyes, and when I finished, clapped her hands with delight.

"That is one of the best plans that was ever heard of in this world," she said. "How different it would make our life at the institution! Of course the brothers wouldn't live there, but we should see each other, like ordinary people in society, and everything would not be so dreadfully blank, and there is no end to the things which you could do, which we cannot do, unless with a great deal of trouble. The usefulness of your plan seems to have no limits at all. How many brothers do you think we ought to have?"

"I have not considered that point," I said; "at present I know of but one person, besides myself, who would have the necessary qualifications for the position."

"I expect," she said, looking at me with a twinkle of fun in her eye, "that if you had the selection of the other brothers they would be a tame lot."

"Perhaps you are right," I said, and we both broke into a laugh.

"I wish I could tell you," said Sylvia, "how much I am charmed with your idea of the brotherhood. I haven't enjoyed myself so much for ever so long."

We were now nearing the little house at the bottom of the hill. An idea struck me.

"Who is it that you are going to visit?" I asked.

"It is an old man," she said, "who has the rheumatism so badly that he cannot move. He has to take his medicine every hour, and his wife is worn out sitting up and giving it to him, and Sister Agatha and I were sent to take care of him during the morning, and let the poor old woman get some sleep."

"Very good," said I, "here is a chance for me to make a beginning in my scheme of brotherhood, and that without asking leave or license of anybody. I will go in with you, and help you nurse the old man."

"I expect you can do it splendidly," said Sylvia, "and now we can see how a brotherhood would work."

We entered a little house, which apparently had once been a good enough home for humble dwellers, but which now showed signs of extreme poverty. A man with gray hair, and placid, pale face, was lying on a bed in one corner of the room into which the door opened, and in a chair near by sat an old woman, her head bobbing in an uneasy nap. She roused when we entered, and seemed glad to see us.

"He's about the same as he was," she said, "an' as he's loike to be width thim little draps of midicine; but if you're a docther, sir, it ain't for me to be meddlin', an' sayin' that one of thim Pepper Pod Plasters width howles in it would do more good to his poor back than thim draps inside of him."

"Rheumatism is not treated externally so much as it used to be," I said. "You will find that internal medication will be of much more service in the long run."

"That may be, sir," said she; "but it won't do to make the run too long, considtherin' he hasn't been able to do a sthroke of work for four weeks, an' if ye'd ever tried one of thim plasters, sir, ye'd know they's as warmin' as sandpaper an' salt; but if I kin git a little slape, it will be better for me than any midicine, inside or out."

"That's what we came to give you," said Sylvia; "go into the other room, and lie down, and you shall not be called until it is time for your dinner."

The woman gave a little shrug, which I imagine was intended to indicate that dinner and dinner-time had not much relation to each other in this house, and going into an adjoining room, was probably soon fast asleep.

"It would be better to begin by giving him his medicine. I know all about it, for I was here yesterday. I forgot to ask his wife when she gave it to him last," said Sylvia, "but we might as well begin fresh at the half-pasts."

She poured out a teaspoonful of the stuff, and administered it to the old man, who opened his mouth, and took it placidly.

"He is very quiet and very patient," said Sylvia to me in an undertone,--and it is impossible for me to describe how delightful it was to have her speak to me in such a confidential undertone,--"he doesn't talk any," she continued, "and doesn't seem to care to have anybody read to him, for when Sister Agatha tried that yesterday, he went to sleep; but he likes his brow bathed, and I can sit on this side of his bed and do that, and you can find a chair and sit on the other side, and tell me more about your plan of brotherhood."

There was no other chair, but I found a box, on which I seated myself on the other side of the old man's cot, while Sylvia, taking a bottle from her pocket, proceeded to dampen the forehead of the patient with its pleasantly scented contents.

I did not much like to see her doing this, nor did I care to discuss our projects over the body of this rheumatic laborer.

"It strikes me," I said, "that it would be a good idea to put on that bay rum, or cologne, or whatever it is, with a clean paint-brush, or something of the kind. Don't you dislike using your fingers?"

Sylvia laughed. "You have lots to learn yet," she said, "before you can be a brother; and now tell me what particular kind of work you think the brothers would do. I hardly think nursing would suit them very well."

I did not immediately answer, and Sylvia's quick mind divined the reason of my reluctance.

"Let us talk _en francais_," she said; "that will not disturb this good man, and he can go to sleep if he likes."

"_Tres bien_," I said, "_parlons nous en francais_."

"_Il serait charmant_," said she; "_j'aime la belle langue_."

The old man turned his head from one to the other of us; all his placidity vanished, and he exclaimed,--

"_Ciel! Voila les anges l'un et l'autre qui vient parler ma chere langue._"

"Good gracious!" exclaimed Sylvia, "I thought he was Irish."

The patient now took the talking business into his own hands, and in his dear language told us his tale of woe. It was a very ordinary tale, and its dolefulness was relieved by the old man's delight at finding people who could talk to him like Christians. One of his woes was that he had not been long enough married to his wife to teach her much French.

"I wish," interpolated Sylvia to me, "that we had kept on in English. It would have been much more satisfactory. I expect one of the other sisters will be here before very long, and before she comes I wish you would tell me how you are getting on with your book. I have been thinking about it, ever and ever so much."

"I am not getting on at all," said I; "without you there will be no book."

At this Sylvia knit her brows a little, and looked disturbed.

"That is not a good way to talk about it," she said, "unless, indeed, the book could be made a part of the brotherhood work, in some way. The publisher might want a typewritten copy, and if I should make it, I should know the end of the story of Tomaso and Lucilla. You know I had almost given up ever knowing what finally happened to those two."

"You shall know it," said I; "we shall work together yet. I can think of a dozen ways in which we can do it, and I intend to prove that my brotherhood idea is thoroughly practicable."

"Of course it is," said Sylvia; "isn't this practical?" and she bedewed the patient's brow so liberally, that some of the perfume ran into his eyes, and made him wink vigorously.

"_Merci, mademoiselle_," said he, "_mais pas beaucoup, mais pas beaucoup_!"

"A capital practical idea has just occurred to me," I said; "do you think you shall be here to-morrow?"

"I expect to come here," she answered, "for I take a great deal of interest in this old man. Mother Anastasia is still away, and I expect that Sister Sarah will send me again, for this is the kind of work she believes in. She has a very poor opinion of typewriting; but, of course, a sister will come with me."

"There is one coming to join you now," I said; "I see her gray figure on the top of the hill. As she will not understand matters, and as I do not wish to talk any more about my plans, until I am better able to show how they will work, I think it will be well for me to retire; but I shall be here to-morrow morning, and it would suit my plans very well if another sister comes with you."

Sylvia looked around at the approaching gray figure.

"I think that is Sister Lydia," she said, "at least, I think I recognize her walk, and so it might be well for you to go. If it were Sister Agatha it wouldn't matter so much. Of course, when your plan is all explained and agreed to, it will not make any difference who comes or goes."

"Very true," said I, "and now I think I will bid you good-morning. Be sure and be here to-morrow."

She shook hands with me, across the prostrate form of the rheumatic Frenchman, who smiled, and murmured, "_Bien, bien, mes anges_," and she assured me that I might expect her on the morrow.

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