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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe House Of Martha - Chapter 45. I Make Coffee And Get Into Hot Water
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The House Of Martha - Chapter 45. I Make Coffee And Get Into Hot Water Post by :mrtwist Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :2864

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The House Of Martha - Chapter 45. I Make Coffee And Get Into Hot Water

XLV. I MAKE COFFEE AND GET INTO HOT WATER

I do not like to do anything which looks in the least underhanded, but I must admit that I left that wretched cottage by the back door, and taking a path through some woods, made a wide circuit before returning to the village.

As soon as I reached my house, I called Walkirk from his writing, and rapidly gave him instructions in regard to the execution of an idea which had come into my mind during my brotherhood labors of the morning.

I told him to hasten to the scene of my building operations, and to take away all the carpenters, painters, and plasterers he could crowd into a two-horse wagon, and to go with them to the house of the rheumatic Frenchman, from which I knew the sisters would have departed before he reached it. I promised to join him there, and at the same time that he set out on his errand, I hurried to a shop in the village, the owner of which combined the occupations of cabinet maker and undertaker, and who generally kept on hand a small stock of cheap furniture. From this I selected such articles as I thought would be suitable or useful in a small house, which at present contained nothing too good for a bonfire, and ordered them sent immediately to the Frenchman's cottage.

I reached this wretched little house a few minutes before the arrival of Walkirk and the wagon-load of mechanics. My under-study had entered heartily into my scheme, and by his directions the men had brought with them everything needed to carry out my plans, and in a very short time he and I had set every man to work.

There were carpenters, plasterers, painters, paper-hangers, and a tinner and glazier, and when they learned that I wanted that little house completely renovated in the course of the afternoon, they looked upon the business as a lark, and entered into it with great spirit. The astonished woman of the house did not understand what was about to happen, and even when I had explained it to her, her mind seemed to take in nothing except the fact that the house ought to be cleaned before the painting and paper-hanging began, but there was no time for delays of this sort, and the work went on merrily.

When the furniture arrived, the woman gave a gasp, for the last time the vehicle which brought them to her house had been there, it had taken away her previous husband. But a bureau and table and a roll of carpet assured her of its different purpose, and she turned in with a will to assist in arranging these articles.

Before dark the work was all done. The rheumatic Frenchman was lying on a shining new bedstead, a box of Pepper Pod Plasters had been placed in the hands of his delighted wife, a grocery wagon had deposited a load of goods in the kitchen, the mechanics in gay spirits had driven away, and Walkirk and I, tired, but triumphant, walked home, leaving behind us a magical transformation, a pervading smell of paint and damp wall-paper, and an aged couple as much dazed as delighted with what had happened.

Soon after breakfast the next day, I repaired to the bright and tidy little cottage, and there I had my reward. Standing near the house a little in the shadow of a good sized evergreen-tree, which I had ordered transplanted bodily from the woods into the little yard, I beheld Sylvia approaching, and with her a sister with a bandaged face whom I rightly supposed to be the amiable Sister Agatha.

When the two came within a moderate distance of the cottage they stopped, they looked about them from side to side, and it was plain to see that they imagined they were on the wrong road. Then they walked forward a bit, stopped again, and finally came towards the house on a run.

I advanced to meet them.

"Good morning, sisters," said I. The two were so much astonished that they did not return my greeting, and for a few moments scarcely noticed me. Then Sylvia turned.

"How in the world," she exclaimed, "did all this happen? It must be the same house."

I smiled. "It is very simple," said I; "this"--and as I spoke I waved my hand towards the cottage--"is an instance of the way in which the brothers of the House of Martha intend to work."

"And you did this?" exclaimed Sylvia, with radiant eyes.

I explained to the eagerly listening sisters how the transformation had been accomplished, and with a sort of reverent curiosity they approached the house. Sister Agatha's astonishment was even greater than that of Sylvia, for she had long known the wretched place.

"It is a veritable miracle," she said, "see this beautiful white fence, and the gate; it opens on hinges!"

"Be careful," said I, as they entered the little yard, "some of the paint may yet be wet, although I told them to put as much drying stuff in as was possible."

"Actually," cried Sylvia, "a gravel walk up to the house!"

"And the outside a daffodil yellow, with fern green blinds!" said Sister Agatha.

"And the eaves tipped with geranium red!" cried Sylvia.

"And a real tree on each side of the front door, and new steps!" exclaimed Sister Agatha.

When they entered the house the amazement and delight of the two sisters was a joy to my soul. They cried out at the carpet on the floor, the paper on the walls, the tables, the chairs, the bureau, the looking-glass, the three framed lithographs on the wall, the clock, and the shining new bedstead on which their patient lay.

"If Mother Anastasia could but see this," cried Sylvia, "she would believe in the brotherhood."

"He sez yer angels," said the woman of the house, coming forward, "that's what he sez; an' he's roight too, for with thim Pepper Pod Plasters, an' the smell of paint in the house which he hates, he'll be out o' doors in two days, or I'm much mishtaken."

Sylvia and I now approached the old man to see what he thought about it. He was very grateful, and said nothing about the smell of paint, but we found him with a burning desire in his heart which had been fanned into flames by the arrival of the groceries on the day before. He eagerly asked us if we could make coffee; when he was well he could make it himself, but since he had been lying on that bed, he had not tasted a drop of the beloved liquid. His wife did not drink it, and could not make it, but as we could speak French, and had sent coffee, he felt sure that we could compound the beverage, so dear to the French heart.

"The angels make coffee," he said, in his best patois, "otherwise what would Heaven be?"

Both of the angels declared that the good man should have some coffee without delay, but Sylvia said to me, that although she had not the least idea how to make it, she was quite sure Sister Agatha could do it. But that sister, when asked, declared that she knew nothing about coffee, and did not approve of it for sick people, but if the man did not like the tea his wife made, she would try what she could do.

But this offer was declined. The old man must have his coffee, and as there was no one else to make it, I undertook to do it myself. I thought I remembered how coffee had been made, when I had been camping out, and I went promptly to work. Everybody helped. The old woman ground the berries, Sister Agatha stirred up the fire, and Sylvia broke two eggs, in order to get shells enough to clear the liquid.

It was a good while before the coffee was ready, but at last it was made, and Sylvia carried it to our patient in a great bowl. She sat down on one side of the bed to administer the smoking beverage with a spoon, while I sat on the other side and raised the old man's head that he might drink the better. After swallowing the first tablespoonful, the patient winked.

"I hope it did not scald his throat," said Sylvia, "Do you know what 'scald' is in French?"

"I cannot remember," said I, "you had better let the next spoonful cool a little,"--but the patient opened his mouth for more.

"_C'est potage_," he said, "_mais il est bon_."

"I am sorry I made soup of it," I said to Sylvia, "but I am sure it tastes like coffee."

We continued to feed the old man, who absorbed the new-fangled broth as fast as it was given to him, until a voice behind me made us both jump.

"Sister Hagar," said the voice, "what does this mean?"

"Goodness, Mother Anastasia," cried Sylvia, "you made me scald the outside of his throat."

At the foot of the bed stood Mother Anastasia clad in her severest gray, her brows knit and her lips close pressed.

"Sister Hagar," she repeated, "what is all this?"

I let down the old man's head, and Sylvia, placing the almost empty bowl upon the table, replied serenely:--

"Mr. Vanderley is making a beginning in brotherhood work--the brotherhood of the House of Martha, you know. I think it would work splendidly. Just look around and see what he has done. He has made this charming cottage out of an old rattle-trap house. Everything you see in one afternoon, and lots of provisions in the kitchen besides. Sisters alone could never have done this."

Mother Anastasia turned to me.

"I will speak with you, outside," she said, and I followed her into the little yard. As soon as we were far enough from the house to speak without being overheard, she stopped, and turning to me, said:--

"You are not content with driving me from the life on which I had set my heart, back into this mistaken vocation, but you are determined to make my lot miserable and unhappy. And not mine only, but that of that simple-hearted and unsuspecting girl. I do not see how you can be so selfishly cruel. You are resolved to break her heart, and to do it in the most torturing way. But you shall work her no more harm. I do not now appeal to your honor, to your sense of justice; I simply say that I shall henceforth stand between you and her. What misery may come to her and to me from what you have already done I do not know, but you do no more."

I stood and listened with the blood boiling within me.

"Marcia Raynor," I said--"for I shall not call you by that title which you put on and take off as you please--I here declare to you that I shall never give up Sylvia. If I never speak to her again or see her I shall not give her up. I make no answer to what you have charged me with, but I say to you that as Sylvia's life and my life cannot be one as I would have it, I shall live the life that she lives, even though our lives be ever apart. For the love I bear her, I shall always do the work that she does. But I believe that the time will come when people, wiser than you are, will see that what I proposed to do is a good thing to do, and the time will come when a man and a woman can labor side by side in good works, and both do better work because they work together. And to Sylvia and to my plan of brotherhood, I shall ever be constant. Remember that."

Without a word or change in her expression she left me, went into the house, and closed the door behind her. I did not wish to make a scene, which would give rise to injurious gossip, and therefore walked away, though as I did so I turned to look in at the open window, but I did not see Sylvia; I only saw the bandaged face of Sister Agatha looking out at me, more mournful than before.

As I rapidly walked homeward, I said to myself, "Now I declare myself a full brother of the House of Martha. I shall take up their cause, and steadfastly work for it whether they like it or not."

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