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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe House Of Martha - Chapter 48. In A Cold, Bare Room
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The House Of Martha - Chapter 48. In A Cold, Bare Room Post by :best4you Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :917

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The House Of Martha - Chapter 48. In A Cold, Bare Room


When I reached Arden I took one of the melancholy vehicles which stand at our station, and very much astonished the driver by ordering him to take me, not to my own home, but to the House of Martha.

"You know they're busted up, sir," said the man, turning to me, as his old horse hurried us along at the best of his speed.

"But the sisters have not left?" I eagerly asked.

"Not all," he said, "but two or three of them went down this morning."

"Drive on quicker," I replied, "I am in a hurry."

The man gave the horse a crack with his whip, which made no difference whatever in our rate of speed, and said:--

"If you've got a bill agin any of them, sir, you needn't worry. The Mother is still there, and she's all right, you know."

"Bill? Nonsense!" said I.

"I'm sorry they're busted," said the man; "they didn't do much hackin', but they give us a lot of haulin' from the station."

As I hurried up the broad path which led to the front of the House of Martha, I found the door of the main entrance open, something I had never noticed before, although I had often passed the house. I entered unceremoniously, and saw before me, in the hallway, a woman in gray, stooping over a trunk. She turned, at the sound of my footsteps on the bare floor, and I beheld Sister Sarah. Her eyes flashed as she saw me, and I know that her first impulse was to order me out of the house. This of course she now had no right to do, but there were private rights which she still maintained.

"I should think," she said, "that a man who has done all the mischief that you have done, who has worked and planned and plotted and contrived, until he has undermined and utterly ruined the sisterhood of pious women who ask nothing of this world but to be let alone to do their own work in their own way, would be ashamed to put his nose into this house; but I suppose a man who would do what you have done does not know what shame is. Have you come here to sneer and jibe and scorn and mock, and gloat over the misfortunes of the women whose home you have broken up, ruined, and devastated?"

"Madam," said I, "can you tell me where I can find Miss Sylvia Raynor?"

She looked as if she were about to spring and bite.

"Atrocious!" she exclaimed. "I will not stay under the same roof,"--and she marched out of the door.

I made my way into the reception room. I met no one, and the room was empty, although I heard on the floor above the sound of many footsteps, apparently those of the sisters preparing for departure.

I looked around for a bell, or some means of making my presence known. The room appeared harder, barer, emptier than when I had seen it before. In a moment it was filled with all the light and beauty of the world. A door opened, and Sylvia entered.

"I saw you come," she said, advancing with outstretched hands, "and hurried down as soon as I could."

She was in her gray dress, but without shawl or head covering. Her face was filled with the most charming welcome. I hastened towards her. I did not take her hands, but opening my arms I folded her in them, and kissed her over and over again. With flushed face she pushed herself a little from me.

"Isn't this taking a great deal for granted?" she said.

"Granted!" I exclaimed, "think of what has been denied. Think of the weeks, the months"--

"We would a great deal better think somebody may come in here and see us," said Sylvia, pushing herself still farther from me.

"But didn't you expect me to rush to you the instant I heard you were a free woman? Did you suppose there was anything to be taken for granted between us?"

"Oh no," she said, "I think we understood each other pretty well, but then, don't you see, I didn't suppose it would be like this. I am expecting a trunk from New York every minute, and I thought when it came I should be dressed like other people. Now that I am not a sister, I did not want you to see me in these dreary clothes. Then I would go to my mother's house, and I thought you would call on me there, and things would go on more regularly; but you are so impetuous."

"My dearest love," said I, "it fills me with rapture to take you in my arms in the same dress you wore when I fell in love with you. Often and often as I looked at you through that grating have I thought that it would be to me the greatest joy on earth if I could take you in my arms and tell you that I loved you."

"You thought that!" exclaimed Sylvia; "it was very wrong of you."

"Right or wrong, I did it," said I, "and now I have her, my dear little nun, here in my arms."

She ceased to push and looked up at me with a merry smile.

"Do you remember," she said, "the morning the wasp came near stinging me?"

"Indeed I do," I said vehemently.

"Well, before that wasp came," she continued, "I used to be a good deal afraid of you. I thought you were very learned and dignified, but after I was so frightened, and you saw me without my bonnet, and all that, I felt we were very much more like friends, and that was the very beginning of my liking you."

"My darling," I exclaimed, "that wasp was the best friend we ever had. Do you want to see it?" and releasing her, I took from my pocket the pasteboard box in which I had placed our friend Vespa. As she looked at the insect, her face was lighted with joyous surprise.

"And that is the same wasp?" she said, "and you kept it?"

"Yes, and shall always keep it," I said, "even now it has not ceased to be our friend." And then I told her how my desire to take with me this memento of her had held me back from the rolling Atlantic, and brought me to her. She raised her face to me with her beautiful eyes in a mist of tenderness, and this time her arms were extended.

"You are the dearest man," she said.

In less than a minute after she had spoken these words, Mother Anastasia entered the room. She stood for a moment amazed, and then she hastily shut the door.

"Really," she exclaimed, "you two are incomprehensible beings. Don't you know that people might come in here at any moment? It is fortunate that I was the person who came in at this moment."

"But you knew he was here?" said Sylvia.

"Yes. I knew that," the other replied, "but I expected you would both remember that at present this house might almost be considered a public place."

"My dear Marcia," said Sylvia, "if you knew him as well as I do, you would know that he would never remember anything about a place."

I turned to the ex-Mother Superior, who had already discarded the garb of the sisterhood, and was dressed in a dark walking suit.

"If you knew me as well as I know myself," I said, reaching to her both my hands, "you would know that my gratitude towards you is deeper than the deepest depths of the earth." She took one of my hands.

"If you have anything to be grateful for," she said, "it is for the lectures I have given you, and which, I am afraid, I ought to continue to give you. As to what was done here yesterday I consider myself as much benefited as anybody, and I suppose Sylvia is of the same opinion regarding herself. But there is one person to whom you truly ought to be grateful--Miss Laniston."

"I know that," I said. "I have seen her; she told me what she did, and I treated her as I would treat a boy who had brushed my coat, but I shall make amends."

"Indeed you shall," said Sylvia, "and I will go with you when you do it."

"But you must not set yourself aside in this way," said I, addressing the older lady, "it was you who fanned my hopes of winning Sylvia when there seemed no reason why they should not fade away. It was you who promised to help me, and who did help me."

"Did you do that, Marcia?" asked Sylvia.

The beautiful woman who had been Mother Anastasia flushed a little, as she answered:--

"Yes, dear, but then you were only a sister on probation."

"And you wanted me to marry him?"

The other smiled and nodded, and in the next moment Sylvia's arms were about her neck, and Sylvia's lips were on her cheek.

I was very much affected, and there is no knowing how my feelings and gratitude might have been evinced, had not the clumping of a trunk upon the stairs and the voices of sisters at the door called me to order.

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