The House of Martha

XLVIII.

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,” remarked the man, turning to me, as his old horse hurried us along at his best pace.

“ But the sisters have not left ? ” I eagerly asked.

” Not all,” he replied, “ but two or three of them went down this morning.”

“ Drive on quicker,” I said. “ I am in a hurry.”

The man gave the horse a crack with his whip, which made no difference whatever in our speed, and said : “ If you ‘ve got a bill agin any of them, sir, you need n’t worry. The Mother is still there, and she’s all right, you know.”

“ Bill! Nonsense ! ” I answered.

“ I sorry they ‘re busted,” said the man. " They did n ‘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 seen 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 ; but. this, of course, she now had no right to do, yet there were private rights which she still maintained.

“ T should think,” she said, “ that a man who has done all the mischief you have done — who has worked and planned and plotted and contrived until he has undermined and utterly ruined a 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 gibe and scorn and mock and gloat over the misfortunes of the women whose home you have broken up, ruined, and devastated ? ”

“ Madam,”I replied, “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 with you.” And she marched out of the door.

I made my way into the receptionroom. 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 toward 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.

“Is n’t this taking a great deal for granted ? ” she asked.

“Granted!” I exclaimed. “ Think of what has been denied ! Think of the weeks, the months ” —

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

“ But did n’t you expect me to rush to you the instant I heard you were a free woman ? Bid you suppose there was anything to be taken for granted between ns ? ”

“ Oh, no,” she answered. " I think we understood each other pretty well, but then, don’t you see, I did n’t suppose it would be like this. I am expecting a trunk from New York every minute, and I thought that when it came I should be dressed like other people. Now that I am not a sister, I do not want you to see me in these dreary clothes. Then I would go to my mother’s house, and I supposed 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 X fell in love with you. Often and often, when 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.”I replied ; " 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 asked, “ 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,” J 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 inquired, “ and you kept it?”

“Yes, and shall always keep it,” I said. " Even now it has not ceased to be our friend.” 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 cried, “ 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 just now.”

“ But you knew he was here ? ” asked 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,舡 I said, stretching toward her both my hands, “ you would know that my gratitude toward 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 responded, “ 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,” replied 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 anti the voices of sisters at the door called me to order.

XLIX.

MY OWN WAY.

When I returned to my grandmother, she was greatly surprised to see me, and I lost no time in explaining my unexpected appearance.

“ Really, really ! ” she exclaimed. " I was just writing you a letter, which I intended to send so that you would get it when you arrived in London ; and in it I was going to tell you all about the breaking up of the House of Martha, of which I first heard half an hour after you left me. I was glad you did not know of it before you started, for I thought it would be so much better for all the changes to be made while you were away, and for Sylvia to be in her mother’s house, where she could get rid of her nunnish habits and have some proper clothes made up. Of course I knew you would come back soon, but I thought your own mind would be in much better order for a little absence.”

“ My dear grandmother,” I cried, “in mind and body I am in perfect order, and it is presence, not absence, which has made me so.”

“ Somehow or other,” said she, smiling, “the fates seem to help you to have your own way, and I am sure I am delighted that you will stay at home. But what has become of Mr. Walkirk ? ”

“ Upon my word, I answered, “ I do not know ! ”

Toward evening Walkirk returned, looking tired and out of spirits. I truly regretted the carelessness and neglect with which I had treated him, and explained and apologized to the best of my ability. He was a good-natured fellow, and behaved magnanimously.

舠 Things have turned out wonderfully well.” he said ; " and I assure you I shall be more pleased with the state of affairs when I am a litlle less fatigued. Minor annoyances ought not to be considered, but I have really had a pretty rough time of it. As the hour for sailing drew near, and you did not make your appearance, I became more and more nervous and anxious. I would not allow our baggage to be put on board, for I knew a conference with a lady was likely to be of indefinite duration ; and when at last the steamer sailed, I went immediately to Miss Laniston’s house to inform you of the fact, and to find out what you proposed to do ; but Miss Laniston was not at home, and the servant told me that a gentleman — undoubtedly you — had left the house nearly an hour before, and his great haste made her think that he was trying to catch a steamer. ‘ People would not hurry like that,’ she said, ‘ to catch a train, for there’s always another one in an hour or two.’

“ Then I began to fear that, in your haste, you had gone on board the wrong steamer. Two others sailed to-day, a little later than ours, and I hastened to their piers and made all sorts of inquiries, but I could find out nothing. Then I went to your club, to your lawyer’s office, and several other places where I supposed you might go, but no one had seen or heard of you. A fear began to creep over me that you had had some greatly depressing news from Miss Laniston, and that you had made away with yourself.”

“ Walkirk ! ” I exclaimed, “ how dared you think that?耡

“ Men in the nervous condition I was,” he answered, “ think all sorts of things, and that is one of the things I thought. Finally I went to Miss Laniston’s house again, and this time I found her, and learned what had happened. Then I returned to the pier, ordered the trunks Sent back here, for I knew there was no trip to Europe now, and here I am.”

It was easy to see that whatever pleasure the turn in my affairs may have given Walkirk, he was disappointed at losing his trip to Europe ; but I thought it well not to reopen his wound by any allusion to this fact, and contented myself by saying the most earnest and cordial things about what he had done and suffered for me that day, and inwardly determining that I should make full amends to him for his lost journey.

In about ten days I received a message by cable from Liverpool, which was sent by my stenographer, informing me that he had gone aboard the steamer, as per agreement, and, being busy writing letters to send back by the pilot, had not discovered that Malkirk and I were not on board until it was too late. The message was a long one, and its cost, as well as that of the one by which I informed the stenographer that he might come home, and the price of the man’s passage to Liverpool and back, as well as the sum I was obliged to pay him for his lost time, might all have been saved, had the fellow been thoughtful enough to make sure that we were on board before he allowed himself to be carried off. But little rubs of this kind were of slight moment to me at that time.

On the day after things had been taken for granted between Sylvia and myself, I saw her at her mother’s house, and I must admit that, although it had given me such exquisite pleasure to feel she was mine in the coarse gray gown of a “ sister,” it delighted me more to feel she was mine in the ordinary costume of society. She was as gay as a butterfly should be which had just cast off its gray wrappings and spread its wings to the coloring light.

I found Mrs. Raynor in a somewhat perturbed state of mind.

“ I cannot accommodate myself,” she said, “ to these sudden and violent mutations. I like to sit on the sands and stay there as long as I please, and to feel that I know how high each breaker will be, and how far the tide will come in ; but these tidal waves which make beach of sea and sea of beach sweep me away utterly. I cannot comprehend where I am. A week ago I considered you an enemy, with active designs on the peace of my daughter. I was about to write you a letter to demand that you should cease from troubling her. Then I heard you were going to Europe, and I felt that henceforth our paths would be smoother, for I believed that absence would cure you of your absurd infatuation ; but suddenly down goes the House of Martha, and up comes the enemy, transformed into a suitor, who is loved by Sylvia, and against whom I can have no possible objection. Now cannot you see for yourself how this sort of thing must affect a mind accustomed to a certain uniformity of emotion ? ”

“Madam,” I answered, “it will be the object of my life to make you so happy in our happiness that you shall remember this recent tumult of events as something more gratifying to look back upon than your most cherished memories of tranquil delight.”

“ You seem to have a high opinion of your abilities, and of the value of what you offer me,”she said, smiling, “ but I am perfectly willing that you should try what you can do ; nevertheless, I wish you had gone to Europe. Everything would have turned out just the same, and the affair would have been more seemly.”

“ Oh, we can easily make that all right,” I replied. “ Sylvia and I will go to Europe on our bridal trip.”

As I finished these words, Sylvia came into the room accompanied by Miss Laniston.

“ Here is a gentleman,” remarked my dear girl to her companion, “who has declared his desire to thank you for something you have done for him ; and he has spoken so strongly about the way in which he intends to pour out his gratitude that I want to see how he does it.”

“Mr. Vanderley,舡 said Miss Laniston, “ I forbid you to utter one word of that outpouring which you would have achieved yesterday morning had it not been so urgently necessary to catch a train. When I am ready for the outpouring, I will fix a time for it, and let you know the day before, and I will take care that no one shall be present but ourselves.”

“ Any way,” said Sylvia, “ he will tell me all about it.”

“ If he does,” continued Miss Laniston, “ you will reënter a convent.”

L.

MY BOOK OF TRAVEL.

When the House of Martha had been formally abolished, the members of the sisterhood made various dispositions of themselves. Some determined to enter institutions of a similar character, while others who had homes planned to retire to them, with the intention of endeavoring to do what good they could without separating themselves from the world in which they were to do it. Sister Sarah was greatly incensed at the dissolution of the House, and much more so because, had it continued, she expected to be at the head of it. She declared her determination of throwing herself into the arms of the Mother Church, where a sisterhood meant something, and where such nonsense and treachery as this would be impossible.

I did not enjoy the autumn of that year so fully as I should have enjoyed it had I been able to arrange matters according to my own ideas of what was appropriate to the case. Sylvia lived in the city, and I lived in the country, and although I visited her whenever I could, and she and her mother dined several times with my grandmother, there were often long stretches, sometimes extending over the greater part of a day, when I did not see her at all.

Thus it was that I had sometimes to think of other things, and one morning I remarked to my understudy: “Walkirk, there is something I regret very much, and that is the non-completion of my book. I shall never finish it, I am sure, because everything that has ever happened to me is going to be made uninteresting and tedious by what is to happen. Travel as well as life itself will be quite another thing to me, and I am sure that I shall be satisfied with enjoying it, and shall not want to write about it. And so good-by to the book.舡

“In regard to your book,” said Walkirk, “ I feel it my duty to say to you that there is no occasion for you to bid good-by to it.”

“ You are wrong there ! ” I exclaimed. “ I shall never write it. I do not want to write it.”

“ Nevertheless,” Walkirk remarked, “ the book will be written. I shall write it. In fact I have written a great part of it already.”

“ What in the name of common sense do you mean ? ” I cried, staring at him in astonishment.

“ What I am going to say to you,” replied Walkirk, “ may displease you, but I earnestly hope that you may eventually agree with me that what I have done is for the general good. You may remember that when you began to talk to me of your travels, you also handed me some of the manuscript you had prepared for the opening chapters of your book, and gave me an outline of the projected plan of the work. Now, as I have often told you, I consider the material for a book of travels contained in your experiences as recited to me extremely fresh, novel, and entertaining, and it would undoubtedly make what publishers call a ‘ hit ’ if properly presented ; but at the same time I am compelled to say that I soon became convinced that there was no probability that you would properly present your admirable subject matter to the reading world.”

“Upon my word,” said I, “this is cool!”

“ It is hard to speak to you in this manner,” he answered, “ and the only way in which I can do it is to be perfectly straightforward and honest about it. I am at heart a literary man, and, so far as I have the power, have cultivated the art of putting things effectively ; and I assure you, sir, that it gave me actual pain when I found how you were going to present some of the incidents of your journey, such as, for instance, your diving experiences in the Maelstrom, or at least in the place where it was supposed to be, and where, judging from your discoveries, it may, under certain conditions and to a certain extent, really exist.

“ There were a good many other points which I believed could be made of startling interest and value, not only to ordinary readers, but to scientific people, if they were properly brought out. I saw no reason to suppose that you would so bring them out, and I felt not only that I could do it, but that it would greatly please me to do it.

“ My feeling on the subject was so strong that, as you may remember, I declined to act as your secretary. I am perhaps over-sensitive, but I could not have written your book as you would have dictated it to me, and as you did indeed dictate it to your various secretaries.舡

“ Go on,”I said. “ I am perfectly charmed with my power of repressing resentment.”

“ Therefore it was,”he continued, “ that I set to work to write the book myself, founding it entirely upon your daily recitals. My plan was to write as long as you were in the humor to talk, and, if you should lose your interest in me as a listener I would then declare what I had done, show you my work, and implore you to give me enough matter to finish it.

“ I have now stated my case, and I place it entirely in your hands. I will show you what I have written, and if you choose to read it, and do not like it, you can throw it into the fire. The subject matter is yours, and I have no rights over it. But if you think that the work which you have decided to discontinue can be successfully carried on by me, I shall be delighted to go ahead and finish it. 舡

“ Walkirk,” I answered, “ you have the effrontery of a stone sphinx ; but let me see your manuscript.”

He handed it to me, and during the rest of the morning, and for a great part of the night, after I had returned in a late train from the city, I read it. The next day I gave it back to him.

“Walkirk,” said I, “as my understudy go ahead and finish this book. You never came nearer the truth than when you said that the material was vastly interesting.”

Walkirk was charmed, and took up the work with enthusiasm. Whenever I had a chance I talked to him, and whenever he had a chance he wrote. However, at that time I handed over so much of my business to my understudy that he was not able to devote himself to his literary work as assiduously as he and I desired. In fact, the book is not yet finished, but when it appears I think it will be a success.

LI.

A LOOSE END.

I was now a very happy man, but I was not an entirely satisfied one. Looking back upon what had happened, I could see that there were certain loose ends which ought to be gathered up before they were broken off and lost, or tangled up with something to which they did not belong.

It has always been my disposition to gather up the loose ends, to draw together the floating strands of circumstance, tendency, intention, and all that sort of thing, so that I may see what they are and where they come from. I like to know how they stand in relation to me, and how they may affect me.

One of the present loose ends was brought to my mind by a conversation with Sylvia. I had been speaking of her cousin Marcia Raynor, and expressing my pleasure that she was about to enter a new life, to which she seemed so well adapted.

“Marcia is a fine woman,”she said, “and I love her ever so much ; but you know she has caused me a great deal of pain ; she has actually made me cry when I have been in bed at night.”

I assured her that I had never imagined such a thing possible.

“ Of course,” Sylvia continued, “ I do not refer to the way she acted just before the House of Martha was broken up. Then she opposed everything I wanted to do, and would listen to no reason ; but I would n’t listen to her reasons either, and I was entirely too angry with her to think of crying on her account. It was before that time that she made my very heart sick, and all on your account.”

“ She was severe upon me, I suppose ? ”

“ Not a bit of it,” said Sylvia; “if she had been severe, I should not have minded it so much, but it was quite the other way. Now just put yourself in my place and try to think how you would have felt about it. There was I, fixed and settled for life in the House of Martha ; and there were you, perfectly convinced — at least I was afraid you were convinced—that there was nothing for you to do but to give me up; and there was Marcia, just about to step out into the world a free woman, and at the same time taking a most wonderful interest in you, and trying to make you understand that you ought to let me alone, and all that sort of thing.”

“In which she did not succeed at all,” I remarked.

“ So it appears,"’ continued Sylvia, “but I could n’t be sure about that at the time, you know ; and if she had succeeded there was no earthly reason why you should not have become as much interested in her as she was in you, and then— But it’s too dreadful to talk about; it used to make my blood fairly boil.”

“ You mean to say,” I asked, “ that you were jealous of your cousin Marcia ? ”

“Yes,” she answered, “there is no use in calling my feelings by any other name. I was jealous, — savagely so, sometimes.”

Now this was a very high compliment, and I did not fail to express my satisfaction at having been the subject of such emotions. But one of the results of Sylvia’s communication was to remind me of the existence of a loose end. I had never understood Mother Anastasia’s feelings toward me. It had been very interesting to make conjectures about those feelings, and now that I could safely do more than conjecture, I wished to find out, if possible, if there had been any reasons for the construction I had placed upon the actions of the beautiful Mother Superior. Of course this was of no real importance now, but one cannot be brought into relations with such a woman as Marcia Raynor without desiring to know exactly what those relations are.

I had far too much prudence, however, to talk on this subject with Sylvia; if I talked with any one, I must do it very cautiously. One morning I called upon Miss Laniston. That lady was well informed on a great many points, and, moreover, was exceedingly freespoken. I did not expect any direct information from her, but she might say something from which I could make inferences.

She thought I had come to thank her for what she had done for me ; but I assured her that this ceremony must be postponed for the present, for Sylvia had instructed me to write my gratitude in a letter, which she thought would be a much better method than for me to pour it out in a private interview.

“ Your Sylvia appears to be a jealous little body,” she remarked.

“ Oh no,” said I ; “ although it is natural enough for persons in our state of mind to have tendencies in that direction. By the way, one of these tendencies on her part was rather odd. Are you aware that at one time she was almost jealous of her cousin Marcia, then a gray-bonneted sister? As you know so much of our affairs, I do not think I am going too far in telling you that.”

Miss Laniston considered the subject.

“It is the commonest thing,” she said presently, “ to make mistakes about matters of this sort. Now, for instance, I once put a few questions to you which seemed to indicate that there might be some reason for Sylvia’s uneasiness. Did n’t you think they pointed that way ? ”

“ Yes, I did,” I replied.

” And have you ever thought of them since?” she asked.

“ Occasionally. The matter is of no vital interest now; but at the time you spoke of it, I could not help wondering if I had said or done anything, during my rather intimate acquaintance with Mother Anastasia, which would give you good cause to put the questions to which yon just now alluded.”

“ Well,” said Miss Laniston, “you appeared to me, at the time, to be in a decidedly unbalanced state of mind ; but I think I acted most unwarrantably in speaking of Marcia as I did. In fact, I often act unwarrantably. It is one of my habits. And to prove it to you, I am going to act unwarrantably again. Having brought the elder Miss Raynor before you in a way that might have led you to have certain undefined ideas about her, I am going to bring her before you again, in order that those ideas may be exactly defined. It is all wrong, I know ; but I do like to set things straight, whether I do it in the right way or wrong way.”

“ That is exactly my disposition,” I replied ; “ I always want to set things straight.”

She left the room, and soon returned with a letter.

“ When I decide positively to do a thing,”she said, sitting down and opening the letter, “ I think it just as well to drop apologies and excuses. You and I have decided that matters ought to be set straight, and so let us do it. Marcia has just written me a long letter, in which she says a good deal about you and Sylvia, and I am going to read you a part of it, which I think will straighten out some things that I may have made crooked in my efforts to do good to all parties concerned, — a dangerous business, I may say.

“'It is delightful to think,’ thus Marcia writes, ‘that Sylvia’s life is at last settled for her, and that, too, in the right way. Of course, neither you nor I would be satisfied with a match like that, yet Sylvia is not only satisfied with Mr. Vanderley, but I have no doubt that she will be perfectly happy with him. More than that, I believe she will supply his shortcomings and strengthen his weaknesses ; and as he has a naturally good disposition and an ample fortune, I am sure Sylvia is to be sincerely congratulated. When we first spoke of this matter, a good while ago, I thought that if the Sylvia-Vanderley affair could ever be arranged it would be a good thing, and I have not changed my opinion.’

“The rest of the letter,” said Miss Laniston, folding it as she spoke, “ chiefly concerns the new college, and I do not suppose it would interest you.”

1 agreed with her, and took my leave. The loose end had been gathered up.

LII.

I FINISH THE SICILIAN LOVE STORY.

It might be supposed that my little experience in gathering up loose ends would deter me from further efforts in this direction, but it did not.

I had left Miss Laniston without asking some questions I intended to put to her. I wished very much to know — I thought it was my right to know — something definite about the Mr. Brownson who had formerly been connected, so to speak, with the Misses Raynor. I hated this subject as I hated the vilest medicine, but I felt that I must get the matter straightened in my mind; yet I could not say anything to Sylvia about it, and after what Miss Laniston had read to me I could not ask her anything, even if I had been sufficiently composed to formulate questions. That lady was a very plain-spoken person ; too much so, perhaps.

Walkirk was very different; in fact, I think he erred on the other side. I am sure that he would have liked to conceal from me anything that would give me pain. During his life he had met a great many people ; he might know something about Brownson. Any way, I would throw out some feelers in that direction.

“ Yes,” I remarked to him, in a conversation about the late Mother Superior, “ what she is going to do is a very fine thing, a noble enterprise, and she is just the sort of person to go into it; but after all I would rather see her married to the right sort of man. A woman like that owes it to society to be married.舡

“I fancy.舡 said Walkirk, “ that she has permanently left the marrying class. When she broke with Brownson, I think she broke with marriage.”

“ What were the points of that affair?” I asked. “Did you ever happen to hear anything about him? ”

“ I knew him very well,” answered Walkirk. “Those were his prints I was cataloguing just before I entered your service. He had then been dead a year or more, and I was working for the estate.”

I arose and went to the window, I wiped my forehead, which had become moist. If this man had known Brownson, why should he not know all? Was he familiar with both engagements ? It made me sick to think of it. There was no sense or reason in such emotion, for it was not likely that Sylvia’s engagement had been a secret one ; but I had a proud soul, and could not bear to think that people about me, especially Walkirk, should be aware of Sylvia’s attachment, slight as it may have been, to another than myself. I heartily wished that I had not spoken of the subject. Still, as I had spoken of it, I might as well learn all I could.

“ What sort of a man was this Brownson ? ” I asked. “ What reason was there that Miss Marcia Raynor should care for him ? ”

“ He was a fine man,” said Walkirk. “ He was educated, good looking, rich. He was young enough, but had been a bachelor too long, perhaps, and had very independent ways. It was on account of his independence of thought, especially on religious matters, that he and Miss Marcia Raynor had the difficulties which ended in the breaking of their engagement. I am quite sure that she was a good deal cut up. As I remarked before, I do not think that she will consider marriage again.”

I took in a full breath of relief. Walkirk had told the little story of Brownson, and had said nothing of any subsequent engagement. Perhaps he knew of none. This thought was truly encouraging.

“ Perhaps you are right,” I said. “She may know better than any of us what will suit her. Any way, I ought to be satisfied. And that reminds me, Walkirk, that I have never expressed to you, as strongly as I wished, my appreciation of the interest you have taken in my varied relations with Miss Sylvia Raynor, and of the valuable advice and assistance you have given me from time to time. For instance, I believe that your reluctance to have me go away from Tangent Island was due to your discovery that the island belonged to Sylvia’s mother, and that therefore there was some probability that she might come there.”

Walkirk smiled. “ You have hit the truth,” he answered.

“ I have sometimes wondered,” I continued, “ why a man should take so much interest in the love affairs of another. When one engages an understudy, he does not generally expect that sort of thing.”

“Well,” replied Walkirk, “when a man engages as an understudy, or in a similar capacity, he often performs services without regard to his duty and salary, simply because they interest and please him. Now it struck me that it would be a curious bit of romantic realism, if two beautiful women, who on account of one man had become nuns in a convent, or what was practically the same thing, should both be taken out of that convent and brought back to their true life in the world by another man.”

“ Two women ?” I gasped.

Walkirk smiled, and his voice assumed a comforting tone.

“ Of course that sort of thing has its rough points for the second man, but in this case I do not think they amount to much. Brownson’s affair with the younger lady would have come to an end so soon as she had discovered the rocks in his character, but her mother broke it off before it came to that. Still, I do not think she would have gone into the sisterhood if it had not been for the man’s death very soon after the breaking of the engagement. This affected her very much, but there was no reason why it should, for he was killed in a railway accident, and I have no doubt that he would have married some one else if he had lived long enough.”

I had nothing to say to all this. I walked slowly into my study and shut the door. Surely I had had enough of picking up loose ends. If there were any more of them. I would let them flap, dangle, float, in the air, do what they please; I would not touch them.

That evening I spent with Sylvia. In the course of our conversation she suddenly remarked : —

舠Do you know, we have so much to do, and so much to talk about, and so much to think about and plan, that I have had no chance to ask you some questions that I have been thinking about. In the first place, I want you to tell me all about Mr. Walkirk. How long has he been with you ? Are you always going to keep him ? What does he do ? What was his business before he came to you ? Was he always an understudy for people? It has struck me that this must be such an odd occupation for a man to have. And then there is another thing ; a mere supposition of mine, but still something that I have had a sort of curiosity about : suppose that the House of Martha had not been broken up, and it were all fixed and settled that I should stay there always, and suppose cousin Marcia had left us, and had gone into her college work, just as she is doing now, do you think that you would have had any desire to study medicine ? And then there is another thing that is not a question, but something which I think I ought to tell you, — something which you have a right to know before we are married.”

“ Sylvia,” said I, interrupting her, let me offer you a little piece of wisdom from my own experience : The gnawings of ungratified curiosity are often very irritating, but we should remember that the gnawings of gratified curiosity are frequently mangling.”

“Indeed!” she exclaimed, “is that the way you look at it? Well, I can assure you that what I have to tell is of no importance at all ; but if you have anything to say that is mangling, I want to hear it this very minute.”

舠 My dear Sylvia, 舡 said I, “we have had so much to do, and so much to talk about, and so much to think about and plan, that I have had no chance to finish the story of Tomaso and Lucilla.”

“ That is true ! ” she cried, with sparkling eyes, “and above all things I want to hear the end of that story.”

I sat by her side on the sofa and finished the story of the Sicilian lovers.

“ In some ways,” she said, “ it is very much like our story, is n’t it? ”

“ Except,” I answered, “the best part of ours is just beginning.”

Frank R. Stockton.