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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe House Of Martha - Chapter 11. My Nun
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The House Of Martha - Chapter 11. My Nun Post by :best4you Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :809

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The House Of Martha - Chapter 11. My Nun


At nine o'clock on the morning of the appointed day my new secretary came, accompanied by one of those sisters called by Walkirk sub-mothers.

My grandmother received the two, and conducted them to the secretary's room. I was sitting in my study, but no attention was paid to me. The sub-mother advanced to the grating, and, having examined it, appeared satisfied to find that it was securely fastened in the doorway. The nun, as I called her, although Walkirk assured me the term was incorrect, stood with her back toward me, and when her companion had said a few words to her, in a low tone, she took her seat at the table. She wore a large gray bonnet, the sides and top of which extended far beyond her face, a light gray shawl, and a gray gown. She sat facing the window, with her left side turned toward me, and from no point of my study could I get a glimpse of her features.

The sub-mother looked out of the window, which opened upon little more than the once husband-sheltering apple-tree, and then, after a general glance around the room, she looked at me, and for the first time addressed me.

"I will come for the sister at twelve o'clock," she said, and with that she followed my grandmother out of the room, and locked the door behind her.

I stood and looked through the grating at my new secretary. I am not generally a diffident man, and have never been so with persons in my employment; but now, I must admit, I did not feel at my ease. The nun sat perfectly motionless; her hands were folded in her gray lap, and her gray bonnet was slightly bowed, so that I did not know whether she was gazing down at the table or out of the window.

She was evidently ready for work, but I was not. I did not know exactly how to begin with such a secretary. With the others I had been outspoken from the first; I had told them what I wanted and what I did not want, and they had been ready enough to listen and ready enough to answer. But to this silent, motionless gray figure I did not feel that I could be outspoken. No words suggested themselves as being appropriate to speak out. If I could see her face but for a moment, and discover whether she were old or young, cross-looking or gentle, I might know what to say to her. My impulse was to tell her there was a hook on which she could hang her bonnet and shawl, but as I did not know whether or not these sisters ever took off their bonnets and shawls, I did not feel at liberty to make this suggestion.

But it would not do to continue there, looking at her. She might be a very shy person, and if I appeared shy it would probably make her all the shyer; so I spoke.

"You will find paper," I said, "in the drawer of your table, and there are pens, of different sorts, in that tray." She opened the drawer, took out some paper, and selected a pen, all without turning her head toward me. Having broken the ice, I now felt impelled to deliver a short lecture on my requirements; but how could I say what I required without knowing what manner of person it was of whom I required it? I therefore postponed the lecture, and determined to begin work without further delay, as probably that would be the best way to put us both at our ease. But it had been more than two weeks since I had done any work, and I could not remember what it was that I had been dictating, or endeavoring to dictate, to the lady with the malarial husband. I therefore thought it well to begin at a fresh point, and to leave the gap to be filled up afterward. I felt quite sure, when last at work, I had been treating of the south of France, and had certainly not reached Marseilles. I therefore decided to take a header for Marseilles, and into Marseilles I plunged.

As soon as I began to speak the nun began to write, and having at last got her at work I felt anxious to keep her at it, and went steadily on through the lively seaport; touching upon one point after another as fast as I thought of them, and without regard to their proper sequence. But although I sometimes skipped from one end of the city to the other, and from history to street scenes, I dictated steadily, and the nun wrote steadily. She worked rapidly, and apparently heard and understood every word I said, for she asked no questions and did not hesitate. I am sure I never before dictated so continuously. I had been in the habit of stopping a good deal to think, not only about my work, but about other things, but now I did not wish to stop.

This amanuensis was very different from any other I had had. The others worked to make money for themselves, or to please me, or because they liked it. This one worked from principle. The money which I paid for her labor did not become her money. It was paid to the House of Martha. She sat there and wrote to promote the principles upon which the House of Martha was founded. In fact, so far as I was concerned, she was nothing more than a principle.

Now, to interfere with the working of a principle is not the right thing to do, and therefore I felt impelled to keep on dictating, which I did until the hall door of the secretary's room was unlocked and the sub-mother walked in. She came forward and said a few words to the nun, who stopped writing and wiped her pen. The other then turned to me, and in a low voice asked if the work of the sister was satisfactory. I advanced to the grating, and answered that I was perfectly satisfied, and was about to make some remarks, which I hoped would lead to a conversation, when the sub-mother--whose name I subsequently learned was Sister Sarah--made a little bow, and, saying if that were the case they would return at nine the next morning, left the room in company with the nun. The latter, when she arose from the table, turned her back to me, and went out without giving me the slightest opportunity of looking into her cavernous bonnet. This she did, I must admit, in the most natural way possible, which was probably the result of training, and gave one no idea of rudeness or incivility.

When they were gone I was piqued, almost angry with myself. I had intended stopping work a little before noon, in order to talk to that nun, even if she did not answer or look at me. She should discover that if she was a principle, I was, at least, an entity. I did not know exactly what I should say to her, but it would be something one human being would be likely to say to another human being who was working for him. If from the first I put myself on the proper level, she might in time get there. But although I had lost my present chance, she was coming again the next day.

I entered the secretary's room by the hall door, and looked at the manuscript which had been left on the table. It was written in an excellent hand, not too large, very legible, and correctly punctuated. Everything had been done properly, except that after the first three pages she had forgotten to number the leaves at the top; but as every sheet was placed in its proper order, this was an omission which could be easily rectified. I was very glad she had made it, for it would give me something to speak to her about.

At luncheon my grandmother asked me how I liked the new secretary, and added that if she did not suit me I could try another next day. I answered that so far she suited me, and that I had not the least wish at present to try another. I think my grandmother was about to say something regarding this sister, but I instantly begged her not to do so. I wished to judge her entirely on her merits, I said, and would rather not hear anything about her until I had come to a decision as to her abilities. I did not add that I felt such an interest in the anticipated discovery of the personality of this secretary that I did not wish that discovery interfered with.

In the evening Walkirk inquired about the sister-amanuensis, but I merely answered that so far she had done very well, and dropped the subject. In my own mind I did not drop the subject until I fell asleep that night. I found myself from time to time wondering what sort of a woman was that nun. Was she an elderly, sharp-faced creature; was she a vapid, fat-faced creature, or a young and pleasing creature? And when I had asked myself these questions, I snubbed myself for taking the trouble to think about the matter, and then I began wondering again.

But upon one point I firmly made up my mind: the relationship between my secretary and myself should not continue to be that of an entity dictating to a principle.

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