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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe House Of Martha - Chapter 15. How We Went Back To Genoa
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The House Of Martha - Chapter 15. How We Went Back To Genoa Post by :gabby Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :2566

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The House Of Martha - Chapter 15. How We Went Back To Genoa


The next morning I awaited with considerable perturbation of mind the arrival of my nun. I felt assured that, after the occurrences of the previous day, there must certainly be some sort of a change in her. She could not go on exactly as she had gone on before. The nature of this anticipated change concerned me very much,--too much, I assured myself. Would she be more rigid and repellent than she had been before the advent of the wasp? But this would be impossible. On the other hand, would she be more like other people? Would she relax a little, and work like common secretaries? Or,--and I whistled as I thought of it,--having once done so, would she permanently cut loose from the absurdities enjoined upon her by the House of Martha people, and look at me and talk to me in the free, honest, ingenuous, frank, sincere, and thoroughly sensible manner in which she had spoken to me the day before?

After revolving these questions in my mind for some time, another one rudely thrust itself upon me: would she come at all? It was already seven minutes past nine; she had never been so late. Now that I came to think of it, this would be the most natural result of the wasp business. The thought shocked me. I ceased to walk up and down my study, and stopped whistling. I think my face must have flushed; I know my pulse beat faster. My eyes fell upon the body of him who I believed had been my friend. I felt like crushing his remains with my fist. He had been my enemy! He had shown me what I had to lose, and he had made me lose it.

Even in the midst of my agitation this thought made me smile. How much I was making of this affair of my secretary. What difference, after all--But I did not continue the latter question. It did make a difference, and it was of no use to reason about it. What was I to do about it? That was more to the point.

At this instant, my nun, followed by Sister Sarah, entered the adjoining room. The latter merely bowed to me, went out, and locked the door behind her. I was very glad she did not speak to me, for the sudden revulsion of feeling produced by the appearance of the two would have prevented my answering her coherently. I do not know whether my nun bowed or not. If she did, the motion was very slight. She took her seat and prepared for work. I did not say anything, for I did not know what to say. The proper thing to do, in order to relieve my embarrassment and hers,--that is, if she had any,--was to begin work at once; but for the life of me I could not remember whether my dictation of the day before concerned Sicily or Egypt. I did not like to ask her, for that would seem like a trick to make her speak.

But it would not do to keep her sitting there with an idle pen in her hand. I must say something, so I blurted out some remarks concerning the effect of the climate of the Mediterranean upon travelers from northern countries; and while doing this I tried my best to remember where, on the shores of this confounded sea, I had been the day before.

Philosophizing and generalizing were, however, not in my line: I was accustomed to deal with action and definite observation, and I soon dropped the climate of the Mediterranean, and went to work on some of the soul-harrowing improvements in the Eternal City, alluding with particular warmth to the banishment of the models from the Spanish Stairs. Now the work went on easily, but I was gloomy and depressed. My nun sat at the table, more like a stiff gray-enveloped principle than ever before. I did not feel at liberty even to make a remark about the temperature of the room. I feared that whatever I said might be construed into an attempt to presume upon the accidental intercourse of the day before.

For half an hour or more she went on with the work, but, during a pause in my dictation, she sat up straight in her chair and laid down her pen. Then, without turning her face to me, she began to speak. I stood open-mouthed, and, I need not say, delighted. Whatever her words might be, it rejoiced me to hear them; to know that she voluntarily recognized my existence, and desired to communicate with me.

"I have spoken to Mother Anastasia," she said, her voice directed towards the screen in the open window, "and I told her that it was impossible for me to work without sometimes saying a few words to ask for what I need, or to request you to repeat a word which I did not catch. Since I began to write I have lost no less than twenty-three words. I have left blanks for them, and made memoranda of the pages; but, as I said to her, if this sort of thing went on, you would forget what words you had intended to use, and when you came to read the manuscript you could not supply them, and that therefore I was not doing my work properly, and honestly earning the money which would be paid to the institution. I also told her that you sometimes forgot where you left off the day before, and that I ought to read you a few lines of what I had last written, in order that you might make the proper connection. I think this is very necessary, for to-day you have left an awful gap. Yesterday we were writing about that old Crusader's bank in Genoa, and now you are at work at Rome, when we haven't even started for that city."

Each use of this word "we" was to me like a strain of music from the heavens.

"Do you think I did right?" she added.

"Right!" I exclaimed. "Most assuredly you did. Nothing could be more helpful, and in fact more necessary, than to let me know just where I left off. What did the sisters say?"

"I spoke only to Mother Anastasia," she replied. "She considered the matter a little while, and then said that she could see there must be times when you would require some information from me in regard to the work, and that there could be no reasonable objection to my giving such information; but she reminded me that the laws of the House of Martha require that the sisters must give their sole attention to the labor upon which they are employed, and must not indulge, when so engaged, in any conversation, even among themselves, that is not absolutely necessary."

"Mother Anastasia is very sensible," said I, "and if I were to see her, I should be happy to express my appreciation of her good advice upon the subject. And, by the way, did she tell you that it was necessary to wear that hot bonnet while you are working?"

"She did not say anything about it," she answered; "it was not needful. We always wear our bonnets outside of the House of Martha."

I was about to make a further remark upon the subject, but restrained myself: it was incumbent on me to be very prudent. There was a pause, and then she spoke again.

"You are not likely to see Mother Anastasia," she said, "but please do not say anything on the subject to Sister Sarah; she is very rigorous, and would not approve of talking under any circumstances. In fact, she does not approve of my coming here at all."

"What earthly reason can she have for that?" I asked.

"She thinks it's nonsensical for you to have a secretary," she answered, "and that it would be much better for you to do your own work, and make a gift of the money to the institution, and then I could go and learn to be a nurse. I only mention these things to show you that it would be well not to talk to her of Mother Anastasia's good sense."

"You may rest assured," said I, "that I shall not say a word to her."

"And now," said she, "shall we put aside what I have written to-day, and go back to Genoa? The last thing you dictated yesterday was this: 'Into this very building once came the old Crusaders to borrow money for their journeys to the Holy Land.'"

We went to Genoa.

"How admirably," I exclaimed, when she had gone, "with what wonderful tact and skill she has managed the whole affair! Not one word about the occurrences of yesterday, not an allusion which could embarrass either herself or me. If only she had looked at me! But she had probably received instructions on that point which she did not mention, and it is easy to perceive that she is honest and conscientious."

But after all it was not necessary that I should see her face. I had seen it, and I could never forget it.

Whistling was not enough for me that day; I sang.

"What puts you into such remarkably good spirits?" asked my grandmother. "Have you reached an unusually interesting part of your work?"

"Indeed I have," I answered, and I gave her such a glowing account of the way the Red Cross Knights, the White Cross Knights, and the Black Cross Knights clanked through the streets of Genoa, before setting sail to battle for the Great Cross, that the cheeks of the old lady flushed and her eyes sparkled with enthusiastic emotion.

"I don't wonder it kindles your soul to write about such things," she said.

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