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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe House Of Martha - Chapter 17. Regarding The Elucidation Of National Characteristics
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The House Of Martha - Chapter 17. Regarding The Elucidation Of National Characteristics Post by :gabby Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :1480

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The House Of Martha - Chapter 17. Regarding The Elucidation Of National Characteristics


I was left in my study in a very unpleasant state of mind. I was agitated and apprehensive. Perhaps that young woman would not come any more. I had not told her that I was going to stop writing about love, and there was every reason to suppose she would not return. What an imbecile I had been! I had done nothing, because I could not think of exactly the right thing to do.

I now felt that I must ask the advice of somebody in regard to this embarrassing and important affair. For a moment I thought of my grandmother, but she would be sure to begin by advising me to change my secretary. She seldom urged me to do what I did not want to do, but if I offered her a chance to give me advice on this occasion I knew what would be uppermost in her mind.

So I put on my hat and went to Walkirk, at the inn. I found him at work on a mass of accounts, dating back for years, which I had given him to adjust. With great circumspection I laid before him this new affair.

"You see," said I, "she is a first-class secretary. She has learned to do my work as I like it done, and I do not wish to make a change, and, on the other hand, I do not care to alter the plan of my book."

Walkirk was always very respectful, but he could not restrain a smile at the situation.

"It does seem to me," he said, "a very funny thing to dictate a love-story to one of the sisters of the House of Martha. Of course they are not nuns, they are not even Roman Catholics, but they are just as strict and strait-laced about certain things as if their house were really a convent. So far as I can see, there is but one thing to do, and that is to confine yourself to descriptions of travel; and perhaps it would be well to let your secretary know in some way that you intend to do so; otherwise I think she may throw up the business, and that would be a pity."

It sometimes surprises me to discover what an obstinate person I am. When I want to do a thing, it is very difficult for me to change my mind.

"She must not throw up the business," I said, "and I do not see how I can leave out the story. I have planned it far ahead, and to discard it I should have to go back and cut and mangle a great deal of good work that I have done."

Walkirk reflected.

"I admit," he replied, "that that would be very discouraging. Perhaps we can think of some plan of getting out of the difficulty."

"I hope you can do that," said I, "for I cannot."

"How would this do?" he asked presently. "Suppose I go and see Mother Anastasia this afternoon, and try and make her look at this matter from a strictly business point of view. I can tell her that the sort of thing you are doing is purely literature, that you can't keep such things out of literature, and that the people who engage in the mechanical work of literature cannot help running against those things at one time or another. I can try to make her understand what an advantageous connection this is, and what a great injury to the House of Martha it would be if it should be broken off. I can tell her that it is not improbable that you may take to writing as a regular business, and that you may give profitable employment to the sisters for years and years. There are a good many other things I might say, and you may be sure I shall do my very best."

"Go," I said, "but be very careful about what you say. Don't make her think that I am too anxious to retain this particular sister, but make her understand that I do not wish to begin all over again with another one. Also, do not insist too strongly on my desire to write a love-story, but put it to her that when I plan out work of course I want to do the work as I have planned it. Try to keep these important points in your mind; then you can urge common sense upon her as much as you please."

I sent a note to my grandmother saying that I should not be home to luncheon, and after having taken a bite at the inn I set out for a long walk. It was simply impossible for me to talk about common things until this matter was settled.

It was about the middle of the afternoon when I returned to the inn, and Walkirk had not come back. I went away again, took a turn through the woods, and on approaching the inn I saw him walking down the shady road which led from the House of Martha. I hurried to meet him.

So soon as he was near enough, Walkirk, with a beaming face, called out:--

"All right, sir. I have settled that little matter for you."

"How? What?" I exclaimed. "What have you done?"

We had now reached each other, and stood together by the side of the road.

"Well," said my under-study, "I have seen Mother Anastasia, and I have found her a very sensible woman,--an admirable woman, I assure you. She was a good deal surprised when I told her my errand, for that was the first she had heard of the love-story; in fact, I suppose your secretary had not had time to tell her about it. She commended the sister highly for her refusal to write it, saying that her action was in strict accordance with the spirit of their rules. When she had finished saying all she had to say on that point, I presented your side of the question; and I assure you, sir, that I clapped on it a very bright light, so that if she did not see its strong points the fault must be in her own eyes. As the event proved, there was nothing the matter with her eyes. I shall not try to repeat what I said, but I began by explaining to her the nature of your work, and showed her how impossible it was for you to write about foreign countries without referring to their people, and how you could not speak of the people without mentioning their peculiar manners and customs, and that this story was nothing more nor less than an interweaving of some of the characteristics of the people of Sicily with the descriptions of the country. Thus much I inferred from your remarks about the story.

"I persisted that, although such characteristics had no connection with the life of the sisters of the House of Martha, they were a part of the world which you were describing, and that it could be no more harm for a sister, working for wages and the good of the cause, to assist in that description than it would be for one of them to make lace to be worn at a wedding, a ceremony with which the sisters could have nothing to do, and which in connection with themselves they could not even think about. This point made an impression on Mother Anastasia, and, having thought about it a minute or two, she said there was a certain force in it.

"Then she asked me if this narrative of yours was a strongly accentuated love-story. Here she had me at a disadvantage, for I have not heard it; but I assured her that, knowing the scope and purpose of your work, I did not believe that you would accentuate any portion of it more than was absolutely necessary.

"After some silent consideration, Mother Anastasia said she would go and speak with the sister who had been doing your work. She was gone a good while,--at least it seemed so to me; and when she came back she said that she had been making inquiries of the sister, and had come to the conclusion that there was no good reason why the House of Martha should not continue to assist you in the preparation of your book."

"Did she say she would send the same sister?" I asked quickly.

"No, she did not," answered Walkirk; "but not wishing to put the question too pointedly, I first thanked her, on your behalf, for the kindly consideration she had given the matter. I then remarked--without intimating that you said anything about it--that I hoped nothing would occur to retard the progress of the work, and that the present arrangement might continue without changes of any kind, because I knew that when you were dictating your mind was completely absorbed by your mental labors, and that any alteration in your hours of work, or the necessity of explaining your methods to a new amanuensis, annoyed and impeded you. To this she replied it was quite natural you should not desire changes, and that everything should go on as before."

"Walkirk," I exclaimed, "you are a trump!" In my exuberant satisfaction I would have clapped him on the back; but it would not do to be so familiar with an under-study, and besides I did not wish him to understand the extent of my delight at the result of his mission. That sort of thing I liked to keep to myself.

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