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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe House Of Martha - Chapter 6. My Under-Study
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The House Of Martha - Chapter 6. My Under-Study Post by :simkl Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :904

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The House Of Martha - Chapter 6. My Under-Study

VI. MY UNDER-STUDY

In talking about my travels to Chester Walkirk, I continued for a time to treat the subject in the same desultory manner in which I had related my experiences to my first listener; but the superior intelligence, and I may say the superior attention, of Walkirk acted upon me as a restraint as well as an incentive. I made my descriptions as graphic and my statements as accurate as I could, and, stimulated by his occasional questions and remarks, I began to discourse systematically and with a well-considered plan. I went from country to country in the order in which I had traveled through them, and placed my reflections on social, political, or artistic points where they naturally belonged.

It was plain to see that Walkirk's interest and pleasure increased when my rambling narrations resolved themselves into a series of evening lectures upon Great Britain, the Continent, and the north coast of Africa, and his pleasure was a decided gratification to me. If his engagements and mine had permitted, I should have been glad to talk to him at other times, as well as in the evening.

After a month or more of this agreeable occupation, the fact began to impress itself upon me that I was devoting too much time to the pleasure of being listened to. My grandmother gently complained that the time I gave to her after dinner appeared to be growing less and less, and there was a good deal of correspondence and other business I was in the habit of attending to in the evening which now was neglected, or done in the daytime, when I should have been doing other things.

I was not a man of leisure. My grandmother owned a farm about a mile from our village, and over the management of this I exercised a supervision. I was erecting some houses on land of my own on the outskirts of the village, and for this reason, as well as others, it frequently was necessary for me to go to the city on business errands. Besides all this, social duties had a claim on me, summer and winter.

I had gradually formed the habit of talking with Walkirk on other subjects than my travels, and one evening I mentioned to him some of the embarrassments and annoyances to which I had been subjected during the day, on account of the varied character of my affairs. Walkirk sat for a minute or two, his chin in his hand, gazing steadfastly upon the carpet; then he spoke:--

"Mr. Vanderley, what you say suggests something which I have been thinking of saying to you. I have now finished the catalogue of prints, on which I was engaged when I entered your service as a listener; and my days, therefore, being at my disposal, it would give me great pleasure to put them at yours."

"In what capacity?" I asked.

"In that of an under-study," said he.

I assured him that I did not know what he meant.

"I don't wonder at that," said he, with a smile, "but I will explain. In theatrical circles each principal performer is furnished with what is termed in the profession an under-study. This is an actor, male or female, as the case may be, who studies the part of the performer, and is capable of going through with it, with more or less ability, in case the regular actor, from sickness or any other cause, is prevented from appearing in his part. In this way the manager provides against emergencies which might at any time stop his play and ruin his business. Now, I should like very much to be your under-study, and I think in this capacity I could be of great service to you."

I made no answer, but I am sure my countenance expressed surprise.

"I do not mean," he continued, "to propose that I shall act as your agent in the various forms of business which press upon you, but I suggest that you allow me to do for you exactly what the under-study does for the actor; that is, that you let me take your place when it is inconvenient or impossible for you to take it yourself."

"It strikes me," said I, "that, in the management of my affairs, it would be very seldom that you or any one else could take my place."

"Of course," said Walkirk, "under present circumstances that would be impossible; but suppose, for instance, you take me with you to those houses you are building, that you show me what has been done and what you intend to do, and that you let me make myself familiar with the whole plan and manner of the work. This would be easy for me, for I have superintended house-building; and although I am neither a plumber, a mason, a carpenter, a paper-hanger, or a painter, I know how such people should do their work. Therefore, if you should be unable to attend to the matter yourself,--and in such case only,--I could go and see how the work was progressing; and this I could do with regard to your farm, or any other of your business with the details of which you should care to have me make myself familiar,--always remembering that I should not act as your regular agent in any one of these affairs, but as one who, when it is desirable, temporarily takes your place. I think, Mr. Vanderley, that it would be of advantage to you to consider my proposition."

I did consider it, and the next evening I engaged Chester Walkirk as an under-study.

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