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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe House Of Martha - Chapter 8. The Malarial Adjunct
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The House Of Martha - Chapter 8. The Malarial Adjunct Post by :gabby Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :711

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The House Of Martha - Chapter 8. The Malarial Adjunct


The fifth applicant on Walkirk's list had a morning to herself. So soon as she entered my study I hoped that she would suit me, and I had not talked with her ten minutes before I decided that she would. Her personality was exceedingly agreeable; she was neither too young nor too old. She expressed herself with a good-humored frankness which I liked, and appeared to be of a very practical turn of mind. She was a practiced stenographer, was accustomed to write from dictation and to read aloud, could correct proof, and had some admirable references. Her abilities appeared so excellent, and her demeanor was so agreeable to me, that I engaged her.

"I am very happy indeed, Mr. Vanderley," she said, with the pretty dimpled smile which had so frequently shown itself in the course of our conversation, "that you have given me this position. I am sure that I shall like it, and I shall try very hard to make my work satisfactory. I shall come up every morning in the nine o'clock train, as you desire; and I shall be obliged to bring my husband with me, but this will not in any way interfere with my work. He is suffering from a malarial disease, and is subject to periods of faintness, so that it would be impossible for me to leave him for the whole morning; but he can sit outside anywhere, under a tree, or perhaps somewhere in the house if it happens to rain. He is perfectly contented if he has a comfortable place to sit in. He is not able to attend to any business, and as I now have to be the bread-winner I am most deeply grateful for this work which you have given me. I am sure that the little trip in and out of town will do him good, and as I shall buy commutation tickets it will not be expensive. He came with me this morning, and if you will excuse me I will bring him in and introduce him." And without waiting for any remark from me she left the room, and shortly returned with the malarial subject. He was an extremely mild-mannered man, of light weight and sedate aspect. The few words in which he indicated his gratification with his wife's engagement suggested to me the need of sulphate of quinia.

This revelation of a malarial adjunct to the labors of myself and this very agreeable lady greatly surprised me, and, I must admit, threw me back from that condition of satisfaction in which I had found myself upon engaging her; and yet I could think of no reasonable objection to make. The lady had promised that he should not be in the way, and the most I could say, even to myself, was that the arrangement did not appear attractive to me. Of course, with no reason but a chaotic distaste, I would not recede from my agreement, and deprive this worthy lady of the opportunity of supporting herself and her husband; and the two departed, to return on the following day prepared to labor and to wait.

I inquired of Walkirk, I fear with some petulance, if he had known of the incumbrance attached to this candidate; and he replied that she had informed him that she was married, but he had no idea she intended to bring her husband with her. He was very sorry that this was necessary, but in his judgment the man would not live very long.

My grandmother was greatly pleased when I told her of the arrangement I had made to assist a devoted wife to support an invalid husband. She considered it a most worthy and commendable action, and she was rejoiced that such an opportunity had been afforded me. She would do what she could to make the poor man comfortable while his wife was at work; and if he had any sense at all, and knew what was to his advantage, he would be very careful not to interfere with her duties.

The next morning the couple appeared, and the lady was ensconced in the anteroom to my study, which I had fitted up for the use of my secretary, where, through the open window in front of her, she could see her husband, seated in a rocking-chair, under a wide-spreading apple-tree. By his side was a table, on which lay the morning paper and some books which my grandmother had sent out to him. For a time she gave him also her society, but, as she subsequently informed me, she did not find him responsive, and soon concluded that he would be happier if left to his reflections and the literature with which she had provided him.

As an amanuensis I found my new assistant everything that could be desired. She wrote rapidly and correctly, never asked me to repeat, showed no nervousness at the delays in my dictation, and was ready to write the instant I was ready to speak. She was quick and intelligent in looking up synonyms, and appeared perfectly at home in the dictionary. But in spite of these admirable qualifications, I did not find myself, that morning, in a condition favorable to my best literary work. Whenever my secretary was not actually writing she was looking out of the window; sometimes she would smile and nod, and on three occasions, while I was considering, not what I should say next, but whether or not I could stand this sort of thing, she went gently to the window, and asked the invalid, in a clear whisper, intended to be entirely undisturbing, how he was getting on and if he wanted anything.

Two days after this the air was damp and rain threatened, and the malarial gentleman was supplied with comfortable quarters in the back parlor. I do not know whether or not he liked this better than sitting under a tree, but I am sure that the change did not please his wife. She could not look at him, and she could not ask him how he was getting on and if he wanted anything. I could see that she was worried and fidgety, although endeavoring to work as faithfully and steadily as usual. Twice during a break in the dictation she asked me to excuse her for just one minute, while she ran into the parlor to take a peep at him.

The next day it rained, and there seemed every probability that we should have continued wet weather, and that it would be days before the malarial one could sit under the apple-tree. Therefore I looked the situation fairly in the face. It was impossible for me to dictate to a nervous, anxious woman, whose obvious mental condition acted most annoyingly upon my nerves, and I suggested that she bring her husband into her room, and let him sit there while she worked. With this proposition my secretary was delighted.

"Oh, that will be charming!" she cried. "He will sit just as still as a mouse, and will not disturb either of us, and I shall be able to see how he feels without saying a word."

For four days the malarial gentleman, as quiet as a mouse, sat by my secretary's window, while she wrote at the table, and I walked up and down my study, or threw myself into one chair or another, endeavoring to forget that that man was sitting by the window; that he was trying his best not to do anything which might disturb me; that he did not read, or write, or occupy his mind in any way; that he heard every word I dictated to his wife without indicating that he was not deaf, or that he was capable of judging whether my words were good, bad, or unworthy of consideration. Not only did I endeavor not to think of him, but I tried not to see either him or his wife. The silent, motionless figure of the one, and the silent but animated and vivacious figure of the other, filled with an eager desire to do her work properly, with a bubbling and hearty love for her husband, and an evident joyousness in the fact that she could love, work, and watch, all at the same time, drove from my mind every thought of travel or foreign experiences. Without the malarial husband I should have asked for no better secretary; but he spoiled everything. He was like a raw oyster in a cup of tea.

I could not drive from my mind the vision of that man even when I knew he was asleep in his bed. There was no way of throwing him off. His wife had expressed to my grandmother the delight she felt in having him in the room with her while she worked, and my grandmother had spoken to me of her own sympathetic pleasure in this arrangement. I saw it would be impossible to exile him again to the apple-tree, even if the ground should ever be dry enough. There was no hope that he would be left at his home; there was no hope that he would get better, and go off to attend to his own business; there was no hope that he would die.

From dictating but little I fell to dictating almost nothing at all. To keep my secretary at work, I gave her some notes of travel of which to make a fair copy, while I occupied myself in wondering what I was going to do about that malarial husband.

At last I ceased to wonder, and I did something. I went to the city, and, after a day's hard work, I secured a position for my secretary in a large publishing establishment, where her husband could sit by a window in a secluded corner, and keep as quiet as a mouse. The good lady overwhelmed me with thanks for my kindness. She had begun to fear that, as the season grew colder, the daily trip would not suit her husband, and she gave me credit for having thought the same thing.

My grandmother and Walkirk were greatly concerned, as well as surprised, at what I had done. The former said that, if I attempted to write my book with my own hand, she feared the sedentary work would tell upon my health; and my under-study, while regretting very much that his efforts to provide me with an amanuensis had proved unsuccessful, showed very plainly, although he did not say so, that he hoped I had found that authorship was an annoying and unprofitable business, and that I would now devote myself to pursuits which were more congenial, and in which he could act for me when occasion required.

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