The House of Martha



WALKIRK very soon discovered that I had no intention whatever of giving up the writing of my book, and I quieted the fears of my grandmother, in regard to my health, by assuring her that the sedentary work connected with the production of my volume would not be done by me. Secretaries could be had, and I would get one.

This determination greatly disturbed Walkirk. He did not wish to see me perform a service for myself which it was his business to perform for me, and in which he had failed. I know that he gave the matter the most earnest consideration, and two days after my late secretary and her husband had left me he came into my study, his face shining with a new idea.

“ Mr. Vanderley,” said he, “ to find you an amanuensis who will exactly suit you, and who will be willing to come here into the country to work, is, I think you will admit, a very difficult business; but I do not intend, if I can help it, to be beaten by it. I have thought of a plan which I believe will meet all contingencies, and I have come to propose it to you. You know that institution just outside the village, — the House of Martha ? ”

I replied that I knew of it.

“Well,” he continued, “I did not think of it until a day or two ago, and I have since been inquiring into its organization and nature. That sisterhood of Martha is composed of women who propose not only to devote themselves to a life of goodness, but to imitate the industrious woman for whom they have named themselves. They work not only in their establishment, but wherever they can find suitable occupation, and all that they earn is devoted to the good of the institution. Some of them act as nurses for the sick, —for pay if people can afford it, for nothing if they cannot. Others have studied medicine, and practice in the same way. They also prepare medicines and dispense them, and do a lot of good things, — if possible, for money and the advantage of the House of Martha. But every woman who joins such an institution cannot expect immediately to find the sort of remunerative work she can best do, and I am informed that there are several women there who at present are unemployed. Now, it is my opinion that among these you could find half a dozen good secretaries.”

I laughed aloud. “Those women,” said I, “ are just the same as nuns. It is ridiculous to suppose that one of them would be allowed to come here as my secretary, even if she wanted to.”

“ I am not so sure of that,” persisted Walkirk ; “ I do not see why literary, or rather clerical, pursuits should not be as open to them as medicine or nursing.”

“You may not see it,” said I, “but I fancy that they do.”

“ It is impossible to be certain on that point,” he replied, “ until we have proposed the matter to them, and given them the opportunity to consider it.”

“If you imagine,” I said, “ that I have the effrontery to go to that nunnery — for it is no more nor less than that — and ask the Lady Abbess to lend me one of her nuns to write at my dictation, you have very much mistaken me.”

Walkirk smiled. “ I hardly expected you to do that,” said he, “ although I must insist that it is not a nunnery, and there is no Lady Abbess. There is a Head Mother, and some sub-mothers, I believe. My idea was that Mrs. Vanderley should drive over there and make inquiries for you. A proposition from an elderly lady of such high position in the community would have a much better effect than if it came from a gentleman.”

Walkirk’s plan amused me very much, and I told him I would talk to my grandmother about it. When I did so, I was much surprised to find that she received the idea with favor.

“ That Mr. Walkirk,” she said, “ is a man of a good deal of penetration and judgment, and if you could get one of those sisters to come here and write for you I should like it very much ; and if the first one did not suit, you could try another without trouble or expense. The fact that you had a good many strings to your bow would give you ease of mind and prevent your getting discouraged. I don’t want you to give up the idea of having a secretary.”

Then, with some hesitation, my good grandmother confided to me that there was another reason why this idea of employing a sister pleased her. She had been a little afraid that some lady secretary, especially like that very pleasant and exemplary person with the invalid husband, might put the notion into my head that it would be a good thing for me to have a wife to do my writing. Now, of course she expected me to get married some day. That was all right, but there was no need of my being in any hurry about it; and as to my wife doing my writing, that was not to be counted upon positively. Some wives might not be willing to do it, and others might not do it well; so, as far as that matter was concerned, nothing would be gained. But one of those sisters would never suggest matrimony. They were women apart from all that sort of thing. They had certain work to do in this world, and they did it for the good of the cause in which they were enlisted, without giving any thought to those outside matters which so often occupy the minds of women who have not, in a manner, separated themselves from the world. She would go that very afternoon to the House of Martha and make inquiries.



My grandmother returned from the House of Martha disappointed and annoyed. Life had always flowed very smoothly for her, and I had rarely seen her in her present mental condition.

“ I do not believe,” she said, “ that that institution will succeed. Those women are too narrow-minded. If they were in a regular stone-walled convent, it would be another thing, but they are only a sisterhood. They are not shut up there ; it’s their business and part of their religion to go out, and why they should not be willing to come here and do good, as well as anywhere else, I cannot see, for the life of me.”

“ Then they objected to the proposition ?” I asked.

“ Yes,” she replied, “ they did, and without any reason whatever. I saw their superior, whom they call Mother Anastasia, and from her I learned that there were several women in the establishment who were thoroughly competent to act as secretaries ; but when I proposed that one of them should come and write for you, she said that would not do at all. I reasoned the matter with her: that literature was as high a profession as medicine, and as much good could be done with the practice of one as the other ; and if the sisters went out to nurse and to cure, they might just as well go out to write for those who cannot write for themselves. To that she answered, it was not the writing she objected to, — that was all well enough, — but it was decidedly outside of the vocation of the order for one of the sisters to spend her mornings with a young gentleman. If he were sick and suffering, and had no one else to attend to him, it would be different. Upon this, I told her that you would be sick if you were obliged to do your own writing, and therefore I could n’t see the difference.

“ But I must admit she was very good-natured and pleasant about it, and she told me that if you chose to come to their visitors’ room and make yourself comfortable there, and dictate, one of the sisters would sit at the table behind the grating and would write for you. I replied that I did not believe you would like that, but that I would mention it to you.”

I laughed. “ So much for Walkirk’s brilliant idea,” I said. “ I fancy myself going every morning to that nunnery to do my work in their cheerless visitors’ room ! ”

“ Cheerless ? I should say so ! ” exclaimed my grandmother, — “ bare floors, bare walls, and hard wooden chairs. It is not to be thought of.”

That evening I informed Walkirk of the ill success of my grandmother’s mission, but to my surprise he did not appear to be discouraged.

“ I don’t think we need have any trouble at all in managing that affair,” said he. “ Why should n’t you have a grating put up in the doorway between your study and the secretary’s room ? Then the sister could go in there, the other door could be locked, and she would be as much shut off from the world as if she were behind a grating in the House of Martha. I believe, if this plan were proposed to the sisters, it would be agreed to.”

I scouted the idea as utterly absurd; but when, the next morning, I mentioned it to my grandmother, she caught at it eagerly, and no sooner had she finished her breakfast than she ordered her carriage and drove to the House of Martha.

She returned triumphant.

“ We had a long discussion,” she said, " but Mother Anastasia finally saw the matter in its proper light. She admitted that if a room could be arranged in this house, in which a sister could be actually secluded, there was no good reason why she should not work there as consistently with their rules as if she were in the House of Martha. Therefore, she agreed, if you concluded to carry out this plan, to send a sister every morning to write for you. So now, if you want a secretary from the House of Martha, you can have one.”

To this I replied that I most positively wanted one ; and Walkirk was immediately instructed to have a suitable grating made for the doorway between my study and the secretary’s room.

Nearly a week was required for the execution of this work, and during this time I took a rest from literary composition and visited some friends, leaving all the arrangements for my new secretary in the hands of my grandmother and Walkirk. When I returned, the iron grating was in its place. It was a neat and artistic piece of work, but I did not like it. I object decidedly to anything which suggests restraint. The whole affair of the secretary was indeed very different from what I would have had it, but I had discovered that even in our advanced era of civilization one cannot always have everything he wants, albeit he be perfectly able and willing to pay for it.



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 submother 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, after saying a few words in a low tone to her companion, 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 were 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.



The next day, when the nun and Sister Sarah entered the secretary’s room, I advanced to the grating and bade them good-morning. They both bowed, and the nun took her seat at the table. Sister Sarah then turned to me and asked if I had a gold pen, adding that the sister was accustomed to writing with one. I answered that I had all kinds of pens, and if the sister wanted a gold one it was only necessary to ask me for it. I brought several gold pens, and handed them through the grating to the sub-mother, who gave them to the secretary, and then took her leave, locking the door behind her. My nun took one of the pens, tried it, arranged the paper, and sat ready to write. I stood by the grating, hoping to converse a little, if it should be possible.

“ Is there anything else you would like ? ” I said. “If there is, you know you must mention it.”

She gently shook her head. The idea now occurred to me that perhaps my nun was dumb ; but I almost instantly thought that this could not be, for dumb people were almost always deaf, and she could hear well enough. Then it struck me that she might be a Trappist nun, and bound by a vow of silence; but I reflected that she was not really a nun, and consequently could not be a Trappist.

Having been unsuccessful in my first attempt to make her speak, and having now stood silent for some moments, I felt it might be unwise to make another trial just then, for my object would be too plain. I therefore sat down and began dictating.

I did not work as easily as I had done on the preceding morning, for I intended, if possible, to make my nun look at me, or speak, before the hour of noon, and thinking of this intention prevented me from keeping my mind upon my work. From time to time I made remarks in regard to the temperature of the room, the quality of the paper, or something of the kind. To these she did not answer at all, or slightly nodded, or shook her head in a deprecatory manner, as if they were matters not worth considering.

Then I suddenly remembered the omission of the paging, and spoke of that. In answer she took up the manuscript she had written and paged every sheet. After this my progress was halting and uneven. Involuntarily my mind kept on devising plans for making that woman speak or turn her face toward me. If she would do the latter, I would be satisfied ; and even if she proved to be an unveiled prophetess of Khorassan, there would be no further occasion for conjectures and wanderings, and I could go on with my work in peace. But it made me nervous to remain silent, and see that nun sitting there, pen in hand, but motionless as a post, and waiting for me to give her the signal to continue the exercise of the principle to which her existence was now devoted.

I went on with my dictation. I had left Marseilles, had touched slightly upon Nice, and was now traveling by carriage on the Cornice Road to Mentone. “ It was on this road,”I dictated, “ that an odd incident occurred to me. We were nearly opposite the old robber village of ” — and then I hesitated and stopped. I could not remember the name of the village. I walked up and down my study, rubbing my forehead, but the name would not recur to me. I was just thinking that I would have to go to the library and look up the name of the village, when from out of the depths of the nun’s bonnet there came a voice, low but distinct, and, I thought, a little impatient, and it said, “ Eza.”

“ Eza ! of course ! ” I exclaimed, — “ certainly it is Eza ! How could I have forgotten it ? I am very much obliged to you for reminding me of the name of that village. Perhaps you have been there ? ”

In answer to this question I received the least little bit of a nod, and the nun’s pen began gently to paw the paper, as if it wanted to go on.

I was now really excited. She had spoken. Why should I not do something which should make her turn her face toward me, — something which would take her off her guard, as my forgetfulness had just done ? But no idea came to my aid, and I felt obliged to begin to dictate the details of the odd incident, when suddenly the door opened, Sister Sarah walked in, and the morning’s work was over.

I had not done much, but I had made that nun speak. She said “ Eza.” That was a beginning, and I felt confident that I should get on very well in time. I was a little sorry that my secretary had been on the Cornice Road. I fancied that she might have been one of those elderly single women who become Baedeker tourists, and, having tired of this sort of thing, had concluded to devote her life to the work of the House of Martha. But this was mere idle conjecture. She had spoken, and I should not indulge in pessimism.

I prepared a very good remark with which to greet the sub-mother on the next morning, and, although addressing Sister Sarah, I would be in reality speaking to my nun. I would say how well I was getting on. I had thought of saying we were getting on, but reflected afterward that this would never do; I was sure that the House of Martha would not allow, under any circumstances, that sister and myself to constitute a we. Then I would refer to the help my secretary had been to me, and endeavor to express the satisfaction which an author must always feel for a suggestion of this kind, or any other, from one qualified to make them. If there was any gratitude or vanity in my nun’s heart, I felt I could stir it up, if Sister Sarah would listen to me long enough ; and if gratitude, or even vanity, could be stirred, the rigidity of my nun would be impaired, and she might find herself off her guard.

But I had no opportunity of making my remark. At nine o’clock the door of the secretary’s room opened, the nun entered, and the door was then closed and locked. Sister Sarah must have been in a hurry that morning. Just as well as not I might have made my remark directly to my nun, but I did not. She walked quickly to the table, arranged her paper, opened her inkstand, and sat down. I fancied that I saw a wavy wriggle of impatience in her shawl. Perhaps she wanted to know the rest of that odd incident near Eza. It may have been that it was impatient interest which had impaired her rigidity the day before.

I went on with the odd incident, and made a very good thing of it. Even when on well-worn routes of travel, I tried to confine myself to out-of-the-way experiences. Walkirk had been very much interested in this affair when I had told it to him, and there was no reason why this nun should not also be interested, especially as she had seen Eza.

I finished the narrative, and began another, a rather exciting one, connected with the breaking of a carriage wheel and an exile from Monte Carlo; but never once did curiosity or any other emotion impair the rigidity of that nun. She wrote almost as fast as I could dictate, and when I stopped I know she was filled with nervous desire to know what was coming next, — at least I fancied that her shawl indicated such nervousness; but hesitate as I might, or say what I might, — and I did say a good many things which almost demanded a remark or answer, — not one word came from her during the whole morning, nor did she ever turn the front of her bonnet toward me.



I was very much disgusted at the present state of affairs. Three days had elapsed, and I did not know what sort of a human being my secretary was. I might as well dictate into a speakingtube. A phonograph would be better; for although it might seem ridiculous to sit in my room and talk aloud to no one, what was I doing now ? That nun was the same as no one.

The next day was Sunday, and there would be no work, and no chance to solve the problem, which had become an actual annoyance to me ; but I did not intend that this problem should continue to annoy me and interfere with my work. I am open and aboveboard myself, and if my secretary did not choose to be open and aboveboard, and behave like an ordinary human being, she should depart, and I would tell Walkirk to get me an ordinary human being, capable of writing from dictation, or depart himself. If he could not provide me with a suitable secretary, he was not the efficient man of business that he claimed to be. As to the absurdity of dictating to a mystery in a barrow bonnet, I would have no more of it.

I do not consider myself an ill-tempered person, and my grandmother asserts that I have a very good temper indeed ; but I must admit that on Monday morning I felt a little cross, and when Sister Sarah and the nun entered my antechamber I bade them a very cold good-morning, and allowed the former to go without attempting any conversation whatever. The nun having arrived, I would not send her away; but when the sub-mother came at noon, I intended to inform her that I did not any longer desire the services of the writing sister, and if she wished to know why I should tell her plainly. I would not say that I would as soon dictate to an inanimate tree-stump, but I would express that idea in as courteous terms as possible.

For fifteen minutes I let the nun sit and wait. If her principles forbade idleness, I was glad to have a crack at her principles. Then I began to dictate steadily and severely. I found that the dismissal from my mind of all conjectures regarding the personality of my secretary was of great service to me, and I was able to compose much faster than she could write.

It was about half past ten, I think, and the morning was warm and pleasant, when there gently sailed into the secretary’s room, through the open window, a wasp. I saw him come in, and I do not think I ever beheld a more agreeable or benignant insect. His large eyes were filled with the light of a fatherly graciousness. His semi-detached body seemed to quiver with a helpful impulse, and his long hind legs hung down beneath him as though they were outstretched to assist, befriend, or succor. With wings waving blessings and a buzz of cheery greeting, he sailed around the room, now dipping here, now there, and then circling higher, tapping the ceiling with his genial back.

The moment the nun saw the wasp, a most decided thrill ran down the back of her shawl. Then it pervaded her bonnet, and finally the whole of her. As the beneficent insect sailed down near the table, she abruptly sprang to her feet and pushed back her chair. I advanced to the grating, but what could I do ? Seeing me there, and doubtless with the desire immediately to assure me of his kindly intentions, my friend Vespa made a swoop directly at the front of the nun’s bonnet.

With an undisguised ejaculation, and beating wildly at the insect with her hands, the nun bounded to one side and turned her face full upon me. I stood astounded. I forgot the wasp.

I totally lost sight of the fact that a young woman was in danger of being badly stung. I thought of nothing but that she was a young woman, and a most astonishingly pretty one besides.

The state of terror she was in opened wide her lovely blue eyes, half crimsoned her clear white skin, and threw her rosy lips and sparkling teeth into the most enchanting combinations.

“ Make it go away ! ” she cried, throwing up one arm, and thereby pushing back her gray bonnet, and exhibiting some of the gloss of her light brown hair. “ Can’t you kill it ? ”

Most gladly would I have rushed in, and shed with my own hands the blood of my friend Vespa, for the sake of this most charming young woman, suddenly transformed from a barrow-bonneted principle. But I was powerless. I could not break through the grating; the other door of the secretary’s room was locked.

“ Don’t strike at it,” I said ; “ remain as motionless as you can, then perhaps it will fly away. Striking at a wasp only enrages it.”

“ I can’t stay quiet,” she cried ; “ nobody could ! ” and she sprang behind the table, making at the same time another slap at the buzzing insect.

“You will surely be stung,” I said, “ if you act in that way. If you will slap at the wasp, don’t use your hand ; take something with which you can kill it.”

“ What can I take ? ” she exclaimed, now running round the table, and stopping close to the grating. “ Give me something.”

I hurriedly glanced around my study. I saw nothing that would answer for a weapon but a whisk broom, which I seized, and endeavored to thrust through the meshes of the grating.

“ Oh ! ” she cried, as the wasp made a desperate dive close to her face, “ give me that, quick! ” and she stretched out her hand to me.

“ I cannot,” I replied ; " I can’t push it through. It won’t go through. Take your bonnet.”

At this, my nun seized her bonnet by a sort of floating hood which hung around the bottom of it and jerked it from her head, bringing with it certain flaps and ligatures and combs, which, being thus roughly removed, allowed a mass of wavy hair to fall about her shoulders.

Waving her bonnet in her hand, like a slung-shot, she sprang back and waited for the wasp. When the buzzing creature came near enough, she made a desperate crack at him, missing him ; she struck again and again, now high, now low ; she dashed from side to side of the room, and with one of her mad sweeps she scattered a dozen pages of manuscript upon the floor.

The view of this combat was enrapturing to me ; the face of my nun, now lighted by a passionate determination to kill that wasp, was a delight to my eyes. If I could have assured myself that the wasp would not sting her, I would have helped him to prolong the battle indefinitely. But my nun was animated by very different emotions. She was bound to be avenged upon the wasp, and avenged she was. Almost springing into the air, she made a grand stroke at him, as he receded from her, hit him, and dashed him against the wall. He fell to the floor, momentarily disabled, but flapping and buzzing. Then down she stooped, and with three great whacks with her bonnet she finished the battle. The wasp lay motionless.

“ Now,” she said, throwing her bonnet upon the table, “I will close that window; ” and she walked across the room, her blue eyes sparkling, her face glowing from her violent exercise, and her rich brown hair hanging in long waves upon her shoulders.

“ Don’t do that,” I said; “ it will make your room too warm. There is a netting screen in the corner there. If you put that under the sash, it will keep out all insects. I wish I could do it for you.”

She took the frame and fitted it under the sash.

“ I am sorry I did not know that before,” she said, as she returned to her table ; “this is a very bad piece of business.”

I begged her to excuse me for not having informed her of the screen, but I did not say that I was sorry for what had occurred. I merely expressed my gratification that she had not been stung. Her chair had been pushed away from the table, its back against the wall, opposite to me. She seated herself upon it, gently panting. She looked from side to side at the sheets of manuscript scattered upon the floor.

“ I will pick them up presently and go to work, but I must rest a minute.” She did not now seem to consider that it was of the slightest consequence whether I saw her face or not.

“ Never mind the papers,” I said; “ leave them there ; they can be picked up any time.”

“ I wish that were the worst of it; ” and as she spoke she raised her eyes toward me, and the least little bit of a smile came upon her lips, as if, though troubled, she could not help feeling the comical absurdity of the situation.

“ It is simply dreadful,” she continued. “ I don’t believe such a thing ever before happened to a sister.”

“ There is nothing dreadful about it,” said I; “ and do you mean to say that the sisters of the House of Martha, who go out to nurse, and do all sorts of good deeds, never speak to the people they are befriending, nor allow them to look upon their faces ? ”

“ Of course,” said she, “ you have to talk to sick people; otherwise how could you know what they need ? But this is a different case; ” and she began to gather up her hair and twist it at the back of her head.

“ I do not understand,” I remarked; “ why is it a different case ? ”

“ It is as different as it can be,” said she, picking up her comb from the floor and thrusting it through her hastily twisted knot of hair. “ I should not have come here at all if your grandmother had not positively asserted that there would be nothing for me to do but to listen and to write. And Mother Anastasia and Sister Sarah both of them especially instructed me that I was not to speak to you nor to look at you, but simply to sit at the table and work for the good of the cause. That was all I had to do; and I am sure I obeyed just as strictly as anybody could, except once, when you forgot the name of Eza, and I was so anxious to have you go on with the incident that I could not help mentioning it. And now, I am sure I don’t know what I ought to do.”

“Do ? ” I asked. “There is nothing to do except to begin writing where you left off. The wasp is dead.”

“ I wish it had never been born,” she said. “ I have no doubt that the whole affair should come to an end now, and that I ought to go home ; but I can’t do that until Sister Sarah comes to unlock the door, and so I suppose we had better go to work.”

“ We ”! I would not have dared to use that word, but it fell from her lips in the easiest and most conventional manner possible. It was delightful to hear it. I never knew before what a pleasant sound the word had. She now set herself to work to gather up the papers from the floor, and, having arranged them in their proper order, she took up her bonnet.

“ Do you have to wear that?” I asked.

“ Certainly,” she answered, clapping it on and pulling it well forward.

“ I should think it would be very hot and uncomfortable,” I remarked.

“ It is,” she admitted curtly; and, seating herself at the table, she took up her pen.

I now perceived that if I knew what was good for myself I would cease from speaking on ordinary topics, and go on with my dictation. This I did, giving out my sentences as rapidly as possible, although I must admit I took no interest whatever in what I was saying, nor do I believe that my secretary was interested in the subject-matter of my work. She wrote rapidly, and, as well as I could judge, appeared excited and annoyed. I was excited also, but not in the least disturbed. My emotions were of a highly pleasing character. We worked steadily for some twenty minutes, when suddenly she stopped and laid down her pen.

“ Of course it is n’t right to speak,” she said, turning in her chair and speaking to me face to face, as one human being to another, “ but as I have said so much already, I don’t suppose a little more will make matters worse, and I must ask somebody’s help in making up my mind what I ought to do. I suspect I have made all sorts of mistakes in this writing, but I could not keep my thoughts on my work. I have been trying my best to decide how I ought to act, but I cannot make up my mind.”

“ I shall be delighted to help you, if I can,” I ventured. “ What ’s the point that you cannot decide ? ”

“ It is just this,” she replied, fixing her blue eyes upon me with earnest frankness : “ am I to tell the sisters what has happened or not? If I tell them, I know exactly what will be the result: I shall come here no more, and I shall have to take Sister Hannah’s place at the Measles Refuge. There’s nothing in this world that I hate like measles. I’ve had them, but that doesn’t make the slightest difference. Sister Hannah has asked to be relieved, and I know she wants this place dreadfully.”

“ She cannot come here! ” I exclaimed. “ I don’t believe I ever had the measles, and I will not have them.”

“ She is a stenographer,” said she, “ and she will most certainly be ordered to take my place if I make known what I have done to-day.”

“ Supposing you were sure that you were not obliged to go to the Measles Refuge,” I asked, “ should you still regret giving up this position? ”

“ Of course I should,” she answered promptly. “I must work at something, or I cannot stay in the House of Martha ; and there is no work which I like so well as this. It interests me extremely.”

“ Now hear me,” said I, speaking perhaps a little too earnestly, “ and I do not believe any one could give you better advice than I am going to give you. What has occurred this morning was strictly and absolutely an accident. A wasp came in at the window and tried to sting you; and there is no woman in the world, be she a sister or not, who could sit still and let a wasp sting her.”

“ No,” she interrupted, “ I don’t believe Mother Anastasia could do it.”

“ And what followed,” I continued, “ was perfectly natural, and could not possibly be helped. You were obliged to defend yourself, and in so doing you were obliged to act just as any other woman would act. Nothing else would have been possible, and the talking and all that came in with the rest. You could n’t help it.”

“ That’s the way the matter appeared to me,” said she ; “ but the question would arise, if it were all right, why should I hesitate to tell the sisters ? ”

“ Hesitate ! ” I exclaimed. “ You should not even think of such a thing. No matter what the sisters really thought about it, I am sure they would not let you come here any more, and you would be sent to the measles institution, and thus actually be punished for the attempted wickedness of a wasp.”

“ But there is the other side of the matter,” said she; “ would it not be wicked in me not to tell them ? ”

“Not at all,” I replied. “You do not repeat to the sisters all that I tell you to write ? ”

“ Of course not,” she interrupted.

“And you do not consider it your duty,” I continued, “ to relate every detail of the business in which you are employed ? ”

“No,” she said. “They ask me some things, and some things I have mentioned to them, such as not having a gold pen.”

“Very good,” said I. “You should consider that defending yourself against wasps is just as much your business here as anything else. If you are stung, it is plain you can’t write, and the interests of your employer and of the House of Martha must suffer.”

“ Yes,” she assented, still with the steady gaze of her blue eyes.

“ Now your duty is clear,” I went on. “ If the sisters ask you if a wasp flew into your room and tried to sting you, and you had to jump around and kill it, and speak, before you could go on with your work, why, of course you must tell them; but if they don’t ask you, don’t tell them. It may seem ridiculous to you,” I continued hurriedly, “ to suppose that they would ask such a question, but I put it in this way to show you the principle of the thing.”

She withdrew her eyes from my face, and fixed them upon the floor.

“ The truth of the matter is,” she said presently, “that I have n’t done anything wrong; at least I did n’t intend to. I might have crouched down in the corner, with my face to the wall, and have covered my head and hands with my shawl, but I should have been obliged to stay there until Sister Sarah came, and I should have been smothered to death; and besides, I didn’t think of it; so what I did do was the only thing I could do, and I do not think I ought to be punished for it.”

“ Now it is settled,” I said. “ Your duty is to work here for the benefit of your sisterhood, and you should not allow a wasp or any insect to interfere with it.”

She looked at me, and smiled a little abstractedly. Then she turned to the table.

“ I will go on with my work,” she said, “ and I will not say anything to the sisters until I have given the matter most earnest and careful consideration. I can do that a great deal better at home than I can here.”

It was very well that she stopped talking and applied herself to her work, for I do not believe it was ten minutes afterward when Sister Sarah unlocked the door, and came in to take her away.

Frank R. Stockton.