(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Augustus Debrett hires Honor Lawrence as a file clerk for his company, although she has no discernible qualifications. He is taken with her youth and her sweet, wistful quality. As time passes, he learns that she lives with her father in appalling poverty and that her brother is a successful artist. When Debrett’s burgeoning business acquires a new bookkeeping machine, Honor quickly learns to operate it, but she refuses to accept the job of bookkeeper even though it would mean a raise in salary. She will not deal with the moneymaking aspect of the business, calling it unworthy. Tom Zero, a handsome young lawyer in the firm, suggests they fire her, but Debrett is impressed by the fact that Honor has given up a raise on principle, so she stays.

Honor shows up unexpectedly at Zero’s apartment one day during working hours and breaks through Mrs. Zero’s reserve with stories of her life dominated by a mean and miserly father. Honor’s mother, who was also ill-treated by her father, is dead, and she wants nothing as much as a room of her own in someone’s house. Sympathetic Mrs. Zero promises to think about the problem and finds Honor touching, even when she shows up at the Zero’s apartment unexpectedly for dinner the following evening.

Debrett, whose wife is away visiting her mother with their infant son, comes home from work one night to find Honor in his apartment. He sends her home, ignoring her innocent suggestion that she stay there with him. When his wife and son return, Honor makes an unexpected call on Beatrice Debrett. Beatrice invites Honor for dinner, during which the girl’s extreme poverty and lack of normal experience are highlighted.

Honor’s eccentricity is further emphasized when Palmer, a visiting engineer from the Midwest, invites her out for lunch and tells her of his wife and children on their farm in Ohio. Honor does not show up for work the following week, although her father and brother both come looking for her. Her father is an Italian immigrant who barely speaks English; her family name is Tommaseo, which she and her brother have changed to Lawrence. Debrett is shocked to learn that the girl is only sixteen. A short time later, Debrett’s firm...

(The entire section is 903 words.)