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- Stella Fregelius - 2/56 -
"Will you try again?" he asked.
"If you like," she answered; "but I don't believe I shall hear anything now. Somehow--since that last business--everything seems different to me."
"Don't be foolish," he said; "you have nothing to do with the hearing; it is my new receiver."
"I daresay," she replied; "but, then, why couldn't you make it work with other people?"
Morris answered nothing. He, too, wondered why.
Next morning they made the experiment. It failed. Other experiments followed at intervals, most of which were fiascos, although some were partially successful. Thus, at times Mary could hear what he said. But except for a word or two, and now and then a sentence, he could not hear her whom, when she was still a child and his playmate, once he had heard so clearly.
"Why is it?" he said, a year or two later, dashing his fist upon the table in impotent rage. "It has been; why can't it be?"
Mary turned her large blue eyes up to the ceiling, and reflectively rubbed her dimpled chin with a very pretty finger.
"Isn't that the kind of question they used to ask oracles?" she asked lazily--"Oh! no, it was the oracles themselves that were so vague. Well, I suppose because 'was' is as different from 'is' as 'as' is from 'shall be.' We are changed, Cousin; that's all."
He pointed to his patent receiver, and grew angry.
"Oh, it isn't the receiver," she said, smoothing her curling hair; "it's us. You don't understand me a bit--not now--and that's why you can't hear me. Take my advice, Morris"--and she looked at him sharply --"when you find a woman whom you can hear on your patent receiver, you had better marry her. It will be a good excuse for keeping her at a distance afterwards."
Then he lost his temper; indeed, he raved, and stormed, and nearly smashed the patent receiver in his fury. To a scientific man, let it be admitted, it was nothing short of maddening to be told that the successful working of his instrument, to the manufacture of which he had given eight years of toil and study, depended upon some pre- existent sympathy between the operators of its divided halves. If that were so, what was the use of his wonderful discovery, for who could ensure a sympathetic correspondent? And yet the fact remained that when, in their playmate days, he understood his cousin Mary, and when her quiet, indolent nature had been deeply moved by the shock of the news of her mother's peril, the aerophone had worked. Whereas now, when she had become a grown-up young lady, he did not understand her any longer--he, whose heart was wrapped up in his experiments, and who by nature feared the adult members of her sex, and shrank from them; when, too, her placid calm was no longer stirred, work it would not.
She laughed at his temper; then grew serious, and said:
"Don't get angry, Morris. After all, there are lots of things that you and I can't understand, and it isn't odd that you should have tumbled across one of them. If you think of it, nobody understands anything. They know that certain things happen, and how to make them happen; but they don't know why they happen, or why, as in your case, when they ought to happen, they won't."
"It is all very well for you to be philosophical," he answered, turning upon her; "but can't you see, Mary, that the thing there is my life's work? It is what I have given all my strength and all my brain to make, and if it fails in the end--why, then I fail too, once and forever. And I have made it talk. It talked perfectly between this place and Seaview, and now you stand there and tell me that it won't work any more because I don't understand you. Then what am I to do?"
"Try to understand me, if you think it worth while, which I don't; or go on experimenting," she answered. "Try to find some substance which is less exquisitely sensitive, something a little grosser, more in key with the material world; or to discover someone whom you do understand. Don't lose heart; don't be beaten after all these years."
"No," he answered, "I don't unless I die," and he turned to go.
"Morris," she said, in a softer voice, "I am lazy, I know. Perhaps that is why I adore people who can work. So, although you don't think anything of me, I will do my honest best to get into sympathy with you again; yes, and to help in any way I can. No; it's not a joke. I would give a great deal to see the thing a success."
"Why do you say I don't think anything of you, Mary? Of course, it isn't true. Besides, you are my cousin, and we have always been good friends since you were a little thing."
She laughed. "Yes, and I suppose that as you had no brothers or sisters they taught you to pray for your cousin, didn't they? Oh, I know all about it. It is my unfortunate sex that is to blame; while I was a mere tom-boy it was different. No one can serve two masters, can they? You have chosen to serve a machine that won't go, and I daresay that you are wise. Yes, I think that it is the better part--until you find someone that will make it go--and then you would adore her--by aerophone!"
THE COLONEL AND SOME REFLECTIONS
Presently Morris heard a step upon the lawn, and turned to see his father sauntering towards him. Colonel Monk, C.B., was an elderly man, over sixty indeed, but still of an upright and soldierly bearing. His record was rather distinguished. In his youth he had served in the Crimea, and in due course was promoted to the command of a regiment of Guards. After this, certain diplomatic abilities caused him to be sent to one of the foreign capitals as military attache, and in reward of this service, on retiring, he was created a Companion of the Bath. In appearance he was handsome also; in fact, much better looking than his son, with his iron-grey hair, his clear-cut features, somewhat marred in effect by a certain shiftiness of the mouth, and his large dark eyes. Morris had those dark eyes also--they redeemed his face from plainness, for otherwise it showed no beauty, the features being too irregular, the brow too prominent, and the mouth too large. Yet it could boast what, in the case of a man at any rate, is better than beauty--spirituality, and a certain sympathetic charm. It was not the face which was so attractive, but rather the intelligence, the personality that shone through it, as the light shines through the horn panes of some homely, massive lantern. Speculative eyes of the sort that seem to search horizons and gather knowledge there, but shrink from the faces of women; a head of brown hair, short cut but untidy, an athletic, manlike form to which, bizarrely enough, a slight stoop, the stoop of a student, seemed to give distinction, and hands slender and shapely as those of an Eastern--such were the characteristics of Morris Monk, or at least those of them that the observer was apt to notice.
"Hullo! Morris, are you star-gazing there?" said Colonel Monk, with a yawn. "I suppose that I must have fallen asleep after dinner--that comes of stopping too long at once in the country and drinking port. I notice you never touch it, and a good thing, too. There, my cigar is out. Now's the time for that new electric lighter of yours which I can never make work."
Morris fumbled in his pocket and produced the lighter. Then he said:
"I am sorry, father; but I believe I forgot to charge it."
"Ah! that's just like you, if you will forgive my saying so. You take any amount of trouble to invent and perfect a thing, but when it comes to making use of it, then you forget," and with a little gesture of impatience the Colonel turned aside to light a match from a box which he had found in the pocket of his cape.
"I am sorry," said Morris, with a sigh, "but I am afraid it is true. When one's mind is very fully occupied with one thing----" and he broke off.
"Ah! that's it, Morris, that's it," said the Colonel, seating himself upon a garden chair; "this hobby-horse of yours is carrying you--to the devil, and your family with you. I don't want to be rough, but it is time that I spoke plain. Let's see, how long is it since you left the London firm?"
"Nine years this autumn," answered Morris, setting his mouth a little, for he knew what was coming. The port drunk after claret had upset his father's digestion and ruffled his temper. This meant that to him-- Morris--Fate had appointed a lecture.
"Nine years, nine wasted years, idled and dreamt away in a village upon the eastern coast. It is a large slice out of a man's life, my boy. By the time that I was your age I had done a good deal," said his father, meditatively. When he meant to be disagreeable it was the Colonel's custom to become reflective.
"I can't admit that," answered Morris, in his light, quick voice--"I mean I can't admit that my time has either been idled away or wasted. On the contrary, father, I have worked very hard, as I did at college, and as I have always done, with results which, without boasting, I may fairly call glorious--yes, glorious--for when they are perfected they will change the methods of communication throughout the whole world." As he spoke, forgetting the sharp vexation of the moment, his face was irradiated with light--like some evening cloud on which the sun strikes suddenly.
Watching him out of the corner of his eye, even in that low moonlight, his father saw those fires of enthusiasm shine and die upon his son's face, and the sight vexed him. Enthusiasm, as he conceived, perhaps with justice, had been the ruin of Morris. Ceasing to be reflective, his tone became cruel.
"Do you really think, Morris, that the world wishes to have its methods of communication revolutionised? Aren't there enough telephones and phonograms and aerial telegraphs already? It seems to me that you merely wish to add a new terror to existence. However, there is no need to pursue an academical discussion, since this wretched machine of yours, on which you have wasted so much time, appears to be a miserable failure."
Now, to throw the non-success of his invention into the teeth of the inventor, especially when that inventor knows that it is successful really, although just at present it does not happen to work, is a very
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