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- Stella Fregelius - 4/56 -
Morris did not see him, for he had turned his head away; but at the mention of Mary Porson's name his father started, as though someone had pricked him with a pin. But Colonel Monk had not commanded a regiment with some success and been a military attache for nothing; having filled diplomatic positions, public and private, in his time, he could keep his countenance, and play his part when he chose. Indeed, did his simpler-minded son but know it, all that evening he had been playing a part.
"Oh! that's your style, is it?" he said. "Well, at your age I should have preferred something a little different. But there is no accounting for tastes; and after all, Mary is a beautiful woman, and clever in her own way. By Jove! there's one o'clock striking, and I promised old Charters that I would always be in bed by half-past eleven. Good night, my boy. By the way, you remember that your uncle Porson is coming to Seaview to-morrow from London, and that we are engaged to dine with him at eight. Fancy a man who could build that pretentious monstrosity and call it Seaview! Well, it will condemn him to the seventh generation; but in this world one must take people as one finds them, and their houses, too. Mind you lock the garden door when you come in. Good night."
"Really," thought Colonel Monk to himself as he took off his dress- shoes and, with military precision, set them side by side beneath a chair, "it does seem a little hard on me that I should be responsible for a son who is in love with a damned, unworkable electrical machine. And with his chances--with his chances! Why he might have been a second secretary in the Diplomatic Service by now, or anything else to which interest could help him. And there he sits hour after hour gabbling down a little trumpet and listening for an answer which never comes--hour after hour, and month after month, and year after year. Is he a genius, or is he an idiot, or a moral curiosity, or simply useless? I'm hanged if I know, but that's a good idea about Mary; though, of course, there are things against it. Curious that I should never have considered the matter seriously before--because of the cousinship, I suppose. Would she have him? It doesn't seem likely, but you can never know what a woman will or will not do, and as a child she was very fond of Morris. At any rate the situation is desperate, and if I can, I mean to save the old place, for his sake and our family's, as well as my own."
He went to the window, and, lifting a corner of the blind, looked out. "There he is, still staring at the sea and the sky, and there I daresay he will be till dawn. I bet he has forgotten all about Mary now, and is thinking of his electrical machine. What a curiosity! Good heavens; what a curiosity! Ah, I wonder what they would have made of him in my old mess five and thirty years ago?" And quite overcome by this reflection, the Colonel shook his grizzled head, put out the candle, and retired to rest.
His father was right. The beautiful September dawn was breaking over the placid sea before Morris brushed the night dew from his hair and cloak, and went in by the abbot's door.
What was he thinking of all the time? He scarcely knew. One by one, like little clouds in the summer sky, fancies arose in his mind to sail slowly across its depth and vanish upon an inconclusive and shadowy horizon. Of course, he thought about his instruments; these were never absent from his heart. His instinct flew back to them as an oasis, as an island of rest in the wilderness of this father's thorny and depressing conversation. The instruments were disappointing, it is true, at present; but, at any rate, they did not dwell gloomily upon impending ruin or suggest that it was his duty to get married. They remained silent, distressingly silent indeed.
Well, as the question of marriage had been started, he might as well face it out; that is, argue it in his mind, reduce it to its principles, follow it to its issues in a reasonable and scientific manner. What were the facts? His family, which, by tradition, was reported to be Danish in its origin, had owned this property for several hundred years, though how they came to own it remained a matter of dispute. Some said the Abbey and its lands were granted to a man of the name of Monk by Henry VIII., of course for a consideration. Others held, and evidence existed in favour of this view, that on the dissolution of the monastery the abbot of the day, a shrewd man of easy principles, managed to possess himself of the Chapter House and further extensive hereditaments, of course with the connivance of the Commissioners, and, providing himself with a wife, to exchange a spiritual for a temporal dignity. At least this remained certain, that from the time of Elizabeth onwards Morris's forefathers had been settled in the old Abbey house at Monksland; that the first of them about whom they really knew anything was named Monk, and that Monk was still the family name.
Now they were all dead and gone, and their history, which was undistinguished, does not matter. To come to the present day. His father succeeded to a diminished and encumbered estate; indeed, had it not been for the fortune of his mother, a Miss Porson and one of a middle class and business, but rather wealthy family, the property must have been sold years before. That fortune, however, had long ago been absorbed--or so he gathered--for his father, a brilliant and fashionable army officer, was not the man to stint himself or to nurse a crippled property. Indeed, it was wonderful to Morris how, without any particular change in their style of living, which, if unpretentious, was not cheap, in these bad times they had managed to keep afloat at all.
Unworldly as Morris might be, he could easily guess why his father wished that he should marry, and marry well. It was that he might bolster up the fortunes of a shattered family. Also--and this touched him, this commanded his sympathy--he was the last of his race. If he died without issue the ancient name of Monk became extinct, a consummation from which his father shrank with something like horror.
The Colonel was a selfish man--Morris could not conceal it, even from himself--one who had always thought of his own comfort and convenience first. Yet, either from idleness or pride, to advance these he had never stooped to scheme. Where the welfare of his family was concerned, however, as his son knew, he was a schemer. That desire was the one real and substantial thing in a somewhat superficial, egotistic, and finessing character.
Morris saw it all as he leaned there upon the railing, staring at the mist-draped sea, more clearly, indeed, than he had ever seen it before. He understood, moreover, what an unsatisfactory son he must be to a man like his father--if it had tried, Providence could hardly have furnished him with offspring more unsuitable. The Colonel had wished him to enter the Diplomatic Service, or the Army, or at least to get himself called to the Bar; but although a really brilliant University career and his family influence would have given him advantages in any of these professions, he had declined them all. So, following his natural bent, he became an electrician, and now, abandoning the practical side of that modest calling, he was an experimental physicist, full of deep but unremunerative lore, and--an unsuccessful inventor. Certainly he owed something to his family, and if his father wished that he should marry, well, marry he must, as a matter of duty, if for no other reason. After all, the thing was not pressing; for it it came to the point, what woman was likely to accept him? All he had done to-night was to settle the general principles in his own mind. When it became necessary--if ever--he could deal with the details.
And yet this sort of marriage which was proposed to him, was it not an unholy business? He cared little for women, having no weakness that way, probably because of the energy which other young men gave to the pursuit of them was in his case absorbed by intense and brain- exhausting study. Therefore he was not a man who if left to himself, would marry, as so many do, merely in order to be married; indeed, the idea to him was almost repulsive. Had he been a woman-hater, he might have accepted it more easily, for then to him one would have been as the other. But the trouble was that he knew and felt that a time might come when in his eyes one woman would be different from all others, a being who spoke not to his physical nature only, if at all, but to the core within him. And if that happened, what then?
Look, the sun was rising. On the eastern sky of a sudden two golden doors had opened in the canopy of night, and in and out of them seemed to pass glittering, swift-winged things, as souls might tread the Gate of Heaven. Look, too, at the little clouds that in an unending stream floated out of the gloom--travellers pressed onwards by a breath of destiny. They were leaden-hued, all of them, black, indeed, at times, until they caught the radiance, and for a while became like the pennons of an angel's wings. Then one by one the glory overtook and embraced them, and they melted into it to be seen no more.
What did the sight suggest to him? That it was worth while, perhaps, to be a mere drift of cloud, storm-driven and rain-laden in the bitter Night of Life, if the Morning of Deliverance brought such transformation on its wings. That beyond some such gates as these, gates that at times, greatly daring, he longed to tread, lay the answer to many a mystery. Amongst other things, perhaps, there he would learn the meaning of true marriage, and why it is denied to most dwellers of the earth. Without a union of the spirit was there indeed any marriage as it should be understood? And who in this world could hope to find his fellow spirit?
See, the sun had risen, the golden gates were shut. He had been dreaming, and was chilled to the bone. Wretchedness, mental and bodily, took hold of him. Well, often enough such is the fate of those who dream; those who turn from their needful, daily tasks to shape an angel out of this world's clay, trusting to some unknown god to give it life and spirit.
Upon the morning following his conversation with Morris, Colonel Monk spent two hours or more in the library. Painfully did he wrestle there with balance-sheets, adding up bank books; also other financial documents.
"Phew!" he said, when at length the job was done. "It is worse than I thought, a good deal worse. My credit must be excellent, or somebody would have been down upon us before now. Well, I must talk things over with Porson. He understands figures, and so he ought, considering that he kept the books in his grandfather's shop."
Then the Colonel went to lunch less downcast than might have been expected, since he anticipated a not unamusing half-hour with his son. As he knew well, Morris detested business matters and money calculations. Still, reflected his parent, it was only right that he should take his share of the family responsibilities--a fact which he fully intended to explain to him.
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