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- Stella Fregelius - 6/56 -

"I think not, John. Unless Morris should chance to make a good marriage, which is unlikely, for, as you know, he is an odd fish, I can see nothing before us except ruin. Indeed, at my age, it does not greatly matter, but it seems a pity that the old house should come to an end in such a melancholy and discreditable fashion."

"A pity! It is more than a pity," jerked out Porson, with a sudden wriggle which caused him to rock up and down upon the stiff springs of the new sofa.

As he spoke there came a knock at the door, and from the further side of it a slow, rich voice was heard, saying: "May I come in?"

"That's Mary," said Mr. Porson. "Yes, come in, dear; it's only your uncle."

The door opened, Mary came in, and, in some curious quiet way, at once her personality seemed to take possession of and dominate that shaded room. To begin with, her stature gave an idea of dominion, for, without being at all coarse, she was tall and full in frame. The face also was somewhat massive, with a rounded chin and large, blue eyes that had a trick of looking half asleep, and above a low, broad forehead grew her waving, golden hair, parted simply in the middle after the old Greek fashion. She wore a white dress, with a silver girdle that set off the beautiful outlines of her figure to great advantage, and with her a perfume seemed to pass, perhaps from the roses on her bosom.

"A beautiful woman," thought the Colonel to himself, as she came in, and he was no mean or inexperienced judge. "A beautiful woman, but a regular lotus-eater."

"How do you do, Uncle Richard?" said Mary, pausing about six feet away and holding out her hand. "I heard you scolding my poor dad about his bow-window. In fact, you woke me up; and, do you know, you used exactly the same words as you did at your visit after we came down from London last year."

"Bless me, my dear," said the Colonel, struggling to his feet, and kissing his niece upon the forehead, "what a memory you have got! It will get you into trouble some day."

"I daresay--me, or somebody else. But history repeated itself, uncle, that is all. The same sleepy Me in a lounge-chair, the same hot day, the same blue-bottle, and the same You scolding the same Daddy about the same window. Though what on earth dad's window can matter to anyone except himself, I can't understand."

"I daresay not, my dear; I daresay not. We can none of us know everything--not even latter day young ladies--but I suggest that a few hours with Fergussen's 'Handbook of Architecture' might enlighten you on the point."

Mary reflected, but the only repartee that she could conjure at the moment was something about ancient lights which did not seem appropriate. Therefore, as she thought that she had done enough for honour, and to remind her awe-inspiring relative that he could not suppress her, suddenly she changed the subject.

"You are looking very well, uncle," she said, surveying him calmly; "and younger than you did last year. How is my cousin Morris? Will the aerophone talk yet?"

"Be careful," said the Colonel, gallantly. "If even my grey hairs can provoke a compliment, what homage is sufficient for a Sleeping Beauty? As for Morris, he is, I believe, much as usual; at least he stood this morning till daybreak staring at the sea. I understand, however--if he doesn't forget to come--that you are to have the pleasure of seeing him this evening, when you will be able to judge for yourself."

"Now, don't be sarcastic about Morris, uncle; I'd rather you went on abusing dad's window."

"Certainly not, my dear, if it displeases you. But may I ask why he is to be considered sacred?"

"Why?" she answered, and a genuine note crept into her bantering voice. "Because he is one of the few men worth anything whom I ever chanced to meet--except dad there and----"

"Spare me," cut in the Colonel, with admirable skill, for well he knew that his name was not upon the lady's lips. "But would it be impertinent to inquire what it is that constitutes Morris's preeminent excellence in your eyes?"

"Of course not; only it is three things, not one. First, he works harder than any man I know, and I think men who work adorable, because I am so lazy myself. Secondly, he thinks a great deal, and very few people do that to any purpose. Thirdly, I never feel inclined to go to sleep when he takes me in to dinner. Oh! you may laugh if you like, but ask dad what happened to me last month with that wretched old member of the Government, and before the sweets, too!"

"Please, please," put in Mr. Porson, turning pink under pressure of some painful recollection. "If you have finished sparring with your uncle, isn't there any tea, Mary?"

"I believe so," she said, relapsing into a state of bland indifference. "I'll go and see. If I don't come back, you'll know it is there," and Mary passed through the door with that indolent, graceful walk which no one could mistake who once had seen her.

Both her father and her uncle looked after her with admiration. Mr. Porson admired her because the man or woman who dared to meet that domestic tyrant his brother-in-law in single combat, and could issue unconquered from the doubtful fray, was indeed worthy to be honoured. Colonel Monk for his part hastened to do homage to a very pretty and charming young lady, one, moreover, who was not in the least afraid of him.

Mary had gone, and the air from the offending window, which was so constructed as to let in a maximum of draught, banged the door behind her. The two men looked at each other. A thought was in the mind of each; but the Colonel, trained by long experience, and wise in his generation, waited for Mr. Porson to speak. Many and many a time in the after days did he find reason to congratulate himself upon this superb reticence--for there are occasions when discretion can amount almost to the height of genius. Under their relative circumstances, if it had been he who first suggested this alliance, he and his family must have remained at the gravest disadvantage, and as for stipulations, well, he could have made none. But as it chanced it was from poor Porson's lips that the suggestion came.

Mr. Porson cleared this throat--once, twice, thrice. At the third rasp, the Colonel became very attentive. He remembered that his brother-in-law had done exactly the same thing at the very apex of a long-departed crisis; indeed, just before he offered spontaneously to take over the mortgages on the Abbey estate.

"You were talking, Colonel," he began, "when Mary came in," and he paused.

"I daresay," replied the Colonel indifferently, fixing a contemptuous glance upon some stone mullions of atrocious design.

"About Morris marrying?"

"Oh, yes, so I was! Well?"

"Well--she seems to like him. I know she does indeed. She never talks of any other young man."

"She? Who?"

"My daughter, Mary; and--so--why shouldn't they--you know?"

"Really, John, I must ask you to be a little more explicit. It's no good your addressing me in your business ciphers."

"Well--I mean--why shouldn't he marry her? Morris marry Mary? Is that plain enough?" he asked in desperation.

For a moment a mist gathered before the Colonel's eyes. Here was salvation indeed, if only it could be brought about. Oh! if only it could be brought about.

But the dark eyes never changed, nor did a muscle move upon that pale, commanding countenance.

"Morris marry Mary," he repeated, dwelling on the alliterative words as though to convince himself that he had heard them aright. "That is a very strange proposition, my dear John, and sudden, too. Why, they are first cousins, and for that reason, I suppose, the thing never occurred to me--till last night," he added to himself.

"Yes, I know, Colonel; but I am not certain that this first cousin business isn't a bit exaggerated. The returns of the asylums seem to show it, and I know my doctor, Sir Henry Andrews, says it's nonsense. You'll admit that he is an authority. Also, it happened in my own family, my father and mother were cousins, and we are none the worse."

On another occasion the Colonel might have been inclined to comment on this statement--of course, most politely. Now, however, he let it pass.

"Well, John," he said, "putting aside the cousinship, let me hear what your idea is of the advantages of such a union, should the parties concerned change to consider it suitable."

"Quite so, quite so, that's business," said Mr. Porson, brightening up at once. "From my point of view, these would be the advantages. As you know, Colonel, so far as I am concerned my origin, for the time I have been able to trace it--that's four generations from old John Porson, the Quaker sugar merchant, who came from nobody knows where--although honest, is humble, and until my father's day all in the line of retail trade. But then my dear wife came in. She was a governess when I married her, as you may have heard, and of a very good Scotch family, one of the Camerons, so Mary isn't all of our cut--any more," he added with a smile, "than Morris is all of yours. Still for her to marry a Monk would be a lift up--a considerable lift up, and looked at from a business point of view, worth a deal of money.

"Also, I like my nephew Morris, and I am sure that Mary likes him, and I'd wish the two of them to inherit what I have got. They wouldn't have very long to wait for it, Colonel, for those doctors may say what they will, but I tell you," he added, pathetically, tapping himself over the heart--"though you don't mention it to Mary--I know better. Oh! yes, I know better. That's about all, except, of course, that I should wish to see her settled before I'm gone. A man dies happier, you understand, if he is certain whom his only child is going to

Stella Fregelius - 6/56

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