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- The Morals of Marcus Ordeyne - 1/57 -


THE MORALS OF MARCUS ORDEYNE

by William J. Locke

PART I

CHAPTER I

For reasons which will be given later, I sit down here, in Verona, to write the history of my extravagant adventure. I shall formulate and expand the rough notes in my diary which lies open before me, and I shall begin with a happy afternoon in May, six months ago.

May 20th.

_London_:--To-day is the seventh anniversary of my release from captivity. I will note it every year in my diary with a sigh of unutterable thanksgiving. For seven long blessed years have I been free from the degrading influences of Jones Minor and the First Book of Euclid. Some men find the modern English boy stimulating, and the old Egyptian humorous. Such are the born schoolmasters, and schoolmasters, like poets, _nascuntur non fiunt_. What I was born passes my ingenuity to fathom. Certainly not a schoolmaster--and my many years of apprenticeship did not make me one. They only turned me into an automaton, feared by myself, bantered by my colleagues, and sometimes good- humouredly tolerated by the boys.

Seven years ago the lawyer's letter came. The post used to arrive just before first school. I opened the letter in the class-room and sat down at my desk, sick with horror. The awful wholesale destruction of my relatives paralysed me. My form must have seen by my ghastly face that something had happened, for, contrary to their usual practice, they sat, thirty of them, in stony silence, waiting for me to begin the lesson. As far as I remember anything, they waited the whole hour. The lesson over, I passed along the cloister on my way to my rooms. I overheard one of my urchins, clattering in front of me, shout to another:

"I'm sure he's got the sack!"

Turning round he perceived me, and grew as red as a turkey-cock. I laughed aloud. The boy's yell was a clarion announcement from the seventh heaven. I _had got the sack_! _I_ should never teach him quadratic equations again. I should turn my back forever upon those hateful walls and still more abominated playing- fields. And I was not leaving my prison, as I had done once or twice before, in order to continue my servitude elsewhere. I was free. I could go out into the sunshine and look my fellow-man in the face, free from the haunting, demoralising sense of incapacity. I was free. Until that urchin's shriek I had not realised it. My teeth chattered with the thrill.

I was fortunately out of school the second hour. I employed most of it in balancing myself. A perfectly reasonable creature, I visited the chief. He was a chubby, rotund man, with a circular body and a circular visage, and he wore great circular gold spectacles. He looked like a figure in the Third Book of Euclid. But his eyes sparkled like bits of glass in the sun.

"Well, Ordeyne?" he inquired, looking up from letters to parents.

"I have come to ask you to accept my resignation," said I. "I would like you to release me at once."

"Come, come, things are not as bad as all that," said he, kindly.

I looked stupidly at him for a moment.

"Of course I know you've got one or two troublesome forms," he continued.

Then I winced. His conjecture hurt me horribly.

"Oh, it's nothing to do with my incompetence," I interrupted.

"What is it, then?"

"My grandfather, two uncles, two nephews and a valet were drowned a day or two ago in the Mediterranean," I answered, calmly.

I have since been struck by the crudity of this announcement. It took my chief's breath away.

"I deeply sympathise with you," he said at last.

"Thank you," said I.

"A terrible catastrophe. No wonder it has upset you. Horrible! Six living human beings! Three generations of men!"

"That's just it," said I. "Three generations of my family swept away, leaving me now at the head of it."

At this moment the chief's wife came into the library with the morning paper in her hand. On seeing me she rushed forward.

"Have you had bad news?"

"Yes. Is it in the paper?"

"I was coming to show my husband. The name is an uncommon one. I wondered if they might be relatives of yours."

I bowed acquiescence. The chief looked at the paragraph below his wife's indicating thumb, then he looked at me as if I, too, had suffered a seachange.

"I had no idea--" he said. "Why, now--now you are Sir Marcus Ordeyne!"

"It sounds idiotic, doesn't it? " said I, with a smile. "But I suppose I -am."

And so came my release from captivity. I was profoundly affected by the awful disaster, but it would be sheer hypocrisy if I said that I felt personal grief. I knew none of the dead, of whom I verily believe the valet was the worthiest man. My grandfather and uncles had ignored my existence. Not a helping hand had they stretched out to my widowed mother in her poverty, when one kindly touch would have meant all.

They do not seem to have been a lovable race, the Ordeynes. What my father, the youngest son, was like, I have no idea, as he died when I was two years old, but my mother, who was somewhat stern and puritanical, spoke of him very much as she would have spoken of the prophet Joel, had he been a personal acquaintance.

Seven years to-day have I been a free man.

Feeling at peace with all the world I called this afternoon on my Aunt Jessica, Mrs. Ordeyne, who has borne me no malice for stepping into the place that should have been the inheritance of her husband and of her son. Rather has she devised to adopt me, to guide my ambitions and to point out my duties as the head of the house. If I refuse to be adopted, avoid ambitions and disclaim duties, the fault lies not with her good-will. She is a well-preserved worldly woman of fifty-five, and having begun to dye her hair in the peroxide of hydrogen era has not the curiosity to abandon the practice and see what colour will result. I wish I could like her. I can't. She purrs. Some day I feel she will scratch. She received me graciously.

"My dear Marcus. At last! Didn't you know I have been in town ever since Easter?"

"No," said I. "I am afraid I didn't." Which was true. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"I would have asked you to dinner, but you will never come. As for At Home cards I never dream of sending them to you. It is a waste of precious half-penny stamps."

"You might have written me a nice little letter about nothing at all," I suggested.

"For you to say 'What is that woman worrying me with her silly letters for?' I know what you men are." She looked arch.

This is precisely what I should have said. As I am not an inventive liar, I could only smile feebly. I am never at my ease with Aunt Jessica. I am not the kind of person to afford her entertainment. I do not belong to her world of opulence, and if even I desired it, which the gods forbid, my means would not enable me to make the necessary display. My uncle, thinking to retrieve the fallen fortunes of the title, amassed enormous wealth as a company promoter, while I, on whom the title has descended, am perfectly contented with its fallen fortunes. I have scarcely a thought or taste in common with my aunt. In fact, I must bore her exceedingly. Yet she hides her boredom beneath a radiant countenance and leads me to understand that my society gives her inexpressible joy. I wonder why.

She is always be-guide-philosopher-and-friending me. I resent it. A man of forty does not need the counsels of an elderly woman destitute of intellect. I believe there are some women who are firmly convinced that their sheer sex has imbued them with all the qualities of genius. To-day my aunt tackled me on the subject of marriage. I ought to marry. I asked why. It appeared it was every man's duty.

"From what point of view?" I asked. "The mere propagation of the human race, or the providing of a superfluous young woman with a


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