H. RIDER HAGGARD
25th August 1903.
The author feels that he owes some apology to his readers for his
boldness in offering to them a modest story which is in no sense a
romance of the character that perhaps they expect from him; which has
moreover few exciting incidents and no climax of the accustomed
order since the end of it only indicates its real beginning.
His excuse must be that in the first instance he wrote it purely to
please himself and now publishes it in the hope that it may please
some others. The problem of such a conflict common enough mayhap did
we but know it between a departed and a present personality of which
the battle-ground is a bereaved human heart and the prize its complete
possession; between earthly duty and spiritual desire also; was one
that had long attracted him. Finding at length a few months of
leisure he treated the difficult theme not indeed as he would have
wished to do but as best he could.
He may explain further that when he drafted this book now some five
years ago instruments of the nature of the "aerophone" were not so
much talked of as they are to-day. In fact this aerophone has little
to do with his characters or their history and the main motive of its
introduction to his pages was to suggest how powerless are all such
material means to bring within mortal reach the transcendental and
unearthly ends which with their aid were attempted by Morris Monk.
These as that dreamer learned must be far otherwise obtained
whether in truth and spirit or perchance in visions only.
MORRIS MARY AND THE AEROPHONE
Above the sky seemed one vast arc of solemn blue set here and there
with points of tremulous fire; below to the shadowy horizon
stretched the plain of the soft grey sea while from the fragrances of
night and earth floated a breath of sleep and flowers.
A man leaned on the low wall that bordered the cliff edge and looked
at sea beneath and sky above. Then he contemplated the horizon and
murmured some line heard or learnt in childhood ending "where earth
and heaven meet."
"But they only seem to meet" he reflected to himself idly. "If I
sailed to that spot they would be as wide apart as ever. Yes the
stars would be as silent and as far away and the sea quite as
restless and as salt. Yet there must be a place where they do meet.
No Morris my friend there is no such place in this world material
or moral; so stick to facts and leave fancies alone."
But that night this speculative man felt in the mood for fancies for
presently he was staring at one of the constellations and saying to
himself "Why not? Well why not? Granted force can travel through
ether--whatever ether is--why should it stop travelling? Give it time
enough a few seconds or a few minutes or a few years and why should
it not reach that star? Very likely it does only there it wastes
itself. What would be needed to make it serviceable? Simply this--that
on the star there should dwell an Intelligence armed with one of my
instruments when I have perfected them or the secret of them. Then
who knows what might happen?" and he laughed a little to himself at
From all of which wandering speculations it may be gathered that
Morris Monk was that rather common yet problematical person an
inventor who dreamed dreams.
An inventor in truth he was although as yet he had never really
invented anything. Brought up as an electrical engineer after a very
brief experience of his profession he had fallen victim to an idea and
become a physicist. This was his idea or the main point of it--for
its details do not in the least concern our history: that by means of
a certain machine which he had conceived but not as yet perfected it
would be possible to complete all existing systems of aerial
communication and enormously to simplify their action and enlarge
their scope. His instruments which were wireless telephones--
aerophones he called them--were to be made in pairs twins that should
talk only to each other. They required no high poles or balloons or
any other cumbrous and expensive appliance; indeed their size was no
larger than that of a rather thick despatch box. And he had triumphed;
the thing was done--in all but one or two details.
For two long years he had struggled with these and still they eluded
him. Once he had succeeded--that was the dreadful thing. Once for a
while the instruments had worked and with a space of several miles
between them. But--this was the maddening part of it--he had never
been able to repeat the exact conditions; or rather to discover
precisely what they were. On that occasion he had entrusted one of his
machines to his first cousin Mary Porson a big girl with her hair
still down her back rather idle in disposition but very intelligent
when she chose. Mary for the most part had been brought up at her
father's house close by. Often too she stayed with her uncle for
weeks at a stretch so at that time Morris was as intimate with her as
a man of eight and twenty usually is with a relative in her teens.
The arrangement on this particular occasion was that she should take
the machine--or aerophone as its inventor had named it--to her home.
The next morning at the appointed hour as Morris had often done
before he tried to effect communication but without result. On the
following day at the same hour he tried again when to his
astonishment instantly the answer came back. Yes as distinctly as
though she were standing by his side he heard his cousin Mary's
"Are you there?" he said quite hopelessly merely as a matter of form
--of very common form--and well-nigh fell to the ground when he
received the reply:
"Yes yes but I have just been telegraphed for to go to Beaulieu; my
mother is very ill."
"What is the matter with her?" he asked; and she replied:
"Inflammation of the lungs--but I must stop; I can't speak any more."
Then came some sobs and silence.
That same afternoon by Mary's direction the aerophone was brought
back to him in a dog-cart and three days later he heard that her
mother Mrs. Porson was dead.
Some months passed and when they met again on her return from the
Riviera Morris found his cousin changed. She had parted from him a
child and now beneath the shadow of the wings of grief suddenly she
had become a woman. Moreover the best and frankest part of their
intimacy seemed to have vanished. There was a veil between them. Mary
thought of little and at this time seemed to care for no one except
her mother who was dead. And Morris who had loved the child
recoiled somewhat from the new-born woman. It may be explained that he
was afraid of women. Still with an eye to business he spoke to her
about the aerophone; and so far as her memory served her she
confirmed all the details of their short conversation across the gulf
of empty space.
"You see" he said trembling with excitement "I have got it at
"It looks like it" she answered wearily her thoughts already far
away. "Why shouldn't you? There are so many odd things of the sort.
But one can never be sure; it mightn't work next time."
"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
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
"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
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
deadly insult. Few indeed could be deadlier except perhaps that of
the cruelty which can suggest to a woman that no man will ever look at
her because of her plainness and lack of attraction; or the coarse
taunt which by shameless implication unjustly accuses the soldier of
cowardice the diplomat of having betrayed the secrets of his country
or the lawyer of having sold his brief. All the more therefore was
it to Morris's credit that he felt the lash sting without a show of
"I have tried to explain to you father" he began struggling to
free his clear voice from the note of indignation.
"Of course you have Morris; don't trouble yourself to repeat that
long story. But even if you were successful--which you are not--er--I
cannot see the commercial use of this invention. As a scientific toy
it may be very well though personally I should prefer to leave it
alone since if you go firing off your thoughts and words into space
how do you know who will answer them or who will hear them?"
"Well father as you understand all about it it is no use my
explaining any further. It is pretty late; I think I will be turning
"I had hoped" replied the Colonel in an aggrieved voice "that you
might have been able to spare me a few minutes' conversation. For some
weeks I have been seeking an opportunity to talk to you; but somehow
your arduous occupations never seem to leave you free for ordinary
"Certainly" replied Morris "though I don't quite know why you should
say that. I am always about the place if you want me." But in his
heart he groaned guessing what was coming.
"Yes; but you are ever working at your chemicals and machinery in the
old chapel; or reading those eternal books; or wandering about rapt in
contemplation of the heavens; so that in short I seldom like to
trouble you with my mundane but necessary affairs."
Morris made no answer; he was a very dutiful son and humble-spirited.
Those who pit their intelligences against the forces of Nature and
try to search out her secrets become humble. He could not altogether
respect his father; the gulf between them was too wide and deep. But
even at his present age of three and thirty he considered it a duty to
submit himself to him and his vagaries. Outside of other reasons his
mother had prayed him to do so almost with her last breath and
living or dead Morris loved his mother.
"Perhaps you are not aware" went on Colonel Monk after a solemn
pause "that the affairs of this property are approaching a crisis."
"I know something but no details" answered Morris. "I have not liked
to interfere" he added apologetically.
"And I have not not liked to trouble you with such sordid matters"
rejoined his parent with sarcasm. "I presume however that you are
acquainted with the main facts. I succeeded to this estate encumbered
with a mortgage created by your grandfather an extravagant and
unbusiness-like man. That mortgage I looked to your mother's fortune
to pay off but other calls made this impossible. For instance the