On my rejection of this brilliant advice, he remarked that the only other thing he could think of was that I should get married and have a large family, which might possibly advantage the nation and ultimately enrich the Kingdom of Heaven, though of such things no one could be quite sure. At any rate, he was certain that at present I was in practice neglecting my duty, whatever it might be, and in fact one of those cumberers of the earth who, he observed in the newspaper he took in and read when he had time, were “very happily named—the idle rich.”
“Which reminds me,” he added, “that the clothing-club finances are in a perfectly scandalous condition; in fact, it is £25 in debt, an amount that as the squire of the parish I consider it incumbent on you to make good, not as a charity but as an obligation.”
“Look here, my friend,” I said, ignoring all the rest, “will you answer me a plain question? Have you found marriage such a success that you consider it your duty to recommend it to others? And if you have, why have you not got the large family of which you speak?”
“Of course not,” he replied with his usual frankness. “Indeed, it is in many ways so disagreeable that I am convinced it must be right and for the good of all concerned. As regards the family I am sure I do not know, but Sarah never liked babies, which perhaps has something to do with it.”
Then he sighed, adding, “You see, Arbuthnot, we have to take things as we find them in this world and hope for a better.”
“Which is just what I am trying to do, you unilluminating old donkey!” I exclaimed, and left him there shaking his head over matters in general, but I think principally over Sarah.
By the way, I think that the villagers recognised this good lady’s vinegary nature. At least, they used to call her “Sour Sal.”
Now what Bastin had said about marriage stuck in my mind as his blundering remarks had a way of doing, perhaps because of the grain of honest truth with which they were often permeated. Probably in my position it was more or less my duty to marry. But here came the rub; I had never experienced any leanings that way. I was as much a man as others, more so than many are, perhaps, and I liked women, but at the same time they repelled me.
My old fastidiousness came in; to my taste there was always something wrong about them. While they attracted one part of my nature they revolted another part, and on the whole I preferred to do without their intimate society, rather than work violence to this second and higher part of me. Moreover, quite at the beginning of my career I had concluded from observation that a man gets on better in life alone, rather than with another to drag at his side, or by whom perhaps he must be dragged. Still true marriage, such as most men and some women have dreamed of in their youth, had always been one of my ideals; indeed it was on and around this vision that I wrote that first book of mine which was so successful. Since I knew this to be unattainable in our imperfect conditions, however, notwithstanding Bastin’s strictures, again I dismissed the whole matter from my mind as a vain imagination.