“The right thing” is the fourth and final story of this sequence. This time the only requirement I had was to have a surprise ending. I hope I did a good job with it.
I also hope you will enjoy it.
“Mr. Morris!” repeated the maid, gently shaking him by the shoulder, “Sir, you’ve fallen asleep at your desk again.”
The man slowly opened his eyes, only understanding very gradually that he was once again in the real world and not still dreaming. Gertrude looked at him, unperturbed, with the selfassurance of a maid who had been in service in the house for the past 30 years – since he was just a kid and not “Mr. Morris”.
The day’s events had left him distraught, but at least the dinner with Marianne had gone exactly as he had hoped.
He couldn’t even remember coming back to his study to go through his papers.
“My wife?” he asked.
“I think she has already gone to bed,” replied the maid, “She seemed a little tired. Of course, getting her to drink all through dinner won’t make things any easier for you, Sir.” He could not fail to note, with a certain embarrassment, the ill-concealed malice in his old housekeeper’s voice.
“Gertrude, do you have to make remarks like that?”
The ghost of a smile on her face, her only response was to turn away, wishing him good night and gently waving at him as she slowly walked away. The way she pronounced the words “good night” only served to increase his embarrassment.
He stretched his arms and legs until a sigh escaped him and, at last, summoned the energy to get up. He crossed the gleaming dining room (Gertrude could be an awkward person to deal with but she was an excellent housekeeper) and, swaying slightly, climbed the stairs.
The man sneaked into the bedroom on tiptoe so as not to wake his wife. She had fallen asleep on the bed, still dressed for dinner, and was spread out as if trying to take up as much space as possible. Little Christopher had found a warm nook between her arm and her stomach.
He stood there for several minutes, staring blankly at them – they looked so peaceful. He didn’t want to awake them inadvertently and so he decided to stay and watch them for a while as they slept, propping himself slightly against a bedside table.
A smile appeared on his face while he was watching. Marianne looked so young – as if the past ten years had made no mark on her. Indeed, it was almost as though time had worked in reverse. He still remembered seeing her for the first time. An unruly girl who always wanted to look older than she was – a breath of fresh air in his life, and one that almost eluded him, convinced as he was that she was just a spoilt child with a crush on him, an older guy.
The golden boy, the heir to the Morris dynasty, destined to graduate in law, with a successful future already lined up, not to mention all the family money, yet with no-one to offer a shoulder to cry on, the day of his mother’s funeral. And so, whilst Mr. Morris senior managed to become even more distant, someone whom he had always considered a mere child had turned into a woman who was actually there for him.
Little Christopher turned in his sleep. For a moment, he thought the boy was about to wake, but he only smiled and then gave a little laugh before relaxing again into sleep. In a selfish surge of affection, the man decided to pluck the boy from his nesting place and cuddle him, even at the risk of waking him up. The baby was quite unperturbed and remained fast asleep. The man moved to the armchair near the bed, cradling the little one in his arms and lap.
He could hear the child’s breathing as he held him in his embrace, whilst Marianne slept on. He could feel the little heart gently beating. What a gift she had given him! He was completely perfect. His tiny fists held against his chest. He gazed at him – so small and so trusting. Everyone who saw him swore he was the spitting image of his father. But he himself had always maintained the opposite. The boy took after his mother. This was what made him so easy to love. He would never have believed that a child could show so much personality at such an early age.
“He’s just like his mother” he murmured to himself. A baby who hardly ever cried – he had never imagined that a child could laugh and smile more than it cried. He had never particularly wanted children but now he couldn’t keep his eyes off him. Every movement, every frown or smile, felt like something extraordinary as if this were the first baby ever born into the world. A discovery, like something never seen by anyone else.
He knew why he loved Marianne – her joy in life, the way she would burst out laughing for no reason or suddenly start dancing around the living room with him. Always so out-of-step and awkward – exactly what every Princess should never be. That was why he loved her.
But this little creature? It was inexplicable. It was something much more visceral. As if he could not do without him. Who would have guessed that he would ever become so sentimental?
Sighing, he held him tightly in his arms, then hard against his chest. The baby let out a soft yelp just as the man felt his breathing cease. Eyes fixed on the white ceiling, he shed not a single tear. Like a coward, he avoided the last glimpse of the trusting look in his son’s eyes. He left the small body on the chair and went to pick up the pillow that would deprive him of the other light of his life. Marianne.
He had done the right thing. The families had demanded proof of his loyalty before entrusting him with the responsibilities that had been his father’s. The city needed a king far more than it needed a good father or a good husband.
He had done the right thing.
Thanks to Ellen Prior for the translation.
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