CAPTIVITY

CHAPTER XIII

There were things to be endured the next few days. The purser came along, got Knollys to pack Louis's things and then sealed them. This meant that Marcella was shut away from all association with him; it seemed an unwarrantable interference with what she considered her property. The schoolmaster was surprisingly comforting and kind; he went out of his way to entertain her: Knollys brought unexpected tea in the morning in an attempt to make up for the loss of Louis. A young Scotsman, a sugar planter going out to the Islands, to whom she had talked until the fact that she was "another man's girl" had put a taboo upon her, insisted that she should, in the cold evenings on deck, wear his fur coat which he had brought rather unnecessarily; Jimmy tried to comfort her with apples. Mrs. Hetherington, whom the end of the voyage had left nervy and cross, said cattish things. She thought Marcella had shown very little tact in throwing herself at Louis; she advised her, with the next man, not to tire him out.

"Oh, you're an idiot," cried Marcella, her eyes full of tears, and decided that this was an occasion for her father's favourite epithet. "A double-distilled idiot! How have you managed Mr. Peters except by never leaving him alone for a minute?"

"I am a woman of the world, and understand men," she said airily. "I wove a net about him—in ways you would not understand, my child."

"Don't want to," snapped Marcella. "I'm not a spider!"

They anchored out in the stream in Sydney Harbour, going ashore in tenders. Marcella scanned the quay anxiously to find Louis, though Knollys told her that he would, most probably, be in by train to-morrow at noon. But she had an idea that he might have got through earlier, and hurried up to the General Post Office, which he had told her was his only address in the Colonies, to which his letters were sent. But it was a fruitless errand. Enquiry at the station told her that, as Knollys had said, the next train possible for Louis would be in at noon to-morrow. She turned back through the streets that were so extraordinarily like London in spite of Chinese, German and Italian names. As she passed the Post Office for the second time it occurred to her that there might be letters for her there, and found quite a bundle of them in a little pigeonhole high up. There was also a cablegram that had been waiting two days. She opened that first. It was extravagantly long; the name "Carlossie" at the head of it gave her a sickening pang of homesickness for a moment. She read:

"Letter from Port Said arrived. Very anxious. Only way you treat drunkard is leave him alone. Impossible cure. Above all do not marry him or shall blame myself. Writing. Await letter I implore you.—Angus."

It was extraordinary extravagance for Dr. Angus. She felt guilty at having worried him.

"But I never mentioned marrying Louis! I simply said he was one of the passengers I was interested in."

There was a letter from Aunt Janet written after the Oriana had sailed and sent overland to Marseilles.

"I certainly miss you," she wrote, "but I shall get over it in time, I expect. One gets very used to everything in time. I wonder if you will ever come back? I expect so. Wullie the Hunchback came along with fish for me twice. He misses you badly. You were always a great deal with him."

Letters from Mrs. Mactavish and from Wullie, dictated to and written by Bessie, said that she would be back soon; standing under the portico of the Post Office, surrounded by the flower sellers with their bunches of exuberant waratah, feathery wattle and sweet, sober-looking boronia, she let her mind travel back to Lashnagar and the acrid smoke of the green-wood fires, the pungency of the fish, the sharp tang of the salt winds pushed the heavy perfume of flowers aside. In a moment the last six weeks of mad, unhappy dreaming and hoping vanished; she saw herself back again in her own sphere among her own people. She tried to picture Louis there, too, and realized horribly that he would never fit into the picture. Against Wullie and the doctor and her aunt he would look so vulgar, so pretentious, so tinsel-coloured. And how they would laugh at a man who could not master himself, a man who cried!

"Why, I'm a snob! I was hurt when he thought I'd disgrace him by my bad manners. And now I'm being just as cruel!"

Then she jerked herself away from Lashnagar and stood with the last letter in her hand, afraid to open it. It was postmarked Melbourne and had come in that morning. It was in Louis's writing, and gave her an acute sense of distress. She stood still by a shop window, looking into it blindly until she realized that she was looking at a crocodile and some snakes squirming about in tanks in a naturalist's window. The straggly writing reminded her of the ugly snakes: it told her that he was drunk more or less when the letter was written; she looked from the letter to the snakes. One of them crawled writhingly over the others, lifted its head and put out its tongue at her: shivering, she opened the letter.

"MY OWN DARLING,

"Wasn't it a sell? That damned captain's had a down on me all the trip. I reported him to the shipping company and I'm trying to get a free pass from them by rail. Otherwise I should come by the train that has brought this letter. By great luck I ran into an old girl I knew in New Zealand. She's a nurse who saved my life once when I was in hospital there. She's a dear—Oh quite old; don't get jealous, my pet! I'm staying the night at an hotel in Little Collins Street. The landlord has lent me a fiver, so don't worry about me. One thing I've to tell you—a terrible confession. I lost your father's ring in my haste the other night, but never mind. I'll buy you another. I hope your Uncle stumped up. Australia's a damnable place to be hard up in. Will you tip my stewards for me and see my things through the Customs? Give Knollys and the other chap ten shillings each. They haven't killed themselves on my behalf, or it would have been a quid. Tell them I sent it. I don't want them to know I'm hard up. If I hit up that railway pass I should be through before lunch on Saturday. And then, old girl, there'll be doings! I hear you can get hitched up in Sydney for about twenty-seven bob, without waiting for notices of any sort. Till then, all my love and all my thoughts are for you.

"Your own Louis.

"P.S. (Just like a woman) You'd better get something decent and not Scotch to wear if your uncle came down decently. And book us rooms at the Hotel Australia. They do you very well there."

It was her first love letter. She felt, vaguely, that it lacked something though she did not quite know what. She hated the talk about money and about her uncle. She hated that he could borrow money so casually from a nurse who had been good to him. She wished that terrible hunger he had predicted had not happened to her. She knew, with absolute certainty, that Dr. Angus had gauged her fatal habit of conceited anxiety to help other people when he cabled to her not to marry a drunkard whom she had merely put to him as a hypothetical case. And she knew the doctor was inevitably right about the folly of marrying a man like Louis.

"But he's wrong about there being no cure. When he is with me every minute and I can look after him as if he is my little baby, he won't be able to do it. I'll be a gaoler to him—I'll be his providence, his mother, his nurse, his doctor. Oh everything—I'll be what God was to father."

Down on Circular Quay she felt she could not go aboard the Oriana yet. In spite of the unsteadiness of her feet it was very pleasant to be walking about in a new land, so, taking out Louis's letter again she went on rather blindly through the wharves, reading it. A Japanese boat was loading; smells of garlic and of spice and sandalwood were wafted to her from the holds and weaved into her thoughts of Louis; a little further along there was a crowd of stevedores clustered in the roadway round a violent smell of whisky. She turned away, sickened by her memories of that smell, with her father's ghost and Louis's at her side, but uncontrollable curiosity made her press on again. A great barrel—like the barrel at Lashnagar—had been broken by falling from the top storey out of the clutch of a derrick; there was a pool of blood, dreadful and bright in the roadway and men were lifting the crushed body of a man into an ambulance; quite close to the pool of blood was one of whisky that was running into the gutter. Two big, bronzed, blue-shirted men were kneeling beside it, dipping their hands in it and licking them greedily; trembling at the same time and looking sick with the fright of sudden death. From a warehouse near by came a heavy smell of decay—sheep skins were stored there in great, stiff bales. She went on, feeling as though horror happened wherever she went. But along by the sea wall it was very peaceful; only the soft lapping of the landlocked tide against the stone, the slow gliding of ferry boats, the lazy plash of oars and the metallic clanking in the naval dockyard on Garden Island came to her. On a man-of-war out in the stream the sailors were having a washing day; she could hear their cheery voices singing and laughing as they hung vests and shirts and socks among the rigging, threw soapy water at each other and skated about the decks on lumps of soap.

A little further along by the wall was a great garden; she went in in a dream; unfamiliar flowers covered unfamiliar bushes with pink and scarlet snow; a bed of cactus looked like a nightmare of pincushions and tumours. She sat down beside them, under a low, gloomy leaved eucalyptus and dreamed. The champagne quality of the air, the sunlight dancing on the blue water, the great banks of dark green trees on the opposite shore, with prosperous, happy-looking little red houses nestling among them brought about an effect of well-being that soft weather and beautiful surroundings always gave her. She had, all her life, been able to escape from unhappiness by the mere physical effect of going into the sunshine and the wind—and then unhappiness and grief seemed impossible, incredible. Sitting there with half-closed eyes she dreamed of the future; the disgust of Melbourne had gone; the disillusionment of Louis's letter had gone, and yet she had very few delusions about what was going to happen to her.

She wished she had the courage to run away now, to her uncle, or anywhere away from Louis. And she knew quite well that nothing on earth would make her leave him. She was beginning to realize, vaguely, what marriage to him might mean; she had flashing visions of him, drunk, dirty, foolish and—beastly. She shrunk from him fastidiously; even thinking of him made her heart thump in sheer horror; she felt that, to be shut up in a room with him when he was drunk would be an indignity, a disgust too horrible to contemplate. And he had hinted things that frightened her, about her "having her work cut out" about her "not realizing what she had taken on." Next minute the soft sunlight and the fluttering leaves made her think of him when he was not drunk, and she frowned; she so hated his air of superiority, his calm pushing aside of her opinions as not worth notice, his cool insistence on her inferiority as a woman.

"Still, he's awfully clever," the dancing water told her. But she knew that he was not more clever than very many other people and that his cleverness had never been of any use except in getting money.

"He's grown up—a big, grown up man, and you're only a girl," said the soft, exhilarating breeze that sang in her hair. And that thought allowed no answer, it was so flattering, so satisfying.

"And—he needs me. He says he'll die without me," she told herself, and that was unanswerable.

Suddenly she stood up and looked over the sea wall. There seemed to be two Louis in her hands, being weighed and, all at once, she felt a little helpless and leaned rather heavily against the sea wall.

"It isn't a bit of use. I don't honestly believe any of these things are the real reason I'm going to marry him. I honestly believe I want to, so what's the good of lying to myself about it? But—oh what an idiot I am! It seems to me—there's something a bit degrading—in marrying a man like Louis—simply because—because—you want to."

She walked round and round the big eucalyptus as though she were in a cage. Then she came back and stood against the wall again, watching the sailors on the man-of-war with unseeing eyes. She felt hot and flushed and a little ashamed of herself. She felt that there was something rather disgraceful in wishing Louis were there to kiss her; something a little humiliating in longing so utterly that to-morrow might come when they could be together.

"I never, never, never thought I'd be such an idiot! I thought I'd fall in love with a king, or something—Oh my goodness, what a mess!" Her father came into her mind, striding giant-like over Ben Grief in his shabby old tweeds; she frowned and bit her lips and told herself, in bewilderment, that if only Louis had been like him she would have married him without any feeling of humiliation. And she had the uncomfortable feeling that, had her father been alive, she would never have dared to marry Louis. Andrew would have put him in the sea, or something equally final and ignominious.

She stared fixedly at the rippling water, with tight lips, and nodded her head at it.

"Yes, it's perfectly disgusting. It's degrading—it's—it's beastly to be shutting myself up like this with a drunken man. I believe I'd be better dead—from a selfish point of view—"

Next minute her eyes softened.

"But think how eager he is—what a boy he is—like Jimmy! And how he trusts me not to let those awful miseries happen to him any more."

She turned round, shook herself together and began to march back to the ship, her father's eyes shining through hers for a while.

"Marcella Lashcairn," she said solemnly, "you're going to stop asking yourself rude questions for ever and ever, Amen! You haven't time to waste on introspection. You love him. That's a good thing, anyway. Never mind how you love him, never mind if it's a John the Baptist love or a mother love or a fever produced by the tropics, as Wullie said, you've to do things as best you can and understand them afterwards, just trusting that God will burn out all the beastliness of them in the end. And—" she added, as an afterthought, "If he gets drunk I'll shake the life out of him."

If Louis had seen her just then he would probably have shied at marrying her.

She went on board to a deserted ship, hating to stay ashore without Louis. Even the passengers who were going on to Brisbane had gone to sleep ashore. Knollys told her that Jimmy had cried desperately because he was being taken away from her, and that Mr. Peters was drunk in his grief at ending his acquaintanceship with Mrs. Hetherington. Later, seeing her standing lonely on deck, watching the lighted ferries go by, Knollys came up to her.

"I beg your pardon, miss," he said, deferentially, "but it occurred to Jules and myself that you might possibly care to join us in a game of dominoes?" and, rather than appear unfriendly, she played with them for an hour. She was very glad when morning came.



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