CAPTIVITY

CHAPTER XIV

Marcella hurried to her field of Philippi that day. She went up to the station to meet Louis at half-past eleven in alternating moods of trembling softness and militancy, softness to welcome him, belligerency for Ole Fred and the gang, and strange gusts of helpless, blazing, hungry joy at the thought of getting him away from them, all to herself. Almost she wished she could snatch him from life itself. As the train came in she caught sight of him, laughing foolishly, dirty and dishevelled from the long journey. She ran down the clanging platform on feet of wind to meet him. He tumbled out of the carriage with half a dozen draggled men after him.

"Oh—my dear," she cried, clinging to his hand, her face flushed, her eyes shining.

He stared, his eyes glassy and pale, almost startled.

"Hello, ole girl," he stammered. "G—g—good of you to mm—mm—meet me."

He stood awkwardly, undecided, the others edging round him.

"Louis, you'll never guess how awful it's been without you! I know what you meant, now, about not being able to do without each other—Uncle gave me the money—let's get away and talk—" The words all tumbled out breathlessly.

He gazed at her again, as though he scarcely knew her.

"These chaps have been awfully good to me," he said thickly. "We must—must—s-say good-bye. They s-sail for New Zealand this—safternoon."

"That's good. Then say good-bye now, and come away. We've a lot to do."

He stared moodily.

"Look here, where's my baggage? Did you g-get it th-through the Customs for me?"

She explained about it, and said that he must go aboard for it when the Oriana came alongside during the afternoon.

"Right-o, then. I'll say good-bye. Wait a minute."

He went down the platform and stood talking to the others for a few minutes. They looked towards her and laughed several times, and at last trooped off together.

"I think a wash is indicated, don't you?" he said, looking at himself. "Lord, don't I want a drink! And don't I just want to be alone with you a few minutes! What shall we do? Did you book rooms?"

"No. I was so busy thinking that I forgot. There's plenty of time. I'll tell you what. Let us go back to the boat and get your things, and then you can get cleaned up and—change—" she added hesitatingly, for he was still wearing the suit in which he had fallen on the jetty at Melbourne. It was splashed with mud and rain; it had been obviously slept in, and smelled of tobacco and spilled whisky.

"Right. We'll have a cab and then we can talk on the way," he said. "By the way, I haven't a penny in the world. Broke to the wide! What did your uncle give you?"

"Fifty pounds."

"Lord! What a decent sort of uncle to have about. I haven't a relative who'd let me raise a fiver. Well, you'd better lend me some, old girl, till I get mine through."

"You can have it all if you like," she said quickly. "I don't want it if I'm with you." She was thinking that he had told her not to let him have money; but if they were to be together all the time there could be no possible danger, and something told her that it would be good for him to be trusted with all her worldly goods.

In the cab, as soon as it started its two-mile crawl, she handed it to him solemnly. He seemed to make an effort to pull himself together as he put the money into his notecase.

"I say, Marcella," he jerked out, "you'll not let me out of your sight, will you, darling? It's no end risky, with all this money."

"Poor little boy," she whispered softly. "You couldn't be naughty to-day, could you? Besides, you've me to look after now, as well as yourself. You've been here before. I've never been away from home in my life."

He caught at her hand and held it tightly.

"I'm just dying to kiss you, darling," he whispered. "Oh, I wish we needn't waste time on that bally rotten ship. I want us to get away from everywhere."

On the ship they found that he could not get his things until the purser came aboard at seven o'clock in the evening, as he had them sealed up. But Knollys provided him with clothes brush and toilet apparatus while Marcella waited.

"I've found out all about getting married," he explained when they got outside on the quay again. "It's frightfully simple. Knollys has just told me where the Registrar's place is. Lord! Marcella, do you feel frightened?"

"No," she said, rather faintly.

"It's worse for me than for you, after all. It's fun for a girl to get married. But I've all the ordeals to go through, facing the Registrar, buying the ring—"

"Well, I'll do it," she said resignedly, "if you're frightened."

But as they passed the first jeweller's shop he dived in suddenly without speaking to her. After a few minutes he emerged, his face flushed and damp, his hand shaky.

"Look here, come up a side way somewhere, old thing! They've given me a chunk of cardboard with little holes in it. You've got to poke your finger in till you see which fits. Lord, I'm glad you don't get married more than once in a lifetime."

"Don't you like it, Louis?" she asked, as she fitted her finger into the little holes and found that she took the smallest size ring. "I do. I think it's frightfully exciting."

"I know you do. Women love getting married. They're cock of the walk on their wedding days, if they never are again. On her wedding day a woman is triumphant! She's making a public exhibition of the fact that she has achieved the aim of her life—she's landed a man!"

"Louis!" she cried indignantly, and next minute decided to think that he was joking as they reached the jeweller's shop again. She had been looking at the jewellery in the window: it was her first peep at a jeweller's shop, and she thought how expensive everything was. She noticed the price of wedding rings. When Louis came out with the ring in a little box which he put into his pocket, he told her casually that it cost something three times more than the prices in the window.

As they walked up the street he told her that he was tired to death, that he had not been to bed since the Oriana left Melbourne.

"I thought you stayed at an hotel that night," she said.

"No, as a matter of fact, my pet, we got run in, all of us. I don't know, now, what we did when we found the boat had gone without us, but we made up our minds to paint the town red. So we got landed in the police's hands for the night and locked up."

"Oh Louis!"

"It was a great game! The funny old magistrate next morning was as solemn as a judge. He read us a lecture about upholding the prestige of the Motherland in a new country. Then he made us promise him faithfully not to have another drink as long as we were in the state of Victoria. We promised right enough, and kept it—because we knew we were leaving Victoria in a few hours. Ole Fred was as solemn as the judge himself about it. But when we got to Albury—that's on the borders, you know—my hat, how we mopped it! I haven't got over it yet. But after to-day I'm on the water-wagon, Marcella. Lord, here's the marriage shop!"

It looked like a shop, with green wire shades over the glass windows, not at all a terrifying place. But Louis took off his hat, mopped his forehead and looked at her desperately.

"Look here, old girl, I shall never get through this without a whisky-and-soda. I'm a stammering bundle of nerves. I'll never get our names down right unless I have a drink to give me a bit of Dutch courage. If it hadn't been for that Melbourne madness I'd have been all right. But look at me"—and he held out a trembling hand. "Marcella, for God's sake say you'll let me—"

She felt she could not, to-day of all days, preach to him, but she could not trust herself to speak. She merely nodded her head, and without waiting another instant he darted into the nearest hotel, leaving her standing on the pavement. Her heart was aching, but every moment, every word he said made her all the more cussedly determined to see the thing through, and he certainly looked better when he came out ten minutes later.

"That saved my life, darling," he said feelingly. "Now for it."

He vanished behind the green windows and came back in a few minutes looking jubilant.

"Nice, fatherly old chap. Asked me if I realized the gravity of the step I was taking and if you were twenty-one, because if you weren't I'd have to get the consent of the State Guardian. And by the way, Marcella, that reminds me. You'll simply have to do something to your hair."

"Why?" she asked, flirting it over her shoulder to see what was wrong with it. It was tied very neatly with a big bow of tartan ribbon.

"You'll have to do it up, somehow—stow it under your hat, don't you know—hairpins, old girl, smokers' best friends. You can't be married with your hair down, or they'll think it isn't respectable."

"Oh," she said meekly.

"By the way, I got the religion wrong. I simply couldn't think what you were, so I said an atheist, and he said as the Congregational clergyman hadn't a full house to-night we'd better go to him. Lord, what would the Mater say? She wouldn't think it legal unless you were married in church with the 'Voice that breathed o'er Eden' and a veil."

"But—to-night?" she questioned.

"Yes, half-past six. And I got our father's professions wrong. I couldn't remember what the Pater was for anything, so I said they were both sailors! Lord, I was in a funk—and at half-past six to-night I'll be married and done for. It's the biggest scream that ever was!"

They went to a restaurant for lunch. She was very hungry; he could eat nothing. He ordered lemonade for her, adding something in a low tone to the waiter who went away smiling faintly. She thought he was drinking lemonade too, but he began to laugh a good deal, and his eyes glittered queerly all the time.

She was a little overawed by the magnificence of the Hotel Australia when they went to book rooms; she wished very much that they could be at the farm; there were so many people about, so many servants quite inhumanly uninterested in them. At home Jean would have been fussing about, making them welcome.

It was the queerest, most unromantic wedding. The streets were full of the Saturday night crowd of pleasure seekers. The chapel was next to a Chinese laundry; glancing in at the door through the steam she got a swift vision of two Chinamen ironing collars vigorously. Outside the chapel door stood a gawky-looking group—a young sailor, very fat and jolly-looking was being married to a rather elderly woman. Both had short white kid gloves that showed a little rim of red wrist; their friends were chaffing them unmercifully; the bride was giggling, the sailor looking imperturbable. Louis edged towards Marcella.

"I don't want those two Chinks to see me," he whispered nervously.

She stared at him.

"I wish they'd open the door," whispered Marcella.

"So do I. My hat, I wish Violet could come past. She'd kill herself with laughing. She was married at St. George's, Hanover Square."

That conveyed nothing to Marcella. She was watching a German band composed of very fat, pink Germans who, on their way to their nightly street playing outside various theatres and restaurants, had noticed the group and scented a wedding. They began by playing the "Marseillaise" and made her laugh by the extreme earnestness of their expression; then they played the Lohengrin "Bridal March" and had only just reached the tenth bar when the chapel door opened with a tremendous squeaking and creaking. The conductor paused with his baton in mid beat and his mouth wide open as he saw his audience melting away inside the door. Marcella, laughing almost hysterically, whispered to Louis:

"Give them a shilling or something. They look so unhappy!"

"They're spying on me," he whispered, tossing them a coin which fell among them and received the conductor's blessing.

Marcella and Louis sat on a bench in a Sunday-school classroom, looking at "Rebecca at the Well" and a zoological picture of the millennium while the sailor got married. Both were subdued suddenly. She found herself thinking that, if ever she had children, she would never let them go to such a dreary place as Sunday-school.

"Isn't this awful?" she whispered at last. "People ought to be married on the tops of hills, or under trees. But it makes you feel solemn, and sort of good, doesn't it—even such a fearful place?"

He nodded. They heard the sailor and the bride chattering suddenly and loudly in the next little room and guessed that they were married. A bent little woman—the chapel cleaner—came along and asked them where their witnesses were. Her dark eyes looked piercingly among grey, unbrushed hair; her hands were encrusted with much immersion in dirty water.

"Witnesses?" said Louis anxiously.

"Two witnesses," she said inexorably. "Haven't you got 'ny?"

"We didn't know—" began Marcella. The old woman looked pleased.

"Well, I was wondering if yous 'ud have me an' my boss. We often make a couple of bob like that."

Louis nodded, and she shuffled off, appearing a few moments later with an old man who had evidently been waiting about for the chance of earning a few shillings.

"It isn't a bit like Lochinvar," whispered Marcella, "or Jock of Hazeldean."

"Poor old lady," he whispered, suddenly gentle.

The two old people sat down on the form beside Louis, who edged a little closer to Marcella.

"It's forty years since we was married, my boss and me," began the old woman. "Forty years—and brought up twelve—"

"Buried six," mumbled the old man, shaking his head and wiping a watery eye on his coat sleeve.

"I say, I feel no end of an ass, don't you?" whispered Louis. "Tell the old idiots to shut up."

"Poor old things—forty years ago they thought it was all going to be so shining," she whispered.

"It isn't as if he's had very good work," went on the old woman, "but you must take the rough with the smooth."

A small old man with a black suit and a long white beard came to the door and beckoned them. They suddenly realized that he was the priest and followed him meekly.

"I've often been the officiating surgeon," whispered Louis, giggling nervously, "but I never understood the point of view of the man on the operating table before."

"Oh hush, Louis. I feel so solemn," whispered Marcella. She wished very much that Wullie was there. She felt that he would have understood how she felt as she repeated mechanically the words the old man told her; she did not hear them really. She was making an end of all her doubts of Louis; she knew, quite definitely, that whatever misery or degradation might come to her in the future, whatever wild or conceited or cussed or tropical thoughts had brought her to this dull little chapel to-night, God was quite surely making her His pathway, walking over her life with shining feet, burning out all the less fine things that did not belong to Him. She woke up to feel Louis fumbling with her hand to put the ring on; she had been miles and years away, through fires and waters of consecration.

The old clergyman looked at her; he looked at Louis. The actual service according to the book was over. He gave a little sigh, turned to lead them to the vestry to sign their names, and then quite suddenly came back and asked them to kneel down. He talked to God very intimately about them. Marcella got the queer idea that he was talking to her all the time.

"He must have thought a lot of you," whispered the old woman. "It isn't like him to make up a extry bit like that. Well, I'm sure I wish yous luck, both of you. Mind not let him have too much of his own way, my dear."

Smiling she led away her toothless old man. Marcella handed Louis the marriage certificate, which he put in his pocket. Out in the street it was quite dark.

"Phew, wasn't it an awful experience? Lord, we're married! Married! Do you really believe it, darling? And I haven't given you a kiss yet. I couldn't with those old dodderers about. Oh, Marcella, isn't it great? And isn't it a lark? But if anyone had told me I'd have got married in a tin tabernacle, slobbered over by a lot of Non-bally-conformists I'd have had hysterics. We'll simply have to tell the Mater and Violet! It'll be the joke of the century to them."

She drew a deep breath.

"Louis, can't we run right away into the Bush? I do wish we were at home on Ben Grief in the wind—the thought of that great, big hotel terrifies me. I feel sort of—like I used to feel when I went to church with mother on Easter Sundays, when everything was cool and white and smelt of lilies. Oh, Louis, I do so love you!"

Suddenly he stood still and looked at her.

"Let's find a cab and get down to that bally boat for the baggage. Oh, bother the baggage! My darling, I want you alone. You stood there so quiet and still, looking just like a little girl being very, very good. Oh, my dear, you're a damned sight too good for me. Lord, I'll feed myself to the sharks in the harbour if ever I hurt you! What luck to find you! What amazing, gorgeous luck! Me—the waster, the unwanted, the do-nothing. Marcella—Lord, what's the use of words? I'm getting your trick of not being able to find words for what I mean. But you wait. Just you wait. There's a new Louis born to-night, in a funny little Nonconformist chapel. Look at him, girlie—can't you see he's different?"

They found a cab and drove down to the quay again. Heedless of the people in the streets he kissed her again and again and did not stop talking for an instant.

"You know, the very fact of being married alone is going to do wonders for me. It's going to give me a grip on things. I've been an outcast, dear—I've never known, when I've been this side of the world, where my next bed or my next meal is coming from. But to have a wife—and we'll have a home and everything—why, you can't think what it means."

When they reached the quay he left Marcella in the cab, telling her he would only be two minutes. She watched him vanish in the shadow of the Customs shed. A moment later he was back.

"I hate to leave you, even for a minute. I must have one more kiss. Oh, my darling, if you could only guess what it means to me to know that you love me, that you are waiting here for me. You've never been a throwout, a waster, or you'd realize just what you mean to me."

Then he was gone, and she lay back, her eyes closed, dreaming. She felt very safe, very secure.

It seemed a long time that he was gone, but she was accustomed to going thousands of miles in her dreams, only to find, wakening suddenly, that the clock had only measured five minutes. But at last she realized that it really was a long time. The horse began to paw and fidget; the driver, smoking a very reeking pipe, looked in at the window.

"D'you think your boss'll be long?" he asked.

"How long has he been?" she asked.

"More'n half an hour. I've got some folks to take to the theatre, but I'm afraid I'll have to give them a miss if he don't hurry hisself."

"I wonder if you'd go and see, please?" she asked doubtfully. "You see, we've only just been married to-day and I feel so silly—the people on board are sure to start making a big fuss if I go—"

"Right-o, ma. I'll go," he said, and made off across the quay. He, too, was gone a long while; the horse got more fidgety, but at last he appeared, carrying two of Louis's bags.

He grinned as he came up to the cab.

"He's a lad!" he said genially. "Would make me stop an' wet the wedding. But it do seem hard to me for the bride to be out of all the fun. Why don't you go an' wet it, too, ma?"

"Where is—my husband?" she said, stumbling over the word and feeling sick with fright.

"Over there with his pals. They aren't half having a game. If I was you I'd go and rout him out! Not much use in a honeymoon when one's boozed and the other ain't. Now if you was to have a drop too—"

She did not hear what he said. She did not stop to think of dignity or anything else; the same panic that had almost made her jump overboard at Melbourne sent her running across the quay, over the gangway on to the ship. The voices of the men guided her towards them on the silent ship. Louis was sitting on the hatchway; two champagne bottles were overturned beside him; he was just pouring whisky from a bottle into a tumbler as he saw her.

His jaw dropped and he tried to stand up.

"Here's your missus," laughed Ole Fred, who was leaning against him.

Marcella looked from Louis to Fred.

"So you didn't go to New Zealand?" said Marcella quietly, looking at him with blazing eyes. He blinked at her and tried to smile affably.

"Of course I never thought you would, you horrible, wicked, idiotic old liar!" she said.

Ole Fred looked thoroughly startled. Louis gazed at Marcella and then at him.

"Now, ole man—I pu' it to you," said Ole Fred thickly. "Is tha' the sort of talk you le' your wife use to your bes' pals?"

Louis shook his head reprovingly at her.

"Marsh-shella! Naughty lil' girl! 'Pol'gize! Good Ole Fred! Bes' pal ev' man had, Mar-shella! Going t' Newze-eeelan'! All 'lone—way from 'smother—way from Ole Country! Give him kish, ole girl—no ill-feeling—"

Ole Fred got up unsteadily, grinning, and lurched towards her muttering, "No, no ill-feeling." She realized what he was going to do, and suddenly felt that she could not live any longer. But first—her father's temper came to her for a moment and she lost all responsibility. It was the first time the Lashcairn madness had seized her—and it was not the raging Berserk fury of her father. She stood quite still, very white. Ole Fred thought she was waiting passively for his kiss. But when he reached her on his unsteady feet she caught him by the shoulders, shook what little breath he had left out of him, and slid him deliberately along the deck. He was too surprised to resist effectively and the others had no idea what was in her mind. Reaching the rail of the ship, with the strength of madness she lifted him up—he was a thin little rat of a man—and dropped him calmly overboard. There was a heavy plonk and a rush of feet as Knollys, who had watched fascinated, ran down the companion-way with another man. She looked at her hands distastefully.

"You're very foolish if you rescue him, Knollys," she said, with an air of giving impartial advice. "He's not a bit of good. I knew quite well I'd put some of these idiotic men in the sea before I'd done with them."

She turned away towards Louis again. He cowered as she came near him. She smiled at him kindly and reassuringly.

"Poor little boy! You needn't be frightened of Marcella. She doesn't often put wicked ole men in the sea," she said gently, holding out her hand to help him to his feet. Before she had put Fred in the sea she had felt it would be much better to go herself than live with Louis any more. But the flood of madness ebbed; Louis's cowering as she came near him seemed to her so appalling, so appealing that she could not leave him, and her hatred of Fred made her set her teeth and determine not to let him have Louis.

No one spoke. The cab driver was looking at her with adoration in his eyes; looking round she guessed he was a friend.

"Have you all our luggage?" she asked him.

"Yes, ma—missus," he jerked, jumping and suddenly touching his hat—an epoch-making thing for an Australian to do.

"Will you help me get my husband to the cab then, please?"

"Aren't you going to wait and see if they fish him out, missus?" he asked hopefully, jerking his head over towards the companion-way, down which several sailors had vanished.

"It's no use," she said impatiently. "He isn't a bit of good. If he's dead all the better. He's a very, very wicked man, you know. He's not just weak and wobbly. He is so wicked and dreadful that he laughs at people when they try to be good, and fights the goodness. Naturally it's better to put him in the sea. If it was a few hundred years ago they'd burn him as a devil," she nodded reassuringly to the cabman.

"There are sharks in Sydney Harbour, too," she added reflectively.

"Oh cripes!" cried the cabman reverently. "Come on then, boss," he added, turning to Louis. "Heave hold of my shoulder. If old monkey face is drowned your missus'll hear sharp enough from the police."

Suddenly she ran back to the companion-way. She did not look to see where Ole Fred was. Keeping her eyes averted she called, "Good-bye, Knollys. Thank you for being so kind to me."

Then she took Louis's hand without a word. He stood immovable.

"Feel sh-shick, ole girl," he gasped.

She stood still, feeling sick, too.

"Go on, ma—I'll tend him," said the cabman. Marcella walked on with her head in the air, looking disgusted. After a few minutes she turned and saw the cabman struggling to drag him along. His legs lagged foolishly.

"Can't walk, ole girl. Legs all cross-nibbed, ole girl," he moaned.

"You're not to talk, Louis," she said calmly.

"Talk? Talk? Can't talk. Parlez-vous Franshay, Marsh-shella? Voulez-vous coucher avec moi? Baisez-moi, ma petite—!"

She faced him suddenly.

"Look here, Louis. If you talk French one of us goes in the harbour. I'd rather it was me. Either that or I'll take my hands and choke you. You know they're strong hands—made in Scotland, Louis—bony, not a bit wobbly. Now what do you think?"

He made a sudden effort, threw off the cabman's detaining hand, swayed a little and then steered a straight course for the cab, stumbling over the step and crawling in on his knees.

"Isn't he a lad!" said the cabman admiringly. "Pair of lads, that's what you are! By cripes, you are! Where are you making for, missus?" His eyes, full of curiosity, were on the ship as a babble of voices rose. "Listen, they've got ole monkey-face! That's him singing out now. We'd better put our best leg forward for fear he comes after you."

"If he does I shall put him back again," she said; "we were going to the Hotel Australia—but I don't think I'll take my husband there. I think they mightn't like him. Do you know anywhere else we could go—a house—where there are poor people who won't be rude to me about him?"

He thought for a moment. Then his face brightened.

"I know the very place, ma. It's quite near. The boss boozes, but Ma's a good sort. She'll have a room, sure. It's all among the Chows, if you don't mind that."

"Chows—what are Chows?"

"Chinese—Chinks—a good many white people won't live among them."

"If they don't object to us, I'm sure I shall not to them."

The next minute she was sitting beside Louis, but he was fast asleep.

"Louis," she whispered, shaking him gently. He stirred and muttered, but could not waken. She stared at him in the passing light of the street lamps. He looked so helpless, so much at her mercy. Quite unexpectedly she leaned over and kissed the tip of his ear. Next minute she was sobbing uncontrollably, leaning against his arm.

"Oh, why didn't I go in the water? I can't bear it—I can't! I'll never be able to go through with it! I'm making him no better—and no one can keep on being disappointed and disappointed and still keeping their faith. Even to-day, when I ought to have been so happy."

She sat up suddenly, and turned away from Louis, holding out longing arms for the softness of her mother, the autocratic strength of her father. But she had to dry her eyes quickly because the cabman had stopped and was speaking through the window.

"Here we are, ma," he said.

She wrestled with her voice.

"Do you mind—will you ask her, please? I've been crying, and I look such an idiot."

"Right-o, ma. But don't bother about that. Mrs. King has had her share o' crying in her time. She won't think nothing of that."

She realized that it was necessary to waken Louis as she heard the door open and a conversation between two people. A little figure of a woman came out to the cab and spoke to her.

"It's all right, my dear," she said quietly. "I've got a top room. I'll be glad to let you have it."

"It's very kind of you," said Marcella. "My husband is—rather—asleep. How on earth am I going to get him upstairs?"

"I'll get some of my young fellows to carry him up for you," said Mrs. King. "Don't you fret about it now, dear. Men often have a drop too much, and it's better to take no notice provided they don't get too noisy or too ready with their fists."

Marcella smiled faintly and stood stiff as a sentry while Mrs. King fetched out half a dozen of her lodgers who were playing cards in the kitchen. They carried Louis upstairs. He was so drugged that he did not waken.



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