CAPTIVITY

CHAPTER XV

It was a bare room, up three flights of stairs. Marcella watched while the men carried him in and laid him on the bed. Mrs. King seemed inclined to stay and gossip in whispers, but, after thanking her, and saying they would talk to-morrow, Marcella shut the door and locked it.

Then she looked round. There were three candles burning. With a little cry of superstitious fear she blew one out and pinched the wick. Through the two big windows she could see the ships in the harbour with rows of shining portholes: ferries were fussing to and fro like fiery water beetles. From the man-of-war she saw the winking Morse light signalling to the Heads. Trams clanged by in the distance; in a public-house near by men were singing and laughing. In the room Louis was snoring gustily. She turned from the open window and looked at him.

"There! I'm married to him now," she said, and looked from him round the room. The walls were whitewashed: there was a good deal of blue in the make-up of the whitewash, which gave the room a very cold impression. There was a text "God Bless Our Home," adorned with a painted garland of holly, over the door. Above the mantelpiece, which was bare save for the two candles, was a Pears' Annual picture—Landseer's "Lion and Lioness," fastened to the wall with tacks driven through little round buttons of scarlet flannel. There was a table covered with white oil-cloth on which stood a basin and jug and an old pink saucer. Two chairs leaned against the wall; one of them proved to have only three legs. A small mirror with mildew marks hung on the wall. Under one of the windows was a small table covered with a threadbare huckaback towel. The floor was bare except for a slice of brown carpet by the bed; Marcella liked the bare clean boards. They looked like the deck of a ship. She liked the room. Its clean bareness reminded her, a little, of rooms in the farm after the furniture had been sold.

Her baggage lay in a forlorn heap with Louis's, all jumbled together just as the Customs Officers had left it. Taking off her shoes she put on her bedroom slippers and began to move about quietly, unpacking things, hanging her frocks on a row of pegs in the alcove, for there was no cupboard of any description—putting some books on the mantelpiece, her toilet things on the table. She was doing things in a dream, but it was a dream into which outside things penetrated, for when she had arranged the table beneath the window as a dressing-table it occurred to her that it would have to be used for meals and she packed her things away on the shelf above the row of pegs. Quite unthinkingly she had accepted this place as home; after the tiny cabin it did not seem very small; she was too mentally anxious to feel actual disadvantages. It was days before the cramping influence of four walls made her stifle and gasp for breath.

She had a vague idea that Louis ought not to be wakened, but, looking at him, she saw that his neck was twisted uncomfortably and his collar cutting it. Raising him gently she tried to take his coat and collar off; he half wakened and made a weak motion as though to strike her. She noticed that his hands were very dirty.

"Louis, you're so uncomfortable," she whispered. "Let me help you undress and get into bed."

"Le' me lone," muttered Louis, lying heavily on her arm. "Aft' my blasted papers. Blast' German—even if you did play Marsh—laise! Marsh—laise! Marsh—shella!"

His voice rose in an insistence of terror and she laid her face against his soothingly.

Then she drew back, sickened by the smell of the various mixtures he had been drinking.

"Ugh—he is horrible," she whispered, and bit her lip and frowned.

Then his frightened eyes sought hers and she whispered softly.

"Poor boy. Don't be so frightened. Marcella is here."

"Marsh—Marcella," he said, making a desperate effort to sit up and look round. He looked at her, bewildered, at the room, and then his eyes focussed on the lion over the mantelpiece.

"Bri'sh line, ole girl! Shtrength! I'm a line—fi' f'r you when we're married."

"We are married, dear," she said. "Can't you remember it?"

He stared at her again and dragged himself on to his elbow, looking into her face, his brain clearing rapidly. After a moment's desperate grasping for light he burst into tears.

"Married! And drunk! Oh, my God, why did you give me that money, little girl?"

She was crying, too, now, holding his damp, sticky hand.

"I thought—if I trusted you—to-day—"

"You mustn't trust me. Oh, damn it all, I'm a chunk of jelly!"

"I thought—Oh Louis, if someone loved me and trusted me to make myself a musician, I'd do it somehow—and I've about as much music in me as a snail!" she cried passionately. "You know I trusted you! It seems to me that if you can't remember for ten minutes, and try to be kind the very hour we're married, the whole thing is hopeless—"

He was getting rapidly sobered by his sense of shame, and looked at her with swimming eyes. He struggled off the bed, lurched a little and nearly fell.

"Don't you see I'm not like you? We're intrinsically different. I might have been like you—once. It's too late now. If I'd been trusted before this thing gripped me so tight—Marcella, the thing that makes other people do hard things is missing in me! I've killed it by drinking and lying! I'm without moral sense, Marcella! Can't you see? I'm castrated in my mind! There's lots of people like that."

"I don't understand you, Louis," she said weakly. "And—and I haven't got a dictionary to look up things." He was not listening to her. He went on raving.

"You mustn't trust me! Do you hear? If a doctor got hold of me, he'd lock me up! And that would do no real good! Nobody wants to help a drunkard, nobody tells him how to get a hold on himself. They're barbarous to us—like they were to the lepers and the loonies in the Bible."

"I'm not barbarous, Louis. Oh, my dear, my dear—you know I'd do anything."

"No, but you're a fool and don't understand! Why can't some wise person do something for me? Marcella, you're a fool, I tell you. You don't know. You don't understand when I'm lying to you. God, why aren't you sharp enough—or dirty enough yourself—to see that I'm brain and bone, a liar? You didn't know that I was drinking champagne at lunch to-day, did you? Violet would have known! You didn't know I'd two flasks of whisky in my pockets, and kept getting rid of you a minute to have a swig, did you? If only you were a liar yourself, you'd understand that I was!"

She sat back against the foot of the bed, feeling as though all her bones had melted away.

"Then what am I to do?" she said weakly, letting her hands drop. "I've no one to tell me but you."

"And I lie to you! God knows what we're going to do. I've lied again about the money. I never wrote and told the Pater be damned to his money! There'll be two weeks waiting for me at the G.P.O. now. Why did you believe me?"

"Louis—listen to me. I thought you were giving yourself a bad name and hanging yourself. I thought if you sponged out all thought of drink from your mind you'd be cured."

There was a gloomy silence. At last he burst out impatiently.

"Why aren't women taught elementary psychology before they get married? That is very good treatment for anyone who has a scrap of moral fibre in him. But I haven't. It won't work with me. You mustn't trust me. I'm a man with a castrated soul, Marcella. I've killed the active part of me by drinking and lying and slacking. You've got to treat me like a kid or a lunatic. I am one, really—there, don't look frightened, but it's true—Listen, old girl. Keep me locked up. I mean it, seriously. If I can be forcibly kept off the blasted stuff I'll get some sort of perspective. Now everything looks wobbly to me. Then, when I've got the drink out, you've to graft something on to me. Why in hell's name didn't I marry a girl who knew medicine? Don't you know that if a great chunk of skin is burnt off anyone, more is grafted on?"

She nodded, her eyes wide with terror.

"Well, I'm telling you this now honestly. Presently I'll be lying again. Marcella, I've to have will-power grafted on to me, and until I have, I'm going to stay in bed. See?"

He was fumbling for his keys in his pockets. He gave them to her with trembling hands. There was a flask of whisky untouched in his pocket, and two empty ones. He threw them through the window regardless of passers-by.

"Get out of here, Marcella, or look through the window a bit. I'm going to get undressed and lock up all my things. I'm a filthy object. You mustn't look at me till I've cleaned myself up. Then you must see that I stay in bed till this hunger goes off. If I do that every time it comes on—Lord, you always make me feel I want to wash myself in something very big and clean, like the sea."

She turned to the glimmering window, feeling very humble. She felt that she had let him down, somehow, in not being more wise. And yet she knew very certainly that she was going to grope and grope now, hurting herself and him until she did know.

"Why am I such a fool?" she asked, helplessly. The Morse lights winked at her from the flagship and she got back the memory of a night many years ago, when she had walked on Ben Grief with her mother just before she was too ill to walk out any more. They had seen a ship winking so that night, far out at sea, and it had passed silently. That night her mother had talked of God's Fools and how they were the world's wisest men.

"If you are not very wise, darling," her mother had said, "God has a chance to use you better. It is so very hard for clever people to do things for God, humbly—which is the only way—because they are egotists wanting to show their own cleverness and not His all the time."

That night she had told Marcella the story of Parsifal, the "pure fool" and how he, too big a fool to know his own name properly, had come to the court of the king who was too ill to do anything, God's work or man's.

"You see, this king had been given the sacred Spear. So long as he had it no enemy could hurt him or his kingdom. But when he forgot, and pleased himself just for a moment, the enemy got the Spear and wounded him with it. No one could cure him till poor Parsifal came along—a poor simpleton who had been brought up in the desert. And the only reason he could win back the Spear, and cure the king, and bring back the symbol of God's Presence on earth again, was that he was so sorry for the king. He wanted so much to heal him that, whenever he got tired and sick, and whenever he got into temptations he was able to conquer them. It was his pity made him conquer where wiser people, more selfish and less loving, had failed."

Marcella let the far-off, gentle voice sink into her mind, then. She saw herself very consciously as Parsifal; he, too, had been a fool. She felt she could take heart of grace from the fact that another fool had won through to healing and victory. When, presently, Louis's voice came to her, she turned with a swift vision of him as King Amfortas with the unstaunchable wound.

He had washed and brushed his hair, and changed into pyjamas. He looked very pitiful, very ill. He was standing in the middle of the room with the two candles flicking in the light night breeze, making leaping shadows of him all over the walls.

"My head's damn bad," he groaned. "It feels as if it's going to burst."

He swayed and almost fell. She helped him over to the bed. He sunk on it with a sigh of relief.

"I feel damn bad," he said again, and burst into tears.

"Don't cry, Louis. I'm going to make you better now," she said, sitting on the edge of the bed and stroking his damp hair gently.

"Light me a cig-rette—light me a cig-rette," he said, rapidly, shaking his hands impatiently. "In my coat—find my cigarette-holder. Be quick—be quick—There, I'm sorry, old girl. I felt so jumpy then. It seems as if there are faces watching me. Marcella—I'm sure there are Chinks about."

"You're quite safe with Marcella," she said, soothingly, as if she were speaking to a child. He puffed at the cigarette but his hands shook so much that she had to hold it for him. It soothed him considerably. She registered that fact for future reference. Presently he threw the cigarette across the room into the grate and turned over.

"Lord, I'm tired. Not had a decent night's sleep for centuries. Those damn bunks on the Oriana were so hard! Marcella—I want to go to sleep. If I don't get some sleep I shall go mad. Let me put my poor old head on your shoulder and go to sleep. I—dream—of your—white shoulders."

She sat quite still, trembling a little until his heavy breathing told her that he was asleep. His hair, which he had soaked in water to make it lie straight, felt wet and cold on her neck. After a long while she laid his head on the pillow and stood up, stretching herself because she was so stiff.

"Don't leave me," he murmured, without opening his eyes. She laid a cool hand on his head again. When she took it away he was fast asleep. She stood with her hands clasped behind her, watching him for a long time. Then she turned away with a sigh, to gaze through the window, trying to locate her position by the stars, only to be puzzled until she remembered that, for the last three weeks, the stars had been different from those that kept their courses above Lashnagar. She would not have felt so lonely had she been able to turn towards home as a Mahommedan turns towards Mecca. After awhile, chilled and hungry and aching in her throat, she turned back into the room.

"Being married is horrible," she whispered. "I thought it was such an adventure."

Going across to the bed she stood looking at him, her eyes filled with tears and, bending over him, she touched his forehead with her lips.

"Oh, my dear, my dear," she whispered. "I wish you weren't drunk."

He stirred, and his hand made a little, ineffectual movement towards her, and dropped again.

Something in its weakness, its inadequacy, made her impatient; she felt it impossible to come near to anything so ineffectual as that futile hand and, taking the pillow from the other side of the bed, laid it on the floor. She started to undress and stopped sharp.

"I can't get in my nightgown—in case he wakes up and sees me," she said. A moment later, rolled in her old plaid travelling rug she lay on the floor. It did not seem uncomfortable; it did not seem an extraordinary thing to her for a girl to go to sleep on the floor; she had her father to thank for immunity from small physical discomforts.



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