CAPTIVITY

CHAPTER XVIII

While Louis was so weak and ill Marcella came to several conclusions. The first was that they must leave Sydney at once; the second was that Louis must be made to work if he would not be persuaded to work willingly. In work, it seemed to her now, lay his salvation much more than in imprisonment, even though she should have him imprisoned in a nursing home, under treatment. And in getting away from Sydney lay her own salvation. It was high summer; the heat to her, after the cool exhilaration of the Highlands, was terrific; very often the thermometer she borrowed from Dutch Frank's bedroom registered a hundred and twenty degrees in their room, and the close intimacy of life in one room was becoming appalling to her. While he was in bed she was happy in a purely negative way; very soon happiness came to mean to her the state of quiescence when he was not drunk. They had cleared up many things, and though she was glad to have got to the bedrock of truth about him at last she was sick with disillusionment, and a self-disgust at having been so credulous, so easily deceived. In the state of chronic depression reactive to his orgy he let out all the truth about himself in a passion of self-indulgent penitence. His tales of secret service were, he told her, not technically lies. They were the delusions of his deranged mind. He had read a spy book in England just before meeting her, when he was recovering from a similar orgy; it had made a dint on his brain similar to the impression left by the French girl earlier. In the same way he explained his morbid tales of Chinese tortures—once, in a fit of melancholy, he had attempted suicide, and after his recovery had gone to the seaside with his mother to recuperate; in the boarding-house had been a collection of books on atrocities. It seemed that everything he read or saw when in a state of physical relaxation affected him psychologically. Marcella did not realize this, however, until long afterwards.

The tales he had told her about his parentage he was inclined to treat with amusement.

"Don't you know, darling, that that's the first thing a man says when he's crazed with any sort of delirium? Either his mother's honour or some other woman's goes by the board. I just had a variant on that theme—that's all."

She was silent for a while, crushed.

"And then the things you said to me, Louis. About me and—that awful Mr. King and old Hop Lee who brings the fruit. They are simply unforgivable. Louis, I'll do all I can to help you, my dear, but I'm finished with you. You sneered at me because you knew I liked to kiss you. Nothing on earth can ever make me do it again."

"Marcella," he said solemnly, "the other night I had d.t.—just a mild attack. Ask any doctor and he'll tell you about it. Those things I said to you I didn't say, really. They were just lunacy. There was an Indian student at the hospital who used to assure us solemnly that delirious or drugged or drunk people were possessed by the spirits of dead folks; drunkards by drunkards' spirits who wanted drink so badly they got into living bodies to satisfy their craving that even death couldn't kill. I used to laugh at him as a mad psychic. But I'm hanged if it doesn't look as if there's something in it. You know I couldn't talk to you like that, little girl, don't you? You forget that this is illness, dearie."

"I'm afraid I do, Louis. Anyway, whether it's you or—or—an obsessing spirit, or anything else, I can't help it. I can't have you talk like that any more."

"No—I quite see that," he said thoughtfully. "I can explain it, you know."

"I'm tired of explaining," she said wearily, sitting on the table with her legs swinging. Her hair was plaited back and tied with a big bow, as she usually wore it in the house; his heart contracted with pity as he saw what a girl she looked.

"I don't think people ever realize how deeply this question of physical fidelity has sunk into us—as a race, I mean. If you knew it, Marcella, it's absolutely the first thing of which people accuse those they love when they get deranged in any way. A dear old man I knew—he was quite eighty—a professor of psychology—when he was dying had the most terrible grief because he seriously thought he'd got unlimited numbers of girls into trouble. I suppose"—he went on slowly, wrestling with his thoughts as he put them into words—"I suppose it's because we resent infidelity so bitterly or else—why is it it touches us on the raw so much? Why is it you were so sick with me for saying that insane thing about King and Hop Lee?"

"I don't know, Louis," she said hopelessly. "It simply made me feel sick."

"But—it did touch you on the raw, you know, or you wouldn't have felt sick. It wouldn't make you feel sick if I accused you of murder or burglary—I believe it's simply because we might, all of us, very conceivably break the seventh commandment; in fact, I don't believe anybody goes through life, however sheltered and inhibited they may be, without wanting to break it at least once! And that's why we're so mad when anyone says we have."

She thought this out for a while.

"Well, I think that's perfectly disgusting, and that's all I can say about it," she said finally.

Later he explained in a very clear, concise way, the reason for his outburst. Partly it was periodic; partly it was the result of outside circumstances. He had lied to her to "keep his end up," he said; he had clung to his father's money because he could not bear that she should be penniless; then a letter from his mother, brought at his request by King, had upset him. It told how Violet had returned his engagement ring; she had forgotten to do it until her husband, noticing it in her jewel-case, had asked its history and insisted on its return. His mother had said she would keep it safe for him until he came back; his father had said it must be sold to pay some of the debts Louis had left. There had apparently been a family quarrel: the mother, wanting sympathy, had written to Louis about it. And he had felt angry with Violet, angry with Violet's husband, angry with his father. "That explains why, when I went off my head, I said I wasn't the Pater's son, and why I crystallized my annoyance with Violet into hatred of you."

There was a long silence. Marcella was learning things rapidly.

"Then, when everything outside goes well, we shall be happy, but if the tiniest thing upsets or annoys you I shall have to suffer?" she said calmly.

"Oh, my pet—" he began brokenly, and burst into tears.

She felt that his crying was pitiful, but very futile. Later, very shakily, he wrote a letter to his father at her dictation, and she posted it, thus cutting them off from England. He got better slowly, able, as his brain cleared, to treat himself as a doctor might have done. As soon as he seemed able to talk about the future she raised the subject.

"Louis," she said one evening, "I've learnt a lot of things lately. I've learnt that I must never believe a word you say, for one thing. And I'm going to act on that. But what's worrying me most is that we have practically no money left."

"Oh, my God!" he cried tragically.

"You see," she went on calmly, "I believed in your work, so I was not particularly careful with the money. That's one thing. Another is that we're both going to work or you'll be worse and I'll murder you soon. Number three is that we're going to get out of this city where you won't be in constant temptation. Perhaps when you've got some nerve back again we'll live among people again. You can't stay in bed for the rest of your life. You'd be bored to drink in no time—"

"I couldn't be bored where you are, girlie," he whispered tenderly. "How could I be?"

"I don't know, but you are. And so am I," she said grimly. He stared at her and was silent.

"What are we going to do till we get away, then?" he asked. "We've still got the Pater's money—"

"Yes, that will come for weeks yet. I've thought all about that. If I were heroic I suppose I'd not touch it. But I don't see how we can avoid it."

"But it isn't enough to get out of Sydney with," he said petulantly.

"Yes it is. I'm going to find work for us," she informed him.

"What sort of work?"

"Anything—farm work is all I know. But probably I could cook. Mrs. King has told me a good many things to make."

"But, Marcella—" began Louis, almost tearfully.

She turned to him quickly.

"Louis, you're to leave this to me. On the Oriana you said you would. I'm your doctor and I'm prescribing treatment. I may be wrong, but give me a trial, anyway. I don't want to boss you. I want you to be free. But you can't till you've learnt how to walk yourself."

And she would say no more, but going to several agencies in Pitt Street put down their names. She told them she came from a farm in Scotland, and they seemed very pleased to see her. But when she added that she was married to an Englishman who had a public-school education they became sceptical.

"What can he do?" they asked. She hesitated.

"Rouseabout?" asked the clerk. When they explained that this meant being Jack-of-all-trades on an up-country station, Marcella, in a spirit of sheer mischief, said that would suit Louis well. She liked the busy sound of the word, too. But though she called at the agencies day after day, no one seemed to want her. At last a clerk, an elderly, pleasant woman explained.

"They're afraid to engage newly married couples on up-country stations where there are not too many hands for fear they go having children—you see, that puts a woman out of action for a while and throws all the work out of gear. If you were forty-five or thereabouts, now."

This seemed an astonishing state of things to Marcella.

The days passed. Louis got up at Christmas time in the blazing heat of midsummer, looking a shadow of himself. He began to take a greedy interest in doing things; he made a cupboard for the crockery lent them by Mrs. King; he made it very well, very carefully, hampered by lack of tools. He read hungrily all the books Dr. Angus sent to Marcella, especially lectures and scientific books. He seemed to disagree on principle with whatever she said, and they had many pleasantly heated arguments. His mother sent him papers—the "Referee," "Punch," the "Mirror." He cut out many of the "Punch" pictures and tacked them up beside the Landseer print, side by side with Will Dyson's cartoons from the "Bulletin" that Marcella liked. When there was nothing to read or do he told Marcella yarns of his past, until she grew to know his people very well. Whenever he felt tempted to lie to her he pulled himself up pathetically, and she saw that he was really trying to keep his tongue under control. When everything else palled they played Noughts and Crosses, or Parson's Cat, or Consequences. Mrs. King had asked them repeatedly to play cards with her "young chaps" in the kitchen, but Louis was too frightened to face them. He was too shy to go downstairs to carry up water or coal for Marcella, and she had to do it herself; in the undermined state of his nerves it was torture to him to face people, and he became petulant if asked to do what he called "menial tasks." Marcella understood him: Mrs. King had no hesitation in saying he was abominably lazy.

Money became more and more scarce, but this worried her not at all. She was coming to associate the possession of money with Louis's restlessness, for always on English mail days he was restless and bad tempered until she had paid away practically all their money, when he became calm again. She began to think that if she could devise a way of living by barter, without money at all, they might conceivably eliminate these fits of restlessness and petulance. And all the time, as there seemed no chance of getting work, she was racking her brains for some way of getting out of the city before his next intermittent outburst came along.

English mail day usually happened on Monday; on the Saturday before the last remittance would arrive Marcella discovered that she had no money at all. She told Louis with a little, perplexed laugh.

"Lord, and I've no cigarettes," he cried in dismay.

"Well, it's only one day," she began. He got nearly frantic.

"You know perfectly well I can't do without cigarettes," he cried. "If I do I'll get all raked up. You know what it means if I get all raked up—"

"Oh, don't always be threatening me with that," she cried hotly. "You know I'm doing my best, Louis. But I tell you I wouldn't be a slave to anything like cigarettes. I do believe St. Paul when he says, 'If thy right hand offend thee cut it off.' I would—if my right hand dared to boss me."

"Probably you would," he sneered. "We all know how damned superior you always are, and as for an emasculated old ass like St. Paul—blasted, white-livered passive resister—"

She stared at him and laughed. Her laugh maddened him.

"I wonder why it is," she said quietly, "that if anyone conquers his particular vice, people sneer at him and call him names? You seem to think that curing a cancer in one's mind is rather an effeminate thing to do, Louis—rather a priggish thing. I suppose if you get cured of drinking you'll say you never did it for fear of being called a prig?"

"Oh, for God's sake stop theorizing and face facts!" he cried. "Just like a woman, to run away from things. Where am I to get cigarettes from for to-morrow? Marcella, I can't be without them! What on earth you do with the money I can't imagine! Girlie—do get them for me," and he burst into tears. She stared at him in astonishment. The next moment her arms were round his neck, his head on her shoulder.

"You poor little boy," she whispered. "Don't worry. I'll get them for you."

"I'm sorry I'm such a kid, dearie. But you know my nerves are in rags yet. And I can't be without cigarettes. I tell you I can't be without cigarettes! Borrow some money from Mrs. King—"

"Don't you worry. I'll manage it," she said soothingly. "We've got bread and jam and tea. We'll pretend it's a picnic and we've forgotten the rest of the things."

"Naturally, you'd take good care to get in a good stock of the things you like," he began. "Jam! Oh Lord, I do wish I hadn't a tongue. I say unkind things and wish I hadn't the next minute."

"It rather gives away what you think, though," she said quietly, as she went out of the room.

She passed three times through the kitchen before she could summon sufficient courage to borrow sixpence from Mrs. King to buy cigarettes. But after a while she came back with twenty cigarettes and gave them to Louis.

He stared at them.

"Only twenty!" he said gloomily. "These will never see me through all the week end."

"They're better than nothing, anyway," she said, not noticing that he had not thanked her.

"I've only ten more—that's thirty—till Monday at noon. I'll never see it through, girl—never in life. How much did you get from Mrs. King?" he asked wildly.

"I only wanted sixpence for those," she said.

"You've the brains of a gnat," he cried.

They spent a miserable evening. The cigarette question was preying on his mind, and she made it no better by talking about people on desert islands, and people at the South Pole who were forced to do without things. She was worried about him; she felt that if he had something big in his life these little, mean obsessions would be sublimated by it.

And the something big came, silently and unexpected.



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