CAPTIVITY

CHAPTER XIX

She wanted to go and spend the day under the great trees on Lady Macquarie's Chair. The cool lapping of the blue water was inviting and the shade of the trees promised drowsy restfulness. It seemed to her that, if they were not near a table or chairs, he would not notice the lack of a meal—anyone can sit under trees by the sea wall and eat bread and jam sandwiches, and forget they are doing it because they have to. Louis objected. To him food eaten out of doors was reminiscent of people from the slums having tea on Bank Holiday on Hampstead Heath or Greenwich Park. To Marcella it recalled days on Ben Grief with Wullie. But they stayed indoors with blinds drawn to keep out the stifling airs of the street, and sheets dipped in carbolic solution hung over doors and windows to keep away the half dozen unidentified insect pests that worried them.

She wrote long letters home during the morning. Louis smoked and fidgetted and read the Sunday papers. She found it hard to write letters when he was walking about, sometimes watching the point of her pen, lifting a cup and putting it down again, reading a few paragraphs of the paper and dropping it listlessly, opening the cupboard door motivelessly and closing it again, lifting down books, peering behind them and letting them slip from his hands to the floor with a bang.

She glanced up once or twice impatiently. Once, looking at her apologetically he said:

"I keep worrying about those bally cigarettes, old thing." She saw that his finger-nails, which three weeks' sanity had mended, were bitten and gnawed to bleeding again. "I c-can't h-help it, girlie."

She felt raked up and nervous, too. Since they had been married she had found such delight in preparing Louis's meals that she was miserable in not doing it to-day. She felt that she was to blame, that she had been remiss somewhere, though she could not see where. But she answered him crossly and impatiently, and he began to fidget about the room again.

"I've been reading 'Parsifal' again and again, doctor," she wrote. "Do read it, and tell me what you think of my theory. I see humanity as Amfortas, the wounded king, who, if he hadn't let himself so wantonly get wounded, would still have been the keeper of God's Presence on earth. I see the Spear as humanity's weakness, which, by being turned to strength, becomes a spear of Deliverance. Ingenious, isn't it? You'll say 'More dreams, Marcella?' But they're not dreams, doctor, any more. I'm a man of action now, and I like it."

"I say, old girl," broke in Louis's voice. "It's nearly one o'clock and I've only three left. I've smoked them faster than usual simply because I've been worrying so. What the devil am I to do when these are through?"

"Play ring o' roses on the roof and forget it," she said, with a laugh. "Ration those—one each hour when the church clock strikes. Then we'll go to bed and go to sleep and make to-morrow come quicker."

"You know I never sleep if I haven't a smoke," he said impatiently "I wish it wasn't Sunday. I'd go out and get drunk."

She made tea, which he swallowed in huge gulps. He refused food, but she ate large, thick slices of bread and jam with relish. The heat of the day came down like an impalpable curtain, making her tired and gasping. Twice she stood under the cold douche in the bathroom, but the exertion of dressing made her blaze again. In the afternoon they both tried to read, but he was too restless to be held by a book and she found "L'Assommoir" which Dr. Angus had sent out among a collection in answer to her request for "every book about drink," depressing. It told her nothing; all these books seemed to her to hold a policy of despair that indicated lunacy or suicide as Louis's only possible end. E.F. Benson's "House of Defence" was the most hopeful book she read. In the tormented morphia-maniac she saw Louis vividly. But she knew that he was too innately untrustful, unloving, to be saved by an act of faith. She had put that book down an hour ago, and turned again to the real pessimism of Zola, longing for the cool of the evening to come.

"Marcella," said Louis at last. "There's only one now."

She put the book down impatiently and, going across to him, sat on the cool, draughty floor, taking one of his limp, damp hands in hers.

"You know, little boy, if you really were a little boy, I could smack you and put you to bed for being such a worry. Didn't your mother ever stop you worrying for things when you were a kiddy? If I ever wanted things father made me go without them on principle."

"Yet he killed himself with drink."

"Yes. I guess he didn't mean me to kill myself with any desire at all! Fancy being tyrannized over by a bit of paper and tobacco! Can't you get a picture of it? A nice, big man like you and a cigarette standing there with a grin on its face, like a savage god, making you bow down and worship it! Horrible! Didn't the Lord know all about you when he made that commandment about graven images!"

"Oh, you're inhuman—and you're a prig! You're a block of marble. You think because you've never wanted anything in your life no one else has."

"I like marble," she said with a laugh. "Something solid and substantial about it. You can always be sure about it."

She went back to her book, but she was not reading. Presently she saw him raking about among a sheaf of waratahs with which she had hidden the ugly old grate. He looked up exultantly.

"Six cigarette ends! That's enough to make three if I roll them thin. Lord be thanked I've some cigarette papers."

There was something so pathetic about this that she forgot to feel contemptuous about it. Before another hour had gone he had smoked the three resurrected cigarettes as well as the last remaining new one. She made more tea. It was five o'clock, the hour when all the sun's heat in Australia seems to gather itself together and pour downwards, drawing up the earth heat to meet it. Louis looked fagged and worn. She re-dipped sheets in cold water and hung them up to cool the room a little; her hair was damp, the atmosphere of the room quite motionless.

"Do you think I could smoke tea?" said he, plaintively. "I believe people do sometimes."

He took the tea from the caddy, rubbed a little in his palm and made a cigarette with it. It drew with difficulty; after the first bitter whiff he threw it away impatiently and sat on the edge of the bed, his face buried in his hands.

She dashed out of the room and went down to the dining-room. Four of the "young chaps" were playing their interminable game of cards at the table. A three months' old niece of Mrs. King, whose mother was sitting with her sister in the bedroom talking, lay in a dressbasket on the table being guarded by the men.

She blinked knowingly at Marcella, who bent over her. Two men lay asleep on chairs, one on the couch. They were all in various stages of undress, and had towels round their necks with which they mopped their damp foreheads. They looked up and greeted her as she came in.

"Have a game, ma?" asked Dutch Frank.

"No, thank you. I've come to beg, borrow or steal. Can someone lend or give me a few cigarettes? My poor man has run short. It's too hot to go out. At least, I'm going to stay in."

They all had any amount of cigarettes; the piles of ends in the hearth made her think contemptuously of Louis scrabbling in the dust for them. Next minute she was sorry for her unkindness. The boys each pressed a packet of ten upon her; when she tried to choose between them they insisted that they would be jealous unless she took them all. Louis's face, when he saw forty cigarettes in her hand, disgusted her. It was like the pigs in the sty at feeding time—squealing—jostling.

In his relief, he became quite charming. He began to joke, and "be good" just like a child who had worried all day for a treat and been granted it by a weak mother who had reached the limit of endurance. He joked and told her stories and was more pleasant than she had ever seen him.

"You are a darling, you know, and you do spoil me, girlie," he said, kissing her hand. "You forgive me for being a baby, don't you?"

She could not say she didn't, as she smoothed the damp hair from his forehead.

In her mood caused by his brightening spirits she felt she could not go on reading "L'Assommoir." She glanced at the Sunday papers and put them down. Louis looked at her and laughed.

"Now you've got the fidgets," he said. "Let's do something."

"I've nothing to read but that Zola thing, and a book on Symbolism that Dr. Angus sent. And I don't want to read a bit. Louis, we'll have to do something, you and I. We're rusting. We'll have to get away."

"In this heat?"

"In anything. I'm like old Ulysses. I cannot rest from travel. What is it—'How dull it is to pause, to make an end, the rust unburnished—' I've forgotten most of it. But there's one bit that appeals to me a great deal—'Life piled on life were all too little—' I want to do millions of things in my life, don't you?"

He lifted his eyebrows at her, and smiled placidly over a cloud of smoke.

"Let's go along to those agencies to-morrow and say we'll be rouseabouts without any wages, just for food. I'd love to be a rouseabout. It sounds so beautifully active. 'Rouseabout'! I think John the Baptist was a rouseabout, don't you? The rouseabout of the Lord! Oh Louis, let's be that, shall we?"

"You'd never stand it."

"Well, anyway, after this week we've got to do something."

He immediately became petulant and worried again, so she told him blithely that she would arrange things. She grew to do this more and more as she knew him better. The cigarette famine that had made such a misery of the day was only typical of many things; anything that caused him the least anxiety lost him both nerve and temper, and he was only in the way. So in self-defence she began to protect him from everything, simply making plans and trying to get him to fall in with them with the least possible friction. And this was not very easy: he disagreed with her arrangements on principle, though he always fell in with them later. This, he considered, was his way of showing his man's authority.

As it grew cooler they went up on the roof. The iron was hot, the stone coping still warm, but there was a faint breeze blowing in from the sea, and the blue air was less heavy.

"What can we do?" he said, helplessly, looking down on the few weary people crawling through the streets.

"Nothing," she said, leaning back against the chimney-stack.

"I'll tell you what. Let's go on with those lectures I was giving you before—before I went rocky! Or rather, look here, I'll tell you what! The old Dean said I was one of the best men in England in midder."

"What's that?" she said, resignedly. She did not want to listen just then. She wanted to be quiet and think out the very obtrusive financial and moral problem of getting away. She felt like Lot when he knew of the destruction to come upon the cities of the Plain. But she felt one couldn't walk out of things as Lot had walked. Only—she had to do her worrying with placid face, giving lip-service to his entertainment; it would never do for him to know the convolutions that had led her to any conclusion; he was an innate pessimist, she an optimist. So she thought with half her mind and listened with the other half.

"Midwifery! We call it midder, you know," he said. "I was always awfully interested in women—as cases."

He took out an envelope to make notes, and a pencil. She felt a little compunction as she saw his look of keen interest and realized that the study of medicine was probably the only thing on earth that could take him out of himself.

"We've to begin at the beginning," he said intently. "It's amazing how few lay people know even the elements of embryology."

She heard his voice, and all the time she was wondering if she could write and tell her uncle the truth, asking him to let her and Louis come and work for him without any pay till they had paid back the fifty pounds she had borrowed. He had said it was far from civilization. That was what she needed!

"See?" came Louis's voice, keen and interested, and the words "cells" and "mulberry-form" floated into her consciousness.

"Yes, I think I will—it's the only way," she said, answering aloud the silent question.

"I don't believe you've heard a word, you young sinner! You confounded second-sighted Kelts—one never knows where you are! But next week I'll give you a written examination. It's not a bit of use swotting a thing half heartedly."

She dragged herself to attention, reproaching herself for damping his interest. Things he was saying dropped into her consciousness like heavy drops of rain falling from the eaves in a light summer shower. Suddenly she gripped his wrist tensely and he looked up in surprise. Her face was flushed, her eyes shining and sending out little flashes. He had never seen her like this before. His pencil and paper dropped. The paper fluttered over the wall, the pencil dropped after it.

"There, that's my only pencil," he said. "You have got the jerks, old lady. What's wrong?"

"Why, Louis, we must be going to have a baby! I've been wondering—" She broke off suddenly, flushing, and would say no more.

His mouth came open as he stared at her, and looked so funny that she laughed.

"Aren't you pleased? Oh Louis, isn't it splendid—isn't it a shining sort of thing to have happen to you!"

She felt it impossible to sit still; something bubbled up within her like fire; it was a touch of the old exhilaration she had felt on cold mornings in the sea at Lashnagar. She wanted to take his hands and go flying away with him, jumping from star to star in the thrilling blue sky. As it was she stood on one foot, as if poised for flight with a sort of spring in her movements that his softer muscles had never experienced. He caught at her hand, and felt it taut, and queerly, individually alive.

"Oh, do say something nice!" she cried. "Louis, I've a good mind to push you off the roof—like the queen bee."

They had been reading about the queen bee's amiable dealings with her lovers a few days ago.

"Well, I'm damned!" he cried. He got an impression of her as a captive balloon that had dragged loose its grapnel, and was being tugged at by currents far above the earth, where the air was heavy and motionless. He gripped her hand still tighter.

"Look here, young person, you sit down here and tell me all you mean," he said. She stared at him. He suddenly looked much more responsible. It was the doctor in him suddenly awakened to new life. He had not felt the birth struggles of the lover or the father yet.

"But you're not ill and tired like women are. I can't believe it," he objected, frowning with a sort of diagnostic eye upon her.

"Why should I be?" she said, laughing and rumpling his hair which was very straight and neat and made him look too elderly for her wakened mood of ecstasy. "It's too splendid! It's a funny thing, I've never thought of having babies before. I've always been a Knight, you know. And knights don't have babies. Oh Louis, wouldn't they look funny, riding out to battle with babies on a pillion behind them? Fancy Parsifal with a baby! Or St. George! Yet why shouldn't they have them? And why shouldn't they go to battle? It would be good training for them, wouldn't it? They're so soft."

It was impossible for him to stop her. For the first time in her life her tongue was loosened; she talked floods of nonsense, happy, enchanted nonsense. But Louis would not lose his diagnostic eye.

"But didn't you know before?" he persisted.

"No. Do you think I'd have been such a selfish hog as to keep it to myself?"

"But you've read biology—you ought to have known how things happen."

"Oh, bother biology! Who ever thought of biology meaning themselves? I didn't, anyway. I never think things in books refer to me. Fancy a skeleton meaning oneself! Mustn't a skeleton feel immodest? Louis, when I'm dead, do find some way of disintegrating me, will you? I couldn't bear to look as immodest as a skeleton does."

After awhile she became quiet, but still bubbling over with irrepressible happiness. Louis was unusually gentle as they sat talking in whispers as though afraid the stars would hear their secret as they came out one by one and looked at them.

"I can't believe it, yet," he said at last.

"Don't worry, then. You will soon enough. Louis—how long is it?" she said, puckering her forehead. He made calculations.

"More than six months," he said.

"Oh, what a long time! I don't believe I'll ever be able to wait so long as that. It's like being told the king is coming—and having to wait six months. It is a long time to wait till he's ready, isn't it?"

Suddenly he caught at her hand and kissed it. Presently he went downstairs, leaving her there. To her amazement he appeared later with the mattress and pillows. He had always left her to carry them before. She gathered that it was her role to be waited on, and resented it.

"We'll sleep up here to-night, girlie," he said. "I know you like it."

"It almost seems a waste of time to sleep, doesn't it?" she said, her eyes filled with dreams. "And yet all the while, whether we're awake or asleep, talking or working, he's getting nearer and nearer—without our doing anything towards it!" Her eyes, as she spoke, were out seeking the far invisible bar of the Pacific.

"It doesn't fit in with you, Marcella," he said, and her eyes focussed on the glowing end of his cigarette. "I can't imagine you ill and weak—or—or—motherly. Well, yes, perhaps motherly, because that's how you are to me sometimes. But you seem too young, somehow."

"Whom the gods love die young," she quoted softly. "Because they keep young. I'll be ever so young when I'm a nice old lady with white hair. I shall have it cut short then, like a choir boy's in saint pictures. And as for being ill and weak, I never shall. I simply won't have it."

"My dear, oh my dear, you'll have to. And I'll have to take care of you. All women need taking care of."

She gave a little short, quiet laugh.

"You'll not make me take off my armour, Louis," she said. He looked puzzled, but said nothing. She lay back on the pillow, looking up at the Southern Cross. The wind lifted her hair gently. Ghosts came over the sea, very kindly ghosts that smiled at her and passed on.

His hand reached out to hers in the darkness.

"I say," he whispered, into her hair, "I was an ass over those damn smokes. I'll—I'll buck up over that sort of thing in future, Marcella—can't have two babies in the family."

Her eyes filled with tears.

"My dear," she whispered, and held tight to his hand.



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