CAPTIVITY

CHAPTER II

After his wife's death Andrew Lashcairn was harder, colder. Fits of glowering depression took the place of rage, and he never went behind the green baize door, though the barrel stayed there. He seemed to have conceived the idea of making Marcella strong; perhaps he was afraid that she would be frail as her mother had been; perhaps he tried to persuade himself that her mother's illness and death were constitutional frailty rather than traumatic, and in pursuance of this self-deception he tried to suggest that Marcella had inherited her delicacy and must be hardened. Divorced from his den and his barrel by his own will-power he had to find something to do. And he undertook Marcella as an interest in life.

Things were going a little better at the farm because of Rose Lashcairn's money: more cows came, and sacks of meal and corn replenished the empty coffers in the granary. Marcella still divided her time when she could between the book-room, Lashnagar and Wullie's smoking-hut; but every morning Andrew Lashcairn tore her out of bed at five o'clock and went with her through snows and frosts, and, later, through the fresh spring mornings to teach her to swim in the wild breakers of the North Sea. Many a girl would have died; Marcella proved herself more a child of the Lashcairns than of her little English mother by living and thriving on it. Her father sent her to work in the fields with the men, but forbade her to speak to any of the village women who worked there, telling her to remember that her folks were kings when theirs were slaves. One night, when the snow drifted in from Lashnagar on to her bed, she closed her window, and he, with a half return of the old fury, pushed it out, window-frame and all. Ever after that Marcella slept in a cave of winds. It never occurred to her to rebel against her father. She accepted the things done to her body with complete docility. Over the things that happened to her mind her father could have no control.

But his Spartan training had a queer effect upon her. Always meagrely fed, always knowing the very minimum of comfort, she became oblivious to food or comfort for herself; she became unconscious, independent of her body save as a means of locomotion, but she cared immensely for other people's. She shivered to think of Wullie's brother Tammas and his son Jock out fishing in the night with icy salt water pouring over chafed hands, soaking through their oilskins; she cried after a savagely silent meal of herrings and oatcake when she had not noticed what she was eating, to think of the villagers with nothing but herrings and oatcakes. She hated to think of things hungry, things in pain. She even felt a great, inarticulate pity for her father. For all his striding autocracy and high-handedness there was something naïve and childish about him that clutched at her heart. He was like Ben Grief, alone and bare when the winds tore.

He was thorough, was Andrew Lashcairn. Finding the young student's "Riddle of the Universe" in the book-room one day he read it idly. It started him on a course of philosophy in which he determined to include Marcella. From Edinburgh came boxes of books—and a queer assortment of books they were. Locke and Berkeley, James' "Natural Religion," Renan's "Life of Christ," a very bad translation of Lucretius; Frazer's "Golden Bough," a good deal of Huxley and Darwin, and many of the modern writers. They were something amazingly new to him, and Marcella used to watch him sitting in the fireless book-room with a candle flickering while the wind soughed round the house and in through every chink in the worn walls. His fine grey eyes were deep sunken; when he looked up suddenly there was sometimes a little light of madness in them that made her recoil instinctively; his thick hair was greyish, whitening over the temples; his high Keltic cheekbones were gaunter than ever, his forehead and mouth lined with past rages. He had never held a religion—the Lashcairn religion had been a jumble of superstition, ancestor-worship and paganism on which a Puritan woman marrying a Lashcairn in the middle seventeenth century had grafted her dour faith. It had flourished—something hard and dictatorial about it found good soil on the Lashcairn stock.

So modern Rationalism had a stern fight with Andrew, struggling with the madness of the Kelt, the dourness of the Puritan. It held him for a year and no more, for a thing unemotional could not grip a thing so excitable. In that year Marcella was bidden read all the books her father read, and believe them. When she evaded them she was forced to read them aloud, with a dictionary at her side, and discuss them intelligently with him. If she answered at random, with her heart and her eyes away at the huts with Wullie, he would throw at her head the nearest thing that came to his hand—a book, a faggot of wood, a cup of tea—or order her to bed without any food. Marcella had to follow him on these excursions into philosophic doubt, sacrificing her pet calf of legend and poetry every day in the temple of Rimmon, handcuffed to him as she did it. But Andrew Lashcairn did everything with such thoroughness that he seemed to use up a certain set of cells in his brain exhaustively, and thus procure revulsion. A man who can drink half a gallon of whisky a day for years consistently, and stop without a moment's notice, can do most things. Andrew took Rationalism as he took whisky; he forced it upon his household.

In all this time her chief joy was to be found in writing long letters to her dead mother, whom she imagined to be living somewhere between the sunshine and the rain, an immanent presence. These letters she burnt usually, though sometimes she made little boats of them and floated them out to sea, and sometimes she pushed them into the shifting sands through fissures on Lashnagar. They comforted her strangely; they were adoration and love crystallized. Her only friendliness came from Hunchback Wullie, when she could escape from the book-room and run down to his hut.

It was a hard winter, this winter of philosophic doubt for souls and bodies both. The wild gales kept the fishing-boats at home; the wild weather had played havoc with the harvests, and often Marcella knew that Wullie was hungry, though he never told her so. Whenever she went to the hut she would manage to be absent from a meal beforehand, and going to Jean, would ask for her ration of whatever was going. Down in the hut she and Wullie would sit round the fire of driftwood, reaching down dried herrings from the roof and toasting them on spits of wood for their feast. And they would talk while the sea crept up and down outside whispering, or dashed almost at the door shrieking.

One night as they sat toasting their fish and watching the salt driftwood splutter and crackle with blue flames, Marcella asked Wullie what he thought of philosophic doubt.

"I've been reading a book to father to-day, Wullie, that says we are all unreal—that we are not here really, but only a dream."

Wullie sat back a little, turned the fish on his spit without speaking, and then said:

"Well, maybe we are. Maybe all life's a dream. But all the same it is a dream dreamed by God."

"I think that's what the book says, but they use such hard words."

"I wouldna fash, lassie. There's not much we do understand, any of us. That's where I think books fall short—they explain things just as far as the writer understands. And whiles he doesna understand very far, but he's got a trick of putting things nicely. Most things you know without understanding: you do them blindly and someday you see they've been right. That's what I mean about God making us a pathway. I feel that He has been walking along my life; I couldna prove it to ye, Marcella. But one day He'll suddenly turn round when He gets to the end of me and smile and thank me for carrying Him along a bit."

"I like to know things beforehand," she objected.

"Ye winna. Right at the end ye'll be able to look down yer life and see the shining marks of His feet all over ye. An' the more ye struggle and fuss the less He can take hold of ye, and get a grup on ye with His feet—"

"I'd like to feel sure they were God's, and not any other sort of feet," she said slowly, leaving her fish to go cold, though she was very hungry.

"Ye'll find, at the end, Marcella, that there's no feet but God's can make shining marks on your life. Other things will walk over ye. They may leave marks of mud, or scars. But the footsteps of God will burn them all off in the end. I canna prove it, Marcella. But ye'll see it some day. D'ye mind yon apple that came flooering up through Lashnagar?"

Marcella nodded. It had borne fruit two years now.

"It knew nothing: it was just still and quiet when something told it to push on. And then life came along it—like a path. If it had known, it couldna help the life any—"

She nodded again. She felt she understood now.

At the end of the year things began to go badly again at the farm. The money was almost exhausted; the oat crop failed and one of the cows was lost on Lashnagar, where she had been tempted by hunger to find more food. One of the serving women, falling ill, went to Edinburgh to be cured and never came back; paint, blistered and scarred from the doors and window frames by the weather, was not replaced; the holes gnawed and torn by the hungry rats in wainscot and floor were never patched and food was more scarce than ever. Aunt Janet sat, a dourly silent ghost, while Marcella read to Andrew, listening sickly to the beasts clamouring for their scanty meals. And one night, when he had been out alone along Ben Grief and seen his lands and his old grey house, Lashcairn the Landless, as they called him, went back to his barrel.

For three days he lived behind the green baize door. On the fourth he came out with his red-rimmed eyes ablaze, his gaunt face pinched, his hair bedraggled. And that night a little old man, Rose's cousin from Winchester, came to see them. He had never seen the mad family into which his cousin had married; he had not seen her since she was a gentle little thing in pinafores, with a great family of wax dolls. He did not know that she was dead. Aunt Janet made no explanations; his small black eyes took in all the decay and famine of the place; his neat black Sabbatical coat looked queerly out of place in the book-room with its scarred oak refectory table, its hard oak chairs and its dusty banner hung from the ceiling above where Andrew Lashcairn sat. When his host came into the room he pulled himself to his full five feet five and his thin white face went even whiter. Andrew, in his frenzy, cursed him and God and the world, and, in the old Berserk rage, dashed over the heavy table on which Aunt Janet had set a poor meal for the stranger.

It was a wild, bizarre picture; the fire, fanned by the fierce winds that swept down the open chimney, kept sending out puffs of smoke that went like grey wraiths about the room; the top of the table rutted by hundreds of years' fierce feeding; the shattered crockery and forlorn-looking mess of food on the floor. Aunt Janet and Marcella shrunk away—her father never got one of his rages but the girl felt old agony in her broken arm—but the little white-faced cousin stood in front of Andrew's gaunt frame, which seemed twice his size.

"What's the matter, Cousin Andrew?" he asked mildly. Then, turning to the others, he said gently: "Go away for a little while. I'll have a talk with Andrew about little Rose."

They went away with Andrew's curses following them along the windy passage. Marcella waited in sympathy with the little man's arms, but after a while a murmur of normal conversation came from the room and went on until two o'clock in the morning. At last the little old cousin came to where Marcella and Aunt Janet shivered in the kitchen, and said simply:

"Andrew has cast his burden on the Lord, and now he can go on his way singing."

Marcella began to cry from sheer nervousness. She had not the faintest idea what the cousin meant, but she was to know it as time went by. For Andrew got religion as he got everything else—very thoroughly—and, just as he had superimposed Rationalism on his house and bent it before his whisky furies, now he tried to religionize it.

After two days the cousin went away and never came again. Almost it seemed as though he had never been, for he wrote not at all, simply going his serene, white-faced way through their lives for two days and two nights and dropping out of them. Marcella, telling Wullie about it, received his explanation.

"It's what I tauld ye afore, lassie. We're not things or people, really. We're juist paths."

"Was it God who came along that night?" asked Marcella doubtfully. Wullie thought it was. But she found her father's religion even more difficult than any of his other obsessions. It made him eager and pathetic. He had never tried to make drunkards of people; Marcella he had impatiently tried to make a rationalist; but now he spent all his time trying to convert them. His household was veneered with evangelism. The kindly desire to save brands from the burning sent him to the village praying and quoting the Word to those who once thought him a king, later a terror, and now could not understand him. Men coming from the fields and the boats were asked questions about their peace with God, and in the little chapel where once the Covenanters had met, Andrew Lashcairn's voice was raised in prayers and exhortations so long and so burning that he often emptied the place even of zealots before he had tired himself and God.

All the time Marcella ached with pity for him now that she feared him no longer. He seemed so naive, so wistful to her, this strange father whom she could never understand, but who seemed like a child very keen on a game of make-believe. Things went from bad to worse, but they sat down to their meal of oatcake and milk uncomplaining, after a long grace. It was never the way of the Lashcairns to notice overmuch the demands of the body. And now they sat by the almost bare refectory table, and none of them would mention hunger; Andrew did not feel it. His zeal fed him. Marcella, however, took to going down oftener to the huts and always Wullie, who sensed these things, toasted fish—three or four at a time—over the embers, and roasted potatoes in the bed of ashes.

It was in the summer following this last obsession that Andrew was taken suddenly ill. One evening, praying with blazing ardour for the souls of the whole world, consciousness of unbearable weight came upon him. Standing in the little chapel he felt that he was being pressed to his knees and there, with a terrible voice, he cried:

"Yes, Lord, put all the weight of Thy cross upon me, Thy poor servant—Thy Simon of Cyrene who so untimely, so unhelpfully hath found Thee."

Those watching believed that they saw the black shadow of a cross laid over his bowed shoulders. But then, like Andrew, they were Kelts who could see with eyes that were not apparent. Andrew was carried home to his bed, and Dr. Angus, the same doctor he had driven forth in violence from his wife's sickness, came to him.

Thorough in body as in soul, Andrew seemed called upon to bear all the woes of the world. Sometimes, watching him lying there with closed eyes and lips that moved faintly as he prayed for courage, Marcella wished she could see him once again come tearing into the room in a passion of destruction. His gentleness, his pathos, and the way he talked so quietly to God with his beautiful voice, almost tore her in two with pity.

Many nights his illness made it impossible for him to lie down, and then he would stand, wrapped in a blanket—for his dressing-gown had long since been torn to shreds—his hands clutching the post of his ancient bed, his eyes gazing deeply at the faded sun in splendour on the tapestry back of the bed while he read slowly the old boastful motto, "By myself I stand." And the girl, lying on a little couch where she took turns with Aunt Janet in nursing him through the night, would hear him talking to God by the hour.

"Not by myself, O Lord, but in Thy might. Thou art my Rock and my Fortress, my Defence on my right hand, my strong shield in whom I trust—"

Silence—except for the grating of rats in the ceiling as they tried to gnaw the beams, and the moaning of the wind. Then the musical voice would say, with infinite tenderness:

"He hath said thy foot shall not be moved. Thy keeper shall never, never slumber nor sleep. O Lord, I am not asking Thee a very great thing, for already Thou hast done wondrous things for me. This is a little thing, O Thou that never sleepest! Give me ten minutes' rest, ten minutes' sleep. To Thee a thousand years are but as yesterday. To me, O Lord, in this weariness, a night is as a thousand years."

Helped by Marcella he would clamber into bed again, shutting his eyes, waiting on the Lord, only to start up as the pumping of his worn-out, strained heart almost choked him. And then, leaning back on heaped pillows he would look out through the dark window and say, very humbly:

"Most patient hast Thou been with me, Oh Lord, when Thou wast seeking me so far. Most patient must I be with Thee—I, who have no claim upon Thy mercy save Thy own most holy kindliness to me."

And so the night would wear on; sometimes he would talk to God, sometimes to Marcella, telling her how he had hated her because she was not a boy and seemed, to his great strength, too much like her frail English mother to be of any use in the world.

"We're a great folk, we Lashcairns, Marcella," he would say, his sunken eyes brightening. "A great name, Marcella. I wanted you Janet, for there has always been a Janet Lashcairn since the wild woman came to Lashnagar. But Rose would have you Marcella—a foreign name to us," and he sighed heavily. "I hated you, Marcella, because I wanted a boy to win back everything we have lost. Lashcairn the Landless whose lands stretched once from—Marcella, what am I saying? O Lord, Thou knowest that in nothing do I glory save in the Cross of Jesus Christ. O Lord, Simon of Cyrene, Thy cross-bearer, has naught to boast save only the burden Thy grace has laid upon him. Be patient with me, O Lord—very hardly dies the vanity of the flesh."

Andrew was always glad when it was Marcella's turn to stay with him at night, for he liked her to read to him; she read the epistles of Paul especially and F.W.H. Myers' "St. Paul" until she knew them almost by heart. In St. Paul Andrew saw much of himself: especially could he see himself on the Damascus road when a blinding light came down.

Three of the five cows were sold to buy the medicines and the patent foods he did not seem to notice. Duncan, the farm man who never got any wages, went out at night to work with Jock and Tammas in their boat, and at every month end he handed to Aunt Janet the money he got to buy things for his master. Though he was on his bed Andrew did not forget his proselytising and Duncan and Jean were brought into the bedroom every night while Marcella read the New Testament, and her father prayed. He prayed for her soul and the souls of Duncan and Jean; Marcella would kneel between the two of them, with the smell of the fish from Duncan and the scent of the byres from Jean's shoes and her clothes stealing round her while her father prayed. She was bewildered by him: very often, when he prayed long and she was falling asleep after her wakeful night, she would feel impatient with him, especially when he prayed loud and long that she might be brought to a conviction of sin. He puzzled her unendurably; sometimes her old docility to his autocracy made her feel that she really must be the miserable sinner he pictured her. Sometimes her common sense told her she could not be. Then, on top of the impatience and revolt, would come aching pity for his weakness, his tenderness to God, the apologies he made for God who was so hard, so just in His dealings with him.

He seemed often to resent his illness bitterly; he had never known anything but an almost savage strength. Now he lay watching his illness with a curious mixture of fierce resentment and proprietorial pride. He spent a good deal of his time trying to think of ways in which he could circumvent the choking sensation that often came to him. Marcella brought some comfort by placing the kitchen ironing board across the bed, resting on the backs of two chairs so that he could lean forward on it. Sometimes he slept so, his grey head jerking forward and backward in his weariness.

One night, when he could not sleep, he got out of bed and, leaning on Marcella's shoulders, began to walk about. The moon was rising desolately over Lashnagar, and he stood for a long time in the window looking at the dead waste of it all. Suddenly he shivered.

"Father, ye're cold," said Marcella quickly. "Let me put on your socks. It's a shame of me to let you stand barefoot so long."

He sat down on the deep window-seat, and the moonlight streamed in upon his feet as she knelt beside him.

"Why, you are getting fat, father," she said. "I can hardly get your socks on! And I thought your face looked thinner to-day. What a good thing—if you get fat."

"Fat, Marcella?" he said in a strange, faint voice. "That's what the doctor's been expecting. It's the last lap!"

"What do you mean, father? Isn't it better for you to be getting fat now?"

He smiled a little and, bending down, pressed his fingers on the swollen ankle. The indentations stayed there. She thought of the soft depression on Lashnagar where the young shepherd had gone down.

"We'll just walk about a bit, Marcella," he said, his hand pressing heavily on her shoulder. "I thought my legs felt very tired and heavy. This is the last lap of the race. When my hands get fat like that my heart will be drowned, Marcella."

"Father, what do you mean?" she cried frantically, but he told her nothing. There were no medical books in the house which she could read. She had to be content, as Wullie had said, to go on to the end knowing nothing, while things trod along her life.

"It's a damned sort of death, Marcella, for a Lashcairn. Lying in bed—getting stiffer and heavier—and in the end drowned. We like to go out fighting, Marcella, killing and being killed. Did I ever tell you of Tammas Lashcairn and how he tore a wolf to pieces in the old grey house on Ben Grief?"

He talked quickly and strangely, disjointed talk out of which she wove wild tales of the deaths of her people in the past.

After he had got back into bed and she stooped over him, trying to chafe warmth into his cold feet, he looked at her more kindly than he had ever looked before.

"All my life I have cursed you because you were a girl. I cursed your mother because she gave me no son. And now I thank God that you are not a man, to carry on the old name."

"Why, father?" she asked, her eyes frightened and puzzled.

"The Lord deals righteously. I shall sleep now," was all he said.

It was Wullie who told her what her father had meant. They were up on Ben Grief watching the swollen streams overflowing with melted snow and storm-water. Marcella looked wan and tired; her eyes were ringed with black shadows. As usual she was hungry, but Wullie had left potatoes buried under the green-wood fire, and they would feast when they got back.

"Why is it father is glad I'm not a boy?" she asked him.

It was a long time before he told her.

"The Lashcairns are a wild lot, lassie—especially the men folk. They kill and they rule others and they drink. It's drink that's ruined them, because drink is the only thing they canna rule. That's the men folk I'm talking of. Your great-grandfather lost all his lands that lie about Carlossie. The old grey house and the fields all about Ben Grief and Lashnagar were lost by your father. All he's got now is Lashnagar and the farm-house. And Lashnagar canna be sold because it hasna any value. Else he'd have sold it, to put it in his bar'l."

She said nothing. Her tired eyes looked out over the farm and the desolate hill, her hair, streaming in the wind, suddenly wrapped her face, blinding her. As she struggled with it, light came, and she turned to Wullie.

"It was the barrel, then, that made father ill?"

"It was so."

"And grandfather, and his father—did they get ill, too, through the barrel?"

He shook his head, and she snatched at his arm roughly.

"Wullie, ye're to tell me. I'm telling ye ye're to tell me, Wullie. I never heard of them. How did they die? I shall ask father if you don't tell me."

"Your great-grandfather killed his son in a quarrel, when your father was a bit laddie of four. The next day he was found dead beside his bar'l in the cellar."

The storm-water went swirling down by their feet, brown and frothing. It went down and down as though Ben Grief were crying hopelessly for this wild people he had cradled.

"I see, now, why he's glad I'm not a boy. Wullie—do all the Lashcairns die—like that?" and she pictured again her father waiting, as he put it, to be drowned in his bed while a procession of killed and killing ancestors seemed to glide before her eyes over the rushing water.

"The men folk, yes. They canna rule themselves."

"And the women?" she said sharply, realizing that she and Aunt Janet were all that were left.

"They keep away from the bar'l."

"Yes, I couldn't imagine Aunt Janet doing that," she said, smiling faintly. "Or me."

"Some of the women rule themselves," he said tentatively. "There was the witch-woman first—and later there was the Puritan woman. They seem to mother your women between them. There's never any telling which it'll be."

"Aunt Janet—" began Marcella.

"She's ruled herself. Some of the Lashcairn women wouldna think of ruling themselves. Then they go after the man they need, like the witch-woman. And—take him."

Marcella frowned.

"It sends them on strange roads sometimes," said Wullie, and would say no more.

It was Marcella's rest night, and tired as she was, she lay thinking long in the silence. It was a strangely windless night, but her thoughts went whirling as though on wings of wind. Thoughts of fate, thoughts of scepticism jostled each other: pictures came; she saw the apple tree breaking through Lashnagar; she saw a landslide many years ago on Ben Grief that had torn bare strange coloured rocks in the escarpment. Just as she fell asleep, worn out, she thought that perhaps something beautiful might outcrop from her family, something different, something transforming. And then she was too tired to think any more and went to sleep.



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