Marcella lay afloat on a warm, buoyant sea of enchantment, her eyes closed; life seemed in suspension; she had never, in her life, known pain of any severity until a few hours before; it had appalled, astonished her. She felt it unfair that a body which could quiver to the swift tingle of frosty mornings on the hills, the buffetings and dashings of the North Sea waves, the still glamour of an aurora evening on a house-top, and the inarticulate ecstasy of love, should be so racked. But as she put out her hand across the bed and felt the faint stirrings of the child at her side she forgot those few nightmare hours as a saint, bowing his head for his golden crown at the hands of his Lord, must forget the flames of the stake, the hot reek from the lion's slavering jaws. She looked across to Louis, who was sleeping heavily in his hammock; he had found time to tell her that, for the first time, he had held temptation literally in his hand and been able to conquer it. And she felt that Castle Lashcairn was not big enough to hold all the kindliness and happiness that seemed to be focussing upon it from all the round horizon. Faith in the logical inevitability of good had changed to certainty: it seemed to her, now, that faith was only an old coward afraid to face fact. She was looking at the world from her mountaintop that night; it seemed to her that it could never be the same again for anyone in it, since she herself felt so different, so exalted.
The next two days brought complications. When Louis, coming in at noon, all smelling of sunshine and wind and smoke, kneeled beside the bed for a moment and, peeping underneath the folded sheet at the pink, screwed-up face of his son, happened to touch her breast with his hand, she was bathed in a sea of pain. Later in the day Mrs. Twist said he would have to go to the township to get a feeding-bottle for the baby; he was inclined to dispute the necessity for it, but he set off at once, for the child, fed with sugar and water in a spoon, kept up a dissatisfied wailing. Marcella forgot to be anxious about him, so completely had she sponged fear from her mind. When, at breakfast-time next morning, Jerry came in with the bottle, she guessed that Louis was washing off the dust of his swift travel before he came to see her. In the absorption of feeding the child and talking to Mrs. Twist she almost forgot him; it was nightfall next day before she saw him, and then he looked haggard and pinched, and she was almost frantic with fear; when he was away from her she never thought he was drunk; always she thought he had met with an accident. He told her, between sobs and writhings, that once again he had failed, but he had been too ashamed to come to her until he had slept off some of the traces of his failure. Seeing him buying a baby's bottle at the store the men of the township had chaffed him into "wetting the baby's head," and he had forgotten his recent victory, his adoring love, his fierce resolves, and the little hungry thing waiting to be fed. Once again she felt stunned, incredulous; later, when she was up again and going about the cottage and Homestead, she determinedly forgot. His passionate struggles made it impossible to feel resentment against him, however much he made her suffer. Always she was sure this particular time was the last time; always she thought Louis, like Andrew, had been going along the Damascus road and had seen a great light.
And so, for two years, they lived on at Castle Lashcairn; for long days sometimes Louis went off to Cook's Wall, and she despaired. Most of the time she hoped blindly. Much of the time they were incredibly happy in small things. Some slight measure of prosperity came to Loose End. The uncle who used to send the gramophone records retired from business and, buying himself an annuity, divided his money between his few relatives so that he could see what they did with it before he died. Quite a respectable flock of sheep came to take the place of those drowned in the flood and burnt in the fire; a horse and buggy went to and fro between Loose End and the station; Scottie the collie got busy and two shepherds came, building another hut at the other side of the run. A plague of rabbits showed Mr. Twist the folly of putting off the construction of rabbit-proof fencing any longer, now that he could afford it, and the gorse was once more left uncleared for months in the pressure of new things. Neighbours came, too—the deposit of manganese at Cook's Wall was found cropping up on the extreme borders of Gaynor's run, and a tiny mining township called Klondyke settled itself round the excavations five miles from the Homestead. Marcella made friends with everyone, to Louis's amazement. To him friendliness was only possible when whisky had taken away his self-consciousness; the parties of miscellaneous folks who turned up on Sundays, bringing their own food, as is the way in the Bush where the nearest store is often fifty miles away, worried him at first. He stammered and was awkward and ungracious with them, but Marcella, dimly realizing that it must be bad for him to be drawn in so much upon their égoïsme à deux, tried to make him more sociable. When he forgot himself and was effortlessly hospitable, he was charming. When he felt shy and frightened, and was fighting one of his rhythmical fits of desire, he was difficult and rude.
Aunt Janet wrote every month: her letters varied little; they were cynical though kindly; especially was she cynical about Louis, for, though Marcella told her nothing about him, she guessed much from the girl's description of their life. She was very cynical about Marcella's breathless descriptions of her happiness: she was frankly despondent about young Andrew, who, as yet, showed no signs of fulfilling her gloomy predictions.
Dr. Angus wrote every mail. Though a world apart, he and Marcella seemed to get closer together. He was growing younger with age, and she older. He told her he had no friend but her letters, and wrote, sometimes thirty pages of his small, neat handwriting to her—all about his cases, his thoughts, his reading. And every book he bought he passed on to her. Louis had had to put up three more shelves for them.
"I've been unduly extravagant, Mrs. Marcella," he wrote once, at the end of the second year. "I've left the rheumaticky old woman to a sort of patent rubbing oil very much in vogue just now, and I've resigned the coming babies to the midwife at Carlossie, and been to Kraill's Lendicott Trust lectures at Edinburgh. He seems, in my humble and very uninstructed opinion, to have gone very far since 'Questing Cells.' The lectures were on sex psychology. He admits that they are coloured by what he learnt at Heidelberg last year. But he goes further than Germans could possibly go. There's a gentleness, a humanity about him, and a spirituality one doesn't expect from the author of 'Questing Cells' or from those Lendicott lectures a few years ago. The thing that struck me about him is that he's so consummately wise—wise enough, Mrs. Marcella, to grasp at the significance of an amoeba as well as that of the Lord of Hosts! I'm a small man—a little G.P. in an obscure Highland village in rather shabby tweed knickerbockers and Inverness cape (yes, the same ones—still no new clothes! What would be the use in wasting money on adorning an old ruffian like me?) But I went up to him, sort of shaking at the knees, after the second lecture, and discussed a point with him. The point was not what I was wanting to know about. I was wanting, very much, to have a 'bit crack' with him, as they call it here. Lassie, he asked me to lunch with him the next day, and he talked to me as if I was his long-lost brother. In fact, he seems to think that everybody is! He came off the rostrum completely. Even when he's lecturing he seems to be talking to you personally, with an engaging sort of friendliness. He puts me a good bit in mind of Professor Craigie when I was a lad. I felt as if I was a baby in arms beside him, but he seemed as pleased to see me as I was to see him. No, he hasn't got a long white beard, and he doesn't look a bit like Ruskin or Tennyson or Dickens. Do you remember when you said you thought he had bushy eyebrows and a white beard, years ago? He's not above forty-five, I should say; but I'm no judge of age after folks are forty, I'm so afraid of putting my foot in it. He's much bigger than me (I'm talking about appearance now). He gives one the impression of quick blue eyes. I can't remember any more about him; I remember every word he said, but not how he looked when he said it. And now I suppose you want to know all he said; you have an Examining Board's thirst for information, Mrs. Marcella! But I'm sending you the printed lectures and some news. He told me he's going to Harvard this year. In fact, he's there now; and after that he's on his way to Australia. I gather that you're a wandering Jew's journey from Sydney, but wouldn't it be worth your while to take that man of yours and go to hear him? It isn't often one gets a chance of seeing in the flesh someone who has got into your imagination as Kraill got into yours and mine. I'd walk all the way from Carlossie to Edinburgh to hear him again. It makes me sad, sometimes, to think how little chance we doctors in practice, with all our responsibilities and opportunities, have of getting this heaping up of wisdom that comes to men like Kraill. Measles and rheumatics, confinements and bronchitis take up all our time, and when we get a man like poor Andrew your father, something out of the ordinary, appealing to us for healing, we give him digitalis or Epsom-salts for the elixir of life. We do our best, but it's bad—very bad. When I talked to Kraill that day I kept thinking of your father. I kept thinking he'd have been alive to-day if he could have caught on to Kraill's philosophy. I feel small, Marcella. I honestly hadn't the brains, the knowledge, to do anything for your father. I talked to Kraill about it. He said something very kind and very queer about the socialization of knowledge. I didn't quite catch on to it at the time, but thinking it out afterwards it seemed to me that he meant knowledge was not to be a Holy of Holies sort of thing, a jealous mystery, an aristocratic thing, any more; but be spread broadcast, so that everyone could have wisdom and healing and clear thinking. And after all, isn't healing, more than anything else, merely clear thinking? I hate the waste of people, you know. I hate that people should rot and die. I feel personally affronted when I think about your father, and some days—I strongly suspect it's when my liver's out of order—I worry about your young son. But by the time he's grown up maybe Kraill's socialization of knowledge will have begun."
Marcella was having an argument with Mrs. Beeton that day when Jerry brought the letter in. Mrs. Beeton seemed to think it was necessary to have an oven, a pastry board, a roller and various ingredients before one could attempt jam tarts. Marcella felt that a mixture of flour, fruit salt, and water baked in the clay oven heaped over with blazing wood ought to beat Mrs. Beeton at her own game. She and young Andrew, both covered in flour because he loved to smack his hands in it and watch it rise round them in curly white clouds were watching beside the fire for the sticks to burn down. When she read the doctor's letter she sat down immediately to write to him. She knew so well that sense of inadequacy that trying to help Louis always gave her, and she wanted to cure him of it. The jam tarts got burned; she forgot about them. It was only when she remembered that the letter could not go to the post for three days that she decided to write it again at greater leisure.
The two years had aged Marcella; the doctor's letters were manna in the desert to her spirit, his books the only paths out of the hard, tough life of everyday. Sometimes she felt tempted to take the cheap thrills of purely physical existence with Louis as she realized more and more that, though his schooled and trained brain was a better machine than hers, his soul was a weak plant requiring constant cossetting and feeding while his body was the unreasoning, struggling home of appetites. She had the torturing hopefulness that comes from alternating failure and success in a dear project; she was getting just a little cynical about him; her clear brain saw that she was his mother, his nurse and, perhaps, his mistress. He loved her. She knew that quite well. But he loved her as so many Christians love Christ—"because He died for us." His love was unadulterated selfishness even though it was the terribly pathetic selfishness of a weak thing seeking prop and salvation. She faced quite starkly the fact that her love was a love of giving always, receiving never; also she faced the fact that she must kill every weakness in herself, for, by letting him see her hardness, she gave him something to imitate. Hunger of soul, the black depression that comes to a Kelt like a breath from the grave, weariness of body must all be borne gallantly lest he be "raked up." Once or twice, when Louis had slipped and failed and was fighting himself back again, she felt that she was getting bankrupt. One could never treat Louis by rule of thumb. He might get drunk if she inadvertently spoke coolly to him. Then he would get drunk out of pique. He might get drunk if she had been especially loving. Then it would be because he was happy and wanted to celebrate; if she were ill he would get drunk to drown his anxiety: if she got better, he would drink to show his relief; if she died, he would drown his grief. Sometimes she felt that it was quite impossible to safeguard him: she literally had not the knowledge. Such knowledge was locked away in a few wise brains like Kraill's—and meanwhile people were rotting. Once she wrote a long letter to Carnegie asking him to stop giving money for libraries and spend some on helping to cure neurotics. But she destroyed the letter, and went on hoping. Sometimes she felt that her body would either get out of hand as Louis's did, or else crack under the strain put upon it by her temperament, Louis and her work. Sometimes she thought her capacity for happiness would atrophy and drop off if she so defiantly kept it pushed into a dark corner of her being every time it protested to her that it was being starved. Sometimes she hoped that the time would come quickly when she would have killed desire for everything as Aunt Janet had done, and would be going about the world a thing stuffed with cotton-wool, armoured in cotton-wool. And all the time she was fighting the insidious temptation to kill the unconscious aristocracy of her that had, after the first few weeks in Sydney, set a barrier between her and Louis—a barrier of which he was never once conscious. Other people, on a lower range of life, seemed quite happy with a few thunder flashes of passion in a grey sky. Louis did. Except when the end of the month brought pay day, and set him itching to be off to the township, he seemed happy. At these times she deliberately made love to him to hold him from the whisky, loathing the deliberateness and expediency of a thing which, it seemed to her, ought to be a spontaneous swelling of a wave until it burst overwhelmingly. She did not realize until long afterwards what good discipline this was, as her brain and spirit refused to follow her body along a meaner path. Louis never guessed how she thought out calmly whether to be hurt or not by him, and decided that it was better to be a wounded thing hiding her wounds under a coat of mail, rather than a dead thing in mummy-wrappings, in cotton-wool.
But the doctor's letter generated hope. She respected the doctor's opinion. For him to be enthusiastic about anyone was very wonderful; there was something wistful and very beautiful in this deferring of an old man to one much younger, something very touching in his frank pride in the big man's friendliness. Always Kraill had been a hero to her, since the days when his cynical early book of lectures had come like revelation to her, even though she had had to take the help of a dictionary on every line. That evening Louis went off to the township after three days' restless nerviness on his part, and three nights' valiant love-making on hers. Taking young Andrew she went down by the lake and leaving him to splash joyously in the ripples at the edge, she read the last lectures.
She read for an hour, gorging the book as a child gobbling sweets before his nurse's return. She was devouring understanding—it seemed to her that the lectures were being written expressly for her. It seemed, with one half of Kraill's wisdom she could save Louis. The child got hungry and she fetched milk and biscuit for him. His crawler was soaked by the water in which he lived half his life. She changed it in a dream and took him back to the lake again, where the shadows were getting long and cool. It was possible to think with detachment there, in the serenity of the evening.
She saw, as she usually saw things, very clear and stark, that all through she had been wrong about Louis. Once only she had come within touching distance of the right, when on the Oriana she had told him that his only hope was to throw up the sponge, as people say—acknowledge himself beat to the earth as Saul of Tarsus had done on the Damascus Road. Andrew Lashcairn had done it that night with the little pale cousin; he had made himself "at one with God": fighting and struggling had ceased; his life, a battle-ground of warring forces, had become, in a mighty flash of understanding, the chamber of a peace treaty, and God—a big man—God outside himself—had taken hold of him and kept him. To Louis that could never happen; he was too unloving, too self-centred, too unimaginative ever to see lights from heaven. Indeed, she thought hopefully, Louis might, in the end, go further than Andrew. He might stand up in the strength of a man without the propping of a God at all.
"I've weakened him. All along I've weakened him. I've fussed over him like a hen after her duckling when it takes to the water. I wouldn't let him swim for fear he'd get drowned. And so—he just flops about and looks disgusting. I've made him run away from temptation. That was because I couldn't keep on being disappointed in him. Because I couldn't face the disgust of him coming home dirty and smelly and saying filthy things to me—and sleeping close to him. Andrew," she called to the baby, who looked at her solemnly and went on playing with the little pebbles at his feet. "Listen, darling, what mother's telling you. 'He that fights and runs away lives to fight another day.' I made him run away from whisky, and all the time it's throwing down challenges to him, putting out its tongue at him, pulling rude faces at him. I've been protecting myself from the things drunkards' wives have to put up with—Oh, but I was trying to protect him, too!"
The last words were wrung from her in self-defence.
"What I ought to have done was to take the whisky, make him look at it all round and tell it, with his own conviction and not mine, to go to hell. I ought never, never to have protected him, and made him a hothouse plant."
As she said it she knew, incontrovertibly, that she could never do anything but protect people. It was the way she was made. And she became very frightened that, some day, she might make Andrew a hothouse plant, too.
She looked at the thin, grey-backed book again and more light came to her. She flung herself on the ground, her face on the soft grass. The baby, looking at her wonderingly, crawled towards her, and snuggled up to her, his wet little hands on her neck.
"Oh make me weak!" she cried as though praying to the earth and the air and the water to batter her. "Make me weak—smash me and tear me up, so I'll have to be taken care of. Then I'll let him be strong instead of me! Oh but it's cruel! Why should one person be weak to make another strong? Why can't we march on in armour, shoulder to shoulder?"
And then came the thought that, perhaps, had not her father and Louis been the men they were she would never have learnt to wear her armour. The wisdom of nature that made the protective coverings of birds and beasts had given her her armour—made her grow her armour out of her surroundings. This thought made her gasp. She sat still a very long time letting it sink in.
"I wonder," she said slowly, looking out over the lake, a pool of fire in the setting sun, "if that's why Jesus died. He didn't want to, I think. He loved the quiet things of the world, little children and talking to friends, and doing things with his hands. I wonder if he had to die, when his teaching was finished, so that those others he loved might not get to depend on him too much? We're so fond of getting propped. I don't think people ought to have a Good Shepherd. Unless they only want to be silly sheep all their lives. And here I've been Good Shepherding Louis all this time till now he can't get along without my crook round his arm."
It was many years since she had consciously prayed, but now she thought of her father's prayers, and whispered:
"God—You know all about this muddle of mine. You gave Louis to me so that, in the end, he might be a path for You to walk along. I've tried to be a path for You towards him, but I thought I'd better help You along. I couldn't keep quiet. Oh how silly of me! God, I see now that I've been all wrong. I've been keeping him out of the world when I ought, all the time, to have been making him brave enough to face the evil in the world. Please God, let me be quiet now—and not keep tripping You up with my own ideas, my own strength when You walk along my life."
Her quick imagination, the imagination of a savage or a child, saw pictures where other people would have seen ethical ideas. She went on, softly:
"Walk over me with burning Feet. Oh don't worry, please, about how much it hurts, so long as You get to him in the end. Because I love him—and because he is the one You gave to me—the man I needed."
She stood up slowly, and felt that, at last, she had given in. The poor baby lay blissfullly asleep beside her on the ground. She took him in her arms and carried him home Then she sat down with pen and ink and wrote a letter. She was not sure when it would be posted, but she decided to get it written, at any rate. She felt fey—she felt that she was being led, now that she had asked to be kept quiet at last.
"'CASTLE LASHCAIRN' (It isn't really a castle. It's a hut).
"DEAR PROFESSOR KRAILL,
"Ever since I was fifteen you have been the very heart of my imagination. I used to read your lectures to my father, and because I've never been to school I had to get a dictionary to two words on every line. You enlightened me, and depressed me, and shocked me and annoyed me all at once in those days. But in your last Edinburgh lecture it seems to me that the spirit of God has come upon you to lead captivity captive. (I think that is such a beautiful sentence I can't help putting it in a letter to you, because I would like to write to you in beautiful words.) I would like to quote some more of the Bible to you, but you can read it for yourself. The fifth chapter of the second book of Kings—the story of Naaman the leper. I am the servant maid in that story, and I've just discovered that I've been trying to cure my lord's illness with lumps of cotton-wool. There is someone at home in Scotland who sends me all your lectures, and when I read the last ones I felt that you were the prophet in Samaria. I hear that you are lecturing in Sydney soon. I would come to hear you, but I can't leave my little kingdom here. And I don't think they'd approve of my small son at a University lecture. He is only two, and very busy always. I feel that, if I could talk to you, I should see a great light; you seem such a very shining person to me. And I'm a duffer. A well-meaning duffer with a task before her that needs brains. You talk of the socialization of knowledge—will you begin the socialization on my behalf? I wonder if you would like to see what life in the Bush is like, you who are a student of life? Then you could show me where Jordan is nowadays.
"This is very sincere, this request. I shall not be offended if you think it isn't, but I shall feel that there is no more light in the sky. I'd got resigned to failure when I read your lectures, and they wakened me to hope again, because they showed me that I've done every possible thing wrong. If you do come, please write a very long time in advance because we are thirty miles from the station and only go in for letters occasionally. If you can't come, I'll go on worrying with the lectures until I understand without you.
She fastened the letter up in between two books. It was three months before she read in a week-old Sydney "Sunday Times" that Professor Kraill, the eminent biologist, "whose fame in his newer field of research had preceded him to the Antipodes," was to lecture at Sydney University during the next three months. Marcella did not open the letter; she posted it to Sydney University and left the issue in the hands of the forces that had made her write it.
Professor Kraill got it when he was being bored to death in Sydney and he rather discredited the sincerity of it for he was being wearied to death by lion-hunters. Eminene men from the Old Country either get fêted or cut in the Colonies. He was fêted because he happened to arrive at a time when "culture" was fashionable, and Shakespeare Societies, Ibsen Evenings, History Saturday Afternoons and Science Sundays were the rage. Foreign legations and Government officials gave him dinners as deadly as any in England. He saw that he was to appear in character at these dinners. He was expected to wear a phylactery on his forehead inscribed "I AM A BIOLOGIST." He was expected to talk biology to the government ladies, who hoped he would say things that were "rather daring" but quotable. In fact, they hoped that he himself would be "rather daring"—but quotable! They talked about Shackleton's expedition, which was the affair of the moment, and thought that they were being flatteringly and intelligently biological when they asked him how seals lived under ice. There was a dance on the flagship which, thanks to the snotties, was quite alive. Then came a month's interim in the lectures when more festivities were threatened. Professor Kraill read Marcella's letter and thought she was probably a rather emotional, rather intense and rather original lion-hunter. But she had the redeeming feature of living in the Bush, thirty miles from anywhere. Conceivably, thirty miles from anywhere, there would be no festivities. He tossed up between the City and the Bush, and the Bush won. Giving out that he felt very unwell after the round of gaieties, he basely deserted, got into the most uncomfortable train in the world and, two days later, threw himself on the hospitality of the landlord of the bosker hotel at Cook's Wall, entirely omitting to let Marcella know that he was coming.