CAPTIVITY

CHAPTER XXVIII

Louis, when he had got over his amazement at hearing that Kraill was his guest, tried frantically to pull himself together. He was indignant with Marcella for asking Kraill to stay in a hut, but he realized that it was only another evidence of what he called the "Lashcairn conceit" and that, if Marcella had thought it desirable to ask the Governor-General to tea, she would have done so unhesitatingly. When he met Kraill he was very nervous and shaky, unable to think coherently because of the fight that was going on within him. When she came back from her work at the Homestead, where the relics of the party had to be cleared away, the two men had vanished. They walked round the rabbit-proof fences and came back in time to welcome a "surprise party" from Klondyke drawn by the magnetism of the "gentleman from England" who had won them the night before. Marcella thought several times of Dr. Angus and wished that he could have been there to see Kraill "getting off the rostrum" as he had done in Edinburgh. But she got no chance to talk to him all that day; there was too much miscellaneous chatter.

"He's great, isn't he?" said Louis at bedtime. Marcella was startled. She had never heard him praise anyone but a few doctors at the hospital before.

"I wish I could be like that—not frightened of people," he said. "I've worn my nerves to shreds, now. You don't understand nerves. You don't possess any."

He turned over in his hammock ready to go to sleep. She came across to him and bent over him.

"Louis, what's going to happen to-morrow?" she asked presently.

"Gorse-grubbing. We've to get it all cleared now without delay."

"You know what I mean, dear. Can't you—won't you try not to go to Klondyke at all? Louis, it would be so splendid if we could save all the money for a few months and go home to England so that your mother can see Andrew. Wouldn't it?"

He sighed.

"Shall I ask Mr. Twist to keep the money, and not give us any for six months? That would be a good plan. We are always so happy except on pay days, and you are so wretched after you've been to Klondyke."

He agreed absolutely, with such alacrity that she was a little doubtful of him. Next morning when she went over to the Homestead at eight o'clock she learned that he had come to Mr. Twist with a tale about wanting the money for a visit to the store, and had gone off at six o'clock. It was three days before he came back, dirty and haggard and despairing almost to the verge of suicide.

During those three days Marcella deliberately left her work; she went to the Homestead in the mornings, and fired some gorse in the afternoons; dense clouds of smoke rose into the windless air. For the rest she made Kraill talk, listening to him with an air of sitting at his feet. She felt more despairing than ever. Kraill seemed to share her pity for Louis and she, feeling in a way that Jove had spoken from the thunders and the earth had not trembled, was dulled and dead. She knew that he would go back to Sydney soon; she wondered how she would bear her aching loneliness, her bankruptcy of spirit when he was gone.

The night Louis came back was even more dreadful than ever. His talk with Kraill had made him bitterly jealous. It hurt him like a wound to see an Englishman there, and an Englishman who could come and go about the world as he liked, unchained. Like Kraill he had tossed up for his chance that morning he went to Klondyke—whether to finish the whole miserable business in the lake and leave Marcella and the boy to go their way to England in peace, or whether to get drunk as usual. And tails had won. Cussedly he paid the cost.

And that night, sore and aching at heart, longing beneath the whisky madness to sob out all his penitence and misery into her ear, with her hair over his face, her arms around him, he raved at her all the foul things he could think, in sheer self-excuse. She had been to bed for hours. It was about two o'clock when he came home and, afraid that he should waken Kraill, she led him away from the house until he was quietened by her sudden turning on him and shaking him until he could not find his breath for awhile. That always sobered him; her kisses and caresses and forgiveness soothed him to sleep afterwards.

The next morning Kraill said that he must go to Sydney. He bade her good-bye and went without a word of kindliness, of hope. Louis took him to Cook's Wall. When he came back he said nothing in answer to all Marcella's enquiries about what they had said on the long drive. Louis went back to the gorse-grubbing and worked feverishly for almost a month, as he always did after being drunk. And it seemed as though Kraill had never been except that in all the little things that used to be a joy she now could find no joy at all. The shine had gone from her golden flowers, the softness from the wind rustling in the scrub, which now was an irritating crepitus; there was no music in Andrew's laugh, no ecstasy in the words he was learning every day, words that, at first, she had written proudly on a sheet of paper to send to his grandmother. The gentleness seemed to have gone even from Mrs. Twist's kindly face, and the negative peace of three moneyless weeks to come brought no healing. She felt that she would welcome strife.

One day she found it impossible to work; she felt fey, restless. She wrote a letter to Dr. Angus but tore it up, dissatisfied. Taking down the little grey book of the Edinburgh lectures, which she had not had the heart to touch, she read the last one again. Into it she read Kraill's voice, pictured his gesture, saw how his quick eyes would look friendly, interested, arresting as he talked. On the last page was a paragraph that someone had marked in pencil. In the margin was "J.R.K." written faintly. She read the paragraph hungrily. Evidently he had meant it as a message for her.

"One of the greatest of human triumphs is to read the need in another's eyes and be able to fulfil it. The difficulty lies in comprehending the need. Most of us have rich storehouses, but to the man who needs of us a crutch we give dancing shoes: to him who needs a spur we offer wrappings of cotton-wool. ... We ask tolerance and sympathy for our failings, patience for our inadequacies ... we give and get only disappointment.... Partly this is because our needs are the things we hide most jealously from each other, partly because we only see needs subjectively ... this is the explanation of most of the sex muddles that tangle life."

As she read Kraill's message she thought again of her prayer for weakness down by the lake. As she stood there, with all the lights of her life burning dim, all the virtue gone out of her, it was forced upon her that her prayer was being answered. She was getting weak! Never before had she felt despairing about Louis; never before had she felt so dull, so unable to help him, so unable to care that he should be helped.

As this thought came and held her, making her feel that something stronger than herself had taken possession of her and was merely using her as it would, she felt quietened. She had prayed for the blazing Feet of God to walk along her life to Louis. Perhaps this dulness, this weariness was their first pressure.

She turned to go out of the room and saw Kraill standing in the sunlight. He looked tired.

"You've come back, then?" she said, and laughed suddenly at the futility of her words. "It's a very long way for you to come."

"I went away for a whole month to think about it," he said in a low voice. "And all I can think is that I must take you away. You'll have to leave him."

She shook her head hopelessly.

"I've thought that too, very often, when I felt I couldn't bear it. But always I have borne it. And he would die without me."

"The best thing is for him to die," he cried harshly. "In a decent community he would be put in a lethal chamber. But I'm not thinking of him. I'm thinking of you. And I'm thinking of myself."

He threw his hat on the ground, and turned away from her.

"You've got into my imagination," he began almost indignantly.

"You've been in mine years and years," she said.

He came back then, and she was frightened of him.

"Let's get out of this," he said impatiently. "I can't talk to you here in his house. Let us get off into the Bush somewhere. Where's the boy?"

"He's playing with Betty."

"You'd better fetch him along," he said unevenly.

She shook her head.

"Louis would be worried if he came in and found me out at tea-time," she said. "It made him very unhappy to see you, you know. He can't bear to think that you are free while he is a slave."

She walked before him to look at the distant smoke of the fires. The clearing was almost finished.

"Damn Louis!" he cried. "He is a slave because he lets himself be! And you're a slave because he's one. I shall not let you stay here, chained. Armour suits you better."

"Whatever do you mean?" she gasped.

He strode along without her, knowing that she would follow; it was so good to follow instead of leading always.

"You know quite well what I mean," he said at last when they were out of sight of the house and only faint pungency of burning wood reached them, with the crackle of wind in the scrub. "I've made a woman like you, in my dreams. I never thought to see her in the flesh—yet—. One who could march along by me shining—not wanting to be carried over rough places—getting in a man's way, stooping his back—"

She tried to speak, but his eyes silenced her. She stared at him, fascinated.

"Oh I'm so sick of pretty, pathetic, seductive little women. Always I have to make love to them. It's the only meeting-ground between a man and most women. You—I couldn't make love to you! You're not seductive, in the least. You're hard and quick and taut. There's a courage about you—"

"Please, Professor Kraill," she began, but he silenced her by an impatient gesture.

"Listen to me, Marcella. You listened to me before, like a little meek girl on a school-bench. I'm sick, sick, sick of women! Soft corners and seduction!—Narcotics—when what a man needs is a tonic. Miserable, soft, uncourageous things. I want the courage of you."

"Can't you see that you're all wrong about me?" she said at last. "I'm not hard, really—only a bit crusted, I think. See what I've done to Louis!"

"Louis!" he cried contemptuously. "You're not going to be wasted on that half thing any longer. I'm not saying it isn't fine to save a man's life. It is. It's very fine and splendid. But you've to be honest with yourself, Marcella, and think if it's worth while. He's not worth it. If you save him from drinking there's very little to him, you know."

"Don't tell me that, because what you say I believe," she cried in a stricken voice. "It's all my life you're turning to ashes."

"I shall give you beauty for ashes, Marcella. You and I together, we can go marching on in seven-league boots! There's a kingliness about you. Listen to the things I say to you unconsciously! I can't say the pretty, graceful, soft things we say to women! There's a kingliness, Marcella—not only about you, but about me too. We're not the common ruck. You're not happy, are you?"

"Sometimes," she said softly.

"No, you're not—not honourably! Kings can't be happy with commoners! They don't speak the same language. If you're happy it's because you let yourself consciously come down. And—wallow. As I have—"

Her face flamed to think how he had seen through her. He saw it, and cried triumphantly:

"I knew it! In the higher parts of you you're always adventuring, always lonely, always hungry. As I am. You never find a harbour, a friend, a feast. Do you? No, I don't need you to tell me. I know all about it. I have known it for more years than you have lived yet."

"But really, I am happy sometimes," she protested. He caught her hands and held them so that she had to look at him.

"With Louis? Is your brain happy with Louis? Do you ever come within touching distance of each other? Is your spirit happy with Louis? Isn't it always hungry, holding out begging hands? Are your brain and your spirit not always calling you back and scorning you when you let your body wallow—slacken and take cheap thrills?"

"Oh, it's wicked that you should know these things about me," she cried.

"No. It isn't wicked at all. I know the same about myself. I've taken cheap things. Biology got me on the wrong tack at first; with a biological mind I saw everything via the body. Biology's a dragon one has to slay; that's why, in my work, I've taken to psychology instead. Love-making! I told you, right at the first, I always made love to women—. I always have done it, and always should have gone on doing it if I had never met you."

"But why—if you despise it?"

"I wasn't doing it as an end. It was a means. All the adorable, tender prettiness of love-making leads to physical love inevitably, and I always thought and hoped and believed that after it I'd arrive at some Ultima Thule of understanding, of comradeship, of equality. Never! Ugh, they were soft! Soft flesh, soft spirit, tricky brain! Sometimes I have a nightmare of trying to get to heaven up mountains of woman-flesh—soft, scented stuff, sucking one in like quicksands. You're the only woman I've ever thought much about and not made love to! To you I couldn't make love—"

"Whatever is this, then?" she asked faintly.

"This is one king coming to another, asking his alliance, his comradeship! You there, with that man—that jelly thing! You sicken, nauseate me. It's like seeing a queen go on the streets! Marcella, you can't do these things, you know. You're letting down your spiritual caste. You and I—we've been along lower paths. There wasn't really any disgust in it then, because we were adventuring, finding each other. But if we go on the lower paths now we're doing a thing that's damnable. All my life I've waited for the wonder that should come round the corner. So have you. And here it is, for both of us—"

"How many love affairs did you tell me you had had?" she broke in, in a queerly casual voice.

"You're not going to be conventionally horrified, are you?"

"No. But I think you're muddled. I think this is satiety, you know."

"It's you who are muddled, Marcella. This is satisfaction, not satiety. I know I've got all I need in you. Body, mind and spirit. Most of all, spirit—and courage."

She dropped on to the crackling ground. He looked down at her.

"I don't believe you know anything at all about control, Professor Kraill," she said very quietly, so quietly that he dropped down beside her to listen as she kept her face averted. "Do you remember, once, you said 'Women have no inhibitions'?"

"I was young. And even now, it's true—" he cried.

"I'm a woman. But I've never deliberately wallowed—as you seem to have done. Once or twice, perhaps—I was sort of weak, or perhaps hopeful. I thought it might be very beautiful—"

"You were seeking, as I was," he said, suddenly gentle.

"And—it meant softness, being bowled over, loss of control and finally cynicism," she said.

"No, no. Not finally cynicism, Marcella. Cynicism half-way along, if you like. But finally—anchoring."

She looked at him, very slowly, all over: her hands were quite still on her blue print frock that smelt of fire: many and many a night and day of hard schooling and cold patience had gone to make them lie there so untremulous now. She reflected on that for a moment; she reflected that, in years to come, by enduring hardness, people would be able to school their hearts from beating the swift blood to a whirlpool, their lips from hungering for a kiss. She thought next of Aunt Janet, desiccated, uncaring, and knew that Aunt Janet's way of life was wrong because it shirked rather than faced things. Her long gaze had reached his beautiful eyes and stayed there; she seemed to see down into a thousand years, a thousand lives. She knew quite well that here was the place of dreams come true; here was the deliverer with whom she had thought to ride to battle, and he too had dreamed. He saw her armour. He did not see the chinks in it. And he never should. And—he had said women had no inhibitions!

"It's hard," she said, her eyes still resting on his, "to keep your thoughts brave as well as your actions, isn't it?"

"What do you mean, Marcella?"

She was sitting motionless and white; he thought he had never seen a live thing so still, so impassive. As she watched his lips, and heard his voice speak her name, blazing floods of weakness were pouring over her.

"There are things one mustn't do," she said slowly. "But they would be most beautiful to think about, right deep down and quiet inside—like Mary had to hide and ponder in her heart the things the angel told her. One mustn't. I mustn't even think about you—that way—"

"What? What do you mean?"

"Thoughts drag people down, down, don't they? Except for a minute or two I've thought clean and selfless about Louis. Always about you I've thought very shiningly. If I let go a minute the shine of you will be out of my eyes. Do you see? Then I'll be like—like any of the other women! All soft corners and seduction. Just while you've been talking to me I've understood that I want to be like that; that's why I've been so dead this last month since you went away. It seems a pity, doesn't it?"

He found that it was his turn to sit speechless, watching her.

"There, now I've told you," she said, and lifted her hands and let them drop again hopelessly. "And now I'm going back to Louis. You want my courage.... Oh God, you've got it!"

He still stared at her. Quick, understanding as he was, he had not quite understood yet. He only saw that she was still whiter, that the still hands were clenched.

"If we get any closer you'll see the chinks in my armour. I suppose I'll see little dark patches in your shine.... If you didn't think so well of me, I suppose I should just let Louis drop out—if I didn't think so well of you I'd give you the kisses and narcotics and seduction you're tired of."

"Marcella, I don't care—if I thought—" he began, almost savagely.

"Oh, thoughts, thoughts! They're cruel! Here we both are, thinking so much better than we can do. No—no! We can do it! Only—we can't do it happily. Some day, I think, shining thinking and shining doing will be hand in hand—"

She stood up slowly then, and turned away. He saw her going right out of his life. And it seemed to him just as it had seemed to her, that all he had ever done or had done to him had led up to that moment.

"Marcella," he cried, and seized her hands again. "I can't let you go. Whatever you have, whatever you are, I want you."

"I!" she cried. "I! Always I! What do you and I and any of us matter, really? What does it matter if we do get smashed up like this if only we manage to keep our thoughts of each other clean and free from slinking things—fears, and greeds?"

"I can't help thinking about you!" he cried.

"I know. I can't, either. That's why we've to be so careful what we think. And it's going to be a hard, austere sort of thing for us both. Once I saw you a beautiful thing with swift wings all torn off in a sticky mess. Now I see you very shining—"

She looked at him with blinded eyes.

"Always I'm going to make myself see you like that now. Never, never will I let a greedy or unclean thought of mine dull you. And—please—you'll try to—to—do the same for me, won't you?"

He could not speak yet. He realized how terribly right she was.

"It's harder for us both, that you've been here and this has happened," she said. "Harder! But better! Neither of us, for each other's sake, can have any more cheap thrills, slothful moments, thoughts without courage. Oh good-bye."

She turned towards him and saw that he was lying on the grass. His shoulders were shaking. She knew that he was crying. That seemed terrible to her. She had to run, then, very quickly away from him or she would have stayed—and been soft. As she ran she, too, was crying.



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