CAPTIVITY

CHAPTER XXIX

Louis was on the verandah as she came round the fence. She saw his eyes blazing madly, his face distorted, his hands clenched. He came to meet her, raging.

"Where've you been?" he choked out.

She waved her hand over towards where Kraill was. She could not speak.

"Whose is this hat? It's that damned professor's!"

"Yes."

"Where is he? Why are you crying? He's come here after you!" he raved.

"He's gone," she said faintly. "Gone—for always. Except in my thoughts—inhibited thoughts—thoughts washed and boiled—thoughts—Oh—sterilized."

"What in hell are you talking about?" he cried, taking her by the shoulders and shaking her fiercely. "Why are you crying, I say?"

"Because he's gone," she said, and cried all the more.

"My God! The impudence of it—telling me," he shouted, and seemed to be strangling with rage.

"The—the—honesty of it, Louis. Oh and—the—the awfulness of it! I'm crying because I can't bear it!"

"You—you—" he gasped, and paused for a word.

"Louis," she said, raising wet, miserable eyes to his. "I've sent him away, but I daren't, daren't trust myself not to run after him. Oh and it would so spoil things for him and all of us if I did! Listen, Louis, can't you grab me and not let me go after him? I can't hold myself back, and I did promise him I wouldn't let my thoughts get greedy! He said I was in armour—Louis, my dear, I've tried to help you so often when you were being torn in two. Can't you—my dear—it's your turn now."

"You damned adulterer!" he gasped, finding the word at last.

She sobbed, and in her sobs he saw fear, guilt. He flung her to the ground, repeating the word.

"Oh you silly, silly fool," she cried. "He's better than that—if I'm not."

"Then what in hell are you crying about?"

"Because I'm not—not a damned adulterer!" the words were torn from her. "But I can't clean my thoughts of wanting to be. My dear—after so long—I've helped you and been patient. Can't you do something—now, to make me able to bear it?"

"Now you know what it is to—" he began with an ugly laugh. Then rage seized him. "I'll break his damned neck," he cried.

"That's no use! What will that do to me? You can't kill the love that's tearing me up, by smashing his body to bits! You see, Louis, I've got him, for ever and ever. The shining, knightly side of me has. But it's the greedy side of me—the side that makes you grab out for whisky—that's sticking teeth into me now. And you know how it hurts."

"God! I'll break his damned neck," he cried again, and raged off into the Bush.

She crept into the house. A wild thought came to her that, if there were any killing it would be Kraill who would do it. And he and she would run away for awhile, right into the Bush, before people came to hang them. She stopped breathing at the gloriousness, the primitive full-bloodedness of it, and then writhed in horror at the greed of such thoughts, and prayed passionately that a sentry might be put at the door of her mind.

And she knew, very well, that presently Louis would be back—that he would say once again all the foul things he had said before, now with some glimmering of truth in them: that he would get money from somewhere and be drunk to-night, for now, at least, he had excuse. Then he would grin foolishly, and cry weakly, and rage and be futilely violent, and she would have to take this quivering thing that housed her armoured soul and make it do his service; she would have to undress him and wash him so that Andrew, trotting in in the morning, should not see his father in bed dirty; she would have to kiss away his ravings, soothe his fears. Presently she shook her head many times. She knew that she could never do that any more.

An hour, two hours passed. She sat quite still. Then a shadow crossed the window and steps came on to the verandah. She did not move. Louis stood by the door. Kraill was beside him. Louis looked quite sane, and very unusually young and boyish. There was a queerly different look about him. She stared at him for a moment; almost it seemed as though she could see a shine about him for an instant. Then she looked at Kraill, and he at her. She did not move, but her soul was on its knees worshipping his beautiful, still eyes that were tragic no longer, but very wise and sad. He read all that she did not say.

Louis coughed.

"Marcella—I'm sorry, old girl. Kraill has talked to me about it. He's been—or rather—we've been bucking each other up."

He coughed awkwardly.

"Bucking each other up—no end, old lady," he added, and ran his hand through his hair, making it wild, and rough.

She smiled faintly with her lips. For another moment she could not snatch her eyes away from Kraill's.

Then she said faintly:

"It's all very well, Louis. You're always being sorry! Aren't you?"

"This is the last time, Marcella, that there'll be any need to be very sorry," he said solemnly. "I was going to clear out for good, but Kraill made me come back."

"That's all very well, too. Professor Kraill is going away. He doesn't have to put up with you. He doesn't have to sleep with you. You will be drunk to-night, and every night when there's any money. And next day you'll be whining about it. I've lost hope now. I'm tired, tired of to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow."

Kraill's eyes were on her. The echo of a cock that crowed outside a door in Jerusalem nineteen hundred years ago came to her and her eyes filled with tears.

"Oh I'm so sorry! You asked me for my courage," she said to Kraill.

"There's no need for it now—on Louis's account, Marcella. You believe what I say to you, don't you?"

He smiled at her; he looked very friendly, very kindly.

"You know I believe you!" she cried.

"Then I tell you that Louis is quite better now. He is going to take care of you and Andrew. I can't prove it to you, yet. But you will see it as time goes on."

"I don't want him any more," she cried, "I want you—Oh no—no—!"

His eyes held hers again, tragic and terrible. Then again he smiled, and she felt that she had failed him.

"No, of course not, Marcella," he said gently. "These slinking greeds of ours—"

He turned to Louis.

"We'd better be getting along to the station, don't you think?" He stood looking at Marcella, who seemed stunned.

"Don't you think you could make us some tea before we go?" he said casually. She stared at him dully.

"Tea?" she said dazedly, and began to laugh shrilly. "Tea? Oh, men are funny! You're both so funny! 'The greatest of human triumphs is to read the need in another's eyes and be able to fulfil it.' Tea! Oh Louis, isn't it funny—making tea—now."

She laughed and laughed, and then Kraill and Louis began to dance about before her eyes most erratically, until a black curtain all shot with fires came down and hid them, and waves of cold, green water went over her. She felt someone lift her out of the water and then she went to sleep.



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