CAPTIVITY

CHAPTER XXX

In the months that followed Marcella often tried to find out what had caused the Miracle—for Miracle it seemed to her. The desire for whisky that had obsessed him for ten years seemed to have died: he frankly admitted that it gave him no trouble now at all. When she seemed inclined to praise him for his bravery he laughed at her; there was no bravery in doing a thing that was perfectly easy and natural to him. He looked different: he was just as different as Saul of Tarsus after he saw the blinding light on the Damascus road. His nerves never cracked now; the little meannesses of which both she and the boy had been victims had disappeared; he gave her a kind of wistful, protecting love that proved to her, more even than his frequent safe visits to the township, that something radical had happened that day in the Bush—something so radical that, if it were taken from him, he would not be there at all. She felt that he was safe now; she felt that the boy was safe; she felt that in everyone on earth who was sick and sad and unhappy was the capacity for safety. But she did not know how they might come by it.

But she knew, incontrovertibly, that she could never love Louis again with any degree of happiness or self-satisfaction. That much Kraill had shown her. She and Louis had no part in each other's spiritual nights and days; the typhoon of physical passion that had swept her up for a few minutes she saw now as a very cheap substitute for the apotheosis Kraill had indicated. It was Louis's weakness that had been their strongest bond in the past: now that that was gone there was little left in him for her. But peace after pain was very beautiful.

It was not until after six months of sanity that he told her all about the miracle. One evening, after the child had gone to bed, they were sitting on the verandah. Louis had been talking of going home to start afresh in England.

"The voyage would do you good, Marcella. My diagnostic eye has been on you lately," he said as he lighted a cigarette and passed it to her. "You're looking fagged, and it's unnatural to see you looking fagged. You're getting thin. I don't want to see you suddenly evaporate, old girl."

She shook her head and stared unseeingly over the soft green of springing life that, before they came, had been devastating gorse.

"Yes, clearly a trip to England is indicated," he said. "You're alone too much. Marcella, I believe you're thinking every minute about Kraill."

"I—can't help it," she said in a low voice. "They're—good thoughts, now."

He looked at her, and something about the droop of her shoulders contracted his throat, made a pain at his heart.

"It's hard—" he began.

"It's a hunger, Louis. You understand it, don't you? But I can't buy it in a bottle!"

"Marcella!" he cried passionately. "I'll—I'll come into your thoughts in time. Lord knows I'm trying hard enough."

"Oh my dear, don't I know?" she said gently. "And has it occurred to you what a mercy it is for me that you're like this now? If I had to hide everything up, like I used to, I couldn't bear it—never seeing him again—if you didn't help me to."

"It's queer," he said slowly. "Most people—husband and wife—would not be able to talk about this sort of thing to each other. They'd hide and lie to each other."

"We've both been weak—and we've both been helped. And these demands we make of each other teach us so much. If Kraill had not demanded courage of me I'd—he'd have had me. It's no use lying about it, is it? Why should you be so frank about your whisky, and give yourself away to me every time about it, and I hide up my weakness from you?"

"You're—weirdly honest, old girl," he said with a short laugh.

"Yes. Even now, if I had not promised him courage of thinking, I suppose—he'd have me—but I had to live up to what he saw in me."

"And that, of course, is what saved me," he said quietly.

"I've often wondered," she said. "Are you going to tell me now?"

There was a long silence. He smoked two cigarettes as his mind went back to that hot, strange day.

"I went out," he began at last, "to kill him. I'd always been a coward before. But then I didn't know what fear was. In a crisis like that—Marcella, listen to me getting back the psychology I learnt at the hospital!—the ruling emotion comes on top. And my ruling emotion, I think, is selfishness. Brutally frank, old lady! Learnt that from you. But do you remember that soap, when young Andrew got his face skinned because I wouldn't let him have mine? And—heaps of times—about grub, and things. Oh yes," he went on, as she looked startled, "I've quite realized how selfish I always was to you. Well, don't you see how it worked? I thought Kraill had got you. You were my property. I just couldn't bear that. The only thing seemed to be to kill him."

"I didn't think you loved me," she murmured.

"I don't believe I did—till Kraill gave me a few tips! You see, I went roaring off to him, and he was standing by a tree looking stunned. I was flaring, frantic. I called him a damned adulterer. He laughed at me, and said just what you said, 'If I'm not better than that, she is!' Then he told me that I'd deliberately thrown you away. Mad as I was with him, I saw that he was quite right."

He paused, and puffed at his cigarette.

"Lord, it was a set-out, Marcella! He said quite calmly, that he was going to take you. Then it was I saw what life without you would be. He gave me a thumb-nail sketch of myself—and of you and him. You both seemed rather fine. I seemed a stinking, grovelling, strawy sort of thing. To my amazement it seemed right that he should have you. Lord, it scorched! I stopped thinking about killing him, and wanted to kill myself."

She put out her hand to him silently and he took it in his.

"Then, quite unexpectedly, he asked me if I was happy. Happy! In that strife! I found myself telling him—and I'd just called him a damned adulterer, mind!—all about it, the awful fighting, the awful losing, and the hunger. And I knew he would understand all of it. He said he'd had just such hungers, and had got through with them. He said the getting through came to different people in different ways. He said something I want to have framed up in the sky for miserable neurotics to read, Marcella. He said, 'With you, Louis, it's got to be drastic. It's got to be an earthquake. There's more than the drink in you that's got to be rooted out. All the foundations of you, all the structure of you, have to crumble, to fall together in a heap. Your spiritual centre of gravity has got to shift. Do you see?' I didn't see. But that's the very most important thing, Marcella—about the centre of gravity."

She nodded. She thought she understood.

"Then he gave me another, gentler picture of myself—a fight here, a failure there, a hunger somewhere else, and Lord knows how many old shreds of cynicism and belief, of selfishness and ambition and wantonness and pride, and just a little bit of love and desire for beauty. I told him that madness of mine, about the Mater's letters that I told you to take to King George. He was interested in that—said it was symbolical of my love for the Mater. I think I told him every bally thing in my life. And I never lied once to him. He was quiet a bit, and then he said I'd to be shaken up, smashed and crumbled, so that these old things would all go from me, and new things come in by the crevices and let the axis of me get changed. That seemed reasonable. What was so queer was how he treated me like a kid. Rather an intelligent kid, you know. He said: 'Did you, at school, Louis, have the lamp and orange and hatpin trick to explain night and day to you?' I said yes, and it all came back to me, being a kid in school and under orders, you know. And he said: 'Suppose your master had jabbed the hatpin just anywhere, nowhere near the centre—how the orange would have wobbled, wouldn't it?' I said it would, and he went on to say the hatpin wasn't jabbed through my centre, and that's why I wobbled so much. That was very reasonable, too—but I told him I didn't see how the hatpin was going to be pulled out. Yet all the time I listened to him, sort of fascinated by a charm he has—seems a ridiculous thing to say about a man, doesn't it?"

"No—not a bit," she said faintly.

"He seemed to care a lot about me. No one but you ever had. And then he asked me if I realized what a thin time you had of it. 'Does it ever occur to you, Louis, that your wife has had a superhuman job? And she's only a girl after all. You know what women are,' he said. They pretend to us that they're so very strong and independent. Like a child trying to lift a great weight, and saying: 'No, no—you shan't help. I can do it,' and in the same minute dropping it on his toes with a smash and coming to be comforted! Marcella's like that. She's brave. But she's got to the cracking stage now. She's got to be taken care of. I didn't believe it. It seemed incongruous."

"After what I'd just told you?"

"Yes. I've always, even as a kid, been such a liar that when anyone was brutally honest I thought they were posing. Kraill said, 'You'll never be fit to take care of her. You're just a parasite. She's coming away with me now.' That squared with what I'd thought of your brutal honesty. I thought it was a blind, and that you were just coming back to fetch Andrew and then go. I wasn't cross with Kraill then. I simply crumpled up."

There was a long silence. When he spoke again he spoke as though sharing a secret with her.

"Do you know, I believe Kraill was playing with us both, Marcella? I believe he'd gauged you right, and me too. I believe he made love to you, knowing your cussed pride. He knew you'd turn to me, and that your turning to me would save me. I believe he was bluffing when he said he was going to take you. You never know, with men like that. Biology and psychology—! He's got people's bodies and brains and souls dissected, and nothing they can do is unaccountable to him! Men like that are beyond the ordinary human weaknesses, you know."

She did know, very much better than he, and hugged dear thoughts as she smiled faintly at him.

"Then he began to take whisky out and hold it up in front of me by its hind legs, kicking. And it looked pretty silly before he'd finished with it. I was sick of it, I tell you."

She started. She remembered how ashamed he had made her of those momentary cheap thrills of hers. What was it he had said—"Like a queen going on the streets?"

"He'd smashed me up, I tell you."

"And me," she said softly.

"Though I knew I'd lost you then, I knew I'd lost whisky too. All the striving things that had made me up, you see, were lying in ruins, and the whisky seemed such a disgusting, ridiculous thing it wouldn't fit in anywhere. Like one of those jigsaw puzzles—the whisky bit put all the rest out. I felt a most blissful peacefulness ... like, I suppose, when a cancer is taken away after months of hellish pain. You can't imagine it! It was just like those Salvation Army chaps you hear in the street sometimes talking about being at peace with God. You can see they are, they look so beaming! I felt like that. Only God didn't seem to come into it. I was just at peace with myself."

She nodded, and he went on slowly:

"I'm not clear about the rest. Having smashed me, you see, he began to put me together again. I felt I could worship him—that sounds rather like hot air, old girl, but it's quite true" he added, reddening a little. "He'd got rid of that bally cancer for me."

"But how did you know—?"

"How do you know the sun has risen, dear? How did that poor devil that was tearing himself in the tombs know that he need fear no more when Christ spoke to him? How did the blind man know he could see? I just don't know, but it happened. And Marcella, do you know what I did? Lord—it was awful. I cried like anything, and asked him to give you back to me. It came to me like a flash that I'd no right to you, that you and he were much righter for each other. But I just couldn't spare you. More selfishness! And it seemed I'd such a lot to make up to you. He said: 'Are you sure you can take care of her now, Louis?' I laughed. It seemed such cool, calm impudence the way our positions were reversed. He laughed too, and said: 'Queer how we still look upon women as goods and chattels, isn't it?'"

"You didn't seem to take me into account much," she said.

"Kraill answered for you in the surest possible way. And then we started to come back to you. He said an astonishing thing on the way back—asked me if I'd read a book on 'Dreams,' by a German chap named Freud. I said I left dreams and 'Old Moore's Almanac' to housemaids and old ladies. He laughed, and we talked about dreams. He told me some of his—rather racy ones. I told him lots of mine—those horrors I used to have, and all that. And he kept nodding his head, and saying: 'Yes, I thought so.' I've often wondered what he was getting at, or if he wasn't getting at anything at all, but just simply changing a difficult subject—like when he asked you to make that tea."

"So that's that," he said at last, and talked of England. Presently she surprised him by saying that she very much wanted to go to Sydney.

"Want to test me among pubs, old lady? Well—I am armed so strong in honesty that dangers are to me indifferent! I can't help swanking bits from 'Julius Caesar,' you know—my only Shakespeare play! But it'll be great to go to Sydney. Only—what are we going for? Shopping?"

She evaded his question, and in a flash he thought he saw the reason for the journey and became very tender and considerate of her. They made plans immediately; he was like a child being taken out for the day. He kept telling her how delightful it was not to be kept on a lead; and she could have told him how delightful it was not to be at the controlling end of a lead.

They left Andrew with Mrs. Twist; Marcella was very quiet during the drive in to Cook's Wall, though for some moments she was almost hysterically gay. Just beyond the station was a gang of navvies and a camp; the railway was pushing on to Klondyke; great Irishmen and navvies from all parts of Australia, drawn by the phenomenal pay, sweated and toiled under the blazing sun making the railway cutting. The sound of rumbling explosions came to them as the rocks were blasted: she watched the men running back with picks over their shoulders; she loved to see their enormous bull-like strength as they quarried the great boulders.

They stayed at Mrs. King's, and went to a theatre the first night. Louis grew more hungry for England every moment as he came into touch with civilization. Marcella sat in a dream; the music that would once have delighted her to ecstasy was muted; the people were things moving without life or meaning; she answered Louis every time he spoke to her, but her mind was drawn in upon itself by a gnawing anxiety.

The next day, leaving Louis to his own resources, she and Mrs. King went out.

He was a little inclined to chaff them about their air of mystery, but, taking Marcella's tiredness and whiteness into account, he was expecting them to say they had been buying baby clothes, though it was rather unlike Marcella to keep anything secret.

Her tragic face and Mrs. King's eyes, red with weeping, froze the gay words on his lips when they came in just before lunch, where he was playing a slow game of nap with some of the boys in the kitchen.

They went upstairs to their old room. When the door was closed she said to him: "Louis, I've been to a doctor. He says I'm not well."

"I knew it. I told you, didn't I? You want a change, my dear," he said anxiously.

"I'm afraid it's rather more serious than that, Louis," she said gravely. "He seems to think it—it may be—cancer. Oh, I wish they'd call it something else! I hate that word. It's such a hungry word."

She was feeling stunned, and very frightened.

"But Marcella, it's ridiculous! For one thing, you're too young—"

"That's what the doctor thought. But he says it's been known—in textbooks, you know. A girl of eighteen that he knew had it. I'm to see two other doctors to-morrow."

He began to pace about the room. Then he laughed a little shrilly.

"Oh, it's a silly mistake. Doctors are not infallible, you know! He's brutal to have suggested it even. Oh damn these colonials! No English doctor would have told you."

"I insisted," she said quietly, and he guessed that the doctor was not to be blamed.

"But," he went on, "it couldn't have happened except through an injury. You've had no injury that I can think of—"

"No, of course I haven't," she said rapidly. "But these things seem to happen without cause, don't they? Anyway, we won't believe it until we've got to. I've been ill for months, and noticed things. I've been an awful fool. But I didn't think it was dangerous, and—I don't think I'd have cared much if I had known."

The next day confirmed the first doctor's opinion. Marcella was a little incredulous. It did not seem to her that she was ill enough to be in danger. It was only when the doctors advised immediate operation that the horror and terror of it came flooding in upon her.

"Louis, we'll tell them what we think about it to-morrow, please," she said.

They went back to Mrs. King's almost in silence. Both of them seemed as creatures walking in a dream. With one accord they looked at each other when they got back in the room. Mrs. King, anxious-eyed, was talking to someone in the kitchen. To avoid having to talk to her they went up on the roof. The city rumbled beneath their feet, very, very much alive. Everything seemed to be blatantly alive, flaunting its bounding life at them. They sat down on the coping.

Without warning she clung to him and began to cry.

"Louis—please don't let me be chopped up," she sobbed. He held her as though he would snatch her out of life and pain and danger. But he did not know what to say.

"Louis, I hate my body to push itself into notice like this," she cried after awhile. "I always did—as a child, and when Andrew was coming, I hated you to see me—like that—Oh and Louis, I can't die—yet—"

"My darling, you're cracking me up!" he cried. "But don't think of dying. Surgeons don't let people die nowadays! You can't die. You're too much alive. You'd fight any illness—"

They sat trying to think some alleviation into their misery. Presently she snatched herself away from him.

"It's such a beastly, slinking sort of way to die! In a bed—sick and ill! Why can't they have wars—so that I could die quick on a battlefield? You wouldn't have time to be getting cold beforehand, then. Louis, it's like father, lying in bed till his poor heart was drowned. Louis—Oh—"

She stopped, breathless. Her eyes narrowed; she was thinking deep down.

"I wonder if it's—necessary?"

He shook himself impatiently.

"How can pain and illness ever be necessary?"

"They may be—perhaps not to the sufferer, you know," she said, and would not explain what she meant. She was seeing pictures of herself praying for weakness—and of burning Feet—

"I wish Andrew had come with us. Is there time to send for him?" she said presently.

"Every day is important now," he said, choked.

"Yes. I've not to be sentimental," she said, and tried not to grieve him as she remembered very vividly her own sick misery when her father and mother were ill and there was nothing she could do.

But even as she tried to be brave little fears would crop up, little jets of horror burst out and wring words from her lips.

"Louis, it's the beastliness of it, you know," she cried. "Imagine something taking possession of your body against your will. I hate that. Like a madman seizing hold of you—like that gorse being burnt out and growing up and breaking through other things that tried to grow—"

Louis was dumb. After awhile, when she had thought and thought again, she said:

"I'm a wretched coward to say these things to you. It makes it harder for you. But I can't help it. Kraill was right when he said I'd got to cracking-point. If I were heroic I'd lie down and be a beautiful invalid, waiting for a happy release. It would be easier for you if I could. Louis, I just can't. It wouldn't be honest. If I die, it won't be a beautiful spectacle, my dear. I'll fight every inch of the way! There's such a lot of me to kill. I'm so alive, and I love to be alive. It—it won't be dignified—"

"Oh God, I wish I were a Christian, or a theosophist, or something, and believed people went on!" he groaned.

"I don't want to go on anywhere else," she said. "I want to go on here with you and Andrew. And I want to see Dr. Angus and Aunt Janet and all the others at Lashnagar—and—No, I don't want to see him," she added, and thought again for a while in silence. "I don't need to—"

He looked at her quickly, and said nothing.

"Louis, do you think I've been wrong? I remember I said something to Kraill about not wanting to die, though it seemed worlds away then. And he said: 'It seems to me that you take too much on yourself. Are you the ultimate kindliness of the world?' Perhaps it will be better for Andrew if I'm not there—Oh, but that's morbid!"

"It is," he said decidedly. "And you're not going to die—"

She broke in quickly: "Just think if this had happened last year! I'd have been frantic for fear of leaving you and Andrew. Why, I would never have dared to go to the hospital, for fear of what might happen to you while I was there. And now I'm not a bit afraid of that."

"Then don't be afraid at all. Look here, let's talk as if you're not my Marcella at all, dear. Let's talk as if you were someone we're both keen about. Can't you see that you're in very little danger, really? You're so young, and so tremendously hard—"

She tried to make him think she was reassured, but a little later the fear cropped out again.

"If I die," she said quietly, "what are you going to do? No, don't look miserable about it. I'm miserable enough for two of us, goodness knows. But people have been known not to wake up after an operation, haven't they?"

"Just as they've been known to be run over by a taxi," he said.

"Yes. Well then, let's try to be quite unemotional about this stranger called Marcella that we're both keen about. If she did happen to finish up—out of sheer cussedness and desire to make a sensation, next week, you'd be the victim of a ghost, Louis! I'd simply have to be back to see what you're up to! You know what a managing sort of person Marcella is, don't you?"

He made a desperate effort to be unemotional, and presently he said, very decidedly:

"I know now what I'm going to do, old girl! I absolutely refuse to allow illness to go on! There! That's a challenge to the Almighty, if He likes to take it—"

She laughed gently, with tears in her eyes.

"I feel helpless. And I'm fed up with feeling helpless. That socialization of knowledge has got to begin, or I'll—Oh. I don't know! Look at the idiocy of it! Here we are in the twentieth century, and people are dying like flies all over the show. Why, there's no room for houses because there's so much room needed for grave-yards! And—even if they don't die, they're ill, most of them. And I'm not going to have it!"

"Louis! What are you going to do?" she said, staring at him, taken out of her fear by his enthusiasm. "I've never seen you like this before."

"No. I never have been. But this business of illness has just come and touched me on the raw, you see! You ought not to be ill. It's waste and lunacy to think of it. And I—ten years of my life wasted by a neurosis! And your father, and Lord knows how many millions more! I'll tell you this much, Marcella! Before five years have gone by I'll be in the battlefield against illness, and I'll be damned if illness won't have to look out! I loathe it, just as you do! I resent it! I'm going to stop it. Listen, old girl, as soon as you're out of that hospital, you're off to England, and I'm going to the Pater, and I'm going on my knees to beg him to give me another go at the hospital. I've got to get my tools ready, you know—"

"Do you think your father will?"

"He'll be sceptical. I should if I were he. I've been such a bounder to him in the past. But if he's too sceptical to help—well, I'll go to Buckingham Palace and ask King George to lend me the money! I should think he'd be jolly glad to think there was a chance of wiping out illness for ever."

Tears brimmed over: it was when she saw the eternal child in Louis that she loved him most, and was most afraid for him; not afraid now that he would waste himself again, but afraid that he would never touch the mountain-tops at which he was aiming.

"Yes, we'll go home," she said dreamily. "And I'll take you on Lashnagar—and we'll see them all again. I'll ask Uncle to give us the money to take us home. This wretched illness will take all we have."

"Don't you worry about your Uncle's money," he said grimly. "I'll see to that! Marcella, there's nothing I can't do now. If only I hadn't monkeyed about at the hospital, probably I'd have had the knowledge to save you all this now."

"Why, how silly!" she laughed. "If you hadn't monkeyed about at the hospital we should never have met!"

The next day she went into hospital: as the anesthetic broke over her in delicious warm waves she was frantically afraid that she was going to die; it seemed to her that these calm, business-like surgeons and nurses only treated her as one of millions, not realizing that she was Marcella Lashcairn, immensely important to Louis and Andrew. She began to feel that it would be much better if she did not have an anesthetic at all, and superintended the whole business herself intelligently. It seemed wrong that she should have no hand in a thing of such profound importance. Then her will relaxed a little and she was horribly afraid that she would feel sharp knives through the anesthetic. A blinding flash of realization abased her utterly. Just on the borders of unconsciousness she saw Kraill looking at her with his beautiful eyes clouded with disappointment.

"He knows I'm afraid of being cut up—and he knows I'm afraid of dying I—Naturally he knows—he lives in my imagination!—and he wanted my courage—But I'm not really frightened, you know. Can't you see I'm not?"

It became immediately necessary to explain this to Kraill. She tried to push the mask away. A very steady, pleasant voice was saying "breathe deeply," and she realized that she had once more been taken up by things much stronger and wiser than herself: quite conceivably they might make a mess of her, hurt her and even kill her. But they were doing wisely; and anyway, she herself could do nothing more—buoyant warm waves took her up and carried her right away from caring.

When she wakened again all fear had gone; she was conscious of a burning corkscrew boring into her body somewhere, but she was too lazy to localize it. A long, long time after that she saw sunshine and smelt something very beautiful.

She focussed her eyes on something that swayed drunkenly: after awhile it stood still, and she saw that it was a little blue vase filled with boronia. The breeze from the open window was tapping the blind softly to and fro, and wafting the scent of the boronia over her face. Then she saw Louis's face, very white, above her.

"All right, old girl?" he whispered.

She tried to find her hand to raise it to him, but it seemed so far from her that she would have to go to the end of the world to fetch it. And that was too far. So she smiled at him.

"You're all right, you see," he said nervously. "Gloomy forebodings are so silly, aren't they?"

"I—thought I should feel it," she said.

"I told you you wouldn't, didn't I? The nurse said you took an awful time to go under—"

"Yes. I wanted to explain something. And I wanted to help the surgeons—I thought I'd—do it—much better than they could."

"Just like you, old lady," he said, with his eyes wet.

"Silly to fight, Louis—strong things—wise things—like those surgeons—even if they are making awful pains for you to bear—"

"I wouldn't talk, darling," he whispered anxiously, his face against hers.

"I'm not talking, Louis—I'm thinking," she said anxiously. "Something I was thinking—all mixed up with old Wullie, and a pathway. It seems to me God is like those surgeons—only—strong and wise, you know—only He never gives you chloroform, does He?"

She lost sight of Louis's face then for a very long time.



Back | Next | Contents