After her father's death Marcella had more time to become aware of the really tangible shadows about the farm. In fact, she wakened to a general awareness about the time of her eighteenth birthday, rather later than most girls.
She was extraordinarily young; she was inevitably romantic. Living what amounted to the life of a recluse, it was only to be expected that she should live her illusions and dreams. Her mind was a storehouse of folklore, romance, poetry and religion; her rationalistic readings had not in any way become part of her, though facts and ratiocinations, by mere feat of memory, were stored in her mind as irrelevances and unrealities that came elbowing their way through her dreams just as fantastic thoughts come as one falls asleep.
Never, in all her life, had she known what physical pleasure was; her bed was hard and very thinly covered—one night her father had taken away and locked up a blanket because he said she must be hardened. It had never occurred to her that food could be a pleasure; it was just something that happened, a recurrence of potatoes, porridge, oatcake and broth. Only when she had been swimming in the fierce waves or battling in the winds on Ben Grief with Wullie did she realize the pleasure of hunger, and that was easily satisfied in the smoking hut when the Hunchback raked aside the ashes and brought out roast potatoes or toasted fish that he took down from the roof.
Not knowing other girls she had no one to talk to her about clothes. Before Rose Lashcairn was ill she had taken great pleasure in dressing her little girl; soft things, woven of silk and wool, came from London for her, soft shoes and stockings and frocks of fine texture and beautiful colour that seemed strange and exotic on Lashnagar. But these were worn out and never replaced—except for her mother's funeral she never wore shoes, summer or winter. Her feet and legs were brown and quite invulnerable to stones or brambles. Her father did not realize that she needed clothes; her aunt was too much sunk in shadows to notice the child's appearance. And, reading her legends and romances, it was natural that Marcella should live them and dress them. In a press in her mother's room were clothes brought from the old grey house, the accumulation of days when fabrics were made as heirlooms. There were plaids and brocades and silks: there was lace from Valenciennes and linen from Cambrai, yellow with age. There were muslins that a Lashcairn had brought when he adventured to India with Clive. Rose often wept over them. Several times Marcella's dreams nearly cost her her life, for, living them so utterly, she became detached from the physical world. One time, when a stormy golden sun went down behind black clouds, shining on an ancient pile of grey stones that stood on a little spit of land near the bar of the river, she was reminded of Tennyson's "Morte d'Arthur." She heard the ripples lapping on the reeds and, with an imaginary Sir Bedivere at her elbow, hurried back to the farm to dress herself as a Scottish edition of King Arthur in kilts that had belonged to her grandfather. She worshipped the shine of the moon on the great jewel at her breast as she stepped into the little frail boat, very tired after a long day's wandering on Ben Grief without food. To a Kelt death is a thing so interpenetrating life that thought of it brought no fear; there was a sort of adventurous anticipation about it. She cast a stick—her sword Excalibur—into midstream and waited for the arm "clad in white samite, mystic, wonderful." That it did not appear meant very little to her. It certainly did not mean that it was not there. Rather it meant that she could not see it. So she lay in the little boat and quite certainly she saw the grave Queens at the head, leading her to the Island Valley of Avilion. Watching the moonlight glittering on her jewel she was hypnotized to sleep, rocked by the soft motion of the little boat. The current of the stream took her out to sea, the turn of the tide washed her back again, and she wakened at dawn famished with hunger, drenched with the icy water the little boat had shipped. She was too good a swimmer to drown and, after a valiant struggle, she came to land two miles from home.
Her romance was never killed by misadventures. The very next day she climbed Ben Grief and lighted a ring of fire round his wrinkled brow by carrying up loads of dried heather and grass through which she fought her way to the rescue of a dream Brunnhilde, sleeping within the fire. She reached home that night with scorched clothes and hair, and smoke-smarting eyes. But such mishaps were only part of the adventure, as inevitable as storms in winter and wounds in battle. These dreams were in the days before her father's Rationalism kept her chained indoors: his evangelism sowed seeds that took root and flowered into a desire that she might be a wild-eyed, flame-tongued John the Baptist, making straight the way of the Lord. When this dream came to her it transmuted all the other dreams; from so deep down inside her that it seemed a voice of someone autocratic standing beside her came the conviction that to be a John the Baptist meant to be a martyr and an anchorite. For days after her father's death she wandered on the hills, preaching deliverance to the screaming gulls, who would not be quiet like St. Francis' birds when he preached. Many days she took food with her and deliberately refused to eat it, walking miles after she was worn out in a considered attempt at the subjection of the flesh, after the manner of saints of old. Sometimes she preached peace to the desolate ghosts on Lashnagar, but they did not seem to listen.
Then, just after this, several things happened to bring her thoughts away from dreams to a realization of herself as a concrete, circumscribed being. Wullie had warned her of this.
"Ye're up in the clouds, now, Marcella, like a wraith. Some day ye'll come down to airth. And it'll be with sic' a bang that ye'll find ye're very solid." She had not understood him.
For six weeks after her father's funeral she had almost maddening neuralgia. One day, meeting Dr. Angus in the village she stopped to speak to him. Indeed, it was impossible to pass him, for he had bought Rose Lashcairn's little mare who, even after six years, remembered Marcella and stood with eager, soft eyes while the girl stroked her velvet nose and satin sides. This was the first time the doctor had seen Marcella since the funeral and she had been weighing on his mind: he guessed at more than the Lashcairns would ever have told him of their circumstances; he had sent in no bill for Andrew's illness and, out of his own pocket, had paid the Edinburgh specialist. Marcella knew nothing of this—if she thought of it at all, she would have thought that the doctor just happened, as everything else in her life, by chance.
"Marcella, you're not looking the thing," he said. "Hop up beside me. I've not seen you for ages. Let us have a talk. I've to drive along to Pitleathy and I'll drop you here on my way back."
She sprang in beside him and told him about the neuralgia.
"I had it first when I used to sit up with father. Now I have it all the time—and dreadful headaches. I never knew what aches meant before. I'm afraid when Jean used to say she had the headache I wasn't so kind to her as I expect her to be to me."
"We never are," said the doctor bluntly. "But have you not told Aunt Janet about the headaches?"
"Oh no—she'd think it was silly."
"Then I'd tell Jean, Marcella," said the doctor hurriedly. "If you're not feeling well, just tell Jean, and maybe she'll be bringing you along to see me." Then he added. "But to-night I'll send the lad along with medicine for the neuralgia."
They talked about her father, then, and presently she surprised him by saying earnestly:
"Doctor, why is it that people get ill?"
He laughed and chuckled at her puzzled frown.
"Well! There's a question to ask a man after his dinner. Do you know it took me the best part of seven years at the hospital to learn the answer? And even now my knowledge is not what you might call exhaustive."
"It seems so queer—mother being ill, and father; then Jean's headaches and my neuralgia. And Wullie all twisted up."
The doctor let the reins drop on the horse's neck and lighted a very old pipe. He had very little chance of a talk, and was glad to talk, even to a girl.
"Just in those people you've mentioned, Marcella, you've almost every cause of illness." He paused, puffed at the pipe and went on, "Wullie—he was born like it."
"Yes. I know. It seems all wrong."
"It is wrong. It's a mistake," said the doctor slowly.
"Whose mistake?" she asked quickly.
"Ah, there you have me, Marcella. It was to answer questions like that that men invented the devil, I believe; they like to say he put the grit in the machine that turned out Wullie, and made him like that out of perversity."
"But what do you say?" she said, looking into his face.
"I don't know. I think several things. For one thing, I like to imagine that God, or Nature, whichever you like to call it—isn't a perfect machine yet, and that we human beings can step in to help a bit."
"Wullie's father, I've heard, was drowned before he was born, and his mother was too proud to tell when she was hungry. She used to go out every night and take his place with the fishing boats, rowing, sitting cramped, drawing the nets. We can help there by stopping that sort of thing."
Marcella watched him, wide-eyed. She was completely mystified but so full of questions that she could not find which one to ask first.
"That's what I'd have said when I was at the hospital, a young man. In those days I dealt much more with cells and bodies than—than I do now. Queer thing, Marcella—youngsters go for physiology mostly. When they get older they see that there's more in psychology. I'm old now. Maybe I'm more foolish, but I've a feeling, right down at my marrow, that I'm wiser. I like to think that Wullie's an example of the law of compensation and, by losing physical strength and beauty, has gained a beautiful soul. But for the Lord's sake don't go telling anyone I—a doctor—talked such arrant nonsense," he added with a laugh as he puffed at his pipe.
"It seems wrong to me," said Marcella slowly. "I can't see why a beautiful mind and body shouldn't be part of each other."
"You've never been introduced to your body yet, Marcella, nor shaken hands with it. It's never popped up and made faces at you. When it does you'll find folks like Wullie have a good deal to be thankful for. Your father, for instance—"
He stopped short, coughed loudly and pulled up the horse to a sharp trot.
"Yes. The barrel," she said gravely.
"Who's been telling you that?"
"Wullie. I asked him."
"I wouldn't have told you, yet. But it's right you should know. You saw how it was with your father. Whisky ruled him. It rules all your menfolk like that. It wasn't till his body grew weak with sickness—and sickness, mind you, caused by the whisky—that he got it in hand. Then, you see, it was too late. He conquered a wounded foe. And, of course, he died. If he'd got religion earlier, perhaps—and, after all, that's only another obsession."
"Poor father," she whispered.
"If your father, without religion or anything, could have conquered, Marcella, he'd have been a very heroic figure. He'd have left footprints in the sand of time, as the poet said."
Marcella nodded. This was the first time the idea of conscious heroism came to her. She said rather breathlessly:
"But are bodies wicked, doctor? Lots of people seem to think so. Aunt Janet thinks people's bodies are wrong. All saints seem to think that too."
"They're very splendid and bonny if you can keep them in hand. Christ taught that bodies—Humanity, that is—are the veils of God. It's only when bodies get out of hand that they go wrong and put a man in hell. I expect the idea of Trinity-worship that we get in most religions was an unconscious aiming at this truth, that to be a perfect human being you must be the Trinity—body, brain and spirit. But we're not up to that Trinity yet, lassie, by a long chalk."
"When I used to read those scientific books, and those queer philosophies to father, it seemed to me that bodies were all that mattered. That was when I was reading biology books and lectures. It seemed so useless to me—just living, and handing on life, and living no more."
"That was the idea when I was at the hospital. At a hospital, of course, bodies do count tremendously. But in my day more than now because we were in the reactionary stage from blood-letting, incantations and so on. I remember how Biology came to me with a sense of crystal precision and inevitability in those days."
He paused. Marcella asked rather doubtfully:
"But do you think that Biology is wrong?"
"Oh, Marcella, your 'rights' and 'wrongs' are so funny, if you only knew it! You might as well say, 'Is fire wrong?' It's there. There's no getting away from it. When I was a wee laddie at home I had to write copy-book lessons on Saturday afternoons to keep me out of mischief. One I wrote so often that it keeps coming into my mind in the most foolish way often. 'Fire is a good servant but a bad master.' That was the sentence. The times I've written it, thick down strokes, thin upstrokes! Well, that's like any of these ologies—biology especially. It's a good teacher. You don't have to let it be a taskmaster."
"I'd like to learn ologies, doctor. I'd like to learn to the roots of things. All the things I know—legends, history, poetry, haven't any roots at all. Professor Kraill's a biologist, isn't he?"
"Well, yes—rather a heterodox one, but he's getting believed now. But how on earth did you know?" he said, turning on her in surprise.
"There was an advertisement of a book of his lectures. It was called 'Questing Cells' and father got it. I had to read it to him—with a dictionary at almost every line, because I didn't understand it. It showed me that, though I am muddled now, there is such a thing as clearness in the world. It seemed to me that if I knew all the things Professor Kraill knows things might be like a crystal ball—all the things in the world, you know, beautifully clear and rounded off. I read a lot of books to father after that and got muddled again. But I never lost the feel of Professor Kraill's book. I couldn't tell you a word of it now, but it's like the memory of a most beautiful music. I love him. I'd love to hear him—to see him. He's the wisest man in the world."
"Heaven forbid!" said the doctor, laughing a little.
"Why? Don't you admire him?"
"Immensely, though he's heterodox. But he's just what I was saying to you just now—an example of a man who isn't the Trinity. Being a biologist, he's run all to body and brain. He's let his spirit get famished a bit. Queer things—one hears, too—inevitable things."
"How do you mean?" she cried, quick to defend her hero, but eager with curiosity about him.
"Oh, things you wouldn't understand. He's given up his chair at the University."
There was a long silence. Then Marcella said definitely:
"Anyway, he's splendid. I love him." The doctor laughed and told her it was a good thing she wasn't a student if she fell in love with professors from their lectures.
"Well, go on with what you were saying," she said imperiously, and the doctor began to think that he had not quite reckoned with Marcella's passion for getting to the roots of things. But he expounded his theory to her, telling her that before many years things that were miracles in the time of Christ would be scientific bagatelles in the hospitals.
"We've been having a materialistic time, Marcella, ever since Huxley and Darwin. Now we're coming to the swing of the pendulum. The body and its appetites have got very strong. Soon we'll have them beat by the mind."
There was a long silence. Then, with a suddenness that disconcerted the doctor, she asked him what Wullie had meant by saying that the Lashcairn women took the man they needed, and went on strange roads.
He filled and lit his pipe before he answered her.
"If I told you you wouldn't understand. You'll come to it in time. When you do, remember what I said to you. If you don't keep your body in hand it's going to run away with you, like it ran away with your father into yon barrel. See?"
"No," she said doubtfully. "Do you mean be like Aunt Janet?"
"God forbid! No, not like Aunt Janet. You'll see when you come to it, Marcella. But remember that the nearest most of us ever get to the perfect Trinity is a thing of shreds and patches. People don't manage to be perfect."
"Christ?" ventured Marcella.
"No. He was brain and spirit without a body."
"Why, doctor, how about when He fasted in the wilderness—and the pain on the cross?"
"Bodily pain is much easier to bear than bodily desire, Marcella. Your poor father would have found it easier to be crucified than to bear his longing for whisky. And Aunt Janet—ask her."
"She wouldn't tell me."
"No, I suppose she wouldn't. When she was young she saw a man she wanted. And he was a man she couldn't have. Until she got dead as she is now I expect she'd have thought crucifixion a thing easier to bear. No, there's no one perfect. All we are, any of us, is either a soul or a body or a brain developed at the expense of all the rest. We get great holes torn in us, just as if wolves had been clawing at us. And it's the body that makes the most dreadful tears. Most people don't see this. You see, the body's hungers are the most appeasable—and being the most appeasable one can't see why they shouldn't be yielded to."
He stopped talking as they drove into the main street of Pitleathy, and while he was with his patient at a little house in the middle of the street Marcella sat thinking. Loose ends of his talk floated about in her grasping mind and she collected them to make him fasten them down when he came back.
"Do you know, doctor, you've muddled me," she said as they turned homewards in the teeth of the wind.
"I'm sorry for that, Marcella. You'd better forget what I've said. Sitting alone so much I talk to myself, and I forgot I was talking to a bit lassie like you. Forget things you don't understand."
"And then get more puzzled later on, when they crop up?" she said. "No. I want you to tell me, now. I want to know, now, why mother was ill—and why Jean and I have headaches."
"Your mother was ill through an accident," he said gravely. "I don't wish to talk about that. And as for Jean and you—well, it's what we expect of women. Man has made his women-folk invalids."
"Doctor!" she gasped.
"Women are always getting ill more or less. Their natural place in the scheme of things makes them weaker. In the beginning of things they were in a dangerous world; as the vehicle of the new life it was not well that they should take their place amidst the same dangers as the men. Otherwise the race might have died out. So they were adapted by nature to a softer life. Their brains are smaller, their nerves more sensitive. If they'd been made as strong as men, physically, nothing would have kept them from fighting and exploring and getting killed."
"But—but—how awful! And you mean I'll have headaches and things always because I'm a woman?"
"Because you're a woman and, to quote your Professor, biologically important. Important to the race, that is—not intrinsically important. To keep you out of dangers and hardships—and mischief," he said, chuckling as he watched her indignant face.
"Well, then I won't be a woman! Coddled! I never heard anything so disgusting! Doctor, I'm going to be a Siegfried, a John the Baptist! I'm going to be a man!"
The doctor laughed loudly and told her to wait awhile, when she would laugh at this Marcella who was so eager, so impatient now.