CAPTIVITY

CHAPTER VII

She wakened to a world of blue and silver next morning; the sunlight seemed to come from the sea with a cold, hard glitter; there was a keenness in the air, a sharp tang of sea-salt with an underlying suggestion of something that was pleasantly reminiscent of Dr. Angus's surgery. The sailors were sluicing the deck with great hoses, and sprinkling it with little watering-cans of disinfectant. Up on the fo'c'sle her deck-chair was side by side with another on which "L. F." was stencilled; after breakfast she went there with a book, expecting Louis to follow her. Presently Jimmy discovered her, bringing three other children with him, and they sat with shining eyes while she told them fairy-tales.

When they drew into Plymouth Harbour the fo'c'sle was cleared, and Marcella watched a few people going ashore. Not very many went: they had not been at sea long enough to welcome a change on land, and the Oriana only stayed two hours to take on mails and passengers.

All that day she did not see Louis. Once or twice she heard him in his cabin, speaking to the man who shared it with him; not once did he put in an appearance at meals, and even at the melancholy hour of twilight he hid himself somewhere. She began to feel a little neglected.

It was easy to make friends: there were so many children to act as introducers. It was interesting to watch people forming little cliques; the pock-marked man had now a collection of eight; they went ashore at Plymouth and came back again talking excitedly, with little snatches of song. Mr. Peters and Mrs. Hetherington, the bright-haired little widow, were inseparable; one of the farm lads had forsaken Ole Fred already for a shy, red-cheeked emigrant girl, who giggled a good deal in corners with him; they sat for long hours, as the trip went on, saying nothing, staring out vacantly to sea, and occasionally holding each other's hands. At tea-time Marcella saw Louis come to the door of the saloon, look round with a frown, become very red in the face as he saw several people look at him casually, and beat a hasty retreat. She had a long talk with the thin girl during the evening, learning that she had been under-housemaid in a girls' school; she asked Marcella her name, volunteering the information that she was Phyllis Mayes, only her friends called her Diddy; she seemed to have got over much of her grief at parting with her sister. After a while she explained, blushing and giggling, that one of the cook's assistants had made friends with her the previous night and given her two meringues.

"A friend of mine who came out as a stewardess told me the best thing you could do was to make friends with the cooks or the butchers—because there's all sorts of little tit-bits they can get for you. Young Bill—him that gave me the meringues—has got a mate called Winkle. I'll give you an intro., if you like. He's quite a toff. He's been a waiter."

Marcella made some excuse, but when Phyllis—or Diddy—went away to her appointment with Bill she sat for a long time thinking. She was already feeling disillusioned.

At nine o'clock she decided to go below. In the shadow of the steps leading to the upper deck Mr. Peters and Mrs. Hetherington were sitting very close together. A little bright tray was at their feet, and a big bottle with a cap and scarf of gold foil stood sentinel over two glasses of such an exquisite shape that Marcella stared hard at them as she passed, saying "Good night." Mr. Peters was smiling with filmy, vacuous eyes. The little lady was flushed and vivid-looking. They both nodded beamingly at her. At the other side of the steps, in the bright light of the electric lamp was a small bundle, between two scarlet fire buckets. It was Jimmy.

His hands were very dirty, his neck and back looked uncomfortably twisted. She touched him gently and he wakened with a start.

"Jimmy, what's to do? You ought to be in bed," she said.

"I'm waiting for dad," he explained, blinking and stretching. "My, it does make your neck stiff."

"Come with me, and I'll put you in bed."

"Must wait for dad," he protested.

"You'll be too tired to play to-morrow. You'll be dropping asleep all day."

"Then he'll go to sleep on the floor, and have a bad back," he said.

"Whyever does he go to sleep on the floor?"

"Because he's too tired, like I was. Only if I take my boots off and kick him—very kindly, I have to kick—he wakes up and he's cross and then he gets into bed."

He stared at her, frowning, as though trying to understand or else to explain this queerness of his father's. Next minute he found himself clasped firmly in her arms. He was very thin and light—much thinner than the Mactavish babies and Jock's children.

She marched up to Mr. Peters.

"I'm putting Jimmy to bed, Mr. Peters. It's late and cold." Then she added, "May I?"

"Plezh—plezh—my dear," he said, smiling foolishly.

"Sweet of you—dear little chap," twittered the little lady.

They passed a group of some dozen men sitting round a brown blanket hedged with a fence of tumblers. They were watching a game of cards. The pock-marked man looked up from the pile of cards in front of him and grinned at Jimmy.

"You find it easier to get off than I do, son," he shouted. Jimmy kicked out at him as they passed, and there was a roar of laughter.

"I hate him—he's like the Beast," said the child as they went down the companion-way.

"Poor man—he can't help that. The Beast turned into a prince, didn't he?"

"He's a nasty man. He sleeps in with us. And the man with no fingers. Ugh, they're dreadful. They stayed awake all night and so did daddy. And they wouldn't let me put the bottles through the porthole this morning. They put them themselves, and I did so want to see them go smash."

Marcella stopped dead. Things were trickling into her mind. She saw her father and her little thin arm dangling sickeningly when he broke it years ago; all her childish terrors of him came back, associated with the whisky, changed into a general terror of anything that was a father. She saw Jimmy's little arm broken—and there were three of them in that tiny cabin to break his little arm!

"Oh, poor wee mannie! Jimmy, ye're just going to sleep in my little house."

He started to dance with joy, holding on to her hand and hopping on one foot in the alley-way. Then his face clouded over.

"There'll be nobody to make daddy get in bed, then," he said.

"Well—"

"His back'll be bad to-morrow if he lies on the floor."

"The ugly man will make him go to bed, because if he doesn't they won't have anywhere to walk," she said, determined to save his arm at any cost.

"D'you think so?" he asked eagerly.

"Yes, quite sure. He'll be quite safe. Where's your nighty?"

He darted into Number 15 and came back with a minute bundle.

"I don't have to have nighties now. Gran said I was grown up now I was coming to Australia. So I wear pyjamas, made out of the same stuff as Dad's," he explained, undressing hurriedly and putting them on with considerable pride. "Last night was the first time I wore them. Only Daddy never looked, with those other men there."

A lump came into Marcella's throat as he neatly folded his clothes and laid them in a heap on the floor.

"There's a pocket, look!" he said, afraid that she would miss any of the proud points of his pyjamas. "Gran put a silver sixpence in it, for luck, and a little letter. But I can't read yet."

He fumbled in the pocket which was just big enough for his hand. There was the sixpence and a little handkerchief with rabbits sitting perkily at each corner. The letter was a small text-card with a bright rosebud painted on it.

"Read it," he said, watching her anxiously. "Granny read it to me when she put it there."

"Call upon me in the time of trouble," she read. He nodded.

"That's right. Now put it back. Gran said I must never lose it, and some day if I remembered it, it might come in handy."

She tucked it safely away and he started to climb into bed.

"Jimmy, I always get washed before bed, don't you?" she suggested.

"Oh yes. I promised Gran. But it's hard to remember everything," he said resignedly. But his washing was not very comprehensive; Marcella promised herself a busy half-hour with him in the bathroom next morning.

He was asleep in two minutes, but Marcella did not attempt to undress for a long time. She dragged the cabin trunk out from under the bunk very quietly, and, sitting down on it, frowned. A queer thing had happened to her. Over all her early life her father had towered like a Colossus. The rest of the world had been filled with friends—friendly visions, friendly people, friendly ghosts. She had not met anyone unkind before. Conditions had never been anything but unkind; she expected cold and hunger, hardness and discomfort. But that people could be unkind to each other she had never realized. Then had come Louis's tale, which had horrified her, Diddy's tale which had grieved her at first and then puzzled her as she saw how easily the image of the sick girl was replaced by that of a man who gave her meringues. Ole Fred had frightened her: Mr. Peters had at first seemed ridiculous and then cruel. Most of the people on the ship seemed cruel, when she came to reflect about it. Something cruel had happened that very morning. She had noticed, when they came aboard at Tilbury, a very romantic figure standing on deck; he fitted in much better with her conceptions of travel in far lands than did the very respectable, commonplace fathers of families she saw scattered about the deck. He was a man in knee breeches, leather leggings, a bright blue shirt and a claret and buff blazer. He wore a wide-brimmed brown hat and a fierce expression. From his leather belt hung a huge clasp knife and two small pistols. She thought him very funny, but very much like herself when she had dressed up as King Arthur. She sympathized entirely with his dressing a part. Later she heard shouts of cruel laughter as he explained valiantly that he had never in his life been from his native village in the Welsh hills—that Australia was a new country that needed to be "opened up." He quoted Manville Fenn and other writers of boys' adventure stories thirty or forty years old to show the dangers of Australia and his own indomitable courage in tackling them: he told of Captain Cook's heart and many other blood-curdling tales, and was greeted with ironical cheers and laughter. They explained to him at great length all about the civilization of Australia, and when, an hour after the Devon coast had dropped below the horizon he became miserably sea-sick, they formed a procession before him, carrying fire buckets, brandy and beer to his assistance.

Marcella was muddled. She frowned and got no nearer a solution to her puzzles, until she remembered that, right at the top of her trunk, put in at the last moment, was a Golden Treasury her mother gave her years ago.

She turned the pages to the end, looking for something she remembered that seemed to fit in with her mood. In the Ode on the Intimations of Immortality she read it—

"Blank misgivings of a creature
Moving about in worlds not realized,"

she murmured. "Well, that means that I'm not the only one. Wordsworth evidently got worried about things like I do. But it's the cruelty—that's what I can't understand."

There was a little comfort in that thought as she fell asleep: it gave her a sense of comradeliness that anyone so eminently sane as Wordsworth should have had "blank misgivings."



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