Blue and silver had turned to blue and gold next morning; the light no longer seemed to come from the sea in bright glitters; it was transfused through the air as liquid gold, very mellow and soothing and softened. It was five o'clock when she wakened. Through the open port she could see the sea swelling gently, breaking into a little hesitating ripple of foam here and there. She climbed very carefully down from her bunk; Jimmy was still sleeping soundly. There was no one about save a few deck hands scrubbing up above; they were out of sight of land now, and she gave a deep sigh of exhilaration as she turned on the sea-water spigot of the bath and, opening the port wide, felt the keen morning breezes blowing in upon her. Coming out ten minutes later, pink-cheeked and damp-haired, she met Louis in pyjamas, hurrying along with a towel over his arm.
"Were you ill yesterday?" she said, standing in front of him. "I could hear your bunk creaking lots of times in the night, and once or twice you gave the partition an almighty crack."
"Oh, I'm all right," he said, dashing past without looking at her.
"I suppose," she called softly, with mischief in her eyes, "that you are intentionally making for the women's bathroom? Someone might want to use it and be horrified to see you emerging—"
"Laughing at me again, aren't you?" he cried savagely, turning with a scowl and standing undecided.
She hurried below to give him a chance to retire gracefully.
When she was in a white frock and Jimmy shining with soap and water, they took their places at the breakfast-table. Mr. Peters looked at Jimmy in surprise.
"Hello! I never noticed you get up," he said.
"He slept in my cabin," she explained. "He was frightened."
"Very kind of you, I'm sure, young lady," he said and turned to Mrs. Hetherington, who looked at Marcella calculatingly between narrow lids. As soon as breakfast was over she put her arm confidingly through Marcella's and drew her aside.
"Come for a little stroll, dear, won't you? I can see that you're different from most of the passengers—they're so common so terribly common. I've regretted very much that I came third class. It wasn't that I wanted to save money, you know," her voice twittered to little inarticulacies.
"Most of the people are very interesting," said Marcella.
"I find poor Mistah Petahs interesting, very," said Mrs. Hetherington, pressing Marcella's arm. "Losing my dear husband, and he losing his wife—it's a bond, isn't it? And I feel so sorry for a poor man with a child to bring up."
"Um—" said Marcella doubtfully.
"It's sweet of you to mother the little fellow, dear. He must be a great trouble to poor Mistah Petahs! I have two little darlings, but I find that boarding school suits them much better than being with me. I think that children need both father and mother, don't you?"
"Yes," said Marcella dazedly, unable to follow Mrs. Hetherington's reasoning.
"And you know," she went on, "I've a terrible feeling that poor Mistah Petah's loneliness might lead him to—er—Oh dreadful things." She dropped her voice to a whisper. "My dear—I believe he drinks," she said, underlining the words. "I tried my best to look after him last night," she added plaintively.
"Oh, did you?" said Marcella and suddenly stopped dead. "All this looking after! What are we all up to? Is it impudence or vanity, or what is it? I don't know! Anyway, I'm going below," and she turned abruptly away.
As it was Sunday Marcella lost her crowd of children, who were claimed for a church service by an enthusiastic missionary in the first class. She spent the morning writing letters and reading. When she went to her cabin to get ready for lunch there was a note pinned on to the mirror. She took it down in surprise.
"I don't know your name," she read; "but I must see you. I've been going through hell and I can't hold out. I understand myself very well; I know what I need, but I can't do it. I've got to have someone to make me do things. And if you make me do things I'll get huffy with you and try to deceive you. It's pretty hopeless, isn't it? That pock-marked devil has been trying to get me. That's why I've been taking to cover all this time, partly. Come up on the fo'c'sle to-night at seven. I'll be sitting on the anchor. For God's sake come. And don't laugh at me, will you? I can't stand it. L. F."
Without pausing she took paper and pencil and wrote.
"I shall be there. Of course I shall not laugh at you. I cannot understand anything. I am sorry to admit this, because you will say I am like your parents. I am in muddles myself, but I am most sorry for you. And my name is Marcella Lashcairn of Lashnagar."
She put it in an envelope, addressed it to him, tapped on his door and pushed it under.
She went on deck that afternoon in a state of bubbling excitement. There were not many people about. They were just getting into the Bay of Biscay and the Oriana was rolling a little; many had succumbed to sea-sickness; many more were afraid of it and had gone to lie down in their bunks. She took some books to read but did not open them for a long time until the sea-glare had made her eyes ache.
Then she opened "Questing Cells," which she had decided to try to master during the voyage. She read a page, understanding much better than when she had read it to her father. But she was pulled up over the word "inhibition."
It was a chapter of generalization at the end of the book that she was trying to fathom.
"Women have no inhibitions: their pretended inhibitions serve exactly the same purpose as the civet-cat's scent of musk, the peacock's gorgeous tail, the glow-worm's lamp. A woman's inhibitions are invitations. Women do not exist—per se. They are merely the vehicles of existence. If they fail to reproduce their kind, they have failed in their purpose; they are unconsciously ruled by the philoprogenitive passion; it is their raison d'etre, for it they are fed, clothed, trained, bred. Existing for the race, they enjoy existence merely in the preliminary canter. Small brained, short-visioned, they lose sight of the race and desire the preliminary canter, with its excitements and promises, to continue indefinitely."
The word "philoprogenitive" and the French phrase stopped her.
"Why on earth I didn't bring a dictionary," she said, "passes my comprehension! I'll write the words down and ask someone."
A young man was sitting on the deck a few yards away, his back against a capstan. He looked supremely uncomfortable trying to read a little blue-backed book.
Marcella looked at Louis's chair empty beside her.
"Wouldn't you like to sit on this chair?" she said, and the young man looked up startled.
"You look so uncomfortable there. This chair isn't being used. Won't you sit down?"
"That's very good of you. I was getting a decided crick in my back," he said, sitting down and wondering whether to go on reading or to entertain her. Marcella looked at him; he was the epitome of propriety, the spirit of the Sabbath incarnate in his neat black suit, gold watch-chain and very high collar.
"I really asked you to sit here for quite a selfish reason," she said. "I want to know the meanings of some words that have just cropped up. You look as if you know."
The young man coughed and looked pleased.
"I am a schoolmaster," he remarked. "Probably I can—"
"Inhibition?" she interrupted.
"Inhibition?" he said. "That means 'holding back.' Latin 'habeo, I have' or 'I hold' and 'in—"
"Women have no inhibitions," she repeated; "no power of holding back."
She frowned, and decided to return to that later. "Now philoprogenitive," she said turning to him. He stared at her, coughed again and held out his hand for the book.
"That's rather a difficult book for a girl to be reading, isn't it?" he said, glancing at the title page. "Oh, Kraill the biologist? Whatever makes you read that? I thought girls read Mrs. Barclay and Charles Garvice."
"I have not read any of their books yet," she said. "I read this book some time ago, and it seemed to me to hold the whole illumination of life. But since I've been on this ship I've been in a muddle about things. People are not a bit like I thought they would be. I was awake hours last night trying to get right about it."
"They're not a very nice collection here—in the steerage. But the difference in fare between steerage and second is very considerable—very considerable," he sighed. "My profession must take care of the financial aspect of life."
Marcella felt that he was honest. He was the first passenger who had admitted that he had not unlimited wealth.
"That's refreshing. Most of the people here want one to think they are disguised millionaires only travelling steerage to enquire into the ways of poorer folks. And that's part of my puzzle. I want to know why these people are not a very nice collection. Is my taste at fault? Last night I raked out my 'Golden Treasury' and read about 'Blind misgivings of a creature roaming about in worlds not realized.'"
"You misquote," he murmured. "'Blank' not 'blind' and 'moving' not 'roaming.'"
She shrugged her shoulders.
"Of course," he said with an air of depth and of conscious helpfulness, "the most difficult thing on earth—and, I may remark, the most important—is realization of one's sphere, and one's place in that sphere. And our way of instructing the young in such realization is defective, defective to a degree at present. Queerly enough I am just reading Tagore on 'Realization.' You know Tagore, of course?"
She shook her head.
"He is the Bengali poet who was recently honoured by His Majesty with a knighthood. Perhaps you would like to change books and see what he says? I have marked something on page sixteen that is helpful, particularly helpful."
"Thank you. But take care of my book, won't you? It is very precious, because it belonged to my father."
She looked into "Realization," but its cool calmness failed to grip her at first, and she lay back in her chair, the breeze fanning her hair, the deep blue of the sky flecked with little cirrus clouds above her as she dreamed. Presently the schoolmaster went below for tea, and she was left alone. She had decided that she did not want tea; after this quiet place the saloon seemed too noisy, and now that seven o'clock was drawing nearer she was feeling rather frightened.
The gold in the air was collected into a great ball that turned crimson in the west, touching the crests of the waves with red as though blood had been splashed upon them, setting Marcella's hair afire, turning her white frock rosy-pink. Two bells sounded, and the sea and the sky grew deep blue, while shadows began to slink about the decks and stalk over the water; grey veils fell over the western sky, and she sat up straight, wondering where Louis was.
Quarter-past seven—twenty-past—and the quick twilight with its message of melancholy was almost past. Three bells sounded, and on the upper deck she saw the saloon passengers going in to dinner. Then she started up.
"He said he was horribly shy and nervous—anyone can see he is, too. I suppose he's frightened, now."
For a moment she stood leaning over the rail, her face turned towards the stairway, waiting. Then her feet took her down the steps, along the deck, past the engine-room towards the companion-way. Diddy and a young man in white sat on the step of the cook's galley in a hot atmosphere redolent of food; she was eating an orange. Under the steps Mr. Peters and Mrs. Hetherington sat in shadow; further away, up the deck, the young missionary had collected a group of children and women who were singing "There's a Friend for Little Children" all out of tune. She looked round almost motivelessly before she went below. A splash of light and a volley of laughter from the bar broke through the hymn singing. She turned quickly. Inside the bar, which was arranged like a great window with sliding panels, stood a little man with bright black eyes, wearing a white coat. Behind him were rows upon rows of bottles and bright shining glasses; a cash register was on the counter. Leaning against it, his face amazingly merry, his eyes shining, was Louis, talking volubly without the suspicion of a stammer. In his hand was a tumbler.
Marcella felt her knees getting weak, though she scarcely realized that she was frightened; she felt that there was going to be a fight of some sort, though she did not rightly realize her enemy. Then, justly or unjustly, her fears crystallized and she had something tangible to fight, for the pock-marked man was standing beside Louis, patting him on the back and smiling at him.
The words of Louis' letter flashed into the depths of her mind: "That pock-marked man's a devil—he's trying to get me."
She made her frightened feet go nearer. Ole Fred saw her and grinned.
"Come for that drink, miss?" he asked. She scowled at him; if she had been nine instead of nineteen it would have been called deliberately "making a face." Then she looked past him to Louis.
"I've been waiting for you half an hour, Louis."
"I'm not coming," he said, looking away from her awkwardly. "Y-you've b-better c-company than m-mine."
She flushed and felt herself trembling with temper. A flash from her father's eyes lit up her face as she said quickly:
"No, I haven't. I want to talk to you."
"I c-can't l-leave these chaps now. I'll s-see you to-morrow," he said sullenly.
"Oh no, you'll not. What's to do, Louis? You said you wanted to see me, and there I was waiting for you, and feeling so lonely."
"Go on, ole man. Take her in a dark corner somewhere. Wants a spoon pretty bad," said the red-haired man. "The bar don't close till eleven, an' we'll have some in Number 15 if you're too late."
Marcella treated him to one of her scowls that astonished him, and suddenly, setting his teeth, Louis put down his glass, took her arm roughly and, striding along blindly, made forrard.
Until they got into the privacy of the fo'c'sle neither spoke. She was breathless, partly with indignation, partly with indefinable fear and partly with the breakneck speed at which he had rushed her along the deck. He sat down on the anchor; she stood before him, her back to the rail, which she gripped with her hands. Her first impulse was to shake him thoroughly. But she resisted it as she heard him groan.
"Never—never in all my life have I imagined there could be anyone so utterly rude as you, and so utterly mad. What on earth do you think you're doing?" she said breathlessly.
To her surprise he spoke quite quietly.
"I got mad with you. I can see now I was a fool."
"But why should you get mad with me? And even if you did, is that any reason why you should go and—and—what was that beastly word?—beer-bum with those awful men?"
"I—I—s-saw you—s-sitting here th-this afternoon—t-talking t-to a man," he stammered, covering his face with his hand.
"Yes, I was. Why not?"
"In—in m-my chair!"
"Oh, my goodness! You great baby!" she cried.
"I w-was c-coming up with s-some t-tea for you and—and th-there I s-saw another man," he jerked out, overcome by the pathos of it. "I th-threw it overboard."
"But supposing there had been sixteen men, why shouldn't I talk to them?"
"I d-don't w-want you to. I w-wanted to talk to you."
"Well!" She could find nothing else to say in her astonishment.
"Don't you see that's enough to start me drinking?" he burst out passionately. "Whenever I get hipped about anything—I—t-told you I know myself very well. I'd only h-had one drink when you came along. Did you notice me?"
"Notice you! Oh no!" she cried scornfully.
"Y-you know w-what a nervous f-fool I am; how I'm afraid of my own shadow. But when I've had only one whisky I'd tackle Satan himself! You must have noticed that I was jolly enough then! I used to be the ringleader in all the stunts at the hospital. But when I don't drink I'm afraid to face people. Do you know I haven't had a meal since I came aboard, except your piece of cake and the tea I've made? And now I've thrown my teapot overboard."
"But whyever haven't you had a meal?"
"All those damn fools in the saloon are looking at me!"
"Oh, you idiot!" she cried, and suddenly sat down on the anchor beside him, all her indignation at the personal slight and the personal annoyance gone.
"You see how it is, Marcella," he groaned. "I can call you Marcella, can't I? Just till we get to Sydney. It sounds a Roman, fighting sort of name. You see how wobbly I am! I've had the devil's own time since we left Tilbury, lying there in my bunk, thinking, thinking—and the more I think the more sorry I get for myself, and the more I hate other people, and the more nervous I get. I knew I was in for a bad attack. I always do when I get away from home. Reaction I suppose. I put up the devil of a fight, and then when I felt it was whacking me I wrote to you."
"Well, I said I'd come, didn't I? And I waited," she reminded him.
"Yes, and then I saw you talking to that idiotic fellow in a high collar, and I thought, 'Oh, everything be damned!' So I chummed up to the pock-marked chap. He was glad enough to have me! Wants me to play poker."
He buried his face, and she could scarcely hear his words.
"Oh, God," he muttered, "you can see how it is! All the time I'm not drunk I'm worrying and thinking what a hell of a mess I've made of things. Th-the minute I'm even sniffing whisky I see everything in a warm, rosy glow. When I'm not drunk everyone's an enemy; when I'm drunk they're all jolly good fellows. Marcella, I'm alone on earth, and I don't want to be."
She sat there, impatient with herself for her ignorance, her hands clasping and unclasping each other nervously.
"Louis—" she began. She could get no further. "Louis—what's one to do? You say you're a doctor and understand yourself. It seems to me you've really a disease, haven't you? Just as much as—as measles?"
"Of course it's a disease! But don't you see how hopeless it is? It's a disease in which the nurse and the doctor both get the huff with the patient because he's such a damned nuisance to them! And he, poor devil, by the very nature of the disease, fights every step of the treatment."
There was a long silence. At last she put her hand on his arm.
"You know you want to be happy, don't you? You say you don't want to be lonely. That's why you drink the miserable stuff, to make you forget that you're unhappy and friendless."
"Yes—you do understand, you see," he cried eagerly.
"Well, this is where I'm so puzzled. I'm quite happy, and I always think people are my friends. What I want to know is what is there inside us two that's different?"
He shook his head impatiently.
"It's in my family," he began, and she felt it on the tip of her tongue to tell him it was in hers too, but something stopped her. "And it's a hunger—absolutely an unendurable hunger."
"Were you always frightened of things?" she said, a little wonderingly.
"No—I was always nervy and shy and repressed. But this is a vicious circle, don't you see? A thing is called a vicious circle in medicine when cause and effect are so closely linked that you can't tell which is which. At home I was repressed; that was the fashion in my young days. The motto was, 'Children are to be seen and not heard.' I dodged visitors always; when I met them by any chance I was always a fool with them, blinking and stammering like anything. When I was first at the hospital among men I was gawky until quite by chance I discovered that whisky made me graceful, stopped the stammering, gave me a surprising flow of eloquence and made me feel a damned fine chap. Naturally I went at it like anything, and of course after each burst was more nervous than ever. It plays havoc with your nerves, you know. And in addition I had a sense of guilt.—Oh, damn life!"
"Yes," she said slowly. She understood what a vicious circle was now. "You drank to stop yourself being nervous. The stuff makes you temporarily happy, and then even more nervous afterwards. So you drink more. Oh, my goodness, how silly!"
"But you don't take into account what a hunger it is, you know," he said in a low voice. "You don't understand that. I don't think there can be such another hunger on earth, even love."
"Oh—" she started to speak, and stopped. She had never thought of love like that, and wanted to tell him so, but that seemed to be side-tracking. So she went on, "Has it occurred to you that it will make you ill, kill you in time?"
"Do you think I've had five years at a hospital without seeing alcoholism?" he said bitterly. "Oh, I know all the diseases—I shall go mad, I expect. My brain's much weaker than my body."
"I suppose you think it's very nice to go mad?" she said, hating herself for the futility of her words, wishing she had books or preachments to hurl at him and convince him.
"Oh, what's it matter?" he said wearily. "Who cares?"
"Have you any idea how horrible it is, Louis?" she asked solemnly, with all the tragedy of the farm behind her words, compelling him to look at her.
"Most diseases are horrible—what about cancer?" he said coolly.
"But people can't help cancer, and they can—at least I think so—help your sort of illness. Louis, I saw the two people I love best on earth dying. One of them died of cancer, the other of drink. I wasn't going to tell you that. But when you said it was in your family I was going to tell you that was no argument. It's been in my family for generations and generations. I suppose it's in everyone's to some extent. It has wiped out all my family. But it certainly is not going to wipe out me. I perhaps should not talk about my family to you, a stranger. Yet somehow I feel that father would not mind my telling you about him, if it can help you from suffering as he did. He cured himself."
"How?" he cried with sudden, breathless hopefulness.
"There, that's the awfulness of it. I don't know. I only know that one day he was drunk, and the next day he was not, and never was again. He said he gave all his burden to God."
He shook himself impatiently.
"Oh, I can't believe in all that rot!" he said harshly. "I neither trust God nor myself."
Below deck the mandoline began to twang again, and the soft Italian voice went on with "La Donna E Mobile" interminably.
"Louis, listen to me," she said quietly. "I'm not going to let you die like father died. I'm not going to let your heart get all horrible and thumping so that you can't lie down, and your feet and hands swollen and white and horrible. And I'm not going to have you shut up in an asylum."
"It's good of you to bother," he said humbly, "but I can see it's no good. You can't stop it. I can't myself. You'd get fed up. You'll get fed up with me as it is before we get to Sydney. You'll be jolly glad to get rid of me and be off with the uncle into the backblocks. I insulted and sickened and shamed Violet till she threw me over. And she loved me. I know very well she did."
"I won't let you be rude to me, Louis. I'm not quite like Violet, perhaps. If people are rude to me I don't get hurt. I just give them a good shaking and forget it. Besides, I couldn't get cross with anyone for being ill, could I? And I'm going to make you get better before we get to Sydney."
He shook his head hopelessly.
"I mean it. I am going to keep worrying you about it till you stop it dead. I'll make it seem a dreadful nuisance to you."
"It may work," he said slowly, impressed by her certainty. "So long as we're on the ship. If you can keep me from the Ole Fred gang. But it'll be all up when we get to Sydney and you leave me."
"Well then, I'll stay in Sydney," she said, making up her mind casually. "I'll tell uncle I don't want to go and live with him. I'll find some way of staying with you."
"I say, do you mean it?" he cried. "After my rudeness?"
"Of course I mean it. It will be fun! I love a fight!"
"And you mean that you really care about me?"
"Of course I care! I believe I'll die if you don't get better," she said eagerly.
He fumbled in his pockets, lit several matches and put something in her hand.
"Here it is, look. Thirteen pounds, eight and fivepence."
"What's that for?"
"It's all my money. If I have any I'll be magnetized towards the bar. If I haven't, it's much safer. And look here, Marcella, if I come and knock you down with a sledgehammer, don't let me have that money, will you?"
"I won't," she said promptly.
She was thrilled, exhilarated, as they went below after shaking hands solemnly. She was Siegfried, and the dragon had a pock-marked face, and each foot had three claws missing. She thought, as she looked through dream-misted eyes, that the dragon was a very long one, with many legs and many heads. But she had not the faintest doubt that, in the end, he would fall to her trusty sword. And she told Louis so at the door of his cabin as she said good night to him.
Then she turned back to Number 15. She had looked about the deck for Jimmy, but guessing that he had fallen asleep in his own bunk, pushed open the door softly. She was determined that he should not sleep in there with Ole Fred, who was celebrating a great win at poker.
Louis stood at his own door.
"What are you going in there for?" he asked.
"I'm fetching poor little Jimmy. He's terrified of Ole Fred. He calls him the Beast. I think it's disgusting that he and the red-haired man sleep in here with a little boy."
He nodded and smiled at her, but Jimmy was not in the cabin at all. As she came out Ole Fred came along the alley-way. He leered at her but did not speak. She hurried into her own cabin, shut the door and pushed the bolt along instinctively. As she switched on the light she saw a very small amount of exceedingly dirty water in her basin, and Jimmy's neat pile of tiny clothes folded on the floor. He was fast asleep in the lower bunk.
She started to undress in a golden glow of romance, and realized that, as her clothes came off, her armour was going to stay on, waking and sleeping, visible only to herself. Then she thought of a small, trivial thing. She tapped on the partition.
"Are you hungry?" she called quietly.
"Go and talk to Knollys. He's very nice. He'll find something for you."
"N-no. I c-can't," he stammered, frightened immediately.
"Then I shall," she said, and, slipping on her dressing-gown, went along to the saloon. By luck she found Knollys there and he produced bread and cheese and ship's biscuit from the steward's pantry.
"I imagine you are hungry, miss," he said respectfully when she asked him to be sure to give her a lot.
"No, I'm not. It's Mr. Farne in Number 8. He hasn't had a meal since he came aboard."
"Sea-sick?" he said sympathetically.
"Well—" she began, and realizing that she could not explain, nodded.
"He's better now, anyhow."
"I'll make him some tea if you like, miss," went on Knollys. She waited until he had made it, and ten minutes later she tapped on Louis's door, took the tray in, laid it on his bunk and came out.
"I won't stay to keep you company. When I'm very hungry I like to gobble, but I don't like anyone to watch me," she said.
As she came out Ole Fred opened the door of Number 15 and stood watching her until her door closed. Then he hurried on deck.