For the next few days Marcella and Louis were inseparable. They were up very early each morning and did the usual march—seven times round the deck before breakfast. Afterwards she went up on the fo'c'sle and waited for him; for the rest of the day there was nothing to do but talk and read, and there was only a very limited library. Sometimes Louis talked of medicine; he told her things that had happened, that he had seen at the hospital; he explained cases to her, quoted lectures, and she, with all a layman's rather morbid interest, was fascinated. He, with the aura of travel, of learning, of experience in the ways of men, began to play Othello to her Desdemona. Feeling at his ease with her, and getting strength every day from the fact that yet another day had gone by without a victory to his enemy, he lost his shyness; she began to feel very humble as he talked largely, and her passion for understanding, enlightenment, that had led her to read books she could not understand, to talk to everyone and even to talk to herself, now enveloped him. She opened her mouth to be fed from his stores. Sometimes he would talk of London, a marvellous fairyland to her; tell her of "rags" in which he had played the leading part; of things he had done when he was in Rio for three months—Rio! the very name enthralled her! It smacked of buccaneers and Francis Drake—of his life in New Zealand two years ago, when, snatching himself from the outcasts of Christchurch and Auckland he had flung himself valiantly into the prohibition district of the King Country and lived with the Maoris for six months in the hope of finding the tribal cure for cancer; of the time when, on a girl-chase, he had toured with a theatrical company for a few months while his father thought he was at the hospital working. Her sponge-like eagerness for all the Romance, the Adventure he could give her was insidious in its effect on him; she was flattered that he, with all his cleverness, his "grown-up-ness" that went so queerly with his babyishness, should have so thrown himself on her mercy; to her nineteen years it seemed a wonderful and beautiful thing that a man of twenty-seven should find in her an anchor. Of the three men she had known before, her father had been, even in his weakness, her tyrant; Wullie had been her playmate all her life; the doctor, all alone and friendless in a small, remote village, had found in her an intelligent listener, and had talked quite impersonally to her, as a safety-valve for his own loneliness. To them all she had been just a girl in certain circumstances; her circumstances and not herself had really been the thing that impressed them; she was just someone who happened to be there. But to Louis she was obviously a very tangible, defined person. She could not forget the wonder of that.
And Louis, flattered by her admiration, her wonderment, fell into a very human sort of weakness; he tried to make himself even more interesting; with the same quite amiable weakness that makes the witness of a street accident spill more blood, bear more pain in the telling than the victim could possibly have done, he began to lie to her. She was so easy to lie to. He scarcely realized, at first, that he was lying; a description of an operation he had witnessed, as a student, with Sir Horsley Winans playing the chief part, had won her horrified, shivering admiration; ten minutes later he was describing how he himself had done trephining (which he was careful to assure her was the most difficult operation possible) on an injured dock labourer; how the patient had wakened from the anesthetic in the middle of it; how Louis had immediately dropped his instruments and gone on administering the anesthetic because the anesthetist was actually flirting with a nurse who was Louis's pet annoyance in the wards; how the electric light had failed at the crucial moment; how only Louis's iron nerve had prevented tragedy and horror.
"You may think, seeing me such a bundle of nerves as I am now, that I couldn't have done it," he said. "But when I'm doing the doctor job I'm a different being; I lose myself. I just gave him another whiff of A.C.E., called to the nurses to fetch candles and got on with it. He's walking about London to-day—as right as nine-pence."
She knew nothing about hospitals, had never seen one in her life; he called most things by their bewildering technical names and she listened respectfully as a layman will always listen to technicalities. She did not know that the whole thing was a fabrication; in spite of his warning about his lying she had naturally thought that, if he should lie to her at all it would be about drinking and not about everyday affairs. And he, carried away by his imagination and his desire to impress her, scarcely realized what he was doing.
Marcella was very bad for him; her courteous belief in him encouraged him to deceive her; he thought she was rather silly; any other girl would have chaffed him, have capped his tales by others, obviously "tall" as Violet had done until he had sickened her entirely; but to Marcella's Keltic imagination there was nothing incredible in his gory, gorgeous exploits; was not she, herself, the daughter of a faraway spaewife who could slide down moonbeams and ride on the breasts of snowflakes? And was not she herself a fighter of windmills? To her Romance could not come in too brightly-coloured garb, and so her Romance wove a net about him. Sometimes it flattered: sometimes it amused: sometimes it gave a sense of kinship that made him think that, unless she were a liar she would never have so sympathized with him. He was unable to trace the fine distinction in veracity between describing a perfectly fictitious operation performed by oneself, and in recounting the messages given by the screaming gulls, the whining winds on Lashnagar.
On one or two things she was certainly caught up sharp. His taste in books showed a width of divergence between them that nothing could ever bridge; seeing her with "Fruit Gathering" which the schoolmaster had lent to her, he asked what it was.
"It's by Tagore," she ventured.
"Tagore? Never heard of him," he said dismissively.
In the fly-leaf of the book was a beautiful portrait of Tagore. She showed it to him, remarking that he was the Bengali poet.
"Oh, a nigger!" he cried contemptuously, pushing the book on one side. She frowned at him and shyly suggested that Christ, in that case, shared Tagore's disadvantage. He laughed loudly. Then she opened the book at random. She had been impressed with something before going to bed the night before.
"Listen to this, Louis. I thought I'd like to read it to you," she said, and read, "'Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers, but to be fearless in facing them. And this—listen, 'Let me not look for allies in life's fight, but to my own strength'; and here's the best bit of all, 'Grant me that I may not be a coward, feeling your mercy in my success alone; but let me find the grasp of your hand in my failure.' I wish so much I could have found that before father died and read it to him."
"Oh—poetry," he said contemptuously; "a lot of high falutin' nonsense—and by a nigger too! What's that someone said? 'Intoxicated with the exuberance of his own verbosity.' That's a good description of a poet."
Another time she spoke of St. Brigid, the Bride of Christ.
"Who's she?" he asked contemptuously.
"The Irish saint." He interrupted with a long tirade against Home Rule which proved, to his satisfaction, that St. Brigid was also "high-falutin' nonsense." A pamphlet of Shaw's she found in the saloon he told her not, on any account, to read.
"A damned Socialist—a vegetarian—a faddist," he said excitedly, and she led the conversation away from books, though he brought it back several times to explain to her the jokes in "Punch" which he said would have to be put into her head with a hammer and chisel, since she was a Scot.
But in spite of puzzlement and divergences she was intensely happy. After the solitude of Lashnagar every day was full of thrilled interest to her. The many people, the changes of temperature as the boat went south, the shoals of porpoises tumbling in the blue water; the strange foods, the passing ships were all amazements to her and the fact that her thoughts had, for the first time, found a tangible resting-place like homing pigeons alighting at their cot, together with her absorption in Louis, all gave her a sense of security.
Louis, on the other hand, though he was trying hard to keep content, realized that the very fact he had to try meant a fight was coming. And his inflated sense of being a very fine fellow indeed in her eyes made it impossible for him to be honest as he had been at first, and tell her that he had caught sight of his enemy seeing to the edge of his sword, the priming of his pistols. He could not ask her for help now—he could not be less than a hero now! He would fight it out alone. Both of them had yet to realize that life is not a static condition: both of them had to realize that lives are interdependent.
At Gibraltar happened something that was to have far-reaching effects. She was watching the frowning Rock; Louis was pointing out the little threatening barbettes as they drew inshore slowly. Out in the stream—very much out—lay a Norddeutscher Lloyd ship at anchor.
"Every inch of this water is mined," he told her. "A touch from switches up on the Rock would blow the whole lot of us to Kingdom Come. The bally old German out there knows that."
Marcella knew nothing of world politics. He explained.
"England is mistress of the seas," he orated proudly. "The empire on which the sun never sets! In a few years' time every foreign ship—especially Germans—will be swept off the seas and Britannia will literally rule the waves."
"She looks such a nice, comfortable, clean old ship," began Marcella, feeling very sorry for her.
"Clean?" he cried. "A German clean? Filthy cockroachy holes, their ships are! Why, there's only one race on earth dirtier than the Germans and that's the Scots."
Then he stopped dead and giggled nervously as he realized what he had said. Her eyes were blazing, her lips quivering; it was impossible for her to speak for a moment, her breath was coming in such sharp pants. For a moment she looked just like Andrew Lashcairn, but before she had time to launch her indignation he was stammering and apologizing and looking so sorry that she decided to bury the hatchet. And he went on breathlessly, trying to reinstate himself.
"You know, I hate the Germans. I happen to know a lot about them and the menace they are to Eng—Britain," he said in a low, confidential voice. He had, as a matter of fact, recently read in proof some spy-revelations his father's firm was publishing. He was well primed. He went on talking rapidly, showing her Germany as an ogre. She listened amazed; she thought all that sort of thing had died out years ago, but, thinking of her own indignant championing of Scotland, decided that she was just as illogical as Louis.
"However do you know all this?" she asked at last.
"Well—as a matter of fact—I did a bit of secret service work once. It was one time when the Pater spewed me out of home."
That day he was secretive and bewildering: once he took a little bundle of crackling papers from his pocket and put them away again furtively, watching her as he did so. She was impressed, but puzzled.
But all the time, in spite of chaffing insults and even friendly overtures he kept away from Ole Fred's gang and stayed almost desperately at Marcella's side. They became the subject of gossip; spiteful gossip on the part of the girls, shocked gossip on the side of the married women, who, with the exception of Mrs. Hetherington, left her severely alone.
Between Marcella and Mrs. Hetherington a queer friendship had sprung up; her quickness, her absolute lack of continuity, her littleness and her transparently minx-like qualities seemed so pathetic that Marcella took her under her wing. She never came out of her cabin for breakfast; the stewardess, with her nose very high in the air and a non-committal voice, had asked Marcella to go to Mrs. Hetherington's cabin the morning after Gibraltar. She found the little lady propped up in her bunk, her black hair all over the pillow, her small face rising from a foam of pink ribbons and laces that seemed unreal to the girl.
"Oh, my dear, how sweet of you to come to me! I am terribly ill—terribly ill," she said faintly.
"I am so sorry. Will I get the doctor?"
"Oh dear no. I am often like this! I suffer terribly, my dear, terribly. My poor, poor head."
Marcella had bought a bottle of eau-de-Cologne at Gibraltar when the Spanish merchants came aboard; she fetched it and bathed Mrs. Hetherington's aching head. All the time she was staring at her fascinating nightgown. It was the first dainty garment she had seen close to since her mother's death.
"That is so nice, dear," she murmured. Marcella blushed. She was not used to being called "dear" and liked it immensely.
"Would you brush my silly mop of hair and then pass me my cap, dear? Oh this hair is a bother! I've often thought I'd have it cut off like a convict."
"I think it is wonderful hair," Marcella told her, brushing it tenderly, and plaiting it back before she arranged it under a ridiculous boudoir cap of ribbon and lace.
"I can't tell you how I suffered during the night, dear," said Mrs. Hetherington plaintively. "(Just pass me the hand mirror, will you?) I can't think why I was so foolish as to travel steerage. Those three emigrant girls in this cabin—my dear, they are absolutely coarse! You should see their underclothes! Look, Marcella—I'm going to call you Marcella, you are so sweet. Look at that nightgown on the top bunk. Pink flannelette! And I hate to share my cabin with them! They've gone on deck now for the day. I told them I simply must be alone."
"Aren't you going to have any breakfast?" asked Marcella. "I'll make you some tea if you like." She and Louis had bought a teapot at Gibraltar, solemnly paying half each and sharing the responsibility for the sacrifice of the other one.
"No, I don't think I could drink tea. What do you think I could have? You know, my dear, it was champagne that upset me like this! Mistah Petahs and I had a small bottle last night and it brought everything back."
She began to wipe a plaintive eye on her small handkerchief.
"The day I married my dear George—the father of my darlings—we had champagne. It always brings it all back to me."
"But—tea makes headaches better."
"Not mine." Mrs. Hetherington knitted her white brows and looked immensely interested.
"I think if you were to see dear Mistah Petahs and ask him to come along the alley-way and speak to me. He is so gentle, so sympathetic, he might suggest something, dear."
"Um," said Marcella, thinking of Jimmy. But she fetched Mistah Petahs who came with voluble and pleased sympathy.
He stood at the door of the cabin smiling fatuously. Mrs. Hetherington gave a little horrified shriek as she saw the tip of his toe over the threshold.
"No, no, naughty boy! You mustn't come in here! I'm shocked."
"Are you ill?" he asked in a deeply pained voice.
"My poor, poor head, Mistah Petahs! That champagne last night brought everything back—dear George and all our happiness."
"Oh, I say," murmured Mr. Peters.
"I feel so ill, so terribly ill. What could I have? If this head doesn't get better I shall jump overboard, really I shall. And then the fishes will eat me!"
Mr. Peters contemplated the prospect hopefully.
"And—I keep thinking of my darlings," she whispered, reduced to tears.
"What you want, little lady, is a hair of the dog that bit you," said Mr. Peters judicially. She gave a gentle little scream.
"Oh you sound so fierce, Mistah Petahs! Which dog? When?" she asked guilelessly.
"I'll get it—you lie back, little lady, and rest your pretty head."
She lay back, with swimming eyes.
He went half a step along the alley-way.
"Mistah Petahs," she called faintly.
He came back, assiduous.
"On ice," she murmured. He nodded and went.
"So kind—so sympathetic," murmured Mrs. Hetherington with closed eyes.
Marcella, who had stood frowning and puzzled, was now pressed into the service.
"I think, dear, when Mistah Petahs comes back I could manage a little bread and butter—only the butter is so nasty."
"Would you like jam?" said Marcella helpfully, liking jam herself.
The thought of jam made Mrs. Hetherington feel faint.
"No, I'll have bread and butter. Get me two slices, dear—thin. And—ask Knollys if he could let you have some cayenne pepper. Bread and butter sprinkled with cayenne always does me good when my head has one of its naughty fits."
Twenty minutes later she was sitting up with sparkling eyes eating devilled bread and butter and drinking champagne daintily while Mr. Peters sat beaming and bashful and inexpressibly silly on a camp-stool in the alley-way, and the bedroom steward wondered what on earth he would do when the officers came along for cabin inspection.
The night before they touched at Naples Marcella and Louis arranged what she called a "ploy." They would go ashore together and spend the day at Pompeii. He had been there before, but he remembered little of it because he had been with a party who had hired a car, taken a luncheon basket and several bottles of whisky and left him asleep in the car while they explored the dead towns.
"It seems an insult to the past—going there and getting drunk on their tombs," he said musingly. "But you and I will have a great day. In a Roman town, Marcella—there's something very Roman about you—you're like the mother of the Gracchi. I happen to know all about the mother of the Gracchi because it came in my Latin translation at Matric, and I had such a devil of a job with it that I never forgot it. That's the only bit of Roman history that's stuck to me, just as 'Julius Caesar' is the only bit of Shakespeare I know because we did scenes from it for a school concert once."
During the afternoon the young schoolmaster came along with "The Last Days of Pompeii" in his hands.
"He's going to suggest coming with us to-morrow," said Louis, who laughed at him every time he saw him. "And he's going to read us bits of local colour. I can see it glinting in his eye. Let's look very busy."
"What can we do?" asked Marcella with a giggle. He initiated her into the mysteries of "Noughts and Crosses" and they sat with heads bent low over the paper as the schoolmaster came along.
"I have been tracing the course of the fugitives in Lytton's immortal work," he began with a cough. "It would greatly add to the interest of visitors to Pompeii if they could follow it to-morrow, so I am giving a little lecture on it in the saloon to anyone who cares—"
"Thanks," said Louis shortly. With a sigh the schoolmaster passed on, and, sitting down with his back against the capstan, read studiously.
"Don't let's go with him if he asks us," whispered Marcella. "Let's be alone."
"Of course—he's a bore," whispered Louis. "I wouldn't lose this day at Pompeii for a shipload of footling schoolmasters."
Very early next morning he wakened her by tapping on her cabin door. She had heard him tossing about in the night and was not surprised that he looked tired and rather haggard. But she forgot to ask him what was the matter as Naples burst upon her the moment she put her head above the companion-way where he was waiting for her.
"Oh—look at it," she gasped.
"Yes, isn't it?" he said, waving his arm as if he were responsible for Naples. "Look at the jolly old bonfire."
All round, in the brilliant blue waters of the Bay, ships lay as if asleep; a few little tugs fussed nervously, a few little boats laden brilliantly with fruit and vegetables glided along as though they were content to reach somewhere quite near by to-morrow or the day after. There was a cloud over the grey town at the foot of Vesuvius; it looked like winding sheets about the dead; it reminded Marcella insensibly of Lashnagar as she saw the mist and smoke wraiths mingle grey and white, rising from fissures, creeping along gullies until they formed a wreath at the crest of the volcano through which a thin needle of yellower smoke was rising straight as a pinnacle through the windless air.
"Does it ever do things now?" she asked rather breathlessly.
"Oh yes. Listen!" She heard faint reports like distant small guns being fired. "With any luck it'll give us a bit of a Crystal Palace Bank Holiday exploit to-night—we sail at midnight, you know. It will be rather gorgeous if the old bonfire will oblige. Red fires, white and silver moonlight—why Naples is making me get poetical," he added, stopping short.
People began to come on deck: the schoolmaster walked along, his finger in between two pages of a Baedeker in which he was going to count off the items of interest he encountered.
"Good morning, Miss Lashcairn!" he said with a smile. "See Naples and die!"
"Oh no—it's too beautiful!" she said quickly. Louis edged her along the deck as a little clatter of church bells pealed from the many spires rising above the tall brown houses of the town. A motor-launch chuff-chuffed out from the quay, flying the yellow flag.
"Port doctor," he informed her. "If he gives us a clean bill we'll be ashore the minute breakfast's over. And I say, Marcella, let me implore you not to have Jimmy or schoolmasters in attendance. This is my show."
She smiled at him and turned to watch three boys scrambling up the ladder after the port doctor, carrying great baskets of grapes and flowers and oranges.
"I'm going to buy you some grapes—those whopping big black ones. It seems the obvious thing to do in Naples, doesn't it? Oh, by the way, I must pay a visit to the Bank of Scotland. You'd better give me five pounds."
"You're very extravagant," she laughed.
"Never mind. Any other trip I've been broke by this time, and in a devil of a mess as well. Lord knows what these bally dagoes will charge us for a car out to Pompeii. They're all on the make. But I don't care if they charge thirteen pounds—"
"Eight and fivepence," she added, laughing at him and running below to unlock her trunk and bring him the money without a glimmer of apprehension.
She put the five pounds into his hand in the alley-way. A minute later he was back with an enormous bunch of grapes lying amongst their green leaves.
"Lock your door when you come on deck, and shut your porthole," he told her. "We're coaling, and coal dust gets everywhere—in your eyes, your finger-nails, your food and your bed if you don't hermetically seal them all. It's a good place to be away from, a coaling ship."
He darted away before she could mention the grapes. She helped Jimmy dress, and then, turning him out, examined her three white frocks with minute care to see in which she should do honour to Pompeii. Often, in the past, she had dressed a part, but always her personality had been lost in the part she was playing. Now she consciously dressed as Marcella; it was probably the first time in her life she had looked interestedly in a mirror; comparing herself with Mrs. Hetherington, she felt vaguely dissatisfied: she wished she were much nicer. Noticing the vine leaves where she had twined them round the rail of her bunk, she broke off two or three and tucked them in her dress at the waist. Stepping back, she surveyed the effect, decided that it was as good as could be managed, and tapped at the partition. She had heard Louis moving about some time before.
There was no answer, and she decided that he must have gone on deck.
It was crowded with passengers waiting for the little boats to take them ashore; Italians went here and there selling fruit, postcards and jewellery straight from Birmingham; two flat coal lighters were drawing ponderously alongside. She could not see Louis.
From end to end she searched the ship, even going on to the upper deck, which to-day was not sacred to the upper-class passengers. But he was nowhere to be seen. A lump came into her throat, her knees felt a little shaky.
Going below again she saw Knollys looking about eagerly.
"Oh, there you are, miss. Mr. Fame desired me to give you this. He was considerably hurried."
She took it with a word of thanks—a little note, folded three cornerwise.
"I'm more sorry than I can say," she read. "The port doctor was an old St. Crispin's man. He noticed me on deck and spoke. He and I were great pals at the hospital, and he asked me to go ashore with him. He remembered how keen I was on gynecology, and has a queer case he'd like me to look at. It's his wife as a matter of fact. I made all sorts of excuses, but he seemed so hurt I had to give way. I know this will disappoint you horribly, but it seems unavoidable. I'll cut away as soon as I can, and we'll still go to Pompeii. After all, I hear we don't sail till one o'clock, so there'll be time—we'll come back in the moonlight. Give my love to Jimmy and the schoolmaster.—L.F."
To her amazement she felt tears begin to prick her eyelids. She blinked fiercely.
"Well, of all the babies! Did it cry because it was wanting to go out, then?" she cried indignantly, and stood watching the coal bunkers being opened. But she could not see much; she was thinking of Louis.
"You'll get filthy here!" said the third officer behind her, "and most uncomfortable. I should advise you to go ashore."
"I can't. I'm waiting for someone," she explained.
"Then I'd go up on the boat deck. You've no idea how abominable it gets down here. Coaling should be prohibited by Act of Parliament."
"Which is the boat-deck?" she asked, glad that her voice was sensible again. He pointed, and she turned away.
The ship was deserted, practically; everyone had gone ashore. She went disconsolately towards the stairway. On the bottom step sat Jimmy sobbing dismally.
"There they are!" he said, rubbing his eyes with one hand and pointing to a little boat out on the blue water. "I did so want to go with them."
Mrs. Hetherington in a white frock and blue sash was waving her hand gaily from the little boat. Marcella suddenly felt indignant with her, and took Jimmy's tear-stained hand.
"There they are!" she said, smiling. "And here are we! We're both in the same boat, old man. Come down to my little house. I've something nice there."
She broke off a big bunch of grapes for him and, taking pencils, books and writing-paper, went back on deck. Two Italians were just going off with a stock of postcards. She bought a dozen for Jimmy, and a little basket of strawberries.
"Now you're going to be a big man, Jimmy. We're going right up on the roof of the ship, and you're having a chair all to yourself so that you can write postcards to Gran."
His face cleared immediately, though as they got settled in the shadow of one of the lifeboats and he saw Mrs. Hetherington's white figure walking along the quay he gave a little sigh. She addressed his postcards as far as his remembered stock of addresses would go. Several Aunties who lived "along Gran's street and along the next and over the field" had to be left out. As soon as postcard writing palled a sailor came along providentially, took him to see the hen coops, and let him find two eggs that had been laid.
Marcella wrote long letters home; only to Wullie did she mention Louis, and even to him she said very little.
Noon came, and the boat deck was very hot. The chiming of bells in the churches told when the moment of the Elevation came and passed; the little reports sounded from the old mountain: she thought they sounded like guns that had been fired a thousand years ago. Jimmy said he didn't feel well, and went to sleep after a while; an Italian boy with black, hyacinthine curls and swimming black eyes spied her white frock from his little boat out in the bay: tying up to the accommodation ladder, he stood singing a passionate song to the twanging of a guitar. She wondered whether this were a personal tribute or a way of earning money. The cap he held out for a coin showed it was the one; his eloquent eyes and picturesque gestures as he begged her little withering bunch of vine leaves showed it was the other. She tossed them to him carelessly, and he bowed and kissed them gracefully.
At last the family parties began to come on board, with hot, tired mothers, cross children and disillusioned fathers; then came the emigrant girls, their hats covered in bright flowers. They were hustled below by the third officer, who was superintending the sluicing of the dusty, black decks. As Marcella went slowly below with Jimmy she heard him declaring that coaling was the bane of his existence, as he pointed out to the ship's doctor marks of black hands deliberately printed high up on the shining white paint.
When she had finished her letters Marcella sat for a while perfectly still while Jimmy slept and the fowls in the coops crooned. Down below in the bunkers the coal went thudding faintly, heard up on the boat deck more as vibrations than sounds, mingling with the tinkling of guitars, the lazy splash of oars; somewhere a man with a voice like a rook was cawing:
"A mother was chay-sing her boy round the room,
over and over again. Somewhere at the end of a ventilator shaft a man was polishing boots; he was swearing monotonously, between each rub of his brush, using a list of twelve words beginning with "blast" uttered very softly and increasing in volume of sound and violence of meaning at the twelfth word, when he would start pianissimo again. Marcella's eyes closed; she was not asleep, she was thinking very vividly of Louis, but all the murmur of sounds about her intruded on her consciousness, making clear thought impossible. The peculiar languor of shipboard life seized upon her mind and her body: when she went below both were partly anaesthetized; her feet scarcely felt the boards of the deck; her fingers were scarcely conscious of the letters and books she held. Her eyes and her mind took in the returning passengers dully.
"You look half asleep, kid," said Diddy with sparkling eyes. "We didn't half have a day of it! Young Bill and Mr. Winkle both got shore leaf, and Mr. Winkle knew a man who keeps a little café. He was once chef where Mr. Winkle was assistant chef in an hotel. My, we didn't half have a tuck in! Oysters and funny things in French, and chicken done up with jam, and ices. We went to Pompey in the afternoon, but I couldn't move, I was that stuffed up! My, it was a day and a half! Where did you get to?"
"Oh, just about with Jimmy."
"Where's your young chap?" asked Diddy in surprise.
Marcella stared at her and flushed. The schoolmaster came up to her and stood silent beside her. He was very full of Naples. His shoes were dustless, though everyone else was covered in the fine, impalpable powdery dust of Naples. His high collar was spotless, his coat incredibly black. He looked irresistibly as if he had been lay-reading.
"I was hoping that I might have had the pleasure of your company during my journeyings to-day, Miss Lashcairn," he began after a little cough. "But I was—er—afraid to intrude."
"I stayed on board with Jimmy," she explained. "Did you have a good time?"
"One cannot have a good time in the tomb of past splendours," he said slowly. "Imperial Cesar dead and turned to clay stopping a hole to keep the wind away is indeed a tragedy to a sensitive mind. But to see Imperial Pompeii desecrated by ginger-beer bottles, cigarette packets and spent matches—it was more than tragic. It was—it was—but I pause for a word! All the time I was murmuring sadly to myself 'Sic transit gloria mundi.'"
"I'm quite glad I didn't go if it was so bad as that," she said.
"I had been at great, very great, trouble to trace the path of the fugitives in Lytton's immortal work. But I have an idea that at certain points Lytton was rather nebulous. I met your young friend and asked him what he thought. He only laughed, however. He is fond of laughing."
Marcella's dullness disappeared; the clouds from her mind packed like wolves and vanished. Her heart suddenly stood still.
"He was at Pompeii?" she whispered.
"Only for a little time this morning. Then he and his party went away again in their car."
"He was with the doctor," said Marcella, hating to talk about him, but unable not to.
"Not when I saw him. He was with those exceedingly noisy fellows—the man who is severely pitted with small-pox and the man with the missing fingers."
She turned away and answered him at random after that. Even then she did not see that Louis had deliberately lied to her. She was hurt that he could have gone to Pompeii without her: she was indignant that he had gone with her abomination, the pock-marked man. But perhaps it was only an accident! She wondered, with sudden misgiving, if he could have been back on the boat for her and missed her. But that his desertion was intentional she could not imagine.
Lights began to twinkle from the houses, to flare from the streets, to dance from the boats. The sky of ultramarine became indigo with a green and mauve lightening to the west. Over Vesuvius was a column of white smoke that now turned rosy, now coppery from the fires beneath. Little boat loads of chattering people who seemed ghosts kept tumbling up the accommodation ladder out of the grey water; they seemed to come soundlessly as though they were produced by a conjuror's hand, for no one could hear what they said: only their gestures, their laughing, excited faces were visible. A little cold hand squeezed Marcella's, and she answered Jimmy's eager questions about his father thoughtlessly, while a steamer coming into port hooted shrilly and desolately beyond the bar. The little boats glided up and down, in and out of the shadows of big ships with double lights—lights on board that were determinate and steady, reflections of lights that cracked and shivered and went in long, shimmering ribbons through the water.
"Most of the passengers are aboard now," volunteered the schoolmaster.
"Are they?" she said, her heart sinking. It came to her that he had gone, that she would never see him again. And in that moment she knew just how much she wanted to see him: and in that moment she saw him.
A boatload of men was zigzagging towards the Oriana with snatches of loud song, laughter and occasional shouts. It was impossible to distinguish faces until the boat came within range of the vessel's arc lamps. And their dead white glare shone on Louis's face—and on his face alone, as far as Marcella was concerned. He was grinning vacantly: he looked very white. As he swayed up the ladder she saw that his clothes were covered in dust. Catching sight of her the minute he reached the deck, he lurched towards her. She shrank away a little, frightened of the glazed stare of his eyes, his loose, slobbering mouth. She knew that he was drunk, but he was not drunk as her father had been. Wild thoughts flickered on the curtain of her mind: "drunk as a lord" was one of them. "That's how father used to be," and a queer sort of pride in him followed. After all, there was something in being a lord, even in drunkenness! But this foolish, grinning, damp-mouthed thing before her, who kept making ineffectual attempts to lift his hand to his head and take off his hat, who was coming closer towards her with the inadequate movements she had once seen made by a duck when its leg had been broken!—
"H'lo, ole girl!" he said, standing before her at last. "Parlez-vous Franshay? Ah, oui, oui! Give—kith, ole girl!"
"You'd better go below, Miss Lashcairn," said the schoolmaster in a low voice. "It's no use talking to an intoxicated man."
She knew he was speaking, but she felt mesmerized by Louis, and shook her head impatiently, never taking her eyes for an instant from the boy's dribbling mouth.
"Give's—kith—kith—kisssh," he said solemnly after a great effort, managing to close his mouth. "Baisez-moi—ole girl! Ah, oui, oui! Ole girl—I shay, ole girl—voulez-vous coucher avec moi?"
He caught her arm and held it tight, grinning into her face. She stood with set face, trembling.
"What does he mean?" she asked the schoolmaster, who was looking distressed.
"He is speaking French—I—don't quite"—he coughed nervously—"I don't quite understand him—it isn't classical French. But I should go below. He will be better to-morrow."
Louis turned to him solemnly, his jaws working.
"G-g-go to—school!" he cried, and giggled helplessly. "You w-w-white-livered k-k-kidpuncher! Are you after her yourself? G-god damn you, you're always sniffing about after her."
"I wish you would go below," said the schoolmaster. "Men when intoxicated say things unfit for the ears of young ladies. You go away and leave him to me, Miss Lashcairn."
"Louis, you trusted me to take care of you," she said in a low voice.
He laughed hysterically until tears ran down his cheeks.
"Thass ri', ole girl! Trus' take care of me! Nashly! Father drunkard—father dead drunkard! Nash'ly ta' care poor little Louis."
Ole Fred and the red-haired man had made immediately for the bar, but finding it closed had come back to claim Louis. They saw the schoolmaster's white face and Louis's passionate gestures; they scented a fight, and hoped for it.
"Wan' 'ny 'elp, mate?" cried Ole Fred, putting up his fists.
Marcella did not see them. She saw her father standing by his bed, holding on to the post, praying for courage. Something in her brain gave a little snap like a fiddle string breaking, and, taking Louis by both shoulders, she shook him violently. His head wobbled about loosely. He was terrified, and so were the others. Ole Fred had seen girls and women resort to physical argument: in his world of the East End it was quite common, but he was rather surprised to see a "young lady" do it. Nor had they ever imagined it possible for such a blaze of anger to scorch anyone as shone in her eyes, vibrated in her voice as she loosed him, quite breathless, propped him against the rail and said, very quietly:
"The very next time you mention my father I'll put you in the sea."
Louis was trembling and staring at her, his mouth open. The schoolmaster was the first to speak.
"I regret this," he began, and stopped, coughing.
"Just you shut the 'ole in yer fice," growled Ole Fred. Then, turning to Louis, he became maudlinly soothing. "Look 'ere, mate, no young lady likes to hear her father spoke of rough—even if he ain't her father, as the saying goes. I do' know what the rah's abaht, but y' know, ole chap, no man should make sin—sin—sinuation he can't prove—in black an' white." He looked from one to the other with engaging earnestness. "Life's—life's—slife's too short to quarrel, hearts are too precious to break, so shake hands and kissh and kiss and be frien's, for ole time's sake."
He was so overcome by the pathos of his own eloquence that he began to sob brokenly, clinging to the red-haired man. "We alwiz bin mates, ain't we?" he added, trying to shake hands with him. Fired by his example, Louis made a grab at Marcella. He had entirely forgotten his fright, his shame of a moment ago.
"Thass ri', Marsh—Marcella. Kith—kith—kisssh an' be fren's! Ah, oui, oui, n'est ce pas? Ole Fred—no, no, Ole girl—voulez-vous coucher avec moi?"
She looked at him, frowning. The unusual words—she had never heard French words before—worried her: she never afterwards was able to hear French without an acute sense of discomfort. He was smiling at her with open mouth and wet eyes. She came quite close to him: he cringed unconsciously, and then lifted his face, expecting her to kiss him. Instead, she said in a low voice, close to his ear:
"You asked me to help you, Louis. Do you know the best way to help you?"
"Kith—baisez-moi—ah, oui, oui."
"The best way to help you is to drown you. You're—you're not fit to live! Oh, you're a perfect idiot!"
She turned and ran down below. Dimly she heard the schoolmaster say, "Very foolish to talk to an intoxicated man"; she heard the same boy who had begged her vine leaves singing his passionate love song to the tinkling music of his guitar and the lapping water. Then she was below deck, making blindly for her cabin.
At the door of Number 15 she was arrested by Jimmy. He was standing in the doorway, his head well back, his hands in his trouser pockets.
"Marcella!" he whispered proudly. "Look!"
She made herself conscious of him and looked. On the outer bunk was a crumpled mass of clothing that was heaving up and down and snoring loudly.
"He's there all right. I got him up when he wanted to be on the floor. He pinched my arm fearful. He's very strong, my Daddy is! He didn't pinch it on purpose, he couldn't help it."
Pushing back the sleeve of his jersey, he showed her a red mark as a soldier might show his scars.
"Now he's fast asleep. Marcella, isn't he making a funny noise?" he added with the queerest cross between amusement and puzzlement on his small face. She suddenly realized what he was saying.
"Oh, you little brave man," she cried, taking him up in her arms and kissing him. He wriggled down quickly, and stood in the doorway again, on sentry duty. She forgot to take him with her. She had forgotten everything save her instinct to be alone with her misery.