It was not until the Oriana left Port Said that Louis spoke to Marcella again. Three times he wrote to her demanding his money. Three times something got beyond and above the pride that told her to send it to him and have nothing else to say to him, and she refused definitely to give him the money; she asked him to come and talk to her. But he entrenched himself behind the Ole Fred gang and speedily helped to make it the nuisance of the ship. The germ of self-confidence and courage that was entirely missing in his make-up was replaced by bombast under the combined influence of whisky and boredom. Some day, perhaps, the iniquity of fastening up a small world of people in a ship for six weeks with nothing compulsory to do will dawn upon shipping companies, and the passengers will be forced to work, for their own salvation. On board ship people drift; they drift into flirtation which rapidly becomes either love-making or a sex-problem; they drift into drinking or, if they have no such native weakness, they become back-biting and bad tempered.
Marcella found herself drifting like the rest. A letter to Dr. Angus she had begun to write the day after Naples asking him to explain the cause, treatment and cure of drunkenness, still awaited completion. She sat beside Louis's empty chair, physically too inert from want of strenuous exercise, and mentally too troubled to get a grip on anything. Naples had shown her that Louis had not come into her life merely as a shipboard acquaintance to be forgotten and dropped when they reached Sydney, as she would forget and drop Mrs. Hetherington, the schoolmaster and Biddy. His talk of the coincidence of his coming by the Oriana at all had made a deep dint on her Keltic imagination; his appeal to her for help had squared beautifully with her youthful dreams of Deliverance; the fact that he was the first young man who had ever talked to her probably had more than anything else to do with her preoccupation, though she did not realize it.
At Port Said she and Jimmy spent a stifling morning ashore amid the dust and smells of the native quarter. Turning a corner in the bazaar suddenly they heard Louis's voice joined with the red-haired man's in a futile song they sang night and day: it was a song about a man who went to mow a meadow; the second verse was about two men; the third about three and so on, as long as the singer's voice lasted out. It was the red-haired man's boast that he had once kept up to five hundred. As Marcella turned the corner she saw them sitting under some palm trees outside a little cafe, bottles and glasses before them. Louis, who looked dirty and unkempt, was facing her. He broke off and darted towards her.
"I wan' my money," he started.
"You're not going to have it—even if you try to get it with a sledge hammer, as you said you might," she said, white lipped.
"You—you—you're keeping it for yourself!"
"Don't be such a fool, Louis. You know why I'm keeping it. If only you'd stop drinking for a day or two your mind would come clear and you'd talk to me."
"Gi' m' my money, I tell you! Thas' why you hooked on to me, at first. You knew I was a gentleman! You guessed I'd plenty of money! Thas' what you want of me—you know the Pater's a well-known publisher, an' you think you'll do a good thing for yourself."
Marcella had a hard fight then; something told her that this was not Louis speaking. She remembered that he had told her that drinking was an illness. When Mrs. Mactavish had fever she remembered how the people in the village had talked of the cruel things she had said to Mr. Mactavish and her sister, and it came to Marcella that Louis was no more to be blamed than she. But her native temper made her quiver to take him and shake some sense in him, whether he were ill or not. It was in a strained, quiet voice that she said:
"I'm not going to talk any more about it. You'll get it when you say good-bye to me in Sydney," and so she turned away.
Just as the Oriana sailed, about six o'clock she saw him come aboard alone. His face was swollen, his eye blackened by a bruise; his collar was splashed with blood and his white drill suit very dirty and crumpled. She had seen Ole Fred carried on board some time ago by sympathetic, rather maudlin friends. She guessed that war had flamed up between the incongruous allies. Mrs. Hetherington, rather breathlessly, confirmed her suspicion.
"He fought about you—Ole Fred said you'd been in his cabin, and young Mr. Fame went for him," she said enviously.
"Of course I've been in his cabin. It's Jimmy's cabin—I had to get Jimmy's clean things," she said indignantly.
Mrs. Hetherington put on an air of helpfulness.
"You should always be so careful, dearie. I am. Oh most careful! I never let dear Mistah Petahs put more than the tip of his shoe over my doorway. And as for going into his cabin—My dear! There is no need to provoke scandal; you will learn as you grow older to do things more discreetly."
"Discreet! I hate the word! And Careful! I couldn't be careful!" she cried hotly, but Mrs. Hetherington tapped her playfully on the arm and turned away, murmuring, "Naughty, naughty!"
It was very quiet on deck that night, with Louis and Ole Fred both below in their bunks; a few Arabs had come aboard and sat in a corner of the deck eating their evening meal, which they could not take under the same roof as unbelievers; afterwards, as the sun sank into the purple distance of the desert leaving a sky like a palette splashed by a child's indiscriminating hand, they began an eerie, monotonous chant that went on for hours. Later the stewards rigged up a canvas screen behind which the women and children could sleep, for the heat of the desert was making the lower cabins unbearable; mattresses were dragged here and there, children put to sleep upon them; people walked about, stepping carefully over sleeping forms as the Oriana crept along at five miles an hour with a great searchlight forrard sending a huge fan of light on to the lapping waters of the Canal, and out into the brown sand of the desert. The schoolmaster became instructive about the rapid silting up of the Canal with erosion and sand storms: he discussed the genius and patience of de Lesseps, and argued lengthily on the respective merits of patience and genius. Finally, Marcella told him she had a headache. He suggested that he could cure it.
"I have some tabloids—very sedative, very. I make a point of never being without them. You, I take it, have the same type of brain and nerve force as I—always active, always alert. What we both need is a depressant—pot. brom. Or, as I prefer to call it, K.B.R."
"Oh no—it's very kind of you. But I'd like best to go to bed."
"May I carry your mattress up for you?"
"I'm not sleeping on deck. I couldn't sleep among so many people," she said, and, after a hurried good night went below.
As she paused at her cabin door she heard a little noise and guessed that Jimmy was within. Opening it quickly, without switching on the light, she cried, "Here comes a big bear to eat you all up," as Jimmy often did to her. She grasped someone, and cried out in fear. It was someone grown up, kneeling on the floor.
She switched on the light and saw Louis looking up at her, blinking in the sudden glare.
"Oh, it's you. What do you want?" she said, breathlessly, though she knew quite well. In his hand he held her little bank bag of orange canvas in which the doctor had put ten pounds for her to spend on the trip.
"I w-want m—my—my m—money," he began, trembling and afraid to meet her eyes.
"To buy more whisky and make yourself more horrible than ever?" she cried, standing with her back to the door. "Well, I'll not give it to you, and if you knock me down and fight me I'll not give it you even. I'm a better fighter than you."
"I w-want it—to—to—pay him back," he cried and began to sob, violently dropping the money on the floor. "He—he said—you'd been in his cabin and—and—and in m—mine! He s—said dev—devilish things. And I punched his ugly head for him! All for you! Be—be—because you're—you're—Oh God, give me the money and let me pay him and then cut him dead."
"Do you mean that you owe Ole Fred money?"
"Of c—course. How on earth have I managed since N-naples?"
"How much is it?"
"He's paid for a lot of drinks, but that doesn't count. I w-won a good bit at poker, too. I b-borrowed sixteen pounds from him."
"But, Louis, you hadn't sixteen pounds to pay him back with," she cried.
"Do you think I cared? Do you think I ever meant to pay him back? Anyway, he's helped spend it, and when we get to Sydney I shan't have to face him again, so I don't care a damn. I've g-given my credit note for ten pounds when I land to—to—the barman, too. I'm b-broke, ole girl."
He sobbed helplessly.
"He offered me the money. People always do. They all think I'm well off when I tell them who the pater is. And so I should be if he wasn't such a stingy old devil."
His sobbing ceased, his face looked hard and cynical again. Marcella watched him in amazement. She was not sure whether to be disgusted with him or sorry for him.
At last she spoke.
"Louis—I don't understand a bit. Why did you do it?"
"Because he said rude things about you! He hates you! I only made him my enemy for your sake—and now you won't let me cut adrift from him. That's just like all women! Once they get their claws on money there's no getting them off again."
"I'm not asking why you fought him, you idiot. I'm asking you why you made such an idiotic mess of things at Naples."
He sobbed for awhile, sitting on the floor, leaning his head on her trunk where the broken lock dangled. She laid her hand on his head with an incontrollable impulse of pity; his hair was matted and dull as though it, had not been brushed for years.
"I c-can't explain it, even to myself, Marcella. But I—I th-think it w-was because I g-got a bit huffy with the idea th-that I was depending on you for everything. I f-felt as if I was tied to your apron strings. I felt as if I was being a g-good little b-b-boy, you know. So I thought I'd kick a bit! But I w-was trying damned hard before. You know I was."
She knit her brows and said, very slowly, as though she had not known the end of the sentence when she began to speak.
"Louis—don't you—perhaps—think it's wrong—to try so hard? I mean, it's morbid to be always saying 'I'm a drunkard. If I don't keep myself keyed up every minute I'll fall—' Don't you think it would be better if you forgot all about it, and just said, 'I'm Louis Farne, the biggest thing that ever was in the annals of humanity.' I don't know, but that seems more sensible to me. You see, you're rather a self-willed sort of person, really. You like to have you own way. Then why on earth not have your own way with whisky."
He stared at her and started in surprise, his jaw dropping. She looked at the streaks of dust and blood on his face, through which his tears had made blurred runnels.
"I n-never thought of that before. Of course you're right—I ought to have thought of it—even from the point of view of a psychologist."
"I don't think it's anything to do with any 'ologists at all. It's just common sense. Louis, I've been thinking a lot this week. You know, when father used to get—ill—no, drunk (Why should I be afraid to tell the truth, in spite of your sneers about poor father?) I was too wee to know very much. But knowing him as I do, I'm certain he tried and tried again. After mother died he left whisky alone, though he still had it in the house. He took to reading philosophy instead. You see, he was not like you. There was a hardness, a bravery in him that you haven't got. You have cussedness instead and cussedness is a thing you can never be sure of. You see," she went on, flushing a little, and suddenly tossing her head proudly, "you don't understand this, and it may sound most appalling snobbishness to you. But my father's people have always been rulers—little kings—fighters, while yours have been just ordinary, protected folk. My people have had to fight for everything, even their food, their lands, their home. Yours have had shops and investments and policemen round every corner—there is a difference—Louis, am I offending you?" she asked anxiously.
"Go on!" he said hoarsely.
"Well, father tried. But trying wasn't any use. He read philosophy to get himself interested in something. But philosophy wasn't gripping enough. It seems we've all got to find something to anchor on, and it's different for almost everyone. That's where we can help each other by trying to understand each other's needs and offering suggestions. Like sailors do—with charts and things. All this philosophy of father's! It reminds me of a horse I saw once at Carlossie Fair. It had a most horrible ulcer on its shoulder and they'd tried to hide it up by plaiting its mane and tying it with a great heap of ribbons. That doesn't cure anything! You know there's a phrase we use often about people who are miserable—we say, 'Oh, he needs to be taken out of himself.' Isn't that a vivid way of putting it, if you stop to think?"
He nodded, and still stared fascinated at her, drinking in every slow, halting word.
"I suppose father brooded just like you do. He used to get very grumpy, and very, very unhappy. He begged and pleaded with me for understanding, and I couldn't give it to him. Then one day he got dreadfully drunk, after a whole year away from it. And mother's cousin came. He talked to father for five or six hours while Aunt and I kept shivering and thinking father would murder him. Our people usually do murder people who annoy them. But Cousin came out of the room and said, 'Andrew has cast his burden on the Lord.' He said it as if he was saying, 'Andrew has sneezed, or put some coal on the fire'—the most ordinary way you can imagine. And that was the end of whisky for father. After that he tried to make everyone he knew cast their burden on the Lord. I rather felt like laughing at the time. It seemed rather silly, and just a bit vulgar—most religion is, isn't it? But since I've been worrying myself to death about you I've understood all about poor father."
"I don't see it," he said hopelessly.
"Listen. Until father gave up trying himself and realized that he was weak, he was—was—sort of hiding the ulcer with a bunch of ribbons. But the minute he gave up, everything was different. He didn't say any more, 'I'm Andrew Lashcairn, the son of generations of drunkards and madmen.' He changed it and said, 'I'm God's man—I've given Him my homage and made Him the Captain of my life.' And then, don't you see, he stopped being shut in inside himself any longer. He began to love me and be gentle to me. Louis, do you know, I believe you're tackling this worry in the wrong way. It can't be right—being rude to me, growling all the time about your father and mother—thinking, thinking, thinking all the time about yourself and your weakness until the whole universe is yourself and your weakness. Can't you see how bad it is, you who are a doctor? You know the old saying about giving a dog a bad name and hanging him. Louis, you're giving yourself a bad name, and hanging yourself."
"Oh, I say, Marcella," he gasped. "Do you think—" he broke off, and groaned again.
"Louis, I know. I don't think anything about it! The other day I was reading a most extraordinary book the schoolmaster lent me. It was about St. Francis of Assisi. It said that, by contemplation of the wounds of Christ, in time he came to feeling pain in his hands and feet and side—"
"Balderdash!" muttered Louis impatiently. "Auto-suggestion!"
"Auto—what's that?" she asked. He explained and she cried out eagerly:
"Well, can't you see you're doing exactly the same thing? And you call it balderdash when other people do it! Those wounds of St. Francis were called the Stigmata—can't you see that you're giving yourself the stigmata of drunkenness?"
"I've got them," he cried hoarsely. "I'm done. I'm even a thief."
"Oh, you idiot! How sorry I am for my father! He used to call me an idiot, and have me to put up with. And now I've got you, and you're a thousand times denser than ever I was! You're neither a drunkard nor a thief, Louis. Look here, to begin with, how much do you owe Fred? You shall have all I've got. If I give it to you you can't be a thief any more."
Between them they had just enough money for Fred and a few shillings left. He wept as she fastened it in an envelope and asked him to take it along to Fred's cabin at once.
"I—I s-say, Marcella. I—I—d-daren't," he groaned. "He'll ask me to wet it. And I'll not be able to say no. And oh my God, I don't want to do it any more."
"Then I'll take it," she said promptly, and darted along with it to Number Fifteen, listened while Ole Fred said every insulting thing he could about Louis and all Louis's ancestors and then calmly asked him for a receipt for the money.
Louis was still sitting on the floor. He looked up, his bloodshot eyes appealing as he looked at her.
"I say, M-m-marcella. I'm sorry I said all those nasty things about your father."
"There you are again, Louis! Forget them all! Forget everything but the future now. I can't imagine where I've got this conviction from, but it's absolutely right, I know. If you'll wipe out all your memory and start clean, you'll be cured."
"I could never do as your father did—all that religion business."
"I don't think I could, Louis. Father saw God as a militant Captain, someone outside himself. I'd never get thinking that about God. But it seems to me, in your case, you want to find someone you could trust, someone who would take the responsibility from you. Just as God did for father. Even if we say there is no God at all, he thought there was and acted on his thought—I suppose it's when we feel weak as father did that we get the idea of God at all."
"It all seems rot to me," he told her. "I laugh at God—as a relic of fetishism."
There was a long, hopeless silence. At last he said dully:
"There are some doctors—our old Dean at St. Crispin's, that I could throw myself upon as your father threw himself upon God. But they're not here."
As she sat, frowning, trying most desperately to help him, finding her unready brain a blank thing like the desert, realizing that, in all her reading there was nothing that could help, since there was no strong helper in the world save that Strong Man God who had gripped her father's imagination and could never grip Louis's, a whole pageant of dreams passed before her; dreams, intangible ideas which she grasped eagerly—visions—she saw herself John the Baptist, "making straight the way of the Lord"—she saw Siegfried, King Arthur—and, with a heart-leaping gasp she asked herself, "Why should not I be Louis's Deliverer? Why should not I be God's pathway to him? Why should not I be Siegfried?" And all the time her brain, peopled with myths, saw only the shining armour, the glittering fight; she did not see the path of God deeply rutted by trampling feet, burnt by the blazing footsteps of God. She heard herself as John's great crying voice and heeded the prison and the martyrdom not at all: it was a moment's flash, a moment's revelation. Then she turned to him. Her eyes were very bright. She spoke rapidly, nervously.
"Louis—that doctor you know—the Dean. Do you think they are the only wise folks on earth? I mean, do you think wisdom begins and ends with wise people? I don't, you know." she paused, frowning, not quite sure where this thought was going to lead her.
"They're the best chaps on earth," he murmured. "I c-could have b-been like them."
"But what is it makes them wise and fine? It's—I think—because they get rid of themselves, and let God shine through them to other people."
He turned impatiently. She caught his hot, damp, dirty hand in hers.
"Louis, I don't know very much. I've proved I can't hold you very well already, but I care an awful lot. Louis—how would it be if you threw it all on to me for a while till either you believe in God or in yourself? And I've a sort of belief that, whichever you believe in first, you'll believe in the other automatically—I'm not a bit clever, Louis. I never was. Always I get puzzled, always I realize how utterly unlearned I am. Always father called me an idiot and threw things at me for it. But in spite of being a duffer I'm sure I can help you."
"You could if you were with me every minute. I'd rather be with you than most people. But the minute I'm away from you I get dragged."
"Well, why shouldn't I stop with you the whole time, never leave you a minute? Let's be married, and then I could."
She looked at him anxiously. There was not a glimmer of shyness or excitement about her. She was still in her dream world; she knew that marriage would keep them together always. So she suggested marriage. She was not, yet, consciously in love.
He stared at her, stammered a little as he tried to speak and then, suddenly sobered, snatched at her hand.
"Do you mean it, knowing what I am? I'm an awful waster, Marcella—there's nothing on earth I can do for a living."
She frowned a little.
"But that's nothing to do with it. We'll find some way of living. You know that. We'd have to if we were not married, wouldn't we? And stop all this about being a waster. You're not anything of the sort. You're not anything but what you're going to be."
"And you really, really, won't go back on it? I make so many promises and break them. I can't believe other people much."
"Of course I won't go back on it. I want to stay with you. I never want to be with anyone else at all on earth."
"But why?" he asked, humble for the first time in his life.
"I haven't the slightest idea. You seem very clever to me. That's one thing. And—and the way you depend. Oh dear, I feel I've got to kidnap both you and Jimmy and run away with you to some safe place."
"Good Lord!" he said, laughing harshly. "I'm just thinking of Violet."
"Why? She can't mind, now she's married."
"No. It was the idea of Violet's trying to kidnap me, and loving me because I depended on her. Lord, she did the depending."
"That was why she wasn't any use to you, I suppose. Besides, Louis, you know, I love you when you're not—not ill. And I love the way your eyes look."
"Good Lord," he cried again, and started up sharply. "I say, Marcella, I'm off to have a bath. Wait here for me—" He peeped into her mirror. He had not shaved for a week and looked thoroughly disreputable. Holding out his hand he looked at it earnestly. It shook, as he had expected.
"Oh, I say, what a waster I look. I do hope to the Lord my hand's steady enough for a shave."
"Let me do it," she said. "It would be fun."
"I'm damned—Oh, I beg your pardon, old girl!—but I'm hanged if I'll not make my hand steady. I'll do it, I tell you! If I cut myself in bits, serve me right! I'll be half an hour and then—then—well, wait!"
She heard him in his cabin, whistling as he dragged out his trunk, pushed it back roughly, dropped and smashed a tumbler and then rushed along the alley-way. After awhile she heard him come back, heard the sound of violent brushing, heard him kick things and swear, drop things, bundle things about. She sat down on her trunk suddenly weak as she realized what she had done. She had never thought of being married before; marriage seemed a thing for elderly people; there seemed something ungallant, something a little dragging about marriage that rather frightened her. Her mother's marriage, she was beginning to understand, had been a thing of horror. She thought of those stifled cries in the night at the old farm, cries that she had thought meant that ghosts were walking; she heard with terrible distinctness the voice of the Edinburgh specialist as he said, "In my opinion the injury was caused by a blow—a blow, Mr. Lashcairn." Then, quite suddenly she laughed. It was quite amusing to think of Louis's making anyone ill by a blow.
"He'd never have fought Ole Fred if they hadn't both been drunk," she said slowly, staring at the boards of the floor, and her quick imagination showed her the two of them, fighting ignobly, all dust and sweat and ill-aimed blows. They could only hurt each other because both were too unsteady to dodge futile lungings. There was nothing of the Berserk about Louis.
Panic came to her. The things she realized about marriage were that it was irrevocable, and that it meant a frighteningly close proximity; and in that swift vision of Louis's fight—even though it had been in defence of her—she had realized that it was utterly impossible for her to be with him for the rest of her life.
"Oh how could I? How can I? How can I be glittering and shining with a man who is always crying? How can we be—be conquerors together when I never, never think of him except as 'poor boy' or 'silly idiot'? Oh no—no—I can't! I can't! Even if I do save him, what is there in that for me? I want to shine—I daren't have hot, dirty, damp hands dragging at me. I can't. I must be free, uncaught—"
The cabin became a cage; she wanted to push out the strong steel plates and get out into the night: Louis's weakness, which had been all his appeal to her, seemed an intolerable infliction, a cruel hoax on the part of fate, just as though, for her shining lover, someone had substituted a changeling stuffed with sawdust.
"I must tell him. But it's so cruel of me. I'm cruel—but I must tell him."
In the next cabin he began to sing, rather jerkily, a song everyone on the ship was singing just then.
"Won't you come back to Bombombay?
It was not the tipsy singing she had heard in the morning; it was jumpy, tuneless singing; she guessed that it was assisting in the process of shaving, for she heard a few "damns" peppering the song, which suggested that his shaky hand was wielding the razor badly. And with the song came pity that swamped disgust and disillusion. It seemed so sad to her that, when hope dawned upon him, he should celebrate it by singing a piece of sentimental, however haunting, doggerel. To go there and tell him that she, too, was going to break promises, to change her mind—it was impossible. It was like breaking promises to a little child. Came a blinding flash of self-realization.
"Marcella Lashcairn," she said, standing under the white flare of the electric light and facing herself squarely in the little mirror, which showed her two scornful grey eyes, "You're a hypocrite! You think it's very splendid and grand to save a big, grown-up man from getting drunk. That's only because you're a girl and are flattered at his dependence on you. If you saw any other girl acting as you do you'd say it was sheer impudence! And you think it's very wonderful that anyone so clever as Louis should notice you. You're flattered, you see—that's self-love, not Louis-love! Oh very beautiful! And you're such an illogical sort of idiot that you want to save him, and yet you want him so splendid and shining that he doesn't need any saving. Oh go—get out—all of you!" and she waved her hand to her dreams and sent the shining Lover riding on on his quest without her. It was just as she used to talk to the gulls and the winds on Ben Grief—when she was having things out with herself before. "I've taken the man I want—as all the Lashcairns do unless they are like Aunt Janet and—Oh, anyway, I'd rather be killed than be like her. It's rather illogical to growl at my choice the minute I've made it."
Before she could stop herself she was out of the cabin; she did not stop to think that Louis might be embarrassed: she dashed into his cabin. He was fastening his tie.
"Louis," she cried, and stopped breathless. He seemed very different as she looked over his shoulder into the mirror. Cold water had removed the traces of a week's neglect; the razor had done a good deal, too, and a clean suit had transformed him. His eyes were different: there was a light of resolution in them and they met hers direct. She scarcely knew him.
"Hello!" he said and let the tie hang as he stared at her.
"Where's the other man who used to sleep in here?" she asked. That was not what she had intended to say when she came in.
"He's gone. He was on the way to Cairo. I've got it to myself now."
"Marcella," he said solemnly. "You really mean it? You're not going to let me down? Violet let me down—and I'm always letting people down. I can't trust people now."
"Supposing I'd wanted to marry Violet, I'd have married her," she said, her brow puckered. "And I wouldn't be let down."
"No, I suppose you wouldn't," he said, slowly.
"Louis—" she began again, breathlessly, and then let the words out in a torrent. "Louis, I know I've got to marry you. Do you understand that? It's—it's inevitable. It was from the minute I met you. You'll never understand that, not being a Kelt, though. I know it quite well. And I'm afraid I'm going to shy at it. And, for my sake as well as yours, I've not to shy. Louis, will you grab me tight?"
He stared at her, utterly at a loss. He did not begin to grasp what she meant. To him she was just "fickle woman" always changing her mind. He had, all his life, generalized about woman; he had never known a woman who was not rather vapid, rather brainless; he had the same idea of women as Professor Kraill had ventilated in his lectures—that they were the vehicles of the race, living for the race but getting all the fun they could out of the preliminary canter, since the race was a rather strenuous, rather joyless thing for them. And it was in men they found the fun. Yet here was Marcella, who was quite different from anything feminine he had ever seen or imagined, suddenly appealing to him not to let her be fickle. Immediately he felt very manly, very responsible. Then he laughed.
"Quis custodiet ipsos custodies?" he said, looking into her eyes.
"Father often said that. What does it mean?"
"Who'll look after the looker-after?" he said, with a laugh. "Here's me begging you to look after me and save me from going to hell. And here's you asking me to grab you for fear you'll change your mind. I wonder which is going to have the hardest job?"
She looked at him and said hurriedly:
"Louis, couldn't we be married now—to-night? In Scotland we do, you know—just in any room without church or anything."
"But—I wish we could!" he said, his hands beginning to shake.
"I want to be sure—"
"I'm afraid we can't," he said, anxiously. "I'm afraid we'll have to wait till we get to Sydney."
Unexpectedly memory brought back the thought that when he became engaged to Violet he had kissed her and held her in his arms; he remembered it very well. To get to the necessary pitch of courage he had had to get very drunk on champagne, for champagne always made him in a generally kissing and love-making mood that involved him often with barmaids and street ladies. He knew very well that he would never have thought of making love to Marcella: if she had not taken things into her own hands, they would have parted in Sydney, necessary as he considered her to his well being, much as he liked to be near her. He had, even through his self-satisfied alcohol dream, seen her disgusted looks at Naples when he had spoken to her. He guessed that the sort of half-maudlin love-making that had won Violet would never suit Marcella. And he knew beyond the shadow of doubt that no power on earth save whisky could ever get him to make love to anything—even a young girl who seemed in love with him already.
He was extraordinarily shy with and cynical about women. He had always been detested by the servants at home—more or less unjustly. He spoke to them abominably because he was frightened of their sex. Had he not bullied them when he wanted small services performed, they never would have been performed at all, for he would have had no courage to ask civilly for anything. To his sister's friends when he was forced into their company he was boorish, simply because girls put him into such a panic of inferiority that, in self defence, he had to assert himself unnaturally. Years ago his sister had refused to make one of a theatre or concert party that included Louis; either he got drunk in the interval and rejoined them later, making them conspicuous by his behaviour, or else he sat at their side glowering and boorish, afraid even to look at the players on the stage, too shy even to negotiate the purchase of chocolates or programme. The last time he had been at the theatre with his sister and Violet had been after a whole fortnight without whisky. They were rather late; the play had begun. His sister had whispered to him to get a programme. Afraid of being conspicuous he had refused; she had ordered him to get it. People behind had hissed "Hush" indignantly and finally Violet, with a contemptuous smile, had bought programmes and chocolates for herself and the sister, cutting Louis dead.
But whisky transformed him from a twitching neurotic into a megalomaniac. He imagined that every woman he met was in love with him indecently and physically; without whisky he saw women in veils and shrouds; whisky made him see them with their clothes off, their eyes full of lewd suggestion. Even to the elderly suburban ladies who visited his mother he was tipsily improper. To find a girl like Marcella, who did not put him either in a fever or a panic of sexuality was supremely reassuring: she seemed to him like a nice man friend might be—though he never had been able to acquire a man friend. He was intensely grateful to her for marrying him: he was not her lover; he was her dependent: he was treating her as he might have treated the old Dean at the hospital, or as her father had treated God. But—his conventional sense told him to kiss her and make her "just a girl."
He took both her hands in his and drew her towards him. Her eyes, which began by being startled, grew suddenly soft, as his face came close to hers and his eyes looked into hers for a wavering second before they dropped awkwardly and looked at her cheek. And then he kissed her. It took a long time. It took just as long as it takes to transform a whole system of reasoned thinking into something chaotic, nebulous. The chances are that, had that kiss never happened to Marcella, she would have gone on with her dreams of deliverance, her ideals of a high road through life. Louis's lips opened a locked door in her personality. When he let her go again she looked at him, rather frightened and bewildered. She was trembling almost unbearably; her face, usually the fairest white, made gold by the sun and the wind, was flushed; her grey eyes were deep blue; her mind, for the while, was a blank.
"Oh Louis!" she gasped.
"Marcella—" he began but she seized his hands again.
"Oh Louis, please do it again." That time she closed her eyes and was only conscious of thinking that, if the ship went down, it would not matter just so long as nothing interrupted the kiss.
"Dear little girl," he whispered, and ceased to feel frightened of her. As he saw the tremendous effect his kisses had on her, masculine superiority put pokers into his backbone and made him feel a very fine fellow indeed. He had no time to think what his kisses had done to Marcella. All that he grasped was that she was not like Violet who had drawn away from him to lead him on further; who had flirted with him and teased him seductively, and made him pay dearly for kisses by pleadings and humiliations: who had never given anything, and had never come one inch of the way to meet him.
"I say, Marcella," he said, as he let her go. "Don't you know anything at all about the art of lying? Can't you lie?"
She frowned at him. He went on quickly.
"I've never met a girl yet who admitted that she liked a man to kiss her. They lie and lie—they put up barriers every minute."
"There can't be barriers between us, Louis. I'd rather die than have barriers," she said quietly, though she did not realize why, or what she implied.