M. LEONORA EYLES
Author of Margaret Protests
TO E. J. R-S.
You have often said that you could never write a book. You have written this one just as surely as Beatrice wrote the Vita Nuova for Dante. Until I talked with you I did not know that our lives are the pathway for God's feet; I had not realized that Trinity of body, brain and spirit; and it had never come to me before how, for each other's sake, we must set a censor, very strong and austere, upon our secret thoughts. I have learnt these things from you; the gold of your thoughts has passed through the crucible of my experience to make a book. Perhaps a little of the gold has been left clinging to the crucible—and for that I have to thank you, my dear.
Margaret Leonora Eyles.
Bexhill-on-Sea, 1st February, 1920.
"Man comes into life to seek and find his sufficient beauty, to serve it, to win and increase it, to fight for it; to face anything and dare anything for it, counting death as nothing so long as the dying eyes still turn to it. And fear and dulness and indolence and appetite—which, indeed, are no more than fear's three crippled brothers who make ambushes and creep by night—are against him, to delay him, to hold him off, to hamper and beguile and kill him in that quest."
H. G. Wells ("The History of Mr. Polly").
As long as Marcella could remember, the old farm-house had lain in shadows, without and within.
Behind it rose the great height of Ben Grief, with his gaunt face gashed here by glowering groups of conifers, there by burns that ran down to the River Nagar like tears down a wrinkled old face. Marcella had read in poetry books about burns that sang and laughing waters that clattered to the sea for all the world like happy children running home from school. But the waters on Ben Grief neither laughed nor sang. Sometimes they ran violently, as though Ben Grief were in a rage of passionate weeping; sometimes they went sullenly as though he sulked.
It was upon Ben Grief that Marcella looked when she went to bed at night and when she wakened in the morning in her little stark room at the back of the house. There was another window in the room from which she could have seen the sea, but Aunt Janet had had a great mahogany wardrobe placed right across it, and only the sound of the sea, creeping sometimes, lashing most often, came to her as she lay in bed, reminding her that the sea was there all the time.
In front of the house rose Lashnagar, the home of desolation, a billowing waste of sand rising to about a thousand feet at the crest. Curlews called and sea-gulls screamed over Lashnagar; heather grew upon it, purple and olive-green; fennel and cooch and henbane sprang side by side with dwarfed stink-nettles, stunted by the salt sand in which they were rooted. But the soil was not deep enough for trees or bushes to take root.
In Marcella's lifetime men had been lost on Lashnagar, and sheep and dogs, adventuring too far, had never come back. Legend had it that hundreds of years ago Lashnagar had been a quiet little village nestling round Castle Lashcairn, the home of Marcella's folks. That was in the year before Flodden Field, a hot, dry time that began with Lady Day and lasted till the Feast of All Souls without rain or storm. In that hot summer a witch-woman, very beautiful, had come to Lashnagar to win the soul of Andrew Lashcairn, winning with his soul his bed and his board. A wild wooing it was, and a wilder wedding. All the wooing had been done by the woman—as was the way of the Lashcairn women ever afterwards—in the dry heat of that unnatural summer when the sap dried in the trees and the marrow in men's bones, while the heated blood surged through their veins more quickly than ever before. On the Feast of All Souls, the wedding day, a copper sun rose in a sky of blood and lead, and all the folks of Lashnagar drank deeply to drive away impending horror. That night, after they slept, while Andrew Lashcairn lay awake in the witch-woman's arms, a great wind came in from the sea, sweeping before it the salt sand of the dunes, covering the village and the castle and the old feet of Ben Grief where sheep and cattle fed. The witch-woman, with her lord and a few servants, fought and battled a way through the storm of sand and stones to settle where the last of the wind-blown desert piled on the knees of Ben Grief. The next year Andrew rode away to the fight at Flodden Field. Unknown to him, the witch-woman who loved him rode close to his heels.
There his pennant, with its sun in splendour and its flaunting "By myself I stand," went down. When the hush of death fell on the noise of battle the witch-woman crawled by night among the dead to find her lord lying with one arm thrown carelessly over his dead horse's neck. It was there, companioned only by the dead, that the witch-woman's twins—a boy and a girl—were born. And it pleased their mother's grim humour to creep about the battlefield in the darkness until she found banners and trappings of the Southrons, whom she hated, to act as birth-clothes for her son and daughter when she carried them back mile after mile to brooding Lashnagar. It was the boy who was Marcella's ancestor.
Lashnagar was her nursery. On Lashnagar she had seen queer things. One night, when everyone was asleep and the path of the full moon lay shining across the sea, she went up on to Lashnagar with the shadows of the flowering henbane clean-cut and inky about her feet. Half-way up a great jagged hole lay gashed. Peering into it—she had never seen it before—she could distinguish the crumbling turret of a church, the roof of a house and the stiff tops of trees buried partly in a soft sea of sand in the middle of which was a depression. The heathery ground on which she kneeled began to crack very gently, and, with beating heart, she started back, realizing that the hillside was hollow, formed here of rotted trees thinly overgrown with turf and sand. Next morning she heard that a shepherd was missing, and then she guessed with horror the meaning of the chasm and the soft depression.
Next day she went back to gaze fascinated at the hole, only to find that already the dry sand had almost filled it, quite covering the cracked place where she had kneeled, the turret and the roof. She told no one but Hunchback Wullie, an old man who tended the green-wood fires in the huts on the beach, where fish were cured. Excepting her mother, he was Marcella's only friend—he it was who had soaked her mind in the legends of Lashnagar and the hills around; he it was who had taught her the beautiful things learnt by those who grow near to the earth and humble living things.
She ran down the hillside to him that day, her eyes—the blue-grey eyes of her people—wide with horror, her long, straight, fair hair, that she wore in two Marguerite plaits, loosened and swinging in the wind. Hunchback Wullie was in the first hut, threading the herrings through their gills on the long strings that went from side to side high up under the roof. His ruddy brown beard glistered with the shining scales of the fish, for he had a habit of standing by the hut door looking out to sea and stroking his beard, when another man would have smoked and rested.
"Things never come tae an ending, lassie," he said, his little red-brown eyes looking out over the grey water. "Either for good or for ill they're always gaun on. They may be quiet like Lashnagar for years, an' then something crops out—like yon crumbling last night that killed young Colin. But it's not always evil that crops out, mind ye."
Marcella did not go on Lashnagar again for months. The next time Wullie was with her, and half-way up the incline they found apple blossom growing about one foot from the ground on a little sapling with a crabbed, thick trunk.
"Why, look at that little apple tree, Wullie—how brave of it! I'm going to root it up and take it to my garden. It can never live here in the sand and the wind."
Wullie sat down and watched her, smiling a little and stroking his beard as she dug with her hands in the friable soil. For a long time she dug, but the sapling went deeper and deeper, and at last she sat down hot and tired.
"D'ye ken what ye're daein', lassie?" he said, looking at the pink and white bloom reflectively. "Ye're diggin' doon intae death! Yon flooer's the reaping of a seedtime many a hundred years gone by. If ye was tae dig doon an' doon all the day ye'd find yon apple tree buried deep i' th' sand. The last time it fruited was afore Flodden, when Lashcairns were kings—"
"What, Wullie, a poor old tree buried all those years, pushing up to light like this? How could it?" said Marcella, staring at it fascinated.
"I've tauld ye afore, Marcella. There's no ending tae things! Sometimes the evil comes cropping oot, like when men get caught an' buried on Lashnagar. Sometimes it's something bonny, like yon flooer. Yon apple was meant to live an' bear fruit; the bonny apple's juist the makeweight. It's the seed that matters all the time—the life that slides along the tree's life. Yon tree was buried before its seedtime, and all these years it struggled, up an' up, till it broke through into the light of the sun. Like God strugglin' at the end through a man's flesh—"
Marcella stared at him: Wullie often talked like this, and she only understood very vaguely what he meant. But she could grasp the idea of something trying to struggle through desperately, and looked pityingly at the little frail plume of blossom.
"And after all these years, to struggle through on this bleak hill! Poor little tree!" she said.
"That happens often to folk's lives. They come struggling through tae something very rough and hard. But it's the struggling that matters. Yon tree may only have one fruit that will seed. And so life goes on—"
He stroked his beard and stared over the sea to where the brown-sailed herring boats of his brother and his nephew were coming in through the morning sunlight.
"It's a bit sad, isn't it?" Marcella said dreamily. "It seems hard on the tree somehow, Wullie. Just as if the poor tree was only a path for the new tree to walk along—"
"Well, that's all life is—a path for other life to walk along."
"I wish you'd explain better, Wullie," she said, staring from him to the plant.
"Explaining's never any use, lassie. Folks have to live things to find them out." He stood up slowly. "There's the boats comin' in, an' I must get on back to the huts. Ye'll learn, Marcella—ye'll come tae it some day that ye're only a path yerself for things to walk along—"
"Wullie—what things?" she demanded.
"Other folks, maybe. Maybe God," he said, and went off to the huts.
Overcome by the pathos of the little hopeful tree, Marcella carried baskets of soil from the farm and pots of water to lay them round about it. She planted stakes round it to keep off the force of the wind. But that year the flowering bore no fruit. And Wullie smiled at her attempts to help the tree.
"The roots are doon too deep, lassie," he said. "Sae deep ye canna reach them. There's little ye can dae for tree or man, Marcella, but juist not hinder them. All we can do, the best of us, is to put a bit of soil an' watter half-way up a tree trunk an' hope we're feeding the roots—"
"Then what can anyone do?" she said, looking at the pitiful little tree, stripped now of its leaves in the autumn chill.
"I tauld ye—juist not hinder. An' lie as quiet as ye can because ye're a path—"
It was in this way that Marcella got her education. Most of the time Wullie talked above her head save when he told her of the habits of animals and plants, of the winds and the seasons. Her mother, before she was too ill, had taught her to read and that was all. Even her mother, drawn in upon herself with pain, talked above her head most of the time, too. The girl turned herself loose in the big room at the farm where books were stored and there she spent days on end when the weather was too wild to be braved. It was a queer collection of books. All Scott's novels were there; she found in them an enchanted land. She lived them, she fed on them. She never read herself into the woman's part in them. Only Jeannie Deans really met her requirements as a "part" and she left much to be desired in the way of romance and beauty. Most often she was young Lochinvar or Rob Roy; sometimes Coeur de Lion led her on full-blooded adventure. There were quaint old books of Norse and Keltic legend, musty, leather-bound books with wood-cut illustrations and long "s's" in the printing. There was Fox's Book of Martyrs: there were many tales of the Covenanters, things hard, austere and chill.
One summer a young student came to the farm for the harvest. He was a peasant lad, a penniless bursary student at Edinburgh University. In the Long Vacation, he worked at his native farming, reading voraciously all the time and feeding sparingly, saving his wages against the coming bleak winter in his fireless attic in an Edinburgh wynd. He talked to Marcella, dogmatically, prodigiously, unanswerably. On her legends and fairy-tales and poetry he poured contempt. He read the "Riddle of the Universe" and the "Kritic of Pure Reason," orating them to Marcella as they worked together in the harvest field. She did not even understand their terminology. He had a quite unreasoning belief in the stolidly utilitarian of German philosophers and laid siege to Marcella's mysticism, but after he went back one day she discovered a box of her mother's poetry books and so Tennyson, Shelley and Keats shone into her life and, reading an ancient copy of "David and Bethsaibe," she gathered that the Bible Aunt Janet read sourly had quite human possibilities. This box of books was her first glimpse of a world that was not a long tale of stern fights; it was her first glimpse of something softly sensuous instead of austere and natural and passionate.
Marcella never knew quite how her folks came to live at the farm; it had happened when she was three years old and she took for granted her world of crumbling, decayed splendours. Hunchback Wullie had told her that the old grey house on Ben Grief used to be her home, and that the lands all about had belonged to her father. But they were his no longer and she was forbidden to pass the old grey house, or even to speak of it.
Andrew Lashcairn, Aunt Janet, two women servants and a man who never seemed to have any wages for their work lived with Marcella at the farm. The man and Aunt Janet planted things in the garden, but on the poor land, among the winds they never grew very well. Oats grew, thin and tough, in the fields, and were ground to make the daily porridge; sometimes one of the skinny fowls that picked and pecked its hungry way through life round about the cattle pen and the back door was killed for a meal; sometimes Marcella ran miles away up Ben Grief when one of the lean pigs screamed its life out in a stream of blood in the yard. She used to feel sorry for the beasts about the farm; the cows seemed to have such huge, gaunt bodies and looked at her with such mournful eyes when she went through the croft in which they were eating the scanty grass. The two old horses who did the ploughing and the harvesting had ribs that she could count, that felt sharp when she stroked their patient sides. The cows lowed a great deal—very plaintively and deep; the pigs squealed hungrily every time a pail clattered in the kitchen or steps passed their sty door.
One dreadful day they squealed all the time while Marcella's little English mother lay on her couch in the window that looked over Lashnagar, and cried. She had lain on this couch for nearly two years now, whiter and thinner every day. Marcella adored her and used to kiss her white, transparent hands, and call her by the names of queens and goddesses in the legends she had read, trying to stretch her own ten years of experience to match her mother's thirty-five so that she could be her friend. And this day when Rose Lashcairn cried because the beasts were crying with hunger and there was no food for them, Marcella thought of Jeannie Deans and Coeur de Lion and Sir Galahad. Buckling on her armour in the shape of an old coat made of the family plaid, and a Tam o' Shanter, she went out to do battle for the helpless creatures who were hungry, and stop her mother's tears.
It was a three-mile walk to the little town. There was a corn factor's shop there at which her father dealt. She walked in proudly. It was market day and the place was full of people.
"Andrew Lashcairn says ye'll please to be sending up a sack of meal and a sack of corn the day," she said calmly to the factor who looked at her between narrowing eyes. The factor was a man imported to the district: he had not the feudal habit of respect for decayed lordship.
"Indeed he does? And why disna Andrew Lashcairn come tae dae his own begging?"
Marcella stared at him and her eyes flashed with indignation though her knees were trembling.
"He is not begging, Mr. Braid. But the beasts are crying for food and he's needin' the corn the night."
The people in the shop stopped talking about prices and listened greedily. They knew what Marcella did not.
"Then ye'll tell him tae go on needin'. When he's paid for the last sack, an' the one afore that, he'll be gettin' more."
"But of course he'll pay," she cried. "My father is busy, and he can't mind things always. If you ask him, he'll pay."
The man laughed.
"He will, fine he will! No, Mistress Marcella, ye can tell yer father not tae go sendin' children beggin' for credit whiles he hugs his bar'l. The corn's here safe enough when he chooses to pay for't."
Marcella went homewards, her mind a maelstrom of conflict. She knew nothing about money; it had never occurred to her that her father had none, and the cryptic allusion to the "bar'l" was even more puzzling. She knew that her father was a man to be feared, but he had always been the same; she expected nothing else of him, or of fathers generally. She knew that he lived most of his time in the little room looking out on Lashnagar and she had certainly seen the "bar'l"—a thirty-six gallon barrel being taken into that room. She did not know that it held whisky; if she had known, it would have conveyed nothing to her. She knew that the green baize door leading to the passage from which her father's room opened must never be approached; she knew that her father had frequent fits of Berserk rage when the little English mother cowered and fainted and things were smashed to splinters. In one such rage, when Marcella was seven years old, he had seen her staring and frowning at him, and the rage he always felt against her because she, the last of his race, was a girl and not a boy, had crystallized. That time he had flung her across the room, breaking her thin little arm. She remembered ever afterwards how he had picked her up, suddenly quietened, and set and bandaged the arm without the suspicion of tenderness or apology or shame, but with cool skill. All the time she heard his teeth grinding, and watched his red-rimmed grey eyes blazing. She gathered that he considered his women-folk belonged to him, and that he could break their arms at will.
Other things she remembered, too—cries in the night from her mother's room when she had been a tiny mite and thought they were the cries of banshees or ghosts; she remembered a terrible time nearly three years ago when she must not sit on her mother's knee and lay her head on her breast because of cruel pain there; she remembered the frightening scene there had been when surgeons had come and stayed in her mother's room for hours; how they had gone past her where she cowered in the passage, smelling a queer, sweet, choking smell that came out when they opened the door. In the book room she had heard raised voices when the Edinburgh surgeon had said, "In my opinion it was caused by a blow—it cannot have come in that particular position except by injury—a blow, Mr. Lashcairn."
There had been a Berserk rage then, and violence before which the doctors had been driven away.
All these things Marcella remembered during her lonely three-mile walk in the winter twilight, and for the first time they co-ordinated with other things, broke through her mist of dream and legend and stood out stark like the summit of Ben Grief.
That night she was more than usually tender to her mother. Kneeling beside her bed, she put her strong young arms under the bedclothes and held her very tight. Through her nightgown she felt very frail—Marcella could touch the sharp bones, and thought of the poor starved cows.
"My queen, my beautiful," she whispered in her mother's ear. "I'm going to be Siegfried and save you from the dragon—I'm going to take you away, darling—pick you right up in my arms and run away with you—"
She stopped, choked by her intensity, while her mother stroked her ruffled hair and smiled faintly.
"You can't take people up in your arms and snatch them out of life, childie," she said. And then they kissed good night.
As she went to her little cold room Marcella heard the padding of feet outside in the croft, and grunts and squeals. The hungry beasts, as a last resort, had been turned loose to pick up some food in the frost-stiffened grass; incredulous of the neglect they haunted the farm-house, the pigs lively and protestant, the cows solemn and pathetic and patient. Marcella had taken her piece of oatcake and cheese at supper-time out to the door. But it was no use to the beasts. The little black pig gobbled it in a mouthful and squealed for more. In her agony of pity something dawned on her.
"I suppose," she said to herself, as she stood shivering, looking over rimed Lashnagar, "that Jesus was as sorry for His disciples as I am for these poor beasts. He knew they'd be so hungry when He had gone away from them. So He gave them His body and blood—it was all He had to give."
She got into bed, but the thought stayed with her. It was to come back again many years afterwards, illuminating.
That night she heard steps about the house—her father's heavy steps—but she felt tired, and fell asleep. It was midnight when her father opened her door and came into the room.
"Marcella, are you asleep?" he said in his beautiful voice that always made her wish he would let her love him.
"No," she said, starting to wakefulness.
"You've no mother now, Marcella," he said, and turned away. She heard him stalk heavily up the passage.
When she ran along after him Aunt Janet was holding a hand-mirror over her mother's mouth and looking at it carefully. She had red-rimmed eyes. Marcella stood still, staring, and thought how white her mother's ear was against the faded blue of her old flannel jacket over which her long black hair lay in two long plaits. Then her father came in and sent her down to the village for the old woman who attended to the births and deaths of people. She went over the croft, among the hungry cows that stared at her, one after one as she passed. Later, when the woman had gone, and the two servant women were crying in the kitchen while they drank scalding tea and spilt it down their aprons from trembling hands, Andrew Lashcairn and Aunt Janet sat in the book-room with all Rose Lashcairn's papers spread out before them. Marcella sat for a while watching.
There were letters, smelling of the lavender and rue that lay among them. They were tied in little bundles with lavender ribbons. There were little thin books of poetry, a few pressed flowers, a few ribbons that had decked Baby Marcella, a tiny shirt of hers, a little shoe, a Confirmation book. All these they threw into the fire, and read some big crackling papers with seals and stamps upon them. Then Marcella crept away along the passages through which the wind whistled while the rats, hungry as everything else about Lashnagar, scuttled behind the wainscotings.
She opened her mother's door. A candle was burning on the table by the bedside. A sheet covered the bed. Underneath it she could trace the outline of her mother's body. As she came across the room, walking softly, as she always did, to avoid the loose board that had so often jerked her mother back to wakefulness and pain, it seemed to her that all the loving kindness of the world had gone from her. From then until her mother was buried she never left her.
After his wife's death Andrew Lashcairn was harder, colder. Fits of glowering depression took the place of rage, and he never went behind the green baize door, though the barrel stayed there. He seemed to have conceived the idea of making Marcella strong; perhaps he was afraid that she would be frail as her mother had been; perhaps he tried to persuade himself that her mother's illness and death were constitutional frailty rather than traumatic, and in pursuance of this self-deception he tried to suggest that Marcella had inherited her delicacy and must be hardened. Divorced from his den and his barrel by his own will-power he had to find something to do. And he undertook Marcella as an interest in life.
Things were going a little better at the farm because of Rose Lashcairn's money: more cows came, and sacks of meal and corn replenished the empty coffers in the granary. Marcella still divided her time when she could between the book-room, Lashnagar and Wullie's smoking-hut; but every morning Andrew Lashcairn tore her out of bed at five o'clock and went with her through snows and frosts, and, later, through the fresh spring mornings to teach her to swim in the wild breakers of the North Sea. Many a girl would have died; Marcella proved herself more a child of the Lashcairns than of her little English mother by living and thriving on it. Her father sent her to work in the fields with the men, but forbade her to speak to any of the village women who worked there, telling her to remember that her folks were kings when theirs were slaves. One night, when the snow drifted in from Lashnagar on to her bed, she closed her window, and he, with a half return of the old fury, pushed it out, window-frame and all. Ever after that Marcella slept in a cave of winds. It never occurred to her to rebel against her father. She accepted the things done to her body with complete docility. Over the things that happened to her mind her father could have no control.
But his Spartan training had a queer effect upon her. Always meagrely fed, always knowing the very minimum of comfort, she became oblivious to food or comfort for herself; she became unconscious, independent of her body save as a means of locomotion, but she cared immensely for other people's. She shivered to think of Wullie's brother Tammas and his son Jock out fishing in the night with icy salt water pouring over chafed hands, soaking through their oilskins; she cried after a savagely silent meal of herrings and oatcake when she had not noticed what she was eating, to think of the villagers with nothing but herrings and oatcakes. She hated to think of things hungry, things in pain. She even felt a great, inarticulate pity for her father. For all his striding autocracy and high-handedness there was something naive and childish about him that clutched at her heart. He was like Ben Grief, alone and bare when the winds tore.
He was thorough, was Andrew Lashcairn. Finding the young student's "Riddle of the Universe" in the book-room one day he read it idly. It started him on a course of philosophy in which he determined to include Marcella. From Edinburgh came boxes of books—and a queer assortment of books they were. Locke and Berkeley, James' "Natural Religion," Renan's "Life of Christ," a very bad translation of Lucretius; Frazer's "Golden Bough," a good deal of Huxley and Darwin, and many of the modern writers. They were something amazingly new to him, and Marcella used to watch him sitting in the fireless book-room with a candle flickering while the wind soughed round the house and in through every chink in the worn walls. His fine grey eyes were deep sunken; when he looked up suddenly there was sometimes a little light of madness in them that made her recoil instinctively; his thick hair was greyish, whitening over the temples; his high Keltic cheekbones were gaunter than ever, his forehead and mouth lined with past rages. He had never held a religion—the Lashcairn religion had been a jumble of superstition, ancestor-worship and paganism on which a Puritan woman marrying a Lashcairn in the middle seventeenth century had grafted her dour faith. It had flourished—something hard and dictatorial about it found good soil on the Lashcairn stock.
So modern Rationalism had a stern fight with Andrew, struggling with the madness of the Kelt, the dourness of the Puritan. It held him for a year and no more, for a thing unemotional could not grip a thing so excitable. In that year Marcella was bidden read all the books her father read, and believe them. When she evaded them she was forced to read them aloud, with a dictionary at her side, and discuss them intelligently with him. If she answered at random, with her heart and her eyes away at the huts with Wullie, he would throw at her head the nearest thing that came to his hand—a book, a faggot of wood, a cup of tea—or order her to bed without any food. Marcella had to follow him on these excursions into philosophic doubt, sacrificing her pet calf of legend and poetry every day in the temple of Rimmon, handcuffed to him as she did it. But Andrew Lashcairn did everything with such thoroughness that he seemed to use up a certain set of cells in his brain exhaustively, and thus procure revulsion. A man who can drink half a gallon of whisky a day for years consistently, and stop without a moment's notice, can do most things. Andrew took Rationalism as he took whisky; he forced it upon his household.
In all this time her chief joy was to be found in writing long letters to her dead mother, whom she imagined to be living somewhere between the sunshine and the rain, an immanent presence. These letters she burnt usually, though sometimes she made little boats of them and floated them out to sea, and sometimes she pushed them into the shifting sands through fissures on Lashnagar. They comforted her strangely; they were adoration and love crystallized. Her only friendliness came from Hunchback Wullie, when she could escape from the book-room and run down to his hut.
It was a hard winter, this winter of philosophic doubt for souls and bodies both. The wild gales kept the fishing-boats at home; the wild weather had played havoc with the harvests, and often Marcella knew that Wullie was hungry, though he never told her so. Whenever she went to the hut she would manage to be absent from a meal beforehand, and going to Jean, would ask for her ration of whatever was going. Down in the hut she and Wullie would sit round the fire of driftwood, reaching down dried herrings from the roof and toasting them on spits of wood for their feast. And they would talk while the sea crept up and down outside whispering, or dashed almost at the door shrieking.
One night as they sat toasting their fish and watching the salt driftwood splutter and crackle with blue flames, Marcella asked Wullie what he thought of philosophic doubt.
"I've been reading a book to father to-day, Wullie, that says we are all unreal—that we are not here really, but only a dream."
Wullie sat back a little, turned the fish on his spit without speaking, and then said:
"Well, maybe we are. Maybe all life's a dream. But all the same it is a dream dreamed by God."
"I think that's what the book says, but they use such hard words."
"I wouldna fash, lassie. There's not much we do understand, any of us. That's where I think books fall short—they explain things just as far as the writer understands. And whiles he doesna understand very far, but he's got a trick of putting things nicely. Most things you know without understanding: you do them blindly and someday you see they've been right. That's what I mean about God making us a pathway. I feel that He has been walking along my life; I couldna prove it to ye, Marcella. But one day He'll suddenly turn round when He gets to the end of me and smile and thank me for carrying Him along a bit."
"I like to know things beforehand," she objected.
"Ye winna. Right at the end ye'll be able to look down yer life and see the shining marks of His feet all over ye. An' the more ye struggle and fuss the less He can take hold of ye, and get a grup on ye with His feet—"
"I'd like to feel sure they were God's, and not any other sort of feet," she said slowly, leaving her fish to go cold, though she was very hungry.
"Ye'll find, at the end, Marcella, that there's no feet but God's can make shining marks on your life. Other things will walk over ye. They may leave marks of mud, or scars. But the footsteps of God will burn them all off in the end. I canna prove it, Marcella. But ye'll see it some day. D'ye mind yon apple that came flooering up through Lashnagar?"
Marcella nodded. It had borne fruit two years now.
"It knew nothing: it was just still and quiet when something told it to push on. And then life came along it—like a path. If it had known, it couldna help the life any—"
She nodded again. She felt she understood now.
At the end of the year things began to go badly again at the farm. The money was almost exhausted; the oat crop failed and one of the cows was lost on Lashnagar, where she had been tempted by hunger to find more food. One of the serving women, falling ill, went to Edinburgh to be cured and never came back; paint, blistered and scarred from the doors and window frames by the weather, was not replaced; the holes gnawed and torn by the hungry rats in wainscot and floor were never patched and food was more scarce than ever. Aunt Janet sat, a dourly silent ghost, while Marcella read to Andrew, listening sickly to the beasts clamouring for their scanty meals. And one night, when he had been out alone along Ben Grief and seen his lands and his old grey house, Lashcairn the Landless, as they called him, went back to his barrel.
For three days he lived behind the green baize door. On the fourth he came out with his red-rimmed eyes ablaze, his gaunt face pinched, his hair bedraggled. And that night a little old man, Rose's cousin from Winchester, came to see them. He had never seen the mad family into which his cousin had married; he had not seen her since she was a gentle little thing in pinafores, with a great family of wax dolls. He did not know that she was dead. Aunt Janet made no explanations; his small black eyes took in all the decay and famine of the place; his neat black Sabbatical coat looked queerly out of place in the book-room with its scarred oak refectory table, its hard oak chairs and its dusty banner hung from the ceiling above where Andrew Lashcairn sat. When his host came into the room he pulled himself to his full five feet five and his thin white face went even whiter. Andrew, in his frenzy, cursed him and God and the world, and, in the old Berserk rage, dashed over the heavy table on which Aunt Janet had set a poor meal for the stranger.
It was a wild, bizarre picture; the fire, fanned by the fierce winds that swept down the open chimney, kept sending out puffs of smoke that went like grey wraiths about the room; the top of the table rutted by hundreds of years' fierce feeding; the shattered crockery and forlorn-looking mess of food on the floor. Aunt Janet and Marcella shrunk away—her father never got one of his rages but the girl felt old agony in her broken arm—but the little white-faced cousin stood in front of Andrew's gaunt frame, which seemed twice his size.
"What's the matter, Cousin Andrew?" he asked mildly. Then, turning to the others, he said gently: "Go away for a little while. I'll have a talk with Andrew about little Rose."
They went away with Andrew's curses following them along the windy passage. Marcella waited in sympathy with the little man's arms, but after a while a murmur of normal conversation came from the room and went on until two o'clock in the morning. At last the little old cousin came to where Marcella and Aunt Janet shivered in the kitchen, and said simply:
"Andrew has cast his burden on the Lord, and now he can go on his way singing."
Marcella began to cry from sheer nervousness. She had not the faintest idea what the cousin meant, but she was to know it as time went by. For Andrew got religion as he got everything else—very thoroughly—and, just as he had superimposed Rationalism on his house and bent it before his whisky furies, now he tried to religionize it.
After two days the cousin went away and never came again. Almost it seemed as though he had never been, for he wrote not at all, simply going his serene, white-faced way through their lives for two days and two nights and dropping out of them. Marcella, telling Wullie about it, received his explanation.
"It's what I tauld ye afore, lassie. We're not things or people, really. We're juist paths."
"Was it God who came along that night?" asked Marcella doubtfully. Wullie thought it was. But she found her father's religion even more difficult than any of his other obsessions. It made him eager and pathetic. He had never tried to make drunkards of people; Marcella he had impatiently tried to make a rationalist; but now he spent all his time trying to convert them. His household was veneered with evangelism. The kindly desire to save brands from the burning sent him to the village praying and quoting the Word to those who once thought him a king, later a terror, and now could not understand him. Men coming from the fields and the boats were asked questions about their peace with God, and in the little chapel where once the Covenanters had met, Andrew Lashcairn's voice was raised in prayers and exhortations so long and so burning that he often emptied the place even of zealots before he had tired himself and God.
All the time Marcella ached with pity for him now that she feared him no longer. He seemed so naive, so wistful to her, this strange father whom she could never understand, but who seemed like a child very keen on a game of make-believe. Things went from bad to worse, but they sat down to their meal of oatcake and milk uncomplaining, after a long grace. It was never the way of the Lashcairns to notice overmuch the demands of the body. And now they sat by the almost bare refectory table, and none of them would mention hunger; Andrew did not feel it. His zeal fed him. Marcella, however, took to going down oftener to the huts and always Wullie, who sensed these things, toasted fish—three or four at a time—over the embers, and roasted potatoes in the bed of ashes.
It was in the summer following this last obsession that Andrew was taken suddenly ill. One evening, praying with blazing ardour for the souls of the whole world, consciousness of unbearable weight came upon him. Standing in the little chapel he felt that he was being pressed to his knees and there, with a terrible voice, he cried:
"Yes, Lord, put all the weight of Thy cross upon me, Thy poor servant—Thy Simon of Cyrene who so untimely, so unhelpfully hath found Thee."
Those watching believed that they saw the black shadow of a cross laid over his bowed shoulders. But then, like Andrew, they were Kelts who could see with eyes that were not apparent. Andrew was carried home to his bed, and Dr. Angus, the same doctor he had driven forth in violence from his wife's sickness, came to him.
Thorough in body as in soul, Andrew seemed called upon to bear all the woes of the world. Sometimes, watching him lying there with closed eyes and lips that moved faintly as he prayed for courage, Marcella wished she could see him once again come tearing into the room in a passion of destruction. His gentleness, his pathos, and the way he talked so quietly to God with his beautiful voice, almost tore her in two with pity.
Many nights his illness made it impossible for him to lie down, and then he would stand, wrapped in a blanket—for his dressing-gown had long since been torn to shreds—his hands clutching the post of his ancient bed, his eyes gazing deeply at the faded sun in splendour on the tapestry back of the bed while he read slowly the old boastful motto, "By myself I stand." And the girl, lying on a little couch where she took turns with Aunt Janet in nursing him through the night, would hear him talking to God by the hour.
"Not by myself, O Lord, but in Thy might. Thou art my Rock and my Fortress, my Defence on my right hand, my strong shield in whom I trust—"
Silence—except for the grating of rats in the ceiling as they tried to gnaw the beams, and the moaning of the wind. Then the musical voice would say, with infinite tenderness:
"He hath said thy foot shall not be moved. Thy keeper shall never, never slumber nor sleep. O Lord, I am not asking Thee a very great thing, for already Thou hast done wondrous things for me. This is a little thing, O Thou that never sleepest! Give me ten minutes' rest, ten minutes' sleep. To Thee a thousand years are but as yesterday. To me, O Lord, in this weariness, a night is as a thousand years."
Helped by Marcella he would clamber into bed again, shutting his eyes, waiting on the Lord, only to start up as the pumping of his worn-out, strained heart almost choked him. And then, leaning back on heaped pillows he would look out through the dark window and say, very humbly:
"Most patient hast Thou been with me, Oh Lord, when Thou wast seeking me so far. Most patient must I be with Thee—I, who have no claim upon Thy mercy save Thy own most holy kindliness to me."
And so the night would wear on; sometimes he would talk to God, sometimes to Marcella, telling her how he had hated her because she was not a boy and seemed, to his great strength, too much like her frail English mother to be of any use in the world.
"We're a great folk, we Lashcairns, Marcella," he would say, his sunken eyes brightening. "A great name, Marcella. I wanted you Janet, for there has always been a Janet Lashcairn since the wild woman came to Lashnagar. But Rose would have you Marcella—a foreign name to us," and he sighed heavily. "I hated you, Marcella, because I wanted a boy to win back everything we have lost. Lashcairn the Landless whose lands stretched once from—Marcella, what am I saying? O Lord, Thou knowest that in nothing do I glory save in the Cross of Jesus Christ. O Lord, Simon of Cyrene, Thy cross-bearer, has naught to boast save only the burden Thy grace has laid upon him. Be patient with me, O Lord—very hardly dies the vanity of the flesh."
Andrew was always glad when it was Marcella's turn to stay with him at night, for he liked her to read to him; she read the epistles of Paul especially and F.W.H. Myers' "St. Paul" until she knew them almost by heart. In St. Paul Andrew saw much of himself: especially could he see himself on the Damascus road when a blinding light came down.
Three of the five cows were sold to buy the medicines and the patent foods he did not seem to notice. Duncan, the farm man who never got any wages, went out at night to work with Jock and Tammas in their boat, and at every month end he handed to Aunt Janet the money he got to buy things for his master. Though he was on his bed Andrew did not forget his proselytising and Duncan and Jean were brought into the bedroom every night while Marcella read the New Testament, and her father prayed. He prayed for her soul and the souls of Duncan and Jean; Marcella would kneel between the two of them, with the smell of the fish from Duncan and the scent of the byres from Jean's shoes and her clothes stealing round her while her father prayed. She was bewildered by him: very often, when he prayed long and she was falling asleep after her wakeful night, she would feel impatient with him, especially when he prayed loud and long that she might be brought to a conviction of sin. He puzzled her unendurably; sometimes her old docility to his autocracy made her feel that she really must be the miserable sinner he pictured her. Sometimes her common sense told her she could not be. Then, on top of the impatience and revolt, would come aching pity for his weakness, his tenderness to God, the apologies he made for God who was so hard, so just in His dealings with him.
He seemed often to resent his illness bitterly; he had never known anything but an almost savage strength. Now he lay watching his illness with a curious mixture of fierce resentment and proprietorial pride. He spent a good deal of his time trying to think of ways in which he could circumvent the choking sensation that often came to him. Marcella brought some comfort by placing the kitchen ironing board across the bed, resting on the backs of two chairs so that he could lean forward on it. Sometimes he slept so, his grey head jerking forward and backward in his weariness.
One night, when he could not sleep, he got out of bed and, leaning on Marcella's shoulders, began to walk about. The moon was rising desolately over Lashnagar, and he stood for a long time in the window looking at the dead waste of it all. Suddenly he shivered.
"Father, ye're cold," said Marcella quickly. "Let me put on your socks. It's a shame of me to let you stand barefoot so long."
He sat down on the deep window-seat, and the moonlight streamed in upon his feet as she knelt beside him.
"Why, you are getting fat, father," she said. "I can hardly get your socks on! And I thought your face looked thinner to-day. What a good thing—if you get fat."
"Fat, Marcella?" he said in a strange, faint voice. "That's what the doctor's been expecting. It's the last lap!"
"What do you mean, father? Isn't it better for you to be getting fat now?"
He smiled a little and, bending down, pressed his fingers on the swollen ankle. The indentations stayed there. She thought of the soft depression on Lashnagar where the young shepherd had gone down.
"We'll just walk about a bit, Marcella," he said, his hand pressing heavily on her shoulder. "I thought my legs felt very tired and heavy. This is the last lap of the race. When my hands get fat like that my heart will be drowned, Marcella."
"Father, what do you mean?" she cried frantically, but he told her nothing. There were no medical books in the house which she could read. She had to be content, as Wullie had said, to go on to the end knowing nothing, while things trod along her life.
"It's a damned sort of death, Marcella, for a Lashcairn. Lying in bed—getting stiffer and heavier—and in the end drowned. We like to go out fighting, Marcella, killing and being killed. Did I ever tell you of Tammas Lashcairn and how he tore a wolf to pieces in the old grey house on Ben Grief?"
He talked quickly and strangely, disjointed talk out of which she wove wild tales of the deaths of her people in the past.
After he had got back into bed and she stooped over him, trying to chafe warmth into his cold feet, he looked at her more kindly than he had ever looked before.
"All my life I have cursed you because you were a girl. I cursed your mother because she gave me no son. And now I thank God that you are not a man, to carry on the old name."
"Why, father?" she asked, her eyes frightened and puzzled.
"The Lord deals righteously. I shall sleep now," was all he said.
It was Wullie who told her what her father had meant. They were up on Ben Grief watching the swollen streams overflowing with melted snow and storm-water. Marcella looked wan and tired; her eyes were ringed with black shadows. As usual she was hungry, but Wullie had left potatoes buried under the green-wood fire, and they would feast when they got back.
"Why is it father is glad I'm not a boy?" she asked him.
It was a long time before he told her.
"The Lashcairns are a wild lot, lassie—especially the men folk. They kill and they rule others and they drink. It's drink that's ruined them, because drink is the only thing they canna rule. That's the men folk I'm talking of. Your great-grandfather lost all his lands that lie about Carlossie. The old grey house and the fields all about Ben Grief and Lashnagar were lost by your father. All he's got now is Lashnagar and the farm-house. And Lashnagar canna be sold because it hasna any value. Else he'd have sold it, to put it in his bar'l."
She said nothing. Her tired eyes looked out over the farm and the desolate hill, her hair, streaming in the wind, suddenly wrapped her face, blinding her. As she struggled with it, light came, and she turned to Wullie.
"It was the barrel, then, that made father ill?"
"It was so."
"And grandfather, and his father—did they get ill, too, through the barrel?"
He shook his head, and she snatched at his arm roughly.
"Wullie, ye're to tell me. I'm telling ye ye're to tell me, Wullie. I never heard of them. How did they die? I shall ask father if you don't tell me."
"Your great-grandfather killed his son in a quarrel, when your father was a bit laddie of four. The next day he was found dead beside his bar'l in the cellar."
The storm-water went swirling down by their feet, brown and frothing. It went down and down as though Ben Grief were crying hopelessly for this wild people he had cradled.
"I see, now, why he's glad I'm not a boy. Wullie—do all the Lashcairns die—like that?" and she pictured again her father waiting, as he put it, to be drowned in his bed while a procession of killed and killing ancestors seemed to glide before her eyes over the rushing water.
"The men folk, yes. They canna rule themselves."
"And the women?" she said sharply, realizing that she and Aunt Janet were all that were left.
"They keep away from the bar'l."
"Yes, I couldn't imagine Aunt Janet doing that," she said, smiling faintly. "Or me."
"Some of the women rule themselves," he said tentatively. "There was the witch-woman first—and later there was the Puritan woman. They seem to mother your women between them. There's never any telling which it'll be."
"Aunt Janet—" began Marcella.
"She's ruled herself. Some of the Lashcairn women wouldna think of ruling themselves. Then they go after the man they need, like the witch-woman. And—take him."
"It sends them on strange roads sometimes," said Wullie, and would say no more.
It was Marcella's rest night, and tired as she was, she lay thinking long in the silence. It was a strangely windless night, but her thoughts went whirling as though on wings of wind. Thoughts of fate, thoughts of scepticism jostled each other: pictures came; she saw the apple tree breaking through Lashnagar; she saw a landslide many years ago on Ben Grief that had torn bare strange coloured rocks in the escarpment. Just as she fell asleep, worn out, she thought that perhaps something beautiful might outcrop from her family, something different, something transforming. And then she was too tired to think any more and went to sleep.
The "last lap" was not a very long one; it grew in distress as the days went on. The worn-out heart that the Edinburgh doctor had graphically described as a frail glass bubble, in his attempt to make Andrew Lashcairn nurse his weakness, played cruel tricks with its owner. It choked him so that he could not lie down; it weakened him so that he could not stand up. He would gasp and struggle out of bed, leaning on Marcella so heavily that she felt she could not bear his weight for more than another instant. But the weight would go on, and somehow from somewhere she would summon strength to bear it. But after a while his frail strength would be exhausted, and he would have to fall back on the bed, fighting for breath and with every struggle increasing the sense of suffocation. But all the time, when his breath would let him, he would pray for courage—as time went on he prayed more for courage to bear his burden than for alleviation of it, though sometimes a Gethsemane prayer would be wrung from him.
"O Lord," he would whisper, his trembling hand gripping the girl's arm until it bruised the flesh, "I am the work of Thy hands. Break me if Thou wilt. But give me courage not to cry out at the breaking."
One night when it became impossible, because of the stiffness and heaviness of his swollen legs, for him to walk about, he prayed for death, and Marcella, forced to her knees by his passionately pleading eyes, sobbed at his words.
"Lord, I am trying hard to be patient with Thee," he gasped. "But I am man and Thou art God. I cannot match Thy patience with mine. I am trying so hard not to cry out beneath Thy hand. But give me more courage—more courage, O Lord, or I must play the coward. Take Thy cup from me until to-morrow, when I shall have more strength to lift it to my lips—or let me die, Lord, rather than crack like this."
Then, after a pause, words were wrung from his lips.
"Justice—not mercy. I would not take mercy even from Thee. The full rigour of Thy law—"
There was no alleviation, and Marcella, kneeling there, wished that she and her father could die together. The horror of helplessness was searing her soul.
Next day came agonizing pain which made every movement a death. But the Edinburgh doctor who came brought relief for the pain, and, talking with Dr. Angus, the Carlossie doctor, mentioned, among other technicalities, the name of a drug—"digitalis." That afternoon Marcella went back in the doctor's trap to get the new medicine, and it gave relief. Whenever, after that, the choking came back, Andrew would cry out for digitalis, which seemed to him the elixir of life. Sometimes he would pray for courage; sometimes, cracking suddenly, he would pray for digitalis and send Marcella often at midnight with a pleading note to the doctor to give him the drug and a little soothing for his heart that was running away with him.
Now that he could not move about he still thought of the souls of the people in the village, and sent a message to them, pleading with them to come and see him. And they, remembering him as the laird, with a sort of feudal obedience, came and stood about his bed, to be stormed at or prayed with according to Andrew's mood. But always after one of these missionary efforts he would suffer agonies of suffocation when he had forgotten, for a while, that his heart was a bubble of glass.
It was an unreal world, this shadowed world of the old farm. It centred round Andrew Lashcairn's bed—he was its sun, its king, its autocrat still. But things material had slipped from him—or rather, material interests were all centralized in his tortured body. At first during his illness he had worried about the farm, sending messages to Duncan much more than he had done during the days when he was shut behind the green baize door. But now all the farm had slipped from him. He was alone with his body and his soul and God. Most often his soul cried out. Sometimes his body broke through and showed its pains and the strength of old desires.
As he grew weaker he tried to grasp out at strength. Aunt Janet, who had "ruled herself" to nervelessness, had nothing of the mother, the nurse in her make-up; there was no tenderness in what she did for him. It was not that she had any spirit of getting her own back on Andrew for his tyranny, his impoverishment, his ill-usage of her in the past. She would have given him her last crumb of food if she had thought of it. But a thing atrophied as she was could not think or feel, and so he went without the small tendernesses that would have come to him had Rose, the soft little Englishwoman, lived. She sat up with him night after night patiently. She gave him milk, and she and Marcella went without it that he should have enough. She gave him the inevitable porridge and broth, but he turned away from the things he had eaten all his life in disgust.
"Is there any sort of thing I could have to put a little grip into me, doctor?" he asked, and was ordered beef-tea, various patent foods and eggs, all things very difficult to come by on the stern hillside.
"It seems to me, Janet, if I could have some of these foods and drugs they advertise so much I might get some strength to bear it," he said. So she got him half a dozen of the different well-advertised things to try. He had them arrayed on a table by his bed, and took immense pleasure in reminding her or Marcella when it was time for them. The doctor, who guessed that money was scarce, suggested that Aunt Janet should sell some of the old oak furniture, and to her surprise a man from London thought it worth while, from her description, to come all the way to Lashnagar to look at it. She loved it because it enshrined the family story; the scratches on the refectory table showed where heavy-clad feet had been planted as Lashcairns of old had pledged each other in fiery bowls. The heavy oak chairs had each a name and a history, but until the man from London came Aunt Janet had not realized their value. So they went away, taken quietly and stealthily out of the house for fear Andrew should know. In the book-room only a few books were left to keep the dusty pennant a melancholy companionship.
But the patent foods and drugs did no good; they reminded Marcella irresistibly of the soil and water she had laid hopefully round the bursting apple tree. As he lay once, with all the wheels of life running at half rate after a sedative, he said to Marcella, who had been reading to him:
"I feel as if I'm not in my body, Marcella. Oh, Marcella, help me to get a grip on my body! I can't make it do what I'm tellin' it to do! Look!" and he held up one gaunt arm feebly, to let it drop a minute later. "Look! Marcella—once I could break men with my hands!"
She stared at him, choking. There was nothing she could think to say. In her mother's weakness her lips had overflowed with tendernesses; for her father she could only feel a terrified, inarticulate pity. It was not sympathy. She could not understand enough to sympathize. It was the same sort of hungry, brooding pity she used to feel for the hungry beasts on the farm.
"Marcella, do you think if I were to eat a lot of meat I'd be stronger?" he asked hopefully. "Oh, make me stronger!—give me something," and suddenly raising himself in bed, he threw his arms about her and, with his grey head on her shoulder, sobbed desolately. She held him, stroking his head, aching to find words, but utterly dumb with terror. And when, later, they got him the food he craved, he could not eat it. Turning from it in disgust, he prayed:
"There is nothing left, but only Thou, O Lord. No longer art Thou my shield and buckler, for no longer can I fight. Thou hast laid me very low, O Lord. Thou hast made me too weak to fight longer; Thou hast bruised me so that I cannot live save in pain; Thou hast laid me very low."
There was a long silence. His eyes, faded from the bright blue-grey that used to flash with fire, were dull and almost colourless as he lay looking at the faded tapestry of the bed canopy.
"When I pray for courage, Lord, Thou givest pain—Thou givest weakness. When I pray for strength Thou givest a great hunger and a sinking into the depths. And then in Thy loving kindness Thou givest Thy body and blood—for my comfort."
The room grew darker. The fire flickered and spurted as the salt dried out of the driftwood and burnt in blue tongues of flame. Marcella shivered, listening to the distant beat of the sea. The house was very silent, with that dead silence that falls on houses where many of the rooms are unfurnished. The stir and clamour of the beasts outside had gone forever. Outside now was only one old cow, kept to give milk for Andrew. The barren fields lay untended, for Duncan went to the fishing to bring a little handful of coins to the master he feared and loved, and Jean went softly about the kitchen in the shadows.
Suddenly Andrew spoke, and Marcella started, drawing a little nearer to him.
"Do ye mind, Marcella, when we read yon books from Edinburgh—and you used to be such an idiot, and make me so mad?"
"I mind it," she nodded, thinking painfully of those hard books.
"There was something in one of them that I seized on with a bitter scorn. It was explaining how the idea of the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ had grown up. It said how savages, when they saw one of the tribe better than themselves, would kill him and eat him to make themselves as good as he. I liked that fine, Marcella. I was bitter in those days."
"Horrible!" said Marcella with a shiver. "I like to think of the Last Supper, and the Holy Grail—mother used to read about it all to me—she used to tell me all about Parsifal and the Love Feast."
"Yes, little Rose was wiser than those books. Ye see, Marcella, it seems to me there is a time when ye're led by something inside ye to do things. Like Christ was led to preach, though perhaps he didn't quite know why. The word was taken out of his mouth—and like I was led to yon barrel. Things come out of you, right out of deep inside you. Maybe they're God, maybe they're a beast deep down." He paused, and moved impatiently. "It's hard to piece thoughts together when you're weak. Can you finish my thought for me, Marcella? It's getting muddled—down under sand and stones like Castle Lashcairn under Lashnagar."
Marcella hesitated. Then she told him Wullie's idea about the path.
"He says other things beside God walk along our lives, but in the end God's footmarks burn out all the rest."
Andrew nodded again and again.
"I suppose Christ was a pathway. I remember reading something about that. 'My humanity is the path whereby men must travel to God,' but I'm too tired to piece it all out."
"Yes. It says that in the Bible, of course. 'I am the Way—' Only I suppose there comes a time when God has got to the end of you, and then you're not a path any longer. And all that's left then is to give your body and blood and get out of the way of others."
"Yes. I can grasp that. I feel that God has walked along me and all the other footmarks have gone. Now, when I am weak, and hungering for strength, He gives His body and blood. Yes, I think I understand that—in a glass darkly. Some day I'll come to it more clearly."
That night, when he held out his hand for a cup of milk, Marcella noticed that it was swollen like his feet; the left hand was bony and flexible and still a little brown. The right hand was thick and puffed and very white. When he stretched his fingers to take the cup she saw that they were stiff and difficult to move. He shook his head and dropped his hand on to the sheet, looking at it reflectively.
"The last lap is nearly done, Marcella. This poor old heart of mine will be drowned very soon, now."
Marcella began to cry and her father looked at her as though surprised. Suddenly he leaned over and stroked her hair. She cried all the more; it was the first tender thing she could remember his doing to her, the first caress he had ever given her.
"I wish I'd been good to ye, Marcella—I think often, now, of that poor wee broken arm, and how ye used to cower away from me! I wish I'd got a grip on myself sooner."
"Oh, if you make me love you any more, father, I'll be torn in bits," she cried, and sobbed, and could not be comforted. It was her only break from inarticulateness—it surprised herself and her father almost as though she had said something indecent.
When he knew, quite definitely, that he was dying and need not conserve his strength, some of the old tyranny came back to Andrew Lashcairn. But it was a kindly, rather splendid tyranny, the sort of tyranny that makes religious zealots send unbelievers to the stake, killing the body for the soul's sake. Much of the evangelism the little white-faced cousin had superimposed upon his mind that night of wild passions had gone now, burnt up as he drew nearer to simple, beautiful, essential things.
As the Feast of All Souls, the time when ghosts thronged on Lashnagar, drew near he brooded in silence for hours. Through one of his choking attacks he lay passive, scarcely fighting for breath; only once did he turn supplicating eyes on Aunt Janet, mutely demanding the drug that soothed. And when he was able to speak again, he told them what he had been thinking.
"I want to tell people," he said, speaking very rapidly. "The mantle of prophecy has fallen upon me."
"Ye've tauld us, Andrew—and that's enough," said Aunt Janet, who had no patience with his frequent swift rushes towards a climax.
"I'm going to tell the others. I'm going to testify to the power of His might," he said just as grimly, gripping his stiff, cold hands together.
"Yell be getting upset, Andrew, an' then we'll be having a time with ye," said Aunt Janet.
"I'll not be getting upset. I'll just be dying," he said gravely, and, calling Marcella, sent her to the village, summoning all the people to come up to the farm on All Souls' Night at seven o'clock.
"I must tell them, Marcella," he said passionately, pleading for her understanding which she could not give, for she could not understand in the least. "I have never done anything for anyone. I must do something."
"I'm afraid you'll be worse for it, father," she said, hesitant. "And so is Aunt Janet—poor Aunt Janet. She's so anxious about you, and she's so tired, you know."
He shook that thought off impatiently.
"I'll be master in my own house," he cried, with some little return to the old Andrew. "I know it will make me worse! I know I'm dying! There, I ought not to frighten you, Marcella! I've frightened you enough in my life. But surely when I've lived for myself I can die for others."
And she knew that it was no use talking to him. Indeed, she would not have dared to cross his will. In the night he prayed about it.
"Lord, I must tell these others how I set beasts in Thy way when Thou wouldn't have made my life Thy path. I must tell them how I never knew liberty till Thou hadst made me Thy slave, how I never knew lightness till I carried Thy cross, how I was hungering and thirsting until I was fed with Thy Body and Blood—"
He broke off and talked to Marcella, words that seemed eerie and terrible to her.
"To-morrow, Marcella, is the day when the ruin came on Lashnagar. To-morrow I shall die—"
"Oh, father!" she cried helplessly.
"I was once His enemy, Marcella. I must let them see me at His feet now, kissing His hand—His man—the King's man—"
He brooded for an hour, gasping for breath. Marcella felt worn out mentally and physically. Her eyes ached for want of sleep, she felt the oppression and burden of the atmosphere that seemed full of ghosts and fears, and to add to her misery she was having her first taste of pain in a crazing attack of neuralgia. Anniversaries, to a mind stored with legend and superstition, have immense signification. She felt that her father's prediction of his death on All Souls' Day was quite reasonable. But none the less fear was penetrating through her mists of weariness and fatalism, hand in hand with overwhelming pity.
"I shall die to-morrow, Marcella. He gave His body and blood. In the end that is all one can do."
In the afternoon she went to bed, worn out. Jean had made some sort of burning plaster with brown paper and something that smelt pleasantly aromatic. It eased the pain of her face and sent her to sleep. Her father had told her calmly that he was going to be dressed and meet the villagers downstairs. He seemed almost himself as he ordered her to take his old worn clothes from the press and lay them on a chair by his bed. She did not expostulate; no one thought of expostulating with Andrew Lashcairn.
It was dark when she wakened and dressed hurriedly. Running down to the kitchen to tell Jean the pleasant effects of her plaster she found it was half-past six.
"Andrew Lashcairn's doon," said Jean, looking scared.
"Who helped him?" asked Marcella, lifting the lid of the teapot that stood on the hearth. She poured into it some water from the singing kettle, and after a minute poured a cup of weak tea, which she drank thirstily.
"He wasna helpit—not with han's. The mistress was frettin', wonderin' what she'd be tellin' him aboot the furniture i' th' book-room. An' he juist cam' in, luikit roond, and laught. I lighted a fire i' there for him, for it's cauld. But he went off doon the passage, gruppin' his stick."
"Is he lying down? Oh dear, I wish I hadn't slept so long! It would have been better for him if I'd been there with him."
"No, he isna to his bed. He's gone through the green baize door. An' it's a' that dusty! I havena bin in tae clean sin' the day he tuik tae his bed. Always the mistress has said I maun leav' it. An' noo the master's gaun in."
"Never mind, Jean, he won't notice," said Marcella, feeling a little incredulous that Jean should be caring about dust now. It seemed as much out of place as her worrying about the mark the plaster had made on her face. "I'm going to get him out. He'll be frozen in there."
"He cam' in tae me and said that the folks was tae have meat and drink! Meat and drink! An' whaur's it tae come frae?" asked Jean in despair.
Marcella flushed a little then and said quickly:
"I expect he was back in the past, Jean. But perhaps he's more for the folks than meat and drink, really."
But as she ran along the gusty passage to the green baize door all her pride rose savagely to think that guests should come, bidden autocratically to the house, and go away unfed. And that the servant, the one poor staunch, unpaid servant, should grieve about it. But she soon lost that thought as she knocked at the green baize door and could get no answer.
"Father! Yell be cold in there. Do come out!"
She waited, and at last he answered her steadily and clearly.
"I'm coming at the right time, Marcella. I have my watch."
"But you'll be so cold," she protested.
"I'll be colder yet, soon," he said calmly, and she was forced to go away. She guessed that Andrew's sense of dramatic fitness made him wish to make his last entry on the stage alone. So she went back to her room and stood looking out over Lashnagar, where the autumn mists stalked and mowed at each other and fluttered and jostled and fought.
Before seven o'clock the book-room was full of people, soaked through with the mist. They were the people Marcella had known all her life—fisher-folk, farm labourers, crofters—and she felt a momentary exultant pride to think that, at a word from her father, they had thronged to his house. There seemed something fitting in their coming on All Souls' Night into this bare room with the tattered pennant and the crackling wood fire that flickered on their weather-beaten faces. Their coming obediently to be talked to by her father for the good of their souls gave her a sense of savage exaltation for the moment. Then she saw Hunchback Wullie and Tammas and Jock, and went across to talk to them.
"Is the Lashcairn better, then?" asked Wullie. She shook her head.
"He says he's going to die to-night, Wullie—All Souls' Night," she said in a low voice.
Wullie nodded comprehension.
Aunt Janet came into the room, her thin face set and grim, her rusty dress of old black satin all cracking, and her great cairngorm brooch marking her from the rest in capes and homespun. They drew away from her; she had never tried to associate with them; in her detachment she had never been human to them as Andrew had been in his wildness and his weakness, and now she walked silently across the room and sat down. The firelight shone out fiercely as she savagely poked the logs, and with a motion ordered young Jock, who stood near, to throw more wood to the flames. It shone on gnarled hands gripping gnarled sticks, on rugged, ruddy faces, on white and sandy hair, on bright blue eyes, old and young. And then the door opened sharply and Andrew Lashcairn stood there, leaning on his stick.
Everyone but Aunt Janet stared at him as the firelight flamed up to blue and purple flame, lighting his gaunt face. But Aunt Janet, like a fate, sat gazing up the misty side of Lashnagar through the uncovered window. Andrew stood still, looking from one to the other. Then he took two steps forward.
"Jamie Mactavish and Andrew Gray are not here," he said sternly, as though he were a schoolmaster calling the roll. Explanations of the absence murmured out and he came inside, pushing the door to.
Marcella, standing by Wullie, was shivering with nervous dread, and suddenly noting his red-rimmed eyes, blazing and wild, she clutched Wullie's arm.
"Wullie—look at him!" she whispered.
"He's been at the bar'l," muttered Wullie, and with a cry she started forward. But Wullie caught her back gently.
"He knows what he's daein', lassie," he whispered, watching Andrew's face expectantly, and the girl stood petrified beside him. It came to her very certainly that her father had realized he had not strength to make what he called his allegiance to God, and that at the last he had sought the momentary strength of the whisky that he knew would shatter his glass heart.
"That's why he knew he would die to-day," her voice whispered, choked in tears. She felt that she was in the grip of things that were bending and breaking her life as they liked.
And then her father spoke, letting his stick clatter to the ground, and lifting his swollen white hands.
"Friends," he said loudly, "ye have all known me in the old days. I asked ye here to-night to tell ye how I went along the Damascus road and cast my burden on the Lord.... He is not hard to deal with.... There's beasts in us, all of us. They lift their heads out of us and jabber and clamour at us; they tear at us with their claws, but if we throw ourselves on God's strength He crushes the life out of the beasts. We can do nothing till we stop fighting and lean on Him. He is kinder than all our hopes, kinder than all our fears—"
His voice stopped with shot-like suddenness and his hands fell to his side as he swayed. Marcella, Wullie and several others rushed to his side. He fell, dragging the hunchback with him. His eyes, not blazing now, but dimming as quickly as though veils had been drawn across them, sought Marcella as he struggled for breath.
"Father—dear," she said, putting her arm under his grey head as Aunt Janet walked across the room. "Dear—" she whispered, almost shyly, for it was a word that she never used except in whispers to her mother.
"I knew we'd have a doing with ye, Andrew," said Aunt Janet, bending stiffly in her satin frock. He could not hear. He looked at her and turned to Marcella again.
"If ye—" he began, and suddenly felt very heavy on the girl's supporting arm.
The people crept away talking quietly then. It seemed right that Andrew Lashcairn had died in the midst of them all on All Souls' Night.
After her father's death Marcella had more time to become aware of the really tangible shadows about the farm. In fact, she wakened to a general awareness about the time of her eighteenth birthday, rather later than most girls.
She was extraordinarily young; she was inevitably romantic. Living what amounted to the life of a recluse, it was only to be expected that she should live her illusions and dreams. Her mind was a storehouse of folklore, romance, poetry and religion; her rationalistic readings had not in any way become part of her, though facts and ratiocinations, by mere feat of memory, were stored in her mind as irrelevances and unrealities that came elbowing their way through her dreams just as fantastic thoughts come as one falls asleep.
Never, in all her life, had she known what physical pleasure was; her bed was hard and very thinly covered—one night her father had taken away and locked up a blanket because he said she must be hardened. It had never occurred to her that food could be a pleasure; it was just something that happened, a recurrence of potatoes, porridge, oatcake and broth. Only when she had been swimming in the fierce waves or battling in the winds on Ben Grief with Wullie did she realize the pleasure of hunger, and that was easily satisfied in the smoking hut when the Hunchback raked aside the ashes and brought out roast potatoes or toasted fish that he took down from the roof.
Not knowing other girls she had no one to talk to her about clothes. Before Rose Lashcairn was ill she had taken great pleasure in dressing her little girl; soft things, woven of silk and wool, came from London for her, soft shoes and stockings and frocks of fine texture and beautiful colour that seemed strange and exotic on Lashnagar. But these were worn out and never replaced—except for her mother's funeral she never wore shoes, summer or winter. Her feet and legs were brown and quite invulnerable to stones or brambles. Her father did not realize that she needed clothes; her aunt was too much sunk in shadows to notice the child's appearance. And, reading her legends and romances, it was natural that Marcella should live them and dress them. In a press in her mother's room were clothes brought from the old grey house, the accumulation of days when fabrics were made as heirlooms. There were plaids and brocades and silks: there was lace from Valenciennes and linen from Cambrai, yellow with age. There were muslins that a Lashcairn had brought when he adventured to India with Clive. Rose often wept over them. Several times Marcella's dreams nearly cost her her life, for, living them so utterly, she became detached from the physical world. One time, when a stormy golden sun went down behind black clouds, shining on an ancient pile of grey stones that stood on a little spit of land near the bar of the river, she was reminded of Tennyson's "Morte d'Arthur." She heard the ripples lapping on the reeds and, with an imaginary Sir Bedivere at her elbow, hurried back to the farm to dress herself as a Scottish edition of King Arthur in kilts that had belonged to her grandfather. She worshipped the shine of the moon on the great jewel at her breast as she stepped into the little frail boat, very tired after a long day's wandering on Ben Grief without food. To a Kelt death is a thing so interpenetrating life that thought of it brought no fear; there was a sort of adventurous anticipation about it. She cast a stick—her sword Excalibur—into midstream and waited for the arm "clad in white samite, mystic, wonderful." That it did not appear meant very little to her. It certainly did not mean that it was not there. Rather it meant that she could not see it. So she lay in the little boat and quite certainly she saw the grave Queens at the head, leading her to the Island Valley of Avilion. Watching the moonlight glittering on her jewel she was hypnotized to sleep, rocked by the soft motion of the little boat. The current of the stream took her out to sea, the turn of the tide washed her back again, and she wakened at dawn famished with hunger, drenched with the icy water the little boat had shipped. She was too good a swimmer to drown and, after a valiant struggle, she came to land two miles from home.
Her romance was never killed by misadventures. The very next day she climbed Ben Grief and lighted a ring of fire round his wrinkled brow by carrying up loads of dried heather and grass through which she fought her way to the rescue of a dream Brunnhilde, sleeping within the fire. She reached home that night with scorched clothes and hair, and smoke-smarting eyes. But such mishaps were only part of the adventure, as inevitable as storms in winter and wounds in battle. These dreams were in the days before her father's Rationalism kept her chained indoors: his evangelism sowed seeds that took root and flowered into a desire that she might be a wild-eyed, flame-tongued John the Baptist, making straight the way of the Lord. When this dream came to her it transmuted all the other dreams; from so deep down inside her that it seemed a voice of someone autocratic standing beside her came the conviction that to be a John the Baptist meant to be a martyr and an anchorite. For days after her father's death she wandered on the hills, preaching deliverance to the screaming gulls, who would not be quiet like St. Francis' birds when he preached. Many days she took food with her and deliberately refused to eat it, walking miles after she was worn out in a considered attempt at the subjection of the flesh, after the manner of saints of old. Sometimes she preached peace to the desolate ghosts on Lashnagar, but they did not seem to listen.
Then, just after this, several things happened to bring her thoughts away from dreams to a realization of herself as a concrete, circumscribed being. Wullie had warned her of this.
"Ye're up in the clouds, now, Marcella, like a wraith. Some day ye'll come down to airth. And it'll be with sic' a bang that ye'll find ye're very solid." She had not understood him.
For six weeks after her father's funeral she had almost maddening neuralgia. One day, meeting Dr. Angus in the village she stopped to speak to him. Indeed, it was impossible to pass him, for he had bought Rose Lashcairn's little mare who, even after six years, remembered Marcella and stood with eager, soft eyes while the girl stroked her velvet nose and satin sides. This was the first time the doctor had seen Marcella since the funeral and she had been weighing on his mind: he guessed at more than the Lashcairns would ever have told him of their circumstances; he had sent in no bill for Andrew's illness and, out of his own pocket, had paid the Edinburgh specialist. Marcella knew nothing of this—if she thought of it at all, she would have thought that the doctor just happened, as everything else in her life, by chance.
"Marcella, you're not looking the thing," he said. "Hop up beside me. I've not seen you for ages. Let us have a talk. I've to drive along to Pitleathy and I'll drop you here on my way back."
She sprang in beside him and told him about the neuralgia.
"I had it first when I used to sit up with father. Now I have it all the time—and dreadful headaches. I never knew what aches meant before. I'm afraid when Jean used to say she had the headache I wasn't so kind to her as I expect her to be to me."
"We never are," said the doctor bluntly. "But have you not told Aunt Janet about the headaches?"
"Oh no—she'd think it was silly."
"Then I'd tell Jean, Marcella," said the doctor hurriedly. "If you're not feeling well, just tell Jean, and maybe she'll be bringing you along to see me." Then he added. "But to-night I'll send the lad along with medicine for the neuralgia."
They talked about her father, then, and presently she surprised him by saying earnestly:
"Doctor, why is it that people get ill?"
He laughed and chuckled at her puzzled frown.
"Well! There's a question to ask a man after his dinner. Do you know it took me the best part of seven years at the hospital to learn the answer? And even now my knowledge is not what you might call exhaustive."
"It seems so queer—mother being ill, and father; then Jean's headaches and my neuralgia. And Wullie all twisted up."
The doctor let the reins drop on the horse's neck and lighted a very old pipe. He had very little chance of a talk, and was glad to talk, even to a girl.
"Just in those people you've mentioned, Marcella, you've almost every cause of illness." He paused, puffed at the pipe and went on, "Wullie—he was born like it."
"Yes. I know. It seems all wrong."
"It is wrong. It's a mistake," said the doctor slowly.
"Whose mistake?" she asked quickly.
"Ah, there you have me, Marcella. It was to answer questions like that that men invented the devil, I believe; they like to say he put the grit in the machine that turned out Wullie, and made him like that out of perversity."
"But what do you say?" she said, looking into his face.
"I don't know. I think several things. For one thing, I like to imagine that God, or Nature, whichever you like to call it—isn't a perfect machine yet, and that we human beings can step in to help a bit."
"Wullie's father, I've heard, was drowned before he was born, and his mother was too proud to tell when she was hungry. She used to go out every night and take his place with the fishing boats, rowing, sitting cramped, drawing the nets. We can help there by stopping that sort of thing."
Marcella watched him, wide-eyed. She was completely mystified but so full of questions that she could not find which one to ask first.
"That's what I'd have said when I was at the hospital, a young man. In those days I dealt much more with cells and bodies than—than I do now. Queer thing, Marcella—youngsters go for physiology mostly. When they get older they see that there's more in psychology. I'm old now. Maybe I'm more foolish, but I've a feeling, right down at my marrow, that I'm wiser. I like to think that Wullie's an example of the law of compensation and, by losing physical strength and beauty, has gained a beautiful soul. But for the Lord's sake don't go telling anyone I—a doctor—talked such arrant nonsense," he added with a laugh as he puffed at his pipe.
"It seems wrong to me," said Marcella slowly. "I can't see why a beautiful mind and body shouldn't be part of each other."
"You've never been introduced to your body yet, Marcella, nor shaken hands with it. It's never popped up and made faces at you. When it does you'll find folks like Wullie have a good deal to be thankful for. Your father, for instance—"
He stopped short, coughed loudly and pulled up the horse to a sharp trot.
"Yes. The barrel," she said gravely.
"Who's been telling you that?"
"Wullie. I asked him."
"I wouldn't have told you, yet. But it's right you should know. You saw how it was with your father. Whisky ruled him. It rules all your menfolk like that. It wasn't till his body grew weak with sickness—and sickness, mind you, caused by the whisky—that he got it in hand. Then, you see, it was too late. He conquered a wounded foe. And, of course, he died. If he'd got religion earlier, perhaps—and, after all, that's only another obsession."
"Poor father," she whispered.
"If your father, without religion or anything, could have conquered, Marcella, he'd have been a very heroic figure. He'd have left footprints in the sand of time, as the poet said."
Marcella nodded. This was the first time the idea of conscious heroism came to her. She said rather breathlessly:
"But are bodies wicked, doctor? Lots of people seem to think so. Aunt Janet thinks people's bodies are wrong. All saints seem to think that too."
"They're very splendid and bonny if you can keep them in hand. Christ taught that bodies—Humanity, that is—are the veils of God. It's only when bodies get out of hand that they go wrong and put a man in hell. I expect the idea of Trinity-worship that we get in most religions was an unconscious aiming at this truth, that to be a perfect human being you must be the Trinity—body, brain and spirit. But we're not up to that Trinity yet, lassie, by a long chalk."
"When I used to read those scientific books, and those queer philosophies to father, it seemed to me that bodies were all that mattered. That was when I was reading biology books and lectures. It seemed so useless to me—just living, and handing on life, and living no more."
"That was the idea when I was at the hospital. At a hospital, of course, bodies do count tremendously. But in my day more than now because we were in the reactionary stage from blood-letting, incantations and so on. I remember how Biology came to me with a sense of crystal precision and inevitability in those days."
He paused. Marcella asked rather doubtfully:
"But do you think that Biology is wrong?"
"Oh, Marcella, your 'rights' and 'wrongs' are so funny, if you only knew it! You might as well say, 'Is fire wrong?' It's there. There's no getting away from it. When I was a wee laddie at home I had to write copy-book lessons on Saturday afternoons to keep me out of mischief. One I wrote so often that it keeps coming into my mind in the most foolish way often. 'Fire is a good servant but a bad master.' That was the sentence. The times I've written it, thick down strokes, thin upstrokes! Well, that's like any of these ologies—biology especially. It's a good teacher. You don't have to let it be a taskmaster."
"I'd like to learn ologies, doctor. I'd like to learn to the roots of things. All the things I know—legends, history, poetry, haven't any roots at all. Professor Kraill's a biologist, isn't he?"
"Well, yes—rather a heterodox one, but he's getting believed now. But how on earth did you know?" he said, turning on her in surprise.
"There was an advertisement of a book of his lectures. It was called 'Questing Cells' and father got it. I had to read it to him—with a dictionary at almost every line, because I didn't understand it. It showed me that, though I am muddled now, there is such a thing as clearness in the world. It seemed to me that if I knew all the things Professor Kraill knows things might be like a crystal ball—all the things in the world, you know, beautifully clear and rounded off. I read a lot of books to father after that and got muddled again. But I never lost the feel of Professor Kraill's book. I couldn't tell you a word of it now, but it's like the memory of a most beautiful music. I love him. I'd love to hear him—to see him. He's the wisest man in the world."
"Heaven forbid!" said the doctor, laughing a little.
"Why? Don't you admire him?"
"Immensely, though he's heterodox. But he's just what I was saying to you just now—an example of a man who isn't the Trinity. Being a biologist, he's run all to body and brain. He's let his spirit get famished a bit. Queer things—one hears, too—inevitable things."