The Mystery of the Sea/Chapter 38
THE DUTY OF A WIFE
Just as we were about to start Marjory said to me, half in jest but wholly in earnest:
"I wonder what has become of Gormala these times. If she knew of the last two night, she would simply become desperate; and there is no knowing what she might prophecy!"
Strangely enough, I had been myself thinking of the Witch-woman. I suppose it was that the memory of the finding of the treasure, and of the hovering near us of death, had recalled her weirds. With the thought of her, came once more that strange feeling which I had before experienced, a feeling as if she were present. Motioning to Marjory to put out the light, I stole to the window. The heavy curtains, when I had passed through them, shut out the glimmer of the firelight. Marjory came and joined me, and we looked out together. There were drifting clouds, and thus, moments of light and shadow. In one of the former I saw a dark mass on the edge of the deep grass that crowns the rock just over the entrance of Witsennan Point. If it was a woman it was probably Gormala; and if it was Gormala she was probably watching me, for of course she could not know that Marjory was with me. I determined to find out if I could; so I told Marjory to slip out by the back door whilst I went to the point. We arranged to join at the upper village of old Whinnyfold.
Having placed my bicycle ready to start, and shut the door behind me softly, I stole over to the cliff. Lying just below the edge, but so that her head was at the top lay Gormala, asleep. At first I thought it was pretence, for I knew the wily nature of the old woman; but on examining closely I found her sleep was real. She looked worn and tired out, and I concluded that it was the second night of watching on end which had finished her. It was well she slept, for had she been awake she must have seen us. The place she had chosen commanded both paths away from the house left and right; only by stealing back over the hill and keeping the house all the time between us and herself could we have avoided her prying eyes. Even then, were there light enough, she might have seen us debouching on the roadway had we gone inland by Whinnyfold. I could not but be sorry for her; she looked so old and feeble, and yet with such purpose in her strong, stern face. I could afford to be pitiful now; my life was running on happy lines. I had won Marjory, and we had found the treasure!
I left her undisturbed; I would have put some rug or covering over her; but I was afraid lest I should awake her, and so make discovery of our plans. Besides it would be hard to account for my being awake myself and about at that hour of the night—or morning, I hardly knew which it was. Almost as hard as it would have been for Gormala to explain why she was in similar case.
When I joined Marjory, we took our way as quickly as possible to Crom; we were both anxious that she should get into the castle before daylight. It was with a certain dread, for the experiences of the night were not yet hardened in memory, that I saw Marjory descend into the cave when we rolled away the stone. She too was not free from misgiving; I knew it from the emphasis with which she impressed on me that I was not to fear for her. She was to wave a white handkerchief from the roof when she had got in safely.
Looking over the stone towards the castle whence must come her signal I waited with an anxiety which I could not conceal from myself. The grey dawn grew paler and paler as I looked, and the sky began to quicken. Here and there around me came every now and again the solitary pipe of an awakening bird. I could just see the top of the castle, looking bare and cold through the vista between the treetops. In a short time, almost shorter than I could have anticipated, I saw on the roof the flutter of a white handkerchief. My heart leaped; Marjory was safe. I waved my own handkerchief; she answered again, and there was no more sign. I came away satisfied, and wheeled back to Cruden with what speed I could. It was still very early morning, when I reached Whinnyfold. Not a soul was up as I passed on my way, and I crept in secretly by the back of the house.
When I looked carefully out of a window in front, I could see in the growing light of morning that Gormala still lay on the edge of the cliff, motionless and manifestly asleep.
I lay down for a while and dozed till the morning was sufficiently advanced. Then after a cold bath and a cup of hot tea, took my way to Crom, timing myself so as to arrive for an early breakfast.
Mrs. Jack met me, beaming. She was so hearty, and so manifestly glad to see me, that I bent over and kissed her. She was not a bit displeased; she seemed a little touched by the act, and smiled at me. Then Marjory came in, looking radiant. She greeted me with a smile, and went over to and kissed Mrs. Jack affectionately. Then she kissed me too, and there was a glad look in her eyes which made my heart thrill.
After breakfast she sat in the window with Mrs. Jack, and I went to the fireplace to light a cigarette. I stood with my back to the fire and looked over at Marjory; it was always a joy to me when she was in my sight. Presently she said to Mrs. Jack:
"Weren't you frightened when I didn't come back the night before last?" The elderly lady smiled complacently as she answered:
"Not a bit, my dear!" Marjory was astonished into an exclamation:
"Why not?" The affectionate old woman looked at her gravely and tenderly:
"Because I knew you were with your husband; the safest place where a young woman can be. And oh! my dear, I was rejoiced that it was so; for I was beginning to be anxious, and almost unhappy about you. It didn't seem right or natural for two young people like you and your husband to be living, one in one place and one in another." As she spoke she took Marjory's hand in hers and stroked it lovingly. Marjory turned her head away from her, and, after one swift glance at me from under her eyelashes, from me also. Mrs. Jack went on in a grave, sweet way, lecturing the girl she loved and that she had mothered; not as a woman lectures a child but as an old woman advises her junior:
"For oh! Marjory, my dear one, when a woman takes a husband she gives up herself. It is right that she should; and it is better too, for us women. How can we look after our mankind, if we're thinking of ourselves all the time! And they want a lot of looking after too, let me tell you. They're only men after all—the dears! Your bringing-up, my child, has not made you need them. But you would well understand it, if when you was a child, you was out on the plains and among the mountains, like I was; if you didn't know when you saw your daddy, or your brother, or your husband go out in the morning whether you'd ever see him come back at night, or would see him brought back. And then, when the work was over, or the fight or whatever it might be, to see them come home all dirty and ragged and hungry, and may be sick or wounded—for the Indians made a lot of harm in my time with their good old bows and their bad new guns—where would we women and girls have been. Or what sort of women at all at all, if we didn't have things ready for them! My dear, as I suppose you know now, a man is a mighty good sort of a thing after all. He may be cross, or masterful, or ugly to deal with when he has got his shirt out; but after all he's a man, and that's what we love them for. I was beginning to wonder if you was a girl at all, when I see you let your husband go away from you day after day and you not either holdin' him back, or goin' off with him, way the girls did in my time. I tell you it would have been a queer kind of girl in Arizony that'd have let her man go like that, when once they had said the word together. Why, my dear, I lay awake half the night sayin' my prayers for the both of you, and blessin' God that He had sent you such a happiness as true love; when there might have been them that would have ben runnin' after your fortun' and gettin' on your weak side enough to throw dust in your eyes. And when in the grey of the dawn I looked into your room and found you hadn't come, why I just tip-toed back to my bed and went to sleep happy. And I was happy all day, knowin' you were happy too. And last night I just went to sleep at once and didn't bother my head about listenin' for your comin'; for well I knew you wouldn't be home then. Ah! my dear, you've done the right thing. At the least, your husband's wishes is as much as your own, seein' as how there's two of you. But a woman only learns her true happiness when she gives up all her own wishes, and thinks only for her husband. And, mind you, child, it isn't givin' up much after all—at least we didn't think so in my time—when she pleases her husband that she loves, by goin' off to share his home."
I listened full of deep emotion as the old lady spoke. I felt that every word she said was crystallised truth; and there was no questioning the deep, earnest, loving-kindness of her intent. I was half afraid to look at Marjory lest I should disconcert her; so I turned round quietly till I faced the fireplace, and leaning on the plinth of it stole a glance in the old oval mirror above. Marjory sat there with her hand in Mrs. Jack's. Her head was bent, and there was a flush on her neck and arms which told its own story. I felt that she was silently crying, or very near it; and a lump rose in my own throat. This was one of the crises in her life. It was so borne in upon me; and I knew its truth. We have all, as the Scotch say, to "dree our own weird," this was a battle with her own soul which Marjory must fight alone. The old woman's wise words sounded a trumpet note of duty. She was face to face with it, and must judge for herself. Even with all my love, I could not help her. I stood silent, scarcely daring to breathe lest I should disturb or distract her. I tried to efface myself, and for a few minutes did not even look in the mirror. The old woman too, knew the value of silence, for she sat still; there was not even the rustle of her dress. At last I could hear Marjory's in-drawn breath, and looked in the mirror. Her attitude had not changed, except that she had raised her head; I could tell by its proud poise that she was her own woman again. She still kept her face away; and there was the veil of recent tears over her sweet voice as she spoke tenderly:
"Thank you, dear. I am so glad you have spoken to me so freely and so lovingly." I could see from the motion of the two hands and her own whitening knuckles that she was squeezing her companion's fingers. Then, after a few moments she rose quietly, and, still keeping her head averted, sailed quietly out of the room in her own graceful manner. I did not stir; I felt that I could please her best by keeping quiet.
But oh! how my heart went with her in her course.