“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.