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.