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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
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page: 31

CHAPTER V

IN WHICH JULIUS MARCH BEHOLDS THE VISION OF THE NEW LIFE

HE was aroused from these austere, yet, to him, inspiring reflections by the click of an opening door and the sound of women’s voices. Mademoiselle de Mirancourt paused on the threshold, one hand raised in quick admiration, the other resting on Lady Calmady’s arm.

“But this is superb!” she cried gaily. “Your charming King Richard, Cœur d’Or has given you a veritable palace to inhabit!”

“Ah yes! King Richard has indeed given me a palace to live in. But, better still, he has given me his dear heart of gold in which to hide the life of my heart for ever and a day.”

Katherine’s words came triumphantly, more as song than as speech. She caught the elder woman’s upraised hand gently and kissed it, looking her, meanwhile, full in the face.—“I am happy, very, very happy, best and dearest,” she said. “And it is so delicious to be happy.”

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“Ah, my child, my beautiful child!” Mademoiselle de Mirancourt cried.

There were tears in her pretty, patient eyes. For if youth finds age pathetic with the obvious pathos of spent body, and of tired mind which has ceased to greatly hope, how far more deeply pathetic does age, from out its sad and settled wisdom, find poor, gallant youth and all its still unbroken trust in the beneficence of destiny, its unbroken faith in the enchantments of earth!

Meanwhile, Julius March—product as he was of an arbitrary system of thought and training, and by so much divorced from the natural instincts of youth and age alike, the confident joy of the one, the mature acquiescence of the other—in overhearing this brief conversation suffered embarrassment amounting almost to shame. For not only Katherine’s words, but the vital gladness of her voice, the sweet exuberance of her manner as she bent, in all her spotless bravery of white and rose, above the elder woman’s hand and kissed it, came to him as a revelation before which he shrank with a certain fearful modesty. Julius had read of love in the poets, of course. But, in actual fact, he had never wooed a woman, nor heard from any woman’s lips the language of intimate devotion. The cold embraces of the Church—a church, as he too often feared, rendered barren by schism and heresy—were the only embraces he had ever suffered. Things read of and things seen, moreover, are singularly different in power. And so he trembled now at the mystery of human love, actual and concrete, here close beside him. He was, indeed, moved to the point of losing his habitual suavity of demeanour. He rose hastily and descended the library steps, forgetful of the handful of chap‐books, which fell in tattered and dusty confusion upon the floor.

Katherine looked round. Until now she had been unobservant of his presence, innocent of other audience than the old friend, to whom it was fitting enough to confide dear secrets. For an instant she hesitated, embarrassed too, her pride touched to annoyance, at having laid bare the treasures of her heart thus unwittingly. She was tempted to retreat through the still open door, into the library, and leave the review of the Long Gallery and its many relics to a more convenient season. But it was not Katherine’s habit to run away, least of all from the consequences of her own actions. And her sense of justice compelled her to admit that, in this case, the indiscretion—if indiscretion indeed there was—lay with her, in not having seen poor Julius; rather than with him, in having overheard her little outburst. So page: 33 she called to him in friendly greeting, and came swiftly towards him down the length of the great room.

And Julius stood waiting for her, leaning against the frame of the library ladder—a spare, black figure, notably at variance with the broad glory of sunshine and colour reigning out of doors.

His usually quick instinct of courtesy was in abeyance, shaken, as he still was, and confused by the revelation that had just come to him. He looked at Lady Calmady with a new and agitated understanding. She made so fair a picture that he could only gaze dumbly at it. Tall in fact, Katherine was rendered taller by the manner—careless of passing fashion—in which her hair was dressed. The warm, brown mass of it, rolled up and back from her forehead, showed all the perfect oval of her face. Tender, lovely, smiling, her blue‐brown eyes soft and lustrous, with a certain wondering serenity in their depths, there was yet something majestic about Katherine Calmady. No poor or unworthy line marred the nobility of her face or figure. The dark, arched eyebrows, the well‐chiselled and slightly aquiline nose, the firm chin and throat, the shapely hands, all denoted harmony and completeness of development, and promised a reserve of strength, ready to encounter and overcome if danger were to be met. Years afterwards the remembrance of Katherine as he just then saw her would return upon Julius, as prophetic of much. Quailing in spirit, still reluctant, in his asceticism, to comprehend and reckon with her personality in the fulness of its present manifestation, he answered her at random and with none of the pause and playful evasiveness usual to his speech.

“I am very glad we have found you,” Katherine said frankly. “I was afraid, by the fact of your not coming to breakfast, that you were overtired. We talked late last night. Did we weary you too much?”

“Existence in itself is vexatiously wearisome at times—at least to feeble persons, like myself.”

Katherine’s smile faded. She looked at him with charming solicitude.

“Ah! you are not well,” she declared. “Go out and enjoy the sunshine. Leave all those stupid books. Go,” she repeated, “order one of the horses. Go and meet Richard. He has gone over to look at the new lodge. You could ride all the way through the east woods in the cool.—See, I will put these tidy.”

And, as she spoke, Katherine stooped to pick up the page: 34 scattered chap‐books from the ground. But, in the last few moments, while looking at her, yet further understanding had overtaken Julius March. Not only the mystery of human love, but the mystery of dawning motherhood had come close to him. And he put Lady Calmady aside with a determination of authority somewhat surprising.

“No, no, pardon me! They are dusty, they will soil your hands. You must not touch those books,” he said.

Katherine straightened herself up. Her face was slightly flushed, her expression full of kindly amusement.

“Dear Julius, you are very imperative. Surely I may make my hands dirty, once in a way, in a good cause? They will wash, you know, just as well as your own, after all.”

“A thousand. times better. Still, I will ask you not to touch those books. I have valid reasons. For one, an evil beast in the form of a spider has dwelt among them. I disturbed it and it fled, looking as though it had grown old in trespasses and sins. It seemed to me a thing of ill omen.”

He tried to steady himself, to treat the matter lightly. Yet his speech struck Katherine as hurried and anxious, out of all proportion to the matter in hand.

“Poor thing—and you killed it? Yet it couldn’t help being ugly, I suppose,” she answered, not without a touch of malice.

Julius was on his knees, his long, thin fingers gathering up the tattered pages, ranging them into a bundle, tying them together with the tag of rusty, black ribbon aforesaid. For an unreasoning, fierce desire was upon him—very alien to his usual gentle attitude of mind—to shield this beautiful woman from all acquaintance with the foul story set forth in those little books. To shield her, indeed, from more than merely that. For a vague presentiment possessed him that she might, in some mysterious way, be intimately involved in the final development of that same story which, though august, was so full of suffering, so profoundly sad. Meanwhile, in his excitement, he replied, less to her gently mocking question than to the importunities of his own thought.

“No,” he said, “I let it go. I begin to fear it is useless to attempt to take short‐cuts to the extinction of what is evil. It does not cease, but merely changes its form. Unwillingly I have learned that. No violent death is possible to things evil.”

Julius rose to his feet.

“They must go on,” he continued, “till, in the merciful providence of God, their term is reached, till their power is exhausted, till they have worn themselves out.”

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Lady Calmady turned and moved thoughtfully towards the far end of the room, where the sunshine still slanted in through the open casements of the bay‐window, and where the delicate, little, spinster lady stood awaiting her. Amorous pigeons cooed below on the string‐course. Bees droned sleepily against the glass.

“But,” she said, in gentle remonstrance, “that is a rather terrible doctrine, Julius. Surely it is not quite just; for it would seem to leave us almost hopelessly at the mercy of the wrong‐doing of others.”

“Yes, but are we not, just that—all of us at the mercy of the wrong‐doing of others?—The courageous forever suffering for the cowardly, the wise for the ignorant and brutish, the just for the unjust? Is not this, perhaps, the very deepest lesson of our religion?”

“Oh no, no!” Katherine cried incredulously. “There is something at once deeper and more comforting than that. Remember, in the beginning, when God created all things and reviewed His handiwork, He pronounced it very good.”

Julius was recovering his suavity. The little packet of chap‐books rested safely in the pocket of his coat.

“But that was a long time ago,” he said, smiling.

They reached the bay‐window. Katherine took her old friend’s hand once again and laid it caressingly upon her arm.

“Pardon me for keeping you waiting, dearest,” she said. “Julius is in fault. He will argue with me about the date of the creation, and that takes time. He declares it was so long ago that everything has had time to grow very old and go very wrong. But, indeed, he is mistaken. Agree with me, tell him he is mistaken! The world is deliciously young yet. It was only made a little over twenty‐two years ago. I must know, for I came into it then. And I found it all as new as I was myself, and a thousand times prettier—quite adorably gay, adorably fresh.”

Katherine’s voice sank, grew fuller in tone. She gazed out over the brilliant garden to the woodland shimmering in the noontide heat. Then she looked at Julius March, her eyes and lips eloquent with joyous conviction.

“Indeed, I think, God makes His whole creation over again for each one of us, it is so beautiful. As in the beginning, so now,” she said; “behold it is very good—ah yes! who can doubt that—it is very good!”

“Amen. To you may it ever so continue,” Julius murmured, bowing his head.

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That evening there was a dinner party at Brockhurst. Lord Denier brought his handsome second wife. She was a Hellard, and took the judge faute de mieux, so said the wicked world, rather late in life. The Cathcarts of Newlands and their daughter Mary came; and Roger Ormiston too, who, being off duty, had run down from London for a few days’ partridge shooting, bringing with him his cousin Colonel St. Quentin—invalided home, to his own immense chagrin, in the midst of the Afghan war. On the terrace, after dinner, for the night was warm enough for the whole company to take coffee out of doors, Lady Calmady—incited thereunto by her brother—had persuaded Mary Cathcart to sing, accompanying herself on her guitar. The girl’s musical gifts were of no extraordinary order, but her young contralto was true and sweet. The charm of the hour and the place, moreover, was calculated to heighten the effect of the Jacobite songs and old‐world love‐ditties which she selected.

Roger Ormiston unquestionably found her performance sufficiently moving. But then the girl’s frank manner, her warm, gipsy‐like colouring, and the way in which she could sit a horse, moved him also; had done so, indeed, ever since he first saw her, as quite a child, some eight or nine years ago, on one of his earliest visits to Brockhurst, fighting a half‐broken, Welsh pony that refused at a grip by the roadside. The little maiden, her face pale, for once, from concentration of purpose, had forced the pony over the grip. Then, slipping out of the saddle, she coaxed and kissed the rough, unruly, little beast, with tears of apology for the hard usage to which she had been obliged to subject it. So stout, yet so tender, a heart, struck Roger as an excellent thing in woman. And now, listening to the full, rounded notes and thrumming of the guitar strings, in the evening quiet under the stars, he wished, remorsefully, that he had never been guilty of any pleasant sins, that his record was cleaner, his tastes less expensive, that he was a better fellow all round, in short, than he was, because, then, perhaps—

And Julius March, too, found the singing somewhat agitating, though to him the personality of the singer was of small account. Another personality, and a train of feeling evoked by certain new aspects of it, had pursued him all the day long. Katherine, mindful of her somewhat outspoken divergence of opinion from his, in the morning, had been particularly thoughtful of his pleasure and entertainment. At dinner she directed the conversation upon subjects interesting to him, and had thereby made him talk more unreservedly than was his wont. Not even the most saintly of page: 37 human beings is wholly indifferent to social success. Julius was conscious of a stirring of the blood, of a subdued excitement. These sensations were pleasurable. But his training had taught him to distrust pleasurable sensations as too often the offspring of very questionable parentage. And, while Mary Cathcart’s voice still breathed upon the fragrant night air, he, standing on the outskirts of the listening company, slipped away unperceived.

His study, a long, narrow room occupying, with his bedroom, the ground floor of the chapel wing of the house, struck chill as he entered it. Above the range of pigeon‐holes and little drawers, forming the back of the writing‐table, two candles burned on either side of a bronze pietà, which Julius had brought back with him from Rome. On the broad slab of the table below were the many quires of foolscap forming the library catalogue, neatly numbered and lettered; while his diary lay open upon the blotting‐pad, ready for the chronicle of the past day’s events. Beside it was the packet of chap‐books, still tied together with their tag of rusty ribbon.

It was Julius March’s habit to exchange his coat for a cassock in the privacy of his study. He did so now, and knotted a black cord about his waist. Let no one underrate the sustaining power of costume, whether it take the form of ballet‐skirt or monk’s frock. Human nature is but a weak thing at best, and needs outward and visible signs, not only to support its faith in its deity, but even its faith in its own poor self! Of persons of sensitive temperament and limited experience, such as Julius, this is particularly true. Putting off his secular garment, as a rule he could put off secular thoughts as well. Beneath the severe and scanty folds of the cassock there was small space for remembrance of the pomp and glory of this perishing world. At least he hoped so. To‐night, importuned as he had been by scenes and emotions quite other than ecclesiastical, Julius literally sought refuge in his cassock. It represented “port after stormy seas,”—home, after travel in lands altogether foreign.

He took St. Augustine’s De Civitate Dei from its place in the bookshelves lining one side of the room. There should be peace to the soul, surely, emancipation from questioning of transitory things, in reading of the City of God? But, alas, his attention strayed. That sense of subdued excitement was upon him yet. He thought of the conversation at dinner, of brilliant speeches he might have made, of the encouragement of Katherine’s smiling eyes and sympathetic speech, of the scene in the gallery that morning, of Mary Cathcart’s old‐time love‐ditties. page: 38 The City of God was far off. All these were things very near at hand. Notwithstanding the scanty folds of the cassock, they importuned him still.

Pained at his own lack of poise and seriousness, Julius returned the volume of St. Augustine to its place, and, sitting down at the writing‐table prepared to chronicle the day’s events. Perhaps by putting a statement of them on paper he could rid himself of their all too potent influence. But his thought was tumultuous, words refused to come in proper order and sequence; and Julius abhorred that erasures should mar the symmetry of his pages. Impatiently he pushed the diary from him. Clearly it, like the City of God, was destined to wait.

The guests had departed. He had heard the distant calling of voices in friendly farewell, the rumble of departing wheels. The night was very soft and mild. He would go out and walk the grey flags of the terrace, till this unworthy restlessness gave place to reason and calm.

Passing along the narrow passage, he opened the door on to the garden‐hall. And there paused. The hall itself, and the inner side of the carven arches of the arcade, were in dense shadow. Beyond stretched the terrace bathed in moonlight, which glittered on the polished leaves of the little orange trees, on the leaded panes of the many windows, and strangely transmuted the colours of the range of pot‐flowers massed beneath them along the base of the house. It was a fairy world upon which Julius looked forth. Nor did it need suitable inhabitants. Pacing slowly down the centre of the terrace came Richard and Katherine Calmady, hand in hand. Tall, graceful, strong in the perfection of their youth and of their great devotion, amid that ethereal brightness, they seemed as two heroic figures—immortal, fairy lovers moving through the lovely wonder of that fairyland. As they drew near, Katherine stopped, leant—with a superb abandon—back against her husband, resting her hand on his shoulder, drew his arm around her waist for support, drew his face down to her upturned face until their lips met, while the moonlight played upon the jewels on her bare arms and neck and gleamed softly on the surface of her white, satin dress.

To true lovers the longest kiss is all too sadly short—a thing brief almost in proportion to its sweetness. But to Julius March, watching from the blackness of the doorway, it seemed a whole eternity before Richard Calmady raised his head. Then Julius turned and fled down the passage and back into the chill study, where the candles burned on either side the image of the Virgin Mother cradling the dead Christ upon her knee.

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Gentle persons, breaking from the lines of self‐restraint, run to a curious violence in emotion. All day long, shrink from it, ignore it, as he might, a moral storm had been brewing. Now it broke. Not from those two lovers did Julius turn thus in amazement and terror; but from just that from which it is impossible for anyone to turn in actual fact—namely from himself. He was appalled by the narrowness of his own past outlook; appalled by the splendour of that heritage which, by his own act, he had forfeited. The cassock ceased, indeed, to be a refuge, the welcome livery of home and rest. It had become a prison‐suit, a badge of slavery, against which his whole being rebelled. For the moment—happily violence is shortlived, only for a very little while do even the gentlest persons “see red”—asceticism appeared to him as a blasphemy against the order of nature and of nature’s God. His vow of perpetual chastity, made with so passionate an enthusiasm, for the moment appeared to him an act of absolutely monstrous vanity and self‐conceit. In his stupid ignorance he had tried to be wiser than his Maker, preferring the ordinances of man to the glad and merciful purposes of God. In so doing had he not, only too possibly, committed the unpardonable sin, the sin against the Holy Ghost?

Poor Julius, his thought had indeed run almost humorously mad! Yet it was characteristic of the man that the breaking of his self‐imposed bonds never occurred to him. Made in ignorance, unwitnessed though his vow might be, it remained inviolable. He never, even in this most heated hour of his trial, doubted that.

Stretching out his arms, he clenched his hands in anguish of spirit. The sacerdotal pride, the subjective joys of self‐consecration, the mental luxury of feeling himself different from others, singled out, set apart,—all the Pharisee, in short, in Julius March,—was sick to death. He had supposed he was living to God—and now it appeared to him he had lived only to himself. He had trusted God too little, had come near reckoning the great natural laws—which, after all, must be of God’s ordering‐common and unclean. Katherine was right. The eternal purpose is joy, not sorrow; youth and health, not age and decay; thankful acceptance, not fastidious rejection and fear. Katherine—yes, Katherine—and there the young man’s wild tirade stopped—

He flung himself down in front of the writing‐table, leaning his. elbows on it, pressing his face upon his folded arms. For in good truth, what did it all amount to? Not outraged laws of nature, not sins against the Holy Ghost; but just simply this, page: 40 that the common fate had overtaken him. He loved a woman, and in so loving had, at last, found himself.

The most vital experiences are beyond language. When Julius looked up, his eyes rested upon the bronze pietà, age‐old witness to the sanctity of motherhood and of suffering alike. His face was wet with tears. He was faint and weak; yet a certain calm had come to him. He no longer quarrelled—though his attitude towards them was greatly changed—either with his priestly calling or his rashly made vow. Not as sources of pride did he now regard them; but as searching discipline to be borne humbly and faithfully, to the honour—as he prayed‐both of earthly and heavenly love. He loved Katherine, but he loved her husband, and that with the fulness of a loyal and equal friendship. And so no taint was upon his love, of this he felt assured. Indeed, he asked nothing better than that things might continue as they were at Brockhurst; and that he might continue to warm his hands a little—only a little—in the dear sunshine of Richard and Katherine Calmady’s perfect love.

As Julius rose, his knees gave under him. He rested both hands heavily on the table, looked down, saw the unsightly packet of dirty chap‐books. Again, and almost with a cry, he prayed that things might continue as they were at Brockhurst.

“Give peace in my time, O Lord!” he said. Then he wrapped up the little bundle carefully, sealed and labelled it, and locked it away in one of the table‐drawers.

Thus, kneeling before the image of the stricken Mother and the dead Christ, did Julius March behold the Vision of the New Life. But the page of his diary, on which surely a matter of so great importance should have been duly chronicled, remains to this day a blank.

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