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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
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page: 40

CHAPTER VI

ACCIDENT OR DESTINY, ACCORDING TO YOUR HUMOUR

ON the 18th of October that year, St. Luke’s day, a man died, and this was the manner of his passing.

There was nothing more to be done. Dr. Knott had gone out of the red drawing‐room on the ground floor into the tapestry‐hung dining‐room next door, which struck cold as the small hours drew on towards the dawn. And Julius March, after reciting the prayer in which the Anglican Church page: 41 commends the souls of her departing children to the merciful keeping of the God who gave them, had followed him. The doctor was acutely distressed. He hated to lose a patient. He also hated to feel emotion. It made him angry. Moreover, he was intolerant of the presence of the clergy and of their ministrations in sick‐rooms. He greeted poor Julius rather snarlingly.

“So your work’s through as well as mine,” he said. “No disrespect to your cloth, Mr. March, but I’m not altogether sorry. I daresay I’m a bit of a heathen; but I can’t help fancying the dying know more of death, and the way to meet it, than any of us can teach them.”

A group of men‐servants stood about the open door, at the farther end of the room, with Iles, the steward, and Mr. Tom Chifney, the trainer from the racing‐stables. The latter advanced a little and, clearing his throat, inquired huskily:—

“No hope at all, doctor?”

“Hope?” he returned impatiently.—The lamp on the great bare dining‐table burned low, and John Knott’s wide mouth, conical skull and thick, ungainly person looked ogreish, almost brutal in the uncertain light.—“There never was a grain of hope from the first, except in Sir Richard’s fine constitution. He is as sound as only a clean‐living man of thirty can be,—I wish there were a few more like him, though your beastly diseases do put money into my pocket,—that offered us a bare chance, and we were bound to act on that chance”—his loose lips worked into a bitterly humorous smile—“and torture him. Well, I’ve seen a good many men under the knife before now, and I tell you I never saw one who bore himself better. Men and horses alike, it’s breeding that tells when it comes to the push. You know that, eh, Chifney?”

In the red drawing‐room, where the drama of this sad night centred, Roger Ormiston had dropped into a chair by the fireside, his head sunk on his chest and his hands thrust into his pockets. He was very tired, very miserable. A shocking thing had happened, and, in some degree, he held himself responsible for that happening. For was it not he who had been so besotted with the Clown, and keen about its training? Therefore the young man cursed himself, after the manner of his kind; and cursed his luck too, in that, if this thing was to happen, it had not happened to him instead of to Richard Calmady.

Mrs. Denny, the housekeeper, had retired to a straight‐backed chair stationed against the wall. She sat there, waiting till the next call should come for her skilful nursing, upright, her hands page: 42 folded upon her silk apron, her attitude a model of discreet and self‐respecting repose. Mrs. Denny knew her place, and had a considerable capacity for letting other persons know theirs. She ruled the large household with unruffled calm. But, to‐night, even her powers of self‐control were heavily taxed; and though she carried her head high, she could not help tears coursing slowly down her cheeks, and falling sadly to the detriment of the goffered frills of her white, lawn cross‐over.

And Richard Calmady, meanwhile, lay still and very fairly peaceful upon the narrow, camp bed in the middle of the room. He had lain there, save during one hour,—the memory of which haunted Katherine with hideous and sickening persistence,—ever since Tom Chifney, the head‐lad from the stables and a couple of grooms, had carried him in, on a hurdle, from the steeplechase course four days ago.

The crimson‐covered chairs and sofas, and other furniture of the large square room, had been pushed back against the walls in a sort of orderly confusion, leaving a broad passage‐way between the doors at either end, and a wide vacant space round the bed. At the head of this stood a high, double‐shelved what‐not, bearing medicine bottles, cups, basins, rolled bandages, dressings of rag and lint, a spirit‐lamp over which simmered a vessel containing vinegar, and a couple of shaded candles in a tall, branched, silver candlestick. The light from these fell, in intersecting circles, upon the white bed, upon the man’s brown, close‐curled hair, upon his handsome face—drawn and sharpened by suffering—and its rather ghastly three days’ growth of beard.

It fell, too, upon Katherine, as she sat facing her husband, the side of her large easy‐chair drawn up parallel to the side of the bed.

Silently, unlooked for, as a thief in the night, the end of Katherine’s fair world had come. There had been no time for forethought or preparation. At one step she had been called upon to pass from the triumph to the terror of mortal life. But she was a valiant creature, and her natural courage was reinforced by the greatness of her love. She met the blow standing, her brain clear, her mind strong to help. Only once had she faltered—during the hideous hour when she waited, pacing the dining‐room in the dusk, four evenings back. For, after consultation with Dr. Jewsbury and Mr. Thorns of Westchurch, John Knott had told her—with a gentleness and delicacy a little surprising in so hard‐bitten a man—that, owing to the shattered page: 43 condition of the bone, amputation of the right leg was imperative. He added that, only too probably, the left would have eventually to go too. They must operate, he said, and operate immediately. Katherine had pleaded to be present; but Dr. Knott was obdurate.

“My dear lady, you don’t know what you ask,” he said. “As you love him, let him be. If you are there it will just double the strain. He’d suffer for you as well as himself. Believe me he will be far best alone.”

It must be remembered that in 1842 anæsthetics had not robbed the operating‐room of half its horrors. The victim went to execution wide‐awake, with no mercy of deadened senses and dulled brain. And so Katherine had paced the dining‐room, hearing at intervals, through the closed doors, the short peremptory tones of the surgeons, fearing she heard more and worse sounds than those. They were hurting him, sorely, sorely, dismembering and disfiguring the dear, living body which she loved. A tempest of unutterable woe swept over her. Breaking fiercely away from her brother and Denny—who strove to comfort her—she beat her poor, lovely head against the wall. But that, so far, had been her one moment of weakness. Since then she had fought steadily, with a certain lofty cheerfulness, for the life she so desired to save. The horror of the second operation had been spared her; but only because it might but too probably hasten, rather than retard, the approaching footsteps of death. Mortification had set in, in the bruised and mangled limb forty‐eight hours ago. And now the scent of death was in the air. The awful presence drew very near. Yet only when doctor and priest alike rose and went, when her brother moved away, and even the faithful housekeeper stepped back from the bedside, did Katherine’s mind really grasp the truth. Her well‐beloved lay dying; and human tenderness, human skill, be they never so great, ceased to avail.

She was worn by the long vigil. Her face was colourless. Yet perhaps Katherine’s beauty had never been more rare and sweet than as she sat there, leaning a little forward in the eagerness of her watchfulness. The dark circles about her eyes made them look very large and sombre. The corners of her mouth turned down and her under‐lip quivered now and then, giving her expression a childlike piteousness of appeal. There was no trace of disorder in her appearance. Her white dressing‐gown and all its pretty ribbons and laces were spotlessly fresh. Her hair was carefully dressed as usual—high at the back, showing the nape of her neck, her little ears, and the noble poise page: 44 of her head. Katherine was not one of those women who appear to imagine that slovenliness is the proper exponent of sorrow.

Still, for all her high courage, as the truth came home to her, her spirit began to falter for the second time. It is comparatively easy to endure while there is something to be done; but it is almost intolerable, specially to the young when life is strong in them, merely to sit by and wait. Katherine’s overwrought nerves began to play cruel tricks upon her, carrying her back in imagination to that other hideous hour of waiting, in the dining‐room, four evenings ago. Again she seemed to hear the short, peremptory tones of the surgeons, and those worse things—the stifled groan of one in the extremity of physical anguish, and the grate of a saw. These maddened her with pity, almost with rage. She feared that now, as then, she might lose her self‐mastery and do some wild and desperate thing. She tried to keep her attention fixed on the quick, irregular rise and fall of the linen sheet expressing the broad, full curve of the young man’s chest, as he lay flat on his back, his eyes closed, but whether in sleep or in unconsciousness she did not know. As long as the sheet rose and fell he was alive at all events, still with her. But she was too exhausted for any sustained effort of will. And her glance wandered back to, and followed with agonised comprehension, the formless, motionless elevation and depression of that same sheet towards the foot of the bed.

The air of the room seemed to grow more oppressive, the silence to deepen, and with it the terrible tension of her mind increased. Suddenly she started to her feet. The logs burning in the grate had fallen together with a crash, sending a rush of ruddy flame and an innumerable army of hurrying sparks up the wide chimney. All the mouldings of the ceiling—all the crossing bars and sinuous lines of the richly‐worked pattern, all the depending bosses and roses of it, all the foliations of the deep cornice—sprang into bold relief, outlined, splashed, and stained with living scarlet. And this universal redness of carpet, curtains, furniture, and now of ceiling, even of white‐draped bed, suggested to Katherine’s distracted fancy another thing—unseen, yet known during her other hour of waiting—namely blood.

Roused by the crash of the falling logs and the rustle of Katherine’s garments as she sprang up, Richard Calmady opened his eyes. For a few seconds his glance wavered in vague distress and perplexity. Then, as fuller consciousness returned of how it all was with him, with a slight lifting of the eyebrows his glance steadied upon Katherine and he smiled.

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“Ah! my poor Kitty,” he whispered, “it takes a long time, doesn’t it, this business of dying?”

Katherine’s evil fancies vanished. As soon as the demand for action came she grew calm and sane. The ceiling and sheets were white again and her mind was clear.

“Are you easy, my dearest?” she asked. “In less pain?”

“No,” he said, “no, I’m not in pain. But everything seems to sink away from me, and I float right out. It’s all dream and mist—except—except just now your face.”

Katherine’s lips quivered too much for speech. She moved swiftly across to the what‐not at the head of the bed. If he did not suffer, there could be no selfishness, surely, in trying to keep death at bay for a little space yet? But, alas, with what grotesquely paltry and inadequate weapons are all—even the most gallant—reduced to fighting death at the last! Here, on the one hand, a half wine glass of champagne in a china feeding‐cup, with a teapot‐like spout to it, or a few spoonfuls of jelly, backed by the passion of a woman’s heart. And, on the other hand, ranged against this pitiful display of absurdly limited resources,—as the hosts of the Philistines against the little army of Israel,—resistless laws of nature, incalculably far‐reaching forces, physical and spiritual, the interminable progression of cause and effect!

Denny joined Lady Calmady at the table. The two women held brief consultation. Then the housekeeper went round to the farther side of the bed, and slipping her arm under the pillows gently raised Richard’s head and shoulders, while Katherine, kneeling beside him, held the spout of the feeding‐cup to his lips.

“Must I? I don’t think I can manage it,” he said, drawing away slightly and closing his eyes.

But Katherine persisted.

“Oh! try to drink it,” she pleaded, “never mind how little—only try. Help me to keep you here just as long as I can.”

The young man’s glance steadied on to her once again, and his eyes and lips smiled the same faint, wholly gracious smile.

“All right, my beloved,” he said. “A little higher, Denny, please.”

Not without painful effort and a choking contraction of the throat, he swallowed a few drops. But the greater part of the draught spilt out sideways, and would have dribbled down on to the pillows had not Katherine held her handkerchief to his mouth.

Ormiston, who had been standing at the foot of the bed in the hope of rendering some assistance, ground his teeth together page: 46 with a half‐audible imprecation, and went slowly over to the fireplace again. He had supposed himself as miserable as he well could be before. But this incident of the feeding‐cup was the climax, somehow. It struck him as an intolerable humiliation and outrage that Richard Calmady, splendid fellow as he was, gifted, high‐bred gentleman, should, of all men, come to this sorry pass! He was filled with impotent fury. And was it this pass, indeed, he asked himself, to which every human creature must needs come one day? Would he, Roger Ormiston, one day, find himself thus weak and broken, his body—now so lively a source of various enjoyment—degraded into a pest‐house, a mere dwelling‐place of suffering and corruption? The young man gripped the high, narrow mantelshelf with both hands and pressed his forehead down between them. He really had not the nerve to watch what was going forward over there any longer. It was too painful. It knocked all the manhood out of him. But for very shame, before those two calm, devoted women, he would have broken down and wept.

Presently Richard’s voice reached him, feeble yet uncomplaining.

“I am so sorry, but you see it’s no use, Kitty. The machinery won’t work. Let me lie flat again, Denny, please. That’s better, thanks.”

Then after a few moments of laboured breathing, he added:—

“You mustn’t trouble any more, it only disappoints you. We have just got to submit to fact, my beloved. I’ve taken my last fence.”

Ormiston’s shoulders heaved convulsively as he leaned his forehead against the cold, marble edge of the chimneypiece. His brother‐in‐law’s words brought the whole dreadful picture up before him. Oh! that cursed slip and fall, that struggling, plunging, frenzied horse!—And how the horse had plunged and struggled, good God! It seemed as though Chifney, the grooms, all of them, would never get hold of it or draw Richard out from beneath the pounding hoofs. And then Ormiston went over his own share in the business again, lamenting, blaming himself. Yet what more natural, after all, than that he should have set his affections on the Clown? Chifney believed in the horse too—a five‐year‐old brother of Touchstone, resembling, in his black‐brown skin and intelligent, white‐reach face, that celebrated horse, and inheriting—less enviable distinction—the high shoulders and withers of his sire Camel. If the Clown did not make a name, Captain Ormiston had sworn, by all the gods of sport, he would never judge a horse again. And, Heaven help page: 47 us, was this the ghastly way the Clown’s name was to be made, then?

The room grew very quiet again, save for a strange gurgling, rattling sound Richard Calmady made, at times, in breathing. Mrs. Denny had retired beyond the circle of firelight. And Katherine, having drawn her chair a little farther forward so that the foot of the bed might be out of sight, sat holding her husband’s hand, softly caressing his wrist and palm with her finger‐tips. Soon the slow movement of her fingers ceased, while she felt, in quick fear, for the fluttering, intermittent pulse. Richard’s breathing had become more difficult. He moved his head restlessly and plucked at the sheet with his right hand. It was a little more than flesh and blood could bear.

Katherine called to him softly under her breath:—“Richard, Dick, my darling!”

“All right, I’m coming.”

He opened his eyes wide, as in sudden terror.

“Oh! I say, though, what’s happened? Where am I?”

Katherine leant down, kissed his hand, caressed it.

“Here, my dearest,” she said, “at home, at Brockhurst, with me.”

“Ah yes!” he said, “of course, I remember, I’m dying.” He waited a little space, and then, turning his head on the pillow so as to have a better view of her, spoke again:—“I was floating right out—the under‐tow had got me—it was sucking me down into the deep sea of mist and dreams. I was so nearly gone—and you brought me back.”

“But I wanted you so—I wanted you so,” Katherine cried, smitten with sudden contrition. “I could not help it. Do you mind?”

“You silly sweet, could I ever mind coming back to you?” he asked wistfully. “Don’t you suppose I would much rather stay here at Brockhurst, at home, with you—than sink away into the unknown?”

“Ah! my dear,” she said, swaying herself to and fro in the misery of tearless grief.

“And yet I have no call to complain,” he went on. “I have had thirty years of life and health. It is not a small thing to have seen the sun, and to have rejoiced in one’s youth. And I have had you”—his face hardened and his breath came short—“you, most enchanting of women.”

“My dear! my dear!” Katherine cried, again bowing her head.

“God has been so good to me here that—I hope it is not presumptuous—I can’t be much afraid of what is to follow. The page: 48 best argument for what will be, is what has been. Don’t you think so?”

“But you go and I stay,” she said. “If I could only go too, go with you.”

Richard Calmady raised himself in the bed, looked hard at her, spoke as a man in the fulness of his strength.

“Do you mean that? Would you come with me if you could—come through the deep sea of mist and dreams, to whatever lies beyond?”

For all answer Katherine bent lower, her face suddenly radiant, notwithstanding its pallor. Sorrow was still so new a companion to her that she would dare the most desperate adventures to rid herself of its hateful presence. Her reason and moral sense were in abeyance, only her poor heart spoke. She laid hold of her husband’s hands and clasped them about her throat.

“Let us go together, take me,” she prayed. “I love you, I will not be left. Closer, Dick, closer!”

“Thank God, I am strong enough even yet!” he said fiercely, while his jaw set, and his grasp tightened somewhat dangerously upon her throat. Katherine looked into his eyes and laughed. The blood was tingling through her veins.

“Ah! dear love,” she panted, “if you knew how delicious it is to be a little hurt!”

But her ecstasy was shortlived, as ecstasy usually is. Richard Calmady unclasped his hands and dropped back against the pillows, putting her away from him with a certain authority.

“My beloved one, do not tempt me,” he said. “We must remember the child. The devil of jealousy is very great, even when one lies, as I do now, more than half dead.”—He turned his head away, and his voice shook. “Ten years hence, twenty years hence, you will be as beautiful—more so, very likely—than ever. Other men will see you, and I”—

“You will be just what you were and always have been to me,” Katherine interrupted. “I love you, and shall love.”

She answered bravely, taking his hand again and caressing it, while he looked round and smiled at her. But she grew curiously cold. She shivered, and had a difficulty in controlling her speech. Her new companion, Sorrow, refused to be tricked and to leave her, and the breath of sorrow is as sharp as a wind blowing over ice.

“You have made me perfectly content,” Richard Calmady said presently. “There is nothing I would have changed. No hour of day—or night—ah, my God! my God!—which I could page: 49 ask to have otherwise.” He paused, fighting a sob which rose in his throat. “Still you are quite young”—

“So much the worse for me,” Katherine said.

“Oh! I don’t know about that,” he put in quietly. “Anyhow, remember that you are free, absolutely and unconditionally free. I hold a man a cur who, in dying, tries to bind the woman he loves.”

Katherine shivered. Despair had possession of her.

“Why reason about it?” she asked. “Don’t you see that to be bound is the only comfort I shall have left?”

“My poor darling,” Richard Calmady almost groaned.

His own helplessness to help her cut him to the quick. Wealth, and an inherent graciousness of disposition, had always made it so simple to be of service and of comfort to those about him. It was so natural to rule, to decide, to alleviate, to give little trouble to others and take a good deal of trouble on their behalf, that his present and final incapacity in any measure to shield even Katherine, the woman he worshipped, amazed him. Not pain, not bodily disfigurement,—though he recoiled, as every sane being must, from these,—not death itself, tried his spirit so bitterly as his own uselessness. All the pleasant, kindly activities of common intercourse were over. He was removed alike from good deeds and from bad. He had ceased to have part or lot in the affairs of living men. The desolation of impotence was upon him.

For a little time he lay very still, looking up at the firelight playing upon the mouldings of the ceiling, trying to reconcile himself to this. His mind was clear, yet, except when actually speaking, he found it difficult to keep his attention fixed. Images, sensations, began to chase each other across his mental field of vision; and his thought, though definite as to detail, grew increasingly broken and incoherent, small matters in unseemly fashion jostling great. He wondered concerning those first steps of the disembodied spirit, when it has crossed the threshold of death; and then, incontinently, he passed to certain time‐honored jokes and impertinent follies at Eton, over which he, and Roger, and Major St. Quentin, had laughed a hundred times. They amused him greatly even yet. But he could not linger with them. He was troubled about the attics of the new lodge, now in building at the entrance to the east woods. The windows were too small, and he disliked that blind, north gable. There were letters to be answered too. Lord Fallowfeild wanted to know about something—he could not remember what—Fallowfeild’s inquiries had a habit of being vague. And page: 50 through all these things—serious or trivial—a terrible yearning over Katherine and her baby—the new, little, human life which was his own life, and which yet he would never know or see. And through all these things also, the perpetual, heavy ache of those severed nerves and muscles, flitting pains in the limb of which, though it was gone, he had not ceased to be aware.—He dozed off, and mortal weakness closed down on him, floating him out and out into vague spaces. And then suddenly, once more, he felt a horse under him and gripped it with his knees. He was riding, riding, whole and vigorous, with the summer wind in his face, across vast, flowering pastures towards a great light on the far horizon, which streamed forth, as he knew, from the throne of Almighty God.

Choking, with the harsh rattle in his throat, he awoke to the actual and immediate—to the familiar, square room and its crimson furnishings, to Katherine’s sweet, pale face and the touch of her caressing fingers, to someone standing beside her, whom he did not immediately recognise. It was Roger—Roger worn with watching, grown curiously older. But a certain exhilaration, born of that strange ride, remained by Richard Calmady. Both ache of body and distress of mind had abated. He felt a lightness of spirit, an eagerness, as of one setting forth on a promised journey, who—not unlovingly, yet with something of haste—makes his dispositions before he starts.

“Look here, darling,” he said, “you’ll let the stables go on just as usual. Chifney will take over the whole management of them. You can trust him implicitly. And—that is you, Roger, isn’t it?—you’ll keep an eye on things, won’t you, so that Kitty shall have no bother? I should like to know nothing was changed at the stables. They’ve been a great hobby of mine, and if—if the baby is a boy, he may take after me and care for them. Make him ride straight, Roger. And teach him to love sport for its own sake, dear old man, as a gentleman should, not for the money that may come out of it.”

He waited, struggling for breath, then his hand closed on Katherine’s.

“I must go,” he said. “You’ll call the boy after me, Kitty, won’t you? I want there to be another Richard Calmady. My life has been very happy, so, please God, the name will bring luck.”

A spasm took him, and he tried convulsively to push off the sheet. Katherine was down on her knees, her right arm under his head, while with her left hand she stripped the bedclothes away from his chest and bared his throat.

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“Denny, Denny!” she cried, “come—tell me—is this death?”

And Ormiston, impelled by an impulse he could hardly have explained, crossed the room, dragged back the heavy curtains, and flung one of the casements wide open.

The soft light of autumn dawn flowed in through the great mullioned window, quenching the redness of fire and candles, spreading, dim and ghostly, over the white dress and bowed head of the woman, over the narrow bed and the form of the maimed and dying man. The freshness of the morning air, laden with the soothing murmur of the fir forest swaying in the breath of a mild, westerly breeze; laden too with the moist fragrance of the moorland,—of dewy grass, of withered bracken and fallen leaves,—flowed in also, cleansing the tainted atmosphere of the room. While, from the springy turf of the green ride—which runs eastward, parallel to the lime avenue—came the thud and suck of hoofs, and the voices of the stable boys, as they rode the long string of dancing, snorting racehorses out to the training ground for their morning exercise.

Richard Calmady opened his eyes wide.

“Ah, it’s daylight!” he cried, in accents of joyfulness. “I am glad. Kiss me, my beloved, kiss me.—You dear—yes, once more. I have had such a queer night. I dreamt I had been fearfully knocked about somehow, and was crippled, and in pain. It is good to wake, and find you, and know I’m all right after all. God keep you, my dearest, you and the boy. I am longing to see him—but not just now—let Denny bring him later. And tell them to send Chifney word I shall not be out to see the gallops this morning. I really believe those dreams half frightened me. I feel so absurdly used up. And then—Kitty, where are you?—put your arms round me and I’ll go to sleep again.”

He smiled at her quite naturally and stroked her cheek.

“My sweet, your face is all wet and cold!” he said. “Make Richard a good boy. After all that is what matters most—Julius will help you—Ah! look at the sunrise—why—why”—

An extraordinary change passed over him. To Katherine it seemed like the upward leap of a livid flame. Then his head fell back and his jaw dropped.

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