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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
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page: 410

CHAPTER V

EXIT CAMP

ABOUT twenty minutes later the young lady, still booted and spurred, opened the door which leads from the Chapel‐Room into Lady Calmady’s bed‐chamber. As she did so a gentle warmth met her, along with a sweetness of flowers. Within, the melancholy of the bleak twilight was mitigated by page: 411 the soft brightness of a pink‐shaded lamp, and a fitful flickering of firelight. This last, playing upon the blue‐and‐white, Dutch tiling of the hearth and chimney‐space, conferred a quaint effect of activity upon the actors in the biblical scenes thereon depicted. The patriarch Abraham visibly flourished his two‐inch sword above the prostrate form of hapless Isaac. The elders pranced, unblushingly, in pursuit of the chaste Susanna. While poor little Tobit, fish in hand, clung anxiously to the flying draperies of his long‐legged, and all‐too‐peripatetic, guardian angel. Such profane vivacity, on the part of persons usually accounted sacred, offered marked and almost cynical contrast to the extreme quiet otherwise obtaining, accentuated the absoluteness, deepened the depth, of it. For nothing stirred within the length and breadth of the room, nor did any smallest sound disturb the prevailing silence. At these southward‐facing casements no harsh wind shrilled. The embroidered curtains of the state‐bed hung in stiff, straight folds. The many‐coloured leaves and branches of the trees of the Forest of This Life were motionless. Care, the leopard, crouched, unobservant, forgetful to spring; while the Hart was fixed spell‐bound in the midst of its headlong flight. A spell seemed, indeed, to rest on all things, which had in it more than the watchful hush of the ordinary sick‐room. It suggested a certain moral attitude—a quiet, not acquiesced in merely, but promoted.

Upon Honoria—her circulation quickened by recent exercise, her cheeks still tingling from the stinging sleet, her retina still retaining impressions of the stern grandeur of the wide‐ranging fir woods and grey‐brown desolation of the moors—this extreme quiet produced an extremely disquieting effect. Passing from the Chapel‐Room and the society of her late companions—all three persons of distinct individuality, all three possessing, though from very differing standpoints, a definitely masculine outlook on life—into this silent bed‐chamber, she seemed to pass with startling abruptness from the active to the passive, from the objective to the subjective side of things, from the world that creates to that which obeys, merely, and waits. The present and masculine, with its clear practical reason, its vigorous purposes, was exchanged for a place peopled by memories only, dedicated wholly to submissive and patient endurance. And this fell in extremely ill with Honoria’s present humour; while the somewhat unseemly antics of the small, scriptural personages, pictured upon the chimney‐space and hearth, troubled her imagination, in that they added a point of irony to this apparent triumph of the remote over the immediate, of tradition over fact.

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Nor as, stung by unspoken remonstrance, she approached Lady Calmady was this sense of intrusion into an alien region lessened; or her appreciation of the difficulties of the mission she had been deputed by doctor, priest, and amiable, young fine‐gentleman—her late companions—to fulfil, by any means lightened.

For Katherine lay back in the great rose‐silk and muslin‐covered arm‐chair, at right angles to the fireplace, motionless, not a participant merely, so it seemed to the intruder, in that all‐embracing quiet, but the very source and centre of it, its nucleus and heart. The lines of her figure were shrouded in a loose, wadded gown of dove‐coloured silk, bordered with swans‐down. A coif of rare, white lace covered her upturned hair. Her eyes were closed, the rim of the eye‐socket being very evident. While her face, though smooth and still graciously young, was so emaciated as to appear almost transparent. Now, as often before, it struck Honoria that a very exquisite spiritual quality was present in her aspect—her whole bearing and expression betraying, less the languor and defeat of physical illness, than the exhaustion of long sustained moral effort, followed by the calm of entire self‐dedication and renunciation of will.

On the table at her elbow were a bowl of fresh‐picked violets and greenhouse‐grown tea‐roses, some books of the hour, both English and French, a miniature of Dickie at the age of thirteen—the proud, little head and its cap of close‐cropped curls showing up against a background of thick‐set foliage. On the table, too, lay a well‐worn, vellum‐bound copy of that holiest of books ever, probably, conceived by the heart and written by the hand of man—Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ. It was open at the chapter which is thus entitled—“Of the Zealous Amendment of our Whole Life.” While close against it was a packet of Richard’s letters—those curt, businesslike communications, faultlessly punctual in their weekly arrival, which, while they relieved her anxiety as to his material well‐being, stabbed his mother’s heart only less by the little they said, than by all they left unsaid.

And looking upon that mother now, taking cognisance of her surroundings, Honoria St. Quentin’s young indignation, once again, waxed hot. While, since it was the tendency of her mind to run eagerly towards theory, to pass from the particular to the general, and instinctively to apprehend the relation of the individual to the mass, looking thus upon Katherine, she rebelled, not only against the doom of this one woman, but against that doom of universal womanhood of which she offered, page: 413 just now, only too eloquent an example. And a burning compassion animated Honoria for all feminine as against all masculine creatures; for the bitter patience demanded of the passive, as against the large latitude permitted the active principle; for the perpetual humiliation of the subjective and spiritual under the heavy yoke of the objective and practical; for the brief joy and long barrenness of all those who are condemned to obey and to wait, merely, as against those who are born to command and to create.

From a child she had been aware of the element of tragedy inherent in the fact of womanhood. It had quickened exaggerations of sentiment in her at times, and pushed her into not a little knight‐errantry,—witness the affair of Lady Constance Quayle’s engagement. But, though more sober in judgment than of old and less ready to set her lance in rest, the existence of that tragic element had never disclosed itself more convincingly to her than at the present moment, nor had the necessity to attempt the assuaging of the smart of it called upon her with more urgent voice. Yet she recognised that such attempt taxed all her circumspection, all her imaginative sympathy and tact. Very free criticism of the master of the house, of his sins of omission and commission alike, were permissible in the Chapel‐Room and in the presence of her late companions. The subject, unhappily, had called for too frequent mention, by now, for any circumlocution to be incumbent in the discussion of it. But here, in the brooding quiet of this bed‐chamber, and in Lady Calmady’s presence, all that was changed. Trenchant statements of opinion, words of blame, were proscribed. The sinner, if spoken of at all, must be spoken of with due reticence and respect, his wilfulness ignored, the unloveliness of his conduct gently, even eagerly, explained away.

And, therefore, it came about that this fair champion of much‐wronged womanhood, though fired with the zeal of righteous anger, had to go very softly and set a watch before her lips. But as she paused, fearful to break in too abruptly upon Lady Calmady’s repose, she began to question fearfully whether speech was, in truth, still available as a means of communication between herself and the object of her solicitude. For Lady Calmady lay so very still, her sweet face showed so transparent against the rose‐silk, muslin‐covered pillows, that the younger woman was shaken by a swift dread that Dr. Knott’s melancholy predictions had already found fulfilment, and that the lovely, labour‐wasted body had already let the valiant, love‐wasted soul depart.

“Cousin Katherine, dear Cousin Katherine,” she called very page: 414 gently, under her breath; and then waited almost awestricken, sensible, to the point of distress, alike of the profound quiet, which it seemed as an act of profanity to have even assayed to break, and of the malign activity of those little, scriptural figures anticking so wildly in the chimney‐space and on the hearth.

Seconds, to Honoria of measureless duration, elapsed before Lady Calmady gave sign of life. At length she moved her hands, as though gathering, with infinite tenderness, some small and helpless creature close and warm against her bosom. Honoria’s vision grew somewhat blurred and misty. Then, with a long‐drawn, fluttering sigh, Katherine looked up at the tall, straight figure.

“Dick—ah, you’ve come in! My beloved—have you had good sport?” she said.

Honoria sat down on the end of the sofa, bowing her head.

“Alas, alas, it is only me, Cousin Katherine. Nothing better than me, Honoria St. Quentin. Would that it were someone better,” and her voice broke.

But Lady Calmady had come into full possession of herself.

“My dear, I must have been dozing, and my thoughts had wandered far on the backward road, as is the foolish habit of thoughts when one grows old and is not altogether well and strong.”—Katherine spoke faintly, yet with an air of sweetly playful apology. “One is liable to be confused, under such circumstances, when one first wakes—and—you have the smell of the sleet and the freshness of the moors upon you.” She paused, and then added:—“But, indeed, the confusion of sleep once past, I could hardly have anything dearer for my eyes first to light on than your very dear self.”

Hearing which gracious words, indignation in the cause of this woman, burning compassion for the wrongs and sorrows of universal womanhood, both of which must be denied utterance, worked very forcibly in Honoria. She bent down and taking Lady Calmady’s hand kissed it. And, as she did this, her eyes were those of an ardent, yet very reverent lover, and so, when next she spoke, were the tones of her voice.

But Katherine, still anxious to repair any defect in her recognition and greeting, and still with that same effect of playful self‐depreciation, spoke first.

“I had been reviewing many things, with the help of blessèd Thomas à Kempis here, before I became so drowsy. The dear man lays his finger smartly upon all the weak places in one’s fancied armour of righteousness. It is sometimes not quite easy to be page: 415 altogether grateful to him. For instance, he has pointed out to me conclusively that I grow reprehensibly selfish.”’

“Oh, come, come!” Honoria answered, in loving raillery. “Thomas is acute to the point of lying if he has convinced you of that!”

“Unhappily, no,” Katherine returned. “I know it, I fear, without any pointing of Thomas’s finger. But I rather shirked admission of my knowledge—well, for the very bad reason that I wanted very badly to put off the day of amendment. Now the holy man has touched my witness and”—she turned her head against the pillows and looked full at the younger woman, while her under‐lip quivered a little. “My dear, I have come to be very greedy of the comfort of your companionship. I have been tempted to consider not your advantage, but solely my own. The pointing finger of Thomas has brought it home to me that Brockhurst and I are feeding upon your generosity of time, and helpfulness, to an unconscionable extent. We are devouring the best days of your life, and hindering you alike from work and from pleasure. It must not be. And so, my dear, I beg you go forth, once more, to all your many friends and to society. You are too young, and too gifted, to remain here in this sluggish back‐water, alongside a derelict like me. It is not right. You must make for the open stream again and let the free wind and the strong current bear you gladly on your appointed course. And my gratitude and my blessing will go with you always. But you must delay no longer. For me you have done enough.”

For a little space Honoria held her friend’s hand in silence.

“Are—are—you tired of me then?” she said.

“Ah, my dear!” Katherine exclaimed. And the exclamation was more reassuring, somehow, than any denial could have been.

“After all,” Honoria went on, “I really don’t see why you’re to have a monopoly of faithfulness. There’s selfishness now, if you like—to appropriate a virtue en bloc, not leaving a rag, not the veriest scrappit of it for anybody else! And then, has it never occurred to you, that I may be just every bit as greedy of your companionship as you of mine—more so, I fancy, because—because”—

Honoria bowed her head and kissed the hand she held, once again.

“You see—I know it sounds as if I was rather a beast—perhaps I am—but I never cared for anyone—really to care, I mean—till I cared for you.”

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“My dear!”—Katherine said again, wondering, shrinking somewhat, at once touched and almost repulsed. The younger woman’s attitude was so far removed from her own experience.

“Does it displease you? Does it seem to you unnatural?” Honoria asked quickly.

“A little,” Lady Calmady answered, smiling, yet very tenderly.

“All the same it’s quite true. You opened a door, somehow, that had always been shut. I hardly believed in its existence. Of course I had read plenty about the—affections, shall we call them? And had heard women and girls, and men, too, for that matter, talk about them pretty freely. But it bored me a good deal. I thought it all rather silly, and rather nasty perhaps.”—Honoria shook her head. “It didn’t appeal to me in the least. But when you opened the door”—she paused, her face very grave, yet with a smile on it, as she looked away at the little figures anticking upon the hearth. “Oh, dear me, I own I was half scared,” she said, “it let in such a lot of light!”

But, for this speech, Lady Calmady had no immediate answer. And so the quiet came back, settling down sensibly on the room again—even as, when at dawn the camp is struck, the secular quiet of the desert comes back and possesses its own again. And, in obedience to that quiet, Katherine’s hand rested passively in the hand of her companion, while she gazed wonderingly at the delicate, half‐averted face, serious, lit up by the eagerness of a vital enthusiasm. And, having a somewhat sorrowful fund of learning to draw upon in respect of the dangers which all eccentricity, either of character or development, inevitably brings along with it, she trembled, divining that noble and strong and pure though it was, that face, and the temperament disclosed by it, might work sorrow, both to its possessor and to others, unless the enthusiasm animating it should find some issue at once large and simple enough to engage its whole aspiration and power of work.

But abruptly Honoria broke up the brooding quiet, laughing gently, yet with a catch in her throat.

“And when you had let in the light, Cousin Katherine, good heavens, how thankful I was I had never married. Picture finding out all that after one had bound oneself, after one had given oneself! What an awful prostitution.”—Her tone changed and she stroked the elder woman’s hand softly. “So you see you can’t very well order me off, the pointing finger of Thomas notwithstanding. You have taught me”—

“Only half the lesson as yet,” Katherine said. “The other page: 417 half, and the doxology which closes it, neither I, nor any other woman, can teach you.”

“You really believe that?”

“Ah! my dear,” Katherine said, “I do more than believe. I know it.”

The younger woman regarded her searchingly. Then she shook her charming head.

“It’s no good to arrive at a place before you’ve got to it,” she declared. “And I very certainly haven’t got to the second half of the lesson, let alone the doxology, yet. And then I’m so blissfully content with the first half, that I’ve no disposition to hurry. No, dear Cousin Katherine, I am afraid you must resign yourself to put up with me for a little while longer. Your foes, unfortunately, are of your own household in this affair. Dr. Knott has just been holding forth to us—Julius March, and Mr. Quayle, and me—and swearing me over not only to stay, but to make you eat and drink and come out of doors, and even to go away with me. Because—yes, in a sense your Thomas is right with his pointing finger, though he got a bit muddled, good man, not being quite up‐to‐date, and pointed to the wrong place”—

Honoria left her sentence unfinished. She knelt down—her tall, slender figure, angular, more like that of a youth than like that of a maid, in her spare, mud‐stained habit and coat. Impulsively she put her hands on Lady Calmady’s hips, laid her head in her lap.

“Have you but one blessing, oh! my more than mother?” she cried. “Do we count for nothing, all the rest of us—your household, and tenants rich and poor, and Julius the faithful, and Ludovic the bland, and that queer lump of sagacity and ugliness, John Knott? Why will you kill yourself? Why will you die and leave us all, just because one person is perverse? That’s hardly the way to make us—who love you—bear with and pity him and welcome him home.—Oh! I know I am treading on dangerous ground and venturing to approach very close. But I don’t care—not a hang! We’re at the end of our patience. We want you, and we mean to have you back.”

Honoria raised herself, knelt bolt upright, her hands on the arms of Lady Calmady’s chair, her expression full of appeal.

“Be kind to us, be kind,” she said. “We only ask you, after all, to eat and drink—to let Clara take care of you at night, and let me do so by day.—And then, when you are stronger, you must come away with me, up north, to Ormiston. You have not page: 418 been there for years, and its grey towers are rather splendid overlooking that strong, uneasy, northern sea. It stirs the Viking blood in one, and makes that which was hard seem of less moment. Roger and Mary are there, too—will be all this summer. And you know it refreshed you to see them last year. And if we go pretty soon the boys will be at school, so they won’t tire you with their racketing. They’re jolly monkeys, though, in my opinion, Godfrey wants smacking. He comes the elder‐brother a lot too much over poor, little Dick.—But that’s neither here nor there. Oh! it’s for you to get out of the backwater into the stream, ten times more than for me. Dearest physician, heal thyself!”

But Katherine, though deeply touched by the loving ardour of the younger woman’s appeal, and the revelation of tenderness and watchful care, constantly surrounding her, which that appeal brought along with it, could not rouse herself to any immediate response. Sternly, unremittingly, since the fair July night when Richard had left her nearly five years earlier, she had schooled herself into unmurmuring resignation and calm. In the prosecution of such a process there must be loss as well as gain. And Katherine had, in great measure, atrophied impulse; and, in eradicating personal desire, had come near destroying all spontaneity of emotion. She could still give, but the power of receiving was deadened in her. And she had come to be jealous of the quiet which surrounded her. It was her support and solace. She asked little more than not to have it broken up. She dreaded even affection, should that strive to draw her from the cloistered way of life. The world, and its many interests, had ceased to be of any moment to her. She asked to be left to contemplation of things eternal and to the tragedy of her own heart. And so, though it was beautiful to know herself to be thus cherished and held in high esteem, that beauty came to her as something unrelated, as sweet words good to hear, yet spoken of some person other than herself, or of a self she had ceased to be. All privilege implies a corresponding obligation, and to the meeting of fresh obligations Katherine felt herself not only unequal, but indisposed. And so, she smiled now upon Honoria St. Quentin, leaning back against the rose‐silk and muslin‐covered pillows, with a lovely indulgence, yet rather hopelessly unmoved and remote.

“Ah! my dear, I am beyond all wish to be healed after the fashion you, in your urgent loving‐kindness, would have me,” she said. “I look forward to the final healing, when my many mistakes and shortcomings shall be forgiven and the smart of page: 419 them removed. And I am very tired. I do not think it can be required of me to go back.”

“I know, I know,” Honoria replied.—She rose to her feet and moved across to the fireplace, her straight eyebrows drawn together, her expression one of perplexity. “I must seem a brute for trying to drag you back. When Dr. Knott, and the other two men, asked me to come and reason with you, I was on the edge of refusing. I hardly had the heart to worry you. And yet,” she added wistfully, “after all, in a way, it is just simply your own dear fault. For if you will be a sort of little kingdom of heaven to us, you see, it’s inevitable that, when you threaten to slip away from us, we should play the part of the violent and do our best to take our kingdom by force and keep it in spite of itself.”

“You overrate the heavenliness of the poor little kingdom,” Katherine said. “Its soil has become barren, its proud cities are laid waste. It’s an unprofitable place, believe me, dearest child. Let it be. Seek your fortune in some kingdom from which the glory has not departed and whose motto is not Ichabod.”

“Unfortunately, I can’t do that,” the younger woman answered. “I’ve explained why already. Where my heart is, there, you see, my kingdom is also.”

“Ah! my dear, my dear,” Katherine said, touched, yet somewhat weary.

“And after all it is not wholly for our own sakes we make this fight to keep you.”—Miss St. Quentin’s voice sank. She spoke slowly and as though with reluctance. “We do it for the sake of the person you love best in the world. I don’t say we love him very much, but that is beside the mark, We owe him a certain duty—I, because I am living in his house, the others because they are his friends. When he comes home—as come he surely will—they all say that, even while they blame him—would it not be an almost too cruel punishment if he found Brockhurst empty of your presence? You would not wish that. It’s not a question of me, of course. I don’t count. But you gone, no one—not even the old servants, I believe—would stay. Blame would be turned into something awkwardly near to hatred.”

Lady Calmady’s serenity did not desert her, but a touch of her old loftiness of manner was apparent. And Miss St. Quentin was very glad. Anything, even anger, would be welcome if it dissipated that unnatural, paralysing calm.

“You forget Julius, I think,” she said. “He will be faithful page: 420 to the very end, faithful unto death. And so will another friend of happier days, poor, blind, old Camp.”

A sudden inspiration came to Honoria St. Quentin.

“You must only count on Julius, I am afraid, Cousin Katherine—not on Camp.”

And to her immense relief she perceived Lady Calmady’s serenity give a little. It was as though she came nearer. Her sweet face was troubled, her eyes full of questioning.

“Camp grew a little too tired of waiting about three weeks ago. You did not ask for him”—

“Didn’t I?” Katherine said, smitten by self‐reproach.

“Never once—and so we did not tell you, fearing to distress you.”

Miss St. Quentin came over and sat down on the end of the sofa again. She rested her hands on her knees. Her feet were rather far apart. She fixed her eyes upon the small prophets and patriarchs anticking upon the hearth.

“But it wasn’t really so very bad,” she said reflectively. “And we did all we could to smooth his passage, poor, dear beast, to the place where all good dogs go. We had the vet out from Westchurch two or three times, but there was nothing much he could do. And I thought him a bit rough. Nervousness, I fancy. You see the dog did not like being handled by a stranger, and made it rather hot for him once or twice. I could not let him be worried, poor old man, and so Julius March, and Winter, and I, took turn and turn about with him.”

“Where did he die?”

“In the Gun‐Room, on the tiger‐skin.”—Honoria did not look round. Her voice grew perceptibly husky. “Chifney and I sat up with him that last night.”

“You and Chifney?” Lady Calmady exclaimed, almost in protest.

“Yes. Of course the men would have been as kind as kind could be. Only I had a feeling you would be glad to know I was there, later, when we told you. You see Chifney’s as good as any vet, and I had to have somebody. The dog was rather queer. I did not quite know how to manage him alone.”

Lady Calmady put out her hand. Honoria took it silently, and fell to stroking it once more. It was a declaration of peace, she felt, on the part of the obstinate well‐beloved—possibly a declaration of something over and above peace.

“Winter saw to our creature comforts,” the young lady continued. “Oh, we weren’t starved, I promise you! And Chifney was excellent company.”

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She hesitated a moment.

“He told me endless yarns about horses—about Doncaster, and Newmarket, and Goodwood. I was greatly flattered at being regarded as sufficiently of the equestrian order to hear all that.—And he told me stories about Richard, when he was quite a little boy—and about his father also.”

Honoria had a conviction the tears were running down Lady Calmady’s cheeks, but she would not look round. She only stroked the hand she held softly, and talked on.

“They were fine,” she said, “some of those stories. I am glad to have heard them. They went home to me. When all is said and done, there is nothing like breeding and pluck, and the courtesy which goes along with them. But after midnight Camp grew very restless. He had his blanket in the big arm‐chair—you know the one I mean—as usual. But he wouldn’t stay there. We had to lift him down. You see his hindquarters were paralysed, and he couldn’t help himself much. It was pathetic. I can’t forget the asking look in his half‐blind eyes. But we couldn’t make out what he wanted. At last he dragged himself as far as the door, and we set it open and watched him, poor, dear beast. He got across the lobby to the bottom of the little staircase”—

The speaker’s breath caught.

“Then we made out what it was. He wanted to get up here, to come to you.—Well, I could understand that! I should want just that myself, shall want it, when it comes to the last. He whimpered when Chifney carried him back into the Gun‐Room.”

Honoria turned her head and looked Lady Calmady in the face. Her own was more than commonly white and very gentle in expression.

“He died in the grey of the morning, with his great head on my lap. I fancy it eased him to have something human, and—rather pitiful—close against him. Julius had just come in to see how we were getting on. I won’t declare he did not say a prayer—I think he did. But I wasn’t quite as steady as I might have been just then.”

She turned her head, looking back at the figures upon the hearth. She was satisfied. Lady Calmady’s long‐sustained calm had given way, and she wept.

“We buried him, in his blanket, under the big Portugal‐laurel, where the nightingale sings, at the corner of the troco‐ground, close to Camp the First and Old Camp. The upper servants came, and Chaplin and Hariburt from the house‐stables, and Chifney and the head‐lad—and some of the gardeners. page: 422 Poor, old Wenham drove up in his donkey‐chair from the west lodge. Julius was there, of course. We did all things decently and in order.”

Honoria’s voice ceased. She sat stroking the dear hand she held and smiling to herself, notwithstanding a chokiness in her throat, for she had a comfortable belief the situation was saved.

Then Clara entered, prepared to encounter remonstrance, bearing a tray.

“It’s all right, Clara,” Miss St. Quentin said. “Lady Calmady is quite ready for something to eat. I’ve been telling her about Camp.”

And Katherine, sitting upright, with great docility and a certain gentle shame, accepted food and drink.

“Since you wish it, dearest,” she said, “and since Julius must not be left alone in a quite empty house.”

“Our kingdom of heaven stays with us then?” Honoria exclaimed joyously.

“Such as it is—poor thing—it will do its best to stay. I thought I had cried my eyes dry forever, long ago. But it seems not. You and Camp have broken up the drought.”

“I have not hurt you?” Honoria said, in sudden penitence.

“No, no—you have given me relief. I was ceasing to be human. The blessed Thomas was right—I grew very selfish.”

“But you’re not displeased with me?” Honoria insisted. Lady Calmady’s playfulness had returned, but with a new complexion.

“Ah! it is a little soon to ask that!” she said. “Still I will go north with you a fortnight hence—go to Ormiston. And by then, perhaps, you may be forgiven. Open the casement, dearest, and let in the wind. The air of this room is curiously dead. Give my love to Julius and Ludovic. Tell them I will come into the Chapel‐Room after dinner to‐night.—What—my child, are you so very glad?—Kiss me.—God keep you.—Now I will rest.”

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