Skip to Content
Indiana University

Search Options




View Options


The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
previous
next
page: 500

CHAPTER II

TELLING HOW, ONCE AGAIN, KATHERINE CALMADY LOOKED ON HER SON

THE bulletin received at Turin was sufficiently disquieting. Richard had had a relapse. And when at Bologna, just as the train was starting, General Ormiston entered the compartment occupied by the two ladies, there was that in his manner which made Miss St. Quentin lay aside the magazine she was reading and, rising silently from her place opposite Lady Calmady, go out on to the narrow passage‐way of the long sleeping‐car. She was very close to the elder woman in the bonds of a dear and intimate friendship, yet hardly close enough, so she judged, to intrude her presence if evil‐tidings were to be told. A man going into battle might look, so she thought, as Roger Ormiston looked now—very stern and strained. It was more fitting to leave the brother and sister alone together for a little space.

At the far end of the passage‐way the servants were grouped—Clara, comely of face and of person, neat notwithstanding the demoralisation of feminine attire incident to prolonged travel. Winter, the Brockhurst butler, clean‐shaven, grey‐headed, suggestive of a distinguished Anglican ecclesiastic in mufti. Miss St. Quentin’s lady’s‐maid, Faulstich by name, a North‐Country woman, angular of person and of bearing, loyal of heart. Zimmermann, the colossal German‐Swiss courier, with his square, yellow beard and hair en brosse.—An air of discouragement pervaded the party, involving even the polyglot conductor of the wagon‐lits, a small, quick, sandy‐complexioned, young fellow of uncertain nationality, with a gold band round his peaked cap. He respected this family which could afford to take a page: 501 private railway‐carriage half across Europe. He shared their anxieties. And these were evidently great. Clara wept. The old butler’s mouth twitched, and his slightly pendulous cheeks quivered. The door at the extreme end of the car was set wide open. Ludovic Quayle stood upon the little, iron balcony smoking. His feet were planted far apart, yet his tall figure, swayed and curtseyed queerly as the heavy carriage bumped and rattled across the points. High walls, overtopped by the dark spires of cypresses, overhung by radiant wealth of lilac wistaria, and of roses, red, yellow, and white, reeled away in the keen sunshine to left and right. Then, clearing the outskirts of the town, the train roared southward across the fair, Italian landscape beneath the pellucid, blue vault of the fair, Italian sky. And to Honoria there was something of heartlessness in all that fair outward prospect. Here, in Italy, the ancient gods reigned still surely, the gods who are careless of human woe.

“Is there bad news, Winter?” she asked.

“Mr. Bates telegraphs to the General that it would be well her ladyship should be prepared for the worst.”

“It’ll kill my lady. For certain sure it will kill her! She never could be expected to stand up against that. And just as she was getting round from her own illness so nicely too”—

Audibly Clara wept. Her tears so affected the sandy‐complexioned, polyglot conductor that he retired into his little pantry and made a most unholy clattering among the plates and knives and forks. Honoria put her hand upon the sobbing woman’s shoulder and drew her into the comparative privacy of the adjoining compartment, rendered not a little inaccessible by a multiplicity of rugs, travelling‐bags, and hand‐luggage.

“Come, sit down, Clara,” she said. “Have your cry out. And then pull yourself together. Remember Lady Calmady will want just all you can do for her if Sir Richard—if”—and Honoria was aware somehow of a sharp catch in her throat—“if he does not live.”

And, meanwhile, Roger Ormiston, now in sober and dignified middle‐age, found himself called upon to repeat that rather sinister experience of his hot and rackety youth, and, as he put it bitterly, “act hangman to his own sister.” For, as he approached her, Katherine, leaning back against the piled‐up cushions in the corner of the railway carriage, suddenly sat bolt‐upright, stretching out her hands in swift fear and entreaty, as in the state‐bedroom at Brockhurst nine‐and‐twenty years ago.

“Oh, Roger, Roger!” she cried, “tell me, what is it?”

“Nothing final as yet, thank God,” he answered. “But it page: 502 would be cruel to keep the truth from you, Kitty, and let you buoy yourself up with false hopes.”

“He is worse,” Katherine said.

“Yes, he is worse. He is a good deal weaker. I’m afraid the state of affairs has become very grave. Evidently they are apprehensive as to what turn the fever may take in the course of the next twelve hours.”

Katherine bowed herself together as though smitten by sharp pain. Then she looked at him hurriedly, fresh alarms assaulting her.

“You are not trying to soften the blow to me? You are not keeping anything back?”

“No, no, no, my dear Kitty. There—see—read it for yourself. I telegraphed twice, so as to have the latest news. Here’s the last reply.”

Ormiston unfolded the blue paper, crossed by white strips of printed matter, and laid it upon her lap. And as he did so it struck him, aggravating his sense of sinister repetition, that she had on the same rings and bracelets as on that former occasion, and that she wore stone‐grey silk too—a long travelling sacque, lined and bordered with soft fur. It rustled as she moved. A coif of black lace covered her upturned hair, framed her sweet face, and was tied soberly under her chin. And, looking upon her, Ormiston yearned in spirit over this beautiful woman who had borne such grievous sorrows, and who, as he feared, had sorrow yet more grievous still to bear.—“For ten to one the boy won’t pull through—he won’t pull through,” he said to himself. “Poor, dear fellow, he’s nothing left to fall back upon. He’s lived too hard.” And then he took himself remorsefully to task, asking himself whether, among the pleasures and ambitions and successes of his own career, he had been quite faithful to the dead, and quite watchful enough over the now dying, Richard Calmady? He reproached himself, for, when Death stands at the gate, conscience grows very sensitive regarding any lapses, real or imagined, of duty towards those for whom that dread ambassador waits.

Twice Katherine read the telegram, weighing each word of it. Then she gave the blue paper back to her brother.

“I will ask you all to let me be alone for a little while, dear Roger,” she said. “Tell Honoria, tell Ludovic, tell my good Clara. I must turn my face to the wall for a time, so that, when I turn it upon you dear people again, it may not be too unlovely.”

And Ormiston bent his head and kissed her hand, and page: 503 went out, closing the door behind him; while the train roared southward, through the afternoon sunshine, southward towards Chiusi and Rome.

And Katherine Calmady sat quietly amid the noise and violent, on‐rushing movement, squaring accounts with her own motherhood. That she might never see Dickie again, she herself dying, was an idea which had grown not unfamiliar to her during these last sad years. But that she should survive, only to see Dickie dead, was a new idea, and one which joined hands with despair, since it constituted a conclusion big with the anguish of failure to the tragedy of their relation, hers and his. Her whole sense of justice, of fitness, rebelled under it, rebelled against it. She implored a space, however brief, of reconciliation and reunion before the supreme farewell was said. But it had become natural to Katherine’s mind, so unsparingly self‐trained in humble obedience to the divine ordering, not to stay in the destructive, but pass on to the constructive stage. She would not indulge herself with rebellion, but rather fashion her thought without delay to that which should make for inward peace. And so now, turning her eyes, in thought, from the present, she went back on the baby‐love, the child‐love which, notwithstanding the abiding smart of Richard’s deformity, had been so very exquisite to her. Upon the happier side of all that she had not dared to dwell during this prolonged period of estrangement. It was too poignant, too deep‐seated in the springs of her physical being. To dwell on it enervated and unnerved her. But now, Richard the grown man dying, she gave herself back to Richard the little child. It solaced her to do so. Then he had been wholly hers. And he was wholly hers still, in respect of that early time. The man she had lost, so it seemed, how far through fault of her own she could not tell. And just now she refused to analyse all that. Upon all which strengthened endurance, upon gracious memories engendering thankfulness, could her mind alone profitably be fixed. And so, as the train roared southward, and the sun declined and the swift dusk spread its mantle over the face of the classic landscape, Katherine cradled a phantom baby on her knee, and sat in the oriel‐window of the Chapel‐Room, at Brockhurst, with the phantom of her boy beside her, while she told him old‐time legends of war, and of high endeavour, and of gallant adventure, watching the light dance in his eyes as her words awoke in him emulation of those masters of noble deeds whose exploits she recounted. And in this she found comfort, and a chastened calm. So that, when at length General Ormiston— page: 504 incited thereto by the faithful Clara, who protested that her ladyship must and should dine—returned to her, he found her storm‐tossed no longer, but tranquil in expression and solicitous for the comfort of others. She had conquered nature by grace,—conquered, in that she had compelled herself to unqualified submission. If this cup might not pass from her, still would she praise Almighty God and bless His Holy Name, asking not that her own, but His will, be done.

It followed that the evening, spent in that strangely noisy, oscillating, onward‐rushing dwelling‐place of a railway‐carriage, was not without a certain subdued brightness of intercourse and conversation. Katherine was neither preoccupied nor distrait, nor unamused even by the small accidents and absurdities of travel. Later, while preparations were being made by the servants for the coming night, she went out, with the two gentlemen and Honoria St. Quentin, on to the iron platform at the rear of the swaying car, and stood there under the stars. The mystery of these last, and of the dimly discerned and sleeping land, offered penetrating contrast to the sleeplessness of the hurrying train with its long, sinuous line of lighted windows, and to the sleeplessness of her own heart. The fret of human life is but as a little island in the great ocean of eternal peace—so she told herself—and then bade that sleepless heart of hers both still its passionate beating and take courage. And when, at length, she was alone, and lay down in her narrow berth, peace and thankfulness remained with Katherine. The care and affection of brother, friends, and servants, were very grateful to her, so that she composed herself to rest whether slumber was granted her or not. The event was in the hands of God—that surely was enough.

And in the dawn, reaching Rome, the news was so far better that it was not worse. Richard lived. And when, some seven hours later, the train steamed into Naples station, and Bates, the house‐steward—the marks of haste and keen anxiety upon him—pushed his way up to the carriage door, he could report there was this amount of hope even yet, that Richard still lived, though his strength was as that of an infant and whether it would wax or wane wholly none as yet could say.

“Then we are in time, Bates?” Lady Calmady had asked, desiring further assurance.

“I hope so, my lady. But I would advise your coming as quickly as possible.”

“Is he conscious?”

page: 505

“He knew Captain Vanstone this morning, my lady, just before I left.”

The man‐servant shouldered the crowd aside unceremoniously, so as to force a passage for Lady Calmady.

“Her ladyship should go up to the villa at once, sir,” he said to General Ormiston. “I had better accompany her. I will leave Andrews to make all arrangements here. The carriage is waiting.”

Then, Honoria beside her, Katherine was aware of the hot glare and hard shadow, the grind and clatter, the violent colour, the strident vivacity of the Neapolitan streets, as with voice and whip, Garçia sprung the handsome, long‐tailed, black horses up the steep ascent. This, followed by the impression of a cool, spacious, and lofty interior, of mild, diffused light, of pale, marble floors and stairways, of rich hangings and distinguished objects of art, of the soft, green gloom of ilex and myrtle, the languid drip of fountains. And this last served to mark, as with raised finger, the hush—bland, yet very imperative—which held all the place. After the ceaseless jar and tumult of that many‐days’ journey, here, up at the villa, it seemed as though urgency were absurd, hot haste of affection a little vulgar, a little contemptible, all was so composed, so very urbane.

And that urbanity so bland, so, in a way, supercilious, affected Honoria St. Quentin unpleasantly. She was taken with unreasoning dislike of the place, finding something malign, trenching on cruelty even, in its exalted serenity, its unchanging, inaccessible, masklike smile. Very certainly the ancient gods held court here yet, the gods who are careless of human tears, heedless of human woe! And she looked anxiously at Lady Calmady, penetrated by fear that the latter was about to be exposed to some insidious danger, to come into conflict with influences antagonistic and subtly evil. Wicked deeds had been committed in this fair place, wicked designs nourished and brought to fruition here. She was convinced of that. Was convinced further that those designs had connection with and had been directed against Lady Calmady. The thought of Helen de Vallorbes, exquisite and vicious,—as she now reluctantly admitted her to be—was very present to her. As far as she knew, it was quite a number of years since Helen had set foot in the villa. Yet it spoke of her, spoke of the more dangerous aspects of her nature.—Honoria sighed over her friend. Helen had gone, latterly, very much to the bad, she feared. And as all this passed rapidly through her mind it provoked all her knight‐ page: 506 errantry, raising a strongly protective spirit in her. She questioned just how much active care she might take of Lady Calmady without indiscretion of over‐forwardness.

But even while she thus debated, opportunity of action was lost. Quietly, a great simplicity and singleness of purpose in her demeanour, without word spoken, without looking back, Katherine followed the house‐steward across the cool, spacious hall, through a doorway and out of sight.

And that singleness of purpose, so discernible in her outward demeanour, possessed Katherine’s being throughout. She was as one who walks in sleep, pushed by blind impulse. She was not conscious of herself, not conscious of joy or fear, or any emotion. She moved forward dumbly, and without volition, towards the event. Her senses were confused by this transition to stillness from noise, by the immobility of all surrounding objects after the reeling landscape on either hand the swaying train, by the bland and tempered light after the harsh contrasts of glare and darkness so constantly offered to her vision of late. She was dazed and faint, moreover, so that her knees trembled. Her sensibility, her powers of realisation and of sympathy, were for the time being atrophied.

The house‐steward ushered her into a large, square room. The low, darkly‐painted, vaulted ceiling of it produced a cavernous effect. An orderly disorder prevailed, and a somewhat mournful dimness of closed, green‐slatted shutters and half‐drawn curtains. The furniture, costly in fact, but dwarfed, in some cases actually legless, was ranged against the squat, carven bookcases that lined the walls leaving the middle of the room vacant, save for a low, narrow camp‐bed. The bed stood at right angles to the door by which Katherine entered, the head of it towards the shuttered, heavily‐draped windows, the foot towards the inside wall of the room. At the bedside a man knelt on one knee; and his appearance aroused, in a degree, Katherine’s dormant powers of observation. He had a short, crisp, black beard and crisp, black hair. He was alert and energetic of face and figure, a man of dare‐devil, humorous, yet kindly eyes. He wore a blue serge suit with brass buttons to it. He was in his stocking‐feet. The wristbands and turn‐down collar of his white shirt were immaculate. Katherine, lost, trembling, the support of the habitual taken from her, a stranger in a strange land, liked the man. He appeared so admirable an example of physical health. He inspired her with confidence, his presence seeming to carry with it assurance of that which is wholesome, normal, and sane. He glanced at her sharply, page: 507 not without hint of criticism, and of command. Authoritatively he signed to her to remain silent, to stand at the head of the bed, and well clear of it, out of sight. Katherine did not resent this. She obeyed.

And standing thus, rallying her will to conscious effort, she looked steadily, for the first time, at the bed and that which lay upon it. And so doing she could hardly save herself from falling, since she saw there precisely that which the shape of the room and the disarray of it, along with vacant space and the low camp‐bed in the centre of that space, had foretold—notwithstanding her dumbness of feeling, deadness of sympathy—she most assuredly must see.—All these last four‐and‐twenty hours she had solaced herself with the phantom society of Dickie the baby‐child, of Dickie the eager boy, curious of many things. But here was one different from both these. Different, too, from the young man, tremendous in arrogance, and in revolt against the indignity put on him by fate, from whom she had parted in such anguish of spirit nearly five years back. For, in good truth, she saw now, not Richard Calmady her son, her anxious charge, whose debtor—in that she had brought him into life disabled—she held herself eternally to be; but Richard Calmady her husband, the desire of her eyes, the glory of her youth—saw him, worn by suffering, disfigured by unsightly growth of beard, pallid, racked by mortal weakness, the sheet expressing the broad curve of his chest, the sheet and light blanket disclosing the fact of that hideous maiming he had sustained—saw him now, as on the night he died.

Captain Vanstone, meanwhile, reassured as to the newcomer’s discretion and docility, applied his mind to his patient.

“See here, sir,” he said, banteringly yet tenderly, “we were just getting along first‐rate with these uncommonly mixed liquors. You mustn’t cry off again, Sir Richard.”

He slipped his arm under the pillows, dexterously raising the young man’s head, and held the cup to his lips.

“My dear, good fellow, I wish you would let me be,” Dickie murmured faintly.

He spoke courteously, yet there were tears in his voice for very weakness. And, hearing him, it was as though something stirred within Katherine which had long been bound by bitterness of heavy frost.

Vanstone shook his head.—“Very sorry, Sir Richard,” he replied. “Daren’t let you off. I’ve got my orders, you see.”

The bold and kindly eyes had a certain magnetic efficacy of compulsion in them. The sick man drank, swallowed with page: 508 difficulty, yet drank again. Then he lay back, for a while, his eyes closed, resting. And Katherine stood at the head of the bed, out of sight, waiting till her time should come. She folded her hands high upon her bosom. Her thought remained inarticulate, yet she began to understand that which she had striven so sternly to uproot, that which she had supposed she had extirpated, still remained with her. Once more, with a terror of joyful amazement, she began to scale the height and sound the depth of human love.

Presently the voice—whether that of husband or of son she did not stay to discriminate—it gripped her very vitals—reached her from the bed. She fancied it rang a little stronger.

“It is contemptibly futile, and therefore conspicuously in keeping with the rest, to have taken all this trouble about dying only, in the end, to sneak back.”

“Oh! well, sir, after all you’re not so very far on the return voyage yet,” Vanstone put in consolingly.

Richard opened his eyes. Katherine’s vision was blurred. She could not see very clearly, but she fancied he smiled.

“Yes, with luck, I may still give you all the slip,” he said.

“Now, a little more, sir, please. Yes, you can if you try.”

“But I tell you I don’t care about this business of sneaking back. I don’t want to live.”

“Very likely not. But I’m very much mistaken if you want to die like a cat, in a cupboard, here ashore. Mend enough to get away on board the yacht to sea. There’ll be time enough then to argue the question out, sir. Half a mile of blue water under your feet sends up the value of life most considerably.”

As he spoke the sailor looked at Katherine Calmady. His glance enjoined caution, yet conveyed encouragement.

“Here, take down the rest of it, Sir Richard,” he said persuasively. “Then I swear I won’t plague you any more for a good hour.”

Again he raised the sick man dexterously, and as he did so Katherine observed that a purple scar, as of a but newly healed wound, ran right across Dickie’s cheek from below the left eye to the turn of the lower jaw. And the sight of it moved her strangely, loosening the last of that binding as of frost. A swift madness of anger against whoso had inflicted that ugly hurt arose in Katherine; while her studied resignation, her strained passivity of mental attitude, went down before a passion of violent and primitive emotion. The spirit of battle became dominant in her, along with an immense necessity of loving and of being loved. Tender phantoms of past joy ceased to solace. The actual, the page: 509 concrete, the immediate, compelled her with a certain splendour of demand. Katherine appeared to grow taller, more regal of presence. The noble energy of youth and its limitless generosity returned to her. Instinctively she unfastened her pelisse at the throat, took the lace coif from her head, letting it fall to the ground, and moved nearer.

Richard pushed the cup away from his lips.

“There’s someone in the room, Vanstone!” he said, his voice harsh with anger. “’Some woman—I heard her dress. I told you all—whatever happened—I would have no woman here.”

But Katherine, undismayed, came straight on to the bedside. She loved. She would not be gainsaid. With the whole force of her nature she refused denial of that love.—For a brief space Richard looked at her, his face ghastly and rigid as that of a corpse. Then he raised himself in the bed, stretching out both arms, with a hoarse cry that tore at his throat and shuddered through all his frame. And, as he would have fallen forward, exhausted by the effort to reach her and the lovely shelter of her, Katherine caught and, kneeling, held him, his poor hands clutching impotently at her shoulders, his head sinking upon her breast. While, in that embrace, not only all the motherhood in her leapt up to claim the sonship in him, but all the womanhood in her leapt up to claim the manhood in him, thereby making the broken circle of her being once more wholly perfect and complete, so that carrying the whole dear burden of his fever‐wasted body in her encircling arms and upon her breast, even as she had carried, long since, that dear fruit of love, the unborn babe, within her womb, Katherine was taken with a very ecstasy and rapture of content.

“My beloved is mine—is mine!” she cried,—“and I am his.”

Captain Vanstone was on his feet and half way across the room.

“Man alive, but it hurts like merry hell!” he said, as he softly closed the door.

previous
next