Skip to Content
Indiana University

Search Options




View Options


The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
previous
next
page: 509

CHAPTER III

CONCERNING A SPIRIT IN PRISON

UPON those moments of rapture followed days of trembling, during which the sands of Richard Calmady’s life ran very low, and his brain wandered in delirium, and he spoke unwittingly of many matters of which it was unprofitable to page: 510 hear. Periods of unconsciousness, when he lay as one dead; periods of incessant utterance—now violent in unavailing repudiation, now harsh with unavailing remorse—alternated. And, at this juncture, much of Lady Calmady’s former very valiant pride asserted itself. In tender jealousy for the honour of her beloved one she shut the door of that sick‐room, of sinister aspect, against brother and friend, and even against the faithful Clara. None should see or hear Richard in his present alienation and abjection, save herself and those who had hitherto ministered to him. He should regain a measure, at least, of his old distinction and beauty before any, beyond these, looked on his face. And so his own men‐servants—Captain Vanstone, capable, humorous, and alert—and Price, the red‐headed, Welsh first mate, of varied and voluminous gift of invective—continued to nurse him. These men loved him. They would be loyal in silence, since, whatever his lapses, Dickie was and always had been, as Katherine reflected, among the number of those happily‐endowed persons who triumphantly give the lie to the cynical saying that “no man is a hero to his valet de chambre.”

To herself Katherine reserved the right to enter that sinister sick‐room whenever she pleased, and to sit by the bedside, waiting for the moment—should it ever come—when Richard would again recognise her, and give himself to her again. And those vigils proved a searching enough experience, notwithstanding her long apprenticeship to service of sorrow—which was also the service of her son. For, in the mental and moral nudity of delirium, he made strange revelation, not only of acts committed, but of inherent tendencies of character and of thought. He spoke, with bewildering inconsequence and intimacy, of incidents and of persons with whom she was unacquainted, causing her to follow him—a rather brutal pilgrimage—into regions where the feet of women, bred and nurtured like herself, but seldom tread. He spoke of persons with whom she was well acquainted also, and whose names arrested her attention with pathetic significance, offering, for the moment, secure standing ground amid the shifting quicksand of his but‐half‐comprehended words. He spoke of Morabita, the famous prima donna, and of gentle Mrs. Chifney down at the Brockhurst racing‐stables. He grew heated in discussion with Lord Fallowfeild. He petted little Lady Constance Quayle. He called Camp, coaxed and chaffed the dog merrily—whereat Lady Calmady rose from her place by the bedside and stood at one of the dim, shuttered windows for a while. He spoke of places, too, and of happenings in them, from Westchurch to Constantinople, from a nautch at Singapore to a page: 511 country fair at Farley Row. But, recurrent through all his wanderings were allusions, unsparing in revolt and in self‐abasement, to a woman whom he had loved and who had dealt very vilely with him, putting some unpardonable shame upon him, and to a man whom he himself had very basely wronged. The name, neither of man nor woman, did Katherine learn.—Madame de Vallorbes’ name, for which she could not but listen, he never mentioned, nor did he mention her own.—And recurrent, also, running as a black thread through all his speech, was lament, not unmanly but very terrible to hear—the lament of a creature, captive, maimed, imprisoned, perpetually striving, perpetually frustrated in the effort to escape. And, noting all this, Katherine not only divined very dark and evil pages in the history of her beloved one; but a struggle so continuous and a sorrow so abiding that, in her estimation at all events, they cancelled and expiated the darkness and evil of those same pages. While the mystery, both of wrong done and sorrow suffered, so wrought upon her that, having, in the first ecstasy of recovered human love, deserted and depreciated the godward love a little, she now ran back imploring assurance and renewal of that last, in all penitence and humility, lest, deprived of the counsel and sure support of it, she should fail to read the present and deal with the future aright—if, indeed, any future still remained for that beloved one other than the yawning void of death and inscrutable silence of the grave!

The better part of a week passed thus; and then, one fair morning, Winter, bringing her breakfast to the ante‐room of that same sea‐blue, sea‐green bed‐chamber—sometime tenanted by Helen de Vallorbes—disclosed a beaming countenance.

“Mr. Powell wishes me to inform your ladyship that Sir Richard has passed a very good night. He has come to himself, my lady, and has asked for you.”

The butler’s hands shook as he set down the tray.

“I hope your ladyship will take something to eat before you go downstairs,” he added. “Mr. Powell told Sir Richard that it was still early; and he desired that on no consideration should you be hurried.”

Which little word of thoughtfulness on Dickie’s part brought a roundness to Katherine’s cheek and a soft shining into her sweet eyes; so that Honoria St. Quentin, sauntering into the room just then with her habitual lazy grace, stood still a moment in pleased surprise noting the change in her friend’s appearance.

“Why, dear Cousin Katherine,” she asked, “what’s happened? All’s right with the world!”

page: 512

“Yes,” Katherine answered. “God’s very much in His heaven, to‐day, and all’s right with all the world, because things are a little more right with one man in it.—That is the woman’s creed—always has been, I suppose, and I rather hope always will be. It is frankly personal and individualistic, I know. Possibly it is reprehensibly narrow‐minded. Still I doubt if she will readily find another which makes for greater happiness or fulness of life. You don’t agree, dearest, I know—nevertheless pour out my tea for me, will you? I want to dispose of this necessary evil of breakfast with all possible despatch. Richard has sent for me. He has slept and is awake.”

And as Miss St. Quentin served her dear friend, she pondered this speech curiously, saying to herself:—“Yes, I did right; though I never liked Ludovic Quayle better than now, and never liked any other man as well as I like Ludovic Quayle. But that’s not enough. I’m getting hold of the appearance of the thing, but I haven’t got hold of the thing itself. And so the woman in me must continue to be kept in the back attic. She shall be denied all further development. She shall have nothing unless she can have the whole of it, and repeat Cousin Katherine’s creed from her heart.”

Richard did not speak when Lady Calmady crossed the room and sat down at the bedside. He barely raised his eyelids. But he felt out for her hand across the surface of the sheet. And she took the proffered hand in both hers and fell to stroking the palm of it with her finger‐tips. And this silent greeting, and confiding contact of hand with hand, was to her exquisitely healing. It gave an assurance of nearness and acknowledged ownership, more satisfying and convincing than many eloquent phrases of welcome. And so she, too, remained silent, only indeed permitting herself, for a little while, to look at him, lest so doing she should make further demand upon his poor quantity of strength. A folding screen in stamped leather, of which age had tempered the ruby and gold to a sober harmony of tone, had been placed round the head of the bed, throwing this last into clear, quiet shadow. The bed linen was fresh and smooth. Richard had made a little toilet. His silk shirt, open at the throat, was also fresh and smooth. He was clean shaven, his hair cropped into that closely‐fitting, bright‐brown cap of curls. Katherine perceived that his beauty had begun to return to him, though his face was distressingly worn and emaciated, and the long, purplish line of that unexplained scar still disfigured his cheek. His hands were little more than skin and bone. Indeed he was fragile, she feared, as any person could be who page: 513 yet had life in him, and she wondered, rather fearfully, if it was yet possible to build up that life again into any joy of energy and of activity. But she put such fears from her as unworthy. For were they not together, he and she, actually and consciously reunited? That was sufficient. The rest could wait.

And to‐day, as though lending encouragement to gracious hopes, the usually gloomy and cavernous room had taken to itself a quite generous plenishing of air and light. The heavy curtains were drawn aside. The casements of one of the square, squat windows were thrown widely open. The slatted shutters without were partially opened likewise. A shaft of strong sunshine slanted in and lay, like a bright highway, across the rich colours of the Persian carpet. The air was hot, but nimble and of a vivacious and stimulating quality. It fluttered some loose papers on the writing‐table near the open window. It fluttered the delicate laces and fine muslin frills of Lady Calmady’s morning‐gown. There was a sprightly mirthfulness in the touch of it not unpleasing to her. For it seemed to speak of the ever‐obtaining youth, the incalculable power of recuperation, the immense reconstructive energy resident in nature and the physical domain. And there was comfort in that thought. She turned her eyes from the bed and its somewhat sorrowful burden—the handsome head, the broad, though angular, shoulders, the face, immobile and masklike, with closed eyelids and unsmiling lips, reposing upon the whiteness of the pillows—and fixed them upon that radiant space of outer world visible between the dark‐framing of the half‐open shutters. Beyond the dazzling, black‐and‐white chequer of the terrace and balustrade, they rested on the cool green of the formal garden, the glistering dome and slender columns of the pavilion set in the angle of the terminal wall. And this last reminded her quaintly of that other pavilion, embroidered, with industry of innumerable stitches, upon the curtains of the state‐bed at home—that pavilion, set for rest and refreshment in the midst of the tangled ways of the Forest of This Life, where the Hart may breathe in security, fearless of Care, the pursuing leopard, which follows all too close behind.—Owing to her position and the sharp drop of the hillside, Naples itself, the great painted city, its fine buildings and crowded shipping, was unseen; but, far away, the lofty promontory of Sorrento sketched itself in palest lilac upon the azure of sea and sky.

And, as Katherine reasoned, if this fair prospect, after so many ages of tumultuous history and shock of calamitous events, after battle, famine, terror of earthquake and fire, devastation by page: 514 foul disease, could still recover and present such an effect of triumphant youthfulness, such an at once august and mirthful charm, might not her beloved one, lying here broken in health and in spirit, likewise regain the glory of his manhood and the delight of it, notwithstanding present weakness and mournful eclipse?—Yes, it would come right—come right—Katherine told herself, thereby making one of those magnificent acts of faith which go so far to produce just that which they prophesy. God could not have created so complex and beautiful a creature, and permitted it so to suffer, save to the fulfilment of some clear purpose which would very surely be made manifest at last. God Almighty should be justified of His strange handiwork and she of her love before the whole of the story was told.—And, stirred by these thoughts, and by the fervour of her own pious confidence, Katherine’s finger‐tips travelled more rapidly over the palm of that outstretched and passive hand. Then, on a sudden, she became aware that Richard was looking fixedly at her. She turned her head proudly, the exaltation of a living faith very present in her smile.

“You are the same,” he said slowly. His voice was low, toneless, and singularly devoid of emotion.—“ Deliciously the same. You are just as lovely. You still have your pretty colour. You are hardly a day older”—

He paused, still regarding her fixedly.

“I’m glad you have got on one of those white, frilly things you used to wear. I always liked them.”

Katherine could not speak just then. This sudden and complete intimacy unnerved her. It was so long since anyone had spoken to her thus. It was very dear to her, yet the toneless voice gave a strange unreality to the tender words.

“It’s a matter for congratulation that you are the same,” Richard went on, “since everything else, it appears, is destined to continue the same. One should have one thing it is agreeable to contemplate in that connection, considering the vast number of things altogether the reverse of agreeable and which one fondly hoped one was rid of forever, which intrude themselves.”

He shifted himself feebly on the pillows, and the flicker of a smile crossed his face.

“Poor, dear mother,” he said, “you see again, without delay, the old bad habit of grumbling!”

“Grumble on, grumble on, my best beloved,” Katherine murmured, while her finger‐tips travelled softly over his palm.

“Verily and indeed, you are the same!” Richard rejoined. page: 515 Once more he lay looking full at her, until she became almost abashed by that unswerving scrutiny. It came over her that the plane of their relation had changed. Richard was, as never heretofore, her equal, a man grown.

Suddenly he spoke.

“Can you forgive me?”

And so far had Katherine’s thought journeyed from the past, so absorbed was it in the present, that she answered, surprised:—

“My dearest, forgive what?”

“Injustice, ingratitude, desertion,” Richard said, “neglect, systematic cruelty. There is plenty to swell the list. All I boasted I would do I have done—and more.”—His voice, until now so even and emotionless, faltered a little. “I have sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.”

Katherine’s hand closed down on his firmly.

“All that, as far as I am concerned, is as though it was not and never had been,” she answered.—“So much for judgment on earth, dearest.—While in heaven, thank God, we know there is more joy over the one sinner who repents than over the ninety‐and‐nine just persons who need no repentance.”

“And you really believe that?” Richard said, speaking half indulgently, half ironically, as if to a child.

“Assuredly I believe it.”

“But supposing the sinner is not repentant, but merely cowed?”—Richard straightened his head on the pillows and dosed his eyes. “You gave me leave to grumble—well, then, I am so horribly disappointed. Here have life and death been sitting on either side of me for the past month, and throwing with dice for me. I saw them as plainly as I can see you. The queer thing was they were exactly alike, yet I knew them apart from the first. Day and night I heard the rattle of the dice—it became hideously monotonous—and felt the mouth of the dice‐box on my chest when they threw. I backed death heavily. It seemed to me there were ways of loading the dice. I loaded them. But it wasn’t to be, mother. Life always threw the highest numbers—and life had the last throw.”

“I praise God for that,” Katherine said, very softly.

“I don’t, unfortunately,” he answered. “I hoped for a neat little execution—a little pain, perhaps, a little shedding of blood, without which there is no remission of sins—but I suppose that would have been letting me off too easy.”

He drew away his hand and covered his eyes.

page: 516

“When I had seen you I seemed to have made my final peace. I understood why I had been kept waiting till then. Having seen you, I flattered myself I might decently get free at last. But I am branded afresh, that’s all, and sent back to the galleys.”

Lady Calmady’s eyes sought the radiant prospect—the green of the garden, the graceful columns of the airy pavilion, the lilac land set in the azure of sea and sky. No words of hers could give comfort as yet, so she would remain silent. Her trust was in the amiable ministry of time, which may bring solace to the tormented, human soul, even as it reclothes the mountain‐side swept by the lava stream, or cleanses and renders gladly habitable the plague‐devastated city.

But there was a movement upon the bed. Richard had turned on his side. He had recovered his self‐control, and once more looked fixedly at her.

“Mother,” he said calmly, “is your love great enough to take me back, and to give yourself to me again, though I am not fit so much as to kiss the hem of your garment?”

“There is neither giving nor taking, my beloved,” she answered, smiling upon him. “In the truth of things, you have never left me, neither have I ever let you go.”

“Ah! but consider these last four years and their record!” he rejoined. “I am not the same man that I was. There’s no getting away from fact, from deeds actually done, or words actually said, for that matter. I have kept my singularly repulsive infirmity of body, and to it I have added a mind festering with foul memories. I have been a brute to you, a traitor to a friend who trusted me. I have been a sensualist, an adulterer. And I am hopelessly broken in pride and self‐respect. The conceit, the pluck even, has been licked right out of me.”—Richard paused, steadying his voice which faltered again.—“I only want, since it seems I’ve got to go on living, to slink away somewhere out of sight, and hide myself and my wretchedness and shame from everyone I know.—Can you bear with me, soured and invalided as I am, mother? Can you put up with my temper, and my silence, and my grumbling, useless log as I must continue to be?”

“Yes—everlastingly yes,” Katherine answered.

Richard threw himself flat on his back again.

“Ah! how I hate myself—my God, how I hate myself!” he exclaimed.

“And how beyond all worlds I love you,” Katherine put in quietly.

page: 517

He felt out for her hand across the sheet, found and held it. There were footsteps upon the terrace to the right, the scent of a cigar, Ludovic Quayle’s voice in question, Honoria St. Quentin’s in answer, both with enforced discretion and lowness of tone. General Ormiston joined them. Miss St. Quentin laughed gently. The sound was musical and sweet. Footsteps and voices died away. A clang of bells and the hooting of an outward‐bound liner came up from the city and the port.

Richard’s calm had returned. His expression had softened.

“Will those two marry?” he asked presently.

Lady Calmady paused before speaking.

“I hope so—for Ludovic’s sake,” she said. “He has served, if not quite Jacob’s seven years, yet a full five for his love.”

“If for Ludovic’s sake, why not for hers?” Dickie asked.

“Because two halves don’t always make a whole in marriage,” Katherine said.

“You are as great an idealist as ever!”—He paused, then raised himself, sitting upright, speaking with a certain passion.

“Mother, will you take me away, away from everyone, at once, just as soon as possible? I never want to see this room, or this house, or Naples again. The climax was reached here of disillusion, and of iniquity, and of degradation. Don’t ask what it was. I couldn’t tell you. And, mercifully, only one person, whose lips are sealed in self‐defence, knows exactly what took place besides myself. But I want to get away, away alone with you, who are perfectly unsullied and compassionate, and who have forgiven me, and who still can love. Will you come? Will you take me? The yacht is all ready for sea.”

“Yes,” Katherine said.

“I asked this morning who was here with you, and Powell told me. I can’t see them, mother, simply I can’t! I haven’t the nerve. I haven’t the face. Can you send them away?”

“Yes,” Katherine said.

Richard’s eyes had grown dangerously bright. A spot of colour burned on either cheek. Katherine leaned over him.

“My dearest,” she declared, “you have talked enough.”

“Yes, they’re beginning to play again, I can hear the rattle of the dice.—Mother, take me away, take me out to sea, away from this dreadful place.—Ah! you poor darling, how horribly selfish I am!—But let me get out to sea, and then later, take me home—to Brockhurst. The house is big. Nobody need see me.”

“No, no,”’ Katherine said, laying him back with tender force page: 518 upon the pillows.—“No one has seen you, no one shall see you. We will be alone, you and I, just as long as you wish. With me, my beloved, you are very safe.”

previous
next