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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
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page: 540

CHAPTER VI

A LITANY OF THE SACRED HEART

RICHARD drew himself up on to the wide, cushioned bench below the oriel‐window. The February day was windless and very bright. And although in sheltered, low‐lying places, where the frost held, the snow still lingered, in the open it had already disappeared, and that without unsightliness of slush—shrinking and vanishing, cleanly burned up and absorbed by the genial heat. A sabbath‐day restfulness held the whole land. There was no movement of labour, either of man or beast. And a kindred restfulness pervaded the house. The rooms were vacant. None passed to and fro. For it so happened that good Mr. Caryll’s successor, the now rector of Sandyfield, had been called away to deliver certain charity sermons at Westchurch, and that to‐day Julius March officiated in his stead. Therefore Lady Calmady and Miss St. Quentin, and the major part of the Brockhurst household, had repaired by carriage or on foot to the little, squat, red‐brick, Georgian church whose two bells rang out so friendly and fussy an admonition to the faithful to gather within its walls.

Richard had the house to himself. And this accentuation of solitude, combined with wider space wherein he could range without fear of observation, was far from unwelcome to him. Last night he had untied the tag of rusty, black ribbon binding together the packet of tattered, dog’s‐eared, little chap‐books which, for so long, had reposed in the locked drawer of Julius March’s study table beneath the guardianship of the bronze pietà. With very conflicting feelings he had mastered the contents of those same untidy, little volumes, and learned the sordid, and probably fabulous, tale set forth in them in meanest vehicle of jingling verse. Vulgarly told to catch the vulgar ear, pandering to the popular superstitions of a somewhat ignoble age, it proved repugnant enough—as Julius had anticipated— page: 541 both to Richard’s reason and to his taste. The critical faculty rejected it as an explanation absurdly inadequate. The cause was wholly disproportionate to the effect, as though the mouse should bring forth a mountain instead of the mountain a mouse. At least that was how the matter struck Richard at first. For the story was, after all, as he told himself, but a commonplace of life in every civilised community. Many a man sins thus, and many a woman suffers, and many bastards are yearly born into the world without—perhaps unfortunately—subsequent manifestation of the divine wrath and signal chastisement of the sinner, or of his legitimate heirs, male or female. Affiliation orders are as well known to magistrates’ clerks, as are death‐certificates of children bearing the maiden‐name of their mother to those of the registrar.

All that Richard could dispose of, if with a decent deploring of the frequency of it, yet composedly enough. But there remained that other part of it. And this he could not dispose of so cursorily. His own unhappy deformity, it is true, was amply accounted for on lines quite other than the fulfilment of prophecy, offering, as it did, example of a class of pre‐natal accident which, if rare, is still admittedly recurrent in the annals of obstetrics and embryology. Nevertheless, the foretelling of that strange Child of Promise, whose outward aspect and the circumstances of whose birth—as set forth in the sorry rhyme of the chap‐book—bore such startling resemblance to his own, impressed him deeply. It astonished, it, in a sense, appalled him. For it came so very near. It looked him so insistently in the face. It laid strong hands on him from out the long past, claiming him, associating itself imperatively with him, asserting, whether he would or no, the actuality and inalienability of its relation to himself. Science might pour contempt on that relation, exposing the absurdity of it both from the moral and physical point of view. But sentiment held other language. And so did that nobler morality which takes its rise in considerations spiritual rather than social and economic; and finds the origins and ultimates alike, not in things seen and temporal, but in things unseen and eternal—things which, though they tarry long for accomplishment, can neither change, nor be denied, nor, short of accomplishment, can pass away.

And it was this aspect of the whole, strange matter—the thought, namely, of that same Child of Promise who, predestined to bear the last and heaviest stroke of retributive justice, should, bearing it rightly, bring salvation to his race—which obtained with Richard on the fair Sunday morning in question. It refused to quit him. It affected him through all his being. It appealed page: 542 to the poetry, the idealism, of his nature—a poetry and idealism not dead, as he had bitterly reckoned them, though sorely wounded by ill‐living and by the disastrous issues of his passion for Helen de Vallorbes. He seemed to apprehend the approach of some fruitful, far‐ranging, profoundly‐reconciling and beneficent event. As in the theatre at Naples when Morabita sang, and, to his fever‐stricken, brain‐sick fancy the dull‐coloured multitude in the parterre murmured, buzzing remonstrant as angry swarming bees, so now a certain exaltation of feeling, exaltation of hope, came upon him.—Yet having grown, through determined rebellion and unlovely experience, not a little distrustful of all promise of good, he turned on himself bitterly enough, asking if he would never learn to profit by hardly‐bought, practical knowledge? If he would never contrive to cast the simpleton wholly out of him? He had been fooled many times, fooled there at Naples to the point of unpardonable insult and degradation. What so probable as that he would be fooled again, now?

And so, in effort to shake off both the dominion of unfounded hope, and the gnawing ache of inward emptiness which made that hope at once so cruel and so dear, as the sound of wheels dying away along the lime avenue assured him that the goodly company of church‐goers had, verily and indeed, departed, he set forth on a pilgrimage through the great, silent house. Passing through the two libraries, the ante‐chamber and state drawing‐room—with its gilded furniture, fine pictures and tapestries‐he reached the open corridor at the stair‐head. Here the polished, oak floor, the massive balusters, and tall, carven newel‐posts—each topped by a guardian griffin, long of tail, ferocious of beak, and sharp of claw—showed with a certain sober mirthfulness in the pleasant light. For, through all the great windows of the eastern front, the sun slanted in obliquely. While in the Chapel‐Room beyond, situated in the angle of the house and thus enjoying a southern as well as eastern aspect, Richard found a veritable carnival of misty brightness; so that he moved across to the oriel‐window—whose grey stone mullions and carved transoms showed delicately mellow of tone between the glittering, leaded panes—in a glory of welcoming warmth and sunlight. Frost and snow might linger in the hollows, but here in the open, on the upland, spring surely had already come.

With the help of a brass ring, riveted by a stanchion into the space of panelling below the stone window‐sill—placed there long ago, when he was a little lad, to serve him in such case as the present—Richard drew himself up on to the cushioned bench. page: 543 He unfastened one of the narrow, curved, iron‐framed casements, and, leaning his elbows on the sill, looked out. The air was mild. The smell of the earth was sweet, with a cleanly, wholesome sweetness. The sunshine covered him. And somehow, whether he would or no, hope reasserted its dominion; and that exaltation of feeling entered into possession of him once again, as he rested, gazing away over the familiar home scene, over this land which, as far as sight carried, had belonged to his people these many generations, and was now his own.

Directly below, at the foot of the descending steps of the main entrance, lay the square, red‐walled space of gravel and of turf. He looked at it curiously, for there, with the maiming and death of Thomas Calmady’s bastard, if legend said truly, all this tragic history of disaster had begun. There, too, the Clown, racehorse of merry name and mournful memory, had paid the penalty of wholly involuntary transgression just thirty years ago. That last was a rather horrible incident, of which Richard never cared to think. Chifney had told him about it once, in connection with the parentage of Verdigris—had told him just by chance. To think of it, even now, made a lump rise in his throat. Across the turf—offering quaint contrast to those somewhat bloody memories—the peacocks, in all their bravery of royal blue‐purple, living green and gold, led forth their sober‐clad mates. They had come out from the pepper‐pot summer‐houses to sun themselves. They stepped mincingly, with a worldly and disdainful grace; and, reaching the gravel, their resplendent trains swept the rounded pebbles, making a small, dry, rattling sound, which, so deep was the surrounding quiet, asserted itself to the extent of saluting Richard’s ears. Beyond the red wall the parallel lines of the elm avenue swept down to the blue and silver levels of the Long Water, the alder copses bordering which showed black‐purple, and the reed‐beds rusty as a fox, against thin stretches of still unmelted snow. The avenue climbed the farther ascent to the wide archway of the red and grey gate‐house, just short of the top of the long ridge of bare moorland. The grass slopes of the park, to the left, were backed by the dark, sawlike edge of the fir forest; and a soft gloom of oak woods, grey‐brown and mottled as a lizard’s belly and back, closed the end of the valley eastward. On the right the terraced gardens, with their ranges of glittering conservatories, fell away to the sombre pond in the valley, home of loudly‐discoursing companies of ducks. The gentle hillside above was clothed by plantations, and by a grove of ancient beech trees, whose pale, smooth boles stood out from among undergrowth of lustrous hollies and the warm russet page: 544 of fallen leaves. And over it all brooded the restfulness of the sabbath, and the gladness of a fair and equal light.

And the charm of the scene worked upon Richard, not with any heat of excitement, but with a temperate and reasonable grace. For the spirit of it all was a spirit of temperance, of moderation, of secure tranquillity—a spirit stoic rather than epicurean, ascetic rather than hedonic; yet generous, spacious, nobly reasonable, giving ample scope for very sincere, if soberly‐clad pleasures, and for activities by no means despicable or unmanly, though of a modest, unostentatious sort. Richard had tried not a few desperate adventures, had conformed his thought and action to not a few glaring patterns, rushing to violences of extreme colour, extreme white and black. All that had proved pre‐eminently unsuccessful, a most poisonous harvest of Dead Sea fruit. What, he began to ask himself, if he made an effort to conform it to the pattern actually presented to him—mellow, sun‐visited, with the brave red of weather‐stained masonry in it, blue and silver of water and sky, lustre of sturdy hollies, as well as the solemnity of leafless woods, finger of frost in the hollows, and bleakness of snow?

And, as he sat meditating thus, breathing the clear air, feeling the tempered, yet genial, sun‐heat, many questions began to resolve themselves. He seemed to look—as down a long, cloudy vista—beyond the tumult and unruly clamour, the wayward resistance and defiant sinning, the craven complainings, the ever‐repeated suspicions and misapprehensions of man, away into the patient, unalterable purposes of God. And looking, for the moment, into those purposes, he saw this also—namely that sorrow, pain, and death are sweet to whosoever dares, instead of fighting with or flying from them, to draw near, to examine closely, to inquire humbly, into their nature and their function. He began to perceive that these three reputed enemies, hated and feared of all men, are, after all, the fashioners and teachers of humanity; to whom it is given to keep hearts pure, godly, and compassionate, to purge away the dross of pride, hardness, and arrogance, to break the iron bands of ambition, self‐love, and vanity, to purify by endurance and by charity, welding together—as with the cunning strokes of the master‐craftsman’s hammer—the innumerable individual atoms into a corporate whole, of fair form, of supreme excellence of proportion, the image and example of a perfect brotherhood, of a republic more firmly based and more beneficent than even that pictured by the divine Plato himself—since that was consolidated by the exclusion, this by the inclusion and pacification of those three things which men most page: 545 dread.—Perceived that, without the guiding and chastening of these three lovely terrors, humanity would, indeed, wax wanton, and this world become the merriest court of hell, lust and corruption have it all their own foul way, the flesh triumph, and all bestial things come forth to flaunt themselves gaudily, greedily, without remonstrance and without shame in the light of day.—Perceived, in these three, a Trinity of Holy Spirits, bearing forever the message of the divine mercy and forgiveness.—Perceived how, of necessity, only the Man of Sorrows can truly be the Son of God.

And, perceiving all this, Richard’s attitude towards his own unhappy deformity began to suffer modification. The sordid, yet extravagant, chap‐book legend no longer outraged either his moral or his scientific sense. He recalled his emotions in the theatre at Naples when Morabita sang, remembering how wholly welcome had then been to him that imagined approaching‐act of retributive justice. He recalled, too, the going forth of love towards his supposed executioners which he had experienced, his reverence for, and yearning towards, the dull‐coloured working‐bees of the parterre. How he had longed to be at one with them, partaker of their corporate action and corporate strength! How he had rejoiced in the conviction that the final issues are subject to their ruling, that the claims of want are stronger than those of wealth, that labour is more honourable than sloth, intelligence more enduring than privilege, liberty more abiding than tyranny, the idea of equality, of fellowship, more excellent than the aristocratic idea, that of born master and of born serf! And both that welcome of the accomplishment of a signal act of justice, and that desire to participate in the eternal strength of the children of labour as against the ephemeral and fictitious strength of the children of idleness and wealth, found strange confirmation in the chap‐book legend.

For it seemed to Richard that, taking all that singular matter both of prophecy and of cure simply—as believers take some half‐miraculous, scripture tale—he had already, in his own person, in right of the physical uncomeliness of it, paid part, at all events, of the price demanded by the Eternal Justice for his ancestors’ sinning and for his own. It was not needful that the bees should swarm and the dull‐coloured multitude revenge itself on the indolent, full‐fed larvæ peopling the angular honey‐cells, as far as he, Richard Calmady, was concerned. That revenge had been taken long ago, in a mysterious and rather terrible manner, before his very birth. While, in the stern denunciation, the adhering curse, of the outraged and so‐soon‐to‐be‐childless page: 546 mother, he found the just and age‐old protest, the patient faith in the eventual triumph of the proletariat—of the defenceless poor as against the callous self‐seeking and sensuality of the securely buttressed rich. By the fact of his deformity he was emancipated from the delusions of his class; was made one, in right of the suffering and humiliation of it, with the dull‐coloured multitudes whose corporate voice declares the ultimate verdict, who are the architects and judges of civilisation, of art, even of religion, even, in a degree, of nature herself. Salvation, according to the sorry yet inspiring rhyme of the chap‐book, was contingent upon precisely this recognition of brotherhood with, and practice of willing service towards, all maimed and sorrowful creatures. His America was here or nowhere, his vocation clearly indicated, his work immediate and close at hand.

How the Eternal Justice might see fit to deal with other souls, why he had been singled out for so peculiar and conspicuous a fate, Richard did not pretend to say. All that had become curiously unimportant to him. For he had ceased to call that fate a cruel one. It had changed its aspect. It had come suddenly to satisfy both his conscience and his imagination. With a movement at once of wonder and of deep‐seated thankfulness, he, for the first time, held out his hands to it, accepting it as a comrade, pledging himself to use rather than to spurn it. He looked at it steadfastly and, so looking, found it no longer abhorrent but of mysterious virtue and efficacy, endued with power to open the gates of a way, closed to most men, into the heart of humanity, which, in a sense, is nothing less than the heart of Almighty God Himself. It was as though, like the saint of old, daring to kiss the scabs and sores of the leper, he found himself gazing on the divine lineaments of the risen Christ. And this brought to him a sense of almost awed repose. It released him from the vicious circle of self, of sharp‐toothed disappointment and leaden‐heavy discouragement, in which he had so long fruitlessly turned. He seemed consciously to slough off the foul and ragged garment of the past and all its base, unprofitable memories, as the snake sloughs off her old skin in the warm May weather and glides forth, glittering, in a coat of untarnished, silver mail. The whole complexion of his thought regarding his personal disfigurement was changed.

Not that he flattered himself the discomfort, the daily vexation and impediment of it, had passed away. On the contrary these very actually remained, and would remain to the end. And the consequences they entailed remained also, the restrictions and deprivations they inflicted. They put many things, page: 547 dear to every sane and healthy‐minded man, hopelessly out of his reach, very much upon the shelf. Love and marriage were shelved thus, in his opinion, let alone lesser and more ephemeral joys. Only the ungrudging acceptance of the denial of those joys, whether small or great, was a vital part of that idea to the evolution of which he now dedicated himself—that Whole which, in process of its evolution, would make for a sober and temperate well‐being, formed on the pattern, sober yet nobly spacious, very fair and wholesome, of the sun‐visited landscape there without. He had just got to discipline himself into harmony with the idea newly revealed to him. And that, as he told himself, not without a sense of the humour of the situation in certain of its aspects, meant in more than one department, plenty of work!—And he had to spend himself and go on, through good report and ill, through gratitude and, if needs be, through abuse and detraction, still spending himself, actively, untiringly, in the effort to make some one person—it hardly mattered whom, but for choice, those who like himself had been treated unhandsomely by nature or by accident—just a trifle happier day by day.

But, while Richard rested thus in the quiet sunshine, he lost count of time. High‐noon came and passed, finding and leaving him in absorbed contemplation of his own thought. At last a barking of dogs, and the sound of wheels away on the north side of the house, broke up the silence. Then a faint echo of voices, a boy’s laughter in the great hall below. Then footsteps, which he took to be Lady Calmady’s, coming lightly up the grand staircase. At the stair‐head those footsteps paused for a little space, as though in indecision whither to turn. And Richard, pushed by an impulse of considerateness somewhat, it must be owned, new to him, called:—

“Mother, is that you? Do you want me? I’m here.”

Whereat the footsteps came forward, in at the open door and through the soft glory of the all‐pervading sunshine, with an effect of gentle urgency and haste. Katherine’s grey, silk pelisse was unfastened, showing the grey, silk gown, its floating ribbons, pretty frills and flounces, beneath. Every detail of her dress was very fresh and very finished, a demure daintiness in it, from the topmost, grey plume and upstanding, velvet bow of her bonnet to the pretty shoes upon her feet. Along with a lace handkerchief and her church books, she carried a bunch of long‐stalked violets. Her face was delicately flushed, a great surprise, touching upon anxiety, tempering the quick pleasure of her expression.

“My dearest,” she said, “this is as delightful as it is unexpected. What brings you here?”

page: 548

And Richard smiled at her without reserve, no longer as though putting a force upon himself or of set purpose, but naturally, spontaneously, as one who entertains pleasant thoughts. He took her hand and kissed it with a certain courtliness and reverent fervour.

“I came to look for something here,” he said, “which I have looked for many times and in very various places, yet never somehow managed to find.”

But Katherine, at once tenderly charmed and rendered yet more anxious by a quality in his manner and his speech unfamiliar to her, the purport of which she failed at once to gauge, answered him literally.

“My dearest, why didn’t you tell me? I would have looked for it before I went to church, and saved you the trouble of the journey from the gallery here.”

“Oh! the journey wasn’t bad for me, I rather enjoyed it,” Dickie said. “And then to tell you the truth, you’ve spent the better part of your dear life in looking for that same something which I could never manage to find! Poor sweet mother, no thanks to me, so far, that you haven’t utterly worn yourself out in the search for it.”—He paused, and gazed away out of the open casement.—“But I have a good hope that’s all over and done with now, and that at last I’ve found the thing myself.”

And Katherine, still charmed, still anxious, looked down at him wondering, for there was a perceptible under‐current of emotion beneath the lightness of his speech.

“However, all that will keep,” he continued.—“How did you enjoy your church? Did dear old Julius distinguish himself? How did he preach?”

And Katherine, still wondering, again answered literally.

“Very beautifully,” she said, “with an unusual force and pathos. He took the congregation not a little by storm. He fairly carried us away. He was eloquent, and that with a simplicity which made one question whether he did not speak out of some pressing personal experience.”—Katherine’s manner was touched by a pretty edge of pique.—“Really I believed I knew all about Julius and his doings by this time, but it seems I don’t! I think I must find out. It would vex me that anything should happen in which he needed sympathy, and that I did not offer it.—His subject was the answer to prayer and the fulfilment of prophecy—and how both come, come surely and directly, yet often in so different a form to that which, in our narrowness of vision and dulness of sense, we anticipate, that we fail to recognise either the answer or the fulfilment; and so miss the page: 549 blessing they must needs bring, and which is so richly, so preciously, ours if we had but the wit to understand and lay hold of it.”

Whereupon Richard smiled again.

“Yes,” he said, “very probably Julius did speak out of personal experience, or rather vicarious experience. However, I don’t think he need worry this time, at least I hope not. The answer to prayer and fulfilment of prophecy, when they’re good enough to come along, don’t always get the cold shoulder.”—Then his expression changed, hardened a little, his lips growing thin and his jaw set.—“Look here, mother,” he added, “I think perhaps I have been rather playing the fool lately, since we came home. I propose to take to the ordinary habits of civilised, christian man again. If it doesn’t bother you, would you kindly let the servants know that I’m coming down to luncheon?”

“Oh! my dearest, how stupid of me, I’m so grieved!” Katherine cried. She sat down beside him on the cushioned bench, dropping service books, handkerchief, and violets, in the extremity of her gentle and apologetic distress.—“It never occurred to me that you might like to come down. The Newlands people came over to church, and I brought Mary and the two boys back. Godfrey is over from Eton for the Sunday, and little Dick has had a cold and has not gone back to school yet. What can we do? It would be so lovely to have you, and yet I don’t quite know how I can send them away again.”

“But why on earth should they be sent away?” Richard said, touched and amused by her earnestness. “Mary’s always a dear. And I’ve been thinking lately I shouldn’t mind seeing something of that younger boy. He is my godson, isn’t he? And Knott tells me he is curiously like you and Uncle Roger. You see it’s about time to select an heir‐apparent for Brockhurst. Luckily I’ve a free hand. My life’s the last in the entail.”

Then, looking at him, Lady Calmady’s lips trembled a little. Health had returned and with it his former good looks, but matured, spiritualised, as it seemed to her just now. The livid line of the scar had died out too, and was nearly gone. And all this, taken in connection with his words just uttered, affected her to so great and poignant a love, so great and poignant a fear of losing him, that she dared not trust herself to make any comment on those same words lest the flood‐gates of emotion should be opened and she should lose her self‐control.

“Very well, Dickie,” she said, bowing her head.—Then she page: 550 added quickly, with a little gasp of renewed distress and apology:—“But—but, oh! dear me, Honoria is here too!”

Whereat Richard laughed outright. He could not help it, she was so vastly engaging in her distress.

“All right,” he said, “I am equal to accepting Honoria St. Quentin into the bargain. In short, mother dear, I take over the lot; and if anybody else turns up between now and two o’clock I’ll take them over as well.—Why, why, you dear sweet, don’t look so scared! There’s nothing to trouble about. I’m not too good to live, never fear. On the contrary, I am prepared to do quite a fine amount of living—only on new and more modest lines perhaps. But we won’t talk about that just yet, please. We’ll wait to give it a name until we’re a little more sure how it promises to work out.”

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