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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
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page: 611

CHAPTER XI

IN WHICH RICHARD CALMADY BIDS THE LONG‐SUFFERING READER FAREWELL

THE midsummer dusk had fallen, drawing its soft, dim mantle over the face of the land. The white light walked the northern sky from west to east. A nightingale sang in the big, Portugal laurel at the corner of the troco‐ground; and was answered by another singer from the coppice, across the valley, bordering the trout stream that feeds the Long Water. A fox barked sharply out in the Warren. Beetles droned, flying conspicuously upright, straight on end, through the warm air. The churring of the night‐hawks, as they flitted hither and thither over the beds of bracken and dog‐roses, like gigantic moths, on quick, silent wings, formed a continuous accompaniment, as of a spinning‐wheel, to the other sounds. And Dick Ormiston laughed consumedly, doubling himself together now and again and holding his slim sides in effort to moderate his explosive merriment. He was in uproarious spirits.—Back from school to‐day, and that nearly a month earlier than could by the most favourable process of calculation have been anticipated, thanks to development of measles on the part of some much‐to‐be‐commended schoolfellows. How he blessed those praiseworthy young sufferers! And how he laughed, watching the two heavy‐headed, lolloping, half‐grown, bull‐dog puppies describe crazy circles upon the smooth turf in the deepening dusk. Seen thus in the half‐light they appeared more than ever gnome‐like, humorously ugly and awkward. They trod on their own ears, tumbled over one another, sprawled on the grass, panting and grinning, until their ecstatic owner incited them to further gyrations. To Dick this was a night of unbridled licence. Had he not dined late? Had he not leave to sit up till half‐past ten o’clock? Was he not going out, bright and early, tomorrow morning to see the horses galloped? Could life hold greater complement of good for a brave, little, ten‐year‐old soul, and serviceable, little, ten‐year‐old body emulous of all manly virtues and manly pastimes?

So the boy laughed; and the sound of his laughter reached the ears both of the elder and the younger Lady Calmady, as they slowly paced the straight walk between the grey balustrade and the edge of the turf. On their left the great outstretch of valley page: 612 and wood lay drowned in the suave uncertainties of the summer night. Before them was the whole terrace‐front of the house, its stacks of twisted chimneys clear cut against the sky. Bright light shone out from the windows of the red drawing‐room, and from those of the hall, bringing flowers, sections of grey pavement, and like details into sharp relief. There were passing lights in the range of windows above, suggesting cheerful movement within the great house. At the southern end of the terrace, just below the arcade of the garden‐hall—which showed pale against the shadow within and brickwork above—two men were sitting. Their voices reached the ladies now and then in quiet yet animated talk. A spirit of peace, of security, of firmly‐planted hope, seemed to pervade all the scene, all the place. Waking or sleeping, fear was banished. All was strong to work to‐morrow, therefore to‐night all could calmly yield itself to rest.

And it was a sense of just this, and a tender anxiety lest the fulness of the gracious content of it should be in any degree marred to her dear companion, which made Honoria Calmady say presently:—

“You don’t mind little Dick’s racketting with those ridiculous puppies, do you, Cousin Katherine? If it bothers you I’ll stop him like a shot.”

But Katherine shook her head.

“My dearest child, why stop him?” she said. “The foolishnesses of young creatures at play is delicious; and laughter, so long as it is not cruel, I reckon among the good gifts of God.”—She paused a moment. “Dear Marie de Mirancourt tried to teach me that long ago, but I was culpably dull of hearing in these days where spiritual truth was concerned, and I failed to grasp her meaning. I believe we never really love, either man or Almighty God, until we can both laugh ourselves and let others laugh. Of all false doctrines that of the sour‐faced, joyless puritan is the falsest. His mere outward aspect is a sin against the Holy Ghost.”

And Honoria smiled, patting the hand which lay on her arm very tenderly.

“How I love your heavenly rage!” she said. They moved on a few steps in silence. Then, careless of all the rapture its notification of the passing of time might cut short, the clock at the house stables chimed the half‐hour. Honoria paused in her gentle walk.

“Bed‐time, Dick,” she cried.

“All right,” the boy returned. He pursued, and laid hold of, page: 613 the errant puppies, stowing them, not without kickings and strugglings on their part, one under either arm. They were large and heavy, just as much as he could carry; and he staggered across the grass with them, presenting the effect of a small, black donkey between a pair of very big, white panniers.

“I say, they are awfully stunning though, you know, Honoria,” he said rather breathlessly as he came up to her.

“Very soul‐satisfying, aren’t they, Dick?” she replied. “Richard foresaw as much. That is why he got them for you.”

“If I put them down do you suppose they’ll follow? Carrying them does make my arms ache.”

“Oh, they’ll follow fast enough,” Honoria said.

He lowered the puppies circumspectly on to the gravel.

“They’ll be whoppers when they’re grown,” he remarked.

“What shall you call them?”

“Adam and Eve I think, because they’re the first of my lot. They’re pedigree dogs—and later I may want to show, don’t you see.”

“Yes, I see,” Honoria said.

He came close to her, putting his face up half shyly to be kissed. Then as young Lady Calmady, somewhat ghostly in her trailing, white, evening dress, bent her charming head, the boy, suddenly overcome with the manifold excitements of the day, flung his arms round her.

“Oh! oh!” he gasped, “how awfully ripping it is to be back here again with you and Cousin Richard and Aunt Katherine! I wish number‐four dormitory would get measles the middle of every term!—Only I forgot—perhaps I ought not to touch you, Honoria, after messing about with the dogs. Do you mind?”

“Not a bit,” she said.

“But, Honoria,”—he rubbed his cool cheek against her bare neck—“I say, don’t you think you might come and see me, just for a little weeny while, after I’m in bed to‐night?”

And young Lady Calmady, thus coaxed, held the slight figure close. She had a very special place in her heart for this small Dick, who in face, and as she hoped in nature also, bore such comfortable resemblance to that elder and altogether well‐beloved Dick, who was the delight of her life.

“Yes, dear, old chap, I’ll come,” she said. “Only it must really be for a little weeny while, because you must go to sleep. By the way, who’s going to valet you these holidays? Clara or Faulstich?”

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“Oh, neither,” the boy answered. “I think I’m rather old for women now, don’t you know, Honoria.”—At which statement she laughed, his cheek being again tucked tight into the turn of her neck. “I shall have Andrews in future. I asked Cousin Richard about it. He’s a very civil‐mannered fellow, and he knows about yachts and things, and he says he likes being up before five o’clock.”

“Does he? Excellently veracious young man!” Honoria remarked.

But thereupon, exuberance of joy demanding active expression, the boy broke away with a whoop and set off running. The puppies lolloped away at his heels. And young Lady Calmady—whom such giddy fancies still took at times, notwithstanding nearly three years of marriage—flew after the trio, the train of her dress floating out behind her to most admired extravagance of length as she skimmed along the path. Fair lady, boy, and dogs disappeared, with sounds of merriment, into the near garden‐hall; reappeared upon the terrace, bearing down, but at sobering pace, upon the occupants of the chairs set at the end of it. One man rose to his feet, a tall, narrow, black figure. The other remained seated. The light shining forth from the great bay‐window of the hall touched the little group, conferring a certain grandeur upon the graceful, white‐clad Honoria. Her satin dress shimmered as she moved. There was, as of old, a triumph of high purity, of freedom of soul, in her aspect. Her voice came, with a fine gladness yet soft richness of tone, across that intervening triangular space of sloping turf upon which terrace and troco‐ground alike looked down. The nightingale, who had fallen silent during the skirmish, took up his passionate singing again, and was answered delicately, a song not of the flesh but of the spirit, by the bird from across the valley.

Katherine Calmady stood solitary, watching, listening, her hands folded rather high on her bosom. The caressing suavity of the summer night enfolded her. And remembrance came to her of another night, nearly four‐and‐thirty years ago, when, standing in this same spot, she, young, untried, ambitious of unlimited joys, had felt the first mysterious pangs of motherhood, and told her husband of that new, unseen life which was at once his and her own. And of yet another night, when, after long experience of sorrow, solitude, and revolt, her husband had come to her once again; but come, even as the bird’s song came from across the valley, etherealised, spiritualised, the same yet endowed with qualities of unearthly beauty—and how that page: 615 strange and exquisite communion with the dead had fortified her to endure an anguish even greater than any she had yet known. She had prayed that night that she might behold the face of her well‐beloved, and her prayer had been granted. She had prayed that, without reservation, she might be absorbed by and conformed to, the Divine Will. And that prayer had, as she humbly trusted, been in great measure granted also. But then the Divine Will had proved so very merciful, the Divine Intention so wholly beneficent, there was small credit in being conformed to either! Katherine bowed her head in thanksgiving. The goodness of the Almighty towards her had been abundant beyond asking or fondest hope.

She was aroused from her gracious meditation by the sound of footsteps—measured, a little weary perhaps—approaching her. She looked up to see Julius March. And a point of gentle anxiety pricked Katherine. For it occurred to her that Julius had failed somewhat in health and in energy of late. She reproached herself lest, in the interest of watching those vigorous, young lives so dear to her, participating in their schemes, basking in the sunshine of their love, she had neglected Julius and failed to care for his comfort as she might. To those that have shall be given—even of sympathy, even of strength. In that there is an ironical as well as an equitable truth and she was to blame perhaps in the ironical application of it. It followed, therefore, that she greeted him now with a quickening both of solicitude and of affection.

“Come and pace, dear Julius, come and pace,” she said, “as in times past. Yet not wholly as in the past, for then often I must have distressed and troubled you, since my pacings were too often the outcome of restlessness and of unruly passion, while now”—

Katherine broke off, gazing at the little company gathered upon the terrace.

“Surely they are very happy?” she said, almost involuntarily.

And he, smiling at his dear lady’s incapacity of escape from her fixed idea, replied:—

“Yes, very surely.”

Katherine tied the white, lace coif she wore a little tighter beneath her chin.

“In their happiness I renew that of my own youth,” she said gently, “as it is granted to few women, I imagine, to renew it. But I renew it with a reverence for them; since my own happiness was plain sailing enough, obvious, incontestable, whilst theirs is nobler, and rises to a higher plane. For its roots, after all, are page: 616 planted in very mournful fact, to which it has risen superior, and over which it has triumphed.”

But he answered, jealous of his dear lady’s self‐depreciation:—

“I can hardly admit that. To begin in unclouded promise of happiness, to decline to searching and unusual experience of sorrow, and then, by self‐discipline and obedience, to attain your present altitude of tranquillity and assurance of faith, is surely a greater trial, a greater triumph, than to begin—as they—with difficulties, with much, I admit, to overcome and resist, but to succeed as they are succeeding and be granted the high land of happiness which they even now possess? They are young, fortune smiles on them. Above all, they have one another”—

“Ah yes!” she said, “they have one another. Long may that last. It is a very perfect marriage of true minds, as well as true hearts. I had, and they have, all that love can give,”—Lady Calmady turned at the end of the walk. “But it troubles me, as a sort of emptiness and waste, dear Julius, that you have never had that. It pains me that you, who possess so noble a power of disinterested and untiring friendship, should never have enjoyed that other, and nearer, relation which transcends friendship even as to‐morrow’s dawn will transcend in loveliness the chastened restfulness of this evening’s dusk.”

Katherine moved onward with a certain sweet dignity of manner.

“Tell me—is she still alive, Julius, this lady whom you so loved?”

“Yes, thank God,” he said.

“And you have never tried to elude that vow which—as you once told me—you made long ago before you knew her?”

“Never,” he replied. “Without it I could not have served her as I have been able to serve her. I am wholly thankful for it. It made much possible which must have otherwise been impossible.”

“And have you never told her that you loved her—even yet?”

“No,” he replied, “because, had I told her, I must have ceased to serve her. I must have left her, Katherine, and I did not think God required that of me.”

Lady Calmady walked on in silence, her head a little bent. At the end of the path she stood a moment, listening to the answering songs of the two nightingales.

“Ah!” she said softly, “how greatly I have under‐rated the beauty of the dusk! To submit to dwell in the borderland, to stand on the dim bridge thus between day and night, page: 617 demands perhaps the very finest courage conceivable. You have shown me, Julius, how exquisite and holy a thing it is.—And, as to her whom you have so faithfully loved, I think, could she know, she would thank you very deeply for never telling her the truth. She would entreat you to keep your secret to the end. But to remain near her, to let her seek counsel of you when in perplexity or distress; to talk with her both of those you and she love, and have loved, and of the promise of fair things beyond and above our present seeing—pacing with her at times—even as you and I, dear friend, pace together here to‐night amid the restrained and solemn beauty of the dusk. Would she not do this?”

“It is enough that you have done it for her, Katherine,” he answered. “With your ruling I am wholly, unendingly content.”

“Perhaps Richard and Honoria’s dear works of mercy and the noonday tide of energy which flows through the house, have caused us to see less of each other than of old,” Lady Calmady continued with a charming lightness. “That is a mistake needing correction. The young to the young, dear Julius. You and I, who go at a quieter pace, will enjoy our peaceful friendship to the full. I shall not tire of your company, I promise you, if you do not of mine. Long may you be spared to me. God keep you, most loyal friend. Good‐night.”

Then Lady Calmady, deeply touched, yet unmoved from her altitude of thankfulness and calm, musing of many matters and of the working out of them to a beneficent and noble end, slowly went the length of the terrace to where, at the foot of the steps of the garden‐hall, Richard still sat. As she came near he held out his hand to her.

“Dear, sweet mother,” he said, “how I like to see you walk in that stately fashion, the whole of you—body, mind, and spirit, somehow evident—gathered up within the delicious compass of yourself! As far back as I can remember anything, I remember that. When I watched you it always made me feel safe. It seemed more like music heard, somehow, than something seen.”

“Dickie, Dickie,” she exclaimed, flushing a little, “don’t make me vain in my old age!”

“But it’s true,” he said. “And why shouldn’t one tell the pretty truths as well as the plain ones?—Isn’t it a positively divine night? Look at the moon just clearing the top of the firs there! It is good to be alive. Mother—may I say it? am very grateful to you for having brought me into the world.”

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“Ah! but, my poor darling”—Katherine cried.

“No, no,” he said, “put that out of your dear head once and for all. I am grateful, being as I am; grateful for everything, it being as it is. I don’t believe I would have anything—not anything—save those four years when I left you—altered, even if I could. I’ve found my work, and it enlarges its borders in all manner of directions; and it prospers. And I have money to put it through. And I have that boy. He’s a dear, little chap—and it is wonderfully good of Uncle Roger and Mary to give him to me. But he’s getting a trifle too fond of horses. I can’t break poor, old Chifney’s heart; but when his days are numbered, those of the stables—as far as training racers goes—are numbered likewise, I think. I’ll keep on the stud farm. But I grow doubtful about the rest. I wish it wasn’t so, but so it is. Sport is changing hands, passing from those of romance into those of commerce.—Well, the stables served their turn. They helped to bring me through. But now perhaps they’re a little out of the picture.”

Richard drew her hand nearer and kissed it, leaning back in his chair, and looking up at her.

“And I have you”—he said, “you, most perfect of mothers.—And—ah! here comes Honoria!”

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