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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
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page: 69

CHAPTER IX

IN WHICH KATHERINE CALMADY LOOKS ON HER SON

MORE than a week elapsed before Ormiston was called upon to redeem his promise. For Lady Calmady’s convalescence was slow. An apathy held her, which was tranquillising rather than tedious. She was glad to lie still and rest. She found it very soothing to be shut away from the many obligations of active life for a while; to watch the sunlight, on fair days, shift from east by south to west, across the warm fragrant room; to see the changing clouds in the delicate, spring sky, and the slow‐dying crimson and violet of the sunset; to hear the sudden hurry of failing rain, the subdued voices of the women in the page: 70 adjoining nursery, and, sometimes, the lusty protestations of her baby when—as John Knott had put it—“things didn’t suit him.” She felt a little jealous of the comely, young wet‐nurse, a little desirous to be more intimately acquainted with this small, new Richard Calmady, on whom all her hopes for the future were set. But, immediately, she was very submissive to the restrictions laid by Denny and the doctor upon her intercourse with the child. She only stood on the threshold of motherhood as yet. While the inevitable exhaustion, following on the excitement of her spring and summer of joy, her autumn of bitter sorrow, and her winter of hard work, asserted itself now that she had time and opportunity for rest.

The hangings and coverlet of the great, ebony, half‐tester bed were lined with rose silk, and worked, with many coloured worsteds on a white ground, in the elaborate Persian pattern so popular among industrious ladies of leisure in the reign of good Queen Anne. It may be questioned whether the parable, wrought out with such patience of innumerable stitches, was closely comprehensible or sympathetic to the said ladies; since a particularly wide interval, both of philosophy and practice, would seem to divide the temper of the early eighteenth century from that of the mystic East. Still the parable was there, plain to whoso could read it; and not—perhaps rather pathetically—without its modern application.

The Powers of Evil, in the form of a Leopard, pursue the soul of man, symbolised by a Hart, through the Forest of This Life. In the midst of that same forest stands an airy, domed pavilion, in which—if so be it have strength and fleetness to reach it—the panting, hunted creature may, for a time, find security and repose. Above this resting‐place the trees of the forest interlace their spreading branches, loaded with amazing leaves and fruit; while companies of rainbow‐hued birds, standing very upright upon nothing in particular, entertain themselves by holding singularly indigestible looking cherries and mulberries in their yellow beaks.

And so, Katherine, resting in dreamy quiet within the shade of the embroidered curtains, was even as the Hart pasturing in temporary security before the quaint pavilion. The mark of her bereavement was upon her sensibly still—would be so until the end. Often in the night, when Denny had at last left her, she would wake suddenly and stretch her arms out across the vacant space of the wide bed, calling softly to the beloved one who could give no answer, and then, recollecting, would sob herself again to sleep. Often, too, as Ormiston’s step sounded page: 71 through the Chapel‐Room when he came to pay her those short, frequent visits, bringing the clean freshness of the outer air along with him, Katherine would look up in a wondering gladness, cheating herself for an instant with unreasoning delight—look up, only to know her sorrow, and feel the knife turn in the wound. Nevertheless these days made, in the main, for peace and healing. On more than one occasion she petitioned that Julius March should come and read to her, choosing, as the book he should read from, Spenser’s Faerie Queene. He obeyed, in manner calm, in spirit deeply moved. Katherine spoke little. But her charm was great, as she lay, her eyes changeful in colour as a moorland stream, listening to those intricate stanzas, in which the large hope, the pride of honourable deeds, the virtue, the patriotism, the masculine fearlessness, the ideality, the fantastic imagination, of the English Renaissance so nobly finds voice. They comforted her mind, set by instinct and training to welcome all splendid adventures of romance, of nature, and of faith. They carried her back, in dear remembrance, to the perplexing and enchanting discoveries which Richard Calmady’s visit to Ormiston Castle—the many‐towered, grey house looking eastward across the unquiet sea—had brought to her. And specially did they recall to her that first evening—even yet she grew hot as she thought of it—when the supposed gentleman‐jockey, whom she had purposed treating with gay and reducing indifference, proved not only fine scholar and fine gentleman, but absolute and indisputable master of her heart.

Dr. Knott came to see her, too, almost daily—rough, tender‐hearted, humorous, dependable, never losing sight, in his intercourse with her, of the matter in hand, of the thing which immediately is.

Thus did these three men, each according to his nature and capacity, strive to guard the poor Hart, pasturing before the quaint pavilion, set—for its passing refreshment—in the midst of the Forest of This Life, and to keep, just so long as was possible, the pursuing Leopard at bay. Nevertheless the Leopard gained, despite of their faithful guardianship—which was inevitable, the case standing as it did.

For one bright afternoon, about three o’clock, Mrs. Denny arrived in the gun‐room, where Ormiston sat smoking, while talking over with Julius the turf‐cutting claims of certain squatters on Spendle Flats—arrived, not to summon the latter to further readings of the great Elizabethan poet, but to say to the former:—

“Will you please come at once, sir? Her ladyship is sitting page: 72 up. She is a little difficult about the baby—only, you know, sir, if I can say it with all respect, in her pretty, teasing way. But I am afraid she must be told.”

And Roger rose and went—sick at heart. He would rather have faced an enemy’s battery, vomiting out shot and shell, than gone up the broad, stately staircase, and by the silent, sunny passage‐ways, to that fragrant, white‐panelled room.

On the stands and tables were bowls full of clear‐coloured, spring flowers—early primrose, jonquil, and narcissus. A wood‐fire burned upon the blue‐and‐white tiled hearth. And on the sofa, drawn up at right angles to it, Katherine sat, wrapped in a grey, silk dressing‐gown bordered with soft, white fur. She flushed slightly as her brother came in, and spoke to him with an air of playful apology.

“I really don’t know why you should have been dragged up here, just now, dear old man! It is some fancy of Denny’s. I’m afraid in the excess of her devotion she makes me rather a nuisance to you. And now, not contented with fussing about me, she has taken to being absurdly mysterious about the baby”—

She stopped abruptly. Something in the young man’s expression and bearing impressed her, causing her to stretch out her hands to him in swift fear and entreaty.

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

And he told her, repeating, with but a few omissions, the statement made to him by the doctor ten days ago. He dared not look at her while he spoke, lest seeing her should unnerve him altogether.

Katherine was very still. She made no outcry. Yet her very stillness seemed to him the more ominous, and the horror of the recital grew upon him. His voice sounded to him unnaturally loud and harsh in the surrounding quiet. Once her silken draperies gave a shuddering rustle—that was all.

At last it was over. At last he dared to look at her. The colour and youthful roundness had gone out of her face. It was grey as her dress, fixed and rigid as a marble mask. Ormiston was overcome with a consuming pity for her and with a violence of self‐hatred. Hangman, and to his own sister—in truth, it seemed to him to have come to that! He knelt down in front of her, laying hold of both her knees.

“Kitty, can you ever forgive me for telling you this?” he asked hoarsely.

Even in this extremity Katherine’s inherent sweetness asserted page: 73 itself. She would have smiled, but her frozen lips refused. Her eyelids quivered a little and closed.

“I have nothing to forgive you, dear,” she said. “Indeed, it is good of you to tell me, since—since so it is.”

She put her hands upon his shoulders, gripping them fast, and bowed her head. The little flames crackled, dancing among the pine logs, and the silk of her dress rustled as her bosom rose and fell.

“It won’t make you ill again?” Roger asked anxiously.

Katherine shook her head.

“Oh no!” she said, “I have no more time for illness. This is a thing to cure, as a cautery cures—to burn away all idleness and self‐indulgent, sick‐room fancies. See, I am strong, I am well.”

She stood up, her hands slipping down from Ormiston’s shoulders and steadying themselves on his hands as he too rose. Her face was still ashen, but purpose and decision had come into her eyes.

“Do this for me,” she said, almost imperiously. “Go to Denny, tell her to bring me the baby. She is to leave him with me. And tell her, as she loves both him and me,—as she values her place here at Brockhurst,—she is not to speak.”

As he looked at her Ormiston turned cold. She was terrible just then.

“Katherine,” he said quickly, “what on earth are you going to do?”

“No harm to my baby in any case—you need not be alarmed. I am quite to be trusted. Only I cannot be reasoned with or opposed, still less condoled with or comforted, yet. I want my baby, and I must have him, here, alone, the doors shut—locked if I please.”—Her lips gave, the corners of her mouth drooped. And watching her Ormiston swore a little under his breath.—“We have something to say to each other, the baby and I,” she went on, “which no one else may hear. So do what I ask you, Roger. And come back—I may want you—in about an hour, if I do not send for you before.”

Alone with her child, Lady Calmady moved slowly across and bolted both the nursery and the Chapel‐Room doors. Then she drew a low stool up in front of the fire and sat down, laying the infant upon her lap. It was a delicious, dimpled creature, with a quantity of silky, golden‐brown hair, that curled in a tiny crest along the top of its head. It was but half awake yet, the rounded cheeks pink with the comfort of food and slumber. And as the beautiful, young mother, bending that set, ashen page: 74 face of hers above it, laid the child upon her knees, it stretched, clenching soft, baby fists and rubbing them into its blue eyes.

Katherine unwrapped the shawls, and took off one small garment after another—delicate gossamer‐like things of fine flannel, lawn and lace, such as women’s fingers linger over in the making with tender joy. Once her resolution failed her. She wrapped the half‐dressed child in its white shawls again, rose from her place and walked over to the sunny window, carrying it in the hollow of her arm—it staring up, meanwhile, with the strange wonder of baby eyes, and cooing, as though holding communication with gracious presences haunting the moulded ceiling above. Katherine gazed at it for a few seconds. But the little creature’s serene content, its absolute unconsciousness of its own evil fortune, pained her too greatly. She went back, sat down on the stool again, and completed the task she had set herself.

Then, the baby lying stark naked on her lap, she studied the fair, little face, the pencilled eyebrows and fringed eyelids—dark like her own,—the firm, rounded arms, the rosy‐palmed hands, their dainty fingers and finger‐nails, the well‐proportioned and well‐nourished body, without smallest mark or blemish upon it, sound, wholesome, and complete. All these she studied long and carefully, while the dancing glow of the firelight played over the child’s delicate flesh, and it extended its little arms in the pleasant warmth, holding them up, as in act of adoration, towards those gracious unseen presences, still, apparently, hovering above the flood of instreaming sunshine against the ceiling overhead. Lastly she turned her eyes, with almost dreadful courage, upon the mutilated, malformed limbs, upon the feet—set right up where the knee should have been, thus dwarfing the child by a fourth of his height. She observed them, handled, felt them. And, as she did so, her mother‐love, which, until now, had been but a part and consequence—since the child was his gift, the crown and outcome of their passion, his and hers—of the great love she bore her husband, became distinct from that, an emotion by itself, heretofore unimagined, pervasive of all her being. It had none of the sweet self‐abandon, the dear enchantments, the harmonising sense of safety and repose, which that earlier passion had. This was altogether different in character, and made quite other demands on mind and heart. For it was fierce, watchful, anxious, violent with primitive instinct; the roots of it planted far back in that unthinkable remoteness of time, when the fertile womb of the great Earth Mother began to bring forth the first blind, simple forms of page: 75 those countless generations of living creatures which, slowly differentiating themselves, slowly developing, have peopled this planet from that immeasurable past to the present hour. Love between man and woman must be forever young, even as Eros, Cupid, Krishna, are forever youthful gods. But mother‐love is of necessity mature, majestic, ancient, from the stamp of primal experience which is upon it.

And so, at this juncture, realising that which her motherhood meant, her immaturity, her girlhood, fell away from Katherine Calmady. Her life and the purpose of it moved forward on another plane.

She bent down and solemnly kissed the unlovely, shortened limbs, not once or twice but many times, yielding herself up with an almost voluptuous intensity to her own emotion. She clasped her hands about her knees, so that the child might be enclosed, over‐shadowed, embraced on all sides, by the living defences of its mother’s love. Alone there, with no witnesses, she brooded over it, crooned to it, caressed it with an insatiable hunger of tenderness.

“And yet, my poor pretty, if we had both died, you and I, ten days ago,” she murmured, “how far better! For what will you say to me when you grow older—to me who have brought you, without any asking or will of yours, into a world in which you must always be at so cruel a disadvantage? How will you bear it all when you come to face it for yourself, and I can no longer shield you and hide you away as I can do now? Will you have fortitude to endure, or will you become sour, vindictive, misanthropic, envious? Will you curse the hour of your birth?”

Katherine bowed her proud head still lower.

“Ah! don’t do that, my darling,” she prayed in piteous entreaty, “don’t do that. For I will share all your trouble, do share it even now, beforehand, foreseeing it, while you still lie smiling unknowing of your own distress. I shall live through it many times, by day and night, while you live through it only once. And so you must be forbearing towards me, my dear one, when you come”—

She broke off abruptly, her hands fell at her sides, and she sat rigidly upright, her lips parted, staring blankly at the dancing flames.

In repeating Dr. Knott’s statement Ormiston had purposely abstained from all mention of Richard Calmady’s accident and its tragic sequel. He could not bring himself to speak to Katherine of that. Until now, dominated by the rush of her page: 76 emotion, she had only recognised the bare terrible fact of the baby’s crippled condition, without attempting to account for it. But, now, suddenly the truth presented itself to her. She understood that she was herself, in a sense, accountable—that the greatness of her love for the father had maimed the child.

As she realised the profound irony of the position, a blackness of misery fell upon Katherine. And then, since she was of a strong, undaunted spirit, an immense anger possessed her, a revolt against nature which could work such wanton injury, and against God, who, being all‐powerful, could sit by and permit it so to work. All the foundations of faith and reverence were, for the time being, shaken to the very base.

She gathered the naked baby up against her bosom, rocking herself to and fro in a paroxysm of rebellious grief.

“God is unjust!” she cried aloud. “He takes pleasure in fooling us. God is unjust!”

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