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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
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page: 136

CHAPTER VI

DEALING WITH A PHYSICIAN OF THE BODY AND A PHYSICIAN OF THE SOUL

HISTORY repeats itself, and to Katherine just now came most unwelcome example of such repetition. She had foreseen that some such crisis must arise as had arisen. Yet when it arose, the crisis proved none the less agonising because of that foreknowledge. Two strains of feeling struggled within her. A blinding sorrow for her child, a fear of and shame at her own violence of anger. Katherine’s mind was of an uncompromising honesty. She knew that her instinct had, for a space at least, been murderous. She knew that, given equal provocation, it would be murderous again.

And this was, after all, but the active, objective aspect of the matter. The passive and subjective aspect showed danger also. In her extremity Katherine’s soul cried out for God—for the sure resting‐place only to be found by conscious union of the individual with the eternal will. But such repose was denied her. For her anger against God, even while thus earnestly desiring Him, was even more profound than her anger against man. The passion of those terrible early days when her child’s evil fortune first became known to her—held in check all these years by constant employment and the many duties incident to her position—returned upon her in its first force. To believe God is not, leaves the poor human soul homeless, sadly desolate, barren in labour as is a slave. But the sorrow of such belief is but a trifle beside the hideous fear that God is careless and unjust, that virtue is but a fond imagination of all‐too‐noble human hearts, that the everlasting purpose is not good but evil continually. And, haunted by such fears, Katherine once again sat in outer darkness. All gracious things appeared to her as illusions; all gentle delights but as passing anodynes with which, in his misery, man weakly tries to deaden the pain of existence. She suffered a profound discouragement.

And so it seemed to her but as part of the cruel whole when history repeated itself yet further, and Dr. Knott, pausing at the door of Richard’s bedroom, turned and said to her:—

“It will be better, you know, Lady Calmady, to let him face it alone. He’ll feel it less without you. Winter can give me all the assistance I want.” Then he added, a queer smile playing page: 137 about his loose lips:—“ Don’t be afraid. I’ll handle him very gently. Probably I shan’t hurt him at all—certainly not much.”

“Ah!” Katherine said, under her breath.

“You see it is done by his own wish,” John Knott went on.

“I know,” she answered.

She respected and trusted this man, entertained for him, notwithstanding his harsh speech and uncouth exterior, something akin to affection. Yet remembering the part he had played in the fate of the father, it was very dreadful to her that he should touch the child. And Dr. Knott read her thought. He did not resent it. It was all natural enough! From his heart he was sorry for her, and would have spared her had that been possible. But he discriminated very clearly between primary and secondary issues, never sacrificing, as do feeble and sentimental persons, the former to the latter. In this case the boy had a right to the stage, and so the mother must stand in the wings. John Knott possessed a keen sense of values in the human drama which the exigencies of his profession so perpetually presented to him. He waited quietly, his hand on the door‐handle, looking at Katherine from under his shaggy eyebrows, silently opposing his will to hers.

Suddenly she turned away with an impatient gesture.

“I will not come with you,” she said.

“You are right.”

“But—but—do you think you can really do anything to help him, to make him happier?” Katherine asked, a desperation in the tones of her voice.

“Happier? Yes, in the long‐run, because certainty of whatever kind, even certainty of failure, makes eventually for peace of mind.”

“That is a hard saying.”

“This is a hard world.”—Dr. Knott looked down at the floor, shrugging his unwieldy shoulders. “The sooner we learn to accept that fact the better, Lady Calmady. I know it is sharp discipline, but it saves time and money, let alone disappointment.—Now as to all these elaborate contrivances I’ve brought down from London, they’re the very best of their kind. But I am bound to own the most ingenious of such arrangements are but clumsy remedies for natural deficiency. Man hasn’t discovered how to make over his own body yet, and never will. The Almighty will always have the whip‐hand of us when it comes to dealing with flesh and blood. All the same we’ve got to try these legs and things”—

Katherine winced, pressing her lips together. It was brutal, page: 138 surely, to speak so plainly? But John Knott went on quietly, commiserating her inwardly, yet unswerving in common sense.

“Try ’em every one, and so convince Sir Richard one way or the other. This is a turning‐point. So far his general health has been remarkably good, and we’ve just got to set our minds to keeping it good. He must not fret if we can help it. If he frets, instead of developing into the sane, manly fellow he should, he may turn peevish, Lady Calmady, and grow up a morbid, neurotic lad, the victim of all manner of brain‐sick fancies—become envious, spiteful, a misery to others and to himself.”

“Is it necessary to say all this?” Katherine asked loftily.

Dr. Knott’s eyes looked very straight into hers, and there were tears in them.

“Indeed, I believe it is,” he replied, “or, trust me, I wouldn’t say it. I take no pleasure in giving pain at this time of day, whether mental or physical. All I want is to spare pain. But one must sacrifice the present to the future, at times, you know‐use the knife to save the limb. Now I must go to my patient. It isn’t fair to keep him waiting any longer. I’ll be as quick as I can. I suppose I shall find you here when I’ve finished?”

As he opened the door Dr. Knott’s heavy person showed in all its ungainliness against the brightness of sunlight flooding Dickie’s room. And to Katherine he seemed hideous just then—inexorable in his great common sense, in the dead weight of his personality and of his will, as some power of nature. He was to her the incarnation of things as they are—not things as they should be, not things as she so passionately desired they might be. He represented rationalism as against miracle, intellect as against imagination, the bitter philosophy of experience as against that for which all mortals so persistently cry out—namely the all‐consoling promise of extravagant hope. As with chains he bound her down to fact. Right home on her he pressed the utter futility of juggling with the actual. From the harsh truth that, neither in matters practical nor spiritual, is any redemption without shedding of blood he permitted her no escape.

And all this Katherine’s clear brain recognised and admitted, even while her poor heart only rebelled the more madly. To be convinced is not to be reconciled. And so she turned away from that closed door in a veritable tempest of feeling, and went out into the Chapel‐Room. It was safer, her mind and heart thus working, to put a space between herself and that closed door.

Just then Julius March crossed the room, coming in from the stair‐head. The austere lines of his cassock emphasised the page: 139 height and emaciation of his figure. His appearance offered a marked contrast to that of the man with whom Katherine had just parted. His occupation offered a marked contrast also. He carried a gold chalice and paten, and his head was bowed reverentially above the sacred vessels. His eyes were downcast, and the dull pallor of his face and of his long, thin hands was very noticeable. He did not look round, but passed silently, still as a dream, into the chapel. Katherine paced the width of the great room, turned and paced back and forth again some half‐dozen times, before he emerged from the chapel door. In her present humour she did not want him, yet she resented his abstraction. The physician of the soul, like the physician of the body, appeared to her lamentably devoid of power to sustain and give comfort at the present juncture.

This, it so happened, was one of those days when the mystic joy of his priestly office held Julius March forcibly. He had ministered to others, and his own soul was satisfied. His expression was exalted, his short‐sighted eyes were alive with inward light. Tired and worn, there was still a remarkable suavity in his bearing. He had come forth from the holy of holies, and the vision beheld there dwelt with him yet.

Meanwhile, brooding storm sat on Katherine’s brow, on her lips, dwelt in her every movement. And something of this Julius perceived, for his devotion to her was intact, as was his self‐abnegation. Throughout all these years he had never sought to approach her more closely. His attitude had remained as delicately scrupulous, untouched by worldliness, or by the baser part of passion, as in the first hour of the discovery of his love. Her near presence gave him exquisite pleasure; but, save when she needed his assistance in some practical matter, he refused to indulge himself by passing much time in her society. Abstinence still remained his rule of life. Just now, however, strong with the mystic strength of his late ministrations and perceiving her troubled state, he permitted himself to remain and pace beside her.

“You have been out all day?” Katherine said.

“Yes, I stayed on to the end with Rebecca Light. They sent for me early this morning. She passed away very peacefully in that little attic at the new lodge looking out into the green heart of the woods.”

“Ah! It’s simple enough to die,” Katherine said, “being old. The difficult thing is to live, being still young.”

“Has my absence been inconvenient? Have you wanted me?” Julius asked.—Those quiet hours spent in the humble page: 140 death‐chamber suddenly appeared to him as an act of possible selfishness.

“Oh no!” she answered bitterly. “Why should I want you Have I not sent Roger and Mary away? Am I not secretly glad dear Marie de Mirancourt is just sufficiently poorly to remain in her room? When the real need comes—one learns that among all the other merciless lessons—one is best by oneself.”

For a while, only the whisper of Lady Calmady’s skirts, the soft, even tread of feet upon the thick carpet. Then she said, almost sharply:—

“Dr. Knott is with Richard.”

“Ah! I understand,” Julius murmured.

But Lady Calmady took up his words with a certain heat.

“No, you do not understand. You none of you understand, and that is why I am better by myself. Mary and Roger in their happiness, dear Marie in her saintly resignation, and you”—Katherine turned her head, smiled at him in lovely scorn—“you, my dear Julius, of all men, what should you know of the bitter pains of motherhood, you who are too good to be quite human, you who regard this world merely as the antechamber of paradise, you, whose whole affection is set on your Church—your God—how should you understand? Between my experience and yours there is a very wide interval. How can you know what I suffer—you who have never loved?”

Under the stress of her excitement Katherine’s pace quickened. The whisper of her skirts grew to a soft rush. Julius kept beside her. His head was bent reverently, even as over the sacred vessels he had so lately carried.

“I too have loved,” he said at last.

Katherine stopped short, and looked at him incredulously.

“Really, Julius?” she said.

Raising his head, he looked back at her. This avowal gave him a strange sense of completeness and mastery. So he allowed his eyes to meet Katherine’s, he allowed himself to reckon with her grace and beauty.

“Very really,” he answered.

“But when?”

“Long ago—and always.”

“Ah!” she said. Her expression had changed. Brooding storm no longer sat on her brow and lips. She was touched. For the moment the weight of her personal distress was lifted. Dickie and Dr. Knott together in that bed‐chamber, experimenting with unlovely, mechanical devices for aiding locomotion page: 141 and concealing the humiliation of deformity, were almost forgotten. To those who have once loved, love must always supremely appeal. Julius appeared to her in a new aspect. She felt she had done him injustice. She placed her hand on his arm with a movement of apology and tenderness. And the man grew faint, trembled, feeling her hand, seeing it lie white and fair on the sleeve of his black cassock. Since childhood it was the first, the solitary, caress he had received.

“Pardon me, dear Julius,” she said. “I must have pained you at times, but I did not know this. I always supposed you coldly indifferent to those histories of the heart which mean so much to some of us; supposed your religion held you wholly, and that you pitied us as the wise pity the foolish, standing above them, looking down. Richard told me many things about you, before he brought me home here, but he never told me this.”

“Richard never knew it,” he answered, smiling. Her perfect unconsciousness at once calmed and pained him. He had kept his secret, all these years, only too well.

Katherine turned and began to pace again, her hands clasped behind her back.

“But, tell me—tell me,” she said. “You can trust me, you know. I will never speak of this unless you speak. But if I knew, it would bring us nearer together, and that would be comforting, perhaps, to us both. Tell me, what happened? Did she know, and did she love you? She must have loved you, I think. Then what separated you? Did she die?”

“No thank God she did not die,” Julius said.—He paused. He longed to gain the relief of fuller confession, yet feared to betray himself. “I believe she loved me truly as a friend—and that was sufficient.”

“Oh no, no!” Katherine cried. “Do not decline upon sophistries. That is never sufficient.”

“In one sense, yes—in another sense, no,” Julius said. “It was thus. I loved her exactly as she was. Had she loved me as I loved her she would have become other than she was.”

“Ah! but surely you are too ingenious, too fastidious!” Katherine’s voice took tones of delicate remonstrance and pleading. “That would be your danger, in such a case. Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien, and you would always risk sacrificing the real to the ideal. I am sorry. I would like you to have tasted the fulness of life. Even though the days of perfect joy are very few, it is well to have had them”—

She threw back her head, her eyebrows drew together, and her face darkened somewhat.

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“Yes, it is well to have had them, though the memory of them cuts one to the very quick.”—Then her manner changed again, gaining a touch of gaiety. “Really I am very unselfish in wishing all this otherwise,” she said, “for it would have been a sore trial to part with you. I cannot imagine Brockhurst without you. I should have been in great straits deprived of my friend and counsellor. And yet, I would like you to have been very happy, dear Julius.”

Their pacing had just brought them to the arched doorway of the chapel. Katherine stopped, and raising her arm leaned her hand against the stone jamb of it above her head.

“See,” she went on, “I want to be truly unselfish. I know how generous you are. Perhaps you remain here out of all too great kindness towards my poor Dick and me. You mustn’t do that, Julius. You say she is still living. Consider—is it too late?”

Was it indeed too late? All the frustrated manhood cried aloud in Julius March. He covered his face with his hands. His carefully restrained imagination ran riot, presenting enchantments.

And Katherine, watching him, found herself strangely moved. For it was very startling to see this so familiar figure under so unfamiliar an aspect—to see Julius March, her every‐day companion and assistant, his reticence, his priestly aloofness, his mild and courtly calm, swept under by a tide of personal emotion. Lady Calmady was drawn to him by deepened sympathy. Yet regret arose in her that this man proved to be, after all, but as other men are. She was vaguely disappointed, having derived more security than she had quite realised from his apparent detachment and impassibility. And, as an indirect consequence, her revolt against God suffered access of bitterness. For not only was He—to her seeing—callous regarding the fate of the many, but He failed to support those few most devoted to His cause. In the hour of their trial He was careless even of His own elect.

“Ah! I think it is indeed by no means too late!” she exclaimed.

Julius March let his hands drop at his sides. He gazed at her, and her expression was of wistful mockery—compassionate rather than ironical. Then he looked away down the length of the chapel. In the warm afternoon light, the solid and rich brown of the arcaded stalls on either hand, emphasised the harmonious radiance of the great, east window, a radiance as of clear jewels.—Ranks of kneeling saints, the gold of page: 143 whose orioles rose in an upward curve. to the majestic image of the Christ in the central light—a Christ risen and glorified, enthroned, His feet shining forever upon heaven’s sapphire floor. Before the altar hung three, silver‐gilt lamps of Italian workmanship, in the crimson cup of each of which it had so long been Julius’s pleasure to keep the tongue of flame constantly alive. The habits of a lifetime are not hastily set aside. Gazing on these things, his normal attitude returned to him. Not that which he essentially was but that which, by long and careful training of every thought, every faculty, he had become, authoritatively claimed him. His eyes fell from contemplation of the glories of the window to that of the long, straight folds of the cassock which clothed him. It was hardly the garb in which a man goes forth to woo! Then he looked at Lady Calmady—she altogether seductive in her innocence and in her wistful mockery as she leaned against the jamb of the door.

“You are mistaken, dear Katherine,” he said. “It has always been too late.”

“But why—why—if she is free to listen?”

“Because I am not free to speak.”

Julius smiled at her. His suavity had returned, and along with it a dignity of bearing not observable before.

“Let us walk,” he said. And then:—“After all I have given you a very mutilated account of this matter. Soon after I took orders, before I had ever seen the very noble, to me perfect, woman who unconsciously revealed to me the glory of human love, I had dedicated my life, and all my powers—poor enough, I fear—of mind and body to the service of the Church. I was ambitious in those days. Ambition is dead, killed by the knowledge of my own shortcomings. I have proved an unprofitable servant—for which may God in His great mercy forgive me. But, while my faith in myself has withered, my faith in Him has come to maturity. I have learned to think very differently on many subjects, and to perceive that our Heavenly Father’s purposes regarding us are more generous, more far‐reaching, more august, than in my youthful ignorance I had ever dreamed. All things are lawful in His sight. Nothing is common or unclean—if we have once rightly apprehended Him, and He dwells in us. And yet—yet, a vow once made is binding. We may not do evil to gain however great a good.”

Katherine listened in silence. The words came with the power of immutable conviction. She could not believe, yet she was glad to have him believe.

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“And that vow precludes marriage?” she said at last.

“It does,” Julius answered.

For a time they paced again in silence. Then Lady Calmady spoke, a delicate intimacy and affection in her manner, while once more, for a moment, she let her hand rest on his arm.

“So Brockhurst keeps you—I keep you, dear Julius, to the last?”

“Yes, if you will, to the very last.”

“I am thankful for that,” she said. “You must forgive me if in the past I have been inconsiderate at times. I am afraid the constant struggle, which certain circumstances of necessity create, tends to make me harsh and imperious. I carry a trouble, which calls aloud for redress, forever in my arms. They ache with the burden of it. And there is no redress. And the trouble grows stronger, alas! Its voice—so dear, yet so dreaded—grows louder, till it deafens me to all other sounds. The music of this once beautiful world becomes faint. Only angry discord remains. And I become selfish. I am the victim of a fixed idea. I become heedless of the suffering of those about me. And you, my poor Julius, must have suffered very much!”

“Now, less than ever before,” he answered.—But even as he spoke, Katherine was struck by his pallor, by the drawn look of his features and languor of his bearing.

“Ah, you have fasted all day!” she cried.

“What matter?” he said, smiling. “The body surely can sustain a trifle of hunger, if the soul and spirit are fed. I have feasted royally to‐day in that respect. I am strangely at ease. As to baser sort of food, what wonder if I forgot?”

The door of Dickie’s bed‐chamber opened, letting in long shafts of sunlight, and Dr. Knott came slowly forward. His aspect was savage. Even his philosophy had been not wholly proof against the pathos of his patient’s case. It irritated him to fall from his usual relentlessness of common sense into a melting mood. He took refuge in sarcasm, desirous to detect weakness in others, since he was, unwillingly, so disagreeably conscious of it in himself.

“Well, we’re through with our business, Lady Calmady,” he said.—“Eh! Mr. March, what’s wrong with you? Putty‐coloured skin and shortness of breath. A little less prayer and a little more physical exercise is what you want. Successful, Lady Calmady?—Umph—I’m afraid the less said about that the better. Sir Richard will talk it out with you himself. Upset? Yes, I don’t deny he is a little upset—and, like a fool, I’m upset page: 145 too. You can go to him now, Lady Calmady. Keep him cheerful, please, and give him his head as much as you can.”

John Knott watched her as she moved away. He shrugged his shoulders and thrust his hands into his breeches pockets.

“She’s going to hear what she won’t much relish, poor thing,” he said. “But I can’t help that. One man’s meat is another man’s poison; and my affair is with the boy’s meat, even if it should be of a kind to turn his mother’s stomach. He shall have just all the chance I can get him, poor little chap.—And now, Mr. March, I propose to prescribe for you, for you look uncommonly like taking a short‐cut to heaven, and, if I know anything about this house, you’ve got your work cut out for you here below for a long time to come. Through with this business? Pooh! we’ve only taken a preliminary canter as yet. That boy’s out of the common in more ways than one, and, cripple or no cripple, he’s bound to lead you all a pretty lively dance before he’s done.”

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