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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
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page: 262

CHAPTER XI

CONTAINING SAMPLES BOTH OF EARTHLY AND HEAVENLY LOVE

KATHERINE stood in the central space of the great, state bedroom. It was just upon midnight, yet she still wore her jewels and her handsome, trailing, black, velvet dress. She was very tired. But that tiredness proceeded less from physical than mental weariness. This she recognised, and foresaw that weariness of this character was not likely to find relief and page: 263 extinction within the shelter of the curtains of the stately bed, whereon the ancient Persian legend of the flight of the Hart through the tangled Forest of This Life was so deftly and quaintly embroidered. For, unhappily to‐night, the leopard, Care, followed very close behind. And Katherine, taking the ancient legend as very literally descriptive of her existing state of mind, feared that, should she undress and seek the shelter of the rose‐lined curtains the leopard would seek it also; and, crouching at her feet, his evil, yellow eyes would gaze into her own, wide open, all through that which remained of the night. The night, moreover, was very wild. A westerly gale, with now and again tumultuous violence of rain, rattled the many panes of the windows, wailed in every crevice of door and casement, roared through the mile‐long elm avenue below, and roared in the chimneys above. The Prince of the Powers of the Air was let loose, and announced his presence as with the shout of battle. Sleep was out of the question under present conditions and in her present humour. Therefore Lady Calmady had dismissed Clara,—now promoted to the dignified office of lady’s‐maid,—and that bright‐eyed and devoted waiting‐woman had departed reluctant, almost in tears, protesting that:—“It was quite too bad, for her ladyship was being regularly worn out with all the talking and company. And she, for her part, should be heartily glad when the entertaining was over and they were all comfortably to themselves again.”

Nor could Katherine honestly assert that she would be altogether sorry when the hour struck, to‐morrow, for the departure of her guests. For it appeared to her that, notwithstanding the courtesy and affection of her brother and the triumphant charm of her niece, a spirit of unrest had entered Brockhurst along with their entry. Would that same spirit depart along with their departing? She questioned it. She was oppressed by a fear that spirit of unrest had come to stay. And so it was that as she walked the length and breadth of the lofty, white‐panelled room, for all the rage and fury of the storm without, she still heard the soft padding of Care, the leopard, close behind.

Then a singular desolation and sense of homelessness came upon Katherine. Turn where she would there seemed no comfort, no escape, no sure promise of eventual rest. Things human and material were emptied not of joy only, but of invitation to effort. For something had happened from which there was no going back. A fair woman from a far country had come and looked upon her son, with the inevitable result, that youth had page: 264 called to youth. And though the fair woman in question, being already wedded wife,—Katherine was rather pathetically pure‐minded,—could not in any dangerously practical manner steal away her son’s heart, yet she would, only too probably, prepare that heart and awaken in it desires of subsequent stealing away on the part of some other fair woman, as yet unknown, whose heart Dickie would do his utmost to steal in exchange. And this filled her with anxiety and far‐reaching fears, not only because it was bitter to have some woman other than herself hold the chief place in her son’s affections, but because she—as John Knott, even as Ludovic Quayle, though from quite other causes—could not but apprehend possibilities of danger, even of disaster, surrounding all question of love and marriage in the strange and unusual case of Richard Calmady.

And thinking of these things, her sensibilities heightened and intensified by fatigue and circumstances of time and place, a certain feverishness possessed her. That bed‐chamber of many memories—exquisite and tragic—became intolerable to her. She opened the double doors and passed into the Chapel‐Room beyond, the light, thrown by the tall wax‐candles set in silver branches upon her toilet‐table, passing with her through the widely open doors and faintly illuminating the near end of the great room. There was other subdued light in the room as well. For a glowing mass of coal and wood still remained in the brass basket upon the hearth; and the ruddy brightness of it touched the mouldings of the ceiling, glowed on the polished corners and carvings of tables, what‐nots, and upon the mahogany frames of solid, Georgian sofas and chairs.

At first sight, notwithstanding the roaring of wind and ripping of rain without, there seemed offer of comfort in this calm and spacious place, the atmosphere of it sweet with bowls of autumn violets and greenhouse‐grown roses. Katherine sat down in Richard’s low arm‐chair and gazed into the crimson heart of the fire. She made a valiant effort to put away haunting fears, to resume her accustomed attitude of stoicism, of tranquil, if slightly defiant, courage. But Care, the leopard, refused to be driven away. Surely, stealthily, he had followed her out of her bed‐chamber and now crouched at her side, making his presence felt so that all illusion of comfort speedily fled. She knew that she was alone, consciously and bitterly alone, waking in the midst of the sleeping house. No footstep would echo up the stairs, hot to find her. No voice would call her name, in anxiety for her well‐being or in desire. It seemed to Katherine that a desert lay outstretched about her on every page: 265 hand, while she sat desolate with Care for her sole companion. She recognised that her existing isolation was, in a measure at all events, the natural consequence of her own fortitude and ability. She had ruled with so strong and discreet a hand that the order she had established, the machinery she had set agoing, could now keep going without her. Hence her loneliness. And that loneliness as she sat by the dying fire, while the wind raved without, was dreadful to her, peopled with phantoms she dared not look upon. For, not only the accustomed burden of her motherhood was upon her, but that other unaccustomed burden of admitted middle‐age. And this other burden, which it is appointed a woman shall bear while her heart often is still all too sadly young, dragged her down. The conviction pressed home on her that for her the splendid game was indeed over, and that, for very pride’s sake, she must voluntarily, stand aside and submit to rank herself with things grown obsolete, with fashions past and out of date.

Katherine rose to her feet, filled, for the moment, by an immense compassion for her own womanhood, by an over‐mastering longing for sympathy. She was so tired of the long struggle with sorrow, so tired of her own attitude of sustained courage. And now, when surely a little respite and repose might have been granted her, it seemed that a new order of courage was demanded of her—a courage passive rather than active, a courage of relinquishment and self‐effacement. That was a little too much. For all her valiant spirit, she shrank away. She grew weak. She could not face it.

And so it happened that to‐night—as once long ago, when poor Richard suffered his hour of mental and physical torment at the skilful, yet relentless, hands of Dr. Knott, in the bed‐chamber near by—Katherine’s anguish and revolt found expression in restless pacings, and those pacings brought her to the chapel door. It stood ajar. Before the altar the three hanging lamps showed each its tongue of crimson flame. A whiteness of flowers, set in golden vases upon the re‐table, was just distinguishable. But the delicately carved spires and canopies of stalls, the fair pictured saints, and figure of the risen Christ—His wounded feet shining like pearls upon the azure floor of heaven—in the east window, were lost in soft, thick, all‐pervading gloom. The place was curiously still, as though waiting silently, in solemn and strained expectation for the accomplishment of some mysterious visitation. And, all the while without, the gale flung itself wailing against the angles of the masonry, and the rain beat upon the glass of the high, narrow windows as with a passion of despairing tears.

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For some time Katherine waited in the doorway, a sombre figure in her trailing, velvet dress. The hushed stillness of the chapel, the confusion and clamour of the tempest, taken thus in connection, were very telling. They exercised a strong influence over her already somewhat exalted imagination. Could it be, she asked herself, that these typified the rest of the religious, and the unrest of the secular life? Julius March would interpret the contrast they afforded in some such manner no doubt. And what if Julius, after all, were right? What if, shutting God out of the heart, you also shut that heart out from all peaceful dwelling places, leaving it homeless, at the mercy of every passing storm? Katherine was bruised in spirit. The longing for some sure refuge, some abiding city was dominant in her. The needs of her soul, so long ignored and repudiated, asserted themselves. Yes, what if Julius were right, and if content and happiness—the only happiness which has in it the grace of continuance—consisted in submission to, and glad acquiescence in, the will of God?

Thus did she muse, gazing questioningly at the whiteness of the altar flowers and those steady tongues of flame, hearing the silence, as of reverent waiting, which dwelt in the place. But, on the other hand, to give, in this her hour of weakness, that which she had refused in the hours of clear‐seeing strength,—to let go, because she was alone and the unloveliness of age claimed her, that sense of bitter injury and injustice which she had hugged to her breast when young and still aware of her empire,—would not such action be contemptibly poor spirited? She was no child to be humbled into confession by the rod, frightened into submission by the dark. To abase herself, in the hope of receiving spiritual consolation, appeared to her as an act of disloyalty to her dead love and her maimed and crippled son. She turned away with a rather superb lift of her beautiful head, and went back to her own bed‐chamber again. She hardened herself in opposition, putting the invitations of grace from her as she might have put those of temptation. She would yield to weakness, to feverish agitations and aimless longings, no more. Whether sleep elected to visit her or not, she would undress and seek her bed.

But hardly had she closed the door and, standing before her toilet‐table, begun to unclasp the pearls from her throat and bracelets from her wrists, than a sound, quite other than agreeable or reassuring, saluted her ears from close by. It proceeded from the room next door, now unoccupied, since Richard, some five or six years ago, jealous of the dignity of his youth, had petitioned to be permitted to remove himself and his possessions to the suite of rooms immediately below. This comprised the page: 267 Gun‐Room, a bed and dressing room, and a fourth room, connecting with the offices, which came in handy for his valet. Since his decline upon this more commodious apartment, the old nursery had stood vacant. Katherine could not find it in her heart to touch it. It was furnished now as in Dickie’s childish days, when, night and morning, she had visited it to make sure of her darling’s health and safety.

And it was in this shrine of tender recollections that disquieting sounds now arose. Hard claws rattled upon the boarded spaces of the floor. Some creature snored and panted against the bottom of the door, pushed it with so heavy a weight that the panels creaked, flung itself down uneasily, then moved to and fro again, with that harsh rattling of claws. The image of Care, the leopard, as embroidered upon the curtains of her bed, was so present to Katherine’s imagination to‐night that, for a moment, she lost her hold on probability and common sense. It appeared to her that the anxieties and perturbations which oppressed her had taken on bodily form, and, in the shape of a devouring beast, besieged her chamber door. The conception was grisly. Both mind and body being rather overstrained, it filled her with something approaching panic. No one was within call. To rouse her brother, or Julius, she must make a tour of half the house. Again the creature pushed against the creaking panels, and, then, panting and snoring, began ripping away the matting from the door‐sill.

The terror of the unknown is, after all, greater than that of the known. It was improbable, though the hour was late and the night wild, that savage beasts or cares incarnate should actually be in possession of Dickie’s disused nursery. Katherine braced herself and turned the handle. Still the vision disclosed by the opening door was at first sight monstrous enough. A moving mass of dirty white, low down against the encircling darkness, bandy legs, and great grinning mouth. The bull‐dog stood up, whining, fawning upon her, thrusting his heavy head into her hand.

“Why, Camp, good old friend, what brings you here? Are you, too, homeless to‐night? But why have you deserted your master?”

And then Lady Calmady’s panic fears took on another aspect. Far from being allayed they were increased. An apprehension of something actively evil abroad in the great, sleeping house assailed her. She trembled from head to foot. And yet, even while she shrank and trembled, her courage reawoke. For she perceived that as yet she need not rank herself wholly among fashions passed and things grown obsolete. She had her place and value still. She was wanted, she was called page: 268 for—that she knew—though by whom wanted and for what purpose she, as yet, knew not.

The bull‐dog, meanwhile, his heavy head carried low, his crooked tail drooping, trotted slowly away into the darkness and then trotted back. He squatted upon his haunches, looking up with anxious, bloodshot eyes. He trotted away again, and again returned and stood waiting, his whole aspect eloquent in its dumb appeal. He implored her to follow, and Katherine, fetching one of the silver candlesticks from her dressing‐table, obeyed.

She followed her ugly, faithful guide across the vacant disused nursery, and on down the uncarpeted turning staircase which opens into the square lobby outside the Gun‐Room. The diamond panes of the staircase windows chattered in their leaded frames, and the wind shrieked in the spouts, and angles, and carved stonework, of the inner courtyard as she passed. The gale was at its height, loud and insistent. Yet the many‐toned violence of it seemed to bear strange and intimate relation—as that of a great orchestra to a single dominant human voice into the subtle, evil influence which she felt to be at large within the sleeping house. And so, without pausing to consider the wisdom of her action, pushed by the conviction that something of profound import was taking place, and that someone, or something, must be saved by her from threatening danger, Katherine threw open the Gun‐Room door.

The shout of the storm seemed far away. This place was quick with stillness too, with the hush of waiting for the accomplishment of some mysterious event or visitation, even as the dark chapel upstairs had been. Only here moving effect of soft, brilliant light, of caressing warmth, of vague, insidious fragrance met her. Katherine Calmady had only known passion in its purest and most legitimate form. It had been for her, innocent of all grossness, or suggestion of degradation, fair and lovely and natural, revelation of highest and most enchanting secrets. But having once known it in its fulness, she could not fail to recognise its presence, even though it wore a diabolic, rather than angelic face. That passion met her now, exultant, effulgent, along with that light and heat and fragrance, she did not for an instant doubt. And the splendour of its near neighbourhood turned her faint with dread and with poignant memories. She paused upon the threshold, supporting herself with one hand against the cold, stone jamb of the arched doorway, while in the other she held the massive candlestick and its flickering, draught‐driven lights.

A mist was before her eyes, a singing in her ears, so that she had much ado to see clearly and reckon justly with that which page: 269 she did see. Helen de Vallorbes, clothed in a flowing, yet clinging, silken garment of turquoise, shot with blue purple and shimmering glaucous green—a garment in colour such as that with which the waves of Adriatic might have clothed the rosy limbs of new‐born Aphrodite, as she rose from the cool, translucent sea‐deeps—knelt upon the tiger‐skin before the dancing fire. Her hands grasped the two arms of Richard’s chair. She leaned down right across it, the lines and curves of her beautiful body discernible under her delicate draperies. The long, open sleeves of her dress fell away from her outstretched arms, showing them in their completeness from wrist to shoulder. Her head was thrown back, so that her rounded throat stood out, and the pure line of her lower jaw was salient. Her eyes were half closed, while all the mass of her honey‐coloured hair was gathered low down on the nape of her neck into a net of golden thread. A golden, netted girdle was knotted loosely about her loins, the tasselled ends of it dragging upon the floor. She wore no jewels, nor were they needed, for the loveliness of her person, discovered rather than concealed by those changeful sea‐blue draperies, was already dangerously potent.

All this Katherine saw—a radiant vision of youth, an incarnation, not of care and haunting fears, but of pleasure and haunting delights. And she saw more than this. For in the depths of that long, low arm‐chair Richard sat, stiffly erect, his face dead white, thin, and strained—Richard, as she had never beheld him before, though she knew the face well enough. It was his father’s face as she had seen it on her marriage night, and on his death night too, when his fingers had been clasped about her throat, to the point of strangulation. Katherine dared look no longer. Her heart stood still. Shame and anger took her, and along with these an immense nostalgia for that which had once been and was not. Her instinct was of flight. But Camp trotted forward, growling, and squatted between the pedestals of the library table, his red eyes blinking sullenly in the square shadow. Involuntarily Katherine followed him part way across the room.

Richard looked full at his cousin, absorbed, rigid, an amazement of question in his eyes. Not a muscle of his face moved. But Madame de Vallorbes’ absorption was less complete. She started slightly and half turned her head.

“Ah! there is that dog again,” she said. “What has brought him back? He hates me.”

“Damn the dog!” Richard exclaimed, hoarsely under his breath. Then he said:—“Helen, Helen, you know”—

But Madame de Vallorbes had turned her head yet farther, page: 270 and her arched eyelids opened quite wide for once, while she smiled a little, her lips parting and revealing her pretty teeth tightly set.

“Ah! the advent of the bull‐dog explains itself,” she exclaimed. “Here is Aunt Katherine herself!”

Slowly, and with an inimitable grace, she rose to her feet. Her long, winged sleeves floated back into place, covering her bare arms. Her composure was astonishing, even to herself. Yet her breath came a trifle quick as she contemplated Lady Calmady with the same enigmatic smile, her chin carried high—the finest suggestion of challenge and insolence in it—her eyes still unusually wide open and startlingly bright.

“Richard holds a little court to‐night,” she continued airily, “thanks to the storm. You also have come to seek the protection of his presence it appears, Aunt Katherine. Indeed, I am not surprised, for you certainly brew very wild weather at Brockhurst, at times.”

Something in the young lady’s bearing had restored Katherine’s self‐control.

“The wind is going down,” she replied calmly. “The storm need not alarm you, or keep you watching any longer, Helen.”

“Ah! pardon me—you know you are accustomed to these tempests,” the younger woman rejoined. “To me it still sounds more than sufficiently violent.”

“Yes, but merely on this side of the house, where Richard’s and my rooms are situated. The wind has shifted, and I believe on your side you will suffer no further disturbance. You will find it quite quiet. Then, moreover, you have to rise early to‐morrow—or rather to‐day. You have a long journey before you and should secure all the rest you can.”

Madame de Vallorbes gathered her silken draperies about her absently. For a moment she looked down at the tiger‐skin, then back at Lady Calmady.

“Ah yes!” she said, “it is thoughtful of you to remind me of that. To‐day I start on my homeward journey. It should give me very much pleasure, should it not? But—do not be shocked, Aunt Katherine—I confess I am not altogether enraptured at the prospect. I have been too happy, too kindly treated, here at Brockhurst, for it to be other than a sorrow to me to depart.”

She turned to Richard, her expression serious, intimate, appealing. Then she shook back her fair head, and as though in obedience to an irresistible movement of tenderness, stooped down swiftly over him—seeming to drown him in the shimmering page: 271 waves of some azure, and thin, clear green, and royal, blue‐purple sea—while she kissed him full and daringly upon the mouth.

“Good‐night, good‐bye, dear Dickie,” she said. “Yes, good‐bye—for I almost hope I may not see you in the morning. It would be a little chilly and inadequate, any other farewell after this. I am grateful to you.—And remember, I too am among those who, to their sorrow, never forget.”

She approached Lady Calmady, her manner natural, unabashed, playful even, and gay.

“See, I am ready to go to bed like a good child, Aunt Katherine,” she said, “supported by your assurance that my side of the house is no longer rendered terrific by wind and rain. But—I am so distressed to trouble you—but all the lamps are out, and I am none too sure of my way. It would be a rather tragic ending to my happy visit if I incontinently lost myself and. wandered till dawn, disconsolate, up and down the passages and stairways of Richard’s magnificent house. I might even wander in here by mistake again, and that would be unpardonably indiscreet, wouldn’t it? So, will you light me to my own quarters, Aunt Katherine? Thank you—how charmingly kind and sweet you are!”

As she spoke Madame de Vallorbes moved lightly away and passed on to the lobby, the heels of her pretty, cloth‐of‐gold slippers ringing quite sharply on the grey, stone quarries without. And, even as a little while back she had followed the heavy‐headed and ungainly bull‐dog, so now Lady Calmady, in her trailing, black, velvet dress, silver candlestick in hand, followed this radiant, fleet‐fooled creature, whose every movement was eloquent of youth and health and an almost prodigal joy of living. Neither woman spoke as they crossed the lobby, and passed the pierced and arcaded stone screen which divides the outer from the inner hall. Now and again the flickering candle‐light glinted on the younger woman’s girdle or the net which controlled the soft masses of her honey‐coloured hair. Now and again a draught taking the folds of her silken raiment blew it hither and thither, disclosing her beautiful arms or quick‐moving slippered feet. She was clothed with splendour of the sea, crowned, and shod, and girt about the loins, with gold. And she fled on silently, till the wide, shallow‐stepped stairway, leading up to the rooms, she occupied, was reached. There, for a moment, she paused.

“Pray come no farther,” she said, and went on rapidly up the flight. On the landing she stopped, a dimly discerned figure, blue and gold against the dim whiteness of high panelled walls, moulded ceiling, stairway, and long descending balustrade.

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“I have arrived!” she cried, and her clear voice took strange inflections of mockery and laughter. “I have arrived! I am perfectly secure now and safe. Let us hope all other inmates of Brockhurst are equally so this stormy night. A thousand thanks, dear Aunt Katherine, for your guidance, and a thousand apologies for bringing you so far. Now let me trouble you no longer.”

The Gun‐Room Katherine found just as she had left it, save that Camp stood on the tiger‐skin before the fire, his fore‐paws and his great, grinning muzzle resting on the arm of Richard’s chair. Camp whined a little. Mechanically the young man raised his hand and pulled the dog’s long, drooping ears. His face was still dead white, and there were lines under his eyes and about the corners of his mouth, as of one who tries to subdue expression of physical pain. He looked straight at Lady Calmady.

“Ah!” he said, “so you have come back! You observe I have changed partners!”

And again he pulled the dog’s ears, while it appeared to the listener that his voice curiously echoed that other voice which had so lately addressed and dismissed her, taking on inflections of mockery. But as she nerved herself to answer, he continued, hastily:—

“I want nothing, dear mother, nothing in the world. Pray don’t concern yourself any more about me to‐night. Haven’t I Camp for company? Lamps? Oh! I can put them out perfectly well myself. You were right, of course, perfectly right, to come if you were anxious about me. But now surely you are satisfied?”

Suddenly Richard bowed his head, putting both hands over his eyes.

“Only now, mother, if you love me, go,” he said, with a great sob in his voice. “For God’s sake go, and leave me to myself.”

But after sleepless hours, in the melancholy, blear dawn of the November day, Katherine lying, face downwards, within the shelter of the embroidered curtains of the state bed, made her submission at last and prayed.

“I am helpless, O Father Almighty! I have neither wit nor understanding, nor strength. Have mercy, lest my reason depart from me. I have sinned, for years I have sinned, setting my will, my judgment, my righteousness, against Thine. Take me, forgive me, teach me. I bring nothing. I ask everything. I am empty. Fill me with Thyself, even as with water one fills an empty cup. Give me the courage of patience instead of the courage of battle. Give me the courage of meekness in place of the courage of pride.”

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