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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
page: 349



BROCKHURST HOUSE had slumbered all day long in the steady warmth of the July sun. The last three weeks had been rainless, so that the short turf of the uplands began to grow crisp and discoloured, while the resinous scent of the fir forest, at once stimulating and soothing, was carried afar out over the sloping cornfields and low‐lying pastures. Above the stretches of purple‐budding heather and waste sandy places, upon the moors, the heat‐haze danced and quivered as do vapours arising from a furnace. Along the under side of the great woods, and in the turn of the valleys, shadows lingered, which were less actual shadows than blottings of blue light. The birds, busy feeding wide‐mouthed, hungry fledglings, had mostly ceased from song. But the drowsy hum of bees and chirrup of grasshoppers was continuous, and told, very pleasantly, of the sunshine and large plenty reigning out of doors.

For Katherine the day in question had passed in Martha‐like occupations.—A day of organising, of ordering and countermanding, a day of much detail, much interviewing of heads of departments, a day of meeting respectful objections, enlightening thick understandings, gently reducing decorously opposing wills. Commissariat, transport, housing of guests, and the servants of guests—all these entered into the matter of the coming wedding. To compass the doing of all things, not only decently and in order, but handsomely, and with a becoming dignity, this required time and thought. And so, it was not until after dinner that Katherine found herself at leisure to cease taking thought for the morrow. Too tired to rest herself by reading, she wandered out on the troco‐ground followed by Camp.

London had not altogether suited the bull‐dog as the summer wore on. Now, in his old age, so considerable a change of surroundings put him about both in body and mind. Seeing which, Richard had begged his mother to take the dog with her on leaving town. Camp benefited, unquestionably, by his return to country air. His coat stared less. He carried his ears and tail with more sprightliness and conviction. Still he fretted after his absent master, and followed Katherine’s footsteps very closely, his forehead more than ever wrinkled and his unsightly mouth pensive notwithstanding its perpetual grin. He attended page: 350 her now, squatting beside her when she paused, trotting slowly beside her when she moved, a silent, persistent, and, as it might seem, somewhat fatefully faithful companion.

Yet the occasion was to all appearances far from fateful, the night and the scene, alike, being very fair. The moon had not yet risen, but a brightness behind the sawlike edge of the fir woods eastward heralded its coming, while sufficient light yet remained in the western and northern sky for the mass of the house, its ruddy walls and ranges of mullioned windows, its pierced, stone parapet and stacks of slender, twisted chimneys, to be seen with a low‐toned distinctness of form and colour infinitely charming. Soft and rich as velvet, it rose, with a certain noble serenity, above its terraces and fragrant, red‐walled gardens, under the enormous dome of the tranquil, far‐off, evening sky.

Every aspect of this place, in rain and shine, summer and winter, from dawn to dark and round to dawn again, was familiar to Katherine Calmady. Coming here first, as a bride, the homely splendour of the house, and the gladness of its situation crowning the ridge of hill, appealed strongly to her imagination. Later it sheltered her long sorrow, following so hard on the heels of her brief joy. But, in both alike, during all the vicissitudes of her thought and of her career, the face of Brockhurst remained as that of a friend, kindly, beneficent, increasingly trusted and beloved. And so she had come to know every stick and stone of it, from spacious, vaulted cellar to equally spacious, low‐roofed, sun‐dried attic—the outlook from each window, the character of each room, the turn of each stairway, the ample proportions of each lobby and stair‐head, all the pleasant scents, and sounds, and colours, that haunted it both within and without. It might have been supposed that after so many years of affectionate observation and commerce, Brockhurst could have no new word in its tongue, could hold no further self‐revelation, for Lady Calmady. Yet, as she passed now from the arcaded garden‐hall, supporting the eastern bay of the Long Gallery, on to the level, green square of the troco‐ground, and stood gazing out over the downward sloping park—the rough, short turf of it dotted with ancient thorn trees and broken by beds of bracken and dog‐roses—to the Long Water, glistening like some giant mirror some quarter‐mile distant in the valley, she became sensible of a novel element in her present relation to this place.

For the first time, in all her long experience, she was at Brockhurst quite alone. The house was vacant even of a friend. For Julius March had, rather to Katherine’s surprise, selected just page: 351 this moment for the paying of his yearly visit to a certain college friend, a scholarly and godly person, now rector of a sleepy, country parish away in the heart of the great Midlandshire grasslands. Katherine experienced a momentary sense of injury at his going. Yet perhaps it was as well. Between the turmoil of the past London season, the coming turmoil of the wedding and the large and serious issues which that wedding involved, this time of solitude might be salutary. To Katherine, just now, it seemed as a bridge carrying her over from one way of life to another. A but slightly known country lay ahead. Solitude and self‐recollection are good for the soul if it would possess itself in peace. The fair brightness of the Indwelling Light had not been obscured in her during these months devoted to the world and to society. But it was inevitable that her consciousness of it, and consequently its clear‐shining, should have suffered diminution at times. The eager pressure of things to be done, things to be seen, of much conversation, the varied pageant of modern life perpetually presented to her eyes and her intelligence, could not but crowd out the spiritual order somewhat. Of late she had had only time to smile upon her God in passing, instead of spending long hours within the courts of His temple. This she knew. It troubled her a little. She desired to return to a condition of more complete self‐collectedness. And so, the first movement of surprise past, she hailed her solitude as a means of grace, and strove, in sweet sincerity, to make good use of it.

And yet—since the human heart, if sound and wholesome, hungers, even when penetrated by godward devotion, for some fellow‐creature on whom to expend its tenderness—Katherine, just now, regretted to be alone. The scene was so beautiful, she would gladly have had someone look on it beside herself, and share its charm. Then thoughts of the future obtruded themselves. How would little Constance Quayle view Brockhurst? Would it claim her love? Would she embrace the spirit of it, and make it not only the home of her fair, young body, but the home of her guileless heart? Katherine yearned in spirit over this girl standing on the threshold of all the deeper experiences of a woman’s life, of those amazing revelations which marriage holds for an innocent and modest maiden.—But oh! how lovely are such revelations when the lover is also the beloved!

Katherine moved on a few paces. The thought of all that, even now at forty‐eight, cut her a little too sharply. It is not wise to call up visions of joys that are dead. She would think of something else, so she told herself, as she paused in her rustling grey dress upon the dry, gravel path, the surface of which still page: 352 sensibly held the warmth of the sun, while Camp squatted soberly on his haunches beside her. But, at first, only worrying thoughts responded to her call.—It was not quite kind, surely, of Julius to have left home just now. It was a little inconsiderate of him. If she dwelt on the thought of that, clearly it would vex her—so it must be banished. Reynolds, the housekeeper, had really been very perverse about the turning of the two larger china‐closets into extra dressing‐rooms for the week of the wedding, and Clara showed an inclination to back her up in opposition. Of course the maids would give in—they always did, and that without any subsequent attempt at small reprisals. Still the thought of that, too, was annoying and must be banished.—At dinner she had received a singular letter from Honoria St. Quentin. It contained what appeared to Katherine as rather over‐urgent protestations of affection and offers of service, if at any future time she—the writer—could be of use. The letter was charming in its slight extravagance. But it struck Katherine as incomprehensibly penitent in tone—the letter of one who has not treated a friend quite loyally and is hot with anxiety to atone. It was dated this morning too, and must have been posted at some surprisingly early hour to have thus reached Brockhurst by the day mail. Lady Calmady did not quite relish the missive, somehow, notwithstanding its affection. It lacked the perfection of personal dignity which had pleased her heretofore in Honoria St. Quentin. She felt vaguely disappointed. And it followed that this thought, therefore, must go along with the rest. For she refused to be disquieted. She would compel herself to be at peace.

So, putting these small sources of discomfort from her, as unworthy both of her better understanding and of this fair hour and fair place, Katherine yielded herself wholly to the influences of her surroundings. The dew was rising—promise of another hot, clear day to‐morrow—and along with it rose a fragrance of wild thyme from the grass slopes immediately below. That fragrance mingled with the richer scents of jasmine, full‐cupped, July roses, scarlet, trumpet‐flowered honeysuckle, tall lilies, and great wealth of heavy‐headed, clove carnations, veiling the red walls or set in the trim borders of the gardens behind. A strangely belated nightingale still sang in the big, Portugal laurel beside the quaint, pepper‐pot summer‐house in the far corner of the troco‐ground, where the twenty‐foot, brick wall dips, in steps of well‐set masonry, to the grey, three‐foot balustrade. She never remembered to have heard one sing so late in the summer. The bird was answered, moreover, by another singer from the coppice, bordering the trout‐ page: 353 stream which feeds the Long Water, away across the valley. In each case the song was, note for note, the same. But the chant of the near bird was hotly urgent in its passion of “wooing and winning;” while the song of the answerer came chastened and etherealised by distance. A fox barked sharply on the left, out in the Warren. And the churring of the night‐hawks, as they flitted hither and thither over the beds of bracken and dog‐roses, like gigantic moths, on swift, silent wings, formed a continuous accompaniment, as of a spinning‐wheel, to the other sounds.

Never, as she watched and listened, had the genius of Brockhurst appeared more potent or more enthralling. For a space she rested in it, asking nothing beyond that which sight and hearing could give. It was very good to breathe the scented air and be lulled by the inarticulate music of nature. It was good to cease from self and from all individual striving, to become a part merely of the universal movement of things, a link merely in the mighty chain of universal being. But such an impersonal attitude of mind cannot last long, least of all in the case of a woman! Katherine’s heart awoke and cried again for some human object on which to expend itself, some kindred intelligence to meet and reflect her own. Ah, were she but better, more holy and more wise, these cravings would doubtless not assail her! The worship of the Indwelling Light would suffice, and she would cease from desire of the love of any creature. But she had not journeyed so far upon the road of perfection yet, as she sadly told herself. Far from it. The nightingale sang on, sang of love, not far hence, not far above, not within the spirit only, but here, warm, immediate, and individual. And, do what she would, the song brought to her mind such love, as she herself had known it during the few golden months of her marriage—of meetings at night, sweet and sacred; of partings, sweet and sacred too, at morning; of secret delights; of moments, at once pure and voluptuous, known only to virtuous lovers. It was not often that remembrance of all this came back to her, save as a faint echo of a once clear‐sounding voice. Indeed she had supposed it all laid away forever, done with, even as the bright colours it had once so pleased her to wear were laid away in high, mahogany presses that lined one side of the lofty state‐bedroom upstairs. But now remembrance laid violent hands on her, shaking both mind and body from their calm. The passion of the bird’s song, the caressing suavity of the summer night, the knowledge, too, that so soon another bride and bridegroom would dwell here at Brockhurst, worked upon her strangely. She struggled with herself, surprised and half angered by the force of her own page: 354 emotion, and pleaded at once against, and for, the satisfaction of the immense nostalgia which possessed her.

“Ah! it is bitter, very bitter, to have had at once so much and so little. Bow my proud neck, O Lord, to Thy yoke.—If my beloved had but been spared to me I had never walked in darkness, far from the way of faith, and my child had never suffered bodily disfigurement. Perfect me, O God, even at the cost of further suffering. It is sad to be shut away from the joys of my womanhood, while my life is still strong in me. Break me, O Lord, even as the ploughshare breaks the reluctant clod. Hold not Thy hand till the work be fully accomplished, and the earth be ready for the sowing which makes for harvest.—Give me back the beloved of my youth, the beloved of my life, if only for an hour. Teach me to submit.—Show me, beyond all dread of contradiction that vows, truly made, hold good even in that mysterious world beyond the grave. Show me that though the body—dear home and vehicle of love—may die, yet love in its essence remains everlastingly conscious, faithful and complete. Bend my will to harmony with Thine, O Lord, and cleanse me of self‐seeking.—Ah! but still let me see his face once again, once again, oh, my God—and I will rebel no more. Let me look on him, once again, if only for a moment, and I shall be content. Hear me, I am greatly troubled, I am athirst—I faint”—

Katherine’s prayer, which had risen into audible speech, sank away into silence. The near nightingale had fallen silent also. But from across the valley, chastened and etherealised by distance, still came the song of the answering bird. To Katherine those fine and delicate notes were full of promise. They bore testimony to the soul which dwells forever behind the outward aspect and sense. Whether she fainted in good truth, or whether she passed, for a while, into that sublimated state of consciousness wherein the veils of habit cease to blind and something of the eternal essence and values of things is revealed—perception overstepping, for once, the limits of ordinary, earth‐bound apprehension and transcending ordinary circumscription of time and place—she could not tell. Nor did she greatly care. For a great peace descended upon her, accompanied by a gentle, yet penetrating expectancy. She stood very still, her feet set on the warm gravel, the night air wrapping her about as with a fragrant garment, the ghostly sweetness of that far‐away bird‐song in her ears, while momentarily the conviction of the near presence of the man who had so loved her, and whom she had so loved, deepened within her. And therefore it was without alarm, without any shock of amazement, that gradually she found her aware‐ page: 355 ness of that presence change from something felt, to something actually seen.

He came towards her—that first Richard Calmady, her husband and lover—across the smooth, green levels of the troco‐ground which lay dusky in the mingling half‐lights of the nearly departed sunset and the rising moon—as he had come to her a hundred times in life, back from the farms or the moorlands, from sport or from business, or from those early morning rides, the clean freshness of the morning upon him, after seeing his racehorses galloped. He came bareheaded, in easy workmanlike garments, short coat, breeches, long boots and spurs. He came with the repose of movement which is born of a well‐knit frame, and a temperate life, and the grace of gentle blood. He came with the half smile on his lips, and the gladness in his eyes when they first met hers, which had always been there however brief the parting. And Katherine perceived it was just thus our beloved dead must needs return to us—should they return at all—laying aside the splendours of the spirit in tenderness for mortal weakness. Even as the Christ laid aside the visible glory of the Godhead, and came a babe among men, so must they come in humble, every‐day fashion, graciously taking on the manner and habit common to them during earthly life. Therefore she suffered no shrinking, but turned instinctively, as she had turned a hundred times, laughing very softly in the fulness of content, raising her hands, throwing back her head, knowing that he would come behind her and take her hands in his, and kiss her, so, bending down over her shoulder. And, when he came, she did not need to speak, but only to gaze into the well‐beloved face, familiar, yet touched—as it seemed to her—with a mysterious and awful beauty, beholding which she divined the answer to many questions.

For she perceived, as one waking from an uneasy dream perceives the comfortable truth of day, that her love was not given back to her, for the dear reason that her love had never been taken away. The fiction of Time ceased to rule in her, so that the joy of bride and new‐wed wife, the strange, sweet perplexities of dawning motherhood were with her now, not as memories merely, but as actual, ever‐present, deathless facts—the culminating, and therefore permanent, revelation of her individual experience. She perceived this continued and must continue, since it was the fine flower of her nature, the unit of her personal equation, the realisation of the eternal purpose concerning her of Almighty God. The fiction of old age was discredited, so was the bitterness of deposition, the mournful fiction of being passed page: 356 by and relegated to the second place. Her place was her own. Her standing ground in the universal order, a freehold, absolute and inalienable. She could not abdicate her throne, neither could any wrest it away from her. She perceived that not self‐effacement, but self‐development, not dissolution, but evolution, was the service required of her. And, as divinely designed contribution to that end was every joy, every sorrow, laid upon her; since by these was she differentiated from all others, by these was she built up into a separate existence, sane, harmonious, well‐proportioned, a fair lamp lighted with a burning coal from off the altar of that God of whom it is written, not only that He is a consuming fire, but that He is Love.

All this, and more, did Katherine apprehend, beholding the familiar, yet mysterious countenance of her well‐beloved. And the tendency of that apprehension made for tranquillity of spirit, for a sure and certain hope. The faculty which reasons, demands explanation and proof, might not be satisfied; but that higher faculty which divines, accepts, believes, assuredly was so. Nor could it be otherwise, since it is the spirit, the idea, not the letter, which giveth life.

How long she stood thus, in tender and illuminating, though wordless, communion with the dead, Katherine did not know. The deepest spiritual experiences, like the most exquisite physical ones, are to be measured by intensity rather than duration. For a space the vision sensibly held her, the so ardently desired presence there incontestibly beside her, a personality vivid and distinct, yet in a way remote, serene as the immense dome of the cloudless sky, chastened and etherealised as the song of the answering nightingale; and in this differing from any bodily presence, as the song in question differed from that of the bird in the laurel close at hand.

Gradually, and with such sense of refreshment as one enjoys who, bathing in some clear stream at evening, washes away all soil and sweat of a weary journey, Katherine awoke to more ordinary observation of her material surroundings. She became aware that the dog, Camp, had turned singularly restless. He slunk away as though wishing to avoid her near neighbourhood, crawled back to her, with dragging hind‐quarters, cringing and whining as though in acute distress. And, by degrees, another sound obtruded itself, speaking of haste and effort, notably at variance with the delicate and gracious stillness. It came from the highroad crossing the open moor, which loomed up a dark, straight ridge against the southern horizon. It came in rising and falling cadence, but ever nearer and page: 357 nearer, increasingly distinct, increasingly urgent—the fast, steady trot of a horse. The moon, meanwhile, had swept clear of the sawlike edge of the fir forest; and, while the thin, white light of it broadened upon the dewy grass and the beat of the horse‐hoofs rang out clearer and clearer, Katherine was aware that the dear vision faded and grew faint. As it had come, softly, without amazement or fear, so it departed, without agitation or sadness of farewell, leaving Katherine profoundly consoled, the glory of her womanhood restored to her in the indubitable assurance that what had been of necessity continued, and forever was.

And, therefore, she still listened but idly to the approaching sound, not reckoning with it as yet, though the roll of wheels was now added to the rapid beat of the hoofs of a trotting horse. It had turned down over the hillside by the cross road leading to the upper lodge. Suddenly it ceased. The shout of a man’s voice, loud and imperative, a momentary pause, then the clang of heavy, iron gates swinging back into place; and once again the roll of wheels and that steady, urgent, determined trot, coming nearer and nearer down the elm avenue, whose stately rows of trees looked as though made of ebony and burnished silver in the slanting moonlight. On it came across the bridge spanning the glistering whiteness of the Long Water. And on again, steadily and no less rapidly, as though pressed by the hand of a somewhat merciless driver, hot to arrive, bearer of stirring tidings, up the steeply ascending hill to the house.

Lady Calmady listened, beginning to question whom this nocturnal disturber of the peace of Brockhurst might be. But only vaguely as yet, since that which she had recently experienced was so great, so wide‐reaching in its meaning and promise, that, for the moment, it dwarfed all other possible, all other imaginable, events. The gracious tranquillity which enveloped her could not be penetrated by any anxiety or premonition of momentous happenings as yet. It was not so, however, with Camp. For a spirit of extravagant and unreasoning excitement appeared to seize on the dog. Forgetful of age, of stiff limbs and short‐coming breath, he gambolled round Lady Calmady, describing crazy circles upon the grass, and barking until the unseemly din echoed back harshly from against the great red and grey façade. He fawned upon her, abject, yet compelling; and, at last, as though exasperated by her absence of response, turned tail and bounded away through the garden‐hall and along the terrace, disappearing through the small, arched side‐door into the house. And there, within, stir and movement became momentarily more apparent. Shifting lights flashed out page: 358 through the many‐paned windows, as though in quick search of some eagerly desired presence.

Nevertheless, for a little space, Katherine lingered, the fragrance of the wild thyme and of the fair gardens still about her, the somnolent churring of the night‐hawks and faint notes of the nightingale’s song still saluting her ears. It was so difficult to return to and cope with the demands of ordinary life. For had she not been caught up into the third heaven and heard words unspeakable, unlawful, in their entirety, for living man to utter?

But things terrestrial, in this case as in so many other cases, refused to make large room for, or brook delay from, things celestial. Two servants came out, hurriedly, from that same arched side‐door. Then Clara, that devoted handmaiden, called from the window of the red drawing‐room.

“Her ladyship’s there, on the troco‐ground. Don’t you see, Mr. Winter?”

The butler hurried along the terrace. Katherine met him on the steps of the garden‐hall.

“Is anything wrong, Winter?” she asked kindly, for the trusted servant betrayed unusual signs of emotion. “Am I wanted?”

“Sir Richard has returned, my lady,” he said, and his voice shook. “Sir Richard is in the Gun‐Room. He gave orders that your ladyship should be told that he would be glad to speak to you immediately.”