Transfiguration and parting

Today, 10 May 1915, which was a Monday, George and Kittie set out on the 140-mile journey by train from Gosport to the naval base of Devonport, where he was to embark for an unknown destination. Five other officers from the 9th Ox and Bucks had been called up for this mission, so perhaps they all travelled together, with their wives.

He was full of thoughtful lovingness.

Yet a strange feeling hung over everything; not of foreboding, but as though there were millions of miles of distance — distance that was bridged, but yet there.

But it was not bridged in ordinary ways — somehow the warm clasp of his hand as he sat by me in the train speeding down to Devonport didn’t seem to have anything to do with being near him.

If he came and stood by me now might it not be the same? And one would say of course it is so, for he is no longer on this material plane.

And where does this all bring me? And why do I say it?

Because I think that by the time George went to Gallipoli, his whole being had become one pure flame of Idealism and Clear Seeing. Every particle of everything else had fallen away, had been burnt up in that flame. All his life he had spent in fighting shams [mock battles] in searching for the real, for the true. He had found it at last.

Although this was not set down until 1919, I think we can trust Kittie’s memory here.

The George Calderon she had known — wit, lover, Russianist, journalist, scholar, dramatist, adventurer, anthropologist, activist, entertainer — was once again becoming ‘someone different’, this time a person living ‘on another plane’. His transfiguration (Owen’s ‘Weep, you may weep, for you may touch them not’) had begun.

Or was he in the grip of a form of psychosis?

*                    *                    *

The party probably arrived at Devonport in the early afternoon. George and Kittie found a hotel, then George joined the others in barracks. Late in the afternoon, before the officers of the 9th Ox and Bucks and a draft of other soldiers left for the docks, George and Kittie were able to say goodbye at the barracks. We know from George’s letter of 16 May that an officer whispered in Kittie’s ear the name of the ship George was to sail in — the enormous Royal Mail Steamer Orsova. Probably, with other wives, she went down to the docks to catch a glimpse of him embarking or on deck.

*                    *                    *

At 11.00 p.m. this evening George wrote Kittie a three-page letter from the Orsova (this is the letter with ‘appling’, see my post of 22 January, about which I will report at a future date). As always on a voyage, he was exhilarated. He described the embarkation, the ship, the ‘delicate food’, with relish, and continued:

Poor dear old Keety — don’t trouble over me; I’m off on a new and unknown adventure, but it either ends ill or very well, and no thought can alter it — so rejoice in the colour and vigour of the thing — and drink deep with jolly friends while it’s doing — with Catta [Catherine Lubbock] and Violet [Pym] and other Rabelaisians. Your wishes for good, will work all the better when two or three of you are gathered together.

[…]

Good night and goodbye, dear Keety; your loving old spouse

P. [Peety]

The Orsova had just cast off and was moving to its buoy. George addressed his letter to Kittie at Mrs Seymour’s in Brockhurst, and it left Devonport at 2.00 p.m. tomorrow.

He probably spells her name ‘Keety’ in imitation of the Russian pronunciation, e.g. of Kitty Levina in Anna Karenina.

Next entry: 11 May 1915

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About Patrick Miles

I am a writer who specialises in Anton Chekhov and is writing a biography of George Calderon.
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