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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
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page: 490

CHAPTER I

IN WHICH MISS ST. QUENTIN BEARS WITNESS TO THE FAITH THAT IS IN HER

HONORIA divested herself of her travelling‐cap, thrust her hands into the pockets of her frieze ulster, and thus, bare‐headed, a tall, supple, solitary figure, paced the railway platform in the dusk. Above the gentle undulations of the western horizon splendours of rose‐crimson sunset were outspread, veiled, as they flamed upward, by indigo cloud of the texture and tenuity of finest gauze. And those same rose‐crimson splendours found repetition upon the narrow, polished surface of the many lines of rails, causing them to stand out, as though of red‐hot metal, from the undeterminate grey‐drab of the track where it curved away, south‐eastward, across the darkening country towards the Savoy Alps. And from out the fastnesses of these last, quick with the bleak purity of snow, came a breathing of evening wind. To Honoria it brought refreshing emphasis of silence, and of immunity from things human and things mechanical. It spoke to her of virgin and unvisited spaces, ignorant of mankind and of obligation to his so many and so insistent needs. And there being in Honoria herself a kindred defiance of subjection, a determination, so to speak, of physical and emotional chastity, she welcomed these intimations of the essential inviolability of nature, finding in them justification and support of her own mental attitude—of the entire wisdom of which she had, it must be owned, grown slightly suspicious of late.

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And this was the more grateful to her, not only as contrast to the noise and dust of a lengthy and hurriedly‐undertaken journey; but because that same journey had been suddenly, and, in a sense violently, imposed upon one whom she held in highest regard, by another whom she had long since agreed with herself to hold in no sort of regard at all. Since the highly‐regarded one set forth, she—Honoria—of course, set forth likewise. And yet, in good truth, the whole affair rubbed her not a little the wrong way! She recognised in it a particularly flagrant example of masculine aggression. Some persons, as she reflected, are permitted an amount of elbow‐room altogether disproportionate to their deserts. Be sufficiently selfish, sufficiently odious, and everybody becomes your humble servant, hat in hand! That is unfair. It is, indeed, quite extensively exasperating to the dispassionate onlooker. And, in Miss St. Quentin’s case, exasperation was by no means lessened by the fact that candour compelled her to admit doubt not only as to the actuality of her own dispassionateness, but, as has already been stated, as to the wisdom of her mental attitude generally. She wanted to think and feel one way. She was more than half afraid she was much disposed to think and feel quite another way. This was worrying. And, therefore, it came about that Honoria hailed the present interval of silence and solitude, striving to put from her remembrance both the origin and object of her journey, while filling her lungs with the snow‐fed purity of the mountain wind and yielding her spirit to the somewhat serious influences of surrounding nature. All too soon the great Paris‐express would thunder into the station. The heavy, horse‐box‐like sleeping‐car—now standing on the Culoz‐Geneva‐Bâle siding—would be coupled to the rear of it. Then the roar and rush would begin again—from dark to dawn, and on through the long, bright hours to dark once more, by mountain gorge, and stifling tunnel, and broken woodland, and smiling coast‐line, and fertile plain, past Chambéry, and Turin, and Bologna, and mighty Rome herself, until the journey was ended and distant Naples reached at last.

But Miss St. Quentin’s communings with nature were destined to speedy interruption. Ludovic Quayle’s elongated person, clothed to the heels in a check travelling‐coat, detached itself from the company of waiting passengers, and blue‐linen‐clad porters, upon the central platform before the main block of station buildings, and made its light and active way across the intervening lines of crimson‐stained metals.

“If I am a nuisance mention that chastening fact without hesitation,” he said, standing on the railway track and looking page: 492 up at her with his air of very urbane intelligence. “Present circumstances permit us the privilege—or otherwise—of laying aside restraints of speech, along with other small proprieties of behaviour commonly observed by the polite. So don’t spare my feelings, dear Miss St. Quentin. If I am a bore, tell me so; and I will return, and that without any lurking venom in my breast, whence I came.”

“Do anything you please,” Honoria replied, “except be run over by the Paris train.”

“The Paris train, so I have just learned, is an hour late, consequently its arrival hardly enters into the question. But, since you are graciously pleased to bid me do as I like, I stay,” Mr. Quayle returned, stepping on to the platform and turning to pace beside her.—“What a gaol delivery it is to get into the open! That last engine of ours threw ashes to a truly penitential extent. My mouth and throat still claim unpleasantly close relation to a neglected, kitchen grate. And if our much vaunted wagon‐lits is the last word of civilisation in connection with travel, then all I can say is that, in my humble opinion, civilisation has yet a most exceedingly long way to go. It really is a miraculously uncomfortable vehicle. And how Lady Calmady contrives to endure its eccentricities of climate and of motion, I’m sure I don’t know.”

“In her case the end would make any sort of means supportable,” Honoria answered.

Her pacings had brought her to the extreme end of the platform where it sloped to the level of the track. She stood there a moment, her head thrown back, snuffing the wind as a hind, breaking covert, stands and snuffs it. A spirit of questioning possessed her, though not—as in the hind’s case—of things concrete and material. It is true she could have dispensed with Mr. Quayle’s society. She did not want him. But he had shown himself so full of resource, so considerate and helpful, ever since the news of Sir Richard Calmady’s desperate state had broken up the peace of the little party at Ormiston Castle, now five days ago, that she forgave him even his preciousness of speech, even his slightly irritating superiority of manner. She had ceased to be on her guard with him during these days of travel, had come to take his presence for granted and to treat him with the comfortable indifference of honest good‐fellowship. So, it happened that now, speaking with him, she continued to follow out her existing train of thought.

“I’m by no means off my head about poor Dickie Calmady,” she said presently,—“specially where Cousin Katherine is con‐ page: 493 cerned. I couldn’t go on caring about anybody, irrespective of their conduct, just because they were they. And yet I can’t help seeing it must be tremendously satisfying to feel like that.”

“A thousand pardons,” Ludovic murmured, “but like what?”

“Why as Cousin Katherine feels—just whole‐heartedly, without analysis, and without alloy—to feel that no distance, no fatigue, no nothing in short, matters, so long as she gets to him in time. I don’t approve of such a state of mind, and yet”—Honoria wheeled round, facing the glory of colour dyeing all the west—“and yet, I’m untrue enough to my own principles rather to envy it.”

She sighed, and that sigh her companion noted and filed for reference. Indeed, an unusually expansive cheerfulness became perceptible in Mr. Quayle.

“By‐the‐bye, is there any further news?” she inquired.

“General Ormiston has just had a telegram.”

“Anything fresh?”

“Still unconscious, strength fairly maintained.”

“Oh! we know that by heart!” Honoria said.

“We do. And we know the consequences of it—the sweet little see‐saw of hope and fear, productive of unlimited discussion and anxiety. No weak letting one stand at ease about that telegram! It keeps one’s nose hard down on the grindstone.”

“If he dies,” Honoria said slowly, “if he dies—poor, dear Cousin Katherine!—When can we hear again?”

“At Turin,” Mr. Quayle replied.

Then they both fell silent until the far end of the platform was reached. And there, once more, Honoria paused, her small head carried high, her serious eyes fixed upon the sunset. The rosy light falling upon her failed to disguise the paleness of her face or its slight angularity of line. She was a little worn and travel‐stained, a little dishevelled even. Yet to her companion she had rarely appeared more charming. She might be tired, she might even be somewhat untidy; but her innate distinction remained—nay, gained, so he judged, by suggestion of rough usage endured. Her absolute absence of affectation, her unselfconsciousness, her indifference to adventitious prettinesses of toilet, her transparent sincerity, were very entirely approved by Ludovic Quayle.

“Yes, that see‐saw of hope and fear must be an awful ordeal, feeling as she does,” Miss St. Quentin said presently. “And yet, even so, I am uncertain. I can’t help wondering which really is best!”

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“Again a thousand pardons,” the young man put in, “but I venture to remind you that I was not cradled in the fore‐court of the temple of the Pythian Apollo, but only in the nursery of a conspicuously philistine, English country‐house.”

For the first time during their conversation Honoria looked full at him. Her glance was very friendly, yet it remained meditative, even a trifle sad.

“Oh! I know, I’m fearfully inconsequent,” she said. “But my head is simply rattled to pieces by that beastly wagon‐lits. I had gone back to what I was thinking about before you joined me, and to what we were saying just now about Cousin Katherine.”

“Yes—yes, exactly,” Ludovic put in tentatively. She was going to give herself away—he was sure of it. And such giving away might make for opportunity. In spirit, the young man proceeded to take his shoes from off his feet. The ground on which he stood might prove to be holy. Moreover Miss St. Quentin’s direct acts of self‐revelation were few and far between. He was horribly afraid those same shoes of his might creak, so to speak, thereby startling her into watchfulness, making her draw back. But Honoria did not draw back. She was too much absorbed by her own thought. She continued to contemplate the glory of the flaming west, her expression touched by a grave and noble exaltation.

“I suppose one can’t help worrying a little at times—it’s laid hold of me very much during the last month or two—as to what is really the finest way to take life. One wants to arrive at that fairly early; not by a process of involuntary elimination, on the burnt‐child‐fears‐the‐fire sort of principle, when the show’s more than half over, as so many people do. One wants to get hold of the stick by the right end now, while one’s still comparatively young, and then work straight along. I want my reason to be the backbone of my action, don’t you know, instead of merely the push of society and friendship, and superficial odds and ends of so‐called obligation to other people.”

“Yes,” Mr. Quayle put in again.

“Now, it seems to me, that”—Honoria extended one hand towards the sunset—“is Cousin Katherine’s outlook on life and humanity, full of colour, full of warmth. It burns with a certain prodigality of beauty, a superb absence of economy in giving. And that”—with a little shrug of her shoulders she turned towards the severe, and sombre, eastern landscape—“that, it strikes me, comes a good deal nearer my own. Which is best?”

Mr. Quayle congratulated himself upon the removal of his page: 495 shoes. The ground was holy—holy to the point of embarrassment even to so unabashable and ready‐tongued a gentleman as himself. He answered with an unusual degree of diffidence.

“An intermediate position is neither wholly inconceivable nor’ wholly untenable, perhaps.”

“And you occupy it? Yes, you are very neatly balanced. But then, do you really get anywhere?”

“Is not that a rather knavish speech, dear Miss St. Quentin?” the young man inquired mildly.

“I don’t know,” she answered, “I wish to goodness I did.”

Now was here god‐given opportunity, or merely a cunningly devised snare for the taking of the unwary? Ludovic pondered the matter. He gently kicked a little pebble from the dingy grey‐drab of the asphalt on to the permanent way. It struck one of the metals with a sharp click. A blue‐linen‐clad porter, short of stature and heavy of build, lighted the gas lamps along the platform. The flame of these wavered at first, and flickered, showing thin and will‐o’‐the‐wisp‐like against the great outspread of darkening country across which the wind came with a certain effect of harshness and barrenness—the inevitable concomitant of its inherent purity. And the said wind treated Miss St. Quentin somewhat discourteously, buffeting her, obliging her to put up both hands to push back stray locks of hair. Also the keen breath of it pierced her, making her shiver a little. Both of which things her companion noting took heart of grace.

“Is it permitted to renew a certain petition?” he asked, in a low voice.

Honoria shook her head.

“’ Better not, I think,” she said.

“And yet, dear Miss St. Quentin, pulverised though I am by the weight of my own unworthiness, I protest that petition is not wholly foreign to the question you did me the honour to ask me just now.”

“Oh! dear me! You always contrive to bring it round to that!” she exclaimed, not without a hint of petulance.

“Far from it,” the young man returned. “For a good, solid eighteen months, now, I have displayed the accumulated patience of innumerable asses.”

“Of course, I see what you’re driving at,” she continued hastily. “But it is not original. It’s just every man’s stock argument.”

“If it bears the hall‐mark of hoary antiquity, so much the better. I entertain a reverence for precedent. And honestly, as common sense goes, I am not ashamed of that of my sex.”

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Miss St. Quentin resumed her walk.

“You really think it stands in one’s way,” she said reflectively, “you really think it a disadvantage, to be a woman?”

“Oh! good Lord!” Mr. Quayle ejaculated, softly yet with an air so humorously aghast that it could leave no doubt as to the nature of his sentiments. Then he cursed himself for a fool. His shoes indeed had made a mighty creaking! He expected an explosion of scornful wrath. He admitted he deserved it. It did not come.

Miss St. Quentin looked at him, for a moment, almost piteously. He fancied her mouth quivered and that her eyes filled with tears. Then she turned and swung away with her long, easy, even stride. Mentally the young man took himself by the throat, conscience‐stricken at having humiliated her, at having caused her to fall, even momentarily, from the height of her serene, maidenly dignity. For once he became absolutely uncritical, careless of appearances. He fairly ran after her along the platform.

“Dear Miss St. Quentin,” he called to her, in tones of most persuasive apology.

But Honoria’s moment of piteousness was past. She had recovered all her habitual lazy and gallant grace when he came up with her.

“No—no,” she said. “Hear me. I began this rather foolish conversation. I laid myself open to—well to a snubbing. I got one, anyhow!”

“In mercy don’t rub it in!” Mr. Quayle murmured contritely.

“But I did,” Honoria returned. “Now it’s over and I’m going to pick up the pieces and put them back in their places‐just where they were before.”

“But I protest!—I hailed a new combination. I discover in myself no wild anxiety to have the pieces put back just where they were before.”

“Oh yes, you do!” Honoria declared. “At least, you certainly will when I explain it to you.”—She paused.—“You see,” she said, “it is like this. Living with and watching Cousin Katherine, I have come to know all that side of things at its very finest.”

“Forgive me.—It? What? May I recall to you the fact of the philistine nursery?”

The young lady’s delicate face straightened.

“You know perfectly well what I mean,” she said.—“ That which we all think about so constantly, and yet affect to speak page: 497 of as a joke or a slight impropriety—love, marriage, motherhood.”

“Yes, Lady Calmady is a past‐master in those arts,” Mr. Quayle replied.—Again the ground was holy. He was conscious his pulse quickened.

“The beauty of it all, as one sees it in her case, breaks one up a little. There is no laugh left in one about those things. One sees that to her they are of the nature of religion—a religion pure and undefiled, a new way of knowing God and of bringing oneself into line with the truth as it is in Him. But, having once seen that, one can decline upon no lower level. One grows ambitious. One will have it that way or not at all.”

Honoria paused again. The bleak wind buffeted her. But she was no longer troubled or chilled by it, rather did it brace her to greater fearlessness of resolve and of speech.

“You are contemptuous of women,” she said.

“I have betrayed characteristics of the ass, other than its patience,” Ludovic lamented.

“Oh! I didn’t mean that,” Honoria returned, smiling in friendliest fashion upon him. “Every man worth the name really feels as you do, I imagine. I don’t blame you. Possibly I am growing a trifle shaky as to feminine superiority, and woman spelled with a capital letter, myself. I’m awfully afraid she is safest—for herself and others—under slight restraint, in a state of mild subjection. She’s not quite to be trusted, either intellectually or emotionally—at least, the majority of her isn’t. If she got her head, I’ve a dreadful suspicion she would make a worse hash of creation generally than you men have made of it already, and that”—Honoria’s eyes narrowed, her upper lip shortened, and her smile shone out again delightfully—“that’s saying a very great deal, you know.”

“My spirits rise to giddy heights,” Mr. Quayle exclaimed. “I endorse those sentiments. But whence, oh, dear lady, this change of front?”

“Wait a minute. We’ve not got to the end of my contention yet.”

“The Paris train is late. There is time. And this is all excellent hearing.”

“I’m not quite so sure of that,” Honoria said. “For, you see, just in proportion as I give up the fiction of her superiority, and admit that woman already has her political, domestic, and social deserts, I feel a chivalry towards her, poor, dear thing, which I never felt before. I even feel a chivalry towards the woman in myself. She claims my pity and my care in a quite new way.”

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“So much the better,” Mr. Quayle observed, outwardly discreetly urbane, inwardly almost riotously jubilant.

“Ah! wait a minute,” she repeated. Her tone changed, sobered. “I don’t want to spread myself, but you know I can meet men pretty well on their own ground. I could shoot and fish as well as most of you, only that I don’t think it right to take life except to provide food, or in self‐defence. There’s not so much happiness going that one’s justified in cutting any of it short. Even a jack‐snipe may have his little affairs of the heart, and a cock‐salmon his gamble. But I can ride as straight as you can. I can break any horse to harness you choose to put me behind. I can sail a boat and handle an axe. I can turn my hand to most practical things—except a needle. I own I always have hated a needle worse—well, worse than the devil! And I can organise, and can speak fairly well, and manage business affairs tidily. And have I not even been known—low be it spoken—to beat you at lawn tennis, and Lord Shotover at billiards?”

“And to overthrow my most Socratic father in argument. And outwit my sister Louisa in diplomacy—vide our poor, dear Dickie Calmady’s broken engagement, and the excellent, scatterbrain Decies’ marriage.”

“But Lady Constance is happy?” Honoria put in hastily.

“Blissful, positively blissful, and with twins too! Think of it!—Decies is blissful also. His sense of humour has deteriorated since his marriage, from constant association with good, little Connie who was never distinguished for ready perception of a joke. He regards those small, simultaneous replicas of himself with unqualified complacency, which shows his appreciation of comedy must be a bit blunted.”

“I wonder if it does?” Miss St. Quentin observed reflectively. Whereat Mr. Quayle permitted. himself a sound as nearly approaching a chuckle as was possible to so superior a person.

“A thousand pardons,” he murmured, “but really, dear lady, you are so very much off on the other tack.”

“Am I?” Miss St. Quentin said. “Well, you see—to go back to my demonstration—I’ve none of the quarrel with your side of things most women have, because I’m not shut out from it, and so I don’t envy you. I can amuse and interest myself on your lines. And therefore I can afford to be very considerate and tender of the woman in me. I grow more and more resolved that she shall have the very finest going, or that she shall have nothing, in respect of all which belongs to her special province—in regard to love and marriage. In them she shall have what page: 499 Cousin Katherine has had, and find what Cousin Katherine has found, or all that shall be a shut book to her forever. Even if discipline and denial make her a little unhappy, poor thing, that’s far better than letting her decline upon the second best.”

Honoria’s voice was full and sweet. She spoke from out the deep places of her thought. Her whole aspect was instinct with a calm and reasoned enthusiasm. And, looking upon her, it became Ludovic Quayle’s turn to find the evening wind somewhat bleak and barren. It struck chill, and he turned away and moved westwards towards the sunset. But the rose‐crimson splendours had become faint and frail; while the indigo cloud had gathered into long, horizontal lines as of dusky smoke, so that the remaining brightness was seen as through prison bars. A sadness, indeed, seemed to hold the west, even greater than that which held the east, since it was a sadness not of beauty unborn, but of beauty dead. And this struck home to the young man. He did not care to speak. Miss St. Quentin walked beside him in silence, for a time. When at last she spoke it was very gently.

“Please don’t be angry with me,” she pleaded. “I like you so much that—that I’d give a great deal to be able to think less of my duty to the tiresome woman in me.”

“I would give a great deal too,” he declared, regardless of grammar.

“But I’m not the only woman in the world, dear Mr. Quayle,” she protested presently.

“But I, unfortunately, have no use for any other,” he returned.

“Ah, you distress me!” Honoria cried.

“Well, I don’t know that you make me superabundantly cheerful.”

Just then the far‐away shriek of a locomotive and dull thunder of an approaching train. Mr. Quayle looked once more towards the western horizon.

“Here’s the Paris‐express!” he said. “We must be off if we mean to get round before our horse‐box is shunted.”

He jumped down on to the permanent way. Miss St. Quentin followed him, and the two ran helter‐skelter across the many lines of metals, in the direction of the Culoz‐Geneva‐Bâle siding. That somewhat childish and undignified proceeding ministered to the restoration of good‐fellowship.

“Great passions are rare,” Mr. Quayle said, laughing a little. His circulation was agreeably quickened. How surprisingly page: 500 fast this nymph‐like creature could get over the ground, and that gracefully, moreover, rather in the style of a lissome, long‐limbed youth than in that of a woman!

“Rare? I know it,” she answered, the words coming short and sharply. “But I accept the risk. A thousand to one the book remains shut forever.”

“And I, meanwhile, am not too proud to pass the time of day with the second best, and take refuge in the accumulated patience of innumerable asses.”

And, behind them, the express train thundered into the station.

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