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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
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page: 95

CHAPTER II

IN WHICH OUR HERO IMPROVES HIS ACQUAINTANCE WITH MANY THINGS—HIMSELF INCLUDED

IT came about in this wise. Roger Ormiston was expected at Brockhurst, after an absence of some years. He had served with distinction in the Sikh war; and had seen fighting on the grand scale in the battles of Sobraon and Chillianwallah. Later the restless genius of travel had taken hold on him, leading him far eastward into China, and northward across the Himalayan snows. He had dwelt among strange peoples and looked on strange gods. He had hunted strange beasts, moreover, and learnt their polity and their ways. He had seen the bewildering fecundity of nature in the tropic jungle, and her barren and terrible beauty in the out‐stretch of the naked desert. And the thought of all this set Dickie’s imagination on fire. The return of Roger Ormiston was, to him, as the return of the mighty Ulysses himself.

For a change was coming over the boy. He began to weary of fable and cry out for fact. He had just entered his fourteenth year. He was growing fast; and, but for that dwarfing deformity, would have been unusually tall, graceful and well‐proportioned. But along with this increase of stature had come a listless‐ page: 96 ness and languor which troubled Lady Calmady. The boy was sweet‐tempered enough, had his hours, indeed, of overflowing fun and high spirits. Still he was restless and tired easily of each occupation in turn. He developed a disquieting relish for solitude. And took to camping‐out on one of the broad window‐seats of the Long Gallery, in company with volumes of Captain Cook’s and Hakluyt’s voyages, old‐time histories of sport and natural history; not to mention Robinson Crusoe and the merry if but doubtfully decent pages of Geoffrey Gambado. And his mother noted, not without a sinking of the heart, that the window‐seat which in his solitary moods Dickie most frequented was precisely that one of the eastern bay which commanded—beyond the smooth, green expanse and red walls of the troco‐ground—a good view of the grass ride, running parallel with the lime avenue, along which the horses from the racing‐stables were taken out and back, morning and evening, to the galloping ground. Then fears began to assail Katherine that the boy’s childhood, the content and repose of it, were nearly past. Small wonder that her heart should sink!

On the day of her brother’s return, Katherine, after rather anxious search, so found Richard. He was standing on the book‐strewn window‐seat. He had pushed open the tall narrow casement and leaned out. The April afternoon was fitfully bright. A rainbow spanned the landscape, from the Long Water in the valley to the edge of the forest crowning the tableland. Here and there showers of rain fell, showing white against huge masses of purple cloud piled up along the horizon.

And as Katherine drew near, threading her way carefully between the Chinese cabinets, oriental jars, and many quaint treasures furnishing the end of the great room, she saw that, along the grass ride, some twenty racehorses came streelling homeward in single file—a long line of brown, chestnut, black, and of the raw yellows and scarlets of horse‐clothing, against the delicate green of springing turf and opening leaves. Beside them, clad in pepper‐and‐salt mixture breeches and gaiters complete, Mr. Chifney pricked forward soberly on his handsome grey cob. The boys called to one another now and then, admonished a fretful horse breaking away from the string. One of them whistled shrilly a few bars of that popular but undistinguished tune—“Pop goes the weasel.” And Richard craned far out, steadying himself against the stone mullion on either side with uplifted hands, heedless alike of his mother’s presence and of the heavy drops of rain which splattered in at the open casement.

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“Dickie, Dickie,” Katherine called, in swift anxiety. “Be careful. You will fall.”

She came close, putting her arm round him.—“You reckless darling,” she went on; “don’t you see how dangerous the least slip would be?”

The boy stood upright and looked round at her. His blue eyes were alight. All the fitful brightness, all the wistful charm, of the April evening was in his face.

“But it’s the only place where I can see them, and they’re such beauties,” he said. “And I want to see them so much. You know we always miss them somehow, mummy, when we go out.”

Katherine was off her guard. Three separate strains of feeling influenced her just then. First, her growing recognition of the change in Richard, of that passing away of childhood which could not but make for difficulty and, in a sense, for pain. Secondly, the natural excitement of her brother’s home‐coming, disturbing the monotony of her daily life, bringing, along with very actual joy, memories of a past, well‐beloved yet gone beyond recall. Lastly, the practical and immediate fear that Dickie had come uncommonly near tumbling incontinently out of the window. And so, being moved, she held the boy tightly and answered rather at random, thereby provoking fate.

“Yes, my dearest, I know we always miss them somehow when we go out. It is best so. But do pray be more careful with these high windows.”

“Oh! I’m all right—I’m careful enough.”—His glance had gone back to where the last of the horses passed out of sight behind the red wall of the gardens. “But why is it best so? Ah! they’re gone!” he exclaimed.

Katherine sat down on the window‐seat, and Richard, clinging to the window‐ledge, while she still held him, lowered himself into a sitting position beside her.

“Thank you, mummy,” he said. And the words cut her. They came so often in each day, and always with the same little touch of civil dignity. The courtesy of Richard’s recognition of help given, failed to comfort her for the fact that help was so constantly required. Lady Calmady’s sense of rebellion arose and waxed strong whenever she heard those thanks.

“Mother,” he went on, “I want to ask you something. You won’t mind?”

“Do I ever mind you questioning me?” Yet she felt a certain tightening about her heart.

“Ah, but this is different! I’ve wanted to for a long while, page: 98 but I did not know if I ought—and yet I did not quite like to ask Auntie Marie or Julius. And, of course, one doesn’t speak to the servants about anything of that sort.”

Richard’s curly head went up with a fine, little air of pride as he said the last few words. His mother smiled at him. There was no doubt as to her son’s breeding.

“Well, what then?” she said.

“I want to know—you’re sure you don’t mind—why you dislike the horses, and never go to the stables or take me there? If the horses are wrong, why do we keep them? And if they’re not wrong, why, mother, don’t you see, we may enjoy them, mayn’t we?”

He flushed, looking up at her, spoke coaxingly, merrily, a trifle embarrassed by his own temerity, yet keen to prove his point and acquire possession of this so coveted joy.

Katherine hesitated. She was tempted to put aside his question with some playful excuse. And yet, where was the use? The question must inevitably be answered one day, and Katherine, as had been said, was moved just now, dumbness of long habit somewhat melted. Perhaps this was the appointed time. She drew her arm from around the boy and took both his hands in hers.

“My dearest,” she said, “our keeping the horses is not wrong. But—one of the horses killed your father.”

Richard’s lips parted. His eyes searched hers.

“But how?” he asked presently.

“He was trying it at a fence, and it came down with him—and trampled him.”

There was a pause. At last the boy asked rather breathlessly:—“Was he killed then, mother, at once?”

It had been Katherine’s intention to state the facts simply, gravely, and without emotion. But to speak of these things, after so long silence, proved more trying than she had anticipated. The scene in the red drawing‐room, the long agony of waiting and of farewell, rose up before her after all these years with a vividness and poignancy that refused to be gainsaid.

“No,” she answered, “he lived four days. He spoke to me of many things he wished to do. And—I have done them all, I think. He spoke to me of you”—Katherine closed her eyes. “The boy might care for the stables. The boy must ride straight.” For the moment she could not look at Richard, knowing that which she must see. The irony of those remembered words appeared too great.—“But he suffered,” she went on brokenly, “he suffered—ah! my dear”—

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“Mummy, darling mummy, don’t look like that!” Dickie cried. He wrenched his hands from her grasp and threw his arms impulsively about her neck. “Don’t—it hurts me. And —and, after all,” he added, reasoningly, consolingly, “it wasn’t one of these horses you know. They’ve never done anybody any harm. It was an accident. There must always be accidents sometimes, mustn’t there? And then, you see, it all happened long, long ago. It must have, for I don’t remember anything about it. It must have happened when I was a baby.”

“Alas, no!” Katherine exclaimed, wrung by the pathos of his innocent egoism; “it happened even before then, my dearest, before you were born.”

With the unconscious arrogance of childhood, Richard had, so far, taken his mother’s devotion very much as a matter of course. He had never doubted that he was, and always had been, the inevitable centre of all her interests. So, now, her words and her bearing, bringing—in as far as he grasped them—the revelation of aspects of her life quite independent of his all‐important, little self, staggered him. For the first time poor Dickie realised that even one’s own mother, be she never so devoted, is not her child’s exclusive and wholly private property, but has a separate existence, joys and sorrows apart. Instinctively he took his arms from about her neck and backed away into the angle of the window‐seat, regarding her with serious and somewhat startled attention. And, doing so, he for the first time realised consciously something more, namely the greatness of her beauty.

For the years had dealt kindly with Katherine Calmady. Not the great sorrows of life, or its great sacrifices, but fretfulness, ignoble worries, sordid cares, are that which draw lines upon a woman’s face and harshen her features. At six and thirty Lady Calmady’s skin was smooth and delicate, her colour still clear and softly bright. Her hair, though somewhat darker than of old, was abundant. Still she wore it rolled up and back from her forehead, showing the perfect oval of her face. Her eyes, too, were darker; and the expression of them had become profound—the eyes of one who has looked on things which may not be told and has chosen her part. Her bosom had become a little fuller; but the long, inward curve of her figure below it to the round and shapely waist, and the poise of her rather small hips, were lithe and free as ever. While there was that enchanting freshness about her which is more than the mere freshness of youth or of physical health—which would seem, indeed, to be the peculiar dowry of those women who, having page: 100 once known love in all its completeness and its strength, of choice live ever afterwards in perfect chastity of act and thought.

And a perception not only of the grace of her person, as she sat sideways on the window‐seat in her close‐fitting, grey gown, with its frilled lace collar and ruffles at the wrists, came to Richard now. He perceived something of this more intimate and subtle charm which belonged to her. He was enthralled by the clear sweetness, as of dewy grass newly turned by the scythe, which always clung about her, and by the whispering of her silken garments when she moved. A sudden reverence for her came upon him, as though, behind her gracious and so familiar figure, he apprehended that which belonged to a region superior, almost divine. And then he was seized—it is too often the fate of worshippers—with jealousy of that past of hers of which he had been, until now, ignorant. And yet another emotion shook him, for, in thus realising and differentiating her personality, he had grown vividly, almost painfully, conscious of his own.

He turned away, laying his cheek against the stone window‐ledge, while the drops of a passing scud of rain beat in on his hot face.

“Then—then my father never saw me,” he exclaimed vehemently. And, after a moment’s pause, added:—“I am glad of that—very glad.”

“Ah! But, my dearest,” Lady Calmady cried, bewildered and aghast, “you don’t know what you are saying—think!”

Richard kept his face to the splashing rain.

“I don’t want to say anything wrong; but,” he repeated, “I am glad.”

He turned to her, his lips quivering a little, and a desolate expression in his eyes, which told Katherine, with only too bitter assurance, that his childhood and the repose of it were indeed over and gone.

She held out her arms to him in silent invitation, and drew the dear curly head on to her bosom.

“You’re not displeased with me, mummy?”

“Does this seem as if I was displeased?” she asked.

Then they sat silent once more, Katherine swaying a little as she held him, soothing him almost as in his baby days.

“I won’t lean out of the window again,” he said presently, with a sigh of comfort. “I promise that.”

“There’s a darling. But I am afraid we must go. Uncle Roger will be here soon.”

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The boy raised his head.

“Mother,” he said quickly, “will you send Clara, please, to put away these books? And may I have Winter to fetch me? I—I’m tired. If you don’t mind? I don’t care to walk.”

Yet, since happily at thirteen Richard’s moods were still as many and changeful as the aspects of that same April day, he enjoyed some royally unclouded hours before he—most unwillingly—retired to bed that night. For, on close acquaintance, the great Ulysses proved a very satisfactory hero. Roger Ormiston’s character had consolidated. It was to some purpose that he had put away the pleasant follies of his youth. He looked out now with a coolness and patience, born of wide experience, upon men and upon affairs. He had ceased to lose either his temper or his head. Acquiescing with undismayed and cheerful common sense in the fact that life, as we know it, is but a sorry business, and that rough things must of necessity be done and suffered every day, he had developed an active—though far from morbidly sentimental—compassion for the individual, man and beast alike. Not that Colonel Ormiston formulated all that, still less held forth upon it. He was content, as is so many another Englishman, to be a dumb and practical philosopher—for which those who have lived with philosophers of the eloquent sort will unquestionably give thanks, knowing, to their sorrow, how often handsome speech is but a cloak to hide incapacity of honest doing.

And so, after dinner, under plea of an imperative need of cigars, Ormiston had borne Dickie off to the Gun‐Room; and there, in the intervals of questioning him a little about his tastes and occupations, had told him stories many and great. For he wanted to get hold of the boy and judge of what stuff he was made. Like all sound and healthy‐minded men he had an inherent suspicion of the abnormal. He could not but fear that persons unusually constituted in body must be the victims of some corresponding crookedness of spirit. But as the evening drew on he became easy on this point. Whatever Richard’s physical infirmity, his nature was wholesome enough. Therefore when, at close upon ten o’clock, Lady Calmady arrived in person to insist that Dickie must go, there and then, straight to bed, she found a pleasant scene awaiting her.

The square room was gay with lamplight and firelight, which brought into strong relief the pictures of famous horses and trophies of old‐time weapons—matchlocks, basket‐handled swords, and neat, silver‐hilted rapiers, prettiest of toys with which to pink your man—that decorated its white‐panelled walls.

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Ormiston stood with his back to the fire, one heel on the fender, his broad shoulders resting against the high chimney‐piece, his head bent forward as he looked down, in steady yet kindly scrutiny, at the boy. His face was tanned by the sun and wind of the long sea voyage—people still came home from India by the Cape—till his hair and moustache showed pale against his bronzed skin. And to Richard, listening and watching from the deep arm‐chair drawn up at right angles to the hearth, he appeared as a veritable demigod, master of the secrets of life and death—beheld, moreover, through an atmosphere of fragrant tobacco‐smoke, curiously intoxicating to unaccustomed nostrils. Dickie had tucked himself into as small a space as possible, to make room for young Camp, who lay outstretched beside him. The bull‐dog’s great underhung jaw and pendulous, wrinkled cheeks rested on the arm of the chair, as he stared and blinked rather sullenly at the fire—moved and choked a little, slipping off unwillingly to sleep, to wake with a start, and stare and blink once more. The embroidered couvre‐pieds, which Dickie had spread across him gathering the top edge of it up under the front of his Eton jacket, offered luxurious bedding. But Camp was a typical conservative, slow‐witted, stubborn against the ingress of a new idea. This tall, somewhat masterful stranger must prove himself a good man and true—according to bull‐dog understanding of those terms—before he could hope to gain entrance to that faithful, though narrow heart.

Ormiston meanwhile, finely contemptuous of canine criticism, greeted his sister cheerily.

“You’re bound to give us a little law to‐night, Kitty,” he said, holding out his hand to her. “We won’t break rules and indulge in unbridled license as to late hours again, will we, Dick? But, you see, we’ve both been doing a good deal, one way and another, since we last met, and there were arrears of conversation to make up.”—He smiled very charmingly at Lady Calmady, and his fingers closed firmly on her hand.—“We’ve been getting on famously, notwithstanding our long separation.” He looked down at Richard again.—“Fast friends, already, and mean to remain so, don’t we, old chap?”

Thereupon Lady Calmady’s soul received much comfort. Her pride was always on the alert, fiercely sensitive concerning Richard. And the joy of this meeting had, till now, an edge of jealous anxiety to it. If Roger did not take to the boy, then—deeply though she loved him—Roger must go. For the same elements were constant in Katherine Calmady. Not all the page: 103 discipline of thirteen years had tamed the hot blood in her which made her order out the Clown for execution. But as Ormiston spoke, her face softened, her eyes grew luminous and smiled back at him with an exquisite gladness. The soft gloom of her black, velvet dress emphasised the warm, golden whiteness of her bare shoulders and arms. Ormiston seeing her just then, understanding something of the drama of her thought, was moved from his habitual cool indifference of bearing.

“Katherine,” he said, “do you know you take one rather by surprise? Upon my word you’re more beautiful than ever.”

And Richard’s clear voice rang out eagerly from the depths of the big chair:—

“Yes—yes—isn’t she, Uncle Roger—isn’t she—delicious?”

The man’s smile broadened almost to laughter.

“You young monkey,” he said very gently; “so you have discovered that fact already have you? Well, so much the better. It’s a safe basis to start from; don’t you think so, Kitty?”

But Lady Calmady drew away her hand. The blood had rushed into her face and neck. Her beauty, now for so long, had seemed a negligible quantity, a thing that had out‐lasted its need and use—since he who had so rejoiced in it was dead. What is the value of ever so royal a crown when the throne it represents has fallen to ruin? And yet, being very much a woman, those words of praise came altogether sweetly to Katherine from the lips of her brother and her son. She moved away, embarrassed, not quite mistress of herself, sat down on the arm of Richard’s chair, leaned across him and patted the bull‐dog—who raised his heavy head with a grunt, and slapped Dickie smartly in the stomach with his tail, by way of welcome.

“You dear foolish creatures,” she said, “pray talk of something more profitable. I am growing old, and, in some ways, I am rather thankful for it. All the same, Dickie, darling, you positively must and shall go to bed.”

But Colonel Ormiston interrupted her. He spoke with a trace of hesitation, turning to the fireplace and flicking the ash off the end of his cigar.

“By the bye, Katherine, how’s Mary Cathcart? Have you seen her lately?”

“Yes, last week.”

“Then she’s not gone the way of all flesh and married?”

“No,” Lady Calmady answered. She bent a little lower, tracing out the lines on the dog’s wrinkled forehead with her finger.—“Several men have asked her to marry. But there page: 104 is only one man in the world, I fancy, whom Mary would ever care to marry—poor Camp, did I tickle you?—and he, I believe, has not asked her yet.”

“Ah! there,” Ormiston exclaimed quickly, “you are mistaken.”

“Am I?” Katherine said. “I have great faith in Mary. I suppose she was too wise to accept even him, being not wholly convinced of his love.”

Lady Calmady raised her eyes. Ormiston looked very keenly at her. And Richard, watching them, felt his breath come rather short with excitement, for he understood that his mother was speaking in riddles. He observed, moreover, that Colonel Ormiston’s face had grown pale for all its sunburn.

“And so,” Katherine went on, “I think the man in question had better be quite sure of his own heart before he offers it to Mary Cathcart again.”

Ormiston flung his half‐smoked cigar into the fire. He came and stood in front of Richard.

“Look here, old chap,” he said, “what do you say to our driving over to Newlands to‐morrow? You can set me right if I’ve forgotten any of the turns in the road, you know. And you and Miss Cathcart are great chums, aren’t you?”

“Mother, may I go?” the boy asked.

Lady Calmady kissed his forehead.

“Yes, my dearest,” she said. “I will trust you and Uncle Roger to take care of each other for once. You may go.”

The immediate consequence of all which was, that Richard went to bed that night with a brain rather dangerously active and eyes rather dangerously bright. So that when sleep at last visited him, it came burdened with dreams, in which the many impressions and emotions of the day took altogether too lively a part, causing him to turn restlessly to and fro, and throw his arms out wide over the cool, linen sheets and pillow.

For there was a new element in Dickie’s dreams to‐night‐namely a recurrent distress of helplessness and incapacity of movement, and therefore of escape, in the presence of some on‐coming, multitudinous terror. He was haunted, moreover, by a certain stanza of the ballad of Chevy Chase. It had given him a peculiar feeling, sickening yet fascinating, ever since he could remember first to have read it, a feeling which caused him to dread reading it beforehand, yet made him turn back to it again and again. And, to‐night, sometimes Richard was himself, sometimes his personality seemed merged in that of Witherington, the crippled fighting‐man, of whose maiming, and deadly courage, page: 105 that stanza tells. And the battle was long and fierce, as, from out a background of steeple‐shaped, honey‐combed rocks and sparse trees with large, golden leaves—like those on the panels of the great, lacquered cabinets in the Long Gallery—innumerable hordes of fanatic Chinamen poured down on him, a hideous bedizenment of vermilion war‐devils painted on their blue tunics and banners and shields. And he, Richard,—or was it he, Witherington?—alone facing them all,—they countless in number, always changing yet always the same. From under their hard, upturned hats, a peacock feather erect in each, the cruel, oblique‐eyed, impassive faces stared at him. They pressed him back and back against the base of a seven‐storied pagoda, the wind‐bells of which jangled far above him from the angles of its tiers of fluted roofs. And the sky was black and polished. Yet it was broad, glaring daylight, every object fearfully distinct. And he was fixed there, unable to get away because—yes, of course, he was Witherington, so there was no need of further explanation of that inability of escape.

And still, at the same time, he could see Chifney on the handsome, grey cob, trotting soberly along the green ride, beside the long string of racehorses coming home from exercise. The young leaves were fragile and green now, not sparse and metallic, and the April rain splashed in his face. He tried to call out to Tom Chifney, but the words died in his throat.—If they would only put him on one of those horses! He knew he could ride, and so be safe and free. He called again. That time his voice came. They must hear. Were they not his own servants, after all, and his own horses—or would be soon, when he was grown up? But neither the trainer, nor the boys so much as turned their heads; and the living ribbon of brown and chestnut swept on and away out of sight. No one would heed him! No one would hearken to his cry!

Once his mother and some man, whom he knew yet did not know, passed by him hand in hand. She wore a white dress, and smiled with a look of ineffable content. Her companion was tall, gracious in bearing and movement, but unsubstantial, a luminous shadow merely. Richard could not see his face. Yet he knew the man was of near kin to him. And to them he tried to speak. But it was useless. For now he was not Richard any more. He was not even Witherington, the crippled fighting‐man of the Chevy Chase ballad. He was—he was the winged seagull, with wild, pale eyes, hiding—abject yet fierce—among the vegetable beds in the Brockhurst kitchen‐gardens, and picking up loathsome provender of snails and slugs. Roger Ormiston, page: 106 calm, able, kindly, yet just a trifle insolent, cigar in mouth, sauntered up and looked at the bird, and it crawled away among the cabbages ignominiously, covered with the shame of its incompleteness and its fallen estate.

And then from out the honey‐combed rocks, under the black, polished sky, the blue‐tunicked Chinamen swept down on Richard again with the maddening horror of infinite number. They crushed in upon him, nearer and nearer, pressing him back against the wall of that evil pagoda. The air was hot and musky with their breath and thick with the muffled roar of their countless footsteps. And they came right in on him, trampling him down, suffocating, choking him with the heat of them and the dead weight.

Shouting aloud—as it seemed to him—in angry terror, the boy woke. He sat up trembling, wet with perspiration, bewildered by the struggle and the wild phantasmagoria of his dream. He pulled open the neck of his night‐shirt, leaned his head against the cool, brass rail of the back of the bedstead, while he listened with growing relief to the rumble of the wind in the chimney, and the swish of the rain against the casements, and watched the narrow line of light under the door of his mother’s room.

Yes, he was Richard Calmady, after all,—here in his own sheltered world, among those who had loved and served him all his life. Nothing hurtful could reach him here, nothing of which he need be afraid. There was no real meaning in that ugly dream.

And then Dickie paused a moment, still sitting up in the warm darkness, pressing his hands down on the mattress on either side to keep himself from slipping. For involuntarily he recalled the feeling which had prompted his declaration that he was glad his father had never seen him; recalled his unwillingness to walk, lest he should meet Ormiston unexpectedly; recalled the instinct which, even during that glorious time in the Gun‐Room, had impelled him to keep the embroidered couvre‐pieds carefully over his legs and feet. And, recalling these things, poor Dickie arrived at conclusions regarding himself which he had happily avoided arriving at before. For they were harsh conclusions, causing him to cower down in the bed, and bury his face in the pillows to stifle the sound of the tearing sobs which would come.

Alas! was there not only too real a meaning in that same ugly dream and that shifting of personality? He understood, while his body quivered with the anguish of it, that he had more page: 107 in common with, and was nearer—far nearer—to the maimed fighting‐man of the old ballad, even to the poor sea‐gull robbed of its power of flight, than to all those dear people whose business in life it seemed to pet and amuse him, and to minister to his every want—to the handsome soldier uncle, whose home‐coming had so excited him, to Julius March, his indulgent tutor, to Mademoiselle de Mirancourt, his delightful companion, to Clara, his obedient playfellow, to brown‐eyed Mary Cathcart, and even to his lovely mother herself!

Thus did the bitter winds of truth, which blow forever across the world, first touch Richard Calmady, cutting his poor boyish pride as with a whip. But he was very young. And the young, mercifully, know no such word as the inevitable; so that the wind of truth is ever tempered for them—the first smart of it over—by the sunshine of ignorant and unlimited hope.

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