Skip to Content
Indiana University

Search Options




View Options


The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
previous
next
page: 169

CHAPTER II

TELLING HOW DICKIE’S SOUL WAS SOMEWHAT SICK, AND HOW HE MET FAIR WOMEN ON THE CONFINES OF A WOOD

RICHARD CALMADY rode homeward through the autumn woods, and the aspect of them was very lovely. But their loveliness was hectic, a loveliness as it seemed, at all events at first sight, of death and burial, rather than of life and hope. The sky was overcast, and a chill clung to the stream‐side and haunted the hollows. The young man’s humour, unfortunately, was only too much in harmony with the more melancholy suggestions of the scene. For Richard was by nature something of a poet, though he but rarely wrote verses, and usually burned them as soon as written being scholar enough to know and feel impatient of the “second best.” And this inherent strain of poetry in him tempered the active and practical side of his character, making wealth and position, and all those things which the worldly‐minded seek, seem of slight value to him at times. It induced in him many and very varying moods. It carried him back often, even now in the strength of his young manhood, to the fine fancies and exquisite unreason of the fairy‐world in which those so sadly ill‐balanced footsteps of his had first been set. To‐day had proved, so far, an unlucky one, prolific of warfare between his clear brain and all too sensitive heart. For it was the burden of Richard’s temperament‐the almost inevitable result of that ever‐present thorn in the flesh—that he shrunk as a poet, even as a woman, while as a man, and a strong one, he reasoned and fought.

It fell out on this wise. He had attended the Quarter Sessions at Westchurch; and a certain restlessness, born of the changing seasons, being upon him, he had ridden. His habit, when passing outside the limits of his own property, was to drive. He became aware—and angrily conscious his groom was aware also—that his appearance afforded a spectacle of the liveliest page: 170 interest to the passers‐by; that persons of very various age and class had stopped and turned to gaze at him; and that, while crossing the bridge spanning the dark, oily waters of the canal, in the industrial quarter of the pushing, wide‐awake, county town, he had been the subject of brutal comment, followed by a hoarse laugh from the collarless throats of some dozen operatives and bargees loitering thereupon.

The consequence was that the young man arrived in court, his eyes rather hard and his jaw set. Rich, well‐born, not undistinguished too for his attainments, and only three‐and‐twenty, Dickie had a fine fund of arrogance to draw upon yet. He drew upon it this morning, rather to the confusion of his colleagues upon the bench. Mr. Cathcart, the chairman, was already present, and stood talking with Mr. Seymour, the rector of Farley, a shrewd, able squarson of the old sporting type. Captain Fawkes of Water End was there too; and so was Lemuel Image, eldest son of the Mr. Image, sometime mayor of Westchurch, who has been mentioned in the early pages of this chronicle.

In the last twenty years, supported by ever‐increasing piles of barrels, the Image family had mounted triumphantly upward in the social scale. Lemuel, the man in question, married a poor and distant relation of Lord Aldborough, the late lord lieutenant of the county; and had by this, and by a rather truculent profession of high Tory politics, secured himself a seat on the bench. He had given a fancy price, too, for that pretty, little place, Frodsmill, the grounds of which form such an exasperating Naboth’s vineyard in the heart of the Newlands property. Neither his person, nor his politics, nor his absence of culture, found favour in Richard Calmady’s sight. And to‐day, being somewhat on edge, the brewer’s large, blustering presence and manner—at once patronising and servile—struck him as peculiarly odious. Image betrayed an evil tendency to emphasise his remarks by slapping his acquaintances upon the back. He was also guilty of supposing a defect of hearing in all persons older than, or in any measure denied the absolute plethora of physical vigour so conspicuous in, himself. He invariably raised his voice in addressing Richard. In return for which graceful attention Dickie most cordially detested him.

“Image is a bit of a cad, and certainly Calmady makes no bones about letting him know it,” Captain Fawkes remarked to Mr. Seymour, as they drove back to Farley in the latter’s dogcart. “Fortunately he has a hide like a rhinoceros, or we should have had a regular row between them more than once page: 171 this morning. Calmady’s generally charming; but I must say, when he likes, he can be about the most insolent fellow I’ve ever met, in a gentleman‐like way.”

“A great deal of that is simply self‐protective,” the clergyman answered. “It is not difficult to see how it comes about, when you take his circumstances into account. If I was him, God forgive me, I know I shouldn’t be half so sweet‐tempered. He bears it wonderfully well, all things considered.”

Nor did the disturbing incidents of the day end with the familiarities of the loud‐voiced brewer. The principal case to be tried was a melancholy one enough—a miserable history of wayward desire, shame and suffering, followed by a despairing course of lies and petty thieving to help support the poor baby whose advent seemed so wholly a curse. The young mother—a pretty, desperate creature—made no attempt at denial. She owned she had robbed her mistress of a shilling here and sixpence there, that she had taken now a bit of table silver and then a garment to the pawn‐shop. How could she help it? Her wages were a trifle, since her character was damaged. Wasn’t it a charity to employ a girl like her at all? so her mistress said. And yet the child must live. And Richard Calmady, sitting in judgment there with those four other gentlemen of substantial means and excellent position, sickened as he listened to the sordid details, the relentless elementary arguments. For the girl, awed and frightened at first, grew eloquent in self‐defence.—“She loved him”—he being a smart young fellow, who, with excellent recommendations from Chifney, had left the Brockhurst stables some two years before, to take service in Westchurch.—“And he always spoke her fair. Had told her he’d marry her right enough, after a bit—before God he would. But it would ruin his chance of first‐class places if he married yet. The gentry wouldn’t take any but single men of his age. A wife would stand in his way. And she didn’t want to stand in his way—he knew her better than that. Not but that he reckoned her just as much his wife as any woman could be. Of course he did. What a silly she was to trouble about it. And then when there was no hiding any longer how it was with her, he up and awayed to London, saying he would make a home for her there. And he kept on writing for a bit, but he never told her where to write to him in return, so she couldn’t answer. And then his letters came seldom, and then stopped altogether, and then—and then”—

The girl was rebuked for her much speaking, and so wasting the time of the Court. There were other cases. And Richard page: 172 Calmady sickened yet more, recognising in that a parable of perpetual application. For are there not always other cases? The tragedy of the individual life reaching its climax seems, to the chief actor, worthy to claim and hold universal attention. Yet the sun never stands still in heaven, nor do the footsteps of men tarry upon earth. No one person may take up too much space, too much time. The movement of things is not stayed. The single cry, however bitter, is drowned in the roar of the pushing crowd. The individual, however keen his griefs, however heinous the offence done him, must make way for those same other cases. This is the everlasting law.

And so pained, out of tune, troubled too by smouldering fires of anger, Richard left Westchurch and his fellow‐magistrates as early as he decently could. Avoiding the highroad leading by Newlands and through Sandyfield village, he cut across country by field lanes and over waste‐lands to Farley Row. The wide quiet of the autumn afternoon, the slight chill in the air, were grateful to him after the noise and close atmosphere of the court. Yet the young man strove vainly to think of pleasant things and to regain his serenity. The girl’s tear‐blotted face, the tones of her voice, haunted him. Six weeks’ imprisonment. The sentence, after all, was a light one. Yet who was he, who were those four other well‐to‐do gentlemen, that they should judge her at all? How could they measure the strength of the temptation which had beset her? If temptation is strong enough, must not the tempted of necessity yield? If the tempted does not yield, is that not merely proof that the temptation was not strong enough? The whole thing appeared to him a matter of mathematics or mechanics. Given a greater weight than it can carry, the rope is bound to break. And then for those who have not felt the strain to blame the rope, punish the rope! It seemed to Richard, as he rode homeward, that human justice is too often a very comedy of injustice. It all appeared to him so exceedingly foolish. And yet society must be protected. Other pretty, weak, silly creatures must be warned, by such rather brutal object‐lessons, not to bear bastards or pawn their mistresses’ spoons.

“‘Je ne sais pas ce que c’est que la vie éternelle, mais celle çi est une mauvaise plainsanterie,’” Dickie quoted to himself somewhat bitterly.

He turned aside at Farley Row, following the narrow road that runs behind the houses in the main street and the great, vacant stables and outbuildings of the White Lion Inn. And here, as though the immediate displeasures of this ill‐starred day page: 173 were insufficient, memory arose and recalled other displeasures of long ago. Recalled old Jackie Deeds lurching out of that same inn yard, empty pipe in mouth, greedy of alms. Recalled the old postboy’s ugly morsel of profanity—“God Almighty had His jokes too.” And, at that, the laughter of those loafers upon the canal bridge saluted Richard’s ears once more, as did the loud, familiar phrases of Mr. Lemuel Image, the Westchurch brewer.

Before him the flat expanse of Clerke’s Green opened out; and the turf of it—beaded with dew which the frail sunshine of the early morning had failed to burn up—was crossed by long tracks of darker green, where flocks of geese had wandered over its misty surface. Here the travelling menagerie and all the booths of the fair had been stationed. Memory rigged up the tents once more, painted the vans in crude, glaring colours, set drums beating and merry‐go‐rounds turning, pointed a malicious finger at the sign‐board of a certain show. How many times Richard had passed this way in the intervening years, and remembered in passing, yet thrown all hurt of remembrance from him directly and lightly! To‐day it gripped him. He put his horse into a sharp trot.

Skirting the edge of the green, he rode down a rutted cart lane—farm buildings and well‐filled rickyards on the left—and forded the shallow, brown stream which separates the parish of Farley from that of Sandyfield and the tithing of Brockhurst.

Ahead lay the wide, rough road, ending in a broken avenue of ancient oaks, and bordered on either hand by a strip of waste‐land overgrown with coarse grasses and low thickets of maple—which leads up to the entrance of the Brockhurst woods. Over these hung a soft, bluish haze, making them appear vast in extent, and upraising the dark ridge of the fir forest, which crowns them, to mountain height against the western sky. A covey of partridges ran up the sandy road before Richard’s horse; and, rising at last with a long‐drawn whir of wings, skimmed the top of the bank and dropped into the pale stubble field on the other side of it. He paused at the head of the avenue while the keeper’s wife—in lilac apron and sunbonnet—ran out to open the big, white gate; the dogs meantime, from their kennels under the Spanish chestnuts upon the slope behind her gabled cottage, setting up a vociferous chorus. Thus heralded, Richard passed into the whispering, mysterious stillness of the autumn woods.

The summer had been dry and fine, the foliage unusually rich and heavy, all the young wood ripening well. Consequently page: 174 the turn of the leaf was very brilliant that year. The sweetly sober English landscape seemed to have run mad and decked itself, as for a masquerade, in extravagant splendours of colour. The smooth‐stemmed beeches had taken on every tint from fiery brown, through orange and amber, to verdigris green touching latest July shoots. The round‐headed oaks, practising even in carnival time a measure of restraint, had arrayed themselves in a hundred rich, finely‐gradated tones of russet and umber. While, here and there, a tall bird‐cherry, waxing wanton, had clothed itself like the Woman of Babylon in rose‐scarlet from crown to lowest black‐barked twig. Higher up, the larch plantations rose in crowds of butter‐coloured spires. Amethystine, and blood‐red, white‐spotted toad‐stools, in little companies, pushed through the light soil on either side the road. Trailing sprays of bramble glowed as flame. Rowan berries hung in heavy coral bunches, and the dogwood spread itself in sparse, china‐pink clusters. Only the undergrowth of crooked alders, in swampy, low‐lying places, kept its dark, purplish green; and the light foliage of the ash waved in shadowy pallor against its knobbed and knotted branches; and the ranks of the encircling firs retained their solemn habit, as though in protest against the universal riot.

The stream hidden away in the hazel coppice gurgled and murmured. Beech‐masts pattered down, startling the stillness as with a sudden dropping of thunder rain. Squirrels, disturbed in the ingathering of their winter store, whisked up the boles of the great trees and scolded merrily from the forks of the high branches. Shy, wild things rustled and scampered unseen through the tangled undergrowth and beds of bracken. While that veil of bluish haze touched all the distance of the landscape with a delicate mystery, and softly blotted the vista of each wide shooting‐drive, or winding pathway, to left and right.

And as Richard rode onward, leaves gay even in death fluttering down around him, his mood began to suffer change. He ceased to think and began to feel merely. First came a dreamy delight in the beauty of the scene about him. Then the sense of mystery grew upon him—of mystery, not merely hanging in the delicate haze, but dwelling in the endless variety of form and colour which met his eyes, of mystery inviting him in the soft, multitudinous voices of the woodland. And, as the minutes passed, this sense grew increasingly provocative, became too increasingly elusive. The light leapt into Dickie’s eyes. He smiled to himself. He was filled with unreasoning expectation. He seemed—it was absurd, yet very charming—to be playing page: 175 hide‐and‐seek with some glad secret which at any instant might be revealed to him. It murmured to him in the brook. It scolded at him merrily with the scolding squirrels. It startled the surrounding stillness, with the down‐pattering beech‐masts and fluttering of leaves. It eluded him deftly, rustling away unseen through the green and gold of the bracken. Lastly when, reaching the summit of the ridge of hill, he entered upon the levels of the great tableland, it hailed him in the long‐drawn sighing of the fir forest. For a wind, suddenly awakened, swept towards him from some far distance, neared, broke overhead, as summer waves upon a shingly beach, died in delicious whispers, only to sweep up and break and die again. Meanwhile the grey pall of cloud parted in the west, disclosing spaces of faint yet clearest blue, and the declining sun, from behind dim islands of shifting vapour, sent forth immense rays of mild and misty light.

Richard laughed involuntarily to himself. For there was a fantastic, curiously alluring influence in all this. It spoke to him as in delicate persuasion. His sense of expectation intensified. He would not ride homeward and shut himself within four walls just yet; but yield himself to the wooing of these fair sylvan divinities, to that of the spirit of the evening wind, of the softly shrouding haze, and of the broadening sunlight, a little longer.

A turf‐ride branches away to the left, leading along a narrow outstanding spur of tableland to a summer‐house, the prospect from which is among the noted beauties of Brockhurst. This summer‐house or Temple, as it has come to be called, is an octagonal structure. Round‐shafted pillars rise at each projecting angle. In the recesses between them are low stone benches, save in front where an open colonnade gives upon the view. The roof is leaded, and surmounted by a wooden ball and tall, three‐sided spike. These last, as well as the plastered, windowless walls, are painted white. Within, the hollow of the dome is decorated in fresco, with groups of gaily clad ladies and their attendant cavaliers, with errant cupids, garlands of flowers, trophies of rather impossible musical instruments, and cages full of imprisoned, and therefore doubtless very naughty, loves. The colours have grown faint by action of insweeping wind and weather; but this lends a pathos to the light‐hearted, highly‐artificial art, accentuating the contrast between it and its immediate surroundings.

For the Temple stands on a platform of turf at the extreme point of the spur of tableland. The hillside, clothed with page: 176 heather and bracken, fringed lower down with a coppice of delicate birches, falls steeply away in front and on either hand. Outstretched below, besides the panorama of the great woods, lies all the country about Farley, on to Westchurch, and beyond again—pasture and cornlands, scattered hamlets and red‐roofed farms half hidden among trees, the glint of streams set in the vivid green of water‐meadows, and soft, blue range behind range of distance to that pale uprising of chalk down in the far south. Upon the right, some quarter of a mile away, blocking the end of an avenue of secular Scotch firs, the eastern façade of Brockhurst House shows planted proudly upon the long grey and red lines of the terrace.

Richard checked his horse, pausing to look for a moment at that well‐beloved home. Then musing, he let his horse go forward along the level turf‐ride. The grey dome and white columns of the Temple standing out against the spacious prospect—the growing brightness of this last, still chastened by the delicious autumn haze—captivated his imagination. There was, seen thus, a simplicity and distinction altogether classic in the lonely building. To him it appeared not unfit shrine for the worship of that same all‐pervasive spirit of mystery, not unfit spot for the revelation of that same glad, yet cunningly elusive secret, of which he suffered the so fond obsession.

And so it was that when, coming abreast of the building, the sound of young voices—women’s voices—and finely modulated laughter saluted his ear, though startled, for no stranger had the right of entry to the park, he was by no means displeased. This seemed but part of the all‐pervasive magic of this strange afternoon. Richard smiled at the phantasies of his own mood—Yet he forgot to be shy, forgot the distressing self‐consciousness which made him shrink from the observation of strangers—specially those of the other sex. The adventure tempted his fancy. Even familiar things had put on a new and beguiling vesture in the last half‐hour, so there were miracles abroad, perhaps. Anyhow he would satisfy himself as to the aspect of those sweet‐voiced and, as yet, unseen trespassers. He let his horse go forward slowly across the platform of turf.

previous
next