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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
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page: 210

CHAPTER VI

IN WHICH DICKIE TRIES TO RIDE AWAY FROM HIS OWN SHADOW, WITH SUCH SUCCESS AS MIGHT HAVE BEEN ANTICIPATED

THAT same morning Richard was up and out early. Fog had followed on the evening’s rain, and at sunrise still shrouded all the landscape.

“Let her ladyship know I breakfast at the stables and shan’t be in before luncheon,” he had said to Powell while settling himself in the saddle. Then, followed by a groom, he fared forth. The house vanished phantom‐like behind him, and the clang of the iron gates as they swung to was muffled by the heavy atmosphere, while he rode on by invisible ways across an invisible land, hemmed in, close‐encompassed, pressed upon, by the chill, ashen whiteness of the fog.

And for the cold silence and blankness surrounding him Richard was grateful. It was restful—after a grim fashion—and he welcomed rest, having passed a but restless night. For Dickie had been the victim of much travail of spirit. His imagination vexed him, pricking up slumbering lusts of the flesh. His conscience vexed him likewise, suggesting that his attitude had not been pure cousinly; and this shamed him, since he was still singularly unspotted from the world, noble modesties and decencies still paramount in him. He was keenly, some page: 211 might say mawkishly, sensible of the stain and dishonour of casting, even involuntarily and passingly, covetous glances upon another man’s goods. In sensation and apprehension he had lived at racing pace during the last few days. That hour in the Long Gallery last night had been the climax. The gates of paradise had opened before him. And, since opposites of necessity imply their opposites, the gates of hell had opened likewise. It appeared to Dickie that the great poets, and painters, and musicians, the great lovers even, had nothing left to tell him—for he knew. Knew, moreover, that his Eden had come to him with the angel of the fiery sword that “turneth every way” standing at the threshold of it—knew, yet further, as he had never known before, the immensity of the difficulties, disabilities, humiliations, imposed on him by his deformity. Bitterly, nakedly, he called his trouble by that offensive name. Then he straightened himself in the saddle. Yes, welcome the cold weight against his chest, welcome the silence, the blankness, the dead, ashen pallor of the fog!

But just where the tan ride, leading down across the road to the left, diverges from the main road, this source of negative consolation began to fail him. For a draw of fresher air came from westward, causing the blurred, wet branches to quiver and the pall of mist to gather, and then break and melt under its wholesome breath, while the rays of the laggard sun, clearing the edge of the fir forest, eastward, pierced it, hastening its dissolution. Therefore it followed that by the time Richard rode in under the stable archway, he found the great yard full of noise and confused movement. The stable doors stood wide along one side of the quadrangle. Stunted, boyish figures shambled hither and thither, unwillingly deserting the remnants of half‐eaten breakfasts, among the iron mugs and platters of the long, deal tables of the refectory. Chifney and Preiston—the head‐lad—hurried them, shouting orders, admonishing, inciting to greater rapidity of action. And the boys were sulky. The thick morning had promoted hopes of an hour or two of unwonted idleness. Now those poor, little hopes were summarily blighted. Lazy, pinched with cold by the raw morning air, still a bit hungry, sick even, or downright frightened, they must mount and away—the long line of racehorses streaming, in single file, up the hillside to the exercising ground—with as short delay as possible, or Mr. Chifney and his ash stick would know the reason why.

There were elements of brutality in the scene from which Richard would, oftentimes, have recoiled. To‐day he was page: 212 selfish, absorbed to the point of callousness. If he remarked them at all, it was in bitter welcome, as he had welcomed the chill and staring blankness of the fog. He was indifferent to the fact that Chifney was harsh, the horses testy or wicked, that the boys’ noses were red, and that they blew their purple fingers before laying hold of the reins in a vain attempt to promote circulation. Dickie sat still as a statue in the midst of all the turmoil, the handle of his crop resting on his thigh, his eyes hot from sleeplessness and wild thoughts, his face hard as marble.—Unhappy? Wasn’t he unhappy too? Suffer? Well, let them suffer—within reasonable limits. Suffering was the fundamental law of existence. They must bow to the workings of it along with the rest.

But one wretched, little chap fairly blubbered. He had been kicked in the stomach some three weeks earlier, and had been in hospital. This was his first morning out. He had grown soft, and was light‐headed, his knees all of a shake. By means of voluminous threats Preiston got him up. But he sat his horse all of a huddle, as limp as a half‐empty sack of chaff. Richard looked on feeling, not pity, but only irritation, finally amounting to anger. The child’s whole aspect and the snivelling sounds he made were so hatefully ugly. It disgusted him.

“Here, Chifney, leave that fellow at home,” he said. “He’s no good.”

“He’s malingering, Sir Richard. I know his sort. Give in to him now and we shall have the same game, and worse, over again to‐morrow.”

“Very probably,” Richard answered. “Only it is evident he has no more hand and no more grip than a sick cat to‐day. We shall have some mess with him, and I’m not in the humour for a mess, so just leave him. There, boy, stop crying. Do you hear?” he added, wheeling round on the small unfortunate. “Mr. Chifney’ll give you another day off and the doctor will see you. Only if he reports you fit and you give the very least trouble to‐morrow, you’ll be turned out of the stables there and then. We’ve no use for shirkers. Do you understand?”

In spite of his irritation, the hardness of Richard’s expression relaxed as he finished speaking. The poor, little beggar was so abject—too abject indeed for common decency, since he too, after all, was human. Richard’s own self‐respect made it incumbent upon him to lift the creature out of the pit of so absolutely unseemly a degradation. He looked kindly at him, smiled, and promptly forgot all about him. While to the boy it seemed that the gods had verily descended in the likeness of page: 213 men, and he would have bartered his little, dirty, blear‐eyed rudiment of a soul thenceforward for another such a look from Richard Calmady.

Dickie promptly forgot the boy, yet some virtue must have been in the episode for he began to feel better in himself. As the horses filed away through the misty sunshine—Preiston riding beside the fourth or fifth of the string, while Richard and Chifney brought up the rear, his chestnut suiting its paces to the shorter stride of the trainer’s cob—the fever of the night cooled down in him. Half thankfully, half amusedly, he perceived things begin to assume their normal relations. He filled his lungs with the pure air, felt the sun‐dazzle pleasant in his eyes.He had run somewhat mad in the last twenty‐four hours surely? He was not such a fatuous ass as to have mistaken Helen’s frank camaraderie, her bright interest in things, her charming little ways of showing cousinly regard, for some deeper, more personal feeling? She had been divinely kind, but that was just her—just the outcome of her delightful nature. She wouldgo away on Friday—Saturday perhaps—he rather hoped Saturday—and be just as divinely kind to other people. And then he shook himself, feeling the languid weight of her hands on his shoulders again. Would she—would—? For an instant he wanted to get at, and incontinently brain, those other people. After which, Richard mentally took himself by the throat and proceeded to choke the folly out of himself.—Yes, she would go back to all those other people, back moreover to the Vicomte de Vallorbes—whom, by the way, it occurred to him she so seldom mentioned. Well, we don’t continually talk about the people we love best, do we, to comparative strangers? She would go back to her husband—her husband.—Richard repeated the words over to himself sternly, trying to drive them home, to burn them into his consciousness past all possibility of forgetting.

Anyhow she had been wonderfully sweet and charming to him. She had shown him—quite unconsciously, of course—what life might be for—for somebody else. She had revealed to him—what indeed had she not revealed! He remembered the spirit of expectation that possessed him riding back through the autumn woods the day he first met her. The expectation had been more than justified by the sequel. Only—only—and then Dick became stern with himself again. For, she having, unconsciously, done so much for him, was it not his first duty never to distress her?—never to let her know how much deeper it had all gone with him than with her?—never to insult her page: 214 beautiful innocence by a word or look suggesting an affection less frank and cousinly than her own?

Only, since even our strongest purposes have moments of lapse and weakness in execution, it would be safer, perhaps, not to be much alone with her—since she didn’t know—how should she? Yes, Richard agreed with himself not to loaf, to allow no idle hours. He would ride, he would see to business. There were a whole heap of estate matters claiming attention. He had neglected them shamefully of late. Unquestionably Helen counted for very much, would continue to do so. He supposed he would carry the ache of certain memories about with him henceforth and forever. She had become part of the very fibre of his life. He never doubted that. And yet, he told himself,—assuming a second‐hand garment of slightly cynical philosophy which suited singularly ill with the love‐light in his eyes, there radiantly apparent for all the world to see,—that woman, even the one who first shows you you have a heart, and a body too, worse luck, even she is but a drop in the vast ocean of things. There remains all The Rest. And with praiseworthy diligence Dickie set himself to reckon how immensely much all The Rest amounts to. There is plenty, exclusive of her, to think about. More than enough, indeed, to keep one hard at work all day, and send one to bed honestly tired, to sleeping‐point, at night. Politics for instance, science, literature, entertaining little controversial rows of sorts—the simple, almost patriarchal, duties of a great land‐owner; pleasant hobbies such as the collection of first editions, or a pretty taste in the binding of favourite books—the observation of this mysterious, ever young, ever fertile nature around him now, immutable order underlaying ceaseless change, the ever new wonder and beauty of all that, and:—“I say, Chifney, isn’t the brown Lady‐Love filly going rather short on the off foreleg? Anything wrong with her shoulder?”—and sport. Yes, thank God, in the name of everything healthy and virile, sport and, above all, horses—yes, horses.

Thus did Richard Calmady reason with, and essay to solace, himself for the fact that some fruits are forbidden to him who holds honour dear. Reasoned with and solaced himself to such good purpose, as he fondly imagined, that when, an hour and a half later, he established himself in the trainer’s dining‐room, a mighty breakfast outspread before him, he felt quite another man. Racing cups adorned the chimneypiece and sideboard, portraits of racehorses and jockeys adorned the walls. The sun streamed in between the red rep curtains, causing the pot‐plants page: 215 in the window to give off a pleasant scent, and the canary, in his swinging, blue and white painted, cage above them, to sing. Mrs. Chifney, her cheeks pink, her manner slightly fluttered,—as were her lilac cap strings,—presided over the silver tea and coffee service, admonished the staid and bulky tom‐cat who, jumping on the arm of Dickie’s chair, extended a scooping tentative paw towards his plate, and issued gentle though peremptory orders to her husband regarding the material needs of her guest. To Mrs. Chifney such entertainings as the present marked the red‐letter days of her calendar. Temporarily she forgave Chifney the doubtful nature of his calling, and his occasional outbreaks of profane swearing likewise. She ceased to regret that snug, might‐have‐been, little, grocery business in a country town. She forgot even to hanker after prayer‐meetings, anniversary teas, and other mild, soul‐saving dissipations unauthorised by the Church of England. She ruffled her feathers, so to speak, and cooed to the young man half in feudal, half in unsatisfied maternal affection—for Mrs. Chifney was childless. And it followed that as he teased her a little, going back banteringly on certain accepted subjects of difference between them, praised, and made a hole in, her fresh‐baked rolls, her nicely browned, fried potatoes, her clear, crinkled rashers, assuring her it gave one an appetite merely to sit down in a room so shiningly clean and spick and span, she was supremely happy. And Dickie was happy too, and blessed the exercise, the food, and the society of these simple persons, which, after his evil night, seemed to have restored to him his wiser and better self.

“He always was the noblest looking young gentleman I ever saw,” Mrs. Chifney remarked subsequently to her husband. “But here at breakfast this morning, when he said, ‘If you won’t be shocked, Mrs. Chifney, I believe I could manage a second helping of that game pie,’ his face was like a very angel’s from heaven. Unearthly beautiful, Thomas, and yet a sort of pain at the back of it. It gave me a regular turn. I had to shed a few tears afterwards when I got alone by myself.”

“You’re one of those that see more than’s there, half your time, Maria,” the trainer answered, with an unusual effort at sarcasm, for he was not wholly easy about the young man himself.—“There’s something up with him, and danged if I know what it is.” But these reflections he kept to himself.

Dr. Knott, later that same day, made reflections of a similar nature. For though Dickie adhered valiantly to his good page: 216 resolutions—going out with the second lot of horses between ten and eleven o’clock, riding on to Banister’s farm to inspect the new barn and cowsheds in course of erection, then hurrying down to Sandyfield Street and listening to long and heated arguments regarding a right‐of‐way reported to exist across the meadows skirting the river just above the bridge, a right strongly denied by the present occupier,—notwithstanding these improving and public‐spirited employments, the love‐light grew in his eyes all through the long morning, causing his appearance to have something, if not actually angelic, yet singularly engaging, about it. For, unquestionably, next to a fortunate attachment, an unfortunate one, if honest, is among the most inspiring and grace‐begetting of possessions granted to mortals.—Helen must never know—that was well understood. Yet the more Dickie thought the whole affair over, the more he recognised the fine romance of thus cherishing a silent and secret devotion. He was very young in this line as yet, it maybe observed. Meanwhile it was nearly two o’clock. He would need to ride home sharply if he was to be in time for luncheon. And at luncheon he would meet her. And remembering that, his heart—traitorous heart—beat quick, and his lips—traitorous lips—began to repeat her name. Thus do the gods of life and death love to play chuck‐farthing with the wise purposes of men, the theory of the eternal laughter having a root of truth in it, as it would seem, after all! And there ahead of him, under the shifting, dappled shadow of the over‐arching firs, Dr. Knott’s broad, cumbersome back, and high, two‐wheeled trap, blocked the road, while Timothy, the old groom,—stiff‐kneed now and none too active,—slowly pushed open the heavy, white gate of the inner park.

As Richard rode up, the doctor turned in his seat and looked at him from under his rough eyebrows, while his loose lips worked into a half‐ironical smile. He loved this lad of great fortune, and great misfortune, more tenderly than he quite cared to own. Then, as Dick checked his horse beside the cart, he growled out:—

“No need to make anxious inquiries regarding your health, young sir. What have you been doing with yourself, eh? You look as fit as a fiddle and as fresh as paint.”

“If I look as I feel I must look ravenously hungry,”Richard answered, flushing up a little. “I’ve been out since six.”

“Had some breakfast?”

“Oh dear, yes! Enough to teach one to know what page: 217 a jolly thing a good meal is, and make one wish for another.”

“Hum!” Dr. Knott said. “That’s a healthy state of affairs, anyhow. Young horses going well?”

“Famously.”

“Bless me, everything’s beer and skittles with you just at present then!”

Richard looked away down the smooth yellow road whereon the dappled shadows kissed and mingled, mingled and kissed, and his heart cried “Helen, Helen,” once again.

“Oh! I don’t know about that,” he said. “I get my share as well as the rest I suppose—at least—anyway the horses are doing capitally this season.”

“I should like to have a look at them.”

“Oh, well you’ve only got to say when, you know. I shall be only too delighted to show them you.”

As he walked the trap through the gateway, Dr. Knott watched Richard riding alongside.—“What’s up with the boy,” he thought. “His face is as keen as a knife, and as soft as—God help us, I hope there’s no sweethearting on hand! It’s bound to come sooner or later, but the later the better, for it’ll be a risky enough set out, come when it may.—Ah, look out there now, you old fool,”—this to Timothy,—“don’t go missing the step and laying yourself up with broken ribs for another three months, just when my work’s at its heaviest. Be careful, can’t you?”

“But why not come in to luncheon now?” Richard said, wisdom whipping up good resolutions once more, and bidding him check the gladness that gained on him at thought of that approaching meeting. Oh yes! he would be discreet, he would erect barriers, he would flee temptation. Knott’s presence offered a finely rugged barrier, surely. Therefore, he repeated:‐“Come in now. My mother will be delighted to see you, and we can have a look round the stables afterwards.”

“I’ll come fast enough if Lady Calmady will take me as I am. Work‐a‐day clothes, and second best lot at that. You’re alone, I suppose?”

He watched the young man as he spoke. Noted the lift of his chin, and the slightly studied indifference of his manner.

“No, for once we’re not. But that doesn’t matter. My uncle William Ormiston is with us. You remember him?”

“I remember his wife.”

“Oh! she’s not here,” Dickie said. “Only he and his daughter, Madame de Vallorbes. You’ll come?”

page: 218

“Oh dear, yes, I’ll come, if you’ll be good enough to prepare your ladies for a rough‐looking customer. Don’t let me keep you. Wonder what the daughter’s like?” he added to himself. “The mother was a bit of a baggage.”

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