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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
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IN that fortunate hour of English history, when the cruel sights and haunting insecurities of the Middle Ages had passed away, and while, as yet, the fanatic zeal of Puritanism had not cast its blighting shadow over all merry and pleasant things, it seemed good to one Denzil Calmady, esquire, to build himself a stately red‐brick and freestone house upon the southern verge of the great plateau of moorland which ranges northward to the confines of Windsor Forest and eastward to the Surrey Hills. And this he did in no vainglorious spirit, with purpose of exalting himself above the county gentlemen, his neighbours, and showing how far better lined his pockets were than theirs. Rather did he do it from an honest love of all that is ingenious and comely, and as the natural outgrowth of an inquiring and philosophic mind. For Denzil Calmady, like so many another son of that happy age, was something more than a mere wealthy country squire, breeder of beef and brewer of ale. He was a courtier and traveller; and, if tradition speaks truly, a poet, who could praise his mistress’s many charms, or wittily resent her caprices, in well‐turned verse. He was a patron of art, having brought back ivories and bronzes from Italy, pictures and china from the Low Countries, and page: 2 enamels from France. He was a student, and collected the many rare and handsome, leather‐bound volumes telling of curious arts, obscure speculations, half‐fabulous histories, voyages, and adventures, which still constitute the almost unique value of the Brockhurst library. He might claim to be a man of science, moreover—of that delectable old‐world science which has no narrow‐minded quarrel with miracle or prodigy, wherein angel and demon mingle freely, lending a hand unchallenged to complicate the operations both of nature and of grace—a science which, even yet, in perfect good faith, busied itself with the mysteries of the Rosy Cross, mixed strange ingredients into a possible Elixir of Life, ran far afield in search for the Philosopher’s Stone, gathered herbs for the confection of simples during auspicious phases of the moon, and beheld in comet and meteor awful forewarnings of public calamity or of Divine Wrath.

From all of which it may be premised that when, like the wise king, of old, in Jerusalem, Denzil Calmady “builded him houses, made him gardens and orchards, and planted trees in them of all kind of fruits,” when he “made him pools of water to water therewith the wood that bringe forth trees,” when he “gathered silver and gold, and the treasure of provinces,” and got him singers, and players of musical instruments, and “the delights of the sons of men,”—he did so that, having tried and sifted all these things, he might, by the exercise of a ripe and untrammelled judgment, decide what amongst them is illusory and but a passing show, and what—be it never so small a remnant—has in it the promise of eternal subsistence, and therefore of vital worth; and that, having so decided and thus gained an even mind, he might prepare serenely to take leave of the life he had dared so largely to live.

Commencing his labours at Brockhurst during the closing years of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, Denzil Calmady completed them in 1611 with a royal house‐warming. For the space of a week, during the autumn of that year,—the last autumn, as it unhappily proved, that graceful and scholarly prince was fated to see,—Henry, Prince of Wales, condescended to be his guest. He was entertained at Brockhurst—as contemporary records inform the curious—with “much feastinge and many joyous masques and gallant pastimes,” including “a great slayinge of deer and divers beastes and fowl in the woods and coverts thereunto adjacent.” It is added, with unconscious irony, that his host, being a “true lover of all wild creatures, had caused a fine bear‐pit to be digged beyond the outer garden wall to the page: 3 west.” And that, on the Sunday afternoon of the Prince’s visit, there “was held a most mighty baitinge,” to witness which “many noble gentlemen of the neighbourhood did visit Brockhurst and lay there two nights.”

Later it is reported of Denzil Calmady, who was an excellent churchman,—suspected even, notwithstanding his little turn for philosophy, of a greater leaning towards the old Mass‐Book than towards the modern Book of Common Prayer,—that he notably assisted Laud, then Bishop of St. David’s, in respect of certain delicate diplomacies. Laud proved not ungrateful to his friend; who, in due time, was honoured with one of King James’s newly instituted baronetcies, not to mention some few score, seedling, Scotch firs, which, taking kindly to the light, moorland soil, increased and multiplied exceedingly and sowed themselves broadcast over the face of the surrounding country.

And, save for the vigorous upgrowth of those same fir trees, and for the fact that bears and bear‐pit had long given place to racehorses and to a great square of stable‐buildings in the hollow lying back from the main road across the park, Brockhurst was substantially the same, in the year of grace 1842, when this truthful history actually opens, as it had been when Sir Denzil’s workmen set the last tier of bricks of the last twisted chimney‐stack in its place. The grand, simple masses of the house—Gothic in its main lines, but with much of Renaissance work in its details—still lent themselves to the same broad effects of light and shadow, as it crowned the southern and western sloping hillside amid its red‐walled gardens and pepper‐pot summerhouses, its gleaming ponds and watercourses, its hawthorn dotted paddocks, its ancient avenues of elm, of lime, and oak. The same panellings and tapestries clothed the walls of its spacious rooms and passages. The same quaint treasures adorned its fine Italian cabinets. The same air of large and generous comfort pervaded it. As the child of true lovers is said to bear through life, in a certain glad beauty of person and of nature, witness to the glad hour of its conception, so Brockhurst, on through the accumulating years, still bore witness to the fortunate historic hour in which it was planned.

Yet, since in all things material and mortal there is always a little spot of darkness, a germ of canker, at least the echo of a cry of fear—lest life being too sweet, man should grow proud to the point of forgetting he is, after all, but a pawn upon the board, but the sport and plaything of destiny and the vast purposes of God—all was not quite well with Brockhurst. At a given moment of time, the diabolic element had of necessity page: 4 intruded itself. And, in the chronicles of this delightful dwelling‐place, even as in those of Eden itself, the angels are proven not to have had things altogether their own gracious way.

The pierced stone parapet, which runs round three sides of the house and constitutes architecturally one of its most noteworthy features, is broken in the centre of the north front by a tall, stepped and sharply pointed, gable, flanked on either hand by slender, four‐sided pinnacles. From the niche in the said gable, arrayed in sugarloaf hat, full doublet and trunk hose, his head a trifle bent so that the tip of his pointed beard rests on the pleatings of his marble ruff, a carpenter’s rule in his right hand, Sir Denzil Calmady gazes meditatively down. Delicate, coral‐like tendrils of the Virginian creeper, which covers the house walls and strays over the bay‐windows of the Long Gallery below, twine themselves yearly about his ankles and his square‐toed shoes. The swallows yearly attempt to fix their grey, mud nests against the flutings of the scallop‐shell canopy sheltering his bowed head; and are yearly ejected by cautious gardeners, armed with imposing array of ladders and conscious of no little inward reluctance to face the dangers of so aërial a height.

And here, it may not be unfitting to make further mention of that same little spot of darkness, germ of canker, echo of the cry of fear, that had come to mar the fair records of Brockhurst. For very certain it was that among the varying scenes, moving merry or majestic, upon which Sir Denzil had looked down during the two and a quarter centuries of his sojourn in the lofty niche of the northern gable, there was one his eyes had never yet rested upon—one matter, and that a very vital one, to which, had he applied his carpenter’s rule, the measure of it must have proved persistently and grievously short.

Along the straight walks, across the smooth lawns, and beside the brilliant flower‐borders of the formal gardens, he had seen generations of babies toddle and stagger, with gurglings of delight, as they clutched at glancing bird or butterfly far out of reach. He had seen healthy, clean‐limbed, boisterous lads and dainty, little maidens laugh and play, quarrel, kiss, and be friends again. He had seen ardent lovers—in glowing June twilights, while the nightingales shouted from the laurels, or from the coppices in the park below—driven to the most desperate straits, to visions of cold poison, of horse‐pistols, of immediate enlistment, or the consoling arms of Betty the housemaid, by the coquetries of some young lady captivating page: 5 in powder and patches, or arrayed in the high‐waisted, agreeably‐revealing costume which our grandmothers judged it not improper to wear in their youth. He had seen husband and wife, too, wandering hand in hand at first, tenderly hopeful and elate. And then, sometimes, as the years lengthened,—growing somewhat sated with the ease of their high estate,—he had seen them hand in hand no longer, waxing cold and indifferent, debating even, at moments, reproachfully whether they might not have invested the capital of their affections to better advantage elsewhere.

All this, and much more, Sir Denzil had seen, and doubtless measured, for all that he appeared so immovably calm and apart. But that which he had never yet seen was a man of his name and race, full of years and honours, come slowly forth from the stately house to sun himself, morning or evening, in the comfortable shelter of the high, red‐brick, rose‐grown, garden walls.—Looking the while, with the pensive resignation of old age, at the goodly, wide‐spreading prospect. Smiling again over old jokes, warming again over old stories of prowess with horse and hound, or rod and gun. Feeling the eyes moisten again at the memory of old loves, and of those far‐away first embraces which seemed to open the gates of paradise and create the world anew; at remembrances of old hopes too, which proved still‐born, and of old distresses, which often enough proved still‐born likewise,—the whole of these simplified now, sanctified, the tumult of them stilled, along with the hot, young blood which went to make them, by the kindly torpor of increasing age and the approaching footsteps of greatly reconciling Death.

For Sir Denzil’s male descendants, one and all,—so says tradition, so say too the written and printed family records, the fine monuments in the chancel of Sandyfield church, and more than one tombstone in the yew‐shaded churchyard,—have displayed a disquieting incapacity for living to the permitted “threescore years and ten”—let alone fourscore—and dying decently, in ordinary, commonplace fashion, in their beds. Mention is made of casualties surprising in number and variety; and not always, it must be owned, to the moral credit of those who suffered them. It is told how Sir Thomas, grandson of Sir Denzil, died miserably of gangrene, caused by a tear in the arm from the antler of a wounded buck. How his nephew Zachary—who succeeded him—was stabbed, during a drunken brawl, in an eating‐house in the Strand. How the brother of the said Zachary, a gallant, young soldier, was killed at the battle of Ramillies in 1706. Duelling, lightning during a summer storm, page: 6 even the blue‐brown waters of the Brockhurst Lake, in turn claim a victim. Later it is told how a second Sir Denzil, after hard fighting to save his purse, was shot by highwaymen on Bagshot Heath, when riding with a couple of servants—not notably distinguished, as it would appear, for personal valour—from Brockhurst up to town.

Lastly comes Courtney Calmady, who, living in excellent repute until close upon sixty, seemed destined by Providence to break the evil chain of the family fate. But he too goes the way of all flesh, suddenly enough, after a long run with the hounds, owing to the opening of a wound, received when he was little more than a lad, at the taking of Frenchtown under General Proctor, during the second American war. So he too died, and they buried him with much honest mourning, as befitted so kindly and honourable a gentleman; and his son Richard—of whom more hereafter—reigned in his stead.