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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
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page: 327

CHAPTER VI

IN WHICH HONORIA ST. QUENTIN TAKES THE FIELD

IT had been agreed that the marriage should take place, in the country, one day in the first week of August. This at Richard’s request. Then the young man asked a further favour, namely that the ceremony might be performed in the private chapel at Brockhurst, rather than in the Whitney parish church. This last proposal, it must be owned, when made to him by Lady Calmady caused Lord Fallowfeild great searchings of heart.

“I give you my word, my dear boy, I never felt more awkward in my life,” he said, subsequently, to his chosen confidant, Shotover. “Can quite understand Calmady doesn’t care to court publicity. Told his mother I quite understood. page: 328 Shouldn’t care to court it myself if I had the misfortune to share his—well, personal peculiarities, don’t you know, poor young fellow. Still this seems to me an uncomfortable, hole and corner sort of way of behaving to one’s daughter—marrying her at his house instead of from my own. I don’t half approve of it. Looks a little as if we were rather ashamed of the whole business.”

“Well, perhaps we are,” Lord Shotover remarked.

“For God’s sake, then, don’t mention it!” the elder man broke out, with unprecedented asperity. “Don’t approve of strong language,” he added hastily. “Never did approve of it, and very rarely employ it myself. An educated man ought to be able to express himself quite sufficiently clearly without having recourse to it. Still, I must own this engagement of Constance’s has upset me more than almost any event of my life. Nasty, anxious work marrying your daughters. Heavy responsibility marrying your daughters. And, as to this particular marriage, there’s so very much to be said on both sides. And I admit to you, Shotover, if there’s anything I hate it’s a case where there’s very much to be said on both sides. It trips you up, you see, at every turn. Then I feel I was not fairly treated. I don’t wish to be hard on your brother Ludovic and your sisters, but they sprung it upon me, and I am not quick in argument, never was quick, if I am hurried. Never can be certain of my own mind when I am hurried—was not certain of it when Lady Calmady proposed that the marriage should be at Brockhurst. And so I gave way. Must be accommodating to a woman, you know. Always have been accommodating to women—got myself into uncommonly tight places by being so more than once when I was younger”—

Here the speaker cheered up visibly, contemplating his favourite son with an air at once humorous and contrite.

“You’re well out of it, you know, Shotover, with no ties,” he continued, “at least, I mean, with no wife and family. Not that I don’t consider every man owning property should marry sooner or later. More respectable if you’ve got property to marry, roots you in the soil, gives you a stake, you know, in the future of the country. But I’d let it be later—yes, thinking of marriageable daughters, certainly I’d let it be later.”

From which it may be gathered that Richard’s demands were conceded at all points. And this last concession involved many preparations at Brockhurst, to effect which Lady Calmady left London with the bulk of the household page: 329 about the middle of July, while Richard remained in Lowndes Square and the neighbourhood of his little fiancée—in company with a few servants and many brown holland covers—till such time as that young lady should also depart to the country. It was just now that Lady Louisa Barking gave her annual ball, always one of the latest, and this year one of the smartest, festivities of the season.

“I mean it to be exceedingly well done,” she said to her sister Alicia. “And Mr. Barking entirely agrees with me. I feel I owe it not only to myself, but to the rest of the family to show that none of us see anything extraordinary in Connie’s marriage, and that whatever Shotover’s debts may have been, or may be, they are really no concern at all of ours.”

In obedience to which laudable determination the handsome mansion in Albert Gate opened wide its portals, and all London—a far from despicable company in numbers, since Parliament was still sitting and the session promised to be rather indefinitely prolonged—crowded its fine stairways and suites of lofty rooms, resplendent in silks and satins, jewels and laces, in orders and titles, and manifold personal distinctions of wealth, or office, or beauty, while strains of music and scent of flowers pervaded the length and breadth of it, and the feet of the dancers sped over its shining floors.

It chanced that Honoria St. Quentin found herself, on this occasion, in a meditative, rather than an active, mood. True, the scene was remarkably brilliant. But she had witnessed too many parallel scenes to be very much affected by that. So it pleased her fancy to moralise, to discriminate—not without a delicate sarcasm—between actualities and appearances, between the sentiments which might be divined really to animate many of the guests, and those conventional presentments of sentiment which the manner and bearing of the said guests indicated. She assured Lord Shotover she would rather not dance, that she preferred the attitude of spectator, whereupon that gentleman proposed to her to take sanctuary in a certain ante‐chamber, opening off Lady Louisa Barking’s boudoir, which was cool, dimly lighted, and agreeably remote from the turmoil of the entertainment now at its height.

The acquaintance of these two persons was, in as far as time and the number of their meetings went, but slight, and, at first sight, their tastes and temperaments would seem wide asunder as the poles. But contrast can form a strong bond of union. And the young man, when his fancy was engaged, was among those who do not waste time over preliminaries. If pleased, he page: 330 bundled, neck and crop, into intimacy. And Miss St. Quentin, her fearless speech, her amusingly detached attitude of mind, and her gallant bearing, pleased him mightily from a certain point of view. He pronounced her to be a “first‐rate sort,” and entertained a shrewd suspicion that, as he put it, Ludovic “was after her.” He commended his brother’s good taste. He considered she would make a tip‐top sister‐in‐law. While the young lady, on her part, accepted his advances in a friendly spirit. His fraternal attitude and unfailing good‐temper diverted her. His rather doubtful reputation piqued her curiosity. She accepted the general verdict, declaring him to be good‐for‐nothing, while she enjoyed the conviction that, rake or no rake, he was incapable of causing her the smallest annoyance, or being guilty—as far as she herself was concerned—of the smallest indiscretion.

“You know, Miss St. Quentin,” he remarked, as he established himself comfortably, not to say cosily, on a sofa beside her,—“over and above the pleasure of a peaceful little talk with you, I am not altogether sorry to seek retirement. You see, between ourselves, I’m not, unfortunately, in exactly good odour with some members of the family just now. I don’t think I’m shy”—

Honoria smiled at him through the dimness.

“I don’t think you’re shy,” she said.

“Well, you know, when you come to consider it from an unprejudiced standpoint, what the dickens is the use of being shy? It’s only an inverted kind of conceit at best, and half the time it makes you stand in your own light.”

“Clearly it’s a mistake every way,” the young lady asserted. “And, happily, it’s one of which I can entirely acquit you of being guilty.”

Lord Shotover threw back his head and looked sideways at his companion.—Wonderfully graceful woman she was certainly! Gave you the feeling she’d all the time there was or ever would be. Delightful thing to see a woman who was never in a hurry.

“No, honestly I don’t believe I’m weak in the way of shyness,” he continued. “If I had been, I shouldn’t be here to‐night. My sister Louisa didn’t press me to come. Strange as it may appear to you, Miss St. Quentin, I give you my word she didn’t. Nor has she regarded me with an exactly favourable eye since my arrival. I am not abashed, not a bit. But I can’t disguise from myself that again I have gone, and been, and jolly well put my foot in it.”

He whistled very softly under his breath.—“Oh! I have, I promise you, even on the most modest computation, very extensively and comprehensively put my foot in it!”

page: 331

“How?” inquired Honoria.

Lord Shotover’s confidences invariably amused her, and just now she welcomed amusement. For, crossing her hostess’ boudoir, she had momentarily caught sight of that which changed the speculative sarcasm of her meditations to something approaching pain—namely a pretty, wide‐eyed, childish face rising from out a cloud of white tulle, white roses, and diamonds, the expression of which had seemed to her distressingly remote from all the surrounding gaiety and splendour. Actualities and appearances here were surely radically at variance? And, now, she smilingly turned on her elbow and made brief inquiry of her companion, promising herself good measure of superficial entertainment which should serve to banish that pathetic countenance, and allay her suspicion of a sorrowful happening which she was powerless alike to hinder or to help.

Lord Shotover pushed his hands into his trousers pockets, leaned far back on the sofa, turning his head so that he could look at her comfortably without exertion and chuckling, a little, as he spoke.

“Well, you see,” he said, “I brought Decies. No, you’re right, I’m not shy, for to do that was a bit of the most barefaced cheek. My sister Louisa hadn’t asked him. Of course she hadn’t. At bottom she’s awfully afraid he may still upset the apple‐cart. But I told her I knew, of course, she had intended to ask him, and that the letter must have got lost somehow in the post, and that I knew how glad she’d be to have me rectify the little mistake. My manner was not jaunty, Miss St. Quentin, or defiant—not a bit of it. It was frank, manly, I should call it manly and pleasing. But Louisa didn’t seem to see it that way somehow. She withered me, she scorched me, reduced me to a cinder, though she never uttered one blessed syllable. The hottest corner of the infernal regions resided in my sister’s eye at that moment, and I resided in that hottest corner, I tell you. Of course I knew I risked losing the last rag of her regard when I brought Decies. But you see, poor chap, it is awfully rough on him. He was making the running all through the winter. I could not help feeling for him, so I chucked discretion”—

“For the first and only time in your life,” put in Honoria gently. “And pray who and what is this disturber of domestic peace, Decies?”

“Oh! you know the whole affair grows out of this engagement of my little sister Connie’s. By the way, though, the Calmadys are great friends of yours, aren’t they, Miss St. Quentin?”

The young man regarded her anxiously, fearful lest he should page: 332 have endangered the agreeable intimacy of their present relation by the introduction of an unpalatable subject of conversation. Even in this semi‐obscurity he perceived that her fine smile had vanished, while the lines of her sensitive face took on a certain rigidity and effect of sternness. Lord Shotover regretted that. For some reason, he knew not what, she was displeased. He, like an ass, evidently had blundered.

“I’m awfully sorry,” he began, “perhaps—perhaps”—

“Perhaps it is very impertinent for a mere looker‐on like myself to have any views at all about this marriage,” Honoria put in quickly.

“Bless you, no, it’s not,” he answered. “I don’t see how anybody can very well be off having views about it—that’s just the nuisance. The whole thing shouts, confound it. So you might just as well let me hear your views, Miss St. Quentin. I should be awfully interested. They might help to straighten my own out a bit.”

Honoria paused a moment, doubting how much of her thought it would be justifiable to confide to her companion. A certain vein of knight‐errantry in her character inclined her to set lance in rest and ride forth, rather recklessly, to redress human wrongs. But in redressing one wrong it too often happens that another wrong—or something perilously approaching one—must be inflicted. To save pain in one direction is, unhappily, to inflict pain in the opposite one. Honoria was aware how warmly Lady Calmady desired this marriage. She loved Lady Calmady. Therefore her loyalty was engaged, and yet—

“I am no match‐maker,” she said at last, “and so probably my view is unnecessarily pessimistic. But I happened to see Lady Constance just now, and I cannot pretend that she struck me as looking conspicuously happy.”

Lord Shotover flattened his shoulders against the back of the sofa, expanding his chest and thrusting his hands still farther into his pockets with a movement at once of anxiety and satisfaction.

“I don’t believe she is,” he asserted. “Upon my word you’re right. I don’t believe she is. I doubted it from the first, and now I’m pretty certain. Of course I know I’m a bad lot, Miss St. Quentin. I’ve been very little but a confounded nuisance to my people ever since I was born. They’re all ten thousand times better than I am, and they’re doing what they honestly think right. All the same I believe they’re making a ghastly mistake. They’re selling the poor, little girl against her will, that’s about the long and short of it.”

He bowed himself together, looking at his companion from page: 333 under his eyebrows, and speaking with more seriousness than she had ever heard him yet speak.

“I tell you it makes me a little sick sometimes to see what excellent, well‐meaning people will do with girls in respect of marriage. Oh, good Lord! it just does! But then a high moral tone doesn’t come quite gracefully from me. I know that. I’m jolly well out of it. It’s not for me to preach. And so I thought for once I’d act—defy authority, risk landing myself in a worse mess than ever, and give Decies his chance. And I tell you he really is a charming chap, a gentleman, you know, and a nice, clean‐minded, decent fellow—not like me, not a bit. He’s awfully hard hit too, and would be as steady as old time for poor, little Con’s sake if”—

“Ah! now I begin to comprehend,” Honoria said.

“Yes, don’t you see, it’s a perfectly genuine, for‐ever‐and‐ever‐amen sort of business.”

Lord Shotover leaned back once more, and turned a wonderfully pleasant, if not pre‐eminently responsible, countenance upon his companion.

“I never went in for that kind of racket myself, Miss St. Quentin,” he continued. “Not being conspicuously faithful, I should only have made a fiasco of it. But I give you my word it touches me all the same when I do run across it. I think it’s awfully lucky for a man to be made that way. And Decies is. So there seemed no help for it. I had to chuck discretion, as I told you, and give him his chance.”

He paused, and then asked with a somewhat humorous air of self‐depreciation:—“What do you think now, have I done more harm than good, made confusion worse confounded, and played the fool generally?”

But again Honoria vouchsafed him no immediate reply. The meditative mood still held her, and the present conversation offered much food for meditation. Her companion’s confession of faith in true love, if you had the good fortune to be born that way, had startled her. That the speaker enjoyed the reputation of being something of a profligate lent singular point to that confession. She had not expected it from Lord Shotover, of all men. Ands as coming from him, the sentiment was in a high degree arresting and interesting. Her own ideals, so far, had a decidedly anti‐matrimonial tendency; while being in love appeared to her a much overrated, if not actively objectionable, condition. Personally she hoped to escape all experience of it. Then her thought travelled back to Lady Calmady—the charm of her personality, her sorrows, her splendid self‐devotion, and to page: 334 the object of that devotion—namely Richard Calmady, a being of strange contrasts, at once maimed and beautiful, a being from whom she—Honoria—shrank in instinctive repulsion while unwillingly acknowledging that he exercised a permanent and intimate fascination over her imagination. She dwelt, in quick pity, too, upon the frightened, wide‐eyed, childish face recently seen rising from out its diaphanous cloud of tulle, the prettiness of it heightened by fair wealth of summer roses and flash of costly diamonds, and upon Mr. Decies, the whole‐hearted, young, soldier lover, whose existence threatened such dangerous complications in respect of the rest of this strangely assorted company. Finally her meditative survey returned to its point of departure. In thought she surveyed her present companion—his undeniable excellence of sentiment and clear‐seeing, his admittedly defective conduct in matters ethical and financial. Never before had she been at such close quarters with living and immediate human drama, and, notwithstanding her detachment, her lofty indifference and high‐spirited theories, she found it profoundly agitating. She was sensible of being in collision with unknown and incalculable forces. Instinctively she rose from her place on the sofa, and, moving to the open window, looked out into the night.

Below, the Park, now silent and deserted, slept peacefully, as any expanse of remote country pasture and woodland, in the mildly radiant moonlight. Here and there were blottings of dark shadow cast by the clumps or avenues of trees. Here and there the timid, yellow flame of gas lamps struggled to assert itself against the all‐embracing silver brightness. Here and there windows glowed warm, set in the pale, glistering facades of the adjacent houses. A cool, light wind, hailing from the direction of the unseen Serpentine, stirred the hanging clusters of the pink geraniums that fell over the curved lip of the stone vases, standing along the broad coping of the balcony, and gently caressed the girl’s bare arms and shoulders.

Seen under these unaccustomed conditions familiar objects assumed a fantastic aspect. For the night is a mighty magician, with power to render even the weighty brick and stone, even the hard, uncompromising outlines, of a monster, modern city, delicately elusive, mockingly tentative and unsubstantial. Meanwhile, within, from all along the vista of crowded and brilliantly illuminated rooms, came the subdued, yet confused and insistent, sound of musical instruments, of many voices, many footsteps, the hush of women’s trailing garments, the rise and fall of unceasing conversation. And to Honoria, standing in this quiet, dimly‐seen place, the sense of that moonlit world without, and page: 335 this gas and candle‐lit world within, increased the nameless agitation which infected her. A haunting persuasion of the phantasmagoric character of all sounds that saluted her ears, all sights that met her eyes, possessed her. A vast uncertainty surrounded and pressed in on her; while those questionings of appearances and actualities, of truth and falsehood, right and wrong, justice and injustice, with which she had played idly earlier in the evening, took on new and almost terrible proportions, causing her intelligence, nay, her heart itself, to reach out, as never before, in search of some sure rock and house of defence against the disintegrating apprehension of universal instability and illusion.

“Ah! it is all very difficult, difficult to the point of alarm!” she exclaimed suddenly, turning to Lord Shotover and looking him straight in the face, with an unself‐consciousness and desire of support so transparent that that gentleman found himself at once delighted and slightly abashed.

“Bless my soul, but Ludovic is a lucky devil!” he said to himself.—“What’s—what’s so beastly difficult, Miss St. Quentin?” he asked aloud. And the sound of his cheery voice recalled Honoria to the normal aspects of existence with almost humorous velocity. She smiled upon him.

“I really believe I don’t quite know,” she said. “Perhaps that the two people, of whom we were speaking, really care for each other, and that this engagement has come between them, and that you have chucked discretion and given him his chance. Tell me, what sort of man is he—strong enough to make the most of his chance when he’s got it?”

But at that moment Lord Shotover stepped forward, adroitly planting himself right in front of her and thus screening her from observation.

“By George!” he said under his breath, in tones of mingled amusement and consternation, “he’s making the most of his chance now, Miss St. Quentin, and that most uncommonly comprehensively, unless I’m very much mistaken.”

Her companion’s tall person and the folds of a heavy curtain, while screening Honoria from observation, also, in great measure, obscured her view of the room. Yet not so completely but that she saw two figures cross it, one black, one white, those of a man and a girl. They were both speaking, the man apparently pleading, the girl protesting and moving hurriedly the while, as though in actual flight. She must have been moving blindly, at random, for she stumbled against the outstanding, gilded leg of a consol table, set against the farther wall, page: 336 causing the ornaments on it to rattle. And so doing, she gave a plaintive exclamation of alarm, perhaps even of physical pain. Hearing which, that nameless agitation, that sense of collision with unknown and incalculable forces, seized hold on Honoria again, while Lord Shotover’s features contracted and he turned his head sharply.

“By George!” he repeated under his breath.

But the girl recovered herself, and, followed by her companion,—he still pleading, she still protesting,—passed by the farther window on to the balcony and out of sight. There followed a period of embarrassed silence on the part of the usually voluble Shotover, while his pleasant countenance expressed a certain half‐humorous concern.

“Really,. I’m awfully sorry,” he said. “I’d not the slightest intention of landing you in the thick of the brown like this.”

“Or yourself either,” she replied, smiling; though, with that sense of nameless agitation still upon her, her heart beat rather quick.

“Well, perhaps not. Between ourselves, moral courage isn’t my strong point. There’s nothing I funk like a row. I say, what shall we do? Don’t you think we’d better quietly clear out?”

But, just then, a sound caught Honoria’s ear before which all vague questions of ultimate truth and falsehood, right and wrong fled away. Whatever might savour of illusion, here was something real and actual, something pitiful, moreover, arousing the spirit of knight‐errantry in her, pushing her to lay lance in rest and go forth, reckless of conventionalities, reckless even of considerations of justice, to the succour of oppressed womanhood. What words the man on the balcony, without, was saying, she could not distinguish—whether cruel or kind; but that the young girl was weeping, with the abandonment of long‐resisted tears, she could not doubt.

“No, no, listen, Lord Shotover,” she exclaimed authoritatively. “Don’t you hear? She is crying as if her poor heart would break. You must stay. If I understand you rightly your sister has only got you to depend on. Whatever happens you must stand by her and see her through.”

“Oh! but, my dear Miss St. Quentin”— The young man’s aspect was entertaining. He looked at the floor, he looked at Honoria, he rubbed the back of his neck with one hand as though there might be placed the seat of fortitude. “You’re inviting me to put my head into the liveliest hornet’s nest. What the deuce—excuse me—am I to say to her and all the page: 337 rest of them? Decies, even, mayn’t quite understand my interference and may resent it. I think it is very much safer, all round, to let them—him and her—thrash it out between them, don’t you know. I say though, what a beastly thing it is to hear a woman cry! I wish to goodness we’d never come into this confounded place and let ourselves in for it.”

As he spoke, Lord Shotover turned towards the door, meditating escape in the direction of that brilliant vista of crowded rooms. But Honoria St. Quentin, her enthusiasm once aroused, became inexorable. With her long, swinging stride she outdistanced his hesitating steps, and stood, in the doorway, her arms extended—as to stop a runaway horse—her clear eyes aglow as though a lamp burned behind them, her pale, delicately cut face eloquent of very militant charity. A spice of contempt, moreover, for his display of pusillanimity was quite perceptible to Shotover in the expression of this charming, modern angel, clad in a ball‐dress, bearing a fan instead of the traditional fiery‐sword, who, so determinedly, barred the entrance of that comfortably conventional, worldly paradise to which he, just now, so warmly desired to regain admittance.

“No, no,” she said, with a certain vibration in her quiet voice, “you are not to go! You are not to desert her. It would be unworthy, Lord Shotover. You brought Mr. Decies here and so you are mainly responsible for the present situation. And think, just think what it means. All the course of her life will be affected by that which takes place in the next half‐hour. You would never cease to reproach yourself if things went wrong.”

“Shouldn’t I?” the young man said dubiously.

“Of course you wouldn’t,” Honoria asserted, “having it in your power to help, and then shirking the responsibility! I won’t believe that of you. You are better than that. For think how young she is, and pretty and dependent. She may be driven to do some fatally, foolish thing if she’s left unsupported. You must at least know what is going on. You are bound to do so. Moreover, as a mere matter of courtesy, you can’t desert me and I intend to stay.”

“Do you, though?” faltered Lord Shotover, in tones curiously resembling his father’s.

Honoria drew herself up proudly, almost scornfully.

“Yes, I shall stay,” she continued. “I am no match‐maker. I have no particular faith in or admiration for marriage”—

“Haven’t you, though?” said Lord Shotover. He was slightly surprised, slightly amused, but to his credit be it stated page: 338 that he put no equivocal construction upon the young lady’s frank avowal. He felt a little sorry for Ludovic, that was all, fearing the latter’s good fortune was less fully established than he had supposed.

“No, I don’t believe very much in marriage—modern, upper‐class marriage,” she repeated. “And, just precisely on that account, it seems to me all the more degrading and shameful that a girl should risk marrying the wrong man. People talk about a broken engagement as though it was a disgrace. I can’t see that. An unwilling, a—a—loveless marriage is the disgrace. And so at the very church door I would urge and encourage a woman to turn back, if she doubted, and have done with the whole thing.”

“Upon my word!” murmured Lord Shotover—The infinite variety of the feminine outlook, the unqualified audacity of feminine action, struck him as bewildering. Talk of women’s want of logic! It was their relentless application of logic—as they apprehended it—which staggered him.

Honoria had come close to him. In her excitement she laid her fan on his arm.

“Listen,” she said, “listen how Lady Constance is crying. Come—you must know what is happening. You must comfort her.”

The young man thrust his hands into his pockets with an air of good‐humoured and despairing resignation.

“All right,” he replied, “only I tell you what it is, Miss St. Quentin, you’ve got to come too. I refuse to be deserted.”

“I have not the smallest intention of deserting you,” Honoria said. “Even yet discretion, though so lately chucked, might return to you. And then you might cut and run, don’t you know.”

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