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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
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page: 358

CHAPTER IX

IN WHICH DICKIE SHAKES HANDS WITH THE DEVIL

“MY dear, this is quite unexpected.”

Lady Calmady’s tone was one of quiet, innate joyousness. A gentle brightness pervaded her whole aspect and manner. She looked wonderfully young, as though the hands of the clock had been put back by some twenty and odd years. Every line had disappeared from her face, and in her eyes was a clear shining very lovely to behold. Richard glanced at her as she came swiftly towards him across the room. Then he looked down again, and answered deliberately:—

“Yes, it is, as you say, quite unexpected. This time last night I as little anticipated being back here as you anticipated my coming. But one’s plans change rapidly and radically at times. Mine have done so.”

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He sat at the large, library writing‐table, a pile of letters, papers, circulars, before him, judged unworthy of forwarding, which had accumulated during his absence. He tore off wrappers, tore open envelopes, quickly yet methodically, as though bending his mind with conscious determination to the performance of a self‐inflicted task. Looking at the contents of each in turn, with an odd mixture of indifference and close attention, he flung the major part into the waste‐paper basket set beside his revolving‐chair. A tall, green‐shaded lamp shed a circle of vivid light upon the silver and maroon leather furnishings of the writing‐table, upon the young man’s bent head, and upon his restless hands as they grasped, and straightened, and then tore, with measured if impatient precision, the letters and papers lying before him.

Lady Calmady stood resting the tips of her fingers on the corner of the table, looking down at him with those clear shining eyes. His reception of her had not been demonstrative, but of that she was hardly sensible. The reconciling assurances of faith, the glories of the third heaven, still dazzled her somewhat. Her feet hardly touched earth yet, so that her mother‐love, and all its sensitive watchfulness was, as yet, somewhat in abeyance. She spoke again with the same quiet joyousness of tone.

“You should have telegraphed to me, dearest, and then all would have been ready to welcome you. As it is, I fear, you must feel yourself a trifle neglected. I have been, or have fancied myself, mightily busy all day—foolishly cumbered about much serving—and had gone out to forget maids, and food, and domesticities generally, into the dear garden.”—She paused, smiling. “Ah! it is a gracious night,” she said, “full of inspiration. You must have enjoyed the drive home. The household refuses to take this marriage of yours philosophically, Dickie. It demands great magnificence, quite as much, be sure, for its own glorification as for yours. It also multiplies small difficulties, after the manner of well‐conducted households, as I imagine, since the world began.”

Richard tore the prospectus of a mining company, offering wealth beyond the dreams of avarice, right across with a certain violence.

“Oh, well, the household may forego its magnificence and cease from the multiplication of small difficulties alike, as far as any marriage of mine is concerned. You can tell the household so to‐morrow, mother, or I can. Perhaps the irony of the position would be more nicely pointed by the announcement coming directly from myself. That would heighten the drama.”

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“But, Dickie, my dearest?” Katherine said, greatly perplexed.

“The whole affair is at an end. Lady Constance Quayle is not going to marry me, and I am not going to marry Lady Constance Quayle.—On that point at least she and I are entirely at one. All London will know this to‐morrow. Perhaps Brockhurst, in the interests of its endangered philosophy, had better know it to‐night.”

Richard leaned forward, opening, tearing, sorting the papers again. A rasping quality was in his voice and speech, hitherto unknown to his mother; a cold, imperious quality in his manner, also, new to her. And these brought her down to earth, setting her feet thereon uncompromisingly. And the earth on which they were thus set was, it must be owned, rather ugly. A woman made of weaker stuff would have cried out against such sudden and painful declension. But Katherine, happily both for herself and for those about her, waking even from dreams of noble and far‐reaching attainment, waked with not only her wits, but her heart, in steady action. Yet she in nowise went back on the revelation that had been vouchsafed to her. It was in nowise disqualified or rendered suspect, because the gamut of human emotion proved to have more extended range and more jarring discords than she had yet reckoned with. Her mind was large enough to make room for novel experience in sorrow, as well as in joy, retaining the while its poise and sanity. Therefore, recognising a new phase in the development of her child, she, without hesitation or regret of self‐love for the disturbance of her own gladness, braced herself to meet it. His pride had been wounded—somehow, she knew not how—to the very quick. And the smart of that wound was too shrewd, as yet, for any precious balms of articulate tenderness to soothe it. She must give it time to heal a little, meanwhile setting herself scrupulously to respect his dark humour, meet his pride with pride, his calm with at least equal calmness.

She drew a chair up to the end of the table, and settled herself to listen quite composedly.

“It will be well, dearest,” she said, “that you should explain to me clearly what has happened. To do so may avert possible complications.”

Richard’s hands paused among the papers. He regarded Lady Calmady reflectively, not without a grudging admiration. But an evil spirit possessed him, a necessity of mastery—inevitable reaction from recently endured humiliation—which page: 361 provoked him to measure his strength against hers. He needed a sacrifice to propitiate his anger. That sacrifice must be in some sort a human one. So he deliberately pulled the tall lamp nearer, and swung his chair round sideways, leaning his elbow on the table, with the result that the light rested on his face. It did more. It rested upon his body, upon his legs and feet, disclosing the extent of their deformity.

Involuntarily Katherine shrank back. It was as though he had struck her. Morally, indeed, he had struck her, for there was a cynical callousness in this disclosure, in this departure from his practice of careful and self‐respecting concealment. Meanwhile Richard watched her, as, shrinking, her eyelids drooped and quivered.

“Mother,” he said, quietly and imperatively.—And when, not without perceptible effort, she again raised her eyes to his, he went on:—“I quite agree with you that it will be well for me to explain with a view to averting possible complications. It has become necessary that we should clearly understand one another—at least that you, my dear mother, should understand my position fully and finally. We have been too nice, you and I, heretofore, and, the truth being very far from nice, have expended much trouble and ingenuity in our efforts to ignore it. We went up to London in the fond hope that the world at large would support us in our self‐deception. So it did, for a time. But, being in the main composed of very fairly honest and sensible persons, it has grown tired of sentimental lying, of helping us to bury our heads ostrich‐like in the sand. It has gone over to the side of truth—that very far from flattering or pretty truth to which I have just alluded—with this result, among others, that my engagement has come to an abrupt and really rather melodramatic conclusion.”

He paused.

“Go on, Richard,” Lady Calmady said, “I am listening.”

He drew himself up, sitting very erect, keeping his eyes steadily fixed on her, speaking steadily and coldly, though his lips twitched a little.

“Lady Constance did me the honour to call on me last night, rather later than this, absenting herself in the very thick of Lady Louisa Barking’s ball for that purpose.”

Katherine moved slightly, her dress rustled.

“Yes—considering her character and her training it was a rather surprising démarche on her part, and bore convincing testimony to her agitation of mind.”

“Did she come alone?”

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Richard lapsed into an easier position.

“Oh, dear no!” he said. “Allowing for the desperation which dictated her proceedings, they were carried out in a very regular manner, with a praiseworthy regard for appearances. Lady Constance is, in my opinion, a very sweet person. She is perfectly modest and has an unusual regard—as women go—for honour and duty—as women understand them.”—Again his voice took on that rasping quality. “She brought a friend, a young lady, with her. Fortunately there was no occasion for me to speak to her—she had the good taste to efface herself during our interview. But I saw her in the hall afterwards. I shall always remember that very distinctly. So, I imagine, will she. Then Lord Shotover waited outside with the carriage. Oh! believe me, admitting its inherent originality, the affair was conducted with an admirable regard for appearances.”

Again the regular flow of Richard’s speech was broken. His throat had gone very dry.

“Lady Constance appealed to me in extremely moving terms, articulate and otherwise, to set her free.”

“To set her free—and upon what grounds?”

“Upon the rather crude, but pre‐eminently sensible grounds, my dear mother, that after full consideration, she found the bid was not high enough.”

“Indeed,” Katherine said.

“Yes, indeed, my dear mother,” Richard repeated. “Does that surprise you? It quite ceased to surprise me, when she pointed out the facts of the case. For she was touchingly sincere. I respected her for that. The position was an ungracious one for her. She has a charming nature, and really wanted to spare me just as much as was possible along with the gaining of her cause. Her gift of speech is limited, you know; but then no degree of eloquence or diplomacy could have rendered that which she had to say agreeable to my self‐esteem. Oh! on the whole she did it very well, very conclusively.”

Richard raised his head, pausing a moment. Again that dryness of the throat checked his utterance. And then, recalling the scene of the past night, a great wave of unhappiness, pure and simple, of immense disappointment, immense self‐disgust broke over him. His anger, his outraged pride, came near being swamped by it. He came near losing his bitter self‐control and crying aloud for help. But he mastered the inclination, perhaps unfortunately, and continued speaking.

“Yes, decidedly, with the exception of Ludovic, that family do not possess ready tongues, yet they contrive to make their page: 363 meaning pretty plain in the end. I have just driven over from Whitney, and am fresh from a fine example of eventual plain speaking from that excellent father of the family, Lord Fallowfeild. It was instructive. For the main thing, after all, as we must both agree, mother, is to understand oneself clearly and to make oneself clearly understood. And in this respect you and I, I’m afraid, have failed a good deal. Blinded by our own fine egoism we have even failed altogether to understand others. Lady Constance, for instance, possesses very much more character than it suited us to credit her with.”

“You are harsh, dearest,” Katherine murmured, and her lips trembled.

“Not at all,” he answered. “I have only said good‐bye to lying. Can you honestly deny, my dear mother, that the whole affair was just one of convenience? I told you—it strikes me now as a rather brutally primitive announcement—that I wanted a wife because I wanted a son—a son to prove to me the entirety of my own manhood, a son to give me at second hand certain obvious pleasures and satisfactions which I am debarred, as you know, from obtaining at first hand. You engaged to find me a bride. Poor, little Lady Constance Quayle, unluckily for her, appeared to meet our requirements, being pretty and healthy, and too innocent and undeveloped to suspect the rather mean advantage we proposed to take of her.—What? I know it sounds rather gross stated thus plainly. But, the day of lies being over, dare you deny it?—Well then, we proceeded to traffic for this desirable bit of young womanhood, of prospective maternity,—to buy her from such of her relations as were perverted enough to countenance the transaction, just as shamelessly as though we had gone into the common bazaar, after the manner of the cynical East, and bargained for her, poor child, in fat‐tailed sheep or cowries. Doesn’t it appear to you almost incredible, almost infamous that we—you and I, mother—should have done this thing? The price we offered seemed sufficient to some of her people—not to all, I have learned that past forgetting to‐day, thanks to Lord Fallowfeild’s thick‐headed, blundering veracity. But, thank Heaven, she had more heart, more sensibility, more self‐respect, more decency, than we allowed for. She plucked up spirit enough to refuse to be bought and sold like a pedigree filly or heifer. I think that was rather heroic, considering her traditions and the pressure which had been brought to bear to keep her silent. I can only honour and reverence her for coming to tell me frankly, though at the eleventh hour, that she preferred a man of no particular page: 364 position or fortune, but with the ordinary complement of limbs, to Brockhurst, and the house in London, and my forty to forty‐five thousand a year, plus”—

Richard laughed savagely, leaning forward, spreading out his arms.

“Well, my dear mother,—since, as I say, the day of lies is over,—plus the remnant of a human being you may see here, at this moment, if you will only have the kindness to look!”

At first Katherine had listened in mute surprise, bringing her mind, not without difficulty, into relation to the immediate and the present. Then watchful sympathy had been aroused, then anxiety, then tenderness, denying itself expression since the time for it was not yet ripe. But as the minutes lengthened and the flow of Richard’s speech not only continued, but gained in volume and in force, sympathy, anxiety, tenderness, were merged in an emotion of ever‐deepening anguish, so that she sat as one who contemplates, spell‐bound, a scene of veritable horror. From regions celestial to regions terrestrial she had been hurried with rather dislocating suddenness. But her sorry journey did not end there. For hardly were her feet planted on solid earth again, than the demand came that she should descend still further—to regions sub‐terrestrial, regions frankly infernal. And this descent to hell, though rapid to the point of astonishment, was by no means easy. Rather was it violent and remorseless—a driving as by reiterated blows, a rude, merciless dragging onward and downward. Yet, even so, for all the anguish and shame—as of unseemly exposure—the perversion of her intention and action, the scorn so ruthlessly poured upon her, it was less of herself, the compelled, than of Richard, the compelling, that she thought. For even while his anger thus drove and dragged her, he himself was tortured in the flame far below—so it seemed, and that constituted the finest sting of her agony—beyond her power to reach or help. She, after all, but stood on the edge of the crater, watching. He fought, right down in the molten waves of it—fought with himself, too, more fiercely even than he fought with her. So that now, as years ago waiting outside the red drawing‐room hearing the stern, peremptory tones of the surgeons, the moan of unspeakable physical pain, the grating of a saw, picturing the dismemberment of the living body she so loved, Katherine was tempted to run a little mad and beat her beautiful head against the wall. But age, while taking no jot or tittle from the capacity of suffering, still, in sane and healthy natures, brings a certain steadiness to the brain and coolness to the blood. Therefore Katherine sat very still and silent, her page: 365 sweet eyes half closed, her spirit bowed in unspoken prayer. Surely the all‐loving God, who, but a brief hour ago, had vouchsafed her the fair vision of the delight of her youth, would ease his torment and spare her son?

And, all the while, outward nature remained reposeful and gracious in aspect as ever. The churring of the night‐hawks, the occasional bark of the fox in the Warren, the song of the answering nightingales, wandered in at the open casements. And, along with these, came the sweetness of the beds of wild thyme from the grass slopes, and the rich, languid scent of the blossom of the little, round‐headed, orange trees set, in green tubs, below the carven guardian griffins on the flight of steps leading up to the main entrance. That which had been lovely, continued lovely still. And, therefore perhaps,—she could hope it even amid the fulness of her anguish,—the gates of hell might stand open to ascending as well as descending feet; and so that awful road might at last—at last—be retraced by this tormented child of hers, whom, though he railed against her, she still supremely loved.

But Richard, whether actually or intentionally it would be difficult to say, misinterpreted and resented her silence and apparent calm. He waited for a time, his eyes fastened upon her half‐averted face. Then he picked up one of the remaining packets from the table, tore off the wrapper, glanced at the contents, stretched out his left arm holding the said contents suspended over the waste‐paper basket.

“Yes, it is evident,” he declared, “even you do not care to look! Well, then, must you not admit that you and I have been guilty of an extravagance of fatuous folly, and worse, in seriously proposing that a well‐born, sensitive girl should not only look at, habitually and closely, but take for all her chance in life a crippled dwarf like me—an anomaly, a human curiosity, a creature so unsightly that it must be carried about like any baby‐in‐arms lest its repulsive ungainliness should sicken the bystanders if, leaving the shelter of a railway‐rug and an arm‐chair, it tries—unhappy brute—to walk?—Oh! I’m not angry with her. I don’t blame her. I’m not surprised. I agree with her down to the ground. I sympathise and comprehend—no man more. I told her so last night—only amazed at the insane egoism that could ever have induced me to view the matter in any other light. Women are generally disposed to be hard on one another. But if you, my dear mother, should be in any degree tempted to be hard on Constance Quayle, I beg you to consider your own engagement, your own marriage, my father’s”—

Here Katherine interrupted him, rising in sudden revolt.

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“No, no, Richard,” she said, “that is more, my dear, than I can either permit or can bear. If you have any sort of mercy left in you, do not bring your father’s name, and that which lies between him and me, into this hideous conversation.”

The young man looked hard at her, and then opening his hand, let the pieces of torn paper flutter down into the basket. It was done with a singularly measured action, symbolic of casting off some last tie, severing some last link, which bound his life and his allegiance to his companion.

“Yes, exactly,” he said. “As I expected, the day of lying being over, you as good as own it an outrage to your taste, and your affections, that so frightful a thing, as I am, should venture to range itself alongside your memories of your husband. Out of your own mouth are you judged, my dear mother. And, if I am thus to you, upon whom, after all, I have some natural claim, what must I be to others? Think of it! What indeed!”

Katherine made no attempt to answer. Perception of the grain of truth which seasoned the vast, the glaring, injustice of his accusations unnerved her. His speech was ingeniously cruel. His humour such, that it was vain to protest. And the hopelessness of it all affected her to the point of physical weakness. She moved across the room, intending to gain the door and go, for it seemed to her the limit of her powers of endurance had been reached. But her strength would not carry her so far. She stumbled on the upturned corner of the shining, tiger‐skin rug, recovered herself trembling, and laid hold of the high, narrow, marble shelf of the chimney‐piece for support. She must rest a little lest her strength should wholly desert her, and she should fall before reaching the door.

Behind her, within the circle of lamplight, Richard remained, still sorting, tearing, flinging away that which remained of the pile of papers. This deft, persistent activity of his, in its mixture of purpose and abstraction, was agitating—seeming, to Katherine’s listening ears, as though it might go on endlessly, until not only these waste papers, but all and everything within his reach, things spiritual, things of the heart, duties, obligations, gracious and tender courtesies, as well as things merely material, might be thus relentlessly scrutinised, judged worthless, rent asunder and cast forth. What would be spared she wondered, what left? And, when the work of destruction was completed, what would follow next?—Bracing herself, she turned, purposing to close the interview by some brief pleading of indisposition and to escape. But, as she did so, the sound of tearing ceased. Richard slipped down from his place at the writing‐table, and page: 367 shuffling across the room, flung himself into the long, low arm‐chair on the opposite side of the fireplace.

“I don’t want to detain you for an unreasonable length of time, mother,” he said. “We understand each other in the main, I think, and that without subterfuge or self‐deception at last. But there are details to be considered; and, as I leave here early to‐morrow morning, I think you’ll feel with me it’s desirable we should have our talk out. There are a good many eventualities for which it’s only reasonable and prudent to make provision on the eve of an indefinitely long absence. Practically a good many people are dependent on me, one way and another, and I don’t consider it honourable to leave their affairs at loose ends, however uncertain my own future may be.”

Richard’s voice had still that rasping quality, while his bearing was instinct with a coldly dominating, and almost aggressive, force. Katherine, though little addicted to fear, felt strangely shaken, strangely alienated by the dead weight of the personality, by perception of the innate and tremendous vigour, of this being to whom she had given birth. She had imagined, specially during the last few months of happy and intimate companionship, that if ever mother knew her child, she knew Richard—through and through. But it appeared she had been mistaken. For here was a new Richard, at once terrible and magnificent, regarding whom she could predicate nothing with certainty. He defied her tenderness, he outpaced her imagination, he paralysed her will. Between his thoughts, desires, intentions, and hers, a blind blank space had suddenly intruded itself, impenetrable to her thought. In person he was here close beside her, in mind he was despairingly far away. And to this last, not only his words, but his manner, his expression, his singular, yet sombre beauty, bore convincing testimony. He had matured with an almost unnatural rapidity, leaving her far behind. In his presence she felt diffident, mentally insecure, even as a child.

She remained standing, holding tightly to the narrow ledge of the mantelpiece. She felt dazed and giddy as in face of some upheaval, some cataclysm, of nature. In relation to her son she was conscious, in truth, that her whole world had suffered shipwreck.

“Where are you going, Dickie?” she asked at last very simply.

“Anywhere and everywhere where amusement, or even the semblance of it, is to be had,” he answered.—“Do you wish to know how long I shall be away? Just precisely as long as amusement in any form offers itself, and as my power of being page: 368 amused remains to me. This strikes you as slightly ignoble? I am afraid that’s a point, my dear mother, upon which I am supremely indifferent. You and I have posed rather extensively on the exalted side of things so far, have strained at gnats and finished up by swallowing a remarkably full‐grown camel. This whole business of my proposed marriage has been anything but graceful, when looked at in the common‐sense way in which most people, of necessity, look at it. Lord Fallowfeild appealed to me against myself—which appeared to me slightly humorous—as one man of the world to another. That was an eye‐opener. It was likewise a profitable lesson. I promptly laid it to heart. And it is exclusively from the point of view of the man of the world that I propose to regard myself, and my circumstances, and my personal peculiarities, in future. So, to begin with, if you please, from this time forth, we put aside all question of marriage in my case. We don’t make any more attempts to buy innocent and well‐bred, young girls, inviting them to condone my obvious disabilities in consideration of my little title and my money.”

Richard ceased to look at Lady Calmady. He looked away through the open window into the serene sky of the summer night, a certain hunger in his expression not altogether pleasant to witness.

“Fortunately ”he continued, with something between a laugh and a sneer, “there is a mighty army of women—always has been—who don’t come under the head of innocent, young girls, though some of them have plenty of breeding of a kind. They attach no superstitious importance to the marriage ceremony. My position and money may obtain me consolations in their direction.”

Lady Calmady ceased to require the cold support of the marble mantelshelf.

“It is unnecessary for us to discuss that subject, at least, Richard,” she said.

The young man turned his head again, looking full at her. And again the distance that divided her from him became, to her, cruelly apparent, while his strength begot in her a shrinking of fear.

“I am sorry,” he replied, “but I can’t agree with you there. It is inevitable that we should differ in the future, and that you should frequently disapprove. I can’t expect you to emancipate yourself from prejudice, as I am already emancipated. I am not sure I even wish that. Still, whatever the future may bring forth, of this, my dear mother, I am determined to make a clean breast page: 369 to‐night, so that you shall never have cause to charge me with lack of frankness or of attempt to deceive you.”

Yet, at the moment, the poor mother’s heart cried out to be deceived, if thereby it might be eased a little of suffering. Then, a nobler spirit prevailing within her, Katherine rallied her fortitude. Better he should be bound to her even by cynical avowal of projected vice, than not bound at all. Listening now, she gained the right—a bitter enough right—to command a measure of his confidence in those still darker days which, as she apprehended, only too certainly lay ahead. So she answered, calmly:—

“Go on, Richard. As you say we may differ in the future. I may disapprove, but I can be silent. You are right. It is better for us both that I should hear.”

And once more the young man was compelled to yield her a grudging admiration. His tone softened somewhat.

“I don’t like to see you stand, mother,” he said. “Our conversation may be prolonged. One never quite knows what may crop up. You will be overtired. And to‐morrow, when I am gone, there will be things to do.”

Lady Calmady drew forward the chair from the end of the writing‐table. Her back was towards the lamp, her face in shadow. Of this she was glad. In a degree it lessened the strain. The sweet, night air, coming in at the open casements, fluttered the lace on her bodice, as with the touch of a light, cool hand. Of this she was glad too. It was refreshing, and she grew increasingly exhausted and physically weak. Richard observed her, not without solicitude.

“I am afraid you are not well, mother,” he said.

But Katherine shook her head, smiling upon him with misty eyes and lips somewhat tremulous.

“I am always well,” she replied. “Only to‐night it has been given me to scale heights and sound opposing depths, and I am a little overcome by perplexity and by surprise. But what does that signify? I shall have plenty of time—too much, probably—in which to rest and range my ideas when—you are gone, my dearest.”

“You must not be here alone.”

“Oh no! People will visit me, no doubt, animated by kindly wishes to lessen my solitude,” she answered, still smiling. Remembrance of Honoria St. Quentin’s letter came to her mind. Could it be that the girl had some inkling of what was in store for her, and that this had inspired the slight over‐warmth of her protestations of affection?—“Honoria would always be ready to come, should I ask her,” she said.

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All solicitude passed from Richard’s expression, all softening from his tone.

“By all means ask her. That would cap the climax, and round the irony of the situation to admiration!”

“Indeed? Why?” Katherine inquired, painfully impressed by the renewed bitterness of his manner.

“If you’re fond of her that is convincingly sufficient. She and I have never been very sympathetic, but that’s a detail. I shall be gone. Therefore pray have her, or anybody else you happen to fancy, so long as you do have someone. You mustn’t be here alone.”

“Julius remains faithful through all chances and changes.”

“But I imagine even Julius has sufficient social sense to perceive that faithfulness may be a little out of place at this juncture. At least I sincerely hope he’ll perceive it, for otherwise he will have to be made to do so—and that will be a nuisance.”

“Dickie, Dickie, what are you implying?” Lady Calmady exclaimed. “By what strange and unlovely thoughts are you possessed to‐night?”

“I am learning to look at things as the average man of the world looks at them, that’s all,” he said. “We have been too refined, you and I, to be self‐critical, with the consequence that we have allowed ourselves a considerable degree of latitude in many directions. Julius’ permanent residence here ranks among the fine‐fanciful disregardings of accepted proprieties with which we have indulged ourselves. But spades are to be called spades in future—at least by me. So, for the very same reason that I go forth, like the average man of the world, to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season, do I object to Julius, or any other man, being your guest during my absence, unless you have some woman of your own position in life living here with you. The levels in social matters have changed, once and for all. I have come to a sane mind and renounced the eccentric subterfuges and paltry hypocrisies, by means of which we have attempted, you and I, to keep disagreeable facts at bay. Truth, bare and unabashable, is the only goddess I worship henceforth.”

He leaned forward, laying his hands upon the arms of his chair. His manner was harsh still. But all coldness had departed from it, rather did a white heat of passion consume him dreadful to witness.

“Yes, it is wisest to repeat that, so that, on your part, there may be no excuse for any shadow of misapprehension. The levels have altered. The old ones can never be restored. I page: 371 want to have you grasp this, mother—swallow it, digest it, so that it passes into fibre and tissue of your every thought about me. For an acutely unscientific, an ingeniously unreasonable, idea obtains widely among respectable, sentimental, so‐called religious persons, regarding those who are the victims of disfiguring accident, or, like myself, are physically disgraced from birth. Because we have been deprived of our natural rights, because we have so abominably little, we are expected to be slavishly grateful for the contemptible pittance that we have. Because, slothfully, by His neglect, or, wantonly, for His amusement, the Creator has tortured us, maiming, distorting us, setting us up as a laughing‐stock before all man and womankind—because He has played a ghastly and brutal practical joke on us, fixing the marks of low comedy in our living flesh and bone—therefore we, forsooth, are to be more pious, more clean‐living, temperate, and discreet than the rest—to bow amiably beneath the cross, gratefully to kiss the rod! Those irregularities of conduct which are smiled at, and taken for granted, in a man made after the normal, comely fashion, become a scandal in the case of a poor, unhappy devil like me, at which good people hold up their hands in horror. Faugh!—I tell you I’m sick of such cowardly cant. A pretty example the Almighty’s set me of justice and mercy! Handsome encouragement He has given me to be virtuous and sober! Much I have for which to praise His holy name! Arbitrarily, without excuse, or faintest show of antecedent reason, He has elected to curse. And the curse will cling forever and ever, till they lay me in a coffin nearly half as short again as that of any other man, and leave the hideousness of my deformity to be obliterated and purged at last—eaten away by the worms in the dark.”

Richard stretched out his hands, palms upward.

“And in return for all this shall I bless? No, indeed—no, thank you. Not even towards God Almighty Himself will I play the part of lick‐spittle and sycophant. I have fine enough stuff in me, let alone the energy begotten by the flagrance of His injustice, to take higher grounds with Him than that. I will break what men hold to be His laws, wherever and whenever I can—I will make hay of His so‐called natural and moral order, just as often as I get the chance. I will curse, and again curse, back.”

The speaker’s voice was deep and resonant, filling the whole room. His utterance deliberate and unshaken. His face dark with the malign beauty of implacable hatred. Hearing him, seeing him thus, Katherine Calmady’s fortitude forsook her. She page: 372 ceased to distinguish or discriminate. Nature gave way. She knelt upon the floor before him, her hands clasped, tears coursing down her cheeks. But of her attitude and aspect she was unconscious.

“Oh, Richard, Richard,” she cried, “forgive me! Curse me, my dearest, throw all the blame on me, my dearest—I accept it—not on God. Only try, try to forgive! Forgive me for being your mother. Forgive me that I ever loved and married. Forgive me the intolerable wrong which, all unknowingly, I did you before your birth. I humble myself before you, and with reason. For I am the cause; I, who would give my life for your happiness, my blood for your healing, a thousand times. But through all these years I have done my poor best to serve you and to make up. The hypocrisies and subterfuges which you lash so scornfully—and rightly perhaps—were the fruit of my overcare for you. Rail at me. I deserve it. Perhaps I have been faithless, but only once or twice, and for a moment. I was faithless towards you here, in the garden to‐night. But then I supposed you content. Ah! I hardly know what I say!—Only rail at me, my beloved, not at God. And then try—try not to leave me in anger. Try, before you go, to forgive!”

Richard had sunk back in his chair, his hands clasped behind his head, watching her. It gave him the strangest sensation to see his mother kneeling before him thus. At first it shocked him almost to the point of heated protest, as against a thing unpermissible and indecorous. Then, the devils of wounded pride, of anarchy, and of revolt asserting themselves, he began to relish, to be appeased by, the unseemly sight. Little Lady Constance Quayle, and all that of which she was the symbol, had disappointed and escaped him. But here was a woman, worth a dozen Constance Quayles, in beauty, in intellect, and in heart, prostrate before him, imploring his clemency as the penitent implores the absolution of the priest! An evil gladness took him that he had power thus to subjugate so regal a creature. His gluttony of inflicting pain—since he himself suffered—his gluttony of exercising dominion—since he himself had been defied and defrauded—was in a degree satisfied. His arrogance was at once reinforced and assuaged.

“It is absurd to speak of forgiveness,” he said presently, and slowly, “as it is absurd to speak of restitution. These are mere words, having no real tally in fact. We appear to have volition, but actually and essentially we are as leaves driven by the wind. Where it blindly drives, there we blindly go. So it has been from the beginning. So it always will be. In the last twenty‐ page: 373 four hours there are many things I have ceased to believe in, and among them, my dear mother, is human responsibility.”

He paused, and motioned Lady Calmady towards her chair with a certain authority.

“Therefore calm yourself,” he said. “Grieve as little as may be about all this matter, and let us talk it over without further emotion.”

He waited a brief space, giving her time to recover her composure, and then continued coldly, with a careful abstention from any show of feeling.

“Let us clear our minds of cant, and go forward knowing that there is really neither good nor evil. For these—even as God Himself, whose existence I treated from the anthropomorphic standpoint just now, so as to supply myself with a target to shoot at, a windmill at which to tilt, a row of ninepins set up for the mere satisfaction of knocking them down again‐these are plausible delusions invented by man, in the vain effort to protect himself and his fellows from the profound sense of loneliness, and impotence, which seizes on him if he catches so much as a passing glimpse of the gross comedy of human aspiration, human affection, briefly human existence.”

But, strive as he might, excitement gained on Richard once more, for young blood is hot and gallops masterfully along the veins, specially under the whip of real or imagined disgrace. He sat upright, grasping the arms of his chair, and looking, not at his mother, but away into the deep of the summer night.

“Perhaps my personal peculiarities confer on me unusually acute perception of the inherent grossness of the human comedy. I propose to take the lesson to heart. They teach me not to sacrifice the present to the future; but to fling away ideals like so much waste paper, and just take that which I can immediately get. They tell me to limit my horizon, and go the common way of common, coarse‐grained, sensual man—in as far as that way is possible to me—and be of this world worldly. And so, mother, I want you to understand that from this day forth I turn over a new leaf, not only in thought, but in conduct. I am going to have just all that my money and position, and even this vile deformity—for, by God, I’ll use that too—what people won’t give for love they’ll give for curiosity—can bring me of pleasure and notoriety. I am going to lay hold of life with these rather horribly strong arms of mine”—he looked across at Lady Calmady with a sneering smile.—“Strong?” he repeated, “strong as a young bull‐ape’s. I mean to tear the very vitals out of living; to tear knowledge, excitement, intoxication, out of it, page: 374 making them, by right of conquest, my own. I will compel existence to yield me all that it yields other men, and more—because my senses are finer, my acquaintance with sorrow more intimate, my quarrel with fortune more vital and more just. As I cannot have a wife, I’ll have mistresses. As I cannot have honest love, I’ll have gratified lust. I am not stupid. I shall not follow the beaten track. My imagination has been stimulated into rather dangerous activity by the pre‐natal insult put upon me. And now that I have emancipated myself, I propose to apply my imagination practically.”

The young man flung himself back in his chair again.

“There ought to be startling results,” he said, with gloomy exultation. “Don’t you think so, mother? There should be startling results.”

Lady Calmady bowed herself together, putting her hands over her eyes. Then raising her head, she managed to smile at him, though very sadly, her sweet face drawn by exhaustion and marred by lately shed tears.

“Ah yes, my dearest,” she answered, “no doubt the results will be startling; but whether any sensible increase of happiness, either to yourself or others, will be counted among them is open to question.”

Richard laughed bitterly.—“ I shall have lived, anyhow,” he rejoined. “Worn out, not rusted and rotted out—which, according to our former fine‐fanciful programme, seemed the only probable consummation of my unlucky existence.”

His tone changed, becoming quietly businesslike and indifferent.

“I am entering horses for some of the French events, and I go through to Paris to‐morrow to see various men there and make the necessary arrangements. I shall take Chifney with me for a few days. But the stables will not give you any trouble. He will have given all the orders.”

“Very well,” Katherine said mechanically.

“Later I shall go on to Baden‐Baden.”

Katherine rallied somewhat.

“Helen de Vallorbes is there,” she said, not without a trace of her former pride.

“Certainly Helen de Vallorbes is there,” he answered. “That is why I go. I want to see her. It is inconsistent, I admit, for Helen remains the one person gloriously untouched by the wreck of the former order of things. Pray let there be no misconception on that point. She belonged to the ideal order, she belongs to it still.”

page: 375

“Ah, my dear, my dear!” Katherine almost cried. His perversity hurt her a little too much so that the small, upspringing flame of decent pride was quenched.

“Yes,” he went on, “there was my initial, my cardinal, mistake. For I was a traitor to all that was noblest and best in me, when I persuaded myself, and weakly permitted you to persuade me, that a loveless marriage is better than a love in which marriage is impossible,—that Lady Constance Quayle, poor little soul, bought, paid for, and my admitted property, could fill Helen’s place,—though Helen was—and I intend her to remain so, for I care for her enough to hold her honour as sacred as I do your own—for ever inaccessible.”

Lady Calmady staggered to her feet.

“That is enough, Richard,” she said. “That is enough. If you have more to say, in pity leave it until to‐morrow.”

The young man looked at her strangely.

“You are ill, mother,” he said.

“No, no, I am only broken‐hearted,” she replied. “And a broken heart, alas! never killed so healthy a body as mine. I shall survive this—and more perhaps. God knows. Do not vex yourself about me, Dickie.—Go, live your life as it seems fit to you. I have not the will, even had I the right, to restrain you. And meanwhile I will be the steward of your goods, as, long ago, when you were a child and belonged to me wholly. You can trust me to be faithful and discreet, at least in financial and practical matters. If you ever need me, I will come even to the ends of the earth. And should the desire take you to return, here you will find me.—And so, good‐bye, my darling. I am foolishly tired. I grow light‐headed, and dare not linger, lest in my weakness I say that which I afterwards regret.”

She passed to the door and went out, without looking back.

Left to himself Richard Calmady crossed to the writing‐table, swung himself up into the revolving chair, and remained there sorting and docketing papers far into the night. But once, stooping, with long‐armed adroitness, to unlock the lowest drawer of the table, a madness of disgust towards the unsightliness of his own person seized on and tore him.

“O God, God, God!” he cried aloud, in the extremity of his passion, “why hast Thou made me thus?”

And to that question, as yet, there was no answer, though it rang afar over the sleeping park, and up to the clear shining stars of the profound and peaceful summer night.

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