Skip to Content
Indiana University

Search Options




View Options


The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
previous
next
page: 529

CHAPTER V

TELLING HOW DICKIE CAME TO UNTIE A CERTAIN TAG OF RUSTY, BLACK RIBBON

YET, as those grey, midwinter weeks went on to Christmas, and the coming of the New Year, it became undeniable there was that in the aspect of affairs at Brockhurst which might very well provoke curious comment. For the rigour of Richard Calmady’s self‐imposed seclusion, to which Miss St. Quentin had made allusion in her conversation with Dr. Knott, was not relaxed. Rather, indeed, did it threaten to pass from the accident of a first return, after long absence and illness, into a matter of fixed and accepted habit. For those years of lonely wandering and spasmodic rage of living, finding their climax in deepening disappointment, disillusion, and the shock of rudely inflicted insult and disgrace, had produced in Richard a profound sense of alienation from society and from the amenities of ordinary intercourse. Since he was apparently doomed to survive, he would go home; but go home very much as some trapped or wounded beast crawls back to hide in its lair. He was master in his own house, at least, and safe from intrusion there. The place offered the silent sympathy of things familiar, and therefore, in a sense, uncritical. It is restful to look on that upon which one has already looked a thousand times. And so, after his reconciliation with his mother, followed, in natural sequence, his reconciliation with Brockhurst. Here he would see only those who loved him well enough—in their several stations and degrees—to respect his humour, to ask no questions, to leave him to himself. Richard was gentle in manner at this period, courteous, humorous even. But a great discouragement was upon him. It seemed as though some string had snapped, leaving half his nature broken, unresponsive, and dumb. He had no ambitions, no desire of activities. Sport and business were as little to his mind as society.

More than this.—At first the excuse of fatigue had served him, but very soon it came to be a tacitly admitted fact that Richard did not leave the house. Surely it was large enough, he said, to afford space for all the exercise he needed? Refusing to occupy page: 530 his old suite of rooms on the ground‐floor, he had sent orders, before his arrival, that the smaller library, adjoining the Long Gallery, should be converted into a bed‐chamber for him. It had been Richard’s practice, when on board ship, to steady his uncertain footsteps, on the slippery or slanting plane of the deck, by the use of crutches. And this practice he in great measure retained. It increased his poor powers of locomotion. It rendered him more independent. Sometimes, when secure that Lady Calmady would not receive visitors, he would make his way by the large library, the state drawing‐room, and stair‐head, to the Chapel‐Room and sit with her there. But more often his days were spent exclusively in the Long Gallery. He had brought home many curious and beautiful objects from his wanderings. He would add these to the existing collection. He would examine the books too, procure such volumes as were needed to complete any imperfect series; and, in the departments of science, literature, and travel, bring the library up to date. He would devote his leisure to the study of various subjects—specially natural science—regarding which he was conscious of a knowledge deficient, or merely empirical.

“I really am perfectly contented, mother,” he said to Lady Calmady more than once. “Look at the length and breadth of the gallery! It is as a city of magnificent distances, after the deck of the dear, old yacht and my twelve‐foot cabin. And I’m not a man calculated to occupy so very much space after all. Let me potter about here with my books and my bibelots. Don’t worry about me, I shall keep quite well, I promise you. Let me hybernate peacefully until the spring, anyhow. I have plenty of occupation. Julius is going to amend the library catalogue with me, and there are those chests of deeds, and order‐books, and diaries, which really ought to be looked over. As it appears pretty certain I shall be the last of the family, it would be only civil, I think, to bestow a little of my ample leisure upon my forefathers, and set down some more or less comprehensive account of them and their doings. They appear to have been given to rather dramatic adventures.—Don’t you worry, you dear sweet! As I say, let me hybernate until the birds of passage come and the young leaves are green in the spring. Then, when the days grow long and bright, the sea will begin to call again, and, when it calls you and I will pack and go.”

And Katherine yielded, being convinced that Richard could treat his own case best. If healing, complete and radical, was to be effected, it must come from within and not from without. page: 531 Her wisdom was to wait in faith. There was much that had never been told, and never would be told. Much which had not been explained, and never would be explained. For, notwithstanding the very gracious relation existing between herself and Richard, Katherine realised that there were blank spaces not only in her knowledge of his past action, but in her knowledge of the sentiments which now animated him. As from a far country his mind, she perceived, often travelled to meet hers. “There was a door to which she found no key;” but Katherine, happily, could respect the individuality even of her best beloved. Unlike the majority of her sex she was incapable of intrusion, and did not make affection an excuse for familiarity. Love, in her opinion, enjoins obligations of service, rather than confers rights of examination and direction. She had learned the condition in which his servants had found Richard, in the opera box of the great theatre at Naples, lying upon the floor, unconscious, his face disfigured, cut, and bleeding. But what had produced this condition, whether accident or act of violence, she had not learned. She had also learned that her niece, Helen de Vallorbes, had stayed at the villa just before the commencement of Richard’s illness—he merely passing his days there, and spending his nights on board the yacht in the harbour, where, no doubt, that same illness had been contracted. But she resisted the inclination to attempt further discovery. She even resisted the inclination to speculate regarding all this. What Richard might elect to tell her, that, and that only, would she know, lest, seeking further, bitter and vindictive thoughts should arise in her and mar the calm, pathetic sweetness of the present and her deep, abiding joy in the recovery of her so‐long‐lost delight. She refused to go behind the fact—the glad fact that Richard once more was with her, that her eyes beheld him, her ears heard his voice, her hands met his. Every little act of thoughtful care, every pretty word of half‐playful affection, confirmed her thankfulness and made the present blest. Even this somewhat morbid tendency of his to shut himself away from the observation of all acquaintance, conferred on her such sweetly exclusive rights of intercourse that she could not greatly quarrel with his secluded way of life. As to the business of the estate and household, this had become so much a matter of course to her that it caused her but small labour. If she could deal with it when Richard was estranged and far away, very surely she could deal with it now, when she had but to open the door of that vast, silvery‐tinted, pensively fragrant, many‐windowed room, and entering, among its many strange and costly treasures, find him—a treasure as strange, and page: 532 if counted by her past suffering, as costly, as ever ravished and tortured a woman’s heart.

And so it came about that, to such few friends as she received, Katherine could show a serene countenance. Shortly before Christmas, Miss St. Quentin came to Brockhurst; and coming stayed, adapting herself with ready tact to the altered conditions of life there. Katherine found not only pleasure, but support, in the younger woman’s presence, in her devoted yet unexacting affection, in her practical ability, and in the sight of so graceful a creature going to and fro. She installed her guest in the Gun‐Room suite. And, by insensible degrees, permitted Honoria to return to many of her former avocations in connection with the estate; so that the young lady took over much of the outdoor business, riding forth almost daily, by herself or in company with Julius March, to superintend matters of building or repairing, of road‐mending, hedging, copsing, or forestry; and not infrequently cheering Chifney—a somewhat sour‐minded man just now and prickly‐tempered, since Richard asked no word of him or of his horses—by visits to the racing‐stables.

“I had better step down and have a crack with the poor old dear, Cousin Katherine,” she would say, “or those unlucky little wretches of boys will catch it double tides, which really is rather superfluous.”

And all the while, amid her very varied interests and occupations, remembrance of that hidden, twilight life, going forward upstairs in the well‐known rooms which she now never entered, came to Honoria as some perpetually recurrent and mournful harmony, in an otherwise not ungladsome piece of music, might have come. It exercised a certain dominion over her mind; so that Richard Calmady, though never actually seen by her, was never wholly absent from her thought. All the orderly routine of the great house, all the day’s work and the sentiment of it, was subtly influenced by awareness of the actuality of his invisible presence. And this affected her strongly, causing her hours of repulsion and annoyance, and again hours of abounding, if reluctant pity, when the unnatural situation of this man—young as herself, endowed with a fine intelligence, an aptitude for affairs, the craving for amusement common to his age and class—and the pathos inherent in that situation, haunted her imagination. His self‐inflicted imprisonment appeared a reflection upon, in a sense a reproach to, her own freedom of soul and pleasant liberty of movement. And this troubled her. It touched her pride somehow. It produced page: 533 in her a false conscience, as though she were guilty of an unkindness, a lack of considerateness and perfect delicacy.

“Whether he behaves well or ill, whether he is good or bad, Richard Calmady invariably takes up altogether too much room,” she would tell herself half angrily—to find herself within half an hour, under plea of usefulness to his mother, warmly interested in some practical matter from which Richard Calmady would derive, at least indirectly, distinct advantage and benefit!

This, then, was the state of affairs one Saturday afternoon late in February. With poor Dickie himself the day had been marked by superabundant discouragement. He was well in body. The restfulness of one quiet, uneventful week following another had steadied his nerves, repaired the waste of fever, and restored his physical strength. But along with this return of health had come a growing necessity to lay hold of some idea, to discover some basis of thought, some incentive to action, which should make life less purposeless and unprofitable. Richard, in short, was beginning to generate more energy than he could place. The old order had passed away, and no new order had, as yet, effectively disclosed itself. He had not formulated all this, or even consciously recognised the modification of his own attitude. Nevertheless he felt the gnawing ache of inward emptiness. It effectually broke up the torpor which had held him. It made him very restless. It re‐awoke in him an inclination to speculation and experiment.

Snow had fallen during the earlier hours of the day, and, the surface of the ground being frost‐bound, it, though by no means deep, remained unmelted. The whiteness of it, given back by the ceiling and pale panelling of walls of the Long Gallery, notwithstanding the generous fires burning in the two ornate, high‐ranging chimney‐places, produced, as the day waned, an effect of rather stark cheerlessness in the great room. This was at once in unison with Richard’s somewhat bleak humour, and calculated to increase the famine of it.

All day long he had tried to stifle the cry of that same famine, that same hunger of unplaced energy, by industrious work. He had examined, noted, here and there transcribed, passages from deeds, letters, order‐books, and diaries offering first‐hand information regarding former generations of Calmadys. It happened that studies he had recently made in contemporary science, specially in obtaining theories of biology, had brought home to him what tremendous factors in the development and fate of the individual are both evolution and heredity. At first idly, and as a mere pastime, then with increasing eagerness—in the vague page: 534 hope his researches might throw light on matters of moment to himself and of personal application—he had tried to trace out tastes and strains of tendency common to his ancestors. But under this head he had failed to make any very notable discoveries. For these courtiers, soldiers, and sportsmen were united merely by the obvious characteristics of a high‐spirited, free‐living race. They were raised above the average of the country gentry, perhaps, by a greater appreciation than is altogether common of literature and art. But, as Richard soon perceived, it was less any persistent peculiarity of mental and physical constitution, than a similarity of outward event which united them. The perpetually repeated chronicle of violence and accident which he read, in connection with his people, intrigued his reason, and called for explanation. Is it possible, he began to ask himself, that a certain heredity in incident, in external happening, may not cling to a race? That these may not by some strange process be transmissible, as are traits of character, temperament, of stature, colouring, feature, or face? And if this—as matter of speculation merely—is the case, must there not exist some antecedent cause to which could be referred such persistent effect? Might not an hereditary fate in external events take its rise in some supreme moral or spiritual catastrophe, some violation of law? The Greek dramatists held it was so. The writers of the Old Testament held it was so, too.

Sitting at the low writing‐table, near the blazing fire, that stark whiteness reflected from off the snow‐covered land all around him, Richard debated this point with himself. He admitted the theory was not scientific, according to the reasoning of modern physical science. It approached an outlook theological rather than rationalistic; yet he could not deny the conception, admission. The vision of a doomed family arose before him—starting in each successive generation with brilliant prospects and high hope, only to find speedy extinction in some more or less brutal form of death; a race dwindling, moreover, in numbers as the years passed, until it found representation in a single individual, and that individual maimed and incomplete! Heredity of accident, heredity of disaster, finding final expression in himself—this confronted Richard. He had reckoned himself, heretofore, a solitary example of ill‐fortune. But, mastering the contents of these records, he found himself far from solitary. He merely participated, though under a novel form, in the unlucky fate of all the men of his race. And then arose the question—to him, under existing circumstances, of vital importance—what stood behind all that—blind chance, cynical indifference, wanton page: 535 and arbitrary cruelty, or some august, far‐reaching necessity of, as yet, unsatisfied justice?

Richard pushed the crackling, stiffly‐folded parchments, the letters frayed and yellow with age, the broken‐backed, discoloured diaries and order‐books, away from him, and sat, his elbows on the table, his forehead in his hands, thinking. And the travail of his spirit was great, as it needs must be, at times, with every human being who dares live at first, not merely at second hand—who dares attempt a real, and not merely a nominal assent—who dares deal with earthly existence, the amazing problems and complexities of it, immediately, refusing to accept—with indolent timidity—tradition, custom, hearsay, convenience, as his guides.—Oh! for some sure answering, some unimpeachable assurance, some revelation not relative and symbolic, but absolute; some declaration above all suspicion of cunningly‐devised opportunism, concerning the dealings of the unknown force man calls God, with the animal man calls man!—And then Richard turned upon himself contemptuously. For it was childish to cry out thus. The heavens were dumb above him as the snow‐bound earth was dumb beneath. There was no sign. Never had been. Never would be, save in the fond imaginations of religious enthusiasts, crazed by superstition, by austerities and hysteria, duped by ignorance, by hypocrites and quacks.

With long‐armed adroitness he reached down and picked up those light‐made, stunted crutches, slipped from his chair and adjusted them. For a long while he had used them as a matter of course without criticism or thought. But now they produced in him a swift disgust. His hands, grasping the lowest crossbar of them, were in such disproportionate proximity to the floor! For the moment he was disposed to fling them aside. Then again he turned upon himself with scathing contempt. For this too was childish. What did the use of them matter, since, used or not, the fact of his crippled condition remained? And so, with a renewal of bitterness and active rebellion, lately unknown to him, he moved away down the great room—past bronze athlete and marble goddess, past oriental jars, tall as himself, uplifted on the squat, carven, ebony stands, past strangely‐painted, half‐fearful, lacquer cabinets, past porcelain bowls filled with faint sweetness of dried rose leaves, bay, lavender, and spice, past trophies of savage warfare and, hardly less savage, civilised sport, towards the wide mullion‐window of the eastern bay. But just before reaching it, he came opposite to a picture by Velasquez, set on an easel across the corner of the room. It represented a hideous and mis‐shapen dwarf, holding a couple page: 536 of graceful greyhounds in a leash—an unhappy creature who had made sport for the household of some Castilian grandee, and whose gorgeous garments, of scarlet and gold, were ingeniously designed so as to accentuate the physical degradation of its contorted person. Richard had come, of late, to take a sombre pleasure in the contemplation of this picture. The desolate eyes, looking out of the marred and brutal face, met his own with a certain claim of kinship. There existed a tragic free‐masonry between himself and this outcasted being, begotten of a common knowledge, and common experience. As a boy Richard hated this picture, studiously avoided the sight of it. It had suggested comparisons which wounded his self‐respect too shrewdly and endangered his self‐security. He hated it no longer, finding grim solace, indeed, in its sad society.

And it was thus, in silent parley with this rather dreadful companion, as the blear February twilight descended upon the bare, black trees and snow‐clad land without, and upon the very miscellaneous furnishings of the many‐windowed gallery within, that Julius March now discovered Richard Calmady. He had returned, across the park, from one of the ancient brick‐and‐timber cottages just without the last park gate, at the end of Sandyfield Church‐lane. A labourer’s wife was dying, painfully enough, of cancer; and he had administered the Blessed Sacrament to her, there, in her humble bed‐chamber. The august promises and adorable consolations of that mysterious rite remained very sensibly present to him on his homeward way. His spirit was uplifted by the confirmation of the divine compassion therein perpetually renewed, perpetually made evident. And, it followed, that to come now upon Richard Calmady alone, here, in the stark, unnatural pallor of the winter dusk, holding silent communion with that long‐ago victim of merciless practices and depraved tastes, not only caused him a painful shock, but also moved him with fervid desire to offer comfort and render help. Yet, what to say, how to approach Richard without risk of seeming officiousness and consequent offence, he could not tell. The young man’s experiences and his own were so conspicuously far apart. For a moment he stood uncertain and silent, then he said:—

“That picture always fills me with self‐reproach.”

Richard looked round with a certain lofty courtesy by no means encouraging. And, as he did so, Julius March was conscious of receiving yet another, and not less painful, impression. For Richard’s face was very still, not with the stillness of repose, but with that of fierce emotion held resolutely in check, page: 537 while in his eyes was a desolation rivalling that of the eyes portrayed by the great Spanish artist upon the canvas close at hand.

“When I first came to Brockhurst, that picture used to hang in the study,” he continued, by way of explanation.

“Ah! I see, and you turned it out!” Richard observed, not without an inflection of scorn.

“Yes. In those days I am afraid I did not discriminate very justly between refinement of taste and self‐indulgent fastidiousness. While pluming myself upon an exalted standard of sensibility and sentiment, I rather basely spared myself acquaintance with that, both in nature and in art, which might cause me distress or disturbance of thought. I was a mental valetudinarian, in. short. I am ashamed of my defect of moral courage and charity in relation to that picture.”

Richard shifted his position slightly, looked fixedly at the canvas and then down at his own hands in such disproportionate proximity to the floor.

“Oh! you were not to blame,” he said. “It is obviously a thing to laugh at, or run from, unless you happen to have received a peculiar mental and physical training. Anyhow, the poor devil has found his way home now and come into port safely enough, at last!”

He glanced back at the picture, over his shoulder, as he moved across the room.

“Perhaps he’s even found a trifle of genuine sympathy—so don’t vex your righteous soul over your repudiation of him, my dear Julius. The lapses of the virtuous may make, indirectly, for good. And your instinct, after all, was both the healthy and the artistic one. Velasquez ought to have been incapable of putting his talent to such vile uses; and the first comer, with a spark of true philanthropy in him, ought to have knocked that poor little monstrosity on the head.”

Richard came to the writing‐table, glanced at the papers which encumbered it, made for an arm‐chair drawn up beside the fire.

“Sit down, Julius,” he said. “There is something quite else about which I want to speak to you.—I have been working through all these documents, and they give rise to speculations neither strictly scientific nor strictly orthodox, yet interesting all the same. You are a dealer in ethical problems. I wonder if you can offer any solution of this one, of which the basis conceivably is ethical. As to these various owners of Brockhurst—Sir Denzil, the builder of the house, is a delightful person, and appears page: 538 to have prospered mightily in his undertakings, as so liberal‐minded and ingenious a gentleman had every right to prosper. But after him—from the time, at least, of his grandson, Thomas—everything—seems to have gone to rather howling grief here. We have nothing but battle, murder, and sudden death. These become positively monotonous in the pertinacity of their repetition. Of course one may argue that adventurous persons expose themselves to an uncommon number of dangers, and consequently pay an uncommon number of forfeits. I daresay that is the reasonable explanation. Only the persistence of the thing gets hold of one rather. The manner of their dying is very varied, yet there are two constant quantities in each successive narrative, namely violence and comparative youth.”

Richard’s speech had become rapid and imperative. Now he paused.

“Think of my father’s death, for instance,” he said.

His narrow, black figure crouched together, Julius March knelt on one knee before the fire. He held his thin hands outspread, so as to keep the glow of the burning logs from his face. He was deeply moved, debating a certain matter with himself.

“To all questions supremely worth having answered, there is no answer—I take that for granted,” the young man continued. “And yet one is so made that it is impossible not to go on asking. I can’t help wanting to get at the root of this queer recurrence of accident, and all the rest of it, which clings to my people. I can’t help wanting to make out whether there was any psychological moment which determined the future, and started them definitely on the down‐grade. What happened—that’s what I want to arrive at—what happened at that moment? Had it any reasonable and legitimate connection with all which has followed?”

As he held them out‐spread, between his face and the glowing fire, Julius March’s hands trembled. He found himself confronted by a situation which he had long foreseen, long and earnestly prayed to avoid. The responsibility was so great of either giving or withholding the answer, as he knew it, to that question of Dickie’s. A way of rendering possible help opened before him. But it was a way beset with difficulties, a way at once fantastic and coarsely realistic, a way along which the sublime and the ridiculous jostled each other with somewhat undignified closeness of association, a way demanding childlike faith, not to say childish credulity, coupled with a great fearlessness and self‐abnegation before ever a man’s steps could be profitably set in it. If presented to Richard, would he not turn angrily from it as page: 539 an insult offered to his intellect and his breeding alike? Indeed, the hope of effecting good showed very thin. The danger of provoking evil bulked very big. What was his duty? He suffered an agony of indecision. And again with a slight inflection of mockery in his tone, Richard spoke.

“All blind chance, Julius? I declare I get a little weary of this Deity of yours. He neglects His business so flagrantly. He really is rather scandalously much of an absentee. And He would be so welcome if He would condescend to deal a trifle more openly with one, and satisfy one’s intelligence and moral sense. If, for instance, He would afford me some information regarding this same psychological moment which I need so badly just now as a peg to hang a theory of causality upon. I am ambitious—as much in the interests of His reputation as in those of my own curiosity—to get at the logic of the affair, to get at the why and wherefore of it, and lay my finger on the spot where differentiation sets in.”

Julius March stood upright. Richard’s scorn hurt him. It also terminated his indecision. For a little space he looked out into the stark whiteness of the snowy dusk, and then down at the young man, leaning back in the low chair, there close before him. To Julius’ short‐sighted eyes, in the uncertain light, Dickie’s face bore compelling resemblance to Lady Calmady’s. This touched him with the memory of much, and he went back on the thought of the divine compassion, perpetually renewed, perpetually made evident in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. Man may rail, yet God is strong and faithful to bless. Perhaps that way was neither too fantastic, nor too humble, after all, for Richard to walk in.

“Has no knowledge of the received legend about this subject ever reached you?”

“No—never—not a word.”

“I became acquainted with it accidentally, long ago, before your birth. It is inadmissible, according to modern canons of thought, as such legends usually are. And events, subsequent to my acquaintance with it, conferred on it so singular and painful a significance that I kept my knowledge to myself. Perhaps when you grew up I ought to have put you in possession of the facts. They touch you very nearly.”

Richard raised his eyebrows.

“Indeed,” he said coldly.

“But a fitting opportunity—at least, so I judged, being, I own, backward and reluctant in the matter—never presented itself. In this, as in much else, I fear I have betrayed my trust page: 540 and proved an unprofitable servant—if so may God forgive me.”

“It would have gone hard with Brockhurst without you, Julius,” Richard said, a sudden softening in his tone.

“I will bring you the documents the last thing to‐night, when—your mother has left you. They are best read, perhaps, in silence and alone.”

previous
next