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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
page: 565



IT was still very sultry. All the windows of the red drawing‐room stood wide open. Outside the thunder rain fell, straight as ram‐rods, in big globular drops, which spattered upon the grey quarries and splashed on the pink and lilac, lemon‐yellow, scarlet and orange of the pot plants,—hydrangeas, pelargoniums, and early‐flowering chrysanthemums,—set three‐deep along the base of the house wall, the whole length of the terrace front. The atmosphere was thick. Masses of purple cloud, lurid light crowning their summits, boiled up out of the south‐east. But the worst of the storm was already over, and the parched land, grateful for the downpour of rain, exhaled a whiteness of smoke—as in thanksgiving from off some altar of incense. On the grass slopes of the near park a flight of rooks had alighted. They stalked and strode over the withered turf with a self‐important, quaintly clerical air, seeking provender, but, so far, finding none, since the moisture had not yet sufficiently penetrated the hardened soil for earth‐worms and kindred creeping‐things to move surfacewards.

Within, the red drawing‐room had suffered conspicuous change. For, on Richard moving downstairs to his old quarters in the south‐western wing of the house, Lady Calmady had judged it an act of love, rather than of desecration, to restore this long‐disused apartment to its former employment. Adjoining the dining‐room—connecting this last with the billiard‐ page: 566 room, summer‐parlour, and garden‐hall—this room was convenient to assemble in before, and sit in for a while after, meals. Richard would thereby be saved superfluous journeys upstairs. And this act of restitution, which was also in a sense an act of penitence, once decided upon, Katherine carried it forward with a certain gentle ardour, renewing crimson carpets and hangings and disposing the furniture according to its long‐ago positions. The memory of what had once been should remain forever here enshrined, but with the glad colours of life, not the faded ones of unforgiven death upon it. It satisfied her conscience to do this. For it appeared to her that so very much of good had been granted her of late, so large a measure of peace and hope vouchsafed to her, that it was but fitting she should bear testimony to her awareness of all that by obliteration of the last outward sign of the rebellion of her sorrowful youth. The Richard of to‐day, homestaying, busy with much kindness, thoughtful of her comfort, honouring her with delicate courtesies—which to whoso receives them makes her womanhood a privilege rather than a burden—yet teasing her not a little, too, in the security of a fair and equal affection, bore such moving resemblance to that other Richard, first master of her heart, that Katherine could afford to cancel the cruelty of certain memories, retaining only the lovelier portion of them, and could find a peculiar sweetness in frequentation of this room, formerly devoted wholly to sense of injury and blackness of hate.

And on the day in question, Katherine’s presence exhaled a specially tender brightness, even as the thirsty earth, refreshed by the thunder‐rain, sent up a rare whiteness as of incense smoke. For she had been somewhat anxious about Dickie lately. To her sensitive observation of him, his virtue, his evenness of temper, his reasonableness, had come to have in them a pathetic element. He was lovely and pleasant in his ways. But sometimes, when tired or off his guard, she had surprised an expression on his face, a constrained patience of speech, even of attitude, which made her fear he had given her but that half of his confidence calculated to cheer, while he kept the half calculated to sadden rather rigorously to himself. And, in good truth, Richard did suffer not a little at this period. The first push of enthusiastic conviction had passed, while his new manner of conduct and of thought had not yet acquired the stability of habit. The tide was low. Shallows and sand‐bars disclosed themselves. He endured the temptations arising from the state known to saintly writers as “spiritual dryness,” and found those temptations of an inglorious and wholly unheroic sort. And, though he held his page: 567 peace, Katherine feared for him—feared that the way he elected to walk in was over strait, and that, though resolution would hold, health might be overstrained.

“My darling, you never grumble now,” she had said to him a few days back.

To which he answered:—

“Poor, dear mother, have I cheated you of one of your few, small pleasures? Was it so very delightful to listen to that same grumbling?”

“I begin to believe it was,” Katherine declared. “It conferred a unique distinction upon me, you see, because I had a comfortable conviction you grumbled to nobody else. One is jealous of distinction. Yes—I think I miss it, Dickie.”

Whereupon he laughed and kissed her, and swore he’d grumble fast enough if there was anything—which positively there wasn’t—to grumble about. All of which, though it charmed Katherine, appeased her anxiety but moderately. The young man worked too hard. His opportunities of amusement were too scant. Katherine cast about in thought, and in prayer, for some lightening of his daily life, even if such lightening should lessen the completeness of his dependence upon herself. And it was just at this juncture that Miss St. Quentin wrote proposing to come to Brockhurst for a week. She had not been there since the Whitsuntide recess. She wrote from Ormiston, where she was staying on her way south, after paying a round of country‐house visits in Scotland. It was now September. She would probably go to Cairo for the winter with young Lady Tobermory—grand‐niece by marriage of her late god‐mother and benefactress—whose lungs were pronounced to be badly touched. Might she, therefore, come to Brockhurst to say good‐bye?

And to this proposed visit Richard offered no opposition, though he received the announcement of it without any marked demonstration of approval.—Oh, by all means let her come! Of course it must be a pleasure to his mother to have her. And he’d got on very well with her in the spring—unquestionably he had.—Richard’s expression was slightly ironical.—But he did really like her?—Oh dear, yes, he liked her exceedingly. She was quite curiously clever, and she was sincere, and she was rather beautiful too, in her own style—he had always thought that. By all means have her.—After which conversation Richard went for a long ride, inspected cottages in building at Sandyfield, and visited a house, undergoing extensive internal alterations, which stands back from Clerke’s Green, about a hundred yards short of Appleyard, the saddler’s shop at Farley Row. He came in late. Unusual page: 568 silence held him during dinner. And Lady Calmady took herself to task, reproaching herself with selfishness. Honoria was very dear to her, and so, only too probably, she had overrated the friendliness of Dickie’s attitude towards the young lady. But they had seemed to get on so extremely well in the spring, and very fairly well at Whitsuntide! Yet, perhaps, in that, as in so much else, Richard put a constraint upon himself, obeying conscience rather than inclination. Katherine was perturbed. Nor had her perturbations suffered diminution yesterday, upon Miss St. Quentin’s arrival. Richard remained unexpansive. Today, however, matters had improved. Something—possibly the thunderstorm—seemed to have thawed his coldness, broken up his reticence of manner. Therefore Katherine gave thanks and moved with a lighter heart.

As for Miss St. Quentin herself, an innate gladsomeness pervaded her aspect not easy to resist. Lady Calmady had been sensible of it when the young lady first greeted her that morning. It remained by her now, as she stood after luncheon at one of the open windows, watching the up‐rolling thunder‐cloud, the spattering raindrops, the quaintly solemn behaviour of the stalking, striding rooks. Honoria was easily entertained to‐day. She felt well‐disposed towards every living creature. And the rooks diverted her extremely. Profanely they reminded her of certain archiepiscopal garden‐parties; with this improvement on the human variant, that here wives and daughters also were condemned to decent sables instead of being at liberty to array themselves according to self‐invented canons of remarkably defective taste. But, though diverted, it must be owned she gave her attention the more closely to all that outward drama of storm and rain and to the antics of the rooks, because she was very conscious of the fact that Richard Calmady had followed her and his mother into the red drawing‐room, and it hurt her‐though she had now, of necessity, witnessed it many times—it hurt, it still very shrewdly distressed her, to see him walk. As she heard the soft thud and shuffle of his onward progress, followed by the little clatter of the crutches as he laid them upon the floor beside his chair, the brightness died out of Honoria’s face. She registered sharp annoyance against herself, for she had not anticipated that this would continue to affect her so much. She supposed she had grown accustomed to it during her last two visits to Brockhurst, and that, this time, it would occasion her no shock. But the sadness of the young man’s deformity remained present as ever. The indignity of it offended her. The desire by some, by any, means to mitigate the woful circumscription of page: 569 liberty and opportunity which it inflicted, wrought upon her almost painfully. And so she looked very hard at the hungry, anticking rooks, both to secure time for recovery of her equanimity, and also to spare Richard smallest suspicion that she avoided beholding his advance and installation.

“We needn’t start until four, mother,” she heard him say. “But I’m afraid it is clearing.”

Honoria turned from the window.

“Yes, it is clearing,” she remarked, “incontestably clearing! You won’t escape the Grimshott function after all.”

“It’s a nuisance having to go,” Richard replied. “But you see this is an old engagement. People are wonderfully civil and kind. I wish they were less so. They waste one’s time. But it doesn’t do to be ungracious, and we needn’t stay more than half an hour, need we, mother?”

He looked up at Honoria.

“Don’t you think, on the whole, you’d better come too?” he said.

But the young lady shook her head smilingly. She stood close beside Lady Calmady.

“Oh dear, no,” she answered. “I am quite absolutely certain I hadn’t better come too.”

Richard continued to look up at her.

“Half the county will be there. Everything will be richly, comprehensively dull. Think of it. Do come,” he repeated, “it would be so good for your soul.”

“Oh, my soul’s in the humour to be nobly careless of personal advantage,” Honoria replied. “It’s in a state of almost perilously full‐blown optimism regarding the security of its own salvation to‐day, somehow.”—Her glance rested very sweetly upon Lady Calmady.—“And then all the rest of and not impossibly my soul has a word to say in that connection too—cries out to go and tramp over the steaming turf and breathe the scent of the fir woods again.”

Honoria sat down lazily on the arm of a neighbouring easy‐chair, against the crimson cover of which her striped blue‐and‐white, shirting dress showed excellently distinct and clear. Richard’s prolonged and quiet scrutiny oppressed her slightly, necessitating change of attitude and place.

“And then,” she continued, “I want to go down to the paddocks and have a look at the yearlings. How are they coming on? Have you anything good?”

“Two or three promising fillies. They’re in the paddock nearest the Long Water. You’ll find them as quiet as sheep. page: 570 But I’ll ask you not to go in among the brood‐mares and foals unless Chifney is with you. They may be a bit savage and shy, and it is not altogether safe for a lady.”

He stretched out his hand, taking Lady Calmady’s hand for a moment.

“Dear mother, you look tired. You’ll have to put up with Grimshott. The weather’s not going to let us off. Go and rest till we start.”

And when, a few minutes later, Katherine, departing, closed the door behind her, he addressed Miss St. Quentin again.

“How do you think my mother is?”

“Beautifully well.”

“Not worried?”

“No,” Honoria said.

“You are really quite contented about her, then?”

The question both surprised and touched his hearer, as a friendly and gracious admission that she possessed certain rights.

“Oh dear, yes,” she said. “I am more than contented about her. No one can fail to be so who, loving her, sees her now. There was just one thing she wanted. Now she has it, and so all is well.”

“What one thing?” Dickie asked, with a hint of irony in his manner and his voice.

“Why, you—you, Richard,” Honoria said.

She drew herself up proudly, a little alarmed by, a little defiant of, the directness of her own speech, perceiving, so soon as she had uttered it, that it might be construed as indirect reproach. And to administer reproach had been very far from her purpose. She fixed her eyes upon the domes of the great oaks, crowning an outstanding knoll at the far end of the lime avenue. The foliage of them, deep green shading into russet, was arrestingly solid and metallic, offering a rather magnificent scheme of stormy colour taken in connection with the hot purple of the uprolling cloud. Framed by the stone work of the open window, the whole presented a fine picture in the manner of Salvator Rosa. A few bright raindrops splashed and splattered, and the thunder growled far away in the north. The atmosphere was heavy. For a time neither spoke. Then Honoria said, gently, as one asking a favour:—

“Richard, will you tell me about that home of yours? Cousin Katherine was speaking of it to me last night.”

And it seemed to her his thought must have journeyed to some far distance, and found difficulty in returning thence, it page: 571 was so long before he answered her, while his face had become set, and showed colourless as wax against the surrounding crimson of the room.

“Oh, the home!” he exclaimed, shrugging his shoulders just perceptibly. “It doesn’t amount to very much. My mother in her dear unwisdom of faith and hope magnifies the value of it. It’s just an idle man’s fad.”

“A fad with an uncommon amount of backbone to it, apparently.”

“That depends on its eventual success. It’s a thing to be judged not by intentions but by results.”

“What made you think of it?”

Richard looked full at her, spreading out his hands, and again shrugging his shoulders slightly. Again Miss St. Quentin accused herself of a defect of tact.

“Isn’t it rather obvious why I should think of it?” he asked. “It seemed to me that, in a very mild and limited degree, it was calculated to meet a want.”—He smiled upon her, quite sweet‐temperedly, yet once more there was a flavour of irony in his tone.—“Of course hideous creatures and disabled creatures are an eyesore. We pity, but we look the other way. I quite accept that. They are a nuisance, since they are a standing witness to the fact that things, here below, very far from always work smoothly and well, and that there are disasters beyond the power of applied science to put right. The ordinary human being doesn’t covet to be forcibly reminded of that by means of a living object‐lesson.”

Richard shifted his position, clasped his hands behind his head. He had begun speaking without idea of self‐revelation; but the relief of speech, after long self‐repression, took him, goading him on. Old strains of feeling, kept under by conscious exercise of will, asserted themselves. He asked neither sympathy nor help. He simply called from off those shallows and sand‐bars laid bare by the ebbing tide of his first enthusiasm. He protested, wearied by the spiritual dryness which had caused all effort to prove so joyless of late. To have sought relief in words before his mother would have been unpardonable he held. She had borne enough from him in the past, and more than enough. But to permit it himself in the presence of this young, strong, capable woman of the world, was very different. She came out of the swing of society and of affairs, of large interests in politics and in thought. She would go back into those again very shortly, so what did it matter? She captivated him and incensed him alike. His relation to her had been so page: 572 fertile of contradictions—at once singularly superficial and fugitive, and singularly vital. He did not care to analyse his own feelings in respect of her. He had, so he told himself, never quite cared to do that. She had wounded his pride shrewdly at times, still he had unquestioning faith in her power of comprehending his meaning as she sat there, graceful, long‐limbed, indolent, in her pale dress, looking towards the window, the light on her face revealing the fine squareness of the chiselling of her profile, of her jaw, her nostril, and brow. She appeared so free of spirit, so untrammelled, so excellently exalted above all that is weak, craven, smirched by impurity, capable of baseness or deceit.

“But naturally with me the case is different,” he went on, his voice growing deeper, his utterance more measured. “It is futile to resent being reminded of that which, in point of fact, you never forget. It’s childish for the pot to call the kettle black. And so I came to the conclusion, a few months ago, to put away all such childishness, and set myself to gain whatever advantage I could from—well—from my own blackness.”

Honoria turned her head, averting her face yet farther. Richard could only see the outline of her cheek. She had never before heard him make so direct allusion to his own deformity, and it frightened her a little. Her heart beat curiously quick. For it was to her as though he compelled her to draw near and penetrate a region in which, gazing thitherward questioningly from afar, she had divined the residence of stern and intimate miseries, inalienable, unremittent, taking their rise in an almost alarming remoteness of time and fundamentality of cause.

“You see, in plain English,” he said, “I view all such unhappy beings from the inside, not, as the rest of you do, merely from the out. I belong to them and they to me. It is not an altogether flattering connection. Only recently, I am afraid, have I had the honesty to acknowledge it! But, having once done so, it seems only reasonable to look up the members of my unlucky family and take care of them, and if possible put them through—not on the lines of a charitable institution, which must inevitably be a rather mechanical, step‐mother kind of arrangement at best, but on the lines of family affection, of personal friendship.”

He paused a moment.

“Does that strike you as too unpractical and fantastic, contrary to sound, philanthropic principle and practice?”

Honoria shook her head.

“It is based on a higher law than any of modern organised philanthropy,” she said, and her voice had a queer unsteadiness page: 573 in it. “It goes back to the Gospels—to the matter of giving your life for your friend.”

As she spoke, Honoria rose. She went across and stood at the window. Furtively she dabbed her pocket handkerchief against her eyes.

“Well, after all, one must give one’s life for something or other, you know,” Richard remarked, “or the days would become a little too intolerably dull, and then one might be tempted to make short work of life altogether.”

Honoria returned to her chair again and sat down—this time not on the arm of it but in ordinary conventional fashion. She faced Richard. He observed that her eyelids were slightly swollen, slightly red. This gave an extraordinary effect of gentleness to her expression.

“How do you find them—the members of your sad family?” she asked.

“Oh, in all sorts of ways and of places! Knott swears it is contrary to reason, an interfering with the beneficent tendency of nature to kill off the unfit. Yet he works like a horse to help me—even talks of giving up his practice and moving to Farley Row, so as to be near the headquarters of my establishment. The lease of a rather charming, old house there fell in this year. Fortunately the tenant did not want to renew, so I am having that made comfortable for them.”

Richard smiled. A greater sense of well‐being animated him. Out of the world she had come, back into the world she would go. Meanwhile she was nobly fair to look upon, she was pure of heart, intercourse with her made for the justification of high purposes and unselfish experiment—so he thought.

“I am growing as keen on bagging a fine cripple as another man might be on bagging a fine tiger,” he said. “The whole matter at bottom, I suspect, turns on the instinct of sport.— Only the week before last I acquired a rather terribly superior specimen—a lad of eighteen, a factory hand in Westchurch. He was caught by some loose gearing and swept into the machinery. What is left of him—if it survives, which it had much better not, and yet I can’t help hoping it will, he is such a plucky, sweet‐natured fellow—will require a nurse for the rest of its life. So I am pushing on the work at Farley, that the home may be ready when we get him out of hospital.—By the way, I must go to‐morrow and stir up the workmen—Do you care to come and see it all, if the afternoon is fine and not too hot?”

And Honoria agreed. Nor did she shrink when Richard slipping out of his chair picked up his crutches.—“I suppose it page: 574 is about time to get ready for the Grimshott function,” he said.—She walked beside him to the door, opened it and passed into the neutral‐tinted, tapestry‐hung dining‐room. There the young man waited a moment. He looked not at her but straight before him.

“Honoria,” he said suddenly, almost harshly, “you and Helen de Vallorbes used to be great friends. For more than a year I have held no communication with her, except through my lawyers. Can you tell me anything about her?”

Miss St. Quentin hesitated.

“Nothing very direct—I heard from de Vallorbes about three months ago. I don’t think I am faithless—indeed I held on to her as long as I could, Richard! I am not squeamish, and then I always prefer to stand by the woman. But whatever de Vallorbes may have been, he pulled himself together rather admirably from the time he went into the army. He wanted to keep straight and to live respectably. And—I hate to say so—but she treated him a little too flagrantly. And then—and then”—

Honoria put her hands over her eyes and shook back her head angrily.

“It wasn’t one man, Richard.”

Dickie went white to the lips.

“I know that,” he said.

He moved forward a few steps.

“Who is it now? Destournelle?”

“Oh no—no”—Honoria said. “Some Russian—from the extreme east—Kazan, I think—prince, millionaire, drunken savage. But he adores her. He squanders money upon her, surrounds her with barbaric state. This is de Vallorbes’ version of the affair. The scandal is open and notorious. But she and her prince together have great power. Something will eventually be arranged in the way of a marriage. She will not come back.”