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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
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IT is an ill wind that blows nobody good, says the comfortable proverb. Which would appear to be but another manner of declaring that the law of compensation works permanently in human affairs. All quantities, material and immaterial alike, are, of necessity, stable; therefore the loss or defect of one participant must—indirectly, no doubt, yet very surely—make for the gain of some other. As of old, so now, the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.

Julius March would, how gladly, have been among the martyrs! But the lot fell otherwise. And—always admitting the harshness of the limitations he had imposed on himself—the martyrdom of those he held dearest, did, in fact, work to secure him a measure of content that had otherwise been unattainable. The twelve years following the birth of Lady Calmady’s child were the most fruitful of his life. He filled a post no other person could have filled; one which, while satisfying his religious sense and priestly ideal of detachment, appeased the cravings of his heart and developed the practical man in him. The contemplative and introspective attitude was balanced by an active and objective one. For he continued to live under his dear lady’s roof, seeing her daily and serving her in many matters. He watched her, admiring her clear yet charitable judgment and her prudence in business. He bowed in reverence before her perfect singleness of purpose. He was almost appalled apprehending, now and then, the secret abysses of her womanhood, the immensity of her self‐devotion, the swing of her nature from quick, sensitive shrinking to almost impious page: 86 pride. Man is the outcome of the eternal common sense; woman that of some moment of divine folly. Meanwhile the ways of true love are many, and Julius March, thus watching his dear lady, discovered, as other elect souls have discovered before him, that the way of chastity and silence, notwithstanding its very constant heartache, is by no means among the least sweet. The entries in his diaries of this period are intermittent, concise, and brief—naturally enough, since the central figure of Julius’s mental picture had ceased, happily for him, to be Julius himself.

And, not only Katherine’s sorrows, but the unselfish action of another woman, went to make Julius March’s position at Brockhurst tenable. A few days after Ormiston’s momentous interview with his sister, news came of Mrs. St. Quentin’s death. She had passed hence peacefully in her sleep. Knowledge of the facts of poor, little Dickie Calmady’s ill‐fortune had been spared her. For it would be more satisfactory—so Mademoiselle de Mirancourt had remarked, not without a shade of irony—that if Lucia St. Quentin must learn the sad fact at all, she should learn it where le bon Dieu Himself would be at hand to explain matters, and so, in a degree, set them right.

Early in April Mademoiselle de Mirancourt had gathered together her most precious possessions and closed the pretty apartment in the rue de Rennes. It had been a happy halting‐place on the journey of life. It was haunted by well‐beloved ghosts. It cost her not a little to bid it, the neighbouring church of the St. Germain des Près, where she had so long worshipped, and her little coterie of intimate friends, farewell. Yet she set forth, taking with her Henriette, the hard‐featured, old, Breton maid, and Monsieur Pouf, the grey, Persian cat,—he protesting plaintively from within a large, Manilla basket,—and thus accompanied, made pilgrimage to Brockhurst. And when Katherine, all the lost joys of her girlhood assailing her at sight of her lifelong friend, had broken down for once, and, laying her beautiful head on the elder woman’s shoulder, had sobbed out a question as to when this visit must end, Marie de Mirancourt had answered:—

“That, most dear one, is precisely as you shall see fit to decide. It need not end till I myself end, if you so please.”

And when Katherine, greatly comforted yet fearing to be over‐greedy of comfort, had reasoned with her, reminding her of the difference of climate, the different habits of living in that gay, little, Paris home and this great, English country‐house; reminding her, further, of her so often and fondly expressed desire to page: 87 retire from the world while yet in the complete possession of her powers and prepare for the inevitable close within the calm and sacred precincts of the convent—the other replied almost gaily:—

“Ah, my child! I have still a naughty little spirit of experiment in me which defies the barbarities of your climate. While as to the convent, it has beckoned so long—let it beckon still! It called first when my fiancé died,—God rest his soul,—worn out by the hardships he endured in the war of La Vendée, and I put from me, forever, all thought of marriage. But then my mother, an emigrant here in London, claimed all my care. It called me again when she departed, dear saintly being. But then there were my brother’s sons—orphaned by the guillotine—to place. And when I had established them honourably, our beloved Lucia turned to me, with her many enchantments and exquisite tragedy of the heart. And, now, in my old age I come to you—whom I receive from her as a welcome legacy—to remain just so long as I am not a burden to you. Second childhood and first should understand one another. We will play delightful games together, the dear baby and I. So let the convent beckon. For the convent is perhaps, after all, but an impatient grasping at the rest of paradise, before that rest is fairly earned. I have a good hope that, after all, we give ourselves most acceptably to God in thus giving ourselves to His human creatures.”

Thus did Marie de Mirancourt, for love’s sake, condemn herself to exile, thereby rendering possible—among other things—Julius’s continued residence at Brockhurst. For Captain Ormiston had held true to his resolve of scorning the delights of idleness, the smiles of ladies more fair and kind than wise, and all those other pleasant iniquities to which idleness inclines the young and full‐blooded, of bidding farewell to London and Windsor, and proceeding to “live laborious days” in some far country. He had offered to remain indefinitely with Katherine if she needed him. But she refused. Let him be faithful to the noble profession of arms and make a name for himself therein.

“Brockhurst has ceased to be a place for a soldier,” she said. “Leave it to women and priests!” And then, repenting of the bitterness of her speech, she added:—“Really there is not more work than I can manage, with Julius to help me at times. Iles is a good servant if a little tediously pompous, and Chifney must see to the stables.”—Lady Calmady paused, and her face grew hard. But for her husband’s dying request, she would have sold every horse in the stud, razed the great square page: 88 of buildings to the ground and made the site of it a dunghill.—“Work is a drug to deaden thought. So it is a kindness to let me have plenty of it, dear old man. And I fear, even when the labour of each day is done, and Dickie is safe asleep,—poor darling,—I shall still have more than enough of time for thought, for asking those questions to which there seems no answer, and for desires, vain as they are persistent, that things were somehow, anyhow, other than they are!”

Therefore it came about that a singular quiet settled down on Brockhurst—a quiet of waiting, of pause, rather than of accomplishment. But Julius March, for reasons aforesaid, and Mademoiselle de Mirancourt, in virtue of her unclouded faith in the teachings of her Church,—which assures its members of the beneficent purpose working behind all the sad seeming of this world,—alike rejoiced in that. A change of occupations and of interests came naturally with the change of the seasons, with the time to sow and reap, to plant saplings, to fell timber, to fence, to cut copsing, to build or rebuild, to receive rents or remit them, to listen to many appeals, to readjust differences, to feed game or to shoot it, to bestow charity of meat and fuel, to haul ice in winter to the ice‐house from the lake. But beyond all this there was little of going or coming at Brockhurst. The magnates of the countryside called at decent intervals, and at decent intervals Lady Calmady returned their civilities. But having ceased to entertain, she refused to receive entertainment. She shut herself away in somewhat jealous seclusion, defiant of possibly curious glances and pitying tongues. Before long her neighbours, therefore, came to raise their eyebrows a little in speaking of her, and to utter discreet regrets that Lady Calmady, though handsome and charming when you met her, was so very eccentric, adding:—“Of course everyone knows there is something very uncomfortable about the little boy!” Then would follow confidences as to the disastrous results of popish influences and Romanising tendencies, and an openly expressed conviction—more especially on the part of ladies blessed with daughters of marriageable age—that it would have been so very much better for many people if the late Sir Richard Calmady had looked nearer home for a bride.

But these comments did not affect Katherine. In point of fact they rarely reached her ears. Alone among her neighbours, Mary Cathcart, of the crisp, black hair and gipsy‐like complexion, was still admitted to some intimacy of intercourse. And the girl was far too loyal either to bring in gossip or to carry it out. Brockhurst held the romance of her heart. And, notwithstand‐ page: 89 ing the earnest wooing—as the years went on—of more than one very eligible gentleman, Brockhurst continued to hold it.

Meanwhile the somewhat quaint fixed star around which this whole system of planets, large and small, very really revolved, shone forth upon them all with a cheerful enough light. For Dickie by no means belied the promise of his babyhood. He was a beautiful and healthy little boy, with a charming brilliance of colouring, warm and solid in tone. He had his mother’s changeful eyes, though the blue of them was brighter than hers had now come to be. He had her dark eyebrows and eyelashes too, and her finely curved lips. While he bore likeness to his father in the straight, square‐tipped nose and the close‐fitting cap of bright, brown hair with golden stains in it, growing low in short curling locks on the broad forehead and the nape of the neck—expressing the shape of the head very definitely, and giving it something of antique nobility and grace.

And the little lad’s appearance afforded, in these pleasant early days at all events, fair index to his temperament. He was gay‐natured, affectionate, intelligent, full of a lively yet courteous curiosity, easily moved to laughter, almost inconveniently fearless and experimental; while his occasional thunderbursts of passion cleared off quickly into sunshine and blue sky again. For as yet the burden of deformity rested upon him very lightly. He associated hardly at all with other children, and so had but scant occasion to measure his poor powers of locomotion against their normal ones. Lady Fallowfeild it is true, in obedience to suggestions on the part of her kindly lord and master, offered tentatively to import a carriage‐load—little Ludovic Quayle was just the same age as Dickie—from the Whitney nurseries to spend the day at Brockhurst.

“Good fellow, Calmady. I liked Calmady,” Lord Fallowfeild had said to her. His conversation, it may be observed, was nothing if not interjectional.—“Pretty woman, Lady Calmady—terrible thing for her being left as she is. Always shall regret Calmady. Very sorry for her. Always have been sorry for a pretty woman in trouble. Ought to see something of her, my dear. The two estates join, and, as I always have said, it’s a duty to support your own class. Can’t expect the masses to respect you unless you show them you’re prepared to stand by your own class. Just take some of the children over to see Lady Calmady. Pretty children, do her good to see them. Rode uncommonly straight did Calmady. Terribly upsetting thing his funeral. Never shall forget it. Always did like Calmady—good fellow, Calmady. Nasty thing his death.”

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But Katherine’s pen was fertile in excuses to avoid the invasion from Whitney. Lady Fallowfeild’s small brains and large domestic complacency were too trying to her. And that noble lady, it must be owned, was secretly not a little glad to have her advances thus firmly, though gently, repulsed. For she was alarmed at Lady Calmady’s reported acquaintance with foreign lands and with books; added to which her simple mind harboured much grisly though vague terror concerning the Roman Church. Picture all her brood of little Quayles incontinently converted into little monks and nuns with shaven heads! How such sudden conversion could be accomplished Lady Fallowfeild did not presume to explain. It sufficed her that “everybody always said Papists were so dreadfully clever and unscrupulous you never could tell what they might not do next.”

Once, when Dickie was about six years old, Colonel St. Quentin brought his young wife and two little girls to stay at Brockhurst. Katherine had a great regard for her cousin, yet the visit was never repeated. On the flat poor Dick could manage fairly well, his strangely shod feet travelling laboriously along in effort after rapidity; his hands hastily outstretched now and again to lay hold of door‐jamb or table‐edge, since his balance was none of the securest. But in that delightfully varied journey from the nursery, by way of his mother’s bedroom, the Chapel‐Room next door, the broad stair‐head,—with its carven balusters, shiny oak flooring, and fine landscapes by Claude and Hobbema,—the state drawing‐room and libraries, to that America of his childish dreams, that country of magnificent distances and large possibility of discovery, the Long Gallery, he was speedily distanced by the three‐year‐old Betty, let alone her six‐year‐old sister Honoria, a tall, slim, little maiden, daintily high‐bred of face and fleet of foot as a hind. This was bad enough. But the stairways afforded yet more afflicting experiences. The descent of even the widest and shallowest flights presented matter of insuperable difficulty, while the ascent was only to be achieved by recourse to all‐fours, against the ignominy of which mode of progression Dickie’s soul revolted. And so the little boy concluded that he did not care much about little girls. And confided to his devoted play‐fellow Clara—Mrs. Denny’s niece and sometime second still‐room maid, now promoted, on account of her many engaging qualities, to be Dickie’s special attendant—that:—

“They went so quick, they always left him behind, and it was not nice to be left behind, and it was very rude of them to do it; didn’t Clara think so?”

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And Clara, as in duty and affection bound, not without additional testimony in a certain dimness of her pretty, honest, brown eyes, did indeed very much think so. It followed, therefore, that Dickie saw the St. Quentin family drive away, nurses and luggage complete, quite unmoved. And returned, with satisfaction and renewed self‐confidence, to the exclusive society of all those dear, grown‐up people—gentle and simple—who were never guilty of leaving him behind—to that of Camp, the old, white bull‐dog, and young Camp, his son and heir, who, if they so far forgot themselves as to run away, invariably ran back again and apologised, fawning upon him and pushing their broad, ugly, kindly muzzles into his hands—and to that of Monsieur Pouf, the grey Persian cat, who, far from going too quickly, displayed such majestic deliberation of movement and admirable dignity of waving fluffed tail, that it required much patient coaxing on Dickie’s part ever to make him leave his cushion by the fire and go at all.

But, with the above‐mentioned exception, the little boy’s self‐content suffered but slight disturbance. He took himself very much for granted. He was very curious of outside things, very much amused. Moreover, he was king of a far from contemptible kingdom; and in the blessed ignorance of childhood—that finds pride and honour in things which a wider and sadder knowledge often proves far from glad or glorious—it appeared to him not unnatural that a king should differ, even to the point of some slightly impeding disabilities, from the rank and file of his obedient and devoted subjects. For Dickie, happily for him, was as yet given over to that wholly pleasant vanity, the aristocratic idea. The rough justice of democracy, and the harsh breaking of all purely personal and individualistic dreams that comes along with it, for him, was not just yet.

And Richard’s continued and undismayed acquiescence in his physical misfortune was fostered, indirectly, by the captivating poetry of myth and legend with which his mind was fed. He had an insatiable appetite for stories, and Mademoiselle de Mirancourt was an untiring raconteuse. On Sunday afternoons upon the terrace, when the park lay bathed in drowsy sunshine and sapphire shadows haunted the under edge of the great woods, the pretty, old lady—her eyes shining with gentle laughter, for Marie de Mirancourt’s faith had reached the very perfect stage in which the soul dares play, even as lovers play, with that it holds most sacred—would tell Dickie the fairy tales of her Church. Would tell him of blessed St. Francis and of Poverty, his sweet, sad bride; of his sermon to page: 92 the birds dwelling in the oak groves along Tiber valley; of the mystic stigmata, marking as with nail‐prints his hands and feet, and of that indomitable love towards all creatures, which found, alike in the sun in heaven and the heavy‐laden ass, brothers and friends. Or she would tell him of that man of mighty strength and stature, St. Christopher, who, in the stormy darkness,—yielding to its reiterated entreaties,—set forth to bear the little child across the wind‐swept ford. How he staggered, in midstream, amazed and terrified under the awful weight of that, apparently so light, burden; to learn, on struggling ashore at last, that he had borne upon his shoulder no mortal infant, but the whole world and the eternal maker of it, Christ Himself.

These and many another wonder tale of Christian miracle did she tell to Dickie—he squatting on a rug beside her, resting his curly head against her knees, while the pink‐footed pigeons hurried hither and thither, picking up the handfuls of barley he scattered on the flags, and the peacocks sunned themselves with a certain worldly and disdainful grace on the hand‐rails of the grey balustrades, and young Camp, after some wild skirmish in search of sport, flung himself down panting, his tongue lolling out of his grinning jaws, by the boy’s side.

And Katherine, putting aside her cares as regent of Dickie’s kingdom and the sorrow that lay so chill against her heart, would tell him stories too, but of a different order of sentiment and of thought. For Katherine was young yet, and her stories were gallant—since her own spirit was very brave—or merry, because it delighted her to hear the boy laugh. And often, as he grew a little older, she would sit with her arm round him, in the keen, winter twilights before the lamps were lit, on the broad, cushioned bench of the oriel window in the Chapel‐Room. Outside, the stars grew in number and brightness as the dusk deepened. Within, the firelight played over the white‐panelled walls, revealing fitfully the handsome faces of former Calmadys—shortlived, passing hence all unsated with the desperate joys of living—painted by Vandyke and Sir Peter Lely, or by Romney and Sir Joshua. Then she would tell him not only of Aladdin, of Cinderella, and time‐honoured Puss‐in‐Boots, but of Merlin the great enchanter, and of King Arthur and his company of noble knights. And of the loves of Sigurd the Niblung and Brunhilda the wise and terrible queen, and of their lifelong sorrow, and of the fateful treasure of fairy gold which lies buried beneath the rushing waters of the Rhine. Or she would tell him of those cold, clear, far‐off times in the northern page: 93 sojourning places of our race—tell him of the cow Audhumla, alone in the vast plain at the very beginning of things, licking the stones crusted over with hoar frost and salt, till, on the third day, there sprung from them a warrior named Bur, the father of Bör, the father of Odin, who is the father of all the gods. She would tell him of wicked Loki too, the deceiver and cunning plotter against the peace of heaven. And of his three evil children—here Dickie would, for what reason he knew not, always feel his mother hold him more closely, while her voice took a deeper tone—Fenrir the wolf, who, when Thor sought to bind him, bit off the brave god’s right hand; and Jörmungand the Midgard serpent, who, tail in mouth, circles the world; and Hela, the pale queen, who reigns in Niflheim over the dim kingdoms of the dead. And of Baldur the bright‐shining god, joy of Asgard, slain in error by Höder his blind twin‐brother, for whom all things on earth—save one—weep, and will weep, till in the last days he comes again. And of All‐Father Odin himself, plucking out his right eye and bartering it for a draught of wisdom‐giving water from Mirmir’s magic well. Again, she would tell him of the End—which it must be owned frightened Dickie a little, so that he would stroke her cheek, and say softly:— “But, mummy, you really are sure, aren’t you, it won’t happen for a good while yet?”—Of Ragnarök, the Twilight of the Gods, of the Fimbul winter, and cheerless sun and hurrying, blood‐red moon, and all the direful signs which must needs go before the last great battle between good and evil.

And through all of these stories, of Christian and heathen origin alike, Richard began dimly, almost unconsciously, to trace, recurrent as a strain of austere music, the idea—very common to ages less soft and fastidious than our own—of payment in self‐restraint and labour, or in actual bodily pain, loss, or disablement, for all good gained and knowledge won.

He found the same idea again when, under the teaching of Julius March, he began reading history, and when his little skill in Greek and Latin carried him as far as the easier passages of the classic poets. Dick was a very apt, if somewhat erratic and inaccurate, scholar. His insatiable curiosity drove him forward. He scurried, in childish fashion by all short‐cuts available, to get at the heart of the matter—a habit of mind detestable to pedants, since to them the letter is the main object, not the spirit. Happily Julius was ceasing to be a pedant, even in matters ecclesiastical. He loved the little boy, the mingled charm and pathos of whose personality held him as with a spell. With untiring patience he answered, to the best of his ability, page: 94 Dickie’s endless questions, of how and why. And, perhaps, he learned even more than he taught, under this fire of cross‐examination. He had never come intimately in contact with a child’s mind before; and Dickie’s daring speculations and suggestions opened up very surprising vistas at times. The boy was a born adventurer, a gaily audacious sceptic moreover, notwithstanding his large swallow for romance, until his own morsel of reason and sense of dramatic fitness were satisfied.

And so, having once apprehended that idea of payment, he searched for justification of it instinctively in all he saw and read. He found it again in the immortal story of the siege of Troy, and in the long wanderings and manifold trials of that most experimental of philosophers, the great Ulysses. He found it too in more modern and more authentic history—in the lives of Galileo and Columbus, of Sir Walter Raleigh and many another hero and heroine, of whom, because of some unusual excellence of spirit or attainment, their fellow‐men, and, as it would seem, the very gods themselves, have grown jealous, not enduring to witness a beauty rivalling or surpassing their own.

The idea was all confused as yet, coloured by childish fancies, instinctive merely, not realised. Yet it occupied a very actual place in the little boy’s mind. He lingered over it silently, caressing it, returning to it again and again in half‐frightened delight. It lent a fascination, somewhat morbid perhaps, to all ill‐favoured and unsightly creatures—to blind‐worms and slow‐moving toads, to trapped cats, and dusty, disabled, winter flies; to a winged sea‐gull, property of Bushnell, one of the under‐gardeners, that paced, picking up loathsome living in the matter of slugs and snails, about the cabbage beds, all the tragedy of its lost power of flight and of the freedom of the sea in its wild, pale eyes.

It further provoked Dickie to expend his not inconsiderable gift of draughtsmanship in the production of long processions of half‐human monsters of a grotesque and essentially uncomfortable character. He scribbled these upon all available pieces of paper, including the fly‐leaves of Todhunter’s Arithmetic, and of his Latin and Greek primers. In an evil hour, for the tidiness of his school books, he came across the ballad of “Aiken‐Drum,” with its rather terrible mixture of humour, realism, and pathos. From thenceforth for some weeks—though he adroitly avoided giving any direct account of the origin of these grisly, imaginative freaks—many margins were adorned, or rather defaced, by fancy portraits of that “foul and stalwart ghaist” the Brownie of Badnock.

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So did Dickie dwell, through all his childhood and the early years of youth, in the clear land of dreams, petted, considered, sheltered with perhaps almost cruel kindness, from the keen. winds of truth that blow forever across the world. Which winds, while causing all to suffer, and bringing death to the weak and fearful, to the lovers of lies and the makers of them, go in the end to strengthen the strong who dare face them, and fortify these in the acceptance of the only knowledge really worth having—namely the knowledge that romance is no exclusive property of the past, or eternal life of the future, but that both these are here, immediately and actually, for whoso has eyes to see and courage to possess.

The fairest dreams are true. Yet it is so ordered that to know that we must awake from them. And the awakening is an ugly process enough, too often. When Dickie was about thirteen, the awakening began for him. It came in time‐honoured forms—those of horses and of a woman.