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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
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page: 107

CHAPTER III

CONCERNING THAT WHICH, THANK GOD, HAPPENS ALMOST EVERY DAY

THE merry, spring sky was clear, save in the south where a vast perspective of dappled cloud lay against it, leaving winding rivers of blue here and there, as does ribbed sand for the incoming tide. As the white gate of the inner park—the grey, unpainted palings ranging far away to right and left—swung to behind them, and Henry, the groom, after a smart run, clambered up into his place again beside Camp on the back seat of the double dog‐cart, Richard’s spirits rose. Ahead stretched out the long vista of that peculiar glory of Brockhurst, its avenue of Scotch firs. The trunks of them, rough‐barked and purple below, red, smooth, and glistering above, shot up some thirty odd feet—straight as the pillars of an ancient temple—before the branches, sweeping outward and downward, met, making a whispering, living canopy overhead, through which the sunshine fell in tremulous shafts upon the shining coats and gleaming harness of the horses, upon Ormiston’s clear‐cut, bronzed face and upright figure, and upon the even, straw‐colored gravel of the road. The said road is raised by about three feet above the level of the land on either side. On the left, the self‐sown firs grow in close ranks. The ground below them is bare but for tussocks of coarse grass and ruddy beds of fallen fir page: 108 needles. On the right, the fir wood is broken by coppices of silver‐stemmed birches, and spaces of heather—which shows a purple‐brown against the grey of the reindeer moss out of which it springs. Tits swung and frolicked among the tree‐tops, and a jay flew off noisily with a flash of azure wing‐coverts and volley of harsh, discordant cries.

The rapid movement, the moist, pungent odour of the woodland, the rhythmical trot of the horses, the rattle of the splinter‐bar chains as the traces slackened going downhill, above all the presence of the man beside him, were pleasantly stimulating to Richard Calmady. The boy was still a prey to much innocent enthusiasm. It appeared to him, watching Ormiston’s handling of the reins and whip, there was nothing this man could not do, and do skilfully, yet all with the same easy unconcern. Indeed the present position was so agreeable to him that Dickie’s spirits would have risen to an unusual height, but for a certain chastening of the flesh in the shape of the occasional pressure of a broad strap against his middle, which brought him unwelcome remembrance of recent discoveries it was his earnest desire to ignore, still better to forget.

For just at starting there had been a rather bad moment. Winter, having settled him on the seat of the dog‐cart, was preparing to tuck him in with many rugs, when Ormiston said:—

“Look here, dear old chap, I’ve been thinking about this, and upon my word you don’t seem to me very safe. You see this is a different matter to your donkey‐chair, or the pony‐carriage. There’s no protection at the side, and if the horses shied or anything—well, you’d be in the road. And I can’t afford to spill you the first time we go out together, or there’d be a speedy end of all our fun.”

Richard tried to emulate his uncle’s cool indifference, and take the broad strap as a matter of course. But he was glad the tongue of the buckle slipped so directly into place; and that Henry’s attention was engaged with the near horse, which fretted at standing; and that Leonard, the footman, was busy making Camp jump up at the back; and that his mother, who had been watching him from the lowest of the wide steps, turned away and went up to the flight to join Julius March standing under the grey arcade. As the horses sprang forward, clattering the little pebbles of the drive against the body of the carriage, and swung away round the angle of the house, Katherine came swiftly down the steps again smiling, kissing her hand to him. Still, the strap hurt—not poor Dickie’s somewhat ill‐balanced body, to which in truth it lent an agreeable sense of page: 109 security, but his, just then, all too sensitive mind. So that, notwithstanding a fine assumption of gaiety, as he kissed his hand in return, he found the dear vision of his mother somewhat blurred by foolish tears which he had resolutely to wink away.

But now that disquieting incident was left nearly ten minutes behind. The last park gate and its cluster of mellow‐tinted, thatched cottages was past. Not only out‐of‐doors and all the natural exhilaration of it, but the spectacle of the world beyond the precincts of the park—into which world he, in point of fact, so rarely penetrated—wooed him to interest and enjoyment. To Dickie, whose life through his mother’s jealous tenderness and his own physical infirmity had been so singularly circumscribed, there was an element, slightly pathetic, of discovery and adventure in this ordinary, afternoon drive.

He did not want to talk. He was too busy simply seeing—everything food for those young eyes and brain so greedy of incident and of beauty. He sat upright and stared at the passing show.—At the deep lane, its banks starred with primroses growing in the hollows of the gnarled roots of oaks and ash trees. At Sandyfield rectory, deep‐roofed, bow‐windowed, the red walls and tiles of it half smothered in ivy and cotoneaster. At the low, squat‐towered, Georgian church, standing in its acre of close‐packed graveyard, which is shadowed by yew trees and by the clump of three enormous Scotch firs in the rectory garden adjoining. At the Church Farm, just beyond—a square white house, the slated roofs of it running up steeply to a central block of chimneys, it having, in consequence, somewhat the effect of a monster extinguisher. At the rows of pale, wheat stacks, raised on granite staddles; at the prosperous barns, yards, and stables, built of wood on brick foundations, that surround it, presenting a mass of rich, solid colour and of noisy, crowded, animal life. At the fields, plough and pasture, marked out by long lines of hedgerow trees, broken by coppices—these dashed with tenderest green—stretching up and back to the dark, purple‐blue range of the moorland. At scattered cottages, over the gates of whose gardens gay with daffodils and polyanthus, groups of little girls and babies, in flopping sun‐bonnets and scanty lilac pinafores, stared back at the passing carriage, and then bobbed the accustomed curtsey. In the said groups were no boys, save of infant years. The boys were away shepherding, or to plough, or bird‐minding. For as yet education was free indeed—in the sense that you were free to take it, or leave it, as suited your pocket and your fancy.

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Richard stared too at the pleasant, furze‐dotted commons, spinning away to right and left as the horses trotted sharply onward—commons whereon meditative donkeys endured rather than enjoyed existence, after the manner of their kind; and prodigiously large families of yellow‐grey goslings streeled after the flocks of white geese, across spaces of fresh sprung grass around shallow ponds, in which the blue and dapple of the sky were reflected. He stared at Sandyfield village too—a straight street of detached houses, very diverse in colour and in shape, standing back, for the most part, amid small orchards and gardens that slope gently up from the brook, which last, backed, here by a row of fine elms, there by one of Lombardy poplars, borders the road. Three or four shops, modest in size as they are ambitious in the variety of objects offered for sale in them, advance their windows boldly. So does the yellow‐washed inn, the Calmady arms displayed upon its swinging sign‐board. A miller’s tented waggon, all powdery with flour, and its team of six horses, brave with brass harness and bells, a timber‐carriage, and a couple of spring‐carts, were drawn up on the half‐moon of gravel before the porch; while, from out the open door, came a sound of voices and odour of many pipes and much stale beer.

And Richard had uninterrupted leisure to bestow on all this seeing, for his companion, Colonel Ormiston, was preoccupied and silent. Once or twice he looked down at the boy as though suddenly remembering his presence and inquired if he was “all right.” But it was not until they had crossed the long, white‐railed bridge, at the end of Sandyfield street—which spans not only the little, brown river overhung by black‐stemmed alders, but a bit of marsh, reminiscent of the ancient ford, lush with water‐grasses, beds of king‐cups, and broad‐leaved docks—not until then, did Colonel Ormiston make sustained effort at conversation. Beyond the bridge the road forks.

“Left to Newlands, isn’t it?” he asked sharply.

Then, as the carriage swept round the turn, he woke up from his long reverie, waking Richard up also, from his long dream of mere seeing, to human drama but dimly apprehended close there at his side.

“Oh, well, well!” the man exclaimed, throwing back his head in sharp impatience, as a horse will against the restraint of the bearing‐rein. He raised his eyebrows, while his lips set in a smile the reverse of gay. Then he looked down at Richard again, an unwonted softness in his expression.

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“Been happy?” he said. “Enjoyed your drive? That’s right. You understand the art of being really good company, Dick.”

“What’s that?”

“Allowing other people to be just as bad company as they like.”

“I—I don’t see how you could be bad company,” Dickie said, flushing at the audacity of his little compliment.

“Don’t you, dear old chap? Well, that’s very nice of you. All the same I find, at times, I can be precious bad company to myself.”

“Oh! but I don’t see how,” the boy argued, his enthusiasm protesting against all possibility of default in the object of it. Richard wanted to keep his hands down,—unconsciousness, if only assumed, told for personal dignity,—but, in the agitation of protest, spite of himself, he laid hold of the top edge of that same chastening strap. “It must be so awfully jolly to be like you—able to do everything and go everywhere. There must be such a lot to think about.”

The softness was still upon Ormiston’s face.—“Such a lot?” he said. “A jolly lot too much, believe me, very often, Dick.”

He looked away up the copse‐bordered road, over the ears of the trotting horses.

“You’ve read the story of Blue Beard and that unpleasant locked‐up room of his, where the poor, little wives hung all of a row? Well, I’m sorry to say, Dick, most men when they come to my age have a room of that sort. It’s an inhospitable place. One doesn’t invite one’s friends to dine and smoke there. At least no gentleman does. I’ve met one or two persons who set the door open and rather gloried in inviting inspection—but they were blackguards and cads. They don’t count. Still each of us is obliged to go in there sometimes himself. I tell you it’s anything but lively. I’ve been in there just now.”

The dappled cloud creeping upward from the southern horizon veiled the sun, the light of which grew pale and thin. The scent of the larch wood, on the right, hung in the air. Richard’s eyes were wide with inquiry. His mind suffered growing‐pains, as young minds of any intellectual and poetic worth needs must. The possibility of moral experience, incalculable in extent as that golden‐grey outspread of creeping, increasing vapour overhead, presented itself to him. The vastness of life touched him to fear. He struggled to find a limit, clothing his effort in childish realism of statement.

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“But in that locked‐up room, Uncle Roger, you can’t have dead women—dead wives?”

Ormiston laughed quietly.

“You hit out pretty straight from the shoulder, Master Dick,” he said. “Happily I can reassure you on one point. All manner of things are hung up in there—some ugly—almost all ugly now, to my eyes, though some of them had charming ways with them once upon a time. But, I give you my word, neither ugly nor charming, dead nor alive, are there any wives.”

The boy considered a moment, then said stoutly:—“I wouldn’t go in there again. I’d lock the door and throw away the key.”

“Wait till your time comes! You’ll find that is precisely what you can’t do.”

“Then I’d fetch them out, once and for all, and bury them.”

The carriage had turned in at the lodge gate. Soon a long, low, white house and range of domed conservatories came into view.

“Heroic remedies!” Ormiston remarked, amused at the boy’s vehemence. “But no doubt they do succeed now and then. To tell you the truth, Dick, I have been thinking of something of the kind myself. Only I’m afraid I shall need somebody to help me in carrying out so extensive a funeral.”

“Anybody would be glad enough to help you,” Richard declared, with a strong emphasis on the pronoun.

“Ah! but the bother is anybody can’t help one. Only one person in all this great rough and tumble of a world can really help one. And often one finds out who that person is a little bit too late. However, here we are. Perhaps we shall know more about it all in the next half‐hour, if these good people are at home.”

In point of fact the good people in question were not at home. Ormiston, holding reins and whip in one hand, felt for his card‐case.

“So we’ve had our journey for nothing you see, Dick,” he said.

And to Richard the words sounded regretful. Moreover, the drama of this expedition seemed to him shorn of its climax. He knew there should be something more, and pushed for it.

“You haven’t asked for Mary,” he said. “And I thought we came on purpose to see Mary. She won’t like us to go away like this. Do ask.”

Colonel Ormiston’s expression altered, hardened. And Richard, in his present hypersensitive state, remembered the cool scrutiny bestowed on the winged sea‐gull of his dream last page: 113 night. This man had seemed so near him just now while they talked. Suddenly he became remote again, all understanding of him shut away by that slight insolence of bearing. Still he did as Richard prayed him. Miss Cathcart was at home. She had just come in from riding.

“Tell her Sir Richard Calmady is here, and would like, if he may, to see her.”

Without waiting for a reply, Ormiston unbuckled that same chastening strap silently, quickly. He got down and, coming round to the farther side of the carriage, lifted Richard out; while Camp, who had jumped off the back seat, stood yawning, whining a little, shaking his heavy head and wagging his tail in welcome on the doorstep. With the bull‐dog close at his heels, Ormiston carried the boy into the house.

The inner doors were open, and, up the long, narrow, pleasantly fresh‐tinted drawing‐room, Mary Cathcart came to meet them. The folds of her habit were gathered up in one hand. In the other she carried a bunch of long‐stalked, yellow and scarlet tulips. Her strong, supple figure stood out against the young green of the lawns and shrubberies, seen through the French windows behind her. She walked carefully, with a certain deliberation, thanks to her narrow habit and top‐boots. The young lady carried her thirty‐one years bravely. Her irregular features and large mouth had always been open to criticism. But her teeth, when her lips parted, were white and even, and her brown eyes frankly honest as ever.

“Why, Dickie dear, it is simply glorious to have you and Camp paying visits on your own account.”—Her speech broke into a little cry, while her fingers closed, so tightly on the tulips that the brittle stalks snapped, and the gay‐coloured bells of them hung limply, some falling on to the carpet about her feet. “Roger—Colonel Ormiston—I didn’t know you were home—were here!”—Her voice was uncontrollably glad.

Still carrying the boy, Ormiston stood before her, observing her keenly. But he was no longer remote. His insolence, which, after all, may have been chiefly self‐protective, had vanished.

“I’m very sorry—I mean for those poor tulips. I came to pay my respects to Mr. and Mrs. Cathcart, and not finding them was preparing to drive humbly home again. But”—Certainly she carried her years well. She looked absurdly young. The brown and rose‐red of her complexion was clear as that of the little maiden who had fought with, and over‐ page: 114 come, and kissed the rough, Welsh pony refusing the grip by the roadside long ago. The hint of a moustache emphasised the upturned corners of her mouth—but that was rather captivating. Her eyes danced, under eyelids which fluttered for the moment. She was not beautiful, not a woman to make men run mad. Yet the comeliness of her body, and the spirit to which that body served as index, was so unmistakably healthful, so sincere, that surely no sane man, once gathering her into his arms, need ask a better blessing.—“But,” Ormiston went on, still watching her, “nothing would satisfy Dick but he must see you. With many injunctions regarding his safety, Katherine made him over to me for the afternoon. I’m on duty, you see. Where he goes, I’m bound to go also—even to the destruction of your poor tulips.”

Miss Cathcart made no direct answer.

“Sit here, Dickie,” she said, pointing to a sofa.

“But you don’t really mind our coming in, do you?” he asked, rather anxiously.

The young lady placed herself beside him, drew his hand on to her knee, patted it gently.

“Mind? No; on the whole, I don’t think I do mind very much. In fact, I think I should probably have minded very much more if you had gone away without asking for me.”

“There, I told you so, Uncle Roger,” the boy said triumphantly. Camp had jumped up on to the sofa too. He put his arm comfortably round the dog’s neck. It was as well to acquire support on both sides, for the surface of the glazed chintz was slippery, inconveniently unsustaining to his equilibrium.—“It’s an awfully long time since I’ve seen Mary,” he continued, “more than three weeks.”

“Yes, an awfully long time,” Ormiston echoed, “more than six years.”

“Dear Dickie,” she said; “how pretty of you! Do you always keep count of my visits?”

“Of course I do. They were about the best things that ever happened, till Uncle Roger came home.”

Forgetting herself, Mary Cathcart raised her eyes to Ormiston’s in appeal. The boy’s little declaration stirred all the latent motherhood in her. His fortunes at once passed so very far beyond, and fell so far short of, the ordinary lot. She wondered whether, and could not but trust that, this old friend and new‐comer was not too self‐centred, too hardened by ability and success, to appreciate the intimate pathos of the position. Ormiston read and answered her thought.

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“Oh! we are going to do something to change all that,” he said confidently. “We are going to enlarge our borders a bit, aren’t we, Dick? Only, I think, we should manage matters much better if Miss Cathcart would help us, don’t you?”

Richard remembering the locked‐up room of evil contents and that proposal of inclusive funeral rites, gave this utterance a wholly individual application. His face grew bright with intelligence. But, greatly restraining himself, he refrained from speech. All that had been revealed to him in confidence, and so his honour was engaged to silence.

Ormiston pulled forward a chair and sat down by him, leaning forward, his hands clasped about one knee, while he gazed at the tulips scattered on the floor.

“So tell Miss Cathcart we all want her to come over to Brockhurst just as often as she can,” he continued, “and help us to make the wheels go round a little faster. Tell her we’ve grown very old, and discreet, and respectable, and that we are absolutely incapable of doing or saying anything foolish or naughty, which she would object to—and”—

But Richard could restrain himself no longer.—“Why don’t you tell her yourself, Uncle Roger?”

“Because, my dear old chap, a burnt child fears the fire. I tried to tell Miss Cathcart something once, long ago. She mayn’t remember”—

“She does remember,” Mary said quietly, looking down at Richard’s hand and patting it as it lay on her lap.

“But she stopped me dead,” Ormiston went on. “It was quite right of her. She gave the most admirable reasons for stopping me. Would you care to hear them?”

“Oh! don’t, pray don’t,” Mary murmured. “It is not generous.”

“Pardon me, your reasons were absolutely just—true in substance and in fact. You said I was a selfish, good‐for‐nothing spendthrift, and so”—

“I was odious,” she broke in. “I was a self‐righteous little Pharisee—forgive me”—

“Why—there’s nothing to forgive. You spoke the truth.”

“I don’t believe it,” Richard cried, in vehement protest.

“Dickie, you’re a darling,” Mary Cathcart said.

Colonel Ormiston left off nursing his knee, and leaned a little farther forward.

“Well then, will you come over to Brockhurst very often, and help us to make the wheels go round, and cheer us all up, and do us no end of good, though—I am a selfish, good‐for‐ page: 116 nothing spendthrift? You see I run through the list of my titles again to make sure this transaction is fair and square and above‐board.”

A silence followed, which appeared to Richard protracted to the point of agitation. He became almost distressingly conscious of the man’s still, bronzed, resolute face on the one hand, of the woman’s mobile, vivid, yet equally resolute face on the other, divining far more to be at stake than he had clear knowledge of. Tired and excited, his impatience touched on anger.

“Say yes, Mary,” he cried impulsively, “say yes. I don’t see how anybody can want to refuse Uncle Roger anything.”

Miss Cathcart’s eyes grew moist. She turned and kissed the boy.

“I don’t think—perhaps—Dickie, that I quite see either,” she answered very gently.

“Mary, you know what you’ve just said?”—Ormiston’s tone was stern. “You understand this little comedy? It means business. This time you’ve got to go the whole hog or none.”

She looked straight at him, and drew her breath in a long half‐laughing sigh.

“Oh, dear me! what a plague of a hurry you are in!” she said. “Well—then—then—I suppose I must—it is hardly a graceful expression, but it is of your choosing, not of mine—I suppose I must go the whole hog.”

Roger Ormiston rose, treading the fallen tulips under foot. And Richard, watching him, beheld that which called to his remembrance, not the hopeless and impotent battle under the black, polished sky of his last night’s dream, but the gallant stories he had heard, earlier last night, of the battles of Sobraon and Chillianwallah, of the swift dangers of sport, and large daring of travel. Here he beheld—so it seemed to his boyish thought‐the aspect of a born conqueror, of the man who can serve and wait long for the good he desires, and who, winning it, lays hold of it with fearless might. And this, while causing Richard an exquisite delight of admiration, caused him also a longing to share those splendid powers so passionate that it amounted to actual pain.

Mary Cathcart’s hand slid from under his hand. She too rose to her feet.

“Then you have actually cared for me all along, all these years?” Ormiston declared in fierce joy.

“Of course—who else could I care for? And—and—you’ve loved me, Roger, all the while?”

And Ormiston answered “Yes,”—speaking the truth, though page: 117 with a difference. There had been interludes that had contributed somewhat freely to the peopling of that same locked‐up room. But it is possible for a man to love many times, yet always love one woman best.

All this, however, Dickie did not know. He only knew they dazzled him—the man triumphantly strong, the woman so bravely glad. He could not watch them any longer. He went hot all over, and his heart beat. He felt strangely desolate too. They were far away from him, in thought, though so close by. Dickie shut his eyes, put his arms round the bull‐dog, pressed his face hard against the faithful beast’s shoulder; while Camp, stretching his short neck to the uttermost, nuzzled against him and essayed to lick his cheek.

Thus did Richard Calmady gain yet further knowledge of things as they are.

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