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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
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page: 117

CHAPTER IV

WHICH SMELLS VERY VILELY OF THE STABLE

APRIL softened into May, and the hawthorns were in blossom before Richard passed any other very noteworthy milestone on the road of personal development. Then, greatly tempted, he committed a venial sin; received prompt and coarse chastisement; and, by means of the said chastisement, as is the merciful way of the Eternal Justice, found unhoped of emancipation.

It happened thus. As the spring days grew warm Mademoiselle de Mirancourt failed somewhat. The darkness and penetrating chill of the English winter tried her, and this year her recuperative powers seemed sadly deficient. A fuller tide of life had pulsed through Brockhurst since Colonel Ormiston’s arrival. The old stillness was departing, the old order changing. With that change Mademoiselle de Mirancourt had no quarrel, since, to her serene faith, all that came must, of necessity, come through a divine ordering and in conformity to a divine plan. Yet this more of activity and of movement strained her. The weekly drive over to Westchurch, to hear mass at the humble Catholic chapel tucked away in a side street, sorely taxed her strength. She returned fortified, her soul ravished by that heavenly love, which, in pure and innocent natures, bears such gracious kinship to earthly love. Yet in body she was outworn page: 118 and weary. On such occasions she would rally Julius March, not without a touch of malice, saying:—

“Ah! très cher ami, had you only followed the ever blessed footsteps of those dear Oxford friends of yours and entered the fold of the true Church, what fatigue might you not now spare me—let alone the incalculable advantages to your own poor, charming, fatally darkened soul!”

While Julius—who, though no less devout than of yore, was happily less fastidiously sensitive—would reply:—

“But, dearest lady, had I followed the footsteps of my Oxford friends, remember I should not be at Brockhurst at all.”

“Clearly, then, everything is well ordered,” she would say, folding her fragile hands upon her embroidery frame, “since it is altogether impossible we could do without you. Yet I regret for your soul. It is so capable of receiving illumination. You English—even the most finished among you—remain really deplorably stubborn, and nevertheless it is my fate perpetually to set my affections upon one or other of you.”

It followed that Katherine devoted much of her time to Mademoiselle de Mirancourt, walked slowly beside her up and down the sunny, garden paths sheltered by the high, red walls whereon the clematis and jasmine began to show for flower; or took her for quiet, little drives within the precincts of the park. They spoke much of Lucia St. Quentin, of Katherine’s girlhood, and of those pleasant days in Paris long ago. And this brought soothing and comfort, not only to the old lady, but to the young lady also—and of soothing and comfort the latter stood in need just now.

For it is harsh discipline even to a noble woman, whose life is still strong in her, to stand by and see another woman, but a few years her junior, entering on those joys which she has lost—marriage, probably motherhood as well. Roger Ormiston and Mary Cathcart’s love‐making was restrained and dignified. But the very calm of their attitude implied a security of happiness passing all need of advertisement. And Katherine was very far from grudging them this. She was not envious, still less jealous. She did not want to take anything of theirs; but she wanted, she sorely wanted, her own again. A word, a look, a certain quickness of quiet laughter, would pierce her with recollection. Once for her too, below the commonplaces of daily detail, flowed that same magic river of delight. But the springs of it had gone dry. Therefore it was a relief to be alone with Mademoiselle de Mirancourt—virgin and saint—and to speak with her of the days before she, Katherine, had sounded the lovely depths of that page: 119 same magic flood—days when she had known of its existence only by the mirage, born of the dazzle of its waters, which plays over the innocent, vacant spaces of a young girl’s mind.

It was a relief even, though of sterner quality, to go into the red drawing‐room on the ground floor and pace there, her hands clasped behind her, her proud head bowed, by the half‐hour together. If personal joy is dead past resurrection, there is bitter satisfaction in realising to the full personal pain. The room was duly swept, dusted, casements set open to welcome breeze and sunshine, fires lighted in the grate. But no one ever sat there. It knew no cheerfulness of social intercourse. The crimson curtains and covers had become faded. They were not renewed. The furniture, save for the absence of the narrow bed, stood in precisely the same order as on the night when Sir Richard Calmady died. It was pushed back against the walls. And in the wide, empty way between the two doors, Katherine paced, saturating all her being with thoughts of that which was, and must remain, wholly and inalienably her own—namely her immense distress.

And in this she took the more comfort, because something else, until now appearing wholly her own, was slipping a little away from her. Dickie’s health had improved notably in the last few weeks. His listlessness had vanished, while his cheeks showed a wholesome warmth of colour. But his cry was ever—“Mother, Uncle Roger’s going to such a place. He says he’ll take me. I can go, can’t I?” Or—“Mother, Mary’s going to do such a thing. She says she’ll show me how. She may, mayn’t she?” And Katherine’s answer was always “Yes.” She grudged the boy none of his new‐found pleasures, rejoiced indeed to see him interested and gay. Yet to watch the new broom, which sweeps so clean, is rarely exhilarating to those that have swept diligently with the old one. The nest had held her precious fledgling so safely till now, and this fluttering of wings, eager for flight, troubled her somewhat. Not only was Dickie’s readiness to be away from her a trifle hard to bear; but she knew that disappointment, of a certainty, lay in wait for him, and that each effort towards wider action would but reveal to him how circumscribed his powers actually were.

Meanwhile, however, Richard enjoyed himself recklessly, almost feverishly, in the attempt to disprove the teaching of that ugly dream, and keep truth at bay. There had been further drives, and the excitement of witnessing a forest fire—only too frequent in the Brockhurst country when the sap is up, and the easterly wind and May sun have scorched all moisture from the page: 120 surface of the moorland. He and Mary had bumped over fir roots and scuttled down bridle‐paths in the pony‐carriage, to avoid the rush of flame and smoke; had skirmished round at a hand gallop, in search of recruits to reinforce Ormiston, and Iles, and a small army of beaters, battling against the blazing line that threatened destruction to the fir avenue. Now and again, with a mighty roar, which sent Dickie’s heart into his mouth, great tongues of flame, clear as topaz and ruby in the steady sunshine, would leap upwards, converting a whole tall fir into a tree of fire, while the beaters running back, grimed with smoke and sweat, took a moment’s breathing‐space in the open.

There had been more peaceful pastimes as well—several days’ fishing, enchanting beyond the power of language to describe. The clear trout‐stream meandering through the rich water‐meadows; the herds of cattle standing knee‐deep in the grass, lazily chewing the cud and switching their tails at the cloud of flies; the birds and wild creatures haunting the streamside; the long dreamy hours of gentle sport, had opened up to Dickie a whole new world of romance. His donkey‐chair had been left at the yellow‐washed mill beneath the grove of silvery‐leaved, ever‐rustling, balsam poplars. And thence, while Ormiston and Mary sauntered slowly on ahead, the men—Winter in mufti, oblivious of plate‐cleaning and cellarage, and the onerous duties of his high estate, Stamp, the water‐bailiff, and Moorcock, one of the under‐keepers—had carried him across the great, green levels. Winter was an old and tried friend, and it was somewhat diverting to behold him in this novel aspect, affable and chatty with inferiors, displaying, moreover, unexpected knowledge in the mysteries of the angler’s craft. The other two men—sharp‐featured, their faces ruddy as summer apples, merry‐eyed, clad in velveteen coats, that bulged about the pockets, and wrinkled leather gaiters reaching half‐way up the thigh—charmed Richard, when his first shyness was passed. They were eager to please him. Their talk was racy. Their laughter ready and sincere. Did not Stamp point out to him a water‐ouzel, with impudently jerking tail, dipping and wading in the shallows of the stream? Did not Moorcock find him a water‐rail’s nest, hidden in a tuft of reeds and grass, with ten, yellowish, speckled eggs in it? And did not both men pluck him handfuls of cowslips, of tawny‐pink avens, and of mottled, snake‐headed fritillarias, and stow them away in the fishing‐baskets above the load of silver‐and‐red spotted trout?

Mary had protested Dickie could throw a fly, if he had a light enough rod. And not only did he throw a fly, but at the page: 121 fourth or fifth cast a fish rose, and he played it—with skirling reel and much advice and most complimentary excitement on the part of the whole good company—and brought it skilfully within range of Stamp’s landing‐net. Never surely was trout spawned that begot such bliss in the heart of an angler! As, with panting sides and open gills, this three‐quarter‐pound treasure of treasures flopped about on the sunny stream bank all the hereditary instinct of sport spoke up clearly in Dickie. The boy—such is youthful masculine human nature—believed he understood at last why the world was made! At dressing‐time he had his sacred fish carried on a plate up to his room to show Clara; and, but for strong remonstrance on the part of that devoted handmaiden, would have kept it by his bedside all night, so as to assure himself at intervals, by sense of touch—let alone that of smell—of the adorable fact of its veritable existence.

But all this, inspiring though it was, served but as prelude to a more profoundly coveted acquaintance—that with the racing‐stable. For it was after this last that Dickie still supremely longed—the more so, it is to be feared, because it was, if not explicitly, yet implicitly forbidden. A spirit of defiance had entered into him. Being granted the inch, he was disposed to take the ell. And this, not in conscious opposition to his mother’s will; but in protest, not uncourageous, against the limitations imposed on him by physical misfortune. The boy’s blood was up, and consequently, with greater pluck than discretion, he struggled against the intimate, inalienable enemy that so marred his fate. And it was this not ignoble effort which culminated in disobedience.

For driving back one afternoon, later than usual,—Ormiston had met them, and Mary and he had taken a by‐path home through the woods,—the pony‐carriage, turned along the high level road beside the lake, going eastward, just as the string of racehorses, coming home from exercise, passed along it coming west. Richard was driving, Chaplin, the second coachman, sitting in the dickey at the back of the low carriage. He checked the pony, and his eyes took in the whole scene—the blue‐brown expanse of the lake dotted with water‐fowl, on the one hand, the immense, blue‐brown landscape on the other, ranging away to the faint line of the chalk downs in the south; the downward slope of the park, to the great square of red stable‐buildings in the hollow; the horses coming slowly towards him in single file. Cawing rooks streamed back from the fallow‐fields across the valley. Thrushes and blackbirds carolled. A wren, in the bramble‐brake close by, broke into sharp, sweet song. The page: 122 recurrent ring of an axe came from somewhere away in the fir plantations, and the strident rasping of a saw from the wood‐yard in the beech grove near the house.

Richard stared at that oncoming procession. Half‐way between him and the foremost of the horses the tan ride branched off, and wound down the hillside to the stables. The boy set his teeth. He arrived at a desperate decision—touched up the pony and drove on.

Chaplin leaned forward, addressing him over the back of the seat.

“Better wait here, hadn’t we, Sir Richard? They’ll turn off in a minute.”

Richard did not look round. He tried to answer coldly, but his voice shook.

“I know. That’s why I am going on.”

There was a silence save for the cawing of the rooks, ring of the axe, and grinding of wheels on the gravel. Chaplin, responsible, correct, over five‐and‐thirty, and fully intending to succeed old Mr. Wenham, the head coachman, on the latter’s impending retirement from active service, went very red in the face.

“Excuse me, but I have my orders, Sir Richard,” he said.

Dickie still looked straight ahead.

“Very well,” he answered, “then perhaps you’d better get out and walk on home.”

“You know I’m bound not to leave you, sir,” the man said.

Dickie laughed a little in uncontrollable excitement. He was close to them now. The leading horse was just moving off the main road, its shadow lying long across the turf. How was it possible to give way with the prize within reach?—“You can go or stay Chaplin, as you please. I mean to speak to Chifney. I—I mean to see the stables.”

“It’s as much as my place is worth, sir.”

“Oh! bother your place!” the boy cried impetuously.—Dear heart alive, how fine they were as they filed by! That chestnut filly, clean made as a deer, her ears laid back as she reached at the bit; and the brown, just behind her—“I mean, I mean you needn’t be afraid, Chaplin—I’ll speak to her ladyship. I’ll arrange all that. Go to the pony’s head.”

At the end of the long string of horses came the trainer—a square‐built, short‐necked man, sanguine complexioned and clean shaven. Of hair, indeed, Mr. Chifney could only boast a rim of carroty‐grey stubble under the rim of the back of his page: 123 hard hat. His right eye had suffered damage, and the pupil of it was white and viscous. His lips were straight and purplish in colour. He raised his hat and would have followed on down the slope, but Dickie called to him.

As he rode up an unwonted expression came over Mr. Chifney’s shrewd, hard‐favoured face. He took off his hat and sat there, bare‐headed in the sunshine, looking down at the boy his hand on his hip.

“Good‐day, Sir Richard,” he said. “Anything I can do for you?”

“Yes, yes,” Dickie stammered, all his soul in his eyes, his cheeks aflame, “you can do just what I want most. Take me down, Chifney, and show me the horses.”

Here Chaplin coughed discreetly behind his hand. But that proved of small avail, save possibly in the way of provocation. For, socially, between the racing and house stables was a great gulf fixed; and Mr. Chifney could hardly be expected to recognise the existence of a man in livery standing at a pony’s head, still less to accept direction from such a person. Servants must be kept in their place—impudent, lazy enough lot anyhow, bless you! On his feet the trainer had been known to decline to moments of weakness. But in the saddle, a good horse under him, he possessed unlimited belief in his own judgment, fearing neither man, devil, nor even his own meek‐faced wife with lilac ribbons in her cap. Moreover, he felt such heart as he had go out strangely to the beautiful, eager boy gazing up at him.

“Nothing ’ud give me greater pleasure in life, Sir Richard,” he said, “if you’re free to come. We’ve waited a long time, a precious long time, sir, for you to come down and take a look at your horses.”

“I’d have been to see them sooner. I’d have given anything to see them. I’ve never had the chance, somehow.”

Chifney pursed up his lips, and surveyed the distant landscape with a very meaning glance. “I daresay not, Sir Richard. But better late than never, you know; and so, if you are free to come”—

Again Chaplin coughed.

“Free to come? Of course I am free to come,” Dickie asserted, his pride touched to arrogance. And Mr. Chifney looked at him, an approving twinkle in his sound eye.

“I agree, Sir Richard. Quite right, sir, you’re free, of course.”

Stolen waters are sweet, says the proverb. And to Richard Calmady, his not wholly legitimate experience of the next hour page: 124 was sweet indeed. For there remains rich harvest of poetry in all sport worth the name, let squeamish and sentimental persons declaim against it as they may. Strength and endurance, disregard of suffering, have a permanent appeal and value, even in their coarsest manifestations. No doubt the noble gentlemen of the neighbourhood, who “lay at Brockhurst two nights” on the occasion of Sir Denzil’s historic house‐warming, to witness the mighty bear‐baiting, were sensible of something more in that somewhat disgusting exhibition, than the mere gratification of brutal instincts, the mere savage relish for wounds and pain and blood. And to Sir Denzil’s latest descendant the first sight of the training‐stable—as the pony‐carriage came to a standstill alongside the grass plot in the centre of the great, gravelled square—offered very definite and stirring poetry of a kind.

On three sides the quadrangle was shut in by one‐storied, brick buildings, the woodwork of doors and windows immaculate with white paint. Behind, over the wide archway,—closed fortress‐like by heavy doors at night,—were the head‐lad’s and helpers’ quarters. On either side, forge and weighing‐room, saddler’s and doctor’s shop. To right and left a range of stable doors, with round swing‐lights between each; and, above these, the windows of hay and straw lofts and of the boys’ dormitories. In front were the dining‐rooms and kitchens, and the trainer’s house—a square clock tower, carrying an ornate gilt vane, rising from the cluster of red roofs. Twenty years had weathered the raw of brick walls, and painted the tiling with all manner of orange and rusty‐coloured lichens; yet the whole place was admirably spick and span, free of litter. Many cats, as Dickie noted, meditated in sunny corners, or prowled in the open with truly official composure. Over all stretched a square of bluest sky, crossed by a skein of homeward‐wending rooks. While above the roofs, on either side the archway, the high‐lying lands of the park showed up, broken here and there by clumps of trees.

Mr. Chifney slipped out of the saddle.—“Here, boy, take my horse,” he shouted to a little fellow hurrying across the yard. “I’m heartily glad to see you, Sir Richard,” he went on. “Now, if you care, as your father’s son can’t very well be off caring, for horses”—

“If I care!” echoed Dickie, his eyes following the graceful, chestnut filly as she was led in over the threshold of her stable.

“I like that. That’ll do. Chip of the old block after all,” the trainer said, with evident relish. “Well then, since you do care for horses as you ought to, Sir Richard, we’ll just make you page: 125 free of this establishment. About the most first‐class private establishment in England, sir, though I say it that have run the concern pretty well single‐handed for the best part of the last fifteen years—make you free of it right away, sir. And, look you, when you’ve got hold, don’t you leave hold.”

“No, I won’t,” Dickie said stoutly.

Mr. Chifney was in a condition of singular emotion, as he wrapped Richard’s rug about him and bore him away into the stables. He even went so far as to swear a little under his breath; and Chifney was a very fairly clean‐mouthed man, unless members of his team of twenty and odd naughty boys got up to some devilry with their charges. He carried Richard as tenderly as could any woman, while he tramped from stall to stall, loose‐box to loose‐box, praising his racers, calling attention to their points, recounting past prowess, or prophesying future victories.

And the record was a fine one; for good luck had clung to the masterless stable, as Lady Calmady’s bank‐books and ledgers could testify.

“Vinedresser, by Red Burgundy out of Valeria—won two races at the Newmarket Spring Meeting the year before last. Lamed himself somehow in the horse‐box coming back—did nothing for eighteen months—hope to enter him for some of the autumn events.”—Then later:—“Sahara, by North African out of Sally‐in‐our‐Alley. Beautiful mare? I believe you, Sir Richard. Why she won the Oaks for you. Jack White was up. Pretty a race as ever I witnessed, and cleverly ridden. Like to go up to her in the stall? She’s as quiet as a lamb. Catch hold of her head, boy.”

And so Dick found himself seated on the edge of the manger, the trainer’s arm round him, and the historic Sahara snuffing at his jacket pockets.

Then they crossed the quadrangle to inspect the colts and fillies, whose glories still lay ahead.

“Verdigris, by Copper King out of Valeria again. And if he doesn’t make a name I’ll never judge another horse, sir. Strain of the old Touchstone blood there. Rather ugly? Yes, they’re often a bit ugly that lot, but devilish good ’uns to go. You ask Miss Cathcart about them. Never met a lady who’d as much knowledge as she has of a horse. The Baby, by Punch out of Lady Bountiful. Not much good, I’m afraid. No grip, you see, too contracted in the hoofs. Chloroform, by Sawbones out of sister to Castinette.”

And so forth, an endless repetition of genealogies, comments, page: 126 anecdotes to which Dickie lent most attentive ear. He was keen to learn, his attention was on the stretch. He was in process of initiation, and every moment of the sacred rites came to him with power and value. Yet it must be owned that he found the lessening of the strain on his memory and attention not wholly unwelcome when Mr. Chifney, sitting beside him on the big, white‐painted corn‐bin opposite Diplomacy’s loose‐box, began to tell him of the old times when he—a little fellow of eight to ten years of age—had been among the boys in his cousin, Sam Chifney’s famous stable at Newmarket. Of the long, weary travelling, before the days of railways, when the horses were walked by highroad and country lane, ankle deep in mud, from Newmarket to Epsom; and after victory or defeat, walked by slow stages all the way home again. Of how, later, he had migrated to Doncaster; but, not liking the “Yorkshire tykes,” had got taken on in some well‐known stables upon the Berkshire downs.

“And it was there, Sir Richard,” he said, “I met your father, and we fancied each other from the first. And he asked me to come to him. These stables were just building then. And here I’ve been ever since.”

Mr. Chifney stared down at the clean, red quarries of the stable floor, and tapped his neat gaiters with the switch he held in his hand.

“Rum places, racing‐stables,” he went on, meditatively, “and a lot of rum things go on in ’em, one way and another, as you’ll come to know. And it ain’t the easiest thing going, I tell you, to keep your hands clean. Ungrateful business a trainer’s, Sir Richard—wearing business—shortens a man’s temper and makes him old before his time. Out by four o’clock on summer mornings, minding your cattle and keeping your eye on those shirking blackguards of boys. No real rest, sir, day or night. Wearing business—studying all the meetings and entering your horses where you’ve reason to reckon they’ve most chance. And if your horse wins, the jockey gets all the praise and the petting. And if it fails, the trainer gets all the blame. Yes, it’s wearing work. But, confound it all, sir,” he broke out hotly, “there’s nothing like it on the face of God’s earth. Horses—horses—horses—why the very smell of the bedding’s sweeter than a bunch of roses. Love ’em? I believe you. And you’ll love ’em too before you’ve done.”

He turned and gripped Dickie hard by the shoulder.

“For we’ll make a thorough‐paced sportsman of you yet, Sir Richard,” he said, “God bless you—danged if we don’t.”

page: 127

Which assertion Mr. Chifney repeated at frequent intervals over his grog that evening, as he sat, not in the smart dining‐room hung round with portraits of Vinedresser and Sahara and other equine notabilities, but in the snug, little, back parlour looking out on to the yard. Mrs. Chifney was a gentle, pious woman, with whom her husband’s profession went somewhat against the grain. She would have preferred a nice grocery, or other respectable, uneventful business, in a country town, and dissipation in the form of prayer rather than of race‐meetings. But as a slender, slightly self‐righteous, young maiden she had fallen very honestly and completely in love with Tom Chifney. So there was nothing for it but to marry him and regard the horses as her appointed cross. She nursed the boys when they were sick or injured, intervened fairly successfully between their poor, little backs and her husband’s all‐too‐ready ash stick; and assisted Julius March in promoting their spiritual welfare, even while deploring that the latter put his faith in forms and ceremonies rather than in saving grace. Upon the trainer himself she exercised a gently repressive influence.

“We won’t swear, Mr. Chifney,” she remarked mildly now.

“Swear! It’s enough to make the whole bench of bishops swear to see that lad.”

“I did see him,” Mrs. Chifney observed.

“Yes, out of window. But you didn’t carry him round, and hear him talk—knowledgeable talk as you could ask from one of his age. And watch his face—as like as two peas to his father’s.”

“But her ladyship’s eyes,” put in Mrs. Chifney.

“I don’t know whose eyes they are, but I know he can use ’em. It was as pretty as a picture to see how he took it all.”

Chifney tossed off the remainder of his tumbler of brandy and water at a gulp.

“Swear,” he repeated, “I could find it in my heart to swear like hell. But I can find it in my heart to do more than that. I can forgive her ladyship. By all that’s”—

“Thomas, forgiveness and oaths don’t go suitably together.”

“Well, but I can though, and I tell you, I do,” he said solemnly. “I forgive her.—Shoot the Clown! by G—! I beg your pardon, Maria—but upon my soul, once or twice, when I had him in my arms to‐day, I felt I could have understood it if she’d had every horse shot that stood in the stable.”

He held the tumbler up against the lamp. But it was quite empty.

“Uncommon glad she didn’t though, poor lady, all the page: 128 same,” he added, parenthetically, as he set it down on the table again.—“What do you say, Maria—about time we toddled off to bed?”

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