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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
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page: 128

CHAPTER V

IN WHICH DICKIE IS INTRODUCED TO A LITTLE DANCER WITH BLUSH‐ROSES IN HER HAT

“HER ladyship’s inquired for you more than once, sir.”—This from Winter meeting the pony‐carriage and the returning prodigal at the bottom of the steps.

The sun was low. Across the square lawn—whereon the Clown had found death some thirteen years before—peacocks led home their hens and chicks to roost within the two sexagonal, pepper‐pot summer‐houses that fill in the angles of the red‐walled enclosure. The pea‐fowl stepped mincingly, high‐shouldered, their heads carried low, their long necks undulating with a self‐conscious grace. Dickie’s imagination was aglow like that rose‐red, sunset sky. The virile sentiment of all just heard and seen, and the exultation of admitted ownership were upon him. He felt older, stronger, more secure of himself, than ever before. He proposed to go straight to his mother and confess. In his present mood he entertained no fear but that she would understand.

“Is Lady Calmady alone?” he asked.

“Mr. and Mrs. Cathcart are with her, Sir Richard.”—Winter leant down, loosening the rug. His usual undemonstrative speech took on a loftiness of tone. “Mrs. William Ormiston and her daughter have driven over with Mrs. Cathcart.”—The butler was not without remembrance of that dinner on the day following Dickie’s birth. Socially he had never considered Lady Calmady’s sister‐in‐law quite up to the Brockhurst level.

Richard leaned back, watching the mincing peacocks. It was so fair here out of doors. The scent of the may hung in the air. The flame of the sunset bathed the façade of the stately house. No doubt it would be interesting to see new people, new relations; but he really cared to see no one, just now, except his mother. From her he wanted to receive absolution, so that, his conscience relieved of the burden of his disobedience, he might revel to the full in the thought of the inheritance upon page: 129 which—so it seemed to him—he had to‐day entered. Still, in his present humour, Dickie’s sense of noblesse oblige was strong.

“I suppose I’ve got to go in and help entertain everybody,” he remarked.

“Her ladyship’ll think something’s wrong, Sir Richard, and be anxious if you stay away.”

The boy held out his arms. “All right then, Winter,” he said.

Here Chaplin again gave that admonitory cough. Richard, his face hardening to slight scorn, looked at him over the butler’s shoulder.

“Oh! You need not be uneasy, Chaplin. When I say I’ll do a thing, I don’t forget.”

Which brief speech caused the butler to reflect, as he bore the boy across the hall and upstairs, that Sir Richard was coming to have an uncommonly high manner about him, at times, considering his age.

An unwonted loudness of conversation filled the Chapel‐Room. It was filled also by the rose‐red light of the sunset streaming in through the curve of the oriel‐window. This confused and dazzled Richard slightly, entering upon it from the silence and sober clearness of the stair‐head. A shrill note of laughter.—Mr. Cathcart’s voice saying—“I felt it incumbent upon me to object, Lady Calmady. I spoke very plainly to Fallowfeild.”—Julius March’s delicately refined tones—“I am afraid spirituality is somewhat deficient in that case.”—Then the high, flute‐like notes of a child, rising dearly above the general murmur‐“Ah! enfin—le voilà, Maman. C’est bien lui, n’est‐ce pas?” And with that, Richard was aware of a sudden hush falling upon the assembled company. He was sensible everyone watched him as Winter carried him across the room and set him down in the long, low arm‐chair near the fireplace. Poor Dickie’s self‐consciousness, which had been so agreeably in abeyance, returned upon him, and a red, not of the sunset, dyed his face. But he carried his head proudly. He thought of Chifney and the horses. He refused to be abashed.

And Ormiston, breaking the silence, called to him cheerily:—

“Hello, old chap, what have you been up to? You gave Mary and me the slip.”

“I know I did,” the boy answered bravely. “How d’ye do, Mrs. Cathcart?” as the latter nodded and smiled to him—a large, gentle, comfortable lady, uncertain in outline, thanks to voluminous draperies of black silk and black lace. “How d’ye do, sir?” this to Mr. Cathcart—a tall, neatly‐made man, but for a page: 130 slight roundness of the shoulders. Seeing him, there remained no doubt as to whence Mary inherited her large mouth; but matter for thankfulness that she had avoided further inheritance. For Mr. Cathcart was notably plain. Small eyes and snub nose, long, lower jaw, and grey, forward‐curled whiskers rendered his appearance unfortunately simian. He suggested a caricature; but one, let it be added, of a person undeniably well‐bred.

“My darling, you are very late,” Katherine said. Her back was towards her guests as she stooped down arranging the embroidered rug across Dickie’s feet and legs. Laying his hand on her wrist he squeezed it closely for a moment.

“I—I’ll tell you all about that presently, mummy, when they’re gone. I’ve been enjoying myself awfully—you won’t mind?”

Katherine smiled. But, looking up at her, it appeared to Richard that her face was very white, her eyes very large and dark, and that she was very tall and, somehow, very splendid just then. And this fed his fearlessness, fed his young pride, even as, though in a more subtle and exquisite manner, his late experience of the racing‐stable had fed them. His mother moved away and took up her interrupted conversation with Mr. Cathcart regarding the delinquencies of Lord Fallowfeild. Richard looked coolly round the room.

Everyone was there—Julius, Mary, Mademoiselle de Mirancourt, while away in the oriel‐window Roger Ormiston stood talking to a pretty, plump, very much dressed lady, who chattered, laughed, stared, with surprising vivacity. As Dickie looked at her she stared back at him through a pair of gold eye‐glasses. Against her knee, that rosy light bathing her graceful, little figure, leant a girl about Dickie’s own age. She wore a pale pink and blue frock, short and outstanding in the skirts. She also wore a broad‐brimmed, white hat, with a garland of blush‐roses around the crown of it. The little girl did not stare. She contemplated Richard languidly, yet with sustained attention. Her attitude and bearing were attractive. Richard wanted to see her close, to talk to her. But to call and ask her to come to him was awkward. And to go to her—the boy grew a little hot again—was more awkward still.

Mrs. Ormiston dropped her gold eye‐glasses into her lap.

“It really is ten thousand pities when these things happen in the wrong rank of life,” she said. “Rightly placed they might be so profitable.”

“For goodness sake, be careful, Charlotte,” Ormiston put in quickly.

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“Oh! my dear creature, don’t be nervous. Everybody’s attending to everybody else, and if they did hear they wouldn’t understand. I’m one of the fortunate persons who are supposed never to talk sense and so I can say what I like.” Mrs. Ormiston gave her shrill little laugh. “Oh! there are consolations, depend upon it, in a well‐sustained reputation for folly!”

The laugh jarred on Richard. He decided that he did not quite like his aunt Charlotte Ormiston. All the same he wished the charming, little girl would come to him.

“But to return.—It’s a waste. To some poor family it might have been a perfect fortune. And I hate waste. Perhaps you have never discovered that?”

Ormiston let his glance rest on the somewhat showy figure.

“I doubt if William has discovered it either,” he remarked.

“Oh! as to your poor brother William, Heaven only knows what he has or has not discovered!—Now, Helen, this conversation becomes undesirable. You’ve asked innumerable questions about your cousin. Go and make acquaintance with him. I’m the best of mothers of course, but, at times, I really can do quite well without you.”

Now surely this was a day of good fortune, for again Dickie had his desire. And a most surprisingly pretty, little desire it proved—seductive even, deliciously finished in person and in manner. The boy gazed at the girl’s small hands and small, daintily shod feet, at the small, lovely, pink and white face set in a cloud of golden‐brown hair, at the innocent, blue eyes, at the mouth with upturned corners to it. Richard was not of age to remark the eyes were rather light in colour, the lips rather thin. The exquisite refinement of the girl’s whole person delighted him. She was delicate as a miniature, as a figure carved in ivory. She was like his uncle Roger, when she was silent and still. She was like—oh, poor Dick!—some bright glancing, small, saucy bird when she spoke and her voice had those clear, flute tones in it.

“Since you did not come to me, I had to come to you,” she said. “I have wanted so much to see you. I had heard about you at home, in Paris.”

“Heard about me?” Dickie repeated, flattered and surprised. “But won’t you sit down? Look—that little chair. I can reach.”

And leaning sideways he stretched out his hand. But his finger‐tips barely touched the top rail. Richard flushed.—“I’m awfully sorry,” he said, “but I am afraid—it isn’t heavy—I must let you get it yourself.”

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The girl, who had watched him intently, her hands clasped, gave a little sigh. Then the corners of her mouth turned up as she smiled. A delightful dimple showed in her right cheek.

“But, of course,” she replied, “I will get it.”

She settled herself beside him, folded her hands, crossed her feet, exposing a long length of fine, open‐work, silk stocking.

“I desired enormously to see you,” she continued. “But when you came in I grew shy. It is so with one sometimes.”

“You should use your influence, Lady Calmady,” Mr. Cathcart was saying. “Unquestionably the condition of the workhouse is far from satisfactory. And Fallowfeild is too lenient. That laisser‐aller policy of his threatens to land us in serious difficulties. The place is insanitary, and the food is unnecessarily poor. I am not an advocate for extravagance, but I cannot bear to see discomfort which might be avoided. Fallowfeild is the most kind‐hearted of men, but he has a fatal habit of believing what people tell him. And those workhouse officials have got round him. The whole matter ought to be subjected to the strictest investigation.”

“It is very nice of you to have wanted so much to see me,” Dickie said. His eyes were softly bright.

“Oh! but one always wants to see those who are talked about. It is a privilege to have them for one’s relations.”

“But—but—I’m not talked about?” the boy put in, somewhat startled.

“But certainly. You are so rich. You have this superb château. You are”—she put her head on one side with a pretty, saucy, birdlike movement—“enfin,” she said, “I had the greatest curiosity to make your acquaintance. I shall tell all my young friends at the convent about this visit. I promised them that, as soon as mama said we should probably come here. The good sisters also are interested. I shall recount a whole history of this beautiful castle, and of you, and your”—

She paused, clasped her hands, looking away at her mother, then sideways at Richard, bowing her little person backwards and forwards, laughing softly all the while. And her laughing face was extraordinarily pretty under the shade of her broad‐brimmed hat.

“It is a great misfortune we stay so short a time,” she continued. “I shall not see the half of all that I wish to see.”

Then an heroic plan of action occurred to Richard. The daring engendered by his recent act of disobedience was still active in him. He was in the humour to attempt the impossible. He longed, moreover, to give this delectable little person pleasure. page: 133 He was willing even to sacrifice a measure of personal dignity in her service.

“Oh! but if you care so much, I—I will show you the house,” he said.

“Will you?” she cried, “You and I alone together? But that is precisely what I want. It would be ravishing.”

Poor Dickie’s heart misgave him slightly; but he summoned all his resolution. He threw off the concealing rug.

“I—I walk very slowly, I’m afraid,” he said rather huskily, looking up at her, while in his expression appeal mingled pathetically with defiant pride.

“But, so much the better,” she replied. “We shall be the longer together. I shall have the more to observe, to recount.”

She was on her feet. She hovered round him, birdlike, intent on his every movement.

Meanwhile the sound of conversation rose continuous. Lady Calmady, calling to Julius, had moved away to the great writing‐table in the farther window. Together they searched among a pile of papers for a letter of Dr. Knott’s, embodying his scheme of the new hospital at Westchurch. Mr. Cathcart stood by, expounding his views on the subject.

“Of course a considerable income can be derived from letters of recommendation,” he was saying, “in‐patient and out‐patient tickets. The clergy come in there. They cannot be expected to give large donations. It would be unreasonable to expect that of them.”

Mademoiselle de Mirancourt, Mrs. Cathcart, and Mary, had drawn their chairs together. The two elder ladies spoke with a subdued enthusiasm, discussing pleasant details of the approaching wedding, which promised the younger lady so glad a future. Mrs. Ormiston chattered; while Ormiston, listening to her, gazed away down the green length of the elm avenue, beyond the square lawn and pepper‐pot summer‐houses, and pitied men who made such mistakes in the matter of matrimony as his brother William obviously had. The rose of the sunset faded in the west. Bats began to flit forth, hawking against the still‐warm house‐walls for flies.

And so, unobserved, Dickie slipped out of the security of his arm‐chair, and rose to that sadly deficient full height of his. He was nervous, and this rendered his balance more than ever uncertain. He shuffled forward, steadying himself by a piece of furniture here and there in passing, until he reached the wide open space before the door on to the stair‐head. And it page: 134 required some fortitude to cross this space, for here was nothing to lay hold of for support.

Little Helen Ormiston had kept close beside him so far. Now she drew back, leaving him alone. Leaning against a table, she watched his laborious progress. Then a fit of uncontrollable laughter took her. She flew half‐way across to the oriel‐window, her voice ringing out clear and gay, though broken by bursts of irrepressible merriment.

Regardez, regardez donc, Maman! Ma bonne m’avait dit qu’il était un avorton, et que ce serait très amusant de le voir. Elle m’a conseiller de lui faire marcher.

She darted back, and clapping her hands upon the bosom of her charming frock, danced, literally danced and pirouetted around poor Dickie.

Moi, je ne comprenais pas ce que c’était qu’un avorton,” she continued rapidly. “Mais je comprends parfaitement maintenant. C’est un monstre, n’est‐ce pas, Maman?”

She threw back her head, her white throat convulsed by laughter.

“Ah! Mon Dieu, qu’il est drôle!” she cried.

Silence fell on the whole room, for sight and words alike were paralysing in their grotesque cruelty. Ormiston was the first to speak. He laid his hand somewhat roughly on his sister‐in‐law’s shoulder.

“For God’s sake, stop this, Charlotte,” he said. “Take the girl away. Little brute,” he added, under his breath, as he went hastily across to poor Dick.

But Lady Calmady had been beforehand with him. She swept across the room, flinging aside the dainty, dancing figure as she passed. All the primitive fierceness, the savage tenderness, of her motherhood surged up within her. Katherine was in the humour to kill just then, had killing been possible. She was magnificently regardless of consequences, regardless of conventionalities, regardless of every obligation save that of sheltering her child. She cowered down over Richard, putting her arms about him, knew—without question or answer—that he had heard and understood. Then gathering him up against her, she stood upright, facing them all, brother, sister, old and tried friends, a terrible expression in her eyes, the boy’s face pressed down upon her shoulder. For the moment she appeared alienated from, and at war with, even Julius, even Marie de Mirancourt. No love, however faithful, could reach her. She was alone, unapproachable, in her immense anger and immense sense of outrage.

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“I will ask you to go,” she said to her sister‐in‐law,—“to go and take your daughter with you, and to enter this house no more.”

Mrs. Ormiston did not reply. Even her chatter was for the moment stilled. She pressed a handkerchief against the little dancer’s forehead, and it was stained with blood.

“Ah! she is a wicked woman!” wailed the child. “She has hurt me. She threw me against the table. Maman quel malheur ça se verra. Il y aura certainement une cicatrice!”

“Nonsense,” Ormiston said harshly. “It’s nothing, Kitty, the merest scratch.”

“Yes, my dear, we will have the carriage at once,”—this from Mr. Cathcart to his wife. The incident, from all points of view, shocked his sense of propriety. Immediate retirement became his sole object.

Lady Calmady moved away, carrying the boy. She trembled a little. He was heavy. Moreover, she sickened at the sight of blood. But little Helen Ormiston caught at her dress, and looked up at her.

“I hate you,” she said, hissing the words out with concentrated passion between her pretty even teeth. “You have spoilt me. I will hate you always, when I grow up. I will never forget.”

Alone in the great state‐bedroom next door, a long time elapsed before either Richard or Katherine spoke. The boy leaned back against the sofa cushions, holding his mother’s hand. The casements stood wide open, and little winds laden with the scent of the hawthorns in the park wandered in, gently stirring the curtains of the ebony bed, so that the Trees of the Forest of This Life, thereon embroidered, appeared somewhat mournfully to wave their branches, while the Hart fled forward and the Leopard, relentless in perpetual pursuit, followed close behind. There was a crunching of wheels on the gravel, a sound of hurried farewells. Then in a minute or two more the evening quiet held its own again.

Suddenly Dickie flung himself down across Katherine’s lap, his poor body shaken by a tempest of weeping.

“Mother, I can’t bear it—I can’t bear it,” he sobbed. “Tell me, does everybody do that?”

“Do what, my own precious?” she said, calm from very excess of sorrow. Later she would weep too, in the dark, lying lonely in the cold comfort of that stately bed.

“Laugh at me, mother, mock at me?” and his voice, for all that he tried to control it, tore at his throat and rose almost to a shriek.

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