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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
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page: 154

CHAPTER VIII

TELLING, INCIDENTALLY, OF A BROKEN‐DOWN POSTBOY AND A COUNTRY FAIR

THE Brockhurst mail‐phaeton waited, in the shade of the three large sycamores, before Appleyard’s shop at Farley Row. A groom stood stiff and straight at the horses’ heads. While upon the high driving‐seat, a trifle excited by the suddenness of his elevation, sat Richard. He held the reins in his right hand, and stretched his left to get the cramp out of his fingers. His arms ached—there was no question about it. He had never driven a pair before, and the horses needed a lot of driving. For the wind was gusty, piling up heavy masses of black‐purple rain‐cloud in the south‐east. It made the horses skittish and unsteady, and Dickie found it was just all he could do to hold them, so that Chifney’s reiterated admonition, “Keep ’em well in hand, Sir Richard,” had been not wholly easy to obey.

From out the open shop‐door came mingled odour of new leather and of horse clothing. Within Mr. Chifney delivered himself of certain orders; while Appleyard—a small, fair man, thin of nose, a spot of violent colour on either cheek‐bone—skipped before him lamb‐like, in a fury of complacent intelligence. For it was not every day so notable a personage as the Brockhurst trainer crossed his threshold. To Josiah Appleyard, indeed—not to mention his two apprentices stretching eyes and ears from the back‐shop, to catch any chance word of Mr. Chifney’s conversation—it appeared as though the gods very really condescended to visit the habitations of men. While Mrs. Appleyard, peeping from behind the wire blind of the parlour, had—as she afterwards repeatedly declared—“felt her insides turn right over,” when she saw the carriage draw up. The conversation was prolonged and low‐toned. For the order was of a peculiar and confidential character, demanding much explanation on the one part, much application on the other. It was an order, in short, wholly flattering to the self‐esteem of the saddler, both as tribute to his social discretion and his technical skill. Thus did Josiah skip lamb‐like, being glad.

Meanwhile, Richard Calmady waited without, resting his aching arms, gazing down the wide, dusty street, his senses lulled by the flutter of the sycamore leaves overhead. The said street page: 155 offered but small matter of interest. For Farley Row is one of those dead‐alive, little towns on the borders of the forest land, across which progress, even at the time in question, 1856, had written Ichabod in capital letters. During the early years of the century some ninety odd coaches, plying upon the London and Portsmouth road, would stop to change horses at the White Lion in the course of each twenty‐four hours. That was the golden age of the Row. Horns twanged, heavy wheels rumbled, steaming teams were led away, with drooping heads, into the spacious inn yard, and fresh horses stepped out cheerily to take their place between the traces. The next stage across Spendle Flats was known as a risky one. Legends of Claude Duval and his fellow‐highwaymen still haunt the woods and moors that top the long hill going north‐eastward. And the passengers by those ninety coaches were wont to recover themselves from terrors escaped, or fortify themselves against terrors to come, by plentiful libations at the bar of the handsome red‐brick inn. The house did a roaring trade. But now the traffic upon the great road had assumed a local and altogether undemonstrative character. The coaches had fallen into lumber, the spanking teams had each and all made their squalid last journey to the knacker’s. And the once famous Gentlemen of the Road had long lain at rest in Mother Earth’s lap—sleeping there none the less peacefully because the necks of many of them had suffered a nasty rick from the hangman’s rope, and because the hard‐trodden pavement of the prison‐yard covered them.

The fine stables of the White Lion stood tenantless, now, from year’s end to year’s end. Rats scampered, and bats squeaked in unlovely ardours of courtship, about the ranges of empty stalls and cobweb‐hung rafters. Yet one ghost from out the golden age haunted the place still—a lean, withered, bandy‐legged, little stick of a man, arrayed in frayed and tarnished splendour of sky‐blue waist‐jacket, silver lace, and jackboots—of which the soles and upper leathers threatened speedy and final divorce. In all weathers this bit of human wreckage—Jackie Deeds by name—might be seen wandering aimlessly about the vacant yard, or seated upon the bench beside the portico of the silent, bow‐windowed inn, pulling at a, too often empty, clay‐pipe and spitting automatically.

Over Richard, tender‐hearted as yet towards all creatures whom nature or fortune had treated cavalierly, the decrepit postboy exercised a fascination. One day, when driving through the Row with Mary Cathcart, he had succeeded in establishing relations with Jackie Deeds through the medium of a half‐crown. page: 156 And now, as he waited beneath the rustling sycamores, it was with a sensation of quick, yet half‐shy, pleasure, that he saw the disreputable figure lurch out of the inn yard, stand for a minute shading eyes with hand while making observations, and then hobble across the street, touching the peak of a battered, black‐velvet cap as it advanced.

“Be ’e come to zee the show, sir?” the old man coughed out, peering with dim, blear eyes up into the boy’s fresh face.

“No, we’ve come about something from Appleyard’s. I—I didn’t know there was a show.”

“Oh! bain’t there though, Sir Richard! I tell ’e there be a prime sight of a show. There be monkeys down town, and dorgs what dances on their ’inder legs, and gurt iron cages chock‐full er wild beastises, by what they tells me.”

Dickie, feeling anxiously in his pockets for some coin of sufficient size to be worthy of Mr. Deeds’ acceptance, ejaculated involuntarily:—“Oh! are there? I’d give anything to see them.”

“Sixpence ’ud do most er they ’ere shows, I expect. The wild beastises ’ud run into a shilling may be.”—The old postboy made a joyless, creaking sound, bearing but slightest affinity to laughter. “But you ’ud see your way round more’n a shilling, Sir Richard. A terrible, rich, young gentleman, by what they tells me.”

Something a trifle malicious obtained in this attempt at jocosity, causing Dickie to bend down rather hastily over the wheel, and thrust his offering into the crumpled, shaky hands.

“There,” he said. “Oh! it’s nothing. I’m so pleased you—you don’t mind. Where do you say this show is?”

“Gor a’mighty bless ’e, sir,” the old man whimpered, with a change of tone. “Tain’t every day poor old Jackie Deeds runs across a rich, young gentleman as ’ll give him ’arf a crown. Times is bad, mortal bad—couldn’t be much wuss.”

“I’m so sorry,” Richard answered. He felt apologetic, as though in some manner responsible for the decay of the coaching system and his companion’s fallen estate.

“Mortal bad, couldn’t be no wuss.”

“I’m very sorry. But about the show—where is it, please?” the boy asked again, a little anxious to change the subject.

“Oh! that there show. Tain’t much of a show neither, by what they tells me.”

Mr. Deeds spoke with sudden irritability. Uplifted by the possession of half a crown, he became contemptuous of the present, jealous of the past when such coin was more plentiful with him.

page: 157

“Not much of a show,” he repeated. “The young ’uns’ll crack up most anything as comes along. But that’s their stoopidness. Never zee’d nothing better. Law bless ’e, this ain’t a patch on the shows I’ve a‐zeen in my day. Cock‐fightings, and fellows—wi’ a lot er money laid on ’em by the gentry too—a‐pounding of each other till there weren’t an inch above the belt of ’em as weren’t bloody. And the Irish giant, and dwarfs ’ad over from France. They tell me most Frencheys’s made that way. Ole Boney ’isself wasn’t much of a one to look at. And I can mind a calf wi’ two ’eads—’ud eat wi’ both mouths at once, and all the food ’ud go down into the same belly. And a man wi’ no arms, never ’ad none, by what they used to tell me”—

“Ah!” Richard exclaimed quickly.

“No, never ’ad none, and yet ’ud play the drum wi’ ’is toes and fire off a horse pistol. Lor, you would er laughed to ’ave zeen ’im. ’E made fine sport for the folks ’e did.”

Jackie Deeds had recovered his good‐humour. He peered up into the boy’s face again maliciously, and broke into cheerless, creaking merriment.

“Gor a’mighty ’as ’is jokes too,” he said. “I’m thinking, by the curous‐made creeturs ’e sends along sometimes.”

“Chifney,” Richard called imperatively. “Chifney, are you nearly ready? We ought to get home. There’s a storm coming up.”

“Well, we shall get that matter of the saddle done right enough, Sir Richard,” the trainer remarked presently, as the carriage bowled up the street. “Don’t be too free with the whip, sir.—Steady, steady there.—Mind the donkey‐cart.—Bear away to the right. Don’t let ’em get above themselves. Excuse me, Sir Richard.”

He leaned forward and laid both hands quietly on the reins.

“Look here, sir,” he said, “I think you’d better let Henry lead the horses past all this variety business.”

The end of the street was reached. On either hand small red or white houses trend away in a broken line along the edge of a flat, grass common, backed by plantations of pollarded oak trees. In the foreground, fringing the broad roadway, were booths, tents, and vans. And the staring colours of these last, raw reds and yellows, the blue smoke beating down from their little stove‐pipe chimneys, the dirty white of tent flaps and awnings, stood out harshly in a flare of stormy sunlight against the solid green of the oaks and uprolling masses of black‐purple cloud.

Here indeed was the show. But to Richard Calmady’s eyes it lacked disappointingly in attraction. His nerves were some‐ page: 158 what a‐quiver. All the coarse detail, all the unlovely foundations, of the business of pleasure were rather distressingly obvious to his sight. A merry‐go‐round was in full activity—wooden horses and most unseaworthy boats describing a jerky circle to the squeaking of tin whistles and purposeless thumpings of a drum. Close by a crop‐eared lurcher, tied beneath one of the vans, dragged choking at his chain and barked himself frantic under the stones and teasing of a knot of idle boys. A half‐tipsy slut of a woman threatened a child, who, in soiled tights and spangles, crouched against the muddy hind‐wheel of a waggon, tears dribbling down his cheeks, his arm raised to ward off the impending blow. From the menagerie—an amorphous huddle of grey tents, ranged behind a flight of wooden steps leading up to an open gallery hung with advertisements of the many attractions within—came the hideous laughter of a hyena, and the sullen roar of a lion weary of the rows of stolid English faces staring daily, hourly, between the bars of his foul and narrow cage, heart‐sick with longing for sight of the open, starlit heaven and the white‐domed, Moslem tombs amid the prickly, desert thickets and plains of clean, hot sand. On the edge of the encampment horses grazed—sorry beasts for the most part, galled, broken‐kneed and spavined, weary and heart‐sick as the captive lion. But weary not from idleness, as he. Weary from heavy loads and hard travelling and scant provender. Sick of collar and whip and reiterated curses.

About the tents and booths, across the grass, and along the roadway, loitered a sad‐coloured, country crowd. Even to the children, it took its pleasure slowly and silently; save in the case of a hulking, young carter in a smock‐frock, who, being pretty far gone in liquor, alternately shouted bawdy songs and offered invitation to the company generally to come on and have its head punched.

Such were the pictures that impressed themselves upon Richard’s brain, as Henry led the dancing carriage‐horses up the road. And it must be owned that from this first sight of life, as the common populations live it, his soul revolted. Delicately nurtured, finely bred, his sensibility accentuated by the prickings of that thorn in the flesh which was so intimate a part of his otherwise noble heritage, the grossness and brutality of much which most boys of his age have already learned to take for granted affected him to the point of loathing. And more especially did he loathe the last picture presented to him on the outskirts of the common. At the door of a gaudily‐painted van, somewhat apart from the rest, stood a strapping lass, page: 159 tambourine in one hand, tin mug for the holding of pennies in the other. She wore a black, velvet bodice, rusty with age, and a blue, silk skirt of doubtful cleanliness, looped up over a widely distended scarlet petticoat. Rows of amber beads encircled her brown throat. She laughed and leered, bold‐eyed and coarsely alluring, at a couple of sheepish country lads on the green below. She called to them, pointing over her shoulder with the tin cup, to the sign‐board of her show. At the painting on that board Richard Calmady gave one glance. His lips grew thin and his face white. He jerked at the reins, causing the horses to start and swerve. Was it possible that, as old Jackie Deeds said, God Almighty had His jokes too, jokes at the expense of His own creation? That in cynical abuse of human impotence, as a wanton pastime, He sent human beings forth into the world thus ludicrously defective? The thought was unformulated. It amounted hardly to a thought indeed,—was but a blind terror of insecurity, which, coursing through the boy’s mind, filled him with agonised and angry pity towards all disgraced fellow‐beings, all enslaved and captive beasts. Dimly he recognised his kinship to all such.

Meanwhile the carriage bowled along the smooth road and up the long hill, bordered by fir and beech plantations, which leads to Spendle Flats. And there, in the open, the storm came down, in rolling thunder and lashing rain. Tall, shifting, white columns chased each other madly across the bronze expanse of the moorland. Chifney, mindful of his charge, hurried Dickie into a greatcoat, buttoned it carefully round him, offered to drive, almost insisted on doing so. But the boy refused curtly. He welcomed the stinging rain, the swirling wind, the swift glare of lightning, the ache and strain of holding the pulling horses. The violence of it all heated his blood as with the stern passion of battle. And under the influence of that passion his humour changed from agonised pity to a fierce determination of conquest. He would fight, he would come through, he would win, he would slay dragons. Prometheus‐like he would defy the gods. Again his thought was unformulated, little more than the push of young, untamed energy impatient of opposition. But that he could face this wild mood of nature and control and guide these high‐mettled, headstrong horses gave him coolness and self‐confidence. It yielded him assurance that there was, after all, an immensity of distance between himself and all caged, outworn creatures, and that the horrible example of deformity upon the brazen‐faced girl’s show‐board had really nothing to do with him. Dickie’s last humour was less noble page: 160 than his first, it is to be feared. But in all healthy natures, in all those in whom the love of beauty is keen, there must be in youth strong repudiation of the brotherhood of suffering. Time will teach a finer and deeper lesson to those that have faith and courage to receive it; yet it is well the young should defy sorrow, hate suffering, gallantly, however hopelessly, fight.

And the warlike instinct remained by Dickie all that evening. He was determined to assert himself, to measure his power, to obtain. While Winter was helping him dress for dinner he gave orders that his chair should be placed at the bottom of the table.

“But the colonel sits there, Sir Richard.”

Dickie’s face did not give in the least.

“He has sat there,” he answered rather shortly. “But I have spoken to her ladyship, and in future he will sit by her. I’ll go down early, Winter. I prefer being in my place when the others come in.”

It must be added that Ormiston accepted his deposition in the best possible spirit, patting the boy on the shoulder as he passed him.

“Quite right, old chap. I like to see you there. Claim your own, and keep it.”

At which a lump rose in Dickie’s throat, nearly causing him to choke over his first spoonful of soup. But Mary Cathcart, whose kind eyes saw most things, smiled first upon her lover and then upon him, and began talking to him of horses, as one sportsman to another. And so Dickie speedily recovered himself and grew eager, playing host very prettily at his own table.

He demanded to sit up to prayers, moreover, and took his place in the dead Richard Calmady’s stall nearest the altar rails on the gospel side. Next him was Dr. Knott, who had come in unexpectedly just before dinner. He had the boy a little on his mind; and, while contemptuous of his own solicitude in the matter, wanted badly to know just how he was. Lady Calmady had begged him to stay. He could be excellent company when he pleased. He had laid aside his roughness of manner and been excellent company to‐night. Next him was Ormiston, while the seats immediately below were occupied by the men‐servants, Winter at their head.

Opposite to Richard, across the chapel, sat Lady Calmady. The fair, summer moonlight streaming in through the east window spread a network of fairy jewels upon her stately, grey‐clad figure and beautiful head. Beside her was Mary Cathcart, and then came a range of dark, vacant stalls. And below these page: 161 was a long line of women‐servants, ranging from Denny, in rustling, black silk, and Clara,—alert and pretty, though a trifle tearful,—through many grades and orders, down to the little scullery‐maid, fresh from the keeper’s cottage on the Warren—home‐sick, and half scared by the grand gentlemen and ladies in evening‐dress, by the strange, lovely figures in the stained‐glass windows, by the great, gold cross and flowers, and the rich altar‐cloth and costly hangings but half seen in the conflicting light of the moonbeams and flickering candles.

John Knott was impressed by the scene too, though hardly on the same lines as the little scullery‐maid. He had long ago passed the doors of orthodoxy and dogma. Christian church and heathen temple—could he have had the interesting experience of entering the latter—were alike to him. The attitude and office of the priest, the same in every age and under every form of religion, filled him with cynical scorn. Yet he had to own there was something inexpressibly touching in the nightly gathering together of this great household, gentle and simple; and in this bowing before the source of the impenetrable mystery which surrounds and encloses the so curiously urgent and vivid consciousness of the individual. He had to own, too, that there was something inexpressibly touching in the tones of Julius March’s voice as he read of the young Galilean prophet “going about and doing good ”—simple and gracious record of tenderness and pity, upon which, in the course of centuries, the colossal fabric of the modern Christianity, Catholic and Protestant, has been built up.

“‘And great multitudes came to Him,’” read Julius, “‘having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus’ feet, and He healed them; insomuch that the multitude marvelled when they saw the dumb to speak, and the maimed to be whole, and the lame to walk’”—

How simple it all sounded in that sweet, old‐world story! And yet how lamentably, in striving to accomplish just these same things, his own far‐reaching science failed!

“‘The maimed to be whole, the lame to walk’”—involuntarily he looked round at the boy beside him.

Richard leaned back in his stall, tired with the long day and its varying emotions. His eyes were half closed, and his profile showed pale as wax against the background of dark woodwork. His eyebrows were drawn into a slight frown, and his face bore a peculiar expression of reticence. Once he glanced up at the reader, as though on a sudden a pleasant thought occurred to page: 162 him. But the movement was a passing one. He leaned back in his stall again and folded his arms, with a movement of quiet pride, almost of contempt.

Later that night, as her custom was, Katherine opened the door of Richard’s room softly, and entering bent over his bed in the warm dimness to give him a last look before going to rest herself. To‐night Dickie was awake. He put his arms round her coaxingly.

“Stay a little, mummy darling,” he said. “I am not a bit sleepy. I want to talk.”

Katherine sat down on the edge of the bed. All the mass of her hair was unbound, and fell in a cloud about her to the waist. Richard, leaning on one elbow, gathered it together, held and kissed it. He was possessed by the sense of his mother’s great beauty. She seemed so magnificently far removed from all that is coarse, spoiled, or degraded. She seemed so superb, so exquisite a personage. So he gazed at her, kissed her hair, and gently touched her arms, where the open sleeves of her white dressing‐gown left them bare, in reverential ecstasy.

Katherine became almost perplexed.

“My dearest, what is it?” she asked at last.

“Oh! it’s only that you’re so perfect, mother,” he said. “You make me feel so safe somehow. I’m never afraid when you are there.”

“Afraid of what?” she asked. A hope came upon her that he had grown nervous of riding, and wanted her to help him to retire gracefully from the matter. But his next words undeceived her. He threw himself back against the pillow and clasped his hands under his head.

“That’s just it,” he said. “I don’t know exactly what I am afraid of, and yet I do get awfully scared at times. I suppose, mother, if one’s in a good position—the position we’re in, you know—nobody can ill‐use one very much?”

Lady Calmady’s eyes blazed with indignation.—“Ill‐use you? Who has ever dared to hint at, to dream of, such a thing, dear Richard?”

“Oh, no one—no one! Only I can’t help wondering about things, you know. And some—some people do get most awfully ill‐used. I can’t help seeing that.”

Katherine paused before answering. The boy did not look at her. She spoke with quiet conviction, her eyes gazing out into the dimness of the room.

“I know,” she said, almost reluctantly. “And perhaps it is as well you should know it too, though it is sad knowledge. page: 163 People are not always very considerate of one another. But ill‐usage cannot touch you, my dearest. You are saved by love, by position, by wealth.”

“You are sure of that, mother?”

“Sure? Of course I am sure, darling,” she answered. Yet even while speaking her heart sank.

Richard remained silent for a space. Then he said, with certain hesitancy:—“Mother, tell me, it is true then that I am rich?”

“Quite true, Dick.”

“But sometimes people lose their money.”

Katherine smiled.—“ Your money is not kept in a stocking, dearest.”

“I don’t suppose it is,” the boy said, turning towards her. “But don’t banks break?”

“Yes, banks break. But a good many broken banks would not affect you. It is too long a story to tell you now, Dickie, but your income is very safe. It would almost need a revolution to ruin you. You are rich now; and I am able to save considerable sums for you yearly.”

“It’s—it’s awfully good of you to take so much trouble for me, mother,” he interrupted, stroking her bare arm again delicately.

To Katherine his half‐shy endearments were the most delicious thing in life—so delicious that at moments she could hardly endure them. They made her heart too full.

“Eight years hence, when you come of age and I give account of my stewardship, you will be very rich,” she said.

Richard lay quite still, his eyes again fixed on the dimness.

“That—that’s good news,” he said at last, drawing a long breath. “I saw things to‐day, mother, while we were driving. It was nobody’s fault. There was a fair with a menagerie and shows at Farley Row. I couldn’t help seeing. Don’t ask me about it, mother. I’d rather forget, if I can. Only it made me understand that it is safer for anyone—well, anyone like—me—don’t you know, to be rich.”

Richard sat up, flung his arms round her and kissed her with sudden passion.

“Beautiful mother, honey‐sweet mother,” he cried, “you’ve told me just everything I wanted to know. I won’t be afraid any more.” Then he added, in a charming little tone of authority:—“Now you mustn’t stay here any longer. You must be tired. You must go to bed and go to sleep.”

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