Skip to Content
Indiana University

Search Options




View Options


The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
previous
next
page: 164

CHAPTER I

IN WHICH OUR HERO’S WORLD GROWS SENSIBLY WIDER

IN the autumn of 1862 Richard Calmady went up to Oxford. Not through ostentation, but in obedience to the exigencies of the case, his going was in a somewhat princely sort, so that the venerable city, moved from the completeness of her scholarly and historic calm, turned her eyes, in a flutter of quite mundane excitement, upon the new‐comer. Julius March accompanied Richard. Time and thought had moved forward; but the towers and spires of Oxford, her fair cloisters and enchanting gardens, her green meadows and noble elms, her rivers, Isis and Cherwell, remained as when Julius, too, had been among the young and ardent of her sons. He was greatly touched by this return to the Holy City of his early manhood. He renewed old friendships. He reviewed the past, taking the measure calmly of what life had promised, what it had given of good. A pleasant house had been secured in St. Giles’s; and a contingent of the Brockhurst household, headed by Winter, went with the two gentlemen, while Chaplin and a couple of grooms preceded them, in charge of a goodly number of horse‐boxes.

For that first saddle, fashioned now some six years ago by Josiah Appleyard of Farley Row, had worked something as near a miracle as ever yet was worked by pigskin. It was a singularly ugly saddle, running up into a peak front and back, furnished with a complicated system of straps and buckles and—in place of stirrups and stirrup‐leathers—with a pair of contrivances resembling old‐fashioned holsters. Mary Cathcart’s brown eyes had grown moist on first beholding it. And Colonel Ormiston had exclaimed:—“Good God! Oh, well, poor dear little chap, I page: 165 suppose it’s the best we can do for him.” An ugly saddle—yet had Josiah Appleyard ample reason to skip, lamb‐like, being glad. For, ugly or not, it fulfilled its purpose, bringing custom to the maker, and happiness and health to the owner of it.

The boy rode fearlessly, while exercise and exertion begot in him a certain light‐heartedness and audacity good to see. The window‐seat of the Long Gallery, the bookshelves of the library, knew him but seldom now. He was no less courteous, no less devoted to his mother, no less in admiration of her beauty; but the young barbarian was wide awake in Dickie, and drove him out of doors, on to the moorland or into the merry green‐wood, with dog, and horse, and gun. On his well‐broken pony he shot over the golden stubble fields in autumn; brought down his pheasants, stationed at the edge of the great coverts; went out for long afternoons, rabbiting in the warrens and field banks, escorted by spaniels and retrievers, and keepers carrying lithe, lemon‐coloured ferrets tied up in a bag.

Later, when he was older,—but this tried Katherine somewhat, reminding her too keenly of another Richard Calmady and days long dead,—Winter, a trifle reluctant at such shortening of his own virtuous slumbers, would call Dickie and help dress him, all in the grey of the summer morning; while, at the little arched doorway in the west front, Chifney and a groom with a led horse would await his coming, and the boy would mount and ride away from the great, sleeping house. At such times a charm of dewy freshness lay on grass and woodland, on hill and vale. The morning star grew pale and vanished in the clear‐flashing delight of sunrise, as Richard rode forth to meet the string of racers; as he noted the varying form and fortune of Rattlepate or Sweet Rosemary, of Yellow Jacket, Morion or Light‐o’‐Love, over the short, fragrant turf of the gallop; as he felt the virile joy which the strength of the horses, and the pounding rush of them as they swept past him, ever aroused in him, Then he would ride on, by a short‐cut, to the old, red‐brick rubbing‐house, crowning the rising ground on the farther side of the lake, and wait there to see the finish, talking of professional matters with Chifney meanwhile; or, turning his horse’s head towards the wide, distant view, sit silent, drawing near to nature and worshipping—with the innocent gladness of a still virgin heart—in the Temple of the Dawn.

Life at Oxford was set in a different key. The university city was well disposed towards this young man of so great wealth and so strange fortunes; and Richard was unsuspicious, and ready enough to meet friendliness half‐way. Yet it must be page: 166 owned he suffered many bad quarters of an hour. He was, at once, older in thought and younger in practical experience than his fellow‐undergraduates. He was cut off, of necessity, from their sports. They would eat his breakfasts, drink his wine, and show no violent objection to riding his horses. They were considerate, almost anxiously careful of him, being generous and good‐hearted lads. And yet poor Dick was perturbed by the fear that they were more at ease without him, that his presence acted as a slight check upon their genial spirits and their rattling talk. And so it came about that though his acquaintances were many, his friends were few. Chief among the latter was Ludovic Quayle, a younger son of Lord Fallowfeild—whom that kindly, if not very intelligent, nobleman had long ago proposed to export from the Whitney to the Brockhurst nursery with a view to the promotion of general cheerfulness. Mr. Ludovic Quayle was a rather superfine, young gentleman, possessed of an excellent opinion of himself, and a modest opinion of other persons—his father included. But under his somewhat supercilious demeanour there was a vein of true romance. He loved Richard Calmady. And neither time, nor opposing interests, nor certain black chapters which had later to be read in the history of life, destroyed or even weakened that love.

And so Dick, finding himself at sad disadvantage with most of the charming young fellows about him in matters of play, turned to matters of work, letting go the barbarian side of life for a while. In brain, if not in body, he believed himself the equal of the best of them. His ambition was fired by the desire of intellectual triumph. He would have the success of the schools, since the success of the river and the cricket‐field were denied him. Not that Richard set any exaggerated value upon academic honours. Only two things are necessary—this at least was his code at that period—never to lapse from the instincts of high‐breeding and honour, and to see just as much of life, of men and of affairs, as obedience to those instincts permits. Already the sense of proportion was strong in Richard, fed perhaps by the galling sense of personal deformity. Learning is but a part of the whole of man’s equipment, and a paltry enough part unless wisdom go along with it. But the thirst of battle remained in him; and in this matter of learning, at least, he could meet men of his own age and standing on equal terms and overcome them in fair fight.

And so, during the last two years of his university course, he did meet them and overcame, honours falling liberally to his share. Julius March looked on in pleased surprise at the page: 167 exploits of his former pupil. While Ludovic Quayle, with raised eyebrows and half‐tender, half‐ironical amusement relaxing the corners of his remarkably beautiful mouth, would say:—

“Calmady, you really are a shameless glutton! How many more immortal glories, any one of which would satisfy an ordinary man, do you propose to swallow ”

“I suppose it’s a bad year,” Richard would answer. “The others can’t amount to very much, or, needless to say, I shouldn’t walk over the course.”

“A charming little touch of modesty as far as you yourself are concerned,” Ludovic answered. “But not strikingly flattering to the others. I would rather suppose you abnormally clever, than all the rest abnormally stupid—for, after all, you know, am not I, my great self, among the rest?”

At which Dickie would laugh rather shamefacedly, and say:—“Oh you!—why you know well enough you could do anything you liked if you weren’t so confoundedly lazy!”

And meanwhile, at Brockhurst, as news arrived of these successes, Lady Calmady’s soul received comfort. Her step was light, her eyes full of clear shining as she moved to and fro ordering the great house and great estate. She felt repaid for the bitter pain of parting with her darling, and sending him forth to face the curious, possibly scornful, world of the university city. He had proved himself and won his spurs. And this solaced her in the solitude and loneliness of her present life. For her dear friend and companion Marie de Mirancourt had found the final repose, before seeking that of the convent. Early one February morning, in the second year of Richard’s sojourn at Oxford, fortified by the rites of the Church, she had passed the gates of death peacefully, blessing and blessed. Katherine mourned for her, and would continue to mourn with still and faithful sorrow, even while welcoming home her young scholar, hearing the details of his past achievements and hopes for the future, or entertaining—with all gracious hospitality—such of his Oxford friends as he elected to invite to Brockhurst.

It was on one of these last occasions, the young men having gone down to the Gun‐Room to smoke and discuss the day’s pheasant‐shooting, that Katherine had kept Julius March standing before the Chapel‐Room fire, and had looked at him, a certain wistfulness in her face.

“He is happy—don’t you think, Julius?” she said. “He seems to me really happier, more contented, than I have ever seen him since his childhood.”

page: 168

“Yes, I also think that,” Julius answered. “He has reason to be contented. He has measured himself against other men and is satisfied of his own powers.”

“Everyone admires him at Oxford?”

“Yes, they admire and envy him. He has been brilliantly successful.”

Katherine drew herself up, clasping her hands behind her, and smiling proudly as she mused, gazing into the crimson heart of the burning logs. Then, after a silence, she turned suddenly to her companion.

“It is very sweet to have you here at home again, Julius,” she said gently. “I have missed you sorely since dearest Marie de Mirancourt died. Live a little longer than I do, please. Ah! I am afraid it is no small thing that I ask you to do for my sake, for I foresee that I shall survive to a lamentably old age. But sacrifice yourself, Julius, in the matter of living. Less than ever, when the shadows fall, shall I be able to spare you.”

For which words of his dear lady’s, though spoken lightly, half in jest, Julius March gave God great thanks that night.

It was about this period that two pieces of news, each proving eventually to have much personal significance, reached Lady Calmady from the outside world. The first took the form of a letter—a rather pensive and tired letter—from her brother, William Ormiston, telling her that his daughter Helen was about to marry the Comte de Vallorbes, a young gentleman very well known both to Parisian and Neapolitan society. The second took the form of an announcement in the Morning Post, to the effect that Lady Tobermory, whose lamented death that paper had already chronicled, had left the bulk of her not inconsiderable fortune to her god‐daughter Honoria, eldest child of that distinguished officer General St. Quentin. In both cases Lady Calmady wrote letters of congratulation, in the latter with very sincere and lively pleasure. She held her cousin, General St. Quentin, in affection for old sake’s sake. Honoria she remembered as a singularly graceful, high‐bred, little maiden, fleet of foot as a hind—too fleet of foot indeed for little Dickie’s comfort of mind, and therefore banished from the Brockhurst nursery. In the former case, her congratulations being somewhat conventional, she added—in her own name and that of Richard—a necklace of pearls, with a diamond clasp and bars to it, of no mean value.

In the spring of 1865 Richard left Oxford for good, and took up his residence once more at Brockhurst. But it was page: 169 not until the autumn of the following year, when he had reached the age of three‐and‐twenty, and had already, for some six months, served his Queen and country in the capacity of Justice of the Peace for the county of Southampton, that any event occurred greatly affecting his fortunes, and therefore worthy to set forth at large in this history.

previous
next