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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
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page: 218

CHAPTER VII

WHEREIN THE READER IS COURTEOUSLY INVITED TO IMPROVE HIS ACQUAINTANCE WITH CERTAIN PERSONS OF QUALITY

BUT Richard might have spared himself the trouble of erecting barriers against too intimate intercourse with his cousin. Providence, awaking suddenly, as it would seem, to the perils of his position, had already seen to all that. For since he went forth, hot‐eyed and hot‐headed, into the blank chill of the fog, the company at Brockhurst—as Powell announced to him‐had suffered large and unlooked‐for increase. Ludovic Quayle was the first of the self‐invited guests to appear when Richard was settled in the dining‐room. He sauntered up to the head of the table with his accustomed air of slightly supercilious inquiry, as of one who expects to meet little save fools and foolishness, yet suffers these gladly, being quite secure of his own wisdom.

“How are you, Dickie?” he said. “Fairly robust I hope, for the Philistines are upon you. Still it might have been worse. I have done what I could. My father, who has never grasped that there is an element of comedy in the numerical strength of his family, wished to bring us over a party of eight. But I stopped that. Four, as I tried to make him comprehend, touched the limits of social decency. He didn’t comprehend. He rarely does. But he yielded, which was more to the point perhaps. Understand though, we didn’t propose to add surprise to the other doubtful blessings of our descent on you. I wrote to you yesterday, but it appears you went out at some unearthly hour this morning superior alike to the state of the weather and arrival of your letters.”

“Fine thing going out early—excellent thing going out early. Very glad to see you, Calmady, and very kind indeed of you and Lady Calmady to take us in in this friendly way and show us hospitality at such short notice”—

This from Lord Fallowfeild—a remarkably tall, large, and handsome person. He affected a slightly antiquated style of dress, with a sporting turn to it,—coats of dust colour or grey, page: 219 notably long as to the skirts, well fitted at the waist, the surface of them traversed by heavy seams. His double chin rested within the points of a high, white collar, and was further supported by a voluminous, black, satin stock. His face, set in soft, grey hair and grey whisker, brushed well forward, suggested that of a benign and healthy infant—an infant, it may be added, possessed of a small and particularly pretty mouth. Save in actual stature, indeed, his lordship had never quite succeeded in growing up. Very full of the milk of human kindness, he earnestly wished his fellow‐creatures—gentle and simple alike—to be as contented and happy as he, almost invariably, himself was. When he had reason to believe them otherwise, it perplexed and worried him greatly. It followed that he was embarrassed, apologetic even, in Richard Calmady’s presence. He felt vaguely responsible as for some neglected duty, as though there was something somehow which he ought to set right. And this feeling harassed him, increasing the natural discursiveness and inconsequence of his speech. He was so terribly nervous of forgetting and of hurting the young man’s feelings by saying the wrong thing, that all possible wrong things got upon his brain, with the disastrous result that of course he ended by saying them. In face of a person so sadly stationary as poor Dick, moreover, his own perfect ability to move freely about appeared to him as little short of discourteous, not to say coarse. He, therefore, tried to keep very still, with the consequence that he developed an inordinate tendency to fidget. Altogether Lord Fallowfeild did not show to advantage in Richard Calmady’s company.

“Ah yes! fine thing going out early,” he repeated. “Always made a practice of it myself at your age, Calmady. Can’t stand doctor’s stuff, don’t believe in it, never did. Though I like Knott, good fellow Knott—always have liked Knott. But never was a believer in drugs. Nothing better than a good sharp walk, now, early, really early before the frost’s out of the grass. Excellent for the liver walking”—

Here, perceiving that his son Ludovic looked very hard at him, eyebrows raised to most admonitory height, he added hastily:—

“Eh?—yes, of course, or riding. Riding, nothing like that for health—better exercise still”—

“Is it?” Richard put in. He was too busy with his own thoughts to be greatly affected by Lord Fallowfeild’s blunders just then.—“I’m glad to know you think so. You see it’s a matter in which I’m not very much of a judge.”

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“No—no—of course not.—Queer fellow Calmady,” Lord Fallowfeild added to himself. “Uncommonly sharp way he has of setting you down.”

But just then, to his relief, Lady Calmady, Lady Louisa Barking, and pretty, little Lady Constance Quayle entered the room together. Mr. Ormiston and John Knott followed engaged in close conversation, the rugged, rough‐hewn aspect of the latter presenting a strong contrast to the thin, tall figure and face, white and refined to the point of emaciation, of the diplomatist. Julius March, accompanied by Camp—still carrying his tail limp and his great head rather sulkily—brought up the rear. And Dickie, while greeting his guests, disposing their places at table, making civil speeches to his immediate neighbour on the left,‐Lady Louisa,—smiling a good‐morning to his mother down the length of the table, felt a wave of childish disappointment sweep over him. For Helen came not, and with a great desiring he desired her. Poor Dickie, so wise, so philosophic in fancy, so enviably, disastrously young in fact!

“Oh! thanks, Lady Louisa—it’s so extremely kind of you to care to come. The fog was rather beastly this morning wasn’t it? And I shouldn’t be surprised if it came down on us again about sunset. But it’s a charming day meanwhile.—There, Ludovic, please—next Dr. Knott. We’ll leave this chair for Madame de Vallorbes. She’s coming, I suppose?”

And Richard glanced towards the door again, and, so doing, became aware that little Lady Constance, sitting between Lord Fallowfeild and Julius March, was staring at him. She had an innocent face, a small, feminine copy of her father’s save that her eyes were set noticeably far apart. This gave her a slow, ruminant look, distinctly attractive. She reminded Richard of a gentle, well‐conditioned, sweet‐breathed calf staring over a bank among ox‐eyed daisies and wild roses. As soon as she perceived—but Lady Constance did not perceive anything very rapidly—that he observed her, she gave her whole attention to the contents of her plate and her colour deepened perceptibly.

“Pretty country about you here, uncommonly pretty,” Lord Fallowfeild was saying in response to some remark of Lady Calmady’s. “Always did admire it. Always liked a meet on this side of the county when I had the hounds. Very pleasant friendly spirit on this side too. Now Cathcart, for instance—sensible fellow Cathcart, always have liked Cathcart, remarkably sensible fellow. Plain man though—quite astonishingly plain. Daughter very much like him, I remember. Misfortune for a girl that. Always feel very much for a plain woman. She page: 221 married well though—can’t recall who just now, but somebody we all know. Who was it now, Lady Calmady?”

Between that haunting sense of embarrassment, and the kindly wish to carry things off well, and promote geniality, Lord Fallowfeild spoke loud. At this juncture Mr. Quayle folded his hands and raised his eyes devoutly to heaven.

“Oh, my father! oh, my father!” he murmured. Then he leant a little forward watching Lady Calmady.

“But, as you may remember, Mary Cathcart had a charming figure,” she was saying, very sweetly, essaying to soften the coming blow.

“Ah! had she though? Great thing a good figure. I knew she married well.”

“Naturally I agree with you there. I suppose one always thinks one’s own people the most delightful in the world. She married my brother.”

“Did she though!” Lord Fallowfeild exclaimed, with much interest. Then suddenly his tumbler stopped half‐way to his mouth, while he gazed horror‐stricken across the table at Mr. Ormiston.

“Oh no, no! not that brother,” Katherine added quickly. “The younger one, the soldier. You wouldn’t remember him. He’s been on foreign service almost ever since his marriage. They are at the Cape now.”

“Oh! ah! yes—indeed, are they?” he exclaimed. He breathed more easily. Those few thousand miles to the Cape were a great comfort to him. A man could not overhear your strictures on his wife’s personal appearance at that distance anyhow.—“Very charming woman, uncommonly tactful woman, Lady Calmady,” he said to himself gratefully.

Meanwhile Lady Louisa Barking, at the other end of the table, addressed her discourse to Richard and Julius, on either side of her, in the high, penetrating key affected by certain ladies of distinguished social pretensions. Whether this manner of speech implies a fine conviction of superiority on the part of the speaker, or a conviction that all her utterances are replete with intrinsic interest, it is difficult to determine. Certain it is that Lady Louisa practically addressed the table, the attendant men‐servants, all creation in point of fact, as well as her two immediate neighbours. Like her father she was large and handsome. But her expression lacked his amiability, her attitude his pleasing self‐distrust. In age she was about six‐and‐thirty and decidedly mature for that. She possessed a remarkable power of concentrating her mind upon her own affairs. She also laboured under the impression that she was truly page: 222 religious, listening weekly to the sermons of fashionable preachers on the convenient text that “worldliness is next to godliness” and entertaining prejudices, finely unqualified by accurate knowledge, against the abominable errors of Rome.

“I was getting so terribly fagged with canvassing that my doctor told me I really must go to Whitney and recruit. Of course Mr. Barking is perfectly secure of his seat. I am in no real anxiety, I am thankful to say. He does not speak much in the House. But I always feel speaking is quite a minor matter, don’t you?”

“Doubtless,” Julius said, the remark appearing to be delivered at him in particular.

“The great point is that your party should be able to depend absolutely upon your loyalty. Being rather behind the scenes, as I can’t help being, you know, I do feel that more and more. And the party depends absolutely upon Mr. Barking. He has so much moral stamina, you know. That is what they all feel. He is ready at any moment to sacrifice his private convictions to party interests. And so few members of any real position are willing to do that. And so, of course, the leaders do depend on him. All the members of the Government consult him in private.”

“That is very flattering,” Richard remarked.—Still Helen tarried; while again, glancing in the direction of the door, he encountered Lady Constance’s mild, ruminant stare.

“Can one pronounce anything flattering when one sees it to be so completely deserved?” Ludovic Quayle inquired in his most urbane manner. “Prompt and perpetual sacrifice of private conviction to party interest, for example—how can such devotion receive recognition beyond its deserts?”

“Do have some more partridge, Lady Louisa,” Richard put in hastily.

“In any case such recognition is very satisfactory.—No more, thank you, Sir Richard,” the lady replied, not without a touch of acerbity. Ludovic was very clever no doubt; but his comments often struck her as being in equivocal taste. He gave a turn to your words you did not expect and so broke the thread of your conversation in a rather exasperating fashion.—“Very satisfactory,” she repeated. “And, of course, the constituency is fully informed of the attitude of the Government towards Mr.Barking, so that serious opposition is out of the question.”

“Oh! of course,” Richard echoed.

“Still I feel it a duty to canvass. One can point out many things to the constituents in their own homes which might not page: 223 come quite so well, don’t you know, from the platform. And of course they enjoy seeing one so much.”

“Of course, it makes a great change for them,” Richard echoed dutifully.

“Exactly, and so on their account, quite putting aside the chance of securing a stray vote here or there, I feel it a duty not to spare myself, but to go through with it just for their sakes, don’t you know.”

“My sister is nothing if not altruistic, you’ll find, Calmady,” Mr. Quayle here put in in his most exquisitely amiable manner.

But now encouraged thereto by Lady Calmady, Lord Fallowfeild had recovered his accustomed serenity and discoursed with renewed cheerfulness.

“Great loss to this side of the county, my poor friend Denier,” he remarked. “Good fellow Denier—always liked Denier. Stood by him from the first—so did your son.—No, no, pardon me—yes, to be sure—excellent claret this—never tasted a better luncheon claret.—But there was a little prejudice, little narrowness of feeling about Denier, when he first bought Grimshott and settled down here. Self‐made man, you see, Denier. Entirely self‐made. Father was a clergyman, I believe, and I’m told his grandfather kept an umbrella shop in the Strand. But a very able, right‐minded man Denier, and wonderfully good‐natured fellow, always willing to give you an opinion on a point of law. Great advantage to have a first‐rate authority like that to turn to in a legal difficulty. Very useful in county business Denier, and laid hold of country life wonderfully, understood the obligations of a land‐owner. Always found a fox in that Grimshott gorse of his, eh, Knott?”

“Fox that sometimes wasn’t very certain of his country,” the doctor rejoined. “Hailed from the neighbourhood of the umbrella shop perhaps, and wanted to get home to it.”

Lord Fallowfeild chuckled.

“Capital,” he said, “very good—capital! Still, it’s a great relief to know of a sure find like that. Keeps the field in a good temper. Yes, few men whose death I’ve regretted more than poor Denier’s. I miss Denier. Not an old man either. Shouldn’t have let him slip through your fingers so early, Knott, eh?”

“Oh! that’s a question of forestry,” John Knott answered grimly. “If one kept the old wood standing, where would the saplings’ chances come in?”

“Oh! ah! yes—never thought of that before,”—and thinking of it now the noble lord became slightly pensive. “Wonder if it’s unfair my keeping Shotover so long out of the property?” he page: 224 said to himself. “Amusing fellow Shotover, very fond of Shotover—but extravagant fellow, monstrously extravagant.”

“Lord Denier’s death gave our host here a seat on the local bench just at the right moment,” the doctor went on. “One man’s loss is another man’s opportunity. Rather rough, perhaps, on the outgoing man, but then things usually are pretty rough on the outgoing man in my experience.”

“I suppose they are,” Lord Fallowfeild said, rather ruefully, his face becoming preternaturally solemn.

“Not a doubt of it. The individual may get justice. I hope he does. But mercy is kept for special occasions—few and far between. One must take things on the large scale. Then you find they dovetail very neatly,” Knott continued, with a somewhat sardonic mirthfulness. The simplicity and perplexity of this handsome, kindly gentleman amused him hugely. “But to return to Lord Denier—let alone my skill, that of the whole medical faculty put together couldn’t have saved him.”

“Couldn’t it though?” said Lord Fallowfeild.

“That’s just the bother with your self‐made man. He makes himself—true. But he spends himself, physically, in the making. All his vitality goes in climbing the ladder, and he’s none left over by the time he reaches the top. Lord Denier had worked too hard as a youngster to make old bones. It’s a long journey from the shop in the Strand to the woolsack you see, and he took silk at two‐and‐thirty I believe. Oh yes! early death, or premature decay, is the price most outsiders pay for a great professional success. Isn’t that so, Mr. Ormiston?”

But at this juncture the conversation suffered interruption by the throwing open of the door and the entrance of Madame de Vallorbes.

“Pray let no one move,” she said, rather as issuing an order than preferring a request—for her father, Lord Fallowfeild, all the gentlemen, had risen on her appearance—save Richard.—Richard, his blue eyes ablaze, the corners of his mouth a‐tremble, his heart going forth tumultuously to meet her, yet he alone of all present denied the little obvious act of outward courtesy from man to woman.

“Pinned to his chair, like a specimen beetle to a collector’s card,” John Knott said to himself. “Poor dear lad—and with that face on him too. I hoped he might have been spared taking fire a little longer. However, here’s the conflagration. No question about that. Now let’s have a look at the lady.”

And the lady, it must be conceded, manifested herself under page: 225 a new and somewhat agitating aspect, as she swept up the room and into the vacant place at Richard’s right hand with a rush of silken skirts. She produced a singular effect at once of energy and self‐concentration—her lips thin and unsmiling, an ominous vertical furrow between the spring of her arched eyebrows, her eyes narrow, unresponsive, severe with thought under their delicate lids.

“I am sorry to be late, but it was unavoidable. I was kept by some letters forwarded from Newlands,” she said, without giving herself the trouble of looking at Richard as she spoke.

“What does it matter? Luncheon’s admittedly a moveable feast, isn’t it?”

Madame de Vallorbes made no response. A noticeable hush had descended upon the whole company, while the men‐servants moved to and fro serving the new‐comer. Even Lady Louisa Barking ceased to hold high discourse, political or other, and looked disapprovingly across the table. An hour earlier she had resented the younger woman’s merry wit, now she resented her sublime indifference. Both then and now she found her perfect finish of appearance unpardonable. Lord Fallowfeild’s disjointed conversation also suffered check. He fidgeted, vaguely conscious that the atmosphere had become somewhat electric.—“Monstrously pretty woman—effective woman—very effective—rather dangerous though. Changeable too. Made me laugh a little too much before luncheon. Louisa didn’t like it. Very correct views, my daughter. Louisa. Now seems in a very odd temper. Quite the grand air, but reminds me of somebody I’ve seen on the stage somehow. Suppose all that comes of living so much in France,” he said to himself. But, for the life of him, he could not think of anything to say aloud, though he felt it would be eminently tactful to throw in a casual remark at this juncture. Little Lady Constance was disquieted likewise. For she, girl‐like, had fallen dumbly and adoringly. in love with this beautiful stranger but a few years her senior. And now the stranger appeared as an embodiment of unknown emotions and energies altogether beyond the scope of her small imagination. Her innocent stare lost its ruminant quality, became alarmed, tearful even, while she instinctively edged her chair closer to her father’s. There was a great bond of sympathy between the simple‐hearted gentleman and his youngest child. Mr. Quayle looked on with lifted eyebrows and his air of amused forbearance. And Dr. Knott looked on also, but that which he saw pleased him but moderately. The grace of every movement, page: 226 the distinction of face and figure, the charm of that finely‐poised, honey‐coloured head showing up against the background of grey‐blue, tapestried wall, were enough—he owned,—having a very pretty taste in women as well as in horses—to drive many a man crazy.—“But if the mother’s a baggage, the daughter’s a vixen,” he said to himself. “And, upon my soul if I had to choose between ’em—which God Almighty forbid—I’d take my chance with the baggage.” As climax Lady Calmady’s expression was severe. She sat very upright, and made no effort at conversation. Her nerves were a little on edge. There had been awkward moments during this meal, and now her niece’s entrance struck her as unfortunately accentuated, while there was that in Richard’s aspect which startled the quick fears and jealousies of her motherhood.

And to Richard himself, it must be owned, this meeting so hotly desired, and against the dangers of which he had so wisely guarded, came in fashion altogether different to that which he had pictured. Helen’s manner was cold to a point far from flattering to his self‐esteem. The subtle intimacies of the scene in the Long Gallery became as though they had never been. Dickie thinking over his restless night, his fierce efforts at self‐conquest, those long hours in the saddle designed for the reduction of a perfervid imagination, wrote himself down an ass indeed. And yet—yet—the charm of Helen’s presence was great! And surely she wasn’t quite herself just now, there was something wrong with her? Anybody could see that. Everybody did see it in fact, he feared, and commented upon it in no charitable spirit. Hostility towards her declared itself on every side. He detected that—or imagined he did so—in Lady Louisa’s expression, in Ludovic Quayle’s extra‐superfine smile, in the doctor’s close and rather cynical attitude of observation, and last but not least, in the reserve of his mother’s bearing and manner. And this hostility, real or imagined, begot in Richard a new sensation—one of tenderness, wholly unselfish and protective, while the fighting blood stirred in him. He grew slightly reckless.

“What has happened? We appear to have fallen most unaccountably silent,” he said, looking round the table, with an air of gallant challenge good to see.

“So we have, though,” exclaimed Lord Fallowfeild, half in relief, half in apology. “Very true—was just thinking the same thing myself.”

While Mr. Quayle, leaning forward, inquired with much sweetness:—“To whom shall I talk? Madame de Vallorbes is page: 227 far more profitably engaged in discussing her luncheon, than she could be in discussing any conceivable topic of conversation with such as I. And Dr. Knott is so evidently diagnosing an interesting case that I have not the effrontery to interrupt him.”

Disregarding these comments Richard turned to his neighbour on the left.

“I beg your pardon, Lady Louisa,” he said, “but before this singular dumbness overtook us all, you were saying?”—

The lady addressed, electing to accept this as a tribute to the knowledge, the weight, and distinction, of her discourse, thawed, became condescending and gracious again.

“I believe we were discussing the prospects of the party,” she replied. “I was saying that, you know, of course there must be a large Liberal majority.”

“Yes, of course.”

“You consider that assured?” Julius put in civilly.

“It is not a matter of personal opinion, I am thankful to say—because of course everyone must feel it is just everything for the country. There is no doubt at all about the majority among those who really know—Mr. Barking, for instance. Nobody can be in a better position to judge than he is. And then I was speaking the other night to Augustus Tremiloe at Lord Combmartin’s—not William, you know, but Augustus Tremiloe, the man in the Treasury, and he”—

“Uncommonly fine chrysanthemums those,” Lord Fallowfeild had broken forth cheerfully, finding sufficient, if tardy, inspiration in the table decorations. “Remarkably perfect blossoms. and charming colour. Nothing nearly so good at Whitney this autumn. Excellent fellow my head‐gardener, but rather past his work—no enterprise, can’t make him go in for new ideas.”

Mr. Ormiston, leaning across Dr. Knott, addressed himself to Ludovic, while casting occasional and rather anxious glances upon his daughter. Thus did voices rise, mingle, and the talk get fairly upon its legs again. Then Richard permitted himself to say quietly:—

“You had no bad news, I hope, in those letters, Helen?”

“Why should you suppose I have had bad news?” she demanded, her teeth meeting viciously in the morsel of kissing‐crust she held in her rosy‐tipped fingers.

It was as pretty as a game to see her eat. Dickie laughed a little, charmed even with her naughtiness, embarrassed too by the directness of her question.

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“Oh! I don’t exactly know why—I thought perhaps you seemed”—

“You do know quite exactly why,” the young lady asserted, looking full at him. “You saw that I was in a detestable, a diabolic temper.”

“Well, perhaps I did think I saw something of the sort,” Richard answered audaciously, yet very gently.

Helen continued to look at him, and as she did so her cheek rounded, her mouth grew soft, the vertical line faded out from her forehead.—“You are very assuaging, cousin Richard,” she said, and she too laughed softly.

“Understands the vineries very well though,” Lord Fallowfeild was saying, “and doesn’t grow bad peaches, not at all bad peaches, but is stupid about flowers. He ought to retire. Never shall have really satisfactory gardens till he does retire. And yet I haven’t the heart to tell him to go. Good fellow, you know, good, honest, hard‐working fellow, and had a lot of trouble. Wife ailing for years, always ailing, and youngest child got hip disease—nasty thing hip disease, very nasty—quite a cripple, poor little creature, I am afraid a hopeless cripple. Terrible anxiety and burden for parents in that rank of life, you know.”

“It can hardly be otherwise in any rank of life,” Lady Calmady said slowly, bitterly. An immense weariness was upon her—weariness of the actual and present, weariness of the possible and the future. Her courage ebbed. She longed to go away, to be alone for a while, to shut eyes and ears, to deaden alike perception and memory, to have it all cease. Then it was as though those two beautiful, and now laughing, faces of man and woman in the glory of their youth, seen over the perspective of fair, white damask, glittering glass and silver, rich dishes, graceful profusion of flowers and fruit, at the far end of the avenue of guests, mocked at her. Did they not mock at the essential conditions of their own lives too? Katherine feared, consciously or unconsciously they did that. Her weariness dragged upon her with almost despairing weight.

“Do you get your papers the same day here, Sir Richard?” Lady Louisa asked imperatively.

“Yes, they come with the second post letters, about five o’clock,” Julius March answered.

But Lady Louisa Barking intended to be attended to by her host.

“Sir Richard,” she paused, “I am asking whether your papers reach you the same day?”

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And Dickie replied he knew not what, for he had just registered the discovery that barriers are quite useless against a certain sort of intimacy. Be the crowd never so thick about you, in a sense at least, you are always alone, exquisitely, delicately alone with the person you love.

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