Skip to Content
Indiana University

Search Options




View Options


The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
previous
next
page: 254

CHAPTER X

MR. LUDOVIC QUAYLE AMONG THE PROPHETS

THAT same luncheon party at Brockhurst, if not notably satisfactory to the hosts, afforded much subsequent food for meditation to one at least of the guests. During the evening immediately following it, and even in the watches of the night, Lady Louisa Barking’s thought was persistently engaged with the subject of Richard Calmady, his looks, his character, his temper, his rent‐roll, the acreage of his estates, and his prospects generally. Nor did her interest remain hidden and inarticulate. For, finding that in various particulars her knowledge was superficial and clearly insufficient, on her journey from Westchurch up to town next day, in company with her brother Ludovic, she put so many questions to that accomplished, young gentleman that he shortly divined some serious purpose in her inquiry.

“We all recognise, my dear Louisa,” he remarked presently, laying aside the day’s Times, of which he had vainly essayed the study, with an air of gentle resignation, crossing his long legs and leaning back in his corner of the railway carriage,—“that you are the possessor of an eminently practical mind. You have run the family for some years now, not without numerous successes, among which may be reckoned your running of yourself into the arms—if you will pardon my mentioning them—of my estimable brother‐in‐law, Barking.”

“Really, Ludovic!” his sister protested.

“Let me entreat you not to turn restive, Louisa,” Mr. Quayle rejoined with the utmost suavity. “I am paying a high compliment to your intelligence. To have run into the arms of Mr. Barking, or indeed of anybody else, casually and involuntarily, to have blundered into them—if I may so express myself—would have been a stupidity. But to run into them intentionally and page: 255 voluntarily argues considerable powers of strategy, an intelligent direction of movement which I respect and admire.”

“You are really exceedingly provoking, Ludovic!”

Lady Louisa pushed the square, leather‐covered dressing‐case, on which her feet had been resting, impatiently aside.

“Far from it,” the young man answered. “Can I put that box anywhere else for you? You like it just where it is?—Yes? But I assure you I am not provoking. I am merely complimentary. Conversation is an art, Louisa. None of my sisters ever can be got to understand that. It is dreadfully crude to rush in waist‐deep at once. There should be feints and approaches. You should nibble at your sugar with a graceful coyness. You should cut a few frills and skirmish a little before setting the battle actively in array. And it is just this that I have been striving to do during the last five minutes. But you do not appear to appreciate the commendable style of my preliminaries. You want to engage immediately. There is usually a first‐rate underlying reason for your interest in anybody”—

Again the lady shifted the position of the dressing‐case.

“To the right?” inquired Mr. Quayle extending his hand, his head a little on one side, his long neck directed forward, while he regarded first his sister and then the dressing‐case with infuriating urbanity. “No? Let us come to Hecuba, then. Let us dissemble no longer, but put it plainly. What, oh, Louisa! what are you driving at in respect of my very dear friend, Dickie Calmady?”

Now it was unquestionably most desirable for her to keep on the fair‐weather side of Mr. Quayle just then. Yet the flesh is weak. Lady Louisa Barking could not control a movement of self‐justification. She spoke with dignity, severely.

“It is all very well for you to say those sorts of things, Ludovic”—

“What sorts of things?” he inquired mildly.

“But I should be glad to know what would have become of the family by now, unless someone had come forward and taken matters in hand? Of course one gets no thanks for it. One never does get any thanks for doing one’s duty, however wearing it is to oneself and however much others profit. But somebody had to sacrifice themselves. Mama is unequal to any exertion. You know what papa is”—

“I do, I do,” murmured Mr. Quayle, raising his gaze piously to the roof of the railway carriage.

“If he has one of the boys to tramp over the country with page: 256 him at Whitney, and one of the girls to ride with him in London, he is perfectly happy and content. He is alarmingly improvident. He would prefer keeping the whole family at home doing nothing”—

“Save laughing at his jokes. My father craves the support of a sympathetic audience.”

“Shotover is worse than useless.”

“Except to the guileless Israelite he is. Absolutely true, Louisa.”

“Guy would never have gone into the army when he left Eton unless I had insisted upon it. And it was entirely through the Barkings’ influence—at my representation of course—that Eddie got a berth in that Liverpool cotton‐broker’s business. I am sure Alicia is very comfortably married. I know George Winterbotham is not the least interesting, but he is perfectly gentlemanlike and presentable, and so on, and he makes her a most devoted husband. And from what Mr. Barking heard the other day at the Club from somebody or other, I forget who, but someone connected with the Government, you know, there is every probability of George getting that permanent undersecretaryship.”

“Did I not start by declaring you had achieved numerous successes?” Ludovic inquired. “Yet we stray from the point, Louisa. For do I not still remain ignorant of the root of your sudden interest in my friend Dickie Calmady? And I thirst to learn how you propose to work him into the triumphant development of our family fortunes.”

The proportions of Lady Louisa’s small mouth contracted still further into an expression of great decision, while she glanced at the landscape reeling away from the window of the railway carriage. In the past twelve hours autumn had given place to winter. The bare hedges showed black, while the fallen leaves of the hedgerow trees formed unsightly blotches of sodden brown and purple upon the dirty green of the pastures. Over all brooded an opaque, grey‐brown sky, sullen and impenetrable. Lady Louisa saw all this. But she was one of those persons happily, for themselves, unaffected by such abstractions as the aspects of nature. Her purposes were immediate and practical. She followed them with praiseworthy persistence. The landscape merely engaged her eyes because she, just now, preferred looking out of the window to looking her brother in the face.

“Something must be done for the younger girls,” she announced. “I feel pretty confident about Emily’s future. We need not go into that. Maggie, if she marries at all—and page: 257 she really is very useful at home, in looking after the servants and entertaining, and so on—if she marries at all, will marry late. She has no particular attractions as girls go. Her figure is too solid, and she talks too much. But she will make a very presentable middle‐aged woman—sensible, dependable, an excellent ménagère. Certainly she had better marry late.”

“A mature clergyman when she is rising forty—a widowed bishop, for instance. Yes, I approve that,” Mr. Quayle rejoined reflectively. “It is well conceived, Louisa. We must keep an eye on the Bench and carefully note any episcopal matrimonial vacancy. Bishops have a little turn, I observe, for marrying somebody who is somebody—specially en secondes noces, good men. Yes, it is well thought of. With careful steering we may bring Maggie to anchor in a palace yet. Maggie is rather dogmatic, she would make not half a bad Mrs. Proudie. So she is disposed of, and then?”

For a few seconds the lady held silent converse with herself. At last she addressed her companion in tones of unwonted cordiality.

“You are by far the most sensible of the family, Ludovic,” she began.

“And in a family so renowned for intellect, so conspicuous for ‘parts and learning,’ as Macaulay puts it, that is indeed a distinction!”—Mr. Quayle bowed slightly in his comfortable corner. “A thousand thanks, Louisa,” he murmured.

“I would not breathe a syllable of this to any of the others,” she continued. “You know how the girls chatter. Alicia, I am sorry to say, is as bad as any of them. They would discuss the question without intermission—simply, you know, talk the whole thing to death.”

“Poor thing!—Yet, after all, what thing?” the young man inquired urbanely.

Lady Louisa bit her lip. He was very irritating, while she was very much in earnest. It was her misfortune usually to be a good deal in earnest.

“There is Constance,” she remarked, somewhat abruptly.

“Precisely—there is poor, dear, innocent, rather foolish, little Connie. It occurred to me we might be coming to that.”

In his turn Mr. Quayle fell silent, and contemplated the reeling landscape. Pasture had given place to wide stretches of dark moorland on either side the railway line, with a pallor of sour bog grasses in the hollows. The outlook was uncheerful. Perhaps it was that which caused the young man to shake his head.

“I recognise the brilliancy of the conception, Louisa. It page: 258 reflects credit upon your imagination and—your daring,” he said presently. “But you won’t be able to work it.”

“Pray why not?” almost snapped Lady Louisa.

Mr. Quayle settled himself back in his corner again. His handsome face was all sweetness, indulgent though argumentative. He was nothing, clearly, unless reasonable.

“Personally, I am extremely fond of Dickie Calmady,” he began. “I permit myself—honestly I do—moments of enthusiasm regarding him. I should esteem the woman lucky who married him. Yet I could imagine a prejudice might exist in some minds—minds of a less emancipated and finely comprehensive order than yours and my own of course—against such an alliance. Take my father’s mind, for instance—and unhappily my father dotes on Connie. And he is more obstinate than nineteen dozen—well, I leave you to fill in the comparison mentally, Louisa. It might be slightly wanting in filial respect to put it into words.”

Again he shook his head in pensive solemnity.

“I give you credit for prodigious push and tenacity, for a remarkable capacity of generalship, in short. Yet I cannot disguise from myself the certainty that you would never square my father.”

“But suppose she wishes it herself? Papa would deny Connie nothing,” the other objected. She was obliged to raise her voice to a point of shrillness, hardly compatible with the dignity of the noble house of Fallowfeild, doublé with all the gold of all the Barkings, for the train was banging over the points and roaring between the platforms of a local junction. Mr. Quayle made a deprecating gesture, put his hands over his ears, and again gently shook his head, intimating that no person possessed either of nerves or self‐respect could be expected to carry on a conversation under existing conditions. Lady Louisa desisted. But, as soon as the train passed into the comparative quiet of the open country, she took up her parable again, and took it up in a tone of authority.

“Of course I admit there is something to get over. It would be ridiculous not to admit that. And I am always determined to be perfectly straightforward. I detest humbug of any kind. So I do not deny for a moment that there is something. Still it would be a very good marriage for Constance, a very good marriage, indeed. Even papa must acknowledge that. Money, position, age, everything of that kind, in its favour. One could not expect to have all that without some make‐weight. I should not regret it, for I feel it might really be bad for Connie to have so much without some make‐weight. And I remarked page: 259 yesterday—I could not help remarking it—that she was very much occupied about Sir Richard Calmady.”

“Connie is a little goose,” Mr. Quayle permitted himself to remark, and for once there was quite a sour edge to his sweetness.

“Connie is not quick, she is not sensitive,” his sister continued. “And, really, under all the circumstances, that perhaps is just as well. But she is a good child, and would believe almost anything you told her. She has an affectionate and obedient disposition, and she never attempts to think for herself. I don’t believe it would ever occur to her to object to his—his peculiarities, unless some mischievous person suggested it to her. And then, as I tell you, I remarked she was very much occupied about him.”

Once again Mr. Quayle sought counsel of the landscape which once again had changed in character. For here civilisation began to trail her skirts very visibly, and the edges of those skirts were torn and frayed, notably unhandsome. The open moorland had given place to flat market‐gardens and leafless orchards sloppy with wet. Innumerable cabbages, innumerable stunted, black‐branched apple and pear trees, avenues of dilapidated pea and bean sticks, reeled away to right and left. The semi‐suburban towns stretched forth long, rawly‐red arms of ugly, little, jerry‐built streets and terraces. Tall chimneys and unlovely gasometers—these last showing as collections of some monstrous spawn—rose against the opaque sky, a sky rendered momentarily more opaque, dirtier and more dingy, by the masses of London smoke hanging along the eastern horizon.

Usually Ludovic knew his own mind clearly enough. The atmosphere of it was very far from being hazy. Now that atmosphere bore annoying resemblance to the opacity obtaining overhead and along the eastern horizon. The young man’s sympathies—or were they his prejudices?—had a convenient habit of ranging themselves immediately on one side or other of any question presenting itself to him. But in the present case they were mixed. They pulled both ways, and this vexed him. For he liked to suppose himself very ripe, cynical, and disillusioned, while, in good truth, sentiment had more than a word to say in most of his opinions and decisions. Now sentiment ruled him strongly and pushed him—but, unfortunately, in diametrically opposite directions. The sentiment of friendship compelled him hitherward. While another sentiment, which he refused to define—he recognised it as wholesome, yet he was a trifle ashamed of it—compelled him quite other‐where. He took refuge in an adroit begging of the question.

page: 260

“After all are you not committing the fundamental error of reckoning without your host, Louisa?” he inquired. “Connie may be a good deal occupied about Calmady, but thereby may only give further proof of her own silliness. I certainly discovered no particular sign of Calmady being occupied about Connie. He was very much more occupied about the fair cousin, Helen de Vallorbes, than about any one of us, my illustrious self included, as far as I could see.”

In her secret soul his hearer had to own this statement just. But she kept the owning to herself, and, with a rapidity upon which she could not help congratulating herself, instituted a flanking movement.

“You hear all the gossip, Ludovic,” she said. “Of course it is no good my asking Mr. Barking about that sort of thing. Even if he heard it he would not remember it. His mind is too much engaged. If a woman marries a man with large political interests she must just give herself to them generously. It is very interesting, and one feels, of course, one is helping to make history. But still one has to sacrifice something. I hear next to nothing of what is going on—the gossip, I mean. And so tell me, what do you hear about her, about Madame de Vallorbes?”

“At first hand only that which you must know perfectly well yourself, my dear Louisa.—Didn’t you sit opposite to her at luncheon, yesterday?—That she is a vastly good‐looking and attractive woman.”

“At second hand, then?”

“At second hand? Oh! at second hand I know various amiable little odds and ends such as are commonly reported by the uncharitable and censorious,” Ludovic answered mildly. “’Probably more than half of those little treasures are pure fiction, generated by envy, conceived by malice.”

“Pray, Ludovic!” his sister exclaimed. But she recovered herself,—and added:—“You may as well tell me all the same. I think, under the circumstances, it would be better for me to hear.”

“You really wish to hear? Well, I give it you for what it is worth. I don’t vouch for the truth of a single item. For all we can tell, nice, kind friends may be recounting kindred anecdotes of Alicia and the blameless Winterbotham, or even of you, Louisa, and Mr. Barking.”

Mr. Quayle fixed a glance of surpassing graciousness upon his sister as he uttered these agreeable suggestions, and fervid curiosity alone enabled her to resist a rejoinder and to maintain a dignified silence.

“It is said—and this probably is true—that she never cared two page: 261 straws for de Vallorbes, but was jockeyed into the marriage—just as you might jockey Constance, you know, Louisa—by her mother, who has the reputation of being a somewhat frisky matron with a keen eye to the main chance. She is not quite all, I understand, a tender heart could desire in the way of a female parent. It is further said that la belle Helène makes the dollars fly even more freely than did de Vallorbes in his best days, and he has the credit of having been something of a viveur. He knew not only his Paris, but his Baden‐Baden, and his Naples, and various other warm corners where great and good men do commonly congregate. It is added that la belle Helène already gives promise of being playful in other ways besides that of expenditure. And that de Vallorbes has been heard to lament, openly, that he is not a native of some enlightened country in which the divorce court charitably intervenes to sever over‐hard connubial knots. In short, it is rumoured that de Vallorbes is not a conspicuous example of the wildly happy husband.”

“In short, she is not respec”—

But the young man held up his hands and cried out feelingly:—

“Don’t, pray don’t, my dear Louisa. Let us walk delicately as Agag—my father’s morning ministrations to the maids again! For how, as I pointed out just now, do we know what insidious little tales may not be in circulation regarding yourself and those nearest and dearest to you?”

Ludovic Quayle turned his head and once more looked out of the window, his beautiful mouth visited by a slightly malicious smile. The train was sliding onward above crowded, sordid courts and narrow alleys, festering, as it seemed, with a very plague of poverty‐stricken and unwholesome humanity. Here the line runs parallel to the river—sullen to‐day, blotted with black floats and lines of grimy barges, which straining, smoke‐vomiting steam‐tugs towed slowly against a strong flowing tide. On the opposite bank the heavy masses of the Abbey, the long decorated facade and towers of the Houses of Parliament, stood out ghostly and livid in a gleam of frail, unrelated sunshine against the murk of the smoky sky.

“I should have supposed Sir Richard Calmady was steady,” Lady Louisa remarked, inconsequently and rather stiffly.—Ludovic really was exasperating.

“Steady? Oh! perfectly. Poor, dear chap, he hasn’t had much chance of being anything else as yet.”

“Still, of course, Lady Calmady would prefer his being settled. Clearly it would be much better in every way. All things considered, he is certainly one of the people who should marry page: 262 young. And Connie would be an excellent marriage for him, excellent—thoroughly suitable, better, really, than on the face of it he could hope for.—Ludovic, just look out please and see if the carriage is here. Pocock always loses her head at a terminus, and misses the men‐servants. Yes, there is Frederic—with his back to the train, looking the wrong way, of course. He really is too stupid.”

Mr. Quayle, however, succeeded in attracting the footman’s attention, and, assisted by that functionary and the lean and anxious Pocock—her arms full of bags and umbrellas—conveyed his sister out of the railway carriage and into the waiting brougham. She graciously offered to put him down at his rooms, in St. James’s Place, on her way to the Barking mansion in Albert Gate, but the young man declined that honour.

“Good‐bye, Louisa,” he said, leaning his elbows on the open window of the brougham and thereby presenting the back view of an irreproachably cut overcoat and trousers to the passers‐by. “I have to thank you for a most interesting and instructive journey. Your efforts to secure the prosperity of the family are wholly praiseworthy. I commend them. I have a profound respect for your generalship. Still, pauper though I am, I am willing to lay you a hundred to one in golden guineas that you will never square papa.”

Subsequently the young man bestowed himself in a hansom, and rattled away in the wake of the Barking equipage down the objectionably steep hill which leads from the roar and turmoil of the station into the Waterloo Bridge road.

“I might have offered heavier odds,” he said to himself, “for never, never will she square papa!”

And, not without a slight sense of shame, he was conscious that he made this reflection with a measure of relief.

previous
next