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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
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page: 273

CHAPTER I

LADY LOUISA BARKING TRACES THE FINGER OF PROVIDENCE

THE spirit of unrest, which had entered Brockhurst in the dim October weather, along with certain guests, did not—Lady Calmady had foreseen as much—leave with their leaving. It remained a constant quantity. Further, it engendered events very far away from and, at first sight, wholly at variance with those which had accompanied its advent.

For example, Lady Louisa Barking, passing through Lowndes Square one bleak, March morning on her way from Albert Gate to do a little, quiet shopping in Sloane Street, observed that the Calmadys’ house—situated at the corner of the square and of —— Street—was given over to a small army of work‐people. During Richard’s minority it had been let for a term of years to Sir Reginald Aldham, of Aldham Revel in Midlandshire. Since Dickie’s coming of age it had stood empty, pending a migration of the Brockhurst establishment, which migration had, in point of fact, never yet taken place. But now, as Lady Louisa, walking with a firm and distinguished tread along the grey, wind‐swept pavements, remarked, the house was in process of redecoration, of painting within and without. And, looking on these things, Lady Louisa’s soul received very sensible comfort. She was extremely tenacious of purpose. And, in respect of one purpose at least, Heaven had not seen fit, during the last four or five months, to smile upon her. Superstitious persons might have regarded this fact as a warning. Lady Louisa, however, merely regarded it as an oversight. Now at last, so it appeared to her, Heaven had awakened to a consciousness of its delinquencies, with the satisfactory page: 274 result that her own commendable patience touched on reasonable hope of reward. And this was the more agreeable and comforting to her because the Quayle family affairs were not, it must be owned, at their brightest and best just at present. Clouds lowered on the family horizon. For some weeks she had felt the situation called for effective action on her part. But then, how to act most effectively she knew not. Now the needed opportunity stared her in the face, along with those high ladders and scaffolding poles surrounding the Calmady mansion. She decided, there and then, to take the field; but to take it discreetly, to effect a turning movement, not attempt a front attack.

So, on her return to Albert Gate, after the completion of her morning shopping, she employed the half‐hour before luncheon in writing an affectionate, sisterly letter to Ludovic Quayle. That accomplished, young gentleman happened, as she was aware, to be staying at Brockhurst. She asked his opinion—in confidence—on the present very uncomfortable condition of the family fortunes, declaring how implicitly she trusted his good sense and respected his judgment. Then, passing adroitly to less burning questions, she ended thus—

“Pray let Lady Calmady know how really delighted everybody is to hear she and Sir Richard will be up this season. I do trust, as I am such a near neighbour, that if there is anything I can do for her, either now, or later when they are settling, she will not hesitate to let me know. It would be such a sincere pleasure to me. Mr. Barking is too busy with tiresome, parliamentary committees to be able to allow himself more than a week at Easter. I should be thankful for a longer rest, for I am feeling dreadfully fagged. But you know how conscientious he always is; and of course one must pay a certain price for the confidence the leaders of one’s party repose in one. So do tell Lady Calmady we are quite sure to be back immediately after Easter.”

Reading which sentences Mr. Quayle permitted himself a fine smile on more than one count.

“Louisa reminds me of the sweet little poem of ‘Bruce and the Spider,’” he said to himself. “She displays heroic persistence. Her methods are a trifle crude though. To provoke statements by making them is but a primitive form of diplomacy. Yet why be hard upon Louisa? Like my poor, dear father, she, more often than not, means well.”

It followed that some few days later, on his return to Whitney, Ludovic indited a voluminous letter to his sister, in his very best page: 275 style.—“It is rather a waste,” he reflected regretfully. “She will miss the neatest points. The happiest turns of phrase will be lost upon Louisa!” To recoup himself for which subjective loss the young man amused himself by giving a very alarmist account of certain matters, though he was constrained to admit the pleasing fact that Sir Richard and Lady Calmady really had it in contemplation to go up to town somewhere about Easter.

And, truth to tell, the main subject of Mr. Quayle’s letter could hardly be otherwise than disquieting, for it was undeniable that Lord Shotover’s debts were causing both himself and others serious embarrassment at this period. There was nothing new in this, that young nobleman’s indebtedness being a permanent factor in his family’s financial situation. This spring his indebtedness had passed from the chronic to the acute stage, that was all; with the consequence that it became evident Lord Shotover’s debts must be paid, or his relations must submit to the annoyance of seeing him pass through the Bankruptcy Court. Which of these objectionable alternatives was least objectionable Lord Fallowfeild still stood in doubt, when, in obedience to the parental summons, the young man reached Whitney. Lord Fallowfeild had whipped himself up into a laudable heat of righteous indignation before the arrival of the prodigal. Yet he contrived to be out when the dog‐cart conveying the said prodigal, and Mr. Decies, of the 101st Lancers—a friend of Guy Quayle, home on leave from India, whence he brought news of his fellow‐subaltern—actually drove up to the door. When, pushed thereto by an accusing conscience, he did at last come in, Lord Fallowfeild easily persuaded himself that there really was not time before dinner for the momentous conversation. Moreover, being very full of the milk of human kindness, he found it infinitely more agreeable to hear the praises of the absent son, Guy, than to fall foul of the present son, Shotover. So that it was not till quite late that night, by which time he was slightly sleepy, while his anger had sensibly evaporated, that the interview did actually take place.

“Now then, Shotover, march off to the place of execution,” Ludovic Quayle said sweetly, as he picked up his bedroom candlestick. “It was a deep and subtle thought that of bringing down Decies. Only, query, did you think of it, or was it just a bit of your usual luck?”

Lord Shotover smiled rather ruefully upon his prosperous, and, it may be added, slightly parsimonious, younger brother.

“Well, I don’t deny it did occur to me it might work,” he page: 276 admitted. “And after all, you know, one mercy is there’s no real vice about his dear old lordship.”

Lord Fallowfeild fidgeted about the library, his expression that of a well‐nourished and healthy, but rather fretful infant.

“Oh! ah!—well—so here you are, Shotover,” he said. “Unpleasant business this of yours—uncommonly disagreeable business for both of us.”

“Deucèd unpleasant business,” the younger man echoed heartily. He closely resembled his father in looks, save that he was clean shaven and of a lighter build. Both father and son had the same slight lisp in speaking.—“Deucèd unpleasant,” he repeated. “Nobody can feel that more than I do.”

“Can’t they though?” said Lord Fallowfeild, with a charmingly innocent air of surprise. “There, sit down, Shotover, won’t you? It’s a painful thing to do, but we’ve got to talk it over, I suppose.”

“Well, of course, if you’re kind enough to give me the time, you know,—that’s rather what I came down here for.”

“So you did though,” the elder man returned, brightening as though making an illuminating discovery. Then, fearing he was forgetting his part and becoming amiable too rapidly, he made a gallant effort to whip up his somnolent indignation. “It’s very distressing to me to put it so plainly, but in my opinion it’s a disgraceful business.”

“Oh! I give you my word I know it,” Lord Shotover replied, with most disarming candour. His father affected, with difficulty, not to hear the remark.

“It doesn’t do for a man in your position to be owing money all over the country. It brings the aristocracy into contempt with the shop‐keeping class. They’re always on the lookout for the shortcomings of their superiors, those people. And they do pay their debts, you see.”

“They’ve always got such a thundering lot of money,” Lord Shotover put in. “Don’t know how they’d contrive to spend it unless they did pay their debts.”

“Oh! ah!—yes”—His father hesitated. It struck him Shotover was a reasonable fellow, very reasonable, and he took the whole matter in a very proper spirit. In short, it was not easy to blow up Shotover. Lord Fallowfeild thrust his hands far down into his trouser pockets and turned sideways in the great, leather‐covered chair.

“I’m not narrow‐minded or prejudiced,” he began. “I always have kept on civil terms with those sort of people and always will. Courtesy is an obligation on the part of a gentleman page: 277 and a Christian. I’d as soon be rude to my tailor as eat with my knife. But a man must respect his own rank or others won’t respect it, especially in these nasty, radical, levelling times. You must stand by your class. There’s a vulgar proverb about the bird that fouls its own nest, you know. Well, I never did that. I’ve always stood by my own class. Helped my poor brother Archibald—you can’t remember him—weren’t born at the time —to run away with Lady Jane Bateman. Low, common fellow Bateman. I never liked Bateman. She left Ludovic all that money, you know”—

“Wish to goodness she’d left it to me,” murmured Lord Shotover.

“Eh?” inquired his father. Then he fell into a moralising vein. “Nasty, disreputable things elopements. I never did approve of elopements. Leave other men’s wives alone, Shotover.”

The younger man’s mouth worked a little.

“The nuisance is sometimes they won’t leave you alone.”

Lord Fallowfeild gazed at him a moment, very genially.

“Oh! ah!—well—I suppose they won’t,” he said, and he chuckled. “Anyhow I stood by your poor uncle Archibald. He was my brother of course, and she was a second cousin of your mother’s, so I felt bound to. And I saw them across the Channel and into the Paris train. Dreadfully bad crossing that night I remember, no private cabins to be had, and Lady Jane was dreadfully ill. Never take your wife to sea on your honey moon, Shotover. It’s too great a risk. That business cost me a lot of money one way and another, and let me in for a most painful scene with Bateman afterwards. But, as I say, you’re bound to stand by your own class. That’ll be my only reason for helping you, you understand, Shotover, if I do help you.”

“And I am sure I hope you will.”—The young man rose and stood with his back to the fire and his hands under his coat‐tails. He stooped a little, looking down pensively at the hearth‐rug between his feet. His clothes—not yet paid for, or likely to be‐claimed admiration, so did the length of his legs and the neatness of his narrow hips.

“I can only assure you I shall be most awfully grateful if you do help me,” he said quietly. “I don’t pretend to deserve it—but that doesn’t lessen gratitude—rather the other way, don’t you know. I shall never forget it.”

“Won’t you though?”

And for the life of him Lord Fallowfeild could not help beaming upon this handsome prodigal.—“Uncommonly high‐ page: 278 bred looking fellow, Shotover,” he said to himself. “Don’t wonder women run after him. Uncommonly high‐bred, and shows very nice feeling too.”

And then the kindly and simple gentleman drew himself up with a mental jerk, remembering that he was there to curse rather than to bless. He fidgeted violently.

“Not that I have actually made up my mind to help you yet,” he went on. “I am very much inclined to cast you adrift. It distresses me to put it to you so plainly, but you are disgrace—fully extravagant, you know, Shotover.”

“Oh! I know,” the young man admitted.

“You’re a selfish fellow.”—Lord Fallowfeild became relentless. “Yes, it’s extremely painful to me to say it to you, but you are downright selfish. And that, in the long‐run, comes uncommonly hard on your sisters. Good girls, your sisters. Never given your mother or me any trouble, your sisters. But money has to come from somewhere, and each time I pay your debts I have to cut down your sisters’ portions.”

“Yes, I know, and that’s what’s made me so infernally unwilling to come to you about my affairs,” Lord Shotover said, in tones of perfectly genuine regret.

“Is it though?” his father commented.—“Good fellow at heart,” he added to himself. “Displays very proper feeling. Always was a good‐hearted fellow.”

“I can only tell you I’ve been awfully wretched about it for the last three months.”

“Have you though?” said Lord Fallowfeild, with sympathy.

“I got just about as low as I well could. I felt I was nothing but a nuisance and encumbrance. It was beastly to think of fleecing the girls, don’t you know. I came precious near cutting my throat—only that seemed rather a dirty way of getting out of it all.”

“So it is—poor boy—quite right. Nasty mean way of shirking your responsibilities. Quite agree with you. I have never had any opinion of a man who cut his throat. Never mention such a thing, Shotover.” He blew his nose resonantly.—“Never talk of such a thing,” he repeated. “And —poor boy—I—I’ll pay your debts. Only I tell you this really is the last time. There must be no misunderstanding about that. You must reform, Shotover, if it’s only on account of your sisters. I don’t want to take an unfair advantage of you in alluding to your sisters. Only you must understand clearly this is the last time. You see it’s becoming too frequent. I don’t want to press the case unduly against you, but you recollect—I’m sure you do— page: 279 I paid your debts in fifty‐eight, and again in sixty‐two, or sixty‐three, was it? Yes, it must have been sixty‐three, because that was the year my poor friend Tom Henniker died. Good fellow Henniker—I missed Henniker. And they wanted me to take over the hounds. Nice fellow in the hunting‐field, Henniker. Never saw him lose his temper but once, and that was when Image rode over the hounds on the edge of Talepenny Wood.”

“Rather coarse sort of brute, Image,” put in Lord Shotover.

“And Henniker had such an excellent manner with the farmers, genial and cheery, very cheery at times and yet without any loss of dignity. Great test of a man’s breeding that, being cheery without loss of dignity. Now my poor friend, Henniker—oh! ah! yes, where was I though? Your debts now, Shotover. Yes, it must have been sixty‐three, because they all wanted me to succeed him as master, and I had to tell them I could not afford it, so it must have been just after I cleared you.”

He looked at his erring son with the most engaging air of appeal and remonstrance.

“Really it won’t do, Shotover,” he repeated. “You must reform. It’s becoming too frequent. You’d better travel for a time. That’s the proper thing for a man in your position to do when he’s in low water. Not scuttle, of course. I wouldn’t on any account have you scuttle. But, three weeks or a month hence when things are getting into shape, just travel for a time. I’ll arrange it all for you. Only never talk of cutting your throat again. And you quite understand this is positively the last time. I am very much in earnest, my dear boy, nothing will move me. This settlement is final. And we’ll just run up quietly to town to‐morrow and have a talk with my lawyers, Fox and Goteway. Very civil and accommodating fellow, Goteway—he may be able to make some suggestions. Very nice, confidential‐mannered person, Goteway. Knows how to hold his tongue and doesn’t ask unnecessary questions—useful man, Goteway”—

Which things coming to the knowledge of Lady Louisa Barking moved her at once to wrath, and to deepened conviction that the moment for decisive action had arrived. It appeared to her that her father had put himself out of court. His weakness regarding his eldest son had practically delivered him into her hand. She congratulated herself upon the good which is thus beneficently permitted to spring out of evil. Yet while recognising that a just Providence sometimes, at all events, overrules human folly to the production of happy results, she was by no means disposed to spare the mortal whose individual page: 280 foolishness had given the divine wisdom its opportunity. Therefore when, some few days later, Lord Fallowfeild called on her, after a third or fourth interview with Messrs. Fox and Goteway—beaming, expansive, from the sense of a merciful action accomplished—she received him in a distinctly repressive manner. The great, white and gold drawing‐rooms in Albert Gate were not more frigid or unbending than the bearing of their mistress as she suffered her father’s embrace. And that amiable nobleman, notwithstanding his large frame and exalted social position, felt himself shiver inwardly in the presence of his daughter, even as he could remember shivering when, as a small schoolboy, he had been summoned to the dread presence of the headmaster.

“Very good rooms these of yours, Louisa,” he began hastily. “Always have admired these rooms. Capital space for entertaining. Barking was quite right to secure the house as soon as it was in the market. I told him at the time he would never regret it.”

Lady Louisa did not answer, but called after the retreating footman, who had just brought in a stately and limited tea‐tray, much silver and little food:—“I am not at home, William.”

Then, as she put small and accurate measures of tea into a massive teapot, she added severely:—“What is all this I hear about Shotover, papa?”

“Oh! ah! yes—poor Shotover. Came up to town together again to‐day. Good‐hearted fellow, your brother Shotover, but thoughtless. However, I have had a most satisfactory talk with my men of business, Fox and Goteway. I know Barking does not think much of Fox and Goteway. Wanted me to go to his own lawyers, Hodges and Banquet. But if anyone serves you conscientiously you should not leave them. It’s against my principles to turn off those who serve me conscientiously. I told Barking so at the time, I remember. It came out of the business about your settlements, wasn’t it—or the last time I paid Shotover’s”—He cleared his throat hurriedly. “I see the Calmadys’ house is being done up,” he continued. “Nice young fellow, Calmady. But I never can help feeling a certain awkwardness with him. Takes you up rather short in conversation too sometimes. Terribly distressing thing his deformity and all that, both for himself and Lady Calmady. Hope, perhaps, she doesn’t feel it as some women would though—tactful woman, Lady Calmady, and very good woman of business. Still, never feel quite at my ease with Lady Calmady. Can’t help wondering how they’ll do in London, you know. Rather difficult thing his going about much with that”—

page: 281

Lady Louisa held out a small teacup. Her high penetrating voice asserted itself resolutely against her father’s kindly, stumbling chatter, as she asked:—

“Is it true you are not coming up from Whitney this season?”

“Oh!—tea—yes, thank you very much, my dear. No—well, I think possibly we may not come up this year. Goteway believes he has heard of a very eligible tenant for the Belgrave Square house, very eligible. And so, nothing actually decided yet, but I think very possibly we may not come up.”

He spoke apologetically, regarding his daughter, over the small teacup, with an expression of entreaty. Every feature of his handsome, innocent countenance begged her not to deal harshly with him. But Lady Louisa remained obdurate.

“Shotover’s conduct is becoming a positive scandal,” she said.

“Not conduct, my dear—no, not conduct, only money,” protested Lord Fallowfeild.

“If money is not conduct I really don’t know what is,” retorted his daughter. “I do not pretend to go in for such fine distinctions. In any case Mr. Barking heard the most shocking rumours at his club the other day.”

“Did he though?” ejaculated Lord Fallowfeild.

“He was too considerate to tell me anything very definite, but he felt that, going out and seeing everybody as of course I have to, it was only right I should have some hint of what was being said. Everyone is talking about Shotover. You can imagine how perfectly intolerable it is for me to feel that my brother’s debts are being canvassed in this sort of way.”

“I am very sorry there should be any gossip,” Lord Fallowfeild said humbly. “Nasty thing gossip—lies, too, mostly, all of it. Nasty, low, unprofitable thing gossip.”

“And, of course, your all not coming up will give colour to it.”

“Will it though? I never thought of that. You always see straight through things, Louisa. You have by far the best head in the family, except Ludovic—uncommonly clever fellow, Ludovic. Wonder if I had better talk it all over with Ludovic? If you and he agree in thinking our not coming up will make more talk, why, if only on Shotover’s account, I”—

But this was not in the least the turn which his daughter desired the conversation to take.

“Pray remember you have other children besides Shotover, papa!” she said hastily. “And for everyone’s sake run no page: 282 further risk of impoverishing yourself. It is obvious that you must save where you can. If there is the chance of a good let for the Belgrave Square house, it would be madness to refuse it. And, after all, you do not really care about London. If there are any important debates in the Lords, you can always come up for a night or so. It does not matter about you.”

“Oh! doesn’t it though?” Lord Fallowfeild put in quite humbly and gently.

“And mama would always rather stay on at Whitney. Only it must not appear as if we were the least uncomfortable at meeting people. I shall make it a point to go everywhere. I shall be dreadfully fagged, of course, but I feel it a duty to all of you to do so. And I should like the girls to go out too. People must not suppose they have no gowns to their backs. Maggie and Emily have had several seasons. I am less worried about them. But Connie must be seen. She is looking extremely pretty.”

“Isn’t she though?” Lord Fallowfeild chimed in, brightening. The picture of those reportedly gownless backs had depressed him abominably.

“Yes, and she must have every advantage. I have quite decided that. She must come up to me at once. I shall write to mama and point out to her how necessary it is that one of the girls, at least, should be very much en evidence this year. And I am most anxious it should be Connie. As I undertake all the fatigue and responsibility I feel I have a right of choice. I will see that she is properly dressed. I undertake everything. Now, papa, if you are going down by the 6.10 train you ought to start. Will you have a hansom?”

Then, as she shook hands with him, and presented an unresponsive cheek to the paternal lips, Lady Louisa clinched the matter.

“I may consider it quite settled, then, about Constance?” she said. “I mentioned it to Mr. Barking yesterday, and we agreed it ought to be done even if it entailed a little inconvenience and expense. It is not right to be indifferent to appearances. The other two girls can come up for a little while later. Alicia must help. Of course there is not much room in that wretched, little Chelsea house of hers, but George Winterbotham can turn out of his dressing‐room. Alicia must exert herself for once. And, papa, Connie need not bring a maid. Those country girls from Whitney don’t always fit in quite well with the upper servants, and yet there is a difficulty about keeping them out of the housekeeper’s room. I will provide a maid for her. I’ll write page: 283 to mama about everything to‐morrow. And, papa, I do beg you will discourage Shotover from coming here, for really I would much rather not see him at present. Good‐bye. Pray start at once. You have barely time to get to Waterloo.”

And so Lord Fallowfeild started, a little flustered, a little crestfallen, on his homeward journey.

“Able woman, Louisa,” he said to himself. “Uncommonly clear‐sighted woman, Louisa. But a trifle hard. Wonder if Barking ever feels that, now? Not very sensitive man, Barking, though. Suppose that hardness in Louisa comes of her having no children. Always plenty of children in our family—except my poor brother Archibald and Lady Jane, they had no children. Yet somebody told me she’d had one by Bateman, which died. Never understood about that. Capital thing for Ludovic she never did have any by Archibald. But it’s always curious to me Louisa should have no children. Shouldn’t have expected that somehow of Barking and Louisa. Sets her more free, of course, in regard to her sisters. Very thoughtful for her sisters, Louisa. I suppose she must have Connie. Nuisance all this gossip about Shotover. Pretty child, Connie—best looking of the lot. People say she’s like me.—Wonderfully pretty child, Connie. That young fellow Decies thinks so too, or I’m very much mistaken. Very much attracted by Connie. Fine young fellow, Decies—comfort to hear of Guy from him. Suppose she must go up to Louisa? Gentleman‐like fellow, Decies. I shouldn’t care to part with Connie”—

And then, his reflections becoming increasingly interjectional as the train trundled away south‐westward, Lord Fallowfeild leaned back in the corner of the railway carriage and fell very fast asleep.

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