Skip to Content
Indiana University

Search Options




View Options


The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
previous
next
page: 283

CHAPTER II

TELLING HOW VANITY FAIR MADE ACQUAINTANCE WITH RICHARD CALMADY

THERE was no refusing belief to the fact. The old, cloistered life at Brockhurst, for good or evil, was broken up. Katherine Calmady recognised that another stage had been reached on the relentless journey, that new prospects opened, new horizons invited her anxious gaze. She recognised also that all which had been was dead, according to its existing form, page: 284 and should receive burial, silent, somewhat sorrowful, yet not without hope of eventual resurrection in regard to the nobler part of it. The fair coloured petals of the flower fall away from the maturing fruit, the fruit rots to set free the seed. Yet the vital principle remains, life lives on, though the material clothing of it change. And, therefore, Katherine—an upspringing of patience and chastened fortitude within her, the result of her reconciliation to the Divine Light and resignation of herself to its indwelling—set herself, not to arrest the falling of the flower, but to help the ripening of the seed. If the old garments were out of date, too strait and narrow for her child’s growth, then let others be found him. She did not wait to have him ask, she offered, and that without hint of reproach or of unwillingness.

Yet so to offer cost her not a little. For it was by no means easy to sink her natural pride, and go forth smiling with this son of hers, at once beautiful and hideous in person, for all the world to see. Something of personal heroism is demanded of whoso prescribes heroic remedies, if those remedies are to succeed. At night, alone in the darkness, Katherine, suddenly awaking, would be haunted by perception of the curious glances, and curious comments, which must of necessity attend Richard through all the brilliant pageant of the London season. How would he bear it? And then—self‐distrust laying fearful hands upon her—how would she bear it, also? Would her late acquired serenity of soul depart, her faith in the gracious purposes of Almighty God suffer eclipse? Would she fall back into her former condition of black anger and revolt? She prayed not. So long as these evils did not descend upon her, she could bear the rest well enough. For, could she but keep her faith, Katherine was beginning to regard all other suffering which might be in store for her as a negligible quantity. With her healthy body, and wholesome memories of a great and perfect human love, it was almost impossible that she should adopt a morbid and self‐torturing attitude. Yet any religious ideal, worth the name, will always have in it an ascetic element. And that element was so far present with her that personal suffering had come to bear a not wholly unlovely aspect. She had ceased to gird against it. So long as Richard was amused and fairly content, so long as the evil which had been abroad in Brockhurst House, that stormy autumn night, could be frustrated, and the estrangement between herself and Richard,—unacknowledged, yet sensibly present,—which that evil had begotten, might be lessened, she cared little what sacrifices she made, what fatigue, exertion, even pain, she might be called on to endure. An enthusiasm of self‐surrender animated her.

page: 285

During the last five months, slowly and with stumbling feet, yet very surely, she had carried her life and the burden of it up to a higher plane. And, from that more elevated standpoint, she saw both past events and existing relationships in perspective, according to their just and permanent values. Only one object, one person, refused to range itself, and stood out from the otherwise calm, if pensive, landscape as a threatening danger, a monument of things wicked and fearful. Katherine tried to turn her eyes from that object, for it provoked in her a great hatred, a burning indignation, sadly at variance with the saintly ideals which had so captivated her mind and heart. Katherine remained—always would remain, happily for others—very much a woman. And, as woman and mother, she could not but hate that other woman who had, as she feared, come very near seducing her son.

Therefore very various causes combined to reconcile her to the coming adventure. Indeed she set forth on it with so cheerful a countenance, that Richard, while charmed, was also a trifle surprised by the alacrity with which she embraced it. He regarded her somewhat critically, questioning whether his mother was of a more worldly and light‐minded disposition than he had heretofore supposed.

There had been some talk of Julius March joining the contemplated exodus. But he had declined, smiling rather sadly.

“No, no,” he said. “To go would be a mistake and a weakly selfish one on my part. I have long ceased to be a man of cities, and am best employed, and indeed am most at my ease, herding my few sheep here in the wilderness. I am part and parcel of just all that, which we have agreed it is wise you shall leave behind you for a while. My presence would lessen the thoroughness of the change of scene and of thought. You take up a way of life which was familiar to you years ago. The habits of it will soon come back. I have never known them. I should be a hindrance, rather than a help. No, I will wait and keep the lamps burning before the altar, and the fire burning upon the hearth until—and, please God, it may be in peace, crowned with good fortune—you both come back.”

But the adventure, fairly embarked on, displayed quite other characteristics—as is the way with such skittish folk—than Katherine had anticipated. Against possibilities of mortification, against possibilities of covert laughter and the pointing fingers of the crowd, she had steeled herself. But it had not occurred to her that both Richard’s trial and her own might take the form of an exuberant and slightly vulgar popularity; and that, far from page: 286 being shoved aside into the gutter, the young man might be hoisted, with general acclamation, on to the very throne of Vanity Fair.

The Brockhurst establishment moved up to town at the beginning of April. And by the end of the month, Sir Richard Calmady, his wealth, his house, his horses, his dinners, his mother’s gracious beauty, and a certain mystery which surrounded him, came to be in everyone’s mouth. A new star had arisen in the social firmament, and all and sundry gathered to observe the reported brightness of its shining. Rich, young, good‐looking, well‐connected, and strangely unfortunate, here indeed was a novel and telling attraction among the somewhat fly‐blown shows of Vanity Fair! Many‐tongued rumour was busy with Dickie’s name, his possessions and personality. The legend of the man—a thing often so very other than the man himself—grew, Jonah’s gourd‐like, in wild luxuriance. All those many persons who had known Lady Calmady before her retirement from the world, hastened to renew acquaintance with her. While a larger, and it may be added less distinguished, section of society, greedy of intimacy with whoso or whatsoever might represent the fashion of the hour, crowded upon their heels. Invitations showered down thick as snowflakes in January. To get Sir Richard and Lady Calmady was to secure the success of your entertainment, whatever that entertainment might be—to secure it the more certainly because the two persons in question exercised a rather severe process of selection, and were by no means to be had for the asking.

All these things Ludovic Quayle noted, in a spirit which he flattered himself was cynical, but which was, in point of fact, rather anxiously affectionate. It had occurred to him that this sudden and unlooked‐for popularity might turn Richard’s head a little, and develop in him a morbid self‐love, that vanité de monstre not uncommon to persons disgraced by nature. He had feared Richard might begin to plume himself—as is the way of such persons—less upon the charming qualities and gifts which he possessed in common with many other charming persons, than upon those deplorable peculiarities which differentiated him from them. And it was with a sincerity of relief, of which he felt a trifle ashamed, that, as time went on, Mr. Quayle found himself unable to trace any such tendency, that he observed his friend’s wholesome pride and carefulness to avoid all exposure of his deformity. Richard would drive anywhere, and to any festivity, where driving was possible. He would go to the theatre and opera. He would dine at a few houses, and entertain largely at page: 287 his own house. But he would not put foot to ground in the presence of the many women who courted him, or in that of the many men who treated him with rather embarrassed kindness and civility to his face and spoke of him with pitying reserve behind his back.

Other persons, besides Mr. Quayle, watched Richard Calmady’s social successes with interest. Among them was Honoria St. Quentin. That young lady had been spending some weeks with Sir Reginald and Lady Aldham in Midlandshire, and had now accompanied them up to town. Lady Aldham’s health was indifferent, confining her often for days together to the sofa and a darkened room. Her husband, meanwhile, possessed a craving for agreeable feminine society, liable to be gratified in a somewhat errant manner abroad, unless gratified in a discreet manner at home. So Honoria had taken over the duty, for friendship’s sake, of keeping the well‐favoured, middle‐aged gentleman innocently amused. To Honoria, at this period, no experience came amiss. For the past three years, since the death of her god‐mother, Lady Tobermory, and her resultant access of fortune, she had wandered from place to place, seeing life, now in stately English country‐houses, now among the overtaxed, under‐fed women‐workers of Whitechapel and Soho, now in some obscure Italian village among the folds of the purple Apennines. Now she would patronise a middle‐class British lodging‐house, along with some girl friend richer in talent than in pence, in some seaside town. Now she would fancy the stringent etiquette of a British embassy at foreign court or capital. Honoria was nothing if not various. But, amid all mutations of occupation and of place, her fearlessness, her lazy grace, her serious soul, her gallant bearing, her loyalty to the oppressed, remained the same. “Chaste and fair” as Artemis, experimental as the Comte de St. Simon himself, Honoria roamed the world—fascinating yet never quite fascinated, enthusiastic yet evasive, seeking earnestly to live, yet too self‐centred as yet to be able to recognise in what, after all, consists the heart of living.

She and Mr. Quayle had met at Aldham Revel during the past winter. She attracted, while slightly confusing, that accomplished young gentleman—confusing his judgment, well understood, since Mr. Quayle himself was incapable of confusion. Her views of men and things struck him as distinctly original. Her attitude of mind appeared unconventional, yet deeply rooted prejudices declared themselves where he would least have anticipated their existence. And so it became a favourite pastime of page: 288 Mr. Quayle’s to present to her cases of conscience, of conduct, of manners or morals—usually those of a common acquaintance—for discussion, that he might observe her verdict. He imagined this a scientific, psychologic exercise. He desired, so he supposed, to gratify his own superior, masculine intelligence, by noting the aberrations, and arriving at the rationale, of her thought. From which it may be suspected that even Ludovic Quayle had his hours of innocent self‐deception. Be that, however, as it may, certain it is that in pursuit of this pastime he one day presented to her the peculiar case of Richard Calmady for discussion, and that, not without momentous, though indirect, result.

It happened thus. One noon in May, Ludovic had the happiness of finding himself seated beside Miss St. Quentin in the Park, watching the endless string of passing carriages and the brilliant crowd on foot. Sir Reginald Aldham had left his green chair—placed on the far side of the young lady’s—and leaned on the railings talking to some acquaintance.

“A gay maturity,” Ludovic remarked with his air of patronage, indicating the elder gentleman’s shapely back. “The term ‘old boy’ has, alas, declined upon the vernacular and been put to base uses of jocosity, so it is a forbidden one. Else, in the present instance, how applicable, how descriptive a term! Should we, I wonder, give thanks for it, Miss St. Quentin, that the men of my generation will mature according to a quite other pattern?”

“Will not ripen, but sour?” Honoria asked maliciously. Her companion’s invincible self‐complacency frequently amused her. Then she added:—“But, you know, I’m very fond of him. It isn’t altogether easy to keep straight as a young boy, is it? Depend upon it, it is ten times more difficult to keep straight as an old one. For a man of that temperament it can’t be very plain sailing between fifty and sixty.”

Mr. Quayle looked at her in gentle inquiry, his long neck directed forward, his chin slightly raised.

“Sailing? The yacht is?”—

“The yacht is laid up at Cowes. And you understand perfectly well what I mean,” Honoria replied, somewhat loftily. Her delicate face straightened with an expression of sensitive pride. But her anger was shortlived. She speedily forgave him. The sunshine and fresh air, the radiant green of the young leaves, the rather superb spectacle of wealth, vigour, beauty, presented to her by the brilliant London world in the brilliant summer noon, was exhilarating, tending to lightness of page: 289 heart. There was poetry of an opulent, resonant sort in the brave show. Just then a company of Life Guards clattered by, in splendour of white and scarlet and shining helmets. The rattle of accoutrements, and thud of the hoofs of their trotting horses, detached itself arrestingly from the surrounding murmur of many voices and ceaseless roar of the traffic at Hyde Park Corner. A light came into Honoria’s eyes. It was good to be alive on such a day! Moreover, in her own purely platonic fashion, she really entertained a very great liking for the young man seated at her side.

“You have missed your vocation,” she said, while her eyes narrowed and her upper lip shortened into a delightful smile. “You were born to be a schoolmaster, a veritable pedagogue and terror of illiterate youth. You love to correct. And my rather sketchy English gives you an opportunity of which I observe you are by no means slow to take advantage. You care infinitely more for the manner of saying, than for the thing said. Whereas I”— she broke off abruptly, and her face straightened, became serious, almost severe, again. “Do you see who Sir Reginald is speaking to?” she added. “There are the Calmadys.”

A break had come in the loitering procession of correctly clothed men and gaily clothed women, of tall hats and many coloured parasols; and, in the space thus afforded, the Brockhurst mail‐phaeton became apparent drawn up against the railings. The horses, a noticeably fine and well‐matched pair of browns, were restless, notwithstanding the groom at their heads. Foam whitened the rings of their bits, and falling flakes of it dabbled their chests. Lady Calmady leaned sideways over the leather folds of the hood, answering some inquiry of Sir Reginald, who, hat in hand, looked up at her. She wore a close‐fitting, grey, velvet coat, which revealed the proportions of her full, but still youthful figure. The air and sunshine had given her an unusual brightness of complexion, so that in face as well as in figure, youth still, in a sensible measure, claimed her. She turned her head, appealing, as it seemed, to Richard, and the nimble breeze playing caressingly with the soft white laces and grey plumes of her bonnet added thereby somehow to the effect of glad and gracious content pervading her aspect. Richard looked round and down at her, half laughing. Unquestionably he was victoriously handsome, seen thus, uplifted above the throng, handling his fine horses, all trace of bodily disfigurement concealed, a touch of old‐world courtliness and tender respect in his manner as he addressed his mother.

page: 290

Ludovic Quayle watched the little scene with close attention. Then, as the ranks of the smart procession closed up again, hiding the carriage and its occupants from sight, he leaned back with a movement of quiet satisfaction and turned to his companion. Miss St. Quentin sat round in her chair, presenting her slender, dust‐coloured, lace‐and‐silk‐clad person in profile to the passers‐by, and so tilting her parasol as to defy recognition. The expression of her pale face and singular eyes was far from encouraging.

“Indeed—and why?” Ludovic permitted himself to remark, in tones of polite inquiry. “I had been led to believe that you and Lady Calmady were on terms of rather warm friendship.” “We are,” Honoria answered, “that is, at Brockhurst.”

“Forgive my indiscretion—but why not in London?”

The young lady looked full at him.

“Mr. Quayle,” she asked, “is it true that you are responsible for this new departure of theirs, for their coming up, I mean?”

“Responsible? You do me too great an honour. Who am I that I should direct the action of my brother man? But Lady Calmady is good enough to trust me a little, and I own that I advocated a modification of the existing régime.”—Ludovic crossed his long legs and fell to nursing one knee. “It is no breach of confidence to tell you—since you know the fact already—that fate decreed an alien element should obtrude itself into the situation at Brockhurst last autumn. I need name no names, I think?”

Honoria’s head was raised. She regarded him steadfastly, but made no sign.

“Ah! I need not name names,” he repeated; “I thought not. Well, after the alien element removed itself—the two facts may have no connection—Lady Calmady very certainly never implied that they had—but, as I remarked, after the alien element removed itself, it was observable that our poor, dear Dickie Calmady became a trifle difficult, a trifle distrait, in plain English most remarkably grumpy and far from delightful to live with. And his mother”—

“It’s too bad, altogether too bad!” broke out Honoria hotly.

“Too bad of whom?” Mr. Quayle asked, with the utmost suavity. “Of the nameless, obtrusive, alien element, or of poor, dear Dick?”

The young lady closed her parasol slowly, and, turning, faced the sauntering crowd again.

“Of Sir Richard Calmady, of course,” she said.

Her companion did not answer immediately. His eyes page: 291 pursued a receding carriage far down the string, amid the gaily shifting sunshine and shadow, and the fluttering lace and grey feathers of a woman’s bonnet. When he spoke, at last, it was with an unusual trace of feeling.

“After all, you know, there are a good many excuses for Richard Calmady.”

“If it comes to that there are a good many excuses for Helen de Vallorbes,” Honoria put in quickly.

“For? For?” the young man repeated, relaxing into the blandest of smiles. “Yes, thanks—I see I was right. It was unnecessary to name names.—Oh! undoubtedly, innumerable excuses, and of the most valid description, were they needed—were they not swallowed up in the single, self‐evident excuse that the lady you mention is a supremely clever and captivating person.”

“You think so?” said Honoria.

“Think so? Show me the man so indifferent to his reputation for taste that he could venture to think otherwise!”

“Still she should have left him alone.”—Honoria’s indolent, reflective speech took on a peculiar intonation, and she pressed her long‐fingered hands together, as though controlling a shudder. “I—I’m ashamed to confess it, I do not like him. But, as I told you, just on that account”—

“Pardon me, on what account?”

Miss St. Quentin was quick to resent impertinence, and now momentarily anger struggled with her natural sincerity. But the latter conquered. Again she forgave Mr. Quayle. Yet a dull flush spread itself over her pale skin, and he perceived that she was distinctly moved. This piqued his curiosity.

“I know I’m awfully foolish about some things,” she said. “I can’t bear to speak of them. I dread seeing them. The sight of them takes the warmth out of the sunshine.”

Again Ludovic fell to nursing his knee.—What an amazing invention is the feminine mind! What endless entertainment is derivable from striving to follow its tergiversations!

“And you saw that which takes the warmth out of the sunshine just now?” he said. “Ah! well—alas, for Dickie Calmady!”

“Still I can’t bear anyone not to play fair. You should only—hit a man your own size. I told Helen de Vallorbes so. I’m very, very fond of her, but she ought to have spared him.”—She paused a moment. “All the same if I had not promised Lady Aldham to stay on—as she’s so poorly—I should have gone out of town when I found the Calmadys had come up.”

page: 292

“Oh! it goes as far as that, does it?” Ludovic murmured.

“I don’t like to see them with all these people. The extent to which he is petted and fooled becomes rather horrible.”

“Are you not slightly—I ask it with all due deference and humility—just slightly merciless?”

“No, no,” the girl answered earnestly. “I don’t think I’m that. The women who run after him, and flatter him so outrageously, are really more merciless than I am. I do not pretend to like him—I can’t like him, somehow. But I’m growing most tremendously sorry for him. And still more sorry for his mother. She was very grand—a person altogether satisfying to one’s imagination and sense of fitness, at home, with that noble house and park and racing‐stable for setting. But here, she is shorn of her glory somehow.”

The girl rose to her feet with lazy grace.

“She is cheapened. And that’s a pity. There are more than enough pretty cheap people among us already.—I must go. There’s Sir Reginald looking for me.—If I could be sure Lady Calmady hated it all I should be more reconciled.”

“Possibly she does hate it all, only that it presents itself as the least of two evils.”

“There is a touch of dancing dogs about it, and that distresses me,” Miss St. Quentin continued. “It is Lady Calmady’s rôle to be apart, separate from and superior to the rest.”

“The thing’s being done as well as it can be,” Mr. Quayle put in mildly.

“It shouldn’t be done at all,” the girl declared.—“Here I am, Sir Reginald. You want to go on? I’m quite ready.”

previous
next