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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
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page: 292

CHAPTER III

IN WHICH KATHERINE TRIES TO NAIL UP THE WEATHER‐GLASS TO “SET FAIR”

IT is to be feared that intimate acquaintance with Lady Calmady’s present attitude of mind would not have proved altogether satisfactory to that ardent idealist Honoria St. Quentin. For, unquestionably, as the busy weeks of the London season went forward, Katherine grew increasingly far from “hating it all.” At first she had found the varied interests and persons presented to her, the rapid interchange of thought, the constant movement of society, slightly bewildering. But, as Julius March page: 293 had foretold, old habits reasserted themselves. The great world, and the ways of it, had been familiar to her in her youth. She soon found herself walking in its ways again with ease, and speaking its language with fluency. And this, though in itself of but small moment to her, procured her, indirectly, a happiness as greatly desired as it had been little anticipated.

For to Richard the great world was, as yet, something of an undiscovered country. Going forth into it he felt shy and diffident, though a lively curiosity possessed him. The gentler and more modest elements of his nature came into play. He was sensible of his own inexperience, and turned with instinctive trust and tender respect to her in whom experience was not lacking. He had never, so he told himself, quite understood how fine a lady his mother was, how conspicuous was her charm and distinguished her intelligence. And he clung to her, grown man though he was, even as a child, entering a bright room full of guests, clings to its mother’s hand, finding therein much comfort of encouragement and support. He desired she should share all his interests, reckoning nothing worth the doing in which she had not a part. He consulted her before each undertaking, talked and laughed over it with her in private afterwards, thereby unconsciously securing to her halcyon days, a honeymoon of the heart of infinite sweetness, so that she, on her part, thanked God and took courage.

And, indeed, it might very well appear to Katherine that her heroic remedy was on the road to work an effectual cure. The terror of lawless passion and of evil, provoked by that fair woman clothed as with the sea‐waves, crowned and shod with gold, whom she had withstood so manfully in spirit in the wild autumn night, departed from her. She began to fear no more. For surely her son was wholly given back to her—his heart still free, his life still innocent? And, not only did this terror depart, but her anguish at his deformity was strangely lessened, the pain of it lulled as by the action of an anodyne. For, witnessing the young man’s popularity, seeing him so universally courted and welcomed, observing his manifest power of attraction, she began to ask herself whether she had not exaggerated the misfortune of that same deformity and the impediment that it offered to his career and chances of personal happiness. She had been morbid, hypersensitive. The world evidently saw in his disfigurement no such horror and hopeless bar to success as she had seen. It was therefore a dear world, a world rich in consolation and promise. It smiled upon Richard, and so she smiled upon it, gratefully, trustfully, finding in the plenitude of page: 294 her thankfulness no wares save honest ones set out for sale in the booths of Vanity Fair. A large hopefulness arose in her. She began to form projects calculated, as she believed, to perpetuate the gladness of the present.

Among other tender customs of Richard’s boyhood into which Katherine, at this happy period, drifted back was that of going, now and again, to his room at night, and gossiping with him, for a merry yet somewhat pathetic half‐hour, before herself retiring to rest. It fell out that, towards the middle of June, there had been a dinner‐party at the Barkings, on a scale of magnificence unusual even in that opulent house. It was not the second, or even the third, time Richard and his mother had dined in Albert Gate. For Lady Louisa had proved the most assiduously attentive of neighbours. Little Lady Constance Quayle was with her. The young girl had brightened notably of late. Her prettiness was enhanced by a timid and appealing playfulness. She had been seized, moreover, with one of those innocent and absorbing devotions towards Lady Calmady that young girls often entertain towards an elder woman, following her about with a sort of dog‐like fidelity, and watching her with eyes full of wistful admiration. On the present occasion the guests at the Barking dinner had been politicians of distinction—members of the then existing Government. A contingent of foreign diplomatists from the various embassies had been present, together with various notably smart women. Later there had been a reception, largely attended, and music, the finest that Europe could produce and money could buy.

“Louisa climbs giddy heights,” Mr. Quayle had said to himself, with an attempt at irony. But, in point of fact, he was far from displeased, for it appeared to him the house of Barking showed to uncommon advantage to‐night.—“Louisa has no staying power in conversation, and her voice is too loud, but in snippets she is rather impressive,” he added. “And, oh! how very diligent is Louisa!”

Driving home, Richard kept silence until just as the brougham drew up, then he said abruptly:—

“Tired? No—that’s right. Then come and sit with me. I want to talk. I haven’t an ounce of sleep in me somehow to‐night.”

It was hot, and when, some three‐quarters of an hour later, Katherine entered the big bedroom on the ground floor the upper sashes of the window were drawn low behind the blinds, letting in the muffled roar of the great city as an undertone to the intermittent sound of footsteps, or the occasional passing of page: 295 a belated carriage or cab. It formed an undertone, also, to Richard’s memory of the music to which he had lately listened, and the delight of which was still in his ears and pulsing in his blood, making his blue eyes bright and dark and curving his handsome lips into a very eloquent smile as he lay back against the piled‐up pillows of the bed.

“Good heavens, how divinely Morabita sang,” he said, looking up at his mother as she stood looking down on him, “better even than in Faust last night! I want to hear her again just as often as I can. Her voice carries one right away, out of oneself, into regions of pure and unmitigated romance. All things are possible for the moment. One becomes as the gods, omnipotent. We’ve got the box as usual on Saturday, mother, haven’t we? Do you remember if she sings?”

Katherine replied that the great soprano did sing.

“I’m glad,” Richard said. “And yet I don’t know that it’s particularly wholesome to hear her. After being as the gods, one descends with rather too much of a run to the level of the ordinary mortal.”—He turned on his elbow restlessly, and the movement altered the lie of the bedclothes, thereby disclosing the unsightly disproportion of his person through the light blanket and sheet.—“And if one’s own level happens unfortunately to be below that of even the ordinary mortal—well—well—don’t you know”—

“My dear!” Katherine put in softly.

Richard lay straight on his back again, and held out his hand to her.

“Sit down, do,” he said. “Turn the big chair round so that I may see you. I like you in that frilly, white, dressing‐gown thing. Don’t be afraid, I’m not going to be a brute and grumble. You’re much too good to me, and I know I am disgustingly selfish at times. I was this winter, but”—

“The past is past,” Katherine put in again very softly.

“Yes, please God, it is,” he said,—“in some ways.”—He paused, and then spoke as though with an effort, returning from some far distance of thought:—“Yes, I like you in that white, frilly thing. But I liked that new, black gown of yours to‐night too. You looked glorious, do you mind my saying so? And no woman walks as well as you do. I compared, I watched. There’s nothing more beautiful than seeing a woman walk really well—or a man either, for that matter.”

Then he caught at her hand again, laughing a little.—“No, I’m not going to grumble,” he said. “Upon my word, mother, I swear I’m not. Here let’s talk about your gowns. I should page: 296 like to know, shall you never wear anything but grey or black?”

“Never, not even to please you, Dickie.”

“Ah, that’s so delicious with you!” he exclaimed. “Every now and then you bring one up short, one knocks one’s head against a stone wall! There is an indomitable strain in you. I only hope you’ve transmitted it to me. I’m afraid I need stiffening.—I beg your pardon,” he added quickly and courteously, “it strikes me I am becoming slightly impertinent. But that woman’s voice has turned my brain and loosed the string of my tongue so that I speak words of unwisdom. You enjoyed her singing too, though, didn’t you? I thought so, catching sight of you while it was going on, attended by the faithful Ludovic and little Lady Constance. It’s quite touching to see how she worships you. And wasn’t Miss St. Quentin with you too? Yes, I thought so. I can’t quite make up my mind about Honoria St. Quentin. Sometimes she strikes me as one of the loveliest women here—and she can walk, if you like, it’s a joy to see her. And then again, she seems to me altogether too long, and off‐hand somehow, and boyish! And then, too,”—Richard moved his head against the white pillows, and stared up at the window, where the blind sucked, with small creaking noises, against the top edge of the open sash,—“she fights shy of me, and personal feeling militates against admiration, you know. I am sorry, for I rather want to talk to her about—oh, well, a whole lot of things. But she avoids me. I never get the opportunity.”

“My darling, don’t you think that is partly imagination?”

“Perhaps it is,” he answered. “I daresay I do indulge in unnecessary fancies about people’s manner and so on. I can’t very well be off it, you know. And everyone is really very kind to me. Morabita was perfectly charming when I thanked her in very floundering Italian. It’s a pity she’s so fat. But, never mind, the fat vanishes, to all intents and purposes, when she begins to sing.—And old Barking is as kind as he can be. I feel awfully obliged to him, though his ministrations to‐night amounted to being slightly embarrassing. He brought me cabinet ministers and under‐secretaries, and gorgeous Germans and Turks, in batches—and even a real live Chinaman with a pig‐tail. Mother, do you remember the cabinets at home in the Long Gallery? I used to dream about them. And that Chinaman gave me the queerest feeling to‐night. It was idiotic, but—did I ever tell you?—when I was a little chap, I was always dreaming about war or something, from page: 297 which I couldn’t get away. Others could, but for me—from circumstances, don’t you know—there was no possibility of scuttling. And the little Chinese figures on the black, lacquer cabinets were mixed up with it. As I say, it gripped me tonight in the midst of all those people and—Oh yes! old Barking is very kind,” he went on, with a change of tone. “Only I wish Lady Louisa would warn him he need not trouble himself to be amusing. He came and sat by me, towards the end of the evening, and told me the most inane stories in that inflated manner of his. Verily, they were ancient as the hills, and a weariness to the spirit. But that good‐looking, young fellow, Decies, swallowed them all down with the devoutest attention and laughed aloud in all that he conceived to be the right places.”

A pause came in Richard’s flow of words. He moved again restlessly and clasped his hands under his head. Katherine had seldom seen him thus excited and feverish. A sense of alarm grew on her lest her heroic remedy was, after all, not working a wholly satisfactory cure. For there was a violence in his utterance and in his face, a certain recklessness of speech and of demeanour, very agitating to her.

“Oh, everyone’s kind, awfully kind,” he repeated, looking away at the sucking blind again, “and I’m awfully grateful to them, but—Oh! I tell you, that woman’s voice has got me and made me drunk, made me mad drunk. I almost wish I had never heard her. I think I won’t go to the opera again. Emotion that finds no outlet in action only demoralises one and breaks up one’s philosophy, and she makes me know all that might be, and is not, and never, never can be. Good God! what a glorious, what an amazing, business I could have made of life if”—He slipped a little on the pillows, had to unclasp his hands hastily and press them down on either side him to keep his body fairly upright in the bed. His features contracted with a spasm of anger.—“If I had only had the average chance,” he added harshly. “If I had only started with the normal equipment.”

And, as she listened, the old anguish, lately lulled to rest in Katherine’s heart, arose and cried aloud. But she sought resolutely to stifle its crying, strong in faith and hope.

“I know, my dearest, I know,” she said pleadingly. “And yet, since we have been here, I have thought perhaps we had a little underrated both your happy gift of pleasing and the readiness of others to be pleased. It seems to me, Dickie, all doors open if you stretch out your hand. Well, my dear, I would have you go forward fearlessly. I would have you more page: 298 ambitious, more self‐confident. I see and deplore my own cowardly mistake. Instead of hiding you away at home, and keeping you to myself, I ought to have encouraged you to mix in the world and fill the position to which both your powers and your birth entitle you. I was wrong—I lament my folly. But there is ample time in which to rectify my mistake.”

Richard’s face relaxed.

“I wonder—I wonder,” he said.

“I am sure,” she replied.

“You are too sanguine,” he said. “Your love for me blinds you to fact.”

“No, no,” she replied again. “Love is the only medium in which vision gains perfect clearness, becomes trustworthy and undistorted,”—Instinctively Katherine folded her hands as in prayer, while the brightness of a pure enthusiasm shone in her sweet eyes. “That I have learned beyond all possibility of dispute. It has been given me, through much tribulation, to arrive at that.”

Richard smiled upon her tenderly, then, turning his head, remained silent for a while. The sullen roar of the great city invaded the quiet room through the open windows, the heavy regular tread of a policeman on his beat, a shrill whistle hailing a hansom from a house some few doors distant up the square, and then an answering rumble of wheels and clatter of hoofs. Richard’s face had grown fierce again, and his breath came quick. He turned on his side, and once more the dwarfed proportions of his person became perceptible. Lady Calmady averted her eyes, fixing them upon his. But even there she found sad lack of comfort, for in them she read the inalienable distress and desolation of one unhandsomely treated by Nature, maimed and incomplete. Even the Divine Light, resident within her, failed to reconcile her to that reading. She shrank back in protest, once again, against the dealing of Almighty God with this only child of hers. And yet—such is the adorable paradox of a living faith—even while shrinking, while protesting, she flung herself for support, for help, upon the very Being who had permitted, in a sense caused, her misery.

“Mother, can I say something to you?” Richard asked, rather hoarsely, at last.

“Anything—in heaven or earth.”

“But it is a thing not usually spoken of as I want to speak of it. It may seem indecent. You won’t be disgusted, or think me wanting in respect or in modesty?”

“Surely not,” Lady Calmady answered quietly, yet a certain page: 299 trembling took her, a nervousness as in face of the unknown. This strong, young creature developed forces, presented aspects, in his present feverish mood, with which she felt hardly equal to cope.

“Mother, I—I want to marry.”

“I, too, have thought of that,” she said.

“You don’t consider that I am debarred from marriage?”

“Oh no, no!” Katherine cried, a little sob in her voice.

He looked at her steadily, with those profoundly desolate eyes.

“It would not be wrong? It would not be otherwise than honourable?” he asked.

If doubts arose within Katherine of the answer to that question, she crushed them down passionately.

“No, my dearest, no,” she declared. “It would not be wrong—it could not, could not be so—if she loved you, and you loved whomsoever you married.”

“But I’m not in love—at least not in love with any person who can become my wife. Yet that does not seem to me to matter very much. I should be faithful, no fear, to anyone who was good enough to marry me. Enough of love would come, if only out of gratitude, towards the woman who would accept me as—as I am—and forgive that—that which cannot be helped.”

Again trembling shook Katherine. So terribly much seemed to her at stake just then! Silently she implored that wisdom and clear‐seeing might be accorded her. She leaned a little forward and taking his left hand held it closely in both hers.

“Dearest, that is not all. Tell me all,” she said, “or I cannot quite follow your thought.”

Richard flung his body sideways across the bed, and kissed her hands as they held his. The hot colour rushed over his face and neck, up to the roots of his close‐cropped, curly hair. He spoke, lying thus upon his chest, his face half buried in the sheet.

“I want to marry because—because I want a child—I want a son,” he said.

No words came to Katherine just then. But she disengaged one hand and laid it upon the dear brown head, and waited in silence until the violence of the young man’s emotion had spent itself, until the broad, muscular shoulders had ceased to heave and the strong, young hands to grasp her wrist. Suddenly Richard recovered himself, sat up, rubbing his hands across his eyes, laughing, but with a queer catch in his voice.

“I beg your pardon,” he said. “I’m a fool, an awful fool. page: 300 Hang Morabita and her voice and the golden houses of the gods, and beastly, showy omnipotence, to which her voice carries one away! To talk sense—mother—just brutal common sense. My fate is fixed, you know. There’s no earthly use in wriggling. I am condemned to live a cow’s life and die a cow’s death.—The pride of life may call, but I can’t answer. The great prizes are not for me. I’m too heavily handicapped. I was looking at that young fellow, Decies, to‐night, and considering his chances as against my own—Oh! I know there’s wealth in plenty. The pasture’s green enough to make many a man covet it, and the stall’s well bedded‐down. I don’t complain. Only, mother, you know—I know. Where’s the use of denying that which we neither of us ever really forget?—And then sometimes my blood takes fire. It did to‐night. And the splendour of living being denied me, I—I—am tempted to say a Black Mass. One must take it out somehow. And I know I could go to the devil as few men have ever gone, magnificently, detestably, with subtleties and refinements of iniquity.”

He laughed again a little. And, hearing him, his mother’s heart stood still.

“Verily, I have advantages!” he continued. “There should be a picturesqueness in my descent to hell which would go far to place my name at the head of the list of those sinners who have achieved immortality”—

“Richard! Richard!” Lady Calmady cried, “do you want to break my heart quite?”

“No,” he answered, simply. “I’d infinitely rather not break your heart. I have no ambition to see my name in that devil’s list except as an uncommonly ironical sort of second best. But then we must make some change, some radical change. At times, lately, I’ve felt as if I was a caged wild beast—blinded, its claws cut, the bars of its cage soldered and riveted, no hope of escape, and yet the vigour, the immense longing for freedom and activity, there all the while.”

Richard stretched himself.

“Poor beast, poor beast, poor beast!” he said, shaking his head and smiling. “I tell you I get absurdly sentimental over it at times.”

And then, happily, there came a momentary lapse in the entirety of his egoism. He turned on his side, took Lady Calmady’s hand again, and fell to playing absently with her bracelets.

“You poor darling, how I torture you!” he said. “And yet, now we’ve once broken the ice and begun talking of all this, we’re page: 301 bound to talk on to the finish—if finish there is. You see these few weeks in London—I’ve enjoyed them—but still they’ve made me understand, more than ever, all I’ve missed. Life calls, mother, do you see? And though the beast is blind, and his claws are cut, and his cage bolted, yet, when life calls, he must answer—must—or run mad—or die—do you see?”

“And you shall answer, my beloved. Never fear, you will answer,” Katherine replied proudly.

Richard’s hand closed hard upon hers.

“Thank you,” he said. “You were made to be a mother of heroes, not of a useless log like me.—And that’s just why I want to be good. And to be good I want a wife, that I may have that boy. I could keep straight for him, mother, though I’m afraid I can’t keep straight for myself, and simply because it’s right, much longer. I want him to have just all that I am denied. I want him to restore the balance, both for you and for me. I may have something of a career myself, perhaps, in politics or something. It’s possible; but that will come later, if it comes at all. And then it would be for his sake. What I want first is the boy, to give me an object and keep up my pluck, and keep me steady. I, giving him life, shall find my life in him, be paid for my wretched circumscribed existence by his goodly and complete one. He may be clever or not—I’d rather, of course, he was not quite a dunce—but I really don’t very much mind, so long as he isn’t an outrageous fool, if he’s only an entirely sound and healthy human animal.”

Richard stretched himself upon the bed, straightened the sheet across his chest, and clasped his hands under his head again. The desolation had gone out of his eyes. He seemed to look afar into the future, and therein see manly satisfaction and content. His voice was vibrant, rising to a kind of chant.

“He shall run, and he shall swim, he shall fence, and he shall row,” he said. “He shall learn all gallant sports, as becomes an English gentleman. And he shall ride,—not as I ride, God forbid! like a monkey strapped on a dog at a fair, but as a centaur, as a young demi‐god. We will set him, stark naked, on a bare‐backed horse, and see that he’s clean‐limbed, perfect, without spot or blemish, from head to heel.”

And once more Katherine Calmady held her peace, somewhat amazed, somewhat tremulous, since it seemed to her the young man was drawing a cheque upon the future which might, only too probably, be dishonoured and returned marked “no account.” For who dare say that this child would ever come to the birth, or, coming, what form it would bear? Yet, even so, page: 302 she rejoiced in her son and the high spirit he displayed, while the instinct of romance which inspired his speech touched an answering chord in, and uplifted, her.

By now the brief June night was nearly spent. The blind still creaked against the open window sash, but the thud of horse‐hoofs and beat of passing footsteps had become infrequent, while the roar of the mighty city had dwindled to a murmur, as of an ebbing tide upon a shallow, sand‐strewn beach. The after‐light of the sunset, walking the horizon, beneath the Pole star from west to east, broadened upward now towards the zenith. Even here, in the heart of London, the day broke with a spacious solemnity. Richard raised himself, and, sitting up, blew out the candles placed on the table at the bedside.

“Mother,” he said, “will you let in the morning?”

Lady Calmady was pale from her long vigil, and her unspoken, yet searching, emotion. She appeared very tall, ghostlike even, in her soft, white raiment, as she moved across and drew up the sucking blind. Above the grey parapets of the houses, and the ranks of contorted chimney‐pots, the loveliness of the summer dawn grew wide. Warm amber shaded through gradations of exquisite and nameless colour into blue. While, across this last, lay horizontal lines of fringed, semi‐transparent, opalescent cloud. To Katherine those heavenly blue interspaces spoke of peace, of the stilling of all strife, when the tragic, yet superb, human story should at last be fully told and God be all in all. She was very tired. The struggle was so prolonged. Her soul cried out for rest. And then she reminded herself, almost sternly, that the Kingdom of God and the peace of it is no matter of time or of place; but is within the devout believer, ever present, immediate, possessing his or her soul, and by that soul in turn possessed. Just then the sparrows, roosting in the garden of the square, awoke with manifold and vociferous chirping and chattering. The voice from the bed called to her.

“Mother,” it said imperatively, “come to me. You are not angry at what I have told you? You understand? You will find her for me?”

Lady Calmady turned away from the open window and the loveliness of the summer dawn. She was less tired somehow. God was with her, so she could not be otherwise than hopeful. Moreover, the world had proved itself very kind towards her son. It would not deny him this last request, surely?

“My dearest, I think I have found her already,” Lady Calmady answered.

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Yet, even as she spoke, she faltered a little, recognising the energy and strength manifest in the young man’s countenance, remembering his late discourse, and the pent‐up fires of his nature to which that discourse had borne only too eloquent testimony. For who was a young girl, but just out of the school‐room, a girl in pretty, fresh frocks—the last word of contemporary fashion,—whose baby face and slow, wide‐eyed gaze bore witness to her entire innocence of the great primitive necessities, the rather brutal joys, the intimate vices, the far‐ranging intellectual questionings, which rule and mould the action of mankind,—who was she, indeed, to cope with a nature such as Richard’s?

“Mother, tell me, who is it?”

And instinctively Katherine fell to pleading. She sat down beside the bed again and smoothed the sheet.

“You will be tender and loving to her, Dickie?” she said. “For she is young and very gentle, and might easily be made afraid. You will not forget what is due to your wife, to your bride, in your longing for a child?”

“Who is it?” Richard demanded again.

“Ludovic’s sister—little Lady Constance Quayle.”

He drew in his breath sharply.

“Would she—would her people consent?” he said.

“I think so. Judging by appearances, I am almost sure they would consent.”

A long silence followed. Richard lay still, looking at the rosy flush that broadened in the morning sky and touched the bosoms of those delicate clouds with living, pulsating colour. And he flushed too, all his being softened into a great tenderness, a great shyness, a quick yet noble shame. For his whole attitude towards this question of marriage changed strangely as it passed from the abstract, from regions of vague purpose and desire, to the concrete, to the thought of a maiden with name and local habitation, a maiden actual and accessible, whose image he could recall, whose pretty looks and guileless speech he knew.

“I almost wish she was not Ludovic’s sister, though,” he remarked presently. “It is a great deal to ask.”

“You have a great deal to offer,” Katherine said, adding:—“You can care for her, Dickie?”

He turned his head, his lips working a little, his flushed face very young and bright.

“Oh yes! I can care fast enough,” he said. “And I think—I think I could make her happy. And, you see, already she worships you. We would pet her, mother, and give her all page: 304 manner of pretty things, and make a little queen of her—and she would be pleased—she’s a child, such a child.”

Richard remained awake far into the morning, till the rose had died out of the sky, and the ascending smoke of many kitchen‐chimneys began to stain the expanse of heavenly blue. The thought of his possible bride was very sweet to him. But when at last sleep came, dreams came likewise. Helen de Vallorbes’ perfect face arose, in reproach, before him, and her azure and purple draperies swept over him, stifling and choking him as the salt waves of an angry sea. Then someone—it was the comely, long‐limbed, young soldier, Mr. Decies—whom he had seen last night at the Barkings’ great party when Morabita sang—and the soprano’s matchless voice was mixed up, in the strangest fashion, with all these transactions—lifted Helen and all her magic sea‐waves from off him, setting him free. But, even as he did so, Dickie perceived that it was not Helen, after all, whom the young soldier carried in his arms, but little Lady Constance Quayle. Whereupon, waking with a start, Dickie conceived a wholly unreasoning detestation of Mr. Decies; while, along with that, his purpose of marrying Lady Constance increased notably, waxed strong and grew, putting forth all manner of fair flowers of promise and of hope.

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