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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
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IT happened in this way, towards the end of August 1842. In the grey of the summer evening, as the sunset faded and the twilight gathered, spreading itself tenderly over the pastures and cornfields,—over the purple‐green glooms of the fir forest—over the open moors, whose surface is scored for miles by the turf‐slane of the cottager and squatter—over the clear, brown streams that trickle out of the pink and emerald mosses of the peat‐bogs, and gain volume and rigour as they sparkle away by woodside, and green‐lane, and village street—and over those secret, bosky places, in the heart of the great common‐lands, where the smooth, white stems and glossy foliage of the self‐sown hollies spring up between the roots of the beech trees, where plovers cry, and stoat and weazel lurk and scamper, while the old poacher’s lean, ill‐favoured, rusty‐coloured lurcher picks up a shrieking hare, and where wandering bands of gypsies—those lithe, onyx‐eyed children of the magic East—still pitch their dirty, little, fungus‐like tents around the camp fire,—as the sunset died and the twilight thus softly widened and deepened, Lady Calmady found herself, for the first time during all the long summer day, alone.

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For, though no royal personage had graced the occasion with his presence, nor had bears suffered martyrdom to promote questionably amiable mirth, Brockhurst, during the past week, had witnessed a series of festivities hardly inferior to those which marked Sir Denzil’s historic house‐warming. Young Sir Richard Calmady had brought home his bride, and it was but fitting the whole countryside should see her. So all and sundry received generous entertainment according to their degree.—Labourers, tenants, school‐children. Weary old‐age from Pennygreen poorhouse, taking its pleasure of cakes and ale half suspiciously in the broad sunshine. The leading shopkeepers of Westchurch, and their humbler brethren from Farley Row. All the country gentry too.—Lord and Lady Fallowfeild and a goodly company from Whitney Park, Lord Denier and a large contingent from Grimshott Place, the Cathcarts of Newlands, and many more persons of undoubted consequence—specially perhaps in their own eyes. Not to mention a small army of local clergy—who ever display a touching alacrity in attending festivals, even those of a secular character—with camp‐followers, in the form of wives and families, galore.

And now, at last, all was over,—balls, sports, theatricals, dinners—the last, in the case of the labourers, with the unlovely adjunct of an ox roasted whole. Even the final garden‐party, designed to include such persons as it was, socially speaking, a trifle difficult to place—Image, owner of the big Shotover brewery, for instance, who was shouldering his way so vigorously towards fortune and a seat on the bench of magistrates; the younger members of the firm of Goteway & Fox, solicitors of Westchurch; Goodall, the Methodist miller from Parson’s Holt, and certain sporting yeoman farmers with their comely womankind—even this final entertainment, with all its small triumphs and heart‐burnings, flutterings of youthful inexperience, aspirations, condescensions, had gone, like the rest of the week’s junketings, to swell the sum of things accomplished, of all that which is past and done with and will never come again.

Fully an hour ago, Dr. Knott, under plea of waiting cases, had hitched his ungainly, thick‐set figure into his high gig.

“Plenty of fine folks, eh, Timothy?” he said to the ferret‐faced groom beside him, as he gathered up the reins, and the brown mare, knowing the hand on her mouth, laid herself out to her work. “Handsome young couple as anybody need wish to see. Not much business doing there for me, I fancy, unless it lies in the nursery line.”

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“Say those Brockhurst folks mostly dies airly though,”. remarked Timothy, with praiseworthy effort at professional encouragement.

“Eh! so you’ve heard that story too, have you?”—and John Knott drew the lash gently across the hollow of the mare’s back.

“This ’ere Sir Richard’s the third baronet I’ve a‐seen, and I bean’t so very old neither.”

The doctor looked down at the spare little man with a certain snarling affection, as he said:—“Oh no! I’m not kept awake o’ nights by the fear of losing you, Timothy. Your serviceable old carcass ’ll hang together for a good while yet.”—Then his rough eyebrows drew into a line, and he stared thoughtfully down the long space of the clean gravel road under the meeting branches of the lime trees.

The Whitney char à bancs had driven off but a few minutes later, to the admiration of all beholders; yet not, it must be admitted, without a measure of inward perturbation on the part of that noble charioteer, Lord Fallowfeild. Her Ladyship was constitutionally timid, and he was none too sure of the behaviour of his leaders in face of the string of very miscellaneous vehicles waiting to take up. However, the illustrious party happily got off without any occasion for Lady Fallowfeild’s screaming. Then the ardour of departure became universal, and in broken procession the many carriages, phætons, gigs, traps, pony‐chaises streamed away from Brockhurst House, north, south, and east, and west.

Lady Calmady had bidden her guests farewell at the side‐door opening on to the terrace, before they passed through the house to the main entrance in the south front. Last to go, as he had been first to come, was that worthy person, Thomas Caryll, the rector of Sandyfield. Mild, white‐haired, deficient in chin, he had a natural leaning towards women in general, and towards those of the upper classes in particular. Katherine Calmady’s radiant youth, her courtesy, her undeniable air of distinction, and a certain gracious gaiety which belonged to her, had, combined with unaccustomed indulgence in claret cup, gone far to turn the good man’s head during the afternoon. Regardless of the slightly flustered remonstrances of his wife and daughters, he lingered, expending himself in innocently confused compliment, supplemented by prophecies regarding the blessings destined to descend upon Brockhurst and the mother parish of Sandyfield in virtue of Lady Calmady’s advent.

But at length he also departed. Katherine waited, her eyes full of laughter, until Mr. Caryll’s footsteps died away on the page: 9 stone quarries of the great hall within. Then she gently drew the heavy door to, and stepped out on to the centre of the terrace. The grass slopes of the park—dotted with thorn trees and beds of bracken,—the lime avenue running along the ridge of the hill, the ragged edge of the fir forest to the east, and the mass of the house, all these were softened to a vagueness—as the landscape in a dream—by the deepening twilight. An immense repose pervaded the whole scene. It affected Katherine to a certain seriousness. Social excitements and responsibilities, the undoubted success that had attended her maiden essay as hostess during the past week, shrank to trivial proportions. Another order of emotion arose in her. She became sensible of a necessity to take counsel with herself.

She moved slowly along the terrace, paused in the arcaded garden‐hall at the end of it—the carven stone benches and tables of which showed somewhat ghostly in the dimness—to put off her bonnet and push back the lace scarf from her shoulders. An increasing solemnity was upon her. There were things to think of—things deep and strange. She must needs place them, make an effort, anyhow, to do so. And, in face of this necessity, came an instinct to rid herself of all small impeding conventionalities even in the matter of dress. For there was in Katherine that inherent desire of harmony with her surroundings, that natural sense of fitness, which—given certain technical aptitudes—goes to make a great dramatic artist. But, since in her case such technical aptitudes were either non‐existent or wholly latent, it followed that, save in nice questions of private honour, she was quite the least self‐conscious and self‐critical of human beings. Now, as she passed out under the archway on to the square lawn of the troco‐ground, bare‐headed, in her pale dress, a sweet seriousness filling all her mind, even as the sweet, summer twilight filled all the valley and veiled the gleaming surface of the Long Water far below, she felt wholly in sympathy with the aspect and sentiment of the place. Indeed it appeared to her, just then, that the four months of her marriage, the five months of her engagement, even the twenty‐two years which made up all the sum of her earthly living, were a prelude merely to the present hour and to that which lay immediately ahead.

Yet the prelude had, in truth, been a pretty enough piece of music. Katherine’s experience had but few black patches in it as yet. Furnished with a fair and healthy body, with fine breeding, with a character in which the pride and grit of her North Country ancestry were tempered by the poetic instincts and quick page: 10 wit which came to her with her mother’s Irish blood, Katherine Ormiston started better furnished than most to play the great game that all are bound to play—whether they will or no—with fate. Mrs. Ormiston, still young and beloved, had died in bringing this, her only daughter, into the world; and her husband had looked somewhat coldly upon the poor baby in consequence. There was an almost misanthropic vein in the autocratic land‐owner and iron‐master. He had three sons already, and therefore found but little use for this woman‐child. So, while pluming himself on his clear judgment and unswerving reason, he resented, most unreasonably, her birth, since it took his wife from him. Such is the irony of things, forever touching man on the raw, proving his weakness in that he holds his strongest point! In fact, however, Katherine suffered but slightly from the poor welcome that greeted her advent in the grey, many‐towered house upon the Yorkshire coast. For her great‐aunt, Mrs. St. Quentin, speedily gathered the small creature into her still beautiful arms, and lavished upon it both tenderness and wealth, along—as it grew to a companionable age—with the wisdom of a mind ripened by wide acquaintance with men and with public affairs. Mrs. St. Quentin—famous in Dublin, London, Paris, as a beauty and a wit—had passed her early womanhood amid the tumult of great events. She had witnessed the horrors of the Terror, the splendid amazements of the First Empire; and could still count among her friends and correspondents, politicians and literary men of no mean standing. A legend obtains that Lord Byron sighed for her—and in vain. For, as Katherine came to know later, this woman had loved once, daringly, finally, yet without scandal—though the name of him whom she loved, and who loved her, was not, it must be owned, St. Quentin. And perhaps it was just this, this hidden and somewhat tragic romance, which kept her so young, so fresh; kept her unworldly, though moving so freely in the world; had given her that exquisite sense of relative values and that knowledge of the heart, which leads, as the divine Plato has testified, to the highest and most reconciling philosophy.

Thus, the delicately brilliant old lady and the radiant young lady lived together delightfully enough, spending their winters in Paris in a pretty apartment in the rue de Rennes—shared with one Mademoiselle de Mirancourt, whose friendship with Mrs. St. Quentin dated from their schooldays at the convent of the Sacré Cœur. Spring and autumn found Katherine and her great‐aunt in London. While, in summer, there was always a long visit to Ormiston Castle, looking out from the cliff‐edge page: 11 upon the restless North Sea. Lovers came in due course. For over and above its own shapeliness—which surely was reason enough—Katherine’s hand was well worth winning from the worldly point of view. She would have money; and Mrs. St. Quentin’s influence would count for much in the case of a great‐nephew‐by‐marriage who aspired to a parliamentary or diplomatic career. But the lovers also went, for Katherine asked a great deal—not so much of them, perhaps, as of herself. She had taken an idea, somehow, that marriage, to be in the least satisfactory, must be based on love; and that love, worth the name, is an essentially two‐sided business. Indirectly the girl had learnt much on this difficult subject from her great‐aunt; and with characteristic directness had agreed with herself to wait till her heart was touched, if she waited a lifetime—though of exactly in what either her heart, or the touching of it, consisted she was deliciously innocent as yet.

And then, in the summer of 1841, Sir Richard Calmady came to Ormiston. He and her brother Roger had been at Eton together. Katherine remembered him, years ago, as a well‐bred and courteously contemptuous schoolboy, upon whose superior mind, small female creatures—busy about dolls, and victims of the athletic restrictions imposed by petticoats—made but slight impression. Latterly Sir Richard’s name had come to be one to conjure with in racing circles, thanks to the performances of certain horses bred and trained at the Brockhurst stables; though some critics, it is true, deplored his tendency to neglect the older and more legitimate sport of flat‐racing in favour of steeple‐chasing. It was said he aspired to rival the long list of victories achieved by Mr. Elmore’s Gaylad and Lottery, and the successes of Peter Simple the famous grey. This much Katherine had heard of him from her brother. And, having her naughty turns—as what charming woman has not?—had set him down as probably a rough sort of person, notwithstanding his wealth and good connections, a kind of gentleman‐jockey, upon whom it would be easy to take a measure of pretty revenge for his boyish indifference to her existence. But the meeting and the young man, alike, turned out quite other than she had anticipated. For she found a person as well furnished in all polite and social arts as herself, with no flavour of the stable about him. She had reckoned on one whose scholarship would carry him no further than a few stock quotations from Horace, and whose knowledge of art would begin and end with a portrait of himself presented by the members of a local hunt. Therefore it was a little surprising—possibly a little mortifying to her—to page: 12 hear him talking over obscure passages in Spenser’s Faerie Queene with Mrs. St. Quentin, before the end of the dinner, and nicely apprising the relative merits of the water‐colour sketches, by Turner, that hung on either side the drawing‐room fireplace.

Nor did Katherine’s surprises end here. An unaccountable something was taking place within her, that opened up a whole new range of emotion. She, the least moody of young women, had strange fluctuations of temper, finding herself buoyantly happy one hour, the next pensive, filled with timidity and self‐distrust—not to mention little fits of gusty anger, and purposeless jealousy which took her, hurting her pride shrewdly. She grew anxiously solicitous as to her personal appearance. This dress would not please her nor that. The image of her charming, oval face and well‐set head ceased to satisfy her. Surely a woman’s hair should be either positively blond or black, not this undeterminate brown, with warm lights in it? She feared her mouth was not small enough, the lips too full and curved for prettiness. She wished her eyes less given to change, under their dark lashes, from clear grey‐blue to a nameless colour, like the gloom of the pools of a woodland stream, as her feelings changed from gladness to distress. She feared her complexion was too bright, and then not bright enough. And, all the while, a certain shame possessed her that she should care at all about such trivial matters; for life had grown suddenly larger and more august. Books she had read, faces she had watched a hundred times, the vast horizon looking eastward over the unquiet sea, all these gained a new value and meaning which at once enthralled and agitated her thought.

Sir Richard Calmady stayed a fortnight at Ormiston. And the two ladies crossed to Paris earlier, that autumn, than was their custom. Katherine was not in her usual good health, and Mrs. St. Quentin desired change of air and scene on her account. She took Mademoiselle de Mirancourt into her confidence, hinting at causes for her restlessness and wayward, little humours unacknowledged by the girl herself. Then the two elder women wrapped Katherine about with an atmosphere of—if possible—deeper tenderness than before; mingling sentiment with their gaiety, and gaiety with their sentiment, and the delicate respect which refrains from question with both.

One keenly bright, October afternoon Richard Calmady called in the rue de Rennes. It appeared he had come to Paris with the intention of remaining there for an indefinite period. He called again and yet again, making himself charming—a touch of page: 13 deference tempering his natural suavity—alike to his hostesses and to such of their guests as he happened to meet. It was the fashion of fifty years ago to conduct affairs, even those of the heart, with a dignified absence of precipitation. The weeks passed, while Sir Richard became increasingly welcome in some of the very best houses in Paris.—And Katherine? It must be owned Katherine was not without some heartaches, which she proudly tried to deny to herself and conceal from others. But eventually—it was on the morning after the ball at the British Embassy—the man spoke and the maid answered, and the old order changed, giving place to new, in the daily life of the pretty apartment of the rue de Rennes.

About five months later the marriage took place in London; and Sir Richard and Lady Calmady started forth on a wedding journey of the old‐fashioned type. They travelled up the Rhine, and posted, all in the delicious, early summer weather, through Northern Italy, as far as Florence. They returned by Paris. And there, Mrs. St. Quentin watching—in almost painful anxiety—to see how it fared with her recovered darling, was wholly satisfied, and gave thanks. For she perceived that, in this case at least, marriage was no legal, conventional connection leaving the heart emptier than it found it—the bartering of precious freedom for a joyless bondage—an obligation, weary in the present, and hopeless of alleviation in the future, save by the reaching of that far‐distant, heavenly country, concerning which it is comfortably assured us “that there they neither marry nor are given in marriage.” For the Katherine who came back to her was at once the same, and yet another Katherine—one who carried her head more proudly and stepped as though she was mistress of the whole fair earth, but whose merry wit had lost its little edge of sarcasm, whose sympathy was quicker and more instinctive, whose voice had taken fuller and more caressing tones, and in whose sweet eyes sat a steady content good to see. Then, suddenly, Mrs. St. Quentin began to feel her age as she had never, consciously, felt it before; and to be very willing to fold her hands and recite her Nunc Dimittis. For, in looking on the faces of the bride and bridegroom, she had looked once again on the face of Love itself, and had stood within the court of the temple of that Uranian Venus whose unsullied glory is secure here and hereafter, since to her it is given to discover to her worshippers the innermost secret of existence, thereby fencing them forever against the plagues of change, delusion, and decay. Love began gently to loosen the cords of life, and to draw Lucia St. Quentin home—home to that dear dwelling‐place which, as page: 14 we fondly trust—since God Himself is Love—is reserved for all true lovers beyond the grave and Gates of Death. Thus one flower falls as another opens, and to‐day, however sweet, is only won across the corpse of yesterday.

And it was some perception of just this—the ceaseless push of event following on event, the ceaseless push of the yet unborn struggling to force the doors of life—which moved Katherine to seriousness, as she stood alone on the smooth expanse of the troco‐ground, in the soft, all‐covering twilight, at the close of the day’s hospitality.

On her right the house, and its delicate, twisted chimneys, showed dark against the fading rose of the western sky. The air, rich with the fragrance of the red‐walled gardens behind her,—with the scent of jasmine, heliotrope and clove carnations, ladies‐lilies and mignonette,—was stirred, now and again, by wandering winds, cool from the spaces of the open moors. While, as the last roll of departing wheels died out along the avenues, the voices of the woodland began to reassert themselves. Wild‐fowl called from the alder‐fringed Long Water. Night‐hawks churred as they beat on noiseless wings above the beds of bramble and bracken. A cock pheasant made a most admired stir and keckling in seeing his wife and brood to roost on the branches of one of King James’s age‐old Scotch firs.

And this sense of nature coming back to claim her own, to make known her eternal supremacy, now that the fret of man’s little pleasuring had passed, was very grateful to Katherine Calmady. Her soul cried out to be free, for a time, to contemplate, to fully apprehend and measure, its own happiness. It needed to stand aside, so that the love given and all given with that love—even these matters of house and gardens, of men‐servants and maid‐servants, of broad acres, all the poetry, in short, of great possessions—might be seen in perspective. For Katherine had that necessity—in part intellectual, in part practical, and common to all who possess the gift for rule—to resist the confusing importunity of detail, and to grasp intelligently the Whole, which alone gives to detail coherence and purpose. Her mind was not one—perhaps unhappily—which is contented to merely play with bricks, but which demands the plan of the building into which those bricks should grow. And she wanted, just now, to lay hold of the plan of the fair building of her own life. And to this end the solitude, the evening quiet, the restful unrest of the forest and its wild creatures, should surely have ministered. She moved forward page: 15 and sat on the broad, stone balustrade which, topping the buttressed masonry that supports it above the long downward slope of the park, encloses the troco‐ground on the south.

The landscape lay drowned in the mystery of the summer night. And Katherine, looking out into it, tried to think clearly, tried to range the many new experiences of the last few months and to reckon with them. But her brain refused to work obediently to her will. She felt strangely hurried for all the surrounding quiet.

One train of thought, which she had been busy enough by day and honestly sleepy enough at night to keep at arm’s length during this time of home‐coming and entertaining, now invaded and possessed her mind—filling it at once with a new and overwhelming movement of tenderness yet, for all her high courage, with a certain fear. She cried out for a little space of liberty, a little space in which to take breath. She wanted to pause, here in the fulness of her content. But no pause was granted her. She was so happy, she asked nothing more. But something more was forced upon her. And so it happened that, in realising the ceaseless push of event on event, the ceaseless dying of dear to‐day in the service of unborn to‐morrow, her gentle seriousness touched on regret.

How long she remained lost in such pensive reflections Lady Calmady could not have said. Suddenly the terrace door slammed. A moment later a man’s footsteps echoed across the flags of the garden‐hall.

“Katherine,” Richard Calmady called, somewhat imperatively, “Katherine, are you there?”

She turned and stood watching him as he came rapidly across the turf.

“Yes, I am here,” she said. “Do you want me?”

“Do I want you?” he answered curtly. “Don’t I always want you?”

A little sob rose in her throat—she knew not why, for, hearing the tone of his voice, her sadness was strangely assuaged.

“I could not find you,” he went on. “And I got into an absurd state of panic—sent Roger in one direction, and Julius in another, to look for you.”

“Whereupon Roger, probably, posted down to the stables, and Julius up to the chapel to search. Where the heart dwells there the feet follow. Meanwhile, you came straight here and found me yourself.”

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“I might have known I should do that.”

The importunate thought returned upon Katherine, and with it a touch of her late melancholy.

“Ah! one knows nothing for certain when one is frightened,” she said. She moved closer to him, holding out her hand. “Here,” she continued, “you are a little too shadowy, too unsubstantial, in this light, Dick. I would rather make more sure of your presence.”

Richard Calmady laughed very gently. Then the two stood silent, looking out over the dim valley, hand in hand.—The scent of the gardens was about them. Moving lights showed through the many windows of the great house. The water‐fowl called sleepily. The churring of the night‐hawks was continuous, soothing as the hum of a spinning‐wheel. Somewhere, away in the Warren, a fox barked. In the eastern sky, the young moon began to climb above the ragged edge of the firs.—When they spoke again it was very simply, in broken sentences, as children speak. The poetry of their relation to one another and the scene about them were too full of meaning, too lovely, to call for polish of rhetoric, or pointing by epigram.

“Tell me,” Katherine said, “were you satisfied? Did I entertain your people prettily?”

“Prettily? You entertained them as they had never been entertained before—like a queen—and they knew it. But why did you stay out here alone?”

“To think—and to look at Brockhurst.”

“Yes, it’s worth looking at now,” he said. “It was like a body wanting a soul till you came.”

“But you loved it?” Katherine reasoned.

“Oh yes! because I believed the soul would come some day. Brockhurst, and the horses, and the books, all helped to make the time pass while I was waiting.”

“Waiting for what?”

“Why, for you, of course, you dear, silly sweet! Haven’t I always been waiting for you—just precisely and wholly you, nothing more or less—all through my life, all through all conceivable and inconceivable lives, since before the world began?”

Katherine’s breath came with a fluttering sigh. She let her head fall back against his shoulder. Her eyes closed involuntarily. She loved these fond exaggerations—as what woman does not who has had the good fortune to hear them? They pierced her with a delicious pain. And—perhaps therefore, perhaps not unwisely—she believed them true.

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“Are you tired?” he asked presently.

Katherine looked up smiling, and shook her head.

“Not too tired to be up early to‐morrow morning and come out with me to see the horses galloped? Sultan will give you no trouble. He is well‐seasoned and merely looks on at things in general with intelligent interest, goes like a lamb and stands like a rock.”

While her husband was speaking Katherine straightened herself up, and moved a little from him though still holding his hand. Her languor passed, and her eyes grew large and black.

“I think, perhaps, I had better not go to‐morrow, Dick,” she said slowly.

“Ah! you are tired, you poor dear! No wonder, after the week’s work you have had. Another day will do just as well. Only I want you to come out sometimes in the first blush of the morning, before the day has had time to grow commonplace, while the gossamers are still hung with dew, and the mists are in hollows, and the horses are heady from the fresh air and the light. You will like it all, Kitty. It is rather inspiring. But it will keep. To‐morrow I’ll let you rest in peace.”

“Oh no! it is not that,” Katherine said quickly.—The importunate thought was upon her again, clamouring, not only to be recognised, but fairly owned to and permitted to pass the doors of speech. And a certain modesty made her shrink from this. To know something in the secret of your own heart, to tell it, thereby making it a hard, concrete fact, outside yourself, over which, in a sense, you cease to have control, are two such very different matters! Katherine trembled on the edge of her confession; though that to be confessed was, after all, but the natural crown of her love.

“I think I ought not to ride now—for a time, Dick.” All the blood rushed into her face and throat, and then ebbed, leaving her very white in the growing darkness.—“You have given me a child,” she said.