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

IPHIGENIA

CHASTENED in spirit, verbally acquiescent, yet unconvinced, a somewhat pitiable sense of inadequacy upon him, Lord Fallowfeild travelled back to Westchurch that night. Two days later the morning papers announced to all whom it might concern,—and that far larger all, whom it did not really concern in the least—in the conventional phrases common to such announcements, that Sir Richard Calmady and Lady Constance Quayle had agreed shortly to become man and wife. Thus did Katherine Calmady, in all trustfulness, strive to give her son his desire, while the great and little world looked on, and made comments various as the natures and circumstances of the units composing them.

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Lady Louisa was filled with the pride of victory. Her venture had not miscarried. At church on Sunday—she was really too busy socially, just now, to attend what it was her habit to describe as “odds and ends of week‐day services,” and therefore worshipped on the Sabbath only, and then by no means in secret or with shut door—she repeated the General Thanksgiving with much unction and in an aggressively audible voice. And Lady Alicia Winterbotham expressed a peevish hope that—“such great wealth might not turn Constance’s head and make her just a little vulgar. It was all rather dangerous for a girl of her age, and she”—the speaker—“trusted somebody would point out to Connie the heavy responsibilities towards others such a position brought with it.” And Lord Shotover delivered it as his opinion that—“It might be all right. He hoped to goodness it was, for he’d always been uncommonly fond of the young ’un. But it seemed to him rather a put‐up job all round, and so he meant just to keep his eye on Con, he swore he did.” In furtherance of which laudable determination he braved his eldest sister’s frowns with heroic intrepidity, calling to see the young girl whenever all other sources of amusement failed him, and paying her the compliment—as is the habit of the natural man, when unselfishly desirous of giving pleasure to the women of his family—of talking continuously and exclusively about his own affairs, his gains at cards, his losses on horses, even recounting, in moments of more than ordinarily expansive affection, the less wholly disreputable episodes of his many adventures of the heart. And Honoria St. Quentin’s sensitive face straightened and her lips closed rather tight whenever the marriage was mentioned before her. She refused to express any view on the subject, and to that end took rather elaborate pains to avoid the society of Mr. Quayle. And Lady Dorothy Hellard—whose unhappy disappointment in respect of the late Lord Sokeington and other nonsuccessful excursions in the direction of wedlock, had not cured her of sentimental leanings—asserted that—“It was quite the most romantic and touching engagement she had ever heard of.” To which speech her mother, the Dowager Lady Combmartin, replied, with the directness of statement which made her acquaintance so cautious of differing from her:—“Touching? Romantic? Fiddle‐de‐dee! You ought to be ashamed of yourself for thinking so at your age, Dorothy. A bargain’s a bargain, and in my opinion the bride has got much the best of it. For she’s a mawkish, milk‐and‐water, little schoolgirl, while he is charming—all there is of him. If there’d been a little more I declare I’d have married him myself.” And good‐looking Mr. Decies, of the page: 318 101st Lancers, got into very hot water with the mounted constables, and with the livery‐stable keeper from whom he hired his hacks, for “furious riding” in the Park. And Julius March walked the paved ways and fragrant alleys of the red‐walled gardens at Brockhurst, somewhat sadly, in the glowing June twilights, meditating upon the pitiless power of change which infects all things human, and of his own lifelong love doomed to “find no earthly close.” And Mrs. Chifney, down at the racing‐stables, rejoiced to the point of tears, being possessed by the persistent instinct of matrimony common to the British, lower middle‐class. And Sandyfield parish rejoiced likewise, and pealed its church‐bells in token thereof, foreseeing much carnal gratification in the matter of cakes and ale. And Madame de Vallorbes, whose letters to Richard had come to be pretty frequent during the last eight months, was overtaken by silence and did not write at all.

But this omission on the part of his cousin was grateful, rather than distressing, to the young man. It appeared to him very sympathetic of Helen not to write. It showed a finely, imaginative sensibility and considerateness on her part, which made Dickie sigh, thinking of it, and then, so to speak, turn away his head. And to do this last was the less difficult that his days were very full just now. And his mind was very full, likewise, of gentle thoughts of, and many provisions for, the happiness of his promised bride.

The young girl was timid in his presence, it is true. Yet she was transparently, appealingly, anxious to please. Her conversation was neither ready nor brilliant, but she was very fair to look upon in her childlike freshness and innocence. A protective element, a tender and chivalrous loyalty, entered into Richard’s every thought of her. A great passion and a happy marriage were two quite separate matters—so he argued in his inexperience. And this was surely the wife a man should desire, modest, guileless, dutiful, pure in heart as in person? The gentle dumbness which often held her did not trouble him. It was a pretty pastime to try to win her confidence and open the doors of her artless speech.

And then, to Richard, tempted it is true, but as yet himself unsullied, it was so sacred and wonderful a thing that this spotless woman‐creature in all the fragrance of her youth belonged to him in a measure already, and would belong to him, before many weeks were out, wholly and of inalienable right. And so it happened that the very limitations of the young girl’s nature came to enhance her attractions. Dickie could not get page: 319 very near to her mind, but that merely piqued his curiosity and provoked his desire of discovery. She was to him as a book written in strange character, difficult to decipher. With the result that he accredited her with subtleties and many fine feelings she. did not really possess, while he failed to divine—not from defective sympathy so much as from absorption in his self‐created idea of her—the very simple feelings which actually animated her. His masculine pride was satisfied, in that so eligible a maiden consented to become his wife. His moral sense was satisfied also, since he had—as he supposed—put temptation from him and chosen the better part. Very certainly he was not violently in love. That he supposed to be a thing of the past. But he was quietly happy. While ahead lay the mysterious enchantments of marriage. Dickie’s heart was very tender, just then. Life had never turned on him a more gracious face.

Nevertheless, once or twice, a breath of distrust dimmed the bright surface of his existing complacency. One day, for instance, he had taken his fiancée for a morning drive and brought her home to luncheon. After that meal she should sit for a while with Lady Calmady, and then join him in the library downstairs, for he had that which he coveted to show to her.—But it appeared to him that she tarried unduly with his mother, and he grew impatient waiting through the long minutes of the summer afternoon. A barrel‐organ droned slumberously from the other side of the square, while to his ears, so long attuned to country silences or the quick, intermittent music of nature, the ceaseless roar of London became burdensome. Ever after, thinking of this first wooing of his, he recalled—as slightly sinister—that ever‐present murmur of traffic,—bearing testimony, as it seemed later, to the many activities in which he could play, after all, but so paltry and circumscribed a part.

And, listening to that same murmur now, something of rebellion against circumstance arose in Dickie for all that the present was very good. For, as he considered, any lover other than himself would not sit pinned to an arm‐chair awaiting his mistress’ coming, but, did she delay, would go to seek her, claim her, and bear her merrily away. The organ‐grinder, meanwhile, cheered by a copper shower from some adjacent balcony, turned the handle of his instrument more vigorously, letting loose stirring valse‐tune and march upon the sultry air. Such music was, of necessity, somewhat comfortless hearing to Richard, debarred alike from deeds of arms or joy of dancing. His impatience increased. It was a little inconsiderate of his mother surely to page: 320 detain Constance for so long! But just then the sound of women’s voices reached him through the half‐open door. The two ladies were leisurely descending the stairs. There was a little pause, then he heard Lady Calmady say, as though in gentle rebuke:—

“No, no, dear child, I will not come with you. Richard would like better to see you alone. Too, I have a number of letters to write. I am at home to no one this afternoon. You will find me in the sitting‐room here. You can come and bid me good‐bye—now, dear child, go.”

Thus admonished, Lady Constance moved forward. Yet, to Dickie’s listening ears, it appeared that it took her an inordinate length of time to traverse the length of the hall from the foot of the stairs to the library door. And there again she paused—the organ, now nearer, rattling out the tramp of a popular military march. But the throb and beat of the quick‐step failed to hasten Lady Constance’s lagging feet, so that further rebellion against his own infirmity assaulted poor Dick.

At length the girl entered with a little rush, her soft cheeks flushed, her rounded bosom heaving, as though she arrived from a long and arduous walk, rather than from that particularly deliberate traversing of the cool hall and descent of the airy stairway.

“Ah! here you are at last, then!” Richard exclaimed. “I began to wonder if you had forgotten all about me.”

The young girl did not attempt to sit down, but stood directly in front of him, her hands clasped loosely, yet somewhat nervously, almost in the attitude of a child about to recite a lesson. Her still, heifer’s eyes were situate so far apart that Dickie, looking up at her, found it difficult to focus them both at the same glance. And this produced an effect of slight uncertainty, even of a defect of vision, at once pathetic and quaintly attractive. Her face was heart‐shaped, narrowing from the wide, low brow to the small, rounded chin set below a round, babyish mouth of slight mobility but much innocent sweetness. Her light, brown hair, rising in an upward curve on either side the straight parting, was swept back softly, yet smoothly, behind her small ears. The neck of her white, alpaca dress, cut square according to the then prevailing fashion, was outlined with flat bands of pale, blue ribbon, and filled up with lace to the base of the round column of her throat. Blue ribbons adorned the hem of her simple skirt, and a band of the same colour encircled her shapely, though not noticeably slender, waist. Her bosom was page: 321 rather full for so young a woman; so that, notwithstanding her perfect freshness and air of almost childlike simplicity, there was a certain statuesque quality in the effect of her white‐clad figure seen thus in the shaded library, with its russet‐red walls and ranges of dark bookshelves.

“I am so sorry,” she said breathlessly. “I should have come sooner, but I was talking to Lady Calmady, and I did not know it was so late. I am not afraid of talking to Lady Calmady, she is so very kind to me, and there are many questions I wanted to ask her. She promises to help and tell me what I ought to do. And I am very glad of that. It will prevent my making mistakes.”

Her attitude and the earnestness of her artless speech were to Richard almost pathetically engaging. His irritation vanished. He smiled, looked up at her, his own face flushing a little.

“I don’t fancy you will ever make any very dangerous mistakes!” he said.

“Ah! but I might,” the girl insisted. “You see I have always been told what to do.”

“Always?” Dickie asked, more for the pleasure of watching her stand thus than for any great importance he attached to her answer.

“Oh yes!” she said. “First by our nurses, and then by our governesses. They were not always very kind. They called me obstinate. But I did not mean to be obstinate. Only they spoke in French or German, and I could not always understand. And since I have grown up my elder sisters have told me what I ought to do.”

It seemed to Richard that the girl’s small, round chin trembled a little, and that a look of vague distress invaded her soft, ruminant, wide‐set eyes.

“And so I should have been very frightened, now, unless I had had Lady Calmady to tell me.”

“Well, I think there’s only one thing my mother will need to tell you, and it won’t run into either French or German. It can be stated in very plain English. Just to do whatever you like, and—and be happy.”

Lady Constance stared at the speaker with her air of gentle perplexity. As she did so undoubtedly her pretty chin did tremble a little.

“Ah! but to do what you like can never really make you happy,” she said.

“Can’t it? I’m not altogether so sure of that. I had ventured to suppose there were a number of things you and I page: 322 would do in the future, which will be most uncommonly pleasant without being conspicuously harmful.”

He leaned sideways, stretching out to a neighbouring chair with his right hand, keeping the light, silk‐woven, red blanket up across his thighs with his left.

“Do sit down, Constance, and we will talk of things we both like to do, at greater length—Ah! bother—forgive me—I can’t reach it.”

“Oh! please don’t trouble. It doesn’t matter. I can get it quite well myself,” Lady Constance said, quite quickly for once. She drew up the chair and sat down near him, folding her hands again nervously in her lap. All the colour had died out of her cheeks. They were as white as her rounded throat. She kept her eyes fixed on Richard’s face, and her bosom rose and fell, while her words came somewhat gaspingly. Still she talked on with a touching little effect of determined civility.

“Lady Calmady was very kind in telling me I might sometimes go over to Whitney,” she said. “I should like that. I am afraid papa will miss me. Of course there will be all the others just the same. But I go out so much with him. Of course I would not ask to go over very often, because I know it might be inconvenient for me to have the horses.”

“But you will have your own horses,” Richard answered. “I wrote to Chifney to look out for a pair of cobs for you last week—browns—you said you liked that colour I remember. And I told him they were to be broken until big guns, going off under their very noses, wouldn’t make them so much as wince.”

“Are you buying them just for me?” the girl said.

“Just for you?” Dickie laughed. “Why, who on earth should I buy anything for but just you, I should like to know?”

“But”—she began.

“But—but”—he echoed, resting his hands on the two arms of his chairs leaning forward and still laughing, though somewhat shyly. “Don’t you see the whole and sole programme is that you should do all you like, and have all you like, and—and be happy.”—Richard straightened himself up, still looking full at her, trying to focus both these quaintly‐engaging, far‐apart eyes. “Constance, do you never play?” he asked her suddenly.

“I did practise every morning at home, but lately”—

“Oh! I don’t mean that,” the young man said. “I mean quite another sort of playing.”

“Games?” Lady Constance inquired. “I am afraid I am page: 323 rather stupid about games. I find it so difficult to remember numbers and words, and I never can make a ball go where I want it to, somehow.”

“I was not thinking of games either, exactly,” Richard said, smiling.

The girl stared at him in some perplexity. Then she spoke again, with the same little effect of determined civility.

“I am very fond of dancing and of skating. The ice was very good on the lake at Whitney this winter. Rupert and Gerry were home from Eton, and Eddy had brought a young man down with him—Mr. Hubbard—who is in his business in Liverpool, and a friend of my brother Guy’s was staying in the house too, from India. I think you have met him—Mr. Decies. We skated till past twelve one night—a Wednesday, I think. There was a moon, and a great many stars. The thermometer registered fifteen degrees of frost Mr. Decies told me. But I was not cold. It was very beautiful.”

Richard shifted his position. The organ had moved farther away. Uncheered by further copper showers it droned again slumberously, while the murmur sent forth by the thousand activities of the great city waxed loud, for the moment, and hoarsely insistent.

“I do not bore you?” Lady Constance asked, in sudden anxiety.

“Oh no, no!” Richard answered. “I am glad to have you tell me about yourself, if you will; and all that you care for.”

Thus encouraged, the girl took up her little parable again, her sweet, rather vacant, face growing almost animated as she spoke.

“We did something else I liked very much, but from what Alicia said afterwards I am afraid I ought not to have liked it. One day it snowed, and we all played hide‐and‐seek. There are a number of attics in the roof of the bachelor’s wing at Whitney, and there are long up‐and‐down passages leading round to the old nurseries. Mama did not mind, but Alicia was very displeased. She said it was a mere excuse for romping. But that was not true. Of course we never thought of romping. We did make a great noise,” she added conscientiously, “but that was Rupert and Gerry’s fault. They would jump out after promising not to, and of course it was impossible to help screaming. Eddy’s Liverpool friend tried to jump out too, but Maggie snubbed him. I think he deserved it. You ought to play fair; don’t you think so? After promising, you would never jump out, would you?”

And there Lady Constance stopped, with a little gasp.

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“Oh! I beg your pardon. I am so sorry. I forgot,” she added breathlessly.

Richard’s face had become thin and keen.

“Forget just as often as you can, please,” he answered huskily. “I would infinitely rather have you—have everybody —forget altogether—if possible.”

“Oh! but I think that would be wrong of me,” she rejoined, with gentle dogmatism. “It is selfish to forget anything that is very sad.”

“And is this so very sad?” Richard asked, almost harshly.

The girl stared at him with parted lips.

“Oh yes!” she said slowly. “Of course,—don’t you think so? It is dreadfully sad.”—And then, her attitude still unchanged and her pretty, plump hands still folded on her lap, she went on, in her touching determination to sustain the conversation with due readiness and civility. “Brockhurst is a much larger house than Whitney, isn’t it? I thought so the day we drove over to luncheon—when that beautiful, French cousin of yours was staying with you, you remember?”

“Yes, I remember,” Richard said.

And as he spoke Madame de Vallorbes, clothed in the sea‐waves, crowned and shod with gold, seemed to stand for a moment beside his innocent, little fiancée. How long it was since he had heard from her! Did she want money, he wondered? It would be intolerable if, because of his marriage, she never let him help her again. And all the while Lady Constance’s unemotional, careful, little voice continued, as did the ceaseless murmur of London.

“I remember,” she was saying, “because your cousin is quite the most beautiful person I have ever seen. Papa admired her very much too. We spoke of that as soon as Louisa had left us, when we were alone. But there seemed to me so many staircases at Brockhurst, and rooms opening one out of the other. I have been wondering—since—lately—whether I shall ever be able to find my way about the house.”

“I will show you your way,” Dickie said gently, banishing the vision of Helen de Vallorbes.

“You will show it me?” the girl asked, in evident surprise.

Then a companion picture to that of Madame de Vallorbes arose before Dickie’s mental vision—namely the good‐looking, long‐legged, young, Irish soldier, Mr. Decies, of the 101st Lancers, flying along the attic passages of the Whitney bachelor’s wing, in company with this immediately‐so‐demure and dutiful maiden and all the rest of that admittedly rather uproarious, page: 325 holiday throng. Thereat a foolish lump rose in poor Richard’s throat, for he too was, after all, but young. He choked the foolish lump down again. Yet it left his voice a trifle husky.

“Yes, I will show you your way,” he said. “I can manage that much, you know, at home, in private, among my own people. Only you mustn’t be in a hurry. I have to take my time. You must not mind that. I—I go slowly.”

“But that will be much better for me,” she answered, with rather humble courtesy, “because then I am more likely to remember my way. I have so much difficulty in knowing my way. I still lose myself sometimes in the park at Whitney. I did once this winter with—my brother Guy’s friend, Mr. Decies. The boys always tease me about losing my way. Even papa says I have no bump of locality. I am afraid I am stupid about that. My governesses always complained that I was a very thoughtless child.”

Lady Constance unfolded her hands. Her timid, engagingly vague gaze dwelt appealingly upon Richard’s handsome face.

“I think, perhaps, if you do not mind, I will go now,” she said. “I must bid Lady Calmady good‐bye. We dine at Lady Combmartin’s to‐night. You dine there too, don’t you? And my sister Louisa may want me to drive with her, or write some notes, before I dress.”

“Wait half a minute,” Dickie said. “I’ve got something for you. Let’s see—Oh! there it is!”

Raising himself he stood, for a moment, on the seat of the chair, steadying himself with one hand on the back of it, and reached a little, silver‐paper covered parcel from the neighbouring table. Then he slipped back into a sitting position, drew the silken blanket up across his thighs, and tossed the little parcel gently into Lady Constance Quayle’s lap.

“I as near as possible let you go without it,” he said. “Not that it’s anything very wonderful. It’s nothing—only I saw it in a shop in Bond Street yesterday, and it struck me as rather quaint. I thought you might like it. Why—but—Constance, what’s the matter?”

For the girl’s pretty, heart‐shaped face had blanched to the whiteness of her white dress. Her eyes were strained, as those of one who beholds an object of terror. Not only her chin but her round, baby mouth trembled. Richard looked at her, amazed at these evidences of distressing emotion. Then suddenly he understood.

“I frighten you. How horrible!” he said.

But little Lady Constance had not suffered persistent training page: 326 at the hands of nurses, and governesses, and elder sisters, during all her eighteen years of innocent living for nothing. She had her own small code of manners and morals, of honour and duty, and to the requirements of that code, as she apprehended them, she yielded unqualified obedience, not unheroic in its own meagre and rather puzzle‐headed fashion. So that now, notwithstanding trembling lips, she retained her intention of civility and entered immediate apology for her own weakness.

“No, no, indeed you do not,” she replied. “Please forgive me. I know I was very foolish. I am so sorry. You are so kind to me, you are always giving me beautiful presents, and indeed I am not ungrateful. Only I had never seen—seen—you like that before. And, please forgive me—I will never be foolish again—indeed, I will not. But I was taken by surprise. I beg your pardon. I shall be so dreadfully unhappy if you do not forgive me.”

And all the while her shaking hands fumbled helplessly with the narrow ribbon tying the dainty parcel, and big tears rolled down slowly out of her great, soft, wide‐set, heifer’s eyes. Never was there more moving or guileless a spectacle! Witnessing which, Richard Calmady was taken somewhat out of himself, his personal misfortune seeming matter inconsiderable, while his childlike fiancée had never appeared more engaging. All the sweetest of his nature responded to her artless appeal in very tender pity.

“Why, my dear Constance,” he said, “there’s nothing to forgive. I was foolish, not you. I ought to have known better. Never mind. I don’t. Only wipe your pretty eyes, please. Yes—that’s better. Now let me break that tiresome ribbon for you.”

“You are very kind to me,” the girl murmured. Then, as the ribbon broke under Richard’s strong fingers, and the delicate necklace of many, roughly‐cut, precious stones—topaz, amethyst, sapphire, ruby, chrysolite, and beryl, joined together, three rows deep, by slender, golden chains—slipped from the enclosing paper wrapping into her open hands, Constance Quayle added, rather tearfully:—“Oh! you are much too kind! You give me too many things. No one I know ever had such beautiful presents. The cobs you told me of, and now this, and the pearls, and the tiara you gave me last week. I—I don’t deserve it. You give me too much, and I give nothing in return.”

“Oh yes, you do!” Richard said, flushing. “You—you give me yourself.”

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Lady Constance’s tears ceased. Again she stared at him in gentle perplexity.

“You promise to marry me”—

“Yes, of course, I have promised that,” she said slowly.

“And isn’t that about the greatest giving there can be? A few horses, and jewels, and such rubbish of sorts, weigh pretty light in the balance against that—I being I”—Richard paused a moment—“and you—you.”

But a certain ardour which had come into his speech, for all that he sat very still, and that his expression was wholly gentle and indulgent, and that she felt a comfortable assurance that he was not angry with her, rather troubled little Lady Constance Quayle. She rose to her feet, and stood before him again, as a child about to recite a lesson.

“I think,” she said, “I must go. Louisa may want me. Thank you so much. This necklace is quite lovely. I never saw one like it. I like so many colours. They remind me of flowers, or of the colours at sunset in the sky. I shall like to wear this very much. You—you will forgive me for having been foolish or if I have bored you?”

Her bosom rose and fell, and the words came breathlessly.

“I shall see you at Lady Combmartin’s? So—so now I will go.”

And with that she departed, leaving Richard more in love with her, somehow, than he had ever been before or had ever thought to be.

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