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The History of Sir Richard Calmady: a Romance . Malet, Lucas, 1852–1931.
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page: 338

CHAPTER VII

RECORDING THE ASTONISHING VALOUR DISPLAYED BY A CERTAIN SMALL MOUSE IN A CORNER

AS Honoria St. Quentin and the reluctant Shotover stepped, side by side, from the warmth and dimness obtaining in the anteroom, into the pleasant coolness of the moonlit balcony, Lady Constance Quayle, altogether forgetful of her usual careful civility and pretty correctness of demeanour, uttered an inarticulate cry—a cry, indeed, hardly human in its abandon and page: 339 unreasoning anguish, resembling rather the shriek of the doubling hare as the pursuing greyhound nips it across the loins. Regardless of all her dainty finery of tulle, and roses, and flashing diamonds, she flung herself forward, face downwards, across the coping of the balustrade, her bare arms outstretched, her hands clasped above her head. Mr. Decies, blue‐eyed, black‐haired, smooth of skin, looking noticeably long and lithe in his close‐fitting, dress clothes, made a rapid movement as though to lay hold on her and bear her bodily away. Then, recognising the futility of any such attempt, he turned upon the intruders, his high‐spirited, Celtic face drawn with emotion, his attitude rather dangerously warlike.

“What do you want?” he demanded hotly.

“My dear good fellow,” Lord Shotover began, with the most assuaging air of apology, “I assure you the very last thing I‐we—I mean I—want is to be a nuisance. Only Miss St. Quentin thought—in fact, Decies, don’t you see—dash it all, you know, there seemed to be some sort of worry going on out here and so”—

But Honoria did not wait for the conclusion of elaborate explanations, for that cry and the unrestraint of the girl’s attitude not only roused, but shocked her. It was not fitting that any man, however kindly or even devoted, should behold this well‐bred, modest and gentle, young maiden in her present extremity. So she swept past Mr. Decies and bent over Lady Constance Quayle, raised her, strove to soothe her agitation, speaking in tones of somewhat indignant tenderness.

But, though deriving a measure of comfort from the steady arm about her waist, from the strong, protective presence, from the rather stern beauty of the face looking down into hers, Lady Constance could not master her agitation. The train had left the metals, so to speak, and the result was confusion dire. A great shame held her, a dislocation of mind. She suffered that loneliness of soul which forms so integral a part of the misery of all apparently irretrievable disaster, whether moral or physical, and places the victim of it, in imagination at all events, rather terribly beyond the pale.

“Oh!” she sobbed, “you ought not to be so kind to me. I am very wicked. I never supposed I could be so wicked. What shall I do? I am so frightened at myself and at everything. I did not recognise you. I didn’t see it was only Shotover.”

“Well, but now you do see, my dear Con, it’s only me” that gentleman remarked, with a cheerful disregard of grammar. page: 340 “And so you mustn’t upset yourself any more. It’s awfully bad for you, and uncomfortable for everybody else, don’t you know. You must try to pull yourself together a bit and we’ll help you—of course, I’ll help you. We’ll all help you, of course we will, and pull you through somehow.”

But the girl only lamented herself the more piteously.

“Oh no, Shotover, you must not be so kind to me! You couldn’t, if you knew how wicked I have been.”

“Couldn’t I?” Lord Shotover remarked, not without a touch of humorous pathos. “Poor little Con!”

“Only, only please do not tell Louisa. It would be too dreadful if she knew—she, and Alicia, and the others. Don’t tell her, and I will be good. I will be quite good, indeed I will.”

“Bless me, my dear child, I won’t tell anybody anything. To begin with I don’t know anything to tell.”

The girl’s voice had sunk away into a sob. She shuddered, letting her pretty, brown head fall back against Honoria St. Quentin’s bare shoulder,—while the moonlight glinted on her jewels and the night wind swayed the hanging clusters of the pink geraniums. Along with the warmth and scent of flowers, streaming outward through the open windows, came a confused sound of many voices, of discreet laughter, mingled with the wailing sweetness of violins. Then the pleading, broken, childish voice took up its tale again:—

“I will be good. I know I have promised, and I have let him give me a number of beautiful things. He has been very kind to me, because he is clever, and of course I am stupid. But he has never been impatient with me. And I am not ungrateful, indeed, Shotover, I am not. It was only for a minute I was wicked enough to think of doing it. But Mr. Decies told me he—asked me—and—and we were so happy at Whitney in the winter. And it seemed too hard to give it all up, as he said it was true. But I will be good, indeed I will. Really it was only for a minute I thought of it. I know I have promised. Indeed, I will make no fuss. I will be good. I will marry Richard Calmady.”

“But this is simply intolerable!” Honoria said in a low voice.

She held herself tall and straight, looking gallant yet pure, austere even, as some pictured Jeanne d’Arc, a great singleness of purpose, a high courage of protest, an effect at once of fearless challenge and of command in her bearing.—“Is it not a scandal,” she went on, “that in a civilised country, at this time of day, a woman should be allowed, actually forced, to suffer so much? page: 341 You must not permit this martyrdom to be completed—you can’t!”

As she spoke Decies watched her keenly. Who this stately, young lady—so remarkably unlike the majority of Lord Shotover’s intimate, feminine acquaintance—might be, he did not know. But he discerned in her an ally and a powerful one.

“Yes,” he said impulsively, “you are right. It is a martyrdom and a scandalous one. It’s worse than murder, it’s sacrilege. It’s not like any ordinary marriage. I don’t want to be brutal, but it isn’t. There’s something repulsive in it, something unnatural.”

The young man looked at Honoria, and read in her expression a certain agreement and encouragement.

“You know it, Shotover—you know it just as well as I do. And that justified me in attempting what I suppose I would not otherwise have felt it honourable to attempt.—Look here, Shotover, I will tell you what has just happened. I would have had to tell you to‐morrow, in any case, if we had carried the plan out. But I suppose I have no alternative but to tell you now, since you’ve come.”

He ranged himself in line with Miss St. Quentin, his back against one of the big, stone vases. He struggled honestly to keep both temper and emotion under control, but a rather volcanic energy was perceptible in him.

“I love Lady Constance,” he said. “I have told her and—and she cares for me. I am not a Crœsus like Calmady. But I am not a pauper. I have enough to keep a wife in manner suitable to her position and my own. When my uncle, Ulick Decies, dies—which I hope he’ll not hurry to do, since. I am very fond of him—there’ll be the Somersetshire property addition to my own dear, old place in County Cork. And your sister simply hates this marriage”—

“Lord bless me, my dear fellow, so do I!” Lord Shotover put in with evident sincerity.

“And so, when at last I had spoken freely, I asked her to”—

But the young girl cowered down, hiding her face in Honoria St. Quentin’s bosom.

“Oh! don’t say it again—don’t say it,” she implored. “It was wicked of me to listen to you even for a minute. I ought to have stopped you at once and sent you away. It was very wrong of me to listen, and talk to you, and tell you all that I did. But everything is so strange, and I have been so miserable. I never supposed anybody could ever be so miserable. And I knew it was ungrateful of me, and so, I dared not tell anybody. page: 342 I would have told papa, but Louisa never let me be alone with him. She said papa indulged me, and made me selfish and fanciful, and so I have never seen him for more than a little while. And I have been so frightened.”—She raised her head, gazing wide‐eyed first at Miss St. Quentin and then at her brother. “I have thought such dreadful things. I must be very bad. I wanted to run away. I wanted to die”—

“There, you hear, you hear,” Decies cried hoarsely, spreading abroad his hands, in sudden violence of appeal to Honoria. “For God’s sake help us! I am not aware whether you are a relation, or a friend, or what. But I am convinced you can help, if only you choose to do so. And I tell you she is just killing herself over this accursed marriage. Someone’s got at her and talked her into some wild notion of doing her duty, and marrying money for the sake of her family”—

“Oh, I say, damn it all!” Lord Shotover exclaimed, smitten with genuine remorse.

“And so she believes she’s committing the seven deadly sins, and I don’t know what besides, because she rebels against this marriage and is unhappy. Tell her it’s absurd, it’s horrible, that she should do what she loathes and detests. Tell her this talk about duty is a blind, and a fiction. Tell her she isn’t wicked. Why, God in heaven, if we were none of us more wicked than she is, this poor old world would be so clean a place that the holy angels might walk barefoot along the Piccadilly pavement there, outside, without risking to soil so much as the hem of their garments! Make her understand that the only sin for her is to do violence to her nature by marrying a man she’s afraid of, and for whom she does not care. I don’t want to play a low game on Sir Richard Calmady and steal that which belongs to him. But she doesn’t belong to him—she is mine, just my own. I knew that from the first day I came to Whitney, and looked her in the face, Shotover. And she knows it too, only she’s been terrorised with all this devil’s talk of duty.”

So far the words had poured forth volubly, as in a torrent. Now the speaker’s voice dropped, and they came slowly, defiantly, yet without hesitation.

“And so I asked her to go away with me, now, to‐night, and marry me to‐morrow. I can make her happy—oh, no fear about that! And she would have consented and gone. We’d have been away by now—if you and this lady had not come just when you did, Shotover.”

The gentleman addressed whistled very softly.

“Would you, though?” he said, adding meditatively:—

page: 343

“By George now, who’d have thought of Connie going the pace like that!”

“Oh, Shotover, never tell, promise me you will never tell them!” the poor child cried again. “I know it was wicked, but”—

“No, no, you are mistaken there,” Honoria put in, holding her still closer. “You were tempted to take a rather desperate way out of your difficulties. It would have been unwise, but there was nothing wicked in it. The wrong thing is—as Mr. Decies tells you—to marry without love, and so make all your life a lie, by pretending to give Richard Calmady that which you do not, and cannot, give him.”

Then the young soldier broke in resolutely again.

“I tell you I asked her to go away, and I ask her again now”‐

“The deuce you do!” Lord Shotover exclaimed, his sense of amusement getting the better alike of astonishment and of personal regrets.

“Only now I ask you to sanction her going, Shotover. And I ask you”—he turned to Miss St. Quentin—“to come with her. I am not even sure of your name, but I know, by all that you’ve said and done in the last half‐hour, I can be very sure of you. And, I perceive, that if you come nobody will dare to say anything unpleasant—there’ll be nothing, indeed, to be said.”

Honoria smiled. The magnificent egoism of mankind in love struck her as distinctly diverting. Yet she had a very kindly feeling towards this black‐haired, bright‐eyed, energetic, young lover. He was in deadly earnest—to the removing even of mountains. And he had need to be so, for that mountains immediately blocked the road to his desires was evident even to her enthusiastic mind. She looked across compellingly at Lord Shotover. Let him speak first. She needed time, at this juncture, in which to arrange her ideas and to think.

“My dear good fellow,” that gentleman began obediently, patting Decies on the shoulder, “I’m all on your side. I give you my word I am, and I’ve reason to believe my father will be so too. But you see, an elopement—specially in ’our sort of highly respectable, hum‐drum family—is rather a strong order. Upon my honour it is, you know, Decies. And, even though kindly countenanced by Miss St. Quentin, and sanctioned by me, it would make a precious undesirable lot of talk. It really is a rather irregular fashion of conducting the business you see. And then—advice I always give others and only wish I could page: 344 always remember to take myself—it’s very much best to be off with the old love before you’re on with the new.”

“Yes, yes,” Miss St. Quentin put in with quick decision. “Lord Shotover has laid his finger on the heart of the matter. It is just that.—Lady Constance’s engagement to Richard Calmady must be cancelled before her engagement to you, Mr. Decies, is announced. For her to go away with you would be to invite criticism, and put herself hopelessly in the wrong. She must not put herself in the wrong. Let me think! There must be some way by which we can avoid that.”

An exultation, hitherto unexperienced by her, inspired Honoria St. Quentin. Her attitude was slightly unconventional. She sat on the stone balustrade, with long‐limbed, lazy grace, holding the girl’s hand, forgetful of herself, forgetful, in a degree, of appearances, concerned only with the problem of rescue presented to her. The young man’s honest, wholehearted devotion, the young girl’s struggle after duty and her piteous despair, nay, the close contact of that soft, maidenly body that she had so lately held against her in closer, more intimate, embrace than she had ever held anything human before, aroused a new class of sentiment, a new order of emotion, within her. She realised, for the first time, the magnetism, the penetrating and poetic splendour of human love. To witness the spectacle of it, to be thus in touch with it, excited her almost as sailing a boat in a heavy sea, or riding to hounds in a stiff country, excited her. And it followed that now, while she perched aloft boylike, on the balustrade, her delicate beauty took on a strange effulgence, a something spiritual, mysterious, elusive, and yet dazzling as the moonlight which bathed her charming figure. Seeing which, it must be owned that Lord Shotover’s attitude towards her ceased to be strictly fraternal, while the attractions of ladies more fair and kind than wise paled very sensibly.

“I wish I hadn’t been such a fool in my day, and run amuck with my chances,” he thought.

But Miss St. Quentin was altogether innocent of his observation or any such thinkings. She looked up suddenly, her face irradiated by an exquisite smile.

“Yes, I have it,” she cried. “I see the way clear.”

“But I can’t tell them,” broke in Lady Constance.

Honoria’s hand closed down on hers reassuringly.

“No,” she said, “you shall not tell them. And Lord Shotover shall not tell them. Sir Richard Calmady shall tell Lord page: 345 Fallowfeild that he wishes to be released from his engagement, as he believes both you and he will be happier apart. Only you must be brave, both for your own sake, and for Mr. Decies’, and for Richard Calmady’s sake also.—Lady Constance,” she went on, with a certain gentle authority, “do you want to go back to Whitney to‐morrow, or next day, all this nightmare of an unhappy marriage done away with and gone? Well, then, you must come and see Sir Richard Calmady to‐night, and, like an honourable woman, tell him the whole truth. It must be done at once, or your courage may fail. We will come with you‐Lord Shotover and I”—

“Good Lord, will we though!” the young man ejaculated, while the girl’s great, heifer’s eyes grew strained with wonder at this astounding announcement.

“I know it will be rather terrible,” Honoria continued calmly. “But it is a matter of a quarter of an hour, as against a lifetime, and of honour as against a lie. So it’s worth while, don’t you think so, when your whole future, and Mr. Decies’”—she pressed the soft hand again steadily—“is at stake? You must be brave now, and tell him the truth—just simply that you do not love him enough—that you have tried,—you have, I know you have done that,—but that you have failed, that you love someone else, and that therefore you beg him, in mercy, before it is too late, to set you free.”

Fascinated both by her appearance and by the simplicity of her trenchant solution of the difficulty, Lord Shotover stared at the speaker. Her faith was infectious. Yet it occurred to him that all women, good and bad, are at least alike in this—that their methods become radically unscrupulous when they find themselves in a tight place.

“It is a fine plan. It ought to work, for—cripple or not—poor Calmady’s a gentleman,” he said, slowly. “But doesn’t it seem just a trifle rough, Miss St. Quentin, to ask him to be his own executioner?”

Honoria had slipped down from the balustrade, and stood erect in the moonlight.

“I think not,” she replied. “The woman pays, as a rule. Lady Constance has paid already quite heavily enough, don’t you think so? Now we will have the exception that proves the rule. The man shall pay whatever remains of the debt. But we must not waste time. It is not late yet, we shall still find him up, and my brougham is here. I told Lady Aldham I should be home fairly early. Get a cloak, Lady Constance, and meet us in the hall. I suppose you can go down by some back page: 346 way so as to avoid meeting people. Lord Shotover, will you take me to say good‐night to your sister, Lady Louisa?”

The young man fairly chuckled.

“And you, Mr. Decies, must stay and dance.”—She smiled upon him very sweetly. “I promise you it will come through all right, for, as Lord Shotover says, whatever his misfortunes may be, Richard Calmady is a gentleman.—Ah! I hope you are going to be very happy. Good‐bye.”

Decies’ black head went down over her hand, and he kissed it impulsively.

“Good‐bye,” he said, the words catching a little in his throat. “When the time comes, may you find the man to love you as you deserve—though I doubt if there’s such a man living, or dead either, for that matter! God bless you.”

Some half‐hour later Honoria stood among the holland‐shrouded furniture in Lady Calmady’s sitting‐room in Lowndes Square. The period of exalted feeling, of the conviction of successful attainment, was over, and her heart beat somewhat painfully. For she had had time, by now, to realise the surprising audacity of her own proceedings. Lord Shotover’s parley with Richard Calmady’s man‐servant, on the doorstep, had brought that home to her, placing what had seemed obvious, as a course of action to her fervid imagination, in quite a new light. Sir Richard Calmady was at home? He was still up?—To that, yes. Would he see Lady Constance Quayle upon urgent business?—To that again, yes—after a rather lengthy delay, while the valet, inscrutable, yet evidently highly critical, made inquiries.—The trees in the square had whispered together uncomfortably, while the two young ladies waited in the carriage. And Lord Shotover’s shadow, which had usually, very surely, nothing in the least portentous about it, lay queerly, three ways at once, in varying degrees of density, across the grey pavement in the conflicting gas and moon‐light.

And now, as she stood among the shrouded furniture, which appeared oddly improbable in shape seen in the flickering of two hastily‐lighted candles, Honoria could hear Shotover walking back and forth, patiently, on that same grey pavement outside. She was overstrained by the emotions and events of the past hours. Small matters compelled her attention. The creaking of a board, the rustle of a curtain, the silence even of this large, but half‐inhabited, house, were to her big with suggestion, disquietingly replete with possible meaning, of exaggerated importance to her anxiously listening ears.

Lord Shotover had stopped walking. He was talking to the page: 347 coachman. Honoria entertained a conviction that, in the overflowing of his good‐nature, he talked—sooner or later—to every soul whom he met. She derived almost childish comfort from the knowledge of the near neighbourhood of that eminently good‐natured presence. Lord Shotover’s very obvious faults faded from her remembrance. She estimated him only by his size, his physical strength, his large indulgence of all weaknesses—including his own. He constituted a link between her and things ordinary and average, for which she was rather absurdly thankful at this juncture. For the minutes passed slowly, very slowly. It must be getting on for half an hour since little Lady Constance, trembling and visibly affrighted, had passed out of sight, and the door of the smoking‐room had closed behind her. The nameless agitation which possessed her earlier that same evening returned upon Honoria St. Quentin. But its character had suffered change. The questioning of the actual, the suspicion of universal illusion, had departed; and in its place she suffered alarm of the concrete, of the incalculable force of human passion, and of a manifestation of tragedy in some active and violent form. She did not define her own fears, but they surrounded her nevertheless, so that the slightest sound made her start.

For, indeed, how slowly the minutes did pass! Lord Shotover was walking again. The horse rattled its bit, and pawed the ground impatient of delay. Though lofty, the room appeared close and hot, with drawn blinds and shut windows. Honoria began to move about restlessly, threading her way between the pieces of shrouded furniture. A chalk drawing of Lady Calmady stood on an easel in the far corner. The portrait emphasised the sweetness and abiding pathos, rather than the strength, of the original; and Honoria, standing before it, put her hands over her eyes. For the pictured face seemed to plead with and reproach her. Then a swift fear took her of disloyalty, of hastiness, of self‐confidence trenching on cruelty. She had announced, rather arrogantly, that whatever balance remained to be paid, in respect of Sir Richard and Lady Constance Quayle’s proposed marriage, should be paid by the man. But would the man, in point of fact, pay it? Would it not, must it not, be paid, eventually, by this other noble and much enduring woman—whom she had called her friend, and towards whom she played the part, as she feared, of betrayer? In her hot espousal of Lady Constance’s cause she had only saved one woman at the expense of another—Oh! how hot the room grew! Suffocating—Lord Shotover’s steps died away in the distance. She could look page: 348 Lady Calmady in the face no more. Secure in her own self‐conceit and vanity, she had betrayed her friend.

Suddenly the sharp peal of a bell, the opening of a door, the dragging of silken skirts, and the hurrying of footsteps.—Honoria gathered up her somewhat scattered courage and swung out into the hall. Lady Constance Quayle came towards her, groping, staggering, breathless, her face convulsed with weeping. But to this, for the moment, Miss St. Quentin paid small heed. For, at the far end of the hall, a bright light streamed out from the open doorway. And in the full glare of it stood a young man—his head, with its cap of close‐cropped curls, proudly distinguished as that of some classic hero, his features the beautiful features of Katherine Calmady, his height but two‐thirds the height a man of his make should be, his face drawn and livid as that of a corpse, his arms hanging down straight at his sides, his hands only just not touching the marble quarries of the floor on either side of him.

Honoria uttered an exclamation of uncontrollable pity and horror, caught Constance Quayle by the arm, and hurried out into the moonlit square to the waiting carriage. Lord Shotover flung away the end of his cigar and strolled towards them.

“Got through, fixed it all right—eh, Connie? Bravo—that’s grand!—Oh, you needn’t tell me! I can imagine it’s been a beastly piece of work, but anyway it’s over now. You must go home and go to bed, and I’ll account for you somehow to Louisa. My mind’s becoming quite inventive to‐night, I promise you.—There, get in—try to pull yourself together. Miss St. Quentin, upon my word I don’t know how to thank you. You’ve been magnificent, and put us under an everlasting obligation, Con and Decies, and my father and me.—Nice night isn’t it? You’ll put us down in Albert Gate? All right. A thousand thanks.—Yes, I’ll go on the box again. You haven’t much room for my legs among all those flounces. Bless me, it occurs to me I’m getting confoundedly hungry. I shall be awfully glad of some supper.”

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