IN WHICH HONORIA ST. QUENTIN TAKES THE FIELD
It had been agreed that the marriage
should take place, in the country, one day in the
first week of August. This at Richard’s
request. Then the young man asked a further favour,
namely, that the ceremony might be performed in the
private chapel at Brockhurst, rather than in the Whitney
parish church. This last proposal, it must be
owned, when made to him by Lady Calmady, caused Lord
Fallowfeild great searchings of heart.
“I give you my word, my dear
boy, I never felt more awkward in my life,”
he said, subsequently, to his chosen confidant, Shotover.
“Can quite understand Calmady doesn’t
care to court publicity. Told his mother I quite
understood. Shouldn’t care to court it myself
if I had the misfortune to share his well,
personal peculiarities, don’t you know, poor
young fellow. Still this seems to me an uncomfortable,
hole and corner sort of way of behaving to one’s
daughter marrying her at his house instead
of from my own. I don’t half approve of
it. Looks a little as if we were rather ashamed
of the whole business.”
“Well, perhaps we are,” Lord Shotover
“For God’s sake, then,
don’t mention it!” the elder man broke
out, with unprecedented asperity. “Don’t
approve of strong language,” he added hastily.
“Never did approve of it, and very rarely employ
it myself. An educated man ought to be able to
express himself quite sufficiently clearly without
having recourse to it. Still, I must own this
engagement of Constance’s has upset me more than
almost any event of my life. Nasty, anxious work
marrying your daughters. Heavy responsibility
marrying your daughters. And, as to this particular
marriage, there’s so very much to be said on
both sides. And I admit to you, Shotover, if
there’s anything I hate it’s a case where
there’s very much to be said on both sides.
It trips you up, you see, at every turn. Then
I feel I was not fairly treated. I don’t
wish to be hard on your brother Ludovic and your sisters,
but they sprung it upon me, and I am not quick in
argument, never was quick, if I am hurried. Never
can be certain of my own mind when I am hurried was
not certain of it when Lady Calmady proposed that
the marriage should be at Brockhurst. And so I
gave way. Must be accommodating to a woman, you
know. Always have been accommodating to women got
myself into uncommonly tight places by being so more
than once when I was younger ”
Here the speaker cheered up visibly,
contemplating his favourite son with an air at once
humorous and contrite.
“You’re well out of it,
you know, Shotover, with no ties,” he continued,
“at least, I mean, with no wife and family.
Not that I don’t consider every man owning property
should marry sooner or later. More respectable
if you’ve got property to marry, roots you in
the soil, gives you a stake, you know, in the future
of the country. But I’d let it be later yes,
thinking of marriageable daughters, certainly I’d
let it be later.”
From which it may be gathered that
Richard’s demands were conceded at all points.
And this last concession involved many preparations
at Brockhurst, to effect which Lady Calmady left London
with the bulk of the household about the middle of
July, while Richard remained in Lowndes Square and
the neighbourhood of his little fiancee in
company with a few servants and many brown holland
covers till such time as that young lady
should also depart to the country. It was just
now that Lady Louisa Barking gave her annual ball,
always one of the latest, and this year one of the
smartest, festivities of the season.
“I mean it to be exceedingly
well done,” she said to her sister Alicia.
“And Mr. Barking entirely agrees with me.
I feel I owe it not only to myself, but to the rest
of the family to show that none of us see anything
extraordinary in Connie’s marriage, and that
whatever Shotover’s debts may have been, or
may be, they are really no concern at all of ours.”
In obedience to which laudable determination
the handsome mansion in Albert Gate opened wide its
portals, and all London a far from despicable
company in numbers, since Parliament was still sitting
and the session promised to be rather indefinitely
prolonged crowded its fine stairways and
suites of lofty rooms, resplendent in silks and satins,
jewels and laces, in orders and titles, and manifold
personal distinctions of wealth, or office, or beauty,
while strains of music and scent of flowers pervaded
the length and breadth of it, and the feet of the
dancers sped over its shining floors.
It chanced that Honoria St. Quentin
found herself, on this occasion, in a meditative,
rather than an active, mood. True, the scene was
remarkably brilliant. But she had witnessed too
many parallel scenes to be very much affected by that.
So it pleased her fancy to moralise, to discriminate not
without a delicate sarcasm between actualities
and appearances, between the sentiments which might
be divined really to animate many of the guests, and
those conventional presentments of sentiment which
the manner and bearing of the said guests indicated.
She assured Lord Shotover she would rather not dance,
that she preferred the attitude of spectator, whereupon
that gentleman proposed to her to take sanctuary in
a certain ante-chamber, opening off Lady Louisa Barking’s
boudoir, which was cool, dimly lighted, and agreeably
remote from the turmoil of the entertainment now at
The acquaintance of these two persons
was, in as far as time and the number of their meetings
went, but slight, and, at first sight, their tastes
and temperaments would seem wide asunder as the poles.
But contrast can form a strong bond of union.
And the young man, when his fancy was engaged, was
among those who do not waste time over preliminaries.
If pleased, he bundled, neck and crop, into intimacy.
And Miss St. Quentin, her fearless speech, her amusingly
detached attitude of mind, and her gallant bearing,
pleased him mightily from a certain point of view.
He pronounced her to be a “first-rate sort,”
and entertained a shrewd suspicion that, as he put
it, Ludovic “was after her.” He commended
his brother’s good taste. He considered
she would make a tip-top sister-in-law. While
the young lady, on her part, accepted his advances
in a friendly spirit. His fraternal attitude and
unfailing good-temper diverted her. His rather
doubtful reputation piqued her curiosity. She
accepted the general verdict, declaring him to be
good-for-nothing, while she enjoyed the conviction
that, rake or no rake, he was incapable of causing
her the smallest annoyance, or being guilty, as
far as she herself was concerned, of the
“You know, Miss St. Quentin,”
he remarked, as he established himself comfortably,
not to say cosily, on a sofa beside her, “over
and above the pleasure of a peaceful little talk with
you, I am not altogether sorry to seek retirement.
You see, between ourselves, I’m not, unfortunately,
in exactly good odour with some members of the family
just now. I don’t think I’m shy ”
Honoria smiled at him through the dimness.
“I don’t think you’re shy,”
“Well, you know, when you come
to consider it from an unprejudiced standpoint, what
the dickens is the use of being shy? It’s
only an inverted kind of conceit at best, and half
the time it makes you stand in your own light.”
“Clearly it’s a mistake
every way,” the young lady asserted. “And,
happily, it’s one of which I can entirely acquit
you of being guilty.”
Lord Shotover threw back his head
and looked sideways at his companion. Wonderfully,
graceful woman she was certainly! Gave you the
feeling she’d all the time there was or ever
would be. Delightful thing to see a woman who
was never in a hurry.
“No, honestly I don’t
believe I’m weak in the way of shyness,”
he continued. “If I had been, I shouldn’t
be here to-night. My sister Louisa didn’t
press me to come. Strange as it may appear to
you, Miss St. Quentin, I give you my word she didn’t.
Nor has she regarded me with an exactly favourable
eye since my arrival. I am not abashed, not a
bit. But I can’t disguise from myself that
again I have gone, and been, and jolly well put my
foot in it.”
He whistled very softly under his
breath. “Oh! I have, I promise
you, even on the most modest computation, very extensively
and comprehensively put my foot in it!”
“How?” inquired Honoria.
Lord Shotover’s confidences
invariably amused her, and just now she welcomed amusement.
For crossing her hostess’ boudoir she had momentarily
caught sight of that which changed the speculative
sarcasm of her meditations to something approaching
pain namely, a pretty, wide-eyed, childish
face rising from out a cloud of white tulle, white
roses, and diamonds, the expression of which had seemed
to her distressingly remote from all the surrounding
gaiety and splendour. Actualities and appearances
here were surely radically at variance? And,
now, she smilingly turned on her elbow and made brief
inquiry of her companion, promising herself good measure
of superficial entertainment which should serve to
banish that pathetic countenance, and allay her suspicion
of a sorrowful happening which she was powerless alike
to hinder or to help.
Lord Shotover pushed his hands into
his trousers pockets, leaned far back on the sofa,
turning his head so that he could look at her comfortably
without exertion and chuckling, a little, as he spoke.
“Well, you see,” he said,
“I brought Decies. No, you’re right,
I’m not shy, for to do that was a bit of the
most barefaced cheek. My sister Louisa hadn’t
asked him. Of course she hadn’t. At
bottom she’s awfully afraid he may still upset
the apple-cart. But I told her I knew, of course,
she had intended to ask him, and that the letter must
have got lost somehow in the post, and that I knew
how glad she’d be to have me rectify the little
mistake. My manner was not jaunty, Miss St. Quentin,
or defiant not a bit of it. It was
frank, manly, I should call it manly and pleasing.
But Louisa didn’t seem to see it that way somehow.
She withered me, she scorched me, reduced me to a cinder,
though she never uttered one blessed syllable.
The hottest corner of the infernal regions resided
in my sister’s eye at that moment, and I resided
in that hottest corner, I tell you. Of course
I knew I risked losing the last rag of her regard
when I brought Decies. But you see, poor chap,
it is awfully rough on him. He was making the
running all through the winter. I could not help,
feeling for him, so I chucked discretion ”
“For the first and only time
in your life,” put in Honoria gently. “And
pray who and what is this disturber of domestic peace,
“Oh! you know the whole affair
grows out of this engagement of my little sister Connie’s.
By the way, though, the Calmadys are great friends
of yours, aren’t they, Miss St. Quentin?”
The young man regarded her anxiously,
fearful least he should have endangered the agreeable
intimacy of their present relation by the introduction
of an unpalatable subject of conversation. Even
in this semi-obscurity he perceived that her fine
smile had vanished, while the lines of her sensitive
face took on a certain rigidity and effect of sternness.
Lord Shotover regretted that. For some reason,
he knew not what, she was displeased. He, like
an ass, evidently had blundered.
“I’m awfully sorry,” he began, “perhaps perhaps ”
“Perhaps it is very impertinent
for a mere looker-on like myself to have any views
at all about this marriage,” Honoria put in quickly.
“Bless you, no, it’s not,”
he answered. “I don’t see how anybody
can very well be off having views about it that’s
just the nuisance. The whole thing shouts, confound
it. So you might just as well let me hear your
views, Miss St. Quentin. I should be awfully interested.
They might help to straighten my own out a bit.”
Honoria paused a moment, doubting
how much of her thought it would be justifiable to
confide to her companion. A certain vein of knight-errantry
in her character inclined her to set lance in rest
and ride forth, rather recklessly, to redress human
wrongs. But in redressing one wrong it too often
happens that another wrong or something
perilously approaching one must be inflicted.
To save pain in one direction is, unhappily, to inflict
pain in the opposite one. Honoria was aware how
warmly Lady Calmady desired this marriage. She
loved Lady Calmady. Therefore her loyalty was
engaged, and yet
“I am no match-maker,”
she said at last, “and so probably my view is
unnecessarily pessimistic. But I happened to see
Lady Constance just now, and I cannot pretend that
she struck me as looking conspicuously happy.”
Lord Shotover flattened his shoulders
against the back of the sofa, expanding his chest
and thrusting his hands still farther into his pockets
with a movement at once of anxiety and satisfaction.
“I don’t believe she is,”
he asserted. “Upon my word you’re
right. I don’t believe she is. I doubted
it from the first, and now I’m pretty certain.
Of course I know I’m a bad lot, Miss St. Quentin.
I’ve been very little but a confounded nuisance
to my people ever since I was born. They’re
all ten thousand times better than I am, and they’re
doing what they honestly think right. All the
same I believe they’re making a ghastly mistake.
They’re selling the poor, little girl against
her will, that’s about the long and short of
He bowed himself together, looking
at his companion from under his eyebrows, and speaking
with more seriousness than she had ever heard him
“I tell you it makes me a little
sick sometimes to see what excellent, well-meaning
people will do with girls in respect of marriage.
Oh, good Lord! it just does! But then a high
moral tone doesn’t come quite gracefully from
me. I know that. I’m jolly well out
of it. It’s not for me to preach.
And so I thought for once I’d act defy
authority, risk landing myself in a worse mess than
ever, and give Decies his chance. And I tell
you he really is a charming chap, a gentleman, you
know, and a nice, clean-minded, decent fellow not
like me, not a bit. He’s awfully hard hit
too, and would be as steady as old time for poor little
Con’s sake if ”
“Ah! now I begin to comprehend,” Honoria
“Yes, don’t you see, it’s
a perfectly genuine, for-ever-and-ever-amen sort of
Lord Shotover leaned back once more,
and turned a wonderfully pleasant, if not preeminently
responsible, countenance upon his companion.
“I never went in for that kind
of racket myself, Miss St. Quentin,” he continued.
“Not being conspicuously faithful, I should only
have made a fiasco of it. But I give you
my word it touches me all the same when I do run across
it. I think it’s awfully lucky for a man
to be made that way. And Decies is. So there
seemed no help for it. I had to chuck discretion,
as I told you, and give him his chance.”
He paused, and then asked with a somewhat
humorous air of self-depreciation: “What
do you think now, have I done more harm than good,
made confusion worse confounded, and played the fool
But again Honoria vouchsafed him no
immediate reply. The meditative mood still held
her, and the present conversation offered much food
for meditation. Her companion’s confession
of faith in true love, if you had the good fortune
to be born that way, had startled her. That the
speaker enjoyed the reputation of being something of
a profligate lent singular point to that confession.
She had not expected it from Lord Shotover, of all
men. And, as coming from him, the sentiment was
in a high degree arresting and interesting. Her
own ideals, so far, had a decidedly anti-matrimonial
tendency, while being in love appeared to her a much
overrated, if not actively objectionable, condition.
Personally she hoped to escape all experience of it.
Then her thought traveled back to Lady Calmady, the
charm of her personality, her sorrows, her splendid
self-devotion, and to the object of that devotion namely,
Richard Calmady, a being of strange contrasts, at
once maimed and beautiful, a being from whom she Honoria shrank
in instinctive repulsion, while unwillingly acknowledging
that he exercised a permanent and intimate fascination
over her imagination. She dwelt, in quick pity,
too, upon the frightened, wide-eyed, childish face
recently seen rising from out its diaphanous cloud
of tulle, the prettiness of it heightened by fair
wealth of summer roses and flash of costly diamonds,
and upon Mr. Decies, the whole-hearted, young soldier
lover, whose existence threatened such dangerous complications
in respect of the rest of this strangely assorted
company. Finally her meditative survey returned
to its point of departure. In thought she surveyed
her present companion, his undeniable excellence
of sentiment and clear-seeing, his admittedly defective
conduct in matters ethical and financial. Never
before had she been at such close quarters with living
and immediate human drama, and, notwithstanding her
detachment, her lofty indifference and high-spirited
theories, she found it profoundly agitating.
She was sensible of being in collision with unknown
and incalculable forces. Instinctively she rose
from her place on the sofa, and, moving to the open
window, looked out into the night.
Below, the Park, now silent and deserted,
slept peacefully, as any expanse of remote country
pasture and woodland, in the mildly radiant moonlight.
Here and there were blottings of dark shadow cast by
the clumps or avenues of trees. Here and there
the timid, yellow flame of gas lamps struggled to
assert itself against the all-embracing silver brightness.
Here and there windows glowed warm, set in the pale,
glistering façades of the adjacent houses. A cool,
light wind, hailing from the direction of the unseen
Serpentine, stirred the hanging clusters of the pink
geraniums that fell over the curved lip of the stone
vases, standing along the broad coping of the balcony,
and gently caressed the girl’s bare arms and
Seen under these unaccustomed conditions
familiar objects assumed a fantastic aspect.
For the night is a mighty magician, with power to
render even the weighty brick and stone, even the hard,
uncomprising outlines of a monster, modern city, delicately
elusive, mockingly tentative and unsubstantial.
Meanwhile, within, from all along the vista of crowded
and brilliantly illuminated rooms, came the subdued,
yet confused and insistent, sound of musical instruments,
of many voices, many footsteps, the hush of women’s
trailing garments, the rise and fall of unceasing
conversation. And to Honoria standing in this
quiet, dimly-seen place, the sense of that moonlit
world without, and this gas and candle-lit world within,
increased the nameless agitation which infected her.
A haunting persuasion of the phantasmagoric character
of all sounds that saluted her ears, all sights that
met her eyes, possessed her. A vast uncertainty
surrounded and pressed in on her, while those questionings
of appearances and actualities, of truth and falsehood,
right and wrong, justice and injustice, with which
she had played idly earlier in the evening, took on
new and almost terrible proportions, causing her intelligence,
nay, her heart itself, to reach out, as never before,
in search of some sure rock and house of defense against
the disintegrating apprehension of universal instability
“Ah! it is all very difficult,
difficult to the point of alarm!” she exclaimed
suddenly, turning to Lord Shotover and looking him
straight in the face, with an unself-consciousness
and desire of support so transparent, that that gentleman
found himself at once delighted and slightly abashed.
“Bless my soul, but Ludovic
is a lucky devil!” he said to himself. “What’s what’s
so beastly difficult, Miss St. Quentin?” he
asked aloud. And the sound of his cheery voice
recalled Honoria to the normal aspects of existence
with almost humorous velocity. She smiled upon
“I really believe I don’t
quite know,” she said. “Perhaps that
the two people, of whom we were speaking, really care
for each other, and that this engagement has come
between them, and that you have chucked discretion
and given him his chance. Tell me, what sort of
man is he strong enough to make the most
of his chance when he’s got it?”
But at that moment Lord Shotover stepped
forward, adroitly planting himself right in front
of her and thus screening her from observation.
“By George!” he said under
his breath, in tones of mingled amusement and consternation,
“he’s making the most of his chance now
Miss St. Quentin, and that most uncommonly comprehensively,
unless I’m very much mistaken.”
Her companion’s tall person
and the folds of a heavy curtain, while screening
Honoria from observation, also, in great measure, obscured
her view of the room. Yet not so completely but
that she saw two figures cross it, one black, one
white, those of a man and a girl. They were both
speaking, the man apparently pleading, the girl protesting
and moving hurriedly, the while, as though in actual
flight. She must have been moving blindly, at
random, for she stumbled against the outstanding,
gilded leg of a consol table, set against the further
wall, causing the ornaments on it to rattle. And
so doing, she gave a plaintive exclamation of alarm,
perhaps even of physical pain. Hearing which,
that nameless agitation, that sense of collision with
unknown and incalculable forces, seized hold on Honoria
again, while Lord Shotover’s features contracted
and he turned his head sharply.
“By George!” he repeated under his breath.
But the girl recovered herself, and,
followed by her companion, he still pleading,
she still protesting, passed by the further
window on to the balcony and out of sight. There
followed a period of embarrassed silence on the part
of the usually voluble Shotover, while his pleasant
countenance expressed a certain half-humorous concern.
“Really, I’m awfully sorry,”
he said. “I’d not the slightest intention
of landing you in for the thick of the brown like this.”.
“Or yourself either,”
she replied, smiling, though, with that sense of nameless
agitation still upon her, her heart beat rather quick.
“Well, perhaps not. Between
ourselves, moral courage isn’t my strong point.
There’s nothing I funk like a row. I say,
what shall we do? Don’t you think we’d
better quietly clear out?”
But just then a sound caught Honoria’s
ear before which all vague questions of ultimate truth
and falsehood, right and wrong fled away. Whatever
might savour of illusion, here was something real and
actual, something pitiful, moreover, arousing the
spirit of knight-errantry in her, pushing her to lay
lance in rest and go forth, reckless of conventionalities,
reckless even of considerations of justice, to the
succour of oppressed womanhood. What words the
man, on the balcony without, was saying she could
not distinguish whether cruel or kind,
but that the young girl was weeping, with the abandonment
of long-resisted tears, she could not doubt.
“No, no, listen Lord Shotover,”
she exclaimed authoritatively. “Don’t
you hear? She is crying as if her poor heart would
break. You must stay. If I understand you
rightly your sister has only got you to depend on.
Whatever happens you must stand by her and see her
“Oh! but, my dear Miss St. Quentin ”
The young man’s aspect was entertaining.
He looked at the floor, he looked at Honoria, he rubbed
the back of his neck with one hand as though there
might be placed the seat of fortitude. “You’re
inviting me to put my head into the liveliest hornet’s
nest. What the deuce excuse me am
I to say to her and all the rest of them? Decies,
even, mayn’t quite understand my interference
and may resent it. I think it is very much safer,
all round, to let them him and her thrash
it out between them, don’t you know. I
say though, what a beastly thing it is to hear a woman
cry! I wish to goodness we’d never come
into this confounded place and let ourselves in for
As he spoke, Lord Shotover turned
towards the door, meditating escape in the direction
of that brilliant vista of crowded rooms. But
Honoria St. Quentin, her enthusiasm once aroused,
became inexorable. With her long swinging stride
she outdistanced his hesitating steps, and stood,
in the doorway, her arms extended as to
stop a runaway horse her clear eyes aglow
as though a lamp burned behind them, her pale, delicately
cut face eloquent of very militant charity. A
spice of contempt, moreover, for his display of pusillanimity
was quite perceptible to Shotover in the expression
of this charming, modern angel, clad in a ball-dress,
bearing a fan instead of the traditional fiery-sword,
who, so determinedly, barred the entrance of that
comfortably conventional, worldly paradise to which
he, just now, so warmly desired to regain admittance.
“No, no,” she said, with
a certain vibration in her quiet voice, “you
are not to go! You are not to desert her.
It would be unworthy, Lord Shotover. You brought
Mr. Decies here and so you are mainly responsible
for the present situation. And think, just think
what it means. All the course of her life will
be affected by that which takes place in the next
half-hour. You would never cease to reproach yourself
if things went wrong.”
“Shouldn’t I?” the young man said
“Of course you wouldn’t,”
Honoria asserted. “Having it in your power
to help, and then shirking the responsibility!
I won’t believe that of you. You are better
than that. For think how young she is, and pretty
and dependent. She may be driven to do some fatally,
foolish thing if she’s left unsupported.
You must at least know what is going on. You
are bound to do so. Moreover, as a mere matter
of courtesy, you can’t desert me and I intend
“Do you, though?” faltered
Lord Shotover, in tones curiously resembling his father’s.
Honoria drew herself up proudly, almost scornfully.
“Yes, I shall stay,” she
continued. “I am no matchmaker. I have
no particular faith in or admiration for marriage ”
“Haven’t you, though?”
said Lord Shotover. He was slightly surprised,
slightly amused, but to his credit be it stated that
he put no equivocal construction upon the young lady’s
frank avowal. He felt a little sorry for Ludovic,
that was all, fearing the latter’s good fortune
was less fully established than he had supposed.
“No, I don’t believe very
much in marriage modern, upper-class marriage,”
she repeated. “And, just precisely on that
account, it seems to me all the more degrading and
shameful that a girl should risk marrying the wrong
man. People talk about a broken engagement as
though it was a disgrace. I can’t see that.
An unwilling, a a loveless marriage
is the disgrace. And so at the very church door
I would urge and encourage a woman to turn back, if
she doubted, and have done with the whole thing.”
“Upon my word!” murmured
Lord Shotover. The infinite variety of the
feminine outlook, the unqualified audacity of feminine
action, struck him as bewildering. Talk of women’s
want of logic! It was their relentless application
of logic as they apprehended it which
Honoria had come close to him.
In her excitement she laid her fan on his arm.
“Listen,” she said, “listen
how Lady Constance is crying. Come you
must know what is happening. You must comfort
The young man thrust his hands into
his pockets with an air of good-humoured and despairing
“All right,” he replied,
“only I tell you what it is, Miss St. Quentin,
you’ve got to come too. I refuse to be deserted.”
“I have not the smallest intention
of deserting you,” Honoria said. “Even
yet discretion, though so lately chucked, might return
to you. And then you might cut and run, don’t