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Title: Beauchamp's Career — Complete
Author: Meredith, George
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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BEAUCHAMP’S CAREER

By George Meredith


1897



CONTENTS


  BOOK 1.
  I.        THE CHAMPION OF HIS COUNTRY
  II.       UNCLE, NEPHEW, AND ANOTHER
  III.      CONTAINS BARONIAL VIEWS OF THE PRESENT
  IV.       A GLIMPSE OF NEVIL IN ACTION
  V.        RENEE
  VI.       LOVE IN VENICE
  VII.      AN AWAKENING FOR BOTH
  VIII.     A NIGHT ON THE ADRIATIC
  IX.       MORNING AT SEA UNDER THE ALPS
  X.        A SINGULAR COUNCIL

  BOOK 2.
  XI.       CAPTAIN BASKELETT
  XII.      AN INTERVIEW WITH THE INFAMOUS Dr. SHRAPNEL
  XIII.     A SUPERFINE CONSCIENCE
  XIV.      THE LEADING ARTICLE AND MR. TIMOTHY TURBOT
  XV.       CECILIA HALKETT
  XVI.      A PARTIAL DISPLAY OF BEAUCHAMP IN HIS COLOURS
  XVII.     HIS FRIEND AND FOE
  XVIII.    CONCERNING THE ACT OF CANVASSING

  BOOK 3.
  XIX.      LORD PALMET, AND CERTAIN ELECTORS
  XX.       A DAY AT ITCHINCOPE
  XXI.      THE QUESTION AS TO THE EXAMINATION OF THE WHIGS,
            AND THE FINE BLOW STRUCK BY MR. EVERARD ROMFREY
  XXII.     THE DRIVE INTO BEVISHAM
  XXIII.    TOURDESTELLE
  XXIV.     HIS HOLIDAY
  XXV.      THE ADVENTURE OF THE BOAT.

  BOOK 4.
  XXVI.     MR. BLACKBURN TUCKHAM
  XXVII.    A SHORT SIDELOOK AT THE ELECTION
  XXVIII.   TOUCHING A YOUNG LADY’S HEART AND HER INTELLECT
  XXIX.     THE EPISTLE OF DR. SHRAPNEL TO COMMANDER BEAUCHAMP
  XXX.      THE BAITING OF DR. SHRAPNEL
  XXXI.     SHOWING A CHIVALROUS GENTLEMAN SET IN MOTION
  XXXII.    AN EFFORT TO CONQUER CECILIA IN BEAUCHAMP’S FASHION
  XXXIII.   THE FIRST ENCOUNTER AT STEYNHAM

  BOOK 5.
  XXXIV.    THE FACE OF RENEE
  XXXV.     THE RIDE IN THE WRONG DIRECTION
  XXXVI.    PURSUIT OF THE APOLOGY OF MR. ROMFREY TO DR. SHRAPNEL
  XXXVII.   CECILIA CONQUERED
  XXXVIII.  LORD AVONLEY
  XXXIX.    BETWEEN BEAUCHAMP AND CECILIA
  XL.       A TRIAL OF HIM
  XLI.      A LAME VICTORY

  BOOK 6.
  XLII.     THE TWO PASSIONS
  XLIII.    THE EARL OF ROMFREY AND THE COUNTESS
  XLIV.     THE NEPHEWS OF THE EARL, AND ANOTHER EXHIBITION OF THE TWO
            PASSIONS IN BEAUCHAMP.
  XLV.      A LITTLE PLOT AGAINST CECILIA
  XLVI.     AS IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN FORESEEN
  XLVII.    THE REFUSAL OF HIM
  XLVIII.   OF THE TRIAL AWAITING THE EARL OF ROMFREY
  XLIX.     A FABRIC OF BARONIAL DESPOTISM CRUMBLES

  BOOK 7.
  L.        AT THE COTTAGE ON THE COMMON
  LI.       IN THE NIGHT
  LII.      QUESTION OF A PILGRIMAGE AND AN ACT OF PENANCE
  LIII.     THE APOLOGY TO DR. SHRAPNEL
  LIV.      THE FRUITS OF THE APOLOGY
  LV.       WITHOUT LOVE
  LVI.      THE LAST OF NEVIL BEAUCHAMP



CHAPTER I. THE CHAMPION OF HIS COUNTRY

When young Nevil Beauchamp was throwing off his midshipman’s jacket for
a holiday in the garb of peace, we had across Channel a host of dreadful
military officers flashing swords at us for some critical observations
of ours upon their sovereign, threatening Afric’s fires and savagery.
The case occurred in old days now and again, sometimes, upon imagined
provocation, more furiously than at others. We were unarmed, and the
spectacle was distressing. We had done nothing except to speak our minds
according to the habit of the free, and such an explosion appeared
as irrational and excessive as that of a powder-magazine in reply to
nothing more than the light of a spark. It was known that a valorous
General of the Algerian wars proposed to make a clean march to the
capital of the British Empire at the head of ten thousand men; which
seems a small quantity to think much about, but they wore wide red
breeches blown out by Fame, big as her cheeks, and a ten thousand of
that sort would never think of retreating. Their spectral advance on
quaking London through Kentish hopgardens, Sussex corn-fields, or by the
pleasant hills of Surrey, after a gymnastic leap over the riband of salt
water, haunted many pillows. And now those horrid shouts of the legions
of Caesar, crying to the inheritor of an invading name to lead them
against us, as the origin of his title had led the army of Gaul of old
gloriously, scared sweet sleep. We saw them in imagination lining the
opposite shore; eagle and standard-bearers, and gallifers, brandishing
their fowls and their banners in a manner to frighten the decorum of the
universe. Where were our men?

The returns of the census of our population were oppressively
satisfactory, and so was the condition of our youth. We could row and
ride and fish and shoot, and breed largely: we were athletes with a fine
history and a full purse: we had first-rate sporting guns, unrivalled
park-hacks and hunters, promising babies to carry on the renown
of England to the next generation, and a wonderful Press, and a
Constitution the highest reach of practical human sagacity. But
where were our armed men? where our great artillery? where our proved
captains, to resist a sudden sharp trial of the national mettle? Where
was the first line of England’s defence, her navy? These were questions,
and Ministers were called upon to answer them. The Press answered them
boldly, with the appalling statement that we had no navy and no army.
At the most we could muster a few old ships, a couple of experimental
vessels of war, and twenty-five thousand soldiers indifferently
weaponed.

We were in fact as naked to the Imperial foe as the merely painted
Britons.

This being apprehended, by the aid of our own shortness of figures and
the agitated images of the red-breeched only waiting the signal to jump
and be at us, there ensued a curious exhibition that would be termed, in
simple language, writing to the newspapers, for it took the outward form
of letters: in reality, it was the deliberate saddling of our ancient
nightmare of Invasion, putting the postillion on her, and trotting her
along the high-road with a winding horn to rouse old Panic. Panic we
will, for the sake of convenience, assume to be of the feminine gender,
and a spinster, though properly she should be classed with the large
mixed race of mental and moral neuters which are the bulk of comfortable
nations. She turned in her bed at first like the sluggard of the
venerable hymnist: but once fairly awakened, she directed a stare toward
the terrific foreign contortionists, and became in an instant all stormy
nightcap and fingers starving for the bell-rope. Forthwith she burst
into a series of shrieks, howls, and high piercing notes that caused
even the parliamentary Opposition, in the heat of an assault on a
parsimonious Government, to abandon its temporary advantage and be still
awhile. Yet she likewise performed her part with a certain deliberation
and method, as if aware that it was a part she had to play in the
composition of a singular people. She did a little mischief by dropping
on the stock-markets; in other respects she was harmless, and, inasmuch
as she established a subject for conversation, useful.

Then, lest she should have been taken too seriously, the Press, which
had kindled, proceeded to extinguish her with the formidable engines
called leading articles, which fling fire or water, as the occasion
may require. It turned out that we had ships ready for launching, and
certain regiments coming home from India; hedges we had, and a spirited
body of yeomanry; and we had pluck and patriotism, the father and mother
of volunteers innumerable. Things were not so bad.

Panic, however, sent up a plaintive whine. What country had anything
like our treasures to defend? countless riches, beautiful women,
an inviolate soil! True, and it must be done. Ministers were
authoritatively summoned to set to work immediately. They replied that
they had been at work all the time, and were at work now. They could
assure the country, that though they flourished no trumpets, they
positively guaranteed the safety of our virgins and coffers.

Then the people, rather ashamed, abused the Press for unreasonably
disturbing them. The Press attacked old Panic and stripped her naked.
Panic, with a desolate scream, arraigned the parliamentary Opposition
for having inflated her to serve base party purposes. The Opposition
challenged the allegations of Government, pointed to the trimness of
army and navy during its term of office, and proclaimed itself watch-dog
of the country, which is at all events an office of a kind. Hereupon
the ambassador of yonder ireful soldiery let fall a word, saying, by the
faith of his Master, there was no necessity for watch-dogs to bark;
an ardent and a reverent army had but fancied its beloved chosen Chief
insulted; the Chief and chosen held them in; he, despite obloquy,
discerned our merits and esteemed us.

So, then, Panic, or what remained of her, was put to bed again. The
Opposition retired into its kennel growling. The People coughed like a
man of two minds, doubting whether he has been divinely inspired or has
cut a ridiculous figure. The Press interpreted the cough as a warning to
Government; and Government launched a big ship with hurrahs, and ordered
the recruiting-sergeant to be seen conspicuously.

And thus we obtained a moderate reinforcement of our arms.

It was not arrived at by connivance all round, though there was a look
of it. Certainly it did not come of accident, though there was a look of
that as well. Nor do we explain much of the secret by attributing it
to the working of a complex machinery. The housewife’s remedy of a good
shaking for the invalid who will not arise and dance away his gout,
partly illustrates the action of the Press upon the country: and perhaps
the country shaken may suffer a comparison with the family chariot
of the last century, built in a previous one, commodious, furnished
agreeably, being all that the inside occupants could require of a
conveyance, until the report of horsemen crossing the heath at a gallop
sets it dishonourably creaking and complaining in rapid motion, and the
squire curses his miserly purse that would not hire a guard, and his
dame says, I told you so!--Foolhardy man, to suppose, because we
have constables in the streets of big cities, we have dismissed the
highwayman to limbo. And here he is, and he will cost you fifty times
the sum you would have laid out to keep him at a mile’s respectful
distance! But see, the wretch is bowing: he smiles at our carriage, and
tells the coachman that he remembers he has been our guest, and really
thinks we need not go so fast. He leaves word for you, sir, on your
peril to denounce him on another occasion from the magisterial Bench,
for that albeit he is a gentleman of the road, he has a mission to right
society, and succeeds legitimately to that bold Good Robin Hood who fed
the poor.--Fresh from this polite encounter, the squire vows money
for his personal protection: and he determines to speak his opinion of
Sherwood’s latest captain as loudly as ever. That he will, I do not say.
It might involve a large sum per annum.

Similes are very well in their way. None can be sufficient in this case
without levelling a finger at the taxpayer--nay, directly mentioning
him. He is the key of our ingenuity. He pays his dues; he will not pay
the additional penny or two wanted of him, that we may be a step or
two ahead of the day we live in, unless he is frightened. But scarcely
anything less than the wild alarum of a tocsin will frighten him.
Consequently the tocsin has to be sounded; and the effect is woeful past
measure: his hugging of his army, his kneeling on the shore to his navy,
his implorations of his yeomanry and his hedges, are sad to note. His
bursts of pot-valiancy (the male side of the maiden Panic within his
bosom) are awful to his friends. Particular care must be taken after he
has begun to cool and calculate his chances of security, that he do not
gather to him a curtain of volunteers and go to sleep again behind them;
for they cost little in proportion to the much they pretend to be to
him. Patriotic taxpayers doubtless exist: prophetic ones, provident
ones, do not. At least we show that we are wanting in them. The taxpayer
of a free land taxes himself, and his disinclination for the bitter
task, save under circumstances of screaming urgency--as when the
night-gear and bed-linen of old convulsed Panic are like the churned
Channel sea in the track of two hundred hostile steamboats, let
me say--is of the kind the gentle schoolboy feels when death or
an expedition has relieved him of his tyrant, and he is entreated
notwithstanding to go to his books.

Will you not own that the working of the system for scaring him and
bleeding is very ingenious? But whether the ingenuity comes of native
sagacity, as it is averred by some, or whether it shows an instinct
labouring to supply the deficiencies of stupidity, according to others,
I cannot express an opinion. I give you the position of the country
undisturbed by any moralizings of mine. The youth I introduce to you
will rarely let us escape from it; for the reason that he was born with
so extreme and passionate a love for his country, that he thought all
things else of mean importance in comparison: and our union is one in
which, following the counsel of a sage and seer, I must try to paint for
you what is, not that which I imagine. This day, this hour, this life,
and even politics, the centre and throbbing heart of it (enough, when
unburlesqued, to blow the down off the gossamer-stump of fiction at a
single breath, I have heard tell), must be treated of men, and the
ideas of men, which are--it is policy to be emphatic upon truisms--are
actually the motives of men in a greater degree than their appetites:
these are my theme; and may it be my fortune to keep them at bloodheat,
and myself calm as a statue of Memnon in prostrate Egypt! He sits there
waiting for the sunlight; I here, and readier to be musical than you
think. I can at any rate be impartial; and do but fix your eyes on the
sunlight striking him and swallowing the day in rounding him, and you
have an image of the passive receptivity of shine and shade I hold
it good to aim at, if at the same time I may keep my characters at
blood-heat. I shoot my arrows at a mark that is pretty certain to
return them to me. And as to perfect success, I should be like the
panic-stricken shopkeepers in my alarm at it; for I should believe that
genii of the air fly above our tree-tops between us and the incognizable
spheres, catching those ambitious shafts they deem it a promise of fun
to play pranks with.

Young Mr. Beauchamp at that period of the panic had not the slightest
feeling for the taxpayer. He was therefore unable to penetrate the
mystery of our roundabout way of enlivening him. He pored over the
journals in perplexity, and talked of his indignation nightly to his
pretty partners at balls, who knew not they were lesser Andromedas of
his dear Andromeda country, but danced and chatted and were gay, and
said they were sure he would defend them. The men he addressed were
civil. They listened to him, sometimes with smiles and sometimes with
laughter, but approvingly, liking the lad’s quick spirit. They were
accustomed to the machinery employed to give our land a shudder and
to soothe it, and generally remarked that it meant nothing. His uncle
Everard, and his uncle’s friend Stukely Culbrett, expounded the nature
of Frenchmen to him, saying that they were uneasy when not periodically
thrashed; it would be cruel to deny them their crow beforehand; and
so the pair of gentlemen pooh-poohed the affair; agreeing with him,
however, that we had no great reason to be proud of our appearance, and
the grounds they assigned for this were the activity and the prevalence
of the ignoble doctrines of Manchester--a power whose very existence was
unknown to Mr. Beauchamp. He would by no means allow the burden of
our national disgrace to be cast on one part of the nation. We were
insulted, and all in a poultry-flutter, yet no one seemed to feel it but
himself! Outside the Press and Parliament, which must necessarily be the
face we show to the foreigner, absolute indifference reigned. Navy
men and red-coats were willing to join him or anybody in sneers at a
clipping and paring miserly Government, but they were insensible to
the insult, the panic, the startled-poultry show, the shame of our
exhibition of ourselves in Europe. It looked as if the blustering French
Guard were to have it all their own way. And what would they, what could
they but, think of us! He sat down to write them a challenge.

He is not the only Englishman who has been impelled by a youthful
chivalry to do that. He is perhaps the youngest who ever did it, and
consequently there were various difficulties to be overcome. As regards
his qualifications for addressing Frenchmen, a year of his prae-neptunal
time had been spent in their capital city for the purpose of acquiring
French of Paris, its latest refinements of pronunciation and polish, and
the art of conversing. He had read the French tragic poets and Moliere;
he could even relish the Gallic-classic--‘Qu’il mourut!’ and he spoke
French passably, being quite beyond the Bullish treatment of the tongue.
Writing a letter in French was a different undertaking. The one he
projected bore no resemblance to an ordinary letter. The briefer the
better, of course; but a tone of dignity was imperative, and the tone
must be individual, distinctive, Nevil Beauchamp’s, though not in his
native language. First he tried his letter in French, and lost sight
of himself completely. ‘Messieurs de la Garde Francaise,’ was a good
beginning; the remainder gave him a false air of a masquerader, most
uncomfortable to see; it was Nevil Beauchamp in moustache and imperial,
and bagbreeches badly fitting. He tried English, which was really
himself, and all that heart could desire, supposing he addressed a body
of midshipmen just a little loftily. But the English, when translated,
was bald and blunt to the verge of offensiveness.

   ‘GENTLEMEN OF THE FRENCH GUARD,

   ‘I take up the glove you have tossed us. I am an Englishman.
   That will do for a reason.’

This might possibly pass with the gentlemen of the English Guard. But
read:

   ‘MESSIEURS DE LA GARDE FRANCAISE,

   ‘J’accepte votre gant. Je suis Anglais. La raison est suffisante.’

And imagine French Guardsmen reading it!

Mr. Beauchamp knew the virtue of punctiliousness in epithets and phrases
of courtesy toward a formal people, and as the officers of the French
Guard were gentlemen of birth, he would have them to perceive in him
their equal at a glance. On the other hand, a bare excess of phrasing
distorted him to a likeness of Mascarille playing Marquis. How to be
English and think French! The business was as laborious as if he had
started on the rough sea of the Channel to get at them in an open boat.

The lady governing his uncle Everard’s house, Mrs. Rosamund Culling,
entered his room and found him writing with knitted brows. She was
young, that is, she was not in her middleage; and they were the dearest
of friends; each had given the other proof of it. Nevil looked up and
beheld her lifted finger.

‘You are composing a love-letter, Nevil!’ The accusation sounded like
irony.

‘No,’ said he, puffing; ‘I wish I were!

‘What can it be, then?’

He thrust pen and paper a hand’s length on the table, and gazed at her.

‘My dear Nevil, is it really anything serious?’ said she.

‘I am writing French, ma’am.’

‘Then I may help you. It must be very absorbing, for you did not hear my
knock at your door.’

Now, could he trust her? The widow of a British officer killed nobly
fighting for his country in India, was a person to be relied on for
active and burning sympathy in a matter that touched the country’s
honour. She was a woman, and a woman of spirit. Men had not pleased him
of late. Something might be hoped from a woman.

He stated his occupation, saying that if she would assist him in his
French she would oblige him; the letter must be written and must go.
This was uttered so positively that she bowed her head, amused by
the funny semi-tone of defiance to the person to whom he confided the
secret. She had humour, and was ravished by his English boyishness, with
the novel blush of the heroical-nonsensical in it.

Mrs. Culling promised him demurely that she would listen, objecting
nothing to his plan, only to his French.

‘Messieurs de la Garde Francaise!’ he commenced.

Her criticism followed swiftly.

‘I think you are writing to the Garde Imperiale.’

He admitted his error, and thanked her warmly.

‘Messieurs de la Garde Imperiale!’

‘Does not that,’ she said, ‘include the non-commissioned officers, the
privates, and the cooks, of all the regiments?’

He could scarcely think that, but thought it provoking the French had
no distinctive working title corresponding to gentlemen, and suggested
‘Messieurs les Officiers’: which might, Mrs. Culling assured him,
comprise the barbers. He frowned, and she prescribed his writing,
‘Messieurs les Colonels de la Garde Imperiale.’ This he set down. The
point was that a stand must be made against the flood of sarcasms and
bullyings to which the country was exposed in increasing degrees, under
a belief that we would fight neither in the mass nor individually.
Possibly, if it became known that the colonels refused to meet a
midshipman, the gentlemen of our Household troops would advance a step.

Mrs. Calling’s adroit efforts to weary him out of his project were
unsuccessful. He was too much on fire to know the taste of absurdity.

Nevil repeated what he had written in French, and next the English of
what he intended to say.

The lady conscientiously did her utmost to reconcile the two languages.
She softened his downrightness, passed with approval his compliments to
France and the ancient high reputation of her army, and, seeing that a
loophole was left for them to apologize, asked how many French colonels
he wanted to fight.

‘I do not WANT, ma’am,’ said Nevil.

He had simply taken up the glove they had again flung at our feet: and
he had done it to stop the incessant revilings, little short of positive
contempt, which we in our indolence exposed ourselves to from the
foreigner, particularly from Frenchmen, whom he liked; and precisely
because he liked them he insisted on forcing them to respect us. Let his
challenge be accepted, and he would find backers. He knew the stuff of
Englishmen: they only required an example.

‘French officers are skilful swordsmen,’ said Mrs. Culling. ‘My husband
has told me they will spend hours of the day thrusting and parrying.
They are used to duelling.’

‘We,’ Nevil answered, ‘don’t get apprenticed to the shambles to learn
our duty on the field. Duelling is, I know, sickening folly. We go too
far in pretending to despise every insult pitched at us. A man may do
for his country what he wouldn’t do for himself.’

Mrs. Culling gravely said she hoped that bloodshed would be avoided, and
Mr. Beauchamp nodded.

She left him hard at work.

He was a popular boy, a favourite of women, and therefore full of
engagements to Balls and dinners. And he was a modest boy, though his
uncle encouraged him to deliver his opinions freely and argue with
men. The little drummer attached to wheeling columns thinks not more
of himself because his short legs perform the same strides as the
grenadiers’; he is happy to be able to keep the step; and so was Nevil;
and if ever he contradicted a senior, it was in the interests of the
country. Veneration of heroes, living and dead, kept down his conceit.
He worshipped devotedly. From an early age he exacted of his flattering
ladies that they must love his hero. Not to love his hero was to be
strangely in error, to be in need of conversion, and he proselytized
with the ardour of the Moslem. His uncle Everard was proud of his good
looks, fire, and nonsense, during the boy’s extreme youth. He traced him
by cousinships back to the great Earl Beauchamp of Froissart, and would
have it so; and he would have spoilt him had not the young fellow’s mind
been possessed by his reverence for men of deeds. How could he think
of himself, who had done nothing, accomplished nothing, so long as he
brooded on the images of signal Englishmen whose names were historic for
daring, and the strong arm, and artfulness, all given to the service of
the country?--men of a magnanimity overcast with simplicity, which
Nevil held to be pure insular English; our type of splendid manhood, not
discoverable elsewhere. A method of enraging him was to distinguish one
or other of them as Irish, Scottish, or Cambrian. He considered it a
dismemberment of the country. And notwithstanding the pleasure he had
in uniting in his person the strong red blood of the chivalrous Lord
Beauchamp with the hard and tenacious Romfrey blood, he hated the title
of Norman. We are English--British, he said. A family resting its pride
on mere ancestry provoked his contempt, if it did not show him one of
his men. He had also a disposition to esteem lightly the family which,
having produced a man, settled down after that effort for generations
to enjoy the country’s pay. Boys are unjust; but Nevil thought of the
country mainly, arguing that we should not accept the country’s money
for what we do not ourselves perform. These traits of his were regarded
as characteristics hopeful rather than the reverse; none of his friends
and relatives foresaw danger in them. He was a capital boy for his
elders to trot out and banter.

Mrs. Rosamund Culling usually went to his room to see him and doat on
him before he started on his rounds of an evening. She suspected that
his necessary attention to his toilet would barely have allowed him time
to finish his copy of the letter. Certain phrases had bothered him.
The thrice recurrence of ‘ma patrie’ jarred on his ear. ‘Sentiments’
afflicted his acute sense of the declamatory twice. ‘C’est avec les
sentiments du plus profond regret’: and again, ‘Je suis bien scar
que vous comprendrez mes sentiments, et m’accorderez l’honneur que je
reclame au nom de ma patrie outrage.’ The word ‘patrie’ was broadcast
over the letter, and ‘honneur’ appeared four times, and a more delicate
word to harp on than the others!

‘Not to Frenchmen,’ said his friend Rosamund. ‘I would put “Je suis
convaincu”: it is not so familiar.’

‘But I have written out the fair copy, ma’am, and that alteration seems
a trifle.’

‘I would copy it again and again, Nevil, to get it right.’

‘No: I’d rather see it off than have it right,’ said Nevil, and he
folded the letter.

How the deuce to address it, and what direction to write on it, were
further difficulties. He had half a mind to remain at home to conquer
them by excogitation.

Rosamund urged him not to break his engagement to dine at the Halketts’,
where perhaps from his friend Colonel Halkett, who would never imagine
the reason for the inquiry, he might learn how a letter to a crack
French regiment should be addressed and directed.

This proved persuasive, and as the hour was late Nevil had to act on her
advice in a hurry.

His uncle Everard enjoyed a perusal of the manuscript in his absence.



CHAPTER II. UNCLE, NEPHEW, AND ANOTHER

The Honourable Everard Romfrey came of a race of fighting earls,
toughest of men, whose high, stout, Western castle had weathered our
cyclone periods of history without changeing hands more than once, and
then but for a short year or two, as if to teach the original possessors
the wisdom of inclining to the stronger side. They had a queen’s chamber
in it, and a king’s; and they stood well up against the charge of having
dealt darkly with the king. He died among them--how has not been told.
We will not discuss the conjectures here. A savour of North Sea foam
and ballad pirates hangs about the early chronicles of the family.
Indications of an ancestry that had lived between the wave and the cloud
were discernible in their notions of right and wrong. But a settlement
on solid earth has its influences. They were chivalrous knights
bannerets, and leaders in the tented field, paying and taking fair
ransom for captures; and they were good landlords, good masters blithely
followed to the wars. Sing an old battle of Normandy, Picardy,
Gascony, and you celebrate deeds of theirs. At home they were vexatious
neighbours to a town of burghers claiming privileges: nor was it
unreasonable that the Earl should flout the pretensions of the town to
read things for themselves, documents, titleships, rights, and the rest.
As well might the flat plain boast of seeing as far as the pillar. Earl
and town fought the fight of Barons and Commons in epitome. The Earl
gave way; the Barons gave way. Mighty men may thrash numbers for a time;
in the end the numbers will be thrashed into the art of beating their
teachers. It is bad policy to fight the odds inch by inch. Those
primitive school masters of the million liked it, and took their
pleasure in that way. The Romfreys did not breed warriors for a parade
at Court; wars, though frequent, were not constant, and they wanted
occupation: they may even have felt that they were bound in no common
degree to the pursuit of an answer to what may be called the parent
question of humanity: Am I thy master, or thou mine? They put it to
lords of other castles, to town corporations, and sometimes brother to
brother: and notwithstanding that the answer often unseated and once
discastled them, they swam back to their places, as born warriors, urged
by a passion for land, are almost sure to do; are indeed quite sure, so
long as they multiply sturdily, and will never take no from Fortune. A
family passion for land, that survives a generation, is as effective as
genius in producing the object it conceives; and through marriages
and conflicts, the seizure of lands, and brides bearing land, these
sharp-feeding eagle-eyed earls of Romfrey spied few spots within their
top tower’s wide circle of the heavens not their own.

It is therefore manifest that they had the root qualities, the prime
active elements, of men in perfection, and notably that appetite to
flourish at the cost of the weaker, which is the blessed exemplification
of strength, and has been man’s cheerfulest encouragement to fight on
since his comparative subjugation (on the whole, it seems complete)
of the animal world. By-and-by the struggle is transferred to higher
ground, and we begin to perceive how much we are indebted to the
fighting spirit. Strength is the brute form of truth. No conspicuously
great man was born of the Romfreys, who were better served by a
succession of able sons. They sent undistinguished able men to army and
navy--lieutenants given to be critics of their captains, but trustworthy
for their work. In the later life of the family, they preferred the
provincial state of splendid squires to Court and political honours.
They were renowned shots, long-limbed stalking sportsmen in field and
bower, fast friends, intemperate enemies, handsome to feminine eyes,
resembling one another in build, and mostly of the Northern colour, or
betwixt the tints, with an hereditary nose and mouth that cried Romfrey
from faces thrice diluted in cousinships.

The Hon. Everard (Stephen Denely Craven Romfrey), third son of the
late Earl, had some hopes of the title, and was in person a noticeable
gentleman, in mind a mediaeval baron, in politics a crotchety
unintelligible Whig. He inherited the estate of Holdesbury, on the
borders of Hampshire and Wilts, and espoused that of Steynham in Sussex,
where he generally resided. His favourite in the family had been the
Lady Emily, his eldest sister, who, contrary to the advice of her other
brothers and sisters, had yielded her hand to his not wealthy friend,
Colonel Richard Beauchamp. After the death of Nevil’s parents, he
adopted the boy, being himself childless, and a widower. Childlessness
was the affliction of the family. Everard, having no son, could hardly
hope that his brother the Earl, and Craven, Lord Avonley, would have
one, for he loved the prospect of the title. Yet, as there were no
cousins of the male branch extant, the lack of an heir was a serious
omission, and to become the Earl of Romfrey, and be the last Earl of
Romfrey, was a melancholy thought, however brilliant. So sinks the sun:
but he could not desire the end of a great day. At one time he was a hot
Parliamentarian, calling himself a Whig, called by the Whigs a Radical,
called by the Radicals a Tory, and very happy in fighting them all
round. This was during the decay of his party, before the Liberals were
defined. A Liberal deprived him of the seat he had held for fifteen
years, and the clearness of his understanding was obscured by that black
vision of popular ingratitude which afflicts the free fighting man
yet more than the malleable public servant. The latter has a clerkly
humility attached to him like a second nature, from his habit of doing
as others bid him: the former smacks a voluntarily sweating forehead
and throbbing wounds for witness of his claim upon your palpable
thankfulness. It is an insult to tell him that he fought for his own
satisfaction. Mr. Romfrey still called himself a Whig, though it was
Whig mean vengeance on account of his erratic vote and voice on two or
three occasions that denied him a peerage and a seat in haven. Thither
let your good sheep go, your echoes, your wag-tail dogs, your wealthy
pursy manufacturers! He decried the attractions of the sublimer House,
and laughed at the transparent Whiggery of his party in replenishing it
from the upper shoots of the commonalty: ‘Dragging it down to prop it
up! swamping it to keep it swimming!’ he said.

He was nevertheless a vehement supporter of that House. He stood for
King, Lords, and Commons, in spite of his personal grievances, harping
the triad as vigorously as bard of old Britain. Commons he added out of
courtesy, or from usage or policy, or for emphasis, or for the sake of
the Constitutional number of the Estates of the realm, or it was because
he had an intuition of the folly of omitting them; the same, to some
extent, that builders have regarding bricks when they plan a fabric.
Thus, although King and Lords prove the existence of Commons in days
of the political deluge almost syllogistically, the example of not
including one of the Estates might be imitated, and Commons and King do
not necessitate the conception of an intermediate third, while Lords
and Commons suggest the decapitation of the leading figure. The united
three, however, no longer cast reflections on one another, and were
an assurance to this acute politician that his birds were safe. He
preserved game rigorously, and the deduction was the work of instinct
with him. To his mind the game-laws were the corner-stone of Law, and
of a man’s right to hold his own; and so delicately did he think the
country poised, that an attack on them threatened the structure
of justice. The three conjoined Estates were therefore his head
gamekeepers; their duty was to back him against the poacher, if they
would not see the country tumble. As to his under-gamekeepers, he was
their intimate and their friend, saying, with none of the misanthropy
which proclaims the virtues of the faithful dog to the confusion of
humankind, he liked their company better than that of his equals,
and learnt more from them. They also listened deferentially to their
instructor.

The conversation he delighted in most might have been going on in any
century since the Conquest. Grant him his not unreasonable argument upon
his property in game, he was a liberal landlord. No tenants were forced
to take his farms. He dragged none by the collar. He gave them liberty
to go to Australia, Canada, the Americas, if they liked. He asked in
return to have the liberty to shoot on his own grounds, and rear the
marks for his shot, treating the question of indemnification as a
gentleman should. Still there were grumbling tenants. He swarmed with
game, and, though he was liberal, his hares and his birds were immensely
destructive: computation could not fix the damage done by them. Probably
the farmers expected them not to eat. ‘There are two parties to a
bargain,’ said Everard, ‘and one gets the worst of it. But if he was
never obliged to make it, where’s his right to complain?’ Men of sense
rarely obtain satisfactory answers: they are provoked to despise their
kind. But the poacher was another kind of vermin than the stupid tenant.
Everard did him the honour to hate him, and twice in a fray had he
collared his ruffian, and subsequently sat in condemnation of the
wretch: for he who can attest a villany is best qualified to punish it.
Gangs from the metropolis found him too determined and alert for their
sport. It was the factiousness of here and there an unbroken young
scoundrelly colt poacher of the neighbourhood, a born thief, a fellow
damned in an inveterate taste for game, which gave him annoyance. One
night he took Master Nevil out with him, and they hunted down a couple
of sinners that showed fight against odds. Nevil attempted to beg them
off because of their boldness. ‘I don’t set my traps for nothing,’
said his uncle, silencing him. But the boy reflected that his uncle was
perpetually lamenting the cowed spirit of the common English-formerly
such fresh and merry men! He touched Rosamund Culling’s heart with his
description of their attitudes when they stood resisting and bawling
to the keepers, ‘Come on we’ll die for it.’ They did not die. Everard
explained to the boy that he could have killed them, and was contented
to have sent them to gaol for a few weeks. Nevil gaped at the empty
magnanimity which his uncle presented to him as a remarkably big morsel.
At the age of fourteen he was despatched to sea.

He went unwillingly; not so much from an objection to a naval life as
from a wish, incomprehensible to grown men and boys, and especially to
his cousin, Cecil Baskelett, that he might remain at school and learn.
‘The fellow would like to be a parson!’ Everard said in disgust.
No parson had ever been known of in the Romfrey family, or in the
Beauchamp. A legend of a parson that had been a tutor in one of the
Romfrey houses, and had talked and sung blandly to a damsel of the
blood--degenerate maid--to receive a handsome trouncing for his pains,
instead of the holy marriage-tie he aimed at, was the only connection
of the Romfreys with the parsonry, as Everard called them. He attributed
the boy’s feeling to the influence of his great-aunt Beauchamp, who
would, he said, infallibly have made a parson of him. ‘I’d rather enlist
for a soldier,’ Nevil said, and he ceased to dream of rebellion, and of
his little property of a few thousand pounds in the funds to aid him in
it. He confessed to his dear friend Rosamund Culling that he thought
the parsons happy in having time to read history. And oh, to feel for
certain which side was the wrong side in our Civil War, so that one
should not hesitate in choosing! Such puzzles are never, he seemed to be
aware, solved in a midshipman’s mess. He hated bloodshed, and was guilty
of the ‘cotton-spinners’ babble,’ abhorred of Everard, in alluding to
it. Rosamund liked him for his humanity; but she, too, feared he was a
slack Romfrey when she heard him speak in precocious contempt of glory.
Somewhere, somehow, he had got hold of Manchester sarcasms concerning
glory: a weedy word of the newspapers had been sown in his bosom
perhaps. He said: ‘I don’t care to win glory; I know all about that; I
‘ve seen an old hat in the Louvre.’ And he would have had her to suppose
that he had looked on the campaigning head-cover of Napoleon simply as a
shocking bad, bald, brown-rubbed old tricorne rather than as the nod of
extinction to thousands, the great orb of darkness, the still-trembling
gloomy quiver--the brain of the lightnings of battles.

Now this boy nursed no secret presumptuous belief that he was fitted for
the walks of the higher intellect; he was not having his impudent
boy’s fling at superiority over the superior, as here and there a
subtle-minded vain juvenile will; nor was he a parrot repeating a line
from some Lancastrian pamphlet. He really disliked war and the sword;
and scorning the prospect of an idle life, confessing that his abilities
barely adapted him for a sailor’s, he was opposed to the career opened
to him almost to the extreme of shrinking and terror. Or that was the
impression conveyed to a not unsympathetic hearer by his forlorn efforts
to make himself understood, which were like the tappings of the stick
of a blind man mystified by his sense of touch at wrong corners. His
bewilderment and speechlessness were a comic display, tragic to him.

Just as his uncle Everard predicted, he came home from his first voyage
a pleasant sailor lad. His features, more than handsome to a woman, so
mobile they were, shone of sea and spirit, the chance lights of the sea,
and the spirit breathing out of it. As to war and bloodshed, a man’s
first thought must be his country, young Jacket remarked, and ‘Ich dien’
was the best motto afloat. Rosamund noticed the peculiarity of the books
he selected for his private reading. They were not boys’ books, books of
adventure and the like. His favourite author was one writing of Heroes,
in (so she esteemed it) a style resembling either early architecture or
utter dilapidation, so loose and rough it seemed; a wind-in-the-orchard
style, that tumbled down here and there an appreciable fruit with
uncouth bluster; sentences without commencements running to abrupt
endings and smoke, like waves against a sea-wall, learned dictionary
words giving a hand to street-slang, and accents falling on them
haphazard, like slant rays from driving clouds; all the pages in a
breeze, the whole book producing a kind of electrical agitation in
the mind and the joints. This was its effect on the lady. To her the
incomprehensible was the abominable, for she had our country’s high
critical feeling; but he, while admitting that he could not quite master
it, liked it. He had dug the book out of a bookseller’s shop in Malta,
captivated by its title, and had, since the day of his purchase, gone at
it again and again, getting nibbles of golden meaning by instalments, as
with a solitary pick in a very dark mine, until the illumination of an
idea struck him that there was a great deal more in the book than there
was in himself. This was sufficient to secure the devoted attachment of
young Mr. Beauchamp. Rosamund sighed with apprehension to think of his
unlikeness to boys and men among his countrymen in some things. Why
should he hug a book he owned he could not quite comprehend? He said
he liked a bone in his mouth; and it was natural wisdom, though
unappreciated by women. A bone in a boy’s mind for him to gnaw and
worry, corrects the vagrancies and promotes the healthy activities,
whether there be marrow in it or not. Supposing it furnishes only
dramatic entertainment in that usually vacant tenement, or powder-shell,
it will be of service.

Nevil proposed to her that her next present should be the entire list
of his beloved Incomprehensible’s published works, and she promised, and
was not sorry to keep her promise dangling at the skirts of memory, to
drop away in time. For that fire-and-smoke writer dedicated volumes
to the praise of a regicide. Nice reading for her dear boy! Some weeks
after Nevil was off again, she abused herself for her half-hearted love
of him, and would have given him anything--the last word in favour of
the Country versus the royal Martyr, for example, had he insisted on
it. She gathered, bit by bit, that he had dashed at his big blustering
cousin Cecil to vindicate her good name. The direful youths fought in
the Steynham stables, overheard by the grooms. Everard received a fine
account of the tussle from these latter, and Rosamund, knowing him to be
of the order of gentlemen who, whatsoever their sins, will at all costs
protect a woman’s delicacy, and a dependant’s, man or woman, did not
fear to have her ears shocked in probing him on the subject.

Everard was led to say that Nevil’s cousins were bedevilled with
womanfolk.

From which Rosamund perceived that women had been at work; and if so, it
was upon the business of the scandal-monger; and if so, Nevil fought his
cousin to protect her good name from a babbler of the family gossip.

She spoke to Stukely Culbrett, her dead husband’s friend, to whose
recommendation she was indebted for her place in Everard Romfrey’s
household.

‘Nevil behaved like a knight, I hear.’

‘Your beauty was disputed,’ said he, ‘and Nevil knocked the blind man
down for not being able to see.’

She thought, ‘Not my beauty! Nevil struck his cousin on behalf of the
only fair thing I have left to me!’

This was a moment with her when many sensations rush together and form
a knot in sensitive natures. She had been very good-looking. She was
good-looking still, but she remembered the bloom of her looks in her
husband’s days (the tragedy of the mirror is one for a woman to write:
I am ashamed to find myself smiling while the poor lady weeps), she
remembered his praises, her pride; his death in battle, her anguish:
then, on her strange entry to this house, her bitter wish to be
older; and then, the oppressive calm of her recognition of her wish’s
fulfilment, the heavy drop to dead earth, when she could say, or pretend
to think she could say--I look old enough: will they tattle of me now?
Nevil’s championship of her good name brought her history spinning about
her head, and threw a finger of light on her real position. In that she
saw the slenderness of her hold on respect, as well as felt her personal
stainlessness. The boy warmed her chill widowhood. It was written that
her, second love should be of the pattern of mother’s love. She loved
him hungrily and jealously, always in fear for him when he was absent,
even anxiously when she had him near. For some cause, born, one may
fancy, of the hour of her love’s conception, his image in her heart
was steeped in tears. She was not, happily, one of the women who betray
strong feeling, and humour preserved her from excesses of sentiment.



CHAPTER III. CONTAINS BARONIAL VIEWS OF THE PRESENT TIME

Upon the word of honour of Rosamund, the letter to the officers of the
French Guard was posted.

‘Post it, post it,’ Everard said, on her consulting him, with the letter
in her hand. ‘Let the fellow stand his luck.’ It was addressed to
the Colonel of the First Regiment of the Imperial Guard, Paris. That
superscription had been suggested by Colonel Halkett. Rosamund was in
favour of addressing it to Versailles, Nevil to the Tuileries; but Paris
could hardly fail to hit the mark, and Nevil waited for the reply, half
expecting an appointment on the French sands: for the act of posting a
letter, though it be to little short of the Pleiades even, will stamp
an incredible proceeding as a matter of business, so ready is the
ardent mind to take footing on the last thing done. The flight of Mr.
Beauchamp’s letter placed it in the common order of occurrences for the
youthful author of it. Jack Wilmore, a messmate, offered to second him,
though he should be dismissed the service for it. Another second would
easily be found somewhere; for, as Nevil observed, you have only to set
these affairs going, and British blood rises: we are not the people you
see on the surface. Wilmore’s father was a parson, for instance. What
did he do? He could not help himself: he supplied the army and navy with
recruits! One son was in a marching regiment, the other was Jack,
and three girls had vowed never to quit the rectory save as brides of
officers. Nevil thought that seemed encouraging; we were evidently not
a nation of shopkeepers at heart; and he quoted sayings of Mr. Stukely
Culbrett’s, in which neither his ear nor Wilmore’s detected the
under-ring Stukely was famous for: as that England had saddled herself
with India for the express purpose of better obeying the Commandments
in Europe; and that it would be a lamentable thing for the Continent
and our doctrines if ever beef should fail the Briton, and such like.
‘Depend upon it we’re a fighting nation naturally, Jack,’ said Nevil.
‘How can we submit!... however, I shall not be impatient. I dislike
duelling, and hate war, but I will have the country respected.’ They
planned a defence of the country, drawing their strategy from magazine
articles by military pens, reverberations of the extinct voices of the
daily and weekly journals, customary after a panic, and making bloody
stands on spots of extreme pastoral beauty, which they visited by coach
and rail, looking back on unfortified London with particular melancholy.

Rosamund’s word may be trusted that she dropped the letter into a London
post-office in pursuance of her promise to Nevil. The singular fact
was that no answer to it ever arrived. Nevil, without a doubt of her
honesty, proposed an expedition to Paris; he was ordered to join his
ship, and he lay moored across the water in the port of Bevisham,
panting for notice to be taken of him. The slight of the total disregard
of his letter now affected him personally; it took him some time to get
over this indignity put upon him, especially because of his being under
the impression that the country suffered, not he at all. The letter had
served its object: ever since the transmission of it the menaces and
insults had ceased.

But they might be renewed, and he desired to stop them altogether.
His last feeling was one of genuine regret that Frenchmen should have
behaved unworthily of the high estimation he held them in. With which he
dismissed the affair.

He was rallied about it when he next sat at his uncle’s table, and had
to pardon Rosamund for telling.

Nevil replied modestly: ‘I dare say you think me half a fool, sir. All
I know is, I waited for my betters to speak first. I have no dislike of
Frenchmen.’

Everard shook his head to signify, ‘not half.’ But he was gentle enough
in his observations. ‘There’s a motto, Ex pede Herculem. You stepped out
for the dogs to judge better of us. It’s an infernally tripping
motto for a composite structure like the kingdom of Great Britain and
Manchester, boy Nevil. We can fight foreigners when the time comes.’
He directed Nevil to look home, and cast an eye on the cotton-spinners,
with the remark that they were binding us hand and foot to sell us to
the biggest buyer, and were not Englishmen but ‘Germans and Jews, and
quakers and hybrids, diligent clerks and speculators, and commercial
travellers, who have raised a fortune from foisting drugged goods on an
idiot population.’

He loathed them for the curse they were to the country. And he was one
of the few who spoke out. The fashion was to pet them. We stood against
them; were halfhearted, and were beaten; and then we petted them, and
bit by bit our privileges were torn away. We made lords of them to
catch them, and they grocers of us by way of a return. ‘Already,’ said
Everard, ‘they have knocked the nation’s head off, and dry-rotted the
bone of the people.’

‘Don’t they,’ Nevil asked, ‘belong to the Liberal party?’

‘I’ll tell you,’ Everard replied, ‘they belong to any party that upsets
the party above them. They belong to the GEORGE FOXE party, and my
poultry-roosts are the mark they aim at. You shall have a glance at the
manufacturing district some day. You shall see the machines they work
with. You shall see the miserable lank-jawed half-stewed pantaloons
they’ve managed to make of Englishmen there. My blood ‘s past boiling.
They work young children in their factories from morning to night. Their
manufactories are spreading like the webs of the devil to suck the blood
of the country. In that district of theirs an epidemic levels men like
a disease in sheep. Skeletons can’t make a stand. On the top of it all
they sing Sunday tunes!’

This behaviour of corn-law agitators and protectors of poachers was an
hypocrisy too horrible for comment. Everard sipped claret. Nevil lashed
his head for the clear idea which objurgation insists upon implanting,
but batters to pieces in the act.

‘Manchester’s the belly of this country!’ Everard continued. ‘So long
as Manchester flourishes, we’re a country governed and led by the belly.
The head and the legs of the country are sound still; I don’t guarantee
it for long, but the middle’s rapacious and corrupt. Take it on a
question of foreign affairs, it ‘s an alderman after a feast. Bring it
upon home politics, you meet a wolf.’

The faithful Whig veteran spoke with jolly admiration of the speech of a
famous Tory chief.

‘That was the way to talk to them! Denounce them traitors! Up whip, and
set the ruffians capering! Hit them facers! Our men are always for the
too-clever trick. They pluck the sprouts and eat them, as if the loss
of a sprout or two thinned Manchester! Your policy of absorption is good
enough when you’re dealing with fragments. It’s a devilish unlucky thing
to attempt with a concrete mass. You might as well ask your head to
absorb a wall by running at it like a pugnacious nigger. I don’t want
you to go into Parliament ever. You’re a fitter man out of it; but if
ever you’re bitten--and it’s the curse of our country to have politics
as well as the other diseases--don’t follow a flag, be independent,
keep a free vote; remember how I’ve been tied, and hold foot against
Manchester. Do it blindfold; you don’t want counselling, you’re sure to
be right. I’ll lay you a blood-brood mare to a cabstand skeleton, you’ll
have an easy conscience and deserve the thanks of the country.’

Nevil listened gravely. The soundness of the head and legs of the
country he took for granted. The inflated state of the unchivalrous
middle, denominated Manchester, terrified him. Could it be true
that England was betraying signs of decay? and signs how ignoble!
Half-a-dozen crescent lines cunningly turned, sketched her figure before
the world, and the reflection for one ready to die upholding her was
that the portrait was no caricature. Such an emblematic presentation
of the land of his filial affection haunted him with hideous mockeries.
Surely the foreigner hearing our boasts of her must compare us to
showmen bawling the attractions of a Fat Lady at a fair!

Swoln Manchester bore the blame of it. Everard exulted to hear his young
echo attack the cotton-spinners. But Nevil was for a plan, a system,
immediate action; the descending among the people, and taking an
initiative, LEADING them, insisting on their following, not standing
aloof and shrugging.

‘We lead them in war,’ said he; ‘why not in peace? There’s a front for
peace as well as war, and that’s our place rightly. We’re pushed aside;
why, it seems to me we’re treated like old-fashioned ornaments! The
fault must be ours. Shrugging and sneering is about as honourable as
blazing fireworks over your own defeat. Back we have to go! that’s
the point, sir. And as for jeering the cotton-spinners, I can’t while
they’ve the lead of us. We let them have it! And we have thrice the
stake in the country. I don’t mean properties and titles.’

‘Deuce you don’t,’ said his uncle.

‘I mean our names, our histories; I mean our duties. As for titles, the
way to defend them is to be worthy of them.’

‘Damned fine speech,’ remarked Everard. ‘Now you get out of that trick
of prize-orationing. I call it snuffery, sir; it’s all to your own nose!
You’re talking to me, not to a gallery. “Worthy of them!” Caesar
wraps his head in his robe: he gets his dig in the ribs for all his
attitudinizing. It’s very well for a man to talk like that who owns no
more than his barebodkin life, poor devil. Tall talk’s his jewelry:
he must have his dandification in bunkum. You ought to know better.
Property and titles are worth having, whether you are “worthy of them”
 or a disgrace to your class. The best way of defending them is to keep a
strong fist, and take care you don’t draw your fore-foot back more than
enough.’

‘Please propose something to be done,’ said Nevil, depressed by the
recommendation of that attitude.

Everard proposed a fight for every privilege his class possessed. ‘They
say,’ he said, ‘a nobleman fighting the odds is a sight for the gods:
and I wouldn’t yield an inch of ground. It’s no use calling things by
fine names--the country’s ruined by cowardice. Poursuivez! I cry. Haro!
at them! The biggest hart wins in the end. I haven’t a doubt about that.
And I haven’t a doubt we carry the tonnage.’

‘There’s the people,’ sighed Nevil, entangled in his uncle’s haziness.

‘What people?’

‘I suppose the people of Great Britain count, sir.’

‘Of course they do; when the battle’s done, the fight lost and won.’

‘Do you expect the people to look on, sir?’

‘The people always wait for the winner, boy Nevil.’

The young fellow exclaimed despondingly, ‘If it were a race!’

‘It’s like a race, and we’re confoundedly out of training,’ said
Everard.

There he rested. A mediaeval gentleman with the docile notions of the
twelfth century, complacently driving them to grass and wattling them in
the nineteenth, could be of no use to a boy trying to think, though he
could set the youngster galloping. Nevil wandered about the woods of
Steynham, disinclined to shoot and lend a hand to country sports. The
popping of the guns of his uncle and guests hung about his ears
much like their speech, which was unobjectionable in itself, but
not sufficient; a little hard, he thought, a little idle. He wanted
something, and wanted them to give their time and energy to something,
that was not to be had in a market. The nobles, he felt sure, might
resume their natural alliance with the people, and lead them, as they
did of old, to the battle-field. How might they? A comely Sussex lass
could not well tell him how. Sarcastic reports of the troublesome
questioner represented him applying to a nymph of the country for
enlightenment. He thrilled surprisingly under the charm of feminine
beauty. ‘The fellow’s sound at bottom,’ his uncle said, hearing of
his having really been seen walking in the complete form proper to his
budding age, that is, in two halves. Nevil showed that he had gained an
acquaintance with the struggles of the neighbouring agricultural poor
to live and rear their children. His uncle’s table roared at his
enumeration of the sickly little beings, consumptive or bandy-legged,
within a radius of five miles of Steynham. Action was what he wanted,
Everard said. Nevil perhaps thought the same, for he dashed out of his
mooning with a wave of the Tory standard, delighting the ladies, though
in that conflict of the Lion and the Unicorn (which was a Tory song) he
seemed rather to wish to goad the dear lion than crush the one-horned
intrusive upstart. His calling on the crack corps of Peers to enrol
themselves forthwith in the front ranks, and to anticipate opposition
by initiating measures, and so cut out that funny old crazy old galleon,
the People, from under the batteries of the enemy, highly amused the
gentlemen.

Before rejoining his ship, Nevil paid his customary short visit of
ceremony to his great-aunt Beauchamp--a venerable lady past eighty,
hitherto divided from him in sympathy by her dislike of his uncle
Everard, who had once been his living hero. That was when he was in
frocks, and still the tenacious fellow could not bear to hear his uncle
spoken ill of.

‘All the men of that family are heartless, and he is a man of wood, my
dear, and a bad man,’ the old lady said. ‘He should have kept you at
school, and sent you to college. You want reading and teaching and
talking to. Such a house as that is should never be a home for you.’
She hinted at Rosamund. Nevil defended the persecuted woman, but with
no better success than from the attacks of the Romfrey ladies; with this
difference, however, that these decried the woman’s vicious arts, and
Mistress Elizabeth Mary Beauchamp put all the sin upon the man. Such a
man! she said. ‘Let me hear that he has married her, I will not utter
another word.’ Nevil echoed, ‘Married!’ in a different key.

‘I am as much of an aristocrat as any of you, only I rank morality
higher,’ said Mrs. Beauchamp. ‘When you were a child I offered to take
you and make you my heir, and I would have educated you. You shall see
a great-nephew of mine that I did educate; he is eating his dinners for
the bar in London, and comes to me every Sunday. I shall marry him to a
good girl, and I shall show your uncle what my kind of man-making is.’

Nevil had no desire to meet the other great-nephew, especially when
he was aware of the extraordinary circumstance that a Beauchamp
great-niece, having no money, had bestowed her hand on a Manchester man
defunct, whereof this young Blackburn Tuckham, the lawyer, was issue.
He took his leave of Mrs. Elizabeth Beauchamp, respecting her for her
constitutional health and brightness, and regretting for the sake of
the country that she had not married to give England men and women
resembling her. On the whole he considered her wiser in her prescription
for the malady besetting him than his uncle. He knew that action was but
a temporary remedy. College would have been his chronic medicine, and
the old lady’s acuteness in seeing it impressed him forcibly. She had
given him a peaceable two days on the Upper Thames, in an atmosphere of
plain good sense and just-mindedness. He wrote to thank her, saying:

‘My England at sea will be your parlour-window looking down the grass
to the river and rushes; and when you do me the honour to write, please
tell me the names of those wildflowers growing along the banks in
Summer.’ The old lady replied immediately, enclosing a cheque for fifty
pounds: ‘Colonel Halkett informs me you are under a cloud at Steynham,
and I have thought you may be in want of pocket-money. The wild-flowers
are willowherb, meadow-sweet, and loosestrife. I shall be glad when you
are here in Summer to see them.’

Nevil despatched the following: ‘I thank you, but I shall not cash the
cheque. The Steynham tale is this:

I happened to be out at night, and stopped the keepers in chase of a
young fellow trespassing. I caught him myself, but recognized him as one
of a family I take an interest in, and let him run before they came up.
My uncle heard a gun; I sent the head gamekeeper word in the morning to
out with it all. Uncle E. was annoyed, and we had a rough parting. If
you are rewarding me for this, I have no right to it.’

Mrs. Beauchamp rejoined: ‘Your profession should teach you
subordination, if it does nothing else that is valuable to a Christian
gentleman. You will receive from the publisher the “Life and Letters
of Lord Collingwood,” whom I have it in my mind that a young midshipman
should task himself to imitate. Spend the money as you think fit.’

Nevil’s ship, commanded by Captain Robert Hall (a most gallant officer,
one of his heroes, and of Lancashire origin, strangely!), flew to the
South American station, in and about Lord Cochrane’s waters; then as
swiftly back. For, like the frail Norwegian bark on the edge of the
maelstrom, liker to a country of conflicting interests and passions,
that is not mentally on a level with its good fortune, England was
drifting into foreign complications. A paralyzed Minister proclaimed it.
The governing people, which is looked to for direction in grave dilemmas
by its representatives and reflectors, shouted that it had been accused
of pusillanimity. No one had any desire for war, only we really had (and
it was perfectly true) been talking gigantic nonsense of peace, and of
the everlastingness of the exchange of fruits for money, with angels
waving raw-groceries of Eden in joy of the commercial picture.
Therefore, to correct the excesses of that fit, we held the standing by
the Moslem, on behalf of the Mediterranean (and the Moslem is one of our
customers, bearing an excellent reputation for the payment of debts),
to be good, granting the necessity. We deplored the necessity. The Press
wept over it. That, however, was not the politic tone for us while the
Imperial berg of Polar ice watched us keenly; and the Press proceeded
to remind us that we had once been bull-dogs. Was there not an animal
within us having a right to a turn now and then? And was it not
(Falstaff, on a calm world, was quoted) for the benefit of our
constitutions now and then to loosen the animal? Granting the necessity,
of course. By dint of incessantly speaking of the necessity we granted
it unknowingly. The lighter hearts regarded our period of monotonously
lyrical prosperity as a man sensible of fresh morning air looks back on
the snoring bolster. Many of the graver were glad of a change. After all
that maundering over the blessed peace which brings the raisin and the
currant for the pudding, and shuts up the cannon with a sheep’s head, it
became a principle of popular taste to descant on the vivifying virtues
of war; even as, after ten months of money-mongering in smoky London,
the citizen hails the sea-breeze and an immersion in unruly brine,
despite the cost, that breeze and brine may make a man of him, according
to the doctor’s prescription: sweet is home, but health is sweeter!
Then was there another curious exhibition of us. Gentlemen, to the
exact number of the Graces, dressed in drab of an ancient cut, made a
pilgrimage to the icy despot, and besought him to give way for Piety’s
sake. He, courteous, colossal, and immoveable, waved them homeward. They
returned and were hooted for belying the bellicose by their mission, and
interpreting too well the peaceful. They were the unparalyzed Ministers
of the occasion, but helpless.

And now came war, the purifier and the pestilence.

The cry of the English people for war was pretty general, as far as the
criers went. They put on their Sabbath face concerning the declaration
of war, and told with approval how the Royal hand had trembled in
committing itself to the form of signature to which its action is
limited. If there was money to be paid, there was a bugbear to be
slain for it; and a bugbear is as obnoxious to the repose of commercial
communities as rivals are to kings.

The cry for war was absolutely unanimous, and a supremely national cry,
Everard Romfrey said, for it excluded the cotton-spinners.

He smacked his hands, crowing at the vociferations of disgust of those
negrophiles and sweaters of Christians, whose isolated clamour amid the
popular uproar sounded of gagged mouths.

One of the half-stifled cotton-spinners, a notorious one, a spouter of
rank sedition and hater of aristocracy, a political poacher, managed to
make himself heard. He was tossed to the Press for morsel, and tossed
back to the people in strips. Everard had a sharp return of appetite in
reading the daily and weekly journals. They printed logic, they printed
sense; they abused the treasonable barking cur unmercifully. They
printed almost as much as he would have uttered, excepting the strong
salt of his similes, likening that rascal and his crew to the American
weed in our waters, to the rotting wild bees’ nest in our trees, to the
worm in our ships’ timbers, and to lamentable afflictions of the human
frame, and of sheep, oxen, honest hounds. Manchester was in eclipse. The
world of England discovered that the peace-party which opposed was the
actual cause of the war: never was indication clearer. But my business
is with Mr. Beauchamp, to know whom, and partly understand his conduct
in after-days, it will be as well to take a bird’seye glance at him
through the war.

‘Now,’ said Everard, ‘we shall see what staff there is in that fellow
Nevil.’

He expected, as you may imagine, a true young Beauchamp-Romfrey to be
straining his collar like a leash-hound.



CHAPTER IV. A GLIMPSE OF NEVIL IN ACTION

The young gentleman to whom Everard Romfrey transferred his combative
spirit despatched a letter from the Dardanelles, requesting his uncle
not to ask him for a spark of enthusiasm. He despised our Moslem
allies, he said, and thought with pity of the miserable herds of men in
regiments marching across the steppes at the bidding of a despot that we
were helping to popularize. He certainly wrote in the tone of a jejune
politician; pardonable stuff to seniors entertaining similar opinions,
but most exasperating when it runs counter to them: though one question
put by Nevil was not easily answerable. He wished to know whether the
English people would be so anxious to be at it if their man stood on the
opposite shore and talked of trying conclusions on their green fields.
And he suggested that they had become so ready for war because of their
having grown rather ashamed of themselves, and for the special reason
that they could have it at a distance.

‘The rascal’s liver’s out of order,’ Everard said.

Coming to the sentence: ‘Who speaks out in this crisis? There is one,
and I am with him’; Mr. Romfrey’s compassionate sentiments veered round
to irate amazement. For the person alluded to was indeed the infamous
miauling cotton-spinner. Nevil admired him. He said so bluntly. He
pointed to that traitorous George-Foxite as the one heroical Englishman
of his day, declaring that he felt bound in honour to make known his
admiration for the man; and he hoped his uncle would excuse him. ‘If
we differ, I am sorry, sir; but I should be a coward to withhold what
I think of him when he has all England against him, and he is in the
right, as England will discover. I maintain he speaks wisely--I don’t
mind saying, like a prophet; and he speaks on behalf of the poor as well
as of the country. He appears to me the only public man who looks to the
state of the poor--I mean, their interests. They pay for war, and if we
are to have peace at home and strength for a really national war, the
only war we can ever call necessary, the poor must be contented. He sees
that. I shall not run the risk of angering you by writing to defend him,
unless I hear of his being shamefully mishandled, and the bearer of an
old name can be of service to him. I cannot say less, and will say no
more.’

Everard apostrophized his absent nephew: ‘You jackass!’

I am reminded by Mr. Romfrey’s profound disappointment in the youth,
that it will be repeatedly shared by many others: and I am bound to
forewarn readers of this history that there is no plot in it. The hero
is chargeable with the official disqualification of constantly offending
prejudices, never seeking to please; and all the while it is upon him
the narrative hangs. To be a public favourite is his last thought.
Beauchampism, as one confronting him calls it, may be said to stand for
nearly everything which is the obverse of Byronism, and rarely woos your
sympathy, shuns the statuesque pathetic, or any kind of posturing.
For Beauchamp will not even look at happiness to mourn its absence;
melodious lamentations, demoniacal scorn, are quite alien to him. His
faith is in working and fighting. With every inducement to offer himself
for a romantic figure, he despises the pomades and curling-irons of
modern romance, its shears and its labels: in fine, every one of those
positive things by whose aid, and by some adroit flourishing of them,
the nimbus known as a mysterious halo is produced about a gentleman’s
head. And a highly alluring adornment it is! We are all given to lose
our solidity and fly at it; although the faithful mirror of fiction
has been showing us latterly that a too superhuman beauty has disturbed
popular belief in the bare beginnings of the existence of heroes: but
this, very likely, is nothing more than a fit of Republicanism in the
nursery, and a deposition of the leading doll for lack of variety in
him. That conqueror of circumstances will, the dullest soul may begin
predicting, return on his cockhorse to favour and authority. Meantime
the exhibition of a hero whom circumstances overcome, and who does not
weep or ask you for a tear, who continually forfeits attractiveness by
declining to better his own fortunes, must run the chances of a novelty
during the interregnum. Nursery Legitimists will be against him to a
man; Republicans likewise, after a queer sniff at his pretensions, it is
to be feared. For me, I have so little command over him, that in spite
of my nursery tastes, he drags me whither he lists. It is artless art
and monstrous innovation to present so wilful a figure, but were I to
create a striking fable for him, and set him off with scenic effects
and contrasts, it would be only a momentary tonic to you, to him instant
death. He could not live in such an atmosphere. The simple truth has to
be told: how he loved his country, and for another and a broader
love, growing out of his first passion, fought it; and being small by
comparison, and finding no giant of the Philistines disposed to receive
a stone in his fore-skull, pummelled the obmutescent mass, to the
confusion of a conceivable epic. His indifferent England refused it to
him. That is all I can say. The greater power of the two, she seems,
with a quiet derision that does not belie her amiable passivity, to have
reduced in Beauchamp’s career the boldest readiness for public action,
and some good stout efforts besides, to the flat result of an optically
discernible influence of our hero’s character in the domestic circle;
perhaps a faintly-outlined circle or two beyond it. But this does
not forbid him to be ranked as one of the most distinguishing of her
children of the day he lived in. Blame the victrix if you think he
should have been livelier.

Nevil soon had to turn his telescope from politics. The torch of war
was actually lighting, and he was not fashioned to be heedless of what
surrounded him. Our diplomacy, after dancing with all the suppleness of
stilts, gravely resigned the gift of motion. Our dauntless Lancastrian
thundered like a tempest over a gambling tent, disregarded. Our worthy
people, consenting to the doctrine that war is a scourge, contracted the
habit of thinking it, in this case, the dire necessity which is the
sole excuse for giving way to an irritated pugnacity, and sucked the
comforting caramel of an alliance with their troublesome next-door
neighbour, profuse in comfits as in scorpions. Nevil detected that
politic element of their promptitude for war. His recollections of
dissatisfaction in former days assisted him to perceive the nature of
it, but he was too young to hold his own against the hubbub of a
noisy people, much too young to remain sceptical of a modern people’s
enthusiasm for war while journals were testifying to it down the
length of their columns, and letters from home palpitated with it, and
shipmates yawned wearily for the signal, and shiploads of red coats and
blue, infantry, cavalry, artillery, were singing farewell to the girl
at home, and hurrah for anything in foreign waters. He joined the stream
with a cordial spirit. Since it must be so! The wind of that haughty
proceeding of the Great Bear in putting a paw over the neutral brook
brushed his cheek unpleasantly. He clapped hands for the fezzy defenders
of the border fortress, and when the order came for the fleet to enter
the old romantic sea of storms and fables, he wrote home a letter
fit for his uncle Everard to read. Then there was the sailing and the
landing, and the march up the heights, which Nevil was condemned to
look at. To his joy he obtained an appointment on shore, and after that
Everard heard of him from other channels. The two were of a mind when
the savage winter advanced which froze the attack of the city, and might
be imaged as the hoar god of hostile elements pointing a hand to
the line reached, and menacing at one farther step. Both blamed
the Government, but they divided as to the origin of governmental
inefficiency; Nevil accusing the Lords guilty of foulest sloth, Everard
the Quakers of dry-rotting the country. He passed with a shrug Nevil’s
puling outcry for the enemy as well as our own poor fellows: ‘At his
steppes again!’ And he had to be forgiving when reports came of his
nephew’s turn for overdoing his duty: ‘show-fighting,’ as he termed it.

‘Braggadocioing in deeds is only next bad to mouthing it,’ he wrote very
rationally. ‘Stick to your line. Don’t go out of it till you are
ordered out. Remember that we want soldiers and sailors, we don’t want
suicides.’ He condescended to these italics, considering impressiveness
to be urgent. In his heart, notwithstanding his implacably clear
judgement, he was passably well pleased with the congratulations
encompassing him on account of his nephew’s gallantry at a period of
dejection in Britain: for the winter was dreadful; every kind heart that
went to bed with cold feet felt acutely for our soldiers on the frozen
heights, and thoughts of heroes were as good as warming-pans. Heroes we
would have. It happens in war as in wit, that all the birds of wonder
fly to a flaring reputation. He that has done one wild thing must
necessarily have done the other; so Nevil found himself standing in
the thick of a fame that blew rank eulogies on him for acts he had not
performed. The Earl of Romfrey forwarded hampers and a letter of
praise. ‘They tell me that while you were facing the enemy, temporarily
attaching yourself to one of the regiments--I forget which, though I
have heard it named--you sprang out under fire on an eagle clawing a
hare. I like that. I hope you had the benefit of the hare. She is our
property, and I have issued an injunction that she shall not go into the
newspapers.’ Everard was entirely of a contrary opinion concerning
the episode of eagle and hare, though it was a case of a bird of
prey interfering with an object of the chase. Nevil wrote home most
entreatingly and imperatively, like one wincing, begging him to
contradict that and certain other stories, and prescribing the form of a
public renunciation of his proclaimed part in them. ‘The hare,’ he sent
word, ‘is the property of young Michell of the Rodney, and he is the
humanest and the gallantest fellow in the service. I have written to my
Lord. Pray help to rid me of burdens that make me feel like a robber and
impostor.’

Everard replied:

‘I have a letter from your captain, informing me that I am unlikely to
see you home unless you learn to hold yourself in. I wish you were in
another battery than Robert Hall’s. He forgets the force of example,
however much of a dab he may be at precept. But there you are, and
please clap a hundredweight on your appetite for figuring, will you. Do
you think there is any good in helping to Frenchify our army? I loathe a
fellow who shoots at a medal. I wager he is easy enough to be caught by
circumvention--put me in the open with him. Tom Biggot, the boxer,
went over to Paris, and stood in the ring with one of their dancing
pugilists, and the first round he got a crack on the chin from the
rogue’s foot; the second round he caught him by the lifted leg, and
punished him till pec was all he could say of peccavi. Fight the
straightforward fight. Hang flan! Battle is a game of give and take, and
if our men get elanned, we shall see them refusing to come up to time.
This new crossing and medalling is the devil’s own notion for upsetting
a solid British line, and tempting fellows to get invalided that they
may blaze it before the shopkeepers and their wives in the city. Give us
an army!--none of your caperers. Here are lots of circusy heroes coming
home to rest after their fatigues. One was spouting at a public
dinner yesterday night. He went into it upright, and he ran out of it
upright--at the head of his men!--and here he is feasted by the citizens
and making a speech upright, and my boy fronting the enemy!’

Everard’s involuntary break-down from his veteran’s roughness to a touch
of feeling thrilled Nevil, who began to perceive what his uncle was
driving at when he rebuked the coxcombry of the field, and spoke of the
description of compliment your hero was paying Englishmen in affecting
to give them examples of bravery and preternatural coolness. Nevil sent
home humble confessions of guilt in this respect, with fresh praises of
young Michell: for though Everard, as Nevil recognized it, was perfectly
right in the abstract, and generally right, there are times when an
example is needed by brave men--times when the fiery furnace of death’s
dragon-jaw is not inviting even to Englishmen receiving the word that
duty bids them advance, and they require a leader of the way. A national
coxcombry that pretends to an independence of human sensations, and
makes a motto of our dandiacal courage, is more perilous to the armies
of the nation than that of a few heroes. It is this coxcombry which has
too often caused disdain of the wise chief’s maxim of calculation for
winners, namely, to have always the odds on your side, and which has
bled, shattered, and occasionally disgraced us. Young Michell’s carrying
powder-bags to the assault, and when ordered to retire, bearing them on
his back, and helping a wounded soldier on the way, did surely well;
nor did Mr. Beauchamp himself behave so badly on an occasion when the
sailors of his battery caught him out of a fire of shell that raised
jets of dust and smoke like a range of geysers over the open, and hugged
him as loving women do at a meeting or a parting. He was penitent before
his uncle, admitting, first, that the men were not in want of an example
of the contempt of death, and secondly, that he doubted whether it was
contempt of death on his part so much as pride--a hatred of being seen
running.

‘I don’t like the fellow to be drawing it so fine,’ said Everard. It
sounded to him a trifle parsonical. But his heart was won by Nevil’s
determination to wear out the campaign rather than be invalided or
entrusted with a holiday duty.

‘I see with shame (admiration of them) old infantry captains and
colonels of no position beyond their rank in the army, sticking to their
post,’ said Nevil, ‘and a lord and a lord and a lord slipping off as
though the stuff of the man in him had melted. I shall go through with
it.’ Everard approved him. Colonel Halkett wrote that the youth was a
skeleton. Still Everard encouraged him to persevere, and said of him:

‘I like him for holding to his work after the strain’s over. That tells
the man.’

He observed at his table, in reply to commendations of his nephew:

‘Nevil’s leak is his political craze, and that seems to be going: I hope
it is. You can’t rear a man on politics. When I was of his age I never
looked at the newspapers, except to read the divorce cases. I came to
politics with a ripe judgement. He shines in action, and he’ll find that
out, and leave others the palavering.’

It was upon the close of the war that Nevil drove his uncle to avow a
downright undisguised indignation with him. He caught a fever in the
French camp, where he was dispensing vivers and provends out of English
hampers.

‘Those French fellows are every man of them trained up to
snapping-point,’ said Everard. ‘You’re sure to have them if you hold out
long against them. And greedy dogs too: they’re for half our hampers,
and all the glory. And there’s Nevil down on his back in the thick of
them! Will anybody tell me why the devil he must be poking into the
French camp? They were ready enough to run to him and beg potatoes. It
‘s all for humanity he does it-mark that. Never was a word fitter for a
quack’s mouth than “humanity.” Two syllables more, and the parsons would
be riding it to sawdust. Humanity! Humanitomtity! It’s the best word of
the two for half the things done in the name of it.’

A tremendously bracing epistle, excellent for an access of fever,
was despatched to humanity’s curate, and Everard sat expecting a hot
rejoinder, or else a black sealed letter, but neither one nor the other
arrived.

Suddenly, to his disgust, came rumours of peace between the mighty
belligerents.

The silver trumpets of peace were nowhere hearkened to with satisfaction
by the bull-dogs, though triumph rang sonorously through the music, for
they had been severely mangled, as usual at the outset, and they had at
last got their grip, and were in high condition for fighting.

The most expansive panegyrists of our deeds did not dare affirm of the
most famous of them, that England had embarked her costly cavalry to
offer it for a mark of artillery-balls on three sides of a square: and
the belief was universal that we could do more business-like deeds and
play the great game of blunders with an ability refined by experience.
Everard Romfrey was one of those who thought themselves justified in
insisting upon the continuation of the war, in contempt of our allies.
His favourite saying that constitution beats the world, was being
splendidly manifested by our bearing. He was very uneasy; he would
not hear of peace; and not only that, the imperial gentleman soberly
committed the naivete of sending word to Nevil to let him know
immediately the opinion of the camp concerning it, as perchance an
old Roman knight may have written to some young aquilifer of the
Praetorians.

Allies, however, are of the description of twins joined by a membrane,
and supposing that one of them determines to sit down, the other will
act wisely in bending his knees at once, and doing the same: he cannot
but be extremely uncomfortable left standing. Besides, there was the
Ottoman cleverly poised again; the Muscovite was battered; fresh guilt
was added to the military glory of the Gaul. English grumblers might
well be asked what they had fought for, if they were not contented.

Colonel Halkett mentioned a report that Nevil had received a slight
thigh-wound of small importance. At any rate, something was the matter
with him, and it was naturally imagined that he would have double cause
to write home; and still more so for the reason, his uncle
confessed, that he had foreseen the folly of a war conducted by milky
cotton-spinners and their adjuncts, in partnership with a throned
gambler, who had won his stake, and now snapped his fingers at
them. Everard expected, he had prepared himself for, the young naval
politician’s crow, and he meant to admit frankly that he had been wrong
in wishing to fight anybody without having first crushed the cotton
faction. But Nevil continued silent.

‘Dead in hospital or a Turk hotel!’ sighed Everard; ‘and no more to the
scoundrels over there than a body to be shovelled into slack lime.’

Rosamund Culling was the only witness of his remarkable betrayal of
grief.



CHAPTER V. RENEE

At last, one morning, arrived a letter from a French gentleman signing
himself Comte Cresnes de Croisnel, in which Everard was informed that
his nephew had accompanied the son of the writer, Captain de Croisnel,
on board an Austrian boat out of the East, and was lying in Venice under
a return-attack of fever,--not, the count stated pointedly, in the hands
of an Italian physician. He had brought his own with him to meet his
son, who was likewise disabled.

Everard was assured by M. de Croisnel that every attention and
affectionate care were being rendered to his gallant and adored
nephew--‘vrai type de tout ce qu’il y a de noble et de chevaleresque
dans la vieille Angleterre’--from a family bound to him by the tenderest
obligations, personal and national; one as dear to every member of it as
the brother, the son, they welcomed with thankful hearts to the Divine
interposition restoring him to them. In conclusion, the count proposed
something like the embrace of a fraternal friendship should Everard
think fit to act upon the spontaneous sentiments of a loving relative,
and join them in Venice to watch over his nephew’s recovery. Already
M. Nevil was stronger. The gondola was a medicine in itself, the count
said.

Everard knitted his mouth to intensify a peculiar subdued form of
laughter through the nose, in hopeless ridicule of a Frenchman’s notions
of an Englishman’s occupations--presumed across Channel to allow of his
breaking loose from shooting engagements at a minute’s notice, to
rush off to a fetid foreign city notorious for mud and mosquitoes, and
commence capering and grimacing, pouring forth a jugful of ready-made
extravagances, with ‘mon fils! mon cher neveu! Dieu!’ and similar
fiddlededee. These were matters for women to do, if they chose: women
and Frenchmen were much of a pattern. Moreover, he knew the hotel this
Comte de Croisnel was staying at. He gasped at the name of it: he had
rather encounter a grisly bear than a mosquito any night of his life,
for no stretch of cunning outwits a mosquito; and enlarging on the
qualities of the terrific insect, he vowed it was damnation without
trial or judgement.

Eventually, Mrs. Culling’s departure was permitted. He argued, ‘Why
go? the fellow’s comfortable, getting himself together, and you say the
French are good nurses.’ But her entreaties to go were vehement, though
Venice had no happy place in her recollections, and he withheld his
objections to her going. For him, the fields forbade it. He sent hearty
messages to Nevil, and that was enough, considering that the young
dog of ‘humanity’ had clearly been running out of his way to catch
a jaundice, and was bereaving his houses of the matronly government,
deprived of which they were all of them likely soon to be at sixes and
sevens with disorderly lacqueys, peccant maids, and cooks in hysterics.

Now if the master of his fortunes had come to Venice!--Nevil started the
supposition in his mind often after hope had sunk.--Everard would have
seen a young sailor and a soldier the thinner for wear, reclining in a
gondola half the day, fanned by a brunette of the fine lineaments of the
good blood of France. She chattered snatches of Venetian caught from
the gondoliers, she was like a delicate cup of crystal brimming with the
beauty of the place, and making one of them drink in all his impressions
through her. Her features had the soft irregularities which run to
rarities of beauty, as the ripple rocks the light; mouth, eyes, brows,
nostrils, and bloomy cheeks played into one another liquidly; thought
flew, tongue followed, and the flash of meaning quivered over them
like night-lightning. Or oftener, to speak truth, tongue flew, thought
followed: her age was but newly seventeen, and she was French.

Her name was Renee. She was the only daughter of the Comte de Croisnel.
Her brother Roland owed his life to Nevil, this Englishman proud of a
French name--Nevil Beauchamp. If there was any warm feeling below the
unruffled surface of the girl’s deliberate eyes while gazing on him, it
was that he who had saved her brother must be nearly brother himself,
yet was not quite, yet must be loved, yet not approached. He was her
brother’s brother-in-arms, brother-in-heart, not hers, yet hers through
her brother. His French name rescued him from foreignness. He spoke
her language with a piquant accent, unlike the pitiable English. Unlike
them, he was gracious, and could be soft and quick. The battle-scarlet,
battle-black, Roland’s tales of him threw round him in her imagination,
made his gentleness a surprise. If, then, he was hers through her
brother, what was she to him? The question did not spring clearly within
her, though she was alive to every gradual change of manner toward the
convalescent necessitated by the laws overawing her sex.

Venice was the French girl’s dream. She was realizing it hungrily,
revelling in it, anatomizing it, picking it to pieces, reviewing it,
comparing her work with the original, and the original with her first
conception, until beautiful sad Venice threatened to be no more her
dream, and in dread of disenchantment she tried to take impressions
humbly, really tasked herself not to analyze, not to dictate from
a French footing, not to scorn. Not to be petulant with objects
disappointing her, was an impossible task. She could not consent to a
compromise with the people, the merchandize, the odours of the city.
Gliding in the gondola through the narrow canals at low tide, she
leaned back simulating stupor, with one word--‘Venezia!’ Her brother was
commanded to smoke: ‘Fumez, fumez, Roland!’ As soon as the steel-crested
prow had pushed into her Paradise of the Canal Grande, she quietly
shrouded her hair from tobacco, and called upon rapture to recompense
her for her sufferings. The black gondola was unendurable to her. She
had accompanied her father to the Accademia, and mused on the golden
Venetian streets of Carpaccio: she must have an open gondola to decorate
in his manner, gaily, splendidly, and mock at her efforts--a warning
to all that might hope to improve the prevailing gloom and squalor by
levying contributions upon the Merceria! Her most constant admiration
was for the English lord who used once to ride on the Lido sands and
visit the Armenian convent--a lord and a poet. [Lord Byron D.W.]

This was to be infinitely more than a naval lieutenant. But Nevil
claimed her as little personally as he allowed her to be claimed by
another. The graces of her freaks of petulance and airy whims, her
sprightly jets of wilfulness, fleeting frowns of contempt, imperious
decisions, were all beautiful, like silver-shifting waves, in this
lustrous planet of her pure freedom; and if you will seize the divine
conception of Artemis, and own the goddess French, you will understand
his feelings.

But though he admired fervently, and danced obediently to her tunes,
Nevil could not hear injustice done to a people or historic poetic
city without trying hard to right the mind guilty of it. A newspaper
correspondent, a Mr. John Holles, lingering on his road home from the
army, put him on the track of an Englishman’s books--touching the spirit
as well as the stones of Venice, and Nevil thanked him when he had
turned some of the leaves.

The study of the books to school Renee was pursued, like the Bianchina’s
sleep, in gondoletta, and was not unlike it at intervals. A translated
sentence was the key to a reverie. Renee leaned back, meditating; he
forward, the book on his knee: Roland left them to themselves, and spied
for the Bianchina behind the window-bars. The count was in the churches
or the Galleries. Renee thought she began to comprehend the spirit of
Venice, and chided her rebelliousness.

‘But our Venice was the Venice of the decadence, then!’ she said,
complaining. Nevil read on, distrustful of the perspicuity of his own
ideas.

‘Ah, but,’ said she, ‘when these Venetians were rough men, chanting like
our Huguenots, how cold it must have been here!’

She hoped she was not very wrong in preferring the times of the
great Venetian painters and martial doges to that period of faith and
stone-cutting. What was done then might be beautiful, but the life was
monotonous; she insisted that it was Huguenot; harsh, nasal, sombre,
insolent, self-sufficient. Her eyes lightened for the flashing colours
and pageantries, and the threads of desperate adventure crossing the Rii
to this and that palace-door and balcony, like faint blood-streaks; the
times of Venice in full flower. She reasoned against the hard eloquent
Englishman of the books. ‘But we are known by our fruits, are we not?
and the Venice I admire was surely the fruit of these stonecutters
chanting hymns of faith; it could not but be: and if it deserved, as he
says, to die disgraced, I think we should go back to them and ask them
whether their minds were as pure and holy as he supposes.’ Her French
wits would not be subdued. Nevil pointed to the palaces. ‘Pride,’ said
she. He argued that the original Venetians were not responsible for
their offspring. ‘You say it?’ she cried, ‘you, of an old race? Oh, no;
you do not feel it!’ and the trembling fervour of her voice convinced
him that he did not, could not.

Renee said: ‘I know my ancestors are bound up in me, by my sentiments to
them; and so do you, M. Nevil. We shame them if we fail in courage and
honour. Is it not so? If we break a single pledged word we cast shame on
them. Why, that makes us what we are; that is our distinction: we dare
not be weak if we would. And therefore when Venice is reproached with
avarice and luxury, I choose to say--what do we hear of the children of
misers? and I say I am certain that those old cold Huguenot stonecutters
were proud and grasping. I am sure they were, and they shall share the
blame.’

Nevil plunged into his volume.

He called on Roland for an opinion.

‘Friend,’ said Roland, ‘opinions may differ: mine is, considering the
defences of the windows, that the only way into these houses or out of
them bodily was the doorway.’

Roland complimented his sister and friend on the prosecution of their
studies: he could not understand a word of the subject, and yawning,
he begged permission to be allowed to land and join the gondola at a
distant quarter. The gallant officer was in haste to go.

Renee stared at her brother. He saw nothing; he said a word to the
gondoliers, and quitted the boat. Mars was in pursuit. She resigned
herself, and ceased then to be a girl.



CHAPTER VI. LOVE IN VENICE

The air flashed like heaven descending for Nevil alone with Renee. They
had never been alone before. Such happiness belonged to the avenue of
wishes leading to golden mists beyond imagination, and seemed, coming on
him suddenly, miraculous. He leaned toward her like one who has broken
a current of speech, and waits to resume it. She was all unsuspecting
indolence, with gravely shadowed eyes.

‘I throw the book down,’ he said.

She objected. ‘No; continue: I like it.’

Both of them divined that the book was there to do duty for Roland.

He closed it, keeping a finger among the leaves; a kind of anchorage in
case of indiscretion.

‘Permit me to tell you, M. Nevil, you are inclined to play truant
to-day.’

‘I am.’

‘Now is the very time to read; for my poor Roland is at sea when we
discuss our questions, and the book has driven him away.’

‘But we have plenty of time to read. We miss the scenes.’

‘The scenes are green shutters, wet steps, barcaroli, brown women,
striped posts, a scarlet night-cap, a sick fig-tree, an old shawl,
faded spots of colour, peeling walls. They might be figured by a trodden
melon. They all resemble one another, and so do the days here.’

‘That’s the charm. I wish I could look on you and think the same. You,
as you are, for ever.’

‘Would you not let me live my life?’

‘I would not have you alter.’

‘Please to be pathetic on that subject after I am wrinkled, monsieur.’

‘You want commanding, mademoiselle.’

Renee nestled her chin, and gazed forward through her eyelashes.

‘Venice is like a melancholy face of a former beauty who has ceased to
rouge, or wipe away traces of her old arts,’ she said, straining for
common talk, and showing the strain.

‘Wait; now we are rounding,’ said he; ‘now you have three of what you
call your theatre-bridges in sight. The people mount and drop, mount and
drop; I see them laugh. They are full of fun and good-temper. Look on
living Venice!

‘Provided that my papa is not crossing when we go under!

‘Would he not trust you to me?’

‘Yes.’

‘He would? And you?’

‘I do believe they are improvizing an operetta on the second bridge.’

‘You trust yourself willingly?’

‘As to my second brother. You hear them? How delightfully quick and
spontaneous they are! Ah, silly creatures! they have stopped. They might
have held it on for us while we were passing.’

‘Where would the naturalness have been then?’

‘Perhaps, M. Nevil, I do want commanding. I am wilful. Half my days will
be spent in fits of remorse, I begin to think.’

‘Come to me to be forgiven.’

‘Shall I? I should be forgiven too readily.’

‘I am not so sure of that.’

‘Can you be harsh? No, not even with enemies. Least of all with... with
us.’

Oh for the black gondola!--the little gliding dusky chamber for two;
instead of this open, flaunting, gold and crimson cotton-work, which
exacted discretion on his part and that of the mannerly gondoliers, and
exposed him to window, balcony, bridge, and borderway.

They slipped on beneath a red balcony where a girl leaned on her folded
arms, and eyed them coming and going by with Egyptian gravity.

‘How strange a power of looking these people have,’ said Renee, whose
vivacity was fascinated to a steady sparkle by the girl. ‘Tell me, is
she glancing round at us?’

Nevil turned and reported that she was not. She had exhausted them while
they were in transit; she had no minor curiosity.

‘Let us fancy she is looking for her lover,’ he said.

Renee added: ‘Let us hope she will not escape being seen.’

‘I give her my benediction,’ said Nevil.

‘And I,’ said Renee; ‘and adieu to her, if you please. Look for Roland.’

‘You remind me; I have but a few instants.’

‘M. Nevil, you are a preux of the times of my brother’s patronymic. And
there is my Roland awaiting us. Is he not handsome?’

‘How glad you are to have him to relieve guard!’

Renee bent on Nevil one of her singular looks of raillery. She had
hitherto been fencing at a serious disadvantage.

‘Not so very glad,’ she said, ‘if that deprived me of the presence of
his friend.’

Roland was her tower. But Roland was not yet on board. She had peeped
from her citadel too rashly. Nevil had time to spring the flood of
crimson in her cheeks, bright as the awning she reclined under.

‘Would you have me with you always?’

‘Assuredly,’ said she, feeling the hawk in him, and trying to baffle him
by fluttering.

‘Always? forever? and--listen-give me a title?’

Renee sang out to Roland like a bird in distress, and had some trouble
not to appear too providentially rescued. Roland on board, she resumed
the attack.

‘M. Nevil vows he is a better brother to me than you, who dart away on
an impulse and leave us threading all Venice till we do not know where
we are, naughty brother!’

‘My little sister, the spot where you are,’ rejoined Roland, ‘is
precisely the spot where I left you, and I defy you to say you have gone
on without me. This is the identical riva I stepped out on to buy you a
packet of Venetian ballads.’

They recognized the spot, and for a confirmation of the surprising
statement, Roland unrolled several sheets of printed blotting-paper, and
rapidly read part of a Canzonetta concerning Una Giovine who reproved
her lover for his extreme addiction to wine:

            ‘Ma se, ma se,
             Cotanto beve,
             Mi no, mi no,
             No ve sposero.’

‘This astounding vagabond preferred Nostrani to his heart’s mistress.
I tasted some of their Nostrani to see if it could be possible for a
Frenchman to exonerate him.’

Roland’s wry face at the mention of Nostrani brought out the chief
gondolier, who delivered himself:

‘Signore, there be hereditary qualifications. One must be born Italian
to appreciate the merits of Nostrani!’

Roland laughed. He had covered his delinquency in leaving his sister,
and was full of an adventure to relate to Nevil, a story promising well
for him.



CHAPTER VII. AN AWAKENING FOR BOTH

Renee was downcast. Had she not coquetted? The dear young Englishman
had reduced her to defend herself, the which fair ladies, like besieged
garrisons, cannot always do successfully without an attack at times,
which, when the pursuer is ardent, is followed by a retreat, which is
a provocation; and these things are coquettry. Her still fresh
convent-conscience accused her of it pitilessly. She could not forgive
her brother, and yet she dared not reproach him, for that would have
inculpated Nevil. She stepped on to the Piazzetta thoughtfully. Her
father was at Florian’s, perusing letters from France. ‘We are to
have the marquis here in a week, my child,’ he said. Renee nodded.
Involuntarily she looked at Nevil. He caught the look, with a lover’s
quick sense of misfortune in it.

She heard her brother reply to him: ‘Who? the Marquis de Rouaillout? It
is a jolly gaillard of fifty who spoils no fun.’

‘You mistake his age, Roland,’ she said.

‘Forty-nine, then, my sister.’

‘He is not that.’

‘He looks it.’

‘You have been absent.’

‘Probably, my arithmetical sister, he has employed the interval to grow
younger. They say it is the way with green gentlemen of a certain
age. They advance and they retire. They perform the first steps of a
quadrille ceremoniously, and we admire them.’

‘What’s that?’ exclaimed the Comte de Croisnel. ‘You talk nonsense,
Roland. M. le marquis is hardly past forty. He is in his prime.’

‘Without question, mon pere. For me, I was merely offering proof that he
can preserve his prime unlimitedly.’

‘He is not a subject for mockery, Roland.’

‘Quite the contrary; for reverence!’

‘Another than you, my boy, and he would march you out.’

‘I am to imagine, then, that his hand continues firm?’

‘Imagine to the extent of your capacity; but remember that respect
is always owing to your own family, and deliberate before you draw on
yourself such a chastisement as mercy from an accepted member of it.’

Roland bowed and drummed on his knee.

The conversation had been originated by Renee for the enlightenment of
Nevil and as a future protection to herself. Now that it had disclosed
its burden she could look at him no more, and when her father addressed
her significantly: ‘Marquise, you did me the honour to consent to
accompany me to the Church of the Frari this afternoon?’ she felt her
self-accusation of coquettry biting under her bosom like a thing alive.

Roland explained the situation to Nevil.

‘It is the mania with us, my dear Nevil, to marry our girls young to
established men. Your established man carries usually all the signs,
visible to the multitude or not, of the stages leading to that eminence.
We cannot, I believe, unless we have the good fortune to boast the
paternity of Hercules, disconnect ourselves from the steps we have
mounted; not even, the priests inform us, if we are ascending to heaven;
we carry them beyond the grave. However, it seems that our excellent
marquis contrives to keep them concealed, and he is ready to face
marriage--the Grandest Inquisitor, next to Death. Two furious
matchmakers--our country, beautiful France, abounds in them--met one
day; they were a comtesse and a baronne, and they settled the alliance.
The bell was rung, and Renee came out of school. There is this to
be said: she has no mother; the sooner a girl without a mother has a
husband the better. That we are all agreed upon. I have no personal
objection to the marquis; he has never been in any great scandals. He
is Norman, and has estates in Normandy, Dauphiny, Touraine; he is
hospitable, luxurious. Renee will have a fine hotel in Paris. But I am
eccentric: I have read in our old Fabliaux of December and May. Say the
marquis is November, say October; he is still some distance removed from
the plump Spring month. And we in our family have wits and passions.
In fine, a bud of a rose in an old gentleman’s button-hole! it is a
challenge to the whole world of youth; and if the bud should leap?
Enough of this matter, friend Nevil; but sometimes a friend must allow
himself to be bothered. I have perfect confidence in my sister, you
see; I simply protest against her being exposed to... You know men. I
protest, that is, in the privacy of my cigar-case, for I have no chance
elsewhere. The affair is on wheels. The very respectable matchmakers
have kindled the marquis on the one hand, and my father on the other,
and Renee passes obediently from the latter to the former. In India they
sacrifice the widows, in France the virgins.’

Roland proceeded to relate his adventure. Nevil’s inattention piqued him
to salt and salt it wonderfully, until the old story of He and She
had an exciting savour in its introductory chapter; but his friend
was flying through the circles of the Inferno, and the babble of an
ephemeral upper world simply affected him by its contrast with the
overpowering horrors, repugnances, despairs, pities, rushing at him,
surcharging his senses. Those that live much by the heart in their youth
have sharp foretastes of the issues imaged for the soul. St. Mark’s
was in a minute struck black for him. He neither felt the sunlight nor
understood why column and campanile rose, nor why the islands basked,
and boats and people moved. All were as remote little bits of mechanism.

Nevil escaped, and walked in the direction of the Frari down calle and
campiello. Only to see her--to compare her with the Renee of the past
hour! But that Renee had been all the while a feast of delusion; she
could never be resuscitated in the shape he had known, not even clearly
visioned. Not a day of her, not an hour, not a single look had been his
own. She had been sold when he first beheld her, and should, he muttered
austerely, have been ticketed the property of a middle-aged man, a
worn-out French marquis, whom she had agreed to marry, unwooed, without
love--the creature of a transaction. But she was innocent, she was
unaware of the sin residing in a loveless marriage; and this restored
her to him somewhat as a drowned body is given back to mourners.

After aimless walking he found himself on the Zattere, where the lonely
Giudecca lies in front, covering mud and marsh and lagune-flames of
later afternoon, and you have sight of the high mainland hills which
seem to fling forth one over other to a golden sea-cape.

Midway on this unadorned Zattere, with its young trees and spots of
shade, he was met by Renee and her father. Their gondola was below,
close to the riva, and the count said, ‘She is tired of standing gazing
at pictures. There is a Veronese in one of the churches of the Giudecca
opposite. Will you, M. Nevil, act as parade-escort to her here for half
an hour, while I go over? Renee complains that she loses the vulgar art
of walking in her complaisant attention to the fine Arts. I weary my
poor child.’

Renee protested in a rapid chatter.

‘Must I avow it?’ said the count; ‘she damps my enthusiasm a little.’

Nevil mutely accepted the office.

Twice that day was she surrendered to him: once in his ignorance, when
time appeared an expanse of many sunny fields. On this occasion it
puffed steam; yet, after seeing the count embark, he commenced the
parade in silence.

‘This is a nice walk,’ said Renee; ‘we have not the steps of the Riva
dei Schiavoni. It is rather melancholy though. How did you discover it?
I persuaded my papa to send the gondola round, and walk till we came to
the water. Tell me about the Giudecca.’

‘The Giudecca was a place kept apart for the Jews, I believe. You have
seen their burial-ground on the Lido. Those are, I think, the Euganean
hills. You are fond of Petrarch.’

‘M. Nevil, omitting the allusion to the poet, you have, permit me to
remark, the brevity without the precision of an accredited guide to
notabilities.’

‘I tell you what I know,’ said Nevil, brooding on the finished tone and
womanly aplomb of her language. It made him forget that she was a girl
entrusted to his guardianship. His heart came out.

‘Renee, if you loved him, I, on my honour, would not utter a word for
myself. Your heart’s inclinations are sacred for me. I would stand by,
and be your friend and his. If he were young, that I might see a chance
of it!’

She murmured, ‘You should not have listened to Roland.’

‘Roland should have warned me. How could I be near you and not... But I
am nothing. Forget me; do not think I speak interestedly, except to
save the dearest I have ever known from certain wretchedness. To yield
yourself hand and foot for life! I warn you that it must end miserably.
Your countrywomen... You have the habit in France; but like what are
you treated? You! none like you in the whole world! You consent to be
extinguished. And I have to look on! Listen to me now.’

Renee glanced at the gondola conveying her father. And he has not yet
landed! she thought, and said, ‘Do you pretend to judge of my welfare
better than my papa?’

‘Yes; in this. He follows a fashion. You submit to it. His anxiety is
to provide for you. But I know the system is cursed by nature, and that
means by heaven.’

‘Because it is not English?’

‘O Renee, my beloved for ever! Well, then, tell me, tell me you can
say with pride and happiness that the Marquis de Rouaillout is to be
your--there’s the word--husband!’

Renee looked across the water.

‘Friend, if my father knew you were asking me!’

‘I will speak to him.’

‘Useless.’

‘He is generous, he loves you.’

‘He cannot break an engagement binding his honour.’

‘Would you, Renee, would you--it must be said--consent to have it known
to him--I beg for more than life--that your are not averse... that you
support me?’

His failing breath softened the bluntness.

She replied, ‘I would not have him ever break an engagement binding his
honour.’

‘You stretch the point of honour.’

‘It is our way. Dear friend, we are French. And I presume to think that
our French system is not always wrong, for if my father had not broken
it by treating you as one of us and leaving me with you, should I have
heard...?’

‘I have displeased you.’

‘Do not suppose that. But, I mean, a mother would not have left me.’

‘You wished to avoid it.’

‘Do not blame me. I had some instinct; you were very pale.’

‘You knew I loved you.’

‘No.’

‘Yes; for this morning...’

This morning it seemed to me, and I regretted my fancy, that you were
inclined to trifle, as, they say, young men do.’

‘With Renee?’

‘With your friend Renee. And those are the hills of Petrarch’s tomb?
They are mountains.’

They were purple beneath a large brooding cloud that hung against the
sun, waiting for him to enfold him, and Nevil thought that a tomb there
would be a welcome end, if he might lift Renee in one wild flight over
the chasm gaping for her. He had no language for thoughts of such a
kind, only tumultuous feeling.

She was immoveable, in perfect armour.

He said despairingly, ‘Can you have realized what you are consenting
to?’

She answered, ‘It is my duty.’

‘Your duty! it’s like taking up a dice-box, and flinging once, to
certain ruin!’

‘I must oppose my father to you, friend. Do you not understand duty to
parents? They say the English are full of the idea of duty.’

‘Duty to country, duty to oaths and obligations; but with us the heart
is free to choose.’

‘Free to choose, and when it is most ignorant?’

‘The heart? ask it. Nothing is surer.’

‘That is not what we are taught. We are taught that the heart deceives
itself. The heart throws your dicebox; not prudent parents.’

She talked like a woman, to plead the cause of her obedience as a girl,
and now silenced in the same manner that she had previously excited him.

‘Then you are lost to me,’ he said.

They saw the gondola returning.

‘How swiftly it comes home; it loitered when it went,’ said Renee.
‘There sits my father, brimming with his picture; he has seen one more!
We will congratulate him. This little boulevard is not much to speak of.
The hills are lovely. Friend,’ she dropped her voice on the gondola’s
approach, ‘we have conversed on common subjects.’

Nevil had her hand in his, to place her in the gondola.

She seemed thankful that he should prefer to go round on foot. At least,
she did not join in her father’s invitation to him. She leaned back,
nestling her chin and half closing her eyes, suffering herself to be
divided from him, borne away by forces she acquiesced in.

Roland was not visible till near midnight on the Piazza. The
promenaders, chiefly military of the garrison, were few at that period
of social protestation, and he could declare his disappointment aloud,
ringingly, as he strolled up to Nevil, looking as if the cigar in
his mouth and the fists entrenched in his wide trowsers-pockets were
mortally at feud. His adventure had not pursued its course luminously.
He had expected romance, and had met merchandize, and his vanity was
offended. To pacify him, Nevil related how he had heard that since the
Venetian rising of ‘49, Venetian ladies had issued from the ordeal of
fire and famine of another pattern than the famous old Benzon one, in
which they touched earthiest earth. He praised Republicanism for that.
The spirit of the new and short-lived Republic wrought that change in
Venice.

‘Oh, if they’re republican as well as utterly decayed,’ said Roland, ‘I
give them up; let them die virtuous.’

Nevil told Roland that he had spoken to Renee. He won sympathy, but
Roland could not give him encouragement. They crossed and recrossed the
shadow of the great campanile, on the warm-white stones of the square,
Nevil admitting the weight of whatsoever Roland pointed to him in
favour of the arrangement according to French notions, and indeed, of
aristocratic notions everywhere, saving that it was imperative for
Renee to be disposed of in marriage early. Why rob her of her young
springtime!

‘French girls,’ replied Roland, confused by the nature of the
explication in his head--‘well, they’re not English; they want a hand to
shape them, otherwise they grow all awry. My father will not have one of
her aunts to live with him, so there she is. But, my dear Nevil, I owe
my life to you, and I was no party to this affair. I would do anything
to help you. What says Renee?’

‘She obeys.’

‘Exactly. You see! Our girls are chess-pieces until they ‘re married.
Then they have life and character sometimes too much.’

‘She is not like them, Roland; she is like none. When I spoke to her
first, she affected no astonishment; never was there a creature so nobly
sincere. She’s a girl in heart, not in mind. Think of her sacrificed to
this man thrice her age!’

‘She differs from other girls only on the surface, Nevil. As for the
man, I wish she were going to marry a younger. I wish, yes, my friend,’
Roland squeezed Nevil’s hand, ‘I wish! I’m afraid it’s hopeless. She did
not tell you to hope?’

‘Not by one single sign,’ said Nevil.

‘You see, my friend!’

‘For that reason,’ Nevil rejoined, with the calm fanaticism of the
passion of love, ‘I hope all the more... because I will not believe that
she, so pure and good, can be sacrificed. Put me aside--I am nothing. I
hope to save her from that.’

‘We have now,’ said Roland, ‘struck the current of duplicity. You are
really in love, my poor fellow.’

Lover and friend came to no conclusion, except that so lovely a night
was not given for slumber. A small round brilliant moon hung almost
globed in the depths of heaven, and the image of it fell deep between
San Giorgio and the Dogana.

Renee had the scene from her window, like a dream given out of sleep.
She lay with both arms thrown up beneath her head on the pillow, her
eyelids wide open, and her visage set and stern. Her bosom rose and
sank regularly but heavily. The fluctuations of a night stormy for her,
hitherto unknown, had sunk her to this trance, in which she lay like a
creature flung on shore by the waves. She heard her brother’s voice
and Nevil’s, and the pacing of their feet. She saw the long shaft of
moonlight broken to zigzags of mellow lightning, and wavering back to
steadiness; dark San Giorgio, and the sheen of the Dogana’s front.
But the visible beauty belonged to a night that had shivered repose,
humiliated and wounded her, destroyed her confident happy half-infancy
of heart, and she had flown for a refuge to hard feelings. Her
predominant sentiment was anger; an anger that touched all and enveloped
none, for it was quite fictitious, though she felt it, and suffered from
it. She turned it on Nevil, as against an enemy, and became the victim
in his place. Tears for him filled in her eyes, and ran over; she
disdained to notice them, and blinked offendedly to have her sight
clear of the weakness; but these interceding tears would flow; it was
dangerous to blame him, harshly. She let them roll down, figuring to
herself with quiet simplicity of mind that her spirit was independent
of them as long as she restrained her hands from being accomplices by
brushing them away, as weeping girls do that cry for comfort. Nevil had
saved her brother’s life, and had succoured her countrymen; he loved
her, and was a hero. He should not have said he loved her; that was
wrong; and it was shameful that he should have urged her to disobey her
father. But this hero’s love of her might plead excuses she did not know
of; and if he was to be excused, he, unhappy that he was, had a claim
on her for more than tears. She wept resentfully. Forces above her own
swayed and hurried her like a lifeless body dragged by flying wheels:
they could not unnerve her will, or rather, what it really was, her
sense of submission to a destiny. Looked at from the height of the
palm-waving cherubs over the fallen martyr in the picture, she seemed
as nerveless as a dreamy girl. The raised arms and bent elbows were an
illusion of indifference. Her shape was rigid from hands to feet, as if
to keep in a knot the resolution of her mind; for the second and in that
young season the stronger nature grafted by her education fixed her
to the religious duty of obeying and pleasing her father, in contempt,
almost in abhorrence, of personal inclinations tending to thwart him and
imperil his pledged word. She knew she had inclinations to be tender.
Her hands released, how promptly might she not have been confiding her
innumerable perplexities of sentiment and emotion to paper, undermining
self-governance; self-respect, perhaps! Further than that, she did not
understand the feelings she struggled with; nor had she any impulse to
gaze on him, the cause of her trouble, who walked beside her brother
below, talking betweenwhiles in the night’s grave undertones. Her
trouble was too overmastering; it had seized her too mysteriously,
coming on her solitariness without warning in the first watch of the
night, like a spark crackling serpentine along dry leaves to sudden
flame. A thought of Nevil and a regret had done it.



CHAPTER VIII. A NIGHT ON THE ADRIATIC

The lovers met after Roland had spoken to his sister--not exactly to
advocate the cause of Nevil, though he was under the influence of that
grave night’s walk with him, but to sound her and see whether she at
all shared Nevil’s view of her situation. Roland felt the awfulness of
a French family arrangement of a marriage, and the impertinence of a
foreign Cupid’s intrusion, too keenly to plead for his friend: at the
same time he loved his friend and his sister, and would have been very
ready to smile blessings on them if favourable circumstances had raised
a signal; if, for example, apoplexy or any other cordial ex machina
intervention had removed the middle-aged marquis; and, perhaps, if Renee
had shown the repugnance to her engagement which Nevil declared she must
have in her heart, he would have done more than smile; he would have
laid the case deferentially before his father. His own opinion was that
young unmarried women were incapable of the passion of love, being, as
it were, but half-feathered in that state, and unable to fly; and Renee
confirmed it. The suspicion of an advocacy on Nevil’s behalf steeled
her. His tentative observations were checked at the outset.

‘Can such things be spoken of to me, Roland? I am plighted. You know
it.’

He shrugged, said a word of pity for Nevil, and went forth to let his
friend know that it was as he had predicted: Renee was obedience in
person, like a rightly educated French girl. He strongly advised
his friend to banish all hope of her from his mind. But the mind he
addressed was of a curious order; far-shooting, tough, persistent, and
when acted on by the spell of devotion, indomitable. Nevil put hope
aside, or rather, he clad it in other garments, in which it was hardly
to be recognized by himself, and said to Roland: ‘You must bear this
from me; you must let me follow you to the end, and if she wavers she
will find me near.’

Roland could not avoid asking the use of it, considering that Renee,
however much she admired and liked, was not in love with him.

Nevil resigned himself to admit that she was not: and therefore,’ said
he, ‘you won’t object to my remaining.’

Renee greeted Nevil with as clear a conventional air as a woman could
assume.

She was going, she said, to attend High Mass in the church of S. Moise,
and she waved her devoutest Roman Catholicism to show the breadth of the
division between them. He proposed to go likewise. She was mute. After
some discourse she contrived to say inoffensively that people who
strolled into her churches for the music, or out of curiosity, played
the barbarian.

‘Well, I will not go,’ said Nevil.

‘But I do not wish to number you among them,’ she said.

‘Then,’ said Nevil, ‘I will go, for it cannot be barbarous to try to be
with you.’

‘No, that is wickedness,’ said Renee.

She was sensible that conversation betrayed her, and Nevil’s apparently
deliberate pursuit signified to her that he must be aware of his
mastery, and she resented it, and stumbled into pitfalls whenever she
opened her lips. It seemed to be denied to them to utter what she meant,
if indeed she had a meaning in speaking, save to hurt herself cruelly
by wounding the man who had caught her in the toils: and so long as she
could imagine that she was the only one hurt, she was the braver and the
harsher for it; but at the sight of Nevil in pain her heart relented and
shifted, and discovering it to be so weak as to be almost at his mercy,
she defended it with an aggressive unkindness, for which, in charity to
her sweeter nature, she had to ask his pardon, and then had to fib to
give reasons for her conduct, and then to pretend to herself that
her pride was humbled by him; a most humiliating round, constantly
recurring; the worse for the reflection that she created it. She
attempted silence. Nevil spoke, and was like the magical piper: she was
compelled to follow him and dance the round again, with the wretched
thought that it must resemble coquettry. Nevil did not think so, but a
very attentive observer now upon the scene, and possessed of his half of
the secret, did, and warned him. Rosamund Culling added that the French
girl might be only an unconscious coquette, for she was young. The
critic would not undertake to pronounce on her suggestion, whether the
candour apparent in merely coquettish instincts was not more dangerous
than a battery of the arts of the sex. She had heard Nevil’s frank
confession, and seen Renee twice, when she tried in his service, though
not greatly wishing for success, to stir the sensitive girl for an
answer to his attachment. Probably she went to work transparently, after
the insular fashion of opening a spiritual mystery with the lancet.
Renee suffered herself to be probed here and there, and revealed nothing
of the pain of the operation. She said to Nevil, in Rosamund’s hearing:

‘Have you the sense of honour acute in your country?’ Nevil inquired for
the apropos.

‘None,’ said she.

Such pointed insolence disposed Rosamund to an irritable antagonism,
without reminding her that she had given some cause for it.

Renee said to her presently: ‘He saved my brother’s life’; the apropos
being as little perceptible as before.

Her voice dropped to her sweetest deep tones, and there was
a supplicating beam in her eyes, unintelligible to the direct
Englishwoman, except under the heading of a power of witchery fearful to
think of in one so young, and loved by Nevil.

The look was turned upon her, not upon her hero, and Rosamund thought,
‘Does she want to entangle me as well?’

It was, in truth, a look of entreaty from woman to woman, signifying
need of womanly help. Renee would have made a confidante of her, if she
had not known her to be Nevil’s, and devoted to him. ‘I would speak to
you, but that I feel you would betray me,’ her eyes had said. The strong
sincerity dwelling amid multiform complexities might have made itself
comprehensible to the English lady for a moment or so, had Renee spoken
words to her ears; but belief in it would hardly have survived the
girl’s next convolutions. ‘She is intensely French,’ Rosamund said to
Nevil--a volume of insular criticism in a sentence.

‘You do not know her, ma’am,’ said Nevil. ‘You think her older than she
is, and that is the error I fell into. She is a child.’

‘A serpent in the egg is none the less a serpent, Nevil. Forgive me; but
when she tells you the case is hopeless!’

‘No case is hopeless till a man consents to think it is; and I shall
stay.’

‘But then again, Nevil, you have not consulted your uncle.’

‘Let him see her! let him only see her!’

Rosamund Culling reserved her opinion compassionately. His uncle would
soon be calling to have him home: society panted for him to make much of
him and here he was, cursed by one of his notions of duty, in attendance
on a captious ‘young French beauty, who was the less to be excused
for not dismissing him peremptorily, if she cared for him at all. His
career, which promised to be so brilliant, was spoiling at the outset.
Rosamund thought of Renee almost with detestation, as a species of
sorceress that had dug a trench in her hero’s road, and unhorsed and
fast fettered him.

The marquis was expected immediately. Renee sent up a little note to
Mrs. Calling’s chamber early in the morning, and it was with an air of
one-day-more-to-ourselves, that, meeting her, she entreated the English
lady to join the expedition mentioned in her note. Roland had hired a
big Chioggian fishing-boat to sail into the gulf at night, and return
at dawn, and have sight of Venice rising from the sea. Her father
had declined; but M. Nevil wished to be one of the party, and in that
case.... Renee threw herself beseechingly into the mute interrogation,
keeping both of Rosamund’s hands. They could slip away only by deciding
to, and this rare Englishwoman had no taste for the petty overt
hostilities. ‘If I can be of use to you,’ she said.

‘If you can bear sea-pitching and tossing for the sake of the loveliest
sight in the whole world,’ said Renee.

‘I know it well,’ Rosamund replied.

Renee rippled her eyebrows. She divined a something behind that
remark, and as she was aware of the grief of Rosamund’s life, her quick
intuition whispered that it might be connected with the gallant officer
dead on the battle-field.

‘Madame, if you know it too well...’ she said.

‘No; it is always worth seeing,’ said Rosamund, ‘and I think,
mademoiselle, with your permission, I should accompany you.’

‘It is only a whim of mine, madame. I can stay on shore.’

‘Not when it is unnecessary to forego a pleasure.’

‘Say, my last day of freedom.’

Renee kissed her hand.

She is terribly winning, Rosamund avowed. Renee was in debate whether
the woman devoted to Nevil would hear her and help.

Just then Roland and Nevil returned from their boat, where they had
left carpenters and upholsterers at work, and the delicate chance for an
understanding between the ladies passed by.

The young men were like waves of ocean overwhelming it, they were
so full of their boat, and the scouring and cleaning out of it, and
provisioning, and making it worthy of its freight. Nevil was surprised
that Mrs. Culling should have consented to come, and asked her if she
really wished it--really; and ‘Really,’ said Rosamund; ‘certainly.’

‘Without dubitation,’ cried Roland. ‘And now my little Renee has no more
shore-qualms; she is smoothly chaperoned, and madame will present us tea
on board. All the etcaeteras of life are there, and a mariner’s eye in
me spies a breeze at sunset to waft us out of Malamocco.’

The count listened to the recital of their preparations with his usual
absent interest in everything not turning upon Art, politics, or social
intrigue. He said, ‘Yes, good, good,’ at the proper intervals, and
walked down the riva to look at the busy boat, said to Nevil, ‘You are
a sailor; I confide my family to you,’ and prudently counselled Renee
to put on the dresses she could toss to the deep without regrets. Mrs.
Culling he thanked fervently for a wonderful stretch of generosity in
lending her presence to the madcaps.

Altogether the day was a reanimation of external Venice. But there was a
thunderbolt in it; for about an hour before sunset, when the ladies
were superintending and trying not to criticize the ingenious efforts
to produce a make-believe of comfort on board for them, word was brought
down to the boat by the count’s valet that the Marquis de Rouaillout
had arrived. Renee turned her face to her brother superciliously. Roland
shrugged. ‘Note this, my sister,’ he said; ‘an anticipation of dates in
paying visits precludes the ripeness of the sentiment of welcome. It is,
however, true that the marquis has less time to spare than others.’

‘We have started; we are on the open sea. How can we put back?’ said
Renee.

‘You hear, Francois; we are on the open sea,’ Roland addressed the
valet.

‘Monsieur has cut loose his communications with land,’ Francois
responded, and bowed from the landing.

Nevil hastened to make this a true report; but they had to wait for tide
as well as breeze, and pilot through intricate mud-channels before they
could see the outside of the Lido, and meanwhile the sun lay like a
golden altarplatter on mud-banks made bare by the ebb, and curled in
drowsy yellow links along the currents. All they could do was to push
off and hang loose, bumping to right and left in the midst of volleys
and countervolleys of fishy Venetian, Chioggian, and Dalmatian, quite as
strong as anything ever heard down the Canalaggio. The representatives
of these dialects trotted the decks and hung their bodies half over the
sides of the vessels to deliver fire, flashed eyes and snapped fingers,
not a whit less fierce than hostile crews in the old wars hurling an
interchange of stink-pots, and then resumed the trot, apparently in
search of fresh ammunition. An Austrian sentinel looked on passively,
and a police inspector peeringly. They were used to it. Happily, the
combustible import of the language was unknown to the ladies, and
Nevil’s attempts to keep his crew quiet, contrasting with Roland’s
phlegm, which a Frenchman can assume so philosophically when his tongue
is tied, amused them. During the clamour, Renee saw her father beckoning
from the riva. She signified that she was no longer in command of
circumstances; the vessel was off. But the count stamped his foot,
and nodded imperatively. Thereupon Roland repeated the eloquent
demonstrations of Renee, and the count lost patience, and Roland
shouted, ‘For the love of heaven, don’t join this babel; we’re nearly
bursting.’ The rage of the babel was allayed by degrees, though not
appeased, for the boat was behaving wantonly, as the police officer
pointed out to the count.

Renee stood up to bend her head. It was in reply to a salute from the
Marquis de Rouaillout, and Nevil beheld his rival.

‘M. le Marquis, seeing it is out of the question that we can come to
you, will you come to us?’ cried Roland.

The marquis gesticulated ‘With alacrity’ in every limb.

‘We will bring you back on to-morrow midnight’s tide, safe, we promise
you.’

The marquis advanced a foot, and withdrew it. Could he have heard
correctly? They were to be out a whole night at sea! The count
dejectedly confessed his incapability to restrain them: the young
desperadoes were ready for anything. He had tried the voice of
authority, and was laughed at. As to Renee, an English lady was with
her.

‘The English lady must be as mad as the rest,’ said the marquis.

‘The English are mad,’ said the count; ‘but their women are strict upon
the proprieties.’

‘Possibly, my dear count; but what room is there for the proprieties on
board a fishing-boat?’

‘It is even as you say, my dear marquis.’

‘You allow it?’

‘Can I help myself? Look at them. They tell me they have given the boat
the fittings of a yacht.’

‘And the young man?’

‘That is the M. Beauchamp of whom I have spoken to you, the very pick of
his country, fresh, lively, original; and he can converse. You will like
him.’

‘I hope so,’ said the marquis, and roused a doleful laugh. ‘It would
seem that one does not arrive by hastening!’

‘Oh! but my dear marquis, you have paid the compliment; you are like
Spring thrusting in a bunch of lilac while the winds of winter blow. If
you were not expected, your expeditiousness is appreciated, be sure.’

Roland fortunately did not hear the marquis compared to Spring. He was
saying: ‘I wonder what those two elderly gentlemen are talking about’;
and Nevil confused his senses by trying to realize that one of them was
destined to be the husband of his now speechless Renee. The marquis was
clad in a white silken suit, and a dash of red round the neck set off
his black beard; but when he lifted his broad straw hat, a baldness of
sconce shone. There was elegance in his gestures; he looked a gentleman,
though an ultra-Gallican one, that is, too scrupulously finished for our
taste, smelling of the valet. He had the habit of balancing his body on
the hips, as if to emphasize a juvenile vigour, and his general attitude
suggested an idea that he had an oration for you. Seen from a distance,
his baldness and strong nasal projection were not winning features; the
youthful standard he had evidently prescribed to himself in his dress
and his ready jerks of acquiescence and delivery might lead a forlorn
rival to conceive him something of an ogre straining at an Adonis. It
could not be disputed that he bore his disappointment remarkably
well; the more laudably, because his position was within a step of the
ridiculous, for he had shot himself to the mark, despising sleep, heat,
dust, dirt, diet, and lo, that charming object was deliberately slipping
out of reach, proving his headlong journey an absurdity.

As he stood declining to participate in the lunatic voyage, and bidding
them perforce good speed off the tips of his fingers, Renee turned her
eyes on him, and away. She felt a little smart of pity, arising partly
from her antagonism to Roland’s covert laughter: but it was the colder
kind of feminine pity, which is nearer to contempt than to tenderness.
She sat still, placid outwardly, in fear of herself, so strange she
found it to be borne out to sea by her sailor lover under the eyes of
her betrothed. She was conscious of a tumultuous rush of sensations,
none of them of a very healthy kind, coming as it were from an unlocked
chamber of her bosom, hitherto of unimagined contents; and the marquis
being now on the spot to defend his own, she no longer blamed Nevil: it
was otherwise utterly. All the sweeter side of pity was for him.

He was at first amazed by the sudden exquisite transition. Tenderness
breathed from her, in voice, in look, in touch; for she accepted his
help that he might lead her to the stern of the vessel, to gaze well on
setting Venice, and sent lightnings up his veins; she leaned beside
him over the vessel’s rails, not separated from him by the breadth of a
fluttering riband. Like him, she scarcely heard her brother when for an
instant he intervened, and with Nevil she said adieu to Venice, where
the faint red Doge’s palace was like the fading of another sunset
north-westward of the glory along the hills. Venice dropped lower and
lower, breasting the waters, until it was a thin line in air. The line
was broken, and ran in dots, with here and there a pillar standing on
opal sky. At last the topmost campanile sank.

Renee looked up at the sails, and back for the submerged city.

‘It is gone!’ she said, as though a marvel had been worked; and swiftly:
‘we have one night!’

She breathed it half like a question, like a petition, catching her
breath. The adieu to Venice was her assurance of liberty, but Venice
hidden rolled on her the sense of the return and plucked shrewdly at her
tether of bondage.

They set their eyes toward the dark gulf ahead. The night was growing
starry. The softly ruffled Adriatic tossed no foam.

‘One night?’ said Nevil; ‘one? Why only one?’

Renee shuddered. ‘Oh! do not speak.’

‘Then, give me your hand.’

‘There, my friend.’

He pressed a hand that was like a quivering chord. She gave it as though
it had been his own to claim. But that it meant no more than a hand he
knew by the very frankness of her compliance, in the manner natural to
her; and this was the charm, it filled him with her peculiar image and
spirit, and while he held it he was subdued.

Lying on the deck at midnight, wrapt in his cloak and a coil of rope for
a pillow, considerably apart from jesting Roland, the recollection of
that little sanguine spot of time when Renee’s life-blood ran with his,
began to heave under him like a swelling sea. For Nevil the starred
black night was Renee. Half his heart was in it: but the combative
division flew to the morning and the deadly iniquity of the marriage,
from which he resolved to save her; in pure devotedness, he believed.
And so he closed his eyes. She, a girl, with a heart fluttering open
and fearing, felt only that she had lost herself somewhere, and she had
neither sleep nor symbols, nothing but a sense of infinite strangeness,
as though she were borne superhumanly through space.



CHAPTER IX. MORNING AT SEA UNDER THE ALPS

The breeze blew steadily, enough to swell the sails and sweep the vessel
on smoothly. The night air dropped no moisture on deck.

Nevil Beauchamp dozed for an hour. He was awakened by light on his
eyelids, and starting up beheld the many pinnacles of grey and red rocks
and shadowy high white regions at the head of the gulf waiting for the
sun; and the sun struck them. One by one they came out in crimson flame,
till the vivid host appeared to have stepped forward. The shadows on the
snow-fields deepened to purple below an irradiation of rose and pink and
dazzling silver. There of all the world you might imagine Gods to sit.
A crowd of mountains endless in range, erect, or flowing, shattered and
arid, or leaning in smooth lustre, hangs above the gulf. The mountains
are sovereign Alps, and the sea is beneath them. The whole gigantic body
keeps the sea, as with a hand, to right and left.

Nevil’s personal rapture craved for Renee with the second long breath
he drew; and now the curtain of her tent-cabin parted, and greeting him
with a half smile, she looked out. The Adriatic was dark, the Alps had
heaven to themselves. Crescents and hollows, rosy mounds, white shelves,
shining ledges, domes and peaks, all the towering heights were in
illumination from Friuli into farthest Tyrol; beyond earth to the
stricken senses of the gazers. Colour was stedfast on the massive front
ranks: it wavered in the remoteness, and was quick and dim as though
it fell on beating wings; but there too divine colour seized and shaped
forth solid forms, and thence away to others in uttermost distances
where the incredible flickering gleam of new heights arose, that soared,
or stretched their white uncertain curves in sky like wings traversing
infinity.

It seemed unlike morning to the lovers, but as if night had broken
with a revelation of the kingdom in the heart of night. While the broad
smooth waters rolled unlighted beneath that transfigured upper sphere,
it was possible to think the scene might vanish like a view caught
out of darkness by lightning. Alp over burning Alp, and around them a
hueless dawn! The two exulted they threw off the load of wonderment, and
in looking they had the delicious sensation of flight in their veins.

Renee stole toward Nevil. She was mystically shaken and at his mercy;
and had he said then, ‘Over to the other land, away from Venice!’ she
would have bent her head.

She asked his permission to rouse her brother and madame, so that they
should not miss the scene.

Roland lay in the folds of his military greatcoat, too completely happy
to be disturbed, Nevil Beauchamp chose to think; and Rosamund Culling,
he told Renee, had been separated from her husband last on these waters.

‘Ah! to be unhappy here,’ sighed Renee. ‘I fancied it when I begged her
to join us. It was in her voice.’

The impressionable girl trembled. He knew he was dear to her, and
for that reason, judging of her by himself, he forbore to urge his
advantage, conceiving it base to fear that loving him she could yield
her hand to another; and it was the critical instant. She was almost in
his grasp. A word of sharp entreaty would have swung her round to see
her situation with his eyes, and detest and shrink from it. He committed
the capital fault of treating her as his equal in passion and courage,
not as metal ready to run into the mould under temporary stress of fire.

Even later in the morning, when she was cooler and he had come to speak,
more than her own strength was needed to resist him. The struggle was
hard. The boat’s head had been put about for Venice, and they were among
the dusky-red Chioggian sails in fishing quarters, expecting momently a
campanile to signal the sea-city over the level. Renee waited for it in
suspense. To her it stood for the implacable key of a close and stifling
chamber, so different from this brilliant boundless region of air, that
she sickened with the apprehension; but she knew it must appear, and
soon, and therewith the contraction and the gloom it indicated to her
mind. He talked of the beauty. She fretted at it, and was her petulant
self again in an epigrammatic note of discord.

He let that pass.

‘Last night you said “one night,”’ he whispered. ‘We will have another
sail before we leave Venice.’

‘One night, and in a little time one hour! and next one minute! and
there’s the end,’ said Renee.

Her tone alarmed him. ‘Have you forgotten that you gave me your hand?’

‘I gave my hand to my friend.’

‘You gave it to me for good.’

‘No; I dared not; it is not mine.’

‘It is mine,’ said Beauchamp.

Renee pointed to the dots and severed lines and isolated columns of the
rising city, black over bright sea.

‘Mine there as well as here,’ said Beauchamp, and looked at her with the
fiery zeal of eyes intent on minutest signs for a confirmation, to shake
that sad negation of her face.

‘Renee, you cannot break the pledge of the hand you gave me last night.’

‘You tell me how weak a creature I am.’

‘You are me, myself; more, better than me. And say, would you not rather
coast here and keep the city under water?’

She could not refrain from confessing that she would be glad never to
land there.

‘So, when you land, go straight to your father,’ said Beauchamp, to
whose conception it was a simple act resulting from the avowal.

‘Oh! you torture me,’ she cried. Her eyelashes were heavy with tears. ‘I
cannot do it. Think what you will of me! And, my friend, help me. Should
you not help me? I have not once actually disobeyed my father, and he
has indulged me, but he has been sure of me as a dutiful girl. That is
my source of self-respect. My friend can always be my friend.’

‘Yes, while it’s not too late,’ said Beauchamp.

She observed a sudden stringing of his features. He called to the chief
boatman, made his command intelligible to that portly capitano, and
went on to Roland, who was puffing his after-breakfast cigarette in
conversation with the tolerant English lady.

‘You condescend to notice us, Signor Beauchamp,’ said Roland. ‘The
vessel is up to some manoeuvre?’

‘We have decided not to land,’ replied Beauchamp. ‘And Roland,’ he
checked the Frenchman’s shout of laughter, ‘I think of making for
Trieste. Let me speak to you, to both. Renee is in misery. She must not
go back.’

Roland sprang to his feet, stared, and walked over to Renee.

‘Nevil,’ said Rosamund Culling, ‘do you know what you are doing?’

‘Perfectly,’ said he. ‘Come to her. She is a girl, and I must think and
act for her.’

Roland met them.

‘My dear Nevil, are you in a state of delusion? Renee denies...’

‘There’s no delusion, Roland. I am determined to stop a catastrophe. I
see it as plainly as those Alps. There is only one way, and that’s the
one I have chosen.’

‘Chosen! my friend’. But allow me to remind you that you have others to
consult. And Renee herself...’

‘She is a girl. She loves me, and I speak for her.’

‘She has said it?’

‘She has more than said it.’

‘You strike me to the deck, Nevil. Either you are downright mad--which
seems the likeliest, or we are all in a nightmare. Can you suppose I
will let my sister be carried away the deuce knows where, while her
father is expecting her, and to fulfil an engagement affecting his
pledged word?’

Beauchamp simply replied:

‘Come to her.’



CHAPTER X. A SINGULAR COUNCIL

The four sat together under the shadow of the helmsman, by whom they
were regarded as voyagers in debate upon the question of some hours
further on salt water. ‘No bora,’ he threw in at intervals, to assure
them that the obnoxious wind of the Adriatic need not disturb their
calculations.

It was an extraordinary sitting, but none of the parties to it thought
of it so when Nevil Beauchamp had plunged them into it. He compelled
them, even Renee--and she would have flown had there been wings on her
shoulders--to feel something of the life and death issues present to
his soul, and submit to the discussion, in plain language of the
market-place, of the most delicate of human subjects for her, for him,
and hardly less for the other two. An overmastering fervour can do this.
It upsets the vessel we float in, and we have to swim our way out of
deep waters by the directest use of the natural faculties, without much
reflection on the change in our habits. To others not under such an
influence the position seems impossible. This discussion occurred.
Beauchamp opened the case in a couple of sentences, and when the turn
came for Renee to speak, and she shrank from the task in manifest pain,
he spoke for her, and no one heard her contradiction. She would have
wished the fearful impetuous youth to succeed if she could have slept
through the storm he was rousing.

Roland appealed to her. ‘You! my sister! it is you that consent to this
wild freak, enough to break your father’s heart?’

He had really forgotten his knowledge of her character--what much he
knew--in the dust of the desperation flung about her by Nevil Beauchamp.

She shook her head; she had not consented.

‘The man she loves is her voice and her will,’ said Beauchamp. ‘She
gives me her hand and I lead her.’

Roland questioned her. It could not be denied that she had given her
hand, and her bewildered senses made her think that it had been with
an entire abandonment; and in the heat of her conflict of feelings, the
deliciousness of yielding to him curled round and enclosed her, as in a
cool humming sea-shell.

‘Renee!’ said Roland.

‘Brother!’ she cried.

‘You see that I cannot suffer you to be borne away.’

‘No; do not!’

But the boat was flying fast from Venice, and she could have fallen at
his feet and kissed them for not countermanding it.

‘You are in my charge, my sister.’

‘Yes.’

‘And now, Nevil, between us two,’ said Roland.

Beauchamp required no challenge. He seemed, to Rosamund Culling, twice
older than he was, strangely adept, yet more strangely wise of worldly
matters, and eloquent too. But it was the eloquence of frenzy, madness,
in Roland’s ear. The arrogation of a terrible foresight that harped on
present and future to persuade him of the righteousness of this headlong
proceeding advocated by his friend, vexed his natural equanimity. The
argument was out of the domain of logic. He could hardly sit to listen,
and tore at his moustache at each end. Nevertheless his sister listened.
The mad Englishman accomplished the miracle of making her listen, and
appear to consent.

Roland laughed scornfully. ‘Why Trieste? I ask you, why Trieste? You
can’t have a Catholic priest at your bidding, without her father’s
sanction.’

‘We leave Renee at Trieste, under the care of madame,’ said Beauchamp,
‘and we return to Venice, and I go to your father. This method protects
Renee from annoyance.’

‘It strikes me that if she arrives at any determination she must take
the consequences.’

‘She does. She is brave enough for that. But she is a girl; she has
to fight the battle of her life in a day, and I am her lover, and she
leaves it to me.’

‘Is my sister such a coward?’ said Roland.

Renee could only call out his name.

‘It will never do, my dear Nevil; Roland tried to deal with his
unreasonable friend affectionately. ‘I am responsible for her. It’s your
own fault--if you had not saved my life I should not have been in your
way. Here I am, and your proposal can’t be heard of. Do as you will,
both of you, when you step ashore in Venice.’

‘If she goes back she is lost,’ said Beauchamp, and he attacked Roland
on the side of his love for Renee, and for him.

Roland was inflexible. Seeing which, Renee said, ‘To Venice, quickly,
my brother!’ and now she almost sighed with relief to think that she was
escaping from this hurricane of a youth, who swept her off her feet and
wrapt her whole being in a delirium.

‘We were in sight of the city just now!’ cried Roland, staring and
frowning. ‘What’s this?’

Beauchamp answered him calmly, ‘The boat’s under my orders.’

‘Talk madness, but don’t act it,’ said Roland. ‘Round with the boat at
once. Hundred devils! you haven’t your wits.’

To his amazement, Beauchamp refused to alter the boat’s present course.

‘You heard my sister?’ said Roland.

‘You frighten her,’ said Beauchamp.

‘You heard her wish to return to Venice, I say.’

‘She has no wish that is not mine.’

It came to Roland’s shouting his command to the men, while Beauchamp
pointed the course on for them.

‘You will make this a ghastly pleasantry,’ said Roland.

‘I do what I know to be right,’ said Beauchamp.

‘You want an altercation before these fellows?’

‘There won’t be one; they obey me.’

Roland blinked rapidly in wrath and doubt of mind.

‘Madame,’ he stooped to Rosamund Culling, with a happy inspiration,
‘convince him; you have known him longer than I, and I desire not to
lose my friend. And tell me, madame--I can trust you to be truth itself,
and you can see it is actually the time for truth to be spoken--is he
justified in taking my sister’s hand? You perceive that I am obliged
to appeal to you. Is he not dependent on his uncle? And is he not,
therefore, in your opinion, bound in reason as well as in honour to wait
for his uncle’s approbation before he undertakes to speak for my sister?
And, since the occasion is urgent, let me ask you one thing more:
whether, by your knowledge of his position, you think him entitled to
presume to decide upon my sister’s destiny? She, you are aware, is not
so young but that she can speak for herself...’

‘There you are wrong, Roland,’ said Beauchamp; ‘she can neither speak
nor think for herself: you lead her blindfolded.’

‘And you, my friend, suppose that you are wiser than any of us. It is
understood. I venture to appeal to madame on the point in question.’

The poor lady’s heart beat dismally. She was constrained to answer, and
said, ‘His uncle is one who must be consulted.’

‘You hear that, Nevil,’ said Roland.

Beauchamp looked at her sharply; angrily, Rosamund feared. She had
struck his hot brain with the vision of Everard Romfrey as with a bar
of iron. If Rosamund had inclined to the view that he was sure of his
uncle’s support, it would have seemed to him a simple confirmation
of his sentiments, but he was not of the same temper now as when he
exclaimed, ‘Let him see her!’ and could imagine, give him only Renee’s
love, the world of men subservient to his wishes.

Then he was dreaming; he was now in fiery earnest, for that reason
accessible to facts presented to him; and Rosamund’s reluctantly spoken
words brought his stubborn uncle before his eyes, inflicting a sense of
helplessness of the bitterest kind.

They were all silent. Beauchamp stared at the lines of the deck-planks.

His scheme to rescue Renee was right and good; but was he the man that
should do it? And was she, moreover, he thought--speculating on her bent
head--the woman to be forced to brave the world with him, and poverty?
She gave him no sign. He was assuredly not the man to pretend to powers
he did not feel himself to possess, and though from a personal, and
still more from a lover’s, inability to see all round him at one time
and accurately to weigh the forces at his disposal, he had gone far, he
was not a wilful dreamer nor so very selfish a lover. The instant his
consciousness of a superior strength failed him he acknowledged it.

Renee did not look up. She had none of those lightnings of primitive
energy, nor the noble rashness and reliance on her lover, which his
imagination had filled her with; none. That was plain. She could not
even venture to second him. Had she done so he would have held out. He
walked to the head of the boat without replying.

Soon after this the boat was set for Venice again.

When he rejoined his companions he kissed Rosamund’s hand, and Renee,
despite a confused feeling of humiliation and anger, loved him for it.

Glittering Venice was now in sight; the dome of Sta. Maria Salute
shining like a globe of salt.

Roland flung his arm round his friend’s neck, and said, ‘Forgive me.’

‘You do what you think right,’ said Beauchamp.

‘You are a perfect man of honour, my friend, and a woman would adore
you. Girls are straws. It’s part of Renee’s religion to obey her father.
That’s why I was astonished!... I owe you my life, and I would willingly
give you my sister in part payment, if I had the giving of her; most
willingly. The case is, that she’s a child, and you?’

‘Yes, I’m dependent,’ Beauchamp assented. ‘I can’t act; I see it. That
scheme wants two to carry it out: she has no courage. I feel that I
could carry the day with my uncle, but I can’t subject her to the risks,
since she dreads them; I see it. Yes, I see that! I should have done
well, I believe; I should have saved her.’

‘Run to England, get your uncle’s consent, and then try.’

‘No; I shall go to her father.’

‘My dear Nevil, and supposing you have Renee to back you--supposing it,
I say--won’t you be falling on exactly the same bayonet-point?’

‘If I leave her!’ Beauchamp interjected. He perceived the quality of
Renee’s unformed character which he could not express.

‘But we are to suppose that she loves you?’

‘She is a girl.’

‘You return, my friend, to the place you started from, as you did on the
canal without knowing it. In my opinion, frankly, she is best married.
And I think so all the more after this morning’s lesson. You understand
plainly that if you leave her she will soon be pliant to the legitimate
authorities; and why not?’

‘Listen to me, Roland. I tell you she loves me. I am bound to her,
and when--if ever I see her unhappy, I will not stand by and look on
quietly.’

Roland shrugged. ‘The future not being born, my friend, we will abstain
from baptizing it. For me, less privileged than my fellows, I have never
seen the future. Consequently I am not in love with it, and to declare
myself candidly I do not care for it one snap of the fingers. Let us
follow our usages, and attend to the future at the hour of its delivery.
I prefer the sage-femme to the prophet. From my heart, Nevil, I wish
I could help you. We have charged great guns together, but a family
arrangement is something different from a hostile battery. There’s
Venice! and, as soon as you land, my responsibility’s ended. Reflect,
I pray you, on what I have said about girls. Upon my word, I discover
myself talking wisdom to you. Girls are precious fragilities. Marriage
is the mould for them; they get shape, substance, solidity: that is
to say, sense, passion, a will of their own: and grace and tenderness,
delicacy; all out of the rude, raw, quaking creatures we call girls.
Paris! my dear Nevil. Paris! It’s the book of women.’

The grandeur of the decayed sea-city, where folly had danced Parisianly
of old, spread brooding along the waters in morning light; beautiful;
but with that inner light of history seen through the beauty Venice was
like a lowered banner. The great white dome and the campanili watching
above her were still brave emblems. Would Paris leave signs of an
ancient vigour standing to vindicate dignity when her fall came? Nevil
thought of Renee in Paris.

She avoided him. She had retired behind her tent-curtains, and
reappeared only when her father’s voice hailed the boat from a gondola.
The count and the marquis were sitting together, and there was a spare
gondola for the voyagers, so that they should not have to encounter
another babel of the riva. Salutes were performed with lifted hats,
nods, and bows.

‘Well, my dear child, it has all been very wonderful and uncomfortable?’
said the count.

‘Wonderful, papa; splendid.’

‘No qualms of any kind?’

‘None, I assure you.’ And madame?’

‘Madame will confirm it, if you find a seat for her.’

Rosamund Culling was received in the count’s gondola, cordially thanked,
and placed beside the marquis.

‘I stay on board and pay these fellows,’ said Roland.

Renee was told by her father to follow madame. He had jumped into the
spare gondola and offered a seat to Beauchamp.

‘No,’ cried Renee, arresting Beauchamp, ‘it is I who mean to sit with
papa.’

Up sprang the marquis with an entreating, ‘Mademoiselle!’

‘M. Beauchamp will entertain you, M. le Marquis.’

‘I want him here,’ said the count; and Beauchamp showed that his wish
was to enter the count’s gondola, but Renee had recovered her aplomb,
and decisively said ‘No,’ and Beauchamp had to yield.

That would have been an opportunity of speaking to her father without a
formal asking of leave. She knew it as well as Nevil Beauchamp.

Renee took his hand to be assisted in the step down to her father’s
arms, murmuring:

‘Do nothing--nothing! until you hear from me.’



CHAPTER XI. CAPTAIN BASKELETT

Our England, meanwhile, was bustling over the extinguished war, counting
the cost of it, with a rather rueful eye on Manchester, and soothing
the taxed by an exhibition of heroes at brilliant feasts. Of course, the
first to come home had the cream of the praises. She hugged them in a
manner somewhat suffocating to modest men, but heroism must be brought
to bear upon these excesses of maternal admiration; modesty, too, when
it accepts the place of honour at a public banquet, should not protest
overmuch. To be just, the earliest arrivals, which were such as reached
the shores of Albion before her war was at an end, did cordially
reciprocate the hug. They were taught, and they believed most naturally,
that it was quite as well to repose upon her bosom as to have stuck to
their posts. Surely there was a conscious weakness in the Spartans, who
were always at pains to discipline their men in heroical conduct, and
rewarded none save the stand-fasts. A system of that sort seems to
betray the sense of poverty in the article. Our England does nothing
like it. All are welcome home to her so long as she is in want of them.
Besides, she has to please the taxpayer. You may track a shadowy line or
crazy zigzag of policy in almost every stroke of her domestic history:
either it is the forethought finding it necessary to stir up an impulse,
or else dashing impulse gives a lively pull to the afterthought: policy
becomes evident somehow, clumsily very possibly. How can she manage an
enormous middle-class, to keep it happy, other than a little clumsily?
The managing of it at all is the wonder. And not only has she to stupefy
the taxpayer by a timely display of feastings and fireworks, she has to
stop all that nonsense (to quote a satiated man lightened in his purse)
at the right moment, about the hour when the old standfasts, who
have simply been doing duty, return, poor jog-trot fellows, and a
complimentary motto or two is the utmost she can present to them. On
the other hand, it is true she gives her first loves, those early birds,
fully to understand that a change has come in their island mother’s
mind. If there is a balance to be righted, she leaves that business to
society, and if it be the season for the gathering of society, it will
be righted more or less; and if no righting is done at all, perhaps the
Press will incidentally toss a leaf of laurel on a name or two: thus in
the exercise of grumbling doing good.

With few exceptions, Nevil Beauchamp’s heroes received the motto instead
of the sweetmeat. England expected them to do their duty; they did
it, and she was not dissatisfied, nor should they be. Beauchamp, at a
distance from the scene, chafed with customary vehemence, concerning the
unjust measure dealt to his favourites: Captain Hardist, of the Diomed,
twenty years a captain, still a captain! Young Michell denied the cross!
Colonel Evans Cuff, on the heights from first to last, and not advanced
a step! But Prancer, and Plunger, and Lammakin were thoroughly well
taken care of, this critic of the war wrote savagely, reviving an echo
of a queer small circumstance occurring in the midst of the high dolour
and anxiety of the whole nation, and which a politic country preferred
to forget, as we will do, for it was but an instance of strong family
feeling in high quarters; and is not the unity of the country founded
on the integrity of the family sentiment? Is it not certain, which the
master tells us, that a line is but a continuation of a number of dots?
Nevil Beauchamp was for insisting that great Government officers had
paid more attention to a dot or two than to the line. He appeared to be
at war with his country after the peace. So far he had a lively ally in
his uncle Everard; but these remarks of his were a portion of a letter,
whose chief burden was the request that Everard Romfrey would back him
in proposing for the hand of a young French lady, she being, Beauchamp
smoothly acknowledged, engaged to a wealthy French marquis, under the
approbation of her family. Could mortal folly outstrip a petition of
that sort? And apparently, according to the wording and emphasis of the
letter, it was the mature age of the marquis which made Mr. Beauchamp so
particularly desirous to stop the projected marriage and take the girl
himself. He appealed to his uncle on the subject in a ‘really--really’
remonstrative tone, quite overwhelming to read. ‘It ought not to be
permitted: by all the laws of chivalry, I should write to the girl’s
father to interdict it: I really am particeps criminis in a sin
against nature if I don’t!’ Mr. Romfrey interjected in burlesque of
his ridiculous nephew, with collapsing laughter. But he expressed an
indignant surprise at Nevil for allowing Rosamund to travel alone.

‘I can take very good care of myself,’ Rosamund protested.

‘You can do hundreds of things you should never be obliged to do while
he’s at hand, or I, ma’am,’ said Mr. Romfrey. ‘The fellow’s insane.
He forgets a gentleman’s duty. Here’s his “humanity” dogging a French
frock, and pooh!--the age of the marquis! Fifty? A man’s beginning his
prime at fifty, or there never was much man in him. It’s the mark of
a fool to take everybody for a bigger fool than himself-or he wouldn’t
have written this letter to me. He can’t come home yet, not yet, and he
doesn’t know when he can! Has he thrown up the service? I am to preserve
the alliance between England and France by getting this French girl for
him in the teeth of her marquis, at my peril if I refuse!’

Rosamund asked, ‘Will you let me see where Nevil says that, sir?’

Mr. Romfrey tore the letter to strips. ‘He’s one of your fellows who
cock their eyes when they mean to be cunning. He sends you to do the
wheedling, that’s plain. I don’t say he has hit on a bad advocate;
but tell him I back him in no mortal marriage till he shows a pair of
epaulettes on his shoulders. Tell him lieutenants are fledglings--he’s
not marriageable at present. It’s a very pretty sacrifice of himself he
intends for the sake of the alliance, tell him that, but a lieutenant’s
not quite big enough to establish it. You will know what to tell him,
ma’am. And say, it’s the fellow’s best friend that advises him to be
out of it and home quick. If he makes one of a French trio, he’s dished.
He’s too late for his luck in England. Have him out of that mire, we
can’t hope for more now.’

Rosamund postponed her mission to plead. Her heart was with Nevil; her
understanding was easily led to side against him, and for better reasons
than Mr. Romfrey could be aware of: so she was assured by her experience
of the character of Mademoiselle de Croisnel. A certain belief in her
personal arts of persuasion had stopped her from writing on her homeward
journey to inform him that Nevil was not accompanying her, and when she
drove over Steynham Common, triumphal arches and the odour of a roasting
ox richly browning to celebrate the hero’s return afflicted her mind
with all the solid arguments of a common-sense country in contravention
of a wild lover’s vaporous extravagances. Why had he not come with her?
The disappointed ox put the question in a wavering drop of the cheers of
the villagers at the sight of the carriage without their bleeding hero.
Mr. Romfrey, at his hall-doors, merely screwed his eyebrows; for it
was the quality of this gentleman to foresee most human events, and his
capacity to stifle astonishment when they trifled with his prognostics.
Rosamund had left Nevil fast bound in the meshes of the young French
sorceress, no longer leading, but submissively following, expecting
blindly, seeing strange new virtues in the lurid indication of
what appeared to border on the reverse. How could she plead for her
infatuated darling to one who was common sense in person?

Everard’s pointed interrogations reduced her to speak defensively,
instead of attacking and claiming his aid for the poor enamoured young
man. She dared not say that Nevil continued to be absent because he was
now encouraged by the girl to remain in attendance on her, and was more
than half inspired to hope, and too artfully assisted to deceive the
count and the marquis under the guise of simple friendship. Letters
passed between them in books given into one another’s hands with an
audacious openness of the saddest augury for the future of the pair,
and Nevil could be so lost to reason as to glory in Renee’s intrepidity,
which he justified by their mutual situation, and cherished for a proof
that she was getting courage. In fine, Rosamund abandoned her task of
pleading. Nevil’s communications gave the case a worse and worse aspect:
Renee was prepared to speak to her father; she delayed it; then the two
were to part; they were unable to perform the terrible sacrifice and
slay their last hope; and then Nevil wrote of destiny--language hitherto
unknown to him, evidently the tongue of Renee. He slipped on from
Italy to France. His uncle was besieged by a series of letters, and his
cousin, Cecil Baskelett, a captain in England’s grand reserve force--her
Horse Guards, of the Blue division--helped Everard Romfrey to laugh over
them.

It was not difficult, alack! Letters of a lover in an extremity of love,
crying for help, are as curious to cool strong men as the contortions of
the proved heterodox tied to a stake must have been to their chastening
ecclesiastical judges. Why go to the fire when a recantation will save
you from it? Why not break the excruciating faggot-bands, and escape,
when you have only to decide to do it? We naturally ask why. Those
martyrs of love or religion are madmen. Altogether, Nevil’s adjurations
and supplications, his threats of wrath and appeals to reason, were an
odd mixture. ‘He won’t lose a chance while there’s breath in his body,’
Everard said, quite good-humouredly, though he deplored that the chance
for the fellow to make his hero-parade in society, and haply catch an
heiress, was waning. There was an heiress at Steynham, on her way with
her father to Italy, very anxious to see her old friend Nevil--Cecilia
Halkett--and very inquisitive this young lady of sixteen was to know the
cause of his absence. She heard of it from Cecil.

‘And one morning last week mademoiselle was running away with him, and
the next morning she was married to her marquis!’

Cecil was able to tell her that.

‘I used to be so fond of him,’ said the ingenuous young lady. She had to
thank Nevil for a Circassian dress and pearls, which he had sent to her
by the hands of Mrs. Culling--a pretty present to a girl in the nursery,
she thought, and in fact she chose to be a little wounded by the cause
of his absence.

‘He’s a good creature-really,’ Cecil spoke on his cousin’s behalf. ‘Mad;
he always will be mad. A dear old savage; always amuses me. He does! I
get half my entertainment from him.’

Captain Baskelett was gifted with the art, which is a fine and
a precious one, of priceless value in society, and not wanting a
benediction upon it in our elegant literature, namely, the art of
stripping his fellow-man and so posturing him as to make every movement
of the comical wretch puppet-like, constrained, stiff, and foolish. He
could present you heroical actions in that fashion; for example:

‘A long-shanked trooper, bearing the name of John Thomas Drew, was
crawling along under fire of the batteries. Out pops old Nevil, tries
to get the man on his back. It won’t do. Nevil insists that it’s exactly
one of the cases that ought to be, and they remain arguing about it like
a pair of nine-pins while the Muscovites are at work with the bowls.
Very well. Let me tell you my story. It’s perfectly true, I give you my
word. So Nevil tries to horse Drew, and Drew proposes to horse Nevil,
as at school. Then Drew offers a compromise. He would much rather have
crawled on, you know, and allowed the shot to pass over his head; but
he’s a Briton, old Nevil the same; but old Nevil’s peculiarity is that,
as you are aware, he hates a compromise--won’t have it--retro Sathanas!
and Drew’s proposal to take his arm instead of being carried pickaback
disgusts old Nevil. Still it won’t do to stop where they are, like the
cocoa-nut and the pincushion of our friends, the gipsies, on the downs:
so they take arms and commence the journey home, resembling the best of
friends on the evening of a holiday in our native clime--two steps to
the right, half-a-dozen to the left, etcaetera.’

Thus, with scarce a variation from the facts, with but a flowery chaplet
cast on a truthful narrative, as it were, Captain Baskelett could render
ludicrous that which in other quarters had obtained honourable mention.
Nevil and Drew being knocked down by the wind of a ball near the
battery, ‘Confound it!’ cries Nevil, jumping on his feet, ‘it’s because
I consented to a compromise!’--a transparent piece of fiction this,
but so in harmony with the character stripped naked for us that it is
accepted. Imagine Nevil’s love-affair in such hands! Recovering from
a fever, Nevil sees a pretty French girl in a gondola, and immediately
thinks, ‘By jingo, I’m marriageable.’ He hears she is engaged. ‘By
jingo, she’s marriageable too.’ He goes through a sum in addition, and
the total is a couple; so he determines on a marriage. ‘You can’t get it
out of his head; he must be married instantly, and to her, because she
is going to marry somebody else. Sticks to her, follows her, will have
her, in spite of her father, her marquis, her brother, aunts, cousins,
religion, country, and the young woman herself. I assure you, a perfect
model of male fidelity! She is married. He is on her track. He knows his
time will come; he has only to be handy. You see, old Nevil believes in
Providence, is perfectly sure he will one day hear it cry out, “Where’s
Beauchamp?”--“Here I am!”--“And here’s your marquise!”--“I knew I should
have her at last,” says Nevil, calm as Mont Blanc on a reduced scale.’

The secret of Captain Baskelett’s art would seem to be to show the
automatic human creature at loggerheads with a necessity that winks at
remarkable pretensions, while condemning it perpetually to doll-like
action. You look on men from your own elevation as upon a quantity of
our little wooden images, unto whom you affix puny characteristics,
under restrictions from which they shall not escape, though they attempt
it with the enterprising vigour of an extended leg, or a pair of raised
arms, or a head awry, or a trick of jumping; and some of them are
extraordinarily addicted to these feats; but for all they do the end is
the same, for necessity rules, that exactly so, under stress of activity
must the doll Nevil, the doll Everard, or the dolliest of dolls, fair
woman, behave. The automatic creature is subject to the laws of its
construction, you perceive. It can this, it can that, but it cannot leap
out of its mechanism. One definition of the art is, humour made easy,
and that may be why Cecil Baskelett indulged in it, and why it is
popular with those whose humour consists of a readiness to laugh.

The fun between Cecil Baskelett and Mr. Romfrey over the doll Nevil
threatened an intimacy and community of sentiment that alarmed Rosamund
on behalf of her darling’s material prospects. She wrote to him,
entreating him to come to Steynham. Nevil Beauchamp replied to her
both frankly and shrewdly: ‘I shall not pretend that I forgive my uncle
Everard, and therefore it is best for me to keep away. Have no fear.
The baron likes a man of his own tastes: they may laugh together, if it
suits them; he never could be guilty of treachery, and to disinherit me
would be that. If I were to become his open enemy to-morrow, I should
look on the estates as mine-unless I did anything to make him disrespect
me. You will not suppose it likely. I foresee I shall want money. As
for Cecil, I give him as much rope as he cares to have. I know very well
Everard Romfrey will see where the point of likeness between them stops.
I apply for a ship the moment I land.’

To test Nevil’s judgement of his uncle, Rosamund ventured on showing
this letter to Mr. Romfrey. He read it, and said nothing, but
subsequently asked, from time to time, ‘Has he got his ship yet?’ It
assured her that Nevil was not wrong, and dispelled her notion of the
vulgar imbroglio of a rich uncle and two thirsty nephews. She was
hardly less relieved in reflecting that he could read men so soberly and
accurately. The desperation of the youth in love had rendered her one
little bit doubtful of the orderliness of his wits. After this she
smiled on Cecil’s assiduities. Nevil obtained his appointment to a ship
bound for the coast of Africa to spy for slavers. He called on his uncle
in London, and spent the greater part of the hour’s visit with Rosamund;
seemed cured of his passion, devoid of rancour, glad of the prospect of
a run among the slaving hulls. He and his uncle shook hands manfully, at
the full outstretch of their arms, in a way so like them, to Rosamund’s
thinking--that is, in a way so unlike any other possible couple of men
so situated--that the humour of the sight eclipsed all the pleasantries
of Captain Baskelett. ‘Good-bye, sir,’ Nevil said heartily; and Everard
Romfrey was not behind-hand with the cordial ring of his ‘Good-bye,
Nevil’; and upon that they separated. Rosamund would have been willing
to speak to her beloved of his false Renee--the Frenchwoman, she termed
her, i.e. generically false, needless to name; and one question quivered
on her tongue’s tip: ‘How, when she had promised to fly with you, how
could she the very next day step to the altar with him now her husband?’
And, if she had spoken it, she would have added, ‘Your uncle could not
have set his face against you, had you brought her to England.’ She felt
strongly the mastery Nevil Beauchamp could exercise even over his uncle
Everard. But when he was gone, unquestioned, merely caressed, it came
to her mind that he had all through insisted on his possession of this
particular power, and she accused herself of having wantonly helped
to ruin his hope--a matter to be rejoiced at in the abstract; but what
suffering she had inflicted on him! To quiet her heart, she persuaded
herself that for the future she would never fail to believe in him and
second him blindly, as true love should; and contemplating one so brave,
far-sighted, and self-assured, her determination seemed to impose the
lightest of tasks.

Practically humane though he was, and especially toward cattle and all
kinds of beasts, Mr. Romfrey entertained no profound fellow-feeling
for the negro, and, except as the representative of a certain amount of
working power commonly requiring the whip to wind it up, he inclined
to despise that black spot in the creation, with which our civilization
should never have had anything to do. So he pronounced his mind, and
the long habit of listening to oracles might grow us ears to hear and
discover a meaning in it. Nevil’s captures and releases of the grinning
freights amused him for awhile. He compared them to strings of bananas,
and presently put the vision of the whole business aside by talking of
Nevil’s banana-wreath. He desired to have Nevil out of it. He and Cecil
handed Nevil in his banana-wreath about to their friends. Nevil, in
his banana-wreath, was set preaching ‘humanitomtity.’ At any rate, they
contrived to keep the remembrance of Nevil Beauchamp alive during the
period of his disappearance from the world, and in so doing they did him
a service.

There is a pause between the descent of a diver and his return to the
surface, when those who would not have him forgotten by the better world
above him do rightly to relate anecdotes of him, if they can, and
to provoke laughter at him. The encouragement of the humane sense of
superiority over an object of interest, which laughter gives, is good
for the object; and besides, if you begin to tell sly stories of one in
the deeps who is holding his breath to fetch a pearl or two for you all,
you divert a particular sympathetic oppression of the chest, that the
extremely sensitive are apt to suffer from, and you dispose the larger
number to keep in mind a person they no longer see. Otherwise it is
likely that he will, very shortly after he has made his plunge, fatigue
the contemplative brains above, and be shuffled off them, even as great
ocean smoothes away the dear vanished man’s immediate circle of
foam, and rapidly confounds the rippling memory of him with its other
agitations. And in such a case the apparition of his head upon our
common level once more will almost certainly cause a disagreeable
shock; nor is it improbable that his first natural snorts in his native
element, though they be simply to obtain his share of the breath of
life, will draw down on him condemnation for eccentric behaviour and
unmannerly; and this in spite of the jewel he brings, unless it be an
exceedingly splendid one. The reason is, that our brave world cannot
pardon a breach of continuity for any petty bribe.

Thus it chanced, owing to the prolonged efforts of Mr. Romfrey and
Cecil Baskelett to get fun out of him, at the cost of considerable
inventiveness, that the electoral Address of the candidate, signing
himself ‘R. C. S. Nevil Beauchamp,’ to the borough of Bevisham, did not
issue from an altogether unremembered man.

He had been cruising in the Mediterranean, commanding the Ariadne, the
smartest corvette in the service. He had, it was widely made known, met
his marquise in Palermo. It was presumed that he was dancing the round
with her still, when this amazing Address appeared on Bevisham’s walls,
in anticipation of the general Election. The Address, moreover, was
ultra-Radical: museums to be opened on Sundays; ominous references to
the Land question, etc.; no smooth passing mention of Reform, such as
the Liberal, become stately, adopts in speaking of that property of his,
but swinging blows on the heads of many a denounced iniquity.

Cecil forwarded the Address to Everard Romfrey without comment.

Next day the following letter, dated from Itchincope, the house of Mr.
Grancey Lespel, on the borders of Bevisham, arrived at Steynham:

‘I have despatched you the proclamation, folded neatly. The electors of
Bevisham are summoned, like a town at the sword’s point, to yield him
their votes. Proclamation is the word. I am your born representative! I
have completed my political education on salt water, and I tackle you
on the Land question. I am the heir of your votes, gentlemen!--I forgot,
and I apologize; he calls them fellow-men. Fraternal, and not so
risky. Here at Lespel’s we read the thing with shouts. It hangs in the
smoking-room. We throw open the curacoa to the intelligence and industry
of the assembled guests; we carry the right of the multitude to our
host’s cigars by a majority. C’est un farceur que notre bon petit
cousin. Lespel says it is sailorlike to do something of this sort after
a cruise. Nevil’s Radicalism would have been clever anywhere out of
Bevisham. Of all boroughs! Grancey Lespel knows it. He and his family
were Bevisham’s Whig M.P.’s before the day of Manchester. In Bevisham an
election is an arrangement made by Providence to square the accounts of
the voters, and settle arrears. They reckon up the health of their two
members and the chances of an appeal to the country when they fix the
rents and leases. You have them pointed out to you in the street,
with their figures attached to them like titles. Mr. Tomkins, the
twenty-pound man; an elector of uncommon purity. I saw the ruffian
yesterday. He has an extra breadth to his hat. He has never been known
to listen to a member under L20, and is respected enormously--like the
lady of the Mythology, who was an intolerable Tartar of virtue, because
her price was nothing less than a god, and money down. Nevil will have
to come down on Bevisham in the Jupiter style. Bevisham is downright
the dearest of boroughs--“vaulting-boards,” as Stukely Culbrett calls
them--in the kingdom. I assume we still say “kingdom.”

‘He dashed into the Radical trap exactly two hours after landing. I
believe he was on his way to the Halketts at Mount Laurels. A notorious
old rascal revolutionist retired from his licenced business of
slaughterer--one of your gratis doctors--met him on the high-road, and
told him he was the man. Up went Nevil’s enthusiasm like a bottle rid
of the cork. You will see a great deal about faith in the proclamation;
“faith in the future,” and “my faith in you.” When you become a Radical
you have faith in any quantity, just as an alderman gets turtle soup.
It is your badge, like a livery-servant’s cockade or a corporal’s sleeve
stripes--your badge and your bellyful. Calculations were gone through
at the Liberal newspaper-office, old Nevil adding up hard, and he was
informed that he was elected by something like a topping eight or nine
hundred and some fractions. I am sure that a fellow who can let himself
be gulled by a pile of figures trumped up in a Radical newspaper-office
must have great faith in the fractions. Out came Nevil’s proclamation.

‘I have not met him, and I would rather not. I shall not pretend to
offer you advice, for I have the habit of thinking your judgement can
stand by itself. We shall all find this affair a nuisance. Nevil will
pay through the nose. We shall have the ridicule spattered on the
family. It would be a safer thing for him to invest his money on the
Turf, and I shall advise his doing it if I come across him.

‘Perhaps the best course would be to telegraph for the marquise!’

This was from Cecil Baskelett. He added a postscript:

‘Seriously, the “mad commander” has not an ace of a chance. Grancey and
I saw some Working Men (you have to write them in capitals, king and
queen small); they were reading the Address on a board carried by a
red-nosed man, and shrugging. They are not such fools.

‘By the way, I am informed Shrapnel has a young female relative living
with him, said to be a sparkler. I bet you, sir, she is not a Radical.
Do you take me?’

Rosamund Culling drove to the railway station on her way to Bevisham
within an hour after Mr. Romfrey’s eyebrows had made acute play over
this communication.



CHAPTER XII. AN INTERVIEW WITH THE INFAMOUS DR. SHRAPNEL

In the High street of the ancient and famous town and port of Bevisham,
Rosamund met the military governor of a neighbouring fortress, General
Sherwin, once colonel of her husband’s regiment in India; and by him,
as it happened, she was assisted in finding the whereabout of the young
Liberal candidate, without the degrading recourse of an application at
the newspaper-office of his party. The General was leisurely walking to
a place of appointment to fetch his daughter home from a visit to an old
school-friend, a Miss Jenny Denham, no other than a ward, or a niece, or
an adoption of Dr. Shrapnel’s: ‘A nice girl; a great favourite of mine,’
the General said. Shrapnel he knew by reputation only as a wrong-headed
politician; but he spoke of Miss Denham pleasantly two or three times,
praising her accomplishments and her winning manners. His hearer
suspected that it might be done to dissociate the idea of her from the
ruffling agitator. ‘Is she pretty?’ was a question that sprang from
Rosamund’s intimate reflections. The answer was, ‘Yes.’

‘Very pretty?’

‘I think very pretty,’ said the General.

‘Captivatingly?’

‘Clara thinks she is perfect; she is tall and slim, and dresses well.
The girls were with a French Madam in Paris. But, if you are interested
about her, you can come on with me, and we shall meet them somewhere
near the head of the street. I don’t,’ the General hesitated and
hummed--‘I don’t call at Shrapnel’s.’

‘I have never heard her name before to-day,’ said Rosamund.

‘Exactly,’ said the General, crowing at the aimlessness of a woman’s
curiosity.

The young ladies were seen approaching, and Rosamund had to ask herself
whether the first sight of a person like Miss Denham would be of a kind
to exercise a lively influence over the political and other sentiments
of a dreamy sailor just released from ship-service. In an ordinary case
she would have said no, for Nevil enjoyed a range of society where faces
charming as Miss Denham’s were plentiful as roses in the rose-garden.
But, supposing him free of his bondage to the foreign woman, there was,
she thought and feared, a possibility that a girl of this description
might capture a young man’s vacant heart sighing for a new mistress.
And if so, further observation assured her Miss Denham was likely to be
dangerous far more than professedly attractive persons, enchantresses
and the rest. Rosamund watchfully gathered all the superficial
indications which incite women to judge of character profoundly. This
new object of alarm was, as the General had said of her, tall and slim,
a friend of neatness, plainly dressed, but exquisitely fitted, in the
manner of Frenchwomen. She spoke very readily, not too much, and had
the rare gift of being able to speak fluently with a smile on the mouth.
Vulgar archness imitates it. She won and retained the eyes of her hearer
sympathetically, it seemed. Rosamund thought her as little conscious as
a woman could be. She coloured at times quickly, but without confusion.
When that name, the key of Rosamund’s meditations, chanced to be
mentioned, a flush swept over Miss Denham’s face. The candour of it was
unchanged as she gazed at Rosamund, with a look that asked, ‘Do you know
him?’

Rosamund said, ‘I am an old friend of his.’

‘He is here now, in this town.’

‘I wish to see him very much.’

General Sherwin interposed: ‘We won’t talk about political characters
just for the present.’

‘I wish you knew him, papa, and would advise him,’ his daughter said.

The General nodded hastily. ‘By-and-by, by-and-by.’

They had in fact taken seats at a table of mutton pies in a pastrycook’s
shop, where dashing military men were restrained solely by their
presence from a too noisy display of fascinations before the fashionable
waiting-women.

Rosamund looked at Miss Denham. As soon as they were in the street the
latter said, ‘If you will be good enough to come with me, madam...?’
Rosamund bowed, thankful to have been comprehended. The two young
ladies kissed cheeks and parted. General Sherwin raised his hat, and was
astonished to see Mrs. Culling join Miss Denham in accepting the salute,
for they had not been introduced, and what could they have in common? It
was another of the oddities of female nature.

‘My name is Mrs. Culling, and I will tell you how it is that I am
interested in Captain Beauchamp,’ Rosamund addressed her companion. ‘I
am his uncle’s housekeeper. I have known him and loved him since he was
a boy. I am in great fear that he is acting rashly.’

‘You honour me, madam, by speaking to me so frankly,’ Miss Denham
answered.

‘He is quite bent upon this Election?’

‘Yes, madam. I am not, as you can suppose, in his confidence, but I hear
of him from Dr. Shrapnel.’

‘Your uncle?’

‘I call him uncle: he is my guardian, madam.’

It is perhaps excuseable that this communication did not cause the
doctor to shine with added lustre in Rosamund’s thoughts, or ennoble the
young lady.

‘You are not relatives, then?’ she said.

‘No, unless love can make us so.’

‘Not blood-relatives?’

‘No.’

‘Is he not very... extreme?’

‘He is very sincere.’

‘I presume you are a politician?’

Miss Denham smiled. ‘Could you pardon me, madam, if I said that I
was?’ The counter-question was a fair retort enfolding a gentler
irony. Rosamund felt that she had to do with wits as well as with vivid
feminine intuitions in the person of this Miss Denham.

She said, ‘I really am of opinion that our sex might abstain from
politics.’

‘We find it difficult to do justice to both parties,’ Miss Denham
followed. ‘It seems to be a kind of clanship with women; hardly even
that.’

Rosamund was inattentive to the conversational slipshod, and launched
one of the heavy affirmatives which are in dialogue full stops. She
could not have said why she was sensible of anger, but the sentiment
of anger, or spite (if that be a lesser degree of the same affliction),
became stirred in her bosom when she listened to the ward of Dr.
Shrapnel. A silly pretty puss of a girl would not have excited it, nor
an avowed blood-relative of the demagogue.

Nevil’s hotel was pointed out to Rosamund, and she left her card there.
He had been absent since eight in the morning. There was the probability
that he might be at Dr. Shrapnel’s, so Rosamund walked on.

‘Captain Beauchamp gives himself no rest,’ Miss Denham said.

‘Oh! I know him, when once his mind is set on anything,’ said Rosamund.

‘Is it not too early to begin to--canvass, I think, is the word?’

‘He is studying whatever the town can teach him of its wants; that is,
how he may serve it.’

‘Indeed! But if the town will not have him to serve it?’

‘He imagines that he cannot do better, until that has been decided, than
to fit himself for the post.’

‘Acting upon your advice? I mean, of course, your uncle’s; that is, Dr.
Shrapnel’s.’

‘Dr. Shrapnel thinks it will not be loss of time for Captain Beauchamp
to grow familiar with the place, and observe as well as read.’

‘It sounds almost as if Captain Beauchamp had submitted to be Dr.
Shrapnel’s pupil.’

‘It is natural, madam, that Dr. Shrapnel should know more of political
ways at present than Captain Beauchamp.’

‘To Captain Beauchamp’s friends and relatives it appears very strange
that he should have decided to contest this election so suddenly. May I
inquire whether he and Dr. Shrapnel are old acquaintances?’

‘No, madam, they are not. They had never met before Captain Beauchamp
landed, the other day.’

‘I am surprised, I confess. I cannot understand the nature of an
influence that induces him to abandon a profession he loves and shines
in, for politics, at a moment’s notice.’

Miss Denham was silent, and then said:

‘I will tell you, madam, how it occurred, as far as circumstances
explain it. Dr. Shrapnel is accustomed to give a little country feast to
the children I teach, and their parents if they choose to come, and
they generally do. They are driven to Northeden Heath, where we set up a
booth for them, and try with cakes and tea and games to make them spend
one of their happy afternoons and evenings. We succeed, I know, for the
little creatures talk of it and look forward to the day. When they are
at their last romp, Dr. Shrapnel speaks to the parents.’

‘Can he obtain a hearing?’ Rosamund asked.

‘He has not so very large a crowd to address, madam, and he is much
beloved by those that come.’

‘He speaks to them of politics on those occasions?’

‘Adouci a leur intention. It is not a political speech, but Dr. Shrapnel
thinks, that in a so-called free country seeking to be really free,
men of the lowest class should be educated in forming a political
judgement.’

‘And women too?’

‘And women, yes. Indeed, madam, we notice that the women listen very
creditably.’

‘They can put on the air.’

‘I am afraid, not more than the men do. To get them to listen
is something. They suffer like the men, and must depend on their
intelligence to win their way out of it.’

Rosamund’s meditation was exclamatory: What can be the age of this
pretentious girl?

An afterthought turned her more conciliatorily toward the person, but
less to the subject. She was sure that she was lending ear to the echo
of the dangerous doctor, and rather pitied Miss Denham for awhile,
reflecting that a young woman stuffed with such ideas would find it hard
to get a husband. Mention of Nevil revived her feeling of hostility.

We had seen a gentleman standing near and listening attentively,’ Miss
Denham resumed, ‘and when Dr. Shrapnel concluded a card was handed to
him. He read it and gave it to me, and said, “You know that name.” It
was a name we had often talked about during the war.

He went to Captain Beauchamp and shook his hand. He does not pay many
compliments, and he does not like to receive them, but it was impossible
for him not to be moved by Captain Beauchamp’s warmth in thanking him
for the words he had spoken. I saw that Dr. Shrapnel became interested
in Captain Beauchamp the longer they conversed. We walked home together.
Captain Beauchamp supped with us. I left them at half-past eleven at
night, and in the morning I found them walking in the garden. They had
not gone to bed at all. Captain Beauchamp has remained in Bevisham ever
since. He soon came to the decision to be a candidate for the borough.’

Rosamund checked her lips from uttering: To be a puppet of Dr.
Shrapnel’s!

She remarked, ‘He is very eloquent--Dr. Shrapnel?’

Miss Denham held some debate with herself upon the term.

‘Perhaps it is not eloquence; he often... no, he is not an orator.’

Rosamund suggested that he was persuasive, possibly.

Again the young lady deliberately weighed the word, as though the nicest
measure of her uncle or adoptor’s quality in this or that direction were
in requisition and of importance--an instance of a want of delicacy
of perception Rosamund was not sorry to detect. For good-looking,
refined-looking, quick-witted girls can be grown; but the nimble sense
of fitness, ineffable lightning-footed tact, comes of race and breeding,
and she was sure Nevil was a man soon to feel the absence of that.

‘Dr. Shrapnel is persuasive to those who go partly with him, or whose
condition of mind calls on him for great patience,’ Miss Denham said at
last.

‘I am only trying to comprehend how it was that he should so rapidly
have won Captain Beauchamp to his views,’ Rosamund explained; and the
young lady did not reply.

Dr. Shrapnel’s house was about a mile beyond the town, on a common of
thorn and gorse, through which the fir-bordered highway ran. A fence
waist-high enclosed its plot of meadow and garden, so that the doctor,
while protecting his own, might see and be seen of the world, as was the
case when Rosamund approached. He was pacing at long slow strides along
the gravel walk, with his head bent and bare, and his hands behind
his back, accompanied by a gentleman who could be no other than Nevil,
Rosamund presumed to think; but drawing nearer she found she was
mistaken.

‘That is not Captain Beauchamp’s figure,’ she said.

‘No, it is not he,’ said Miss Denham.

Rosamund saw that her companion was pale. She warmed to her at once; by
no means on account of the pallor in itself.

‘I have walked too fast for you, I fear.’

‘Oh no; I am accused of being a fast walker.’

Rosamund was unwilling to pass through the demagogue’s gate. On second
thoughts, she reflected that she could hardly stipulate to have news of
Nevil tossed to her over the spikes, and she entered.

While receiving Dr. Shrapnel’s welcome to a friend of Captain Beauchamp,
she observed the greeting between Miss Denham and the younger gentleman.
It reassured her. They met like two that have a secret.

The dreaded doctor was an immoderately tall man, lean and wiry,
carelessly clad in a long loose coat of no colour, loose trowsers, and
huge shoes.

He stooped from his height to speak, or rather swing the stiff upper
half of his body down to his hearer’s level and back again, like a
ship’s mast on a billowy sea. He was neither rough nor abrupt, nor did
he roar bullmouthedly as demagogues are expected to do, though his voice
was deep. He was actually, after his fashion, courteous, it could be
said of him, except that his mind was too visibly possessed by distant
matters for Rosamund’s taste, she being accustomed to drawing-room and
hunting and military gentlemen, who can be all in the words they utter.
Nevertheless he came out of his lizard-like look with the down-dropped
eyelids quick at a resumption of the dialogue; sometimes gesturing,
sweeping his arm round. A stubborn tuft of iron-grey hair fell across
his forehead, and it was apparently one of his life’s labours to get it
to lie amid the mass, for his hand rarely ceased to be in motion without
an impulsive stroke at the refractory forelock. He peered through his
eyelashes ordinarily, but from no infirmity of sight. The truth was,
that the man’s nature counteracted his spirit’s intenser eagerness and
restlessness by alternating a state of repose that resembled dormancy,
and so preserved him. Rosamund was obliged to give him credit for
straightforward eyes when they did look out and flash. Their filmy blue,
half overflown with grey by age, was poignant while the fire in them
lasted. Her antipathy attributed something electrical to the light they
shot.

Dr. Shrapnel’s account of Nevil stated him to have gone to call on
Colonel Halkett, a new resident at Mount Laurels, on the Otley river. He
offered the welcome of his house to the lady who was Captain Beauchamp’s
friend, saying, with extraordinary fatuity (so it sounded in Rosamund’s
ears), that Captain Beauchamp would certainly not let an evening pass
without coming to him. Rosamund suggested that he might stay late at
Mount Laurels.

‘Then he will arrive here after nightfall,’ said the doctor. ‘A bed is
at your service, ma’am.’

The offer was declined. ‘I should like to have seen him to-day; but he
will be home shortly.’

‘He will not quit Bevisham till this Election’s decided unless to hunt a
stray borough vote, ma’am.’

‘He goes to Mount Laurels.

‘For that purpose.’

‘I do not think he will persuade Colonel Halkett to vote in the Radical
interest.’

‘That is the probability with a landed proprietor, ma’am. We must knock,
whether the door opens or not. Like,’ the doctor laughed to himself up
aloft, ‘like a watchman in the night to say that he smells smoke on the
premises.’

‘Surely we may expect Captain Beauchamp to consult his family about so
serious a step as this he is taking,’ Rosamund said, with an effort to
be civil.

Why should he?’ asked the impending doctor.

His head continued in the interrogative position when it had resumed
its elevation. The challenge for a definite reply to so outrageous a
question irritated Rosamund’s nerves, and, loth though she was to admit
him to the subject, she could not forbear from saying, ‘Why? Surely his
family have the first claim on him!’

‘Surely not, ma’am. There is no first claim. A man’s wife and children
have a claim on him for bread. A man’s parents have a claim on him for
obedience while he is a child. A man’s uncles, aunts, and cousins have
no claim on him at all, except for help in necessity, which he can grant
and they require. None--wife, children, parents, relatives--none has a
claim to bar his judgement and his actions. Sound the conscience, and
sink the family! With a clear conscience, it is best to leave the family
to its own debates. No man ever did brave work who held counsel with his
family. The family view of a man’s fit conduct is the weak point of the
country. It is no other view than, “Better thy condition for our
sakes.” Ha! In this way we breed sheep, fatten oxen: men are dying off.
Resolution taken, consult the family means--waste your time! Those who
go to it want an excuse for altering their minds. The family view is
everlastingly the shopkeeper’s! Purse, pence, ease, increase of worldly
goods, personal importance--the pound, the English pound! Dare do that,
and you forfeit your share of Port wine in this world; you won’t be
dubbed with a title; you’ll be fingered at! Lord, Lord! is it the region
inside a man, or out, that gives him peace? Out, they say; for they have
lost faith in the existence of an inner. They haven’t it. Air-sucker,
blood-pump, cooking machinery, and a battery of trained instincts,
aptitudes, fill up their vacuum. I repeat, ma’am, why should young
Captain Beauchamp spend an hour consulting his family? They won’t
approve him; he knows it. They may annoy him; and what is the gain of
that? They can’t move him; on that I let my right hand burn. So it would
be useless on both sides. He thinks so. So do I. He is one of the men to
serve his country on the best field we can choose for him. In a ship’s
cabin he is thrown away. Ay, ay, War, and he may go aboard. But now we
must have him ashore. Too few of such as he!’

‘It is matter of opinion,’ said Rosamund, very tightly compressed;
scarcely knowing what she said.

How strange, besides hateful, it was to her to hear her darling spoken
of by a stranger who not only pretended to appreciate but to possess
him! A stranger, a man of evil, with monstrous ideas! A terribly strong
inexhaustible man, of a magical power too; or would he otherwise have
won such a mastery over Nevil?

Of course she could have shot a rejoinder, to confute him with all the
force of her indignation, save that the words were tumbling about in her
head like a world in disruption, which made her feel a weakness at
the same time that she gloated on her capacity, as though she had an
enormous army, quite overwhelming if it could but be got to move in
advance. This very common condition of the silent-stricken, unused in
dialectics, heightened Rosamund’s disgust by causing her to suppose that
Nevil had been similarly silenced, in his case vanquished, captured,
ruined; and he dwindled in her estimation for a moment or two. She felt
that among a sisterhood of gossips she would soon have found her voice,
and struck down the demagogue’s audacious sophisms: not that they
affected her in the slightest degree for her own sake.

Shrapnel might think what he liked, and say what he liked, as far as she
was concerned, apart from the man she loved. Rosamund went through these
emotions altogether on Nevil’s behalf, and longed for her affirmatizing
inspiring sisterhood until the thought of them threw another shade on
him.

What champion was she to look to? To whom but to Mr. Everard Romfrey?

It was with a spasm of delighted reflection that she hit on Mr. Romfrey.
He was like a discovery to her. With his strength and skill, his robust
common sense and rough shrewd wit, his prompt comparisons, his chivalry,
his love of combat, his old knightly blood, was not he a match, and an
overmatch, for the ramping Radical who had tangled Nevil in his rough
snares? She ran her mind over Mr. Romfrey’s virtues, down even to his
towering height and breadth. Could she but once draw these two giants
into collision in Nevil’s presence, she was sure it would save him. The
method of doing it she did not stop to consider: she enjoyed her triumph
in the idea.

Meantime she had passed from Dr. Shrapnel to Miss Denham, and carried on
a conversation becomingly.

Tea had been made in the garden, and she had politely sipped half a
cup, which involved no step inside the guilty house, and therefore no
distress to her antagonism. The sun descended. She heard the doctor
reciting. Could it be poetry? In her imagination the sombre hues
surrounding an incendiary opposed that bright spirit. She listened,
smiling incredulously. Miss Denham could interpret looks, and said, ‘Dr.
Shrapnel is very fond of those verses.’

Rosamund’s astonishment caused her to say, ‘Are they his own?’--a
piece of satiric innocency at which Miss Denham laughed softly as she
answered, ‘No.’

Rosamund pleaded that she had not heard them with any distinctness.

‘Are they written by the gentleman at his side?’

‘Mr. Lydiard? No. He writes, but the verses are not his.’

‘Does he know--has he met Captain Beauchamp?’

‘Yes, once. Captain Beauchamp has taken a great liking to his works.’

Rosamund closed her eyes, feeling that she was in a nest that had
determined to appropriate Nevil. But at any rate there was the hope and
the probability that this Mr. Lydiard of the pen had taken a long start
of Nevil in the heart of Miss Denham: and struggling to be candid, to
ensure some meditative satisfaction, Rosamund admitted to herself that
the girl did not appear to be one of the wanton giddy-pated pusses who
play two gentlemen or more on their line. Appearances, however, could
be deceptive: never pretend to know a girl by her face, was one of
Rosamund’s maxims.

She was next informed of Dr. Shrapnel’s partiality for music toward
the hour of sunset. Miss Denham mentioned it, and the doctor, presently
sauntering up, invited Rosamund to a seat on a bench near the open
window of the drawing-room. He nodded to his ward to go in.

‘I am a fire-worshipper, ma’am,’ he said. ‘The God of day is the father
of poetry, medicine, music: our best friend. See him there! My Jenny
will spin a thread from us to him over the millions of miles, with one
touch of the chords, as quick as he shoots a beam on us. Ay! on her
wretched tinkler called a piano, which tries at the whole orchestra and
murders every instrument in the attempt. But it’s convenient, like our
modern civilization--a taming and a diminishing of individuals for an
insipid harmony!’

‘You surely do not object to the organ?--I fear I cannot wait, though,’
said Rosamund.

Miss Denham entreated her. ‘Oh! do, madam. Not to hear me--I am not
so perfect a player that I should wish it--but to see him. Captain
Beauchamp may now be coming at any instant.’

Mr. Lydiard added, ‘I have an appointment with him here for this
evening.’

‘You build a cathedral of sound in the organ,’ said Dr. Shrapnel,
casting out a league of leg as he sat beside his only half-persuaded
fretful guest. ‘You subject the winds to serve you; that’s a gain. You
do actually accomplish a resonant imitation of the various instruments;
they sing out as your two hands command them--trumpet, flute, dulcimer,
hautboy, drum, storm, earthquake, ethereal quire; you have them at your
option. But tell me of an organ in the open air? The sublimity would
vanish, ma’am, both from the notes and from the structure, because
accessories and circumstances produce its chief effects. Say that
an organ is a despotism, just as your piano is the Constitutional
bourgeois. Match them with the trained orchestral band of skilled
individual performers, indoors or out, where each grasps his instrument,
and each relies on his fellow with confidence, and an unrivalled concord
comes of it. That is our republic each one to his work; all in union!
There’s the motto for us! Then you have music, harmony, the highest,
fullest, finest! Educate your men to form a band, you shame dexterous
trickery and imitation sounds. Then for the difference of real
instruments from clever shams! Oh, ay, one will set your organ
going; that is, one in front, with his couple of panting air-pumpers
behind--his ministers!’ Dr. Shrapnel laughed at some undefined mental
image, apparently careless of any laughing companionship. ‘One will do
it for you, especially if he’s born to do it. Born!’ A slap of the knee
reported what seemed to be an immensely contemptuous sentiment. ‘But
free mouths blowing into brass and wood, ma’am, beat your bellows and
your whifflers; your artificial choruses--crash, crash! your unanimous
plebiscitums! Beat them? There’s no contest: we’re in another world;
we’re in the sun’s world,--yonder!’

Miss Denham’s opening notes on the despised piano put a curb on the
doctor. She began a Mass of Mozart’s, without the usual preliminary
rattle of the keys, as of a crier announcing a performance, straight to
her task, for which Rosamund thanked her, liking that kind of composed
simplicity: she thanked her more for cutting short the doctor’s
fanatical nonsense. It was perceptible to her that a species of mad
metaphor had been wriggling and tearing its passage through a thorn-bush
in his discourse, with the furious urgency of a sheep in a panic; but
where the ostensible subject ended and the metaphor commenced, and which
was which at the conclusion, she found it difficult to discern--much as
the sheep would, be when he had left his fleece behind him. She could
now have said, ‘Silly old man!’

Dr. Shrapnel appeared most placable. He was gazing at his Authority in
the heavens, tangled among gold clouds and purple; his head bent acutely
on one side, and his eyes upturned in dim speculation. His great feet
planted on their heels faced him, suggesting the stocks; his arms
hung loose. Full many a hero of the alehouse, anciently amenable to
leg-and-foot imprisonment in the grip of the parish, has presented as
respectable an air. His forelock straggled as it willed.

Rosamund rose abruptly as soon as the terminating notes of the Mass had
been struck.

Dr. Shrapnel seemed to be concluding his devotions before he followed
her example.

‘There, ma’am, you have a telegraphic system for the soul,’ he said. ‘It
is harder work to travel from this place to this’ (he pointed at ear and
breast) ‘than from here to yonder’ (a similar indication traversed the
distance between earth and sun). ‘Man’s aim has hitherto been to
keep men from having a soul for this world: he takes it for something
infernal. He?--I mean, they that hold power. They shudder to think the
conservatism of the earth will be shaken by a change; they dread they
won’t get men with souls to fetch and carry, dig, root, mine, for them.
Right!--what then? Digging and mining will be done; so will harping and
singing. But then we have a natural optimacy! Then, on the one hand, we
whip the man-beast and the man-sloth; on the other, we seize that old
fatted iniquity--that tyrant! that tempter! that legitimated swindler
cursed of Christ! that palpable Satan whose name is Capital! by the
neck, and have him disgorging within three gasps of his life. He is the
villain! Let him live, for he too comes of blood and bone. He shall not
grind the faces of the poor and helpless--that’s all.’

The comicality of her having such remarks addressed to her provoked a
smile on Rosamund’s lips.

‘Don’t go at him like Samson blind,’ said Mr. Lydiard; and Miss Denham,
who had returned, begged her guardian to entreat the guest to stay.

She said in an undertone, ‘I am very anxious you should see Captain
Beauchamp, madam.’

‘I too; but he will write, and I really can wait no longer,’ Rosamund
replied, in extreme apprehension lest a certain degree of pressure
should overbear her repugnance to the doctor’s dinner-table. Miss
Denham’s look was fixed on her; but, whatever it might mean, Rosamund’s
endurance was at an end. She was invited to dine; she refused. She was
exceedingly glad to find herself on the high-road again, with a prospect
of reaching Steynham that night; for it was important that she should
not have to confess a visit to Bevisham now when she had so little of
favourable to tell Mr. Everard Romfrey of his chosen nephew. Whether she
had acted quite wisely in not remaining to see Nevil, was an agitating
question that had to be silenced by an appeal to her instincts of
repulsion, and a further appeal for justification of them to her
imaginary sisterhood of gossips. How could she sit and eat, how pass an
evening in that house, in the society of that man? Her tuneful chorus
cried, ‘How indeed.’ Besides, it would have offended Mr. Romfrey to
hear that she had done so. Still she could not refuse to remember Miss
Denham’s marked intimations of there being a reason for Nevil’s friend
to seize the chance of an immediate interview with him; and in her
distress at the thought, Rosamund reluctantly, but as if compelled
by necessity, ascribed the young lady’s conduct to a strong sense of
personal interests.

‘Evidently she has no desire he should run the risk of angering a rich
uncle.’

This shameful suspicion was unavoidable: there was no other opiate
for Rosamund’s blame of herself after letting her instincts gain the
ascendancy.

It will be found a common case, that when we have yielded to our
instincts, and then have to soothe conscience, we must slaughter
somebody, for a sacrificial offering to our sense of comfort.



CHAPTER XIII. A SUPERFINE CONSCIENCE

However much Mr. Everard Romfrey may have laughed at Nevil Beauchamp
with his ‘banana-wreath,’ he liked the fellow for having volunteered for
that African coast-service, and the news of his promotion by his admiral
to the post of commander through a death vacancy, had given him an
exalted satisfaction, for as he could always point to the cause of
failures, he strongly appreciated success. The circumstance had offered
an occasion for the new commander to hit him hard upon a matter of fact.
Beauchamp had sent word of his advance in rank, but requested his uncle
not to imagine him wearing an additional epaulette; and he corrected the
infallible gentleman’s error (which had of course been reported to
him when he was dreaming of Renee, by Mrs. Culling) concerning a
lieutenant’s shoulder decorations, most gravely; informing him of the
anchor on the lieutenant’s pair of epaulettes, and the anchor and star
on a commander’s, and the crown on a captain’s, with a well-feigned
solicitousness to save his uncle from blundering further. This was done
in the dry neat manner which Mr. Romfrey could feel to be his own turned
on him.

He began to conceive a vague respect for the fellow who had proved him
wrong upon a matter of fact. Beauchamp came from Africa rather worn
by the climate, and immediately obtained the command of the Ariadne
corvette, which had been some time in commission in the Mediterranean,
whither he departed, without visiting Steynham; allowing Rosamund
to think him tenacious of his wrath as well as of love. Mr. Romfrey
considered him to be insatiable for service. Beauchamp, during his
absence, had shown himself awake to the affairs of his country once
only, in an urgent supplication he had forwarded for all his uncle’s
influence to be used to get him appointed to the first vacancy in Robert
Hall’s naval brigade, then forming a part of our handful in insurgent
India. The fate of that chivalrous Englishman, that born sailor-warrior,
that truest of heroes, imperishable in the memory of those who knew him,
and in our annals, young though he was when death took him, had wrung
from Nevil Beauchamp such a letter of tears as to make Mr. Romfrey
believe the naval crown of glory his highest ambition. Who on earth
could have guessed him to be bothering his head about politics all the
while! Or was the whole stupid business a freak of the moment?

It became necessary for Mr. Romfrey to contemplate his eccentric nephew
in the light of a mannikin once more. Consequently he called to mind,
and bade Rosamund Culling remember, that he had foreseen and had
predicted the mounting of Nevil Beauchamp on his political horse one day
or another; and perhaps the earlier the better. And a donkey could
have sworn that when he did mount he would come galloping in among the
Radical rough-riders. Letters were pouring upon Steynham from men and
women of Romfrey blood and relationship concerning the positive tone
of Radicalism in the commander’s address. Everard laughed at them. As a
practical man, his objection lay against the poor fool’s choice of the
peccant borough of Bevisham. Still, in view of the needfulness of his
learning wisdom, and rapidly, the disbursement of a lot of his money,
certain to be required by Bevisham’s electors, seemed to be the surest
method for quickening his wits. Thus would he be acting as his own
chirurgeon, gaily practising phlebotomy on his person to cure him of his
fever. Too much money was not the origin of the fever in Nevil’s case,
but he had too small a sense of the value of what he possessed, and the
diminishing stock would be likely to cry out shrilly.

To this effect, never complaining that Nevil Beauchamp had not come to
him to take counsel with him, the high-minded old gentleman talked. At
the same time, while indulging in so philosophical a picture of himself
as was presented by a Romfrey mildly accounting for events and smoothing
them under the infliction of an offence, he could not but feel that
Nevil had challenged him: such was the reading of it; and he waited for
some justifiable excitement to fetch him out of the magnanimous mood,
rather in the image of an angler, it must be owned.

‘Nevil understands that I am not going to pay a farthing of his expenses
in Bevisham?’ he said to Mrs. Culling.

She replied blandly and with innocence, ‘I have not seen him, sir.’

He nodded. At the next mention of Nevil between them, he asked, ‘Where
is it he’s lying perdu, ma’am?’

‘I fancy in that town, in Bevisham.’

‘At the Liberal, Radical, hotel?’

‘I dare say; some place; I am not certain....’

‘The rascal doctor’s house there? Shrapnel’s?’

‘Really... I have not seen him.’

‘Have you heard from him?’

‘I have had a letter; a short one.’

‘Where did he date his letter from?’

‘From Bevisham.’

‘From what house?’

Rosamund glanced about for a way of escaping the question. There was
none but the door. She replied, ‘From Dr. Shrapnel’s.’

‘That’s the Anti-Game-Law agitator.’

‘You do not imagine, sir, that Nevil subscribes to every thing the
horrid man agitates for?’

‘You don’t like the man, ma’am?’

‘I detest him.’

‘Ha! So you have seen Shrapnel?’

‘Only for a moment; a moment or two. I cannot endure him. I am sure I
have reason.’

Rosamund flushed exceedingly red. The visit to Dr. Shrapnel’s house was
her secret, and the worming of it out made her feel guilty, and that
feeling revived and heated her antipathy to the Radical doctor.

‘What reason?’ said Mr. Romfrey, freshening at her display of colour.

She would not expose Nevil to the accusation of childishness by
confessing her positive reason, so she answered, ‘The man is a kind of
man... I was not there long; I was glad to escape. He...’ she hesitated:
for in truth it was difficult to shape the charge against him, and the
effort to be reticent concerning Nevil, and communicative, now that
he had been spoken of, as to the detested doctor, reduced her to some
confusion. She was also fatally anxious to be in the extreme degree
conscientious, and corrected and modified her remarks most suspiciously.

‘Did he insult you, ma’am?’ Mr. Romfrey inquired.

She replied hastily, ‘Oh no. He may be a good man in his way. He is one
of those men who do not seem to think a woman may have opinions. He does
not scruple to outrage those we hold. I am afraid he is an infidel. His
ideas of family duties and ties, and his manner of expressing himself,
shocked me, that is all. He is absurd. I dare say there is no harm
in him, except for those who are so unfortunate as to fall under his
influence--and that, I feel sure, cannot be permanent. He could not
injure me personally. He could not offend me, I mean. Indeed, I have
nothing whatever to say against him, as far as I...’

‘Did he fail to treat you as a lady, ma’am?’

Rosamund was getting frightened by the significant pertinacity of her
lord.

‘I am sure, sir, he meant no harm.’

‘Was the man uncivil to you, ma’am?’ came the emphatic interrogation.

She asked herself, had Dr. Shrapnel been uncivil toward her? And so
conscientious was she, that she allowed the question to be debated in
her mind for half a minute, answering then, ‘No, not uncivil. I cannot
exactly explain.... He certainly did not intend to be uncivil. He is
only an unpolished, vexatious man; enormously tall.’

Mr. Romfrey ejaculated, ‘Ha! humph!’

His view of Dr. Shrapnel was taken from that instant. It was, that this
enormously big blustering agitator against the preservation of
birds, had behaved rudely toward the lady officially the chief of his
household, and might be considered in the light of an adversary one
would like to meet. The size of the man increased his aspect of villany,
which in return added largely to his giant size. Everard Romfrey’s
mental eye could perceive an attractiveness about the man little short
of magnetic; for he thought of him so much that he had to think of what
was due to his pacifical disposition (deeply believed in by him) to
spare himself the trouble of a visit to Bevisham.

The young gentleman whom he regarded as the Radical doctor’s dupe, fell
in for a share of his view of the doctor, and Mr. Romfrey became less
fitted to observe Nevil Beauchamp’s doings with the Olympian gravity he
had originally assumed.

The extreme delicacy of Rosamund’s conscience was fretted by a
remorseful doubt of her having conveyed a just impression of Dr.
Shrapnel, somewhat as though the fine sleek coat of it were brushed the
wrong way. Reflection warned her that her deliberative intensely sincere
pause before she responded to Mr. Romfrey’s last demand, might have
implied more than her words. She consoled herself with the thought that
it was the dainty susceptibility of her conscientiousness which caused
these noble qualms, and so deeply does a refined nature esteem the gift,
that her pride in it helped her to overlook her moral perturbation. She
was consoled, moreover, up to the verge of triumph in her realization of
the image of a rivalling and excelling power presented by Mr. Romfrey,
though it had frightened her at the time. Let not Dr. Shrapnel come
across him! She hoped he would not. Ultimately she could say to herself,
‘Perhaps I need not have been so annoyed with the horrid man.’ It was
on Nevil’s account. Shrapnel’s contempt of the claims of Nevil’s family
upon him was actually a piece of impudence, impudently expressed, if she
remembered correctly. And Shrapnel was a black malignant, the foe of the
nation’s Constitution, deserving of punishment if ever man was; with
his ridiculous metaphors, and talk of organs and pianos, orchestras
and despotisms, and flying to the sun! How could Nevil listen to the
creature! Shrapnel must be a shameless, hypocrite to mask his wickedness
from one so clear-sighted as Nevil, and no doubt he indulged in his
impudence out of wanton pleasure in it. His business was to catch young
gentlemen of family, and to turn them against their families, plainly.
That was thinking the best of him. No doubt he had his objects to gain.
‘He might have been as impudent as he liked to me; I would have pardoned
him!’ Rosamund exclaimed. Personally, you see, she was generous. On
the whole, knowing Everard Romfrey as she did, she wished that she had
behaved, albeit perfectly discreet in her behaviour, and conscientiously
just, a shade or two differently. But the evil was done.



CHAPTER XIV. THE LEADING ARTICLE AND MR. TIMOTHY TURBOT

Nevil declined to come to Steynham, clearly owing to a dread of hearing
Dr. Shrapnel abused, as Rosamund judged by the warmth of his written
eulogies of the man, and an ensuing allusion to Game. He said that he
had not made up his mind as to the Game Laws. Rosamund mentioned
the fact to Mr. Romfrey. ‘So we may stick by our licences to shoot
to-morrow,’ he rejoined. Of a letter that he also had received from
Nevil, he did not speak. She hinted at it, and he stared. He would
have deemed it as vain a subject to discourse of India, or Continental
affairs, at a period when his house was full for the opening day of
sport, and the expectation of keeping up his renown for great bags on
that day so entirely occupied his mind. Good shots were present who had
contributed to the fame of Steynham on other opening days. Birds were
plentiful and promised not to be too wild. He had the range of the
Steynham estate in his eye, dotted with covers; and after Steynham,
Holdesbury, which had never yielded him the same high celebrity, but
both lay mapped out for action under the profound calculations of the
strategist, ready to show the skill of the field tactician. He could not
attend to Nevil. Even the talk of the forthcoming Elections, hardly to
be avoided at his table, seemed a puerile distraction. Ware the foe of
his partridges and pheasants, be it man or vermin! The name of Shrapnel
was frequently on the tongue of Captain Baskelett. Rosamund heard him,
in her room, and his derisive shouts of laughter over it. Cecil was
a fine shot, quite as fond of the pastime as his uncle, and always in
favour with him while sport stalked the land. He was in gallant spirits,
and Rosamund, brooding over Nevil’s fortunes, and sitting much alone,
as she did when there were guests in the house, gave way to her
previous apprehensions. She touched on them to Mr. Stukely Culbrett,
her husband’s old friend, one of those happy men who enjoy perceptions
without opinions, and are not born to administer comfort to other than
themselves. As far as she could gather, he fancied Nevil Beauchamp
was in danger of something, but he delivered his mind only upon
circumstances and characters: Nevil risked his luck, Cecil knew his
game, Everard Romfrey was the staunchest of mankind: Stukely had nothing
further to say regarding the situation. She asked him what he thought,
and he smiled. Could a reasonable head venture to think anything in
particular? He repeated the amazed, ‘You don’t say so’ of Colonel
Halkett, on hearing the name of the new Liberal candidate for Bevisham
at the dinner-table, together with some of Cecil’s waggish embroidery
upon the theme.

Rosamund exclaimed angrily, ‘Oh! if I had been there he would not have
dared.’

‘Why not be there?’ said Stukely. ‘You have had your choice for a number
of years.’

She shook her head, reddening.

But supposing that she had greater privileges than were hers now?
The idea flashed. A taint of personal pique, awakened by the fancied
necessity for putting her devotedness to Nevil to proof, asked her if
she would then be the official housekeeper to whom Captain Baskelett
bowed low with affected respect and impertinent affability, ironically
praising her abroad as a wonder among women, that could at one time have
played the deuce in the family, had she chosen to do so.

‘Just as you like,’ Mr. Culbrett remarked. It was his ironical habit
of mind to believe that the wishes of men and women--women as well as
men--were expressed by their utterances.

‘But speak of Nevil to Colonel Halkett,’ said Rosamund, earnestly
carrying on what was in her heart. ‘Persuade the colonel you do not
think Nevil foolish--not more than just a little impetuous. I want that
marriage to come off! Not on account of her wealth. She is to inherit a
Welsh mine from her uncle, you know, besides being an only child. Recall
what Nevil was during the war. Miss Halkett has not forgotten it, I
am sure, and a good word for him from a man of the world would, I am
certain, counteract Captain Baskelett’s--are they designs? At any rate,
you can if you like help Nevil with the colonel. I am convinced they are
doing him a mischief. Colonel Halkett has bought an estate--and what a
misfortune that is!--close to Bevisham. I fancy he is Toryish. Will you
not speak to him? At my request? I am so helpless I could cry.

‘Fancy you have no handkerchief,’ said Mr. Culbrett, ‘and give up
scheming, pray. One has only to begin to scheme, to shorten life
to half-a-dozen hops and jumps. I could say to the colonel, “Young
Beauchamp’s a political cub: he ought to have a motherly wife.”’

‘Yes, yes, you are right; don’t speak to him at all,’ said Rosamund,
feeling that there must be a conspiracy to rob her of her proud
independence, since not a soul could be won to spare her from taking
some energetic step, if she would be useful to him she loved.

Colonel Halkett was one of the guests at Steynham who knew and respected
her, and he paid her a visit and alluded to Nevil’s candidature,
apparently not thinking much the worse of him. ‘We can’t allow him to
succeed,’ he said, and looked for a smiling approval of such natural
opposition, which Rosamund gave him readily after he had expressed the
hope that Nevil Beauchamp would take advantage of his proximity to Mount
Laurels during the contest to try the hospitality of the house. ‘He
won’t mind meeting his uncle?’ The colonel’s eyes twinkled. ‘My daughter
has engaged Mr. Romfrey and Captain Baskelett to come to us when they
have shot Holdesbury.’

And Captain Baskelett! thought Rosamund; her jealousy whispering that
the mention of his name close upon Cecilia Halkett’s might have a
nuptial signification.

She was a witness from her window--a prisoner’s window, her ‘eager heart
could have termed it--of a remarkable ostentation of cordiality between
the colonel and Cecil, in the presence of Mr. Romfrey. Was it his humour
to conspire to hand Miss Halkett to Cecil, and then to show Nevil the
prize he had forfeited by his folly? The three were on the lawn a little
before Colonel Halkett’s departure. The colonel’s arm was linked
with Cecil’s while they conversed. Presently the latter received his
afternoon’s letters, and a newspaper. He soon had the paper out at a
square stretch, and sprightly information for the other two was visible
in his crowing throat. Mr. Romfrey raised the gun from his shoulder-pad,
and grounded it. Colonel Halkett wished to peruse the matter with his
own eyes, but Cecil could not permit it; he must read it aloud for them,
and he suited his action to his sentences. Had Rosamund been accustomed
to leading articles which are the composition of men of an imposing
vocabulary, she would have recognized and as good as read one in Cecil’s
gestures as he tilted his lofty stature forward and back, marking his
commas and semicolons with flapping of his elbows, and all but doubling
his body at his periods. Mr. Romfrey had enough of it half-way down
the column; his head went sharply to left and right. Cecil’s peculiar
foppish slicing down of his hand pictured him protesting that there was
more and finer of the inimitable stuff to follow. The end of the scene
exhibited the paper on the turf, and Colonel Halkett’s hand on Cecil’s
shoulder, Mr. Romfrey nodding some sort of acquiescence over the muzzle
of his gun, whether reflective or positive Rosamund could not decide.
She sent out a footman for the paper, and was presently communing with
its eloquent large type, quite unable to perceive where the comicality
or the impropriety of it lay, for it would have struck her that never
were truer things of Nevil Beauchamp better said in the tone befitting
them. This perhaps was because she never heard fervid praises of him,
or of anybody, delivered from the mouth, and it is not common to hear
Englishmen phrasing great eulogies of one another. Still, as a rule,
they do not object to have it performed in that region of our national
eloquence, the Press, by an Irishman or a Scotchman. And what could
there be to warrant Captain Baskelett’s malicious derision, and Mr.
Romfrey’s nodding assent to it, in an article where all was truth?

The truth was mounted on an unusually high wind. It was indeed a leading
article of a banner-like bravery, and the unrolling of it was designed
to stir emotions. Beauchamp was the theme. Nevil had it under his eyes
earlier than Cecil. The paper was brought into his room with the beams
of day, damp from the presses of the Bevisham Gazette, exactly opposite
to him in the White Hart Hotel, and a glance at the paragraphs gave him
a lively ardour to spring to his feet. What writing! He was uplifted as
‘The heroical Commander Beauchamp, of the Royal Navy,’ and ‘Commander
Beauchamp, R.N., a gentleman of the highest connections’: he was ‘that
illustrious Commander Beauchamp, of our matchless, navy, who proved
on every field of the last glorious war of this country that the
traditional valour of the noble and indomitable blood transmitted to his
veins had lost none of its edge and weight since the battle-axes of the
Lords de Romfrey, ever to the fore, clove the skulls of our national
enemy on the wide and fertile campaigns of France.’ This was pageantry.

There was more of it. Then the serious afflatus of the article
condescended, as it were, to blow a shrill and well-known whistle:--the
study of the science of navigation made by Commander Beauchamp, R.N.,
was cited for a jocose warranty of a seaman’s aptness to assist in
steering the Vessel of the State. After thus heeling over, to tip
a familiar wink to the multitude, the leader tone resumed its fit
deportment. Commander Beauchamp, in responding to the invitation of the
great and united Liberal party of the borough of Bevisham, obeyed the
inspirations of genius, the dictates of humanity, and what he rightly
considered the paramount duty, as it is the proudest ambition, of the
citizen of a free country.

But for an occasional drop and bump of the sailing gasbag upon
catch-words of enthusiasm, which are the rhetoric of the merely
windy, and a collapse on a poetic line, which too often signalizes the
rhetorician’s emptiness of his wind, the article was eminent for
flight, sweep, and dash, and sailed along far more grandly than ordinary
provincial organs for the promoting or seconding of public opinion, that
are as little to be compared with the mighty metropolitan as are the
fife and bugle boys practising on their instruments round melancholy
outskirts of garrison towns with the regimental marching full band under
the presidency of its drum-major. No signature to the article was needed
for Bevisham to know who had returned to the town to pen it. Those
long-stretching sentences, comparable to the very ship Leviathan,
spanning two Atlantic billows, appertained to none but the renowned Mr.
Timothy Turbot, of the Corn Law campaigns, Reform agitations, and all
manifestly popular movements requiring the heaven-endowed man of speech,
an interpreter of multitudes, and a prompter. Like most men who have
little to say, he was an orator in print, but that was a poor medium for
him--his body without his fire. Mr. Timothy’s place was the platform. A
wise discernment, or else a lucky accident (for he came hurriedly from
the soil of his native isle, needing occupation), set him on that side
in politics which happened to be making an established current and
strong headway. Oratory will not work against the stream, or on languid
tides. Driblets of movements that allowed the world to doubt whether
they were so much movements as illusions of the optics, did not suit his
genius. Thus he was a Liberal, no Radical, fountain. Liberalism had the
attraction for the orator of being the active force in politics, between
two passive opposing bodies, the aspect of either of which it can assume
for a menace to the other, Toryish as against Radicals; a trifle red in
the eyes of the Tory. It can seem to lean back on the Past; it can seem
to be amorous of the Future. It is actually the thing of the Present
and its urgencies, therefore popular, pouring forth the pure waters of
moderation, strong in their copiousness. Delicious and rapturous
effects are to be produced in the flood of a Liberal oration by a chance
infusion of the fierier spirit, a flavour of Radicalism. That is the
thing to set an audience bounding and quirking. Whereas if you commence
by tilling a Triton pitcher full of the neat liquor upon them, ‘you have
to resort to the natural element for the orator’s art of variation,
you are diluted--and that’s bathos, to quote Mr. Timothy. It was a fine
piece of discernment in him. Let Liberalism be your feast, Radicalism
your spice. And now and then, off and on, for a change, for diversion,
for a new emotion, just for half an hour or so-now and then the Sunday
coat of Toryism will give you an air. You have only to complain of the
fit, to release your shoulders in a trice. Mr. Timothy felt for his
art as poets do for theirs, and considered what was best adapted to
speaking, purely to speaking. Upon no creature did he look with such
contempt as upon Dr. Shrapnel, whose loose disjunct audiences he was
conscious he could, giving the doctor any start he liked, whirl away
from him and have compact, enchained, at his first flourish; yea, though
they were composed of ‘the poor man,’ with a stomach for the
political distillery fit to drain relishingly every private bogside
or mountain-side tap in old Ireland in its best days--the illicit, you
understand.

Further, to quote Mr. Timothy’s points of view, the Radical orator has
but two notes, and one is the drawling pathetic, and the other is the
ultra-furious; and the effect of the former we liken to the English
working man’s wife’s hob-set queasy brew of well-meant villany, that she
calls by the innocent name of tea; and the latter is to be blown, asks
to be blown, and never should be blown without at least seeming to be
blown, with an accompaniment of a house on fire. Sir, we must adapt
ourselves to our times. Perhaps a spark or two does lurk about our
house, but we have vigilant watchmen in plenty, and the house has been
pretty fairly insured. Shrieking in it is an annoyance to the inmates,
nonsensical; weeping is a sickly business. The times are against
Radicalism to the full as much as great oratory is opposed to extremes.
These drag the orator too near to the matter. So it is that one Radical
speech is amazingly like another--they all have the earth-spots. They
smell, too; they smell of brimstone. Soaring is impossible among that
faction; but this they can do, they can furnish the Tory his opportunity
to soar. When hear you a thrilling Tory speech that carries the country
with it, save when the incendiary Radical has shrieked? If there was
envy in the soul of Timothy, it was addressed to the fine occasions
offered to the Tory speaker for vindicating our ancient principles and
our sacred homes. He admired the tone to be assumed for that purpose: it
was a good note. Then could the Tory, delivering at the right season the
Shakesperian ‘This England...’ and Byronic--‘The inviolate Island...’
shake the frame, as though smiting it with the tail of the gymnotus
electricus. Ah, and then could he thump out his Horace, the Tory’s
mentor and his cordial, with other great ancient comic and satiric
poets, his old Port of the classical cellarage, reflecting veneration
upon him who did but name them to an audience of good dispositions. The
Tory possessed also an innate inimitably easy style of humour, that
had the long reach, the jolly lordly indifference, the comfortable
masterfulness, of the whip of a four-in-hand driver, capable of flicking
and stinging, and of being ironically caressing. Timothy appreciated it,
for he had winced under it. No professor of Liberalism could venture
on it, unless it were in the remote district of a back parlour, in
the society of a cherishing friend or two, and with a slice of lemon
requiring to be refloated in the glass.

But gifts of this description were of a minor order. Liberalism gave the
heading cry, devoid of which parties are dogs without a scent, orators
mere pump-handles. The Tory’s cry was but a whistle to his pack, the
Radical howled to the moon like any chained hound. And no wonder,
for these parties had no established current, they were as hard-bound
waters; the Radical being dyked and dammed most soundly, the Tory
resembling a placid lake of the plains, fed by springs and no
confluents. For such good reasons, Mr. Timothy rejoiced in the happy
circumstances which had expelled him from the shores of his native isle
to find a refuge and a vocation in Manchester at a period when an orator
happened to be in request because dozens were wanted. That centre of
convulsions and source of streams possessed the statistical orator, the
reasoning orator, and the inspired; with others of quality; and yet
it had need of an ever-ready spontaneous imperturbable speaker, whose
bubbling generalizations and ability to beat the drum humorous could
swing halls of meeting from the grasp of an enemy, and then ascend on
incalescent adjectives to the popular idea of the sublime. He was the
artistic orator of Corn Law Repeal--the Manchester flood, before
which time Whigs were, since which they have walked like spectral
antediluvians, or floated as dead canine bodies that are sucked away on
the ebb of tides and flung back on the flow, ignorant whether they be
progressive or retrograde. Timothy Turbot assisted in that vast
effort. It should have elevated him beyond the editorship of a country
newspaper. Why it did not do so his antagonists pretended to know, and
his friends would smile to hear. The report was that he worshipped the
nymph Whisky.

Timothy’s article had plucked Beauchamp out of bed; Beauchamp’s card in
return did the same for him.

‘Commander Beauchamp? I am heartily glad to make your acquaintance,
sir; I’ve been absent, at work, on the big business we have in common,
I rejoice to say, and am behind my fellow townsmen in this pleasure and
lucky I slept here in my room above, where I don’t often sleep, for the
row of the machinery--it ‘s like a steamer that won’t go, though it’s
always starting ye,’ Mr. Timothy said in a single breath, upon entering
the back office of the Gazette, like unto those accomplished violinists
who can hold on the bow to finger an incredible number of notes, and may
be imaged as representing slow paternal Time, that rolls his capering
dot-headed generation of mortals over the wheel, hundreds to the minute.
‘You’ll excuse my not shaving, sir, to come down to your summons without
an extra touch to the neck-band.’

Beauchamp beheld a middle-sized round man, with loose lips and pendant
indigo jowl, whose eyes twinkled watery, like pebbles under the
shore-wash, and whose neck-band needed an extra touch from fingers other
than his own.

‘I am sorry to have disturbed you so early,’ he replied.

‘Not a bit, Commander Beauchamp, not a bit, sir. Early or late, and ay
ready--with the Napiers; I’ll wash, I’ll wash.’

‘I came to speak to you of this article of yours on me. They tell me
in the office that you are the writer. Pray don’t “Commander” me so
much.--It’s not customary, and I object to it.’

‘Certainly, certainly,’ Timothy acquiesced.

‘And for the future, Mr. Turbot, please to be good enough not to allude
in print to any of my performances here and there. Your intentions are
complimentary, but it happens that I don’t like a public patting on the
back.’

‘No, and that’s true,’ said Timothy.

His appreciative and sympathetic agreement with these sharp strictures
on the article brought Beauchamp to a stop.

Timothy waited for him; then, smoothing his prickly cheek, remarked:
‘If I’d guessed your errand, Commander Beauchamp, I’d have called in
the barber before I came down, just to make myself decent for a ‘first
introduction.’

Beauchamp was not insensible to the slyness of the poke at him. ‘You
see, I come to the borough unknown to it, and as quietly as possible,
and I want to be taken as a politician,’ he continued, for the sake
of showing that he had sufficient to say to account for his hasty and
peremptory summons of the writer of that article to his presence. ‘It’s
excessively disagreeable to have one’s family lugged into notice in a
newspaper--especially if they are of different politics. I feel it.’

All would, sir,’ said Timothy.

‘Then why the deuce did you do it?’

Timothy drew a lading of air into his lungs. ‘Politics, Commander
Beauchamp, involves the doing of lots of disagreeable things to
ourselves and our relations; it ‘s positive. I’m a soldier of the Great
Campaign: and who knows it better than I, sir? It’s climbing the greasy
pole for the leg o’ mutton, that makes the mother’s heart ache for the
jacket and the nether garments she mended neatly, if she didn’t make
them. Mutton or no mutton, there’s grease for certain! Since it’s sure
we can’t be disconnected from the family, the trick is to turn the
misfortune to a profit; and allow me the observation, that an old
family, sir, and a high and titled family, is not to be despised for a
background of a portrait in naval uniform, with medal and clasps, and
some small smoke of powder clearing off over there:--that’s if we’re to
act sagaciously in introducing an unknown candidate to a borough that
has a sneaking liking for the kind of person, more honour to it. I’m
a political veteran, sir; I speak from experience. We must employ our
weapons, every one of them, and all off the grindstone.’

‘Very well,’ said Beauchamp. ‘Now understand; you are not in future to
employ the weapons, as you call them, that I have objected to.’

Timothy gaped slightly.

‘Whatever you will, but no puffery,’ Beauchamp added. ‘Can I by any
means arrest--purchase--is it possible, tell me, to lay an embargo--stop
to-day’s issue of the Gazette?’

‘No more--than the bite of a mad dog,’ Timothy replied, before he had
considered upon the monstrous nature of the proposal.

Beauchamp humphed, and tossed his head. The simile of the dog struck him
with intense effect.

‘There’d be a second edition,’ said Timothy, ‘and you might buy up that.
But there’ll be a third, and you may buy up that; but there’ll be a
fourth and a fifth, and so on ad infinitum, with the advertisement of
the sale of the foregoing creating a demand like a rageing thirst in
a shipwreck, in Bligh’s boat, in the tropics. I’m afraid, Com--Captain
Beauchamp, sir, there’s no stopping the Press while the people have an
appetite for it--and a Company’s at the back of it.’

‘Pooh, don’t talk to me in that way; all I complain of is the figure
you have made of me,’ said Beauchamp, fetching him smartly out of his
nonsense; ‘and all I ask of you is not to be at it again. Who would
suppose from reading an article like that, that I am a candidate with a
single political idea!’

‘An article like that,’ said Timothy, winking, and a little surer of his
man now that he suggested his possession of ideas, ‘an article like
that is the best cloak you can put on a candidate with too many of
‘em, Captain Beauchamp. I’ll tell you, sir; I came, I heard of your
candidature, I had your sketch, the pattern of ye, before me, and I was
told that Dr. Shrapnel fathered you politically. There was my brief! I
had to persuade our constituents that you, Commander Beauchamp of the
Royal Navy, and the great family of the Earls of Romfrey, one of the
heroes of the war, and the recipient of a Royal Humane Society’s medal
for saving life in Bevisham waters, were something more than the Radical
doctor’s political son; and, sir, it was to this end, aim, and object,
that I wrote the article I am not ashamed to avow as mine, and I do
so, sir, because of the solitary merit it has of serving your political
interests as the liberal candidate for Bevisham by counteracting the
unpopularity of Dr. Shrapnel’s name, on the one part, and of reviving
the credit due to your valour and high bearing on the field of battle in
defence of your country, on the other, so that Bevisham may apprehend,
in spite of party distinctions, that it has the option, and had better
seize upon the honour, of making a M.P. of a hero.’

Beauchamp interposed hastily: ‘Thank you, thank you for the best of
intentions. But let me tell you I am prepared to stand or fall with Dr.
Shrapnel, and be hanged to all that humbug.’

Timothy rubbed his hands with an abstracted air of washing. ‘Well,
commander, well, sir, they say a candidate’s to be humoured in his
infancy, for he has to do all the humouring before he’s many weeks old
at it; only there’s the fact!--he soon finds out he has to pay for his
first fling, like the son of a family sowing his oats to reap his
Jews. Credit me, sir, I thought it prudent to counteract a bit of an
apothecary’s shop odour in the junior Liberal candidate’s address. I
found the town sniffing, they scented Shrapnel in the composition.’

‘Every line of it was mine,’ said Beauchamp.

‘Of course it was, and the address was admirably worded, sir, I make
bold to say it to your face; but most indubitably it threatened powerful
drugs for weak stomachs, and it blew cold on votes, which are sensitive
plants like nothing else in botany.’

‘If they are only to be got by abandoning principles, and by anything
but honesty in stating them, they may go,’ said Beauchamp.

‘I repeat, my dear sir, I repeat, the infant candidate delights in his
honesty, like the babe in its nakedness, the beautiful virgin in her
innocence. So he does; but he discovers it’s time for him to wear
clothes in a contested election. And what’s that but to preserve the
outlines pretty correctly, whilst he doesn’t shock and horrify the
optics? A dash of conventionalism makes the whole civilized world kin,
ye know. That’s the truth. You must appear to be one of them, for them
to choose you. After all, there’s no harm in a dyer’s hand; and, sir, a
candidate looking at his own, when he has won the Election...’

‘Ah, well,’ said Beauchamp, swinging on his heel, ‘and now I’ll take
my leave of you, and I apologize for bringing you down here so early.
Please attend to what I have said; it’s peremptory. You will give me
great pleasure by dining with me to-night, at the hotel opposite.
Will you? I don’t know what kind of wine I shall be able to offer you.
Perhaps you know the cellar, and may help me in that.’

Timothy grasped his hand, ‘With pleasure, Commander Beauchamp. They have
a bucellas over there that ‘s old, and a tolerable claret, and a Port
to be inquired for under the breath, in a mysteriously intimate tone
of voice, as one says, “I know of your treasure, and the corner under
ground where it lies.” Avoid the champagne: ‘tis the banqueting wine.
Ditto the sherry. One can drink them, one can drink them.’

‘At a quarter to eight this evening, then,’ said Nevil.

‘I’ll be there at the stroke of the clock, sure as the date of a bill,’
said Timothy.

And it’s early to guess whether you’ll catch Bevisham or you won’t, he
reflected, as he gazed at the young gentleman crossing the road; but
female Bevisham’s with you, if that counts for much. Timothy confessed,
that without the employment of any weapon save arrogance and a look of
candour, the commander had gone some way toward catching the feminine
side of himself.



CHAPTER XV. CECILIA HALKETT

Beauchamp walked down to the pier, where he took a boat for H.M.S. Isis,
to see Jack Wilmore, whom he had not met since his return from his last
cruise, and first he tried the efficacy of a dive in salt water, as a
specific for irritation. It gave the edge to a fine appetite that he
continued to satisfy while Wilmore talked of those famous dogs to which
the navy has ever been going.

‘We want another panic, Beauchamp,’ said Lieutenant Wilmore. ‘No one
knows better than you what a naval man has to complain of, so I hope
you’ll get your Election, if only that we may reckon on a good look-out
for the interests of the service. A regular Board with a permanent Lord
High Admiral, and a regular vote of money to keep it up to the mark.
Stick to that. Hardist has a vote in Bevisham. I think I can get one
or two more. Why aren’t you a Tory? No Whigs nor Liberals look after us
half so well as the Tories. It’s enough to break a man’s heart to see
the troops of dockyard workmen marching out as soon as ever a Liberal
Government marches in. Then it’s one of our infernal panics again, and
patch here, patch there; every inch of it make-believe! I’ll prove to
you from examples that the humbug of Government causes exactly the same
humbugging workmanship. It seems as if it were a game of “rascals
all.” Let them sink us! but, by heaven! one can’t help feeling for the
country. And I do say it’s the doing of those Liberals. Skilled workmen,
mind you, not to be netted again so easily. America reaps the benefit of
our folly .... That was a lucky run of yours up the Niger; the admiral
was friendly, but you deserved your luck. For God’s sake, don’t forget
the state of our service when you’re one of our cherubs up aloft,
Beauchamp. This I’ll say, I’ve never heard a man talk about it as
you used to in old midshipmite days, whole watches through--don’t you
remember? on the North American station, and in the Black Sea, and the
Mediterranean. And that girl at Malta! I wonder what has become of
her? What a beauty she was! I dare say she wasn’t so fine a girl as the
Armenian you unearthed on the Bosphorus, but she had something about her
a fellow can’t forget. That was a lovely creature coming down the
hills over Granada on her mule. Ay, we’ve seen handsome women, Nevil
Beauchamp. But you always were lucky, invariably, and I should bet on
you for the Election.’

‘Canvass for me, Jack,’ said Beauchamp, smiling at his friend’s
unconscious double-skeining of subjects. ‘If I turn out as good a
politician as you are a seaman, I shall do. Pounce on Hardist’s vote
without losing a day. I would go to him, but I’ve missed the Halketts
twice. They ‘re on the Otley river, at a place called Mount Laurels, and
I particularly want to see the colonel. Can you give me a boat there,
and come?’

‘Certainly,’ said Wilmore. ‘I’ve danced there with the lady, the
handsomest girl, English style, of her time. And come, come, our English
style’s the best. It wears best, it looks best. Foreign women... they’re
capital to flirt with. But a girl like Cecilia Halkett--one can’t call
her a girl, and it won’t do to say Goddess, and queen and charmer are
out of the question, though she’s both, and angel into the bargain; but,
by George! what a woman to call wife, you say; and a man attached to a
woman like that never can let himself look small. No such luck for me;
only I swear if I stood between a good and a bad action, the thought of
that girl would keep me straight, and I’ve only danced with her once!’

Not long after sketching this rough presentation of the lady, with a
masculine hand, Wilmore was able to point to her in person on the deck
of her father’s yacht, the Esperanza, standing out of Otley river. There
was a gallant splendour in the vessel that threw a touch of glory on its
mistress in the minds of the two young naval officers, as they pulled
for her in the ship’s gig.

Wilmore sang out, ‘Give way, men!’

The sailors bent to their oars, and presently the schooner’s head was
put to the wind.

‘She sees we’re giving chase,’ Wilmore said. ‘She can’t be expecting me,
so it must be you. No, the colonel doesn’t race her. They’ve only been
back from Italy six months: I mean the schooner. I remember she talked
of you when I had her for a partner. Yes, now I mean Miss Halkett. Blest
if I think she talked of anything else. She sees us. I’ll tell you what
she likes: she likes yachting, she likes Italy, she likes painting,
likes things old English, awfully fond of heroes. I told her a tale of
one of our men saving life. “Oh!” said she, “didn’t your friend Nevil
Beauchamp save a man from drowning, off the guardship, in exactly the
same place?” And next day she sent me a cheque for three pounds for the
fellow. Steady, men! I keep her letter.’

The boat went smoothly alongside the schooner. Miss Halkett had come to
the side. The oars swung fore and aft, and Beauchamp sprang on deck.

Wilmore had to decline Miss Halkett’s invitation to him as well as
his friend, and returned in his boat. He left the pair with a ruffling
breeze, and a sky all sail, prepared, it seemed to him, to enjoy the
most delicious you-and-I on salt water that a sailor could dream of;
and placidly envying, devoid of jealousy, there was just enough of fancy
quickened in Lieutenant Wilmore to give him pictures of them without
disturbance of his feelings--one of the conditions of the singular
visitation we call happiness, if he could have known it.

For a time his visionary eye followed them pretty correctly. So long
since they had parted last! such changes in the interval! and great
animation in Beauchamp’s gaze, and a blush on Miss Halkett’s cheeks.

She said once, ‘Captain Beauchamp.’ He retorted with a solemn formality.
They smiled, and immediately took footing on their previous intimacy.

‘How good it was of you to come twice to Mount Laurels,’ said she. ‘I
have not missed you to-day. No address was on your card. Where are you
staying in the neighbourhood? At Mr. Lespel’s?’

‘I’m staying at a Bevisham hotel,’ said Beauchamp.

‘You have not been to Steynham yet? Papa comes home from Steynham
to-night.’

‘Does he? Well, the Ariadne is only just paid off, and I can’t well
go to Steynham yet. I--’ Beauchamp was astonished at the hesitation he
found in himself to name it: ‘I have business in Bevisham.’

‘Naval business?’ she remarked.

‘No,’ said he.

The sensitive prescience we have of a critical distaste of our
proceedings is, the world is aware, keener than our intuition of
contrary opinions; and for the sake of preserving the sweet outward
forms of friendliness, Beauchamp was anxious not to speak of the
business in Bevisham just then, but she looked and he had hesitated, so
he said flatly, ‘I am one of the candidates for the borough.’

‘Indeed!’

‘And I want the colonel to give me his vote.’

The young lady breathed a melodious ‘Oh!’ not condemnatory or
reproachful--a sound to fill a pause. But she was beginning to reflect.

‘Italy and our English Channel are my two Poles,’ she said. ‘I am
constantly swaying between them. I have told papa we will not lay up
the yacht while the weather holds fair. Except for the absence of deep
colour and bright colour, what can be more beautiful than these green
waves and that dark forest’s edge, and the garden of an island! The
yachting-water here is an unrivalled lake; and if I miss colour, which
I love, I remind myself that we have temperate air here, not a sun that
fiends you under cover. We can have our fruits too, you see.’ One of the
yachtsmen was handing her a basket of hot-house grapes, reclining beside
crisp home-made loaflets. ‘This is my luncheon. Will you share it,
Nevil?’

His Christian name was pleasant to hear from her lips. She held out a
bunch to him.

‘Grapes take one back to the South,’ said he. ‘How do you bear
compliments? You have been in Italy some years, and it must be the South
that has worked the miracle.’

‘In my growth?’ said Cecilia, smiling. ‘I have grown out of my
Circassian dress, Nevil.’

‘You received it, then?’

‘I wrote you a letter of thanks--and abuse, for your not coming to
Steynham. You may recognize these pearls.’

The pearls were round her right wrist. He looked at the blue veins.

‘They’re not pearls of price,’ he said.

‘I do not wear them to fascinate the jewellers,’ rejoined Miss Halkett.
‘So you are a candidate at an Election. You still have a tinge of
Africa, do you know? But you have not abandoned the navy?’

‘--Not altogether.’

‘Oh! no, no: I hope not. I have heard of you,... but who has not? We
cannot spare officers like you. Papa was delighted to hear of your
promotion. Parliament!’

The exclamation was contemptuous.

‘It’s the highest we can aim at,’ Beauchamp observed meekly.

‘I think I recollect you used to talk politics when you were a
midshipman,’ she said. ‘You headed the aristocracy, did you not?’

‘The aristocracy wants a head,’ said Beauchamp.

‘Parliament, in my opinion, is the best of occupations for idle men,’
said she.

‘It shows that it is a little too full of them.’

‘Surely the country can go on very well without so much speech-making?’

‘It can go on very well for the rich.’

Miss Halkett tapped with her foot.

‘I should expect a Radical to talk in that way, Nevil.’

‘Take me for one.’

‘I would not even imagine it.’

‘Say Liberal, then.’

‘Are you not’--her eyes opened on him largely, and narrowed from
surprise to reproach, and then to pain--are you not one of us? Have you
gone over to the enemy, Nevil?’

‘I have taken my side, Cecilia; but we, on our side, don’t talk of an
enemy.’

‘Most unfortunate! We are Tories, you know, Nevil. Papa is a thorough
Tory. He cannot vote for you. Indeed I have heard him say he is anxious
to defeat the plots of an old Republican in Bevisham--some doctor there;
and I believe he went to London to look out for a second Tory candidate
to oppose to the Liberals. Our present Member is quite safe, of course.
Nevil, this makes me unhappy. Do you not feel that it is playing traitor
to one’s class to join those men?’

Such was the Tory way of thinking, Nevil Beauchamp said: the Tories
upheld their Toryism in the place of patriotism.

‘But do we not owe the grandeur of the country to the Tories?’ she said,
with a lovely air of conviction. ‘Papa has told me how false the Whigs
played the Duke in the Peninsula: ruining his supplies, writing him
down, declaring, all the time he was fighting his first hard battles,
that his cause was hopeless--that resistance to Napoleon was impossible.
The Duke never, never had loyal support but from the Tory Government.
The Whigs, papa says, absolutely preached submission to Napoleon! The
Whigs, I hear, were the Liberals of those days. The two Pitts were
Tories. The greatness of England has been built up by the Tories. I do
and will defend them: it is the fashion to decry them now. They have
the honour and safety of the country at heart. They do not play
disgracefully at reductions of taxes, as the Liberals do. They have
given us all our heroes. Non fu mai gloria senza invidia. They have
done service enough to despise the envious mob. They never condescend to
supplicate brute force for aid to crush their opponents. You feel in all
they do that the instincts of gentlemen are active.’

Beauchamp bowed.

‘Do I speak too warmly?’ she asked. ‘Papa and I have talked over it
often, and especially of late. You will find him your delighted host and
your inveterate opponent.’

‘And you?’

‘Just the same. You will have to pardon me; I am a terrible foe.’

‘I declare to you, Cecilia, I would prefer having you against me to
having you indifferent.’

‘I wish I had not to think it right that you should be beaten.
And now--can you throw off political Nevil, and be sailor Nevil? I
distinguish between my old friend, and my... our...’

‘Dreadful antagonist?’

‘Not so dreadful, except in the shock he gives us to find him in the
opposite ranks. I am grieved. But we will finish our sail in peace. I
detest controversy. I suppose, Nevil, you would have no such things as
yachts? they are the enjoyments of the rich!’

He reminded her that she wished to finish her sail in peace; and he
had to remind her of it more than once. Her scattered resources for
argumentation sprang up from various suggestions, such as the flight
of yachts, mention of the shooting season, sight of a royal palace; and
adopted a continually heightened satirical form, oddly intermixed with
an undisguised affectionate friendliness. Apparently she thought it
possible to worry him out of his adhesion to the wrong side in politics.
She certainly had no conception of the nature of his political views,
for one or two extreme propositions flung to him in jest, he swallowed
with every sign of a perfect facility, as if the Radical had come to
regard stupendous questions as morsels barely sufficient for his daily
sustenance. Cecilia reflected that he must be playing, and as it was not
a subject for play she tacitly reproved him by letting him be the
last to speak of it. He may not have been susceptible to the delicate
chastisement, probably was not, for when he ceased it was to look on the
beauty of her lowered eyelids, rather with an idea that the weight of
his argument lay on them. It breathed from him; both in the department
of logic and of feeling, in his plea for the poor man and his exposition
of the poor man’s rightful claims, he evidently imagined that he had
spoken overwhelmingly; and to undeceive him in this respect, for his own
good, Cecilia calmly awaited the occasion when she might show the vanity
of arguments in their effort to overcome convictions. He stood up to
take his leave of her, on their return to the mouth of the Otley river,
unexpectedly, so that the occasion did not arrive; but on his mentioning
an engagement he had to give a dinner to a journalist and a tradesman of
the town of Bevisham, by way of excuse for not complying with her gentle
entreaty that he would go to Mount Laurels and wait to see the colonel
that evening, ‘Oh! then your choice must be made irrevocably, I am
sure,’ Miss Halkett said, relying upon intonation and manner to convey
a great deal more, and not without a minor touch of resentment for his
having dragged her into the discussion of politics, which she considered
as a slime wherein men hustled and tussled, no doubt worthily enough,
and as became them; not however to impose the strife upon the elect
ladies of earth. What gentleman ever did talk to a young lady upon the
dreary topic seriously? Least of all should Nevil Beauchamp have done
it. That object of her high imagination belonged to the exquisite sphere
of the feminine vision of the pure poetic, and she was vexed by the
discord he threw between her long-cherished dream and her unanticipated
realization of him, if indeed it was he presenting himself to her in his
own character, and not trifling, or not passing through a phase of young
man’s madness.

Possibly he might be the victim of the latter and more pardonable state,
and so thinking she gave him her hand.

‘Good-bye, Nevil. I may tell papa to expect you tomorrow?’

‘Do, and tell him to prepare for a field-day.’

She smiled. ‘A sham fight that will not win you a vote! I hope you will
find your guests this evening agreeable companions.’

Beauchamp half-shrugged involuntarily. He obliterated the piece of
treason toward them by saying that he hoped so; as though the meeting
them, instead of slipping on to Mount Laurels with her, were an
enjoyable prospect.

He was dropped by the Esperanza’s boat near Otley ferry, to walk along
the beach to Bevisham, and he kept eye on the elegant vessel as she
glided swan-like to her moorings off Mount Laurels park through dusky
merchant craft, colliers, and trawlers, loosely shaking her towering
snow-white sails, unchallenged in her scornful supremacy; an image of a
refinement of beauty, and of a beautiful servicelessness.

As the yacht, so the mistress: things of wealth, owing their graces to
wealth, devoting them to wealth--splendid achievements of art both! and
dedicated to the gratification of the superior senses.

Say that they were precious examples of an accomplished civilization;
and perhaps they did offer a visible ideal of grace for the rough world
to aim at. They might in the abstract address a bit of a monition to
the uncultivated, and encourage the soul to strive toward perfection, in
beauty: and there is no contesting the value of beauty when the soul
is taken into account. But were they not in too great a profusion in
proportion to their utility? That was the question for Nevil Beauchamp.
The democratic spirit inhabiting him, temporarily or permanently, asked
whether they were not increasing to numbers which were oppressive?
And further, whether it was good, for the country, the race, ay, the
species, that they should be so distinctly removed from the thousands
who fought the grand, and the grisly, old battle with nature for bread
of life. Those grimy sails of the colliers and fishing-smacks, set
them in a great sea, would have beauty for eyes and soul beyond that of
elegance and refinement. And do but look on them thoughtfully, the poor
are everlastingly, unrelievedly, in the abysses of the great sea....

One cannot pursue to conclusions a line of meditation that is half-built
on the sensations as well as on the mind. Did Beauchamp at all desire
to have those idly lovely adornments of riches, the Yacht and the Lady,
swept away? Oh, dear, no. He admired them, he was at home with them.
They were much to his taste. Standing on a point of the beach for a last
look at them before he set his face to the town, he prolonged the look
in a manner to indicate that the place where business called him was not
in comparison at all so pleasing: and just as little enjoyable were his
meditations opposed to predilections. Beauty plucked the heart from his
breast. But he had taken up arms; he had drunk of the questioning
cup, that which denieth peace to us, and which projects us upon the
missionary search of the How, the Wherefore, and the Why not, ever
afterward. He questioned his justification, and yours, for gratifying
tastes in an ill-regulated world of wrong-doing, suffering, sin, and
bounties unrighteously dispensed--not sufficiently dispersed. He said
by-and-by to pleasure, battle to-day. From his point of observation, and
with the store of ideas and images his fiery yet reflective youth had
gathered, he presented himself as it were saddled to that hard-riding
force known as the logical impetus, which spying its quarry over
precipices, across oceans and deserts, and through systems and webs, and
into shops and cabinets of costliest china, will come at it, will not be
refused, let the distances and the breakages be what they may. He went
like the meteoric man with the mechanical legs in the song, too quick
for a cry of protestation, and reached results amazing to his instincts,
his tastes, and his training, not less rapidly and naturally than
tremendous Ergo is shot forth from the clash of a syllogism.



CHAPTER XVI. A PARTIAL DISPLAY OF BEAUCHAMP IN HIS COLOURS

Beauchamp presented himself at Mount Laurels next day, and formally
asked Colonel Halkett for his vote, in the presence of Cecilia.

She took it for a playful glance at his new profession of politician: he
spoke half-playfully. Was it possible to speak in earnest?

‘I ‘m of the opposite party,’ said the colonel; as conclusive a reply
as could be: but he at once fell upon the rotten navy of a Liberal
Government. How could a true sailor think of joining those Liberals!
The question referred to the country, not to a section of it, Beauchamp
protested with impending emphasis: Tories and Liberals were much the
same in regard to the care of the navy. ‘Nevil!’ exclaimed Cecilia. He
cited beneficial Liberal bills recently passed, which she accepted for
a concession of the navy to the Tories, and she smiled. In spite of her
dislike of politics, she had only to listen a few minutes to be drawn
into the contest: and thus it is that one hot politician makes many
among women and men of a people that have the genius of strife, or else
in this case the young lady did unconsciously feel a deep interest in
refuting and overcoming Nevil Beauchamp. Colonel Halkett denied the
benefits of those bills. ‘Look,’ said he, ‘at the scarecrow plight of
the army under a Liberal Government!’ This laid him open to the charge
that he was for backing Administrations instead of principles.

‘I do,’ said the colonel. ‘I would rather have a good Administration
than all your talk of principles: one’s a fact, but principles?
principles?’ He languished for a phrase to describe the hazy things. ‘I
have mine, and you have yours. It’s like a dispute between religions.
There’s no settling it except by main force. That’s what principles lead
you to.’

Principles may be hazy, but heavy artillery is disposable in defence
of them, and Beauchamp fired some reverberating guns for the eternal
against the transitory; with less of the gentlemanly fine taste, the
light and easy social semi-irony, than Cecilia liked and would have
expected from him. However, as to principles, no doubt Nevil was right,
and Cecilia drew her father to another position. ‘Are not we Tories to
have principles as well as the Liberals, Nevil?’

‘They may have what they call principles,’ he admitted, intent on
pursuing his advantage over the colonel, who said, to shorten the
controversy: ‘It’s a question of my vote, and my liking. I like a Tory
Government, and I don’t like the Liberals. I like gentlemen; I don’t
like a party that attacks everything, and beats up the mob for power,
and repays it with sops, and is dragging us down from all we were proud
of.’

‘But the country is growing, the country wants expansion,’ said
Beauchamp; ‘and if your gentlemen by birth are not up to the mark, you
must have leaders that are.’

‘Leaders who cut down expenditure, to create a panic that doubles the
outlay! I know them.’

‘A panic, Nevil.’ Cecilia threw stress on the memorable word.

He would hear no reminder in it. The internal condition of the country
was now the point for seriously-minded Englishmen.

‘My dear boy, what have you seen of the country?’ Colonel Halkett
inquired.

‘Every time I have landed, colonel, I have gone to the mining and the
manufacturing districts, the centres of industry; wherever there was
dissatisfaction. I have attended meetings, to see and hear for myself. I
have read the papers....’

‘The papers!’

‘Well, they’re the mirror of the country.’

‘Does one see everything in a mirror, Nevil?’ said Cecilia: ‘even in the
smoothest?’

He retorted softly: ‘I should be glad to see what you see,’ and felled
her with a blush.

For an example of the mirror offered by the Press, Colonel Halkett
touched on Mr. Timothy Turbot’s article in eulogy of the great Commander
Beauchamp. ‘Did you like it?’ he asked. ‘Ah, but if you meddle with
politics, you must submit to be held up on the prongs of a fork, my boy;
soaped by your backers and shaved by the foe; and there’s a figure for a
gentleman! as your uncle Romfrey says.’

Cecilia did not join this discussion, though she had heard from
her father that something grotesque had been written of Nevil. Her
foolishness in blushing vexed body and mind. She was incensed by a silly
compliment that struck at her feminine nature when her intellect stood
in arms. Yet more hurt was she by the reflection that a too lively
sensibility might have conjured up the idea of the compliment. And
again, she wondered at herself for not resenting so rare a presumption
as it implied, and not disdaining so outworn a form of flattery. She
wondered at herself too for thinking of resentment and disdain in
relation to the familiar commonplaces of licenced impertinence. Over all
which hung a darkened image of her spirit of independence, like a moon
in eclipse.

Where lay his weakness? Evidently in the belief that he had thought
profoundly. But what minor item of insufficiency or feebleness was
discernible? She discovered that he could be easily fretted by similes
and metaphors they set him staggering and groping like an ancient knight
of faery in a forest bewitched.

‘Your specific for the country is, then, Radicalism,’ she said, after
listening to an attack on the Tories for their want of a policy and
indifference to the union of classes.

‘I would prescribe a course of it, Cecilia; yes,’ he turned to her.

‘The Dr. Dulcamara of a single drug?’

‘Now you have a name for me! Tory arguments always come to epithets.’

‘It should not be objectionable. Is it not honest to pretend to have
only one cure for mortal maladies? There can hardly be two panaceas, can
there be?’

‘So you call me quack?’

‘No, Nevil, no,’ she breathed a rich contralto note of denial: ‘but
if the country is the patient, and you will have it swallow your
prescription...’

‘There’s nothing like a metaphor for an evasion,’ said Nevil, blinking
over it.

She drew him another analogy, longer than was at all necessary; so
tedious that her father struck through it with the remark:

‘Concerning that quack--that’s one in the background, though!’

‘I know of none,’ said Beauchamp, well-advised enough to forbear mention
of the name of Shrapnel.

Cecilia petitioned that her stumbling ignorance, which sought the road
of wisdom, might be heard out. She had a reserve entanglement for
her argumentative friend. ‘You were saying, Nevil, that you were for
principles rather than for individuals, and you instanced Mr. Cougham,
the senior Liberal candidate of Bevisham, as one whom you would prefer
to see in Parliament instead of Seymour Austin, though you confess to
Mr. Austin’s far superior merits as a politician and servant of his
country: but Mr. Cougham supports Liberalism while Mr. Austin is a Tory.
You are for the principle.’

‘I am,’ said he, bowing.

She asked: ‘Is not that equivalent to the doctrine of election by
Grace?’

Beauchamp interjected: ‘Grace! election?’

Cecilia was tender to his inability to follow her allusion.

‘Thou art a Liberal--then rise to membership,’ she said. ‘Accept my
creed, and thou art of the chosen. Yes, Nevil, you cannot escape from
it. Papa, he preaches Calvinism in politics.’

‘We stick to men, and good men,’ the colonel flourished. ‘Old English
for me!’

‘You might as well say, old timber vessels, when Iron’s afloat,
colonel.’

‘I suspect you have the worst of it there, papa,’ said Cecilia, taken by
the unexpectedness and smartness of the comparison coming from wits that
she had been undervaluing.

‘I shall not own I’m worsted until I surrender my vote,’ the colonel
rejoined.

‘I won’t despair of it,’ said Beauchamp.

Colonel Halkett bade him come for it as often as he liked. You’ll be
beaten in Bevisham, I warn you. Tory reckonings are safest: it’s an
admitted fact: and we know you can’t win. According to my judgement a
man owes a duty to his class.’

‘A man owes a duty to his class as long as he sees his class doing its
duty to the country,’ said Beauchamp; and he added, rather prettily in
contrast with the sententious commencement, Cecilia thought, that the
apathy of his class was proved when such as he deemed it an obligation
on them to come forward and do what little they could. The deduction of
the proof was not clearly consequent, but a meaning was expressed;
and in that form it brought him nearer to her abstract idea of Nevil
Beauchamp than when he raged and was precise.

After his departure she talked of him with her father, to be charitably
satirical over him, it seemed.

The critic in her ear had pounced on his repetition of certain words
that betrayed a dialectical stiffness and hinted a narrow vocabulary:
his use of emphasis, rather reminding her of his uncle Everard, was, in
a young man, a little distressing. ‘The apathy of the country, papa;
the apathy of the rich; a state of universal apathy. Will you inform me,
papa, what the Tories are doing? Do we really give our consciences to
the keeping of the parsons once a week, and let them dogmatize for us to
save us from exertion? We must attach ourselves to principles; nothing
is permanent but principles. Poor Nevil! And still I am sure you have,
as I have, the feeling that one must respect him. I am quite convinced
that he supposes he is doing his best to serve his country by trying for
Parliament, fancying himself a Radical. I forgot to ask him whether he
had visited his great-aunt, Mrs. Beauchamp. They say the dear old lady
has influence with him.’

‘I don’t think he’s been anywhere,’ Colonel Halkett half laughed at the
quaint fellow. ‘I wish the other great-nephew of hers were in England,
for us to run him against Nevil Beauchamp. He’s touring the world. I’m
told he’s orthodox, and a tough debater. We have to take what we can
get.’

‘My best wishes for your success, and you and I will not talk of
politics any more, papa. I hope Nevil will come often, for his own good;
he will meet his own set of people here. And if he should dogmatize so
much as to rouse our apathy to denounce his principles, we will remember
that we are British, and can be sweet-blooded in opposition. Perhaps he
may change, even tra le tre ore a le quattro: electioneering should be
a lesson. From my recollection of Blackburn Tuckham, he was a boisterous
boy.’

‘He writes uncommonly clever letters home to his aunt Beauchamp. She
has handed them to me to read,’ said the colonel. ‘I do like to see
tolerably solid young fellows: they give one some hope of the stability
of the country.’

‘They are not so interesting to study, and not half so amusing,’ said
Cecilia.

Colonel Halkett muttered his objections to the sort of amusement
furnished by firebrands.

‘Firebrand is too strong a word for poor Nevil,’ she remonstrated.

In that estimate of the character of Nevil Beauchamp, Cecilia soon had
to confess that she had been deceived, though not by him.



CHAPTER XVII. HIS FRIEND AND FOE

Looking from her window very early on a Sunday morning, Miss Halkett saw
Beauchamp strolling across the grass of the park. She dressed hurriedly
and went out to greet him, smiling and thanking him for his friendliness
in coming.

He said he was delighted, and appeared so, but dashed the sweetness.
‘You know I can’t canvass on Sundays!

‘I suppose not,’ she replied. ‘Have you walked up from Bevisham? You
must be tired.’

‘Nothing tires me,’ said he.

With that they stepped on together.

Mount Laurels, a fair broad house backed by a wood of beeches and firs,
lay open to view on the higher grassed knoll of a series of descending
turfy mounds dotted with gorseclumps, and faced South-westerly along
the run of the Otley river to the gleaming broad water and its opposite
border of forest, beyond which the downs of the island threw long
interlapping curves. Great ships passed on the line of the water to and
fro; and a little mist of masts of the fishing and coasting craft by
Otley village, near the river’s mouth, was like a web in air. Cecilia
led him to her dusky wood of firs, where she had raised a bower for a
place of poetical contemplation and reading when the clear lapping salt
river beneath her was at high tide. She could hail the Esperanza from
that cover; she could step from her drawing-room window, over the
flower-beds, down the gravel walk to the hard, and be on board her yacht
within seven minutes, out on her salt-water lake within twenty, closing
her wings in a French harbour by nightfall of a summer’s day, whenever
she had the whim to fly abroad. Of these enviable privileges she boasted
with some happy pride.

‘It’s the finest yachting-station in England,’ said Beauchamp.

She expressed herself very glad that he should like it so much.
Unfortunately she added, ‘I hope you will find it pleasanter to be here
than canvassing.’

‘I have no pleasure in canvassing,’ said he. ‘I canvass poor men
accustomed to be paid for their votes, and who get nothing from me but
what the baron would call a parsonical exhortation. I’m in the thick
of the most spiritless crew in the kingdom. Our southern men will not
compare with the men of the north. But still, even among these fellows,
I see danger for the country if our commerce were to fail, if distress
came on them. There’s always danger in disunion. That’s what the rich
won’t see. They see simply nothing out of their own circle; and they
won’t take a thought of the overpowering contrast between their
luxury and the way of living, that’s half-starving, of the poor. They
understand it when fever comes up from back alleys and cottages, and
then they join their efforts to sweep the poor out of the district. The
poor are to get to their work anyhow, after a long morning’s walk over
the proscribed space; for we must have poor, you know. The wife of a
parson I canvassed yesterday, said to me, “Who is to work for us, if you
do away with the poor, Captain Beauchamp?”’

Cecilia quitted her bower and traversed the wood silently.

‘So you would blow up my poor Mount Laurels for a peace-offering to the
lower classes?’

‘I should hope to put it on a stronger foundation, Cecilia.’

‘By means of some convulsion?’

‘By forestalling one.’

‘That must be one of the new ironclads,’ observed Cecilia, gazing at the
black smoke-pennon of a tower that slipped along the water-line. ‘Yes?
You were saying? Put us on a stronger----?’

‘It’s, I think, the Hastings: she broke down the other day on her trial
trip,’ said Beauchamp, watching the ship’s progress animatedly. ‘Peppel
commands her--a capital officer. I suppose we must have these costly big
floating barracks. I don’t like to hear of everything being done for
the defensive. The defensive is perilous policy in war. It’s true,
the English don’t wake up to their work under half a year. But, no:
defending and looking to defences is bad for the fighting power; and
there’s half a million gone on that ship. Half a million! Do you know
how many poor taxpayers it takes to make up that sum, Cecilia?’

‘A great many,’ she slurred over them; ‘but we must have big ships, and
the best that are to be had.’

‘Powerful fast rams, sea-worthy and fit for running over shallows,
carrying one big gun; swarms of harryers and worriers known to be kept
ready for immediate service; readiness for the offensive in case of
war--there’s the best defence against a declaration of war by a foreign
State.’

‘I like to hear you, Nevil,’ said Cecilia, beaming: ‘Papa thinks we have
a miserable army--in numbers. He says, the wealthier we become the more
difficult it is to recruit able-bodied men on the volunteering system.
Yet the wealthier we are the more an army is wanted, both to defend our
wealth and to preserve order. I fancy he half inclines to compulsory
enlistment. Do speak to him on that subject.’

Cecilia must have been innocent of a design to awaken the fire-flash
in Nevil’s eyes. She had no design, but hostility was latent, and hence
perhaps the offending phrase.

He nodded and spoke coolly. ‘An army to preserve order? So, then, an
army to threaten civil war!’

‘To crush revolutionists.’

‘Agitators, you mean. My dear good old colonel--I have always loved
him--must not have more troops at his command.’

‘Do you object to the drilling of the whole of the people?’

‘Does not the colonel, Cecilia? I am sure he does in his heart, and, for
different reasons, I do. He won’t trust the working-classes, nor I the
middle.’

‘Does Dr. Shrapnel hate the middle-class?’

‘Dr. Shrapnel cannot hate. He and I are of opinion, that as the
middle-class are the party in power, they would not, if they knew the
use of arms, move an inch farther in Reform, for they would no longer be
in fear of the class below them.’

‘But what horrible notions of your country have you, Nevil! It is
dreadful to hear. Oh! do let us avoid politics for ever. Fear!’

‘All concessions to the people have been won from fear.’

‘I have not heard so.’

‘I will read it to you in the History of England.’

‘You paint us in a condition of Revolution.’

‘Happily it’s not a condition unnatural to us. The danger would be in
not letting it be progressive, and there’s a little danger too at times
in our slowness. We change our blood or we perish.’

‘Dr. Shrapnel?’

‘Yes, I have heard Dr. Shrapnel say that. And, by-the-way, Cecilia--will
you? can you?--take me for the witness to his character. He is the most
guileless of men, and he’s the most unguarded. My good Rosamund saw him.
She is easily prejudiced when she is a trifle jealous, and you may hear
from her that he rambles, talks wildly. It may seem so. I maintain there
is wisdom in him when conventional minds would think him at his wildest.
Believe me, he is the humanest, the best of men, tenderhearted as a
child: the most benevolent, simple-minded, admirable old man--the man I
am proudest to think of as an Englishman and a man living in my time, of
all men existing. I can’t overpraise him.’

‘He has a bad reputation.’

‘Only with the class that will not meet him and answer him.’

‘Must we invite him to our houses?’

‘It would be difficult to get him to come, if you did. I mean, meet him
in debate and answer his arguments. Try the question by brains.’

‘Before mobs?’

‘Not before mobs. I punish you by answering you seriously.’

‘I am sensible of the flattery.’

‘Before mobs!’ Nevil ejaculated. ‘It’s the Tories that mob together and
cry down every man who appears to them to threaten their privileges. Can
you guess what Dr. Shrapnel compares them to?’

‘Indeed, Nevil, I have not an idea. I only wish your patriotism were
large enough to embrace them.’

‘He compares them to geese claiming possession of the whole common,
and hissing at every foot of ground they have to yield. They’re always
having to retire and always hissing. “Retreat and menace,” that’s the
motto for them.’

‘Very well, Nevil, I am a goose upon a common.’

So saying, Cecilia swam forward like a swan on water to give the morning
kiss to her papa, by the open window of the breakfast-room.

Never did bird of Michaelmas fling off water from her feathers more
thoroughly than this fair young lady the false title she pretended to
assume.

‘I hear you’re of the dinner party at Grancey Lespel’s on Wednesday,’
the colonel said to Beauchamp. ‘You’ll have to stand fire.’

‘They will, papa,’ murmured Cecilia. ‘Will Mr. Austin be there?’

‘I particularly wish to meet Mr. Austin,’ said Beauchamp.

‘Listen to him, if you do meet him,’ she replied.

His look was rather grave.

‘Lespel ‘s a Whig,’ he said.

The colonel answered. ‘Lespel was a Whig. Once a Tory always a
Tory,--but court the people and you’re on quicksands, and that’s where
the Whigs are. What he is now I don’t think he knows himself. You won’t
get a vote.’

Cecilia watched her friend Nevil recovering from his short fit of gloom.
He dismissed politics at breakfast and grew companionable, with the
charm of his earlier day. He was willing to accompany her to church too.

‘You will hear a long sermon,’ she warned him.

‘Forty minutes.’ Colonel Halkett smothered a yawn that was both retro
and prospective.

‘It has been fifty, papa.’

‘It has been an hour, my dear.’

It was good discipline nevertheless, the colonel affirmed, and Cecilia
praised the Rev. Mr. Brisk of Urplesdon vicarage as one of our few
remaining Protestant clergymen.

‘Then he ought to be supported,’ said Beauchamp. ‘In the dissensions of
religious bodies it is wise to pat the weaker party on the back--I quote
Stukely Culbrett.’

‘I ‘ve heard him,’ sighed the colonel. ‘He calls the Protestant clergy
the social police of the English middle-class. Those are the things he
lets fly. I have heard that man say that the Church stands to show the
passion of the human race for the drama. He said it in my presence. And
there ‘s a man who calls himself a Tory!

You have rather too much of that playing at grudges and dislikes at
Steynham, with squibs, nicknames, and jests at things that--well, that
our stability is bound up in. I hate squibs.’

‘And I,’ said Beauchamp. Some shadow of a frown crossed him; but Stukely
Culbrett’s humour seemed to be a refuge. ‘Protestant parson-not clergy,’
he corrected the colonel. ‘Can’t you hear Mr. Culbrett, Cecilia? The
Protestant parson is the policeman set to watch over the respectability
of the middle-class. He has sharp eyes for the sins of the poor. As for
the rich, they support his church; they listen to his sermon--to set an
example: discipline, colonel. You discipline the tradesman, who’s afraid
of losing your custom, and the labourer, who might be deprived of his
bread. But the people? It’s put down to the wickedness of human nature
that the parson has not got hold of the people. The parsons have lost
them by senseless Conservatism, because they look to the Tories for the
support of their Church, and let the religion run down the gutters. And
how many thousands have you at work in the pulpit every Sunday? I’m told
the Dissenting ministers have some vitality.’

Colonel Halkett shrugged with disgust at the mention of Dissenters.

‘And those thirty or forty thousand, colonel, call the men that do
the work they ought to be doing demagogues. The parsonry are a power
absolutely to be counted for waste, as to progress.’

Cecilia perceived that her father was beginning to be fretted.

She said, with a tact that effected its object: ‘I am one who hear Mr.
Culbrett without admiring his wit.’

‘No, and I see no good in this kind of Steynham talk,’ Colonel Halkett
said, rising. ‘We’re none of us perfect. Heaven save us from political
parsons!’

Beauchamp was heard to utter, ‘Humanity.’

The colonel left the room with Cecilia, muttering the Steynham tail to
that word: ‘tomtity,’ for the solace of an aside repartee.

She was on her way to dress for church. He drew her into the library,
and there threw open a vast placard lying on the table. It was printed
in blue characters and red. ‘This is what I got by the post this
morning. I suppose Nevil knows about it. He wants tickling, but I don’t
like this kind of thing. It ‘s not fair war. It ‘s as bad as using
explosive bullets in my old game.’

‘Can he expect his adversaries to be tender with him?’ Cecilia simulated
vehemence in an underbreath. She glanced down the page:

‘FRENCH MARQUEES’ caught her eye.

It was a page of verse. And, oh! could it have issued from a Tory
Committee?

‘The Liberals are as bad, and worse,’ her father said.

She became more and more distressed. ‘It seems so very mean, papa; so
base. Ungenerous is no word for it. And how vulgar! Now I remember,
Nevil said he wished to see Mr. Austin.’

‘Seymour Austin would not sanction it.’

‘No, but Nevil might hold him responsible for it.’

‘I suspect Mr. Stukely Culbrett, whom he quotes, and that smoking-room
lot at Lespel’s. I distinctly discountenance it. So I shall tell them on
Wednesday night. Can you keep a secret?’

‘And after all Nevil Beauchamp is very young, papa!--of course I can
keep a secret.’

The colonel exacted no word of honour, feeling quite sure of her.

He whispered the secret in six words, and her cheeks glowed vermilion.

‘But they will meet on Wednesday after this,’ she said, and her sight
went dancing down the column of verse, of which the following trotting
couplet is a specimen:--

  ‘O did you ever, hot in love, a little British middy see,
   Like Orpheus asking what the deuce to do without Eurydice?’

The middy is jilted by his FRENCH MARQUEES, whom he ‘did adore,’ and
in his wrath he recommends himself to the wealthy widow Bevisham,
concerning whose choice of her suitors there is a doubt: but the middy
is encouraged to persevere:

   ‘Up, up, my pretty middy; take a draught of foaming Sillery;
   Go in and win the uriddy with your Radical artillery.’

And if Sillery will not do, he is advised, he being for superlatives, to
try the sparkling Sillery of the Radical vintage, selected grapes.

This was but impudent nonsense. But the reiterated apostrophe to ‘MY
FRENCH MARQUEES’ was considered by Cecilia to be a brutal offence.

She was shocked that her party should have been guilty of it. Nevil
certainly provoked, and he required, hard blows; and his uncle Everard
might be right in telling her father that they were the best means of
teaching him to come to his understanding. Still a foul and stupid squib
did appear to her a debasing weapon to use.

‘I cannot congratulate you on your choice of a second candidate, papa,’
she said scornfully.

‘I don’t much congratulate myself,’ said the colonel.

‘Here’s a letter from Mrs. Beauchamp informing me that her boy Blackburn
will be home in a month. There would have been plenty of time for him.
However, we must make up our minds to it. Those two ‘ll be meeting on
Wednesday, so keep your secret. It will be out tomorrow week.’

‘But Nevil will be accusing Mr. Austin.’

‘Austin won’t be at Lespel’s. And he must bear it, for the sake of
peace.’

‘Is Nevil ruined with his uncle, papa?’

‘Not a bit, I should imagine. It’s Romfrey’s fun.’

‘And this disgraceful squib is a part of the fun?’

‘That I know nothing about, my dear. I’m sorry, but there’s pitch and
tar in politics as well as on shipboard.’

‘I do not see that there should be,’ said Cecilia resolutely.

‘We can’t hope to have what should be.’

‘Why not? I would have it: I would do my utmost to have it,’ she flamed
out.

‘Your utmost?’ Her father was glancing at her foregone mimicry of
Beauchamp’s occasional strokes of emphasis. ‘Do your utmost to have your
bonnet on in time for us to walk to church. I can’t bear driving there.’

Cecilia went to her room with the curious reflection, awakened by what
her father had chanced to suggest to her mind, that she likewise could
be fervid, positive, uncompromising--who knows? Radicalish, perhaps,
when she looked eye to eye on an evil. For a moment or so she espied
within herself a gulf of possibilities, wherein black night-birds, known
as queries, roused by shot of light, do flap their wings.--Her utmost to
have be what should be! And why not?

But the intemperate feeling subsided while she was doing duty before her
mirror, and the visionary gulf closed immediately.

She had merely been very angry on Nevil Beauchamp’s behalf, and had
dimly seen that a woman can feel insurgent, almost revolutionary, for
a personal cause, Tory though her instinct of safety and love of
smoothness make her.

No reflection upon this casual piece of self or sex revelation troubled
her head. She did, however, think of her position as the friend of Nevil
in utter antagonism to him. It beset her with contradictions that blew
rough on her cherished serenity; for she was of the order of ladies who,
by virtue of their pride and spirit, their port and their beauty, decree
unto themselves the rank of princesses among women, before our world has
tried their claim to it. She had lived hitherto in upper air, high above
the clouds of earth. Her ideal of a man was of one similarly disengaged
and lofty-loftier. Nevil, she could honestly say, was not her ideal;
he was only her old friend, and she was opposed to him in his present
adventure. The striking at him to cure him of his mental errors and
excesses was an obligation; she could descend upon him calmly with the
chastening rod, pointing to the better way; but the shielding of him was
a different thing; it dragged her down so low, that in her condemnation
of the Tory squib she found herself asking herself whether haply Nevil
had flung off the yoke of the French lady; with the foolish excuse for
the question, that if he had not, he must be bitterly sensitive to the
slightest public allusion to her. Had he? And if not, how desperately
faithful he was! or else how marvellously seductive she!

Perhaps it was a lover’s despair that had precipitated him into the
mire of politics. She conceived the impression that it must be so, and
throughout the day she had an inexplicable unsweet pleasure in inciting
him to argumentation and combating him, though she was compelled to
admit that he had been colloquially charming antecedent to her naughty
provocation; and though she was indebted to him for his patient decorum
under the weary wave of the Reverend Mr. Brisk. Now what does it matter
what a woman thinks in politics? But he deemed it of great moment.
Politically, he deemed that women have souls, a certain fire of life for
exercise on earth. He appealed to reason in them; he would not hear of
convictions. He quoted the Bevisham doctor!

‘Convictions are generally first impressions that are sealed with later
prejudices,’ and insisted there was wisdom in it. Nothing tired him, as
he had said, and addressing woman or man, no prospect of fatigue or
of hopeless effort daunted him in the endeavour to correct an error of
judgement in politics--his notion of an error. The value he put upon
speaking, urging his views, was really fanatical. It appeared that he
canvassed the borough from early morning till near midnight, and nothing
would persuade him that his chance was poor; nothing that an entrenched
Tory like her father, was not to be won even by an assault of all the
reserve forces of Radical pathos, prognostication, and statistics.

Only conceive Nevil Beauchamp knocking at doors late at night, the
sturdy beggar of a vote! or waylaying workmen, as he confessed without
shame that he had done, on their way trooping to their midday meal;
penetrating malodoriferous rooms of dismal ten-pound cottagers, to
exhort bedraggled mothers and babes, and besotted husbands; and exposed
to rebuffs from impertinent tradesmen; and lampooned and travestied,
shouting speeches to roaring men, pushed from shoulder to shoulder of
the mob!...

Cecilia dropped a curtain on her mind’s picture of him. But the blinding
curtain rekindled the thought that the line he had taken could not but
be the desperation of a lover abandoned. She feared it was, she feared
it was not. Nevil Beauchamp’s foe persisted in fearing that it was not;
his friend feared that it was. Yet why? For if it was, then he could not
be quite in earnest, and might be cured. Nay, but earnestness works out
its own cure more surely than frenzy, and it should be preferable to
think him sound of heart, sincere though mistaken. Cecilia could not
decide upon what she dared wish for his health’s good. Friend and foe
were not further separable within her bosom than one tick from another
of a clock; they changed places, and next his friend was fearing what
his foe had feared: they were inextricable.

Why had he not sprung up on a radiant aquiline ambition, whither one
might have followed him, with eyes and prayers for him, if it was
not possible to do so companionably? At present, in the shape of a
canvassing candidate, it was hardly honourable to let imagination dwell
on him, save compassionately.

When he rose to take his leave, Cecilia said, ‘Must you go to Itchincope
on Wednesday, Nevil?’

Colonel Halkett added: ‘I don’t think I would go to Lespel’s if I were
you. I rather suspect Seymour Austin will be coming on Wednesday, and
that ‘ll detain me here, and you might join us and lend him an ear for
an evening.’

‘I have particular reasons for going to Lespel’s; I hear he wavers
toward a Tory conspiracy of some sort,’ said Beauchamp.

The colonel held his tongue.

The untiring young candidate chose to walk down to Bevisham at eleven
o’clock at night, that he might be the readier to continue his canvass
of the borough on Monday morning early. He was offered a bed or a
conveyance, and he declined both; the dog-cart he declined out of
consideration for horse and groom, which an owner of stables could not
but approve.

Colonel Halkett broke into exclamations of pity for so good a young
fellow so misguided.

The night was moonless, and Cecilia, looking through the window, said
whimsically, ‘He has gone out into the darkness, and is no light in it!’

Certainly none shone. She however carried a lamp that revealed him
footing on with a wonderful air of confidence, and she was rather
surprised to hear her father regret that Nevil Beauchamp should be
losing his good looks already, owing to that miserable business of his
in Bevisham. She would have thought the contrary, that he was looking as
well as ever.

‘He dresses just as he used to dress,’ she observed.

The individual style of a naval officer of breeding, in which you see
neatness trifling with disorder, or disorder plucking at neatness,
like the breeze a trim vessel, had been caught to perfection by Nevil
Beauchamp, according to Cecilia. It presented him to her mind in a
cheerful and a very undemocratic aspect, but in realizing it, the
thought, like something flashing black, crossed her--how attractive such
a style must be to a Frenchwoman!

‘He may look a little worn,’ she acquiesced.



CHAPTER XVIII. CONCERNING THE ACT OF CANVASSING

Tories dread the restlessness of Radicals, and Radicals are in awe of
the organization of Tories. Beauchamp thought anxiously of the high
degree of confidence existing in the Tory camp, whose chief could afford
to keep aloof, while he slaved all day and half the night to thump ideas
into heads, like a cooper on a cask:--an impassioned cooper on an empty
cask! if such an image is presentable. Even so enviously sometimes the
writer and the barrister, men dependent on their active wits, regard the
man with a business fixed in an office managed by clerks. That man seems
by comparison celestially seated. But he has his fits of trepidation;
for new tastes prevail and new habits are formed, and the structure of
his business will not allow him to adapt himself to them in a minute.
The secure and comfortable have to pay in occasional panics for the
serenity they enjoy. Mr. Seymour Austin candidly avowed to Colonel
Halkett, on his arrival at Mount Laurels, that he was advised to take up
his quarters in the neighbourhood of Bevisham by a recent report of
his committee, describing the young Radical’s canvass as redoubtable.
Cougham he did not fear: he could make a sort of calculation of the
votes for the Liberal thumping on the old drum of Reform; but the number
for him who appealed to feelings and quickened the romantic sentiments
of the common people now huddled within our electoral penfold, was
not calculable. Tory and Radical have an eye for one another, which
overlooks the Liberal at all times except when he is, as they imagine,
playing the game of either of them.

‘Now we shall see the passions worked,’ Mr. Austin said, deploring the
extension of the franchise.

He asked whether Beauchamp spoke well.

Cecilia left it to her father to reply; but the colonel appealed to her,
saying, ‘Inclined to dragoon one, isn’t he?’

She did not think that. ‘He speaks... he speaks well in conversation.
I fancy he would be liked by the poor. I should doubt his being a good
public speaker. He certainly has command of his temper: that is one
thing. I cannot say whether it favours oratory. He is indefatigable. One
may be sure he will not faint by the way. He quite believes in himself.
But, Mr. Austin, do you really regard him as a serious rival?’

Mr. Austin could not tell. No one could tell the effect of an extended
franchise. The untried venture of it depressed him. ‘Men have come
suddenly on a borough before now and carried it,’ he said.

‘Not a borough like Bevisham?’

He shook his head. ‘A fluid borough, I’m afraid.’

Colonel Halkettt interposed: ‘But Ferbrass is quite sure of his
district.’

Cecilia wished to know who the man was, of the mediaevally sounding
name.

‘Ferbrass is an old lawyer, my dear. He comes of five generations of
lawyers, and he ‘s as old in the county as Grancey Lespel. Hitherto he
has always been to be counted on for marching his district to the
poll like a regiment. That’s our strength--the professions, especially
lawyers.’

‘Are not a great many lawyers Liberals, papa?’

‘A great many barristers are, my dear.’

Thereat the colonel and Mr. Austin smiled together.

It was a new idea to Cecilia that Nevil Beauchamp should be considered
by a man of the world anything but a well-meaning, moderately ridiculous
young candidate; and the fact that one so experienced as Seymour Austin
deemed him an adversary to be grappled with in earnest, created a small
revolution in her mind, entirely altering her view of the probable
pliability of his Radicalism under pressure of time and circumstances.
Many of his remarks, that she had previously half smiled at, came across
her memory hard as metal. She began to feel some terror of him, and
said, to reassure herself: ‘Captain Beauchamp is not likely to be a
champion with a very large following. He is too much of a political
mystic, I think.’

‘Many young men are, before they have written out a fair copy of their
meaning,’ said Mr. Austin.

Cecilia laughed to herself at the vision of the fiery Nevil engaged
in writing out a fair copy of his meaning. How many erasures! what
foot-notes!

The arrangement was for Cecilia to proceed to Itchincope alone for a
couple of days, and bring a party to Mount Laurels through Bevisham
by the yacht on Thursday, to meet Mr. Seymour Austin and Mr. Everard
Romfrey. An early day of the next week had been agreed on for the
unmasking of the second Tory candidate. She promised that in case
Nevil Beauchamp should have the hardihood to enter the enemy’s nest at
Itchincope on Wednesday, at the great dinner and ball there, she would
do her best to bring him back to Mount Laurels, that he might meet his
uncle Everard, who was expected there. At least he may consent to come
for an evening,’ she said. ‘Nothing will take him from that canvassing.
It seems to me it must be not merely distasteful...?’

Mr. Austin replied: ‘It ‘s disagreeable, but it’s’ the practice. I would
gladly be bound by a common undertaking to abstain.’

‘Captain Beauchamp argues that it would be all to your advantage. He
says that a personal visit is the only chance for an unknown candidate
to make the people acquainted with him.’

‘It’s a very good opportunity for making him acquainted with them; and I
hope he may profit by it.’

‘Ah! pah! “To beg the vote and wink the bribe,”’ Colonel Halkett
subjoined abhorrently:

       “‘It well becomes the Whiggish tribe
        To beg the vote and wink the bribe.”

Canvassing means intimidation or corruption.’

‘Or the mixture of the two, called cajolery,’ said Mr. Austin; ‘and that
was the principal art of the Whigs.’

Thus did these gentlemen converse upon canvassing.

It is not possible to gather up in one volume of sound the rattle of the
knocks at Englishmen’s castle-gates during election days; so, with the
thunder of it unheard, the majesty of the act of canvassing can be
but barely appreciable, and he, therefore, who would celebrate it must
follow the candidate obsequiously from door to door, where, like a
cross between a postman delivering a bill and a beggar craving an alms,
patiently he attempts the extraction of the vote, as little boys pick
periwinkles with a pin.

‘This is your duty, which I most abjectly entreat you to do,’ is pretty
nearly the form of the supplication.

How if, instead of the solicitation of the thousands by the unit, the
meritorious unit were besought by rushing thousands?--as a mound of the
plains that is circumvented by floods, and to which the waters cry, Be
thou our island. Let it be answered the questioner, with no discourteous
adjectives, Thou fool! To come to such heights of popular discrimination
and political ardour the people would have to be vivified to a pitch
little short of eruptive: it would be Boreas blowing AEtna inside
them; and we should have impulse at work in the country, and immense
importance attaching to a man’s whether he will or he won’t--enough to
womanize him. We should be all but having Parliament for a sample of our
choicest rather than our likest: and see you not a peril in that?

Conceive, for the fleeting instants permitted to such insufferable
flights of fancy, our picked men ruling! So despotic an oligarchy as
would be there, is not a happy subject of contemplation. It is not too
much to say that a domination of the Intellect in England would at once
and entirely alter the face of the country. We should be governed by the
head with a vengeance: all the rest of the country being base members
indeed; Spartans--helots. Criticism, now so helpful to us, would wither
to the root: fun would die out of Parliament, and outside of it:
we could never laugh at our masters, or command them: and that good
old-fashioned shouldering of separate interests, which, if it stops
progress, like a block in the pit entrance to a theatre, proves us equal
before the law, puts an end to the pretence of higher merit in the one
or the other, and renders a stout build the safest assurance for coming
through ultimately, would be transformed to a painful orderliness,
like a City procession under the conduct of the police, and to
classifications of things according to their public value: decidedly
no benefit to burly freedom. None, if there were no shouldering and
hustling, could tell whether actually the fittest survived; as is now
the case among survivors delighting in a broad-chested fitness.

And consider the freezing isolation of a body of our quintessential
elect, seeing below them none to resemble them! Do you not hear
in imagination the land’s regrets for that amiable nobility whose
pretensions were comically built on birth, acres, tailoring, style, and
an air? Ah, that these unchallengeable new lords could be exchanged for
those old ones! These, with the traditions of how great people should
look in our country, these would pass among us like bergs of ice--a pure
Polar aristocracy, inflicting the woes of wintriness upon us. Keep them
from concentrating! At present I believe it to be their honest opinion,
their wise opinion, and the sole opinion common to a majority of them,
that it is more salutary, besides more diverting, to have the fools of
the kingdom represented than not. As professors of the sarcastic art
they can easily take the dignity out of the fools’ representative at
their pleasure, showing him at antics while he supposes he is exhibiting
an honourable and a decent series of movements. Generally, too, their
archery can check him when he is for any of his measures; and if it does
not check, there appears to be such a property in simple sneering, that
it consoles even when it fails to right the balance of power. Sarcasm,
we well know, confers a title of aristocracy straightway and sharp on
the sconce of the man who does but imagine that he is using it. What,
then, must be the elevation of these princes of the intellect in their
own minds! Hardly worth bartering for worldly commanderships, it is
evident.

Briefly, then, we have a system, not planned but grown, the outcome and
image of our genius, and all are dissatisfied with parts of it; but, as
each would preserve his own, the surest guarantee is obtained for
the integrity of the whole by a happy adjustment of the energies of
opposition, which--you have only to look to see--goes far beyond concord
in the promotion of harmony. This is our English system; like our
English pudding, a fortuitous concourse of all the sweets in the
grocer’s shop, but an excellent thing for all that, and let none
threaten it. Canvassing appears to be mixed up in the system; at least
I hope I have shown that it will not do to reverse the process, for
fear of changes leading to a sovereignty of the austere and antipathetic
Intellect in our England, that would be an inaccessible tyranny of a
very small minority, necessarily followed by tremendous convulsions.



CHAPTER XIX. LORD PALMET, AND CERTAIN ELECTORS OF BEVISHAM

Meantime the candidates raised knockers, rang bells, bowed, expounded
their views, praised their virtues, begged for votes, and greatly
and strangely did the youngest of them enlarge his knowledge of his
countrymen. But he had an insatiable appetite, and except in relation to
Mr. Cougham, considerable tolerance. With Cougham, he was like a young
hound in the leash. They had to run as twins; but Beauchamp’s conjunct
would not run, he would walk. He imposed his experience on Beauchamp,
with an assumption that it must necessarily be taken for the law of
Beauchamp’s reason in electoral and in political affairs, and this
was hard on Beauchamp, who had faith in his reason. Beauchamp’s early
canvassing brought Cougham down to Bevisham earlier than usual in the
days when he and Seymour Austin divided the borough, and he inclined to
administer correction to the Radically-disposed youngster. ‘Yes, I
have gone all over that,’ he said, in speech sometimes, in manner
perpetually, upon the intrusion of an idea by his junior. Cougham also,
Cougham had passed through his Radical phase, as one does on the road
to wisdom. So the frog telleth tadpoles: he too has wriggled most
preposterous of tails; and he has shoved a circular flat head into
corners unadapted to its shape; and that the undeveloped one should
dutifully listen to experience and accept guidance, is devoutly to be
hoped. Alas! Beauchamp would not be taught that though they were yoked
they stood at the opposite ends of the process of evolution.

The oddly coupled pair deplored, among their respective friends, the
disastrous Siamese twinship created by a haphazard improvident Liberal
camp. Look at us! they said:--Beauchamp is a young demagogue; Cougham
is chrysalis Tory. Such Liberals are the ruin of Liberalism; but of such
must it be composed when there is no new cry to loosen floods. It was
too late to think of an operation to divide them. They held the heart
of the cause between them, were bound fast together, and had to go on.
Beauchamp, with a furious tug of Radicalism, spoken or performed,
pulled Cougham on his beam-ends. Cougham, to right himself, defined his
Liberalism sharply from the politics of the pit, pointed to France and
her Revolutions, washed his hands of excesses, and entirely overset
Beauchamp. Seeing that he stood in the Liberal interest, the junior
could not abandon the Liberal flag; so he seized it and bore it ahead of
the time, there where Radicals trip their phantom dances like shadows on
a fog, and waved it as the very flag of our perfectible race. So great
was the impetus that Cougham had no choice but to step out with him
briskly--voluntarily as a man propelled by a hand on his coat-collar. A
word saved him: the word practical. ‘Are we practical?’ he inquired, and
shivered Beauchamp’s galloping frame with a violent application of the
stop abrupt; for that question, ‘Are we practical?’ penetrates the
bosom of an English audience, and will surely elicit a response if
not plaudits. Practical or not, the good people affectingly wish to be
thought practical. It has been asked by them.

If we’re not practical, what are we?--Beauchamp, talking to Cougham
apart, would argue that the daring and the far-sighted course was often
the most practical. Cougham extended a deprecating hand: ‘Yes, I have
gone over all that.’ Occasionally he was maddening.

The melancholy position of the senior and junior Liberals was known
abroad and matter of derision.

It happened that the gay and good-humoured young Lord Palmet, heir
to the earldom of Elsea, walking up the High Street of Bevisham, met
Beauchamp on Tuesday morning as he sallied out of his hotel to canvass.
Lord Palmet was one of the numerous half-friends of Cecil Baskelett, and
it may be a revelation of his character to you, that he owned to liking
Beauchamp because of his having always been a favourite with the women.
He began chattering, with Beauchamp’s hand in his: ‘I’ve hit on you,
have I? My dear fellow, Miss Halkett was talking of you last night. I
slept at Mount Laurels; went on purpose to have a peep. I’m bound for
Itchincope. They’ve some grand procession in view there; Lespel wrote
for my team; I suspect he’s for starting some new October races. He
talks of half-a-dozen drags. He must have lots of women there. I say,
what a splendid creature Cissy Halkett has shot up! She topped the
season this year, and will next. You’re for the darkies, Beauchamp. So
am I, when I don’t see a blonde; just as a fellow admires a girl when
there’s no married woman or widow in sight. And, I say, it can’t be true
you’ve gone in for that crazy Radicalism? There’s nothing to be
gained by it, you know; the women hate it! A married blonde of
five-and-twenty’s the Venus of them all. Mind you, I don’t forget that
Mrs. Wardour-Devereux is a thorough-paced brunette; but, upon my honour,
I’d bet on Cissy Halkett at forty. “A dark eye in woman,” if you like,
but blue and auburn drive it into a corner.’

Lord Palmet concluded by asking Beauchamp what he was doing and whither
going.

Beauchamp proposed to him maliciously, as one of our hereditary
legislators, to come and see something of canvassing. Lord Palmet had
no objection. ‘Capital opportunity for a review of their women,’ he
remarked.

‘I map the places for pretty women in England; some parts of Norfolk,
and a spot or two in Cumberland and Wales, and the island over there, I
know thoroughly. Those Jutes have turned out some splendid fair women.
Devonshire’s worth a tour. My man Davis is in charge of my team, and
he drives to Itchincope from Washwater station. I am independent; I ‘ll
have an hour with you. Do you think much of the women here?’

Beauchamp had not noticed them.

Palmet observed that he should not have noticed anything else.

‘But you are qualifying for the Upper House,’ Beauchamp said in the tone
of an encomium.

Palmet accepted the statement. ‘Though I shall never care to figure
before peeresses,’ he said. ‘I can’t tell you why. There’s a heavy
sprinkling of the old bird among them. It isn’t that. There’s too much
plumage; I think it must be that. A cloud of millinery shoots me off a
mile from a woman. In my opinion, witches are the only ones for wearing
jewels without chilling the feminine atmosphere about them. Fellows
think differently.’ Lord Palmet waved a hand expressive of purely
amiable tolerance, for this question upon the most important topic of
human affairs was deep, and no judgement should be hasty in settling it.
‘I’m peculiar,’ he resumed. ‘A rose and a string of pearls: a woman who
goes beyond that’s in danger of petrifying herself and her fellow man.
Two women in Paris, last winter, set us on fire with pale thin gold
ornaments--neck, wrists, ears, ruche, skirts, all in a flutter, and so
were you. But you felt witchcraft. “The magical Orient,” Vivian Ducie
called the blonde, and the dark beauty, “Young Endor.”’

‘Her name?’ said Beauchamp.

‘A marquise; I forget her name. The other was Countess Rastaglione; you
must have heard of her; a towering witch, an empress, Helen of Troy;
though Ducie would have it the brunette was Queen of Paris. For French
taste, if you like.’

Countess Rastaglione was a lady enamelled on the scroll of Fame. ‘Did
you see them together?’ said Beauchamp. ‘They weren’t together?’

Palmet looked at him and laughed. ‘You’re yourself again, are you? Go to
Paris in January, and cut out the Frenchmen.’

‘Answer me, Palmet: they weren’t in couples?’

‘I fancy not. It was luck to meet them, so they couldn’t have been.’

‘Did you dance with either of them?’

Unable to state accurately that he had, Palmet cried, ‘Oh! for dancing,
the Frenchwoman beat the Italian.’

‘Did you see her often--more than once?’

‘My dear fellow, I went everywhere to see her: balls, theatres,
promenades, rides, churches.’

‘And you say she dressed up to the Italian, to challenge her, rival
her?’

‘Only one night; simple accident. Everybody noticed it, for they stood
for Night and Day,--both hung with gold; the brunette Etruscan, and the
blonde Asiatic; and every Frenchman present was epigramizing up and down
the rooms like mad.’

‘Her husband ‘s Legitimist; he wouldn’t be at the Tuileries?’ Beauchamp
spoke half to himself.

‘What, then, what?’ Palmet stared and chuckled. ‘Her husband must
have taken the Tuileries’ bait, if we mean the same woman. My dear old
Beauchamp, have I seen her, then? She’s a darling! The Rastaglione was
nothing to her. When you do light on a grand smoky pearl, the milky
ones may go and decorate plaster. That’s what I say of the loveliest
brunettes. It must be the same: there can’t be a couple of dark beauties
in Paris without a noise about them. Marquise--? I shall recollect her
name presently.’

‘Here’s one of the houses I stop at,’ said Beauchamp, ‘and drop that
subject.’

A scared servant-girl brought out her wizened mistress to confront the
candidate, and to this representative of the sex he addressed his arts
of persuasion, requesting her to repeat his words to her husband. The
contrast between Beauchamp palpably canvassing and the Beauchamp who was
the lover of the Marquise of the forgotten name, struck too powerfully
on Palmet for his gravity he retreated.

Beauchamp found him sauntering on the pavement, and would have dismissed
him but for an agreeable diversion that occurred at that moment. A
suavely smiling unctuous old gentleman advanced to them, bowing, and
presuming thus far, he said, under the supposition that he was accosting
the junior Liberal candidate for the borough. He announced his name and
his principles Tomlinson, progressive Liberal.

‘A true distinction from some Liberals I know,’ said Beauchamp.

Mr. Tomlinson hoped so. Never, he said, did he leave it to the man of
his choice at an election to knock at his door for the vote.

Beauchamp looked as if he had swallowed a cordial. Votes falling into
his lap are heavenly gifts to the candidate sick of the knocker and the
bell. Mr. Tomlinson eulogized the manly candour of the junior
Liberal candidate’s address, in which he professed to see ideas
that distinguished it from the address of the sound but otherwise
conventional Liberal, Mr. Cougham. He muttered of plumping for
Beauchamp. ‘Don’t plump,’ Beauchamp said; and a candidate, if he would
be an honourable twin, must say it. Cougham had cautioned him against
the heresy of plumping.

They discoursed of the poor and their beverages, of pothouses, of the
anti-liquorites, and of the duties of parsons, and the value of a robust
and right-minded body of the poor to the country. Palmet found himself
following them into a tolerably spacious house that he took to be the
old gentleman’s until some of the apparatus of an Institute for literary
and scientific instruction revealed itself to him, and he heard Mr.
Tomlinson exalt the memory of one Wingham for the blessing bequeathed by
him to the town of Bevisham. ‘For,’ said Mr. Tomlinson, ‘it is open to
both sexes, to all respectable classes, from ten in the morning up
to ten at night. Such a place affords us, I would venture to say, the
advantages without the seductions of a Club. I rank it next--at a far
remove, but next-the church.’

Lord Palmet brought his eyes down from the busts of certain worthies
ranged along the top of the book-shelves to the cushioned chairs, and
murmured, ‘Capital place for an appointment with a woman.’

Mr. Tomlinson gazed up at him mildly, with a fallen countenance. He
turned sadly agape in silence to the busts, the books, and the range
of scientific instruments, and directed a gaze under his eyebrows at
Beauchamp. ‘Does your friend canvass with you?’ he inquired.

‘I want him to taste it,’ Beauchamp replied, and immediately introduced
the affable young lord--a proceeding marked by some of the dexterity he
had once been famous for, as was shown by a subsequent observation of
Mr. Tomlinson’s:

‘Yes,’ he said, on the question of classes, ‘yes, I fear we have classes
in this country whose habitual levity sharp experience will have to
correct. I very much fear it.’

‘But if you have classes that are not to face realities classes that
look on them from the box-seats of a theatre,’ said Beauchamp, ‘how can
you expect perfect seriousness, or any good service whatever?’

‘Gently, sir, gently. No; we can, I feel confident, expand within the
limits of our most excellent and approved Constitution. I could wish
that socially... that is all.’

‘Socially and politically mean one thing in the end,’ said Beauchamp.
‘If you have a nation politically corrupt, you won’t have a good state
of morals in it, and the laws that keep society together bear upon the
politics of a country.’

‘True; yes,’ Mr. Tomlinson hesitated assent. He dissociated Beauchamp
from Lord Palmet, but felt keenly that the latter’s presence desecrated
Wingham’s Institute, and he informed the candidate that he thought he
would no longer detain him from his labours.

‘Just the sort of place wanted in every provincial town,’ Palmet
remarked by way of a parting compliment.

Mr. Tomlinson bowed a civil acknowledgement of his having again spoken.

No further mention was made of the miraculous vote which had risen
responsive to the candidate’s address of its own inspired motion; so
Beauchamp said, ‘I beg you to bear in mind that I request you not to
plump.’

‘You may be right, Captain Beauchamp. Good day, sir.’

Palmet strode after Beauchamp into the street.

‘Why did you set me bowing to that old boy?’ he asked.

‘Why did you talk about women?’ was the rejoinder.

‘Oh, aha!’ Palmet sang to himself. ‘You’re a Romfrey, Beauchamp. A blow
for a blow! But I only said what would strike every fellow first off. It
is the place; the very place. Pastry-cooks’ shops won’t stand comparison
with it. Don’t tell me you ‘re the man not to see how much a woman
prefers to be under the wing of science and literature, in a good-sized,
well-warmed room, with a book, instead of making believe, with a red
face, over a tart.’

He received a smart lecture from Beauchamp, and began to think he
had enough of canvassing. But he was not suffered to escape. For his
instruction, for his positive and extreme good, Beauchamp determined
that the heir to an earldom should have a day’s lesson. We will hope
there was no intention to punish him for having frozen the genial
current of Mr. Tomlinson’s vote and interest; and it may be that he
clung to one who had, as he imagined, seen Renee. Accompanied by a Mr.
Oggler, a tradesman of the town, on the Liberal committee, dressed in a
pea-jacket and proudly nautical, they applied for the vote, and found it
oftener than beauty. Palmet contrasted his repeated disappointments with
the scoring of two, three, four and more in the candidate’s list, and
informed him that he would certainly get the Election. ‘I think you’re
sure of it,’ he said. ‘There’s not a pretty woman to be seen; not one.’

One came up to them, the sight of whom counselled Lord Palmet to
reconsider his verdict. She was addressed by Beauchamp as Miss Denham,
and soon passed on.

Palmet was guilty of staring at her, and of lingering behind the others
for a last look at her.

They were on the steps of a voter’s house, calmly enduring a rebuff
from him in person, when Palmet returned to them, exclaiming effusively,
‘What luck you have, Beauchamp!’ He stopped till the applicants
descended the steps, with the voice of the voter ringing contempt as
well as refusal in their ears; then continued: ‘You introduced me neck
and heels to that undertakerly old Tomlinson, of Wingham’s Institute;
you might have given me a chance with that Miss--Miss Denham, was it?
She has a bit of a style!’

‘She has a head,’ said Beauchamp.

‘A girl like that may have what she likes. I don’t care what she
has--there’s woman in her. You might take her for a younger sister of
Mrs. Wardour-Devereux. Who ‘s the uncle she speaks of? She ought not to
be allowed to walk out by herself.’

‘She can take care of herself,’ said Beauchamp.

Palmet denied it. ‘No woman can. Upon my honour, it’s a shame that
she should be out alone. What are her people? I’ll run--from you, you
know--and see her safe home. There’s such an infernal lot of fellows
about; and a girl simply bewitching and unprotected! I ought to be after
her.’

Beauchamp held him firmly to the task of canvassing.

‘Then will you tell me where she lives?’ Palmet stipulated. He
reproached Beauchamp for a notorious Grand Turk exclusiveness and
greediness in regard to women, as well as a disposition to run hard
races for them out of a spirit of pure rivalry.

‘It’s no use contradicting, it’s universally known of you,’ reiterated
Palmet. ‘I could name a dozen women, and dozens of fellows you
deliberately set yourself to cut out, for the honour of it. What’s that
story they tell of you in one of the American cities or watering-places,
North or South? You would dance at a ball a dozen times with a girl
engaged to a man--who drenched you with a tumbler at the hotel bar, and
off you all marched to the sands and exchanged shots from revolvers; and
both of you, they say, saw the body of a drowned sailor in the water,
in the moonlight, heaving nearer and nearer, and you stretched your man
just as the body was flung up by a wave between you. Picturesque, if you
like!’

‘Dramatic, certainly. And I ran away with the bride next morning?’

‘No!’ roared Palmet; ‘you didn’t. There’s the cruelty of the whole
affair.’

Beauchamp laughed. ‘An old messmate of mine, Lieutenant Jack Wilmore,
can give you a different version of the story. I never have fought a
duel, and never will. Here we are at the shop of a tough voter, Mr.
Oggler. So it says in my note-book. Shall we put Lord Palmet to speak to
him first?’

‘If his lordship will put his heart into what he says,’ Mr. Oggler
bowed. ‘Are you for giving the people recreation on a Sunday, my lord?’

‘Trap-bat and ball, cricket, dancing, military bands, puppet-shows,
theatres, merry-go-rounds, bosky dells--anything to make them happy,’
said Palmet.

‘Oh, dear! then I ‘m afraid we cannot ask you to speak to this Mr.
Carpendike.’ Oggler shook his head.

‘Does the fellow want the people to be miserable?’

‘I’m afraid, my lord, he would rather see them miserable.’

They introduced themselves to Mr. Carpendike in his shop. He was a
flat-chested, sallow young shoemaker, with a shelving forehead, who
seeing three gentlemen enter to him recognized at once with a practised
resignation that they had not come to order shoe-leather, though he
would fain have shod them, being needy; but it was not the design of
Providence that they should so come as he in his blindness would have
had them. Admitting this he wished for nothing.

The battle with Carpendike lasted three-quarters of an hour, during
which he was chiefly and most effectively silent. Carpendike would not
vote for a man that proposed to open museums on the Sabbath day. The
striking simile of the thin end of the wedge was recurred to by him for
a damning illustration. Captain Beauchamp might be honest in putting his
mind on most questions in his address, when there was no demand upon him
to do it; but honesty was no antidote to impiety. Thus Carpendike.

As to Sunday museuming being an antidote to the pothouse--no. For the
people knew the frequenting of the pothouse to be a vice; it was a
temptation of Satan that often in overcoming them was the cause of
their flying back to grace: whereas museums and picture galleries were
insidious attractions cloaked by the name of virtue, whereby they were
allured to abandon worship.

Beauchamp flew at this young monster of unreason: ‘But the people are
not worshipping; they are idling and sotting, and if you carry your
despotism farther still, and shut them out of every shop on Sundays, do
you suppose you promote the spirit of worship? If you don’t revolt them
you unman them, and I warn you we can’t afford to destroy what manhood
remains to us in England. Look at the facts.’

He flung the facts at Carpendike with the natural exaggeration of them
which eloquence produces, rather, as a rule, to assure itself in passing
of the overwhelming justice of the cause it pleads than to deceive the
adversary. Brewers’ beer and publicans’ beer, wife-beatings, the homes
and the blood of the people, were matters reviewed to the confusion of
Sabbatarians.

Carpendike listened with a bent head, upraised eyes, and brows
wrinkling far on to his poll: a picture of a mind entrenched beyond
the potentialities of mortal assault. He signified that he had spoken.
Indeed Beauchamp’s reply was vain to one whose argument was that he
considered the people nearer to holiness in the indulging of an evil
propensity than in satisfying a harmless curiosity and getting a
recreation. The Sabbath claimed them; if they were disobedient, Sin
ultimately might scourge them back to the fold, but never if they were
permitted to regard themselves as innocent in their backsliding and
rebelliousness.

Such language was quite new to Beauchamp. The parsons he had spoken
to were of one voice in objecting to the pothouse. He appealed to
Carpendike’s humanity. Carpendike smote him with a text from Scripture.

‘Devilish cold in this shop,’ muttered Palmet.

Two not flourishing little children of the emaciated Puritan burst into
the shop, followed by their mother, carrying a child in her arms. She
had a sad look, upon traces of a past fairness, vaguely like a snow
landscape in the thaw. Palmet stooped to toss shillings with her young
ones, that he might avoid the woman’s face. It cramped his heart.

‘Don’t you see, Mr. Carpendike,’ said fat Mr. Oggler, ‘it’s the
happiness of the people we want; that’s what Captain Beauchamp works
for--their happiness; that’s the aim of life for all of us. Look at me!
I’m as happy as the day. I pray every night, and I go to church every
Sunday, and I never know what it is to be unhappy. The Lord has blessed
me with a good digestion, healthy pious children, and a prosperous shop
that’s a competency--a modest one, but I make it satisfy me, because
I know it’s the Lord’s gift. Well, now, and I hate Sabbath-breakers; I
would punish them; and I’m against the public-houses on a Sunday; but
aboard my little yacht, say on a Sunday morning in the Channel, I don’t
forget I owe it to the Lord that he has been good enough to put me in
the way of keeping a yacht; no; I read prayers to my crew, and a chapter
in the Bible-Genesis, Deuteronomy, Kings, Acts, Paul, just as it comes.
All’s good that’s there. Then we’re free for the day! man, boy, and me;
we cook our victuals, and we must look to the yacht, do you see. But
we’ve made our peace with the Almighty. We know that. He don’t mind the
working of the vessel so long as we’ve remembered him. He put us in that
situation, exactly there, latitude and longitude, do you see, and work
the vessel we must. And a glass of grog and a pipe after dinner, can’t
be any offence. And I tell you, honestly and sincerely, I’m sure my
conscience is good, and I really and truly don’t know what it is not to
know happiness.’

‘Then you don’t know God,’ said Carpendike, like a voice from a cave.

‘Or nature: or the state of the world,’ said Beauchamp, singularly
impressed to find himself between two men, of whom--each perforce of his
tenuity and the evident leaning of his appetites--one was for the barren
black view of existence, the other for the fantastically bright. As
to the men personally, he chose Carpendike, for all his obstinacy and
sourness. Oggler’s genial piety made him shrink with nausea.

But Lord Palmet paid Mr. Oggler a memorable compliment, by assuring him
that he was altogether of his way of thinking about happiness.

The frank young nobleman did not withhold a reference to the two or
three things essential to his happiness; otherwise Mr. Oggler might have
been pleased and flattered.

Before quitting the shop, Beauchamp warned Carpendike that he should
come again. ‘Vote or no vote, you’re worth the trial. Texts as many as
you like. I’ll make your faith active, if it’s alive at all. You speak
of the Lord loving his own; you make out the Lord to be your own, and
use your religion like a drug. So it appears to me. That Sunday tyranny
of yours has to be defended.

Remember that; for I for one shall combat it and expose it. Good day.’

Beauchamp continued, in the street: ‘Tyrannies like this fellow’s have
made the English the dullest and wretchedest people in Europe.’

Palmet animadverted on Carpendike: ‘The dog looks like a deadly fungus
that has poisoned the woman.’

‘I’d trust him with a post of danger, though,’ said Beauchamp.

Before the candidate had opened his mouth to the next elector he was
beamed on. M’Gilliper, baker, a floured brick face, leaned on folded
arms across his counter and said, in Scotch: ‘My vote? and he that asks
me for my vote is the man who, when he was midshipman, saved the life
of a relation of mine from death by drowning! my wife’s first cousin,
Johnny Brownson--and held him up four to five minutes in the water,
and never left him till he was out of danger! There ‘s my hand on it,
I will, and a score of householders in Bevisham the same.’ He dictated
precious names and addresses to Beauchamp, and was curtly thanked for
his pains.

Such treatment of a favourable voter seemed odd to Palmet.

‘Oh, a vote given for reasons of sentiment!’ Beauchamp interjected.

Palmet reflected and said: ‘Well, perhaps that’s how it is women don’t
care uncommonly for the men who love them, though they like precious
well to be loved. Opposition does it.’

‘You have discovered my likeness to women,’ said Beauchamp, eyeing him
critically, and then thinking, with a sudden warmth, that he had seen
Renee: ‘Look here, Palmet, you’re too late for Itchincope, to-day; come
and eat fish and meat with me at my hotel, and come to a meeting after
it. You can run by rail to Itchincope to breakfast in the morning, and I
may come with you. You’ll hear one or two men speak well to-night.’

‘I suppose I shall have to be at this business myself some day,’ sighed
Palmet. ‘Any women on the platform? Oh, but political women! And the
Tories get the pick of the women. No, I don’t think I ‘ll stay. Yes,
I will; I’ll go through with it. I like to be learning something. You
wouldn’t think it of me, Beauchamp, but I envy fellows at work.’

‘You might make a speech for me, Palmet.’

‘No man better, my dear fellow, if it were proposing a toast to the poor
devils and asking them to drink it. But a dry speech, like leading them
over the desert without a well to cheer them--no oasis, as we used to
call a five-pound note and a holiday--I haven’t the heart for that. Is
your Miss Denham a Radical?’

Beauchamp asserted that he had not yet met a woman at all inclining in
the direction of Radicalism. ‘I don’t call furies Radicals. There may be
women who think as well as feel; I don’t know them.’

‘Lots of them, Beauchamp. Take my word for it. I do know women. They
haven’t a shift, nor a trick, I don’t know. They’re as clear to me as
glass. I’ll wager your Miss Denham goes to the meetings. Now, doesn’t
she? Of course she does. And there couldn’t be a gallanter way of
spending an evening, so I’ll try it. Nothing to repent of next morning!
That’s to be said for politics, Beauchamp, and I confess I’m rather
jealous of you. A thoroughly good-looking girl who takes to a fellow for
what he’s doing in the world, must have ideas of him precious different
from the adoration of six feet three and a fine seat in the saddle.
I see that. There’s Baskelett in the Blues; and if I were he I should
detest my cuirass and helmet, for if he’s half as successful as he
boasts--it’s the uniform.’

Two notorious Radicals, Peter Molyneux and Samuel Killick, were called
on. The first saw Beauchamp and refused him; the second declined to see
him. He was amazed and staggered, but said little.

Among the remainder of the electors of Bevisham, roused that day to a
sense of their independence by the summons of the candidates, only one
man made himself conspicuous, by premising that he had two important
questions to ask, and he trusted Commander Beauchamp to answer them
unreservedly. They were: first, What is a FRENCH MARQUEES? and second:
Who was EURYDICEY?

Beauchamp referred him to the Tory camp, whence the placard alluding to
those ladies had issued.

‘Both of them ‘s ladies! I guessed it,’ said the elector.

‘Did you guess that one of them is a mythological lady?’

‘I’m not far wrong in guessing t’other’s not much better, I reckon. Now,
sir, may I ask you, is there any tale concerning your morals?’

‘No: you may not ask; you take a liberty.’

‘Then I’ll take the liberty to postpone talking about my vote. Look
here, Mr. Commander; if the upper classes want anything of me and come
to me for it, I’ll know what sort of an example they’re setting; now
that’s me.’

‘You pay attention to a stupid Tory squib?’

‘Where there’s smoke there’s fire, sir.’

Beauchamp glanced at his note-book for the name of this man, who was a
ragman and dustman.

‘My private character has nothing whatever to do with my politics,’ he
said, and had barely said it when he remembered having spoken somewhat
differently, upon the abstract consideration of the case, to Mr.
Tomlinson.

‘You’re quite welcome to examine my character for yourself, only I don’t
consent to be catechized. Understand that.’

‘You quite understand that, Mr. Tripehallow,’ said Oggler, bolder in
taking up the strange name than Beauchamp had been.

‘I understand that. But you understand, there’s never been a word
against the morals of Mr. Cougham. Here’s the point: Do we mean to be a
moral country? Very well, then so let our representatives be, I say. And
if I hear nothing against your morals, Mr. Commander, I don’t say you
shan’t have my vote. I mean to deliberate. You young nobs capering over
our heads--I nail you down to morals. Politics secondary. Adew, as the
dying spirit remarked to weeping friends.’

‘Au revoir--would have been kinder,’ said Palmet.

Mr. Tripehallow smiled roguishly, to betoken comprehension.

Beauchamp asked Mr. Oggler whether that fellow was to be taken for a
humourist or a five-pound-note man.

‘It may be both, sir. I know he’s called Morality Joseph.’

An all but acknowledged five-pound-note man was the last they visited.
He cut short the preliminaries of the interview by saying that he was a
four-o’clock man; i.e. the man who waited for the final bids to him upon
the closing hour of the election day.

‘Not one farthing!’ said Beauchamp, having been warned beforehand of the
signification of the phrase by his canvassing lieutenant.

‘Then you’re nowhere,’ the honest fellow replied in the mystic tongue of
prophecy.

Palmet and Beauchamp went to their fish and meat; smoked a cigarette or
two afterward, conjured away the smell of tobacco from their persons as
well as they could, and betook themselves to the assembly-room of the
Liberal party, where the young lord had an opportunity of beholding Mr.
Cougham, and of listening to him for an hour and forty minutes. He heard
Mr. Timothy Turbot likewise. And Miss Denham was present. Lord Palmet
applauded when she smiled. When she looked attentive he was deeply
studious. Her expression of fatigue under the sonorous ring of
statistics poured out from Cougham was translated by Palmet into yawns
and sighs of a profoundly fraternal sympathy. Her face quickened on
the rising of Beauchamp to speak. She kept eye on him all the while, as
Palmet, with the skill of an adept in disguising his petty larceny of
the optics, did on her. Twice or thrice she looked pained: Beauchamp was
hesitating for the word. Once she looked startled and shut her eyes: a
hiss had sounded; Beauchamp sprang on it as if enlivened by hostility,
and dominated the factious note. Thereat she turned to a gentleman
sitting beside her; apparently they agreed that some incident had
occurred characteristic of Nevil Beauchamp; for whom, however, it was
not a brilliant evening. He was very well able to account for it, and
did so, after he had walked a few steps with Miss Denham on her homeward
way.

‘You heard Cougham, Palmet! He’s my senior, and I’m obliged to come
second to him, and how am I to have a chance when he has drenched the
audience for close upon a couple of hours!’

Palmet mimicked the manner of Cougham.

‘They cry for Turbot naturally; they want a relief,’ Beauchamp groaned.

Palmet gave an imitation of Timothy Turbot.

He was an admirable mimic, perfectly spontaneous, without stressing any
points, and Beauchamp was provoked to laugh his discontentment with the
evening out of recollection.

But a grave matter troubled Palmet’s head.

‘Who was that fellow who walked off with Miss Denham?’

‘A married man,’ said Beauchamp: ‘badly married; more ‘s the pity; he
has a wife in the madhouse. His name is Lydiard.’

‘Not her brother! Where’s her uncle?’

‘She won’t let him come to these meetings. It’s her idea; well-intended,
but wrong, I think. She’s afraid that Dr. Shrapnel will alarm the
moderate Liberals and damage Radical me.’

Palmet muttered between his teeth, ‘What queer things they let their
women do!’ He felt compelled to say, ‘Odd for her to be walking home at
night with a fellow like that.’

It chimed too consonantly with a feeling of Beauchamp’s, to repress
which he replied: ‘Your ideas about women are simply barbarous, Palmet.
Why shouldn’t she? Her uncle places his confidence in the man, and in
her. Isn’t that better--ten times more likely to call out the sense of
honour and loyalty, than the distrust and the scandal going on in your
class?’

‘Please to say yours too.’

‘I’ve no class. I say that the education for women is to teach them to
rely on themselves.’

‘Ah! well, I don’t object, if I’m the man.’

‘Because you and your set are absolutely uncivilized in your views of
women.’

‘Common sense, Beauchamp!’

‘Prey. You eye them as prey. And it comes of an idle aristocracy. You
have no faith in them, and they repay you for your suspicion.’

‘All the same, Beauchamp, she ought not to be allowed to go about at
night with that fellow. “Rich and rare were the gems she wore”: but that
was in Erin’s isle, and if we knew the whole history, she’d better have
stopped at home. She’s marvellously pretty, to my mind. She looks a
high-bred wench. Odd it is, Beauchamp, to see a lady’s-maid now and
then catch the style of my lady. No, by Jove! I’ve known one or two--you
couldn’t tell the difference! Not till you were intimate. I know one
would walk a minuet with a duchess. Of course--all the worse for her.
If you see that uncle of Miss Denham’s--upon my honour, I should advise
him: I mean, counsel him not to trust her with any fellow but you.’

Beauchamp asked Lord Palmet how old he was.

Palmet gave his age; correcting the figures from six-and-twenty to
one year more. ‘And never did a stroke of work in my life,’ he said,
speaking genially out of an acute guess at the sentiments of the man he
walked with.

It seemed a farcical state of things.

There was a kind of contrition in Palmet’s voice, and to put him at his
ease, as well as to stamp something in his own mind, Beauchamp said:
‘It’s common enough.’



CHAPTER XX. A DAY AT ITCHINCOPE

An election in Bevisham was always an exciting period at Itchincope, the
large and influential old estate of the Lespels, which at one time, with
but a ceremonious drive through the town, sent you two good Whig men to
Parliament to sit at Reform banquets; two unswerving party men, blest
subscribers to the right Review, and personally proud of its trenchancy.
Mr. Grancey Lespel was the survivor of them, and well could he remember
the happier day of his grandfather, his father, and his own hot youth.
He could be carried so far by affectionate regrets as to think of the
Tories of that day benignly:--when his champion Review of the orange
and blue livery waved a wondrous sharp knife, and stuck and bled them,
proving to his party, by trenchancy alone, that the Whig was the cause
of Providence. Then politics presented you a table whereat two parties
feasted, with no fear of the intrusion of a third, and your backs were
turned on the noisy lower world, your ears were deaf to it.

Apply we now the knocker to the door of venerable Quotation, and call
the aged creature forth, that he, half choked by his eheu--!

          ‘A sound between a sigh and bray,’

may pronounce the familiar but respectable words, the burial-service of
a time so happy!

Mr. Grancey Lespel would still have been sitting for Bevisham (or
politely at this elective moment bowing to resume the seat) had not
those Manchester jugglers caught up his cry, appropriated his colours,
displaced and impersonated him, acting beneficent Whig on a scale
approaching treason to the Constitution; leaning on the people in
earnest, instead of taking the popular shoulder for a temporary lift,
all in high party policy, for the clever manoeuvre, to oust the Tory
and sway the realm. See the consequences. For power, for no other
consideration, those manufacturing rascals have raised Radicalism
from its primaeval mire--from its petty backslum bookseller’s shop and
public-house back-parlour effluvia of oratory--to issue dictates in
England, and we, England, formerly the oak, are topsy-turvy, like
onions, our heels in the air!

The language of party is eloquent, and famous for being grand at
illustration; but it is equally well known that much of it gives us
humble ideas of the speaker, probably because of the naughty temper
party is prone to; which, while endowing it with vehemence, lessens the
stout circumferential view that should be taken, at least historically.
Indeed, though we admit party to be the soundest method for conducting
us, party talk soon expends its attractiveness, as would a summer’s
afternoon given up to the contemplation of an encounter of rams’ heads.
Let us be quit of Mr. Grancey Lespel’s lamentations. The Whig gentleman
had some reason to complain. He had been trained to expect no other
attack than that of his hereditary adversary-ram in front, and a sham
ram--no honest animal, but a ramming engine rather--had attacked him in
the rear. Like Mr. Everard Romfrey and other Whigs, he was profoundly
chagrined by popular ingratitude: ‘not the same man,’ his wife said of
him. It nipped him early. He took to proverbs; sure sign of the sere
leaf in a man’s mind.

His wife reproached the people for their behaviour to him bitterly. The
lady regarded politics as a business that helped hunting-men a stage
above sportsmen, for numbers of the politicians she was acquainted with
were hunting-men, yet something more by virtue of the variety they
could introduce into a conversation ordinarily treating of sport and
the qualities of wines. Her husband seemed to have lost in that
Parliamentary seat the talisman which gave him notions distinguishing
him from country squires; he had sunk, and he no longer cared for the
months in London, nor for the speeches she read to him to re-awaken
his mind and make him look out of himself, as he had done when he was a
younger man and not a suspended Whig. Her own favourite reading was of
love-adventures written in the French tongue. She had once been in love,
and could be so sympathetic with that passion as to avow to Cecilia
Halkett a tenderness for Nevil Beauchamp, on account of his relations
with the Marquise de Rouaillout, and notwithstanding the demoniacal
flame-halo of the Radical encircling him.

The allusion to Beauchamp occurred a few hours after Cecilia’s arrival
at Itchincope.

Cecilia begged for the French lady’s name to be repeated; she had not
heard it before, and she tasted the strange bitter relish of realization
when it struck her ear to confirm a story that she believed indeed, but
had not quite sensibly felt.

‘And it is not over yet, they say,’ Mrs. Grancey Lespel added, while
softly flipping some spots of the colour proper to radicals in morals
on the fame of the French lady. She possessed fully the grave judicial
spirit of her countrywomen, and could sit in judgement on the personages
of tales which had entranced her, to condemn the heroines: it was
impolitic in her sex to pity females. As for the men--poor weak things!
As for Nevil Beauchamp, in particular, his case, this penetrating lady
said, was clear: he ought to be married. ‘Could you make a sacrifice?’
she asked Cecilia playfully.

‘Nevil Beauchamp and I are old friends, but we have agreed that we are
deadly political enemies,’ Miss Halkett replied.

‘It is not so bad for a beginning,’ said Mrs. Lespel.

‘If one were disposed to martyrdom.’

The older woman nodded. ‘Without that.’

‘My dear Mrs. Lespel, wait till you have heard him. He is at war with
everything we venerate and build on. The wife you would give him should
be a creature rooted in nothing--in sea-water. Simply two or three
conversations with him have made me uncomfortable ever since; I can see
nothing durable; I dream of surprises, outbreaks, dreadful events. At
least it is perfectly true that I do not look with the same eyes on my
country. He seems to delight in destroying one’s peaceful contemplation
of life. The truth is that he blows a perpetual gale, and is all
agitation,’ Cecilia concluded, affecting with a smile a slight shiver.

‘Yes, one tires of that,’ said Mrs. Lespel. ‘I was determined I would
have him here if we could get him to come. Grancey objected. We shall
have to manage Captain Beauchamp and the rest as well. He is sure to
come late to-morrow, and will leave early on Thursday morning for his
canvass; our driving into Bevisham is for Friday or Saturday. I do not
see that he need have any suspicions. Those verses you are so angry
about cannot be traced to Itchincope. My dear, they are a childish
trifle. When my husband stood first for Bevisham, the whole of his
University life appeared in print. What we have to do is to forewarn the
gentlemen to be guarded, and especially in what they say to my nephew
Lord Palmet, for that boy cannot keep a secret; he is as open as a
plate.’

‘The smoking-room at night?’ Cecilia suggested, remembering her father’s
words about Itchincope’s tobacco-hall.

‘They have Captain Beauchamp’s address hung up there, I have heard,’
said Mrs. Lespel. ‘There may be other things--another address, though it
is not yet, placarded. Come with me. For fifteen years I have never once
put my head into that room, and now I ‘ve a superstitious fear about
it.’

Mrs. Lespel led the way to the deserted smoking-room, where the stale
reek of tobacco assailed the ladies, as does that dire place of Customs
the stranger visiting savage (or too natural) potentates.

In silence they tore down from the wall Beauchamp’s electoral
Address--flanked all its length with satirical pen and pencil comments
and sketches; and they consigned to flames the vast sheet of animated
verses relating to the FRENCH MARQUEES. A quarter-size chalk-drawing
of a slippered pantaloon having a duck on his shoulder, labelled to say
‘Quack-quack,’ and offering our nauseated Dame Britannia (or else it
was the widow Bevisham) a globe of a pill to swallow, crossed with the
consolatory and reassuring name of Shrapnel, they disposed of likewise.
And then they fled, chased forth either by the brilliancy of the
politically allusive epigrams profusely inscribed around them on the
walls, or by the atmosphere. Mrs. Lespel gave her orders for the walls
to be scraped, and said to Cecilia: ‘A strange air to breathe, was it
not? The less men and women know of one another, the happier for them. I
knew my superstition was correct as a guide to me. I do so much wish to
respect men, and all my experience tells me the Turks know best how to
preserve it for us. Two men in this house would give their wives for
pipes, if it came to the choice. We might all go for a cellar of old
wine. After forty, men have married their habits, and wives are only an
item in the list, and not the most important.’

With the assistance of Mr. Stukely Culbrett, Mrs. Lespel prepared the
house and those of the company who were in the secret of affairs for the
arrival of Beauchamp. The ladies were curious to see him. The gentlemen,
not anticipating extreme amusement, were calm: for it is an axiom in the
world of buckskins and billiard-cues, that one man is very like another;
and so true is it with them, that they can in time teach it to the fair
sex. Friends of Cecil Baskelett predominated, and the absence of so
sprightly a fellow was regretted seriously; but he was shooting with his
uncle at Holdesbury, and they did not expect him before Thursday.

On Wednesday morning Lord Palmet presented himself at a remarkably
well-attended breakfast-table at Itchincope. He passed from Mrs. Lespel
to Mrs. Wardour-Devsreux and Miss Halkett, bowed to other ladies, shook
hands with two or three men, and nodded over the heads of half-a-dozen,
accounting rather mysteriously for his delay in coming, it was thought,
until he sat down before a plate of Yorkshire pie, and said:

‘The fact is I’ve been canvassing hard. With Beauchamp!’

Astonishment and laughter surrounded him, and Palmet looked from face to
face, equally astonished, and desirous to laugh too.

‘Ernest! how could you do that?’ said Mrs. Lespel; and her husband cried
in stupefaction, ‘With Beauchamp?’

‘Oh! it’s because of the Radicalism,’ Palmet murmured to himself. ‘I
didn’t mind that.’

‘What sort of a day did you have?’ Mr. Culbrett asked him; and several
gentlemen fell upon him for an account of the day.

Palmet grimaced over a mouthful of his pie.

‘Bad!’ quoth Mr. Lespel; ‘I knew it. I know Bevisham. The only chance
there is for five thousand pounds in a sack with a hole in it.’

‘Bad for Beauchamp? Dear me, no’; Palmet corrected the error. ‘He is
carrying all before him. And he tells them,’ Palmet mimicked Beauchamp,
‘they shall not have one penny: not a farthing. I gave a couple of
young ones a shilling apiece, and he rowed me for bribery; somehow I did
wrong.’

Lord Palmet described the various unearthly characters he had inspected
in their dens: Carpendike, Tripehallow, and the radicals Peter Molyneux
and Samuel Killick, and the ex-member for the borough, Cougham,
posing to suit sign-boards of Liberal inns, with a hand thrust in his
waistcoat, and his head well up, the eyes running over the under-lids,
after the traditional style of our aristocracy; but perhaps more closely
resembling an urchin on tiptoe peering above park-palings. Cougham’s
remark to Beauchamp, heard and repeated by Palmet with the object
of giving an example of the senior Liberal’s phraseology: ‘I was
necessitated to vacate my town mansion, to my material discomfort and
that of my wife, whose equipage I have been compelled to take, by your
premature canvass of the borough, Captain Beauchamp: and now, I hear,
on undeniable authority, that no second opponent to us will be
forthcoming’---this produced the greatest effect on the company.

‘But do you tell me,’ said Mr. Lespel, when the shouts of the gentlemen
were subsiding, ‘do you tell me that young Beauchamp is going ahead?’

‘That he is. They flock to him in the street.’

‘He stands there, then, and jingles a money-bag.’

Palmet resumed his mimicry of Beauchamp: ‘Not a stiver; purity
of election is the first condition of instruction to the people!
Principles! Then they’ve got a capital orator: Turbot, an Irishman. I
went to a meeting last night, and heard him; never heard anything finer
in my life. You may laugh he whipped me off my legs; fellow spun me like
a top; and while he was orationing, a donkey calls, “Turbot! ain’t you
a flat fish?” and he swings round, “Not for a fool’s hook!” and out they
hustled the villain for a Tory. I never saw anything like it.’

‘That repartee wouldn’t have done with a Dutchman or a Torbay trawler,’
said Stukely Culbrett. ‘But let us hear more.’

‘Is it fair?’ Miss Halkett murmured anxiously to Mrs. Lespel, who
returned a flitting shrug.

‘Charming women follow Beauchamp, you know,’ Palmet proceeded, as he
conceived, to confirm and heighten the tale of success. ‘There’s a
Miss Denham, niece of a doctor, a Dr.... Shot--Shrapnel! a wonderfully
good-looking, clever-looking girl, comes across him in half-a-dozen
streets to ask how he’s getting on, and goes every night to his
meetings, with a man who ‘s a writer and has a mad wife; a man named
Lydia-no, that’s a woman--Lydiard. It’s rather a jumble; but you should
see her when Beauchamp’s on his legs and speaking.’

‘Mr. Lydiard is in Bevisham?’ Mrs. Wardour-Devereux remarked.

‘I know the girl,’ growled Mr. Lespel. ‘She comes with that rascally
doctor and a bobtail of tea-drinking men and women and their brats to
Northeden Heath--my ground. There they stand and sing.’

‘Hymns?’ inquired Mr. Culbrett.

‘I don’t know what they sing. And when it rains they take the liberty
to step over my bank into my plantation. Some day I shall have them
stepping into my house.’

‘Yes, it’s Mr. Lydiard; I’m sure of the man’s name,’ Palmet replied to
Mrs. Wardour-Devereux.

‘We met him in Spain the year before last,’ she observed to Cecilia.

The ‘we’ reminded Palmet that her husband was present.

‘Ah, Devereux, I didn’t see you,’ he nodded obliquely down the table.
‘By the way, what’s the grand procession? I hear my man Davis has
come all right, and I caught sight of the top of your coach-box in the
stableyard as I came in. What are we up to?’

‘Baskelett writes, it’s to be for to-morrow morning at ten-the start.’
Mr. Wardour-Devereux addressed the table generally. He was a fair,
huge, bush-bearded man, with a voice of unvarying bass: a squire in
his county, and energetic in his pursuit of the pleasures of hunting,
driving, travelling, and tobacco.

‘Old Bask’s the captain of us? Very well, but where do we drive the
teams? How many are we? What’s in hand?’

Cecilia threw a hurried glance at her hostess.

Luckily some witling said, ‘Fours-in-hand!’ and so dryly that it passed
for humour, and gave Mrs. Lespel time to interpose. ‘You are not to know
till to-morrow, Ernest.’

Palmet had traced the authorship of the sally to Mr. Algy Borolick, and
crowned him with praise for it. He asked, ‘Why not know till to-morrow?’
A word in a murmur from Mr. Culbrett, ‘Don’t frighten the women,’
satisfied him, though why it should he could not have imagined.

Mrs. Lespel quitted the breakfast-table before the setting in of the
dangerous five minutes of conversation over its ruins, and spoke to her
husband, who contested the necessity for secresy, but yielded to her
judgement when it was backed by Stukely Culbrett. Soon after Lord Palmet
found himself encountered by evasions and witticisms, in spite of the
absence of the ladies, upon every attempt he made to get some light
regarding the destination of the four-in-hands next day.

‘What are you going to do?’ he said to Mr. Devereux, thinking him the
likeliest one to grow confidential in private.

‘Smoke,’ resounded from the depths of that gentleman.

Palmet recollected the ground of division between the beautiful brunette
and her lord--his addiction to the pipe in perpetuity, and deemed it
sweeter to be with the lady.

She and Miss Halkett were walking in the garden.

Miss Halkett said to him: ‘How wrong of you to betray the secrets of
your friend! Is he really making way?’

‘Beauchamp will head the poll to a certainty,’ Palmet replied.

‘Still,’ said Miss Halkett, ‘you should not forget that you are not in
the house of a Liberal. Did you canvass in the town or the suburbs?’

‘Everywhere. I assure you, Miss Halkett, there’s a feeling for
Beauchamp--they’re in love with him!’

‘He promises them everything, I suppose?’

‘Not he. And the odd thing is, it isn’t the Radicals he catches. He
won’t go against the game laws for them, and he won’t cut down army and
navy. So the Radicals yell at him. One confessed he had sold his vote
for five pounds last election: “you shall have it for the same,” says
he, “for you’re all humbugs.” Beauchamp took him by the throat and shook
him--metaphorically, you know. But as for the tradesmen, he’s their
hero; bakers especially.’

‘Mr. Austin may be right, then!’ Cecilia reflected aloud.

She went to Mrs. Lespel to repeat what she had extracted from Palmet,
after warning the latter not, in common loyalty, to converse about his
canvass with Beauchamp.

‘Did you speak of Mr. Lydiard as Captain Beauchamp’s friend?’ Mrs.
Devereux inquired of him.

‘Lydiard? why, he was the man who made off with that pretty Miss
Denham,’ said Palmet. ‘I have the greatest trouble to remember them all;
but it was not a day wasted. Now I know politics. Shall we ride or walk?
You will let me have the happiness? I’m so unlucky; I rarely meet you!’

‘You will bring Captain Beauchamp to me the moment he comes?’

‘I’ll bring him. Bring him? Nevil Beauchamp won’t want bringing.’

Mrs. Devereux smiled with some pleasure.

Grancey Lespel, followed at some distance by Mr. Ferbrass, the Tory
lawyer, stepped quickly up to Palmet, and asked whether Beauchamp had
seen Dollikins, the brewer.

Palmet could recollect the name of one Tomlinson, and also the calling
at a brewery. Moreover, Beauchamp had uttered contempt of the brewer’s
business, and of the social rule to accept rich brewers for gentlemen.
The man’s name might be Dollikins and not Tomlinson, and if so, it
was Dollikins who would not see Beauchamp. To preserve his political
importance, Palmet said, ‘Dollikins! to be sure, that was the man.’

‘Treats him as he does you,’ Mr. Lespel turned to Ferbrass. ‘I’ve sent
to Dollikins to come to me this morning, if he’s not driving into the
town. I’ll have him before Beauchamp sees him. I’ve asked half-a-dozen
of these country gentlemen-tradesmen to lunch at my table to-day.’

‘Then, sir,’ observed Ferbrass, ‘if they are men to be persuaded, they
had better not see me.’

‘True; they’re my old supporters, and mightn’t like your Tory face,’ Mr.
Lespel assented.

Mr. Ferbrass congratulated him on the heartiness of his espousal of the
Tory cause.

Mr. Lespel winced a little, and told him not to put his trust in that.

‘Turned Tory?’ said Palmet.

Mr. Lespel declined to answer.

Palmet said to Mrs. Devereux, ‘He thinks I’m not worth speaking to upon
politics. Now I’ll give him some Beauchamp; I learned lots yesterday.’

‘Then let it be in Captain Beauchamp’s manner,’ said she softly.

Palmet obeyed her commands with the liveliest exhibition of his peculiar
faculty: Cecilia, rejoining them, seemed to hear Nevil himself in his
emphatic political mood. ‘Because the Whigs are defunct! They had no
root in the people! Whig is the name of a tribe that was! You have Tory,
Liberal, and Radical. There is no place for Whig. He is played out.’

‘Who has been putting that nonsense into your head?’ Mr. Lespel
retorted. ‘Go shooting, go shooting!’

Shots were heard in the woods. Palmet pricked up his ears; but he was
taken out riding to act cavalier to Mrs. Devereux and Miss Halkett.

Cecilia corrected his enthusiasm with the situation. ‘No flatteries
to-day. There are hours when women feel their insignificance and
helplessness. I begin to fear for Mr. Austin; and I find I can do
nothing to aid him. My hands are tied. And yet I know I could win voters
if only it were permissible for me to go and speak to them.’

‘Win them!’ cried Palmet, imagining the alacrity of men’s votes to be
won by her. He recommended a gallop for the chasing away of melancholy,
and as they were on the Bevisham high road, which was bordered by strips
of turf and heath, a few good stretches brought them on the fir-heights,
commanding views of the town and broad water.

‘No, I cannot enjoy it,’ Cecilia said to Mrs. Devereux; ‘I don’t mind
the grey light; cloud and water, and halftones of colour, are homely
English and pleasant, and that opal where the sun should be has a
suggestiveness richer than sunlight. I’m quite northern enough to
understand it; but with me it must be either peace or strife, and that
Election down there destroys my chance of peace. I never could mix
reverie with excitement; the battle must be over first, and the dead
buried. Can you?’

Mrs. Devereux answered: ‘Excitement? I am not sure that I know what it
is. An Election does not excite me.’

‘There’s Nevil Beauchamp himself!’ Palmet sang out, and the ladies
discerned Beauchamp under a fir-tree, down by the road, not alone. A
man, increasing in length like a telescope gradually reaching its end
for observation, and coming to the height of a landmark, as if raised
by ropes, was rising from the ground beside him. ‘Shall we trot on, Miss
Halkett?’

Cecilia said, ‘No.’

‘Now I see a third fellow,’ said Palmet. ‘It’s the other fellow, the
Denham-Shrapnel-Radical meeting... Lydiard’s his name: writes books!

‘We may as well ride on,’ Mrs. Devereux remarked, and her horse fretted
singularly.

Beauchamp perceived them, and lifted his hat. Palmet made demonstrations
for the ladies. Still neither party moved nearer.

After some waiting, Cecilia proposed to turn back.

Mrs. Devereux looked into her eyes. ‘I’ll take the lead,’ she said, and
started forward, pursued by Palmet. Cecilia followed at a sullen canter.

Before they came up to Beauchamp, the long-shanked man had stalked away
townward. Lydiard held Beauchamp by the hand. Some last words, after
the manner of instructions, passed between them, and then Lydiard also
turned away.

‘I say, Beauchamp, Mrs. Devereux wants to hear who that man is,’ Palmet
said, drawing up.

‘That man is Dr. Shrapnel,’ said Beauchamp, convinced that Cecilia had
checked her horse at the sight of the doctor.

‘Dr. Shrapnel,’ Palmet informed Mrs. Devereux.

She looked at him to seek his wits, and returning Beauchamp’s admiring
salutation with a little bow and smile, said, ‘I fancied it was a
gentleman we met in Spain.’

‘He writes books,’ observed Palmet, to jog a slow intelligence.

‘Pamphlets, you mean.’

‘I think he is not a pamphleteer’, Mrs. Devereux said.

‘Mr. Lydiard, then, of course; how silly I am! How can you pardon me!’
Beauchamp was contrite; he could not explain that a long guess he had
made at Miss Halkett’s reluctance to come up to him when Dr. Shrapnel
was with him had preoccupied his mind. He sent off Palmet the bearer
of a pretext for bringing Lydiard back, and then said to Cecilia, ‘You
recognized Dr. Shrapnel?’

‘I thought it might be Dr. Shrapnel’, she was candid enough to reply. ‘I
could not well recognize him, not knowing him.’

‘Here comes Mr. Lydiard; and let me assure you, if I may take
the liberty of introducing him, he is no true Radical. He is a
philosopher--one of the flirts, the butterflies of politics, as Dr.
Shrapnel calls them.’

Beauchamp hummed over some improvized trifles to Lydiard, then
introduced him cursorily, and all walked in the direction of Itchincope.
It was really the Mr. Lydiard Mrs. Devereux had met in Spain, so they
were left in the rear to discuss their travels. Much conversation did
not go on in front. Cecilia was very reserved. By-and-by she said, ‘I am
glad you have come into the country early to-day.’

He spoke rapturously of the fresh air, and not too mildly of his
pleasure in meeting her. Quite off her guard, she began to hope he was
getting to be one of them again, until she heard him tell Lord Palmet
that he had come early out of Bevisham for the walk with Dr. Shrapnel,
and to call on certain rich tradesmen living near Itchincope. He
mentioned the name of Dollikins.

‘Dollikins?’ Palmet consulted a perturbed recollection. Among the
entangled list of new names he had gathered recently from the study of
politics, Dollikins rang in his head. He shouted, ‘Yes, Dollikins! to be
sure. Lespel has him to lunch to-day;--calls him a gentleman-tradesman;
odd fish! and told a fellow called--where is it now?--a name like brass
or copper... Copperstone? Brasspot?... told him he’d do well to keep his
Tory cheek out of sight. It ‘s the names of those fellows bother one so!
All the rest’s easy.’

‘You are evidently in a state of confusion, Lord Palmet,’ said Cecilia.

The tone of rebuke and admonishment was unperceived. ‘Not about the
facts,’ he rejoined. ‘I ‘m for fair play all round; no trickery. I tell
Beauchamp all I know, just as I told you this morning, Miss Halkett.
What I don’t like is Lespel turning Tory.’

Cecilia put a stop to his indiscretions by halting for Mrs. Devereux,
and saying to Beauchamp, ‘If your friend would return to Bevisham by
rail, this is the nearest point to the station.’

Palmet, best-natured of men, though generally prompted by some of his
peculiar motives, dismounted from his horse, leaving him to Beauchamp,
that he might conduct Mr. Lydiard to the station, and perhaps hear
a word of Miss Denham: at any rate be able to form a guess as to the
secret of that art of his, which had in the space of an hour restored a
happy and luminous vivacity to the languid Mrs. Wardour-Devereux.



CHAPTER XXI. THE QUESTION AS TO THE EXAMINATION OF THE WHIGS, AND THE
FINE BLOW STRUCK BY MR. EVERARD ROMFREY

Itchincope was famous for its hospitality. Yet Beauchamp, when in the
presence of his hostess, could see that he was both unexpected and
unwelcome. Mrs. Lespel was unable to conceal it; she looked meaningly
at Cecilia, talked of the house being very full, and her husband engaged
till late in the afternoon. And Captain Baskelett had arrived on a
sudden, she said. And the luncheon-table in the dining-room could not
possibly hold more.

‘We three will sit in the library, anywhere,’ said Cecilia.

So they sat and lunched in the library, where Mrs. Devereux served
unconsciously for an excellent ally to Cecilia in chatting to Beauchamp,
principally of the writings of Mr. Lydiard.

Had the blinds of the windows been drawn down and candles lighted,
Beauchamp would have been well contented to remain with these two
ladies, and forget the outer world; sweeter society could not have been
offered him: but glancing carelessly on to the lawn, he exclaimed in
some wonderment that the man he particularly wished to see was there.
‘It must be Dollikins, the brewer. I’ve had him pointed out to me in
Bevisham, and I never can light on him at his brewery.’

No excuse for detaining the impetuous candidate struck Cecilia. She
betook herself to Mrs. Lespel, to give and receive counsel in the
emergency, while Beauchamp struck across the lawn to Mr. Dollikins, who
had the squire of Itchincope on the other side of him.

Late in the afternoon a report reached the ladies of a furious contest
going on over Dollikins. Mr. Algy Borolick was the first to give them
intelligence of it, and he declared that Beauchamp had wrested Dollikins
from Grancey Lespel. This was contradicted subsequently by Mr. Stukely
Culbrett. ‘But there’s heavy pulling between them,’ he said.

‘It will do all the good in the world to Grancey,’ said Mrs. Lespel.

She sat in her little blue-room, with gentlemen congregating at the open
window.

Presently Grancey Lespel rounded a projection of the house where the
drawing-room stood out: ‘The maddest folly ever talked!’ he delivered
himself in wrath. ‘The Whigs dead? You may as well say I’m dead.’

It was Beauchamp answering: ‘Politically, you’re dead, if you call
yourself a Whig. You couldn’t be a live one, for the party’s in pieces,
blown to the winds. The country was once a chess-board for Whig and
Tory: but that game’s at an end. There’s no doubt on earth that the
Whigs are dead.’

‘But if there’s no doubt about it, how is it I have a doubt about it?’

‘You know you’re a Tory. You tried to get that man Dollikins from me in
the Tory interest.’

‘I mean to keep him out of Radical clutches. Now that ‘s the truth.’

They came up to the group by the open window, still conversing hotly,
indifferent to listeners.

‘You won’t keep him from me; I have him,’ said Beauchamp.

‘You delude yourself; I have his promise, his pledged word,’ said
Grancey Lespel.

‘The man himself told you his opinion of renegade Whigs.’

‘Renegade!’

‘Renegade Whig is an actionable phrase,’ Mr. Culbrett observed.

He was unnoticed.

‘If you don’t like “renegade,” take “dead,”’ said Beauchamp. ‘Dead Whig
resurgent in the Tory. You are dead.’

‘It’s the stupid conceit of your party thinks that.’

‘Dead, my dear Mr. Lespel. I’ll say for the Whigs, they would not be
seen touting for Tories if they were not ghosts of Whigs. You are dead.
There is no doubt of it.’

‘But,’ Grancey Lespel repeated, ‘if there’s no doubt about it, how is it
I have a doubt about it?’

‘The Whigs preached finality in Reform. It was their own funeral
sermon.’

‘Nonsensical talk!’

‘I don’t dispute your liberty of action to go over to the Tories, but
you have no right to attempt to take an honest Liberal with you. And
that I’ve stopped.’

‘Aha! Beauchamp; the man’s mine. Come, you’ll own he swore he wouldn’t
vote for a Shrapnelite.’

‘Don’t you remember?--that’s how the Tories used to fight you; they
stuck an epithet to you, and hooted to set the mob an example; you hit
them off to the life,’ said Beauchamp, brightening with the fine ire of
strife, and affecting a sadder indignation. ‘You traded on the ignorance
of a man prejudiced by lying reports of one of the noblest of human
creatures.’

‘Shrapnel? There! I’ve had enough.’ Grancey Lespel bounced away with
both hands outspread on the level of his ears.

‘Dead!’ Beauchamp sent the ghastly accusation after him.

Grancey faced round and said, ‘Bo!’ which was applauded for a smart
retort. And let none of us be so exalted above the wit of daily life as
to sneer at it. Mrs. Lespel remarked to Mr. Culbrett, ‘Do you not see
how much he is refreshed by the interest he takes in this election? He
is ten years younger.’

Beauchamp bent to her, saying mock-dolefully, ‘I’m sorry to tell you
that if ever he was a sincere Whig, he has years of remorse before him.’

‘Promise me, Captain Beauchamp,’ she answered, ‘promise you will give us
no more politics to-day.’

‘If none provoke me.’

‘None shall.’

‘And as to Bevisham,’ said Mr. Culbrett, ‘it’s the identical borough
for a Radical candidate, for every voter there demands a division of his
property, and he should be the last to complain of an adoption of his
principles.’

‘Clever,’ rejoined Beauchamp; ‘but I am under government’; and he swept
a bow to Mrs. Lespel.

As they were breaking up the group, Captain Baskelett appeared.

‘Ah! Nevil,’ said he, passed him, saluted Miss Halkett through the
window, then cordially squeezed his cousin’s hand. ‘Having a holiday out
of Bevisham? The baron expects to meet you at Mount Laurels to-morrow.
He particularly wishes me to ask you whether you think all is fair in
war.’

‘I don’t,’ said Nevil.

‘Not? The canvass goes on swimmingly.’

‘Ask Palmet!

‘Palmet gives you two-thirds of the borough. The poor old Tory tortoise
is nowhere. They’ve been writing about you, Nevil.’

‘They have. And if there ‘s a man of honour in the party I shall hold
him responsible for it.’

‘I allude to an article in the Bevisham Liberal paper; a magnificent
eulogy, upon my honour. I give you my word, I have rarely read an
article so eloquent. And what is the Conservative misdemeanour which the
man of honour in the party is to pay for?’

‘I’ll talk to you about it by-and-by,’ said Nevil.

He seemed to Cecilia too trusting, too simple, considering his cousin’s
undisguised tone of banter. Yet she could not put him on his guard. She
would have had Mr. Culbrett do so. She walked on the terrace with him
near upon sunset, and said, ‘The position Captain Beauchamp is in here
is most unfair to him.’

‘There’s nothing unfair in the lion’s den,’ said Stukely Culbrett;
adding, ‘Now, observe, Miss Halkett; he talks for effect. He discovers
that Lespel is a Torified Whig; but that does not make him a bit more
alert. It’s to say smart things. He speaks, but won’t act, as if he were
among enemies. He’s getting too fond of his bow-wow. Here he is, and
he knows the den, and he chooses to act the innocent. You see how
ridiculous? That trick of the ingenu, or peculiarly heavenly messenger,
who pretends that he ought never to have any harm done to him, though
he carries the lighted match, is the way of young Radicals. Otherwise
Beauchamp would be a dear boy. We shall see how he takes his thrashing.’

‘You feel sure he will be beaten?’

‘He has too strong a dose of fool’s honesty to succeed--stands for the
game laws with Radicals, for example. He’s loaded with scruples and
crotchets, and thinks more of them than of his winds and his tides. No
public man is to be made out of that. His idea of the Whigs being dead
shows a head that can’t read the country. He means himself for mankind,
and is preparing to be the benefactor of a country parish.’

‘But as a naval officer?’

‘Excellent.’

Cecilia was convinced that Mr. Culbrett underestimated Beauchamp.
Nevertheless the confidence expressed in Beauchamp’s defeat reassured
and pleased her. At midnight she was dancing with him in the midst of
great matronly country vessels that raised a wind when they launched
on the waltz, and exacted an anxious pilotage on the part of gentlemen
careful of their partners; and why I cannot say, but contrasts produce
quaint ideas in excited spirits, and a dancing politician appeared to
her so absurd that at one moment she had to bite her lips not to laugh.
It will hardly be credited that the waltz with Nevil was delightful to
Cecilia all the while, and dancing with others a penance. He danced with
none other. He led her to a three o’clock morning supper: one of those
triumphant subversions of the laws and customs of earth which have the
charm of a form of present deification for all young people; and she,
while noting how the poor man’s advocate dealt with costly pasties and
sparkling wines, was overjoyed at his hearty comrade’s manner with the
gentlemen, and a leadership in fun that he seemed to have established.
Cecil Baskelett acknowledged it, and complimented him on it. ‘I give
you my word, Nevil, I never heard you in finer trim. Here’s to our drive
into Bevisham to-morrow! Do you drink it? I beg; I entreat.’

‘Oh, certainly,’ said Nevil.

‘Will you take a whip down there?’

‘If you’re all insured.’

‘On my honour, old Nevil, driving a four-in-hand is easier than
governing the country.’

‘I’ll accept your authority for what you know best,’ said Nevil.

The toast of the Drive into Bevisham was drunk.

Cecilia left the supper-table, mortified, and feeling disgraced by her
participation in a secret that was being wantonly abused to humiliate
Nevil, as she was made to think by her sensitiveness. All the gentlemen
were against him, excepting perhaps that chattering pie Lord Palmet, who
did him more mischief than his enemies. She could not sleep. She walked
out on the terrace with Mrs. Wardour-Devereux, in a dream, hearing that
lady breathe remarks hardly less than sentimental, and an unwearied
succession of shouts from the smoking-room.

‘They are not going to bed to-night,’ said Mrs. Devereux.

‘They are mystifying Captain Beauchamp,’ said Cecilia.

‘My husband tells me they are going to drive him into the town
to-morrow.’

Cecilia flushed: she could scarcely get her breath.

‘Is that their plot?’ she murmured.

Sleep was rejected by her, bed itself. The drive into Bevisham had been
fixed for nine A.M. She wrote two lines on note-paper in her room:
but found them overfervid and mysterious. Besides, how were they to be
conveyed to Nevil’s chamber.

She walked in the passage for half an hour, thinking it possible she
might meet him; not the most lady-like of proceedings, but her head was
bewildered. An arm-chair in her room invited her to rest and think--the
mask of a natural desire for sleep. At eight in the morning she was
awakened by her maid, and at a touch exclaimed, ‘Have they gone?’ and
her heart still throbbed after hearing that most of the gentlemen were
in and about the stables. Cecilia was down-stairs at a quarter to
nine. The breakfast-room was empty of all but Lord Palmet and Mr.
Wardour-Devereux; one selecting a cigar to light out of doors, the other
debating between two pipes. She beckoned to Palmet, and commissioned him
to inform Beauchamp that she wished him to drive her down to Bevisham in
her pony-carriage. Palmet brought back word from Beauchamp that he had
an appointment at ten o’clock in the town. ‘I want to see him,’ she
said; so Palmet ran out with the order. Cecilia met Beauchamp in the
entrance-hall.

‘You must not go,’ she said bluntly.

‘I can’t break an appointment,’ said he--‘for the sake of my own
pleasure,’ was implied.

‘Will you not listen to me, Nevil, when I say you cannot go?’

A coachman’s trumpet blew.

‘I shall be late. That’s Colonel Millington’s team. He starts first,
then Wardour-Devereux, then Cecil, and I mount beside him; Palmet’s at
our heels.’

‘But can’t you even imagine a purpose for their driving into Bevisham so
pompously?’

‘Well, men with drags haven’t commonly much purpose,’ he said.

‘But on this occasion! At an Election time! Surely, Nevil, you can guess
at a reason.’

A second trumpet blew very martially. Footmen came in search of Captain
Beauchamp. The alternative of breaking her pledged word to her father,
or of letting Nevil be burlesqued in the sight of the town, could no
longer be dallied with.

Cecilia said, ‘Well, Nevil, then you shall hear it.’

Hereupon Captain Baskelett’s groom informed Captain Beauchamp that he
was off.

‘Yes,’ Nevil said to Cecilia, ‘tell me on board the yacht.’

‘Nevil, you will be driving into the town with the second Tory candidate
of the borough.’

‘Which? who?’ Nevil ‘asked.

‘Your cousin Cecil.’

‘Tell Captain Baskelett that I don’t drive down till an hour later,’
Nevil said to the groom. ‘Cecilia, you’re my friend; I wish you were
more. I wish we didn’t differ. I shall hope to change you--make you come
half-way out of that citadel of yours. This is my uncle Everard! I might
have made sure there’d be a blow from him! And Cecil! of all men for
a politician! Cecilia, think of it! Cecil Baskelett! I beg Seymour
Austin’s pardon for having suspected him...’

Now sounded Captain Baskelett’s trumpet.

Angry though he was, Beauchamp laughed. ‘Isn’t it exactly like the baron
to spring a mine of this kind?’

There was decidedly humour in the plot, and it was a lusty quarterstaff
blow into the bargain. Beauchamp’s head rang with it. He could not
conceal the stunning effect it had on him. Gratitude and tenderness
toward Cecilia for saving him, at the cost of a partial breach of faith
that he quite understood, from the scandal of the public entry into
Bevisham on the Tory coach-box, alternated with his interjections
regarding his uncle Everard.

At eleven, Cecilia sat in her pony-carriage giving final directions to
Mrs. Devereux where to look out for the Esperanza and the schooner’s
boat. ‘Then I drive down alone,’ Mrs. Devereux said.

The gentlemen were all off, and every available maid with them on
the coach-boxes, a brilliant sight that had been missed by Nevil and
Cecilia.

‘Why, here’s Lydiard!’ said Nevil, supposing that Lydiard must be
approaching him with tidings of the second Tory candidate. But
Lydiard knew nothing of it. He was the bearer of a letter on foreign
paper--marked urgent, in Rosamund’s hand--and similarly worded in the
well-known hand which had inscribed the original address of the letter
to Steynham.

Beauchamp opened it and read:

               Chateau Tourdestelle
                    ‘(Eure).

        ‘Come. I give you three days--no more.

                    ‘RENEE.’

The brevity was horrible. Did it spring from childish imperiousness or
tragic peril?

Beauchamp could imagine it to be this or that. In moments of excited
speculation we do not dwell on the possibility that there may be a
mixture of motives.

‘I fear I must cross over to France this evening,’ he said to Cecilia.

She replied, ‘It is likely to be stormy to-night. The steamboat may not
run.’

‘If there’s a doubt of it, I shall find a French lugger. You are tired,
from not sleeping last night.’

‘No,’ she answered, and nodded to Mrs. Devereux, beside whom Mr. Lydiard
stood: ‘You will not drive down alone, you see.’

For a young lady threatened with a tempest in her heart, as disturbing
to her as the one gathering in the West for ships at sea, Miss Halkett
bore herself well.



CHAPTER XXII. THE DRIVE INTO BEVISHAM

Beauchamp was requested by Cecilia to hold the reins. His fair companion
in the pony-carriage preferred to lean back musing, and he had leisure
to think over the blow dealt him by his uncle Everard with so sure an
aim so ringingly on the head. And in the first place he made no attempt
to disdain it because it was nothing but artful and heavy-handed, after
the mediaeval pattern. Of old he himself had delighted in artfulness as
well as boldness and the unmistakeable hit. Highly to prize generalship
was in his blood, though latterly the very forces propelling him to his
political warfare had forbidden the use of it to him. He saw the patient
veteran laying his gun for a long shot--to give as good as he had
received; and in realizing Everard Romfrey’s perfectly placid bearing
under provocation, such as he certainly would have maintained while
preparing his reply to it, the raw fighting humour of the plot touched
the sense of justice in Beauchamp enough to make him own that he had
been the first to offend.

He could reflect also on the likelihood that other offended men of his
uncle’s age and position would have sulked or stormed, threatening the
Parthian shot of the vindictive testator. If there was godlessness in
turning to politics for a weapon to strike a domestic blow, manfulness
in some degree signalized it. Beauchamp could fancy his uncle crying
out, Who set the example? and he was not at that instant inclined to
dwell on the occult virtues of the example he had set. To be honest,
this elevation of a political puppet like Cecil Baskelett, and the
starting him, out of the same family which Turbot, the journalist, had
magnified, into Bevisham with such pomp and flourish in opposition to
the serious young champion of popular rights and the Puritan style, was
ludicrously effective. Conscienceless of course. But that was the way of
the Old School.

Beauchamp broke the silence by thanking Cecilia once more for saving
him from the absurd exhibition of the Radical candidate on the Tory
coach-box, and laughing at the grimmish slyness of his uncle Everard’s
conspiracy a something in it that was half-smile half-sneer; not exactly
malignant, and by no means innocent; something made up of the simplicity
of a lighted match, and its proximity to powder, yet neither deadly,
in spite of a wicked twinkle, nor at all pretending to be harmless: in
short, a specimen of old English practical humour.

He laboured to express these or corresponding views of it, with
tolerably natural laughter, and Cecilia rallied her spirits at his
pleasant manner of taking his blow.

‘I shall compliment the baron when I meet him tonight,’ he said. ‘What
can we compare him to?’

She suggested the Commander of the Faithful, the Lord Haroun, who
likewise had a turn for buffooneries to serve a purpose, and could
direct them loftily and sovereignty.

‘No: Everard Romfrey’s a Northerner from the feet up,’ said Beauchamp.

Cecilia compliantly offered him a sketch of the Scandinavian Troll: much
nearer the mark, he thought, and exclaimed: ‘Baron Troll! I’m afraid,
Cecilia, you have robbed him of the best part of his fun. And you will
owe it entirely to him if you should be represented in Parliament by my
cousin Basketett.’

‘Promise me, Nevit, that you will, when you meet Captain Baskelett, not
forget I did you some service, and that I wish, I shall be so glad if
you do not resent certain things.... Very objectionable, we all think.’

He released her from the embarrassing petition: ‘Oh! now I know my man,
you may be sure I won’t waste a word on him. The fact is, he would not
understand a word, and would require more--and that I don’t do. When I
fancied Mr. Austin was the responsible person, I meant to speak to him.’

Cecilia smiled gratefully.

The sweetness of a love-speech would not have been sweeter to her than
this proof of civilized chivalry in Nevil.

They came to the fir-heights overlooking Bevisham. Here the breezy
beginning of a South-western autumnal gale tossed the ponies’ manes
and made threads of Cecilia’s shorter locks of beautiful auburn by the
temples and the neck, blustering the curls that streamed in a thick
involution from the silken band gathering them off her uncovered
clear-swept ears.

Beauchamp took an impression of her side face. It seemed to offer him
everything the world could offer of cultivated purity, intelligent
beauty and attractiveness; and ‘Wilt thou?’ said the winged minute.
Peace, a good repute in the mouths of men, home, and a trustworthy woman
for mate, an ideal English lady, the rarest growth of our country, and
friends and fair esteem, were offered. Last night he had waltzed with
her, and the manner of this tall graceful girl in submitting to the
union of the measure and reserving her individual distinction, had
exquisitely flattered his taste, giving him an auspicious image of her
in partnership, through the uses of life.

He looked ahead at the low dead-blue cloud swinging from across channel.
What could be the riddle of Renee’s letter! It chained him completely.

‘At all events, I shall not be away longer than three days,’ he said;
paused, eyed Cecilia’s profile, and added, ‘Do we differ so much?’

‘It may not be so much as we think,’ said she.

‘But if we do!’

‘Then, Nevil, there is a difference between us.’

‘But if we keep our lips closed?’

‘We should have to shut our eyes as well!’

A lovely melting image of her stole over him; all the warmer for her
unwittingness in producing it: and it awakened a tenderness toward the
simple speaker.

Cecilia’s delicate breeding saved her from running on figuratively. She
continued: ‘Intellectual differences do not cause wounds, except when
very unintellectual sentiments are behind them:--my conceit, or your
impatience, Nevil? “Noi veggiam come quei, che ha mala luce.”... I can
confess my sight to be imperfect: but will you ever do so?’

Her musical voice in Italian charmed his hearing.

‘What poet was that you quoted?’

‘The wisest: Dante.’

‘Dr. Shrapnel’s favourite! I must try to read him.’

‘He reads Dante?’ Cecilia threw a stress on the august name; and it was
manifest that she cared not for the answer.

Contemptuous exclusiveness could not go farther.

‘He is a man of cultivation,’ Beauchamp said cursorily, trying to avoid
dissension, but in vain. ‘I wish I were half as well instructed, and the
world half as charitable as he!--You ask me if I shall admit my sight to
be imperfect. Yes; when you prove to me that priests and landlords are
willing to do their duty by the people in preference to their churches
and their property: but will you ever shake off prejudice?’

Here was opposition sounding again. Cecilia mentally reproached Dr.
Shrapnel for it.

‘Indeed, Nevil, really, must not--may I not ask you this?--must not
every one feel the evil spell of some associations? And Dante and Dr.
Shrapnel!’

‘You don’t know him, Cecilia.’

‘I saw him yesterday.’

‘You thought him too tall?’

‘I thought of his character.’

‘How angry I should be with you if you were not so beautiful!’

‘I am immensely indebted to my unconscious advocate.’

‘You are clad in steel; you flash back; you won’t answer me out of the
heart. I ‘m convinced it is pure wilfulness that makes you oppose me.’

‘I fancy you must be convinced because you cannot imagine women to have
any share of public spirit, Nevil.’

A grain of truth in that remark set Nevil reflecting.

‘I want them to have it,’ he remarked, and glanced at a Tory placard,
probably the puppet’s fresh-printed address to the electors, on one of
the wayside fir-trees. ‘Bevisham looks well from here. We might make a
North-western Venice of it, if we liked.’

‘Papa told you it would be money sunk in mud.’

‘Did I mention it to him?--Thoroughly Conservative!--So he would leave
the mud as it is. They insist on our not venturing anything--those
Tories! exactly as though we had gained the best of human conditions,
instead of counting crops of rogues, malefactors, egoists, noxious and
lumbersome creatures that deaden the country. Your town down there
is one of the ugliest and dirtiest in the kingdom: it might be the
fairest.’

‘I have often thought that of Bevisham, Nevil.’

He drew a visionary sketch of quays, embankments, bridged islands,
public buildings, magical emanations of patriotic architecture, with
a practical air, an absence of that enthusiasm which struck her with
suspicion when it was not applied to landscape or the Arts; and she
accepted it, and warmed, and even allowed herself to appear hesitating
when he returned to the similarity of the state of mud-begirt Bevisham
and our great sluggish England.

Was he not perhaps to be pitied in his bondage to the Frenchwoman, who
could have no ideas in common with him?

The rare circumstance that she and Nevil Beauchamp had found a subject
of agreement, partially overcame the sentiment Cecilia entertained
for the foreign lady; and having now one idea in common with him, she
conceived the possibility that there might be more. There must be many,
for he loved England, and she no less. She clung, however, to the topic
of Bevisham, preferring to dream of the many more, rather than run
risks. Undoubtedly the town was of an ignoble aspect; and it was
declining in prosperity; and it was consequently over-populated.
And undoubtedly (so she was induced to coincide for the moment) a
Government, acting to any extent like a supervising head, should aid
and direct the energies of towns and ports and trades, and not leave
everything everywhere to chance: schools for the people, public
morality, should be the charge of Government. Cecilia had surrendered
the lead to him, and was forced to subscribe to an equivalent of
‘undoubtedly’ the Tories just as little as the Liberals had done these
good offices. Party against party, neither of them had a forethoughtful
head for the land at large. They waited for the Press to spur a great
imperial country to be but defensively armed, and they accepted the
so-called volunteers, with a nominal one-month’s drill per annum, as a
guarantee of defence!

Beauchamp startled her, actually kindled her mind to an activity of
wonder and regret, with the statement of how much Government, acting
with some degree of farsightedness, might have won to pay the public
debt and remit taxation, by originally retaining the lines of railway,
and fastening on the valuable land adjoining stations. Hundreds of
millions of pounds!

She dropped a sigh at the prodigious amount, but inquired, ‘Who has
calculated it?’

For though perfectly aware that this kind of conversation was a special
compliment paid to her by her friend Nevil, and dimly perceiving that it
implied something beyond a compliment-in fact, that it was his manner of
probing her for sympathy, as other men would have conducted the process
preliminary to deadly flattery or to wooing, her wits fenced her heart
about; the exercise of shrewdness was an instinct of self-preservation.
She had nothing but her poor wits, daily growing fainter, to resist
him with. And he seemed to know it, and therefore assailed them, never
trying at the heart.

That vast army of figures might be but a phantom army conjured out of
the Radical mists, might it not? she hinted. And besides, we cannot
surely require a Government to speculate in the future, can we?

Possibly not, as Governments go, Beauchamp said.

But what think you of a Government of landowners decreeing the enclosure
of millions of acres of common land amongst themselves; taking the
property of the people to add to their own! Say, is not that plunder?
Public property, observe; decreed to them by their own law-making,
under the pretence that it was being reclaimed for cultivation, when in
reality it has been but an addition to their pleasure-grounds: a flat
robbery of pasture from the poor man’s cow and goose, and his right
of cutting furze for firing. Consider that! Beauchamp’s eyes flashed
democratic in reciting this injury to the objects of his warm
solicitude--the man, the cow, and the goose. But so must he have looked
when fronting England’s enemies, and his aspect of fervour subdued
Cecilia. She confessed her inability to form an estimate of such
conduct.

‘Are they doing it still?’ she asked.

‘We owe it to Dr. Shrapnel foremost that there is now a watch over them
to stop them. But for him, Grancey Lespel would have enclosed half of
Northeden Heath. As it is, he has filched bits here and there, and he
will have to put back his palings.’

However, now let Cecilia understand that we English, calling ourselves
free, are under morally lawless rule. Government is what we require, and
our means of getting it must be through universal suffrage. At present
we have no Government; only shifting Party Ministries, which are the
tools of divers interests, wealthy factions, to the sacrifice of the
Commonwealth.

She listened, like Rosamund Culling overborne by Dr. Shrapnel, inwardly
praying that she might discover a man to reply to him.

‘A Despotism, Nevil?’

He hoped not, declined the despot, was English enough to stand against
the best of men in that character; but he cast it on Tory, Whig, and
Liberal, otherwise the Constitutionalists, if we were to come upon the
despot.

‘They see we are close on universal suffrage; they’ve been bidding
each in turn for “the people,” and that has brought them to it, and now
they’re alarmed, and accuse one another of treason to the Constitution,
and they don’t accept the situation: and there’s a fear, that to carry
on their present system, they will be thwarting the people or corrupting
them: and in that case we shall have our despot in some shape or other,
and we shall suffer.’

‘Nevil,’ said Cecilia, ‘I am out of my depth.’

‘I’ll support you; I can swim for two,’ said he.

‘You are very self-confident, but I find I am not fit for battle; at
least not in the front ranks.’

‘Nerve me, then: will you? Try to comprehend once for all what the
battle is.’

‘I am afraid I am too indifferent; I am too luxurious. That reminds
me: you want to meet your uncle Everard and if you will sleep at Mount
Laurels to-night, the Esperanza shall take you to France to-morrow
morning, and can wait to bring you back.’

As she spoke she perceived a flush mounting over Nevil’s face. Soon it
was communicated to hers.

The strange secret of the blood electrified them both, and revealed the
burning undercurrent running between them from the hearts of each. The
light that showed how near they were to one another was kindled at the
barrier dividing them. It remained as good as a secret, unchallenged
until they had separated, and after midnight Cecilia looked through
her chamber windows at the driving moon of a hurricane scud, and read
clearly his honourable reluctance to be wafted over to his French
love by her assistance; and Beauchamp on board the tossing steamboat
perceived in her sympathetic reddening that she had divined him.

This auroral light eclipsed the other events of the day. He drove into
a town royally decorated, and still humming with the ravishment of
the Tory entrance. He sailed in the schooner to Mount Laurels, in the
society of Captain Baskelett and his friends, who, finding him tamer
than they expected, bantered him in the cheerfullest fashion. He waited
for his uncle Everard several hours at Mount Laurels, perused the
junior Tory’s address to the Electors, throughout which there was not an
idea--safest of addresses to canvass upon! perused likewise, at Captain
Baskelett’s request, a broad sheet of an article introducing the new
candidate to Bevisham with the battle-axe Romfreys to back him, in high
burlesque of Timothy Turbot upon Beauchamp: and Cecil hoped his cousin
would not object to his borrowing a Romfrey or two for so pressing
an occasion. All very funny, and no doubt the presence of Mr. Everard
Romfrey would have heightened the fun from the fountain-head; but he
happened to be delayed, and Beauchamp had to leave directions behind him
in the town, besides the discussion of a whole plan of conduct with Dr.
Shrapnel, so he was under the necessity of departing without seeing his
uncle, really to his regret. He left word to that effect.

Taking leave of Cecilia, he talked of his return ‘home’ within three or
four days as a certainty.

She said: ‘Canvassing should not be neglected now.’

Her hostility was confused by what she had done to save him from
annoyance, while his behaviour to his cousin Cecil increased her respect
for him. She detected a pathetic meaning in his mention of the word
home; she mused on his having called her beautiful: whither was she
hurrying? Forgetful of her horror of his revolutionary ideas, forgetful
of the elevation of her own, she thrilled secretly on hearing it stated
by the jubilant young Tories at Mount Laurels, as a characteristic
of Beauchamp, that he was clever in parrying political thrusts, and
slipping from the theme; he who with her gave out unguardedly the
thoughts deepest in him. And the thoughts!--were they not of generous
origin? Where so true a helpmate for him as the one to whom his mind
appealed? It could not be so with the Frenchwoman. Cecilia divined a
generous nature by generosity, and set herself to believe that in honour
he had not yet dared to speak to her from the heart, not being at heart
quite free. She was at the same time in her remains of pride cool enough
to examine and rebuke the weakness she succumbed to in now clinging to
him by that which yesterday she hardly less than loathed, still deeply
disliked.



CHAPTER XXIII. TOURDESTELLE

On the part of Beauchamp, his conversation with Cecilia during the drive
into Bevisham opened out for the first time in his life a prospect of
home; he had felt the word in speaking it, and it signified an end
to the distractions produced by the sex, allegiance to one beloved
respected woman, and also a basis of operations against the world. For
she was evidently conquerable, and once matched with him would be the
very woman to nerve and sustain him. Did she not listen to him? He liked
her resistance. That element of the barbarous which went largely to form
his emotional nature was overjoyed in wresting such a woman from the
enemy, and subduing her personally. She was a prize. She was a splendid
prize, cut out from under the guns of the fort. He rendered all that was
due to his eminently good cause for its part in so signal a success,
but individual satisfaction is not diminished by the thought that the
individual’s discernment selected the cause thus beneficent to him.

Beauchamp’s meditations were diverted by the sight of the coast of
France dashed in rain-lines across a weed-strewn sea. The ‘three days’
granted him by Renee were over, and it scarcely troubled him that he
should be behind the time; he detested mystery, holding it to be a sign
of pretentious feebleness, often of imposture, it might be frivolity.
Punctilious obedience to the mysterious brevity of the summons, and
not to chafe at it, appeared to him as much as could be expected of a
struggling man. This was the state of the case with him, until he stood
on French earth, breathed French air, and chanced to hear the tongue of
France twittered by a lady on the quay. The charm was instantaneous. He
reminded himself that Renee, unlike her countrywomen, had no gift for
writing letters. They had never corresponded since the hour of her
marriage. They had met in Sicily, at Syracuse, in the presence of her
father and her husband, and so inanimate was she that the meeting seemed
like the conclusion of their history. Her brother Roland sent tidings
of her by fits, and sometimes a conventional message from Tourdestelle.
Latterly her husband’s name had been cited as among the wildfires of
Parisian quays, in journals more or less devoted to those unreclaimed
spaces of the city. Well, if she was unhappy, was it not the fulfilment
of his prophecy in Venice?

Renee’s brevity became luminous. She needed him urgently, and knowing
him faithful to the death, she, because she knew him, dispatched purely
the words which said she needed him. Why, those brief words were the
poetry of noble confidence! But what could her distress be? The lover
was able to read that, ‘Come; I give you three days,’ addressed to him,
was not language of a woman free of her yoke.

Excited to guess and guess, Beauchamp swept on to speculations of a
madness that seized him bodily at last. Were you loved, Cecilia? He
thought little of politics in relation to Renee; or of home, or of
honour in the world’s eye, or of labouring to pay the fee for his share
of life. This at least was one of the forms of love which precipitate
men: the sole thought in him was to be with her. She was Renee, the
girl of whom he had prophetically said that she must come to regrets and
tears. His vision of her was not at Tourdestelle, though he assumed her
to be there awaiting him: she was under the sea-shadowing Alps, looking
up to the red and gold-rosed heights of a realm of morning that was hers
inviolably, and under which Renee was eternally his.

The interval between then and now was but the space of an unquiet sea
traversed in the night, sad in the passage of it, but featureless--and
it had proved him right! It was to Nevil Beauchamp as if the spirit of
his old passion woke up again to glorious hopeful morning when he stood
in Renee’s France.

Tourdestelle enjoyed the aristocratic privilege of being twelve miles
from the nearest railway station. Alighting here on an evening of clear
sky, Beauchamp found an English groom ready to dismount for him and
bring on his portmanteau. The man said that his mistress had been twice
to the station, and was now at the neighbouring Chateau Dianet. Thither
Beauchamp betook himself on horseback. He was informed at the gates
that Madame la Marquise had left for Tourdestelle in the saddle only ten
minutes previously. The lodge-keeper had been instructed to invite him
to stay at Chateau Dianet in the event of his arriving late, but it
would be possible to overtake madame by a cut across the heights at a
turn of the valley. Beauchamp pushed along the valley for this visible
projection; a towering mass of woodland, in the midst of which a narrow
roadway, worn like the track of a torrent with heavy rain, wound upward.
On his descent to the farther side, he was to spy directly below in the
flat for Tourdestelle. He crossed the wooded neck above the valley, and
began descending, peering into gulfs of the twilight dusk. Some paces
down he was aided by a brilliant half-moon that divided the whole
underlying country into sharp outlines of dark and fair, and while
endeavouring to distinguish the chateau of Tourdestelle his eyes were
attracted to an angle of the downward zigzag, where a pair of horses
emerged into broad light swiftly; apparently the riders were disputing,
or one had overtaken the other in pursuit. Riding-habit and plumed hat
signalized the sex of one. Beauchamp sung out a gondolier’s cry. He
fancied it was answered.

He was heard, for the lady turned about, and as he rode down, still
uncertain of her, she came cantering up alone, and there could be no
uncertainty.

Moonlight is friendless to eyes that would make sure of a face long
unseen. It was Renee whose hand he clasped, but the story of the years
on her, and whether she was in bloom, or wan as the beams revealing her,
he could not see.

Her tongue sounded to him as if it were loosened without a voice. ‘You
have come. That storm! You are safe!’

So phantom-like a sound of speech alarmed him. ‘I lost no time. But
you?’

‘I am well.’

‘Nothing hangs over you?’

‘Nothing.’

‘Why give me just three days?’

‘Pure impatience. Have you forgotten me?’

Their horses walked on with them. They unlocked their hands.

‘You knew it was I?’ said he.

‘Who else could it be? I heard Venice,’ she replied.

Her previous cavalier was on his feet, all but on his knees, it
appeared, searching for something that eluded him under the road-side
bank. He sprang at it and waved it, leapt in the saddle, and remarked,
as he drew up beside Renee: ‘What one picks from the earth one may wear,
I presume, especially when we can protest it is our property.’

Beauchamp saw him planting a white substance most carefully at the
breast buttonhole of his coat. It could hardly be a flower. Some
drooping exotic of the conservatory perhaps resembled it.

Renee pronounced his name: ‘M. le Comte Henri d’Henriel.’

He bowed to Beauchamp with an extreme sweep of the hat.

‘Last night, M. Beauchamp, we put up vows for you to the Marine God,
beseeching an exemption from that horrible mal de mer. Thanks to the
storm, I suppose, I have won. I must maintain, madame, that I won.’

‘You wear your trophy,’ said Renee, and her horse reared and darted
ahead.

The gentleman on each side of her struck into a trot. Beauchamp glanced
at M. d’Henriel’s breast-decoration. Renee pressed the pace, and
threading dense covers of foliage they reached the level of the valley,
where for a couple of miles she led them, stretching away merrily, now
in shadow, now in moonlight, between high land and meadow land, and a
line of poplars in the meadows winding with the river that fed the vale
and shot forth gleams of silvery disquiet by rustic bridge and mill.

The strangeness of being beside her, not having yet scanned her face,
marvelling at her voice--that was like and unlike the Renee of old,
full of her, but in another key, a mellow note, maturer--made the
ride magical to Beauchamp, planting the past in the present like a
perceptible ghost.

Renee slackened speed, saying: ‘Tourdestelle spans a branch of our
little river. This is our gate. Had it been daylight I would have taken
you by another way, and you would have seen the black tower burnt in the
Revolution; an imposing monument, I am assured. However, you will think
it pretty beside the stream. Do you come with us, M. le Comte?’

His answer was inaudible to Beauchamp; he did not quit them.

The lamp at the lodge-gates presented the young man’s face in full view,
and Beauchamp thought him supremely handsome. He perceived it to be a
lady’s glove that M. d’Henriel wore at his breast.

Renee walked her horse up the park-drive, alongside the bright running
water. It seemed that she was aware of the method of provoking or
reproving M. d’Henriel. He endured some minutes of total speechlessness
at this pace, and abruptly said adieu and turned back.

Renee bounded like a vessel free of her load. ‘But why should we hurry?’
said she, and checked her course to the walk again. ‘I hope you like our
Normandy, and my valley. You used to love France, Nevil; and Normandy,
they tell me, is cousin to the opposite coast of England, in climate,
soil, people, it may be in manners too. A Beauchamp never can feel
that he is a foreigner in Normandy. We claim you half French. You have
grander parks, they say. We can give you sunlight.’

‘And it was really only the wish to see me?’ said Beauchamp.

‘Only, and really. One does not live for ever--on earth; and it becomes
a question whether friends should be shadows to one another before
death. I wrote to you because I wished to see you: I was impatient
because I am Renee.’

‘You relieve me!’

‘Evidently you have forgotten my character, Nevil.’

‘Not a feature of it.’

‘Ah!’ she breathed involuntarily.

‘Would you have me forget it?’

‘When I think by myself, quite alone, yes, I would. Otherwise how can
one hope that one’s friend is friendship, supposing him to read us as
we are--minutely, accurately? And it is in absence that we desire our
friends to be friendship itself. And... and I am utterly astray! I have
not dealt in this language since I last thought of writing a diary,
and stared at the first line. If I mistake not, you are fond of the
picturesque. If moonlight and water will satisfy you, look yonder.’

The moon launched her fairy silver fleets on a double sweep of the
little river round an island of reeds and two tall poplars.

‘I have wondered whether I should ever see you looking at that scene,’
said Renee.

He looked from it to her, and asked if Roland was well, and her father;
then alluded to her husband; but the unlettering elusive moon, bright
only in the extension of her beams, would not tell him what story this
face, once heaven to him, wore imprinted on it. Her smile upon a parted
mouth struck him as two-edged in replying: ‘I have good news to give
you of them all: Roland is in garrison at Rouen, and will come when I
telegraph. My father is in Touraine, and greets you affectionately; he
hopes to come. They are both perfectly happy. My husband is travelling.’

Beauchamp was conscious of some bitter taste; unaware of what it was,
though it led him to say, undesigningly: ‘How very handsome that M.
d’Henriel is!--if I have his name correctly.’

Renee answered: ‘He has the misfortune to be considered the handsomest
young man in France.’

‘He has an Italian look.’

‘His mother was Provencale.’

She put her horse in motion, saying: ‘I agree with you that handsome men
are rarities. And, by the way, they do not set our world on fire quite
as much as beautiful women do yours, my friend. Acknowledge so much in
our favour.’

He assented indefinitely. He could have wished himself away canvassing
in Bevisham. He had only to imagine himself away from her, to feel the
flood of joy in being with her.

‘Your husband is travelling?’

‘It is his pleasure.’

Could she have intended to say that this was good news to give of him as
well as of the happiness of her father and brother?

‘Now look on Tourdestelle,’ said Renee. ‘You will avow that for an
active man to be condemned to seek repose in so dull a place, after
the fatigues of the season in Paris, it is considerably worse than for
women, so I am here to dispense the hospitalities. The right wing of the
chateau, on your left, is new. The side abutting the river is inhabited
by Dame Philiberte, whom her husband imprisoned for attempting to take
her pleasure in travel. I hear upon authority that she dresses in white,
and wears a black crucifix. She is many centuries old, and still she
lives to remind people that she married a Rouaillout. Do you not think
she should have come to me to welcome me? She never has; and possibly
of ladies who are disembodied we may say that they know best. For me,
I desire the interview--and I am a coward: I need not state it.’ She
ceased; presently continuing: ‘The other inhabitants are my sister,
Agnes d’Auffray, wife of a general officer serving in Afric--my sister
by marriage, and my friend; the baronne d’Orbec, a relation by marriage;
M. d’Orbec, her son, a guest, and a sportsman; M. Livret, an erudite. No
young ladies: I can bear much, but not their presence; girls are odious
to me. I knew one in Venice.’

They came within the rays of the lamp hanging above the unpretending
entrance to the chateau. Renee’s broad grey Longueville hat curved low
with its black plume on the side farthest from him. He was favoured by
the gallant lift of the brim on the near side, but she had overshadowed
her eyes.

‘He wears a glove at his breast,’ said Beauchamp.

‘You speak of M. d’Henriel. He wears a glove at his breast; yes, it is
mine,’ said Renee.

She slipped from her horse and stood against his shoulder, as if waiting
to be questioned before she rang the bell of the chateau.

Beauchamp alighted, burning with his unutterable questions concerning
that glove.

‘Lift your hat, let me beg you; let me see you,’ he said.

This was not what she had expected. With one heave of her bosom, and
murmuring: ‘I made a vow I would obey you absolutely if you came,’ she
raised the hat above her brows, and lightning would not have surprised
him more; for there had not been a single vibration of her voice to tell
him of tears running: nay, the absence of the usual French formalities
in her manner of addressing him, had seemed to him to indicate her
intention to put him at once on an easy friendly footing, such as would
be natural to her, and not painful to him. Now she said:

‘You perceive, monsieur, that I have my sentimental fits like others;
but in truth I am not insensible to the picturesque or to gratitude,
and I thank you sincerely for coming, considering that I wrote like a
Sphinx--to evade writing comme une folle!’

She swept to the bell.

Standing in the arch of the entrance, she stretched her whip out to a
black mass of prostrate timber, saying:

‘It fell in the storm at two o’clock after midnight, and you on the
sea!’



CHAPTER XXIV. HIS HOLIDAY

A single day was to be the term of his holiday at Tourdestelle; but it
stood forth as one of those perfect days which are rounded by an evening
before and a morning after, giving him two nights under the same
roof with Renee, something of a resemblance to three days of her;
anticipation and wonder filling the first, she the next, the adieu the
last: every hour filled. And the first day was not over yet. He forced
himself to calmness, that he might not fritter it, and walked up and
down the room he was dressing in, examining its foreign decorations,
and peering through the window, to quiet his nerves. He was in her own
France with her! The country borrowed hues from Renee, and lent some.
This chivalrous France framed and interlaced her image, aided in
idealizing her, and was in turn transfigured. Not half so well would his
native land have pleaded for the forgiveness of a British damsel who had
wrecked a young man’s immoderate first love. That glorified self-love
requires the touch upon imagination of strangeness and an unaccustomed
grace, to subdue it and make it pardon an outrage to its temples and
altars, and its happy reading of the heavens, the earth too: earth
foremost, we ought perhaps to say. It is an exacting heathen, best
understood by a glance at what will appease it: beautiful, however, as
everybody has proved; and shall it be decried in a world where beauty is
not overcommon, though it would slaughter us for its angry satisfaction,
yet can be soothed by a tone of colour, as it were by a novel
inscription on a sweetmeat?

The peculiarity of Beauchamp was that he knew the slenderness of the
thread which was leading him, and foresaw it twisting to a coil unless
he should hold firm. His work in life was much above the love of a woman
in his estimation, so he was not deluded by passion when he entered
the chateau; it is doubtful whether he would not hesitatingly have
sacrificed one of the precious votes in Bevisham for the pleasure of
kissing her hand when they were on the steps. She was his first love and
only love, married, and long ago forgiven:--married; that is to say, she
especially among women was interdicted to him by the lingering shadow
of the reverential love gone by; and if the anguish of the lover’s worse
than death survived in a shudder of memory at the thought of her not
solely lost to him but possessed by another, it did but quicken a hunger
that was three parts curiosity to see how she who had suffered this bore
the change; how like or unlike she might be to the extinct Renee; what
traces she kept of the face he had known. Her tears were startling, but
tears tell of a mood, they do not tell the story of the years; and it
was that story he had such eagerness to read in one brief revelation:
an eagerness born only of the last few hours, and broken by fears of a
tarnished aspect; these again being partly hopes of a coming disillusion
that would restore him his independence and ask him only for pity. The
slavery of the love of a woman chained like Renee was the most revolting
of prospects to a man who cherished his freedom that he might work
to the end of his time. Moreover, it swung a thunder-cloud across his
holiday. He recurred to the idea of the holiday repeatedly, and the
more he did so the thinner it waned. He was exhausting the very air and
spirit of it with a mind that ran incessantly forward and back; and
when he and the lady of so much speculation were again together, an
incapacity of observation seemed to have come over him. In reality it
was the inability to reflect on his observations. Her presence resembled
those dark sunsets throwing the spell of colour across the world; when
there is no question with us of morning or of night, but of that sole
splendour only.

Owing to their arrival late at the chateau, covers were laid for them in
the boudoir of Madame la Marquise, where he had his hostess to himself,
and certainly the opportunity of studying her. An English Navy List,
solitary on a shelf, and laid within it an extract of a paper announcing
the return of the Ariadne to port, explained the mystery of her knowing
that he was in England, as well as the correctness of the superscription
of her letter to him. ‘You see, I follow you,’ she said.

Beauchamp asked if she read English now.

‘A little; but the paper was dispatched to me by M. Vivian Ducie, of
your embassy in Paris. He is in the valley.’

The name of Ducie recalled Lord Palmet’s description of the dark beauty
of the fluttering pale gold ornaments. She was now dressed without one
decoration of gold or jewel, with scarcely a wave in the silk, a modesty
of style eloquent of the pride of her form.

Could those eyes fronting him under the lamp have recently shed tears?
They were the living eyes of a brilliant unembarrassed lady; shields
flinging light rather than well-depths inviting it.

Beauchamp tried to compare her with the Renee of Venice, and found
himself thinking of the glove she had surrendered to the handsomest
young man in France. The effort to recover the younger face gave him a
dead creature, with the eyelashes of Renee, the cast of her mouth and
throat, misty as a shape in a dream.

He could compare her with Cecilia, who never would have risked a glove,
never have betrayed a tear, and was the statelier lady, not without
language: but how much less vivid in feature and the gift of speech!
Renee’s gift of speech counted unnumbered strings which she played on
with a grace that clothed the skill, and was her natural endowment--an
art perfected by the education of the world. Who cannot talk!--but who
can? Discover the writers in a day when all are writing! It is as rare
an art as poetry, and in the mouths of women as enrapturing, richer than
their voices in music.

This was the fascination Beauchamp felt weaving round him. Would you,
that are separable from boys and mobs, and the object malignly called
the Briton, prefer the celestial singing of a woman to her excellently
talking? But not if it were given you to run in unison with her
genius of the tongue, following her verbal ingenuities and feminine
silk-flashes of meaning; not if she led you to match her fine quick
perceptions with more or less of the discreet concordance of the
violoncello accompanying the viol. It is not high flying, which usually
ends in heavy falling. You quit the level of earth no more than two
birds that chase from bush to bush to bill in air, for mutual delight to
make the concert heavenly. Language flowed from Renee in affinity with
the pleasure-giving laws that make the curves we recognize as beauty in
sublimer arts. Accept companionship for the dearest of the good things
we pray to have, and what equalled her! Who could be her rival!

Her girl’s crown of irradiated Alps began to tremble over her dimly, as
from moment to moment their intimacy warmed, and Beauchamp saw the
young face vanishing out of this flower of womanhood. He did not see it
appearing or present, but vanishing like the faint ray in the rosier.
Nay, the blot of her faithlessness underwent a transformation: it
affected him somewhat as the patch cunningly laid on near a liquid
dimple in fair cheeks at once allures and evades a susceptible
attention.

Unused in his French of late, he stumbled at times, and she supplied
the needed phrase, taking no note of a blunder. Now men of sweet blood
cannot be secretly accusing or criticizing a gracious lady. Domestic
men are charged with thinking instantly of dark death when an ordinary
illness befalls them; and it may be so or not: but it is positive that
the gallant man of the world, if he is in the sensitive condition, and
not yet established as the lord of her, feels paralyzed in his masculine
sense of leadership the moment his lady assumes the initiative and
directs him: he gives up at once; and thus have many nimble-witted dames
from one clear start retained their advantage.

Concerning that glove: well! the handsomest young man in France wore the
glove of the loveliest woman. The loveliest? The very loveliest in the
purity of her French style--the woman to challenge England for a type of
beauty to eclipse her. It was possible to conceive her country wagering
her against all women.

If Renee had faults, Beauchamp thought of her as at sea breasting
tempests, while Cecilia was a vessel lying safe in harbour, untried,
however promising: and if Cecilia raised a steady light for him, it was
over the shores he had left behind, while Renee had really nothing to do
with warning or rescuing, or with imperilling; she welcomed him simply
to a holiday in her society. He associated Cecilia strangely with the
political labours she would have had him relinquish; and Renee with a
pleasant state of indolence, that her lightest smile disturbed. Shun
comparisons.

It is the tricksy heart which sets up that balance, to jump into it on
one side or the other. Comparisons come of a secret leaning that is sure
to play rogue under its mien of honest dealer: so Beauchamp suffered
himself to be unjust to graver England, and lost the strength she would
have given him to resist a bewitchment. The case with him was, that his
apprenticeship was new; he had been trotting in harness as a veritable
cab-horse of politics--he by blood a racer; and his nature craved for
diversions, against his will, against his moral sense and born tenacity
of spirit.

Not a word further of the glove. But at night, in his bed, the glove
was a principal actor in events of extraordinary magnitude and
inconsequence.

He was out in the grounds with the early morning light. Coffee and sweet
French bread were brought out to him, and he was informed of the hours
of reunion at the chateau, whose mistress continued invisible. She might
be sleeping. He strolled about, within view of the windows, wondering
at her subservience to sleep. Tourdestelle lay in one of those Norman
valleys where the river is the mother of rich pasture, and runs hidden
between double ranks of sallows, aspens and poplars, that mark its
winding line in the arms of trenched meadows. The high land on either
side is an unwatered flat up to the horizon, little varied by dusty
apple-trees planted in the stubble here and there, and brown mud walls
of hamlets; a church-top, a copse, an avenue of dwarf limes leading to
the three-parts farm, quarter residence of an enriched peasant striking
new roots, or decayed proprietor pinching not to be severed from
ancient. Descending on the deep green valley in Summer is like a change
of climes. The chateau stood square at a branch of the river, tossing
three light bridges of pretty woodwork to park and garden. Great
bouquets of swelling blue and pink hydrangia nestled at his feet
on shaven grass. An open window showed a cloth of colour, as in a
reminiscence of Italy.

Beauchamp heard himself addressed:--‘You are looking for my
sister-in-law, M. Beauchamp?’

The speaker was Madame d’Auffray, to whom he had been introduced
overnight--a lady of the aquiline French outline, not ungentle.

Renee had spoken affectionately of her, he remembered. There was nothing
to make him be on his guard, and he stated that he was looking for
Madame de Rouaillout, and did not conceal surprise at the information
that she was out on horseback.

‘She is a tireless person,’ Madame d’Auffray remarked. ‘You will not
miss her long. We all meet at twelve, as you know.’

‘I grudge an hour, for I go to-morrow,’ said Beauchamp.

The notification of so early a departure, or else his bluntness,
astonished her. She fell to praising Renee’s goodness. He kept her to it
with lively interrogations, in the manner of a guileless boy urging
for eulogies of his dear absent friend. Was it duplicity in him or
artlessness?

‘Has she, do you think, increased in beauty?’ Madame d’Auffray inquired:
an insidious question, to which he replied:

‘Once I thought it would be impossible.’

Not so bad an answer for an Englishman, in a country where speaking is
fencing; the race being little famous for dialectical alertness: but was
it artful or simple?

They skirted the chateau, and Beauchamp had the history of Dame
Philiberte recounted to him, with a mixture of Gallic irony, innuendo,
openness, touchingness, ridicule, and charity novel to his ears. Madame
d’Auffray struck the note of intimacy earlier than is habitual. She
sounded him in this way once or twice, carelessly perusing him, and
waiting for the interesting edition of the Book of Man to summarize
its character by showing its pages or remaining shut. It was done
delicately, like the tap of a finger-nail on a vase. He rang clear; he
had nothing to conceal; and where he was reserved, that is, in speaking
of the developed beauty and grace of Renee, he was transparent. She read
the sort of man he was; she could also hazard a guess as to the man’s
present state. She ventured to think him comparatively harmless--for the
hour: for she was not the woman to be hoodwinked by man’s dark nature
because she inclined to think well of a particular man; nor was she
one to trust to any man subject to temptation. The wisdom of the
Frenchwoman’s fortieth year forbade it. A land where the war between the
sexes is honestly acknowledged, and is full of instruction, abounds in
precepts; but it ill becomes the veteran to practise rigorously what she
would prescribe to young women. She may discriminate; as thus:--Trust no
man. Still, this man may be better than that man; and it is bad policy
to distrust a reasonably guileless member of the preying sex entirely,
and so to lose his good services. Hawks have their uses in destroying
vermin; and though we cannot rely upon the taming of hawks, one tied by
the leg in a garden preserves the fruit.

‘There is a necessity for your leaving us to-morrow; M. Beauchamp?’

‘I regret to say, it is imperative, madame.’

‘My husband will congratulate me on the pleasure I have, and have long
desired, of making your acquaintance, and he will grieve that he has not
been so fortunate; he is on service in Africa. My brother, I need not
say, will deplore the mischance which has prevented him from welcoming
you. I have telegraphed to him; he is at one of the Baths in Germany,
and will come assuredly, if there is a prospect of finding you here.
None? Supposing my telegram not to fall short of him, I may count on his
being here within four days.’

Beauchamp begged her to convey the proper expressions of his regret to
M. le Marquis.

‘And M. de Croisnel? And Roland, your old comrade and brother-in-arms?
What will be their disappointment!’ she said.

‘I intend to stop for an hour at Rouen on my way back,’ said Beauchamp.

She asked if her belle-soeur was aware of the short limitation of his
visit.

He had not mentioned it to Madame la Marquise.

‘Perhaps you may be moved by the grief of a friend: Renee may persuade
you to stay.’

‘I came imagining I could be of some use to Madame la Marquise. She
writes as if she were telegraphing.’

‘Perfectly true of her! For that matter, I saw the letter. Your looks
betray a very natural jealousy; but seeing it or not it would have been
the same: she and I have no secrets. She was, I may tell you, strictly
unable to write more words in the letter. Which brings me to inquire
what impression M. d’Henriel made on you yesterday evening.’

‘He is particularly handsome.’

‘We women think so. Did you take him to be... eccentric?’

Beauchamp gave a French jerk of the shoulders.

It confessed the incident of the glove to one who knew it as well as he:
but it masked the weight he was beginning to attach to that incident,
and Madame d’Auffray was misled. Truly, the Englishman may be just such
an ex-lover, uninflammable by virtue of his blood’s native coldness;
endued with the frozen vanity called pride, which does not seek to be
revenged. Under wary espionage, he might be a young woman’s friend,
though male friend of a half-abandoned wife should write himself down
morally saint, mentally sage, medically incurable, if he would win our
confidence.

This lady of sharp intelligence was the guardian of Renee during the
foolish husband’s flights about Paris and over Europe, and, for a proof
of her consummate astuteness, Renee had no secrets and had absolute
liberty. And hitherto no man could build a boast on her reputation. The
liberty she would have had at any cost, as Madame d’Auffray knew; and an
attempt to restrict it would have created secrets.

Near upon the breakfast-hour Renee was perceived by them going toward
the chateau at a walking pace. They crossed one of the garden bridges to
intercept her. She started out of some deep meditation, and raised
her whip hand to Beauchamp’s greeting. ‘I had forgotten to tell you,
monsieur, that I should be out for some hours in the morning.’

‘Are you aware,’ said Madame d’Auffray, ‘that M. Beauchamp leaves us
to-morrow?’

‘So soon?’ It was uttered hardly with a tone of disappointment.

The marquise alighted, crying hold, to the stables, caressed her horse,
and sent him off with a smack on the smoking flanks to meet the groom.

‘To-morrow? That is very soon; but M. Beauchamp is engaged in an
Election, and what have we to induce him to stay?’

‘Would it not be better to tell M. Beauchamp why he was invited to
come?’ rejoined Madame d’Auffray.

The sombre light in Renee’s eyes quickened through shadowy spheres of
surprise and pain to resolution. She cried, ‘You have my full consent,’
and left them.

Madame d’Auffray smiled at Beauchamp, to excuse the childishness of
the little story she was about to relate; she gave it in the essence,
without a commencement or an ending. She had in fact but two or three
hurried minutes before the breakfast-bell would ring; and the fan
she opened and shut, and at times shaded her head with, was nearly as
explicit as her tongue.

He understood that Renee had staked her glove on his coming within a
certain number of hours to the briefest wording of invitation possible.
Owing to his detention by the storm, M. d’Henriel had won the bet, and
now insisted on wearing the glove. ‘He is the privileged young madman
our women make of a handsome youth,’ said Madame d’Auffray.

Where am I? thought Beauchamp--in what land, he would have phrased it,
of whirlwinds catching the wits, and whipping the passions? Calmer than
they, but unable to command them, and guessing that Renee’s errand of
the morning, by which he had lost hours of her, pertained to the glove,
he said quiveringly, ‘Madame la Marquise objects?’

‘We,’ replied Madame d’Auffray, ‘contend that the glove was not loyally
won. The wager was upon your coming to the invitation, not upon your
conquering the elements. As to his flaunting the glove for a favour, I
would ask you, whom does he advertize by that? Gloves do not wear white;
which fact compromises none but the wearer. He picked it up from the
ground, and does not restore it; that is all. You see a boy who catches
at anything to placard himself. There is a compatriot of yours, a
M. Ducie, who assured us you must be with an uncle in your county of
Sussex. Of course we ran the risk of the letter missing you, but the
chance was worth a glove. Can you believe it, M. Beauchamp? it was I,
old woman as I am, I who provoked the silly wager. I have long desired
to meet you; and we have little society here, we are desperate with
loneliness, half mad with our whims. I said, that if you were what I
had heard of you, you would come to us at a word. They dared Madame la
Marquise to say the same. I wished to see the friend of Frenchmen, as M.
Roland calls you; not merely to see him--to know him, whether he is
this perfect friend whose absolute devotion has impressed my dear
sister Renee’s mind. She respects you: that is a sentiment scarcely
complimentary to the ideas of young men. She places you above human
creatures: possibly you may not dislike to be worshipped. It is not to
be rejected when one’s influence is powerful for good. But you leave us
to-morrow!’

‘I’ might stay...’ Beauchamp hesitated to name the number of hours. He
stood divided between a sense of the bubbling shallowness of the life
about him, and a thought, grave as an eye dwelling on blood, of sinister
things below it.

‘I may stay another day or two,’ he said, ‘if I can be of any earthly
service.’

Madame d’Auffray bowed as to a friendly decision on his part, saying,
‘It would be a thousand pities to disappoint M. Roland; and it will be
offering my brother an amicable chance. I will send him word that you
await him; at least, that you defer your departure as long as possible.
Ah! now you perceive, M. Beauchamp, now you have become aware of our
purely infantile plan to bring you over to us, how very ostensible a
punishment it would be were you to remain so short a period.’

Having no designs, he was neither dupe nor sceptic; but he felt oddly
entangled, and the dream of his holiday had fled like morning’s beams,
as a self-deception will at a very gentle shaking.



CHAPTER XXV. THE ADVENTURE OF THE BOAT

Madame d’Auffray passed Renee, whispering on her way to take her seat at
the breakfast-table.

Renee did not condescend to whisper. ‘Roland will be glad,’ she said
aloud.

Her low eyelids challenged Beauchamp for a look of indifference. There
was more for her to unbosom than Madame d’Auffray had revealed, but the
comparative innocence of her position in this new light prompted her to
meet him defiantly, if he chose to feel injured. He was attracted by a
happy contrast of colour between her dress and complexion, together
with a cavalierly charm in the sullen brows she lifted; and seeing the
reverse of a look of indifference on his face, after what he had heard
of her frivolousness, she had a fear that it existed.

‘Are we not to have M. d’Henriel to-day? he amuses me,’ the baronne
d’Orbec remarked.

‘If he would learn that he was fashioned for that purpose!’ exclaimed
little M. Livret.

‘Do not ask young men for too much head, my friend; he would cease to be
amusing.’

‘D’Henriel should have been up in the fields at ten this morning,’ said
M. d’Orbec. ‘As to his head, I back him for a clever shot.’

‘Or a duelling-sword,’ said Renee. ‘It is a quality, count it for
what we will. Your favourite, Madame la Baronne, is interdicted from
presenting himself here so long as he persists in offending me.’

She was requested to explain, and, with the fair ingenuousness which
outshines innocence, she touched on the story of the glove.

Ah! what a delicate, what an exciting, how subtle a question!

Had M. d’Henriel the right to possess it? and, having that, had he the
right to wear it at his breast?

Beauchamp was dragged into the discussion of the case.

Renee waited curiously for his judgement.

Pleading an apology for the stormy weather, which had detained him, and
for his ignorance that so precious an article was at stake, he held,
that by the terms of the wager, the glove was lost; the claim to wear it
was a matter of taste.

‘Matters of taste, monsieur, are not, I think, decided by weapons in
your country?’ said M. d’Orbec.

‘We have no duelling,’ said Beauchamp.

The Frenchman imagined the confession to be somewhat humbling, and
generously added, ‘But you have your volunteers--a magnificent spectacle
of patriotism and national readiness for defence!’

A shrewd pang traversed Beauchamp’s heart, as he looked back on his
country from the outside and the inside, thinking what amount of
patriotic readiness the character of the volunteering signified, in the
face of all that England has to maintain. Like a politic islander, he
allowed the patriotic spectacle to be imagined; reflecting that it did a
sort of service abroad, and had only to be unmasked at home.

‘But you surrendered the glove, marquise!’ The baronne d’Orbec spoke
judicially.

‘I flung it to the ground: that made it neutral,’ said Renee.

‘Hum. He wears it with the dust on it, certainly.’

‘And for how long a time,’ M. Livret wished to know, ‘does this amusing
young man proclaim his intention of wearing the glove?’

‘Until he can see with us that his Order of Merit is utter kid,’
said Madame d’Auffray; and as she had spoken more or less neatly,
satisfaction was left residing in the ear of the assembly, and the glove
was permitted to be swept away on a fresh tide of dialogue.

The admirable candour of Renee in publicly alluding to M. d’Henriel’s
foolishness restored a peep of his holiday to Beauchamp. Madame
d’Auffray took note of the effect it produced, and quite excused her
sister-in-law for intending to produce is; but that speaking out the
half-truth that we may put on the mask of the whole, is no new trick;
and believing as she did that Renee was in danger with the handsome
Count Henri, the practice of such a kind of honesty on her part appeared
alarming.

Still it is imprudent to press for confidences when our friend’s heart
is manifestly trifling with sincerity. Who knows but that some foregone
reckless act or word may have superinduced the healthy shame which
cannot speak, which must disguise itself, and is honesty in that form,
but roughly troubled would resolve to rank dishonesty? So thought the
patient lady, wiser in that than in her perceptions.

Renee made a boast of not persuading her guest to stay, avowing that she
would not willingly have him go. Praising him equably, she listened to
praise of him with animation. She was dumb and statue-like when
Count Henri’s name was mentioned. Did not this betray liking for one,
subjection to the other? Indeed, there was an Asiatic splendour of
animal beauty about M. d’Henriel that would be serpent with most women,
Madame d’Auffray conceived; why not with the deserted Renee, who adored
beauty of shape and colour, and was compassionate toward a rashness of
character that her own unnatural solitariness and quick spirit made her
emulous of?

Meanwhile Beauchamp’s day of adieu succeeded that of his holiday, and
no adieu was uttered. The hours at Tourdestelle had a singular turn
for slipping. Interlinked and all as one they swam by, brought evening,
brought morning, never varied. They might have varied with such a
division as when flame lights up the night or a tempest shades the day,
had Renee chosen; she had that power over him. She had no wish to use
it; perhaps she apprehended what it would cause her to forfeit. She
wished him to respect her; felt that she was under the shadow of the
glove, slight though it was while it was nothing but a tale of a lady
and a glove; and her desire, like his, was that they should meet daily
and dream on, without a variation. He noticed how seldom she led him
beyond the grounds of the chateau. They were to make excursions when
her brother came, she said. Roland de Croisnel’s colonel, Coin de
Grandchamp, happened to be engaged in a duel, which great business
detained Roland. It supplied Beauchamp with an excuse for staying, that
he was angry with himself for being pleased to have; so he attacked the
practice of duelling, and next the shrug, wherewith M. Livret and M.
d’Orbec sought at first to defend the foul custom, or apologize for
it, or plead for it philosophically, or altogether cast it off their
shoulders; for the literal interpretation of the shrug in argument is
beyond human capacity; it is the point of speech beyond our treasury of
language. He attacked the shrug, as he thought, very temperately; but in
controlling his native vehemence he grew, perforce of repression, and of
incompetency to deliver himself copiously in French, sarcastic. In
fine, his contrast of the pretence of their noble country to head
civilization, and its encouragement of a custom so barbarous, offended
M. d’Orbec and irritated M. Livret.

The latter delivered a brief essay on Gallic blood; the former
maintained that Frenchmen were the best judges of their own ways and
deeds. Politeness reigned, but politeness is compelled to throw off
cloak and jacket when it steps into the arena to meet the encounter of
a bull. Beauchamp drew on their word ‘solidaire’ to assist him in
declaring that no civilized nation could be thus independent. Imagining
himself in the France of brave ideas, he contrived to strike out sparks
of Legitimist ire around him, and found himself breathing the atmosphere
of the most primitive nursery of Toryism. Again he encountered the
shrug, and he would have it a verbal matter. M. d’Orbec gravely recited
the programme of the country party in France. M. Livret carried the
war across Channel. You English have retired from active life, like the
exhausted author, to turn critic--the critic that sneers: unless we copy
you abjectly we are execrable. And what is that sneer? Materially it is
an acrid saliva, withering where it drops; in the way of fellowship it
is a corpse-emanation. As to wit, the sneer is the cloak of clumsiness;
it is the Pharisee’s incense, the hypocrite’s pity, the post of
exaltation of the fat citizen, etc.; but, said M. Livret, the people
using it should have a care that they keep powerful: they make no
friends. He terminated with this warning to a nation not devoid of
superior merit. M. d’Orbec said less, and was less consoled by his
outburst.

In the opinion of Mr. Vivian Ducie, present at the discussion, Beauchamp
provoked the lash; for, in the first place, a beautiful woman’s apparent
favourite should be particularly discreet in all that he says: and next,
he should have known that the Gallic shrug over matters political is
volcanic--it is the heaving of the mountain, and, like the proverbial
Russ, leaps up Tartarly at a scratch. Our newspapers also had been
flea-biting M. Livret and his countrymen of late; and, to conclude,
over in old England you may fly out against what you will, and there is
little beyond a motherly smile, a nurse’s rebuke, or a fool’s rudeness
to answer you. In quick-blooded France you have whip for whip, sneer,
sarcasm, claw, fang, tussle, in a trice; and if you choose to comport
yourself according to your insular notion of freedom, you are bound to
march out to the measured ground at an invitation. To begin by saying
that your principles are opposed to it, naturally excites a malicious
propensity to try your temper.

A further cause, unknown to Mr. Ducie, of M. Livret’s irritation was,
that Beauchamp had vexed him on a subject peculiarly dear to him. The
celebrated Chateau Dianet was about to be visited by the guests at
Tourdestelle. In common with some French philosophers and English
matrons, he cherished a sentimental sad enthusiasm for royal concubines;
and when dilating upon one among them, the ruins of whose family’s
castle stood in the neighbourhood-Agrees, who was really a kindly soul,
though not virtuous--M. Livret had been traversed by Beauchamp with
questions as to the condition of the people, the peasantry, that were
sweated in taxes to support these lovely frailties. They came oddly from
a man in the fire of youth, and a little old gentleman somewhat seduced
by the melting image of his theme might well blink at him to ask, of
what flesh are you, then? His historic harem was insulted. Personally
too, the fair creature picturesquely soiled, intrepid in her
amorousness, and ultimately absolved by repentance (a shuddering
narrative of her sins under showers of salt drops), cried to him to
champion her. Excited by the supposed cold critical mind in Beauchamp,
M. Livret painted and painted this lady, tricked her in casuistical
niceties, scenes of pomp and boudoir pathos, with many shifting
sidelights and a risky word or two, until Renee cried out, ‘Spare us the
esprit Gaulois, M. Livret!’ There was much to make him angry with this
Englishman.

‘The esprit Gaulois is the sparkle of crystal common sense, madame, and
may we never abandon it for a Puritanism that hides its face to conceal
its filthiness, like a stagnant pond,’ replied M. Livret, flashing.

‘It seems, then, that there are two ways of being objectionable,’ said
Renee.

‘Ah! Madame la Marquise, your wit is French,’ he breathed low; ‘keep
your heart so!’

Both M. Livret and M. d’Orbec had forgotten that when Count Henri
d’Henriel was received at Tourdestelle, the arrival of the Englishman
was pleasantly anticipated by them as an eclipse of the handsome
boy; but a foreign interloper is quickly dispossessed of all means of
pleasing save that one of taking his departure; and they now talked of
Count Henri’s disgrace and banishment in a very warm spirit of sympathy,
not at all seeing why it should be made to depend upon the movements of
this M. Beauchamp, as it appeared to be. Madame d’Auffray heard some of
their dialogue, and hurried with a mouth full of comedy to Renee, who
did not reproach them for silly beings, as would be done elsewhere.
On the contrary, she appreciated a scene of such absolute comedy,
recognizing it instantly as a situation plucked out of human nature.
She compared them to republicans that regretted the sovereign they had
deposed for a pretender to start up and govern them.

‘Who hurries them round to the legitimate king again!’ said Madame
d’Auffray.

Renee cast her chin up. ‘How, my dear?’

‘Your husband.’

‘What of him?’

‘He is returning.’

‘What brings him?’

‘You should ask who, my Renee! I was sure he would not hear of M.
Beauchamp’s being here, without an effort to return and do the honours
of the chateau.’

Renee looked hard at her, saying, ‘How thoughtful of you! You must have
made use of the telegraph wires to inform him that M. Beauchamp was with
us.’

‘More; I made use of them to inform him that M. Beauchamp was expected.’

‘And that was enough to bring him! He pays M. Beauchamp a wonderful
compliment.’

‘Such as he would pay to no other man, my Renee. Virtually it is the
highest of compliments to you. I say that to M. Beauchamp’s credit; for
Raoul has met him, and, whatever his personal feeling may be, must know
your friend is a man of honour.’

‘My friend is... yes, I have no reason to think otherwise,’ Renee
replied. Her husband’s persistent and exclusive jealousy of Beauchamp
was the singular point in the character of one who appeared to have no
sentiment of the kind as regarded men that were much less than men
of honour. ‘So, then, my sister Agnes,’ she said, ‘you suggested the
invitation of M. Beauchamp for the purpose of spurring my husband to
return! Apparently he and I are surrounded by plotters.’

‘Am I so very guilty?’ said Madame d’Auffray.

‘If that mad boy, half idiot, half panther, were by chance to insult M.
Beauchamp, you would feel so.’

‘You have taken precautions to prevent their meeting; and besides, M.
Beauchamp does not fight.’

Renee flushed crimson.

Madame d’Auffray added, ‘I do not say that he is other than a perfectly
brave and chivalrous gentleman.’

‘Oh!’ cried Renee, ‘do not say it, if ever you should imagine it. Bid
Roland speak of him. He is changed, oppressed: I did him a terrible
wrong ....’ She checked herself. ‘But the chief thing to do is to keep
M. d’Henriel away from him. I suspect M. d’Orbec of a design to make
them clash: and you, my dear, will explain why, to flatter me. Believe
me, I thirst for flattery; I have had none since M. Beauchamp came: and
you, so acute, must have seen the want of it in my face. But you, so
skilful, Agnes, will manage these men. Do you know, Agnes, that the
pride of a woman so incredibly clever as you have shown me you are
should resent their intrigues and overthrow them. As for me, I thought I
could command M. d’Henriel, and I find he has neither reason in him nor
obedience. Singular to say, I knew him just as well a week back as I do
now, and then I liked him for his qualities--or the absence of any. But
how shall we avoid him on the road to Dianet? He is aware that we are
going.’

‘Take M. Beauchamp by boat,’ said Madame d’Auffray.

‘The river winds to within a five minutes’ walk of Dianet; we could go
by boat,’ Renee said musingly. ‘I thought of the boat. But does it not
give the man a triumph that we should seem to try to elude him? What
matter! Still, I do not like him to be the falcon, and Nevil Beauchamp
the... little bird. So it is, because we began badly, Agnes!’

‘Was it my fault?’

‘Mine. Tell me: the legitimate king returns when?’

‘In two days or three.’

‘And his rebel subjects are to address him--how?’

Madame d’Auffray smote the point of a finger softly on her cheek.

‘Will they be pardoned?’ said Renee.

‘It is for him to kneel, my dearest.’

‘Legitimacy kneeling for forgiveness is a painful picture, Agnes.
Legitimacy jealous of a foreigner is an odd one. However, we are women,
born to our lot. If we could rise en masse!--but we cannot. Embrace me.’

Madame d’Auffray embraced her, without an idea that she assisted in
performing the farewell of their confidential intimacy.

When Renee trifled with Count Henri, it was playing with fire, and she
knew it; and once or twice she bemoaned to Agnes d’Auffray her abandoned
state, which condemned her, for the sake of the sensation of living, to
have recourse to perilous pastimes; but she was revolted, as at a piece
of treachery, that Agnes should have suggested the invitation of Nevil
Beauchamp with the secret design of winning home her husband to protect
her. This, for one reason, was because Beauchamp gave her no notion of
danger; none, therefore, of requiring protection; and the presence of
her husband could not but be hateful to him, an undeserved infliction.
To her it was intolerable that they should be brought into contact.
It seemed almost as hard that she should have to dismiss Beauchamp
to preclude their meeting. She remembered, nevertheless, a certain
desperation of mind, scarce imaginable in the retrospect, by which,
trembling, fever-smitten, scorning herself, she had been reduced to hope
for Nevil Beauchamp’s coming as for a rescue. The night of the storm had
roused her heart. Since then his perfect friendliness had lulled, his
air of thoughtfulness had interested it; and the fancy that he,
who neither reproached nor sentimentalized, was to be infinitely
compassionated, stirred up remorse. She could not tell her friend Agnes
of these feelings while her feelings were angered against her friend.
So she talked lightly of ‘the legitimate king,’ and they embraced:
a situation of comedy quite as true as that presented by the humble
admirers of the brilliant chatelaine.

Beauchamp had the pleasure of rowing Madame la Marquise to the short
shaded walk separating the river from Chateau Dianet, whither M. d’Orbec
went on horseback, and Madame d’Auffray and M. Livret were driven. The
portrait of Diane of Dianet was praised for the beauty of the dame, a
soft-fleshed acutely featured person, a fresh-of-the-toilette face, of
the configuration of head of the cat, relieved by a delicately aquiline
nose; and it could only be the cat of fairy metamorphosis which should
stand for that illustration: brows and chin made an acceptable triangle,
and eyes and mouth could be what she pleased for mice or monarchs.
M. Livret did not gainsay the impeachment of her by a great French
historian, tender to women, to frailties in particular--yes, she was
cold, perhaps grasping: but dwell upon her in her character of woman;
conceive her existing, to estimate the charm of her graciousness. Name
the two countries which alone have produced THE WOMAN, the ideal
woman, the woman of art, whose beauty, grace, and wit offer her to our
contemplation in an atmosphere above the ordinary conditions of the
world: these two countries are France and Greece! None other give you
the perfect woman, the woman who conquers time, as she conquers men, by
virtue of the divinity in her blood; and she, as little as illustrious
heroes, is to be judged by the laws and standards of lesser creatures.
In fashioning her, nature and art have worked together: in her, poetry
walks the earth. The question of good or bad is entirely to be put
aside: it is a rustic’s impertinence--a bourgeois’ vulgarity. She is
preeminent, voila tout. Has she grace and beauty? Then you are answered:
such possessions are an assurance that her influence in the aggregate
must be for good. Thunder, destructive to insects, refreshes earth:
so she. So sang the rhapsodist. Possibly a scholarly little French
gentleman, going down the grey slopes of sixty to second childishness,
recovers a second juvenility in these enthusiasms; though what it is
that inspires our matrons to take up with them is unimaginable. M.
Livret’s ardour was a contrast to the young Englishman’s vacant gaze at
Diane, and the symbols of her goddesship running along the walls, the
bed, the cabinets, everywhere that the chaste device could find frontage
and a corner.

M. d’Orbec remained outside the chateau inspecting the fish-ponds.
When they rejoined him he complimented Beauchamp semi-ironically on his
choice of the river’s quiet charms in preference to the dusty roads.
Madame de Rouaillout said, ‘Come, M. d’Orbec; what if you surrender your
horse to M. Beauchamp, and row me back?’ He changed colour, hesitated,
and declined he had an engagement to call on M. d’Henriel.

‘When did you see him?’ said she.

He was confused. ‘It is not long since, madame.’

‘On the road?’

‘Coming along-the road.’

‘And our glove?’

‘Madame la Marquise, if I may trust my memory, M. d’Henriel was not in
official costume.’

Renee allowed herself to be reassured.

A ceremonious visit that M. Livret insisted on was paid to the chapel of
Diane, where she had worshipped and laid her widowed ashes, which, said
M. Livret, the fiends of the Revolution would not let rest.

He raised his voice to denounce them.

It was Roland de Croisnel that answered: ‘The Revolution was our
grandmother, monsieur, and I cannot hear her abused.’

Renee caught her brother by the hand. He stepped out of the chapel with
Beauchamp to embrace him; then kissed Renee, and, remarking that she was
pale, fetched flooding colour to her cheeks. He was hearty air to them
after the sentimentalism they had been hearing. Beauchamp and he walked
like loving comrades at school, questioning, answering, chattering,
laughing,--a beautiful sight to Renee, and she looked at Agrnes
d’Auffray to ask her whether ‘this Englishman’ was not one of them in
his frankness and freshness.

Roland stopped to turn to Renee. ‘I met d’Henriel on my ride here,’ he
said with a sharp inquisitive expression of eye that passed immediately.

‘You rode here from Tourdestelle, then,’ said Renee.

‘Has he been one of the company, marquise?’

‘Did he ride by you without speaking, Roland?’

‘Thus.’ Roland described a Spanish caballero’s formallest
salutation, saying to Beauchamp, ‘Not the best sample of our young
Frenchman;--woman-spoiled! Not that the better kind of article need be
spoiled by them--heaven forbid that! Friend Nevil,’ he spoke lower, ‘do
you know, you have something of the prophet in you? I remember: much has
come true. An old spoiler of women is worse than one spoiled by them!
Ah, well: and Madame Culling? and your seven-feet high uncle? And have
you a fleet to satisfy Nevil Beauchamp yet? You shall see a trial of our
new field-guns at Rouen.’

They were separated with difficulty.

Renee wished her brother to come in the boat; and he would have done so,
but for his objection to have his Arab bestridden by a man unknown to
him.

‘My love is a four-foot, and here’s my love,’ Roland said, going outside
the gilt gate-rails to the graceful little beast, that acknowledged his
ownership with an arch and swing of the neck round to him.

He mounted and called, ‘Au revoir, M. le Capitaine.’

‘Au revoir, M. le Commandant,’ cried Beauchamp.

‘Admiral and marshal, each of us in good season,’ said Roland. ‘Thanks
to your promotion, I had a letter from my sister. Advance a grade, and I
may get another.’

Beauchamp thought of the strange gulf now between him and the time when
he pined to be a commodore, and an admiral. The gulf was bridged as he
looked at Renee petting Roland’s horse.

‘Is there in the world so lovely a creature?’ she said, and appealed
fondlingly to the beauty that brings out beauty, and, bidding it disdain
rivalry, rivalled it insomuch that in a moment of trance Beauchamp with
his bodily vision beheld her, not there, but on the Lido of Venice,
shining out of the years gone.

Old love reviving may be love of a phantom after all. We can, if it must
revive, keep it to the limits of a ghostly love. The ship in the Arabian
tale coming within the zone of the magnetic mountain, flies all its
bolts and bars, and becomes sheer timbers, but that is the carelessness
of the ship’s captain; and hitherto Beauchamp could applaud himself for
steering with prudence, while Renee’s attractions warned more than they
beckoned. She was magnetic to him as no other woman was. Then whither
his course but homeward?

After they had taken leave of their host and hostess of Chateau
Dianet, walking across a meadow to a line of charmilles that led to the
river-side, he said, ‘Now I have seen Roland I shall have to decide upon
going.’

‘Wantonly won is deservedly lost,’ said Renee. ‘But do not disappoint my
Roland much because of his foolish sister. Is he not looking handsome?
And he is young to be a commandant, for we have no interest at this
Court. They kept him out of the last war! My father expects to find you
at Tourdestelle, and how account to him for your hurried flight? save
with the story of that which brought you to us!’

‘The glove? I shall beg for the fellow to it before I depart, marquise.’

‘You perceived my disposition to light-headedness, monsieur, when I was
a girl.’

‘I said that I--But the past is dust. Shall I ever see you in England?’

‘That country seems to frown on me. But if I do not go there, nor you
come here, except to imperious mysterious invitations, which will not be
repeated, the future is dust as well as the past: for me, at least. Dust
here, dust there!--if one could be like a silk-worm, and live lying
on the leaf one feeds on, it would be a sort of answer to the
riddle--living out of the dust, and in the present. I find none in my
religion. No doubt, Madame de Breze did: why did you call Diane so to M.
Livret?’

She looked at him smiling as they came out of the shadow of the clipped
trees. He was glancing about for the boat.

‘The boat is across the river,’ Renee said, in a voice that made him
seek her eyes for an explanation of the dead sound. She was very pale.
‘You have perfect command of yourself? For my sake!’ she said.

He looked round.

Standing up in the boat, against the opposite bank, and leaning with
crossed legs on one of the sculls planted in the gravel of the river,
Count Henri d’Henriel’s handsome figure presented itself to Beauchamp’s
gaze.

With a dryness that smacked of his uncle Everard Romfrey, Beauchamp said
of the fantastical posture of the young man, ‘One can do that on fresh
water.’

Renee did not comprehend the sailor-sarcasm of the remark; but she also
commented on the statuesque appearance of Count Henri: ‘Is the pose for
photography or for sculpture?’

Neither of them showed a sign of surprise or of impatience.

M. d’Henriel could not maintain the attitude. He uncrossed his legs
deliberately, drooped hat in hand, and came paddling over; apologized
indolently, and said, ‘I am not, I believe, trespassing on the grounds
of Tourdestelle, Madame la Marquise!’

‘You happen to be in my boat, M. le Comte,’ said Renee.

‘Permit me, madame.’ He had set one foot on shore, with his back to
Beauchamp, and reached a hand to assist her step into the boat.

Beauchamp caught fast hold of the bows while Renee laid a finger on
Count Henri’s shoulder to steady herself.

The instant she had taken her seat, Count Henri dashed the scull’s blade
at the bank to push off with her, but the boat was fast. His manoeuvre
had been foreseen. Beauchamp swung on board like the last seaman of a
launch, and crouched as the boat rocked away to the stream; and still
Count Henri leaned on the scull, not in a chosen attitude, but for
positive support. He had thrown his force into the blow, to push off
triumphantly, and leave his rival standing. It occurred that the boat’s
brief resistance and rocking away agitated his artificial equipoise,
and, by the operation of inexorable laws, the longer he leaned across an
extending surface the more was he dependent; so that when the measure of
the water exceeded the length of his failing support on land, there was
no help for it: he pitched in. His grimace of chagrin at the sight of
Beauchamp securely established, had scarcely yielded to the grimness
of feature of the man who feels he must go, as he took the plunge; and
these two emotions combined to make an extraordinary countenance.

He went like a gallant gentleman; he threw up his heels to clear the
boat, dropping into about four feet of water, and his first remark on
rising was, ‘I trust, madame, I have not had the misfortune to splash
you.’

Then he waded to the bank, scrambled to his feet, and drew out his
moustachios to their curving ends. Renee nodded sharply to Beauchamp to
bid him row. He, with less of wisdom, having seized the floating scull
abandoned by Count Henri, and got it ready for the stroke, said a word
of condolence to the dripping man.

Count Henri’s shoulders and neck expressed a kind of negative that,
like a wet dog’s shake of the head, ended in an involuntary whole length
shudder, dog-like and deplorable to behold. He must have been conscious
of this miserable exhibition of himself; he turned to Beauchamp: ‘You
are, I am informed, a sailor, monsieur. I compliment you on your naval
tactics: our next meeting will be on land. Au revoir, monsieur. Madame
la Marquise, I have the honour to salute you.’

With these words he retreated.

‘Row quickly, I beg of you,’ Renee said to Beauchamp. Her desire was
to see Roland, and open her heart to her brother; for now it had to be
opened. Not a minute must be lost to prevent further mischief. And who
was guilty? she. Her heart clamoured of her guilt to waken a cry of
innocence. A disdainful pity for the superb young savage just made
ludicrous, relieved him of blame, implacable though he was. He was
nothing; an accident--a fool. But he might become a terrible instrument
of punishment. The thought of that possibility gave it an aspect of
retribution, under which her cry of innocence was insufferable in its
feebleness. It would have been different with her if Beauchamp had taken
advantage of her fever of anxiety, suddenly appeased by the sight of
him on the evening of his arrival at Tourdestelle after the storm, to
attempt a renewal of their old broken love-bonds. Then she would have
seen only a conflict between two men, neither of whom could claim a more
secret right than the other to be called her lover, and of whom both
were on a common footing, and partly despicable. But Nevil Beauchamp had
behaved as her perfect true friend, in the character she had hoped for
when she summoned him. The sense of her guilt lay in the recognition
that he had saved her. From what? From the consequences of delirium
rather than from love--surely delirium, founded on delusion; love had
not existed. She had said to Count Henri, ‘You speak to me of love. I
was beloved when I was a girl, before my marriage, and for years I have
not seen or corresponded with the man who loved me, and I have only to
lift my finger now and he will come to me, and not once will he speak
to me of love.’ Those were the words originating the wager of the glove.
But what of her, if Nevil Beauchamp had not come?

Her heart jumped, and she blushed ungovernably in his face,--as if he
were seeing her withdraw her foot from the rock’s edge, and had that
instant rescued her. But how came it she had been so helpless? She could
ask; she could not answer.

Thinking, talking to her heart, was useless. The deceiver simply feigned
utter condemnation to make partial comfort acceptable. She burned to do
some act of extreme self-abasement that should bring an unwonted degree
of wrath on her externally, and so re-entitle her to consideration in
her own eyes. She burned to be interrogated, to have to weep, to be
scorned, abused, and forgiven, that she might say she did not deserve
pardon. Beauchamp was too English, evidently too blind, for the
description of judge-accuser she required; one who would worry her
without mercy, until-disgraced by the excess of torture inflicted--he
should reinstate her by as much as he had overcharged his accusation,
and a little more. Reasonably enough, instinctively in fact, she shunned
the hollow of an English ear. A surprise was in reserve for her.

Beauchamp gave up rowing. As he rested on the sculls, his head was bent
and turned toward the bank. Renee perceived an over-swollen monster
gourd that had strayed from a garden adjoining the river, and hung
sliding heavily down the bank on one greenish yellow cheek, in prolonged
contemplation of its image in the mirror below. Apparently this obese
Narcissus enchained his attention.

She tapped her foot. ‘Are you tired of rowing, monsieur?’

‘It was exactly here,’ said he, ‘that you told me you expected your
husband’s return.’

She glanced at the gourd, bit her lip, and, colouring, said, ‘At what
point of the river did I request you to congratulate me on it?’

She would not have said that, if she had known the thoughts at work
within him.

He set the boat swaying from side to side, and at once the hugeous
reflection of that conceivably self-enamoured bulk quavered and
distended, and was shattered in a thousand dancing fragments, to
re-unite and recompose its maudlin air of imaged satisfaction.

She began to have a vague idea that he was indulging grotesque fancies.

Very strangely, the ridiculous thing, in the shape of an over-stretched
likeness, that she never would have seen had he indicated it directly,
became transfused from his mind to hers by his abstract, half-amused
observation of the great dancing gourd--that capering antiquity,
lumbering volatility, wandering, self-adored, gross bald Cupid,
elatest of nondescripts! Her senses imagined the impressions agitating
Beauchamp’s, and exaggerated them beyond limit; and when he amazed her
with a straight look into her eyes, and the words, ‘Better let it be
a youth--and live, than fall back to that!’ she understood him
immediately; and, together with her old fear of his impetuosity and
downrightness, came the vivid recollection, like a bright finger
pointing upon darkness, of what foul destiny, magnified by her present
abhorrence of it, he would have saved her from in the days of Venice and
Touraine, and unto what loathly example of the hideous grotesque she, in
spite of her lover’s foresight on her behalf, had become allied.

Face to face as they sat, she had no defence for her scarlet cheeks; her
eyes wavered.

‘We will land here; the cottagers shall row the boat up,’ she said.

‘Somewhere--anywhere,’ said Beauchamp. ‘But I must speak. I will tell
you now. I do not think you to blame--barely; not in my sight; though no
man living would have suffered as I should. Probably some days more and
you would have been lost. You looked for me! Trust your instinct now
I’m with you as well as when I’m absent. Have you courage? that ‘s the
question. You have years to live. Can you live them in this place--with
honour? and alive really?’

Renee’s eyes grew wide; she tried to frown, and her brows merely
twitched; to speak, and she was inarticulate. His madness, miraculous
penetration, and the super-masculine charity in him, unknown to the
world of young men in their treatment of women, excited, awed, and
melted her. He had seen the whole truth of her relations with M.
d’Henriel!--the wickedness of them in one light, the innocence in
another; and without prompting a confession he forgave her. Could she
believe it? This was love, and manly love.

She yearned to be on her feet, to feel the possibility of an escape from
him.

She pointed to a landing. He sprang to the bank. ‘It could end in
nothing else,’ he said, ‘unless you beat cold to me. And now I have your
hand, Renee! It’s the hand of a living woman, you have no need to tell
me that; but faithful to her comrade! I can swear it for her--faithful
to a true alliance! You are not married, you are simply chained: and you
are terrorized. What a perversion of you it is! It wrecks you. But with
me? Am I not your lover? You and I are one life. What have we suffered
for but to find this out and act on it? Do I not know that a woman
lives, and is not the rooted piece of vegetation hypocrites and tyrants
expect her to be? Act on it, I say; own me, break the chains, come
to me; say, Nevil Beauchamp or death! And death for you? But you are
poisoned and thwart-eddying, as you live now: worse, shaming the Renee
I knew. Ah-Venice! But now we are both of us wiser and stronger: we
have gone through fire. Who foretold it? This day, and this misery and
perversion that we can turn to joy, if we will--if you will! No heart to
dare is no heart to love!--answer that! Shall I see you cower away from
me again? Not this time!’

He swept on in a flood, uttered mad things, foolish things, and things
of an insight electrifying to her. Through the cottager’s garden,
across a field, and within the park gates of Tourdestelle it continued
unceasingly; and deeply was she won by the rebellious note in all that
he said, deeply too by his disregard of the vulgar arts of wooers: she
detected none. He did not speak so much to win as to help her to see
with her own orbs. Nor was it roughly or chidingly, though it was
absolutely, that he stripped her of the veil a wavering woman will keep
to herself from her heart’s lord if she can.

They arrived long after the boat at Tourdestelle, and Beauchamp might
believe he had prevailed with her, but for her forlorn repetition of
the question he had put to her idly and as a new idea, instead of
significantly, with a recollection and a doubt ‘Have I courage, Nevil?’

The grain of common sense in cowardice caused her to repeat it when her
reason was bedimmed, and passion assumed the right to show the way of
right and wrong.



CHAPTER XXVI. MR. BLACKBURN TUCKHAM

Some time after Beauchamp had been seen renewing his canvass in Bevisham
a report reached Mount Laurels that he was lame of a leg. The wits of
the opposite camp revived the FRENCH MARQUEES, but it was generally
acknowledged that he had come back without the lady: she was invisible.
Cecilia Halkett rode home with her father on a dusky Autumn evening, and
found the card of Commander Beauchamp awaiting her. He might have stayed
to see her, she thought. Ladies are not customarily so very late in
returning from a ride on chill evenings of Autumn. Only a quarter of an
hour was between his visit and her return. The shortness of the interval
made it appear the deeper gulf. She noticed that her father particularly
inquired of the man-servant whether Captain Beauchamp limped. It seemed
a piece of kindly anxiety on his part. The captain was mounted, the man
said. Cecilia was conscious of rumours being abroad relating to Nevil’s
expedition to France; but he had enemies, and was at war with them,
and she held herself indifferent to tattle. This card bearing his name,
recently in his hand, was much more insidious and precise. She took
it to her room to look at it. Nothing but his name and naval title was
inscribed; no pencilled line; she had not expected to discover one. The
simple card was her dark light, as a handkerchief, a flower, a knot of
riband, has been for men luridly illuminated by such small sparks to
fling their beams on shadows and read the monstrous things for truths.
Her purer virgin blood was, not inflamed. She read the signification
of the card sadly as she did clearly. What she could not so distinctly
imagine was, how he could reconcile the devotion to his country, which
he had taught her to put her faith in, with his unhappy subjection to
Madame de Rouaillout. How could the nobler sentiment exist side by side
with one that was lawless? Or was the wildness characteristic of his
political views proof of a nature inclining to disown moral ties? She
feared so; he did not speak of the clergy respectfully. Reading in the
dark, she was forced to rely on her social instincts, and she distrusted
her personal feelings as much as she could, for she wished to know the
truth of him; anything, pain and heartrending, rather than the shutting
of the eyes in an unworthy abandonment to mere emotion and fascination.
Cecilia’s love could not be otherwise given to a man, however near
she might be drawn to love--though she should suffer the pangs of love
cruelly.

She placed his card in her writing-desk; she had his likeness there.
Commander Beauchamp encouraged the art of photography, as those that
make long voyages do, in reciprocating what they petition their friends
for. Mrs. Rosamund Culling had a whole collection of photographs of him,
equal to a visual history of his growth in chapters, from boyhood to
midshipmanship and to manhood. The specimen possessed by Cecilia was one
of a couple that Beauchamp had forwarded to Mrs. Grancey Lespel on
the day of his departure for France, and was a present from that lady,
purchased, like so many presents, at a cost Cecilia would have paid
heavily in gold to have been spared, namely, a public blush. She was
allowed to make her choice, and she chose the profile, repeating
a remark of Mrs. Culling’s, that it suggested an arrow-head in the
upflight; whereupon Mr. Stukely Culbrett had said, ‘Then there is the
man, for he is undoubtedly a projectile’; nor were politically-hostile
punsters on an arrow-head inactive. But Cecilia was thinking of the
side-face she (less intently than Beauchamp at hers) had glanced at
during the drive into Bevisham. At that moment, she fancied Madame de
Rouaillout might be doing likewise; and oh that she had the portrait of
the French lady as well!

Next day her father tossed her a photograph of another gentleman, coming
out of a letter he had received from old Mrs. Beauchamp. He asked her
opinion of it. She said, ‘I think he would have suited Bevisham better
than Captain Baskelett.’ Of the original, who presented himself at Mount
Laurels in the course of the week, she had nothing to say, except that
he was very like the photograph, very unlike Nevil Beauchamp. ‘Yes,
there I’m of your opinion,’ her father observed. The gentleman was Mr.
Blackburn Tuckham, and it was amusing to find an exuberant Tory in one
who was the reverse of the cavalier type. Nevil and he seemed to have
been sorted to the wrong sides. Mr. Tuckham had a round head, square
flat forehead, and ruddy face; he stood as if his feet claimed the earth
under them for his own, with a certain shortness of leg that detracted
from the majesty of his resemblance to our Eighth Harry, but increased
his air of solidity; and he was authoritative in speaking. ‘Let me set
you right, sir,’ he said sometimes to Colonel Halkett, and that was
his modesty. ‘You are altogether wrong,’ Miss Halkett heard herself
informed, which was his courtesy. He examined some of her water-colour
drawings before sitting down to dinner, approved of them, but thought
it necessary to lay a broad finger on them to show their defects. On the
question of politics, ‘I venture to state,’ he remarked, in anything but
the tone of a venture, ‘that no educated man of ordinary sense who has
visited our colonies will come back a Liberal.’ As for a man of sense
and education being a Radical, he scouted the notion with a pooh
sufficient to awaken a vessel in the doldrums. He said carelessly of
Commander Beauchamp, that he might think himself one. Either the Radical
candidate for Bevisham stood self-deceived, or--the other supposition.
Mr. Tuckham would venture to state that no English gentleman, exempt
from an examination by order of the Commissioners of Lunacy, could be
sincerely a Radical. ‘Not a bit of it; nonsense,’ he replied to Miss
Halkett’s hint at the existence of Radical views; ‘that is, those views
are out of politics; they are matters for the police. Dutch dykes are
built to shut away the sea from cultivated land, and of course it’s a
part of the business of the Dutch Government to keep up the dykes,--and
of ours to guard against the mob; but that is only a political
consideration after the mob has been allowed to undermine our defences.’

‘They speak,’ said Miss Halkett, ‘of educating the people to fit them--’

‘They speak of commanding the winds and tides,’ he cut her short, with
no clear analogy; ‘wait till we have a storm. It’s a delusion amounting
to dementedness to suppose, that with the people inside our defences,
we can be taming them and tricking them. As for sending them to school
after giving them power, it’s like asking a wild beast to sit down to
dinner with us--he wants the whole table and us too. The best education
for the people is government. They’re beginning to see that in
Lancashire at last. I ran down to Lancashire for a couple of days on my
landing, and I’m thankful to say Lancashire is preparing to take a
step back. Lancashire leads the country. Lancashire men see what this
Liberalism has done for the Labour-market.’

‘Captain Beauchamp considers that the political change coming over the
minds of the manufacturers is due to the large fortunes they have made,’
said Miss Halkett, maliciously associating a Radical prophet with him.

He was unaffected by it, and continued: ‘Property is ballast as well
as treasure. I call property funded good sense. I would give it every
privilege. If we are to speak of patriotism, I say the possession of
property guarantees it. I maintain that the lead of men of property is
in most cases sure to be the safe one.’

‘I think so,’ Colonel Halkett interposed, and he spoke as a man of
property.

Mr. Tuckham grew fervent in his allusions to our wealth and our
commerce. Having won the race and gained the prize, shall we let it
slip out of our grasp? Upon this topic his voice descended to tones
of priestlike awe: for are we not the envy of the world? Our wealth is
countless, fabulous. It may well inspire veneration. And we have won it
with our hands, thanks (he implied it so) to our religion. We are rich
in money and industry, in those two things only, and the corruption
of an energetic industry is constantly threatened by the profusion of
wealth giving it employment. This being the case, either your Radicals
do not know the first conditions of human nature, or they do; and if
they do they are traitors, and the Liberals opening the gates to them
are fools: and some are knaves. We perish as a Great Power if we cease
to look sharp ahead, hold firm together, and make the utmost of what we
possess. The word for the performance of those duties is Toryism: a word
with an older flavour than Conservatism, and Mr. Tuckham preferred it.
By all means let workmen be free men but a man must earn his freedom
daily, or he will become a slave in some form or another: and the way to
earn it is by work and obedience to right direction. In a country like
ours, open on all sides to the competition of intelligence and strength,
with a Press that is the voice of all parties and of every interest;
in a country offering to your investments three and a half and more per
cent., secure as the firmament!

He perceived an amazed expression on Miss Halkett’s countenance; and
‘Ay,’ said he, ‘that means the certainty of food to millions of mouths,
and comforts, if not luxuries, to half the population. A safe percentage
on savings is the basis of civilization.’

But he had bruised his eloquence, for though you may start a sermon from
stones to hit the stars, he must be a practised orator who shall descend
out of the abstract to take up a heavy lump of the concrete without
unseating himself, and he stammered and came to a flat ending: ‘In such
a country--well, I venture to say, we have a right to condemn in advance
disturbers of the peace, and they must show very good cause indeed for
not being summarily held--to account for their conduct.’

The allocution was not delivered in the presence of an audience other
than sympathetic, and Miss Halkett rightly guessed that it was intended
to strike Captain Beauchamp by ricochet. He puffed at the mention of
Beauchamp’s name. He had read a reported speech or two of Beauchamp’s,
and shook his head over a quotation of the stuff, as though he would
have sprung at him like a lion, but for his enrolment as a constable.

Not a whit the less did Mr. Tuckham drink his claret relishingly, and
he told stories incidental to his travels now and then, commended the
fishing here, the shooting there, and in some few places the cookery,
with much bright emphasis when it could be praised; it appeared to be an
endearing recollection to him. Still, as a man of progress, he declared
his belief that we English would ultimately turn out the best cooks,
having indubitably the best material. ‘Our incomprehensible political
pusillanimity’ was the one sad point about us: we had been driven from
surrender to surrender.

‘Like geese upon a common, I have heard it said,’ Miss Halkett assisted
him to Dr. Shrapnel’s comparison.

Mr. Tuckham laughed, and half yawned and sighed, ‘Dear me!’

His laughter was catching, and somehow more persuasive of the soundness
of the man’s heart and head than his remarks.

She would have been astonished to know that a gentleman so uncourtly, if
not uncouth--judged by the standard of the circle she moved in--and so
unskilled in pleasing the sight and hearing of ladies as to treat them
like junior comrades, had raised the vow within himself on seeing her:
You, or no woman!

The colonel delighted in him, both as a strong and able young fellow,
and a refreshingly aggressive recruit of his party, who was for
onslaught, and invoked common sense, instead of waving the flag of
sentiment in retreat; a very horse-artillery man of Tories. Regretting
immensely that Mr. Tuckham had not reached England earlier, that he
might have occupied the seat for Bevisham, about to be given to Captain
Baskelett, Colonel Halkett set up a contrast of Blackburn Tuckham
and Nevil Beauchamp; a singular instance of unfairness, his daughter
thought, considering that the distinct contrast presented by the
circumstances was that of Mr. Tuckham and Captain Baskelett.

‘It seems to me, papa,--that you are contrasting the idealist and the
realist,’ she said.

‘Ah, well, we don’t want the idealist in politics,’ muttered the
colonel.

Latterly he also had taken to shaking his head over Nevil: Cecilia dared
not ask him why.

Mr. Tuckham arrived at Mount Laurels on the eve of the Nomination day
in Bevisham. An article in the Bevisham Gazette calling upon all true
Liberals to demonstrate their unanimity by a multitudinous show of
hands, he ascribed to the writing of a child of Erin; and he was highly
diverted by the Liberal’s hiring of Paddy to ‘pen and spout’ for him. ‘A
Scotchman manages, and Paddy does the sermon for all their journals,’ he
said off-hand; adding: ‘And the English are the compositors, I suppose.’
You may take that for an instance of the national spirit of Liberal
newspapers!

‘Ah!’ sighed the colonel, as at a case clearly demonstrated against
them.

A drive down to Bevisham to witness the ceremony of the nomination in
the town-hall sobered Mr. Tuckham’s disposition to generalize. Beauchamp
had the show of hands, and to say with Captain Baskelett, that they were
a dirty majority, was beneath Mr. Tuckham’s verbal antagonism. He fell
into a studious reserve, noting everything, listening to everybody,
greatly to Colonel Halkett’s admiration of one by nature a talker and a
thunderer.

The show of hands Mr. Seymour Austin declared to be the most delusive of
electoral auspices; and it proved so. A little later than four o’clock
in the afternoon of the election-day, Cecilia received a message from
her father telling her that both of the Liberals were headed; ‘Beauchamp
nowhere.’

Mrs. Grancey Lespel was the next herald of Beauchamp’s defeat. She
merely stated the fact that she had met the colonel and Mr. Blackburn
Tuckham driving on the outskirts of the town, and had promised to bring
Cecilia the final numbers of the poll. Without naming them, she unrolled
the greater business in her mind.

‘A man who in the middle of an Election goes over to France to fight a
duel, can hardly expect to win; he has all the morality of an English
borough opposed to him,’ she said; and seeing the young lady stiffen:
‘Oh! the duel is positive,’ she dropped her voice. ‘With the husband.
Who else could it be? And returns invalided. That is evidence. My nephew
Palmet has it from Vivian Ducie, and he is acquainted with her tolerably
intimately, and the story is, she was overtaken in her flight in the
night, and the duel followed at eight o’clock in the morning; but her
brother insisted on fighting for Captain Beauchamp, and I cannot tell
you how--but his place in it I can’t explain--there was a beau jeune
homme, and it’s quite possible that he should have been the person
to stand up against the marquis. At any rate, he insulted Captain
Beauchamp, or thought your hero had insulted him, and the duel was with
one or the other. It matters exceedingly little with whom, if a duel was
fought, and you see we have quite established that.’

‘I hope it is not true,’ said Cecilia.

‘My dear, that is the Christian thing to do,’ said Mrs. Lespel.
‘Duelling is horrible: though those Romfreys!--and the Beauchamps were
just as bad, or nearly. Colonel Richard fought for a friend’s wife or
sister. But in these days duelling is incredible. It was an inhuman
practice always, and it is now worse--it is a reach of manners. I would
hope it is not true; and you may mean that I have it from Lord
Palmet. But I know Vivian Ducie as well as I know my nephew, and if he
distinctly mentions an occurrence, we may too surely rely on the truth
of it; he is not a man to spread mischief. Are you unaware that he met
Captain Beauchamp at the chateau of the marquise? The whole story was
acted under his eyes. He had only to take up his pen. Generally he
favours me with his French gossip. I suppose there were circumstances in
this affair more suitable to Palmet than to me. He wrote a description
of Madame de Rouaillout that set Palmet strutting about for an hour. I
have no doubt she must be a very beautiful woman, for a Frenchwoman: not
regular features; expressive, capricious. Vivian Ducie lays great stress
on her eyes and eyebrows, and, I think, her hair. With a Frenchwoman’s
figure, that is enough to make men crazy. He says her husband
deserves--but what will not young men write? It is deeply to be
regretted that Englishmen abroad--women the same, I fear--get the
Continental tone in morals. But how Captain Beauchamp could expect to
carry on an Election and an intrigue together, only a head like his can
tell us. Grancey is in high indignation with him. It does not concern
the Election, you can imagine. Something that man Dr. Shrapnel has done,
which he says Captain Beauchamp could have prevented. Quarrels of men!
I have instructed Palmet to write to Vivian Ducie for a photograph of
Madame de Rouaillout. Do you know, one has a curiosity to see the face
of the woman for whom a man ruins himself. But I say again, he ought to
be married.’

‘That there may be two victims?’ Cecilia said it smiling.

She was young in suffering, and thought, as the unseasoned and
inexperienced do, that a mask is a concealment.

‘Married--settled; to have him bound in honour,’ said Mrs. Lespel. ‘I
had a conversation with him when he was at Itchincope; and his look,
and what I know of his father, that gallant and handsome Colonel Richard
Beauchamp, would give one a kind of confidence in him; supposing always
that he is not struck with one of those deadly passions that are like
snakes, like magic. I positively believe in them. I have seen them.
And if they end, they end as if the man were burnt out, and was ashes
inside; as you see Mr. Stukely Culbrett, all cynicism. You would not now
suspect him of a passion! It is true. Oh, I know it! That is what the
men go to. The women die. Vera Winter died at twenty-three. Caroline
Ormond was hardly older. You know her story; everybody knows it. The
most singular and convincing case was that of Lord Alfred Burnley and
Lady Susan Gardiner, wife of the general; and there was an instance of
two similarly afflicted--a very rare case, most rare: they never could
meet to part! It was almost ludicrous. It is now quite certain that they
did not conspire to meet. At last the absolute fatality became so well
understood by the persons immediately interested--You laugh?’

‘Do I laugh?’ said Cecilia.

‘We should all know the world, my dear, and you are a strong head. The
knowledge is only dangerous for fools. And if romance is occasionally
ridiculous, as I own it can be, humdrum, I protest, is everlastingly so.
By-the-by, I should have told you that Captain Beauchamp was one hundred
and ninety below Captain Baskelett when the state of the poll was handed
to me. The gentleman driving with your father compared the Liberals to a
parachute cut away from the balloon. Is he army or navy?’

‘He is a barrister, and some cousin of Captain Beauchamp.’

‘I should not have taken him for a Beauchamp,’ said Mrs. Lespel; and,
resuming her worldly sagacity, ‘I should not like to be in opposition to
that young man.’

She seemed to have a fancy unexpressed regarding Mr. Tuckham. Reminding
herself that she might be behind time at Itchincope, where the guests
would be numerous that evening, and the song of triumph loud, with
Captain Baskelett to lead it, she kissed the young lady she had
unintentionally been torturing so long, and drove away.

Cecilia hoped it was not true. Her heart sank heavily under the belief
that it was. She imagined the world abusing Nevil and casting him out,
as those electors of Bevisham had just done, and impulsively she pleaded
for him, and became drowned in criminal blushes that forced her to
defend herself with a determination not to believe the dreadful story,
though she continued mitigating the wickedness of it; as if, by a
singular inversion of the fact, her clear good sense excused, and it
was her heart that condemned him. She dwelt fondly on an image of the
‘gallant and handsome Colonel Richard Beauchamp,’ conjured up in her
mind from the fervour of Mrs. Lespel when speaking of Nevil’s father,
whose chivalry threw a light on the son’s, and whose errors, condoned
by time, and with a certain brilliancy playing above them, interceded
strangely on behalf of Nevil.



CHAPTER XXVII. A SHORT SIDELOOK AT THE ELECTION

The brisk Election-day, unlike that wearisome but instructive canvass
of the Englishman in his castle vicatim, teaches little; and its
humours are those of a badly managed Christmas pantomime without a
columbine--old tricks, no graces. Nevertheless, things hang together so
that it cannot be passed over with a bare statement of the fact of the
Liberal-Radical defeat in Bevisham: the day was not without fruit in
time to come for him whom his commiserating admirers of the non-voting
sex all round the borough called the poor dear commander. Beauchamp’s
holiday out of England had incited Dr. Shrapnel to break a positive
restriction put upon him by Jenny Denham, and actively pursue the
canvass and the harangue in person; by which conduct, as Jenny had
foreseen, many temperate electors were alienated from Commander
Beauchamp, though no doubt the Radicals were made compact: for they
may be the skirmishing faction--poor scattered fragments, none of
them sufficiently downright for the other; each outstripping each;
rudimentary emperors, elementary prophets, inspired physicians,
nostrum-devouring patients, whatsoever you will; and still here and
there a man shall arise to march them in close columns, if they can but
trust him; in perfect subordination, a model even for Tories while they
keep shoulder to shoulder. And to behold such a disciplined body is
intoxicating to the eye of a leader accustomed to count ahead upon
vapourish abstractions, and therefore predisposed to add a couple of
noughts to every tangible figure in his grasp. Thus will a realized
fifty become five hundred or five thousand to him: the very sense of
number is instinct with multiplication in his mind; and those years far
on in advance, which he has been looking to with some fatigue to the
optics, will suddenly and rollickingly roll up to him at the shutting of
his eyes in a temporary fit of gratification. So, by looking and by not
looking, he achieves his phantom victory--embraces his cloud.

Dr. Shrapnel conceived that the day was to be a Radical success; and
he, a citizen aged and exercised in reverses, so rounded by the habit
of them indeed as to tumble and recover himself on the wind of the blow
that struck him, was, it must be acknowledged, staggered and cast down
when he saw Beauchamp drop, knowing full well his regiment had polled to
a man. Radicals poll early; they would poll at cockcrow if they might;
they dance on the morning. As for their chagrin at noon, you will find
descriptions of it in the poet’s Inferno. They are for lifting our clay
soil on a lever of Archimedes, and are not great mathematicians. They
have perchance a foot of our earth, and perpetually do they seem to be
producing an effect, perpetually does the whole land roll back on them.
You have not surely to be reminded that it hurts them; the weight is
immense. Dr. Shrapnel, however, speedily looked out again on his vast
horizon, though prostrate. He regained his height of stature with no
man’s help. Success was but postponed for a generation or two. Is it so
very distant? Gaze on it with the eye of our parent orb! ‘I shall not
see it here; you may,’ he said to Jenny Denham; and he fortified his
outlook by saying to Mr. Lydiard that the Tories of our time walked, or
rather stuck, in the track of the Radicals of a generation back. Note,
then, that Radicals, always marching to the triumph, never taste it; and
for Tories it is Dead Sea fruit, ashes in their mouths! Those Liberals,
those temporisers, compromisers, a concourse of atoms! glorify
themselves in the animal satisfaction of sucking the juice of the fruit,
for which they pay with their souls. They have no true cohesion, for
they have no vital principle.

Mr. Lydiard being a Liberal, bade the doctor not to forget the work
of the Liberals, who touched on Tory and Radical with a pretty steady
swing, from side to side, in the manner of the pendulum of a clock,
which is the clock’s life, remember that. The Liberals are the
professors of the practicable in politics.

‘A suitable image for time-servers!’ Dr. Shrapnel exclaimed, intolerant
of any mention of the Liberals as a party, especially in the hour of
Radical discomfiture, when the fact that compromisers should exist
exasperates men of a principle. ‘Your Liberals are the band of Pyrrhus,
an army of bastards, mercenaries professing the practicable for pay.
They know us the motive force, the Tories the resisting power, and they
feign to aid us in battering our enemy, that they may stop the shock.
We fight, they profit. What are they? Stranded Whigs, crotchetty
manufacturers; dissentient religionists; the half-minded, the
hare-hearted; the I would and I would-not--shifty creatures, with
youth’s enthusiasm decaying in them, and a purse beginning to jingle;
fearing lest we do too much for safety, our enemy not enough for safety.
They a party? Let them take action and see! We stand a thousand defeats;
they not one! Compromise begat them. Once let them leave sucking the
teats of compromise, yea, once put on the air of men who fight and die
for a cause, they fly to pieces. And whither the fragments? Chiefly, my
friend, into the Tory ranks. Seriously so I say. You between future and
past are for the present--but with the hunted look behind of all godless
livers in the present. You Liberals are Tories with foresight,
Radicals without faith. You start, in fear of Toryism, on an errand of
Radicalism, and in fear of Radicalism to Toryism you draw back. There is
your pendulum-swing!’

Lectures to this effect were delivered by Dr. Shrapnel throughout the
day, for his private spiritual solace it may be supposed, unto Lydiard,
Turbot, Beauchamp, or whomsoever the man chancing to be near him,
and never did Sir Oracle wear so extraordinary a garb. The favourite
missiles of the day were flour-bags. Dr. Shrapnel’s uncommon height, and
his outrageous long brown coat, would have been sufficient to attract
them, without the reputation he had for desiring to subvert everything
old English. The first discharges gave him the appearance of a thawing
snowman. Drenchings of water turned the flour to ribs of paste, and
in colour at least he looked legitimately the cook’s own spitted hare,
escaped from her basting ladle, elongated on two legs. It ensued that
whenever he was caught sight of, as he walked unconcernedly about, the
young street-professors of the decorative arts were seized with a frenzy
to add their share to the whitening of him, until he might have been
taken for a miller that had gone bodily through his meal. The popular
cry proclaimed him a ghost, and he walked like one, impassive, blanched,
and silent amid the uproar of mobs of jolly ruffians, for each of whom
it was a point of honour to have a shy at old Shrapnel.

Clad in this preparation of pie-crust, he called from time to time at
Beauchamp’s hotel, and renewed his monologue upon that Radical empire in
the future which was for ever in the future for the pioneers of men,
yet not the less their empire. ‘Do we live in our bodies?’ quoth he,
replying to his fiery interrogation: ‘Ay, the Tories! the Liberals!’
They lived in their bodies. Not one syllable of personal consolation did
he vouchsafe to Beauchamp. He did not imagine it could be required by a
man who had bathed in the pure springs of Radicalism; and it should
be remarked that Beauchamp deceived him by imitating his air of happy
abstraction, or subordination of the faculties to a distant view,
comparable to a ship’s crew in difficulties receiving the report of the
man at the masthead. Beauchamp deceived Miss Denham too, and himself,
by saying, as if he cherished the philosophy of defeat, besides the
resolution to fight on:

‘It’s only a skirmish lost, and that counts for nothing in a battle
without end: it must be incessant.’

‘But does incessant battling keep the intellect clear?’ was her
memorable answer.

He glanced at Lydiard, to indicate that it came of that gentleman’s
influence upon her mind. It was impossible for him to think that women
thought. The idea of a pretty woman exercising her mind independently,
and moreover moving him to examine his own, made him smile. Could a
sweet-faced girl, the nearest to Renee in grace of manner and in feature
of all women known to him, originate a sentence that would set him
reflecting? He was unable to forget it, though he allowed her no credit
for it.

On the other hand, his admiration of her devotedness to Dr. Shrapnel
was unbounded. There shone a strictly feminine quality! according to the
romantic visions of the sex entertained by Commander Beauchamp, and by
others who would be the objects of it. But not alone the passive virtues
were exhibited by Jenny Denham: she proved that she had high courage.
No remonstrance could restrain Dr. Shrapnel from going out to watch the
struggle, and she went with him as a matter of course on each occasion.
Her dress bore witness to her running the gauntlet beside him.

‘It was not thrown at me purposely,’ she said, to quiet Beauchamp’s
wrath. She saved the doctor from being rough mobbed. Once when they were
surrounded she fastened his arm under hers, and by simply moving on with
an unswerving air of serenity obtained a passage for him. So much did
she make herself respected, that the gallant rascals became emulous
in dexterity to avoid powdering her, by loudly execrating any but dead
shots at the detested one, and certain boys were maltreated for an
ardour involving clumsiness. A young genius of this horde conceiving, in
the spirit of the inventors of our improved modern ordnance, that it
was vain to cast missiles which left a thing standing, hurled a stone
wrapped in paper. It missed its mark. Jenny said nothing about it. The
day closed with a comfortable fight or two in by-quarters of the town,
probably to prove that an undaunted English spirit, spite of fickle
Fortune, survived in our muscles.



CHAPTER XXVIII. TOUCHING A YOUNG LADY’S HEART AND HER INTELLECT

Mr. Tuckham found his way to Dr. Shrapnel’s cottage to see his kinsman
on the day after the election. There was a dinner in honour of the
Members for Bevisham at Mount Laurels in the evening, and he was five
minutes behind military time when he entered the restive drawing-room
and stood before the colonel. No sooner had he stated that he had been
under the roof of Dr. Shrapnel, than his unpunctuality was immediately
overlooked in the burst of impatience evoked by the name.

‘That pestilent fellow!’ Colonel Halkett ejaculated. ‘I understand
he has had the impudence to serve a notice on Grancey Lespel about
encroachments on common land.’

Some one described Dr. Shrapnel’s appearance under the flour storm.

‘He deserves anything,’ said the colonel, consulting his mantelpiece
clock.

Captain Baskelett observed: ‘I shall have my account to settle with
Dr. Shrapnel.’ He spoke like a man having a right to be indignant, but
excepting that the doctor had bestowed nicknames upon him in a speech at
a meeting, no one could discover the grounds for it. He nodded briefly.
A Radical apple had struck him on the left cheekbone as he performed his
triumphal drive through the town, and a slight disfigurement remained,
to which his hand was applied sympathetically at intervals, for the
cheek-bone was prominent in his countenance, and did not well bear
enlargement. And when a fortunate gentleman, desiring to be still
more fortunate, would display the winning amiability of his character,
distension of one cheek gives him an afflictingly false look of
sweetness.

The bent of his mind, nevertheless, was to please Miss Halkett. He would
be smiling, and intimately smiling. Aware that she had a kind of pitiful
sentiment for Nevil, he smiled over Nevil--poor Nevil! ‘I give you my
word, Miss Halkett, old Nevil was off his head yesterday. I daresay he
meant to be civil. I met him; I called out to him, “Good day, cousin,
I’m afraid you’re beaten” and says he, “I fancy you’ve gained it,
uncle.” He didn’t know where he was; all abroad, poor boy. Uncle!--to
me!’

Miss Halkett would have accepted the instance for a proof of Nevil’s
distraction, had not Mr. Seymour Austin, who sat beside her, laughed and
said to her: ‘I suppose “uncle” was a chance shot, but it’s equal to a
poetic epithet in the light it casts on the story.’ Then it seemed
to her that Nevil had been keenly quick, and Captain Baskelett’s
impenetrability was a sign of his density. Her mood was to think Nevil
Beauchamp only too quick, too adventurous and restless: one that wrecked
brilliant gifts in a too general warfare; a lover of hazards, a hater
of laws. Her eyes flew over Captain Baskelett as she imagined Nevil
addressing him as uncle, and, to put aside a spirit of mockery rising
within her, she hinted a wish to hear Seymour Austin’s opinion of Mr.
Tuckham. He condensed it in an interrogative tone: ‘The other extreme?’
The Tory extreme of Radical Nevil Beauchamp. She assented. Mr. Tuckham
was at that moment prophesying the Torification of mankind; not as the
trembling venturesome idea which we cast on doubtful winds, but as
a ship is launched to ride the waters, with huzzas for a thing
accomplished. Mr. Austin raised his shoulders imperceptibly, saying to
Miss Halkett: ‘The turn will come to us as to others--and go. Nothing
earthly can escape that revolution. We have to meet it with a policy,
and let it pass with measures carried and our hands washed of some of
our party sins. I am, I hope, true to my party, but the enthusiasm of
party I do not share. He is right, however, when he accuses the nation
of cowardice for the last ten years. One third of the Liberals have
been with us at heart, and dared not speak, and we dared not say what
we wished. We accepted a compact that satisfied us both--satisfied us
better than when we were opposed by Whigs--that is, the Liberal reigned,
and we governed: and I should add, a very clever juggler was our common
chief. Now we have the consequences of hollow peacemaking, in a
suffrage that bids fair to extend to the wearing of hats and boots for a
qualification. The moral of it seems to be that cowardice is even worse
for nations than for individual men, though the consequences come on us
more slowly.’

‘You spoke of party sins,’ Miss Halkett said incredulously.

‘I shall think we are the redoubtable party when we admit the charge.’

‘Are you alluding to the landowners?’

‘Like the land itself, they have rich veins in heavy matter. For
instance, the increasing wealth of the country is largely recruiting
our ranks; and we shall be tempted to mistake numbers for strength, and
perhaps again be reading Conservatism for a special thing of our own--a
fortification. That would be a party sin. Conservatism is a principle
of government; the best because the safest for an old country; and
the guarantee that we do not lose the wisdom of past experience in our
struggle with what is doubtful. Liberalism stakes too much on the chance
of gain. It is uncomfortably seated on half-a-dozen horses; and it has
to feed them too, and on varieties of corn.’

‘Yes,’ Miss Halkett said, pausing, ‘and I know you would not talk down
to me, but the use of imagery makes me feel that I am addressed as a
primitive intelligence.’

‘That’s the fault of my trying at condensation, as the hieroglyphists
put an animal for a paragraph. I am incorrigible, you see; but the
lecture in prose must be for by-and-by, if you care to have it.’

‘If you care to read it to me. Did a single hieroglyphic figure stand
for so much?’

‘I have never deciphered one.’

‘You have been speaking to me too long in earnest, Mr. Austin!’

‘I accept the admonition, though it is wider than the truth. Have you
ever consented to listen to politics before?’

Cecilia reddened faintly, thinking of him who had taught her to listen,
and of her previous contempt of the subject.

A political exposition devoid of imagery was given to her next day on
the sunny South-western terrace of Mount Laurels, when it was only
by mentally translating it into imagery that she could advance a step
beside her intellectual guide; and she was ashamed of the volatility of
her ideas. She was constantly comparing Mr. Austin and Nevil Beauchamp,
seeing that the senior and the junior both talked to her with the
familiar recognition of her understanding which was a compliment without
the gross corporeal phrase. But now she made another discovery,
that should have been infinitely more of a compliment, and it was
bewildering, if not repulsive to her:--could it be credited? Mr. Austin
was a firm believer in new and higher destinies for women. He went
farther than she could concede the right of human speculation to go; he
was, in fact, as Radical there as Nevil Beauchamp politically; and would
not the latter innovator stare, perchance frown conservatively, at
a prospect of woman taking counsel, in council, with men upon public
affairs, like the women in the Germania! Mr. Austin, if this time he
talked in earnest, deemed that Englishwomen were on the road to win such
a promotion, and would win it ultimately. He said soberly that he saw
more certain indications of the reality of progress among women than any
at present shown by men. And he was professedly temperate. He was but
for opening avenues to the means of livelihood for them, and leaving it
to their strength to conquer the position they might wish to win. His
belief that they would do so was the revolutionary sign.

‘Are there points of likeness between Radicals and Tories?’ she
inquired.

‘I suspect a cousinship in extremes,’ he answered.

‘If one might be present at an argument,’ said she.

‘We have only to meet to fly apart as wide as the Poles,’ Mr. Austin
rejoined.

But she had not spoken of a particular person to meet him; and how,
then, had she betrayed herself? She fancied he looked unwontedly arch as
he resumed:

‘The end of the argument would see us each entrenched in his party.
Suppose me to be telling your Radical friend such truisms as that we
English have not grown in a day, and were not originally made free and
equal by decree; that we have grown, and must continue to grow, by the
aid and the development of our strength; that ours is a fairly legible
history, and a fair example of the good and the bad in human growth;
that his landowner and his peasant have no clear case of right and wrong
to divide them, one being the descendant of strong men, the other of
weak ones; and that the former may sink, the latter may rise--there is
no artificial obstruction; and if it is difficult to rise, it is easy
to sink. Your Radical friend, who would bring them to a level by
proclamation, could not adopt a surer method for destroying the manhood
of a people: he is for doctoring wooden men, and I for not letting our
stout English be cut down short as Laplanders; he would have them in
a forcing house, and I in open air, as hitherto. Do you perceive a
discussion? and you apprehend the nature of it. We have nerves. That is
why it is better for men of extremely opposite opinions not to meet. I
dare say Radicalism has a function, and so long as it respects the
laws I am ready to encounter it where it cannot be avoided. Pardon my
prosing.’

‘Recommend me some hard books to study through the Winter,’ said
Cecilia, refreshed by a discourse that touched no emotions, as by a
febrifuge. Could Nevil reply to it? She fancied him replying, with that
wild head of his--wildest of natures. She fancied also that her wish was
like Mr. Austin’s not to meet him. She was enjoying a little rest.

It was not quite generous in Mr. Austin to assume that ‘her Radical
friend’ had been prompting her. However, she thanked him in her heart
for the calm he had given her. To be able to imagine Nevil Beauchamp
intellectually erratic was a tonic satisfaction to the proud young
lady, ashamed of a bondage that the bracing and pointing of her critical
powers helped her to forget. She had always preferred the society of men
of Mr. Austin’s age. How old was he? Her father would know. And why was
he unmarried? A light frost had settled on the hair about his temples;
his forehead was lightly wrinkled; but his mouth and smile, and his
eyes, were lively as a young man’s, with more in them. His age must be
something less than fifty. O for peace! she sighed. When he stepped into
his carriage, and stood up in it to wave adieu to her, she thought his
face and figure a perfect example of an English gentleman in his prime.

Captain Baskelett requested the favour of five minutes of conversation
with Miss Halkett before he followed Mr. Austin, on his way to Steynham.

She returned from that colloquy to her father and Mr. Tuckham. The
colonel looked straight in her face, with an elevation of the brows.
To these points of interrogation she answered with a placid fall of her
eyelids. He sounded a note of approbation in his throat.

All the company having departed, Mr. Tuckham for the first time spoke
of his interview with his kinsman Beauchamp. Yesterday evening he had
slurred it, as if he had nothing to relate, except the finding of an
old schoolfellow at Dr. Shrapnel’s named Lydiard, a man of ability fool
enough to have turned author on no income. But that which had appeared
to Miss Halkett a want of observancy, became attributable to depth of
character on its being clear that he had waited for the departure of
the transient guests of the house, to pour forth his impressions without
holding up his kinsman to public scorn. He considered Shrapnel mad and
Beauchamp mad. No such grotesque old monster as Dr. Shrapnel had he seen
in the course of his travels. He had never listened to a madman running
loose who was at all up to Beauchamp. At a loss for words to paint him,
he said: ‘Beauchamp seems to have a head like a firework manufactory,
he’s perfectly pyrocephalic.’ For an example of Dr. Shrapnel’s talk:
‘I happened,’ said Mr. Tuckham, ‘casually, meaning no harm, and not
supposing I was throwing a lighted match on powder, to mention the
word Providence. I found myself immediately confronted by
Shrapnel--overtopped, I should say. He is a lank giant of about seven
feet in height; the kind of show man that used to go about in caravans
over the country; and he began rocking over me like a poplar in a gale,
and cries out: “Stay there! away with that! Providence? Can you set a
thought on Providence, not seeking to propitiate it? And have you not
there the damning proof that you are at the foot of an Idol?”--The old
idea about a special Providence, I suppose. These fellows have nothing
new but their trimmings. And he went on with: “Ay, invisible,” and his
arm chopping, “but an Idol! an Idol!”--I was to think of “nought but
Laws.” He admitted there might be one above the Laws. “To realize him
is to fry the brains in their pan,” says he, and struck his forehead--a
slap: and off he walked down the garden, with his hands at his
coat-tails. I venture to say it may be taken for a proof of incipient
insanity to care to hear such a fellow twice. And Beauchamp holds him up
for a sage and a prophet!’

‘He is a very dangerous dog,’ said Colonel Halkett.

‘The best of it is--and I take this for the strongest possible proof
that Beauchamp is mad--Shrapnel stands for an advocate of morality
against him. I’ll speak of it....’

Mr. Tuckham nodded to the colonel, who said: ‘Speak out. My daughter has
been educated for a woman of the world.’

‘Well, sir, it’s nothing to offend a young lady’s ears. Beauchamp is for
socially enfranchising the sex--that is all. Quite enough. Not a whit
politically. Love is to be the test: and if a lady ceases to love her
husband... if she sets her fancy elsewhere, she’s bound to leave him.
The laws are tyrannical, our objections are cowardly. Well, this Dr.
Shrapnel harangued about society; and men as well as women are to
sacrifice their passions on that altar. If he could burlesque himself it
would be in coming out as a cleric--the old Pagan!’

‘Did he convince Captain Beauchamp?’ the colonel asked, manifestly for
his daughter to hear the reply; which was: ‘Oh dear, no!’

‘Were you able to gather from Captain Beauchamp’s remarks whether he is
much disappointed by the result of the election?’ said Cecilia.

Mr. Tuckham could tell her only that Captain Beauchamp was incensed
against an elector named Tomlinson for withdrawing a promised vote
on account of lying rumours, and elated by the conquest of a Mr.
Carpendike, who was reckoned a tough one to drag by the neck. ‘The
only sane people in the house are a Miss Denham and the cook: I lunched
there,’ Mr. Tuckham nodded approvingly. ‘Lydiard must be mad. What he’s
wasting his time there for I can’t guess. He says he’s engaged there
in writing a prefatory essay to a new publication of Harry Denham’s
poems--whoever that may be. And why wasting it there? I don’t like it.
He ought to be earning his bread. He’ll be sure to be borrowing money
by-and-by. We’ve got ten thousand too many fellows writing already, and
they ‘ve seen a few inches of the world, on the Continent! He can write.
But it’s all unproductive-dead weight on the country, these fellows
with their writings! He says Beauchamp’s praise of Miss Denham is quite
deserved. He tells me, that at great peril to herself--and she nearly
had her arm broken by a stone he saved Shrapnel from rough usage on the
election-day.’

‘Hum!’ Colonel Halkett grunted significantly.

‘So I thought,’ Mr. Tuckham responded. ‘One doesn’t want the man to
be hurt, but he ought to be put down in some way. My belief is he’s a
Fire-worshipper. I warrant I would extinguish him if he came before me.
He’s an incendiary, at any rate.’

‘Do you think,’ said Cecilia, ‘that Captain Beauchamp is now satisfied
with his experience of politics?’

‘Dear me, no,’ said Mr. Tuckham. ‘It’s the opening of a campaign. He’s
off to the North, after he has been to Sussex and Bucks. He’s to be at
it all his life. One thing he shows common sense in. If I heard him once
I heard him say half-a-dozen times, that he must have money:--“I must
have money!” And so he must if he ‘s to head the Radicals. He wants to
start a newspaper! Is he likely to get money from his uncle Romfrey?’

‘Not for his present plan of campaign.’ Colonel Halkett enunciated the
military word sarcastically. ‘Let’s hope he won’t get money.’

‘He says he must have it.’

‘Who is to stand and deliver, then?’

‘I don’t know; I only repeat what he says: unless he has an eye on
my Aunt Beauchamp; and I doubt his luck there, if he wants money for
political campaigning.’

‘Money!’ Colonel Halkett ejaculated.

That word too was in the heart of the heiress.

Nevil must have money! Could he have said it? Ordinary men might say or
think it inoffensively; Captain Baskelett, for instance: but not Nevil
Beauchamp.

Captain Baskelett, as she had conveyed the information to her father for
his comfort in the dumb domestic language familiar between them on
these occasions, had proposed to her unavailingly. Italian and English
gentlemen were in the list of her rejected suitors: and hitherto she had
seen them come and go, one might say, from a watchtower in the skies.
None of them was the ideal she waited for: what their feelings were,
their wishes, their aims, she had not reflected on. They dotted the
landscape beneath the unassailable heights, busy after their fashion,
somewhat quaint, much like the pigmy husbandmen in the fields were to
the giant’s daughter, who had more curiosity than Cecilia. But Nevil
Beauchamp had compelled her to quit her lofty station, pulled her low
as the littlest of women that throb and flush at one man’s footstep: and
being well able to read the nature and aspirations of Captain Baskelett,
it was with the knowledge of her having been proposed to as heiress of a
great fortune that she chanced to hear of Nevil’s resolve to have money.
If he did say it! And was anything likelier? was anything unlikelier?
His foreign love denied to him, why, now he devoted himself to money:
money--the last consideration of a man so single-mindedly generous as
he! But he must have money to pursue his contest! But would he forfeit
the truth in him for money for any purpose?

The debate on this question grew as incessant as the thought of him. Was
it not to be supposed that the madness of the pursuit of his political
chimaera might change his character?

She hoped he would not come to Mount Laurels, thinking she should esteem
him less if he did; knowing that her defence of him, on her own behalf,
against herself, depended now on an esteem lodged perhaps in her
wilfulness. Yet if he did not come, what an Arctic world!

He came on a November afternoon when the woods glowed, and no sun. The
day was narrowed in mist from earth to heaven: a moveless and possessing
mist. It left space overhead for one wreath of high cloud mixed with
touches of washed red upon moist blue, still as the mist, insensibly
passing into it. Wet webs crossed the grass, chill in the feeble light.
The last flowers of the garden bowed to decay. Dead leaves, red and
brown and spotted yellow, fell straight around the stems of trees, lying
thick. The glow was universal, and the chill.

Cecilia sat sketching the scene at a window of her study, on the level
of the drawing-room, and he stood by outside till she saw him. He
greeted her through the glass, then went round to the hall door, giving
her time to recover, if only her heart had been less shaken.

Their meeting was like the features of the day she set her brush to
picture: characteristic of a season rather than cheerless in
tone, though it breathed little cheer. Is there not a pleasure in
contemplating that which is characteristic? Her unfinished sketch
recalled him after he had gone: he lived in it, to startle her again,
and bid her heart gallop and her cheeks burn. The question occurred to
her: May not one love, not craving to be beloved? Such a love does not
sap our pride, but supports it; increases rather than diminishes our
noble self-esteem. To attain such a love the martyrs writhed up to the
crown of saints. For a while Cecilia revelled in the thought that she
could love in this most saint-like manner. How they fled, the sordid
ideas of him which accused him of the world’s one passion, and were
transferred to her own bosom in reproach that she should have imagined
them existing in his! He talked simply and sweetly of his defeat, of
time wasted away from the canvass, of loss of money: and he had little
to spare, he said. The water-colour drawing interested him. He said
he envied her that power of isolation, and the eye for beauty in every
season. She opened a portfolio of Mr. Tuckham’s water-colour drawings in
every clime; scenes of Europe, Asia, and the Americas; and he was to
be excused for not caring to look through them. His remark, that they
seemed hard and dogged, was not so unjust, she thought, smiling to
think of the critic criticized. His wonderment that a young man like his
Lancastrian cousin should be ‘an unmitigated Tory’ was perhaps natural.

Cecilia said, ‘Yet I cannot discern in him a veneration for
aristocracy.’ ‘That’s not wanted for modern Toryism,’ said Nevil. ‘One
may venerate old families when they show the blood of the founder, and
are not dead wood. I do. And I believe the blood of the founder, though
the man may have been a savage and a robber, had in his day finer
elements in it than were common. But let me say at a meeting that I
respect true aristocracy, I hear a growl and a hiss beginning: why?
Don’t judge them hastily: because the people have seen the aristocracy
opposed to the cause that was weak, and only submitting to it when it
commanded them to resist at their peril; clinging to traditions, and
not anywhere standing for humanity: much more a herd than the people
themselves. Ah! well, we won’t talk of it now. I say that is no
aristocracy, if it does not head the people in virtue--military,
political, national: I mean the qualities required by the times for
leadership. I won’t bother you with my ideas now. I love to see you
paint-brush in hand.’

Her brush trembled on the illumination of a scarlet maple. ‘In this
country we were not originally made free and equal by decree, Nevil.’

‘No,’ said he, ‘and I cast no blame on our farthest ancestors.’

It struck her that this might be an outline of a reply to Mr. Austin.

‘So you have been thinking over it?’ he asked.

‘Not to conclusions,’ she said, trying to retain in her mind the
evanescent suggestiveness of his previous remark, and vexed to find
herself upon nothing but a devious phosphorescent trail there.

Her forehead betrayed the unwonted mental action. He cried out for
pardon. ‘What right have I to bother you? I see it annoys you. The truth
is, I came for peace. I think of you when they talk of English homes.’

She felt then that he was comparing her home with another, a foreign
home. After he had gone she felt that there had been a comparison of two
persons. She remembered one of his observations: ‘Few women seem to have
courage’; when his look at her was for an instant one of scrutiny
or calculation. Under a look like that we perceive that we are being
weighed. She had no clue to tell her what it signified.

Glorious and solely glorious love, that has risen above emotion, quite
independent of craving! That is to be the bird of upper air, poised
on his wings. It is a home in the sky. Cecilia took possession of it
systematically, not questioning whether it would last; like one who is
too enamoured of the habitation to object to be a tenant-at-will. If it
was cold, it was in recompense immeasurably lofty, a star-girdled place;
and dwelling in it she could avow to herself the secret which was now
working self-deception, and still preserve her pride unwounded. Her
womanly pride, she would have said in vindication of it: but Cecilia
Halkett’s pride went far beyond the merely womanly.

Thus she was assisted to endure a journey down to Wales, where Nevil
would surely not be. She passed a Winter without seeing him. She
returned to Mount Laurels from London at Easter, and went on a visit to
Steynham, and back to London, having sight of him nowhere, still firm
in the thought that she loved ethereally, to bless, forgive, direct,
encourage, pray for him, impersonally. She read certain speeches
delivered by Nevil at assemblies of Liberals or Radicals, which were
reported in papers in the easy irony of the style of here and there a
sentence, here and there a summary: salient quotations interspersed
with running abstracts: a style terrible to friends of the speaker so
reported, overwhelming if they differ in opinion: yet her charity was a
match for it. She was obliged to have recourse to charity, it should
be observed. Her father drew her attention to the spectacle of R. C. S.
Nevil Beauchamp, Commander R.N., fighting those reporters with letters
in the newspapers, and the dry editorial comment flanked by three stars
on the left. He was shocked to see a gentleman writing such letters to
the papers. ‘But one thing hangs on another,’ said he.

‘But you seem angry with Nevil, papa,’ said she.

‘I do hate a turbulent, restless fellow, my dear,’ the colonel burst
out.

‘Papa, he has really been unfairly reported.’

Cecilia laid three privately-printed full reports of Commander
Beauchamp’s speeches (very carefully corrected by him) before her
father.

He suffered his eye to run down a page. ‘Is it possible you read
this?--this trash!--dangerous folly, I call it.’

Cecilia’s reply, ‘In the interests of justice, I do,’ was meant to
express her pure impartiality. By a toleration of what is detested we
expose ourselves to the keenness of an adverse mind.

‘Does he write to you, too?’ said the colonel.

She answered: ‘Oh, no; I am not a politician.’

‘He seems to have expected you to read those tracts of his, though.’

‘Yes, I think he would convert me if he could,’ said Cecilia.

‘Though you’re not a politician.’

‘He relies on the views he delivers in public, rather than on writing to
persuade; that was my meaning, papa.’

‘Very well,’ said the colonel, not caring to show his anxiety.

Mr. Tuckham dined with them frequently in London. This gentleman
betrayed his accomplishments one by one. He sketched, and was no artist;
he planted, and was no gardener; he touched the piano neatly, and was no
musician; he sang, and he had no voice. Apparently he tried his hand at
anything, for the privilege of speaking decisively upon all things. He
accompanied the colonel and his daughter on a day’s expedition to Mrs.
Beauchamp, on the Upper Thames, and they agreed that he shone to
great advantage in her society. Mrs. Beauchamp said she had seen her
great-nephew Nevil, but without a comment on his conduct or his person;
grave silence. Reflecting on it, Cecilia grew indignant at the thought
that Mr. Tuckham might have been acting a sinister part. Mrs. Beauchamp
alluded to a newspaper article of her favourite great-nephew Blackburn,
written, Cecilia knew through her father, to controvert some tremendous
proposition of Nevil’s. That was writing, Mrs. Beauchamp said. ‘I am not
in the habit of fearing a conflict, so long as we have stout defenders.
I rather like it,’ she said.

The colonel entertained Mrs. Beauchamp, while Mr. Tuckham led Miss
Halkett over the garden. Cecilia considered that his remarks upon Nevil
were insolent.

‘Seriously, Miss Halkett, to take him at his best, he is a very good
fellow, I don’t doubt; I am told so; and a capital fellow among men,
a good friend and not a bad boon-fellow, and for that matter, the
smoking-room is a better test than the drawing-room; all he wants is
emphatically school--school--school. I have recommended the simple
iteration of that one word in answer to him at his meetings, and the
printing of it as a foot-note to his letters.’

Cecilia’s combative spirit precipitated her to say, ‘I hear the mob in
it shouting Captain Beauchamp down.’

‘Ay,’ said Mr. Tuckham, ‘it would be setting the mob to shout wisely at
last.’

‘The mob is a wild beast.’

‘Then we should hear wisdom coming out of the mouth of the wild beast.’

‘Men have the phrase, “fair play.”’

‘Fair play, I say, is not applicable to a man who deliberately goes
about to stir the wild beast. He is laughed at, plucked, hustled, and
robbed, by those who deafen him with their “plaudits”--their roars.
Did you see his advertisement of a great-coat, lost at some rapscallion
gathering down in the North, near my part of the country? A great-coat
and a packet of letters. He offers a reward of L10. But that’s honest
robbery compared with the bleeding he’ll get.’

‘Do you know Mr. Seymour Austin?’ Miss Halkett asked him.

‘I met him once at your father’s table. Why?’

‘I think you would like to listen to him.’

‘Yes, my fault is not listening enough,’ said Mr. Tuckham.

He was capable of receiving correction.

Her father told her he was indebted to Mr. Tuckham past payment in coin,
for services rendered by him on a trying occasion among the miners
in Wales during the first spring month. ‘I dare say he can speak
effectively to miners,’ Cecilia said, outvying the contemptuous young
man in superciliousness, but with effort and not with satisfaction.

She left London in July, two days before her father could be induced
to return to Mount Laurels. Feverish, and strangely subject to caprices
now, she chose the longer way round by Sussex, and alighted at the
station near Steynham to call on Mrs. Culling, whom she knew to be at
the Hall, preparing it for Mr. Romfrey’s occupation. In imitation of
her father she was Rosamund’s fast friend, though she had never quite
realized her position, and did not thoroughly understand her. Would it
not please her father to hear that she had chosen the tedious route for
the purpose of visiting this lady, whose champion he was?

So she went to Steynham, and for hours she heard talk of no one,
of nothing, but her friend Nevil. Cecilia was on her guard against
Rosamund’s defence of his conduct in France. The declaration that there
had been no misbehaviour at all could not be accepted; but the news
of Mr. Romfrey’s having installed Nevil in Holdesbury to manage that
property, and of his having mooted to her father the question of an
alliance between her and Nevil, was wonderful. Rosamund could not say
what answer her father had made: hardly favourable, Cecilia supposed,
since he had not spoken of the circumstance to her. But Mr. Romfrey’s
influence with him would certainly be powerful.

It was to be assumed, also, that Nevil had been consulted by his uncle.
Rosamund said full-heartedly that this alliance had for years been her
life’s desire, and then she let the matter pass, nor did she once loop
at Cecilia searchingly, or seem to wish to probe her. Cecilia disagreed
with Rosamund on an insignificant point in relation to something
Mr. Romfrey and Captain Baskelett had done, and, as far as she could
recollect subsequently, there was a packet of letters, or a pocket-book
containing letters of Nevil’s which he had lost, and which had been
forwarded to Mr. Romfrey; for the pocket-book was originally his, and
his address was printed inside. But among these letters was one from
Dr. Shrapnel to Nevil: a letter so horrible that Rosamund frowned at the
reminiscence of it, holding it to be too horrible for the quotation of
a sentence. She owned she had forgotten any three consecutive words. Her
known dislike of Captain Baskelett, however, was insufficient to make
her see that it was unjustifiable in him to run about London reading it,
with comments of the cruellest. Rosamund’s greater detestation of Dr.
Shrapnel blinded her to the offence committed by the man she would
otherwise have been very ready to scorn. So small did the circumstance
appear to Cecilia, notwithstanding her gentle opposition at the time she
listened to it, that she never thought of mentioning it to her father,
and only remembered it when Captain Baskelett, with Lord Palmet in his
company, presented himself at Mount Laurels, and proposed to the colonel
to read to him ‘a letter from that scoundrelly old Shrapnel to Nevil
Beauchamp, upon women, wives, thrones, republics, British loyalty,
et caetera,’--an et caetera that rolled a series of tremendous
reverberations down the list of all things held precious by freeborn
Englishmen.

She would have prevented the reading. But the colonel would have it.

‘Read on,’ said he. ‘Mr. Romfrey saw no harm.’

Captain Baskelett held up Dr. Shrapnel’s letter to Commander Beauchamp,
at about half a yard’s distance on the level of his chin, as a
big-chested singer in a concert-room holds his music-scroll.



CHAPTER XXIX. THE EPISTLE OF DR. SHRAPNEL TO COMMANDER BEAUCHAMP

Before we give ear to the recital of Dr. Shrapnel’s letter to his pupil
in politics by the mouth of Captain Baskelett, it is necessary to defend
this gentleman, as he would handsomely have defended himself, from the
charge that he entertained ultimate designs in regard to the really
abominable scrawl, which was like a child’s drawing of ocean with here
and there a sail capsized, and excited his disgust almost as much as
did the contents his great indignation. He was prepared to read it, and
stood blown out for the task, but it was temporarily too much for him.
‘My dear Colonel, look at it, I entreat you,’ he said, handing the
letter for exhibition, after fixing his eye-glass, and dropping it in
repulsion. The common sentiment of mankind is offended by heterodoxy in
mean attire; for there we see the self-convicted villain--the criminal
caught in the act; we try it and convict it by instinct without the
ceremony of a jury; and so thoroughly aware of our promptitude in this
respect has our arch-enemy become since his mediaeval disgraces that his
particular advice to his followers is now to scrupulously copy the world
in externals; never to appear poorly clothed, nor to impart deceptive
communications in bad handwriting. We can tell black from white, and our
sagacity has taught him a lesson.

Colonel Halkett glanced at the detestable penmanship. Lord Palmet did
the same, and cried, ‘Why, it’s worse than mine!’

Cecilia had protested against the reading of the letter, and she
declined to look at the writing. She was entreated, adjured to look, in
Captain Baskelett’s peculiarly pursuing fashion; a ‘nay, but you shall,’
that she had been subjected to previously, and would have consented to
run like a schoolgirl to escape from.

To resume the defence of him: he was a man incapable of forming plots,
because his head would not hold them. He was an impulsive man, who could
impale a character of either sex by narrating fables touching persons
of whom he thought lightly, and that being done he was devoid of malice,
unless by chance his feelings or his interests were so aggrieved that
his original haphazard impulse was bent to embrace new circumstances and
be the parent of a line of successive impulses, in the main resembling
an extremely far-sighted plot, whereat he gazed back with fondness, all
the while protesting sincerely his perfect innocence of anything of
the kind. Circumstances will often interwind with the moods of simply
irritated men. In the present instance he could just perceive what might
immediately come of his reading out of this atrocious epistle wherein
Nevil Beauchamp was displayed the dangling puppet of a mountebank
wire-pulley, infidel, agitator, leveller, and scoundrel. Cognizant
of Mr. Romfrey’s overtures to Colonel Halkett, he traced them to that
scheming woman in the house at Steynham, and he was of opinion that it
was a friendly and good thing to do to let the old colonel and Cissy
Halkett know Mr. Nevil through a bit of his correspondence. This, then,
was a matter of business and duty that furnished an excuse for his going
out of his, way to call at Mount Laurels on the old familiar footing, so
as not to alarm the heiress.

A warrior accustomed to wear the burnished breastplates between London
and Windsor has, we know, more need to withstand than to discharge
the shafts of amorous passion; he is indeed, as an object of beauty,
notoriously compelled to be of the fair sex in his tactics, and must
practise the arts and whims of nymphs to preserve himself: and no doubt
it was the case with the famous Captain Baskelett, in whose mind sweet
ladies held the place that the pensive politician gives to the masses,
dreadful in their hatred, almost as dreadful in their affection. But an
heiress is a distinct species among women; he hungered for the heiress;
his elevation to Parliament made him regard her as both the ornament and
the prop of his position; and it should be added that his pride, all
the habits of thought of a conqueror of women, had been shocked by that
stupefying rejection of him, which Cecilia had intimated to her father
with the mere lowering of her eyelids. Conceive the highest bidder at an
auction hearing the article announce that it will not have him! Captain
Baskelett talked of it everywhere for a month or so:--the girl could
not know her own mind, for she suited him exactly! and he requested the
world to partake of his astonishment. Chronicles of the season in London
informed him that he was not the only fellow to whom the gates were
shut. She could hardly be thinking of Nevil? However, let the epistle be
read. ‘Now for the Shrapnel shot,’ he nodded finally to Colonel Halkett,
expanded his bosom, or natural cuirass, as before-mentioned, and was
vocable above the common pitch:--

   ‘“MY BRAVE BEAUCHAMP,--On with your mission, and never a summing of
   results in hand, nor thirst for prospects, nor counting upon
   harvests; for seed sown in faith day by day is the nightly harvest
   of the soul, and with the soul we work. With the soul we see.”’

Captain Baskelett intervened: ‘Ahem! I beg to observe that this
delectable rubbish is underlined by old Nevil’s pencil.’ He promised
to do a little roaring whenever it occurred, and continued with ghastly
false accentuation, an intermittent sprightliness and depression of tone
in the wrong places.

‘“The soul,” et caetera. Here we are!

   “Desires to realize our gains are akin to the passion of usury;
   these are tricks of the usurer to grasp his gold in act and
   imagination. Have none of them. Work at the people!”
 --At them, remark--!

   “Moveless do they seem to you? Why, so is the earth to the sowing
   husbandman, and though we cannot forecast a reaping season, we have
   in history durable testification that our seasons come in the souls
   of men, yea, as a planet that we have set in motion, and faster and
   faster are we spinning it, and firmer and firmer shall we set it to
   regularity of revolution. That means life!”
 --Shrapnel roars: you will have Nevil in a minute.

   “Recognize that now we have bare life; at best for the bulk of men
   the Saurian lizard’s broad back soaking and roasting in primeval
   slime; or say, in the so-called teachers of men, as much of life as
   pricks the frog in March to stir and yawn, and up on a flaccid leap
   that rolls him over some three inches nearer to the ditchwater
   besought by his instinct.”

‘I ask you, did you ever hear? The flaccid frog! But on we go.’

   ‘“Professors, prophets, masters, each hitherto has had his creed and
   system to offer, good mayhap for the term; and each has put it forth
   for the truth everlasting, to drive the dagger to the heart of time,
   and put the axe to human growth!--that one circle of wisdom issuing
   of the experience and needs of their day, should act the despot over
   all other circles for ever!--so where at first light shone to light
   the yawning frog to his wet ditch, there, with the necessitated
   revolution of men’s minds in the course of ages, darkness radiates.”

‘That’s old Nevil. Upon my honour, I haven’t a notion of what it all
means, and I don’t believe the old rascal Shrapnel has himself. And pray
be patient, my dear colonel. You will find him practical presently. I’ll
skip, if you tell me to. Darkness radiates, does it!

   ‘“The creed that rose in heaven sets below; and where we had an
   angel we have claw-feet and fangs. Ask how that is! The creed is
   much what it was when the followers diverged it from the Founder.
   But humanity is not where it was when that creed was food and
   guidance. Creeds will not die not fighting. We cannot root them up
   out of us without blood.”

‘He threatens blood!--’

   ‘“Ours, my Beauchamp, is the belief that humanity advances beyond
   the limits of creeds, is to be tied to none. We reverence the
   Master in his teachings; we behold the limits of him in his creed--
   and that is not his work. We truly are his disciples, who see how
   far it was in him to do service; not they that made of his creed a
   strait-jacket for humanity. So, in our prayers we dedicate the
   world to God, not calling him great for a title, no--showing him we
   know him great in a limitless world, lord of a truth we tend to,
   have not grasped. I say Prayer is good. I counsel it to you again
   and again: in joy, in sickness of heart. The infidel will not pray;
   the creed-slave prays to the image in his box.”’

‘I’ve had enough!’ Colonel Halkett ejaculated.

‘“We,”’ Captain Baskelett put out his hand for silence with an ineffable
look of entreaty, for here was Shrapnel’s hypocrisy in full bloom:

   ‘“We make prayer a part of us, praying for no gifts, no
   interventions; through the faith in prayer opening the soul to the
   undiscerned. And take this, my Beauchamp, for the good in prayer,
   that it makes us repose on the unknown with confidence, makes us
   flexible to change, makes us ready for revolution--for life, then!
   He who has the fountain of prayer in him will not complain of
   hazards. Prayer is the recognition of laws; the soul’s exercise and
   source of strength; its thread of conjunction with them. Prayer for
   an object is the cajolery of an idol; the resource of superstition.
   There you misread it, Beauchamp. We that fight the living world
   must have the universal for succour of the truth in it. Cast forth
   the soul in prayer, you meet the effluence of the outer truth, you
   join with the creative elements giving breath to you; and that crust
   of habit which is the soul’s tomb; and custom, the soul’s tyrant;
   and pride, our volcano-peak that sinks us in a crater; and fear,
   which plucks the feathers from the wings of the soul and sits it
   naked and shivering in a vault, where the passing of a common
   hodman’s foot above sounds like the king of terrors coming,--you are
   free of them, you live in the day and for the future, by this
   exercise and discipline of the soul’s faith. Me it keeps young
   everlastingly, like the fountain of...”’

‘I say I cannot sit and hear any more of it!’ exclaimed the colonel,
chafing out of patience.

Lord Palmet said to Miss Halkett: ‘Isn’t it like what we used to
remember of a sermon?’

Cecilia waited for her father to break away, but Captain Baskelett had
undertaken to skip, and was murmuring in sing-song some of the phrases
that warned him off:

‘“History--Bible of Humanity;... Permanency--enthusiast’s
dream--despot’s aim--clutch of dead men’s fingers in live flesh... Man
animal; man angel; man rooted; man winged”:... Really, all this is too
bad. Ah! here we are: “At them with outspeaking, Beauchamp!” Here we
are, colonel, and you will tell me whether you think it treasonable or
not. “At them,” et caetera: “We have signed no convention to respect
their”--he speaks of Englishmen, Colonel Halkett--“their passive
idolatries; a people with whom a mute conformity is as good as worship,
but a word of dissent holds you up to execration; and only for the
freedom won in foregone days their hate would be active. As we have them
in their present stage,”--old Nevil’s mark--“We are not parties to the
tacit agreement to fill our mouths and shut our eyes. We speak because
it is better they be roused to lapidate us than soused in their sty,
with none to let them hear they live like swine, craving only not to be
disturbed at the trough. The religion of this vast English middle-class
ruling the land is Comfort. It is their central thought; their idea of
necessity; their sole aim. Whatsoever ministers to Comfort, seems to
belong to it, pretends to support it, they yield their passive worship
to. Whatsoever alarms it they join to crush. There you get at their
point of unity. They will pay for the security of Comfort, calling
it national worship, or national defence, if too much money is not
subtracted from the means of individual comfort: if too much foresight
is not demanded for the comfort of their brains. Have at them there.
Speak. Moveless as you find them, they are not yet all gross clay, and
I say again, the true word spoken has its chance of somewhere alighting
and striking root. Look not to that. Seeds perish in nature; good men
fail. Look to the truth in you, and deliver it, with no afterthought of
hope, for hope is dogged by dread; we give our courage as hostage for
the fulfilment of what we hope. Meditate on that transaction. Hope
is for boys and girls, to whom nature is kind. For men to hope is
to tremble. Let prayer--the soul’s overflow, the heart’s
resignation--supplant it...”

‘Pardon, colonel; I forgot to roar, but old Nevil marks all down that
page for encomium,’ said Captain Baskelett. ‘Oh! here we are. English
loyalty is the subject. Now, pray attend to this, colonel. Shrapnel
communicates to Beauchamp that if ten Beauchamps were spouting over
the country without intermission he might condescend to hope. So on--to
British loyalty. We are, so long as our sovereigns are well-conducted
persons, and we cannot unseat them--observe; he is eminently explicit,
the old traitor!--we are to submit to the outward forms of respect, but
we are frankly to say we are Republicans; he has the impudence to
swear that England is a Republican country, and calls our thoroughgoing
loyalty--yours and mine, colonel--disloyalty. Hark: “Where kings lead,
it is to be supposed they are wanted. Service is the noble office on
earth, and where kings do service let them take the first honours of the
State: but”--hark at this--“the English middle-class, which has absorbed
the upper, and despises, when it is not quaking before it, the lower,
will have nothing above it but a ricketty ornament like that you see on
a confectioner’s twelfth-cake.”’

‘The man deserves hanging!’ said Colonel Halkett.

‘Further, my dear colonel, and Nevil marks it pretty much throughout:
“This loyalty smacks of a terrible perfidy. Pass the lords and squires;
they are old trees, old foundations, or joined to them, whether old or
new; they naturally apprehend dislocation when a wind blows, a river
rises, or a man speaks;--that comes of age or aping age: their hearts
are in their holdings! For the loyalty of the rest of the land, it is
the shopkeeper’s loyalty, which is to be computed by the exact annual
sum of his net profits. It is now at high tide. It will last with
the prosperity of our commerce.”--The insolent old vagabond!--“Let
commercial disasters come on us, and what of the loyalty now paying
its hundreds of thousands, and howling down questioners! In a day
of bankruptcies, how much would you bid for the loyalty of a class
shivering under deprivation of luxuries, with its God Comfort beggared?
Ay, my Beauchamp,”--the most offensive thing to me is that “my
Beauchamp,” but old Nevil has evidently given himself up hand and
foot to this ruffian--“ay, when you reflect that fear of the so-called
rabble, i.e. the people, the unmoneyed class, which knows not Comfort,
tastes not of luxuries, is the main component of their noisy frigid
loyalty, and that the people are not with them but against, and yet
that the people might be won by visible forthright kingly service to a
loyalty outdoing theirs as the sun the moon; ay, that the people verily
thirst to love and reverence; and that their love is the only love worth
having, because it is disinterested love, and endures, and takes heat in
adversity,--reflect on it and wonder at the inversion of things! So
with a Church. It lives if it is at home with the poor. In the arms of
enriched shopkeepers it rots, goes to decay in vestments--vestments!
flakes of mummy-wraps for it! or else they use it for one of their
political truncheons--to awe the ignorant masses: I quote them. So. Not
much ahead of ancient Egyptians in spirituality or in priestcraft! They
call it statesmanship. O for a word for it! Let Palsy and Cunning go to
form a word. Deadmanship, I call it.”--To quote my uncle the baron, this
is lunatic dribble!--“Parsons and princes are happy with the homage of
this huge passive fleshpot class. It is enough for them. Why not? The
taxes are paid and the tithes. Whilst commercial prosperity lasts!”’

Colonel Halkett threw his arms aloft.

   ‘“Meanwhile, note this: the people are the Power to come.
   Oppressed, unprotected, abandoned; left to the ebb and flow of the
   tides of the market, now taken on to work, now cast off to starve,
   committed to the shifting laws of demand and supply, slaves of
   Capital-the whited name for old accursed. Mammon: and of all the
   ranked and black-uniformed host no pastor to come out of the
   association of shepherds, and proclaim before heaven and man the
   primary claim of their cause; they are, I say, the power, worth the
   seduction of by another Power not mighty in England now: and likely
   in time to set up yet another Power not existing in England now.
   What if a passive comfortable clergy hand them over to men on the
   models of Irish pastors, who will succour, console, enfold, champion
   them? what if, when they have learnt to use their majority, sick of
   deceptions and the endless pulling of interests, they raise ONE
   representative to force the current of action with an authority as
   little fictitious as their preponderance of numbers? The despot and
   the priest! There I see our danger, Beauchamp. You and I and some
   dozen labour to tie and knot them to manliness. We are few; they
   are many and weak. Rome offers them real comfort in return for
   their mites in coin, and--poor souls! mites in conscience, many of
   them. A Tyrant offers them to be directly their friend. Ask,
   Beauchamp, why they should not have comfort for pay as well as the
   big round--“’

Captain Baskelett stopped and laid the letter out for Colonel Halkett to
read an unmentionable word, shamelessly marked by Nevil’s pencil:

   “--belly-class!” Ask, too, whether the comfort they wish for is not
   approaching divine compared with the stagnant fleshliness of that
   fat shopkeeper’s Comfort.

   ‘“Warn the people of this. Ay, warn the clergy. It is not only the
   poor that are caught by ranters. Endeavour to make those
   accommodating shepherds understand that they stand a chance of
   losing rich as well as poor! It should awaken them. The helpless
   poor and the uneasy rich are alike open to the seductions of Romish
   priests and intoxicated ranters. I say so it will be if that band
   of forty thousand go on slumbering and nodding. They walk in a
   dream. The flesh is a dream. The soul only is life.”

‘Now for you, colonel.

   ‘“No extension of the army--no! A thousand times no. Let India go,
   then! Good for India that we hold India? Ay, good: but not at such
   a cost as an extra tax, or compulsory service of our working man.
   If India is to be held for the good of India, throw open India to
   the civilized nations, that they help us in a task that overstrains
   us. At present India means utter perversion of the policy of
   England. Adrift India! rather than England red-coated. We dissent,
   Beauchamp! For by-and-by.”

‘That is,’ Captain Baskelett explained, ‘by-and-by Shrapnel will have
old Nevil fast enough.’

‘Is there more of it?’ said Colonel Halkett, flapping his forehead for
coolness.

‘The impudence of this dog in presuming to talk about India!--eh,
colonel? Only a paragraph or two more: I skip a lot.... Ah! here we
are.’ Captain Baskelett read to himself and laughed in derision: ‘He
calls our Constitution a compact unsigned by the larger number involved
in it. What’s this? “A band of dealers in fleshpottery.” Do you detect
a gleam of sense? He underscores it. Then he comes to this’: Captain
Baskelett requested Colonel Halkett to read for himself: ‘The stench of
the trail of Ego in our History.’

The colonel perused it with an unsavoury expression of his features, and
jumped up.

‘Oddly, Mr. Romfrey thought this rather clever,’ said Captain Baskelett,
and read rapidly:

   ‘“Trace the course of Ego for them: first the king who conquers and
   can govern. In his egoism he dubs him holy; his family is of a
   selected blood; he makes the crown hereditary--Ego. Son by son the
   shame of egoism increases; valour abates; hereditary Crown, no
   hereditary qualities. The Barons rise. They in turn hold sway, and
   for their order--Ego. The traders overturn them: each class rides
   the classes under it while it can. It is ego--ego, the fountain
   cry, origin, sole source of war! Then death to ego, I say! If
   those traders had ruled for other than ego, power might have rested
   with them on broad basis enough to carry us forward for centuries.
   The workmen have ever been too anxious to be ruled. Now comes on
   the workman’s era. Numbers win in the end: proof of small wisdom in
   the world. Anyhow, with numbers there is rough nature’s wisdom and
   justice. With numbers ego is inter-dependent and dispersed; it is
   universalized. Yet these may require correctives. If so, they will
   have it in a series of despots and revolutions that toss, mix, and
   bind the classes together: despots, revolutions; panting
   alternations of the quickened heart of humanity.”

‘Marked by our friend Nevil in notes of admiration.’

‘Mad as the writer,’ groaned Colonel Halkett. ‘Never in my life have I
heard such stuff.’

‘Stay, colonel; here’s Shrapnel defending Morality and Society,’ said
Captain Baskelett.

Colonel Halkett vowed he was under no penal law to listen, and would
not; but Captain Baskelett persuaded him: ‘Yes, here it is: I give you
my word. Apparently old Nevil has been standing up for every man’s right
to run away with... Yes, really! I give you my word; and here we have
Shrapnel insisting on respect for the marriage laws. Do hear this; here
it is in black and white:--

   “Society is our one tangible gain, our one roofing and flooring in a
   world of most uncertain structures built on morasses. Toward the
   laws that support it men hopeful of progress give their adhesion.
   If it is martyrdom, what then? Let the martyrdom be. Contumacy is
   animalism. And attend to me,” says Shrapnel, “the truer the love
   the readier for sacrifice! A thousand times yes. Rebellion against
   Society, and advocacy of Humanity, run counter. Tell me Society is
   the whited sepulchre, that it is blotched, hideous, hollow: and I
   say, add not another disfigurement to it; add to the purification of
   it. And you, if you answer, what can only one? I say that is the
   animal’s answer, and applies also to politics, where the question,
   what can one? put in the relapsing tone, shows the country decaying
   in the individual. Society is the protection of the weaker,
   therefore a shield of women, who are our temple of civilization, to
   be kept sacred; and he that loves a woman will assuredly esteem and
   pity her sex, and not drag her down for another example of their
   frailty. Fight this out within you--!”

But you are right, colonel; we have had sufficient. I shall be getting a
democratic orator’s twang, or a crazy parson’s, if I go on much further.
He covers thirty-two pages of letter-paper. The conclusion is:--“Jenny
sends you her compliments, respects, and best wishes, and hopes she may
see you before she goes to her friend Clara Sherwin and the General.”’

‘Sherwin? Why, General Sherwin’s a perfect gentleman,’ Colonel Halkett
interjected; and Lord Palmet caught the other name: ‘Jenny? That’s Miss
Denham, Jenny Denham; an amazingly pretty girl: beautiful thick brown
hair, real hazel eyes, and walks like a yacht before the wind.’

‘Perhaps, colonel, Jenny accounts for the defence of society,’ said
Captain Baskelett. ‘I have no doubt Shrapnel has a scheme for Jenny.
The old communist and socialist!’ He folded up the letter: ‘A curious
composition, is it not, Miss Halkett?’

Cecilia was thinking that he tempted her to be the apologist of even
such a letter.

‘One likes to know the worst, and what’s possible,’ said the colonel.

After Captain Baskelett had gone, Colonel Halkett persisted in talking
of the letter, and would have impressed on his daughter that the person
to whom the letter was addressed must be partly responsible for the
contents of it. Cecilia put on the argumentative air of a Court of
Equity to discuss the point with him.

‘Then you defend that letter?’ he cried.

Oh, no: she did not defend the letter; she thought it wicked and
senseless. ‘But,’ said she, ‘the superior strength of men to women seems
to me to come from their examining all subjects, shrinking from none. At
least, I should not condemn Nevil on account of his correspondence.’

‘We shall see,’ said her father, sighing rather heavily. ‘I must have a
talk with Mr. Romfrey about that letter.’



CHAPTER XXX. THE BAITING OF DR. SHRAPNEL

Captain Baskelett went down from Mount Laurels to Bevisham to arrange
for the giving of a dinner to certain of his chief supporters in the
borough, that they might know he was not obliged literally to sit in
Parliament in order to pay a close attention to their affairs. He had
not distinguished himself by a speech during the session, but he had
stored a political precept or two in his memory, and, as he told Lord
Palmet, he thought a dinner was due to his villains. ‘The way to manage
your Englishman, Palmet, is to dine him.’ As the dinner would decidedly
be dull, he insisted on having Lord Palmet’s company.

They crossed over to the yachting island, where portions of the letter
of Commander Beauchamp’s correspondent were read at the Club, under the
verandah, and the question put, whether a man who held those opinions
had a right to wear his uniform.

The letter was transmitted to Steynham in time to be consigned to the
pocket-book before Beauchamp arrived there on one of his rare visits.
Mr. Romfrey handed him the pocketbook with the frank declaration that he
had read Shrapnel’s letter. ‘All is fair in war, Sir!’ Beauchamp quoted
him ambiguously.

The thieves had amused Mr. Romfrey by their scrupulous honesty in
returning what was useless to them, while reserving the coat: but
subsequently seeing the advertized reward, they had written to claim it;
and, according to Rosamund Culling, he had been so tickled that he had
deigned to reply to them, very briefly, but very comically.

Speaking of the matter with her, Beauchamp said (so greatly was he
infatuated with the dangerous man) that the reading of a letter of Dr.
Shrapnel’s could do nothing but good to any reflecting human creature:
he admitted that as the lost pocket-book was addressed to Mr. Romfrey,
it might have been by mistake that he had opened it, and read the
topmost letter lying open. But he pressed Rosamund to say whether that
one only had been read.

‘Only Dr. Shrapnel’s letter,’ Rosamund affirmed. ‘The letter from
Normandy was untouched by him.’

‘Untouched by anybody?’

‘Unopened, Nevil. You look incredulous.’

‘Not if I have your word, ma’am.’

He glanced somewhat contemptuously at his uncle Everard’s anachronistic
notions of what was fair in war.

To prove to him Mr. Romfrey’s affectionate interest in his fortunes,
Rosamund mentioned the overtures which had been made to Colonel Halkett
for a nuptial alliance between the two houses; and she said: ‘Your uncle
Everard was completely won by your manly way of taking his opposition
to you in Bevisham. He pays for Captain Baskelett, but you and your
fortunes are nearest his heart, Nevil.’

Beauchamp hung silent. His first remark was, ‘Yes, I want money. I must
have money.’ By degrees he seemed to warm to some sense of gratitude.
‘It was kind of the baron,’ he said.

‘He has a great affection for you, Nevil, though you know he spares no
one who chooses to be antagonistic. All that is over. But do you not
second him, Nevil? You admire her? You are not adverse?’

Beauchamp signified the horrid intermixture of yes and no, frowned in
pain of mind, and Walked up and down. ‘There’s no living woman I admire
so much.’

‘She has refused the highest matches.’

‘I hold her in every way incomparable.’

‘She tries to understand your political ideas, if she cannot quite
sympathize with them, Nevil. And consider how hard it is for a young
English lady, bred in refinement, to understand such things.’

‘Yes,’ Beauchamp nodded; yes. Well, more ‘s the pity for me!’

‘Ah! Nevil, that fatal Renee!’

‘Ma’am, I acquit you of any suspicion of your having read her letter in
this pocket-book. She wishes me to marry. You would have seen it written
here. She wishes it.’

‘Fly, clipped wing!’ murmured Rosamund, and purposely sent a buzz into
her ears to shut out his extravagant talk of Renee’s friendly wishes.

‘How is it you women will not believe in the sincerity of a woman!’ he
exclaimed.

‘Nevil, I am not alluding to the damage done to your election.’

‘To my candidature, ma’am. You mean those rumours, those lies of the
enemy. Tell me how I could suppose you were alluding to them. You bring
them forward now to justify your charge of “fatal” against her. She has
one fault; she wants courage; she has none other, not one that is not
excuseable. We won’t speak of France. What did her father say?’

‘Colonel Halkett? I do not know. He and his daughter come here next
week, and the colonel will expect to meet you here. That does not look
like so positive an objection to you?’

‘To me personally, no,’ said Beauchamp. ‘But Mr. Romfrey has not told me
that I am to meet them.’

‘Perhaps he has not thought it worth while. It is not his way. He has
asked you to come. You and Miss Halkett will be left to yourselves. Her
father assured Mr. Romfrey that he should not go beyond advising her.
His advice might not be exactly favourable to you at present, but if you
sued and she accepted--and she would, I am convinced she would; she was
here with me, talking of you a whole afternoon, and I have eyes--then
he would not oppose the match, and then I should see you settled, the
husband of the handsomest wife and richest heiress in England.’

A vision of Cecilia swam before him, gracious in stateliness.

Two weeks back Renee’s expression of a wish that he would marry
had seemed to him an idle sentence in a letter breathing of her own
intolerable situation. The marquis had been struck down by illness. What
if she were to be soon suddenly free? But Renee could not be looking
to freedom, otherwise she never would have written the wish for him to
marry. She wrote perhaps hearing temptation whisper; perhaps wishing
to save herself and him by the aid of a tie that would bring his honour
into play and fix his loyalty. He remembered Dr. Shrapnel’s written
words: ‘Rebellion against society and advocacy of humanity run counter.’
They had a stronger effect on him than when he was ignorant of his uncle
Everard’s plan to match him with Cecilia. He took refuge from them in
the image of that beautiful desolate Renee, born to be beloved, now
wasted, worse than trodden under foot--perverted; a life that looked
to him for direction and resuscitation. She was as good as dead in her
marriage. It was impossible for him ever to think of Renee without the
surprising thrill of his enchantment with her, and tender pity that drew
her closer to him by darkening her brightness.

Still a man may love his wife. A wife like Cecilia was not to be
imagined coldly. Let the knot once be tied, it would not be regretted,
could not be; hers was a character, and hers a smile, firmly assuring
him of that.

He told Mr. Romfrey that he should be glad to meet Colonel Halkett and
Cecilia. Business called him to Holdesbury. Thence he betook himself to
Dr. Shrapnel’s cottage to say farewell to Jenny Denham previous to her
departure for Switzerland with her friend Clara Sherwin. She had never
seen a snow-mountain, and it was pleasant to him to observe in her eyes,
which he had known weighing and balancing intellectual questions more
than he quite liked, a childlike effort to conjure in imagination the
glories of the Alps. She appeared very happy, only a little anxious
about leaving Dr. Shrapnel with no one to take care of him for a whole
month. Beauchamp promised he would run over to him from Holdesbury, only
an hour by rail, as often as he could. He envied her the sight of the
Alps, he said, and tried to give her an idea of them, from which he
broke off to boast of a famous little Jersey bull that he had won from
a rival, an American, deeply in love with the bull; cutting him out by
telegraph by just five minutes. The latter had examined the bull in the
island and had passed on to Paris, not suspecting there would be haste
to sell him. Beauchamp, seeing the bull advertized, took him on trust,
galloped to the nearest telegraph station forthwith, and so obtained
possession of him; and the bull was now shipped on the voyage. But for
this precious bull, however, and other business, he would have been able
to spend almost the entire month with Dr. Shrapnel, he said regretfully.
Miss Denham on the contrary did not regret his active occupation. The
story of his rush from the breakfast-table to the stables, and gallop
away to the station, while the American Quaker gentleman soberly paced
down a street in Paris on the same errand, in invisible rivalry, touched
her risible fancy. She was especially pleased to think of him living in
harmony with his uncle--that strange, lofty, powerful man, who by plot
or by violence punished opposition to his will, but who must be kind at
heart, as well as forethoughtful of his nephew’s good; the assurance
of it being, that when the conflict was at an end he had immediately
installed him as manager of one of his estates, to give his energy play
and make him practically useful.

The day before she left home was passed by the three in botanizing, some
miles distant from Bevisham, over sand country, marsh and meadow;
Dr. Shrapnel, deep in the science, on one side of her, and Beauchamp,
requiring instruction in the names and properties of every plant and
simple, on the other. It was a day of summer sweetness, gentle laughter,
conversation, and the happiest homeliness. The politicians uttered
barely a syllable of politics. The dinner basket was emptied heartily to
make way for herb and flower, and at night the expedition homeward was
crowned with stars along a road refreshed by mid-day thunder-showers and
smelling of the rain in the dust, past meadows keenly scenting, gardens
giving out their innermost balm and odour. Late at night they drank tea
in Jenny’s own garden. They separated a little after two in the morning,
when the faded Western light still lay warm on a bow of sky, and on the
level of the East it quickened. Jenny felt sure she should long for that
yesterday when she was among foreign scenes, even among high Alps-those
mysterious eminences which seemed in her imagination to know of heaven
and have the dawn of a new life for her beyond their peaks.

Her last words when stepping into the railway carriage were to
Beauchamp: ‘Will you take care of him?’ She flung her arms round Dr.
Shrapnel’s neck, and gazed at him under troubled eyelids which seemed
to be passing in review every vision of possible harm that might come to
him during her absence; and so she continued gazing, and at no one
but Dr. Shrapnel until the bend of the line cut him from her sight.
Beauchamp was a very secondary person on that occasion, and he was
unused to being so in the society of women--unused to find himself
entirely eclipsed by their interest in another. He speculated on it,
wondering at her concentrated fervency; for he had not supposed her to
possess much warmth.

After she was fairly off on her journey, Dr. Shrapnel mentioned to
Beauchamp a case of a Steynham poacher, whom he had thought it his duty
to supply with means of defence. It was a common poaching case.

Beauchamp was not surprised that Mr. Romfrey and Dr. Shrapnel should
come to a collision; the marvel was that it had never occurred before,
and Beauchamp said at once: ‘Oh, my uncle Mr. Romfrey would rather see
them stand their ground than not.’ He was disposed to think well of his
uncle. The Jersey bull called him away to Holdesbury.

Captain Baskelett heard of this poaching case at Steynham, where he had
to appear in person when he was in want of cheques, and the Bevisham
dinner furnished an excuse for demanding one. He would have preferred a
positive sum annually. Mr. Romfrey, however, though he wrote his cheques
out like the lord he was by nature, exacted the request for them; a
system that kept the gallant gentleman on his good behaviour, probably
at a lower cost than the regular stipend. In handing the cheque to Cecil
Baskelett, Mr. Romfrey spoke of a poacher, of an old poaching family
called the Dicketts, who wanted punishment and was to have it, but Mr.
Romfrey’s local lawyer had informed him that the man Shrapnel was, as
usual, supplying the means of defence. For his own part, Mr. Romfrey
said, he had no objection to one rascal’s backing another, and Shrapnel
might hit his hardest, only perhaps Nevil might somehow get mixed up
in it, and Nevil was going on quietly now--he had in fact just done
capitally in lassoing with a shot of the telegraph a splendid little
Jersey bull that a Yankee was after: and on the whole it was best to try
to keep him quiet, for he was mad about that man Shrapnel; Shrapnel
was his joss: and if legal knocks came of this business Nevil might be
thinking of interfering: ‘Or he and I may be getting to exchange a lot
of shindy letters,’ Mr. Romfrey said. ‘Tell him I take Shrapnel just
like any other man, and don’t want to hear apologies, and I don’t mix
him up in it. Tell him if he likes to have an explanation from me,
I’ll give it him when he comes here. You can run over to Holdesbury the
morning after your dinner.’

Captain Baskelett said he would go. He was pleased with his cheque at
the time, but hearing subsequently that Nevil was coming to Steynham to
meet Colonel Halkett and his daughter, he became displeased, considering
it a very silly commission. The more he thought of it the more
ridiculous and unworthy it appeared. He asked himself and Lord Palmet
also why he should have to go to Nevil at Holdesbury to tell him of
circumstances that he would hear of two or three days later at Steynham.
There was no sense in it. The only conclusion for him was that the
scheming woman Culling had determined to bring down every man concerned
in the Bevisham election, and particularly Mr. Romfrey, on his knees
before Nevil. Holdesbury had been placed at his disposal, and the use of
the house in London, which latter would have been extremely serviceable
to Cecil as a place of dinners to the Parliament of Great Britain in
lieu of the speech-making generally expected of Members, and not so
effectively performed. One would think the baron had grown afraid of old
Nevil! He had spoken as if he were.

Cecil railed unreservedly to Lord Palmet against that woman ‘Mistress
Culling,’ as it pleased him to term her, and who could be offended by
his calling her so? His fine wit revelled in bestowing titles that were
at once batteries directed upon persons he hated, and entrenchments for
himself.

At four o’clock on a sultry afternoon he sat at table with his Bevisham
supporters, and pledged them correspondingly in English hotel champagne,
sherry and claret. At seven he was rid of them, but parched and heated,
as he deserved to be, he owned, for drinking the poison. It would be a
good subject for Parliament if he could get it up, he reflected.

‘And now,’ said he to Palmet, ‘we might be crossing over to the Club
if I hadn’t to go about that stupid business to Holdesbury to-morrow
morning. We shall miss the race, or, at least, the start.’

The idea struck him: ‘Ten to one old Nevil ‘s with Shrapnel,’ and no
idea could be more natural.

‘We ‘ll call on Shrapnel,’ said Palmet. ‘We shall see Jenny Denham.
He gives her out as his niece. Whatever she is she’s a brimming little
beauty. I assure you, Bask, you seldom see so pretty a girl.’

Wine, which has directed men’s footsteps upon more marvellous
adventures, took them to a chemist’s shop for a cooling effervescent
draught, and thence through the town to the address, furnished to them
by the chemist, of Dr. Shrapnel on the common.

Bad wine, which is responsible for the fate of half the dismal bodies
hanging from trees, weltering by rocks, grovelling and bleaching round
the bedabbled mouth of the poet’s Cave of Despair, had rendered Captain
Baskelett’s temper extremely irascible; so when he caught sight of Dr.
Shrapnel walling in his garden, and perceived him of a giant’s height,
his eyes fastened on the writer of the abominable letter with an
exultation peculiar to men having a devil inside them that kicks to be
out. The sun was low, blazing among the thicker branches of the pollard
forest trees, and through sprays of hawthorn. Dr. Shrapnel stopped,
facing the visible master of men, at the end of his walk before he
turned his back to continue the exercise and some discourse he was
holding aloud either to the heavens or bands of invisible men.

‘Ahem, Dr. Shrapnel!’ He was accosted twice, the second time
imperiously.

He saw two gentlemen outside the garden-hedge.

‘I spoke, sir,’ said Captain Baskelett.

‘I hear you now, sir,’ said the doctor, walking in a parallel line with
them.

‘I desired to know, sir, if you are Dr. Shrapnel?’

‘I am.’

They arrived at the garden-gate.

‘You have a charming garden, Dr. Shrapnel,’ said Lord Palmet, very
affably and loudly, with a steady observation of the cottage windows.

Dr. Shrapnel flung the gate open.

Lord Palmet raised his hat and entered, crying loudly, ‘A very charming
garden, upon my word!’

Captain Baskelett followed him, bowing stiffly.

‘I am,’ he said, ‘Captain Beauchamp’s cousin. I am Captain Baskelett,
one of the Members for the borough.’

The doctor said, ‘Ah.’

‘I wish to see Captain Beauchamp, sir. He is absent?’

‘I shall have him here shortly, sir.’

‘Oh, you will have him!’ Cecil paused.

‘Admirable roses!’ exclaimed Lord Palmet.

‘You have him, I think,’ said Cecil, ‘if what we hear is correct. I wish
to know, sir, whether the case you are conducting against his uncle is
one you have communicated to Captain Beauchamp. I repeat, I am here to
inquire if he is privy to it. You may hold family ties in contempt--Now,
sir! I request you abstain from provocations with me.’

Dr. Shrapnel had raised his head, with something of the rush of
a rocket, from the stooping posture to listen, and his frown of
non-intelligence might be interpreted as the coming on of the fury
Radicals are prone to, by a gentleman who believed in their constant
disposition to explode.

Cecil made play with a pacifying hand. ‘We shall arrive at no
understanding unless you are good enough to be perfectly calm. I repeat,
my cousin Captain Beauchamp is more or less at variance with his
family, owing to these doctrines of yours, and your extraordinary
Michael-Scott-the-wizard kind of spell you seem to have cast upon his
common sense as a man of the world. You have him, as you say. I do
not dispute it. I have no, doubt you have him fast. But here is a case
demanding a certain respect for decency. Pray, if I may ask you, be
still, be quiet, and hear me out if you can. I am accustomed to explain
myself to the comprehension of most men who are at large, and I tell you
candidly I am not to be deceived or diverted from my path by a show of
ignorance.’

‘What is your immediate object, sir?’ said Dr. Shrapnel, chagrined by
the mystification within him, and a fear that his patience was going.

‘Exactly,’ Cecil nodded. He was acute enough to see that he had
established the happy commencement of fretfulness in the victim, which
is equivalent to a hook well struck in the mouth of your fish, and with
an angler’s joy he prepared to play his man. ‘Exactly. I have stated it.
And you ask me. But I really must decline to run over the whole ground
again for you. I am here to fulfil a duty to my family; a highly
disagreeable one to me. I may fail, like the lady who came here previous
to the Election, for the result of which I am assured I ought to thank
your eminently disinterested services. I do. You recollect a lady
calling on you?’

Dr. Shrapnel consulted his memory. ‘I think I have a recollection of
some lady calling.’

‘Oh! you think you have a recollection of some lady calling.’

‘Do you mean a lady connected with Captain Beauchamp?’

‘A lady connected with Captain Beauchamp. You are not aware of the
situation of the lady?’

‘If I remember, she was a kind of confidential housekeeper, some one
said, to Captain Beauchamp’s uncle.’

‘A kind of confidential housekeeper! She is recognized in our family as
a lady, sir. I can hardly expect better treatment at your hands than she
met with, but I do positively request you to keep your temper whilst I
am explaining my business to you. Now, sir! what now?’

A trifling breeze will set the tall tree bending, and Dr. Shrapnel did
indeed appear to display the agitation of a full-driving storm when he
was but harassed and vexed.

‘Will you mention your business concisely, if you Please?’ he said.

‘Precisely; it is my endeavour. I supposed I had done so. To be frank,
I would advise you to summon a member of your household, wife, daughter,
housekeeper, any one you like, to whom you may appeal, and I too,
whenever your recollections are at fault.’

‘I am competent,’ said the doctor.

‘But in justice to you,’ urged Cecil considerately.

Dr. Shrapnel smoothed his chin hastily. ‘Have you done?’

‘Believe me, the instant I have an answer to my question, I have done.’

‘Name your question.’

‘Very well, sir. Now mark, I will be plain with you. There is no escape
for you from this. You destroy my cousin’s professional prospects--I
request you to listen--you blast his career in the navy; it was
considered promising. He was a gallant officer and a smart seaman. Very
well. You set him up as a politician, to be knocked down, to a dead
certainty. You set him against his class; you embroil him with his
family ...’

‘On all those points,’ interposed Dr. Shrapnel, after dashing a hand to
straighten his forelock; but Cecil vehemently entreated him to control
his temper.

‘I say you embroil him with his family, you cause him to be in
everlasting altercation with his uncle Mr. Romfrey, materially to his
personal detriment; and the question of his family is one that every
man of sense would apprehend on the spot; for we, you should know, have,
sir, an opinion of Captain Beauchamp’s talents and abilities forbidding
us to think he could possibly be the total simpleton you make him
appear, unless to the seductions of your political instructions, other
seductions were added.... You apprehend me, I am sure.’

‘I don’t,’ cried the doctor, descending from his height and swinging
about forlornly.

‘Oh! yes, you do; you do indeed, you cannot avoid it; you quite
apprehend me; it is admitted that you take my meaning: I insist on
that. I have nothing to say but what is complimentary of the young
lady, whoever she may turn out to be; bewitching, no doubt; and to speak
frankly, Dr. Shrapnel, I, and I am pretty certain every honest man would
think with me, I take it to be ten times more creditable to my cousin
Captain Beauchamp that he should be under a lady’s influence than under
yours. Come, sir! I ask you. You must confess that a gallant officer
and great admirer of the sex does not look such a donkey if he is led in
silken strings by a beautiful creature. And mark--stop! mark this, Dr.
Shrapnel: I say, to the lady we can all excuse a good deal, and at
the same time you are to be congratulated on first-rate diplomacy
in employing so charming an agent. I wish, I really wish you did it
generally, I assure you: only, mark this--I do beg you to contain
yourself for a minute, if possible--I say, my cousin Captain Beauchamp
is fair game to hunt, and there is no law to prevent the chase, only you
must not expect us to be quiet spectators of your sport; and we have, I
say, undoubtedly a right to lay the case before the lady, and induce her
to be a peace-agent in the family if we can. Very well.’

‘This garden is redolent of a lady’s hand,’ sighed Palmet, poetical in
his dejection.

‘Have you taken too much wine, gentlemen?’ said Dr. Shrapnel.

Cecil put this impertinence aside with a graceful sweep of his fingers.
‘You attempt to elude me, sir.’

‘Not I! You mention some lady.’

‘Exactly. A young lady.’

‘What is the name of the lady?’

‘Oh! You ask the name of the lady. And I too. What is it? I have heard
two or three names.’

‘Then you have heard villanies.’

‘Denham, Jenny Denham, Miss Jenny Denham,’ said Palmet, rejoiced at the
opportunity of trumpeting her name so that she should not fail to hear
it.

‘I stake my reputation I have heard her called Shrapnel--Miss Shrapnel,’
said Cecil.

The doctor glanced hastily from one to the other of his visitors. ‘The
young lady is my ward; I am her guardian,’ he said.

Cecil pursed his mouth. ‘I have heard her called your niece.’

‘Niece--ward; she is a lady by birth and education, in manners,
accomplishments, and character; and she is under my protection,’ cried
Dr. Shrapnel.

Cecil bowed. ‘So you are for gentle birth? I forgot you are for morality
too, and for praying; exactly; I recollect. But now let me tell you,
entirely with the object of conciliation, my particular desire is to see
the young lady, in your presence of course, and endeavour to persuade
her, as I have very little doubt I shall do, assuming that you give
me fair play, to exercise her influence, on this occasion contrary
to yours, and save my cousin Captain Beauchamp from a fresh
misunderstanding with his uncle Mr. Romfrey. Now, sir; now, there!’

‘You will not see Miss Denham with my sanction ever,’ said Dr. Shrapnel.

‘Oh! Then I perceive your policy. Mark, sir, my assumption was that the
young lady would, on hearing my representations, exert herself to heal
the breach between Captain Beauchamp and his family. You stand in the
way. You treat me as you treated the lady who came here formerly to
wrest your dupe from your clutches. If I mistake not, she saw the young
lady you acknowledge to be your ward.’

Dr. Shrapnel flashed back: ‘I acknowledge? Mercy and justice! is there
no peace with the man? You walk here to me, I can’t yet guess why, from
a town where I have enemies, and every scandal flies touching me and
mine; and you--’ He stopped short to master his anger. He subdued it
so far as to cloak it in an attempt to speak reasoningly, as angry men
sometimes deceive themselves in doing, despite the good maxim for the
wrathful--speak not at all. ‘See,’ said he, ‘I was never married. My
dear friend dies, and leaves me his child to protect and rear; and
though she bears her father’s name, she is most wrongly and foully made
to share the blows levelled at her guardian. Ay, have at me, all of
you, as much as you will! Hold off from her. Were it true, the cowardice
would be not a whit the smaller. Why, casting a stone like that, were
it the size of a pebble and the weight of a glance, is to toss the whole
cowardly world on an innocent young girl. And why suspect evil? You
talk of that lady who paid me a visit here once, and whom I treated
becomingly, I swear. I never do otherwise. She was a handsome woman; and
what was she? The housekeeper of Captain Beauchamp’s uncle. Hear me, if
you please! To go with the world, I have as good a right to suppose the
worst of an attractive lady in that situation as you regarding my ward:
better warrant for scandalizing, I think; to go with the world. But
now--’

Cecil checked him, ejaculating, ‘Thank you, Dr. Shrapnel; I thank you
most cordially,’ with a shining smile. ‘Stay, sir! no more. I take my
leave of you. Not another word. No “buts”! I recognize that conciliation
is out of the question: you are the natural protector of poachers, and
you will not grant me an interview with the young lady you call your
ward, that I may represent to her, as a person we presume to have a
chance of moving you, how easily--I am determined you shall hear me,
Dr. Shrapnel!--how easily the position of Captain Beauchamp may become
precarious with his uncle Mr. Romfrey. And let me add--“but” and “but”
 me till Doomsday, sir!--if you were--I do hear you, sir, and you shall
hear me--if you were a younger man, I say, I would hold you answerable
to me for your scandalous and disgraceful insinuations.’

Dr. Shrapnel was adroitly fenced and over-shouted. He shrugged,
stuttered, swayed, wagged a bulrush-head, flapped his elbows, puffed
like a swimmer in the breakers, tried many times to expostulate,
and finding the effort useless, for his adversary was copious and
commanding, relapsed, eyeing him as an object far removed.

Cecil rounded one of his perplexingly empty sentences and turned on his
heel.

‘War, then!’ he said.

‘As you like,’ retorted the doctor.

‘Oh! Very good. Good evening.’ Cecil slightly lifted his hat, with the
short projection of the head of the stately peacock in its walk,
and passed out of the garden. Lord Palmet, deeply disappointed and
mystified, went after him, leaving Dr. Shrapnel to shorten his garden
walk with enormous long strides.

‘I’m afraid you didn’t manage the old boy,’ Palmet complained. ‘They’re
people who have tea in their gardens; we might have sat down with them
and talked, the best friends in the world, and come again to-morrow
might have called her Jenny in a week. She didn’t show her pretty nose
at any of the windows.’

His companion pooh-poohed and said: ‘Foh! I’m afraid I permitted myself
to lose my self-command for a moment.’

Palmet sang out an amorous couplet to console himself. Captain Baskelett
respected the poetic art for its magical power over woman’s virtue,
but he disliked hearing verses, and they were ill-suited to Palmet. He
abused his friend roundly, telling him it was contemptible to be quoting
verses. He was irritable still.

He declared himself nevertheless much refreshed by his visit to Dr.
Shrapnel. ‘We shall have to sleep tonight in this unhallowed town, but
I needn’t be off to Holdesbury in the morning; I’ve done my business. I
shall write to the baron to-night, and we can cross the water to-morrow
in time for operations.’

The letter to Mr. Romfrey was composed before midnight. It was a long
one, and when he had finished it, Cecil remembered that the act of
composition had been assisted by a cigar in his mouth, and Mr. Romfrey
detested the smell of tobacco. There was nothing to be done but to write
the letter over again, somewhat more briefly: it ran thus:

‘Thinking to kill two birds at a blow, I went yesterday with Palmet
after the dinner at this place to Shrapnel’s house, where, as I heard,
I stood a chance of catching friend Nevil. The young person living under
the man’s protection was absent, and so was the “poor dear commander,”
 perhaps attending on his bull. Shrapnel said he was expecting him. I
write to you to confess I thought myself a cleverer fellow than I am. I
talked to Shrapnel and tried hard to reason with him. I hope I can keep
my temper under ordinary circumstances. You will understand that it
required remarkable restraint when I make you acquainted with the fact
that a lady’s name was introduced, which, as your representative in
relation to her, I was bound to defend from a gratuitous and
scoundrelly aspersion. Shrapnel’s epistle to “brave Beauchamp” is Church
hymnification in comparison with his conversation. He is indubitably one
of the greatest ruffians of his time.

‘I took the step with the best of intentions, and all I can plead is
that I am not a diplomatist of sixty. His last word was that he is for
war with us. As far as we men are concerned it is of small importance.
I should think that the sort of society he would scandalize a lady in is
not much to be feared. I have given him his warning. He tops me by about
a head, and loses his temper every two minutes. I could have drawn him
out deliciously if he had not rather disturbed mine. By this time my
equanimity is restored. The only thing I apprehend is your displeasure
with me for having gone to the man. I have done no good, and it
prevents me from running over to Holdesbury to see Nevil, for if “shindy
letters,” as you call them, are bad, shindy meetings are worse. I should
be telling him my opinion of Shrapnel, he would be firing out, I should
retort, he would yell, I should snap my fingers, and he would go into
convulsions. I am convinced that a cattle-breeder ought to keep himself
particularly calm. So unless I have further orders from you I refrain
from going.

‘The dinner was enthusiastic. I sat three hours among my Commons, they
on me for that length of time--fatiguing, but a duty.’

Cecil subscribed his name with the warmest affection toward his uncle.

The brevity of the second letter had not brought him nearer to the truth
in rescinding the picturesque accessories of his altercation with Dr.
Shrapnel, but it veraciously expressed the sentiments he felt, and that
was the palpable truth for him.

He posted the letter next morning.



CHAPTER XXXI. SHOWING A CHIVALROUS GENTLEMAN SET IN MOTION

About noon the day following, on board the steam-yacht of the Countess
of Menai, Cecil was very much astonished to see Mr. Romfrey descending
into a boat hard by, from Grancey Lespel’s hired cutter. Steam was up,
and the countess was off for a cruise in the Channel, as it was not a
race-day, but seeing Mr. Romfrey’s hand raised, she spoke to Cecil, and
immediately gave orders to wait for the boat. This lady was a fervent
admirer of the knightly gentleman, and had reason to like him, for he
had once been her champion. Mr. Romfrey mounted the steps, received
her greeting, and beckoned to Cecil. He carried a gold-headed horsewhip
under his arm. Lady Menai would gladly have persuaded him to be one
of her company for the day’s voyage, but he said he had business in
Bevisham, and moving aside with Cecil, put the question to him abruptly:
‘What were the words used by Shrapnel?’

‘The identical words?’ Captain Baskelett asked. He could have tripped
out the words with the fluency of ancient historians relating what
great kings, ambassadors, or Generals may well have uttered on State
occasions, but if you want the identical words, who is to remember them
the day after they have been delivered? He said:

‘Well, as for the identical words, I really, and I was tolerably
excited, sir, and upon my honour, the identical words are rather
difficult to....’ He glanced at the horsewhip, and pricked by the sight
of it to proceed, thought it good to soften the matter if possible. ‘I
don’t quite recollect... I wrote off to you rather hastily. I think he
said--but Palmet was there.’

‘Shrapnel spoke the words before Lord Palmet?’ said Mr. Romfrey
austerely.

Captain Baskelett summoned Palmet to come near, and inquired of him what
he had heard Shrapnel say, suggesting: ‘He spoke of a handsome woman for
a housekeeper, and all the world knew her character?’

Mr. Romfrey cleared his throat.

‘Or knew she had no character,’ Cecil pursued in a fit of gratified
spleen, in scorn of the woman. ‘Don’t you recollect his accent in
pronouncing housekeeper?’

The menacing thunder sounded from Mr. Romfrey. He was patient in
appearance, and waited for Cecil’s witness to corroborate the evidence.

It happened (and here we are in one of the circles of small things
producing great consequences, which have inspired diminutive
philosophers with ironical visions of history and the littleness of
man), it happened that Lord Palmet, the humanest of young aristocrats,
well-disposed toward the entire world, especially to women, also to men
in any way related to pretty women, had just lit a cigar, and it was a
cigar that he had been recommended to try the flavour of; and though
he, having his wits about him, was fully aware that shipboard is no good
place for a trial of the delicacy of tobacco in the leaf, he had begun
puffing and sniffing in a critical spirit, and scarcely knew for the
moment what to decide as to this particular cigar. He remembered,
however, Mr. Romfrey’s objection to tobacco. Imagining that he saw the
expression of a profound distaste in that gentleman’s more than usually
serious face, he hesitated between casting the cigar into the water
and retaining it. He decided upon the latter course, and held the
cigar behind his back, bowing to Mr. Romfrey at about a couple of yards
distance, and saying to Cecil, ‘Housekeeper; yes, I remember hearing
housekeeper. I think so. Housekeeper? yes, oh yes.’

‘And handsome housekeepers were doubtful characters,’ Captain Baskelett
prompted him.

Palmet laughed out a single ‘Ha!’ that seemed to excuse him for lounging
away to the forepart of the vessel, where he tugged at his fine specimen
of a cigar to rekindle it, and discharged it with a wry grimace, so
delicate is the flavour of that weed, and so adversely ever is it
affected by a breeze and a moist atmosphere. He could then return
undivided in his mind to Mr. Romfrey and Cecil, but the subject was not
resumed in his presence.

The Countess of Menai steamed into Bevisham to land Mr. Romfrey there.
‘I can be out in the Channel any day; it is not every day that I see
you,’ she said, in support of her proposal to take him over.

They sat together conversing, apart from the rest of the company, until
they sighted Bevisham, when Mr. Romfrey stood up, and a little crowd
of men came round him to enjoy his famous racy talk. Captain Baskelett
offered to land with him. He declined companionship. Dropping her hand
in his, the countess asked him what he had to do in that town, and he
replied, ‘I have to demand an apology.’

Answering the direct look of his eyes, she said, ‘Oh, I shall not speak
of it.’

In his younger days, if the rumour was correct, he had done the same on
her account.

He stepped into the boat, and presently they saw him mount the
pier-steps, with the riding-whip under his arm, his head more than
commonly bent, a noticeable point in a man of his tall erect figure.
The ladies and some of the gentlemen thought he was looking particularly
grave, even sorrowful.

Lady Menai inquired of Captain Baskelett whether he knew the nature of
his uncle’s business in Bevisham, the town he despised.

What could Cecil say but no? His uncle had not imparted it to him.

She was flattered in being the sole confidante, and said no more.

The sprightly ingenuity of Captain Baskelett’s mind would have informed
him of the nature of his uncle’s expedition, we may be sure, had he put
it to the trial; for Mr. Romfrey was as plain to read as a rudimentary
sum in arithmetic, and like the tracings of a pedigree-map his
preliminary steps to deeds were seen pointing on their issue in lines of
straight descent. But Cecil could protest that he was not bound to know,
and considering that he was neither bound to know nor to speculate, he
determined to stand on his right. So effectually did he accomplish the
task, that he was frequently surprised during the evening and the night
by the effervescence of a secret exultation rising imp-like within him,
that was, he assured himself, perfectly unaccountable.



CHAPTER XXXII. AN EFFORT TO CONQUER CECILIA IN BEAUCHAMP’S FASHION

The day after Mr. Romfrey’s landing in Bevisham a full South-wester
stretched the canvas of yachts of all classes, schooner, cutter and
yawl, on the lively green water between the island and the forest shore.
Cecilia’s noble schooner was sure to be out in such a ringing breeze,
for the pride of it as well as the pleasure. She landed her father at
the Club steps, and then bore away Eastward to sight a cutter race, the
breeze beginning to stiffen. Looking back against sun and wind, she
saw herself pursued by a saucy little 15-ton craft that had been in her
track since she left the Otley river before noon, dipping and straining,
with every inch of sail set; as mad a stern chase as ever was witnessed:
and who could the man at the tiller, clad cap-A-pie in tarpaulin, be?
She led him dancing away, to prove his resoluteness and laugh at him.
She had the powerful wings, and a glory in them coming of this pursuit:
her triumph was delicious, until the occasional sparkle of the tarpaulin
was lost, the small boat appeared a motionless object far behind, and
all ahead of her exceedingly dull, though the race hung there and the
crowd of sail.

Cecilia’s transient flutter of coquettry created by the animating air
and her queenly flight was over. She fled splendidly and she came back
graciously. But he refused her open hand, as it were. He made as if
to stand across her tack, and, reconsidering it, evidently scorned his
advantage and challenged the stately vessel for a beat up against the
wind. It was as pretty as a Court minuet. But presently Cecilia stood
too far on one tack, and returning to the centre of the channel, found
herself headed by seamanship. He waved an ironical salute with his
sou’wester. Her retort consisted in bringing her vessel to the wind, and
sending a boat for him.

She did it on the impulse; had she consulted her wishes she would rather
have seen him at his post, where he seemed in his element, facing the
spray and cunningly calculating to get wind and tide in his favour.
Partly with regret she saw him, stripped of his tarpaulin, jump into
her boat, as though she had once more to say farewell to sailor Nevil
Beauchamp; farewell the bright youth, the hero, the true servant of his
country!

That feeling of hers changed when he was on board. The stirring cordial
day had put new breath in him.

‘Should not the flag be dipped?’ he said, looking up at the peak, where
the white flag streamed.

‘Can you really mistake compassion for defeat?’ said she, with a smile.

‘Oh! before the wind of course I hadn’t a chance.’

‘How could you be so presumptuous as to give chase? And who has lent you
that little cutter?’

Beauchamp had hired her for a month, and he praised her sailing, and
pretended to say that the race was not always to the strong in a stiff
breeze.

‘But in point’ of fact I was bent on trying how my boat swims, and had
no idea of overhauling you. To-day our salt-water lake is as fine as the
Mediterranean.’

‘Omitting the islands and the Mediterranean colour, it is. I have often
told you how I love it. I have landed papa at the Club. Are you aware
that we meet you at Steynham the day after to-morrow?’

‘Well, we can ride on the downs. The downs between three and four of a
summer’s morning are as lovely as anything in the world. They have the
softest outlines imaginable... and remind me of a friend’s upper lip
when she deigns to smile.’

‘Is one to rise at that hour to behold the effect? And let me remind you
further, Nevil, that the comparison of nature’s minor work beside her
mighty is an error, if you will be poetical.’

She cited a well-known instance of degradation in verse.

But a young man who happens to be intimately acquainted with a certain
‘dark eye in woman’ will not so lightly be brought to consider that the
comparison of tempestuous night to the flashing of those eyes of hers
topples the scene headlong from grandeur. And if Beauchamp remembered
rightly, the scene was the Alps at night.

He was prepared to contest Cecilia’s judgement. At that moment the
breeze freshened and the canvas lifted from due South the yacht swung
her sails to drive toward the West, and Cecilia’s face and hair came out
golden in the sunlight. Speech was difficult, admiration natural, so he
sat beside her, admiring in silence.

She said a good word for the smartness of his little yacht.

‘This is my first trial of her,’ said Beauchamp. ‘I hired her chiefly to
give Dr. Shrapnel a taste of salt air. I ‘ve no real right to be idling
about. His ward Miss Denham is travelling in Switzerland; the dear old
man is alone, and not quite so well as I should wish. Change of scene
will do him good. I shall land him on the French coast for a couple of
days, or take him down Channel.’

Cecilia gazed abstractedly at a passing schooner.

‘He works too hard,’ said Beauchamp.

‘Who does?’

‘Dr. Shrapnel.’

Some one else whom we have heard of works too hard, and it would be
happy for mankind if he did not.

Cecilia named the schooner; an American that had beaten our crack
yachts. Beauchamp sprang up to spy at the American.

‘That’s the Corinne, is she!’

Yankee craftiness on salt water always excited his respectful attention
as a spectator.

‘And what is the name of your boat, Nevil?’

‘The fool of an owner calls her the Petrel. It’s not that I’m
superstitious, but to give a boat a name of bad augury to sailors
appears to me... however, I ‘ve argued it with him and I will have her
called the Curlew. Carrying Dr. Shrapnel and me, Petrel would be thought
the proper title for her isn’t that your idea?’

He laughed and she smiled, and then he became overcast with his
political face, and said, ‘I hope--I believe--you will alter your
opinion of him. Can it be an opinion when it’s founded on nothing? You
know really nothing of him. I have in my pocket what I believe would
alter your mind about him entirely. I do think so; and I think so
because I feel you would appreciate his deep sincerity and real
nobleness.’

‘Is it a talisman that you have, Nevil?’

‘No, it’s a letter.’

Cecilia’s cheeks took fire.

‘I should so much like to read it to you,’ said he.

‘Do not, please,’ she replied with a dash of supplication in her voice.

‘Not the whole of it--an extract here and there? I want you so much to
understand him.’

‘I am sure I should not.’

‘Let me try you!’

‘Pray do not.’

‘Merely to show you...’

‘But, Nevil, I do not wish to understand him.’

‘But you have only to listen for a few minutes, and I want you to know
what good reason I have to reverence him as a teacher and a friend.’

Cecilia looked at Beauchamp with wonder. A confused recollection of the
contents of the letter declaimed at Mount Laurels in Captain Baskelett’s
absurd sing-song, surged up in her mind revoltingly. She signified a
decided negative. Something of a shudder accompanied the expression of
it.

But he as little as any member of the Romfrey blood was framed to
let the word no stand quietly opposed to him. And the no that a woman
utters! It calls for wholesome tyranny. Those old, those hoar-old
duellists, Yes and No, have rarely been better matched than in Beauchamp
and Cecilia. For if he was obstinate in attack she had great resisting
power. Twice to listen to that letter was beyond her endurance. Indeed
it cast a shadow on him and disfigured him; and when, affecting to
plead, he said: ‘You must listen to it to please me, for my sake,
Cecilia,’ she answered: ‘It is for your sake, Nevil, I decline to.’

‘Why, what do you know of it?’ he exclaimed.

‘I know the kind of writing it would be.’

‘How do you know it?’

‘I have heard of some of Dr. Shrapnel’s opinions.’

‘You imagine him to be subversive, intolerant, immoral, and the rest!
all that comes under your word revolutionary.’

‘Possibly; but I must defend myself from hearing what I know will be
certain to annoy me.’

‘But he is the reverse of immoral: and I intend to read you parts of the
letter to prove to you that he is not the man you would blame, but I,
and that if ever I am worthier... worthier of you, as I hope to become,
it will be owing to this admirable and good old man.’

Cecilia trembled: she was touched to the quick. Yet it was not pleasant
to her to be wooed obliquely, through Dr. Shrapnel.

She recognized the very letter, crowned with many stamps, thick with
many pages, in Beauchamp’s hands.

‘When you are at Steynham you will probably hear my uncle Everard’s
version of this letter,’ he said. ‘The baron chooses to think everything
fair in war, and the letter came accidentally into his hands with the
seal broken; well, he read it. And, Cecilia, you can fancy the sort of
stuff he would make of it. Apart from that, I want you particularly to
know how much I am indebted to Dr. Shrapnel. Won’t you learn to like him
a little? Won’t you tolerate him?--I could almost say, for my sake! He
and I are at variance on certain points, but taking him altogether, I am
under deeper obligations to him than to any man on earth. He has found
where I bend and waver.’

‘I recognize your chivalry, Nevil.’

‘He has done his best to train me to be of some service. Where’s the
chivalry in owning a debt? He is one of our true warriors; fearless
and blameless. I have had my heroes before. You know how I loved
Robert Hall: his death is a gap in my life. He is a light for fighting
Englishmen--who fight with the sword. But the scale of the war, the
cause, and the end in view, raise Dr. Shrapnel above the bravest I have
ever had the luck to meet. Soldiers and sailors have their excitement
to keep them up to the mark; praise and rewards. He is in his
eight-and-sixtieth year, and he has never received anything but obloquy
for his pains. Half of the small fortune he has goes in charities and
subscriptions. Will that touch you? But I think little of that, and so
does he. Charity is a common duty. The dedication of a man’s life and
whole mind to a cause, there’s heroism. I wish I were eloquent; I wish I
could move you.’

Cecilia turned her face to him. ‘I listen to you with pleasure, Nevil;
but please do not read the letter.’

‘Yes; a paragraph or two I must read.’

She rose.

He was promptly by her side. ‘If I say I ask you for one sign that you
care for me in some degree?’

‘I have not for a moment ceased to be your friend, Nevil, since I was a
child.’

‘But if you allow yourself to be so prejudiced against my best friend
that you will not hear a word of his writing, are you friendly?’

‘Feminine, and obstinate,’ said Cecilia.

‘Give me your eyes an instant. I know you think me reckless and lawless:
now is not that true? You doubt whether, if a lady gave me her hand I
should hold to it in perfect faith. Or, perhaps not that: but you do
suspect I should be capable of every sophism under the sun to persuade a
woman to break her faith, if it suited me: supposing some passion to be
at work. Men who are open to passion have to be taught reflection before
they distinguish between the woman they should sue for love because she
would be their best mate, and the woman who has thrown a spell on them.
Now, what I beg you to let me read you in this letter is a truth nobly
stated that has gone into my blood, and changed me. It cannot fail, too,
in changeing your opinion of Dr. Shrapnel. It makes me wretched that
you should be divided from me in your ideas of him. I, you see--and I
confess I think it my chief title to honour--reverence him.’

‘I regret that I am unable to utter the words of Ruth,’ said Cecilia, in
a low voice. She felt rather tremulously; opposed only to the letter
and the writer of it, not at all to Beauchamp, except on account of
his idolatry of the wicked revolutionist. Far from having a sense of
opposition to Beauchamp; she pitied him for his infatuation, and in her
lofty mental serenity she warmed to him for the seeming boyishness
of his constant and extravagant worship of the man, though such an
enthusiasm cast shadows on his intellect.

He was reading a sentence of the letter.

‘I hear nothing but the breeze, Nevil,’ she said.

The breeze fluttered the letter-sheets: they threatened to fly. Cecilia
stepped two paces away.

‘Hark; there is a military band playing on the pier,’ said she. ‘I am so
fond of hearing music a little off shore.’

Beauchamp consigned the letter to his pocket.

‘You are not offended, Nevil?’

‘Dear me, no. You haven’t a mind for tonics, that’s all.’

‘Healthy persons rarely have,’ she remarked, and asked him, smiling
softly, whether he had a mind for music.

His insensibility to music was curious, considering how impressionable
he was to verse, and to songs of birds. He listened with an oppressed
look, as to something the particular secret of which had to be reached
by a determined effort of sympathy for those whom it affected. He
liked it if she did, and said he liked it, reiterated that he liked it,
clearly trying hard to comprehend it, as unmoved by the swell and sigh
of the resonant brass as a man could be, while her romantic spirit
thrilled to it, and was bountiful in glowing visions and in tenderness.

There hung her hand. She would not have refused to yield it. The hero
of her childhood, the friend of her womanhood, and her hero still, might
have taken her with half a word.

Beauchamp was thinking: She can listen to that brass band, and she shuts
her ears to this letter:

The reading of it would have been a prelude to the opening of his
heart to her, at the same time that it vindicated his dear and honoured
master, as he called Dr. Shrapnel. To speak, without the explanation of
his previous reticence which this letter would afford, seemed useless:
even the desire to speak was absent, passion being absent.

‘I see papa; he is getting into a boat with some one,’ said Cecilia,
and gave orders for the yacht to stand in toward the Club steps. ‘Do you
know, Nevil, the Italian common people are not so subject to the charm
of music as other races? They have more of the gift, and I think less of
the feeling. You do not hear much music in Italy. I remember in the year
of Revolution there was danger of a rising in some Austrian city, and
a colonel of a regiment commanded his band to play. The mob was put in
good humour immediately.’

‘It’s a soporific,’ said Beauchamp.

‘You would not rather have had them rise to be slaughtered?’

‘Would you have them waltzed into perpetual servility?’

Cecilia hummed, and suggested: ‘If one can have them happy in any way?’

‘Then the day of destruction may almost be dated.’

‘Nevil, your terrible view of life must be false.’

‘I make it out worse to you than to any one else, because I want our
minds to be united.’

‘Give me a respite now and then.’

‘With all my heart. And forgive me for beating my drum. I see what
others don’t see, or else I feel it more; I don’t know; but it appears
to me our country needs rousing if it’s to live. There ‘s a division
between poor and rich that you have no conception of, and it can’t
safely be left unnoticed. I’ve done.’

He looked at her and saw tears on her under-lids.

‘My dearest Cecilia!’

‘Music makes me childish,’ said she.

Her father was approaching in the boat. Beside him sat the Earl of
Lockrace, latterly classed among the suitors of the lady of Mount
Laurels.

A few minutes remained to Beauchamp of his lost opportunity. Instead
of seizing them with his usual promptitude, he let them slip, painfully
mindful of his treatment of her last year after the drive into Bevisham,
when she was England, and Renee holiday France.

This feeling he fervently translated into the reflection that the bride
who would bring him beauty and wealth, and her especial gift of tender
womanliness, was not yet so thoroughly mastered as to grant her husband
his just prevalence with her, or even indeed his complete independence
of action, without which life itself was not desireable.

Colonel Halkett stared at Beauchamp as if he had risen from the deep.

‘Have you been in that town this morning?’ was one of his first
questions to him when he stood on board.

‘I came through it,’ said Beauchamp, and pointed to his little cutter
labouring in the distance. ‘She’s mine for a month; I came from
Holdesbury to try her; and then he stated how he had danced attendance
on the schooner for a couple of hours before any notice was taken of
him, and Cecilia with her graceful humour held up his presumption to
scorn.

Her father was eyeing Beauchamp narrowly, and appeared troubled.

‘Did you see Mr. Romfrey yesterday, or this morning?’ the colonel asked
him, mentioning that Mr. Romfrey had been somewhere about the island
yesterday, at which Beauchamp expressed astonishment, for his uncle
Everard seldom visited a yachting station.

Colonel Halkett exchanged looks with Cecilia. Hers were inquiring, and
he confirmed her side-glance at Beauchamp. She raised her brows;
he nodded, to signify that there was gravity in the case. Here the
signalling stopped short; she had to carry on a conversation with Lord
Lockrace, one of those men who betray the latent despot in an exhibition
of discontentment unless they have all a lady’s hundred eyes attentive
to their discourse.

At last Beauchamp quitted the vessel.

When he was out of hearing, Colonel Halkett said to Cecilia: ‘Grancey
Lespel tells me that Mr. Romfrey called on the man Shrapnel yesterday
evening at six o’clock.’

‘Yes, Papa?’

‘Now come and see the fittings below,’ the colonel addressed Lord
Lockrace, and murmured to his daughter:

‘And soundly horsewhipped him!’

Cecilia turned on the instant to gaze after Nevil Beauchamp. She could
have wept for pity. Her father’s emphasis on ‘soundly’ declared an
approval of the deed, and she was chilled by a sickening abhorrence and
dread of the cruel brute in men, such as, awakened by she knew not what,
had haunted her for a year of her girlhood.

‘And he deserved it!’ the colonel pursued, on emerging from the cabin at
Lord Lockrace’s heels. ‘I’ve no doubt he richly deserved it. The writer
of that letter we heard Captain Baskelett read the other day deserves
the very worst he gets.’

‘Baskelett bored the Club the other night with a letter of a Radical
fellow,’ said Lord Lockrace. ‘Men who write that stuff should be strung
up and whipped by the common hangman.’

‘It was a private letter,’ said Cecilia.

‘Public or private, Miss Halkett.’

Her mind flew back to Seymour Austin for the sense of stedfastness when
she heard such language as this, which, taken in conjunction with Dr.
Shrapnel’s, seemed to uncloak our Constitutional realm and show it
boiling up with the frightful elements of primitive societies.

‘I suppose we are but half civilized,’ she said.

‘If that,’ said the earl.

Colonel Halkett protested that he never could quite make out what
Radicals were driving at.

‘The rents,’ Lord Lockrace observed in the conclusive tone of brevity.
He did not stay very long.

The schooner was boarded subsequently by another nobleman, an Admiral of
the Fleet and ex-minister of the Whig Government, Lord Croyston, who
was a friend of Mr. Romfrey’s, and thought well of Nevil Beauchamp as
a seaman and naval officer, but shook an old head over him as a
politician. He came to beg a passage across the water to his marine
Lodge, an accident having happened early in the morning to his yacht,
the Lady Violet. He was able to communicate the latest version of the
horsewhipping of Dr. Shrapnel, from which it appeared that after
Mr. Romfrey had handsomely flogged the man he flung his card on the
prostrate body, to let men know who was responsible for the act. He
expected that Mr. Romfrey would be subjected to legal proceedings. ‘But
if there’s a pleasure worth paying for it’s the trouncing of a villain,’
said he; and he had been informed that Dr. Shrapnel was a big one. Lord
Croyston’s favourite country residence was in the neighbourhood of
old Mrs. Beauchamp, on the Upper Thames. Speaking of Nevil Beauchamp a
second time, he alluded to his relations with his great-aunt, said his
prospects were bad, that she had interdicted her house to him, and was
devoted to her other great-nephew.

‘And so she should be,’ said Colonel Halkett. ‘That’s a young man who’s
an Englishman without French gunpowder notions in his head. He works for
us down at the mine in Wales a good part of the year, and has tided us
over a threatening strike there: gratuitously: I can’t get him to accept
anything. I can’t think why he does it.’

‘He’ll have plenty,’ said Lord Croyston, levelling his telescope to
sight the racing cutters.

Cecilia fancied she descried Nevil’s Petrel, dubbed Curlew, to Eastward,
and had a faint gladness in the thought that his knowledge of his uncle
Everard’s deed of violence would be deferred for another two or three
hours.

She tried to persuade her father to wait for Nevil, and invite him to
dine at Mount Laurels, and break the news to him gently. Colonel
Halkett argued that in speaking of the affair he should certainly not
commiserate the man who had got his deserts, and saying this he burst
into a petty fury against the epistle of Dr. Shrapnel, which appeared
to be growing more monstrous in proportion to his forgetfulness of the
details, as mountains gather vastness to the eye at a certain remove.
Though he could not guess the reason for Mr. Romfrey’s visit to
Bevisham, he was, he said, quite prepared to maintain that Mr. Romfrey
had a perfect justification for his conduct.

Cecilia hinted at barbarism. The colonel hinted at high police duties
that gentlemen were sometimes called on to perform for the protection of
society. ‘In defiance of its laws?’ she asked; and he answered: ‘Women
must not be judging things out of their sphere,’ with the familiar
accent on ‘women’ which proves their inferiority. He was rarely guilty
of it toward his daughter. Evidently he had resolved to back Mr. Romfrey
blindly. That epistle of Dr. Shrapnel’s merited condign punishment
and had met with it, he seemed to rejoice in saying: and this was his
abstract of the same: ‘An old charlatan who tells his dupe to pray every
night of his life for the beheading of kings and princes, and scattering
of the clergy, and disbanding the army, that he and his rabble may fall
upon the wealthy, and show us numbers win; and he’ll undertake to make
them moral!’

‘I wish we were not going to Steynham,’ said Cecilia.

‘So do I. Well, no, I don’t,’ the colonel corrected himself, ‘no; it
‘s an engagement. I gave my consent so far. We shall see whether Nevil
Beauchamp’s a man of any sense.’

Her heart sank. This was as much as to let her know that if Nevil broke
with his uncle, the treaty of union between the two families, which
her father submitted to entertain out of consideration for Mr. Romfrey,
would be at an end.

The wind had fallen. Entering her river, Cecilia gazed back at the
smooth broad water, and the band of golden beams flung across it from
the evening sun over the forest. No little cutter was visible. She could
not write to Nevil to bid him come and concert with her in what spirit
to encounter his uncle Everard at Steynham. And guests would be at Mount
Laurels next day; Lord Lockrace, Lord Croyston, and the Lespels; she
could not drive down to Bevisham on the chance of seeing him. Nor was
it to be acknowledged even to herself that she so greatly desired to
see him and advise him. Why not? Because she was one of the artificial
creatures called women (with the accent) who dare not be spontaneous,
and cannot act independently if they would continue to be admirable in
the world’s eye, and who for that object must remain fixed on shelves,
like other marketable wares, avoiding motion to avoid shattering or
tarnishing. This is their fate, only in degree less inhuman than that of
Hellenic and Trojan princesses offered up to the Gods, or pretty slaves
to the dealers. Their artificiality is at once their bane and their
source of superior pride.

Seymour Austin might have reason for seeking to emancipate them,
she thought, and blushed in thought that she could never be learning
anything but from her own immediate sensations.

Of course it was in her power to write to Beauchamp, just as it had been
in his to speak to her, but the fire was wanting in her blood and absent
from his mood, so they were kept apart.

Her father knew as little as she what was the positive cause of Mr.
Romfrey’s chastisement of Dr. Shrapnel. ‘Cause enough, I don’t doubt,’
he said, and cited the mephitic letter.

Cecilia was not given to suspicions, or she would have had them kindled
by a certain wilfulness in his incessant reference to the letter, and
exoneration, if not approval, of Mr. Romfrey’s conduct.

How did that chivalrous gentleman justify himself for condescending to
such an extreme as the use of personal violence? Was there a possibility
of his justifying it to Nevil? She was most wretched in her reiteration
of these inquiries, for, with a heart subdued, she had still a mind
whose habit of independent judgement was not to be constrained, and
while she felt that it was only by siding with Nevil submissively and
blindly in this lamentable case that she could hope for happiness, she
foresaw the likelihood of her not being able to do so as much as he
would desire and demand. This she took for the protest of her pure
reason. In reality, grieved though she was on account of that Dr.
Shrapnel, her captive heart resented the anticipated challenge to her to
espouse his cause or languish.



CHAPTER XXXIII. THE FIRST ENCOUNTER AT STEYNHAM

The judge pronouncing sentence of condemnation on the criminal is
proverbially a sorrowfully-minded man; and still more would he be so had
he to undertake the part of executioner as well. This is equivalent to
saying that the simple pleasures are no longer with us; it must be
a personal enemy now to give us any satisfaction in chastising and
slaying. Perhaps by-and-by that will be savourless: we degenerate.
There is, nevertheless, ever (and let nature be praised for it) a strong
sustainment in the dutiful exertion of our physical energies, and Mr.
Everard Romfrey experienced it after he had fulfilled his double office
on the person of Dr. Shrapnel by carrying out his own decree. His
conscience approved him cheerlessly, as it is the habit of that secret
monitor to do when we have no particular advantage coming of the act
we have performed; but the righteous labour of his arm gave him high
breathing and an appetite.

He foresaw that he and Nevil would soon be having a wrestle over the
matter, hand and thigh; but a gentleman in the right engaged with
a fellow in the wrong has nothing to apprehend; is, in fact, in the
position of a game-preserver with a poacher. The nearest approach to
gratification in that day’s work which Mr. Romfrey knew was offered
by the picture of Nevil’s lamentable attitude above his dirty idol. He
conceived it in the mock-mediaeval style of our caricaturists:--Shrapnel
stretched at his length, half a league, in slashed yellows and blacks,
with his bauble beside him, and prodigious pointed toes; Nevil in
parti-coloured tights, on one leg, raising his fists in imprecation to a
nose in the firmament.

Gentlemen of an unpractised imaginative capacity cannot vision for
themselves exactly what they would, being unable to exercise authority
over the proportions and the hues of the objects they conceive, which
are very much at the mercy of their sportive caprices; and the state of
mind of Mr. Romfrey is not to be judged by his ridiculous view of the
pair. In the abstract he could be sorry for Shrapnel. As he knew himself
magnanimous, he promised himself to be forbearing with Nevil.

Moreover, the month of September was drawing nigh; he had plenty to
think of. The entire land (signifying all but all of those who occupy
the situation of thinkers in it) may be said to have been exhaling the
same thought in connection with September. Our England holds possession
of a considerable portion of the globe, and it keeps the world in awe to
see her bestowing so considerable a portion of her intelligence upon
her recreations. To prosecute them with her whole heart is an ingenious
exhibition of her power. Mr. Romfrey was of those who said to his
countrymen, ‘Go yachting; go cricketing; go boat-racing; go shooting;
go horseracing, nine months of the year, while the other Europeans go
marching and drilling.’ Those occupations he considered good for us; and
our much talking, writing, and thinking about them characteristic, and
therefore good. And he was not one of those who do penance for that
sweating indolence in the fits of desperate panic. Beauchamp’s argument
that the rich idler begets the idling vagabond, the rich wagerer the
brutal swindler, the general thirst for a mad round of recreation a
generally-increasing disposition to avoid serious work, and the unbraced
moral tone of the country an indifference to national responsibility
(an argument doubtless extracted from Shrapnel, talk tall as the very
demagogue when he stood upright), Mr. Romfrey laughed at scornfully,
affirming that our manufactures could take care of themselves. As for
invasion, we are circled by the sea. Providence has done that for us,
and may be relied on to do more in an emergency.--The children of wealth
and the children of the sun alike believe that Providence is for them,
and it would seem that the former can do without it less than the
latter, though the former are less inclined to give it personification.

This year, however, the array of armaments on the Continent made Mr.
Romfrey anxious about our navy. Almost his first topic in welcoming
Colonel Halkett and Cecilia to Steynham was the rottenness of navy
administration; for if Providence is to do anything for us it must have
a sea-worthy fleet for the operation. How loudly would his contemptuous
laughter have repudiated the charge that he trusted to supernatural
agency for assistance in case of need! But so it was: and he owned to
believing in English luck. Partly of course he meant that steady fire
of combat which his countrymen have got heated to of old till fortune
blessed them.

‘Nevil is not here?’ the colonel asked.

‘No, I suspect he’s gruelling and plastering a doctor of his
acquaintance,’ Mr. Romfrey said, with his nasal laugh composed of scorn
and resignation.

‘Yes, yes, I’ve heard,’ said Colonel Halkett hastily.

He would have liked to be informed of Dr. Shrapnel’s particular offence:
he mentioned the execrable letter.

Mr. Romfrey complacently interjected: ‘Drug-vomit!’ and after an
interval: ‘Gallows!’

‘That man has done Nevil Beauchamp a world of mischief, Romfrey.’

‘We’ll hope for a cure, colonel.’

‘Did the man come across you?’

‘He did.’

Mr. Romfrey was mute on the subject. Colonel Halkett abstained from
pushing his inquiries.

Cecilia could only tell her father when they were alone in the
drawing-room a few minutes before dinner that Mrs. Culling was entirely
ignorant of any cause to which Nevil’s absence might be attributed.

‘Mr. Romfrey had good cause,’ the colonel said, emphatically.

He repeated it next day, without being a bit wiser of the cause.

Cecilia’s happiness or hope was too sensitive to allow of a beloved
father’s deceiving her in his opposition to it.

She saw clearly now that he had fastened on this miserable incident,
expecting an imbroglio that would divide Nevil and his uncle, and be
an excuse for dividing her and Nevil. O for the passionate will to make
head against what appeared as a fate in this matter! She had it not.

Mr. and Mrs. Wardour-Devereux, Sir John and Lady Baskelett, and the
Countess of Welshpool, another sister of Mr. Romfrey’s, arrived at
Steynham for a day and a night. Lady Baskelett and Lady Welshpool
came to see their brother, not to countenance his household; and Mr.
Wardour-Devereux could not stay longer than a certain number of hours
under a roof where tobacco was in evil odour. From her friend Louise,
his wife, Cecilia learnt that Mr. Lydiard had been summoned to Dr.
Shrapnel’s bedside, as Mrs. Devereux knew by a letter she had received
from Mr. Lydiard, who was no political devotee of that man, she assured
Cecilia, but had an extraordinary admiration for the Miss Denham living
with him. This was kindly intended to imply that Beauchamp was released
from his attendance on Dr. Shrapnel, and also that it was not he whom
the Miss Denham attracted.

‘She is in Switzerland,’ said Cecilia.

‘She is better there,’ said Mrs. Devereux.

Mr. Stukely Culbrett succeeded to these visitors. He heard of the case
of Dr. Shrapnel from Colonel Halkett, and of Beauchamp’s missing of his
chance with the heiress from Mr. Romfrey.

Rosamund Culling was in great perplexity about Beauchamp’s prolonged
absence; for he had engaged to come, he had written to her to say
he would be sure to come; and she feared he was ill. She would have
persuaded Mr. Culbrett to go down to Bevisham to see him: she declared
that she could even persuade herself to call on Dr. Shrapnel a second
time, in spite of her horror of the man. Her anger at the thought of his
keeping Nevil away from good fortune and happiness caused her to speak
in resentment and loathing of the man.

‘He behaved badly when you saw him, did he?’ said Stukely.

‘Badly, is no word. He is detestable,’ Rosamund replied.

‘You think he ought to be whipped?’

She feigned an extremity of vindictiveness, and twisted her brows in
comic apology for the unfeminine sentiment, as she said: ‘I really do.’

The feminine gentleness of her character was known to Stukely, so she
could afford to exaggerate the expression of her anger, and she did not
modify it, forgetful that a woman is the representative of the sex with
cynical men, and escapes from contempt at the cost of her sisterhood.

Looking out of an upper window in the afternoon she beheld Nevil
Beauchamp in a group with his uncle Everard, the colonel and Cecilia,
and Mr. Culbrett. Nevil was on his feet; the others were seated under
the great tulip-tree on the lawn.

A little observation of them warned her that something was wrong. There
was a vacant chair; Nevil took it in his hand at times, stamped it to
the ground, walked away and sharply back fronting his uncle, speaking
vehemently, she perceived, and vainly, as she judged by the cast of his
uncle’s figure. Mr. Romfrey’s head was bent, and wagged slightly, as he
screwed his brows up and shot his eyes, queerly at the agitated young
man. Colonel Halkett’s arms crossed his chest. Cecilia’s eyelids drooped
their lashes. Mr. Culbrett was balancing on the hind-legs of his chair.
No one appeared to be speaking but Nevil.

It became evident that Nevil was putting a series of questions to his
uncle. Mechanical nods were given him in reply.

Presently Mr. Romfrey rose, thundering out a word or two, without a
gesture.

Colonel Halkett rose.

Nevil flung his hand out straight to the house.

Mr. Romfrey seemed to consent; the colonel shook his head: Nevil
insisted.

A footman carrying a tea-tray to Miss Halkett received some commission
and swiftly disappeared, making Rosamund wonder whether sugar, milk or
cream had been omitted.

She met him on the first landing, and heard that Mr. Romfrey requested
her to step out on the lawn.

Expecting to hear of a piece of misconduct on the part of the household
servants, she hurried forth, and found that she had to traverse the
whole space of the lawn up to the tuliptree. Colonel Halkett and Mr.
Romfrey had resumed their seats. The colonel stood up and bowed to her.

Mr. Romfrey said: ‘One question to you, ma’am, and you shall not be
detained. Did not that man Shrapnel grossly insult you on the day you
called on him to see Captain Beauchamp about a couple of months before
the Election?’

‘Look at me when you speak, ma’am,’ said Beauchamp.

Rosamund looked at him.

The whiteness of his face paralyzed her tongue. A dreadful levelling of
his eyes penetrated and chilled her. Instead of thinking of her answer
she thought of what could possibly have happened.

‘Did he insult you at all, ma’am?’ said Beauchamp.

Mr. Romfrey reminded him that he was not a cross-examining criminal
barrister.

They waited for her to speak.

She hesitated, coloured, betrayed confusion; her senses telling her of a
catastrophe, her conscience accusing her as the origin of it.

‘Did Dr. Shrapnel, to your belief, intentionally hurt your feelings or
your dignity?’ said Beauchamp, and made the answer easier:

‘Not intentionally, surely: not... I certainly do not accuse him.’

‘Can you tell me you feel that he wounded you in the smallest degree?
And if so, how? I ask you this, because he is anxious, if he lives, to
apologize to you for any offence that he may have been guilty of: he was
ignorant of it. I have his word for that, and his commands to me to bear
it to you. I may tell you I have never known him injure the most feeble
thing--anything alive, or wish to.’

Beauchamp’s voice choked. Rosamund saw tears leap out of the stern face
of her dearest now in wrath with her.

‘Is he ill?’ she faltered.

‘He is. You own to a strong dislike of him, do you not?’

‘But not to desire any harm to him.’

‘Not a whipping,’ Mr. Culbrett murmured.

Everard Romfrey overheard it.

He had allowed Mrs. Culling to be sent for, that she might with a bare
affirmative silence Nevil, when his conduct was becoming intolerable
before the guests of the house.

‘That will do, ma’am,’ he dismissed her.

Beauchamp would not let her depart.

‘I must have your distinct reply, and in Mr. Romfrey’s presence:--say,
that if you accused him you were mistaken, or that they were mistaken
who supposed you had accused him. I must have the answer before you go.’

‘Sir, will you learn manners!’ Mr. Romfrey said to him, with a rattle of
the throat.

Beauchamp turned his face from-her.

Colonel Halkett offered her his arm to lead her away.

‘What is it? Oh, what is it?’ she whispered, scarcely able to walk, but
declining the colonel’s arm.

‘You ought not to have been dragged out here,’ said he. ‘Any one might
have known there would be no convincing of Captain Beauchamp. That old
rascal in Bevisham has been having a beating; that’s all. And a very
beautiful day it is!--a little too hot, though. Before we leave, you
must give me a lesson or two in gardening.’

‘Dr. Shrapnel--Mr. Romfrey!’ said Rosamund half audibly under the
oppression of the more she saw than what she said.

The colonel talked of her renown in landscape-gardening. He added
casually: ‘They met the other day.’

‘By accident?’

‘By chance, I suppose. Shrapnel defends one of your Steynham poaching
vermin.’

‘Mr. Romfrey struck him?--for that? Oh, never!’ Rosamund exclaimed.

‘I suppose he had a long account to settle.’

She fetched her breath painfully. ‘I shall never be forgiven.’

‘And I say that a gentleman has no business with idols,’ the colonel
fumed as he spoke. ‘Those letters of Shrapnel to Nevil Beauchamp are a
scandal on the name of Englishman.’

‘You have read that shocking one, Colonel Halkett?’

‘Captain Baskelett read it out to us.’

‘He? Oh! then...’ She stopped:--Then the author of this mischief is
clear to me! her divining hatred of Cecil would have said, but her
humble position did not warrant such speech. A consideration of the
lowliness necessitating this restraint at a moment when loudly to
denounce another’s infamy with triumphant insight would have solaced and
supported her, kept Rosamund dumb.

She could not bear to think of her part in the mischief.

She was not bound to think of it, knowing actually nothing of the
occurrence.

Still she felt that she was on her trial. She detected herself running
in and out of her nature to fortify it against accusations rather
than cleanse it for inspection. It was narrowing in her own sight. The
prospect of her having to submit to a further interrogatory, shut it up
entrenched in the declaration that Dr. Shrapnel had so far outraged her
sentiments as to be said to have offended her: not insulted, perhaps,
but certainly offended.

And this was a generous distinction. It was generous; and, having
recognized the generosity, she was unable to go beyond it.

She was presently making the distinction to Miss Halkett. The colonel
had left her at the door of the house: Miss Halkett sought admission
to her private room on an errand of condolence, for she had sympathized
with her very much in the semi-indignity Nevil had forced her to
undergo: and very little indeed had she been able to sympathize with
Nevil, who had been guilty of the serious fault of allowing himself to
appear moved by his own commonplace utterances; or, in other words, the
theme being hostile to his audience, he had betrayed emotion over it
without first evoking the spirit of pathos.

‘As for me,’ Rosamund replied, to some comforting remarks of Miss
Halkett’s, ‘I do not understand why I should be mixed up in Dr.
Shrapnel’s misfortunes: I really am quite unable to recollect his words
to me or his behaviour: I have only a positive impression that I left
his house, where I had gone to see Captain Beauchamp, in utter disgust,
so repelled by his language that I could hardly trust myself to speak of
the man to Mr. Romfrey when he questioned me. I did not volunteer it.
I am ready to say that I believe Dr. Shrapnel did not intend to be
insulting. I cannot say that he was not offensive.

You know, Miss Halkett, I would willingly, gladly have saved him from
anything like punishment.’

‘You are too gentle to have thought of it,’ said Cecilia.

‘But I shall never be forgiven by Captain Beauchamp. I see in his eyes
that he accuses me and despises me.’

‘He will not be so unjust, Mrs. Culling.’

Rosamund begged that she might hear what Nevil had first said on his
arrival.

Cecilia related that they had seen him walking swiftly across the park,
and that Mr. Romfrey had hailed him, and held his hand out; and that
Captain Beauchamp had overlooked it, saying he feared Mr. Romfrey’s work
was complete. He had taken her father’s hand and hers and his touch was
like ice.

‘His worship of that Dr. Shrapnel is extraordinary,’ quoth Rosamund.
‘And how did Mr. Romfrey behave to him?’

‘My father thinks, very forbearingly.’

Rosamund sighed and made a semblance of wringing her hands. ‘It seems to
me that I anticipated ever since I heard of the man... or at least ever
since I saw him and heard him, he would be the evil genius of us all:
if I dare include myself. But I am not permitted to escape! And,
Miss Halkett, can you tell me how it was that my name--that I became
involved? I cannot imagine the circumstances which would bring me
forward in this unhappy affair.’

Cecilia replied: ‘The occasion was, that Captain Beauchamp so scornfully
contrasted the sort of injury done by Dr. Shrapnel’s defence of a
poacher on his uncle’s estate, with the severe chastisement inflicted by
Mr. Romfrey in revenge for it. He would not leave the subject.’

‘I see him--see his eyes!’ cried Rosamund, her bosom heaving and sinking
deep, as her conscience quavered within her. ‘At last Mr. Romfrey
mentioned me?’

‘He stood up and said you had been personally insulted by Dr. Shrapnel.’

Rosamund meditated in a distressing doubt of her conscientious
truthfulness.

‘Captain Beauchamp will be coming to me; and how can I answer him?
Heaven knows I would have shielded the poor man, if possible--poor
wretch! Wicked though he is, one has only to hear of him suffering! But
what can I answer? I do recollect now that Mr. Romfrey compelled me from
question to question to confess that the man had vexed me. Insulted, I
never said. At the worst, I said vexed. I would not have said insulted,
or even offended, because Mr. Romfrey... ah! we know him. What I did
say, I forget. I have no guide to what I said but my present feelings,
and they are pity for the unfortunate man much more than dislike.--Well,
I must go through the scene with Nevil!’ Rosamund concluded her outcry
of ostensible exculpation.

She asked in a cooler moment how it was that Captain Beauchamp had so
far forgotten himself as to burst out on his uncle before the guests
of the house. It appeared that he had wished his uncle to withdraw with
him, and Mr. Romfrey had bidden him postpone private communications.
Rosamund gathered from one or two words of Cecilia’s that Mr. Romfrey,
until finally stung by Nevil, had indulged in his best-humoured banter.



CHAPTER XXXIV. THE FACE OF RENEE

Shortly before the ringing of the dinner-bell Rosamund knocked at
Beauchamp’s dressing-room door, the bearer of a telegram from Bevisham.
He read it in one swift run of the eyes, and said: ‘Come in, ma’am, I
have something for you. Madame de Rouaillout sends you this.’

Rosamund saw her name written in a French hand on the back of the card.

‘You stay with us, Nevil?’

‘To-night and to-morrow, perhaps. The danger seems to be over.’

‘Has Dr. Shrapnel been in danger?’

‘He has. If it’s quite over now!’

‘I declare to you, Nevil...’

‘Listen to me, ma’am; I’m in the dark about this murderous business:--an
old man, defenceless, harmless as a child!--but I know this, that you
are somewhere in it.’

‘Nevil, do you not guess at some one else?’

‘He! yes, he! But Cecil Baskelett led no blind man to Dr. Shrapnel’s
gate.’

‘Nevil, as I live, I knew nothing of it!’

‘No, but you set fire to the train. You hated the old man, and you
taught Mr. Romfrey to think that you had been insulted. I see it all.
Now you must have the courage to tell him of your error. There’s no
other course for you. I mean to take Mr. Romfrey to Dr. Shrapnel, to
save the honour of our family, as far as it can be saved.’

‘What? Nevil!’ exclaimed Rosamund, gaping.

‘It seems little enough, ma’am. But he must go. I will have the apology
spoken, and man to man.’

‘But you would never tell your uncle that?’

He laughed in his uncle’s manner.

‘But, Nevil, my dearest, forgive me, I think of you--why are the
Halketts here? It is not entirely with Colonel Halkett’s consent. It is
your uncle’s influence with him that gives you your chance. Do you not
care to avail yourself of it? Ever since he heard Dr. Shrapnel’s letter
to you, Colonel Halkett has, I am sure, been tempted to confound you
with him in his mind: ah! Nevil, but recollect that it is only Mr.
Romfrey who can help to give you your Cecilia. There is no dispensing
with him. Postpone your attempt to humiliate--I mean, that is, Oh!
Nevil, whatever you intend to do to overcome your uncle, trust to time,
be friends with him; be a little worldly! for her sake! to ensure her
happiness!’

Beauchamp obtained the information that his cousin Cecil had read out
the letter of Dr. Shrapnel at Mount Laurels.

The bell rang.

‘Do you imagine I should sit at my uncle’s table if I did not intend
to force him to repair the wrong he has done to himself and to us?’ he
said.

‘Oh! Nevil, do you not see Captain Baskelett at work here?’

‘What amends can Cecil Baskelett make? My uncle is a man of honour:
it is in his power. There, I leave you to speak to him; you will do it
to-night, after we break up in the drawing-room.’

Rosamund groaned: ‘An apology to Dr. Shrapnel from Mr. Romfrey! It is an
impossibility, Nevil! utter!’

‘So you say to sit idle: but do as I tell you.’

He went downstairs.

He had barely reproached her. She wondered at that; and then remembered
his alien sad half-smile in quitting the room.

Rosamund would not present herself at her lord’s dinner-table when there
were any guests at Steynham. She prepared to receive Miss Halkett in the
drawing-room, as the guests of the house this evening chanced to be her
friends.

Madame de Rouaillout’s present to her was a photograph of M. de
Croisnel, his daughter and son in a group. Rosamund could not bear to
look at the face of Renee, and she put it out of sight. But she had
looked. She was reduced to look again.

Roland stood beside his father’s chair; Renee sat at his feet, clasping
his right hand. M. de Croisnel’s fallen eyelids and unshorn white chin
told the story of the family reunion. He was dying: his two children
were nursing him to the end.

Decidedly Cecilia was a more beautiful woman than Renee: but on which
does the eye linger longest--which draws the heart? a radiant landscape,
where the tall ripe wheat flashes between shadow and shine in the
stately march of Summer, or the peep into dewy woodland on to dark
water?

Dark-eyed Renee was not beauty but attraction; she touched the double
chords within us which are we know not whether harmony or discord, but
a divine discord if an uncertified harmony, memorable beyond plain
sweetness or majesty. There are touches of bliss in anguish that
superhumanize bliss, touches of mystery in simplicity, of the eternal
in the variable. These two chords of poignant antiphony she struck
throughout the range of the hearts of men, and strangely intervolved
them in vibrating unison. Only to look at her face, without hearing her
voice, without the charm of her speech, was to feel it. On Cecilia’s
entering the drawing-room sofa, while the gentlemen drank claret,
Rosamund handed her the card of the photographic artist of Tours,
mentioning no names.

‘I should say the portrait is correct. A want of spirituality,’ Rosamund
said critically, using one of the insular commonplaces, after that
manner of fastening upon what there is not in a piece of Art or nature.

Cecilia’s avidity to see and study the face preserved her at a higher
mark.

She knew the person instantly; had no occasion to ask who this was. She
sat over the portrait blushing burningly: ‘And that is a brother?’ she
said.

‘That is her brother Roland, and very like her, except in complexion,’
said Rosamund.

Cecilia murmured of a general resemblance in the features. Renee
enchained her. Though but a sun-shadow, the vividness of this French
face came out surprisingly; air was in the nostrils and speech flew from
the tremulous mouth. The eyes? were they quivering with internal light,
or were they set to seem so in the sensitive strange curves of the
eyelids whose awakened lashes appeared to tremble on some borderland
between lustreful significance and the mists? She caught at the nerves
like certain aoristic combinations in music, like tones of a stringed
instrument swept by the wind, enticing, unseizable. Yet she sat there at
her father’s feet gazing out into the world indifferent to spectators,
indifferent even to the common sentiment of gracefulness. Her left hand
clasped his right, and she supported herself on the floor with the other
hand leaning away from him, to the destruction of conventional symmetry
in the picture. None but a woman of consummate breeding dared have
done as she did. It was not Southern suppleness that saved her from the
charge of harsh audacity, but something of the kind of genius in her
mood which has hurried the greater poets of sound and speech to impose
their naturalness upon accepted laws, or show the laws to have been our
meagre limitations.

The writer in this country will, however, be made safest, and the
excellent body of self-appointed thongmen, who walk up and down our
ranks flapping their leathern straps to terrorize us from experiments
in imagery, will best be satisfied, by the statement that she was
indescribable: a term that exacts no labour of mind from him or from
them, for it flows off the pen as readily as it fills a vacuum.

That posture of Renee displeased Cecilia and fascinated her. In an
exhibition of paintings she would have passed by it in pure displeasure:
but here was Nevil’s first love, the woman who loved him; and she
was French. After a continued study of her Cecilia’s growing jealousy
betrayed itself in a conscious rivalry of race, coming to the admission
that Englishwomen cannot fling themselves about on the floor without
agonizing the graces: possibly, too, they cannot look singularly
without risks in the direction of slyness and brazen archness; or talk
animatedly without dipping in slang. Conventional situations preserve
them and interchange dignity with them; still life befits them;
pre-eminently that judicial seat from which in briefest speech they
deliver their judgements upon their foreign sisters. Jealousy it was
that plucked Cecilia from her majestic place and caused her to envy in
Renee things she would otherwise have disapproved.

At last she had seen the French lady’s likeness! The effect of it was a
horrid trouble in Cecilia’s cool blood, abasement, a sense of eclipse,
hardly any sense of deserving worthiness: ‘What am I but an heiress!’
Nevil had once called her beautiful; his praise had given her beauty.
But what is beauty when it is outshone! Ask the owners of gems. You
think them rich; they are pining.

Then, too, this Renee, who looked electrical in repose, might
really love Nevil with a love that sent her heart out to him in his
enterprises, justifying and adoring him, piercing to the hero in
his very thoughts. Would she not see that his championship of the
unfortunate man Dr. Shrapnel was heroic?

Cecilia surrendered the card to Rosamund, and it was out of sight when
Beauchamp stepped in the drawing-room. His cheeks were flushed; he had
been one against three for the better part of an hour.

‘Are you going to show me the downs to-morrow morning?’ Cecilia said to
him; and he replied, ‘You will have to be up early.’

‘What’s that?’ asked the colonel, at Beauchamp’s heels.

He was volunteering to join the party of two for the early morning’s
ride to the downs. Mr. Romfrey pressed his shoulder, saying, ‘There’s no
third horse can do it in my stables.’

Colonel Halkett turned to him.

‘I had your promise to come over the kennels with me and see how I treat
a cry of mad dog, which is ninety-nine times out of a hundred mad fool
man,’ Mr. Romfrey added.

By that the colonel knew he meant to stand by Nevil still and offer him
his chance of winning Cecilia.

Having pledged his word not to interfere, Colonel Halkett submitted,
and muttered, ‘Ah! the kennels.’ Considering however what he had been
witnessing of Nevil’s behaviour to his uncle, the colonel was amazed at
Mr. Romfrey’s magnanimity in not cutting him off and disowning him.

‘Why the downs?’ he said.

‘Why the deuce, colonel?’ A question quite as reasonable, and Mr.
Romfrey laughed under his breath. To relieve an uncertainty in Cecilia’s
face, that might soon have become confusion, he described the downs
fronting the paleness of earliest dawn, and then their arch and curve
and dip against the pearly grey of the half-glow; and then, among their
hollows, lo, the illumination of the East all around, and up and away,
and a gallop for miles along the turfy thymy rolling billows, land to
left, sea to right, below you. ‘It’s the nearest hit to wings we can
make, Cecilia.’ He surprised her with her Christian name, which kindled
in her the secret of something he expected from that ride on the downs.
Compare you the Alps with them? If you could jump on the back of an
eagle, you might. The Alps have height. But the downs have swiftness.
Those long stretching lines of the downs are greyhounds in full career.
To look at them is to set the blood racing! Speed is on the downs,
glorious motion, odorous air of sea and herb, exquisite as in the isles
of Greece. And the Continental travelling ninnies leave England for
health!--run off and forth from the downs to the steamboat, the railway,
the steaming hotel, the tourist’s shivering mountain-top, in search of
sensations! There on the downs the finest and liveliest are at their
bidding ready to fly through them like hosts of angels.

He spoke somewhat in that strain, either to relieve Cecilia or prepare
the road for Nevil, not in his ordinary style; on the contrary, with a
swing of enthusiasm that seemed to spring of ancient heartfelt fervours.
And indeed soon afterward he was telling her that there on those downs,
in full view of Steynham, he and his wife had first joined hands.

Beauchamp sat silent. Mr. Romfrey despatched orders to the stables,
and Rosamund to the kitchen. Cecilia was rather dismayed by the formal
preparations for the ride. She declined the early cup of coffee. Mr.
Romfrey begged her to take it. ‘Who knows the hour when you ‘ll be
back?’ he said. Beauchamp said nothing.

The room grew insufferable to Cecilia. She would have liked to be wafted
to her chamber in a veil, so shamefully unveiled did she seem to be. But
the French lady would have been happy in her place! Her father kissed
her as fathers do when they hand the bride into the travelling-carriage.
His ‘Good-night, my darling!’ was in the voice of a soldier on duty.
For a concluding sign that her dim apprehensions pointed correctly, Mr.
Romfrey kissed her on the forehead. She could not understand how it
had come to pass that she found herself suddenly on this incline,
precipitated whither she would fain be going, only less hurriedly, less
openly, and with her secret merely peeping, like a dove in the breast.



CHAPTER XXXV. THE RIDE IN THE WRONG DIRECTION

That pure opaque of the line of downs ran luminously edged against the
pearly morning sky, with its dark landward face crepusculine yet clear
in every combe, every dotting copse and furze-bush, every wavy fall,
and the ripple, crease, and rill-like descent of the turf. Beauty of
darkness was there, as well as beauty of light above.

Beauchamp and Cecilia rode forth before the sun was over the line, while
the West and North-west sides of the rolling downs were stamped with
such firmness of dusky feature as you see on the indentations of a
shield of tarnished silver. The mounting of the sun behind threw an
obscurer gloom, and gradually a black mask overcame them, until the
rays shot among their folds and windings, and shadows rich as the black
pansy, steady as on a dialplate rounded with the hour.

Mr. Everard Romfrey embraced this view from Steynham windows, and loved
it. The lengths of gigantic ‘greyhound backs’ coursing along the South
were his vision of delight; no image of repose for him, but of the life
in swiftness. He had known them when the great bird of the downs was not
a mere tradition, and though he owned conscientiously to never having
beheld the bird, a certain mystery of holiness hung about the region
where the bird had been in his time. There, too, with a timely word
he had gained a wealthy and good wife. He had now sent Nevil to do the
same.

This astute gentleman had caught at the idea of a ride of the young
couple to the downs with his customary alacrity of perception as being
the very best arrangement for hurrying them to the point. At Steynham
Nevil was sure to be howling all day over his tumbled joss Shrapnel.
Once away in the heart of the downs, and Cecilia beside him, it was
a matter of calculation that two or three hours of the sharpening air
would screw his human nature to the pitch. In fact, unless each of them
was reluctant, they could hardly return unbetrothed. Cecilia’s consent
was foreshadowed by her submission in going: Mr. Romfrey had noticed her
fright at the suggestive formalities he cast round the expedition, and
felt sure of her. Taking Nevil for a man who could smell the perfume of
a ripe affirmative on the sweetest of lips, he was pretty well sure
of him likewise. And then a truce to all that Radical rageing and
hot-pokering of the country! and lie in peace, old Shrapnel! and get on
your legs when you can, and offend no more; especially be mindful not to
let fly one word against a woman! With Cecilia for wife, and a year of
marriage devoted to a son and heir, Nevil might be expected to resume
his duties as a naval officer, and win an honourable name for the
inheritance of the young one he kissed.

There was benevolence in these previsions of Mr. Romfrey, proving how
good it is for us to bow to despotic authority, if only we will bring
ourselves unquestioningly to accept the previous deeds of the directing
hand.

Colonel Halkett gave up his daughter for lost when she did not appear at
the breakfast-table: for yet more decidedly lost when the luncheon saw
her empty place; and as time drew on toward the dinner-hour, he began to
think her lost beyond hope, embarked for good and all with the madbrain.
Some little hope of a dissension between the pair, arising from the
natural antagonism of her strong sense to Nevil’s extravagance, had
buoyed him until it was evident that they must have alighted at an
inn to eat, which signified that they had overleaped the world and its
hurdles, and were as dreamy a leash of lovers as ever made a dreamland
of hard earth. The downs looked like dreamland through the long
afternoon. They shone as in a veil of silk-softly fair, softly dark. No
spot of harshness was on them save where a quarry South-westward gaped
at the evening sun.

Red light struck into that round chalk maw, and the green slopes and
channels and half-circle hollows were brought a mile-stride higher
Steynham by the level beams.

The poor old colonel fell to a more frequent repetition of the ‘Well!’
with which he had been unconsciously expressing his perplexed mind in
the kennels and through the covers during the day. None of the gentlemen
went to dress. Mr. Culbrett was indoors conversing with Rosamund
Culling.

‘What’s come to them?’ the colonel asked of Mr. Romfrey, who said
shrugging, ‘Something wrong with one of the horses.’ It had happened to
him on one occasion to set foot in the hole of a baked hedgehog that
had furnished a repast, not without succulence, to some shepherd of the
downs. Such a case might have recurred; it was more likely to cause an
upset at a walk than at a gallop: or perhaps a shoe had been cast; and
young people break no bones at a walking fall; ten to one if they do at
their top speed. Horses manage to kill their seniors for them: the young
are exempt from accident.

Colonel Halkett nodded and sighed: ‘I daresay they’re safe. It’s that
man Shrapnel’s letter--that letter, Romfrey! A private letter, I know;
but I’ve not heard Nevil disown the opinions expressed in it. I submit.
It’s no use resisting. I treat my daughter as a woman capable of judging
for herself. I repeat, I submit. I haven’t a word against Nevil except
on the score of his politics. I like him. All I have to say is, I don’t
approve of a republican and a sceptic for my son-in-law. I yield to you,
and my daughter, if she...!’

‘I think she does, colonel. Marriage ‘ll cure the fellow. Nevil will
slough his craze. Off! old coat. Cissy will drive him in strings. “My
wife!” I hear him.’ Mr. Romfrey laughed quietly. ‘It’s all “my country,”
 now. The dog’ll be uxorious. He wants fixing; nothing worse.’

‘How he goes on about Shrapnel!’

‘I shouldn’t think much of him if he didn’t.’

‘You’re one in a thousand, Romfrey. I object to seeing a man
worshipped.’

‘It’s Nevil’s green-sickness, and Shrapnel’s the god of it.’

‘I trust to heaven you’re right. It seems to me young fellows ought to
be out of it earlier.’

‘They generally are.’ Mr. Romfrey named some of the processes by which
they are relieved of brain-flightiness, adding philosophically, ‘This
way or that.’

His quick ear caught a sound of hoofs cantering down the avenue on the
Northern front of the house.

He consulted his watch. ‘Ten minutes to eight. Say a quarter-past for
dinner. They’re here, colonel.’

Mr. Romfrey met Nevil returning from the stables. Cecilia had
disappeared.

‘Had a good day?’ said Mr. Romfrey.

Beauchamp replied: ‘I’ll tell you of it after dinner,’ and passed by
him.

Mr. Romfrey edged round to Colonel Halkett, conjecturing in his mind:
They have not hit it; as he remarked: ‘Breakfast and luncheon have
been omitted in this day’s fare,’ which appeared to the colonel a
confirmation of his worst fears, or rather the extinction of his last
spark of hope.

He knocked at his daughter’s door in going upstairs to dress.

Cecilia presented herself and kissed him.

‘Well?’ said he.

‘By-and-by, papa,’ she answered. ‘I have a headache. Beg Mr. Romfrey to
excuse me.’

‘No news for me?’

She had no news.

Mrs. Culling was with her. The colonel stepped on mystified to his room.

When the door had closed Cecilia turned to Rosamund and burst into
tears. Rosamund felt that it must be something grave indeed for the
proud young lady so to betray a troubled spirit.

‘He is ill--Dr. Shrapnel is very ill,’ Cecilia responded to one or two
subdued inquiries in as clear a voice as she could command.

‘Where have you heard of him?’ Rosamund asked.

‘We have been there.’

‘Bevisham? to Bevisham?’ Rosamund was considering the opinion Mr.
Romfrey would form of the matter from the point of view of his horses.

‘It was Nevil’s wish,’ said Cecilia.

‘Yes? and you went with him,’ Rosamund encouraged her to proceed,
gladdened at hearing her speak of Nevil by that name; ‘you have not been
on the downs at all?’

Cecilia mentioned a junction railway station they had ridden to; and
thence, boxing the horses, by train to Bevisham. Rosamund understood
that some haunting anxiety had fretted Nevil during the night; in the
morning he could not withstand it, and he begged Cecilia to change
their destination, apparently with a vehemence of entreaty that had been
irresistible, or else it was utter affection for him had reduced her
to undertake the distasteful journey. She admitted that she was not the
most sympathetic companion Nevil could have had on the way, either going
or coming. She had not entered Dr. Shrapnel’s cottage. Remaining on
horseback she had seen the poor man reclining in his garden chair.
Mr. Lydiard was with him, and also his ward Miss Denham, who had been
summoned by telegraph by one of the servants from Switzerland. And
Cecilia had heard Nevil speak of his uncle to her, and too humbly, she
hinted. Nor had the expression of Miss Denham’s countenance in listening
to him pleased her; but it was true that a heavily burdened heart cannot
be expected to look pleasing. On the way home Cecilia had been compelled
in some degree to defend Mr. Romfrey. Blushing through her tears at the
remembrance of a past emotion that had been mixed with foresight, she
confessed to Rosamund she thought it now too late to prevent a rupture
between Nevil and his uncle. Had some one whom Nevil trusted and cared
for taken counsel with him and advised him before uncle and nephew met
to discuss this most unhappy matter, then there might have been hope. As
it was, the fate of Dr. Shrapnel had gained entire possession of Nevil.
Every retort of his uncle’s in reference to it rose up in him: he used
language of contempt neighbouring abhorrence: he stipulated for one sole
thing to win back his esteem for his uncle; and that was, the apology to
Dr. Shrapnel.

‘And to-night,’ Cecilia concluded, ‘he will request Mr. Romfrey to
accompany him to Bevisham to-morrow morning, to make the apology in
person. He will not accept the slightest evasion. He thinks Dr. Shrapnel
may die, and the honour of the family--what is it he says of it?’
Cecilia raised her eyes to the ceiling, while Rosamund blinked in
impatience and grief, just apprehending the alien state of the young
lady’s mind in her absence of recollection, as well as her bondage in
the effort to recollect accurately.

‘Have you not eaten any food to-day, Miss Halkett?’ she said; for it
might be the want of food which had broken her and changed her manner.

Cecilia replied that she had ridden for an hour to Mount Laurels.

‘Alone? Mr. Romfrey must not hear of that,’ said Rosamund.

Cecilia consented to lie down on her bed. She declined the dainties
Rosamund pressed on her. She was feverish with a deep and unconcealed
affliction, and behaved as if her pride had gone. But if her pride
had gone she would have eased her heart by sobbing outright. A similar
division harassed her as when her friend Nevil was the candidate for
Bevisham. She condemned his extreme wrath with his uncle, yet was
attracted and enchained by the fire of passionate attachment which
aroused it: and she was conscious that she had but shown obedience to
his wishes throughout the day, not sympathy with his feelings. Under
cover of a patient desire to please she had nursed irritation and
jealousy; the degradation of the sense of jealousy increasing the
irritation. Having consented to the ride to Dr. Shrapnel, should she
not, to be consistent, have dismounted there? O half heart! A whole
one, though it be an erring, like that of the French lady, does at least
live, and has a history, and makes music: but the faint and uncertain
is jarred in action, jarred in memory, ever behind the day and in the
shadow of it! Cecilia reviewed herself: jealous, disappointed, vexed,
ashamed, she had been all day a graceless companion, a bad actress:
and at the day’s close she was loving Nevil the better for what had
dissatisfied, distressed, and wounded her. She was loving him in
emulation of his devotedness to another person: and that other was
a revolutionary common people’s doctor! an infidel, a traitor to his
country’s dearest interests! But Nevil loved him, and it had become
impossible for her not to covet the love, or to think of the old
offender without the halo cast by Nevil’s attachment being upon him.
So intensely was she moved by her intertwisting reflections that in
an access of bodily fever she stood up and moved before the glass, to
behold the image of the woman who could be the victim of these childish
emotions: and no wonderful contrast struck her eyes; she appeared to
herself as poor and small as they. How could she aspire to a man like
Nevil Beauchamp? If he had made her happy by wooing her she would not
have adored him as she did now. He likes my hair, she said, smoothing
it out, and then pressing her temples, like one insane. Two minutes
afterward she was telling Rosamund her head ached less.

‘This terrible Dr. Shrapnel!’ Rosamund exclaimed, but reported that no
loud voices were raised in the dining-room.

Colonel Halkett came to see his daughter, full of anxiety and curiosity.
Affairs had been peaceful below, for he was ignorant of the expedition
to Bevisham. On hearing of it he frowned, questioned Cecilia as to
whether she had set foot on that man’s grounds, then said: ‘Ah! well, we
leave to-morrow: I must go, I have business at home; I can’t delay it.
I sanctioned no calling there, nothing of the kind. From Steynham to
Bevisham? Goodness, it’s rank madness. I’m not astonished you’re sick
and ill.’

He waited till he was assured Cecilia had no special matter to relate,
and recommending her to drink the tea Mrs. Culling had made for her, and
then go to bed and sleep, he went down to the drawing-room, charged with
the worst form of hostility toward Nevil, the partly diplomatic.

Cecilia smiled at her father’s mention of sleep. She was in the contest
of the two men, however inanimately she might be lying overhead, and the
assurance in her mind that neither of them would give ground, so similar
were they in their tenacity of will, dissimilar in all else, dragged her
this way and that till she swayed lifeless between them. One may be as
a weed of the sea while one’s fate is being decided. To love is to be on
the sea, out of sight of land: to love a man like Nevil Beauchamp is to
be on the sea in tempest. Still to persist in loving would be noble, and
but for this humiliation of utter helplessness an enviable power. Her
thoughts ran thus in shame and yearning and regret, dimly discerning
where her heart failed in the strength which was Nevil’s, though it was
a full heart, faithful and not void of courage. But he never brooded, he
never blushed from insufficiency-the faintness of a desire, the callow
passion that cannot fly and feed itself: he never tottered; he walked
straight to his mark. She set up his image and Renee’s, and cowered
under the heroical shapes till she felt almost extinct. With her weak
limbs and head worthlessly paining, the little infantile I within her
ceased to wail, dwindled beyond sensation. Rosamund, waiting on her
in the place of her maid, saw two big drops come through her closed
eyelids, and thought that if it could be granted to Nevil to look for a
moment on this fair and proud young lady’s loveliness in abandonment,
it would tame, melt, and save him. The Gods presiding over custom do not
permit such renovating sights to men.



CHAPTER XXXVI. PURSUIT OF THE APOLOGY OF Mr. ROMFREY TO DR. SHRAPNEL

The contest, which was an alternation of hard hitting and close
wrestling, had recommenced when Colonel Halkett stepped into the
drawing-room.

‘Colonel, I find they’ve been galloping to Bevisham and back,’ said Mr.
Romfrey.

‘I’ve heard of it,’ the colonel replied. Not perceiving a sign of
dissatisfaction on his friend’s face, he continued: ‘To that man
Shrapnel.’

‘Cecilia did not dismount,’ said Beauchamp.

‘You took her to that man’s gate. It was not with my sanction. You know
my ideas of the man.’

‘If you were to see him now, colonel, I don’t think you would speak
harshly of him.’

‘We ‘re not obliged to go and look on men who have, had their measure
dealt them.’

‘Barbarously,’ said Beauchamp.

Mr. Romfrey in the most placid manner took a chair. ‘Windy talk, that!’
he said.

Colonel Halkett seated himself. Stukely Culbrett turned a sheet of
manuscript he was reading.

Beauchamp began a caged lion’s walk on the rug under the mantelpiece.

‘I shall not spare you from hearing what I think of it, sir.’

‘We ‘ve had what you think of it twice over,’ said Mr. Romfrey. ‘I
suppose it was the first time for information, the second time for
emphasis, and the rest counts to keep it alive in your recollection.’

‘This is what you have to take to heart, sir; that Dr. Shrapnel is now
seriously ill.’

‘I’m sorry for it, and I’ll pay the doctor’s bill.’

‘You make it hard for me to treat you with respect.’

‘Fire away. Those Radical friends of yours have to learn a lesson, and
it’s worth a purse to teach them that a lady, however feeble she
may seem to them, is exactly of the strength of the best man of her
acquaintance.’

‘That’s well said!’ came from Colonel Halkett.

Beauchamp stared at him, amazed by the commendation of empty language.

‘You acted in error; barbarously, but in error,’ he addressed his uncle.

‘And you have got a fine topic for mouthing,’ Mr. Romfrey rejoined.

‘You mean to sit still under Dr. Shrapnel’s forgiveness?’

‘He’s taken to copy the Christian religion, has he?’

‘You know you were deluded when you struck him.’

‘Not a whit.’

‘Yes, you know it now: Mrs. Culling--’

‘Drag in no woman, Nevil Beauchamp!’

‘She has confessed to you that Dr. Shrapnel neither insulted her nor
meant to ruffle her.’

‘She has done no such nonsense.’

‘If she has not!--but I trust her to have done it.’

‘You play the trumpeter, you terrorize her.’

‘Into opening her lips wider; nothing else. I’ll have the truth from
her, and no mincing: and from Cecil Baskelett and Palmet.’

‘Give Cecil a second licking, if you can, and have him off to Shrapnel.’

‘You!’ cried Beauchamp.

At this juncture Stukely Culbrett closed the manuscript in his hands,
and holding it out to Beauchamp, said:

‘Here’s your letter, Nevil. It’s tolerably hard to decipher. It’s mild
enough; it’s middling good pulpit. I like it.’

‘What have you got there?’ Colonel Halkett asked him.

‘A letter of his friend Dr. Shrapnel on the Country. Read a bit,
colonel.’

‘I? That letter! Mild, do you call it?’ The colonel started back his
chair in declining to touch the letter.

‘Try it,’ said Stukely. ‘It’s the letter they have been making the noise
about. It ought to be printed. There’s a hit or two at the middle-class
that I should like to see in print. It’s really not bad pulpit; and
I suspect that what you object to, colonel, is only the dust of a
well-thumped cushion. Shrapnel thumps with his fist. He doesn’t say much
that’s new. If the parsons were men they’d be saying it every Sunday. If
they did, colonel, I should hear you saying, amen.’

‘Wait till they do say it.’

‘That’s a long stretch. They’re turn-cocks of one Water-company--to wash
the greasy citizens!’

‘You’re keeping Nevil on the gape;’ said Mr. Romfrey, with a whimsical
shrewd cast of the eye at Beauchamp, who stood alert not to be foiled,
arrow-like in look and readiness to repeat his home-shot. Mr. Romfrey
wanted to hear more of that unintelligible ‘You!’ of Beauchamp’s. But
Stukely Culbrett intended that the latter should be foiled, and he
continued his diversion from the angry subject.

‘We’ll drop the sacerdotals,’ he said. ‘They’re behind a veil for us,
and so are we for them. I’m with you, colonel; I wouldn’t have them
persecuted; they sting fearfully when whipped. No one listens to them
now except the class that goes to sleep under them, to “set an example”
 to the class that can’t understand them. Shrapnel is like the breeze
shaking the turf-grass outside the church-doors; a trifle fresher. He
knocks nothing down.’

‘He can’t!’ ejaculated the colonel.

‘He sermonizes to shake, that’s all. I know the kind of man.’

‘Thank heaven, it’s not a common species in England!’

‘Common enough to be classed.’

Beauchamp struck through the conversation of the pair: ‘Can I see you
alone to-night, sir, or to-morrow morning?’

‘You may catch me where you can,’ was Mr. Romfrey’s answer.

‘Where’s that? It’s for your sake and mine, not for Dr. Shrapnel’s. I
have to speak to you, and must. You have done your worst with him; you
can’t undo it. You have to think of your honour as a gentleman. I intend
to treat you with respect, but wolf is the title now, whether I say it
or not.’

‘Shrapnel’s a rather long-legged sheep?’

‘He asks for nothing from you.’

‘He would have got nothing, at a cry of peccavi!’

‘He was innocent, perfectly blameless; he would not lie to save himself.
You mistook that for--but you were an engine shot along a line of rails.
He does you the justice to say you acted in error.’

‘And you’re his parrot.’

‘He pardons you.’

‘Ha! t’ other cheek!’

‘You went on that brute’s errand in ignorance. Will you keep to the
character now you know the truth? Hesitation about it doubles the
infamy. An old man! the best of men! the kindest and truest! the most
unselfish!’

‘He tops me by half a head, and he’s my junior.’

Beauchamp suffered himself to give out a groan of sick derision: ‘Ah!’

‘And it was no joke holding him tight,’ said Mr. Romfrey, ‘I ‘d as lief
snap an ash. The fellow (he leaned round to Colonel Halkett) must be a
fellow of a fine constitution. And he took his punishment like a man.
I’ve known worse: and far worse: gentlemen by birth. There’s the choice
of taking it upright or fighting like a rabbit with a weasel in his
hole. Leave him to think it over, he’ll come right. I think no harm of
him, I’ve no animus. A man must have his lesson at some time of life. I
did what I had to do.’

‘Look here, Nevil,’ Stukely Culbrett checked Beauchamp in season: ‘I
beg to inquire what Dr. Shrapnel means by “the people.” We have in our
country the nobles and the squires, and after them, as I understand it,
the people: that’s to say, the middle-class and the working-class--fat
and lean. I’m quite with Shrapnel when he lashes the fleshpots. They
want it, and they don’t get it from “their organ,” the Press. I fancy
you and I agree about their organ; the dismallest organ that ever ground
a hackneyed set of songs and hymns to madden the thoroughfares.’

‘The Press of our country!’ interjected Colonel Halkett in moaning
parenthesis.

‘It’s the week-day Parson of the middle-class, colonel. They have their
thinking done for them as the Chinese have their dancing. But, Nevil,
your Dr. Shrapnel seems to treat the traders as identical with the
aristocracy in opposition to his “people.” The traders are the cursed
middlemen, bad friends of the “people,” and infernally treacherous to
the nobles till money hoists them. It’s they who pull down the country.
They hold up the nobles to the hatred of the democracy, and the
democracy to scare the nobles. One’s when they want to swallow a
privilege, and the other’s when they want to ring-fence their gains. How
is it Shrapnel doesn’t expose the trick? He must see through it. I like
that letter of his. People is one of your Radical big words that
burst at a query. He can’t mean Quince, and Bottom, and Starveling,
Christopher Sly, Jack Cade, Caliban, and poor old Hodge? No, no, Nevil.
Our clowns are the stupidest in Europe. They can’t cook their meals.
They can’t spell; they can scarcely speak. They haven’t a jig in their
legs. And I believe they’re losing their grin! They’re nasty when their
blood’s up. Shakespeare’s Cade tells you what he thought of Radicalizing
the people. “And as for your mother, I ‘ll make her a duke”; that ‘s one
of their songs. The word people, in England, is a dyspeptic agitator’s
dream when he falls nodding over the red chapter of French history. Who
won the great liberties for England? My book says, the nobles. And who
made the great stand later?--the squires. What have the middlemen done
but bid for the people they despise and fear, dishonour us abroad and
make a hash of us at home? Shrapnel sees that. Only he has got the
word people in his mouth. The people of England, my dear fellow, want
heading. Since the traders obtained power we have been a country on all
fours. Of course Shrapnel sees it: I say so. But talk to him and teach
him where to look for the rescue.’

Colonel Halkett said to Stukely: ‘If you have had a clear idea in what
you have just spoken, my head’s no place for it!’

Stukely’s unusually lengthy observations had somewhat heated him, and he
protested with earnestness: ‘It was pure Tory, my dear colonel.’

But the habitually and professedly cynical should not deliver themselves
at length: for as soon as they miss their customary incision of speech
they are apt to aim to recover it in loquacity, and thus it may be that
the survey of their ideas becomes disordered.

Mr. Culbrett endangered his reputation for epigram in a good cause, it
shall be said.

These interruptions were torture to Beauchamp. Nevertheless the end was
gained. He sank into a chair silent.

Mr. Romfrey wished to have it out with his nephew, of whose comic
appearance as a man full of thunder, and occasionally rattling, yet all
the while trying to be decorous and politic, he was getting tired. He
foresaw that a tussle between them in private would possibly be too hot
for his temper, admirably under control though it was.

‘Why not drag Cecil to Shrapnel?’ he said, for a provocation.

Beauchamp would not be goaded.

Colonel Halkett remarked that he would have to leave Steynham the next
day. His host remonstrated with him. The colonel said: ‘Early.’ He had
very particular business at home. He was positive, and declined every
inducement to stay. Mr. Romfrey glanced at Nevil, thinking, You poor
fool! And then he determined to let the fellow have five minutes alone
with him.

This occurred at midnight, in that half-armoury, half-library, which was
his private room.

Rosamund heard their voices below. She cried out to herself that it was
her doing, and blamed her beloved, and her master, and Dr. Shrapnel,
in the breath of her self-recrimination. The demagogue, the
over-punctilious gentleman, the faint lover, surely it must be reason
wanting in the three for each of them in turn to lead the other, by an
excess of some sort of the quality constituting their men’s natures, to
wreck a calm life and stand in contention! Had Shrapnel been commonly
reasonable he would have apologized to Mr. Romfrey, or had Mr. Romfrey,
he would not have resorted to force to punish the supposed offender, or
had Nevil, he would have held his peace until he had gained his bride.
As it was; the folly of the three knocked at her heart, uniting to bring
the heavy accusation against one poor woman, quite in the old way: the
Who is she? of the mocking Spaniard at mention of a social catastrophe.
Rosamund had a great deal of the pride of her sex, and she resented any
slur on it. She felt almost superciliously toward Mr. Romfrey and Nevil
for their not taking hands to denounce the plotter, Cecil Baskelett.
They seemed a pair of victims to him, nearly as much so as the wretched
man Shrapnel. It was their senselessness which made her guilty! And
simply because she had uttered two or three exclamations of dislike of
a revolutionary and infidel she was compelled to groan under her present
oppression! Is there anything to be hoped of men? Rosamund thought
bitterly of Nevil’s idea of their progress. Heaven help them! But the
unhappy creatures have ceased to look to a heaven for help.

We see the consequence of it in this Shrapnel complication.

Three men: and one struck down; the other defeated in his benevolent
intentions; the third sacrificing fortune and happiness: all three owing
their mischance to one or other of the vague ideas disturbing men’s
heads! Where shall we look for mother wit?--or say, common suckling’s
instinct? Not to men, thought Rosamund.

She was listening to the voices of Mr. Romfrey and Beauchamp in a fever.
Ordinarily the lord of Steynham was not out of his bed later than twelve
o’clock at night. His door opened at half-past one. Not a syllable was
exchanged by the couple in the hall. They had fought it out. Mr. Romfrey
came upstairs alone, and on the closing of his chamber-door she slipped
down to Beauchamp and had a dreadful hour with him that subdued her
disposition to sit in judgement upon men. The unavailing attempt to move
his uncle had wrought him to the state in which passionate thoughts pass
into speech like heat to flame. Rosamund strained her mental sight
to gain a conception of his prodigious horror of the treatment of Dr.
Shrapnel that she might think him sane: and to retain a vestige of
comfort in her bosom she tried to moderate and make light of as much as
she could conceive. Between the two efforts she had no sense but that of
helplessness. Once more she was reduced to promise that she would
speak the whole truth to Mr. Romfrey, even to the fact that she had
experienced a common woman’s jealousy of Dr. Shrapnel’s influence, and
had alluded to him jealously, spitefully, and falsely. There was no
mercy in Beauchamp. He was for action at any cost, with all the forces
he could gather, and without delays. He talked of Cecilia as his uncle’s
bride to him. Rosamund could hardly trust her ears when he informed her
he had told his uncle of his determination to compel him to accomplish
the act of penitence. ‘Was it prudent to say it, Nevil?’ she asked. But,
as in his politics, he disdained prudence. A monstrous crime had
been committed, involving the honour of the family. No subtlety of
insinuation, no suggestion, could wean him from the fixed idea that the
apology to Dr. Shrapnel must be spoken by his uncle in person.

‘If one could only imagine Mr. Romfrey doing it!’ Rosamund groaned.

‘He shall: and you will help him,’ said Beauchamp.

‘If you loved a woman half as much as you do that man!’

‘If I knew a woman as good, as wise, as noble as he!’

‘You are losing her.’

‘You expect me to go through ceremonies of courtship at a time like
this! If she cares for me she will feel with me. Simple compassion--but
let Miss Halkett be. I’m afraid I overtasked her in taking her to
Bevisham. She remained outside the garden. Ma’am, she is unsullied by
contact with a single shrub of Dr. Shrapnel’s territory.’

‘Do not be so bitterly ironical, Nevil. You have not seen her as I
have.’

Rosamund essayed a tender sketch of the fair young lady, and fancied
that she drew forth a sigh; she would have coloured the sketch, but he
commanded her to hurry off to bed, and think of her morning’s work.

A commission of which we feel we can accurately forecast the
unsuccessful end is not likely to be undertaken with an ardour that
might perhaps astound the presageing mind with unexpected issues.
Rosamund fulfilled hers in the style of one who has learnt a lesson,
and, exactly as she had anticipated, Mr. Romfrey accused her of coming
to him from a conversation with that fellow Nevil overnight. He shrugged
and left the house for his morning’s walk across the fields.

Colonel Halkett and Cecilia beheld him from the breakfast-room returning
with Beauchamp, who had waylaid him and was hammering his part in the
now endless altercation. It could be descried at any distance; and how
fine was Mr. Romfrey’s bearing!--truly noble by contrast, as of a grave
big dog worried by a small barking dog. There is to an unsympathetic
observer an intense vexatiousness in the exhibition of such pertinacity.
To a soldier accustomed at a glance to estimate powers of attack and
defence, this repeated puny assailing of a fortress that required years
of siege was in addition ridiculous. Mr. Romfrey appeared impregnable,
and Beauchamp mad. ‘He’s foaming again!’ said the colonel, and was only
ultra-pictorial. ‘Before breakfast!’ was a further slur on Beauchamp.

Mr. Romfrey was elevated by the extraordinary comicality of the notion
of the proposed apology to heights of humour beyond laughter, whence
we see the unbounded capacity of the general man for folly, and rather
commiserate than deride him. He was quite untroubled. It demanded
a steady view of the other side of the case to suppose of one whose
control of his temper was perfect, that he could be in the wrong. He at
least did not think so, and Colonel Halkett relied on his common sense.
Beauchamp’s brows were smouldering heavily, except when he had to talk.
He looked paleish and worn, and said he had been up early. Cecilia
guessed that he had not been to bed.

It was dexterously contrived by her host, in spite of the colonel’s
manifest anxiety to keep them asunder, that she should have some minutes
with Beauchamp out in the gardens. Mr. Romfrey led them out, and then
led the colonel away to offer him a choice of pups of rare breed.

‘Nevil,’ said Cecilia, ‘you will not think it presumption in me to give
you advice?’

Her counsel to him was, that he should leave Steynham immediately, and
trust to time for his uncle to reconsider his conduct.

Beauchamp urged the counter-argument of the stain on the family honour.

She hinted at expediency; he frankly repudiated it.

The downs faced them, where the heavenly vast ‘might have been’ of
yesterday wandered thinner than a shadow of to-day; weaving a story
without beginning, crisis, or conclusion, flowerless and fruitless, but
with something of infinite in it sweeter to brood on than the future of
her life to Cecilia.

‘If meanwhile Dr. Shrapnel should die, and repentance comes too late!’
said Beauchamp.

She had no clear answer to that, save the hope of its being an unfounded
apprehension. ‘As far as it is in my power, Nevil, I will avoid
injustice to him in my thoughts.’

He gazed at her thankfully. ‘Well,’ said he, ‘that’s like sighting the
cliffs. But I don’t feel home round me while the colonel is so strangely
prepossessed. For a high-spirited gentleman like your father to approve,
or at least accept, an act so barbarous is incomprehensible. Speak to
him, Cecilia, will you? Let him know your ideas.’

She assented. He said instantly, ‘Persuade him to speak to my uncle
Everard.’

She was tempted to smile.

‘I must do only what I think wise, if I am to be of service, Nevil.’

‘True, but paint that scene to him. An old man, utterly defenceless,
making no defence! a cruel error. The colonel can’t, or he doesn’t,
clearly get it inside him, otherwise I’m certain it would revolt him:
just as I am certain my uncle Everard is at this moment a stone-blind
man. If he has done a thing, he can’t question it, won’t examine it. The
thing becomes a part of him, as much as his hand or his head. He ‘s a
man of the twelfth century. Your father might be helped to understand
him first.’

‘Yes,’ she said, not very warmly, though sadly.

‘Tell the colonel how it must have been brought about. For Cecil
Baskelett called on Dr. Shrapnel two days before Mr. Romfrey stood at
his gate.’

The name of Cecil caused her to draw in her shoulders in a half-shudder.
‘It may indeed be Captain Baskelett who set this cruel thing in motion!’

‘Then point that out to your father, said he, perceiving a chance of
winning her to his views through a concrete object of her dislike, and
cooling toward the woman who betrayed a vulgar characteristic of her
sex; who was merely woman, unable sternly to recognize the doing of a
foul wrong because of her antipathy, until another antipathy enlightened
her.

He wanted in fact a ready-made heroine, and did not give her credit
for the absence of fire in her blood, as well as for the unexercised
imagination which excludes young women from the power to realize
unwonted circumstances. We men walking about the world have perhaps no
more imagination of matters not domestic than they; but what we have is
quick with experience: we see the thing we hear of: women come to it how
they can.

Cecilia was recommended to weave a narrative for her father, and
ultimately induce him, if she could, to give a gentleman’s opinion of
the case to Mr. Romfrey.

Her sensitive ear caught a change of tone in the directions she
received. ‘Your father will say so and so: answer him with this and
that.’ Beauchamp supplied her with phrases. She was to renew and renew
the attack; hammer as he did. Yesterday she had followed him: to-day she
was to march beside him--hardly as an equal. Patience! was the word she
would have uttered in her detection of the one frailty in his nature
which this hurrying of her off her feet opened her eyes to with unusual
perspicacity. Still she leaned to him sufficiently to admit that he had
grounds for a deep disturbance of his feelings.

He said: ‘I go to Dr. Shrapnel’s cottage, and don’t know how to hold
up my head before Miss Denham. She confided him to me when she left for
Switzerland!’

There was that to be thought of, certainly.

Colonel Halkett came round a box-bush and discovered them pacing
together in a fashion to satisfy his paternal scrutiny.

‘I’ve been calling you several times, my dear,’ he complained. ‘We start
in seven minutes. Bustle, and bonnet at once. Nevil, I’m sorry for this
business. Good-bye. Be a good boy, Nevil,’ he murmured kindheartedly,
and shook Beauchamp’s hand with the cordiality of an extreme relief in
leaving him behind.

The colonel and Mr. Romfrey and Beauchamp were standing on the
hall-steps when Rosamund beckoned the latter and whispered a request for
that letter of Dr. Shrapnel’s. ‘It is for Miss Halkett, Nevil.’

He plucked the famous epistle from his bulging pocketbook, and added a
couple of others in the same handwriting.

‘Tell her, a first reading--it’s difficult to read at first,’ he said,
and burned to read it to Cecilia himself: to read it to her with his
comments and explanations appeared imperative. It struck him in a flash
that Cecilia’s counsel to him to quit Steynham for awhile was good. And
if he went to Bevisham he would be assured of Dr. Shrapnel’s condition:
notes and telegrams from the cottage were too much tempered to console
and deceive him.

‘Send my portmanteau and bag after me to Bevisham,’ he said Rosamund,
and announced to the woefully astonish colonel that he would have the
pleasure of journeying in his company as far as the town.

‘Are you ready? No packing?’ said the colonel.

‘It’s better to have your impediments in the rear of you, and march!’
said Mr. Romfrey.

Colonel Halkett declined to wait for anybody. He shouted for his
daughter. The lady’s maid appeared, and then Cecilia with Rosamund.

‘We can’t entertain you, Nevil; we’re away to the island: I’m sorry,’
said the colonel; and observing Cecilia’s face in full crimson, he
looked at her as if he had lost a battle by the turn of events at the
final moment.

Mr. Romfrey handed Cecilia into the carriage. He exchanged a friendly
squeeze with the colonel, and offered his hand to his nephew. Beauchamp
passed him with a nod and ‘Good-bye, sir.’

‘Have ready at Holdesbury for the middle of the month,’ said Mr.
Romfrey, unruffled, and bowed to Cecilia.

‘If you think of bringing my cousin Baskelett, give me warning, sir,’
cried Beauchamp.

‘Give me warning, if you want the house for Shrapnel,’ replied his
uncle, and remarked to Rosamund, as the carriage wheeled round the
mounded laurels to the avenue, ‘He mayn’t be quite cracked. The fellow
seems to have a turn for catching his opportunity by the tail. He had
better hold fast, for it’s his last.’



CHAPTER XXXVII. CECILIA CONQUERED

The carriage rolled out of the avenue and through the park, for some
time parallel with the wavy downs. Once away from Steynham Colonel
Halkett breathed freely, as if he had dropped a load: he was free of his
bond to Mr. Romfrey, and so great was the sense of relief in him that he
resolved to do battle against his daughter, supposing her still lively
blush to be the sign of the enemy’s flag run up on a surrendered
citadel. His authority was now to be thought of: his paternal sanction
was in his own keeping. Beautiful as she looked, it was hardly credible
that a fellow in possession of his reason could have let slip his chance
of such a prize; but whether he had or had not, the colonel felt that
he occupied a position enabling him either to out-manoeuvre, or, if need
were, interpose forcibly and punish him for his half-heartedness.

Cecilia looked the loveliest of women to Beauchamp’s eyes, with her
blush, and the letters of Dr. Shrapnel in her custody, at her express
desire. Certain terms in the letters here and there, unsweet to ladies,
began to trouble his mind.

‘By the way, colonel,’ he said, ‘you had a letter of Dr. Shrapnel’s read
to you by Captain Baskelett.’

‘Iniquitous rubbish!’

‘With his comments on it, I dare say you thought it so. I won’t speak of
his right to make it public. He wanted to produce his impressions of it
and me, and that is a matter between him and me. Dr. Shrapnel makes
use of strong words now and then, but I undertake to produce a totally
different impression on you by reading the letter myself--sparing you’
(he turned to Cecilia) ‘a word or two, common enough to men who write
in black earnest and have humour.’ He cited his old favourite, the black
and bright lecturer on Heroes. ‘You have read him, I know, Cecilia.
Well, Dr. Shrapnel is another, who writes in his own style, not the
leading-article style or modern pulpit stuff. He writes to rouse.’

‘He does that to my temper,’ said the colonel.

‘Perhaps here and there he might offend Cecilia’s taste,’ Beauchamp
pursued for her behoof. ‘Everything depends on the mouthpiece. I should
not like the letter to be read without my being by;--except by men: any
just-minded man may read it: Seymour Austin, for example. Every line is
a text to the mind of the writer. Let me call on you to-morrow.’

‘To-morrow?’ Colonel Halkett put on a thoughtful air. ‘To-morrow we’re
off to the island for a couple of days; and there’s Lord Croyston’s
garden party, and the Yacht Ball. Come this evening-dine with us. No
reading of letters, please. I can’t stand it, Nevil.’

The invitation was necessarily declined by a gentleman who could not
expect to be followed by supplies of clothes and linen for evening wear
that day.

‘Ah, we shall see you some day or other,’ said the colonel.

Cecilia was less alive to Beauchamp’s endeavour to prepare her for the
harsh words in the letter than to her father’s insincerity. She would
have asked her friend to come in the morning next day, but for the dread
of deepening her blush.

‘Do you intend to start so early in the morning, papa?’ she ventured to
say; and he replied, ‘As early as possible.’

‘I don’t know what news I shall have in Bevisham, or I would engage to
run over to the island,’ said Beauchamp, with a flattering persistency
or singular obtuseness.

‘You will dance,’ he subsequently observed to Cecilia, out of the heart
of some reverie. He had been her admiring partner on the night before
the drive from Itchincope into Bevisham, and perhaps thought of her
graceful dancing at the Yacht Ball, and the contrast it would present to
his watch beside a sick man-struck down by one of his own family.

She could have answered, ‘Not if you wish me not to’; while smiling at
the quaint sorrowfulness of his tone.

‘Dance!’ quoth Colonel Halkett, whose present temper discerned a healthy
antagonism to misanthropic Radicals in the performance, ‘all young
people dance. Have you given over dancing?’

‘Not entirely, colonel.’

Cecilia danced with Mr. Tuckham at the Yacht Ball, and was vividly
mindful of every slight incident leading to and succeeding her lover’s
abrupt, ‘You will dance’ which had all passed by her dream-like up to
that hour his attempt to forewarn her of the phrases she would deem
objectionable in Dr. Shrapnel’s letter; his mild acceptation of her
father’s hostility; his adieu to her, and his melancholy departure on
foot from the station, as she drove away to Mount Laurels and gaiety.
Why do I dance? she asked herself. It was not in the spirit of
happiness. Her heart was not with Dr. Shrapnel, but very near him,
and heavy as a chamber of the sick. She was afraid of her father’s
favourite, imagining, from the colonel’s unconcealed opposition to
Beauchamp, that he had designs in the interests of Mr. Tuckham. But
the hearty gentleman scattered her secret terrors by his bluffness
and openness. He asked her to remember that she had recommended him to
listen to Seymour Austin, and he had done so, he said. Undoubtedly he
was much improved, much less overbearing.

He won her confidence by praising and loving her father, and when she
alluded to the wonderful services he had rendered on the Welsh estate,
he said simply that her father’s thanks repaid him. He recalled his
former downrightness only in speaking of the case of Dr. Shrapnel,
upon which, both with the colonel and with her, he was unreservedly
condemnatory of Mr. Romfrey. Colonel Halkett’s defence of the true
knight and guardian of the reputation of ladies, fell to pieces in the
presence of Mr. Tuckham. He had seen Dr. Shrapnel, on a visit to Mr.
Lydiard, whom he described as hanging about Bevisham, philandering as
a married man should not, though in truth he might soon expect to be
released by the death of his crazy wife. The doctor, he said, had been
severely shaken by the monstrous assault made on him, and had been most
unrighteously handled. The doctor was an inoffensive man in his private
life, detestable and dangerous though his teachings were. Outside
politics Mr. Tuckham went altogether with Beauchamp. He promised also
that old Mrs. Beauchamp should be accurately informed of the state of
matters between Captain Beauchamp and Mr. Romfrey. He left Mount Laurels
to go back in attendance on the venerable lady, without once afflicting
Cecilia with a shiver of well-founded apprehension, and she was grateful
to him almost to friendly affection in the vanishing of her unjust
suspicion, until her father hinted that there was the man of his heart.
Then she closed all avenues to her own.

A period of maidenly distress not previously unknown to her ensued.
Proposals of marriage were addressed to her by two untitled gentlemen,
and by the Earl of Lockrace: three within a fortnight. The recognition
of the young heiress’s beauty at the Yacht Ball was accountable for
the bursting out of these fires. Her father would not have deplored
her acceptance of the title of Countess of Lockrace. In the matter of
rejections, however, her will was paramount, and he was on her side
against relatives when the subject was debated among them. He called her
attention to the fact impressively, telling her that she should not
hear a syllable from him to persuade her to marry: the emphasis of which
struck the unspoken warning on her intelligence: Bring no man to me of
whom I do not approve!

‘Worthier of you, as I hope to become,’ Beauchamp had said. Cecilia lit
on that part of Dr. Shrapnel’s letter where ‘Fight this out within you,’
distinctly alluded to the unholy love. Could she think ill of the man
who thus advised him? She shared Beauchamp’s painful feeling for him in
a sudden tremour of her frame; as it were through his touch. To the rest
of the letter her judgement stood opposed, save when a sentence here and
there reminded her of Captain Baskelett’s insolent sing-song declamation
of it: and that would have turned Sacred Writing to absurdity.

Beauchamp had mentioned Seymour Austin as one to whom he would willingly
grant a perusal of the letter. Mr. Austin came to Mount Laurels about
the close of the yachting season, shortly after Colonel Halkett had
spent his customary days of September shooting at Steynham. Beauchamp’s
folly was the colonel’s theme, for the fellow had dragged Lord Palmet
there, and driven his uncle out of patience. Mr. Romfrey’s monumental
patience had been exhausted by him. The colonel boiled over with
accounts of Beauchamp’s behaviour toward his uncle, and Palmet, and
Baskelett, and Mrs. Culling: how he flew at and worried everybody who
seemed to him to have had a hand in the proper chastisement of that man
Shrapnel. That pestiferous letter of Shrapnel’s was animadverted on, of
course; and, ‘I should like you to have heard it, Austin,’ the colonel
said, ‘just for you to have a notion of the kind of universal blow-up
those men are scheming, and would hoist us with, if they could get a
little more blasting-powder than they mill in their lunatic heads.’

Now Cecilia wished for Mr. Austin’s opinion of Dr. Shrapnel; and as the
delicate state of her inclinations made her conscious that to give him
the letter covertly would be to betray them to him, who had once, not
knowing it, moved her to think of a possible great change in her life,
she mustered courage to say, ‘Captain Beauchamp at my request lent me
the letter to read; I have it, and others written by Dr. Shrapnel.’

Her father hummed to himself, and immediately begged Seymour Austin not
to waste his time on the stuff, though he had no idea that a perusal
of it could awaken other than the gravest reprehension in so rational a
Tory gentleman.

Mr. Austin read the letter through. He asked to see the other letters
mentioned by Cecilia, and read them calmly, without a frown or an
interjection. She sat sketching, her father devouring newspaper columns.

‘It’s the writing of a man who means well,’ Mr. Austin delivered his
opinion.

‘Why, the man’s an infidel!’ Colonel Halkett exclaimed.

‘There are numbers.’

‘They have the grace not to confess, then.’

‘It’s as well to know what the world’s made of, colonel. The clergy shut
their eyes. There’s no treating a disease without reading it; and if we
are to acknowledge a “vice,” as Dr. Shrapnel would say of the so-called
middle-class, it is the smirking over what they think, or their not
caring to think at all. Too many time-servers rot the State. I
can understand the effect of such writing on a mind like Captain
Beauchamp’s. It would do no harm to our young men to have those letters
read publicly and lectured on-by competent persons. Half the thinking
world may think pretty much the same on some points as Dr. Shrapnel;
they are too wise or too indolent to say it: and of the other half,
about a dozen members would be competent to reply to him. He is the
earnest man, and flies at politics as uneasy young brains fly to
literature, fancying they can write because they can write with a pen.
He perceives a bad adjustment of things: which is correct. He is honest,
and takes his honesty for a virtue: and that entitles him to believe in
himself: and that belief causes him to see in all opposition to him the
wrong he has perceived in existing circumstances: and so in a dream
of power he invokes the people: and as they do not stir, he takes to
prophecy. This is the round of the politics of impatience. The study of
politics should be guided by some light of statesmanship, otherwise it
comes to this wild preaching.

These men are theory-tailors, not politicians. They are the men who
make the “strait-waistcoat for humanity.” They would fix us to first
principles like tethered sheep or hobbled horses. I should enjoy
replying to him, if I had time. The whole letter is composed of
variations upon one idea. Still I must say the man interests me; I
should like to talk to him.’

Mr. Austin paid no heed to the colonel’s ‘Dear me! dear me!’ of
amazement. He said of the style of the letters, that it was the puffing
of a giant: a strong wind rather than speech: and begged Cecilia to note
that men who labour to force their dreams on mankind and turn vapour
into fact, usually adopt such a style. Hearing that this private letter
had been deliberately read through by Mr. Romfrey, and handed by him
to Captain Baskelett, who had read it out in various places, Mr. Austin
said:

‘A strange couple!’ He appeared perplexed by his old friend’s approval
of them. ‘There we decidedly differ,’ said he, when the case of Dr.
Shrapnel was related by the colonel, with a refusal to condemn Mr.
Romfrey. He pronounced Mr. Romfrey’s charges against Dr. Shrapnel, taken
in conjunction with his conduct, to be baseless, childish, and wanton.
The colonel would not see the case in that light; but Cecilia did. It
was a justification of Beauchamp; and how could she ever have been blind
to it?--scarcely blind, she remembered, but sensitively blinking her
eyelids to distract her sight in contemplating it, and to preserve her
repose. As to Beauchamp’s demand of the apology, Mr. Austin considered
that it might be an instance of his want of knowledge of men, yet
could not be called silly, and to call it insane was the rhetoric of an
adversary.

‘I do call it insane,’ said the colonel.

He separated himself from his daughter by a sharp division.

Had Beauchamp appeared at Mount Laurels, Cecilia would have been ready
to support and encourage him, boldly. Backed by Mr. Austin, she saw
some good in Dr. Shrapnel’s writing, much in Beauchamp’s devotedness.
He shone clear to her reason, at last: partly because her father in his
opposition to him did not, but was on the contrary unreasonable, cased
in mail, mentally clouded. She sat with Mr. Austin and her father,
trying repeatedly, in obedience to Beauchamp’s commands, to bring the
latter to a just contemplation of the unhappy case; behaviour on her
part which rendered the colonel inveterate.

Beauchamp at this moment was occupied in doing secretary’s work for
Dr. Shrapnel. So Cecilia learnt from Mr. Lydiard, who came to pay his
respects to Mrs. Wardour-Devereux at Mount Laurels. The pursuit of the
apology was continued in letters to his uncle and occasional interviews
with him, which were by no means instigated by the doctor, Mr. Lydiard
informed the ladies. He described Beauchamp as acting in the spirit of
a man who has sworn an oath to abandon every pleasure in life, that he
may, as far as it lies in his power, indemnify his friend for the wrong
done to him.

‘Such men are too terrible for me,’ said Mrs. Devereux.

Cecilia thought the reverse: Not for me! But she felt a strain upon her
nature, and she was miserable in her alienation from her father.
Kissing him one night, she laid her head on his breast, and begged his
forgiveness. He embraced her tenderly. ‘Wait, only wait; you will see I
am right,’ he said, and prudently said no more, and did not ask her to
speak.

She was glad that she had sought the reconciliation from her heart’s
natural warmth, on hearing some time later that M. de Croisnel was dead,
and that Beauchamp meditated starting for France to console his Renee.
Her continual agitations made her doubtful of her human feelings: she
clung to that instance of her filial stedfastness.

The day before Cecilia and her father left Mount Laurels for their
season in Wales, Mr. Tuckham and Beauchamp came together to the
house, and were closeted an hour with her father. Cecilia sat in the
drawing-room, thinking that she did indeed wait, and had great patience.
Beauchamp entered the room alone. He looked worn and thin, of a leaden
colour, like the cloud that bears the bolt. News had reached him of
the death of Lord Avonley in the hunting-field, and he was going on to
Steynham to persuade his uncle to accompany him to Bevisham and wash
the guilt of his wrong-doing off him before applying for the title. ‘You
would advise me not to go?’ he said. ‘I must. I should be dishonoured
myself if I let a chance pass. I run the risk of being a beggar: I’m all
but one now.’

Cecilia faltered: ‘Do you see a chance?’

‘Hardly more than an excuse for trying it,’ he replied.

She gave him back Dr. Shrapnel’s letters. ‘I have read them,’ was all
she said. For he might have just returned from France, with the breath
of Renee about him, and her pride would not suffer her to melt him in
rivalry by saying what she had been led to think of the letters.

Hearing nothing from her, he silently put them in his pocket. The
struggle with his uncle seemed to be souring him or deadening him.

They were not alone for long. Mr. Tuckham presented himself to take
his leave of her. Old Mrs. Beauchamp was dying, and he had only come
to Mount Laurels on special business. Beauchamp was just as anxious to
hurry away.

Her father found her sitting in the solitude of a drawing-room at
midday, pale-faced, with unoccupied fingers, not even a book in her lap.

He walked up and down the room until Cecilia, to say something, said:
‘Mr. Tuckham could not stay.’

‘No,’ said her father; ‘he could not. He has to be back as quick as he
can to cut his legacy in halves!’

Cecilia looked perplexed.

‘I’ll speak plainly,’ said the colonel. ‘He sees that Nevil has ruined
himself with his uncle. The old lady won’t allow Nevil to visit her; in
her condition it would be an excitement beyond her strength to bear. She
sent Blackburn to bring Nevil here, and give him the option of stating
before me whether those reports about his misconduct in France were true
or not. He demurred at first: however, he says they are not true. He
would have run away with the Frenchwoman, and he would have fought the
duel: but he did neither. Her brother ran ahead of him and fought for
him: so he declares and she wouldn’t run. So the reports are false. We
shall know what Blackburn makes of the story when we hear of the legacy.
I have been obliged to write word to Mrs. Beauchamp that I believe Nevil
to have made a true statement of the facts. But I distinctly say, and
so I told Blackburn, I don’t think money will do Nevil Beauchamp a
farthing’s worth of good. Blackburn follows his own counsel. He induced
the old lady to send him; so I suppose he intends to let her share the
money between them. I thought better of him; I thought him a wiser man.’

Gratitude to Mr. Tuckham on Beauchamp’s behalf caused Cecilia to praise
him, in the tone of compliments. The difficulty of seriously admiring
two gentlemen at once is a feminine dilemma, with the maidenly among
women.

‘He has disappointed me,’ said Colonel Halkett.

‘Would you have had him allow a falsehood to enrich him and ruin Nevil,
papa?’

‘My dear child, I’m sick to death of romantic fellows. I took Blackburn
for one of our solid young men. Why should he share his aunt’s fortune?’

‘You mean, why should Nevil have money?’

‘Well, I do mean that. Besides, the story was not false as far as
his intentions went: he confessed it, and I ought to have put it in a
postscript. If Nevil wants money, let him learn to behave himself like a
gentleman at Steynham.’

‘He has not failed.’

‘I’ll say, then, behave himself, simply. He considers it a point of
honour to get his uncle Everard to go down on his knees to Shrapnel. But
he has no moral sense where I should like to see it: none: he confessed
it.’

‘What were his words, papa?’

‘I don’t remember words. He runs over to France, whenever it suits him,
to carry on there...’ The colonel ended in a hum and buzz.

‘Has he been to France lately?’ asked Cecilia.

Her breath hung for the answer, sedately though she sat.

‘The woman’s father is dead, I hear,’ Colonel Halkett remarked.

‘But he has not been there?’

‘How can I tell? He’s anywhere, wherever his passions whisk him.’

‘No!’

‘I say, yes. And if he has money, we shall see him going sky-high and
scattering it in sparks, not merely spending; I mean living immorally,
infidelizing, republicanizing, scandalizing his class and his country.’

‘Oh no!’ exclaimed Cecilia, rising and moving to the window to feast her
eyes on driving clouds, in a strange exaltation of mind, secretly sure
now that her idea of Nevil’s having gone over to France was groundless;
and feeling that she had been unworthy of him who strove to be ‘worthier
of her, as he hoped to become.’

Colonel Halkett scoffed at her ‘Oh no,’ and called it woman’s logic.

She could not restrain herself. ‘Have you forgotten Mr. Austin, papa? It
is Nevil’s perfect truthfulness that makes him appear worse to you than
men who are timeservers. Too many time-servers rot the State, Mr. Austin
said. Nevil is not one of them. I am not able to judge or speculate
whether he has a great brain or is likely to distinguish himself out
of his profession: I would rather he did not abandon it: but Mr. Austin
said to me in talking of him...’

‘That notion of Austin’s of screwing women’s minds up to the pitch of
men’s!’ interjected the colonel with a despairing flap of his arm.

‘He said, papa, that honestly active men in a country, who decline to
practise hypocrisy, show that the blood runs, and are a sign of health.’

‘You misunderstood him, my dear.’

‘I think I thoroughly understood him. He did not call them wise. He said
they might be dangerous if they were not met in debate. But he said, and
I presume to think truly, that the reason why they are decried is, that
it is too great a trouble for a lazy world to meet them. And, he said,
the reason why the honest factions agitate is because they encounter
sneers until they appear in force. If they were met earlier, and
fairly--I am only quoting him--they would not, I think he said, or would
hardly, or would not generally, fall into professional agitation.’

‘Austin’s a speculative Tory, I know; and that’s his weakness,’ observed
the colonel. ‘But I’m certain you misunderstood him. He never would have
called us a lazy people.’

‘Not in matters of business: in matters of thought.’

‘My dear Cecilia! You’ve got hold of a language!... a way of speaking!
.... Who set you thinking on these things?’

‘That I owe to Nevil Beauchamp!

Colonel Halkett indulged in a turn or two up and down the room. He threw
open a window, sniffed the moist air, and went to his daughter to speak
to her resolutely.

‘Between a Radical and a Tory, I don’t know where your head has been
whirled to, my dear. Your heart seems to be gone: more sorrow for us!
And for Nevil Beauchamp to be pretending to love you while carrying on
with this Frenchwoman!’

‘He has never said that he loved me.’

The splendour of her beauty in humility flashed on her father, and he
cried out: ‘You are too good for any man on earth! We won’t talk in the
dark, my darling. You tell me he has never, as they say, made love to
you?’

‘Never, papa.’

‘Well, that proves the French story. At any rate, he ‘s a man of honour.
But you love him?’

‘The French story is untrue, papa.’

Cecilia stood in a blush like the burning cloud of the sunset.’

‘Tell me frankly: I’m your father, your old dada, your friend, my dear
girl! do you think the man cares for you, loves you?’

She replied: ‘I know, papa, the French story is untrue.’

‘But when I tell you, silly woman, he confessed it to me out of his own
mouth!’

‘It is not true now.’

‘It’s not going on, you mean? How do you know?’

‘I know.’

‘Has he been swearing it?’

‘He has not spoken of it to me.’

‘Here I am in a woman’s web!’ cried the colonel. ‘Is it your instinct
tells you it’s not true? or what? what? You have not denied that you
love the man.’

‘I know he is not immoral.’

‘There you shoot again! Haven’t you a yes or a no for your father?’

Cecilia cast her arms round his neck, and sobbed.

She could not bring it to her lips to say (she would have shunned the
hearing) that her defence of Beauchamp, which was a shadowed avowal
of the state of her heart, was based on his desire to read to her the
conclusion of Dr. Shrapnel’s letter touching a passion to be overcome;
necessarily therefore a passion that was vanquished, and the fullest
and bravest explanation of his shifting treatment of her: nor would she
condescend to urge that her lover would have said he loved her when they
were at Steynham, but for the misery and despair of a soul too noble
to be diverted from his grief and sense of duty, and, as she believed,
unwilling to speak to win her while his material fortune was in
jeopardy.

The colonel cherished her on his breast, with one hand regularly patting
her shoulder: a form of consolation that cures the disposition to sob as
quickly as would the drip of water.

Cecilia looked up into his eyes, and said, ‘We will not be parted, papa,
ever.’

The colonel said absently: ‘No’; and, surprised at himself, added: ‘No,
certainly not. How can we be parted? You won’t run away from me? No, you
know too well I can’t resist you. I appeal to your judgement, and I
must accept what you decide. But he is immoral. I repeat that. He has no
roots. We shall discover it before it’s too late, I hope.’

Cecilia gazed away, breathing through tremulous dilating nostrils.

‘One night after dinner at Steynham,’ pursued the colonel, ‘Nevil was
rattling against the Press, with Stukely Culbrett to prime him: and he
said editors of papers were growing to be like priests, and as timid as
priests, and arrogant: and for one thing, it was because they supposed
themselves to be guardians of the national morality. I forget exactly
what the matter was: but he sneered at priests and morality.’

A smile wove round Cecilia’s lips, and in her towering superiority
to one who talked nonsense, she slipped out of maiden shame and said:
‘Attack Nevil for his political heresies and his wrath with the Press
for not printing him. The rest concerns his honour, where he is quite
safe, and all are who trust him.’

‘If you find out you’re wrong?’

She shook her head.

‘But if you find out you’re wrong about him,’ her father reiterated
piteously, ‘you won’t tear me to strips to have him in spite of it?’

‘No, papa, not I. I will not.’

‘Well, that’s something for me to hold fast to,’ said Colonel Halkett,
sighing.



CHAPTER XXXVIII. LORD AVONLEY

Mr. Everard Romfrey was now, by consent, Lord Avonley, mounted on his
direct heirship and riding hard at the earldom. His elevation occurred
at a period of life that would have been a season of decay with most
men; but the prolonged and lusty Autumn of the veteran took new fires
from a tangible object to live for. His brother Craven’s death had
slightly stupefied, and it had grieved him: it seemed to him peculiarly
pathetic; for as he never calculated on the happening of mortal
accidents to men of sound constitution, the circumstance imparted a
curious shake to his own solidity. It was like the quaking of earth,
which tries the balance of the strongest. If he had not been raised
to so splendid a survey of the actual world, he might have been led to
think of the imaginary, where perchance a man may meet his old dogs
and a few other favourites, in a dim perpetual twilight. Thither at all
events Craven had gone, and goodnight to him! The earl was a rapidly
lapsing invalid. There could be no doubt that Everard was to be the head
of his House.

Outwardly he was the same tolerant gentleman who put aside the poor
fools of the world to walk undisturbed by them in the paths he had
chosen: in this aspect he knew himself: nor was the change so great
within him as to make him cognizant of a change. It was only a secret
turn in the bent of the mind, imperceptible as the touch of the cunning
artist’s brush on a finished portrait, which will alter the expression
without discomposing a feature, so that you cannot say it is another
face, yet it is not the former one. His habits were invariable, as were
his meditations. He thought less of Romfrey Castle than of his dogs and
his devices for trapping vermin; his interest in birds and beasts
and herbs, ‘what ninnies call Nature in books,’ to quote him, was
undiminished; imagination he had none to clap wings to his head and be
off with it. He betrayed as little as he felt that the coming Earl of
Romfrey was different from the cadet of the family.

A novel sharpness in the ‘Stop that,’ with which he crushed Beauchamp’s
affectedly gentle and unusually roundabout opening of the vexed Shrapnel
question, rang like a shot in the room at Steynham, and breathed a
different spirit from his customary easy pugnacity that welcomed and
lured on an adversary to wild outhitting. Some sorrowful preoccupation
is, however, to be expected in the man who has lost a brother, and some
degree of irritability at the intrusion of past disputes. He chose to
repeat a similar brief forbidding of the subject before they started
together for the scene of the accident and Romfrey Castle. No notice was
taken of Beauchamp’s remark, that he consented to go though his duty lay
elsewhere. Beauchamp had not the faculty of reading inside men, or he
would have apprehended that his uncle was engaged in silently heaping
aggravations to shoot forth one fine day a thundering and astonishing
counterstroke.

He should have known his uncle Everard better.

In this respect he seemed to have no memory. But who has much that has
given up his brains for a lodging to a single idea? It is at once a
devouring dragon, and an intractable steamforce; it is a tyrant that
has eaten up a senate, and a prophet with a message. Inspired of
solitariness and gigantic size, it claims divine origin. The world can
have no peace for it.

Cecilia had not pleased him; none had. He did not bear in mind that the
sight of Dr. Shrapnel sick and weak, which constantly reanimated his
feelings of pity and of wrath, was not given to the others of whom he
demanded a corresponding energy of just indignation and sympathy. The
sense that he was left unaided to the task of bending his tough uncle,
combined with his appreciation of the righteousness of the task to
embitter him and set him on a pedestal, from which he descended at every
sign of an opportunity for striking, and to which he retired continually
baffled and wrathful, in isolation.

Then ensued the dreadful division in his conception of his powers:
for he who alone saw the just and right thing to do, was incapable of
compelling it to be done. Lay on to his uncle as he would, that wrestler
shook him off. And here was one man whom he could not move! How move a
nation?

There came on him a thirst for the haranguing of crowds. They agree with
you or they disagree; exciting you to activity in either case. They do
not interpose cold Tory exclusiveness and inaccessibility. You have
them in the rough; you have nature in them, and all that is hopeful in
nature. You drive at, over, and through them, for their good; you plough
them. You sow them too. Some of them perceive that it is for their good,
and what if they be a minority? Ghastly as a minority is in an Election,
in a lifelong struggle it is refreshing and encouraging. The young world
and its triumph is with the minority. Oh to be speaking! Condemned to
silence beside his uncle, Beauchamp chafed for a loosed tongue and an
audience tossing like the well-whipped ocean, or open as the smooth
sea-surface to the marks of the breeze. Let them be hostile or amicable,
he wanted an audience as hotly as the humped Richard a horse.

At Romfrey Castle he fell upon an audience that became transformed into
a swarm of chatterers, advisers, and reprovers the instant his lips were
parted. The ladies of the family declared his pursuit of the Apology to
be worse and vainer than his politics. The gentlemen said the same, but
they were not so outspoken to him personally, and indulged in asides,
with quotations of some of his uncle Everard’s recent observations
concerning him: as for example, ‘Politically he’s a mad harlequin
jumping his tights and spangles when nobody asks him to jump; and in
private life he’s a mad dentist poking his tongs at my sound tooth:’
a highly ludicrous image of the persistent fellow, and a reminder of
situations in Moliere, as it was acted by Cecil Baskelett and Lord
Welshpool. Beauchamp had to a certain extent restored himself to favour
with his uncle Everard by offering a fair suggestion on the fatal field
to account for the accident, after the latter had taken measurements
and examined the place in perplexity. His elucidation of the puzzle was
referred to by Lord Avonley at Romfrey, and finally accepted as possible
and this from a wiseacre who went quacking about the county, expecting
to upset the order of things in England! Such a mixing of sense and
nonsense in a fellow’s noddle was never before met with, Lord Avonley
said. Cecil took the hint. He had been unworried by Beauchamp: Dr.
Shrapnel had not been mentioned: and it delighted Cecil to let it be
known that he thought old Nevil had some good notions, particularly
as to the duties of the aristocracy--that first war-cry of his when
a midshipman. News of another fatal accident in the hunting-field
confirmed Cecil’s higher opinion of his cousin. On the day of Craven’s
funeral they heard at Romfrey that Mr. Wardour-Devereux had been killed
by a fall from his horse. Two English gentlemen despatched by the same
agency within a fortnight! ‘He smoked,’ Lord Avonley said of the second
departure, to allay some perturbation in the bosoms of the ladies who
had ceased to ride, by accounting for this particular mishap in the
most reassuring fashion. Cecil’s immediate reflection was that the
unfortunate smoker had left a rich widow. Far behind in the race for
Miss Halkett, and uncertain of a settled advantage in his other rivalry
with Beauchamp, he fixed his mind on the widow, and as Beauchamp did not
stand in his way, but on the contrary might help him--for she, like the
generality of women, admired Nevil Beauchamp in spite of her feminine
good sense and conservatism--Cecil began to regard the man he felt
less opposed to with some recognition of his merits. The two nephews
accompanied Lord Avonley to London, and slept at his town-house.

They breakfasted together the next morning on friendly terms. Half an
hour afterward there was an explosion; uncle and nephews were scattered
fragments: and if Cecil was the first to return to cohesion with his
lord and chief, it was, he protested energetically, common policy in
a man in his position to do so: all that he looked for being a decent
pension and a share in the use of the town-house. Old Nevil, he related,
began cross-examining him and entangling him with the cunning of the
deuce, in my lord’s presence, and having got him to make an admission,
old Nevil flung it at the baron, and even crossed him and stood before
him when he was walking out of the room. A furious wrangle took place.
Nevil and the baron gave it to one another unmercifully. The end of it
was that all three flew apart, for Cecil confessed to having a temper,
and in contempt of him for the admission wrung out of him, Lord Avonley
had pricked it. My lord went down to Steynham, Beauchamp to Holdesbury,
and Captain Baskelett to his quarters; whence in a few days he repaired
penitently to my lord--the most placable of men when a full submission
was offered to him.

Beauchamp did nothing of the kind. He wrote a letter to Steynham in the
form of an ultimatum.

This egregious letter was handed to Rosamund for a proof of
her darling’s lunacy. She in conversation with Stukely Culbrett
unhesitatingly accused Cecil of plotting his cousin’s ruin.

Mr. Culbrett thought it possible that Cecil had been a little more than
humorous in the part he had played in the dispute, and spoke to him.

Then it came out that Lord Avonley had also delivered an ultimatum to
Beauchamp.

Time enough had gone by for Cecil to forget his ruffling, and relish the
baron’s grandly comic spirit in appropriating that big word Apology, and
demanding it from Beauchamp on behalf of the lady ruling his household.
What could be funnier than the knocking of Beauchamp’s blunderbuss out
of his hands, and pointing the muzzle at him!

Cecil dramatized the fun to amuse Mr. Culbrett. Apparently Beauchamp
had been staggered on hearing himself asked for the definite article he
claimed. He had made a point of speaking of the Apology. Lord Avonley
did likewise. And each professed to exact it for a deeply aggrieved
person: each put it on the ground that it involved the other’s rightful
ownership of the title of gentleman.

“‘An apology to the amiable and virtuous Mistress Culling?” says old
Nevil: “an apology? what for?”--“For unbecoming and insolent behaviour,”
 says my lord.’

‘I am that lady’s friend,’ Stukely warned Captain Baskelett. ‘Don’t let
us have a third apology in the field.’

‘Perfectly true; you are her friend, and you know what a friend of mine
she is,’ rejoined Cecil. ‘I could swear “that lady” flings the whole
affair at me. I give you my word, old Nevil and I were on a capital
footing before he and the baron broke up. I praised him for tickling the
aristocracy. I backed him heartily; I do now; I’ll do it in Parliament.
I know a case of a noble lord, a General in the army, and he received an
intimation that he might as well attend the Prussian cavalry manoeuvres
last Autumn on the Lower Rhine or in Silesia--no matter where. He
couldn’t go: he was engaged to shoot birds! I give you my word. Now
there I see old Nevil ‘s right. It ‘s as well we should know something
about the Prussian and Austrian cavalry, and if our aristocracy won’t go
abroad to study cavalry, who is to? no class in the kingdom understands
horses as they do. My opinion is, they’re asleep. Nevil should have
stuck to that, instead of trying to galvanize the country and turning
against his class. But fancy old Nevil asked for the Apology! It
petrified him. “I’ve told her nothing but the truth,” says Nevil.
“Telling the truth to women is an impertinence,” says my lord. Nevil
swore he’d have a revolution in the country before he apologized.’

Mr. Culbrett smiled at the absurdity of the change of positions between
Beauchamp and his uncle Everard, which reminded him somewhat of the old
story of the highwayman innkeeper and the market farmer who had been
thoughtful enough to recharge his pistols after quitting the inn at
midnight. A practical ‘tu quoque’ is astonishingly laughable, and backed
by a high figure and manner it had the flavour of triumphant repartee.
Lord Avonley did not speak of it as a retort upon Nevil, though he
reiterated the word Apology amusingly. He put it as due to the lady
governing his household; and his ultimatum was, that the Apology should
be delivered in terms to satisfy him within three months of the date of
the demand for it: otherwise blank; but the shadowy index pointed to the
destitution of Nevil Beauchamp.

No stroke of retributive misfortune could have been severer to Rosamund
than to be thrust forward as the object of humiliation for the man she
loved. She saw at a glance how much more likely it was (remote as the
possibility appeared) that her lord would perform the act of penitence
than her beloved Nevil. And she had no occasion to ask herself why. Lord
Avonley had done wrong, and Nevil had not. It was inconceivable that
Nevil should apologize to her. It was horrible to picture the act in
her mind. She was a very rational woman, quite a woman of the world, yet
such was her situation between these two men that the childish tale of
a close and consecutive punishment for sins, down to our little
naughtinesses and naturalnesses, enslaved her intelligence, and amazed
her with the example made of her, as it were to prove the tale true of
our being surely hauled back like domestic animals learning the habits
of good society, to the rueful contemplation of certain of our deeds,
however wildly we appeal to nature to stand up for them.

But is it so with all of us? No, thought Rosamund, sinking dejectedly
from a recognition of the heavenliness of the justice which lashed
her and Nevil, and did not scourge Cecil Baskelett. That fine eye for
celestially directed consequences is ever haunted by shadows of unfaith
likely to obscure it completely when chastisement is not seen to fall
on the person whose wickedness is evident to us. It has been established
that we do not wax diviner by dragging down the Gods to our level.

Rosamund knew Lord Avonley too well to harass him with further petitions
and explanations. Equally vain was it to attempt to persuade Beauchamp.
He made use of the house in London, where he met his uncle occasionally,
and he called at Steynham for money, that he could have obtained upon
the one condition, which was no sooner mentioned than fiery words
flew in the room, and the two separated. The leaden look in Beauchamp,
noticed by Cecilia Halkett in their latest interview, was deepening,
and was of itself a displeasure to Lord Avonley, who liked flourishing
faces, and said: ‘That fellow’s getting the look of a sweating smith’:
presumptively in the act of heating his poker at the furnace to stir the
country.

It now became an offence to him that Beauchamp should continue doing
this in the speeches and lectures he was reported to be delivering;
he stamped his foot at the sight of his nephew’s name in the daily
journals; a novel sentiment of social indignation was expressed by his
crying out, at the next request for money: ‘Money to prime you to
turn the country into a rat-hole? Not a square inch of Pennsylvanian
paper-bonds! What right have you to be lecturing and orationing? You’ve
no knowledge. All you’ve got is your instincts, and that you show in
your readiness to exhibit them like a monkey. You ought to be turned
inside out on your own stage. You’ve lumped your brains on a point or
two about Land, and Commonland, and the Suffrage, and you pound away
upon them, as if you had the key of the difficulty. It’s the Scotchman’s
metaphysics; you know nothing clear, and your working-classes know
nothing at all; and you blow them with wind like an over-stuffed cow.
What you’re driving at is to get hob-nail boots to dance on our heads.
Stukely says you should be off over to Ireland. There you’d swim in your
element, and have speechifying from instinct, and howling and pummelling
too, enough to last you out. I ‘ll hand you money for that expedition.
You’re one above the number wanted here. You’ve a look of bad powder fit
only to flash in the pan. I saved you from the post of public donkey, by
keeping you out of Parliament. You’re braying and kicking your worst
for it still at these meetings of yours. A naval officer preaching about
Republicanism and parcelling out the Land!’

Beauchamp replied quietly, ‘The lectures I read are Dr. Shrapnel’s. When
I speak I have his knowledge to back my deficiencies. He is too ill
to work, and I consider it my duty to do as much of his work as I can
undertake.’

‘Ha! You’re the old infidel’s Amen clerk. It would rather astonish
orthodox congregations to see clerks in our churches getting into the
pulpit to read the sermon for sick clergymen,’ said Lord Avonley. His
countenance furrowed. ‘I’ll pay that bill,’ he added.

‘Pay down half a million!’ thundered Beauchamp; and dropping his voice,
‘or go to him.’

‘You remind me,’ his uncle observed. ‘I recommend you to ring that bell,
and have Mrs. Culling here.’

‘If she comes she will hear what I think of her.’

‘Then, out of the house!’

‘Very well, sir. You decline to supply me with money?’

‘I do.’

‘I must have it!’

‘I dare say. Money’s a chain-cable for holding men to their senses.’

‘I ask you, my lord, how I am to carry on Holdesbury?’

‘Give it up.’

‘I shall have to,’ said Beauchamp, striving to be prudent.

‘There isn’t a doubt of it,’ said his uncle, upon a series of nods
diminishing in their depth until his head assumed a droll interrogative
fixity, with an air of ‘What next?’



CHAPTER XXXIX. BETWEEN BEAUCHAMP AND CECILIA

Beauchamp quitted the house without answering as to what next, and
without seeing Rosamund.

In the matter of money, as of his physical health, he wanted to do too
much at once; he had spent largely of both in his efforts to repair
the injury done to Dr. Shrapnel. He was overworked, anxious, restless,
craving for a holiday somewhere in France, possibly; he was all but
leaping on board the boat at times, and, unwilling to leave his dear
old friend who clung to him, he stayed, keeping his impulses below the
tide-mark which leads to action, but where they do not yield peace of
spirit. The tone of Renee’s letters filled him with misgivings. She
wrote word that she had seen M. d’Henriel for the first time since his
return from Italy, and he was much changed, and inclined to thank Roland
for the lesson he had received from him at the sword’s point. And next
she urged Beauchamp to marry, so that he and she might meet, as if she
felt a necessity for it. ‘I shall love your wife; teach her to think
amiably of me,’ she said. And her letter contained womanly sympathy for
him in his battle with his uncle. Beauchamp thought of his experiences
of Cecilia’s comparative coldness. He replied that there was no prospect
of his marrying; he wished there were one of meeting! He forbore from
writing too fervently, but he alluded to happy days in Normandy,
and proposed to renew them if she would say she had need of him. He
entreated her to deal with him frankly; he reminded her that she must
constantly look to him, as she had vowed she would, when in any kind of
trouble; and he declared to her that he was unchanged. He meant, of an
unchanged disposition to shield and serve her; but the review of her
situation, and his knowledge of her quick blood, wrought him to some
jealous lover’s throbs, which led him to impress his unchangeableness
upon her, to bind her to that standard.

She declined his visit: not now; ‘not yet’: and for that he presumed to
chide her, half-sincerely. As far as he knew he stood against everybody
save his old friend and Renee; and she certainly would have refreshed
his heart for a day. In writing, however, he had an ominous vision of
the morrow to the day; and, both for her sake and his own, he was not
unrejoiced to hear that she was engaged day and night in nursing her
husband. Pursuing his vision of the morrow of an unreproachful day with
Renee, the madness of taking her to himself, should she surrender at
last to a third persuasion, struck him sharply, now that he and his
uncle were foot to foot in downright conflict, and money was the
question. He had not much remaining of his inheritance--about fifteen
hundred pounds. He would have to vacate Holdesbury and his uncle’s
town-house in a month. Let his passion be never so desperate, for a
beggared man to think of running away with a wife, or of marrying one,
the folly is as big as the worldly offence: no justification is to be
imagined. Nay, and there is no justification for the breach of a moral
law. Beauchamp owned it, and felt that Renee’s resistance to him in
Normandy placed her above him. He remembered a saying of his moralist:
‘We who interpret things heavenly by things earthly must not hope to
juggle with them for our pleasures, and can look to no absolution of
evil acts.’ The school was a hard one. It denied him holidays; it cut
him off from dreams. It ran him in heavy harness on a rough highroad,
allowing no turnings to right or left, no wayside croppings; with the
simple permission to him that he should daily get thoroughly tired. And
what was it Jenny Denham had said on the election day? ‘Does incessant
battling keep the intellect clear?’

His mind was clear enough to put the case, that either he beheld a
tremendous magnification of things, or else that other men did not
attach common importance to them; and he decided that the latter was the
fact.

An incessant struggle of one man with the world, which position usually
ranks his relatives against him, does not conduce to soundness of
judgement. He may nevertheless be right in considering that he is right
in the main. The world in motion is not so wise that it can pretend to
silence the outcry of an ordinarily generous heart even--the very infant
of antagonism to its methods and establishments. It is not so difficult
to be right against the world when the heart is really active; but the
world is our book of humanity, and before insisting that his handwriting
shall occupy the next blank page of it, the noble rebel is bound for the
sake of his aim to ask himself how much of a giant he is, lest he fall
like a blot on the page, instead of inscribing intelligible characters
there.

Moreover, his relatives are present to assure him that he did not jump
out of Jupiter’s head or come of the doctor. They hang on him like an
ill-conditioned prickly garment; and if he complains of the irritation
they cause him, they one and all denounce his irritable skin.

Fretted by his relatives he cannot be much of a giant.

Beauchamp looked from Dr. Shrapnel in his invalid’s chair to his uncle
Everard breathing robustly, and mixed his uncle’s errors with those of
the world which honoured and upheld him. His remainder of equability
departed; his impatience increased. His appetite for work at Dr.
Shrapnel’s writing-desk was voracious. He was ready for any labour,
the transcribing of papers, writing from dictation, whatsoever was of
service to Lord Avonley’s victim: and he was not like the Spartan boy
with the wolf at his vitals; he betrayed it in the hue his uncle Everard
detested, in a visible nervousness, and indulgence in fits of scorn.
Sharp epigrams and notes of irony provoked his laughter more than fun.
He seemed to acquiesce in some of the current contemporary despair of
our immoveable England, though he winced at a satire on his country, and
attempted to show that the dull dominant class of moneymakers was the
ruin of her. Wherever he stood to represent Dr. Shrapnel, as against
Mr. Grancey Lespel on account of the Itchincope encroachments, he left a
sting that spread the rumour of his having become not only a black
torch of Radicalism--our modern provincial estateholders and their
wives bestow that reputation lightly--but a gentleman with the polish
scratched off him in parts. And he, though individually he did not
understand how there was to be game in the land if game-preserving was
abolished, signed his name R. C. S. NEVIL BEAUCHAMP for Dr. SHRAPNEL,
in the communications directed to solicitors of the persecutors of
poachers.

His behaviour to Grancey Lespel was eclipsed by his treatment of Captain
Baskelett. Cecil had ample reason to suppose his cousin to be friendly
with him. He himself had forgotten Dr. Shrapnel, and all other
dissensions, in a supremely Christian spirit. He paid his cousin the
compliment to think that he had done likewise. At Romfrey and in London
he had spoken to Nevil of his designs upon the widow: Nevil said nothing
against it and it was under Mrs. Wardour-Devereux’s eyes, and before a
man named Lydiard, that, never calling to him to put him on his guard,
Nevil fell foul of him with every capital charge that can be brought
against a gentleman, and did so abuse, worry, and disgrace him as to
reduce him to quit the house to avoid the scandal of a resort to a
gentleman’s last appeal in vindication of his character. Mrs. Devereux
spoke of the terrible scene to Cecilia, and Lydiard to Miss Denham. The
injured person communicated it to Lord Avonley, who told Colonel Halkett
emphatically that his nephew Cecil deserved well of him in having kept
command of his temper out of consideration for the family. There was a
general murmur of the family over this incident. The widow was rich, and
it ranked among the unwritten crimes against blood for one offshoot of a
great house wantonly to thwart another in the wooing of her by humbling
him in her presence, doing his utmost to expose him as a schemer, a
culprit, and a poltroon.

Could it be that Beauchamp had reserved his wrath with his cousin to
avenge Dr. Shrapnel upon him signally? Miss Denham feared her guardian
was the cause. Lydiard was indefinitely of her opinion. The idea struck
Cecilia Halkett, and as an example of Beauchamp’s tenacity of purpose
and sureness of aim it fascinated her. But Mrs. Wardour-Devereux did
not appear to share it. She objected to Beauchamp’s intemperateness
and unsparingness, as if she was for conveying a sisterly warning to
Cecilia; and that being off her mind, she added, smiling a little and
colouring a little: ‘We learn only from men what men are.’ How the scene
commenced and whether it was provoked, she failed to recollect. She
described Beauchamp as very self-contained in manner throughout his
tongue was the scorpion. Cecilia fancied he must have resembled his
uncle Everard.

Cecilia was conquered, but unclaimed. While supporting and approving
him in her heart she was dreading to receive some new problem of his
conduct; and still while she blamed him for not seeking an interview
with her, she liked him for this instance of delicacy in the present
state of his relations with Lord Avonley.

A problem of her own conduct disturbed the young lady’s clear conception
of herself: and this was a ruffling of unfaithfulness in her love of
Beauchamp, that was betrayed to her by her forgetfulness of him whenever
she chanced to be with Seymour Austin. In Mr. Austin’s company she
recovered her forfeited repose, her poetry of life, her image of the
independent Cecilia throned above our dust of battle, gazing on
broad heaven. She carried the feeling so far that Blackburn Tuckham’s
enthusiasm for Mr. Austin gave him grace in her sight, and praise of her
father’s favourite from Mr. Austin’s mouth made him welcome to her. The
image of that grave capable head, dusty-grey about the temples, and
the darkly sanguine face of the tried man, which was that of a seasoned
warrior and inspired full trust in him, with his vivid look, his
personal distinction, his plain devotion to the country’s business, and
the domestic solitude he lived in, admired, esteemed, loved perhaps, but
unpartnered, was often her refuge and haven from tempestuous Beauchamp.
She could see in vision the pride of Seymour Austin’s mate. It flushed
her reflectively. Conquered but not claimed, Cecilia was like the frozen
earth insensibly moving round to sunshine in nature, with one white
flower in her breast as innocent a sign of strong sweet blood as a woman
may wear. She ascribed to that fair mate of Seymour Austin’s many lofty
charms of womanhood; above all, stateliness: her especial dream of an
attainable superlative beauty in women. And supposing that lady to be
accused of the fickle breaking of another love, who walked beside him,
matched with his calm heart and one with him in counsel, would the
accusation be repeated by them that beheld her husband? might it not
rather be said that she had not deviated, but had only stepped higher?
She chose no youth, no glistener, no idler: it was her soul striving
upward to air like a seed in the earth that raised her to him: and she
could say to the man once enchaining her: Friend, by the good you taught
me I was led to this!

Cecilia’s reveries fled like columns of mist before the gale when
tidings reached her of a positive rupture between Lord Avonley and Nevil
Beauchamp, and of the mandate to him to quit possession of Holdesbury
and the London house within a certain number of days, because of his
refusal to utter an apology to Mrs. Culling. Angrily on his behalf she
prepared to humble herself to him. Louise Wardour-Devereux brought them
to a meeting, at which Cecilia, with her heart in her hand, was icy.
Mr. Lydiard, prompted by Mrs. Devereux, gave him better reasons for
her singular coldness than Cecilia could give to herself, and some time
afterward Beauchamp went to Mount Laurels, where Colonel Halkett mounted
guard over his daughter, and behaved, to her thinking, cruelly. ‘Now
you have ruined yourself there’s nothing ahead for you but to go to the
Admiralty and apply for a ship,’ he said, sugaring the unkindness with
the remark that the country would be the gainer. He let fly a side-shot
at London men calling themselves military men who sought to repair their
fortunes by chasing wealthy widows, and complimented Beauchamp: ‘You’re
not one of that sort.’

Cecilia looked at Beauchamp stedfastly. ‘Speak,’ said the look.

But he, though not blind, was keenly wounded.

‘Money I must have,’ he said, half to the colonel, half to himself.

Colonel Halkett shrugged. Cecilia waited for a directness in Beauchamp’s
eyes.

Her father was too wary to leave them.

Cecilia’s intuition told her that by leading to a discussion of
politics, and adopting Beauchamp’s views, she could kindle him. Why did
she refrain? It was that the conquered young lady was a captive, not an
ally. To touch the subject in cold blood, voluntarily to launch on those
vexed waters, as if his cause were her heart’s, as much as her heart was
the man’s, she felt to be impossible. He at the same time felt that the
heiress, endowing him with money to speed the good cause, should be
his match in ardour for it, otherwise he was but a common adventurer,
winning and despoiling an heiress.

They met in London. Beauchamp had not vacated either Holdesbury or the
town-house; he was defying his uncle Everard, and Cecilia thought
with him that it was a wise temerity. She thought with him passively
altogether. On this occasion she had not to wait for directness in his
eyes; she had to parry it. They were at a dinner-party at Lady Elsea’s,
generally the last place for seeing Lord Palmet, but he was present, and
arranged things neatly for them, telling Beauchamp that he acted
under Mrs. Wardour-Devereux’s orders. Never was an opportunity, more
propitious for a desperate lover. Had it been Renee next him, no petty
worldly scruples of honour would have held him back. And if Cecilia
had spoken feelingly of Dr. Shrapnel, or had she simulated a thoughtful
interest in his pursuits, his hesitations would have vanished. As it
was, he dared to look what he did not permit himself to speak. She was
nobly lovely, and the palpable envy of men around cried fool at his
delays. Beggar and heiress he said in his heart, to vitalize the
three-parts fiction of the point of honour which Cecilia’s beauty was
fast submerging. When she was leaving he named a day for calling to see
her. Colonel Halkett stood by, and she answered, ‘Come.’

Beauchamp kept the appointment. Cecilia was absent.

He was unaware that her father had taken her to old Mrs. Beauchamp’s
death-bed. Her absence, after she had said, ‘Come,’ appeared a
confirmation of her glacial manner when they met at the house of Mrs.
Wardour-Devereux; and he charged her with waywardness. A wound of the
same kind that we are inflicting is about the severest we can feel.

Beauchamp received intelligence of his venerable great-aunt’s death from
Blackburn Tuckham, and after the funeral he was informed that eighty
thousand pounds had been bequeathed to him: a goodly sum of money for a
gentleman recently beggared; yet, as the political enthusiast could not
help reckoning (apart from a fervent sentiment of gratitude toward his
benefactress), scarcely enough to do much more than start and push for
three or more years a commanding daily newspaper, devoted to Radical
interests, and to be entitled THE DAWN.

True, he might now conscientiously approach the heiress, take her hand
with an open countenance, and retain it.

Could he do so quite conscientiously? The point of honour had been
centred in his condition of beggary. Something still was in his way. A
quick spring of his blood for air, motion, excitement, holiday freedom,
sent his thoughts travelling whither they always shot away when his
redoubtable natural temper broke loose.

In the case of any other woman than Cecilia Halkett he would not have
been obstructed by the minor consideration as to whether he was wholly
heart-free to ask her in marriage that instant; for there was no
hindrance, and she was beautiful. She was exceedingly beautiful; and she
was an unequalled heiress. She would be able with her wealth to
float his newspaper, THE DAWN, so desired of Dr. Shrapnel!--the
best restorative that could be applied to him! Every temptation came
supplicating him to take the step which indeed he wished for: one
feeling opposed. He really respected Cecilia: it is not too much to say
that he worshipped her with the devout worship rendered to the ideal
Englishwoman by the heart of the nation. For him she was purity,
charity, the keeper of the keys of whatsoever is held precious by men;
she was a midway saint, a light between day and darkness, in whom the
spirit in the flesh shone like the growing star amid thin sanguine
colour, the sweeter, the brighter, the more translucent the longer
known. And if the image will allow it, the nearer down to him the holier
she seemed.

How offer himself when he was not perfectly certain that he was worthy
of her?

Some jugglery was played by the adept male heart in these later
hesitations. Up to the extent of his knowledge of himself, the man was
fairly sincere. Passion would have sped him to Cecilia, but passion is
not invariably love; and we know what it can be.

The glance he cast over the water at Normandy was withdrawn. He went
to Bevisham to consult with Dr. Shrapnel about the starting of a weekly
journal, instead of a daily, and a name for it--a serious question:
for though it is oftener weekly than daily that the dawn is visible
in England, titles must not invite the public jest; and the glorious
project of the daily DAWN was prudently abandoned for by-and-by. He
thought himself rich enough to put a Radical champion weekly in the
field and this matter, excepting the title, was arranged in Bevisham.
Thence he proceeded to Holdesbury, where he heard that the house,
grounds, and farm were let to a tenant preparing to enter. Indifferent
to the blow, he kept an engagement to deliver a speech at the great
manufacturing town of Gunningham, and then went to London, visiting his
uncle’s town-house for recent letters. Not one was from Renee: she had
not written for six weeks, not once for his thrice! A letter from Cecil
Baskelett informed him that ‘my lord’ had placed the town-house at his
disposal. Returning to dress for dinner on a thick and murky evening
of February, Beauchamp encountered his cousin on the steps. He said to
Cecil, ‘I sleep here to-night: I leave the house to you tomorrow.’

Cecil struck out his underjaw to reply: ‘Oh! good. You sleep here
to-night. You are a fortunate man. I congratulate you. I shall not
disturb you. I have just entered on my occupation of the house. I have
my key. Allow me to recommend you to go straight to the drawing-room.
And I may inform you that the Earl of Romfrey is at the point of death.
My lord is at the castle.’

Cecil accompanied his descent of the steps with the humming of an opera
melody: Beauchamp tripped into the hall-passage. A young maid-servant
held the door open, and she accosted him: ‘If you please, there is a
lady up-stairs in the drawing-room; she speaks foreign English, sir.’

Beauchamp asked if the lady was alone, and not waiting for the answer,
though he listened while writing, and heard that she was heavily veiled,
he tore a strip from his notebook, and carefully traced half-a-dozen
telegraphic words to Mrs. Culling at Steynham. His rarely failing
promptness, which was like an inspiration, to conceive and execute
measures for averting peril, set him on the thought of possibly
counteracting his cousin Cecil’s malignant tongue by means of a message
to Rosamund, summoning her by telegraph to come to town by the next
train that night. He despatched the old woman keeping the house, as
trustier than the young one, to the nearest office, and went up to
the drawing-room, with a quick thumping heart that was nevertheless as
little apprehensive of an especial trial and danger as if he had done
nothing at all to obviate it. Indeed he forgot that he had done anything
when he turned the handle of the drawing-room door.



CHAPTER XL. A TRIAL OF HIM

A low-burning lamp and fire cast a narrow ring on the shadows of the
dusky London room. One of the window-blinds was drawn up. Beauchamp
discerned a shape at that window, and the fear seized him that it might
be Madame d’Auffray with evil news of Renee: but it was Renee’s name he
called. She rose from her chair, saying, ‘I!’

She was trembling.

Beauchamp asked her whisperingly if she had come alone.

‘Alone; without even a maid,’ she murmured.

He pulled down the blind of the window exposing them to the square, and
led her into the light to see her face.

The dimness of light annoyed him, and the miserable reception of her;
this English weather, and the gloomy house! And how long had she been
waiting for him? and what was the mystery? Renee in England seemed
magical; yet it was nothing stranger than an old dream realized. He
wound up the lamp, holding her still with one hand. She was woefully
pale; scarcely able to bear the increase of light.

‘It is I who come to you’: she was half audible.

‘This time!’ said he. ‘You have been suffering?’

‘No.’

Her tone was brief; not reassuring.

‘You came straight to me?’

‘Without a deviation that I know of.’

‘From Tourdestelle?’

‘You have not forgotten Tourdestelle, Nevil?’

The memory of it quickened his rapture in reading her features. It was
his first love, his enchantress, who was here: and how? Conjectures shot
through him like lightnings in the dark.

Irrationally, at a moment when reason stood in awe, he fancied it must
be that her husband was dead. He forced himself to think it, and could
have smiled at the hurry of her coming, one, without even a maid: and
deeper down in him the devouring question burned which dreaded the
answer.

But of old, in Normandy, she had pledged herself to join him with no
delay when free, if ever free!

So now she was free.

One side of him glowed in illumination; the other was black as Winter
night; but light subdues darkness; and in a situation like Beauchamp’s,
the blood is livelier than the prophetic mind.

‘Why did you tell me to marry? What did that mean?’ said he. ‘Did you
wish me to be the one in chains? And you have come quite alone!--you
will give me an account of everything presently:--You are here! in
England! and what a welcome for you! You are cold.’

‘I am warmly clad,’ said Renee, suffering her hand to be drawn to his
breast at her arm’s-length, not bending with it.

Alive to his own indirectness, he was conscious at once of the slight
sign of reservation, and said: ‘Tell me...’ and swerved sheer away from
his question: ‘how is Madame d’Auffray?’

‘Agnes? I left her at Tourdestelle,’ said Renee.

‘And Roland? He never writes to me.’

‘Neither he nor I write much. He is at the military camp of instruction
in the North.’

‘He will run over to us.’

‘Do not expect it.’

‘Why not?’

Renee sighed. ‘We shall have to live longer than I look for...’ she
stopped. ‘Why do you ask me why not? He is fond of us both, and sorry
for us; but have you forgotten Roland that morning on the Adriatic?’

Beauchamp pressed her hand. The stroke of Then and Now rang in his
breast like a bell instead of a bounding heart. Something had stunned
his heart. He had no clear central feeling; he tried to gather it from
her touch, from his joy in beholding her and sitting with her alone,
from the grace of her figure, the wild sweetness of her eyes, and the
beloved foreign lips bewitching him with their exquisite French and
perfection of speech.

His nature was too prompt in responding to such a call on it for
resolute warmth.

‘If I had been firmer then, or you one year older!’ he said.

‘That girl in Venice had no courage,’ said Renee.

She raised her head and looked about the room.

Her instinct of love sounded her lover through, and felt the deficiency
or the contrariety in him, as surely as musical ears are pained by
a discord that they require no touchstone to detect. Passion has the
sensitiveness of fever, and is as cruelly chilled by a tepid air.

‘Yes, a London house after Venice and Normandy!’ said Beauchamp,
following her look.

‘Sicily: do not omit Syracuse; you were in your naval uniform: Normandy
was our third meeting,’ said Renee. ‘This is the fourth. I should have
reckoned that.’

‘Why? Superstitiously?’

‘We cannot be entirely wise when we have staked our fate. Sailors are
credulous: you know them. Women are like them when they embark... Three
chances! Who can boast of so many, and expect one more! Will you take me
to my hotel, Nevil?’

The fiction of her being free could not be sustained.

‘Take you and leave you? I am absolutely at your command. But leave you?
You are alone: and you have told me nothing.’

What was there to tell? The desperate act was apparent, and told all.

Renee’s dark eyelashes lifted on him, and dropped.

‘Then things are as I left them in Normandy?’ said he.

She replied: ‘Almost.’

He quivered at the solitary word; for his conscience was on edge. It ran
the shrewdest irony through him, inexplicably. ‘Almost’: that is, ‘with
this poor difference of one person, now finding herself worthless,
subtracted from the list; no other; it should be little to them as it
is little to you’: or, reversing it, the substance of the word became
magnified and intensified by its humble slightness: ‘Things are the
same, but for the jewel of the province, a lustre of France, lured
hither to her eclipse’--meanings various, indistinguishable, thrilling
and piercing sad as the half-tones humming round the note of a strung
wire, which is a blunt single note to the common ear.

Beauchamp sprang to his feet and bent above her: ‘You have come to me,
for the love of me, to give yourself to me, and for ever, for good, till
death? Speak, my beloved Renee.’

Her eyes were raised to his: ‘You see me here. It is for you to speak.’

‘I do. There’s nothing I ask for now--if the step can’t be retrieved.’

‘The step retrieved, my friend? There is no step backward in life.’

‘I am thinking of you, Renee.’

‘Yes, I know,’ she answered hurriedly.

‘If we discover that the step is a wrong one?’ he pursued: ‘why is there
no step backward?’

‘I am talking of women,’ said Renee.

‘Why not for women?’

‘Honourable women, I mean,’ said Renee.

Beauchamp inclined to forget his position in finding matter to contest.

Yet it is beyond contest that there is no step backward in life. She
spoke well; better than he, and she won his deference by it. Not only
she spoke better: she was truer, distincter, braver: and a man ever on
the look-out for superior qualities, and ready to bow to them, could not
refuse her homage. With that a saving sense of power quitted him.

‘You wrote to me that you were unchanged, Nevil.’

‘I am.’

‘So, then, I came.’

His rejoinder was the dumb one, commonly eloquent and satisfactory.

Renee shut her eyes with a painful rigour of endurance. She opened them
to look at him steadily.

The desperate act of her flight demanded immediate recognition from him
in simple language and a practical seconding of it. There was the test.

‘I cannot stay in this house, Nevil; take me away.’

She named her hotel in her French English, and the sound of it
penetrated him with remorseful pity. It was for him, and of his doing,
that she was in an alien land and an outcast!

‘This house is wretched for you,’ said he: ‘and you must be hungry. Let
me...’

‘I cannot eat. I will ask you’: she paused, drawing on her energies, and
keeping down the throbs of her heart: ‘this: do you love me?’

‘I love you with all my heart and soul.’

‘As in Normandy?’

‘Yes.’

‘In Venice?’

‘As from the first, Renee! That I can swear.’

‘Oaths are foolish. I meant to ask you--my friend, there is no question
in my mind of any other woman: I see you love me: I am so used to
consider myself the vain and cowardly creature, and you the boldest and
faithfullest of men, that I could not abandon the habit if I would: I
started confiding in you, sure that I should come to land. But I have to
ask you: to me you are truth: I have no claim on my lover for anything
but the answer to this:--Am I a burden to you?’

His brows flew up in furrows. He drew a heavy breath, for never had he
loved her more admiringly, and never on such equal terms. She was his
mate in love and daring at least. A sorrowful comparison struck him, of
a little boat sailing out to a vessel in deep seas and left to founder.

Without knotting his mind to acknowledge or deny the burden, for he
could do neither, he stood silent, staring at her, not so much in
weakness as in positive mental division. No, would be false; and Yes,
not less false; and if the step was irretrievable, to say Yes would be
to plunge a dagger in her bosom; but No was a vain deceit involving
a double wreck. Assuredly a man standing against the world in a good
cause, with a runaway wife on his hands, carries a burden, however
precious it be to him.

A smile of her lips, parted in an anguish of expectancy, went to death
over Renee’s face. She looked at him tenderly. ‘The truth,’ she murmured
to herself, and her eyelids fell.

‘I am ready to bear anything,’ said Beauchamp. ‘I weigh what you ask me,
that is all. You a burden to me? But when you ask me, you make me turn
round and inquire how we stand before the world.’

‘The world does not stone men,’ said Renee.

‘Can’t I make you feel that I am not thinking of myself?’ Beauchamp
stamped in his extreme perplexity. He was gagged; he could not possibly
talk to her, who had cast the die, of his later notions of morality and
the world’s dues, fees, and claims on us.

‘No, friend, I am not complaining.’ Renee put out her hand to him; with
compassionate irony feigning to have heard excuses. ‘What right have
I to complain? I have not the sensation. I could not expect you to be
everlastingly the sentinel of love. Three times I rejected you! Now
that I have lost my father--Oh! poor father: I trifled with my lover, I
tricked him that my father might live in peace. He is dead. I wished
you to marry one of your own countrywomen, Nevil. You said it was
impossible; and I, with my snake at my heart, and a husband grateful for
nursing and whimpering to me for his youth like a beggar on the road,
I thought I owed you this debt of body and soul, to prove to you I have
some courage; and for myself, to reward myself for my long captivity and
misery with one year of life: and adieu to Roland my brother! adieu to
friends! adieu to France! Italy was our home. I dreamed of one year
in Italy; I fancied it might be two; more than that was unimaginable.
Prisoners of long date do not hope; they do not calculate: air, light,
they say; to breathe freely and drop down! They are reduced to the
instincts of the beasts. I thought I might give you happiness, pay part
of my debt to you. Are you remembering Count Henri? That paints what
I was! I could fly to that for a taste of life! a dance to death! And
again you ask: Why, if I loved you then, not turn to you in preference?
No, you have answered it yourself, Nevil;--on that day in the boat, when
generosity in a man so surprised me, it seemed a miracle to me; and it
was, in its divination. How I thank my dear brother Roland for saving me
the sight of you condemned to fight, against your conscience! He taught
poor M. d’Henriel his lesson. You, Nevil, were my teacher. And see how
it hangs: there was mercy for me in not having drawn down my father’s
anger on my heart’s beloved. He loved you. He pitied us. He reproached
himself. In his last days he was taught to suspect our story: perhaps
from Roland; perhaps I breathed it without speaking. He called heaven’s
blessings on you. He spoke of you with tears, clutching my hand. He
made me feel he would have cried out: “If I were leaving her with Nevil
Beauchamp!” and “Beauchamp,” I heard him murmuring once: “take down
Froissart”: he named a chapter. It was curious: if he uttered my name
Renee, yours, “Nevil,” soon followed. That was noticed by Roland. Hope
for us, he could not have had; as little as I! But we were his two: his
children. I buried him--I thought he would know our innocence, and now
pardon our love. I read your letters, from my name at the beginning, to
yours at the end, and from yours back to mine, and between the lines,
for any doubtful spot: and oh, rash! But I would not retrace the step
for my own sake. I am certain of your love for me, though...’ She
paused: ‘Yes, I am certain of it. And if I am a burden to you?’

‘About as much as the air, which I can’t do without since I began to
breathe it,’ said Beauchamp, more clear-mindedly now that he supposed
he was addressing a mind, and with a peril to himself that escaped
his vigilance. There was a secret intoxication for him already in the
half-certainty that the step could not be retraced. The idea that he
might reason with her, made her seductive to the heart and head of him.

‘I am passably rich, Nevil,’ she said. ‘I do not care for money, except
that it gives wings. Roland inherits the chateau in Touraine. I have one
in Burgundy, and rentes and shares, my notary informs me.’

‘I have money,’ said he. His heart began beating violently. He lost
sight of his intention of reasoning. ‘Good God! if you were free!’

She faltered: ‘At Tourdestelle...’

‘Yes, and I am unchanged,’ Beauchamp cried out. ‘Your life there was
horrible, and mine’s intolerable.’ He stretched his arms cramped like
the yawning of a wretch in fetters. That which he would and would not
became so intervolved that he deemed it reasonable to instance their
common misery as a ground for their union against the world. And
what has that world done for us, that a joy so immeasurable should be
rejected on its behalf? And what have we succeeded in doing, that the
childish effort to move it should be continued at such a cost?

For years, down to one year back, and less--yesterday, it could be
said--all human blessedness appeared to him in the person of Renee,
given him under any condition whatsoever. She was not less adorable now.
In her decision, and a courage that he especially prized in women, she
was a sweeter to him than when he was with her in France: too sweet to
be looked at and refused.

‘But we must live in England,’ he cried abruptly out of his inner mind.

‘Oh! not England, Italy, Italy!’ Renee exclaimed: ‘Italy, or Greece:
anywhere where we have sunlight. Mountains and valleys are my dream.
Promise it, Nevil. I will obey you; but this is my wish. Take me through
Venice, that I may look at myself and wonder. We can live at sea, in a
yacht; anywhere with you but in England. This country frowns on me; I
can hardly fetch my breath here, I am suffocated. The people all walk in
lines in England. Not here, Nevil! They are good people, I am sure;
and it is your country: but their faces chill me, their voices grate;
I should never understand them; they would be to me like their fogs
eternally; and I to them? O me! it would be like hearing sentence in the
dampness of the shroud perpetually. Again I say I do not doubt that they
are very good: they claim to be; they judge others; they may know how to
make themselves happy in their climate; it is common to most creatures
to do so, or to imagine it. Nevil! not England!’

Truly ‘the mad commander and his French marquise’ of the Bevisham
Election ballad would make a pretty figure in England!

His friends of his own class would be mouthing it. The story would be
a dogging shadow of his public life, and, quite as bad, a reflection
on his party. He heard the yelping tongues of the cynics. He saw the
consternation and grief of his old Bevisham hero, his leader and his
teacher.

‘Florence,’ he said, musing on the prospect of exile and idleness:
‘there’s a kind of society to be had in Florence.’

Renee asked him if he cared so much for society.

He replied that women must have it, just as men must have exercise.

‘Old women, Nevil; intriguers, tattlers.’

‘Young women, Renee.’

She signified no.

He shook the head of superior knowledge paternally.

Her instinct of comedy set a dimple faintly working in her cheek.

‘Not if they love, Nevil.’

‘At least,’ said he, ‘a man does not like to see the woman he loves
banished by society and browbeaten.’

‘Putting me aside, do you care for it, Nevil?’

‘Personally not a jot.’

‘I am convinced of that,’ said Renee.

She spoke suspiciously sweetly, appearing perfect candour.

The change in him was perceptible to her. The nature of the change was
unfathomable.

She tried her wits at the riddle. But though she could be an actress
before him with little difficulty, the torment of her situation roused
the fever within her at a bare effort to think acutely. Scarlet suffused
her face: her brain whirled.

‘Remember, dearest, I have but offered myself: you have your choice.
I can pass on. Yes, I know well I speak to Nevil Beauchamp; you have
drilled me to trust you and your word as a soldier trusts to his
officer--once a faint-hearted soldier! I need not remind you: fronting
the enemy now, in hard truth. But I want your whole heart to decide.
Give me no silly, compassion! Would it have been better to me to have
written to you? If I had written I should have clipped my glorious
impulse, brought myself down to earth with my own arrow. I did not
write, for I believed in you.’

So firm had been her faith in him that her visions of him on the passage
to England had resolved all to one flash of blood-warm welcome awaiting
her: and it says much for her natural generosity that the savage
delicacy of a woman placed as she now was, did not take a mortal hurt
from the apparent voidness of this home of his bosom. The passionate
gladness of the lover was wanting: the chivalrous valiancy of manful
joy.

Renee shivered at the cloud thickening over her new light of intrepid
defiant life.

‘Think it not improbable that I have weighed everything I surrender in
quitting France,’ she said.

Remorse wrestled with Beauchamp and flung him at her feet.

Renee remarked on the lateness of the hour.

He promised to conduct her to her hotel immediately.

‘And to-morrow?’ said Renee, simply, but breathlessly.

‘To-morrow, let it be Italy! But first I telegraph to Roland and
Tourdestelle. I can’t run and hide. The step may be retrieved: or no,
you are right; the step cannot, but the next to it may be stopped--that
was the meaning I had! I ‘ll try. It ‘s cutting my hand off, tearing my
heart out; but I will. O that you were free! You left your husband at
Tourdestelle?’

‘I presume he is there at present: he was in Paris when I left.’

Beauchamp spoke hoarsely and incoherently in contrast with her
composure: ‘You will misunderstand me for a day or two, Renee. I say if
you were free I should have my first love mine for ever. Don’t fear me:
I have no right even to press your fingers. He may throw you into my
arms. Now you are the same as if you were in your own home: and you
must accept me for your guide. By all I hope for in life, I’ll see you
through it, and keep the dogs from barking, if I can. Thousands are
ready to give tongue. And if they can get me in the character of a
law-breaker!--I hear them.’

‘Are you imagining, Nevil, that there is a possibility of my returning
to him?’

‘To your place in the world! You have not had to endure tyranny?’

‘I should have had a certain respect for a tyrant, Nevil. At least I
should have had an occupation in mocking him and conspiring against him.
Tyranny! There would have been some amusement to me in that.’

‘It was neglect.’

‘If I could still charge it on neglect, Nevil! Neglect is very
endurable. He rewards me for nursing him... he rewards me with a little
persecution: wives should be flattered by it: it comes late.’

‘What?’ cried Beauchamp, oppressed and impatient.

Renee sank her voice.

Something in the run of the unaccented French: ‘Son amour, mon ami’:
drove the significance of the bitterness of the life she had left behind
her burningly through him. This was to have fled from a dragon! was the
lover’s thought: he perceived the motive of her flight: and it was a
vindication of it that appealed to him irresistibly. The proposal for
her return grew hideous: and this ever multiplying horror and sting of
the love of a married woman came on him with a fresh throbbing shock,
more venom.

He felt for himself now, and now he was full of feeling for her.
Impossible that she should return! Tourdestelle shone to him like a
gaping chasm of fire. And becoming entirely selfish he impressed his
total abnegation of self upon Renee so that she could have worshipped
him. A lover that was like a starry frost, froze her veins, bewildered
her intelligence. She yearned for meridian warmth, for repose in a
directing hand; and let it be hard as one that grasps a sword: what
matter? unhesitatingness was the warrior virtue of her desire. And for
herself the worst might happen if only she were borne along. Let her
life be torn and streaming like the flag of battle, it must be forward
to the end.

That was a quality of godless young heroism not unexhausted in
Beauchamp’s blood. Reanimated by him, she awakened his imagination of
the vagrant splendours of existence and the rebel delights which have
their own laws and ‘nature’ for an applauding mother. Radiant Alps rose
in his eyes, and the morning born in the night suns that from mountain
and valley, over sea and desert, called on all earth to witness their
death. The magnificence of the contempt of humanity posed before him
superbly satanesque, grand as thunder among the crags and it was not
a sensual cry that summoned him from his pedlar labours, pack on back
along the level road, to live and breathe deep, gloriously mated: Renee
kindled his romantic spirit, and could strike the feeling into him that
to be proud of his possession of her was to conquer the fretful vanity
to possess. She was not a woman of wiles and lures.

Once or twice she consulted her watch: but as she professed to have no
hunger, Beauchamp’s entreaty to her to stay prevailed, and the subtle
form of compliment to his knightly manliness in her remaining with
him, gave him a new sense of pleasure that hung round her companionable
conversation, deepening the meaning of the words, or sometimes
contrasting the sweet surface commonplace with the undercurrent of
strangeness in their hearts, and the reality of a tragic position. Her
musical volubility flowed to entrance and divert him, as it did.

Suddenly Beauchamp glanced upward.

Renee turned from a startled contemplation of his frown, and beheld Mrs.
Rosamund Culling in the room.



CHAPTER XLI. A LAME VICTORY

The intruder was not a person that had power to divide them; yet she
came between their hearts with a touch of steel.

‘I am here in obedience to your commands in your telegram of this
evening,’ Rosamund replied to Beauchamp’s hard stare at her; she
courteously spoke French, and acquitted herself demurely of a bow to the
lady present.

Renee withdrew her serious eyes from Beauchamp. She rose and
acknowledged the bow.

‘It is my first visit to England, madame!

‘I could have desired, Madame la marquise, more agreeable weather for
you.’

‘My friends in England will dispel the bad weather for me, madame’;
Renee smiled softly: ‘I have been studying my French-English
phrase-book, that I may learn how dialogues are conducted in your
country to lead to certain ceremonies when old friends meet, and without
my book I am at fault. I am longing to be embraced by you... if it will
not be offending your rules?’

Rosamund succumbed to the seductive woman, whose gentle tooth bit
through her tutored simplicity of manner and natural graciousness,
administering its reproof, and eluding a retort or an excuse.

She gave the embrace. In doing so she fell upon her conscious
awkwardness for an expression of reserve that should be as good as irony
for irony, though where Madame de Rouaillout’s irony lay, or whether
it was irony at all, our excellent English dame could not have stated,
after the feeling of indignant prudery responding to it so guiltily had
subsided.

Beauchamp asked her if she had brought servants with her; and it
gratified her to see that he was no actor fitted to carry a scene
through in virtue’s name and vice’s mask with this actress.

She replied, ‘I have brought a man and a maid-servant. The establishment
will be in town the day after tomorrow, in time for my lord’s return
from the Castle.’

‘You can have them up to-morrow morning.’

‘I could,’ Rosamund admitted the possibility. Her idolatry of him was
tried on hearing him press the hospitality of the house upon Madame de
Rouaillout, and observing the lady’s transparent feint of a reluctant
yielding. For the voluble Frenchwoman scarcely found a word to utter:
she protested languidly that she preferred the independence of her
hotel, and fluttered a singular look at him, as if overcome by his
vehement determination to have her in the house. Undoubtedly she had
a taking face and style. His infatuation, nevertheless, appeared to
Rosamund utter dementedness, considering this woman’s position, and
Cecilia Halkett’s beauty and wealth, and that the house was no longer
at his disposal. He was really distracted, to judge by his forehead, or
else he was over-acting his part.

The absence of a cook in the house, Rosamund remarked, must prevent her
from seconding Captain Beauchamp’s invitation.

He turned on her witheringly. ‘The telegraph will do that. You’re in
London; cooks can be had by dozens. Madame de Rouaillout is alone here;
she has come to see a little of England, and you will do the honours of
the house.’

‘M. le marquis is not in London?’ said Rosamund, disregarding the dumb
imprecation she saw on Beauchamp’s features.

‘No, madame, my husband is not in London,’ Renee rejoined collectedly.

‘See to the necessary comforts of the house instantly,’ said Beauchamp,
and telling Renee, without listening to her, that he had to issue
orders, he led Rosamund, who was out of breath at the effrontery of the
pair, toward the door. ‘Are you blind, ma’am? Have you gone foolish?
What should I have sent for you for, but to protect her? I see your
mind; and off with the prude, pray! Madame will have my room; clear away
every sign of me there. I sleep out; I can find a bed anywhere. And bolt
and chain the house-door to-night against Cecil Baskelett; he informs me
that he has taken possession.’

Rosamund’s countenance had become less austere.

‘Captain Baskelett!’ she exclaimed, leaning to Beauchamp’s views on the
side of her animosity to Cecil; ‘he has been promised by his uncle the
use of a set of rooms during the year, when the mistress of the house
is not in occupation. I stipulated expressly that he was to see you and
suit himself to your convenience, and to let me hear that you and he had
agreed to an arrangement, before he entered the house. He has no right
to be here, and I shall have no hesitation in locking him out.’

Beauchamp bade her go, and not be away more than five minutes; and then
he would drive to the hotel for the luggage.

She scanned him for a look of ingenuousness that might be trusted, and
laughed in her heart at her credulity for expecting it of a man in such
a case. She saw Renee sitting stonily, too proudly self-respecting to
put on a mask of flippant ease. These lovers might be accomplices in
deceiving her; they were not happy ones, and that appeared to her to be
some assurance that she did well in obeying him.

Beauchamp closed the door on her. He walked back to Renee with a
thoughtful air that was consciously acted; his only thought being--now
she knows me!

Renee looked up at him once. Her eyes were unaccusing, unquestioning.

With the violation of the secresy of her flight she had lost her
initiative and her intrepidity. The world of human eyes glared on her
through the windows of the two she had been exposed to, paralyzing her
brain and caging her spirit of revolt. That keen wakefulness of her
self-defensive social instinct helped her to an understanding of her
lover’s plan to preserve her reputation, or rather to give her a corner
of retreat in shielding the worthless thing--twice detested as her cloak
of slavery coming from him! She comprehended no more. She was a house of
nerves crowding in against her soul like fiery thorns, and had no
space within her torture for a sensation of gratitude or suspicion; but
feeling herself hurried along at lightning speed to some dreadful shock,
her witless imagination apprehended it in his voice: not what he might
say, only the sound. She feared to hear him speak, as the shrinking
ear fears a thunder at the cavity; yet suspense was worse than the
downward-driving silence.

The pang struck her when he uttered some words about Mrs. Culling, and
protection, and Roland.

She thanked him.

So have common executioners been thanked by queenly ladies baring their
necks to the axe.

He called up the pain he suffered to vindicate him; and it was really an
agony of a man torn to pieces.

‘I have done the best.’

This dogged and stupid piece of speech was pitiable to hear from Nevil
Beauchamp.

‘You think so?’ said she; and her glass-like voice rang a tremour in its
mildness that swelled through him on the plain submissive note, which
was more assent than question.

‘I am sure of it. I believe it. I see it. At least I hope so.’

‘We are chiefly led by hope,’ said Renee.

‘At least, if not!’ Beauchamp cried. ‘And it’s not too late. I have no
right--I do what I can. I am at your mercy. Judge me later. If I am ever
to know what happiness is, it will be with you. It’s not too late either
way. There is Roland--my brother as much as if you were my wife!’

He begged her to let him have Roland’s exact address.

She named the regiment, the corps d’armee, the postal town, and the
department.

‘Roland will come at a signal,’ he pursued; ‘we are not bound to consult
others.’

Renee formed the French word of ‘we’ on her tongue.

He talked of Roland and Roland, his affection for him as a brother and
as a friend, and Roland’s love of them both.

‘It is true,’ said Renee.

‘We owe him this; he represents your father.’

‘All that you say is true, my friend.’

‘Thus, you have come on a visit to madame, your old friend here--oh!
your hand. What have I done?’

Renee motioned her hand as if it were free to be taken, and smiled
faintly to make light of it, but did not give it.

‘If you had been widowed!’ he broke down to the lover again.

‘That man is attached to the remnant of his life: I could not wish him
dispossessed of it,’ said Rende.

‘Parted! who parts us? It’s for a night. Tomorrow!’

She breathed: ‘To-morrow.’

To his hearing it craved an answer. He had none. To talk like a lover,
or like a man of honour, was to lie. Falsehood hemmed him in to the
narrowest ring that ever statue stood on, if he meant to be stone.

‘That woman will be returning,’ he muttered, frowning at the vacant
door. ‘I could lay out my whole life before your eyes, and show you I am
unchanged in my love of you since the night when Roland and I walked on
the Piazzetta...’

‘Do not remind me; let those days lie black!’ A sympathetic vision
of her maiden’s tears on the night of wonderful moonlight when, as it
seemed to her now, San Giorgio stood like a dark prophet of her present
abasement and chastisement, sprang tears of a different character, and
weak as she was with her soul’s fever and for want of food, she was
piteously shaken. She said with some calmness: ‘It is useless to look
back. I have no reproaches but for myself. Explain nothing to me. Things
that are not comprehended by one like me are riddles I must put aside. I
know where I am: I scarcely know more. Here is madame.’

The door had not opened, and it did not open immediately.

Beauchamp had time to say, ‘Believe in me.’ Even that was false to
his own hearing, and in a struggle with the painful impression of
insincerity which was denied and scorned by his impulse to fling his
arms round her and have her his for ever, he found himself deferentially
accepting her brief directions concerning her boxes at the hotel, with
Rosamund Culling to witness.

She gave him her hand.

He bowed over the fingers. ‘Until to-morrow, madame.’

‘Adieu!’ said Renee.



CHAPTER XLII. THE TWO PASSIONS

The foggy February night refreshed his head, and the business of
fetching the luggage from the hotel--a commission that necessitated the
delivery of his card and some very commanding language--kept his mind
in order. Subsequently he drove to his cousin Baskelett’s Club, where he
left a short note to say the house was engaged for the night and perhaps
a week further. Concise, but sufficient: and he stated a hope to his
cousin that he would not be inconvenienced. This was courteous.

He had taken a bed at Renee’s hotel, after wresting her boxes from the
vanquished hotel proprietor, and lay there, hearing the clear sound
of every little sentence of hers during the absence of Rosamund: her
‘Adieu,’ and the strange ‘Do you think so?’ and ‘I know where I am; I
scarcely know more.’ Her eyes and their darker lashes, and the fitful
little sensitive dimples of a smile without joy, came with her voice,
but hardened to an aspect unlike her. Not a word could he recover of
what she had spoken before Rosamund’s intervention. He fancied she must
have related details of her journey. Especially there must have been
mention, he thought, of her drive to the station from Tourdestelle;
and this flashed on him the scene of his ride to the chateau, and the
meeting her on the road, and the white light on the branching river, and
all that was Renee in the spirit of the place she had abandoned for him,
believing in him. She had proved that she believed in him. What in the
name of sanity had been the meaning of his language? and what was it
between them that arrested him and caused him to mumble absurdly of
‘doing best,’ when in fact he was her bondman, rejoiced to be so, by
his pledged word? and when she, for some reason that he was sure she had
stated, though he could recollect no more than the formless hideousness
of it, was debarred from returning to Tourdestelle?

He tossed in his bed as over a furnace, in the extremity of perplexity
of one accustomed to think himself ever demonstrably in the right, and
now with his whole nature in insurrection against that legitimate claim.
It led him to accuse her of a want of passionate warmth, in her not
having supplicated and upbraided him--not behaving theatrically, in
fine, as the ranting pen has made us expect of emergent ladies that they
will naturally do. Concerning himself, he thought commendingly, a tear
would have overcome him. She had not wept. The kaleidoscope was shaken
in his fragmentary mind, and she appeared thrice adorable for this noble
composure, he brutish.

Conscience and reason had resolved to a dead weight in him, like an
inanimate force, governing his acts despite the man, while he was
with Renee. Now his wishes and waverings conjured up a semblance of a
conscience and much reason to assure him that he had done foolishly as
well as unkindly, most unkindly: that he was even the ghastly spectacle
of a creature attempting to be more than he can be. Are we never to
embrace our inclinations? Are the laws regulating an old dry man like
his teacher and guide to be the same for the young and vigorous?

Is a good gift to be refused? And this was his first love! The brilliant
Renee, many-hued as a tropic bird! his lady of shining grace, with her
sole fault of want of courage devotedly amended! his pupil, he might
say, of whom he had foretold that she must come to such a pass, at the
same time prefixing his fidelity. And he was handing her over knowingly
to one kind of wretchedness--‘son amour, mon ami,’ shot through him,
lighting up the gulfs of a mind in wreck;--and one kind of happiness
could certainly be promised her!

All these and innumerable other handsome pleadings of the simulacra
of the powers he had set up to rule, were crushed at daybreak by the
realities in a sense of weight that pushed him mechanically on. He
telegraphed to Roland, and mentally gave chase to the message to recall
it. The slumberer roused in darkness by the relentless insane-seeming
bell which hales him to duty, melts at the charms of sleep, and feels
that logic is with him in his preference of his pillow; but the tireless
revolving world outside, nature’s pitiless antagonist, has hung one of
its balances about him, and his actions are directed by the state of the
scales, wherein duty weighs deep and desireability swings like a pendant
doll: so he throws on his harness, astounded, till his blood quickens
with work, at the round of sacrifices demanded of nature: which is
indeed curious considering what we are taught here and there as to the
infallibility of our august mother. Well, the world of humanity had done
this for Beauchamp. His afflicted historian is compelled to fling his
net among prosaic similitudes for an illustration of one thus degradedly
in its grip. If he had been off with his love like the rover! why, then
the Muse would have loosened her lap like May showering flower-buds, and
we might have knocked great nature up from her sleep to embellish his
desperate proceedings with hurricanes to be danced over, to say nothing
of imitative spheres dashing out into hurly-burly after his example.

Conscious rectitude, too, after the pattern of the well-behaved AEneas
quitting the fair bosom of Carthage in obedience to the Gods, for an
example to his Roman progeny, might have stiffened his backbone and put
a crown upon his brows. It happened with him that his original training
rather imposed the idea that he was a figure to be derided. The approval
of him by the prudent was a disgust, and by the pious tasteless. He had
not any consolation in reverting to Dr. Shrapnel’s heavy Puritanism. On
the contrary, such a general proposition as that of the sage of Bevisham
could not for a moment stand against the pathetic special case of Renee:
and as far as Beauchamp’s active mind went, he was for demanding that
Society should take a new position in morality, considerably broader,
and adapted to very special cases.

Nevertheless he was hardly grieved in missing Renee at Rosamund’s
breakfast-table. Rosamund informed him that Madame de Rouaillout’s door
was locked. Her particular news for him was of a disgraceful alarum
raised by Captain Baskelett in the night, to obtain admission; and of an
interview she had with him in the early morning, when he subjected her
to great insolence. Beauchamp’s attention was drawn to her repetition
of the phrase ‘mistress of the house.’ However, she did him justice
in regard to Renee, and thoroughly entered into the fiction of Renee’s
visit to her as her guest: he passed over everything else.

To stop the mouth of a scandal-monger, he drove full speed to Cecil’s
Club, where he heard that the captain had breakfasted and had just
departed for Romfrey Castle. He followed to the station. The train had
started. So mischief was rolling in that direction.

Late at night Rosamund was allowed to enter the chill unlighted chamber,
where the unhappy lady had been lying for hours in the gloom of a London
Winter’s daylight and gaslight.

‘Madame de Rouaillout is indisposed with headache,’ was her report to
Beauchamp.

The conventional phraseology appeased him, though he saw his grief
behind it.

Presently he asked if Renee had taken food.

‘No: you know what a headache is,’ Rosamund replied.

It is true that we do not care to eat when we are in pain.

He asked if she looked ill.

‘She will not have lights in the room,’ said Rosamund.

Piecemeal he gained the picture of Renee in an image of the death within
which welcomed a death without.

Rosamund was impatient with him for speaking of medical aid. These men!
She remarked very honestly:

‘Oh, no; doctors are not needed.’

‘Has she mentioned me?’

‘Not once.’

‘Why do you swing your watch-chain, ma’am?’ cried Beauchamp, bounding
off his chair.

He reproached her with either pretending to indifference or feeling it;
and then insisted on his privilege of going up-stairs-accompanied by
her, of course; and then it was to be only to the door; then an answer
to a message was to satisfy him.

‘Any message would trouble her: what message would you send?’ Rosamund
asked him.

The weighty and the trivial contended; no fitting message could be
thought of.

‘You are unused to real suffering--that is for women!--and want to be
doing instead of enduring,’ said Rosamund.

She was beginning to put faith in the innocence of these two mortally
sick lovers. Beauchamp’s outcries against himself gave her the shadows
of their story. He stood in tears--a thing to see to believe of Nevil
Beauchamp; and plainly he did not know it, or else he would have taken
her advice to him to leave the house at an hour that was long past
midnight. Her method for inducing him to go was based on her intimate
knowledge of him: she made as if to soothe and kiss him compassionately.

In the morning there was a flying word from Roland, on his way to
England. Rosamund tempered her report of Renee by saying of her, that
she was very quiet. He turned to the window.

‘Look, what a climate ours is!’ Beauchamp abused the persistent fog.
‘Dull, cold, no sky, a horrible air to breathe! This is what she has
come to! Has she spoken of me yet?’

‘No.’

‘Is she dead silent?’

‘She answers, if I speak to her.’

‘I believe, ma’am,’ said Beauchamp, ‘that we are the coldest-hearted
people in Europe.’

Rosamund did not defend us, or the fog. Consequently nothing was left
for him to abuse but himself. In that she tried to moderate him, and
drew forth a torrent of self-vituperation, after which he sank into the
speechless misery he had been evading; until sophistical fancy, another
evolution of his nature, persuaded him that Roland, seeing Renee, would
for love’s sake be friendly to them.

‘I should have told you, Nevil, by the way, that the earl is dead,’ said
Rosamund.

‘Her brother will be here to-day; he can’t be later than the evening,’
said Beauchamp. ‘Get her to eat, ma’am; you must. Command her to eat.
This terrible starvation!’

‘You ate nothing yourself, Nevil, all day yesterday.’

He surveyed the table. ‘You have your cook in town, I see. Here’s a
breakfast to feed twenty hungry families in Spitalfields. Where does
the mass of meat go? One excess feeds another. You’re overdone with
servants. Gluttony, laziness, and pilfering come of your host of
unmanageable footmen and maids; you stuff them, and wonder they’re idle
and immoral. If--I suppose I must call him the earl now, or Colonel
Halkett, or any one of the army of rich men, hear of an increase of the
income-tax, or some poor wretch hints at a sliding scale of taxation,
they yell as if they were thumb-screwed: but five shillings in the pound
goes to the kitchen as a matter of course--to puff those pompous idiots!
and the parsons, who should be preaching against this sheer waste of
food and perversion of the strength of the nation, as a public sin,
are maundering about schism. There’s another idle army! Then we have
artists, authors, lawyers, doctors--the honourable professions! all
hanging upon wealth, all ageing the rich, and all bearing upon labour!
it’s incubus on incubus. In point of fact, the rider’s too heavy for the
horse in England.’

He began to nibble at bread.

Rosamund pushed over to him a plate of the celebrated Steynham pie,
of her own invention, such as no douse in the county of Sussex could
produce or imitate.

‘What would you have the parsons do?’ she said.

‘Take the rich by the throat and show them in the kitchen-mirror that
they’re swine running down to the sea with a devil in them.’ She had set
him off again, but she had enticed him to eating. ‘Pooh! it has all
been said before. Stones are easier to move than your English. May I be
forgiven for saying it! an invasion is what they want to bring them to
their senses. I’m sick of the work. Why should I be denied--am I to
kill the woman I love that I may go on hammering at them? Their idea
of liberty is, an evasion of public duty. Dr. Shrapnel’s right--it’s a
money-logged Island! Men like the Earl of Romfrey, who have never done
work in their days except to kill bears and birds, I say they’re stifled
by wealth: and he at least would have made an Admiral of mark, or a
General: not of much value, but useful in case of need. But he, like
a pretty woman, was under no obligation to contribute more than an
ornamental person to the common good. As to that, we count him by tens
of thousands now, and his footmen and maids by hundreds of thousands.
The rich love the nation through their possessions; otherwise they have
no country. If they loved the country they would care for the people.
Their hearts are eaten up by property. I am bidden to hold my tongue
because I have no knowledge. When men who have this “knowledge” will go
down to the people, speak to them, consult and argue with them, and come
into suitable relations with them--I don’t say of lords and retainers,
but of knowers and doers, leaders and followers--out of consideration
for public safety, if not for the common good, I shall hang back gladly;
though I won’t hear misstatements. My fault is, that I am too moderate.
I should respect myself more if I deserved their hatred. This flood of
luxury, which is, as Dr. Shrapnel says, the body’s drunkenness and the
soul’s death, cries for execration. I’m too moderate. But I shall quit
the country: I’ve no place here.’

Rosamund ahemed. ‘France, Nevil? I should hardly think that France would
please you, in the present state of things over there.’

Half cynically, with great satisfaction, she had watched him fretting
at the savoury morsels of her pie with a fork like a sparrow-beak
during the monologue that would have been so dreary to her but for her
appreciation of the wholesome effect of the letting off of steam, and
her admiration of the fire of his eyes. After finishing his plate he had
less the look of a ship driving on to reef--some of his images of the
country. He called for claret and water, sighing as he munched bread in
vast portions, evidently conceiving that to eat unbuttered bread was to
abstain from luxury. He praised passingly the quality of the bread. It
came from Steynham, and so did the milk and cream, the butter, chicken
and eggs. He was good enough not to object to the expenditure upon the
transmission of the accustomed dainties. Altogether the gradual act of
nibbling had conduced to his eating remarkably well-royally. Rosamund’s
more than half-cynical ideas of men, and her custom of wringing
unanimous verdicts from a jury of temporary impressions, inclined her to
imagine him a lover that had not to be so very much condoled with, and
a politician less alarming in practice than in theory:--somewhat a
gentleman of domestic tirades on politics: as it is observed of your
generous young Radical of birth and fortune, that he will become on the
old high road to a round Conservatism.

He pitched one of the morning papers to the floor in disorderly sheets,
muttering: ‘So they’re at me!’

‘Is Dr. Shrapnel better?’ she asked. ‘I hold to a good appetite as a
sign of a man’s recovery.’

Beauchamp was confronting the fog at the window. He swung round: ‘Dr.
Shrapnel is better. He has a particularly clever young female cook.’

‘Ah! then...’

‘Yes, then, naturally! He would naturally hasten to recover to partake
of the viands, ma’am.’

Rosamund murmured of her gladness that he should be able to enjoy them.

‘Oddly enough, he is not an eater of meat,’ said Beauchamp.

‘A vegetarian!’

‘I beg you not to mention the fact to my lord. You see, you yourself can
scarcely pardon it. He does not exclude flesh from his table. Blackburn
Tuckham dined there once. “You are a thorough revolutionist, Dr.
Shrapnel,” he observed. The doctor does not exclude wine, but he does
not drink it. Poor Tuckham went away entirely opposed to a Radical he
could not even meet as a boon-fellow. I begged him not to mention the
circumstances, as I have begged you. He pledged me his word to that
effect solemnly; he correctly felt that if the truth were known, there
would be further cause for the reprobation of the man who had been his
host.’

‘And that poor girl, Nevil?’

‘Miss Denham? She contracted the habit of eating meat at school,
and drinking wine in Paris, and continues it, occasionally. Now run
upstairs. Insist on food. Inform Madame de Rouaillout that her brother
M. le comte de Croisnel will soon be here, and should not find her ill.
Talk to her as you women can talk. Keep the blinds down in her room;
light a dozen wax-candles. Tell her I have no thought but of her. It’s
a lie: of no woman but of her: that you may say. But that you can’t
say. You can say I am devoted--ha, what stuff! I’ve only to open my
mouth!--say nothing of me: let her think the worst--unless it comes to a
question of her life: then be a merciful good woman...’ He squeezed her
fingers, communicating his muscular tremble to her sensitive woman’s
frame, and electrically convincing her that he was a lover.

She went up-stairs. In ten minutes she descended, and found him pacing
up and down the hall. ‘Madame de Rouaillout is much the same,’ she said.
He nodded, looked up the stairs, and about for his hat and gloves, drew
on the gloves, fixed the buttons, blinked at his watch, and settled his
hat as he was accustomed to wear it, all very methodically, and talking
rapidly, but except for certain precise directions, which were not
needed by so careful a housekeeper and nurse as Rosamund was known to
be, she could not catch a word of meaning. He had some appointment,
it seemed; perhaps he was off for a doctor--a fresh instance of his
masculine incapacity to understand patient endurance. After opening
the housedoor, and returning to the foot of the stairs, listening and
sighing, he disappeared.

It struck her that he was trying to be two men at once.

The litter of newspaper sheets in the morning-room brought his
exclamation to her mind: ‘They’re at me!’ Her eyes ran down the columns,
and were seized by the print of his name in large type. A leading
article was devoted to Commander’s Beauchamp’s recent speech delivered
in the great manufacturing town of Gunningham, at a meeting under
the presidency of the mayor, and his replies to particular questions
addressed to him; one being, what right did he conceive himself to
have to wear the Sovereign’s uniform in professing Republican opinions?
Rosamund winced for her darling during her first perusal of the article.
It was of the sarcastically caressing kind, masterly in ease of style,
as the flourish of the executioner well may be with poor Bare-back hung
up to a leisurely administration of the scourge. An allusion to ‘Jack
on shore’ almost persuaded her that his uncle Everard had inspired the
writer of the article. Beauchamp’s reply to the question of his loyalty
was not quoted: he was, however, complimented on his frankness. At the
same time he was assured that his error lay in a too great proneness to
make distinctions, and that there was no distinction between sovereign
and country in a loyal and contented land, which could thank him for
gallant services in war, while taking him for the solitary example to be
cited at the present period of the evils of a comparatively long peace.

‘Doubtless the tedium of such a state to a man of the temperament of the
gallant commander,’ etc., the termination of the article was indulgent.
Rosamund recurred to the final paragraph for comfort, and though she
loved Beauchamp, the test of her representative feminine sentiment
regarding his political career, when personal feeling on his behalf
had subsided, was, that the writer of the article must have received an
intimation to deal both smartly and forbearingly with the offender: and
from whom but her lord? Her notions of the conduct of the Press were
primitive. In a summary of the article Beauchamp was treated as naughty
boy, formerly brave boy, and likely by-and-by to be good boy. Her secret
heart would have spoken similarly, with more emphasis on the flattering
terms.

A telegram arrived from her lord. She was bidden to have the house clear
for him by noon of the next day.

How could that be done?

But to write blankly to inform the Earl of Romfrey that he was excluded
from his own house was another impossibility.

‘Hateful man!’ she apostrophized Captain Baskelett, and sat down,
supporting her chin in a prolonged meditation.

The card of a French lady, bearing the name of Madame d’Auffray, was
handed to her.

Beauchamp had gone off to his friend Lydiard, to fortify himself in his
resolve to reply to that newspaper article by eliciting counsel to
the contrary. Phrase by phrase he fought through the first half of his
composition of the reply against Lydiard, yielding to him on a point
or two of literary judgement, only the more vehemently to maintain his
ideas of discretion, which were, that he would not take shelter behind
a single subterfuge; that he would try this question nakedly, though
he should stand alone; that he would stake his position on it, and
establish his right to speak his opinions: and as for unseasonable
times, he protested it was the cry of a gorged middle-class, frightened
of further action, and making snug with compromise. Would it be a
seasonable time when there was uproar? Then it would be a time to be
silent on such themes: they could be discussed calmly now, and without
danger; and whether he was hunted or not, he cared nothing. He declined
to consider the peculiar nature of Englishmen: they must hear truth or
perish.

Knowing the difficulty once afflicting Beauchamp in the art of speaking
on politics tersely, Lydiard was rather astonished at his well-delivered
cannonade; and he fancied that his modesty had been displaced by the new
acquirement; not knowing the nervous fever of his friend’s condition,
for which the rattle of speech was balm, and contention a native
element, and the assumption of truth a necessity. Beauchamp hugged
his politics like some who show their love of the pleasures of life by
taking to them angrily. It was all he had: he had given up all for it.
He forced Lydiard to lay down his pen and walk back to the square with
him, and went on arguing, interjecting, sneering, thumping the old
country, raising and oversetting her, treating her alternately like a
disrespected grandmother, and like a woman anciently beloved; as a
dead lump, and as a garden of seeds; reviewing prominent political men,
laughing at the dwarf-giants; finally casting anchor on a Mechanics’
Institute that he had recently heard of, where working men met weekly
for the purpose of reading the British poets.

‘That’s the best thing I’ve heard of late,’ he said, shaking Lydiard’s
hand on the door-steps.

‘Ah! You’re Commander Beauchamp; I think I know you. I’ve seen you on a
platform,’ cried a fresh-faced man in decent clothes, halting on his
way along the pavement; ‘and if you were in your uniform, you damned
Republican dog! I’d strip you with my own hands, for the disloyal
scoundrel you are, with your pimping Republicanism and capsizing
everything in a country like Old England. It’s the cat-o’-nine-tails you
want, and the bosen to lay on; and I’d do it myself. And mind me, when
next I catch sight of you in blue and gold lace, I’ll compel you to show
cause why you wear it, and prove your case, or else I’ll make a Cupid of
you, and no joke about it. I don’t pay money for a nincompoop to outrage
my feelings of respect and loyalty, when he’s in my pay, d’ ye hear?
You’re in my pay: and you do your duty, or I ‘ll kick ye out of it.
It’s no empty threat. You look out for your next public speech, if it’s
anywhere within forty mile of London. Get along.’

With a scowl, and a very ugly ‘yah!’ worthy of cannibal jaws, the man
passed off.

Beauchamp kept eye on him. ‘What class does a fellow like that come of?’

‘He’s a harmless enthusiast,’ said Lydiard. ‘He has been reading the
article, and has got excited over it.’

‘I wish I had the fellow’s address.’ Beauchamp looked wistfully at
Lydiard, but he did not stimulate the generous offer to obtain it for
him. Perhaps it was as well to forget the fellow.

‘You see the effect of those articles,’ he said.

‘You see what I mean by unseasonable times,’ Lydiard retorted.

‘He didn’t talk like a tradesman,’ Beauchamp mused.

‘He may be one, for all that. It’s better to class him as an
enthusiast.’

‘An enthusiast!’ Beauchamp stamped: ‘for what?’

‘For the existing order of things; for his beef and ale; for the
titles he is accustomed to read in the papers. You don’t study your
countrymen.’

‘I’d study that fellow, if I had the chance.’

‘You would probably find him one of the emptiest, with a rather worse
temper than most of them.’

Beauchamp shook Lydiard’s hand, saying, ‘The widow?’

‘There’s no woman like her!’

‘Well, now you’re free--why not? I think I put one man out of the
field.’

‘Too early! Besides--’

‘Repeat that, and you may have to say too late.’

‘When shall you go down to Bevisham?’

‘When? I can’t tell: when I’ve gone through fire. There never was a home
for me like the cottage, and the old man, and the dear good girl--the
best of girls! if you hadn’t a little spoilt her with your philosophy of
the two sides of the case.’

‘I’ve not given her the brains.’

‘She’s always doubtful of doing, doubtful of action: she has no will. So
she is fatalistic, and an argument between us ends in her submitting, as
if she must submit to me, because I’m overbearing, instead of accepting
the fact.’

‘She feels your influence.’

‘She’s against the publication of THE DAWN--for the present. It’s an
“unseasonable time.” I argue with her: I don’t get hold of her mind a
bit; but at last she says, “very well.” She has your head.’

And you have her heart, Lydiard could have rejoined.

They said good-bye, neither of them aware of the other’s task of
endurance.

As they were parting, Beauchamp perceived his old comrade Jack Wilmore
walking past.

‘Jack!’ he called.

Wilmore glanced round. ‘How do you do, Beauchamp?’

‘Where are you off to, Jack?’

‘Down to the Admiralty. I’m rather in a hurry; I have an appointment.’

‘Can’t you stop just a minute?’

‘I’m afraid I can’t. Good morning.’

It was incredible; but this old friend, the simplest heart alive,
retreated without a touch of his hand, and with a sorely wounded air.

‘That newspaper article appears to have been generally read,’ Beauchamp
said to Lydiard, who answered:

‘The article did not put the idea of you into men’s minds, but gave
tongue to it: you may take it for an instance of the sagacity of the
Press.’

‘You wouldn’t take that man and me to have been messmates for years! Old
Jack Wilmore! Don’t go, Lydiard.’

Lydiard declared that he was bound to go: he was engaged to read Italian
for an hour with Mrs. Wardour-Devereux.

‘Then go, by all means,’ Beauchamp dismissed him.

He felt as if he had held a review of his friends and enemies on the
door-step, and found them of one colour. If it was an accident befalling
him in a London square during a space of a quarter of an hour, what of
the sentiments of universal England? Lady Barbara’s elopement with Lord
Alfred last year did not rouse much execration; hardly worse than gossip
and compassion. Beauchamp drank a great deal of bitterness from his
reflections.

They who provoke huge battles, and gain but lame victories over
themselves, insensibly harden to the habit of distilling sour thoughts
from their mischances and from most occurrences. So does the world they
combat win on them.

‘For,’ says Dr. Shrapnel, ‘the world and nature, which are opposed in
relation to our vital interests, each agrees to demand of us a perfect
victory, on pain otherwise of proving it a stage performance; and the
victory over the world, as over nature, is over self: and this victory
lies in yielding perpetual service to the world, and none to nature: for
the world has to be wrought out, nature to be subdued.’

The interior of the house was like a change of elements to Beauchamp.
He had never before said to himself, ‘I have done my best, and I am
beaten!’ Outside of it, his native pugnacity had been stimulated;
but here, within the walls where Renee lay silently breathing,
barely breathing, it might be dying, he was overcome, and left it to
circumstance to carry him to a conclusion. He went up-stairs to the
drawing-room, where he beheld Madame d’Auffray in conversation with
Rosamund.

‘I was assured by Madame la Comtesse that I should see you to-day,’ the
French lady said as she swam to meet him; ‘it is a real pleasure’: and
pressing his hand she continued, ‘but I fear you will be disappointed of
seeing my sister. She would rashly try your climate at its worst period.
Believe me, I do not join in decrying it, except on her account: I could
have forewarned her of an English Winter and early Spring. You know her
impetuosity; suddenly she decided on accepting the invitation of Madame
la Comtesse; and though I have no fears of her health, she is at present
a victim of the inclement weather.’

‘You have seen her, madame?’ said Beauchamp. So well had the clever lady
played the dupe that he forgot there was a part for him to play. Even
the acquiescence of Rosamund in the title of countess bewildered him.

‘Madame d’Auffray has been sitting for an hour with Madame de
Rouaillout,’ said Rosamund.

He spoke of Roland’s coming.

‘Ah?’ said Madame d’Auffray, and turned to Rosamund: ‘you have
determined to surprise us: then you will have a gathering of the whole
family in your hospitable house, Madame la Comtesse!

‘If M. la Marquis will do it that honour, madame!

‘My brother is in London,’ Madame d’Auffray said to Beauchamp.

The shattering blow was merited by one who could not rejoice that he had
acted rightly.



CHAPTER XLIII. THE EARL OF ROMFREY AND THE COUNTESS

An extraordinary telegraphic message, followed by a still more
extraordinary letter the next morning, from Rosamund Culling, all but
interdicted the immediate occupation of his house in town to Everard,
now Earl of Romfrey. She begged him briefly not to come until after the
funeral, and proposed to give him good reasons for her request at their
meeting. ‘I repeat, I pledge myself to satisfy you on this point,’ she
wrote. Her tone was that of one of your heroic women of history refusing
to surrender a fortress.

Everard’s wrath was ever of a complexion that could suffer postponements
without his having to fear an abatement of it. He had no business to
transact in London, and he had much at the Castle, so he yielded
himself up to his new sensations, which are not commonly the portion of
gentlemen of his years. He anticipated that Nevil would at least come
down to the funeral, but there was no appearance of him, nor a word to
excuse his absence. Cecil was his only supporter. They walked together
between the double ranks of bare polls of the tenantry and peasantry,
resembling in a fashion old Froissart engravings the earl used to dote
on in his boyhood, representing bodies of manacled citizens, whose
humbled heads looked like nuts to be cracked, outside the gates of
captured French towns, awaiting the disposition of their conqueror, with
his banner above him and prancing knights around. That was a glory
of the past. He had no successor. The thought was chilling; the
solitariness of childlessness to an aged man, chief of a most ancient
and martial House, and proud of his blood, gave him the statue’s outlook
on a desert, and made him feel that he was no more than a whirl of the
dust, settling to the dust.

He listened to the parson curiously and consentingly. We are ashes. Ten
centuries had come to an end in him to prove the formula correct. The
chronicle of the House would state that the last Earl of Romfrey left no
heir.

Cecil was a fine figure walking beside him. Measured by feet, he might
be a worthy holder of great lands. But so heartily did the earl despise
this nephew that he never thought of trying strength with the fellow,
and hardly cared to know what his value was, beyond his immediate uses
as an instrument to strike with. Beauchamp of Romfrey had been his
dream, not Baskelett: and it increased his disgust of Beauchamp that
Baskelett should step forward as the man. No doubt Cecil would hunt
the county famously: he would preserve game with the sleepless eye of a
General of the Jesuits. These things were to be considered.

Two days after the funeral Lord Romfrey proceeded to London. He was
met at the station by Rosamund, and informed that his house was not yet
vacated by the French family.

‘And where have you arranged for me to go, ma’am?’ he asked her
complacently.

She named an hotel where she had taken rooms for him.

He nodded, and was driven to the hotel, saying little on the road.

As she expected, he was heavily armed against her and Nevil.

‘You’re the slave of the fellow, ma’am. You are so infatuated that you
second his amours, in my house. I must wait for a clearance, it seems.’

He cast a comical glance of disapprobation on the fittings of the hotel
apartment, abhorring gilt.

‘They leave us the day after to-morrow,’ said Rosamund, out of breath
with nervousness at the commencement of the fray, and skipping over the
opening ground of a bold statement of facts. ‘Madame de Rouaillout
has been unwell. She is not yet recovered; she has just risen. Her
sister-in-law has nursed her. Her husband seems much broken in health;
he is perfect on the points of courtesy.’

‘That is lucky, ma’am.’

‘Her brother, Nevil’s comrade in the war, was there also.’

‘Who came first?’

‘My lord, you have only heard Captain Baskelett’s version of the story.
She has been my guest since the first day of her landing in England.
There cannot possibly be an imputation on her.’

‘Ma’am, if her husband manages to be satisfied, what on earth have I to
do with it?’

‘I am thinking of Nevil, my lord.’

‘You’re never thinking of any one else, ma’am.’

‘He sleeps here, at this hotel. He left the house to Madame de
Rouaillout. I bear witness to that.’

‘You two seem to have made your preparations to stand a criminal trial.’

‘It is pure truth, my lord.’

‘Do you take me to be anxious about the fellow’s virtue?’

‘She is a lady who would please you.’

‘A scandal in my house does not please me.’

‘The only approach to a scandal was made by Captain Baskelett.’

‘A poor devil locked out of his bed on a Winter’s night hullabaloos with
pretty good reason. I suppose he felt the contrast.’

‘My lord, this lady did me the honour to come to me on a visit. I have
not previously presumed to entertain a friend. She probably formed no
estimate of my exact position.’

The earl with a gesture implied Rosamund’s privilege to act the hostess
to friends.

‘You invited her?’ he said.

‘That is, I had told her I hoped she would come to England.’

‘She expected you to be at the house in town on her arrival?’

‘It was her impulse to come.’

‘She came alone?’

‘She may have desired to be away from her own people for a time: there
may have been domestic differences. These cases are delicate.’

‘This case appears to have been so delicate that you had to lock out a
fourth party.’

‘It is indelicate and base of Captain Baskelett to complain and to hint.
Nevil had to submit to the same; and Captain Baskelett took his revenge
on the housedoor and the bells. The house was visited by the police next
morning.’

‘Do you suspect him to have known you were inside the house that night?’

She could not say so: but hatred of Cecil urged her past the bounds
of habitual reticence to put it to her lord whether he, imagining the
worst, would have behaved like Cecil.

To this he did not reply, but remarked, ‘I am sorry he annoyed you,
ma’am.’

‘It is not the annoyance to me; it is the shocking, the unmanly
insolence to a lady, and a foreign lady.’

‘That’s a matter between him and Nevil. I uphold him.’

‘Then, my lord, I am silent.’

Silent she remained; but Lord Romfrey was also silent: and silence being
a weapon of offence only when it is practised by one out of two, she had
to reflect whether in speaking no further she had finished her business.

‘Captain Baskelett stays at the Castle?’ she asked.

‘He likes his quarters there.’

‘Nevil could not go down to Romfrey, my lord. He was obliged to wait,
and see, and help me to entertain, her brother and her husband.’

‘Why, ma’am? But I have no objection to his making the marquis a happy
husband.’

‘He has done what few men would have done, that she may be a
self-respecting wife.’

‘The parson’s in that fellow!’ Lord Romfrey exclaimed. ‘Now I have the
story. She came to him, he declined the gift, and you were turned into
the curtain for them. If he had only been off with her, he would have
done the country good service. Here he’s a failure and a nuisance; he’s
a common cock-shy for the journals. I’m tired of hearing of him; he’s a
stench in our nostrils. He’s tired of the woman.’

‘He loves her.’

‘Ma’am, you’re hoodwinked. If he refused to have her, there ‘s a
something he loves better. I don’t believe we’ve bred a downright
lackadaisical donkey in our family: I know him. He’s not a fellow for
abstract morality: I know him. It’s bargain against bargain with him;
I’ll do him that justice. I hear he has ordered the removal of the
Jersey bull from Holdesbury, and the beast is mine,’ Lord Romfrey
concluded in a lower key.

‘Nevil has taken him.’

‘Ha! pull and pull, then!’

‘He contends that he is bound by a promise to give an American gentleman
the refusal of the bull, and you must sign an engagement to keep the
animal no longer than two years.’

‘I sign no engagement. I stick to the bull.’

‘Consent to see Nevil to-night, my lord.’

‘When he has apologized to you, I may, ma’am.’

‘Surely he did more, in requesting me to render him a service.’

‘There’s not a creature living that fellow wouldn’t get to serve him,
if he knew the trick. We should all of us be marching on London
at Shrapnel’s heels. The political mania is just as incurable as
hydrophobia, and he’s bitten. That’s clear.’

‘Bitten perhaps: but not mad. As you have always contended, the true
case is incurable, but it is very rare: and is this one?’

‘It’s uncommonly like a true case, though I haven’t seen him foam at the
mouth, and shun water-as his mob does.’

Rosamund restrained some tears, betraying the effort to hide the
moisture. ‘I am no match for you, my lord. I try to plead on his
behalf;--I do worse than if I were dumb. This I most earnestly say: he
is the Nevil Beauchamp who fought for his country, and did not abandon
her cause, though he stood there--we had it from Colonel Halkett--a
skeleton: and he is the Nevil who--I am poorly paying my debt to
him!--defended me from the aspersions of his cousin.’

‘Boys!’ Lord Romfrey ejaculated.

‘It is the same dispute between them as men.’

‘Have you forgotten my proposal to shield you from liars and
scandalmongers?’

‘Could I ever forget it?’ Rosamund appeared to come shining out of a
cloud. ‘Princeliest and truest gentleman, I thought you then, and I know
you to be, my dear lord. I fancied I had lived the scandal down. I was
under the delusion that I had grown to be past backbiting: and that no
man could stand before me to insult and vilify me. But, for a woman in
any so-called doubtful position, it seems that the coward will not be
wanting to strike her. In quitting your service, I am able to
affirm that only once during the whole term of it have I consciously
overstepped the line of my duties: it was for Nevil: and Captain
Baskelett undertook to defend your reputation, in consequence.’

‘Has the rascal been questioning your conduct?’ The earl frowned.

‘Oh, no! not questioning: he does not question, he accuses: he never
doubted: and what he went shouting as a boy, is plain matter of fact to
him now. He is devoted to you. It was for your sake that he desired
me to keep my name from being mixed up in a scandal he foresaw the
occurrence of in your house.’

‘He permitted himself to sneer at you?’

‘He has the art of sneering. On this occasion he wished to be direct and
personal.’

‘What sort of hints were they?’

Lord Romfrey strode away from her chair that the answer might be easy
to her, for she was red, and evidently suffering from shame as well as
indignation.

‘The hints we call distinct.’ said Rosamund.

‘In words?’

‘In hard words.’

‘Then you won’t meet Cecil?’

Such a question, and the tone of indifference in which it came,
surprised and revolted her so that the unreflecting reply leapt out:

‘I would rather meet a devil.’

Of how tremblingly, vehemently, and hastily she had said it, she was
unaware. To her lord it was an outcry of nature, astutely touched by him
to put her to proof.

He continued his long leisurely strides, nodding over his feet.

Rosamund stood up. She looked a very noble figure in her broad
black-furred robe. ‘I have one serious confession to make, sir.’

‘What’s that?’ said he.

‘I would avoid it, for it cannot lead to particular harm; but I have
an enemy who may poison your ear in my absence. And first I resign my
position. I have forfeited it.’

‘Time goes forward, ma’am, and you go round. Speak to the point. Do you
mean that you toss up the reins of my household?’

‘I do. You trace it to Nevil immediately?’

‘I do. The fellow wants to upset the country, and he begins with me.’

‘You are wrong, my lord. What I have done places me at Captain
Baskelett’s mercy. It is too loathsome to think of: worse than the whip;
worse than your displeasure. It might never be known; but the thought
that it might gives me courage. You have said that to protect a woman
everything is permissible. It is your creed, my lord, and because the
world, I have heard you say, is unjust and implacable to women. In some
cases, I think so too. In reality I followed your instructions; I mean,
your example. Cheap chivalry on my part! But it pained me not a little.
I beg to urge that in my defence.’

‘Well, ma’am, you have tied the knot tight enough; perhaps now you’ll
cut it,’ said the earl.

Rosamund gasped softly. ‘M. le Marquis is a gentleman who, after a life
of dissipation, has been reminded by bad health that he has a young and
beautiful wife.’

‘He dug his pit to fall into it:--he’s jealous?’

She shook her head to indicate the immeasurable.

‘Senile jealousy is anxious to be deceived. He could hardly be deceived
so far as to imagine that Madame la Marquise would visit me, such as I
am, as my guest. Knowingly or not, his very clever sister, a good woman,
and a friend to husband and wife--a Frenchwoman of the purest type--gave
me the title. She insisted on it, and I presumed to guess that she
deemed it necessary for the sake of peace in that home.’

Lord Romfrey appeared merely inquisitive; his eyebrows were lifted in
permanence; his eyes were mild.

She continued: ‘They leave England in a few hours. They are not likely
to return. I permitted him to address me with the title of countess.’

‘Of Romfrey?’ said the earl.

Rosamund bowed.

His mouth contracted. She did not expect thunder to issue from it,
but she did fear to hear a sarcasm, or that she would have to endure a
deadly silence: and she was gathering her own lips in imitation of
his, to nerve herself for some stroke to come, when he laughed in his
peculiar close-mouthed manner.

‘I’m afraid you’ve dished yourself.’

‘You cannot forgive me, my lord?’

He indulged in more of his laughter, and abruptly summoning gravity,
bade her talk to him of affairs. He himself talked of the condition of
the Castle, and with a certain off-hand contempt of the ladies of the
family, and Cecil’s father, Sir John. ‘What are they to me?’ said he,
and he complained of having been called Last Earl of Romfrey.

‘The line ends undegenerate,’ said Rosamund fervidly, though she knew
not where she stood.

‘Ends!’ quoth the earl.

‘I must see Stukely,’ he added briskly, and stooped to her: ‘I beg you
to drive me to my Club, countess.’

‘Oh! sir.’

‘Once a countess, always a countess!’

‘But once an impostor, my lord?’

‘Not always, we’ll hope.’

He enjoyed this little variation in the language of comedy; letting it
drop, to say: ‘Be here to-morrow early. Don’t chase that family away
from the house. Do as you will, but not a word of Nevil to me: he’s a
bad mess in any man’s porringer; it’s time for me to claim exemption of
him from mine.’

She dared not let her thoughts flow, for to think was to triumph, and
possibly to be deluded. They came in copious volumes when Lord Romfrey,
alighting at his Club, called to the coachman: ‘Drive the countess
home.’

They were not thoughts of triumph absolutely. In her cooler mind she
felt that it was a bad finish of a gallant battle. Few women had risen
against a tattling and pelting world so stedfastly; and would it not
have been better to keep her own ground, which she had won with tears
and some natural strength, and therewith her liberty, which she prized?
The hateful Cecil, a reminder of whom set her cheeks burning and turned
her heart to serpent, had forced her to it. So she honestly conceived,
owing to the circumstance of her honestly disliking the pomps of life
and not desiring to occupy any position of brilliancy. She thought
assuredly of her hoard of animosity toward the scandalmongers, and of
the quiet glance she would cast behind on them, and below. That thought
came as a fruit, not as a reflection.

But if ever two offending young gentlemen, nephews of a long-suffering
uncle, were circumvented, undermined, and struck to earth, with one
blow, here was the instance. This was accomplished by Lord Romfrey’s
resolution to make the lady he had learnt to esteem his countess: and
more, it fixed to him for life one whom he could not bear to think of
losing: and still more, it might be; but what more was unwritten on his
tablets.

Rosamund failed to recollect that Everard Romfrey never took a step
without seeing a combination of objects to be gained by it.



CHAPTER XLIV. THE NEPHEWS OF THE EARL, AND ANOTHER EXHIBITION OF THE TWO
PASSIONS IN BEAUCHAMP

It was now the season when London is as a lighted tower to her
provinces, and, among other gentlemen hurried thither by attraction,
Captain Baskelett arrived. Although not a personage in the House of
Commons, he was a vote; and if he never committed himself to the perils
of a speech, he made himself heard. His was the part of chorus, which he
performed with a fairly close imitation of the original cries of periods
before parliaments were instituted, thus representing a stage in the
human development besides the borough of Bevisham. He arrived in the
best of moods for the emission of high-pitched vowel-sounds; otherwise
in the worst of tempers. His uncle had notified an addition of his
income to him at Romfrey, together with commands that he should quit
the castle instantly: and there did that woman, Mistress Culling, do the
honours to Nevil Beauchamp’s French party. He assured Lord Palmet of
his positive knowledge of the fact, incredible as the sanction of such
immoral proceedings by the Earl of Romfrey must appear to that young
nobleman. Additions to income are of course acceptable, but in the form
of a palpable stipulation for silence, they neither awaken gratitude nor
effect their purpose. Quite the contrary; they prick the moral mind to
sit in judgement on the donor. It means, she fears me! Cecil confidently
thought and said of the intriguing woman who managed his patron.

The town-house was open to him. Lord Romfrey was at Steynham. Cecil
could not suppose that he was falling into a pit in entering it. He
happened to be the favourite of the old housekeeper, who liked him for
his haughtiness, which was to her thinking the sign of real English
nobility, and perhaps it is the popular sign, and a tonic to the people.
She raised lamentations over the shame of the locking of the door
against him that awful night, declaring she had almost mustered courage
to go down to him herself, in spite of Mrs. Calling’s orders. The old
woman lowered her voice to tell him that her official superior had
permitted the French gentleman and ladies to call her countess. This she
knew for a certainty, though she knew nothing of French; but the French
lady who came second brought a maid who knew English a little, and she
said the very words--the countess, and said also that her party took
Mrs. Culling for the Countess of Romfrey. What was more, my lord’s
coachman caught it up, and he called her countess, and he had a quarrel
about it with the footman Kendall; and the day after a dreadful affair
between them in the mews, home drives madam, and Kendall is to go up to
her, and down the poor man comes, and not a word to be got out of him,
but as if he had seen a ghost. ‘She have such power,’ Cecil’s admirer
concluded.

‘I wager I match her,’ Cecil said to himself, pulling at his wristbands
and letting his lower teeth shine out. The means of matching her
were not so palpable as the resolution. First he took men into his
confidence. Then he touched lightly on the story to ladies, with the
question, ‘What ought I to do?’ In consideration for the Earl of Romfrey
he ought not to pass it over, he suggested. The ladies of the family
urged him to go to Steynham and boldly confront the woman. He was not
prepared for that. Better, it seemed to him, to blow the rumour, and
make it the topic of the season, until Lord Romfrey should hear of it.
Cecil had the ear of the town for a month. He was in the act of slicing
the air with his right hand in his accustomed style, one evening at Lady
Elsea’s, to protest how vast was the dishonour done to the family by
Mistress Culling, when Stukely Culbrett stopped him, saying, ‘The lady
you speak of is the Countess of Romfrey. I was present at the marriage.’

Cecil received the shock in the attitude of those martial figures we see
wielding two wooden swords in provincial gardens to tell the disposition
of the wind: abruptly abandoned by it, they stand transfixed, one
sword aloft, the other at their heels. The resemblance extended to his
astonished countenance. His big chest heaved. Like many another wounded
giant before him, he experienced the insufficiency of interjections to
solace pain. For them, however, the rocks were handy to fling, the trees
to uproot; heaven’s concave resounded companionably to their bellowings.
Relief of so concrete a kind is not to be obtained in crowded London
assemblies.

‘You are jesting?--you are a jester,’ he contrived to say.

‘It was a private marriage, and I was a witness,’ replied Stukely.

‘Lord Romfrey has made an honest woman of her, has he?’

‘A peeress, you mean.’

Cecil bowed. ‘Exactly. I am corrected. I mean a peeress.’

He got out of the room with as high an air as he could command, feeling
as if a bar of iron had flattened his head.

Next day it was intimated to him by one of the Steynham servants that
apartments were ready for him at the residence of the late earl: Lord
Romfrey’s house was about to be occupied by the Countess of Romfrey.
Cecil had to quit, and he chose to be enamoured of that dignity of
sulking so seductive to the wounded spirit of man.

Rosamund, Countess of Romfrey, had worse to endure from Beauchamp.
He indeed came to the house, and he went through the formalities of
congratulation, but his opinion of her step was unconcealed, that she
had taken it for the title. He distressed her by reviving the case of
Dr. Shrapnel, as though it were a matter of yesterday, telling her
she had married a man with a stain on him; she should have exacted the
Apology as a nuptial present; ay, and she would have done it if she had
cared for the earl’s honour or her own. So little did he understand men!
so tenacious was he of his ideas! She had almost forgotten the case of
Dr. Shrapnel, and to see it shooting up again in the new path of her
life was really irritating.

Rosamund did not defend herself.

‘I am very glad you have come, Nevil,’ she said; ‘your uncle holds to
the ceremony. I may be of real use to you now; I wish to be.’

‘You have only to prove it,’ said he. ‘If you can turn his mind to
marriage, you can send him to Bevisham.’

‘My chief thought is to serve you.’

‘I know it is, I know it is,’ he rejoined with some fervour. ‘You have
served me, and made me miserable for life, and rightly. Never mind,
all’s well while the hand’s to the axe.’ Beauchamp smoothed his forehead
roughly, trying hard to inspire himself with the tonic draughts of
sentiments cast in the form of proverbs. ‘Lord Romfrey saw her, you
say?’

‘He did, Nevil, and admired her.’

‘Well, if I suffer, let me think of her! For courage and nobleness I
shall never find her equal. Have you changed your ideas of Frenchwomen
now? Not a word, you say, not a look, to show her disdain of me whenever
my name was mentioned!’

‘She could scarcely feel disdain. She was guilty of a sad error.’

‘Through trusting in me. Will nothing teach you where the fault lies?
You women have no mercy for women. She went through the parade to
Romfrey Castle and back, and she must have been perishing at heart.
That, you English call acting. In history you have a respect for such
acting up to the scaffold. Good-bye to her! There’s a story ended.
One thing you must promise: you’re a peeress, ma’am: the story’s out,
everybody has heard of it; that babbler has done his worst: if you have
a becoming appreciation of your title, you will promise me honestly--no,
give me your word as a woman I can esteem--that you will not run about
excusing me. Whatever you hear said or suggested, say nothing yourself.
I insist on your keeping silence. Press my hand.’

‘Nevil, how foolish!’

‘It’s my will.’

‘It is unreasonable. You give your enemies licence.’

‘I know what’s in your head. Take my hand, and let me have your word for
it.’

‘But if persons you like very much, Nevil, should hear?’

‘Promise. You are a woman not to break your word.’

‘If I decline?’

‘Your hand! I’ll kiss it.’

‘Oh! my darling.’ Rosamund flung her arms round him and strained him an
instant to her bosom. ‘What have I but you in the world? My comfort was
the hope that I might serve you.’

‘Yes! by slaying one woman as an offering to another. It would be
impossible for you to speak the truth. Don’t you see, it would be a lie
against her, and making a figure of me that a man would rather drop to
the ground than have shown of him? I was to blame, and only I. Madame de
Rouaillout was as utterly deceived by me as ever a trusting woman by a
brute. I look at myself and hardly believe it ‘s the same man. I
wrote to her that I was unchanged--and I was entirely changed, another
creature, anything Lord Romfrey may please to call me.’

‘But, Nevil, I repeat, if Miss Halkett should hear...?’

‘She knows by this time.’

‘At present she is ignorant of it.’

‘And what is Miss Halkett to me?’

‘More than you imagined in that struggle you underwent, I think, Nevil.
Oh! if only to save her from Captain Baskelett! He gained your uncle’s
consent when they were at the Castle, to support him in proposing for
her. He is persistent. Women have been snared without loving. She is a
great heiress. Reflect on his use of her wealth. You respect her, if you
have no warmer feeling. Let me assure you that the husband of Cecilia,
if he is of Romfrey blood, has the fairest chance of the estates. That
man will employ every weapon. He will soon be here bowing to me to turn
me to his purposes.’

‘Cecilia can see through Baskelett,’ said Beauchamp.

‘Single-mindedly selfish men may be seen through and through, and still
be dangerous, Nevil. The supposition is, that we know the worst of them.
He carries a story to poison her mind. She could resist it, if you and
she were in full confidence together. If she did not love you, she could
resist it. She does, and for some strange reason beyond my capacity to
fathom, you have not come to an understanding. Sanction my speaking to
her, just to put her on her guard, privately: not to injure that poor
lady, but to explain. Shall she not know the truth? I need say but very
little. Indeed, all I can say is, that finding the marquise in London
one evening, you telegraphed for me to attend on her, and I joined you.
You shake your head. But surely it is due to Miss Halkett. She should
be protected from what will certainly wound her deeply. Her father is
afraid of you, on the score of your theories. I foresee it: he will hear
the scandal: he will imagine you as bad in morals as in politics. And
you have lost your friend in Lord Romfrey--though he shall not be your
enemy. Colonel Halkett and Cecilia called on us at Steynham. She was
looking beautiful; a trifle melancholy. The talk was of your--that--I
do not like it, but you hold those opinions--the Republicanism. She had
read your published letters. She spoke to me of your sincerity. Colonel
Halkett of course was vexed.

It is the same with all your friends. She, however, by her tone, led me
to think that she sees you as you are, more than in what you do. They
are now in Wales. They will be in town after Easter. Then you must
expect that her feeling for you will be tried, unless but you will! You
will let me speak to her, Nevil. My position allows me certain liberties
I was previously debarred from. You have not been so very tender to
your Cecilia that you can afford to give her fresh reasons for sorrowful
perplexity. And why should you stand to be blackened by scandalmongers
when a few words of mine will prove that instead of weak you have been
strong, instead of libertine blameless? I am not using fine phrases: I
would not. I would be as thoughtful of you as if you were present. And
for her sake, I repeat, the truth should be told to her. I have a lock
of her hair.’

‘Cecilia’s? Where?’ said Beauchamp.

‘It is at Steynham.’ Rosamund primmed her lips at the success of her
probing touch; but she was unaware of the chief reason for his doting on
those fair locks, and how they coloured his imagination since the day of
the drive into Bevisham.

‘Now leave me, my dear Nevil,’ she said. ‘Lord Romfrey will soon be
here, and it is as well for the moment that you should not meet him, if
it can be avoided.’

Beauchamp left her, like a man out-argued and overcome. He had no wish
to meet his uncle, whose behaviour in contracting a misalliance and
casting a shadow on the family, in a manner so perfectly objectless
and senseless, appeared to him to call for the reverse of compliments.
Cecilia’s lock of hair lying at Steynham hung in his mind. He saw the
smooth flat curl lying secret like a smile.

The graceful head it had fallen from was dimmer in his mental eye. He
went so far in this charmed meditation as to feel envy of the possessor
of the severed lock: passingly he wondered, with the wonder of reproach,
that the possessor should deem it enough to possess the lock, and resign
it to a drawer or a desk. And as when life rolls back on us after the
long ebb of illness, little whispers and diminutive images of the old
joys and prizes of life arrest and fill our hearts; or as, to men who
have been beaten down by storms, the opening of a daisy is dearer
than the blazing orient which bids it open; so the visionary lock of
Cecilia’s hair became Cecilia’s self to Beauchamp, yielding him as much
of her as he could bear to think of, for his heart was shattered.

Why had she given it to his warmest friend? For the asking, probably.

This question was the first ripple of the breeze from other emotions
beginning to flow fast.

He walked out of London, to be alone, and to think and from the palings
of a road on a South-western run of high land, he gazed, at the
great city--a place conquerable yet, with the proper appliances for
subjugating it: the starting of his daily newspaper, THE DAWN, say, as
a commencement. It began to seem a possible enterprise. It soon seemed
a proximate one. If Cecilia! He left the exclamation a blank, but not an
empty dash in the brain; rather like the shroud of night on a vast and
gloriously imagined land.

Nay, the prospect was partly visible, as the unknown country becomes by
degrees to the traveller’s optics on the dark hill-tops. It is much, of
course, to be domestically well-mated: but to be fortified and armed
by one’s wife with a weapon to fight the world, is rare good fortune; a
rapturous and an infinite satisfaction. He could now support of his own
resources a weekly paper. A paper published weekly, however, is a poor
thing, out of the tide, behind the date, mainly a literary periodical,
no foremost combatant in politics, no champion in the arena; hardly
better than a commentator on the events of the six past days; an echo,
not a voice. It sits on a Saturday bench and pretends to sum up. Who
listens? The verdict knocks dust out of a cushion. It has no steady
continuous pressure of influence. It is the organ of sleepers. Of all
the bigger instruments of money, it is the feeblest, Beauchamp thought.
His constant faith in the good effects of utterance naturally inclined
him to value six occasions per week above one; and in the fight he was
for waging, it was necessary that he should enter the ring and hit blow
for blow sans intermission. A statement that he could call false must
be challenged hot the next morning. The covert Toryism, the fits of
flunkeyism, the cowardice, of the relapsing middle-class, which is now
England before mankind, because it fills the sails of the Press, must be
exposed. It supports the Press in its own interests, affecting to speak
for the people. It belies the people. And this Press, declaring itself
independent, can hardly walk for fear of treading on an interest here,
an interest there. It cannot have a conscience. It is a bad guide,
a false guardian; its abject claim to be our national and popular
interpreter-even that is hollow and a mockery! It is powerful only
while subservient. An engine of money, appealing to the sensitiveness of
money, it has no connection with the mind of the nation. And that it is
not of, but apart from, the people, may be seen when great crises come.
Can it stop a war? The people would, and with thunder, had they the
medium. But in strong gales the power of the Press collapses; it wheezes
like a pricked pigskin of a piper. At its best Beauchamp regarded our
lordly Press as a curiously diapered curtain and delusive mask, behind
which the country struggles vainly to show an honest feature; and as
a trumpet that deafened and terrorized the people; a mere engine of
leaguers banded to keep a smooth face upon affairs, quite soullessly: he
meanwhile having to be dumb.

But a Journal that should be actually independent of circulation and
advertisements: a popular journal in the true sense, very lungs to the
people, for them to breathe freely through at last, and be heard out of
it, with well-paid men of mark to head and aid them;--the establishment
of such a Journal seemed to him brave work of a life, though one should
die early. The money launching it would be coin washed pure of its
iniquity of selfish reproduction, by service to mankind. This DAWN of
his conception stood over him like a rosier Aurora for the country. He
beheld it in imagination as a new light rising above hugeous London.
You turn the sheets of THE DAWN, and it is the manhood of the land
addressing you, no longer that alternately puling and insolent cry of
the coffers. The health, wealth, comfort, contentment of the greater
number are there to be striven for, in contempt of compromise and
‘unseasonable times.’

Beauchamp’s illuminated dream of the power of his DAWN to vitalize
old England, liberated him singularly from his wearing regrets and
heart-sickness.

Surely Cecilia, who judged him sincere, might be bent to join hands
with him for so good a work! She would bring riches to her husband:
sufficient. He required the ablest men of the country to write for him,
and it was just that they should be largely paid. They at least in their
present public apathy would demand it. To fight the brewers, distillers,
publicans, the shopkeepers, the parsons, the landlords, the law limpets,
and also the indifferents, the logs, the cravens and the fools, high
talent was needed, and an ardour stimulated by rates of pay outdoing the
offers of the lucre-journals. A large annual outlay would therefore be
needed; possibly for as long as a quarter of a century. Cecilia and
her husband would have to live modestly. But her inheritance would be
immense. Colonel Halkett had never spent a tenth of his income. In time
he might be taught to perceive in THE DAWN the one greatly beneficent
enterprise of his day. He might through his daughter’s eyes, and
the growing success of the Journal. Benevolent and gallant old man,
patriotic as he was, and kind at heart, he might learn to see in THE
DAWN a broader channel of philanthropy and chivalry than any we have
yet had a notion of in England!--a school of popular education into the
bargain.

Beauchamp reverted to the shining curl. It could not have been clearer
to vision if it had lain under his eyes.

Ay, that first wild life of his was dead. He had slain it. Now for the
second and sober life! Who can say? The Countess of Romfrey suggested
it:--Cecilia may have prompted him in his unknown heart to the sacrifice
of a lawless love, though he took it for simply barren iron duty.
Brooding on her, he began to fancy the victory over himself less
and less a lame one: for it waxed less and less difficult in his
contemplation of it. He was looking forward instead of back.

Who cut off the lock? Probably Cecilia herself; and thinking at the
moment that he would see it, perhaps beg for it. The lustrous little
ring of hair wound round his heart; smiled both on its emotions and its
aims; bound them in one.

But proportionately as he grew tender to Cecilia, his consideration
for Renee increased; that became a law to him: pity nourished it,
and glimpses of self-contempt, and something like worship of her
high-heartedness.

He wrote to the countess, forbidding her sharply and absolutely to
attempt a vindication of him by explanations to any persons whomsoever;
and stating that he would have no falsehoods told, he desired her to
keep to the original tale of the visit of the French family to her as
guests of the Countess of Romfrey. Contradictory indeed. Rosamund shook
her head over him. For a wilful character that is guilty of issuing
contradictory commands to friends who would be friends in spite of him,
appears to be expressly angling for the cynical spirit, so surely does
it rise and snap at such provocation. He was even more emphatic when
they next met. He would not listen to a remonstrance; and though, of
course, her love of him granted him the liberty to speak to her in what
tone he pleased, there were sensations proper to her new rank which his
intemperateness wounded and tempted to revolt when he vexed her with
unreason. She had a glimpse of the face he might wear to his enemies.

He was quite as resolute, too, about that slight matter of the Jersey
bull. He had the bull in Bevisham, and would not give him up without the
sign manual of Lord Romfrey to an agreement to resign him over to the
American Quaker gentleman, after a certain term. Moreover, not once had
he, by exclamation or innuendo, during the period of his recent grief
for the loss of his first love, complained of his uncle Everard’s
refusal in the old days to aid him in suing for Renee. Rosamund had
expected that he would. She thought it unloverlike in him not to stir
the past, and to bow to intolerable facts. This idea of him, coming in
conjunction with his present behaviour, convinced her that there existed
a contradiction in his nature: whence it ensued that she lost her warmth
as an advocate designing to intercede for him with Cecilia; and warmth
being gone, the power of the scandal seemed to her unassailable. How
she could ever have presumed to combat it, was an astonishment to her.
Cecilia might be indulgent, she might have faith in Nevil. Little else
could be hoped for.

The occupations, duties, and ceremonies of her new position contributed
to the lassitude into which Rosamund sank. And she soon had a
communication to make to her lord, the nature of which was more
startling to herself, even tragic. The bondwoman is a free woman
compared with the wife.

Lord Romfrey’s friends noticed a glow of hearty health in the splendid
old man, and a prouder animation of eye and stature; and it was agreed
that matrimony suited him well. Luckily for Cecil he did not sulk very
long. A spectator of the earl’s first introduction to the House of
Peers, he called on his uncle the following day, and Rosamund accepted
his homage in her husband’s presence. He vowed that my lord was the
noblest figure in the whole assembly; that it had been to him the most
moving sight he had ever witnessed; that Nevil should have been there
to see it and experience what he had felt; it would have done old
Nevil incalculable good! and as far as his grief at the idea and some
reticence would let him venture, he sighed to think of the last Earl of
Romfrey having been seen by him taking the seat of his fathers.

Lord Romfrey shouted ‘Ha!’ like a checked peal of laughter, and glanced
at his wife.



CHAPTER XLV. A LITTLE PLOT AGAINST CECILIA

Some days before Easter week Seymour Austin went to Mount Laurels
for rest, at an express invitation from Colonel Halkett. The working
barrister, who is also a working member of Parliament, is occasionally
reminded that this mortal machine cannot adapt itself in perpetuity to
the long hours of labour by night in the House of Commons as well as by
day in the Courts, which would seem to have been arranged by a compliant
country for the purpose of aiding his particular, and most honourable,
ambition to climb, while continuing to fill his purse. Mr. Austin broke
down early in the year. He attributed it to a cold. Other representative
gentlemen were on their backs, of whom he could admit that the
protracted nightwork had done them harm, with the reservation that
their constitutions were originally unsound. But the House cannot get on
without lawyers, and lawyers must practise their profession, and if they
manage both to practise all day and sit half the night, others should
be able to do the simple late sitting; and we English are an energetic
people, we must toil or be beaten: and besides, ‘night brings counsel,’
men are cooler and wiser by night. Any amount of work can be performed
by careful feeders: it is the stomach that kills the Englishman. Brains
are never the worse for activity; they subsist on it.

These arguments and citations, good and absurd, of a man more at home
in his harness than out of it, were addressed to the colonel to stop his
remonstrances and idle talk about burning the candle at both ends. To
that illustration Mr. Austin replied that he did not burn it in the
middle.

‘But you don’t want money, Austin.’

‘No; but since I’ve had the habit of making it I have taken to like it.’

‘But you’re not ambitious.’

‘Very little; but I should be sorry to be out of the tideway.’

‘I call it a system of slaughter,’ said the colonel; and Mr. Austin
said, ‘The world goes in that way--love and slaughter.’

‘Not suicide though,’ Colonel Halkett muttered.

‘No, that’s only incidental.’

The casual word ‘love’ led Colonel Halkett to speak to Cecilia of an old
love-affair of Seymour Austin’s, in discussing the state of his health
with her. The lady was the daughter of a famous admiral, handsome, and
latterly of light fame. Mr. Austin had nothing to regret in her having
married a man richer than himself.

‘I wish he had married a good woman,’ said the colonel.

‘He looks unwell, papa.’

‘He thinks you’re looking unwell, my dear.’

‘He thinks that of me?’

Cecilia prepared a radiant face for Mr. Austin.

She forgot to keep it kindled, and he suspected her to be a victim of
one of the forms of youthful melancholy, and laid stress on the benefit
to health of a change of scene.

‘We have just returned from Wales,’ she said.

He remarked that it was hardly a change to be within shot of our
newspapers.

The colour left her cheeks. She fancied her father had betrayed her to
the last man who should know her secret. Beauchamp and the newspapers
were rolled together in her mind by the fever of apprehension wasting
her ever since his declaration of Republicanism, and defence of it, and
an allusion to one must imply the other, she feared: feared, but far
from quailingly. She had come to think that she could read the man she
loved, and detect a reasonableness in his extravagance. Her father had
discovered the impolicy of attacking Beauchamp in her hearing. The fever
by which Cecilia was possessed on her lover’s behalf, often overcame
discretion, set her judgement in a whirl, was like a delirium. How it
had happened she knew not. She knew only her wretched state; a frenzy
seized her whenever his name was uttered, to excuse, account for,
all but glorify him publicly. And the immodesty of her conduct was
perceptible to her while she thus made her heart bare. She exposed
herself once of late at Itchincope, and had tried to school her tongue
before she went there. She felt that she should inevitably be seen
through by Seymour Austin if he took the world’s view of Beauchamp, and
this to her was like a descent on the rapids to an end one shuts eyes
from.

He noticed her perturbation, and spoke of it to her father.

‘Yes, I’m very miserable about her,’ the colonel confessed. ‘Girls don’t
see... they can’t guess... they have no idea of the right kind of man
for them. A man like Blackburn Tuckham, now, a man a father could leave
his girl to, with confidence! He works for me like a slave; I can’t
guess why. He doesn’t look as if he were attracted. There’s a man! but,
no; harum-scarum fellows take their fancy.’

‘Is she that kind of young lady?’ said Mr. Austin.

‘No one would have thought so. She pretends to have opinions upon
politics now. It’s of no use to talk of it!’

But Beauchamp was fully indicated.

Mr. Austin proposed to Cecilia that they should spend Easter week in
Rome.

Her face lighted and clouded.

‘I should like it,’ she said, negatively.

‘What’s the objection?’

‘None, except that Mount Laurels in Spring has grown dear to me; and we
have engagements in London. I am not quick, I suppose, at new
projects. I have ordered the yacht to be fitted out for a cruise in
the Mediterranean early in the Summer. There is an objection, I am
sure--yes; papa has invited Mr. Tuckham here for Easter.’

‘We could carry him with us.’

‘Yes, but I should wish to be entirely under your tutelage in Rome.’

‘We would pair: your father and he; you and I.’

‘We might do that. But Mr. Tuckham is like you, devoted to work; and,
unlike you, careless of Antiquities and Art.’

‘He is a hard and serious worker, and therefore the best of companions
for a holiday. At present he is working for the colonel, who would
easily persuade him to give over, and come with us.’

‘He certainly does love papa,’ said Cecilia.

Mr. Austin dwelt on that subject.

Cecilia perceived that she had praised Mr. Tuckham for his devotedness
to her father without recognizing the beauty of nature in the young
man who could voluntarily take service under the elder he esteemed, in
simple admiration of him. Mr. Austin scarcely said so much, or expected
her to see the half of it, but she wished to be extremely grateful, and
could only see at all by kindling altogether.

‘He does himself injustice in his manner,’ said Cecilia.

‘That has become somewhat tempered,’ Mr. Austin assured her, and he
acknowledged what it had been with a smile that she reciprocated.

A rough man of rare quality civilizing under various influences, and
half ludicrous, a little irritating, wholly estimable, has frequently
won the benign approbation of the sex. In addition, this rough man over
whom she smiled was one of the few that never worried her concerning her
hand. There was not a whisper of it in him. He simply loved her father.

Cecilia welcomed him to Mount Laurels with grateful gladness. The
colonel had hastened Mr. Tuckham’s visit in view of the expedition to
Rome, and they discoursed of it at the luncheon table. Mr. Tuckham let
fall that he had just seen Beauchamp.

‘Did he thank you for his inheritance?’ Colonel Halkett inquired.

‘Not he!’ Tuckham replied jovially.

Cecilia’s eyes, quick to flash, were dropped.

The colonel said: ‘I suppose you told him nothing of what you had done
for him?’ and said Tuckham: ‘Oh no: what anybody else would have done’;
and proceeded to recount that he had called at Dr. Shrapnel’s on the
chance of an interview with his friend Lydiard, who used generally to be
hanging about the cottage. ‘But now he’s free: his lunatic wife is dead,
and I’m happy to think I was mistaken as to Miss Denham. Men practising
literature should marry women with money. The poor girl changed colour
when I informed her he had been released for upwards of three months.
The old Radical’s not the thing in health. He’s anxious about leaving
her alone in the world; he said so to me. Beauchamp’s for rigging out
a yacht to give him a sail. It seems that salt water did him some good
last year. They’re both of them rather the worse for a row at one of
their meetings in the North in support of that public nuisance, the
democrat and atheist Roughleigh. The Radical doctor lost a hat, and
Beauchamp almost lost an eye. He would have been a Nelson of politics,
if he had been a monops, with an excuse for not seeing. It’s a trifle to
them; part of their education. They call themselves students. Rome will
be capital, Miss Halkett. You’re an Italian scholar, and I beg to be
accepted as a pupil.’

‘I fear we have postponed the expedition too long,’ said Cecilia. She
could have sunk with languor.

‘Too long?’ cried Colonel Halkett, mystified.

‘Until too late, I mean, papa. Do you not think, Mr. Austin, that a
fortnight in Rome is too short a time?’

‘Not if we make it a month, my dear Cecilia.’

‘Is not our salt air better for you? The yacht shall be fitted out.’

‘I’m a poor sailor!’

‘Besides, a hasty excursion to Italy brings one’s anticipated regrets
at the farewell too close to the pleasure of beholding it, for the
enjoyment of that luxury of delight which I associate with the name of
Italy.’

‘Why, my dear child,’ said her father, ‘you were all for going, the
other day.’

‘I do not remember it,’ said she. ‘One plans agreeable schemes. At least
we need not hurry from home so very soon after our return. We have been
travelling incessantly. The cottage in Wales is not home. It is hardly
fair to Mount Laurels to quit it without observing the changes of the
season in our flowers and birds here. And we have visitors coming. Of
course, papa, I would not chain you to England. If I am not well enough
to accompany you, I can go to Louise for a few weeks.’

Was ever transparency so threadbare? Cecilia shrank from herself
in contemplating it when she was alone; and Colonel Halkett put the
question to Mr. Austin, saying to him privately, with no further
reserve: ‘It’s that fellow Beauchamp in the neighbourhood; I’m not so
blind. He’ll be knocking at my door, and I can’t lock him out. Austin,
would you guess it was my girl speaking? I never in my life had such
an example of intoxication before me. I ‘m perfectly miserable at the
sight. You know her; she was the proudest girl living. Her ideas were
orderly and sound; she had a good intellect. Now she more than half
defends him--a naval officer! good Lord!--for getting up in a public
room to announce that he ‘s a Republican, and writing heaps of mad
letters to justify himself. He’s ruined in his profession: hopeless! He
can never get a ship: his career’s cut short, he’s a rudderless boat. A
gentleman drifting to Bedlam, his uncle calls him. I call his treatment
of Grancey Lespel anything but gentlemanly. This is the sort of fellow
my girl worships! What can I do? I can’t interdict the house to him: it
would only make matters worse. Thank God, the fellow hangs fire somehow,
and doesn’t come to me. I expect it every day, either in a letter or the
man in person. And I declare to heaven I’d rather be threading a Khyber
Pass with my poor old friend who fell to a shot there.’

‘She certainly has another voice,’ Mr. Austin assented gravely.

He did not look on Beauchamp as the best of possible husbands for
Cecilia.

‘Let her see that you’re anxious, Austin,’ said the colonel. ‘I’m her
old opponent in this affair. She loves me, but she’s accustomed to think
me prejudiced: you she won’t. You may have a good effect.’

‘Not by speaking.’

‘No, no; no assault: not a word, and not a word against him. Lay the
wind to catch a gossamer. I’ve had my experience of blowing cold, and
trying to run her down. He’s at Shrapnel’s. He’ll be up here to-day, and
I have an engagement in the town. Don’t quit her side. Let her fancy you
are interested in some discussion--Radicalism, if you like.’

Mr. Austin readily undertook to mount guard over her while her father
rode into Bevisham on business.

The enemy appeared.

Cecilia saw him, and could not step to meet him for trouble of heart. It
was bliss to know that he lived and was near.

A transient coldness following the fit of ecstasy enabled her to swin
through the terrible first minutes face to face with him.

He folded her round like a mist; but it grew a problem to understand why
Mr. Austin should be perpetually at hand, in the garden, in the woods,
in the drawing-room, wheresoever she wakened up from one of her trances
to see things as they were.

Yet Beauchamp, with a daring and cunning at which her soul exulted, and
her feminine nature trembled, as at the divinely terrible, had managed
to convey to her no less than if they had been alone together.

His parting words were: ‘I must have five minutes with your father
to-morrow.’

How had she behaved? What could be Seymour Austin’s idea of her?

She saw the blind thing that she was, the senseless thing, the
shameless; and vulture-like in her scorn of herself, she alighted on
that disgraced Cecilia and picked her to pieces hungrily. It was clear:
Beauchamp had meant nothing beyond friendly civility: it was only her
abject greediness pecking at crumbs. No! he loved her. Could a woman’s
heart be mistaken? She melted and wept, thanking him: she offered him
her remnant of pride, pitiful to behold.

And still she asked herself between-whiles whether it could be true of
an English lady of our day, that she, the fairest stature under sun, was
ever knowingly twisted to this convulsion. She seemed to look forth from
a barred window on flower, and field, and hill. Quietness existed as
a vision. Was it impossible to embrace it? How pass into it? By
surrendering herself to the flames, like a soul unto death! For why,
if they were overpowering, attempt to resist them? It flattered her to
imagine that she had been resisting them in their present burning might
ever since her lover stepped on the Esperanza’s deck at the mouth
of Otley River. How foolish, seeing that they are fatal! A thrill of
satisfaction swept her in reflecting that her ability to reason was thus
active. And she was instantly rewarded for surrendering; pain fled, to
prove her reasoning good; the flames devoured her gently they cared not
to torture so long as they had her to themselves.

At night, candle in hand, on the corridor, her father told her he had
come across Grancey Lespel in Bevisham, and heard what he had not quite
relished of the Countess of Romfrey. The glittering of Cecilia’s eyes
frightened him. Taking her for the moment to know almost as much as he,
the colonel doubted the weight his communication would have on her; he
talked obscurely of a scandalous affair at Lord Romfrey’s house in town,
and Beauchamp and that Frenchwoman. ‘But,’ said he, ‘Mrs. Grancey will
be here to-morrow.’

‘So will Nevil, papa,’ said Cecilia.

‘Ah! he’s coming, yes; well!’ the colonel puffed. ‘Well, I shall see
him, of course, but I... I can only say that if his oath ‘s worth
having, I ... and I think you too, my dear, if you... but it’s no use
anticipating. I shall stand out for your honour and happiness. There,
your cheeks are flushed. Go and sleep.’

Some idle tale! Cecilia murmured to herself a dozen times, undisturbed
by the recurrence of it. Nevil was coming to speak to her father
tomorrow! Adieu to doubt and division! Happy to-morrow! and dear Mount
Laurels! The primroses were still fair in the woods: and soon the
cowslips would come, and the nightingale; she lay lapt in images of
everything innocently pleasing to Nevil. Soon the Esperanza would be
spreading wings. She revelled in a picture of the yacht on a tumbling
Mediterranean Sea, meditating on the two specks near the tiller,--who
were blissful human creatures, blest by heaven and in themselves--with
luxurious Olympian benevolence.

For all that, she awoke, starting up in the first cold circle of
twilight, her heart in violent action. She had dreamed that the vessel
was wrecked. ‘I did not think myself so cowardly,’ she said aloud,
pressing her side and then, with the dream in her eyes, she gasped: ‘It
would be together!’

Strangely chilled, she tried to recover some fallen load. The birds of
the dawn twittered, chirped, dived aslant her window, fluttered
back. Instead of a fallen load, she fancied presently that it was
an expectation she was desiring to realize: but what? What could be
expected at that hour? She quitted her bed, and paced up and down the
room beneath a gold-starred ceiling. Her expectation, she resolved to
think, was of a splendid day of the young Spring at Mount Laurels--a day
to praise to Nevil.

She raised her window-blind at a window letting in sweet air, to gather
indications of promising weather. Her lover stood on the grass-plot
among the flower-beds below, looking up, as though it had been his
expectation to see her which had drawn her to gaze out with an idea of
some expectation of her own. So visionary was his figure in the grey
solitariness of the moveless morning that she stared at the apparition,
scarce putting faith in him as man, until he kissed his hand to her, and
had softly called her name.

Impulsively she waved a hand from her lips.

Now there was no retreat for either of them!

She awoke to this conviction after a flight of blushes that burnt her
thoughts to ashes as they sprang. Thoughts born blushing, all of the
crimson colour, a rose-garden, succeeded, and corresponding with their
speed her feet paced the room, both slender hands crossed at her throat
under an uplifted chin, and the curves of her dark eyelashes dropped as
in a swoon.

‘He loves me!’ The attestation of it had been visible. ‘No one but me!’
Was that so evident?

Her father picked up silly stories of him--a man who made enemies
recklessly!

Cecilia was petrified by a gentle tapping at her door. Her father called
to her, and she threw on her dressing-gown, and opened the door.

The colonel was in his riding-suit.

‘I haven’t slept a wink, and I find it’s the same with you,’ he said,
paining her with his distressed kind eyes. ‘I ought not to have hinted
anything last night without proofs. Austin’s as unhappy as I am.’

‘At what, my dear papa, at what?’ cried Cecilia.

‘I ride over to Steynham this morning, and I shall bring you proofs, my
poor child, proofs. That foreign tangle of his...’

‘You speak of Nevil, papa?’

‘It’s a common scandal over London. That Frenchwoman was found at Lord
Romfrey’s house; Lady Romfrey cloaked it. I believe the woman would
swear black’s white to make Nevil Beauchamp appear an angel; and he’s a
desperately cunning hand with women. You doubt that.’

She had shuddered slightly.

‘You won’t doubt if I bring you proofs. Till I come back from Steynham,
I ask you not to see him alone: not to go out to him.’

The colonel glanced at her windows.

Cecilia submitted to the request, out of breath, consenting to feel like
a tutored girl, that she might conceal her guilty knowledge of what was
to be seen through the windows.

‘Now I’m off,’ said he, and kissed her.

‘If you would accept Nevil’s word!’ she murmured.

‘Not where women are concerned!’

He left her with this remark, which found no jealous response in her
heart, yet ranged over certain dispersed inflammable grains, like a
match applied to damp powder; again and again running in little leaps
of harmless firm keeping her alive to its existence, and surprising her
that it should not have been extinguished.

Beauchamp presented himself rather late in the afternoon, when Mr.
Austin and Blackburn Tuckham were sipping tea in Cecilia’s boudoir with
that lady, and a cousin of her sex, by whom she was led to notice a
faint discoloration over one of his eyes, that was, considering whence
it came, repulsive to compassion. A blow at a Radical meeting! He spoke
of Dr. Shrapnel to Tuckham, and assuredly could not complain that the
latter was unsympathetic in regard to the old man’s health, though when
he said, ‘Poor old man! he fears he will die!’ Tuckham rejoined: ‘He had
better make his peace.’

‘He fears he will die, because of his leaving Miss Denham unprotected,’
said Beauchamp.

‘Well, she’s a good-looking girl: he’ll be able to leave her something,
and he might easily get her married, I should think,’ said Tuckham.

‘He’s not satisfied with handing her to any kind of man.’

‘If the choice is to be among Radicals and infidels, I don’t wonder. He
has come to one of the tests.’

Cecilia heard Beauchamp speaking of a newspaper. A great Radical
Journal, unmatched in sincerity, superior in ability, soon to be equal
in power, to the leader and exemplar of the lucre-Press, would some day
see the light.

‘You’ll want money for that,’ said Tuckham.

‘I know,’ said Beauchamp.

‘Are you prepared to stand forty or fifty thousand a year?’

‘It need not be half so much.’

‘Counting the libels, I rate the outlay rather low.’

‘Yes, lawyers, judges, and juries of tradesmen, dealing justice to a
Radical print!’

Tuckham brushed his hand over his mouth and ahemed. ‘It’s to be a penny
journal?’

‘Yes, a penny. I’d make it a farthing--’

‘Pay to have it read?’

‘Willingly.’

Tuckham did some mental arithmetic, quaintly, with rapidly blinking
eyelids and open mouth. ‘You may count it at the cost of two paying
mines,’ he said firmly. ‘That is, if it’s to be a consistently Radical
Journal, at law with everybody all round the year. And by the time it
has won a reputation, it will be undermined by a radicaller Radical
Journal. That’s how we’ve lowered the country to this level. That’s an
Inferno of Circles, down to the ultimate mire. And what on earth are you
contending for?’

‘Freedom of thought, for one thing.’

‘We have quite enough free-thinking.’

‘There’s not enough if there’s not perfect freedom.’

‘Dangerous!’ quoth Mr. Austin.

‘But it’s that danger which makes men, sir; and it’s fear of the danger
that makes our modern Englishman.’

‘Oh! Oh!’ cried Tuckham in the voice of a Parliamentary Opposition.
‘Well, you start your paper, we’ll assume it: what class of men will you
get to write?’

‘I shall get good men for the hire.’

‘You won’t get the best men; you may catch a clever youngster or
two, and an old rogue of talent; you won’t get men of weight. They’re
prejudiced, I dare say. The Journals which are commercial speculations
give us a guarantee that they mean to be respectable; they must, if they
wouldn’t collapse. That’s why the best men consent to write for them.’

‘Money will do it,’ said Beauchamp.

Mr. Austin disagreed with that observation.

‘Some patriotic spirit, I may hope, sir.’

Mr. Austin shook his head. ‘We put different constructions upon
patriotism.’

‘Besides--fiddle! nonsense!’ exclaimed Tuckham in the mildest
interjections he could summon for a vent in society to his offended
common sense; ‘the better your men the worse your mark. You’re not
dealing with an intelligent people.’

‘There’s the old charge against the people.’

‘But they’re not. You can madden, you can’t elevate them by writing and
writing. Defend us from the uneducated English! The common English are
doltish; except in the North, where you won’t do much with them. Compare
them with the Yankees for shrewdness, the Spaniards for sobriety, the
French for ingenuity, the Germans for enlightenment, the Italians in the
Arts; yes, the Russians for good-humour and obedience--where are they?
They’re only worth something when they’re led. They fight well; there’s
good stuff in them.’

‘I’ve heard all that before,’ returned Beauchamp, unruffled. ‘You don’t
know them. I mean to educate them by giving them an interest in their
country. At present they have next to none. Our governing class is
decidedly unintelligent, in my opinion brutish, for it’s indifferent.
My paper shall render your traders justice for what they do, and justice
for what they don’t do.’

‘My traders, as you call them, are the soundest foundation for a
civilized state that the world has yet seen.’

‘What is your paper to be called?’ said Cecilia.

‘The DAWN,’ Beauchamp answered.

She blushed fiery red, and turned the leaves of a portfolio of drawings.

‘The DAWN!’ ejaculated Tuckham. ‘The grey-eyed, or the red?
Extraordinary name for a paper, upon my word!’

‘A paper that doesn’t devote half its columns to the vices of the
rich--to money-getting, spending and betting--will be an extraordinary
paper.’

‘I have it before me now!--two doses of flattery to one of the whip. No,
no; you haven’t hit the disease. We want union, not division. Turn your
mind to being a moralist, instead of a politician.’

‘The distinction shouldn’t exist!’

‘Only it does!’

Mrs. Grancey Lespel’s entrance diverted their dialogue from a theme
wearisome to Cecilia, for Beauchamp shone but darkly in it, and Mr.
Austin did not join in it. Mrs. Grancey touched Beauchamp’s fingers.
‘Still political?’ she said. ‘You have been seen about London with a
French officer in uniform.’

‘It was M. le comte de Croisnel, a very old friend and comrade of mine,’
Beauchamp replied.

‘Why do those Frenchmen everlastingly wear their uniforms?--tell me!
Don’t you think it detestable style?’

‘He came over in a hurry.’

‘Now, don’t be huffed. I know you, for defending your friends, Captain
Beauchamp! Did he not come over with ladies?’

‘With relatives, yes.’

‘Relatives of course. But when British officers travel with ladies,
relatives or other, they prefer the simplicity of mufti, and so do I, as
a question of taste, I must say.’

‘It was quite by misadventure that M. de Croisnel chanced to come in his
uniform.’

‘Ah! I know you, for defending your friends, Captain Beauchamp. He was
in too great a hurry to change his uniform before he started, or en
route?’

‘So it happened.’

Mrs. Grancey let a lingering eye dwell maliciously on Beauchamp, who
said, to shift the burden of it: ‘The French are not so jealous of
military uniforms as we are. M. de Croisnel lost his portmanteau.’

‘Ah! lost it! Then of course he is excuseable, except to the naked eye.
Dear me! you have had a bruise on yours. Was Monsieur votre ami in the
Italian campaign?’

‘No, poor fellow, he was not. He is not an Imperialist; he had to remain
in garrison.’

‘He wore a multitude of medals, I have been told. A cup of tea, Cecilia.
And how long did he stay in England with his relatives?’

‘Two days.’

‘Only two days! A very short visit indeed--singularly short. Somebody
informed me of their having been seen at Romfrey Castle, which cannot
have been true.’

She turned her eyes from Beauchamp silent to Cecilia’s hand on the
teapot. ‘Half a cup,’ she said mildly, to spare the poor hand its
betrayal of nervousness, and relapsed from her air of mistress of the
situation to chatter to Mr. Austin.

Beauchamp continued silent. He took up a book, and presently a pencil
from his pocket, then talked of the book to Cecilia’s cousin; and
leaving a paper-cutter between the leaves, he looked at Cecilia and laid
the book down.

She proceeded to conduct Mrs. Grancey Lespel to her room.

‘I do admire Captain Beauchamp’s cleverness; he is as good as a French
romance!’ Mrs. Grancey exclaimed on the stairs. ‘He fibs charmingly. I
could not help drawing him out. Two days! Why, my dear, his French party
were a fortnight in the country. It was the marquise, you know--the old
affair; and one may say he’s a constant man.’

‘I have not heard Captain Beauchamp’s cleverness much praised,’ said
Cecilia. ‘This is your room, Mrs. Grancey.’

‘Stay with me a moment. It is the room I like. Are we to have him at
dinner?’

Cecilia did not suppose that Captain Beauchamp would remain to dine.
Feeling herself in the clutches of a gossip, she would fain have gone.

‘I am just one bit glad of it, though I can’t dislike him personally,’
said Mrs. Grancey, detaining her and beginning to whisper. ‘It was
really too bad. There was a French party at the end, but there was only
one at the commencement. The brother was got over for a curtain, before
the husband arrived in pursuit. They say the trick Captain Beauchamp
played his cousin Cecil, to get him out of the house when he had made a
discovery, was monstrous--fiendishly cunning. However, Lady Romfrey, as
that woman appears to be at last, covered it all. You know she has one
of those passions for Captain Beauchamp which completely blind women to
right and wrong. He is her saint, let him sin ever so! The story’s in
everybody’s mouth. By the way, Palmet saw her. He describes her pale as
marble, with dark long eyes, the most innocent look in the world, and
a walk, the absurd fellow says, like a statue set gliding. No doubt
Frenchwomen do walk well. He says her eyes are terrible traitors; I need
not quote Palmet. The sort of eyes that would look fondly on a stone,
you know. What her reputation is in France I have only indistinctly
heard. She has one in England by this time, I can assure you. She found
her match in Captain Beauchamp for boldness. Where any other couple
would have seen danger, they saw safety; and they contrived to
accomplish it, according to those horrid talebearers. You have plenty of
time to dress, my dear; I have an immense deal to talk about. There are
half-a-dozen scandals in London already, and you ought to know them,
or you will be behind the tittle-tattle when you go to town; and I
remember, as a girl, I knew nothing so excruciating as to hear blanks,
dashes, initials, and half words, without the key. Nothing makes a
girl look so silly and unpalatable. Naturally, the reason why Captain
Beauchamp is more talked about than the rest is the politics. Your grand
reformer should be careful. Doubly heterodox will not do! It makes him
interesting to women, if you like, but he won’t soon hear the last of
it, if he is for a public career. Grancey literally crowed at the story.
And the wonderful part of it is, that Captain Beauchamp refused to be
present at the earl’s first ceremonial dinner in honour of his countess.
Now, that, we all think, was particularly ungrateful: now, was it not?’

‘If the countess--if ingratitude had anything to do with it,’ said
Cecilia.

She escaped to her room and dressed impatiently.

Her boudoir was empty: Beauchamp had departed. She recollected his
look at her, and turned over the leaves of the book he had been hastily
scanning, and had condescended to approve of. On the two pages where
the paper-cutter was fixed she perceived small pencil dots under certain
words. Read consecutively, with a participle termination struck out to
convey his meaning, they formed the pathetically ungrammatical line:

‘Hear: none: but: accused: false.’

Treble dots were under the word ‘to-morrow.’ He had scored the margin of
the sentences containing his dotted words, as if in admiration of their
peculiar wisdom.

She thought it piteous that he should be reduced to such means of
communication. The next instant Cecilia was shrinking from the adept
intriguer--French-taught!

In the course of the evening her cousin remarked:

‘Captain Beauchamp must see merit in things undiscoverable by my poor
faculties. I will show you a book he has marked.’

‘Did you see it? I was curious to examine it,’ interposed Cecilia; ‘and
I am as much at a loss as you to understand what could have attracted
him. One sentence...’

‘About the sheikh in the stables, where he accused the pretended
physician? Yes, what was there in that?’

‘Where is the book?’ said Mrs. Grancey.

‘Not here, I think.’ Cecilia glanced at the drawing-room book-table,
and then at Mr. Austin, the victim of an unhappy love in his youth, and
unhappy about her, as her father had said. Seymour Austin was not one
to spread the contagion of intrigue! She felt herself caught by it, even
melting to feel enamoured of herself in consequence, though not loving
Beauchamp the more.

‘This newspaper, if it’s not merely an airy project, will be ruination,’
said Tuckham. ‘The fact is, Beauchamp has no bend in him. He can’t meet
a man without trying a wrestle, and as long as he keeps his stiffness,
he believes he has won. I’ve heard an oculist say that the eye that
doesn’t blink ends in blindness, and he who won’t bend breaks. It’s
a pity, for he’s a fine fellow. A Radical daily Journal of Shrapnel’s
colour, to educate the people by giving them an interest in the country!
Goodness, what a delusion! and what a waste of money! He’ll not be able
to carry it on a couple of years. And there goes his eighty thousand!’

Cecilia’s heart beat fast. She had no defined cause for its excitement.

Colonel Halkett returned to Mount Laurels close upon midnight, very
tired, coughing and complaining of the bitter blowing East. His guests
shook hands with him, and went to bed.

‘I think I’ll follow their example,’ he said to Cecilia, after drinking
a tumbler of mulled wine.

‘Have you nothing to tell me, dear papa?’ said she, caressing him
timidly.

‘A confirmation of the whole story from Lord Romfrey in person--that’s
all. He says Beauchamp’s mad. I begin to believe it. You must use your
judgement. I suppose I must not expect you to consider me. You might
open your heart to Austin. As to my consent, knowing what I do, you will
have to tear it out of me. Here’s a country perfectly contented, and
that fellow at work digging up grievances to persuade the people they’re
oppressed by us. Why should I talk of it? He can’t do much harm; unless
he has money--money! Romfrey says he means to start a furious paper.
He’ll make a bonfire of himself. I can’t stand by and see you in it too.
I may die; I may be spared the sight.’

Cecilia flung her arms round his neck. ‘Oh! papa.’

‘I don’t want to make him out worse than he is, my dear. I own to his
gallantry--in the French sense as well as the English, it seems! It’s
natural that Romfrey should excuse his wife. She’s another of the women
who are crazy about Nevil Beauchamp. She spoke to me of the “pleasant
visit of her French friends,” and would have enlarged on it, but Romfrey
stopped her. By the way, he proposes Captain Baskelett for you, and
we’re to look for Baskelett’s coming here, backed by his uncle. There’s
no end to it; there never will be till you’re married: and no peace for
me! I hope I shan’t find myself with a cold to-morrow.’

The colonel coughed, and perhaps exaggerated the premonitory symptoms of
a cold.

‘Italy, papa, would do you good,’ said Cecilia.

‘It might,’ said he.

‘If we go immediately, papa; to-morrow, early in the morning, before
there is a chance of any visitors coming to the house.’

‘From Bevisham?’

‘From Steynham. I cannot endure a second persecution.’

‘But you have a world of packing, my dear.’

‘An hour before breakfast will be sufficient for me.’

‘In that case, we might be off early, as you say, and have part of the
Easter week in Rome.’

‘Mr. Austin wishes it greatly, papa, though he has not mentioned it.’

‘Austin, my darling girl, is not one of your impatient men who burst
with everything they have in their heads or their hearts.’

‘Oh! but I know him so well,’ said Cecilia, conjuring up that innocent
enthusiasm of hers for Mr. Austin as an antidote to her sharp suffering.
The next minute she looked on her father as the key of an enigma
concerning Seymour Austin, whom, she imagined, possibly she had not
hitherto known at all. Her curiosity to pierce it faded. She and her
maid were packing through the night. At dawn she requested her maid to
lift the window-blind and give her an opinion of the weather. ‘Grey,
Miss,’ the maid reported. It signified to Cecilia: no one roaming
outside.

The step she was taking was a desperate attempt at a cure; and
she commenced it, though sorely wounded, with pity for Nevil’s
disappointment, and a singularly clear-eyed perception of his aims and
motives.--‘I am rich, and he wants riches; he likes me, and he reads
my weakness.’--Jealousy shook her by fits, but she had no right to be
jealous, nor any right to reproach him. Her task was to climb back to
those heavenly heights she sat on before he distracted her and drew her
down.

Beauchamp came to a vacated house that day.



CHAPTER XLVI. AS IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN FORESEEN

It was in Italy that Cecilia’s maiden dreams of life had opened.
She hoped to recover them in Italy, and the calm security of a mind
untainted. Italy was to be her reviving air.

While this idea of a specific for her malady endured travelling at
speed to the ridges of the Italian frontier, across France--she simply
remembered Nevil: he was distant; he had no place in the storied
landscape, among the images of Art and the names of patient great men
who bear, as they bestow, an atmosphere other than earth’s for those
adoring them. If at night, in her sleep, he was a memory that conducted
her through scenes which were lightnings, the cool swift morning of
her flight released her. France, too, her rival!--the land of France,
personified by her instinctively, though she had no vivid imaginative
gift, did not wound her with a poisoned dart.--‘She knew him first: she
was his first love.’ The Alps, and the sense of having Italy below them,
renewed Cecilia’s lofty-perching youth. Then--I am in Italy! she sighed
with rapture. The wine of delight and oblivion was at her lips.

But thirst is not enjoyment, and a satiated thirst that we insist on
over-satisfying to drown the recollection of past anguish, is baneful to
the soul. In Rome Cecilia’s vision of her track to Rome was of a run of
fire over a heath. She could scarcely feel common pleasure in Rome. It
seemed burnt out.

Flung back on herself, she was condemned to undergo the bitter torment
she had flown from: jealous love, and reproachful; and a shame in it
like nothing she had yet experienced. Previous pains were but Summer
lightnings, passing shadows. She could have believed in sorcery: the man
had eaten her heart!

A disposition to mocking humour, foreign to her nature, gave her the
notion of being off her feet, in the claws of a fabulous bird. It served
to veil her dulness. An ultra-English family in Rome, composed, shocking
to relate, of a baronet banker and his wife, two faint-faced girls, and
a young gentleman of our country, once perhaps a light-limbed boy, chose
to be followed by their footman in the melancholy pomp of state livery.
Wherever she encountered them Cecilia talked Nevil Beauchamp. Even Mr.
Tuckham perceived it. She was extremely uncharitable: she extended her
ungenerous criticism to the institution of the footman: England, and the
English, were lashed.

‘These people are caricatures,’ Tuckham said, in apology for poor
England burlesqued abroad. ‘You must not generalize on them. Footmen are
footmen all the world over. The cardinals have a fine set of footmen.’

‘They are at home. Those English sow contempt of us all over Europe.
We cannot but be despised. One comes abroad foredoomed to share the
sentiment. This is your middle-class! What society can they move in,
that sanctions a vulgarity so perplexing? They have the air of ornaments
on a cottager’s parlour mantelpiece.’

Tuckham laughed. ‘Something of that,’ he said.

‘Evidently they seek distinction, and they have it, of that kind,’ she
continued. ‘It is not wonderful that we have so much satirical writing
in England, with such objects of satire. It may be as little wonderful
that the satire has no effect. Immense wealth and native obtuseness
combine to disfigure us with this aspect of overripeness, not to say
monstrosity. I fall in love with the poor, and think they have a cause
to be pleaded, when I look at those people. We scoff at the vanity of
the French, but it is a graceful vanity; pardonable compared with ours.’

‘I’ve read all that a hundred times,’ quoth Tuckham bluntly.

‘So have I. I speak of it because I see it. We scoff at the simplicity
of the Germans.’

‘The Germans live in simple fashion, because they’re poor. French
vanity’s pretty and amusing. I don’t know whether it’s deep in them, for
I doubt their depth; but I know it’s in their joints. The first spring
of a Frenchman comes of vanity. That you can’t say of the English. Peace
to all! but I abhor cosmopolitanism. No man has a firm foothold who
pretends to it. None despises the English in reality. Don’t be misled,
Miss Halkett. We’re solid: that is the main point. The world feels our
power, and has confidence in our good faith. I ask for no more.’

‘With Germans we are supercilious Celts; with Frenchmen we are sneering
Teutons:--Can we be loved, Mr. Tuckham?’

‘That’s a quotation from my friend Lydiard. Loved? No nation ever was
loved while it lived. As Lydiard says, it may be a good beast or a bad,
but a beast it is. A nation’s much too big for refined feelings and
affections. It must be powerful or out of the way, or down it goes. When
a nation’s dead you may love it; but I don’t see the use of dying to
be loved. My aim for my country is to have the land respected. For that
purpose we must have power; for power wealth; for wealth industry;
for industry internal peace: therefore no agitation, no artificial
divisions. All’s plain in history and fact, so long as we do not obtrude
sentimentalism. Nothing mixes well with that stuff--except poetical
ideas!’

Contrary to her anticipation, Cecilia was thrown more into companionship
with Mr. Tuckham than with Mr. Austin; and though it often vexed her,
she acknowledged that she derived a benefit from his robust antagonism
of opinion. And Italy had grown tasteless to her. She could hardly
simulate sufficient curiosity to serve for a vacant echo to Mr. Austin’s
historic ardour. Pliny the Younger might indeed be the model of
a gentleman of old Rome; there might be a scholarly pleasure in
calculating, as Mr. Austin did, the length of time it took Pliny to
journey from the city to his paternal farm, or villa overlooking the
lake, or villa overlooking the bay, and some abstruse fun in the tender
ridicule of his readings of his poems to friends; for Mr. Austin smiled
effusively in alluding to the illustrious Roman pleader’s foible of
verse: but Pliny bore no resemblance to that island barbarian Nevil
Beauchamp: she could not realize the friend of Trajan, orator, lawyer,
student, statesman, benefactor of his kind, and model of her own modern
English gentleman, though he was. ‘Yes!’ she would reply encouragingly
to Seymour Austin’s fond brooding hum about his hero; and ‘Yes!’
conclusively: like an incarnation of stupidity dealing in monosyllables.
She was unworthy of the society of a scholar. Nor could she kneel at
the feet of her especial heroes: Dante, Raphael, Buonarotti: she was
unworthy of them. She longed to be at Mount Laurels. Mr. Tuckham’s
conversation was the nearest approach to it--as it were round by
Greenland; but it was homeward.

She was really grieved to lose him. Business called him to England.

‘What business can it be, papa?’ she inquired: and the colonel replied
briefly: ‘Ours.’

Mr. Austin now devoted much of his time to the instruction of her in
the ancient life of the Eternal City. He had certain volumes of Livy,
Niebuhr, and Gibbon, from which he read her extracts at night, shunning
the scepticism and the irony of the moderns, so that there should be no
jar on the awakening interest of his fair pupil and patient. A gentle
cross-hauling ensued between them, that they grew conscious of and
laughed over during their peregrinations in and out of Rome: she pulled
for the Republic of the Scipios; his predilections were toward the Rome
of the wise and clement emperors. To Cecilia’s mind Rome rocked at a
period so closely neighbouring her decay: to him, with an imagination
brooding on the fuller knowledge of it, the city breathed securely, the
sky was clear; jurisprudence, rhetoric, statesmanship, then flourished
supreme, and men eminent for culture: the finest flowers of our race, he
thought them: and he thought their Age the manhood of Rome.

Struck suddenly by a feminine subtle comparison that she could not
have framed in speech, Cecilia bowed to his views of the happiness and
elevation proper to the sway of a sagacious and magnanimous Imperialism
of the Roman pattern:--he rejected the French. She mused on dim
old thoughts of the gracious dignity of a woman’s life under high
governorship. Turbulent young men imperilled it at every step. The
trained, the grave, the partly grey, were fitting lords and mates for
women aspiring to moral beauty and distinction. Beside such they should
be planted, if they would climb! Her walks and conversations with
Seymour Austin charmed her as the haze of a summer evening charms the
sight.

Upon the conclusion of her term of exile Cecilia would gladly have
remained in Italy another month. An appointment of her father’s with
Mr. Tuckham at Mount Laurels on a particular day she considered as of no
consequence whatever, and she said so, in response to a meaningless nod.
But Mr. Austin was obliged to return to work. She set her face homeward
with his immediately, and he looked pleased: he did not try to dissuade
her from accompanying him by affecting to think it a sacrifice: clearly
he knew that to be near him was her greatest delight.

Thus do we round the perilous headland called love by wooing a good man
for his friendship, and requiting him with faithful esteem for the grief
of an ill-fortuned passion of his youth!

Cecilia would not suffer her fancy to go very far in pursuit of the
secret of Mr. Austin’s present feelings. Until she reached Mount Laurels
she barely examined her own. The sight of the house warned her instantly
that she must have a defence: and then, in desperation but with
perfect distinctness, she entertained the hope of hearing him speak the
protecting words which could not be broken through when wedded to her
consent.

If Mr. Austin had no intentions, it was at least strange that he did not
part from her in London.

He whose coming she dreaded had been made aware of the hour of her
return, as his card, with the pencilled line, ‘Will call on the 17th,’
informed her. The 17th was the morrow.

After breakfast on the morning of the 17th Seymour Austin looked her
in the eyes longer than it is customary for ladies to have to submit to
keen inspection.

‘Will you come into the library?’ he said.

She went with him into the library.

Was it to speak of his anxiousness as to the state of her father’s
health that he had led her there, and that he held her hand? He alarmed
her, and he pacified her alarm, yet bade her reflect on the matter,
saying that her father, like other fathers, would be more at peace upon
the establishment of his daughter. Mr. Austin remarked that the colonel
was troubled.

‘Does he wish for my pledge never to marry without his approval? I will
give it,’ said Cecilia.

‘He would like you to undertake to marry the man of his choice.’
Cecilia’s features hung on an expression equivalent to:--I could almost
do that.’

At the same time she felt it was not Seymour Austin’s manner of
speaking. He seemed to be praising an unknown person--some gentleman who
was rough, but of solid promise and singular strength of character.

The house-bell rang. Believing that Beauchamp had now come, she showed a
painful ridging of the brows, and Mr. Austin considerately mentioned the
name of the person he had in his mind.

She readily agreed with him regarding Mr. Tuckham’s excellent
qualities--if that was indeed the name; and she hastened to recollect
how little she had forgotten Mr. Tuckham’s generosity to Beauchamp, and
confessed to herself it might as well have been forgotten utterly
for the thanks he had received. While revolving these ideas she was
listening to Mr. Austin; gradually she was beginning to understand that
she was parting company with her original conjectures, but going at
so swift a pace in so supple and sure a grasp, that, like the speeding
train slipped on new lines of rails by the pointsman, her hurrying
sensibility was not shocked, or the shock was imperceptible, when she
heard him proposing Mr. Tuckham to her for a husband, by her father’s
authority, and with his own warm seconding. He had not dropped her
hand: he was very eloquent, a masterly advocate: he pleaded her father’s
cause; it was not put to her as Mr. Tuckham’s: her father had set his
heart on this union he was awaiting her decision.

‘Is it so urgent?’ she asked.

‘It is urgent. It saves him from an annoyance. He requires a son-in-law
whom he can confidently rely on to manage the estates, which you are
woman of the world enough to know should be in strong hands. He gives
you to a man of settled principles. It is urgent, because he may wish to
be armed with your answer at any instant.’

Her father entered the library. He embraced her, and ‘Well?’ he said.

‘I must think, papa, I must think.’

She pressed her hand across her eyes. Disillusioned by Seymour Austin,
she was utterly defenceless before Beauchamp: and possibly Beauchamp
was in the house. She fancied he was, by the impatient brevity of her
father’s voice.

Seymour Austin and Colonel Halkett left the room, and Blackburn Tuckham
walked in, not the most entirely self-possessed of suitors, puffing
softly under his breath, and blinking eyes as rapidly as a skylark claps
wings on the ascent.

Half an hour later Beauchamp appeared. He asked to see the colonel,
delivered himself of his pretensions and wishes to the colonel, and
was referred to Cecilia; but Colonel Halkett declined to send for her.
Beauchamp declined to postpone his proposal until the following day. He
went outside the house and walked up and down the grass-plot.

Cecilia came to him at last.

‘I hear, Nevil, that you are waiting to speak to me.’

‘I’ve been waiting some weeks. Shall I speak here?’

‘Yes, here, quickly.’

‘Before the house? I have come to ask you for your hand.’

‘Mine? I cannot...’

‘Step into the park with me. I ask you to marry me.’

‘It is too late.’



CHAPTER XLVII. THE REFUSAL OF HIM

Passing from one scene of excitement to another, Cecilia was perfectly
steeled for her bitter task; and having done that which separated her a
sphere’s distance from Beauchamp, she was cold, inaccessible to the face
of him who had swayed her on flood and ebb so long, incapable of tender
pity, even for herself. All she could feel was a harsh joy to have
struck off her tyrant’s fetters, with a determination to cherish it
passionately lest she should presently be hating herself: for the
shadow of such a possibility fell within the narrow circle of her strung
sensations. But for the moment her delusion reached to the idea that
she had escaped from him into freedom, when she said, ‘It is too late.’
Those words were the sum and voice of her long term of endurance. She
said them hurriedly, almost in a whisper, in the manner of one changeing
a theme of conversation for subjects happier and livelier, though none
followed.

The silence bore back on her a suspicion of a faint reproachfulness
in the words; and perhaps they carried a poetical tone, still more
distasteful.

‘You have been listening to tales of me,’ said Beauchamp.

‘Nevil, we can always be friends, the best of friends.’

‘Were you astonished at my asking you for your hand? You said “mine?” as
if you wondered. You have known my feelings for you. Can you deny that?
I have reckoned on yours--too long?--But not falsely? No, hear me out.
The truth is, I cannot lose you. And don’t look so resolute. Overlook
little wounds: I was never indifferent to you. How could I be--with eyes
in my head? The colonel is opposed to me of course: he will learn to
understand me better: but you and I! we cannot be mere friends. It’s
like daylight blotted out--or the eyes gone blind:--Too late? Can you
repeat it? I tried to warn you before you left England: I should have
written a letter to put you on your guard against my enemies:--I find I
have some: but a letter is sure to stumble; I should have been obliged
to tell you that I do not stand on my defence; and I thought I should
see you the next day. You went: and not a word for me! You gave me no
chance. If you have no confidence in me I must bear it. I may say the
story is false. With your hand in mine I would swear it.’

‘Let it be forgotten,’ said Cecilia, surprised and shaken to think that
her situation required further explanations; fascinated and unnerved by
simply hearing him. ‘We are now--we are walking away from the house.’

‘Do you object to a walk with me?’

They had crossed the garden plot and were at the gate of the park
leading to the Western wood. Beauchamp swung the gate open. He cast a
look at the clouds coming up from the South-west in folds of grey and
silver.

‘Like the day of our drive into Bevisham!--without the storm behind,’
he said, and doated on her soft shut lips, and the mild sun-rays of
her hair in sunless light. ‘There are flowers that grow only in certain
valleys, and your home is Mount Laurels, whatever your fancy may be for
Italy. You colour the whole region for me. When you were absent, you
were here. I called here six times, and walked and talked with you.’

Cecilia set her face to the garden. Her heart had entered on a course of
heavy thumping, like a sapper in the mine.

Pain was not unwelcome to her, but this threatened weakness.

What plain words could she use? If Mr. Tuckham had been away from the
house, she would have found it easier to speak of her engagement;
she knew not why. Or if the imperative communication could have been
delivered in Italian or French, she was as little able to say why it
should have slipped from her tongue without a critic shudder to arrest
it. She was cold enough to revolve the words: betrothed, affianced,
plighted: and reject them, pretty words as they are. Between the
vulgarity of romantic language, and the baldness of commonplace, it
seemed to her that our English gives us no choice; that we cannot be
dignified in simplicity. And for some reason, feminine and remote, she
now detested her ‘hand’ so much as to be unable to bring herself to the
metonymic mention of it. The lady’s difficulty was peculiar to sweet
natures that have no great warmth of passion; it can only be indicated.
Like others of the kind, it is traceable to the most delicate of
sentiments, and to the flattest:--for Mr. Blackburn’s Tuckham’s figure
was (she thought of it with no personal objection) not of the graceful
order, neither cavalierly nor kingly: and imagining himself to say, ‘I
am engaged,’ and he suddenly appearing on the field, Cecilia’s whole
mind was shocked in so marked a way did he contrast with Beauchamp.

This was the effect of Beauchamp’s latest words on her. He had disarmed
her anger.

‘We must have a walk to-day,’ he said commandingly, but it had stolen
into him that he and she were not walking on the same bank of the river,
though they were side by side: a chill water ran between them. As in
other days, there hung her hand: but not to be taken. Incredible as it
was, the icy sense of his having lost her benumbed him. Her beautiful
face and beautiful tall figure, so familiar to him that they were like a
possession, protested in his favour while they snatched her from him all
the distance of the words ‘too late.’

‘Will you not give me one half-hour?’

‘I am engaged,’ Cecilia plunged and extricated herself, ‘I am engaged to
walk with Mr. Austin and papa.’

Beauchamp tossed his head. Something induced him to speak of Mr.
Tuckham. ‘The colonel has discovered his Tory young man! It’s an object
as incomprehensible to me as a Tory working-man. I suppose I must take
it that they exist. As for Blackburn Tuckham, I have nothing against
him. He’s an honourable fellow enough, and would govern Great Britain as
men of that rich middle-class rule their wives--with a strict regard
for ostensible humanity and what the law allows them. His manners have
improved. Your cousin Mary seems to like him: it struck me when I saw
them together. Cecilia! one half-hour! You refuse me: you have not heard
me. You will not say too late.’

‘Nevil, I have said it finally. I have no longer the right to conceive
it unsaid.’

‘So we speak! It’s the language of indolence, temper, faint hearts.
“Too late” has no meaning. Turn back with me to the park. I offer you my
whole heart; I love you. There’s no woman living who could be to me the
wife you would be. I’m like your male nightingale that you told me of:
I must have my mate to sing to--that is, work for and live for; and she
must not delay too long. Did I? Pardon me if you think I did. You have
known I love you. I have been distracted by things that kept me from
thinking of myself and my wishes: and love’s a selfish business while...
while one has work in hand. It’s clear I can’t do two things at a
time--make love and carry on my taskwork. I have been idle for weeks.
I believed you were mine and wanted no lovemaking. There’s no folly
in that, if you understand me at all. As for vanity about women, I
‘ve outlived it. In comparison with you I’m poor, I know:--you look
distressed, but one has to allude to it:--I admit that wealth would help
me. To see wealth supporting the cause of the people for once would--but
you say, too late! Well, I don’t renounce you till I see you giving your
hand to a man who’s not myself. You have been offended: groundlessly, on
my honour! You are the woman of all women in the world to hold me fast
in faith and pride in you. It’s useless to look icy: you feel what I
say.’

‘Nevil, I feel grief, and beg you to cease. I am----It is-----’

‘“Too late” has not a rag of meaning, Cecilia! I love your name. I love
this too: this is mine, and no one can rob me of it.’

He drew forth a golden locket and showed her a curl of her hair.

Crimsoning, she said instantly: ‘Language of the kind I used is open to
misconstruction, I fear. I have not even the right to listen to you. I
am ... You ask me for what I have it no longer in my power to give. I am
engaged.’

The shot rang through him and partly stunned him; but incredulity made
a mocking effort to sustain him. The greater wounds do not immediately
convince us of our fate, though we may be conscious that we have been
hit.

‘Engaged in earnest?’ said he.

‘Yes.’

‘Of your free will?’

‘Yes.’

Her father stepped out on the terrace, from one of the open windows,
trailing a newspaper like a pocket-handkerchief. Cecilia threaded the
flower-beds to meet him.

‘Here’s an accident to one of our ironclads,’ he called to Beauchamp.

‘Lives lost, sir?’

‘No, thank heaven! but, upon my word, it’s a warning. Read the telegram;
it’s the Hastings. If these are our defences, at a cost of half a
million of money, each of them, the sooner we look to our land forces
the better.’

‘The Shop will not be considered safe!’ said Beauchamp, taking in the
telegram at a glance. ‘Peppel’s a first-rate officer too: she couldn’t
have had a better captain. Ship seriously damaged!’

He handed back the paper to the colonel.

Cecilia expected him to say that he had foreseen such an event.

He said nothing; and with a singular contraction of the heart she
recollected how he had denounced our system of preparing mainly for
the defensive in war, on a day when they stood together in the park,
watching the slow passage of that very ship, the Hastings, along
the broad water, distant below them. The ‘swarms of swift vessels of
attack,’ she recollected particularly, and ‘small wasps and rams under
mighty steam-power,’ that he used to harp on when declaring that
England must be known for the assailant in war: she was to ‘ray out’ her
worrying fleets. ‘The defensive is perilous policy in war’: he had
said it. She recollected also her childish ridicule of his excess of
emphasis: he certainly had foresight.’

Mr. Austin and Mr. Tuckham came strolling in conversation round the
house to the terrace. Beauchamp bowed to the former, nodded to the
latter, scrutinizing him after he had done so, as if the flash of a
thought were in his mind. Tuckham’s radiant aspect possibly excited it:
‘Congratulate me!’ was the honest outcry of his face and frame. He
was as over-flowingly rosy as a victorious candidate at the hustings
commencing a speech. Cecilia laid her hand on an urn, in dread of the
next words from either of the persons present. Her father put an arm in
hers, and leaned on her. She gazed at her chamber window above, wishing
to be wafted thither to her seclusion within. The trembling limbs of
physical irresoluteness was a new experience to her.

‘Anything else in the paper, colonel? I’ve not seen it to-day,’ said
Beauchamp, for the sake of speaking.

‘No, I don’t think there’s anything,’ Colonel Halkett replied. ‘Our
diplomatists haven’t been shining much: that ‘s not our forte.’

‘No: it’s our field for younger sons.’

‘Is it? Ah! There’s an expedition against the hilltribes in India,
and we’re such a peaceful nation, eh? We look as if we were in for a
complication with China.’

‘Well, sir, we must sell our opium.’

‘Of course we must. There’s a man writing about surrendering Gibraltar!’

‘I’m afraid we can’t do that.’

‘But where do you draw the line?’ quoth Tuckham, very susceptible to
a sneer at the colonel, and entirely ignorant of the circumstances
attending Beauchamp’s position before him. ‘You defend the Chinaman; and
it’s questionable if his case is as good as the Spaniard’s.’

‘The Chinaman has a case against our traders. Gibraltar concerns our
imperial policy.’

‘As to the case against the English merchants, the Chinaman is for
shutting up his millions of acres of productive land, and the action of
commerce is merely a declaration of a universal public right, to which
all States must submit.’

‘Immorality brings its punishment, be sure of that. Some day we shall
have enough of China. As to the Rock, I know the argument; I may be
wrong. I’ve had the habit of regarding it as necessary to our naval
supremacy.’

‘Come! there we agree.’

‘I’m not so certain.’

‘The counter-argument, I call treason.’

‘Well,’ said Beauchamp, ‘there’s a broad policy, and a narrow. There’s
the Spanish view of the matter--if you are for peace and harmony and
disarmament.’

‘I’m not.’

‘Then strengthen your forces.’

‘Not a bit of it!’

‘Then bully the feeble and truckle to the strong; consent to be hated
till you have to stand your ground.’

‘Talk!’

‘It seems to me logical.’

‘That’s the French notion--c’est lodgique!’

Tuckham’s pronunciation caused Cecilia to level her eyes at him
passingly.

‘By the way,’ said Colonel Halkett, ‘there are lots of horrors in the
paper to-day; wife kickings, and starvations--oh, dear me! and the
murder of a woman: two columns to that.’

‘That, the Tory reaction is responsible for!’ said Tuckham, rather by
way of a joke than a challenge.

Beauchamp accepted it as a challenge. Much to the benevolent amusement
of Mr. Austin and Colonel Halkett, he charged the responsibility of
every crime committed in the country, and every condition of misery,
upon the party which declined to move in advance, and which therefore
apologized for the perpetuation of knavery, villany, brutality,
injustice, and foul dealing.

‘Stick to your laws and systems and institutions, and so long as you
won’t stir to amend them, I hold you accountable for that long newspaper
list daily.’

He said this with a visible fire of conviction.

Tuckham stood bursting at the monstrousness of such a statement.

He condensed his indignant rejoinder to: ‘Madness can’t go farther!’

‘There’s an idea in it,’ said Mr. Austin.

‘It’s an idea foaming at the mouth, then.’

‘Perhaps it has no worse fault than that of not marching parallel with
the truth,’ said Mr. Austin, smiling. ‘The party accusing in those terms
... what do you say, Captain Beauchamp?--supposing us to be pleading
before a tribunal?’

Beauchamp admitted as much as that he had made the case gigantic,
though he stuck to his charge against the Tory party. And moreover:
the Tories-and the old Whigs, now Liberals, ranked under the heading
of Tories--those Tories possessing and representing the wealth of the
country, yet had not started one respectable journal that a lady could
read through without offence to her, or a gentleman without disgust!
If there was not one English newspaper in existence independent of
circulation and advertisements, and of the tricks to win them, the
Tories were answerable for the vacancy. They, being the rich who, if
they chose, could set an example to our Press by subscribing to maintain
a Journal superior to the flattering of vile appetites--‘all that
nauseous matter,’ Beauchamp stretched his fingers at the sheets Colonel
Halkett was holding, and which he had not read--‘those Tories,’ he bowed
to the colonel, ‘I’m afraid I must say you, sir, are answerable for it.’

‘I am very well satisfied with my paper,’ said the colonel.

Beauchamp sighed to himself. ‘We choose to be satisfied,’ he said. His
pure and mighty DAWN was in his thoughts: the unborn light of a day
denied to earth!

One of the doctors of Bevisham, visiting a sick maid of the house,
trotted up the terrace to make his report to her master of the state of
her health. He hoped to pull her through with the aid of high feeding.
He alluded cursorily to a young girl living on the outskirts of the
town, whom he had been called in to see at the eleventh hour, and had
lost, owing to the lowering of his patient from a prescription of a
vegetable diet by a certain Dr. Shrapnel.

That ever-explosive name precipitated Beauchamp to the front rank of the
defence.

‘I happen to be staying with Dr. Shrapnel,’ he observed. ‘I don’t
eat meat there because he doesn’t, and I am certain I take no harm by
avoiding it. I think vegetarianism a humaner system, and hope it may be
wise. I should like to set the poor practising it, for their own sakes;
and I have half an opinion that it would be good for the rich--if we are
to condemn gluttony.’

‘Ah? Captain Beauchamp!’ the doctor bowed to him. ‘But my case was one
of poor blood requiring to be strengthened. The girl was allowed to sink
so low that stimulants were ineffective when I stepped in. There’s the
point. It ‘s all very well while you are in health. You may do without
meat till your system demands the stimulant, or else--as with this poor
girl! And, indeed, Captain Beauchamp, if I may venture the remark--I had
the pleasure of seeing you during the last Election in our town--and if
I may be so bold, I should venture to hint that the avoidance of animal
food--to judge by appearances--has not been quite wholesome for you.’

Eyes were turned on Beauchamp.



CHAPTER XLVIII. OF THE TRIAL AWAITING THE EARL OF ROMFREY

Cecilia softly dropped her father’s arm, and went into the house. The
exceeding pallor of Beauchamp’s face haunted her in her room. She
heard the controversy proceeding below, and an exclamation of Blackburn
Tuckham’s: ‘Immorality of meat-eating? What nonsense are they up to
now?’

Beauchamp was inaudible, save in a word or two. As usual, he was the
solitary minority.

But how mournfully changed he was! She had not noticed it, agitated by
her own emotions as she had been, and at one time three parts frozen. He
was the ghost of the Nevil Beauchamp who had sprung on the deck of the
Esperanza out of Lieutenant Wilmore’s boat, that sunny breezy day which
was the bright first chapter of her new life--of her late life, as it
seemed to her now, for she was dead to it, and another creature, the
coldest of the women of earth. She felt sensibly cold, coveted warmth,
flung a shawl on her shoulders, and sat in a corner of her room, hidden
and shivering beside the open window, till long after the gentlemen had
ceased to speak.

How much he must have suffered of late! The room she had looked to as
a refuge from Nevil was now her stronghold against the man whom she had
incredibly accepted. She remained there, the victim of a heart malady,
under the term of headache. Feeling entrapped, she considered that she
must have been encircled and betrayed. She looked back on herself as a
giddy figure falling into a pit: and in the pit she lay.

And how vile to have suspected of unfaithfulness and sordidness
the generous and stedfast man of earth! He never abandoned a common
friendship. His love of his country was love still, whatever the form it
had taken. His childlike reliance on effort and outspeaking, for which
men laughed at him, was beautiful.

Where am I? she cried amid her melting images of him, all dominated by
his wan features. She was bound fast, imprisoned and a slave. Even Mr.
Austin had conspired against him: for only she read Nevil justly. His
defence of Dr. Shrapnel filled her with an envy that no longer maligned
the object of it, but was humble, and like the desire of the sick to
creep into sunshine.

The only worthy thing she could think of doing was (it must be mentioned
for a revelation of her fallen state, and, moreover, she was not lusty
of health at the moment) to abjure meat. The body loathed it, and
consequently the mind of the invalided lady shrank away in horror of the
bleeding joints, and the increasingly fierce scramble of Christian souls
for the dismembered animals: she saw the innocent pasturing beasts, she
saw the act of slaughter. She had actually sweeping before her sight a
spectacle of the ludicrous-terrific, in the shape of an entire community
pursuing countless herds of poor scampering animal life for blood: she,
meanwhile, with Nevil and Dr. Shrapnel, stood apart contemning. For
whoso would not partake of flesh in this kingdom of roast beef must be
of the sparse number of Nevil’s execrated minority in politics.

The example will show that she touched the borders of delirium.
Physically, the doctor pronounces her bilious. She was in earnest so far
as to send down to the library for medical books, and books upon diet.
These, however, did not plead for the beasts. They treated the subject
without question of man’s taking that which he has conquered. Poets and
philosophers did the same. Again she beheld Nevil Beauchamp solitary in
the adverse rank to the world;--to his countrymen especially. But that
it was no material cause which had wasted his cheeks and lined his
forehead, she was sure: and to starve with him, to embark with him in
his little boat on the seas he whipped to frenzy, would have been a
dream of bliss, had she dared to contemplate herself in a dream as his
companion.

It was not to be thought of.

No: but this was, and to be thought of seriously: Cecilia had said to
herself for consolation that Beauchamp was no spiritual guide; he had
her heart within her to plead for him, and the reflection came to her,
like a bubble up from the heart, that most of our spiritual guides
neglect the root to trim the flower: and thence, turning sharply on
herself, she obtained a sudden view of her allurement and her sin
in worshipping herself, and recognized that the aim at an ideal life
closely approaches, or easily inclines, to self-worship; to which the
lady was woman and artist enough to have had no objection, but that
therein visibly she discerned the retributive vain longings, in the
guise of high individual superiority and distinction, that had thwarted
her with Nevil Beauchamp, never permitting her to love single-mindedly
or whole-heartedly, but always in reclaiming her rights and sighing
for the loss of her ideal; adoring her own image, in fact, when she
pretended to cherish, and regret that she could not sufficiently
cherish, the finer elements of nature. What was this ideal she had
complained of losing? It was a broken mirror: she could think of it in
no other form.

Dr. Shrapnel’s ‘Ego-Ego’ yelped and gave chase to her through the pure
beatitudes of her earlier days down to her present regrets. It hunted
all the saints in the calendar till their haloes top-sided on their
heads-her favourite St. Francis of Assisi excepted.

The doctor was called up from Bevisham next day, and pronounced her
bilious. He was humorous over Captain Beauchamp, who had gone to the
parents of the dead girl, and gathered the information that they were
a consumptive family, to vindicate Dr. Shrapnel. ‘The very family to
require strong nourishment,’ said the doctor.

Cecilia did not rest in her sick-room before, hunting through one book
and another, she had found arguments on the contrary side; a waste of
labour that heaped oppression on her chest, as with the world’s weight.
Apparently one had only to be in Beauchamp’s track to experience
that. She horrified her father by asking questions about consumption.
Homoeopathy, hydropathy,--the revolutionaries of medicine attracted
her. Blackburn Tuckham, a model for an elected lover who is not beloved,
promised to procure all sorts of treatises for her: no man could have
been so deferential to a diseased mind. Beyond calling her by her
Christian name, he did nothing to distress her with the broad aspect
of their new relations together. He and Mr. Austin departed from
Mount Laurels, leaving her to sink into an agreeable stupor, like one
deposited on a mudbank after buffeting the waves. She learnt that her
father had seen Captain Baskelett, and remembered, marvelling, how her
personal dread of an interview, that threatened to compromise her ideal
of her feminine and peculiar dignity, had assisted to precipitate her
where she now lay helpless, almost inanimate.

She was unaware of the passage of time save when her father spoke of
a marriage-day. It told her that she lived and was moving. The fear
of death is not stronger in us, nor the desire to put it off, than
Cecilia’s shunning of such a day. The naming of it numbed her blood like
a snakebite. Yet she openly acknowledged her engagement; and, happily
for Tuckham, his visits, both in London and at Mount Laurels, were few
and short, and he inflicted no foretaste of her coming subjection to him
to alarm her.

Under her air of calm abstraction she watched him rigorously for some
sign of his ownership that should tempt her to revolt from her pledge,
or at least dream of breaking loose: the dream would have sufficed.
He was never intrusive, never pressing. He did not vex, because he
absolutely trusted to the noble loyalty which made her admit to herself
that she belonged irrevocably to him, while her thoughts were upon
Beauchamp. With a respectful gravity he submitted to her perusal a
collection of treatises on diet, classed pro and con., and paged and
pencil-marked to simplify her study of the question. They sketched in
company; she played music to him, he read poetry to her, and read
it well. He seemed to feel the beauty of it sensitively, as she did
critically. In other days the positions had been reversed. He invariably
talked of Beauchamp with kindness, deploring only that he should be
squandering his money on workmen’s halls and other hazy projects down in
Bevisham.

‘Lydiard tells me he has a very sound idea of the value of money,
and has actually made money by cattle breeding; but he has flung ten
thousand pounds on a single building outside the town, and he’ll have
to endow it to support it--a Club to educate Radicals. The fact is, he
wants to jam the business of two or three centuries into a life-time.
These men of their so-called progress are like the majority of religious
minds: they can’t believe without seeing and touching. That is to say,
they don’t believe in the abstract at all, but they go to work blindly
by agitating, and proselytizing, and persecuting to get together a mass
they can believe in. You see it in their way of arguing; it’s half
done with the fist. Lydiard tells me he left him last in a horrible
despondency about progress. Ha! ha! Beauchamp’s no Radical. He hasn’t
forgiven the Countess of Romfrey for marrying above her rank. He may
be a bit of a Republican: but really in this country Republicans are
fighting with the shadow of an old hat and a cockhorse. I beg to state
that I have a reverence for constituted authority: I speak of what those
fellows are contending with.’

‘Right,’ said Colonel Halkett. ‘But “the shadow of an old hat and a
cockhorse”: what does that mean?’

‘That’s what our Republicans are hitting at, sir.’

‘Ah! so; yes,’ quoth the colonel. ‘And I say this to Nevil Beauchamp,
that what we’ve grown up well with, powerfully with, it’s base
ingratitude and dangerous folly to throw over.’

He blamed Beauchamp for ingratitude to the countess, who had, he
affirmed of his own knowledge, married Lord Romfrey to protect
Beauchamp’s interests.

A curious comment on this allegation was furnished by the announcement
of the earl’s expectations of a son and heir. The earl wrote to Colonel
Halkett from Romfrey Castle inviting him to come and spend some time
there.

‘Now, that’s brave news!’ the colonel exclaimed.

He proposed a cruise round by the Cornish coast to the Severn, and so to
Romfrey Castle, to squeeze the old lord’s hand and congratulate him with
all his heart. Cecilia was glad to acquiesce, for an expedition of any
description was a lull in the storm that hummed about her ears in the
peace of home, where her father would perpetually speak of the day to
be fixed. Sailing the sea on a cruise was like the gazing at wonderful
colours of a Western sky: an oblivion of earthly dates and obligations.
What mattered it that there were gales in August? She loved the sea, and
the stinging salt spray, and circling gull and plunging gannet, the
sun on the waves, and the torn cloud. The revelling libertine open sea
wedded her to Beauchamp in that veiled cold spiritual manner she could
muse on as a circumstance out of her life.

Fair companies of racing yachts were left behind. The gales of August
mattered frightfully to poor Blackburn Tuckham, who was to be dropped
at a town in South Wales, and descended greenish to his cabin as soon
as they had crashed on the first wall-waves of the chalk-race, a throw
beyond the peaked cliffs edged with cormorants, and were really tasting
sea. Cecilia reclined on deck, wrapped in shawl and waterproof. As the
Alpine climber claims the upper air, she had the wild sea to herself
through her love of it; quite to herself. It was delicious to look round
and ahead, and the perturbation was just enough to preserve her from
thoughts too deep inward in a scene where the ghost of Nevil was abroad.

The hard dry gale increased. Her father, stretched beside her, drew her
attention to a small cutter under double-reefed main-sail and small jib
on the Esperanza’s weather bow--a gallant boat carefully handled. She
watched it with some anxiety, but the Esperanza was bound for a Devon
bay, and bore away from the black Dorsetshire headland, leaving the
little cutter to run into haven if she pleased. The passing her was no
event.--In a representation of the common events befalling us in these
times, upon an appreciation of which this history depends, one turns at
whiles a languishing glance toward the vast potential mood, pluperfect
tense. For Nevil Beauchamp was on board the cutter, steering her, with
Dr. Shrapnel and Lydiard in the well, and if an accident had happened to
cutter or schooner, what else might not have happened? Cecilia gathered
it from Mrs. Wardour-Devereux, whom, to her surprise and pleasure, she
found at Romfrey Castle. Her friend Louise received a letter from Mr.
Lydiard, containing a literary amateur seaman’s log of a cruise of a
fifteen-ton cutter in a gale, and a pure literary sketch of Beauchamp
standing drenched at the helm from five in the morning up to nine at
night, munching a biscuit for nourishment. The beautiful widow prepared
the way for what was very soon to be publicly known concerning herself
by reading out this passage of her correspondent’s letter in the
breakfast room.

‘Yes, the fellow’s a sailor!’ said Lord Romfrey.

The countess rose from her chair and walked out.

‘Now, was that abuse of the fellow?’ the old lord asked Colonel Halkett.
‘I said he was a sailor, I said nothing else. He is a sailor, and he’s
fit for nothing else, and no ship will he get unless he bends his neck
never ‘s nearer it.’

He hesitated a moment, and went after his wife.

Cecilia sat with the countess, in the afternoon, at a window overlooking
the swelling woods of Romfrey. She praised the loveliness of the view.

‘It is fire to me,’ said Rosamund.

Cecilia looked at her, startled. Rosamund said no more.

She was an excellent hostess, nevertheless, unpretending and simple in
company; and only when it chanced that Beauchamp’s name was mentioned
did she cast that quick supplicating nervous glance at the earl, with
a shadow of an elevation of her shoulders, as if in apprehension of
mordant pain.

We will make no mystery about it. I would I could. Those happy tales of
mystery are as much my envy as the popular narratives of the deeds
of bread and cheese people, for they both create a tide-way in the
attentive mind; the mysterious pricking our credulous flesh to creep,
the familiar urging our obese imagination to constitutional exercise.
And oh, the refreshment there is in dealing with characters either
contemptibly beneath us or supernaturally above! My way is like a Rhone
island in the summer drought, stony, unattractive and difficult between
the two forceful streams of the unreal and the over-real, which delight
mankind--honour to the conjurors! My people conquer nothing, win none;
they are actual, yet uncommon. It is the clock-work of the brain that
they are directed to set in motion, and--poor troop of actors to vacant
benches!--the conscience residing in thoughtfulness which they would
appeal to; and if you are there impervious to them, we are lost: back I
go to my wilderness, where, as you perceive, I have contracted the habit
of listening to my own voice more than is good: The burden of a child in
her bosom had come upon Rosamund with the visage of the Angel of Death
fronting her in her path. She believed that she would die; but like much
that we call belief, there was a kernel of doubt in it, which was lively
when her frame was enlivened, and she then thought of the giving birth
to this unloved child, which was to disinherit the man she loved, in
whose interest solely (so she could presume to think, because it had
been her motive reason) she had married the earl. She had no wish to be
a mother; but that prospect, and the dread attaching to it at her time
of life, she could have submitted to for Lord Romfrey’s sake. It struck
her like a scoffer’s blow that she, the one woman on earth loving Nevil,
should have become the instrument for dispossessing him. The revulsion
of her feelings enlightened her so far as to suggest, without enabling
her to fathom him, that instead of having cleverly swayed Lord Romfrey,
she had been his dupe, or a blind accomplice; and though she was too
humane a woman to think of punishing him, she had so much to forgive
that the trifles daily and at any instant added to the load, flushed
her resentment, like fresh lights showing new features and gigantic
outlines. Nevil’s loss of Cecilia she had anticipated; she had heard of
it when she was lying in physical and mental apathy at Steynham. Lord
Romfrey had repeated to her the nature of his replies to the searching
parental questions of Colonel Halkett, and having foreseen it all,
and what was more, foretold it, she was not aroused from her torpor.
Latterly, with the return of her natural strength, she had shown herself
incapable of hearing her husband speak of Nevil; nor was the earl tardy
in taking the hint to spare the mother of his child allusions that
vexed her. Now and then they occurred perforce. The presence of Cecilia
exasperated Rosamund’s peculiar sensitiveness. It required Louise
Wardour-Devereux’s apologies and interpretations to account for what
appeared to Cecilia strangely ill-conditioned, if not insane, in Lady
Romfrey’s behaviour. The most astonishing thing to hear was, that Lady
Romfrey had paid Mrs. Devereux a visit at her Surrey house unexpectedly
one Sunday in the London season, for the purpose, as it became evident,
of meeting Mr. Blackburn Tuckham: and how she could have known that Mr.
Tuckham would be there, Mrs. Devereux could not tell, for it was, Louise
assured Cecilia, purely by chance that he and Mr. Lydiard were present:
but the countess obtained an interview with him alone, and Mr. Tuckham
came from it declaring it to have been more terrible than any he had
ever been called upon to endure. The object of the countess was to
persuade him to renounce his bride.

Louise replied to the natural inquiry--‘Upon what plea?’ with a
significant evasiveness. She put her arms round Cecilia’s neck: ‘I trust
you are not unhappy. You will get no release from him.’

‘I am not unhappy,’ said Cecilia, musically clear to convince her
friend.

She was indeed glad to feel the stout chains of her anchor restraining
her when Lady Romfrey talked of Nevil; they were like the safety of
marriage without the dreaded ceremony, and with solitude to let her
weep. Bound thus to a weaker man than Blackburn Tuckham, though he had
been more warmly esteemed, her fancy would have drifted away over
the deeps, perhaps her cherished loyalty would have drowned in her
tears--for Lady Romfrey tasked it very severely: but he from whom she
could hope for no release, gave her some of the firmness which her
nature craved in this trial.

From saying quietly to her: ‘I thought once you loved him,’ when
alluding to Nevil, Lady Romfrey passed to mournful exclamations, and by
degrees on to direct entreaties. She related the whole story of Renee
in England, and appeared distressed with a desperate wonderment at
Cecilia’s mildness after hearing it. Her hearer would have imagined that
she had no moral sense, if it had not been so perceptible that the
poor lady’s mind was distempered on the one subject of Nevil Beauchamp.
Cecilia’s high conception of duty, wherein she was a peerless flower of
our English civilization, was incommunicable: she could practise, not
explain it. She bowed to Lady Romfrey’s praises of Nevil, suffered her
hands to be wrung, her heart to be touched, all but an avowal of her
love of him to be wrested from her, and not the less did she retain her
cold resolution to marry to please her father and fulfil her pledge. In
truth, it was too late to speak of Renee to her now. It did not beseem
Cecilia to remember that she had ever been a victim of jealousy; and
while confessing to many errors, because she felt them, and gained a
necessary strength from them--in the comfort of the consciousness of
pain, for example, which she sorely needed, that the pain in her own
breast might deaden her to Nevil’s jealousy, the meanest of the errors
of a lofty soul, yielded no extract beyond the bare humiliation
proper to an acknowledgement that it had existed: so she discarded the
recollection of the passion which had wrought the mischief. Since we
cannot have a peerless flower of civilization without artificial aid, it
may be understood how it was that Cecilia could extinguish some lights
in her mind and kindle others, and wherefore what it was not natural for
her to do, she did. She had, briefly, a certain control of herself.

Our common readings in the fictitious romances which mark out a plot and
measure their characters to fit into it, had made Rosamund hopeful of
the effect of that story of Renee. A wooden young woman, or a galvanized
(sweet to the writer, either of them, as to the reader--so moveable
they are!) would have seen her business at this point, and have glided
melting to reconciliation and the chamber where romantic fiction ends
joyously. Rosamund had counted on it.

She looked intently at Cecilia. ‘He is ruined, wasted, ill, unloved; he
has lost you--I am the cause!’ she cried in a convulsion of grief.

‘Dear Lady Romfrey!’ Cecilia would have consoled her. ‘There is nothing
to lead us to suppose that Nevil is unwell, and you are not to blame for
anything: how can you be?’

‘I spoke falsely of Dr. Shrapnel; I am the cause. It lies on me! it
pursues me. Let me give to the poor as I may, and feel for the poor, as
I do, to get nearer to Nevil--I cannot have peace! His heart has turned
from me. He despises me. If I had spoken to Lord Romfrey at Steynham,
as he commanded me, you and he--Oh! cowardice: he is right, cowardice is
the chief evil in the world. He is ill; he is desperately ill; he will
die.’

‘Have you heard he is very ill, Lady Romfrey?’

‘No! no!’ Rosamund exclaimed; ‘it is by not hearing that I know it!’

With the assistance of Louise Devereux, Cecilia gradually awakened to
what was going on in the house. There had been a correspondence between
Miss Denham and the countess. Letters from Bevisham had suddenly ceased.
Presumably the earl had stopped them: and if so it must have been for a
tragic reason.

Cecilia hinted some blame of Lord Romfrey to her father.

He pressed her hand and said: ‘You don’t know what that man suffers.
Romfrey is fond of Nevil too, but he must guard his wife; and the fact
is Nevil is down with fever. It ‘s in the papers now; he may be able to
conceal it, and I hope he will. There’ll be a crisis, and then he can
tell her good news--a little illness and all right now! Of course,’
the colonel continued buoyantly, ‘Nevil will recover; he’s a tough wiry
young fellow, but poor Romfrey’s fears are natural enough about the
countess. Her mind seems to be haunted by the doctor there--Shrapnel, I
mean; and she’s exciteable to a degree that threatens the worst--in case
of any accident in Bevisham.’

‘Is it not a kind of cowardice to conceal it?’ Cecilia suggested.

‘It saves her from fretting,’ said the colonel.

‘But she is fretting! If Lord Romfrey would confide in her and trust to
her courage, papa, it would be best.’

Colonel Halkett thought that Lord Romfrey was the judge.

Cecilia wished to leave a place where this visible torture of a human
soul was proceeding, and to no purpose. She pointed out to her father,
by a variety of signs, that Lady Romfrey either knew or suspected the
state of affairs in Bevisham, and repeated her remarks upon Nevil’s
illness. But Colonel Halkett was restrained from departing by the earl’s
constant request to him to stay. Old friendship demanded it of him. He
began to share his daughter’s feelings at the sight of Lady Romfrey. She
was outwardly patient and submissive; by nature she was a strong healthy
woman; and she attended to all her husband’s prescriptions for the
regulating of her habits, walked with him, lay down for the afternoon’s
rest, appeared amused when he laboured to that effect, and did her
utmost to subdue the worm devouring her heart but the hours of the
delivery of the letter-post were fatal to her. Her woeful: ‘No letter
for me!’ was piteous. When that was heard no longer, her silence and
famished gaze chilled Cecilia. At night Rosamund eyed her husband
expressionlessly, with her head leaning back in her chair, to the sorrow
of the ladies beholding her. Ultimately the contagion of her settled
misery took hold of Cecilia. Colonel Halkett was induced by his daughter
and Mrs. Devereux to endeavour to combat a system that threatened
consequences worse than those it was planned to avert. He by this time
was aware of the serious character of the malady which had prostrated
Nevil. Lord Romfrey had directed his own medical man to go down to
Bevisham, and Dr. Gannet’s report of Nevil was grave. The colonel made
light of it to his daughter, after the fashion he condemned in Lord
Romfrey, to whom however he spoke earnestly of the necessity for
partially taking his wife into his confidence to the extent of letting
her know that a slight fever was running its course with Nevil.

‘There will be no slight fever in my wife’s blood,’ said the earl. ‘I
stand to weather the cape or run to wreck, and it won’t do to be taking
in reefs on a lee-shore. You don’t see what frets her, colonel. For
years she has been bent on Nevil’s marriage. It’s off: but if you
catch Cecilia by the hand and bring her to us--I swear she loves the
fellow!--that’s the medicine for my wife. Say: will you do it? Tell Lady
Romfrey it shall be done. We shall stand upright again!’

‘I’m afraid that’s impossible, Romfrey,’ said the colonel.

‘Play at it, then! Let her think it. You’re helping me treat an invalid.
Colonel! my old friend! You save my house and name if you do that. It’s
a hand round a candle in a burst of wind. There’s Nevil dragged by
a woman into one of their reeking hovels--so that Miss Denham at
Shrapnel’s writes to Lady Romfrey--because the woman’s drunken husband
voted for him at the Election, and was kicked out of employment, and
fell upon the gin-bottle, and the brats of the den died starving, and
the man sickened of a fever; and Nevil goes in and sits with him! Out of
that tangle of folly is my house to be struck down? It looks as if
the fellow with his infernal “humanity,” were the bad genius of an old
nurse’s tale. He’s a good fellow, colonel, he means well. This fever
will cure him, they say it sobers like bloodletting. He’s a gallant
fellow; you know that. He fought to the skeleton in our last big war.
On my soul, I believe he’s good for a husband. Frenchwoman or not, that
affair’s over. He shall have Steynham and Holdesbury. Can I say more?
Now, colonel, you go in to the countess. Grasp my hand. Give me that
help, and God bless you! You light up my old days. She’s a noble woman:
I would not change her against the best in the land. She has this craze
about Nevil. I suppose she’ll never get over it. But there it is: and we
must feed her with the spoon.’

Colonel Halkett argued stutteringly with the powerful man: ‘It’s the
truth she ought to hear, Romfrey; indeed it is, if you ‘ll believe me.
It ‘s his life she is fearing for. She knows half.’

‘She knows positively nothing, colonel. Miss Denham’s first letter
spoke of the fellow’s having headaches, and staggering. He was out on
a cruise, and saw your schooner pass, and put into some port, and began
falling right and left, and they got him back to Shrapnel’s: and here
it is--that if you go to him you’ll save him, and if you go to my wife
you’ll save her: and there you have it: and I ask my old friend, I beg
him to go to them both.’

‘But you can’t surely expect me to force my daughter’s inclinations, my
dear Romfrey?’

‘Cecilia loves the fellow!’

‘She is engaged to Mr. Tuckham.’

‘I’ll see the man Tuckham.’

‘Really, my dear lord!’

‘Play at it, Halkett, play at it! Tide us over this! Talk to her: hint
it and nod it. We have to round November. I could strangle the world
till that month’s past. You’ll own,’ he added mildly after his thunder,
‘I’m not much of the despot Nevil calls me. She has not a wish I don’t
supply. I’m at her beck, and everything that’s mine. She’s a brave good
woman. I don’t complain. I run my chance. But if we lose the child--good
night! Boy or girl!--boy!’

Lord Romfrey flung an arm up. The child of his old age lived for him
already: he gave it all the life he had. This miracle, this young son
springing up on an earth decaying and dark, absorbed him. This reviver
of his ancient line must not be lost. Perish every consideration to
avert it! He was ready to fear, love, or hate terribly, according to the
prospects of his child.

Colonel Halkett was obliged to enter into a consultation, of a shadowy
sort, with his daughter, whose only advice was that they should leave
the castle. The penetrable gloom there, and the growing apprehension
concerning the countess and Nevil, tore her to pieces. Even if she could
have conspired with the earl to hoodwink his wife, her strong sense told
her it would be fruitless, besides base. Father and daughter had to make
the stand against Lord Romfrey. He saw their departure from the castle
gates, and kissed his hand to Cecilia, courteously, without a smile.

‘He may well praise the countess, papa,’ said Cecilia, while they were
looking back at the castle and the moveless flag that hung in folds by
the mast above it. ‘She has given me her promise to avoid questioning
him and to accept his view of her duty. She said to me that if Nevil
should die she...’

Cecilia herself broke down, and gave way to sobs in her father’s arms.



CHAPTER XLIX. A FABRIC OF BARONIAL DESPOTISM CRUMBLE

The earl’s precautions did duty night and day in all the avenues leading
to the castle and his wife’s apartments; and he could believe that he
had undertaken as good a defence as the mountain guarding the fertile
vale from storms: but him the elements pelted heavily. Letters from
acquaintances of Nevil, from old shipmates and from queer political
admirers and opponents, hailed on him; things not to be frigidly read
were related of the fellow.

Lord Romfrey’s faith in the power of constitution to beat disease
battled sturdily with the daily reports of his physician and friends,
whom he had directed to visit the cottage on the common outside
Bevisham, and with Miss Denham’s intercepted letters to the countess.
Still he had to calculate on the various injuries Nevil had done to his
constitution, which had made of him another sort of man for a struggle
of life and death than when he stood like a riddled flag through the
war. That latest freak of the fellow’s, the abandonment of our natural
and wholesome sustenance in animal food, was to be taken in the
reckoning. Dr. Gannet did not allude to it; the Bevisham doctor did; and
the earl meditated with a fury of wrath on the dismal chance that such
a folly as this of one old vegetable idiot influencing a younger noodle,
might strike his House to the dust.

His watch over his wife had grown mechanical: he failed to observe that
her voice was missing. She rarely spoke. He lost the art of observing
himself: the wrinkling up and dropping of his brows became his habitual
language. So long as he had not to meet inquiries or face tears, he
enjoyed the sense of security. He never quitted his wife save to walk to
the Southern park lodge, where letters and telegrams were piled awaiting
him; and she was forbidden to take the air on the castle terrace without
his being beside her, lest a whisper, some accident of the kind that
donkeys who nod over their drowsy nose-length-ahead precautions call
fatality, should rouse her to suspect, and in a turn of the hand undo
his labour: for the race was getting terrible: Death had not yet stepped
out of that evil chamber in Dr. Shrapnel’s cottage to aim his javelin at
the bosom containing the prized young life to come, but, like the smoke
of waxing fire, he shadowed forth his presence in wreaths blacker and
thicker day by day: and Everard Romfrey knew that the hideous beast of
darkness had only to spring up and pass his guard to deal a blow to his
House the direr from all he supposed himself to have gained by masking
it hitherto. The young life he looked to for renewal swallowed him:
he partly lost human feeling for his wife in the tremendous watch and
strain to hurry her as a vessel round the dangerous headland. He was
oblivious that his eyebrows talked, that his head was bent low, that his
mouth was shut, and that where a doubt had been sown, silence and such
signs are like revelations in black night to the spirit of a woman who
loves.

One morning after breakfast Rosamund hung on his arm, eyeing him neither
questioningly nor invitingly, but long. He kissed her forehead. She
clung to him and closed her eyes, showing him a face of slumber, like a
mask of the dead.

Mrs. Devereux was present. Cecilia had entreated her to stay with Lady
Romfrey. She stole away, for the time had come which any close observer
of the countess must have expected.

The earl lifted his wife, and carried her to her sitting-room. A sunless
weltering September day whipped the window-panes and brought the roar
of the beaten woods to her ears. He was booted and gaitered for his
customary walk to the park lodge, and as he bent a knee beside her, she
murmured: ‘Don’t wait; return soon.’

He placed a cord attached to the bellrope within her reach. This utter
love of Nevil Beauchamp was beyond his comprehension, but there it was,
and he had to submit to it and manoeuvre. His letters and telegrams
told the daily tale. ‘He’s better,’ said the earl, preparing himself to
answer what his wife’s look had warned him would come.

She was an image of peace, in the same posture on the couch where he had
left her, when he returned. She did not open her eyes, but felt about
for his hand, and touching it, she seemed to weigh the fingers.

At last she said: ‘The fever should be at its height.’

‘Why, my dear brave girl, what ails you?’ said he.

‘Ignorance.’

She raised her eyelids. His head was bent down over her, like a raven’s
watching, a picture of gravest vigilance.

Her bosom rose and sank. ‘What has Miss Denham written to-day?’

‘To-day?’ he asked her gently.

‘I shall bear it,’ she answered. ‘You were my master before you were my
husband. I bear anything you think is good for my government. Only, my
ignorance is fever; I share Nevil’s.’

‘Have you been to my desk at all?’

‘No. I read your eyes and your hands: I have been living on them. To-day
I find that I have not gained by it, as I hoped I should. Ignorance
kills me. I really have courage to bear to hear just at this moment I
have.’

‘There’s no bad news, my love,’ said the earl.

‘High fever, is it?’

‘The usual fever. Gannet’s with him. I sent for Gannet to go there, to
satisfy you.’

‘Nevil is not dead?’

‘Lord! ma’am, my dear soul!’

‘He is alive?’

‘Quite: certainly alive; as much alive as I am; only going a little
faster, as fellows do in the jumps of a fever. The best doctor in
England is by his bed. He ‘s doing fairly. You should have let me know
you were fretting, my Rosamund.’

‘I did not wish to tempt you to lie, my dear lord.’

‘Well, there are times when a woman... as you are: but you’re a brave
woman, a strong heart, and my wife. You want some one to sit with you,
don’t you? Louise Devereux is a pleasant person, but you want a man
to amuse you. I’d have sent to Stukely, but you want a serious man, I
fancy.’

So much had the earl been thrown out of his plan for protecting his
wife, that he felt helpless, and hinted at the aids and comforts of
religion. He had not rejected the official Church, and regarding it now
as in alliance with great Houses, he considered that its ministers might
also be useful to the troubled women of noble families. He offered, if
she pleased, to call in the rector to sit with her--the bishop of the
diocese, if she liked.

‘But just as you like, my love,’ he added. ‘You know you have to avoid
fretting. I’ve heard my sisters talk of the parson doing them good off
and on about the time of their being brought to bed. He elevated their
minds, they said. I’m sure I’ve no objection. If he can doctor the minds
of women he’s got a profession worth something.’

Rosamund smothered an outcry. ‘You mean that Nevil is past hope!’

‘Not if he’s got a fair half of our blood in him. And Richard Beauchamp
gave the fellow good stock. He has about the best blood in England.
That’s not saying much when they’ve taken to breed as they build--stuff
to keep the plasterers at work; devil a thought of posterity!’

‘There I see you and Nevil one, my dear lord,’ said Rosamund. ‘You think
of those that are to follow us. Talk to me of him. Do not say, “the
fellow.” Say “Nevil.” No, no; call him “the fellow.” He was alive and
well when you used to say it. But smile kindly, as if he made you love
him down in your heart, in spite of you. We have both known that love,
and that opposition to him; not liking his ideas, yet liking him so: we
were obliged to laugh--I have seen you! as love does laugh! If I am not
crying over his grave, Everard? Oh!’

The earl smoothed her forehead. All her suspicions were rekindled.
‘Truth! truth! give me truth. Let me know what world I am in.’

‘My dear, a ship’s not lost because she’s caught in a squall; nor a man
buffeting the waves for an hour. He’s all right: he keeps up.’

‘He is delirious? I ask you--I have fancied I heard him.’

Lord Romfrey puffed from his nostrils: but in affecting to blow to the
winds her foolish woman’s wildness of fancy, his mind rested on Nevil,
and he said: ‘Poor boy! It seems he’s chattering hundreds to the
minute.’

His wife’s looks alarmed him after he had said it, and he was for toning
it and modifying it, when she gasped to him to help her to her feet;
and standing up, she exclaimed: ‘O heaven! now I hear you; now I know he
lives. See how much better it is for me to know the real truth. It takes
me to his bedside. Ignorance and suspense have been poison. I have been
washed about like a dead body. Let me read all my letters now. Nothing
will harm me now. You will do your best for me, my husband, will you
not?’ She tore at her dress at her throat for coolness, panting and
smiling. ‘For me--us--yours--ours! Give me my letters, lunch with me,
and start for Bevisham. Now you see how good it is for me to hear the
very truth, you will give me your own report, and I shall absolutely
trust in it, and go down with it if it’s false! But you see I am
perfectly strong for the truth. It must be you or I to go. I burn to go;
but your going will satisfy me. If you look on him, I look. I feel as if
I had been nailed down in a coffin, and have got fresh air. I pledge you
my word, sir, my honour, my dear husband, that I will think first of my
duty. I know it would be Nevil’s wish. He has not quite forgiven me--he
thought me ambitious--ah! stop: he said that the birth of our child
would give him greater happiness than he had known for years: he begged
me to persuade you to call a boy Nevil Beauchamp, and a girl Renee. He
has never believed in his own long living.’

Rosamund refreshed her lord’s heart by smiling archly as she said: ‘The
boy to be educated to take the side of the people, of course! The girl
is to learn a profession.’

‘Ha! bless the fellow!’ Lord Romfrey interjected. ‘Well, I might go
there for an hour. Promise me, no fretting! You have hollows in your
cheeks, and your underlip hangs: I don’t like it. I haven’t seen that
before.’

‘We do not see clearly when we are trying to deceive,’ said Rosamund.
‘My letters! my letters!’

Lord Romfrey went to fetch them. They were intact in his desk. His wife,
then, had actually been reading the facts through a wall! For he was
convinced of Mrs. Devereux’s fidelity, as well as of the colonel’s and
Cecilia’s. He was not a man to be disobeyed: nor was his wife the woman
to court or to acquiesce in trifling acts of disobedience to him. He
received the impression, consequently, that this matter of the visit to
Nevil was one in which the poor loving soul might be allowed to guide
him, singular as the intensity of her love of Nevil Beauchamp was,
considering that they were not of kindred blood.

He endeavoured to tone her mind for the sadder items in Miss Denham’s
letters.

‘Oh!’ said Rosamund, ‘what if I shed the “screaming eyedrops,” as you
call them? They will not hurt me, but relieve. I was sure I should
someday envy that girl! If he dies she will have nursed him and had the
last of him.’

‘He’s not going to die!’ said Everard powerfully.

‘We must be prepared. These letters will do that for me. I have written
out the hours of your trains. Stanton will attend on you. I have
directed him to telegraph to the Dolphin in Bevisham for rooms for the
night: that is to-morrow night. To-night you sleep at your hotel in
London, which will be ready to receive you, and is more comfortable than
the empty house. Stanton takes wine, madeira and claret, and other small
necessaries. If Nevil should be very unwell, you will not leave him
immediately. I shall look to the supplies. You will telegraph to me
twice a day, and write once. We lunch at half-past twelve, so that you
may hit the twenty-minutes-to-two o’clock train. And now I go to see
that the packing is done.’

She carried off her letters to her bedroom, where she fell upon the bed,
shutting her eyelids hard before she could suffer her eyes to be the
intermediaries of that fever-chamber in Bevisham and her bursting heart.
But she had not positively deceived her husband in the reassurance she
had given him by her collectedness and by the precise directions she had
issued for his comforts, indicating a mind so much more at ease. She was
firmer to meet the peril of her beloved: and being indeed, when thrown
on her internal resources, one among the brave women of earth, though
also one who required a lift from circumstances to take her stand calmly
fronting a menace to her heart, she saw the evidence of her influence
with Lord Romfrey: the level she could feel that they were on together
so long as she was courageous, inspirited her sovereignly.

He departed at the hour settled for him. Rosamund sat at her boudoir
window, watching the carriage that was conducting him to the railway
station. Neither of them had touched on the necessity of his presenting
himself at the door of Dr. Shrapnel’s house. That, and the disgust
belonging to it, was a secondary consideration with Lord Romfrey,
after he had once resolved on it as the right thing to do: and his wife
admired and respected him for so supreme a loftiness. And fervently she
prayed that it might not be her evil fate to disappoint his hopes. Never
had she experienced so strong a sense of devotedness to him as when she
saw the carriage winding past the middle oak-wood of the park, under a
wet sky brightened from the West, and on out of sight.



CHAPTER L. AT THE COTTAGE ON THE COMMON

Rain went with Lord Romfrey in a pursuing cloud all the way to
Bevisham, and across the common to the long garden and plain little
green-shuttered, neat white cottage of Dr. Shrapnel. Carriages were
driving from the door; idle men with hands deep in their pockets hung
near it, some women pointing their shoulders under wet shawls, and boys.
The earl was on foot. With no sign of discomposure, he stood at the
half-open door and sent in his card, bearing the request for permission
to visit his nephew. The reply failing to come to him immediately, he
began striding to and fro. That garden gate where he had flourished
the righteous whip was wide. Foot-farers over the sodden common were
attracted to the gateway, and lingered in it, looking at the long,
green-extended windows, apparently listening, before they broke away to
exchange undertone speech here and there. Boys had pushed up through
the garden to the kitchen area. From time to time a woman in a dripping
bonnet whimpered aloud.

An air of a country churchyard on a Sunday morning when the curate has
commenced the service prevailed. The boys were subdued by the moisture,
as they are when they sit in the church aisle or organ-loft, before
their members have been much cramped.

The whole scene, and especially the behaviour of the boys, betokened to
Lord Romfrey that an event had come to pass.

In the chronicle of a sickness the event is death.

He bethought him of various means of stopping the telegraph and
smothering the tale, if matters should have touched the worst here. He
calculated abstrusely the practicable shortness of the two routes from
Bevisham to Romfrey, by post-horses on the straightest line of road, or
by express train on the triangle of railway, in case of an extreme need
requiring him to hasten back to his wife and renew his paternal-despotic
system with her. She had but persuaded him of the policy of a liberal
openness and confidence for the moment’s occasion: she could not turn
his nature, which ran to strokes of craft and blunt decision whenever
the emergency smote him and he felt himself hailed to show generalship.

While thus occupied in thoughtfulness he became aware of the monotony
of a tuneless chant, as if, it struck him, an insane young chorister or
canon were galloping straight on end hippomaniacally through the Psalms.
There was a creak at intervals, leading him to think it a machine that
might have run away with the winder’s arm.

The earl’s humour proposed the notion to him that this perhaps was one
of the forms of Radical lamentation, ululation, possibly practised by a
veteran impietist like Dr. Shrapnel for the loss of his youngster, his
political cub--poor lad!

Deriding any such paganry, and aught that could be set howling, Lord
Romfrey was presently moved to ask of the small crowd at the gate what
that sound was.

‘It’s the poor commander, sir,’ said a wet-shawled woman, shivering.

‘He’s been at it twenty hours already, sir,’ said one of the boys.

‘Twenty-foor hour he ‘ve been at it,’ said another.

A short dispute grew over the exact number of hours. One boy declared
that thirty hours had been reached. ‘Father heerd’n yesterday morning as
he was aff to ‘s work in the town afore six: that brings ‘t nigh thirty
and he ha’n’t stopped yet.’

The earl was invited to step inside the gate, a little way up to the
house, and under the commander’s window, that he might obtain a better
hearing.

He swung round, walked away, walked back, and listened.

If it was indeed a voice, the voice, he would have said, was travelling
high in air along the sky.

Yesterday he had described to his wife Nevil’s chattering of hundreds to
the minute. He had not realized the description, which had been only his
manner of painting delirium: there had been no warrant for it. He heard
the wild scudding voice imperfectly: it reminded him of a string of
winter geese changeing waters. Shower gusts, and the wail and hiss of
the rows of fir-trees bordering the garden, came between, and allowed
him a moment’s incredulity as to its being a human voice. Such a cry
will often haunt the moors and wolds from above at nightfall. The voice
hied on, sank, seemed swallowed; it rose, as if above water, in a
hush of wind and trees. The trees bowed their heads rageing, the voice
drowned; once more to rise, chattering thrice rapidly, in a high-pitched
key, thin, shrill, weird, interminable, like winds through a crazy
chamber-door at midnight.

The voice of a broomstick-witch in the clouds could not be thinner and
stranger: Lord Romfrey had some such thought.

Dr. Gannet was the bearer of Miss Denham’s excuses to Lord Romfrey for
the delay in begging him to enter the house: in the confusion of the
household his lordship’s card had been laid on the table below, and she
was in the sick-room.

‘Is my nephew a dead man?’ said the earl.

The doctor weighed his reply. ‘He lives. Whether he will, after the
exhaustion of this prolonged fit of raving, I don’t dare to predict.
In the course of my experience I have never known anything like it. He
lives: there’s the miracle, but he lives.’

‘On brandy?’

‘That would soon have sped him.’

‘Ha. You have everything here that you want?’

‘Everything.’

‘He’s in your hands, Gannet.’

The earl was conducted to a sitting-room, where Dr. Gannet left him for
a while.

Mindful that he was under the roof of his enemy, he remained standing,
observing nothing.

The voice overheard was off at a prodigious rate, like the far sound of
a yell ringing on and on.

The earl unconsciously sought a refuge from it by turning the leaves of
a book upon the table, which was a complete edition of Harry Denham’s
Poems, with a preface by a man named Lydiard; and really, to read the
preface one would suppose that these poets were the princes of the
earth. Lord Romfrey closed the volume. It was exquisitely bound,
and presented to Miss Denham by the Mr. Lydiard. ‘The works of your
illustrious father,’ was written on the title-page. These writers deal
queerly with their words of praise of one another. There is no law to
restrain them. Perhaps it is the consolation they take for the poor
devil’s life they lead!

A lady addressing him familiarly, invited him to go upstairs.

He thanked her. At the foot of the stairs he turned; he had recognized
Cecilia Halkett.

Seeing her there was more strange to him than being there himself; but
he bowed to facts.

‘What do you think?’ he said.

She did not answer intelligibly.

He walked up.

The crazed gabbling tongue had entire possession of the house, and rang
through it at an amazing pitch to sustain for a single minute.

A reflection to the effect that dogs die more decently than we men,
saddened the earl. But, then, it is true, we shorten their pangs by
shooting them.

A dismal figure loomed above him at the head of the stairs.

He distinguished it in the vast lean length he had once whipped and
flung to earth.

Dr. Shrapnel was planted against the wall outside that raving chamber,
at the salient angle of a common prop or buttress. The edge of a
shoulder and a heel were the supports to him sideways in his distorted
attitude. His wall arm hung dead beside his pendent frock-coat; the
hair of his head had gone to wildness, like a field of barley whipped by
tempest. One hand pressed his eyeballs: his unshaven jaw dropped.

Lord Romfrey passed him by.

The dumb consent of all present affirmed the creature lying on the bed
to be Nevil Beauchamp.

Face, voice, lank arms, chicken neck: what a sepulchral sketch of him!

It was the revelry of a corpse.

Shudders of alarm for his wife seized Lord Romfrey at the sight. He
thought the poor thing on the bed must be going, resolving to a cry,
unwinding itself violently in its hurricane of speech, that was not
speech nor exclamation, rather the tongue let loose to run to the death.
It seemed to be out in mid-sea, up wave and down wave.

A nurse was at the pillow smoothing it. Miss Denham stood at the foot of
the bed.

‘Is that pain?’ Lord Romfrey said low to Dr. Gannet.

‘Unconscious,’ was the reply.

Miss Denham glided about the room and disappeared.

Her business was to remove Dr. Shrapnel, that he might be out of the
way when Lord Romfrey should pass him again: but Dr. Shrapnel heard one
voice only, and moaned, ‘My Beauchamp!’ She could not get him to stir.

Miss Denham saw him start slightly as the earl stepped forth and, bowing
to him, said: ‘I thank you, sir, for permitting me to visit my nephew.’

Dr. Shrapnel made a motion of the hand, to signify freedom of access to
his house. He would have spoken the effort fetched a burst of terrible
chuckles. He covered his face.

Lord Romfrey descended. The silly old wretch had disturbed his
equanimity as a composer of fiction for the comfort and sustainment
of his wife: and no sooner had he the front door in view than the
calculation of the three strides requisite to carry him out of the house
plucked at his legs, much as young people are affected by a dancing
measure; for he had, without deigning to think of matters disagreeable
to him in doing so, performed the duty imposed upon him by his wife, and
now it behoved him to ward off the coming blow from that double life at
Romfrey Castle.

He was arrested in his hasty passage by Cecilia Halkett.

She handed him a telegraphic message: Rosamund requested him to stay two
days in Bevisham. She said additionally: ‘Perfectly well. Shall fear to
see you returning yet. Have sent to Tourdestelle. All his friends.
Ni espoir, ni crainte, mais point de deceptions. Lumiere. Ce sont les
tenebres qui tuent.’

Her nimble wits had spied him on the road he was choosing, and outrun
him.

He resigned himself to wait a couple of days at Bevisham. Cecilia begged
him to accept a bed at Mount Laurels. He declined, and asked her: ‘How
is it you are here?’

‘I called here,’ said she, compressing her eyelids in anguish at a
wilder cry of the voice overhead, and forgetting to state why she had
called at the house and what services she had undertaken. A heap of
letters in her handwriting explained the nature of her task.

Lord Romfrey asked her where the colonel was.

‘He drives me down in the morning and back at night, but they will give
me a bed or a sofa here to-night--I can’t...’ Cecilia stretched her hand
out, blinded, to the earl.

He squeezed her hand.

‘These letters take away my strength: crying is quite useless, I know
that,’ said she, glancing at a pile of letters that she had partly
replied to. ‘Some are from people who can hardly write. There were
people who distrusted him! Some are from people who abused him and
maltreated him. See those poor creatures out in the rain!’

Lord Romfrey looked through the venetian blinds of the parlour window.

‘It’s as good as a play to them,’ he remarked.

Cecilia lit a candle and applied a stick of black wax to the flame,
saying: ‘Envelopes have fallen short. These letters will frighten the
receivers. I cannot help it.’

‘I will bring letter paper and envelopes in the afternoon,’ said Lord
Romfrey. ‘Don’t use black wax, my dear.’

‘I can find no other: I do not like to trouble Miss Denham. Letter paper
has to be sealed. These letters must go by the afternoon post: I do not
like to rob the poor anxious people of a little hope while he lives. Let
me have note paper and envelopes quickly: not black-edged.’

‘Plain; that’s right,’ said Lord Romfrey.

Black appeared to him like the torch of death flying over the country.

‘There may be hope,’ he added.

She sighed: ‘Oh! yes.’

‘Gannet will do everything that man can do to save him.’

‘He will, I am sure.’

‘You don’t keep watch in the room, my dear, do you?’

‘Miss Denham allows me an hour there in the day: it is the only rest she
takes. She gives me her bedroom.’

‘Ha: well: women!’ ejaculated the earl, and paused. ‘That sounded like
him!’

‘At times,’ murmured Cecilia. ‘All yesterday! all through the night! and
to-day!’

‘He’ll be missed.’

Any sudden light of happier expectation that might have animated him
was extinguished by the flight of chatter following the cry which had
sounded like Beauchamp.

He went out into the rain, thinking that Beauchamp would be missed. The
fellow had bothered the world, but the world without him would be heavy
matter.

The hour was mid-day, workmen’s meal-time. A congregation of shipyard
workmen and a multitude of children crowded near the door. In passing
through them, Lord Romfrey was besought for the doctor’s report of
Commander Beauchamp, variously named Beesham, Bosham, Bitcham, Bewsham.
The earl heard his own name pronounced as he particularly disliked to
hear it--Rumfree. Two or three men scowled at him.

It had not occurred to him ever before in his meditations to separate
his blood and race from the common English; and he was not of a
character to dwell on fantastical and purposeless distinctions, but the
mispronunciation of his name and his nephew’s at an instant when he was
thinking of Nevil’s laying down his life for such men as these gross
excessive breeders, of ill shape and wooden countenance, pushed him to
reflections on the madness of Nevil in endeavouring to lift them up and
brush them up; and a curious tenderness for Nevil’s madness worked in
his breast as he contrasted this much-abused nephew of his with our
general English--the so-called nobles, who were sunk in the mud of the
traders: the traders, who were sinking in the mud of the workmen: the
workmen, who were like harbour-flats at ebb tide round a stuck-fast
fleet of vessels big and little.

Decidedly a fellow like Nevil would be missed by him!

These English, huddling more and more in flocks, turning to lumps,
getting to be cut in a pattern and marked by a label--how they bark and
snap to rend an obnoxious original! One may chafe at the botheration
everlastingly raised by the fellow; but if our England is to keep her
place she must have him, and many of him. Have him? He’s gone!

Lord Romfrey reasoned himself into pathetic sentiment by degrees.

He purchased the note paper and envelopes in the town for Cecilia.
Late in the afternoon he deposited them on the parlour table at Dr.
Shrapnel’s. Miss Denham received him. She was about to lie down for her
hour of rest on the sofa. Cecilia was upstairs. He inquired if there was
any change in his nephew’s condition.

‘Not any,’ said Miss Denham.

The voice was abroad for proof of that.

He stood with a swelling heart.

Jenny flung out a rug to its length beside the sofa, and; holding it by
one end, said: ‘I must have my rest, to be of service, my lord.’

He bowed. He was mute and surprised.

The young lady was like no person of her age and sex that he remembered
ever to have met.

‘I will close the door,’ he said, retiring softly.

‘Do not, my lord.’

The rug was over her, up to her throat, and her eyes were shut. He
looked back through the doorway in going out. She was asleep.

‘Some delirium. Gannet of good hope. All in the usual course’; he
transmitted intelligence to his wife.

A strong desire for wine at his dinner-table warned him of something
wrong with his iron nerves.



CHAPTER LI. IN THE NIGHT

The delirious voice haunted him. It came no longer accompanied by images
and likenesses to this and that of animate nature, which were relieving
and distracting; it came to him in its mortal nakedness--an afflicting
incessant ringing peal, bare as death’s ribs in telling of death. When
would it stop? And when it stopped, what would succeed? What ghastly
silence!

He walked to within view of the lights of Dr. Shrapnel’s at night: then
home to his hotel.

Miss Denham’s power of commanding sleep, as he could not, though
contrary to custom he tried it on the right side and the left, set him
thinking of her. He owned she was pretty. But that, he contended, was
not the word; and the word was undiscoverable. Not Cecilia Halkett
herself had so high-bred an air, for Cecilia had not her fineness of
feature and full quick eyes, of which the thin eyelids were part of
the expression. And Cecilia sobbed, snifed, was patched about the face,
reddish, bluish. This girl was pliable only to service, not to grief:
she did her work for three-and-twenty hours, and fell to her sleep of
one hour like a soldier. Lord Romfrey could not recollect anything in a
young woman that had taken him so much as the girl’s tossing out of the
rug and covering herself, lying down and going to sleep under his nose,
absolutely independent of his presence.

She had not betrayed any woman’s petulance with him for his conduct to
her uncle or guardian. Nor had she hypocritically affected the reverse,
as ductile women do, when they feel wanting in force to do the other.
She was not unlike Nevil’s marquise in face, he thought: less foreign of
course; looking thrice as firm. Both were delicately featured.

He had a dream.

It was of an interminable procession of that odd lot called the
People. All of them were quarrelling under a deluge. One party was
for umbrellas, one was against them: and sounding the dispute with a
question or two, Everard held it logical that there should be protection
from the wet: just as logical on the other hand that so frail a shelter
should be discarded, considering the tremendous downpour. But as
he himself was dry, save for two or three drops, he deemed them all
lunatics. He requested them to gag their empty chatter-boxes, and put
the mother upon that child’s cry.

He was now a simple unit of the procession. Asking naturally whither
they were going, he saw them point. ‘St. Paul’s,’ he heard. In his own
bosom it was, and striking like the cathedral big bel