Beauchamps Career, complete
Part 1 out of 12
This etext was produced by David Widger
[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the
file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an
entire meal of them. D.W.]
By George Meredith
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
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
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
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
XXIV. HIS HOLIDAY
XXV. THE ADVENTURE OF THE BOAT.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
'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
'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
'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
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.
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
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
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
'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.
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
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
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
'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.
'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,
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
He expected, as you may imagine, a true young Beauchamp-Romfrey to be
straining his collar like a leash-hound.
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.'
'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
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
'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
Suddenly, to his disgust, came rumours of peace between the mighty
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
'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
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
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
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
'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.
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-
'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
'Provided that my papa is not crossing when we go under!
'Would he not trust you to me?'
'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 . . .
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
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
'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
'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,
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
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
Back to Full Books