Beauchamps Career, complete
Part 8 out of 12
Rosamund heard their voices below. She cried out to herself that it was
her doing, and blamed her beloved, and her master, and Dr. Shrapnel, in
the breath of her self-recrimination. The demagogue, the over-
punctilious gentleman, the faint lover, surely it must be reason wanting
in the three for each of them in turn to lead the other, by an excess of
some sort of the quality constituting their men's natures, to wreck a
calm life and stand in contention! Had Shrapnel been commonly reasonable
he would have apologized to Mr. Romfrey, or had Mr. Romfrey, he would not
have resorted to force to punish the supposed offender, or had Nevil, he
would have held his peace until he had gained his bride. As it was; the
folly of the three knocked at her heart, uniting to bring the heavy
accusation against one poor woman, quite in the old way: the Who is she?
of the mocking Spaniard at mention of a social catastrophe. Rosamund had
a great deal of the pride of her sex, and she resented any slur on it.
She felt almost superciliously toward Mr. Romfrey and Nevil for their not
taking hands to denounce the plotter, Cecil Baskelett. They seemed a
pair of victims to him, nearly as much so as the wretched man Shrapnel.
It was their senselessness which made her guilty! And simply because she
had uttered two or three exclamations of dislike of a revolutionary and
infidel she was compelled to groan under her present oppression! Is
there anything to be hoped of men? Rosamund thought bitterly of Nevil's
idea of their progress. Heaven help them! But the unhappy creatures
have ceased to look to a heaven for help.
We see the consequence of it in this Shrapnel complication.
Three men: and one struck down; the other defeated in his benevolent
intentions; the third sacrificing fortune and happiness: all three owing
their mischance to one or other of the vague ideas disturbing men's
heads! Where shall we look for mother wit?--or say, common suckling's
instinct? Not to men, thought Rosamund.
She was listening to the voices of Mr. Romfrey and Beauchamp in a fever.
Ordinarily the lord of Steynham was not out of his bed later than twelve
o'clock at night. His door opened at half-past one. Not a syllable was
exchanged by the couple in the hall. They had fought it out. Mr.
Romfrey came upstairs alone, and on the closing of his chamber-door she
slipped down to Beauchamp and had a dreadful hour with him that subdued
her disposition to sit in judgement upon men. The unavailing attempt to
move his uncle had wrought him to the state in which passionate thoughts
pass into speech like heat to flame. Rosamund strained her mental sight
to gain a conception of his prodigious horror of the treatment of Dr.
Shrapnel that she might think him sane: and to retain a vestige of
comfort in her bosom she tried to moderate and make light of as much as
she could conceive. Between the two efforts she had no sense but that of
helplessness. Once more she was reduced to promise that she would speak
the whole truth to Mr. Romfrey, even to the fact that she had experienced
a common woman's jealousy of Dr. Shrapnel's influence, and had alluded to
him jealously, spitefully, and falsely. There was no mercy in Beauchamp.
He was for action at any cost, with all the forces he could gather, and
without delays. He talked of Cecilia as his uncle's bride to him.
Rosamund could hardly trust her ears when he informed her he had told his
uncle of his determination to compel him to accomplish the act of
penitence. 'Was it prudent to say it, Nevil?' she asked. But, as in
his politics, he disdained prudence. A monstrous crime had been
committed, involving the honour of the family. No subtlety of
insinuation, no suggestion, could wean him from the fixed idea that the
apology to Dr. Shrapnel must be spoken by his uncle in person.
'If one could only imagine Mr. Romfrey doing it!' Rosamund groaned.
'He shall: and you will help him,' said Beauchamp.
'If you loved a woman half as much as you do that man!'
'If I knew a woman as good, as wise, as noble as he!'
'You are losing her.'
'You expect me to go through ceremonies of courtship at a time like this!
If she cares for me she will feel with me. Simple compassion--but let
Miss Halkett be. I'm afraid I overtasked her in taking her to Bevisham.
She remained outside the garden. Ma'am, she is unsullied by contact with
a single shrub of Dr. Shrapnel's territory.'
'Do not be so bitterly ironical, Nevil. You have not seen her as I
Rosamund essayed a tender sketch of the fair young lady, and fancied that
she drew forth a sigh; she would have coloured the sketch, but he
commanded her to hurry off to bed, and think of her morning's work.
A commission of which we feel we can accurately forecast the unsuccessful
end is not likely to be undertaken with an ardour that might perhaps
astound the presageing mind with unexpected issues. Rosamund fulfilled
hers in the style of one who has learnt a lesson, and, exactly as she had
anticipated, Mr. Romfrey accused her of coming to him from a conversation
with that fellow Nevil overnight. He shrugged and left the house for his
morning's walk across the fields.
Colonel Halkett and Cecilia beheld him from the breakfast-room returning
with Beauchamp, who had waylaid him and was hammering his part in the now
endless altercation. It could be descried at any distance; and how fine
was Mr. Romfrey's bearing!--truly noble by contrast, as of a grave big
dog worried by a small barking dog. There is to an unsympathetic
observer an intense vexatiousness in the exhibition of such pertinacity.
To a soldier accustomed at a glance to estimate powers of attack and
defence, this repeated puny assailing of a, fortress that required years
of siege was in addition ridiculous. Mr. Romfrey appeared impregnable,
and Beauchamp mad. 'He's foaming again!' said the colonel, and was only
ultra-pictorial. 'Before breakfast!' was a further slur on Beauchamp.
Mr. Romfrey was elevated by the extraordinary comicality of the notion of
the proposed apology to heights of humour beyond laughter, whence we see
the unbounded capacity of the general man for folly, and rather
commiserate than deride him. He was quite untroubled. It demanded a
steady view of the other side of the case to suppose of one whose control
of his temper was perfect, that he could be in the wrong. He at least
did not think so, and Colonel Halkett relied on his common sense.
Beauchamp's brows were smouldering heavily, except when he had to talk.
He looked paleish and worn, and said he had been up early. Cecilia
guessed that he had not been to bed.
It was dexterously contrived by her host, in spite of the colonel's
manifest anxiety to keep them asunder, that she should have some minutes
with Beauchamp out in the gardens. Mr. Romfrey led them out, and then
led the colonel away to offer him a choice of pups of rare breed.
'Nevil,' said Cecilia, 'you will not think it presumption in me to give
Her counsel to him was, that he should leave Steynham immediately, and
trust to time for his uncle to reconsider his conduct.
Beauchamp urged the counter-argument of the stain on the family honour.
She hinted at expediency; he frankly repudiated it.
The downs faced them, where the heavenly vast 'might have been' of
yesterday wandered thinner than a shadow of to-day; weaving a story
without beginning, crisis, or conclusion, flowerless and fruitless, but
with something of infinite in it sweeter to brood on than the future of
her life to Cecilia.
'If meanwhile Dr. Shrapnel should die, and repentance comes too late!'
She had no clear answer to that, save the hope of its being an unfounded
apprehension. 'As far as it is in my power, Nevil, I will avoid
injustice to him in my thoughts.'
He gazed at her thankfully. 'Well,' said he, 'that's like sighting the
cliffs. But I don't feel home round me while the colonel is so strangely
prepossessed. For a high-spirited gentleman like your father to approve,
or at least accept, an act so barbarous is incomprehensible. Speak to
him, Cecilia, will you? Let him know your ideas.'
She assented. He said instantly, 'Persuade him to speak to my uncle
She was tempted to smile.
'I must do only what I think wise, if I am to be of service, Nevil.'
'True, but paint that scene to him. An old man, utterly defenceless,
making no defence! a cruel error. The colonel can't, or he doesn't,
clearly get it inside him, otherwise I'm certain it would revolt him:
just as I am certain my uncle Everard is at this moment a stone-blind
man. If he has done a thing, he can't question it, won't examine it.
The thing becomes a part of him, as much as his hand or his head. He 's
a man of the twelfth century. Your father might be helped to understand
'Yes,' she said, not very warmly, though sadly.
'Tell the colonel how it must have been brought about. For Cecil
Baskelett called on Dr. Shrapnel two days before Mr. Romfrey stood at his
The name of Cecil caused her to draw in her shoulders in a half-shudder.
'It may indeed be Captain Baskelett who set this cruel thing in motion!'
'Then point that out to your father, said he, perceiving a chance of
winning her to his views through a concrete object of her dislike, and
cooling toward the woman who betrayed a vulgar characteristic of her sex;
who was merely woman, unable sternly to recognize the doing of a foul
wrong because of her antipathy, until another antipathy enlightened her.
He wanted in fact a ready-made heroine, and did not give her credit for
the absence of fire in her blood, as well as for the unexercised
imagination which excludes young women from the power to realize unwonted
circumstances. We men walking about the world have perhaps no more
imagination of matters not domestic than they; but what we have is quick
with experience: we see the thing we hear of: women come to it how they
Cecilia was recommended to weave a narrative for her father, and
ultimately induce him, if she could, to give a gentleman's opinion of the
case to Mr. Romfrey.
Her sensitive ear caught a change of tone in the directions she received.
'Your father will say so and so: answer him with this and that.'
Beauchamp supplied her with phrases. She was to renew and renew the
attack; hammer as he did. Yesterday she had followed him: to-day she was
to march beside him--hardly as an equal. Patience! was the word she
would have uttered in her detection of the one frailty in his nature
which this hurrying of her off her feet opened her eyes to with unusual
perspicacity. Still she leaned to him sufficiently to admit that he had
grounds for a deep disturbance of his feelings.
He said: 'I go to Dr. Shrapnel's cottage, and don't know how to hold up
my head before Miss Denham. She confided him to me when she left for
There was that to be thought of, certainly.
Colonel Halkett came round a box-bush and discovered them pacing together
in a fashion to satisfy his paternal scrutiny.
'I've been calling you several times, my dear,' he complained. 'We start
in seven minutes. Bustle, and bonnet at once. Nevil, I'm sorry for this
business. Good-bye. Be a good boy, Nevil,' he murmured kindheartedly,
and shook Beauchamp's hand with the cordiality of an extreme relief in
leaving him behind.
The colonel and Mr. Romfrey and Beauchamp were standing on the hall-steps
when Rosamund beckoned the latter and whispered a request for that letter
of Dr. Shrapnel's. 'It is for Miss Halkett, Nevil.'
He plucked the famous epistle from his bulging pocketbook, and added a
couple of others in the same handwriting.
'Tell her, a first reading--it's difficult to read at first,' he said,
and burned to read it to Cecilia himself: to read it to her with his
comments and explanations appeared imperative. It struck him in a flash
that Cecilia's counsel to him to quit Steynham for awhile was good. And
if he went to Bevisham he would be assured of Dr. Shrapnel's condition:
notes and telegrams from the cottage were too much tempered to console
and deceive him.
'Send my portmanteau and bag after me to Bevisham,' he said Rosamund, and
announced to the woefully astonish colonel that he would have the
pleasure of journeying in his company as far as the town.
'Are you ready? No packing?' said the colonel.
'It's better to have your impediments in the rear of you, and march!'
said Mr. Romfrey.
Colonel Halkett declined to wait for anybody. He shouted for his
daughter. The lady's maid appeared, and then Cecilia with Rosamund.
'We can't entertain you, Nevil; we're away to the island: I'm sorry,'
said the colonel; and observing Cecilia's face in full crimson, he looked
at her as if he had lost a battle by the turn of events at the final
Mr. Romfrey handed Cecilia into the carriage. He exchanged a friendly
squeeze with the colonel, and offered his hand to his nephew. Beauchamp
passed him with a nod and 'Good-bye, sir.'
'Have ready at Holdesbury for the middle of the month,' said Mr. Romfrey,
unruffled, and bowed to Cecilia.
'If you think of bringing my cousin Baskelett, give me warning, sir,'
'Give me warning, if you want the house for Shrapnel,' replied his uncle,
and remarked to Rosamund, as the carriage wheeled round the mounded
laurels to the avenue, 'He mayn't be quite cracked. The fellow seems to
have a turn for catching his opportunity by the tail. He had better hold
fast, for it's his last.'
The carriage rolled out of the avenue and through the park, for some time
parallel with the wavy downs. Once away from Steynham Colonel Halkett
breathed freely, as if he had dropped a load: he was free of his bond to
Mr. Romfrey, and so great was the sense of relief in him that he resolved
to do battle against his daughter, supposing her still lively blush to be
the sign of the enemy's flag run up on a surrendered citadel. His
authority was now to be thought of: his paternal sanction was in his own
keeping. Beautiful as she looked, it was hardly credible that a fellow
in possession of his reason could have let slip his chance of such a
prize; but whether he had or had not, the colonel felt that he occupied a
position enabling him either to out-manoeuvre, or, if need were,
interpose forcibly and punish him for his half-heartedness.
Cecilia looked the loveliest of women to Beauchamp's eyes, with her
blush, and the letters of Dr. Shrapnel in her custody, at her express
desire. Certain terms in the letters here and there, unsweet to ladies,
began to trouble his mind.
'By the way, colonel,' he said, 'you had a letter of Dr. Shrapnel's read
to you by Captain Baskelett.'
'With his comments on it, I dare say you thought it so. I won't speak of
his right to make it public. He wanted to produce his impressions of it
and me, and that is a matter between him and me. Dr. Shrapnel makes use
of strong words now and then, but I undertake to produce a totally
different impression on you by reading the letter myself--sparing you'
(he turned to Cecilia) 'a word or two, common enough to men who write in
black earnest and have humour.' He cited his old favourite, the black
and bright lecturer on Heroes. 'You have read him, I know, Cecilia.
Well, Dr. Shrapnel is another, who writes in his own style, not the
leading-article style or modern pulpit stuff. He writes to rouse.'
'He does that to my temper,' said the colonel.
'Perhaps here and there he might offend Cecilia's taste,' Beauchamp
pursued for her behoof. 'Everything depends on the mouthpiece. I should
not like the letter to be read without my being by;--except by men: any
just-minded man may read it: Seymour Austin, for example. Every line is
a text to the mind of the writer. Let me call on you to-morrow.'
'To-morrow?' Colonel Halkett put on a thoughtful air. 'To-morrow we're
off to the island for a couple of days; and there's Lord Croyston's
garden party, and the Yacht Ball. Come this evening-dine with us. No
reading of letters, please. I can't stand it, Nevil.'
The invitation was necessarily declined by a gentleman who could not
expect to be followed by supplies of clothes and linen for evening wear
'Ah, we shall see you some day or other,' said the colonel.
Cecilia was less alive to Beauchamp's endeavour to prepare her for the
harsh words in the letter than to her father's insincerity. She would
have asked her friend to come in the morning next day, but for the dread
of deepening her blush.
'Do you intend to start so early in the morning, papa?' she ventured to
say; and he replied, 'As early as possible.'
'I don't know what news I shall have in Bevisham, or I would engage to
run over to the island,' said Beauchamp, with a flattering persistency or
'You will dance,' he subsequently observed to Cecilia, out of the heart
of some reverie. He had been her admiring partner on the night before
the drive from Itchincope into Bevisham, and perhaps thought of her
graceful dancing at the Yacht Ball, and the contrast it would present to
his watch beside a sick man-struck down by one of his own family.
She could have answered, 'Not if you wish me not to'; while smiling at
the quaint sorrowfulness of his tone.
'Dance!' quoth Colonel Halkett, whose present temper discerned a healthy
antagonism to misanthropic Radicals in the performance, 'all young people
dance. Have you given over dancing?'
'Not entirely, colonel.'
Cecilia danced with Mr. Tuckham at the Yacht Ball, and was vividly
mindful of every slight incident leading to and succeeding her lover's
abrupt, 'You will dance' which had all passed by her dream-like up to
that hour his attempt to forewarn her of the phrases she would deem
objectionable in Dr. Shrapnel's letter; his mild acceptation of her
father's hostility; his adieu to her, and his melancholy departure on
foot from the station, as she drove away to Mount Laurels and gaiety.
Why do I dance? she asked herself. It was not in the spirit of
happiness. Her heart was not with Dr. Shrapnel, but very near him,
and heavy as a chamber of the sick. She was afraid of her father's
favourite, imagining, from the colonel's unconcealed opposition to
Beauchamp, that he had designs in the interests of Mr. Tuckham. But the
hearty gentleman scattered her secret terrors by his bluffness and
openness. He asked her to remember that she had recommended him to
listen to Seymour Austin, and he had done so, he said. Undoubtedly he
was much improved, much less overbearing.
He won her confidence by praising and loving her father, and when she
alluded to the wonderful services he had rendered on the Welsh estate,
he said simply that her father's thanks repaid him. He recalled his
former downrightness only in speaking of the case of Dr. Shrapnel, upon
which, both with the colonel and with her, he was unreservedly
condemnatory of Mr. Romfrey. Colonel Halkett's defence of the true
knight and guardian of the reputation of ladies, fell to pieces in the
presence of Mr. Tuckham. He had seen Dr. Shrapnel, on a visit to Mr.
Lydiard, whom he described as hanging about Bevisham, philandering as a
married man should not, though in truth he might soon expect to be
released by the death of his crazy wife. The doctor, he said, had been
severely shaken by the monstrous assault made on him, and had been most
unrighteously handled. The doctor was an inoffensive man in his private
life, detestable and dangerous though his teachings were. Outside
politics Mr. Tuckham went altogether with Beauchamp. He promised also
that old Mrs. Beauchamp should be accurately informed of the state of
matters between Captain Beauchamp and Mr. Romfrey. He left Mount Laurels
to go back in attendance on the venerable lady, without once afflicting
Cecilia with a shiver of well-founded apprehension, and she was grateful
to him almost to friendly affection in the vanishing of her unjust
suspicion, until her father hinted that there was the man of his heart.
Then she closed all avenues to her own.
A period of maidenly distress not previously unknown to her ensued.
Proposals of marriage were addressed to her by two untitled gentlemen,
and by the Earl of Lockrace: three within a fortnight. The recognition
of the young heiress's beauty at the Yacht Ball was accountable for the
bursting out of these fires. Her father would not have deplored her
acceptance of the title of Countess of Lockrace. In the matter of
rejections, however, her will was paramount, and he was on her side
against relatives when the subject was debated among them. He called her
attention to the fact impressively, telling her that she should not hear
a syllable from him to persuade her to marry: the emphasis of which
struck the unspoken warning on her intelligence: Bring no man to me of
whom I do not approve!
'Worthier of you, as I hope to become,' Beauchamp had said. Cecilia lit
on that part of Dr. Shrapnel's letter where 'Fight this out within you,'
distinctly alluded to the unholy love. Could she think ill of the man
who thus advised him? She shared Beauchamp's painful feeling for him in
a sudden tremour of her frame; as it were through his touch. To the rest
of the letter her judgement stood opposed, save when a sentence here and
there reminded her of Captain Baskelett's insolent sing-song declamation
of it: and that would have turned Sacred Writing to absurdity.
Beauchamp had mentioned Seymour Austin as one to whom he would willingly
grant a perusal of the letter. Mr. Austin came to Mount Laurels about
the close of the yachting season, shortly after Colonel Halkett had spent
his customary days of September shooting at Steynham. Beauchamp's folly
was the colonel's theme, for the fellow had dragged Lord Palmet there,
and driven his uncle out of patience. Mr. Romfrey's monumental patience
had been exhausted by him. The colonel boiled over with accounts of
Beauchamp's behaviour toward his uncle, and Palmet, and Baskelett, and
Mrs. Culling: how he flew at and worried everybody who seemed to him to
have had a hand in the proper chastisement of that man Shrapnel. That
pestiferous letter of Shrapnel's was animadverted on, of course; and,
'I should like you to have heard it, Austin,' the colonel said, 'just for
you to have a notion of the kind of universal blow-up those men are
scheming, and would hoist us with, if they could get a little more
blasting-powder than they mill in their lunatic heads.'
Now Cecilia wished for Mr. Austin's opinion of Dr. Shrapnel; and as the
delicate state of her inclinations made her conscious that to give him
the letter covertly would be to betray them to him, who had once, not
knowing it, moved her to think of a possible great change in her life,
she mustered courage to say, 'Captain Beauchamp at my request lent me the
letter to read; I have it, and others written by Dr. Shrapnel.'
Her father hummed to himself, and immediately begged Seymour Austin not
to waste his time on the stuff, though he had no idea that a perusal of
it could awaken other than the gravest reprehension in so rational a Tory
Mr. Austin read the letter through. He asked to see the other letters
mentioned by Cecilia, and read them calmly, without a frown or an
interjection. She sat sketching, her father devouring newspaper columns.
'It's the writing of a man who means well,' Mr. Austin delivered his
' Why, the man's an infidel!' Colonel Halkett exclaimed.
'There are numbers.'
'They have the grace not to confess, then.'
'It's as well to know what the world's made of, colonel. The clergy shut
their eyes. There's no treating a disease without reading it; and if we
are to acknowledge a "vice," as Dr. Shrapnel would say of the so-called
middle-class, it is the smirking over what they think, or their not
caring to think at all. Too many time-servers rot the State. I can
understand the effect of such writing on a mind like Captain Beauchamp's.
It would do no harm to our young men to have those letters read publicly
and lectured on-by competent persons. Half the thinking world may think
pretty much the same on some points as Dr. Shrapnel; they are too wise or
too indolent to say it: and of the other half, about a dozen members
would be competent to reply to him. He is the earnest man, and flies at
politics as uneasy young brains fly to literature, fancying they can
write because they can write with a pen. He perceives a bad adjustment
of things: which is correct. He is honest, and takes his honesty for a
virtue: and that entitles him to believe in himself: and that belief
causes him to see in all opposition to him the wrong he has perceived in
existing circumstances: and so in a dream of power he invokes the people:
and as they do not stir, he takes to prophecy. This is the round of the
politics of impatience. The study of politics should be guided by some
light of statesmanship, otherwise it comes to this wild preaching.
These men are theory-tailors, not politicians. They are the men who make
the "strait-waistcoat for humanity." They would fix us to first
principles like tethered sheep or hobbled horses. I should enjoy
replying to him, if I had time. The whole letter is composed of
variations upon one idea. Still I must say the man interests me; I
should like to talk to him.'
Mr. Austin paid no heed to the colonel's 'Dear me! dear me!' of
amazement. He said of the style of the letters, that it was the puffing
of a giant: a strong wind rather than speech: and begged Cecilia to note
that men who labour to force their dreams on mankind and turn vapour into
fact, usually adopt such a style. Hearing that this private letter had
been deliberately read through by Mr. Romfrey, and handed by him to
Captain Baskelett, who had read it out in various places, Mr. Austin
'A strange couple!' He appeared perplexed by his old friend's approval
of them. 'There we decidedly differ,' said he, when the case of Dr.
Shrapnel was related by the colonel, with a refusal to condemn Mr.
Romfrey. He pronounced Mr. Romfrey's charges against Dr. Shrapnel, taken
in conjunction with his conduct, to be baseless, childish, and wanton.
The colonel would not see the case in that light; but Cecilia did. It
was a justification of Beauchamp; and how could she ever have been blind
to it?--scarcely blind, she remembered, but sensitively blinking her
eyelids to distract her sight in contemplating it, and to preserve her
repose. As to Beauchamp's demand of the apology, Mr. Austin considered
that it might be an instance of his want of knowledge of men, yet could
not be called silly, and to call it insane was the rhetoric of an
'I do call it insane,' said the colonel.
He separated himself from his daughter by a sharp division.
Had Beauchamp appeared at Mount Laurels, Cecilia would have been ready to
support and encourage him, boldly. Backed by Mr. Austin, she saw some
good in Dr. Shrapnel's writing, much in Beauchamp's devotedness. He
shone clear to her reason, at last: partly because her father in his
opposition to him did not, but was on the contrary unreasonable, cased in
mail, mentally clouded. She sat with Mr. Austin and her father, trying
repeatedly, in obedience to Beauchamp's commands, to bring the latter to
a just contemplation of the unhappy case; behaviour on her part which
rendered the colonel inveterate.
Beauchamp at this moment was occupied in doing secretary's work for Dr.
Shrapnel. So Cecilia learnt from Mr. Lydiard, who came to pay his
respects to Mrs. Wardour-Devereux at Mount Laurels. The pursuit of the
apology was continued in letters to his uncle and occasional interviews
with him, which were by no means instigated by the doctor, Mr. Lydiard
informed the ladies. He described Beauchamp as acting in the spirit of a
man who has sworn an oath to abandon every pleasure in life, that he may,
as far as it lies in his power, indemnify his friend for the wrong done
'Such men are too terrible for me,' said Mrs. Devereux.
Cecilia thought the reverse: Not for me! But she felt a strain upon
her nature, and she was miserable in her alienation from her father.
Kissing him one night, she laid her head on his breast, and begged his
forgiveness. He embraced her tenderly. 'Wait, only wait; you will see
I am right,' he said, and prudently said no more, and did not ask her
She was glad that she had sought the reconciliation from her heart's
natural warmth, on hearing some time later that M. de Croisnel was dead,
and that Beauchamp meditated starting for France to console his Renee.
Her continual agitations made her doubtful of her human feelings: she
clung to that instance of her filial stedfastness.
The day before Cecilia and her father left Mount Laurels for their season
in Wales, Mr. Tuckham and Beauchamp came together to the house, and were
closeted an hour with her father. Cecilia sat in the drawing-room,
thinking that she did indeed wait, and had great patience. Beauchamp
entered the room alone. He looked worn and thin, of a leaden colour,
like the cloud that bears the bolt. News had reached him of the death of
Lord Avonley in the hunting-field, and he was going on to Steynham to
persuade his uncle to accompany him to Bevisham and wash the guilt of his
wrong-doing off him before applying for the title. 'You would advise me
not to go?' he said. 'I must. I should be dishonoured myself if I let
a chance pass. I run the risk of being a beggar: I'm all but one now.'
Cecilia faltered: 'Do you see a chance?'
'Hardly more than an excuse for trying it,' he replied.
She gave him back Dr. Shrapnel's letters. 'I have read them,' was all
she said. For he might have just returned from France, with the breath
of Renee about him, and her pride would not suffer her to melt him in
rivalry by saying what she had been led to think of the letters.
Hearing nothing from her, he silently put them in his pocket. The
struggle with his uncle seemed to be souring him or deadening him.
They were not alone for long. Mr. Tuckham presented himself to take his
leave of her. Old Mrs. Beauchamp was dying, and he had only come to
Mount Laurels on special business. Beauchamp was just as anxious to
Her father found her sitting in the solitude of a drawing-room at midday,
pale-faced, with unoccupied fingers, not even a book in her lap.
He walked up and down the room until Cecilia, to say something, said:
'Mr. Tuckham could not stay.'
'No,' said her father; 'he could not. He has to be back as quick as he
can to cut his legacy in halves!'
Cecilia looked perplexed.
'I'll speak plainly,' said the colonel. 'He sees that Nevil has ruined
himself with his uncle. The old lady won't allow Nevil to visit her; in
her condition it would be an excitement beyond her strength to bear. She
sent Blackburn to bring Nevil here, and give him the option of stating
before me whether those reports about his misconduct in France were true
or not. He demurred at first: however, he says they are not true. He
would have run away with the Frenchwoman, and he would have fought the
duel: but he did neither. Her brother ran ahead of him and fought for
him: so he declares and she wouldn't run. So the reports are false. We
shall know what Blackburn makes of the story when we hear of the legacy.
I have been obliged to write word to Mrs. Beauchamp that I believe Nevil
to have made a true statement of the facts. But I distinctly say, and so
I told Blackburn, I don't think money will do Nevil Beauchamp a
farthing's worth of good. Blackburn follows his own counsel. He induced
the old lady to send him; so I suppose he intends to let her share the
money between them. I thought better of him; I thought him a wiser man.'
Gratitude to Mr. Tuckham on Beauchamp's behalf caused Cecilia to praise
him, in the tone of compliments. The difficulty of seriously admiring
two gentlemen at once is a feminine dilemma, with the maidenly among
'He has disappointed me,' said Colonel Halkett.
'Would you have had him allow a falsehood to enrich him and ruin Nevil,
'My dear child, I'm sick to death of romantic fellows. I took Blackburn
for one of our solid young men. Why should he share his aunt's fortune?'
'You mean, why should Nevil have money?'
'Well, I do mean that. Besides, the story was not false as far as his
intentions went: he confessed it, and I ought to have put it in a
postscript. If Nevil wants money, let him learn to behave himself like a
gentleman at Steynham.'
'He has not failed.'
'I'll say, then, behave himself, simply. He considers it a point of
honour to get his uncle Everard to go down on his knees to Shrapnel. But
he has no moral sense where I should like to see it: none: he confessed
'What were his words, papa?'
'I don't remember words. He runs over to France, whenever it suits him,
to carry on there . . .' The colonel ended in a hum and buzz.
'Has he been to France lately?' asked Cecilia.
Her breath hung for the answer, sedately though she sat.
'The woman's father is dead, I hear,' Colonel Halkett remarked.
'But he has not been there?'
'How can I tell? He's anywhere, wherever his passions whisk him.'
'I say, yes. And if he has money, we shall see him going sky-high and
scattering it in sparks, not merely spending; I mean living immorally,
infidelizing, republicanizing, scandalizing his class and his country.'
'Oh no!' exclaimed Cecilia, rising and moving to the window to feast her
eyes on driving clouds, in a strange exaltation of mind, secretly sure
now that her idea of Nevil's having gone over to France was groundless;
and feeling that she had been unworthy of him who strove to be 'worthier
of her, as he hoped to become.'
Colonel Halkett scoffed at her 'Oh no,' and called it woman's logic.
She could not restrain herself. 'Have you forgotten Mr. Austin, papa?
It is Nevil's perfect truthfulness that makes him appear worse to you
than men who are timeservers. Too many time-servers rot the State, Mr.
Austin said. Nevil is not one of them. I am not able to judge or
speculate whether he has a great brain or is likely to distinguish
himself out of his profession: I would rather he did not abandon it: but
Mr. Austin said to me in talking of him . . .'
'That notion of Austin's of screwing women's minds up to the pitch of
men's!' interjected the colonel with a despairing flap of his arm.
'He said, papa, that honestly active men in a country, who decline to
practise hypocrisy, show that the blood runs, and are a sign of health.'
'You misunderstood him, my dear.'
'I think I thoroughly understood him. He did not call them wise. He
said they might be dangerous if they were not met in debate. But he
said, and I presume to think truly, that the reason why they are decried
is, that it is too great a trouble for a lazy world to meet them. And,
he said, the reason why the honest factions agitate is because they
encounter sneers until they appear in force. If they were met earlier,
and fairly--I am only quoting him--they would not, I think he said, or
would hardly, or would not generally, fall into professional agitation.'
'Austin's a speculative Tory, I know; and that's his weakness,' observed
the colonel. 'But I'm certain you misunderstood him. He never would
have called us a lazy people.'
'Not in matters of business: in matters of thought.'
'My dear Cecilia! You've got hold of a language!.... a way of speaking!
.... Who set you thinking on these things?'
'That I owe to Nevil Beauchamp!
Colonel Halkett indulged in a turn or two up and down the room. He threw
open a window, sniffed the moist air, and went to his daughter to speak
to her resolutely.
'Between a Radical and a Tory, I don't know where your head has been
whirled to, my dear. Your heart seems to be gone: more sorrow for us!
And for Nevil Beauchamp to be pretending to love you while carrying on
with this Frenchwoman!'
'He has never said that he loved me.'
The splendour of her beauty in humility flashed on her father, and he
cried out: 'You are too good for any man on earth! We won't talk in the
dark, my darling. You tell me he has never, as they say, made love to
'Well, that proves the French story. At any rate, he 's a man of honour.
But you love him?'
'The French story is untrue, papa.'
Cecilia stood in a blush like the burning cloud of the sunset.'
'Tell me frankly: I'm your father, your old dada, your friend, my dear
girl! do you think the man cares for you, loves you?'
She replied: 'I know, papa, the French story is untrue.'
'But when I tell you, silly woman, he confessed it to me out of his own
'It is not true now.'
'It's not going on, you mean? How do you know?'
'Has he been swearing it?'
'He has not spoken of it to me.'
'Here I am in a woman's web!' cried the colonel. 'Is it your instinct
tells you it's not true? or what? what? You have not denied that you
love the man.'
'I know he is not immoral.'
'There you shoot again! Haven't you a yes or a no for your father?'
Cecilia cast her arms round his neck, and sobbed.
She could not bring it to her lips to say (she would have shunned the
hearing) that her defence of Beauchamp, which was a shadowed avowal of
the state of her heart, was based on his desire to read to her the
conclusion of Dr. Shrapnel's letter touching a passion to be overcome;
necessarily therefore a passion that was vanquished, and the fullest and
bravest explanation of his shifting treatment of her: nor would she
condescend to urge that her lover would have said he loved her when they
were at Steynham, but for the misery and despair of a soul too noble to
be diverted from his grief and sense of duty, and, as she believed,
unwilling to speak to win her while his material fortune was in jeopardy.
The colonel cherished her on his breast, with one hand regularly patting
her shoulder: a form of consolation that cures the disposition to sob as
quickly as would the drip of water.
Cecilia looked up into his eyes, and said, 'We will not be parted, papa,
The colonel said absently: 'No'; and, surprised at himself, added: 'No,
certainly not. How can we be parted? You won't run away from me? No,
you know too well I can't resist you. I appeal to your judgement, and I
must accept what you decide. But he is immoral. I repeat that. He has
no roots. We shall discover it before it's too late, I hope.'
Cecilia gazed away, breathing through tremulous dilating nostrils.
'One night after dinner at Steynham,' pursued the colonel, 'Nevil was
rattling against the Press, with Stukely Culbrett to prime him: and he
said editors of papers were growing to be like priests, and as timid as
priests, and arrogant: and for one thing, it was because they supposed
themselves to be guardians of the national morality. I forget exactly
what the matter was: but he sneered at priests and morality.'
A smile wove round Cecilia's lips, and in her towering superiority to one
who talked nonsense, she slipped out of maiden shame and said: 'Attack
Nevil for his political heresies and his wrath with the Press for not
printing him. The rest concerns his honour, where he is quite safe, and
all are who trust him.'
'If you find out you're wrong?'
She shook her head.
'But if you find out you're wrong about him,' her father reiterated
piteously, 'you won't tear me to strips to have him in spite of it?'
'No, papa, not I. I will not.'
'Well, that's something for me to hold fast to,' said Colonel Halkett,
Mr. Everard Romfrey was now, by consent, Lord Avonley, mounted on his
direct heirship and riding hard at the earldom. His elevation occurred
at a period of life that would have been a season of decay with most men;
but the prolonged and lusty Autumn of the veteran took new fires from a
tangible object to live for. His brother Craven's death had slightly
stupefied, and it had grieved him: it seemed to him peculiarly pathetic;
for as he never calculated on the happening of mortal accidents to men of
sound constitution, the circumstance imparted a curious shake to his own
solidity. It was like the quaking of earth, which tries the balance of
the strongest. If he had not been raised to so splendid a survey of the
actual world, he might have been led to think of the imaginary, where
perchance a man may meet his old dogs and a few other favourites, in a
dim perpetual twilight. Thither at all events Craven had gone, and
goodnight to him! The earl was a rapidly lapsing invalid. There could
be no doubt that Everard was to be the head of his House.
Outwardly he was the same tolerant gentleman who put aside the poor fools
of the world to walk undisturbed by them in the paths he had chosen: in
this aspect he knew himself: nor was the change so great within him as to
make him cognizant of a change. It was only a secret turn in the bent of
the mind, imperceptible as the touch of the cunning artist's brush on a
finished portrait, which will alter the expression without discomposing a
feature, so that you cannot say it is another face, yet it is not the
former one. His habits were invariable, as were his meditations.
He thought less of Romfrey Castle than of his dogs and his devices for
trapping vermin; his interest in birds and beasts and herbs, 'what
ninnies call Nature in books,' to quote him, was undiminished;
imagination he had none to clap wings to his head and be off with it.
He betrayed as little as he felt that the coming Earl of Romfrey was
different from the cadet of the family.
A novel sharpness in the 'Stop that,' with which he crushed Beauchamp's
affectedly gentle and unusually roundabout opening of the vexed Shrapnel
question, rang like a shot in the room at Steynham, and breathed a
different spirit from his customary easy pugnacity that welcomed and
lured on an adversary to wild outhitting. Some sorrowful preoccupation
is, however, to be expected in the man who has lost a brother, and some
degree of irritability at the intrusion of past disputes. He chose to
repeat a similar brief forbidding of the subject before they started
together for the scene of the accident and Romfrey Castle. No notice was
taken of Beauchamp's remark, that he consented to go though his duty lay
elsewhere. Beauchamp had not the faculty of reading inside men, or he
would have apprehended that his uncle was engaged in silently heaping
aggravations to shoot forth one fine day a thundering and astonishing
He should have known his uncle Everard better.
In this respect he seemed to have no memory. But who has much that has
given up his brains for a lodging to a single idea? It is at once a
devouring dragon, and an intractable steamforce; it is a tyrant that
has eaten up a senate, and a prophet with a message. Inspired of
solitariness and gigantic size, it claims divine origin. The world
can have no peace for it.
Cecilia had not pleased him; none had. He did not bear in mind that the
sight of Dr. Shrapnel sick and weak, which constantly reanimated his
feelings of pity and of wrath, was not given to the others of whom he
demanded a corresponding energy of just indignation and sympathy. The
sense that he was left unaided to the task of bending his tough uncle,
combined with his appreciation of the righteousness of the task to
embitter him and set him on a pedestal, from which he descended at every
sign of an opportunity for striking, and to which he retired continually
baffled and wrathful, in isolation.
Then ensued the dreadful division in his conception of his powers: for he
who alone saw the just and right thing to do, was incapable of compelling
it to be done. Lay on to his uncle as he would, that wrestler shook him
off. And here was one man whom he could not move! How move a nation?
There came on him a thirst for the haranguing of crowds. They agree with
you or they disagree; exciting you to activity in either case. They do
not interpose cold Tory exclusiveness and inaccessibility. You have them
in the rough; you have nature in them, and all that is hopeful in nature.
You drive at, over, and through them, for their good; you plough them.
You sow them too. Some of them perceive that it is for their good,
and what if they be a minority? Ghastly as a minority is in an Election,
in a lifelong struggle it is refreshing and encouraging. The young world
and its triumph is with the minority. Oh to be speaking! Condemned to
silence beside his uncle, Beauchamp chafed for a loosed tongue and an
audience tossing like the well-whipped ocean, or open as the smooth sea-
surface to the marks of the breeze. Let them be hostile or amicable, he
wanted an audience as hotly as the humped Richard a horse.
At Romfrey Castle he fell upon an audience that became transformed into a
swarm of chatterers, advisers, and reprovers the instant his lips were
parted. The ladies of the family declared his pursuit of the Apology to
be worse and vainer than his politics. The gentlemen said the same, but
they were not so outspoken to him personally, and indulged in asides,
with quotations of some of his uncle Everard's recent observations
concerning him: as for example, 'Politically he's a mad harlequin jumping
his tights and spangles when nobody asks him to jump; and in private life
he's a mad dentist poking his tongs at my sound tooth:' a highly
ludicrous image of the persistent fellow, and a reminder of situations in
Moliere, as it was acted by Cecil Baskelett and Lord Welshpool.
Beauchamp had to a certain extent restored himself to favour with his
uncle Everard by offering a fair suggestion on the fatal field to account
for the accident, after the latter had taken measurements and examined
the place in perplexity. His elucidation of the puzzle was referred to
by Lord Avonley at Romfrey, and finally accepted as possible and this
from a wiseacre who went quacking about the county, expecting to upset
the order of things in England! Such a mixing of sense and nonsense in a
fellow's noddle was never before met with, Lord Avonley said. Cecil took
the hint. He had been unworried by Beauchamp: Dr. Shrapnel had not been
mentioned: and it delighted Cecil to let it be known that he thought old
Nevil had some good notions, particularly as to the duties of the
aristocracy--that first war-cry of his when a midshipman. News of
another fatal accident in the hunting-field confirmed Cecil's higher
opinion of his cousin. On the day of Craven's funeral they heard at
Romfrey that Mr. Wardour-Devereux had been killed by a fall from his
horse. Two English gentlemen despatched by the same agency within a
fortnight! 'He smoked,' Lord Avonley said of the second departure, to
allay some perturbation in the bosoms of the ladies who had ceased to
ride, by accounting for this particular mishap in the most reassuring
fashion. Cecil's immediate reflection was that the unfortunate smoker
had left a rich widow. Far behind in the race for Miss Halkett, and
uncertain of a settled advantage in his other rivalry with Beauchamp, he
fixed his mind on the widow, and as Beauchamp did not stand in his way,
but on the contrary might help him--for she, like the generality of
women, admired Nevil Beauchamp in spite of her feminine good sense and
conservatism--Cecil began to regard the man he felt less opposed to with
some recognition of his merits. The two nephews accompanied Lord Avonley
to London, and slept at his town-house.
They breakfasted together the next morning on friendly terms. Half an
hour afterward there was an explosion; uncle and nephews were scattered
fragments: and if Cecil was the first to return to cohesion with his lord
and chief, it was, he protested energetically, common policy in a man in
his position to do so: all that he looked for being a decent pension and
a share in the use of the town-house. Old Nevil, he related, began
cross-examining him and entangling him with the cunning of the deuce, in
my lord's presence, and having got him to make an admission, old Nevil
flung it at the baron, and even crossed him and stood before him when he
was walking out of the room. A furious wrangle took place. Nevil and
the baron gave it to one another unmercifully. The end of it was that
all three flew apart, for Cecil confessed to having a temper, and in
contempt of him for the admission wrung out of him, Lord Avonley had
pricked it. My lord went down to Steynham, Beauchamp to Holdesbury, and
Captain Baskelett to his quarters; whence in a few days he repaired
penitently to my lord--the most placable of men when a full submission
was offered to him.
Beauchamp did nothing of the kind. He wrote a letter to Steynham in the
form of an ultimatum.
This egregious letter was handed to Rosamund for a proof of her darling's
lunacy. She in conversation with Stukely Culbrett unhesitatingly accused
Cecil of plotting his cousin's ruin.
Mr. Culbrett thought it possible that Cecil had been a little more than
humorous in the part he had played in the dispute, and spoke to him.
Then it came out that Lord Avonley had also delivered an ultimatum to
Time enough had gone by for Cecil to forget his ruffling, and relish the
baron's grandly comic spirit in appropriating that big word Apology, and
demanding it from Beauchamp on behalf of the lady ruling his household.
What could be funnier than the knocking of Beauchamp's blunderbuss out of
his hands, and pointing the muzzle at him!
Cecil dramatized the fun to amuse Mr. Culbrett. Apparently Beauchamp had
been staggered on hearing himself asked for the definite article he
claimed. He had made a point of speaking of the Apology. Lord Avonley
did likewise. And each professed to exact it for a deeply aggrieved
person: each put it on the ground that it involved the other's rightful
ownership of the title of gentleman.
"'An apology to the amiable and virtuous Mistress Culling?" says old
Nevil: "an apology? what for?"--"For unbecoming and insolent behaviour,"
says my lord.'
'I am that lady's friend,' Stukely warned Captain Baskelett. 'Don't let
us have a third apology in the field.'
'Perfectly true; you are her friend, and you know what a friend of mine
she is,' rejoined Cecil. 'I could swear "that lady" flings the whole
affair at me. I give you my word, old Nevil and I were on a capital
footing before he and the baron broke up. I praised him for tickling the
aristocracy. I backed him heartily; I do now; I'll do it in Parliament.
I know a case of a noble lord, a General in the army, and he received an
intimation that he might as well attend the Prussian cavalry manoeuvres
last Autumn on the Lower Rhine or in Silesia--no matter where. He
couldn't go: he was engaged to shoot birds! I give you my word. Now
there I see old Nevil 's right. It 's as well we should know something
about the Prussian and Austrian cavalry, and if our aristocracy won't go
abroad to study cavalry, who is to? no class in the kingdom understands
horses as they do. My opinion is, they're asleep. Nevil should have
stuck to that, instead of trying to galvanize the country and turning
against his class. But fancy old Nevil asked for the Apology! It
petrified him. "I've told her nothing but the truth," says Nevil.
"Telling the truth to women is an impertinence," says my lord. Nevil
swore he'd have a revolution in the country before he apologized.'
Mr. Culbrett smiled at the absurdity of the change of positions between
Beauchamp and his uncle Everard, which reminded him somewhat of the old
story of the highwayman innkeeper and the market farmer who had been
thoughtful enough to recharge his pistols after quitting the inn at
midnight. A practical 'tu quoque' is astonishingly laughable, and backed
by a high figure and manner it had the flavour of triumphant repartee.
Lord Avonley did not speak of it as a retort upon Nevil, though he
reiterated the word Apology amusingly. He put it as due to the lady
governing his household; and his ultimatum was, that the Apology should
be delivered in terms to satisfy him within three months of the date of
the demand for it: otherwise blank; but the shadowy index pointed to the
destitution of Nevil Beauchamp.
No stroke of retributive misfortune could have been severer to Rosamund
than to be thrust forward as the object of humiliation for the man she
loved. She saw at a glance how much more likely it was (remote as the
possibility appeared) that her lord would perform the act of penitence
than her beloved Nevil. And she had no occasion to ask herself why.
Lord Avonley had done wrong, and Nevil had not. It was inconceivable
that Nevil should apologize to her. It was horrible to picture the act
in her mind. She was a very rational woman, quite a woman of the world,
yet such was her situation between these two men that the childish tale
of a close and consecutive punishment for sins, down to our little
naughtinesses and naturalnesses, enslaved her intelligence, and amazed
her with the example made of her, as it were to prove the tale true of
our being surely hauled back like domestic animals learning the habits of
good society, to the rueful contemplation of certain of our deeds,
however wildly we appeal to nature to stand up for them.
But is it so with all of us? No, thought Rosamund, sinking dejectedly
from a recognition of the heavenliness of the justice which lashed her
and Nevil, and did not scourge Cecil Baskelett. That fine eye for
celestially directed consequences is ever haunted by shadows of unfaith
likely to obscure it completely when chastisement is not seen to fall on
the person whose wickedness is evident to us. It has been established
that we do not wax diviner by dragging down the Gods to our level.
Rosamund knew Lord Avonley too well to harass him with further petitions
and explanations. Equally vain was it to attempt to persuade Beauchamp.
He made use of the house in London, where he met his uncle occasionally,
and he called at Steynham for money, that he could have obtained upon the
one condition, which was no sooner mentioned than fiery words flew in the
room, and the two separated. The leaden look in Beauchamp, noticed by
Cecilia Halkett in their latest interview, was deepening, and was of
itself a displeasure to Lord Avonley, who liked flourishing faces, and
said: 'That fellow's getting the look of a sweating smith': presumptively
in the act of heating his poker at the furnace to stir the country.
It now became an offence to him that Beauchamp should continue doing this
in the speeches and lectures he was reported to be delivering; he stamped
his foot at the sight of his nephew's name in the daily journals; a novel
sentiment of social indignation was expressed by his crying out, at the
next request for money: 'Money to prime you to turn the country into a
rat-hole? Not a square inch of Pennsylvanian paper-bonds! What right
have you to be lecturing and orationing? You've no knowledge. All
you've got is your instincts, and that you show in your readiness to
exhibit them like a monkey. You ought to be turned inside out on your
own stage. You've lumped your brains on a point or two about Land, and
Commonland, and the Suffrage, and you pound away upon them, as if you had
the key of the difficulty. It's the Scotchman's metaphysics; you know
nothing clear, and your working-classes know nothing at all; and you blow
them with wind like an over-stuffed cow. What you're driving at is to
get hob-nail boots to dance on our heads. Stukely says you should be off
over to Ireland. There you'd swim in your element, and have speechifying
from instinct, and howling and pummelling too, enough to last you out.
I 'll hand you money for that expedition. You're one above the number
wanted here. You've a look of bad powder fit only to flash in the pan.
I saved you from the post of public donkey, by keeping you out of
Parliament. You're braying and kicking your worst for it still at these
meetings of yours. A naval officer preaching about Republicanism and
parcelling out the Land!'
Beauchamp replied quietly, 'The lectures I read are Dr. Shrapnel's. When
I speak I have his knowledge to back my deficiencies. He is too ill to
work, and I consider it my duty to do as much of his work as I can
'Ha! You're the old infidel's Amen clerk. It would rather astonish
orthodox congregations to see clerks in our churches getting into the
pulpit to read the sermon for sick clergymen,' said Lord Avonley. His
countenance furrowed. 'I'll pay that bill,' he added.
'Pay down half a million!' thundered Beauchamp; and dropping his voice,
'or go to him.'
'You remind me,' his uncle observed. 'I recommend you to ring that bell,
and have Mrs. Culling here.'
'If she comes she will hear what I think of her.'
'Then, out of the house!'
'Very well, sir. You decline to supply me with money?'
'I must have it!'
'I dare say. Money's a chain-cable for holding men to their senses.'
'I ask you, my lord, how I am to carry on Holdesbury?'
'Give it up.'
'I shall have to,' said Beauchamp, striving to be prudent.
'There isn't a doubt of it,' said his uncle, upon a series of nods
diminishing in their depth until his head assumed a droll interrogative
fixity, with an air of 'What next?'
BETWEEN BEAUCHAMP AND CECILIA
Beauchamp quitted the house without answering as to what next, and
without seeing Rosamund.
In the matter of money, as of his physical health, he wanted to do too
much at once; he had spent largely of both in his efforts to repair the
injury done to Dr. Shrapnel. He was overworked, anxious, restless,
craving for a holiday somewhere in France, possibly; he was all but
leaping on board the boat at times, and, unwilling to leave his dear old
friend who clung to him, he stayed, keeping his impulses below the tide-
mark which leads to action, but where they do not yield peace of spirit.
The tone of Renee's letters filled him with misgivings. She wrote word
that she had seen M. d'Henriel for the first time since his return from
Italy, and he was much changed, and inclined to thank Roland for the
lesson he had received from him at the sword's point. And next she urged
Beauchamp to marry, so that he and she might meet, as if she felt a
necessity for it. 'I shall love your wife; teach her to think amiably of
me,' she said. And her letter contained womanly sympathy for him in his
battle with his uncle. Beauchamp thought of his experiences of Cecilia's
comparative coldness. He replied that there was no prospect of his
marrying; he wished there were one of meeting! He forbore from writing
too fervently, but he alluded to happy days in Normandy, and proposed to
renew them if she would say she had need of him. He entreated her to
deal with him frankly; he reminded her that she must constantly look to
him, as she had vowed she would, when in any kind of trouble; and he
declared to her that he was unchanged. He meant, of an unchanged
disposition to shield and serve her; but the review of her situation, and
his knowledge of her quick blood, wrought him to some jealous lover's
throbs, which led him to impress his unchangeableness upon her, to bind
her to that standard.
She declined his visit: not now; 'not yet': and for that he presumed to
chide her, half-sincerely. As far as he knew he stood against everybody
save his old friend and Renee; and she certainly would have refreshed his
heart for a day. In writing, however, he had an ominous vision of the
morrow to the day; and, both for her sake and his own, he was not
unrejoiced to hear that she was engaged day and night in nursing her
husband. Pursuing his vision of the morrow of an unreproachful day with
Renee, the madness of taking her to himself, should she surrender at last
to a third persuasion, struck him sharply, now that he and his uncle were
foot to foot in downright conflict, and money was the question. He had
not much remaining of his inheritance--about fifteen hundred pounds.
He would have to vacate Holdesbury and his uncle's town-house in a month.
Let his passion be never so desperate, for a beggared man to think of
running away with a wife, or of marrying one, the folly is as big as the
worldly offence: no justification is to be imagined. Nay, and there is
no justification for the breach of a moral law. Beauchamp owned it,
and felt that Renee's resistance to him in Normandy placed her above him.
He remembered a saying of his moralist: 'We who interpret things heavenly
by things earthly must not hope to juggle with them for our pleasures,
and can look to no absolution of evil acts.' The school was a hard one.
It denied him holidays; it cut him off from dreams. It ran him in heavy
harness on a rough highroad, allowing no turnings to right or left, no
wayside croppings; with the simple permission to him that he should daily
get thoroughly tired. And what was it Jenny Denham had said on the
election day? 'Does incessant battling keep the intellect clear?'
His mind was clear enough to put the case, that either he beheld a
tremendous magnification of things, or else that other men did not attach
common importance to them; and he decided that the latter was the fact.
An incessant struggle of one man with the world, which position usually
ranks his relatives against him, does not conduce to soundness of
judgement. He may nevertheless be right in considering that he is right
in the main. The world in motion is not so wise that it can pretend to
silence the outcry of an ordinarily generous heart even--the very infant
of antagonism to its methods and establishments. It is not so difficult
to be right against the world when the heart is really active; but the
world is our book of humanity, and before insisting that his handwriting
shall occupy the next blank page of it, the noble rebel is bound for the
sake of his aim to ask himself how much of a giant he is, lest he fall
like a blot on the page, instead of inscribing intelligible characters
Moreover, his relatives are present to assure him that he did not jump
out of Jupiter's head or come of the doctor. They hang on him like an
ill-conditioned prickly garment; and if he complains of the irritation
they cause him, they one and all denounce his irritable skin.
Fretted by his relatives he cannot be much of a giant.
Beauchamp looked from Dr. Shrapnel in his invalid's chair to his uncle
Everard breathing robustly, and mixed his uncle's errors with those of
the world which honoured and upheld him. His remainder of equability
departed; his impatience increased. His appetite for work at Dr.
Shrapnel's writing-desk was voracious. He was ready for any labour, the
transcribing of papers, writing from dictation, whatsoever was of service
to Lord Avonley's victim: and he was not like the Spartan boy with the
wolf at his vitals; he betrayed it in the hue his uncle Everard detested,
in a visible nervousness, and indulgence in fits of scorn. Sharp
epigrams and notes of irony provoked his laughter more than fun. He
seemed to acquiesce in some of the current contemporary despair of our
immoveable England, though he winced at a satire on his country, and
attempted to show that the dull dominant class of moneymakers was the
ruin of her. Wherever he stood to represent Dr. Shrapnel, as against Mr.
Grancey Lespel on account of the Itchincope encroachments, he left a
sting that spread the rumour of his having become not only a black torch
of Radicalism--our modern provincial estateholders and their wives bestow
that reputation lightly--but a gentleman with the polish scratched off
him in parts. And he, though individually he did not understand how
there was to be game in the land if game-preserving was abolished, signed
his name R. C. S. NEVIL BEAUCHAMP for Dr. SHRAPNEL, in the
communications directed to solicitors of the persecutors of poachers.
His behaviour to Grancey Lespel was eclipsed by his treatment of Captain
Baskelett. Cecil had ample reason to suppose his cousin to be friendly
with him. He himself had forgotten Dr. Shrapnel, and all other
dissensions, in a supremely Christian spirit. He paid his cousin the
compliment to think that he had done likewise. At Romfrey and in London
he had spoken to Nevil of his designs upon the widow: Nevil said nothing
against it and it was under Mrs. Wardour-Devereux's eyes, and before a
man named Lydiard, that, never calling to him to put him on his guard,
Nevil fell foul of him with every capital charge that can be brought
against a gentleman, and did so abuse, worry, and disgrace him as to
reduce him to quit the house to avoid the scandal of a resort to a
gentleman's last appeal in vindication of his character. Mrs. Devereux
spoke of the terrible scene to Cecilia, and Lydiard to Miss Denham. The
injured person communicated it to Lord Avonley, who told Colonel Halkett
emphatically that his nephew Cecil deserved well of him in having kept
command of his temper out of consideration for the family. There was a
general murmur of the family over this incident. The widow was rich, and
it ranked among the unwritten crimes against blood for one offshoot of a
great house wantonly to thwart another in the wooing of her by humbling
him in her presence, doing his utmost to expose him as a schemer, a
culprit, and a poltroon.
Could it be that Beauchamp had reserved his wrath with his cousin to
avenge Dr. Shrapnel upon him signally? Miss Denham feared her guardian
was the cause. Lydiard was indefinitely of her opinion. The idea struck
Cecilia Halkett, and as an example of Beauchamp's tenacity of purpose and
sureness of aim it fascinated her. But Mrs. Wardour-Devereux did not
appear to share it. She objected to Beauchamp's intemperateness and
unsparingness, as if she was for conveying a sisterly warning to Cecilia;
and that being off her mind, she added, smiling a little and colouring a
little: 'We learn only from men what men are.' How the scene commenced
and whether it was provoked, she failed to recollect. She described
Beauchamp as very self-contained in manner throughout his tongue was the
scorpion. Cecilia fancied he must have resembled his uncle Everard.
Cecilia was conquered, but unclaimed. While supporting and approving him
in her heart she was dreading to receive some new problem of his conduct;
and still while she blamed him for not seeking an interview with her, she
liked him for this instance of delicacy in the present state of his
relations with Lord Avonley.
A problem of her own conduct disturbed the young lady's clear conception
of herself: and this was a ruffling of unfaithfulness in her love of
Beauchamp, that was betrayed to her by her forgetfulness of him whenever
she chanced to be with Seymour Austin. In Mr. Austin's company she
recovered her forfeited repose, her poetry of life, her image of the
independent Cecilia throned above our dust of battle, gazing on broad
heaven. She carried the feeling so far that Blackburn Tuckham's
enthusiasm for Mr. Austin gave him grace in her sight, and praise of her
father's favourite from Mr. Austin's mouth made him welcome to her. The
image of that grave capable head, dusty-grey about the temples, and the
darkly sanguine face of the tried man, which was that of a seasoned
warrior and inspired full trust in him, with his vivid look, his personal
distinction, his plain devotion to the country's business, and the
domestic solitude he lived in, admired, esteemed, loved perhaps, but
unpartnered, was often her refuge and haven from tempestuous Beauchamp.
She could see in vision the pride of Seymour Austin's mate. It flushed
her reflectively. Conquered but not claimed, Cecilia was like the frozen
earth insensibly moving round to sunshine in nature, with one white
flower in her breast as innocent a sign of strong sweet blood as a woman
may wear. She ascribed to that fair mate of Seymour Austin's many lofty
charms of womanhood; above all, stateliness: her especial dream of an
attainable superlative beauty in women. And supposing that lady to be
accused of the fickle breaking of another love, who walked beside him,
matched with his calm heart and one with him in counsel, would the
accusation be repeated by them that beheld her husband? might it not
rather be said that she had not deviated, but had only stepped higher?
She chose no youth, no glistener, no idler: it was her soul striving
upward to air like a seed in the earth that raised her to him: and she
could say to the man once enchaining her: Friend, by the good you taught
me I was led to this!
Cecilia's reveries fled like columns of mist before the gale when tidings
reached her of a positive rupture between Lord Avonley and Nevil
Beauchamp, and of the mandate to him to quit possession of Holdesbury and
the London house within a certain number of days, because of his refusal
to utter an apology to Mrs. Culling. Angrily on his behalf she prepared
to humble herself to him. Louise Wardour-Devereux brought them to a
meeting, at which Cecilia, with her heart in her hand, was icy. Mr.
Lydiard, prompted by Mrs. Devereux, gave him better reasons for her
singular coldness than Cecilia could give to herself, and some time
afterward Beauchamp went to Mount Laurels, where Colonel Halkett mounted
guard over his daughter, and behaved, to her thinking, cruelly. 'Now you
have ruined yourself there's nothing ahead for you but to go to the
Admiralty and apply for a ship,' he said, sugaring the unkindness with
the remark that the country would be the gainer. He let fly a side-shot
at London men calling themselves military men who sought to repair their
fortunes by chasing wealthy widows, and complimented Beauchamp: 'You're
not one of that sort.'
Cecilia looked at Beauchamp stedfastly. 'Speak,' said the look.
But he, though not blind, was keenly wounded.
'Money I must have,' he said, half to the colonel, half to himself.
Colonel Halkett shrugged. Cecilia waited for a directness in Beauchamp's
Her father was too wary to leave them.
Cecilia's intuition told her that by leading to a discussion of politics,
and adopting Beauchamp's views, she could kindle him. Why did she
refrain? It was that the conquered young lady was a captive, not an
ally. To touch the subject in cold blood, voluntarily to launch on those
vexed waters, as if his cause were her heart's, as much as her heart was
the man's, she felt to be impossible. He at the same time felt that the
heiress, endowing him with money to speed the good cause, should be his
match in ardour for it, otherwise he was but a common adventurer, winning
and despoiling an heiress.
They met in London. Beauchamp had not vacated either Holdesbury or the
town-house; he was defying his uncle Everard, and Cecilia thought with
him that it was a wise temerity. She thought with him passively
altogether. On this occasion she had not to wait for directness in his
eyes; she had to parry it. They were at a dinner-party at Lady Elsea's,
generally the last place for seeing Lord Palmet, but he was present, and
arranged things neatly for them, telling Beauchamp that he acted under
Mrs. Wardour-Devereux's orders. Never was an opportunity, more
propitious for a desperate lover. Had it been Renee next him, no petty
worldly scruples of honour would have held him back. And if Cecilia had
spoken feelingly of Dr. Shrapnel, or had she simulated a thoughtful
interest in his pursuits, his hesitations would have vanished. As it
was, he dared to look what he did not permit himself to speak. She was
nobly lovely, and the palpable envy of men around cried fool at his
delays. Beggar and heiress he said in his heart, to vitalize the three-
parts fiction of the point of honour which Cecilia's beauty was fast
submerging. When she was leaving he named a day for calling to see her.
Colonel Halkett stood by, and she answered, 'Come.'
Beauchamp kept the appointment. Cecilia was absent.
He was unaware that her father had taken her to old Mrs. Beauchamp's
death-bed. Her absence, after she had said, 'Come,' appeared a
confirmation of her glacial manner when they met at the house of Mrs.
Wardour-Devereux; and he charged her with waywardness. A wound of the
same kind that we are inflicting is about the severest we can feel.
Beauchamp received intelligence of his venerable great-aunt's death from
Blackburn Tuckham, and after the funeral he was informed that eighty
thousand pounds had been bequeathed to him: a goodly sum of money for a
gentleman recently beggared; yet, as the political enthusiast could not
help reckoning (apart from a fervent sentiment of gratitude toward his
benefactress), scarcely enough to do much more than start and push for
three or more years a commanding daily newspaper, devoted to Radical
interests, and to be entitled THE DAWN.
True, he might now conscientiously approach the heiress, take her hand
with an open countenance, and retain it.
Could he do so quite conscientiously? The point of honour had been
centred in his condition of beggary. Something still was in his way. A
quick spring of his blood for air, motion, excitement, holiday freedom,
sent his thoughts travelling whither they always shot away when his
redoubtable natural temper broke loose.
In the case of any other woman than Cecilia Halkett he would not have
been obstructed by the minor consideration as to whether he was wholly
heart-free to ask her in marriage that instant; for there was no
hindrance, and she was beautiful. She was exceedingly beautiful; and she
was an unequalled heiress. She would be able with her wealth to float
his newspaper, THE DAWN, so desired of Dr. Shrapnel!--the best
restorative that could be applied to him! Every temptation came
supplicating him to take the step which indeed he wished for: one feeling
opposed. He really respected Cecilia: it is not too much to say that he
worshipped her with the devout worship rendered to the ideal Englishwoman
by the heart of the nation. For him she was purity, charity, the keeper
of the keys of whatsoever is held precious by men; she was a midway
saint, a light between day and darkness, in whom the spirit in the flesh
shone like the growing star amid thin sanguine colour, the sweeter, the
brighter, the more translucent the longer known. And if the image will
allow it, the nearer down to him the holier she seemed.
How offer himself when he was not perfectly certain that he was worthy of
Some jugglery was played by the adept male heart in these later
hesitations. Up to the extent of his knowledge of himself, the man was
fairly sincere. Passion would have sped him to Cecilia, but passion is
not invariably love; and we know what it can be.
The glance he cast over the water at Normandy was withdrawn. He went to
Bevisham to consult with Dr. Shrapnel about the starting of a weekly
journal, instead of a daily, and a name for it--a serious question: for
though it is oftener weekly than daily that the dawn is visible in
England, titles must not invite the public jest; and the glorious project
of the daily DAWN was prudently abandoned for by-and-by. He thought
himself rich enough to put a Radical champion weekly in the field and
this matter, excepting the title, was arranged in Bevisham. Thence he
proceeded to Holdesbury, where he heard that the house, grounds, and farm
were let to a tenant preparing to enter. Indifferent to the blow, he
kept an engagement to deliver a speech at the great manufacturing town of
Gunningham, and then went to London, visiting his uncle's town-house for
recent letters. Not one was from Renee: she had not written for six
weeks, not once for his thrice! A letter from Cecil Baskelett informed
him that 'my lord' had placed the town-house at his disposal. Returning
to dress for dinner on a thick and murky evening of February, Beauchamp
encountered his cousin on the steps. He said to Cecil, 'I sleep here to-
night: I leave the house to you tomorrow.'
Cecil struck out his underjaw to reply: 'Oh! good. You sleep here to-
night. You are a fortunate man. I congratulate you. I shall not
disturb you. I have just entered on my occupation of the house. I have
my key. Allow me to recommend you to go straight to the drawing-room.
And I may inform you that the Earl of Romfrey is at the point of death.
My lord is at the castle.'
Cecil accompanied his descent of the steps with the humming of an opera
melody: Beauchamp tripped into the hall-passage. A young maid-servant
held the door open, and she accosted him: 'If you please, there is a lady
up-stairs in the drawing-room; she speaks foreign English, sir.'
Beauchamp asked if the lady was alone, and not waiting for the answer,
though he listened while writing, and heard that she was heavily veiled,
he tore a strip from his notebook, and carefully traced half-a-dozen
telegraphic words to Mrs. Culling at Steynham. His rarely failing
promptness, which was like an inspiration, to conceive and execute
measures for averting peril, set him on the thought of possibly
counteracting his cousin Cecil's malignant tongue by means of a message
to Rosamund, summoning her by telegraph to come to town by the next train
that night. He despatched the old woman keeping the house, as trustier
than the young one, to the nearest office, and went up to the drawing-
room, with a quick thumping heart that was nevertheless as little
apprehensive of an especial trial and danger as if he had done nothing at
all to obviate it. Indeed he forgot that he had done anything when he
turned the handle of the drawing-room door.
A TRIAL OF HIM
A low-burning lamp and fire cast a narrow ring on the shadows of the
dusky London room. One of the window-blinds was drawn up. Beauchamp
discerned a shape at that window, and the fear seized him that it might
be Madame d'Auffray with evil news of Renee: but it was Renee's name he
called. She rose from her chair, saying, 'I!'
She was trembling.
Beauchamp asked her whisperingly if she had come alone.
'Alone; without even a maid,' she murmured.
He pulled down the blind of the window exposing them to the square, and
led her into the light to see her face.
The dimness of light annoyed him, and the miserable reception of her;
this English weather, and the gloomy house! And how long had she been
waiting for him? and what was the mystery? Renee in England seemed
magical; yet it was nothing stranger than an old dream realized. He
wound up the lamp, holding her still with one hand. She was woefully
pale; scarcely able to bear the increase of light.
'It is I who come to you': she was half audible.
'This time!' said he. 'You have been suffering?'
Her tone was brief; not reassuring.
'You came straight to me?'
'Without a deviation that I know of.'
'You have not forgotten Tourdestelle, Nevil?'
The memory of it quickened his rapture in reading her features. It was
his first love, his enchantress, who was here: and how? Conjectures shot
through him like lightnings in the dark.
Irrationally, at a moment when reason stood in awe, he fancied it must be
that her husband was dead. He forced himself to think it, and could have
smiled at the hurry of her coming, one, without even a maid: and deeper
down in him the devouring question burned which dreaded the answer.
But of old, in Normandy, she had pledged herself to join him with no
delay when free, if ever free!
So now she was free.
One side of him glowed in illumination; the other was black as Winter
night; but light subdues darkness; and in a situation like Beauchamp's,
the blood is livelier than the prophetic mind.
'Why did you tell me to marry? What did that mean?' said he. 'Did you
wish me to be the one in chains? And you have come quite alone!--you
will give me an account of everything presently:--You are here! in
England! and what a welcome for you! You are cold.'
'I am warmly clad,' said Renee, suffering her hand to be drawn to his
breast at her arm's-length, not bending with it.
Alive to his own indirectness, he was conscious at once of the slight
sign of reservation, and said: 'Tell me . . .' and swerved sheer away
from his question: 'how is Madame d'Auffray?'
'Agnes? I left her at Tourdestelle,' said Renee.
'And Roland? He never writes to me.'
'Neither he nor I write much. He is at the military camp of instruction
in the North.'
'He will run over to us.'
'Do not expect it.'
Renee sighed. 'We shall have to live longer than I look for . . .'
she stopped. 'Why do you ask me why not? He is fond of us both, and
sorry for us; but have you forgotten Roland that morning on the
Beauchamp pressed her hand. The stroke of Then and Now rang in his
breast like a bell instead of a bounding heart. Something had stunned
his heart. He had no clear central feeling; he tried to gather it from
her touch, from his joy in beholding her and sitting with her alone, from
the grace of her figure, the wild sweetness of her eyes, and the beloved
foreign lips bewitching him with their exquisite French and perfection of
His nature was too prompt in responding to such a call on it for resolute
'If I had been firmer then, or you one year older!' he said.
'That girl in Venice had no courage,' said Renee.
She raised her head and looked about the room.
Her instinct of love sounded her lover through, and felt the deficiency
or the contrariety in him, as surely as musical ears are pained by a
discord that they require no touchstone to detect. Passion has the
sensitiveness of fever, and is as cruelly chilled by a tepid air.
'Yes, a London house after Venice and Normandy!' said Beauchamp,
following her look.
'Sicily: do not omit Syracuse; you were in your naval uniform: Normandy
was our third meeting,' said Renee. 'This is the fourth. I should have
'We cannot be entirely wise when we have staked our fate. Sailors are
credulous: you know them. Women are like them when they embark . . .
Three chances! Who can boast of so many, and expect one more! Will you
take me to my hotel, Nevil?'
The fiction of her being free could not be sustained.
'Take you and leave you? I am absolutely at your command. But leave
you? You are alone: and you have told me nothing.'
What was there to tell? The desperate act was apparent, and told all.
Renee's dark eyelashes lifted on him, and dropped.
'Then things are as I left them in Normandy?' said he.
She replied: 'Almost.'
He quivered at the solitary word; for his conscience was on edge. It ran
the shrewdest irony through him, inexplicably. 'Almost': that is, 'with
this poor difference of one person, now finding herself worthless,
subtracted from the list; no other; it should be little to them as it is
little to you': or, reversing it, the substance of the word became
magnified and intensified by its humble slightness: 'Things are the same,
but for the jewel of the province, a lustre of France, lured hither to
her eclipse'--meanings various, indistinguishable, thrilling and piercing
sad as the half-tones humming round the note of a strung wire, which is a
blunt single note to the common ear.
Beauchamp sprang to his feet and bent above her: 'You have come to me,
for the love of me, to give yourself to me, and for ever, for good, till
death? Speak, my beloved Renee.'
Her eyes were raised to his: 'You see me here. It is for you to speak.'
'I do. There's nothing I ask for now--if the step can't be retrieved.'
'The step retrieved, my friend? There is no step backward in life.'
'I am thinking of you, Renee.'
'Yes, I know,' she answered hurriedly.
'If we discover that the step is a wrong one?' he pursued: 'why is there
no step backward?'
'I am talking of women,' said Renee.
'Why not for women?'
'Honourable women, I mean,' said Renee.
Beauchamp inclined to forget his position in finding matter to contest.
Yet it is beyond contest that there is no step backward in life. She
spoke well; better than he, and she won his deference by it. Not only
she spoke better: she was truer, distincter, braver: and a man ever on
the look-out for superior qualities, and ready to bow to them, could not
refuse her homage. With that a saving sense of power quitted him.
'You wrote to me that you were unchanged, Nevil.'
'So, then, I came.'
His rejoinder was the dumb one, commonly eloquent and satisfactory.
Renee shut her eyes with a painful rigour of endurance. She opened them
to look at him steadily.
The desperate act of her flight demanded immediate recognition from him
in simple language and a practical seconding of it. There was the test.
'I cannot stay in this house, Nevil; take me away.'
She named her hotel in her French English, and the sound of it penetrated
him with remorseful pity. It was for him, and of his doing, that she was
in an alien land and an outcast!
'This house is wretched for you,' said he: 'and you must be hungry. Let
me . . .'
'I cannot eat. I will ask you': she paused, drawing on her energies, and
keeping down the throbs of her heart: 'this: do you love me?'
'I love you with all my heart and soul.'
'As in Normandy?'
'As from the first, Renee! That I can swear.'
'Oaths are foolish. I meant to ask you--my friend, there is no question
in my mind of any other woman: I see you love me: I am so used to
consider myself the vain and cowardly creature, and you the boldest and
faithfullest of men, that I could not abandon the habit if I would: I
started confiding in you, sure that I should come to land. But I have to
ask you: to me you are truth: I have no claim on my lover for anything
but the answer to this:--Am I a burden to you?'
His brows flew up in furrows. He drew a heavy breath, for never had he
loved her more admiringly, and never on such equal terms. She was his
mate in love and daring at least. A sorrowful comparison struck him, of
a little boat sailing out to a vessel in deep seas and left to founder.
Without knotting his mind to acknowledge or deny the burden, for he could
do neither, he stood silent, staring at her, not so much in weakness as
in positive mental division. No, would be false; and Yes, not less
false; and if the step was irretrievable, to say Yes would be to plunge a
dagger in her bosom; but No was a vain deceit involving a double wreck.
Assuredly a man standing against the world in a good cause, with a
runaway wife on his hands, carries a burden, however precious it be to
A smile of her lips, parted in an anguish of expectancy, went to death
over Renee's face. She looked at him tenderly. 'The truth,' she
murmured to herself, and her eyelids fell.
'I am ready to bear anything,' said Beauchamp. 'I weigh what you ask me,
that is all. You a burden to me? But when you ask me, you make me turn
round and inquire how we stand before the world.'
'The world does not stone men,' said Renee.
'Can't I make you feel that I am not thinking of myself?' Beauchamp
stamped in his extreme perplexity. He was gagged; he could not possibly
talk to her, who had cast the die, of his later notions of morality and
the world's dues, fees, and claims on us.
'No, friend, I am not complaining.' Renee put out her hand to him; with
compassionate irony feigning to have heard excuses. 'What right have I
to complain? I have not the sensation. I could not expect you to be
everlastingly the sentinel of love. Three times I rejected you! Now
that I have lost my father--Oh! poor father: I trifled with my lover,
I tricked him that my father might live in peace. He is dead. I wished
you to marry one of your own countrywomen, Nevil. You said it was
impossible; and I, with my snake at my heart, and a husband grateful
for nursing and whimpering to me for his youth like a beggar on the road,
I thought I owed you this debt of body and soul, to prove to you I have
some courage; and for myself, to reward myself for my long captivity and
misery with one year of life: and adieu to Roland my brother! adieu to
friends! adieu to France! Italy was our home. I dreamed of one year in
Italy; I fancied it might be two; more than that was unimaginable.
Prisoners of long date do not hope; they do not calculate: air, light,
they say; to breathe freely and drop down! They are reduced to the
instincts of the beasts. I thought I might give you happiness, pay part
of my debt to you. Are you remembering Count Henri? That paints what I
was! I could fly to that for a taste of life! a dance to death! And
again you ask: Why, if I loved you then, not turn to you in preference?
No, you have answered it yourself, Nevil;--on that day in the boat, when
generosity in a man so surprised me, it seemed a miracle to me; and it
was, in its divination. How I thank my dear brother Roland for saving me
the sight of you condemned to fight, against your conscience! He taught
poor M. d'Henriel his lesson. You, Nevil, were my teacher. And see how
it hangs: there was mercy for me in not having drawn down my father's
anger on my heart's beloved. He loved you. He pitied us. He reproached
himself. In his last days he was taught to suspect our story: perhaps
from Roland; perhaps I breathed it without speaking. He called heaven's
blessings on you. He spoke of you with tears, clutching my hand. He
made me feel he would have cried out: "If I were leaving her with Nevil
Beauchamp!" and "Beauchamp," I heard him murmuring once: "take down
Froissart": he named a chapter. It was curious: if he uttered my name
Renee, yours, "Nevil," soon followed. That was noticed by Roland. Hope
for us, he could not have had; as little as I! But we were his two: his
children. I buried him--I thought he would know our innocence, and now
pardon our love. I read your letters, from my name at the beginning, to
yours at the end, and from yours back to mine, and between the lines, for
any doubtful spot: and oh, rash! But I would not retrace the step for my
own sake. I am certain of your love for me, though . . .' She paused:
'Yes, I am certain of it. And if I am a burden to you?'
'About as much as the air, which I can't do without since I began to
breathe it,' said Beauchamp, more clear-mindedly now that he supposed he
was addressing a mind, and with a peril to himself that escaped his
vigilance. There was a secret intoxication for him already in the half-
certainty that the step could not be retraced. The idea that he might
reason with her, made her seductive to the heart and head of him.
'I am passably rich, Nevil,' she said. 'I do not care for money, except
that it gives wings. Roland inherits the chateau in Touraine. I have
one in Burgundy, and rentes and shares, my notary informs me.'
'I have money,' said he. His heart began beating violently. He lost
sight of his intention of reasoning. 'Good God! if you were free!'
She faltered: 'At Tourdestelle . . .'
'Yes, and I am unchanged,' Beauchamp cried out. 'Your life there was
horrible, and mine's intolerable.' He stretched his arms cramped like
the yawning of a wretch in fetters. That which he would and would not
became so intervolved that he deemed it reasonable to instance their
common misery as a ground for their union against the world. And what
has that world done for us, that a joy so immeasurable should be rejected
on its behalf? And what have we succeeded in doing, that the childish
effort to move it should be continued at such a cost?
For years, down to one year back, and less--yesterday, it could be said--
all human blessedness appeared to him in the person of Renee, given him
under any condition whatsoever. She was not less adorable now. In her
decision, and a courage that he especially prized in women, she was a
sweeter to him than when he was with her in France: too sweet to be
looked at and refused.
'But we must live in England,' he cried abruptly out of his inner mind.
'Oh! not England, Italy, Italy!' Renee exclaimed: 'Italy, or Greece:
anywhere where we have sunlight. Mountains and valleys are my dream.
Promise it, Nevil. I will obey you; but this is my wish. Take me
through Venice, that I may look at myself and wonder. We can live at
sea, in a yacht; anywhere with you but in England. This country frowns
on me; I can hardly fetch my breath here, I am suffocated. The people
all walk in lines in England. Not here, Nevil! They are good people,
I am sure; and it is your country: but their faces chill me, their voices
grate; I should never understand them; they would be to me like their
fogs eternally; and I to them? O me! it would be like hearing sentence
in the dampness of the shroud perpetually. Again I say I do not doubt
that they are very good: they claim to be; they judge others; they may
know how to make themselves happy in their climate; it is common to most
creatures to do so, or to imagine it. Nevil! not England!'
Truly 'the mad commander and his French marquise' of the Bevisham
Election ballad would make a pretty figure in England!
His friends of his own class would be mouthing it. The story would be
a dogging shadow of his public life, and, quite as bad, a reflection on
his party. He heard the yelping tongues of the cynics. He saw the
consternation and grief of his old Bevisham hero, his leader and his
'Florence,' he said, musing on the prospect of exile and idleness:
'there's a kind of society to be had in Florence.'
Renee asked him if he cared so much for society.
He replied that women must have it, just as men must have exercise.
'Old women, Nevil; intriguers, tattlers.'
'Young women, Renee.'
She signified no.
He shook the head of superior knowledge paternally.
Her instinct of comedy set a dimple faintly working in her cheek.
'Not if they love, Nevil.'
'At least,' said he, 'a man does not like to see the woman he loves
banished by society and browbeaten.'
'Putting me aside, do you care for it, Nevil?'
'Personally not a jot.'
'I am convinced of that,' said Renee.
She spoke suspiciously sweetly, appearing perfect candour.
The change in him was perceptible to her. The nature of the change was
She tried her wits at the riddle. But though she could be an actress
before him with little difficulty, the torment of her situation roused
the fever within her at a bare effort to think acutely. Scarlet suffused
her face: her brain whirled.
'Remember, dearest, I have but offered myself: you have your choice.
I can pass on. Yes, I know well I speak to Nevil Beauchamp; you have
drilled me to trust you and your word as a soldier trusts to his officer
--once a faint-hearted soldier! I need not remind you: fronting the
enemy now, in hard truth. But I want your whole heart to decide. Give
me no silly, compassion! Would it have been better to me to have written
to you? If I had written I should have clipped my glorious impulse,
brought myself down to earth with my own arrow. I did not write, for I
believed in you.'
So firm had been her faith in him that her visions of him on the passage
to England had resolved all to one flash of blood-warm welcome awaiting
her: and it says much for her natural generosity that the savage delicacy
of a woman placed as she now was, did not take a mortal hurt from the
apparent voidness of this home of his bosom. The passionate gladness of
the lover was wanting: the chivalrous valiancy of manful joy.
Renee shivered at the cloud thickening over her new light of intrepid
'Think it not improbable that I have weighed everything I surrender in
quitting France,' she said.
Remorse wrestled with Beauchamp and flung him at her feet.
Renee remarked on the lateness of the hour.
He promised to conduct her to her hotel immediately.
'And to-morrow?' said Renee, simply, but breathlessly.
'To-morrow, let it be Italy! But first I telegraph to Roland and
Tourdestelle. I can't run and hide. The step may be retrieved: or no,
you are right; the step cannot, but the next to it may be stopped--that
was the meaning I had! I 'll try. It 's cutting my hand off, tearing my
heart out; but I will. O that you were free! You left your husband at
'I presume he is there at present: he was in Paris when I left.'
Beauchamp spoke hoarsely and incoherently in contrast with her composure:
'You will misunderstand me for a day or two, Renee. I say if you were
free I should have my first love mine for ever. Don't fear me: I have no
right even to press your fingers. He may throw you into my arms. Now
you are the same as if you were in your own home: and you must accept me
for your guide. By all I hope for in life, I'll see you through it, and
keep the dogs from barking, if I can. Thousands are ready to give
tongue. And if they can get me in the character of a law-breaker!--
I hear them.'
'Are you imagining, Nevil, that there is a possibility of my returning to
'To your place in the world! You have not had to endure tyranny?'
'I should have had a certain respect for a tyrant, Nevil. At least I
should have had an occupation in mocking him and conspiring against him.
Tyranny! There would have been some amusement to me in that.'
'It was neglect.'
'If I could still charge it on neglect, Nevil! Neglect is very
endurable. He rewards me for nursing him . . . he rewards me with a
little persecution: wives should be flattered by it: it comes late.'
'What?' cried Beauchamp, oppressed and impatient.
Renee sank her voice.
Something in the run of the unaccented French: 'Son amour, mon ami':
drove the significance of the bitterness of the life she had left behind
her burningly through him. This was to have fled from a dragon! was the
lover's thought: he perceived the motive of her flight: and it was a
vindication of it that appealed to him irresistibly. The proposal for
her return grew hideous: and this ever multiplying horror and sting of
the love of a married woman came on him with a fresh throbbing shock,
He felt for himself now, and now he was full of feeling for her.
Impossible that she should return! Tourdestelle shone to him like a
gaping chasm of fire. And becoming entirely selfish he impressed his
total abnegation of self upon Renee so that she could have worshipped
him. A lover that was like a starry frost, froze her veins, bewildered
her intelligence. She yearned for meridian warmth, for repose in a
directing hand; and let it be hard as one that grasps a sword: what
matter? unhesitatingness was the warrior virtue of her desire. And for
herself the worst might happen if only she were borne along. Let her
life be torn and streaming like the flag of battle, it must be forward to
That was a quality of godless young heroism not unexhausted in
Beauchamp's blood. Reanimated by him, she awakened his imagination of
the vagrant splendours of existence and the rebel delights which have
their own laws and 'nature' for an applauding mother. Radiant Alps rose
in his eyes, and the morning born in the night suns that from mountain
and valley, over sea and desert, called on all earth to witness their
death. The magnificence of the contempt of humanity posed before him
superbly satanesque, grand as thunder among the crags and it was not a
sensual cry that summoned him from his pedlar labours, pack on back along
the level road, to live and breathe deep, gloriously mated: Renee kindled
his romantic spirit, and could strike the feeling into him that to be
proud of his possession of her was to conquer the fretful vanity to
possess. She was not a woman of wiles and lures.
Once or twice she consulted her watch: but as she professed to have no
hunger, Beauchamp's entreaty to her to stay prevailed, and the subtle
form of compliment to his knightly manliness in her remaining with him,
gave him a new sense of pleasure that hung round her companionable
conversation, deepening the meaning of the words, or sometimes
contrasting the sweet surface commonplace with the undercurrent of
strangeness in their hearts, and the reality of a tragic position. Her
musical volubility flowed to entrance and divert him, as it did.
Suddenly Beauchamp glanced upward.
Renee turned from a startled contemplation of his frown, and beheld Mrs.
Rosamund Culling in the room.
A LAME VICTORY
The intruder was not a person that had power to divide them; yet she came
between their hearts with a touch of steel.
'I am here in obedience to your commands in your telegram of this
evening,' Rosamund replied to Beauchamp's hard stare at her; she
courteously spoke French, and acquitted herself demurely of a bow to the
Renee withdrew her serious eyes from Beauchamp. She rose and
acknowledged the bow.
'It is my first visit to England, madame!
'I could have desired, Madame la marquise, more agreeable weather for
'My friends in England will dispel the bad weather for me, madame'; Renee
smiled softly: 'I have been studying my French-English phrase-book, that
I may learn how dialogues are conducted in your country to lead to
certain ceremonies when old friends meet, and without my book I am at
fault. I am longing to be embraced by you . . . if it will not be
offending your rules?'
Rosamund succumbed to the seductive woman, whose gentle tooth bit through
her tutored simplicity of manner and natural graciousness, administering
its reproof, and eluding a retort or an excuse.
She gave the embrace. In doing so she fell upon her conscious
awkwardness for an expression of reserve that should be as good as irony
for irony, though where Madame de Rouaillout's irony lay, or whether it
was irony at all, our excellent English dame could not have stated, after
the feeling of indignant prudery responding to it so guiltily had
Beauchamp asked her if she had brought servants with her; and it
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