Beauchamps Career, v6
Part 2 out of 2
She blushed fiery red, and turned the leaves of a portfolio of drawings.
'The DAWN!' ejaculated Tuckham. 'The grey-eyed, or the red?
Extraordinary name for a paper, upon my word!'
'A paper that doesn't devote half its columns to the vices of the rich--
to money-getting, spending and betting--will be an extraordinary paper.'
'I have it before me now!--two doses of flattery to one of the whip. No,
no; you haven't hit the disease. We want union, not division. Turn your
mind to being a moralist, instead of a politician.'
'The distinction shouldn't exist!'
'Only it does!'
Mrs. Grancey Lespel's entrance diverted their dialogue from a theme
wearisome to Cecilia, for Beauchamp shone but darkly in it, and Mr.
Austin did not join in it. Mrs. Grancey touched Beauchamp's fingers.
'Still political?' she said. 'You have been seen about London with a
French officer in uniform.'
'It was M. le comte de Croisnel, a very old friend and comrade of mine,'
'Why do those Frenchmen everlastingly wear their uniforms?--tell me!
Don't you think it detestable style?'
'He came over in a hurry.'
'Now, don't be huffed. I know you, for defending your friends, Captain
Beauchamp! Did he not come over with ladies?'
'With relatives, yes.'
'Relatives of course. But when British officers travel with ladies,
relatives or other, they prefer the simplicity of mufti, and so do I, as
a question of taste, I must say.'
'It was quite by misadventure that M. de Croisnel chanced to come in his
'Ah! I know you, for defending your friends, Captain Beauchamp. He was
in too great a hurry to change his uniform before he started, or en
'So it happened.'
Mrs. Grancey let a lingering eye dwell maliciously on Beauchamp, who
said, to shift the burden of it: 'The French are not so jealous of
military uniforms as we are. M. de Croisnel lost his portmanteau.'
'Ah! lost it! Then of course he is excuseable, except to the naked eye.
Dear me! you have had a bruise on yours. Was Monsieur votre ami in the
'No, poor fellow, he was not. He is not an Imperialist; he had to remain
'He wore a multitude of medals, I have been told. A cup of tea, Cecilia.
And how long did he stay in England with his relatives?'
'Only two days! A very short visit indeed--singularly short. Somebody
informed me of their having been seen at Romfrey Castle, which cannot
have been true.'
She turned her eyes from Beauchamp silent to Cecilia's hand on the
teapot. 'Half a cup,' she said mildly, to spare the poor hand its
betrayal of nervousness, and relapsed from her air of mistress of the
situation to chatter to Mr. Austin.
Beauchamp continued silent. He took up a book, and presently a pencil
from his pocket, then talked of the book to Cecilia's cousin; and leaving
a paper-cutter between the leaves, he looked at Cecilia and laid the book
She proceeded to conduct Mrs. Grancey Lespel to her room.
'I do admire Captain Beauchamp's cleverness; he is as good as a French
romance!' Mrs. Grancey exclaimed on the stairs. 'He fibs charmingly.
I could not help drawing him out. Two days! Why, my dear, his French
party were a fortnight in the country. It was the marquise, you know--
the old affair; and one may say he's a constant man.'
'I have not heard Captain Beauchamp's cleverness much praised,' said
Cecilia. 'This is your room, Mrs. Grancey.'
'Stay with me a moment. It is the room I like. Are we to have him at
Cecilia did not suppose that Captain Beauchamp would remain to dine.
Feeling herself in the clutches of a gossip, she would fain have gone.
'I am just one bit glad of it, though I can't dislike him personally,'
said Mrs. Grancey, detaining her and beginning to whisper. 'It was
really too bad. There was a French party at the end, but there was only
one at the commencement. The brother was got over for a curtain, before
the husband arrived in pursuit. They say the trick Captain Beauchamp
played his cousin Cecil, to get him out of the house when he had made a
discovery, was monstrous--fiendishly cunning. However, Lady Romfrey, as
that woman appears to be at last, covered it all. You know she has one
of those passions for Captain Beauchamp which completely blind women to
right and wrong. He is her saint, let him sin ever so! The story's in
everybody's mouth. By the way, Palmet saw her. He describes her pale as
marble, with dark long eyes, the most innocent look in the world, and a
walk, the absurd fellow says, like a statue set gliding. No doubt
Frenchwomen do walk well. He says her eyes are terrible traitors; I need
not quote Palmet. The sort of eyes that would look fondly on a stone,
you know. What her reputation is in France I have only indistinctly
heard. She has one in England by this time, I can assure you. She found
her match in Captain Beauchamp for boldness. Where any other couple
would have seen danger, they saw safety; and they contrived to accomplish
it, according to those horrid talebearers. You have plenty of time to
dress, my dear; I have an immense deal to talk about. There are half-a-
dozen scandals in London already, and you ought to know them, or you will
be behind the tittle-tattle when you go to town; and I remember, as a
girl, I knew nothing so excruciating as to hear blanks, dashes, initials,
and half words, without the key. Nothing makes a girl look so silly and
unpalatable. Naturally, the reason why Captain Beauchamp is more talked
about than the rest is the politics. Your grand reformer should be
careful. Doubly heterodox will not do! It makes him interesting to
women, if you like, but he won't soon hear the last of it, if he is for a
public career. Grancey literally crowed at the story. And the wonderful
part of it is, that Captain Beauchamp refused to be present at the earl's
first ceremonial dinner in honour of his countess. Now, that, we all
think, was particularly ungrateful: now, was it not?'
'If the countess--if ingratitude had anything to do with it,' said
She escaped to her room and dressed impatiently.
Her boudoir was empty: Beauchamp had departed. She recollected his look
at her, and turned over the leaves of the book he had been hastily
scanning, and had condescended to approve of. On the two pages where the
paper-cutter was fixed she perceived small pencil dots under certain
words. Read consecutively, with a participle termination struck out to
convey his meaning, they formed the pathetically ungrammatical line:
'Hear: none: but: accused: false.'
Treble dots were under the word 'to-morrow.' He had scored the margin of
the sentences containing his dotted words, as if in admiration of their
She thought it piteous that he should be reduced to such means of
communication. The next instant Cecilia was shrinking from the adept
In the course of the evening her cousin remarked:
'Captain Beauchamp must see merit in things undiscoverable by my poor
faculties. I will show you a book he has marked.'
'Did you see it? I was curious to examine it,' interposed Cecilia; 'and
I am as much at a loss as you to understand what could have attracted
him. One sentence . . .'
'About the sheikh in the stables, where he accused the pretended
physician? Yes, what was there in that?'
'Where is the book?' said Mrs. Grancey.
'Not here, I think.' Cecilia glanced at the drawing-room book-table, and
then at Mr. Austin, the victim of an unhappy love in his youth, and
unhappy about her, as her father had said. Seymour Austin was not one to
spread the contagion of intrigue! She felt herself caught by it, even
melting to feel enamoured of herself in consequence, though not loving
Beauchamp the more.
'This newspaper, if it's not merely an airy project, will be ruination,'
said Tuckham. 'The fact is, Beauchamp has no bend in him. He can't meet
a man without trying a wrestle, and as long as he keeps his stiffness, he
believes he has won. I've heard an oculist say that the eye that doesn't
blink ends in blindness, and he who won't bend breaks. It's a pity, for
he's a fine fellow. A Radical daily Journal of Shrapnel's colour, to
educate the people by giving them an interest in the country! Goodness,
what a delusion! and what a waste of money! He'll not be able to carry
it on a couple of years. And there goes his eighty thousand!'
Cecilia's heart beat fast. She had no defined cause for its excitement.
Colonel Halkett returned to Mount Laurels close upon midnight, very
tired, coughing and complaining of the bitter blowing East. His guests
shook hands with him, and went to bed.
'I think I'll follow their example,' he said to Cecilia, after drinking a
tumbler of mulled wine.
'Have you nothing to tell me, dear papa?' said she, caressing him
'A confirmation of the whole story from Lord Romfrey in person--that's
all. He says Beauchamp's mad. I begin to believe it. You must use your
judgement. I suppose I must not expect you to consider me. You might
open your heart to Austin. As to my consent, knowing what I do, you will
have to tear it out of me. Here's a country perfectly contented, and
that fellow at work digging up grievances to persuade the people they're
oppressed by us. Why should I talk of it? He can't do much harm; unless
he has money--money! Romfrey says he means to start a furious paper.
He'll make a bonfire of himself. I can't stand by and see you in it too.
I may die; I may be spared the sight.'
Cecilia flung her arms round his neck. 'Oh! papa.'
'I don't want to make him out worse than he is, my dear. I own to his
gallantry--in the French sense as well as the English, it seems! It's
natural that Romfrey should excuse his wife. She's another of the women
who are crazy about Nevil Beauchamp. She spoke to me of the "pleasant
visit of her French friends," and would have enlarged on it, but Romfrey
stopped her. By the way, he proposes Captain Baskelett for you, and
we're to look for Baskelett's coming here, backed by his uncle. There's
no end to it; there never will be till you're married: and no peace for
me! I hope I shan't find myself with a cold to-morrow.'
The colonel coughed, and perhaps exaggerated the premonitory symptoms of
'Italy, papa, would do you good,' said Cecilia.
'It might,' said he.
'If we go immediately, papa; to-morrow, early in the morning, before
there is a chance of any visitors coming to the house.'
'From Steynham. I cannot endure a second persecution.'
'But you have a world of packing, my dear.'
'An hour before breakfast will be sufficient for me.'
'In that case, we might be off early, as you say, and have part of the
Easter week in Rome.'
'Mr. Austin wishes it greatly, papa, though he has not mentioned it.'
'Austin, my darling girl, is not one of your impatient men who burst with
everything they have in their heads or their hearts.'
'Oh! but I know him so well,' said Cecilia, conjuring up that innocent
enthusiasm of hers for Mr. Austin as an antidote to her sharp suffering.
The next minute she looked on her father as the key of an enigma
concerning Seymour Austin, whom, she imagined, possibly she had not
hitherto known at all. Her curiosity to pierce it faded. She and her
maid were packing through the night. At dawn she requested her maid to
lift the window-blind and give her an opinion of the weather. 'Grey,
Miss,' the maid reported. It signified to Cecilia: no one roaming
The step she was taking was a desperate attempt at a cure; and she
commenced it, though sorely wounded, with pity for Nevil's
disappointment, and a singularly clear-eyed perception of his aims and
motives.--'I am rich, and he wants riches; he likes me, and he reads my
weakness.'--Jealousy shook her by fits, but she had no right to be
jealous, nor any right to reproach him. Her task was to climb back to
those heavenly heights she sat on before he distracted her and drew her
Beauchamp came to a vacated house that day.
AS IT MIGHT HAVE BEEN FORESEEN
It was in Italy that Cecilia's maiden dreams of life had opened. She
hoped to recover them in Italy, and the calm security of a mind
untainted. Italy was to be her reviving air.
While this idea of a specific for her malady endured travelling at
speed to the ridges of the Italian frontier, across France--she simply
remembered Nevil: he was distant; he had no place in the storied
landscape, among the images of Art and the names of patient great men who
bear, as they bestow, an atmosphere other than earth's for those adoring
them. If at night, in her sleep, he was a memory that conducted her
through scenes which were lightnings, the cool swift morning of her
flight released her. France, too, her rival!--the land of France,
personified by her instinctively, though she had no vivid imaginative
gift, did not wound her with a poisoned dart.--'She knew him first: she
was his first love.' The Alps, and the sense of having Italy below them,
renewed Cecilia's lofty-perching youth. Then--I am in Italy! she sighed
with rapture. The wine of delight and oblivion was at her lips.
But thirst is not enjoyment, and a satiated thirst that we insist on
over-satisfying to drown the recollection of past anguish, is baneful to
the soul. In Rome Cecilia's vision of her track to Rome was of a run of
fire over a heath. She could scarcely feel common pleasure in Rome. It
seemed burnt out.
Flung back on herself, she was condemned to undergo the bitter torment
she had flown from: jealous love, and reproachful; and a shame in it
like nothing she had yet experienced. Previous pains were but Summer
lightnings, passing shadows. She could have believed in sorcery:
the man had eaten her heart!
A disposition to mocking humour, foreign to her nature, gave her the
notion of being off her feet, in the claws of a fabulous bird. It served
to veil her dulness. An ultra-English family in Rome, composed, shocking
to relate, of a baronet banker and his wife, two faint-faced girls, and a
young gentleman of our country, once perhaps a light-limbed boy, chose to
be followed by their footman in the melancholy pomp of state livery.
Wherever she encountered them Cecilia talked Nevil Beauchamp. Even Mr.
Tuckham perceived it. She was extremely uncharitable: she extended her
ungenerous criticism to the institution of the footman: England, and the
English, were lashed.
'These people are caricatures,' Tuckham said, in apology for poor England
burlesqued abroad. 'You must not generalize on them. Footmen are
footmen all the world over. The cardinals have a fine set of footmen.'
'They are at home. Those English sow contempt of us all over Europe.
We cannot but be despised. One comes abroad foredoomed to share the
sentiment. This is your middle-class! What society can they move in,
that sanctions a vulgarity so perplexing? They have the air of ornaments
on a cottager's parlour mantelpiece.'
Tuckham laughed. 'Something of that,' he said.
'Evidently they seek distinction, and they have it, of that kind,' she
continued. 'It is not wonderful that we have so much satirical writing
in England, with such objects of satire. It may be as little wonderful
that the satire has no effect. Immense wealth and native obtuseness
combine to disfigure us with this aspect of overripeness, not to say
monstrosity. I fall in love with the poor, and think they have a cause
to be pleaded, when I look at those people. We scoff at the vanity of
the French, but it is a graceful vanity; pardonable compared with ours.'
'I've read all that a hundred times,' quoth Tuckham bluntly.
'So have I. I speak of it because I see it. We scoff at the simplicity
of the Germans.'
'The Germans live in simple fashion, because they're poor. French
vanity's pretty and amusing. I don't know whether it's deep in them, for
I doubt their depth; but I know it's in their joints. The first spring
of a Frenchman comes of vanity. That you can't say of the English.
Peace to all! but I abhor cosmopolitanism. No man has a firm foothold
who pretends to it. None despises the English in reality. Don't be
misled, Miss Halkett. We're solid: that is the main point. The world
feels our power, and has confidence in our good faith. I ask for no
'With Germans we are supercilious Celts; with Frenchmen we are sneering
Teutons:--Can we be loved, Mr. Tuckham?'
'That's a quotation from my friend Lydiard. Loved? No nation ever was
loved while it lived. As Lydiard says, it may be a good beast or a bad,
but a beast it is. A nation's much too big for refined feelings and
affections. It must be powerful or out of the way, or down it goes.
When a nation's dead you may love it; but I don't see the use of dying to
be loved. My aim for my country is to have the land respected. For that
purpose we must have power; for power wealth; for wealth industry; for
industry internal peace: therefore no agitation, no artificial divisions.
All's plain in history and fact, so long as we do not obtrude
sentimentalism. Nothing mixes well with that stuff--except poetical
Contrary to her anticipation, Cecilia was thrown more into companionship
with Mr. Tuckham than with Mr. Austin; and though it often vexed her, she
acknowledged that she derived a benefit from his robust antagonism of
opinion. And Italy had grown tasteless to her. She could hardly
simulate sufficient curiosity to serve for a vacant echo to Mr. Austin's
historic ardour. Pliny the Younger might indeed be the model of a
gentleman of old Rome; there might be a scholarly pleasure in
calculating, as Mr. Austin did, the length of time it took Pliny to
journey from the city to his paternal farm, or villa overlooking the
lake, or villa overlooking the bay, and some abstruse fun in the tender
ridicule of his readings of his poems to friends; for Mr. Austin smiled
effusively in alluding to the illustrious Roman pleader's foible of
verse: but Pliny bore no resemblance to that island barbarian Nevil
Beauchamp: she could not realize the friend of Trajan, orator, lawyer,
student, statesman, benefactor of his kind, and model of her own modern
English gentleman, though he was. 'Yes!' she would reply encouragingly
to Seymour Austin's fond brooding hum about his hero; and 'Yes!'
conclusively: like an incarnation of stupidity dealing in monosyllables.
She was unworthy of the society of a scholar. Nor could she kneel at the
feet of her especial heroes: Dante, Raphael, Buonarotti: she was unworthy
of them. She longed to be at Mount Laurels. Mr. Tuckham's conversation
was the nearest approach to it--as it were round by Greenland; but it was
She was really grieved to lose him. Business called him to England.
'What business can it be, papa?' she inquired: and the colonel replied
Mr. Austin now devoted much of his time to the instruction of her in the
ancient life of the Eternal City. He had certain volumes of Livy,
Niebuhr, and Gibbon, from which he read her extracts at night, shunning
the scepticism and the irony of the moderns, so that there should be no
jar on the awakening interest of his fair pupil and patient. A gentle
cross-hauling ensued between them, that they grew conscious of and
laughed over during their peregrinations in and out of Rome: she pulled
for the Republic of the Scipios; his predilections were toward the Rome
of the wise and clement emperors. To Cecilia's mind Rome rocked at a
period so closely neighbouring her decay: to him, with an imagination
brooding on the fuller knowledge of it, the city breathed securely, the
sky was clear; jurisprudence, rhetoric, statesmanship, then flourished
supreme, and men eminent for culture: the finest flowers of our race, he
thought them: and he thought their Age the manhood of Rome.
Struck suddenly by a feminine subtle comparison that she could not have
framed in speech, Cecilia bowed to his views of the happiness and
elevation proper to the sway of a sagacious and magnanimous Imperialism
of the Roman pattern:--he rejected the French. She mused on dim old
thoughts of the gracious dignity of a woman's life under high
governorship. Turbulent young men imperilled it at every step. The
trained, the grave, the partly grey, were fitting lords and mates for
women aspiring to moral beauty and distinction. Beside such they should
be planted, if they would climb! Her walks and conversations with
Seymour Austin charmed her as the haze of a summer evening charms the
Upon the conclusion of her term of exile Cecilia would gladly have
remained in Italy another month. An appointment of her father's with Mr.
Tuckham at Mount Laurels on a particular day she considered as of no
consequence whatever, and she said so, in response to a meaningless nod.
But Mr. Austin was obliged to return to work. She set her face homeward
with his immediately, and he looked pleased: he did not try to dissuade
her from accompanying him by affecting to think it a sacrifice: clearly
he knew that to be near him was her greatest delight.
Thus do we round the perilous headland called love by wooing a good man
for his friendship, and requiting him with faithful esteem for the grief
of an ill-fortuned passion of his youth!
Cecilia would not suffer her fancy to go very far in pursuit of the
secret of Mr. Austin's present feelings. Until she reached Mount Laurels
she barely examined her own. The sight of the house warned her instantly
that she must have a defence: and then, in desperation but with perfect
distinctness, she entertained the hope of hearing him speak the
protecting words which could not be broken through when wedded to her
If Mr. Austin had no intentions, it was at least strange that he did not
part from her in London.
He whose coming she dreaded had been made aware of the hour of her
return, as his card, with the pencilled line, 'Will call on the 17th,'
informed her. The 17th was the morrow.
After breakfast on the morning of the 17th Seymour Austin looked her in
the eyes longer than it is customary for ladies to have to submit to keen
'Will you come into the library?' he said.
She went with him into the library.
Was it to speak of his anxiousness as to the state of her father's health
that he had led her there, and that he held her hand? He alarmed her,
and he pacified her alarm, yet bade her reflect on the matter, saying
that her father, like other fathers, would be more at peace upon the
establishment of his daughter. Mr. Austin remarked that the colonel was
'Does he wish for my pledge never to marry without his approval? I will
give it,' said Cecilia.
'He would like you to undertake to marry the man of his choice.'
Cecilia's features hung on an expression equivalent to:--I could almost
At the same time she felt it was not Seymour Austin's manner of speaking.
He seemed to be praising an unknown person--some gentleman who was rough,
but of solid promise and singular strength of character.
The house-bell rang. Believing that Beauchamp had now come, she showed a
painful ridging of the brows, and Mr. Austin considerately mentioned the
name of the person he had in his mind.
She readily agreed with him regarding Mr. Tuckham's excellent qualities
--if that was indeed the name; and she hastened to recollect how little
she had forgotten Mr. Tuckham's generosity to Beauchamp, and confessed to
herself it might as well have been forgotten utterly for the thanks he
had received. While revolving these ideas she was listening to Mr.
Austin; gradually she was beginning to understand that she was parting
company with her original conjectures, but going at so swift a pace in so
supple and sure a grasp, that, like the speeding train slipped on new
lines of rails by the pointsman, her hurrying sensibility was not
shocked, or the shock was imperceptible, when she heard him proposing Mr.
Tuckham to her for a husband, by her father's authority, and with his own
warm seconding. He had not dropped her hand: he was very eloquent, a
masterly advocate: he pleaded her father's cause; it was not put to her
as Mr. Tuckham's: her father had set his heart on this union he was
awaiting her decision.
'Is it so urgent?' she asked.
'It is urgent. It saves him from an annoyance. He requires a son-in-law
whom he can confidently rely on to manage the estates, which you are
woman of the world enough to know should be in strong hands. He gives
you to a man of settled principles. It is urgent, because he may wish to
be armed with your answer at any instant.'
Her father entered the library. He embraced her, and 'Well?' he said.
'I must think, papa, I must think.'
She pressed her hand across her eyes. Disillusioned by Seymour Austin,
she was utterly defenceless before Beauchamp: and possibly Beauchamp was
in the house. She fancied he was, by the impatient brevity of her
Seymour Austin and Colonel Halkett left the room, and Blackburn Tuckham
walked in, not the most entirely self-possessed of suitors, puffing
softly under his breath, and blinking eyes as rapidly as a skylark claps
wings on the ascent.
Half an hour later Beauchamp appeared. He asked to see the colonel,
delivered himself of his pretensions and wishes to the colonel, and was
referred to Cecilia; but Colonel Halkett declined to send for her.
Beauchamp declined to postpone his proposal until the following day.
He went outside the house and walked up and down the grass-plot.
Cecilia came to him at last.
'I hear, Nevil, that you are waiting to speak to me.'
'I've been waiting some weeks. Shall I speak here?'
'Yes, here, quickly.'
'Before the house? I have come to ask you for your hand.'
'Mine? I cannot . . .'
'Step into the park with me. I ask you to marry me.'
'It is too late.'
THE REFUSAL OF HIM
Passing from one scene of excitement to another, Cecilia was perfectly
steeled for her bitter task; and having done that which separated her a
sphere's distance from Beauchamp, she was cold, inaccessible to the face
of him who had swayed her on flood and ebb so long, incapable of tender
pity, even for herself. All she could feel was a harsh joy to have
struck off her tyrant's fetters, with a determination to cherish it
passionately lest she should presently be hating herself: for the shadow
of such a possibility fell within the narrow circle of her strung
sensations. But for the moment her delusion reached to the idea that she
had escaped from him into freedom, when she said, 'It is too late.'
Those words were the sum and voice of her long term of endurance. She
said them hurriedly, almost in a whisper, in the manner of one changeing
a theme of conversation for subjects happier and livelier, though none
The silence bore back on her a suspicion of a faint reproachfulness in
the words; and perhaps they carried a poetical tone, still more
'You have been listening to tales of me,' said Beauchamp.
'Nevil, we can always be friends, the best of friends.'
'Were you astonished at my asking you for your hand? You said "mine?"
as if you wondered. You have known my feelings for you. Can you deny
that? I have reckoned on yours--too long?--But not falsely? No, hear me
out. The truth is, I cannot lose you. And don't look so resolute.
Overlook little wounds: I was never indifferent to you. How could I be--
with eyes in my head? The colonel is opposed to me of course: he will
learn to understand me better: but you and I! we cannot be mere friends.
It's like daylight blotted out--or the eyes gone blind:--Too late? Can
you repeat it? I tried to warn you before you left England: I should
have written a letter to put you on your guard against my enemies:--
I find I have some: but a letter is sure to stumble; I should have been
obliged to tell you that I do not stand on my defence; and I thought I
should see you the next day. You went: and not a word for me! You gave
me no chance. If you have no confidence in me I must bear it. I may say
the story is false. With your hand in mine I would swear it.'
'Let it be forgotten,' said Cecilia, surprised and shaken to think that
her situation required further explanations; fascinated and unnerved by
simply hearing him. 'We are now--we are walking away from the house.'
'Do you object to a walk with me?'
They had crossed the garden plot and were at the gate of the park leading
to the Western wood. Beauchamp swung the gate open. He cast a look at
the clouds coming up from the South-west in folds of grey and silver.
'Like the day of our drive into Bevisham!--without the storm behind,' he
said, and doated on her soft shut lips, and the mild sun-rays of her hair
in sunless light. 'There are flowers that grow only in certain valleys,
and your home is Mount Laurels, whatever your fancy may be for Italy.
You colour the whole region for me. When you were absent, you were here.
I called here six times, and walked and talked with you.'
Cecilia set her face to the garden. Her heart had entered on a course of
heavy thumping, like a sapper in the mine.
Pain was not unwelcome to her, but this threatened weakness.
What plain words could she use? If Mr. Tuckham had been away from the
house, she would have found it easier to speak of her engagement; she
knew not why. Or if the imperative communication could have been
delivered in Italian or French, she was as little able to say why it
should have slipped from her tongue without a critic shudder to arrest
it. She was cold enough to revolve the words: betrothed, affianced,
plighted: and reject them, pretty words as they are. Between the
vulgarity of romantic language, and the baldness of commonplace, it
seemed to her that our English gives us no choice; that we cannot be
dignified in simplicity. And for some reason, feminine and remote, she
now detested her 'hand' so much as to be unable to bring herself to the
metonymic mention of it. The lady's difficulty was peculiar to sweet
natures that have no great warmth of passion; it can only be indicated.
Like others of the kind, it is traceable to the most delicate of
sentiments, and to the flattest:--for Mr. Blackburn's Tuckham's figure
was (she thought of it with no personal objection) not of the graceful
order, neither cavalierly nor kingly: and imagining himself to say, 'I am
engaged,' and he suddenly appearing on the field, Cecilia's whole mind
was shocked in so marked a way did he contrast with Beauchamp.
This was the effect of Beauchamp's latest words on her. He had disarmed
'We must have a walk to-day,' he said commandingly, but it had stolen
into him that he and she were not walking on the same bank of the river,
though they were side by side: a chill water ran between them. As in
other days, there hung her hand: but not to be taken. Incredible as it
was, the icy sense of his having lost her benumbed him. Her beautiful
face and beautiful tall figure, so familiar to him that they were like a
possession, protested in his favour while they snatched her from him all
the distance of the words 'too late.'
'Will you not give me one half-hour?'
'I am engaged,' Cecilia plunged and extricated herself, 'I am engaged to
walk with Mr. Austin and papa.'
Beauchamp tossed his head. Something induced him to speak of Mr.
Tuckham. 'The colonel has discovered his Tory young man! It's an object
as incomprehensible to me as a Tory working-man. I suppose I must take
it that they exist. As for Blackburn Tuckham, I have nothing against
him. He's an honourable fellow enough, and would govern Great Britain as
men of that rich middle-class rule their wives--with a strict regard for
ostensible humanity and what the law allows them. His manners have
improved. Your cousin Mary seems to like him: it struck me when I saw
them together. Cecilia! one half-hour! You refuse me: you have not
heard me. You will not say too late.'
'Nevil, I have said it finally. I have no longer the right to conceive
'So we speak! It's the language of indolence, temper, faint hearts.
"Too late" has no meaning. Turn back with me to the park. I offer you
my whole heart; I love you. There's no woman living who could be to me
the wife you would be. I'm like your male nightingale that you told me
of: I must have my mate to sing to--that is, work for and live for; and
she must not delay too long. Did I? Pardon me if you think I did. You
have known I love you. I have been distracted by things that kept me
from thinking of myself and my wishes: and love's a selfish business
while . . . while one has work in hand. It's clear I can't do two
things at a time--make love and carry on my taskwork. I have been idle
for weeks. I believed you were mine and wanted no lovemaking. There's
no folly in that, if you understand me at all. As for vanity about
women, I 've outlived it. In comparison with you I'm poor, I know:--you
look distressed, but one has to allude to it:--I admit that wealth would
help me. To see wealth supporting the cause of the people for once
would--but you say, too late! Well, I don't renounce you till I see you
giving your hand to a man who's not myself. You have been offended:
groundlessly, on my honour! You are the woman of all women in the world
to hold me fast in faith and pride in you. It's useless to look icy: you
feel what I say.'
'Nevil, I feel grief, and beg you to cease. I am----It is-----'
"'Too late' has not a rag of meaning, Cecilia! I love your name. I love
this too: this is mine, and no one can rob me of it.'
He drew forth a golden locket and showed her a curl of her hair.
Crimsoning, she said instantly: 'Language of the kind I used is open to
misconstruction, I fear. I have not even the right to listen to you. I
am . . . You ask me for what I have it no longer in my power to give.
I am engaged.'
The shot rang through him and partly stunned him; but incredulity made a
mocking effort to sustain him. The greater wounds do not immediately
convince us of our fate, though we may be conscious that we have been
'Engaged in earnest?' said he.
'Of your free will?'
Her father stepped out on the terrace, from one of the open windows,
trailing a newspaper like a pocket-handkerchief. Cecilia threaded the
flower-beds to meet him.
'Here's an accident to one of our ironclads,' he called to Beauchamp.
'Lives lost, sir?'
'No, thank heaven! but, upon my word, it's a warning. Read the
telegram; it's the Hastings. If these are our defences, at a cost of
half a million of money, each of them, the sooner we look to our land
forces the better.'
'The Shop will not be considered safe!' said Beauchamp, taking in the
telegram at a glance. 'Peppel's a first-rate officer too: she couldn't
have had a better captain. Ship seriously damaged!'
He handed back the paper to the colonel.
Cecilia expected him to say that he had foreseen such an event.
He said nothing; and with a singular contraction of the heart she
recollected how he had denounced our system of preparing mainly for the
defensive in war, on a day when they stood together in the park, watching
the slow passage of that very ship, the Hastings, along the broad water,
distant below them. The 'swarms of swift vessels of attack,' she
recollected particularly, and 'small wasps and rams under mighty steam-
power,' that he used to harp on when declaring that England must be known
for the assailant in war: she was to 'ray out' her worrying fleets. 'The
defensive is perilous policy in war': he had said it. She recollected
also her childish ridicule of his excess of emphasis: he certainly had
Mr. Austin and Mr. Tuckham came strolling in conversation round the house
to the terrace. Beauchamp bowed to the former, nodded to the latter,
scrutinizing him after he had done so, as if the flash of a thought were
in his mind. Tuckham's radiant aspect possibly excited it: 'Congratulate
me!' was the honest outcry of his face and frame. He was as over-
flowingly rosy as a victorious candidate at the hustings commencing a
speech. Cecilia laid her hand on an urn, in dread of the next words from
either of the persons present. Her father put an arm in hers, and leaned
on her. She gazed at her chamber window above, wishing to be wafted
thither to her seclusion within. The trembling limbs of physical
irresoluteness was a new experience to her.
'Anything else in the paper, colonel? I've not seen it to-day,' said
Beauchamp, for the sake of speaking.
'No, I don't think there's anything,' Colonel Halkett replied. 'Our
diplomatists haven't been shining much: that 's not our forte.'
'No: it's our field for younger sons.'
'Is it? Ah! There's an expedition against the hilltribes in India, and
we're such a peaceful nation, eh? We look as if we were in for a
complication with China.'
'Well, sir, we must sell our opium.'
'Of course we must. There's a man writing about surrendering Gibraltar!'
'I'm afraid we can't do that.'
'But where do you draw the line?' quoth Tuckham, very susceptible to a
sneer at the colonel, and entirely ignorant of the circumstances
attending Beauchamp's position before him. 'You defend the Chinaman; and
it's questionable if his case is as good as the Spaniard's.'
'The Chinaman has a case against our traders. Gibraltar concerns our
'As to the case against the English merchants, the Chinaman is for
shutting up his millions of acres of productive land, and the action of
commerce is merely a declaration of a universal public right, to which
all States must submit.'
'Immorality brings its punishment, be sure of that. Some day we shall
have enough of China. As to the Rock, I know the argument; I may be
wrong. I've had the habit of regarding it as necessary to our naval
'Come! there we agree.'
'I'm not so certain.'
'The counter-argument, I call treason.'
'Well,' said Beauchamp, 'there's a broad policy, and a narrow. There's
the Spanish view of the matter--if you are for peace and harmony and
'Then strengthen your forces.'
'Not a bit of it!'
'Then bully the feeble and truckle to the strong; consent to be hated
till you have to stand your ground.'
'It seems to me logical.'
'That's the French notion--c'est lodgique!'
Tuckham's pronunciation caused Cecilia to level her eyes at him
'By the way,' said Colonel Halkett, 'there are lots of horrors in the
paper to-day; wife kickings, and starvations--oh, dear me! and the
murder of a woman: two columns to that.'
'That, the Tory reaction is responsible for!' said Tuckham, rather by
way of a joke than a challenge.
Beauchamp accepted it as a challenge. Much to the benevolent amusement
of Mr. Austin and Colonel Halkett, he charged the responsibility of every
crime committed in the country, and every condition of misery, upon the
party which declined to move in advance, and which therefore apologized
for the perpetuation of knavery, villany, brutality, injustice, and foul
'Stick to your laws and systems and institutions, and so long as you
won't stir to amend them, I hold you accountable for that long newspaper
He said this with a visible fire of conviction.
Tuckham stood bursting at the monstrousness of such a statement.
He condensed his indignant rejoinder to: 'Madness can't go farther!'
'There's an idea in it,' said Mr. Austin.
'It's an idea foaming at the mouth, then.'
'Perhaps it has no worse fault than that of not marching parallel with
the truth,' said Mr. Austin, smiling. 'The party accusing in those terms
. . . what do you say, Captain Beauchamp?--supposing us to be pleading
before a tribunal?'
Beauchamp admitted as much as that he had made the case gigantic, though
he stuck to his charge against the Tory party. And moreover: the Tories-
and the old Whigs, now Liberals, ranked under the heading of Tories--
those Tories possessing and representing the wealth of the country, yet
had not started one respectable journal that a lady could read through
without offence to her, or a gentleman without disgust! If there was not
one English newspaper in existence independent of circulation and
advertisements, and of the tricks to win them, the Tories were answerable
for the vacancy. They, being the rich who, if they chose, could set an
example to our Press by subscribing to maintain a Journal superior to the
flattering of vile appetites--'all that nauseous matter,' Beauchamp
stretched his fingers at the sheets Colonel Halkett was holding, and
which he had not read--'those Tories,' he bowed to the colonel, 'I'm
afraid I must say you, sir, are answerable for it.'
'I am very well satisfied with my paper,' said the colonel.
Beauchamp sighed to himself. 'We choose to be satisfied,' he said.
His pure and mighty DAWN was in his thoughts: the unborn light of a day
denied to earth!
One of the doctors of Bevisham, visiting a sick maid of the house,
trotted up the terrace to make his report to her master of the state of
her health. He hoped to pull her through with the aid of high feeding.
He alluded cursorily to a young girl living on the outskirts of the town,
whom he had been called in to see at the eleventh hour, and had lost,
owing to the lowering of his patient from a prescription of a vegetable
diet by a certain Dr. Shrapnel.
That ever-explosive name precipitated Beauchamp to the front rank of the
'I happen to be staying with Dr. Shrapnel,' he observed. 'I don't eat
meat there because he doesn't, and I am certain I take no harm by
avoiding it. I think vegetarianism a humaner system, and hope it may be
wise. I should like to set the poor practising it, for their own sakes;
and I have half an opinion that it would be good for the rich--if we are
to condemn gluttony.'
'Ah? Captain Beauchamp!' the doctor bowed to him. 'But my case was one
of poor blood requiring to be strengthened. The girl was allowed to sink
so low that stimulants were ineffective when I stepped in. There's the
point. It 's all very well while you are in health. You may do without
meat till your system demands the stimulant, or else--as with this poor
girl! And, indeed, Captain Beauchamp, if I may venture the remark--I had
the pleasure of seeing you during the last Election in our town--and if I
may be so bold, I should venture to hint that the avoidance of animal
food--to judge by appearances--has not been quite wholesome for you.'
Eyes were turned on Beauchamp.
OF THE TRIAL AWAITING THE EARL OF ROMFREY
Cecilia softly dropped her father's arm, and went into the house. The
exceeding pallor of Beauchamp's face haunted her in her room. She heard
the controversy proceeding below, and an exclamation of Blackburn
Tuckham's: 'Immorality of meat-eating? What nonsense are they up to
Beauchamp was inaudible, save in a word or two. As usual, he was the
But how mournfully changed he was! She had not noticed it, agitated
by her own emotions as she had been, and at one time three parts frozen.
He was the ghost of the Nevil Beauchamp who had sprung on the deck of the
Esperanza out of Lieutenant Wilmore's boat, that sunny breezy day which
was the bright first chapter of her new life--of her late life, as it
seemed to her now, for she was dead to it, and another creature, the
coldest of the women of earth. She felt sensibly cold, coveted warmth,
flung a shawl on her shoulders, and sat in a corner of her room, hidden
and shivering beside the open window, till long after the gentlemen had
ceased to speak.
How much he must have suffered of late! The room she had looked to as a
refuge from Nevil was now her stronghold against the man whom she had
incredibly accepted. She remained there, the victim of a heart malady,
under the term of headache. Feeling entrapped, she considered that she
must have been encircled and betrayed. She looked back on herself as a
giddy figure falling into a pit: and in the pit she lay.
And how vile to have suspected of unfaithfulness and sordidness the
generous and stedfast man of earth! He never abandoned a common
friendship. His love of his country was love still, whatever the form it
had taken. His childlike reliance on effort and outspeaking, for which
men laughed at him, was beautiful.
Where am I? she cried amid her melting images of him, all dominated by
his wan features. She was bound fast, imprisoned and a slave. Even Mr.
Austin had conspired against him: for only she read Nevil justly. His
defence of Dr. Shrapnel filled her with an envy that no longer maligned
the object of it, but was humble, and like the desire of the sick to
creep into sunshine.
The only worthy thing she could think of doing was (it must be mentioned
for a revelation of her fallen state, and, moreover, she was not lusty of
health at the moment) to abjure meat. The body loathed it, and
consequently the mind of the invalided lady shrank away in horror of the
bleeding joints, and the increasingly fierce scramble of Christian souls
for the dismembered animals: she saw the innocent pasturing beasts, she
saw the act of slaughter. She had actually sweeping before her sight a
spectacle of the ludicrous-terrific, in the shape of an entire community
pursuing countless herds of poor scampering animal life for blood: she,
meanwhile, with Nevil and Dr. Shrapnel, stood apart contemning. For
whoso would not partake of flesh in this kingdom of roast beef must be of
the sparse number of Nevil's execrated minority in politics.
The example will show that she touched the borders of delirium.
Physically, the doctor pronounces her bilious. She was in earnest so far
as to send down to the library for medical books, and books upon diet.
These, however, did not plead for the beasts. They treated the subject
without question of man's taking that which he has conquered. Poets and
philosophers did the same. Again she beheld Nevil Beauchamp solitary in
the adverse rank to the world;--to his countrymen especially. But that
it was no material cause which had wasted his cheeks and lined his
forehead, she was sure: and to starve with him, to embark with him in his
little boat on the seas he whipped to frenzy, would have been a dream of
bliss, had she dared to contemplate herself in a dream as his companion.
It was not to be thought of.
No: but this was, and to be thought of seriously: Cecilia had said to
herself for consolation that Beauchamp was no spiritual guide; he had her
heart within her to plead for him, and the reflection came to her, like a
bubble up from the heart, that most of our spiritual guides neglect the
root to trim the flower: and thence, turning sharply on herself, she
obtained a sudden view of her allurement and her sin in worshipping
herself, and recognized that the aim at an ideal life closely approaches,
or easily inclines, to self-worship; to which the lady was woman and
artist enough to have had no objection, but that therein visibly she
discerned the retributive vain longings, in the guise of high individual
superiority and distinction, that had thwarted her with Nevil Beauchamp,
never permitting her to love single-mindedly or whole-heartedly, but
always in reclaiming her rights and sighing for the loss of her ideal;
adoring her own image, in fact, when she pretended to cherish, and regret
that she could not sufficiently cherish, the finer elements of nature.
What was this ideal she had complained of losing? It was a broken
mirror: she could think of it in no other form.
Dr. Shrapnel's 'Ego-Ego' yelped and gave chase to her through the pure
beatitudes of her earlier days down to her present regrets. It hunted
all the saints in the calendar till their haloes top-sided on their
heads-her favourite St. Francis of Assisi excepted.
The doctor was called up from Bevisham next day, and pronounced her
bilious. He was humorous over Captain Beauchamp, who had gone to the
parents of the dead girl, and gathered the information that they were a
consumptive family, to vindicate Dr. Shrapnel. 'The very family to
require strong nourishment,' said the doctor.
Cecilia did not rest in her sick-room before, hunting through one book
and another, she had found arguments on the contrary side; a waste of
labour that heaped oppression on her chest, as with the world's weight.
Apparently one had only to be in Beauchamp's track to experience that.
She horrified her father by asking questions about consumption.
Homoeopathy, hydropathy,--the revolutionaries of medicine attracted her.
Blackburn Tuckham, a model for an elected lover who is not beloved,
promised to procure all sorts of treatises for her: no man could have
been so deferential to a diseased mind. Beyond calling her by her
Christian name, he did nothing to distress her with the broad aspect of
their new relations together. He and Mr. Austin departed from Mount
Laurels, leaving her to sink into an agreeable stupor, like one deposited
on a mudbank after buffeting the waves. She learnt that her father had
seen Captain Baskelett, and remembered, marvelling, how her personal
dread of an interview, that threatened to compromise her ideal of her
feminine and peculiar dignity, had assisted to precipitate her where she
now lay helpless, almost inanimate.
She was unaware of the passage of time save when her father spoke of a
marriage-day. It told her that she lived and was moving. The fear of
death is not stronger in us, nor the desire to put it off, than Cecilia's
shunning of such a day. The naming of it numbed her blood like a
snakebite. Yet she openly acknowledged her engagement; and, happily for
Tuckham, his visits, both in London and at Mount Laurels, were few and
short, and he inflicted no foretaste of her coming subjection to him to
Under her air of calm abstraction she watched him rigorously for some
sign of his ownership that should tempt her to revolt from her pledge,
or at least dream of breaking loose: the dream would have sufficed.
He was never intrusive, never pressing. He did not vex, because he
absolutely trusted to the noble loyalty which made her admit to herself
that she belonged irrevocably to him, while her thoughts were upon
Beauchamp. With a respectful gravity he submitted to her perusal a
collection of treatises on diet, classed pro and con., and paged and
pencil-marked to simplify her study of the question. They sketched in
company; she played music to him, he read poetry to her, and read it
well. He seemed to feel the beauty of it sensitively, as she did
critically. In other days the positions had been reversed. He
invariably talked of Beauchamp with kindness, deploring only that he
should be squandering his money on workmen's halls and other hazy
projects down in Bevisham.
'Lydiard tells me he has a very sound idea of the value of money, and has
actually made money by cattle breeding; but he has flung ten thousand
pounds on a single building outside the town, and he'll have to endow it
to support it--a Club to educate Radicals. The fact is, he wants to jam
the business of two or three centuries into a life-time. These men of
their so-called progress are like the majority of religious minds: they
can't believe without seeing and touching. That is to say, they don't
believe in the abstract at all, but they go to work blindly by agitating,
and proselytizing, and persecuting to get together a mass they can
believe in. You see it in their way of arguing; it's half done with the
fist. Lydiard tells me he left him last in a horrible despondency about
progress. Ha! ha! Beauchamp's no Radical. He hasn't forgiven the
Countess of Romfrey for marrying above her rank. He may be a bit of a
Republican: but really in this country Republicans are fighting with the
shadow of an old hat and a cockhorse. I beg to state that I have a
reverence for constituted authority: I speak of what those fellows are
'Right,' said Colonel Halkett. 'But "the shadow of an old hat and a
cockhorse": what does that mean?'
'That's what our Republicans are hitting at, sir.'
'Ah! so; yes,' quoth the colonel. 'And I say this to Nevil Beauchamp,
that what we've grown up well with, powerfully with, it's base
ingratitude and dangerous folly to throw over.'
He blamed Beauchamp for ingratitude to the countess, who had, he affirmed
of his own knowledge, married Lord Romfrey to protect Beauchamp's
A curious comment on this allegation was furnished by the announcement of
the earl's expectations of a son and heir. The earl wrote to Colonel
Halkett from Romfrey Castle inviting him to come and spend some time
'Now, that's brave news!' the colonel exclaimed.
He proposed a cruise round by the Cornish coast to the Severn, and so to
Romfrey Castle, to squeeze the old lord's hand and congratulate him with
all his heart. Cecilia was glad to acquiesce, for an expedition of any
description was a lull in the storm that hummed about her ears in the
peace of home, where her father would perpetually speak of the day to be
fixed. Sailing the sea on a cruise was like the gazing at wonderful
colours of a Western sky: an oblivion of earthly dates and obligations.
What mattered it that there were gales in August? She loved the sea,
and the stinging salt spray, and circling gull and plunging gannet,
the sun on the waves, and the torn cloud. The revelling libertine open
sea wedded her to Beauchamp in that veiled cold spiritual manner she
could muse on as a circumstance out of her life.
Fair companies of racing yachts were left behind. The gales of August
mattered frightfully to poor Blackburn Tuckham, who was to be dropped at
a town in South Wales, and descended greenish to his cabin as soon as
they had crashed on the first wall-waves of the chalk-race, a throw
beyond the peaked cliffs edged with cormorants, and were really tasting
sea. Cecilia reclined on deck, wrapped in shawl and waterproof. As the
Alpine climber claims the upper air, she had the wild sea to herself
through her love of it; quite to herself. It was delicious to look round
and ahead, and the perturbation was just enough to preserve her from
thoughts too deep inward in a scene where the ghost of Nevil was abroad.
The hard dry gale increased. Her father, stretched beside her, drew her
attention to a small cutter under double-reefed main-sail and small jib
on the Esperanza's weather bow--a gallant boat carefully handled. She
watched it with some anxiety, but the Esperanza was bound for a Devon
bay, and bore away from the black Dorsetshire headland, leaving the
little cutter to run into haven if she pleased. The passing her was no
event.--In a representation of the common events befalling us in these
times, upon an appreciation of which this history depends, one turns at
whiles a languishing glance toward the vast potential mood, pluperfect
tense. For Nevil Beauchamp was on board the cutter, steering her, with
Dr. Shrapnel and Lydiard in the well, and if an accident had happened to
cutter or schooner, what else might not have happened? Cecilia gathered
it from Mrs. Wardour-Devereux, whom, to her surprise and pleasure, she
found at Romfrey Castle. Her friend Louise received a letter from Mr.
Lydiard, containing a literary amateur seaman's log of a cruise of a
fifteen-ton cutter in a gale, and a pure literary sketch of Beauchamp
standing drenched at the helm from five in the morning up to nine at
night, munching a biscuit for nourishment. The beautiful widow prepared
the way for what was very soon to be publicly known concerning herself by
reading out this passage of her correspondent's letter in the breakfast
'Yes, the fellow's a sailor!' said Lord Romfrey.
The countess rose from her chair and walked out.
'Now, was that abuse of the fellow?' the old lord asked Colonel Halkett.
'I said he was a sailor, I said nothing else. He is a sailor, and he's
fit for nothing else, and no ship will he get unless he bends his neck
never 's nearer it.'
He hesitated a moment, and went after his wife.
Cecilia sat with the countess, in the afternoon, at a window overlooking
the swelling woods of Romfrey. She praised the loveliness of the view.
'It is fire to me,' said Rosamund.
Cecilia looked at her, startled. Rosamund said no more.
She was an excellent hostess, nevertheless, unpretending and simple in
company; and only when it chanced that Beauchamp's name was mentioned did
she cast that quick supplicating nervous glance at the earl, with a
shadow of an elevation of her shoulders, as if in apprehension of mordant
We will make no mystery about it. I would I could. Those happy tales of
mystery are as much my envy as the popular narratives of the deeds of
bread and cheese people, for they both create a tide-way in the attentive
mind; the mysterious pricking our credulous flesh to creep, the familiar
urging our obese imagination to constitutional exercise. And oh, the
refreshment there is in dealing with characters either contemptibly
beneath us or supernaturally above! My way is like a Rhone island in the
summer drought, stony, unattractive and difficult between the two
forceful streams of the unreal and the over-real, which delight mankind--
honour to the conjurors! My people conquer nothing, win none; they are
actual, yet uncommon. It is the clock-work of the brain that they are
directed to set in motion, and--poor troop of actors to vacant benches!--
the conscience residing in thoughtfulness which they would appeal to; and
if you are there impervious to them, we are lost: back I go to my
wilderness, where, as you perceive, I have contracted the habit of
listening to my own voice more than is good: The burden of a child in her
bosom had come upon Rosamund with the visage of the Angel of Death
fronting her in her path. She believed that she would die; but like much
that we call belief, there was a kernel of doubt in it, which was lively
when her frame was enlivened, and she then thought of the giving birth to
this unloved child, which was to disinherit the man she loved, in whose
interest solely (so she could presume to think, because it had been her
motive reason) she had married the earl. She had no wish to be a mother;
but that prospect, and the dread attaching to it at her time of life, she
could have submitted to for Lord Romfrey's sake. It struck her like a
scoffer's blow that she, the one woman on earth loving Nevil, should have
become the instrument for dispossessing him. The revulsion of her
feelings enlightened her so far as to suggest, without enabling her to
fathom him, that instead of having cleverly swayed Lord Romfrey, she had
been his dupe, or a blind accomplice; and though she was too humane a
woman to think of punishing him, she had so much to forgive that the
trifles daily and at any instant added to the load, flushed her
resentment, like fresh lights showing new features and gigantic outlines.
Nevil's loss of Cecilia she had anticipated; she had heard of it when she
was lying in physical and mental apathy at Steynham. Lord Romfrey had
repeated to her the nature of his replies to the searching parental
questions of Colonel Halkett, and having foreseen it all, and what was
more, foretold it, she was not aroused from her torpor. Latterly, with
the return of her natural strength, she had shown herself incapable of
hearing her husband speak of Nevil; nor was the earl tardy in taking the
hint to spare the mother of his child allusions that vexed her. Now and
then they occurred perforce. The presence of Cecilia exasperated
Rosamund's peculiar sensitiveness. It required Louise Wardour-Devereux's
apologies and interpretations to account for what appeared to Cecilia
strangely ill-conditioned, if not insane, in Lady Romfrey's behaviour.
The most astonishing thing to hear was, that Lady Romfrey had paid Mrs.
Devereux a visit at her Surrey house unexpectedly one Sunday in the
London season, for the purpose, as it became evident, of meeting Mr.
Blackburn Tuckham: and how she could have known that Mr. Tuckham would be
there, Mrs. Devereux could not tell, for it was, Louise assured Cecilia,
purely by chance that he and Mr. Lydiard were present: but the countess
obtained an interview with him alone, and Mr. Tuckham came from it
declaring it to have been more terrible than any he had ever been called
upon to endure. The object of the countess was to persuade him to
renounce his bride.
Louise replied to the natural inquiry--'Upon what plea?' with a
significant evasiveness. She put her arms round Cecilia's neck: 'I trust
you are not unhappy. You will get no release from him.'
'I am not unhappy,' said Cecilia, musically clear to convince her friend.
She was indeed glad to feel the stout chains of her anchor restraining
her when Lady Romfrey talked of Nevil; they were like the safety of
marriage without the dreaded ceremony, and with solitude to let her weep.
Bound thus to a weaker man than Blackburn Tuckham, though he had been
more warmly esteemed, her fancy would have drifted away over the deeps,
perhaps her cherished loyalty would have drowned in her tears--for Lady
Romfrey tasked it very severely: but he from whom she could hope for no
release, gave her some of the firmness which her nature craved in this
From saying quietly to her: 'I thought once you loved him,' when alluding
to Nevil, Lady Romfrey passed to mournful exclamations, and by degrees on
to direct entreaties. She related the whole story of Renee in England,
and appeared distressed with a desperate wonderment at Cecilia's mildness
after hearing it. Her hearer would have imagined that she had no moral
sense, if it had not been so perceptible that the poor lady's mind was
distempered on the one subject of Nevil Beauchamp. Cecilia's high
conception of duty, wherein she was a peerless flower of our English
civilization, was incommunicable: she could practise, not explain it.
She bowed to Lady Romfrey's praises of Nevil, suffered her hands to be
wrung, her heart to be touched, all but an avowal of her love of him to
be wrested from her, and not the less did she retain her cold resolution
to marry to please her father and fulfil her pledge. In truth, it was
too late to speak of Renee to her now. It did not beseem Cecilia to
remember that she had ever been a victim of jealousy; and while
confessing to many errors, because she felt them, and gained a necessary
strength from them--in the comfort of the consciousness of pain, for
example, which she sorely needed, that the pain in her own breast might
deaden her to Nevil's jealousy, the meanest of the errors of a lofty
soul, yielded no extract beyond the bare humiliation proper to an
acknowledgement that it had existed: so she discarded the recollection of
the passion which had wrought the mischief. Since we cannot have a
peerless flower of civilization without artificial aid, it may be
understood how it was that Cecilia could extinguish some lights in her
mind and kindle others, and wherefore what it was not natural for her to
do, she did. She had, briefly, a certain control of herself.
Our common readings in the fictitious romances which mark out a plot and
measure their characters to fit into it, had made Rosamund hopeful of the
effect of that story of Renee. A wooden young woman, or a galvanized
(sweet to the writer, either of them, as to the reader--so moveable they
are!) would have seen her business at this point, and have glided melting
to reconciliation and the chamber where romantic fiction ends joyously.
Rosamund had counted on it.
She looked intently at Cecilia. 'He is ruined, wasted, ill, unloved; he
has lost you--I am the cause!' she cried in a convulsion of grief.
'Dear Lady Romfrey!' Cecilia would have consoled her. 'There is nothing
to lead us to suppose that Nevil is unwell, and you are not to blame for
anything: how can you be?'
'I spoke falsely of Dr. Shrapnel; I am the cause. It lies on me! it
pursues me. Let me give to the poor as I may, and feel for the poor, as
I do, to get nearer to Nevil--I cannot have peace! His heart has turned
from me. He despises me. If I had spoken to Lord Romfrey at Steynham,
as he commanded me, you and he--Oh! cowardice: he is right, cowardice is
the chief evil in the world. He is ill; he is desperately ill; he will
'Have you heard he is very ill, Lady Romfrey?'
'No! no!' Rosamund exclaimed; 'it is by not hearing that I know it!'
With the assistance of Louise Devereux, Cecilia gradually awakened to
what was going on in the house. There had been a correspondence between
Miss Denham and the countess. Letters from Bevisham had suddenly ceased.
Presumably the earl had stopped them: and if so it must have been for a
Cecilia hinted some blame of Lord Romfrey to her father.
He pressed her hand and said: 'You don't know what that man suffers.
Romfrey is fond of Nevil too, but he must guard his wife; and the fact is
Nevil is down with fever. It 's in the papers now; he may be able to
conceal it, and I hope he will. There'll be a crisis, and then he can
tell her good news--a little illness and all right now! Of course,' the
colonel continued buoyantly, 'Nevil will recover; he's a tough wiry young
fellow, but poor Romfrey's fears are natural enough about the countess.
Her mind seems to be haunted by the doctor there--Shrapnel, I mean; and
she's exciteable to a degree that threatens the worst--in case of any
accident in Bevisham.'
'Is it not a kind of cowardice to conceal it?' Cecilia suggested.
'It saves her from fretting,' said the colonel.
'But she is fretting! If Lord Romfrey would confide in her and trust to
her courage, papa, it would be best.'
Colonel Halkett thought that Lord Romfrey was the judge.
Cecilia wished to leave a place where this visible torture of a human
soul was proceeding, and to no purpose. She pointed out to her father,
by a variety of signs, that Lady Romfrey either knew or suspected the
state of affairs in Bevisham, and repeated her remarks upon Nevil's
illness. But Colonel Halkett was restrained from departing by the earl's
constant request to him to stay. Old friendship demanded it of him.
He began to share his daughter's feelings at the sight of Lady Romfrey.
She was outwardly patient and submissive; by nature she was a strong
healthy woman; and she attended to all her husband's prescriptions for
the regulating of her habits, walked with him, lay down for the
afternoon's rest, appeared amused when he laboured to that effect, and
did her utmost to subdue the worm devouring her heart but the hours of
the delivery of the letter-post were fatal to her. Her woeful: 'No
letter for me!' was piteous. When that was heard no longer, her silence
and famished gaze chilled Cecilia. At night Rosamund eyed her husband
expressionlessly, with her head leaning back in her chair, to the sorrow
of the ladies beholding her. Ultimately the contagion of her settled
misery took hold of Cecilia. Colonel Halkett was induced by his daughter
and Mrs. Devereux to endeavour to combat a system that threatened
consequences worse than those it was planned to avert. He by this time
was aware of the serious character of the malady which had prostrated
Nevil. Lord Romfrey had directed his own medical man to go down to
Bevisham, and Dr. Gannet's report of Nevil was grave. The colonel made
light of it to his daughter, after the fashion he condemned in Lord
Romfrey, to whom however he spoke earnestly of the necessity for
partially taking his wife into his confidence to the extent of letting
her know that a slight fever was running its course with Nevil.
'There will be no slight fever in my wife's blood,' said the earl. 'I
stand to weather the cape or run to wreck, and it won't do to be taking
in reefs on a lee-shore. You don't see what frets her, colonel. For
years she has been bent on Nevil's marriage. It's off: but if you catch
Cecilia by the hand and bring her to us--I swear she loves the fellow!--
that's the medicine for my wife. Say: will you do it? Tell Lady Romfrey
it shall be done. We shall stand upright again!'
'I'm afraid that's impossible, Romfrey,' said the colonel.
'Play at it, then! Let her think it. You're helping me treat an
invalid. Colonel! my old friend! You save my house and name if you do
that. It's a hand round a candle in a burst of wind. There's Nevil
dragged by a woman into one of their reeking hovels--so that Miss Denham
at Shrapnel's writes to Lady Romfrey--because the woman's drunken husband
voted for him at the Election, and was kicked out of employment, and fell
upon the gin-bottle, and the brats of the den died starving, and the man
sickened of a fever; and Nevil goes in and sits with him! Out of that
tangle of folly is my house to be struck down? It looks as if the fellow
with his infernal "humanity," were the bad genius of an old nurse's tale.
He's a good fellow, colonel, he means well. This fever will cure him,
they say it sobers like bloodletting. He's a gallant fellow; you know
that. He fought to the skeleton in our last big war. On my soul, I
believe he's good for a husband. Frenchwoman or not, that affair's over.
He shall have Steynham and Holdesbury. Can I say more? Now, colonel,
you go in to the countess. Grasp my hand. Give me that help, and God
bless you! You light up my old days. She's a noble woman: I would not
change her against the best in the land. She has this craze about Nevil.
I suppose she'll never get over it. But there it is: and we must feed
her with the spoon.'
Colonel Halkett argued stutteringly with the powerful man: 'It's the
truth she ought to hear, Romfrey; indeed it is, if you 'll believe me.
It 's his life she is fearing for. She knows half.'
'She knows positively nothing, colonel. Miss Denham's first letter spoke
of the fellow's having headaches, and staggering. He was out on a
cruise, and saw your schooner pass, and put into some port, and began
falling right and left, and they got him back to Shrapnel's: and here it
is--that if you go to him you'll save him, and if you go to my wife
you'll save her: and there you have it: and I ask my old friend, I beg
him to go to them both.'
'But you can't surely expect me to force my daughter's inclinations, my
'Cecilia loves the fellow!'
'She is engaged to Mr. Tuckham.'
'I'll see the man Tuckham.'
'Really, my dear lord!'
'Play at it, Halkett, play at it! Tide us over this! Talk to her: hint
it and nod it. We have to round November. I could strangle the world
till that month's past. You'll own,' he added mildly after his thunder,
'I'm not much of the despot Nevil calls me. She has not a wish I don't
supply. I'm at her beck, and everything that's mine. She's a brave good
woman. I don't complain. I run my chance. But if we lose the child--
good night! Boy or girl!--boy!'
Lord Romfrey flung an arm up. The child of his old age lived for him
already: he gave it all the life he had. This miracle, this young son
springing up on an earth decaying and dark, absorbed him. This reviver
of his ancient line must not be lost. Perish every consideration to
avert it! He was ready to fear, love, or hate terribly, according to the
prospects of his child.
Colonel Halkett was obliged to enter into a consultation, of a shadowy
sort, with his daughter, whose only advice was that they should leave the
castle. The penetrable gloom there, and the growing apprehension
concerning the countess and Nevil, tore her to pieces. Even if she could
have conspired with the earl to hoodwink his wife, her strong sense told
her it would be fruitless, besides base. Father and daughter had to make
the stand against Lord Romfrey. He saw their departure from the castle
gates, and kissed his hand to Cecilia, courteously, without a smile.
'He may well praise the countess, papa,' said Cecilia, while they were
looking back at the castle and the moveless flag that hung in folds by
the mast above it. 'She has given me her promise to avoid questioning
him and to accept his view of her duty. She said to me that if Nevil
should die she . . .'
Cecilia herself broke down, and gave way to sobs in her father's arms.
A FABRIC OF BARONIAL DESPOTISM CRUMBLE
The earl's precautions did duty night and day in all the avenues leading
to the castle and his wife's apartments; and he could believe that he had
undertaken as good a defence as the mountain guarding the fertile vale
from storms: but him the elements pelted heavily. Letters from
acquaintances of Nevil, from old shipmates and from queer political
admirers and opponents, hailed on him; things not to be frigidly read
were related of the fellow.
Lord Romfrey's faith in the power of constitution to beat disease battled
sturdily with the daily reports of his physician and friends, whom he had
directed to visit the cottage on the common outside Bevisham, and with
Miss Denham's intercepted letters to the countess. Still he had to
calculate on the various injuries Nevil had done to his constitution,
which had made of him another sort of man for a struggle of life and
death than when he stood like a riddled flag through the war. That
latest freak of the fellow's, the abandonment of our natural and
wholesome sustenance in animal food, was to be taken in the reckoning.
Dr. Gannet did not allude to it; the Bevisham doctor did; and the earl
meditated with a fury of wrath on the dismal chance that such a folly as
this of one old vegetable idiot influencing a younger noodle, might
strike his House to the dust.
His watch over his wife had grown mechanical: he failed to observe that
her voice was missing. She rarely spoke. He lost the art of observing
himself: the wrinkling up and dropping of his brows became his habitual
language. So long as he had not to meet inquiries or face tears, he
enjoyed the sense of security. He never quitted his wife save to walk to
the Southern park lodge, where letters and telegrams were piled awaiting
him; and she was forbidden to take the air on the castle terrace without
his being beside her, lest a whisper, some accident of the kind that
donkeys who nod over their drowsy nose-length-ahead precautions call
fatality, should rouse her to suspect, and in a turn of the hand undo his
labour: for the race was getting terrible: Death had not yet stepped out
of that evil chamber in Dr. Shrapnel's cottage to aim his javelin at the
bosom containing the prized young life to come, but, like the smoke of
waxing fire, he shadowed forth his presence in wreaths blacker and
thicker day by day: and Everard Romfrey knew that the hideous beast of
darkness had only to spring up and pass his guard to deal a blow to his
House the direr from all he supposed himself to have gained by masking it
hitherto. The young life he looked to for renewal swallowed him: he
partly lost human feeling for his wife in the tremendous watch and strain
to hurry her as a vessel round the dangerous headland. He was oblivious
that his eyebrows talked, that his head was bent low, that his mouth was
shut, and that where a doubt had been sown, silence and such signs are
like revelations in black night to the spirit of a woman who loves.
One morning after breakfast Rosamund hung on his arm, eyeing him neither
questioningly nor invitingly, but long. He kissed her forehead. She
clung to him and closed her eyes, showing him a face of slumber, like a
mask of the dead.
Mrs. Devereux was present. Cecilia had entreated her to stay with Lady
Romfrey. She stole away, for the time had come which any close observer
of the countess must have expected.
The earl lifted his wife, and carried her to her sitting-room. A sunless
weltering September day whipped the window-panes and brought the roar of
the beaten woods to her ears. He was booted and gaitered for his
customary walk to the park lodge, and as he bent a knee beside her, she
murmured: 'Don't wait; return soon.'
He placed a cord attached to the bellrope within her reach. This utter
love of Nevil Beauchamp was beyond his comprehension, but there it was,
and he had to submit to it and manoeuvre. His letters and telegrams told
the daily tale. 'He's better,' said the earl, preparing himself to
answer what his wife's look had warned him would come.
She was an image of peace, in the same posture on the couch where he had
left her, when he returned. She did not open her eyes, but felt about
for his hand, and touching it, she seemed to weigh the fingers.
At last she said: 'The fever should be at its height.'
'Why, my dear brave girl, what ails you?' said he.
She raised her eyelids. His head was bent down over her, like a raven's
watching, a picture of gravest vigilance.
Her bosom rose and sank. 'What has Miss Denham written to-day?'
'To-day?' he asked her gently.
'I shall bear it,' she answered. 'You were my master before you were my
husband. I bear anything you think is good for my government. Only, my
ignorance is fever; I share Nevil's.'
'Have you been to my desk at all?'
'No. I read your eyes and your hands: I have been living on them. To-
day I find that I have not gained by it, as I hoped I should. Ignorance
kills me. I really have courage to bear to hear just at this moment I
'There's no bad news, my love,' said the earl.
'High fever, is it?'
'The usual fever. Gannet's with him. I sent for Gannet to go there, to
'Nevil is not dead?'
'Lord! ma'am, my dear soul!'
'He is alive?'
'Quite: certainly alive; as much alive as I am; only going a little
faster, as fellows do in the jumps of a fever. The best doctor in
England is by his bed. He 's doing fairly. You should have let me know
you were fretting, my Rosamund.'
'I did not wish to tempt you to lie, my dear lord.'
'Well, there are times when a woman . . . as you are: but you're a
brave woman, a strong heart, and my wife. You want some one to sit with
you, don't you? Louise Devereux is a pleasant person, but you want a man
to amuse you. I'd have sent to Stukely, but you want a serious man, I
So much had the earl been thrown out of his plan for protecting his wife,
that he felt helpless, and hinted at the aids and comforts of religion.
He had not rejected the official Church, and regarding it now as in
alliance with great Houses, he considered that its ministers might also
be useful to the troubled women of noble families. He offered, if she
pleased, to call in the rector to sit with her--the bishop of the
diocese, if she liked.
'But just as you like, my love,' he added. 'You know you have to avoid
fretting. I've heard my sisters talk of the parson doing them good off
and on about the time of their being brought to bed. He elevated their
minds, they said. I'm sure I've no objection. If he can doctor the
minds of women he's got a profession worth something.'
Rosamund smothered an outcry. 'You mean that Nevil is past hope!'
'Not if he's got a fair half of our blood in him. And Richard Beauchamp
gave the fellow good stock. He has about the best blood in England.
That's not saying much when they've taken to breed as they build--stuff
to keep the plasterers at work; devil a thought of posterity!'
'There I see you and Nevil one, my dear lord,' said Rosamund. 'You think
of those that are to follow us. Talk to me of him. Do not say, "the
fellow." Say "Nevil." No, no; call him "the fellow." He was alive and
well when you used to say it. But smile kindly, as if he made you love
him down in your heart, in spite of you. We have both known that love,
and that opposition to him; not liking his ideas, yet liking him so: we
were obliged to laugh--I have seen you! as love does laugh! If I am not
crying over his grave, Everard? Oh!'
The earl smoothed her forehead. All her suspicions were rekindled.
'Truth! truth! give me truth. Let me know what world I am in.'
'My dear, a ship's not lost because she's caught in a squall; nor a man
buffeting the waves for an hour. He's all right: he keeps up.'
'He is delirious? I ask you--I have fancied I heard him.'
Lord Romfrey puffed from his nostrils: but in affecting to blow to the
winds her foolish woman's wildness of fancy, his mind rested on Nevil,
and he said: 'Poor boy! It seems he's chattering hundreds to the
His wife's looks alarmed him after he had said it, and he was for toning
it and modifying it, when she gasped to him to help her to her feet; and
standing up, she exclaimed: 'O heaven! now I hear you; now I know he
lives. See how much better it is for me to know the real truth. It
takes me to his bedside. Ignorance and suspense have been poison. I
have been washed about like a dead body. Let me read all my letters now.
Nothing will harm me now. You will do your best for me, my husband, will
you not?' She tore at her dress at her throat for coolness, panting and
smiling. 'For me--us--yours--ours! Give me my letters, lunch with me,
and start for Bevisham. Now you see how good it is for me to hear the
very truth, you will give me your own report, and I shall absolutely
trust in it, and go down with it if it's false! But you see I am
perfectly strong for the truth. It must be you or I to go. I burn to
go; but your going will satisfy me. If you look on him, I look. I feel
as if I had been nailed down in a coffin, and have got fresh air. I
pledge you my word, sir, my honour, my dear husband, that I will think
first of my duty. I know it would be Nevil's wish. He has not quite
forgiven me--he thought me ambitious--ah! stop: he said that the birth
of our child would give him greater happiness than he had known for
years: he begged me to persuade you to call a boy Nevil Beauchamp, and a
girl Renee. He has never believed in his own long living.'
Rosamund refreshed her lord's heart by smiling archly as she said: 'The
boy to be educated to take the side of the people, of course! The girl
is to learn a profession.'
'Ha! bless the fellow!' Lord Romfrey interjected. 'Well, I might go
there for an hour. Promise me, no fretting! You have hollows in your
cheeks, and your underlip hangs: I don't like it. I haven't seen that
'We do not see clearly when we are trying to deceive,' said Rosamund.
'My letters! my letters!'
Lord Romfrey went to fetch them. They were intact in his desk. His
wife, then, had actually been reading the facts through a wall! For he
was convinced of Mrs. Devereux's fidelity, as well as of the colonel's
and Cecilia's. He was not a man to be disobeyed: nor was his wife the
woman to court or to acquiesce in trifling acts of disobedience to him.
He received the impression, consequently, that this matter of the visit
to Nevil was one in which the poor loving soul might be allowed to guide
him, singular as the intensity of her love of Nevil Beauchamp was,
considering that they were not of kindred blood.
He endeavoured to tone her mind for the sadder items in Miss Denham's
'Oh!' said Rosamund, 'what if I shed the "screaming eyedrops," as you
call them? They will not hurt me, but relieve. I was sure I should
someday envy that girl! If he dies she will have nursed him and had the
last of him.'
'He's not going to die!' said Everard powerfully.
'We must be prepared. These letters will do that for me. I have written
out the hours of your trains. Stanton will attend on you. I have
directed him to telegraph to the Dolphin in Bevisham for rooms for the
night: that is to-morrow night. To-night you sleep at your hotel in
London, which will be ready to receive you, and is more comfortable than
the empty house. Stanton takes wine, madeira and claret, and other small
necessaries. If Nevil should be very unwell, you will not leave him
immediately. I shall look to the supplies. You will telegraph to me
twice a day, and write once. We lunch at half-past twelve, so that you
may hit the twenty-minutes-to-two o'clock train. And now I go to see
that the packing is done.'
She carried off her letters to her bedroom, where she fell upon the bed,
shutting her eyelids hard before she could suffer her eyes to be the
intermediaries of that fever-chamber in Bevisham and her bursting heart.
But she had not positively deceived her husband in the reassurance she
had given him by her collectedness and by the precise directions she had
issued for his comforts, indicating a mind so much more at ease. She was
firmer to meet the peril of her beloved: and being indeed, when thrown on
her internal resources, one among the brave women of earth, though also
one who required a lift from circumstances to take her stand calmly
fronting a menace to her heart, she saw the evidence of her influence
with Lord Romfrey: the level she could feel that they were on together so
long as she was courageous, inspirited her sovereignly.
He departed at the hour settled for him. Rosamund sat at her boudoir
window, watching the carriage that was conducting him to the railway
station. Neither of them had touched on the necessity of his presenting
himself at the door of Dr. Shrapnel's house. That, and the disgust
belonging to it, was a secondary consideration with Lord Romfrey, after
he had once resolved on it as the right thing to do: and his wife admired
and respected him for so supreme a loftiness. And fervently she prayed
that it might not be her evil fate to disappoint his hopes. Never had
she experienced so strong a sense of devotedness to him as when she saw
the carriage winding past the middle oak-wood of the park, under a wet
sky brightened from the West, and on out of sight.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
A tear would have overcome him--She had not wept
Art of speaking on politics tersely
Death within which welcomed a death without
Dignity of sulking so seductive to the wounded spirit of man
Grief of an ill-fortuned passion of his youth
He lost the art of observing himself
Immense wealth and native obtuseness combine to disfigure us
Infallibility of our august mother
Inflicted no foretaste of her coming subjection to him
Love's a selfish business one has work in hand
No man has a firm foothold who pretends to it
Silence and such signs are like revelations in black night
The defensive is perilous policy in war
The greater wounds do not immediately convince us of our fate
The rider's too heavy for the horse in England
The weighty and the trivial contended
Their hearts are eaten up by property
Unanimous verdicts from a jury of temporary impressions
We do not see clearly when we are trying to deceive
Well, sir, we must sell our opium
Won't do to be taking in reefs on a lee-shore
Wooing a good man for his friendship
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