Read CHAPTER V - RENEE of Beauchamp Career, free online book, by George Meredith, on ReadCentral.com.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nevil plunged into his volume.

He called on Roland for an opinion.

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

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

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