Read CHAPTER IX - MORNING AT SEA UNDER THE ALPS of Beauchamp Career, free online book, by George Meredith, on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He let that pass.

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

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

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

‘I gave my hand to my friend.’

‘You gave it to me for good.’

‘No; I dared not; it is not mine.’

‘It is mine,’ said Beauchamp.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roland met them.

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

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

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

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

‘She has said it?’

‘She has more than said it.’

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

Beauchamp simply replied: 

‘Come to her.’