Read CHAPTER XVI  - A PARTIAL DISPLAY OF BEAUCHAMP IN HIS COLOURS of Beauchamp Career, free online book, by George Meredith, on ReadCentral.com.

Beauchamp presented himself at Mount Laurels next day, and formally asked Colonel Halkett for his vote, in the presence of Cecilia.

She took it for a playful glance at his new profession of politician:  he spoke half-playfully.  Was it possible to speak in earnest?

’I ‘m of the opposite party,’ said the colonel; as conclusive a reply as could be:  but he at once fell upon the rotten navy of a Liberal Government.  How could a true sailor think of joining those Liberals!  The question referred to the country, not to a section of it, Beauchamp protested with impending emphasis:  Tories and Liberals were much the same in regard to the care of the navy.  ‘Nevil!’ exclaimed Cecilia.  He cited beneficial Liberal bills recently passed, which she accepted for a concession of the navy to the Tories, and she smiled.  In spite of her dislike of politics, she had only to listen a few minutes to be drawn into the contest:  and thus it is that one hot politician makes many among women and men of a people that have the genius of strife, or else in this case the young lady did unconsciously feel a deep interest in refuting and overcoming Nevil Beauchamp.  Colonel Halkett denied the benefits of those bills.  ‘Look,’ said he, ’at the scarecrow plight of the army under a Liberal Government!’ This laid him open to the charge that he was for backing Administrations instead of principles.

‘I do,’ said the colonel.  ’I would rather have a good Administration than all your talk of principles:  one’s a fact, but principles? principles?’ He languished for a phrase to describe the hazy things.  ’I have mine, and you have yours.  It’s like a dispute between religions.  There’s no settling it except by main force.  That’s what principles lead you to.’

Principles may be hazy, but heavy artillery is disposable in defence of them, and Beauchamp fired some reverberating guns for the eternal against the transitory; with less of the gentlemanly fine taste, the light and easy social semi-irony, than Cecilia liked and would have expected from him.  However, as to principles, no doubt Nevil was right, and Cecilia drew her father to another position.  ’Are not we Tories to have principles as well as the Liberals, Nevil?’

‘They may have what they call principles,’ he admitted, intent on pursuing his advantage over the colonel, who said, to shorten the controversy:  ’It’s a question of my vote, and my liking.  I like a Tory Government, and I don’t like the Liberals.  I like gentlemen; I don’t like a party that attacks everything, and beats up the mob for power, and repays it with sops, and is dragging us down from all we were proud of.’

‘But the country is growing, the country wants expansion,’ said Beauchamp; ’and if your gentlemen by birth are not up to the mark, you must have leaders that are.’

’Leaders who cut down expenditure, to create a panic that doubles the outlay!  I know them.’

‘A panic, Nevil.’  Cecilia threw stress on the memorable word.

He would hear no reminder in it.  The internal condition of the country was now the point for seriously-minded Englishmen.

‘My dear boy, what have you seen of the country?’ Colonel Halkett inquired.

’Every time I have landed, colonel, I have gone to the mining and the manufacturing districts, the centres of industry; wherever there was dissatisfaction.  I have attended meetings, to see and hear for myself.  I have read the papers....’

‘The papers!’

‘Well, they’re the mirror of the country.’

‘Does one see everything in a mirror, Nevil?’ said Cecilia:  ’even in the smoothest?’

He retorted softly:  ‘I should be glad to see what you see,’ and felled her with a blush.

For an example of the mirror offered by the Press, Colonel Halkett touched on Mr. Timothy Turbot’s article in eulogy of the great Commander Beauchamp.  ‘Did you like it?’ he asked.  ’Ah, but if you meddle with politics, you must submit to be held up on the prongs of a fork, my boy; soaped by your backers and shaved by the foe; and there’s a figure for a gentleman! as your uncle Romfrey says.’

Cecilia did not join this discussion, though she had heard from her father that something grotesque had been written of Nevil.  Her foolishness in blushing vexed body and mind.  She was incensed by a silly compliment that struck at her feminine nature when her intellect stood in arms.  Yet more hurt was she by the reflection that a too lively sensibility might have conjured up the idea of the compliment.  And again, she wondered at herself for not resenting so rare a presumption as it implied, and not disdaining so outworn a form of flattery.  She wondered at herself too for thinking of resentment and disdain in relation to the familiar commonplaces of licenced impertinence.  Over all which hung a darkened image of her spirit of independence, like a moon in eclipse.

Where lay his weakness?  Evidently in the belief that he had thought profoundly.  But what minor item of insufficiency or feebleness was discernible?  She discovered that he could be easily fretted by similes and metaphors they set him staggering and groping like an ancient knight of faery in a forest bewitched.

‘Your specific for the country is, then, Radicalism,’ she said, after listening to an attack on the Tories for their want of a policy and indifference to the union of classes.

‘I would prescribe a course of it, Cecilia; yes,’ he turned to her.

‘The Dr. Dulcamara of a single drug?’

‘Now you have a name for me!  Tory arguments always come to epithets.’

’It should not be objectionable.  Is it not honest to pretend to have only one cure for mortal maladies?  There can hardly be two panaceas, can there be?’

‘So you call me quack?’

‘No, Nevil, no,’ she breathed a rich contralto note of denial:  ’but if the country is the patient, and you will have it swallow your prescription...’

‘There’s nothing like a metaphor for an evasion,’ said Nevil, blinking over it.

She drew him another analogy, longer than was at all necessary; so tedious that her father struck through it with the remark: 

‘Concerning that quack ­that’s one in the background, though!’

‘I know of none,’ said Beauchamp, well-advised enough to forbear mention of the name of Shrapnel.

Cecilia petitioned that her stumbling ignorance, which sought the road of wisdom, might be heard out.  She had a reserve entanglement for her argumentative friend.  ’You were saying, Nevil, that you were for principles rather than for individuals, and you instanced Mr. Cougham, the senior Liberal candidate of Bevisham, as one whom you would prefer to see in Parliament instead of Seymour Austin, though you confess to Mr. Austin’s far superior merits as a politician and servant of his country:  but Mr. Cougham supports Liberalism while Mr. Austin is a Tory.  You are for the principle.’

‘I am,’ said he, bowing.

She asked:  ’Is not that equivalent to the doctrine of election by Grace?’

Beauchamp interjected:  ‘Grace! election?’

Cecilia was tender to his inability to follow her allusion.

‘Thou art a Liberal ­then rise to membership,’ she said.  ’Accept my creed, and thou art of the chosen.  Yes, Nevil, you cannot escape from it.  Papa, he preaches Calvinism in politics.’

‘We stick to men, and good men,’ the colonel flourished.  ’Old English for me!’

’You might as well say, old timber vessels, when Iron’s afloat, colonel.’

‘I suspect you have the worst of it there, papa,’ said Cecilia, taken by the unexpectedness and smartness of the comparison coming from wits that she had been undervaluing.

‘I shall not own I’m worsted until I surrender my vote,’ the colonel rejoined.

‘I won’t despair of it,’ said Beauchamp.

Colonel Halkett bade him come for it as often as he liked.  You’ll be beaten in Bevisham, I warn you.  Tory reckonings are safest:  it’s an admitted fact:  and we know you can’t win.  According to my judgement a man owes a duty to his class.’

’A man owes a duty to his class as long as he sees his class doing its duty to the country,’ said Beauchamp; and he added, rather prettily in contrast with the sententious commencement, Cecilia thought, that the apathy of his class was proved when such as he deemed it an obligation on them to come forward and do what little they could.  The deduction of the proof was not clearly consequent, but a meaning was expressed; and in that form it brought him nearer to her abstract idea of Nevil Beauchamp than when he raged and was precise.

After his departure she talked of him with her father, to be charitably satirical over him, it seemed.

The critic in her ear had pounced on his repetition of certain words that betrayed a dialectical stiffness and hinted a narrow vocabulary:  his use of emphasis, rather reminding her of his uncle Everard, was, in a young man, a little distressing.  ’The apathy of the country, papa; the apathy of the rich; a state of universal apathy.  Will you inform me, papa, what the Tories are doing?  Do we really give our consciences to the keeping of the parsons once a week, and let them dogmatize for us to save us from exertion?  We must attach ourselves to principles; nothing is permanent but principles.  Poor Nevil!  And still I am sure you have, as I have, the feeling that one must respect him.  I am quite convinced that he supposes he is doing his best to serve his country by trying for Parliament, fancying himself a Radical.  I forgot to ask him whether he had visited his great-aunt, Mrs. Beauchamp.  They say the dear old lady has influence with him.’

‘I don’t think he’s been anywhere,’ Colonel Halkett half laughed at the quaint fellow.  ’I wish the other great-nephew of hers were in England, for us to run him against Nevil Beauchamp.  He’s touring the world.  I’m told he’s orthodox, and a tough debater.  We have to take what we can get.’

’My best wishes for your success, and you and I will not talk of politics any more, papa.  I hope Nevil will come often, for his own good; he will meet his own set of people here.  And if he should dogmatize so much as to rouse our apathy to denounce his principles, we will remember that we are British, and can be sweet-blooded in opposition.  Perhaps he may change, even tra tre ore a quattro:  electioneering should be a lesson.  From my recollection of Blackburn Tuckham, he was a boisterous boy.’

’He writes uncommonly clever letters home to his aunt Beauchamp.  She has handed them to me to read,’ said the colonel.  ’I do like to see tolerably solid young fellows:  they give one some hope of the stability of the country.’

‘They are not so interesting to study, and not half so amusing,’ said Cecilia.

Colonel Halkett muttered his objections to the sort of amusement furnished by firebrands.

‘Firebrand is too strong a word for poor Nevil,’ she remonstrated.

In that estimate of the character of Nevil Beauchamp, Cecilia soon had to confess that she had been deceived, though not by him.