Read CHAPTER XX - A DAY AT ITCHINCOPE of Beauchamp Career, free online book, by George Meredith, on ReadCentral.com.

An election in Bevisham was always an exciting period at Itchincope, the large and influential old estate of the Lespels, which at one time, with but a ceremonious drive through the town, sent you two good Whig men to Parliament to sit at Reform banquets; two unswerving party men, blest subscribers to the right Review, and personally proud of its trenchancy.  Mr. Grancey Lespel was the survivor of them, and well could he remember the happier day of his grandfather, his father, and his own hot youth.  He could be carried so far by affectionate regrets as to think of the Tories of that day benignly: ­when his champion Review of the orange and blue livery waved a wondrous sharp knife, and stuck and bled them, proving to his party, by trenchancy alone, that the Whig was the cause of Providence.  Then politics presented you a table whereat two parties feasted, with no fear of the intrusion of a third, and your backs were turned on the noisy lower world, your ears were deaf to it.

Apply we now the knocker to the door of venerable Quotation, and call the aged creature forth, that he, half choked by his eheu !

          ‘A sound between a sigh and bray,’

may pronounce the familiar but respectable words, the burial-service of a time so happy!

Mr. Grancey Lespel would still have been sitting for Bevisham (or politely at this elective moment bowing to resume the seat) had not those Manchester jugglers caught up his cry, appropriated his colours, displaced and impersonated him, acting beneficent Whig on a scale approaching treason to the Constitution; leaning on the people in earnest, instead of taking the popular shoulder for a temporary lift, all in high party policy, for the clever manoeuvre, to oust the Tory and sway the realm.  See the consequences.  For power, for no other consideration, those manufacturing rascals have raised Radicalism from its primaeval mire ­from its petty backslum bookseller’s shop and public-house back-parlour effluvia of oratory ­to issue dictates in England, and we, England, formerly the oak, are topsy-turvy, like onions, our heels in the air!

The language of party is eloquent, and famous for being grand at illustration; but it is equally well known that much of it gives us humble ideas of the speaker, probably because of the naughty temper party is prone to; which, while endowing it with vehemence, lessens the stout circumferential view that should be taken, at least historically.  Indeed, though we admit party to be the soundest method for conducting us, party talk soon expends its attractiveness, as would a summer’s afternoon given up to the contemplation of an encounter of rams’ heads.  Let us be quit of Mr. Grancey Lespel’s lamentations.  The Whig gentleman had some reason to complain.  He had been trained to expect no other attack than that of his hereditary adversary-ram in front, and a sham ram ­no honest animal, but a ramming engine rather ­had attacked him in the rear.  Like Mr. Everard Romfrey and other Whigs, he was profoundly chagrined by popular ingratitude:  ‘not the same man,’ his wife said of him.  It nipped him early.  He took to proverbs; sure sign of the sere leaf in a man’s mind.

His wife reproached the people for their behaviour to him bitterly.  The lady regarded politics as a business that helped hunting-men a stage above sportsmen, for numbers of the politicians she was acquainted with were hunting-men, yet something more by virtue of the variety they could introduce into a conversation ordinarily treating of sport and the qualities of wines.  Her husband seemed to have lost in that Parliamentary seat the talisman which gave him notions distinguishing him from country squires; he had sunk, and he no longer cared for the months in London, nor for the speeches she read to him to re-awaken his mind and make him look out of himself, as he had done when he was a younger man and not a suspended Whig.  Her own favourite reading was of love-adventures written in the French tongue.  She had once been in love, and could be so sympathetic with that passion as to avow to Cecilia Halkett a tenderness for Nevil Beauchamp, on account of his relations with the Marquise de Rouaillout, and notwithstanding the demoniacal flame-halo of the Radical encircling him.

The allusion to Beauchamp occurred a few hours after Cecilia’s arrival at Itchincope.

Cecilia begged for the French lady’s name to be repeated; she had not heard it before, and she tasted the strange bitter relish of realization when it struck her ear to confirm a story that she believed indeed, but had not quite sensibly felt.

‘And it is not over yet, they say,’ Mrs. Grancey Lespel added, while softly flipping some spots of the colour proper to radicals in morals on the fame of the French lady.  She possessed fully the grave judicial spirit of her countrywomen, and could sit in judgement on the personages of tales which had entranced her, to condemn the heroines:  it was impolitic in her sex to pity females.  As for the men ­poor weak things!  As for Nevil Beauchamp, in particular, his case, this penetrating lady said, was clear:  he ought to be married.  ‘Could you make a sacrifice?’ she asked Cecilia playfully.

’Nevil Beauchamp and I are old friends, but we have agreed that we are deadly political enemies,’ Miss Halkett replied.

‘It is not so bad for a beginning,’ said Mrs. Lespel.

‘If one were disposed to martyrdom.’

The older woman nodded.  ‘Without that.’

’My dear Mrs. Lespel, wait till you have heard him.  He is at war with everything we venerate and build on.  The wife you would give him should be a creature rooted in nothing ­in sea-water.  Simply two or three conversations with him have made me uncomfortable ever since; I can see nothing durable; I dream of surprises, outbreaks, dreadful events.  At least it is perfectly true that I do not look with the same eyes on my country.  He seems to delight in destroying one’s peaceful contemplation of life.  The truth is that he blows a perpetual gale, and is all agitation,’ Cecilia concluded, affecting with a smile a slight shiver.

‘Yes, one tires of that,’ said Mrs. Lespel.  ’I was determined I would have him here if we could get him to come.  Grancey objected.  We shall have to manage Captain Beauchamp and the rest as well.  He is sure to come late to-morrow, and will leave early on Thursday morning for his canvass; our driving into Bevisham is for Friday or Saturday.  I do not see that he need have any suspicions.  Those verses you are so angry about cannot be traced to Itchincope.  My dear, they are a childish trifle.  When my husband stood first for Bevisham, the whole of his University life appeared in print.  What we have to do is to forewarn the gentlemen to be guarded, and especially in what they say to my nephew Lord Palmet, for that boy cannot keep a secret; he is as open as a plate.’

‘The smoking-room at night?’ Cecilia suggested, remembering her father’s words about Itchincope’s tobacco-hall.

‘They have Captain Beauchamp’s address hung up there, I have heard,’ said Mrs. Lespel.  ’There may be other things ­another address, though it is not yet, placarded.  Come with me.  For fifteen years I have never once put my head into that room, and now I ’ve a superstitious fear about it.’

Mrs. Lespel led the way to the deserted smoking-room, where the stale reek of tobacco assailed the ladies, as does that dire place of Customs the stranger visiting savage (or too natural) potentates.

In silence they tore down from the wall Beauchamp’s electoral Address ­flanked all its length with satirical pen and pencil comments and sketches; and they consigned to flames the vast sheet of animated verses relating to the French marquees.  A quarter-size chalk-drawing of a slippered pantaloon having a duck on his shoulder, labelled to say ‘Quack-quack,’ and offering our nauseated Dame Britannia (or else it was the widow Bevisham) a globe of a pill to swallow, crossed with the consolatory and reassuring name of Shrapnel, they disposed of likewise.  And then they fled, chased forth either by the brilliancy of the politically allusive epigrams profusely inscribed around them on the walls, or by the atmosphere.  Mrs. Lespel gave her orders for the walls to be scraped, and said to Cecilia:  ’A strange air to breathe, was it not?  The less men and women know of one another, the happier for them.  I knew my superstition was correct as a guide to me.  I do so much wish to respect men, and all my experience tells me the Turks know best how to preserve it for us.  Two men in this house would give their wives for pipes, if it came to the choice.  We might all go for a cellar of old wine.  After forty, men have married their habits, and wives are only an item in the list, and not the most important.’

With the assistance of Mr. Stukely Culbrett, Mrs. Lespel prepared the house and those of the company who were in the secret of affairs for the arrival of Beauchamp.  The ladies were curious to see him.  The gentlemen, not anticipating extreme amusement, were calm:  for it is an axiom in the world of buckskins and billiard-cues, that one man is very like another; and so true is it with them, that they can in time teach it to the fair sex.  Friends of Cecil Baskelett predominated, and the absence of so sprightly a fellow was regretted seriously; but he was shooting with his uncle at Holdesbury, and they did not expect him before Thursday.

On Wednesday morning Lord Palmet presented himself at a remarkably well-attended breakfast-table at Itchincope.  He passed from Mrs. Lespel to Mrs. Wardour-Devsreux and Miss Halkett, bowed to other ladies, shook hands with two or three men, and nodded over the heads of half-a-dozen, accounting rather mysteriously for his delay in coming, it was thought, until he sat down before a plate of Yorkshire pie, and said: 

‘The fact is I’ve been canvassing hard.  With Beauchamp!’

Astonishment and laughter surrounded him, and Palmet looked from face to face, equally astonished, and desirous to laugh too.

‘Ernest! how could you do that?’ said Mrs. Lespel; and her husband cried in stupefaction, ‘With Beauchamp?’

‘Oh! it’s because of the Radicalism,’ Palmet murmured to himself.  ’I didn’t mind that.’

‘What sort of a day did you have?’ Mr. Culbrett asked him; and several gentlemen fell upon him for an account of the day.

Palmet grimaced over a mouthful of his pie.

‘Bad!’ quoth Mr. Lespel; ’I knew it.  I know Bevisham.  The only chance there is for five thousand pounds in a sack with a hole in it.’

‘Bad for Beauchamp?  Dear me, no’; Palmet corrected the error.  ’He is carrying all before him.  And he tells them,’ Palmet mimicked Beauchamp, ’they shall not have one penny:  not a farthing.  I gave a couple of young ones a shilling apiece, and he rowed me for bribery; somehow I did wrong.’

Lord Palmet described the various unearthly characters he had inspected in their dens:  Carpendike, Tripehallow, and the radicals Peter Molyneux and Samuel Killick, and the ex-member for the borough, Cougham, posing to suit sign-boards of Liberal inns, with a hand thrust in his waistcoat, and his head well up, the eyes running over the under-lids, after the traditional style of our aristocracy; but perhaps more closely resembling an urchin on tiptoe peering above park-palings.  Cougham’s remark to Beauchamp, heard and repeated by Palmet with the object of giving an example of the senior Liberal’s phraseology:  ’I was necessitated to vacate my town mansion, to my material discomfort and that of my wife, whose equipage I have been compelled to take, by your premature canvass of the borough, Captain Beauchamp:  and now, I hear, on undeniable authority, that no second opponent to us will be forthcoming’ –­this produced the greatest effect on the company.

‘But do you tell me,’ said Mr. Lespel, when the shouts of the gentlemen were subsiding, ‘do you tell me that young Beauchamp is going ahead?’

‘That he is.  They flock to him in the street.’

‘He stands there, then, and jingles a money-bag.’

Palmet resumed his mimicry of Beauchamp:  ’Not a stiver; purity of election is the first condition of instruction to the people!  Principles!  Then they’ve got a capital orator:  Turbot, an Irishman.  I went to a meeting last night, and heard him; never heard anything finer in my life.  You may laugh he whipped me off my legs; fellow spun me like a top; and while he was orationing, a donkey calls, “Turbot! ain’t you a flat fish?” and he swings round, “Not for a fool’s hook!” and out they hustled the villain for a Tory.  I never saw anything like it.’

‘That repartee wouldn’t have done with a Dutchman or a Torbay trawler,’ said Stukely Culbrett.  ‘But let us hear more.’

‘Is it fair?’ Miss Halkett murmured anxiously to Mrs. Lespel, who returned a flitting shrug.

‘Charming women follow Beauchamp, you know,’ Palmet proceeded, as he conceived, to confirm and heighten the tale of success.  ’There’s a Miss Denham, niece of a doctor, a Dr....  Shot ­Shrapnel! a wonderfully good-looking, clever-looking girl, comes across him in half-a-dozen streets to ask how he’s getting on, and goes every night to his meetings, with a man who ’s a writer and has a mad wife; a man named Lydia-no, that’s a woman ­Lydiard.  It’s rather a jumble; but you should see her when Beauchamp’s on his legs and speaking.’

‘Mr. Lydiard is in Bevisham?’ Mrs. Wardour-Devereux remarked.

‘I know the girl,’ growled Mr. Lespel.  ’She comes with that rascally doctor and a bobtail of tea-drinking men and women and their brats to Northeden Heath ­my ground.  There they stand and sing.’

’Hymns?’inquired Mr. Culbrett.

’I don’t know what they sing.  And when it rains they take the liberty to step over my bank into my plantation.  Some day I shall have them stepping into my house.’

‘Yes, it’s Mr. Lydiard; I’m sure of the man’s name,’ Palmet replied to Mrs. Wardour-Devereux.

‘We met him in Spain the year before last,’ she observed to Cecilia.

The ‘we’ reminded Palmet that her husband was present.

‘Ah, Devereux, I didn’t see you,’ he nodded obliquely down the table.  ’By the way, what’s the grand procession?  I hear my man Davis has come all right, and I caught sight of the top of your coach-box in the stableyard as I came in.  What are we up to?’

‘Baskelett writes, it’s to be for to-morrow morning at ten-the start.’  Mr. Wardour-Devereux addressed the table generally.  He was a fair, huge, bush-bearded man, with a voice of unvarying bass:  a squire in his county, and energetic in his pursuit of the pleasures of hunting, driving, travelling, and tobacco.

’Old Bask’s the captain of us?  Very well, but where do we drive the teams?  How many are we?  What’s in hand?’

Cecilia threw a hurried glance at her hostess.

Luckily some witling said, ‘Fours-in-hand!’ and so dryly that it passed for humour, and gave Mrs. Lespel time to interpose.  ’You are not to know till to-morrow, Ernest.’

Palmet had traced the authorship of the sally to Mr. Algy Borolick, and crowned him with praise for it.  He asked, ‘Why not know till to-morrow?’ A word in a murmur from Mr. Culbrett, ‘Don’t frighten the women,’ satisfied him, though why it should he could not have imagined.

Mrs. Lespel quitted the breakfast-table before the setting in of the dangerous five minutes of conversation over its ruins, and spoke to her husband, who contested the necessity for secresy, but yielded to her judgement when it was backed by Stukely Culbrett.  Soon after Lord Palmet found himself encountered by evasions and witticisms, in spite of the absence of the ladies, upon every attempt he made to get some light regarding the destination of the four-in-hands next day.

‘What are you going to do?’ he said to Mr. Devereux, thinking him the likeliest one to grow confidential in private.

‘Smoke,’ resounded from the depths of that gentleman.

Palmet recollected the ground of division between the beautiful brunette and her lord ­his addiction to the pipe in perpetuity, and deemed it sweeter to be with the lady.

She and Miss Halkett were walking in the garden.

Miss Halkett said to him:  ’How wrong of you to betray the secrets of your friend!  Is he really making way?’

‘Beauchamp will head the poll to a certainty,’ Palmet replied.

‘Still,’ said Miss Halkett, ’you should not forget that you are not in the house of a Liberal.  Did you canvass in the town or the suburbs?’

’Everywhere.  I assure you, Miss Halkett, there’s a feeling for Beauchamp ­they’re in love with him!’

‘He promises them everything, I suppose?’

’Not he.  And the odd thing is, it isn’t the Radicals he catches.  He won’t go against the game laws for them, and he won’t cut down army and navy.  So the Radicals yell at him.  One confessed he had sold his vote for five pounds last election:  “you shall have it for the same,” says he, “for you’re all humbugs.”  Beauchamp took him by the throat and shook him ­metaphorically, you know.  But as for the tradesmen, he’s their hero; bakers especially.’

‘Mr. Austin may be right, then!’ Cecilia reflected aloud.

She went to Mrs. Lespel to repeat what she had extracted from Palmet, after warning the latter not, in common loyalty, to converse about his canvass with Beauchamp.

‘Did you speak of Mr. Lydiard as Captain Beauchamp’s friend?’ Mrs. Devereux inquired of him.

’Lydiard? why, he was the man who made off with that pretty Miss Denham,’ said Palmet.  ’I have the greatest trouble to remember them all; but it was not a day wasted.  Now I know politics.  Shall we ride or walk?  You will let me have the happiness?  I’m so unlucky; I rarely meet you!’

‘You will bring Captain Beauchamp to me the moment he comes?’

‘I’ll bring him.  Bring him?  Nevil Beauchamp won’t want bringing.’

Mrs. Devereux smiled with some pleasure.

Grancey Lespel, followed at some distance by Mr. Ferbrass, the Tory lawyer, stepped quickly up to Palmet, and asked whether Beauchamp had seen Dollikins, the brewer.

Palmet could recollect the name of one Tomlinson, and also the calling at a brewery.  Moreover, Beauchamp had uttered contempt of the brewer’s business, and of the social rule to accept rich brewers for gentlemen.  The man’s name might be Dollikins and not Tomlinson, and if so, it was Dollikins who would not see Beauchamp.  To preserve his political importance, Palmet said, ‘Dollikins! to be sure, that was the man.’

‘Treats him as he does you,’ Mr. Lespel turned to Ferbrass.  ’I’ve sent to Dollikins to come to me this morning, if he’s not driving into the town.  I’ll have him before Beauchamp sees him.  I’ve asked half-a-dozen of these country gentlemen-tradesmen to lunch at my table to-day.’

‘Then, sir,’ observed Ferbrass, ’if they are men to be persuaded, they had better not see me.’

‘True; they’re my old supporters, and mightn’t like your Tory face,’ Mr. Lespel assented.

Mr. Ferbrass congratulated him on the heartiness of his espousal of the Tory cause.

Mr. Lespel winced a little, and told him not to put his trust in that.

‘Turned Tory?’ said Palmet.

Mr. Lespel declined to answer.

Palmet said to Mrs. Devereux, ’He thinks I’m not worth speaking to upon politics.  Now I’ll give him some Beauchamp; I learned lots yesterday.’

‘Then let it be in Captain Beauchamp’s manner,’ said she softly.

Palmet obeyed her commands with the liveliest exhibition of his peculiar faculty:  Cecilia, rejoining them, seemed to hear Nevil himself in his emphatic political mood.  ’Because the Whigs are defunct!  They had no root in the people!  Whig is the name of a tribe that was!  You have Tory, Liberal, and Radical.  There is no place for Whig.  He is played out.’

‘Who has been putting that nonsense into your head?’ Mr. Lespel retorted.  ‘Go shooting, go shooting!’

Shots were heard in the woods.  Palmet pricked up his ears; but he was taken out riding to act cavalier to Mrs. Devereux and Miss Halkett.

Cecilia corrected his enthusiasm with the situation.  ’No flatteries to-day.  There are hours when women feel their insignificance and helplessness.  I begin to fear for Mr. Austin; and I find I can do nothing to aid him.  My hands are tied.  And yet I know I could win voters if only it were permissible for me to go and speak to them.’

‘Win them!’ cried Palmet, imagining the alacrity of men’s votes to be won by her.  He recommended a gallop for the chasing away of melancholy, and as they were on the Bevisham high road, which was bordered by strips of turf and heath, a few good stretches brought them on the fir-heights, commanding views of the town and broad water.

‘No, I cannot enjoy it,’ Cecilia said to Mrs. Devereux; ’I don’t mind the grey light; cloud and water, and halftones of colour, are homely English and pleasant, and that opal where the sun should be has a suggestiveness richer than sunlight.  I’m quite northern enough to understand it; but with me it must be either peace or strife, and that Election down there destroys my chance of peace.  I never could mix reverie with excitement; the battle must be over first, and the dead buried.  Can you?’

Mrs. Devereux answered:  ’Excitement?  I am not sure that I know what it is.  An Election does not excite me.’

‘There’s Nevil Beauchamp himself!’ Palmet sang out, and the ladies discerned Beauchamp under a fir-tree, down by the road, not alone.  A man, increasing in length like a telescope gradually reaching its end for observation, and coming to the height of a landmark, as if raised by ropes, was rising from the ground beside him.  ’Shall we trot on, Miss Halkett?’

Cecilia said, ‘No.’

‘Now I see a third fellow,’ said Palmet.  ’It’s the other fellow, the Denham-Shrapnel-Radical meeting...  Lydiard’s his name:  writes books!

‘We may as well ride on,’ Mrs. Devereux remarked, and her horse fretted singularly.

Beauchamp perceived them, and lifted his hat.  Palmet made demonstrations for the ladies.  Still neither party moved nearer.

After some waiting, Cecilia proposed to turn back.

Mrs. Devereux looked into her eyes.  ‘I’ll take the lead,’ she said, and started forward, pursued by Palmet.  Cecilia followed at a sullen canter.

Before they came up to Beauchamp, the long-shanked man had stalked away townward.  Lydiard held Beauchamp by the hand.  Some last words, after the manner of instructions, passed between them, and then Lydiard also turned away.

‘I say, Beauchamp, Mrs. Devereux wants to hear who that man is,’ Palmet said, drawing up.

‘That man is Dr. Shrapnel,’ said Beauchamp, convinced that Cecilia had checked her horse at the sight of the doctor.

‘Dr. Shrapnel,’ Palmet informed Mrs. Devereux.

She looked at him to seek his wits, and returning Beauchamp’s admiring salutation with a little bow and smile, said, ’I fancied it was a gentleman we met in Spain.’

‘He writes books,’ observed Palmet, to jog a slow intelligence.

‘Pamphlets, you mean.’

‘I think he is not a pamphleteer’, Mrs. Devereux said.

‘Mr. Lydiard, then, of course; how silly I am!  How can you pardon me!’ Beauchamp was contrite; he could not explain that a long guess he had made at Miss Halkett’s reluctance to come up to him when Dr. Shrapnel was with him had preoccupied his mind.  He sent off Palmet the bearer of a pretext for bringing Lydiard back, and then said to Cecilia, ’You recognized Dr. Shrapnel?’

‘I thought it might be Dr. Shrapnel’, she was candid enough to reply.  ’I could not well recognize him, not knowing him.’

’Here comes Mr. Lydiard; and let me assure you, if I may take the liberty of introducing him, he is no true Radical.  He is a philosopher ­one of the flirts, the butterflies of politics, as Dr. Shrapnel calls them.’

Beauchamp hummed over some improvized trifles to Lydiard, then introduced him cursorily, and all walked in the direction of Itchincope.  It was really the Mr. Lydiard Mrs. Devereux had met in Spain, so they were left in the rear to discuss their travels.  Much conversation did not go on in front.  Cecilia was very reserved.  By-and-by she said, ’I am glad you have come into the country early to-day.’

He spoke rapturously of the fresh air, and not too mildly of his pleasure in meeting her.  Quite off her guard, she began to hope he was getting to be one of them again, until she heard him tell Lord Palmet that he had come early out of Bevisham for the walk with Dr. Shrapnel, and to call on certain rich tradesmen living near Itchincope.  He mentioned the name of Dollikins.

‘Dollikins?’ Palmet consulted a perturbed recollection.  Among the entangled list of new names he had gathered recently from the study of politics, Dollikins rang in his head.  He shouted, ’Yes, Dollikins! to be sure.  Lespel has him to lunch to-day; ­calls him a gentleman-tradesman; odd fish! and told a fellow called ­where is it now? ­a name like brass or copper...  Copperstone?  Brasspot?... told him he’d do well to keep his Tory cheek out of sight.  It ’s the names of those fellows bother one so!  All the rest’s easy.’

‘You are evidently in a state of confusion, Lord Palmet,’ said Cecilia.

The tone of rebuke and admonishment was unperceived.  ’Not about the facts,’ he rejoined.  ’I ’m for fair play all round; no trickery.  I tell Beauchamp all I know, just as I told you this morning, Miss Halkett.  What I don’t like is Lespel turning Tory.’

Cecilia put a stop to his indiscretions by halting for Mrs. Devereux, and saying to Beauchamp, ’If your friend would return to Bevisham by rail, this is the nearest point to the station.’

Palmet, best-natured of men, though generally prompted by some of his peculiar motives, dismounted from his horse, leaving him to Beauchamp, that he might conduct Mr. Lydiard to the station, and perhaps hear a word of Miss Denham:  at any rate be able to form a guess as to the secret of that art of his, which had in the space of an hour restored a happy and luminous vivacity to the languid Mrs. Wardour-Devereux.