Read CHAPTER XXI - THE QUESTION AS TO THE EXAMINATION OF THE WHIGS, AND THE FINE BLOW STRUCK BY MR. EVERARD ROMFREY of Beauchamp Career, free online book, by George Meredith, on ReadCentral.com.

Itchincope was famous for its hospitality.  Yet Beauchamp, when in the presence of his hostess, could see that he was both unexpected and unwelcome.  Mrs. Lespel was unable to conceal it; she looked meaningly at Cecilia, talked of the house being very full, and her husband engaged till late in the afternoon.  And Captain Baskelett had arrived on a sudden, she said.  And the luncheon-table in the dining-room could not possibly hold more.

‘We three will sit in the library, anywhere,’ said Cecilia.

So they sat and lunched in the library, where Mrs. Devereux served unconsciously for an excellent ally to Cecilia in chatting to Beauchamp, principally of the writings of Mr. Lydiard.

Had the blinds of the windows been drawn down and candles lighted, Beauchamp would have been well contented to remain with these two ladies, and forget the outer world; sweeter society could not have been offered him:  but glancing carelessly on to the lawn, he exclaimed in some wonderment that the man he particularly wished to see was there.  ’It must be Dollikins, the brewer.  I’ve had him pointed out to me in Bevisham, and I never can light on him at his brewery.’

No excuse for detaining the impetuous candidate struck Cecilia.  She betook herself to Mrs. Lespel, to give and receive counsel in the emergency, while Beauchamp struck across the lawn to Mr. Dollikins, who had the squire of Itchincope on the other side of him.

Late in the afternoon a report reached the ladies of a furious contest going on over Dollikins.  Mr. Algy Borolick was the first to give them intelligence of it, and he declared that Beauchamp had wrested Dollikins from Grancey Lespel.  This was contradicted subsequently by Mr. Stukely Culbrett.  ‘But there’s heavy pulling between them,’ he said.

‘It will do all the good in the world to Grancey,’ said Mrs. Lespel.

She sat in her little blue-room, with gentlemen congregating at the open window.

Presently Grancey Lespel rounded a projection of the house where the drawing-room stood out:  ‘The maddest folly ever talked!’ he delivered himself in wrath.  ‘The Whigs dead?  You may as well say I’m dead.’

It was Beauchamp answering:  ’Politically, you’re dead, if you call yourself a Whig.  You couldn’t be a live one, for the party’s in pieces, blown to the winds.  The country was once a chess-board for Whig and Tory:  but that game’s at an end.  There’s no doubt on earth that the Whigs are dead.’

‘But if there’s no doubt about it, how is it I have a doubt about it?’

’You know you’re a Tory.  You tried to get that man Dollikins from me in the Tory interest.’

’I mean to keep him out of Radical clutches.  Now that ‘s the truth.’

They came up to the group by the open window, still conversing hotly, indifferent to listeners.

‘You won’t keep him from me; I have him,’ said Beauchamp.

‘You delude yourself; I have his promise, his pledged word,’ said Grancey Lespel.

‘The man himself told you his opinion of renegade Whigs.’

‘Renegade!’

‘Renegade Whig is an actionable phrase,’ Mr. Culbrett observed.

He was unnoticed.

‘If you don’t like “renegade,” take “dead,"’ said Beauchamp.  ’Dead Whig resurgent in the Tory.  You are dead.’

‘It’s the stupid conceit of your party thinks that.’

’Dead, my dear Mr. Lespel.  I’ll say for the Whigs, they would not be seen touting for Tories if they were not ghosts of Whigs.  You are dead.  There is no doubt of it.’

‘But,’ Grancey Lespel repeated, ’if there’s no doubt about it, how is it I have a doubt about it?’

’The Whigs preached finality in Reform.  It was their own funeral sermon.’

‘Nonsensical talk!’

’I don’t dispute your liberty of action to go over to the Tories, but you have no right to attempt to take an honest Liberal with you.  And that I’ve stopped.’

’Aha!  Beauchamp; the man’s mine.  Come, you’ll own he swore he wouldn’t vote for a Shrapnelite.’

’Don’t you remember? ­that’s how the Tories used to fight you; they stuck an epithet to you, and hooted to set the mob an example; you hit them off to the life,’ said Beauchamp, brightening with the fine ire of strife, and affecting a sadder indignation.  ’You traded on the ignorance of a man prejudiced by lying reports of one of the noblest of human creatures.’

‘Shrapnel?  There!  I’ve had enough.’  Grancey Lespel bounced away with both hands outspread on the level of his ears.

‘Dead!’ Beauchamp sent the ghastly accusation after him.

Grancey faced round and said, ‘Bo!’ which was applauded for a smart retort.  And let none of us be so exalted above the wit of daily life as to sneer at it.  Mrs. Lespel remarked to Mr. Culbrett, ’Do you not see how much he is refreshed by the interest he takes in this election?  He is ten years younger.’

Beauchamp bent to her, saying mock-dolefully, ’I’m sorry to tell you that if ever he was a sincere Whig, he has years of remorse before him.’

‘Promise me, Captain Beauchamp,’ she answered, ’promise you will give us no more politics to-day.’

‘If none provoke me.’

‘None shall.’

‘And as to Bevisham,’ said Mr. Culbrett, ’it’s the identical borough for a Radical candidate, for every voter there demands a division of his property, and he should be the last to complain of an adoption of his principles.’

‘Clever,’ rejoined Beauchamp; ‘but I am under government’; and he swept a bow to Mrs. Lespel.

As they were breaking up the group, Captain Baskelett appeared.

‘Ah!  Nevil,’ said he, passed him, saluted Miss Halkett through the window, then cordially squeezed his cousin’s hand.  ’Having a holiday out of Bevisham?  The baron expects to meet you at Mount Laurels to-morrow.  He particularly wishes me to ask you whether you think all is fair in war.’

‘I don’t,’ said Nevil.

‘Not?  The canvass goes on swimmingly.’

’Ask Palmet!

’Palmet gives you two-thirds of the borough.  The poor old Tory tortoise is nowhere.  They’ve been writing about you, Nevil.’

’They have.  And if there ’s a man of honour in the party I shall hold him responsible for it.’

’I allude to an article in the Bevisham Liberal paper; a magnificent eulogy, upon my honour.  I give you my word, I have rarely read an article so eloquent.  And what is the Conservative misdemeanour which the man of honour in the party is to pay for?’

‘I’ll talk to you about it by-and-by,’ said Nevil.

He seemed to Cecilia too trusting, too simple, considering his cousin’s undisguised tone of banter.  Yet she could not put him on his guard.  She would have had Mr. Culbrett do so.  She walked on the terrace with him near upon sunset, and said, ’The position Captain Beauchamp is in here is most unfair to him.’

‘There’s nothing unfair in the lion’s den,’ said Stukely Culbrett; adding, ’Now, observe, Miss Halkett; he talks for effect.  He discovers that Lespel is a Torified Whig; but that does not make him a bit more alert.  It’s to say smart things.  He speaks, but won’t act, as if he were among enemies.  He’s getting too fond of his bow-wow.  Here he is, and he knows the den, and he chooses to act the innocent.  You see how ridiculous?  That trick of the ingenu, or peculiarly heavenly messenger, who pretends that he ought never to have any harm done to him, though he carries the lighted match, is the way of young Radicals.  Otherwise Beauchamp would be a dear boy.  We shall see how he takes his thrashing.’

‘You feel sure he will be beaten?’

’He has too strong a dose of fool’s honesty to succeed ­stands for the game laws with Radicals, for example.  He’s loaded with scruples and crotchets, and thinks more of them than of his winds and his tides.  No public man is to be made out of that.  His idea of the Whigs being dead shows a head that can’t read the country.  He means himself for mankind, and is preparing to be the benefactor of a country parish.’

‘But as a naval officer?’

‘Excellent.’

Cecilia was convinced that Mr. Culbrett underestimated Beauchamp.  Nevertheless the confidence expressed in Beauchamp’s defeat reassured and pleased her.  At midnight she was dancing with him in the midst of great matronly country vessels that raised a wind when they launched on the waltz, and exacted an anxious pilotage on the part of gentlemen careful of their partners; and why I cannot say, but contrasts produce quaint ideas in excited spirits, and a dancing politician appeared to her so absurd that at one moment she had to bite her lips not to laugh.  It will hardly be credited that the waltz with Nevil was delightful to Cecilia all the while, and dancing with others a penance.  He danced with none other.  He led her to a three o’clock morning supper:  one of those triumphant subversions of the laws and customs of earth which have the charm of a form of present deification for all young people; and she, while noting how the poor man’s advocate dealt with costly pasties and sparkling wines, was overjoyed at his hearty comrade’s manner with the gentlemen, and a leadership in fun that he seemed to have established.  Cecil Baskelett acknowledged it, and complimented him on it.  ’I give you my word, Nevil, I never heard you in finer trim.  Here’s to our drive into Bevisham to-morrow!  Do you drink it?  I beg; I entreat.’

‘Oh, certainly,’ said Nevil.

‘Will you take a whip down there?’

‘If you’re all insured.’

’On my honour, old Nevil, driving a four-in-hand is easier than governing the country.’

‘I’ll accept your authority for what you know best,’ said Nevil.

The toast of the Drive into Bevisham was drunk.

Cecilia left the supper-table, mortified, and feeling disgraced by her participation in a secret that was being wantonly abused to humiliate Nevil, as she was made to think by her sensitiveness.  All the gentlemen were against him, excepting perhaps that chattering pie Lord Palmet, who did him more mischief than his enemies.  She could not sleep.  She walked out on the terrace with Mrs. Wardour-Devereux, in a dream, hearing that lady breathe remarks hardly less than sentimental, and an unwearied succession of shouts from the smoking-room.

‘They are not going to bed to-night,’ said Mrs. Devereux.

‘They are mystifying Captain Beauchamp,’ said Cecilia.

’My husband tells me they are going to drive him into the town to-morrow.’

Cecilia flushed:  she could scarcely get her breath.

‘Is that their plot?’ she murmured.

Sleep was rejected by her, bed itself.  The drive into Bevisham had been fixed for nine A.M.  She wrote two lines on note-paper in her room:  but found them overfervid and mysterious.  Besides, how were they to be conveyed to Nevil’s chamber.

She walked in the passage for half an hour, thinking it possible she might meet him; not the most lady-like of proceedings, but her head was bewildered.  An arm-chair in her room invited her to rest and think ­the mask of a natural desire for sleep.  At eight in the morning she was awakened by her maid, and at a touch exclaimed, ‘Have they gone?’ and her heart still throbbed after hearing that most of the gentlemen were in and about the stables.  Cecilia was down-stairs at a quarter to nine.  The breakfast-room was empty of all but Lord Palmet and Mr. Wardour-Devereux; one selecting a cigar to light out of doors, the other debating between two pipes.  She beckoned to Palmet, and commissioned him to inform Beauchamp that she wished him to drive her down to Bevisham in her pony-carriage.  Palmet brought back word from Beauchamp that he had an appointment at ten o’clock in the town.  ‘I want to see him,’ she said; so Palmet ran out with the order.  Cecilia met Beauchamp in the entrance-hall.

‘You must not go,’ she said bluntly.

‘I can’t break an appointment,’ said he ­’for the sake of my own pleasure,’ was implied.

‘Will you not listen to me, Nevil, when I say you cannot go?’

A coachman’s trumpet blew.

’I shall be late.  That’s Colonel Millington’s team.  He starts first, then Wardour-Devereux, then Cecil, and I mount beside him; Palmet’s at our heels.’

’But can’t you even imagine a purpose for their driving into Bevisham so pompously?’

‘Well, men with drags haven’t commonly much purpose,’ he said.

’But on this occasion!  At an Election time!  Surely, Nevil, you can guess at a reason.’

A second trumpet blew very martially.  Footmen came in search of Captain Beauchamp.  The alternative of breaking her pledged word to her father, or of letting Nevil be burlesqued in the sight of the town, could no longer be dallied with.

Cecilia said, ‘Well, Nevil, then you shall hear it.’

Hereupon Captain Baskelett’s groom informed Captain Beauchamp that he was off.

‘Yes,’ Nevil said to Cecilia, ‘tell me on board the yacht.’

’Nevil, you will be driving into the town with the second Tory candidate of the borough.’

‘Which? who?’ Nevil ’asked.

‘Your cousin Cecil.’

‘Tell Captain Baskelett that I don’t drive down till an hour later,’ Nevil said to the groom.  ’Cecilia, you’re my friend; I wish you were more.  I wish we didn’t differ.  I shall hope to change you ­make you come half-way out of that citadel of yours.  This is my uncle Everard!  I might have made sure there’d be a blow from him!  And Cecil! of all men for a politician!  Cecilia, think of it!  Cecil Baskelett!  I beg Seymour Austin’s pardon for having suspected him...’

Now sounded Captain Baskelett’s trumpet.

Angry though he was, Beauchamp laughed.  ’Isn’t it exactly like the baron to spring a mine of this kind?’

There was decidedly humour in the plot, and it was a lusty quarterstaff blow into the bargain.  Beauchamp’s head rang with it.  He could not conceal the stunning effect it had on him.  Gratitude and tenderness toward Cecilia for saving him, at the cost of a partial breach of faith that he quite understood, from the scandal of the public entry into Bevisham on the Tory coach-box, alternated with his interjections regarding his uncle Everard.

At eleven, Cecilia sat in her pony-carriage giving final directions to Mrs. Devereux where to look out for the Esperanza and the schooner’s boat.  ‘Then I drive down alone,’ Mrs. Devereux said.

The gentlemen were all off, and every available maid with them on the coach-boxes, a brilliant sight that had been missed by Nevil and Cecilia.

‘Why, here’s Lydiard!’ said Nevil, supposing that Lydiard must be approaching him with tidings of the second Tory candidate.  But Lydiard knew nothing of it.  He was the bearer of a letter on foreign paper ­marked urgent, in Rosamund’s hand ­and similarly worded in the well-known hand which had inscribed the original address of the letter to Steynham.

Beauchamp opened it and read: 

               Chateau Tourdestelle
                    ’(Eure).

        ’Come.  I give you three days ­no more.

Renee.’

The brevity was horrible.  Did it spring from childish imperiousness or tragic peril?

Beauchamp could imagine it to be this or that.  In moments of excited speculation we do not dwell on the possibility that there may be a mixture of motives.

‘I fear I must cross over to France this evening,’ he said to Cecilia.

She replied, ’It is likely to be stormy to-night.  The steamboat may not run.’

’If there’s a doubt of it, I shall find a French lugger.  You are tired, from not sleeping last night.’

‘No,’ she answered, and nodded to Mrs. Devereux, beside whom Mr. Lydiard stood:  ‘You will not drive down alone, you see.’

For a young lady threatened with a tempest in her heart, as disturbing to her as the one gathering in the West for ships at sea, Miss Halkett bore herself well.