Read CHAPTER XXII - THE DRIVE INTO BEVISHAM of Beauchamp Career, free online book, by George Meredith, on ReadCentral.com.

Beauchamp was requested by Cecilia to hold the reins.  His fair companion in the pony-carriage preferred to lean back musing, and he had leisure to think over the blow dealt him by his uncle Everard with so sure an aim so ringingly on the head.  And in the first place he made no attempt to disdain it because it was nothing but artful and heavy-handed, after the mediaeval pattern.  Of old he himself had delighted in artfulness as well as boldness and the unmistakeable hit.  Highly to prize generalship was in his blood, though latterly the very forces propelling him to his political warfare had forbidden the use of it to him.  He saw the patient veteran laying his gun for a long shot ­to give as good as he had received; and in realizing Everard Romfrey’s perfectly placid bearing under provocation, such as he certainly would have maintained while preparing his reply to it, the raw fighting humour of the plot touched the sense of justice in Beauchamp enough to make him own that he had been the first to offend.

He could reflect also on the likelihood that other offended men of his uncle’s age and position would have sulked or stormed, threatening the Parthian shot of the vindictive testator.  If there was godlessness in turning to politics for a weapon to strike a domestic blow, manfulness in some degree signalized it.  Beauchamp could fancy his uncle crying out, Who set the example? and he was not at that instant inclined to dwell on the occult virtues of the example he had set.  To be honest, this elevation of a political puppet like Cecil Baskelett, and the starting him, out of the same family which Turbot, the journalist, had magnified, into Bevisham with such pomp and flourish in opposition to the serious young champion of popular rights and the Puritan style, was ludicrously effective.  Conscienceless of course.  But that was the way of the Old School.

Beauchamp broke the silence by thanking Cecilia once more for saving him from the absurd exhibition of the Radical candidate on the Tory coach-box, and laughing at the grimmish slyness of his uncle Everard’s conspiracy a something in it that was half-smile half-sneer; not exactly malignant, and by no means innocent; something made up of the simplicity of a lighted match, and its proximity to powder, yet neither deadly, in spite of a wicked twinkle, nor at all pretending to be harmless:  in short, a specimen of old English practical humour.

He laboured to express these or corresponding views of it, with tolerably natural laughter, and Cecilia rallied her spirits at his pleasant manner of taking his blow.

‘I shall compliment the baron when I meet him tonight,’ he said.  ’What can we compare him to?’

She suggested the Commander of the Faithful, the Lord Haroun, who likewise had a turn for buffooneries to serve a purpose, and could direct them loftily and sovereignty.

‘No:  Everard Romfrey’s a Northerner from the feet up,’ said Beauchamp.

Cecilia compliantly offered him a sketch of the Scandinavian Troll:  much nearer the mark, he thought, and exclaimed:  ’Baron Troll!  I’m afraid, Cecilia, you have robbed him of the best part of his fun.  And you will owe it entirely to him if you should be represented in Parliament by my cousin Basketett.’

’Promise me, Nevit, that you will, when you meet Captain Baskelett, not forget I did you some service, and that I wish, I shall be so glad if you do not resent certain things....  Very objectionable, we all think.’

He released her from the embarrassing petition:  ’Oh! now I know my man, you may be sure I won’t waste a word on him.  The fact is, he would not understand a word, and would require more ­and that I don’t do.  When I fancied Mr. Austin was the responsible person, I meant to speak to him.’

Cecilia smiled gratefully.

The sweetness of a love-speech would not have been sweeter to her than this proof of civilized chivalry in Nevil.

They came to the fir-heights overlooking Bevisham.  Here the breezy beginning of a South-western autumnal gale tossed the ponies’ manes and made threads of Cecilia’s shorter locks of beautiful auburn by the temples and the neck, blustering the curls that streamed in a thick involution from the silken band gathering them off her uncovered clear-swept ears.

Beauchamp took an impression of her side face.  It seemed to offer him everything the world could offer of cultivated purity, intelligent beauty and attractiveness; and ‘Wilt thou?’ said the winged minute.  Peace, a good repute in the mouths of men, home, and a trustworthy woman for mate, an ideal English lady, the rarest growth of our country, and friends and fair esteem, were offered.  Last night he had waltzed with her, and the manner of this tall graceful girl in submitting to the union of the measure and reserving her individual distinction, had exquisitely flattered his taste, giving him an auspicious image of her in partnership, through the uses of life.

He looked ahead at the low dead-blue cloud swinging from across channel.  What could be the riddle of Renee’s letter!  It chained him completely.

‘At all events, I shall not be away longer than three days,’ he said; paused, eyed Cecilia’s profile, and added, ‘Do we differ so much?’

‘It may not be so much as we think,’ said she.

‘But if we do!’

‘Then, Nevil, there is a difference between us.’

‘But if we keep our lips closed?’

‘We should have to shut our eyes as well!’

A lovely melting image of her stole over him; all the warmer for her unwittingness in producing it:  and it awakened a tenderness toward the simple speaker.

Cecilia’s delicate breeding saved her from running on figuratively.  She continued:  ’Intellectual differences do not cause wounds, except when very unintellectual sentiments are behind them: ­my conceit, or your impatience, Nevil?  “Noi veggiam come quei, che ha mala luce."...  I can confess my sight to be imperfect:  but will you ever do so?’

Her musical voice in Italian charmed his hearing.

‘What poet was that you quoted?’

‘The wisest:  Dante.’

‘Dr. Shrapnel’s favourite!  I must try to read him.’

‘He reads Dante?’ Cecilia threw a stress on the august name; and it was manifest that she cared not for the answer.

Contemptuous exclusiveness could not go farther.

‘He is a man of cultivation,’ Beauchamp said cursorily, trying to avoid dissension, but in vain.  ’I wish I were half as well instructed, and the world half as charitable as he! ­You ask me if I shall admit my sight to be imperfect.  Yes; when you prove to me that priests and landlords are willing to do their duty by the people in preference to their churches and their property:  but will you ever shake off prejudice?’

Here was opposition sounding again.  Cecilia mentally reproached Dr. Shrapnel for it.

’Indeed, Nevil, really, must not ­may I not ask you this? ­must not every one feel the evil spell of some associations?  And Dante and Dr. Shrapnel!’

‘You don’t know him, Cecilia.’

‘I saw him yesterday.’

‘You thought him too tall?’

‘I thought of his character.’

‘How angry I should be with you if you were not so beautiful!’

‘I am immensely indebted to my unconscious advocate.’

’You are clad in steel; you flash back; you won’t answer me out of the heart.  I ‘m convinced it is pure wilfulness that makes you oppose me.’

’I fancy you must be convinced because you cannot imagine women to have any share of public spirit, Nevil.’

A grain of truth in that remark set Nevil reflecting.

‘I want them to have it,’ he remarked, and glanced at a Tory placard, probably the puppet’s fresh-printed address to the electors, on one of the wayside fir-trees.  ’Bevisham looks well from here.  We might make a North-western Venice of it, if we liked.’

‘Papa told you it would be money sunk in mud.’

’Did I mention it to him? ­Thoroughly Conservative! ­So he would leave the mud as it is.  They insist on our not venturing anything ­those Tories! exactly as though we had gained the best of human conditions, instead of counting crops of rogues, malefactors, egoists, noxious and lumbersome creatures that deaden the country.  Your town down there is one of the ugliest and dirtiest in the kingdom:  it might be the fairest.’

‘I have often thought that of Bevisham, Nevil.’

He drew a visionary sketch of quays, embankments, bridged islands, public buildings, magical emanations of patriotic architecture, with a practical air, an absence of that enthusiasm which struck her with suspicion when it was not applied to landscape or the Arts; and she accepted it, and warmed, and even allowed herself to appear hesitating when he returned to the similarity of the state of mud-begirt Bevisham and our great sluggish England.

Was he not perhaps to be pitied in his bondage to the Frenchwoman, who could have no ideas in common with him?

The rare circumstance that she and Nevil Beauchamp had found a subject of agreement, partially overcame the sentiment Cecilia entertained for the foreign lady; and having now one idea in common with him, she conceived the possibility that there might be more.  There must be many, for he loved England, and she no less.  She clung, however, to the topic of Bevisham, preferring to dream of the many more, rather than run risks.  Undoubtedly the town was of an ignoble aspect; and it was declining in prosperity; and it was consequently over-populated.  And undoubtedly (so she was induced to coincide for the moment) a Government, acting to any extent like a supervising head, should aid and direct the energies of towns and ports and trades, and not leave everything everywhere to chance:  schools for the people, public morality, should be the charge of Government.  Cecilia had surrendered the lead to him, and was forced to subscribe to an equivalent of ‘undoubtedly’ the Tories just as little as the Liberals had done these good offices.  Party against party, neither of them had a forethoughtful head for the land at large.  They waited for the Press to spur a great imperial country to be but defensively armed, and they accepted the so-called volunteers, with a nominal one-month’s drill per annum, as a guarantee of defence!

Beauchamp startled her, actually kindled her mind to an activity of wonder and regret, with the statement of how much Government, acting with some degree of farsightedness, might have won to pay the public debt and remit taxation, by originally retaining the lines of railway, and fastening on the valuable land adjoining stations.  Hundreds of millions of pounds!

She dropped a sigh at the prodigious amount, but inquired, ’Who has calculated it?’

For though perfectly aware that this kind of conversation was a special compliment paid to her by her friend Nevil, and dimly perceiving that it implied something beyond a compliment-in fact, that it was his manner of probing her for sympathy, as other men would have conducted the process preliminary to deadly flattery or to wooing, her wits fenced her heart about; the exercise of shrewdness was an instinct of self-preservation.  She had nothing but her poor wits, daily growing fainter, to resist him with.  And he seemed to know it, and therefore assailed them, never trying at the heart.

That vast army of figures might be but a phantom army conjured out of the Radical mists, might it not? she hinted.  And besides, we cannot surely require a Government to speculate in the future, can we?

Possibly not, as Governments go, Beauchamp said.

But what think you of a Government of landowners decreeing the enclosure of millions of acres of common land amongst themselves; taking the property of the people to add to their own!  Say, is not that plunder?  Public property, observe; decreed to them by their own law-making, under the pretence that it was being reclaimed for cultivation, when in reality it has been but an addition to their pleasure-grounds:  a flat robbery of pasture from the poor man’s cow and goose, and his right of cutting furze for firing.  Consider that!  Beauchamp’s eyes flashed democratic in reciting this injury to the objects of his warm solicitude ­the man, the cow, and the goose.  But so must he have looked when fronting England’s enemies, and his aspect of fervour subdued Cecilia.  She confessed her inability to form an estimate of such conduct.

‘Are they doing it still?’ she asked.

’We owe it to Dr. Shrapnel foremost that there is now a watch over them to stop them.  But for him, Grancey Lespel would have enclosed half of Northeden Heath.  As it is, he has filched bits here and there, and he will have to put back his palings.’

However, now let Cecilia understand that we English, calling ourselves free, are under morally lawless rule.  Government is what we require, and our means of getting it must be through universal suffrage.  At present we have no Government; only shifting Party Ministries, which are the tools of divers interests, wealthy factions, to the sacrifice of the Commonwealth.

She listened, like Rosamund Culling overborne by Dr. Shrapnel, inwardly praying that she might discover a man to reply to him.

‘A Despotism, Nevil?’

He hoped not, declined the despot, was English enough to stand against the best of men in that character; but he cast it on Tory, Whig, and Liberal, otherwise the Constitutionalists, if we were to come upon the despot.

’They see we are close on universal suffrage; they’ve been bidding each in turn for “the people,” and that has brought them to it, and now they’re alarmed, and accuse one another of treason to the Constitution, and they don’t accept the situation:  and there’s a fear, that to carry on their present system, they will be thwarting the people or corrupting them:  and in that case we shall have our despot in some shape or other, and we shall suffer.’

‘Nevil,’ said Cecilia, ‘I am out of my depth.’

‘I’ll support you; I can swim for two,’ said he.

’You are very self-confident, but I find I am not fit for battle; at least not in the front ranks.’

’Nerve me, then:  will you?  Try to comprehend once for all what the battle is.’

’I am afraid I am too indifferent; I am too luxurious.  That reminds me:  you want to meet your uncle Everard and if you will sleep at Mount Laurels to-night, the Esperanza shall take you to France to-morrow morning, and can wait to bring you back.’

As she spoke she perceived a flush mounting over Nevil’s face.  Soon it was communicated to hers.

The strange secret of the blood electrified them both, and revealed the burning undercurrent running between them from the hearts of each.  The light that showed how near they were to one another was kindled at the barrier dividing them.  It remained as good as a secret, unchallenged until they had separated, and after midnight Cecilia looked through her chamber windows at the driving moon of a hurricane scud, and read clearly his honourable reluctance to be wafted over to his French love by her assistance; and Beauchamp on board the tossing steamboat perceived in her sympathetic reddening that she had divined him.

This auroral light eclipsed the other events of the day.  He drove into a town royally decorated, and still humming with the ravishment of the Tory entrance.  He sailed in the schooner to Mount Laurels, in the society of Captain Baskelett and his friends, who, finding him tamer than they expected, bantered him in the cheerfullest fashion.  He waited for his uncle Everard several hours at Mount Laurels, perused the junior Tory’s address to the Electors, throughout which there was not an idea ­safest of addresses to canvass upon! perused likewise, at Captain Baskelett’s request, a broad sheet of an article introducing the new candidate to Bevisham with the battle-axe Romfreys to back him, in high burlesque of Timothy Turbot upon Beauchamp:  and Cecil hoped his cousin would not object to his borrowing a Romfrey or two for so pressing an occasion.  All very funny, and no doubt the presence of Mr. Everard Romfrey would have heightened the fun from the fountain-head; but he happened to be delayed, and Beauchamp had to leave directions behind him in the town, besides the discussion of a whole plan of conduct with Dr. Shrapnel, so he was under the necessity of departing without seeing his uncle, really to his regret.  He left word to that effect.

Taking leave of Cecilia, he talked of his return ‘home’ within three or four days as a certainty.

She said:  ‘Canvassing should not be neglected now.’

Her hostility was confused by what she had done to save him from annoyance, while his behaviour to his cousin Cecil increased her respect for him.  She detected a pathetic meaning in his mention of the word home; she mused on his having called her beautiful:  whither was she hurrying?  Forgetful of her horror of his revolutionary ideas, forgetful of the elevation of her own, she thrilled secretly on hearing it stated by the jubilant young Tories at Mount Laurels, as a characteristic of Beauchamp, that he was clever in parrying political thrusts, and slipping from the theme; he who with her gave out unguardedly the thoughts deepest in him.  And the thoughts! ­were they not of generous origin?  Where so true a helpmate for him as the one to whom his mind appealed?  It could not be so with the Frenchwoman.  Cecilia divined a generous nature by generosity, and set herself to believe that in honour he had not yet dared to speak to her from the heart, not being at heart quite free.  She was at the same time in her remains of pride cool enough to examine and rebuke the weakness she succumbed to in now clinging to him by that which yesterday she hardly less than loathed, still deeply disliked.