Read CHAPTER XXIII - TOURDESTELLE of Beauchamp Career, free online book, by George Meredith, on ReadCentral.com.

On the part of Beauchamp, his conversation with Cecilia during the drive into Bevisham opened out for the first time in his life a prospect of home; he had felt the word in speaking it, and it signified an end to the distractions produced by the sex, allegiance to one beloved respected woman, and also a basis of operations against the world.  For she was evidently conquerable, and once matched with him would be the very woman to nerve and sustain him.  Did she not listen to him?  He liked her resistance.  That element of the barbarous which went largely to form his emotional nature was overjoyed in wresting such a woman from the enemy, and subduing her personally.  She was a prize.  She was a splendid prize, cut out from under the guns of the fort.  He rendered all that was due to his eminently good cause for its part in so signal a success, but individual satisfaction is not diminished by the thought that the individual’s discernment selected the cause thus beneficent to him.

Beauchamp’s meditations were diverted by the sight of the coast of France dashed in rain-lines across a weed-strewn sea.  The ‘three days’ granted him by Renee were over, and it scarcely troubled him that he should be behind the time; he detested mystery, holding it to be a sign of pretentious feebleness, often of imposture, it might be frivolity.  Punctilious obedience to the mysterious brevity of the summons, and not to chafe at it, appeared to him as much as could be expected of a struggling man.  This was the state of the case with him, until he stood on French earth, breathed French air, and chanced to hear the tongue of France twittered by a lady on the quay.  The charm was instantaneous.  He reminded himself that Renee, unlike her countrywomen, had no gift for writing letters.  They had never corresponded since the hour of her marriage.  They had met in Sicily, at Syracuse, in the presence of her father and her husband, and so inanimate was she that the meeting seemed like the conclusion of their history.  Her brother Roland sent tidings of her by fits, and sometimes a conventional message from Tourdestelle.  Latterly her husband’s name had been cited as among the wildfires of Parisian quays, in journals more or less devoted to those unreclaimed spaces of the city.  Well, if she was unhappy, was it not the fulfilment of his prophecy in Venice?

Renee’s brevity became luminous.  She needed him urgently, and knowing him faithful to the death, she, because she knew him, dispatched purely the words which said she needed him.  Why, those brief words were the poetry of noble confidence!  But what could her distress be?  The lover was able to read that, ‘Come; I give you three days,’ addressed to him, was not language of a woman free of her yoke.

Excited to guess and guess, Beauchamp swept on to speculations of a madness that seized him bodily at last.  Were you loved, Cecilia?  He thought little of politics in relation to Renee; or of home, or of honour in the world’s eye, or of labouring to pay the fee for his share of life.  This at least was one of the forms of love which precipitate men:  the sole thought in him was to be with her.  She was Renee, the girl of whom he had prophetically said that she must come to regrets and tears.  His vision of her was not at Tourdestelle, though he assumed her to be there awaiting him:  she was under the sea-shadowing Alps, looking up to the red and gold-rosed heights of a realm of morning that was hers inviolably, and under which Renee was eternally his.

The interval between then and now was but the space of an unquiet sea traversed in the night, sad in the passage of it, but featureless ­and it had proved him right!  It was to Nevil Beauchamp as if the spirit of his old passion woke up again to glorious hopeful morning when he stood in Renee’s France.

Tourdestelle enjoyed the aristocratic privilege of being twelve miles from the nearest railway station.  Alighting here on an evening of clear sky, Beauchamp found an English groom ready to dismount for him and bring on his portmanteau.  The man said that his mistress had been twice to the station, and was now at the neighbouring Chateau Dianet.  Thither Beauchamp betook himself on horseback.  He was informed at the gates that Madame la Marquise had left for Tourdestelle in the saddle only ten minutes previously.  The lodge-keeper had been instructed to invite him to stay at Chateau Dianet in the event of his arriving late, but it would be possible to overtake madame by a cut across the heights at a turn of the valley.  Beauchamp pushed along the valley for this visible projection; a towering mass of woodland, in the midst of which a narrow roadway, worn like the track of a torrent with heavy rain, wound upward.  On his descent to the farther side, he was to spy directly below in the flat for Tourdestelle.  He crossed the wooded neck above the valley, and began descending, peering into gulfs of the twilight dusk.  Some paces down he was aided by a brilliant half-moon that divided the whole underlying country into sharp outlines of dark and fair, and while endeavouring to distinguish the chateau of Tourdestelle his eyes were attracted to an angle of the downward zigzag, where a pair of horses emerged into broad light swiftly; apparently the riders were disputing, or one had overtaken the other in pursuit.  Riding-habit and plumed hat signalized the sex of one.  Beauchamp sung out a gondolier’s cry.  He fancied it was answered.

He was heard, for the lady turned about, and as he rode down, still uncertain of her, she came cantering up alone, and there could be no uncertainty.

Moonlight is friendless to eyes that would make sure of a face long unseen.  It was Renee whose hand he clasped, but the story of the years on her, and whether she was in bloom, or wan as the beams revealing her, he could not see.

Her tongue sounded to him as if it were loosened without a voice.  ’You have come.  That storm!  You are safe!’

So phantom-like a sound of speech alarmed him.  ’I lost no time.  But you?’

‘I am well.’

‘Nothing hangs over you?’

‘Nothing.’

‘Why give me just three days?’

‘Pure impatience.  Have you forgotten me?’

Their horses walked on with them.  They unlocked their hands.

‘You knew it was I?’ said he.

‘Who else could it be?  I heard Venice,’ she replied.

Her previous cavalier was on his feet, all but on his knees, it appeared, searching for something that eluded him under the road-side bank.  He sprang at it and waved it, leapt in the saddle, and remarked, as he drew up beside Renee:  ’What one picks from the earth one may wear, I presume, especially when we can protest it is our property.’

Beauchamp saw him planting a white substance most carefully at the breast buttonhole of his coat.  It could hardly be a flower.  Some drooping exotic of the conservatory perhaps resembled it.

Renee pronounced his name:  ‘M. Comte Henri d’Henriel.’

He bowed to Beauchamp with an extreme sweep of the hat.

’Last night, M. Beauchamp, we put up vows for you to the Marine God, beseeching an exemption from that horrible mal de mer.  Thanks to the storm, I suppose, I have won.  I must maintain, madame, that I won.’

‘You wear your trophy,’ said Renee, and her horse reared and darted ahead.

The gentleman on each side of her struck into a trot.  Beauchamp glanced at M. d’Henriel’s breast-decoration.  Renee pressed the pace, and threading dense covers of foliage they reached the level of the valley, where for a couple of miles she led them, stretching away merrily, now in shadow, now in moonlight, between high land and meadow land, and a line of poplars in the meadows winding with the river that fed the vale and shot forth gleams of silvery disquiet by rustic bridge and mill.

The strangeness of being beside her, not having yet scanned her face, marvelling at her voice ­that was like and unlike the Renee of old, full of her, but in another key, a mellow note, maturer ­made the ride magical to Beauchamp, planting the past in the present like a perceptible ghost.

Renee slackened speed, saying:  ’Tourdestelle spans a branch of our little river.  This is our gate.  Had it been daylight I would have taken you by another way, and you would have seen the black tower burnt in the Revolution; an imposing monument, I am assured.  However, you will think it pretty beside the stream.  Do you come with us, M. Comte?’

His answer was inaudible to Beauchamp; he did not quit them.

The lamp at the lodge-gates presented the young man’s face in full view, and Beauchamp thought him supremely handsome.  He perceived it to be a lady’s glove that M. d’Henriel wore at his breast.

Renee walked her horse up the park-drive, alongside the bright running water.  It seemed that she was aware of the method of provoking or reproving M. d’Henriel.  He endured some minutes of total speechlessness at this pace, and abruptly said adieu and turned back.

Renee bounded like a vessel free of her load.  ‘But why should we hurry?’ said she, and checked her course to the walk again.  ’I hope you like our Normandy, and my valley.  You used to love France, Nevil; and Normandy, they tell me, is cousin to the opposite coast of England, in climate, soil, people, it may be in manners too.  A Beauchamp never can feel that he is a foreigner in Normandy.  We claim you half French.  You have grander parks, they say.  We can give you sunlight.’

‘And it was really only the wish to see me?’ said Beauchamp.

’Only, and really.  One does not live for ever ­on earth; and it becomes a question whether friends should be shadows to one another before death.  I wrote to you because I wished to see you:  I was impatient because I am Renee.’

‘You relieve me!’

‘Evidently you have forgotten my character, Nevil.’

‘Not a feature of it.’

‘Ah!’ she breathed involuntarily.

‘Would you have me forget it?’

’When I think by myself, quite alone, yes, I would.  Otherwise how can one hope that one’s friend is friendship, supposing him to read us as we are ­minutely, accurately?  And it is in absence that we desire our friends to be friendship itself.  And... and I am utterly astray!  I have not dealt in this language since I last thought of writing a diary, and stared at the first line.  If I mistake not, you are fond of the picturesque.  If moonlight and water will satisfy you, look yonder.’

The moon launched her fairy silver fleets on a double sweep of the little river round an island of reeds and two tall poplars.

‘I have wondered whether I should ever see you looking at that scene,’ said Renee.

He looked from it to her, and asked if Roland was well, and her father; then alluded to her husband; but the unlettering elusive moon, bright only in the extension of her beams, would not tell him what story this face, once heaven to him, wore imprinted on it.  Her smile upon a parted mouth struck him as two-edged in replying:  ’I have good news to give you of them all:  Roland is in garrison at Rouen, and will come when I telegraph.  My father is in Touraine, and greets you affectionately; he hopes to come.  They are both perfectly happy.  My husband is travelling.’

Beauchamp was conscious of some bitter taste; unaware of what it was, though it led him to say, undesigningly:  ’How very handsome that M. d’Henriel is! ­if I have his name correctly.’

Renee answered:  ’He has the misfortune to be considered the handsomest young man in France.’

‘He has an Italian look.’

‘His mother was Provençale.’

She put her horse in motion, saying:  ’I agree with you that handsome men are rarities.  And, by the way, they do not set our world on fire quite as much as beautiful women do yours, my friend.  Acknowledge so much in our favour.’

He assented indefinitely.  He could have wished himself away canvassing in Bevisham.  He had only to imagine himself away from her, to feel the flood of joy in being with her.

‘Your husband is travelling?’

‘It is his pleasure.’

Could she have intended to say that this was good news to give of him as well as of the happiness of her father and brother?

‘Now look on Tourdestelle,’ said Renee.  ’You will avow that for an active man to be condemned to seek repose in so dull a place, after the fatigues of the season in Paris, it is considerably worse than for women, so I am here to dispense the hospitalities.  The right wing of the chateau, on your left, is new.  The side abutting the river is inhabited by Dame Philiberte, whom her husband imprisoned for attempting to take her pleasure in travel.  I hear upon authority that she dresses in white, and wears a black crucifix.  She is many centuries old, and still she lives to remind people that she married a Rouaillout.  Do you not think she should have come to me to welcome me?  She never has; and possibly of ladies who are disembodied we may say that they know best.  For me, I desire the interview ­and I am a coward:  I need not state it.’  She ceased; presently continuing:  ’The other inhabitants are my sister, Agnes d’Auffray, wife of a general officer serving in Afric ­my sister by marriage, and my friend; the baronne d’Orbec, a relation by marriage; M. d’Orbec, her son, a guest, and a sportsman; M. Livret, an erudite.  No young ladies:  I can bear much, but not their presence; girls are odious to me.  I knew one in Venice.’

They came within the rays of the lamp hanging above the unpretending entrance to the chateau.  Renee’s broad grey Longueville hat curved low with its black plume on the side farthest from him.  He was favoured by the gallant lift of the brim on the near side, but she had overshadowed her eyes.

‘He wears a glove at his breast,’ said Beauchamp.

’You speak of M. d’Henriel.  He wears a glove at his breast; yes, it is mine,’ said Renee.

She slipped from her horse and stood against his shoulder, as if waiting to be questioned before she rang the bell of the chateau.

Beauchamp alighted, burning with his unutterable questions concerning that glove.

‘Lift your hat, let me beg you; let me see you,’ he said.

This was not what she had expected.  With one heave of her bosom, and murmuring:  ‘I made a vow I would obey you absolutely if you came,’ she raised the hat above her brows, and lightning would not have surprised him more; for there had not been a single vibration of her voice to tell him of tears running:  nay, the absence of the usual French formalities in her manner of addressing him, had seemed to him to indicate her intention to put him at once on an easy friendly footing, such as would be natural to her, and not painful to him.  Now she said: 

’You perceive, monsieur, that I have my sentimental fits like others; but in truth I am not insensible to the picturesque or to gratitude, and I thank you sincerely for coming, considering that I wrote like a Sphinx ­to evade writing comme une folle!’

She swept to the bell.

Standing in the arch of the entrance, she stretched her whip out to a black mass of prostrate timber, saying: 

’It fell in the storm at two o’clock after midnight, and you on the sea!’