Read CHAPTER XXVI - MR. BLACKBURN TUCKHAM of Beauchamp Career, free online book, by George Meredith, on ReadCentral.com.

Some time after Beauchamp had been seen renewing his canvass in Bevisham a report reached Mount Laurels that he was lame of a leg.  The wits of the opposite camp revived the French marquees, but it was generally acknowledged that he had come back without the lady:  she was invisible.  Cecilia Halkett rode home with her father on a dusky Autumn evening, and found the card of Commander Beauchamp awaiting her.  He might have stayed to see her, she thought.  Ladies are not customarily so very late in returning from a ride on chill evenings of Autumn.  Only a quarter of an hour was between his visit and her return.  The shortness of the interval made it appear the deeper gulf.  She noticed that her father particularly inquired of the man-servant whether Captain Beauchamp limped.  It seemed a piece of kindly anxiety on his part.  The captain was mounted, the man said.  Cecilia was conscious of rumours being abroad relating to Nevil’s expedition to France; but he had enemies, and was at war with them, and she held herself indifferent to tattle.  This card bearing his name, recently in his hand, was much more insidious and precise.  She took it to her room to look at it.  Nothing but his name and naval title was inscribed; no pencilled line; she had not expected to discover one.  The simple card was her dark light, as a handkerchief, a flower, a knot of riband, has been for men luridly illuminated by such small sparks to fling their beams on shadows and read the monstrous things for truths.  Her purer virgin blood was, not inflamed.  She read the signification of the card sadly as she did clearly.  What she could not so distinctly imagine was, how he could reconcile the devotion to his country, which he had taught her to put her faith in, with his unhappy subjection to Madame de Rouaillout.  How could the nobler sentiment exist side by side with one that was lawless?  Or was the wildness characteristic of his political views proof of a nature inclining to disown moral ties?  She feared so; he did not speak of the clergy respectfully.  Reading in the dark, she was forced to rely on her social instincts, and she distrusted her personal feelings as much as she could, for she wished to know the truth of him; anything, pain and heartrending, rather than the shutting of the eyes in an unworthy abandonment to mere emotion and fascination.  Cecilia’s love could not be otherwise given to a man, however near she might be drawn to love ­though she should suffer the pangs of love cruelly.

She placed his card in her writing-desk; she had his likeness there.  Commander Beauchamp encouraged the art of photography, as those that make long voyages do, in reciprocating what they petition their friends for.  Mrs. Rosamund Culling had a whole collection of photographs of him, equal to a visual history of his growth in chapters, from boyhood to midshipmanship and to manhood.  The specimen possessed by Cecilia was one of a couple that Beauchamp had forwarded to Mrs. Grancey Lespel on the day of his departure for France, and was a present from that lady, purchased, like so many presents, at a cost Cecilia would have paid heavily in gold to have been spared, namely, a public blush.  She was allowed to make her choice, and she chose the profile, repeating a remark of Mrs. Culling’s, that it suggested an arrow-head in the upflight; whereupon Mr. Stukely Culbrett had said, ’Then there is the man, for he is undoubtedly a projectile’; nor were politically-hostile punsters on an arrow-head inactive.  But Cecilia was thinking of the side-face she (less intently than Beauchamp at hers) had glanced at during the drive into Bevisham.  At that moment, she fancied Madame de Rouaillout might be doing likewise; and oh that she had the portrait of the French lady as well!

Next day her father tossed her a photograph of another gentleman, coming out of a letter he had received from old Mrs. Beauchamp.  He asked her opinion of it.  She said, ’I think he would have suited Bevisham better than Captain Baskelett.’  Of the original, who presented himself at Mount Laurels in the course of the week, she had nothing to say, except that he was very like the photograph, very unlike Nevil Beauchamp.  ’Yes, there I’m of your opinion,’ her father observed.  The gentleman was Mr. Blackburn Tuckham, and it was amusing to find an exuberant Tory in one who was the reverse of the cavalier type.  Nevil and he seemed to have been sorted to the wrong sides.  Mr. Tuckham had a round head, square flat forehead, and ruddy face; he stood as if his feet claimed the earth under them for his own, with a certain shortness of leg that detracted from the majesty of his resemblance to our Eighth Harry, but increased his air of solidity; and he was authoritative in speaking.  ’Let me set you right, sir,’ he said sometimes to Colonel Halkett, and that was his modesty.  ‘You are altogether wrong,’ Miss Halkett heard herself informed, which was his courtesy.  He examined some of her water-colour drawings before sitting down to dinner, approved of them, but thought it necessary to lay a broad finger on them to show their defects.  On the question of politics, ‘I venture to state,’ he remarked, in anything but the tone of a venture, ’that no educated man of ordinary sense who has visited our colonies will come back a Liberal.’  As for a man of sense and education being a Radical, he scouted the notion with a pooh sufficient to awaken a vessel in the doldrums.  He said carelessly of Commander Beauchamp, that he might think himself one.  Either the Radical candidate for Bevisham stood self-deceived, or ­the other supposition.  Mr. Tuckham would venture to state that no English gentleman, exempt from an examination by order of the Commissioners of Lunacy, could be sincerely a Radical.  ‘Not a bit of it; nonsense,’ he replied to Miss Halkett’s hint at the existence of Radical views; ’that is, those views are out of politics; they are matters for the police.  Dutch dykes are built to shut away the sea from cultivated land, and of course it’s a part of the business of the Dutch Government to keep up the dykes, ­and of ours to guard against the mob; but that is only a political consideration after the mob has been allowed to undermine our defences.’

‘They speak,’ said Miss Halkett, ‘of educating the people to fit them ­’

‘They speak of commanding the winds and tides,’ he cut her short, with no clear analogy; ’wait till we have a storm.  It’s a delusion amounting to dementedness to suppose, that with the people inside our defences, we can be taming them and tricking them.  As for sending them to school after giving them power, it’s like asking a wild beast to sit down to dinner with us ­he wants the whole table and us too.  The best education for the people is government.  They’re beginning to see that in Lancashire at last.  I ran down to Lancashire for a couple of days on my landing, and I’m thankful to say Lancashire is preparing to take a step back.  Lancashire leads the country.  Lancashire men see what this Liberalism has done for the Labour-market.’

’Captain Beauchamp considers that the political change coming over the minds of the manufacturers is due to the large fortunes they have made,’ said Miss Halkett, maliciously associating a Radical prophet with him.

He was unaffected by it, and continued:  ’Property is ballast as well as treasure.  I call property funded good sense.  I would give it every privilege.  If we are to speak of patriotism, I say the possession of property guarantees it.  I maintain that the lead of men of property is in most cases sure to be the safe one.’

‘I think so,’ Colonel Halkett interposed, and he spoke as a man of property.

Mr. Tuckham grew fervent in his allusions to our wealth and our commerce.  Having won the race and gained the prize, shall we let it slip out of our grasp?  Upon this topic his voice descended to tones of priestlike awe:  for are we not the envy of the world?  Our wealth is countless, fabulous.  It may well inspire veneration.  And we have won it with our hands, thanks (he implied it so) to our religion.  We are rich in money and industry, in those two things only, and the corruption of an energetic industry is constantly threatened by the profusion of wealth giving it employment.  This being the case, either your Radicals do not know the first conditions of human nature, or they do; and if they do they are traitors, and the Liberals opening the gates to them are fools:  and some are knaves.  We perish as a Great Power if we cease to look sharp ahead, hold firm together, and make the utmost of what we possess.  The word for the performance of those duties is Toryism:  a word with an older flavour than Conservatism, and Mr. Tuckham preferred it.  By all means let workmen be free men but a man must earn his freedom daily, or he will become a slave in some form or another:  and the way to earn it is by work and obedience to right direction.  In a country like ours, open on all sides to the competition of intelligence and strength, with a Press that is the voice of all parties and of every interest; in a country offering to your investments three and a half and more per cent., secure as the firmament!

He perceived an amazed expression on Miss Halkett’s countenance; and ‘Ay,’ said he, ’that means the certainty of food to millions of mouths, and comforts, if not luxuries, to half the population.  A safe percentage on savings is the basis of civilization.’

But he had bruised his eloquence, for though you may start a sermon from stones to hit the stars, he must be a practised orator who shall descend out of the abstract to take up a heavy lump of the concrete without unseating himself, and he stammered and came to a flat ending:  ’In such a country ­well, I venture to say, we have a right to condemn in advance disturbers of the peace, and they must show very good cause indeed for not being summarily held ­to account for their conduct.’

The allocution was not delivered in the presence of an audience other than sympathetic, and Miss Halkett rightly guessed that it was intended to strike Captain Beauchamp by ricochet.  He puffed at the mention of Beauchamp’s name.  He had read a reported speech or two of Beauchamp’s, and shook his head over a quotation of the stuff, as though he would have sprung at him like a lion, but for his enrolment as a constable.

Not a whit the less did Mr. Tuckham drink his claret relishingly, and he told stories incidental to his travels now and then, commended the fishing here, the shooting there, and in some few places the cookery, with much bright emphasis when it could be praised; it appeared to be an endearing recollection to him.  Still, as a man of progress, he declared his belief that we English would ultimately turn out the best cooks, having indubitably the best material.  ’Our incomprehensible political pusillanimity’ was the one sad point about us:  we had been driven from surrender to surrender.

‘Like geese upon a common, I have heard it said,’ Miss Halkett assisted him to Dr. Shrapnel’s comparison.

Mr. Tuckham laughed, and half yawned and sighed, ‘Dear me!’

His laughter was catching, and somehow more persuasive of the soundness of the man’s heart and head than his remarks.

She would have been astonished to know that a gentleman so uncourtly, if not uncouth ­judged by the standard of the circle she moved in ­and so unskilled in pleasing the sight and hearing of ladies as to treat them like junior comrades, had raised the vow within himself on seeing her:  You, or no woman!

The colonel delighted in him, both as a strong and able young fellow, and a refreshingly aggressive recruit of his party, who was for onslaught, and invoked common sense, instead of waving the flag of sentiment in retreat; a very horse-artillery man of Tories.  Regretting immensely that Mr. Tuckham had not reached England earlier, that he might have occupied the seat for Bevisham, about to be given to Captain Baskelett, Colonel Halkett set up a contrast of Blackburn Tuckham and Nevil Beauchamp; a singular instance of unfairness, his daughter thought, considering that the distinct contrast presented by the circumstances was that of Mr. Tuckham and Captain Baskelett.

’It seems to me, papa, ­that you are contrasting the idealist and the realist,’ she said.

‘Ah, well, we don’t want the idealist in politics,’ muttered the colonel.

Latterly he also had taken to shaking his head over Nevil:  Cecilia dared not ask him why.

Mr. Tuckham arrived at Mount Laurels on the eve of the Nomination day in Bevisham.  An article in the Bevisham Gazette calling upon all true Liberals to demonstrate their unanimity by a multitudinous show of hands, he ascribed to the writing of a child of Erin; and he was highly diverted by the Liberal’s hiring of Paddy to ‘pen and spout’ for him.  ’A Scotchman manages, and Paddy does the sermon for all their journals,’ he said off-hand; adding:  ‘And the English are the compositors, I suppose.’  You may take that for an instance of the national spirit of Liberal newspapers!

‘Ah!’ sighed the colonel, as at a case clearly demonstrated against them.

A drive down to Bevisham to witness the ceremony of the nomination in the town-hall sobered Mr. Tuckham’s disposition to generalize.  Beauchamp had the show of hands, and to say with Captain Baskelett, that they were a dirty majority, was beneath Mr. Tuckham’s verbal antagonism.  He fell into a studious reserve, noting everything, listening to everybody, greatly to Colonel Halkett’s admiration of one by nature a talker and a thunderer.

The show of hands Mr. Seymour Austin declared to be the most delusive of electoral auspices; and it proved so.  A little later than four o’clock in the afternoon of the election-day, Cecilia received a message from her father telling her that both of the Liberals were headed; ’Beauchamp nowhere.’

Mrs. Grancey Lespel was the next herald of Beauchamp’s defeat.  She merely stated the fact that she had met the colonel and Mr. Blackburn Tuckham driving on the outskirts of the town, and had promised to bring Cecilia the final numbers of the poll.  Without naming them, she unrolled the greater business in her mind.

’A man who in the middle of an Election goes over to France to fight a duel, can hardly expect to win; he has all the morality of an English borough opposed to him,’ she said; and seeing the young lady stiffen:  ‘Oh! the duel is positive,’ she dropped her voice.  ’With the husband.  Who else could it be?  And returns invalided.  That is evidence.  My nephew Palmet has it from Vivian Ducie, and he is acquainted with her tolerably intimately, and the story is, she was overtaken in her flight in the night, and the duel followed at eight o’clock in the morning; but her brother insisted on fighting for Captain Beauchamp, and I cannot tell you how ­but his place in it I can’t explain ­there was a beau jeune homme, and it’s quite possible that he should have been the person to stand up against the marquis.  At any rate, he insulted Captain Beauchamp, or thought your hero had insulted him, and the duel was with one or the other.  It matters exceedingly little with whom, if a duel was fought, and you see we have quite established that.’

‘I hope it is not true,’ said Cecilia.

‘My dear, that is the Christian thing to do,’ said Mrs. Lespel.  ’Duelling is horrible:  though those Romfreys! ­and the Beauchamps were just as bad, or nearly.  Colonel Richard fought for a friend’s wife or sister.  But in these days duelling is incredible.  It was an inhuman practice always, and it is now worse ­it is a reach of manners.  I would hope it is not true; and you may mean that I have it from Lord Palmet.  But I know Vivian Ducie as well as I know my nephew, and if he distinctly mentions an occurrence, we may too surely rely on the truth of it; he is not a man to spread mischief.  Are you unaware that he met Captain Beauchamp at the chateau of the marquise?  The whole story was acted under his eyes.  He had only to take up his pen.  Generally he favours me with his French gossip.  I suppose there were circumstances in this affair more suitable to Palmet than to me.  He wrote a description of Madame de Rouaillout that set Palmet strutting about for an hour.  I have no doubt she must be a very beautiful woman, for a Frenchwoman:  not regular features; expressive, capricious.  Vivian Ducie lays great stress on her eyes and eyebrows, and, I think, her hair.  With a Frenchwoman’s figure, that is enough to make men crazy.  He says her husband deserves ­but what will not young men write?  It is deeply to be regretted that Englishmen abroad ­women the same, I fear ­get the Continental tone in morals.  But how Captain Beauchamp could expect to carry on an Election and an intrigue together, only a head like his can tell us.  Grancey is in high indignation with him.  It does not concern the Election, you can imagine.  Something that man Dr. Shrapnel has done, which he says Captain Beauchamp could have prevented.  Quarrels of men!  I have instructed Palmet to write to Vivian Ducie for a photograph of Madame de Rouaillout.  Do you know, one has a curiosity to see the face of the woman for whom a man ruins himself.  But I say again, he ought to be married.’

‘That there may be two victims?’ Cecilia said it smiling.

She was young in suffering, and thought, as the unseasoned and inexperienced do, that a mask is a concealment.

‘Married ­settled; to have him bound in honour,’ said Mrs. Lespel.  ’I had a conversation with him when he was at Itchincope; and his look, and what I know of his father, that gallant and handsome Colonel Richard Beauchamp, would give one a kind of confidence in him; supposing always that he is not struck with one of those deadly passions that are like snakes, like magic.  I positively believe in them.  I have seen them.  And if they end, they end as if the man were burnt out, and was ashes inside; as you see Mr. Stukely Culbrett, all cynicism.  You would not now suspect him of a passion!  It is true.  Oh, I know it!  That is what the men go to.  The women die.  Vera Winter died at twenty-three.  Caroline Ormond was hardly older.  You know her story; everybody knows it.  The most singular and convincing case was that of Lord Alfred Burnley and Lady Susan Gardiner, wife of the general; and there was an instance of two similarly afflicted ­a very rare case, most rare:  they never could meet to part!  It was almost ludicrous.  It is now quite certain that they did not conspire to meet.  At last the absolute fatality became so well understood by the persons immediately interested ­You laugh?’

‘Do I laugh?’ said Cecilia.

’We should all know the world, my dear, and you are a strong head.  The knowledge is only dangerous for fools.  And if romance is occasionally ridiculous, as I own it can be, humdrum, I protest, is everlastingly so.  By-the-by, I should have told you that Captain Beauchamp was one hundred and ninety below Captain Baskelett when the state of the poll was handed to me.  The gentleman driving with your father compared the Liberals to a parachute cut away from the balloon.  Is he army or navy?’

‘He is a barrister, and some cousin of Captain Beauchamp.’

‘I should not have taken him for a Beauchamp,’ said Mrs. Lespel; and, resuming her worldly sagacity, ’I should not like to be in opposition to that young man.’

She seemed to have a fancy unexpressed regarding Mr. Tuckham.  Reminding herself that she might be behind time at Itchincope, where the guests would be numerous that evening, and the song of triumph loud, with Captain Baskelett to lead it, she kissed the young lady she had unintentionally been torturing so long, and drove away.

Cecilia hoped it was not true.  Her heart sank heavily under the belief that it was.  She imagined the world abusing Nevil and casting him out, as those electors of Bevisham had just done, and impulsively she pleaded for him, and became drowned in criminal blushes that forced her to defend herself with a determination not to believe the dreadful story, though she continued mitigating the wickedness of it; as if, by a singular inversion of the fact, her clear good sense excused, and it was her heart that condemned him.  She dwelt fondly on an image of the ‘gallant and handsome Colonel Richard Beauchamp,’ conjured up in her mind from the fervour of Mrs. Lespel when speaking of Nevil’s father, whose chivalry threw a light on the son’s, and whose errors, condoned by time, and with a certain brilliancy playing above them, interceded strangely on behalf of Nevil.