Read CHAPTER XXVIII - TOUCHING A YOUNG LADY’S HEART AND HER INTELLECT of Beauchamp Career, free online book, by George Meredith, on ReadCentral.com.

Mr. Tuckham found his way to Dr. Shrapnel’s cottage to see his kinsman on the day after the election.  There was a dinner in honour of the Members for Bevisham at Mount Laurels in the evening, and he was five minutes behind military time when he entered the restive drawing-room and stood before the colonel.  No sooner had he stated that he had been under the roof of Dr. Shrapnel, than his unpunctuality was immediately overlooked in the burst of impatience evoked by the name.

‘That pestilent fellow!’ Colonel Halkett ejaculated.  ’I understand he has had the impudence to serve a notice on Grancey Lespel about encroachments on common land.’

Some one described Dr. Shrapnel’s appearance under the flour storm.

‘He deserves anything,’ said the colonel, consulting his mantelpiece clock.

Captain Baskelett observed:  ’I shall have my account to settle with Dr. Shrapnel.’  He spoke like a man having a right to be indignant, but excepting that the doctor had bestowed nicknames upon him in a speech at a meeting, no one could discover the grounds for it.  He nodded briefly.  A Radical apple had struck him on the left cheekbone as he performed his triumphal drive through the town, and a slight disfigurement remained, to which his hand was applied sympathetically at intervals, for the cheek-bone was prominent in his countenance, and did not well bear enlargement.  And when a fortunate gentleman, desiring to be still more fortunate, would display the winning amiability of his character, distension of one cheek gives him an afflictingly false look of sweetness.

The bent of his mind, nevertheless, was to please Miss Halkett.  He would be smiling, and intimately smiling.  Aware that she had a kind of pitiful sentiment for Nevil, he smiled over Nevil ­poor Nevil!  ’I give you my word, Miss Halkett, old Nevil was off his head yesterday.  I daresay he meant to be civil.  I met him; I called out to him, “Good day, cousin, I’m afraid you’re beaten” and says he, “I fancy you’ve gained it, uncle.”  He didn’t know where he was; all abroad, poor boy.  Uncle! ­to me!’

Miss Halkett would have accepted the instance for a proof of Nevil’s distraction, had not Mr. Seymour Austin, who sat beside her, laughed and said to her:  ’I suppose “uncle” was a chance shot, but it’s equal to a poetic epithet in the light it casts on the story.’  Then it seemed to her that Nevil had been keenly quick, and Captain Baskelett’s impenetrability was a sign of his density.  Her mood was to think Nevil Beauchamp only too quick, too adventurous and restless:  one that wrecked brilliant gifts in a too general warfare; a lover of hazards, a hater of laws.  Her eyes flew over Captain Baskelett as she imagined Nevil addressing him as uncle, and, to put aside a spirit of mockery rising within her, she hinted a wish to hear Seymour Austin’s opinion of Mr. Tuckham.  He condensed it in an interrogative tone:  ‘The other extreme?’ The Tory extreme of Radical Nevil Beauchamp.  She assented.  Mr. Tuckham was at that moment prophesying the Torification of mankind; not as the trembling venturesome idea which we cast on doubtful winds, but as a ship is launched to ride the waters, with huzzas for a thing accomplished.  Mr. Austin raised his shoulders imperceptibly, saying to Miss Halkett:  ’The turn will come to us as to others ­and go.  Nothing earthly can escape that revolution.  We have to meet it with a policy, and let it pass with measures carried and our hands washed of some of our party sins.  I am, I hope, true to my party, but the enthusiasm of party I do not share.  He is right, however, when he accuses the nation of cowardice for the last ten years.  One third of the Liberals have been with us at heart, and dared not speak, and we dared not say what we wished.  We accepted a compact that satisfied us both ­satisfied us better than when we were opposed by Whigs ­that is, the Liberal reigned, and we governed:  and I should add, a very clever juggler was our common chief.  Now we have the consequences of hollow peacemaking, in a suffrage that bids fair to extend to the wearing of hats and boots for a qualification.  The moral of it seems to be that cowardice is even worse for nations than for individual men, though the consequences come on us more slowly.’

‘You spoke of party sins,’ Miss Halkett said incredulously.

‘I shall think we are the redoubtable party when we admit the charge.’

‘Are you alluding to the landowners?’

’Like the land itself, they have rich veins in heavy matter.  For instance, the increasing wealth of the country is largely recruiting our ranks; and we shall be tempted to mistake numbers for strength, and perhaps again be reading Conservatism for a special thing of our own ­a fortification.  That would be a party sin.  Conservatism is a principle of government; the best because the safest for an old country; and the guarantee that we do not lose the wisdom of past experience in our struggle with what is doubtful.  Liberalism stakes too much on the chance of gain.  It is uncomfortably seated on half-a-dozen horses; and it has to feed them too, and on varieties of corn.’

‘Yes,’ Miss Halkett said, pausing, ’and I know you would not talk down to me, but the use of imagery makes me feel that I am addressed as a primitive intelligence.’

’That’s the fault of my trying at condensation, as the hieroglyphists put an animal for a paragraph.  I am incorrigible, you see; but the lecture in prose must be for by-and-by, if you care to have it.’

’If you care to read it to me.  Did a single hieroglyphic figure stand for so much?’

‘I have never deciphered one.’

‘You have been speaking to me too long in earnest, Mr. Austin!’

’I accept the admonition, though it is wider than the truth.  Have you ever consented to listen to politics before?’

Cecilia reddened faintly, thinking of him who had taught her to listen, and of her previous contempt of the subject.

A political exposition devoid of imagery was given to her next day on the sunny South-western terrace of Mount Laurels, when it was only by mentally translating it into imagery that she could advance a step beside her intellectual guide; and she was ashamed of the volatility of her ideas.  She was constantly comparing Mr. Austin and Nevil Beauchamp, seeing that the senior and the junior both talked to her with the familiar recognition of her understanding which was a compliment without the gross corporeal phrase.  But now she made another discovery, that should have been infinitely more of a compliment, and it was bewildering, if not repulsive to her: ­could it be credited?  Mr. Austin was a firm believer in new and higher destinies for women.  He went farther than she could concede the right of human speculation to go; he was, in fact, as Radical there as Nevil Beauchamp politically; and would not the latter innovator stare, perchance frown conservatively, at a prospect of woman taking counsel, in council, with men upon public affairs, like the women in the Germania!  Mr. Austin, if this time he talked in earnest, deemed that Englishwomen were on the road to win such a promotion, and would win it ultimately.  He said soberly that he saw more certain indications of the reality of progress among women than any at present shown by men.  And he was professedly temperate.  He was but for opening avenues to the means of livelihood for them, and leaving it to their strength to conquer the position they might wish to win.  His belief that they would do so was the revolutionary sign.

‘Are there points of likeness between Radicals and Tories?’ she inquired.

‘I suspect a cousinship in extremes,’ he answered.

‘If one might be present at an argument,’ said she.

‘We have only to meet to fly apart as wide as the Poles,’ Mr. Austin rejoined.

But she had not spoken of a particular person to meet him; and how, then, had she betrayed herself?  She fancied he looked unwontedly arch as he resumed: 

’The end of the argument would see us each entrenched in his party.  Suppose me to be telling your Radical friend such truisms as that we English have not grown in a day, and were not originally made free and equal by decree; that we have grown, and must continue to grow, by the aid and the development of our strength; that ours is a fairly legible history, and a fair example of the good and the bad in human growth; that his landowner and his peasant have no clear case of right and wrong to divide them, one being the descendant of strong men, the other of weak ones; and that the former may sink, the latter may rise ­there is no artificial obstruction; and if it is difficult to rise, it is easy to sink.  Your Radical friend, who would bring them to a level by proclamation, could not adopt a surer method for destroying the manhood of a people:  he is for doctoring wooden men, and I for not letting our stout English be cut down short as Laplanders; he would have them in a forcing house, and I in open air, as hitherto.  Do you perceive a discussion? and you apprehend the nature of it.  We have nerves.  That is why it is better for men of extremely opposite opinions not to meet.  I dare say Radicalism has a function, and so long as it respects the laws I am ready to encounter it where it cannot be avoided.  Pardon my prosing.’

‘Recommend me some hard books to study through the Winter,’ said Cecilia, refreshed by a discourse that touched no emotions, as by a febrifuge.  Could Nevil reply to it?  She fancied him replying, with that wild head of his ­wildest of natures.  She fancied also that her wish was like Mr. Austin’s not to meet him.  She was enjoying a little rest.

It was not quite generous in Mr. Austin to assume that ’her Radical friend’ had been prompting her.  However, she thanked him in her heart for the calm he had given her.  To be able to imagine Nevil Beauchamp intellectually erratic was a tonic satisfaction to the proud young lady, ashamed of a bondage that the bracing and pointing of her critical powers helped her to forget.  She had always preferred the society of men of Mr. Austin’s age.  How old was he?  Her father would know.  And why was he unmarried?  A light frost had settled on the hair about his temples; his forehead was lightly wrinkled; but his mouth and smile, and his eyes, were lively as a young man’s, with more in them.  His age must be something less than fifty.  O for peace! she sighed.  When he stepped into his carriage, and stood up in it to wave adieu to her, she thought his face and figure a perfect example of an English gentleman in his prime.

Captain Baskelett requested the favour of five minutes of conversation with Miss Halkett before he followed Mr. Austin, on his way to Steynham.

She returned from that colloquy to her father and Mr. Tuckham.  The colonel looked straight in her face, with an elevation of the brows.  To these points of interrogation she answered with a placid fall of her eyelids.  He sounded a note of approbation in his throat.

All the company having departed, Mr. Tuckham for the first time spoke of his interview with his kinsman Beauchamp.  Yesterday evening he had slurred it, as if he had nothing to relate, except the finding of an old schoolfellow at Dr. Shrapnel’s named Lydiard, a man of ability fool enough to have turned author on no income.  But that which had appeared to Miss Halkett a want of observancy, became attributable to depth of character on its being clear that he had waited for the departure of the transient guests of the house, to pour forth his impressions without holding up his kinsman to public scorn.  He considered Shrapnel mad and Beauchamp mad.  No such grotesque old monster as Dr. Shrapnel had he seen in the course of his travels.  He had never listened to a madman running loose who was at all up to Beauchamp.  At a loss for words to paint him, he said:  ’Beauchamp seems to have a head like a firework manufactory, he’s perfectly pyrocephalic.’  For an example of Dr. Shrapnel’s talk:  ‘I happened,’ said Mr. Tuckham, ’casually, meaning no harm, and not supposing I was throwing a lighted match on powder, to mention the word Providence.  I found myself immediately confronted by Shrapnel ­overtopped, I should say.  He is a lank giant of about seven feet in height; the kind of show man that used to go about in caravans over the country; and he began rocking over me like a poplar in a gale, and cries out:  “Stay there! away with that!  Providence?  Can you set a thought on Providence, not seeking to propitiate it?  And have you not there the damning proof that you are at the foot of an Idol?” ­The old idea about a special Providence, I suppose.  These fellows have nothing new but their trimmings.  And he went on with:  “Ay, invisible,” and his arm chopping, “but an Idol! an Idol!” ­I was to think of “nought but Laws.”  He admitted there might be one above the Laws.  “To realize him is to fry the brains in their pan,” says he, and struck his forehead ­a slap:  and off he walked down the garden, with his hands at his coat-tails.  I venture to say it may be taken for a proof of incipient insanity to care to hear such a fellow twice.  And Beauchamp holds him up for a sage and a prophet!’

‘He is a very dangerous dog,’ said Colonel Halkett.

’The best of it is ­and I take this for the strongest possible proof that Beauchamp is mad ­Shrapnel stands for an advocate of morality against him.  I’ll speak of it....’

Mr. Tuckham nodded to the colonel, who said:  ’Speak out.  My daughter has been educated for a woman of the world.’

’Well, sir, it’s nothing to offend a young lady’s ears.  Beauchamp is for socially enfranchising the sex ­that is all.  Quite enough.  Not a whit politically.  Love is to be the test:  and if a lady ceases to love her husband... if she sets her fancy elsewhere, she’s bound to leave him.  The laws are tyrannical, our objections are cowardly.  Well, this Dr. Shrapnel harangued about society; and men as well as women are to sacrifice their passions on that altar.  If he could burlesque himself it would be in coming out as a cleric ­the old Pagan!’

‘Did he convince Captain Beauchamp?’ the colonel asked, manifestly for his daughter to hear the reply; which was:  ‘Oh dear, no!’

’Were you able to gather from Captain Beauchamp’s remarks whether he is much disappointed by the result of the election?’ said Cecilia.

Mr. Tuckham could tell her only that Captain Beauchamp was incensed against an elector named Tomlinson for withdrawing a promised vote on account of lying rumours, and elated by the conquest of a Mr. Carpendike, who was reckoned a tough one to drag by the neck.  ’The only sane people in the house are a Miss Denham and the cook:  I lunched there,’ Mr. Tuckham nodded approvingly.  ’Lydiard must be mad.  What he’s wasting his time there for I can’t guess.  He says he’s engaged there in writing a prefatory essay to a new publication of Harry Denham’s poems ­whoever that may be.  And why wasting it there?  I don’t like it.  He ought to be earning his bread.  He’ll be sure to be borrowing money by-and-by.  We’ve got ten thousand too many fellows writing already, and they ’ve seen a few inches of the world, on the Continent!  He can write.  But it’s all unproductive-dead weight on the country, these fellows with their writings!  He says Beauchamp’s praise of Miss Denham is quite deserved.  He tells me, that at great peril to herself ­and she nearly had her arm broken by a stone he saved Shrapnel from rough usage on the election-day.’

‘Hum!’ Colonel Halkett grunted significantly.

‘So I thought,’ Mr. Tuckham responded.  ’One doesn’t want the man to be hurt, but he ought to be put down in some way.  My belief is he’s a Fire-worshipper.  I warrant I would extinguish him if he came before me.  He’s an incendiary, at any rate.’

‘Do you think,’ said Cecilia, ’that Captain Beauchamp is now satisfied with his experience of politics?’

‘Dear me, no,’ said Mr. Tuckham.  ’It’s the opening of a campaign.  He’s off to the North, after he has been to Sussex and Bucks.  He’s to be at it all his life.  One thing he shows common sense in.  If I heard him once I heard him say half-a-dozen times, that he must have money: ­“I must have money!” And so he must if he ’s to head the Radicals.  He wants to start a newspaper!  Is he likely to get money from his uncle Romfrey?’

‘Not for his present plan of campaign.’  Colonel Halkett enunciated the military word sarcastically.  ‘Let’s hope he won’t get money.’

‘He says he must have it.’

‘Who is to stand and deliver, then?’

’I don’t know; I only repeat what he says:  unless he has an eye on my Aunt Beauchamp; and I doubt his luck there, if he wants money for political campaigning.’

‘Money!’ Colonel Halkett ejaculated.

That word too was in the heart of the heiress.

Nevil must have money!  Could he have said it?  Ordinary men might say or think it inoffensively; Captain Baskelett, for instance:  but not Nevil Beauchamp.

Captain Baskelett, as she had conveyed the information to her father for his comfort in the dumb domestic language familiar between them on these occasions, had proposed to her unavailingly.  Italian and English gentlemen were in the list of her rejected suitors:  and hitherto she had seen them come and go, one might say, from a watchtower in the skies.  None of them was the ideal she waited for:  what their feelings were, their wishes, their aims, she had not reflected on.  They dotted the landscape beneath the unassailable heights, busy after their fashion, somewhat quaint, much like the pigmy husbandmen in the fields were to the giant’s daughter, who had more curiosity than Cecilia.  But Nevil Beauchamp had compelled her to quit her lofty station, pulled her low as the littlest of women that throb and flush at one man’s footstep:  and being well able to read the nature and aspirations of Captain Baskelett, it was with the knowledge of her having been proposed to as heiress of a great fortune that she chanced to hear of Nevil’s resolve to have money.  If he did say it!  And was anything likelier? was anything unlikelier?  His foreign love denied to him, why, now he devoted himself to money:  money ­the last consideration of a man so single-mindedly generous as he!  But he must have money to pursue his contest!  But would he forfeit the truth in him for money for any purpose?

The debate on this question grew as incessant as the thought of him.  Was it not to be supposed that the madness of the pursuit of his political chimaera might change his character?

She hoped he would not come to Mount Laurels, thinking she should esteem him less if he did; knowing that her defence of him, on her own behalf, against herself, depended now on an esteem lodged perhaps in her wilfulness.  Yet if he did not come, what an Arctic world!

He came on a November afternoon when the woods glowed, and no sun.  The day was narrowed in mist from earth to heaven:  a moveless and possessing mist.  It left space overhead for one wreath of high cloud mixed with touches of washed red upon moist blue, still as the mist, insensibly passing into it.  Wet webs crossed the grass, chill in the feeble light.  The last flowers of the garden bowed to decay.  Dead leaves, red and brown and spotted yellow, fell straight around the stems of trees, lying thick.  The glow was universal, and the chill.

Cecilia sat sketching the scene at a window of her study, on the level of the drawing-room, and he stood by outside till she saw him.  He greeted her through the glass, then went round to the hall door, giving her time to recover, if only her heart had been less shaken.

Their meeting was like the features of the day she set her brush to picture:  characteristic of a season rather than cheerless in tone, though it breathed little cheer.  Is there not a pleasure in contemplating that which is characteristic?  Her unfinished sketch recalled him after he had gone:  he lived in it, to startle her again, and bid her heart gallop and her cheeks burn.  The question occurred to her:  May not one love, not craving to be beloved?  Such a love does not sap our pride, but supports it; increases rather than diminishes our noble self-esteem.  To attain such a love the martyrs writhed up to the crown of saints.  For a while Cecilia revelled in the thought that she could love in this most saint-like manner.  How they fled, the sordid ideas of him which accused him of the world’s one passion, and were transferred to her own bosom in reproach that she should have imagined them existing in his!  He talked simply and sweetly of his defeat, of time wasted away from the canvass, of loss of money:  and he had little to spare, he said.  The water-colour drawing interested him.  He said he envied her that power of isolation, and the eye for beauty in every season.  She opened a portfolio of Mr. Tuckham’s water-colour drawings in every clime; scenes of Europe, Asia, and the Americas; and he was to be excused for not caring to look through them.  His remark, that they seemed hard and dogged, was not so unjust, she thought, smiling to think of the critic criticized.  His wonderment that a young man like his Lancastrian cousin should be ‘an unmitigated Tory’ was perhaps natural.

Cecilia said, ’Yet I cannot discern in him a veneration for aristocracy.’  ‘That’s not wanted for modern Toryism,’ said Nevil.  ’One may venerate old families when they show the blood of the founder, and are not dead wood.  I do.  And I believe the blood of the founder, though the man may have been a savage and a robber, had in his day finer elements in it than were common.  But let me say at a meeting that I respect true aristocracy, I hear a growl and a hiss beginning:  why?  Don’t judge them hastily:  because the people have seen the aristocracy opposed to the cause that was weak, and only submitting to it when it commanded them to resist at their peril; clinging to traditions, and not anywhere standing for humanity:  much more a herd than the people themselves.  Ah! well, we won’t talk of it now.  I say that is no aristocracy, if it does not head the people in virtue ­military, political, national:  I mean the qualities required by the times for leadership.  I won’t bother you with my ideas now.  I love to see you paint-brush in hand.’

Her brush trembled on the illumination of a scarlet maple.  ’In this country we were not originally made free and equal by decree, Nevil.’

‘No,’ said he, ‘and I cast no blame on our farthest ancestors.’

It struck her that this might be an outline of a reply to Mr. Austin.

‘So you have been thinking over it?’ he asked.

‘Not to conclusions,’ she said, trying to retain in her mind the evanescent suggestiveness of his previous remark, and vexed to find herself upon nothing but a devious phosphorescent trail there.

Her forehead betrayed the unwonted mental action.  He cried out for pardon.  ’What right have I to bother you?  I see it annoys you.  The truth is, I came for peace.  I think of you when they talk of English homes.’

She felt then that he was comparing her home with another, a foreign home.  After he had gone she felt that there had been a comparison of two persons.  She remembered one of his observations:  ’Few women seem to have courage’; when his look at her was for an instant one of scrutiny or calculation.  Under a look like that we perceive that we are being weighed.  She had no clue to tell her what it signified.

Glorious and solely glorious love, that has risen above emotion, quite independent of craving!  That is to be the bird of upper air, poised on his wings.  It is a home in the sky.  Cecilia took possession of it systematically, not questioning whether it would last; like one who is too enamoured of the habitation to object to be a tenant-at-will.  If it was cold, it was in recompense immeasurably lofty, a star-girdled place; and dwelling in it she could avow to herself the secret which was now working self-deception, and still preserve her pride unwounded.  Her womanly pride, she would have said in vindication of it:  but Cecilia Halkett’s pride went far beyond the merely womanly.

Thus she was assisted to endure a journey down to Wales, where Nevil would surely not be.  She passed a Winter without seeing him.  She returned to Mount Laurels from London at Easter, and went on a visit to Steynham, and back to London, having sight of him nowhere, still firm in the thought that she loved ethereally, to bless, forgive, direct, encourage, pray for him, impersonally.  She read certain speeches delivered by Nevil at assemblies of Liberals or Radicals, which were reported in papers in the easy irony of the style of here and there a sentence, here and there a summary:  salient quotations interspersed with running abstracts:  a style terrible to friends of the speaker so reported, overwhelming if they differ in opinion:  yet her charity was a match for it.  She was obliged to have recourse to charity, it should be observed.  Her father drew her attention to the spectacle of R. C. S. Nevil Beauchamp, Commander R.N., fighting those reporters with letters in the newspapers, and the dry editorial comment flanked by three stars on the left.  He was shocked to see a gentleman writing such letters to the papers.  ‘But one thing hangs on another,’ said he.

‘But you seem angry with Nevil, papa,’ said she.

‘I do hate a turbulent, restless fellow, my dear,’ the colonel burst out.

‘Papa, he has really been unfairly reported.’

Cecilia laid three privately-printed full reports of Commander Beauchamp’s speeches (very carefully corrected by him) before her father.

He suffered his eye to run down a page.  ’Is it possible you read this? ­this trash! ­dangerous folly, I call it.’

Cecilia’s reply, ‘In the interests of justice, I do,’ was meant to express her pure impartiality.  By a toleration of what is detested we expose ourselves to the keenness of an adverse mind.

‘Does he write to you, too?’ said the colonel.

She answered:  ‘Oh, no; I am not a politician.’

‘He seems to have expected you to read those tracts of his, though.’

‘Yes, I think he would convert me if he could,’ said Cecilia.

‘Though you’re not a politician.’

’He relies on the views he delivers in public, rather than on writing to persuade; that was my meaning, papa.’

‘Very well,’ said the colonel, not caring to show his anxiety.

Mr. Tuckham dined with them frequently in London.  This gentleman betrayed his accomplishments one by one.  He sketched, and was no artist; he planted, and was no gardener; he touched the piano neatly, and was no musician; he sang, and he had no voice.  Apparently he tried his hand at anything, for the privilege of speaking decisively upon all things.  He accompanied the colonel and his daughter on a day’s expedition to Mrs. Beauchamp, on the Upper Thames, and they agreed that he shone to great advantage in her society.  Mrs. Beauchamp said she had seen her great-nephew Nevil, but without a comment on his conduct or his person; grave silence.  Reflecting on it, Cecilia grew indignant at the thought that Mr. Tuckham might have been acting a sinister part.  Mrs. Beauchamp alluded to a newspaper article of her favourite great-nephew Blackburn, written, Cecilia knew through her father, to controvert some tremendous proposition of Nevil’s.  That was writing, Mrs. Beauchamp said.  ’I am not in the habit of fearing a conflict, so long as we have stout defenders.  I rather like it,’ she said.

The colonel entertained Mrs. Beauchamp, while Mr. Tuckham led Miss Halkett over the garden.  Cecilia considered that his remarks upon Nevil were insolent.

’Seriously, Miss Halkett, to take him at his best, he is a very good fellow, I don’t doubt; I am told so; and a capital fellow among men, a good friend and not a bad boon-fellow, and for that matter, the smoking-room is a better test than the drawing-room; all he wants is emphatically school ­school ­school.  I have recommended the simple iteration of that one word in answer to him at his meetings, and the printing of it as a foot-note to his letters.’

Cecilia’s combative spirit precipitated her to say, ’I hear the mob in it shouting Captain Beauchamp down.’

‘Ay,’ said Mr. Tuckham, ’it would be setting the mob to shout wisely at last.’

‘The mob is a wild beast.’

‘Then we should hear wisdom coming out of the mouth of the wild beast.’

‘Men have the phrase, “fair play."’

’Fair play, I say, is not applicable to a man who deliberately goes about to stir the wild beast.  He is laughed at, plucked, hustled, and robbed, by those who deafen him with their “plaudits” ­their roars.  Did you see his advertisement of a great-coat, lost at some rapscallion gathering down in the North, near my part of the country?  A great-coat and a packet of letters.  He offers a reward of L10.  But that’s honest robbery compared with the bleeding he’ll get.’

‘Do you know Mr. Seymour Austin?’ Miss Halkett asked him.

‘I met him once at your father’s table.  Why?’

‘I think you would like to listen to him.’

‘Yes, my fault is not listening enough,’ said Mr. Tuckham.

He was capable of receiving correction.

Her father told her he was indebted to Mr. Tuckham past payment in coin, for services rendered by him on a trying occasion among the miners in Wales during the first spring month.  ’I dare say he can speak effectively to miners,’ Cecilia said, outvying the contemptuous young man in superciliousness, but with effort and not with satisfaction.

She left London in July, two days before her father could be induced to return to Mount Laurels.  Feverish, and strangely subject to caprices now, she chose the longer way round by Sussex, and alighted at the station near Steynham to call on Mrs. Culling, whom she knew to be at the Hall, preparing it for Mr. Romfrey’s occupation.  In imitation of her father she was Rosamund’s fast friend, though she had never quite realized her position, and did not thoroughly understand her.  Would it not please her father to hear that she had chosen the tedious route for the purpose of visiting this lady, whose champion he was?

So she went to Steynham, and for hours she heard talk of no one, of nothing, but her friend Nevil.  Cecilia was on her guard against Rosamund’s defence of his conduct in France.  The declaration that there had been no misbehaviour at all could not be accepted; but the news of Mr. Romfrey’s having installed Nevil in Holdesbury to manage that property, and of his having mooted to her father the question of an alliance between her and Nevil, was wonderful.  Rosamund could not say what answer her father had made:  hardly favourable, Cecilia supposed, since he had not spoken of the circumstance to her.  But Mr. Romfrey’s influence with him would certainly be powerful.

It was to be assumed, also, that Nevil had been consulted by his uncle.  Rosamund said full-heartedly that this alliance had for years been her life’s desire, and then she let the matter pass, nor did she once loop at Cecilia searchingly, or seem to wish to probe her.  Cecilia disagreed with Rosamund on an insignificant point in relation to something Mr. Romfrey and Captain Baskelett had done, and, as far as she could recollect subsequently, there was a packet of letters, or a pocket-book containing letters of Nevil’s which he had lost, and which had been forwarded to Mr. Romfrey; for the pocket-book was originally his, and his address was printed inside.  But among these letters was one from Dr. Shrapnel to Nevil:  a letter so horrible that Rosamund frowned at the reminiscence of it, holding it to be too horrible for the quotation of a sentence.  She owned she had forgotten any three consecutive words.  Her known dislike of Captain Baskelett, however, was insufficient to make her see that it was unjustifiable in him to run about London reading it, with comments of the cruellest.  Rosamund’s greater detestation of Dr. Shrapnel blinded her to the offence committed by the man she would otherwise have been very ready to scorn.  So small did the circumstance appear to Cecilia, notwithstanding her gentle opposition at the time she listened to it, that she never thought of mentioning it to her father, and only remembered it when Captain Baskelett, with Lord Palmet in his company, presented himself at Mount Laurels, and proposed to the colonel to read to him ’a letter from that scoundrelly old Shrapnel to Nevil Beauchamp, upon women, wives, thrones, republics, British loyalty, et caetera,’ ­an et caetera that rolled a series of tremendous reverberations down the list of all things held precious by freeborn Englishmen.

She would have prevented the reading.  But the colonel would have it.

‘Read on,’ said he.  ‘Mr. Romfrey saw no harm.’

Captain Baskelett held up Dr. Shrapnel’s letter to Commander Beauchamp, at about half a yard’s distance on the level of his chin, as a big-chested singer in a concert-room holds his music-scroll.