Read CHAPTER XXX - THE BAITING OF DR. SHRAPNEL of Beauchamp Career, free online book, by George Meredith, on ReadCentral.com.

Captain Baskelett went down from Mount Laurels to Bevisham to arrange for the giving of a dinner to certain of his chief supporters in the borough, that they might know he was not obliged literally to sit in Parliament in order to pay a close attention to their affairs.  He had not distinguished himself by a speech during the session, but he had stored a political precept or two in his memory, and, as he told Lord Palmet, he thought a dinner was due to his villains.  ’The way to manage your Englishman, Palmet, is to dine him.’  As the dinner would decidedly be dull, he insisted on having Lord Palmet’s company.

They crossed over to the yachting island, where portions of the letter of Commander Beauchamp’s correspondent were read at the Club, under the verandah, and the question put, whether a man who held those opinions had a right to wear his uniform.

The letter was transmitted to Steynham in time to be consigned to the pocket-book before Beauchamp arrived there on one of his rare visits.  Mr. Romfrey handed him the pocketbook with the frank declaration that he had read Shrapnel’s letter.  ‘All is fair in war, Sir!’ Beauchamp quoted him ambiguously.

The thieves had amused Mr. Romfrey by their scrupulous honesty in returning what was useless to them, while reserving the coat:  but subsequently seeing the advertized reward, they had written to claim it; and, according to Rosamund Culling, he had been so tickled that he had deigned to reply to them, very briefly, but very comically.

Speaking of the matter with her, Beauchamp said (so greatly was he infatuated with the dangerous man) that the reading of a letter of Dr. Shrapnel’s could do nothing but good to any reflecting human creature:  he admitted that as the lost pocket-book was addressed to Mr. Romfrey, it might have been by mistake that he had opened it, and read the topmost letter lying open.  But he pressed Rosamund to say whether that one only had been read.

‘Only Dr. Shrapnel’s letter,’ Rosamund affirmed.  ’The letter from Normandy was untouched by him.’

‘Untouched by anybody?’

‘Unopened, Nevil.  You look incredulous.’

‘Not if I have your word, ma’am.’

He glanced somewhat contemptuously at his uncle Everard’s anachronistic notions of what was fair in war.

To prove to him Mr. Romfrey’s affectionate interest in his fortunes, Rosamund mentioned the overtures which had been made to Colonel Halkett for a nuptial alliance between the two houses; and she said:  ’Your uncle Everard was completely won by your manly way of taking his opposition to you in Bevisham.  He pays for Captain Baskelett, but you and your fortunes are nearest his heart, Nevil.’

Beauchamp hung silent.  His first remark was, ’Yes, I want money.  I must have money.’  By degrees he seemed to warm to some sense of gratitude.  ‘It was kind of the baron,’ he said.

’He has a great affection for you, Nevil, though you know he spares no one who chooses to be antagonistic.  All that is over.  But do you not second him, Nevil?  You admire her?  You are not adverse?’

Beauchamp signified the horrid intermixture of yes and no, frowned in pain of mind, and Walked up and down.  ’There’s no living woman I admire so much.’

‘She has refused the highest matches.’

‘I hold her in every way incomparable.’

’She tries to understand your political ideas, if she cannot quite sympathize with them, Nevil.  And consider how hard it is for a young English lady, bred in refinement, to understand such things.’

‘Yes,’ Beauchamp nodded; yes.  Well, more ‘s the pity for me!’

‘Ah!  Nevil, that fatal Renee!’

’Ma’am, I acquit you of any suspicion of your having read her letter in this pocket-book.  She wishes me to marry.  You would have seen it written here.  She wishes it.’

‘Fly, clipped wing!’ murmured Rosamund, and purposely sent a buzz into her ears to shut out his extravagant talk of Renee’s friendly wishes.

‘How is it you women will not believe in the sincerity of a woman!’ he exclaimed.

‘Nevil, I am not alluding to the damage done to your election.’

’To my candidature, ma’am.  You mean those rumours, those lies of the enemy.  Tell me how I could suppose you were alluding to them.  You bring them forward now to justify your charge of “fatal” against her.  She has one fault; she wants courage; she has none other, not one that is not excuseable.  We won’t speak of France.  What did her father say?’

’Colonel Halkett?  I do not know.  He and his daughter come here next week, and the colonel will expect to meet you here.  That does not look like so positive an objection to you?’

‘To me personally, no,’ said Beauchamp.  ’But Mr. Romfrey has not told me that I am to meet them.’

’Perhaps he has not thought it worth while.  It is not his way.  He has asked you to come.  You and Miss Halkett will be left to yourselves.  Her father assured Mr. Romfrey that he should not go beyond advising her.  His advice might not be exactly favourable to you at present, but if you sued and she accepted ­and she would, I am convinced she would; she was here with me, talking of you a whole afternoon, and I have eyes ­then he would not oppose the match, and then I should see you settled, the husband of the handsomest wife and richest heiress in England.’

A vision of Cecilia swam before him, gracious in stateliness.

Two weeks back Renee’s expression of a wish that he would marry had seemed to him an idle sentence in a letter breathing of her own intolerable situation.  The marquis had been struck down by illness.  What if she were to be soon suddenly free?  But Renee could not be looking to freedom, otherwise she never would have written the wish for him to marry.  She wrote perhaps hearing temptation whisper; perhaps wishing to save herself and him by the aid of a tie that would bring his honour into play and fix his loyalty.  He remembered Dr. Shrapnel’s written words:  ‘Rebellion against society and advocacy of humanity run counter.’  They had a stronger effect on him than when he was ignorant of his uncle Everard’s plan to match him with Cecilia.  He took refuge from them in the image of that beautiful desolate Renee, born to be beloved, now wasted, worse than trodden under foot ­perverted; a life that looked to him for direction and resuscitation.  She was as good as dead in her marriage.  It was impossible for him ever to think of Renee without the surprising thrill of his enchantment with her, and tender pity that drew her closer to him by darkening her brightness.

Still a man may love his wife.  A wife like Cecilia was not to be imagined coldly.  Let the knot once be tied, it would not be regretted, could not be; hers was a character, and hers a smile, firmly assuring him of that.

He told Mr. Romfrey that he should be glad to meet Colonel Halkett and Cecilia.  Business called him to Holdesbury.  Thence he betook himself to Dr. Shrapnel’s cottage to say farewell to Jenny Denham previous to her departure for Switzerland with her friend Clara Sherwin.  She had never seen a snow-mountain, and it was pleasant to him to observe in her eyes, which he had known weighing and balancing intellectual questions more than he quite liked, a childlike effort to conjure in imagination the glories of the Alps.  She appeared very happy, only a little anxious about leaving Dr. Shrapnel with no one to take care of him for a whole month.  Beauchamp promised he would run over to him from Holdesbury, only an hour by rail, as often as he could.  He envied her the sight of the Alps, he said, and tried to give her an idea of them, from which he broke off to boast of a famous little Jersey bull that he had won from a rival, an American, deeply in love with the bull; cutting him out by telegraph by just five minutes.  The latter had examined the bull in the island and had passed on to Paris, not suspecting there would be haste to sell him.  Beauchamp, seeing the bull advertized, took him on trust, galloped to the nearest telegraph station forthwith, and so obtained possession of him; and the bull was now shipped on the voyage.  But for this precious bull, however, and other business, he would have been able to spend almost the entire month with Dr. Shrapnel, he said regretfully.  Miss Denham on the contrary did not regret his active occupation.  The story of his rush from the breakfast-table to the stables, and gallop away to the station, while the American Quaker gentleman soberly paced down a street in Paris on the same errand, in invisible rivalry, touched her risible fancy.  She was especially pleased to think of him living in harmony with his uncle ­that strange, lofty, powerful man, who by plot or by violence punished opposition to his will, but who must be kind at heart, as well as forethoughtful of his nephew’s good; the assurance of it being, that when the conflict was at an end he had immediately installed him as manager of one of his estates, to give his energy play and make him practically useful.

The day before she left home was passed by the three in botanizing, some miles distant from Bevisham, over sand country, marsh and meadow; Dr. Shrapnel, deep in the science, on one side of her, and Beauchamp, requiring instruction in the names and properties of every plant and simple, on the other.  It was a day of summer sweetness, gentle laughter, conversation, and the happiest homeliness.  The politicians uttered barely a syllable of politics.  The dinner basket was emptied heartily to make way for herb and flower, and at night the expedition homeward was crowned with stars along a road refreshed by mid-day thunder-showers and smelling of the rain in the dust, past meadows keenly scenting, gardens giving out their innermost balm and odour.  Late at night they drank tea in Jenny’s own garden.  They separated a little after two in the morning, when the faded Western light still lay warm on a bow of sky, and on the level of the East it quickened.  Jenny felt sure she should long for that yesterday when she was among foreign scenes, even among high Alps-those mysterious éminences which seemed in her imagination to know of heaven and have the dawn of a new life for her beyond their peaks.

Her last words when stepping into the railway carriage were to Beauchamp:  ‘Will you take care of him?’ She flung her arms round Dr. Shrapnel’s neck, and gazed at him under troubled eyelids which seemed to be passing in review every vision of possible harm that might come to him during her absence; and so she continued gazing, and at no one but Dr. Shrapnel until the bend of the line cut him from her sight.  Beauchamp was a very secondary person on that occasion, and he was unused to being so in the society of women ­unused to find himself entirely eclipsed by their interest in another.  He speculated on it, wondering at her concentrated fervency; for he had not supposed her to possess much warmth.

After she was fairly off on her journey, Dr. Shrapnel mentioned to Beauchamp a case of a Steynham poacher, whom he had thought it his duty to supply with means of defence.  It was a common poaching case.

Beauchamp was not surprised that Mr. Romfrey and Dr. Shrapnel should come to a collision; the marvel was that it had never occurred before, and Beauchamp said at once:  ’Oh, my uncle Mr. Romfrey would rather see them stand their ground than not.’  He was disposed to think well of his uncle.  The Jersey bull called him away to Holdesbury.

Captain Baskelett heard of this poaching case at Steynham, where he had to appear in person when he was in want of cheques, and the Bevisham dinner furnished an excuse for demanding one.  He would have preferred a positive sum annually.  Mr. Romfrey, however, though he wrote his cheques out like the lord he was by nature, exacted the request for them; a system that kept the gallant gentleman on his good behaviour, probably at a lower cost than the regular stipend.  In handing the cheque to Cecil Baskelett, Mr. Romfrey spoke of a poacher, of an old poaching family called the Dicketts, who wanted punishment and was to have it, but Mr. Romfrey’s local lawyer had informed him that the man Shrapnel was, as usual, supplying the means of defence.  For his own part, Mr. Romfrey said, he had no objection to one rascal’s backing another, and Shrapnel might hit his hardest, only perhaps Nevil might somehow get mixed up in it, and Nevil was going on quietly now ­he had in fact just done capitally in lassoing with a shot of the telegraph a splendid little Jersey bull that a Yankee was after:  and on the whole it was best to try to keep him quiet, for he was mad about that man Shrapnel; Shrapnel was his joss:  and if legal knocks came of this business Nevil might be thinking of interfering:  ’Or he and I may be getting to exchange a lot of shindy letters,’ Mr. Romfrey said.  ’Tell him I take Shrapnel just like any other man, and don’t want to hear apologies, and I don’t mix him up in it.  Tell him if he likes to have an explanation from me, I’ll give it him when he comes here.  You can run over to Holdesbury the morning after your dinner.’

Captain Baskelett said he would go.  He was pleased with his cheque at the time, but hearing subsequently that Nevil was coming to Steynham to meet Colonel Halkett and his daughter, he became displeased, considering it a very silly commission.  The more he thought of it the more ridiculous and unworthy it appeared.  He asked himself and Lord Palmet also why he should have to go to Nevil at Holdesbury to tell him of circumstances that he would hear of two or three days later at Steynham.  There was no sense in it.  The only conclusion for him was that the scheming woman Culling had determined to bring down every man concerned in the Bevisham election, and particularly Mr. Romfrey, on his knees before Nevil.  Holdesbury had been placed at his disposal, and the use of the house in London, which latter would have been extremely serviceable to Cecil as a place of dinners to the Parliament of Great Britain in lieu of the speech-making generally expected of Members, and not so effectively performed.  One would think the baron had grown afraid of old Nevil!  He had spoken as if he were.

Cecil railed unreservedly to Lord Palmet against that woman ’Mistress Culling,’ as it pleased him to term her, and who could be offended by his calling her so?  His fine wit revelled in bestowing titles that were at once batteries directed upon persons he hated, and entrenchments for himself.

At four o’clock on a sultry afternoon he sat at table with his Bevisham supporters, and pledged them correspondingly in English hotel champagne, sherry and claret.  At seven he was rid of them, but parched and heated, as he deserved to be, he owned, for drinking the poison.  It would be a good subject for Parliament if he could get it up, he reflected.

‘And now,’ said he to Palmet, ’we might be crossing over to the Club if I hadn’t to go about that stupid business to Holdesbury to-morrow morning.  We shall miss the race, or, at least, the start.’

The idea struck him:  ’Ten to one old Nevil ‘s with Shrapnel,’ and no idea could be more natural.

’We ‘ll call on Shrapnel,’ said Palmet.  ’We shall see Jenny Denham.  He gives her out as his niece.  Whatever she is she’s a brimming little beauty.  I assure you, Bask, you seldom see so pretty a girl.’

Wine, which has directed men’s footsteps upon more marvellous adventures, took them to a chemist’s shop for a cooling effervescent draught, and thence through the town to the address, furnished to them by the chemist, of Dr. Shrapnel on the common.

Bad wine, which is responsible for the fate of half the dismal bodies hanging from trees, weltering by rocks, grovelling and bleaching round the bedabbled mouth of the poet’s Cave of Despair, had rendered Captain Baskelett’s temper extremely irascible; so when he caught sight of Dr. Shrapnel walling in his garden, and perceived him of a giant’s height, his eyes fastened on the writer of the abominable letter with an exultation peculiar to men having a devil inside them that kicks to be out.  The sun was low, blazing among the thicker branches of the pollard forest trees, and through sprays of hawthorn.  Dr. Shrapnel stopped, facing the visible master of men, at the end of his walk before he turned his back to continue the exercise and some discourse he was holding aloud either to the heavens or bands of invisible men.

‘Ahem, Dr. Shrapnel!’ He was accosted twice, the second time imperiously.

He saw two gentlemen outside the garden-hedge.

‘I spoke, sir,’ said Captain Baskelett.

‘I hear you now, sir,’ said the doctor, walking in a parallel line with them.

‘I desired to know, sir, if you are Dr. Shrapnel?’

‘I am.’

They arrived at the garden-gate.

‘You have a charming garden, Dr. Shrapnel,’ said Lord Palmet, very affably and loudly, with a steady observation of the cottage windows.

Dr. Shrapnel flung the gate open.

Lord Palmet raised his hat and entered, crying loudly, ’A very charming garden, upon my word!’

Captain Baskelett followed him, bowing stiffly.

‘I am,’ he said, ’Captain Beauchamp’s cousin.  I am Captain Baskelett, one of the Members for the borough.’

The doctor said, ‘Ah.’

‘I wish to see Captain Beauchamp, sir.  He is absent?’

‘I shall have him here shortly, sir.’

‘Oh, you will have him!’ Cecil paused.

‘Admirable roses!’ exclaimed Lord Palmet.

‘You have him, I think,’ said Cecil, ’if what we hear is correct.  I wish to know, sir, whether the case you are conducting against his uncle is one you have communicated to Captain Beauchamp.  I repeat, I am here to inquire if he is privy to it.  You may hold family ties in contempt ­Now, sir!  I request you abstain from provocations with me.’

Dr. Shrapnel had raised his head, with something of the rush of a rocket, from the stooping posture to listen, and his frown of non-intelligence might be interpreted as the coming on of the fury Radicals are prone to, by a gentleman who believed in their constant disposition to explode.

Cecil made play with a pacifying hand.  ’We shall arrive at no understanding unless you are good enough to be perfectly calm.  I repeat, my cousin Captain Beauchamp is more or less at variance with his family, owing to these doctrines of yours, and your extraordinary Michael-Scott-the-wizard kind of spell you seem to have cast upon his common sense as a man of the world.  You have him, as you say.  I do not dispute it.  I have no, doubt you have him fast.  But here is a case demanding a certain respect for decency.  Pray, if I may ask you, be still, be quiet, and hear me out if you can.  I am accustomed to explain myself to the comprehension of most men who are at large, and I tell you candidly I am not to be deceived or diverted from my path by a show of ignorance.’

‘What is your immediate object, sir?’ said Dr. Shrapnel, chagrined by the mystification within him, and a fear that his patience was going.

‘Exactly,’ Cecil nodded.  He was acute enough to see that he had established the happy commencement of fretfulness in the victim, which is equivalent to a hook well struck in the mouth of your fish, and with an angler’s joy he prepared to play his man.  ’Exactly.  I have stated it.  And you ask me.  But I really must decline to run over the whole ground again for you.  I am here to fulfil a duty to my family; a highly disagreeable one to me.  I may fail, like the lady who came here previous to the Election, for the result of which I am assured I ought to thank your eminently disinterested services.  I do.  You recollect a lady calling on you?’

Dr. Shrapnel consulted his memory.  ’I think I have a recollection of some lady calling.’

‘Oh! you think you have a recollection of some lady calling.’

‘Do you mean a lady connected with Captain Beauchamp?’

’A lady connected with Captain Beauchamp.  You are not aware of the situation of the lady?’

’If I remember, she was a kind of confidential housekeeper, some one said, to Captain Beauchamp’s uncle.’

’A kind of confidential housekeeper!  She is recognized in our family as a lady, sir.  I can hardly expect better treatment at your hands than she met with, but I do positively request you to keep your temper whilst I am explaining my business to you.  Now, sir! what now?’

A trifling breeze will set the tall tree bending, and Dr. Shrapnel did indeed appear to display the agitation of a full-driving storm when he was but harassed and vexed.

‘Will you mention your business concisely, if you Please?’ he said.

’Precisely; it is my endeavour.  I supposed I had done so.  To be frank, I would advise you to summon a member of your household, wife, daughter, housekeeper, any one you like, to whom you may appeal, and I too, whenever your recollections are at fault.’

‘I am competent,’ said the doctor.

‘But in justice to you,’ urged Cecil considerately.

Dr. Shrapnel smoothed his chin hastily.  ‘Have you done?’

‘Believe me, the instant I have an answer to my question, I have done.’

‘Name your question.’

’Very well, sir.  Now mark, I will be plain with you.  There is no escape for you from this.  You destroy my cousin’s professional prospects ­I request you to listen ­you blast his career in the navy; it was considered promising.  He was a gallant officer and a smart seaman.  Very well.  You set him up as a politician, to be knocked down, to a dead certainty.  You set him against his class; you embroil him with his family ...’

‘On all those points,’ interposed Dr. Shrapnel, after dashing a hand to straighten his forelock; but Cecil vehemently entreated him to control his temper.

’I say you embroil him with his family, you cause him to be in everlasting altercation with his uncle Mr. Romfrey, materially to his personal detriment; and the question of his family is one that every man of sense would apprehend on the spot; for we, you should know, have, sir, an opinion of Captain Beauchamp’s talents and abilities forbidding us to think he could possibly be the total simpleton you make him appear, unless to the seductions of your political instructions, other seductions were added....  You apprehend me, I am sure.’

‘I don’t,’ cried the doctor, descending from his height and swinging about forlornly.

’Oh! yes, you do; you do indeed, you cannot avoid it; you quite apprehend me; it is admitted that you take my meaning:  I insist on that.  I have nothing to say but what is complimentary of the young lady, whoever she may turn out to be; bewitching, no doubt; and to speak frankly, Dr. Shrapnel, I, and I am pretty certain every honest man would think with me, I take it to be ten times more creditable to my cousin Captain Beauchamp that he should be under a lady’s influence than under yours.  Come, sir!  I ask you.  You must confess that a gallant officer and great admirer of the sex does not look such a donkey if he is led in silken strings by a beautiful creature.  And mark ­stop! mark this, Dr. Shrapnel:  I say, to the lady we can all excuse a good deal, and at the same time you are to be congratulated on first-rate diplomacy in employing so charming an agent.  I wish, I really wish you did it generally, I assure you:  only, mark this ­I do beg you to contain yourself for a minute, if possible ­I say, my cousin Captain Beauchamp is fair game to hunt, and there is no law to prevent the chase, only you must not expect us to be quiet spectators of your sport; and we have, I say, undoubtedly a right to lay the case before the lady, and induce her to be a peace-agent in the family if we can.  Very well.’

‘This garden is redolent of a lady’s hand,’ sighed Palmet, poetical in his dejection.

‘Have you taken too much wine, gentlemen?’ said Dr. Shrapnel.

Cecil put this impertinence aside with a graceful sweep of his fingers.  ‘You attempt to elude me, sir.’

‘Not I!  You mention some lady.’

‘Exactly.  A young lady.’

‘What is the name of the lady?’

’Oh!  You ask the name of the lady.  And I too.  What is it?  I have heard two or three names.’

‘Then you have heard villanies.’

‘Denham, Jenny Denham, Miss Jenny Denham,’ said Palmet, rejoiced at the opportunity of trumpeting her name so that she should not fail to hear it.

‘I stake my reputation I have heard her called Shrapnel ­Miss Shrapnel,’ said Cecil.

The doctor glanced hastily from one to the other of his visitors.  ’The young lady is my ward; I am her guardian,’ he said.

Cecil pursed his mouth.  ‘I have heard her called your niece.’

’Niece ­ward; she is a lady by birth and education, in manners, accomplishments, and character; and she is under my protection,’ cried Dr. Shrapnel.

Cecil bowed.  ’So you are for gentle birth?  I forgot you are for morality too, and for praying; exactly; I recollect.  But now let me tell you, entirely with the object of conciliation, my particular desire is to see the young lady, in your presence of course, and endeavour to persuade her, as I have very little doubt I shall do, assuming that you give me fair play, to exercise her influence, on this occasion contrary to yours, and save my cousin Captain Beauchamp from a fresh misunderstanding with his uncle Mr. Romfrey.  Now, sir; now, there!’

‘You will not see Miss Denham with my sanction ever,’ said Dr. Shrapnel.

’Oh!  Then I perceive your policy.  Mark, sir, my assumption was that the young lady would, on hearing my representations, exert herself to heal the breach between Captain Beauchamp and his family.  You stand in the way.  You treat me as you treated the lady who came here formerly to wrest your dupe from your clutches.  If I mistake not, she saw the young lady you acknowledge to be your ward.’

Dr. Shrapnel flashed back:  ’I acknowledge?  Mercy and justice! is there no peace with the man?  You walk here to me, I can’t yet guess why, from a town where I have enemies, and every scandal flies touching me and mine; and you ­’ He stopped short to master his anger.  He subdued it so far as to cloak it in an attempt to speak reasoningly, as angry men sometimes deceive themselves in doing, despite the good maxim for the wrathful ­speak not at all.  ‘See,’ said he, ’I was never married.  My dear friend dies, and leaves me his child to protect and rear; and though she bears her father’s name, she is most wrongly and foully made to share the blows levelled at her guardian.  Ay, have at me, all of you, as much as you will!  Hold off from her.  Were it true, the cowardice would be not a whit the smaller.  Why, casting a stone like that, were it the size of a pebble and the weight of a glance, is to toss the whole cowardly world on an innocent young girl.  And why suspect evil?  You talk of that lady who paid me a visit here once, and whom I treated becomingly, I swear.  I never do otherwise.  She was a handsome woman; and what was she?  The housekeeper of Captain Beauchamp’s uncle.  Hear me, if you please!  To go with the world, I have as good a right to suppose the worst of an attractive lady in that situation as you regarding my ward:  better warrant for scandalizing, I think; to go with the world.  But now ­’

Cecil checked him, ejaculating, ’Thank you, Dr. Shrapnel; I thank you most cordially,’ with a shining smile.  ’Stay, sir! no more.  I take my leave of you.  Not another word.  No “buts”!  I recognize that conciliation is out of the question:  you are the natural protector of poachers, and you will not grant me an interview with the young lady you call your ward, that I may represent to her, as a person we presume to have a chance of moving you, how easily ­I am determined you shall hear me, Dr. Shrapnel! ­how easily the position of Captain Beauchamp may become precarious with his uncle Mr. Romfrey.  And let me add ­“but” and “but” me till Doomsday, sir! ­if you were ­I do hear you, sir, and you shall hear me ­if you were a younger man, I say, I would hold you answerable to me for your scandalous and disgraceful insinuations.’

Dr. Shrapnel was adroitly fenced and over-shouted.  He shrugged, stuttered, swayed, wagged a bulrush-head, flapped his elbows, puffed like a swimmer in the breakers, tried many times to expostulate, and finding the effort useless, for his adversary was copious and commanding, relapsed, eyeing him as an object far removed.

Cecil rounded one of his perplexingly empty sentences and turned on his heel.

‘War, then!’ he said.

‘As you like,’ retorted the doctor.

‘Oh!  Very good.  Good evening.’  Cecil slightly lifted his hat, with the short projection of the head of the stately peacock in its walk, and passed out of the garden.  Lord Palmet, deeply disappointed and mystified, went after him, leaving Dr. Shrapnel to shorten his garden walk with enormous long strides.

‘I’m afraid you didn’t manage the old boy,’ Palmet complained.  ’They’re people who have tea in their gardens; we might have sat down with them and talked, the best friends in the world, and come again to-morrow might have called her Jenny in a week.  She didn’t show her pretty nose at any of the windows.’

His companion pooh-poohed and said:  ’Foh!  I’m afraid I permitted myself to lose my self-command for a moment.’

Palmet sang out an amorous couplet to console himself.  Captain Baskelett respected the poetic art for its magical power over woman’s virtue, but he disliked hearing verses, and they were ill-suited to Palmet.  He abused his friend roundly, telling him it was contemptible to be quoting verses.  He was irritable still.

He declared himself nevertheless much refreshed by his visit to Dr. Shrapnel.  ’We shall have to sleep tonight in this unhallowed town, but I needn’t be off to Holdesbury in the morning; I’ve done my business.  I shall write to the baron to-night, and we can cross the water to-morrow in time for operations.’

The letter to Mr. Romfrey was composed before midnight.  It was a long one, and when he had finished it, Cecil remembered that the act of composition had been assisted by a cigar in his mouth, and Mr. Romfrey detested the smell of tobacco.  There was nothing to be done but to write the letter over again, somewhat more briefly:  it ran thus: 

’Thinking to kill two birds at a blow, I went yesterday with Palmet after the dinner at this place to Shrapnel’s house, where, as I heard, I stood a chance of catching friend Nevil.  The young person living under the man’s protection was absent, and so was the “poor dear commander,” perhaps attending on his bull.  Shrapnel said he was expecting him.  I write to you to confess I thought myself a cleverer fellow than I am.  I talked to Shrapnel and tried hard to reason with him.  I hope I can keep my temper under ordinary circumstances.  You will understand that it required remarkable restraint when I make you acquainted with the fact that a lady’s name was introduced, which, as your representative in relation to her, I was bound to defend from a gratuitous and scoundrelly aspersion.  Shrapnel’s epistle to “brave Beauchamp” is Church hymnification in comparison with his conversation.  He is indubitably one of the greatest ruffians of his time.

’I took the step with the best of intentions, and all I can plead is that I am not a diplomatist of sixty.  His last word was that he is for war with us.  As far as we men are concerned it is of small importance.  I should think that the sort of society he would scandalize a lady in is not much to be feared.  I have given him his warning.  He tops me by about a head, and loses his temper every two minutes.  I could have drawn him out deliciously if he had not rather disturbed mine.  By this time my equanimity is restored.  The only thing I apprehend is your displeasure with me for having gone to the man.  I have done no good, and it prevents me from running over to Holdesbury to see Nevil, for if “shindy letters,” as you call them, are bad, shindy meetings are worse.  I should be telling him my opinion of Shrapnel, he would be firing out, I should retort, he would yell, I should snap my fingers, and he would go into convulsions.  I am convinced that a cattle-breeder ought to keep himself particularly calm.  So unless I have further orders from you I refrain from going.

’The dinner was enthusiastic.  I sat three hours among my Commons, they on me for that length of time ­fatiguing, but a duty.’

Cecil subscribed his name with the warmest affection toward his uncle.

The brevity of the second letter had not brought him nearer to the truth in rescinding the picturesque accessories of his altercation with Dr. Shrapnel, but it veraciously expressed the sentiments he felt, and that was the palpable truth for him.

He posted the letter next morning.