Read CHAPTER XXXII - AN EFFORT TO CONQUER CECILIA IN BEAUCHAMP’S FASHION of Beauchamp Career, free online book, by George Meredith, on ReadCentral.com.

The day after Mr. Romfrey’s landing in Bevisham a full South-wester stretched the canvas of yachts of all classes, schooner, cutter and yawl, on the lively green water between the island and the forest shore.  Cecilia’s noble schooner was sure to be out in such a ringing breeze, for the pride of it as well as the pleasure.  She landed her father at the Club steps, and then bore away Eastward to sight a cutter race, the breeze beginning to stiffen.  Looking back against sun and wind, she saw herself pursued by a saucy little 15-ton craft that had been in her track since she left the Otley river before noon, dipping and straining, with every inch of sail set; as mad a stern chase as ever was witnessed:  and who could the man at the tiller, clad cap-A-pie in tarpaulin, be?  She led him dancing away, to prove his resoluteness and laugh at him.  She had the powerful wings, and a glory in them coming of this pursuit:  her triumph was delicious, until the occasional sparkle of the tarpaulin was lost, the small boat appeared a motionless object far behind, and all ahead of her exceedingly dull, though the race hung there and the crowd of sail.

Cecilia’s transient flutter of coquettry created by the animating air and her queenly flight was over.  She fled splendidly and she came back graciously.  But he refused her open hand, as it were.  He made as if to stand across her tack, and, reconsidering it, evidently scorned his advantage and challenged the stately vessel for a beat up against the wind.  It was as pretty as a Court minuet.  But presently Cecilia stood too far on one tack, and returning to the centre of the channel, found herself headed by seamanship.  He waved an ironical salute with his sou’wester.  Her retort consisted in bringing her vessel to the wind, and sending a boat for him.

She did it on the impulse; had she consulted her wishes she would rather have seen him at his post, where he seemed in his element, facing the spray and cunningly calculating to get wind and tide in his favour.  Partly with regret she saw him, stripped of his tarpaulin, jump into her boat, as though she had once more to say farewell to sailor Nevil Beauchamp; farewell the bright youth, the hero, the true servant of his country!

That feeling of hers changed when he was on board.  The stirring cordial day had put new breath in him.

‘Should not the flag be dipped?’ he said, looking up at the peak, where the white flag streamed.

‘Can you really mistake compassion for defeat?’ said she, with a smile.

‘Oh! before the wind of course I hadn’t a chance.’

’How could you be so presumptuous as to give chase?  And who has lent you that little cutter?’

Beauchamp had hired her for a month, and he praised her sailing, and pretended to say that the race was not always to the strong in a stiff breeze.

‘But in point’ of fact I was bent on trying how my boat swims, and had no idea of overhauling you.  To-day our salt-water lake is as fine as the Mediterranean.’

’Omitting the islands and the Mediterranean colour, it is.  I have often told you how I love it.  I have landed papa at the Club.  Are you aware that we meet you at Steynham the day after to-morrow?’

’Well, we can ride on the downs.  The downs between three and four of a summer’s morning are as lovely as anything in the world.  They have the softest outlines imaginable... and remind me of a friend’s upper lip when she deigns to smile.’

’Is one to rise at that hour to behold the effect?  And let me remind you further, Nevil, that the comparison of nature’s minor work beside her mighty is an error, if you will be poetical.’

She cited a well-known instance of degradation in verse.

But a young man who happens to be intimately acquainted with a certain ‘dark eye in woman’ will not so lightly be brought to consider that the comparison of tempestuous night to the flashing of those eyes of hers topples the scene headlong from grandeur.  And if Beauchamp remembered rightly, the scene was the Alps at night.

He was prepared to contest Cecilia’s judgement.  At that moment the breeze freshened and the canvas lifted from due South the yacht swung her sails to drive toward the West, and Cecilia’s face and hair came out golden in the sunlight.  Speech was difficult, admiration natural, so he sat beside her, admiring in silence.

She said a good word for the smartness of his little yacht.

‘This is my first trial of her,’ said Beauchamp.  ’I hired her chiefly to give Dr. Shrapnel a taste of salt air.  I ’ve no real right to be idling about.  His ward Miss Denham is travelling in Switzerland; the dear old man is alone, and not quite so well as I should wish.  Change of scene will do him good.  I shall land him on the French coast for a couple of days, or take him down Channel.’

Cecilia gazed abstractedly at a passing schooner.

‘He works too hard,’ said Beauchamp.

‘Who does?’

‘Dr. Shrapnel.’

Some one else whom we have heard of works too hard, and it would be happy for mankind if he did not.

Cecilia named the schooner; an American that had beaten our crack yachts.  Beauchamp sprang up to spy at the American.

‘That’s the Corinne, is she!’

Yankee craftiness on salt water always excited his respectful attention as a spectator.

‘And what is the name of your boat, Nevil?’

’The fool of an owner calls her the Petrel.  It’s not that I’m superstitious, but to give a boat a name of bad augury to sailors appears to me... however, I ’ve argued it with him and I will have her called the Curlew.  Carrying Dr. Shrapnel and me, Petrel would be thought the proper title for her isn’t that your idea?’

He laughed and she smiled, and then he became overcast with his political face, and said, ’I hope ­I believe ­you will alter your opinion of him.  Can it be an opinion when it’s founded on nothing?  You know really nothing of him.  I have in my pocket what I believe would alter your mind about him entirely.  I do think so; and I think so because I feel you would appreciate his deep sincerity and real nobleness.’

‘Is it a talisman that you have, Nevil?’

‘No, it’s a letter.’

Cecilia’s cheeks took fire.

‘I should so much like to read it to you,’ said he.

‘Do not, please,’ she replied with a dash of supplication in her voice.

’Not the whole of it ­an extract here and there?  I want you so much to understand him.’

‘I am sure I should not.’

‘Let me try you!’

‘Pray do not.’

‘Merely to show you...’

‘But, Nevil, I do not wish to understand him.’

’But you have only to listen for a few minutes, and I want you to know what good reason I have to reverence him as a teacher and a friend.’

Cecilia looked at Beauchamp with wonder.  A confused recollection of the contents of the letter declaimed at Mount Laurels in Captain Baskelett’s absurd sing-song, surged up in her mind revoltingly.  She signified a decided negative.  Something of a shudder accompanied the expression of it.

But he as little as any member of the Romfrey blood was framed to let the word no stand quietly opposed to him.  And the no that a woman utters!  It calls for wholesome tyranny.  Those old, those hoar-old duellists, Yes and No, have rarely been better matched than in Beauchamp and Cecilia.  For if he was obstinate in attack she had great resisting power.  Twice to listen to that letter was beyond her endurance.  Indeed it cast a shadow on him and disfigured him; and when, affecting to plead, he said:  ’You must listen to it to please me, for my sake, Cecilia,’ she answered:  ‘It is for your sake, Nevil, I decline to.’

‘Why, what do you know of it?’ he exclaimed.

‘I know the kind of writing it would be.’

‘How do you know it?’

‘I have heard of some of Dr. Shrapnel’s opinions.’

’You imagine him to be subversive, intolerant, immoral, and the rest! all that comes under your word revolutionary.’

’Possibly; but I must defend myself from hearing what I know will be certain to annoy me.’

’But he is the reverse of immoral:  and I intend to read you parts of the letter to prove to you that he is not the man you would blame, but I, and that if ever I am worthier... worthier of you, as I hope to become, it will be owing to this admirable and good old man.’

Cecilia trembled:  she was touched to the quick.  Yet it was not pleasant to her to be wooed obliquely, through Dr. Shrapnel.

She recognized the very letter, crowned with many stamps, thick with many pages, in Beauchamp’s hands.

’When you are at Steynham you will probably hear my uncle Everard’s version of this letter,’ he said.  ’The baron chooses to think everything fair in war, and the letter came accidentally into his hands with the seal broken; well, he read it.  And, Cecilia, you can fancy the sort of stuff he would make of it.  Apart from that, I want you particularly to know how much I am indebted to Dr. Shrapnel.  Won’t you learn to like him a little?  Won’t you tolerate him? ­I could almost say, for my sake!  He and I are at variance on certain points, but taking him altogether, I am under deeper obligations to him than to any man on earth.  He has found where I bend and waver.’

‘I recognize your chivalry, Nevil.’

’He has done his best to train me to be of some service.  Where’s the chivalry in owning a debt?  He is one of our true warriors; fearless and blameless.  I have had my heroes before.  You know how I loved Robert Hall:  his death is a gap in my life.  He is a light for fighting Englishmen ­who fight with the sword.  But the scale of the war, the cause, and the end in view, raise Dr. Shrapnel above the bravest I have ever had the luck to meet.  Soldiers and sailors have their excitement to keep them up to the mark; praise and rewards.  He is in his eight-and-sixtieth year, and he has never received anything but obloquy for his pains.  Half of the small fortune he has goes in charities and subscriptions.  Will that touch you?  But I think little of that, and so does he.  Charity is a common duty.  The dedication of a man’s life and whole mind to a cause, there’s heroism.  I wish I were eloquent; I wish I could move you.’

Cecilia turned her face to him.  ’I listen to you with pleasure, Nevil; but please do not read the letter.’

‘Yes; a paragraph or two I must read.’

She rose.

He was promptly by her side.  ’If I say I ask you for one sign that you care for me in some degree?’

’I have not for a moment ceased to be your friend, Nevil, since I was a child.’

’But if you allow yourself to be so prejudiced against my best friend that you will not hear a word of his writing, are you friendly?’

‘Feminine, and obstinate,’ said Cecilia.

’Give me your eyes an instant.  I know you think me reckless and lawless:  now is not that true?  You doubt whether, if a lady gave me her hand I should hold to it in perfect faith.  Or, perhaps not that:  but you do suspect I should be capable of every sophism under the sun to persuade a woman to break her faith, if it suited me:  supposing some passion to be at work.  Men who are open to passion have to be taught reflection before they distinguish between the woman they should sue for love because she would be their best mate, and the woman who has thrown a spell on them.  Now, what I beg you to let me read you in this letter is a truth nobly stated that has gone into my blood, and changed me.  It cannot fail, too, in changeing your opinion of Dr. Shrapnel.  It makes me wretched that you should be divided from me in your ideas of him.  I, you see ­and I confess I think it my chief title to honour ­reverence him.’

‘I regret that I am unable to utter the words of Ruth,’ said Cecilia, in a low voice.  She felt rather tremulously; opposed only to the letter and the writer of it, not at all to Beauchamp, except on account of his idolatry of the wicked revolutionist.  Far from having a sense of opposition to Beauchamp; she pitied him for his infatuation, and in her lofty mental serenity she warmed to him for the seeming boyishness of his constant and extravagant worship of the man, though such an enthusiasm cast shadows on his intellect.

He was reading a sentence of the letter.

‘I hear nothing but the breeze, Nevil,’ she said.

The breeze fluttered the letter-sheets:  they threatened to fly.  Cecilia stepped two paces away.

‘Hark; there is a military band playing on the pier,’ said she.  ’I am so fond of hearing music a little off shore.’

Beauchamp consigned the letter to his pocket.

‘You are not offended, Nevil?’

‘Dear me, no.  You haven’t a mind for tonics, that’s all.’

‘Healthy persons rarely have,’ she remarked, and asked him, smiling softly, whether he had a mind for music.

His insensibility to music was curious, considering how impressionable he was to verse, and to songs of birds.  He listened with an oppressed look, as to something the particular secret of which had to be reached by a determined effort of sympathy for those whom it affected.  He liked it if she did, and said he liked it, reiterated that he liked it, clearly trying hard to comprehend it, as unmoved by the swell and sigh of the resonant brass as a man could be, while her romantic spirit thrilled to it, and was bountiful in glowing visions and in tenderness.

There hung her hand.  She would not have refused to yield it.  The hero of her childhood, the friend of her womanhood, and her hero still, might have taken her with half a word.

Beauchamp was thinking:  She can listen to that brass band, and she shuts her ears to this letter: 

The reading of it would have been a prelude to the opening of his heart to her, at the same time that it vindicated his dear and honoured master, as he called Dr. Shrapnel.  To speak, without the explanation of his previous reticence which this letter would afford, seemed useless:  even the desire to speak was absent, passion being absent.

‘I see papa; he is getting into a boat with some one,’ said Cecilia, and gave orders for the yacht to stand in toward the Club steps.  ’Do you know, Nevil, the Italian common people are not so subject to the charm of music as other races?  They have more of the gift, and I think less of the feeling.  You do not hear much music in Italy.  I remember in the year of Revolution there was danger of a rising in some Austrian city, and a colonel of a regiment commanded his band to play.  The mob was put in good humour immediately.’

‘It’s a soporific,’ said Beauchamp.

‘You would not rather have had them rise to be slaughtered?’

‘Would you have them waltzed into perpetual servility?’

Cecilia hummed, and suggested:  ‘If one can have them happy in any way?’

‘Then the day of destruction may almost be dated.’

‘Nevil, your terrible view of life must be false.’

’I make it out worse to you than to any one else, because I want our minds to be united.’

‘Give me a respite now and then.’

’With all my heart.  And forgive me for beating my drum.  I see what others don’t see, or else I feel it more; I don’t know; but it appears to me our country needs rousing if it’s to live.  There ’s a division between poor and rich that you have no conception of, and it can’t safely be left unnoticed.  I’ve done.’

He looked at her and saw tears on her under-lids.

‘My dearest Cecilia!’

‘Music makes me childish,’ said she.

Her father was approaching in the boat.  Beside him sat the Earl of
Lockrace, latterly classed among the suitors of the lady of Mount
Laurels.

A few minutes remained to Beauchamp of his lost opportunity.  Instead of seizing them with his usual promptitude, he let them slip, painfully mindful of his treatment of her last year after the drive into Bevisham, when she was England, and Renee holiday France.

This feeling he fervently translated into the reflection that the bride who would bring him beauty and wealth, and her especial gift of tender womanliness, was not yet so thoroughly mastered as to grant her husband his just prevalence with her, or even indeed his complete independence of action, without which life itself was not desireable.

Colonel Halkett stared at Beauchamp as if he had risen from the deep.

‘Have you been in that town this morning?’ was one of his first questions to him when he stood on board.

‘I came through it,’ said Beauchamp, and pointed to his little cutter labouring in the distance.  ’She’s mine for a month; I came from Holdesbury to try her; and then he stated how he had danced attendance on the schooner for a couple of hours before any notice was taken of him, and Cecilia with her graceful humour held up his presumption to scorn.

Her father was eyeing Beauchamp narrowly, and appeared troubled.

‘Did you see Mr. Romfrey yesterday, or this morning?’ the colonel asked him, mentioning that Mr. Romfrey had been somewhere about the island yesterday, at which Beauchamp expressed astonishment, for his uncle Everard seldom visited a yachting station.

Colonel Halkett exchanged looks with Cecilia.  Hers were inquiring, and he confirmed her side-glance at Beauchamp.  She raised her brows; he nodded, to signify that there was gravity in the case.  Here the signalling stopped short; she had to carry on a conversation with Lord Lockrace, one of those men who betray the latent despot in an exhibition of discontentment unless they have all a lady’s hundred eyes attentive to their discourse.

At last Beauchamp quitted the vessel.

When he was out of hearing, Colonel Halkett said to Cecilia:  ’Grancey Lespel tells me that Mr. Romfrey called on the man Shrapnel yesterday evening at six o’clock.’

‘Yes, Papa?’

‘Now come and see the fittings below,’ the colonel addressed Lord Lockrace, and murmured to his daughter: 

‘And soundly horsewhipped him!’

Cecilia turned on the instant to gaze after Nevil Beauchamp.  She could have wept for pity.  Her father’s emphasis on ‘soundly’ declared an approval of the deed, and she was chilled by a sickening abhorrence and dread of the cruel brute in men, such as, awakened by she knew not what, had haunted her for a year of her girlhood.

‘And he deserved it!’ the colonel pursued, on emerging from the cabin at Lord Lockrace’s heels.  ’I’ve no doubt he richly deserved it.  The writer of that letter we heard Captain Baskelett read the other day deserves the very worst he gets.’

’Baskelett bored the Club the other night with a letter of a Radical fellow,’ said Lord Lockrace.  ’Men who write that stuff should be strung up and whipped by the common hangman.’

‘It was a private letter,’ said Cecilia.

‘Public or private, Miss Halkett.’

Her mind flew back to Seymour Austin for the sense of stedfastness when she heard such language as this, which, taken in conjunction with Dr. Shrapnel’s, seemed to uncloak our Constitutional realm and show it boiling up with the frightful elements of primitive societies.

‘I suppose we are but half civilized,’ she said.

‘If that,’ said the earl.

Colonel Halkett protested that he never could quite make out what Radicals were driving at.

‘The rents,’ Lord Lockrace observed in the conclusive tone of brevity.  He did not stay very long.

The schooner was boarded subsequently by another nobleman, an Admiral of the Fleet and ex-minister of the Whig Government, Lord Croyston, who was a friend of Mr. Romfrey’s, and thought well of Nevil Beauchamp as a seaman and naval officer, but shook an old head over him as a politician.  He came to beg a passage across the water to his marine Lodge, an accident having happened early in the morning to his yacht, the Lady Violet.  He was able to communicate the latest version of the horsewhipping of Dr. Shrapnel, from which it appeared that after Mr. Romfrey had handsomely flogged the man he flung his card on the prostrate body, to let men know who was responsible for the act.  He expected that Mr. Romfrey would be subjected to legal proceedings.  ’But if there’s a pleasure worth paying for it’s the trouncing of a villain,’ said he; and he had been informed that Dr. Shrapnel was a big one.  Lord Croyston’s favourite country residence was in the neighbourhood of old Mrs. Beauchamp, on the Upper Thames.  Speaking of Nevil Beauchamp a second time, he alluded to his relations with his great-aunt, said his prospects were bad, that she had interdicted her house to him, and was devoted to her other great-nephew.

‘And so she should be,’ said Colonel Halkett.  ’That’s a young man who’s an Englishman without French gunpowder notions in his head.  He works for us down at the mine in Wales a good part of the year, and has tided us over a threatening strike there:  gratuitously:  I can’t get him to accept anything.  I can’t think why he does it.’

‘He’ll have plenty,’ said Lord Croyston, levelling his telescope to sight the racing cutters.

Cecilia fancied she descried Nevil’s Petrel, dubbed Curlew, to Eastward, and had a faint gladness in the thought that his knowledge of his uncle Everard’s deed of violence would be deferred for another two or three hours.

She tried to persuade her father to wait for Nevil, and invite him to dine at Mount Laurels, and break the news to him gently.  Colonel Halkett argued that in speaking of the affair he should certainly not commiserate the man who had got his deserts, and saying this he burst into a petty fury against the epistle of Dr. Shrapnel, which appeared to be growing more monstrous in proportion to his forgetfulness of the details, as mountains gather vastness to the eye at a certain remove.  Though he could not guess the reason for Mr. Romfrey’s visit to Bevisham, he was, he said, quite prepared to maintain that Mr. Romfrey had a perfect justification for his conduct.

Cecilia hinted at barbarism.  The colonel hinted at high police duties that gentlemen were sometimes called on to perform for the protection of society.  ‘In defiance of its laws?’ she asked; and he answered:  ’Women must not be judging things out of their sphere,’ with the familiar accent on ‘women’ which proves their inferiority.  He was rarely guilty of it toward his daughter.  Evidently he had resolved to back Mr. Romfrey blindly.  That epistle of Dr. Shrapnel’s merited condign punishment and had met with it, he seemed to rejoice in saying:  and this was his abstract of the same:  ’An old charlatan who tells his dupe to pray every night of his life for the beheading of kings and princes, and scattering of the clergy, and disbanding the army, that he and his rabble may fall upon the wealthy, and show us numbers win; and he’ll undertake to make them moral!’

‘I wish we were not going to Steynham,’ said Cecilia.

‘So do I. Well, no, I don’t,’ the colonel corrected himself, ’no; it ’s an engagement.  I gave my consent so far.  We shall see whether Nevil Beauchamp’s a man of any sense.’

Her heart sank.  This was as much as to let her know that if Nevil broke with his uncle, the treaty of union between the two families, which her father submitted to entertain out of consideration for Mr. Romfrey, would be at an end.

The wind had fallen.  Entering her river, Cecilia gazed back at the smooth broad water, and the band of golden beams flung across it from the evening sun over the forest.  No little cutter was visible.  She could not write to Nevil to bid him come and concert with her in what spirit to encounter his uncle Everard at Steynham.  And guests would be at Mount Laurels next day; Lord Lockrace, Lord Croyston, and the Lespels; she could not drive down to Bevisham on the chance of seeing him.  Nor was it to be acknowledged even to herself that she so greatly desired to see him and advise him.  Why not?  Because she was one of the artificial creatures called women (with the accent) who dare not be spontaneous, and cannot act independently if they would continue to be admirable in the world’s eye, and who for that object must remain fixed on shelves, like other marketable wares, avoiding motion to avoid shattering or tarnishing.  This is their fate, only in degree less inhuman than that of Hellenic and Trojan princesses offered up to the Gods, or pretty slaves to the dealers.  Their artificiality is at once their bane and their source of superior pride.

Seymour Austin might have reason for seeking to emancipate them, she thought, and blushed in thought that she could never be learning anything but from her own immediate sensations.

Of course it was in her power to write to Beauchamp, just as it had been in his to speak to her, but the fire was wanting in her blood and absent from his mood, so they were kept apart.

Her father knew as little as she what was the positive cause of Mr. Romfrey’s chastisement of Dr. Shrapnel.  ‘Cause enough, I don’t doubt,’ he said, and cited the mephitic letter.

Cecilia was not given to suspicions, or she would have had them kindled by a certain wilfulness in his incessant reference to the letter, and exoneration, if not approval, of Mr. Romfrey’s conduct.

How did that chivalrous gentleman justify himself for condescending to such an extreme as the use of personal violence?  Was there a possibility of his justifying it to Nevil?  She was most wretched in her reiteration of these inquiries, for, with a heart subdued, she had still a mind whose habit of independent judgement was not to be constrained, and while she felt that it was only by siding with Nevil submissively and blindly in this lamentable case that she could hope for happiness, she foresaw the likelihood of her not being able to do so as much as he would desire and demand.  This she took for the protest of her pure reason.  In reality, grieved though she was on account of that Dr. Shrapnel, her captive heart resented the anticipated challenge to her to espouse his cause or languish.