Read CHAPTER XXXIX - BETWEEN BEAUCHAMP AND CECILIA of Beauchamp Career, free online book, by George Meredith, on

Beauchamp quitted the house without answering as to what next, and without seeing Rosamund.

In the matter of money, as of his physical health, he wanted to do too much at once; he had spent largely of both in his efforts to repair the injury done to Dr. Shrapnel.  He was overworked, anxious, restless, craving for a holiday somewhere in France, possibly; he was all but leaping on board the boat at times, and, unwilling to leave his dear old friend who clung to him, he stayed, keeping his impulses below the tide-mark which leads to action, but where they do not yield peace of spirit.  The tone of Renee’s letters filled him with misgivings.  She wrote word that she had seen M. d’Henriel for the first time since his return from Italy, and he was much changed, and inclined to thank Roland for the lesson he had received from him at the sword’s point.  And next she urged Beauchamp to marry, so that he and she might meet, as if she felt a necessity for it.  ’I shall love your wife; teach her to think amiably of me,’ she said.  And her letter contained womanly sympathy for him in his battle with his uncle.  Beauchamp thought of his experiences of Cecilia’s comparative coldness.  He replied that there was no prospect of his marrying; he wished there were one of meeting!  He forbore from writing too fervently, but he alluded to happy days in Normandy, and proposed to renew them if she would say she had need of him.  He entreated her to deal with him frankly; he reminded her that she must constantly look to him, as she had vowed she would, when in any kind of trouble; and he declared to her that he was unchanged.  He meant, of an unchanged disposition to shield and serve her; but the review of her situation, and his knowledge of her quick blood, wrought him to some jealous lover’s throbs, which led him to impress his unchangeableness upon her, to bind her to that standard.

She declined his visit:  not now; ‘not yet’:  and for that he presumed to chide her, half-sincerely.  As far as he knew he stood against everybody save his old friend and Renee; and she certainly would have refreshed his heart for a day.  In writing, however, he had an ominous vision of the morrow to the day; and, both for her sake and his own, he was not unrejoiced to hear that she was engaged day and night in nursing her husband.  Pursuing his vision of the morrow of an unreproachful day with Renee, the madness of taking her to himself, should she surrender at last to a third persuasion, struck him sharply, now that he and his uncle were foot to foot in downright conflict, and money was the question.  He had not much remaining of his inheritance ­about fifteen hundred pounds.  He would have to vacate Holdesbury and his uncle’s town-house in a month.  Let his passion be never so desperate, for a beggared man to think of running away with a wife, or of marrying one, the folly is as big as the worldly offence:  no justification is to be imagined.  Nay, and there is no justification for the breach of a moral law.  Beauchamp owned it, and felt that Renee’s resistance to him in Normandy placed her above him.  He remembered a saying of his moralist:  ’We who interpret things heavenly by things earthly must not hope to juggle with them for our pleasures, and can look to no absolution of evil acts.’  The school was a hard one.  It denied him holidays; it cut him off from dreams.  It ran him in heavy harness on a rough highroad, allowing no turnings to right or left, no wayside croppings; with the simple permission to him that he should daily get thoroughly tired.  And what was it Jenny Denham had said on the election day?  ’Does incessant battling keep the intellect clear?’

His mind was clear enough to put the case, that either he beheld a tremendous magnification of things, or else that other men did not attach common importance to them; and he decided that the latter was the fact.

An incessant struggle of one man with the world, which position usually ranks his relatives against him, does not conduce to soundness of judgement.  He may nevertheless be right in considering that he is right in the main.  The world in motion is not so wise that it can pretend to silence the outcry of an ordinarily generous heart even ­the very infant of antagonism to its methods and establishments.  It is not so difficult to be right against the world when the heart is really active; but the world is our book of humanity, and before insisting that his handwriting shall occupy the next blank page of it, the noble rebel is bound for the sake of his aim to ask himself how much of a giant he is, lest he fall like a blot on the page, instead of inscribing intelligible characters there.

Moreover, his relatives are present to assure him that he did not jump out of Jupiter’s head or come of the doctor.  They hang on him like an ill-conditioned prickly garment; and if he complains of the irritation they cause him, they one and all denounce his irritable skin.

Fretted by his relatives he cannot be much of a giant.

Beauchamp looked from Dr. Shrapnel in his invalid’s chair to his uncle Everard breathing robustly, and mixed his uncle’s errors with those of the world which honoured and upheld him.  His remainder of equability departed; his impatience increased.  His appetite for work at Dr. Shrapnel’s writing-desk was voracious.  He was ready for any labour, the transcribing of papers, writing from dictation, whatsoever was of service to Lord Avonley’s victim:  and he was not like the Spartan boy with the wolf at his vitals; he betrayed it in the hue his uncle Everard detested, in a visible nervousness, and indulgence in fits of scorn.  Sharp epigrams and notes of irony provoked his laughter more than fun.  He seemed to acquiesce in some of the current contemporary despair of our immoveable England, though he winced at a satire on his country, and attempted to show that the dull dominant class of moneymakers was the ruin of her.  Wherever he stood to represent Dr. Shrapnel, as against Mr. Grancey Lespel on account of the Itchincope encroachments, he left a sting that spread the rumour of his having become not only a black torch of Radicalism ­our modern provincial estateholders and their wives bestow that reputation lightly ­but a gentleman with the polish scratched off him in parts.  And he, though individually he did not understand how there was to be game in the land if game-preserving was abolished, signed his name R. C. S. Nevil Beauchamp for Dr. Shrapnel, in the communications directed to solicitors of the persecutors of poachers.

His behaviour to Grancey Lespel was eclipsed by his treatment of Captain Baskelett.  Cecil had ample reason to suppose his cousin to be friendly with him.  He himself had forgotten Dr. Shrapnel, and all other dissensions, in a supremely Christian spirit.  He paid his cousin the compliment to think that he had done likewise.  At Romfrey and in London he had spoken to Nevil of his designs upon the widow:  Nevil said nothing against it and it was under Mrs. Wardour-Devereux’s eyes, and before a man named Lydiard, that, never calling to him to put him on his guard, Nevil fell foul of him with every capital charge that can be brought against a gentleman, and did so abuse, worry, and disgrace him as to reduce him to quit the house to avoid the scandal of a resort to a gentleman’s last appeal in vindication of his character.  Mrs. Devereux spoke of the terrible scene to Cecilia, and Lydiard to Miss Denham.  The injured person communicated it to Lord Avonley, who told Colonel Halkett emphatically that his nephew Cecil deserved well of him in having kept command of his temper out of consideration for the family.  There was a general murmur of the family over this incident.  The widow was rich, and it ranked among the unwritten crimes against blood for one offshoot of a great house wantonly to thwart another in the wooing of her by humbling him in her presence, doing his utmost to expose him as a schemer, a culprit, and a poltroon.

Could it be that Beauchamp had reserved his wrath with his cousin to avenge Dr. Shrapnel upon him signally?  Miss Denham feared her guardian was the cause.  Lydiard was indefinitely of her opinion.  The idea struck Cecilia Halkett, and as an example of Beauchamp’s tenacity of purpose and sureness of aim it fascinated her.  But Mrs. Wardour-Devereux did not appear to share it.  She objected to Beauchamp’s intemperateness and unsparingness, as if she was for conveying a sisterly warning to Cecilia; and that being off her mind, she added, smiling a little and colouring a little:  ‘We learn only from men what men are.’  How the scene commenced and whether it was provoked, she failed to recollect.  She described Beauchamp as very self-contained in manner throughout his tongue was the scorpion.  Cecilia fancied he must have resembled his uncle Everard.

Cecilia was conquered, but unclaimed.  While supporting and approving him in her heart she was dreading to receive some new problem of his conduct; and still while she blamed him for not seeking an interview with her, she liked him for this instance of delicacy in the present state of his relations with Lord Avonley.

A problem of her own conduct disturbed the young lady’s clear conception of herself:  and this was a ruffling of unfaithfulness in her love of Beauchamp, that was betrayed to her by her forgetfulness of him whenever she chanced to be with Seymour Austin.  In Mr. Austin’s company she recovered her forfeited repose, her poetry of life, her image of the independent Cecilia throned above our dust of battle, gazing on broad heaven.  She carried the feeling so far that Blackburn Tuckham’s enthusiasm for Mr. Austin gave him grace in her sight, and praise of her father’s favourite from Mr. Austin’s mouth made him welcome to her.  The image of that grave capable head, dusty-grey about the temples, and the darkly sanguine face of the tried man, which was that of a seasoned warrior and inspired full trust in him, with his vivid look, his personal distinction, his plain devotion to the country’s business, and the domestic solitude he lived in, admired, esteemed, loved perhaps, but unpartnered, was often her refuge and haven from tempestuous Beauchamp.  She could see in vision the pride of Seymour Austin’s mate.  It flushed her reflectively.  Conquered but not claimed, Cecilia was like the frozen earth insensibly moving round to sunshine in nature, with one white flower in her breast as innocent a sign of strong sweet blood as a woman may wear.  She ascribed to that fair mate of Seymour Austin’s many lofty charms of womanhood; above all, stateliness:  her especial dream of an attainable superlative beauty in women.  And supposing that lady to be accused of the fickle breaking of another love, who walked beside him, matched with his calm heart and one with him in counsel, would the accusation be repeated by them that beheld her husband? might it not rather be said that she had not deviated, but had only stepped higher?  She chose no youth, no glistener, no idler:  it was her soul striving upward to air like a seed in the earth that raised her to him:  and she could say to the man once enchaining her:  Friend, by the good you taught me I was led to this!

Cecilia’s reveries fled like columns of mist before the gale when tidings reached her of a positive rupture between Lord Avonley and Nevil Beauchamp, and of the mandate to him to quit possession of Holdesbury and the London house within a certain number of days, because of his refusal to utter an apology to Mrs. Culling.  Angrily on his behalf she prepared to humble herself to him.  Louise Wardour-Devereux brought them to a meeting, at which Cecilia, with her heart in her hand, was icy.  Mr. Lydiard, prompted by Mrs. Devereux, gave him better reasons for her singular coldness than Cecilia could give to herself, and some time afterward Beauchamp went to Mount Laurels, where Colonel Halkett mounted guard over his daughter, and behaved, to her thinking, cruelly.  ’Now you have ruined yourself there’s nothing ahead for you but to go to the Admiralty and apply for a ship,’ he said, sugaring the unkindness with the remark that the country would be the gainer.  He let fly a side-shot at London men calling themselves military men who sought to repair their fortunes by chasing wealthy widows, and complimented Beauchamp:  ’You’re not one of that sort.’

Cecilia looked at Beauchamp stedfastly.  ‘Speak,’ said the look.

But he, though not blind, was keenly wounded.

‘Money I must have,’ he said, half to the colonel, half to himself.

Colonel Halkett shrugged.  Cecilia waited for a directness in Beauchamp’s eyes.

Her father was too wary to leave them.

Cecilia’s intuition told her that by leading to a discussion of politics, and adopting Beauchamp’s views, she could kindle him.  Why did she refrain?  It was that the conquered young lady was a captive, not an ally.  To touch the subject in cold blood, voluntarily to launch on those vexed waters, as if his cause were her heart’s, as much as her heart was the man’s, she felt to be impossible.  He at the same time felt that the heiress, endowing him with money to speed the good cause, should be his match in ardour for it, otherwise he was but a common adventurer, winning and despoiling an heiress.

They met in London.  Beauchamp had not vacated either Holdesbury or the town-house; he was defying his uncle Everard, and Cecilia thought with him that it was a wise temerity.  She thought with him passively altogether.  On this occasion she had not to wait for directness in his eyes; she had to parry it.  They were at a dinner-party at Lady Elsea’s, generally the last place for seeing Lord Palmet, but he was present, and arranged things neatly for them, telling Beauchamp that he acted under Mrs. Wardour-Devereux’s orders.  Never was an opportunity, more propitious for a desperate lover.  Had it been Renee next him, no petty worldly scruples of honour would have held him back.  And if Cecilia had spoken feelingly of Dr. Shrapnel, or had she simulated a thoughtful interest in his pursuits, his hesitations would have vanished.  As it was, he dared to look what he did not permit himself to speak.  She was nobly lovely, and the palpable envy of men around cried fool at his delays.  Beggar and heiress he said in his heart, to vitalize the three-parts fiction of the point of honour which Cecilia’s beauty was fast submerging.  When she was leaving he named a day for calling to see her.  Colonel Halkett stood by, and she answered, ‘Come.’

Beauchamp kept the appointment.  Cecilia was absent.

He was unaware that her father had taken her to old Mrs. Beauchamp’s death-bed.  Her absence, after she had said, ‘Come,’ appeared a confirmation of her glacial manner when they met at the house of Mrs. Wardour-Devereux; and he charged her with waywardness.  A wound of the same kind that we are inflicting is about the severest we can feel.

Beauchamp received intelligence of his venerable great-aunt’s death from Blackburn Tuckham, and after the funeral he was informed that eighty thousand pounds had been bequeathed to him:  a goodly sum of money for a gentleman recently beggared; yet, as the political enthusiast could not help reckoning (apart from a fervent sentiment of gratitude toward his benefactress), scarcely enough to do much more than start and push for three or more years a commanding daily newspaper, devoted to Radical interests, and to be entitled the dawn.

True, he might now conscientiously approach the heiress, take her hand with an open countenance, and retain it.

Could he do so quite conscientiously?  The point of honour had been centred in his condition of beggary.  Something still was in his way.  A quick spring of his blood for air, motion, excitement, holiday freedom, sent his thoughts travelling whither they always shot away when his redoubtable natural temper broke loose.

In the case of any other woman than Cecilia Halkett he would not have been obstructed by the minor consideration as to whether he was wholly heart-free to ask her in marriage that instant; for there was no hindrance, and she was beautiful.  She was exceedingly beautiful; and she was an unequalled heiress.  She would be able with her wealth to float his newspaper, the dawn, so desired of Dr. Shrapnel! ­the best restorative that could be applied to him!  Every temptation came supplicating him to take the step which indeed he wished for:  one feeling opposed.  He really respected Cecilia:  it is not too much to say that he worshipped her with the devout worship rendered to the ideal Englishwoman by the heart of the nation.  For him she was purity, charity, the keeper of the keys of whatsoever is held precious by men; she was a midway saint, a light between day and darkness, in whom the spirit in the flesh shone like the growing star amid thin sanguine colour, the sweeter, the brighter, the more translucent the longer known.  And if the image will allow it, the nearer down to him the holier she seemed.

How offer himself when he was not perfectly certain that he was worthy of her?

Some jugglery was played by the adept male heart in these later hesitations.  Up to the extent of his knowledge of himself, the man was fairly sincere.  Passion would have sped him to Cecilia, but passion is not invariably love; and we know what it can be.

The glance he cast over the water at Normandy was withdrawn.  He went to Bevisham to consult with Dr. Shrapnel about the starting of a weekly journal, instead of a daily, and a name for it ­a serious question:  for though it is oftener weekly than daily that the dawn is visible in England, titles must not invite the public jest; and the glorious project of the daily dawn was prudently abandoned for by-and-by.  He thought himself rich enough to put a Radical champion weekly in the field and this matter, excepting the title, was arranged in Bevisham.  Thence he proceeded to Holdesbury, where he heard that the house, grounds, and farm were let to a tenant preparing to enter.  Indifferent to the blow, he kept an engagement to deliver a speech at the great manufacturing town of Gunningham, and then went to London, visiting his uncle’s town-house for recent letters.  Not one was from Renee:  she had not written for six weeks, not once for his thrice!  A letter from Cecil Baskelett informed him that ‘my lord’ had placed the town-house at his disposal.  Returning to dress for dinner on a thick and murky evening of February, Beauchamp encountered his cousin on the steps.  He said to Cecil, ‘I sleep here to-night:  I leave the house to you tomorrow.’

Cecil struck out his underjaw to reply:  ’Oh! good.  You sleep here to-night.  You are a fortunate man.  I congratulate you.  I shall not disturb you.  I have just entered on my occupation of the house.  I have my key.  Allow me to recommend you to go straight to the drawing-room.  And I may inform you that the Earl of Romfrey is at the point of death.  My lord is at the castle.’

Cecil accompanied his descent of the steps with the humming of an opera melody:  Beauchamp tripped into the hall-passage.  A young maid-servant held the door open, and she accosted him:  ’If you please, there is a lady up-stairs in the drawing-room; she speaks foreign English, sir.’

Beauchamp asked if the lady was alone, and not waiting for the answer, though he listened while writing, and heard that she was heavily veiled, he tore a strip from his notebook, and carefully traced half-a-dozen telegraphic words to Mrs. Culling at Steynham.  His rarely failing promptness, which was like an inspiration, to conceive and execute measures for averting peril, set him on the thought of possibly counteracting his cousin Cecil’s malignant tongue by means of a message to Rosamund, summoning her by telegraph to come to town by the next train that night.  He despatched the old woman keeping the house, as trustier than the young one, to the nearest office, and went up to the drawing-room, with a quick thumping heart that was nevertheless as little apprehensive of an especial trial and danger as if he had done nothing at all to obviate it.  Indeed he forgot that he had done anything when he turned the handle of the drawing-room door.