Read CHAPTER XLV - A LITTLE PLOT AGAINST CECILIA of Beauchamp Career, free online book, by George Meredith, on ReadCentral.com.

Some days before Easter week Seymour Austin went to Mount Laurels for rest, at an express invitation from Colonel Halkett.  The working barrister, who is also a working member of Parliament, is occasionally reminded that this mortal machine cannot adapt itself in perpetuity to the long hours of labour by night in the House of Commons as well as by day in the Courts, which would seem to have been arranged by a compliant country for the purpose of aiding his particular, and most honourable, ambition to climb, while continuing to fill his purse.  Mr. Austin broke down early in the year.  He attributed it to a cold.  Other representative gentlemen were on their backs, of whom he could admit that the protracted nightwork had done them harm, with the reservation that their constitutions were originally unsound.  But the House cannot get on without lawyers, and lawyers must practise their profession, and if they manage both to practise all day and sit half the night, others should be able to do the simple late sitting; and we English are an energetic people, we must toil or be beaten:  and besides, ‘night brings counsel,’ men are cooler and wiser by night.  Any amount of work can be performed by careful feeders:  it is the stomach that kills the Englishman.  Brains are never the worse for activity; they subsist on it.

These arguments and citations, good and absurd, of a man more at home in his harness than out of it, were addressed to the colonel to stop his remonstrances and idle talk about burning the candle at both ends.  To that illustration Mr. Austin replied that he did not burn it in the middle.

‘But you don’t want money, Austin.’

‘No; but since I’ve had the habit of making it I have taken to like it.’

‘But you’re not ambitious.’

‘Very little; but I should be sorry to be out of the tideway.’

‘I call it a system of slaughter,’ said the colonel; and Mr. Austin said, ‘The world goes in that way ­love and slaughter.’

‘Not suicide though,’ Colonel Halkett muttered.

‘No, that’s only incidental.’

The casual word ‘love’ led Colonel Halkett to speak to Cecilia of an old love-affair of Seymour Austin’s, in discussing the state of his health with her.  The lady was the daughter of a famous admiral, handsome, and latterly of light fame.  Mr. Austin had nothing to regret in her having married a man richer than himself.

‘I wish he had married a good woman,’ said the colonel.

‘He looks unwell, papa.’

‘He thinks you’re looking unwell, my dear.’

‘He thinks that of me?’

Cecilia prepared a radiant face for Mr. Austin.

She forgot to keep it kindled, and he suspected her to be a victim of one of the forms of youthful melancholy, and laid stress on the benefit to health of a change of scene.

‘We have just returned from Wales,’ she said.

He remarked that it was hardly a change to be within shot of our newspapers.

The colour left her cheeks.  She fancied her father had betrayed her to the last man who should know her secret.  Beauchamp and the newspapers were rolled together in her mind by the fever of apprehension wasting her ever since his declaration of Republicanism, and defence of it, and an allusion to one must imply the other, she feared:  feared, but far from quailingly.  She had come to think that she could read the man she loved, and detect a reasonableness in his extravagance.  Her father had discovered the impolicy of attacking Beauchamp in her hearing.  The fever by which Cecilia was possessed on her lover’s behalf, often overcame discretion, set her judgement in a whirl, was like a delirium.  How it had happened she knew not.  She knew only her wretched state; a frenzy seized her whenever his name was uttered, to excuse, account for, all but glorify him publicly.  And the immodesty of her conduct was perceptible to her while she thus made her heart bare.  She exposed herself once of late at Itchincope, and had tried to school her tongue before she went there.  She felt that she should inevitably be seen through by Seymour Austin if he took the world’s view of Beauchamp, and this to her was like a descent on the rapids to an end one shuts eyes from.

He noticed her perturbation, and spoke of it to her father.

‘Yes, I’m very miserable about her,’ the colonel confessed.  ’Girls don’t see... they can’t guess... they have no idea of the right kind of man for them.  A man like Blackburn Tuckham, now, a man a father could leave his girl to, with confidence!  He works for me like a slave; I can’t guess why.  He doesn’t look as if he were attracted.  There’s a man! but, no; harum-scarum fellows take their fancy.’

‘Is she that kind of young lady?’ said Mr. Austin.

’No one would have thought so.  She pretends to have opinions upon politics now.  It’s of no use to talk of it!’

But Beauchamp was fully indicated.

Mr. Austin proposed to Cecilia that they should spend Easter week in
Rome.

Her face lighted and clouded.

‘I should like it,’ she said, negatively.

‘What’s the objection?’

’None, except that Mount Laurels in Spring has grown dear to me; and we have engagements in London.  I am not quick, I suppose, at new projects.  I have ordered the yacht to be fitted out for a cruise in the Mediterranean early in the Summer.  There is an objection, I am sure ­yes; papa has invited Mr. Tuckham here for Easter.’

‘We could carry him with us.’

‘Yes, but I should wish to be entirely under your tutelage in Rome.’

‘We would pair:  your father and he; you and I.’

’We might do that.  But Mr. Tuckham is like you, devoted to work; and, unlike you, careless of Antiquities and Art.’

’He is a hard and serious worker, and therefore the best of companions for a holiday.  At present he is working for the colonel, who would easily persuade him to give over, and come with us.’

‘He certainly does love papa,’ said Cecilia.

Mr. Austin dwelt on that subject.

Cecilia perceived that she had praised Mr. Tuckham for his devotedness to her father without recognizing the beauty of nature in the young man who could voluntarily take service under the elder he esteemed, in simple admiration of him.  Mr. Austin scarcely said so much, or expected her to see the half of it, but she wished to be extremely grateful, and could only see at all by kindling altogether.

‘He does himself injustice in his manner,’ said Cecilia.

‘That has become somewhat tempered,’ Mr. Austin assured her, and he acknowledged what it had been with a smile that she reciprocated.

A rough man of rare quality civilizing under various influences, and half ludicrous, a little irritating, wholly estimable, has frequently won the benign approbation of the sex.  In addition, this rough man over whom she smiled was one of the few that never worried her concerning her hand.  There was not a whisper of it in him.  He simply loved her father.

Cecilia welcomed him to Mount Laurels with grateful gladness.  The colonel had hastened Mr. Tuckham’s visit in view of the expedition to Rome, and they discoursed of it at the luncheon table.  Mr. Tuckham let fall that he had just seen Beauchamp.

‘Did he thank you for his inheritance?’ Colonel Halkett inquired.

‘Not he!’ Tuckham replied jovially.

Cecilia’s eyes, quick to flash, were dropped.

The colonel said:  ’I suppose you told him nothing of what you had done for him?’ and said Tuckham:  ‘Oh no:  what anybody else would have done’; and proceeded to recount that he had called at Dr. Shrapnel’s on the chance of an interview with his friend Lydiard, who used generally to be hanging about the cottage.  ’But now he’s free:  his lunatic wife is dead, and I’m happy to think I was mistaken as to Miss Denham.  Men practising literature should marry women with money.  The poor girl changed colour when I informed her he had been released for upwards of three months.  The old Radical’s not the thing in health.  He’s anxious about leaving her alone in the world; he said so to me.  Beauchamp’s for rigging out a yacht to give him a sail.  It seems that salt water did him some good last year.  They’re both of them rather the worse for a row at one of their meetings in the North in support of that public nuisance, the democrat and atheist Roughleigh.  The Radical doctor lost a hat, and Beauchamp almost lost an eye.  He would have been a Nelson of politics, if he had been a monops, with an excuse for not seeing.  It’s a trifle to them; part of their education.  They call themselves students.  Rome will be capital, Miss Halkett.  You’re an Italian scholar, and I beg to be accepted as a pupil.’

‘I fear we have postponed the expedition too long,’ said Cecilia.  She could have sunk with languor.

‘Too long?’ cried Colonel Halkett, mystified.

’Until too late, I mean, papa.  Do you not think, Mr. Austin, that a fortnight in Rome is too short a time?’

‘Not if we make it a month, my dear Cecilia.’

‘Is not our salt air better for you?  The yacht shall be fitted out.’

‘I’m a poor sailor!’

’Besides, a hasty excursion to Italy brings one’s anticipated regrets at the farewell too close to the pleasure of beholding it, for the enjoyment of that luxury of delight which I associate with the name of Italy.’

‘Why, my dear child,’ said her father, ’you were all for going, the other day.’

‘I do not remember it,’ said she.  ’One plans agreeable schemes.  At least we need not hurry from home so very soon after our return.  We have been travelling incessantly.  The cottage in Wales is not home.  It is hardly fair to Mount Laurels to quit it without observing the changes of the season in our flowers and birds here.  And we have visitors coming.  Of course, papa, I would not chain you to England.  If I am not well enough to accompany you, I can go to Louise for a few weeks.’

Was ever transparency so threadbare?  Cecilia shrank from herself in contemplating it when she was alone; and Colonel Halkett put the question to Mr. Austin, saying to him privately, with no further reserve:  ’It’s that fellow Beauchamp in the neighbourhood; I’m not so blind.  He’ll be knocking at my door, and I can’t lock him out.  Austin, would you guess it was my girl speaking?  I never in my life had such an example of intoxication before me.  I ’m perfectly miserable at the sight.  You know her; she was the proudest girl living.  Her ideas were orderly and sound; she had a good intellect.  Now she more than half defends him ­a naval officer! good Lord! ­for getting up in a public room to announce that he ’s a Republican, and writing heaps of mad letters to justify himself.  He’s ruined in his profession:  hopeless!  He can never get a ship:  his career’s cut short, he’s a rudderless boat.  A gentleman drifting to Bedlam, his uncle calls him.  I call his treatment of Grancey Lespel anything but gentlemanly.  This is the sort of fellow my girl worships!  What can I do?  I can’t interdict the house to him:  it would only make matters worse.  Thank God, the fellow hangs fire somehow, and doesn’t come to me.  I expect it every day, either in a letter or the man in person.  And I declare to heaven I’d rather be threading a Khyber Pass with my poor old friend who fell to a shot there.’

‘She certainly has another voice,’ Mr. Austin assented gravely.

He did not look on Beauchamp as the best of possible husbands for Cecilia.

‘Let her see that you’re anxious, Austin,’ said the colonel.  ’I’m her old opponent in this affair.  She loves me, but she’s accustomed to think me prejudiced:  you she won’t.  You may have a good effect.’

‘Not by speaking.’

’No, no; no assault:  not a word, and not a word against him.  Lay the wind to catch a gossamer.  I’ve had my experience of blowing cold, and trying to run her down.  He’s at Shrapnel’s.  He’ll be up here to-day, and I have an engagement in the town.  Don’t quit her side.  Let her fancy you are interested in some discussion ­Radicalism, if you like.’

Mr. Austin readily undertook to mount guard over her while her father rode into Bevisham on business.

The enemy appeared.

Cecilia saw him, and could not step to meet him for trouble of heart.  It was bliss to know that he lived and was near.

A transient coldness following the fit of ecstasy enabled her to swin through the terrible first minutes face to face with him.

He folded her round like a mist; but it grew a problem to understand why Mr. Austin should be perpetually at hand, in the garden, in the woods, in the drawing-room, wheresoever she wakened up from one of her trances to see things as they were.

Yet Beauchamp, with a daring and cunning at which her soul exulted, and her feminine nature trembled, as at the divinely terrible, had managed to convey to her no less than if they had been alone together.

His parting words were:  ’I must have five minutes with your father to-morrow.’

How had she behaved?  What could be Seymour Austin’s idea of her?

She saw the blind thing that she was, the senseless thing, the shameless; and vulture-like in her scorn of herself, she alighted on that disgraced Cecilia and picked her to pieces hungrily.  It was clear:  Beauchamp had meant nothing beyond friendly civility:  it was only her abject greediness pecking at crumbs.  No! he loved her.  Could a woman’s heart be mistaken?  She melted and wept, thanking him:  she offered him her remnant of pride, pitiful to behold.

And still she asked herself between-whiles whether it could be true of an English lady of our day, that she, the fairest stature under sun, was ever knowingly twisted to this convulsion.  She seemed to look forth from a barred window on flower, and field, and hill.  Quietness existed as a vision.  Was it impossible to embrace it?  How pass into it?  By surrendering herself to the flames, like a soul unto death!  For why, if they were overpowering, attempt to resist them?  It flattered her to imagine that she had been resisting them in their present burning might ever since her lover stepped on the Esperanza’s deck at the mouth of Otley River.  How foolish, seeing that they are fatal!  A thrill of satisfaction swept her in reflecting that her ability to reason was thus active.  And she was instantly rewarded for surrendering; pain fled, to prove her reasoning good; the flames devoured her gently they cared not to torture so long as they had her to themselves.

At night, candle in hand, on the corridor, her father told her he had come across Grancey Lespel in Bevisham, and heard what he had not quite relished of the Countess of Romfrey.  The glittering of Cecilia’s eyes frightened him.  Taking her for the moment to know almost as much as he, the colonel doubted the weight his communication would have on her; he talked obscurely of a scandalous affair at Lord Romfrey’s house in town, and Beauchamp and that Frenchwoman.  ‘But,’ said he, ’Mrs. Grancey will be here to-morrow.’

‘So will Nevil, papa,’ said Cecilia.

‘Ah! he’s coming, yes; well!’ the colonel puffed.  ’Well, I shall see him, of course, but I...  I can only say that if his oath ’s worth having, I ... and I think you too, my dear, if you... but it’s no use anticipating.  I shall stand out for your honour and happiness.  There, your cheeks are flushed.  Go and sleep.’

Some idle tale!  Cecilia murmured to herself a dozen times, undisturbed by the recurrence of it.  Nevil was coming to speak to her father tomorrow!  Adieu to doubt and division!  Happy to-morrow! and dear Mount Laurels!  The primroses were still fair in the woods:  and soon the cowslips would come, and the nightingale; she lay lapt in images of everything innocently pleasing to Nevil.  Soon the Esperanza would be spreading wings.  She revelled in a picture of the yacht on a tumbling Mediterranean Sea, meditating on the two specks near the tiller, ­who were blissful human creatures, blest by heaven and in themselves ­with luxurious Olympian benevolence.

For all that, she awoke, starting up in the first cold circle of twilight, her heart in violent action.  She had dreamed that the vessel was wrecked.  ‘I did not think myself so cowardly,’ she said aloud, pressing her side and then, with the dream in her eyes, she gasped:  ’It would be together!’

Strangely chilled, she tried to recover some fallen load.  The birds of the dawn twittered, chirped, dived aslant her window, fluttered back.  Instead of a fallen load, she fancied presently that it was an expectation she was desiring to realize:  but what?  What could be expected at that hour?  She quitted her bed, and paced up and down the room beneath a gold-starred ceiling.  Her expectation, she resolved to think, was of a splendid day of the young Spring at Mount Laurels ­a day to praise to Nevil.

She raised her window-blind at a window letting in sweet air, to gather indications of promising weather.  Her lover stood on the grass-plot among the flower-beds below, looking up, as though it had been his expectation to see her which had drawn her to gaze out with an idea of some expectation of her own.  So visionary was his figure in the grey solitariness of the moveless morning that she stared at the apparition, scarce putting faith in him as man, until he kissed his hand to her, and had softly called her name.

Impulsively she waved a hand from her lips.

Now there was no retreat for either of them!

She awoke to this conviction after a flight of blushes that burnt her thoughts to ashes as they sprang.  Thoughts born blushing, all of the crimson colour, a rose-garden, succeeded, and corresponding with their speed her feet paced the room, both slender hands crossed at her throat under an uplifted chin, and the curves of her dark eyelashes dropped as in a swoon.

‘He loves me!’ The attestation of it had been visible.  ‘No one but me!’ Was that so evident?

Her father picked up silly stories of him ­a man who made enemies recklessly!

Cecilia was petrified by a gentle tapping at her door.  Her father called to her, and she threw on her dressing-gown, and opened the door.

The colonel was in his riding-suit.

‘I haven’t slept a wink, and I find it’s the same with you,’ he said, paining her with his distressed kind eyes.  ’I ought not to have hinted anything last night without proofs.  Austin’s as unhappy as I am.’

‘At what, my dear papa, at what?’ cried Cecilia.

’I ride over to Steynham this morning, and I shall bring you proofs, my poor child, proofs.  That foreign tangle of his...’

‘You speak of Nevil, papa?’

’It’s a common scandal over London.  That Frenchwoman was found at Lord Romfrey’s house; Lady Romfrey cloaked it.  I believe the woman would swear black’s white to make Nevil Beauchamp appear an angel; and he’s a desperately cunning hand with women.  You doubt that.’

She had shuddered slightly.

’You won’t doubt if I bring you proofs.  Till I come back from Steynham, I ask you not to see him alone:  not to go out to him.’

The colonel glanced at her windows.

Cecilia submitted to the request, out of breath, consenting to feel like a tutored girl, that she might conceal her guilty knowledge of what was to be seen through the windows.

‘Now I’m off,’ said he, and kissed her.

‘If you would accept Nevil’s word!’ she murmured.

‘Not where women are concerned!’

He left her with this remark, which found no jealous response in her heart, yet ranged over certain dispersed inflammable grains, like a match applied to damp powder; again and again running in little leaps of harmless firm keeping her alive to its existence, and surprising her that it should not have been extinguished.

Beauchamp presented himself rather late in the afternoon, when Mr. Austin and Blackburn Tuckham were sipping tea in Cecilia’s boudoir with that lady, and a cousin of her sex, by whom she was led to notice a faint discoloration over one of his eyes, that was, considering whence it came, repulsive to compassion.  A blow at a Radical meeting!  He spoke of Dr. Shrapnel to Tuckham, and assuredly could not complain that the latter was unsympathetic in regard to the old man’s health, though when he said, ‘Poor old man! he fears he will die!’ Tuckham rejoined:  ’He had better make his peace.’

‘He fears he will die, because of his leaving Miss Denham unprotected,’ said Beauchamp.

’Well, she’s a good-looking girl:  he’ll be able to leave her something, and he might easily get her married, I should think,’ said Tuckham.

‘He’s not satisfied with handing her to any kind of man.’

’If the choice is to be among Radicals and infidels, I don’t wonder.  He has come to one of the tests.’

Cecilia heard Beauchamp speaking of a newspaper.  A great Radical Journal, unmatched in sincerity, superior in ability, soon to be equal in power, to the leader and exemplar of the lucre-Press, would some day see the light.

‘You’ll want money for that,’ said Tuckham.

‘I know,’ said Beauchamp.

‘Are you prepared to stand forty or fifty thousand a year?’

‘It need not be half so much.’

‘Counting the libels, I rate the outlay rather low.’

’Yes, lawyers, judges, and juries of tradesmen, dealing justice to a Radical print!’

Tuckham brushed his hand over his mouth and ahemed.  ’It’s to be a penny journal?’

‘Yes, a penny.  I’d make it a farthing ­’

‘Pay to have it read?’

‘Willingly.’

Tuckham did some mental arithmetic, quaintly, with rapidly blinking eyelids and open mouth.  ’You may count it at the cost of two paying mines,’ he said firmly.  ’That is, if it’s to be a consistently Radical Journal, at law with everybody all round the year.  And by the time it has won a reputation, it will be undermined by a radicaller Radical Journal.  That’s how we’ve lowered the country to this level.  That’s an Inferno of Circles, down to the ultimate mire.  And what on earth are you contending for?’

‘Freedom of thought, for one thing.’

‘We have quite enough free-thinking.’

‘There’s not enough if there’s not perfect freedom.’

‘Dangerous!’ quoth Mr. Austin.

’But it’s that danger which makes men, sir; and it’s fear of the danger that makes our modern Englishman.’

‘Oh!  Oh!’ cried Tuckham in the voice of a Parliamentary Opposition.  ’Well, you start your paper, we’ll assume it:  what class of men will you get to write?’

‘I shall get good men for the hire.’

’You won’t get the best men; you may catch a clever youngster or two, and an old rogue of talent; you won’t get men of weight.  They’re prejudiced, I dare say.  The Journals which are commercial speculations give us a guarantee that they mean to be respectable; they must, if they wouldn’t collapse.  That’s why the best men consent to write for them.’

‘Money will do it,’ said Beauchamp.

Mr. Austin disagreed with that observation.

‘Some patriotic spirit, I may hope, sir.’

Mr. Austin shook his head.  ’We put different constructions upon patriotism.’

‘Besides ­fiddle! nonsense!’ exclaimed Tuckham in the mildest interjections he could summon for a vent in society to his offended common sense; ’the better your men the worse your mark.  You’re not dealing with an intelligent people.’

‘There’s the old charge against the people.’

’But they’re not.  You can madden, you can’t elevate them by writing and writing.  Defend us from the uneducated English!  The common English are doltish; except in the North, where you won’t do much with them.  Compare them with the Yankees for shrewdness, the Spaniards for sobriety, the French for ingenuity, the Germans for enlightenment, the Italians in the Arts; yes, the Russians for good-humour and obedience ­where are they?  They’re only worth something when they’re led.  They fight well; there’s good stuff in them.’

‘I’ve heard all that before,’ returned Beauchamp, unruffled.  ’You don’t know them.  I mean to educate them by giving them an interest in their country.  At present they have next to none.  Our governing class is decidedly unintelligent, in my opinion brutish, for it’s indifferent.  My paper shall render your traders justice for what they do, and justice for what they don’t do.’

’My traders, as you call them, are the soundest foundation for a civilized state that the world has yet seen.’

‘What is your paper to be called?’ said Cecilia.

‘The dawn,’ Beauchamp answered.

She blushed fiery red, and turned the leaves of a portfolio of drawings.

‘The dawn!’ ejaculated Tuckham.  ’The grey-eyed, or the red?  Extraordinary name for a paper, upon my word!’

’A paper that doesn’t devote half its columns to the vices of the rich ­to money-getting, spending and betting ­will be an extraordinary paper.’

’I have it before me now! ­two doses of flattery to one of the whip.  No, no; you haven’t hit the disease.  We want union, not division.  Turn your mind to being a moralist, instead of a politician.’

‘The distinction shouldn’t exist!’

‘Only it does!’

Mrs. Grancey Lespel’s entrance diverted their dialogue from a theme wearisome to Cecilia, for Beauchamp shone but darkly in it, and Mr. Austin did not join in it.  Mrs. Grancey touched Beauchamp’s fingers.  ‘Still political?’ she said.  ’You have been seen about London with a French officer in uniform.’

‘It was M. comte de Croisnel, a very old friend and comrade of mine,’ Beauchamp replied.

’Why do those Frenchmen everlastingly wear their uniforms? ­tell me!  Don’t you think it detestable style?’

‘He came over in a hurry.’

’Now, don’t be huffed.  I know you, for defending your friends, Captain Beauchamp!  Did he not come over with ladies?’

‘With relatives, yes.’

’Relatives of course.  But when British officers travel with ladies, relatives or other, they prefer the simplicity of mufti, and so do I, as a question of taste, I must say.’

’It was quite by misadventure that M. de Croisnel chanced to come in his uniform.’

’Ah!  I know you, for defending your friends, Captain Beauchamp.  He was in too great a hurry to change his uniform before he started, or en route?’

‘So it happened.’

Mrs. Grancey let a lingering eye dwell maliciously on Beauchamp, who said, to shift the burden of it:  ’The French are not so jealous of military uniforms as we are.  M. de Croisnel lost his portmanteau.’

’Ah! lost it!  Then of course he is excuseable, except to the naked eye.  Dear me! you have had a bruise on yours.  Was Monsieur vôtre ami in the Italian campaign?’

’No, poor fellow, he was not.  He is not an Imperialist; he had to remain in garrison.’

’He wore a multitude of medals, I have been told.  A cup of tea, Cecilia.  And how long did he stay in England with his relatives?’

‘Two days.’

’Only two days!  A very short visit indeed ­singularly short.  Somebody informed me of their having been seen at Romfrey Castle, which cannot have been true.’

She turned her eyes from Beauchamp silent to Cecilia’s hand on the teapot.  ‘Half a cup,’ she said mildly, to spare the poor hand its betrayal of nervousness, and relapsed from her air of mistress of the situation to chatter to Mr. Austin.

Beauchamp continued silent.  He took up a book, and presently a pencil from his pocket, then talked of the book to Cecilia’s cousin; and leaving a paper-cutter between the leaves, he looked at Cecilia and laid the book down.

She proceeded to conduct Mrs. Grancey Lespel to her room.

’I do admire Captain Beauchamp’s cleverness; he is as good as a French romance!’ Mrs. Grancey exclaimed on the stairs.  ’He fibs charmingly.  I could not help drawing him out.  Two days!  Why, my dear, his French party were a fortnight in the country.  It was the marquise, you know ­the old affair; and one may say he’s a constant man.’

‘I have not heard Captain Beauchamp’s cleverness much praised,’ said Cecilia.  ‘This is your room, Mrs. Grancey.’

’Stay with me a moment.  It is the room I like.  Are we to have him at dinner?’

Cecilia did not suppose that Captain Beauchamp would remain to dine.  Feeling herself in the clutches of a gossip, she would fain have gone.

‘I am just one bit glad of it, though I can’t dislike him personally,’ said Mrs. Grancey, detaining her and beginning to whisper.  ’It was really too bad.  There was a French party at the end, but there was only one at the commencement.  The brother was got over for a curtain, before the husband arrived in pursuit.  They say the trick Captain Beauchamp played his cousin Cecil, to get him out of the house when he had made a discovery, was monstrous ­fiendishly cunning.  However, Lady Romfrey, as that woman appears to be at last, covered it all.  You know she has one of those passions for Captain Beauchamp which completely blind women to right and wrong.  He is her saint, let him sin ever so!  The story’s in everybody’s mouth.  By the way, Palmet saw her.  He describes her pale as marble, with dark long eyes, the most innocent look in the world, and a walk, the absurd fellow says, like a statue set gliding.  No doubt Frenchwomen do walk well.  He says her eyes are terrible traitors; I need not quote Palmet.  The sort of eyes that would look fondly on a stone, you know.  What her reputation is in France I have only indistinctly heard.  She has one in England by this time, I can assure you.  She found her match in Captain Beauchamp for boldness.  Where any other couple would have seen danger, they saw safety; and they contrived to accomplish it, according to those horrid talebearers.  You have plenty of time to dress, my dear; I have an immense deal to talk about.  There are half-a-dozen scandals in London already, and you ought to know them, or you will be behind the tittle-tattle when you go to town; and I remember, as a girl, I knew nothing so excruciating as to hear blanks, dashes, initials, and half words, without the key.  Nothing makes a girl look so silly and unpalatable.  Naturally, the reason why Captain Beauchamp is more talked about than the rest is the politics.  Your grand reformer should be careful.  Doubly heterodox will not do!  It makes him interesting to women, if you like, but he won’t soon hear the last of it, if he is for a public career.  Grancey literally crowed at the story.  And the wonderful part of it is, that Captain Beauchamp refused to be present at the earl’s first ceremonial dinner in honour of his countess.  Now, that, we all think, was particularly ungrateful:  now, was it not?’

‘If the countess ­if ingratitude had anything to do with it,’ said Cecilia.

She escaped to her room and dressed impatiently.

Her boudoir was empty:  Beauchamp had departed.  She recollected his look at her, and turned over the leaves of the book he had been hastily scanning, and had condescended to approve of.  On the two pages where the paper-cutter was fixed she perceived small pencil dots under certain words.  Read consecutively, with a participle termination struck out to convey his meaning, they formed the pathetically ungrammatical line: 

‘Hear:  none:  but:  accused:  false.’

Treble dots were under the word ‘to-morrow.’  He had scored the margin of the sentences containing his dotted words, as if in admiration of their peculiar wisdom.

She thought it piteous that he should be reduced to such means of communication.  The next instant Cecilia was shrinking from the adept intriguer ­French-taught!

In the course of the evening her cousin remarked: 

’Captain Beauchamp must see merit in things undiscoverable by my poor faculties.  I will show you a book he has marked.’

‘Did you see it?  I was curious to examine it,’ interposed Cecilia; ’and I am as much at a loss as you to understand what could have attracted him.  One sentence...’

’About the sheikh in the stables, where he accused the pretended physician?  Yes, what was there in that?’

‘Where is the book?’ said Mrs. Grancey.

‘Not here, I think.’  Cecilia glanced at the drawing-room book-table, and then at Mr. Austin, the victim of an unhappy love in his youth, and unhappy about her, as her father had said.  Seymour Austin was not one to spread the contagion of intrigue!  She felt herself caught by it, even melting to feel enamoured of herself in consequence, though not loving Beauchamp the more.

‘This newspaper, if it’s not merely an airy project, will be ruination,’ said Tuckham.  ’The fact is, Beauchamp has no bend in him.  He can’t meet a man without trying a wrestle, and as long as he keeps his stiffness, he believes he has won.  I’ve heard an oculist say that the eye that doesn’t blink ends in blindness, and he who won’t bend breaks.  It’s a pity, for he’s a fine fellow.  A Radical daily Journal of Shrapnel’s colour, to educate the people by giving them an interest in the country!  Goodness, what a delusion! and what a waste of money!  He’ll not be able to carry it on a couple of years.  And there goes his eighty thousand!’

Cecilia’s heart beat fast.  She had no defined cause for its excitement.

Colonel Halkett returned to Mount Laurels close upon midnight, very tired, coughing and complaining of the bitter blowing East.  His guests shook hands with him, and went to bed.

‘I think I’ll follow their example,’ he said to Cecilia, after drinking a tumbler of mulled wine.

‘Have you nothing to tell me, dear papa?’ said she, caressing him timidly.

’A confirmation of the whole story from Lord Romfrey in person ­that’s all.  He says Beauchamp’s mad.  I begin to believe it.  You must use your judgement.  I suppose I must not expect you to consider me.  You might open your heart to Austin.  As to my consent, knowing what I do, you will have to tear it out of me.  Here’s a country perfectly contented, and that fellow at work digging up grievances to persuade the people they’re oppressed by us.  Why should I talk of it?  He can’t do much harm; unless he has money ­money!  Romfrey says he means to start a furious paper.  He’ll make a bonfire of himself.  I can’t stand by and see you in it too.  I may die; I may be spared the sight.’

Cecilia flung her arms round his neck.  ‘Oh! papa.’

’I don’t want to make him out worse than he is, my dear.  I own to his gallantry ­in the French sense as well as the English, it seems!  It’s natural that Romfrey should excuse his wife.  She’s another of the women who are crazy about Nevil Beauchamp.  She spoke to me of the “pleasant visit of her French friends,” and would have enlarged on it, but Romfrey stopped her.  By the way, he proposes Captain Baskelett for you, and we’re to look for Baskelett’s coming here, backed by his uncle.  There’s no end to it; there never will be till you’re married:  and no peace for me!  I hope I shan’t find myself with a cold to-morrow.’

The colonel coughed, and perhaps exaggerated the premonitory symptoms of a cold.

‘Italy, papa, would do you good,’ said Cecilia.

‘It might,’ said he.

’If we go immediately, papa; to-morrow, early in the morning, before there is a chance of any visitors coming to the house.’

‘From Bevisham?’

‘From Steynham.  I cannot endure a second persecution.’

‘But you have a world of packing, my dear.’

‘An hour before breakfast will be sufficient for me.’

’In that case, we might be off early, as you say, and have part of the Easter week in Rome.’

‘Mr. Austin wishes it greatly, papa, though he has not mentioned it.’

’Austin, my darling girl, is not one of your impatient men who burst with everything they have in their heads or their hearts.’

‘Oh! but I know him so well,’ said Cecilia, conjuring up that innocent enthusiasm of hers for Mr. Austin as an antidote to her sharp suffering.  The next minute she looked on her father as the key of an enigma concerning Seymour Austin, whom, she imagined, possibly she had not hitherto known at all.  Her curiosity to pierce it faded.  She and her maid were packing through the night.  At dawn she requested her maid to lift the window-blind and give her an opinion of the weather.  ’Grey, Miss,’ the maid reported.  It signified to Cecilia:  no one roaming outside.

The step she was taking was a desperate attempt at a cure; and she commenced it, though sorely wounded, with pity for Nevil’s disappointment, and a singularly clear-eyed perception of his aims and motives. ­’I am rich, and he wants riches; he likes me, and he reads my weakness.’ ­Jealousy shook her by fits, but she had no right to be jealous, nor any right to reproach him.  Her task was to climb back to those heavenly heights she sat on before he distracted her and drew her down.

Beauchamp came to a vacated house that day.