Read CHAPTER XLVII - THE REFUSAL OF HIM of Beauchamp Career, free online book, by George Meredith, on ReadCentral.com.

Passing from one scene of excitement to another, Cecilia was perfectly steeled for her bitter task; and having done that which separated her a sphere’s distance from Beauchamp, she was cold, inaccessible to the face of him who had swayed her on flood and ebb so long, incapable of tender pity, even for herself.  All she could feel was a harsh joy to have struck off her tyrant’s fetters, with a determination to cherish it passionately lest she should presently be hating herself:  for the shadow of such a possibility fell within the narrow circle of her strung sensations.  But for the moment her delusion reached to the idea that she had escaped from him into freedom, when she said, ‘It is too late.’  Those words were the sum and voice of her long term of endurance.  She said them hurriedly, almost in a whisper, in the manner of one changeing a theme of conversation for subjects happier and livelier, though none followed.

The silence bore back on her a suspicion of a faint reproachfulness in the words; and perhaps they carried a poetical tone, still more distasteful.

‘You have been listening to tales of me,’ said Beauchamp.

‘Nevil, we can always be friends, the best of friends.’

’Were you astonished at my asking you for your hand?  You said “mine?” as if you wondered.  You have known my feelings for you.  Can you deny that?  I have reckoned on yours ­too long? ­But not falsely?  No, hear me out.  The truth is, I cannot lose you.  And don’t look so resolute.  Overlook little wounds:  I was never indifferent to you.  How could I be ­with eyes in my head?  The colonel is opposed to me of course:  he will learn to understand me better:  but you and I! we cannot be mere friends.  It’s like daylight blotted out ­or the eyes gone blind: ­Too late?  Can you repeat it?  I tried to warn you before you left England:  I should have written a letter to put you on your guard against my enemies: ­I find I have some:  but a letter is sure to stumble; I should have been obliged to tell you that I do not stand on my defence; and I thought I should see you the next day.  You went:  and not a word for me!  You gave me no chance.  If you have no confidence in me I must bear it.  I may say the story is false.  With your hand in mine I would swear it.’

‘Let it be forgotten,’ said Cecilia, surprised and shaken to think that her situation required further explanations; fascinated and unnerved by simply hearing him.  ‘We are now ­we are walking away from the house.’

‘Do you object to a walk with me?’

They had crossed the garden plot and were at the gate of the park leading to the Western wood.  Beauchamp swung the gate open.  He cast a look at the clouds coming up from the South-west in folds of grey and silver.

‘Like the day of our drive into Bevisham! ­without the storm behind,’ he said, and doated on her soft shut lips, and the mild sun-rays of her hair in sunless light.  ’There are flowers that grow only in certain valleys, and your home is Mount Laurels, whatever your fancy may be for Italy.  You colour the whole region for me.  When you were absent, you were here.  I called here six times, and walked and talked with you.’

Cecilia set her face to the garden.  Her heart had entered on a course of heavy thumping, like a sapper in the mine.

Pain was not unwelcome to her, but this threatened weakness.

What plain words could she use?  If Mr. Tuckham had been away from the house, she would have found it easier to speak of her engagement; she knew not why.  Or if the imperative communication could have been delivered in Italian or French, she was as little able to say why it should have slipped from her tongue without a critic shudder to arrest it.  She was cold enough to revolve the words:  betrothed, affianced, plighted:  and reject them, pretty words as they are.  Between the vulgarity of romantic language, and the baldness of commonplace, it seemed to her that our English gives us no choice; that we cannot be dignified in simplicity.  And for some reason, feminine and remote, she now detested her ‘hand’ so much as to be unable to bring herself to the metonymic mention of it.  The lady’s difficulty was peculiar to sweet natures that have no great warmth of passion; it can only be indicated.  Like others of the kind, it is traceable to the most delicate of sentiments, and to the flattest: ­for Mr. Blackburn’s Tuckham’s figure was (she thought of it with no personal objection) not of the graceful order, neither cavalierly nor kingly:  and imagining himself to say, ’I am engaged,’ and he suddenly appearing on the field, Cecilia’s whole mind was shocked in so marked a way did he contrast with Beauchamp.

This was the effect of Beauchamp’s latest words on her.  He had disarmed her anger.

‘We must have a walk to-day,’ he said commandingly, but it had stolen into him that he and she were not walking on the same bank of the river, though they were side by side:  a chill water ran between them.  As in other days, there hung her hand:  but not to be taken.  Incredible as it was, the icy sense of his having lost her benumbed him.  Her beautiful face and beautiful tall figure, so familiar to him that they were like a possession, protested in his favour while they snatched her from him all the distance of the words ‘too late.’

‘Will you not give me one half-hour?’

‘I am engaged,’ Cecilia plunged and extricated herself, ’I am engaged to walk with Mr. Austin and papa.’

Beauchamp tossed his head.  Something induced him to speak of Mr. Tuckham.  ’The colonel has discovered his Tory young man!  It’s an object as incomprehensible to me as a Tory working-man.  I suppose I must take it that they exist.  As for Blackburn Tuckham, I have nothing against him.  He’s an honourable fellow enough, and would govern Great Britain as men of that rich middle-class rule their wives ­with a strict regard for ostensible humanity and what the law allows them.  His manners have improved.  Your cousin Mary seems to like him:  it struck me when I saw them together.  Cecilia! one half-hour!  You refuse me:  you have not heard me.  You will not say too late.’

’Nevil, I have said it finally.  I have no longer the right to conceive it unsaid.’

’So we speak!  It’s the language of indolence, temper, faint hearts.  “Too late” has no meaning.  Turn back with me to the park.  I offer you my whole heart; I love you.  There’s no woman living who could be to me the wife you would be.  I’m like your male nightingale that you told me of:  I must have my mate to sing to ­that is, work for and live for; and she must not delay too long.  Did I?  Pardon me if you think I did.  You have known I love you.  I have been distracted by things that kept me from thinking of myself and my wishes:  and love’s a selfish business while... while one has work in hand.  It’s clear I can’t do two things at a time ­make love and carry on my taskwork.  I have been idle for weeks.  I believed you were mine and wanted no lovemaking.  There’s no folly in that, if you understand me at all.  As for vanity about women, I ’ve outlived it.  In comparison with you I’m poor, I know: ­you look distressed, but one has to allude to it: ­I admit that wealth would help me.  To see wealth supporting the cause of the people for once would ­but you say, too late!  Well, I don’t renounce you till I see you giving your hand to a man who’s not myself.  You have been offended:  groundlessly, on my honour!  You are the woman of all women in the world to hold me fast in faith and pride in you.  It’s useless to look icy:  you feel what I say.’

’"Too late” has not a rag of meaning, Cecilia!  I love your name.  I love this too:  this is mine, and no one can rob me of it.’

He drew forth a golden locket and showed her a curl of her hair.

Crimsoning, she said instantly:  ’Language of the kind I used is open to misconstruction, I fear.  I have not even the right to listen to you.  I am ...  You ask me for what I have it no longer in my power to give.  I am engaged.’

The shot rang through him and partly stunned him; but incredulity made a mocking effort to sustain him.  The greater wounds do not immediately convince us of our fate, though we may be conscious that we have been hit.

‘Engaged in earnest?’ said he.

‘Yes.’

‘Of your free will?’

‘Yes.’

Her father stepped out on the terrace, from one of the open windows, trailing a newspaper like a pocket-handkerchief.  Cecilia threaded the flower-beds to meet him.

‘Here’s an accident to one of our ironclads,’ he called to Beauchamp.

‘Lives lost, sir?’

’No, thank heaven! but, upon my word, it’s a warning.  Read the telegram; it’s the Hastings.  If these are our defences, at a cost of half a million of money, each of them, the sooner we look to our land forces the better.’

‘The Shop will not be considered safe!’ said Beauchamp, taking in the telegram at a glance.  ’Peppel’s a first-rate officer too:  she couldn’t have had a better captain.  Ship seriously damaged!’

He handed back the paper to the colonel.

Cecilia expected him to say that he had foreseen such an event.

He said nothing; and with a singular contraction of the heart she recollected how he had denounced our system of preparing mainly for the defensive in war, on a day when they stood together in the park, watching the slow passage of that very ship, the Hastings, along the broad water, distant below them.  The ’swarms of swift vessels of attack,’ she recollected particularly, and ’small wasps and rams under mighty steam-power,’ that he used to harp on when declaring that England must be known for the assailant in war:  she was to ‘ray out’ her worrying fleets.  ‘The defensive is perilous policy in war’:  he had said it.  She recollected also her childish ridicule of his excess of emphasis:  he certainly had foresight.’

Mr. Austin and Mr. Tuckham came strolling in conversation round the house to the terrace.  Beauchamp bowed to the former, nodded to the latter, scrutinizing him after he had done so, as if the flash of a thought were in his mind.  Tuckham’s radiant aspect possibly excited it:  ‘Congratulate me!’ was the honest outcry of his face and frame.  He was as over-flowingly rosy as a victorious candidate at the hustings commencing a speech.  Cecilia laid her hand on an urn, in dread of the next words from either of the persons present.  Her father put an arm in hers, and leaned on her.  She gazed at her chamber window above, wishing to be wafted thither to her seclusion within.  The trembling limbs of physical irresoluteness was a new experience to her.

‘Anything else in the paper, colonel?  I’ve not seen it to-day,’ said Beauchamp, for the sake of speaking.

‘No, I don’t think there’s anything,’ Colonel Halkett replied.  ’Our diplomatists haven’t been shining much:  that ‘s not our forte.’

‘No:  it’s our field for younger sons.’

’Is it?  Ah!  There’s an expedition against the hilltribes in India, and we’re such a peaceful nation, eh?  We look as if we were in for a complication with China.’

‘Well, sir, we must sell our opium.’

‘Of course we must.  There’s a man writing about surrendering Gibraltar!’

‘I’m afraid we can’t do that.’

‘But where do you draw the line?’ quoth Tuckham, very susceptible to a sneer at the colonel, and entirely ignorant of the circumstances attending Beauchamp’s position before him.  ’You defend the Chinaman; and it’s questionable if his case is as good as the Spaniard’s.’

’The Chinaman has a case against our traders.  Gibraltar concerns our imperial policy.’

’As to the case against the English merchants, the Chinaman is for shutting up his millions of acres of productive land, and the action of commerce is merely a declaration of a universal public right, to which all States must submit.’

’Immorality brings its punishment, be sure of that.  Some day we shall have enough of China.  As to the Rock, I know the argument; I may be wrong.  I’ve had the habit of regarding it as necessary to our naval supremacy.’

‘Come! there we agree.’

‘I’m not so certain.’

‘The counter-argument, I call treason.’

‘Well,’ said Beauchamp, ’there’s a broad policy, and a narrow.  There’s the Spanish view of the matter ­if you are for peace and harmony and disarmament.’

‘I’m not.’

‘Then strengthen your forces.’

‘Not a bit of it!’

’Then bully the feeble and truckle to the strong; consent to be hated till you have to stand your ground.’

‘Talk!’

‘It seems to me logical.’

‘That’s the French notion ­c’est lodgique!’

Tuckham’s pronunciation caused Cecilia to level her eyes at him passingly.

‘By the way,’ said Colonel Halkett, ’there are lots of horrors in the paper to-day; wife kickings, and starvations ­oh, dear me! and the murder of a woman:  two columns to that.’

‘That, the Tory reaction is responsible for!’ said Tuckham, rather by way of a joke than a challenge.

Beauchamp accepted it as a challenge.  Much to the benevolent amusement of Mr. Austin and Colonel Halkett, he charged the responsibility of every crime committed in the country, and every condition of misery, upon the party which declined to move in advance, and which therefore apologized for the perpetuation of knavery, villany, brutality, injustice, and foul dealing.

’Stick to your laws and systems and institutions, and so long as you won’t stir to amend them, I hold you accountable for that long newspaper list daily.’

He said this with a visible fire of conviction.

Tuckham stood bursting at the monstrousness of such a statement.

He condensed his indignant rejoinder to:  ‘Madness can’t go farther!’

‘There’s an idea in it,’ said Mr. Austin.

‘It’s an idea foaming at the mouth, then.’

’Perhaps it has no worse fault than that of not marching parallel with the truth,’ said Mr. Austin, smiling.  ’The party accusing in those terms ... what do you say, Captain Beauchamp? ­supposing us to be pleading before a tribunal?’

Beauchamp admitted as much as that he had made the case gigantic, though he stuck to his charge against the Tory party.  And moreover:  the Tories-and the old Whigs, now Liberals, ranked under the heading of Tories ­those Tories possessing and representing the wealth of the country, yet had not started one respectable journal that a lady could read through without offence to her, or a gentleman without disgust!  If there was not one English newspaper in existence independent of circulation and advertisements, and of the tricks to win them, the Tories were answerable for the vacancy.  They, being the rich who, if they chose, could set an example to our Press by subscribing to maintain a Journal superior to the flattering of vile appetites ­’all that nauseous matter,’ Beauchamp stretched his fingers at the sheets Colonel Halkett was holding, and which he had not read ­’those Tories,’ he bowed to the colonel, ‘I’m afraid I must say you, sir, are answerable for it.’

‘I am very well satisfied with my paper,’ said the colonel.

Beauchamp sighed to himself.  ‘We choose to be satisfied,’ he said.  His pure and mighty dawn was in his thoughts:  the unborn light of a day denied to earth!

One of the doctors of Bevisham, visiting a sick maid of the house, trotted up the terrace to make his report to her master of the state of her health.  He hoped to pull her through with the aid of high feeding.  He alluded cursorily to a young girl living on the outskirts of the town, whom he had been called in to see at the eleventh hour, and had lost, owing to the lowering of his patient from a prescription of a vegetable diet by a certain Dr. Shrapnel.

That ever-explosive name precipitated Beauchamp to the front rank of the defence.

‘I happen to be staying with Dr. Shrapnel,’ he observed.  ’I don’t eat meat there because he doesn’t, and I am certain I take no harm by avoiding it.  I think vegetarianism a humaner system, and hope it may be wise.  I should like to set the poor practising it, for their own sakes; and I have half an opinion that it would be good for the rich ­if we are to condemn gluttony.’

‘Ah?  Captain Beauchamp!’ the doctor bowed to him.  ’But my case was one of poor blood requiring to be strengthened.  The girl was allowed to sink so low that stimulants were ineffective when I stepped in.  There’s the point.  It ’s all very well while you are in health.  You may do without meat till your system demands the stimulant, or else ­as with this poor girl!  And, indeed, Captain Beauchamp, if I may venture the remark ­I had the pleasure of seeing you during the last Election in our town ­and if I may be so bold, I should venture to hint that the avoidance of animal food ­to judge by appearances ­has not been quite wholesome for you.’

Eyes were turned on Beauchamp.