Read CHAPTER LI - IN THE NIGHT of Beauchamp Career, free online book, by George Meredith, on ReadCentral.com.

The delirious voice haunted him.  It came no longer accompanied by images and likenesses to this and that of animate nature, which were relieving and distracting; it came to him in its mortal nakedness ­an afflicting incessant ringing peal, bare as death’s ribs in telling of death.  When would it stop?  And when it stopped, what would succeed?  What ghastly silence!

He walked to within view of the lights of Dr. Shrapnel’s at night:  then home to his hotel.

Miss Denham’s power of commanding sleep, as he could not, though contrary to custom he tried it on the right side and the left, set him thinking of her.  He owned she was pretty.  But that, he contended, was not the word; and the word was undiscoverable.  Not Cecilia Halkett herself had so high-bred an air, for Cecilia had not her fineness of feature and full quick eyes, of which the thin eyelids were part of the expression.  And Cecilia sobbed, snifed, was patched about the face, reddish, bluish.  This girl was pliable only to service, not to grief:  she did her work for three-and-twenty hours, and fell to her sleep of one hour like a soldier.  Lord Romfrey could not recollect anything in a young woman that had taken him so much as the girl’s tossing out of the rug and covering herself, lying down and going to sleep under his nose, absolutely independent of his presence.

She had not betrayed any woman’s petulance with him for his conduct to her uncle or guardian.  Nor had she hypocritically affected the reverse, as ductile women do, when they feel wanting in force to do the other.  She was not unlike Nevil’s marquise in face, he thought:  less foreign of course; looking thrice as firm.  Both were delicately featured.

He had a dream.

It was of an interminable procession of that odd lot called the People.  All of them were quarrelling under a deluge.  One party was for umbrellas, one was against them:  and sounding the dispute with a question or two, Everard held it logical that there should be protection from the wet:  just as logical on the other hand that so frail a shelter should be discarded, considering the tremendous downpour.  But as he himself was dry, save for two or three drops, he deemed them all lunatics.  He requested them to gag their empty chatter-boxes, and put the mother upon that child’s cry.

He was now a simple unit of the procession.  Asking naturally whither they were going, he saw them point.  ‘St. Paul’s,’ he heard.  In his own bosom it was, and striking like the cathedral big bell.

Several ladies addressed him sorrowfully.  He stood alone.  It had become notorious that he was to do battle, and no one thought well of his chances.  Devil an enemy to be seen! he muttered.  Yet they said the enemy was close upon him.  His right arm was paralyzed.  There was the enemy hard in front, mailed, vizored, gauntleted.  He tried to lift his right hand, and found it grasping an iron ring at the bottom of the deep Steynham well, sunk one hundred feet through the chalk.  But the unexampled cunning of his left arm was his little secret; and, acting upon this knowledge, he telegraphed to his first wife at Steynham that Dr. Gannet was of good hope, and thereupon he re-entered the ranks of the voluminous procession, already winding spirally round the dome of St. Paul’s.  And there, said he, is the tomb of Beauchamp.  Everything occurred according to his predictions, and he was entirely devoid of astonishment.  Yet he would fain have known the titles of the slain admiral’s naval battles.  He protested he had a right to know, for he was the hero’s uncle, and loved him.  He assured the stupid scowling people that he loved Nevil Beauchamp, always loved the boy, and was the staunchest friend the fellow had.  And saying that, he certainly felt himself leaning up against the cathedral rails in the attitude of Dr. Shrapnel, and crying, ‘Beauchamp!  Beauchamp!’ And then he walked firmly out of Romfrey oakwoods, and, at a mile’s distance from her, related to his countess Rosamund that the burial was over without much silly ceremony, and that she needed to know nothing of it whatever.

Rosamund’s face awoke him.  It was the face of a chalk-quarry, featureless, hollowed, appalling.

The hour was no later than three in the morning.  He quitted the detestable bed where a dream ­one of some half-dozen in the course of his life-had befallen him.  For the maxim of the healthy man is:  up, and have it out in exercise when sleep is for foisting base coin of dreams upon you!  And as the healthy only are fit to live, their maxims should be law.  He dressed and directed his leisurely steps to the common, under a black sky, and stars of lively brilliancy.  The lights of a carriage gleamed on Dr. Shrapnel’s door.  A footman informed Lord Romfrey that Colonel Halkett was in the house, and soon afterward the colonel appeared.

‘Is it over?  I don’t hear him,’ said Lord Romfrey.

Colonel Halkett grasped his hand.  ‘Not yet,’ he said.  ’Cissy can’t be got away.  It’s killing her.  No, he’s alive.  You may hear him now.’

Lord Romfrey bent his ear.

‘It’s weaker,’ the colonel resumed.  ’By the way, Romfrey, step out with me.  My dear friend, the circumstances will excuse me:  you know I’m not a man to take liberties.  I’m bound to tell you what your wife writes to me.  She says she has it on her conscience, and can’t rest for it.  You know women.  She wants you to speak to the man here ­Shrapnel.  She wants Nevil to hear that you and he were friendly before he dies; thinks it would console the poor dear fellow.  That’s only an idea; but it concerns her, you see.  I’m shocked to have to talk to you about it.’

‘My dear colonel, I have no feeling against the man,’ Lord Romfrey replied.  ’I spoke to him when I saw him yesterday.  I bear no grudges.  Where is he?  You can send to her to say I have spoken to him twice.’

‘Yes, yes,’ the colonel assented.

He could not imagine that Lady Romfrey required more of her husband.  ’Well, I must be off.  I leave Blackburn Tuckham here, with a friend of his; a man who seems to be very sweet with Mrs. Wardour-Devereux.’

‘Ha!  Fetch him to me, colonel; I beg you to do that,’ said Lord Romfrey.

The colonel brought out Lydiard to the earl.

‘You have been at my nephew’s bedside, Mr. Lydiard?’

‘Within ten minutes, my lord.’

‘What is your opinion of the case?’

‘My opinion is, the chances are in his favour.’

’Lay me under obligation by communicating that to Romfrey Castle at the first opening of the telegraph office to-morrow morning.’

Lydiard promised.

‘The raving has ended?’

‘Hardly, sir, but the exhaustion is less than we feared it would be.’

‘Gannet is there?’

‘He is in an arm-chair in the room.’

‘And Dr. Shrapnel?’

‘He does not bear speaking to; he is quiet.’

‘He is attached to my nephew?’

‘As much as to life itself.’

Lord Romfrey thanked Lydiard courteously.  ’Let us hope, sir, that some day I shall have the pleasure of entertaining you, as well as another friend of yours.’

‘You are very kind, my lord.’

The earl stood at the door to see Colonel Halkett drive off:  he declined to accompany him to Mount Laurels.

In the place of the carriage stood a man, who growled ’Where’s your horsewhip, butcher?’

He dogged the earl some steps across the common.  Everard returned to his hotel and slept soundly during the remainder of the dark hours.