Read CHAPTER LIII - THE APOLOGY TO DR. SHRAPNEL of Beauchamp Career, free online book, by George Meredith, on

‘You and Nevil are so alike,’ Lady Romfrey said to her lord, at some secret resemblance she detected and dwelt on fondly, when the earl was on the point of starting a second time for Bevisham to perform what she had prompted him to conceive his honourable duty, without a single intimation that he loathed the task, neither shrug nor grimace.

’Two ends of a stick are pretty much alike:  they’re all that length apart,’ said he, very little in the humour for compliments, however well braced for his work.

His wife’s admiring love was pleasant enough.  He preferred to have it unspoken.  Few of us care to be eulogized in the act of taking a nauseous medical mixture.

For him the thing was as good as done, on his deciding to think it both adviseable and right:  so he shouldered his load and marched off with it.  He could have postponed the right proceeding, even after the partial recognition of his error: ­one drops a word or two by hazard, one expresses an anxiety to afford reparation, one sends a message, and so forth, for the satisfaction of one’s conventionally gentlemanly feeling:  but the adviseable proceeding under stress of peculiar circumstances, his clearly-awakened recognition of that, impelled him unhesitatingly.  His wife had said it was the portion she brought him.  Tears would not have persuaded him so powerfully, that he might prove to her he was glad of her whatever the portion she brought.  She was a good wife, a brave woman, likely to be an incomparable mother.  At present her very virtues excited her to fancifulness nevertheless she was in his charge, and he was bound to break the neck of his will, to give her perfect peace of wind.  The child suffers from the mother’s mental agitation.  It might be a question of a nervous or an idiot future Earl of Romfrey.  Better death to the House than such a mockery of his line!  These reflections reminded him of the heartiness of his whipping of that poor old tumbled signpost Shrapnel, in the name of outraged womankind.  If there was no outrage?

Assuredly if there was no outrage, consideration for the state of his wife would urge him to speak the apology in the most natural manner possible.  She vowed there was none.

He never thought of blaming her for formerly deceiving him, nor of blaming her for now expediting him.

In the presence of Colonel Halkett, Mr. Tuckham, and Mr. Lydiard, on a fine November afternoon, standing bareheaded in the fir-bordered garden of the cottage on the common, Lord Romfrey delivered his apology to Dr. Shrapnel, and he said: 

’I call you to witness, gentlemen, I offer Dr. Shrapnel the fullest reparation he may think fit to demand of me for an unprovoked assault on him, that I find was quite unjustified, and for which I am here to ask his forgiveness.’

Speech of man could not have been more nobly uttered.

Dr. Shrapnel replied: 

’To the half of that, sir ­’tis over!  What remains is done with the hand.’

He stretched his hand out.

Lord Romfrey closed his own on it.

The antagonists, between whom was no pretence of their being other after the performance of a creditable ceremony, bowed and exchanged civil remarks:  and then Lord Romfrey was invited to go into the house and see Beauchamp, who happened to be sitting with Cecilia Halkett and Jenny Denham.  Beauchamp was thin, pale, and quiet; but the sight of him standing and conversing after that scene of the skinny creature struggling with bareribbed obstruction on the bed, was an example of constitutional vigour and a compliment to the family very gratifying to Lord Romfrey.  Excepting by Cecilia, the earl was coldly received.  He had to leave early by special express for London to catch the last train to Romfrey.  Beauchamp declined to fix a day for his visit to the castle with Lydiard, but proposed that Lydiard should accompany the earl on his return.  Lydiard was called in, and at once accepted the earl’s invitation, and quitted the room to pack his portmanteau.

A faint sign of firm-shutting shadowed the corners of Jenny’s lips.

‘You have brought my nephew to life,’ Lord Romfrey said to her.

‘My share in it was very small, my lord.’

‘Gannet says that your share in it was very great.’

‘And I say so, with the authority of a witness,’ added Cecilia.

‘And I, from my experience,’ came from Beauchamp.

His voice had a hollow sound, unlike his natural voice.

The earl looked at him remembering the bright laughing lad he had once been, and said:  ’Why not try a month of Madeira?  You have only to step on board the boat.’

‘I don’t want to lose a month of my friend,’ said Beauchamp.

‘Take your friend with you.  After these fevers our Winters are bad.’

‘I’ve been idle too long.’

‘But, Captain Beauchamp,’ said Jenny, ’you proposed to do nothing but read for a couple of years.’

‘Ay, there’s the voyage!’ sighed he, with a sailor-invalid’s vision of sunny seas dancing in the far sky.

’You must persuade Dr. Shrapnel to come; and he will not come unless you come too, and you won’t go anywhere but to the Alps!’ She bent her eyes on the floor.  Beauchamp remembered what had brought her home from the Alps.  He cast a cold look on his uncle talking with Cecilia:  granite, as he thought.  And the reflux of that slight feeling of despair seemed to tear down with it in wreckage every effort he had made in life, and cry failure on him.  Yet he was hoping that he had not been created for failure.

He touched his uncle’s hand indifferently:  ’My love to the countess:  let me hear of her, sir, if you please.’

‘You shall,’ said the earl.  ’But, off to Madeira, and up Teneriffe:  sail the Azores.  I’ll hire you a good-sized schooner.’

‘There is the Esperanza,’ said Cecilia.  ’And the vessel is lying idle, Nevil!  Can you allow it?’

He consented to laugh at himself, and fell to coughing.

Jenny Denham saw a real human expression of anxiety cross the features of the earl at the sound of the cough.

Lord Romfrey said ‘Adieu,’ to her.

He offered her his hand, which she contrived to avoid taking by dropping a formal half-reverence.

’Think of the Esperanza; she will be coasting her nominal native land! and adieu for to-day,’ Cecilia said to Beauchamp.

Jenny Denham and he stood at the window to watch the leave-taking in the garden, for a distraction.  They interchanged no remark of surprise at seeing the earl and Dr. Shrapnel hand-locked:  but Jenny’s heart reproached her uncle for being actually servile, and Beauchamp accused the earl of aristocratic impudence.

Both were overcome with remorse when Colonel Halkett, putting his head into the room to say good-bye to Beauchamp and place the Esperanza at his disposal for a Winter cruise, chanced to mention in two or three half words the purpose of the earl’s visit, and what had occurred.  He took it for known already.

To Miss Denham he remarked:  ’Lord Romfrey is very much concerned about your health; he fears you have overdone it in nursing Captain Beauchamp!

‘I must be off after him,’ said Beauchamp, and began trembling so that he could not stir.

The colonel knew the pain and shame of that condition of weakness to a man who has been strong and swift, and said:  ’Seven-league boots are not to be caught.  You’ll see him soon.  Why, I thought some letter of yours had fetched him here!  I gave you all the credit of it.’

‘No, he deserves it all himself ­all,’ said Beauchamp and with a dubious eye on Jenny Denham:  ‘You see, we were unfair.’

The ‘we’ meant ‘you’ to her sensitiveness; and probably he did mean it for ‘you’:  for as he would have felt, so he supposed that his uncle must have felt, Jenny’s coldness was much the crueller.  Her features, which in animation were summer light playing upon smooth water, could be exceedingly cold in repose:  the icier to those who knew her, because they never expressed disdain.  No expression of the baser sort belonged to them.  Beauchamp was intimate with these delicately-cut features; he would have shuddered had they chilled on him.  He had fallen in love with his uncle; he fancied she ought to have done so too; and from his excess of sympathy he found her deficient in it.

He sat himself down to write a hearty letter to his ’dear old uncle Everard.’

Jenny left him, to go to her chamber and cry.