Read CHAPTER LIV - THE FRUITS OF THE APOLOGY of Beauchamp Career, free online book, by George Meredith, on ReadCentral.com.

This clear heart had cause for tears.  Her just indignation with Lord Romfrey had sustained her artificially hitherto now that it was erased, she sank down to weep.  Her sentiments toward Lydiard had been very like Cecilia Halkett’s in favour of Mr. Austin; with something more to warm them on the part of the gentleman.  He first had led her mind in the direction of balanced thought, when, despite her affection for Dr. Shrapnel, her timorous maiden wits, unable to contend with the copious exclamatory old politician, opposed him silently.  Lydiard had helped her tongue to speak, as well as her mind to rational views; and there had been a bond of union in common for them in his admiration of her father’s writings.  She had known that he was miserably yoked, and had respected him when he seemed inclined for compassion without wooing her for tenderness.  He had not trifled with her, hardly flattered; he had done no more than kindle a young girl’s imaginative liking.  The pale flower of imagination, fed by dews, not by sunshine, was born drooping, and hung secret in her bosom, shy as a bell of the frail wood-sorrel.  Yet there was pain for her in the perishing of a thing so poor and lowly.  She had not observed the change in Lydiard after Beauchamp came on the scene:  and that may tell us how passionlessly pure the little maidenly sentiment was.  For do but look on the dewy wood-sorrel flower; it is not violet or rose inviting hands to pluck it:  still it is there, happy in the woods.  And Jenny’s feeling was that a foot had crushed it.

She wept, thinking confusedly of Lord Romfrey; trying to think he had made his amends tardily, and that Beauchamp prized him too highly for the act.  She had no longer anything to resent:  she was obliged to weep.  In truth, as the earl had noticed, she was physically depressed by the strain of her protracted watch over Beauchamp, as well as rather heartsick.

But she had been of aid and use in saving him!  She was not quite a valueless person; sweet, too, was the thought that he consulted her, listened to her, weighed her ideas.  He had evidently taken to study her, as if dispersing some wonderment that one of her sex should have ideas.  He had repeated certain of her own which had been forgotten by her.  His eyes were often on her with this that she thought humorous intentness.  She smiled.  She had assisted in raising him from his bed of sickness, whereof the memory affrighted her and melted her.  The difficulty now was to keep him indoors, and why he would not go even temporarily to a large house like Mount Laurels, whither Colonel Halkett was daily requesting him to go, she was unable to comprehend.  His love of Dr. Shrapnel might account for it.

‘Own, Jenny,’ said Beauchamp, springing up to meet her as she entered the room where he and Dr. Shrapnel sat discussing Lord Romfrey’s bearing at his visit, ’own that my uncle Everard is a true nobleman.  He has to make the round to the right mark, but he comes to it.  I could not move him ­and I like him the better for that.  He worked round to it himself.  I ought to have been sure he would.  You’re right:  I break my head with impatience.’

‘No; you sowed seed,’ said Dr. Shrapnel.  ’Heed not that girl, my Beauchamp.  The old woman’s in the Tory, and the Tory leads the young maid.  Here’s a fable I draw from a Naturalist’s book, and we’ll set it against the dicta of Jenny Do-nothing, Jenny Discretion, Jenny Wait-for-the-Gods:  Once upon a time in a tropical island a man lay sick; so ill that he could not rise to trouble his neighbours for help; so weak that it was lifting a mountain to get up from his bed; so hopeless of succour that the last spark of distraught wisdom perching on his brains advised him to lie where he was and trouble not himself, since peace at least he could command, before he passed upon the black highroad men call our kingdom of peace:  ay, he lay there.  Now it chanced that this man had a mess to cook for his nourishment.  And life said, Do it, and death said, To what end?  He wrestled with the stark limbs of death, and cooked the mess; and that done he had no strength remaining to him to consume it, but crept to his bed like the toad into winter.  Now, meanwhile a steam arose from the mess, and he lay stretched.  So it befel that the birds of prey of the region scented the mess, and they descended and thronged at that man’s windows.  And the man’s neighbours looked up at them, for it was the sign of one who is fit for the beaks of birds, lying unburied.  Fail to spread the pall one hour where suns are decisive, and the pall comes down out of heaven!  They said, The man is dead within.  And they went to his room, and saw him and succoured him.  They lifted him out of death by the last uncut thread.

’Now, my Jenny Weigh-words, Jenny Halt-there! was it they who saved the man, or he that saved himself?  The man taxed his expiring breath to sow seed of life.  Lydiard shall put it into verse for a fable in song for our people.  I say it is a good fable, and sung spiritedly may serve for nourishment, and faith in work, to many of our poor fainting fellows!  Now you?’

Jenny said:  ’I think it is a good fable of self-help.  Does it quite illustrate the case?  I mean, the virtue of impatience.  But I like the fable and the moral; and I think it would do good if it were made popular, though it would be hard to condense it to a song.’

’It would be hard! ay, then we do it forthwith.  And you shall compose the music.  As for the “case of impatience,” my dear, you tether the soaring universal to your pet-lamb’s post, the special.  I spoke of seed sown.  I spoke of the fruits of energy and resolution.  Cared I for an apology?  I took the blows as I take hail from the clouds ­which apologize to you the moment you are in shelter, if you laugh at them.  So, good night to that matter!  Are we to have rain this evening?  I must away into Bevisham to the Workmen’s Hall, and pay the men.’

’There will not be rain; there will be frost, and you must be well wrapped if you must go,’ said Jenny.  ’And tell them not to think of deputations to Captain Beauchamp yet.’

’No, no deputations; let them send Killick, if they want to say anything,’ said Beauchamp.

‘Wrong!’ the doctor cried; ’wrong! wrong!  Six men won’t hurt you more than one.  And why check them when their feelings are up?  They burn to be speaking some words to you.  Trust me, Beauchamp, if we shun to encounter the good warm soul of numbers, our hearts are narrowed to them.  The business of our modern world is to open heart and stretch out arms to numbers.  In numbers we have our sinews; they are our iron and gold.  Scatter them not; teach them the secret of cohesion.  Practically, since they gave you not their entire confidence once, you should not rebuff them to suspicions of you as aristocrat, when they rise on the effort to believe a man of, as ’tis called, birth their undivided friend.  Meet them!’

‘Send them,’ said Beauchamp.

Jenny Denham fastened a vast cloak and a comforter on the doctor’s heedless shoulders and throat, enjoining on him to return in good time for dinner.

He put his finger to her cheek in reproof of such supererogatory counsel to a man famous for his punctuality.

The day had darkened.

Beauchamp begged Jenny to play to him on the piano.

‘Do you indeed care to have music?’ said she.  ’I did not wish you to meet a deputation, because your strength is not yet equal to it.  Dr. Shrapnel dwells on principles, forgetful of minor considerations.’

‘I wish thousands did!’ cried Beauchamp.  ’When you play I seem to hear ideas.  Your music makes me think.’

Jenny lit a pair of candles and set them on the piano.  ‘Waltzes?’ she asked.

‘Call in a puppet-show at once!’

She smiled, turned over some leaves, and struck the opening notes of the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven, and made her selections.

At the finish he said:  ’Now read me your father’s poem, “The Hunt of the Fates."’

She read it to him.

‘Now read, “The Ascent from the Inferno."’

That she read:  and also ‘Soul and Brute,’ another of his favourites.

He wanted more, and told her to read ‘First Love ­Last Love.’

‘I fear I have not the tone of voice for love-poems,’ Jenny said, returning the book to him.

‘I’ll read it,’ said he.

He read with more impressiveness than effect.  Lydiard’s reading thrilled her:  Beauchamp’s insisted too much on particular lines.  But it was worth while observing him.  She saw him always as in a picture, remote from herself.  His loftier social station and strange character precluded any of those keen suspicions by which women learn that a fire is beginning to glow near them.

‘How I should like to have known your father!’ he said.  ’I don’t wonder at Dr. Shrapnel’s love of him.  Yes, he was one of the great men of his day! and it’s a higher honour to be of his blood than any that rank can give.  You were ten years old when you lost him.  Describe him to me.’

‘He used to play with me like a boy,’ said Jenny.  She described her father from a child’s recollection of him.

’Dr. Shrapnel declares he would have been one of the first surgeons in Europe:  and he was one of the first of poets,’ Beauchamp pursued with enthusiasm.  ’So he was doubly great.  I hold a good surgeon to be in the front rank of public benefactors ­where they put rich brewers, bankers, and speculative manufacturers now.  Well! the world is young.  We shall alter that in time.  Whom did your father marry?’

Jenny answered, ’My mother was the daughter of a London lawyer.  She married without her father’s approval of the match, and he left her nothing.’

Beauchamp interjected:  ‘Lawyer’s money!’

’It would have been useful to my mother’s household when I was an infant,’ said Jenny.

‘Poor soul!  I suppose so.  Yes; well,’ Beauchamp sighed.  ’Money! never mind how it comes.  We’re in such a primitive condition that we catch at anything to keep us out of the cold; dogs with a bone! ­instead of living, as Dr. Shrapnel prophecies, for and, with one another.  It’s war now, and money’s the weapon of war.  And we’re the worst nation in Europe for that.  But if we fairly recognize it, we shall be the first to alter our ways.  There’s the point.  Well, Jenny, I can look you in the face to-night.  Thanks to my uncle Everard at last!’

‘Captain Beauchamp, you have never been blamed.’

’I am Captain Beauchamp by courtesy, in public.  My friends call me Nevil.  I think I have heard the name on your lips?’

‘When you were very ill.’

He stood closer to her, very close.

’Which was the arm that bled for me?  May I look at it?  There was a bruise.’

’Have you not forgotten that trifle?  There is the faintest possible mark of it left.’

‘I wish to see.’

She gently defended the arm, but he made it so much a matter of earnest to see the bruise of the old Election missile on her fair arm, that, with a pardonable soft blush, to avoid making much of it herself, she turned her sleeve a little above the wrist.  He took her hand.

‘It was for me!’

‘It was quite an accident:  no harm was intended.’

‘But it was in my cause ­for me!’

‘Indeed, Captain Beauchamp...’

‘Nevil, we say indoors.’

‘Nevil ­but is it not wiser to say what comes naturally to us?’

’Who told you to-day that you had brought me to life?  I am here to prove it true.  If I had paid attention to your advice, I should not have gone into the cottage of those poor creatures and taken away the fever.  I did no good there.  But the man’s wife said her husband had been ruined by voting for me:  and it was a point of honour to go in and sit with him.  You are not to have your hand back:  it is mine.  Don’t you remember, Jenny, how you gave me your arm on the road when I staggered; two days before the fever knocked me over?  Shall I tell you what I thought then?  I thought that he who could have you for a mate would have the bravest and helpfullest wife in all England.  And not a mere beauty, for you have good looks:  but you have the qualities I have been in search of.  Why do your eyes look so mournfully at me?  I am full of hope.  We’ll sail the Esperanza for the Winter:  you and I, and our best friend with us.  And you shall have a voice in the council, be sure.’

‘If you are two to one?’ Jenny said quickly, to keep from faltering.

Beauchamp pressed his mouth to the mark of the bruise on her arm.  He held her fast.

’I mean it, if you will join me, that you and I should rejoice the heart of the dear old man ­will you?  He has been brooding over your loneliness here if you are unmarried, ever since his recovery.  I owe my life to you, and every debt of gratitude to him.  Now, Jenny!’

’Oh!  Captain Beauchamp ­Nevil, if you will... if I may have my hand.  You exaggerate common kindness.  He loves you.  We both esteem you.’

‘But you don’t love me?’

’Indeed I have no fear that I shall be unable to support myself, if I am left alone.’

’But I want your help.  I wake from illness with my eyes open.  I must have your arm to lean on now and then.’

Jenny dropped a shivering sigh.

‘Uncle is long absent!’ she said.

Her hand was released.  Beauchamp inspected his watch.

‘He may have fallen!  He may be lying on the common!’

‘Oh!’ cried Jenny, ‘why did I let him go out without me?’

‘Let me have his lantern; I’ll go and search over the common.’

‘You must not go out,’ said she.

‘I must.  The old man may be perishing.’

‘It will be death to you...  Nevil!’

’That ‘s foolish.  I can stand the air for a few minutes.’

’I ‘ll go,’ said Jenny.

‘Unprotected?  No.’

‘Cook shall come with me.’

‘Two women!’

‘Nevil, if you care a little for me, be good, be kind, submit.’

’He is half an hour behind dinner-time, and he’s never late.  Something must have happened to him.  Way for me, my dear girl.’

She stood firm between him and the door.  It came to pass that she stretched her hands to arrest him, and he seized the hands.

‘Rather than you should go out in this cold weather, anything!’ she said, in the desperation of physical inability to hold him back.

‘Ah!’ Beauchamp crossed his arms round her.  ’I’ll wait for five minutes.’

One went by, with Jenny folded, broken and sobbing, senseless, against his breast.

They had not heard Dr. Shrapnel quietly opening the hall door and hanging up his hat.  He looked in.

‘Beauchamp!’ he exclaimed.

‘Come, doctor,’ said Beauchamp, and loosened his clasp of Jenny considerately.

She disengaged herself.

‘Beauchamp! now I die a glad man.’

’Witness, doctor, she ‘s mine by her own confession.’

‘Uncle!’ Jenny gasped.  ’Oh!  Captain Beauchamp, what an error! what delusion!...  Forget it.  I will.  Here are more misunderstandings!  You shall be excused.  But be...’

‘Be you the blessedest woman alive on this earth, my Jenny!’ shouted Dr. Shrapnel.  ’You have the choice man on all the earth for husband, sweetheart!  Ay, of all the earth!  I go with a message for my old friend Harry Denham, to quicken him in the grave; for the husband of his girl is Nevil Beauchamp!  The one thing I dared not dream of thousands is established.  Sunlight, my Jenny!’

Beauchamp kissed her hand.

She slipped away to her chamber, grovelling to find her diminished self somewhere in the mid-thunder of her amazement, as though it were to discover a pin on the floor by the flash of lightning.  Where was she!

This ensued from the apology of Lord Romfrey to Dr. Shrapnel.