Read CHAPTER LV - WITHOUT LOVE of Beauchamp Career, free online book, by George Meredith, on ReadCentral.com.

At the end of November, Jenny Denham wrote these lines to Mr. Lydiard, in reply to his request that she should furnish the latest particulars of Nevil Beauchamp, for the satisfaction of the Countess of Romfrey: 

’There is everything to reassure Lady Romfrey in the state of Captain Beauchamp’s health, and I have never seen him so placidly happy as he has been since the arrival, yesterday morning, of a lady from France, Madame la Marquise de Rouaillout, with her brother, M. Comte de Croisnel.  Her husband, I hear from M. de Croisnel, dreads our climate and coffee too much to attempt the voyage.  I understand that she writes to Lady Romfrey to-day.  Lady Romfrey’s letter to her, informing her of Captain Beauchamp’s alarming illness, went the round from Normandy to Touraine and Dauphiny, otherwise she would have come over earlier.

’Her first inquiry of me was, “Il est mort?” You would have supposed her disappointed by my answer.  A light went out in her eyes, like that of a veilleuse in the dawn.  She looked at me without speaking, while her beautiful eyes regained their natural expression.  She shut them and sighed.  “Tell him that M. de Croisnel and his sister are here.”

’This morning her wish to see Miss Halkett was gratified.  You know my taste was formed in France; I agree with Captain Beauchamp in his more than admiration of Frenchwomen; ours, though more accomplished, are colder and less plastic.  But Miss Halkett is surpassingly beautiful, very amiable, very generous, a perfect friend.  She is our country at its best.  Probably she is shy of speaking French; she frequently puts the Italian accent.  Madame de Rouaillout begged to speak with her alone:  I do not know what passed.  Miss Halkett did not return to us.

’Dr. Shrapnel and Captain Beauchamp have recently been speculating on our becoming a nation of artists, and authorities in science and philosophy, by the time our coalfields and material wealth are exhausted.  That, and the cataclysm, are their themes.

’They say, will things end utterly? ­all our gains be lost?  The question seems to me to come of that love of earth which is recognition of God:  for if they cannot reconcile themselves to believe in extinction, to what must they be looking?  It is a confirmation of your saying, that love leads to God, through art or in acts.

’You will regret to hear that the project of Captain Beauchamp’s voyage is in danger of being abandoned.  A committee of a vacant Radical borough has offered to nominate him.  My influence is weak; madame would have him go back with her and her brother to Normandy.  My influence is weak, I suppose, because he finds me constantly leaning to expediency ­I am your pupil.  It may be quite correct that powder is intended for explosion we do not therefore apply a spark to the barrel.  I ventured on that.  He pitied me in the snares of simile and metaphor.  He is the same, you perceive.  How often have we not discussed what would have become of him, with that “rocket brain” of his, in less quiet times!  Yet, when he was addressing a deputation of workmen the other day, he recommended patience to them as one of the virtues that count under wisdom.  He is curiously impatient for knowledge.  One of his reasons for not accepting Colonel Halkett’s offer of his yacht is, that he will not be able to have books enough on board.  Definite instead of vast and hazy duties are to be desired for him, I think.  Most fervently I pray that he will obtain a ship and serve some years.  At the risk of your accusing me of “sententious posing,” I would say, that men who do not live in the present chiefly, but hamper themselves with giant tasks in excess of alarm for the future, however devoted and noble they may be ­and he is an example of one that is ­reduce themselves to the dimensions of pigmies; they have the cry of infants.  You reply, Foresight is an element of love of country and mankind.  But how often is not the foresight guess-work?  ’He has not spoken of the dawn project.  To-day he is repeating one of uncle’s novelties ­“Sultry Tories.”  The sultry Tory sits in the sun and prophecies woefully of storm, it appears.  Your accusation that I am one at heart amuses me; I am not quite able to deny it.  “Sultriness” I am not conscious of.  But it would appear to be an epithet for the Conservatives of wealth.  So that England, being very wealthy, we are to call it a sultry country?  You are much wanted, for where there is no “middleman Liberal” to hold the scales for them, these two have it all their own way, which is not good for them.

Captain Beauchamp quotes you too.  It seems that you once talked to him of a machine for measuring the force of blows delivered with the fist, and compared his efforts to those of one perpetually practising at it:  and this you are said to have called “The case of the Constitutional Realm and the extreme Radical.”  Elsewhere the Radical smites at iron or rotten wood; in England it is a cushion on springs.  Did you say it?  He quotes it as yours, half acquiescingly, and ruefully.

’For visitors, we have had Captain Baskelett for two minutes, and Lord Palmet, who stayed longer, and seems to intend to come daily.  He attempts French with Madame de R., and amuses her a little:  a silver foot and a ball of worsted.  Mr. and Mrs. Grancey Lespel have called, and Lord and Lady Croyston.  Colonel Halkett, Miss Halkett, and Mr. Tuckham come frequently.  Captain Beauchamp spoke to her yesterday of her marriage.  ’Madame de R. leaves us to-morrow.  Her brother is a delightful, gay-tempered, very handsome boyish Frenchman ­not her equal, to my mind, for I do not think Frenchmen comparable to the women of France; but she is exceedingly grave, with hardly a smile, and his high spirits excite Nevil’s, so it is pleasant to see them together.’

The letter was handed to Lady Romfrey.  She read through it thoughtfully till she came to the name of Nevil, when she frowned.  On the morrow she pronounced it a disingenuous letter.  Renee had sent her these lines: 

’I should come to you if my time were not restricted; my brother’s leave of absence is short.  I have done here what lay in my power, to show you I have learnt something in the school of self-immolation.  I have seen Mlle. Halkett.  She is a beautiful young woman, deficient only in words, doubtless.  My labour, except that it may satisfy you, was the vainest of tasks.  She marries a ruddy monsieur of a name that I forget, and of the bearing of a member of the gardes du corps, without the stature.  Enfin, madame, I have done my duty, and do not regret it, since I may hope that it will win for me some approbation and a portion of the esteem of a lady to whom I am indebted for that which is now the best of life to me:  and I do not undervalue it in saying I would gladly have it stamped on brass and deposited beside my father’s.  I have my faith.  I would it were Nevil’s too ­and yours, should you be in need of it.

’He will marry Mlle. Denham.  If I may foretell events, she will steady him.  She is a young person who will not feel astray in society of his rank; she possesses the natural grace we do not expect to see out of our country ­from sheer ignorance of what is beyond it.  For the moment she affects to consider herself unworthy; and it is excuseable that she should be slightly alarmed at her prospect.  But Nevil must have a wife.  I presume to think that he could not have chosen better.  Above all, make him leave England for the Winter.  Adieu, dear countess.  Nevil promises me a visit after his marriage.  I shall not set foot on England again:  but you, should you ever come to our land of France, will find my heart open to you at the gates of undying grateful recollection.  I am not skilled in writing.  You have looked into me once; look now; I am the same.  Only I have succeeded in bringing myself to a greater likeness to the dead, as it becomes a creature to be who is coupled with one of their body.  Meanwhile I shall have news of you.  I trust that soon I may be warranted in forwarding congratulations to Lord Romfrey.’

Rosamund handed the letters to her husband.  Not only did she think Miss Denham disingenuous, she saw that the girl was not in love with Beauchamp:  and the idea of a loveless marriage for him threw the mournfullest of Hecate’s beams along the course of a career that the passionate love of a bride, though she were not well-born and not wealthy, would have rosily coloured.

‘Without love!’ she exclaimed to herself.  She asked the earl’s opinion of the startling intelligence, and of the character of that Miss Denham, who could pen such a letter, after engaging to give her hand to Nevil.

Lord Romfrey laughed in his dumb way.  ’If Nevil must have a wife ­and the marquise tells you so, and she ought to know ­he may as well marry a girl who won’t go all the way down hill with him at his pace.  He’ll be cogged.’

‘You do not object to such an alliance?’

’I ’m past objection.  There’s no law against a man’s marrying his nurse.’

‘But she is not even in love with him!’

’I dare say not.  He wants a wife:  she accepts a husband.  The two women who were in love with him he wouldn’t have.’

Lady Romfrey sighed deeply:  ’He has lost Cecilia!  She might still have been his:  but he has taken to that girl.  And Madame de Rouaillout praises the girl because ­oh!  I see it ­she has less to be jealous of in Miss Denham:  of whose birth and blood we know nothing.  Let that pass!  If only she loved him!  I cannot endure the thought of his marrying a girl who is not in love with him.’

‘Just as you like, my dear.’

‘I used to suspect Mr. Lydiard.’

‘Perhaps he’s the man.’

‘Oh, what an end of so brilliant a beginning!’

‘It strikes me, my dear,’ said the earl, ’it’s the proper common sense beginning that may have a fairish end.’

’No, but what I feel is that he ­our Nevil! ­has accomplished hardly anything, if anything!’

’He hasn’t marched on London with a couple of hundred thousand men:  no, he hasn’t done that,’ the earl said, glancing back in his mind through Beauchamp’s career.  ’And he escapes what Stukely calls his nation’s scourge, in the shape of a statue turned out by an English chisel.  No:  we haven’t had much public excitement out of him.  But one thing he did do:  he got me down on my knees!’

Lord Romfrey pronounced these words with a sober emphasis that struck the humour of it sharply into Rosamund’s heart, through some contrast it presented between Nevil’s aim at the world and hit of a man:  the immense deal thought of it by the earl, and the very little that Nevil would think of it ­the great domestic achievement to be boasted of by an enthusiastic devotee of politics!

She embraced her husband with peals of loving laughter:  the last laughter heard in Romfrey Castle for many a day.