Read CHAPTER LVI - THE LAST OF NEVIL BEAUCHAMP of Beauchamp Career, free online book, by George Meredith, on ReadCentral.com.

Not before Beauchamp was flying with the Winter gales to warmer climes could Rosamund reflect on his career unshadowed by her feminine mortification at the thought that he was unloved by the girl he had decided to marry.  But when he was away and winds blew, the clouds which obscured an embracing imagination of him ­such as, to be true and full and sufficient, should stretch like the dome of heaven over the humblest of lives under contemplation ­broke, and revealed him to her as one who had other than failed:  rather as one in mid career, in mid forest, who, by force of character, advancing in self-conquest, strikes his impress right and left around him, because of his aim at stars.  He had faults, and she gloried to think he had; for the woman’s heart rejoiced in his portion of our common humanity while she named their prince to men:  but where was he to be matched in devotedness and in gallantry? and what man of blood fiery as Nevil’s ever fought so to subject it?  Rosamund followed him like a migratory bird, hovered over his vessel, perched on deck beside the helm, where her sailor was sure to be stationed, entered his breast, communed with him, and wound him round and round with her love.  He has mine! she cried.  Her craving that he should be blest in the reward, or flower-crown, of his wife’s love of him lessened in proportion as her brooding spirit vividly realized his deeds.  In fact it had been but an example of our very general craving for a climax, palpable and scenic.  She was completely satisfied by her conviction that his wife would respect and must be subordinate to him.  So it had been with her.  As for love, let him come to his Rosamund for love, and appreciation, adoration!

Rosamund drew nigh to her hour of peril with this torch of her love of Beauchamp to illuminate her.

There had been a difficulty in getting him to go.  One day Cecilia walked down to Dr. Shrapnel’s with Mr. Tuckham, to communicate that the Esperanza awaited Captain Beauchamp, manned and provisioned, off the pier.  Now, he would not go without Dr. Shrapnel, nor the doctor without Jenny; and Jenny could not hold back, seeing that the wish of her heart was for Nevil to be at sea, untroubled by political questions and prowling Radical deputies.  So her consent was the seal of the voyage.  What she would not consent to, was the proposal to have her finger ringed previous to the voyage, altogether in the manner of a sailor’s bride.  She seemed to stipulate for a term of courtship.  Nevil frankly told the doctor that he was not equal to it; anything that was kind he was quite ready to say; and anything that was pretty:  but nothing particularly kind and pretty occurred to him:  he was exactly like a juvenile correspondent facing a blank sheet of letter paper: ­he really did not know what to say, further than the uncomplicated exposition of his case, that he wanted a wife and had found the very woman.  How, then, fathom Jenny’s mood for delaying?  Dr. Shrapnel’s exhortations were so worded as to induce her to comport herself like a Scriptural woman, humbly wakeful to the surpassing splendour of the high fortune which had befallen her in being so selected, and obedient at a sign.  But she was, it appeared that she was, a maid of scaly vision, not perceptive of the blessedness of her lot.  She could have been very little perceptive, for she did not understand his casual allusion to Beauchamp’s readiness to overcome ‘a natural repugnance,’ for the purpose of making her his wife.

Up to the last moment, before Cecilia Halkett left the deck of the Esperanza to step on the pier, Jenny remained in vague but excited expectation of something intervening to bring Cecilia and Beauchamp together.  It was not a hope; it was with pure suspense that she awaited the issue.  Cecilia was pale.  Beauchamp shook Mr. Tuckham by the hand, and said:  ’I shall not hear the bells, but send me word of it, will you?’ and he wished them both all happiness.

The sails of the schooner filled.  On a fair frosty day, with a light wind ruffling from the North-west, she swept away, out of sight of Bevisham, and the island, into the Channel, to within view of the coast of France.  England once below the water-line, alone with Beauchamp and Dr. Shrapnel, Jenny Denham knew her fate.

As soon as that grew distinctly visible in shape and colour, she ceased to be reluctant.  All about her, in air and sea and unknown coast, was fresh and prompting.  And if she looked on Beauchamp, the thought ­my husband! palpitated, and destroyed and re-made her.  Rapidly she underwent her transformation from doubtfully-minded woman to woman awakening clear-eyed, and with new sweet shivers in her temperate blood, like the tremulous light seen running to the morn upon a quiet sea.  She fell under the charm of Beauchamp at sea.

In view of the island of Madeira, Jenny noticed that some trouble had come upon Dr. Shrapnel and Beauchamp, both of whom had been hilarious during the gales; but sailing into Summer they began to wear that look which indicated one of their serious deliberations.  She was not taken into their confidence, and after awhile they recovered partially.

The truth was, they had been forced back upon old English ground by a recognition of the absolute necessity, for her sake, of handing themselves over to a parson.  In England, possibly, a civil marriage might have been proposed to the poor girl.  In a foreign island, they would be driven not simply to accept the services of a parson, but to seek him and solicit him:  otherwise the knot, faster than any sailor’s in binding, could not be tied.  Decidedly it could not; and how submit?  Neither Dr. Shrapnel nor Beauchamp were of a temper to deceive the clerical gentleman; only they had to think of Jenny’s feelings.  Alas for us! ­this our awful baggage in the rear of humanity, these women who have not moved on their own feet one step since the primal mother taught them to suckle, are perpetually pulling us backward on the march.  Slaves of custom, forms, shows and superstitions, they are slaves of the priests.  ‘They are so in gratitude perchance, as the matter works,’ Dr. Shrapnel admitted.  For at one period the priests did cherish and protect the weak from animal man.  But we have entered a broader daylight now, when the sun of high heaven has crowned our structure with the flower of brain, like him to scatter mists, and penetrate darkness, and shoot from end to end of earth; and must we still be grinning subserviently to ancient usages and stale forms, because of a baggage that it is, woe to us! too true, we cannot cut ourselves loose from?  Lydiard might say we are compelling the priests to fight, and that they are compact foemen, not always passive.  Battle, then! ­The cry was valiant.  Nevertheless, Jenny would certainly insist upon the presence of a parson, in spite of her bridegroom’s ‘natural repugnance.’  Dr. Shrapnel offered to argue it with her, being of opinion that a British consul could satisfactorily perform the ceremony.  Beauchamp knew her too well.  Moreover, though tongue-tied as to love-making, he was in a hurry to be married.  Jenny’s eyes were lovely, her smiles were soft; the fair promise of her was in bloom on her face and figure.  He could not wait; he must off to the parson.

Then came the question as to whether honesty and honour did not impose it on them to deal openly with that gentle, and on such occasions unobtrusive official, by means of a candid statement to him overnight, to the effect that they were the avowed antagonists of his Church, which would put him on his defence, and lead to an argument that would accomplish his overthrow.  You parsons, whose cause is good, marshal out the poor of the land, that we may see the sort of army your stewardship has gained for you.  What! no army? only women and hoary men?  And in the rear rank, to support you as an institution, none but fanatics, cowards, white-eyeballed dogmatists, timeservers, money-changers, mockers in their sleeves?  What is this?

But the prospect of so completely confounding the unfortunate parson warned Beauchamp that he might have a shot in his locker:  the parson heavily trodden on will turn.  ‘I suppose we must be hypocrites,’ he said in dejection.  Dr. Shrapnel was even more melancholy.  He again offered to try his persuasiveness upon Jenny.  Beauchamp declined to let her be disturbed.

She did not yield so very lightly to the invitation to go before a parson.  She had to be wooed after all; a Harry Hotspur’s wooing.  Three clergymen of the Established Church were on the island:  ’And where won’t they be, where there’s fine scenery and comforts abound?’ Beauchamp said to the doctor ungratefully.

’Whether a celibate clergy ruins the Faith faster than a non-celibate, I won’t dispute,’ replied the doctor; ’but a non-celibate interwinds with us, and is likely to keep up a one-storied edifice longer.’

Jenny hesitated.  She was a faltering unit against an ardent and imperative two in the council.  And Beauchamp had shown her a letter of Lady Romfrey’s very clearly signifying that she and her lord anticipated tidings of the union.  Marrying Beauchamp was no simple adventure.  She feared in her bosom, and resigned herself.

She had a taste of what it was to be, at the conclusion of the service.  Beauchamp thanked the good-natured clergyman, and spoke approvingly of him to his bride, as an agreeable well-bred gentlemanly person.  Then, fronting her and taking both her hands:  ‘Now, my darling,’ he said:  ’you must pledge me your word to this:  I have stooped my head to the parson, and I am content to have done that to win you, though I don’t think much of myself for doing it.  I can’t look so happy as I am.  And this idle ceremony ­however, I thank God I have you, and I thank you for taking me.  But you won’t expect me to give in to the parson again.’

‘But, Nevil,’ she said, fearing what was to come:  ’they are gentlemen, good men.’

‘Yes, yes.’

‘They are educated men, Nevil.’

’Jenny!  Jenny Beauchamp, they’re not men, they’re Churchmen.  My experience of the priest in our country is, that he has abandoned ­he ’s dead against the only cause that can justify and keep up a Church:  the cause of the poor ­the people.  He is a creature of the moneyed class.  I look on him as a pretender.  I go through his forms, to save my wife from annoyance, but there ’s the end of it:  and if ever I’m helpless, unable to resist him, I rely on your word not to let him intrude; he’s to have nothing to do with the burial of me.  He’s against the cause of the people.  Very well:  I make my protest to the death against him.  When he’s a Christian instead of a Churchman, then may my example not be followed.  It ‘s little use looking for that.’

Jenny dropped some tears on her bridal day.  She sighed her submission.  ‘So long as you do not change,’ said she.

‘Change!’ cried Nevil.  ’That’s for the parson.  Now it’s over:  we start fair.  My darling!  I have you.  I don’t mean to bother you.  I’m sure you’ll see that the enemies of Reason are the enemies of the human race; you will see that.  I can wait.’

’If we can be sure that we ourselves are using reason rightly, Nevil! ­not prejudice.’

’Of course.  But don’t you see, my Jenny, we have no interest in opposing reason?’

’But have we not all grown up together?  And is it just or wise to direct our efforts to overthrow a solid structure that is a part...?’

He put his legal right in force to shut her mouth, telling her presently she might Lydiardize as much as she liked.  While practising this mastery, he assured her he would always listen to her:  yes, whether she Lydiardized, or what Dr. Shrapnel called Jenny-prated.

’That is to say, dear Nevil, that you have quite made up your mind to a toddling chattering little nursery wife?’

Very much the contrary to anything of the sort, he declared; and he proved his honesty by announcing an immediate reflection that had come to him:  ’How oddly things are settled!  Cecilia Halkett and Tuckham; you and I!  Now, I know for certain that I have brought Cecilia Halkett out of her woman’s Toryism, and given her at least liberal views, and she goes and marries an arrant Tory; while you, a bit of a Tory at heart, more than anything else, have married an ultra.’

’Perhaps we may hope that the conflict will be seasonable on both sides? ­if you give me fair play, Nevil!’

As fair play as a woman’s lord could give her, she was to have; with which, adieu to argumentation and controversy, and all the thanks in life to the parson!  On a lovely island, free from the seductions of care, possessing a wife who, instead of starting out of romance and poetry with him to the supreme honeymoon, led him back to those forsaken valleys of his youth, and taught him the joys of colour and sweet companionship, simple delights, a sister mind, with a loveliness of person and nature unimagined by him, Beauchamp drank of a happiness that neither Renee nor Cecilia had promised.  His wooing of Jenny Beauchamp was a flattery richer than any the maiden Jenny Denham could have deemed her due; and if his wonder in experiencing such strange gladness was quaintly ingenuous, it was delicious to her to see and know full surely that he who was at little pains to court, or please, independently of the agency of the truth in him, had come to be her lover through being her husband.

Here I would stop.  It is Beauchamp’s career that carries me on to its close, where the lanterns throw their beams off the mudbanks by the black riverside; when some few English men and women differed from the world in thinking that it had suffered a loss.

They sorrowed for the earl when tidings came to them of the loss of his child, alive one hour in his arms.  Rosamund caused them to be deceived as to her condition.  She survived; she wrote to Jenny, bidding her keep her husband cruising.  Lord Romfrey added a brief word:  he told Nevil that he would see no one for the present; hoped he would be absent a year, not a day less.  To render it the more easily practicable, in the next packet of letters Colonel Halkett and Cecilia begged them not to bring the Esperanza home for the yachting season:  the colonel said his daughter was to be married in April, and that bridegroom and bride had consented to take an old man off with them to Italy; perhaps in the autumn all might meet in Venice.

‘And you’ve never seen Venice,’ Beauchamp said to Jenny.

‘Everything is new to me,’ said she, penetrating and gladly joining the conspiracy to have him out of England.

Dr. Shrapnel was not so compliant as the young husband.  Where he could land and botanize, as at Madeira, he let time fly and drum his wings on air, but the cities of priests along the coast of Portugal and Spain roused him to a burning sense of that flight of time and the vacuity it told of in his labours.  Greatly to his astonishment, he found that it was no longer he and Beauchamp against Jenny, but Jenny and Beauchamp against him.

‘What!’ he cried, ’to draw breath day by day, and not to pay for it by striking daily at the rock Iniquity?  Are you for that, Beauchamp?  And in a land where these priests walk with hats curled like the water-lily’s leaf without the flower?  How far will you push indolent unreason to gain the delusion of happiness?  There is no such thing:  but there’s trance.  That talk of happiness is a carrion clamour of the creatures of prey.  Take it ­and you’re helping tear some poor wretch to pieces, whom you might be constructing, saving perchance:  some one? some thousands!  You, Beauchamp, when I met you first, you were for England, England! for a breadth of the palm of my hand comparatively ­the round of a copper penny, no wider!  And from that you jumped at a bound to the round of this earth:  you were for humanity.  Ay, we sailed our planet among the icy spheres, and were at blood-heat for its destiny, you and I!  And now you hover for a wind to catch you.  So it is for a soul rejecting prayer.  This wind and that has it:  the well-springs within are shut down fast!  I pardon my Jenny, my Harry Denham’s girl.  She is a woman, and has a brain like a bell that rings all round to the tongue.  It is her kingdom, of the interdicted untraversed frontiers.  But what cares she, or any woman, that this Age of ours should lie like a carcase against the Sun?  What cares any woman to help to hold up Life to him?  He breeds divinely upon life, filthy upon stagnation.  Sail you away, if you will, in your trance.  I go.  I go home by land alone, and I await you.  Here in this land of moles upright, I do naught but execrate; I am a pulpit of curses.  Counter-anathema, you might call me.’

‘Oh!  I feel the comparison so, for England shining spiritually bright,’ said Jenny, and cut her husband adrift with the exclamation, and saw him float away to Dr. Shrapnel.

‘Spiritually bright!’

‘By comparison, Nevil.’

’There’s neither spiritual nor political brightness in England, but a common resolution to eat of good things and stick to them,’ said the doctor:  ’and we two out of England, there’s barely a voice to cry scare to the feeders.  I’m back!  I’m home!’

They lost him once in Cadiz, and discovered him on the quay, looking about for a vessel.  In getting him to return to the Esperanza, they nearly all three fell into the hands of the police.  Beauchamp gave him a great deal of his time, reading and discussing with him on deck and in the cabin, and projecting future enterprises, to pacify his restlessness.  A translation of Plato had become Beauchamp’s intellectual world.  This philosopher singularly anticipated his ideas.  Concerning himself he was beginning to think that he had many years ahead of him for work.  He was with Dr. Shrapnel, as to the battle, and with Jenny as to the delay in recommencing it.  Both the men laughed at the constant employment she gave them among the Greek islands in furnishing her severely accurate accounts of sea-fights and land-fights:  and the scenes being before them they could neither of them protest that their task-work was an idle labour.  Dr. Shrapnel assisted in fighting Marathon and Salamis over again cordially ­to shield Great Britain from the rule of a satrapy.

Beauchamp often tried to conjure words to paint his wife.  On grave subjects she had the manner of speaking of a shy scholar, and between grave and playful, between smiling and serious, her clear head, her nobly poised character, seemed to him to have never had a prototype and to elude the art of picturing it in expression, until he heard Lydiard call her whimsically, ‘Portia disrobing.’

Portia half in her doctor’s gown, half out of it.  They met Lydiard and his wife Louise, and Mr. and Mrs. Tuckham, in Venice, where, upon the first day of October, Jenny Beauchamp gave birth to a son.  The thrilling mother did not perceive on this occasion the gloom she cast over the father of the child and Dr. Shrapnel.  The youngster would insist on his right to be sprinkled by the parson, to get a legal name and please his mother.  At all turns in the history of our healthy relations with women we are confronted by the parson!  ‘And, upon my word, I believe,’ Beauchamp said to Lydiard, ’those parsons ­not bad creatures in private life:  there was one in Madeira I took a personal liking to ­but they’re utterly ignorant of what men feel to them ­more ignorant than women!’ Mr. Tuckham and Mrs. Lydiard would not listen to his foolish objections; nor were they ever mentioned to Jenny.  Apparently the commission of the act of marriage was to force Beauchamp from all his positions one by one.

‘The education of that child?’ Mrs. Lydiard said to her husband.

He considered that the mother would prevail.

Cecilia feared she would not.

‘Depend upon it, he’ll make himself miserable if he can,’ said Tuckham.

That gentleman, however, was perpetually coming fuming from arguments with Beauchamp, and his opinion was a controversialist’s.  His common sense was much afflicted.  ’I thought marriage would have stopped all those absurdities,’ he said, glaring angrily, laughing, and then frowning.  ’I ’ve warned him I’ll go out of my way to come across him if he carries on his headlong folly.  A man should accept his country for what it is when he’s born into it.  Don’t tell me he’s a good fellow.  I know he is, but there ’s an ass mounted on the good fellow.  Talks of the parsons!  Why, they’re men of education.’

‘They couldn’t steer a ship in a gale, though.’

‘Oh! he’s a good sailor.  And let him go to sea,’ said Tuckham.  ’His wife’s a prize.  He’s hardly worthy of her.  If she manages him she’ll deserve a monument for doing a public service.’

How fortunate it is for us that here and there we do not succeed in wresting our temporary treasure from the grasp of the Fates!

This good old commonplace reflection came to Beauchamp while clasping his wife’s hand on the deck of the Esperanza, and looking up at the mountains over the Gulf of Venice.  The impression of that marvellous dawn when he and Renee looked up hand-in-hand was ineffaceable, and pity for the tender hand lost to him wrought in his blood, but Jenny was a peerless wife; and though not in the music of her tongue, or in subtlety of delicate meaning did she excel Renee, as a sober adviser she did, and as a firm speaker; and she had homelier deep eyes, thoughtfuller brows.  The father could speculate with good hope of Jenny’s child.  Cecilia’s wealth, too, had gone over to the Tory party, with her incomprehensible espousal of Tuckham.  Let it go; let all go for dowerless Jenny!

It was (she dared to recollect it in her anguish) Jenny’s choice to go home in the yacht that decided her husband not to make the journey by land in company with the Lydiards.

The voyage was favourable.  Beauchamp had a passing wish to land on the Norman coast, and take Jenny for a day to Tourdestelle.  He deferred to her desire to land baby speedily, now they were so near home.  They ran past Otley river, having sight of Mount Laurels, and on to Bevisham, with swelling sails.  There they parted.  Beauchamp made it one of his ‘points of honour’ to deliver the vessel where he had taken her, at her moorings in the Otley.  One of the piermen stood before Beauchamp, and saluting him, said he had been directed to inform him that the Earl of Romfrey was with Colonel Halkett, expecting him at Mount Laurels.  Beauchamp wanted his wife to return in the yacht.  She turned her eyes to Dr. Shrapnel.  It was out of the question that the doctor should think of going.  Husband and wife parted.  She saw him no more.

This is no time to tell of weeping.  The dry chronicle is fittest.  Hard on nine o’clock in the December darkness, the night being still and clear, Jenny’s babe was at her breast, and her ears were awake for the return of her husband.  A man rang at the door of the house, and asked to see Dr. Shrapnel.  This man was Killick, the Radical Sam of politics.  He said to the doctor:  ’I ’m going to hit you sharp, sir; I’ve had it myself:  please put on your hat and come out with me; and close the door.  They mustn’t hear inside.  And here’s a fly.  I knew you’d be off for the finding of the body.  Commander Beauchamp’s drowned.’

Dr. Shrapnel drove round by the shore of the broad water past a great hospital and ruined abbey to Otley village.  Killick had lifted him into the conveyance, and he lifted him out.  Dr. Shrapnel had not spoken a word.  Lights were flaring on the river, illuminating the small craft sombrely.  Men, women, and children crowded the hard and landing-places, the marshy banks and the decks of colliers and trawlers.  Neither Killick nor Dr. Shrapnel questioned them.  The lights were torches and lanterns; the occupation of the boats moving in couples was the dragging for the dead.

‘O God, let’s find his body,’ a woman called out.

‘Just a word; is it Commander Beauchamp?’ Killick said to her.

She was scarcely aware of a question.  ‘Here, this one,’ she said, and plucked a little boy of eight by the hand close against her side, and shook him roughly and kissed him.

An old man volunteered information.  ’That’s the boy.  That boy was in his father’s boat out there, with two of his brothers, larking; and he and another older than him fell overboard; and just then Commander Beauchamp was rowing by, and I saw him from off here, where I stood, jump up and dive, and he swam to his boat with one of them, and got him in safe:  that boy:  and he dived again after the other, and was down a long time.  Either he burst a vessel or he got cramp, for he’d been rowing himself from the schooner grounded down at the river-mouth, and must have been hot when he jumped in:  either way, he fetched the second up, and sank with him.  Down he went.’

A fisherman said to Killick:  ’Do you hear that voice thundering?  That’s the great Lord Romfrey.  He’s been directing the dragging since five o’ the evening, and will till he drops or drowns, or up comes the body.’

‘O God, let’s find the body!’ the woman with the little boy called out.

A torch lit up Lord Romfrey’s face as he stepped ashore.  ’The flood has played us a trick,’ he said.  ’We want more drags, or with the next ebb the body may be lost for days in this infernal water.’

The mother of the rescued boy sobbed, ‘Oh, my lord, my lord!’

The earl caught sight of Dr. Shrapnel, and went to him.

‘My wife has gone down to Mrs. Beauchamp,’ he said.  ’She will bring her and the baby to Mount Laurels.  The child will have to be hand-fed.  I take you with me.  You must not be alone.’

He put his arm within the arm of the heavily-breathing man whom he had once flung to the ground, to support him.

‘My lord! my lord!’ sobbed the woman, and dropped on her knees.

’What ‘s this?’ the earl said, drawing his hand away from the woman’s clutch at it.

‘She’s the mother, my lord,’ several explained to him.

‘Mother of what?’

‘My boy,’ the woman cried, and dragged the urchin to Lord Romfrey’s feet, cleaning her boy’s face with her apron.

‘It’s the boy Commander Beauchamp drowned to save,’ said a man.

All the lights of the ring were turned on the head of the boy.  Dr. Shrapnel’s eyes and Lord Romfrey’s fell on the abashed little creature.  The boy struck out both arms to get his fists against his eyelids.

This is what we have in exchange for Beauchamp!

It was not uttered, but it was visible in the blank stare at one another of the two men who loved Beauchamp, after they had examined the insignificant bit of mudbank life remaining in this world in the place of him.