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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesBeauchamp's Career - Book 6 - Chapter 46. As It Might Have Been Foreseen
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Beauchamp's Career - Book 6 - Chapter 46. As It Might Have Been Foreseen Post by :hectoryrosa Category :Long Stories Author :George Meredith Date :May 2012 Read :2142

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Beauchamp's Career - Book 6 - Chapter 46. As It Might Have Been Foreseen


It was in Italy that Cecilia's maiden dreams of life had opened. She hoped to recover them in Italy, and the calm security of a mind untainted. Italy was to be her reviving air.

While this idea of a specific for her malady endured travelling at speed to the ridges of the Italian frontier, across France--she simply remembered Nevil: he was distant; he had no place in the storied landscape, among the images of Art and the names of patient great men who bear, as they bestow, an atmosphere other than earth's for those adoring them. If at night, in her sleep, he was a memory that conducted her through scenes which were lightnings, the cool swift morning of her flight released her. France, too, her rival!--the land of France, personified by her instinctively, though she had no vivid imaginative gift, did not wound her with a poisoned dart.--'She knew him first: she was his first love.' The Alps, and the sense of having Italy below them, renewed Cecilia's lofty-perching youth. Then--I am in Italy! she sighed with rapture. The wine of delight and oblivion was at her lips.

But thirst is not enjoyment, and a satiated thirst that we insist on over-satisfying to drown the recollection of past anguish, is baneful to the soul. In Rome Cecilia's vision of her track to Rome was of a run of fire over a heath. She could scarcely feel common pleasure in Rome. It seemed burnt out.

Flung back on herself, she was condemned to undergo the bitter torment she had flown from: jealous love, and reproachful; and a shame in it like nothing she had yet experienced. Previous pains were but Summer lightnings, passing shadows. She could have believed in sorcery: the man had eaten her heart!

A disposition to mocking humour, foreign to her nature, gave her the notion of being off her feet, in the claws of a fabulous bird. It served to veil her dulness. An ultra-English family in Rome, composed, shocking to relate, of a baronet banker and his wife, two faint-faced girls, and a young gentleman of our country, once perhaps a light-limbed boy, chose to be followed by their footman in the melancholy pomp of state livery. Wherever she encountered them Cecilia talked Nevil Beauchamp. Even Mr. Tuckham perceived it. She was extremely uncharitable: she extended her ungenerous criticism to the institution of the footman: England, and the English, were lashed.

'These people are caricatures,' Tuckham said, in apology for poor England burlesqued abroad. 'You must not generalize on them. Footmen are footmen all the world over. The cardinals have a fine set of footmen.'

'They are at home. Those English sow contempt of us all over Europe. We cannot but be despised. One comes abroad foredoomed to share the sentiment. This is your middle-class! What society can they move in, that sanctions a vulgarity so perplexing? They have the air of ornaments on a cottager's parlour mantelpiece.'

Tuckham laughed. 'Something of that,' he said.

'Evidently they seek distinction, and they have it, of that kind,' she continued. 'It is not wonderful that we have so much satirical writing in England, with such objects of satire. It may be as little wonderful that the satire has no effect. Immense wealth and native obtuseness combine to disfigure us with this aspect of overripeness, not to say monstrosity. I fall in love with the poor, and think they have a cause to be pleaded, when I look at those people. We scoff at the vanity of the French, but it is a graceful vanity; pardonable compared with ours.'

'I've read all that a hundred times,' quoth Tuckham bluntly.

'So have I. I speak of it because I see it. We scoff at the simplicity of the Germans.'

'The Germans live in simple fashion, because they're poor. French vanity's pretty and amusing. I don't know whether it's deep in them, for I doubt their depth; but I know it's in their joints. The first spring of a Frenchman comes of vanity. That you can't say of the English. Peace to all! but I abhor cosmopolitanism. No man has a firm foothold who pretends to it. None despises the English in reality. Don't be misled, Miss Halkett. We're solid: that is the main point. The world feels our power, and has confidence in our good faith. I ask for no more.'

'With Germans we are supercilious Celts; with Frenchmen we are sneering Teutons:--Can we be loved, Mr. Tuckham?'

'That's a quotation from my friend Lydiard. Loved? No nation ever was loved while it lived. As Lydiard says, it may be a good beast or a bad, but a beast it is. A nation's much too big for refined feelings and affections. It must be powerful or out of the way, or down it goes. When a nation's dead you may love it; but I don't see the use of dying to be loved. My aim for my country is to have the land respected. For that purpose we must have power; for power wealth; for wealth industry; for industry internal peace: therefore no agitation, no artificial divisions. All's plain in history and fact, so long as we do not obtrude sentimentalism. Nothing mixes well with that stuff--except poetical ideas!'

Contrary to her anticipation, Cecilia was thrown more into companionship with Mr. Tuckham than with Mr. Austin; and though it often vexed her, she acknowledged that she derived a benefit from his robust antagonism of opinion. And Italy had grown tasteless to her. She could hardly simulate sufficient curiosity to serve for a vacant echo to Mr. Austin's historic ardour. Pliny the Younger might indeed be the model of a gentleman of old Rome; there might be a scholarly pleasure in calculating, as Mr. Austin did, the length of time it took Pliny to journey from the city to his paternal farm, or villa overlooking the lake, or villa overlooking the bay, and some abstruse fun in the tender ridicule of his readings of his poems to friends; for Mr. Austin smiled effusively in alluding to the illustrious Roman pleader's foible of verse: but Pliny bore no resemblance to that island barbarian Nevil Beauchamp: she could not realize the friend of Trajan, orator, lawyer, student, statesman, benefactor of his kind, and model of her own modern English gentleman, though he was. 'Yes!' she would reply encouragingly to Seymour Austin's fond brooding hum about his hero; and 'Yes!' conclusively: like an incarnation of stupidity dealing in monosyllables. She was unworthy of the society of a scholar. Nor could she kneel at the feet of her especial heroes: Dante, Raphael, Buonarotti: she was unworthy of them. She longed to be at Mount Laurels. Mr. Tuckham's conversation was the nearest approach to it--as it were round by Greenland; but it was homeward.

She was really grieved to lose him. Business called him to England.

'What business can it be, papa?' she inquired: and the colonel replied briefly: 'Ours.'

Mr. Austin now devoted much of his time to the instruction of her in the ancient life of the Eternal City. He had certain volumes of Livy, Niebuhr, and Gibbon, from which he read her extracts at night, shunning the scepticism and the irony of the moderns, so that there should be no jar on the awakening interest of his fair pupil and patient. A gentle cross-hauling ensued between them, that they grew conscious of and laughed over during their peregrinations in and out of Rome: she pulled for the Republic of the Scipios; his predilections were toward the Rome of the wise and clement emperors. To Cecilia's mind Rome rocked at a period so closely neighbouring her decay: to him, with an imagination brooding on the fuller knowledge of it, the city breathed securely, the sky was clear; jurisprudence, rhetoric, statesmanship, then flourished supreme, and men eminent for culture: the finest flowers of our race, he thought them: and he thought their Age the manhood of Rome.

Struck suddenly by a feminine subtle comparison that she could not have framed in speech, Cecilia bowed to his views of the happiness and elevation proper to the sway of a sagacious and magnanimous Imperialism of the Roman pattern:--he rejected the French. She mused on dim old thoughts of the gracious dignity of a woman's life under high governorship. Turbulent young men imperilled it at every step. The trained, the grave, the partly grey, were fitting lords and mates for women aspiring to moral beauty and distinction. Beside such they should be planted, if they would climb! Her walks and conversations with Seymour Austin charmed her as the haze of a summer evening charms the sight.

Upon the conclusion of her term of exile Cecilia would gladly have remained in Italy another month. An appointment of her father's with Mr. Tuckham at Mount Laurels on a particular day she considered as of no consequence whatever, and she said so, in response to a meaningless nod. But Mr. Austin was obliged to return to work. She set her face homeward with his immediately, and he looked pleased: he did not try to dissuade her from accompanying him by affecting to think it a sacrifice: clearly he knew that to be near him was her greatest delight.

Thus do we round the perilous headland called love by wooing a good man for his friendship, and requiting him with faithful esteem for the grief of an ill-fortuned passion of his youth!

Cecilia would not suffer her fancy to go very far in pursuit of the secret of Mr. Austin's present feelings. Until she reached Mount Laurels she barely examined her own. The sight of the house warned her instantly that she must have a defence: and then, in desperation but with perfect distinctness, she entertained the hope of hearing him speak the protecting words which could not be broken through when wedded to her consent.

If Mr. Austin had no intentions, it was at least strange that he did not part from her in London.

He whose coming she dreaded had been made aware of the hour of her return, as his card, with the pencilled line, 'Will call on the 17th,' informed her. The 17th was the morrow.

After breakfast on the morning of the 17th Seymour Austin looked her in the eyes longer than it is customary for ladies to have to submit to keen inspection.

'Will you come into the library?' he said.

She went with him into the library.

Was it to speak of his anxiousness as to the state of her father's health that he had led her there, and that he held her hand? He alarmed her, and he pacified her alarm, yet bade her reflect on the matter, saying that her father, like other fathers, would be more at peace upon the establishment of his daughter. Mr. Austin remarked that the colonel was troubled.

'Does he wish for my pledge never to marry without his approval? I will give it,' said Cecilia.

'He would like you to undertake to marry the man of his choice.' Cecilia's features hung on an expression equivalent to:--I could almost do that.'

At the same time she felt it was not Seymour Austin's manner of speaking. He seemed to be praising an unknown person--some gentleman who was rough, but of solid promise and singular strength of character.

The house-bell rang. Believing that Beauchamp had now come, she showed a painful ridging of the brows, and Mr. Austin considerately mentioned the name of the person he had in his mind.

She readily agreed with him regarding Mr. Tuckham's excellent qualities--if that was indeed the name; and she hastened to recollect how little she had forgotten Mr. Tuckham's generosity to Beauchamp, and confessed to herself it might as well have been forgotten utterly for the thanks he had received. While revolving these ideas she was listening to Mr. Austin; gradually she was beginning to understand that she was parting company with her original conjectures, but going at so swift a pace in so supple and sure a grasp, that, like the speeding train slipped on new lines of rails by the pointsman, her hurrying sensibility was not shocked, or the shock was imperceptible, when she heard him proposing Mr. Tuckham to her for a husband, by her father's authority, and with his own warm seconding. He had not dropped her hand: he was very eloquent, a masterly advocate: he pleaded her father's cause; it was not put to her as Mr. Tuckham's: her father had set his heart on this union he was awaiting her decision.

'Is it so urgent?' she asked.

'It is urgent. It saves him from an annoyance. He requires a son-in-law whom he can confidently rely on to manage the estates, which you are woman of the world enough to know should be in strong hands. He gives you to a man of settled principles. It is urgent, because he may wish to be armed with your answer at any instant.'

Her father entered the library. He embraced her, and 'Well?' he said.

'I must think, papa, I must think.'

She pressed her hand across her eyes. Disillusioned by Seymour Austin, she was utterly defenceless before Beauchamp: and possibly Beauchamp was in the house. She fancied he was, by the impatient brevity of her father's voice.

Seymour Austin and Colonel Halkett left the room, and Blackburn Tuckham walked in, not the most entirely self-possessed of suitors, puffing softly under his breath, and blinking eyes as rapidly as a skylark claps wings on the ascent.

Half an hour later Beauchamp appeared. He asked to see the colonel, delivered himself of his pretensions and wishes to the colonel, and was referred to Cecilia; but Colonel Halkett declined to send for her. Beauchamp declined to postpone his proposal until the following day. He went outside the house and walked up and down the grass-plot.

Cecilia came to him at last.

'I hear, Nevil, that you are waiting to speak to me.'

'I've been waiting some weeks. Shall I speak here?'

'Yes, here, quickly.'

'Before the house? I have come to ask you for your hand.'

'Mine? I cannot...'

'Step into the park with me. I ask you to marry me.'

'It is too late.'

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