Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1208
There was a diplomatic dispute between England and France with much rattling of swords on both sides. The affair, loudly taken up by the press, so stirred Nevil Beauchamp’s national pride that he decided to post a challenge to the French Guard. Uncle Everard Romfrey’s housekeeper, Mrs. Rosamund Culling, mailed the letter for Nevil. No reply ever came, and Nevil went off to fight the Russians in the Crimea. Uncle Everard expected his nephew to behave like a true Beauchamp.
Wounded in service, Nevil went to Venice with Roland de Croisnel, a French officer whose life he had saved at the risk of his own. Mrs. Culling also went to Italy. In Venice, Nevil drifted in a gondola with Roland de Croisnel’s sister Renee, who was grateful to her brother’s rescuer. The flirtation was interrupted by the arrival of the middle-aged Marquis de Rouaillout, intended as a husband for Renee. Nevil asked Renee to marry him, but she refused to disappoint her father by betraying Rouaillout. When Nevil persisted, Roland assured him that Renee did not love him.
The marquis arrived just as Nevil, Roland, Renee, and Mrs. Culling set out for an overnight jaunt in a boat. During the trip, Nevil secured Renee’s promise to break her pledge to the marquis. They headed for Trieste, but Renee’s phlegmatic consent and Roland’s dismal viewpoint dissuaded Nevil from the elopement. They returned to Venice with nothing settled. The next day, Renee married the marquis. Nevil went to sea once more.
Later, in the famous port of Bevisham, Nevil began his campaign as a Liberal candidate for a seat in Parliament. Mrs. Culling followed the young man there and met Miss Denham, ward of Dr. Shrapnel, who seemed to be helping Nevil in his campaign. Mrs. Culling wished that she could influence Nevil to drop his foolish scheme. Uncle Everard scoffed at Nevil’s political ambitions, especially because he despised Dr. Shrapnel.
While campaigning for votes, Nevil paid calls on his acquaintances and attended dinners. Colonel and Cecelia Halkett were steadfast Tories. Prompted by Uncle Everard, they tried to talk the young Liberal candidate out of his set course. They were strongly opposed to his views, but when the opposition wrote a rhyme comically depicting Nevil’s romantic relationship with Renee, the colonel thought the thrust unfair.
Meeting Lord Palmet, who was secretly in the rival camp, Nevil invited the gentleman to accompany him on his campaign tour. While entangled in political plots from which Cecelia was trying to extricate him, Nevil received a note from Renee, bidding him to come to her at once.
Twice since her marriage Nevil had met Renee, both times in the company of her husband, and Roland had written to him occasionally. In France, Renee told Nevil that she had sent for him only to fulfill a wish to see him once again, a mere caprice. She was in the company of a Count Henri d’Henriel, who wore her glove. The marquis was traveling, and only his sister, Madame d’Auffrey, was staying with Renee. Later, Madame d’Auffrey told Nevil that Renee had wagered her glove to d’Henriel that Nevil would come immediately at her request. A storm had delayed Nevil; the Frenchman had kept the glove.
When Nevil returned from France with a lame leg, his enemies gossiped that he had fought a duel with the marquis. The report was not true, but Nevil did not win the election.
During the campaign, Cecelia Halkett, admiring courage, had fallen in love with him. Uncle Everard pressed his nephew’s cause by proposing to Colonel Halkett an alliance between Nevil and Cecelia. Nevil, after promising to meet Colonel Halkett and his daughter, paid a call on Dr. Shrapnel to bid farewell to Jenny Denham, who was leaving for Switzerland. The young girl begged Nevil to look after the doctor.
A letter written by Dr. Shrapnel and filled with advice for the young man fell into Uncle Everard’s hands. Indignant at the contents, he went to Dr. Shrapnel and horsewhipped the man who was attempting to undermine Nevil’s future with radical theories. Cecelia, fearing that a break between Nevil and his uncle would end the marriage negotiations, tried to convince her father that Nevil was worthy of her. The more Colonel Halkett derided Nevil’s political views and disdained the Shrapnel influence, the more Cecelia insisted that Nevil was a man of high honor. She added, however, that she would give him up if she ever learned that his honor was sullied.
Nevil challenged his uncle to give Dr. Shrapnel a personal apology. Trying to assist the injured man in earning his livelihood, Nevil next asked Uncle Everard for money. His request was refused. Penniless, Nevil left his uncle’s house, but a short time later, an unexpected inheritance saved him from actual need.
One night, Renee appeared at Nevil’s house. Having left her husband and believing in Nevil’s courtesy and constancy, she had come to him. Since she had married the marquis to please her father, now dead, she had no other bonds to keep her chained to a cold and sullen husband. Nevil sent immediately for Mrs. Culling and pleaded with Renee that Roland be summoned. Close on Renee’s heels came Madame d’Auffrey, who announced that the marquis was in London. When Renee became ill, it was necessary for her family to occupy Nevil’s home until her recovery. Nevil, who no longer loved Renee, patched the shattered marriage, and the unhappy wife returned to France.
Cecelia still loved Nevil. In spite of all attempts to dissuade her, she had remained loyal to him; but the new scandal about the marquis shook her faith. She went to Italy with her father. When she returned, she yielded to her father’s wishes and became engaged to a young man of stable notions, Mr. Blackburn Tuckham. Nevil’s proposal of marriage came too late, and when she refused him, he became ill.
Some time before, Uncle Everard had married Mrs. Culling, who was soon to bear a child. When Nevil became ill, his uncle, in an effort to ease his wife’s anxiety, begged Colonel Halkett to let Cecelia marry Nevil in order to hasten the sick man’s recovery. Meanwhile, Jenny Denham was Nevil’s nurse in Dr. Shrapnel’s house.
Nevil’s illness brought all of his friends to his bedside as well as his political enemies. In the end, a reconciliation between uncle and nephew was effected when Everard apologized to Dr. Shrapnel. Nevil was persuaded to sail to Italy to recuperate. He insisted that Jenny and the doctor accompany him.
Jenny had nursed Nevil back to health. More than that, she had been steadfast throughout all his difficulties. In love with Jenny, Nevil wanted her to marry him before they set out on their voyage. Until the last moment she refused, hoping that he and Cecelia would become reconciled.
The three went on their cruise. Jenny bore a child along the way. Shortly after their return to England, Nevil, trying to rescue a drowning child, was himself drowned. His career to reform the world was over.
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