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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesNight And Morning - Book 3 - Chapter 2
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Night And Morning - Book 3 - Chapter 2 Post by :1mauigirl Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :2700

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Night And Morning - Book 3 - Chapter 2

BOOK III CHAPTER II

"Happy the man who, void of care and strife, In silken or in leathern purse retains A splendid shilling!"--The Splendid Shilling.

"And wherefore should they take or care for thought, The unreasoning vulgar willingly obey, And leaving toil and poverty behind. Run forth by different ways, the blissful boon to find." WEST'S Education.

"Poor, boy! your story interests me. The events are romantic, but the moral is practical, old, everlasting--life, boy, life. Poverty by itself is no such great curse; that is, if it stops short of starving. And passion by itself is a noble thing, sir; but poverty and passion together--poverty and feeling--poverty and pride--the poverty one is not born to,--but falls into;--and the man who ousts you out of your easy-chair, kicking you with every turn he takes, as he settles himself more comfortably--why there's no romance in that--hard every-day life, sir! Well, well:--so after your brother's letter you resigned yourself to that fellow Smith."

"No; I gave him my money, not my soul. I turned from his door, with a few shillings that he himself thrust into my hand, and walked on--I cared not whither--out of the town, into the fields--till night came; and then, just as I suddenly entered on the high-road, many miles away, the moon rose; and I saw, by the hedge-side, something that seemed like a corpse; it was an old beggar, in the last state of raggedness, disease, and famine. He had laid himself down to die. I shared with him what I had, and helped him to a little inn. As he crossed the threshold, he turned round and blessed me. Do you know, the moment I heard that blessing a stone seemed rolled away from my heart? I said to myself, 'What then! even I can be of use to some one; and I am better off than that old man, for I have youth and health.' As these thoughts stirred in me, my limbs, before heavy with fatigue, grew light; a strange kind of excitement seized me. I ran on gaily beneath the moonlight that smiled over the crisp, broad road. I felt as if no house, not even a palace, were large enough for me that night. And when, at last, wearied out, I crept into a wood, and laid myself down to sleep, I still murmured to myself, 'I have youth and health.' But, in the morning, when I rose, I stretched out my arms, and missed my brother!... In two or three days I found employment with a farmer; but we quarrelled after a few weeks; for once he wished to strike me; and somehow or other I could work, but not serve. Winter had begun when we parted.--Oh, such a winter!--Then--then I knew what it was to be houseless. How I lived for some months--if to live it can be called--it would pain you to hear, and humble me to tell. At last, I found myself again in London; and one evening, not many days since, I resolved at last--for nothing else seemed left, and I had not touched food for two days--to come to you."

"And why did that never occur to you before?"!

"Because," said Philip, with a deep blush,--"because I trembled at the power over my actions and my future life that I was to give to one, whom I was to bless as a benefactor, yet distrust as a guide."

"Well," said Love, or Gawtrey, with a singular mixture of irony and compassion in his voice; "and it was hunger, then, that terrified you at last even more than I?"

"Perhaps hunger--or perhaps rather the reasoning that comes from hunger. I had not, I say, touched food for two days; and I was standing on that bridge, from which on one side you see the palace of a head of the Church, on the other the towers of the Abbey, within which the men I have read of in history lie buried. It was a cold, frosty evening, and the river below looked bright with the lamps and stars. I leaned, weak and sickening, against the wall of the bridge; and in one of the arched recesses beside me a cripple held out his hat for pence. I envied him!--he had a livelihood; he was inured to it, perhaps bred to it; he had no shame. By a sudden impulse, I, too, turned abruptly round--held out my hand to the first passenger, and started at the shrillness of my own voice, as it cried 'Charity.'"

Gawtrey threw another log on the fire, looked complacently round the comfortable room, and rubbed his hands. The young man continued,--

"'You should be ashamed of yourself--I've a great mind to give you to the police,' was the answer, in a pert and sharp tone. I looked up, and saw the livery my father's menials had worn. I had been begging my bread from Robert Beaufort's lackey! I said nothing; the man went on his business on tiptoe, that the mud might not splash above the soles of his shoes. Then, thoughts so black that they seemed to blot out every star from the sky--thoughts I had often wrestled against, but to which I now gave myself up with a sort of mad joy--seized me: and I remembered you. I had still preserved the address you gave me; I went straight to the house. Your friend, on naming you, received me kindly, and without question placed food before me--pressed on me clothing and money--procured me a passport--gave me your address--and now I am beneath your roof. Gawtrey, I know nothing yet of the world but the dark side of it. I know not what to deem you--but as you alone have been kind to me, so it is to your kindness rather than your aid, that I now cling--your kind words and kind looks-yet--" he stopped short, and breathed hard.

"Yet you would know more of me. Faith, my boy, I cannot tell you more at this moment. I believe, to speak fairly, I don't live exactly within the pale of the law. But I'm not a villain! I never plundered my friend and called it play!--I never murdered my friend and called it honour!--I never seduced my friend's wife and called it gallantry!" As Gawtrey said this, he drew the words out, one by one, through his grinded teeth, paused and resumed more gaily: "I struggle with Fortune; voila tout! I am not what you seem to suppose--not exactly a swindler, certainly not a robber! But, as I before told you, I am a charlatan, so is every man who strives to be richer or greater than he is.

"I, too, want kindness as much as you do. My bread and my cup are at your service. I will try and keep you unsullied, even by the clean dirt that now and then sticks to me. On the other hand, youth, my young friend, has no right to play the censor; and you must take me as you take the world, without being over-scrupulous and dainty. My present vocation pays well; in fact, I am beginning to lay by. My real name and past life are thoroughly unknown, and as yet unsuspected, in this quartier; for though I have seen much of Paris, my career hitherto has passed in other parts of the city;--and for the rest, own that I am well disguised! What a benevolent air this bald forehead gives me--eh? True," added Gawtrey, somewhat more seriously, "if I saw how you could support yourself in a broader path of life than that in which I pick out my own way, I might say to you, as a gay man of fashion might say to some sober stripling--nay, as many a dissolute father says (or ought to say) to his son, 'It is no reason you should be a sinner, because I am not a saint.' In a word, if you were well off in a respectable profession, you might have safer acquaintances than myself. But, as it is, upon my word as a plain man, I don't see what you can do better." Gawtrey made this speech with so much frankness and ease, that it seemed greatly to relieve the listener, and when he wound up with, "What say you? In fine, my life is that of a great schoolboy, getting into scrapes for the fun of it, and fighting his way out as he best can!--Will you see how you like it?" Philip, with a confiding and grateful impulse, put his hand into Gawtrey's. The host shook it cordially, and, without saying another word, showed his guest into a little cabinet where there was a sofa-bed, and they parted for the night. The new life upon which Philip Morton entered was so odd, so grotesque, and so amusing, that at his age it was, perhaps, natural that he should not be clear-sighted as to its danger.

William Gawtrey was one of those men who are born to exert a certain influence and ascendency wherever they may be thrown; his vast strength, his redundant health, had a power of themselves--a moral as well as physical power. He naturally possessed high animal spirits, beneath the surface of which, however, at times, there was visible a certain undercurrent of malignity and scorn. He had evidently received a superior education, and could command at will the manner of a man not unfamiliar with a politer class of society. From the first hour that Philip had seen him on the top of the coach on the R---- road, this man had attracted his curiosity and interest; the conversation he had heard in the churchyard, the obligations he owed to Gawtrey in his escape from the officers of justice, the time afterwards passed in his society till they separated at the little inn, the rough and hearty kindliness Gawtrey had shown him at that period, and the hospitality extended to him now,--all contributed to excite his fancy, and in much, indeed very much, entitled this singular person to his gratitude. Morton, in a word, was fascinated; this man was the only friend he had made. I have not thought it necessary to detail to the reader the conversations that had taken place between them, during that passage of Morton's life when he was before for some days Gawtrey's companion; yet those conversations had sunk deep in his mind. He was struck, and almost awed, by the profound gloom which lurked under Gawtrey's broad humour--a gloom, not of temperament, but of knowledge. His views of life, of human justice and human virtue, were (as, to be sure, is commonly the case with men who have had reason to quarrel with the world) dreary and despairing; and Morton's own experience had been so sad, that these opinions were more influential than they could ever have been with the happy. However in this, their second reunion, there was a greater gaiety than in their first; and under his host's roof Morton insensibly, but rapidly, recovered something of the early and natural tone of his impetuous and ardent spirits. Gawtrey himself was generally a boon companion; their society, if not select, was merry. When their evenings were disengaged, Gawtrey was fond of haunting cafes and theatres, and Morton was his companion; Birnie (Mr. Gawtrey's partner) never accompanied them. Refreshed by this change of life, the very person of this young man regained its bloom and vigour, as a plant, removed from some choked atmosphere and unwholesome soil, where it had struggled for light and air, expands on transplanting; the graceful leaves burst from the long-drooping boughs, and the elastic crest springs upward to the sun in the glory of its young prime. If there was still a certain fiery sternness in his aspect, it had ceased, at least, to be haggard and savage, it even suited the character of his dark and expressive features. He might not have lost the something of the tiger in his fierce temper, but in the sleek hues and the sinewy symmetry of the frame he began to put forth also something of the tiger's beauty.

Mr. Birnie did not sleep in the house, he went home nightly to a lodging at some little distance. We have said but little about this man, for, to all appearance, there was little enough to say; he rarely opened his own mouth except to Gawtrey, with whom Philip often observed him engaged in whispered conferences, to which he was not admitted. His eye, however, was less idle than his lips; it was not a bright eye: on the contrary, it was dull, and, to the unobservant, lifeless, of a pale blue, with a dim film over it--the eye of a vulture; but it had in it a calm, heavy, stealthy watchfulness, which inspired Morton with great distrust and aversion. Mr. Birnie not only spoke French like a native, but all his habits, his gestures, his tricks of manner, were, French; not the French of good society, but more idiomatic, as it were, and popular. He was not exactly a vulgar person, he was too silent for that, but he was evidently of low extraction and coarse breeding; his accomplishments were of a mechanical nature; he was an extraordinary arithmetician, he was a very skilful chemist, and kept a laboratory at his lodgings--he mended his own clothes and linen with incomparable neatness. Philip suspected him of blacking his own shoes, but that was prejudice. Once he found Morton sketching horses' heads--pour se desennuyer; and he made some short criticisms on the drawings, which showed him well acquainted with the art. Philip, surprised, sought to draw him into conversation; but Birnie eluded the attempt, and observed that he had once been an engraver.

Gawtrey himself did not seem to know much of the early life of this person, or at least he did not seem to like much to talk of him. The footstep of Mr. Birnie was gliding, noiseless, and catlike; he had no sociality in him--enjoyed nothing--drank hard--but was never drunk. Somehow or other, he had evidently over Gawtrey an influence little less than that which Gawtrey had over Morton, but it was of a different nature: Morton had conceived an extraordinary affection for his friend, while Gawtrey seemed secretly to dislike Birnie, and to be glad whenever he quitted his presence. It was, in truth, Gawtrey's custom when Birnie retired for the night, to rub his hands, bring out the punchbowl, squeeze the lemons, and while Philip, stretched on the sofa, listened to him, between sleep and waking, to talk on for the hour together, often till daybreak, with that bizarre mixture of knavery and feeling, drollery and sentiment, which made the dangerous charm of his society.

One evening as they thus sat together, Morton, after listening for some time to his companion's comments on men and things, said abruptly,--

"Gawtrey! there is so much in you that puzzles me, so much which I find it difficult to reconcile with your present pursuits, that, if I ask no indiscreet confidence, I should like greatly to hear some account of your early life. It would please me to compare it with my own; when I am your age, I will then look back and see what I owed to your example."

"My early life! well--you shall hear it. It will put you on your guard, I hope, betimes against the two rocks of youth--love and friendship." Then, while squeezing the lemon into his favourite beverage, which Morton observed he made stronger than usual, Gawtrey thus commenced:

THE HISTORY OF A GOOD-FOR-NOTHING.

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