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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesNight And Morning - Book 3 - Chapter 4
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Night And Morning - Book 3 - Chapter 4 Post by :1mauigirl Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :801

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Night And Morning - Book 3 - Chapter 4

BOOK III CHAPTER IV

"And she's a stranger
Women--beware women."--MIDDLETON.

"As we love our youngest children best,
So the last fruit of our affection,
Wherever we bestow it, is most strong;
Since 'tis indeed our latest harvest-home,
Last merriment 'fore winter!"
WEBSTER, Devil's Law Case.

"I would fain know what kind of thing a man's heart is?
I will report it to you; 'tis a thing framed
With divers corners!"--ROWLEY.


I have said that Gawtrey's tale made a deep impression on Philip;--that impression was increased by subsequent conversations, more frank even than their talk had hitherto been. There was certainly about this man a fatal charm which concealed his vices. It arose, perhaps, from the perfect combinations of his physical frame--from a health which made his spirits buoyant and hearty under all circumstances--and a blood so fresh, so sanguine, that it could not fail to keep the pores of the heart open. But he was not the less--for all his kindly impulses and generous feelings, and despite the manner in which, naturally anxious to make the least unfavourable portrait of himself to Philip, he softened and glossed over the practices of his life--a thorough and complete rogue, a dangerous, desperate, reckless daredevil. It was easy to see when anything crossed him, by the cloud on his shaggy brow, by the swelling of the veins on the forehead, by the dilation of the broad nostril, that he was one to cut his way through every obstacle to an end,--choleric, impetuous, fierce, determined. Such, indeed, were the qualities that made him respected among his associates, as his more bland and humorous ones made him beloved. He was, in fact, the incarnation of that great spirit which the laws of the world raise up against the world, and by which the world's injustice on a large scale is awfully chastised; on a small scale, merely nibbled at and harassed, as the rat that gnaws the hoof of the elephant:--the spirit which, on a vast theatre, rises up, gigantic and sublime, in the heroes of war and revolution--in Mirabeaus, Marats, Napoleons: on a minor stage, it shows itself in demagogues, fanatical philosophers, and mob-writers; and on the forbidden boards, before whose reeking lamps outcasts sit, at once audience and actors, it never produced a knave more consummate in his part, or carrying it off with more buskined dignity, than William Gawtrey. I call him by his aboriginal name; as for his other appellations, Bacchus himself had not so many!

One day, a lady, richly dressed, was ushered by Mr. Birnie into the bureau of Mr. Love, alias Gawtrey. Philip was seated by the window, reading, for the first time, the Candide,--that work, next to Rasselas, the most hopeless and gloomy of the sports of genius with mankind. The lady seemed rather embarrassed when she perceived Mr. Love was not alone. She drew back, and, drawing her veil still more closely round her, said, in French:

"Pardon me, I would wish a private conversation." Philip rose to withdraw, when the lady, observing him with eyes whose lustre shone through the veil, said gently: "But perhaps the young gentleman is discreet."

"He is not discreet, he is discretion!--my adopted son. You may confide in him--upon my honour you may, madam!" and Mr. Love placed his hand on his heart.

"He is very young," said the lady, in a tone of involuntary compassion, as, with a very white hand, she unclasped the buckle of her cloak.

"He can the better understand the curse of celibacy," returned Mr. Love, smiling.

The lady lifted part of her veil, and discovered a handsome mouth, and a set of small, white teeth; for she, too, smiled, though gravely, as she turned to Morton, and said--

"You seem, sir, more fitted to be a votary of the temple than one of its officers. However, Monsieur Love, let there be no mistake between us; I do not come here to form a marriage, but to prevent one. I understand that Monsieur the Vicomte de Vaudemont has called into request your services. I am one of the Vicomte's family; we are all anxious that he should not contract an engagement of the strange and, pardon me, unbecoming character, which must stamp a union formed at a public office."

"I assure you, madam," said Mr. Love, with dignity, "that we have contributed to the very first--"

"Mon Dieu!" interrupted the lady, with much impatience, "spare me a eulogy on your establishment: I have no doubt it is very respectable; and for grisettes and epiciers may do extremely well. But the Vicomte is a man of birth and connections. In a word, what he contemplates is preposterous. I know not what fee Monsieur Love expects; but if he contrive to amuse Monsieur de Vaudemont, and to frustrate every connection he proposes to form, that fee, whatever it may be, shall be doubled. Do you understand me?"

"Perfectly, madam; yet it is not your offer that will bias me, but the desire to oblige so charming a lady."

"It is agreed, then?" said the lady, carelessly; and as she spoke she again glanced at Philip.

"If madame will call again, I will inform her of my plans," said Mr. Love.

"Yes, I will call again. Good morning!" As she rose and passed Philip, she wholly put aside her veil, and looked at him with a gaze entirely free from coquetry, but curious, searching, and perhaps admiring--the look that an artist may give to a picture that seines of more value than the place where he finds it would seem to indicate. The countenance of the lady herself was fair and noble, and Philip felt a strange thrill at his heart as, with a slight inclination of her' head, she turned from the room.

"Ah!" said Gawtrey, laughing, "this is not the first time I have been paid by relations to break off the marriages I had formed. Egad! if one could open a bureau to make married people single, one would soon be a Croesus! Well, then, this decides me to complete the union between Monsieur Goupille and Mademoiselle de Courval. I had balanced a little hitherto between the epicier and the Vicomte. Now I will conclude matters. Do you know, Phil, I think you have made a conquest?"

"Pooh!" said Philip, colouring.

In effect, that very evening Mr. Love saw both the epicier and Adele, and fixed the marriage-day. As Monsieur Goupille was a person of great distinction in the Faubourg, this wedding was one upon which Mr. Love congratulated himself greatly; and he cheerfully accepted an invitation for himself and his partners to honour the noces with their presence.

A night or two before the day fixed for the marriage of Monsieur Goupille and the aristocratic Adele, when Mr. Birnie had retired, Gawtrey made his usual preparations for enjoying himself. But this time the cigar and the punch seemed to fail of their effect. Gawtrey remained moody and silent; and Morton was thinking of the bright eyes of the lady who was so much interested against the amours of the Vicomte de Vaudemont.

At last, Gawtrey broke silence:

"My young friend," said he, "I told you of my little protege; I have been buying toys for her this morning; she is a beautiful creature; to-morrow is her birthday--she will then be six years old. But--but--" here Gawtrey sighed--"I fear she is not all right here," and he touched his forehead.

"I should like much to see her," said Philip, not noticing the latter remark.

"And you shall--you shall come with me to-morrow. Heigho! I should not like to die, for her sake!"

"Does her wretched relation attempt to regain her?"

"Her relation! No; she is no more--she died about two years since! Poor Mary! I--well, this is folly. But Fanny is at present in a convent; they are all kind to her, but then I pay well; if I were dead, and the pay stopped,--again I ask, what would become of her, unless, as I before said, my father--"

"But you are making a fortune now?"

"If this lasts--yes; but I live in fear--the police of this cursed city are lynx-eyed; however, that is the bright side of the question."

"Why not have the child with you, since you love her so much? She would be a great comfort to you."

"Is this a place for a child--a girl?" said Gawtrey, stamping his foot impatiently. "I should go mad if I saw that villainous deadman's eye bent upon her!"

"You speak of Birnie. How can you endure him?"

"When you are my age you will know why we endure what we dread--why we make friends of those who else would be most horrible foes: no, no--nothing can deliver me of this man but Death. And--and--" added Gawtrey, turning pale, "I cannot murder a man who eats my bread. There are stronger ties, my lad, than affection, that bind men, like galley-slaves, together. He who can hang you puts the halter round your neck and leads you by it like a dog."

A shudder came over the young listener. And what dark secrets, known only to those two, had bound, to a man seemingly his subordinate and tool, the strong will and resolute temper of William Gawtrey?

"But, begone, dull care!" exclaimed Gawtrey, rousing himself. "And, after all, Birnie is a useful fellow, and dare no more turn against me than I against him! Why don't you drink more?

"Oh! have you e'er heard of the famed Captain Wattle?"

and Gawtrey broke out into a loud Bacchanalian hymn, in which Philip could find no mirth, and from which the songster suddenly paused to exclaim:--

"Mind you say nothing about Fanny to Birnie; my secrets with him are not of that nature. He could not hurt her, poor lamb! it is true--at least, as far as I can foresee. But one can never feel too sure of one's lamb, if one once introduces it to the butcher!"

The next day being Sunday, the bureau was closed, and Philip and Gawtrey repaired to the convent. It was a dismal-looking place as to the exterior; but, within, there was a large garden, well kept, and, notwithstanding the winter, it seemed fair and refreshing, compared with the polluted streets. The window of the room into which they were shown looked upon the green sward, with walls covered with ivy at the farther end. And Philip's own childhood came back to him as he gazed on the quiet of the lonely place.

The door opened--an infant voice was heard, a voice of glee-of rapture; and a child, light and beautiful as a fairy, bounded to Gawtrey's breast.

Nestling there, she kissed his face, his hands, his clothes, with a passion that did not seem to belong to her age, laughing and sobbing almost at a breath.

On his part, Gawtrey appeared equally affected: he stroked down her hair with his huge hand, calling her all manner of pet names, in a tremulous voice that vainly struggled to be gay.

At length he took the toys he had brought with him from his capacious pockets, and strewing them on the floor, fairly stretched his vast bulk along; while the child tumbled over him, sometimes grasping at the toys, and then again returning to his bosom, and laying her head there, looked up quietly into his eyes, as if the joy were too much for her.

Morton, unheeded by both, stood by with folded arms. He thought of his lost and ungrateful brother, and muttered to himself:

"Fool! when she is older, she will forsake him!"

Fanny betrayed in her face the Italian origin of her father. She had that exceeding richness of complexion which, though not common even in Italy, is only to be found in the daughters of that land, and which harmonised well with the purple lustre of her hair, and the full, clear iris of the dark eyes. Never were parted cherries brighter than her dewy lips; and the colour of the open neck and the rounded arms was of a whiteness still more dazzling, from the darkness of the hair and the carnation of the glowing cheek.

Suddenly Fanny started from Gawtrey's arms, and running up to Morton, gazed at him wistfully, and said, in French:

"Who are you? Do you come from the moon? I think you do." Then, stopping abruptly, she broke into a verse of a nursery-song, which she chaunted with a low, listless tone, as if she were not conscious of the sense. As she thus sang, Morton, looking at her, felt a strange and painful doubt seize him. The child's eyes, though soft, were so vacant in their gaze.

"And why do I come from the moon?" said he.

"Because you look sad and cross. I don't like you--I don't like the moon; it gives me a pain here!" and she put her hand to her temples. "Have you got anything for Fanny--poor, poor Fanny?" and, dwelling on the epithet, she shook her head mournfully.

"You are rich, Fanny, with all those toys."

"Am I? Everybody calls me poor Fanny--everybody but papa;" and she ran again to Gawtrey, and laid her head on his shoulder.

"She calls me papa!" said Gawtrey, kissing her; "you hear it? Bless her!"

"And you never kiss any one but Fanny--you have no other little girl?" said the child, earnestly, and with a look less vacant than that which had saddened Morton.

"No other--no--nothing under heaven, and perhaps above it, but you!" and he clasped her in his arms. "But," he added, after a pause--"but mind me, Fanny, you must like this gentleman. He will be always good to you: and he had a little brother whom he was as fond of as I am of you."

"No, I won't like him--I won't like anybody but you and my sister!"

"Sister!--who is your sister?"

The child's face relapsed into an expression almost of idiotcy. "I don't know--I never saw her. I hear her sometimes, but I don't understand what she says.--Hush! come here!" and she stole to the window on tiptoe. Gawtrey followed and looked out.

"Do you hear her, now?" said Fanny. "What does she say?"

As the girl spoke, some bird among the evergreens uttered a shrill, plaintive cry, rather than song--a sound which the thrush occasionally makes in the winter, and which seems to express something of fear, and pain, and impatience. "What does she say?--can you tell me?" asked the child.

"Pooh! that is a bird; why do you call it your sister?"

"I don't know!--because it is--because it--because--I don't know--is it not in pain?--do something for it, papa!"

Gawtrey glanced at Morton, whose face betokened his deep pity, and creeping up to him, whispered,--

"Do you think she is really touched here? No, no,--she will outgrow it--I am sure she will!"

Morton sighed.

Fanny by this time had again seated herself in the middle of the floor, and arranged her toys, but without seeming to take pleasure in them.

At last Gawtrey was obliged to depart. The lay sister, who had charge of Fanny, was summoned into the parlour; and then the child's manner entirely changed; her face grew purple--she sobbed with as much anger as grief. "She would not leave papa--she would not go--that she would not!"

"It is always so," whispered Gawtrey to Morton, in an abashed and apologetic voice. "It is so difficult to get away from her. Just go and talk with her while I steal out."

Morton went to her, as she struggled with the patient good-natured sister, and began to soothe and caress her, till she turned on him her large humid eyes, and said, mournfully,

"Tu es mechant, tu. Poor Fanny!"

"But this pretty doll--" began the sister. The child looked at it joylessly.

"And papa is going to die!"

"Whenever Monsieur goes," whispered the nun, "she always says that he is dead, and cries herself quietly to sleep; when Monsieur returns, she says he is come to life again. Some one, I suppose, once talked to her about death; and she thinks when she loses sight of any one, that that is death."

"Poor child!" said Morton, with a trembling voice.

The child looked up, smiled, stroked his cheek with her little hand, and said:

"Thank you!--Yes! poor Fanny! Ah, he is going--see!--let me go too--tu es mechant."

"But," said Morton, detaining her gently, "do you know that you give him pain?--you make him cry by showing pain yourself. Don't make him so sad!"

The child seemed struck, hung down her head for a moment, as if in thought, and then, jumping from Morton's lap, ran to Gawtrey, put up her pouting lips, and said:

"One kiss more!"

Gawtrey kissed her, and turned away his head.

"Fanny is a good girl!" and Fanny, as she spoke, went back to Morton, and put her little fingers into her eyes, as if either to shut out Gawtrey's retreat from her sight, or to press back her tears.

"Give me the doll now, sister Marie."

Morton smiled and sighed, placed the child, who struggled no more, in the nun's arms, and left the room; but as he closed the door he looked back, and saw that Fanny had escaped from the sister, thrown herself on the floor, and was crying, but not loud.

"Is she not a little darling?" said Gawtrey, as they gained the street.

"She is, indeed, a most beautiful child!"

"And you will love her if I leave her penniless," said Gawtrey, abruptly. "It was your love for your mother and your brother that made me like you from the first. Ay," continued Gawtrey, in a tone of great earnestness, "ay, and whatever may happen to me, I will strive and keep you, my poor lad, harmless; and what is better, innocent even of such matters as sit light enough on my own well-seasoned conscience. In turn, if ever you have the power, be good to her,--yes, be good to her! and I won't say a harsh word to you if ever you like to turn king's evidence against myself."

"Gawtrey!" said Morton, reproachfully, and almost fiercely.

"Bah!--such things are! But tell me honestly, do you think she is very strange--very deficient?"

"I have not seen enough of her to judge," answered Morton, evasively.

"She is so changeful," persisted Gawtrey. "Sometimes you would say that she was above her age, she comes out with such thoughtful, clever things; then, the next moment, she throws me into despair. These nuns are very skilful in education--at least they are said to be so. The doctors give me hope, too. You see, her poor mother was very unhappy at the time of her birth--delirious, indeed: that may account for it. I often fancy that it is the constant excitement which her state occasions me that makes me love her so much. You see she is one who can never shift for herself. I must get money for her; I have left a little already with the superior, and I would not touch it to save myself from famine! If she has money people will be kind enough to her. And then," continued Gawtrey, "you must perceive that she loves nothing in the world but me--me, whom nobody else loves! Well--well, now to the shop again!"

On returning home the bonne informed them that a lady had called, and asked both for Monsieur Love and the young gentleman, and seemed much chagrined at missing both. By the description, Morton guessed she was the fair incognita, and felt disappointed at having lost the interview.

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