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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesNight And Morning - Book 4 - Chapter 7
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Night And Morning - Book 4 - Chapter 7 Post by :Heidi66469 Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :2669

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Night And Morning - Book 4 - Chapter 7

BOOK IV CHAPTER VII

"Org. Welcome, thou ice that sitt'st about his heart
No heat can ever thaw thee!"--FORD: Broken Heart.

"Nearch. Honourable infamy!"--Ibid.

"Amye. Her tenderness hath yet deserved no rigour,
So to be crossed by fate!"

"Arm. You misapply, sir,
With favour let me speak it, what Apollo
Hath clouded in dim sense!"--Ibid.


If Vaudemont had fancied that, considering the age and poverty of Simon, it was his duty to see whether Fanny's not more legal, but more natural protector were, indeed, the unredeemed and unmalleable egotist which Gawtrey had painted him, the conversation of one night was sufficient to make him abandon for ever the notion of advancing her claims upon Lord Lilburne. But Philip had another motive in continuing his acquaintance with that personage. The sight of his mother's grave had recalled to him the image of that lost brother over whom he had vowed to watch. And, despite the deep sense of wronged affection with which he yet remembered the cruel letter that had contained the last tidings of Sidney, Philip's heart clung with undying fondness to that fair shape associated with all the happy recollections of childhood; and his conscience as well as his love asked him, each time that he passed the churchyard, "Will you make no effort to obey that last prayer of the mother who consigned her darling to your charge?" Perhaps, had Philip been in want, or had the name he now bore been sullied by his conduct, he might have shrunk from seeking one whom he might injure, but could not serve. But though not rich, he had more than enough for tastes as hardy and simple as any to which soldier of fortune ever limited his desires. And he thought, with a sentiment of just and noble pride, that the name which Eugenie had forced upon him had been borne spotless as the ermine through the trials and vicissitudes he had passed since he had assumed it. Sidney could give him nothing, and therefore it was his duty to seek Sidney out. Now, he had always believed in his heart that the Beauforts were acquainted with a secret which he more and more pined to penetrate. He would, for Sidney's sake, smother his hate to the Beauforts; he would not reject their acquaintance if thrown in his way; nay, secure in his change of name and his altered features, from all suspicion on their part, he would seek that acquaintance in order to find his brother and fulfil Catherine's last commands. His intercourse with Lilburne would necessarily bring him easily into contact with Lilburne's family. And in this thought he did not reject the invitations pressed on him. He felt, too, a dark and absorbing interest in examining a man who was in himself the incarnation of the World--the World of Art--the World as the Preacher paints it--the hollow, sensual, sharp-witted, self-wrapped WORLD--the World that is all for this life, and thinks of no Future and no God!

Lord Lilburne was, indeed, a study for deep contemplation. A study to perplex the ordinary thinker, and task to the utmost the analysis of more profound reflection. William Gawtrey had possessed no common talents; he had discovered that his life had been one mistake; Lord Lilburne's intellect was far keener than Gawtrey's, and he had never made, and if he had lived to the age of Old Parr, never would have made a similar discovery. He never wrestled against a law, though he slipped through all laws! And he knew no remorse, for he knew no fear. Lord Lilburne had married early, and long survived, a lady of fortune, the daughter of the then Premier--the best match, in fact, of his day. And for one very brief period of his life he had suffered himself to enter into the field of politics the only ambition common with men of equal rank. He showed talents that might have raised one so gifted by circumstance to any height, and then retired at once into his old habits and old system of pleasure. "I wished to try," said he once, "if fame was worth one headache, and I have convinced myself that the man who can sacrifice the bone in his mouth to the shadow of the bone in the water is a fool." From that time he never attended the House of Lords, and declared himself of no political opinions one way or the other. Nevertheless, the world had a general belief in his powers, and Vaudemont reluctantly subscribed to the world's verdict. Yet he had done nothing, he had read but little, he laughed at the world to its face,--and that last was, after all, the main secret of his ascendancy over those who were drawn into his circle. That contempt of the world placed the world at his feet. His sardonic and polished indifference, his professed code that there was no life worth caring for but his own life, his exemption from all cant, prejudice, and disguise, the frigid lubricity with which he glided out of the grasp of the Conventional, whenever it so pleased him, without shocking the Decorums whose sense is in their ear, and who are not roused by the deed but by the noise,--all this had in it the marrow and essence of a system triumphant with the vulgar; for little minds give importance to the man who gives importance to nothing. Lord Lilburne's authority, not in matters of taste alone, but in those which the world calls judgment and common sense, was regarded as an oracle. He cared not a straw for the ordinary baubles that attract his order; he had refused both an earldom and the garter, and this was often quoted in his honour. But you only try a man's virtue when you offer him something that he covets. The earldom and the garter were to Lord Lilburne no more tempting inducements than a doll or a skipping-rope; had you offered him an infallible cure for the gout, or an antidote against old age, you might have hired him as your lackey on your own terms. Lord Lilburne's next heir was the son of his only brother, a person entirely dependent on his uncle. Lord Lilburne allowed him L1000. a year and kept him always abroad in a diplomatic situation. He looked upon his successor as a man who wanted power, but not inclination, to become his assassin.

Though he lived sumptuously and grudged himself nothing, Lord Lilburne was far from an extravagant man; he might, indeed, be considered close; for he knew how much of comfort and consideration he owed to his money, and valued it accordingly; he knew the best speculations and the best investments. If he took shares in an American canal, you might be sure that the shares would soon be double in value; if he purchased an estate, you might be certain it was a bargain. This pecuniary tact and success necessarily augmented his fame for wisdom.

He had been in early life a successful gambler, and some suspicions of his fair play had been noised abroad; but, as has been recently seen in the instance of a man of rank equal to Lilburne's, though, perhaps, of less acute if more cultivated intellect, it is long before the pigeon will turn round upon a falcon of breed and mettle. The rumours, indeed, were so vague as to carry with them no weight. During the middle of his career, when in the full flush of health and fortune, he had renounced the gaming-table. Of late years, as advancing age made time more heavy, he had resumed the resource, and with all his former good luck. The money-market, the table, the sex, constituted the other occupations and amusements with which Lord Lilburne filled up his rosy leisure.

Another way by which this man had acquired reputation for ability was this,--he never pretended to any branch of knowledge of which he was ignorant, any more than to any virtue in which he was deficient. Honesty itself was never more free from quackery or deception than was this embodied and walking Vice. If the world chose to esteem him, he did not buy its opinion by imposture. No man ever saw Lord Lilburne's name in a public subscription, whether for a new church, or a Bible Society, or a distressed family, no man ever heard of his doing one generous, benevolent, or kindly action,--no man was ever startled by one philanthropic, pious, or amiable sentiment from those mocking lips. Yet, in spite of all this, John Lord Lilburne was not only esteemed but liked by the world, and set up in the chair of its Rhadamanthuses. In a word, he seemed to Vaudemont, and he was so in reality, a brilliant example of the might of Circumstance--an instance of what may be done in the way of reputation and influence by a rich, well-born man to whom the will a kingdom is. A little of genius, and Lord Lilburne would have made his vices notorious and his deficiencies glaring; a little of heart, and his habits would have led him into countless follies and discreditable scrapes. It was the lead and the stone that he carried about him that preserved his equilibrium, no matter which way the breeze blew. But all his qualities, positive or negative, would have availed him nothing without that position which enabled him to take his ease in that inn, the world--which presented, to every detection of his want of intrinsic nobleness, the irreproachable respectability of a high name, a splendid mansion, and a rent-roll without a flaw. Vaudemont drew comparisons between Lilburne and Gawtrey, and he comprehended at last, why one was a low rascal and the other a great man.

Although it was but a few days after their first introduction to each other, Vaudemont had been twice to Lord Lilburne's, and their acquaintance was already on an easy footing--when one afternoon as the former was riding through the streets towards H----, he met the peer mounted on a stout cob, which, from its symmetrical strength, pure English breed, and exquisite grooming, showed something of those sporting tastes for which, in earlier life, Lord Lilburne had been noted.

"Why, Monsieur de Vaudemont, what brings you to this part of the town?--curiosity and the desire to explore?"

"That might be natural enough in me; but you, who know London so well; rather what brings you here?"

"Why I am returned from a long ride. I have had symptoms of a fit of the gout, and been trying to keep it off by exercise. I have been to a cottage that belongs to me, some miles from the town--a pretty place enough, by the way--you must come and see me there next month. I shall fill the house for a battue! I have some tolerable covers--you are a good shot, I suppose?"

"I have not practised, except with a rifle, for some years."

"That's a pity; for as I think a week's shooting once a year quite enough, I fear that your visit to me at Fernside may not be sufficiently long to put your hand in."

"Fernside!"

"Yes; is the name familiar to you?"

"I think I have heard it before. Did your lordship purchase or inherit it?"

"I bought it of my brother-in-law. It belonged to his brother--a gay, wild sort of fellow, who broke his neck over a six-barred gate; through that gate my friend Robert walked the same day into a very fine estate!"

"I have heard so. The late Mr. Beaufort, then, left no children?"

"Yes; two. But they came into the world in the primitive way in which Mr. Owen wishes us all to come--too naturally for the present state of society, and Mr. Owen's parallelogram was not ready for them. By the way, one of them disappeared at Paris;-you never met with him, I suppose?"

"Under what name?"

"Morton."

"Morton! hem! What Christian name?"

"Philip."

"Philip! no. But did Mr. Beaufort do nothing for the young men? I think I have heard somewhere that he took compassion on one of them."

"Have you? Ah, my brother-in-law is precisely one of those excellent men of whom the world always speaks well. No; he would very willingly have served either or both the boys, but the mother refused all his overtures and went to law, I fancy. The elder of these bastards turned out a sad fellow, and the younger,--I don't know exactly where he is, but no doubt with one of his mother's relations. You seem to interest yourself in natural children, my dear Vaudemont?"

"Perhaps you have heard that people have doubted if I were a natural son?"

"Ah! I understand now. But are you going?--I was in hopes you would have turned back my way, and--"

"You are very good; but I have a particular appointment, and I am now too late. Good morning, Lord Lilburne." Sidney with one of his mother's relations! Returned, perhaps, to the Mortons! How had he never before chanced on a conjecture so probable? He would go at once!--that very night he would go to the house from which he had taken his brother. At least, and at the worst, they might give him some clue.

Buoyed with this hope and this resolve, he rode hastily to H-----, to announce to Simon and Fanny that he should not return to them, perhaps, for two or three days. As he entered the suburb, he drew up by the statuary of whom he had purchased his mother's gravestone.

The artist of the melancholy trade was at work in his yard.

"Ho! there!" said Vaudemont, looking over the low railing; "is the tomb I have ordered nearly finished?"

"Why, sir, as you were so anxious for despatch, and as it would take a long time to get a new one ready, I thought of giving you this, which is finished all but the inscription. It was meant for Miss Deborah Primme; but her nephew and heir called on me yesterday to say, that as the poor lady died worth less by L5,000. than he had expected, he thought a handsome wooden tomb would do as well, if I could get rid of this for him. It is a beauty, sir. It will look so cheerful--"

"Well, that will do: and you can place it now where I told you."

"In three days, sir."

"So be it." And he rode on, muttering, "Fanny, your pious wish will be fulfilled. But flowers,--will they suit that stone?"

He put up his horse, and walked through the lane to Simon's.

As he approached the house, he saw Fanny's bright eyes at the window. She was watching his return. She hastened to open the door to him, and the world's wanderer felt what music there is in the footstep, what summer there is in the smile, of Welcome!

"My dear Fanny," he said, affected by her joyous greeting, "it makes my heart warm to see you. I have brought you a present from town. When I was a boy, I remember that my poor mother was fond of singing some simple songs, which often, somehow or other, come back to me, when I see and hear you. I fancied you would understand and like them as well at least as I do--for Heaven knows (he added to himself) my ear is dull enough generally to the jingle of rhyme." And he placed in her hands a little volume of those exquisite songs, in which Burns has set Nature to music.

"Oh! you are so kind, brother," said Fanny, with tears swimming in her eyes, and she kissed the book.

After their simple meal, Vaudemont broke to Fanny and Simon the intelligence of his intended departure for a few days. Simon heard it with the silent apathy into which, except on rare occasions, his life had settled. But Fanny turned away her face and wept.

"It is but for a day or two, Fanny."

"An hour is very--very long sometimes," said the girl, shaking her head mournfully.

"Come, I have a little time yet left, and the air is mild, you have not been out to-day, shall we walk--"

"Hem!" interrupted Simon, clearing his throat, and seeming to start into sudden animation; "had not you better settle the board and lodging before you go?"

"Oh, grandfather!" cried Fanny, springing to her feet, with such a blush upon her face.

"Nay, child," said Vaudemont, laughingly; "your grandfather only anticipates me. But do not talk of board and lodging; Fanny is as a sister to me, and our purse is in common."

"I should like to feel a sovereign--just to feel it," muttered Simon, in a sort of apologetic tone, that was really pathetic; and as Vaudemont scattered some coins on the table, the old man clawed them up, chuckling and talking to himself; and, rising with great alacrity, hobbled out of the room like a raven carrying some cunning theft to its hiding-place.

This was so amusing to Vaudemont that he burst out fairly into an uncontrollable laughter. Fanny looked at him, humbled and wondering for some moments; and then, creeping to him, put her hand gently on his arm and said--

"Don't laugh--it pains me. It was not nice in grand papa; but--but, it does not mean anything. It--it--don't laugh--Fanny feels so sad!"

"Well, you are right. Come, put on your bonnet, we will go out."

Fanny obeyed; but with less ready delight than usual. And they took their way through lanes over which hung, still in the cool air, the leaves of the yellow autumn.

Fanny was the first to break silence.

"Do you know," she said, timidly, "that people here think me very silly?--do you think so too?"

Vaudemont was startled by the simplicity of the question, and hesitated. Fanny looked up in his dark face anxiously and inquiringly.

"Well," she said, "you don't answer?"

"My dear Fanny, there are some things in which I could wish you less childlike and, perhaps, less charming. Those strange snatches of song, for instance!"

"What! do you not like me to sing? It is my way of talking."

"Yes; sing, pretty one! But sing something that we can understand,--sing the songs I have given you, if you will. And now, may I ask why you put to me that question?"

"I have forgotten," said Fanny, absently, and looking down.

Now, at that instant, as Philip Vaudemont bent over the exceeding sweetness of that young face, a sudden thrill shot through his heart, and he, too, became silent, and lost in thought. Was it possible that there could creep into his breast a wilder affection for this creature than that of tenderness and pity? He was startled as the idea crossed him. He shrank from it as a profanation--as a crime--as a frenzy. He with his fate so uncertain and chequered--he to link himself with one so helpless--he to debase the very poetry that clung to the mental temperament of this pure being, with the feelings which every fair face may awaken to every coarse heart--to love Fanny! No, it was impossible! For what could he love in her but beauty, which the very spirit had forgotten to guard? And she--could she even know what love was? He despised himself for even admitting such a thought; and with that iron and hardy vigour which belonged to his mind, resolved to watch closely against every fancy that would pass the fairy boundary which separated Fanny from the world of women.

He was roused from this self-commune by an abrupt exclamation from his companion.

"Oh! I recollect now why I asked you that question. There is one thing that always puzzles me--I want you to explain it. Why does everything in life depend upon money? You see even my poor grandfather forgot how good you are to us both, when--when Ah! I don't understand--it pains--it puzzles me!"

"Fanny, look there--no, to the left--you see that old woman, in rags, crawling wearily along; turn now to the right--you see that fine house glancing through the trees, with a carriage and four at the gates? The difference between that old woman and the owner of that house is--Money; and who shall blame your grandfather for liking Money?"

Fanny understood; and while the wise man thus moralised, the girl, whom his very compassion so haughtily contemned, moved away to the old woman to do her little best to smooth down those disparities from which wisdom and moralising never deduct a grain! Vaudemont felt this as he saw her glide towards the beggar; but when she came bounding back to him, she had forgotten his dislike to her songs, and was chaunting, in the glee of the heart that a kind act had made glad, one of her own impromptu melodies.

Vaudemont turned away. Poor Fanny had unconsciously decided his self-conquest; she guessed not what passed within him, but she suddenly recollected--what he had said to her about her songs, and fancied him displeased.

"Ah I will never do it again. Brother, don't turn away!"

"But we must go home. Hark! the clock strikes seven--I have no time to lose. And you will promise me never to stir out till I return?"

"I shall have no heart to stir out," said Fanny, sadly; and then in a more cheerful voice, she added, "And I shall sing the songs you like before you come back again!"

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