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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesNight And Morning - Book 5 - Chapter 11
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Night And Morning - Book 5 - Chapter 11 Post by :Heidi66469 Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :1142

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Night And Morning - Book 5 - Chapter 11

BOOK V CHAPTER XI

"Longueville.--What! are you married, Beaufort?
Beaufort.--Ay, as fast
As words, and hands, and hearts, and priest,
Could make us."--BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER: Noble Gentleman.


In the parlour of the inn at D------ sat Mr. John Barlow. He had just finished his breakfast, and was writing letters and looking over papers connected with his various business--when the door was thrown open, and a gentleman entered abruptly.

"Mr. Beaufort," said the lawyer rising, "Mr. Philip Beaufort--for such I now feel you are by right--though," he added, with his usual formal and quiet smile, "not yet by law; and much--very much, remains to be done to make the law and the right the same;--I congratulate you on having something at last to work on. I had begun to despair of finding our witness, after a month's advertising; and had commenced other investigations, of which I will speak to you presently, when yesterday, on my return to town from an errand on your business, I had the pleasure of a visit from William Smith himself.--My dear sir, do not yet be too sanguine.--It seems that this poor fellow, having known misfortune, was in America when the first fruitless inquiries were made. Long after this he returned to the colony, and there met with a brother, who, as I drew from him, was a convict. He helped the brother to escape. They both came to England. William learned from a distant relation, who lent him some little money, of the inquiry that had been set on foot for him; consulted his brother, who desired him to leave all to his management. The brother afterwards assured him that you and Mr. Sidney were both dead; and it seems (for the witness is simple enough to allow me to extract all) this same brother then went to Mr. Beaufort to hold out the threat of a lawsuit, and to offer the sale of the evidence yet existing--"

"And Mr. Beaufort?"

"I am happy to say, seems to have spurned the offer. Meanwhile William, incredulous of his brother's report, proceeded to N----, learned nothing from Mr. Morton, met his brother again--and the brother (confessing that he had deceived him in the assertion that you and Mr. Sidney were dead) told him that he had known you in earlier life, and set out to Paris to seek you--"

"Known me?--To Paris?"

"More of this presently. William returned to town, living hardly and penuriously on the little his brother bestowed on him, too melancholy and too poor for the luxury of a newspaper, and never saw our advertisement, till, as luck would have it, his money was out; he had heard nothing further of his brother, and he went for new assistance to the same relation who had before aided him. This relation, to his surprise, received the poor man very kindly, lent him what he wanted, and then asked him if he had not seen our advertisement. The newspaper shown him contained both the advertisements--that relating to Mr. Morton's visitor, that containing his own name. He coupled them both together--called on me at once. I was from town on your business. He returned to his own home; the next morning (yesterday morning) came a letter from his brother, which I obtained from him at last, and with promises that no harm should happen to the writer on account of it."

Vaudemont took the letter and read as follows:

"DEAR WILLIAM,--No go about the youngster I went after: all researches in vane. Paris develish expensive. Never mind, I have sene the other--the young B--; different sort of fellow from his father--very ill--frightened out of his wits--will go off to the governor, take me with him as far as Bullone. I think we shall settel it now. Mind as I saide before, don't put your foot in it. I send you a Nap in the Seele--all I can spare.


"Yours,
"JEREMIAH SMITH.

"Direct to me, Monsieur Smith--always a safe name--Ship Inn, Bullone."

"Jeremiah--Smith--Jeremiah!"

"Do you know the name then?" said Mr. Barlow. "Well; the poor man owns that he was frightened at his brother--that he wished to do what is right--that he feared his brother would not let him--that your father was very kind to him--and so he came off at once to me; and I was very luckily at home to assure him that the heir was alive, and prepared to assert his rights. Now then, Mr. Beaufort, we have the witness, but will that suffice us? I fear not. Will the jury believe him with no other testimony at his back? Consider!--When he was gone I put myself in communication with some officers at Bow Street about this brother of his--a most notorious character, commonly called in the police slang Dashing Jerry--"

"Ah! Well, proceed!"

"Your one witness, then, is a very poor, penniless man, his brother a rogue, a convict: this witness, too, is the most timid, fluctuating, irresolute fellow I ever saw; I should tremble for his testimony against a sharp, bullying lawyer. And that, sir, is all at present we have to look to."

"I see--I see. It is dangerous--it is hazardous. But truth is truth; justice--justice! I will run the risk."

"Pardon me, if I ask, did you ever know this brother?--were you ever absolutely acquainted with him--in the same house?"

"Many years since--years of early hardship and trial--I was acquainted with him--what then?"

"I am sorry to hear it," and the lawyer looked grave. "Do you not see that if this witness is browbeat--is disbelieved, and if it be shown that you, the claimant, was--forgive my saying it--intimate with a brother of such a character, why the whole thing might be made to look like perjury and conspiracy. If we stop here it is an ugly business!"

"And is this all you have to say to me? The witness is found--the only surviving witness--the only proof I ever shall or ever can obtain, and you seek to terrify me--me too--from using the means for redress Providence itself vouchsafes me--Sir, I will not hear you!"

"Mr. Beaufort, you are impatient--it is natural. But if we go to law--that is, should I have anything to do with it, wait--wait till your case is good. And hear me yet. This is not the only proof--this is not the only witness; you forget that there was an examined copy of the register; we may yet find that copy, and the person who copied it may yet be alive to attest it. Occupied with this thought, and weary of waiting the result of our advertisement, I resolved to go into the neighbourhood of Fernside; luckily, there was a gentleman's seat to be sold in the village. I made the survey of this place my apparent business. After going over the house, I appeared anxious to see how far some alterations could be made--alterations to render it more like Lord Lilburne's villa. This led me to request a sight of that villa--a crown to the housekeeper got me admittance. The housekeeper had lived with your father, and been retained by his lordship. I soon, therefore, knew which were the rooms the late Mr. Beaufort had principally occupied; shown into his study, where it was probable he would keep his papers, I inquired if it were the same furniture (which seemed likely enough from its age and fashion) as in your father's time: it was so; Lord Lilburne had bought the house just as it stood, and, save a few additions in the drawing-room, the general equipment of the villa remained unaltered. You look impatient!--I'm coming to the point. My eye fell upon an old-fashioned bureau--"

"But we searched every drawer in that bureau!"

"Any secret drawers?"

"Secret drawers! No! there were no secret drawers that I ever heard of!"

Mr. Barlow rubbed his hands and mused a moment.

"I was struck with that bureau; for any father had had one like it. It is not English--it is of Dutch manufacture."

"Yes, I have heard that my father bought it at a sale, three or four years after his marriage."

"I learned this from the housekeeper, who was flattered by my admiring it. I could not find out from her at what sale it had been purchased, but it was in the neighbourhood she was sure. I had now a date to go upon; I learned, by careless inquiries, what sales near Fernside had taken place in a certain year. A gentleman had died at that date whose furniture was sold by auction. With great difficulty, I found that his widow was still alive, living far up the country: I paid her a visit; and, not to fatigue you with too long an account, I have only to say that she not only assured me that she perfectly remembered the bureau, but that it had secret drawers and wells, very curiously contrived; nay, she showed me the very catalogue in which the said receptacles are noticed in capitals, to arrest the eye of the bidder, and increase the price of the bidding. That your father should never have revealed where he stowed this document is natural enough, during the life of his uncle; his own life was not spared long enough to give him much opportunity to explain afterwards, but I feel perfectly persuaded in my mind--that unless Mr. Robert Beaufort discovered that paper amongst the others he examined--in one of those drawers will be found all we want to substantiate your claims. This is the more likely from your father never mentioning, even to your mother apparently, the secret receptacles in the bureau. Why else such mystery? The probability is that he received the document either just before or at the time he purchased the bureau, or that he bought it for that very purpose: and, having once deposited the paper in a place he deemed secure from curiosity--accident, carelessness, policy, perhaps, rather shame itself (pardon me) for the doubt of your mother's discretion, that his secrecy seemed to imply, kept him from ever alluding to the circumstance, even when the intimacy of after years made him more assured of your mother's self-sacrificing devotion to his interests. At his uncle's death he thought to repair all!"

"And how, if that be true--if that Heaven which has delivered me hitherto from so many dangers, has, in the very secrecy of my poor father, saved my birthright front the gripe of the usurper--how, I say, is---"

"The bureau to pass into our possession? That is the difficulty. But we must contrive it somehow, if all else fail us; meanwhile, as I now feel sure that there has been a copy of that register made, I wish to know whether I should not immediately cross the country into Wales, and see if I can find any person in the neighbourhood of A----- who did examine the copy taken: for, mark you, the said copy is only of importance as leading to the testimony of the actual witness who took it."

"Sir," said Vaudemont, heartily shaking Mr. Barlow by the hand, "forgive my first petulance. I see in you the very man I desired and wanted--your acuteness surprises and encourages me. Go to Wales, and God speed you!"

"Very well!--in five minutes I shall be off. Meanwhile, see the witness yourself; the sight of his benefactor's son will do more to keep him steady than anything else. There's his address, and take care not to give him money. And now I will order my chaise--the matter begins to look worth expense. Oh! I forgot to say that Monsieur Liancourt called on you yesterday about his own affairs. He wishes much to consult you. I told him you would probably be this evening in town, and he said he would wait you at your lodging."

"Yes--I will lose not a moment in going to London, and visiting our witness. And he saw my mother at the altar! My poor mother--Ah, how could my father have doubted her!" and as he spoke, he blushed for the first time with shame at that father's memory. He could not yet conceive that one so frank, one usually so bold and open, could for years have preserved from the woman who had sacrificed all to him, a secret to her so important! That was, in fact, the only blot on his father's honour--a foul and grave blot it was. Heavily had the punishment fallen on those whom the father loved best! Alas, Philip had not yet learned what terrible corrupters are the Hope and the Fear of immense Wealthy, even to men reputed the most honourable, if they have been reared and pampered in the belief that wealth is the Arch blessing of life. Rightly considered, in Philip Beaufort's solitary meanness lay the vast moral of this world's darkest truth!

Mr. Barlow was gone. Philip was about to enter his own chaise, when a dormeuse-and-four drove up to the inn-door to change horses. A young man was reclining, at his length, in the carriage, wrapped in cloaks, and with a ghastly paleness--the paleness of long and deep disease upon his cheeks. He turned his dim eye with, perhaps, a glance of the sick man's envy on that strong and athletic, form, majestic with health and vigour, as it stood beside the more humble vehicle. Philip did not, however, notice the new arrival; he sprang into the chaise, it rattled on, and thus, unconsciously, Arthur Beaufort and his cousin had again met. To which was now the Night--to which the Morning?

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