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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesNight And Morning - Book 5 - Chapter 13
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Night And Morning - Book 5 - Chapter 13 Post by :Kjell Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :1245

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Night And Morning - Book 5 - Chapter 13

BOOK V CHAPTER XIII

"In te omnis domus inclinata recumbit."--VIRGIL.

(On thee the whole house rests confidingly.)

Lord Lilburne, seated before a tray in the drawing-room, was finishing his own solitary dinner, and Dykeman was standing close behind him, nervous and agitated. The confidence of many years between the master and the servant--the peculiar mind of Lilburne, which excluded him from all friendship with his own equals--had established between the two the kind of intimacy so common with the noble and the valet of the old French regime, and indeed, in much Lilburne more resembled the men of that day and land, than he did the nobler and statelier being which belongs to our own. But to the end of time, whatever is at once vicious, polished, and intellectual, will have a common likeness.

"But, my lord," said Dykeman, "just reflect. This girl is so well known in the place; she will be sure to be missed; and if any violence is done to her, it's a capital crime, my lord--a capital crime. I know they can't hang a great lord like you, but all concerned in it may----"

Lord Lilburne interrupted the speaker by, "Give me some wine and hold your tongue!" Then, when he had emptied his glass, he drew himself nearer to the fire, warmed his hands, mused a moment, and turned round to his confidant:--

"Dykeman," said he, "though you're an ass and a coward, and you don't deserve that I should be so condescending, I will relieve your fears at once. I know the law better than you can, for my whole life has been spent in doing exactly as I please, without ever putting myself in the power of LAW, which interferes with the pleasures of other men. You are right in saying violence would be a capital crime. Now the difference between vice and crime is this: Vice is what parsons write sermons against, Crime is what we make laws against. I never committed a crime in all my life,--at an age between fifty and sixty--I am not going to begin. Vices are safe things; I may have my vices like other men: but crimes are dangerous things--illegal things--things to be carefully avoided. Look you" (and here the speaker, fixing his puzzled listener with his eye, broke into a grin of sublime mockery), "let me suppose you to be the World--that cringing valet of valets, the WORLD! I should say to you this, 'My dear World, you and I understand each other well,--we are made for each other,--I never come in your way, nor you in mine. If I get drunk every day in my own room, that's vice, you can't touch me; if I take an extra glass for the first time in my life, and knock down the watchman, that's a crime which, if I am rich, costs me one pound--perhaps five pounds; if I am poor, sends me to the treadmill. If I break the hearts of five hundred old fathers, by buying with gold or flattery the embraces of five hundred young daughters, that's vice,--your servant, Mr. World! If one termagant wench scratches my face, makes a noise, and goes brazen-faced to the Old Bailey to swear to her shame, why that's crime, and my friend, Mr. World, pulls a hemp-rope out of his pocket.' Now, do you understand? Yes, I repeat," he added, with a change of voice, "I never committed a crime in my life,--I have never even been accused of one,--never had an action of crim. con.--of seduction against me. I know how to manage such matters better. I was forced to carry off this girl, because I had no other means of courting her. To court her is all I mean to do now. I am perfectly aware that an action for violence, as you call it, would be the more disagreeable, because of the very weakness of intellect which the girl is said to possess, and of which report I don't believe a word. I shall most certainly avoid even the remotest appearance that could be so construed. It is for that reason that no one in the house shall attend the girl except yourself and your niece. Your niece I can depend on, I know; I have been kind to her; I have got her a good husband; I shall get her husband a good place;--I shall be godfather to her first child. To be sure, the other servants will know there's a lady in the house, but to that they are accustomed; I don't set up for a Joseph. They need know no more, unless you choose to blab it out. Well, then, supposing that at the end of a few days, more or less, without any rudeness on my part, a young woman, after seeing a few jewels, and fine dresses, and a pretty house, and being made very comfortable, and being convinced that her grandfather shall be taken care of without her slaving herself to death, chooses of her own accord to live with me, where's the crime, and who can interfere with it?"

"Certainly, my lord, that alters the case," said Dykeman, considerably relieved. "But still," he added, anxiously, "if the inquiry is made,--if before all this is settled, it is found out where she is?"

"Why then no harm will be done--no violence will be committed. Her grandfather,--drivelling and a miser, you say--can be appeased by a little money, and it will be nobody's business, and no case can be made of it. Tush! man! I always look before I leap! People in this world are not so charitable as you suppose. What more natural than that a poor and pretty girl--not as wise as Queen Elizabeth--should be tempted to pay a visit to a rich lover!

"All they can say of the lover is, that he is a very gay man or a very bad man, and that's saying nothing new of me. But don't think it will be found out. Just get me that stool; this has been a very troublesome piece of business--rather tried me. I am not so young as I was. Yes, Dykeman, something which that Frenchman Vaudemont, or Vautrien, or whatever his name is, said to me once, has a certain degree of truth. I felt it in the last fit of the gout, when my pretty niece was smoothing my pillows. A nurse, as we grow older, may be of use to one. I wish to make this girl like me, or be grateful to me. I am meditating a longer and more serious attachment than usual,--a companion!"

"A companion, my lord, in that poor creature!--so ignorant--so uneducated!"

"So much the better. This world palls upon me," said Lilburne, almost gloomily. "I grow sick of the miserable quackeries--of the piteous conceits that men, women, and children call 'knowledge,' I wish to catch a glimpse of nature before I die. This creature interests me, and that is something in this life. Clear those things away, and leave me."

"Ay!" muttered Lilburne, as he bent over the fire alone, "when I first heard that that girl was the granddaughter of Simon Gawtrey, and, therefore, the child of the man whom I am to thank that I am a cripple, I felt as if love to her were a part of that hate which I owe to him; a segment in the circle of my vengeance. But now, poor child!

"I forget all this. I feel for her, not passion, but what I never felt before, affection. I feel that if I had such a child, I could understand what men mean when they talk of the tenderness of a father. I have not one impure thought for that girl--not one. But I would give thousands if she could love me. Strange! strange! in all this I do not recognise myself!"

Lord Lilburne retired to rest betimes that night; he slept sound; rose refreshed at an earlier hour than usual; and what he considered a fit of vapours of the previous night was passed away. He looked with eagerness to an interview with Fanny. Proud of his intellect, pleased in any of those sinister exercises of it which the code and habits of his life so long permitted to him, he regarded the conquest of his fair adversary with the interest of a scientific game. Harriet went to Fanny's room to prepare her to receive her host; and Lord Lilburne now resolved to make his own visit the less unwelcome by reserving for his especial gift some showy, if not valuable, trinkets, which for similar purposes never failed the depositories of the villa he had purchased for his pleasures. He, recollected that these gewgaws were placed in the bureau in the study; in which, as having a lock of foreign and intricate workmanship, he usually kept whatever might tempt cupidity in those frequent absences when the house was left guarded but by two women servants. Finding that Fanny had not yet quitted her own chamber, while Harriet went up to attend and reason with her, he himself limped into the study below, unlocked the bureau, and was searching in the drawers, when he heard the voice of Fanny above, raised a little as if in remonstrance or entreaty; and he paused to listen. He could not, however, distinguish what was said; and in the meanwhile, without attending much to what he was about, his bands were still employed in opening and shutting the drawers, passing through the pigeon-holes, and feeling for a topaz brooch, which he thought could not fail of pleasing the unsophisticated eyes of Fanny. One of the recesses was deeper than the rest; he fancied the brooch was there; he stretched his hand into the recess; and, as the room was partially darkened by the lower shutters from without, which were still unclosed to prevent any attempted escape of his captive, he had only the sense of touch to depend on; not finding the brooch, he stretched on till he came to the extremity of the recess, and was suddenly sensible of a sharp pain; the flesh seemed caught as in a trap; he drew back his finger with sudden force and a half-suppressed exclamation, and he perceived the bottom or floor of the pigeon-hole recede, as if sliding back. His curiosity was aroused; he again felt warily and cautiously, and discovered a very slight inequality and roughness at the extremity of the recess. He was aware instantly that there was some secret spring; he pressed with some force on the spot, and he felt the board give way; he pushed it back towards him, and it slid suddenly with a whirring noise, and left a cavity below exposed to his sight. He peered in, and drew forth a paper; he opened it at first carelessly, for he was still trying to listen to Fanny. His eye ran rapidly over a few preliminary lines till it rested on what follows:

"Marriage. The year 18--

"No. 83, page 21.

"Philip Beaufort, of this parish of A-----, and Catherine Morton, of the parish of St. Botolph, Aldgate, London, were married in this church by banns, this 12th day of November, in the year one thousand eight hundred and ----' by me,


"CALEB PRICE, Vicar.

"This marriage was solemnised between us,

"PHILIP BEAUFORT.
"CATHERINE MORTON.

"In the presence of
"DAVID APREECE.
"WILLIAM SMITH.


"The above is a true copy taken from the registry of marriages, in A-----parish, this 19th day of March, 18--, by me,

"MORGAN JONES, Curate of C-------."

(This is according to the form customary at the date at which the copy was made. There has since been an alteration.)

Lord Lilburne again cast his eye over the lines prefixed to this startling document, which, being those written at Caleb's desire, by Mr. Jones to Philip Beaufort, we need not here transcribe to the reader. At that instant Harriet descended the stairs, and came into the room; she crept up on tiptoe to Lilburne, and whispered,--

"She is coming down, I think; she does not know you are here."

"Very well--go!" said Lord Lilburne. And scarce had Harriet left the room, when a carriage drove furiously to the door, and Robert Beaufort rushed into the study.

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