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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesNight And Morning - Book 5 - Chapter 21
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Night And Morning - Book 5 - Chapter 21 Post by :Kjell Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :1297

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Night And Morning - Book 5 - Chapter 21


"Heaven's airs amid the harpstrings dwell;
And we wish they ne'er may fade;
They cease; and the soul is a silent cell,
Where music never played.
Dream follows dream through the long night-hours."
WILSON: The Past, a poem.

The self-command which Philip had obtained for a while deserted him when he was without the house. His mind felt broken up into chaos; he hurried on, mechanically, on foot; he passed street upon street, now solitary and deserted, as the lamps gleamed upon the thick snow. The city was left behind him. He paused not, till, breathless, and exhausted in spirit if not in frame, he reached the churchyard where Catherine's dust reposed. The snow had ceased to fall, but it lay deep over the graves; the yew-trees, clad in their white shrouds, gleamed ghost-like through the dimness. Upon the rail that fenced the tomb yet hung a wreath that Fanny's hand had placed there. But the flowers were hid; it was a wreath of snow! Through the intervals of the huge and still clouds, there gleamed a few melancholy stars. The very calm of the holy spot seemed unutterably sad. The Death of the year overhung the Death of man. And as Philip bent over the tomb, within and without all was ICE and NIGHT!

For hours he remained on that spot, alone with his grief and absorbed in his prayer. Long past midnight Fanny heard his step on the stairs, and the door of his chamber close with unwonted violence. She heard, too, for some time, his heavy tread on the floor, till suddenly all was silent. The next morning, when, at the usual hour, Sarah entered to unclose the shutters and light the fire, she was startled by wild exclamations and wilder laughter. The fever had mounted to the brain--he was delirious.

For several weeks Philip Beaufort was in imminent danger; for a considerable part of that time he was unconscious; and when the peril was past, his recovery was slow and gradual. It was the only illness to which his vigorous frame had ever been subjected: and the fever had perhaps exhausted him more than it might have done one in whose constitution the disease had encountered less resistance. His brother; imagining he had gone abroad, was unacquainted with his danger. None tended his sick-bed save the hireling nurse, the feed physician, and the unpurchasable heart of the only being to whom the wealth and rank of the Heir of Beaufort Court were as nothing. Here was reserved for him Fate's crowning lesson, in the vanity of those human wishes which anchor in gold and power. For how many years had the exile and the outcast pined indignantly for his birthright?--Lo! it was won: and with it came the crushed heart and the smitten frame. As he slowly recovered sense and reasoning, these thoughts struck him forcibly. He felt as if he were rightly punished in having disdained, during his earlier youth, the enjoyments within his reach. Was there nothing in the glorious health--the unconquerable hope--the heart, if wrung, and chafed, and sorely tried, free at least from the direst anguish of the passions, disappointed and jealous love? Though now certain, if spared to the future, to be rich, powerful, righted in name and honour, might he not from that sick-bed envy his earlier past? even when with his brother orphan he wandered through the solitary fields, and felt with what energies we are gifted when we have something to protect; or when, loving and beloved, he saw life smile out to him in the eyes of Eugenie; or when, after that melancholy loss, he wrestled boldly, and breast to breast with Fortune, in a far land, for honour and independence? There is something in severe illness, especially if it be in violent contrast to the usual strength of the body, which has often the most salutary effect upon the mind; which often, by the affliction of the frame, roughly wins us from the too morbid pains of the heart! which makes us feel that, in mere LIFE, enjoyed as the robust enjoy it, God's Great Principle of Good breathes and moves. We rise thus from the sick-bed softened and humbled, and more disposed to look around us for such blessings as we may yet command.

The return of Philip, his danger, the necessity of exertion, of tending him, had roused Fanny from a state which might otherwise have been permanently dangerous to the intellect so lately ripened within her. With what patience, with what fortitude, with what unutterable thought and devotion, she fulfilled that best and holiest woman's duty--let the man whose struggle with life and death has been blessed with the vigil that wakes and saves, imagine to himself. And in all her anxiety and terror, she had glimpses of a happiness which it seemed to her almost criminal to acknowledge. For, even in his delirium, her voice seemed to have some soothing influence over him, and he was calmer while she was by. And when at last he was conscious, her face was the first he saw, and her name the first which his lips uttered. As then he grew gradually stronger, and the bed was deserted for the sofa, he took more than the old pleasure in hearing her read to him; which she did with a feeling that lecturers cannot teach. And once, in a pause from this occupation, he spoke to her frankly,--he sketched his past history--his last sacrifice. And Fanny, as she wept, learned that he was no more another's!

It has been said that this man, naturally of an active and impatient temperament, had been little accustomed to seek those resources which are found in books. But somehow in that sick chamber--it was Fanny's voice--the voice of her over whose mind he had once so haughtily lamented, that taught him how much of aid and solace the Herd of Men derive from the Everlasting Genius of the Few.

Gradually, and interval by interval, moment by moment, thus drawn together, all thought beyond shut out (for, however crushing for the time the blow that had stricken Philip from health and reason, he was not that slave to a guilty fancy, that he could voluntarily indulge--that he would not earnestly seek to shun--all sentiments 'chat yet turned with unholy yearning towards the betrothed of his brother);--gradually, I say, and slowly, came those progressive and delicious epochs which mark a revolution in the affections:--unspeakable gratitude, brotherly tenderness, the united strength of compassion and respect that he had felt for Fanny seemed, as he gained health, to mellow into feelings yet more exquisite and deep. He could no longer delude himself with a vain and imperious belief that it was a defective mind that his heart protected; he began again to be sensible to the rare beauty of that tender face--more lovely, perhaps, for the paleness that had replaced its bloom. The fancy that he had so imperiously checked before--before he saw Camilla, returned to him, and neither pride nor honour had now the right to chase the soft wings away. One evening, fancying himself alone, he fell into a profound reverie; he awoke with a start, and the exclamation, "was it true love that I ever felt for Camilla, or a passion, a frenzy, a delusion?"

His exclamation was answered by a sound that seemed both of joy and grief. He looked up, and saw Fanny before him; the light of the moon, just risen, fell full on her form, but her hands were clasped before her face; he heard her sob.

"Fanny, dear Fanny!" he cried, and sought to throw himself from the sofa to her feet. But she drew herself away, and fled from the chamber silent as a dream.

Philip rose, and, for the first time since his illness, walked, but with feeble steps, to and fro the room. With what different emotions from those in which last, in fierce and intolerable agony, he had paced that narrow boundary! Returning health crept through his veins--a serene, a kindly, a celestial joy circumfused his heart. Had the time yet come when the old Florimel had melted into snow; when the new and the true one, with its warm life, its tender beauty, its maiden wealth of love, had risen before his hopes? He paused before the window; the spot within seemed so confined, the night without so calm and lovely, that he forgot his still-clinging malady, and unclosed the casement: the air came soft and fresh upon his temples, and the church-tower and spire, for the first time, did not seem to him to rise in gloom against the heavens. Even the gravestone of Catherine, half in moonlight, half in shadow, appeared to him to wear a smile. His mother's memory was become linked with the living Fanny.

"Thou art vindicated--thy Sidney is happy," he murmured: "to her the thanks!"

Fair hopes, and soft thoughts busy within him, he remained at the casement till the increasing chill warned him of the danger he incurred.

The next day, when the physician visited him, he found the fever had returned. For many days, Philip was again in danger--dull, unconscious even of the step and voice of Fanny.

He woke at last as from a long and profound sleep; woke so refreshed, so revived, that he felt at once that some great crisis had been passed, and that at length he had struggled back to the sunny shores of Life.

By his bedside sat Liancourt, who, long alarmed at his disappearance, had at last contrived, with the help of Mr. Barlow, to trace him to Gawtrey's house, and had for several days taken share in the vigils of poor Fanny.

While he was yet explaining all this to Philip, and congratulating him on his evident recovery, the physician entered to confirm the congratulation. In a few days the invalid was able to quit his room, and nothing but change of air seemed necessary for his convalescence. It was then that Liancourt, who had for two days seemed impatient to unburden himself of some communication, thus addressed him:--

"My--My dear friend, I have learned now your story from Barlow, who called several times during your relapse; and who is the more anxious about you, as the time for the decision of your case now draws near. The sooner you quit this house the better."

"Quit this house! and why? Is there not one in this house to whom I owe my fortune and my life?"

"Yes; and for that reason I say, 'Go hence:' it is the only return you can make her."

"Pshaw!--speak intelligibly."

"I will," said Liancourt, gravely. "I have been a watcher with her by your sick-bed, and I know what you must feel already:--nay, I must confess that even the old servant has ventured to speak to me. You have inspired that poor girl with feelings dangerous to her peace."

"Ha!" cried Philip, with such joy that Liancourt frowned, and said, "Hitherto I have believed you too honourable to--"

"So you think she loves me?" interrupted Philip. "Yes; what then? You, the heir of Beaufort Court, of a rental of L20,000. a year,--of an historical name,--you cannot marry this poor girl?"

"Well!--I will consider what you say, and, at all events, I will leave the house to attend the result of the trial. Let us talk no more on the subject now."

Philip had the penetration to perceive that Liancourt, who was greatly moved by the beauty, the innocence, and the unprotected position of Fanny, had not confined caution to himself; that with his characteristic well-meaning bluntness, and with the license of a man somewhat advanced in years, he had spoken to Fanny herself: for Fanny now seemed to shun Philip,--her eyes were heavy, her manner was embarrassed. He saw the change, but it did not grieve him; he hailed the omens which he drew from it.

And at last he and Liancourt went. He was absent three weeks, during which time the formality of the friendly lawsuit was decided in the plaintiff's favour; and the public were in ecstasies at the noble and sublime conduct of Mr. Robert Beaufort: who, the moment he had discovered a document which he might so easily have buried for ever in oblivion, voluntarily agreed to dispossess himself of estates he had so long enjoyed, preferring conscience to lucre. Some persons observed that it was reported that Mr. Philip Beaufort had also been generous--that he had agreed to give up the estates for his uncle's life, and was only in the meanwhile to receive a fourth of the revenues. But the universal comment was, "He could not have done less!" Mr. Robert Beaufort was, as Lord Lilburne had once observed, a man who was born, made, and reared to be spoken well of by the world; and it was a comfort to him now, poor man, to feel that his character was so highly estimated. If Philip should live to the age of one hundred, he will never become so respectable and popular a man with the crowd as his worthy uncle. But does it much matter? Philip returned to H---- the eve before the day fixed for the marriage of his brother and Camilla.

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BOOK V CHAPTER XX"Vec. Ye see what follows. Duke. O gentle sir! this shape again!"--The Chances.That evening Sidney Beaufort arrived in London. It is the nature of solitude to make passions calm on the surface--agitated in the deeps. Sidney had placed his whole existence in one object. When the letter arrived that told him to hope no more, he was at first rather sensible of the terrible and dismal blank--the "void abyss"--to which all his future was suddenly changed, than roused to vehement and turbulent emotion. But Camilla's letter had, as we have seen, raised his courage and animated