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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesNight And Morning - Book 5 - Chapter 22
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Night And Morning - Book 5 - Chapter 22 Post by :Kjell Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :2223

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Night And Morning - Book 5 - Chapter 22

BOOK V CHAPTER XXII

From Night, Sunshine and Day arose--HES

The sun of early May shone cheerfully over the quiet suburb of H----. In the thoroughfares life was astir. It was the hour of noon--the hour at which commerce is busy, and streets are full. The old retired trader, eying wistfully the rolling coach or the oft-pausing omnibus, was breathing the fresh and scented air in the broadest and most crowded road, from which, afar in the distance, rose the spires of the metropolis. The boy let loose from the day-school was hurrying home to dinner, his satchel on his back: the ballad-singer was sending her cracked whine through the obscurer alleys, where the baker's boy, with puddings on his tray, and the smart maid-servant, despatched for porter, paused to listen. And round the shops where cheap shawls and cottons tempted the female eye, many a loitering girl detained her impatient mother, and eyed the tickets and calculated her hard-gained savings for the Sunday gear. And in the corners of the streets steamed the itinerant kitchens of the piemen, and rose the sharp cry, "All hot! all hot!" in the ear of infant and ragged hunger. And amidst them all rolled on some lazy coach of ancient merchant or withered maiden, unconscious of any life but that creeping through their own languid veins. And before the house in which Catherine died, there loitered many stragglers, gossips, of the hamlet, subscribers to the news-room hard by, to guess, and speculate, and wonder why, from the church behind, there rose the merry peal of the marriage-bell!

At length along the broad road leading from the great city, there were seen rapidly advancing three carriages of a very different fashion from those familiar to the suburb. On they came; swiftly they whirled round the angle that conducted to the church; the hoofs of the gay steeds ringing cheerily on the ground; the white favours of the servants gleaming in the sun. Happy is the bride the sun shines on! And when the carriages had thus vanished, the scattered groups melted into one crowd, and took their way to the church. They stood idling without in the burial-ground; many of them round the fence that guarded from their footsteps Catherine's lonely grave. All in nature was glad, exhilarating, and yet serene; a genial freshness breathed through the soft air; not a cloud was to be seen in the smiling azure; even the old dark yews seemed happy in their everlasting verdure. The bell ceased, and then even the crowd grew silent; and not a sound was heard in that solemn spot to whose demesnes are consecrated alike the Birth, the Marriage, and the Death.

At length there came forth from the church door the goodly form of a rosy beadle. Approaching the groups, he whispered the better-dressed and commanded the ragged, remonstrated with the old and lifted his cane against the young; and the result of all was, that the churchyard, not without many a murmur and expostulation, was cleared, and the crowd fell back in the space behind the gates of the principal entrance, where they swayed and gaped and chattered round the carriages, which were to bear away the bridal party.

Within the church, as the ceremony was now concluded, Philip Beaufort conducted, hand-in-hand, silently along the aisle, his brother's wife.

Leaning on his stick, his cold sneer upon his thin lip, Lord Lilburne limped, step by step, with the pair, though a little apart from them, glancing from moment to moment at the face of Philip Beaufort, where he had hoped to read a grief that he could not detect. Lord Lilburne had carefully refrained from an interview with Philip till that day, and he now only came to the wedding as a surgeon goes to an hospital, to examine a disease he had been told would be great and sore: he was disappointed. Close behind followed Sidney, radiant with joy, and bloom, and beauty; and his kind guardian, the tears rolling down his eyes, murmured blessings as he looked upon him. Mrs. Beaufort had declined attending the ceremony--her nerves were too weak--but, behind, at a longer interval, came Robert Beaufort, sober, staid, collected as ever to outward seeming; but a close observer might have seen that his eye had lost its habitual complacent cunning, that his step was more heavy, his stoop more joyless. About his air there was a some thing crestfallen. The consciousness of acres had passed away from his portly presence. He was no longer a possessor, but a pensioner. The rich man, who had decided as he pleased on the happiness of others, was a cipher; he had ceased to have any interest in anything. What to him the marriage of his daughter now? Her children would not be the heirs of Beaufort. As Camilla kindly turned round, and through happy tears waited for his approach, to clasp his hand, he forced a smile, but it was sickly and piteous. He longed to creep away, and be alone.

"My father!" said Camilla, in her sweet low voice; and she extricated herself from Philip, and threw herself on his breast.

"She is a good child," said Robert Beaufort vacantly, and, turning his dry eyes to the group, he caught instinctively at his customary commonplaces;--"and a good child, Mr. Sidney, makes a good wife!"

The clergyman bowed as if the compliment were addressed to himself: he was the only man there whom Robert Beaufort could now deceive.

"My sister," said Philip Beaufort, as once more leaning on his arm, they paused before the church door, "may Sidney love and prize you as--as I would have done; and believe me, both of you, I have no regret, no memory, that wounds me now."

He dropped the hand, and motioned to her father to load her to the carriage. Then winding his arm into Sidney's, he said,--

"Wait till they are gone: I have one word yet with you. Go on, gentlemen."

The clergyman bowed, and walked through the churchyard. But Lilburne, pausing and surveying Philip Beaufort, said to him, whisperingly,--

"And so much for feeling--the folly! So much for generosity--the delusion! Happy man!"

"I am thoroughly happy, Lord Lilburne."

"Are you?--Then, it was neither feeling nor generosity; and we were taken in! Good day." With that he limped slowly to the gate.

Philip answered not the sarcasm even by a look. For at that moment a loud shout was set up by the mob without--they had caught a glimpse of the bride.

"Come, Sidney, this way." he said; "I must not detain you long."

Arm in arm they passed out of the church, and turned to the spot hard by, where the flowers smiled up to them from the stone on their mother's grave.

The old inscription had been effaced, and the name of CATHERINE BEAUFORT was placed upon the stone. "Brother," said Philip, "do not forget this grave: years hence, when children play around your own hearth. Observe, the name of Catherine Beaufort is fresher on the stone than the dates of birth and death--the name was only inscribed there to-day--your wedding-day. Brother, by this grave we are now indeed united."

"Oh, Philip!" cried Sidney, in deep emotion, clasping the hand stretched out to him; "I feel, I feel how noble, how great you are--that you have sacrificed more than I dreamed of--"

"Hush!" said Philip, with a smile. "No talk of this. I am happier than you deem me. Go back now--she waits you."

"And you?--leave you!--alone!"

"Not alone," said Philip, pointing to the grave.

Scarce had he spoken when, from the gate, came the shrill, clear voice of Lord Lilburne,--

"We wait for Mr. Sidney Beaufort."

Sidney passed his hand over his eyes, wrung the hand of his brother once more, and in a moment was by Camilla's side.

Another shout--the whirl of the wheels--the trampling of feet--the distant hum and murmur--and all was still. The clerk returned to lock up the church--he did not observe where Philip stood in the shadow of the wall--and went home to talk of the gay wedding, and inquire at what hour the funeral of the young woman; his next-door neighbour, would take place the next day.

It might be a quarter of an hour after Philip was thus left--nor had he moved from the spot--when he felt his sleeve pulled gently. He turned round and saw before him the wistful face of Fanny!

"So you would not come to the wedding?" said he.

"No. But I fancied you might be here alone--and sad."

"And you will not even wear the dress I gave you?"

"Another time. Tell me, are you unhappy?"

"Unhappy, Fanny! No; look around. The very burial-ground has a smile. See the laburnums clustering over the wall, listen to the birds on the dark yews above, and yonder see even the butterfly has settled upon her grave!

"I am not unhappy." As he thus spoke he looked at her earnestly, and taking both her hands in his, drew her gently towards him, and continued: "Fanny, do you remember, that, leaning over that gate, I once spoke to you of the happiness of marriage where two hearts are united? Nay, Fanny, nay, I must go on. It was here in this spot,--it was here that I first saw you on my return to England. I came to seek the dead, and I have thought since, it was my mother's guardian spirit that drew me hither to find you--the living! And often afterwards, Fanny, you would come with me here, when, blinded and dull as I was, I came to brood and to repine, insensible of the treasures even then perhaps within my reach. But, best as it was: the ordeal through which I have passed has made me more grateful for the prize I now dare to hope for. On this grave your hand daily renewed the flowers. By this grave, the link between the Time and the Eternity, whose lessons we have read together, will you consent to record our vows? Fanny, dearest, fairest, tenderest, best, I love you, and at last as alone you should be loved!--I woo you as my wife! Mine, not for a season, but for ever--for ever, even when these graves are open, and the World shrivels like a scroll. Do you understand me?--do you heed me?--or have I dreamed that that--"

He stopped short--a dismay seized him at her silence. Had he been mistaken in his divine belief!--the fear was momentary: for Fanny, who had recoiled as he spoke, now placing her hands to her temples, gazing on him, breathlessly and with lips apart, as if, indeed, with great effort and struggle her modest spirit conceived the possibility of the happiness that broke upon it, advanced timidly, her face suffused in blushes; and, looking into his eyes, as if she would read into his very soul, said, with an accent, the intenseness of which showed that her whole fate hung on his answer,--

"But this is pity?--they have told you that I--in short, you are generous--you--you--Oh, deceive me not! Do you love her still?--Can you--do you love the humble, foolish Fanny?"

"As God shall judge me, sweet one, I am sincere! I have survived a passion--never so deep, so tender, so entire as that I now feel for you! And, oh, Fanny, hear this true confession. It was you--you to whom my heart turned before I saw Camilla!--against that impulse I struggled in the blindness of a haughty error!"

Fanny uttered a low and suppressed cry of delight and rapture. Philip passionately continued,--

"Fanny, make blessed the life you have saved. Fate destined us for each other. Fate for me has ripened your sweet mind. Fate for you has softened this rugged heart. We may have yet much to bear and much to learn. We will console and teach each other!"

He drew her to his breast as he spoke--drew her trembling, blushing, confused, but no more reluctant; and there, by the GRAVE that had been so memorable a scene in their common history, were murmured those vows in which all this world knows of human happiness is treasured and recorded--love that takes the sting from grief, and faith that gives eternity to love. All silent, yet all serene around them! Above, the heaven,--at their feet, the grave:--For the love, the grave!--for the faith, the heaven!

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