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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesNight And Morning - Book 5 - Chapter 20
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Night And Morning - Book 5 - Chapter 20 Post by :Kjell Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :2115

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Night And Morning - Book 5 - Chapter 20


"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 his heart. To the idea of her faith he still clung with the instinct of hope in the midst of despair. The tidings that she was absolutely betrothed to another, and in so short a time since her rejection of him, let loose from all restraint his darker and more tempestuous passions. In a state of mind bordering upon frenzy, he hurried to London--to seek her--to see her; with what intent--what hope, if hope there were--he himself could scarcely tell. But what man who has loved with fervour and trust will be contented to receive the sentence of eternal separation except from the very lips of the one thus worshipped and thus foresworn?

The day had been intensely cold. Towards evening the snow fell fast and heavily. Sidney had not, since a child, been before in London; and the immense City, covered with a wintry and icy mist, through which the hurrying passengers and the slow-moving vehicles passed, spectre-like, along the dismal and slippery streets-opened to the stranger no hospitable arms. He knew not a step of the way--he was pushed to and fro--his scarce intelligible questions impatiently answered--the snow covered him--the frost pierced to his veins. At length a man, more kindly than the rest, seeing that he was a stranger to London, procured him a hackney-coach, and directed the driver to the distant quarter of Berkeley Square. The snow balled under the hoofs of the horses--the groaning vehicle proceeded at the pace of a hearse. At length, and after a period of such suspense, and such emotion, as Sidney never in after-life could recall without a shudder, the coach stopped--the benumbed driver heavily descended--the sound of the knocker knelled loud through the muffled air--and the light from Mr. Beaufort's hall glared full upon the dizzy eyes of the visitor. He pushed aside the porter, and sprang into the hall. Luckily, one of the footmen who had attended Mrs. Beaufort to the Lakes recognised him; and, in answer to his breathless inquiry, said,--

"Why, indeed, Mr. Spencer, Miss Beaufort is at home--up-stairs in the drawing-room, with master and mistress, and Monsieur de Vaudemont; but--"

Sidney waited no more. He bounded up the stairs--he opened the first door that presented itself to him, and burst, unannounced and unlooked-for, upon the eyes of the group seated within. He saw not the terrified start of Mr. Robert Beaufort--he heeded not the faint, nervous exclamation of the mother--he caught not the dark and wondering glace of the stranger seated beside Camilla--he saw but Camilla herself, and in a moment he was at her feet.

"Camilla, I am here!--I, who love you so--I, who have nothing in the world but you! I am here--to learn from you, and you alone, if I am indeed abandoned--if you are indeed to be another's!"

He had dashed his hat from his brow as he sprang forward; his long fair hair, damp with the snows, fell disordered over his forehead; his eyes were fixed, as for life and death, upon the pale face and trembling lips of Camilla. Robert Beaufort, in great alarm, and well aware of the fierce temper of Philip, anticipative of some rash and violent impulse, turned his glance upon his destined son-in-law. But there was no angry pride in the countenance he there beheld. Philip had risen, but his frame was bent--his knees knocked together--his lips were parted--his eyes were staring full upon the face of the kneeling man.

Suddenly Camilla, sharing her father's fear, herself half rose, and with an unconscious pathos, stretched one hand, as if to shelter, over Sidney's head, and looked to Philip. Sidney's eyes followed hers. He sprang to his feet.

"What, then, it is true! And this is the man for whom I am abandoned! But unless you--you, with your own lips, tell me that you love me no more--that you love another--I will not yield you but with life."

He stalked sternly and impetuously up to Philip, who recoiled as his rival advanced. The characters of the two men seemed suddenly changed. The timid dreamer seemed dilated into the fearless soldier. The soldier seemed shrinking--quailing-into nameless terror. Sidney grasped that strong arm, as Philip still retreated, with his slight and delicate fingers, grasped it with violence and menace; and frowning into the face from which the swarthy blood was scared away, said, in a hollow whisper:

"Do you hear me? Do you comprehend me? I say that she shall not be forced into a marriage at which I yet believe her heart rebels. My claim is holier than yours. Renounce her, or win her but with my blood."

Philip did not apparently hear the words thus addressed to him. His whole senses seemed absorbed in the one sense of sight. He continued to gaze upon the speaker, till his eye dropped on the hand that yet griped his arm. And as he thus looked, he uttered an inarticulate cry. He caught the hand in his own, and pointed to a ring on the finger, but remained speechless. Mr. Beaufort approached, and began some stammered words of soothing to Sidney, but Philip motioned him to be silent, and, at last, as if by a violent effort, gasped forth, not to Sidney, but to Beaufort,--

"His name?--his name?"

"It is Mr. Spencer--Mr. Charles Spencer," cried Beaufort. "Listen to me, I will explain all--I--"

"Hush, hush! cried Philip; and turning to Sidney, he put his hand on his shoulder, and looking him full in the face, said,--

"Have you not known another name? Are you not--yes, it is so--it is--it is! Follow me--follow!"

And still retaining his grasp, and leading Sidney, who was now subdued, awed, and a prey to new and wild suspicions, he moved on gently, stride by stride--his eyes fixed on that fair face--his lips muttering-till the closing door shut both forms from the eyes of the three there left.

It was the adjoining room into which Philip led his rival. It was lit but by a small reading-lamp, and the bright, steady blaze of the fire; and by this light they both continued to gaze on each other, as if spellbound, in complete silence. At last Philip, by an irresistible impulse, fell upon Sidney's bosom, and, clasping him with convulsive energy, gasped out:

"Sidney!--Sidney!--my mother's son!"

"What!" exclaimed Sidney, struggling from the embrace, and at last freeing himself; "it is you, then!--you, my own brother! You, who have been hitherto the thorn in my path, the cloud in my fate! You, who are now come to make me a wretch for life! I love that woman, and you tear her from me! You, who subjected my infancy to hardship, and, but for Providence, might have degraded my youth, by your example, into shame and guilt!"

"Forbear!--forbear!" cried Philip, with a voice so shrill in its agony, that it smote the hearts of those in the adjoining chamber like the shriek of some despairing soul. They looked at each other, but not one had the courage to break upon the interview.

Sidney himself was appalled by the sound. He threw himself on a seat, and, overcome by passions so new to him, by excitement so strange, hid his face, and sobbed as a child.

Philip walked rapidly to and fro the room for some moments; at length he paused opposite to Sidney, and said, with the deep calmness of a wronged and goaded spirit:

"Sidney Beaufort, hear me! When my mother died she confided you to my care, my love, and my protection. In the last lines that her hand traced, she bade me think less of myself than of you; to be to you as a father as well as brother. The hour that I read that letter I fell on my knees, and vowed that I would fulfil that injunction--that I would sacrifice my very self, if I could give fortune or happiness to you. And this not for your sake alone, Sidney; no! but as my mother--our wronged, our belied, our broken-hearted mother!--O Sidney, Sidney! have you no tears for her, too?" He passed his hand over his own eyes for a moment, and resumed: "But as our mother, in that last letter, said to me, 'let my love pass into your breast for him,' so, Sidney, so, in all that I could do for you, I fancied that my mother's smile looked down upon me, and that in serving you it was my mother whom I obeyed. Perhaps, hereafter, Sidney, when we talk over that period of my earlier life when I worked for you, when the degradation you speak of (there was no crime in it!)--was borne cheerfully for your sake, and yours the holiday though mine the task--perhaps, hereafter, you will do me more justice. You left me, or were reft from me, and I gave all the little fortune that my mother had bequeathed us, to get some tidings from you. I received your letter--that bitter letter--and I cared not then that I was a beggar, since I was alone. You talk of what I have cost you--you talk! and you now ask me to--to--Merciful Heaven! let me understand you--do you love Camilla? Does she love you? Speak--speak--explain--what, new agony awaits me?"

It was then that Sidney, affected and humbled, amidst all his more selfish sorrows, by his brother's language and manner, related, as succinctly as he could, the history of his affection for Camilla, the circumstances of their engagement, and ended by placing before him the letter he had received from Mr. Beaufort.

In spite of all his efforts for self-control, Philip's anguish was so great, so visible, that Sidney, after looking at his working features, his trembling hands, for a moment, felt all the earlier parts of his nature melt in a flow of generous sympathy and remorse. He flung himself on the breast from which he had shrunk before, and cried,--

"Brother, brother! forgive me; I see how I have wronged you. If she has forgotten me, if she love you, take her and be happy!"

Philip returned his embrace, but without warmth, and then moved away; and, again, in great disorder, paced the room. His brother only heard disjointed exclamations that seemed to escape him unawares: "They said she loved me! Heaven give me strength! Mother--mother! let me fulfil my vow! Oh, that I had died ere this!" He stopped at last, and the large dews rolled down his forehead. "Sidney!" said he, "there is a mystery here that I comprehend not. But my mind now is very confused. If she loves you--if!--is it possible for a woman to love two? Well, well, I go to solve the riddle: wait here!"

He vanished into the next room, and for nearly half an hour Sidney was alone. He heard through the partition murmured voices; he caught more clearly the sound of Camilla's sobs. The particulars of that interview between Philip and Camilla, alone at first (afterwards Mr. Robert Beaufort was re-admitted), Philip never disclosed, nor could Sidney himself ever obtain a clear account from Camilla, who could not recall it, even years after, without great emotion. But at last the door was opened, and Philip entered, leading Camilla by the hand. His face was calm, and there was a smile on his lips; a greater dignity than even. that habitual to him was diffused over his whole person. Camilla was holding her handkerchief to her eyes and weeping passionately. Mr. Beaufort followed them with a mortified and slinking air.

"Sidney," said Philip, "it is past. All is arranged. I yield to your earlier, and therefore better, claim. Mr. Beaufort consents to your union. He will tell you, at some fitter time, that our birthright is at last made clear, and that there is no blot on the name we shall hereafter bear. Sidney, embrace your bride!"

Amazed, delighted, and still half incredulous, Sidney seized and kissed the hand of Camilla; and as he then drew her to his breast, she said, as she pointed to Philip:--

"Oh! if you do love me as you say, see in him the generous, the noble--" Fresh sobs broke off her speech; but as Sidney sought again to take her hand, she whispered, with a touching and womanly sentiment, "Ah! respect him: see!--" and Sidney, looking then at his brother, saw, that though he still attempted to smile, his lip writhed, and his features were drawn together, as one whose frame is wrung by torture, but who struggles not to groan.

He flew to Philip, who, grasping his hand, held him back, and said,--

"I have fulfilled my vow! I have given you up the only blessing my life has known. Enough, you are happy, and I shall be so too, when God pleases to soften this blow. And now you must not wonder or blame me, if, though so lately found, I leave you for a while. Do me one kindness,--you, Sidney--you, Mr. Beaufort. Let the marriage take place at H----, in the village church by which my mother sleeps; let it be delayed till the suit is terminated: by that time I shall hope to meet you all--to meet you, Camilla, as I ought to meet my brother's wife; till then, my presence will not sadden your happiness. Do not seek to see me; do not expect to hear from me. Hist! be silent, all of you; my heart is yet bruised and sore. O THOU," and here, deepening his voice, he raised his arms, "Thou who hast preserved my youth from such snares and such peril, who hast guided my steps from the abyss to which they wandered, and beneath whose hand I now bow, grateful if chastened, receive this offering, and bless that union! Fare ye well."

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