Fortunate, no doubt, it was for Philip that Mr. Beaufort was not Lord Lilburne. For all history teaches us—public and private history— conquerors—statesmen—sharp hypocrites and brave designers—yes, they all teach us how mighty one man of great intellect and no scruple is against the justice of millions! The One Man moves—the Mass is inert. Justice sits on a throne. Roguery never rests,—Activity is the lever of Archimedes.
"Quam inulta injusta ac prava fiunt moribus."—TULL.
[How many unjust and vicious actions are perpetrated under the name of morals.]
"Volat ambiguis Mobilis alis Hera."—SENECA.
[The hour flies moving with doubtful wings.]
Mr. Robert Beaufort sought Mr. Blackwell, and long, rambling, and disjointed was his narrative. Mr. Blackwell, after some consideration, proposed to set about doing the very things that Lilburne had proposed at once to do. But the lawyer expressed himself legally and covertly, so that it did not seem to the sober sense of Mr. Beaufort at all the same plan. He was not the least alarmed at what Mr. Blackwell proposed, though so shocked at what Lilburne dictated. Blackwell would go the next day into Wales—he would find out Mr. Jones—he would sound him! Nothing was more common with people of the nicest honour, than just to get a witness out of the way! Done in election petitions, for instance, every day.
"True," said Mr. Beaufort, much relieved.
Then, after having done that, Mr. Blackwell would return to town, and cross over to Boulogne to see this very impudent person whom Arthur (young men were so apt to be taken in!) had actually believed. He had no doubt he could settle it all. Robert Beaufort returned to Berkeley Square actually in spirits. There he found Lilburne, who, on reflection, seeing that Blackwell was at all events more up to the business than his brother, assented to the propriety of the arrangement.
Mr. Blackwell accordingly did set off the next day. That next day, perhaps, made all the difference. Within two hours from his gaining the document so important, Philip, without any subtler exertion of intellect than the decision of a plain, bold sense, had already forestalled both the peer and the lawyer. He had sent down Mr. Barlow's head clerk to his master in Wales with the document, and a short account of the manner in which it had been discovered. And fortunate, indeed, was it that the copy had been found; for all the inquiries of Mr. Barlow at A—— had failed, and probably would have failed, without such a clue, in fastening upon any one probable person to have officiated as Caleb Price's amanuensis. The sixteen hours' start Mr. Barlow gained over Blackwell enabled the former to see Mr. Jones—to show him his own handwriting— to get a written and witnessed attestation from which the curate, however poor, and however tempted, could never well have escaped (even had he been dishonest, which he was not), of his perfect recollection of the fact of making an extract from the registry at Caleb's desire, though he owned he had quite forgotten the names he extracted till they were again placed before him. Barlow took care to arouse Mr. Jones's interest in the case—quitted Wales—hastened over to Boulogne—saw Captain Smith, and without bribes, without threats, but by plainly proving to that worthy person that he could not return to England nor see his brother without being immediately arrested; that his brother's evidence was already pledged on the side of truth; and that by the acquisition of new testimony there could be no doubt that the suit would be successful—he diverted the captain from all disposition towards perfidy, convinced him on which side his interest lay, and saw him return to Paris, where very shortly afterwards he disappeared for ever from this world, being forced into a duel, much against his will (with a Frenchman whom he had attempted to defraud), and shot through the lungs. Thus verifying a favourite maxim of Lord Lilburne's, viz. that it does not do, in the long run, for little men to play the Great Game!
On the same day that Blackwell returned, frustrated in his half-and-half attempts to corrupt Mr. Jones, and not having been able even to discover Mr. Smith, Mr. Robert Beaufort received a notice of an Action for Ejectment to be brought by Philip Beaufort at the next Assizes. And, to add to his afflictions, Arthur, whom he had hitherto endeavoured to amuse by a sort of ambiguous shilly-shally correspondence, became so alarmingly worse, that his mother brought him up to town for advice. Lord Lilburne was, of course, sent for; and on learning all, his counsel was prompt.
"I told you before that this man loves your daughter. See if you can effect a compromise. The lawsuit will be ugly, and probably ruinous. He has a right to claim six years' arrears—that is above L100,000. Make yourself his father-in-law, and me his uncle-in-law; and, since we can't kill the wasp, we may at least soften the venom of his sting."
Beaufort, still perplexed, irresolute, sought his son; and, for the first time, spoke to him frankly—that is, frankly for Robert Beaufort! He owned that the copy of the register had been found by Lilburne in a secret drawer. He made the best of the story Lilburne himself furnished him with (adhering, of course, to the assertion uttered or insinuated to Philip) in regard to Fanny's abduction and interposition; he said nothing of his attempt to destroy the paper. Why should he? By admitting the copy in court—if so advised—he could get rid of Fanny's evidence altogether; even without such concession, her evidence might possibly be objected to or eluded. He confessed that he feared the witness who copied the register and the witness to the marriage were alive. And then he talked pathetically of his desire to do what was right, his dread of slander and misinterpretation. He said nothing of Sidney, and his belief that Sidney and Charles Spencer were the same; because, if his daughter were to be the instrument for effecting a compromise, it was clear that her engagement with Spencer must be cancelled and concealed. And luckily Arthur's illness and Camilla's timidity, joined now to her father's injunctions not to excite Arthur in his present state with any additional causes of anxiety, prevented the confidence that might otherwise have ensued between the brother and sister. And Camilla, indeed, had no heart for such a conference. How, when she looked on Arthur's glassy eye, and listened to his hectic cough, could she talk to him of love and marriage? As to the automaton, Mrs. Beaufort, Robert made sure of her discretion.
Arthur listened attentively to his father's communication; and the result of that interview was the following letter from Arthur to his cousin:
"I write to you without fear of misconstruction; for I write to you unknown to all my family, and I am the only one of them who can have no personal interest in the struggle about to take place between my father and yourself. Before the law can decide between you, I shall be in my grave. I write this from the Bed of Death. Philip, I write this—I, who stood beside a deathbed more sacred to you than mine—I, who received your mother's last sigh. And with that sigh there was a smile that lasted when the sigh was gone: for I promised to befriend her children. Heaven knows how anxiously I sought to fulfil that solemn vow! Feeble and sick myself, I followed you and your brother with no aim, no prayer, but this,—to embrace you and say, 'Accept a new brother in me.' I spare you the humiliation, for it is yours, not mine, of recalling what passed between us when at last we met. Yet, I still sought to save, at least, Sidney,—more especially confided to my care by his dying mother. He mysteriously eluded our search; but we had reason, by a letter received from some unknown hand, to believe him saved and provided for. Again I met you at Paris. I saw you were poor. Judging from your associate, I might with justice think you depraved. Mindful of your declaration never to accept bounty from a Beaufort, and remembering with natural resentment the outrage I had before received from you, I judged it vain to seek and remonstrate with you, but I did not judge it vain to aid. I sent you, anonymously, what at least would suffice, if absolute poverty had subjected you to evil courses, to rescue you from them it your heart were so disposed. Perhaps that sum, trifling as it was, may have smoothed your path and assisted your career. And why tell you all this now? To dissuade from asserting rights you conceive to be just?—Heaven forbid! If justice is with you, so also is the duty due to your mother's name. But simply for this: that in asserting such rights, you content yourself with justice, not revenge—that in righting yourself, you do not wrong others. If the law should decide for you, the arrears you could demand would leave my father and sister beggars. This may be law—it would not be justice; for my father solemnly believed himself, and had every apparent probability in his favour, the true heir of the wealth that devolved upon him. This is not all. There may be circumstances connected with the discovery of a certain document that, if authentic, and I do not presume to question it, may decide the contest so far as it rests on truth; circumstances which might seem to bear hard upon my father's good name and faith. I do not know sufficiently of law to say how far these could be publicly urged, or, if urged, exaggerated and tortured by an advocate's calumnious ingenuity. But again, I say justice, and not revenge! And with this I conclude, inclosing to you these lines, written in your own hand, and leaving you the arbiter of their value. "ARTHUR BEAUFORT."
The lines inclosed were these, a second time placed before the reader
"I cannot guess who you are. They say that you call yourself a relation; that must be some mistake. I knew not that my poor mother had relations so kind. But, whoever you be, you soothed her last hours—she died in your arms; and if ever-years, long years, hence— we should chance to meet, and I can do anything to aid another, my blood, and my life, and my heart, and my soul, all are slaves to your will! If you be really of her kindred I commend to you my brother; he is at —— with Mr. Morton. If you can serve him, my mother's soul will watch over you as a guardian angel. As for me, I ask no help from any one; I go into the world, and will carve out my own way. So much do I shrink from the thought of charity from others, that I do not believe I could bless you as I do now, if your kindness to me did not close with the stone upon my mother's grave. PHILIP."
This letter was sent to the only address of Monsieur de Vaudemont which the Beauforts knew, viz., his apartments in town, and he did not receive it the day it was sent.
Meanwhile Arthur Beaufort's malady continued to gain ground rapidly. His father, absorbed in his own more selfish fears (though, at the first sight of Arthur, overcome by the alteration of his appearance), had ceased to consider his illness fatal. In fact, his affection for Arthur was rather one of pride than love: long absence had weakened the ties of early custom. He prized him as an heir rather than treasured him as a son. It almost seemed that as the Heritage was in danger, so the Heir became less dear: this was only because he was less thought of. Poor Mrs. Beaufort, yet but partially acquainted with the terrors of her husband, still clung to hope for Arthur. Her affection for him brought out from the depths of her cold and insignificant character qualities that had never before been apparent. She watched—she nursed—she tended him. The fine lady was gone; nothing but the mother was left behind.
With a delicate constitution, and with an easy temper, which yielded to the influence of companions inferior to himself, except in bodily vigour and more sturdy will, Arthur Beaufort had been ruined by prosperity. His talents and acquirements, if not first-rate, at least far above mediocrity, had only served to refine his tastes, not to strengthen his mind. His amiable impulses, his charming disposition and sweet temper, had only served to make him the dupe of the parasites that feasted on the lavish heir. His heart, frittered away in the usual round of light intrigues and hollow pleasures, had become too sated and exhausted for the redeeming blessings of a deep and a noble love. He had so lived for Pleasure that he had never known Happiness. His frame broke by excesses in which his better nature never took delight, he came home—to hear of ruin and to die!
It was evening in the sick-room. Arthur had risen from the bed to which, for some days, he had voluntarily taken, and was stretched on the sofa before the fire. Camilla was leaning over him, keeping in the shade, that he might not see the tears which she could not suppress. His mother had been endeavouring to amuse him, as she would have amused herself, by reading aloud one of the light novels of the hour; novels that paint the life of the higher classes as one gorgeous holyday.
"My dear mother," said the patient querulously, "I have no interest in these false descriptions of the life I have led. I know that life's worth. Ah! had I been trained to some employment, some profession! had I—well—it is weak to repine. Mother, tell me, you have seen Mons. de Vaudemont: is he strong and healthy?"
"Yes; too much so. He has not your elegance, dear Arthur."
"And do you admire him, Camilla? Has no other caught your heart or your fancy?"
"My dear Arthur," interrupted Mrs. Beaufort, "you forget that Camilla is scarcely out; and of course a young girl's affections, if she's well brought up, are regulated by the experience of her parents. It is time to take the medicine: it certainly agrees with you; you have more colour to-day, my dear, dear son."
While Mrs. Beaufort was pouring out the medicine, the door gently opened, and Mr. Robert Beaufort appeared; behind him there rose a taller and a statelier form, but one which seemed more bent, more humbled, more agitated. Beaufort advanced. Camilla looked up and turned pale. The visitor escaped from Mr. Beaufort's grasp on his arm; he came forward, trembling, he fell on his knees beside Arthur, and seizing his hand, bent over, it in silence. But silence so stormy! silence more impressive than all words his breast heaved, his whole frame shook. Arthur guessed at once whom he saw, and bent down gently as if to raise his visitor.
"Oh! Arthur! Arthur!" then cried Philip; "forgive me! My mother's comforter—my cousin—my brother! Oh! brother, forgive me!"
And as he half rose, Arthur stretched out his arms, and Philip clasped him to his breast.
It is in vain to describe the different feelings that agitated those who beheld; the selfish congratulations of Robert, mingled with a better and purer feeling; the stupor of the mother; the emotions that she herself could not unravel, which rooted Camilla to the spot.
"You own me, then,—you own me!" cried Philip. "You accept the brotherhood that my mad passions once rejected! And you, too—you, Camilla—you who once knelt by my side, under this very roof—do you remember me now? Oh, Arthur! that letter—that letter!—yes, indeed, that aid which I ascribed to any one—rather than to you—made the date of a fairer fortune. I may have owed to that aid the very fate that has preserved me till now; the very name which I have not discredited. No, no; do not think you can ask me a favour; you can but claim your due. Brother! my dear brother!"
"Warwick.—Exceeding well! his cares are now all over." —Henry IV.
The excitement of this interview soon overpowering Arthur, Philip, in quitting the room with Mr. Beaufort, asked a conference with that gentleman; and they went into the very parlour from which the rich man had once threatened to expel the haggard suppliant. Philip glanced round the room, and the whole scene came again before him. After a pause, he thus began,—
"Mr. Beaufort, let the Past be forgotten. We may have need of mutual forgiveness, and I, who have so wronged your noble son, am willing to suppose that I misjudged you. I cannot, it is true, forego this lawsuit."
Mr. Beaufort's face fell.
"I have no right to do so. I am the trustee of my father's honour and my mother's name: I must vindicate both: I cannot forego this lawsuit. But when I once bowed myself to enter your house—then only with a hope, where now I have the certainty of obtaining my heritage—it was with the resolve to bury in oblivion every sentiment that would transgress the most temperate justice. Now, I will do more. If the law decide against me, we are as we were; if with me—listen: I will leave you the lands of Beaufort, for your life and your son's. I ask but for me and for mine such a deduction from your wealth as will enable me, should my brother be yet living, to provide for him; and (if you approve the choice, which out of all earth I would desire to make) to give whatever belongs to more refined or graceful existence than I myself care for,—to her whom I would call my wife. Robert Beaufort, in this room I once asked you to restore to me the only being I then loved: I am now again your suppliant; and this time you have it in your power to grant my prayer. Let Arthur be, in truth, my brother: give me, if I prove myself, as I feel assured, entitled to hold the name my father bore, give me your daughter as my wife; give me Camilla, and I will not envy you the lands I am willing for myself to resign; and if they pass to any children, those children will be your daughter's!"
The first impulse of Mr. Beaufort was to grasp the hand held out to him; to pour forth an incoherent torrent of praise and protestation, of assurances that he could not hear of such generosity, that what was right was right, that he should be proud of such a son-in-law, and much more in the same key. And in the midst of this, it suddenly occurred to Mr. Beaufort, that if Philip's case were really as good as he said it was, he could not talk so coolly of resigning the property it would secure him for the term of a life (Mr. Beaufort thought of his own) so uncommonly good, to say nothing of Arthur's. At this notion, he thought it best not to commit himself too far; drew in as artfully as he could, until he could consult Lord Lilburne and his lawyer; and recollecting also that he had a great deal to manage with respect to Camilla and her prior attachment, he began to talk of his distress for Arthur, of the necessity of waiting a little before Camilla was spoken to, while so agitated about her brother, of the exceedingly strong case which his lawyer advised him he possessed—not but what he would rather rest the matter on justice than law—and that if the law should be with him, he would not the less (provided he did not force his daughter's inclinations, of which, indeed, he had no fear) be most happy to bestow her hand on his brother's nephew, with such a portion as would be most handsome to all parties.
It often happens to us in this world, that when we come with our heart in our hands to some person or other,—when we pour out some generous burst of feeling so enthusiastic and self-sacrificing, that a bystander would call us fool and Quixote;—it often, I say, happens to us, to find our warm self suddenly thrown back upon our cold self; to discover that we are utterly uncomprehended, and that the swine who would have munched up the acorn does not know what to make of the pearl. That sudden ice which then freezes over us, that supreme disgust and despair almost of the whole world, which for the moment we confound with the one worldling— they who have felt, may reasonably ascribe to Philip. He listened to Mr. Beaufort in utter and contemptuous silence, and then replied only,—
"Sir, at all events this is a question for law to decide. If it decide as you think, it is for you to act; if as I think, it is for me. Till then I will speak to you no more of your daughter, or my intentions. Meanwhile, all I ask is the liberty to visit your son. I would not be banished from his sick-room!"
"My dear nephew!" cried Mr. Beaufort, again alarmed, "consider this house as your home."
Philip bowed and retreated to the door, followed obsequiously by his uncle.
It chanced that both Lord Lilburne and Mr. Blackwell were of the same mind as to the course advisable for Mr. Beaufort now to pursue. Lord Lilburne was not only anxious to exchange a hostile litigation for an amicable lawsuit, but he was really eager to put the seal of relationship upon any secret with regard to himself that a man who might inherit L20,000. a year—a dead shot, and a bold tongue—might think fit to disclose. This made him more earnest than he otherwise might have been in advice as to other people's affairs. He spoke to Beaufort as a man of the world—to Blackwell as a lawyer.
"Pin the man down to his generosity," said Lilburne, "before he gets the property. Possession makes a great change in a man's value of money. After all, you can't enjoy the property when you're dead: he gives it next to Arthur, who is not married; and if anything happen to Arthur, poor fellow, why, in devolving on your daughter's husband and children, it goes in the right line. Pin him down at once: get credit with the world for the most noble and disinterested conduct, by letting your counsel state that the instant you discovered the lost document you wished to throw no obstacle in the way of proving the marriage, and that the only thing to consider is, if the marriage be proved; if so, you will be the first to rejoice, &c. &c. You know all that sort of humbug as well as any man!"
Mr. Blackwell suggested the same advice, though in different words— after taking the opinions of three eminent members of the bar; those opinions, indeed, were not all alike—one was adverse to Mr. Robert Beaufort's chance of success, one was doubtful of it, the third maintained that he had nothing to fear from the action—except, possibly, the ill-natured construction of the world. Mr. Robert Beaufort disliked the idea of the world's ill-nature, almost as much as he did that of losing his property. And when even this last and more encouraging authority, learning privately from Mr. Blackwell that Arthur's illness was of a nature to terminate fatally, observed, "that a compromise with a claimant, who was at all events Mr. Beaufort's nephew, by which Mr. Beaufort could secure the enjoyment of the estates to himself for life, and to his son for life also, should not (whatever his probabilities of legal success) be hastily rejected—unless he had a peculiar affection for a very distant relation—who, failing Mr. Beaufort's male issue and Philip's claim, would be heir-at-law, but whose rights would cease if Arthur liked to cut off the entail,"
Mr. Beaufort at once decided. He had a personal dislike to that distant heir-at-law; he had a strong desire to retain the esteem of the world; he had an innate conviction of the justice of Philip's claim; he had a remorseful recollection of his brother's generous kindness to himself; he preferred to have for his heir, in case of Arthur's decease, a nephew who would marry his daughter, than a remote kinsman. And should, after all, the lawsuit fail to prove Philip's right, he was not sorry to have the estate in his own power by Arthur's act in cutting off the entail. Brief; all these reasons decided him. He saw Philip—he spoke to Arthur —and all the preliminaries, as suggested above, were arranged between the parties. The entail was cut off, and Arthur secretly prevailed upon his father, to whom, for the present, the fee-simple thus belonged, to make a will, by which he bequeathed the estates to Philip, without reference to the question of his legitimacy. Mr. Beaufort felt his conscience greatly eased after this action—which, too, he could always retract if he pleased; and henceforth the lawsuit became but a matter of form, so far as the property it involved was concerned.
While these negotiations went on, Arthur continued gradually to decline. Philip was with him always. The sufferer took a strange liking to this long-dreaded relation, this man of iron frame and thews. In Philip there was so much of life, that Arthur almost felt as if in his presence itself there was an antagonism to death. And Camilla saw thus her cousin, day by day, hour by hour, in that sick chamber, lending himself, with the gentle tenderness of a woman, to soften the pang, to arouse the weariness, to cheer the dejection. Philip never spoke to her of love: in such a scene that had been impossible. She overcame in their mutual cares the embarrassment she had before felt in his presence; whatever her other feelings, she could not, at least, but be grateful to one so tender to her brother. Three letters of Charles Spencer's had been, in the afflictions of the house, only answered by a brief line. She now took the occasion of a momentary and delusive amelioration in Arthur's disease to write to him more at length. She was carrying, as usual, the letter to her mother, when Mr. Beaufort met her, and took the letter from her hand. He looked embarrassed for a moment, and bade her follow him into his study. It was then that Camilla learned, for the first time, distinctly, the claims and rights of her cousin; then she learned also at what price those rights were to be enforced with the least possible injury to her father. Mr. Beaufort naturally put the case before her in the strongest point of the dilemma. He was to be ruined—utterly ruined; a pauper, a beggar, if Camilla did not save him. The master of his fate demanded his daughter's hand. Habitually subservient to even a whim of her parents, this intelligence, the entreaty, the command with which it was accompanied, overwhelmed her. She answered but by tears; and Mr. Beaufort, assured of her submission, left her, to consider of the tone of the letter he himself should write to Mr. Spencer. He had sat down to this very task when he was summoned to Arthur's room. His son was suddenly taken worse: spasms that threatened immediate danger convulsed and exhausted him, and when these were allayed, he continued for three days so feeble that Mr. Beaufort, his eyes now thoroughly opened to the loss that awaited him, had no thoughts even for worldly interests.
On the night of the third day, Philip, Robert Beaufort, his wife, his daughter, were grouped round the death-bed of Arthur. The sufferer had just wakened from sleep, and he motioned to Philip to raise him. Mr. Beaufort started, as by the dim light he saw his son in the arms of Catherine's! and another Chamber of Death seemed, shadow-like, to replace the one before him. Words, long since uttered, knelled in his ear: "There shall be a death-bed yet beside which you shall see the spectre of her, now so calm, rising for retribution from the grave!" His blood froze, his hair stood erect; he cast a hurried, shrinking glance round the twilight of the darkened room: and with a feeble cry covered his white face with his trembling hands! But on Arthur's lips there was a serene smile; he turned his eyes from Philip to Camilla, and murmured, "She will repay you!" A pause, and the mother's shriek rang through the room! Robert Beaufort raised his face from his hands. His son was dead!
"Jul. And what reward do you propose?
It must be my love."—The Double Marriage.
While these events, dark, hurried, and stormy, had befallen the family of his betrothed, Sidney lead continued his calm life by the banks of the lovely lake. After a few weeks, his confidence in Camilla's fidelity overbore all his apprehensions and forebodings. Her letters, though constrained by the inspection to which they were submitted, gave him inexpressible consolation and delight. He began, however, early to fancy that there was a change in their tone. The letters seemed to shun the one subject to which all others were as nought; they turned rather upon the guests assembled at Beaufort Court; and why I know not,—for there was nothing in them to authorise jealousy—the brief words devoted to Monsieur de Vaudemont filled him with uneasy and terrible suspicion. He gave vent to these feelings, as fully as he dared do, under the knowledge that his letter would be seen; and Camilla never again even mentioned the name of Vaudemont. Then there was a long pause; then her brother's arrival and illness were announced; then, at intervals, but a few hurried lines; then a complete, long, dreadful silence, and lastly, with a deep black border and a solemn black seal, came the following letter from Mr. Beaufort:
"MY DEAR SIR,—I have the unutterable grief to announce to you and your worthy uncle the irreparable loss I have sustained in the death of my only son. It is a month to day since he departed this life. He died, sir, as a Christian should die—humbly, penitently—exaggerating the few faults of his short life, but—(and here the writer's hypocrisy, though so natural to him—was it, that he knew not that he was hypocritical?— fairly gave way before the real and human anguish, for which there is no dictionary!) but I cannot pursue this theme!
"Slowly now awakening to the duties yet left me to discharge, I cannot but be sensible of the material difference in the prospects of my remaining child. Miss Beaufort is now the heiress to an ancient name and a large fortune. She subscribes with me to the necessity of consulting those new considerations which so melancholy an event forces upon her mind. The little fancy—or liking—(the acquaintance was too short for more) that might naturally spring up between two amiable young persons thrown together in the country, must be banished from our thoughts. As a friend, I shall be always happy to hear of your welfare; and should you ever think of a profession in which I can serve you, you may command my utmost interest and exertions. I know, my young friend, what you will feel at first, and how disposed you will be to call me mercenary and selfish. Heaven knows if that be really my character! But at your age, impressions are easily effaced; and any experienced friend of the world will assure you that, in the altered circumstances of the case, I have no option. All intercourse and correspondence, of course, cease with this letter,—until, at least, we may all meet, with no sentiments but those of friendship and esteem. I desire my compliments to your worthy uncle, in which Mrs. and Miss Beaufort join; and I am sure you will be happy to hear that my wife and daughter, though still in great affliction, have suffered less in health than I could have ventured to anticipate.
"Believe me, dear Sir, "Yours sincerely, "ROBERT BEAUFORT.
"To C. SPENCER, Esq., Jun."
When Sidney received this letter, he was with Mr. Spencer, and the latter read it over the young man's shoulder, on which he leant affectionately. When they came to the concluding words, Sidney turned round with a vacant look and a hollow smile. "You see, sir," he said, "you see—-"
"My boy—my son—you bear this as you ought. Contempt will soon efface—"
Sidney started to his feet, and his whole countenance was changed.
"Contempt—yes, for him! But for her—she knows it not—she is no party to this—I cannot believe it—I will not! I—I——" and he rushed out of the room. He was absent till nightfall, and when he returned, he endeavoured to appear calm—but it was in vain.
The next day brought him a letter from Camilla, written unknown to her parents,—short, it is true (confirming the sentence of separation contained in her father's), and imploring him not to reply to it,—but still so full of gentle and of sorrowful feeling, so evidently worded in the wish to soften the anguish she inflicted, that it did more than soothe—it even administered hope.
Now when Mr. Robert Beaufort had recovered the ordinary tone of his mind sufficiently to indite the letter Sidney had just read, he had become fully sensible of the necessity of concluding the marriage between Philip and Camilla before the publicity of the lawsuit. The action for the ejectment could not take place before the ensuing March or April. He would waive the ordinary etiquette of time and mourning to arrange all before. Indeed, he lived in hourly fear lest Philip should discover that he had a rival in his brother, and break off the marriage, with its contingent advantages. The first announcement of such a suit in the newspapers might reach the Spencers; and if the young man were, as he doubted not, Sidney Beaufort, would necessarily bring him forward, and ensure the dreaded explanation. Thus apprehensive and ever scheming, Robert Beaufort spoke to Philip so much, and with such apparent feeling, of his wish to gratify, at the earliest possible period, the last wish of his son, in the union now arranged—he spoke, with such seeming consideration and good sense, of the avoidance of all scandal and misinterpretation in the suit itself, which suit a previous marriage between the claimant and his daughter would show at once to be of so amicable a nature,—that Philip, ardently in love as he was, could not but assent to any hastening of his expected happiness compatible with decorum. As to any previous publicity by way of newspaper comment, he agreed with Mr. Beaufort in deprecating it. But then came the question, What name was he to bear in the interval?
"As to that," said Philip, somewhat proudly, "when, after my mother's suit in her own behalf, I persuaded her not to bear the name of Beaufort, though her due—and for my own part, I prized her own modest name, which under such dark appearances was in reality spotless—as much as the loftier one which you bear and my father bore;—so I shall not resume the name the law denies me till the law restores it to me. Law alone can efface the wrong which law has done me."
Mr. Beaufort was pleased with this reasoning (erroneous though it was), and he now hoped that all would be safely arranged.
That a girl so situated as Camilla, and of a character not energetic or profound, but submissive, dutiful, and timid, should yield to the arguments of her father, the desire of her dying brother—that she should not dare to refuse to become the instrument of peace to a divided family, the saving sacrifice to her father's endangered fortunes—that, in fine, when, nearly a month after Arthur's death, her father, leading her into the room, where Philip waited her footstep with a beating heart, placed her hand in his—and Philip falling on his knees said, "May I hope to retain this hand for life?"—she should falter out such words as he might construe into not reluctant acquiescence; that all this should happen is so natural that the reader is already prepared for it. But still she thought with bitter and remorseful feelings of him thus deliberately and faithlessly renounced. She felt how deeply he had loved her—she knew how fearful would be his grief. She looked sad and thoughtful; but her brother's death was sufficient in Philip's eyes to account for that. The praises and gratitude of her father, to whom she suddenly seemed to become an object of even greater pride and affection than ever Arthur had been—the comfort of a generous heart, that takes pleasure in the very sacrifice it makes—the acquittal of her conscience as to the motives of her conduct—began, however, to produce their effect. Nor, as she had lately seen more of Philip, could she be insensible of his attachment—of his many noble qualities—of the pride which most women might have felt in his addresses, when his rank was once made clear; and as she had ever been of a character more regulated by duty than passion, so one who could have seen what was passing in her mind would have had little fear for Philip's future happiness in her keeping—little fear but that, when once married to him, her affections would have gone along with her duties; and that if the first love were yet recalled, it would be with a sigh due rather to some romantic recollection than some continued regret. Few of either sex are ever united to their first love; yet married people jog on, and call each other "my dear" and "my darling" all the same. It might be, it is true, that Philip would be scarcely loved with the intenseness with which he loved; but if Camilla's feelings were capable of corresponding to the ardent and impassioned ones of that strong and vehement nature—such feelings were not yet developed in her. The heart of the woman might still be half concealed in the vale of the virgin innocence. Philip himself was satisfied—he believed that he was beloved: for it is the property of love, in a large and noble heart, to reflect itself, and to see its own image in the eyes on which it looks. As the Poet gives ideal beauty and excellence to some ordinary child of Eve, worshipping less the being that is than the being he imagines and conceives—so Love, which makes us all poets for a while, throws its own divine light over a heart perhaps really cold; and becomes dazzled into the joy of a false belief by the very lustre with which it surrounds its object.
The more, however, Camilla saw of Philip, the more (gradually overcoming her former mysterious and superstitious awe of him) she grew familiarised to his peculiar cast of character and thought, so the more she began to distrust her father's assertion, that he had insisted on her hand as a price—a bargain—an equivalent for the sacrifice of a dire revenge. And with this thought came another. Was she worthy of this man?—was she not deceiving him? Ought she not to say, at least, that she had known a previous attachment, however determined she might be to subdue it? Often the desire for this just and honourable confession trembled on her lips, and as often was it checked by some chance circumstance or some maiden fear. Despite their connection, there was not yet between them that delicious intimacy which ought to accompany the affiance of two hearts and souls. The gloom of the house; the restraint on the very language of love imposed by a death so recent and so deplored, accounted in much for this reserve. And for the rest, Robert Beaufort prudently left them very few and very brief opportunities to be alone.
In the meantime, Philip (now persuaded that the Beauforts were ignorant of his brother's fate) had set Mr. Barlow's activity in search of Sidney; and his painful anxiety to discover one so dear and so mysteriously lost was the only cause of uneasiness apparent in the brightening Future. While these researches, hitherto fruitless, were being made, it so happened, as London began now to refill, and gossip began now to revive, that a report got abroad, no one knew how (probably from the servants) that Monsieur de Vaudemont, a distinguished French officer, was shortly to lead the daughter and sole heiress of Robert Beaufort, Esq., M.P., to the hymeneal altar; and that report very quickly found its way into the London papers: from the London papers it spread to the provincial—it reached the eyes of Sidney in his now gloomy and despairing solitude. The day that he read it he disappeared.
"Jul. . . . Good lady, love him! You have a noble and an honest gentleman. I ever found him so. Love him no less than I have done, and serve him, And Heaven shall bless you—you shall bless my ashes." BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER: The Double Marriage.
We have been too long absent from Fanny; it is time to return to her. The delight she experienced when Philip made her understand all the benefits, the blessings, that her courage, nay, her intellect, had bestowed upon him, the blushing ecstasy with which she heard (as they returned to H——, the eventful morning of her deliverance, side by side, her hand clasped in his, and often pressed to his grateful lips) his praises, his thanks, his fear for her safety, his joy at regaining her— all this amounted to a bliss, which, till then, she could not have conceived that life was capable of bestowing. And when he left her at H——, to hurry to his lawyer's with the recovered document, it was but for an hour. He returned, and did not quit her for several days. And in that time he became sensible of her astonishing, and, to him, it seemed miraculous, improvement in all that renders Mind the equal to Mind; miraculous, for he guessed not the Influence that makes miracles its commonplace. And now he listened attentively to her when she conversed; he read with her (though reading was never much in his vocation), his unfastidious ear was charmed with her voice, when it sang those simple songs; and his manner (impressed alike by gratitude for the signal service rendered to him, and by the discovery that Fanny was no longer a child, whether in mind or years), though not less gentle than before, was less familiar, less superior, more respectful, and more earnest. It was a change which raised her in her own self-esteem. Ah, those were rosy days for Fanny!
A less sagacious judge of character than Lilburne would have formed doubts perhaps of the nature of Philip's interest in Fanny. But he comprehended at once the fraternal interest which a man like Philip might well take in a creature like Fanny, if commended to his care by a protector whose doom was so awful as that which had ingulfed the life of William Gawtrey. Lilburne had some thoughts at first of claiming her, but as he had no power to compel her residence with him, he did not wish, on consideration, to come again in contact with Philip upon ground so full of humbling recollections as that still overshadowed by the images of Gawtrey and Mary. He contented himself with writing an artful letter to Simon, stating that from Fanny's residence with Mr. Gawtrey, and from her likeness to her mother, whom he had only seen as a child, he had conjectured the relationship she bore to himself; and having obtained other evidence of that fact (he did not say what or where), he had not scrupled to remove her to his roof, meaning to explain all to Mr. Simon Gawtrey the next day. This letter was accompanied by one from a lawyer, informing Simon Gawtrey that Lord Lilburne would pay L200. a year, in quarterly payments, to his order; and that he was requested to add, that when the young lady he had so benevolently reared came of age, or married, an adequate provision would be made for her. Simon's mind blazed up at this last intelligence, when read to him, though he neither comprehended nor sought to know why Lord Lilburne should be so generous, or what that noble person's letter to himself was intended to convey. For two days, he seemed restored to vigorous sense; but when he had once clutched the first payment made in advance, the touch of the money seemed to numb him back to his lethargy: the excitement of desire died in the dull sense of possession.
And just at that time Fanny's happiness came to a close. Philip received Arthur Beaufort's letter; and now ensued long and frequent absences; and on his return, for about an hour or so at a time, he spoke of sorrow and death; and the books were closed and the songs silenced. All fear for Fanny's safety was, of course, over; all necessity for her work; their little establishment was increased. She never stirred out without Sarah; yet she would rather that there had been some danger on her account for him to guard against, or some trial that his smile might soothe. His prolonged absences began to prey upon her—the books ceased to interest— no study filled up the dreary gap—her step grew listless-her cheek pale —she was sensible at last that his presence had become necessary to her very life. One day, he came to the house earlier than usual, and with a much happier and serener expression of countenance than he had worn of late.
Simon was dozing in his chair, with his old dog, now scarce vigorous enough to bark, curled up at his feet. Neither man nor dog was more as a witness to what was spoken than the leathern chair, or the hearth-rug, on which they severally reposed.
There was something which, in actual life, greatly contributed to the interest of Fanny's strange lot, but which, in narration, I feel I cannot make sufficiently clear to the reader. And this was her connection and residence with that old man. Her character forming, as his was completely gone; here, the blank becoming filled—there, the page fading to a blank. It was the tatter, total Deathliness-in-Life of Simon, that, while so impressive to see, renders it impossible to bring him before the reader in his full force of contrast to the young Psyche. He seldom spoke—often, not from morning till night; he now seldom stirred. It is in vain to describe the indescribable: let the reader draw the picture for himself. And whenever (as I sometimes think he will, after he has closed this book) he conjures up the idea he attaches to the name of its heroine, let him see before her, as she glides through the humble room— as she listens to the voice of him she loves—as she sits musing by the window, with the church spire just visible—as day by day the soul brightens and expands within her—still let the reader see within the same walls, greyhaired, blind, dull to all feeling, frozen to all life, that stony image of Time and Death! Perhaps then he may understand why they who beheld the real and living Fanny blooming under that chill and mass of shadow, felt that her grace, her simplicity, her charming beauty, were raised by the contrast, till they grew associated with thoughts and images, mysterious and profound, belonging not more to the lovely than to the sublime.
So there sat the old man; and Philip, though aware of his presence, speaking as if he were alone with Fanny, after touching on more casual topics, thus addressed her:
"My true and my dear friend, it is to you that I shall owe, not only my rights and fortune, but the vindication of my mother's memory. You have not only placed flowers upon that gravestone, but it is owing to you, under Providence, that it will be inscribed at last with the Name which refutes all calumny. Young and innocent as you now are, my gentle and beloved benefactress, you cannot as yet know what a blessing it will be to me to engrave that Name upon that simple stone. Hereafter, when you yourself are a wife, a mother, you will comprehend the service you have rendered to the living and the dead!"
He stopped—struggling with the rush of emotions that overflowed his heart. Alas, THE DEAD! what service can we render to them?—what availed it now, either to the dust below, or to the immortality above, that the fools and knaves of this world should mention the Catherine whose life was gone, whose ears were deaf, with more or less respect? There is in calumny that poison that, even when the character throws off the slander, the heart remains diseased beneath the effect. They say that truth comes sooner or later; but it seldom comes before the soul, passing from agony to contempt, has grown callous to men's judgments. Calumniate a human being in youth—adulate that being in age;—what has been the interval? Will the adulation atone either for the torture, or the hardness which the torture leaves at last? And if, as in Catherine's case (a case, how common!), the truth come too late—if the tomb is closed—if the heart you have wrung can be wrung no more—why the truth is as valueless as the epitaph on a forgotten Name! Some such conviction of the hollowness of his own words, when he spoke of service to the dead, smote upon Philip's heart, and stopped the flow of his words.
Fanny, conscious only of his praise, his thanks, and the tender affection of his voice, stood still silent-her eyes downcast, her breast heaving.
"And now, Fanny, my honoured sister, I would thank you for more, were it possible, even than this. I shall owe to you not only name and fortune, but happiness. It is from the rights to which you have assisted me, and which will shortly be made clear, that I am able to demand a hand I have so long coveted—the hand of one as dear to me as you are. In a word, the time has, this day, been fixed, when I shall have a home to offer to you and to this old man—when I can present to you a sister who will prize you as I do: for I love you so dearly—I owe you so much—that even that home would lose half its smiles if you were not there. Do you understand me, Fanny? The sister I speak of will be my wife!"
The poor girl who heard this speech of most cruel tenderness did not fall, or faint, or evince any outward emotion, except in a deadly paleness. She seemed like one turned to stone. Her very breath forsook her for some moments, and then came back with a long deep sigh. She laid her hand lightly on his arm, and said calmly:
"Yes—I understand. We once saw a wedding. You are to be married—I shall see yours!"
"You shall; and, later, perhaps, I may see your own."
"I have a brother. Ah! if I could but find him—younger than I am— beautiful almost as you!"
"You will be happy," said Fanny, still calmly.
"I have long placed my hopes of happiness in such a union! Stay, where are you going?"
"To pray for you," said Fanny, with a smile, in which there was something of the old vacancy, as she walked gently from the room. Philip followed her with moistened eyes. Her manner might have deceived one more vain. He soon after quitted the house, and returned to town.
Three hours after, Sarah found Fanny stretched on the floor of her own room—so still—so white—that, for some moments, the old woman thought life was gone. She recovered, however, by degrees; and, after putting her hands to her eyes, and muttering some moments, seemed much as usual, except that she was more silent, and that her lips remained colourless, and her hands cold like stone.
"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."
"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."
"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.
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,—