"But this is pity?—they have told you that I—in short, you are generous—you—you—Oh, deceive me not! Do you love her still?—Can you —do you love the humble, foolish Fanny?"
"As God shall judge me, sweet one, I am sincere! I have survived a passion—never so deep, so tender, so entire as that I now feel for you! And, oh, Fanny, hear this true confession. It was you—you to whom my heart turned before I saw Camilla!—against that impulse I struggled in the blindness of a haughty error!"
Fanny uttered a low and suppressed cry of delight and rapture. Philip passionately continued,—
"Fanny, make blessed the life you have saved. Fate destined us for each other. Fate for me has ripened your sweet mind. Fate for you has softened this rugged heart. We may have yet much to bear and much to learn. We will console and teach each other!"
He drew her to his breast as he spoke—drew her trembling, blushing, confused, but no more reluctant; and there, by the GRAVE that had been so memorable a scene in their common history, were murmured those vows in which all this world knows of human happiness is treasured and recorded— love that takes the sting from grief, and faith that gives eternity to love. All silent, yet all serene around them! Above, the heaven,—at their feet, the grave:—For the love, the grave!—for the faith, the heaven!
CHAPTER THE LAST.
"A labore reclinat otium."—HORAT.
[Leisure unbends itself from labour.]
I feel that there is some justice in the affection the general reader entertains for the old-fashioned and now somewhat obsolete custom, of giving to him, at the close of a work, the latest news of those who sought his acquaintance through its progress.
The weak but well-meaning Smith, no more oppressed by the evil influence of his brother, has continued to pass his days in comfort and respectability on the income settled on him by Philip Beaufort. Mr. and Mrs. Roger Morton still live, and have just resigned their business to their eldest son; retiring themselves to a small villa adjoining the town in which they had made their fortune. Mrs. Morton is very apt, when she goes out to tea, to talk of her dear deceased sister-in-law, the late Mrs. Beaufort, and of her own remarkable kindness to her nephew when a little boy. She observes that, in fact, the young men owe everything to Mr. Roger and herself; and, indeed, though Sidney was never of a grateful disposition, and has not been near her since, yet the elder brother, the Mr. Beaufort, always evinces his respect to them by the yearly present of a fat buck. She then comments on the ups and downs of life; and observes that it is a pity her son Tom preferred the medical profession to the church. Their cousin, Mr. Beaufort, has two livings. To all this Mr. Roger says nothing, except an occasional "Thank Heaven, I want no man's help! I am as well to do as my neighbours. But that's neither here nor there."
There are some readers—they who do not thoroughly consider the truths of this life—who will yet ask, "But how is Lord Lilburne punished?" Punished?—ay, and indeed, how? The world, and not the poet, must answer that question. Crime is punished from without. If Vice is punished, it must be from within. The Lilburnes of this hollow world are not to be pelted with the soft roses of poetical justice. They who ask why he is not punished may be the first to doff the hat to the equipage in which my lord lolls through the streets! The only offence he habitually committed of a nature to bring the penalties of detection, he renounced the moment he perceived there was clanger of discovery! he gambled no more after Philip's hint. He was one of those, some years after, most bitter upon a certain nobleman charged with unfair play—one of those who took the accusation as proved; and whose authority settled all disputes thereon.
But, if no thunderbolt falls on Lord Lilburne's head—if he is fated still to eat, and drink, and to die on his bed, he may yet taste the ashes of the Dead Sea fruit which his hands have culled. He is grown old. His infirmities increase upon him; his sole resources of pleasure —the senses—are dried up. For him there is no longer savour in the viands, or sparkle in the wine,—man delights him not, nor woman neither. He is alone with Old Age, and in the sight of Death.
With the exception of Simon, who died in his chair not many days after Sidney's marriage, Robert Beaufort is the only one among the more important agents left at the last scene of this history who has passed from our mortal stage.
After the marriage of his daughter he for some time moped and drooped. But Philip learned from Mr. Blackwell of the will that Robert had made previously to the lawsuit; and by which, had the lawsuit failed, his rights would yet have been preserved to him. Deeply moved by a generosity he could not have expected from his uncle, and not pausing to inquire too closely how far it was to be traced to the influence of Arthur, Philip so warmly expressed his gratitude, and so surrounded Mr. Beaufort with affectionate attentions, that the poor man began to recover his self-respect,—began even to regard the nephew he had so long dreaded, as a son,—to forgive him for not marrying Camilla. And, perhaps, to his astonishment, an act in his life for which the customs of the world (that never favour natural ties not previously sanctioned by the legal) would have rather censured than praised, became his consolation; and the memory he was most proud to recall. He gradually recovered his spirits; he was very fond of looking over that will: he carefully preserved it: he even flattered himself that it was necessary to preserve Philip from all possible litigation hereafter; for if the estates were not legally Philip's, why, then, they were his to dispose of as he pleased. He was never more happy than when his successor was by his side; and was certainly a more cheerful and, I doubt not, a better man—during the few years in which he survived the law-suit—than ever he had been before. He died—still member for the county, and still quoted as a pattern to county members—in Philip's arms; and on his lips there was a smile that even Lilburne would have called sincere.
Mrs. Beaufort, after her husband's death, established herself in London; and could never be persuaded to visit Beaufort Court. She took a companion, who more than replaced, in her eyes, the absence of Camilla.
And Camilla-Spencer-Sidney. They live still by the gentle Lake, happy in their own serene joys and graceful leisure; shunning alike ambition and its trials, action and its sharp vicissitudes; envying no one, covetous of nothing; making around them, in the working world, something of the old pastoral and golden holiday. If Camilla had at one time wavered in her allegiance to Sidney, her good and simple heart has long since been entirely regained by his devotion; and, as might be expected from her disposition, she loved him better after marriage than before.
Philip had gone through severer trials than Sidney. But, had their earlier fates been reversed, and that spirit, in youth so haughty and self-willed, been lapped in ease and luxury, would Philip now be a better or a happier man? Perhaps, too, for a less tranquil existence than his brother, Philip yet may be reserved; but, in proportion to the uses of our destiny, do we repose or toil: he who never knows pain knows but the half of pleasure. The lot of whatever is most noble on the earth below falls not amidst the rosy Gardels of the Epicurean. We may envy the man who enjoys and rests; but the smile of Heaven settles rather on the front of him who labours and aspires.
And did Philip ever regret the circumstances that had given him Fanny for the partner of his life? To some who take their notions of the Ideal from the conventional rules of romance, rather than from their own perceptions of what is true, this narrative would have been more pleasing had Philip never loved but Fanny. But all that had led to that love had only served to render it more enduring and concentred. Man's strongest and worthiest affection is his last—is the one that unites and embodies all his past dreams of what is excellent—the one from which Hope springs out the brighter from former disappointments—the one in which the MEMORIES are the most tender and the most abundant—the one which, replacing all others, nothing hereafter can replace.
. . . . . .
And now ere the scene closes, and the audience, whom perhaps the actors may have interested for a while, disperse, to forget amidst the pursuits of actual life the Shadows that have amused an hour, or beguiled a care, let the curtain fall on one happy picture:—
It is some years after the marriage of Philip and Fanny. It is a summer morning. In a small old-fashioned room at Beaufort Court, with its casements open to the gardens, stood Philip, having just entered; and near the window sat Fanny, his boy by her side. She was at the mother's hardest task—the first lessons to the first-born child; and as the boy looked up at her sweet earnest face with a smile of intelligence on his own, you might have seen at a glance how well understood were the teacher and the pupil. Yes: whatever might have been wanting in the Virgin to the full development of mind, the cares of the mother had supplied. When a being was born to lean on her alone—dependent on her providence for life—then hour after hour, step after step, in the progress of infant destinies, had the reason of the mother grown in the child's growth, adapting itself to each want that it must foresee, and taking its perfectness and completion from the breath of the New Love!
The child caught sight of Philip and rushed to embrace him.
"See!" whispered Fanny, as she also hung upon him, and strange recollections of her own mysterious childhood crowded upon her,—"See," whispered she, with a blush half of shame and half of pride, "the poor idiot girl is the teacher of your child!"
"And," answered Philip, "whether for child or mother, what teacher is like Love?"
Thus saying, he took the boy into his arms; and, as he bent over those rosy cheeks, Fanny saw, from the movement of his lips and the moisture in his eyes, that he blessed God. He looked upon the mother's face, he glanced round on the flowers and foliage of the luxurious summer, and again he blessed God: And without and within, it was Light and MORNING!