EDWARD BULWER LYTTON
NIGHT AND MORNING
"Incubo. Look to the cavalier. What ails he? . . . . . Hostess. And in such good clothes, too!" BEAUMONT AND FLETCHER: Love's Pilgrimage.
"Theod. I have a brother—there my last hope!. Thus as you find me, without fear or wisdom, I now am only child of Hope and Danger."—Ibid.
The time employed by Mr. Beaufort in reaching his home was haunted by gloomy and confused terrors. He felt inexplicably as if the denunciations of Philip were to visit less himself than his son. He trembled at the thought of Arthur meeting this strange, wild, exasperated scatterling—perhaps on the morrow—in the very height of his passions. And yet, after the scene between Arthur and himself, he saw cause to fear that he might not be able to exercise a sufficient authority over his son, however naturally facile and obedient, to prevent his return to the house of death. In this dilemma he resolved, as is usual with cleverer men, even when yoked to yet feebler helpmates, to hear if his wife had anything comforting or sensible to say upon the subject. Accordingly, on reaching Berkeley Square, he went straight to Mrs. Beaufort; and having relieved her mind as to Arthur's safety, related the scene in which he had been so unwilling an actor. With that more lively susceptibility which belongs to most women, however comparatively unfeeling, Mrs. Beaufort made greater allowance than her husband for the excitement Philip had betrayed. Still Beaufort's description of the dark menaces, the fierce countenance, the brigand-like form, of the bereaved son, gave her very considerable apprehensions for Arthur, should the young men meet; and she willingly coincided with her husband in the propriety of using all means of parental persuasion or command to guard against such an encounter. But, in the meanwhile, Arthur returned not, and new fears seized the anxious parents. He had gone forth alone, in a remote suburb of the metropolis, at a late hour, himself under strong excitement. He might have returned to the house, or have lost his way amidst some dark haunts of violence and crime; they knew not where to send, or what to suggest. Day already began to dawn, and still he came not. A length, towards five o'clock, a loud rap was heard at the door, and Mr. Beaufort, hearing some bustle in the hall, descended. He saw his son borne into the hall from a hackney-coach by two strangers, pale, bleeding, and apparently insensible. His first thought was that he had been murdered by Philip. He uttered a feeble cry, and sank down beside his son.
"Don't be darnted, sir," said one of the strangers, who seemed an artisan; "I don't think he be much hurt. You sees he was crossing the street, and the coach ran against him; but it did not go over his head; it be only the stones that makes him bleed so: and that's a mercy."
"A providence, sir," said the other man; "but Providence watches over us all, night and day, sleep or wake. Hem! We were passing at the time from the meeting—the Odd Fellows, sir—and so we took him, and got him a coach; for we found his card in his pocket. He could not speak just then; but the rattling of the coach did him a deal of good, for he groaned—my eyes! how he groaned! did he not, Burrows?"
"It did one's heart good to hear him."
"Run for Astley Cooper—you—go to Brodie. Good Heavens! he is dying. Be quick—quick!" cried Mr. Beaufort to his servants, while Mrs. Beaufort, who had now gained the spot, with greater presence of mind had Arthur conveyed into a room.
"It is a judgment upon me," groaned Beaufort, rooted to the stone of his hall, and left alone with the strangers. "No, sir, it is not a judgment, it is a providence," said the more sanctimonious and better dressed of the two men "for, put the question, if it had been a judgment, the wheel would have gone over him—but it didn't; and, whether he dies or not, I shall always say that if that's not a providence, I don't know what is. We have come a long way, sir; and Burrows is a poor man, though I'm well to do."
This hint for money restored Beaufort to his recollection; he put his purse into the nearest hand outstretched to clutch it, and muttered forth something like thanks.
"Sir, may the Lord bless you! and I hope the young gentleman will do well. I am sure you have cause to be thankful that he was within an inch of the wheel; was he not, Burrows? Well, it's enough to convert a heathen. But the ways of Providence are mysterious, and that's the truth of it. Good night, sir."
Certainly it did seem as if the curse of Philip was already at its work. An accident almost similar to that which, in the adventure of the blind man, had led Arthur to the clue of Catherine, within twenty-four hours stretched Arthur himself upon his bed. The sorrow Mr. Beaufort had not relieved was now at his own hearth. But there were parents and nurses, and great physicians, and skilful surgeons, and all the army that combine against Death, and there were ease, and luxury, and kind eyes, and pitying looks, and all that can take the sting from pain. And thus, the very night on which Catherine had died, broken down, and worn out, upon a strange breast, with a feeless doctor, and by the ray of a single candle, the heir to the fortunes once destined to her son wrestled also with the grim Tyrant, who seemed, however, scared from his prey by the arts and luxuries which the world of rich men raises up in defiance of the grave.
Arthur, was, indeed, very seriously injured; one of his ribs was broken, and he had received two severe contusions on the head. To insensibility succeeded fever, followed by delirium. He was in imminent danger for several days. If anything could console his parents for such an affliction, it was the thought that, at least, he was saved from the chance of meeting Philip.
Mr. Beaufort, in the instinct of that capricious and fluctuating conscience which belongs to weak minds, which remains still, and drooping, and lifeless, as a flag on a masthead during the calm of prosperity, but flutters, and flaps, and tosses when the wind blows and the wave heaves, thought very acutely and remorsefully of the condition of the Mortons, during the danger of his own son. So far, indeed, from his anxiety for Arthur monopolising all his care, it only sharpened his charity towards the orphans; for many a man becomes devout and good when he fancies he has an Immediate interest in appeasing Providence. The morning after Arthur's accident, he sent for Mr. Blackwell. He commissioned him to see that Catherine's funeral rites were performed with all due care and attention; he bade him obtain an interview with Philip, and assure the youth of Mr. Beaufort's good and friendly disposition towards him, and to offer to forward his views in any course of education he might prefer, or any profession he might adopt; and he earnestly counselled the lawyer to employ all his tact and delicacy in conferring with one of so proud and fiery a temper. Mr. Blackwell, however, had no tact or delicacy to employ: he went to the house of mourning, forced his way to Philip, and the very exordium of his harangue, which was devoted to praises of the extraordinary generosity and benevolence of his employer, mingled with condescending admonitions towards gratitude from Philip, so exasperated the boy, that Mr. Blackwell was extremely glad to get out of the house with a whole skin. He, however, did not neglect the more formal part of his mission; but communicated immediately with a fashionable undertaker, and gave orders for a very genteel funeral. He thought after the funeral that Philip would be in a less excited state of mind, and more likely to hear reason; he, therefore, deferred a second interview with the orphan till after that event; and, in the meanwhile, despatched a letter to Mr. Beaufort, stating that he had attended to his instructions; that the orders for the funeral were given; but that at present Mr. Philip Morton's mind was a little disordered, and that he could not calmly discuss the plans for the future suggested by Mr. Beaufort. He did not doubt, however, that in another interview all would be arranged according to the wishes his client had so nobly conveyed to him. Mr. Beaufort's conscience on this point was therefore set at rest. It was a dull, close, oppressive morning, upon which the remains of Catherine Morton were consigned to the grave. With the preparations for the funeral Philip did not interfere; he did not inquire by whose orders all that solemnity of mutes, and coaches, and black plumes, and crape bands, was appointed. If his vague and undeveloped conjecture ascribed this last and vain attention to Robert Beaufort, it neither lessened the sullen resentment he felt against his uncle, nor, on the other hand, did he conceive that he had a right to forbid respect to the dead, though he might reject service for the survivor. Since Mr. Blackwell's visit, he had remained in a sort of apathy or torpor, which seemed to the people of the house to partake rather of indifference than woe.
The funeral was over, and Philip had returned to the apartments occupied by the deceased; and now, for the first time, he set himself to examine what papers, &c., she had left behind. In an old escritoire, he found, first, various packets of letters in his father's handwriting, the characters in many of them faded by time. He opened a few; they were the earliest love-letters. He did not dare to read above a few lines; so much did their living tenderness, and breathing, frank, hearty passion, contrast with the fate of the adored one. In those letters, the very heart of the writer seemed to beat! Now both hearts alike were stilled! And GHOST called vainly unto GHOST!
He came, at length, to a letter in his mother's hand, addressed to himself, and dated two days before her death. He went to the window and gasped in the mists of the sultry air for breath. Below were heard the noises of London; the shrill cries of itinerant vendors, the rolling carts, the whoop of boys returned for a while from school. Amidst all these rose one loud, merry peal of laughter, which drew his attention mechanically to the spot whence it came; it was at the threshold of a public-house, before which stood the hearse that had conveyed his mother's coffin, and the gay undertakers, halting there to refresh themselves. He closed the window with a groan, retired to the farthest corner of the room, and read as follows:
"MY DEAREST PHILIP,—When you read this, I shall be no more. You and poor Sidney will have neither father nor mother, nor fortune, nor name. Heaven is more just than man, and in Heaven is my hope for you. You, Philip, are already past childhood; your nature is one formed, I think, to wrestle successfully with the world. Guard against your own passions, and you may bid defiance to the obstacles that will beset your path in life. And lately, in our reverses, Philip, you have so subdued those passions, so schooled the pride and impetuosity of your childhood, that I have contemplated your prospects with less fear than I used to do, even when they seemed so brilliant. Forgive me, my dear child, if I have concealed from you my state of health, and if my death be a sudden and unlooked-for shock. Do not grieve for me too long. For myself, my release is indeed escape from the prison-house and the chain—from bodily pain and mental torture, which may, I fondly hope, prove some expiation for the errors of a happier time. For I did err, when, even from the least selfish motives, I suffered my union with your father to remain concealed, and thus ruined the hopes of those who had rights upon me equal even to his. But, O Philip! beware of the first false steps into deceit; beware, too, of the passions, which do not betray their fruit till years and years after the leaves that look so green and the blossoms that seem so fair.
"I repeat my solemn injunction—Do not grieve for me; but strengthen your mind and heart to receive the charge that I now confide to you—my Sidney, my child, your brother! He is so soft, so gentle, he has been so dependent for very life upon me, and we are parted now for the first and last time. He is with strangers; and—and—O Philip, Philip! watch over him for the love you bear, not only to him, but to me! Be to him a father as well as a brother. Put your stout heart against the world, so that you may screen him, the weak child, from its malice. He has not your talents nor strength of character; without you he is nothing. Live, toil, rise for his sake not less than your own. If you knew how this heart beats as I write to you, if you could conceive what comfort I take for him from my confidence in you, you would feel a new spirit—my spirit—my mother-spirit of love, and forethought, and vigilance, enter into you while you read. See him when I am gone—comfort and soothe him. Happily he is too young yet to know all his loss; and do not let him think unkindly of me in the days to come, for he is a child now, and they may poison his mind against me more easily than they can yours. Think, if he is unhappy hereafter, he may forget how I loved him, he may curse those who gave him birth. Forgive me all this, Philip, my son, and heed it well.
"And now, where you find this letter, you will see a key; it opens a well in the bureau in which I have hoarded my little savings. You will see that I have not died in poverty. Take what there is; young as you are, you may want it more now than hereafter. But hold it in trust for your brother as well as yourself. If he is harshly treated (and you will go and see him, and you will remember that he would writhe under what you might scarcely feel), or if they overtask him (he is so young to work), yet it may find him a home near you. God watch over and guard you both! You are orphans now. But HE has told even the orphans to call him 'Father!'"
When he had read this letter, Philip Morton fell upon his knees, and prayed.
"His curse! Dost comprehend what that word means? Shot from a father's angry breath." JAMES SHIRLEY: The Brothers.
"This term is fatal, and affrights me."—Ibid.
"Those fond philosophers that magnify Our human nature . . . . . . Conversed but little with the world-they knew not The fierce vexation of community!"—Ibid.
After he had recovered his self-possession, Philip opened the well of the bureau, and was astonished and affected to find that Catherine had saved more than L100. Alas! how much must she have pinched herself to have hoarded this little treasure! After burning his father's love-letters, and some other papers, which he deemed useless, he made up a little bundle of those trifling effects belonging to the deceased, which he valued as memorials and relies of her, quitted the apartment, and descended to the parlour behind the shop. On the way he met with the kind servant, and recalling the grief that she had manifested for his mother since he had been in the house, he placed two sovereigns in her hand. "And now," said he, as the servant wept while be spoke, "now I can bear to ask you what I have not before done. How did my poor mother die? Did she suffer much?—or—or—"
"She went off like a lamb, sir," said the girl, drying her eyes. "You see the gentleman had been with her all the day, and she was much more easy and comfortable in her mind after he came."
"The gentleman! Not the gentleman I found here?"
"Oh, dear no! Not the pale middle-aged gentleman nurse and I saw go down as the clock struck two. But the young, soft-spoken gentleman who came in the morning, and said as how he was a relation. He stayed with her till she slept; and, when she woke, she smiled in his face—I shall never forget that smile—for I was standing on the other side, as it might be here, and the doctor was by the window, pouring out the doctor's stuff in the glass; and so she looked on the young gentleman, and then looked round at us all, and shook her head very gently, but did not speak. And the gentleman asked her how she felt, and she took both his hands and kissed them; and then he put his arms round and raised her up to take the physic like, and she said then, 'You will never forget them?' and he said, 'Never.' I don't know what that meant, sir!"
"Well, well—go on."
"And her head fell back on his buzzom, and she looked so happy; and, when the doctor came to the bedside, she was quite gone."
"And the stranger had my post! No matter; God bless him—God bless him. Who was he? what was his name?"
"I don't know, sir; he did not say. He stayed after the doctor went, and cried very bitterly; he took on more than you did, sir."
"And the other gentleman came just as he was a-going, and they did not seem to like each other; for I heard him through the wall, as nurse and I were in the next room, speak as if he was scolding; but he did not stay long."
"And has never been seen since?"
"No, sir. Perhaps missus can tell you more about him. But won't you take something, sir? Do—you look so pale."
Philip, without speaking, pushed her gently aside, and went slowly down the stairs. He entered the parlour, where two or three children were seated, playing at dominoes; he despatched one for their mother, the mistress of the shop, who came in, and dropped him a courtesy, with a very grave, sad face, as was proper.
"I am going to leave your house, ma'am; and I wish to settle any little arrears of rent, &c."
"O sir! don't mention it," said the landlady; and, as she spoke, she took a piece of paper from her bosom, very neatly folded, and laid it on the table. "And here, sir," she added, taking from the same depository a card,—"here is the card left by the gentleman who saw to the funeral. He called half an hour ago, and bade me say, with his compliments, that he would wait on you to-morrow at eleven o'clock. So I hope you won't go yet: for I think he means to settle everything for you; he said as much, sir."
Philip glanced over the card, and read, "Mr. George Blackwell, Lincoln's Inn." His brow grew dark—he let the card fall on the ground, put his foot on it with a quiet scorn, and muttered to himself, "The lawyer shall not bribe me out of my curse!" He turned to the total of the bill—not heavy, for poor Catherine had regularly defrayed the expense of her scanty maintenance and humble lodging—paid the money, and, as the landlady wrote the receipt, he asked, "Who was the gentleman—the younger gentleman—who called in the morning of the day my mother died?"
"Oh, sir! I am so sorry I did not get his name. Mr. Perkins said that he was some relation. Very odd he has never been since. But he'll be sure to call again, sir; you had much better stay here."
"No: it does not signify. All that he could do is done. But stay, give him this note, if she should call."
Philip, taking the pen from the landlady's hand, hastily wrote (while Mrs. Lacy went to bring him sealing-wax and a light) these words:
"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."
He sealed this letter, and gave it to the woman.
"Oh, by the by," said she, "I had forgot; the Doctor said that if you would send for him, he would be most happy to call on you, and give you any advice."
"And what shall I say to Mr. Blackwell?"
"That he may tell his employer to remember our last interview."
With that Philip took up his bundle and strode from the house. He went first to the churchyard, where his mother's remains had been that day interred. It was near at hand, a quiet, almost a rural, spot. The gate stood ajar, for there was a public path through the churchyard, and Philip entered with a noiseless tread. It was then near evening; the sun had broken out from the mists of the earlier day, and the wistering rays shone bright and holy upon the solemn place.
"Mother! mother!" sobbed the orphan, as he fell prostrate before that fresh green mound: "here—here I have come to repeat my oath, to swear again that I will be faithful to the charge you have entrusted to your wretched son! And at this hour I dare ask if there be on this earth one more miserable and forlorn?"
As words to this effect struggled from his lips, a loud, shrill voice— the cracked, painful voice of weak age wrestling with strong passion, rose close at hand.
"Away, reprobate! thou art accursed!"
Philip started, and shuddered as if the words were addressed to himself, and from the grave. But, as he rose on his knee, and tossing the wild hair from his eyes, looked confusedly round, he saw, at a short distance, and in the shadow of the wall, two forms; the one, an old man with grey hair, who was seated on a crumbling wooden tomb, facing the setting sun; the other, a man apparently yet in the vigour of life, who appeared bent as in humble supplication. The old man's hands were outstretched over the head of the younger, as if suiting terrible action to the terrible words, and, after a moment's pause—a moment, but it seemed far longer to Philip—there was heard a deep, wild, ghastly howl from a dog that cowered at the old man's feet; a howl, perhaps of fear at the passion of his master, which the animal might associate with danger.
"Father! father!" said the suppliant reproachfully, "your very dog rebukes your curse."
"Be dumb! My dog! What hast thou left me on earth but him? Thou hast made me loathe the sight of friends, for thou hast made me loathe mine own name. Thou hast covered it with disgrace,—thou hast turned mine old age into a by-word,—thy crimes leave me solitary in the midst of my shame!"
"It is many years since we met, father; we may never meet again—shall we part thus?"
"Thus, aha!" said the old man in a tone of withering sarcasm! "I comprehend,—you are come for money!"
At this taunt the son started as if stung by a serpent; raised his head to its full height, folded his arms, and replied:
"Sir, you wrong me: for more than twenty years I have maintained myself— no matter how, but without taxing you;—and now, I felt remorse for having suffered you to discard me,—now, when you are old and helpless, and, I heard, blind: and you might want aid, even from your poor good- for-nothing son. But I have done. Forget,—not my sins, but this interview. Repeal your curse, father; I have enough on my head without yours; and so—let the son at least bless the father who curses him. Farewell!"
The speaker turned as he thus said, with a voice that trembled at the close, and brushed rapidly by Philip, whom he did not, however, appear to perceive; but Philip, by the last red beam of the sun, saw again that marked storm-beaten face which it was difficult, once seen, to forget, and recognised the stranger on whose breast be had slept the night of his fatal visit to R——.
The old man's imperfect vision did not detect the departure of his son, but his face changed and softened as the latter strode silently through the rank grass.
"William!" he said at last, gently; "William!" and the tears rolled down his furrowed cheeks; "my son!" but that son was gone—the old man listened for reply—none came. "He has left me—poor William!—we shall never meet again;" and he sank once more on the old tombstone, dumb, rigid, motionless—an image of Time himself in his own domain of Graves. The dog crept closer to his master, and licked his hand. Philip stood for a moment in thoughtful silence: his exclamation of despair had been answered as by his better angel. There was a being more miserable than himself; and the Accursed would have envied the Bereaved!
The twilight had closed in; the earliest star—the star of Memory and Love, the Hesperus hymned by every poet since the world began—was fair in the arch of heaven, as Philip quitted the spot, with a spirit more reconciled to the future, more softened, chastened, attuned to gentle and pious thoughts than perhaps ever yet had made his soul dominant over the deep and dark tide of his gloomy passions. He went thence to a neighbouring sculptor, and paid beforehand for a plain tablet to be placed above the grave he had left. He had just quitted that shop, in the same street, not many doors removed from the house in which his mother had breathed her last. He was pausing by a crossing, irresolute whether to repair at once to the home assigned to Sidney, or to seek some shelter in town for that night, when three men who were on the opposite side of the way suddenly caught sight of him.
"There he is—there he is! Stop, sir!—stop!"
Philip heard these words, looked up, and recognised the voice and the person of Mr. Plaskwith; the bookseller was accompanied by Mr. Plimmins, and a sturdy, ill-favoured stranger.
A nameless feeling of fear, rage, and disgust seized the unhappy boy, and at the same moment a ragged vagabond whispered to him, "Stump it, my cove; that's a Bow Street runner."
Then there shot through Philip's mind the recollection of the money he had seized, though but to dash away; was he now—he, still to his own conviction, the heir of an ancient and spotless name—to be hunted as a thief; or, at the best, what right over his person and his liberty had he given to his taskmaster? Ignorant of the law—the law only seemed to him, as it ever does to the ignorant and the friendless—a Foe. Quicker than lightning these thoughts, which it takes so many words to describe, flashed through the storm and darkness of his breast; and at the very instant that Mr. Plimmins had laid hands on his shoulder his resolution was formed. The instinct of self beat loud at his heart. With a bound— a spring that sent Mr. Plimmins sprawling in the kennel, he darted across the road, and fled down an opposite lane.
"Stop him! stop!" cried the bookseller, and the officer rushed after him with almost equal speed. Lane after lane, alley after alley, fled Philip; dodging, winding, breathless, panting; and lane after lane, and alley after alley, thickened at his heels the crowd that pursued. The idle and the curious, and the officious,—ragged boys, ragged men, from stall and from cellar, from corner and from crossing, joined in that delicious chase, which runs down young Error till it sinks, too often, at the door of the gaol or the foot of the gallows. But Philip slackened not his pace; he began to distance his pursuers. He was now in a street which they had not yet entered—a quiet street, with few, if any, shops. Before the threshold of a better kind of public-house, or rather tavern, to judge by its appearance, lounged two men; and while Philip flew on, the cry of "Stop him!" had changed as the shout passed to new voices, into "Stop the thief!"—that cry yet howled in the distance. One of the loungers seized him: Philip, desperate and ferocious, struck at him with all his force; but the blow was scarcely felt by that Herculean frame.
"Pish!" said the man, scornfully; "I am no spy; if you run from justice, I would help you to a sign-post."
Struck by the voice, Philip looked hard at the speaker. It was the voice of the Accursed Son.
"Save me! you remember me?" said the orphan, faintly. "Ah! I think I do; poor lad! Follow me-this way!" The stranger turned within the tavern, passed the hall through a sort of corridor that led into a back yard which opened upon a nest of courts or passages.
"You are safe for the present; I will take you where you can tell me all at your ease—See!" As he spoke they emerged into an open street, and the guide pointed to a row of hackney coaches. "Be quick—get in. Coachman, drive fast to —-"
Philip did not hear the rest of the direction.
Our story returns to Sidney.
"Nous vous mettrons a couvert, Repondit le pot de fer Si quelque matiere dure Vous menace d'aventure, Entre deux je passerai, Et du coup vous sauverai. . . . . . . . . Le pot de terre en souffre!"—LA FONTAINE.
["We, replied the Iron Pot, will shield you: should any hard substance menace you with danger, I'll intervene, and save you from the shock. . . . . . . . . . The Earthen Pot was the sufferer!]
"SIDNEY, come here, sir! What have you been at? you have torn your frill into tatters! How did you do this? Come sir, no lies."
"Indeed, ma'am, it was not my fault. I just put my head out of the window to see the coach go by, and a nail caught me here."
"Why, you little plague! you have scratched yourself—you are always in mischief. What business had you to look after the coach?"
"I don't know," said Sidney, hanging his head ruefully. "La, mother!" cried the youngest of the cousins, a square-built, ruddy, coarse-featured urchin, about Sidney's age, "La, mother, he never see a coach in the street when we are at play but he runs arter it."
"After, not arter," said Mr. Roger Morton, taking the pipe from his mouth.
"Why do you go after the coaches, Sidney?" said Mrs. Morton; "it is very naughty; you will be run over some day."
"Yes, ma'am," said Sidney, who during the whole colloquy had been trembling from bead to foot.
"'Yes ma'am,' and 'no, ma'am:' you have no more manners than a cobbler's boy."
"Don't tease the child, my dear; he is crying," said Mr. Morton, more authoritatively than usual. "Come here, my man!" and the worthy uncle took him in his lap and held his glass of brandy-and-water to his lips; Sidney, too frightened to refuse, sipped hurriedly, keeping his large eyes fixed on his aunt, as children do when they fear a cuff.
"You spoil the boy more than do your own flesh and blood," said Mrs. Morton, greatly displeased.
Here Tom, the youngest-born before described, put his mouth to his mother's ear, and whispered loud enough to be heard by all: "He runs arter the coach 'cause he thinks his ma may be in it. Who's home-sick, I should like to know? Ba! Baa!"
The boy pointed his finger over his mother's shoulder, and the other children burst into a loud giggle.
"Leave the room, all of you,—leave the room!" said Mr. Morton, rising angrily and stamping his foot.
The children, who were in great awe of their father, huddled and hustled each other to the door; but Tom, who went last, bold in his mother's favour, popped his head through the doorway, and cried, "Good-bye, little home-sick!"
A sudden slap in the face from his father changed his chuckle into a very different kind of music, and a loud indignant sob was heard without for some moments after the door was closed.
"If that's the way you behave to your children, Mr. Morton, I vow you sha'n't have any more if I can help it. Don't come near me—don't touch me!" and Mrs. Morton assumed the resentful air of offended beauty.
"Pshaw!" growled the spouse, and he reseated himself and resumed his pipe. There was a dead silence. Sidney crouched near his uncle, looking very pale. Mrs. Morton, who was knitting, knitted away with the excited energy of nervous irritation.
"Ring the bell, Sidney," said Mr. Morton. The boy obeyed-the parlour- maid entered. "Take Master Sidney to his room; keep the boys away from him, and give him a large slice of bread and jam, Martha."
"Jam, indeed!—treacle," said Mrs. Morton.
"Jam, Martha," repeated the uncle, authoritatively. "Treacle!" reiterated the aunt.
"Jam, I say!"
"Treacle, you hear: and for that matter, Martha has no jam to give!"
The husband had nothing more to say.
"Good night, Sidney; there's a good boy, go and kiss your aunt and make your bow; and I say, my lad, don't mind those plagues. I'll talk to them to-morrow, that I will; no one shall be unkind to you in my house."
Sidney muttered something, and went timidly up to Mrs. Morton. His look so gentle and subdued; his eyes full of tears; his pretty mouth which, though silent, pleaded so eloquently; his willingness to forgive, and his wish to be forgiven, might have melted many a heart harder, perhaps, than Mrs. Morton's. But there reigned what are worse than hardness,— prejudice and wounded vanity—maternal vanity. His contrast to her own rough, coarse children grated on her, and set the teeth of her mind on edge.
"There, child, don't tread on my gown: you are so awkward: say your prayers, and don't throw off the counterpane! I don't like slovenly boys."
Sidney put his finger in his mouth, drooped, and vanished.
"Now, Mrs. M.," said Mr. Morton, abruptly, and knocking out the ashes of his pipe; "now Mrs. M., one word for all: I have told you that I promised poor Catherine to be a father to that child, and it goes to my heart to see him so snubbed. Why you dislike him I can't guess for the life of me. I never saw a sweeter-tempered child."
"Go on, sir, go on: make your personal reflections on your own lawful wife. They don't hurt me—oh no, not at all! Sweet-tempered, indeed; I suppose your own children are not sweet-tempered?"
"That's neither here nor there," said Mr. Morton: "my own children are such as God made them, and I am very well satisfied."
"Indeed you may be proud of such a family; and to think of the pains I have taken with them, and how I have saved you in nurses, and the bad times I have had; and now, to find their noses put out of joint by that little mischief-making interloper—it is too bad of you, Mr. Morton; you will break my heart—that you will!"
Mrs. Morton put her handkerchief to her eyes and sobbed. The husband was moved: he got up and attempted to take her hand. "Indeed, Margaret, I did not mean to vex you."
"And I who have been such a fa—fai—faithful wi—wi—wife, and brought you such a deal of mon—mon—money, and always stud—stud—studied your interests; many's the time when you have been fast asleep that I have sat up half the night—men—men—mending the house linen; and you have not been the same man, Roger, since that boy came!"
"Well, well" said the good man, quite overcome, and fairly taking her round the waist and kissing her; "no words between us; it makes life quite unpleasant. If it pains you to have Sidney here, I will put him to some school in the town, where they'll be kind to him. Only, if you would, Margaret, for my sake—old girl! come, now! there's a darling!— just be more tender with him. You see he frets so after his mother. Think how little Tom would fret if he was away from you! Poor little Tom!"
"La! Mr. Morton, you are such a man!—there's no resisting your ways! You know how to come over me, don't you?"
And Mrs. Morton smiled benignly, as she escaped from his conjugal arms and smoothed her cap.
Peace thus restored, Mr. Morton refilled his pipe, and the good lady, after a pause, resumed, in a very mild, conciliatory tone:
"I'll tell you what it is, Roger, that vexes me with that there child. He is so deceitful, and he does tell such fibs!"
"Fibs! that is a very bad fault," said Mr. Morton, gravely. "That must be corrected."
"It was but the other day that I saw him break a pane of glass in the shop; and when I taxed him with it, he denied it;—and with such a face! I can't abide storytelling."
"Let me know the next story he tells; I'll cure him," said Mr. Morton, sternly. "You now how I broke Tom of it. Spare the rod, and spoil the child. And where I promised to be kind to the boy, of course I did not mean that I was not to take care of his morals, and see that he grew up an honest man. Tell truth and shame the devil—that's my motto."
"Spoke like yourself, Roger," said Mrs. Morton, with great animation. "But you see he has not had the advantage of such a father as you. I wonder your sister don't write to you. Some people make a great fuss about their feelings; but out of sight out of mind."
"I hope she is not ill. Poor Catherine! she looked in a very bad way when she was here," said Morton; and he turned uneasily to the fireplace and sighed.
Here the servant entered with the supper-tray, and the conversation fell upon other topics.
Mrs. Roger Morton's charge against Sidney was, alas! too true. He had acquired, under that roof, a terrible habit of telling stories. He had never incurred that vice with his mother, because then and there he had nothing to fear; now, he had everything to fear;—the grim aunt—even the quiet, kind, cold, austere uncle—the apprentices—the strange servants— and, oh! more than all, those hardeyed, loud-laughing tormentors, the boys of his own age! Naturally timid, severity made him actually a coward; and when the nerves tremble, a lie sounds as surely as, when I vibrate that wire, the bell at the end of it will ring. Beware of the man who has been roughly treated as a child.
The day after the conference just narrated, Mr. Morton, who was subject to erysipelas, had taken a little cooling medicine. He breakfasted, therefore, later than usual—after the rest of the family; and at this meal pour lui soulager he ordered the luxury of a muffin. Now it so chanced that he had only finished half the muffin, and drunk one cup of tea, when he was called into the shop by a customer of great importance— a prosy old lady, who always gave her orders with remarkable precision, and who valued herself on a character for affability, which she maintained by never buying a penny riband without asking the shopman how all his family were, and talking news about every other family in the place. At the time Mr. Morton left the parlour, Sidney and Master Tom were therein, seated on two stools, and casting up division sums on their respective slates—a point of education to which Mr. Morton attended with great care. As soon as his father's back was turned, Master Tom's eyes wandered from the slate to the muffin, as it leered at him from the slop- basin. Never did Pythian sibyl, seated above the bubbling spring, utter more oracular eloquence to her priest, than did that muffin—at least the parts of it yet extant—utter to the fascinated senses of Master Tom. First he sighed; then he moved round on his stool; then he got up; then he peered at the muffin from a respectful distance; then he gradually approached, and walked round, and round, and round it—his eyes getting bigger and bigger; then he peeped through the glass-door into the shop, and saw his father busily engaged with the old lady; then he began to calculate and philosophise, perhaps his father had done breakfast; perhaps he would not come back at all; if he came back, he would not miss one corner of the muffin; and if he did miss it, why should Tom be supposed to have taken it? As he thus communed with himself, he drew nearer into the fatal vortex, and at last with a desperate plunge, he seized the triangular temptation,—
"And ere a man had power to say 'Behold!' The jaws of Thomas had devoured it up."
Sidney, disturbed from his studies by the agitation of his companion, witnessed this proceeding with great and conscientious alarm. "O Tom!" said he, "what will your papa say?"
"Look at that!" said Tom, putting his fist under Sidney's reluctant nose. "If father misses it, you'll say the cat took it. If you don't— my eye, what a wapping I'll give you!"
Here Mr. Morton's voice was heard wishing the lady "Good morning!" and Master Tom, thinking it better to leave the credit of the invention solely to Sidney, whispered, "Say I'm gone up stairs for my pocket- hanker," and hastily absconded.
Mr. Morton, already in a very bad humour, partly at the effects of the cooling medicine, partly at the suspension of his breakfast, stalked into the parlour. His tea-the second cup already poured out, was cold. He turned towards the muffin, and missed the lost piece at a glance.
"Who has been at my muffin?" said he, in a voice that seemed to Sidney like the voice he had always supposed an ogre to possess. "Have you, Master Sidney?"
"N—n—no, sir; indeed, sir!"
"Then Tom has. Where is he?"
"Gone up stairs for his handkerchief, sir."
"Did he take my muffin? Speak the truth!"
"No, sir; it was the—it was the—the cat, sir!"
"O you wicked, wicked boy!" cried Mrs. Morton, who had followed her husband into the parlour; "the cat kittened last night, and is locked up in the coal-cellar!"
"Come here, Master Sidney! No! first go down, Margaret, and see if the cat is in the cellar: it might have got out, Mrs. M.," said Mr. Morton, just even in his wrath.
Mrs. Morton went, and there was a dead silence, except indeed in Sidney's heart, which beat louder than a clock ticks. Mr. Morton, meanwhile, went to a little cupboard;—while still there, Mrs. Morton returned: the cat was in the cellar—the key turned on her—in no mood to eat muffins, poor thing!—she would not even lap her milk! like her mistress, she had had a very bad time!
"Now come here, sir," said Mr. Morton, withdrawing himself from the cupboard, with a small horsewhip in his hand, "I will teach you how to speak the truth in future! Confess that you have told a lie!"
"Yes, sir, it was a lie! Pray—pray forgive me: but Tom made me!"
"What! when poor Tom is up-stairs? worse and worse!" said Mrs. Morton, lifting up her hands and eyes. "What a viper!"
"For shame, boy,—for shame! Take that—and that—and that—"
Writhing—shrinking, still more terrified than hurt, the poor child cowered beneath the lash.
"Mamma! mamma!" he cried at last, "Oh, why—why did you leave me?"
At these words Mr. Morton stayed his hand, the whip fell to the ground.
"Yet it is all for the boy's good," he muttered. "There, child, I hope this is the last time. There, you are not much hurt. Zounds, don't cry so!"
"He will alarm the whole street," said Mrs. Morton; "I never see such a child! Here, take this parcel to Mrs. Birnie's—you know the house—only next street, and dry your eyes before you get there. Don't go through the shop; this way out."
She pushed the child, still sobbing with a vehemence that she could not comprehend, through the private passage into the street, and returned to her husband.
"You are convinced now, Mr. M.?"
"Pshaw! ma'am; don't talk. But, to be sure, that's how I cured Tom of fibbing.—The tea's as cold as a stone!"
"Le bien nous le faisons: le mal c'est la Fortune. On a toujours raison, le Destin toujours tort."—LA FONTAINE.
[The Good, we effect ourselves; the Evil is the handiwork of Fortune. Mortals are always in the right, Destiny always in the wrong.]
Upon the early morning of the day commemorated by the historical events of our last chapter, two men were deposited by a branch coach at the inn of a hamlet about ten miles distant from the town in which Mr. Roger Morton resided. Though the hamlet was small, the inn was large, for it was placed close by a huge finger-post that pointed to three great roads: one led to the town before mentioned; another to the heart of a manufacturing district; and a third to a populous seaport. The weather was fine, and the two travellers ordered breakfast to be taken into an arbour in the garden, as well as the basins and towels necessary for ablution. The elder of the travellers appeared to be unequivocally foreign; you would have guessed him at once for a German. He wore, what was then very uncommon in this country, a loose, brown linen blouse, buttoned to the chin, with a leathern belt, into which were stuck a German meerschaum and a tobacco-pouch. He had very long flaxen hair, false or real, that streamed half-way down his back, large light mustaches, and a rough, sunburnt complexion, which made the fairness of the hair more remarkable. He wore an enormous pair of green spectacles, and complained much in broken English of the weakness of his eyes. All about him, even to the smallest minutiae, indicated the German; not only the large muscular frame, the broad feet, and vast though well-shaped hands, but the brooch—evidently purchased of a Jew in some great fair— stuck ostentatiously and superfluously into his stock; the quaint, droll- looking carpet-bag, which he refused to trust to the boots; and the great, massive, dingy ring which he wore on his forefinger. The other was a slender, remarkably upright and sinewy youth, in a blue frock, over which was thrown a large cloak, a travelling cap, with a shade that concealed all of the upper part of his face, except a dark quick eye of uncommon fire; and a shawl handkerchief, which was equally useful in concealing the lower part of the countenance. On descending from the coach, the German with some difficulty made the ostler understand that he wanted a post-chaise in a quarter of an hour; and then, without entering the house, he and his friend strolled to the arbour. While the maid- servant was covering the table with bread, butter, tea, eggs, and a huge round of beef, the German was busy in washing his hands, and talking in his national tongue to the young man, who returned no answer. But as soon as the servant had completed her operations the foreigner turned round, and observing her eyes fixed on his brooch with much female admiration, he made one stride to her.
"Der Teufel, my goot Madchen—but you are von var pretty—vat you call it?" and he gave her, as he spoke, so hearty a smack that the girl was more flustered than flattered by the courtesy.
"Keep yourself to yourself, sir!" said she, very tartly, for chambermaids never like to be kissed by a middle-aged gentleman when a younger one is by: whereupon the German replied by a pinch,—it is immaterial to state the exact spot to which that delicate caress was directed. But this last offence was so inexpiable, that the "Madchen" bounced off with a face of scarlet, and a "Sir, you are no gentleman— that's what you arn't!" The German thrust his head out of the arbour, and followed her with a loud laugh; then drawing himself in again, he said in quite another accent, and in excellent English, "There, Master Philip, we have got rid of the girl for the rest of the morning, and that's exactly what I wanted to do—women's wits are confoundedly sharp. Well, did I not tell you right, we have baffled all the bloodhounds!"
"And here, then, Gawtrey, we are to part," said Philip, mournfully.
"I wish you would think better of it, my boy," returned Mr. Gawtrey, breaking an egg; "how can you shift for yourself—no kith nor kin, not even that important machine for giving advice called a friend—no, not a friend, when I am gone? I foresee how it must end. [D—- it, salt butter, by Jove!]"
"If I were alone in the world, as I have told you again and again, perhaps I might pin my fate to yours. But my brother!"
"There it is, always wrong when we act from our feelings. My whole life, which some day or other I will tell you, proves that. Your brother—bah! is he not very well off with his own uncle and aunt?—plenty to eat and drink, I dare say. Come, man, you must be as hungry as a hawk—a slice of the beef? Let well alone, and shift for yourself. What good can you do your brother?"
"I don't know, but I must see him; I have sworn it."
"Well, go and see him, and then strike across the country to me. I will wait a day for you,—there now!"
"But tell me first," said Philip, very earnestly, and fixing his dark eyes on his companion,—"tell me—yes, I must speak frankly—tell me, you who would link my fortunes with your own,—tell me, what and who are you?"
Gawtrey looked up.
"What do you suppose?" said he, dryly.
"I fear to suppose anything, lest I wrong you; but the strange place to which you took me the evening on which you saved me from pursuit, the persons I met there—"
"Well-dressed, and very civil to you?"
"True! but with a certain wild looseness in their talk that—But I have no right to judge others by mere appearance. Nor is it this that has made me anxious, and, if you will, suspicious."
"Your dress-your disguise."
"Disguised yourself!—ha! ha! Behold the world's charity! You fly from some danger, some pursuit, disguised—you, who hold yourself guiltless—I do the same, and you hold me criminal—a robber, perhaps-a murderer it may be! I will tell you what I am: I am a son of Fortune, an adventurer; I live by my wits—so do poets and lawyers, and all the charlatans of the world; I am a charlatan—a chameleon. 'Each man in his time plays many parts:' I play any part in which Money, the Arch-Manager, promises me a livelihood. Are you satisfied?"
"Perhaps," answered the boy, sadly, "when I know more of the world, I shall understand you better. Strange—strange, that you, out of all men, should have been kind to me in distress!"
"Not at all strange. Ask the beggar whom he gets the most pence from— the fine lady in her carriage—the beau smelling of eau de Cologne? Pish! the people nearest to being beggars themselves keep the beggar alive. You were friendless, and the man who has all earth for a foe befriends you. It is the way of the world, sir,—the way of the world. Come, eat while you can; this time next year you may have no beef to your bread."
Thus masticating and moralising at the same time, Mr. Gawtrey at last finished a breakfast that would have astonished the whole Corporation of London; and then taking out a large old watch, with an enamelled back— doubtless more German than its master—he said, as he lifted up his carpet-bag, "I must be off—tempos fugit, and I must arrive just in time to nick the vessels. Shall get to Ostend, or Rotterdam, safe and snug; thence to Paris. How my pretty Fan will have grown! Ah, you don't know Fan—make you a nice little wife one of these days! Cheer up, man, we shall meet again. Be sure of it; and hark ye, that strange place, as you call it, where I took you,—you can find it again?"
"Here, then, is the address. Whenever you want me, go there, ask to see Mr. Gregg—old fellow with one eye, you recollect—shake him by the hand just so—you catch the trick—practise it again. No, the forefinger thus, that's right. Say 'blater,' no more—'blater;'—stay, I will write it down for you; and then ask for William Gawtrey's direction. He will give it you at once, without questions—these signs understood; and if you want money for your passage, he will give you that also, with advice into the bargain. Always a warm welcome with me. And so take care of yourself, and good-bye. I see my chaise is at the door."
As he spoke, Gawtrey shook the young man's hand with cordial vigour, and strode off to his chaise, muttering, "Money well laid out—fee money; I shall have him, and, Gad, I like him,—poor devil!"
"He is a cunning coachman that can turn well in a narrow room." Old Play: from Lamb's Specimens.
"Here are two pilgrims, And neither knows one footstep of the way." HEYWOOD's Duchess of Suffolk, Ibid.
The chaise had scarce driven from the inn-door when a coach stopped to change horses on its last stage to the town to which Philip was, bound. The name of the destination, in gilt letters on the coach-door, caught his eye, as he walked from the arbour towards the road, and in a few moments he was seated as the fourth passenger in the "Nelson Slow and Sure." From under the shade of his cap, he darted that quick, quiet glance, which a man who hunts, or is hunted,—in other words, who observes, or shuns,—soon acquires. At his left hand sat a young woman in a cloak lined with yellow; she had taken off her bonnet and pinned it to the roof of the coach, and looked fresh and pretty in a silk handkerchief, which she had tied round her head, probably to serve as a nightcap during the drowsy length of the journey. Opposite to her was a middle-aged man of pale complexion, and a grave, pensive, studious expression of face; and vis-a-vis to Philip sat an overdressed, showy, very good-looking man of about two or three and forty. This gentleman wore auburn whiskers, which met at the chin; a foraging cap, with a gold tassel; a velvet waistcoat, across which, in various folds, hung a golden chain, at the end of which dangled an eye-glass, that from time to time he screwed, as it were, into his right eye; he wore, also, a blue silk stock, with a frill much crumpled, dirty kid gloves, and over his lap lay a cloak lined with red silk. As Philip glanced towards this personage, the latter fixed his glass also at him, with a scrutinising stare, which drew fire from Philip's dark eyes. The man dropped his glass, and said in a half provincial, half haw-haw tone, like the stage exquisite of a minor theatre, "Pawdon me, and split legs!" therewith stretching himself between Philip's limbs in the approved fashion of inside passengers. A young man in a white great-coat now came to the door with a glass of warm sherry and water.
"You must take this—you must now; it will keep the cold out," (the day was broiling,) said he to the young woman.
"Gracious me!" was the answer, "but I never drink wine of a morning, James; it will get into my head."
"To oblige me!" said the young man, sentimentally; whereupon the young lady took the glass, and looking very kindly at her Ganymede, said, "Your health!" and sipped, and made a wry face—then she looked at the passengers, tittered, and said, "I can't bear wine!" and so, very slowly and daintily, sipped up the rest. A silent and expressive squeeze of the hand, on returning the glass, rewarded the young man, and proved the salutary effect of his prescription.
"All right!" cried the coachman: the ostler twitched the cloths from the leaders, and away went the "Nelson Slow and Sure," with as much pretension as if it had meant to do the ten miles in an hour. The pale gentleman took from his waistcoat pocket a little box containing gum- arabic, and having inserted a couple of morsels between his lips, he next drew forth a little thin volume, which from the manner the lines were printed was evidently devoted to poetry.
The smart gentleman, who since the episode of the sherry and water had kept his glass fixed upon the young lady, now said, with a genteel smirk:
"That young gentleman seems very auttentive, miss!"
"He is a very good young man, sir, and takes great care of me."
"Not your brother, miss,—eh?"
"La, sir—why not?"
"No faumily likeness—noice-looking fellow enough! But your oiyes and mouth—ah, miss!"
Miss turned away her head, and uttered with pert vivacity: "I never likes compliments, sir! But the young man is not my brother."
"A sweetheart,—eh? Oh fie, miss! Haw! haw!" and the auburn-whiskered Adonis poked Philip in the knee with one hand, and the pale gentleman in the ribs with the other. The latter looked up, and reproachfully; the former drew in his legs, and uttered an angry ejaculation.
"Well, sir, there is no harm in a sweetheart, is there?" "None in the least, ma'am; I advoise you to double the dose. We often hear of two strings to a bow. Daun't you think it would be noicer to have two beaux to your string?" As he thus wittily expressed himself, the gentleman took off his cap, and thrust his fingers through a very curling and comely head of hair; the young lady looked at him with evident coquetry, and said, "How you do run on, you gentlemen!"
"I may well run on, miss, as long as I run aufter you," was the gallant reply.
Here the pale gentleman, evidently annoyed by being talked across, shut his book up, and looked round. His eye rested on Philip, who, whether from the heat of the day or from the forgetfulness of thought, had pushed his cap from his brows; and the gentleman, after staring at him for a few moments with great earnestness, sighed so heavily that it attracted the notice of all the passengers.
"Are you unwell, sir?" asked the young lady, compassionately.
"A little pain in my side, nothing more!"
"Chaunge places with me, sir," cried the Lothario, officiously. "Now do!" The pale gentleman, after a short hesitation, and a bashful excuse, accepted the proposal. In a few moments the young lady and the beau were in deep and whispered conversation, their heads turned towards the window. The pale gentleman continued to gaze at Philip, till the latter, perceiving the notice he excited, coloured, and replaced his cap over his face.
"Are you going to N——? asked the gentleman, in a gentle, timid voice.
"Is it the first time you have ever been there?"
"Sir!" returned Philip, in a voice that spoke surprise and distaste at his neighbour's curiosity.
"Forgive me," said the gentleman, shrinking back; "but you remind me of- of—a family I once knew in the town. Do you know—the—the Mortons?"
One in Philip's situation, with, as he supposed, the officers of justice in his track (for Gawtrey, for reasons of his own, rather encouraged than allayed his fears), might well be suspicious. He replied therefore shortly, "I am quite a stranger to the town," and ensconced himself in the corner, as if to take a nap. Alas! that answer was one of the many obstacles he was doomed to build up between himself and a fairer fate.
The gentleman sighed again, and never spoke more to the end of the journey. When the coach halted at the inn,—the same inn which had before given its shelter to poor Catherine,—the young man in the white coat opened the door, and offered his arm to the young lady.
"Do you make any stay here, sir?" said she to the beau, as she unpinned her bonnet from the roof.
"Perhaps so; I am waiting for my phe-a-ton, which my faellow is to bring down,—tauking a little tour."
"We shall be very happy to see you, sir!" said the young lady, on whom the phe-a-ton completed the effect produced by the gentleman's previous gallantries; and with that she dropped into his hand a very neat card, on which was printed, "Wavers and Snow, Staymakers, High Street."
The beau put the card gracefully into his pocket-leaped from the coach- nudged aside his rival of the white coat, and offered his arm to the lady, who leaned on it affectionately as she descended.
"This gentleman has been so perlite to me, James," said she. James touched his hat; the beau clapped him on the shoulder,—"Ah! you are not a hauppy man,—are you? Oh no, not at all a hauppy man!—Good day to you! Guard, that hat-box is mine!"
While Philip was paying the coachman, the beau passed, and whispered him—
"Recollect old Gregg—anything on the lay here—don't spoil my sport if we meet!" and bustled off into the inn, whistling "God save the king!"
Philip started, then tried to bring to mind the faces which he had seen at the "strange place," and thought he recalled the features of his fellow-traveller. However, he did not seek to renew the acquaintance, but inquired the way to Mr. Morton's house, and thither he now proceeded.
He was directed, as a short cut, down one of those narrow passages at the entrance of which posts are placed as an indication that they are appropriated solely to foot-passengers. A dead white wall, which screened the garden of the physician of the place, ran on one side; a high fence to a nursery-ground was on the other; the passage was lonely, for it was now the hour when few persons walk either for business or pleasure in a provincial town, and no sound was heard save the fall of his own step on the broad flagstones. At the end of the passage in the main street to which it led, he saw already the large, smart, showy shop, with the hot sum shining full on the gilt letters that conveyed to the eyes of the customer the respectable name of "Morton,"—when suddenly the silence was broken by choked and painful sobs. He turned, and beneath a compo portico, jutting from the wall, which adorned the physician's door, he saw a child seated on the stone steps weeping bitterly—a thrill shot through Philip's heart! Did he recognise, disguised as it was by pain and sorrow, that voice? He paused, and laid his hand on the child's shoulder: "Oh, don't—don't—pray don't—I am going, I am indeed:" cried the child, quailing, and still keeping his hands clasped before his face.
"Sidney!" said Philip. The boy started to his feet, uttered a cry of rapturous joy, and fell upon his brother's breast.
"O Philip!—dear, dear Philip! you are come to take me away back to my own—own mamma; I will be so good, I will never tease her again,—never, never! I have been so wretched!"
"Sit down, and tell me what they have done to you," said Philip, checking the rising heart that heaved at his mother's name.
So, there they sat, on the cold stone under the stranger's porch, these two orphans: Philip's arms round his brother's waist, Sidney leaning on his shoulder, and imparting to him—perhaps with pardonable exaggeration, all the sufferings he had gone through; and, when he came to that morning's chastisement, and showed the wale across the little hands which he had vainly held up in supplication, Philip's passion shook him from limb to limb. His impulse was to march straight into Mr. Morton's shop and gripe him by the throat; and the indignation he betrayed encouraged Sidney to colour yet more highly the tale of his wrongs and pain.
When he had done, and clinging tightly to his brother's broad chest, said—
"But never mind, Philip; now we will go home to mamma."
"Listen to me, my dear brother. We cannot go back to our mother. I will tell you why, later. We are alone in the world-we two! If you will come with me—God help you!—for you will have many hardships: we shall have to work and drudge, and you may be cold and hungry, and tired, very often, Sidney,—very, very often! But you know that, long ago, when I was so passionate, I never was wilfully unkind to you; and I declare now, that I would bite out my tongue rather than it should say a harsh word to you. That is all I can promise. Think well. Will you never miss all the comforts you have now?"
"Comforts!" repeated Sidney, ruefully, and looking at the wale over his hands. "Oh! let—let—let me go with you, I shall die if I stay here. I shall indeed—indeed!"
"Hush!" said Philip; for at that moment a step was heard, and the pale gentleman walked slowly down the passage, and started, and turned his head wistfully as he looked at the boys.
When he was gone. Philip rose.
"It is settled, then," said he, firmly. "Come with me at once. You shall return to their roof no more. Come, quick: we shall have many miles to go to-night."
"He comes— Yet careless what he brings; his one concern Is to conduct it to the destined inn; And having dropp'd the expected bag, pass on—— To him indifferent whether grief or joy." COWPER: Description of the Postman.
The pale gentleman entered Mr. Morton's shop; and, looking round him, spied the worthy trader showing shawls to a young lady just married. He seated himself on a stool, and said to the bowing foreman—
"I will wait till Mr. Morton is disengaged."
The young lady having closely examined seven shawls, and declared they were beautiful, said, "she would think of it," and walked away. Mr. Morton now approached the stranger.
"Mr. Morton," said the pale gentleman; "you are very little altered. You do not recollect me?"
"Bless me, Mr. Spencer! is it really you? Well, what a time since we met! I am very glad to see you. And what brings you to N——? Business?"
"Yes, business. Let us go within?"
Mr. Morton led the way to the parlour, where Master Tom, reperched on the stool, was rapidly digesting the plundered muffin. Mr. Morton dismissed him to play, and the pale gentleman took a chair.
"Mr. Morton," said he, glancing over his dress, "you see I am in mourning. It is for your sister. I never got the better of that early attachment—never."
"My sister! Good Heavens!" said Mr. Morton, turning very pale; "is she dead? Poor Catherine!—and I not know of it! When did she die?"
"Not many days since; and—and—" said Mr. Spencer, greatly affected, "I fear in want. I had been abroad for some months: on my return last week, looking over the newspapers (for I always order them to be filed), I read the short account of her lawsuit against Mr. Beaufort, some time back. I resolved to find her out. I did so through the solicitor she employed: it was too late; I arrived at her lodgings two days after her—her burial. I then determined to visit poor Catherine's brother, and learn if anything could be done for the children she had left behind."
"She left but two. Philip, the elder, is very comfortably placed at R——; the younger has his home with me; and Mrs. Morton is a moth—that is to say, she takes great pains with him. Ehem! And my poor—poor sister!"
"Is he like his mother?"
"Very much, when she was young—poor dear Catherine!"
"What age is he?"
"About ten, perhaps; I don't know exactly; much younger than the other. And so she's dead!"
"Mr. Morton, I am an old bachelor" (here a sickly smile crossed Mr. Spencer's face); "a small portion of my fortune is settled, it is true, on my relations; but the rest is mine, and I live within my income. The elder of these boys is probably old enough to begin to take care of himself. But, the younger—perhaps you have a family of your own, and can spare him!"
Mr. Morton hesitated, and twitched up his trousers. "Why," said he, "this is very kind in you. I don't know—we'll see. The boy is out now; come and dine with us at two—pot-luck. Well, so she is no more! Heigho! Meanwhile, I'll talk it over with Mrs. M."
"I will be with you," said Mr. Spencer, rising.
"Ah!" sighed Mr. Morton, "if Catherine had but married you she would have been a happy woman."
"I would have tried to make her so," said Mr. Spencer, as he turned away his face and took his departure.
Two o'clock came; but no Sidney. They had sent to the place whither he had been despatched; he had never arrived there. Mr. Morton grew alarmed; and, when Mr. Spencer came to dinner, his host was gone in search of the truant. He did not return till three. Doomed that day to be belated both at breakfast and dinner, this decided him to part with Sidney whenever he should be found. Mrs. Morton was persuaded that the child only sulked, and would come back fast enough when he was hungry. Mr. Spencer tried to believe her, and ate his mutton, which was burnt to a cinder; but when five, six, seven o'clock came, and the boy was still missing,—even Mrs. Morton agreed that it was high time to institute a regular search. The whole family set off different ways. It was ten o'clock before they were reunited; and then all the news picked up was, that a boy, answering Sidney's description, had been seen with a young man in three several parts of the town; the last time at the outskirts, on the high road towards the manufacturing districts. These tidings so far relieved Mr. Morton's mind that he dismissed the chilling fear that had crept there,—that Sidney might have drowned himself. Boys will drown themselves sometimes! The description of the young man coincided so remarkably with the fellow-passenger of Mr. Spencer, that he did not doubt it was the same; the more so when he recollected having seen him with a fair-haired child under the portico; and yet more, when he recalled the likeness to Catherine that had struck him in the coach, and caused the inquiry that had roused Philip's suspicion. The mystery was thus made clear—Sidney had fled with his brother. Nothing more, however, could be done that night. The next morning, active measures should be devised; and when the morning came, the mail brought to Mr. Morton the two following letters. The first was from Arthur Beaufort.
"SIR,—I have been prevented by severe illness from writing to yon before. I can now scarcely hold a pen; but the instant my health is recovered I shall be with you at N —-, on her deathbed, the mother of the boy under your charge, Sidney Morton, committed him solemnly to me. I make his fortunes my care, and shall hasten to claim him at your kindly hands. But the elder son,—this poor Philip, who has suffered so unjustly,—for our lawyer has seen Mr. Plaskwith, and heard the whole story—what has become of him? All our inquiries have failed to track him. Alas, I was too ill to institute them myself while it was yet time. Perhaps he may have sought shelter, with you, his uncle; if so, assure him that he is in no danger from the pursuit of the law,—that his innocence is fully recognised; and that my father and myself implore him to accept our affection. I can write no more now; but in a few days I shall hope to see you. "I am, sir, &c., "ARTHUR BEAUFORT. "Berkely Square. "
The second letter was from Mr. Plaskwith, and ran thus:
"DEAR MORTON,—Something very awkward has happened,—not my fault, and very unpleasant for me. Your relation, Philip, as I wrote you word, was a painstaking lad, though odd and bad mannered,—for want, perhaps, poor boy! of being taught better, and Mrs. P. is, you know, a very genteel woman—women go too much by manners—so she never took much to him. However, to the point, as the French emperor used to say: one evening he asked me for money for his mother, who, he said, was ill, in a very insolent way: I may say threatening. It was in my own shop, and before Plimmins and Mrs. P.; I was forced to answer with dignified rebuke, and left the shop. When I returned, he was gone, and some shillings- fourteen, I think, and three sovereigns—evidently from the till, scattered on the floor. Mrs. P. and Mr. Plimmins were very much frightened; thought it was clear I was robbed, and that we were to be murdered. Plimmins slept below that night, and we borrowed butcher Johnson's dog. Nothing happened. I did not think I was robbed; because the money, when we came to calculate, was all right. I know human nature. He had thought to take it, but repented—quite clear. However, I was naturally very angry, thought he'd comeback again—meant to reprove him properly—waited several days—heard nothing of him—grew uneasy— would not attend longer to Mrs. P.; for, as Napoleon Buonaparte observed, 'women are well in their way, not in our ours.' Made Plimmins go with me to town—hired a Bow Street runner to track him out—cost me L1. 1s, and two glasses of brandy and water. Poor Mrs. Morton was just buried—quite shocked! Suddenly saw the boy in the streets. Plimmins rushed forward in the kindest way—was knocked down—hurt his arm—paid 2s. 6d. for lotion. Philip ran off, we ran after him—could not find him. Forced to return home. Next day, a lawyer from a Mr. Beaufort—Mr. George Blackwell, a gentlemanlike man called. Mr. Beaufort will do anything for him in reason. Is there anything more I can do? I really am very uneasy about the lad, and Mrs. P. and I have a tiff about it: but that's nothing—thought I had best write to you for instructions. "Yours truly, "C. PLASHWITH.
"P. S.—Just open my letter to say, Bow Street officer just been here— has found out that the boy has been seen with a very suspicious character: they think he has left London. Bow Street officer wants to go after him—very expensive: so now you can decide."
Mr. Spencer scarcely listened to Mr. Plaskwith's letter, but of Arthur's he felt jealous. He would fain have been the only protector to Catherine's children; but he was the last man fitted to head the search, now so necessary to prosecute with equal tact and energy.
A soft-hearted, soft-headed man, a confirmed valtudinarian, a day- dreamer, who had wasted away his life in dawdling and maundering over Simple Poetry, and sighing over his unhappy attachment; no child, no babe, was more thoroughly helpless than Mr. Spencer.
The task of investigation devolved, therefore, on Mr. Morton, and he went about it in a regular, plain, straightforward way. Hand-bills were circulated, constables employed, and a lawyer, accompanied by Mr. Spencer, despatched to the manufacturing districts: towards which the orphans had been seen to direct their path.
"Give the gentle South Yet leave to court these sails." BEAUMONT AND FLLTCHER: Beggar's Bush.
"Cut your cloth, sir, According to your calling."—Ibid.
Meanwhile the brothers were far away, and He who feeds the young ravens made their paths pleasant to their feet. Philip had broken to Sidney the sad news of their mother's death, and Sidney had wept with bitter passion. But children,—what can they know of death? Their tears over graves dry sooner than the dews. It is melancholy to compare the depth, the endurance, the far-sighted, anxious, prayerful love of a parent, with the inconsiderate, frail, and evanescent affection of the infant, whose eyes the hues of the butterfly yet dazzle with delight. It was the night of their flight, and in the open air, when Philip (his arms round Sidney's waist) told his brother-orphan that they were motherless. And the air was balmy, the skies filled with the effulgent presence of the August moon; the cornfields stretched round them wide and far, and not a leaf trembled on the beech-tree beneath which they had sought shelter. It seemed as if Nature herself smiled pityingly on their young sorrow, and said to them, "Grieve not for the dead: I, who live for ever, I will be your mother!"
They crept, as the night deepened, into the warmer sleeping-place afforded by stacks of hay, mown that summer and still fragrant. And the next morning the birds woke them betimes, to feel that Liberty, at least, was with them, and to wander with her at will.
Who in his boyhood has not felt the delight of freedom and adventure? to have the world of woods and sward before him—to escape restriction— to lean, for the first time, on his own resources—to rejoice in the wild but manly luxury of independence—to act the Crusoe—and to fancy a Friday in every footprint—an island of his own in every field? Yes, in spite of their desolation, their loss, of the melancholy past, of the friendless future, the orphans were happy—happy in their youth—their freedom—their love—their wanderings in the delicious air of the glorious August. Sometimes they came upon knots of reapers lingering in the shade of the hedge-rows over their noonday meal; and, grown sociable by travel, and bold by safety, they joined and partook of the rude fare with the zest of fatigue and youth. Sometimes, too, at night, they saw, gleam afar and red by the woodside, the fires of gipsy tents. But these, with the superstition derived from old nursery-tales, they scrupulously shunned, eying them with a mysterious awe! What heavenly twilights belong to that golden month!—the air so lucidly serene, as the purple of the clouds fades gradually away, and up soars, broad, round, intense, and luminous, the full moon which belongs to the joyous season! The fields then are greener than in the heats of July and June,—they have got back the luxury of a second spring. And still, beside the paths of the travellers, lingered on the hedges the clustering honeysuckle—the convolvulus glittered in the tangles of the brake—the hardy heathflower smiled on the green waste.
And ever, at evening, they came, field after field, upon those circles which recall to children so many charmed legends, and are fresh and frequent in that month—the Fairy Rings! They thought, poor boys! that it was a good omen, and half fancied that the Fairies protected them, as in the old time they had often protected the desolate and outcast.
They avoided the main roads, and all towns, with suspicious care. But sometimes they paused, for food and rest, at the obscure hostel of some scattered hamlet: though, more often, they loved to spread the simple food they purchased by the way under some thick, tree, or beside a stream through whose limpid waters they could watch the trout glide and play. And they often preferred the chance shelter of a haystack, or a shed, to the less romantic repose offered by the small inns they alone dared to enter. They went in this much by the face and voice of the host or hostess. Once only Philip had entered a town, on the second day of their flight, and that solely for the purchase of ruder clothes, and a change of linen for Sidney, with some articles and implements of use necessary in their present course of shift and welcome hardship. A wise precaution; for, thus clad, they escaped suspicion.
So journeying, they consumed several days; and, having taken a direction quite opposite to that which led to the manufacturing districts, whither pursuit had been directed, they were now in the centre of another county —in the neighbourhood of one of the most considerable towns of England; and here Philip began to think their wanderings ought to cease, and it was time to settle on some definite course of life. He had carefully hoarded about his person, and most thriftily managed, the little fortune bequeathed by his mother. But Philip looked on this capital as a deposit sacred to Sidney; it was not to be spent, but kept and augmented—the nucleus for future wealth. Within the last few weeks his character was greatly ripened, and his powers of thought enlarged. He was no more a boy,—he was a man: he had another life to take care of. He resolved, then, to enter the town they were approaching, and to seek for some situation by which he might maintain both. Sidney was very loath to abandon their present roving life; but he allowed that the warm weather could not always last, and that in winter the fields would be less pleasant. He, therefore, with a sigh, yielded to his brother's reasonings.
They entered the fair and busy town of one day at noon; and, after finding a small lodging, at which he deposited Sidney, who was fatigued with their day's walk, Philip sallied forth alone.
After his long rambling, Philip was pleased and struck with the broad bustling streets, the gay shops—the evidences of opulence and trade. He thought it hard if he could not find there a market for the health and heart of sixteen. He strolled slowly and alone along the streets, till his attention was caught by a small corner shop, in the window of which was placed a board, bearing this inscription:
"OFFICE FOR EMPLOYMENT.—RECIPROCAL ADVANTAGE.
"Mr. John Clump's bureau open every day, from ten till four. Clerks, servants, labourers, &c., provided with suitable situations. Terms moderate. N.B.—The oldest established office in the town.
"Wanted, a good cook. An under gardener."
What he sought was here! Philip entered, and saw a short fat man with spectacles, seated before a desk, poring upon the well-filled leaves of a long register.
"Sir," said Philip, "I wish for a situation. I don't care what."
"Half-a-crown for entry, if you please. That's right. Now for particulars. Hum!—you don't look like a servant!"
"No; I wish for any place where my education can be of use. I can read and write; I know Latin and French; I can draw; I know arithmetic and summing."
"Very well; very genteel young man—prepossessing appearance (that's a fudge!), highly educated; usher in a school, eh?"
"What you like."
"I have none."
"Eh!—none?" and Mr. Clump fixed his spectacles full upon Philip.
Philip was prepared for the question, and had the sense to perceive that a frank reply was his best policy. "The fact is," said he boldly, "I was well brought up; my father died; I was to be bound apprentice to a trade I disliked; I left it, and have now no friends."
"If I can help you, I will," said Mr. Clump, coldly. "Can't promise much. If you were a labourer, character might not matter; but educated young men must have a character. Hands always more useful than head. Education no avail nowadays; common, quite common. Call again on Monday."
Somewhat disappointed and chilled, Philip turned from the bureau; but he had a strong confidence in his own resources, and recovered his spirits as he mingled with the throng. He passed, at length, by a livery-stable, and paused, from old associations, as he saw a groom in the mews attempting to manage a young, hot horse, evidently unbroken. The master of the stables, in a green short jacket and top-boots, with a long whip in his hand, was standing by, with one or two men who looked like horsedealers.
"Come off, clumsy! you can't manage that I ere fine hanimal," cried the liveryman. "Ah! he's a lamb, sir, if he were backed properly. But I has not a man in the yard as can ride since Will died. Come off, I say, lubber!"
But to come off, without being thrown off, was more easily said than done. The horse was now plunging as if Juno had sent her gadfly to him; and Philip, interested and excited, came nearer and nearer, till he stood by the side of the horse-dealers. The other ostlers ran to the help of their comrade, who at last, with white lips and shaking knees, found himself on terra firma; while the horse, snorting hard, and rubbing his head against the breast and arms of the ostler, who held him tightly by the rein, seemed to ask, is his own way, "Are there any more of you?"
A suspicion that the horse was an old acquaintance crossed Philip's mind; he went up to him, and a white spot over the left eye confirmed his doubts. It had been a foal reserved and reared for his own riding! one that, in his prosperous days, had ate bread from his hand, and followed him round the paddock like a dog; one that he had mounted in sport, without saddle, when his father's back was turned; a friend, in short, of the happy Lang syne;—nay, the very friend to whom he had boasted his affection, when, standing with Arthur Beaufort under the summer sky, the whole world seemed to him full of friends. He put his hand on the horse's neck, and whispered, "Soho! So, Billy!" and the horse turned sharp round with a quick joyous neigh.
"If you please, sir," said Philip, appealing to the liveryman, "I will undertake to ride this horse, and take him over yon leaping-bar. Just let me try him."
"There's a fine-spirited lad for you!" said the liveryman, much pleased at the offer. "Now, gentlemen, did I not tell you that 'ere hanimal had no vice if he was properly managed?"
The horse-dealers shook their heads.
"May I give him some bread first?" asked Philip; and the ostler was despatched to the house. Meanwhile the animal evinced various signs of pleasure and recognition, as Philip stroked and talked to him; and, finally, when he ate the bread from the young man's hand, the whole yard seemed in as much delight and surprise as if they had witnessed one of Monsieur Van Amburgh's exploits.
And now, Philip, still caressing the horse, slowly and cautiously mounted; the animal made one bound half-across the yard—a bound which sent all the horse-dealers into a corner-and then went through his paces, one after the other, with as much ease and calm as if he had been broken in at Mr. Fozard's to carry a young lady. And when he crowned all by going thrice over the leaping-bar, and Philip, dismounting, threw the reins to the ostler, and turned triumphantly to the horse-dealer, that gentleman slapped him on the back, and said, emphatically, "Sir, you are a man! and I am proud to see you here."
Meanwhile the horse-dealers gathered round the animal; looked at his hoofs, felt his legs, examined his windpipe, and concluded the bargain, which, but for Philip, would have been very abruptly broken off. When the horse was led out of the yard, the liveryman, Mr. Stubmore, turned to Philip, who, leaning against the wall, followed the poor animal with mournful eyes.
"My good sir, you have sold that horse for me—that you have! Anything as I can do for you? One good turn de serves another. Here's a brace of shiners."
"Thank you, sir! I want no money, but I do want some employment. I can be of use to you, perhaps, in your establishment. I have been brought up among horses all my life."
"Saw it, sir! that's very clear. I say, that 'ere horse knows you!" and the dealer put his finger to his nose.
"Quite right to be mum! He was bred by an old customer of mine—famous rider!—Mr. Beaufort. Aha! that's where you knew him, I s'pose. Were you in his stables?"
"Hem—I knew Mr. Beaufort well."
"Did you? You could not know a better man. Well, I shall be very glad to engage you, though you seem by your hands to be a bit of a gentleman- elh? Never mind; don't want you to groom!—but superintend things. D'ye know accounts, eh?"
Philip repeated to Mr. Stubmore the story he had imparted to Mr. Clump. Somehow or other, men who live much with horses are always more lax in their notions than the rest of mankind. Mr. Stubmore did not seem to grow more distant at Philip's narration.
"Understand you perfectly, my man. Brought up with them 'ere fine creturs, how could you nail your nose to a desk? I'll take you without more palaver. What's your name?"
"Come to-morrow, and we'll settle about wages. Sleep here?"
"No. I have a brother whom I must lodge with, and for whose sake I wish to work. I should not like him to be at the stables—he is too young. But I can come early every day, and go home late."
"Well, just as you like, my man. Good day."
And thus, not from any mental accomplishment—not from the result of his intellectual education, but from the mere physical capacity and brute habit of sticking fast on his saddle, did Philip Morton, in this great, intelligent, gifted, civilised, enlightened community of Great Britain, find the means of earning his bread without stealing it.
"Don Salluste (souriunt). Je paire Que vous ne pensiez pas a moi?"—Ruy Blas.
"Don Salluste. Cousin! Don Cesar. De vos bienfaits je n'aurai nulle envie, Tant que je trouverai vivant ma libre vie."—Ibid.
Don Sallust (smiling). I'll lay a wager you won't think of me? Don Sallust. Cousin! Don Caesar. I covet not your favours, so but I lead an independent life.
Phillip's situation was agreeable to his habits. His great courage and skill in horsemanship were not the only qualifications useful to Mr. Stubmore: his education answered a useful purpose in accounts, and his manners and appearance were highly to the credit of the yard. The customers and loungers soon grew to like Gentleman Philips, as he was styled in the establishment. Mr. Stubmore conceived a real affection for him. So passed several weeks; and Philip, in this humble capacity, might have worked out his destinies in peace and comfort, but for a new cause of vexation that arose in Sidney. This boy was all in all to his brother. For him he had resisted the hearty and joyous invitations of Gawtrey (whose gay manner and high spirits had, it must be owned, captivated his fancy, despite the equivocal mystery of the man's avocations and condition); for him he now worked and toiled, cheerful and contented; and him he sought to save from all to which he subjected himself. He could not bear that that soft and delicate child should ever be exposed to the low and menial associations that now made up his own life—to the obscene slang of grooms and ostlers—to their coarse manners and rough contact. He kept him, therefore, apart and aloof in their little lodging, and hoped in time to lay by, so that Sidney might ultimately be restored, if not to his bright original sphere, at least to a higher grade than that to which Philip was himself condemned. But poor Sidney could not bear to be thus left alone—to lose sight of his brother from daybreak till bed-time—to have no one to amuse him; he fretted and pined away: all the little inconsiderate selfishness, uneradicated from his breast by his sufferings, broke out the more, the more he felt that he was the first object on earth to Philip. Philip, thinking he might be more cheerful at a day-school, tried the experiment of placing him at one where the boys were much of his own age. But Sidney, on the third day, came back with a black eye, and he would return no more. Philip several times thought of changing their lodging for one where there were young people. But Sidney had taken a fancy to the kind old widow who was their landlady, and cried at the thought of removal. Unfortunately, the old woman was deaf and rheumatic; and though she bore teasing ad libitum, she could not entertain the child long on a stretch. Too young to be reasonable, Sidney could not, or would not, comprehend why his brother was so long away from him; and once he said, peevishly,—