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Night and Morning, Volume 1 by Edward Bulwer Lytton

Part 3 out of 3

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"D'ye stand amazed?--Look o'er thy head, Maximinian!
Look to the terror which overhangs thee."

Phillip had been five weeks in his new home: in another week, he was to
enter on his articles of apprenticeship. With a stern, unbending gloom
of manner, he had commenced the duties of his novitiate. He submitted to
all that was enjoined him. He seemed to have lost for ever the wild and
unruly waywardness that had stamped his boyhood; but he was never seen to
smile--he scarcely ever opened his lips. His very soul seemed to have
quitted him with its faults; and he performed all the functions of his
situation with the quiet listless regularity of a machine. Only when the
work was done and the shop closed, instead of joining the family circle
in the back parlour, he would stroll out in the dusk of the evening, away
from the town, and not return till the hour at which the family retired
to rest. Punctual in all he did, he never exceeded that hour. He had
heard once a week from his mother; and only on the mornings in which he
expected a letter, did he seem restless and agitated. Till the postman
entered the shop, he was as pale as death--his hands trembling--his lips
compressed. When he read the letter he became composed for Catherine
sedulously concealed from her son the state of her health: she wrote
cheerfully, besought him to content himself with the state into which he
had fallen, and expressed her joy that in his letters he intimated that
content; for the poor boy's letters were not less considerate than her
own. On her return from her brother, she had so far silenced or
concealed her misgivings as to express satisfaction at the home she had
provided for Sidney; and she even held out hopes of some future when,
their probation finished and their independence secured, she might reside
with her sons alternately. These hopes redoubled Philip's assiduity, and
he saved every shilling of his weekly stipend; and sighed as he thought
that in another week his term of apprenticeship would commence, and the
stipend cease.

Mr. Plaskwith could not but be pleased on the whole with the diligence of
his assistant, but he was chafed and irritated by the sullenness of his
manner. As for Mrs. Plaskwith, poor woman! she positively detested the
taciturn and moody boy, who never mingled in the jokes of the circle, nor
played with the children, nor complimented her, nor added, in short,
anything to the sociability of the house. Mr. Plimmins, who had at first
sought to condescend, next sought to bully; but the gaunt frame and
savage eye of Philip awed the smirk youth, in spite of himself; and he
confessed to Mrs. Plaskwith that he should not like to meet "the gipsy,"
alone, on a dark night; to which Mrs. Plaskwith replied, as usual, "that
Mr. Plimmins always did say the best things in the world!"

One morning, Philip was sent a few miles into the country, to assist in
cataloguing some books in the library of Sir Thomas Champerdown--that
gentleman, who was a scholar, having requested that some one acquainted
with the Greek character might be sent to him, and Philip being the only
one in the shop who possessed such knowledge.

It was evening before he returned. Mr. and Mrs. Plaskwith were both in
the shop as he entered--in fact, they had been employed in talking him

"I can't abide him!" cried Mrs. Plaskwith. "If you choose to take him
for good, I sha'n't have an easy moment. I'm sure the 'prentice that
cut his master's throat at Chatham, last week, was just like him."

"Pshaw! Mrs. P.," said the bookseller, taking a huge pinch of snuff, as
usual, from his waistcoat pocket. "I myself was reserved when I was
young; all reflective people are. I may observe, by the by, that it was
the case with Napoleon Buonaparte: still, however, I must own he is a
disagreeable youth, though he attends to his business."

"And how fond of money he is!" remarked Mrs. Plaskwith, "he won't buy
himself a new pair of shoes!--quite disgraceful! And did you see what a
look he gave Plimmins, when he joked about his indifference to his sole?
Plimmins always does say such good things!"

"He is shabby, certainly," said the bookseller; "but the value of a book
does not always depend on the binding."

"I hope he is honest!" observed Mrs. Plaskwith;--and here Philip

"Hum," said Mr. Plaskwith; "you have had a long day's work: but I suppose
it will take a week to finish?"

"I am to go again to-morrow morning, sir: two days more will conclude the

"There's a letter for you," cried Mrs. Plaskwith; "you owes me for it."

"A letter!" It was not his mother's hand--it was a strange writing--he
gasped for breath as he broke the seal. It was the letter of the

His mother, then, was ill-dying-wanting, perhaps, the necessaries of
life. She would have concealed from him her illness and her poverty.
His quick alarm exaggerated the last into utter want;--he uttered a cry
that rang through the shop, and rushed to Mr. Plaskwith.

"Sir, sir! my mother is dying! She is poor, poor, perhaps starving;--
money, money!--lend me money!--ten pounds!--five!--I will work for you
all my life for nothing, but lend me the money!"

"Hoity-toity!" said Mrs. Plaskwith, nudging her husband--"I told you
what would come of it: it will be 'money or life' next time."

Philip did not heed or hear this address; but stood immediately before
the bookseller, his hands clasped--wild impatience in his eyes. Mr.
Plaskwith, somewhat stupefied, remained silent.

"Do you hear me?--are you human?" exclaimed Philip, his emotion
revealing at once all the fire of his character. "I tell you my mother
is dying; I must go to her! Shall I go empty-handed! Give me money!"

Mr. Plaskwith was not a bad-hearted man; but he was a formal man, and an
irritable one. The tone his shopboy (for so he considered Philip)
assumed to him, before his own wife too (examples are very dangerous),
rather exasperated than moved him.

"That's not the way to speak to your master:--you forget yourself, young

"Forget!--But, sir, if she has not necessaries-if she is starving?"

"Fudge!" said Plaskwith. "Mr. Morton writes me word that he has provided
for your mother! Does he not, Hannah?"

"More fool he, I'm sure, with such a fine family of his own! Don't look
at me in that way, young man; I won't take it--that I won't! I declare
my blood friz to see you!"

"Will you advance me money?--five pounds--only five pounds, Mr.

"Not five shillings! Talk to me in this style!--not the man for it,
sir!--highly improper. Come, shut up the shop, and recollect yourself;
and, perhaps, when Sir Thomas's library is done, I may let you go to
town. You can't go to-morrow. All a sham, perhaps; eh, Hannah?"

"Very likely! Consult Plimmins. Better come away now, Mr. P. He looks
like a young tiger."

Mrs. Plaskwith quitted the shop for the parlour. Her husband, putting
his hands behind his back, and throwing back his chin, was about to
follow her. Philip, who had remained for the last moment mute and white
as stone, turned abruptly; and his grief taking rather the tone of rage
than supplication, he threw himself before his master, and, laying his
hand on his shoulder, said:

"I leave you--do not let it be with a curse. I conjure you, have mercy
on me!"

Mr. Plaskwith stopped; and had Philip then taken but a milder tone, all
had been well. But, accustomed from childhood to command--all his fierce
passions loose within him--despising the very man he thus implored--the
boy ruined his own cause. Indignant at the silence of Mr. Plaskwith, and
too blinded by his emotions to see that in that silence there was
relenting, he suddenly shook the little man with a vehemence that almost
overset him, and cried:

"You, who demand for five years my bones and blood--my body and soul--a
slave to your vile trade--do you deny me bread for a mother's lips?"

Trembling with anger, and perhaps fear, Mr. Plaskwith extricated himself
from the gripe of Philip, and, hurrying from the shop, said, as he banged
the door:

"Beg my pardon for this to-night, or out you go to-morrow, neck and crop!
Zounds! a pretty pass the world's come to! I don't believe a word about
your mother. Baugh!"

Left alone, Philip remained for some moments struggling with his wrath
and agony. He then seized his hat, which he had thrown off on entering--
pressed it over his brows--turned to quit the shop--when his eye fell
upon the till. Plaskwith had left it open, and the gleam of the coin
struck his gaze--that deadly smile of the arch tempter. Intellect,
reason, conscience--all, in that instant, were confusion and chaos. He
cast a hurried glance round the solitary and darkening room--plunged his
hand into the drawer, clutched he knew not what--silver or gold, as it
came uppermost--and burst into a loud and bitter laugh. The laugh itself
startled him--it did not sound like his own. His face fell, and his
knees knocked together--his hair bristled--he felt as if the very fiend
had uttered that yell of joy over a fallen soul.

"No--no--no!" he muttered; "no, my mother,--not even for thee!" And,
dashing the money to the ground, he fled, like a maniac, from the house.

At a later hour that same evening, Mr. Robert Beaufort returned from his
country mansion to Berkeley Square. He found his wife very uneasy and
nervous about the non-appearance of their only son. Arthur had sent home
his groom and horses about seven o'clock, with a hurried scroll, written
in pencil on a blank page torn from his pocket-book, and containing only
these words,--

"Don't wait dinner for me--I may not be home for some hours. I have met
with a melancholy adventure. You will approve what I have done when we

This note a little perplexed Mr. Beaufort; but, as he was very hungry, he
turned a deaf ear both to his wife's conjectures and his own surmises,
till he had refreshed himself; and then he sent for the groom, and
learned that, after the accident to the blind man, Mr. Arthur had been
left at a hosier's in H----. This seemed to him extremely mysterious;
and, as hour after hour passed away, and still Arthur came not, he began
to imbibe his wife's fears, which were now wound up almost to hysterics;
and just at midnight he ordered his carriage, and taking with him the
groom as a guide, set off to the suburban region. Mrs. Beaufort had
wished to accompany him; but the husband observing that young men would
be young men, and that there might possibly be a lady in the case, Mrs.
Beaufort, after a pause of thought, passively agreed that, all things
considered, she had better remain at home. No lady of proper decorum
likes to run the risk of finding herself in a false position. Mr.
Beaufort accordingly set out alone. Easy was the carriage--swift were
the steeds--and luxuriously the wealthy man was whirled along. Not a
suspicion of the true cause of Arthur's detention crossed him; but he
thought of the snares of London--or artful females in distress; "a
melancholy adventure" generally implies love for the adventure, and money
for the melancholy; and Arthur was young--generous--with a heart and a
pocket equally open to imposition. Such scrapes, however, do not terrify
a father when he is a man of the world, so much as they do an anxious
mother; and, with more curiosity than alarm, Mr. Beaufort, after a short
doze, found himself before the shop indicated.

Notwithstanding the lateness of the hour, the door to the private
entrance was ajar,--a circumstance which seemed very suspicious to Mr.
Beaufort. He pushed it open with caution and timidity--a candle placed
upon a chair in the narrow passage threw a sickly light over the flight
of stairs, till swallowed up by the deep shadow from the sharp angle made
by the ascent. Robert Beaufort stood a moment in some doubt whether to
call, to knock, to recede, or to advance, when a step was heard upon the
stairs above--it came nearer and nearer--a figure emerged from the shadow
of the last landing-place, and Mr. Beaufort, to his great joy, recognised
his son.

Arthur did not, however, seem to perceive his father; and was about to
pass him, when Mr. Beaufort laid his hand on his arm.

"What means all this, Arthur? What place are you in? How you have
alarmed us!"

Arthur cast a look upon his father of sadness and reproach.

"Father," he said, in a tone that sounded stern--almost commanding--"I
will show you where I have been; follow me--nay, I say, follow."

He turned, without another word re-ascended the stairs; and Mr. Beaufort,
surprised and awed into mechanical obedience, did as his son desired. At
the landing-place of the second floor, another long-wicked, neglected,
ghastly candle emitted its cheerless ray. It gleamed through the open
door of a small bedroom to the left, through which Beaufort perceived the
forms of two women. One (it was the kindly maidservant) was seated on a
chair, and weeping bitterly; the other (it was a hireling nurse, in the
first and last day of her attendance) was unpinning her dingy shawl
before she lay down to take a nap. She turned her vacant, listless face
upon the two men, put on a doleful smile, and decently closed the door.

"Where are we, I say, Arthur?" repeated Mr. Beaufort. Arthur took his
father's hand-drew him into a room to the right--and taking up the
candle, placed it on a small table beside a bell, and said, "Here, sir--
in the presence of Death!"

Mr. Beaufort cast a hurried and fearful glance on the still, wan, serene
face beneath his eyes, and recognised in that glance the features of the
neglected and the once adored Catherine.

"Yes--she, whom your brother so loved--the mother of his children--died
in this squalid room, and far from her sons, in poverty, in sorrow! died
of a broken heart! Was that well, father? Have you in this nothing to

Conscience-stricken and appalled, the worldly man sank down on a seat
beside the bed, and covered his face with his hands.

"Ay," continued Arthur, almost bitterly--"ay, we, his nearest of kin--we,
who have inherited his lands and gold--we have been thus heedless of the
great legacy your brother bequeathed to us:--the things dearest to him--
the woman he loved--the children his death cast, nameless and branded, on
the world. Ay, weep, father: and while you weep, think of the future, of
reparation. I have sworn to that clay to befriend her sons; join you,
who have all the power to fulfil the promise--join in that vow: and may
Heaven not visit on us both the woes of this bed of death!"

"I did not know--I--I--" faltered Mr. Beaufort.

"But we should have known," interrupted Arthur, mournfully. "Ah, my dear
father! do not harden your heart by false excuses. The dead still speaks
to you, and commends to your care her children. My task here is done: O
sir! yours is to come. I leave you alone with the dead."

So saying, the young man, whom the tragedy of the scene had worked into a
passion and a dignity above his usual character, unwilling to trust
himself farther to his emotions, turned abruptly from the room, fled
rapidly down the stairs and left the house. As the carriage and liveries
of his father met his eye, he groaned; for their evidences of comfort and
wealth seemed a mockery to the deceased: he averted his face and walked
on. Nor did he heed or even perceive a form that at that instant rushed
by him--pale, haggard, breathless--towards the house which he had
quitted, and the door of which he left open, as he had found it--open, as
the physician had left it when hurrying, ten minutes before the arrival
of Mr. Beaufort, from the spot where his skill was impotent. Wrapped in
gloomy thought, alone, and on foot-at that dreary hour, and in that
remote suburb--the heir of the Beauforts sought his splendid home.
Anxious, fearful, hoping, the outcast orphan flew on to the death-room
of his mother.

Mr. Beaufort, who had but imperfectly heard Arthur's parting accents,
lost and bewildered by the strangeness of his situation, did not at first
perceive that he was left alone. Surprised, and chilled by the sudden
silence of the chamber, he rose, withdrew his hands from his face, and
again he saw that countenance so mute and solemn. He cast his gaze round
the dismal room for Arthur; he called his name--no answer came; a
superstitious tremor seized upon him; his limbs shook; he sank once more
on his seat, and closed his eyes: muttering, for the first time, perhaps,
since his childhood, words of penitence and prayer. He was roused
from this bitter self-abstraction by a deep groan. It seemed to come
from the bed. Did his ears deceive him? Had the dead found a voice? He
started up in an agony of dread, and saw opposite to him the livid
countenance of Philip Morton: the Son of the Corpse had replaced the Son
of the Living Man! The dim and solitary light fell upon that
countenance. There, all the bloom and freshness natural to youth seemed
blasted! There, on those wasted features, played all the terrible power
and glare of precocious passions,--rage, woe, scorn, despair. Terrible
is it to see upon the face of a boy the storm and whirlwind that should
visit only the strong heart of man!

"She is dead!--dead! and in your presence!" shouted Philip, with his
wild eyes fixed upon the cowering uncle; "dead with--care, perhaps with
famine. And you have come to look upon your work!"

"Indeed," said Beaufort, deprecatingly, "I have but just arrived: I did
not know she had been ill, or in want, upon my honour. This is all a--a
--mistake: I--I--came in search of--of--another--"

"You did not, then, come to relieve her?" said Philip, very calmly.
"You had not learned her suffering and distress, and flown hither in the
hope that there was yet time to save her? You did not do this? Ha! ha!
--why did I think it?"

"Did any one call, gentlemen?" said a whining voice at the door; and the
nurse put in her head.

"Yes--yes--you may come in," said Beaufort, shaking with nameless and
cowardly apprehension; but Philip had flown to the door, and, gazing on
the nurse, said,

"She is a stranger! see, a stranger! The son now has assumed his post.
Begone, woman!" And he pushed her away, and drew the bolt across the

And then there looked upon him, as there had looked upon his reluctant
companion, calm and holy, the face of the peaceful corpse. He burst into
tears, and fell on his knees so close to Beaufort that he touched him; he
took up the heavy hand, and covered it with burning kisses.

"Mother! mother! do not leave me! wake, smile once more on your son!
I would have brought you money, but I could not have asked for your
blessing, then; mother, I ask it now!"

"If I had but known--if you had but written to me, my dear young
gentleman--but my offers had been refused, and--"

"Offers of a hireling's pittance to her; to her for whom my father would
have coined his heart's blood into gold! My father's wife!--his wife!--

He rose suddenly, folded his arms, and facing Beaufort, with a fierce
determined brow, said:

"Mark me, you hold the wealth that I was trained from my cradle to
consider my heritage. I have worked with these hands for bread, and
never complained, except to my own heart and soul. I never hated, and
never cursed you--robber as you were--yes, robber! For, even were there
no marriage save in the sight of God, neither my father, nor Nature, nor
Heaven, meant that you should seize all, and that there should be nothing
due to the claims of affection and blood. He was not the less my father,
even if the Church spoke not on my side. Despoiler of the orphan, and
derider of human love, you are not the less a robber though the law
fences you round, and men call you honest! But I did not hate you for
this. Now, in the presence of my dead mother--dead, far from both her
sons--now I abhor and curse you. You may think yourself safe when you
quit this room-safe, and from my hatred you may be so but do not deceive
yourself. The curse of the widow and the orphan shall pursue--it shall
cling to you and yours--it shall gnaw your heart in the midst of
splendour--it shall cleave to the heritage of your son! There shall be a
deathbed yet, beside which you shall see the spectre of her, now so calm,
rising for retribution from the grave! These words--no, you never shall
forget them--years hence they shall ring in your ears, and freeze the
marrow of your bones! And now begone, my father's brother--begone from
my mother's corpse to your luxurious home!"

He opened the door, and pointed to the stairs. Beaufort, without a word,
turned from the room and departed. He heard the door closed and locked
as he descended the stairs; but he did not hear the deep groans and
vehement sobs in which the desolate orphan gave vent to the anguish which
succeeded to the less sacred paroxysm of revenge and wrath.

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