Night and Morning, Volume 4

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THE WORKS

OF
EDWARD BULWER LYTTON
(LORD LYTTON)

NIGHT AND MORNING

Book IV

CHAPTER I.

          ”O that sweet gleam of sunshine on the lake!”

          WILSON’S City of the Plague

If, reader, you have ever looked through a solar microscope at the
monsters in a drop of water, perhaps you have wondered to yourself how
things so terrible have been hitherto unknown to you—you have felt a
loathing at the limpid element you hitherto deemed so pure—you have half
fancied that you would cease to be a water-drinker; yet, the next day you
have forgotten the grim life that started before you, with its countless
shapes, in that teeming globule; and, if so tempted by your thirst, you
have not shrunk from the lying crystal, although myriads of the horrible
Unseen are mangling, devouring, gorging each other in the liquid you so
tranquilly imbibe; so is it with that ancestral and master element called
Life. Lapped in your sleek comforts, and lolling on the sofa of your
patent conscience—when, perhaps for the first time, you look through the
glass of science upon one ghastly globule in the waters that heave
around, that fill up, with their succulence, the pores of earth, that
moisten every atom subject to your eyes or handled by your touch—you are
startled and dismayed; you say, mentally, “Can such things be? I never
dreamed of this before! I thought what was invisible to me was non-
existent in itself—I will remember this dread experiment.” The next day
the experiment is forgotten.—The Chemist may purify the Globule—can
Science make pure the World?

Turn we now to the pleasant surface, seen in the whole, broad and fair to
the common eye. Who would judge well of God’s great designs, if he could
look on no drop pendent from the rose-tree, or sparkling in the sun,
without the help of his solar microscope?

It is ten years after the night on which William Gawtrey perished:—I
transport you, reader, to the fairest scenes in England,—scenes
consecrated by the only true pastoral poetry we have known to
Contemplation and Repose.

Autumn had begun to tinge the foliage on the banks of Winandermere. It
had been a summer of unusual warmth and beauty; and if that year you had
visited the English lakes, you might, from time to time, amidst the
groups of happy idlers you encountered, have singled out two persons for
interest, or, perhaps, for envy. Two who might have seemed to you in
peculiar harmony with those serene and soft retreats, both young—both
beautiful. Lovers you would have guessed them to be; but such lovers as
Fletcher might have placed under the care of his “Holy Shepherdess”—
forms that might have reclined by

          ”The virtuous well, about whose flowery banks

          The nimble-footed fairies dance their rounds

          By the pale moonshine.”

For in the love of those persons there seemed a purity and innocence that
suited well their youth and the character of their beauty. Perhaps,
indeed, on the girl’s side, love sprung rather from those affections
which the spring of life throws upward to the surface, as the spring of
earth does its flowers, than from that concentrated and deep absorption
of self in self, which alone promises endurance and devotion, and of
which first love, or rather the first fancy, is often less susceptible
than that which grows out of the more thoughtful fondness of maturer
years. Yet he, the lover, was of so rare and singular a beauty, that he
might well seem calculated to awake, to the utmost, the love which wins
the heart through the eyes.

But to begin at the beginning. A lady of fashion had, in the autumn
previous to the year in which our narrative re-opens, taken, with her
daughter, a girl then of about eighteen, the tour of the English lakes.
Charmed by the beauty of Winandermere, and finding one of the most
commodious villas on its banks to be let, they had remained there all the
winter. In the early spring a severe illness had seized the elder lady,
and finding herself, as she slowly recovered, unfit for the gaieties of a
London season, nor unwilling, perhaps,—for she had been a beauty in her
day—to postpone for another year the debut of her daughter, she had
continued her sojourn, with short intervals of absence, for a whole year.
Her husband, a busy man of the world, with occupation in London, and fine
estates in the country, joined them only occasionally, glad to escape the
still beauty of landscapes which brought him no rental, and therefore
afforded no charm to his eye.

In the first month of their arrival at Winandermere, the mother and
daughter had made an eventful acquaintance in the following manner.

One evening, as they were walking on their lawn, which sloped to the
lake, they heard the sound of a flute, played with a skill so exquisite
as to draw them, surprised and spellbound, to the banks. The musician
was a young man, in a boat, which he had moored beneath the trees of
their demesne. He was alone, or, rather, he had one companion, in a
large Newfoundland dog, that sat watchful at the helm of the boat, and
appeared to enjoy the music as much as his master. As the ladies
approached the spot, the dog growled, and the young man ceased, though
without seeing the fair causes of his companion’s displeasure. The sun,
then setting, shone full on his countenance as he looked round; and that
countenance was one that might have haunted the nymphs of Delos; the face
of Apollo, not as the hero, but the shepherd—not of the bow, but of the
lute—not the Python-slayer, but the young dreamer by shady places—he
whom the sculptor has portrayed leaning idly against the tree—the boy-
god whose home is yet on earth, and to whom the Oracle and the Spheres
are still unknown.

At that moment the dog leaped from the boat, and the elder lady uttered a
faint cry of alarm, which, directing the attention of the musician,
brought him also ashore. He called off his dog, and apologised, with a
not ungraceful mixture of diffidence and ease, for his intrusion. He was
not aware the place was inhabited—it was a favourite haunt of his—he
lived near. The elder lady was pleased with his address, and struck with
his appearance. There was, indeed, in his manner that indefinable charm,
which is more attractive than mere personal appearance, and which can
never be imitated or acquired. They parted, however, without
establishing any formal acquaintance. A few days after, they met at
dinner at a neighbouring house, and were introduced by name. That of the
young man seemed strange to the ladies; not so theirs to him. He turned
pale when he heard it, and remained silent and aloof the rest of the
evening. They met again and often; and for some weeks—nay, even for
months—he appeared to avoid, as much as possible, the acquaintance so
auspiciously begun; but, by little and little, the beauty of the younger
lady seemed to gain ground on his diffidence or repugnance. Excursions
among the neighbouring mountains threw them together, and at last he
fairly surrendered himself to the charm he had at first determined to
resist.

This young man lived on the opposite side of the lake, in a quiet
household, of which he was the idol. His life had been one of almost
monastic purity and repose; his tastes were accomplished, his character
seemed soft and gentle; but beneath that calm exterior, flashes of
passion—the nature of the poet, ardent and sensitive—would break forth
at times. He had scarcely ever, since his earliest childhood, quitted
those retreats; he knew nothing of the world, except in books—books of
poetry and romance. Those with whom he lived—his relations, an old
bachelor, and the cold bachelor’s sisters, old maids—seemed equally
innocent and inexperienced. It was a family whom the rich respected and
the poor loved—inoffensive, charitable, and well off. To whatever their
easy fortune might be, he appeared the heir. The name of this young man
was Charles Spencer; the ladies were Mrs. Beaufort, and Camilla her
daughter.

Mrs. Beaufort, though a shrewd woman, did not at first perceive any
danger in the growing intimacy between Camilla and the younger Spencer.
Her daughter was not her favourite—not the object of her one thought or
ambition. Her whole heart and soul were wrapped in her son Arthur, who
lived principally abroad. Clever enough to be considered capable, when
he pleased, of achieving distinction, good-looking enough to be thought
handsome by all who were on the qui vive for an advantageous match,
good-natured enough to be popular with the society in which he lived,
scattering to and fro money without limit,—Arthur Beaufort, at the age
of thirty, had established one of those brilliant and evanescent
reputations, which, for a few years, reward the ambition of the fine
gentleman. It was precisely the reputation that the mother could
appreciate, and which even the more saving father secretly admired,
while, ever respectable in phrase, Mr. Robert Beaufort seemed openly to
regret it. This son was, I say, everything to them; they cared little,
in comparison, for their daughter. How could a daughter keep up the
proud name of Beaufort? However well she might marry, it was another
house, not theirs, which her graces and beauty would adorn. Moreover,
the better she might marry the greater her dowry would naturally be,—the
dowry, to go out of the family! And Arthur, poor fellow! was so
extravagant, that really he would want every sixpence. Such was the
reasoning of the father. The mother reasoned less upon the matter. Mrs.
Beaufort, faded and meagre, in blonde and cashmere, was jealous of the
charms of her daughter; and she herself, growing sentimental and
lachrymose as she advanced in life, as silly women often do, had
convinced herself that Camilla was a girl of no feeling.

Miss Beaufort was, indeed, of a character singularly calm and placid; it
was the character that charms men in proportion, perhaps, to their own
strength and passion. She had been rigidly brought up—her affections
had been very early chilled and subdued; they moved, therefore, now, with
ease, in the serene path of her duties. She held her parents, especially
her father, in reverential fear, and never dreamed of the possibility of
resisting one of their wishes, much less their commands. Pious, kind,
gentle, of a fine and never-ruffled temper, Camilla, an admirable
daughter, was likely to make no less admirable a wife; you might depend
on her principles, if ever you could doubt her affection. Few girls were
more calculated to inspire love. You would scarcely wonder at any folly,
any madness, which even a wise man might commit for her sake. This did
not depend on her beauty alone, though she was extremely lovely rather
than handsome, and of that style of loveliness which is universally
fascinating: the figure, especially as to the arms, throat, and bust, was
exquisite; the mouth dimpled; the teeth dazzling; the eyes of that velvet
softness which to look on is to love. But her charm was in a certain
prettiness of manner, an exceeding innocence, mixed with the most
captivating, because unconscious, coquetry. With all this, there was a
freshness, a joy, a virgin and bewitching candour in her voice, her
laugh—you might almost say in her very movements. Such was Camilla
Beaufort at that age. Such she seemed to others. To her parents she was
only a great girl rather in the way. To Mrs. Beaufort a rival, to Mr.
Beaufort an encumbrance on the property.

CHAPTER II.

          * * * “The moon

          Saddening the solemn night, yet with that sadness

          Mingling the breath of undisturbed Peace.”

                               WILSON: City of the Plague

          * * * “Tell me his fate.

          Say that he lives, or say that he is dead

          But tell me—tell me!

          * * * * * *

          I see him not—some cloud envelopes him.”—Ibid.

One day (nearly a year after their first introduction) as with a party of
friends Camilla and Charles Spencer were riding through those wild and
romantic scenes which lie between the sunny Winandermere and the dark and
sullen Wastwater, their conversation fell on topics more personal than it
had hitherto done, for as yet, if they felt love, they had never spoken
of it.

The narrowness of the path allowed only two to ride abreast, and the two

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