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CHAPTER I.

"I wonder if we are to have a neighbor in the deanery soon," inquired Clara Moseley, addressing herself to a small party assembled in her father's drawing-room, while standing at a window which commanded a distant view of the house in question.

"Oh yes," replied the brother, "the agent has let it to a Mr. Jarvis for a couple of years, and he is to take possession this week."

"And who is the Mr. Jarvis that is about to become so near a neighbor?" asked Sir Edward Moseley.

"Why, sir, I learn he has been a capital merchant; that he has retired from business with a large fortune; that he has, like yourself, sir, an only hope for his declining years in a son, an officer in the army; and, moreover, that he has a couple of fine daughters; so, sir, he is a man of family in one sense, at least, you see. But," dropping his voice, "whether he is a man of family in your sense, Jane," looking at his second sister, "is more than I could discover."

"I hope you did not take the trouble, sir, to inquire on my account," retorted Jane, coloring slightly with vexation at his speech.

"Indeed I did, my dear sis, and solely on your account," replied the laughing brother, "for you well know that no gentility, no husband; and it's dull work to you young ladies without at least a possibility of matrimony; as for Clara, she is"—

Here he was stopped by his youngest sister Emily placing her hand on his mouth, as she whispered in his ear "John, you forget the anxiety of a certain gentleman about a fair incognita at Bath, and a list of inquiries concerning her lineage, and a few other indispensables." John in his turn, colored, and affectionately kissing the hand which kept him silent, addressed himself to Jane, and by his vivacity and good humor soon restored her to complacency.

"I rejoice," said Lady Moseley, "that Sir William has found a tenant, however; for next to occupying it himself, it is a most desirable thing to have a good tenant in it, on account of the circle in which we live."

"And Mr. Jarvis has the great goodness of money, by John's account," caustically observed Mrs. Wilson, who was a sister of Sir Edward's.

"Let me tell you, madam," cried the rector of the parish, looking around him pleasantly, and who was a pretty constant and always welcome visitor in the family, "that a great deal of money is a very good thing in itself, and that a great many very good things may be done with it."

"Such as paying tithes, ha! doctor," cried Mr. Haughton, a gentleman of landed property in the neighborhood, of plain exterior, but great goodness of heart, and between whom and the rector subsisted the most cordial good will.

"Aye, tithes, or halves, as the baronet did here, when he forgave old Gregson one half his rent, and his children the other."

"Well, but, my dear," said Sir Edward to his wife, "you must not starve our friends because we are to have a neighbor. William has stood with the dining-room door open these five minutes."

Lady Moseley gave her hand to the rector, and the company followed them, without any order, to the dinner-table.

The party assembled around the hospitable board of the baronet was composed, besides the before-mentioned persons, of the wife of Mr. Haughton, a woman of much good sense and modesty of deportment; their daughter, a young lady conspicuous for nothing but good nature; and the wife and son of the rector—the latter but lately admitted to holy orders himself.

The remainder of the day passed in an uninterrupted flow of pleasant conversation, the natural consequence of a unison of opinions on all leading questions, the parties having long known and esteemed each other for those qualities which soonest reconcile us to the common frailties of our nature. On parting at the usual hour, it was agreed to meet that day week at the rectory, and the doctor, on making his bow to Lady Moseley, observed, that he intended, in virtue of his office, to make an early call on the Jarvis family, and that, if possible, he would persuade them to be of the party.

Sir Edward Moseley was descended from one of the most respectable of the creations of his order by James, and had inherited, with many of the virtues of his ancestor, an estate which placed him amongst the greatest landed proprietors of the county. But, as it had been an invariable rule never to deduct a single acre from the inheritance of the eldest son, and the extravagance of his mother, who was the daughter of a nobleman, had much embarrassed the affairs of his father. Sir Edward, on coming into possession of his estate, had wisely determined to withdraw from the gay world, by renting his house in town, and retiring altogether to his respectable mansion, about a hundred miles from the metropolis. Here he hoped, by a course of systematic but liberal economy, to release himself from all embarrassments, and to make such a provision for his younger children, the three daughters already mentioned, as he conceived their birth entitled them to expect. Seventeen years enabled him to accomplish this plan; and for more than eighteen months, Sir Edward had resumed the hospitality and appearance usual in his family, and had even promised his delighted girls to take possession, the ensuing winter, of the house in St. James's Square. Nature had not qualified Sir Edward for great or continued exertions, and the prudent decision he had taken to retrieve his fortunes, was perhaps an act of as much forecast and vigor as his talents or energy would afford; it was the step most obviously for his interests, and the one that was safest both in its execution and consequences, and as such it had been adopted: but had it required a single particle more of enterprise or calculation, it would have been beyond his powers, and the heir might have yet labored under the difficulties which distressed his more brilliant, but less prudent, parent.

The baronet was warmly attached to his wife; and as she was a woman of many valuable and no obnoxious qualities, civil and attentive by habit to all around her, and perfectly disinterested in her attachments to her own family, nothing in nature could partake more of perfection in the eyes of her husband and children than the conduct of this beloved relative. Yet Lady Moseley had her failings, however, although few were disposed to view her errors with that severity which truth and a just discrimination of character render necessary. Her union had been one of love, and for a time it had been objected to by the friends of her husband, on the score of fortune; but constancy and perseverance prevailed, and the protracted and inconsequent opposition of his parents had left no other effects than an aversion in the children to the exercise of parental authority in marrying their own descendants; an aversion which, though common to both the worthy baronet and his wife, was somewhat different in its two subjects. In the husband it was quiescent; but in the wife, it was slightly shaded with the female esprit de corps of having her daughters comfortably established, and that in due season. Lady Moseley was religious, but hardly pious; she was charitable in deeds, but not always in opinions; her intentions were pure, but neither her prejudices nor her reasoning powers suffered her to be at all times consistent. Still few knew her that did not love her, and none were ever heard to say aught against her breeding, her morals, or her disposition.

The sister of Sir Edward had been married, early in life, to an officer in the army, who, spending much of his time abroad on service, had left her a prey to that solicitude to which she was necessarily a prey by her attachment to her husband. To find relief from this perpetual and life-wearing anxiety, an invaluable friend had pointed out the only true remedy of which her case admitted, a research into her own heart, and the employments of active benevolence. The death of her husband, who lost his life in battle, caused her to withdraw in a great measure from the world, and gave time and inducement for reflections, which led to impressions on religion that were sufficiently correct in themselves, and indispensable as the basis of future happiness, but which became slightly tinctured with the sternness of her vigorous mind, and possibly, at times, were more unbending than was compatible with the comforts of this world; a fault, however, of manner, more than of matter. Warmly attached to her brother and his children, Mrs. Wilson, who had never been a mother herself, yielded to their earnest entreaties to become one of the family; and although left by the late General Wilson with a large income, ever since his death she had given up her own establishment, and devoted most of her time to the formation of the character of her youngest niece. Lady Moseley had submitted this child entirely to the control of the aunt; and it was commonly thought Emily would inherit the very handsome sum left at the disposal of the general's widow.

Both Sir Edward and Lady Moseley possessed a large share of personal beauty when young, and it had descended in common to all their children, but more particularly to the two youngest daughters. Although a strong family resemblance, both in person and character, existed between these closely connected relatives, yet it existed with shades of distinction that had very different effects on their conduct, and led to results which stamped their lives with widely differing degrees of happiness.

Between the families at Moseley Hall and the rectory, there had existed for many years an intimacy founded on esteem and on long intercourse. Doctor Ives was a clergyman of deep piety, and of very considerable talents: he possessed, in addition to a moderate benefice, an independent fortune in right of his wife, who was the only child of a distinguished naval officer. Both were well connected, well bred, and well disposed to their fellow creatures. They were blessed with but one child, the young divine we have mentioned, who promised to equal his father in all those qualities which had made the doctor the delight of his friends, and almost the idol of his parishioners.

Between Francis Ives and Clara Moseley there had been an attachment, which had grown with their years, from childhood. He had been her companion in their youthful recreations, had espoused her little quarrels, and participated in her innocent pleasures, for so many years, and with such an evident preference for each other in the youthful pair, that, on leaving college to enter on the studies of his sacred calling with his father, Francis rightly judged that none other would make his future life as happy as the mild, the tender, the unassuming Clara. Their passion, if so gentle a feeling deserve the term, received the sanction of their parents, and the two families waited only for the establishment of the young divine, to perfect the union.

The retirement of Sir Edward's family had been uniform, with the exception of an occasional visit to an aged uncle of his wife's, who, in return, spent much of his time with them at the Hall, and who had openly declared his intention of making the children of Lady Moseley his heirs. The visits of Mr. Benfield were always hailed with joy, and as an event that called for more than ordinary gayety; for, although rough in manner, and somewhat infirm from years, the old bachelor, who was rather addicted to the customs in which he had indulged in his youth, and was fond of dwelling on the scenes of former days, was universally beloved where he was intimately known, for an unbounded though eccentric philanthropy.

The illness of the mother-in-law of Mrs. Wilson had called her to Bath the winter preceding the spring when our history commences, and she had been accompanied thither by her nephew and favorite niece. John and Emily, during the month of their residence in that city, were in the practice of making daily excursions in its environs. It was in one of these little drives that they were of accidental service to a very young and very beautiful woman, apparently in low health. They had taken her up in their carriage and conveyed her to a farm-house where she resided, during a faintness which had come over her in a walk; and her beauty, air, and manner, altogether so different from those around her, had interested them both to a painful degree. They had ventured to call the following day to inquire after her welfare, and this visit led to a slight intercourse, which continued for the fortnight they remained there.

John had given himself some trouble to ascertain who she was, but in vain. They could merely learn that her life was blameless, that she saw no one but themselves, and her dialect raised a suspicion that she was not English. It was to this unknown fair Emily alluded in her playful attempt to stop the heedless rattle of her brother, who was not always restrained from uttering what he thought by a proper regard for the feelings of others.