The succceding morning, the whole party, with the exception of Denbigh, returned to the hall. Nothing had occurred out of the ordinary course of the colonel's assiduities; and Jane, whose sense of propriety forbade the indulgence of premeditated tête-à-têtes, and such little accompaniments of every-day attachments, was rejoiced to see a sister she loved, and an aunt she respected, once more in the bosom of her family.
The dowager impatiently waited an opportunity to affect, what she intended for a master-stroke of policy in she disposal of Grace. Like all other managers, she thought no one equal to herself in devising ways and means, and was unwilling to leave anything to nature. Grace had invariably thwarted all her schemes by her obstinacy; and, as she thought young Moseley really attached to her, she determined by a bold stroke to remove the impediments of false shame, and the dread of repulse, which she believed alone kept the youth from an avowal of his wishes, and get rid at once of a plague that had annoyed her not a little—her daughter's delicacy.
Sir Edward spent an hour every morning in his library, overlooking his accounts, and in other necessary employments of a similar nature, and it was here she determined to have the conference.
"My Lady Chatterton, you do me honor," said the baronet, handing her a chair on her entrance.
"Upon my word, cousin," cried the dowager, "you have a very convenient apartment here," looking around ber in affected admiration of all she saw.
The baronet replied, and a short discourse on the arangements of the whole house insensibly led to some remarks on the taste of his mother, the Honorable Lady Moseley (a Chatterton), until, having warmed the feelings of the old gentleman by some well-timed compliments of that nature, she ventured on the principal object of her visit.
"I am happy to find, Sir Edward, you are so well pleased with the family as to wish to make another selection from it. I sincerely hope it may prove as judicious as the former one."
Sir Edward was a little at a loss to understand her meaning, although he thought it might allude to his son, who he had some time suspected had views on Grace Chatterton; and willing to know the truth, and rather pleased to find John had selected a young woman he loved in his heart, he observed,—
"I am not sure I rightly understand your ladyship, though I hope I do."
"No!" cried the dowager, in a well-counterfeited affectation of surprise. "Perhaps, after all, maternal anxiety has deceived me, then. Mr. Moseley could hardly have ventured to proceed without your approbation."
"I have ever declined influencing any of my children, Lady Chatterton," said the baronet, "and John is not ignorant of my sentiments. I sincerely hope, however, you allude to an attachment to Grace?"
"I did certainly, Sir Edward," said the lady, hesitatingly, "I may be deceived; but you must understand the feelings of a mother, and a young woman ought not to be trifled with."
"My son is incapable of trifling, I hope," cried Sir Edward, with animation, "and, least of all, with Grace Chatterton. No; you are quite right. If he has made his choice, he should not be ashamed to avow it."
"I would not wish, on any account, to hurry matters," said the dowager; "but the report which is abroad will prevent other young men from putting in their claims, Sir Edward" (sighing). "I have a mother's feelings: if I have been hasty, your goodness will overlook it." And Lady Chatterton placed her handkerchief to her eyes, to conceal the tears that did not flow.
Sir Edward thought all this very natural, and as it should be, and he sought an early conference with his son.
"John," said the father, taking his hand kindly, "you have no reason to doubt my affection or my compliance to your wishes. Fortune is a thing out of the question with a young man of your expectations." And Sir Edward, in his eagerness to smooth the way, went on: "You can live here, or occupy my small seat in Wiltshire. I can allow you five thousand a year, with much ease to myself. Indeed, your mother and myself would both straiten ourselves to add to your comforts; but it is unnecessary—we have enough, and you have enough."
Sir Edward, in a few moments, would have settled everything to the dowager's perfect satisfaction, had not John interrupted him by the exclamation of,—
"To what do you allude, father?"
"Allude?" said Sir Edward, simply. "Why, Grace Chatterton, my son."
"Grace Chatterton! Sir Edward. What have I to do with Grace Chatterton?"
"Her mother has made me acquainted with your proposals, and"—
"Attentions, I ought to have said; and you have no reason to apprehend anything from me, my child."
"Attentions!" said John, haughtily. "I hope Lady Chatterton does not accuse me of improper attentions to her daughter?"
"No, not improper, my son," said his father: "on the contrary, she is much pleased with them."
"She is, is she? But I am displeased that she should undertake to put constructions on my acts that no attention or words of mine will justify."
It was now Sir Edward's turn to be surprised. He had thought he was doing his son a kindness, when he had only been forwarding the dowager's schemes; but averse from contention, and wondering at his cousin's mistake, which he at once attributed to her anxiety in behalf of a favorite daughter, he told John he was sorry there had been any misapprehension, and left him.
"No, no," said Moseley, internally, as he paced up and down his father's library, "my lady dowager, you are not going to force a wife down my throat. If you do, I am mistaken; and Grace, if Grace"—John softened and began to feel unhappy a little, but anger prevailed.
From the moment Grace Chatterton conceived a dread of her mother's saying anything to Sir Edward, her whole conduct was altered. She could hardly look any of the family in the face, and it was her most ardent wish that they might depart. John she avoided as she would an adder, although it nearly broke her heart to do so.
Mr. Benfield had stayed longer than usual, and he now wished to return. John Moseley eagerly profited by this opportunity; and the very day after the conversation in the library, he went to Benfield Lodge as a dutiful nephew, to see his venerable uncle safely restored once more to the abode of his ancestors.
Lady Chatterton now perceived, when too late, that she had overshot her mark, while at the same time, she wondered at the reason of a result so strange from such well-digested and well-conducted plans. She determined, however, never again to interfere between her daughter and the baronet's heir; concluding, with a nearer approach to the truth than always accompanied her deductions, that they resembled ordinary lovers in neither their temperaments nor opinions.
Perceiving no further use in remaining any longer at the hall, she took her leave, and, accompanied by both her daughters, proceeded to the capital, where she expected to meet her son.
Dr. Ives and his wife returned to the rectory on the same day, and Denbigh immediately resumed his abode under their roof. The intercourse between the rector's family and Sir Edward's was renewed, with all its former friendly confidence.
Colonel Egerton began to speak of his departure also, but hinted at intentions of visiting L—— at the period of the baronet's visit to his uncle, before he proceeded to town in the winter.
L—— was a small village on the coast, within a mile of Benfield Lodge; and from its natural convenience, it had long been resorted to by the neighboring gentry, for the benefit of sea bathing. The baronet had promised Mr. Benfield his visit should be made at an earlier day than usual, in order to gratify Jane with a visit to Bath, before they went to London, at which town they were promised by Mrs. Jarvis the pleasure of her society, and that of her son and daughters.
Precaution is a word of simple meaning in itself, but various are the ways adopted by different individuals in this life to enforce its import; and not a few are the evils which it is thought necessary to guard against. To provide in season against the dangers of want, personal injury, loss of character, and a great many other such acknowledged misfortunes, has become a kind of instinctive process of our natures. The few exceptions which exist, only go to prove the rule: in addition to these, almost every man has some ruling propensity to gratify, to advance which his ingenuity is ever on the alert, or some apprehended evil to avert, which calls all his prudence into activity. Yet how seldom is it exerted, in order to give a rational ground to expect permanent happiness in wedlock.
Marriage is called a lottery, and it is thought, like all other lotteries, there are more blanks than prizes; yet is it not made more precarious than it ought to be, by our neglect of that degree of precaution which we would be ridiculed for omitting in conducting our every-day concerns? Is not the standard of matrimonial felicity placed too low? Ought we not to look more to the possession of principles than to the possession of wealth? Or is it at all justifiable in a Christian to commit a child, a daughter, to the keeping of a man who wants the very essential they acknowledge most necessary to constitute a perfect character? Most men revolt at infidelity in a woman, and most men, however licentious themselves, look for, at least, the exterior of religion in their wives. The education of their children is a serious responsibility; and although seldom conducted on such rules as will stand the test of reason, it is not to be entirely shaken off: they choose their early impressions should be correct, their infant conduct at least blameless. And are not one half mankind of the male sex? Are precepts in religion, in morals, only for females? Are we to reverse the theory of the Mohammedans, and though we do not believe it, act as if men had no souls? Is not the example of the father as important to the son, as that of the mother to the daughter? In short, is there any security against the commission of enormities, but an humble and devout dependence on the assistance of that Almighty Power, which alone is able to hold us up against temptation?
Uniformity of taste is no doubt necessary to what we call love, but is not taste acquired? Would our daughters admire a handsome deist, if properly impressed with a horror of his doctrines, sooner than they now would admire a handsome Mohammedan? We would refuse our children to a pious dissenter, to give them to impious members of the establishment: we make the substance less than the shadow.
Our principal characters are possessed of these diversified views of the evils to be averted. Mrs. Wilson considers Christianity an indispensable requisite in the husband to be permitted to her charge, and watches against the possibility of any other than a Christian's gaining the affections of Emily. Lady Chatterton considers the want of an establishment as the unpardonable sin, and directs her energies to prevent this evil; while John Moseley looks upon a free will as the birthright of an Englishman, and is, at the present moment, anxiously alive to prevent the dowager's making him the husband of Grace, the thing of all others he most strenuously desires.