The recovery of Denbigh was as rapid as the most sanguine expectation of his friends could hope for, and in ten days he left his bed, and would sit an hour or two at a time in his dressing-room, where Mrs. Wilson, accompanied by Jane or Emily, came and read to him; and it was a remark of Sir Edward's gamekeeper, that the woodcocks had become so tame during the time Mr. Moseley was shut up in attendance on his friend, that Captain Jarvis was at last actually seen to bag one honestly.
As Jarvis felt something like a consciousness that but for his folly the accident would not have happened, and also something very like shame for the manner he had shrunk from the danger Denbigh had so nobly met, he pretended a recall to his regiment, then on duty near London, and left the deanery. He went off as he came in—in the colonel's tilbury, and accompanied by his friend and his pointers. John, who saw them pass from the windows of Denbigh's dressing-room, fervently prayed he might never come back again—the chip-shooting poacher!
Colonel Egerton had taken leave of Jane the evening preceding, with many assurances of the anxiety with which he should look forward to the moment of their meeting at L——, whither he intended repairing as soon as his corps had gone through its annual review. Jane had followed the bent of her natural feelings too much, during the period of Denbigh's uncertain fate, to think much of her lover, or anything else but her rescued sister and her preserver; but now the former was pronounced in safety, and the latter, by the very reaction of her grief, was, if possible, happier than ever, Jane dwelt in melancholy sadness on the perfections of the man who had taken with him the best affections (as she thought) of her heart. With him all was perfect; his morals were unexceptionable; his manners showed it; his tenderness of disposition manifest, for they had wept together over the distresses of more than one fictitious heroine; his temper, how amiable! he was never angry—she had never seen it; his opinions, his tastes, how correct! they were her own; his form, his face, how agreeable!—her eyes had seen it, and her heart acknowledged it; besides, his eyes confessed the power of her own charms; he was brave, for he was a soldier;—in short, as Emily had predicted, he was a hero—for he was Colonel Egerton.
Had Jane been possessed of less exuberance of fancy, she might have been a little at a loss to identify all these good properties with her hero; or had she possessed a matured or well-regulated judgment to control that fancy, they might possibly have assumed a different appearance. No explanation had taken place between them, however. Jane knew, both by her own feelings, and by all the legends of love from its earliest days, that the moment of parting was generally a crisis in affairs of the heart, and, with a backwardness occasioned by her modesty, had rather avoided than sought an opportunity to favor the colonel's wishes. Egerton had not been over anxious to come to the point, and everything was left as heretofore; neither, however, appeared to doubt in the least the state of the other's affections; and there might be said to exist between them one of those not unusual engagements by implication which it would have been, in their own estimation, a breach of faith to recede from, but which, like all other bargains that are loosely made, are sometimes violated when convenient. Man is a creature that, as experience has sufficiently proved, it is necessary to keep in his proper place in society by wholesome restrictions; and we have often thought it a matter of regret that some well understood regulations did not exist by which it became not only customary, but incumbent on him, to proceed in his road to the temple of Hymen. We know that it is ungenerous, ignoble, almost unprecedented, to doubt the faith, the constancy, of a male paragon; yet, somehow, as the papers occasionally give us a sample of such infidelity; as we have sometimes seen a solitary female brooding over her woes in silence, and, with the seemliness of feminine decorum shrinking from the discovery of its cause, or which the grave has revealed for the first time, we cannot but wish that either the watchfulness of the parent, or a sense of self-preservation in the daughter, would, for the want of a better, cause them to adhere to those old conventional forms of courtship which require a man to speak to be understood, and a woman to answer to be committed.
There was a little parlor in the house of Sir Edward Moseley, that was the privileged retreat of none but the members of his own family. Here the ladies were accustomed to withdraw into the bosom of their domestic quietude, when occasional visitors had disturbed their ordinary intercourse; and many were the hasty and unreserved communications it had witnessed between the sisters, in their stolen flights from the graver scenes of the principal apartments. It might be said to be sacred to the pious feelings of the domestic affections. Sir Edward would retire to it when fatigued with his occupations, certain of finding some one of those he loved to draw his thoughts off from the cares of life to the little incidents of his children's happiness; and Lady Moseley, even in the proudest hours of her reviving splendor, seldom passed the door without looking in, with a smile, on the faces she might find there. It was, in fact, the room in the large mansion of the baronet, expressly devoted, by long usage and common consent, to the purest feelings of human nature. Into this apartment Denbigh had gained admission, as the one nearest to his own room and requiring the least effort of his returning strength to reach it; and, perhaps, by an undefinable feeling of the Moseleys which had begun to connect him with themselves, partly from his winning manners, and partly by the sense of the obligation he had laid them under.
One warm day, John and his friend had sought this retreat, in expectation of meeting his sisters, who they found, however, on inquiry, had walked to the arbor. After remaining conversing for an hour by themselves, John was called away to attend to a pointer that had been taken ill, and Denbigh, throwing a handkerchief over his head to guard against the danger of cold, quietly composed himself on one of the comfortable sofas of the room, with a disposition to sleep. Before he had entirely lost his consciousness, a light step moving near him, caught his ear; believing it to be a servant unwilling to disturb him, he endeavored to continue in his present mood, until the quick but stifled breathing of some one nearer than before roused his curiosity. He commanded himself, however, sufficiently to remain quiet; a blind of a window near him was carefully closed; a screen drawn from a corner and placed so as sensibly to destroy the slight draught of air in which he laid himself; and other arrangements were making, but with a care to avoid disturbing him that rendered them hardly audible. Presently the step approached him again, the breathing was quicker, though gentle, the handkerchief was moved, but the hand was withdrawn hastily, as if afraid of itself. Another effort was successful, and Denbigh stole a glance through his dark lashes, on the figure of Emily as she stood over him in the fullness of her charms, and with a face in which glowed an interest he had never witnessed in it before. It undoubtedly was gratitude. For a moment she gazed on him, as her color increased in richness. His hand was carelessly thrown over an arm of the sofa; she stooped towards it with her face gently, but with an air of modesty that shone in her very figure. Denbigh felt the warmth of her breath, but her lips did not touch it. Had he been inclined to judge the actions of Emily Moseley harshly, it were impossible to mistake the movement for anything but the impulse of natural feeling. There was a pledge of innocence, of modesty in her countenance, that would have prevented any misconstruction; and he continued quietly awaiting what the preparations on her little mahogany secretary were intended for.
Mrs. Wilson entertained a great abhorrence of what is commonly called accomplishments in a woman; she knew that too much of that precious time which could never be recalled, was thrown away in endeavoring to acquire a smattering in what, if known, could never be of use to the party, and what can never be well known but to a few, whom nature and long practice have enabled to conquer. Yet as her niece had early manifested a taste for painting, and a vivid perception of the beauties of nature, her inclination had been indulged, and Emily Moseley sketched with neatness and accuracy, and with great readiness. It would have been no subject of surprise, had admiration, or some more powerful feeling, betrayed to the artist, on this occasion, the deception the young man was practicing. She had entered the room from her walk, warm and careless; her hair, than which none was more beautiful, had strayed on her shoulders, freed from the confinement of the comb, and a lock was finely contrasted to the rich color of a cheek that almost burnt with the exercise and the excitement. Her dress, white as the first snow of the winter; her looks, as she now turned them on the face of the sleeper, and betrayed by their animation the success of her art, formed a picture in itself, that Denbigh would have been content to gaze on forever. Her back was to a window, that threw its strong light on the paper—the figures of which were reflected, as she occasionally held it up to study its effect, in a large mirror so placed that Denbigh caught a view of her subject. He knew it at a glance—the arbor—the gun—himself, all were there; it appeared to have been drawn before—it must have been, from its perfect state, and Emily had seized a favorable moment to complete his own resemblance. Her touches were light and finishing, and as the picture was frequently held up for consideration, he had some time allowed for studying it. His own resemblance was strong; his eyes were turned on herself, to whom Denbigh thought she had not done ample justice, but the man who held the gun bore no likeness to John Moseley, except in dress. A slight movement of the muscles of the sleeper's mouth might have betrayed his consciousness, had not Emily been too intent on the picture, as she turned it in such a way that a strong light fell on the recoiling figure of Captain Jarvis. The resemblance was wonderful. Denbigh thought he would have known it, had he seen it in the Academy itself. The noise of some one approaching closed the portfolio; it was only a servant, yet Emily did not resume her pencil: Denbigh watched her motions, as she put the picture carefully in a private drawer of the secretary, reopened the blind, replaced the screen, and laid the handkerchief, the last thing on his face, with a movement almost imperceptible to himself.
"It is later than I thought," said Denbigh, looking at his watch; "I owe an apology, Miss Moseley, for making so free with your parlor; but I was too lazy to move."
"Apology! Mr. Denbigh," cried Emily, with a color varying with every word she spoke, and trembling at what she thought the nearness of detection, "you have no apology to make for your present debility; and surely, surely, least of all to me!"
"I understand from Mr. Moseley," continued Denbigh, with a smile, "that our obligation is at least mutual; to your perseverance and care. Miss Moseley, after the physicians had given me up, I believe I am, under Providence, indebted for my recovery."
Emily was not vain, and least of all addicted to a display of any of her acquirements; very few even of her friends knew she ever held a pencil in her hand; yet did she now unaccountably throw open her portfolio, and offer its contents to the examination of her companion. It was done almost instantaneously and with great freedom, though not without certain flushings of the face and heavings of the bosom, that would have eclipsed Grace Chatterton in her happiest moments of natural flattery. Whatever might have been the wishes of Mr. Denbigh to pursue a subject which had begun to grow extremely interesting, both from its import and the feelings of the parties, it would have been rude to decline viewing the contents of a lady's portfolio. The drawings were, many of them, interesting, and the exhibitor of them now appeared as anxious to remove them in haste, as she had but the moment before been to direct his attention to her performances. Denbigh would have given much to dare to ask for the paper so carefully secreted in the private drawer; but neither the principal agency he had himself in the scene, nor delicacy to his companion's wish for concealment, would allow of the request.
"Doctor Ives! how happy I am to see you," said Emily, hastily closing her portfolio, and before Denbigh had gone half through its contents; "you have become almost a stranger to us since Clara left us."
"No, no, my little friend, never a stranger, I hope, at Moseley Hall," cried the doctor, pleasantly; "George, I am happy to see you look so well—you have even a color—there is a letter for you, from Marian."
Denbigh took the letter eagerly, and retired to a window to peruse it. His hand shook as he broke the seal, and his interest in the writer, or its contents, could not have escaped the notice of any observer, however indifferent.
"Now, Miss Emily, if you will have the goodness to order me a glass of wine and water after my ride, believe me, you will do a very charitable act," cried the doctor, as he took his seat on the sofa.
Emily was standing by the little table, deeply musing on the contents of her portfolio; for her eyes were intently fixed on the outside, as if she expected to see through the leather covering their merits and faults.
"Miss Emily Moseley," continued the doctor, gravely, "am I to die of thirst or not, this warm day?"
"Do you wish anything, Doctor Ives?"
"A servant to get me a glass of wine and water."
"Why did you not ask me, my dear sir?" said Emily, as she threw open a cellaret, and handed him what he wanted.
"There, my dear, there is a great plenty," said the doctor, with an arch expression; "I really thought I had asked you thrice—but I believe you were studying something in that portfolio."
Emily blushed, and endeavored to laugh at her own absence of mind; but she would have given the world to know who Marian was.