The day fixed for one of the stated visits of Mr. Benfield had now arrived, and John, with Emily, who was the old bachelor's favorite niece, went in the baronet's post-chaise to the town of F——, a distance of twenty miles, to meet him, in order to accompany him in the remainder of his journey to the Hall, it being a settled rule with the old man, that his carriage horses should return to their own stables every night, where he imagined they could alone find that comfort and care, to which their age and services gave them a claim. The day was uncommonly pleasant, and the young people were in high spirits, with the expectation of meeting their respected relative, whose absence had been prolonged a few days by a severe fit of the gout.
"Now, Emily," cried John, as he settled himself comfortably by the side of his sister in the chaise, "let me know honestly how you like the Jarvises, and particularly how you like the handsome colonel."
"Then, John, honestly, I neither like nor dislike the Jarvises or the handsome colonel."
"Well, then, there is no great diversity in our sentiments, as Jane would say."
"I do not like to hear you speak so disrespectfully of our sister whom I am sure you love as tenderly as I do myself."
"I acknowledge my error," said the brother, taking her hand and affectionately kissing it, "and will endeavor to offend no more; but this Colonel Egerton, sister, is certainly a gentleman, both by blood and in manners, as Jane"—Emily interrupted him with a laugh, which John took very good-naturedly, repeating his remark without alluding to their sister.
"Yes," said Emily, "he is genteel in his deportment, if that be what you mean; I know nothing of his family."
"Oh, I have taken a peep into Jane's Baronetage, where I find him set down as Sir Edgar's heir."
"There is something about him," said Emily, musing, "that I do not much admire: he is too easy—there is no nature; I always feel afraid such people will laugh at me as soon as my back is turned, and for those very things they seem most to admire to my face. If I might be allowed to judge, I should say his manner wants one thing, without which no one can be truly agreeable."
"Ah! that's my great recommendation; but I am afraid I shall have to take the poacher up, with his quails and his pheasants, indeed."
"You know the colonel explained that to be a mistake."
"What they call explaining away; but unluckily I saw the gentleman returning with his gun on his shoulder, and followed by a brace of pointers."
"There's a specimen of the colonel's manners, then," said Emily, smiling; "it will do until the truth be known."
"And Jane, when she saw him also, praised his good nature and consideration, in what she was pleased to call relieving the awkwardness of my remark."
Emily finding her brother disposed to dwell on the foibles of Jane, a thing he was rather addicted to at times, was silent. They rode some distance before John, who was ever as ready to atone as he was to offend, again apologized, again promised reformation, and during the remainder of the ride only forgot himself twice more in the same way.
They reached F—— two hours before the lumbering coach of their uncle drove into the yard of the inn, and had sufficient time to refresh their own horses for the journey homeward.
Mr. Benfield was a bachelor of eighty, but retained the personal activity of a man of sixty. He was strongly attached to all the fashions and opinions of his youth, during which he had sat one term in parliament, having been a great beau and courtier in the commencement of the reign. A disappointment in an affair of the heart drove him into retirement, and for the last fifty years he had dwelt exclusively at a seat he owned within forty miles of Moseley Hall, the mistress of which was the only child of his only brother. In figure, he was tall and spare, very erect for his years, and he faithfully preserved in his attire, servants, carriages, and indeed everything around him, as much of the fashions of his youth as circumstances would allow: such, then, was a faint outline of the character and appearance of the old man, who, dressed in a cocked hat, bag wig, and sword, took the offered arm of John Moseley to alight from his coach.
"So," cried the old gentleman, having made good his footing on the ground, as he stopped short and stared John in the face, "you have made out to come twenty miles to meet an old cynic, have you, sir? but I thought I bid thee bring Emmy with thee."
John pointed to the window, where his sister stood anxiously watching her uncle's movements. On catching her eye he smiled kindly, and pursued his way into the house, talking to himself.
"Aye, there she is indeed; I remember now, when I was a youngster, of going with my kinsman, old Lord Gosford, to meet his sister, the Lady Juliana, when she first came from school" (this was the lady whose infidelity had driven him from the world); "and a beauty she was, indeed, something like Emmy there; only she was taller, and her eyes were black; and her hair, too, that was black; and she was not so fair as Emmy, and she was fatter, and she stooped a little—very little; oh! they are wonderfully alike though; don't you think they were, nephew?" He stopped at the door of the room, while John, who in this description could not see a resemblance, which existed nowhere but in the old man's affections, was fain to say, "Yes; but they were related, you know, uncle, and that explains the likeness."
"True, boy, true," said his uncle, pleased at a reason for a thing he wished, and which flattered his propensities. He had once before told Emily she put him in mind of his housekeeper, a woman as old as himself, and without a tooth in her head.
On meeting his niece, Mr. Benfield (who, like many others that feel strongly, wore in common the affectation of indifference and displeasure) yielded to his fondness, and folding her in his arms, kissed her affectionately, while a tear glistened in his eye; and then pushing her gently from him, he exclaimed, "Come, come, Emmy, don't strangle me, don't strangle me, girl; let me live in peace the little while I have to remain here—so," seating himself composedly in an arm-chair his niece had placed for him with a cushion, "so Anne writes me. Sir William Harris has let the deanery."
"Oh yes, uncle," cried John.
"I'll thank you, young gentleman," said Mr. Benfield, sternly, "not to interrupt me when I am speaking to a lady; that is, if you please, sir. Then Sir William has let the deanery to a London merchant, a Mr. Jarvis. Now I knew three people of that name; one was a hackney coachman, when I was a member of the parliament of this realm, and drove me often to the house; the other was valet-de-chambre to my Lord Gosford; and the third, I take it, is the very man who has become your neighbor. If it be the person I mean, Emmy dear, he is like—like—aye, very like old Peter, my steward."
John, unable to contain his mirth at this discovery of a likeness between the prototype of Mr. Benfield himself in leanness of figure, and the jolly rotundity of the merchant, was obliged to leave the room; Emily, though she could not forbear smiling at the comparison, quietly said, "You will meet him to-morrow, dear uncle, and then you will be able to judge for yourself."
"Yes, yes," muttered the old man, "very like old Peter, my steward; as like as two peas." The parallel was by no means as ridiculous as might be supposed; its history being as follows:—
Mr. Benfield had placed twenty thousand pounds in the hands of a broker, with positive orders for him to pay it away immediately for government stock, bought by the former on his account; but disregarding this injunction, the broker had managed the transaction in such a way as to postpone the payment, until, on his failure, he had given up that and a much larger sum to Mr. Jarvis, to satisfy what he called an honorary debt. In elucidating the transaction Mr. Jarvis paid Benfield Lodge a visit, and honestly restored the bachelor his property. This act, and the high opinion he entertained of Mrs. Wilson, with his unbounded love for Emily, were the few things which prevented his believing some dreadful judgment was about to visit this world, for its increasing wickedness and follies. As his own steward was one of the honestest fellows living, he had ever after fancied that there was a personal resemblance between him and the conscientious merchant.
The horses being ready, the old bachelor was placed carefully between his nephew and niece, and in that manner they rode on quietly to the Hall, the dread of accident keeping Mr. Benfield silent most of the way. On passing, however, a stately castle, about ten miles from the termination of their ride, he began one of his speeches with,—
"Emmy, dear, does Lord Bolton come often to see you?"
"Very seldom, sir; his employment keeps him much of his time at St. James's, and then he has an estate in Ireland."
"I knew his father well—he was distantly connected by marriage with my friend Lord Gosford: you could not remember him, I suspect." (John rolled his eyes at this suggestion of his sister's recollection of a man who had been forty years dead.) "He always voted with me in the parliament of this realm; he was a thoroughly honest man; very much such a man to look at as Peter Johnson, my steward: but I am told his son likes the good things of the ministry. Well, well, William Pitt was the only minister to my mind. There was the Scotchman of whom they made a marquis; I never could endure him—always voted against him."
"Right or wrong, uncle?" cried John, who loved a little mischief in his heart.
"No, sir—right, but never wrong. Lord Gosford always voted against him too; and do you think, jackanapes, that my friend the Earl of Gosford and—and—myself were ever wrong? No, sir, men in my day were different creatures from what they are now: we were never wrong, sir; we loved our country, and had no motive for being in the wrong."
"How was it with Lord Bute, uncle?"
"Lord Bute, sir," cried the old man with great warmth, "was the minister, sir—he was the minister; aye, he was the minister, sir, and was paid for what he did."
"But Lord Chatham, was he not the minister too?"
Now nothing vexed the old gentleman more than to hear William Pitt called by his tardy honors; and yet, unwilling to give up what he thought his political opinions, he exclaimed, with an unanswerable positiveness of argument,
"Billy Pitt, sir, was the minister, sir; but—but—but—he was our minister, sir."
Emily, unable to see her uncle agitated by such useless disputes, threw a reproachful glance on her brother, as she observed timidly,—
"That was a glorious administration, sir, I believe."
"Glorious indeed! Emmy dear," said the bachelor, softening with the sound of her voice, and the recollections of his younger days, "we beat the French everywhere—in America—in Germany; we took—(counting on his fingers)—we took Quebec—yes, Lord Gosford lost a cousin there; and we took all the Canadas; and we took their fleets; there was a young man killed in the battle between Hawke and Conflans, who was much attached to Lady Juliana—poor soul! how much she regretted him when dead, though she never could abide him when living—ah! she was a tender-hearted creature!"
Mr. Benfield, like many others, continued to love imaginary qualities in his mistress, long after her heartless coquetry had disgusted him with her person: a kind of feeling which springs from self-love, which finds it necessary to seek consolation in creating beauties, that may justify our follies to ourselves; and which often keeps alive the semblance of the passion, when even hope, or real admiration, is extinct.
On reaching the Hall every one was rejoiced to see their really affectionate and worthy relative, and the evening passed in the tranquil enjoyment of the blessings which Providence had profusely scattered around the family of the baronet, but which are too often hazarded by a neglect of duty, that springs from too great security, or an indolence which renders us averse to the precaution necessary to insure their continuance.