The letters of Lady Laura informed her friends, that she and Colonel Denbigh had decided to remain with his uncle until the recovery of the latter was complete, and then to proceed to Denbigh Castle, to meet the duke and his sister during the approaching holidays.
Emily was much relieved by this postponement of an interview which she would gladly have avoided forever; and her aunt sincerely rejoiced that her niece was allowed more time to eradicate impressions, which, she saw with pain, her charge had yet a struggle to overcome.
There were so many points to admire in the character of Denbigh; his friends spoke of him with such decided partiality; Dr. Ives, in his frequent letters, alluded to him with so much affection; that Emily frequently detected herself in weighing the testimony of his guilt, and indulging the expectation that circumstances had deceived them all in their judgment of his conduct. Then his marriage would cross her mind; and with the conviction of the impropriety of admitting him to her thoughts at all, would come the mass of circumstantial testimony which had accumulated against him.
Derwent served greatly to keep alive the recollections of his person, however; and as Lady Harriet seemed to live only in the society of the Moseleys, not a day passed without giving the duke some opportunity of indirectly preferring his suit.
Emily not only appeared, but in fact was, unconscious of his admiration; and entered into their amusements with a satisfaction that was increased by the belief that the unfortunate attachment her cousin Chatterton had once professed for herself, was forgotten in the more certain enjoyments of a successful love.
Lady Harriet was a woman of manners and character very different from Emily Moseley; yet had she in a great measure erased the impressions made by the beauty of his kinswoman from the bosom of the baron.
Chatterton, under the depression of his first disappointment, it will be remembered, had left B—— in company with Mr. Denbigh. The interest of the duke had been unaccountably exerted to procure him the place he had so long solicited in vain, and gratitude required his early acknowledgments for the favor. His manner, so very different from a successful applicant for a valuable office, had struck both Derwent and his sister as singular. Before, however, a week's intercourse had passed between them, his own frankness had made them acquainted with the cause; and a double wish prevailed in the bosom of Lady Harriet, to know the woman who could resist the beauty of Chatterton, and to relieve him from the weight imposed on his spirits by disappointed affection.
The manners of Lady Harriet Denbigh were not in the least forward or masculine; but they had the freedom of high rank, mingled with a good deal of the ease of fashionable life. Mrs. Wilson noticed, moreover, in her conduct to Chatterton, a something exceeding the interest of ordinary communications in their situation, which might possibly have been attributed more to feeling than to manner. It is certain, one of the surest methods to drive Emily from his thoughts, was to dwell on the perfections of some other lady; and Lady Harriet was so constantly before him in his visit into Westmoreland, so soothing, so evidently pleased with his presence, that the baron made rapid advances in attaining his object.
He had alluded, in his letter to Emily, to the obligation he was under to the services of Denbigh, in erasing his unfortunate partiality for her: but what those services were, we are unable to say, unless they were the usual arguments of the plainest good sense, enforced in the singularly insinuating and kind manner which distinguished that gentleman. In fact, Lord Chatterton was not formed by nature to love long, deprived of hope, or to resist long the flattery of a preference from such a woman as Harriet Denbigh.
On the other hand, Derwent was warm in his encomiums on Emily to all but herself; and Mrs. Wilson again thought it prudent to examine into the state of her feelings, in order to discover if there was any danger of his unremitted efforts drawing Emily into a connection that neither her religion nor prudence could wholly approve.
Derwent was a man of the world—a Christian only in name; and the cautious widow determined to withdraw in season, should she find grounds for her apprehensions.
About ten days after the departure of the dowager and her companions, Lady Harriet exclaimed, in one of her morning visits,—
"Lady Moseley! I have now hopes of presenting to you soon the most polished man in the United Kingdom!"
"As a husband. Lady Harriet?" inquired the other with a smile.
"Oh no! only as a cousin, a second cousin, madam," replied Lady Harriet, blushing a little, and looking in the opposite direction to the one in which Chatterton was placed.
"But his name? You forget our curiosity! What is his name?" cried Mrs. Wilson, entering into the trifling for the moment.
"Pendennyss, to be sure, my dear madam: whom else can I mean!"
"And you expect the earl at Bath?" Mrs. Wilson eagerly inquired.
"He has given us such hopes, and Derwent has written him to-day, pressing the journey."
"You will be disappointed, I am afraid, sister," said the duke. "Pendennyss has become so fond of Wales of late, that it is difficult to get him out of it."
"But," said Mrs. Wilson, "he will take his seat in parliament during the winter, my lord?"
"I hope he will, madam; though Lord Eltringham holds his proxies, in my absence, in all important questions before the house."
"Your Grace will attend, I trust," said Sir Edward. "The pleasure of your company is among my expected enjoyments in the town."
"You are very good, Sir Edward," replied the duke, looking at Emily. "It will somewhat depend on circumstances, I believe."
Lady Harriet smiled, and the speech seemed understood by all but the lady most concerned in it.
"Lord Pendennyss is a universal favorite, and deservedly so," cried the duke. "He has set an example to the nobility, which few are equal to imitate. An only son, with an immense estate, he has devoted himself to the profession of a soldier, and gained great reputation by it in the world; nor has he neglected any of his private duties as a man"—
"Or a Christian, I hope," said Mrs. Wilson, delighted with the praises of the earl.
"Nor of a Christian, I believe," continued the duke; "he appears consistent, humble, and sincere—three requisites, I believe, for that character."
"Does not your Grace know?" said Emily, with a benevolent smile.
Derwent colored slightly as he answered—
"Not as well as I ought; but"—lowering his voice for her ear alone, he added—"under proper instruction I think I might learn."
"Then I would recommend that book to you, my lord." rejoined Emily, with a blush, pointing to a pocket Bible which lay near her, though still ignorant of the allusion he meant to convey.
"May I ask the honor of an audience of Miss Moseley," said Derwent, in the same low tone, "whenever her leisure will admit of her granting the favor?"
Emily was surprised; but from the previous conversation and the current of her thoughts at the moment, supposing his communication had some reference to the subject before them, she rose from her chair, and unobtrusively, but certainly with an air of perfect innocence and composure, she went into the adjoining room, the door of which was open very near them.
Caroline Harris had abandoned all ideas of a coronet with the departure of the Marquis of Eltringham and his sisters for their own seat; and as a final effort of her fading charms, had begun to calculate the capabilities of Captain Jarvis, who had at this time honored Bath with his company.
It is true, the lady would have greatly preferred her father's neighbor, but that was an irretrievable step. He had retired, disgusted with her haughty dismissal of his hopes, and was a man who, although he greatly admired her fortune, was not to be recalled by any bock or smile which might grow out of caprice.
Lady Jarvis had, indeed, rather magnified the personal qualifications of her son; but the disposition they had manifested to devote some of their surplus wealth to purchasing a title, had great weight, for Miss Harris would cheerfully, at any time, have sacrificed one half her own fortune to be called my lady. Jarvis would make but a shabby-looking lord, 'tis true; but then what a lord's wife would she not make herself! His father was a merchant, to be sure, but then merchants were always immensely rich, and a few thousand pounds, properly applied, might make the merchant's son a baron. She therefore resolved to inquire, the first opportunity, into the condition of the sinking fund of his plebeianism, and had serious thoughts of contributing her mite towards the advancement of the desired object, did she find it within the bounds of probable success.
An occasion soon offered, by the invitation of the captain to accompany him in an excursion in the tilbury of his brother-in-law.
In this ride they passed the equipages of Lady Harriet and Mrs. Wilson, with their respective mistresses, taking an airing. In passing the latter, Jarvis bowed (for he had renewed his acquaintance at the rooms, without daring to visit at the lodgings of Sir Edward), and Miss Harris saw both parties as they dashed by them.
"You know the Moseleys, Caroline?" said Jarvis, with the freedom her manners had established between them.
"Yes," replied the lady, drawing her head back from a view of the carriages; "what fine arms those of the duke's are—and the coronet, it is so noble—so rich—I am sure if I were a man," laying great emphasis on the word—"I would be a lord."
"If you could, you mean," cried the captain.
"Could,—why money will buy a title, you know—only most people are fonder of their cash than of honor."
"That's right," said the unreflecting captain; "money is the thing after all. Now what do you suppose our last mess-bill came to?"
"Oh, don't talk of eating and drinking," cried Miss Harris, in affected aversion; "it is beneath the consideration of nobility."
"Then any one may be a lord for me," said Jarvis, dryly, "if they are not to eat and drink; why, what do they live for, but such sort of things!"
"A soldier lives to fight and gain honor and distinction"—for his wife—Miss Harris would have added, had she spoken all she thought.
"A poor way that of spending a man's time," said the captain. "Now there is Captain Jones in our regiment; they say he loves fighting as much as eating: if he do, he is a bloodthirsty fellow."
"You know how intimate I am with your dear mother," continued the lady, bent on the principal object; "she has made me acquainted with her greatest wish."
"Her greatest wish!" cried the captain, in astonishment; "why, what can that be?—a new coach and horses?"
"No, I mean one much dearer to us—I should say, to her,—than any such trifles: she has told me of the plan."
"Plan!" said Jarvis, still in wonder, "what plan?"
"About the fund for the peerage, you know. Of course, the thing is sacred with me, as, indeed, I am equally interested with you all in its success."
Jarvis eyed her with a knowing look, and as she concluded, rolling his eyes in an expression of significance, he said—
"What, serve Sir William some such way, eh?"
"I will assist a little, if it be necessary, Henry," said the lady, tenderly, "although my mite cannot amount to a great deal."
During this speech, the captain was wondering what she could mean; but, having had a suspicion, from something that had fallen from his mother, that the lady was intended for him as a wife, and that she might be as great a dupe as Lady Jarvis herself, he was resolved to know the whole, and to act accordingly.
"I think it might be made to do," he replied, evasively, in order to discover the extent of his companion's information.
"Do!" cried Miss Harris, with fervor, "it cannot fail! How much do you suppose will be wanting to buy a barony, for instance?"
"Hem!" said Jarvis; "you mean more than we have already?"
"Why, about a thousand pounds, I think, will do it, with what we have," said Jarvis, affecting to calculate.
"Is that all?" cried the delighted Caroline; and the captain grew in an instant, in her estimation, three inches higher; quite noble in his air, and, in short, very tolerably handsome.
From that moment, Miss Harris, in her own mind, had fixed the fate of Captain Jarvis, and had determined to be his wife, whenever she could persuade him to offer himself; a thing she had no doubt of accomplishing with comparative ease. Not so the captain. Like all weak men, there was nothing of which he stood more in terror than of ridicule. He had heard the manœuvres of Miss Harris laughed at by many of the young men in Bath, and was by no means disposed to add himself to the food for mirth of these wags; and, indeed, had cultivated her acquaintance with a kind of bravado to some of his bottle companions, in order to show his ability to oppose all her arts, when most exposed to them: for it is one of the greatest difficulties to the success of this description of ladies, that their characters soon become suspected, and do them infinitely more injury than all their skill in their vocation.
With these views in the respective champions the campaign opened, and the lady, on her return, acquainted his mother with the situation of the privy purse, that was to promote her darling child to the enviable distinction of the peerage. Lady Jarvis was for purchasing a baronetcy on the spot, with what they had, under the impression that when ready for another promotion they would only have to pay the difference, as they did in the army when he received his captaincy. As, however, the son was opposed to any arrangement that might make the producing the few hundred pounds he had obtained from his mother's folly necessary, she was obliged to postpone the wished-for day, until their united efforts could compass the means of effecting the main point. As an earnest, however, of her spirit in the cause, she gave him a fifty pound note, that morning obtained from her husband, and which the captain lost at one throw of the dice to his brother-in-law the same evening.
During the preceding events, Egerton had either studiously avoided all collision with the Moseleys, or his engagements had confined him to such very different scenes, that they never met.
The baronet had felt his presence a reproach, and Lady Moseley rejoiced that Egerton yet possessed sufficient shame to keep him from insulting her with his company.
It was a month after the departure of Lady Chatterton, that Sir Edward returned to B——, as related in the preceding chapter, and that the arrangements for the London winter were commenced.
The day preceding their leaving Bath, the engagement of Chatterton with Lady Harriet was made public amongst their mutual friends, and an intimation was given that their nuptials would be celebrated before the family of the duke left his seat for the capital.
Something of the pleasure that she had for a long time been a stranger to, was felt by Emily Moseley, as the well remembered tower of the village church of B—— struck her sight on their return from their protracted excursion. More than four mouths had elapsed since they had commenced their travels, and in that period what changes of sentiments had she not witnessed in others; of opinions of mankind in general, and of one individual in particular, had she not experienced in her own person. The benevolent smiles, the respectful salutations they received, in passing the little group of houses which, clustered round the church, had obtained the name of "the village," conveyed a sensation of delight that can only be felt by the deserving and virtuous; and the smiling faces, in several instances glistening with tears, which met them at the Hall, gave ample testimony to the worth of both the master and his servants.
Francis and Clara were in waiting to receive them, and a very few minutes elapsed before the rector and Mrs. Ives, having heard they had passed, drove in also. In saluting the different members of the family, Mrs. Wilson noticed the startled look of the doctor, as the change in Emily's appearance first met his eyes. Her bloom, if not gone, was greatly diminished; and it was only when under the excitement of strong emotions, that her face possessed that radiance which had so eminently distinguished it before her late journey.
"Where did you last see my friend George?" said the doctor to Mrs. Wilson, in the course of the first afternoon, as he took a seat by her side, apart from the rest of the family.
"At L——," said Mrs. Wilson, gravely.
"L——!" cried the doctor, in evident amazement. "Was he not at Bath then during your stay there?"
"No; I understand he was in attendance on some sick relative, which detained him from his friends," said Mrs. Wilson, wondering why the doctor chose to introduce so delicate a topic. Of his guilt in relation to Mrs. Fitzgerald he was doubtless ignorant, but surely not of his marriage.
"It is now some time since I heard from him," continued the doctor, regarding Mrs. Wilson expressively, but to which the lady only replied with a gentle inclination of the body; and the rector, after pausing a moment, continued:—
"You will not think me impertinent if I am bold enough to ask, has George ever expressed a wish to become connected with your niece by other ties than those of friendship?"
"He did," answered the widow, after a little hesitation.
"He did, and"—
"Was refused," continued Mrs. Wilson, with a slight feeling for the dignity of her sex, which for a moment caused her to lose sight of justice to Denbigh.
Dr. Ives was silent; but manifested by his dejected countenance the interest he had taken in this anticipated connection, and as Mrs. Wilson had spoken with ill-concealed reluctance on the subject at all, the rector did not attempt a renewal of the disagreeable topic; though she saw, for some time afterwards, whenever the baronet or his wife mentioned the name of Denbigh, that the eyes of the rector were turned on them in intense interest.