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Precaution/Chapter 38

 
CHAPTER XXXVIII.

The day succeeding the arrival of the Moseleys at th« seat of their ancestors, Mrs. Wilson observed Emily silently putting on her pelisse, and walking out unattended by either of the domestics or any of the family. There was a peculiar melancholy in her air and manner, which inclined the cautious aunt to suspect that her charge was bent on the indulgence of some ill-judged weakness; more particularly, as the direction she took led to the arbor, a theatre in which Denbigh had been so conspicuous an actor. Hastily throwing a cloak over her own shoulders, Mrs. Wilson followed Emily with the double purpose of ascertaining her views, and if necessary, of interposing her own authority against the repetition of similar excursions.

As Emily approached the arbor, whither in truth she had directed her steps, its faded vegetation and chilling aspect, so different from its verdure and luxuriance when she last saw it, came over her heart as a symbol of her own blighted prospects and deadened affections. The recollection of Denbigh's conduct on that spot, of his general benevolence and assiduity to please, being forcibly recalled to her mind at the instant, forgetful of her object in visiting the arbor, Emily yielded to her sensibilities, and sank on the seat weeping as if her heart would break.

She had not time to dry her eyes, and to collect her scattered thoughts, before Mrs. Wilson entered the arbor. Eying her niece for a moment with a sternness unusual for the one to adopt or the other to receive, she said,—

"It is a solemn obligation we owe our religion and ourselves, to endeavor to suppress such passions as are incompatible with our duties; and there is no weakness greater than blindly adhering to the wrong, when we are convinced of our error. It is as fatal to good morals as it is unjust to ourselves to persevere, from selfish motives, in believing those innocent whom evidence has convicted as guilty. Many a weak woman has sealed her own misery by such willful obstancy, aided by the unpardonable vanity of believing herself able to control a man that the laws of God could not restrain."

"Oh, dear madam, speak not so unkindly to me," sobbed the weeping girl; "I—I am guilty of no such weakness, I assure you: "and looking up with an air of profound resignation and piety, she continued: "Here on this spot, where he saved my life, I was about to offer up my prayers for his conviction of the error of his ways, and for the pardon of his too—too heavy trangressions."

Mrs. Wilson, softened almost to tears herself, viewed her for a moment with a mixture of delight, and continued in a milder tone,—

"I believe you, my dear. I am certain, although you may have loved Denbigh much, that you love your Maker and his ordinances more; and I have no apprehensions that, were he a disengaged man, and you alone in the world—unsupported by anything but your sense of duty—you would ever so far forget yourself as to become his wife. But does not your religion, does not your own usefulness in society, require you wholly to free your heart from the power of a man who has so unworthily usurped a dominion over it?"

To this Emily replied, in a hardly audible voice, "Certainly,—and I pray constantly for it."

"It is well, my love," said the aunt soothingly; "you cannot fail with such means, and your own exertions, finally to prevail over your own worst enemies, your passions. The task our sex has to sustain is, at the best, an arduous one; but so much the greater is our credit if we do it well."

"Oh! how is an unguided girl ever to judge aright, if"—cried Emily, clasping her hands and speaking with great energy, and she would have said, "one like Denbigh in appearance, be so vile!" Shame, however, kept her silent.

"Few men can support such a veil of hypocrisy as that with which I sometimes think Denbigh must deceive even himself. His case is an extraordinary exception to a very sacred rule, that 'the tree is known by its fruits,'" replied her aunt. "There is no safer way of judging of character that one's opportunities will not admit of more closely investigating, than by examining into and duly appreciating early impressions. The man or woman who has constantly seen the practice of piety before them, from infancy to the noon of life, will seldom so far abandon the recollection of virtue as to be guilty of great enormities. Even Divine Truth has promised that his blessings or his curses shall extend to many generations. It is true, that with our most guarded prudence we may be deceived." Mrs. Wilson paused and sighed heavily, as her own case, connected with the loves of Denbigh and her niece, occurred strongly to her mind. "Yet," she continued, "we may lessen the danger much by guarding against it; and it seems to me no more than what self-preservation requires in a young woman. But for a religious parent to neglect it, is a willful abandonment of a most solemn duty."

As Mrs. Wilson concluded, her niece, who had recovered the command of her feelings, pressed her hand in silence to her lips, and showed a disposition to retire from a spot which she found recalled too many recollections of a man whose image it was her imperious duty to banish on every consideration of propriety and religion.

Their walk into the house was silent, and their thoughts were drawn from the unpleasant topic by finding a letter from Julia, announcing her intended departure from this country, and her wish to take leave of them in London before she sailed. As she had mentioned the probable day for that event, both the ladies were delighted to find it was posterior to the time fixed by Sir Edward for their own visit to the capital.

Had Jane, instead of Emily, been the one that suffered through the agency of Mrs. Fitzgerald, however innocently on the part of the lady, her violent and uncontrolled passions would have either blindly united the innocent with the guilty in her resentments; or, if a sense of justice had vindicated the lady in her judgment, yet her pride and ill-guided delicacy would have felt her name a reproach, that would have forbidden any intercourse with her or any belonging to her.

Not so with her sister. The sufferings of Mrs. Fitzgerald had taken a strong hold on her youthful feelings, and a similarity of opinions and practices on the great object of their lives, had brought them together in a manner no misconduct in a third person could weaken. It is true, the recollection of Denbigh was intimately blended with the fate of Mrs. Fitzgerald. But Emily sought support against her feelings from a quarter that rather required an investigation of them than a desire to drown care with thought.

She never indulged in romantic reflections in which the image of Denbigh was associated. This she had hardly done in her happiest moments; and his marriage, if nothing else had interfered, now absolutely put it out of the question. But although a Christian, and a humble and devout one, Emily Moseley was a woman, and had loved ardently, confidingly, and gratefully. Marriage is the business of life with her sex,—with all, next to a preparation for a better world,—and it cannot be supposed that a first passion in a bosom like that of our heroine was to be suddenly erased and to leave no vestiges of its existence.

Her partiality for the society of Derwent, her meditations in which she sometimes detected herself drawing a picture of what Denbigh might have been, if early care had been taken to impress him. with his situation in this world, and from which she generally retired to her closed and her knees, were the remains of feelings too strong and too pure to be torn from her in a moment.

The arrival of John, with Grace and Jane, enlivened not only the family but the neighborhood. Mr. Haughton and his numerous friends poured in on the young couple with their congratulations, and a few weeks stole by insensibly, previously to the commencement of the journeys of Sir Edward and his son—the one to Benfield Lodge, and the other to St. James's Square.

On the return of the travellers, a few days before they commenced their journey to the capital, John laughingly told his uncle that, although he himself greatly admired the taste of Mr. Peter Johnson in dress, yet he doubted whether the present style of fashions in the metropolis would not be scandalized by the appearance of the honest steward.

John had in fact noticed, in their former visit to London, a mob of mischievous boys eying Peter with indications of rebellious movements which threatened the old man, and from which he had retreated by taking a coach, and he now made the suggestion from pure good-nature, to save him any future trouble from a similar cause.

They were at dinner when Moseley made the remark, and the steward was in his place at the sideboard—for his master was his home. Drawing near at the mention of his name first, and casting an eye over his figure to see if all was decent, Peter respectfully broke silence, determined to defend his own cause.

"Why! Mr. John—Mr. John Moseley! if I might judge, for an elderly man, and a serving man," said the steward, bowing humbly, "I am no disparagement to my friends, or even to my honored master."

Johnson's vindication of his wardrobe drew the eyes of the family upon him, and an involuntary smile passed from one to the other, as they admired his starched figure and drab frock, or rather doublet with sleeves and skirts. Sir Edward, being of the same opinion with his son, observed: "I do think. Uncle Benfield, there might be an improvement in the dress of your steward without much trouble to the ingenuity of his tailor."

"Sir Edward Moseley—honorable sir," said the steward, beginning to grow alarmed, "if I may be so bold, you young gentlemen may like gay clothes; but as for me and his honor, we are used to such as we wear, and what we are used to we love."

The old man spoke with earnestness, and drew the particular attention of his master to a review of his attire. After reflecting that no gentleman in the house had been attended by any servitor in such a garb, Mr. Benfield thought it time to give his sentiments on the subject.

"Why I remember that my Lord Gosford's gentleman never wore a livery, nor can I say that he dressed exactly after the manner of Johnson. Every member had his body servant, and they were not unfrequently taken for their masters. Lady Juliana, too, after the death of her nephew, had one or two attendants out of livery, and in a different fashion from your attire. Peter, I think with John Moseley there, we must alter you a little for the sake of appearances."

"Your honor!" stammered out Peter, in increased terror; "for Mr. John Moseley and Sir Edward, and youngerly gentleman like, dress may do. Now, your honor, if"—and Peter, turning to Grace, bowed nearly to the floor—"I had such a sweet, most beautiful young lady to smile on me, I might wish to change; but, sir, my day has gone by." Peter sighed as the recollection of Patty Steele and his youthful love floated across his brain. Grace blushed and thanked him for the compliment, and gave her opinion that his gallantry merited a better costume.

"Peter," said his master, decidedly, "I think Mrs. Moseley is right. If I should call on the viscountess (the Lady Juliana, who yet survived, an ancient dowager of seventy), I shall want your attendance, and in your present garb you cannot fail to shock her delicate feelings. You remind me now I think, every time I look at you, of old Harry, the earl's gamekeeper, one of the most cruel men I ever knew."

This decided the matter. Peter well knew that his master's antipathy to old Harry arose from his having pursued a poacher one day, in place of helping the Lady Juliana over a stile, in her flight from a bull that was playing his gambols in the same field; and not for the world would the faithful steward retain even a feature, if it brought unpleasant recollections to his kind master. He at one time thought of closing his innovations on his wardrobe, however, with a change of his nether garment; as after a great deal of study he could only make out the resemblance between himself and the obnoxious game-keeper to consist in the leathern breeches. But fearful of some points escaping his memory in forty years, he tamely acquiesced in all John's alterations, and appeared at his station three days afterwards newly decked from head to foot in a more modern suit of snuff-color.

The change once made, Peter greatly admired himself in a glass, and thought, could he have had the taste of Mr. John Moseley in his youth to direct his toilet, that the hard heart of Patty Steele would not always have continued so obdurate.

Sir Edward wished to collect his neighbors round him once more before he left them for another four months; and accordingly the rector and his wife, Francis and Clara, the Haughtons, with a few others, dined at the Hall by invitation, the last day of their stay in Northamptonshire. The company had left the table to join the ladies, when Grace came into the drawing-room with a face covered with smiles and beaming with pleasure.

"You look like the bearer of good news, Mrs. Moseley," cried the rector, catching a glimpse of her countenance as she passed.

"Good! I sincerely hope and believe," replied Grace. "My letters from my brother announce that his marriage took place last week, and give us hopes of seeing them all in town within the month."

"Married!" exclaimed Mr. Haughton, casting his eyes unconsciously on Emily, "my Lord Chatterton married! May I ask the name of the bride, my dear Mrs. Moseley?"

"To Lady Harriet Denbigh—and at Denbigh Castle at Westmoreland; but very privately, as you may suppose from seeing Moseley and myself here," answered Grace, her cheeks yet glowing with surprise and pleasure at the intelligence.

"Lady Harriet Denbigh?" echoed Mr. Haughton; "what! a kinswoman of our old friend? your friend, Miss Emily?" the recollection of the service he had performed at the arbor still fresh in his memory.

Emily commanded herself sufficiently to reply, "Brothers' children, I believe, sir."

"But a lady—how came she my lady?" continued the good man, anxious to know the whole, and ignorant of any reasons for delicacy where so great a favorite as Denbigh was in the question.

"She is the daughter of the late Duke of Derwent," said Mrs. Moseley, as willing as himself to talk of her new sister.

"How happens it that the death of old Mr. Denbigh was announced as plain George Denbigh, Esq., if he was the brother of a duke?" said Jane, forgetting for a moment the presence of Dr. and Mrs. Ives, in her surviving passion for genealogy: "Should he not have been called Lord George, or Honorable?"

This was the first time any allusion had been made to the sudden death in the church by any of the Moseleys in the hearing of the rector's family; and the speaker sat in breathless terror at her own inadvertency. But Dr. Ives, observing that a profound silence prevailed as soon as Jane ended, answered mildly, though in a way to prevent any further comments,—

"The late duke's succeeding a cousin-german in the title, was the reason, I presume. Emily, I am to hear from you by letter I hope, after you enter into the gayeties of the metropolis?"

This Emily cheerfully promised, and the conversation took another turn.

Mrs. Wilson had carefully avoided all communications with the rector concerning his youthful friend, and the doctor appeared unwilling to commence anything which might lead to his name being mentioned. "He is disappointed in him as well as ourselves," thought the widow, "and it must be unpleasant to have his image recalled. He saw his attentions to Emily, and he knows of his marriage to Lady Laura, of course, and he loves us all, and Emily in particular, too well not to foel hurt by his conduct."

"Sir Edward!" cried Mr. Haughton, with a laugh, "baronets are likely to be plenty. Have you heard how near we were to have another in the neighborhood lately?" Sir Edward answered in the negative, and his neighbor continued—

"Why, no less a man than Captain Jarvis, promoted to the bloody hand."

"Captain Jarvis!" exclaimed five or six at once; "explain yourself, Mr. Haughton."

"My near neighbor, young Walker, has been to Bath on an unusual business—his health—and for the benefit of the country he has brought back a pretty piece of scandal. It seems that Lady Jarvis, as I am told she is since she left here, wished to have her hopeful heir made a lord, and that the two united for some six months in forming a kind of savings' bank between themselves, to enable them at some future day to bribe the minister to honor the peerage with such a prodigy. After a while the daughter of our late acquaintance, Sir William Harris, became an accessory to the plot, and a contributor too, to the tune of a couple of hundred pounds. Some circumstances, however, at length made this latter lady suspicious, and she wished to audit the books. The captain prevaricated—the lady remonstrated, until the gentleman, with more truth than manners, told her that she was a fool—the money he had expended or lost at dice; and that he did not think the ministers quite so silly as to make him a lord, or that he himself was such a fool as to make her his wife; so the whole thing exploded."

John listened with a delight but little short of what he had felt when Grace owned her love, and anxious to know all, eagerly inquired,—

"But, is it true? how was it found out?"

"Oh, the lady complained of part, and the captain tells all to get the laugh on his side; so that Walker says the former is the derision and the latter the contempt of all Bath."

"Poor Sir William," said the baronet, with feeling; "he is much to be pitied."

"I am afraid he has nothing to blame but his own indulgence," remarked the rector.

"You don't know the worst of it," replied Mr. Haughton. "We poor people are made to suffer—Lady Jarvis wept and fretted Sir Timo out of his lease, which has been given up, and a new house is to be taken in another part of the kingdom, where neither Miss Harris nor the story is known."

"Then Sir William has to procure a new tenant," said Lady Moseley, not in the least regretting the loss of the old one.

"No, my lady," continued Mr. Haughton, with a smile. "Walker is, you know, an attorney, and does some business occasionally for Sir William. When Jarvis gave up the lease, the baronet, who finds himself a little short of money, offered the deanery for sale, it being a useless place to him; and the very next day, while Walker was with Sir William, a gentleman called, and without higgling agreed to pay down at once his thirty thousand pounds for it."

"And who is the purchaser?" inquired Lady Moseley eagerly.

"The Earl of Pendennyss."

"Lord Pendennyss!" exclaimed Mrs. Wilson in rapture.

"Pendennyss!" cried the rector, eying the aunt and Emily with a smile.

"Pendennyss!" echoed all in the room in amazement.

"Yes," said Mr. Haughton, "it is now the property of the earl, who says he has bought it for his sister."