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CHAPTER XXXIX.

Mrs. Wilson found time the ensuing day to ascertain before they left the hall, the truth of the tale related by Mr. Haughton. The deanery had certainly changed its master, and a new steward had already arrived to take possession in the name of his lord. What induced Pendennyss to make this purchase she was at a loss to conceive—most probably some arrangement between himself and Lord Bolton. But whatever might be his motive, it in some measure insured his becoming for a season their neighbor; and Mrs. Wilson felt a degree of pleasure at the circumstance that she had been a stranger to for a long time—a pleasure which was greatly heightened as she dwelt on the lovely face of the companion who occupied the other seat in her travelling chaise.

The road to London led by the gates of the deanery, and near them they passed a servant in the livery of those they had once seen following the equipage of the earl. Anxious to know anything which might hasten her acquaintance with this admired nobleman, Mrs. Wilson stopped her carriage to inquire.

"Pray, sir, whom do you serve?"

"My Lord Pendennyss, ma'am," replied the man, respectfully taking off his hat.

"The earl is not here?" asked Mrs. Wilson, with interest.

"Oh, no, madam; I am here in waiting on his steward. My lord is in Westmoreland, with his Grace and Colonel Denbigh, and the ladies."

"Does he remain there long?" continued the anxious widow, desirous of knowing all she could learn.

"I believe not, madam; most of our people have gone to Annerdale House, and my lord is expected in town with the duke and the colonel."

As the servant was an elderly man, and appeared to understand the movements of his master so well, Mrs. Wilson was put in unusual spirits by this prospect of a speedy termination to her anxiety to meet Pendennyss.

"Annerdale House is the earl's town residence?" quietly inquired Emily.

"Yes; he got the fortune of the last duke of that title, but how I do not exactly know. I believe, however, through his mother. General Wilson did not know his family: indeed, Pendennyss bore a second title during his lifetime; but did you observe how very civil his servant was, as well as the one John spoke to before,—a sure sign their master is a gentleman?"

Emily smiled at the strong partialities of her aunt, and replied, "Your handsome chaise and attendants will draw respect from most men in his situation, dear aunt, be their masters who they may."

The expected pleasure of meeting the earl was a topic frequently touched upon between her aunt and Emily during their journey; the former beginning to entertain hopes she would have laughed at herself for, could they have been fairly laid before her; and the latter entertaining a profound respect for his character, but chiefly governed by a wish to gratify her companion.

The third day they reached the baronet's handsome house in St. James' Square, and found that the forethought of John had provided everything in the best and most comfortable manner.

It was the first visit of both Jane and Emily to the metropolis; and under the protection of their almost equally curious mother, and escorted by John, they wisely determined to visit the curiosities, while their leisure yet admitted of the opportunity. For the first two weeks their time was chiefly employed in the indulgence of this unfashionable and vulgar propensity, which, if it had no other tendency, served greatly to draw the thoughts of both the young women from the recollections of the lust few months.

While her sister and nieces were thus employed, Mrs. Wilson, assisted by Grace, was occupied in getting things in preparation to do credit to the baronet's hospitality.

The second week after their arrival, Mrs. Moseley was delighted by seeing advance upon her unexpectedly through the door of the breakfast parlor, her brother, with his bride leaning on his arm. After the most sincere greetings and congratulations, Lady Chatterton cried out gayly,

"You see, my dear Lady Moseley, I am determined to banish ceremony between us, and so, instead of sending you my card, have come myself to notify you of my arrival. Chatterton would not suffer me even to swallow my breakfast, he was so impatient to show me off."

"You are placing things exactly on the footing I wish to see ourselves with all our connections," replied Lady Moseley, kindly; "but what have you done with the duke? is he not in your train?"

"Oh! he is gone to Canterbury with George Denbigh, madam," cried the lady, shaking her head reproachfully though affectionately at Emily; "his Grace dislikes London just now excessively, he says, and the colonel being obliged to leave his wife on regimental business, Derwent was good enough to keep him company during his exile."

"And Lady Laura, do we see her?" inquired Lady Moseley.

"She came with us. Pendennyss and his sister follow immediately; so, my dear madam, the dramatis personæ will all be on the stage soon."

Cards and visits now began to accumulate on the Moseleys, and their time no longer admitted of that unfettered leisure which they had enjoyed at their entrance on the scene. Mrs. Wilson, for herself and charge, adopted a rule for the government of her manner of living, which was consistent with her duties. They mixed in general society sparingly; and, above all, they rigidly adhered to their obedience to the injunction which commanded them to keep the Sabbath day holy; a duty of no trifling difficulty to perform in fashionable society in the city of London, or indeed, in any other place, where the influence of fashion has supplanted the laws of God.

Mrs. Wilson was not a bigot; but she knew and performed her duty rigidly. It was a pleasure to her to do so. It would have been misery to do otherwise. In the singleness of heart and deep piety of her niece, she had a willing pupil to her system of morals, and a rigid follower of her religious practices. As they both knew that the temptations to go astray were greater in town than in the country, they kept a strict guard over the tendency to err, and in watchfulness found their greatest security.

John Moseley, next to his friends, loved his bays: indeed, if the aggregate of his affections for these and Lady Herriefield had been put in opposite scales, we strongly suspect the side of the horses would preponderate.

One Sunday, soon after being domesticated, John, who had soberly attended morning service with the ladies, came into a little room where the more reflecting part of the family were assembled, occupied with their books, in search of his wife.

Grace, we have before mentioned, had become a real member of that church in which she had been educated, and had entered, under the direction of Dr. Ives and Mrs. Wilson, into an observance of its wholesome ordinances. Grace was certainly piously inclined, if not devout. Her feelings on the subject of religion had been sensibly awakened during their voyage to Lisbon; and at the period of which we write, Mrs. Moseley was as sincerely disposed to perform her duty as her powers admitted. To the request of her husband, that she would take a seat in his phaeton while he drove her round the park once or twice, Grace gave a mild refusal, by saying,—

"It is Sunday, my dear Moseley."

"Do you think I don't know that?" cried John, gayly. "There will be everybody there, and, the better day, the better deed."

Now, Moseley, if he had been asked to apply this speech to the case before them, would have frankly owned his inability; but his wife did not make the trial: she was contented with saying, as she laid down her book to look on a face she so tenderly loved:—

"Ah! Moseley, you should set a better example to those below you in life."

"I wish to set an example," returned her husband, with an affectionate smile, "to all above as well as below me, in order that they may find out the path to happiness, by exhibiting to the world a model of a wife in yourself, dear Grace."

As this was uttered with a sincerity which distinguished the manner of Moseley, his wife was more pleased with the compliment than she would have been willing to make known; and John spoke no more than he thought; for a desire to show his handsome wife was the ruling passion for a moment.

The husband was too pressing, and the wife too fond, not to yield the point; and Grace took her seat in the carriage with a kind of half-formed resolution to improve the opportunity by a discourse on serious subjects—a resolution which terminated as all others do, that postpone one duty to discharge another of less magnitude; it was forgotten.

Mrs. Wilson had listened with interest to the efforts of John to prevail on his wife to take the ride, and on her leaving the room to comply she observed to Emily, with whom she now remained alone,—

"Here is a consequence of a difference in religious views between man and wife, my child: John, in place of supporting Grace in the discharge of her duties, has been the actual cause of her going astray."

Emily felt the force of her aunt's remark, and saw its justice; yet her love for the offender induced her to Bay,—

"John will not lead her openly astray, for he has a sincere respect for religion, and this offense is not unpardonable, dear aunt."

"The offense is assuredly not unpardonable," replied Mrs. Wilson, "and to infinite mercy it is hard to say what is; but it is an offense, and directly in the face of an express ordinance of the Lord; it is even throwing off the appearance of keeping the Sabbath day holy, much less observing the substance of the commandment; and as to John's respect for holy things in this instance, it was injurious to his wife. Had he been an open deist she would have shrunk from the act in suspicion of its sinfulness. Either John must become a Christian, or I am afraid Grace will fall from her undertaking."

Mrs. Wilson shook her head mournfully, while Emily offered up a silent petition that the first might speedily be the case.

Lady Laura had been early in her visit to the Moseleys; and as Denbigh had both a town residence and a seat in parliament, it appeared next to impossible to avoid meeting him or to requite the pressing civilities of his wife by harsh refusals, that might prove in the end injurious to themselves by creating a suspicion that resentment at his not choosing a partner from amongst them, governed the conduct of the Moseleys towards a man to whom they were under such a heavy obligation.

Had Sir Edward known as much as his sister and daughters he would probably have discountenanced the acquaintance altogether; but owing to the ignorance of the rest of her friends of what had passed, Mrs. Wilson and Emily had not only the assiduities of Lady Laura but the wishes of their own family to contend with, and consequently she submitted to the association with a reluctance that was in some measure counteracted by their regard for Lady Laura, and by compassion for her abused confidence.

A distant connection of Lady Moseley's had managed to collect in her house a few hundred of her nominal friends, and as she had been particularly attentive in calling in person on her venerable relative, Mr. Benfield, soon after his arrival in town, out of respect to her father's cousin, or perhaps mindful of his approaching end, and remembering there were such things as codicils to wills, the old man, flattered by her notice, and yet too gallant to reject the favor of a lady, consented to accompany the remainder of the family on the occasion.

Most of their acquaintances were there, and Lady Moseley soon found herself engaged in a party at quadrille, while the young people were occupied by the usual amusements of their age in such scenes. Emily alone feeling but little desire to enter into the gayety of general conversation with a host of gentlemen who had collected round her aunt and sisters, offered her arm to Mr. Benfield, on seeing him manifest a disposition to take a closer view of the company, and walked away with him.

They wandered from room to room, unconscious of the observation attracted by the sight of a man in the costume of Mr. Benfield, loaning on the arm of so young and lovely a woman as his niece; and many an exclamation of surprise, ridicule admiration, and wonder had been made, unnoticed by the pair, until finding the crowd rather inconvenient to her companion, Emily gently drew him into one of the apartments where the card-tables, and the general absence of beauty, made room less difficult to be found.

"Ah! Emmy dear," said the old gentleman, wiping his face, "times are much changed, I see, since my youth. Then you would see no such throngs assembled in so small a space; gentlemen shoving ladies, and yes, Emmy," continued her uncle in a lower tone, as if afraid of uttering something dangerous, "the ladies themselves shouldering the men. I remember at a drum given by Lady Gosford, that although I may, without vanity, say I was one of the gallantest men in the rooms, I came in contact with but one of the ladies during the whole evening, with the exception of handing the Lady Juliana to a chair, and that," said her uncle, stopping short and lowering his voice to a whisper, "was occasioned by a mischance in the old duchess in rising from her seat when she had taken too much strong waters, as she was at times a little troubled with a pain in the chest."

Emily smiled at the casualty of her Grace, and they proceeded slowly through the table until their passage was stopped by a party at the game of whist, which, by its incongruous mixture of ages and character, forcibly drew her attention.

The party was composed of a young man of five or six and twenty, who threw down his cards in careless indifference, and heedlessly played with the guineas which were laid on the side of the table as markers, or the fruits of a former victory: or by stealing hasty and repeated glances through the vista of the tables into the gayer scenes of the adjoining rooms, proved he was in duresse, and waited for an opportunity to make his escape from the tedium of cards and ugliness to the life of conversation and beauty.

His partner was a woman of doubtful age, and one whose countenance rather indicated that the uncertainty was likely to continue until the record of the tomb-stone divulged the so often contested circumstance to the world. Her eyes also wandered to the gayer scenes, but with an expression of censoriousness mingled with longings; nor did she neglect the progress of the game as frequently as her more heedless partner. A glance thrown on the golden pair which was placed between her and her neighbor on her right, marked the importance of the corner, and as she shuffled the cards she did not fail to note the abstraction of her young antagonist with a sort of confident satisfaction.

Her neighbor on the right was a man of sixty, and his vestments announced him a servant of the sanctuary. His intentness on the game proceeded no doubt from his habits of reflection; his smile at success, quite possibly from charity to his neighbors; his frown in adversity from displeasure at the triumphs of the wicked, for such in his heart he had set down Miss Wigram to be; and his unconquerable gravity in the employment from a profound regard to the dignity of his holy office.

The fourth performer in this trial of memories was an ancient lady, gayly dressed, and intently eager on the game. Between her and the young man was a large pile of guineas, which appeared to be her exclusive property, from which she repeatedly, during the play, tendered one to his acceptance on the event of a hand or a trick, and to which she seldom failed from inadvertence to add his mite, contribution to accumulate the pile.

"Two double and the rub, my dear doctor," exclaimed the senior lady, in triumph. "Sir William, you owe me ten."

The money was paid as easily as it had been won, and the dowager proceeded to settle some bets with her female antagonist.

"Two more, I fancy, ma'am," said she, closely scanning the contributions of the maiden.

"I believe it is right, my lady," was the answer, with a look that said pretty plainly, that or nothing.

"I beg pardon, my dear, here are but four; and you remember two on the corner, and four on the points. Doctor, I will trouble you for a couple of guineas from Miss Wigram's store, I am in haste to get to the countess's rout."

The doctor was coolly helping himself from the said store, under the watchful eyes of its owner, and secretly exulting in his own judgment in requiring the stakes, when the maiden replied in great warmth,

"Your ladyship forgets the two you lost to me at Mrs. Howard's."

"It must be a mistake, my dear, I always pay as I lose," cried the dowager, with great spirit, stretching over the table and helping herself to the disputed money.

Mr. Benfield and Emily had stood silent spectators of the whole scene, the latter in astonishment to meet such manners in such society, and the former under feelings it would have been difficult to describe; for in the face of the dowager, which was inflamed partly from passion and more from high living, he recognized the remains of his Lady Juliana, now the Dowager Viscountess Haverford.

"Emmy, dear," said the old man, with a heavy-drawn sigh, as if awaking from a long and troubled dream, "we will go."

The phantom of forty years had vanished before the truth; and the fancies of retirement, simplicity, and a diseased imagination yielded to the influence of life and common-sense.