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CHAPTER IV.

"You are welcome, Sir Edward," said the venerable rector, as he took the baronet by the hand: "I was fearful a return of your rheumatism would deprive us of this pleasure, and prevent my making you acquainted with the new occupants of the deanery, who have consented to dine with us to-day, and to whom I have promised, in particular, an introduction to Sir Edward Moseley."

"I thank you, my dear doctor," rejoined the baronet; "I have not only come myself, but have persuaded Mr. Benfield to make one of the party; there he comes, leaning on Emily's arm, and finding fault with Mrs. Wilson's new-fashioned barouche, which he says has given him cold."

The rector received the unexpected guest with the kindness of his nature, and an inward smile at the incongruous assemblage he was likely to have around him by the arrival of the Jarvises, who, at that moment, drove to his door. The introductions between the baronet and the new comers had passed, and Miss Jarvis had made a prettily worded apology on behalf of the colonel, who was not yet well enough to come out, but whose politeness had insisted on their not remaining at home on his account, as Mr. Benfield, having composedly put on his spectacles, walked deliberately up to the place where the merchant had seated himself, and having examined him through his glasses to his satisfaction, took them off, and carefully wiping them, he began to talk to himself as he put them into his pocket—"No, no; it's not Jack, the hackney coachman, nor my Lord Gosford's gentleman, but"—cordially holding out both hands—"it's the man who saved my twenty thousand pounds."

Mr. Jarvis, whom shame and embarrassment had kept silent during this examination, exchanged greetings sincerely with his old acquaintance, who now took a seat in silence by his side; while his wife, whose face had begun to kindle with indignation at the commencement of the old gentleman's soliloquy, observing that somehow or other it had not only terminated without degradation to her spouse, but with something like credit, turned complacently to Mrs. Ives, with an apology for the absence of her son.

"I cannot divine, ma'am, where he has got to; he is ever keeping us waiting for him;" and, addressing Jane, "these military men become so unsettled in their habits, that I often tell Harry he should never quit the camp."

"In Hyde Park, you should add, my dear, for he has never been in any other," bluntly observed her husband.

To this speech no reply was made, but it was evidently little relished by the ladies of the family, who were a good deal jealous of the laurels of the only hero their race had ever produced. The arrival and introduction of the captain himself changed the discourse, which turned on the comforts of their present residence.

"Pray, my lady," cried the captain, who had taken a chair familiarly by the side of the baronet's wife, "why is the house called the deanery? I am afraid I shall be taken for a son of the church, when I invite my friends to visit my father at the deanery."

"And you may add, at the same time, sir, if you please," dryly remarked Mr. Jarvis, "that it is occupied by an old man, who has been preaching and lecturing all his life; and, like others of the trade, I believe, in vain."

"You must except our good friend, the doctor here, at least, sir," said Mrs. Wilson; who, observing that her sister shrank from a familiarity she was unused to, took upon herself the office of replying to the captain's question: "The father of the present Sir William Harris held that station in the church, and although the house was his private property, it took its name from the circumstance, which has been continued ever since."

"Is it not a droll life Sir William leads," cried Miss Jarvis, looking at John Moseley, "riding about all summer from one watering-place to another, and letting his house year after year in the manner he does?"

"Sir William," said Dr. Ives, gravely, "is devoted to his daughter's wishes; and since his accession to his title, has come into possession of another residence in an adjoining county, which, I believe, he retains in his own hands."

"Are you acquainted with Miss Harris?" continued the lady, addressing herself to Clara; though, without waiting for an answer, she added, "She is a great belle—all the gentlemen are dying for her."

"Or her fortune," said her sister, with a pretty toss of the head; "for my part, I never could see anything so captivating in her, although so much is said about her at Bath and Brighton."

"You know her then?" mildly observed Clara.

"Why, I cannot say—we are exactly acquainted," the young lady hesitatingly answered, coloring violently.

"What do you mean by exactly acquainted, Sally?" put in the father with a laugh; "did you ever speak to or were you ever in a room with her, in your life, unless it might be at a concert or a ball?"

The mortification of Miss Sarah was too evident for concealment, and it happily was relieved by a summons to dinner.

"Never, my dear child," said Mrs. Wilson to Emily, the aunt being fond of introducing a moral from the occasional incidents of every-day life, "never subject yourself to a similar mortification, by commenting on the characters of those you don't know: ignorance makes you liable to great errors; and if they should happen to be above you in life, it will only excite their contempt, should it reach their ears, while those to whom your remarks are made will think it envy."

"Truth is sometimes blundered on," whispered John, who held his sister's arm, waiting for his aunt to precede them to the dining-room.

The merchant paid too great a compliment to the rector's, dinner to think of renewing the disagreeable conversation, and as John Moseley and the young clergyman were seated next the two young ladies, they soon forgot what, among themselves, they would call their father's rudeness, in receiving the attentions of a couple of remarkably agreeable young men.

"Pray, Mr. Francis, when do you preach for us?" asked Mr. Haughton; "I'm very anxious to hear you hold forth from the pulpit, where I have so often heard your father with pleasure: I doubt not you will prove orthodox, or you will be the only man, I believe, in the congregation, the rector has left in ignorance of the theory of our religion, at least."

The doctor bowed to the compliment, as he replied to the question for his son, that on the next Sunday, they were to have the pleasure of hearing Frank, who had promised to assist him on that day.

"Any prospects of a living soon?" continued Mr. Haughton, helping himself bountifully to a piece of plum pudding as he spoke. John Moseley laughed aloud, and Clara blushed to the eyes, while the doctor, turning to Sir Edward, observed with an air of interest, "Sir Edward, the living of Bolton is vacant, and I should like exceedingly to obtain it for my son. The advowson belongs to the earl, who will dispose of it only to great interest, I am afraid."

Clara was certainly too busily occupied in picking raisins from her pudding to hear this remark, but accidentally stole, from under her long eyelashes, a timid glance at her father, as he replied:—

"I am sorry, my friend, I have not sufficient interest with his lordship to apply on my own account; but he is so seldom here, we are barely acquainted;" and the good baronet looked really concerned.

"Clara," said Francis Ives in a low and affectionate tone, "have you read the books I sent you?"

Clara answered him with a smile in the negative, but promised amendment as soon as she had leisure.

"Do you ride much on horseback, Mr. Moseley?" abruptly asked Miss Sarah, turning her back on the young divine, and facing the gentleman she addressed. John, who was now hemmed in between the sisters, replied with a rueful expression that brought a smile into the face of Emily, who was placed opposite to him,—

"Yes, ma'am, and sometimes I am ridden."

"Ridden, sir, what do you mean by that?"

"Oh! only my aunt there occasionally gives me a lecture."

"I understand," said the lady, pointing slyly with her finger at her own father.

"Does it feel good?" John inquired, with a look of great sympathy. But the lady, who now felt awkwardly, without knowing exactly why, shook her head in silence, and forced a faint laugh.

"Whom have we here?" cried Captain Jarvis, who was looking out at a window which commanded a view of the approach to the house; "the apothecary and his attendant, judging from the equipage."

The rector threw an inquiring look on a servant, who told his master they were strangers to him.

"Have them shown up, doctor," cried the benevolent baronet, who loved to see every one as happy as himself, "and give them some of your excellent pasty, for the sake of hospitality and the credit of your cook, I beg of you."

As this request was politely seconded by others of the party, the rector ordered his servants to show in the strangers.

On opening the parlor door, a gentleman, apparently sixty years of age, appeared, leaning on the arm of a youth of five-and-twenty. There was sufficient resemblance between the two for the most indifferent observe, to pronounce them father and son; but the helpless debility and emaciated figure of the former were finely contrasted by the vigorous health and manly beauty of the latter, who supported his venerable parent into the room with a grace and tenderness that struck most of the beholders with a sensation of pleasure. The doctor and Mrs. Ives rose from their seats involuntarily, and each stood for a moment, lost in an astonishment that was mingled with grief. Recollecting himself, the rector grasped the extended hand of the senior in both his own, and endeavored to utter something, but in vain. The tears followed each other down his cheeks, as he looked on the faded and care-worn figure which stood before him; while his wife, unable to control her feelings, sank back into a chair and wept aloud.

Throwing open the door of an adjoining room, and retaining the hand of the invalid, the doctor gently led the way, followed by his wife and son; the former, having recovered from the first burst of her sorrow, and regardless of everything else, now anxiously watched the enfeebled step of the stranger. On reaching the door, they both turned and bowed to the company in a manner of so much dignity, mingled with sweetness, that all, not excepting Mr. Benfield, rose from their seats to return the salutation. On passing from the dining parlor, the door was closed, leaving the company standing round the table in mute astonishment and commiseration. Not a word had been spoken, and the rector's family had left them without apology or explanation. Francis, however, soon returned, and was followed in a few minutes by his mother, who, slightly apologizing for her absence, turned the discourse on the approaching Sunday, and the intention of Francis to preach on that day. The Moseleys were too well bred to make any inquiries, and the deanery family was afraid. Sir Edward retired at a very early hour, and was followed by the remainder of the party.

"Well," cried Mrs. Jarvis, as they drove from the door, "this may be good breeding, but, for my part, I think both the doctor and Mrs. Ives behaved very rudely, with the crying and sobbing."

"They are nobody of much consequence," cried her oldest daughter, casting a contemptuous glance on a plain travelling chaise which stood before the rector's stables.

"'Twas sickening," said Miss Sarah, with a shrug; while her father, turning his eyes on each speaker in succession, very deliberately helped himself to a pinch of snuff, his ordinary recourse against a family quarrel. The curiosity of the ladies was, however, more lively than they chose to avow; and Mrs. Jarvis bade her maid go over to the rectory that evening, with her compliments to Mrs. Ives; she had lost a lace veil, which her maid knew, and she thought it might have been left at the rectory.

"And Jones, when you are there, you can inquire of the servants; mind, of the servants—I would not distress Mrs. Ives for the world; how Mr.—Mr.—what's his name—Oh!—I have forgotten his name; just bring me his name too, Jones; and, as it may make some difference in our party, just find out how long they stay; and—and—any other little thing, Jones, which can be of use, you know."

Off went Jones, and within an hour she had returned. With an important look, she commenced her narrative, the daughters being accidentally present, and it might be on purpose.

"Why, ma'am, I went across the fields, and William was good enough to go with me; so when we got there, I rang, and they showed us into the servants' room, and I gave my message, and the veil was not there. Why, ma'am, there's the veil now, on the back o' that chair!"

"Very well, very well, Jones, never mind the veil," cried the impatient mistress.

"So, ma'am, while they were looking for the veil, I just asked one of the maids, what company had arrived, but"—here Jones looked very suspicious, and shook her head ominously—"would you think it, ma'am, not a soul of them knew! But, ma'am, there was the doctor and his son, praying and reading with the old gentleman the whole time—and"—

"And what, Jones?"

"Why, ma'am, I expect he has been a great sinner, or be wouldn't want so much praying just as he is about to die."

"Die!" cried all three at once: "will he die?"

"Oh yes," continued Jones, "they all agree he must die, but this praying so much, is just like the criminals. I'm sure no honest person needs so much praying, ma'am."

"No, indeed," said the mother. "No, indeed," responded the daughters, as they retired to their several rooms for the night.