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CHAPTER XLIV.

During the time occupied by the foregoing events, Francis continued a gloomy inmate of his uncle's house. The duke and his brother George were too indolent and inactive in their minds to pierce the cloud that mortification and deadened affections had drawn around the real character of their nephew; and although he was tolerated as the heir, he was but little loved as a man.

In losing his brother, Francis lost the only human being with whom he possessed any sympathies in common; and he daily drew more and more into himself, in gloomy meditation on his forlorn situation, in the midst of wealth and expected honors. The attentions he received were paid to his rank, and Francis had penetration enough to perceive it. His visits to his parents were visits of ceremony, and in time all parties came to look to their termination with pleasure, as to the discontinuance of heartless and forced civilities.

Affection, even in the young man, could not endure, repulsed as his feelings were, forever; and in the course of three years, if his attachments were not alienated from his parents, his ardor had become much abated.

It is a dreadful truth, that the bonds of natural affection can be broken by injustice and contumely; and it is yet more to be deplored, that when from such causes we loosen the ties habit and education have drawn around us, a reaction in our feelings commences; we seldom cease to love, but we begin to hate. Against such awful consequences it is one of the most solemn duties of the parent to provide in season; and what surer safeguard is there, than to inculcate those feelings which teach the mind to love God, and in so doing induce love to the whole human family?

Sir Frederick and Lady Margaret attended the church regularly, repeated the responses with much decency, toasted the church next to the king, even appeared at the altars of their God, and continued sinners. From such sowings, no good fruit could be expected to flourish: yet Francis was not without his hours of devotion; but his religion was, like himself, reserved, superstitious, ascetic, and gloomy. He never entered into social worship: if he prayed it was with an ill-concealed wish to end this life of care. If he returned thanks, it was with a bitterness that mocked the throne before which he was prostrate. Such pictures are revolting; but their originals have and do exist; for what enormity is there of which human frailty, unchecked by divine assistance, may not be guilty?

Francis received an invitation to visit a brother of his mother's at his seat in the country, about the time of the expected return of George from America; and in compliance with the wishes of his uncles he accepted it. The house was thronged with visitors, and many of them were ladies. To these, the arrival of the unmarried heir of the house of Derwent was a subject of no little interest. His character had, however, preceded him, and a few days of his awkward and, as they conceived, sullen deportment, drove them back to their former beaux, with the exception of one; and she was not only amongst the fairest of the throng, but decidedly of the highest pretensions on the score of birth and fortune.

Marian Lumley was the only surviving child of the last Duke of Annerdale, with whom had expired the higher honors of his house. But the Earldom of Pendennyss, with numerous ancient baronies, were titles in fee; and together with his princely estates had descended to his daughter as heir-general of the family. A peeress in her own right, with an income far exceeding her utmost means of expenditure, the lovely Countess of Peudennyss was a prize aimed at by all the young nobles of the empire.

Educated in the midst of flatterers and dependents she had become haughty, vain, and supercilious; still she was lovely, and no one knew better how to practice the most winning arts of her sex, when whim or interest prompted her to the trial.

Her host was her guardian and relative; and through his agency she had rejected, at the age of twenty, numerous suitors for her hand. Her eyes were fixed on the ducal coronet; and unfortunately for Francis Denbigh, he was, at the time, the only man of the proper age who could elevate her to that enviable distinction in the kingdom; and an indirect measure of her own had been the means of his invitation to the country.

Like the rest of her young companions, Marian was greatly disappointed on the view of her intended captive, and for a day or two she abandoned him to his melancholy and himself. But ambition was her idol; and to its powerful rival, love, she was yet a stranger. After a few struggles with her inclinations the consideration that their united fortunes and family alliances would make one of the wealthiest and most powerful houses in the kingdom prevailed. Such early sacrifices of the inclinations in a woman of her beauty, youth, and accomplishments, may excite surprise; but where the mind is left uncultivated by the hand of care, the soul untouched by the love of goodness, the human heart seldom fails to set up an idol of its own to worship. In the Countess of Pendennyss this idol was pride.

The remainder of the ladies, from ceasing to wonder at the manners of Francis, had made them the subject of their mirth; and nettled at his apparent indifference to their society, which they erroneously attributed to his sense of his importance, they overstepped the bounds of good-breeding in manifesting their displeasure.

"Mr. Denbigh," cried one of the most thoughtless and pretty of the gay tribe to him one day, as Francis sat in a corner abstracted from the scene around him, "when do you mean to favor the world with your brilliant ideas in the shape of a book?"

"Oh! no doubt soon," said a second; "and I expect they will be homilies, or another volume to the Whole Duty of Man."

"Rather," cried a third, with bitter irony, "another canto to the Rape of the Lock, his ideas are so vivid and full of imagery."

"Or, what do you think," said a fourth, speaking in a voice of harmony, and tones of the most soothing tenderness, "of pity and compassion, for the follies of those inferior minds, who cannot enjoy the reflections of a good sense and modesty peculiarly his own?"

This might also be irony; and Francis thought it so; but the tones were so soft and conciliating, that, with a face pale with his emotions, he ventured to look up, and met the eye of Marian fixed on him in an expression that changed his death-like hue into the color of vermilion.

He thought of this speech; he reasoned on it; he dreamt on it. But for the looks which accompanied it, like the rest of the party, he would have thought it the cruelest cut of them all. But that look, those eyes, that voice, what a commentary on her language did they not afford!

Francis was not long in suspense; the next morning an excursion was proposed, which included all but himself in its arrangements. He was either too reserved or too proud to offer services which were not required.

Several gentlemen had contended for the honor of driving the countess in a beautiful phaeton of her own. They grew earnest in their claims: one had been promised by its mistress with an opportunity of trying the ease of the carriage; another was delighted with the excellent training of her horses; in short, all had some particular claim to the distinction, which was urged with a warmth and pertinacity proportionate to the value of the prize to be obtained. Marian heard the several claimants with an ease and indifference natural to her situation, and ended the dispute by saying,—

"Gentlemen, as I have made so many promises from the dread of giving offense, I must throw myself on the mercy of Mr. Denbigh, who alone, with the best claims, does not urge them; to you then," continued she, approaching him with the whip which was to be given the victor, "I adjudge the prize, if you will condescend to accept it."

This was uttered with one of her most attractive smiles, and Francis received the whip with an emotion that he with difficulty could control.

The gentlemen were glad to have the contest decided by adjudging the prize to one so little dangerous, and the ladies sneered at her choice as they left the house.

There was something so soothing in the manners of Lady Pendennyss, she listened to the little he said with such a respectful attention, was so anxious to have him give his opinions, that the unction of flattery, thus sweetly applied, and for the first time, could not fail of its wonted effects.

The communications thus commenced were continued. It was so easy to be attentive, by being simply polite to one unused to notice of any kind, that Marian found the fate of the young man in her hands almost as soon as she attempted to control it.

A new existence opened upon Francis, as day after day she insensibly led him to a display of powers he was unconscious until now of possessing himself. His self-respect began to increase, his limited pleasures to multiply, and he could now look around him with a sense of participation in the delights of life, as he perceived himself of consequence to this much admired woman.

Trifling incidents, managed on her part with consummate art, had led him to the daring inference that he was not entirely indifferent to her; and Francis returned the incipient affection of his mistress with a feeling but little removed from adoration. Week flew by after week, and still he lingered at the residence of his kinsman, unable to tear himself from the society of one so worshipped, and yet afraid to take a step by making a distinct declaration which might involve him in disgrace or ridicule.

The condescension of the countess increased, and she had indirectly given him the most flattering assurances of his success, when George, just arrived from America, having first paid his greetings to his reconciled parents, and the happy couple of his generosity, flew to the arms of his brother in Suffolk.

Francis was overjoyed to see George, and George delighted in the visible improvement of his brother. Still Francis was far, very far behind his junior in graces of mind and body; indeed, few men in England were more adapted by nature and education for female society than was Colonel Denbigh at the period of which we write.

Marian witnessed all his attractions, and deeply felt their influence; for the first time she felt the emotions of the gentle passion; and after having sported in the gay world, and trifled with the feelings of others for years, the countess in her turn became an unwilling victim to its power. George met her flame with a corresponding ardor, and the struggle between ambition and love became severe; the brothers unconsciously were rivals.

Had George for a moment suspected the situation of the feelings of Francis, his very superiority in the contest would have induced him to retreat from the unnatural rivalry. Had the elder dreamt of the views of his junior, he would have abandoned his dearest hopes in utter despair. Francis had so long been accustomed to consider George as his superior in everything, that a competition with him would have appeared desperate. Marian contrived to keep both in hopes, undecided herself which to choose, and perhaps ready to yield to the first applicant. A sudden event, however, removed all doubts, and decided the fate of the three.

The Duke of Derwent and his bachelor brother became so dissatisfied with the character of their future heir, that they as coolly set about providing themselves with wives as they had performed any other ordinary transaction of life. They married cousins, and on the same day the choice of the ladies was assigned between them by lot; and if his Grace got the prettier, his brother certainly got the richest; under the circumstances a very tolerable distribution of fortune's favors.

These double marriages dissolved the charm of Francis, and Lady Pendennyss determined to consult her wishes; a little pointed encouragement brought out the declaration of George, and he was accepted.

Francis, who had never communicated his feelings to any one but the lady, and that only indirectly, was crushed by the blow. He continued in public until the day of their union; was present, composed and silent; but it was the silence of a mountain whose volcanic contend had not reached the surface. The same day he disappeared, and every inquiry after him proved fruitless; search was baffled, and for seven years it was not known what had become of the general's eldest son.

George on marrying resigned his commission, at the earnest entreaties of his wife, and retired to one of her seats, to the enjoyment of ease and domestic love. The countess was enthusiastically attached to him; and as motives for the indulgence of coquetry were wanting, her character became gradually improved by the contemplation of the excellent qualities of her generous husband.

A lurking suspicion of the cause of Francis's sudden disappearance rendered her uneasy at times; but Marian was too much beloved, too happy, in the enjoyment of too many honors, and of too great wealth, to be open to the convictions of conscience. It is in our hours of pain and privation that we begin to feel its sting: if we are prosperous, we fancy we reap the fruits of our own merit; but if we are unfortunate, the voice of truth seldom fails to remind us that we are deserving of our fate: a blessed provision of Providence that often makes the saddest hours of our earthly career the morn of a day that is to endure forever.

General Denbigh and Lady Margaret both died within five years of the marriage of their favorite child, although both lived to see their descendant, in the person of the infant Lord Lumley.

The duke and his brother George were each blessed with offspring, and in these several descendants of the different branches of the family of Denbigh may be seen the different personages of our history. On the birth of her youngest child, the Lady Marian, the Countess of Pendennyss sustained a shock in her health from which she never wholly recovered: she became nervous, and lost most of her energy both of mind and body. Her husband was her solace: his tenderness remaining unextinguished, while his attentions increased.

As the fortune of Ives and Isabel put the necessity of a living out of the question, and no cure offering for the acceptance of the first, he was happy to avail himself of an offer to become domestic chaplain to his now intimate friend, Mr. Denbigh. For the first six years they were inmates of Pendennyss Castle. The rector of the parish was infirm, and averse to a regular assistant; but the unobtrusive services of Mr. Ives were not less welcome to the pastor than to his parishioners.

Employed in the duties which of right fell to the incumbent, and intrusted with the spiritual guardianship of the dependents of the castle, our young clergyman had ample occupation for all his time, if not a sufficient theatre for his usefulness. Isabel and himself remained the year round in Wales, and the first dawnings of education received by Lord Lumley were those he acquired conjointly with Francis from the care of the latter's father. They formed, with the interval of the time spent by Mr. Denbigh and Lady Pendennyss in town in winter, but one family. To the gentleman, the attachment of the grateful Ives was as strong as it was lasting. Mrs. Ives never ceased to consider him as a self-devoted victim to her happiness; and although a far more brilliant lot had awaited him by the change, yet her own husband could not think it a more happy one.

The birth of Lady Marian had already, in its consequences, begun to throw a gloom round the domestic comforts of Denbigh, when he was to sustain another misfortune in a separation from his friends.

Mr., now Dr. Ives, had early announced his firm intention, whenever an opportunity was afforded him, to enter into the fullest functions of his ministry, as a matter of duty. Such an opportunity now offered at B——, and the doctor became its rector about the period Sir Edward became possessor of his paternal estate.

Denbigh tried every inducement within his power to keep the doctor in his own society. If as many thousands as his living would give him hundreds could effect it, they would have been at his service; but Denbigh understood the character of the divine too well to offer such an inducement: he however urged the claims of friendship to the utmost, but without success. The doctor acknowledged the hold both himself and family had gained upon his affections, but he added—

"Consider, my dear Mr. Denbigh, what we would have thought of one of the earlier followers of our Saviour, who from motives of convenience or worldly-mindedness could have deserted his sacred calling. Although the changes in the times may have rendered the modes of conducting them different, necessarily the duties remain the same. The minister of our holy religion who has once submitted to the call of his divine Master, must allow nothing but ungovernable necessity to turn him from the path he has entered on; and should he so far forget himself, I greatly fear he would plead, when too late to remedy the evil, his worldly duties, his cares, or even his misfortunes, in vain. Solemn and arduous are his obligations to labor, but when faithfully he has discharged these duties, oh! how glorious must be his reward."

Before such opinions every barrier must fall, and the doctor entered into the cure of his parish without further opposition, though not without unceasing regret on the part of his friend. Their intercourse was, however, maintained by letter, and they also frequently met at Lumley Castle, a seat of the countess's, within two days' ride of the doctor's parish, until her increasing indisposition rendered journeying impossible; then, indeed, the doctor extended his rides into Wales, but with longer intervals between his visits, though with the happiest effects to the objects of his journey.

Mr. Denbigh, worn down with watching and blasted hopes, under the direction of the spiritual watchfulness of the rector of B——, became an humble, sincere, and pious Christian.