Open main menu

Precaution/Chapter 8

 
CHAPTER VIII.

Francis, who labored with the ardor of a lover, soon completed the necessary arrangements and alterations in his new parsonage. The living was a good one, and as the rector was enabled to make a very considerable annual allowance from the private fortune his wife had brought him, and as Sir Edward had twenty thousand pounds in the funds for each of his daughters, one portion of which was immediately settled on Clara, the youthful couple had not only a sufficient, but an abundant provision for their station in life; and they entered on their matrimonial duties with as good a prospect of happiness as the ills of this world can give to health, affection, and competency. Their union had been deferred by Dr. Ives until his son was established, with a view to keep him under his own direction during the critical period of his first impressions in the priesthood; and, as no objection now remained, or rather, the only one he ever felt was removed by the proximity of Bolton to his own parish, he now joyfully united the lovers, at the altar of the village church, in the presence of his wife and Clara's immediate relatives. On leaving the church, Francis handed his bride into his own carriage, which conveyed them to their new residence, amidst the good wishes of his parishioners, and the prayers of their relatives and friends. Dr. and Mrs. Ives retired to the rectory, to the sober enjoyment of the felicity of their only child, while the baronet and his lady felt a gloom that belied all the wishes of the latter for the establishment of her daughters. Jane and Emily acted as bridesmaids to their sister, and as both the former and her mother had insisted there should be two groomsmen, as a counterpoise, John was empowered with a carte-blanche to make a provision accordingly. At first he intimated his intention of calling on Mr. Benfield, but he finally settled down, to the no small mortification of the before-mentioned ladies, into writing a note to his kinsman, Lord Chatterton, whose residence was then in London, and who, in reply, after expressing his sincere regret that an accident would prevent his having the pleasure of attending, stated the intention of his mother and two sisters to pay them an early visit of congratulation, as soon as his own health would allow of his travelling. This answer arrived only the day preceding that fixed for the wedding, and at the very moment they were expecting his lordship in proper person.

"There," cried Jane, in triumph, "I told you it was silly to send so far on so sudden an occasion. Now, after all, what is to be done?—it will be so awkward when Clara's friends call to see her—oh! John, John, you are a Marplot."

"Jenny, Jenny, you are a make-plot," said John, coolly taking up his hat to leave the room.

"Which way, my son?" said the baronet, who met him at the door.

"To the deanery, sir, to try to get Captain Jarvis to act as bridesmaid—I beg his pardon, groomsman, to-morrow—Chatterton has been thrown from a horse and can't come."

"John!"

"Jenny!"

"I am sure," said Jane, indignation glowing in her pretty face, "that if Captain Jarvis is to be an attendant, Clara must excuse my acting. I do not choose to be associated with Captain Jarvis."

"John," said his mother, with dignity, "your trifling is unseasonable; certainly Colonel Egerton is a more fitting person on every account, and I desire, under present circumstances, that you ask the colonel."

"Your ladyship's wishes are orders to me," said John, gayly kissing his hand as he left the room.

The colonel was but too happy in having it in his power to be of service in any manner to a gentleman he respected as much as Mr. Francis Ives. He accepted the duty, and was the only person present at the ceremony who did not stand within the bonds of consanguinity to the parties. He was invited by the baronet to dine at the hall, as a matter of course, and notwithstanding the repeated injunctions of Mrs. Jarvis and her daughters, to return immediately with an account of the dress of the bride, and with other important items of a similar nature, the invitation was accepted. On reaching the hall, Emily retired immediately to her own room, and at her reappearance when the dinner bell rang, the paleness of her cheeks and the redness of her eyes afforded sufficient proof that the translation of a companion from her own to another family was an event, however happy in itself, not unmingled with grief. The day, however, passed off tolerably well for people who are expected to be premeditatedly happy, and when, in their hearts, they are really more disposed to weep than to laugh. Jane and the colonel had most of the conversation to themselves during dinner; even the joyous and thoughtless John wearing his gayety in a less graceful manner than usual. He was actually detected by his aunt in looking with moistened eyes at the vacant chair a servant had, from habit, placed at the table, in the spot where Clara had been accustomed to sit.

"This beef is not done, Saunders," said the baronet to his butler, "or my appetite is not as good as usual to-day. Colonel Egerton, will you allow me the pleasure of a glass of sherry?"

The wine was drunk, and the game succeeded the beef; but still Sir Edward could not eat.

"How glad Clara will be to see us all the day after to-morrow," said Mrs. Wilson; "your new housekeepers delight in their first efforts in entertaining their friends."

Lady Moseley smiled through her tears, and turning to her husband, said, "We will go early, my dear, that we may see the improvements Francis has been making before we dine." The baronet nodded assent, but his heart was too full to speak; and apologizing to the colonel for his absence, on the plea of some business with his people, he left the room.

All this time, the attentions of Colonel Egerton to both mother and daughter were of the most delicate kind. He spoke of Clara, as if his office of groomsman entitled him to an interest in her welfare; with John he was kind and sociable; and even Mrs. Wilson acknowledged, after he had taken his leave, that he possessed a wonderful faculty of making himself agreeable, and she began to think that, under all circumstances, he might possibly prove as advantageous a connection as Jane could expect to form. Had any one, however, proposed him as a husband for Emily, affection would have quickened her judgment in away that would have urged her to a very different decision.

Soon after the baronet left the room, a travelling carriage, with suitable attendants, drove to the door; the sound of the wheels drew most of the company to a window. "A baron's coronet!" cried Jane, catching a glimpse of the ornaments of the harness.

"The Chattertons," echoed her brother, running out of the room to meet them.

The mother of Sir Edward was a daughter of this family, and the sister of the grandfather of the present lord. The connection had always been kept up with a show of cordiality between Sir Edward and his cousin, although their manner of living and habits were very different. The baron was a courtier and a placeman; his estates, which he could not alienate, produced about ten thousand a year, but the income he could and did spend; and the high perquisites of his situation under government, amounting to as much more, were melted away year after year, without making the provision for his daughters that his duty and the observance of his promise to his wife's father required at his hands. He had been dead about two years, and his son found himself saddled with the support of an unjointured mother and unportioned sisters. Money was not the idol the young lord worshipped, nor even pleasure. He was affectionate to his surviving parent, and his first act was to settle, during his own life, two thousand a year on her, while he commenced setting aside as much more for each of his sisters annually. This abridged him greatly in his own expenditures; yet, as they made but one family, and the dowager was really a managing woman in more senses than one, they made a very tolerable figure. The son was anxious to follow the example of Sir Edward Moseley, and give up his town house, for at least a time; but his mother had exclaimed, with something like horror, at the proposal,—

"Chatterton, would you give it up at the moment it can be of the most use to us? " and she threw a glance at her daughters that would have discovered her motive to Mrs. Wilson, which was lost on her son; he, poor soul, thinking she found it convenient to support the interest he had been making for the place held by his father, one of more emolument than service, or even honor. The contending parties were so equally matched, that this situation was kept, as it were, in abeyance, waiting the arrival of some acquisition of interest to one or other of the claimants. The interest of the peer, however, had begun to lose ground at the period of which we speak, and his careful mother saw new motives for activity in providing for her children. Mrs. Wilson herself could not be more vigilant in examining the candidates for Emily's favors than was the dowager Lady Chatterton in behalf of her daughter. It is true, the task of the former lady was by far the most arduous, for it involved a study of character and development of principle; while that of the latter would have ended with the footing of a rent-roll, provided it contained five figures. Sir Edward's was well known to contain that number, and two of them were not ciphers. Mr. Benfield was rich, and John Moseley was a very agreeable young man. Weddings are the season of love, thought the prudent dowager, and Grace is extremely pretty. Chatterton, who never refused his mother anything in his power to grant, and who was particularly dutiful when a visit to Moseley Hall was in question, suffered himself to be persuaded his shoulder was well; and they had left town the day before the wedding, thinking to be in time for all the gayeties, if not for the ceremony itself.

There existed but little similarity between the persons and manners of this young nobleman and the baronet's heir. The beauty of Chatterton was almost feminine; his skin, his color, his eyes, his teeth, were such as many a belle had sighed after; and his manners were bashful and retiring. Yet an intimacy had commenced between the boys at school, which ripened into friendship between the young men at college, and had been maintained ever since, probably as much from the contrarieties of character as from any other cause. With the baron, John was more sedate than ordinary; with John, Chatterton found unusual animation. But a secret charm which John held over the young peer was his profound respect and unvarying affection for his youngest sister, Emily. This was common ground; and no dreams of future happiness, no visions of dawning wealth, crossed the imagination of Chatterton, in which Emily was not the fairy to give birth to the one, or the benevolent dispenser of the hoards of the other.

The arrival of this family was a happy relief from the oppression which hung on the spirits of the Moseleys, and their reception was marked with the mild benevolence which belonged to the nature of the baronet, and that empressement which so eminently distinguished the manners of his wife.

The honorable Misses Chatterton were both handsome; but the younger was, if possible, a softened picture of her brother. There was the same retiring bashfulness and the same sweetness of temper as distinguished the baron, and Grace was the peculiar favorite of Emily Moseley. Nothing of the strained or sentimental nature, which so often characterize what is called female friendships, however, had crept into the communications between these young women. Emily loved her sisters too well to go out of her own family for a repository of her griefs or a partaker in her joys. Had her life been checkered with such passions, her own sisters were too near her own age to suffer her to think of a confidence in which the holy ties of natural affection did not give a claim to a participation. Mrs. Wilson had found it necessary to give her charge very different views, on many subjects, from those which Jane and Clara had been suffered to imbibe of themselves, but in no degree had she impaired the obligations of filial piety or family concord. Emily was, if anything, more respectful to her parents, more affectionate to her friends, than any of her connections; for in her the warmth of natural feeling was heightened by an unvarying sense of duty.

In Grace Chatterton she found, in many respects, a temper and taste resembling her own. She therefore loved her better than others who had equally general claims on her partiality, and as such a friend, she now received her with cordial and sincere affection.

Jane, who had not felt satisfied with the ordering of Providence for the disposal of her sympathies, and had long felt a restlessness that prompted her to look abroad for a confiding spirit to whom to communicate her—secrets she had none that delicacy would suffer her to reveal—but to communicate her crude opinions and reflections, she had early selected Catherine for this person. Catherine, however, had not stood the test of trial. For a short time the love of heraldry kept them together; but Jane, finding her companion's gusto limited to the charms of the coronet and supporters chiefly, abandoned the attempt in despair, and was actually on the lookout for a new candidate for the vacant station as Colonel Egerton came into the neighborhood. A really delicate female mind shrinks from the exposure of its love to the other sex, and Jane began to be less anxious to form a connection which would either violate the sensibility of her nature, or lead to treachery to her friend.

"I regret extremely. Lady Moseley," said the dowager, as they entered the drawing-room, "that the accident which befell Chatterton should have kept us until it was too late for the ceremony: we made it a point to hasten with our congratulations, however, as soon as Astley Cooper thought it safe for him to travel."

"I feel indebted for your kindness," replied the smiling hostess. "We are always happy to have our friends around us, and none more than yourself and family. We were fortunate in finding a friend to supply your son's place, in order that the young people might go to the altar in a proper manner. Lady Chatterton, allow me to present our friend, Colonel Egerton,"—adding, in a low tone, and with a little emphasis,—"heir to Sir Edgar."

The colonel bowed gracefully, and the dowager dropped a hasty courtesy at the commencement of the speech; but a lower bend followed the closing remark, and a glance of the eye was thrown in quest of her daughters, as if she instinctively wished to bring them into what the sailors term "the line of battle."