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CHAPTER IX.

The following morning Emily and Grace, declining the invitation to join the colonel and John in their usual rides, walked to the rectory, accompanied by Mrs. Wilson and Chatterton. The ladies felt a desire to witness the happiness that they so well knew reigned in the rectory, for Francis had promised his father to drive Clara over in the course of the day. Emily longed to see Clara, from whom it appeared that she had been already separated a month. Her impatience as they approached the house hurried her ahead of her companions, who waited the more sober gait of Mrs. Wilson. She entered the parlor at the rectory without meeting any one, glowing with exercise, her hair falling over her shoulders, released from the confinement of the hat she had thrown down hastily as she reached the door. In the room there stood a gentleman in deep black, with his back towards the entrance, intent on a book, and she naturally concluded it was Francis.

"Where is dear Clara, Frank?" cried the beautiful girl, laying her hand affectionately on his shoulder.

The gentleman turned suddenly, and presented to her astonished gaze the well remembered countenance of the young man whose parent's death was not likely to be forgotten at B——.

"I thought, sir," said Emily, almost sinking with confusion, "that Mr. Francis Ives"—

"Your brother has not yet arrived, Miss Moseley," simply replied the stranger, who felt for her embarrassment; "but I will immediately acquaint Mrs. Ives with your visit." Bowing, he delicately left the room.

Emily, who felt greatly relieved by his manner, immediately confined her hair in its proper bounds, and had recovered her composure by the time her aunt and friends joined her. She had not time to mention the incident, and laugh at her own precipitation, when the rector's wife came into the room.

Chatterton and his sister were both known to Mrs. Ives, and both were favorites. She was pleased to see them, and after reproaching the brother with compelling her son to ask a favor of a comparative stranger, she turned to Emily, and smilingly said,—

"You found the parlor occupied, I believe?"

"Yes," said Emily, laughing and blushing, "I suppose Mr. Denbigh told you of my heedlessness."

"He told me of your attention in calling so soon to inquire after Clara, but said nothing more,"—a servant just then telling her Francis wished to see her, she excused herself and withdrew. In the door she met Mr. Denbigh, who made way for her, saying, "Your son has arrived, ma'am," and in an easy but respectful manner he took his place with the guests, no introduction passing, and none seeming necessary. His misfortunes appeared to have made him acquainted with Mrs. Wilson, and his strikingly ingenious manner won insensibly on the confidence of those who heard him. Everything was natural, yet everything was softened by education; and the little party in the rector's parlor in fifteen minutes felt as if they had known him for years. The doctor and his son now joined them. Clara had not come, but she was looking forward in delightful expectation of to-morrow, and wished greatly for Emily as a guest at the new abode. This pleasure Mrs. Wilson promised she should have as soon as they had got over the hurry of their visit. "Our friends," she added, turning to Grace, "will overlook the nicer punctilios of ceremony, where sisterly regard calls for the discharge of more important duties. Clara needs the society of Emily, just now."

"Certainly," said Grace, mildly; "I hope no useless ceremony on the part of Emily would prevent her manifesting natural attachment to her sister—I should feel hurt at her not entertaining a better opinion of us than to suppose so for a moment."

"This, young ladies, is the real feeling to keep alive esteem," cried the doctor, gayly: "go on, and say and do nothing of which either can disapprove, when tried by the standard of duty, and you need never be afraid of losing a friend that is worth keeping."

It was three o'clock before the carriage of Mrs. Wilson arrived at the rectory; and the time stole away insensibly in free and friendly communications. Denbigh had joined modestly, and with the degree of interest a stranger might be supposed to feel, in the occurrences of a circle to which he was nearly a stranger; there was at times a slight display of awkwardness, however, about both him and Mrs. Ives, for which Mrs. Wilson easily accounted by the recollections of his recent loss and the scene they had all witnessed in that very room. This embarrassment escaped the notice of the rest of the party. On the arrival of the carriage, Mrs. Wilson took her leave.

"I like this Mr. Denbigh greatly," said Lord Chatterton, as they drove from the door; "there is something strikingly natural and winning in his manner."

"In his matter too, judging of the little we have seen of him," replied Mrs. Wilson.

"Who is he, ma'am?"

"I rather suspect he is someway related to Mrs. Ives; her staying from Bolton to-day must be owing to Mr. Denbigh; and as the doctor has just gone, he must be near enough to them to be neither wholly neglected nor yet a tax upon their politeness. I rather wonder he did not go with them."

"I heard him tell Francis," remarked Emily, "that he could not think of intruding, and he insisted on Mrs. Ives's going, but she had employments to keep her at home."

The carriage soon reached an angle in the road where the highways between Bolton Castle and Moseley Hall intersected each other, at a point on the estate of the former. Mrs. Wilson stopped a moment to inquire after an aged pensioner, who had lately met with a loss in business, which she was fearful must have greatly distressed him. In crossing a ford in the little river between his cottage and the market-town, the stream, which had been swollen unexpectedly higher than usual by heavy rains, had swept away his horse and cart, loaded with the entire produce of his small field, and with much difficulty he had saved even his own life. Mrs. Wilson had not had it in her power, until this moment, to inquire particularly into the affair, or to offer the relief she was ever ready to bestow on proper objects. Contrary to her expectations, she found Humphreys in high spirits, showing his delighted grandchildren a new cart and horse which stood at the door, and exultingly pointing out the excellent qualities of both. He ceased talking on the approach of the party, and at the request of his ancient benefactress he gave a particular account of the affair.

"And where did you get this new cart and horse, Humphreys?" inquired Mrs. Wilson, when he had ended.

"Oh, madam, I went up to the castle to see the steward; and Mr. Martin just mentioned my loss to Lord Pendennyss, ma'am, and my lord ordered me this cart, ma'am, and this noble horse, and twenty golden guineas into the bargain, to put me on my legs again—God bless him for it, forever!"

"It was very kind of his lordship, indeed," said Mrs. Wilson, thoughtfully: "I did not know he was at the castle."

"He's gone, already, madam; the servants told me that he just called to see the earl, on his way to Lon'on; but finding he'd went a few days agone to Ireland my lord went for Lon'on, without stopping the night, even. Ah! madam," continued the old man, who stood leaning on a stick, with his hat in his hand, "he's a great blessing to the poor; his servants say he gives thousands every year to the poor who are in want—he is main rich, too; some people say, much richer and more great like than the earl himself. I'm sure I have need to bless him every day of my life."

Mrs. Wilson smiled mournfully as she wished Humphreys good day, and put up her purse, finding the old man so well provided for; a display or competition in charity never entering into her system of benevolence.

"His lordship is munificent in his bounty," said Emily; aa they drove from the door.

"Does it not savor of thoughtlessness to bestow so much where he can know so little?" Lord Chatterton ventured to inquire.

"He is," replied Mrs. Wilson, "as old Humphrey says, main rich; but the son of the old man, and the father of these children, is a soldier in the —th dragoons, of which the earl is colonel, and that accounts to me for his liberality," recollecting, with a sigh, the feelings which had drawn her out of the usual circle of her charities, in the case of the same man.

"Did you ever see Lord Pendennyss, aunt?"

"Never, my dear; he has been much abroad, but my letters were filled with his praises, and I confess my disappointment is great in not seeing him on this visit to Lord Bolton, who is his relation; but," fixing her eyes thoughtfully on her niece, "we shall meet in London this winter, I trust."

As she spoke a cloud passed over her features, and she continued much absorbed in thought for the remainder of their drive.

General Wilson had been a cavalry officer, and he commanded the very regiment now held by Lord Pendennyss. In an excursion near the British camp he had been rescued from captivity, if not from death, by a gallant and timely interference of this young nobleman, then in command of a troop in the same corps. He had mentioned the occurrence to his wife in his letters, and from that day his correspondence was tilled with the praises of the bravery and goodness to the soldiery of his young comrade. When he fell he had been supported from the field by, and be actually died in the arms of the young peer. A letter announcing his death had been received by his widow from the earl himself, and the tender and affectionate manner in which he spoke of her husband, had taken a deep hold on her affections. All the circumstances together threw au interest around him that had made Mrs. Wilson almost entertain the romantic wish that he might be found worthy and disposed to solicit the hand of Emily. Her anxious inquiries into his character had been attended with such answers as flattered her wishes; but the military duties of the earl, or his private affairs, had never allowed a meeting; and she was now compelled to look forward to what John laughingly termed their winter campaign, as the only probable place where she could be gratified with the sight of a young man to whom she owed so much, and whose name was connected with some of the most tender, though most melancholy, recollections of her life.

Colonel Egerton, who now appeared to be almost domesticated in the family, was again of the party at dinner, to the no small satisfaction of the dowager, who, from proper inquiries in the course of the day, had learned that Sir Edgar's heir was likely to have the necessary number of figures in the sum total of his rental. While sitting in the drawing-room that afternoon she made an attempt to bring her eldest daughter and the elegant soldier together over a chess-board; a game the young lady had been required to learn, because it was one at which a gentleman could be kept longer than any other without having his attention drawn away by any of those straggling charms which might be travelling a drawing-room "seeking whom they may devour." It was also a game admirably suited to the display of a beautiful hand and arm. But the mother had for a long time been puzzled to discover a way of bringing in the foot also, the young lady being particularly remarkable for the beauty of that portion of the frame. In vain her daughter hinted at dancing, an amusement of which she was passionately fond. The wary mother knew too well the effects of concentrated force to listen to the suggestion: dancing might do for every manager, but she prided herself in acting en masse, like Napoleon, whose tactics consisted in overwhelming by uniting his forces on a given point. After many experiments in her own person she endeavored to improve Catherine's manner of sitting, and by dint of twisting and turning she contrived that her pretty foot and ankle should be thrown forward in a way that the eye dropping from the move, should unavoidably rest on this beauteous object; giving, as it were, a Scylla and Charybdis to her daughter's charms.

John Moseley was the first person on whom she undertook to try the effect of her invention; and after comfortably seating the parties, she withdrew to a little distance to watch the effect.

"Check to your king, Miss Chatterton," cried John, early in the game—and the young lady thrust out her foot.

"Check to your king, Mr. Moseley," echoed the damsel, and John's eyes wandered from hand to foot and foot to hand.

"Check king and queen, sir."

"Check-mate."

"Did you speak?" said John. Looking up he caught the eye of the dowager fixed on him in triumph. "Oh, ho," said the young man, internally, "Mother Chatterton, are you playing too?" and coolly taking up his hat, he walked off, nor could they ever get him seated at the game again.

"You beat me too easily. Miss Chatterton," he would say when pressed to play, "before I have time to look up it's check-mate—excuse me."

The dowager next settled down into a more covert attack through Grace; but here she had two to contend with: her own forces rebelled, and the war had been protracted to the present hour, with varied success, and at least without any material captures, on one side.

Colonel Egerton entered on the duties of his dangerous undertaking with the indifference of foolhardiness. The game was played with tolerable ability by both parties but no emotions, no absence of mind could be discovered on the part of the gentleman. Feet and hands were in motion; still the colonel played as well as usual; he had answers for all Jane's questions, and smiles for his partner; but no check-mate could she obtain, until willfully throwing away an advantage, he suffered the lady to win the game. The dowager was satisfied nothing could be done with the colonel.