Ten days or a fortnight flew swiftly by, during which Mrs. Wilson suffered Emily to give Clara a week, having first ascertained that Denbigh was a settled resident at the rectory, and thereby not likely to be oftener at the house of Francis than at the hall, where he was a frequent and welcome guest, both on his own account and as a friend of Doctor Ives. Emily had returned, and she brought the bride and groom with her; when one evening as they were pleasantly seated at their various amusements, with the ease of old acquaintances, Mr. Haughton entered. It was at an hour rather unusual for his visits; and throwing down his hat, after making the usual inquiries, he began without preface—
"I know, good people, you are all wondering what has brought me out this time of night, but the truth is, Lucy has coaxed her mother to persuade me into a ball in honor of the times; so, my lady, I have consented, and my wife and daughter have been buying up all the finery in B——, by the way, I suppose, of anticipating their friends. There is a regiment of foot come into barracks within fifteen miles of us, and to-morrow I must beat up for recruits among the officers—girls are never wanting on such occasions."
"Why," cried the baronet, "you are growing young again, my friend."
"No, Sir Edward, but my daughter is young, and life has so many cares, that I am willing she should get rid of as many as she can at my expense."
"Surely, you would not wish her to dance them away," said Mrs. Wilson; "such relief, I am afraid will prove temporary."
"Do you disapprove of dancing, ma'am?" said Mr. Haughton, who held her opinions in great respect, as well as a little dread.
"I neither approve nor disapprove of it. Jumping up and down is innocent enough in itself, and if it must be done, it is well it were done gracefully; as for the accompaniments of dancing I say nothing; what do you say, Doctor Ives?"
"To what, my dear madam?"
"Oh, let the girls dance, if they enjoy it."
"I am glad you think so, doctor," cried the delighted Mr. Haughton; "I was afraid I recollected your advising your son never to dance nor to play at games of chance."
"You thought right, my friend," said the doctor, laying down his newspaper; "I did give that advice to Frank, who, you will please to remember, is now rector of Bolton. I do not object to dancing as not innocent in itself, or as an elegant exercise; but it is, like drinking, generally carried to excess. Now as a Christian, I am opposed to all excesses; the music and company lead to intemperance in the recreation, and they often induce neglect of duties—but so may anything else."
"I like a game of whist, doctor, greatly," said Mr. Haughton; "but observing that you never play, and recollecting your advice to Mr. Francis, I have forbidden cards when you are my guest."
"I thank you for the compliment, good sir," replied the doctor, with a smile; "still, I would much rather see you play cards than hear you talk scandal, as you sometimes do."
"Scandal!" echoed Mr. Haughton.
"Aye, scandal," said the doctor, coolly, "such as the remark you made the last time, which was only yesterday, I called to see you. You accused Sir Edward of being wrong in letting that poacher off so easily; the baronet, you said, did not shoot himself, and did not know how to prize game as he ought."
"Scandal, doctor—do you call that scandal? why, I told Sir Edward so himself, two or three times."
"I know you did, and that was rude."
"Rude! I hope sincerely Sir Edward has put no such construction on it?"
The baronet smiled kindly, and shook his head.
"Because the baronet chooses to forgive your offenses, it does not alter their nature," said the doctor, gravely; "no, you must repent and amend; you impeached his motives for doing a benevolent act, and that I call scandal."
"Why, doctor, I was angry the fellow should be let loose; he is a pest to all the game in the country, and every sportsman will tell you so—here, Mr. Moseley, you know Jackson, the poacher."
"Oh! a poacher is an intolerable wretch!" cried Captain Jarvis.
"Oh! a poacher," echoed John, looking drolly at Emily; "hang all poachers."
"Poacher or no poacher, does not alter the scandal," said the doctor. "Now let me tell you, good sir, I would rather play at fifty games of whist than make one such speech, unless, indeed, it interfered with my duties; now, sir, with your leave, I'll explain myself as to my son. There is an artificial levity about dancing that adds to the dignity of no man: from some it may detract; a clergyman, for instance, is supposed to have other things to do, and it might hurt him in the opinions of those with whom his influence is necessary, and impair his usefulness; therefore a clergyman should never dance. In the same way with cards; they are the common instruments of gambling, and an odium is attached to them on that account. Women and clergymen must respect the prejudices of mankind, in some cases, or lose their influence in society."
"I did hope to have the pleasure of your company, doctor," said Mr. Haughton, hesitatingly.
"And if it will give you pleasure," cried the rector, "you shall have it with all my heart, good sir; it would be a greater evil to wound the feelings of such a neighbor as Mr. Haughton, than to show my face once at a ball," and rising, he laid his hand on the shoulder of the other kindly. "Both your scandal and rudeness are easily forgiven; but I wished to show you the common error of the world, which has attached odium to certain things, while it charitably overlooks others of a more heinous nature."
Mr. Haughton, who had at first been a little staggered with the attack of the doctor, recovered himself, and laying a handful of notes on the table, hoped he should have the pleasure of seeing everybody. The invitation was generally accepted, and the worthy man departed, happy if his friends did but come, and were pleased.
"Do you dance, Miss Moseley?" inquired Denbigh of Emily, as he sat watching her graceful movements in netting a purse for her father.
"Oh, yes! the doctor said nothing of us girls, you know. I suppose he thinks we have no dignity to lose."
"Admonitions are generally thrown away on young ladies when pleasure is in the question," said the doctor, with a look of almost paternal affection.
"I hope you do not seriously disapprove of it in moderation," said Mrs. Wilson.
"That depends, madam, upon circumstances. If it is to be made subsidiary to envy, malice, coquetry, vanity, or any other such little lady-like accomplishment, it certainly had better be let alone. But in moderation, and with the feelings of my little pet here, I should be cynical, indeed, to object."
Denbigh appeared lost in his own ruminations during this dialogue; and as the doctor ended, he turned to the captain, who was overlooking a game of chess between the colonel and Jane, of which the latter had become remarkably fond of late, playing with her hands and eyes instead of her feet, and inquired the name of the corps, in barracks at F——.
"The —th foot, sir," replied the captain, haughtily, who neither respected him, owing to his want of consequence, nor loved him, from the manner in which Emily listened to his conversation.
"Will Miss Moseley forgive a bold request?" said Denbigh, with some hesitation.
Emily looked up from her work in silence, but with some little flutterings at the heart.
"The honor of her hand for the first dance," continued Denbigh, observing she was in expectation that he would proceed.
Emily laughingly said, "Certainly, Mr. Denbigh, if you can submit to the degradation."
The London papers now came in, and most of the gentlemen sat down to their perusal. The colonel, however, replaced the men for a second game, and Denbigh still kept his place beside Mrs. Wilson and her niece. The manners, the sentiments, the whole exterior of this gentleman were such as both the taste and judgment of the aunt approved of; his qualities were those which insensibly gained on the heart, and yet Mrs. Wilson noticed, with a slight uneasiness, the very evident satisfaction her niece took in his society. In Dr. Ives she had great confidence, yet Dr. Ives was a friend, and probably judged him favorably; and again, Dr. Ives was not to suppose he was introducing a candidate for the hand of Emily, in every gentleman he brought to the hall. Mrs. Wilson had seen too often the ill consequences of trusting to impressions received from inferences of companionship, not to know the only safe way was to judge for ourselves: the opinions of others might be partial—might be prejudiced—and many an improper connection had been formed by listening to the sentiments of those who spoke without interest, and consequently without examination. Not a few matches are made by this idle commendation of others, uttered by those who are respected, and which are probably suggested more by a desire to please than by reflection or even knowledge. In short, Mrs. Wilson knew that as our happiness chiefly interests ourselves, so it was to ourselves, or to those few whose interest was equal to our own, we could alone trust those important inquiries necessary to establish a permanent opinion of character. With Doctor Ives her communications on subjects of duty were frequent and confiding; and although she sometimes thought his benevolence disposed him to be rather too lenient to the faults of mankind, she entertained a profound respect for his judgment. It had great influence with her, if it were not always conclusive; she determined, therefore, to have an early conversation with him on the subject so near her heart, and be in a great measure regulated by his answers in the steps to be immediately taken. Every day gave her what she thought melancholy proof of the ill consequences of neglecting a duty, in the increasing intimacy of Colonel Egerton and Jane.
"Here, aunt," cried John, as he ran over a paper, "is a paragraph relating to your favorite youth, our trusty and well beloved cousin, the Earl of Pendennyss."
"Read it," said Mrs. Wilson, with an interest his name never failed to excite.
"We noticed to-day the equipage of the gallant Lord Pendennyss before the gates of Annandale House, and understand the noble earl is last from Bolton Castle, Northamptonshire."
"A very important fact," said Captain Jarvis, sarcastically; "Colonel Egerton and myself got as far as the village, to pay our respects to him, when we heard he had gone on to town."
"The earl's character, both as a man and a soldier," observed the colonel, "gives him a claim to our attentions that his rank would not: on that account we would have called."
"Brother," said Mrs. Wilson, "you would oblige me greatly by asking his lordship to waive ceremony; his visits to Bolton Castle will probably be frequent, now we have peace; and the owner is so much from home that we may never see him without some such invitation."
"Do you want him as a husband for Emily?" cried John, as he gayly seated himself by the side of his sister.
Mrs. Wilson smiled at an observation which reminded her of one of her romantic wishes; and as she raised her head to reply in the same tone, met the eye of Denbigh fixed on her with an expression that kept her silent. This is really an incomprehensible young man in some respects, thought the cautious widow, his startled looks on the introduction to the colonel crossing her mind at the same time; and observing the doctor opening the door that led to the baronet's library, Mrs. Wilson, who generally acted as soon as she had decided, followed him. As their conversations were known often to relate to the little offices of charity in which they both delighted, the movement excited no surprise, and she entered the library with the doctor, uninterrupted.
"Doctor," said Mrs. "Wilson, impatient to proceed to the point, "you know my maxim, prevention is better than cure. This young friend of yours is very interesting."
"Do you feel yourself in danger?" said the rector, smiling.
"Not very imminent," replied the lady, laughing good-naturedly. Seating herself, she continued, "Who is he? and who was his father, if I may ask?"
"George Denbigh, madam, both father and son," said the doctor, gravely.
"Ah, doctor, I am almost tempted to wish Frank had been a girl. You know what I wish to learn."
"Put your questions in order, dear madam," said the doctor, in a kind manner, "and they shall be answered."
"So far as I can learn, they are good. His acts, as they have come to my notice, are highly meritorious, and I hope they originated in proper motives. I have seen but little of him of late years, however, and on this head you are nearly as good a judge as myself. His filial piety," said the doctor, dashing a tear from his eye, and speaking with fervor, "was lovely."
"His temper—his disposition?"
"His temper is under great command, although naturally ardent; his disposition eminently benevolent towards his fellow-creatures."
"Suitable," said the doctor, gravely.
His fortune was of but little moment. Emily would be amply provided for all the customary necessaries of her station; and, thanking the divine, Mrs. Wilson returned to the parlor, easy in mind, and determined to let things take their own course for a time, but in no degree to relax the vigilance of her observation.
On her return to the room, Mrs. Wilson observed Denbigh approach Egerton, and enter into conversation of a general nature. It was the first time anything more than unavoidable courtesies had passed between them. The colonel appeared slightly uneasy under his novel situation, while, on the other hand, his companion showed an anxiety to be on a more friendly footing than heretofore. There was something mysterious in the feelings manifested by both these gentlemen that greatly puzzled the good lady; and from its complexion, she feared one or the other was not entirely free from censure. It could not have been a quarrel, or their names would have been familiar to each other. They had both served in Spain, she knew, and excesses were often committed by gentlemen at a distance from home which their pride would have prevented where they were anxious to maintain a character. Gambling, and a few other prominent vices, floated through her imagination, until, wearied of conjectures where she had no data, and supposing, after all, it might be only her imagination, she turned to more pleasant reflections.