Precaution/Chapter 12

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CHAPTER XII.

The bright eyes of Emily Moseley unconsciously wandered round the brilliant assemblage at Mr. Haughton's, as she took her seat, in search of her partner. The rooms were filled with scarlet coats, and belles from the little town of F——; and if the company were not the most select imaginable, it was disposed to enjoy the passing moment cheerfully and in lightness of heart. Ere, however, she could make out to scan the countenances of the men, young Jarvis, decked in the full robes of his dignity, as captain in the —th foot, approached and solicited the honor of her hand. The colonel had already secured her sister, and it was by the instigation of his friend, Jarvis had been thus early in his application. Emily thanked him, and pleaded her engagement. The mortified youth, who had thought dancing with the ladies a favor conferred on them, from the anxiety his sister always manifested to get partners, stood for a few moments in sullen silence; and then, as if to be revenged on the sex, he determined not to dance the whole evening. Accordingly he withdrew to a room appropriated to the gentlemen, where he found a few of the military beaux, keeping alive the stimulus they had brought with them from the mess-table.

Clara had prudently decided to comport herself as became a clergyman's wife, and she declined dancing altogether. Catharine Chatterton was entitled to open the ball, as superior in years and rank to any who were disposed to enjoy the amusement. The dowager, who in her heart loved to show her heirs upon such occasions, had chosen to be later than the rest of the family; and Lucy had to entreat her father to have patience more than once during the interregnum in their sports created by Lady Chatterton's fashion. This lady at length appeared, attended by her son, and followed by her daughters, ornamented in all the tasto of the reigning fashions. Doctor Ives and his wife, who came late from choice, soon appeared, accompanied by their guest, and the dancing commenced. Denbigh had thrown aside his black for the evening, and as he approached to claim her promised hand, Emily thought him, if not as handsome, much more interesting than Colonel Egerton, who just then passed them while leading her sister to the set. Emily danced beautifully, but perfectly like a lady, as did Jane; but Denbigh, although graceful in his movements and in time, knew but little of the art; and but for the assistance of his partner, he would have more than once gone wrong in the figure. He very gravely asked her opinion of his performance as he handed her to a chair, and she laughingly told him his movements were but a better sort of march. He was about to reply, when Jarvis approached. By the aid of a pint of wine and his own reflections, the youth wrought himself into something of a passion, especially as he saw Denbigh enter, after Emily had declined dancing with himself. There was a gentleman in the corps who unfortunately was addicted to the bottle, and he had fastened on Jarvis as a man at leisure to keep him company. Wine openeth the heart, and the captain having taken a peep at the dancers, and seen the disposition of affairs, returned to his bottle companion, bursting with the indignity offered to his person. He dropped a hint, and a question or two brought the whole grievance forth.

There is a certain set of men in every service who imbibe extravagant notions that are revolting to humanity, and which too often prove to be fatal in their results. Their morals are never correct, and the little they have set loosely about them. In their own cases, their appeals to arms are not always so prompt; but in that of their friends, their perceptions of honor are intuitively keen, and their inflexibility in preserving it from reproach unbending; and such is the weakness of mankind, their tenderness on points where the nicer feelings of a soldier are involved, that these machines of custom, these thermometers graduated to the scale of false honor, usurp the place of reason and benevolence, and become too often the arbiters of life and death to a whole corps. Such, then, was the confidant to whom Jarvis communicated the cause of his disgust, and the consequences may easily be imagined. As he passed Emily and Denbigh, he threw a look of fierceness at the latter, which he meant as an indication of his hostile intentions. It was lost on his rival, who at that moment was filled with passions of a very different kind from those which Captain Jarvis thought agitated his own bosom; for had his new friend let him alone, the captain would have gone quietly home and gone to sleep.

"Have you ever fought?" said Captain Digby coolly to his companion, as they seated themselves in his father's parlor, whither they had retired to make their arrangements for the following morning.

"Yes," said Jarvis, with a stupid look, "I fought once with Tom Halliday at school."

"At school! My dear friend, you commenced young indeed," said Digby, helping himself to another glass. "And how did it end?"

"Oh! Tom got the better, and so I cried enough," said Jarvis, surlily.

"Enough! I hope you did not flinch," eying him keenly. "Where were you hit?"

"He hit me all over."

"All over! The d—l! Did you use small shot? How did you fight?"

"With fists," said Jarvis, yawning.

His companion, seeing how matters were, rang for his servant to put him to bed, remaining himself an hour longer to finish the bottle.

Soon after Jarvis had given Denbigh the look big with his intended vengeance, Colonel Egerton approached Emily, asking permission to present Sir Herbert Nicholson, the lieutenant-colonel of the regiment, and a gentleman who was ambitious of the honor of her acquaintance; a particular friend of his own. Emily gracefully bowed her assent. Soon after, turning her eyes ou Denbigh, who had been speaking to her at the moment, she saw him looking intently on the two soldiers, who were making their way through the crowd to the place where she sat. He stammered, said something she could not understand, and precipitately withdrew; and although both she and her aunt sought his figure in the gay throng that flitted around them, he was seen no more that evening.

"Are you acquainted with Mr. Denbigh?" said Emily to her partner, after looking in vain to find his person in the crowd.

"Denbigh! Denbigh! I have known one or two of that name," replied the gentleman. "In the army there are several."

"Yes," said Emily, musing, "he is in the army;" and looking up, she saw her companion reading her countenance with an expression that brought the color to her cheeks with a glow that was painful. Sir Herbert smiled, and observed that the room was warm. Emily acquiesced in the remark, for the first time in her life conscious of a feeling she was ashamed to have scrutinized, and glad of any excuse to hide her confusion.

"Grace Chatterton is really beautiful to-night," whispered John Moseley to his sister Clara. "I have a mind to ask her to dance."

"Do, John," replied his sister, looking with pleasure on her beautiful cousin, who, observing the movements of John as he drew near where she sat, moved her face on each side rapidly, in search of some one who was apparently not to be found. Her breathing became sensibly quicker, and John was on the point of speaking to her as the dowager stepped in between them. There is nothing so flattering to the vanity of a man as the discovery of emotions in a young woman excited by himself, and which the party evidently wishes to conceal; there is nothing so touching, so sure to captivate; or, if it seem to be affected, so sure to disgust.

"Now, Mr. Moseley," cried the mother, "you shall not ask Grace to dance! She can refuse you nothing, and she has been up the last two figures."

"Your wishes are irresistible, Lady Chatterton," said John, coolly turning on his heel. On gaining the other side of the room, he turned to reconnoitre the scene. The dowager was fanning herself as violently as if she had been up the last two figures instead of her daughter, while Grace sat with her eyes fastened on the floor, paler than usual. "Grace," thought the young man, "would be very handsome—very sweet—very—very everything that is agreeable, if—if it were not for Mother Chatterton." He then led out one of the prettiest girls in the room.

Colonel Egerton was peculiarly fitted to shine in a ball room. He danced gracefully and with spirit; was perfectly at home with all the usages of the best society, and was never neglectful of any of those little courtesies which have their charm for the moment; and Jane Moseley, who saw all those she loved around her, apparently as happy as herself, found in her judgment or the convictions of her principles, no counterpoise against the weight of such attractions, all centered as it were in one effort to please herself. His flattery was deep, for it was respectful—his tastes were her tastes—his opinions her opinions. On the formation of their acquaintance they differed on some trifling point of poetical criticism, and for near a month the colonel had maintained his opinion with a show of firmness; but opportunities not wanting for the discussion, he had felt constrained to yield to her better judgment, her purer taste. The conquest of Colonel Egerton was complete, and Jane, who saw in his attentions the submission of a devoted heart, began to look forward to the moment with trembling that was to remove the thin barrier that existed between the adulation of the eyes and the most delicate assiduity to please, and the open confidence of declared love. Jane Moseley had a heart to love, and to love strongly; her danger existed in her imagination: it was brilliant, unchastened by her judgment, we had almost said unfettered by her principles. Principles such as are found in every-day maxims and rules of conduct sufficient to restrain her within the bounds of perfect decorum she was furnished with in abundance; but to that principle which was to teach her submission in opposition to her wishes, to that principle that could alone afford her security against the treachery of her own passions, she was an utter stranger.

The family of Sir Edward were among the first to retire, and as the Chattertons had their own carriage, Mrs. Wilson and her charge returned alone in the coach of the former. Emily, who had been rather out of spirits the latter part of the evening, broke the silence by suddenly observing,—

"Colonel Egerton is, or soon will be, a perfect hero!"

Her aunt, somewhat surprised, both with the abruptness and with the strength of the remark, inquired her meaning.

"Oh, Jane will make him one, whether or not."

This was spoken with an air of vexation which she was unused to, and Mrs. Wilson gravely corrected her for speaking in a disrespectful manner of her sister, one whom neither her years nor situation entitled her in any measure to advise or control. There was an impropriety in judging so near and dear a relation harshly, even in thought. Emily pressed the hand of her aunt and tremulously acknowledged her error; but she added, that she felt a momentary irritation at the idea of a man of Colonel Egerton's character gaining the command over feelings such as her sister possessed. Mrs. Wilson kissed the cheek of her niece, while she inwardly acknowledged the probable truth of the very remark she had thought it her duty to censure. That the imagination of Jane would supply her lover with those qualities she most honored herself, she believed was taken as a matter of course, and that when the veil she had helped to throw before her own eyes was removed, she would cease to respect, and of course cease to love him, when too late to remedy the evil, she greatly feared. But in the approaching fate of Jane she saw new cause to call forth her own activity.

Emily Moseley had just completed her eighteenth year, and was gifted by nature with a vivacity and ardency of feeling that gave a heightened zest to the enjoyments of that happy age. She was artless, but intelligent; cheerful, with a deep conviction of the necessity of piety; and uniform in her practice of all the important duties. The unwearied exertions of her aunt, aided by her own quickness of perception, had made her familiar with the attainments suitable to her sex and years. For music she had no taste, and the time which would have been thrown away in endeavoring to cultivate a talent she did not possess, was dedicated under the discreet guidance of her aunt, to works which had a tendency both to qualify her for the duties of this life, and fit her for that which comes hereafter. It might be said Emily Moseley had never read a book that contained a sentiment or inculcated an opinion improper for her sex or dangerous to her morals; and it was not difficult for those who knew the fact, to fancy they could perceive the consequences in her guileless countenance and innocent deportment. Her looks—her actions—her thoughts, wore as much of nature as the discipline of her well-regulated mind and softened manners could admit. In person she was of the middle size, exquisitely formed, graceful and elastic in her step, without, however, the least departure from her natural movements; her eye was a dark blue, with an expression of joy and intelligence; at times it seemed all soul, and again all heart; her color was rather high, but it varied with every emotion of her bosom; her feelings were strong, ardent, and devoted to those she loved. Her preceptress had never found it necessary to repeat an admonition of any kind, since her arrival at years to discriminate between the right and the wrong.

"I wish," said Dr. Ives to his wife, the evening his son had asked their permission to address Clara, "Francis had chosen my little Emily."

"Clara is a good girl," replied his wife; "she is so mild, so affectionate, that I doubt not she will make him happy—Frank might have done worse at the Hall."

"For himself he has done well, I hope," said the father "a young woman of Clara's heart may make any man happy, but a union with purity, sense, principles, like those of Emily would be more—it would be blissful."

Mrs. Ives smiled at her husband's animation. "You remind me more of the romantic youth I once knew than of the grave divine. There is but one man I know that I could wish to give Emily to; it is Lumley. If Lumley sees her he will woo her; and if he wooes he will win her."

"And Lumley I believe to be worthy of her," cried the rector, now taking up a candle to retire for the night.