Precaution/Chapter 13

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CHAPTER XIII.

The following day brought a large party of the military élégants to the Hall, in acceptance of the baronet's hospitable invitation to dinner. Lady Moseley was delighted so long as her husband's or her children's interest had demanded a sacrifice of her love of society it had been made without a sigh, almost without a thought. The ties of affinity in her were sacred; and to the happiness, the comfort of those in whom she felt an interest, there were few sacrifices of her own propensities she would not cheerfully have made: it was this very love of her offspring that made her anxious to dispose of her daughters in wedlock. Her own marriage had been so happy that she naturally concluded it the state most likely to insure the happiness of her children; and with Lady Moseley as with thousands of others, who, averse or unequal to the labors of investigation, jump to conclusions over the long line of connecting reasons, marriage was marriage, a husband was a husband. It is true there were certain indispensables, without which the formation of a connection was a thing she considered not within the bounds of nature. There must be fitness in fortune, in condition, in education, and manners; there must be no glaring evil, although she did not ask for positive good. A professor of religion herself, had any one told her it was a duty of her calling to guard against a connection with any but a Christian for her girls, she would have wondered at the ignorance that would embarrass the married state, with feelings exclusively belonging to the individual. Had any one told her it were possible to give her child to any but a gentleman, she would have wondered at the want of feeling that could devote the softness of Jane or Emily to the association with rudeness or vulgarity. It was the misfortune of Lady Moseley to limit her views of marriage to the scene of this life, forgetful that every union gives existence to a long line of immortal beings, whose future welfare depends greatly on the force of early examples, or the strength of early impressions.

The necessity for restriction in their expenditures had ceased, and the baronet and his wife greatly enjoyed the first opportunity their secluded situation had given them, to draw around their board their fellow-creatures of their own stamp. In the former it was pure philanthropy; the same feeling urged him to seek out and relieve distress in humble life; while in the latter it was love of station and seemliness. It was becoming the owner of Moseley Hall, and it was what the daughters of the Benfield family had done since the conquest.

"I am extremely sorry," said the good baronet at dinner, "Mr. Denbigh declined our invitation to-day; I hope he will yet ride over in the evening."

Looks of a singular import were exchanged between Colonel Egerton and Sir Herbert Nicholson, at the mention of Denbigh's name; which, as the latter had just asked the favor of taking wine with Mrs. Wilson, did not escape her notice. Emily had innocently mentioned his precipitate retreat the night before; and he had, when reminded of his engagement to dine with them that very day, and promised an introduction to Sir Herbert Nicholson by John, in her presence, suddenly excused himself and withdrawn. With an indefinite suspicion of something wrong, she ventured, therefore, to address Sir Herbert Nicholson.

"Did you know Mr. Denbigh in Spain?"

"I told Miss Emily Moseley, I believe, last evening, that I knew some of the name," replied the gentleman, evasively; then pausing a moment he added with great emphasis, "there is a circumstance connected with one of that name I shall ever remember."

"It was creditable, no doubt. Sir Herbert," cried young Jarvis, sarcastically. The soldier affected not to hear the question, and asked Jane to take wine with him. Lord Chatterton, however, putting his knife and fork down gravely, and with a glow of animation, observed with unusual spirit,—

"I have no doubt it was, sir."

Jarvis in his turn affected not to hear this speech, and nothing farther was said, as Sir Edward saw that the name of Mr. Denbigh excited a sensation amongst his guests for which he was unable to account, and which he soon forgot himself.

After the company had retired, Lord Chatterton, however, related to the astonished and indignant family of the baronet the substance of the following scene, of which he had been a witness that morning, while on a visit to Denbigh at the rectory. They had been sitting in the parlor by themselves over their breakfast, when a Captain Digby was announced.

"I have the honor of waiting upon you, Mr. Denbigh," said the soldier, with the stiff formality of a professed duelist, "on behalf of Captain Jarvis, but will postpone my business until you are at leisure," glancing his eye on Chatterton.

"I know of no business with Captain Jarvis," said Denbigh, politely handing the stranger a chair, "to which Lord Chatterton cannot be privy; if he will excuse the interruption." The nobleman bowed, and Captain Digby, a little awed by the rank of Denbigh's friend, proceeded in a more measured manner.

"Captain Jarvis has empowered me, sir, to make any arrangement with yourself or friend, previously to your meeting, which he hopes may be as soon as possible, if convenient to yourself," replied the soldier, coolly.

Denbigh viewed him for a moment with astonishment, in silence; when recollecting himself, he said mildly, and without the least agitation, "I cannot affect, sir, not to understand your meaning, but am at a loss to imagine what act of mine can have made Mr. Jarvis wish to make such an appeal."

"Surely Mr. Denbigh cannot think a man of Captain Jarvis's spirit can quietly submit to the indignity put upon him last evening, by your dancing with Miss Moseley, after she had declined the honor to himself," said the captain, affecting an incredulous smile. "My Lord Chatterton and myself can easily settle the preliminaries, as Captain Jarvis is much disposed to consult your wishes, sir, in this affair."

"If he consults my wishes," said Denbigh, smiling, "he will think no more about it."

"At what time sir, will it be convenient to give him the meeting?" then, speaking with a kind of bravado gentlemen of his cast are fond of assuming, "my friend would not hurry any settlement of your affairs."

"I can never meet Captain Jarvis with hostile intentions," replied Denbigh, calmly.

"Sir!"

"I decline the combat, sir," said Denbigh, with more firmness.

"Your reasons, sir, if you please?" asked Captain Digby, compressing his lips, and drawing up with an air of personal interest.

"Surely," cried Chatterton, who had with difficulty restrained his feelings, "surely Mr. Denbigh could never so far forget himself as cruelly to expose Miss Moseley by accepting this invitation."

"Your reason, my lord," said Denbigh, with interest, "would at all times have its weight; but I wish not to qualify an act of what I conceive to be principle by any lesser consideration. I cannot meet Captain Jarvis or any other man, in private combat. There can exist no necessity for an appeal to arms in any society where the laws rule, and I am averse to bloodshed."

"Very extraordinary," muttered Captain Digby, somewhat at a loss how to act; but the calm and collected manner of Denbigh prevented a reply; and after declining a cup of tea, a liquor he never drank, he withdrew, saying he would acquaint his friend with Mr. Denbigh's singular notions.

Captain Digby had left Jarvis at an inn, about half a mile from the rectory, for the convenience of receiving early information of the result of his conference. The young man had walked up and down the room during Digby's absence, in a train of reflections entirely new to him. He was the only son of his aged father and mother the protector of his sisters, and, he might say, the sole hope of a rising family; and then, possibly, Denbigh might not have meant to offend him—he might even have been engaged before they came to the house; or if not, it might have been inadvertence on the part of Miss Moseley. That Denbigh would offer some explanation he believed, and he had fully made up his mind to accept it, let it be what it might, as his fighting friend entered.

"Well," said Jarvis, in a tone that denoted anything but a consciousness that all was well.

"He says he will not meet you," dryly exclaimed his friend, throwing himself into a chair, and ordering a glass of brandy and water.

"Not meet me!" exclaimed Jarvis, in surprise. "Engaged, perhaps?"

"Engaged to his d—d conscience."

"To his conscience! I do not know whether I rightly understand you, Captain Digby," said Jarvis, catching his breath, and raising his voice a very little.

"Then, Captain Jarvis," said his friend, tossing off his brandy, and speaking with great deliberation, "he says that nothing—understand me—nothing will ever make him fight a duel."

"He will not!" cried Jarvis, in a loud voice.

"No, he will not," said Digby, handing his glass to the waiter for a fresh supply.

"He shall, by ——!"

"I don't know how you will make him."

"Make him! I'll—I'll post him."

"Never do that," said the captain, turning to him, as he leaned his elbows on the table. "It only makes both parties ridiculous. But I'll tell you what you may do. There's a Lord Chatterton who takes the matter up with warmth. If I were not afraid of his interests hurting my promotion, I should have resented something that fell from him myself. He will fight, I dare say, and I'll just return and require an explanation of his words on your behalf."

"No, no," said Jarvis, rather hastily; "he—he is related to the Moseleys, and I have views there it might injure."

"Did you think to forward your views by making the young lady the subject of a duel?" asked Captain Digby sarcastically, and eyeing his companion with contempt.

"Yes yes," said Jarvis; "it would certainly hurt my views."

"Here's to the health of His Majesty's gallant —— regiment of foot!" cried Captain Digby, in a tone of irony, when three quarters drunk, at the mess-table, that evening, "and to its champion, Captain Henry Jarvis!"

One of the corps was present accidentally as a guest; and the following week, the inhabitants of F—— saw the regiment in their barracks, marching to slow time after the body of Horace Digby.

Lord Chatterton, in relating the part of the foregoing circumstances which fell under his observation, did ample justice to the conduct of Denbigh; a degree of liberality which did him no little credit, as he plainly saw in that gentleman he had, or soon would have, a rival in the dearest wish of his heart; and the smiling approbation with which his cousin Emily rewarded him for his candor almost sickened him with apprehension. The ladies were not slow in expressing their disgust at the conduct of Jarvis, or backward in their approval of Denbigh's forbearance. Lady Moseley turned with horror from a picture in which she could see nothing but murder and bloodshed; but both Mrs. Wilson and her niece secretly applauded a sacrifice of worldly feelings on the altar of duty; the former admiring the consistent refusal of admitting any collateral inducements, in explanation of his decision: the latter, while she saw the act in its true colors, could hardly help believing that a regard for her feelings had, in a trifling degree, its influence in inducing him to decline the meeting. Mrs. Wilson saw at once what a hold such unusual conduct would take on the feelings of her niece, and inwardly determined to increase, if possible, the watchfulness she had invariably observed on all he said or did, as likely to elucidate his real character, well knowing that the requisites to bring or to keep happiness in the married state were numerous and indispensable; and that the display of a particular excellence, however good in itself, was by no means conclusive as to character; in short, that we perhaps as often meet with a favorite principle, as with a besetting sin.