Precaution/Chapter 14

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CHAPTER XIV.

Sir Edward Moseley had some difficulty in restraining the impetuosity of his son, who was disposed to resent this impertinent interference of young Jarvis with the conduct of his favorite sister; indeed the young man only yielded to his profound respect to his father's commands, aided by a strong representation on the part of his sister of the disagreeable consequences of connecting her name with such a quarrel. It was seldom the good baronet felt himself called on to act as decidedly as on the present occasion. He spoke to the merchant in warm, but gentleman-like terms, of the consequences which might have resulted to his own child from the intemperate act of his son; exculpated Emily entirely from censure, by explaining her engagement to dance with Denbigh, previously to Captain Jarvis's application; and hinted the necessity, if the affair was not amicably terminated, of protecting the peace of mind of his daughters against any similar exposures, by declining the acquaintance of a neighbor he respected as much as Mr. Jarvis.

The merchant was a man of few words, but of great promptitude. He had made his fortune, and more than once saved it, by his decision; and assuring the baronet he should hear no more of it, he took his hat and hurried home from the village, where the conversation passed. On arriving at his own house, he found the family collected in the parlor for a morning ride, and throwing himself into a chair, he broke out on the whole party with great violence.

"So, Mrs. Jarvis," he cried, "you would spoil a very tolerable book-keeper, by wishing to have a soldier in your family; and there stands the puppy who would have blown out the brains of a deserving young man, if the good sense of Mr. Denbigh had not denied him the opportunity."

"Mercy!" cried the alarmed matron, on whom Newgate with all its horrors floated—for her early life had been passed near its walls, and a contemplation of its punishments had been her juvenile lessons of morality—"Harry! Harry! would you commit murder?"

"Murder!" echoed her son, looking askance, as if dodging the bailiffs. "No, mother; I wanted nothing but what was fair. Mr. Denbigh would have had an equal chance to blow out my brains; I am sure everything would have been fair."

"Equal chance!" muttered his father, who had cooled himself, in some measure, by an extra pinch of snuff. "No, sir, you have no brains to lose. But I have promised Sir Edward that you shall make proper apologies to himself, to his daughter, and to Mr. Denbigh." This was rather exceeding the truth, but the alderman prided himself on performing rather more than he promised.

"Apology!" exclaimed the captain. "Why, sir, the apology is due to me. Ask Colonel Egerton if he ever heard of apologies being made by the challenger."

"No, sure," said the mother, who, having made out the truth of the matter, thought it was likely enough to be creditable to her child; "Colonel Egerton never heard of such a thing. Did you, colonel?"

"Why, madam," said the colonel, hesitatingly, and politely handing the merchant his snuff-box, which, in his agitation, had fallen on the floor, "circumstances sometimes justify a departure from ordinary measures. You are certainly right as a rule; but not knowing the particulars in the present case, it is difficult for me to decide. Miss Jarvis, the tilbury is ready."

The colonel bowed respectfully to the merchant, kissed his hand to his wife, and led their daughter to his carriage.

"Do you make the apologies?" asked Mr. Jarvis, as the door closed.

"No, sir," replied the captain sullenly.

"Then you must make your pay answer for the next six months," cried the father, taking a signed draft on his banker from his pocket, coolly tearing it in two pieces, carefully putting the name in his mouth, and chewing it into a ball.

"Why, alderman," said his wife (a name she never used unless she had something to gain from her spouse, who loved to hear the appellation after he had relinquished the office), "it appears to me that Harry has shown nothing but a proper spirit. You are unkind—indeed you are."

"A proper spirit? In what way? Do you know anything of the matter?"

"It is a proper spirit for a soldier to fight, I suppose," said the wife, a little at a loss to explain.

"Spirit, or no spirit, apology or ten and sixpence."

"Harry," said his mother, holding up her finger in a menacing attitude, as soon as her husband had left the room (for he had last spoken with the door in his hand), "if you do beg his pardon, you are no son of mine."

"No," cried Miss Sarah, "nor any brother of mine. It would be insufferably mean."

"Who will pay my debts?" asked the son, looking up at the ceiling.

"Why, I would, my child, if—if—I had not spent my own allowance."

"I would," echoed the sister; "but if we go to Bath, you know, I shall want all my money."

"Who will pay my debts?" repeated the son.

"Apology, indeed! Who is he, that you, a son of Alderman—of—Mr. Jarvis, of the deanery, B——, Northamptonshire, should beg his pardon,—a vagrant that nobody knows!"

"Who will pay my debts?" again inquired the captain drumming with his foot."

"Harry," exclaimed the mother, "do you love money better than honor—a soldier's honor?"

"No, mother; but I like good eating and drinking. Think, mother; it's a cool five hundred, and that's a famous deal of money."

"Harry," cried the mother, in a rage, "you are not fit for a soldier. I wish I were in your place."

"I wish, with all my heart, you had been for an hour this morning," thought the son. After arguing for some time longer, they compromised, by agreeing to leave it to the decision of Colonel Egerton, who, the mother did not doubt, would applaud her maintaining the Jarvis dignity, a family in which he took quite as much interest as he felt for his own—so he had told her fifty times. The captain, however, determined within himself to touch the five hundred, let the colonel decide as he might; but the colonel's decision obviated all difficulties. The question was put to him by Mrs. Jarvis, on his return from the airing, with no doubt the decision would be favorable to her opinion. The colonel and herself, she said, never disagreed; and the lady was right—for wherever his interest made it desirable to convert Mrs. Jarvis to his side of the question, Egerton had a manner of doing it that never failed to succeed.

"Why, madam," said he, with one of his most agreeable smiles, "apologies are different things, at different times. You are certainly right in your sentiments, as relates to a proper spirit in a soldier; but no one can doubt the spirit of the captain, after the stand he took in this affair; if Mr. Denbigh would not meet him (a very extraordinary measure, indeed, I confess), what can your son do more? He cannot make a man fight against his will, you know."

"True, true," cried the matron, impatiently, "I do not want him to fight; Heaven forbid! but why should he, the challenger, beg pardon? I am sure, to have the thing regular, Mr. Denbigh is the one to ask forgiveness."

The colonel felt at a little loss how to reply, when Jarvis, in whom the thoughts of the five hundred pounds had worked a revolution, exclaimed,—

"You know, mother, I accused him—that is, I suspected him of dancing with Miss Moseley against my right to her; now you find that it was all a mistake, and so I had better act with dignity, and confess my error."

"Oh, by all means," cried the colonel, who saw the danger of an embarrassing rupture between the families, otherwise: "delicacy to your sex particularly requires that, ma'am, from your son;" and he accidentally dropped a letter as he spoke.

"From Sir Edgar colonel?" asked Mrs. Jarvis, as he stooped to pick it up.

"From Sir Edgar, ma'am, and he begs to be remembered to yourself and all of your amiable family."

Mrs. Jarvis inclined her body, in what she intended for a graceful bend, and sighed—a casual observer might have thought, with maternal anxiety for the reputation of her child—but it was conjugal regret, that the political obstinacy of the alderman had prevented his carrying up an address, and thus becoming Sir Timothy. Sir Edgar's heir prevailed, and the captain received permission to do what he had done several hours before.

On leaving the room, after the first discussion, and before the appeal, the captain had hastened to his father with his concessions. The old gentleman knew too well the influence of five hundred pounds to doubt the effect in the present instance, and he had ordered his carriage for the excursion. It came, and to the hall they proceeded. The captain found his intended antagonist, and in a rather uncouth manner, he made the required concession. He was restored to his former favor—no great distinction—and his visits to the hall were suffered, but with a dislike Emily could never conquer, nor at all times conceal.

Denbigh was occupied with a book, when Jarvis commenced his speech to the baronet and his daughter, and was apparently too much engaged with its contents, to understand what was going on, as the captain blundered through. It was necessary, the captain saw by a glance of his father's eyes, to say something to that gentleman, who had delicately withdrawn to a distant window. His speech was consequently made here too, and Mrs. Wilson could not avoid stealing a look at them. Denbigh smiled, and bowed in silence. It is enough, thought the widow; the offence was not against him, it was against his Maker; he should not arrogate to himself, in any manner, the right to forgive, or to require apologies—the whole is consistent. The subject was never afterwards alluded to: Denbigh appeared to have forgotten it; and Jane sighed gently, as she devoutly hoped the colonel was not a duelist.

Several days passed before the deanery ladies could sufficiently forgive the indignity their family had sustained, to resume the customary intercourse. Like all other grievances, where the passions are chiefly interested, it was forgotten in time, however, and things were put in some measure on their former footing. The death of Digby served to increase the horror of the Moseleys, and Jarvis himself felt rather uncomfortable, on more accounts than one, at the fatal termination of the unpleasant business.

Chatterton, who to his friends had not hesitated to avow his attachment to his cousin, but who had never proposed for her, as his present views and fortune were not, in his estimation, sufficient for her proper support, had pushed every interest he possessed, and left no steps unattempted an honorable man could resort to, to effect his object. The desire to provide for his sisters had been backed by the ardor of a passion that had reached its crisis; and the young peer who could not, in the present state of things, abandon the field to a rival so formidable as Denbigh, even to further his views to preferment, was waiting in anxious suspense the decision on his application. A letter from his friend informed him, his opponent was likely to succeed; that, in short, all hopes of success had left him. Chatterton was in despair. On the following day, however, he received a second letter from the same friend, unexpectedly announcing his appointment. After mentioning the fact, he went on to say—"The cause of this sudden revolution in your favor is unknown to me, and unless your lordship has obtained interest I am ignorant of, it is one of the most singular instances of ministerial caprice I have ever known." Chatterton was as much at a loss as his friend, to understand the affair; but it mattered not; he could now offer to Emily—it was a patent office of great value, and a few years would amply portion his sisters. That very day therefore, he proposed, and was refused.

Emily had a difficult task to avoid self-reproach, in regulating her deportment on this occasion. She was fond of Chatterton as a relation—as her brother's friend—as the brother of Grace, and even on his own account; but it was the fondness of a sister. His manner—his words, which, although never addressed to herself, were sometimes overheard unintentionally, and sometimes reached her through her sisters, had left her in no doubt of his attachment; she was excessively grieved at the discovery, and had innocently appealed to her aunt for directions how to proceed. Of his intentions she had no doubt, but at the same time he had not put her in a situation to dispel his hopes; as to encouragement, in the usual meaning of the term, she gave none to him, nor to any one else. There are no little attentions that lovers are fond of showing to their mistresses, and which mistresses are fond of receiving, that Emily ever permitted to any gentleman—no rides—no walks—no tête-à-têtes. Always natural and unaffected, there was a simple dignity about her that forbade the request, almost the thought, in the gentlemen of her acquaintance: she had no amusements, no pleasures of any kind in which her sisters were not her companions; and if anything was on the carpet that required an attendant, John was ever ready. He was devoted to her; the decided preference she gave him over every other man, upon such occasions, flattered his affection; and he would, at any time, leave even Grace Chatterton to attend his sister. All this too was without affectation, and generally without notice. Emily so looked the delicacy and reserve she acted, with so little ostentation, that not even her own sex had affixed to her conduct the epithet of squeamish; it was difficult, therefore, for her to do anything which would show Lord Chatterton her disinclination to his suit, without assuming a dislike she did not feel, or giving him slights that neither good breeding nor good nature could justify. At one time, indeed, she had expressed a wish to return to Clara; but this Mrs. Wilson thought would only protract the evil, and she was compelled to wait his own time. The peer himself did not rejoice more in his ability to make the offer, therefore, than Emily did to have it in her power to decline it. Her rejection was firm and unqualified, but uttered with a grace and a tenderness to his feelings, that bound her lover tighter than ever in her chains, and he resolved on immediate flight as his only recourse.

"I hope nothing unpleasant has occurred to Lord Chatterton," said Denbigh, with great interest, as he reached the spot where the young peer stood leaning his head against a tree, on his way from the rectory to the hall.

Chatterton raised his face as he spoke: there were evident traces of tears on it, and Denbigh, greatly shocked, was about to proceed as the other caught his arm.

"Mr. Denbigh," said the young man, in a voice almost choked with emotion, "may you never know the pain I have felt this morning. Emily—Emily Moseley—is lost to me—forever."

For a moment the blood rushed to the face of Denbigh, and his eyes flashed with a look that Chatterton could not stand. He turned, as the voice of Denbigh, in those remarkable tones which distinguished it from every other voice he had ever heard, uttered—

"Chatterton, my lord, we are friends, I hope—I wish it, from my heart."

"Go, Mr. Denbigh—go. You were going to Miss Moseley; do not let me detain you."

"I am going with you, Lord Chatterton, unless you forbid it," said Denbigh, with emphasis, slipping his arm through that of the peer.

For two hours they walked together in the park; and when they appeared at dinner, Emily wondered why Mr. Denbigh had taken a seat next to her mother, instead of his usual place between herself and her aunt. In the evening, he announced his intention of leaving B—— for a short time with Lord Chatterton. They were going to London together, but he hoped to return within ten days. This sudden determination caused some surprise; but, as the dowager supposed it was to secure the new situation, and the remainder of their friends thought it might be business, it was soon forgotten, though much regretted for the time. The gentlemen left the hall that night to proceed to an inn, from which they could obtain a chaise and horses; and the following morning, when the baronet's family assembled around their social breakfast, they were many miles on the road to the metropolis.