Precaution/Chapter 15

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CHAPTER XV.

Lady Chatterton, finding that little was to be expected in her present situation, excepting what she looked forward to from the varying admiration of John Moseley to her youngest daughter, determined to accept an invitation of some standing to a nobleman's seat about fifty miles from the hall, and, in order to keep things in their proper places, to leave Grace with her friends, who had expressed a wish to that effect. Accordingly, the day succeeding the departure of her son, she proceeded on her expedition, accompanied by her willing assistant in the matrimonial speculations.

Grace Chatterton was by nature retiring and delicate; but her feelings were acute, and on the subject of female propriety sensitive to a degree, that the great want of it in a relation she loved as much as her mother had possibly in some measure increased. Her affections were too single in their objects to have left her long in doubt as to their nature with respect to the baronet's son; and it was one of the most painful orders she had ever received, that which compelled her to accept her cousin's invitation. Her mother was peremptory, however, and Grace was obliged to comply. Every delicate feeling she possessed revolted at the step: the visit itself was unwished for on her part; but there did exist a reason which had reconciled her to that—the wedding of Clara. But now to remain, after all her family had gone, in the house where resided the man who had as yet never solicited those affections she had been unable to withhold, it was humiliating—it was degrading her in her own esteem, and she could scarcely endure it.

It is said that women are fertile in inventions to further their schemes of personal gratification, vanity, or oven mischief. It may be it is true; but the writer of these pages is a man—one who has seen much of the other sex, and he is happy to have an opportunity of paying a tribute to female purity and female truth. That there are hearts so disinterested as to lose the considerations of self, in advancing the happiness of those they love; that there are minds so pure as to recoil with disgust from the admission of deception, indelicacy, or management, he knows; for he has seen it from long and close examination. He regrets that the very artlessness of those who are most pure in the one sex, subjects them to the suspicions of the grosser materials which compose the other. He believes that innocency, singleness of heart, ardency of feeling, and unalloyed, shrinking delicacy, sometimes exist in the female bosom, to an extent that but few men are happy enough to discover, and that most men believe incompatible with the frailties of human nature. Grace Chatterton possessed no little of what may almost be called this ethereal spirit, and a visit to Bolton parsonage was immediately proposed by her to Emily. The latter, too innocent herself to suspect the motives of her cousin, was happy to be allowed to devote a fortnight to Clara, uninterrupted by the noisy round of visiting and congratulations which had attended her first week; and Mrs. Wilson and the two girls left the hall the same day with the Dowager Lady Chatterton. Francis and Clara were happy to receive them, and they were immediately domesticated in their new abode. Doctor Ives and his wife had postponed an annual visit to a relation of the former on account of the marriage of their son, and they now availed themselves of this visit to perform their own engagement. B—— appeared in some measure deserted, and Egerton had the field almost to himself. Summer had arrived, and the country bloomed in all its luxuriance of vegetation: everything was propitious to the indulgence of the softer passions; and Lady Moseley, ever a strict adherent to forms and decorum, admitted the intercourse between Jane and her admirer to be carried to as great lengths as those forms would justify. Still the colonel was not explicit, and Jane, whose delicacy dreaded the exposure of feelings that was involved in his declaration, gave or sought no marked opportunities for the avowal of his passion. Yet they were seldom separate, and both Sir Edward and his wife looked forward to their future union as a thing not to be doubted. Lady Moseley had given up her youngest child so absolutely to the government of her aunt, that she seldom thought of her future establishment. She had that kind of reposing confidence in Mrs. Wilson's proceedings that feeble minds ever bestow on those who are much superior to them; and she even approved of a system in many respects which she could not endeavor to imitate. Her affection for Emily was not, however, less than what she felt for her other children: she was, in fact, her favorite, and, had the discipline of Mrs. Wilson admitted of so weak an interference, might have been injured as such.

John Moseley had been able to find out exactly the hour they breakfasted at the deanery, the length of time it took Egerton's horses to go the distance between that house and the hall; and on the sixth morning after the departure of his aunt, John's bays were in his phaeton, and allowing ten minutes for the mile and a half to the park gates, John had got happily off his own territories, before he met the tilbury travelling eastward. I am not to know which road the colonel may turn, thought John; and after a few friendly but rather hasty greetings, the bays were again in full trot to the parsonage.

"John," said Emily, holding out her hand affectionately, and smiling a little archly, as he approached the window where she stood, "you should take a lesson in driving from Frank; you have turned more than one hair, I believe."

"How is Clara?" cried John, hastily, taking the offered hand, with a kiss, "aye, and Aunt Wilson?"

"Both well, brother, and out walking this fine morning."

"How happens it you are not with them?" inquired the brother, throwing his eyes round the room. "Have they left you alone?"

"No, Grace has this moment left me."

"Well, Emily," said John, taking his seat very composedly, but keeping his eyes on the door, "I have come to dine with you. I thought I owed Clara a visit, and have managed nicely to give the colonel the go-by."

"Clara will be happy to see you, dear John and so will aunt, and so am I"—as she drew aside his fine hair with her fingers to cool his forehead.

"And why not Grace, too?" asked John, with a look of a little alarm.

"And Grace, too, I fancy—but here she is, to answer for herself."

Grace said little on her entrance, but her eyes were brighter than usual, and she looked so contented and happy that Emily observed to her, in an affectionate manner—

"I knew the eau-de-Cologne would do your head good."

"Is Miss Chatterton unwell?" asked John, with a look of interest.

"A slight headache," said Grace, faintly, "but I feel much better."

"Want of air and exercise: my horses are at the door; the phaeton will hold three easily; run, sister, for your hat," almost pushing Emily out of the room as he spoke. In a few minutes the horses might have been suffering for air, but surely not for exercise.

"I wish," cried John, with impatience, when at the distance of a couple of miles from the parsonage, "that gentleman had driven his gig out of the road."

There was a small group on one side of the road, consisting of a man, a woman, and several children. The owner of the gig had alighted, and was in the act of speaking to them, as the phaeton approached at a great rate.

"John," cried Emily, in terror, "You never can pass—you will upset us."

"There is no danger, dear Grace," said the brother, endeavoring to check his horses; he succeeded in part, but not so as to prevent his passing at a spot where the road was very narrow; a wheel hit violently against a stone and some of his works gave way. The gentleman immediately hastened to his assistance—it was Denbigh.

"Miss Moseley!" cried he, in a voice of the tendered interest, "you are not hurt in the least, I hope."

"No," said Emily, recovering her breath, "only frightened;" and taking his hand, she sprang from the carriage.

Miss Chatterton found courage to wait quietly for the care of John. His "dear Grace," had thrilled on every nerve, and she afterwards often laughed at Emily for her terror when there was so little danger. The horses were not in the least frightened, and after a little mending, John declared all was safe. To ask Emily to enter the carriage again, was to exact no little sacrifice of her feelings to her reason; and she stood in a suspense that too plainly showed that the terror she had been in had not left her.

"If," said Denbigh, modestly, "if Mr. Moseley will take the ladies in my gig, I will drive the phaeton to the hall, as it is rather unsafe for so heavy a load."

"No, no, Denbigh," said John coolly, "you are not used to such mettled nags as mine—it would be indiscreet for you to drive them: if, however, you will be good enough to take Emily into your gig—Grace Chatterton, I am sure, is not afraid to trust my driving, and we might all get back as well as ever."

Grace gave her hand almost unconsciously to John, and he handed her into the phaeton, as Denbigh stood willing to execute his part of the arrangement, but too diffident to speak. It was not a moment for affectation, if Emily had been capable of it, and blushing with the novelty of her situation, she took her place in the gig. Denbigh stopped and turned his eyes on the little group with which he had been talking, and at that moment they caught the attention of John also. The latter inquired after their situation. The tale was a piteous one, the distress evidently real. The husband had been gardener to a gentleman in a neighboring county, and he had been lately discharged, to make way, in the difficulty of the times, for a relation of the steward, who was in want of the place. Suddenly thrown on the world, with a wife and four children, with but the wages of a week for his and their support, they had travelled thus far on the way to a neighboring parish, where he said he had a right to, and must seek, public assistance. The children were crying for hunger, and the mother, who was a nurse, had been unable to walk further than where she sat, but had sunk on the ground overcome with fatigue, and weak from the want of nourishment. Neither Emily nor Grace could refrain from tears at the recital of these heavy woes; the want of sustenance was something shocking in itself, and brought, as it were, immediately before their eyes, the appeal was irresistible. John forgot his bays—forgot even Grace, as he listened to the affecting story related by the woman, who was much revived by some nutriment Denbigh had obtained from a cottage near them, and to which they were about to proceed by his directions, as Moseley interrupted them. His hand shook, his eyes glistened, as he took his purse from his pocket and gave several guineas from it to the mendicant. Grace thought John had never appeared so handsome as the moment he handed the money to the gardener; his face glowed with unusual excitement, and his sympathy supplied the only charm he wanted in common, softness. Denbigh, after waiting patiently until Moseley had bestowed his alms, gravely repeated his directions for their proceeding to the cottage, when the carriages moved on.

Emily revolved in her mind, during their short ride, the horrid distress she had witnessed. It had taken a strong hold on her feelings. Like her brother, she was warm-hearted and compassionate, if we may use the term, to excess; and had she been prepared with the means, the gardener would have reaped a double harvest of donations. It struck her, at the moment, unpleasantly, that Denbigh had been so backward in his liberality. The man had rather sullenly displayed half a crown as his gift, in contrast with the golden shower of John's generosity. It had been even somewhat offensive in its exhibition, and urged her brother to a more hasty departure than, under other circumstances, he would just at the moment have felt disposed to make. Denbigh, however, had taken no notice of the indignity, and continued his directions in the same mild and benevolent manner he had used during the whole interview. Half a crown was but little, thought Emily, for a family that was starving; and, unwilling to judge harshly of one she had begun to value so highly, she came to the painful conclusion her companion was not as rich as he deserved to be. Emily had not yet to learn that charity was in proportion to the means of the donor, and a gentle wish insensibly stole over her that Denbigh might in some way become more richly endowed with the good things of this world. Until this moment her thoughts had never turned to his temporal condition. She knew he was an officer in the army, but of what rank, or even of what regiment, she was ignorant. He had frequently touched in his conversation on the customs of the different countries he had seen. He had served in Italy, in the north of Europe, in the West Indies, in Spain. Of the manners of the people, of their characters, he not unfrequently spoke, and with a degree of intelligence, a liberality, a justness of discrimination, that had charmed his auditors; but on the point of personal service he had maintained a silence that was inflexible, and not a little surprising—more particularly of that part of his history which related to the latter country; from all which she was rather inclined to think his military rank was not as high as she thought he merited, and that possibly he felt an awkwardness of putting it in contrast with the more elevated station of Colonel Egerton. The same idea had struck the whole family, and prevented any inquiries which might be painful. He was so connected with the mournful event of his father's death, that no questions could be put with propriety to the doctor's family; and if Francis had been more communicative to Clara, she was too good a wife to mention it, and her own family was possessed of too just a sense of propriety to touch upon points that might bring her conjugal fidelity in question.

Though Denbigh appeared a little abstracted during the ride, his questions concerning Sir Edward and her friends were kind and affectionate. As they approached the house, he suffered his horse to walk, and after some hesitation, he took a letter from his pocket, and handing it to her, said,—

"I hope Miss Moseley will not think me impertinent in becoming the bearer of a letter from her cousin, Lord Chatterton. He requested it so earnestly, that I could not refuse taking what I am sensible is a great liberty; for it would be deception did I affect to be ignorant of his admiration, or of his generous treatment of a passion she cannot return. Chatterton," and he smiled mournfully, "is yet too true to cease his commendations."

Emily blushed painfully, but she took the letter in silence; and as Denbigh pursued the topic no further, the little distance they had to go was ridden in silence. On entering the gates, however, he said inquiringly, and with much interest,—

"I sincerely hope I have not given offense to your delicacy, Miss Moseley. Lord Chatterton has made me an unwilling confidant. I need not say the secret is sacred, on more accounts than one."

"Surely not, Mr. Denbigh," replied Emily, in a low tone; and the gig stopping, she hastened to accept the assistance of her brother to alight.

"Well, sister," cried John, laughing, "Denbigh is a disciple to Frank's system of horse-flesh. Hairs smooth enough here, I see. Grace and I thought you would never get home." Now John fibbed a little, for neither Grace nor he had thought in the least about them, or anything else but each other, from the moment they separated until the gig arrived.

Emily made no reply to this speech, and as the gentlemen were engaged in giving directions concerning their horses, she seized an opportunity to read Chatterton's letter.


"I avail myself of the return of my friend Mr. Denbigh to that happy family from which reason requires my self-banishment, to assure my amiable cousin of my continued respect for her character, and to convince her of my gratitude for the tenderness she has manifested to feelings she cannot return. I may even venture to tell her what few women would be pleased to hear, but what I know Emily Moseley too well to doubt, for a moment, will give her unalloyed pleasure—that owing to the kind, the benevolent, the brotherly attentions of my true friend, Mr. Denbigh, I have already gained a peace of mind and resignation I once thought was lost to me forever. Ah! Emily, my beloved cousin, in Denbigh you will find, I doubt not, a mind, principles, congenial to your own. It is impossible that he could see you without wishing to possess such a treasure; and, if I have a wish that is now uppermost in my heart, it is, that you may learn to esteem each other as you ought, when, I doubt not, you will become as happy as you both deserve to be. What greater earthly blessing can I implore upon you! Chatterton."


Emily, while reading this epistle, felt a confusion but little inferior to that which would have oppressed her had Denbigh himself been at her feet, soliciting that love Chatterton thought him so worthy of possessing; and when they met, she could hardly look in the face of a man who, it would seem, had been so openly selected by another, as the fittest to be her partner for life. The unaltered manner of Denbigh himself, however, soon convinced her that he was entirely ignorant of the contents of the note, and is greatly relieved her from the awkwardness his presence at first occasioned.

Francis soon returned, accompanied by his wife and aunt, and was overjoyed to find the guest who had so unexpectedly arrived, his parents had not yet returned from their visit, and Denbigh, of course, would remain at his present quarters. John promised to continue with them for a couple of days; and everything was soon settled to the perfect satisfaction of the whole party. Mrs. Wilson know the great danger of suffering young people to be inmates of the same house too well, wantonly to incur the penalties, but her visit had nearly expired, and it might give her a better opportunity of judging Denbigh's character; and Grace Chatterton, though too delicate to follow herself, was well contented to be followed, especially when John Moseley was the pursuer.