Precaution/Chapter 16

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"I am sorry, aunt, Mr. Denbigh is not rich," said Emily to Mrs. Wilson, after they had retired in the evening, almost unconscious of what she uttered. The latter looked at her niece in surprise, at a remark so abrupt, and one so very different from the ordinary train of Emily's reflections, as she required an explanation. Emily, slightly coloring at the channel her thoughts had insensibly strayed into, gave her aunt an account of their adventure in the course of the morning's drive, and touched lightly on the difference in the amount of the alms of her brother and those of Mr. Denbigh.

"The bestowal of money is not always an act of charity," observed Mrs. Wilson, gravely, and the subject was dropped: though neither ceased to dwell on it in her thoughts, until sleep closed the eyes of both.

The following day Mrs. Wilson invited Grace and Emily to accompany her in a walk; the gentlemen having preceded them in pursuit of their different avocations. Francis had his regular visits of spiritual consolation; John had gone to the hall for his pointers and fowling-piece, the season for woodcock having arrived; and Denbigh had proceeded no one knew whither. On gaining the high-road, Mrs. Wilson desired her companions to lead the way to the cottage where the family of the mendicant gardener had been lodged, and thither they soon arrived. On knocking at the door, they were immediately admitted to an outer room, in which they found the wife of the laborer who inhabited the building, engaged in her customary morning employments. They explained the motives of the visit, and were told that the family they sought were in an adjoining room, but she rather thought at that moment engaged with a clergyman, who had called a quarter of an hour before. "I expect, my lady, it's the new rector, who everybody says is so good to the poor and needy; but I have not found time yet to go to church to hear his reverence preach, ma'am," courtesying and handing the fresh dusted chairs to her unexpected visitors. The ladies seated themselves, too delicate to interrupt Francis in his sacred duties, and were silently waiting his appearance, when a voice was distinctly heard through the thin partition, the first note of which undeceived them as to the character of the gardener's visitor.

"It appears, then, Davis, by your own confession," said Denbigh, mildly, but in a tone of reproof, "that your frequent acts of intemperance have at least given ground for the steward's procuring your discharge, if it has not justified him in doing that which his duty to your common employer required."

"It is hard, sir," replied the man sullenly, "to be thrown on the world with a family like mine, to make way for a younger man with but one child."

"It may be unfortunate for your wife and children," said Denbigh, "but just, as respects yourself. I have already convinced you, that my interference or reproof is not an empty one: carry the letter to the person to whom it is directed, and I pledge you, you shall have a new trial; and should you conduct yourself soberly, and with propriety, continued and ample support; the second letter will gain your children immediate admission to the school I mentioned; and I now leave you, with an earnest injunction to remember that habits of intemperance not only disqualify you to support those who have such great claims on your protection, but inevitably lead to a loss of those powers which are necessary to insure your own eternal welfare."

"May Heaven bless your honor," cried the woman, with fervor, and evidently in tears, "both for what you have said, and what you have done. Thomas only wants to be taken from temptation, to become a sober man again—an honest one he has ever been, I am sure."

"I have selected a place for him," replied Denbigh, "where there is no exposure through improper companions, and everything now depends upon himself, under Providence."

Mrs. Wilson had risen from her chair on the first intimation given by Denbigh of his intention to go, but had paused at the door to listen to this last speech; when beckoning her companions, she hastily withdrew, having first made a small present to the woman of the cottage, and requested her not to mention their having called.

"What becomes now of the comparative charity of your brother and Mr. Denbigh, Emily?" asked Mrs. Wilson, as they gained the road on their return homewards. Emily was not accustomed to hear any act of John slightly spoken of without at least manifesting some emotion, which betrayed her sisterly regard; but on the present occasion she chose to be silent; while Grace, after waiting in expectation that her cousin would speak, ventured to say timidly—

"I am sure, dear madam, Mr. Moseley was very liberal, and the tears were in his eyes while he gave the money. I was looking directly at them the whole time."

"John is compassionate by nature," continued Mrs. Wilson, with an almost imperceptible smile. "I have no doubt his sympathies were warmly enlisted in behalf of this family; and possessing much, he gave liberally. I have no doubt he would have undergone personal privation to have relieved their distress, and endured both pain and labor, with such an excitement before him. But what is all that to the charity of Mr. Denbigh?"

Grace was unused to contend, and least of all, with Mrs. Wilson; but, unwilling to abandon John to such censure, with increased animation, she said,—

"If bestowing freely, and feeling for the distress you relieve, be not commendable, madam, I am sure I am ignorant what is."

"That compassion for the woes of others is beautiful in itself, and the want of it an invariable evidence of corruption from too much, and an ill-governed, intercourse with the world, I am willing to acknowledge, my dear Grace," said Mrs. Wilson, kindly; "but the relief of misery, where the heart has not undergone this hardening ordeal, is only a relief to our own feelings: this is compassion; but Christian charity is a higher order of duty: it enters into every sensation of the heart; disposes us to judge, as well as to act, favorably to our fellow-creatures; is deeply seated in the sense of our own unworthiness; keeps a single eye, in its dispensations of temporal benefits, to the everlasting happiness of the objects of its bounty; is consistent, well regulated; in short,"—and Mrs. Wilson's pale cheek glowed with an unusual richness of color—"it is an humble attempt to copy after the heavenly example of our Redeemer, in sacrificing ourselves to the welfare of others, and does and must proceed from a love of his person, and an obedience to his mandates."

"And Mr. Denbigh, aunt," exclaimed Emily, the blood mantling to her cheeks with a sympathetic glow, while she lost all consideration for John in the strength of her feelings, "his charity you think to be of this description?"

"So far, my child, as we can understand motives from the nature of the conduct, such appears to have been the charity of Mr. Denbigh."

Grace was silenced, if not convinced; and the ladies continued their walk, lost in their own reflections, until they reached a bend in the road which hid the cottage from view. Emily involuntarily turned her head as they arrived at the spot, and saw that Denbigh had approached within a few paces of them. On joining them, he commenced his complimentary address in such a way as convinced them the cottager had been true to the injunction given by Mrs. Wilson. No mention was made of the gardener, and Denbigh began a lively description of some foreign scenery, of which their present situation reminded him. The discourse was maintained with great interest by himself and Mrs. Wilson, for the remainder of their walk.

It was yet early when they reached the parsonage, where they found John, who had driven to the hall to breakfast, and who, instead of pursuing his favorite amusement of shooting, laid down his gun as they entered, observing, "It is rather soon yet for the woodcocks, and I believe I will listen to your entertaining conversation, ladies, for the remainder of the morning." He threw himself upon a sofa at no great distance from Grace, and in such a position as enabled him, without rudeness, to study the features of her lovely face, while Denbigh read aloud to the ladies Campbell's beautiful description of wedded love, in Gertrude of Wyoming.

There was a chastened correctness in the ordinary manner of Denbigh which wore the appearance of the influence of his reason, and a subjection of the passions, that, if anything, gave him less interest with Emily than had it been marked by an evidence of stronger feeling. But on the present occasion, this objection was removed; his reading was impressive; he dwelt on those passages which most pleased him with a warmth of eulogium fully equal to her own undisguised sensations. In the hour occupied in the reading this exquisite little poem, and in commenting on its merits and sentiments, Denbigh gained more on her imagination than in all their former intercourse. His ideas were as pure, as chastened, and almost as vivid, as those of the poet; and Emily listened to his periods with intense attention, as they flowed from him in language as glowing as his ideas. The poem had been first read to her by her brother, and she was surprised to discover how she had overlooked its beauties on that occasion. Even John acknowledged that it certainly appeared a different thing now from what he had then thought it; but Emily had taxed his declamatory power in the height of the pheasant season, and, somehow or other, John now imagined that Gertrude was just such a delicate, feminine, warm-hearted, domestic girl as Grace Chatterton. As Denbigh closed the book, and entered into a general conversation with Clara and her sister, John followed Grace to a window, and speaking in a tone of unusual softness for him, he said,—

"Do you know, Miss Chatterton, I have accepted your brother's invitation to go into Suffolk this summer, and that you are to be plagued with me and my pointers again?"

"Plagued, Mr. Moseley!" said Grace, in a voice even softer than his own. "I am sure—I am sure, we none of us think you or your dogs in the least a plague."

"Ah! Grace," and John was about to become what he had never been before—sentimental—when he saw the carriage of Chatterton, containing the dowager and Catherine, entering the parsonage gates.

Pshaw! thought John, there comes Mother Chatterton.

"Ah! Grace," said John, "there are your mother and sister returned already."

"Already!" said the young lady, and, for the first time in her life, she felt rather unlike a dutiful child. Five minutes could have made no great difference to her mother, and she would greatly have liked to hear what John Moseley meant to have said; for the alteration in his manner convinced her that his first "ah! Grace" was to have been continued in a somewhat different language from that in which the second "ah! Grace" was ended.

Young Moseley and her daughter, standing together at the open window, caught the attention of Lady Chatterton the moment she got a view of the house, and she entered with a good humor she had not felt since the disappointment in her late expedition in behalf of Catherine; for the gentleman she had had in view in this excursion had been taken up by another rover, acting on her own account, and backed by a little more wit and a good deal more money than what Kate could be fairly thought to possess. Nothing further in that quarter offering in the way of her occupation, she turned her horses' heads towards London, that great theatre on which there never was a loss for actors. The salutations had hardly passed before, turning to John, she exclaimed, with what she intended for a most motherly smile, "What! not shooting this fine day, Mr. Moseley? I thought you never missed a day in the season."

"It is rather early yet, my lady," said John, coolly, a little alarmed by the expression of her countenance.

"Oh!" continued the dowager, in the same strain, "I see how it is; the ladies have too many attractions for so gallant a young man as yourself." Now, as Grace, her own daughter, was the only lady of the party who could reasonably be supposed to have much influence over John's movements—a young gentleman seldom caring as much for his own as for other people's sisters, this may be fairly set down as a pretty broad hint of the opinion the dowager entertained of the real state of things; and John saw it, and Grace saw it. The former coolly replied, "Why, upon the whole, if you will excuse the neglect, I will try a shot this fine day." In five minutes, Carlo and Rover were both delighted. Grace kept her place at the window, from a feeling she could not define, and of which perhaps she was unconscious, until the gate closed, and the shrubbery hid the sportsman from her sight, and then she withdrew to her room to weep.

Had Grace Chatterton been a particle less delicate—less retiring—blessed with a managing mother, as she was, John Moseley would not have thought another moment about her. But, on every occasion when the dowager made any of her open attacks, Grace discovered so much distress, so much unwillingness to second them, that a suspicion of a confederacy never entered his brain. It is not to be supposed that Lady Chatterton's manœuvres were limited to the direct and palpable schemes we have mentioned; no—these were the effervescence, the exuberance of her zeal; but, as is generally the case, they sufficiently proved the groundwork of all her other machinations; none of the little artifices of placing—of leaving alone—of showing similarity of tastes—of compliments to the gentlemen, were neglected. This latter business she had contrived to get Catherine to take off her hands; but Grace could never pay a compliment in her life, unless changing of color, trembling, undulations of the bosom, and such natural movements can be so called; but she loved dearly to receive them from John Moseley.

"Well, my child," said the mother, as she seated herself by the side of her daughter, who hastily endeavored to conceal her tears, "when are we to have another wedding? I trust everything is settled between you and Mr. Moseley, by this time."

"Mother! mother!" said Grace, nearly gasping for breath, "Mother, you will break my heart, indeed you will." She hid her face in the clothes of the bed by which she sat, and wept with a feeling of despair.

"Tut, my dear," replied the dowager, not noticing her anguish, or mistaking it for a girlish shame, "you young people are fools in these matters, but Sir Edward and myself will arrange everything as it should be."

The daughter now not only looked up, but sprang from her seat, her hands clasped together, her eyes fixed in horror, her cheek pale as death; but the mother had retired, and Grace sank back into her chair with a sensation of disgrace, of despair, which could not have been surpassed, had she really merited the obloquy and shame which she thought were about to be heaped upon her.