Precaution/Chapter 18

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John Moseley returned from L—— within a week, and appeared as if his whole delight consisted in knocking over the inoffensive birds. His restlessness induced him to make Jarvis his companion; for although he abhorred the captain's style of pursuing the sport, being in his opinion both out of rule and without taste, yet he was a constitutional fidget, and suited his own moving propensities at the moment. Egerton and Denbigh were both frequently at the hall, but generally gave their time to the ladies, neither being much inclined to the favorite amusement of John.

There was a little arbor within the walls of the park, which for years had been a retreat from the summer heats to the ladies of the Moseley family; even so long as the youth of Mrs. Wilson it had been in vogue, and she loved it with a kind of melancholy pleasure, as the spot where she had first listened to the language of love from the lips of her late husband. Into this arbor the ladies had one day retired, during the warmth of a noon-day sun, with the exception of Lady Moseley, who had her own engagement in the house. Between Egerton and Denbigh there was maintained a kind of courtly intercourse, which prevented any disagreeable collision from their evident dislike. Mrs. Wilson thought, on the part of Denbigh, it was the forbearance of a principled indulgence to another's weakness; while the colonel's otherwise uniform good breeding was hardly able to conceal a something amounting to very near repugnance. Egerton had taken his seat on the ground, near the feet of Jane; and Denbigh was stationed on a bench placed without the arbor, but so near us to have the full benefit of the shade of the noble oak, branches of which had been trained so as to compose its principal covering. It might have been accident, that gave each his particular situation; but it is certain they were so placed as not to be in sight of each other, and so placed that the colonel was ready to hand Jane her scissors, or any other little implement that she occasionally dropped, and that Denbigh could read every lineament of the animated countenance of Emily as she listened to his description of the curiosities of Egypt, a country in which he had spent a few months while attached to the army in Sicily. In this situation we will leave them for an hour, happy in the society of each other, while we trace the route of John Moseley and his companion, in their pursuit of woodcock, on the same day.

"Do you know, Moseley," said Jarvis, who began to think he was a favorite with John, now that he was admitted to his menus plaisirs, "that I have taken it into my head this Mr. Denbigh was very happy to plead his morals for not meeting me. He is a soldier, but I cannot find out what battles he has been in."

"Captain Jarvis," said John, coolly, "the less you say about that business, the better. Call in Rover."

Now, another of Jarvis's recommendations was a set of lungs that might have been heard half a mile with great ease on a still morning.

"Why," said Jarvis, rather humbly, "I am sensible, Mr. Moseley, I was very wrong as regards your sister; but don't you think it a little odd in a soldier not to fight when properly called upon?"

"I suppose Mr. Denbigh did not think himself properly called upon, or perhaps he had heard what a great shot you were."

Six months before his appearance in B——, Captain Jarvis had been a clerk in the counting-room of Jarvis, Baxter, & Co., and had never held fire-arms of any kind in his hand, with the exception of an old blunderbuss, which had been a kind of sentinel over the iron chest for years. On mounting the cockade, he had taken up shooting as a martial exercise, inasmuch as the burning of gunpowder was an attendant of the recreation. He had never killed but one bird in his life, and that was an owl, of which he took the advantage of daylight and his stocking feet to knock off a tree in the deanery grounds, very early after his arrival. In his trials with John, he sometimes pulled trigger at the same moment with his companion; and as the bird generally fell, he thought he had an equal claim to the honor. He was fond of warring with crows and birds of the larger sort, and invariably went provided with small balls fitted to the bore of his fowling-piece for such accidental rencontres. He had another habit, which was not a little annoying to John, who had several times tried in vain to break him of it—that of shooting at marks. If birds were not plenty, he would throw up a chip, and sometimes his hat, by way of shooting on the wing.

As the day was excessively hot, and the game kept close, John felt willing to return from such unprofitable labor. The captain now commenced his chip firing, which in a few minutes was succeeded by his hat.

"See, Moseley, see! I have hit the band," cried the captain, delighted to find he had at last wounded his old antagonist. "I don't think you can beat that yourself."

"I am not sure I can," said John, slipping a handful of gravel in the muzzle of his piece slyly, "but I can do as you did—try."

"Do," cried the captain, pleased to get his companion down to his own level of amusements. "Are you ready?"

"Yes; throw."

Jarvis threw, and John fired: the hat fairly bounced.

"Have I hit it?" asked John, while reloading the barrel he had discharged.

"Hit it!" said the captain, looking ruefully at his hat, "It looks like a cullender; but, Moseley, your gun don't scatter well: a dozen shot have gone through in the same place."

"It does look rather like a cullender," said John, as he overlooked his companion's beaver, "and, by the size of some of the holes, one that has been a good deal used."

The reports of the fowling-pieces announced to the party in the arbor the return of the sportsmen, it being an invariable practice with John Moseley to discharge his gun before he came in ; and Jarvis had imitated him from a wish to be what he called in rule.

"Mr. Denbigh," said John, as he put down his gun, "Captain Jarvis has got the better of his hat at last."

Denbigh smiled without speaking ; and the captain, unwilling to have anything to say to a gentleman to whom he had been obliged to apologize, went into the arbor to show the mangled condition of his head-piece to the colonel, on whose sympathies he felt a kind of claim, being of the same corps. John complained of thirst, and went to a little run of water but a short distance from them, in order to satisfy it. The interruption of Jarvis was particularly unseasonable. Jane was relating, in a manner peculiar to herself, in which was mingled that undefinable exchange of looks lovers are so fond of, some incident of her early life to the colonel that greatly interested him. Knowing the captain's foibles, he pointed, therefore, with his finger, as he said,—

"There is one of your old enemies, a hawk."

Jarvis threw down his hat, and ran with boyish eagerness to drive away the intruder. In his haste, he caught up the gun of John Moseley, and loading it rapidly, threw in a ball from his usual stock ; but whether the hawk saw and knew him, or whether it saw something else it liked better, it made a dart for the baronet's poultry-yard at no great distance, and was out of sight in a minute. Seeing that his foe had vanished, the captain laid the piece where he had found it, and recovering his old train of ideas, picked up his hat again.

"John," said Emily, as she approached him affectionately, "you were too warm to drink."

"Stand off, sis," cried John, playfully, taking up the gun from against the body of the tree, and dropping it towards her.

Jarvis had endeavored to make an appeal to the commiseration of Emily in favor of the neglected beaver, and was within a few feet of them. At this moment, recoiling from the muzzle of the gun, he exclaimed, "It is loaded!" "Hold," cried Denbigh, in a voice of horror, as he sprang between John and his sister. Both were too late; the piece was discharged. Denbigh, turning to Emily, and smiling mournfully, gazed for a moment at her, with an expression of tenderness, of pleasure, of sorrow, so blended that she retained the recollection of it for life, and fell at her feet.

The gun dropped from the nerveless grasp of young Moseley. Emily sank in insensibility by the side of her preserver. Mrs. Wilson and Jane stood speechless and aghast. The colonel alone retained the presence of mind necessary to devise the steps to be immediately taken. He sprang to the examination of Denbigh; the eyes of the wounded man were open, and his recollection perfect: the first were fixed in intense observation on the inanimate body which lay at his side.

"Leave me, Colonel Egerton," he said, speaking with difficulty, and pointing in the direction of the little run of water, "assist Miss Moseley—your hat—your hat will answer."

Accustomed to scenes of blood, and not ignorant that time and care were the remedies to be applied to the wounded man, Egerton flew to the stream, and returning immediately, by the help of her sister and Mrs. Wilson, soon restored Emily to life. The ladies and John had now begun to act. The tenderest assiduities of Jane were devoted to her sister; while Mrs. Wilson, observing her niece to be uninjured by anything but the shock, assisted John in supporting the wounded man.

Denbigh spoke, requesting to be carried to the house; and Jarvis was dispatched for help. Within half an hour, Denbigh was placed on a couch in the house of Sir Edward, and was quietly waiting for that professional aid which could only decide on his probable fate. The group assembled in the room were in fearful expectation of the arrival of the surgeons, in pursuit of whom messengers had been sent both to the barracks in F—— and to the town itself. Sir Edward sat by the side of the sufferer, holding one of his hands in his own, now turning his tearful eyes on that daughter who had so lately been rescued as it were from the certainty of death, in mute gratitude and thanksgiving; and now dwelling on the countenance of him, who, by bravely interposing his bosom to the blow, had incurred in his own person the imminent danger of a similar fate, with a painful sense of his perilous situation, and devout and earnest prayers for his safety. Emily was with her father, as with the rest of his family, a decided favorite; and no reward would have been sufficient, no gratitude lively enough, in the estimation of the baronet, to compensate the protector of such a child. She sat between her mother and Jane, with a hand held by each, pale and oppressed with a load of gratitude, of thanksgiving, of woe, that almost bowed her to the earth. Lady Moseley and Jane were both sensibly touched with the deliverance of Emily, and manifested the interest they took in her by the tenderest caresses, while Mrs. Wilson sat calmly collected within herself, occasionally giving those few directions which were necessary under the circumstances, and offering up her silent petitions in behalf of the sufferer. John had taken horse immediately for F——, and Jarvis had volunteered to go to the rectory and Bolton. Denbigh inquired frequently and with much anxiety for Dr. Ives; but the rector was absent from home on a visit to a sick parishioner, and it was late in the evening before he arrived. Within three hours of the accident, however, Dr. Black, the surgeon of the —th, reached the hall, and immediately proceeded to examine the wound. The ball had penetrated the right breast, and gone directly through the body; it was extracted with very little difficulty, and his attendant acquainted the anxious friends of Denbigh that the heart certainly, and he hoped the lungs, had escaped uninjured. The ball was a very small one, and the principal danger to be apprehended was from fever: he had taken the usual precautions against that, and should it not set in with a violence greater than he apprehended at present, the patient might be abroad within the month.

"But," continued the surgeon, with the hardened indifference of his profession, "the gentleman has had a narrow chance in the passage of the ball itself; half an inch would have settled his accounts with this world."

This information greatly relieved the family, and orders were given to preserve a silence in the house that would favor the patient's disposition to quiet, or, if possible, sleep.

Dr. Ives now reached the hall. Mrs. Wilson had never seen the rector in the agitation, or with the want of self-command he was in, as she met him at the entrance of the house.

"Is he alive?—is there hope?—where is George?" cried the doctor, as he caught the extended hand of Mrs. Wilson. She briefly acquainted him with the surgeon's report, and the reasonable ground there was to expect Denbigh would survive the injury.

"May God be praised!" said the rector, in a suppressed voice, and he hastily withdrew into another room. Mrs. Wilson followed him slowly and in silence; but was checked on opening the door with the sight of the rector on his knees, the tears stealing down his venerable cheeks in quick succession. "Surely," thought the widow, as she drew back unnoticed, "a youth capable of exciting such affection in a man like Dr. Ives, cannot be unworthy."

Denbigh, hearing of the arrival of his friend, desired to see him alone. Their conference was short, and the rector returned from it with increased hopes of the termination of this dreadful accident. He immediately left the hall for his own house, with a promise of returning early on the following morning.

During the night, however, the symptoms became unfavorable; and before the return of Dr. Ives, Denbigh was in a state of delirium from the height of his fever, and the apprehensions of his friends were renewed with additional force.

"What, what, my good sir, do you think of him?" said the baronet to the family physician, with an emotion that the danger of his dearest child would not have exceeded, and within hearing of most of his children, who were collected in the antechamber of the room in which Denbigh was placed.

"It is impossible to say, Sir Edward," replied the physician: "he refuses all medicines, and unless this fever abates, there is but little hope of recovery."

Emily stood during this question and answer, motionless, pale as death, and with her hands clasped together, betraying by the workings of her fingers in a kind of convulsive motion, the intensity of her interest. She had seen the draught prepared which it was so desirable that Denbigh should take, and it now stood rejected on a table, where it could be seen through the open door of his room. Almost breathless, she glided in, and taking the draught in her hand, she approached the bed, by which sat John alone, listening with a feeling of despair to the wanderings of the sick man. Emily hesitated once or twice, as she drew near Denbigh; her face had lost the paleness of anxiety, and glowed with another emotion.

"Mr. Denbigh—dear Denbigh," said Emily, with energy, unconsciously dropping her voice into the softest notes of persuasion, "will you refuse me?—me, Emily Moseley, whose life you have saved?"

"Emily Moseley!" repeated Denbigh, and in those tones so remarkable to his natural voice. "Is she safe? I thought she was killed—dead." Then, as if recollecting himself, he gazed intently on her countenance; his eye became less fiery—his muscles relaxed—he smiled, and took, with the docility of a well-trained child, the prescribed medicines from her hand. His ideas still wandered, but his physician, profiting by the command Emily possessed over his patient, increased his care, and by night the fever had abated, and before morning the wounded man was in a profound sleep. During the whole day, it was thought necessary to keep Emily by the side of his bed; but at times it was no trifling tax on her feelings to remain there. He spoke of her by name in the tenderest manner, although incoherently, and in terms that restored to the blanched cheeks of the distressed girl more than the richness of their native color. His thoughts were not confined to Emily, however: he talked of his father, of his mother, and frequently spoke of his poor deserted Marian. The latter name he dwelt on in the language of the warmest affection, condemned his own desertion of her, and, taking Emily for her, would beg her forgiveness, tell her her sufferings had been enough, and that he would return, and never leave her again. At such moments his nurse would sometimes show, by the paleness of her cheeks, her anxiety for his health; and then, as he addressed her by her proper appellation, all her emotions appeared absorbed in the sense of shame at the praises with which he overwhelmed her. Mrs. Wilson succeeded her in the charge of the patient, and she retired to seek that repose she so greatly needed.

On the second morning after receiving the wound, Denbigh dropped into a deep sleep, from which he awoke refreshed and perfectly collected in mind. The fever had left him, and his attendants pronounced, with the usual cautious to prevent a relapse, his recovery certain. It were impossible to have communicated any intelligence more grateful to all the members of the Moseley family; for Jane had even lost sight of her own lover, in sympathy for the fate of a man who had sacrificed himself to save her beloved sister.