Precaution/Chapter 20

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As a month had elapsed since he received his wound, Denbigh took an opportunity, one morning at breakfast, where he was well enough now to meet his friends, to announce his intention of trespassing no longer on their kindness, but of returning that day to the rectory. The communication distressed the whole family, and the baronet turned to him in the most cordial manner, as he took one of his hands, and said with an air of solemnity,—

"Mr. Denbigh, I could wish you to make this house your home; Dr. Ives may have known you longer, and may have the claim of relationship on you, but I am certain he cannot love you better; and are not the ties of gratitude as binding as those of blood?"

Denbigh was affected by the kindness of Sir Edward's manner.

"The regiment I belong to, Sir Edward, will be reviewed next week, and it has become my duty to leave here; there is one it is proper I should visit, a near connection, who is acquainted with the escape I have met with, and wishes naturally to see me; besides, my dear Sir Edward, she has many causes of sorrow, and it is a debt I owe her affection to endeavor to relieve them."

It was the first time he had ever spoken of his family, or hardly of himself, and the silence which prevailed plainly showed the interest his listeners took in the little he uttered.

That connection, thought Emily—I wonder if her name be Marian? But nothing further passed, excepting the affectionate regrets of her father, and the promises of Denbigh to visit them again before he left B——, and of joining them at L—— immediately after the review of which he bad spoken. As soon as he had breakfasted, John drove him in his phaeton to the rectory.

Mrs. Wilson, like the rest of the baronet's family, had been too deeply impressed with the debt they owed this young man to interfere with her favorite system of caution against too great an intimacy between her niece and her preserver. Close observation and the opinion of Dr. Ives had prepared her to give him her esteem; but the gallantry, the self-devotion he had displayed to Emily, was an act calculated to remove heavier objections than she could imagine as likely to exist to his becoming her husband. That he meant it, was evident from his whole deportment of late. Since the morning the portfolio was produced, Denbigh had given a more decided preference to her niece. The nice discrimination of Mrs. Wilson would not have said his feelings had become stronger, but that he labored less to conceal them. That he loved her niece she suspected from the first fortnight of their acquaintance, and it had given additional stimulus to her investigation into his character; but to doubt it, after stepping between her and death, would have been to have mistaken human nature. There was one qualification she would have wished to have been certain he possessed; before this accident, she would have made it an indispensable one; but the gratitude, the affections of Emily, she believed now to be too deeply engaged to make the strict inquiry she otherwise would have done; and she had the best of reasons for believing that if Denbigh were not a true Christian, he was at least a strictly moral man, and assuredly one who well understood the beauties of a religion she almost conceived it impossible for any impartial and intelligent man long to resist. Perhaps Mrs. Wilson, having in some measure interfered with her system, like others, had, on finding it impossible to conduct so that reason would justify all she did, began to find reasons for what she thought best to be done under the circumstances. Denbigh, however, both by his acts and his opinions, had created such an estimate of his worth in the breast of Mrs. Wilson, that there would have been but little danger of a repulse had no fortuitous accident helped him in his way to her favor.

"Who have we here?" said Lady Moseley. "A landaulet and four—the Earl of Bolton, I declare!"

Lady Moseley turned from the window with that collected grace she so well loved, and so well knew how to assume, to receive her noble visitor. Lord Bolton was a bachelor of sixty-five, who had long been attached to the court, and retained much of the manners of the old school. His principal estate was in Ireland, and most of that time which his duty at Windsor did not require he gave to the improvement of his Irish property. Thus, although on perfectly good terms with the baronet's family, they seldom met. With General Wilson he had been at college, and to his widow he always showed much of that regard he had invariably professed for her husband. The obligation he had conferred, unasked, on Francis Ives, was one conferred on all his friends, and his reception was now warmer than usual.

"My Lady Moseley," said the earl, bowing formally on her hand, "your looks do ample justice to the air of Northamptonshire. I hope you enjoy your usual health."

Then, waiting her equally courteous answer, he paid his compliments, in succession, to all the members of the family; a mode undoubtedly well adapted to discover their several conditions, but not a little tedious in its operations, and somewhat tiresome to the legs.

"We are under a debt of gratitude to your lordship," said Sir Edward, in his simple and warm-hearted way, "that I am sorry it is not in our power to repay more amply than by our thanks."

The earl was, or affected to be, surprised, as he required an explanation.

"The living at Bolton," said Lady Moseley, with dignity.

"Yes," continued her husband; "in giving the living to Frank you did me a favor, equal to what you would have done had he been my own child; and unsolicited, too, my lord, it was an additional compliment."

The earl sat rather uneasy during this speech, but the love of truth prevailed; for he had been too much about the person of our beloved sovereign not to retain all the impressions of his youth; and after a little struggle with his self-love he answered,—

"Not unsolicited, Sir Edward. I have no doubt, had my better fortune allowed me the acquaintance of my present rector, his own merit would have obtained what a sense of justice requires I should say was granted to an applicant to whom the ear of royalty itself would not have been deaf"

It was the turn of the Moseleys now to look surprised, and Sir Edward ventured to ask an explanation.

"It was my cousin, the Earl of Pendennyss, who applied for it, as a favor done to himself; and Pendennyss is a man not to be refused anything."

"Lord Pendennyss!" exclaimed Mrs. Wilson with animation; "and in what way came we to be under this obligation to Lord Pendennyss?"

"He did me the honor of a call during my visit to Ireland, madam," replied the earl; "and on inquiring of my steward after his old friend. Doctor Stevens, learnt his death, and the claims of Mr. Ives; but the reason he gave me was his interest in the widow of General Wilson," bowing with much solemnity as he spoke.

"I am gratified to find the earl yet remembers us," said Mrs. Wilson, struggling to restrain her tears. "Are we to have the pleasure of seeing him soon?"

"I received a letter from him yesterday, saying he should be here in all next week, madam." And turning pleasantly to Jane and her sister, he continued, "Sir Edward, you have here rewards fit for heavier services, and the earl is a great admirer of female charms."

"Is he not married, my lord?" asked the baronet, with great simplicity.

"No, baronet, nor engaged; but how long he will remain so after his hardihood in venturing into this neighborhood, will, I trust, depend on one of these young ladies."

Jane looked grave, for trifling on love was heresy in her estimation; but Emily laughed, with an expression in which a skillful physiognomist might have read—If he means me, he is mistaken.

"Your cousin, Lord Chatterton, has found interest, Sir Edward," continued the peer, "to obtain his father's situation; and if reports speak truth, he wishes to become more nearly related to you, baronet."

"I do not well see how that can happen," said Sir Edward with a smile, and who had not art enough to conceal his thoughts, "unless he takes my sister, here."

The cheeks of both the young ladies now vied with the rose; and the peer, observing he had touched on forbidden ground, added, "Chatterton was fortunate to find friends able to bear up against the powerful interest of Lord Haverford."

"To whom was he indebted for the place, my lord?" asked Mrs. Wilson.

"It was whispered at court, madam," said the earl, sensibly lowering his voice, and speaking with an air of mystery, "and a lord of the bed-chamber is fonder of discoveries than a lord of the council—that his Grace of Derwent threw the whole of his parliamentary interest into the scale on the baron's side, but you are not to suppose," raising his hand gracefully, with a wave of rejection, "that I speak from authority; only a surmise, Sir Edward, only a surmise, my lady."

"Is not the name of the Duke of Derwent, Denbigh?" inquired Mrs. Wilson, with a thoughtful manner.

"Certainly, madam, Denbigh," replied the earl, with a gravity with which he always spoke of dignities; "one of our most ancient names, and descended on the female side from the Plantagenets and Tudors."

He now rose to take his leave, and on bowing to the younger ladies, laughingly repeated his intention of bringing his cousin (an epithet he never omitted) Pendennyss to their feet.

"Do you think, sister," said Lady Moseley, after the earl had retired, "that Mr. Denbigh is of the house of Derwent?"

"I cannot say," replied Mrs. Wilson, musing, "yet it is odd,—Chatterton told me of his acquaintance with Lady Harriet Denbigh, but not with the duke."

As this was spoken in the manner of a soliloquy, it received no answer, and was in fact but little attended to by any of the party, excepting Emily, who glanced her eye once or twice at her aunt as she was speaking, with an interest the name of Denbigh never failed to excite. Harriet was, she thought, a pretty name, but Marian was a prettier; if, thought Emily, I could know a Marian Denbigh, I am sure I could love her, and her name too.

The Moseleys now began to make their preparations for their departure to L——, and the end of the succeeding week was fixed for the period at which they were to go. Mrs. Wilson urged a delay of two or three days, in order to give her an opportunity of meeting with the Earl of Pendennyss, a young man in whom, although she had relinquished her former romantic wish of uniting him to Emily, in favor of Denbigh, she yet felt a deep interest, growing out of his connection with the last moments of her husband, and his uniformly high character.

Sir Edward accordingly acquainted his uncle, that on the following Saturday he might expect to receive himself and family, intending to leave the hall in the afternoon of the preceding day, and reach Benfield Lodge to dinner. This arrangement once made, and Mr. Benfield notified of it, was unalterable, the old man holding a variation from an engagement a deadly sin. The week succeeding the accident which had nearly proved so fatal to Denbigh, the inhabitants of the hall were surprised with the approach of a being, as singular in his manners and dress as the equipage which conveyed him to the door of the house. The latter consisted of a high-backed, old-fashioned sulky, loaded with leather and large-headed brass nails; wheels at least a quarter larger in circumference than those of the present day, and wings on each side large enough to have supported a full grown roc in the highest regions of the upper air. It was drawn by a horse, once white, but whose milky hue was tarnished through age with large and numerous red spots, and whose mane and tail did not appear to have suffered by the shears during the present reign. The being who alighted from this antiquated vehicle was tall and excessively thin, wore his own hair drawn over his almost naked head into a long, thin queue, which reached half way down his back, closely cased in numerous windings of leather, or the skin of some fish. His drab coat was in shape between a frock and a close-body,—close-body, indeed, it was; for the buttons, which were in size about equal to an old-fashioned China saucer, were buttoned to the very throat, thereby setting off his shape to peculiar advantage; his breeches were buckskin, and much soiled; his stockings blue yarn, although it was midsummer; and his shoes were provided with buckles of dimensions proportionate to the aforesaid buttons; his age might have been seventy, but his walk was quick, and the movements of his whole system showed great activity both of mind and body. He was ushered into the room where the gentlemen were sitting; and having made a low and extremely modest bow, he deliberately put on his spectacles, thrust his hand into an outside pocket of his coat, and produced from under its huge flaps a black leathern pocket-book about as large as a good-sized octavo volume; after examining carefully the multitude of papers it contained, he selected a letter, and having returned the pocket-book to its ample apartment, read aloud,—

"For Sir Edward Moseley, Bart., of Moseley Hall, B——, Northamptonshire—with care and speed, by the hands of Mr. Peter Johnson, steward of Benfield Lodge, Norfolk;" and dropping his sharp voice, he stalked up to the baronet, and presented the epistle, with another reverence.

"Ah, my good friend, Johnson," said Sir Edward as soon as he delivered his errand (for until he saw the contents of the letter, he had thought some accident had occurred to his uncle), "this is the first visit you have ever honored me with; come, take a glass of wine before you go to your dinner; let us drink, that it may not be the last."

"Sir Edward Moseley, and you, honorable gentlemen will pardon me," replied the steward, in his own solemn key, "this is the first time I was ever out of his majesty's county of Norfolk, and I devoutly wish it may prove the last—Gentlemen, I drink your honorable healths."

This was the only real speech the old man made during his visit, unless an occasional monosyllabic reply to a question could be thought so. He remained, by Sir Edward's positive order, until the following day; for having delivered his message, and receiving its answer, he was about to take his departure that evening, thinking be might get a good piece on his road homewards, as it wanted half at hour to sunset. On the following morning, with the sun, he was on his way to the house in which he had been born, and which he had never left for twenty-four hours at a time in his life. In the evening, as he was ushered in by John (who had known him from his own childhood, and loved to show him attention) to the room in which he was to sleep, he broke what the young man called his inveterate silence, with, "Young Mr. Moseley—young gentleman—might I presume—to ask—to see the gentleman?"

"What gentleman?" cried John, astonished at the request, and at his speaking so much.

"That saved Miss Emmy's life, sir."

John now fully comprehended him, and led the way to Denbigh's room; he was asleep, but they were admitted to his bed-side. The steward stood for ten minutes gazing on the sleeper in silence; and John observed, as he blew his nose on regaining his own apartment, that his little gray eyes twinkled with a lustre which could not be taken for anything but a tear.

As the letter was as characteristic of the writer as its bearer was of his vocation, we may be excused giving it at length.

"Dear Sir Edward and Nephew,—

"Your letter reached the lodge too late to be answered that evening, as I was about to step into my bed; but I hasten to write my congratulations, remembering the often repeated maxim of my kinsman Lord Gosford, that letters should be answered immediately; indeed, a neglect of it had very nigh brought about an affair of honor between the earl and Sir Stephens Hallett. Sir Stephens was always opposed to us in the House of Commons of this realm; and I have often thought something might have passed in the debate itself, which commenced the correspondence, as the earl certainly told him as much as if he were a traitor to his King and country.

"But it seems that your daughter Emily has been rescued from death by the grandson of General Denbigh, who sat with us in the house. Now I always had a good opinion of this young Denbigh, who reminds me, every time I look of him, of my late brother, your father-in-law that was; and I send my steward, Peter Johnson, express to the hall, in order that he may see the sick man, and bring me back a true account how he fares: for should he be wanting for anything within the gift of Roderic Benfield, he has only to speak to have it; not that I suppose, nephew, you will willingly allow him to suffer for anything, but Peter is a man of close observation, although he is of few words, and may suggest something beneficial that might escape younger heads. I pray for—that is, I hope the young man will recover, as your letter gives great hopes; and if he should want any little matter to help him along in the army, as I take it he is not over wealthy, you have now a good opportunity to offer your assistance handsomely; and that it may not interfere with your arrangements for this winter, your draft on me for five thousand pounds will be paid at sight: for fear he may be proud, and not choose to accept your assistance, I have this morning detained Peter, while he has put a codicil to my will, leaving him ten thousand pounds. You may tell Emily she is a naughty child, or she would have written me the whole story; but, poor dear, I suppose she has other things on her mind just now. God bless Mr. —— that is, God bless you all, and try if you cannot get a lieutenant-colonelcy at once—the brother of Lady Juliana's friend was made a lieutenant-colonel at the first step. "Roderic Benfield."


The result of Peter's reconnoitering expedition has never reached our knowledge, unless the arrival of a servant some days after he took his leave, with a pair of enormous goggles, and which the old gentleman assured his nephew in a note, both Peter and himself had found useful to weak eyes in their occasional sickness, might have been owing to the prudent forecast of the sagacious steward.