Precaution/Chapter 21

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The morning on which Denbigh left B—— was a melancholy one to all the members of the little circle, in which he had been so distinguished for his modesty, his intelligence, and his disinterested intrepidity. Sir Edward took an opportunity solemnly to express his gratitude for the services he had rendered him, and having retired to his library, delicately and earnestly pressed his availing himself of the liberal offer of Mr. Benfield to advance his interest in the army.

"Look upon me, my dear Mr. Denbigh," said the good baronet, pressing him by the hand, while the tears stood in his eyes, "as a father, to supply the place of the one you have so recently lost. You are my child; I feel as a parent to you, and must be suffered to act as one."

To this affectionate offer of Sir Edward, Denbigh replied with an emotion equal to that of the baronet, though he declined, with respectful language, his offered assistance as unnecessary. He had friends powerful enough to advance his interests, without resorting to the use of money; and on taking Sir Edward's hand, as he left the apartment, he added with great warmth, "yet, my dear sir, the day will come, I hope, when I shall ask a boon from your hands, that no act of mine or a life of service could entitle me to receive."

The baronet smiled his assent to a request he already understood, and Denbigh withdrew.

John Moseley insisted on putting the bays in requisition to carry Denbigh for the first stage, and they now stood caparisoned for the jaunt, with their master in a less joyous mood than common, waiting the appearance of his companion.

Emily delighted in their annual excursion to Benfield Lodge. She was beloved so warmly, and returned the affection of its owner so sincerely, that the arrival of the day never failed to excite that flow of spirits which generally accompanies anticipated pleasures, ere experience has proved how trifling are the greatest enjoyments the scenes of this life bestow. Yet as the day of their departure drew near, her spirits sunk in proportion; and on the morning of Denbigh's leave-taking, Emily seemed anything but exclusively happy. There was a tremor in her voice and a redness about her eyes that alarmed Lady Moseley; but as the paleness of her cheeks was immediately succeeded by as fine a color as the heart could wish, the anxious mother allowed herself to be persuaded by Mrs. Wilson there was no danger, and she accompanied her sister to her own room for some purpose of domestic economy. It was at this moment Denbigh entered: he had paid his adieus to the matrons at the door, and been directed by them to the little parlor in quest of Emily.

"I have come to make my parting compliments, Miss Moseley," he said; in a tremulous voice, as he ventured to hold forth his hand. "May Heaven preserve you," he continued, holding it in fervor to his bosom: then dropping it, he hastily retired, as if unwilling to trust himself any longer to utter all he felt, Emily stood a few moments, pale and almost inanimate, as the tears flowed rapidly from her eyes, and then she sought a shelter in a seat of the window. Lady Moseley, on returning, was alarmed lest the draught would increase her indisposition; but her sister, observing that the window commanded a view of the road, thought the air too mild to do her injury.

The personages who composed the society at B—— had now, in a great measure, separated, in pursuit of their duties or their pleasures. The merchant and his family left the deanery for a watering-place. Francis and Clara had gone on a little tour of pleasure in the northern counties, to take L—— in their return homeward; and the morning arrived for the commencement of the baronet's journey to the same place. The carriages bad been ordered, and servants were running in various ways, busily employed in their several occupations, when Mrs. Wilson, accompanied by John and his sisters, returned from a walk they had taken to avoid the bustle of the house. A short distance from the park gates, an equipage was observed approaching, creating by its numerous horses and attendants a dust which drove the pedestrians to one side of the road. An uncommonly elegant and admirably fitted travelling barouche and six rolled by, with the graceful steadiness of an English equipage: several servants on horseback were in attendance; and our little party were struck with the beauty of the whole establishment.

"Can it be possible Lord Bolton drives such elegant horses?" cried John, with the ardor of a connoisseur in that noble animal. "They are the finest set in the kingdom."

Jane's eye had seen, through the clouds of dust, the armorial bearings, which seemed to float in the dark glossy panels of the carriage, and she observed, "It is an earl's coronet, but they are not the Bolton arms." Mrs. Wilson and Emily had noticed a gentleman reclining at his ease, as the owner of the gallant show; but its passage was too rapid to enable them to distinguish the features of the courteous old earl; indeed, Mrs. Wilson remarked, she thought him a younger man than her friend.

"Pray, sir," said John to a tardy groom, as he civilly walked his horse by the ladies, "who has passed in the barouche?"

"My Lord Pendennyss, sir."

"Pendennyss!" exclaimed Mrs. Wilson, with a tone of regret, "how unfortunate!"

She had seen the day named for his visit pass without his arrival, and now, as it was too late to profit by the opportunity, he had come for the second time into her neighborhood. Emily had learnt by the solicitude of her aunt, to take an interest in the young peer's movements, and desired John to ask a question or two of the groom.

"Where does your lord stop to-night?"

"At Bolton Castle, air; and I beard my lord tell his valet that he intended staying one day hereabouts, and the day after to-morrow he goes to Wales, your honor."

"I thank you, friend," said John: when the man spurred his horse after the cavalcade. The carriages were at the door, and Sir Edward had been hurrying Jane to enter, as a servant in rich livery and well mounted, galloped up and delivered a letter for Mrs. Wilson, who, on opening it, read the following:—

"The Earl of Pendennyss begs leave to present his most respectful compliments to Mrs. Wilson and the family of Sir Edward Moseley. Lord Pendennyss will have the honor of paying his respects in person at any moment that the widow of his late invaluable friend, Lieutenant-General Wilson, will please to appoint.

"Bolton Castle, Friday evening."

To this note Mrs. Wilson, bitterly regretting the necessity which compelled her to forego the pleasure of meeting her paragon, wrote in reply a short letter, disliking the formality of a note.

"My Lord,—I sincerely regret that an engagement which cannot be postponed compels us to leave Moseley Hall within the hour, and must, in consequence, deprive us of the pleasure of your intended visit. But as circumstances have connected your lordship with some of the dearest, although the most melancholy events of my life, I earnestly beg you will no longer consider us as strangers to your person, as we have long ceased to be to your character. It will afford me the greatest pleasure to hear that there will be a prospect of our meeting in town next winter, where I may find a more fitting opportunity of expressing those grateful feelings so long due to your lordship from your sincere friend, Charlotte Wilson.

"Moseley Hall, Friday morning."

With this answer the servant was despatched, and the carriages moved on. John had induced Emily to trust herself once more to the bays and bis skill; but on perceiving the melancholy of her aunt, she insisted on exchanging seats with Jane, who had accepted a place in the carnage of Mrs. Wilson. No objection being made, Mrs. Wilson and her niece rode the first afternoon together in her travelling chaise. The road ran within a mile of Bolton Castle, and the ladies endeavored in vain to get a glimpse of the person of the young nobleman. Emily was willing to gratify her aunt's propensity to dwell on the character and history of her favorite; and hoping to withdraw her attention gradually from more unpleasant recollections, asked several trifling questions relating to those points.

"The earl must be very rich, aunt, from the style he maintains."

"Very, my dear; his family I am unacquainted with, but I understand his title is an extremely ancient one; and some one, I believe Lord Bolton, mentioned that his estates in Wales alone, exceeded fifty thousand a year."

"Much good might be done," said Emily, thoughtfully, "with such a fortune."

"Much good is done," cried her aunt, with fervor. "I am told by every one who knows him, his donations are large and frequent. Sir Herbert Nicholson said he was extremely simple in his habits, and it leaves large sums at his disposal every year."

"The bestowal of money is not always charity," said Emily, with an arch smile and a slight color.

Mrs. Wilson smiled in her turn as she answered, "Not always, but it is charity to hope for the best."

"Sir Herbert knew him, then?" said Emily.

"Perfectly well; they were associated together in the service for several years, and he spoke of him with a fervor equal to my warmest expectations."

The 'Moseley Arms' in F—— was kept by an old butler of the family, and Sir Edward every year, in going to or coming from L——, spent a night under its roof. He was received by its master with a respect that none who ever knew the baronet well, could withhold from his goodness of heart and many virtues.

"Well, Jackson," said the baronet, kindly, as he was seated at the supper-table, "how does custom increase with you—I hope you and the master of the 'Dun Cow' are more amicable than formerly."

"Why, Sir Edward," replied the host, who had lost a little of the deference of the servant in the landlord, but none of his real respect, "Mr. Daniels and I are more upon a footing of late than we was, when your goodness enabled me to take the house; then he got all the great travellers, and for more than a twelvemonth I had not a title in my house but yourself and a great London doctor, that was called here to see a sick person in the town. He had the impudence to call me the knight barrow-knight, your honor, and we had a quarrel upon that account."

"I am glad, however, to find you are gaining in the rank of your customers, and trust, as the occasion has ceased, you will be more inclined to be good-natured to each other."

"Why, as to good-nature, Sir Edward, I lived with your honor ten years, and you must know somewhat of my temper," said Jackson, with the self-satisfaction of an approving conscience; "but Sam Daniels is a man who is never easy unless he is left quietly at the top of the ladder; however," continued the host, with a chuckle, "I have given him a dose lately."

"How so, Jackson?" inquired the baronet, willing to gratify the man's wish to relate his triumphs.

"Your honor must have heard mention made of a great lord, the Duke of Derwent; well, Sir Edward, about six weeks agone he passed through with my Lord Chatterton."

"Chatterton!" exclaimed John, interrupting him, "has he been so near us again, and so lately?"

"Yes, Mr. Moseley," replied Jackson with a look of importance: "they dashed into my yard with their chaise and four, with five servants, and would you think it, Sir Edward, they hadn't been in the house ten minutes, before Daniels' son was fishing from the servants, who they were; I told him, Sir Edward—dukes don't come every day."

"How came you to get his Grace away from the 'Dun Cow'—chance?"

"No, your honor," said the host, pointing to his sign, and bowing reverently to his old master, "the Moseley Arms did it. Mr. Daniels used to taunt me with having worn a livery, and has said more than once he could milk his cow, but that your honor's arms would never lift me into a comfortable seat for life; so I just sent him a message by the way of letting him know my good fortune, your honor."

"And what was it?"

"Only that your honor's arms had shoved a duke and a baron into my house—that's all."

"And I suppose Daniel's legs shoved your messenger out of his," said John, laughing.

"No, Mr. Moseley; Daniels would hardly dare do that; but yesterday, your honor, yesterday evening, beat everything. Daniels was seated before his door, and I was taking a pipe at mine, Sir Edward, as a coach and six, with servants upon servants, drove down the street; it got near us, and the boys were reining the horses into the yard of the 'Dun Cow,' as the gentleman in the coach saw my sign: he sent a groom to inquire who kept the house; I got up, your honor, and told him my name, sir. 'Mr. Jackson,' said his lordship, 'my respect for the family of Sir Edward Moseley is too great not to give my custom to an old servant of his family.'"

"Indeed," said the baronet: "pray who was my lord?"

"The Earl of Pendennyss, your honor. Oh, he is a sweet gentleman, and he asked all about my living with your honor, and about Madam Wilson."

"Did his lordship stay the night?" inquired Mrs. Wilson, excessively gratified at a discovery of the disposition manifested by the earl towards her.

"Yes, madam, he left here after breakfast."

"What message did you send the 'Dun Cow' this time, Jackson?" cried John.

Jackson looked a little foolish, but the question being repeated, he answered, "Why, sir, I was a little crowded for room, and so your honor, so I just sent Tom across the street, to know if Mr. Daniels couldn't keep a couple of the grooms."

"And Tom got his head broke."

"No, Mr. John, the tankard missed him; but if "—

"Very well," said the baronet, willing to change the conversation, "you have been so fortunate of late, you can afford to be generous; and I advise you to cultivate harmony with your neighbor, or I may take my arms down, and you may lose your noble visitors—see my room prepared."

"Yes, your honor," said the host, and bowing respectfully he withdrew.

"At least, aunt," cried John, pleasantly, "we have the pleasure of supping in the same room with the puissant earl, albeit there be twenty-four hours' difference in the time."

"I sincerely wish there had not been that difference," observed his father, taking his sister kindly by the hand.

"Such an equipage must have been a harvest indeed to Jackson," remarked the mother; as they broke up for the evening.

The whole establishment at Benfield Lodge, were drawn up to receive them on the following day in the great hall, and in the centre was fixed the upright and lank figure of its master, with his companion in leanness, honest Peter Johnson, on his right.

"I have made out, Sir Edward and my Lady Moseley, to get as far as my entrance, to receive the favor you are conferring upon me. It was a rule in my day, and one invariably practiced by all the great nobility, such as Lord Gosford—and—and—his sister, the lady Juliana Dayton, always to receive and quit their guests in the country at the great entrance; and in conformity—ah, Emmy dear," cried the old gentleman, folding her in his arms as the tears rolled down his cheeks, forgetting his speech in the warmth of his feeling, "You are saved to us again; God be praised—there, that will do, let me breathe—let me breathe;" and then by the way of getting rid of his softer feelings, he turned upon John; "so, youngster, you would be playing with edge tools, and put the life of your sister in danger. No gentleman held a gun in my day; that is, no gentleman about the court. My Lord Gosford had never killed a bird in his life, or drove his horse; no sir, gentlemen then were not coachmen. Peter, how old was I before I took the reins of the chaise, in driving round the estate—the time you broke your arm? it was"——

Peter, who stood a little behind his master, in modest retirement, and who had only thought his elegant form brought thither to embellish the show, when called upon, advanced a step, made a low bow, and answered in his sharp key:—

"In the year 1798, your honor, and the thirty-eighth of his present Majesty, and the sixty-fourth of your life, sir, June the 12th, about meridian."

Peter dropped back as he finished; but recollecting himself, regained his place with a bow, as he added, "new style."

"How are you, old style?" cried John, with a slap on the back, that made the steward jump again.

"Mr. John Moseley—young gentleman "—a term Peter had left off using to the baronet within the last ten years, "did you think—to bring home—the goggles?"

"Oh yes," said John, gravely, producing them from his pocket. Most of the party having entered the parlor, he put them carefully on the bald head of the steward—"There, Mr. Peter Johnson, you have your property again, safe and sound."

"And Mr. Denbigh said he felt much indebted to your consideration in sending them," said Emily, soothingly, as she took them off with her beautiful hands.

"Ah, Miss Emmy," said the steward, with one of his best bows, "that was—a noble act; God bless him!" then holding up his finger significantly, "the fourteenth codicil—to master's will," and Peter laid his finger alongside his nose, as he nodded his head in silence.

"I hope the thirteenth contains the name of honest Peter Johnson," said the young lady, who felt herself uncommonly well pleased with the steward's conversation.

"As witness, Miss Emmy—witness to all—but God forbid," said the steward with solemnity, "I should ever live to see the proving of them: no, Miss Emmy, master has done for me what he intended, while I had youth to enjoy it. I am rich, Miss Emmy—good three hundred a year." Emily, who had seldom heard so long a speech as the old man's gratitude drew from him, expressed her pleasure at hearing it, and shaking him kindly by the hand, left him for the parlor.

"Niece," said Mr. Benfield, having scanned the party closely with his eyes, "where is Colonel Denbigh?"

"Colonel Egerton, you mean, sir," interrupted Lady Moseley.

"No, my Lady Moseley," replied her uncle, with great formality, "I mean Colonel Denbigh. I take it he is a colonel by this time," looking expressively at the baronet; "and who is fitter to be a colonel or a general, than a man who is not afraid of gunpowder?"

"Colonels must have been scarce in your youth, sir," cried John, who had rather a mischievous propensity to start the old man on his hobby.

"No jackanapes, gentlemen killed one another then, although they did not torment the innocent birds: honor was as dear to a gentleman of George the Second's court, as to those of his grandson's, and honesty too, sirrah—aye, honesty. I remember when we were in, there was not a man of doubtful integrity in the ministry, or on our side even; and then again, when we went out, the opposition benches were filled with sterling characters, making a parliament that was correct throughout. Can you show me such a thing at this day?"