Precaution/Chapter 22

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

A few days after the arrival of the Moseleys at the lodge, John drove his sisters to the little village of L——, which at that time was thronged with an unusual number of visitors. It had, among other fashionable arrangements for the accommodation of its guests, one of those circulators of good and evil, a public library. Books are, in a great measure, the instruments of controlling the opinions of a nation like ours. They are an engine, alike powerful to save or to destroy. It cannot be denied, that our libraries contain as many volumes of the latter, as the former description; for we rank amongst the latter that long catalogue of idle productions, which, if they produce no other evil, lead to the mispending of time, our own perhaps included. But we cannot refrain expressing our regret, that such formidable weapons in the cause of morality should be suffered to be wielded by any indifferent or mercenary dealer, who undoubtedly will consult rather the public tastes than the private good: the evil may be remediless, yet we love to express our sentiments, though we should suggest nothing new or even profitable. Into one of these haunts of the idle, then, John Moseley entered with a lovely sister leaning on either arm. Books were the entertainers of Jane, and instructors of Emily. Sir Edward was fond of reading of a certain sort—that which required no great depth of thought, or labor of research; and, like most others who are averse to contention, and disposed to be easily satisfied, the baronet sometimes found he had harbored opinions on things not exactly reconcilable with the truth, or even with each other. It is quite as dangerous to give up your faculties to the guidance of the author you are perusing, as it is unprofitable to be captiously scrutinizing every syllable he may happen to advance; and Sir Edward was, if anything, a little inclined to the dangerous propensity. Unpleasant, Sir Edward Moseley never was. Lady Moseley very seldom took a book in her hand: her opinions were established to her own satisfaction on all important points, and on the minor ones, she made it a rule to coincide with the popular feeling. Jane had a mind more active than her father, and more brilliant than her mother; and if she had not imbibed injurious impressions from the unlicensed and indiscriminate reading she practiced, it was more owing to the fortunate circumstance that the baronet's library contained nothing extremely offensive to a pure taste, nor dangerous to good morals, than to any precaution of her parents against the deadly, the irretrievable injury to be sustained from ungoverned liberty in this respect to a female mind. On the other hand, Mrs. Wilson had inculcated the necessity of restraint, in selecting the books for her perusal, so strenuously on her niece, that what at first had been the effects of obedience and submission, had now settled into taste and habit; and Emily seldom opened a book, unless in search of information; or if it were the indulgence of a less commendable spirit, it was an indulgence chastened by a taste and judgment that lessened the danger, if it did not entirely remove it.

The room was filled with gentlemen and ladies; and while John was exchanging his greetings with several of the neighboring gentry of his acquaintance, his sisters were running hastily over a catalogue of the books kept for circulation, as an elderly lady, of foreign accent and dress, entered; and depositing a couple of religious works on the counter, she inquired for the remainder of the set. The peculiarity of her idiom and her proximity to the sisters, caused them both to look up at the moment, and to the surprise of Jane, her sister uttered a slight exclamation of pleasure. The Foreigner was attracted by the sound, and after a moment's hesitation, she respectfully courtesied. Emily, advancing, kindly offered her hand, and the usual inquiries after each other's welfare succeeded. To the questions asked after the friend of the matron, Emily learnt, with some surprise, and no less satisfaction, that she resided in a retired cottage, about five miles from L——, where they had been for the last six months, and where they expected to remain for some time, "until she could prevail on Mrs. Fitzgerald to return to Spain; a thing, now there was peace, of which she did not despair." After asking leave to call on them in their retreat, and exchanging good wishes, the Spanish lady withdrew, and, as Jane had made her selection, was followed immediately by John Moseley and his sisters. Emily, in their walk home, acquainted her brother, that the companion of their Bath incognita had been at the library, and that for the first time she had learnt that their young acquaintance was, or had been, married, and her name. John listened to his sister with the interest which the beautiful Spaniard had excited at the time they first met, and laughingly told her he could not believe their unknown friend had ever been a wife. To satisfy this doubt, and to gratify a wish they both had to renew their acquaintance with the foreigner, they agreed to drive to the cottage the following morning, accompanied by Mrs. Wilson and Jane, if she would go; but the next day was the one appointed by Egerton for his arrival at L——, and Jane, under a pretense of writing letters, declined the excursion. She had carefully examined the papers since his departure; had seen his name included in the arrivals at London; and at a later day, had read an account of the review by the commander-in-chief of the regiment to which he belonged. He had never written to any of her friends; but, judging from her own feelings, she did not in the least doubt he would be as punctual as love could make him. Mrs. Wilson listened to her niece's account of the unexpected interview in the library, with pleasure, and cheerfully promised to accompany them in their morning's excursion, as she had both a wish to alleviate sorrow, and a desire to better understand the character of this accidental acquaintance of Emily's.

Mr. Benfield and the baronet bad a long conversation in relation to Denbigh's fortune the morning after their arrival; and the old man was loud in his expression of dissatisfaction at the youngster's pride. As the baronet, however, in the fullness of his affection and simplicity, betrayed to his uncle his expectation of a union between Denbigh and his daughter, Mr. Benfield became contented with this reward; one fit, he thought, for any services. On the whole, "it was best, as he was to marry Emmy, he should sell out of the army; and as there would be an election soon, he would bring him into parliament—yes—yes—it did a man so much good to sit one term in the parliament of this realm—to study human nature. All his own knowledge in that way was raised on the foundations laid in the House." To this Sir Edward cordially assented, and the gentlemen separated, happy in their arrangements to advance the welfare of two beings they so sincerely loved.

Although the care and wisdom of Mrs. Wilson had prohibited the admission of any romantic or enthusiastic expectations of happiness into the day-dreams of her charge, yet the buoyancy of health, of hope, of youth, of innocence, had elevated Emily to a height of enjoyment hitherto unknown to her usually placid and disciplined pleasures. Denbigh certainly mingled in most of her thoughts, both of the past and the future, and she stood on the threshold of that fantastic edifice in which Jane ordinarily resided. Emily was in the situation perhaps the most dangerous to a young female Christian: her heart, her affections, were given to a man, to appearance, every way worthy of possessing them, it is true; but she had admitted a rival in her love to her Maker; and to keep those feelings distinct, to bend the passions in due submission to the more powerful considerations of endless duty, of unbounded gratitude, is one of the most trying struggles of Christian fortitude. We are much more apt to forget our God in prosperity than adversity. The weakness of human nature drives us to seek assistance in distress; but vanity and worldly-mindedness often induce us to imagine we control the happiness we only enjoy.

Sir Edward and Lady Moseley could see nothing in the prospect of the future but lives of peace and contentment for their children. Clara was happily settled, and her sisters were on the eve of making connections with men of family, condition, and certain character. What more could be done for them? They must, like other people, take their chances in the lottery of life; they could only hope and pray for their prosperity, and this they did with great sincerity. Not so Mrs. Wilson: she had guarded the invaluable charge intrusted to her keeping with too much assiduity, too keen an interest, too just a sense of the awful responsibility she had undertaken, to desert her post at the moment watchfulness was most required. By a temperate, but firm and well-chosen conversation, she kept alive the sense of her real condition in her niece, and labored hard to prevent the blandishments of life from supplanting the lively hope of enjoying another existence. She endeavored, by her pious example, her prayers, and her judicious allusions, to keep the passion of love in the breast of Emily secondary to the more important object of her creation; and, by the aid of a kind and Almighty Providence, her labors, though arduous, were crowned with success.

As the family were seated round the table after dinner, on the day of their walk to the library, John Moseley, awakening from a reverie, exclaimed suddenly,—

"Which do you think the handsomest, Emily,—Grace Chatterton or Miss Fitzgerald?

"Emily laughed, as she answered, "Grace, certainly; do you not think so, brother?"

"Yes, on the whole; but don't you think Grace looks like her mother at times?"

"Oh no, she is the image of Chatterton."

"She is very like yourself, Emmy dear," said Mr. Benfield, who was listening to their conversation.

"Me, dear uncle; I have never heard it remarked before."

"Yes, yes, she is as much like you as she can stare. I never saw as great a resemblance, excepting between you and Lady Juliana—Lady Juliana, Emmy, was a beauty in her day; very like her uncle, old Admiral Griffin—you can't remember the admiral—he lost an eye in a battle with the Dutch, and part of his cheek in a frigate, when a young man, fighting the Dons. Oh, he was a pleasant old gentleman; many a guinea has he given me when I was a boy at school."

"And he looked like Grace Chatterton, uncle, did he?" asked John, innocently.

"No, sir, he did not; who said he looked like Grace Chatterton, jackanapes?"

"Why, I thought you made it out, sir: but perhaps it was the description that deceived me—his eye and cheek, uncle."

"Did Lord Gosford leave children, uncle?" inquired Emily, throwing a look of reproach at John.

"No, Emmy dear; his only child, a son, died at school. I shall never forget the grief of poor Lady Juliana. She postponed a visit to Bath three weeks on account of it. A gentleman who was paying his addresses to her at the time, offered then, and was refused—indeed, her self-denial raised such an admiration of her in the men, that immediately after the death of young Lord Dayton no less than seven gentlemen offered and were refused in one week. I heard Lady Juliana say that what between lawyers and suitors she had not a moment's peace."

"Lawyers?" cried Sir Edward: "what had she to do with lawyers?"

"Why, Sir Edward, six thousand a year fell to her by the death of her nephew; and there were trustees and deeds to be made out—poor young woman, she was so affected, Emmy, I don't think she went out for a week—all the time at home reading papers and attending to her important concerns. Oh! she was a woman of taste; her mourning, and liveries, and new carriage, were more admired than those of any one about the court. Yes, yes, the title is extinct; I know of none of the name now. The earl did not survive his loss but six years, and the countess died broken-hearted, about a twelvemonth before him."

"And Lady Juliana, uncle," inquired John, "what became of her? did she marry?"

The old man helped himself to a glass of wine, and looked over his shoulder to see if Peter was at hand. Peter, who had been originally butler, and had made it a condition of his preferment that whenever there was company he should be allowed to preside at the sideboard, was now at his station. Mr. Benfield, seeing his old friend near him, ventured to talk on a subject he seldom trusted himself with in company.

"Why, yes—yes—she did marry, it's true, although she did tell me she intended to die a maid; but—hem—I suppose—hem—it was compassion for the old viscount, who often said he could not live without her; and then it gave her the power of doing so much good, a jointure of five thousand a year added to her own income: yet—hem—I do confess I did not think she would have chosen such an old and infirm man—but, Peter, give me a glass of claret." Peter handed the claret, and the old man proceeded: "They say he was very cross to her, and that, no doubt, must have made her unhappy, she was so very tender-hearted."

How much longer the old gentleman would have continued in this strain, it is impossible to say; but he was interrupted by the opening of the parlor door, and the sudden appearance on its threshold of Denbigh. Every countenance glowed with pleasure at this unexpected return of their favorite; and but for the prudent caution of Mrs. Wilson, in handing a glass of water to her niece, the surprise might have proved too much for her. The salutations of Denbigh were returned by the different members of the family with a cordiality that must have told him how much he was valued by all its branches; and after briefly informing them that his review was over, and that he had thrown himself into a chaise and travelled post until he had rejoined them, he took his seat by Mr. Benfield, who received him with a marked preference, exceeding that which he had shown to any man who had ever entered his doors, Lord Gosford himself not excepted. Peter removed from his station behind his master's chair to one where he could face the new comer; and after wiping his eyes until they filled so rapidly with water that at last he was noticed by the delighted John to put on the identical goggles which his care had provided for Denbigh in his illness. His laugh drew the attention of the rest to the honest steward, and when Denbigh was told this was Mr. Benfield's ambassador to the hall, he rose from his chair, and taking the old man by the hand, kindly thanked him for his thoughtful consideration for his weak eyes.

Peter took the offered hand in both his own, and after making one or two unsuccessful efforts to speak, he uttered, "Thank you, thank you; may Heaven bless you," and burst into tears. This stopped the laugh, and John followed the steward from the room, while his master exclaimed, wiping his eyes, "Kind and condescending; just such another as my old friend, the Earl of Gosford."