Precaution/Chapter 23

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CHAPTER XXIII.

At the appointed hour the carriage of Mrs. Wilson was ready to convey herself and niece to the cottage of Mrs. Fitzgerald. John was left behind, under the pretense of keeping Denbigh company in his morning avocations, but really because Mrs. Wilson doubted the propriety of his becoming a visiting acquaintance at the house, tenanted as the cottage was represented to be. John was too fond of his friend to make any serious objections, and was satisfied for the present by sending his compliments, and requesting his sister to ask permission for him to call in one of his morning excursions, in order to pay his personal respects.

They found the cottage a beautiful and genteel, though a very small and retired dwelling, almost hid by the trees and shrubs which surrounded it, and its mistress in its little veranda, expecting the arrival of Emily. Mrs. Fitzgerald was a Spaniard, under twenty, of a melancholy yet highly interesting countenance; her manners were soft and retiring, but evidently bore the impression of good company, if not of high life. She was extremely pleased with this renewal of attention on the part of Emily, and expressed her gratitude to both ladies for their kindness in seeking her out in her solitude. She presented her more matronly companion to them by the name of Donna Lorenza; and as nothing but good feeling prevailed, and useless ceremony was banished, the little party were soon on terms of friendly intercourse. The young widow (for such her dress indicated her to be), did the honors of her house with graceful ease, and conducted her visitors into her little grounds, which, together with the cottage, gave evident proofs of the taste and elegance of its occupant. The establishment she supported she represented as very small; two women and an aged man servant, with occasionally a laborer for her garden and shrubbery. They never visited; it was a resolution she had made on fixing her residence here, but if Mrs. Wilson and Miss Moseley would forgive the rudeness of not returning their call, nothing would give her more satisfaction than a frequent renewal of their visits. Mrs. Wilson took so deep an interest in the misfortunes of this young female, and was so much pleased with the modest resignation of her manner, that it required little persuasion on the part of the recluse to obtain a promise of soon repeating her visit. Emily mentioned the request of John, and Mrs. Fitzgerald received it with a mournful smile, as she replied that Mr. Moseley had laid her under such an obligation in their first interview, she could not deny herself the pleasure of again thanking him for it; but she must be excused if she desired they would limit their attendants to him, as there was but one gentleman in England whose visits she admitted, and it was seldom indeed he called; he had seen her but once since she had resided in Norfolk.

After giving a promise not to suffer any one else to accompany them, and promising an early call again, our ladies returned to Benfield Lodge in season to dress for dinner. On entering the drawing-room, they found the elegant person of Colonel Egerton leaning on the back of Jane's chair. He had arrived during their absence, and immediately sought the baronet's family. His reception, if not as warm as that given to Denbigh, was cordial from all but the master of the house; and even he was in such spirits by the company around him, and the prospects of Emily's marriage (which he considered as settled), that he forced himself to an appearance of good will he did not feel. Colonel Egerton was either deceived by his manner, or too much a man of the world to discover his suspicion, and everything in consequence was very harmoniously, if not sincerely, conducted between them.

Lady Moseley was completely happy. If she had the least doubts before, as to the intentions of Egerton, they were now removed. His journey to that unfashionable watering-place, was owing to his passion; and however she might at times have doubted as to Sir Edgar's heir, Denbigh she thought a man of too little consequence in the world, to make it possible he would neglect to profit by his situation in the family of Sir Edward Moseley. She was satisfied with both connections. Mr. Benfield had told her General Sir Frederic Denbigh was nearly allied to the Duke of Derwent, and Denbigh had said the general was his grandfather. Wealth, she knew Emily would possess from both her uncle and aunt; and the services of the gentleman had their due weight upon the feelings of the affectionate mother. The greatest of her maternal anxieties was removed, and she looked forward to the peaceful enjoyment of the remnant of her days in the bosom of her descendants. John, the heir of a baronetcy, and fifteen thousand pounds a year, might suit himself; and Grace Chatterton, she thought, would be likely to prove the future Lady Moseley. Sir Edward, without entering so deeply into anticipations of the future as his wife, experienced an equal degree of contentment; and it would have been a difficult task to discover in the island a roof, under which there resided at the moment more happy countenances than at Benfield Lodge; for as its master had insisted on Denbigh becoming au inmate, he was obliged to extend his hospitality in an equal degree to Colonel Egerton: indeed, the subject had been fully canvassed between him and Peter the morning of his arrival, and was near being decided against his admission, when the steward, who had picked up all the incidents of the arbor scene from the servants (and of course with many exaggerations), mentioned to his master that the colonel was very active, and that he even contrived to bring water to revive Miss Emmy, a great distance, in the hat of Captain Jarvis, which was full of holes, Mr. John having blown it off the head of the captain without hurting a hair, in firing at a woodcock. This mollified the master a little, and he agreed to suspend his decision for further observation. At dinner, the colonel, happening to admire the really handsome face of Lord Gosford, as delineated by Sir Joshua Reynolds, which graced the dining-room of Benfield Lodge, its master, in a moment of unusual kindness, gave the invitation ; it was politely accepted, and the colonel at once domesticated.

The face of John Moseley alone, at times, exhibited evidences of care and thought, and at such moments it might be a subject of doubt whether he thought the most of Grace Chatterton or her mother: if the latter, the former was sure to lose ground in his estimation; a serious misfortune to John, not to be able to love Grace without alloy. His letters from her brother mentioned his being still at Denbigh Castle, in Westmoreland, the seat of his friend the Duke of Derwent; and John thought one or two of his encomiums on Lady Harriet Denbigh, the sister of his Grace, augured that the unkindness of Emily might in time be forgotten. The dowager and her daughters were at the seat of a maiden aunt in Yorkshire, where, as John knew no male animal was allowed admittance, he was tolerably easy at the disposition of things. Nothing but legacy-hunting he knew would induce the dowager to submit to such a banishment from the other sex; but that was so preferable to husband-hunting he was satisfied. "I wish," said John mentally, as he finished the perusal of his letter, "mother Chatterton would get married herself, and she might let Kate and Grace manage for themselves. Kate would do very well, I dare say, and how would Grace make out!" John sighed, and whistled for Dido and Rover.

In the manners of Colonel Egerton there was the same general disposition to please, and the same unremitted attention to the wishes and amusements of Jane. They had renewed their poetical investigations, and Jane eagerly encouraged a taste which afforded her delicacy some little coloring for the indulgence of an association different from the real truth, and which, in her estimation, was necessary to her happiness. Mrs. Wilson thought the distance between the two suitors for the favor of her nieces was, if anything, increased by their short separation, and particularly noticed on the part of the colonel an aversion to Denbigh that at times painfully alarmed, by exciting apprehensions for the future happiness of the precious treasure she had prepared herself to yield to his solicitations, whenever properly proffered. In the intercourse between Emily and her preserver, as there was nothing to condemn, so there was much to admire. The attentions of Denbigh were pointed, although less exclusive than those of the colonel; and the aunt was pleased to observe that if the manners of Egerton had more of the gloss of life, those of Denbigh were certainly distinguished by a more finished delicacy and propriety. The one appeared the influence of custom and association, with a tincture of artifice; the other, benevolence, with a just perception of what was due to others, and with an air of sincerity, when speaking of sentiments and principles, that was particularly pleasing to the watchful widow. At times, however, she could not but observe an air of restraint, if not of awkwardness, about him that was a little surprising. It was most observable in mixed society, and once or twice her imagination pictured his sensations into something like alarm. These unpleasant interruptions to her admiration were soon forgotten in her just appreciation of the more solid parts of his character, which appeared literally to be unexceptionable; and when momentary uneasiness would steal over her, the remembrance of the opinion of Dr. Ives, his behavior with Jarvis, his charity, and chiefly his devotion to her niece, would not fail to drive the disagreeable thoughts from her mind. Emily herself moved about, the image of joy and innocence. If Denbigh were near her, she was happy; if absent, she suffered no uneasiness. Her feelings were so ardent, and yet so pure, that jealousy had no admission. Perhaps no circumstances existed to excite this usual attendant of the passion; but as the heart of Emily was more enchained than her imagination, her affections were not of the restless nature of ordinary attachments, though more dangerous to her peace of mind in the event of an unfortunate issue. With Denbigh she never walked or rode alone. He had never made the request, and her delicacy would have shrunk from such an open manifestation of her preference; but he read to her and her aunt; he accompanied them in their little excursions; and once or twice John noticed that she took the offered hand of Denbigh to assist her over any little impediment in their course, instead of her usual unobtrusive custom of taking his arm on such occasions. "Well, Miss Emily," thought John, "you appear to have chosen another favorite," on her doing this three times in succession in one of their walks. "How strange it is women will quit their natural friends for a face they have hardly seen." John forgot his own—"There is no danger, dear Grace," when his sister was almost dead with apprehension. But John loved Emily too well to witness her preference of another with satisfaction, even though Denbigh was the favorite; a feeling which soon wore away, however, by dint of custom and reflection. Mr. Benfield had taken it into his head that if the wedding of Emily could be solemnized while the family was at the lodge, it would render him the happiest of men; and how to compass this object, was the occupation of a whole morning's contemplation. Happily for Emily's blushes, the old gentleman harbored the most fastidious notions of female delicacy, and never in conversation made the most distant allusion to the expected connection. He, therefore, in conformity with these feelings, could do nothing openly; all must be the effect of management; and as he thought Peter one of the best contrivers in the world, to his ingenuity he determined to refer the arrangement.

The bell rang: "Send Johnson to me, David."

In a few minutes, the drab coat and blue yarn stockings entered his dressing-room with the body of Mr. Peter Johnson snugly cased within them.

"Peter," commenced Mr. Benfield, pointing kindly to a chair, which the steward respectfully declined, "I suppose you know that Mr. Denbigh, the grandson of General Denbigh, who was in parliament with me, is about to marry my little Emmy?"

Peter smiled, as he bowed an assent.

"Now, Peter, a wedding would, of all things, make me most happy; that is, to have it here in the lodge. It would remind me so much of the marriage of Lord Gosford, and the bridesmaids. I wish your opinion how to bring it about before they leave us. Sir Edward and Anne decline interfering, and Mrs. Wilson I am afraid to speak to on the subject."

Peter was not a little alarmed by this sudden requisition on his inventive faculties, especially as a lady was in the case; but, as he prided himself on serving his master, and loved the hilarity of a wedding in his heart, he cogitated for some time in silence, when, having thought a preliminary question or two necessary, he broke it with saying,—

"Everything, I suppose, master, is settled between the young people?"

"Everything, I take it, Peter."

"And Sir Edward and my lady?"

"Willing; perfectly willing."

"And Madam Wilson, sir?"

"Willing, Peter, willing."

"And Mr. John and Miss Jane?"

"All willing; the whole family is willing, to the best of my belief."

"There is the Rev. Mr. Ives and Mrs, Ives, master?"

"They wish it, I know. Don't you think they wish others as happy as themselves, Peter?"

"No doubt they do, master. Well, then, as everybody is willing, and the young people agreeable, the only thing to be done, sir, is"—

"Is what, Peter?" exclaimed his impatient master observing him to hesitate.

"Why, sir, to send for the priest, I take it."

"Pshaw! Peter Johnson, I know that myself," replied the dissatisfied old man. "Cannot you help me to a better plan?"

"Why, master," said Peter, "I would have done as well for Miss Emmy and your honor as I would have done tor myself. Now, sir, when I courted Patty Steele, your honor, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and sixty-five, I should have been married but for one difficulty, which your honor says is removed in the case of Miss Emmy."

"What was that, Peter?" asked his master, in a tender tone.

"She wasn't willing, sir."

"Very well, poor Peter," replied Mr. Benfield, mildly, "you may go." And the steward, bowing low, withdrew.

The similarity of their fortunes in love was a strong link in the sympathies which bound the master and man together, and the former never failed to be softened by an allusion to Patty. The want of tact in the man, on the present occasion, after much reflection, was attributed by his master to the fact that Peter had never sat in parliament.