Precaution/Chapter 29

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The day had not yet dawned, when John Moseley was summoned to take his seat in the mail for London. Three of the places were already occupied, and John was compelled to get a seat for his man on the outside. An intercourse with strangers is particularly irksome to an Englishman, and none appeared disposed, for a long time, to break the silence. The coach had left the little village of L—— far behind it, before any of the rational beings it contained thought it prudent or becoming to bend in the least to the charities of our nature, in a communication with a fellow-creature of whose name or condition he happened to be ignorant. This reserve is unquestionably characteristic of the nation; to what is it owing?—modesty? Did not national and deep personal vanity appear at once to refute the assertion, we might enter into an investigation of it. The good opinion of himself in an Englishman is more deeply seated, though less buoyant, than that of his neighbors; in them it is more of manner, in us more of feeling; and the wound inflicted on the self-love of the two is very different. The Frenchman wonders at its rudeness, but soon forgets the charge; while an Englishman broods over it in silence and mortification. It is said this distinction in character is owing to the different estimation of principles and morals in the two nations. The solidity and purity of our ethics and religious creeds may have given a superior tone to our moral feeling; but has that man a tenable ground to value himself on either, whose respect to sacred things grows out of a respect to himself: on the other hand, is not humility the very foundation of the real Christian? For our part, we should be glad to see this national reserve lessened, if not done entirely away; we believe it is founded in pride and uncharitableness, and could wish to see men thrown accidentally together on the roads of the country, mindful that they are also travelling in company the highway of life, and that the goal of their destination is equally attainable by all.

John Moseley was occupied with thoughts very different from those of any of his fellow-travellers, as they proceeded rapidly on their route; and it was only when roused from his meditations by accidentally coming in contact with the hilt of a sword, that he looked up, and in the glimmerings of the morning's light, recognized the person of Lord Henry Stapleton: their eyes met, and "My lord!" "Mr. Moseley!" were repeated in mutual surprise. John was eminently a social being, and he was happy to find recourse against his gloomy thoughts in the conversation of the dashing young sailor. The frigate of the other had entered the bay the night before, and he was going to town to the wedding of his sister; the coach of his brother the marquis was to meet him about twenty miles from town, and the ship was ordered round to Yarmouth, where he was to rejoin her.

"But how are your lovely sisters, Moseley?" cried the young sailor in a frank and careless manner. "I should have been half in love with one of them if I had time—and money; both are necessary to marriage nowadays, you know."

"As to time," said John with a laugh, "I believe that may be dispensed with, though money is certainly a different thing."

"Oh, time too," replied his lordship. "I have never time enough to do anything as it ought to be done—always hurried—I wish you could recommend to me a lady who would take the trouble off my hands."

"It might be done," said John with a smile, and the image of Kate Chatterton crossed his brain, but it was soon succeeded by that of her more lovely sister. "But how do you manage on board your ship—hurried there too?"

"Oh! never there," replied the captain gravely; "that's duty you know, and everything must be regular, of course; on shore it is a different thing—there I am only a passenger. L—— has a charming society, Mr. Moseley—a week or ten days ago I was shooting, and came to a beautiful cottage about five miles from the village, that was the abode of a much more beautiful woman, a Spaniard, a Mrs. Fitzgerald—I am positively in love with her: so soft, so polished, so modest"—

"How came you acquainted with her?" inquired Moseley, interrupting him in a little surprise.

"Chance, my dear fellow, chance. I was thirsty, and approached for a drink of water; she was sitting in the veranda, and being hurried for time, you know, it saved the trouble of introduction. I fancy she is troubled with the same complaint; for she managed to get rid of me in no time, and with a great deal of politeness. I found out her name, however, at the next house."

During this rattling talk, John had fixed his eyes on the face of one of the passengers who sat opposite to him. The stranger appeared to be about fifty years of age, strongly pock-marked, with a stiff military air, and had the dress and exterior of a gentleman. His face was much sunburnt, though naturally very fair; and his dark keen eye was intently fixed on the sailor as he continued his remarks.

"Do you know such a lady, Moseley?"

"Yes," said John, "though very slightly; she is visited by one of my sisters, and"—

"Yourself," cried Lord Henry, with a laugh.

"Myself, once or twice, my lord, certainly," answered John, gravely; "but a lady visited by Emily Moseley and Mrs. Wilson is a proper companion for any one. Mrs. Fitzgerald is very retired in her manner of living, and chance made us acquainted; but not being, like your lordship, in want of time, we have endeavored to cultivate her society, as we have found it very agreeable."

The countenance of the stranger underwent several changes during this speech of John's, and at its close his eyes rested on him with a softer expression than generally marked its rigid and compressed muscles. Willing to change a discourse that was growing too particular for a mail-coach, John addressed himself to the opposite passengers, while his eye yet dwelt on the face of the military stranger.

"We are likely to have a fine day, gentlemen." The soldier bowed stiffly, as he smiled his assent, and the other passenger humbly answered, "Very, Mr. John," in the well-known tones of honest Peter Johnson. Moseley started, as he turned his face for the first time on the lank figure which was modestly compressed into the smallest possible compass in the corner of the coach, in a way not to come in contact with any of its neighbors.

"Johnson!" exclaimed John, in astonishment, "you here! Where are you going—to London?"

"To London, Mr. John," replied Peter, with a look of much importance; and then, by way of silencing further interrogatories, he added, "On my master's business, sir."

Both Moseley and Lord Henry examined him closely; the former wondering what could take the steward, at the age of seventy, for the first time in his life, into the vortex of the capital; and the latter in admiration at the figure and equipments of the old man. Peter was in full costume, with the exception of the goggles, and was in reality a subject to be gazed at; but nothing relaxed the muscles or attracted the particular notice of the soldier, who, having regained his set form of countenance, appeared drawn up in himself, waiting patiently for the moment he was expected to act. Nor did he utter more than as many words in the course of the first fifty miles of their journey. His dialect was singular, and such as put his hearers at a loss to determine his country. Lord Henry stared at him every time he spoke, as if to say, what countryman are you? until at length he suggested to John he was some officer whom the downfall of Bonaparte had driven into retirement.

"Indeed, Moseley," he added, as they were about to resume their carriage after a change of horses, "we must draw him out, and see what he thinks of his master now—delicately, you know." The soldier was, however, imperious to his lordship's attacks, until the project was finally abandoned in despair. As Peter was much too modest to talk in the presence of Mr. John Moseley and a lord, the young men had most of the discourse to themselves. At a village fifteen miles from London, a fashionable carriage and four, with the coronet of a marquis, was in waiting for Lord Henry. John refused his invitation to take a seat with him to town; for he had traced Denbigh from stage to stage, and was fearful of losing sight of him, unless he persevered in the manner he had commenced. Peter and he accordingly were put down safely at an inn in the Strand, and Moseley hastened to make his inquiries after the object of his pursuit. Such a chaise had arrived an hour before, and the gentleman had ordered his trunk to a neighboring hotel. After obtaining the address, and ordering a hackney coach, he hastened to the house; but on inquiring for Mr. Denbigh, to his great mortification was told they knew of no such gentleman. John turned away from the person he was speaking to in visible disappointment, when a servant respectfully inquired if the gentleman had not come from L——, in Norfolk, that day. "He had," was the reply. "Then follow me, sir, if you please." They knocked at a door of one of the parlors, and the servant entered: he returned, and John was shown into a room, where Denbigh was sitting with his head resting on his hand, and apparently musing. On seeing who required admittance, he sprang from his seat and exclaimed,—

"Mr. Moseley! Do I see aright?"

"Denbigh," cried John, stretching out his hand to him, "was this kind—was it like yourself—to leave us so unexpectedly, and for so long a time, too, as your note mentioned?"

Denbigh waved his hand to the servant to retire, and handed a chair to his friend.

"Mr. Moseley," said he, struggling with his feelings, "you appear ignorant of my proposals to your sister."

"Perfectly," answered the amazed John.

"And her rejection of them."

"Is it possible!" cried the brother, pacing up and down the room. "I acknowledge I did expect you to offer, but not to be refused."

Denbigh placed in the other hand the letter of Emily, which, having read, John returned with a sigh. "This, then, is the reason you left us," he continued. "Emily is not capricious—it cannot be a sudden pique—she means as she says."

"Yes, Mr. Moseley," said Denbigh, mournfully; "your sister is faultless—but I am not worthy of her; my deception"—here the door again opened to the admission of Peter Johnson. Both the gentlemen rose at this sudden interruption, and the steward advancing to the table, once more produced the formidable pocket-book, the spectacles, and a letter. He ran over its direction; "For George Denbigh, Esquire, London, by the hands of Peter Johnson, with care and speed." After the observance of these preliminaries, he delivered the missive to its lawful owner, who opened it, and rapidly perused its contents. Denbigh was much affected with whatever the latter might be, and kindly took the steward by the hand, as he thanked him for this renewed instance of the interest he took in him. If he would tell him where a letter would find him in the morning, he would send a reply to the one he had received. Peter gave his address, but appeared unwilling to go, until assured again and again that the answer would be infallibly sent. Taking a small account book out of his pocket, and referring to its contents, the steward said, "Master has with Coutts & Co. seven thousand pounds; in the bank, five thousand pounds. It can be easily done, sir, and never felt by us." Denbigh smiled in reply, as he assured the steward he would take proper notice of his master's offers in his own answer. The door again opened, and the military stranger was admitted to their presence. He bowed, appeared not a little surprised to find two of his mail-coach companions there, and handed Denbigh a letter, in quite as formal, although in a more silent manner than the steward. The soldier was invited to be seated, and the letter was perused with an evident curiosity on the part of Denbigh. As soon as the latter ended it, he addressed the stranger in a language which John rightly judges to be Spanish, and Peter took to be Greek. For a few minutes the conversation was maintained between them with great earnestness, his fellow travellers marveling much at the garrulity of the soldier; however, the stranger soon rose to retire when the door was thrown open for the fourth time, and a voice cried out,—

"Here I am, George, safe and sound—ready to kiss the bridesmaids, if they will let me—and I can find time—bless me, Moseley!—old marling-spike!—general!—whew! where is the coachman and guard?"—it was Lord Henry Stapleton. The Spaniard bowed again in silence and withdrew, while Denbigh threw open the door of an adjoining room and excused himself, as he desired Lord Henry to walk in there for a few minutes.

"Upon my word," cried the heedless sailor, as he complied, "we might as well have stuck together, Moseley; we were bound to one port, it seems."

"You know Lord Henry?" said John, as he withdrew.

"Yes," said Denbigh, and he again required his address of Peter, which having been given, the steward departed. The conversation between the two friends did not return to the course it was taking when they were interrupted, as Moseley felt a delicacy in making any allusion to the probable cause of his sister's refusal. He had, however, begun to hope it was not irremovable, and with the determination of renewing his visit in the morning, he took his leave, to allow Denbigh to attend to his other guest, Lord Henry Stapleton.

About twelve on the following morning, John and the steward met at the door of the hotel where Denbigh lodged, in quest of the same person. The latter held in his hand the answer to his master's letter, but wished particularly to see its writer. On inquiring, to their mutual surprise they were told, that the gentleman had left there early in the morning, having discharged his lodgings, and that they were unable to say whither he had gone. To hunt for a man without a clue, in the city of London, is usually time misspent. Of this Moseley was perfectly sensible, and disregarding a proposition of Peter's, he returned to his own lodgings. The proposal of the steward, if it did not do much credit to his sagacity, was much in favor of his perseverance and enterprise. It was no other than that John should take one side of the street, and he the other, in order to inquire at every house in the place, until the fugitive was discovered. "Sir," said Peter, with great simplicity, "when our neighbor White lost his little girl, this was the way we found her, although we went nearly through L—— before we succeeded, Mr. John." Peter was obliged to abandon this expedient for want of an associate, and as no message was left at the lodgings of Moseley, he started with a heavy heart on his return to Benfield Lodge. But Moseley's zeal was too warm in the cause of his friend, notwithstanding his unmerited desertion, to discontinue the search for him. He sought out the town residence of the Marquis of Eltringham, the brother of Lord Henry, and was told that both the marquis and his brother had left town early that morning for his seat in Devonshire, to attend the wedding of their sister.

"Did they go alone?" asked John, musing.

"There were two chaises, the marquis's and his Grace's."

"Who was his Grace?" inquired John.

"Why the Duke of Derwent, to be sure."

"And the duke?—was he alone?"

"There was a gentleman with his Grace, but they did not know his name."

As nothing further could be learnt, John withdrew. A good deal of irritation mixed with the vexation of Moseley at his disappointment; for Denbigh, he thought, too evidently wished to avoid him. That he was the companion of his kinsman, the Duke of Derwent, he had now no doubt, and he entirely relinquished all expectations of finding him in London or its environs. While retracing his steps in no enviable state of mind to his lodgings, with a resolution of returning immediately to L——, his arm was suddenly taken by his friend Chatterton. If any man could have consoled John at that moment, it was the baron. Questions and answers were rapidly exchanged between them; and with increased satisfaction, John learnt that in the next square, he could have the pleasure of paying his respects to his kinswoman, the Dowager Lady Chatterton and her two daughters. Chatterton inquired warmly after Emily, and in a particularly kind manner concerning Mr. Denbigh, hearing with undisguised astonishment the absence of the latter from the Moseley family.

Lady Chatterton had disciplined her feelings upon the subject of Grace and John into such a state of subordination, that the fastidious jealousy of the young man now found no ground of alarm in anything she said or did. It cannot be denied the dowager was delighted to see him again; and if it were fair to draw any conclusions from coloring, palpitations, and other such little accompaniments of female feeling, Grace was not excessively sorry. It is true, it was the best possible opportunity to ascertain all about her friend Emily and the rest of the family; and Grace was extremely happy to have intelligence of their general welfare so direct as was afforded by this visit of Mr. Moseley. Grace looked all she expressed, and possibly a little more; and John thought she looked very beautiful.

There was present an elderly gentleman, of apparently indifferent health, although his manners were extremely lively, and his dress particularly studied. A few minutes' observation convinced Moseley this gentleman was a candidate for the favor of Kate; and a game of chess being soon introduced, he also saw he was one thought worthy of peculiar care and attention. He bad been introduced to him as Lord Herriefield, and soon discovered by his conversation that he was a peer who promised little towards rendering the house of incurables more convalescent than it was before his admission. Chatterton mentioned him as a distant connection of his mother; a gentleman who had lately returned from filling an official situation in the East Indies, to take his seat among the lords by the death of his brother. He was a bachelor, and reputed rich, much of his wealth being personal property, acquired by himself abroad. The dutiful son might have added, if respect and feeling had not kept him silent, that his offers of settling a large jointure upon his elder sister had been accepted, and that the following week was to make her the bride of the emaciated debauchee who now sat by her side. He might also have said, that when the proposition was made to himself and Grace, both had shrunk from the alliance with disgust; and that both had united in humble though vain remonstrances to their mother, against the sacrifice, and in petitions to their sister, that she would not be accessary to her own misery. There was no pecuniary sacrifice they would not make to her, to avert such a connection; but all was fruitless—Kate was resolved to be a viscountess, and her mother was equally determined that she should be rich.