Precaution/Chapter 31

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The sun had just risen on one of the loveliest vales of Caernarvonshire, as a travelling chaise and six swept up to the door of a princely mansion, so situated as to command a prospect of the fertile and extensive domains, the rental of which filled the coffers of its rich owner, having a beautiful view of the Irish Channel in the distance.

Everything around this stately edifice bespoke the magnificence of its ancient possessors and the taste of its present master. It was irregular, but built of the best materials, and in the tastes of the different ages in which its various parts had been erected; and now in the nineteenth century it preserved the baronial grandeur of the thirteenth, mingled with the comforts of the later period.

The lofty turrets of its towers were tipt with the golden light of the sun, and the neighboring peasantry had commenced their daily labors, as the different attendants of the equipage we have mentioned collected around it at the great entrance of the building. The beautiful black horses, with coats as shining as the polished leather with which they were caparisoned, the elegant and fashionable finish of the vehicle, with its numerous grooms, postillions, and footmen, all wearing the livery of one master, gave evidence of wealth and rank.

In attendance there were four outriders, walking leisurely about, awaiting the appearance of those for whose comforts and pleasures they were kept to contribute; while a fifth, who, like the others, was equipped with a horse, appeared to bear a doubtful station. The form of the latter was athletic, and apparently drilled into a severer submission than could be seen in the movements of the liveried attendants; his dress was peculiar, being neither quite menial nor quite military, but partaking of both characters. His horse was heavier and better managed than those of the others, and by its side was a charger, that was prepared for the use of no common equestrian. Both were coal-black, as were all the others of the cavalcade; but the pistols of the two latter, and housings of their saddles, bore the aspect of use and elegance united.

The postillions were mounted, listlessly waiting the pleasure of their superiors; when the laughs and jokes of the menials were instantly succeeded by a respectful and profound silence, as a gentleman and lady appeared on the portico of the building. The former was a young man of commanding stature and genteel appearance; and his air, although that of one used to command, was softened by a character of benevolence and gentleness, that might be rightly supposed to give birth to the willing alacrity with which all his requests or orders were attended to.

The lady was also young, and resembled her companion both in features and expression, for both were noble, both were handsome. The former was attired for the road; the latter had thrown a shawl around her elegant form, and by her morning dress showed that a separation of the two was about to happen. Taking the hand of the gentleman with both her own, as she pressed it with fingers interlocked, the lady said, in a voice of music, and with great affection,—

"Then, my dear brother, I shall certainly hear from you within the week, and see you next?"

"Certainly," replied the gentleman, as he tenderly paid his adieus; then throwing himself into the chaise, it dashed from the door, like the passage of a meteor. The horsemen followed; the unridden charger, obedient to the orders of his keeper, wheeled gracefully into his station; and in an instant they were all lost amidst the wood, through which the road to the park gates conducted.

After lingering without until the last of her brother's followers had receded from her sight, the lady retired through ranks of liveried footmen and maids, whom curiosity or respect had collected.

The young traveller wore a gloom on his expressive features, amidst the pageantry that surrounded him, which showed the insufficiency of wealth and honors to fill the sum of human happiness. As his carriage rolled proudly up an eminence ere he had reached the confines of his extensive park, his eye rested, for a moment, on a scene in which meadows, forests, fields waving with golden corn, comfortable farm-houses surrounded with innumerable cottages, were seen, in almost endless variety. All these owned him for their lord, and one quiet smile of satisfaction beamed on his face as he gazed on the unlimited view. Could the heart of that youth have been read, it would at that moment have told a story very different from the feelings such a scene is apt to excite; it would have spoken the consciousness of well applied wealth, the gratification of contemplating meritorious deeds, and a heartfelt gratitude to the Being which had enabled him to become the dispenser of happiness to so many of his fellow-creatures.

"Which way, my lord, so early?" cried a gentleman in a phaeton, as be drew up, on his way to a watering-place to pay his own parting compliments.

"To Eltringham, Sir Owen, to attend the marriage of my kinsman, Mr. Denbigh, to one of the sisters of the marquis."

A few more questions and answers, and the gentlemen, exchanging friendly adieus, pursued each his own course; Sir Owen Ap Rice pushing forward for Cheltenham, and the Earl of Pendennyss proceeding to act as groomsman to his cousin.

The gates of Eltringham were open to the admission of many an equipage on the following day, and the heart of the Lady Laura beat quick, as the sound of wheels, at different times, reached her ears. At last an unusual movement in the house drew her to a window of her dressing-room and the blood rushed to her heart as she beheld the equipages which were rapidly approaching, and through the mist which stole over her eyes she saw alight from the first, the Duke of Derwent and the bridegroom. The next contained Lord Pendennyss, and the last the Bishop of ——. Lady Laura waited to see no more, but with a heart filled with terror, hope, joy, and uneasiness, she threw herself into the arms of one of her sisters.

"Ah!" exclaimed Lord Henry Stapleton, about a week after the wedding of his sister, seizing John suddenly by the arm, while the latter was taking his morning walk to the residence of the dowager Lady Chatterton, "Moseley, you dissipated youth, in town yet: you told me you should stay but a day, and here I find you at the end of a fortnight."

John blushed a little at the consciousness of his reason for sending a written, instead of carrying a verbal report, of the result of his journey, but replied,—

"Yes, my friend Chatterton unexpectedly arrived, and so—and so"—

"And so you did not go, I presume you mean," cried Lord Henry, with a laugh.

"Yes," said John, "and so I stayed—but where is Denhigh?"

"Where?—why with his wife, where every well-behaved man should be, especially for the first month," rejoined the sailor, gayly.

"Wife!" echoed John, as soon as he felt able to give utterance to his words, "wife! is he married?"

"Married!" cried Lord Henry, imitating his manner, "are you yet to learn that? why did you ask for him?"

"Ask for him!" said Moseley, yet lost in astonishment; "but when—how—where did he marry—my lord?"

Lord Henry looked at him for a moment with a surprise little short of his own, as he answered more gravely:—

"When? last Tuesday; how? by special license, and the Bishop of ——; where? at Eltringham: yes, my dear follow," continued he, with his former gayety, "George is my brother now—and a fine fellow he is."

"I really wish your lordship much joy," said John, struggling to command his feelings.

"Thank you—thank you," replied the sailor; "a jolly time we had of it, Moseley. I wish, with all my heart, you had been there; no bolting or running away as soon as spliced, but a regularly constructed, old-fashioned wedding; all my doings. I wrote Laura that time was scarce, and I had none to throw away on fooleries; so dear, good soul, she consented to let me have everything my own way. We had Derwent and Pendennyss, the marquis, Lord William, and myself, for groomsmen, and my three sisters—ah, that was bad, but there was no helping it—Lady Harriet Denbigh, and an old maid, a cousin of ours, for bridesmaids; could not help the old maid either, upon my honor, or be quite certain I would."

How much of what he said Moseley heard, we cannot say; for had he talked an hour longer he would have been uninterrupted. Lord Henry was too much engaged with his description to notice his companion's taciturnity or surprise, and after walking a square or two together they parted; the sailor being on the wing for his frigate at Yarmouth.

John continued his course, musing on the intelligence he had just heard. That Denbigh could forget Emily so soon, he would not believe, and he greatly feared he had been driven into a step, from despair, that he might hereafter repent of. The avoiding of himself was now fully explained; but would Lady Laura Stapleton accept a man for a husband at so short a notice? and for the first time a suspicion that something in the character of Denbigh was wrong, mingled in his reflections on his sister's refusal of his offers.

Lord and Lady Herriefield were on the eve of their departure for the continent (for Catherine had been led to the altar the preceding week), a southern climate having been prescribed as necessary to the bridegroom's constitution; and the dowager and Grace were about to proceed to a seat of the baron's within a couple of miles of Bath. Chatterton himself had his own engagements, but he promised to be there in company with his friend Derwent within a fortnight; the farmer visit having been postponed by the marriages in their respective families.

John had been assiduous in his attentions during the season of forced gayety which followed the nuptials of Kate; and as the dowager's time was monopolized with the ceremonials of that event, Grace had risen greatly in his estimation. If Grace Chatterton was not more miserable than usual, at what she thought was the destruction of her sister's happiness, it was owing to the presence and unconcealed affection of John Moseley.

The carriage of Lord Herriefield was in waiting when John rang for admittance. On opening the door and entering the drawing-room, he saw the bride and bridegroom, with their mother and sister, accoutered for an excursion amongst the shops of Bond Street: for Kate was dying to find a vent for some of her surplus pin-money—her husband to show his handsome wife in the face of the world—the mother to display the triumph of her matrimonial schemes. And Grace was forced to obey her mother's commands, in accompanying her sister as an attendant, not to be dispensed with at all in her circumstances.

The entrance of John at that instant, though nothing more than what occurred every day at that hour, deranged the whole plan: the dowager, for a moment, forgot her resolution, and forgot the necessity of Grace's appearance, exclaiming with evident satisfaction,—

"Here is Mr. Moseley come to keep you company, Grace; so, after all, you must consult your headache and stay at home. Indeed, my love, I never can consent you should go out. I not only wish, but insist you remain within this morning."

Lord Herriefield looked at his mother-in-law in some surprise, and threw a suspicious glance on his own rib at the moment, which spoke as plainly as looks can speak,—

"Is it possible I have been taken in after all!"

Grace was unused to resist her mother's commands, and throwing off her hat and shawl, reseated herself with more composure than she would probably have done, had not the attentions of Moseley been more delicate and pointed of late than formerly.

As they passed the porter, Lady Chatterton observed to him, significantly, "Nobody at home, Willis." "Yes, my lady" was the laconic reply, and Lord Herriefield, as he took his seat by the side of his wife in the carriage, thought she was not as handsome as usual.

Lady Chatterton that morning unguardedly laid the foundation of years of misery for her eldest daughter or rather the foundations were already laid in the ill-sorted, and heartless, unprincipled union she had labored with success to effect. But she had that morning stripped the mask from her own character prematurely, and excited suspicions in the breast of her son-in-law, which time only served to confirm, and memory to brood over.

Lord Herriefield had been too long in the world not to understand all the ordinary arts of match-makers and match-hunters. Like most of his own sex who have associated freely with the worst part of the other, his opinions of female excellences were by no means extravagant or romantic. Kate had pleased his eye; she was of a noble family; young, and at that moment interestingly quiet, having nothing particularly in view. She had a taste of her own, and Lord Herrifield was by no means in conformity with it; consequently, she expended none of those pretty little arts upon him which she occasionally practiced, and which his experience would immediately have detected. Her disgust he had attributed to disinterestedness; and as Kate had fixed her eye on a young officer lately returned from France, and her mother on a duke who was mourning the death of a third wife, devising means to console him with a fourth—the viscount had got a good deal enamored with the lady, before either she or her mother took any particular notice that there was such a being in existence. This title was not the most elevated, but it was ancient. His paternal acres were not numerous, but his East India shares were. He was not very young, but he was not very old; and as the duke died of a fit of the gout in the stomach, and the officer ran away with a girl in her teens from a boarding-school, the dowager and her daughter, after thoroughly scanning the fashionable world, determined, for want of a better, that he would do.

It is not to be supposed that the mother and child hold any open communications with each other to this effect. The delicacy and pride of both would have been greatly injured by such a suspicion; yet they arrived simultaneously at the same conclusion, as well as at another of equal importance to the completion of their schemes on the viscount. It was simply to adhere to the same conduct which had made him a captive, as most likely to insure the victory.

There was such a general understanding between the two it can excite no surprise that they cooperated harmoniously as it were by signal.

For two people, correctly impressed with their duties and responsibilities, to arrive at the same conclusion in the government of their conduct, would be merely a matter of course; and so with those who are more or less under the dominion of the world. They will pursue their plans with a degree of concurrence amounting nearly to sympathy; and thus had Kate and her mother, until this morning, kept up the masquerade so well that the viscount was as confiding as a country Corydon. When he first witnessed the dowager's management with Grace and John, however, and his wife's careless disregard of a thing which appeared too much a matter of course to be quite agreeable, his newly awakened distrust approached conviction.

Grace Chatterton both sang and played exquisitely; it was, however, seldom she could sufficiently overcome her desire, when John was an auditor, to appear to advantage.

As the party went down stairs, and Moseley had gone with them part of the way, she threw herself unconsciously on a seat, and began a beautiful song, that was fashionable at the time. Her feelings were in consonance with the words, and Grace was very happy both in execution and voice.

John had reached the back of her seat before she was at all sensible of his return, and Grace lost her self-command immediately. She rose and took a seat on a sofa, and the young man was immediately at her side.

"Ah, Grace," said John, the lady's heart beating high, "you certainly do sing as you do everything, admirably."

"I am happy you think so, Mr. Moseley," returned Grace looking everywhere but in his face.

John's eyes ran over her beauties, as with palpitating bosom and varying color she sat confused at the unusual warmth of his language and manner.

Fortunately a remarkably striking likeness of the dowager hung directly over their heads, and John taking her unresisting hand, continued,—

"Dear Grace, you resemble your brother very much in features, and what is better still, in character."

"I could wish," said Grace, venturing to look up, "to resemble your sister Emily in the latter."

"And why not to be her sister, dear Grace?" said he with ardor. "You are worthy to become her sister. Tell me, Grace, dear Miss Chatterton—can you—will you make me the happiest of men? may I present another inestimable daughter to my parents?"

As John paused for an answer, Grace looked up, and he waited her reply in evident anxiety; but she continued silent, now pale as death, and now of the color of the rose, and he added:—

"I hope I have not offended you, dearest Grace: you are all that is desirable to me; my hopes, my happiness, are centered in you. Unless you consent to become my wife, I must be very wretched."

Grace burst into a flood of tears, as her lover, interested deeply in their cause, gently drew her towards him. Her head sank on his shoulder, as she faintly whispered something that was inaudible, but which he did not fail to interpret into everything he most wished to hear. John was in ecstasies. Every unpleasant feeling of suspicion had left him. Of Grace's innocence of manœuvring he never doubted, but John did not relish the idea of being entrapped into anything, even a step which he desired. An uninterrupted communication followed; it was as confiding as their affections: and the return of the dowager and her children first recalled them to the recollection of other people.

One glance of the eye was enough for Lady Chatterton. She saw the traces of tears on the cheeks and in the eyes of Grace, and the dowager was satisfied; she knew his friends would not object; and as Grace attended her to her dressing-room, she cried on entering it, "Well, child, when is the wedding to be? You will wear me out with so much gayety."

Grace was shocked, but did not as formerly weep over her mother's interference in agony and dread. John had opened his whole soul to her, observing the greatest delicacy towards her mother, and she now felt her happiness placed in the keeping of a man whose honor she believed much exceeded that of any other human being.