Precaution/Chapter 32

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CHAPTER XXXII.

The seniors of the party at Benfield Lodge were all assembled one morning in a parlor, when its master and the baronet were occupied in the perusal of the London papers. Clara had persuaded her sisters to accompany her and Francis in an excursion as far as the village.

Jane yet continued reserved and distant to most of her friends; while Emily's conduct would have escaped unnoticed, did not her blanched cheek and wandering looks at times speak a language not to be misunderstood. With all her relatives she maintained the affectionate intercourse she had always supported; though not even to her aunt did the name of Denbigh pass her lips. But in her most private and humble petitions to God, she never forgot to mingle with her requests for spiritual blessings on herself, fervent prayers for the conversion of the preserver of her life.

Mrs. Wilson, as she sat by the side of her sister at their needles, first discovered an unusual uneasiness in their venerable host, while he turned his paper over and over, as if unwilling or unable to comprehend some part of its contents, until he rang the bell violently, and bid the servant to send Johnson to him without a moment's delay.

"Peter," said Mr. Benfield doubtingly, "read that—your eyes are young, Peter; read that."

Peter took the paper, and after having adjusted his spectacles to his satisfaction, he proceeded to obey his master's injunctions; but the same defect of vision as suddenly seized the steward as it had affected his master. He turned the paper sideways, and appeared to be spelling the matter of the paragraph to himself. Peter would have given his three hundred a year to have had the impatient John Moseley at hand, to relieve him from his task; but the anxiety of Mr. Benfield, overcoming his fear of the worst, he inquired in a tremulous tone,—

"Peter? hem! Peter, what do you think?"

"Why, your honor," replied the steward, stealing a look at his master, "it does seem so indeed."

"I remember," said the master, "when Lord Gosford saw the marriage of the countess announced he"—

Here the old gentleman was obliged to stop, and rising with dignity, and leaning on the arm of his faithful servant, he left the room.

Mrs. Wilson immediately took up the paper, and her eye catching the paragraph at a glance, she read aloud as follows to her expecting friends:—

"Married by special license, at the seat of the Most Noble the Marquis of Eltringham, in Devonshire, by the Right Rev. Lord Bishop of ——, George Denbigh, Esq., Lieutenant-colonel of his Majesty's regiment of dragoons, to the Right Honorable Lady Laura Stapleton, eldest sister of the marquis. Eltringham was honored on the present happy occasion with the presence of his Grace of Derwent, and the gallant Lord Pendennyss, kinsmen of the bridegroom, and Captain Lord Henry Stapleton of the Royal Navy. We understand that the happy couple proceed to Denbigh Castle immediately after the honey-moon."

Although Mrs. Wilson had given up the expectation of ever seeing her niece the wife of Denbigh, she felt an indescribable shock as she read this paragraph. The strongest feeling was horror at the danger Emily had been in of contracting an alliance with such a man. His avoiding the ball, at which he knew Lord Henry was expected, was explained to her by this marriage; for with John, she could not believe a woman like Lady Laura Stapleton was to be won in the short space of one fortnight, or indeed less. There was too evidently a mystery yet to be developed, and she felt certain one that would not elevate his character in her opinion.

Neiher Sir Edward nor Lady Moseley had given up the expectation of seeing Denbigh again, as a suitor for Emily's hand, and to both of then this certainty of his loss was a heavy blow. The baronet took up the paper, and after perusing the article, he muttered in a low tone, as he wiped the tears from his eyes, "Heaven bless him: I sincerely hope she is worthy of him." Worthy of him, thought Mrs. Wilson, with a feeling of indignation, as, taking up the paper, she retired to her own room, whither Emily, at that moment returned from her walk, had proceeded. As her niece must hear this news, she thought the sooner the better. The exercise, and the unreserved conversation of Francis and Clara, had restored in some degree the bloom to the cheek of Emily; and Mrs. Wilson felt it necessary to struggle with herself, before she could summon sufficient resolution to invade the returning peace of her charge. However, having already decided on her course, she proceeded to the discharge of what she thought to be a duty.

"Emily, my child," she whispered, pressing her affectionately to her bosom, "you have been all I could wish, and more than I expected, under your arduous struggles. But one more pang, and I trust your recollections on this painful subject will be done away."

Emily looked at her aunt in anxious expectation of what was coming, and quietly taking the paper, followed the direction of Mrs. Wilson's finger to the article on the marriage of Denbigh.

There was a momentary struggle in Emily for self-command. She was obliged to find support in a chair. The returning richness of color, excited by her walk, vanished; but recovering herself, she pressed the hand of her anxious guardian, and, gently waving her back, proceeded to her own room.

On her return to the company, the same control of her feelings which had distinguished her conduct of late, was again visible; and, although her aunt most narrowly watched her movements, looks, and speeches, she could discern no visible alteration by this confirmation of Denbigh's misconduct. The truth was, that in Emily Moseley the obligations of duty were so imperative, her sense of her dependence on Providence so humbling, and yet so confiding, that, as Boon as she was taught to believe her lover unworthy of her esteem, that moment an insuperable barrier separated them. His marriage could add nothing to the distance between them. It was impossible they could be united; and although a secret lingering of the affections over his fallen character might and did exist, it existed without any romantic expectations of miracles in his favor, or vain wishes of reformation, in which self was the prominent feeling. She might be said to be keenly alive to all that concerned his welfare or movements, if she did not harbor the passion of love; but it showed itself in prayers for his amendment of life, and the most ardent petitions for his future and eternal happiness. She had set about, seriously and with much energy, the task of erasing from her heart sentiments which, however delightful she had found it to entertain in times past, were now in direct variance with her duty. She knew that a weak indulgence of such passions would tend to draw her mind from, and disqualify her to discharge, those various calls on her time and her exertions, which could alone enable her to assist others, or effect in her own person the great purposes of her creation. It was never lost sight of by Emily Moseley, that her existence here was preparatory to an immensely more important state hereafter. She was consequently in charity with all mankind; and if grown a little more distrustful of the intentions of her fellow-creatures, it was a mistrust bottomed in a clear view of the frailties of our nature; and self-examination was amongst the not unfrequent speculations she made on this hasty marriage of her former lover.

Mrs. Wilson saw all this, and was soon made acquainted by her neice in terms, with her views of her own condition; and although she had to, and did, deeply regret that all her caution had not been able to guard against deception, where it was most important for her to guide aright, yet she was cheered with the reflection that her previous care, with the blessing of Providence, had admirably fitted her charge to combat and overcome the consequences of their mistaken confidence.

The gloom which this little paragraph excited, extended to every individual in the family; for all had placed Denbigh by the side of John, in their affections, ever since his weighty services to Emily.

A letter from John announcing his intention of meeting them at Bath, as well as his new relation with Grace, relieved in some measure this general depression of spirit. Mr. Benfield alone found no consolation in the approaching nuptials. John he regarded as his nephew, and Grace he thought a very good sort of young woman; but neither of them were beings of the same genus with Emily and Denbigh.

"Peter," said he one day, after they had both been expending their ingenuity in vain efforts to discover the cause of this so-much-desired marriage's being so unexpectedly frustrated, "have I not often told you, that fate governed these things, in order that men might be humble in this life? Now, Peter, had the Lady Juliana wedded with a mind congenial to her own, she might have been mistress of Benfield Lodge to this very hour."

"Yes, your honor—but there's Miss Emily's legacy." And Peter withdrew, thinking what would have been the consequences had Patty Steele been more willing, when he wished to make her Mrs. Peter Johnson—an association by no means uncommon in the mind of the steward; for if Patty had ever a rival in his affections, it was in the person of Emily Moseley, though, indeed, with very different degrees and coloring of esteem.

The excursions to the cottage had been continued by Mrs. Wilson and Emily, and as no gentleman was now in the family to interfere with their communications, a general visit to the young widow had been made by the Moseleys, including Sir Edward and Mr. Ives.

The Jarvises had gone to London to receive their children, now penitent in more senses than one; and Sir Edward learnt with pleasure that Egerton and his wife had been admitted into the family of the merchant.

Sir Edgar had died suddenly, and the entailed estates had fallen to his successor the colonel, now Sir Harry: but the bulk of his wealth, being in convertible property, he had given by will to his other nephew, a young clergyman, and a son of a younger brother. Mary, as well as her mother, were greatly disappointed, by this deprivation of what they considered their lawful splendor; but they found great consolation in the new dignity of Lady Egerton, whose greatest wish now was to meet the Moseleys, in order that she might precede them in or out of some place where such ceremonials are observed. The sound of "Lady Egerton's carriage stops the way," was delightful, and it never failed to be used on all occasions, although her ladyship was mistress of only a hired vehicle.

A slight insight into the situation of things amongst them may be found in the following narrative of their views, as revealed in a discussion which took place about a fortnight after the reunion of the family under one roof.

Mrs. Jarvis was mistress of a very handsome coach, the gift of her husband for her own private use. After having satisfied herself the baronet (a dignity he had enjoyed just twenty-four hours) did not possess the ability to furnish his lady, as she termed her daughter, with such a luxury, she magnanimously determined to relinquish her own, in support of the new-found elevation of her daughter. Accordingly, a consultation on the alterations which were necessary took place between the ladies: "The arms must be altered, of course," Lady Egerton observed, "and Sir Harry's, with the bloody hand and six quarterings, put in their place; then the liveries, they must be changed."

"Oh, mercy! my lady, if the arms are altered, Mr. Jarvis will be sure to notice it, and he would never forgive me; and perhaps"—

"Perhaps what?" exclaimed the new-made lady with a disdainful toss of her head.

"Why," replied the mother, warmly, "not give me the hundred pounds he promised, to have it new-lined and painted."

"Fiddlesticks with the painting, Mrs. Jarvis," cried the lady with dignity: "no carriage shall be called mine that does not bear my arms and the bloody hand."

"Why, your ladyship is unreasonable, indeed you are," said Mrs. Jarvis, coaxingly; and then after a moment's thought she continued, "is it the arms or the baronetcy you want, my dear?"

"Oh, I care nothing for the arms, but I am determined, now I am a baronet's lady, Mrs. Jarvis, to have the proper emblem of my rank."

"Certainly, my lady, that's true dignity: well, then, we will put the bloody hand on your father's arms, and he will never notice it, for he never sees such things."

The arrangement was happily completed, and for a few days the coach of Mr. Jarvis bore about the titled dame, until one unlucky day the merchant, who still went on 'Change when any great bargain in the stocks was to be made, arrived at his own door suddenly, to procure a calculation he had made on the leaf of his prayer-book the last Sunday during sermon. This he obtained after some search. In his haste he drove to his broker's in the carriage of his wife, to save time, it happening to be in waiting at the moment, and the distance not great. Mr. Jarvis forgot to order the man to return, and for an hour the vehicle stood in one of the most public places in the city. The consequence was that when Mr. Jarvis undertook to examine into his gains, with the account rendered of the transaction by his broker, he was astonished to read, "Sir Timothy Jarvis, Bart., in account with John Smith, Dr." Sir Timothy examined the account in as many different ways as Mr. Benfield had examined the marriage of Denbigh, before he would believe his eyes; and when assured of the fact, he immediately caught up his hat, and went to find the man who had dared to insult him, as it were, in defiance of the formality of business. He had not proceeded one square in the city before he met a friend, who spoke to him by the title; an explanation of the mistake followed, and the quasi baronet proceeded to his stables. Here by actual examination he detected the fraud. An explanation with his consort followed; and the painter's brush soon effaced the emblem of dignity from the panels of the coach. All this was easy, but with his waggish companions on 'Change and in the city (where, notwithstanding his wife's fashionable propensities, he loved to resort), he was Sir Timothy still.

Mr. Jarvis, though a man of much modesty, was one of great decision, and he determined to have the laugh on his side. A newly purchased borough of his sent up an address flaming with patriotism, and it was presented by his own hands. The merchant seldom kneeled to his Creator, but on this occasion he humbled himself dutifully before his prince, and left the presence with a legal right to the appellation which his old companions had affixed to him sarcastically.

The rapture of Lady Jarvis may be more easily imagined than faithfully described, the Christian name of her husband alone throwing any alloy into the enjoyment of her elevation: but by a license of speech she ordered, and addressed in her own practice, the softer and more familiar appellation of Sir Timo. Two servants were discharged the first week, because, unused to titles, they had addressed her as mistress; and her son, the captain, then at a watering-place, was made acquainted by express with the joyful intelligence.

All this time Sir Henry Egerton was but little seen amongst his new relatives. He had his own engagements and haunts, and spent most of his time at a fashionable gaming house in the West End. As, however, the town was deserted, Lady Jarvis and her daughters, having condescended to pay a round of city visits, to show off her airs and dignity to her old friends, persuaded Sir Timo that the hour for their visit to Bath had arrived, and they were soon comfortably settled in that city.

Lady Chatterton and her youngest daughter had arrived at the seat of her son, and John Moseley, as happy as the certainty of love returned and the approbation of his friends could make him, was in lodgings in the town. Sir Edward notified his son of his approaching visit to Bath, and John took proper accommodations for the family which he occupied for a few days by himself as locum tenens.

Lord and Lady Herriefield had departed for the south of France; and Kate, removed from the scenes of her earliest enjoyments and the bosom of her own family, and under the protection of a man she neither loved nor respected, began to feel the insufficiency of a name or of a fortune to constitute felicity. Lord Herriefield was of a suspicious and harsh temper, the first propensity being greatly increased by his former associations, and the latter not being removed by the humility of his eastern dependants. But the situation of her child gave no uneasiness to the managing mother, who thought her in the high-road to happiness, and was gratified at the result of her labors. Once or twice, indeed, her habits had overcome her caution so much as to endeavor to promote, a day or two sooner than had been arranged, the wedding of Grace; but her imprudence was checked instantly by the recoiling of Moseley from her insinuations in disgust; and the absence of the young man for twenty-four hours gave her timely warning of the danger of such an interference with one of such fastidious feelings. John punished himself as much as the dowager on these occasions; but the smiling face of Grace, with her hand frankly placed in his own at his return, never failed to do away with the unpleasant sensations created by her mother's care.

The Chatterton and Jarvis families met in the rooms, soon after the arrival of the latter, when the lady of the knight, followed by both of her daughters, approached the dowager with a most friendly salute of recognition. Lady Chatterton, really forgetful of the persons of her B—— acquaintance, and disliking the vulgarity of her air, drew up into an appearance of great dignity, as she hoped the lady was well. The merchant's wife felt the consciousness of rank too much to be repulsed in this manner, and believing that the dowager had merely forgotten her face, she added, with a simpering smile, in imitation of what she had seen better bred people practice with success,—

"Lady Jarvis—my lady—your ladyship don't remember me—Lady Jarvis of the Deanery, B——, Northamptonshire, and my daughters, Lady Egerton and Miss Jarvis." Lady Egerton bowed stiffly to the recognizing smile the dowager now condescended to bestow; but Sarah, remembering a certain handsome lord in the family, was more urbane, determining at the moment to make the promotion of her mother and sister stepping-stones to greater elevation for herself.

"I hope my lord is well," continued the city lady. "I regret that Sir Timo, and Sir Harry, and Captain Jarvis, are not here this morning to pay their respects to your ladyship; but as we shall see naturally a good deal of each other, it must be deferred to a more fitting opportunity."

"Certainly, madam," replied the dowager, as, passing her compliments with those of Grace, she drew back from so open a conversation with creatures of such doubtful standing ill the fashionable world.