Precaution/Chapter 33

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On taking leave of Mrs. Fitzgerald, Emily and her aunt settled a plan of correspondence; the deserted situation of this young woman having created great interest in the breasts of her new friends. General M'Carthy had returned to Spain without receding from his original proposal, and his niece was left to mourn her early departure from one of the most solemn duties of life.

Mr. Benfield, thwarted in one of his most favorite schemes of happiness for the residue of his life, obstinately refused to make one of the party at Bath; and Ives and Clara having returned to Bolton, the remainder of the Moseleys arrived at the lodgings of John a very few days after the interview of the preceding chapter, with hearts ill qualified to enter into the gayeties of the place, though, in obedience to the wishes of Lady Moseley, to see and to be seen once more on that great theatre of fashionable amusement.

The friends of the family who had known them in times past were numerous, and were glad to renew their acquaintance with those they had always esteemed; so that they found themselves immediately surrounded by a circle of smiling faces and dashing equipages.

Sir William Harris, the proprietor of the deanery, and a former neighbor, with his showy daughter, were amongst the first to visit them. Sir William was a man of handsome estate and unexceptionable character, but entirely governed by the whims and desires of his only child. Caroline Harris wanted neither sense nor beauty, but expecting a fortune, she had placed her views too high. She at first aimed at the peerage; and while she felt herself entitled to suit her taste as well as her ambition, had failed of her object by ill-concealed efforts to attain it. She had justly acquired the reputation of the reverse of a coquette or yet of a prude; still she had never received an offer, and at the age of twenty-six, had now begun to lower her thoughts to the commonalty. Her fortune would have easily obtained her husband here, but she was determined to pick amongst the lower supporters of the aristocracy of the nation. With the Moseleys she had been early acquainted, though some years their senior; a circumstance, however, to which she took care never to allude unnecessarily.

The meeting between Grace and the Moseleys was tender and sincere. John's countenance glowed with delight, as he saw his future wife folded successively in the arms of those he loved, and Grace's tears and blushes added twofold charms to her native beauty. Jane relaxed from her reserve to receive her future sister, and determined with herself to appear in the world, in order to show Sir Henry Egerton that she did not feel the blow he had inflicted as severely as the truth might have proved.

The dowager found some little occupation, for a few days, in settling with Lady Moseley the preliminaries of the wedding; but the latter had suffered too much through her youngest daughters, to enter into these formalities with her ancient spirit. All things were, however, happily settled; and Ives making a journey for the express purpose, John and Grace were united privately at the altar of one of the principal churches in Bath. Chatterton had been summoned on the occasion; and the same paper which announced the nuptials contained, amongst the fashionable arrivals, the names of the Duke of Derwent and his sister, the Marquis of Eltringham and sisters, amongst whom was tu be found Lady Laura Denbigh. Lady Chatterton carelessly remarked, in presence of her friends, the husband of the latter was summoned to the death-bed of a relative, from whom he had great expectations. Emily's color did certainly change as she listened to this news, but not allowing her thoughts to dwell on the subject, she was soon enabled to recall her serenity of appearance.

Both Jane and Emily were delicately placed. The lover of the former, and the wives of the lovers of both, were in the way of daily, if not hourly rencounters; and it required all the energies of the young women to appear with composure before them. The elder was supported by pride, the younger by principle. The first was restless, haughty, distant, and repulsive. The last mild, humble, reserved, but eminently attractive. The one was suspected by all around her; the other was unnoticed by any, but by her nearest and dearest friends.

The first rencounter with these dreaded guests occurred at the rooms one evening, where the elder ladies had insisted on the bride's making her appearance. The Jarvises were there before them, and at their entrance caught the eyes of the group. Lady Jarvis approached immediately, filled with exultation—her husband with respect. The latter was received with cordiality—the former politely, but with distance. The young ladies and Sir Henry bowed distantly, and the gentleman soon drew off into another part of the room: his absence alone kept Jane from fainting. The handsome figure of Egerton standing by the side of Mary Jarvis, as her acknowledged husband, was near proving too much for her pride, notwithstanding all her efforts; and he looked so like the imaginary being she had set up as the object of her worship, that her heart was also in danger of rebelling.

"Positively, Sir Edward and my lady, both Sir Timo and myself, and, I dare say. Sir Harry and Lady Egerton too, are delighted to see you comfortably at Bath among us. Mrs. Moseley, I wish you much happiness, Lady Chatterton too. I suppose your ladyship recollects me now; I am Lady Jarvis. Mr. Moseley, I regret, for your sake, that my son Captain Jarvis is not here; you were so fond of each other, and both so loved your guns."

"Positively, my Lady Jarvis," said Moseley, dryly "my feelings on the occasion are as strong as your own; but I presume the captain is much too good a shot for me by this time."

"Why, yes; he improves greatly in most things he undertakes," rejoined the smiling dame, "and I hope he will soon learn, like you, to shoot with the harrows of Cupid. I hope the Honorable Mrs. Moseley is well."

Grace bowed mildly, as she answered to the interrogatory, and smiled at the thought of Jarvis put in competition with her husband in this species of archery, when a voice immediately behind where they sat caught the ears of the whole party; all it said was,—

"Harriet, you forgot to show me Marian's letter."

"Yes, but I will to-morrow," was the reply.

It was the tone of Denbigh. Emily almost fell from her seat as it first reached her, and the eyes of all but herself were immediately turned in quest of the speaker. He had approached within a very few feet of them, supporting a lady on each arm. A second look convinced the Moseleys that they were mistaken. It was not Denbigh, but a young man whose figure, face, and air resembled him strongly, and whose voice possessed the same soft melodious tones which had distinguished that of Denbigh. This party seated themselves within a very short distance of the Moseleys, and they continued their conversation.

"You heard from the colonel to-day, too, I believe," continued the gentleman, turning to the lady who sat next to Emily.

"Yes, he is a very punctual correspondent; I hear every other day."

"How is his uncle, Laura? "inquired her female companion.

"Rather better; but I will thank your Grace to find the marquis and Miss Howard."

"Bring them to us," rejoined the other.

"Yes," said the former lady, with a laugh, "and Eltringham will thank you too, I dare say."

In an instant the duke returned, accompanied by a gentleman of thirty and an elderly lady, who might have been safely taken for fifty without offense to anybody but herself.

During these speeches their auditors had listened with almost breathless interest. Emily had stolen a glance which satisfied her it was not Denbigh himself, and it greatly relieved her; but was startled at discovering that she was actually seated by the side of his young and lovely wife. When an opportunity offered, she dwelt on the amiable, frank countenance of her rival with melancholy satisfaction; at least, she thought, he may yet be happy, and I hope penitent.

It was a mixture of love and gratitude which prompted this wish, both sentiments not easily got rid of when once ingrafted in our better feelings. John eyed the strangers with a displeasure for which he could not account at once, and saw, in the ancient lady, the bridesmaid Lord Henry had so unwillingly admitted to that distinction.

Lady Jarvis was astounded with her vicinity to so much nobility, and she drew back to her family to study its movements to advantage; while Lady Chatterton sighed heavily, as she contemplated the fine figures of an unmarried duke and marquis, and she without a single child to dispose of. The remainder of the party continued to view them with curiosity, and listened with interest to what they said.

Two or three young ladies had now joined the strangers, attended by a couple of gentlemen, and the conversation became general. The ladies declined dancing entirely, but appeared willing to throw away an hour in comments on their neighbors.

"William," said one of the young ladies, "there is your old messmate. Colonel Egerton."

"Yes, I observe him," replied her brother, "I see him;" but, smiling significantly, he continued, "we are messmates no longer."

"He is a sad character," said the marquis, with a shrug. "William, I would advise you to be cautious of his acquaintance."

"I thank you," replied Lord William, "but I believe I understand him thoroughly."

Jane manifested strong emotion during these remarks, while Sir Edward and his wife averted their faces from a simultaueous feeling of self-reproach. Their eyes met, and mutual concessions were contained in the glance; yet their feelings were unnoticed by their companions, for over the fulfillment of her often repeated forewarnings of neglect and duty to our children, Mrs. Wilson had mourned in sincerity, but she had forgotten to triumph.

"When are we to see Pendennyss?" inquired the marquis; "I hope he will be here with George. I have a mind to beat up his quarters in Wales this season—what say you, Derwent?"

"I intend it, if I can persuade Lady Harriet to quit the gayeties of Bath so soon; what say you, sister—will you be in readiness to attend me so early?"

This question was asked in an arch tone, and drew the eyes of her friends on the person to whom it was addressed.

"I am ready now, Frederick, if you wish it," answered the sister hastily, and coloring excessively as she spoke.

"But where is Chatterton? I thought he was here—he had a sister married here last week," inquired Lord William Stapleton, addressing no one in particular.

A slight movement in their neighbors attracted the attention of the party.

"What a lovely young woman," whispered the duke to Lady Laura, "your neighbor is!"

The lady smiled her assent, and as Emily overheard it she rose with glowing cheeks, and proposed a walk round the room.

Chatterton soon after entered. The young peer had acknowledged to Emily that, deprived of hope as he had been by her firm refusal of his hand, his efforts had been directed to the suppression of a passion which could never be successful; but his esteem, his respect, remained in full force. He did not touch at all on the subject of Denbigh, and she supposed that he thought his marriage was a step that required justification.

The Moseleys had commenced their promenade round the room as Chatterton came in. He paid his compliments to them as soon as he entered, and walked with their party. The noble visitors followed their example, and the two parties met. Chatterton was delighted to see them, the duke was particularly fond of him; and, had one been present of sufficient observation, the agitation of his sister, the Lady Harriet Denbigh, would have accounted for the doubts of her brother as respects her willingness to leave Bath.

A few words of explanation passed; the duke and his friends appeared to urge something on Chatterton, who acted as their ambassador, and the consequence was, an introduction of the two parties to each other. This was conducted with the ease of the present fashion—it was general, and occurred, as it were incidentally, in the course of the evening.

Both Lady Harriet and Lady Laura Denbigh were particularly attentive to Emily. They took their seats by her, and manifested a preference for her conversation that struck Mrs. Wilson as remarkable. Could it be that the really attractive manners and beauty of her niece had caught the fancy of these ladies, or was there a deeper seated cause for the desire to draw Emily out, that both of them evinced? Mrs. Wilson had heard a rumor that Chatterton was thought attentive to Lady Harriet, and the other was the wife of Denbigh; was it possible the quondam suitors of her niece had related to their present favorites the situation they had stood in as regarded Emily? It was odd, to say no more; and the widow dwelt on the innocent countenance of the bride with pity and admiration. Emily herself was not a little abashed at the notice of her new acquaintances, especially Lady Laura's; but as their admiration appeared sincere, as well as their desire to be on terms of intimacy with the Moseleys, they parted, on the whole, mutually pleased.

The conversation several times was embarrassing to the baronet's family, and at moments distressingly so to their daughters.

At the close of the evening they all formed one group at a little distance from the rest of the company, and in a situation to command a view of it.

"Who is that vulgar-looking woman," said Lady Sarah Stapleton, "seated next to Sir Henry Egerton, brother?"

"No less a personage than my Lady Jarvis," replied the marquis, gravely, "and the mother-in-law of Sir Harry, and the wife to Sir Timo." This was said with a look of drollery that showed the marquis was a bit of a quiz.

"Married!" cried Lord William, "mercy on the woman who is Egerton's wife. He is the greatest latitudinarian amongst the ladies, of any man in England; nothing—no, nothing would tempt me to let such a man marry a sister of mine!"

Ah, thought Mrs. Wilson, how we may be deceived in character, with the best intentions, after all! In what are the open vices of Egerton worse than the more hidden ones of Denbigh?

These freely expressed opinions on the character of Sir Henry were excessively awkward to some of the listeners, to whom they were connected with unpleasant recollections of duties neglected, and affections thrown away.

Sir Edward Moseley was not disposed to judge his fellow-creatures harshly; and it was as much owing to his philanthropy as to his indolence, that he had been so remiss in his attention to the associates of his daughters. But the veil once removed, and the consequences brought home to him through his child, no man was more alive to the necessity of caution on this important particular; and Sir Edward formed many salutary resolutions for the government of his future conduct in relation to those whom an experience nearly fatal in its results had now greatly qualified to take care of themselves. But to resume our narrative—Lady Laura had maintained with Emily a conversation, which was enlivened by occasional remarks from the rest of the party, in the course of which the nerves as well as the principles of Emily were put to a severe trial.

"My brother Henry," said Lady Laura, "who is a captain in the navy, once had the pleasure of seeing you, Miss Moseley, and in some measure made me acquainted with you before we met."

"I dined with Lord Henry at L——, and was much indebted to his polite attentions in an excursion on the water," replied Emily, simply.

"Oh, I am sure his attentions were exclusive," cried the sister; "indeed, he told us that nothing but want of time prevented his being deeply in love—he had even the audacity to tell Denbigh it was fortunate for me he had never seen you, or I should have been left to lead apes."

"And I suppose you believe him now," cried Lord William, laughing, as he bowed to Emily.

His sister laughed in her turn, but shook her head, in the confidence of conjugal affection.

"It is all conjecture, for the colonel said he had never enjoyed the pleasure of meeting Miss Moseley, so I will not boast of what my powers might have done; Miss Moseley," continued Lady Laura, blushing slightly at her inclination to talk of an absent husband, so lately her lover, "I hope to have the pleasure of presenting Colonel Denbigh to you soon."

"I think," said Emily, with a strong horror of deception, and a mighty struggle to suppress her feelings, "Colonel Denbigh was mistaken in saying that we had never met; he was of material service to me once, and I owe him a debt of gratitude that I only wish I could properly repay."

Lady Laura listened in surprise; but as Emily paused, she could not delicately, as his wife, remind her further of the obligation, by asking what the service was, and hesitating a moment, continued,—

"Henry quite made you the subject of conversation amongst us; Lord Chatterton too, who visited us for a day, was equally warm in his eulogiums. I really thought they created a curiosity in the duke and Pendennyss to behold their idol."

"A curiosity that would be ill rewarded in its indulgence," said Emily, abashed by the personality of the discourse.

"So says the modesty of Miss Moseley," said the Duke of Derwent, in the peculiar tone which distinguished the softer keys of Denbigh's voice. Emily's heart beat quick as she heard them, and she was afterwards vexed to remember with how much pleasure she had listened to this opinion of the duke. Was it the sentiment, or was it the voice? She, however, gathered strength to answer, with a dignity that repressed further praises:—

"Your Grace is willing to divest me of what little I possess."

"Pendennyss is a man of a thousand," continued Lady Laura, with the privilege of a married woman. "I do wish he would join us at Bath—is there no hope, duke?"

"I am afraid not," replied his Grace; "he keeps himself immured in Wales with his sister, who is as much of a hermit as he is himself."

"There was a story of an inamorata in private somewhere," cried the marquis; "why at one time it was even said he was privately married to her."

"Scandal, my lord," said the duke, gravely: "Pendennyss is of unexceptionable morals, and the lady you mean is the widow of Major Fitzgerald, whom you knew. Pendennyss never sees her, though by accident he was once of very great service to her."

Mrs. Wilson breathed freely again, as she heard this explanation, and thought if the marquis knew all, how differently would he judge Pendennyss, as well as others.

"Oh! I have the highest opinion of Lord Pendennyss," cried the marquis.

The Moseleys were not sorry that the usual hour of retiring put an end to the conversation and their embarrassment.