Precaution/Chapter 37

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"Stevenson has returned, and I certainly must hear from Harriet," exclaimed the sister of Pendennyss, as she stood at a window watching the return of a servant from the neighboring post-office.

"I am afraid," rejoined the earl, who was seated by the breakfast-table, waiting the leisure of the lady to give him his cup of tea, "you find Wales very dull, sister. I sincerely hope both Derwent and Harriet will not forget their promise of visiting us this month."

The lady slowly took her seat at the table engrossed in her own reflections, when the man entered with his budget of news; and having deposited sundry papers and letters he respectfully withdrew. The earl glanced his eyes over the directions of the epistles, and turning to his servants said, "Answer the bell when called." Three or four liveried footmen deposited their silver salvers and different implements of servitude, and the peer and his sister were left to themselves.

"Here is one from the duke to me, and one for you from his sister," said the brother; "I propose they be read aloud for our mutual advantage." To this proposal the lady, whose curiosity to hear the contents of Derwent's letter greatly exceeded her interest in that of his sister, cheerfully acquiesced, and her brother first broke the seal of his own epistle, and read its contents as follows:—

"Notwithstanding my promise of seeing you this month in Caernarvonshire, I remain here yet, my dear Pendennyss, unable to tear myself from the attractions I have found in this city, although the pleasure of their contemplation has been purchased at the expense of mortified feelings and unrequited affections. It is a truth (though possibly difficult to be believed), that this mercenary age has produced a female disengaged, young, and by no means very rich, who has refused a jointure of six thousand a year, with the privilege of walking at a coronation within a dozen of royalty itself."

Here the accidental falling of a cup from the hands of the fair listener caused some little interruption to the reading of the brother; but as the lady, with a good deal of trepidation and many blushes, apologized hastily for the confusion her awkwardness had made, the earl continued to read.

"I could almost worship her independence: for I know the wishes of both her parents were for my success. I confess to you freely, that my vanity has been a good deal hurt, as I really thought myself agreeable to her. She certainly listened to my conversation, and admitted my approaches, with more satisfaction than those of any other of the men around her; and when I ventured to hint to her this circumstance, as some justification for my presumption, she frankly acknowledged the truth of my impression, and, without explaining the reasons for her conduct, deeply regretted the construction I had been led to place upon the circumstance. Yes, my lord, I felt it necessary to apologize to Emily Moseley for presuming to aspire to the honor of possessing so much loveliness and virtue. The accidental advantages of rank and wealth lose all their importance, when opposed to her delicacy, ingenuousness, and undirected principles.

"I have heard it intimated lately, that George Denbigh was in some way or other instrumental in saving her life once; and that to her gratitude, and to my resemblance to the colonel, am I indebted to a consideration with Miss Moseley, which, although it has been the means of buoying me up with false hopes, I can never regret, from the pleasure her society has afforded me. I have remarked, on my mentioning his name to her, that she showed unusual emotion; and as Denbigh is already a husband, and myself rejected, the field is now fairly open to you. You will enter on your enterprise with great advantage, as you have the same flattering resemblance, and, if anything, the voice, which, I am told, is our greatest recommendation with the ladies, in higher perfection than either George or your humble servant."

Here the reader stopped of his own accord, and was so intently absorbed in his meditations that the almost breathless curiosity of his sister was obliged to find relief by desiring him to proceed. Roused by the sound of her voice, the earl changed color sensibly, and continued:—

"But to be serious on a subject of great importance to my future life (for I sometimes think her negative will make Denbigh a duke), the lovely girl did not appear happy at the time of our interview, nor do I think she enjoys at any time the spirits nature has evidently given her. Harriet is nearly as great an admirer of Miss Moseley, and takes her refusal to heart as much as myself; she even attempted to intercede with her in my behalf. But the charming girl though mild, grateful, and delicate, was firm and unequivocal, and left no grounds for the remotest expectation, of success from perseverance on my part.

"As Harriet had received an intimation that both Miss Moseley and her aunt entertained extremely rigid notions on the score of religion, she took occasion to introduce the subject in her conference with the former, and was told in reply, 'that other considerations would have determined her to decline the honor I intended her; but that, under any circumstances, a more intimate knowledge of my principles would be necessary before she could entertain a thought of accepting my hand, or, indeed, that of any other man.' Think of that, Pendennyss! The principles of a duke!—now, a dukedom and forty thousand a year would furnish a character, with most people, for a Nero.

"I trust the important object I have had in view here is a sufficient excuse for my breach of promise to you; and I am serious when I wish you (unless the pretty Spaniard has, as I sometimes suspect, made you a captive) to see, and endeavor to bring me in some degree connected with, the charming family of Sir Edward Moseley.

"The aunt, Mrs. Wilson, often speaks of you with the greatest interest, and, from some cause or other, is strongly enlisted in your favor, and Miss Moseley hears your name mentioned with evident pleasure. Your religion or principles cannot be doubted. You can offer larger settlements, as honorable if not as elevated a title, a far more illustrious name, purchased, by your own services, and personal merit greatly exceeding the pretensions of your assured friend and relative, Derwent."

Both brother and sister were occupied with their own reflections for several minutes after the letter was ended, and the silence was broken first, by the latter saying with a low tone to her brother,—

"You must endeavor to become acquainted with Mrs. Wilson; she is, I know, very anxious to see you, and your friendship for the general requires it of you."

"I owe General Wilson much," replied the brother, in a melancholy voice; "and when we go to Annerdale House, I wish you to make the acquaintance of the ladies of the Moseley family, should they be in town this winter; but you have yet the letter of Harriet to read."

After first hastily running over its contents, the lady commenced the fulfillment of her part of the engagement.

"Frederick has been so much engrossed of late with his own affairs, that he has forgotten there is such a creature in existence as his sister, or, indeed, any one else but a Miss Emily Moseley, and consequently I have been unable to fulfill my promise of making you a visit, for want of a proper escort, and—and—perhaps some other considerations, not worth mentioning in a letter I know you will read to the earl.

"Yes, my dear cousin, Frederick Denbigh has supplicated the daughter of a country baronet to become a duchess; and, hear it, ye marriage-seeking nymphs and marriage-making dames! bus supplicated in vain!

"I confess to you, when the thing was first in agitation, my aristocratic blood roused itself a little at the anticipated connection; but finding on examination that Sir Edward was of no doubtful lineage, and that the blood of the Chattertons runs in his veins, and finding the young lady everything I could wish in a sister, my scruples soon disappeared, with the folly that engendered them.

"There was no necessity for any alarm, for the lady very decidedly refused the honor offered her by Derwent, and what makes the matter worse, refused the solicitations of his sister also.

"I have fifty times been surprised at my own condescension, and to this moment am at a loss to know whether it was to the lady's worth, my brother's happiness, or the Chatterton blood, that I finally yielded. Heigho! this Chatterton is certainly much too handsome for a man; but I forget you have never seen him." (Here an arch smile stole over the features of the listener, as his sister continued.) "To return to my narration, I had half a mind to send for a Miss Harris there is here, to learn the most approved fashion of a lady preferring a suit, but as fame said she was just now practicing on a certain hero ycleped Captain Jarvis, heir to Sir Timo of that name, it struck me her system might be rather too abrupt, so I was fain to adopt the best plan—that of trusting to nature and my own feelings for words.

"Nobility is certainly a very pretty thing (for those who have it), but I would defy the old Margravine of —— to keep up the semblance of superiority with Emily Moseley. She is so very natural, so very beautiful, and withal at times a little arch, that one is afraid to set up any other distinctions than such as can be fairly supported.

"I commenced with hoping her determination to reject the hand of Frederick was not an unalterable one. (Yes, I called him Frederick, what I never did out of my own family before in my life.) There was a considerable tremor in the voice of Miss Moseley, as she replied, 'I now perceive, when too late, that my indiscretion has given reason to my friends to think that I have entertained intentions towards his Grace, of which I entreat you to believe me, Lady Harriet, I am innocent. Indeed—indeed, as anything more than an agreeable acquaintance I have never allowed myself to think of your brother:' and from my soul I believe her. We continued our conversation for half an hour longer, and such was the ingenuousness, delicacy, and high religious feeling displayed by the charming girl, that if I entered the room with a spark of regret that I was compelled to solicit another to favor my brother's love, I left it with a feeling of sorrow that my efforts had been unsuccessful. Yes! thou peerless sister of the more peerless Pendennyss! I once thought of your ladyship as a wife for Derwent"—

A glass of water was necessary to enable the reader to clear her voice, which grew husky from speaking so long.

"But I now openly avow, neither your birth, your hundred thousand pounds, nor your merit, would put you on a footing, in my estimation, with my Emily. You may form some idea of her power to captivate, and of her indifference to her conquests, when I mention that she once refused—but I forget, you don't know him, and therefore cannot be a judge. The thing is finally decided, and we shortly go into Westmoreland, and next week the Moseleys return to Northamptonshire. I don't know when I shall be able to visit you, and think I may now safely invite you to Denbigh Castle, although a month ago I might have hesitated. Love to the earl, and kind assurance to yourself of unalterable regard. Harriet Denbigh."

"P. S. I believe I forgot to mention that Mrs. Moseley, a sister of Lord Chatterton, has gone to Portugal, and that the peer himself is to go into the country with us: there is, I suppose, a fellow-feeling between them just now though I do not think Chatterton looks so very miserable as he might. Adieu."

On ending this second epistle the same silence which had succeeded the reading of the first prevailed, until the lady with an arch expression, interrupted it by saying,—

"Harriet will, I think, soon grace the peerage."

"And happily, I trust," replied the brother.

"Do you know Lord Chatterton?"

"I do; he is very amiable, and admirably calculated to contrast with the lively gayety of Harriet Denbigh."

"You believe in loving our opposites, I see," rejoined the lady; and then affectionately stretching out her hand to him, she added, "but, Pendennyss, you must give me for a sister one as nearly like yourself as possible."

"That might please your affections," answered the earl with a smile, "but how would it comport with my tastes? Will you suffer me to describe the kind of man you are to select for your future lord, unless, indeed, you have decided the point already?"

The lady colored violently, and appearing anxious to change the subject, she tumbled over two or three unopened letters, as she cried eagerly,—

"Here is one from the Donna Julia." The earl instantly broke the seal and read aloud; no secrets existing between them in relation to their mutual friend.

"My Lord:—

"I hasten to write you what I know it will give you pleasure to hear, concerning my future prospects in life. My uncle, General M'Carthy, has written me the cheerful tidings, that my father has consented to receive his only child, without any other sacrifice than a condition of attending the service of the Catholic Church without any professions on my side, or even an understanding that I am conforming to its peculiar tenets. This may be, in some measure, irksome at times, and possibly distressing; but the worship of God with a proper humiliation of spirit, I have learnt to consider as a privilege to us here, and I owe a duty to my earthly father of penitence and care in his later years that will justify the measure in the eyes of my heavenly one. I have, therefore, acquainted my uncle in reply, that I am willing to attend the Conde's summons at any moment he will choose to make them; and I thought it a debt due your care and friendship to apprise your lordship of my approaching departure from this country; indeed, I have great reasons for believing that your kind and unremitted efforts to attain this object have already prepared you to expect this result.

"I feel it will be impossible to quit England without seeing you and your sister, to thank you for the many, very many favors, of both a temporal and eternal nature, you have been the agents of conferring on me. The cruel suggestions which I dreaded, and which it appears had reached the ears of my friends in Spain, have prevented my troubling your lordship of late unnecessarily with my concerns. The consideration of a friend to your character (Mrs. Wilson) has removed the necessity of applying for your advice; she and her charming niece. Miss Emily Moseley, have been, next to yourselves, the greatest solace I have had in my exile, and united you will be remembered in my prayers. I will merely mention here, deferring the explanation until I see you in London, that I have been visited by the wretch from whom you delivered me in Portugal, and that the means of ascertaining his name have fallen into my hands. You will be the best judge of the proper steps to be taken; but I wish, by all means, something may be done to prevent his attempting to see me in Spain. Should it be discovered to my relations there that he has any such intentions, it would certainly terminate in his death, and possibly in my disgrace. Wishing you and your kind sister all possible happiness, I remain,

"Your lordship's obliged friend,
"Julia Fitzgerald."

"Oh!" cried the sister as she concluded the letter, "we must certainly see her before she goes. What a wretch that persecutor of hers must be! how persevering in his villainy!"

"He does exceed my ideas of effrontery," said the earl, in great warmth, "but he may offend too far; the laws shall interpose their power to defeat his schemes, should be ever repeat them."

"He attempted to take your life, brother," said the lady, shuddering, "if I remember the tale alright."

"Why, I have endeavored to free him from that imputation," rejoined the brother, musing; "he certainly fired a pistol, but the latter hit my horse at such a distance from myself, that I believe his object was to disable me, and not murder. His escape has astonished me; he must have fled by himself into the woods, as Harmer was but a short distance behind me, admirably mounted, and the escort was up and in full pursuit within ten minutes. After all it may be for the best he was not taken; for I am persuaded the dragoons would have sabred him on the spot, and he may have parents of respectability, or a wife to kill by the knowledge of his misconduct."

"This Emily Moseley must be a faultless being," cried the sister, as she ran over the contents of Julia's letter. "Three different letters, and each containing her praises!"

The earl made no reply, but opening the duke's letter again, he appeared to be studying its contents. His color slightly changed as he dwelt on its passages, and turning to his sister he inquired if she had a mind to try the air of Westmoreland for a couple of weeks or a month.

"As you say, my lord," replied the lady, with cheeks of scarlet.

"Then I say we will go. I wish much to see Derwent, and I think there will be a wedding during our visit."

He rang the bell, and the almost untasted breakfast was removed in a few minutes. A servant announced that his horse was in readiness. The earl wished his sister a friendly good morning, and proceeded to the door, where was standing one of the noble black horses before mentioned, held by a groom, and the military-looking attendant ready mounted on another.

Throwing himself into the saddle, the young peer rode gracefully from the door, followed by his attendant horseman. During this ride, the master suffered his steed to take whatever course most pleased himself, and his follower looked up in surprise more that once, to see the careless manner in which the Earl of Pendennyss, confessedly one of the best horsemen in England, managed the noble animal. Having, however, got without the gates of his own park, and into the vicinity of numberless cottages and farm-houses, the master recovered his recollection, and the man ceased to wonder.

For three hours the equestrians pursued their course through the beautiful vale which opened gracefully opposite one of the fronts of the castle; and if faces of smiling welcome, inquiries after his own and his sister's welfare, which evidently sprang from the heart, or the most familiar but respectful representations of their own prosperity or misfortunes, gave any testimony of the feelings entertained by the tenantry of this noble estate for their landlord, the situation of the young nobleman might be justly considered enviable.

As the hour for dinner approached, they turned the heads of their horses towards home; and on entering the park, removed from the scene of industry and activity without, the earl relapsed into his fit of musing. A short distance from the house he suddenly called "Harmer." The man drove his spurs into the loins of his horse, and in an instant was by the side of his master, which he signified by raising his hand to his cap with the palm opening outward.

"You must prepare to go to Spain when required, in attendance on Mrs. Fitzgerald."

The man received his order with the indifference of one used to adventures and movements, and having laconically signified his assent, he drew his horse back again into his station in the rear.