Precaution/Chapter 40

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CHAPTER XL.

With Harriet, now closely connected with them by marriage as well as attachment, the baronet's family maintained a most friendly intercourse; and Mrs. Wilson, and Emily, a prodigious favorite with her new cousin, consented to pass a day soberly with her during an excursion of her husband to Windsor on business connected with his station. They had, accordingly, driven round to an early breakfast; and Chatterton, after politely regretting his loss, and thanking them for their consideration for his wife, made his bow.

Lady Harriet Denbigh had brought the baron a very substantial addition to his fortune; and as his sisters were both provided for by ample settlements, the pecuniary distresses which had existed a twelvemonth before had been entirely removed. Chatterton's income was now large, his demands upon it small, and he kept up an establishment in proportion to the rank of both husband and wife.

"Mrs. Wilson," cried the hostess, twirling her cup as she followed with her eyes the retreating figure of her husband at the door, "I am about to take up the trade of Miss Harris, and become a match-maker."

"Not on your own behalf so soon, surely," rejoined the widow.

"Oh no, my fortune is made for life, or not at all," continued the other gayly; "but in behalf of our little friend Emily here."

"Me!" cried Emily, starting from a reverie, in which the prospect of happiness to Lady Laura was the subject; "you are very good, Harriet; for whom do you intend me?"

"Whom! Who is good enough for you, but my cousin Pendennyss? Ah!" she cried, laughing, as she caught Emily by the hand, "Derwent and myself both settled the matter long since, and I know you will yield when you come to know him."

"The duke!" cried the other, with a surprise and innocence that immediately brought a blush of the brightest vermilion into her face.

"Yes, the duke," said Lady Chatterton: "you may think it odd for a discarded lover to dispose of his mistress so soon, but both our hearts are set upon it. The earl arrived last night, and this day he and his sister dine with us in a sober way: now, my dear madam," turning to Mrs. Wilson, "have I not prepared an agreeable surprise for you?"

"Surprise indeed," said the widow, excessively gratified at the probable termination to her anxieties for this meeting; "but where are they from?"

"From Northamptonshire, where the earl has already purchased a residence, I understand, and in your neighborhood too; so, you perceive, he at least begins to think of the thing."

"A certain evidence, truly," cried Emily, "his having purchased the house. But was he without a residence, that he bought the deanery?"

"Oh, no! he has a palace in town, and three seats in the country; but none in Northamptonshire but this," said the lady, with a laugh. "To own the truth, he did offer to let George Denbigh have it for the next summer, but the colonel chose to be nearer Eltringham; and I take it, it was only a ruse in the earl to cloak his own designs. You may depend upon it, we trumpeted your praises to him incessantly in Westmoreland."

"And is Colonel Denbigh in town?" said Mrs. Wilson, stealing an anxious glance towards her niece, who, in spite of all her efforts, sensibly changed color.

"Oh, yes! and Laura is as happy—as happy—as myself," said Lady Chatterton, with a glow on her cheeks, as she attended to the request of her housekeeper, and left the room.

Her guests sat in silence, occupied with their own reflections, while they heard a summons at the door of the house. It was opened, and footsteps approached the door of their own room. It was pushed partly open, as a voice on the other side said, speaking to a servant without,—

"Very well. Do not disturb your lady, I am in no haste."

At the sound of its well known tones, both the ladies almost sprang from their seats. Here could be no resemblance, and a moment removed their doubts. The speaker entered. It was Denbigh.

He stood for a moment fixed as a statue. It was evident the surprise was mutual. His face was pale as death, and then instantly was succeeded by a glow of fire. Approaching them, he paid his compliments with great earnestness, and in a voice in which his softest tones preponderated.

"I am happy, very happy, to be so fortunate in again meeting with such friends, and so unexpectedly."

Mrs. "Wilson bowed in silence to his compliment, and Emily, pale as himself, sat with her eyes fastened on the carpet, without daring to trust her voice with an attempt to speak.

After struggling with his mortified feelings for a moment, Denbigh rose from the chair he had taken, and drawing near the sofa on which the ladies were placed, exclaimed with fervor,—

"Tell me, dear madam, lovely, too lovely Miss Moseley, has one act of folly, of wickedness if you please, lost me your good opinion forever? Derwent had given me hopes that you yet retained some esteem for my character, lowered, as I acknowledge it to be, in my own estimation."

"The Duke of Derwent? Mr. Denbigh!"

"Do not, do not use a name, dear madam, almost hateful to me," cried he, in a tone of despair.

"If," said Mrs. Wilson, gravely, "you have made your own name disreputable, I can only regret it, but"—

"Call me by my title—oh! do not remind me of my folly; I cannot bear it, and from you."

"Your title!" exclaimed Mrs. Wilson, with a cry of wonder, and Emily turned on him a face in which the flashes of color and succeeding paleness were as quick, and almost as vivid, as the glow of lightning. He caught their astonishment in equal surprise.

"How is this? some dreadful mistake, of which I am yet in ignorance," he cried, taking the unresisting hand of Mrs. Wilson, and pressing it with warmth between both his own, as he added, "do not leave me in suspense."

"For the sake of truth, for my sake, for the sake of this suffering innocent, say, in sincerity, who and what you are," said Mrs. Wilson in a solemn voice, gazing on him in dread of his reply.

Still retaining her hand, he dropped on his knees before her, as he answered,—

"I am the pupil, the child of your late husband, the companion of his dangers, the sharer of his joys and griefs, and would I could add, the friend of his widow. I am the Earl of Pendennyss."

Mrs. Wilson's head dropped on the shoulders of the kneeling youth, her arms were thrown in fervor around his neck, and she burst into a flood of tears. For a moment, both were absorbed in their own feelings; but a cry from Pendennyss aroused the aunt to the situation of her niece.

Emily had fallen senseless on the sofa.

An hour elapsed before her engagements admitted of the return of Lady Chatterton to the breakfast parlor, where she was surprised to find the breakfast equipage yet standing, and her cousin the earl. Looking from one to the other in surprise, she exclaimed,—

"Very sociable, upon my word; how long has your lordship honored my house with your presence, and have you taken the liberty to introduce yourself to Mrs. Wilson and Miss Moseley?"

"Sociability and ease are the fashion of the day. I have been here an hour, my dear coz, and have taken the liberty of introducing myself to Mrs. Wilson and Miss Moseley," replied the earl gravely, although a smile of meaning lighted his handsome features as he uttered the latter part of the sentence, which was returned by Emily with a look of archness and pleasure that would have graced her happiest moments of juvenile joy.

There was such an interchange of looks, and such a visible alteration in the appearance of her guests, that it could not but attract the notice of Lady Chatterton. After listening to the conversation between them for some time in silence, and wondering what could have wrought to sudden a change below stairs, she broke forth with saying,—

"Upon my word, you are an incomprehensible party to me. I left you ladies alone, and find a gentleman with you. I left you grave, if not melancholy, and find you all life and gayety. I find you with a stranger, and you talk with him about walks, and rides, and scenes, and acquaintances. Will you, madam, or you, my lord, be so kind as to explain these seeming inconsistencies?"

"No," cried the earl, "to punish your curiosity, I will keep you in ignorance; but Marian is in waiting for me at your neighbor's, Mrs. Wilmot, and I must hasten to her—you will see us both by five." Rising from his seat he took the offered hand of Mrs. Wilson and pressed it to his lips. To Emily he also extended his hand, and received hers in return, though with a face suffused with the color of the rose. Pendennyss held it to his heart for a moment with fervor, and kissing it, precipitately left the room. Emily concealed her face with her hands, and, dissolving in tears, sought the retirement of an adjoining apartment.

All these unaccountable movements filled Lady Chatterton with amazement, that would have been too painful for further endurance; and Mrs. Wilson, knowing that further concealment with so near a connection would be impossible, if not unnecessary, entered into a brief explanation of the earl's masquerade (although ignorant herself of its cause, or of the means of supporting it), and his present relation with her niece.

"I declare it is provoking," cried Lady Chatterton, with a tear in her eye, "to have such ingenious plans as Derwent and I had made lost from the want of necessity in putting them in force. Your demure niece has deceived us all handsomely; and my rigid cousin, too—I will rate him soundly for his deception."

"I believe he already repents sincerely of his having practiced it," said Mrs. Wilson, "and is sufficiently punished for his error by its consequences. A life of misery for four months is a serious penalty to a lover."

"Yes," said the other; "I am afraid his punishment was not confined to himself alone: he has made others suffer from his misconduct. I will rate him famously, depend upon it I will."

If anything, the interest felt by Lady Chatterton for her friend was increased by this discovery of the affections of Pendennyss, and a few hours were passed by the three, in we will not say sober delight, for transport would be a better word. Lady Chatterton frankly declared that she would rather see Emily the wife of the earl than of her brother, for he alone was good enough for her; and Mrs. Wilson felt an exhilaration of spirits, in the completion of her most sanguine wishes, that neither her years, her philosophy, nor even her religion, could entirely restrain. The face of Emily was a continued blush, her eye sparkled with the lustre of renewed hope, and her bosom was heaving with the purest emotions of happiness.

At the appointed hour the rattling of wheels announced the approach of the earl and his sister.

Pendennyss came into the room with a young woman of great personal beauty and extremely feminine manners, leaning on his arm. He first announced her to Mrs. Wilson as his sister, Lady Marian Denbigh, who received her with a frank cordiality that made them instantly acquainted. Emily, although confiding in the fullest manner in the truth and worth of her lover, had felt an inexplicable sensation of pleasure, as she heard the earl speak of his sister by the name of Marian; love is such an unquiet, and generally such an engrossing passion, that few avoid unnecessary uneasiness while under its influence, unless so situated as to enjoy a mutual confidence.

As this once so formidable Marian approached to salute her with an extended hand, Emily rose, with a face illumined with pleasure, to receive her. Marian viewed her for a moment intently, and folding her arms around her, whispered softly as she pressed her to her heart,—

"My sister, my only sister."

Our heroine was affected to tears, and Pendennyss gently separating the two he loved best in the world, they soon became calm.

Lady Marian was extremely like her brother, and had a family resemblance to her cousin Harriet; but her manners were softer and more retiring, and she had a slight tinge of a settled melancholy. When her brother spoke she was generally silent, not in fear, but in love. She evidently regarded him amongst the first of human beings, and all her love was amply returned.

Both the aunt and niece studied the manners of the earl closely, and found several shades of distinction between what he was and what he had been. He was now the perfect man of the world, without having lost the frank sincerity which caused you to believe all he said. Had Pendennyss once told Mrs. Wilson, with his natural air and manner, "I am innocent," she would have believed him, and an earlier investigation would have saved them months of misery; but the consciousness of his deception had oppressed him with the curse of the wicked.

Pendennyss had lost that air of embarrassment and alarm which had so often startled the aunt, even in her hours of greatest confidence, and which had their origin in the awkwardness of disguise. But he retained his softness, his respect, his modest diffidence of his opinions, although somewhat corrected now by his acknowledged experience and acquaintance with man.

Mrs. Wilson thought these decided trifling alterations in mannner were improvements; but it required some days and a few tender speeches to reconcile Emily to any change in the appearance of Denbigh.

Lady Marian had ordered her carriage early, as she had not anticipated the pleasure she found, and was engaged to accompany her cousin, Lady Laura, to a fashionable rout that evening. Unwilling to be torn from his newly found friends, the earl proposed that the three ladies should accompany his sister to Annerdale House, and then accept himself as an escort to their own residence. To this Harriet assented, and leaving a message for Chatterton, they entered the coach of Marian, and Pendennyss, mounting the dickey, drove off.

Annerdale House was amongst the best edifices of London. It had been erected in the preceding century, and Emily for a moment felt, as she went through its splendid apartments, that it threw a chill around her domestic affections; but the figure of Pendennyss by her side reconciled her to a magnificence she had been unused to, which looked the lord indeed; but with so much modesty and softness, and so much attention to herself, that before she left the house, Emily began to think it very possible to enjoy happiness even in the lap of splendor.

The names of Colonel Denbigh and Lady Laura were soon announced, and this formidable gentleman made his appearance. He resembled Pendennyss more than even the duke, and appeared about the same age.

Mrs. Wilson soon saw that she had no grounds for pitying Lady Laura. The colonel was a polished, elegant man, of evident good sense and knowledge of the world, and apparently devoted to his wife. He was called George frequently by all his relatives, and he, not unfrequently, used the same term himself in speaking to the earl. Something was said of a much admired bust, and the doors of a large library were opened to view it. Emily was running over the backs of a case of books, until her eye rested on one; and half smiling and blushing she turned to Pendennyss, who watched every movement, as she said, playfully,—

"Pity me, my lord, and lend me this volume."

"What is it you read?" he asked, as he bowed his cheerful assent.

But Emily hid the book in her handkerchief. Pendennyss noticing an unwillingness, though an extremely playful one, to let him into the secret, examined the case, and perceiving her motive, smiled, as he took down another volume and said,—

"I am not an Irish, but an English peer, Emily. You had the wrong volume."

Emily laughed, with deeper blushes, when she found her wishes detected, while the earl, opening the volume he held—the first of Debrett's Peerage—pointed with his finger to the article concerning his own family, and said to Mrs. Wilson, who had joined them at the instant,—

"To-morrow, dear madam, I shall beg your attention to a melancholy tale, and which may, in some slight degree, extenuate the offense I was guilty of in assuming, or rather in maintaining an accidental disguise."

As he ended, he went to the others, to draw off their attention, while Emily and her aunt examined the paragraph. It was as follows:—

"George Denbigh—Earl of Pendennyss—and Baron Lumley, of Lumley Castle—Baron Pendennyss—Beaumaris, and Fitzwalter, born ——, of ——, in the year of ——; a bachelor." The list of earls and nobles occupied several pages, but the closing article was as follows:—

"George, the twenty-first earl, succeeded his mother Marian, late Countess of Pendennyss, in her own right, being born of her marriage with George Denbigh, Esq., a cousin-german to Frederick the ninth Duke of Derwent."

"Heir apparent. The titles being to heirs general, will descend to his lordship's sister, Lady Marian Denbigh, should the present earl die without lawful issue."

As much of the explanation of the mystery of our tale is involved in the foregoing paragraphs, we may be allowed to relate in our own language, what Pendennyss made his friends acquainted with at different times, and in a manner suitable to the subject and his situation.