Precaution/Chapter 43

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No little art and management had been necessary to make the admiral auxiliary to the indirect plan proposed by his friend to bring George and Isabel together. This, however, effected, the general turned his whole strategy to the impression to be made on the heart of the young gentleman.

Sir Frederick Denbigh had the same idea of the virtue of management as the Dowager Lady Chatterton, but he understood human nature better.

Like a prudent officer, his attacks were all masked, and, like a great officer, they seldom foiled of success.

The young couple were thrown in each other's way, and as Isabel was extremely attractive, somewhat the opposite to himself in ardor of temperament and vivacity, modest, and sensible, it cannot be expected that the association was maintained by the youth with perfect impunity. Within a couple of months he fancied himself desperately in love with Isabel Howell; and, in truth, he had some reason for the supposition.

The general watched every movement of his son with a wary and vigilant eye—occasionally adding fuel to the flame, by drawing his attention to projects of matrimony in other quarters, until George began to think he was soon to undergo a trial of his constancy, and in consequence he armed himself with a double portion of admiration for his Isabel, in order to enable himself to endure the persecution; while the admiral several times endangered the success of the whole enterprise by volunteer contributions to the hopes of the young man, which only escaped producing an opposite effect to that which was intended, by being mistaken for the overflowings of good nature and friendship.

After suffering his son to get, as he thought, sufficiently entangled in the snares of Cupid, Sir Frederick determined to fire a volley from one of his masked batteries, which he rightly judged would bring on a general engagement. They were sitting at the table after dinner, alone, when the general took the advantage of the name of Miss Howell being accidentally mentioned to say—

"By the by, George, my friend the admiral said some thing yesterday on the subject of your being so much will his daughter. I wish you to be cautious, and not to give the old sailor offense in any way, for he is my particular friend."

"He need be under no violent apprehensions," cried George, coloring highly with shame and pride, "I am sure a Denbigh is no unworthy match for a daughter of Sir Peter Howell."

"Oh! to be sure not, boy, we are as old a house as there is in the kingdom, and as noble too; but the admiral has queer notions, and, perhaps, he has some cub of a sailor in his eye for a son-in-law. Be prudent, my boy, be prudent; that is all I ask of you."

The general, satisfied with the effect he had produced, carelessly arose from his seat, and joined Lady Margaret in her drawing-room.

George remained for several minutes musing on his father's singular request, as well as the admiral's caution, when he sprang from his seat, caught up his hat and sword, and in ten minutes rang at Sir Peter's door in Grosvenor Square. He was admitted, and ascending to the drawing-room, he met the admiral on his way out. Nothing was further from the thoughts of the veteran than a finesse like the general's; and, delighted to see George on the battle-ground, he pointed significantly over his shoulder toward the door of the room Isabel was in, and exclaimed, with a good-natured smile,—

"There she is, my hearty; lay her aside, and hang me if she don't strike. I say, George, faint heart never won fair lady: remember that, my boy; no, nor a French ship."

George would have been at some loss to have reconciled this speech to his father's caution, if time had been allowed him to think at all; but the door being opened he entered, and found Isabel endeavoring to hide her tears.

The admiral, dissatisfied from the beginning with the tardy method of dispatching things, thought he might be of use in breaking the ice for George, by trumpeting his praises on divers occasions to his daughter. Under all circumstances, he thought she might be learning to love the man, as he was to be her husband; and speeches like the following had been frequent of late from the parent to the child:—

"There's that youngster, George Denbigh: now, Bell, is he not a fine-looking lad? Then I know he is brave. His father before him was good stuff and a true Englishman. What a proper husband he would make for a young woman, he loves his king and country so; none of your new-fangled notions about religion and government, but a sober, religious churchman; that is, as much so, girl, as you can expect in the Guards. No Methodist, to be sure; it's a great pity he wasn't sent to sea, don't you think so? But cheer up, girl, one of these days he may be taking a liking to you yet."

Isabel, whose fears taught her the meaning of these eloquent praises of Captain Denbigh, listened to these harangues in silence, and often meditated on their import by herself in tears.

George approached the sofa on which the lady was seated before she had time to conceal the traces of her sorrow, and in a voice softened by emotion, he took her hand gently as he said,—

"What can have occasioned this distress to Miss Howell? If anything in my power to remove, or which a life devoted to her service can mitigate, she has only to command me to find a cheerful obedience."

"The trifling causes of sorrow in a young woman," replied Isabel, endeavoring to smile, "will hardly require such serious services to remove them."

But the lady was extremely interesting at the moment. George was goaded by his father's caution; and urged on by his own feelings, with great sincerity, and certainly much eloquence, he therefore proffered his love and hand to the acceptance of his mistress.

Isabel heard him in painful silence. She respected him, and dreaded his power over her father; but, unwilling to abandon hopes to which she yet clung as to her spring of existence, with a violent effort she determined to throw herself on the generosity of her lover.

During her father's late absence Isabel had, as usual, since the death of her mother, been left with his sister, and had formed an attachment for a young clergyman, a younger son of a baronet, and the present Dr. Ives. The inclination had been mutual; and as Lady Hawker knew her brother to be perfectly indifferent to money, she could see no possible objection to its indulgence.

On his return, Ives made his proposals, as related; and although warmly backed by the recommendations of the aunt, he was refused. Out of delicacy the wishes of Isabel had not been mentioned by her clerical lover, and the admiral supposed he had only complied with his agreement with the general, without in any manner affecting the happiness of his daughter by his answer. But the feelings which prompted the request still remained in full vigor in the lovers; and Isabel now, with many blushes and some hesitation of utterance, made George fully acquainted with the state of her heart, giving him at the same time to understand that he was the only obstacle to her happiness.

It cannot be supposed that George heard her without pain or mortification. The struggle with self-love was a severe one, but his better feelings prevailed, and he assured the anxious Isabel that from his importunities she had nothing to apprehend in future. The grateful girl overwhelmed him with thanks, and George had to fly ere he repented of his own generosity.

Miss Howell intimated, in the course of her narrative, that a better understanding existed between their parents than the caution of the general had discovered to his unsuspecting child, and George was determined to know the worst at once.

At supper he mentioned, as if in remembrance of his father's injunction, that he had been to take his leave of Miss Howell, since he found his visits gave uneasiness to her friends. "On the whole," he added, endeavoring to yawn carelessly, "I believe I shall visit there no more."

"Nay, nay," returned Sir Frederick, a little displeased at his son's obedience, "I meant no such thing. Neither the admiral nor myself has the least objection to your visiting in moderation; indeed, you may marry the girl with all our hearts, if you can agree."

"But we can't agree, I take it," said George, looking up at the wall.

"Why not? what hinders?" cried his father unguardedly.

"Only—only I don't like her," said the son, tossing off a glass of wine, which nearly strangled him.

"You don't," cried the general with great warmth, thrown entirely off his guard by this unexpected declaration; "and may I presume to ask the reason why you do not like Miss Howell, sir?"

"Oh! you know, one never pretends to give a reason for this sort of feeling, my dear sir."

"Then," cried his father with increasing heat, "you must allow me to say, my dear sir, that the sooner you get rid of these sort of feelings the better. I choose you shall not only like, but love Miss Howell; and this I have promised her father."

"I thought that the admiral was displeased with my coming to his house so much—or did I not understand you this morning?"

"I know nothing of his displeasure, and care less. He has agreed that Isabel shall be your wife, and I have passed my word to the engagement; and if, sir, you wish to be considered as my son, you will prepare to comply."

George was expecting to discover some management on the part of his father, but by no means so settled an arrangement, and his anger was in proportion to the deception.

To annoy Isabel any further was out of the question; to betray her, base; and the next morning he sought an audience with the duke. To him he mentioned his wish for actual service, but hinted that the maternal fondness of Lady Margaret was averse to his seeking it. This was true, and George now pressed his uncle to assist him in effecting an exchange.

The boroughs of the Duke of Derwent were represented by loyal members of parliament, his two brothers being contemporary with Mr. Benfield in that honor; and a request from a man who sent six members to the Commons, besides having a seat in the Lords in his own person, most be listened to.

Within the week George ceased to be a captain in the guards, and became lieutenant-colonel of a regiment under orders for America.

Sir Frederick soon became sensible of the error his warmth had led him into, and endeavored, by soothing and indulgence, to gain the ground he had so unguardedly lost. But terrible was his anger, and bitter his denunciations, when his son acquainted him with his approaching embarkation with his new regiment for America. They quarreled; and as the favorite child had never, until now, been thwarted or spoken harshly to, they parted in mutual disgust. With his mother George was more tender; and as Lady Margaret never thought the match such as the descendant of two lines of dukes was entitled to form, she almost pardoned the offense in the cause.

"What's this here?" cried Sir Peter Howell, as he ran over a morning paper at the breakfast table: "Captain Denbigh, late of the guards, has been promoted to the lieutenant-colonelcy of the —— foot, and sails to-morrow to join that regiment, now on its way to America."

"It's a lie, Bell!—it's all a lie! not but what he ought to be there, too, serving his king and country; but he never would serve you so."

"Me?" said Isabel, with a heart throbbing with the contending feelings of admiration for George's generosity, and delight at her own deliverance. "What have I to do with the movements of Mr. Denbigh?"

"What!" cried her father in astonishment; "ain't you to be his wife, ain't it all agreed upon—that is, between Sir Frederick and me, which is the same thing, you know"—

Here he was interrupted by the sudden appearance of the general himself, who had just learnt the departure of his son, and hastened, with the double purpose of breaking the intelligence to his friend, and of making his own peace.

"See here, Denbigh," exclaimed the admiral, pointing to the paragraph, "what do you say to that?"

"Too true—too true, my dear friend," replied the general, shaking his head mournfully.

"Hark ye, Sir Frederick Denbigh," cried the admiral fiercely; "did you not say that your son George was to marry my daughter?"

"I certainly did, Sir Peter, and am sorry to say that, in defiance of my entreaties and commands, he has deserted his home, and, in consequence, I have discarded him forever."

"Now, Denbigh," said the admiral, a good deal mollified by this declaration, "have I not always told you, that in the army you know nothing of discipline? Why, sir, if he was a son of mine, he should marry blindfolded, if I chose to order it. I wish, now, Bell had an offer, and dared to refuse it."

"There is the barber's clerk, you know," said the general, a good deal irritated by the contemptuous manner of his friend.

"And what of that. Sir Frederick?" said the sailor sternly; "if I choose her to marry a quill-driver, she shall comply."

"Ah! my good friend," said the general, willing to drop the disagreeable subject, "I am afraid we shall both find it more difficult to control the affections of our children than we at first imagined."

"You do, General Denbigh?" said the admiral, with a curl of contempt on his lip; and ringing the bell violently, he bid the servant send his young lady to him.

On the appearance of Isabel, her father inquired with in air of settled meaning where young Mr. Ives resided. It was only in the next street, and a messenger was sent to him, with Sir Peter Howell's compliments, and a request to see him without a moment's delay.

"We'll see, we'll see, my old friend, who keeps the best discipline," muttered the admiral, as he paced up and down the room, in the eager expectation of the return of his messenger.

The wondering general gazed on his friend, to ascertain if he was out of his senses. He knew he was quick to decide, and excessively obstinate, but he did not think him so crazy as to throw away his daughter in a fit of spleen. It never occurred to Sir Federick, however, that the engagement with himself was an act of equal injustice and folly, because it was done with more form and deliberation, which, to the eye of sober reason, would rather make the matter worse. Isabel sat in trembling suspense for the issue of the scene, and Ives in a few minutes made his appearance in no little alarm.

On entering, the admiral addressed him abruptly, by inquiring if he still wished to marry that girl, pointing to his daughter. The reply was an eager affirmative. Sir Peter beckoned to Isabel, who approached, covered with blushes; and her father having placed her hand in that of her lover, with an air of great solemnity he gave them his blessing. The young people withdrew to another room at Sir Peter's request, when he turned to his friend, delighted with his own decision and authority, and exclaimed,

"There, Fred Denbigh, that is what I call being minded."

The general had penetration enough to see that the result was agreeable to both the young people, a thing he had long apprehended; and being glad to get rid of the affair in any way that did not involve him in a quarrel with his old comrade, he gravely congratulated the admiral on his good fortune, and retired.

"Yes, yes," said Sir Peter to himself, as he paced up and down his room, "Denbigh is mortified enough, with his joy, and felicity, and grandchildren. I never had any opinion of their manner of discipline at all; too much bowing and scraping. I'm sorry, though, he is a priest; not but what a priest may be as good a man as another, but let him behave ever so well, he can only get to be a bishop at the most. Heaven forbid he should ever get to be a Pope! After all, his boys may be admirals if they behave themselves;" and he went to seek his daughter, having in imagination manned her nursery with vice and rear admirals in embryo by the half dozen.

Sir Peter Howell survived the marriage of his daughter but eighteen months; yet that was sufficient time to become attached to his invaluable son-in-law. Mr. Ives insensibly led the admiral, during his long indisposition, to a more correct view of sacred things, than he had been wont to entertain; and the old man breathed his last, blessing both his children for their kindness, and with an humble hope of future happiness. Some time before his death, Isabel, whose conscience had always reproached her with the deception practiced on her father, and with the banishment of George from his country and home, threw herself at the feet of Sir Peter, and acknowledged her transgression.

The admiral heard her in astonishment, but not in anger. His opinions of life had sensibly changed, and his great cause of satisfaction with his new son removed all motives for regret for anything but for the fate of poor George. With the noble forbearance and tenderness of the young man to his daughter, the hardy veteran was sensibly touched; and his entreaties with Sir Frederick made his peace with a father already longing for the return of his only hope.

The admiral left Colonel Denbigh his blessing, and his favorite pistols, as a remembrance of his esteem; but he did not live to see the reunion with his family.

George had soon learnt, deprived of hope and in the midst of novelty, to forget a passion which could no longer be prosperous; and two years from his departure returned to England, glowing in health, and improved in person and manners by a more extensive knowledge of the world and mankind.