Precaution/Chapter 45

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It has been already mentioned, that the health of Lady Pendennyss suffered a severe shock, in giving birth to a daughter. Change of scene was prescribed as a remedy for her disorder, and Denbigh and his wife were on their return from a fruitless excursion amongst the northern lakes, in pursuit of amusement and relief for the latter, when they were compelled to seek shelter from the fury of a sudden gust in the first building that offered. It was a farm-house of the better sort; and the attendants, carriages, and appearance of their guests, caused no little confusion to its simple inmates. A fire was lighted in the best parlor, and every effort was made by the inhabitants to contribute to the comforts of the travellers.

The countess and her husband were sitting in that kind of listless melancholy which had been too much the companion of their later hours, when in the interval of the storm, a male voice in an adjoining room commenced singing the following ballad, the notes being low, monotonous, but unusually sweet, and the enunciation so distinct, as to render every syllable intelligible:—

Oh! I have lived in endless pain,
And I have lived, alas! in vain,
For none regard my woe;
No father's care conveyed the truth,
No mother's fondness blessed my youth,
Ah! joys too great to know?

And Marian's love, and Marian's pride.
Have crushed the heart that would have died
To save my Marian's tears:
A brother's hand has struck the blow.
Oh! may that brother never know
Such madly sorrowing years!

But hush my griefs—and hush my song,
I've mourned in vain—I've mourned too long,
When none have come to soothe;
And dark's the path that lies before.
And dark have been the days of yore,
And all was dark in youth.

The maids employed around the person of their comfortless mistress, the valet of Denbigh engaged in arranging a dry coat for his master—all suspended their employments to listen in breathless silence to the mournful melody of the song.

But Denbigh himself had started from his seat at the first notes, and he continued until the voice ceased, gazing in vacant horror in the direction of the sounds. A door opened from the parlor to the room of the musician; he rushed through it, and there, in a kind of shed to the building, which hardly sheltered him from the fury of the tempest, clad in the garments of the extremest poverty, with an eye roving in madness, and a body rocking to and fro from mental inquietude, he beheld seated on a stone the remains of his long-lost brother, Francis.

The language of the song was too plain to be misunderstood. The truth glared around George with a violence that dazzled his brain; but he saw it all, he felt it all, and rushing to the feet of his brother, he exclaimed in horror, pressing his hands between his own,—

"Francis—my own brother—do you not know me?"

The maniac regarded him with a vacant gaze, but the voice and the person recalled the compositions of his more reasonable moments to his recollection; pushing back the hair of George, so as to expose his fine forehead to view, he contemplated him for a few moments, and then continued to sing, in a voice still rendered sweeter than before by his faint impressions:—

His raven locks, that richly curled,
His eye, that proud defiance hurled,
Have stol'n my Marian's love!
Had I been blest by nature's grave,
With such a form, with such a face
Could I so treacherous prove?

And what is man—and what is care—
That he should let such passions tear
The bases of the soul?
Oh! you should do, as I have done,
And having pleasure's summit won,
Each bursting sob control!

On ending the last stanza, the maniac released his brother, and broke into the wildest laugh of madness.

"Francis! O! Francis, my brother," cried George, in bitterness. A piercing shriek drew his eye to the door he had passed through—on its threshold lay the senseless body of his wife. The distracted husband forgot everything in the situation of his Marian, and raising her in his arms, he exclaimed,—

"Marian—my Marian, revive—look up—know me."

Francis had followed him, and now stood by his side, gazing intently on the lifeless body; his looks became more soft, his eye glanced less wildly, he too cried,—

"Marian—my Marian."

There was a mighty effort; nature could endure no more, he broke a blood-vessel and fell at the feet of George. They flew to his assistance, giving the countess to her women; but he was dead.

For seventeen years Lady Pendennyss survived this shock: but having reached her own abode, during that long period she never left her room.

In the confidence of his surviving hopes, Doctor Ives and his wife were made acquainted with the real cause of the grief of their friend, but the truth went no further. Denbigh was the guardian of his three young cousins, the duke, his sister, and young George Denbigh; these, with his son, Lord Lumley, and daughter, Lady Marian, were removed from the melancholy of the castle to scenes better adapted to their opening prospects in life. Yet Lumley was fond of the society of his father, and finding him a youth endowed beyond his years, the care of his parent was early turned to the most important of his duties in that sacred office; and when he yielded to his wishes to go into the army, he knew he went a youth of sixteen, possessed of principles and self-denial that would become a man of five-and-twenty.

General Wilson completed the work which the father had begun; and Lord Lumley formed a singular exception to the character of most of his companions.

At the close of the Spanish war, he returned home, and was just in time to receive the parting breath of his mother.

A few days before her death, the countess requested that her children might be made acquainted with her history and misconduct; and she placed in the hands of her son a letter, with directions for him to open it after her decease. It was addressed to both children, and after recapitulating generally the principal events of her life, continued:—

"Thus, my children, you perceive the consequences of indulgence and hardness of heart, which made me insensible to the sufferings of others, and regardless of the plainest dictates of justice. Self was my idol. The love of admiration, which was natural to me, was increased by the flatterers who surrounded me; and had the customs of our country suffered royalty to descend in their unions to a grade in life below their own, your uncle would have escaped the fangs of my baneful coquetry.

"O Marian, my child, never descend so low as to practice those arts which have degraded your unhappy mother. I would impress on you, as a memorial of my parting affection, these simple truths—that coquetry stands next to the want of chastity in the scale of female vices; it is in fact a kind of mental prostitution; it is ruinous to all that delicacy of feeling which gives added lustre to female charms; it is almost destructive to modesty itself. A woman who has been addicted to its practice may strive long and in vain to regain that singleness of heart, which can bind her up so closely in her husband and children as to make her a good wife or a mother; and if it should have degenerated into habit, it may lead to the awful result of infidelity to her marriage vows.

"It is vain for a coquette to pretend to religion; its practice involves hypocrisy, falsehood, and deception—everything that is mean—everything that is debasing. In short, as it is bottomed on selfishness and pride, where it has once possessed the mind, it will only yield to the truth-displaying banners of the cross. This, and this only, can remove the evil; for without it she, whom the charms of youth and beauty have enabled to act the coquette, will descend into the vale of life, altered, it is true, but not amended. She will find the world, with its allurements, clinging around her parting years, in vain regrets for days that are flown, and in mercenary views for her descendants. Heaven bless you, my children, console and esteem your inestimable father while he yet remains with you; and place your reliance on that Heavenly Parent who will never desert those who seek him in sincerity and love. Your dying mother, "M. Pendennyss."

This letter, evidently written under the excitment of deep remorse, made a great impression on both her children. In Lady Marian it was pity, regret, and abhorrence of the fault which had been the principal cause of the wreck of her mother's peace of mind; but in her brother, now Earl of Pendennyss, these feelings were united with a jealous dread of his own probable lot in the chances of matrimony.

His uncle had been the supposed heir to a more elevated title than his own, but he was now the actual possessor of as honorable a name, and of much larger revenues. The great wealth of his maternal grandfather, and the considerable estate of his own father, were, or would soon be, centered in himself; and if a woman as amiable, as faultless, as affection had taught him to believe his mother to be, could yield in her situation to the lure of worldly honors, had he not great reason to dread, that a hand might be bestowed at some day upon himself, when the heart would point out some other destination, if the real wishes of its owner were consulted?

Pendennyss was modest by nature, and humble from principle, though by no means distrustful; yet the shock of discovering his mother's fault, the gloom occasioned by her death and his father's declining health, sometimes led him into a train of reflections which, at others, he would have fervently deprecated.

A short time after the decease of the countess, Mr. Denbigh, finding his constitution fast giving way, under the wasting of a decline he had been in for a year, resolved to finish his days in the abode of his Christian friend. Doctor Ives. For several years they had not met; increasing duties and infirmities on both sides having interrupted their visits.

By easy stages he left the residence of his son in Wales, and accompanied by both his children he reached Lumley Castle much exhausted; here he took a solemn and final leave of Marian, unwilling that she should so soon witness again the death of another parent, and dismissing the earl's equipage and attendants a short day's ride from B——, they proceeded alone to the rectory.

A letter had been forwarded acquainting the doctor of his approaching visit, wishing it to be perfectly private, but not alluding to its object, and naming a day, a week later than the one on which he arrived. This plan was altered on peceiving the torch of life more rapidly approaching the socket than he had at first supposed. His unexpected appearance and reception are known. Denbigh's death and the departure of his son followed; Francis having been Pendennyss's companion to the tomb of his ancestors in Westmoreland.

The earl had a shrinking delicacy, under the knowledge of his family history, that made him anxious to draw all eyes from the contemplation of his mother's conduct; how far the knowledge of it had extended in society he could not know, but he wished it buried with her in the tomb. The peculiar manner of his father's death would attract notice, and might recall attention to the prime cause of his disorder; as yet all was veiled, and he wished the doctor's family to let it remain so. It was, however, impossible that the death of a man of Mr. Denbigh's rank should be unnoticed in the prints, and the care of Francis dictated the simple truth without comments, as it appeared. As regarded the Moseleys, what was more natural than that the son of Mr. Denbigh should also be Mr. Denbigh?

In the presence of the rector's family no allusions were made to their friends, and the villagers and the neighborhood spoke of them as old and young Mr. Denbigh.

The name of Lord Lumley, now Earl of Pendennyss, was known to the whole British nation; but the long retirement of his father and mother had driven them almost from the recollection of their friends. Even Mrs. Wilson supposed her favorite hero a Lumley. Pendennyss Castle had been for centuries the proud residence of that family; and the change of name in its possessor was forgotten with the circumstances that had led to it.

When, therefore, Emily met the earl so unexpectedly the second time at the rectory, she of course, with all her companions, spoke of him as Mr. Denbigh. On that occasion, Pendennyss had called in person, in expectation of meeting his kinsman, Lord Bolton; but, finding him absent, he could not resist his desire to visit the rectory. Accordingly, he sent his carriage and servants on to London, leaving them at a convenient spot, and arrived on foot at the house of Dr. Ives. From the same motives which had influenced him before—a wish to indulge, undisturbed by useless ceremony, his melancholy reflections—he desired that his name might not be mentioned.

This was an easy task. Both Doctor and Mrs. Ives had called him, when a child, George or Lumley, and were unused to his new appellation of Pendennyss; indeed, it rather recalled painful recollections to them all.

It may be remembered that circumstances removed the necessity of any introduction to Mrs. Wilson and her party; and the difficulty in that instance was happily got rid of.

The earl had often heard Emily Moseley spoken of by his friends, and in their letters they frequently mentioned her name as connected with their pleasures and employments, and always with an affection Pendennyss thought exceeding that which they manifested for their son's wife; and Mrs. Ives, the evening before, to remove unpleasant thoughts, had given him a lively description of her person and character. The earl's curiosity had been a little excited to see this paragon of female beauty and virtue; and, unlike most curiosity on such subjects, he was agreeably disappointed by the examination. He wished to know more, and made interest with the doctor to assist him to continue the incognito with which accident had favored him.

The doctor objected on the ground of principle, and the earl desisted; but the beauty of Emily, aided by her character, had made an impression not to be easily shaken off, and Pendennyss returned to the charge.

His former jealousies were awakened in proportion to his admiration; and, after some time, he threw himself on the mercy of the divine, by declaring his new motive, but without mentioning his parents. The doctor pitied him, for he scanned his feelings thoroughly, and consented to keep silent, but laughingly declared it was bad enough for a divine to be accessory to, much less aiding in a deception; and that he knew if Emily and Mrs. Wilson learnt his imposition, he would lose ground in their favor by the discovery.

"Surely, George," said the doctor with a laugh, "you don't mean to marry the young lady as Mr. Denbigh?"

"Oh, no! it is too soon to think of marrying her at all," replied the earl with a smile; "but, somehow, I should like to see what my reception in the world will be as plain Mr. Denbigh, unprovided for and unknown."

"No doubt, my lord," said the rector archly, "in proportion to your merits, very unfavorably indeed; but then your humility will be finally elevated by the occasional praises I have heard Mrs. Wilson lavish on your proper character of late."

"I am much indebted to her partiality," continued the earl, mournfully; then throwing off his gloomy thoughts he added, "I wonder, my dear doctor, your goodness did not set her right in the latter particular."

"Why, she has hardly given me an opportunity; delicacy and my own feelings have kept me very silent on the subject of your family to any of that connection. They think, I believe, I was a rector in Wales, instead of your father's chaplain; and somehow," continued the doctor smiling on his wife, "the association with your late parents was so connected in my mind with my most romantic feelings, that although I have delighted in it, I have seldom alluded to it in conversation at all. Mrs. Wilson has spoken of you but twice in my hearing, and that since she has expected to meet you; your name has doubtless recalled the remembrance of her husband."

"I have many, many reasons to remember the general with gratitude," cried the earl with fervor; "but doctor, do not forget my incognito: only call me George; I ask no more."

The plan of Pendennyss was put in execution. Day after day he lingered in Northamptonshire, until his principles and character had grown upon the esteem of the Moseleys in the manner we have mentioned.

His frequent embarrassments were from the dread and shame of a detection. With Sir Herbert Nicholson he had a narrow escape, and Mrs. Fitzgerald and Lord Henry Stapleton he of course avoided; for having gone so far, he was determined to persevere to the end. Egerton, he thought, knew him, and he disliked his character and manners.

When Chatterton appeared most attentive to Emily, the candor and good opinion of that young nobleman made the earl acquainted with his wishes and his situation. Pendennyss was too generous not to meet his rival on fair grounds. His cousin and the duke were requested to use their united influence secretly to obtain the desired station for the baron. The result is known, and Pendennyss trusted his secret to Chatterton; he took him to London, gave him in charge to Derwent, and returned to prosecute his own suit. His note from Bolton Castle was a ruse to conceal his character, as he knew the departure of the baronet's family to an hour, and had so timed his visit to the earl as not to come in collision with the Moseleys.

"Indeed, my lord," cried the doctor to him one day, "your scheme goes on swimmingly, and I am only afraid when your mistress discovers the imposition, you will find your rank producing a different effect from what you have apprehended."