Precaution/Chapter 46

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But Dr. Ives was mistaken. Had he seen the sparkling eyes and glowing cheeks of Miss Moseley, the smile of satisfaction and happiness which played on the unusually thoughtful face of Mrs. Wilson, when the earl handed them into his own carriage, as they left his house on the evening of the discovery, the doctor would have gladly acknowledged the failure of his prognostics. In truth, there was no possible event that, under the circumstances, could have given both aunt and niece such heartfelt pleasure, as the knowledge that Denbigh and the earl were the same person.

Pendennyss stood holding the door of the carriage in his hand, irresolute how to act, when Mrs. Wilson said,—

"Surely, my lord, you sup with us."

"A thousand thanks, my dear madam, for the privilege," cried the earl, as he sprang into the coach; the door was closed, and they drove off.

"After the explanations of this morning, my lord," said Mrs. Wilson, willing to remove all doubts between him and Emily, and perhaps anxious to satisfy her own curiosity, "it will be fastidious to conceal our desire to know more of your movements. How came your pocket-book in the possession of Mrs. Fitzgerald?"

"Mrs. Fitzgerald!" cried Pendennyss, in astonishment; "I lost the book in one of the rooms of the Lodge, and supposed it had fallen into your hands, and betrayed my disguise, by Emily's rejection of me and your own altered eye. Was I mistaken then in both?"

Mrs. Wilson now, for the first time, explained their real grounds for refusing his offers, which, in the morning, she bad loosely mentioned as owing to a misapprehension of his just character, and recounted the manner of the book falling into the hands of Mrs. Fitzgerald.

The earl listened in amazement, and after musing with himself, exclaimed,—

"I remember taking it from my pocket, to show Colonel Egerton some singular plants I had gathered, and think I first missed it when returning to the place where I had then laid it; in some of the side-pockets were letters from Marian, addressed to me, properly; and I naturally thought they had met your eye."

Mrs. Wilson and Emily immediately thought Egerton the real villain, who had caused both themselves and Mrs. Fitzgerald so much uneasiness, and the former mentioned her suspicions to the earl.

"Nothing more probable, dear madam," cried he, "and this explains to me his startled looks when we first met, and his evident dislike to my society, for he must have seen my person, though the carriage hid him from my sight."

That Egerton was the wretch, and that through his agency the pocket-book had been carried to the cottage, they all now agreed, and turned to more pleasant subjects.

"Master!—here—master," said Peter Johnson, as he stood at a window of Mr. Benfield's room, stirring a gruel for the old gentleman's supper, and stretching his neck and straining his eyes to distinguish objects by the light of the lamps, "I do think there is Mr. Denbigh, handing Miss Emmy from a coach, covered with gold, and two footmen, all dizened with pride like."

The spoon fell from the hands of Mr. Benfield. He rose briskly from his seat, and adjusting his dress, took the arm of the steward, and proceeded to the drawing-room. While these several movements were in operation, which consumed some time, the old bachelor relieved the tedium of Peter's impatience by the following speech:—

"Mr. Denbigh!—what, back?—I thought he never could let that rascal John shoot him and forsake Emmy after all" (here the old gentleman suddenly recollected Denbigh's marriage); "but now, Peter, it, can do no good either. I remember, that when my friend, the Earl of Gosford"—and again he was checked by the image of the card-table and the viscountess—"but, Peter," he said with great warmth, "we can go down and see him, notwithstanding."

"Mr. Denbigh!" exclaimed Sir Edward, in astonishment, when he saw the companion of his sister and child enter the drawing-room, "you are welcome once more to your old friends: your sudden retreat from us gave us much pain; but we suppose Lady Laura had too many attractions to allow us to keep you any longer in Norfolk."

The good baronet sighed, as he held out his hand to the man whom he had once hoped to receive as a son.

"Neither Lady Laura nor any other lady, my dear Sir Edward," cried the earl, as he took the baronet's hand, "drove me from you, but the frowns of your own fair daughter; and here she is, ready to acknowledge her offense, and, I hope, to atone for it."

John, who knew of the refusal of his sister, and was not a little displeased with the cavalier treatment he had received at Denbigh's hands, felt indignant at such improper levity in a married man, and approached with—

"Your servant, Mr. Denbigh; I hope my Lady Laura is well."

Pendennyss understood his look, and replied very gravely,—

"Your servant, Mr. John Moseley; my Lady Laura is, or certainly ought to be, very well, as she has this moment gone to a rout, accompanied by her husband."

The quick eye of John glanced from the earl to his aunt, to Emily; a lurking smile was on all their features. The heightened color of his sister, the flashing eyes of the young nobleman, the face of his aunt, all told him that something uncommon was about to be explained; and, yielding to his feelings, he caught the hand which Pendennyss extended to him, and cried,—

"Denbigh, I see—I feel—there is some unaccountable mistake—we are"—

"Brothers!" said the earl, emphatically. "Sir Edward—dear Lady Moseley, I throw myself on your mercy. I am an impostor: when your hospitality received me into your house, it is true you admitted George Denbigh, but he is better known as the Earl of Pendennyss."

"The Earl of Pendennyss!" exclaimed Lady Moseley, in a glow of delight, as she saw at once through some juvenile folly a deception which promised both happiness and rank to one of her children. "Is it possible, my dear Charlotte, that this is your unknown friend?"

"The very same, Anne," replied the smiling widow, "and guilty of a folly that, at all events, removes the distance between us a little, by showing that he is subject to the failings of mortality. But the masquerade is ended, and I hope you and Edward will not only treat him as an earl, but receive him as a son."

"Most willingly—most willingly," cried the baronet, with great energy; "be he prince, peer, or beggar, he is the preserver of my child, and as such he is always welcome."

The door now slowly opened, and the venerable bachelor appeared on its threshold.

Pendennyss, who had never forgotten the good will manifested to him by Mr. Benfield, met him with a look of pleasure, as he expressed his happiness at seeing him again in London.

"I never have forgotten your goodness in sending honest Peter such a distance from home, on the object of his visit. I now regret that a feeling of shame occasioned my answering your kindness so laconically: "turning to Mrs. Wilson, he added, "for a time I knew not how to write a letter even, being afraid to sign my proper appellation, and ashamed to use my adopted."

"Mr. Denbigh, I am happy to see you. I did send Peter, it is true, to London, on a message to you—but it is all over now," the old man sighed; "Peter, however, escaped the snares of this wicked place; and if you are happy, I am content. I remember when the Earl of"—

"Pendennyss!" exclaimed the other, "imposed on the hospitality of a worthy man, under an assumed appellation, in order to pry into the character of a lovely female, who was only too good for him, and who now is willing to forget his follies, and make him not only the happiest of men, but the nephew of Mr. Benfield."

During this speech, the countenance of Mr. Benfield had manifested evident emotion: he looked from one to another, until he saw Mrs. Wilson smiling near him. Pointing to the earl with his finger, he stood unable to speak, as she answered simply,—

"Lord Pendennyss."

"And Emmy dear—will you—will you marry him?" cried Mr. Benfield, suppressing his feelings, to give utterance to his question.

Emily felt for her uncle, and blushing deeply, with great frankness she put her hand in that of the earl, who pressed it with rapture again and again to his lips.

Mr. Benfield sank into a chair, and with a heart softened by emotion, burst into tears.

"Peter," he cried, struggling with his feelings, "I am now ready to depart in peace—I shall see my darling Emmy happy, and to her care I shall commit you."

Emily, deeply affected with his love, threw herself into his arms in a torrent of tears, and was removed from them by Pendennyss, in consideration for the feelings of both.

Jane felt no emotions of envy for her sister's happiness; on the contrary, she rejoiced in common with the rest of their friends in her brightening prospects, and they all took their seats at the supper table, as happy a group as was contained in the wide circle of the metropolis. A few more particulars served to explain the mystery sufficiently, until a more fitting opportunity made them acquainted with the whole of the earl's proceedings.

"My Lord Pendennyss," said Sir Edward, pouring out a glass of wine, and passing the bottle to his neighbor: "I drink your health—and happiness to yourself and my darling child."

The toast was drunk by all the family, and the earl replied to the compliments with his thanks and smiles, while Emily could only notice them with her blushes and tears.

But this was an opportunity not to be lost by the honest steward, who, from affection and long services, had been indulged in familiarities exceeding any other of his master's establishment. He very deliberately helped himself to a glass of wine, and drawing near the seat of the bride-elect, with an humble reverence, commenced his speech as follows:—

"My dear Miss Emmy: Here's hoping you'll live to be a comfort to your honored father, and your honored mother, and my dear honored master, and yourself, and Madam Wilson." The steward paused to clear his voice, and profited by the delay to cast his eye round the table to collect the names; "and Mr. John Moseley, and sweet Mrs. Moseley, and pretty Miss Jane" (Peter had lived too long in the world to compliment one handsome woman in the presence of another, without the qualifying his speech a little); "and Mr. Lord Denbigh—earl like, as they say he now is, and"—Peter stopped a moment to deliberate, and then making another reverence, he put the glass to his lips; but before he had got half through its contents, recollected himself, and replenishing it to the brim, with a smile acknowledging his forgetfulness, continued, "and the Rev. Mr. Francis Ives, and the Rev. Mrs. Francis Ives."

Here the unrestrained laugh of John interrupted him; and considering with himself that he had included the whole family, he finished his bumper. Whether it was pleasure at his own eloquence in venturing on so long a speech, or the unusual allowance, that affected the steward, he was evidently much satisfied with himself, and stepped back behind his master's chair, in great good humor.

Emily, as she thanked him, noticed a tear in the eye of the old man, as he concluded his oration, that would have excused a thousand breaches of fastidious ceremony. But Pendennyss rose from his seat, and took him kindly by the hand, and returned his own thanks for his good wishes.

"I owe you much good will, Mr. Johnson, for your two journeys in my behalf, and trust I never shall forget the manner in which you executed your last mission in particular. We are friends, I trust, for life."

"Thank you—thank your honor's lordship," said the steward, almost unable to utter; "I hope you may live long, to make dear little Miss Emmy as happy—as I know she ought to be."

"But really, my lord," cried John, observing that the steward's affection for his sister had affected her to tears, "it was a singular circumstance, the meeting of the four passengers of the stage so soon at your hotel."

Moseley explained his meaning to the rest of the company.

"Not so much so as you imagine," said the earl in reply; "yourself and Johnson were in quest of me. Lord Henry Stapleton was under an engagement to meet me that evening at the hotel, as we were both going to his sister's wedding—I having arranged the thing with him by letter previously; and General M'Carty was also in search of me, on business relating to his niece, the Donna Julia. He had been to Annerdale House, and, through my servants, heard I was at an hotel. It was the first interview between us, and not quite as amicable a one as has since been had in Wales. During my service in Spain, I saw the Conde, but not the general. The letter he gave me was from the Spanish ambassador, claiming a right to require Mrs. Fitzgerald from our government, and deprecating my using an influence to counteract his exertions"—

"Which you refused," said Emily, eagerly.

"Not refused," answered the earl, smiling at her warmth, while he admired her friendly zeal, "for it was unnecessary: there is no such power vested in the ministry. But I explicitly told the general, I would oppose any violent measures to restore her to her country and a convent. From the courts, I apprehended nothing for my fair friend."

"Your honor—my lord," said Peter, who had been listening with great attention, "if I may presume just to ask two questions, without offense."

"Say on, my good friend," said Pendennyss, with an encouraging smile.

"Only," continued the steward, hemming, to give proper utterance to his thoughts, "I wish to know, whether you stayed in that same street after you left the hotel—for Mr. John Moseley and I had a slight difference in opinion about it."

The earl smiled, having caught the arch expression of John, and replied,—

"I believe I owe you an apology, Moseley, for my cavalier treatment; but guilt makes its all cowards. I found you were ignorant of my incognito, and I was equally ashamed to continue it, or to become the relator of my own folly. Indeed," he continued, smiling on Emily as he spoke, "I thought your sister had pronounced the opinion of all reflecting people on my conduct. I went out of town, Johnson, at daybreak. What is the other query?"

"Why, my lord," said Peter, a little disappointed at finding his first surmise untrue, "that outlandish tongue your honor used"—

"Was Spanish," cried the earl.

"And not Greek, Peter," said his master, gravely. "I thought, from the words you endeavored to repeat to me, that you had made a mistake. You need not be disconcerted, however, for I know several members of the parliament of this realm who could not talk the Greek language, that is, fluently. So it can be no disgrace to a serving-man to be ignorant of it."

Somewhat consoled to find himself as well off as the representatives of his country, Peter resumed his station in silence, when the carriages began to announce the return from the opera. The earl took his leave, and the party retired to rest.

The thanksgivings of Emily that night, ere she laid her head on her pillow, were the purest offering of mortal innocence. The prospect before her was unsullied by a cloud, and she poured out her heart in the fullest confidence of pious love and heartfelt gratitude.

As early on the succeeding morning as good-breeding would allow, and much earlier than the hour sanctioned by fashion, the earl and Lady Marian stopped in the carriage of the latter at the door of Sir Edward Moseley. Their reception was the most flattering that could be offered to people of their stamp; sincere, cordial, and, with a trifling exception in Lady Moseley, unfettered with any useless ceremonies.

Emily felt herself drawn to her new acquaintance with a fondness which doubtless grew out of her situation with her brother; which soon found reasons enough in the soft, lady-like, and sincere manners of Lady Marian, to justify her attachment on her own account.

There was a very handsome suite of drawing-rooms in Sir Edward's house, and the communicating doors were carelessly open. Curiosity to view the furniture, or some such trifling reasons, induced the earl to find his way into the one adjoining that in which the family were seated. It was unquestionably a dread of being lost in a strange house, that induced him to whisper a request to the blushing Emily, to be his companion; and lastly, it must have been nothing but a knowledge that a vacant room was easier viewed than one filled with company, that prevented any one from following them. John smiled archly at Grace, doubtless in approbation of the comfortable time his friend was likely to enjoy, in his musings on the taste of their mother. How the door became shut, we have ever been at a loss to imagine.

The company without were too good-natured and well satisfied with each other to miss the absentees, until the figure of the earl appeared at the reopened door, beckoning, with a face of rapture, to Lady Moseley and Mrs. Wilson. Sir Edward next disappeared, then Jane, then Grace—then Marian; until John began to think a tête-à- tête with Mr. Benfield was to be his morning's amusement.

The lovely countenance of his wife, however, soon relieved his ennui, and John's curiosity was gratified by an order to prepare for his sister's wedding the following week.

Emily might have blushed more than common during this interview, but it is certain she did not smile less; and the earl, Lady Marian assured Sir Edward, was so very different a creature from what he had recently been, that she could hardly think it was the same sombre gentleman with whom she had passed the last few months in Wales and Westmoreland.

A messenger was dispatched for Dr. Ives and their friends at B——, to be witnesses to the approaching nuptials; and Lady Moseley at length found an opportunity of indulging her taste for splendor on this joyful occasion.

Money was no consideration; and Mr. Benfield absolutely pined at the thought that the great wealth of the earl put it out of his power to contribute in any manner to the comfort of his Emmy. However, a fifteenth codicil was framed by the ingenuity of Peter and his master, and if it did not contain the name of George Denbigh, it did that of his expected second son, Roderick Benfield Denbigh, to the qualifying circumstance of twenty thousand pounds, as a bribe for the name.

"And a very pretty child, I dare say, it will be," said the steward, as he placed the paper in its repository. "I don't know that I ever saw, your honor, a couple that I thought would make a handsomer pair like, except"—Peter's mind dwelt on his own youthful form coupled with the smiling graces of Patty Steele.

"Yes! they are as handsome as they are good!" replied his master. "I remember now, when our Speaker took his third wife, the world said that they were as pretty a couple as there was at court. But my Emma and the earl will be a much finer pair. Oh! Peter Johnson; they are young, and rich, and beloved; but, after all, it avails but little if they be not good."

"Good!" cried the steward in astonishment; "they are as good as angels."

The master's ideas of human excellence had suffered a heavy blow in the view of his viscountess, but he answered mildly,—

"As good as mankind can well be."