Precaution/Chapter 7

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A month now passed in the ordinary occupations and amusements of a country life, during which both Lady Moseley and Jane manifested a desire to keep up the deanery acquaintance, that surprised Emily a little, who had ever seen her mother shrink from communications with those whose breeding subjected her own delicacy to the little shocks she could but ill conceal. In Jane this desire was still more inexplicable; for Jane had, in a decided way very common to her, avowed her disgust of the manners of their new associates at the commencement of the acquaintance; and yet Jane would now even quit her own society for that of Miss Jarvis, especially if Colonel Egerton happened to be of the party. The innocence of Emily prevented her scanning the motives for the conduct of her sister; and she set seriously about an examination into her own deportment to find the latent cause, in order, wherever an opportunity should offer, to evince her regret, had it been her misfortune to have erred, by the tenderness of her own manner.

For a short time the colonel seemed at a loss where to make his choice; but a few days determined him, and Jane was evidently the favorite. It is true, that in the presence of the Jarvis ladies he was more guarded and general in his attentions; but as John, from a motive of charity, had taken the direction of the captain's sports into his own hands; and as they were in the frequent habit of meeting at the Hall, preparatory to their morning excursion, the colonel suddenly became a sportsman. The ladies would often accompany them in their morning excursions; and as John would certainly be a baronet, and the colonel might not, if his uncle married, he had the comfort of being sometimes ridden, as well as of riding.

One morning, having all prepared for an excursion on horseback, as they stood at the door ready to mount, Francis Ives drove up in his father's gig, and for a moment arrested the party. Francis was a favorite with the whole Moseley family, and their greetings were warm and sincere. He found they meant to take the rectory in their ride, and insisted that they should proceed. "Clara would take a seat with him." As he spoke, the cast of his countenance brought the color into the cheeks of his intended; she suffered herself, however, to be handed into the vacant seat in the gig, and they moved on. John, who was at the bottom good-natured, and loved both Francis and Clara very sincerely, soon set Captain Jarvis and his sister what he called "scrub racing;" and necessity, in some measure, compelled the rest of the equestrians to hard riding, in order to keep up with the sports.

"That will do, that will do," cried John, casting his eye back, and perceiving they had lost sight of the gig, and nearly so of Colonel Egerton and Jane: "why you carry it off like a jockey, captain; better than any amateur I have ever seen, unless, indeed, it be your sister."

The lady, encouraged by his commendations, whipped on, followed by her brother and sister at half speed.

"There, Emily," said John, quietly dropping by her side, "I see no reason you and I should break our necks, to show the blood of our horses. Now do you know, I think we are going to have a wedding in the family soon?"

Emily looked at him in amazement.

"Frank has got a living; I saw it the moment he drove up. He came in like somebody. Yes, I dare say he has calculated the tithes already a dozen times."

John was right. The Earl of Bolton had, unsolicited, given him the desired living of his own parish; and Francis was at the moment pressing the blushing Clara to fix the day that was to put a period to his long probation. Clara, who had not a particle of coquetry about her, promised to be his as soon as he was inducted, an event that was to take place the following week; and then followed those delightful little arrangements and plans, with which youthful hope is so fond of filling up the void of life.

"Doctor," said John, as he came out of the rectory to assist Clara from the gig, "the parson here is a careful driver; see, he has not turned a hair."

He kissed the burning cheek of his sister as she touched the ground, and whispered significantly,—

"You need tell me nothing, my dear—I know all—I consent."

Mrs. Ives folded her future daughter to her bosom; and the benevolent smile of the good rector, together with the kind and affectionate manner of her sisters, assured Clara the approaching nuptials were anticipated, as a matter of course. Colonel Egerton offered his compliments to Francis, on his preferment to the living, with the polish of high breeding, and not without an appearance of interest; and Emily thought him, for the first time, as handsome as he was generally reputed to be. The ladies undertook to say something civil in their turn, and John put the captain, by a hint, on the same track.

"You are quite lucky, sir," said the captain, "in getting so good a living with so little trouble; I wish you joy of it with all my heart. Mr. Moseley tells me it is a capital thing now, for a gentleman of your profession. For my part, I prefer a scarlet coat to a black one, but there must be parsons, you know, or how should we get married, or say grace?"

Francis thanked him for his good wishes, and Egerton paid a handsome compliment to the liberality of the earl: "he doubted not he found that gratification which always attends a disinterested act;" and Jane applauded the sentiment with a smile.

The baronet, when he was made acquainted with the situation of affairs, promised Francis that no unnecessary delay should intervene, and the marriage was happily arranged for the following week. Lady Moseley, when she retired to the drawing-room after dinner, commenced a recital of the ceremony and company to be invited on the occasion. Etiquette and the decencies of life were not only the forte, but the fault of this lady; and she had gone on to the enumeration of about the fortieth personage in the ceremonials, before Clara found courage to say that "Mr. Ives and myself both wish to be married at the altar, and to proceed to Bolton Rectory immediately after the ceremony." To this her mother warmly objected; and argument and respectful remonstrance had followed each other for some time, before Clara submitted in silence, with difficulty restraining her tears. This appeal to the better feelings of the mother triumphed; and the love of parade yielded to love of her offspring. Clara, with a lightened heart, kissed and thanked her, and accompanied by Emily, left the room. Jane had risen to follow them, but catching a glimpse of the tilbury of Colonel Egerton, she reseated herself.

He had merely driven over at the earnest entreaties of the ladies, to beg Miss Jane would accept a seat back with him; "they had some little project on foot, and could not proceed without her assistance."

Mrs. "Wilson looked gravely at her sister, as she smiled acquiescence to his wishes; and the daughter, who but the minute before had forgotten there was any other person in the world but Clara, flew for her hat and shawl, in order, as she said to herself, that the politeness of Colonel Egerton might not keep him waiting. Lady Moseley resumed her seat by the side of her sister with an air of great complacency, as she returned from the window, after having seen her daughter off. For some time, each was occupied quietly with her needle, when Mrs. Wilson suddenly broke the silence by saying:—

"Who is Colonel Egerton?"

Lady Moseley looked up for a moment in amazement, but recollecting herself, answered,—

"The nephew and heir of Sir Edgar Egerton, sister."

This was spoken in a rather positive way, as if it were unanswerable; yet as there was nothing harsh in the reply, Mrs. Wilson continued,—

"Do you not think him attentive to Jane?"

Pleasure sparkled in the still brilliant eyes of Lady Moseley, as she exclaimed,—

"Do you think so?"

"I do; and you will pardon me if I say improperly so. I think you were wrong in suffering Jane to go with him this afternoon."

"Why improperly, Charlotte? If Colonel Egerton is polite enough to show Jane such attentions, should I not be wrong in rudely rejecting them?"

"The rudeness of refusing a request that is improper to grant is a very venial offense. I confess I think it improper to allow any attentions to be forced on us that may subject us to disagreeable consequences; but the attentions of Colonel Egerton are becoming marked, Anne."

"Do you for a moment doubt their being honorable, or that he dares to trifle with a daughter of Sir Edward Moseley?"

"I should hope not, certainly; although it may be well to guard even against such a misfortune. But I am of opinion it is quite as important to know whether he is worthy to be her husband, as it is to know that he is in a situation to become so."

"On what points, Charlotte, would you wish to be more assured? You know his birth and probable fortune—you see his manners and disposition; but these latter are things for Jane to decide on; she is to live with him, and it is proper she should be suited in these respects."

"I do not deny his fortune or his disposition, but I complain that we give him credit for the last, and for still more important requisites, without evidence of his possessing any of them. His principles, his habits, his very character, what do we know of them? I say we, for you know, Anne, your children are as dear to me as my own would have been."

"I believe you sincerely, but the things you mention are points for Jane to decide on. If she be pleased, I have no right to complain. I am determined never to control the affections of my children."

"Had you said, never to force the affections of your children, you would have said enough, Anne; but to control, or rather to guide the affections of a child, especially a daughter, is, in some cases, a duty as imperative as it would be to avert any other impending calamity. Surely the proper time to do this is before the affections of the child are likely to endanger her peace of mind."

"I have seldom seen much good result from the interference of parents," said Lady Moseley, a little pertinaciously.

"True; for to be of use, unless in extraordinary cases, it should not be seen. You will pardon me, Anne, but I have often thought parents are too often in extremes—determined to make the election for their children, or leaving them entirely to their own vanity and inexperience, to govern not only their own lives, but, I may say, to leave an impression on future generations. And, after all, what is this love? In nineteen cases in twenty of what we call affairs of the heart, it would be better to term them affairs of the imagination."

"And is there not a great deal of imagination in all love?" inquired Lady Moseley, smiling.

"Undoubtedly there is some; but there is one important difference: in affairs of the imagination, the admired object is gifted with all those qualities we esteem, as a matter of course, and there is a certain set of females who are ever ready to bestow this admiration on any applicant for their favors who may not be strikingly objectionable. The necessity of being courted makes our sex rather too much disposed to admire improper suitors."

"But how do you distinguish affairs of the heart, Charlotte, from those of the fancy?"

"When the heart takes the lead, it is not difficult to detect it. Such sentiments generally follow long intercourse, and opportunities of judging the real character. They are the only attachments that are likely to stand the test of worldly trials."

"Suppose Emily to be the object of Colonel Egerton's pursuit; then, sister, in what manner would you proceed to destroy the influence I acknowledge he is gaining over Jane?"

"I cannot suppose such a case," said Mrs. Wilson, gravely; and then, observing that her sister looked as if she required an explanation, she continued,—

"My attention has been directed to the forming of such principles, and such a taste, if I may use the expression, under those principles, that I feel no apprehension Emily will ever allow her affections to be ensnared by a man of the opinions and views of Colonel Egerton. I am impressed with a twofold duty in watching the feelings of my charge. She has so much singleness of heart, such real strength of native feeling, that, should an improper man gain possession of her affections, the struggle between her duty and her love would be weighty indeed; and should it proceed so far as to make it her duty to love an unworthy object, I am sure she would sink under it. Emily would die in the same circumstances, under which Jane would only awake from a dream, and be wretched."

"I thought you entertained a better opinion of Jane, sister," said Lady Moseley, reproachfully.

"I think her admirably calculated to make an invaluable wife and mother; but she is so much under the influence of her fancy, that she seldom gives her heart an opportunity of displaying its excellences; and again, she dwells so much upon imaginary perfections, that adulation has become necessary to her. The man who flatters her delicately will be sure to win her esteem; and every woman might love the being possessed of the qualities she will not fail to endow him with."

"I do not know that I rightly understand how you would avert all the sad consequences of improvident affections?" said Lady Moseley.

"Prevention is better than cure—I would first implant such opinions as would lessen the danger of intercourse; and as for particular attentions from improper objects, it should be my care to prevent them, by prohibiting, or rather impeding, the intimacy which might give rise to them. And, least of all," said Mrs. Wilson, with a friendly smile, as she rose to leave the room, "would I suffer a fear of being impolite to endanger the happiness of a young woman intrusted to my care."