Although the care and wisdom of Mrs. Wilson had prohibited the admission of any romantic or enthusiastic expectations of happiness into the day-dreams of her charge, yet the buoyancy of health, of hope, of youth, of innocence, had elevated Emily to a height of enjoyment hitherto unknown to her usually placid and disciplined pleasures. Denbigh certainly mingled in most of her thoughts, both of the past and the future, and she stood on the threshold of that fantastic edifice in which Jane ordinarily resided. Emily was in the situation perhaps the most dangerous to a young female Christian: her heart, her affections, were given to a man, to appearance, every way worthy of possessing them, it is true but she had admitted a rival in her love to her Maker; and to keep those feelings distinct, to bend the passions in due submission to the more powerful considerations of endless duty, of unbounded gratitude, is one of the most trying struggles of Christian fortitude. We are much more apt to forget our God in prosperity than adversity. The weakness of human nature drives us to seek assistance in distress; but vanity and worldly-mindedness often induce us to imagine we control the happiness we only enjoy.
Sir Edward and Lady Moseley could see nothing in the prospect of the future but lives of peace and contentment for their children. Clara was happily settled, and her sisters were on the eve of making connexions with men of family, condition, and certain character. What more could be done for them? They must, like other people, take their chances in the lottery of life; they could only hope and pray for their prosperity, and this they did with great sincerity. Not so Mrs. Wilson: she had guarded the invaluable charge intrusted to her keeping with too much assiduity, too keen an interest, too just a sense of the awful responsibility she had undertaken, to desert her post at the moment watchfulness was most required. By a temperate, but firm and well-chosen conversation she kept alive the sense of her real condition in her niece, and labored hard to prevent the blandishments of life from supplanting the lively hope of enjoying another existence. She endeavored, by her pious example, her prayers, and her Judicious allusions, to keep the passion of love in the breast of Emily secondary to the more important object of her creation; and, by the aid of a kind and Almighty Providence, her labors, though arduous, were crowned with success.
As the family were seated round the table after dinner, on the day of their walk to the library, John Moseley, awakening from a reverie, exclaimed suddenly,
"Which do you think the handsomest, Emily, Grace Chatterton or Miss Fitzgerald?"
Emily laughed, as she answered, "Grace, certainly; do you not think so, brother?"
"Yes, on the whole; but don't you think Grace looks like her mother at times?"
"Oh no, she is the image of Chatterton."
"She is very like yourself, Emmy dear," said Mr. Benfield, who was listening to their conversation.
"Me, dear uncle; I have never heard it remarked before."
"Yes, yes, she is as much like you as she can stare. I never saw as great a resemblance, excepting between you and Lady Juliana—Lady Juliana, Emmy, was a beauty in her day; very like her uncle, old Admiral Griffin—you can't remember the admiral—he lost an eye in a battle with the Dutch, and part of his cheek in a frigate, when a young man fighting the Dons. Oh, he was a pleasant old gentleman; many a guinea has he given me when I was a boy at school."
"And he looked like Grace Chatterton, uncle, did he?" asked John, innocently.
"No, sir, he did not; who said he looked like Grace Chatterton, jackanapes?"
"Why, I thought you made it out, sir: but perhaps it was the description that deceived me—his eye and cheek, uncle."
"Did Lord Gosford leave children, uncle?" inquired Emily, throwing a look of reproach at John.
"No, Emmy dear; his only child, a son, died at school. I shall never forget the grief of poor Lady Juliana. She postponed a visit to Bath three weeks on account of it. A gentleman who was paying his addresses to her at the time, offered then, and was refused—indeed, her self-denial raised such an admiration of her in the men, that immediately after the death of young Lord Dayton, no less than seven gentlemen offered, and were refused in one week. I heard Lady Juliana say, that what between lawyers and suitors, she had not a moment's peace."
"Lawyers?" cried Sir Edward: "what had she to do with lawyers?"
"Why, Sir Edward, six thousand a year fell to her by the death of her nephew; and there were trustees and deeds to be made out—poor young woman, she was so affected, Emmy, I don't think she went out for a week—all the time at home reading papers, and attending to her important concerns. Oh! she was a woman of taste; her mourning, and liveries, and new carriage, were more admired than those of any one about the court. Yes, yes, the title is extinct; I know of none of the name now. The Earl did not survive his loss but six years, and the countess died broken-hearted, about a twelvemonth before him."
"And Lady Juliana, uncle," inquired John, "what became of her, did she marry?"
The old man helped himself to a glass of wine, and looked over his shoulder to see if Peter was at hand. Peter, who had been originally butler, and had made it a condition of his preferment, that whenever there was company, he should be allowed to preside at the sideboard, was now at his station. Mr. Benfield, seeing his old friend near him, ventured to talk on a subject he seldom trusted himself with in company.
"Why, yes—yes—she did marry, it's true, although she did tell me she intended to die a maid; but—hem—I suppose—hem—it was compassion for the old viscount, who often said he could not live without her; and then it gave her the power of doing so much good, a jointure of five thousand a year added to her own income: yet—hem—I do confess I did not think she would have chosen such an old and infirm man—- but, Peter, give me a glass of claret." Peter handed the claret, and the old man proceeded:—"They say he was very cross to her, and that, no doubt, must have made her unhappy, she was so very tender-hearted."
How much longer the old gentleman would have continued in this strain, it is impossible to say; but he was interrupted by the opening of the parlor door, and the sudden appearance on its threshold of Denbigh. Every countenance glowed with pleasure at this unexpected return of their favorite; and but for the prudent caution of Mrs. Wilson, in handing a glass of water to her niece, the surprise might have proved too much for her. The salutations of Denbigh were returned by the different members of the family with a cordiality that must have told him how much he was valued by all its branches; and after briefly informing them that his review was over, and that he had thrown himself into a chaise and travelled post until he had rejoined them, he took his seat by Mr. Benfield, who received him with a marked preference, exceeding that which he had shown to any man who had ever entered his doors, Lord Gosford himself not excepted. Peter removed from his station behind his master's chair to one where he could face the new comer; and after wiping his eyes until they filled so rapidly with water, that at last he was noticed by the delighted John to put on the identical goggles which his care had provided for Denbigh in his illness. His laugh drew the attention of the rest to the honest steward, and when Denbigh was told this was Mr. Benfield's ambassador to the hall, he rose from his chair, and taking the old man by the hand, kindly thanked him for his thoughtful consideration for his weak eyes.
Peter took the offered hand in both his own, and after making one or two unsuccessful efforts to speak, he uttered, "Thank you, thank you; may Heaven bless you," and burst into tears. This stopped the laugh, and John followed the steward from the room, while his master exclaimed, wiping his eyes, "Kind and condescending; just such another as my old friend, the Earl of Gosford."
At the appointed hour, the carriage of Mrs. Wilson was ready to convey herself and niece to the cottage of Mrs. Fitzgerald. John was left behind, under the pretence of keeping Denbigh company in his morning avocations, but really because Mrs. Wilson doubted the propriety of his becoming a visiting acquaintance at the house, tenanted as the cottage was represented to be. John was too fond of his friend to make any serious objections, and was satisfied for the present, by sending his compliments, and requesting his sister to ask permission for him to call in one of his morning excursions, in order to pay his personal respects.
They found the cottage a beautiful and genteel, though a very small and retired dwelling, almost hid by the trees and shrubs which surrounded it, and its mistress in its little veranda, expecting the arrival of Emily. Mrs. Fitzgerald was a Spaniard, under twenty, of a melancholy, yet highly interesting countenance; her manners were soft and retiring, but evidently bore the impression of good company, if not of high life. She was extremely pleased with this renewal of attention on the part of Emily, and expressed her gratitude to both ladies for their kindness in seeking her out in her solitude. She presented her more matronly companion to them, by the name of Donna Lorenza; and as nothing but good feeling prevailed, and useless ceremony was banished, the little party were soon on terms of friendly intercourse. The young widow (for such her dress indicated her to be), did the honors of her house with graceful ease, and conduct ed her visiters into her little grounds, which; together the cottage, gave evident proofs of the taste and elegance of its occupant. The establishment she supported she represented as very small; two women and an aged man servant, with occasionally a laborer for her garden and shrubbery. They never visited; it was a resolution she had made on fixing her residence here, but if Mrs. Wilson and Miss Moseley would forgive the rudeness of not returning their call, nothing would give her more satisfaction than a frequent renewal of their visits. Mrs. Wilson took so deep an interest in the misfortunes of this young female, and was so much pleased with the modest resignation of her manner, that it required little persuasion on the part of the recluse to obtain a promise of soon repeating her visit. Emily mentioned the request of John, and Mrs. Fitzgerald received it with a mournful smile, as she replied that Mr. Moseley had laid her under such an obligation in their first interview, she could not deny herself the pleasure of again thanking him for it; but she must be excused if she desired they would limit their attendants to him, as there was but one gentleman in England whose visits she admitted, and it was seldom indeed he called; he had seen her but once since she had resided in Norfolk.
After giving a promise not to suffer any one else to accompany them, and promising an early call again, our ladies returned to Benfield Lodge in season to dress for dinner. On entering the drawing-room, they found the elegant person of Colonel Egerton leaning on the back of Jane's chair. He had arrived during their absence, and immediately sought the baronet's family. His reception, if not as warm as that given to Denbigh, was cordial from all but the master of the house; and even he was in such spirits by the company around him, and the prospects of Emily's marriage (which he considered as settled), that he forced himself to an appearance of good will he did not feel. Colonel Egerton was either deceived by his manner, or too much a man of the world to discover his suspicion, and everything in consequence was very harmoniously, if not sincerely conducted between them.
Lady Moseley was completely happy. If she had the least doubts before, as to the intentions of Egerton, they were now removed. His journey to that unfashionable watering-place, was owing to his passion; and however she might at times have doubted as to Sir Edgar's heir, Denbigh she thought a man of too little consequence in the world, to make it possible he would neglect to profit by his situation in the family of Sir Edward Moseley. She was satisfied with both connexions. Mr. Benfield had told her General Sir Frederic Denbigh was nearly allied to the Duke of Derwent, and Denbigh had said the general was his grandfather. Wealth, she knew Emily would possess from both her uncle and aunt; and the services of the gentleman had their due weight upon the feelings of the affectionate mother. The greatest of her maternal anxieties was removed, and she looked forward to the peaceful enjoyment of the remnant of her days in the bosom of her descendants. John, the heir of a baronetcy, and 15,000 pounds a year, might suit himself; and Grace Chatterton, she thought, would be likely to prove the future Lady Moseley. Sir Edward, without entering so deeply into anticipations of the future as his wife, experienced an equal degree of contentment; and it would have been a difficult task to discover in the island a roof, under which there resided at the moment more happy countenances than at Benfield Lodge; for as its master had insisted on Denbigh becoming an inmate, he was obliged to extend his hospitality in an equal degree to Colonel Egerton: indeed, the subject had been fully canvassed between him and Peter the morning of his arrival, and was near being decided against his admission, when the steward, who had picked up all the incidents of the arbor scene from the servants (and of course with many exaggerations), mentioned to his master that the colonel was very active, and that he even contrived to bring water to revive Miss Emmy, a great distance, in the hat of Captain Jarvis, which was full of holes, Mr. John having blown it off the head of the captain without hurting a hair, in firing at a woodcock. This mollified the master a little, and he agreed to suspend his decision for further observation. At dinner, the colonel happening to admire the really handsome face of Lord Gosford, as delineated by Sir Joshua Reynolds, which graced the dining-room of Benfield Lodge, its master, in a moment of unusual kindness, gave the invitation; it was politely accepted, and the colonel at once domesticated.
The face of John Moseley alone, at times, exhibited evidences of care and thought, and at such moments it might be a subject of doubt whether he thought the most of Grace Chatterton or her mother: if the latter, the former was sure to lose ground in his estimation; a serious misfortune to John, not to be able to love Grace without alloy. His letters from her brother mentioned his being still at Denbigh castle, in Westmoreland, the seat of his friend the Duke of Derwent; and John thought one or two of his encomiums on Lady Harriet Denbigh, the sister of his grace, augured that the unkindness of Emily might in time be forgotten. The dowager and her daughters were at the seat of a maiden aunt in Yorkshire, where as John knew no male animal was allowed admittance, he was tolerably easy at the disposition of things. Nothing but legacy-hunting he knew would induce the dowager to submit to such a banishment from the other sex; but that was so preferable to husband-hunting he was satisfied. "I wish," said John mentally, as he finished the perusal of his letter, "mother Chatterton would get married herself, and she might let Kate and Grace manage for themselves. Kate would do very well, I dare say, and how would Grace make out!" John sighed, and whistled for Dido and Rover.
In the manners of Colonel Egerton there was the same general disposition to please, and the same unremitted attention to the wishes and amusements of Jane. They had renewed their poetical investigations, and Jane eagerly encouraged a taste which afforded her delicacy some little coloring for the indulgence of an association different from the real truth, and which, in her estimation, was necessary to her happiness. Mrs. Wilson thought the distance between the two suitors for the favor of her nieces was, if anything, increased by their short separation, and particularly noticed on the part of the colonel an aversion to Denbigh that at times painfully alarmed, by exciting apprehensions for the future happiness of the precious treasure she had prepared herself to yield to his solicitations, whenever properly proffered. In the intercourse between Emily and her preserver, as there was nothing to condemn, so there was much to admire. The attentions of Denbigh were pointed, although less exclusive than those of the colonel; and the aunt was pleased to observe that if the manners of Egerton had more of the gloss of life, those of Denbigh were certainly distinguished by a more finished delicacy and propriety. The one appeared the influence of custom and association, with a tincture of artifice; the other, benevolence, with a just perception of what was due to others, and with an air of sincerity, when speaking of sentiments and principles, that was particularly pleasing to the watchful widow. At times, however, she could not but observe an air of restraint, if not of awkwardness, about him that was a little surprising. It was most observable in mixed society, and once or twice her imagination pictured his sensations into something like alarm. These unpleasant interruptions to her admiration were soon forgotten in her just appreciation of the more solid parts of his character, which appeared literally to be unexceptionable; and when momentary uneasiness would steal over her, the remembrance of the opinion of Dr. Ives, his behavior with Jarvis, his charity, and chiefly his devotion to her niece, would not fail to drive the disagreeable thoughts from her mind. Emily herself moved about, the image of joy and innocence. If Denbigh were near her, she was happy; if absent, she suffered no uneasiness. Her feelings were so ardent, and yet so pure, that jealousy had no admission. Perhaps no circumstances existed to excite this usual attendant of the passion; but as the heart of Emily was more enchained than her imagination, her affections were not of the restless nature of ordinary attachments, though more dangerous to her peace of mind in the event of an unfortunate issue. With Denbigh she never walked or rode alone. He had never made the request, and her delicacy would have shrunk from such an open manifestation of her preference; but he read to her and her aunt; he accompanied them in their little excursions; and once or twice John noticed that she took the offered hand of Denbigh to assist her over any little impediment in their course, instead of her usual unobtrusive custom of taking his arm on such occasions. "Well, Miss Emily," thought John, "you appear to have chosen another favorite," on her doing this three times in succession in one of their walks. "How strange it is women will quit their natural friends for a face they have hardly seen." John forgot his own—"There is no danger, dear Grace," when his sister was almost dead with apprehension. But John loved Emily too well to witness her preference of another with satisfaction, even though Denbigh was the favorite; a feeling which soon wore away, however, by dint of custom and reflection. Mr. Benfield had taken it into his head that if the wedding of Emily could be solemnized while the family was at the lodge, it would render him the happiest of men; and how to compass this object, was the occupation of a whole morning's contemplation. Happily for Emily's blushes, the old gentleman harbored the most fastidious notions of female delicacy, and never in conversation made the most distant allusion to the expected connexion. He, therefore, in conformity with these feelings, could do nothing openly; all must be the effect of management; and as he thought Peter one of the best contrivers in the world, to his ingenuity he determined to refer the arrangement.
The bell rang—"Send Johnson to me, David."
In a few minutes, the drab coat and blue yarn stockings entered his dressing-room with the body of Mr. Peter Johnson snugly cased within them.
"Peter," commenced Mr. Benfield, pointing kindly to a chair, which the steward respectfully declined, "I suppose you know that Mr. Denbigh, the grandson of General Denbigh, who was in parliament with me, is about to marry my little Emmy?"
Peter smiled, as he bowed an assent.
"Now, Peter, a wedding would, of all things, make me most happy; that is, to have it here in the lodge. It would remind me so much of the marriage of Lord Gosford, and the bridemaids. I wish your opinion how to bring it about before they leave us. Sir Edward and Anne decline interfering, and Mrs. Wilson I am afraid to speak to on the subject."
Peter was not a little alarmed by this sudden requisition on his inventive faculties, especially as a lady was in the case; but, as he prided himself on serving his master, and loved the hilarity of a wedding in his heart, he cogitated for some time in silence, when, having thought a preliminary question or two necessary, he broke it with saying—
"Everything, I suppose, master, is settled between the young people?"
"Everything, I take it, Peter."
"And Sir Edward and my lady?"
"Willing; perfectly willing."
"And Madam Wilson, sir?"
"Willing, Peter, willing."
"And Mr. John and Miss Jane?"
"All willing; the whole family is willing, to the best of my belief.'"
"There is the Rev. Mr. Ives and Mrs. Ives, master?"
"They wish it, I know. Don't you think they wish others as happy as themselves, Peter?"
"No doubt they do, master. Well, then, as everybody is willing, and the young people agreeable, the only thing to be done, sir, is."
"Is what, Peter?" exclaimed his impatient master observing him to hesitate.
"Why, sir, to send for the priest, I take it."
"Pshaw! Peter Johnson, I know that myself," replied the dissatisfied old man. "Cannot you help me to a better plan?"
"Why, master," said Peter, "I would have done as well for Miss Emmy and your honor as I would have done for myself. Now, sir, when I courted Patty Steele, your honor, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and sixty-five, I should have been married but for one difficulty, which your honor says is removed in the case of Miss Emmy."
"What was that, Peter?" asked his master, in a tender tone.
"She wasn't willing, sir."
"Very well, poor Peter," replied Mr. Benfield, mildly "you may go." And the steward, bowing low, withdrew.
The similarity of their fortunes in love was a strong link in the sympathies which bound the master and man together and the former never failed to be softened by an allusion to Patty. The want of tact in the man, on the present occasion, after much reflection, was attributed by his master to the fact that Peter had never sat in parliament.
Mrs. Wilson and Emily, in the fortnight they had been at Benfield Lodge, paid frequent and long visits to the cottage: and each succeeding interview left a more favorable impression of the character of its mistress, and a greater certainty that she was unfortunate. The latter, however, alluded very slightly to her situation or former life; she was a Protestant, to the great surprise of Mrs. Wilson; and one that misery had made nearly acquainted with the religion she professed. Their conversations chiefly turned on the customs of her own, as contrasted with those of her adopted country, or in a pleasant exchange of opinions, which the ladies possessed in complete unison. One morning John had accompanied them and been admitted; Mrs. Fitzgerald receiving him with the frankness of an old acquaintance, though with the reserve of a Spanish lady. His visits were permitted under the direction of his aunt, but no others of the gentlemen were included amongst her guests. Mrs. Wilson had casually mentioned, in the absence of her niece, the interposition of Denbigh between her and death; and Mrs. Fitzgerald was so much pleased at the noble conduct of the gentleman, as to express a desire to see him; but the impressions of the moment appeared to have died away, a nothing more was said by either lady on the subject, and it was apparently forgotten. Mrs. Fitzgerald was found one morning, weeping over a letter she held in her hand, and the Donna Lorenza was endeavoring to console her. The situation of this latter lady was somewhat doubtful; she appeared neither wholly a friend nor a menial. In the manners of the two there was a striking difference; although the Donna was not vulgar, she was far from possessing the polish of her more juvenile friend, and Mrs. Wilson considered her to be in a station between that of a housekeeper and that of a companion. After hoping that no unpleasant intelligence occasioned the distress they witnessed, the ladies were delicately about to take their leave, when Mrs. Fitzgerald entreated them to remain.
"Your kind attention to me, dear madam, and the goodness of Miss Moseley, give you a claim to know more of the unfortunate being your sympathy has so greatly assisted to attain her peace of mind. This letter is from the gentleman of whom you have heard me speak, as once visiting me, and though it has struck me with unusual force, it contains no more than I expected to hear, perhaps no more than I deserve to hear."
"I hope your friend has not been unnecessarily harsh: severity is not the best way, always, of effecting repentance, and I feel certain that you, my young friend, can have been guilty of no offence that does not rather require gentle than stern reproof," said Mrs. Wilson.
"I thank you, dear madam, for your indulgent opinion of me, but although I have suffered much, I am willing to confess it is a merited punishment; you are, however, mistaken as to the source of my present sorrow. Lord Pendennyss is the cause of grief, I believe, to no one, much less to me."
"Lord Pendennyss!" exclaimed Emily, in surprise, unconsciously looking at her aunt.
"Pendennyss!" reiterated Mrs. Wilson, with animation "and is he your friend, too?"
"Yes, madam; to his lordship I owe everything—honor—comfort—religion—and even life itself."
Mrs. Wilson's cheek glowed with an unusual color, at this discovery of another act of benevolence and virtue, in a young nobleman whose character she had so long admired, and whose person she had in vain wished to meet.
"You know the earl, then?" inquired Mrs. Fitzgerald.
"By reputation, only, my dear," said Mrs. Wilson; "but that is enough to convince me a friend of his must be a worthy character, if anything were wanting to make us your friends."
The conversation was continued for some time, and Mrs. Fitzgerald saying she did not feel equal just then to the undertaking, but the next day, if they would honor her with another call, she would make them acquainted with the incidents of her life, and the reasons she had for speaking in such terms of Lord Pendennyss. The promise to see her was cheerfully made by Mrs. Wilson, and her confidence accepted; not from a desire to gratify an idle curiosity, but a belief that it was necessary to probe a wound to cure it; and a correct opinion, that she would be a better adviser for a young and lovely woman, than even Pendennyss; for the Donna Lorenza she could hardly consider in a capacity to offer advice, much less dictation. They then took their leave, and Emily, during their ride, broke the silence with exclaiming,—
"Wherever we hear of Lord Pendennyss, aunt, we hear of him favorably."
"A certain sign, my dear, he is deserving of it. There is hardly any man who has not his enemies, and those are seldom just; but we have met with none of the earl's yet."
"Fifty thousand a year will make many friends," observed Emily, shaking her head.
"Doubtless, my love, or as many enemies; but honor, life, and religion, my child, are debts not owing to money—in this country at least."
To this remark Emily assented; and after expressing her own admiration of the character of the young nobleman, she dropped into a reverie. How many of his virtues she identified with the person of Mr. Denbigh, it is not, just now, our task to enumerate; but judges of human nature may easily determine, and that too without having sat in the parliament of this realm.
The morning this conversation occurred at the cottage, Mr. and Mrs. Jarvis, with their daughters, made their unexpected appearance at L——. The arrival of a post-chaise and four with a gig, was an event soon circulated through the little village, and the names of its owners reached the lodge just as Jane had allowed herself to be persuaded by the colonel to take her first walk with him unaccompanied by a third person. Walking is much more propitious to declarations than riding; and whether it was premeditated on the part of the colonel or not, or whether he was afraid that Mrs. Jarvis or some one else would interfere, he availed himself of this opportunity, and had hardly got out of hearing of her brother and Denbigh, before he made Jane an explicit offer of his hand. The surprise was so great, that some time elapsed before the distressed girl could reply. This she, however, at length did, but incoherently: she referred him to her parents, as the arbiters of her fate, well knowing that her wishes had long been those of her father and mother. With this the colonel was obliged to be satisfied for the present. But their walk had not ended, before he gradually drew from the confiding girl an acknowledgment that, should her parents decline his offer, she would be very little less miserable than himself; indeed, the most tenacious lover might have been content with the proofs of regard that Jane, unused to control her feelings, allowed herself to manifest on this occasion. Egerton was in raptures; a life devoted to her would never half repay her condescension; and as their confidence increased with their walk, Jane re-entered the lodge with a degree of happiness in her heart she had never before experienced. The much dreaded declaration—her own distressing acknowledgements, were made, and nothing farther remained but to live and be happy. She flew into the arms of her mother, and; hiding her blushes in her bosom, acquainted her with the colonel's offer and her own wishes. Lady Moseley, who was prepared for such a communication, and had rather wondered at its tardiness, kissed her daughter affectionately, as she promised to speak to her father, and to obtain his approbation.
"But," she added, with a degree of formality and caution which had better preceded than have followed the courtship, "we must make the usual inquiries, my child, into the fitness of Colonel Egerton as a husband for our daughter. Once assured of that, you have nothing to fear."
The baronet was requested to grant an audience to Colonel Egerton, who now appeared as determined to expedite things, as he had been dilatory before. On meeting Sir Edward, he made known his pretensions and hopes. The father, who had been previously notified by his wife of what was forthcoming, gave a general answer, similar to the speech of the mother, and the colonel bowed in acquiescence.
In the evening, the Jarvis family favored the inhabitants of the lodge with a visit, and Mrs. Wilson was struck with the singularity of their reception of the colonel. Miss Jarvis, especially, was rude to both him and Jane, and it struck all who witnessed it as a burst of jealous feeling for disappointed hopes; but to no one, excepting Mrs. Wilson, did it occur that the conduct of the gentleman could be at all implicated in the transaction. Mr. Benfield was happy to see under his roof again the best of the trio of Jarvises he had known, and something like sociability prevailed. There was to be a ball, Miss Jarvis remarked, at L——, the following day, which would help to enliven the scene a little, especially as there were a couple of frigates at anchor, a few miles off, and the officers were expected to join the party. This intelligence had but little effect on the ladies of the Moseley family; yet, as their uncle desired that, out of respect to his neighbors, if invited, they would go, they cheerfully assented. During the evening, Mrs. Wilson observed Egerton in familiar conversation with Miss Jarvis; and as she had been notified of his situation with respect to Jane, she determined to watch narrowly into the causes of so singular a change of deportment in the young lady. Mrs. Jarvis retained her respect for the colonel in full force; and called out to him across the room, a few minutes before she departed—
"Well, colonel, I am happy to tell you I have heard very lately from your uncle, Sir Edgar."
"Indeed, madam!" replied the colonel, starting. "He was well, I hope."
"Very well, the day before yesterday. His neighbor, old, Mr. Holt, is a lodger in the same house with us at L——; and as I thought you would like to hear, I made particular inquiries about the baronet." The word baronet was pronounced with emphasis and a look of triumph, as if it would say, you see we have baronets as well as you. As no answer was made by Egerton, excepting an acknowledging bow, the merchant and his family departed.
"Well, John," cried Emily, with a smile, "we have heard more good to-day of our trusty and well-beloved cousin, the Earl of Pendennyss."
"Indeed!" exclaimed her brother. "You must keep Emily for his lordship, positively, aunt: she is almost as great an admirer of him as yourself."
"I apprehend it is necessary she should be quite as much so, to become his wife," said Mrs. Wilson.
"Really," said Emily, more gravely, "if all one hears of him be true, or even half, it would be no difficult task to admire him."
Denbigh was standing leaning on the back of a chair, in situation where he could view the animated countenance of Emily as she spoke, and Mrs. Wilson noticed an uneasiness and a changing of color in him that appeared uncommon from so trifling a cause. Is it possible, she thought, Denbigh can harbor so mean a passion as envy? He walked away, as if unwilling to hear more, and appeared much engrossed with his own reflections for the remainder of the evening. There were moments of doubting which crossed the mind of Mrs. Wilson with a keenness of apprehension proportionate to her deep interest in Emily, with respect to certain traits in the character of Denbigh; and this, what she thought a display of unworthy feeling, was one of them. In the course of the evening, the cards for the expected ball arrived, and were accepted. As this new arrangement for the morrow interfered with their intended visit to Mrs. Fitzgerald, a servant was sent with a note of explanation in the morning and a request that on the following day the promised communication might be made. To this arrangement the recluse assented, and Emily prepared for the ball with a melancholy recollection of the consequences which grew out of the last she had attended—melancholy at the fate of Digby, and pleasure at the principles manifested by Denbigh, on the occasion. The latter, however, with a smile, excused himself from being of the party, telling Emily he was so awkward that he feared some unpleasant consequences to himself or his friends would arise from his inadvertencies, did he venture again with her into such an assembly.
Emily sighed gently, as she entered the carriage of her aunt early in the afternoon, leaving Denbigh in the door of the lodge, and Egerton absent on the execution of some business; the former to amuse himself as he could until the following morning, and the latter to join them in the dance in the evening.
The arrangement included an excursion on the water, attended by the bands from the frigates, a collation, and in the evening a ball. One of the vessels was commanded by a Lord Henry Stapleton, a fine young man, who, struck with the beauty and appearance of the sisters, sought an introduction to the baronet's family, and engaged the hand of Emily for the first dance. His frank and gentleman-like deportment was pleasing to his new acquaintances; the more so, as it was peculiarly suited to their situation at the moment. Mrs. Wilson was in unusual spirits, and maintained an animated conversation with the young sailor, in the course of which, he spoke of his cruising on the coast of Spain, and by accident he mentioned his having carried out to that country, upon one occasion, Lord Pendennyss. This was common ground between them, and Lord Henry was as enthusiastic in his praises of the earl, as Mrs. Wilson's partiality could desire. He also knew Colonel Egerton slightly, and expressed his pleasure, in polite terms, when they met in the evening in the ball-room, at being able to renew his acquaintance. The evening passed off as such evenings generally do—in gaiety, listlessness, dancing, gaping, and heartburnings, according to the dispositions and good or ill fortune of the several individuals who compose the assembly. Mrs. Wilson, while her nieces were dancing, moved her seat to be near a window, and found herself in the vicinity of two elderly gentlemen, who were commenting on the company. After making several common-place remarks, one of them inquired of the other—"Who is that military gentleman amongst the naval beaux, Holt?"
"That is the hopeful nephew of my friend and neighbor, Sir Edgar Egerton; he is here dancing, and misspending his time and money, when I know Sir Edgar gave him a thousand pounds six months ago, on express condition, he should not leave the regiment or take a card in his hand for twelvemonth."
"He plays, then?"
"Sadly; he is, on the whole, a very bad young man."
As they changed their topic, Mrs. Wilson joined her sister, dreadfully shocked at this intimation of the vices of a man so near an alliance with her brother's child. She was thankful it was not too late to avert part of the evil, and determined to acquaint Sir Edward, at once, with what she had heard, in order that an investigation might establish the colonel's innocence or guilt.
They returned to the lodge at an early hour, and Mrs Wilson, after meditating upon the course she ought to take, resolved to have a conversation with her brother that evening after supper. Accordingly, as they were among the last to retire, she mentioned her wish to detain him, and when left by themselves, the baronet taking his seat by her on a sofa, she commenced as follows, willing to avoid her unpleasant information until the last moment.
"I wished to say something to you, brother, relating to my charge: you have, no doubt, observed the attentions of Mr. Denbigh to Emily?"
"Certainly, sister, and with great pleasure; you must not suppose I wish to interfere with the authority I have so freely relinquished to you, Charlotte, when I inquire if Emily favors his views or not?"
"Neither Emily nor I, my dear brother, wish ever to question your right, not only to inquire into, but to control the conduct of your child;—she is yours, Edward, by a tie nothing can break, and we both love you too much to wish it. There is nothing you may be more certain of, than that, without the approbation of her parents, Emily would accept of no offer, however splendid or agreeable to her own wishes."
"Nay, sister, I would not wish unduly to influence my child in an affair of so much importance to herself; but my interest in Denbigh is little short of that I feel for my daughter."
"I trust," continued Mrs. Wilson, "Emily is too deeply impressed with her duty to forget the impressive mandate, 'to honor her father and mother:' yes, Sir Edward, I am mistaken if she would not relinquish the dearest object of her affections, at your request; and at the same time, I am persuaded she would, under no circumstances, approach the altar with a man she did not both love and esteem."
The baronet did not appear exactly to understand his sister's distinction, as he observed, "I am not sure I rightly comprehend the difference you make, Charlotte."
"Only, brother, that she would feel that a promise made at the altar to love a man she felt averse to, or honor one she could not esteem, as a breach of a duty, paramount to all earthly considerations," replied his sister; "but to answer your question—Denbigh has never offered, and when he does, I do not think he will be refused."
"Refused!" cried the baronet, "I sincerely hope not; I wish, with all my heart, they were married already."
"Emily is very young," said Mrs. Wilson, "and need not hurry: I was in hopes she would remain single a few years longer."
"Well," said the baronet, "you and Lady Moseley, sister, have different notions on the subject of marrying the girls."
Mrs. Wilson replied, with a good-humored smile, "you have made Anne so good a husband, Ned, that she forgets there are any bad ones in the world; my greatest anxiety is, that the husband of my niece may be a Christian; indeed, I know not how I can reconcile it to my conscience, as a Christian myself, to omit this important qualification,"
"I am sure, Charlotte, both Denbigh and Egerton appear to have a great respect for religion; they are punctual at church, and very attentive to the service:" Mrs, Wilson smiled as he proceeded, "but religion may come after marriage, you know."
"Yes, brother, and I know it may not come at all; no really pious woman can be happy, without her husband is in what she deems the road to future happiness himself; and it is idle—it is worse—it is almost impious to marry with a view to reform a husband: indeed, she greatly endangers her own safety thereby; for few of us, I believe, but find the temptation to err as much as we can contend with, without calling in the aid of example against us, in an object we love; indeed it appears to me, the life of such a woman must be a struggle between conflicting duties."
"Why," said the baronet, "if your plan were generally adopted, I am afraid it would give a deadly blow to matrimony."
"I have nothing to do with generals, brother, I am acting for individual happiness, and discharging individual duties: at the same time I cannot agree with you in its effects on the community. I think no man who dispassionately examines the subject, will be other than a Christian; and rather than remain bachelors, they would take even that trouble; if the strife in our sex were less for a husband, wives would increase in value."
"But how is it, Charlotte," said the baronet, pleasantly, "your sex do not use your power and reform the age?"
"The work of reformation, Sir Edward," replied his sister, gravely, "is an arduous one indeed, and I despair of seeing it general, in my day; but much, very much, might be done towards it, if those who have the guidance of youth would take that trouble with their pupils that good faith requires of them, to discharge the minor duties of life."
"Women ought to marry," observed the baronet, musing.
"Marriage is certainly the natural and most desirable state for a woman," but how few are there who, having entered it, know how to discharge its duties; more particularly those of a mother! On the subject of marrying our daughters, for instance, instead of qualifying them to make a proper choice, they are generally left to pick up such principles and opinions as they may come at, as it were by chance. It is true, if the parent be a Christian in name, certain of the externals of religion are observed; but what are these, if not enforced by a consistent example in the instructor?"
"Useful precepts are seldom lost, I believe, sister," said Sir Edward, with confidence.
"Always useful, my dear brother; but young people are more observant than we are apt to imagine, and are wonderfully ingenious in devising excuses to themselves for their conduct. I have often heard it offered as an apology, that father or mother knew it, or perhaps did it, and therefore it could not be wrong: association is all-important to a child."
"I believe no family of consequence admits of improper associates within my knowledge," said the baronet.
Mrs. Wilson smiled as she answered, "I am sure I hope not, Edward; but are the qualifications we require in companions for our daughters, always such as are most reconcileable with our good sense or our consciences; a single communication with an objectionable character is a precedent, if known and unobserved, which will be offered to excuse acquaintances with worse persons: with the other sex, especially, their acquaintance should be very guarded and select."
"You would make many old maids, sister."
"I doubt it greatly, brother; it would rather bring female society in demand. I often regret that selfishness, cupidity, and the kind of strife which prevails in our sex, on the road to matrimony, have brought celibacy into disrepute. For my part, I never see an old maid, but I am willing to think she is so from choice or principle, and although not in her proper place, serviceable, by keeping alive feelings necessary to exist, that marriages may not become curses instead of blessings."
"A kind of Eddystone, to prevent matrimonial shipwrecks," said the brother, gayly.
"Their lot may be solitary, baronet, and in some measure cheerless, but infinitely preferable to a marriage that may lead them astray from their duties, or give birth to a family which are to be turned on the world—without any religion but form—without any morals but truisms—or without even a conscience which has not been seared by indulgence. I hope that Anne, in the performance of her system, will have no cause to regret its failure."
"Clara chose for herself, and has done well, Charlotte; and so, I doubt not, will Jane and Emily: and I confess I think their mother is right."
"It is true," said Mrs. Wilson, "Clara has done well, though under circumstances of but little risk; she might have jumped into your fish-pond, and escaped with life, but the chances are she would drown: nor do I dispute the right of the girls to choose for themselves; but I say the rights extend to requiring us to qualify them to make their choice. I am sorry, Edward, to be the instigator of doubts in your breast of the worth of any one, especially as it may give you pain." Here Mrs. Wilson took her brother affectionately by the hand, and communicated what she had overheard that evening. Although the impressions of the baronet were not as vivid, or as deep as those of his sister, his parental love was too great not to make him extremely uneasy under the intelligence and after thanking her for her attention to his children's welfare, he kissed her, and withdrew. In passing to his own room, he met Egerton, that moment returned from escorting Jarvis ladies to their lodgings; a task he had undertaken at the request of Jane, as they were without any male attendant. Sir Edward's heart was too full not to seek immediate relief, and as he had strong hopes of the innocence of the colonel, though he could give no reason for his expectation, he returned with him to the parlor, and in a few words acquainted him with the slanders which had been circulated at his expense; begging him by all means to disprove them as soon as possible. The colonel was struck with the circumstance at first, but assured Sir Edward, it was entirely untrue. He never played, as he might have noticed, and that Mr. Holt was an ancient enemy of his. He would in She morning take measures to convince Sir Edward, that he stood higher in the estimation of his uncle, than Mr. Holt had thought proper to state. Much relieved by this explanation, the baronet, forgetting that this heavy charge removed, he only stood where he did before he took time for his inquiries, assured him, that if he could convince him, or rather his sister, he did not gamble, he would receive him as a son-in-law with pleasure. The gentlemen shook hands and parted.
Denbigh had retired to his room early, telling Mr. Benfield he did not feel well, and thus missed the party at supper; and by twelve, silence prevailed in the house.
As usual after a previous day of pleasure, the party were late in assembling on the following, yet Denbigh was the last who made his appearance. Mrs. Wilson thought he threw a look round the room as he entered, which prevented his making his salutations in his usual easy and polished manner. In a few minutes, however, his awkwardness was removed, and they took their seats at the table. At that moment the door of the room was thrown hastily open, and Mr. Jarvis entered abruptly, and with a look bordering on wildness in his eye—"Is she not here?" exclaimed the merchant scanning the company closely.
"Who?" inquired all in a breath.
"Polly—my daughter—my child," said the merchant, endeavoring to control his feelings; "did she not come here this morning with Colonel Egerton?"
He was answered in the negative, and he briefly explained the cause of his anxiety. The colonel had called very early, and sent her maid up to his daughter who rose immediately. They had quitted the house together, leaving word the Miss Moseleys had sent for the young lady to breakfast, for some particular reason. Such was the latitude allowed by his wife, that nothing was suspected until one of the servants of the house said he had seen Colonel Egerton and a lady drive out of the village that morning in a post-chaise and four.
Then the old gentleman first took the alarm, and he proceeded instantly to the lodge in quest of his daughter. Of the elopement there now remained no doubt, and an examination into the state of the colonel's room, who, it had been thought, was not yet risen, gave assurance of it. Here was at once sad confirmation that the opinion of Mr. Holt was a just one. Although every heart felt for Jane during this dreadful explanation, no eye was turned on her excepting the stolen, and anxious glances of her sister; but when all was confirmed, and nothing remained but to reflect or act upon the circumstances, she naturally engrossed the whole attention of her fond parents. Jane had listened in indignation to the commencement of the narrative of Mr. Jarvis, and so firmly was Egerton enshrined in purity within her imagination, that not until it was ascertained that both his servant and clothes were missing, would she admit a thought injurious to his truth. Then indeed the feelings of Mr. Jarvis, his plain statement corroborated by this testimony, struck her at once as true; and as she rose to leave the room, she fell senseless into the arms of Emily who observing her movement and loss of color had flown to her assistance. Denbigh had drawn the merchant out in vain efforts to appease him, and happily no one witnessed this effect of Jane's passion but her nearest relatives. She was immediately removed to her own room, and in a short time was in bed with a burning fever. The bursts of her grief were uncontrolled and violent. At times she reproached herself—her friends—Egerton; in short, she was guilty of all the inconsistent sensations that disappointed hopes, accompanied by the consciousness of weakness on our part seldom fail to give rise to; the presence of her friends was irksome to her, and it was only to the soft and insinuating blandishments of Emily's love that she would at all yield. Perseverance and affection at length prevailed, and as Emily took the opportunity of some refreshments to infuse a strong soporific, Jane lost her consciousness of misery in a temporary repose. In the mean time a more searching inquiry had been able to trace out the manner and direction of the journey of the fugitives.
It appeared the colonel left the lodge immediately after his conversation with Sir Edward; he slept at a tavern, and caused his servant to remove his baggage at daylight; here he had ordered a chaise and horses, and then proceeded, as mentioned, to the lodgings of Mr. Jarvis. What arguments he used with Miss Jarvis to urge her to so sudden a flight, remained a secret; but from the remarks of Mrs. Jarvis and Miss Sarah, there was reason to believe that he had induced them to think from the commencement, that his intentions were single, and Mary Jarvis their object. How he contrived to gloss over his attentions to Jane in such a manner as to deceive those ladies, caused no little surprise; but it was obvious it had been done, and the Moseleys were not without hopes his situation with Jane would not make the noise in the world such occurrences seldom fail to excite. In the afternoon a letter was handed to Mr. Jarvis, and by him immediately communicated to the baronet and Denbigh, both of whom he considered as among his best friends. It was from Egerton, and written in a respectful manner: he apologized for his elopement, and excused it on the ground of a wish to avoid the delay of a license or the publishing of bans, as he was in hourly expectation of a summons to his regiment, and contained many promises of making an attentive husband, and an affectionate son. The fugitives were on the road to Scotland, whence they intended immediately to return to London and to wait the commands of their parents. The baronet in a voice trembling with emotion at the sufferings of his own child, congratulated the merchant that things were no worse; while Denbigh curled his lips as he read the epistle, and thought settlements were a greater inconvenience than the bans—for it was a well known fact, a maiden aunt had left the Jarvises twenty thousand pounds between them.
Although the affections of Jane had sustained a blow, her pride had received a greater, and no persuasions of her mother or sister could induce her to leave her room. She talked little, but once or twice she yielded to the affectionate attentions of Emily, and poured out her sorrows into the bosom of her sister. At such moments she would declare her intention of never appearing in the world again. One of these paroxysms of sorrow was witnessed by her mother, and, for the first time, self-reproach mingled in the grief of the matron. Had she trusted less to appearances and to the opinions of indifferent and ill-judging acquaintances, her daughter might have been apprized in season of the character of the man who had stolen her affections. To a direct exhibition of misery Lady Moseley was always sensible, and, for the moment, she became alive to its causes and consequences; but a timely and judicious safeguard against future moral evils was a forecast neither her inactivity of mind nor abilities were equal to.
We shall leave Jane to brood over her lover's misconduct, while we regret she is without the consolation alone able to bear her up against the misfortunes of life, and return to the other personages of our history.
The visit to Mrs. Fitzgerald had been postponed in consequence of Jane's indisposition; but a week after the colonel's departure, Mrs. Wilson thought, as Jane had consented to leave her room, and Emily really began to look pale from her confinement by the side of a sick bed, she would redeem the pledge she had given the recluse on the following morning. They found the ladies at the cottage happy to see them, and anxious to hear of the health of Jane, of whose illness they had been informed by note. After offering her guests some refreshments, Mrs. Fitzgerald, who appeared laboring under a greater melancholy than usual, proceeded to make them acquainted with the incidents of her life.
The daughter of an English merchant at Lisbon had fled from the house of her father to the protection of an Irish officer in the service of his Catholic Majesty: they were united, and the colonel immediately took his bride to Madrid. The offspring of this union were a son and daughter. The former, at an early age, had entered into the service of his king, and had, as usual, been bred in the faith of his ancestors; but the Senora McCarthy had been educated, and yet remained a Protestant, and, contrary to her faith to her husband, secretly instructed her daughter in the same belief. At the age of seventeen, a principal grandee of the court of Charles sought the hand of the general's child. The Conde d'Alzada was a match not to be refused, and they were united in the heartless and formal manner in which marriages are too often entered into, in countries where the customs of society prevent an intercourse between the sexes. The Conde never possessed the affections of his wife. Of a stern and unyielding disposition, his harshness repelled her love; and as she naturally turned her eyes to the home of her childhood, she cherished all those peculiar sentiments she had imbibed from her mother. Thus, although she appeared to the world a Catholic, she lived in secret a Protestant. Her parents had always used the English language in their family, and she spoke it as fluently as the Spanish. To encourage her recollections of this strong feature, which distinguished the house of her father from the others she entered, she perused closely and constantly those books which the death of her mother placed at her disposal. These were principally Protestant works on religious subjects, and the countess became a strong sectarian, without becoming a Christian. As she was compelled to use the same books in teaching her only child, the Donna Julia, English, the consequences of the original false step of her grandmother were perpetuated in the person of this young lady. In learning English, she also learned to secede from the faith of her father, and entailed upon herself a life of either persecution or hypocrisy. The countess was guilty of the unpardonable error of complaining to their child of the treatment she received from her husband; and as these conversations were held in English, and were consecrated by the tears of the mother, they made an indelible impression on the youthful mind of Julia, who grew up with the conviction that next to being a Catholic herself, the greatest evil of life was to be the wife of one.
On her attaining her fifteenth year, she had the misfortune (if it could be termed one) to lose her mother, and within the year her father presented to her a nobleman of the vicinity as her future husband. How long the religious faith of Julia would have endured, unsupported by example in others, and assailed by the passions soliciting in behalf of a young and handsome cavalier, it might be difficult to pronounce; but as suitor was neither very young, and the reverse of very handsome, it is certain the more he wooed, the more confirmed she became in her heresy, until, in a moment of desperation, and as an only refuge against his solicitations, she candidly avowed her creed. The anger of her father was violent and lasting: she was doomed to a convent, as both a penance for her sins and a means of reformation. Physical resistance was not in her power, but mentally she determined never to yield. Her body was immured, but her mind continued unshaken and rather more settled in her belief, by the aid of those passions which had been excited by injudicious harshness. For two years she continued in her novitiate, obstinately refusing to take the vows of the order, and at the end of that period the situation of her country had called her father and uncle to the field as defenders of the rights of their lawful prince. Perhaps to this it was owing that harsher measures were not adopted in her case.
The war now raged around them in its greatest horrors, until at length a general battle was fought in the neighborhood, and the dormitories of the peaceful nuns were crowded with wounded British officers. Amongst others of his nation was a Major Fitzgerald, a young man of strikingly handsome countenance and pleasant manners. Chance threw him under the more immediate charge of Julia: his recovery was slow, and for a time doubtful, and as much owing to good nursing as science. The major was grateful, and Julia unhappy as she was beautiful. That love should be the offspring of this association, will excite no surprise. A brigade of British encamping in the vicinity of the convent, the young couple sought its protection from Spanish vengeance and Romish cruelty. They were married by the chaplain of the brigade, and for a month they were happy.
As Napoleon was daily expected in person at the seat of war, his generals were alive to their own interests, if not to that of their master. The body of troops in which Fitzgerald had sought a refuge, being an advanced party of the main army, were surprised and defeated with loss. After doing his duty as a soldier at his post, the major, in endeavoring to secure the retreat of Julia, was intercepted, and they both fell into the hands of the enemy. They were kindly treated, and allowed every indulgence their situation admitted, until a small escort of prisoners was sent to the frontiers; in this they were included, and had proceeded to the neighborhood of the Pyrenees, when, in their turn, the French were assailed suddenly, and entirely routed; and the captive Spaniards, of which the party, with the exception of our young couple, consisted, released. As the French guard made a resistance until overpowered by numbers, an unfortunate ball struck Major Fitzgerald to the earth—he survived but an hour, and died where he fell, on the open field. An English officer, the last of his retiring countrymen, was attracted by the sight of a woman weeping over the body of a fallen man, and approached them. In a few words Fitzgerald explained his situation to this gentleman, and exacted a pledge from him to guard his Julia, in safety, to his mother in England.
The stranger promised everything the dying husband required, and by the time death had closed the eyes of Fitzgerald, he had procured from some peasants a rude conveyance, into which the body, with its almost equally lifeless widow, were placed. The party which intercepted the convoy of prisoners, had been out from the British camp on other duty, but its commander hearing of the escort, had pushed rapidly into a country covered by the enemy to effect their rescue; and his service done, he was compelled to make a hasty retreat to ensure his own security. To this was owing the indifference, which left the major to the care of the Spanish peasantry who had gathered to the spot, and the retreating troops had got several miles on their return, before the widow and her protector commenced their journey. It was impossible to overtake them, and the inhabitants acquainting the gentleman that a body of French dragoons were already harassing their rear, he was compelled to seek another route to the camp. This, with some trouble and no little danger, he at last effected; and the day following the skirmish, Julia found herself lodged in a retired Spanish dwelling, several miles within the advanced posts of the British army. The body of her husband was respectfully interred, and Julia was left to mourn her irretrievable loss, uninterrupted by anything but by the hasty visits of the officer in whose care she had been left—visits which he stole from his more important duties as a soldier.
A month glided by in this melancholy manner, leaving to Mrs. Fitzgerald the only consolation she would receive—her incessant visits to the grave of her husband. The calls of her protector, however, became more frequent; and at length he announced his intended departure for Lisbon, on his way to England. A small covered vehicle, drawn by one horse, was to convey them to the city, at which place he promised to procure her a female attendant, and necessaries for the voyage home. It was no time or place for delicate punctilio; and Julia quietly, but with a heart nearly broken, prepared to submit to the wishes of her late husband. After leaving the dwelling, the manners of her guide sensibly altered; he became complimentary and assiduous to please, but in a way rather to offend than conciliate; until his attentions became so irksome, that Julia actually meditated stopping at some of the villages through which they passed, and abandoning the attempt of visiting England entirely. But the desire to comply with Fitzgerald's wish, that she would console his mother for the loss of an only child, and the dread of the anger of her relatives, determined her to persevere until they reached Lisbon, where she was resolved to separate for ever from the disagreeable and unknown guardian into whose keeping she had been thrown by chance.
The last day of their weary ride, while passing a wood, the officer so far forgot his own character and Julia's misfortunes, as to offer personal indignities. Grown desperate from her situation, Mrs. Fitzgerald sprang from the vehicle, and by her cries attracted the notice of an officer who was riding express on the same road with themselves. He advanced to her assistance at speed, but as he arrived near them, a pistol fired from the carriage brought his horse down, and the treacherous friend was enabled to escape undetected. Julia endeavored to explain her situation to her rescuer; and by her distress and appearance, satisfied him at once of its truth. Within a short time, a strong escort of light dragoons came up, and the officer despatched some for a conveyance, and others in pursuit of that disgrace to the army, the villanous guide: the former was soon obtained, but no tidings could be had of the latter. The carriage was found at a short distance, without the horse and with the baggage of Julia, but with no vestige of its owner. She never knew his name, and either accident or art had so completely enveloped him in mystery, that all efforts to unfold it then were fruitless, and had continued so ever since.
On their arrival in Lisbon, every attention was shown to the disconsolate widow the most refined delicacy could, dictate, and every comfort and respect were procured for her which the princely fortune, high rank, and higher character of the Earl of Pendennyss, could, command. It was this nobleman, who, on his way from head-quarters with despatches for England, had been the means of preserving Julia from a fate worse than death. A packet was in waiting for the earl, and they proceeded in her for home. The Donna Lorenza was the widow of a subaltern Spanish officer, who had fallen under the orders and near Pendennyss, and the interest he took in her brave husband had induced him to offer her, in the destruction of her little fortune by the enemy, his protection: for near two years he had maintained her at Lisbon and now, judging her a proper person, had persuaded her to accompany Mrs. Fitzgerald to England.
On the passage, which was very tedious, the earl became more intimately acquainted with the history and character of his young friend, and by a course of gentle yet powerful expedients had drawn her mind gradually from its gloomy contemplation of futurity, to a juster sense of good and evil The peculiarity of her religious persuasion afforded an introduction to frequent discussions of the real opinions of that church, to which Julia had hitherto belonged, although ignorant of all its essential and vital truths. These conversations, which were renewed repeatedly in their intercourse while under the protection of his sister in London, laid the foundations of a faith which left her nothing to hope for but the happy termination of her earthly probation.
The mother of Fitzgerald was dead, and as he had no near relative left, Julia found herself alone in the world. Her husband had taken the precaution to make a will in season it was properly authenticated, and his widow, by the powerful assistance of Pendennyss, was put in quiet possession of a little independency. It was while waiting the decision of this affair that Mrs. Fitzgerald resided for a short time near Bath. As soon as it was terminated, the earl and his sister had seen her settled in her present abode, and once since had they visited her; but delicacy had kept him away from the cottage, although his attempts to serve her had been constant, though not always successful. He had, on his return to Spain, seen her father, and interceded with him on her behalf, but in vain. The anger of the Spaniard remained unappeased, and for a season he did not renew his efforts; out having heard that her father was indisposed, Julia had employed the earl once more to make her peace with him, without prevailing. The letter the ladies had found her weeping over was from Pendennyss, informing her of his want of success on that occasion.
The substance of the foregoing narrative was related by Mrs. Fitzgerald to Mrs. Wilson, who repeated it to Emily in their ride home. The compassion of both ladies was strongly moved in behalf of the young widow; yet Mrs. Wilson did not fail to point out to her niece the consequences of deception, and chiefly the misery which had followed from an abandonment of some of the primary duties of life—obedience and respect to her parent Emily, though keenly alive to all the principles inculcated by her aunt, found so much to be pitied in the fate of her friend, that her failings lost their proper appearance in her eyes, and for a while she could think of nothing but Julia and her misfortunes. Previously to their leaving the cottage, Mrs. Fitzgerald, with glowing cheeks and some hesitation, informed Mrs. Wilson she had yet another important communication to make, but would postpone it until her next visit, which Mrs. Wilson promised should be on the succeeding day.
Emily threw a look of pleasure on Denbigh, as he handed her from the carriage, which would have said, if looks could talk, "In the principles you have displayed on more than one occasion, I have a pledge of your worth." As he led her into the house, he laughingly informed her that he had that morning received a letter which would make his absence from L—— necessary for a short time, and that he must remonstrate against these long and repeated visits to a cottage where all attendants of the male sex were excluded, as they encroached greatly on his pleasures and improvements, bowing, as he spoke, to Mrs. Wilson. To this Emily replied, gaily, that possibly, if he conducted himself to their satisfaction; they would intercede for his admission. Expressing his pleasure at this promise, as Mrs. Wilson thought rather awkwardly, Denbigh changed the conversation. At dinner he repeated to the family what he had mentioned to Emily of his departure, and also his expectation of meeting with Lord Chatterton during his journey.
"Have you heard from Chatterton lately, John?" inquired Sir Edward Moseley.
"Yes, sir, to-day: he had left Denbigh Castle a fortnight since, and writes he is to meet his friend, the duke, at Bath."
"Are you connected with his grace, Mr. Denbigh?" asked Lady Moseley.
A smile of indefinite meaning played on the expressive face of Denbigh, as he answered slightly—
"On the side of my father, madam."
"He has a sister," continued Lady Moseley, willing to know more of Chatterton's friends and Denbigh's relatives.
"He has," was the brief reply.
"Her name is Harriet," observed Mrs. Wilson. Denbigh bowed his assent in silence, and Emily timidly added—
"Lady Harriet Denbigh?"
"Lady Harriet Denbigh—will you do me the favor to take wine?"
The manner of the gentleman during this dialogue had not been in the least unpleasant, but it was peculiar; it prohibited anything further on the subject; and Emily was obliged to be content without knowing who Marian was, or whether her name was to be found in the Denbigh family or not. Emily was not in the least jealous, but she wished to know all to whom her lover was dear.
"Do the Dowager and the young ladies accompany Chatterton?" asked Sir Edward, as he turned to John, who was eating his fruit in silence.
"Yes, sir—I hope—that is, I believe she will," was the answer.
"She! Who is she, my son?"
"Grace Chatterton," said John, starting from his meditations. "Did you not ask me about Grace, Sir Edward?"
"Not particularly, I believe," said the baronet, dryly.
Denbigh again smiled: it was a smile different from any Mrs. Wilson had ever seen on his countenance, and gave an entirely novel expression to his face; it was full of meaning it was knowing—spoke more of the man of the world than anything she had before noticed in him, and left on her mind one of those vague impressions she was often troubled with, that there was something about Denbigh in character or condition, or both, that was mysterious.
The spirit of Jane was too great to leave her a pining or pensive maiden; yet her feelings had sustained a shock that time alone could cure. She appeared again amongst her friends; but the consciousness of her expectations with respect to the colonel being known to them, threw around her a hauteur and distance very foreign to her natural manner. Emily alone, whose every movement sprang from the spontaneous feelings of her heart, and whose words and actions were influenced by the finest and most affectionate delicacy, such as she was not conscious of possessing herself, won upon the better feelings of her sister so far, as to restore between them the usual exchange of kindness and sympathy. But Jane admitted no confidence; she found nothing consoling, nothing solid, to justify her attachment to Egerton; nothing indeed, excepting such external advantages as she was now ashamed to admit had ever the power over her they in reality had possessed. The marriage of the fugitives in Scotland had been announced; and as the impression that Egerton was to be connected with the Moseleys was destroyed of course, their every-day acquaintances, feeling the restraints removed that such an opinion had once imposed, were free in their comments on his character. Sir Edward and Lady Moseley were astonished to find how many things to his disadvantage were generally known; that he gambled—intrigued—and was in debt—were no secrets apparently to anybody, but to those who were most interested in knowing the truth; while Mrs. Wilson saw in these facts additional reasons for examining and judging for ourselves; the world uniformly concealing from the party and his friends their honest opinions of his character. Some of these insinuations reached the ears of Jane: her aunt having rightly judged, that the surest way to destroy Egerton's power over the imagination of her niece was to strip him of his fictitious qualities, suggested this expedient to Lady Moseley; and some of their visitors had though as the colonel had certainly been attentive to Miss Moseley, it would give her pleasure to know that her rival had not made the most eligible match in the kingdom. The project of Mrs. Wilson succeeded in a great measure; but although Egerton fell, Jane did not find she rose in Her own estimation; and her friends wisely concluded that time was the only remedy that could restore her former serenity.
In the morning, Mrs. Wilson, unwilling to have Emily present at a conversation she intended to hold with Denbigh, with a view to satisfy her annoying doubts as to some minor points in his character, after excusing herself to her niece, invited that gentleman to a morning drive. He accepted her invitation cheerfully; and Mrs. Wilson saw, it was only as they drove from the door without Emily, that he betrayed the faintest reluctance to the jaunt. When they had got a short distance from the lodge she acquainted him with her intention of presenting him to Mrs. Fitzgerald, whither she had ordered the coachman to proceed. Denbigh started as she mentioned the name, and after a few moments' silence, desired Mrs. Wilson to allow him to stop the carriage; he was not very well—was sorry to be so rude—but with her permission, he would alight and return to the house. As he requested in an earnest manner that she would proceed without him, and by no means disappoint her friend, Mrs. Wilson complied; yet, somewhat at a loss to account for his sudden illness, she turned her head to see how the sick man fared, a short time after he had left her, and was not a little surprised to see him talking very composedly with John who had met him on his way to the fields with his gun. Lovesick—thought Mrs. Wilson with a smile; and as she rode on she came to the conclusion, that as Denbigh was to leave them soon, Emily would have an important communication to make on her return.
"Well," thought Mrs. Wilson with a sigh, "if it is to happen, it may as well be done at once."
Mrs. Fitzgerald was expecting her, and appeared rather pleased than otherwise that she had come alone. After some introductory conversation, the ladies withdrew by themselves, and Julia acquainted Mrs. Wilson with a new source of uneasiness. The day the ladies had promised to visit her, but had been prevented by the arrangements for the ball, the Donna Lorenza had driven to the village to make some purchases, attended as usual by their only man-servant, and Mrs. Fitzgerald was sitting in the little parlor in momentary expectation of her friends by herself. The sound of footsteps drew her to the door, which she opened for the admission of the wretch whose treachery to her dying husband's requests had given her so much uneasiness. Horror—fear—surprise—altogether, prevented her from, making any alarm at the moment, and she sank into a chair. He stood between her and the door, as he endeavored to draw her into a conversation; he assured her she had nothing to fear; that he loved her, and her alone; that he was about to be married to a daughter of Sir Edward Moseley, but would give her up, fortune, everything, if she would consent to become his wife—that the views of her protector, he doubted not, were dishonorable—that he himself was willing to atone for his former excess of passion, by a life devoted to her.
How much longer he would have gone on, and what further he would have offered, is unknown; for Mrs. Fitzgerald, having recovered herself a little, darted to the bell on the other side of the room; he tried to prevent her ringing it, but was too late; a short struggle followed, when the sound of the footsteps of the maid compelled him to retreat precipitately. Mrs. Fitzgerald added, that his assertion concerning Miss Moseley had given her incredible uneasiness, and prevented her making the communication yesterday; but she understood this morning through her maid, that a Colonel Egerton, who had been supposed to be engaged to one of Sir Edward's daughters, had eloped with another lady. That Egerton was her persecutor, she did not now entertain a doubt; but that it was in the power of Mrs. Wilson probably to make the discovery, as in the struggle between them for the bell, a pocket-book had fallen from the breast-pocket of his coat, and his retreat was too sudden to recover it.
As she put the book into the hands of Mrs. Wilson, she desired she would take means to return it to its owner; its contents might be of value, though she had not thought it correct to examine it. Mrs. Wilson took the book, and as she dropped it into her work-bag, smiled at the Spanish punctilio of her friend in not looking into her prize under the peculiar circumstances.
A few questions as to the place and year of his first attempts, soon convinced her it was Egerton whose unlicensed passions had given so much trouble to Mrs. Fitzgerald. He had served but one campaign in Spain, and in that year, and that division of the army; and surely his principles were no restraint upon his conduct. Mrs. Fitzgerald begged the advice of her more experienced friend as to the steps she ought to take; to which the former asked if she had made Lord Pendennyss acquainted with the occurrence. The young widow's cheek glowed as she answered, that, at the same time she felt assured the base insinuation of Egerton was unfounded, it had created a repugnance in her to troubling the earl any more than was necessary in her affairs; and as she kissed the hand of Mrs. Wilson she added—"besides, your goodness, my dear madam, renders any other adviser unnecessary now." Mrs. Wilson pressed her hand affectionately, and assured her of her good wishes and unaltered esteem. She commended her delicacy, and plainly told the young widow, that how ever unexceptionable the character of Pendennyss might be, a female friend was the only one a woman in her situation could repose confidence in, without justly incurring the sarcasms of the world.
As Egerton was now married, and would not probably offer, for the present at least, any further molestation to Mrs. Fitzgerald, it was concluded to be unnecessary to take any immediate measures of precaution; and Mrs. Wilson thought the purse of Mr. Jarvis might be made the means of keeping him within proper bounds in future. The merchant was prompt, and not easily intimidated; and the slightest intimation of the truth would, she knew, be sufficient to engage him on their side, heart and hand.
The ladies parted, with a promise of meeting soon again, and an additional interest in each other by the communications of that and the preceding day.
Mrs. Wilson had ridden half the distance between the cottage and the lodge, before it occurred to her they had not absolutely ascertained, by the best means in their possession, the identity of Colonel Egerton with Julia's persecutor. She accordingly took the pocket-book from her bag, and opened it for examination: a couple of letters fell from it into her lap, and conceiving their direction would establish all she wished to know, as they had been read, she turned to the superscription of one of them, and saw—"George Denbigh, Esq." in the well known hand-writing of Dr. Ives.—Mrs. Wilson felt herself overcome to a degree that compelled her to lower a glass of the carriage for air. She sat gazing on the letters until the characters swam before her eyes in undistinguished confusion; and with difficulty she rallied her thoughts to the point necessary for investigation. As soon as she found herself equal to the task, she examined the letters with the closest scrutiny, and opened them both to be sure there was no mistake. She saw the dates, the "dear George" at the commencements, and the doctor's name subscribed, before she would believe they were real; it was then the truth appeared to break upon her in a flood of light. The aversion of Denbigh to speak of Spain, or of his services in that country—his avoiding Sir Herbert Nicholson, and that gentleman's observations respecting him—Colonel Egerton's and his own manners—his absence from the ball, and startling looks on the following morning, and at different times before and since—his displeasure at the name of Pendennyss on various occasions—and his cheerful acceptance of her invitation to ride until he knew her destination, and singular manner of leaving her—were all accounted for by this dreadful discovery, and Mrs. Wilson found the solution of her doubts rushing on her mind with a force and rapidity that sickened her.
The misfortunes of Mrs. Fitzgerald, the unfortunate issue to the passion of Jane, were trifles in the estimation of Mrs. Wilson, compared to the discovery of Denbigh's unworthiness. She revolved in her mind his conduct on various occasions, and wondered how one who could behave so well in common, could thus yield to temptation on a particular occasion. His recent attempts, his hypocrisy, however, proved that his villany was systematic, and she was not weak enough to hide from herself the evidence of his guilt, or of its enormity. His interposition between Emily and death, she attributed now to natural courage, and perhaps in some measure to chance; but his profound and unvarying reverence for holy things, his consistent charity, his refusing to fight, to what were they owing? And Mrs. Wilson mourned the weakness of human nature, while she acknowledged to her self, there might be men, qualified by nature, and even disposed by reason and grace, to prove ornaments to religion and the world, who fell beneath the maddening influence of their besetting sins. The superficial and interested vices of Egerton vanished before these awful and deeply seated offences of Denbigh, and the correct widow saw at a glance, that he was the last man to be intrusted with the happiness of her niece; but how to break this heartrending discovery to Emily was a new source of uneasiness to her, and the carriage stopped at the door of the lodge, ere she had determined on the first step required of her by duty.
Her brother handed her out, and, filled with the dread that Denbigh had availed himself of the opportunity of her absence to press his suit with Emily, she eagerly inquired after him. She was rejoiced to hear he had returned with John for a fowling-piece, and together they had gone in pursuit of game, although she saw in it a convincing proof that a desire to avoid Mrs. Fitzgerald, and not indisposition, had induced him to leave her.—As a last alternative, she resolved to have the pocket-book returned to him in her presence, in order to see if he acknowledged it to be his property; and, accordingly, she instructed her own man to hand it to him while at dinner, simply saying he had lost it.
The open and unsuspecting air with which her niece met Denbigh on his return gave Mrs. Wilson an additional shock, and she could hardly command herself sufficiently to extend the common courtesies of good breeding to Mr. Benfield's guest.
While sitting at the dessert, her servant handed the pocket book, as directed by his mistress, to its owner, saying, "Your pocket-book, I believe, Mr. Denbigh." Denbigh took the book, and held it in his hand for a moment in surprise, and then fixed his eye keenly on the man, as he inquired where he found it, and how he knew it was his. These were interrogatories Francis was not prepared to answer, and in his confusion he naturally turned his eyes on his mistress. Denbigh followed their direction with his own, and in encountering the looks of the lady, he asked in a stammering manner, and with a face of scarlet,
"Am I indebted to you, madam, for my property?"
"No, sir; it was given me by one who found it, to restore to you," said Mrs. Wilson, gravely, and the subject was dropped, both appearing willing to say no more. Yet Denbigh was abstracted and absent during the remainder of the repast, and Emily spoke to him once or twice without obtaining an answer. Mrs. Wilson caught his eye several times fixed on her with an inquiring and doubtful expression, that convinced her he was alarmed. If any confirmation of his guilt had been wanting, the consciousness he betrayed during this scene afforded it; and she set seriously about considering the shortest and best method of interrupting his intercourse with Emily, before he had drawn from her an acknowledgment of her love.
On withdrawing to her dressing-room after dinner, Mrs. Wilson commenced the disagreeable duty of removing the veil from the eyes of her niece, by recounting to her the substance of Mrs. Fitzgerald's last communication. To the innocence of Emily such persecution could excite no other sensations than surprise and horror; and as her aunt omitted the part concerning the daughter of Sir Edward Moseley, she naturally expressed her wonder as to who the wretch could be.
"Possibly, aunt," she said with an involuntary shudder, "some of the many gentlemen we have lately seen, and one who has had art enough to conceal his real character from the world."
"Concealment, my love," replied Mrs. Wilson, "would be hardly necessary. Such is the fashionable laxity of morals, that I doubt not many of his associates would laugh at his misconduct, and that he would still continue to pass with the world as an honorable man."
"And ready," cried her niece, "to sacrifice human life, in the defence of any ridiculous punctilio."
"Or," added Mrs. Wilson, striving to draw nearer to her subject, "with a closer veil of hypocrisy, wear even an affectation of principle and moral feeling that would seem to forbid such a departure from duty in favor of custom."
"Oh! no, dear aunt," exclaimed Emily, with glowing cheeks and eyes dancing with pleasure, "he would hardly dare to be so very base. It would be profanity."
Mrs. Wilson sighed heavily as she witnessed that confiding esteem which would not permit her niece even to suspect that an act which in Denbigh had been so warmly applauded, could, even in another, proceed from unworthy motives; and she found it would be necessary to speak in the plainest terms, to awaken her suspicions. Willing, however, to come gradually to the distressing truth, she replied—