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Precaution

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



This is the first novel written by Cooper-a story of English rural life, on the model in vogue at the time, but strange to the romance-readers of the present. The scenes alternate between the hall, the rectory, and the other upper-class haunts of a country neighborhood, and the characters are mostly drawn from the nobility, from dukes downward. It is said that the author, after reading an English novel, declared that he could write a better one himself, and at the suggestion of his wife made the attempt, with this result. It was written with no thought of publication, and was put into print by the advice of his friend Charles Wilkes.

SIR EDWARD MOSELEY, Bart., an estimable and wealthy gentleman, with a house in St. James's Square, London, and a country seat near B , lived with his family at Moseley Hall. This family consisted of a son John, noted as a sports-man, and three lovely daughters, Clara, Jane, and Emily. Lady Moseley, an estimable woman with few failings, whose principal aim in life was to see her daughters comfortably established, had submitted Emily entirely to the control of Mrs. Wilson, the sister of Sir Edward, who had lived with the family after the death of her husband, General Wilson, who left her a large income. An attachment had long existed between Clara Moseley and Francis Ives, only son of Dr. Ives, the rector of the parish, and the two families waited only for the establishment of the young man, who was studying for the ministry, to perfect the union. Dr. Ives, a clergyman of deep piety and considerable talents, was possessed, in addition to his benefice, of an independent fortune in right of his wife, the only child of a distinguished naval officer. Both he and Mrs. Ives were well connected, and the doctor was the idol of his parishioners.

In the neighborhood of Moseley Hall was an estate called the Deanery, the property of Sir William Harris, which had been lately let to a Mr. Jarvis, concerning whom there was much speculation among the gentry. It was ascertained that he was a retired merchant with a large fortune, whose family consisted of an ambitious wife, an only son who was a captain in the army, and two daughters, Sarah and Mary. Visiting them was a friend, Colonel Egerton, a nephew of Sir Edgar Egerton and said to be his heir. He was marked by an easy and polished deportment in striking contrast to that of Captain Jarvis, and was apparently a gentleman, but seemed, to Emily's critical eye, to exhibit too little sincerity to be agreeable.

About the same time with the appearance of the Jarvises, Sir Edward Moseley was visited by an old uncle of his wife's, Mr. Benfield, a bachelor of many peculiarities, who openly declared his intention of making the children of Lady Moseley his heirs. He had once been a member of Parliament, and he was never tired of descanting on the men and manners of that day. At a dinner-party at the rectory soon after his arrival, he recognized in Mr. Jarvis a gentleman who had honestly restored to him twenty thousand pounds which a dishonest broker, on the eve of failure, had diverted from Mr. Benfield's account to satisfy what he considered an honorary debt.

The same dinner-party was interrupted by the arrival of two strangers, an old gentleman, emaciated and debilitated, who leaned heavily on the arm of a son of perhaps twenty-five years, whose vigorous health and manly beauty, added to the apparent tenderness with which he supported his parent, struck most of the beholders with a sensation of pleasure. The doctor and Mrs. Ives rose involuntarily from their seats and, standing for a moment in astonishment, advanced and greeted them, the rector with tears coursing down his cheeks as he looked on the careworn figure before him, while Mrs. Ives sobbed aloud. The two were shown into an adjacent room and the door closed, the company being left without apology or explanation. When Mrs. Ives returned, she apologized slightly for her absence and at once turned the conversation to the approaching Sunday, when Francis was to preach.

On Sunday the same father and son whose coming had interested the guests at the rectory were shown into the pew of Mrs. Ives, who buried her face in her handkerchief as they entered. While Francis was depicting in his sermon the felicity of the death-bed of a Christian, a deep-drawn sigh drew every eye to the rector's pew, where the younger stranger sat motion-less, holding in his arms the lifeless body of his parent, who had fallen that moment a corpse. The almost insensible young man, relieved from his burden, was led by the rector from the church. The body, removed to the rectory, was taken away at the close of the week, accompanied by Francis Ives and the attentive son. Dr. Ives and his wife went into very deep mourning, and Clara received from her lover a short note acquainting her with his intended absence of a month, but throwing no light on the affair. An obituary notice in the London papers of the sudden death at B , on the 20th instant, of George Denbigh, Esq., aged sixty-three, was supposed to allude to the rector's friend.

Not long afterward, Mrs. Jarvis said to Lady Moseley: "Pray, my lady, have you made any discovery about this Mr. Denbigh, who died in the church?"

"I did not know, ma'am, there was any discovery to be made."

"They could not be people of much importance," continued Mrs. Jarvis. "I never heard the name before."

"It is the family name of the Duke of Derwent, I believe," dryly remarked Sir Edward.

" Oh, I am sure neither the old man nor his son looked much like a duke, or so much as an officer either," exclaimed Mrs. Jarvis, who evidently thought the latter rank the dignity next in degree below nobility.

"There sat, in the parliament of this realm when I was a member," said Mr. Benfield, "a General Denbigh. He and his friend, Sir Peter Howell, the admiral who took the French squadron in the glorious administration of Billy Pitt, afterward took an island together."

Clara smiled, as she ventured to say, "Sir Peter was Mrs. Ives's father, sir."

"Indeed!" said the old gentleman, "I never knew that before."

"But, sir," interrupted Emily, "were General Denbigh and Admiral Howell related?"

"Not that I ever knew, Emmy dear. Sir Frederick Denbigh did not look much like the Admiral. He rather resembled" —bowing stiffly to Colonel Egerton—" this gentleman here."

"I have not the honor of the connection," observed the Colonel.

A month later Francis Ives received from the Earl of Bolton, unsolicited on his part, the desired living of his own parish, and he and Clara were quietly married at the altar of his father's church and proceeded at once to Bolton Rectory. Jane and Emily acted as bridesmaids, and John and Colonel Egerton as groomsmen. Lord Chatterton, who had been expected from London, had been detained by a fall from his horse, and the Colonel, appealed. to at the last minute, kindly consented to take his place. He was invited, as a matter of course, to dine at the Hall, when he proved so kind and sociable and his attentions to Lady Moseley and her daughters were so delicate that even Mrs. Wilson acknowledged that he possessed a wonderful faculty of making himself agreeable, and she began to think that he might possibly prove as advantageous a parti as Jane could expect to secure.

The Chattertons soon after came to Moseley Hall. The mother of Sir Edward was a daughter of this family, and the sister of the grandfather of the present lord. The connection had always been kept up with a show of cordiality between Sir Edward and his cousin, though their manner of living and their habits were very different, the baron being a courtier and a placeman. He had been dead about two years, and his son found himself saddled with the support of an unjointured mother and unportioned sisters. The honorable Misses Chatterton were both handsome. The elder, Catherine, had been a favorite of Jane's, while Grace was the peculiar friend of Emily Moseley.

One morning Emily and Grace, accompanied by Mrs. Wilson and Lord Chatterton, walked to the rectory, expecting to meet there Francis and Clara, who had promised to drive over. Emily entered, glowing with exercise, and seeing a gentleman standing with his back to the door, intent on a book, laid her hand affectionately on his shoulder, exclaiming, "Where is dear Clara, Frank?"

The gentleman turned suddenly and presented to her astonished gaze the well-remembered countenance of the young man whose father (Mr. Denbigh) had died in the church.

"I thought, sir," said Emily, almost sinking with confusion, "that Mr. Francis Ives—"

"Your brother has not yet arrived, Miss Moseley," simply replied the stranger, "but I will tell Mrs. Ives of your visit."

He bowed and left the room, and Mrs. Ives soon entered, and smilingly said: "You found the room occupied I believe?"

"Yes," said Emily, laughing and blushing, "I suppose Mr. Denbigh told you of my heedlessness."

"He told me only of your attention in calling so soon to inquire after Clara," remarked Mrs. Ives, who was called from the room as Denbigh reentered. The latter at once took his place among the guests, no introduction passing and none seeming necessary; and in fifteen minutes the little party felt as if they had known him for years.

"I like this Mr. Denbigh greatly," said Lord Chatterton as they drove from the door. "There is something strikingly natural and winning in his manner."

Colonel Egerton, who now appeared to be almost domesticated in the family, was again of the party at dinner and later accompanied them to visit Francis and Clara at Bolton Rectory. Denbigh was there, and Egerton was observed to start as he caught sight of his face and to gaze on it with an interest that struck Mrs. Wilson as singular. She tried the experiment of an introduction. Both bowed, and the Colonel, who appeared ill at ease, said hastily, "Mr. Denbigh is, or has been, in the army, I believe."

Denbigh, now taken by surprise in turn, cast on Egerton a look of fixed and settled meaning, and carelessly replied:

"I am yet; but I do not recollect having had the pleasure of meeting Colonel Egerton on service."

"Your countenance is familiar, sir," replied the Colonel. "But one sees so many strange faces in a campaign that they come and go like shadows."

It was some time before either recovered his ease, and many days ere anything like intercourse passed between them.

One day the ladies of the Moseley family, together with Egerton and Denbigh, were gathered in a little arbor in the park, when John Moseley and Captain Jarvis returned from hunting. The latter, who had been a clerk in the counting-room of Jarvis, Baxter and Company six months before he came to B--, and had never held a gun in his hand before he entered the army, had seldom killed a bird. He had a habit, very annoying to John, of shooting at a mark or at stray crows and hawks. The two, on approaching the arbor, had fired off their guns, it being John Moseley's invariable practice on corning home. Complaining of thirst, John went to a neighboring brook to drink, while Jarvis joined the party in the arbor. His interruption of a conversation with Jane irritated Colonel Egerton, who, knowing the Captain's foibles, pointed without and said:

"There is one of your old enemies, a hawk."

Jarvis ran out with boyish eagerness, and in his haste caught up John Moseley's gun and loaded it, throwing in a ball with the charge. But the hawk vanished before he had a chance to shoot, and Jarvis replaced the gun.

" John," said Emily, as her brother approached, "you were too warm to drink."

"Stand off, sis," cried John playfully, picking up his gun and pointing it at her.

"Hold!" cried Denbigh in a voice of horror, as he sprang between John and his sister, "it is loaded!"

He was too late; the piece was discharged. Denbigh, gazing mournfully at Emily, fell at her feet, while Emily sank in insensibility beside him.

Colonel Egerton alone had the presence of mind to spring to Denbigh's assistance. The eyes of the wounded man were open and fixed on Emily's inanimate form.

"Leave me, Colonel Egerton," he said. "Assist Miss Moseley."

Egerton brought water from the brook and soon restored Emily. Denbigh was carried to the house, and three hours later Dr. Black, surgeon of the —th, examined the wound. The ball, which had penetrated the right breast, was easily extracted, and the principal danger to be apprehended was from fever. During the night he became delirious and would take his medicine from no hand but Emily's.

"Mr. Denbigh," said Emily, "you will not refuse me—me, Emily Moseley, whose life you have saved?"

"Emily Moseley!" repeated Denbigh. "Is she safe? I thought she was killed—dead."

On the second morning Denbigh dropped into a deep sleeep from which he awoke with his mind clear, and from that time his recovery was rapid. A month later he was called away to a review of his regiment.

Shortly after, the Earl of Bolton called. He had been at college with General Wilson, and had always shown to his widow much of the regard he had professed for the husband. Sir Edward seized the occasion of the Earl's visit to express his gratitude for his kindness in giving the living of Bolton to Francis, "and unsolicited, too, my lord, it was an additional compliment."

"Not unsolicited, Sir Edward," replied the Earl. "It was my cousin, the Earl of Pendennyss, who applied for it, as a favor done to himself; and Pendennyss is a man not to be refused anything."

"Lord Pendennyss!" exclaimed Mrs. Wilson. "In what way came we to be under this obligation to Lord Pendennyss?"

"The reason he gave was his interest in the widow of General Wilson," replied he, bowing with much solemnity.

"I am gratified to find that the Earl yet remembers us," said Mrs. Wilson. " Are we to have the pleasure of seeing him soon?"

"A letter from him yesterday said he would be here all next week, madam."

Meantime Colonel Egerton had been unremitting in his attentions to Jane. The two read poetry together, and Jane eagerly encouraged a taste which afforded her delicacy some little coloring for the indulgence of an association which, in her estimation, was necessary for her happiness. But one night Mrs. Wilson overheard at a ball a conversation between two elderly gentlemen, one of whom had asked who Egerton was.

"He 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 that he should not leave the regiment or take a card in his hand for a twelvemonth."

"He plays, then ? "

"Sadly; he is, on the whole, a very bad young man."

"Mrs. Wilson, shocked at this revelation, felt it her duty to acquaint her brother with it at once. Sir Edward, extremely uneasy under this intelligence, though with strong hopes of the Colonel's innocence, acquainted him at once with the slanders and begged him to disprove them as soon as possible. The Colonel assured him that the stories were entirely untrue, that he never played, and that the gentleman who had circulated the stories was an old enemy of his. The Baronet, relieved by his explanation, assured him that if he could convince him that he did not gamble, he would with pleasure receive him as a son-in-law.

The next morning Colonel Egerton eloped with Mary Jarvis. The merchant received a letter in the afternoon, apologizing for his course and excusing it on the ground of a wish to avoid the delay of a license, as he was in hourly expectation of a summons to his regiment, and containing many promises of making an attentive husband and an affectionate son. The fugitives were on the road to Scotland, whence they would return immediately to London. Jane, as soon as she became convinced of the falsity of her lover, took to her bed and in a short time was in a burning fever. The outbursts of her grief were uncontrolled and violent. Emily took the opportunity, while giving the poor girl some refreshments, to infuse in her drink a strong soporific, and she lost all consciousness of her misery in a temporary repose. Although her affections had sustained a heavy blow, her pride had received a greater, and for a long time no persuasion could induce her to leave her room.

Mrs. Wilson had made the acquaintance in the neighborhood of a certain Mrs. Fitzgerald, a lady of Spanish descent, who lived with the Dona Lorenza, the widow of a Spanish subaltern officer, whom she had taken under her protection. Mrs. Fitzgerald had told her story to Mrs. Wilson, who repeated it to Emily on the ride home. It seems that her father, the Conde d'Alzada, had immured her in a convent because she would not abjure the Protestant religion. A general battle between Napoleon's troops and the British filled the dormitories of the convent with wounded British officers. Chance threw into the immediate charge of Julia a Major Fitzgerald, a strikingly handsome man, whose recovery was due rather to her careful nursing than to science. That love should result from this association was not wonderful; the two were married by the chaplain of the brigade, and for a month were happy. Shortly afterward, in a skirmish during a retreat, Major Fitzgerald was mortally wounded. An English officer, the last to leave the field, was attracted by the sight of a woman weeping over the body of a fallen man, and approached them. In a few words Major Fitzgerald explained the situation to this gentleman and exacted from him a pledge to return his Julia, in safety, to his mother in England.

After the interment of her husband's body Mrs. Fitzgerald remained a month in the neighborhood, uninterrupted by anything but the hasty visits of her protector, which became more and more frequent. At last he announced his departure for Lisbon, on his way to England. A small covered vehicle, drawn by one horse, was procured and they set out, the officer promising to procure her a woman attendant in the city. The officer's manners sensibly altered as they went on, and on the last day of their weary ride, while passing through a wood, he offered her personal indignities. Mrs. Fitzgerald sprang from the vehicle and by her cries attracted the notice of an officer who was riding express on the same road. He advanced to her assistance at speed, when a shot fired from the carriage brought down his horse, and the treacherous friend escaped undetected. He had succeeded in driving on a short distance, when he had detached the horse, and ridden away. Mrs. Fitzgerald found that her deliverer was the Earl of Pendennyss, who procured for her every comfort and respect which his princely fortune, high rank, and higher character could command. A packet was in waiting for the Earl, and they proceeded in her to England accompanied by Dona Lorenza. The mother of Fitzgerald was dead, and Julia found herself alone in the world. Her husband had made a will in season, and his widow, through the assistance of the Earl, was put in quiet possession of a little independency.

A few days after this narration Mrs. Wilson, while driving with Denbigh, suggested that he should go with her to visit Mrs. Fitzgerald, but to her surprise he hesitated and soon after desired her to permit him to stop the carriage, as he felt unwell. He earnestly requested her to proceed without him, saying that he would walk back to the house. Lovesick, thought Mrs. Wilson, who expected that Emily would have an important communication for her on her return. When Mrs. Wilson reached Mrs. Fitzgerald's she found that lady much perturbed by the appearance the day before of the wretch whose treachery to her dying husband's request had caused her so much alarm in Spain. He assured her 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 and all, if Julia would consent to become his wife. To escape his importunities she had run to ring the bell, and in his endeavor to prevent her he had dropped a pocket-book, which Mrs. Fitzgerald gave to Mrs. Wilson, requesting her to return it to its owner. She had heard that morning that a certain Colonel Egerton, sup-posed to be engaged to one of Sir Edward's daughters, had eloped with another lady; and she now did not doubt that Egerton was her persecutor.

Mrs. Wilson had driven half-way home before it occurred to her that Egerton's responsibility in the matter would probably be solved by an examination of the pocket-book. She took it from her bag and opened it, and was almost overcome when letters addressed to George Denbigh, Esq., dropped from it, in the well-known handwriting of Dr. Ives. Then the truth broke upon her in a flood of light : Denbigh's aversion to speak of Spain, his evident displeasure at the name of Pendennyss, his unwillingness to visit Mrs. Fitzgerald—all were explained.

Mrs. Wilson at once made known her discovery of Denbigh's worthlessness to Emily, with the result that that young lady, like her sister Jane in a similar situation, lost consciousness and took to her bed. Denbigh, unable to see her personally, made her an offer of his heart and hand by letter, which Emily declined in a brief note, and Denbigh departed, determined to assuage his grief, like most characters in novels, by travel.

The situation was furthur complicated soon after when Mrs. Wilson read in a newspaper a notice of the marriage by special license, at the seat of the Most Noble the Marquis of Eltringham, in Devonshire, by the Right Rev. Lord Bishop of " George Denbigh, Esq., Lieutenant-colonel of His Majesty's —th regiment of dragoons, to the Right Honorable Lady Laura Stapleton, eldest sister of the Marquis."

Mrs. Wilson felt an indescribable shock as she read this paragraph, her strongest feeling being one of horror at the danger Emily had run of contracting an alliance with such a man. Yet how he had been able to win a woman like Lady Laura Stapleton in the short space of a fortnight was a mystery yet to be solved. Meanwhile the Jarvises had gone to London to receive their children, Egerton and his wife having been admitted into the family. Sir Edgar had died suddenly and the colonel, now Sir Harry, had succeeded to the entailed estates, though the bulk of Sir Edgar's wealth had been left by will to another nephew. Mr. Jarvis had also become Sir Timothy Jarvis, Bart., which Lady Jarvis softened into Sir Timo. But the family, notwithstanding its wealth, was not well received in the county, and Lady Jarvis fretted until she persuaded Sir Timo to give up the lease of the Deanery and to take a house in another part of the kingdom. Sir William Harris thereupon offered the Deanery for sale, and it was bought at once by the Earl of Pendennyss.

The Moseleys were in town, and Mrs. Wilson and Emily were at Lady Chatterton's, when conversation turned on this purchase.

"He offered the Deanery to George Denbigh for the next summer," said Lady Chatterton, "but the Colonel chose to be nearer Eltringham."

"Is Colonel Denbigh in town?" asked Mrs. Wilson, with an anxious glance at Emily, who sensibly changed color.

Just then came a summons at the door, and a gentleman was shown in. It was Denbigh. He stood a moment fixed as a statue. His face was pale, but the pallor was rapidly succeeded by a glow. He approached them and said:

"I am happy, very happy, to be so fortunate in again meeting with such friends, and so unexpectedly."

Mrs. Wilson bowed in silence, and Emily sat with her eyes fastened on the carpet.

Denbigh arose from the chair he had taken and drawing near them said, with fervor: "Tell me, dear madam and lovely Miss Moseley, has one act of folly lost me your good opinion forever? Derwent gave me hopes that you yet retained some esteem for my character."

"The Duke of Derwent? Mr. Denbigh!"

"Do not use a name, dear madam, almost hateful to me," cried he in a tone of despair. "Call me by my title—do not remind me of my folly!"

"Your title!" exclaimed Mrs. Wilson, while Emily gazed on him with astonishment. "For the sake of truth, for my sake, for the sake of this suffering innocent, say, in sincerity, who and what you are!"

"I am the pupil of your late husband, the companion of his dangers, the sharer of his joys and griefs, and would I could add, the friend of his widow. I am the Earl of Pendennyss."

Mrs. Wilson threw her arms around his neck and burst into a flood of tears, and Emily fell senseless on the sofa.

With this key to the situation, the rest is easily explicable. George Denbigh, son of George Denbigh, Esq., cousin-german to Frederick, the ninth Duke of Derwent, was Earl of Pendennyss in the right of his mother, late Countess of Pendennyss. George Denbigh., Lieutenant-colonel of the dragoons, who married Lady Laura Stapleton, was the earl's cousin. Why the earl preferred to pass as an incognito among his best friends, and how he was enabled to do so among many who must have known him, is left to the reader to unravel.

Colonel Egerton, who was of course the villain of Mrs. Fitzgerald's story, received his just deserts at Waterloo, where he was saved from instant death at the hands of a French cuirassier by the Earl of Pendennyss, but subsequently died of his wounds. Emily and the Earl were happily married.



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