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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPrecaution: A Novel - Chapter 42
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Precaution: A Novel - Chapter 42 Post by :SilverSiR Category :Long Stories Author :James Fenimore Cooper Date :May 2012 Read :3596

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Precaution: A Novel - Chapter 42

Chapter XLII

The Honorable General Denbigh was the youngest of three sons. His seniors, Francis and George, were yet bachelors. The death of a cousin had made Francis a duke while yet a child, and both he and his favorite brother George, had decided on lives of inactivity and sluggishness.

"When I die, brother," the oldest would say, "you will succeed me, and Frederick can provide heirs for the name hereafter."

This arrangement had been closely adhered to, and the two elder brothers reached the ages of fifty-five and fifty-six, without altering their condition. In the mean time, Frederick married a young woman of rank and fortune; the fruits of their union being the two young candidates for the hand of Isabel Howell.

Francis Denbigh, the eldest son of the general, was naturally diffident, and, in addition, it was his misfortune to be the reverse of captivating in external appearance. The small-pox sealed his doom;--ignorance, and the violence of the attack, left him indelibly impressed with the ravages of that dreadful disorder. Oh the other hand, his brother escaped without any vestiges of the complaint; and his spotless skin and fine open countenance, met the gaze of his mother, after the recovery of the two, in striking contrast to the deformed lineaments of his elder brother. Such an occurrence is sure to excite one of two feelings in the breast of every beholder--pity or disgust; and, unhappily for Francis, maternal tenderness, in his case, was unable to counteract the latter sensation. George become a favorite, and Francis a neutral. The effect was easy to be seen, and it was rapid, as it was indelible.

The feelings of Francis were sensitive to an extreme. He had more quickness, more sensibility, more real talent than George; which enabled him to perceive, and caused him to feel more acutely, the partiality of his mother.

As yet, the engagements and duties of the general had kept his children and, their improvements out of his sight; but at the ages of eleven and twelve, the feelings of a father, began, to take pride in the possession of his sons.

On his return from a foreign station, after an absence of two years, his children were ordered from school to meet him. Francis had improved in stature, but not in beauty; George had flourished in both.

The natural diffidence of the former was increased, by perceiving that he was no favorite, and the effect began to show itself on manners at no time engaging. He met his father with doubt, and he saw with anguish, that the embrace received by his brother much exceeded in warmth that which had been bestowed on himself.

"Lady Margaret," said the general to his wife, as he followed the boys as they retired from the dinner table, with his eyes, "it is a thousand pities George had not been the elder. _He would have graced a dukedom or a throne. Frank is only fit for a parson."

This ill-judged speech was uttered sufficiently loud to be overheard by both the sons: on the younger, it made a pleasurable sensation for the moment. His father--his dear father, had thought him fit to be a king; and his father must be a judge, whispered his native vanity; but all this time the connexion between the speech and his brother's rights did not present themselves to his mind. George loved this brother too well, too sincerely, to have injured him even in thought; and so far as Francis was concerned, his vanity was as blameless as it was natural.

The effect produced on the mind of Francis was different both in substance and in degree. It mortified his pride, alarmed his delicacy, and wounded his already morbid sensibility to such an extent, as to make him entertain the romantic notion of withdrawing from the world, and of yielding a birthright to one so every way more deserving of it than himself.

From this period might be dated an opinion of Francis's, which never afterwards left him; he fancied he was doing injustice to another, and that other, a brother whom he ardently loved, by continuing to exist. Had he met with fondness in his parents, or sociability in his playfellows, these fancies would have left him as he grew into life. But the affections of his parents were settled on his more promising brother; and his manners daily increasing in their repulsive traits, drove his companions to the society of others, more agreeable to their own buoyancy and joy.

Had Francis Denbigh, at this age, met with a guardian clear-sighted enough to fathom his real character, and competent to direct his onward course, he would yet have become an ornament to his name and country, and a useful member of society. But no such guide existed. His natural guardians, in his particular case, were his worst enemies; and the boys left school for college four years afterwards, each advanced in his respective properties of attraction and repulsion.

Irreligion is hardly a worse evil in a family than favoritism. When once allowed to exist, in the breast of the parent, though hid apparently from all other eyes, its sad consequences begin to show themselves. Effects are produced, and we look in vain for the cause. The awakened sympathies of reciprocal caresses and fondness are mistaken for uncommon feelings, and the forbidding aspect of deadened affections is miscalled native sensibility.

In this manner the evil increases itself, until manners are formed, and characters created, that must descend with their possessor to the tomb.

In the peculiar formation of the mind of Francis Denbigh, the evil was doubly injurious. His feelings required sympathy and softness, and they met only with coldness and disgust. George alone was an exception to the rule. _He did love his brother; but even his gaiety and spirits finally tired of the dull uniformity of the diseased habits of his senior.

The only refuge Francis found in his solitude, amidst the hundreds of the university, was in his muse and in the powers of melody. The voice of his family has been frequently mentioned in these pages; and if, as Lady Laura had intimated, there had ever been a siren in the race, it was a male one. He wrote prettily, and would sing these efforts of his muse to music of his own, drawing crowds around his windows, in the stillness of the night, to listen to sounds as melodious as they were mournful. His poetical efforts partook of the distinctive character of the man, being melancholy, wild, and sometimes pious.

George was always amongst the most admiring of his brother's auditors, and would feel a yearning of his heart towards him, at such moments, that was painful. But George was too young and too heedless, to supply the place of a monitor, or to draw his thoughts into a more salutary train. This was the _duty of his parents, and should have been their _task_. But the world, his rising honors, and his professional engagements, occupied the time of the father; and fashion, parties, and pleasure, killed the time of his mother. When they did think of their children, it was of George; the painful image of Francis being seldom admitted to disturb their serenity.

George Denbigh was open-hearted without suspicion, and a favorite. The first quality taxed his generosity, the second subjected him to fraud, and the third supplied him with the means. But these means sometimes failed. The fortune of the general, though handsome, was not more than competent to support his style of living. He expected to be a duke himself one day, and was anxious to maintain an appearance now that would not disgrace his future elevation. A system of strict but liberal economy had been adopted in the case of his sons. They had, for the sake of appearances, a stated and equal allowance.

The duke had offered to educate the heir himself, and under his own eye. But to this Lady Margaret had found some ingenious excuse, and one that seemed to herself and the world honorable to her natural feeling; but had the offer been made to George, these reasons would have vanished in the desire to advance his interests, or to gratify his propensities. Such decisions are by no means uncommon; parents having once decided on the merits and abilities of their children, frequently decline the interference of third persons, since the improvement of their denounced offspring might bring their own judgment into question, if it did not convey an indirect censure on their justice.

The heedlessness of George brought his purse to a state of emptiness. His last guinea was gone, and two months were wanting to the end of the quarter. George had played and been cheated. He had ventured to apply to his mother for small sums, when his dress or some trifling indulgence required an advance; and always with success. But here were sixty guineas gone at a blow, and pride, candor, forbade his concealing the manner of his loss, if he made the application. This was dreadful; his own conscience reproached him, and he had so often witnessed the violence of his mother's resentments against Francis, for faults which appeared to him very trivial, not to stand in the utmost dread of her more just displeasure in the present case.

Entering the apartment of his brother, in this disturbed condition, George threw himself into a chair, and with his face concealed between his hands, sat brooding over his forlorn situation.

"George!" said his brother, soothingly, "you are in distress; can I relieve you in any way?"

"Oh no--no--no--Frank; it is entirely out of your power."

"Perhaps not, my dear brother," continued the other, endeavoring to draw his hand into his own.

"Entirely! entirely!" said George. Then springing up in despair, he exclaimed, "But I must live--I cannot die."

"Live! die!" cried Francis, recoiling in horror. "What do you mean by such language? Tell me, George, am I not your brother? Your only brother and best friend?"

Francis felt he had no friend if George was not that friend, and his face grew pale while the tears flowed rapidly down his cheeks.

George could not resist such an appeal. He caught the hand of his brother and made him acquainted with his losses and his wants.

Francis mused some little time over his narration, ere he broke silence.

"It was all you had?"

"The last shilling," cried George, beating his head with his hand.

"How much will you require to make out the quarter?"

"Oh I must have at least fifty guineas, or how can I live at all?"

The ideas of life in George were connected a good deal with the manner it was to be enjoyed. His brother appeared struggling with himself, and then turning to the other, continued,

"But surely, under present circumstances, you could make less do."

"Less, never--hardly that"--interrupted George, vehemently. "If Lady Margaret did not inclose me a note now and then, how could we get along at all? don't you find it so yourself, brother?"

"I don't know," said Francis, turning pale--

"Don't know!" cried George, catching a view of his altered countenance--"you get the money, though?"

"I do not remember it," said the other, sighing heavily.

"Francis," cried George, comprehending the truth, "you shall share every shilling I receive in future--you shall--indeed you shall."

"Well, then," rejoined Francis with a smile, "it is a bargain; and you will receive from me a supply in your present necessities."

Without waiting for an answer, Francis withdrew into an inner apartment, and brought out the required sum for his brother's subsistence for two months. George remonstrated, but Francis was positive; he had been saving, and his stock was ample for his simple habits without it.

"Besides, you forget we are partners, and in the end I shall be a gainer."

George yielded to his wants and his brother's entreaties, and he gave him great credit for the disinterestedness of the act. Several weeks passed without any further allusion to this disagreeable subject, which had at least the favorable result of making George more guarded and a better student.

The brothers, from this period, advanced gradually in those distinctive qualities which were to mark the future men; George daily improving in grace and attraction, Francis, in an equal ratio, receding from those very attainments which it was his too great desire to possess. In the education of his sons, General Denbigh had preserved the appearance of impartiality; his allowance to each was the same: they were at the same college, they had been at the same school; and if Frank did not improve as much as his younger brother, it was unquestionably his own obstinacy and stupidity, and surely not want of opportunity or favor.

Such, then, were the artificial and accidental causes, which kept a noble, a proud, an acute but a diseased mind, in acquirements much below another every way its inferior, excepting in the happy circumstance of wanting those very excellences, the excess and indiscreet management of which proved the ruin instead of the blessing of their possessor.

The duke would occasionally rouse himself from his lethargy, and complain to the father, that the heir of his honors was far inferior to his younger brother in acquirements, and remonstrate against the course which produced such an unfortunate inequality. On these occasions a superficial statement of his system from the general met the objection; they cost the same money, and he was sure he not only wished but did everything an indulgent parent could, to render Francis worthy of his future honors. Another evil of the admission of feelings of partiality, in the favor of one child, to the prejudice of another, is that the malady is contagious as well as lasting: it exists without our own knowledge, and it seldom fails to affect those around us. The uncle soon learnt to distinguish George as the hope of the family, yet Francis must be the heir of its honors, and consequently of its wealth.

The duke and his brother were not much addicted to action, hardly to reflection; but if anything could rouse them to either, it was the reputation of the house of Denbigh. Their ideas of reputation, it is true, were of their own forming.

The hour at length drew near when George expected a supply from the ill-judged generosity of his mother; it came, and with a heart beating with pleasure, the youth flew to the room of Francis with a determination to force the whole of his twenty pounds on his acceptance. On throwing open his door, he saw his brother evidently striving to conceal something behind his books. It was at the hour of breakfast, and George had intended for a novelty to share his brother's morning repast. They always met at dinner, but the other meals were made in their own rooms. George looked in vain for the usual equipage of the table; suspicion flashed upon him; he threw aside the books, and a crust of bread and a glass of water met his eye; the truth now flashed upon him in all its force.

"Francis, my brother, to what has my extravagance reduced you!" exclaimed the contrite George with a heart nearly ready to burst. Francis endeavored to explain, but a sacred regard to the truth held him tongue-tied, until dropping his head on the shoulder of George, he sobbed out--

"It is a trifle; nothing to what I would do for you, my brother."

George felt all the horrors of remorse, and was much too generous to conceal his error any longer; he wrote a circumstantial account of the whole transaction to Lady Margaret.

Francis for a few days was a new being. He had acted nobly, his conscience approved of his motives, and of his delicate concealment of them; he in fact began to think there were in himself the seeds of usefulness, as his brother, who from this moment began to understand his character better, attached himself more closely to him.

The eye of Francis met that of George with the look of acknowledged affection, his mind became less moody, and his face was sometimes embellished with a smile.

The reply of their mother to the communication of George threw a damp on the revived hopes of the senior, and drove him back into himself with tenfold humility.

"I am shocked, my child, to find that you have lowered yourself, and forgot the family you belong to, so much as to frequent those gambling-houses, which ought not to be suffered in the neighborhood of the universities: when at a proper age and in proper company, your occasional indulgence at cards I could not object to, as both your father and myself sometimes resort to it as an amusement, but never in low company. The consequence of mingling in such society is, that you were cheated, and such will always be your lot unless you confine yourself to associates more becoming your rank and illustrious name.

"As to Francis, I see every reason to condemn the course he has taken. Being the senior by a year, he should have taken the means to prevent your falling into such company; and he should have acquainted me immediately with your loss, in place of wounding your pride by subjecting you to the mortification of receiving a pecuniary obligation from one so little older than yourself, and exposing his own health by a diet on bread and water, as you wrote me, for a whole month. Both the general and myself are seriously displeased with him, and think of separating you, as you thus connive at each other's follies."

George was too indignant to conceal this letter and the reflections of Francis were dreadful.

For a short time he actually meditated suicide, as the only method of removing himself from before the advancement of George. Had not George been more attentive and affectionate than formerly, the awful expedient might have been resorted to.

From college the young men went, one into the army and the other to the mansion of his uncle. George became an elegant, gay, open-hearted, admired captain in the guards; and Francis stalked through the halls of his ancestors, their acknowledged future lord, but a misanthrope; hateful to himself and disagreeable to all around him.

This picture may be highly wrought, but the effects, in the case of Francis, were increased by the peculiar tone of his diseased state of mind. The indulgence of favoritism, nevertheless, always brings its own sad consequences, in a greater or less degree, while it seldom fails to give sorrow and penitence to the bosom of the parents.

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