To an interview which he presumed would be as delightful as interesting, Captain Montreville chose to give no interruption, and therefore he had walked out to superintend his hay-making; but, after staying abroad for two hours, which he judged to be a reasonable length for a tete-a-tete, he returned, and was a little surprised to find that the colonel was gone. Though he entertained not a doubt of the issue of the conference, he had some curiosity to know the particulars, and summoned Laura to communicate them.
"Well, my love," said he, as the unconscious Laura shut the parlour door, "is Colonel Hargrave gone?"
"Long ago, sir."
"I thought he would have waited my return."
Laura made no answer.
"When are we to see him again?"
Laura did not know.
"Well, well," said Captain Montreville, a little impatiently, "since the colonel is gone without talking to me, I must just hear from you what it is you have both determined on."
Laura trembled in every limb. "I knew," said she, without venturing to lift her eye, "that you would never sacrifice your child to rank or fortune; and, therefore, I had no hesitation in refusing Colonel Hargrave."
Captain Montreville started back with astonishment. "Refused Colonel Hargrave!" cried he; "impossible! --you cannot be in earnest."
Laura, with much truth, assured him that she never in her life had been more serious.
Captain Montreville was thunderstruck. Surprise for a few moments kept him silent. At last recovering himself, "Why, Laura," said he, "what objection could you possibly make to Hargrave?--he is young, handsome, accomplished, and has shown such generosity in his choice of you--"
"Generosity, sir?" repeated Laura.
"Yes; it was generous in Colonel Hargrave, who might pretend to the first women in the kingdom, to think of offering to share his fortune and his rank with you, who have neither."
Laura's sentiments on this subject did not exactly coincide with her father's, but she remained silent while he continued: "I think I have a right to hear your objections, for I am entirely at a loss to guess them. I don't, indeed, know a fault Hargrave has, except, perhaps, a few gallantries; which most girls of your age think a very pardonable error."
A sickness, as of death, seized Laura; but she answered steadily, "Indeed, sir, the colonel's views are so different from mine--his dispositions so very unlike --so opposite, that nothing but unhappiness could possibly result from such an union. But," added she, forcing a languid smile, "we shall, if you please, discuss all this to-morrow; for, indeed, to-day I am unable to defend my own cause with you. I have been indisposed all day."
Captain Montreville looked at Laura, and in the alarm which her unusual paleness excited, lost all sense of the disappointment she had just caused him. He threw his arm tenderly round her--supported her to her own apartment--begged she would try to rest-- ran to seek a cordial for his darling; and then, fearing that the dread of his displeasure should add to her disorder, hastened back to assure her, that though her happiness was his dearest concern, he never meant to interfere with her judgment of the means by which it was to be promoted.
Tears of affectionate gratitude burst from the eyes of Laura. "My dear kind father," she cried, "let me love --let me please you--and I ask no other earthly happiness."
Captain Montreville then left her to rest; and, quite exhausted with illness, fatigue, and sorrow, she slept soundly for many hours.
The captain spent most of the evening in ruminating on the occurrence of the day; nor did his meditations at all diminish his surprise at his daughter's unaccountable rejection of his favourite. He recollected many instances in which he thought he had perceived her partiality to the colonel; he perplexed himself in vain to reconcile them with her present behaviour. He was compelled at last to defer his conclusions till Laura herself should solve the difficulty. The subject was, indeed, so vexatious to him, that he longed to have his curiosity satisfied, in order finally to dismiss the affair from his mind.
Laura had long been accustomed, when assailed by any adverse circumstance, whether more trivial or more important, to seize the first opportunity of calmly considering how far she had herself contributed to the disaster; and as nothing is more hostile to good humour than an ill-defined feeling of self-reproach, the habit was no less useful to the regulation of our heroine's temper, than to her improvement in the rarer virtues of prudence and candour. Her first waking hour, except that which was uniformly dedicated to a more sacred purpose, she now employed in strict and impartial self-examination. She endeavoured to call to mind every part of her behaviour to Colonel Hargrave, lest her own conduct might have seemed to countenance his presumption. But in vain. She could not recollect a word, a look, even a thought, that could have encouraged his profligacy. "Yet why should I wonder," she exclaimed, "if he expected that temptation might seduce, or weakness betray me, since he knew me fallible, and of the power by which I am upheld he thought not?"
Satisfied of the purity of her conduct, she next proceeded to examine its prudence; but here she found little reason for self-gratulation. Her conscience, indeed, completely acquitted her of levity or forwardness, but its charges of imprudence she could not so easily parry. Why had she admitted a preference for a man whose moral character was so little known to her? Where slept her discretion, while she suffered that preference to strengthen into passion? Why had she indulged in dreams of ideal perfection? Why had she looked for consistent virtue in a breast where she had not ascertained that piety resided? Had she allowed herself time for consideration, would she have forgotten that religion was the only foundation strong enough to support the self-denying, the purifying virtues? These prudent reflections came in part too late; for to love, Laura was persuaded she must henceforth be a stranger. But to her friendships she conceived that they might be applicable, and she determined to make them useful in her future intercourse with her own sex; to whom, perhaps, they may be applied even with more justice than to the other.T
he mind of Laura had been early stored with just and rational sentiments. These were the bullion; but it was necessary that experience should give the stamp that was to make them current in the ordinary business of life. Had she called prudence to her aid, in the first stage of her acquaintance with the insinuating Hargrave, what anguish would she not have spared herself! But if the higher wisdom be to foresee and prevent misfortune, the next degree is to make the best of it when unavoidable; and Laura resolved that this praise at least should be hers. Fortified by this resolution, she quitted her apartment, busied herself in her domestic affairs, met her father almost with cheerfulness; and when he renewed the subject of their last conversation, repeated, with such composure, her conviction of the dissimilarity of Hargrave's dispositions to her own, that Captain Montreville began to think that he had been mistaken in his opinion of her preference. Still, however, he could not account for her rejection of an offer so unobjectionable; and he hinted a suspicion that some of Hargrave's gallantries had been repeated to her, and perhaps with exaggeration. With trembling lips, Laura assured him she had never heard the slightest insinuation against Colonel Hargrave. Though Laura had little of romance in her composition, her father now began to imagine that she allowed herself to cherish the romantic dream, that sympathy of souls, and exactly concordant tastes and propensities, were necessary to the happiness of wedded life. But Laura calmly declared that her tastes were not inflexible; and that, had she intended to marry, she should have found it an easy duty to conform them to those of her husband; but that the thought of marriage was shocking to her, and that she trusted no man would ever again think of her as a wife. Montreville, who for once suspected his daughter of a little affectation, made no effort to combat this unnatural antipathy, but trusted to time and nature for its cure.
As soon as her father left her, Laura, determined not to be brave by halves, began the painful task of destroying every relic of Hargrave's presence. She banished from her portfolio the designs he had made for her drawings, destroyed the music from which he had accompanied her, and effaced from her books the marks of his pencil. She had amused her solitary hours by drawing, in chalks, a portrait of features indelibly engraven on her recollection, and her fortitude failed her when about to consign it to the flames. "No," she exclaimed, "I can never part with this. This, at least, I may love unreproved," and she pressed it in agony to her heart, inwardly vowing that no human being should fill its place. But such thoughts as these could not linger in the reasonable mind of Laura. The next moment she blushed for her weakness; and casting away its last treasure, averted her eyes till the flames had consumed it to ashes. "Now all is over," she cried, as she threw herself upon a chair and burst into tears. But quickly wiping them away, she resolved that she would not wilfully bind herself to the rack of recollection, and hastened to exert herself in some of her ordinary employments.
Laura was aware that the cottage, where every walk, every shrub, every flower, spoke of Hargrave, was a scene unlikely to aid her purpose in forgetting him; and therefore she that evening proposed to her father that they should pay their long-promised visit to Mrs Douglas. He readily consented. Their journey was fixed for the following week, and Laura occupied herself in preparing for their departure, though with feelings far different from the delight with which, a few days before, she would have anticipated a meeting with her early friend.
This presentation of Self Control: A Novel, by Mary Brunton is Copyright 2003 by P.J. LaBrocca. It may not be copied, duplicated, stored or transmitted in any form without written permission. The text is in the public domain.