The three following days Laura employed in making arrangements for her journey. Desirous to enliven the solitude in which she was about to leave her only attendant, she consigned the care of the cottage, during her absence, to the girl's mother, who was likewise her own nurse; and cautious of leaving to the temptations of idleness one for whose conduct she felt herself in some sort accountable, she allotted to Nanny the task of making winter clothing for some of the poorest inhabitants of Glenalbert; a task which her journey prevented her from executing herself. Nor were the materials of this little charity subtracted from her father's scanty income, but deducted from comforts exclusively her own.
Though, in the bustle of preparation, scarcely a moment remained unoccupied, Laura could not always forbear from starting at the sound of the knocker, or following with her eyes the form of a horseman winding through the trees. In vain she looked--in vain she listened. The expected stranger came not--the expected voice was unheard. She tried to rejoice at the desertion: "I am glad of it," she would say to herself, while bitter tears were bursting from her eyes. She often reproached herself with the severity of her language at her last interview with Hargrave. She asked herself what right she had to embitter disappointment by unkindness, or to avenge insult by disdain. Her behaviour appeared to her, in the retrospect, ungentle, unfeminine, unchristian. Yet she did not for a moment repent her rejection, nor waver for a moment in her resolution to adhere to it. Her soul sickened at the thought that she had been the object of licentious passion merely; and she loathed to look upon her own lovely form, while she thought that it had seduced the senses, but failed to touch the soul of Hargrave.
Amidst these employments and feelings the week had closed, and the Sabbath evening was the last which Laura was to spend at Glenalbert. That evening had long been her chosen season of meditation, the village churchyard the scene where she loved to "go forth to meditate." The way which led to it, and to it alone, was a shady green lane, gay with veronica and harebell, undefaced by wheels, but marked in the middle with one distinct track, and impressed towards the sides with several straggling half-formed footpaths. The church itself stood detached from the village, on a little knoll, on the west side of which the burial-ground sloped towards the woody bank that bounded a brawling mountain stream. Thither Laura stole, when the sun, which had been hid by the rugged hill, again rolling forth from behind it, poured through the long dale his rays upon this rustic cemetery--the only spot in the valley sufficiently elevated to catch his parting beam.
"How long, how deep is the shadow--how glorious in brightness the reverse!" said she, as she seated herself under the shade of the newly-raised grave-stone that marked the place of her mother's rest; and turning her mind's eye from what seemed a world of darkness, she raised it to scenes of everlasting light. Her fancy, as it roared to regions of bliss without alloy looked back with something like disgust on the labours that were to prepare her for their enjoyment, and a feeling almost of disappointment and impatience accompanied the recollection that her pilgrimage was to all appearance only beginning. But she checked the feeling as it rose, and, in penitence and resignation, raised her eyes to heaven. They rested, as they fell, upon a stone marked with the name and years of one who died in early youth. Laura remembered her well--she was the beauty of Glenalbert; but her lover left her for a richer bride, and her proud spirit sank beneath the stroke. The village artist had depicted her want of resignation, in a rude sculpture of the prophet's lamentation over his withered gourd. "My gourd, too, is withered," said Laura. "Do I well to be angry even unto death? Will the giver of all good leave me even here without comfort? Shall I refuse to find pleasure in any duties but such as are of my own selection?--Because the gratification of one passion, one misplaced passion, is refused, has this world no more to offer?--this fair world, which its great Creator has stamped with his power, and stored by his bounty, and ennobled by making it the temple of his worshippers, the avenue to heaven! Shall I find no balm in the consolations of friendship, the endearments of parental love--no joy in the sweets of benevolence, the stores of knowledge, the miracles of grace! Oh! may I ever fearlessly confide in the fatherly care that snatched me from the precipice when my rash confidence was about to plunge me to my ruin--that opened my eyes on my danger ere retreat was impossible."
The reflections of Laura were disturbed by the noise of some one springing over the fence; and the next moment Hargrave was at her side. Laura uttered neither shriek nor exclamation--but she turned; and, with steps as precipitate as would bear the name of walking, proceeded towards the gate. Hargrave followed her.
"Am I indeed so happy as to find you alone?" said he. Laura replied not, by word or look. "Suffer me to detain you for a few moments." Laura rather quickened her pace. "Will you not speak to me, Miss Montreville?" said Hargrave, in a tone of tender reproach. Laura continued to advance. "Stay but one moment," said he, in a voice of supplication. Laura laid her hand upon the gate. Hargrave's patience was exhausted. "By heaven, you shall hear me !" he cried, and, throwing his arm round her, compelled her to be seated on the stone bench at the gate.
Laura coldly withdrew herself. "By what right, sir," said she, "do you presume to detain me?" "By the right of wretchedness--of misery not to be endured. Since I last saw you, I have never known rest or peace. Surely, Laura, you are now sufficiently avenged--surely your stubborn pride may now condescend to hear me."
"Well, sir," said Laura, without attempting to depart; "what are your commands?"
"Oh, Laura, I cannot bear your displeasure; it makes me supremely miserable. If you have any pity, grant me your forgiveness."
"If my forgiveness is of any value to you, I give it you, I trust, like a Christian--from the heart. Now, then, suffer me to go."
"What! think you it is the frozen forgiveness of duty that will content me? Torn, as I am, by every passion that can drive man to phrensy, think you that I will accept, that I will endure, this heartless, scornful pardon? Laura, you loved me once. I have doated on you, pined for you; and passion, passion only, will I accept or bear from you."
Laura shrunk trembling from his violence. "Colonel Hargrave," said she, "if you do not restrain this vehemence, I must, I will be gone. I would fain spare you unnecessary pain; but while you thus agitate yourself, my stay is useless to you, and to me most distressing."
"Say, then, that you accept my vows--that, hopeless of happiness but with me, you bind yourself to me alone, and for ever. Speak, heavenly creature, and bless me beyond the fairest dreams of hope."
"Colonel Hargrave," said Laura, "you have my forgiveness. My--what shall I say--my esteem you have cast from you; my best wishes for your happiness shall ever be yours--more I cannot give. In pity to yourself, then--in pity to me--renounce one who can never be yours."
Hargrave's eyes flashed fire, while his countenance faded to ghastly paleness. "Yes!" he exclaimed, "cold, pitiless, insensible woman--yes, I renounce you. In the haunts of riot, in the roar of intemperance, will I forget that form, that voice; and when I am lost to fame, to health, to usefulness, my ruin be on your soul."
"Oh! Hargrave," cried the trembling Laura, "talk not so wildly; Heaven will hear my prayers for you. Amidst the pursuits of wisdom, amidst the attractions of others, you will forget me."
"Forget you! Never. While I have life, I will follow you, supplicate, persecute you. Mine you shall be, though infamy and death ensue. Dare not," said he, grasping her arm, "dare not to seek the protection of another. Dare but to give him one smile, and his life shall be the forfeit."
"Alas! alas!" cried Laura, wringing her hands in anguish, "this is real phrensy. Compose yourself, I implore you; there is no other, there never can be."
Her tears recalled Hargrave to something like composure. "Dearest Laura," said he, "I wish to soften--I only terrify you. Fear not, beloved of my soul; speak to me without alarm. I will hear you if it be possible, with calmness; but say not, oh! say not that you reject me!"
Laura averted her face. "Why prolong this distressing interview?" said she; "you have heard my determination. I know that it is right, and I cannot relinquish it."
The triumph of self-conquest gave firmness to her voice; and Hargrave, driven again from composure by her self-command, sprang from her side. "It is well, madam," he cried; "triumph in the destruction of my peace; but think not I will so tamely resign you. No, by Heaven! I will go this moment to your father; I will tell him my offence, and ask if he thinks it deserves such punishment. Let him take my life--I abhor it."
"Is your promise, then, of such small avail?" said Laura, sternly.
"Shall a promise bind me to a life of wretchedness? Shall I regard the feelings of one who takes an inhuman pleasure in my sufferings."
At this moment Laura's eyes fell on her father, who was entering the little avenue. Hargrave's glance followed hers, and he prepared to join Captain Montreville. In an agony of terror, Laura grasped his arm. "Spare me, spare me," she said, "and do with me what you will!" Captain Montreville saw that the walk was occupied; he turned from it, and Laura had again time to breathe. "Say, then," said Hargrave, softened by her emotion, "say that, when years of penitence have expiated my offence, you will yet be mine."
Laura covered her face with her hands. "Let me not hear you--let me not look upon you," said she; "leave me to think, if it be possible," and she poured a silent prayer to heaven in this her sorest trial. The effort composed her, and the majesty of virtue gave dignity to her form and firmness to her voice, while she said, "My father's life is in the hands of providence; it will still be so, when I have repeated to you that I dare not trust to principles such as yours the guardianship of this the infancy of my being. I dare not incur certain guilt to escape contingent evil. I cannot make you the companion of this uncertain life, while your conduct is such as to make our eternal separation the object of my dreadful hope."
Hargrave had trusted that the tenderness of Laura would seduce, or his ardour overpower, her firmness; but he read the expression of her pale determined countenance, and felt assured that she was lost to him for ever. Convinced that all appeal to her feelings would be hopeless, he would deign to make none; but in a voice made almost inarticulate by the struggle of pride and anguish, he said, "Miss Montreville, your father's life is safe from me--I will not lift my hand against it. That he should take mine is of small importance, either to you or myself. A violent death," continued he, his pale lip quivering with a smile of bitterness, "may perhaps procure me your tardy pity."
From the storm of passion Laura had shrunk with terror and dismay, but the voice of suppressed anguish struck her to the soul. "Oh, Hargrave!" she cried, with tears no longer to be restrained, "you have my tenderest pity; would to Heaven that the purity of your future life would restore me to the happiness of esteeming you!"
Laura's tenderness revived, in a moment, the hopes of Hargrave. "Angel of sweetness," he exclaimed, "mould me to your will. Say that, when purified by years of repentance, you will again bless me with your love, and no exertion will be too severe, no virtue too arduous."
"No; this I dare not promise; let a higher motive influence you; for it is not merely the conduct, it is the heart which must have changed, ere I durst expose my feeble virtue to the trial of your example, your authority; ere I durst make it my duty to shut my eyes against your faults, or to see them with the indulgence of love."
"Dearest Laura, one word from you will lure me back to the path of virtue--will you wilfully destroy even the wish to return? If for a year, for two years, my conduct should bear the strictest scrutiny, will you not accept this as a proof that my heart is changed--changed in every thing but its love for you? Will you not then receive me?"
Laura had resisted entreaty, had withstood alarm, had conquered strong affection; but the hope of rousing Hargrave to the views, the pursuits, the habits of a Christian, betrayed her caution, and gladdened her heart to rapture. "If for two years," said she, her youthful countenance brightening with delight, "your conduct is such as you describe--if it will bear the inspection of the wise, of the sober-minded, of the pious, as my father's friend, as my own friend, will I welcome you."
Thus suddenly raised from despair, Hargrave seemed at the summit of felicity. Once admitted as her "father's friend, as her own," he was secure of the accomplishment of his wishes. The time that must first elapse appeared to him but a moment, and the labours of duty required of him seemed a smiling dream. Love and joy animated every feature of his fine countenance; he threw himself at the feet of Laura, and rapturously blessed her for her condescension. His ecstacies first made her sensible of the extent of her concession, and she feared that she had gone too far. But with her a promise, however inadvertent, was a sacred thing, which she would neither qualify nor retract. She contented herself, therefore, with merely repeating the terms of it, emphatically guarding the conditions. Desirous now to have leisure for reflection, she reminded him that the lateness of the hour made it fit that he should depart; and, inwardly persuaded that she would not long obdurately refuse him another interview, he obeyed without much opposition.
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.