Self Control: A Novel

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THE lovers were no sooner separated, than Hargrave began to repent that he had not more distinctly ascertained the kind and manner of the intercourse which he was to hold with his mistress during the term of his probation; and though he had little fear that she would be very rigid, he considered this as a point of such importance that he resolved not to quit Glenalbert without having the matter settled to his satisfaction. For this reason he condescended to accept the accommodation of the little straw-roofed cottage, by courtesy called the inn, where he had already left his horses. Thither he retired accordingly, not without some national misgivings of mind on the subject of Scottish nastiness and its consequences. His apartment, however, though small, was decent, his bed was clean, his sleep refreshing, and his dreams pleasant; nor was it till a late hour the following morning, that he rose to the homely comfort and clumsy abundance of a Highland breakfast.

As soon as he had finished his repast, he walked towards Montreville's cottage, ostensibly to pay his respects to the captain, but, in reality, with the hope of obtaining a private interview with Laura. He entered the garden, where he expected to find Captain Montreville. It was empty. He approached the house. The shutters were barred. He knocked at the door, which was opened by the old woman; and on inquiring for Captain Montreville, he was answered, "Wow, sir, him an' Miss Laura's awa' at six o'clock this morning." "Away!" repeated the colonel; "where are they gone?" "To London, sir; and I'm sure a lanely time we'll hae till they come hame again." "What stay do they intend making?" "Heth, sir, I dare say that's what they dinna ken themsels." "What is their address?" inquired the colonel. "What's your wull, sir?" "Where are they to be found?" Am'n I tellin' you they're in London, sir. I'm sure ye ken whar that is?" "But how are you to send their letters?" "Wow! they never got mony letters but frae England; and now 'at they're in London, ye ken the folk may gie them into their ain hand." "But suppose you should have occasion to write to them yourself?" said Hargrave, whose small stock of patience wore fast to a close." Hech, sir, sorrow a scrape can I write. They learn a' thae newfangled things now; but, trouth, i' my young days we were na' sae upsettin." Hargrave was in no humour to canvass the merits of the different modes of education; and muttering an ejaculation, in which the word "Devil!" was distinctly audible, he turned away.

Vexed and disappointed, he wandered down the churchyard lane, and reached the spot where he had last seen Laura. He threw himself on the seat that had supported her graceful form--called to mind her consummate loveliness--her ill-repressed tenderness --and most cordially consigned himself to Satan for neglecting to wring from her some further concessions. She was now removed from the solitude where he had reigned without a rival. Hers would be the gaze of every eye--hers the command of every heart. "She may soon choose among numbers," cried he; "she will meet with people of her own humour--and some canting hypocritical scoundrel will drive me completely from her mind."

By the time he had uttered this prediction, and bit his lip half through, he was some steps on his way to order his horses, that he might pursue his fair fugitive, in the hope of extorting from her some less equivocal kind of promise. Fortunately for his reputation for sanity, however, he recollected, before he began his pursuit, that, ere he could overtake her, Laura must have reached Edinburgh, where, without a direction, it might be difficult to discover her abode. In this dilemma he was again obliged to have recourse to the old woman at the cottage; but she could give him no information. She neither knew how long Captain Montreville purposed remaining in Edinburgh, nor in what part of the town he intended to reside.

Thus baffled in his inquiries, Hargrave was convinced that his pursuit must be ineffectual; and, in no very placid frame of mind, he changed his destination from Edinburgh to his quarters. He arrived there in time for a late dinner; but his wine was insipid, his companions tiresome; and he retired soon, that early next morning he might set out on a visit to Mrs Douglas, from whom he purposed to learn Captain Montreville's address.

On comparing the suppressed melancholy of Laura, her embarrassment at the mention of Hargrave, and her inadvertent disclosure, with her father's detail of her rejection of the insinuating young soldier, a suspicion not very remote from truth had entered the mind of Mrs Douglas. She imagined that Captain Montreville had in some way been deceived as to the kind of proposals made to his daughter; and that Laura had rejected no offers but such as it would have been infamy to accept. Under this conviction, it is not surprising that her reception of the colonel was far from being cordial; nor that, guessing his correspondence to be rather intended for the young lady than for the old gentleman, she chose to afford no facility to an intercourse which she considered as both dangerous and degrading. To Hargrave's questions, therefore, she answered, that until she should hear from London, she was ignorant of Captain Montreville's address; and that the time of his return was utterly unknown to her. When the colonel, with the same intention, soon after repeated his visit, she quietly, but steadily, evaded all his inquiries, equally unmoved by his entreaties and by the paroxysms of impatience with which he endured his disappointment.

Hargrave was the only child of a widow--an easy, indolent, good sort of a woman--who would gladly have seen him become every thing that man ought to be, provided she could have accomplished this laudable desire without recourse to such harsh instruments as contradiction and restraint. But of these she disliked the use, as much as her son did the endurance; and thus the young gentleman was educated, or rather grew up, without the slightest acquaintance with either. Of consequence, his naturally warm temper became violent, and his constitutionally strong passions ungovernable.

Hargrave was the undoubted heir of a title, and of a fine estate. Of money he had never felt the want, and did not know the value; he was, therefore, so far as money was concerned, generous even to profusion. His abilities were naturally of the highest order. To force him to the improvement of them was an effort above the power of Mrs Hargrave; but, fortunately for him, ere his habits of mental inaction were irremediable, a tedious illness confined him to recreations in which mind had some share, however small. During the interdictions of bats and balls, he by accident stumbled on a volume of Peregrine Pickle, which he devoured with great eagerness; and his mother, delighted with what she was pleased to call a turn for reading, took care that this new appetite should not, any more than the old ones, pine for want of gratification. To direct it to food wholesome and invigorating, would have required unremitting, though gentle labour; and to labour of all kinds Mrs Hargrave had a practical antipathy. But it was very easy to supply the young man with romances, poetry, and plays; and it was pleasing to mistake their intoxicating effects for the bursts of mental vigour. A taste for works of fiction, once firmly established, never afterwards yielded to the attractions of sober truth; and though his knowledge of history was neither accurate nor extensive, Hargrave could boast an intimate acquaintance with all the plays, with almost all the poetry, and, as far as it is attainable by human diligence, with all the myriads of romances in his mother tongue. He had chosen of his own free will to study the art of playing on the flute--the violin requiring more patience than he had to bestow; and emulation, which failed to incite him to more useful pursuits, induced him to try whether he could not draw as well as his play-fellow, De Courcy.

At the age of seventeen he had entered the army. As he was of good family, of an elegant figure, and furnished by nature with one of the finest countenances she ever formed, his company was courted in the highest circles, and to the ladies he was particularly acceptable. Among such associates his manners acquired a high polish; and he improved in what is called knowledge of the world--that is, a facility of discovering, and a dexterity in managing, the weaknesses of others. One year, one tedious year, his regiment had been quartered in the neighbourhood of the retirement where the aforesaid De Courcy was improving his "few paternal acres ;" and partly by his persuasion and example, partly from having little else to do, partly because it was the fashionable science of the day, Hargrave had prosecuted the study of chemistry.

Thus have we detailed, and in some measure accounted for, the whole of Colonel Hargrave's accomplishments, excepting only, perhaps, the one in which he most excelled--he danced inimitably. For the rest, he had what is called a good heart; that is, he disliked to witness or inflict pain, except from some incitement stronger than advantage to the sufferer. His fine eyes had been seen to fill with tears at a tale of elegant distress; he could even compassionate the more vulgar sorrows of cold and hunger to the extent of relieving them, provided always that the relief cost nothing but money. Some casual instances of his feeling, and of his charity, had fallen under the observation of Laura; and upon these, upon the fascination of his manners, and the expression of his countenance, her fervid imagination had grafted every virtue that can exalt or adorn humanity. Gentle reader, excuse the delusion. Laura was only seventeen --Hargrave was the first handsome man of fashion she had ever known, the first who had ever poured into her ear the soothing voice of love.

Unprepared to find, in an obscure village in Scotland, the most perfect model of dignified loveliness, Hargrave became the sudden captive of her charms; and her manners, so void of all design--the energy, the sometimes wild poetic grace, of her language--the shrewdness with which she detected, and the simplicity with which she unveiled, the latent motives of action, whether in herself or in others--struck him with all the force of contrast, as he compared them with the moulded artificial standard of the day. His interest in her was the strongest he had ever felt, even before it was heightened by a reserve that came too late to repress or conceal the tenderness with which she repaid his passion.

Yet Hargrave was not less insensible to the real charms of Laura's mind than she was unconscious of the defects in his.

Her benevolence pleased him; for bright eyes look brighter through tears of sympathy, and no smile is so lovely as that which shines on the joys of others. Her modesty charmed him; for every voluptuary can tell what allurements blushes add to beauty. But of her self-denial and humility he made no account. Her piety, never obtruded on his notice, had at first escaped his observation altogether; and now that it thwarted his favourite pursuit, he considered it merely as a troublesome prejudice. Of all her valuable qualities, her unfailing sweetness of temper was perhaps the only one that he valued for its own sake. But her person he idolised. To obtain her, no exertion would have appeared too formidable; and, remembering the conditions of their future reconciliation, he began, for the first time in his life, to consider his conduct with a view to its moral fitness.

This he found a subject of inextricable difficulty. He was ignorant of the standard by which Laura would judge him. He was willing to believe that, if she were left to herself, it would not be severe; but the words of her promise seemed to imply, that his conduct was to be subjected to the scrutiny of less partial censors, and he felt some anxiety to know who were to be his "wise," "sober-minded," "pious" inspectors. He did not game, his expenses did not much exceed his income; therefore he could imagine no change in his deportment necessary to conciliate the "wise." Though, under the name of sociality, he indulged freely in wine, he seldom exceeded to intoxication. Here again reform seemed needless. But that he might give no offence to the "sober-minded," he intended to conduct his gallantries with great discretion; and magnanimously resolved to abstain from the molestation of innocent country-girls and decent maid-servants. Finally, to secure the favour of the "pious," he forthwith made a purchase of Blair's Sermons, and resolved to be seen in church once at least every Sunday.


t might be supposed, that when the scale of duty which we trace is low, we should be the more likely to reach the little eminence at which we aspire; but experience shows us that they who poorly circumscribe the Christian race, stop as much short of their humble design, as does he of his nobler purpose, whose glorious goal is perfection. The sequel will show the attainments of Colonel Hargrave in the ways of virtue. In the meantime, his magnet of attraction to Perthshire was gone; he soon began to grow weary of the feeling of restraint, occasioned by supposing himself the subject of a system of espionage; and to kill the time, and relieve himself from his imaginary shackles, he sought the assistance of the Edinburgh races; determined, that if Laura prolonged her stay in London, he would obtain leave of absence, and seek her there.

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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.