FOR the first fortnight after Captain Montreville's arrival in London, almost every forenoon was spent in unavailing attempts to see Mr Baynard, whose illness, at the end of that time, had increased to such a degree, as left no hope that he could soon be in a condition for attending to business. Harassed by suspense, and weary of waiting for an interview, which seemed every day more distant, Captain Montreville resolved to stay no longer for his agent's introduction to Mr Warren, but to visit the young heir, and himself explain his errand. Having procured Mr Warren's address from Mr Baynard's servants, he proceeded to Portland Street; and knocking at the door of a handsome house, was there informed that Mr Warren was gone to Brighton, and was not expected to return for three weeks.
Captain Montreville had now no resource but to unfold his demands to Mr Warren in writing. He did so, stating his claims with all the simple energy of truth; but no answer was returned. He fatigued himself and Laura in vain, with conjecturing the cause of this silence. He feared, that though dictated by scrupulous politeness, his letter might have given offence. He imagined that it might have miscarried, or that Mr Warren might have left Brighton before it reached him. All his conjectures were, however, wide of the truth. The letter had given no offence, for it had never been read. It safely reached the person to whom it was addressed, just as he was adding a finishing touch to the graces of a huge silk handkerchief in which he had enveloped his chin, preparatory to the exhibition of his person, and of an elegant new curricle, upon the Steine. A single glance had convinced him that the letter was unworthy to encroach on this momentous concern; he had thrown it aside, intending to read it when he had nothing else to do, and had seen it no more, till on his return to London he unrolled from it his bottle of esprit de rose, which his valet had wrapped in its folds.
The three wearisome weeks came to an end at last, as well as a fourth, which the attractions of Brighton prevailed on Mr Warren to add to his stay; and Captain Montreville, making another, almost hopeless, inquiry in Portland Street, was, to his great joy, admitted to the long-desired conference. He found the young man in his night-gown, reclining on a sofa, intently studious on the "Sportsman's Magazine," while he ever and anon refreshed himself for this his literary toil, by sipping a cup of chocolate. Being courteously invited to partake, the captain began by apologising for his intrusion, but pleaded that his business was of such a nature as to require a personal interview. At the mention of business, the smile forsook its prescriptive station on the smooth face of Mr Warren. "Oh, pray pardon me, sir," said he; "my agent manages all my matters; I never meddle with business; I have really no head for it. Here, Du Moulin, give this gentleman Mr Williams's address."
"Excuse me, sir," said Captain Montreville. "On this occasion I must entreat that you will so far depart from your rule as to permit me to state my business to you in person."
"I assure you, sir," said the beau, rising from his luxurious posture," I know nothing about business; the very name of it is to me the greatest bore in life; if always reminds me of my old dead uncle. The poor man could never talk of any thing but of bank-stock, the price of the best Archangel tar, and the scarcity of hemp. Often did I wish the hemp had been cheap enough to make him apply a little of it to his own use; but the old cock took wing at last without a halter--he, he, he!"
"I shall endeavour to avoid these offensive subjects," said Captain Montreville, smiling. "The affair in which I wish to interest you, is less a case of law than of equity, and therefore I must beg permission to state it to your personal attention, as your agent might not think himself at liberty to do me the justice which I may expect from you."
Mr Warren at this moment recollected an indispensable engagement, and begged that Captain Montreville would do him the favour to call another time, secretly resolving not to admit him. "I shall not detain you two minutes," said the captain; "I shall in a few words state my request, and leave you to decide upon it when you are more at leisure."
"Well, sir," replied Mr Warren, with something between a sigh and an ill-suppressed yawn, "if it must be so."
"About eighteen months ago," resumed the captain, "my agent, Mr Baynard, paid £1500 to your late uncle, as the price of an annuity on my daughter's life. The deed is now found to be informal, and Mr Williams has refused to make any payment. Mr Baynard's indisposition has prevented me from seeing him since my arrival in London; but I have no doubt that he can produce a discharge for the price of the annuity; in which case, I presume you will allow the mistake in the deed to be rectified."
"Certainly, certainly," said Mr Warren, who had transferred his thoughts from the subject of conversation to the comparative merits of nankeen pantaloons and leather-breeches.
"But even if Mr Baynard should have no document to produce," continued Captain Montreville, "may I not hope that you will instruct Mr Williams to examine, whether there are not in Mr Warren's books traces of the agreement for an annuity of £100, in the name of Laura Montreville?" "Sir?" said Warren, whose ear caught the tone of interrogation, though the meaning of the speaker had entirely escaped him. The captain repeated his request. "Oh, certainly I will," said the young man, who would have promised any thing to get rid of the subject. "I hope the matter will be found to stand as you wish. At all events, such a trifling sum can be of no sort of consequence."
"Pardon me, sir," said Captain Montreville, warmly; "to me it is of the greatest. Should this trifle, as you are pleased to call it, be lost to me, my child must at my death be left to all the horrors, all the temptations of want--temptations aggravated a thousand fold by beauty and inexperience."
His last words awakened something like interest in the drowsy soul of his hearer, who said, with the returning smile of self-complacency, "Beauty, sir, did you say? beauty is what I may call, my passion; a pretty girl is always sure of my sympathy and good offices. I shall call on Mr Williams this very day."
Captain Montreville bit his lip. "Laura Montreville," thought he, "an object of sympathy to such a thing as thou?" He bowed, however, and said, "I hope, sir, you will find, upon examination, that Miss Montreville's claims rest upon your justice." Then laying his address upon the table, he took his leave, with an air perhaps a little too stately for one who had come to ask a favour.
He returned home, however, much pleased with having at last met with Warren, and with having, as he imagined, put in train the business on account of which he had performed so long a journey, and suffered so much uneasiness. He found Laura, too, in high spirits. She had just given the finishing touches to a picture on which she had been most busily employed ever since her arrival in London. She had studied the composition till her head ached with intensity of thought. She had laboured the finishing with care unspeakable; and she now only waited till her work could with safety be moved, to try the success of her project for the attainment of wealth. Of this success she scarcely entertained a doubt. She was sensible, indeed, that the picture had many faults, but not so many as that on which Mrs Douglas's visitor had fixed so high a price. Since painting the latter, she had improved in skill; and never had she bestowed such pains as on her present work. The stranger had said that the Scipio in Mrs Douglas's picture was interesting. The Leonidas in this was much more so; she could not doubt it, for he resembled Hargrave. She had hoped the resemblance would be apparent to no eye but her own. Her father, however, had noticed it, and Laura had tried to alter the head, but the captain declared she had spoiled it. Laura thought so herself; and after sketching a hundred regularly handsome countenances, could be satisfied with none that bore not some affinity to her only standard of manly beauty.
To add to the pleasure with which Laura surveyed the completion of her labours, she had that day received a letter from Mrs Douglas, in which mention was made of Hargrave.
In her first letters to Laura, Mrs Douglas had entirely avoided this subject. Almost a month Laura had waited, with sickening impatience, for some hint from which she might gather intelligence of Hargrave's motions, but in vain. Her friend had been provokingly determined to believe that the subject was disagreeable to her correspondent. Laura at last ventured to add, to one of her letters, a postscript, in which without naming the colonel, she inquired whether his regiment was still at Perth. She blushed as she glanced over this postscript. She thought it had an air of contrivance and design. She was half tempted to destroy the letter; but she could not prevail on herself to make a more direct inquiry; and to forbear making any was almost impossible. An answer had this day arrived; and Laura read no part of it with such interest, as that which, with seeming carelessness, informed her that the colonel had been several times at the parsonage, and that Mrs Douglas understood from report that he was soon to visit London.
Again and again did Laura read this passage, and ponder every word of it with care. I am playing the fool, said she to herself, and laid the letter aside; took it up again to ascertain some particular expression, and again read the paragraph which spoke of Hargrave, and again paused upon his name. She was so employed when her father entered, and she made an instinctive motion to conceal the paper; but the next moment she held it out to him, saying, "This is from Mrs Douglas." "Well, my love," said the captain, "if there are no secrets in it, read it to me. I delight in Mrs Douglas's simple affectionate style." Laura did as she was desired; but when she reached the sentence which began with the name of Hargrave, she blushed, hesitated for a moment, and then, passing it over, began the next paragraph.
Without both caution and self-command, the most upright woman will be guilty of subterfuges, where love is in question. Men can talk of the object of their affections--they find pleasure in confiding, in describing, in dwelling upon their passion--but the love of woman seeks concealment. If she can talk of it, or even of any thing that leads to it, the fever is imaginary, or it is past. "It is very strange," said the captain, when Laura had concluded, "that Mrs Douglas never mentions Hargrave, when she knows what an interest I take in him." Laura coloured crimson, but remained silent. "What do you think can be her reason?" asked the captain. This was a question for which Laura could find no evasion short of actual deceit; and with an effort far more painful than that from which her little artifice had saved her, her lovely face and neck glowing with confusion, she said, "She does mention--only I--I. Please to read it yourself;" and she pointed it out to her father, who, prepared by her hesitation to expect something very particular, was surprised to find the passage so entirely unimportant. "Why, Laura," said he, "what was there to prevent you from reading this?" To this question Laura could make no reply; and the cantain, after gazing on her for some moments in vain hope of an explanation, dismissed the subject, saying, with a shrug of his shoulders, "Well, well--women are creatures I don't pretend to understand."
Laura had often and deeply reflected upon the propriety of confiding to her father her engagement with Hargrave. Vague as it was, she thought a parent had an indisputable right to be informed of it. Her promise, too, had been conditional, and what judge so proper as her father to watch over the fulfilment of its conditions? What judge so proper as her father to examine the character, and to inspect the conduct, of the man who might one day become her husband? But amidst all the train of delightful visions which this thought conjured up, Laura felt that Hargrave's conduct had been such as she could not endure that her father should remember against his future son. Captain Montreville was now at a distance from Hargrave. Before they could possibly meet, her arguments, or her entreaties, might have so far prevailed over the subsiding passions of her father, as to dissuade him from a fashionable vindication of her honour. But what was to restore her lover to his present rank in the captain's regard? What would blot from his recollection the insult offered to his child? Without mention of that insult, her tale must be almost unintelligible; and she was conscious that, if she entered on the subject at all, her father's tenderness, or his authority, might unlock every secret of her breast. The time when her engagement could produce any consequence was distant. Ere it arrived, something unforeseen might possibly remove her difficulties; or, at the worst, she hoped that, before she permitted her father to weigh the fault of Hargrave, she should be able to balance against it the exemplary propriety of his after conduct.
She was not just satisfied with this reasoning; but weaker considerations can dissuade us from what we are strongly disinclined to do; and to unveiling her own partiality, or the unworthiness of its object, Laura's disinclination was extreme. She determined, therefore, to put off the evil hour; and withdrew her father's attention from the subject of the letter, by inquiring whether he had seen Warren, and whether he had settled his business satisfactorily? The captain replied, that though it was not absolutely settled, he hoped it was now in a fair way of being so; and informed her of Warren's promise. "Yet," added he, "any one of a thousand trifles may make such an animal forget or neglect the most important concern." "What sort of man did he seem?" inquired Laura. "Man!" repeated the captain, contemptuously. "Why, child, he is a creature entirely new to you. He talks like a parrot, looks like a woman, dresses like a monkey, and smells like a civet-cat. You might have lived at Glenalbert for half a century, without seeing such a creature." "I hope he will visit us," said Laura, "that we may not return home without seeing at least one of the curiosities of London."
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.