Laura's exultation was of short continuance. She had gone but a few steps ere she reflected that the wants which she had undertaken so painful a visit to supply were as clamant as ever, and now further than ever from a chance of relief. Mournfully she pursued her way towards the print-shop, hopelessly comparing her urgent and probably prolonged necessities with her confined resources.
The utmost price which she could hope to receive for the drawing she carried, would be far from sufficient to discharge her debt to the surgeon; and there seemed now no alternative but to confess her inability to pay, and to throw herself upon his mercy. To this measure, however, she was too averse, to adopt it without considering every other possible expedient. She thought of appealing to the friendship of Mrs Douglas, and of suffering Dr Flint to continue his visits till an answer from her friend should enable her to close the connection. But Mrs Douglas's scanty income was taxed to the uttermost by the maintenance and education of a numerous family, by the liberal charities of its owners, and by the hospitable spirit, which, banished by ostentation from more splendid abodes, still lingers by the fireside of a Scottish clergyman. Laura was sure that Mrs Douglas would supply her wants at whatever inconvenience to herself; and this very consideration withheld her from making application to her friend.
Laura had heard and read that ladies in distress had found subsistence by the sale of their ornaments. But by their example she could not profit, for her ornaments were few in number and of no value. She wore indeed a locket, which she had once received from her mother, with a strong injunction neither to lose nor give it away; but Laura, in her profound ignorance of the value of trinkets, attached no estimation to this one, except as the only unnecessary gift which she had ever received from her mother. "It contains almost as much gold as a guinea," said she, putting her hand to it," and a guinea will soon be a great treasure to me." Still she determined that nothing short of extremity should induce her to part with it; but desirous to ascertain the extent of this last resource, she entered the shop of a jeweller, and presenting the locket, begged to know its value.
After examining it, the jeweller replied that he believed it might be worth about five guineas; "for though," said he, "the setting is antiquated, these emeralds are worth something."
At the mention of this sum, all Laura's difficulties seemed to vanish. Besides enabling her to pay the surgeon, it would make an addition to her little fund. With rigorous abstinence on her part, this little fund, together with the price of her incessant labour, would pay for her lodgings, and support her father in happy ignorance of his poverty, till he was able to remove to Glenalbert. Then, when he was quite well and quite able to bear it, she would tell him how she had toiled for him, and he would see that he had not lavished his fondness on a thankless child. These thoughts occupied far less time than the recital, and yet, ere they were passed, Laura had untied the locket from her neck, and put it into the hands of the jeweller. It was not till she saw it in the hands of another, that she felt all the pain of parting with it. She asked to see it once more. As she gazed on it for the last time, tears trickled from her eyes; but speedily wiping them away, and averting her head, she restored the locket to its new owner, and taking up the money, departed.
She soon arrived at the print-shop, and finding Wilkins disengaged, produced her drawing, and asked him to purchase it. Wilkins looked at it, and inquired what price she had put upon it. "I am quite unacquainted with its real value," answered she, "but the rapid sale of my work is at present such an object to me, that I shall willingly make it as cheap as possible, or allow you to fix your own price." "Have you any more to dispose of, ma'am?" asked Wilkins. "I have none finished," answered Laura, "but I think I could promise you six more in a week, if you are inclined to take them." "I think," said Wilkins, after some consideration, "I might venture to take them if you could afford them for half a guinea each." "You shall have them," said Laura, with a sigh, "but I think half a guinea rather a low--a high, I believe, I mean--"
Laura did not at this moment exactly know what she meant; for her eyes had just rested on a gentleman, who, with his back towards her, was busied in examining a book of caricatures. She thought she could not be mistaken in the person. Only one form upon earth was endowed with such symmetry and grace, and that form was Hargrave's. He slightly turned his head, and Laura was certain.
Though Laura neither screamed nor fainted, this recognition was not made without extreme emotion. She trembled violently, and a mist spread before her eyes; but she remembered the apparently wilful desertion of her lover, and determined neither to claim his compassion nor gratify his vanity by any of the airs of a forsaken damsel, she quietly turned away from him, and leant against the counter to recover strength and composure.
She was resolved to quit the shop the instant that she was able; and yet, perhaps, she would have become sooner sensible of her recovered powers of motion, had it not been for a latent hope that the caricatures would not long continue so very interesting. No one, however, accosted her; and next came the idea that Hargrave had already observed her, without wishing to claim her acquaintance. Before the mortifying thought could take a distinct form, Laura was already on her way towards the door.
"You have left your half-guinea, ma'am," said Wilkins, calling after her; and Laura, half angry at being detained, turned back to fetch it. At this moment Hargrave's eye fell upon her half-averted face. Surprise and joy illuminating his fine countenance, "Laura!" he exclaimed, "is it possible? have I at last found you?" and springing forward, he clasped her to his breast, regardless of the inquisitive looks and significant smiles of the spectators of his transports. But to the scrutiny of strangers, to the caresses of Hargrave, even to the indecorum of her situation, poor Laura was insensible. Weakened by the fatigue and emotion of the two preceding days, overcome by the sudden conviction that she had not been wilfully neglected, her head sank upon the shoulder of Hargrave, and she lost all consciousness.
When Laura recovered, she found herself in a little parlour adjoining to the shop, with no attendant but Hargrave, who still supported her in his arms. Her first thought was vexation at her own ill-timed sensibility; her next, a resolution to make no further forfeiture of her respectability, but rather, by the most stoical composure, to regain what she had lost. For this purpose, she soon disengaged herself from her perilous support, and unwilling to speak till secure of maintaining her firmness, she averted her head, and returned all Hargrave's raptures of love and joy with provoking silence.
As soon as she had completely recovered her self-possession, she arose, and apologising for the trouble she had occasioned him, said she would return home. Hargrave eagerly begged permission to accompany her, saying that his carriage was in waiting, and would convey them. Laura, with cold politeness, declined his offer. Though a little piqued by her manner, Hargrave triumphed in the idea that he retained all his former influence. "My bewitching Laura," said he, taking her hand, "I beseech you to lay aside this ill-timed coquetry. After so sweet, so interesting a proof that you still allow me some power over your feelings, must I accuse you of an affectation of coldness?" "No, sir," said Laura indignantly, "rather of a momentary weakness, for which I despise myself."
The lover could not indeed have chosen, a more unfavourable moment to express his exultation; for Laura's feelings of humiliation and self-reproach were just then raised to their height, by her perceiving the faces of two of the shop-boys peeping through the glass door with an aspect of roguish curiosity. Conscious of her inability to walk home, and feeling her situation quite intolerable, she called to one of the little spies, and begged that he would instantly procure her a hackney coach.
Hargrave vehemently remonstrated against this order. "Why this unkind haste?" said he. "Surely after so tedious, so tormenting an absence, you need not grudge me a few short moments." Laura thought he was probably himself to blame for the absence of which he complained, and coldly answering, "I have already been detained too long," was about to quit the room, when Hargrave, impatiently seizing her hand, exclaimed, "Unfeeling Laura! does that relentless pride never slumber? Have I followed you from Scotland, and sought you for three anxious months, to be met without one kind word, one pitying look!"
"Followed me!" repeated Laura with surprise. "Yes, upon my life, my journey hither had no other object. After you so cruelly left me, without warning or farewell, how could I endure to exist in the place which you once made delightful to me? Indeed, I could not bear it. I resolved to pursue you wherever you went, to breathe at least the same air with you, sometimes to feast my fond eyes with that form, beyond imagination lovely--perhaps to win that beguiling smile which no heart can withstand. The barbarous caution of Mrs Douglas in refusing me your address, has caused the disappointment of all my hopes."
Hargrave had egregiously mistaken the road to Laura's favour when he threw a reflection upon her friend. "Mrs Douglas certainly acted right," said she. "I have equal confidence in her prudence and in her friendship."
"Probably, then," said Hargrave, reddening with vexation, "this system of torture originated with you. It was at your desire that your friend withstood all my entreaties."
"No," answered Laura; "I cannot claim the merit of so much foresight. I certainly did not expect the honour that you are pleased to say you have done me, especially when you were doubtful both of my abode and of your own reception."
"Insulting girl!" cried Hargrave; "you know too well, that however received, still I must follow you. And, but for a series of the most tormenting accidents, I should have defeated the caution of your cold-hearted favourite. At the Perth post-office I discovered that your letters were addressed to the care of Mr Baynard; and the very hour that I reached London, I flew to make inquires after you. I found that Mr Baynard's house was shut up, and that he was gone in bad health to Richmond. I followed him, and was told that he was too ill to be spoken with, that none of the servants knew your abode, as the footman who used to carry messages to you had been dismissed, and that your letters were now left at Mr Baynard's chambers in town. Thither I went, and learnt that, ever since Mr Baynard's removal to Richmond, you had yourself sent for your letters, and that of course the clerks were entirely ignorant of your residence. Imagine my disappointment! The people, however, promised to make inquiries of your messenger, and to let me know where you might be found; and day after day did I haunt them, the sport of vain hope and bitter disappointment. No other letter ever came for you, nor did you ever inquire for any."
"After Mr Baynard's removal to Richmond," said Laura, "I directed Mrs Douglas to address her letters to our lodgings."
"Ah, Laura, think what anxieties, what wretchedness, I have suffered in my fruitless search! Yet you meet me only to drive me coldly from your presence. Once you said that you pardoned the folly, the madness that offended you; but too well I see that you deceived yourself or me--that no attachment, no devotion, can purchase your forgiveness."
"Indeed," said Laura, melted by the proof which she had received of her lover's affection, yet fearful of forfeiting her caution, "I am incapable of harbouring enmity against the worst of human beings, and--"
"Enmity!" interrupted Hargrave; "Heavens, what a word!"
"I mean," said Laura, faltering, "that I am not insensible to the regard--"
"Madam, the coach is at the door," said the shop-boy, again peeping slyly into the room; and Laura, hastily bidding Hargrave good morning, walked towards the carriage. Having herself given the coachman his directions, she suffered Hargrave to hand her in, giving him a slight bow in token of dismissal. He continued, however, to stand for some moments with his foot upon the step, waiting for a look of permission to accompany her; but, receiving none, he sprang into the seat by her side, and called to the man to drive on. Laura, offended at his boldness, gave him a very ungracious look, and drew back in silence. "I see you think me presumptuous," said he, "but, just found, how can I consent to leave you? Oh, Laura, if you knew what I have suffered from an absence that seemed endless! Not for worlds would I endure such another."
"The stipulated two years are still far from a close," said Laura coldly; "and till they are ended, our intercourse cannot be too slight."
"Surely," cried Hargrave, "when you fixed this lingering probation, you did not mean to banish me from your presence for two years!" Laura could not with truth aver that such a banishment had been her intention. "I believe," said she, suppressing a sigh, "that would have been my wisest meaning." "I would sooner die," cried Hargrave, vehemently. "Oh, had I sooner found you!" added he, a dark expression which Laura could not define clouding his countenance, "what wretchedness would have been spared ! But now that we have at last met," continued he, his eyes again sparkling with love and hope, "I will haunt you, cling to you, supplicate you, till I melt you to a passion as fervent as my own." While he spoke, he dropped upon his knee by her side, and threw his arm passionately round her. Time had been that Laura would have withdrawn from the embrace, womanly shame alone rejecting caresses which yet she never imagined to be less holy than a mother's kiss. But Hargrave had himself torn the veil from her eyes; and shrinking from him as if a serpent had crossed her path, she cast on him a look that struck like an ice-bolt on the glowing heart of Hargrave. "Just Heaven!" he cried, starting up with a convulsive shudder, "this is abhorrence! Why, why have you deceived me with a false show of sensibility? Speak it at once," said he, wildly grasping her arm; "say that you detest me, and tell me too who has dared to supplant me in a heart once wholly mine."
"Be calm, I implore you," said Laura, terrified at his violence; "no one has supplanted you. I am, I ever shall be, whatever you deserve to find me."
Laura's soothing voice, her insinuating look, retained all their wonted power to calm the fierce passions of her lover. "Oh, I shall never deserve you!" said he in a tone of wretchedness, while his face was again crossed by an expression of anguish, which the unsuspecting Laura attributed to remorse for his former treatment of herself.
The carriage at this moment stopped; and anxious to calm his spirits at parting, Laura smiled kindly upon him, and said, "Be ever thus humble in your opinion of your own merits, ever thus partial in your estimate of mine; and then," added she, the tears trembling in her lovely eyes, "we shall meet again in happier circumstances."
"You must not, shall not leave me thus," cried Hargrave impatiently; "I will not quit this spot, till you have consented to see me again."
"Do not ask it," replied Laura. "A long, long time must elapse, much virtuous exertion must be undergone, ere I dare receive you with other than this coldness, which appears to be so painful to you. Why then sport with your own feelings and with mine?"
"Ah, Laura!" said Hargrave in a voice of supplication; "use me as you will, only suffer me to see you."
Moved with the imploring tone of her lover, Laura turned towards him that she might soften by her manner the meditated refusal; but in an evil hour for her resolution, she met the fine eyes of Hargrave suffused with tears, and, wholly unable to utter what she intended, she remained silent. Hargrave was instantly sensible of his advantage, and willing to assist her acquiescence by putting his request into a less exceptionable form, he said, "I ask not even for your notice, suffer me but to visit your father."
"My father has been very ill," returned Laura, who, unknown to herself, rejoiced to find an excuse for her concession, "and it may give him pleasure to see you; but I can claim no share in the honour of your visits."
Hargrave, delighted with his success, rapturously thanked her for her condescension; and springing from the carriage, led her, but half-satisfied with her own conduct, into the house. She ushered him into the parlour, and before he had time to detain her, glided away to acquaint her father with his visit. She found the captain wrapt in the same listless melancholy in which she had left him; the book which she had meant to entertain him, used only as a rest for his arm. Laura was now beset with her old difficulty. She had not yet learnt to speak of Hargrave without sensible confusion; and to utter his name while any eye was fixed upon her face, required an effort which no common circumstances could have tempted her to make. She therefore took refuge behind her father's chair, before she began her partial relation of her morning's adventure.
"And is he now in the house?" cried Montreville, with an animation which he had long laid aside. "I rejoice to hear it. Return to him immediately, my love. I will see him in a few minutes." "As soon as you choose to receive him," said Laura, "I shall carry your commands. I shall remain in the dressing-room." "For shame, Laura!" returned Montreville. "I thought you had been above these silly airs of conquest. Colonel Hargrave's rejected passion gives you no right to refuse him the politeness due to all your father's guests." "Certainly not, sir, but--" she stopped, hesitating--"however," added she, "since you wish it, I will go."
It was not without embarrassment that Laura returned to her lover; to offer him another tete-a-tete seemed so like soliciting a renewal of his ardours. In this idea she was stopping at the parlour door, collecting her courage, and meditating a speech decorously repulsive, when Hargrave, who had been listening for her approach, impatiently stepped out to look for her, and in a moment spoiled all her concerted oratory, by taking her hand and leading her into the room.
Though Hargrave could at any time take Laura's feelings by surprise, an instant was sufficient to restore her self-possession; and withdrawing her hand, she said, "In a few minutes, sir, my father will be glad to see you, and at his desire I attend you till he can have that honour." "Bless him for the delay!" cried Hargrave; "I have a thousand things to say to you." "And I, sir," said Laura, solemnly, "have one thing to say to you, of more importance to me, probably, than all the thousand."
Hargrave bit his lip; and Laura proceeded, her colour, as painful recollection rose, fading from the crimson that had newly flushed it to the paleness of anguish." Six months ago," said she, speaking with an effort that rendered her words scarcely articulate--"six months ago you made me a promise. Judge of my anxiety that you should keep it, when to secure its fulfilment I can call up a subject so revolting, so dreadful." She paused, a cold shudder running through her limbs; but Hargrave, abashed and disconcerted, gave her no interruption, and ventured not even to raise his eyes from the ground. "My father," she continued, "is no longer able to avenge his child--the bare mention of her wrongs would destroy him. If, then, you value my peace, if you dread my detestation, let no circumstance seduce, no accident surprise, from you this hateful secret."
While she spoke, the blushes which had deserted her cheek were transferred to that of Hargrave; for though, to his own conscience, he had palliated his former outrage till it appeared a very venial trespass, he was not proof against the unaffected horror with which it had inspired the virtuous Laura. Throwing himself at her feet, and hiding his face in her gown, he bitterly, and for the moment sincerely, bewailed his offence, and vowed to devote his life to its expiation. Then starting up, he struck his hand wildly upon his forehead, and exclaimed, "Madman that I have been! Oh, Laura, thy heavenly purity makes me the veriest wretch. No; thou canst never pardon me!"
The innocent Laura, who little suspected all his causes of self-reproach, wept tears of joy over his repentance, and in a voice full of tenderness said, "Indeed I have myself too many faults to be unrelenting. Contrition and amendment are all that Heaven requires--why should I ask more?" Hargrave saw that she attributed all his agitation to remorse for his conduct towards herself; but the effects of her mistake were too delightful to suffer him to undeceive her; and perceiving at once that he had found the master-spring of all her tenderness, he overpowered her with such vows, protestations, and entreaties, that, before their conference was interrupted, he had, amidst tremors, blushes, and hesitation, which spoke a thousand times more than her words, wrung from her a confession that she felt a more than friendly interest in the issue of his probation.
Indeed, Montreville was in no haste to break in upon their dialogue. That any woman should have refused the hand of the handsome, the insinuating, the gallant Colonel Hargrave, had always appeared to him little less than miraculous. He had been told that ladies sometimes rejected what they did not mean to relinquish; and though he could scarcely believe his daughter capable of such childish coquetry, he was not without faith in a maxim, which, it must be confessed, receives sanction from experience, namely, that in all cases of feminine obduracy, perseverance is an infallible recipe. This recipe, he had no doubt, was now to be tried upon Laura, and he fervently wished that it might be with success. Though he was too affectionate a father to form on this subject a wish at variance with his daughter's happiness, he had never been insensible to the desire of seeing her brow graced by a coronet. But now more important considerations made him truly anxious to consign her to the guardianship of a man of honour.
The unfortunate transaction of the annuity would, in the event of his death, leave her utterly destitute. That event, he imagined, was fast approaching; and with many a bitter pang he remembered that he had neither friend nor relative with whom he could entrust his orphan child. His parents had long been dead; his only surviving brother, a fox-hunting squire of small fortune, shared his table and bed with a person who had stooped to these degrading honours from the more reputable situation of an innocent dairy-maid. With Lady Harriet's relations (for friends she had none) Montreville had never maintained any intercourse. They had affected to resent his intrusion into the family, and he had not been industrious to conciliate their favour. Except himself, therefore, Laura had no natural protector; and this circumstance made him tenfold more anxious that she should recall her decision in regard to Hargrave.
He had no doubt that the present visit was intended for Laura; and he suffered as long a time to elapse before he claimed any share in it, as common politeness would allow. He had meant to receive the colonel in his own apartment, but an inclination to observe the conduct of the lovers, induced him to make an effort to join them in the parlour, where he with pleasure discovered, by the countenances of both, that their conversation had been mutually interesting. Hargrave instantly recovered himself, and paid his compliments with his accustomed grace; but Laura, by no means prepared to stand inspection, disappeared the moment her father entered the room.
This was the first time that the gentlemen had met, since the day when Montreville had granted his fruitless sanction to the colonel's suit. Delicacy prevented the father from touching upon the subject, and it was equally avoided by Hargrave, who had not yet determined in what light to represent his repulse. However, as it completely occupied the minds of both, the conversation, which turned on topics merely indifferent, was carried on with little spirit on either side, and was soon closed by Hargrave's taking leave, after begging permission to repeat his visit.
Colonel Hargrave had promised to spend that evening with the most beautiful woman in London, but the unexpected rencounter of the morning left him in no humour to fulfil his engagement. He had found his Laura--his lovely, his innocent Laura--the object of his only serious passion, the only woman whose empire reached beyond his senses. He had found her cautious, reserved, severe; yet feeling, constant, and tender. He remembered the overwhelming joy which made her sink fainting on his bosom; called to mind her ill-suppressed tears, her smothered sighs, her unbidden blushes; and a thousand times assured himself that he was passionately beloved. He triumphed the more in the proofs of her affection, because they were not only involuntary but reluctant; and, seen through the flattering medium of gratified pride, her charms appeared more than ever enchanting. On these charms he had formerly suffered his imagination to dwell, till to appropriate them seemed to him almost the chief end of existence; and though in absence his phrensy had a little intermitted, his interview with Laura roused it again to double violence.
No passion of Hargrave's soul (and all his passions were of intense force) had ever known restraint or control, or even delay of gratification, excepting only this, the strongest that had ever governed him. And must he now pine for eighteen lingering months, ere he attained the object of such ardent wishes? Must he submit, for a time that seemed endless, to the tyranny of this intolerable passion; see the woman on whom he doated receive his protestations with distrust, and, spite of her affection, shrink from his caresses with horror? No!--he vowed that if there were persuasion in man, or frailty in woman, he would shorten the period of his trial--that he would employ for this purpose all the power which he possessed over Laura's heart, and if that failed, that he would even have recourse to the authority of the father.
But he had yet a stronger motive than the impetuosity of his passions for striving to obtain immediate possession of his treasure. He was conscious that there was a tale to tell, which, once known (and it could not long be concealed), would shake his hopes to the foundation. But on this subject he could not now dwell without disgust, and he turned from it to the more inviting contemplation of Laura's beauty and Laura's love; and with his head and his heart, every nerve, every pulse full of Laura, he retired to pursue in his dreams the fair visions that had occupied his waking thoughts.
While he was thus wilfully surrendering himself to the dominion of his phrensy, Laura, the self-denied Laura, was endeavouring, though it must be owned without distinguished success, to silence the pleadings of a heart as warm, though better regulated, by attending to the humble duties of the hour.
When she quitted Hargrave, she had retired to offer up her fervent thanks to Heaven, that he was become sensible of the enormity of his former conduct. Earnestly did she pray, that though earth should never witness their union, they might be permitted together to join a nobler society--animated by yet purer loves, bound by yet holier ties. She next reconsidered her own behaviour towards Hargrave; and though vexed at the momentary desertion of her self-command, saw, upon the whole, little cause to reproach herself, since her weakness had been merely that of the body, to which the will gave no consent. She resolved to be guardedly cautious in her future demeanour towards him; and since the issue of his probation was doubtful, since its close was at all events distant, to forfeit the enjoyment of her lover's society, rather than, by remaining in the room during his visits, appear to consider them as meant for herself.
As soon as Hargrave was gone, Montreville returned to his chamber; and there Laura ordered his small but delicate repast to be served, excusing herself from partaking of it, by saying that she could dine more conveniently in the parlour. Having in the morning bestowed on the beggar the meagre fare that should have supplied her own wants, she employed the time of her father's meal in the labour which was to purchase him another; pondering meanwhile on the probability that he would again enter on the discussion of Hargrave's pretensions. To this subject she felt unconquerable repugnance; and though she knew that it must at last be canvassed, and that she must at last assign a reason for her conduct, she would fain have put off the evil hour.
She delayed her evening visit to her father, till he grew impatient for it, and sent for her to his apartment. The moment she entered the room, he began, as she had anticipated, to inquire into the particulars of her interview with Hargrave. The language of Laura's reply was not very perspicuous; the manner of it was more intelligible: and Montreville instantly comprehended the nature of her conference with the colonel. "He has then given you an opportunity of repairing your former rashness," said Montreville, with eagerness, "and your answer?" "Colonel Hargrave had his answer long ago, sir," replied Laura, trembling at this exordium. Montreville sighed heavily, and, fixing his eyes mournfully upon her, remained silent. At last, affectionately taking her hand, he said, "My dear child, the time has been when even your caprices on this subject were sacred with your father. While I had a shelter, however humble, an independence, however small, to offer you, your bare inclination determined mine. But now your situation is changed, fatally changed; and no trivial reasons would excuse me for permitting your rejection of an alliance so unexceptionable, so splendid. Tell me, then, explicitly, what are your objections to Colonel Hargrave?"
Laura remained silent, for she knew not how to frame her reply. "Is it possible that he can be personally disagreeable to you?" continued Montreville. "Disagreeable!" exclaimed Laura, thrown off her guard by astonishment. "Colonel Hargrave is one whom any woman might--whom no woman could know without--" "Without what?" said Montreville, with a delighted smile. But Laura, shocked at the extent of her own admission, covered her face with her hands, and, almost in tears, made no reply. "Well, my love," said Montreville, more cheerfully than he had spoken for many a day, "I can interpret all this, and will not persecute you. But you must still suffer me to ask what strange reasons could induce you to reject wealth and title, offered by a man not absolutely disagreeable?"
Laura strove to collect herself, and deep crimson dyeing her beautiful face and neck, she said, without venturing to lift her eyes, "You yourself have told me, sir, that Colonel Hargrave is a man of gallantry, and, believe me, with such a man I should be most miserable."
"Come, come, Laura," said Montreville, putting his arm round her, "confess, that some little fit of jealousy made you answer Hargrave unkindly at first, and that now a little female pride, or the obstinacy of which we used to accuse you fifteen years ago, makes you unwilling to retract."
"No, indeed," returned Laura, with emotion; "Colonel Hargrave has never given me cause to be jealous of his affection. But jealousy would feebly express the anguish with which his wife would behold his vices, degrading him in the eyes of men, and making him vile in the sight of Heaven."
"My love," said Montreville, "your simplicity and ignorance of the world make you attach far too great importance to Hargrave's little irregularities. I am persuaded that a wife whom he loved would have no cause to complain of them."
"She would at least have no right to complain," returned Laura, "if, knowing them, she chose to make the hazardous experiment."
"But I am certain," said Montreville, "that a passion such as he evidently feels for you, would ensure his perfect reformation; and that a heart so warm as Hargrave's would readily acknowledge all the claims upon a husband's and a father's love."
Laura held down her head, and, for a moment, surrendered her fancy to prospects rainbow-like, bright but unreal. Spite of the dictates of sober sense, the vision was cheering; and a smile dimpled her cheek, while she said, "But since this reformation is so easy and so certain, would it be a grievous delay to wait for its appearance?"
"Ah, Laura!" Montreville began, "this is no time for--" "Nay, now," interrupted Laura, sportively laying her hand upon his mouth, "positively I will be no more lectured to-night. Besides, I have got a new book for you from the library, and the people insisted upon having it returned to-morrow." "You are a spoiled girl," said Montreville, fondly caressing her, and he dropped the subject with the less reluctance, because he believed that his wishes, aided, as he perceived they were, by an advocate in Laura's own breast, were in a fair train for accomplishment. He little knew how feeble was the influence of inclination over the decisions of her self-controlling spirit.
To prevent him from returning to the topic he had quitted, she read aloud to him till his hour of rest; and then retired to her chamber to labour as formerly, till the morning was far advanced.
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.