Colonel Hargrave had been the spoiled child of a weak mother, and he continued to retain one characteristic of spoiled children; some powerful stimulant was with him a necessary of life. He despised all pleasures of regular recurrence and moderate degree; and even looked down upon those who could be satisfied with such enjoyments, as on beings confined to a meaner mode of existence. For more than a year Laura had furnished the animating principle which kept life from stagnation. When she was present, her beauty, her reserve, her ill-concealed affection, kept his passions in constant play. In her absence, the interpretation of looks and gestures, of which she had been unconscious, and the anticipation of concessions which she thought not of making, furnished occupation for the many hours which, for want of literary habits, Colonel Hargrave was obliged to pass in solitude and leisure, when deprived of fashionable company, public amusements, and tolerable romances. In a little country town, these latter resources were soon exhausted, and Hargrave had no associates to supply the blank among his brother officers; some of them being low both in birth and education, and others, from various reasons, rather repelling than courting his intimacy. One had a pretty wife, another an unmarried daughter; and the phlegmatic temperament and reserved manners of a third tallied not with Hargrave's constitutional warmth. The departure of Laura, therefore, deprived him at once of the only society that amused, and the only object that interested him. He was prevented by the caution of Mrs Douglas from attempting a correspondence with his mistress; and his muse was exhausted with composing amatory sonnets, and straining half imaginary torments into reluctant rhymes.
He soon tired of making sentimental visits to the now deserted Glenalbert, and grew weary of inspecting his treasures of pilfered gloves and stray shoe-bows. His new system of reform, too, sat rather heavily upon him. He was not exactly satisfied with its extent, though he did not see in what respect it was susceptible of improvement. He had some suspicion that it was not entitled to the full approbation of the "wise, the pious, the sober-minded" observers, whom lie imagined that Laura had charged with the inspection of his conduct; and he reflected, with a mixture of fear and impatience, that by them every action would be reported to Laura, with all the aggravation of illiberal comment. For though he did not distinctly define the idea to himself, he cherished a latent opinion that the "wise" would be narrow-minded, the "pious" bigotted, and the "sober-minded" cynical. The feeling of being watched is completely destructive of comfort, even to those who have least to conceal; and Colonel Hargrave sought relief at once from restraint and ennui, in exhibiting, at the Edinburgh races, four horses which were the envy of all the gentlemen, and a person which was the admiration of all the ladies. His thoughts dissipated, and his vanity gratified, his passion had never, since its first existence, been so little troublesome as during his stay in Edinburgh; and once or twice, as he caught a languishing glance from a gay young heiress, he thought he had been a little precipitate in changing his first designs in regard to Laura. But, alas! the races endure only for one short week; Edinburgh was deserted by its glittering birds of passage; and Hargrave returned to his quarters, to solitude, and to the conviction that, however obtained, the possession of Laura was necessary to his peace.
Finding that her return was as uncertain as ever, he resolved to follow her to London; and the caution of Mrs Douglas baffling his attempts to procure her address from any other quarter, he contrived to obtain it by bribing one of the under attendants of the post-office to transcribe for him the superscription of a letter to Miss Montreville. Delighted with his success, he could not refuse himself the triumph of making it known to Mrs Douglas; and by calling to ask her commands for her young friend, occasioned the letter of caution from her to Laura, which has been formerly mentioned.
The moment he reached London, he hastened to make inquiries after the abode of Captain Montreville; but his search was disappointed by the accidents which he afterwards related to Laura. Day after day he hoped that Laura, by sending to Mr Baynard's chambers, would afford him the means of discovering her residence. But every day ended in disappointment; and Hargrave, who, intending to devote all his time to her, had given no intimation to his friends of his arrival in town, found himself as solitary, listless, and uncomfortable, as before he quitted Scotland.
One evening, when to lull the time he had sauntered into the theatre, he renewed his acquaintance with the beautiful Lady Bellamer. Two years before, Hargrave had been the chief favourite of Lady Bellamer, then Miss Walpole. Of all the danglers whom beauty, coquetry, and £50,000, attracted to her train, none was admitted to such easy freedom as Hargrave. She laughed more heartily at his wit, whispered more familiarly in his ear, and slapped him more frequently on the cheek, than any of his rivals. With no other man was she so unreasonable, troublesome, and ridiculous. In short, she ran through the whole routine of flirtation, till her heart was entangled, so far at least as the heart of a coquette is susceptible of that misfortune. But whatever flames were kindled in the lady's breast, the gentleman, as is usual on such occasions, escaped with a very slight singe. While Miss Walpole was present, his vanity was soothed by her blandishments, and his senses touched by her charms; but in her absence, he consoled himself with half a dozen other affairs of the same kind.
Meanwhile Lord Bellamer entered the lists, and soon distinguished himself from his competitors, by a question, which, with all her admirers, Miss Walpole had not often answered. The lady hesitated; for she could not help contrasting the insignificant starveling figure of her suitor with the manly beauty of Hargrave's person. But Lord Bellamer had a title in possession; Hargrave's was only reversionary. His lordship's estate, too, was larger than the colonel's expectations. Besides, she began to have doubts whether her favourite ever intended to propose the important question; for though, to awaken his jealousy, she had herself informed him of Lord Bellamer's pretensions, and though she had played off the whole artillery of coquetry to quicken his operations, the young man maintained a resolute and successful resistance. So, after some fifty sighs given to the well-turned leg and sparkling eyes of Hargrave, Miss Walpole became Lady Bellamer; and this was the only change which marriage effected in her; for no familiarity could increase her indifference to Lord Bellamer, and no sacredness of connection can warm the heart of a coquette. She continued equally assiduous in courting admiration, equally daring in defying censure, and was content to purchase the adulation of fools, at the expense of being obliged to the charity of those who were good-natured enough to say, "To be sure, Lady Bellamer is a little giddy, but I dare say she means no harm."
Her husband's departure with his regiment for the continent made no change in her way of life, except to save her the trouble of defending conduct which she would not reform. She continued in London, or at her villa on Richmond Hill, to enter into every folly which others proposed, or herself to project new ones.
Meanwhile, Hargrave's duty called him to Scotland, where Lady Bellamer and all her rivals in his attention were entirely forgotten amidst the superior attractions of Laura; attractions which acted with all the force of novelty upon a heart accustomed to parry only premeditated attacks, and to resist charms that were merely corporeal. From an early date in his acquaintance with Miss Montreville, he had scarcely recollected the existence of Lady Bellamer, till he found himself in the next box to her at the theatre. The pleasure that sparkled in the brightest blue eyes in the world, the flush that tinged her face, wherever the rouge permitted its natural tints to appear, convinced Hargrave in a moment that her ladyship's memory had been more tenacious; and he readily answered to her familiar nod of invitation, by taking his place by her side.
They entered into conversation with all the frankness of their former intimacy. Lady Bellamer inquired how the colonel had contrived to exist during eighteen months of rustication; and gave him in return memoirs of some of their mutual acquaintance. She had some wit, and an exuberance of animal spirits; and she seasoned her nonsense with such lively sallies, sly scandal, and adroit flattery, that Hargrave had scarcely ever passed an evening more gaily. Once or twice, the composed grace, the artless majesty of Laura, rose to his recollection, and he looked absent and thoughtful. But his companion rallied him with so much spirit, that he quickly recovered himself, and fully repaid the amusement which he received. He accepted Lady Bellamer's invitation to sup with her after the play, and left her at a late hour, with a promise to visit her again the next day. From that time, the freedom of their former intercourse was renewed, with this difference only, that Hargrave was released from some restraint, by his escape from the danger of entanglement which necessarily attends particular assiduities towards an unmarried woman.
Let the fair enchantress tremble who approaches even in thought the utmost verge of discretion. If she advance but one jot beyond that magic circle, the evil spirit is ready to seize her, which before feared even to rise in her presence. Lady Bellamer became the victim of unpardonable imprudence on her own part, and mere constitutional tendency on that of her paramour. To a most blameable levity she sacrificed whatever remained to be sacrificed, of her reputation, her virtue, and her marriage vow; while the crime of Hargrave was not palliated by one sentiment of genuine affection; for she by whom he fell was no more like the object of his real tenderness, than those wandering lights that arise from corruption, and glimmer only to betray, are to the steady sunbeam which enlightens, and guides, and purifies where it shines.
Their intercourse continued, with growing passion on the side of the lady, and expiring inclination on that of the gentleman, till Lady Bellamer informed him that the consequences of their guilt could not long be concealed. Her lord was about to return to his disgraced home; and she called upon Hargrave to concert with her the means of exchanging shackles which she would no longer endure, for bonds which she could bear with pleasure, and himself to stand forth the legal protector of his unborn child. Hargrave heard her with a disgust which he scarcely strove to conceal; for at that moment Laura stood before him, bewitching in chastened love, respectable in saintly purity. He remembered that the bare proposal of a degradation which Lady Bellamer had almost courted, had once nearly banished the spotless soul from a tenement no less pure than itself. In fancy he again saw through her casement the wringing of those snowy hands, those eyes raised in agony, and the convulsive heavings of that bosom which mourned his unlooked-for baseness; and he turned from Lady Bellamer, inwardly cursing the hour when his vows to Laura were sacrificed to a wanton.
The very day after this interview was that in which he accidentally encountered Laura; and from that moment his whole desire was to make her his own, before public report should acquaint her with his guilt, he durst not trust to the strength of her affection for the pardon of so foul an offence. He could not hope that she would again place confidence in vows of reformation which had been so grossly violated. When the proper self-distrust of Laura refused him the opportunity of making a personal appeal to her sensibilities, he hoped that her father might successfully plead his cause; and that before his guilt was known to her, he might have made it at once her interest and her duty to forget it. But the storm was about to burst even more speedily than he apprehended. Lady Bellamer little suspected that her conduct was watched with all the malice of jealousy, and all the eagerness of interest. She little suspected that her confidential servant was the spy of her injured husband, bound to fidelity in this task by ties as disgraceful as they were strong, and that this woman waited only for legal proof of her mistress's guilt to lay the particulars before her lord. That proof was now obtained, and Lord Bellamer hastened to avail himself of it. He arrived in London on the morning of the last day of Montreville's life; and charging his guilty wife with her perfidy, expelled her from his house.
She flew to Hargrave's lodgings, and found him preparing for his daily visit to Laura. Though provoked at being delayed, he was obliged to stay and listen to her, while she hastily related the events of the morning. She was about to speak of her conviction that, by making her his wife, he would shield her from the world's scorn, and that he would not, by any legal defence, retard her emancipation. But Hargrave suffered her not to proceed. He perceived that his adventure must now be public. It must immediately find its way into the public prints; and in a few hours it might be in the hands of Laura. He bitterly upbraided Lady Bellamer with her want of caution in the concealment of their amour; cursed her folly as the ruin of all his dearest hopes; and, in the phrensy of his rage, scrupled not to reveal the cutting secret, that while another was the true object of his affections, Lady Bellamer had sacrificed her all to an inclination as transient as it was vile. The wretched creature, terrified at his rage, weakened by her situation, overcome by the events of the morning, and stung by a reception so opposite to her expectations, sank at his feet in violent hysterics. But Hargrave could at that moment feel for no miseries but his own; and consigning her to the care of the women of the house, he was again about to hasten to Montreville's, when he was told that a gentleman wished to speak with him upon particular business.
This person was the bearer of a note from Lord Bellamer, importing that he desired to meet Colonel Hargrave on that or the following day, at any hour or place which the colonel might appoint. After the injuries given and received, their meeting, he said, could have but one object. Hargrave, in no humour to delay, instantly replied, that in three hours he should be found in a solitary field, which he named, at a few miles' distance from town, and that he should bring with him a friend and a brace of pistols. He then went in search of this friend, and finding him at home, speedily settled the business.
Nothing, in the slight consideration of death which Hargrave suffered to enter his mind, gave him so much disturbance as the thought that he might, if he fell, leave Laura to the possession of another. He willingly persuaded himself that she had an attachment to him too romantic to be transferable. But she was poor; she might in time make a marriage of esteem and convenience; and Laura, the virtuous Laura, would certainly love her husband, and the father of her children. The bare idea stang like a scorpion, and Hargrave hastened to his attorney, where he spent the time which yet remained before the hour of his appointment, in dictating a bequest of £5000 to Laura Montreville; but, true to his purpose, he added a clause, by which, in case of her marriage, she forfeited the whole.
He then repaired to meet Lord Bellamer; and the ground being taken, Hargrave's first ball penetrated Lord Bellamer's left shoulder, who then fired without effect, and instantly fell. Hargrave, whose humanity had returned with his temper, accompanied his wounded antagonist to a neighbouring cottage to which he was conveyed, anxiously procured for him every possible comfort, and heard with real joy, that if he could be kept from fever, his wound was not likely to be mortal. The gentleman who had been Hargrave's second, offered to remain near Lord Bellamer, in order to give warning to his friend should any danger occur; and it was late in the evening before Hargrave, alone and comfortless, returned to town.
Never had his own thoughts been such vexatious companions. To his own seared conscience his crimes might have seemed trivial; but when he placed them before him in the light in which he knew that they would be viewed by Laura, their nature seemed changed. He knew that she would find no plea in the custom of the times for endangering the life of a fellow-creature, and that her moral vocabulary contained no qualifying epithet to palliate the foulness of adultery. The next day would give publicity to his duel and its cause; and should the report reach Laura's ear, what could he hope from her favour? The bribes of love and ambition he had found too poor to purchase her sanction to the bare intention of a crime. Even the intention seemed forgiven only in the hope of luring him to the paths of virtue; and when she should know the failure of that hope, would not her forgiveness be withdrawn?
But Laura, thus on the point of being lost, was more dear to him than ever; and often did he wish that he had fallen by Lord Bellamer's hand, rather than that he should live to see himself the object of her indifference, perhaps aversion. Time still remained, however, by one desperate effort to hurry or terrify her into immediate compliance with his wishes; and, half distracted with the emotions of remorse, and love, and hope, and fear, he ordered his carriage to Montreville's house. Here passed the scene which has been already described. Hargrave was too much agitated to attend to the best methods of persuasion, and he quitted Laura in the full conviction that she would never be his wife. He threw himself into his carriage, and was driven home, now franticly bewailing his loss, now vowing, that rather than endure it he would incur the penalties of every law, divine and human. All night he paced his apartment, uttering imprecations on his own folly, and forming plans for regaining by fraud, force, or persuasion, his lost rights over Laura. At last his vehemence having somewhat spent itself, he threw himself on a couch, and sank into feverish and interrupted sleep.
It was not till next morning that he thought of inquiring after the unfortunate partner of his iniquity; and was told that, too ill to be removed, she had been carried to bed in the house, where she still remained.
Intending to renew the attempt of the preceding night, he again repaired early to Laura's abode; but his intention was frustrated by the death of Montreville. On receiving the information, he was at first a good deal shocked at the sudden decease of a man, whom, a few hours before, he had left in no apparent danger. But that feeling was effaced when once he began to consider the event as favourable to his designs upon Laura. Left to solitude, to poverty, perhaps to actual want, what resource had she so eligible as the acceptance of offers splendid and disinterested like his? And he would urge her acceptance of them with all the ardour of passion. He would alarm her with the prospects of desolateness and dependence; he would appeal to the wishes of her dead father. Such pleadings must, he thought, have weight with her; and again the hopes of victory revived in his mind. Should the principle to which she so firmly adhered, outweigh all these considerations, he thought she would forfeit by her obstinacy all claim to his forbearance, and his heart fluttered at the idea that she had now no protector from his power. He resolved to haunt, to watch her, to lose no opportunity of pressing his suit. Wherever she went he was determined to follow; "and surely," thought he, "she must have some moments of weakness--she cannot be always on her guard."
For some days he continued to make regular visits at her lodgings, though he had no hope of seeing her till after Montreville was consigned to the dust; and he rejoiced that the customary seclusion was likely to retard her knowledge of his misconduct. To make inquiries after the health and spirits of Laura, was the ostensible, but not the only motive of his visits. He wished to discover all that was known to the people of the house of her present situation and future plans. On the latter subject they could not afford him even the slightest information, for Laura had never dropped a hint of her intentions. But he received such accounts of her pecuniary distresses, and of the manner in which she supported them, as at once increased his reverence for her character, and his hopes that she would take refuge from her wants in the affluence which he offered her.
From Fanny, who officiated as porter, and who almost adored Laura, he received most of his intelligence; and while he listened to instances of the fortitude, the piety, the tenderness, the resignation of his beloved, a love of virtue, sincere though transient, would cross his soul; he would look back with abhorrence on a crime which had hazarded the loss of such a treasure; and vow, that, were he once possessed of Laura, his life should be a copy of her worth. But Hargrave's vows deceived him; for he loved the virtues only that were associated with objects of pleasure, he abhorred the vices only which threatened him with pain.
On the day succeeding the funeral, he ventured on an attempt to see Laura, and sent her a message, begging permission to wait upon her; but was answered that she received no visitors. He then wrote to her a letter full of the sentiments which she inspired. He expressed his sympathy with her misfortunes, and fervently besought her to accept of a protector who would outdo in tenderness the one whom she had lost. He implored her to add the strongest incentive to the course of virtue, in which, if she would listen to his request, he solemnly promised to persevere. He again insinuated that she must speedily decide; that, if her decision were unfavourable, he might be driven to seek forgetfulness amidst ruinous dissipation; and he adjured her, by the wishes of her dead father, a claim which he thought would with her be irresistible, to consent to dispense with his further probation. He said he would visit her late in the following forenoon, in the hope of receiving his answer from her own lips; and concluded by telling her, that, lest the late unfortunate event had occasioned her any temporary difficulties, he begged to be considered as her banker, and enclosed a bill for a hundred pounds.
He gave this letter to Fanny, with injunctions to deliver it immediately, and then went to inquire for Lord Bellamer, whom it gave him real pleasure to find pronounced out of danger. Lady Bellamer, too, had ceased to reproach and molest him. She had recovered from her indisposition, and removed to the house of a relation, who humanely offered to receive her. His hopes were strong of the effect of his letter; and he passed the evening in greater comfort than had lately fallen to his share. Often did he repeat to himself that Laura must accede to his proposals. What other course could she pursue? Would her spirit allow her to become a burden on the scanty income of her friend Mrs Douglas? Would she venture to pursue, as a profession, the art in which she so greatly excelled? Would she return to live alone at Glenalbert? This last appeared the most probable to Hargrave, because the most desirable. Alone, without any companion whose frozen counsel could counteract the softness of her heart, in a romantic solitude, watched, as he would watch, importuned as he would importune her, strange if no advantage could be wrested from her affection or her prudence, her interest or her fears! To obtain Laura was the first wish of his soul, and he was not very fastidious as to the means of its gratification; for even the love of a libertine is selfish. He was perfectly sincere in his honourable proposals to Laura. He might have been less so had any others possessed a chance of success.
He rose early the next morning, and impatiently looked for the hour which he had appointed for his visit. He wished that he had fixed on an earlier one, took up a book to beguile the minutes, threw it down again, looked a hundred times at his watch, ordered his carriage to the door two hours before it was wanted, feared to go too soon, lest Laura should refuse to see him, and yet was at her lodgings long before his appointment. He inquired for her, and was answered that she had discharged her lodgings, and was gone. "Gone! whither?" Fanny did not know; Miss Montreville had been busy all the evening before in preparing for her removal, and had left the house early that morning. "And did she leave no address where she might be found!" "I heard her tell the coachman," said Fanny, "to stop at the end of Grosvenor Street, and she would direct him where she chose to be set down. But I believe she has left a letter for you, sir." "Fool!" cried Hargrave, "why did you not tell me so sooner?--give it me instantly."
He impatiently followed the girl to the parlour which had been Montreville's. The letter lay on the table. He snatched it, and hastily tore it open. It contained only his bill, returned with Miss Montreville's compliments and thanks. He twisted the card into atoms, and cursed with all his soul the ingratitude and cold prudence of the writer. He swore that if she were on earth he would find her; and vowed that he would make her repent of the vexation which he said she had always taken a savage delight in heaping upon him.
Restless, and yet unwilling to be gone, he next wandered into Laura's painting-room, as if hoping in her once-favourite haunt to find traces of her flight. He had never entered it since the day when the discovery of De Courcy's portrait had roused his sudden phrensy. Association brought back the same train of thought. He imagined that Laura, while she concealed herself from him, had taken refuge with the De Courcys; and all his jealousy returned. After, according to custom, acting the madman for a while, he began as usual to recover his senses. He knew he could easily discover whether Miss Montreville was at Norwood, by writing to a friend who lived in the neighbourhood; and he was going home to execute this design, when, passing through the lobby, he was met by the landlady. He stopped to renew his inquiries whether any thing was known or guessed of Laura's retreat. But Mrs Stubbs could give him no more information on the subject than her maid, and she was infinitely more surprised at his question than Fanny had been; for having made certain observations which convinced her that Hargrave's visits were in the character of a lover, she had charitably concluded, and actually asserted, that Laura had accepted of his protection.
Hargrave next inquired whether Laura had any visitors but himself? "No living creature," was the reply. "Could Mrs Stubbs form no conjecture whither she was gone?" "None in the world," answered Mrs Stubbs; "only this I know, it can't be very far off, for to my certain knowledge she had only seven shillings in her pocket, and that could not carry her far, as I told the gentleman who was here this morning." "What gentleman?" cried Hargrave. "One Mr De Courcy, sir, that used to call for her; but he has not been here these six weeks before, and he seemed quite astounded as well as yourself, sir." Hargrave then questioned her so closely concerning De Courcy's words and looks, as to convince himself that his rival was entirely ignorant of the motions of the fugitive. In this belief he returned home, uncertain what measures he should pursue, but determined not to rest till he had found Laura.
When De Courcy quitted Laura, he had no intention of seeing her again till circumstances should enable him to offer her his hand. No sacrifice could have cost him more pain; but justice and filial duty did not permit him to hesitate. Neither did he think himself entitled to sadden with a face of care his domestic circle, nor to make his mother and sister pay dearly for their comforts, by showing that they were purchased at the expense of his peace. Nor did he languidly resign to idle love-dreams the hours which an immortal spirit claimed for its improvement, and which the social tie bound him to enliven and cheer. But to appear what he was not, to introduce constraint and dissimulation into the sacred privacies of home, never occurred to De Courcy. He therefore strove not to seem cheerful but to be so. He returned to his former studies, and even prosecuted them with alacrity, for he knew that Laura respected a cultivated mind. His faults he was if possible more than ever studious to correct, for Laura loved virtue. And when occasion for a kind considerate or self-denying action presented itself, he eagerly seized it, saying in his heart, "This is like Laura."
Sometimes the fear that he might be forgotten, forced from him the bitterest sigh that he had ever breathed; but he endeavoured to comfort himself with the belief that she would soon be screened from the gaze of admiration, and that her regard for him, though yet in its infancy, would be sufficient to secure her from other impressions. Of the reality of this regard he did not allow himself to doubt; or if he hesitated for a moment, he called to mind the picture, Laura's concealment of it, her confusion at his attempt to examine it, and he no longer doubted.
The arrival of the picture itself might have explained all that related to it, had De Courcy chosen to have it so explained. But he turned his eye from the unpleasing light, and sheltered his hopes by a hundred treasured instances of love which had scarcely any existence but in his fancy.
His efforts to be cheerful were, however, less successful, after Laura, in a few melancholy lines, informed Miss De Courcy that Montreville's increased illness made their return to Scotland more uncertain than ever. He imagined his dear Laura the solitary attendant of a sick-bed; no kind voice to comfort, no friendly face to cheer her; perhaps in poverty, that poverty increased, too, by the artifice which he had used to lessen it. He grew anxious, comfortless, and at length really miserable. Every day the arrival of the letters was looked for with extreme solicitude, in hope of more cheering news; but every day brought disappointment, for Laura wrote no more. His mother shared in his anxiety, and increased it by expressing her own. She feared that Miss Montreville was ill, and unable to write; and the image of Laura among strangers, sick and in poverty, obliterated Montague's prudent resolutions of trusting himself no more in the presence of his beloved. He set out for London, and arrived at the door of Laura's lodgings about an hour after she had quitted them.
Mrs Stubbs, of whom he made personal inquiries, was abundantly communicative. She gave him, as far as it was known to her, a full history of Laura's adventures since he had seen her; and where she was deficient in facts, supplied the blank by conjecture. With emotion indescribable he listened to a coarse account of Miss Montreville's wants and labours. "How could you suffer all this?" cried he indignantly, when lie was able to speak. "Times are hard, sir," returned Mrs Stubbs, the jolly purple deepening in her cheeks. "Besides, Miss Montreville had always such an air with her, that I could not for my very heart have asked her to take pot-luck with us."
The colour faded from De Courcy's face as Mrs Stubbs proceeded to relate the constant visits of Hargrave. "I'll warrant," said she, growing familiar as she perceived that she excited interest, "I'll warrant he did not come here so often for nothing. People must have ears, and use them, too; and I heard him myself swearing to her one day that he loved her better than his life, or something to that purpose; and that, if she would live with him, he would make her dreams pleasant, or some such stuff as that; and now, as sure as can be, she has taken him at his word, and gone to him."
"Peace, woman!" cried De Courcy, in a tone which he had never used to any of the sex, "how dare you--?"
Mrs Stubbs, who had all that want of nerve which characterises vulgar arrogance, instantly shrank into her shell. "No offence, sir," said she. "It's all mere guess-work with me; only she does not know a creature in London, and she had nothing to carry her out of it; for she had just seven shillings in her pocket. I gave her seventeen and sixpence of change this morning, and she gave half a guinea of that to the kitchen-maid. Now, it stands to reason, she would not have been so ready parting with her money, if she had not known where more was to be had."
De Courcy, shocked and disgusted, turned from her in displeasure; and finding that nothing was to be learnt from her of the place of Laura's retreat, betook himself to the print-shop, where he remembered that he had first procured Miss Montreville's address. Mr Wilkins declared his ignorance on the subject of Montague's inquiries; but seeing the look of disappointment with which De Courcy was leaving the shop, good-naturedly said, "I dare say, sir, if you wish to find out where Miss Montreville lives, I could let you know by asking Colonel Hargrave. He comes here sometimes to look at the caricatures. And," added Mr Wilkins, winking significantly, "I am mistaken if they are not very well acquainted."
De Courcy's heart rose to his mouth. "It may be so," said he, scarcely conscious of what he said.
"There was a famous scene between them here about three weeks ago," proceeded the print-seller, anxious to justify his own sagacity. "I suppose they had not met for a while, and there was such a kissing and embracing--"
"'Tis false!" cried De Courcy, lightning flashing from his eyes; "Miss Montreville would have brooked such indignities from no man on earth."
"Nay," said Wilkins, shrugging up his shoulders, "the shop-lads saw it as well as I--she fainted away in his arms, and he carried her into the back-room there, and would not suffer one of us to come near her; and Mr Finch there saw him down on his knees to her."
"Cease your vile slanders!" cried De Courcy, half distracted with grief and indignation; "I abhor, I despise them. But at your peril dare to breathe them into any other ear." So saying, he darted from the shop, and returned to his hotel, infinitely more wretched than ever he had been.
The happy dream was dispelled that painted him the master of Laura's affections. Another possessed her love; and how visible, how indelicately glaring, must be the preference that was apparent to every vulgar eye! But bitter as was his disappointment, and cruel the pangs of jealousy, they were ease compared to the torture with which he admitted a thought derogatory to Laura's worth. A thousand times he reproached himself for suffering the hints and conjectures of a low-bred woman to affect his mind--a thousand times assured himself that no poverty, no difficulties, would overpower the integrity of Laura. "Yet Hargrave is a libertine," said he; "and if she can love a libertine, how have I been deceived in her! No! it cannot be! She is all truth, all purity. It is she that is deceived. He has imposed upon her by a false show of virtue, and misery awaits her detection of his deceit. She gone to him! I will never believe it. Libertine as he is, he dared not even to think of it. Extremity of want, lingering famine, would not degrade her to this"--and tears filled De Courcy's manly eyes at the thought that Laura was indeed in want.
He had no direct means of supplying her necessities; but he hoped that she might inquire at her former abode for any letters that might chance to be left for her, and that she might thus receive any packet which he addressed to her. "She shall never be humbled," said he, with a heavy sigh, "by knowing that she owes this trifle to an indifferent forgotten stranger;" and enclosing fifty pounds in a blank cover, he put both into an envelope to Mrs Stubbs, in which he informed her, that, if she could find no means of conveying the packet to Miss Montreville, the anonymous writer would claim it again at some future time, on describing its contents.
Before dispatching the letter, however, he resolved on making an attempt to discover whether Hargrave- was acquainted with Laura's retreat. He shrank from meeting his rival. His blood ran cold as he pictured to his fancy the exulting voice, the triumphant glance, which would announce the master of Laura's fate. But any thing was preferable to his present suspense; and the hope that he might yet be useful to Laura formed an incitement still more powerful. "Let me but find her," said he, "and I will yet wrest her from destruction. If she is deceived, I will warn; if she is oppressed, I will protect her."
He imagined that he should probably, find Hargrave at the house of his uncle Lord Lincourt, and hastened thither to seek him; but found the house occupied only by servants, who were ignorant of the colonel's address. De Courcy knew none of Hargrave's places of resort. The habits and acquaintance of each lay in a different line. No means, therefore, of discovering him occurred to Montague, except that of inquiring at the house of Mrs Stubbs, where he thought it probable that the place of Hargrave's residence might be known. Thither, then, he next bent his course.
The door was opened to him by Fanny, who replied to his question, that none of the family knew where Colonel Hargrave lived, and lamented that De Courcy had not come a little earlier, saying that the colonel had been gone not above a quarter of an hour. De Courcy was turning disappointed away, when Fanny, stopping him, said, with a curtsey and half whisper, "Sir, an't please you, my mistress was all wrong about Miss Montreville, for the colonel knows no more about her than I do." "Indeed!" said De Courcy, all attention. "Yes, indeed, sir--when I told him she was away, He was quite amazed, and in such a passion! So then I thought I would give him the letter." "What letter?" cried De Courcy, the glow of animation fading in his face. "A letter that Miss Montreville left for him, sir; but when he got it, he was ten times angrier than before, and swore at her for not letting him know where she was going. So I thought, sir, I would make bold to tell you, sir, as mistress had been speaking her mind, sir; for it's a sad thing to have one's character taken away; and Miss Montreville, I am sure, wouldn't do hurt to nobody."
"You are a good girl, a very good girl," said De Courcy, giving her, with a guinea, a very hearty squeeze of the hand. He made her repeat the particulars of Hargrave's violent behaviour; and, satisfied from them that his rival had no share in Laura's disappearance, he returned to his hotel, his heart lightened of half the heaviest load that ever it had borne.
Still, however, enough remained to exclude for a time all quiet from his breast. He could not doubt that Laura's affections were Hargrave's. She had given proof of it palpable to the most common observer; and resentment mingled with his grief while he thought, that to his fervent respectful love, she preferred the undistinguishing passion of a libertine. "All women are alike," said he, "the slaves of mere outward show:"--an observation for which the world was probably first indebted to circumstances somewhat like De Courcy's.
Restless and uncomfortable, without any hope of finding Laura, he would now have left London without an hour's delay. But though he forgot his own fatigues, he was not unmindful of those of the grey-haired domestic who attended him. He therefore deferred his journey to the following morning; and then set out on his return to Norwood, more depressed and wretched than he had quitted it.
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.