Self Control: A Novel

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CHAPTER XIX.

ALL was yet dark and still, when Laura, like some unearthly being, stood by the bed where Fanny slept. The light which she bore in her wasted hand showed faintly the majestic form, darkened by its mourning garments; and shed a dreary gleam upon tearless eyes, and a face whence all the hues of life were fled. She made a sign for Fanny to rise; and, awe-struck by the calm of unutterable grief, Fanny arose, and in silence followed her. They entered the chamber of death. With noiseless steps Laura approached the body, and softly drew back the covering. She beckoned Fanny towards her. The girl comprehended that her aid was wanted in performing the last duties to Montreville; and, shrieking with superstitious fear, said, in a low tremulous whisper, "I dare not touch the dead." Laura answered not; but raising her eyes to heaven, as if there to seek assistance in her mournful task, she gently pressed her hand upon the half-closed eyes that had so often beamed fondness on her.

Unaided, and in silence, she did the last offices of love. She shed no tears; she uttered no lamentation. The dread stillness was broken only by the groans that burst at times from her heavy heart, and the more continued sobs of her attendant, who vented in tears her fear, her pity, and her admiration.

When the sad work was finished, Laura, still speechless, motioned to the servant to retire. In horror at the thoughts of leaving Laura alone with the dead, yet fearing to raise her voice, the girl respectfully grasped her mistress's gown, and in a low but earnest whisper besought her to leave this dismal place, and to go to her own chamber. Scarcely sensible of her meaning, Laura suffered her to draw her away; but when the door closed upon all that remained of her father, she shuddered convulsively, and struggled to return. Fanny, however, gathered courage to lead her to her own apartment. There she threw herself prostrate on the ground; a flood of tears came to relieve her oppressed heart, and her recovered utterance broke forth in an act of resignation. She continued for some hours to give vent to her sorrows--a sorrow unalloyed by any less painful feelings, save those of devotion. She had lost the affectionate guide of her youth, the fond parent whose love for her had brought him untimely to the grave; and in the anguish of the thought that she should watch his smile and hear his voice no more, she scarcely remembered that he had left her to want and loneliness.

The morning was far advanced, when her sorrows were broken in upon by her landlady, who came to ask her directions in regard to the funeral. Laura had been unable to bend her thoughts to the consideration of this subject, and she answered only by her tears. In vain did Mrs Stubbs repeat that "it was a folly to take on so;" "that we must all die;" "and that as every thing has two handles, Laura might comfort herself that she would now have, but one mouth to feed." Laura seemed obstinate in her grief, and at last Mrs Stubbs declared that whether she would hear reason or not, something must without delay be settled about the funeral; as for her part, she could not order things without knowing how they were to be paid for. Laura, putting her hand to her forehead, complained that her head felt confused, and, mildly begging her persecutor to have a little patience with her, promised, if she might be left alone for the present, to return to the conversation in half an hour.

Accordingly, soon after the time appointed, the landlady was surprised to see Laura enter the parlour, her cheek indeed colourless and her eyes swelled with weeping, but her manner perfectly calm and collected. "Here are my father's watch and seals," said she, presenting them. "They may be disposed of. That cannot wound him now;"--and she turned away her head, and drew her hand across her eyes. "Have the goodness," continued she, "to order what is necessary, for I am a stranger, without any friend." Mrs Stubbs, examining the watch, declared her opinion that the sale of it would produce very little. "Let every thing be plain, but decent," said Laura; "and when I am able, I will work day and night till all is paid." "I doubt, miss," answered Mrs Stubbs, "it will be long before your work will pay for much; besides, you will be in my debt for a week's lodgings--we always charge a week extra when there is a death in the house." "Tell me what you would have me to do, and I will do it," said the unfortunate Laura, wholly unable to contend with her hard-hearted companion. "Why, miss," said Mrs Stubbs, "there is your beautiful rosewood work-table and the footstools, and your fine ivory work-box that Mr De Courcy sent here before you came; if you choose to dispose of them, I will take them off your hands." "Take them," said Laura; "I knew not that they were mine." Mrs Stubbs then conscientiously offered to give a fourth part of the sum which these toys had cost De Courcy three months before, an offer which Laura instantly accepted; and the landlady having settled this business much to her own satisfaction, cheerfully undertook to arrange the obsequies of poor Montreville.

Though the tragical scenes of the night had left Laura no leisure to dwell upon her fears for Hargrave, it was not without thankfulness that she heard of his safety and restored composure. Her mind was at first too much occupied by her recent loss, to attempt accounting for his extravagant behaviour; and after the first paroxysms of her sorrow were past, she retained but an imperfect recollection of his late conversation with her. She merely remembered his seeming distraction and threatened suicide, and only bewildered herself by her endeavours to unravel his mysterious conduct. Sometimes a suspicion not very remote from the truth would dart into her mind; but she quickly banished it, as an instance of the causeless fears that are apt to infest the hearts of the unfortunate.

An innate delicacy which, in some degree, supplied to Laura the want of experience, made her feel an impropriety in the daily visits which she was informed that Hargrave made at her lodgings. She was aware that they might be liable to misrepresentation, even though she should persist in her refusal to see him; and this consideration appeared to add to the necessity already so urgent, for resolving on some immediate plan for her future course of life. But the future offered to Laura no attractive prospect. Wherever she turned, all seemed dark and unpromising. She feared not to labour for her subsistence; no narrow pride forbade her use of any honourable means of independence. But her personal charms were such as no degree of humility could screen from the knowledge of their possessor, and she was sensible how much this dangerous distinction increased the disqualifications of her sex and age for the character of an artist. As an artist, she must be exposed to the intrusion of strangers; to public observation, if successful; to unpitied neglect, if she failed in her attempt. Besides, it was impossible to think of living alone and unprotected, in the human chaos that surrounded her. All her father's dismal forebodings rose to her remembrance; and she almost regarded herself as one who would be noticed only as a mark for destruction, beguiled by frauds which no vigilance could detect, overwhelmed by a power which she could neither resist nor escape.

Should she seek in solitude a refuge from the destroyer, and return to mourn at her deserted Glenalbert the stroke that had left it like her lonely and forlorn, want lurked amidst its shades; for with her father had died not only the duties and the joys of life, but even the means of its support. Her temporary right to the few acres which Montreville had farmed, was in less than a year to expire; and she knew that, after discharging the claim of the landlord, together with some debts which the long illness of Lady Harriet and the ill-fated journey had obliged Montreville to contract, little would remain from the sale of her effects at Glenalbert.

Laura was sure that the benevolent friend of her youth, the excellent Mrs Douglas, would receive her with open arms--guide her inexperience with a mother's counsel--comfort her sorrows with a mother's love. But her spirit revolted from a life of indolent dependence, and her sense of justice from casting a useless burden upon an income too confined to answer claims stronger and more natural than hers. Mrs Douglas was herself the preceptress of her children, and both by nature and education amply qualified for the momentous task. In domestic management her skill and activity were unrivalled. Laura, therefore, saw no possibility of repaying, by her usefulness in any department of the family, the protection which she might receive; and she determined that nothing but the last necessity should induce her to tax the generosity of her friend, or to forego the honourable independence of those who, though "silver or gold they have none" can barter for the comforts they enjoy their mental treasures or their bodily toil.

To undertake the tuition of youth occurred to her as the most eligible means of procuring necessary subsistence, and protection, more necessary still. It appeared to her that, as a member of any reputable family, she should be sheltered from the dangers which her father had most taught her to dread. She reviewed her accomplishments, and impartially examined her ability to communicate them, with temper and perseverance. Though for the most part attained with great accuracy, they were few in number, and unobtrusive in kind. She read aloud with uncommon harmony and grace. She spoke and wrote with fluency and precision. She was grammatically acquainted with the French and Latin languages, and an adept in the common rules of arithmetic. Her proficiency in painting has been already noticed; and she sang with inimitable sweetness and expression.

But though expert in every description of plain needlework she was an utter novice in the manufacture of all those elegant nothings, which are so serviceable to fine ladies in their warfare against time. Though she moved with unstudied dignity and peerless grace, we are obliged to confess, that the seclusion of her native village had doomed her to ignorance of the art of dancing; that she had never entered a ball-room less capacious than the horizon, nor performed with a partner more illustrious than the schoolmaster's daughter. Her knowledge of music, too, was extremely limited. Lady Harriet had indeed tried to teach her to play on the piano-forte; but the attempt, after costing Laura many a full heart, and many a watery eye, was relinquished as vain. Though the child learnt with unusual facility whatever was taught her by her father or Mrs Douglas, and though she was already remarkable for the sweetness with which she warbled her wood-notes wild, she no sooner approached the piano-forte than an invincible stupidity seemed to seize on all her faculties. This was the more mortifying, as it was the only one of her ladyship's accomplishments which she ever personally attempted to communicate to her daughter. Lady Harriet was astonished at her failure. It could proceed, she thought, from nothing but obstinacy. But the appropriate remedy for obstinacy only aggravated the symptoms; and after all, Laura was indebted to Colonel Hargrave's tuition for so much skill as enabled her to accompany her own singing.

Laura had more than once felt her deficiency in these fashionable arts, on seeing them exhibited by young ladies, who, to use their own expression, had returned from finishing themselves at a boarding-school, and she feared that this blank in her education might prove a fatal bar to her being employed as a governess. But another and a greater obstacle lay before her--she was utterly unknown. The only patrons whose recommendation she could command, were distant and obscure; and what mother would trust the minds and the manners of her children to the formation of a stranger? She knew not the ostrich-like daring of fashionable mothers. This latter objection seemed equally hostile to her being received in quality of companion by those who might be inclined to exchange subsistence and protection for relief from solitude; and Laura, almost despairing, knew not whither to turn her eye.

One path indeed invited her steps, a path bright with visions of rapture, warm with the sunshine of love and pleasure, but the flaming sword of Heaven guarded the entrance; and as often as her thoughts reverted that way, the struggle was renewed which forces the choice from the pleasing to the right. No frequency of return rendered this struggle less painful. Laura's prudence had slept, when a little vigilance might have saved her many an after pang; and she had long paid, was still long to pay, the forfeit of neglecting that wisdom which would guard "with all diligence" the first beginnings of even the most innocent passions. Had she curbed the infant-strength of an attachment which, though it failed to warp her integrity, had so deeply wounded her peace, how would she have lessened the force of that temptation, which lured her from the rugged ascent where want and difficulty were to be her companions; which enticed her to the flowery bowers of pleasure with the voice and with the smile of Hargrave!

Yet Laura had resisted a bribe more powerful than any consideration merely selfish could supply; and she blushed to harbour a thought of yielding to her own inclination what she had refused to a parent's wants, to a parent's prayer. Her heart filled as she called to mind how warmly Montreville had seconded the wishes of her lover, how resolutely she had withstood his will; and it swelled even to bursting at the thought that the vow was now fatally made void, which promised, by every endearment of filial love, to atone for this first act of disobedience. "Dearest, kindest of friends," she cried," I was inflexible to thy request, thy last request! and shall I now recede?--now, when, perhaps, thou art permitted to behold and to approve my motive; perhaps permitted to watch me still--permitted with higher power to guard, and with less erring wisdom to direct me! And Thou, who in matchless condescension refusest not to be called the Father of the fatherless--Thou, who in every difficulty canst guide, from every danger canst protect, thy children, let, if thou see it good, the heavens, which are thy throne, be all my covering, the earth, which is thy footstool, be all my bed; but suffer me not to wander from thee, the only source of peace and joy, to seek them in fountains unhallowed and forbidden."

Religious habits and sentiments were permanent inmates of Laura's breast. They had been invited and cherished, till, like familiar friends, they came unsolicited; and, like friends, too, their visits were most frequent in adversity. But the more ardent emotions of piety, are, alas! transient guests with us all; and, sinking from the flight which raised her for a time above the sorrows and the wants of earth, Laura was again forced to shrink from the gaunt aspect of poverty, again to turn a wistful eye towards a haven of rest on this side the grave.

Young as she was, however, she had long been a vigilant observer of her own actions, and of their consequences; and the result was an immutable conviction that no heartfelt comfort could, in any circumstances, harbour with wilful transgression. As wilful transgression she considered her marriage with a man whose principles she had fatal reason to distrust. As a rash defiance of unknown danger, as a desperate daring of temptations whose force was yet untried, as a desertion of those arms by which alone she could hope for victory in her Christian combat, Laura considered the hazardous enterprise, which, trusting to the reformation of a libertine, would expose her to his example and his authority, his provocations and his associates. Again she solemnly renewed her resolution never, by wilfully braving temptation, to forego the protection of Him who can dash the fulness of worldly prosperity with secret bitterness, or gladden with joys unspeakable the dwelling visited by no friend but Him, cheered by no comfort but the light of his countenance.

Hargrave's letter served rather to fortify the resolution which it was intended to shake; for Laura was not insensible to the indelicacy which did not scorn to owe to her necessities a consent which he had in vain tried to extort from her affection. Though pleased with his liberality, she was hurt by his supposing that she could have so far forgotten the mortal offence which he had offered her as to become his debtor for any pecuniary favour; and as nothing could be farther from her intention than to owe any obligation to Colonel Hargrave, she did not hesitate a moment to return the money. When she had sealed the card in which she enclosed it, she resumed the contemplation of her dreary prospects, and half hopelessly examined the possibilities of subsistence. To offer instruction to the young, or amusement to the old, in exchange for an asylum from want and danger, still appeared to her the most eligible plan of life; and again she weighed the difficulty of procuring the necessary recommendations.

Lady Pelham occurred to her. Some claim she thought she might have had to the patronage of so near a relation. But who should identify her?--who should satisfy Lady Pelham that the claim of relationship did indeed belong to Laura? Had she been previously known to her aunt, her difficulties would have been at an end; now she would probably be rejected as an impostor; and she gave a sigh to the want of foresight which had suffered her to rejoice in escaping an interview with Lady Pelham.

After much consideration, she determined to solicit the recommendations of Mrs Douglas and the De Courcy family; and until she could avail herself of these, to subsist, in some obscure lodging, by the labour of her hands. In the meantime, it was necessary to remove immediately from her present abode. The day following was the last when she could claim any right to remain there, and she proceeded to make preparations for her departure. With a bleeding heart she began to arrange whatever had belonged to Montreville; and paused, with floods of tears, upon every relic now become so sacred. She entered his closet. His was the last foot that had pressed the threshold. His chair stood as he had risen from it. On the ground lay the cushion yet impressed with his knees; his Bible was open as he had left it. One passage was blistered with his tears, and there Laura read with emotions unutterable--"Leave to me thy fatherless children, and I will preserve them alive." Her recent wounds thus torn open, with agony which could not be restrained she threw herself upon the ground, and, with cries of anguish, besought her father to return but for one short hour to comfort his desolate child. "Oh, I shall never, never see him more," said she; "all my cries are vain;" and she wept the more because they were in vain. Soon, however, she reproached herself with her immoderate sorrow, soon mingled its accents with those of humble resignation; and the vigorous mind recovering in devotion all its virtuous energy, she returned with restored composure to her melancholy labours.

In her father's writing-desk she found an unfinished letter. It began "My dear De Courcy;" and Laura was going to read it with the awe of one who listens to the last words of a father, when she remembered having surprised her father while writing it, and his having hastily concealed it from her sight. She instantly folded it without further acquaintance with its contents, except that her own name caught her eye. Continuing to arrange the papers, she observed a letter addressed to herself, in a hand which she did not remember to have seen. It was Lady Pelham's answer to that in which Laura had announced her mother's death. She perceived that it might furnish an introduction to her aunt; and with a sensation of gratitude she remembered that she had been accidentally prevented from destroying it.

Lady Pelham was older by several years than her sister Lady Harriet. Her father, a saving, pains-taking attorney, died a few months after she was born. His widow, who, from an idea of their necessity, had concurred in all his "economical plans, discovered, with equal surprise and delight, that his death had left her the entire management of 45,000. This fortune, which she was to enjoy during her life, was secured, in the event of her demise, to little Miss Bridget; and this arrangement was one of the earliest pieces of information which little Miss Bridget received. For seven years the little heiress was, in her mother's undisguised opinion, and consequently in her own, the most important personage upon the face of this terrestrial globe. But worldly glories are fleeting. Lord Winterfield's taste in stewed carp had been improved by half a century's assiduous cultivation. Now the widow Price understood the stewing of carp better than any woman in England, so his lordship secured to himself the benefit of her talent by making her Lady Winterfield. In ten months after this marriage, another young lady appeared, as much more important than Miss Bridget as an earl is than an attorney.

Fortune, however, dispensed her gifts with tolerable equality. Beauty and rank, indeed, were all on the side of Lady Harriet, but the wealth lay in the scale of Miss Price; for Lord Winterfield, leaving the bulk of his property to the children of his first marriage, bequeathed to his youngest daughter only 5000. These circumstances procured to Miss Price another advantage, for she married a baronet with a considerable estate, while Lady Harriet's fate stooped to a lieutenant in a marching regiment. After ten years, which Lady Pelham declared were spent in uninterrupted harmony, Sir Edward Pelham died. The exclusive property of his wife's patrimony had been strictly secured to her; and, either thinking such a provision sufficient for a female, or moved by a reason which we shall not at present disclose, Sir Edward bestowed on the nephew who inherited his title his whole estate, burdened only with a jointure of 500 a year, settled upon Lady Pelham by her marriage-contract. Of his daughter, and only child, no mention was made in his testament; but Sir Edward, during the last years of his life, had acquired the character of an oddity, and nobody wondered at his eccentricities.

At the commencement of her widowhood, Lady Pelham purchased a villa in ----shire, where she spent the summer, returning in the winter to Grosvenor Street; and this last was almost the only part of her history which was known to Laura. Even before Lady Harriet's marriage, little cordiality had subsisted between the sisters. From the date of that event their intercourse had been almost entirely broken off; and the only attention which Laura had ever received from her aunt, was contained in the letter which she was now thankfully contemplating. Her possession of this letter, together with her acquaintance with the facts to which it related, she imagined would form sufficient proof of her identity; and her national ideas of the claims of relationship awakened a hope of obtaining her aunt's assistance in procuring some respectable situation.

Determined to avail herself of her fortunate discovery, she quitted her father's apartments; and carrying with her her credential, lost no time in repairing to Grosvenor Street. Nor did she experience the reluctance which she had formerly felt towards an interview with Lady Pelham; for she was fully sensible of the difference between a petitioner for charity and a candidate for honourable employment. Besides, there is no teacher of humility like misfortune; and Laura's spirits were too completely subdued to anticipate or to notice diminutive attacks upon her self-consequence. She still, however, with constitutional reserve, shrank from intruding upon a stranger; and she passed and repassed the door, examining the exterior of the house, as if she could thence have inferred the character of its owner, before she took courage to give one gentle knock.

A footman opened the door, and Laura, faltering, inquired if Lady Pelham was within. From Laura's single knock, her humble voice, and her yet more humble habit, which in ten months' use had somewhat faded from the sober magnificence of black, the man had formed no very lofty idea of the visitor's rank. He answered, that he believed his lady was not at home; but half afraid of dismissing some person with whom she might have business, he spoke in a tone which made Laura a little doubt the truth of his information. She inquired at what time she might be likely to gain access to Lady Pelham; and, as she spoke, threw back her crape veil, unconscious how successfully she was pleading her own cause. Struck with a countenance whose candour, sweetness, and beauty, won a way to every heart, the man gazed at her for a moment with vulgar admiration, and then throwing open the door of a little parlour, begged her to walk in, while he inquired whether his lady were visible. He soon returned, telling Laura that Lady Pelham would receive her in a few minutes.

During these few minutes, Laura had formed a hundred conjectures concerning her aunt's person, voice, and manner. She wondered whether she resembled Lady Harriet; whether her own form would recall to Lady Pelham the remembrance of her sister. At every noise her heart fluttered--at every step she expected the entrance of this relation, on whom perhaps so much of her future fate might depend; and she held her breath that she might distinguish her approach. A servant at last came to conduct her to his mistress; and she followed him, not without a feeling of awe, into the presence of her mother's sister.

That sentiment, however, by no means gathered strength when she took courage to raise her eyes to the plain little elderly person to whom she was introduced, and heard herself addressed in the accents of cheerful familiarity. Laura, with modest dignity, made known her name and situation. She spoke of her mother's death, and the tears trickled from her eyes--of her father's, and in venting the natural eloquence of grief, she forgot that she came to interest a stranger. Lady Pelham seemed affected; she held her handkerchief to her eyes, and remained in that attitude for some time after Laura had recovered self-possession. Then, throwing her arms round her lovely niece, she affectionately acknowledged the relationship, adding, "Your resemblance to my poor sister cannot be overlooked, and yet in saying so, I am far from paying you a compliment."

After showing Lady Pelham her own letter, and mentioning such circumstances as tended to confirm her identity, Laura proceeded to detail her plans, to which her ladyship listened with apparent interest. She inquired into Laura's accomplishments, and seemed pondering the probability of employing them with advantage to the possessor. After a few moments' silence, she said, "that short as their acquaintance had been, she thought she could perceive that Laura had too much sensibility for a dependent situation. But we shall talk of that hereafter," continued she. "At present your spirits are too weak for the society of strangers; and mine," added her ladyship, with a sigh, "are not much more buoyant than your own." Laura looked up with the kindly interest which, whether she herself were joyful or in sadness, sorrow could always command with her; and her aunt answered her glance of inquiry, by relating, that her only daughter and heiress had eloped from her a few days before, with an artful young fellow without family or fortune. "She deceived me by a train of the basest artifices," said Lady Pelham, "though she might have known that her happiness was my chief concern; that my only possible motive for withholding my consent was to save her from the poverty to which she has doomed herself. But she has unfeelingly preferred her own indulgence to the society and the peace of a kind mother. Her disobedience I might have forgiven; her selfishness, her deceit, I never can; or if as a Christian I forgive, I never, never can forget it."

Lady Pelham had talked herself out of breath; and Laura, not quite understanding this kind of Christian forgiveness, was silent, because she did not well know what to say. She felt, however, compassion for a parent deserted by her only child; and the feeling was legible in a countenance peculiarly fitted for every tender expression.

There are some degrees of sorrow which increase in acuteness, at least which augment in vehemence of expression, by the perception of having excited sympathy. Weak fires gather strength from radiation. After a glance at Laura, Lady Pelham melted into tears, and continued: "I know not how I had deserved such treatment from her; for never had she reason to complain of me. I have always treated her with what I must call unmerited kindness, except, indeed, when natural abhorrence of vice hurried me into reproof, which, alas! I always found unavailing."

Laura now ventured a few conciliating words. "She will feel her error, madam--she will strive by her after life to atone--" Lady Pelham immediately dried her eyes: "No, no, my dear," interrupted she, "you don't know her, you have no idea of the hardness of her unfeeling heart. Rejoice, sweet girl, that you have no idea of it. For my part, though sensibility is at best but a painful blessing, I would not exchange it for the most peaceful apathy that can feel for nothing but itself. I must have something to love and cherish. You shall be that something. You shall live with me, and we shall console each other."

On another occasion, Laura might have been disposed to canvass the nature of that sensibility which could thus enlarge to a stranger on the defects of an only child. Indeed, she was little conversant even with the name of this quality. Her own sensibility she had been taught to consider as a weakness to be subdued, not as an ornament to be gloried in; and the expansion of soul which opens to all the sorrows and to all the joys of others, she had learnt to call by a holier name, to regulate by a nobler principle. But she was little disposed to examine the merits of a feeling to which she owed the offer of an unsolicited asylum. Her heart swelling with gratitude, she clasped Lady Pelham's hand between her own, and while tears streamed down her face, "Kind, considerate friend," she cried, "why, why were you not known to us while my father could have been sensible to your kindness?"

After Lady Pelham had repeated her proposal more in detail, and Laura had thankfully acceded to it, they remained in conversation for some time longer. Lady Pelham showed that she had much wit, much vivacity, and some information; and after settling that Laura should next day become an inmate in Grosvenor Street, they separated, mutually delighted with each other. Lady Pelham applauded herself for a generous action; and to the interest which Laura awakened in every breast, was added in Lady Pelham's all the benevolence of self-complacency. Laura, on the other hand, did not once dream that any fault could harbour in the unsuspicious liberal heart which had believed the tale and removed the difficulties of a stranger. She did not once dream that she owed her new asylum to any motive less noble than disinterested goodness.

No wonder that her ladyship's motive escaped the penetration of Laura, when it even evaded her own. And yet no principle could be more simple in its nature, or more constant in its operation, than that which influenced Lady Pelham; but the Proteus put on so many various forms, that he ever avoided detection from the subject of his sway. In the meantime, the desire of performing a generous action, of securing the gratitude of a feeling heart, of patronising a poor relation, were the only motives which her ladyship acknowledged to herself, when she offered protection to Laura. An idea had, indeed, darted across her right honourable mind, that she might now secure a humble companion at a rate lower than the usual price of such conveniences; a momentary notion, too, she formed of exciting the jealousy of her daughter, by replacing her with so formidable a competitor for favour: but these, she thought, were mere collateral advantages, and by no means the circumstances which fixed her determination. The resolution upon which she acted was taken, as her resolutions generally were, without caution; and she expressed it, as her custom was, the moment it was formed. Laura was scarcely gone, however, when her aunt began to repent of her precipitancy; and to wish, as she had often occasion to do, that she had taken a little more time for consideration. But she comforted herself that she could at any time get rid of her charge by recommending Laura to one of the situations which she had mentioned as her choice. She knew it would not be difficult to find one more lucrative than that upon which her niece was entering; for how could she possibly offer wages to so near a relation, or insult with the gift of a trifling sum a person of Laura's dignity of deportment? These reasons Lady Pelham alleged to herself, as sufficient grounds for a resolution never to affront her niece by a tender of pecuniary favours.

While these thoughts were revolving in Lady Pelham's mind, Laura had reached her home, and on her knees was thanking Providence for having raised up for her a protector and a friend, and praying that she might be enabled to repay, in affectionate and respectful duty, a part of the debt of gratitude which she owed to her benefactress. The rest of the evening she spent in preparing for her removal, in ruminating on her interview with her aunt, and in endeavouring to compose, from the scanty materials which she possessed, a character of this new arbitress of her destiny. From Lady Pelham's prompt decision in favour of a stranger from her unreserved expression of her feelings, from her lively manner and animated countenance, Laura concluded that she was probably of a temper warm, susceptible, and easily wounded by unkindness or neglect, but frank, candid, and forgiving. Laura wished that she had better studied her aunt's physiognomy. What she recollected of it was quite unintelligible to her. She laboured in vain to reconcile the feminine curvatures of the nose and forehead with the inflexible closing of the mouth, and the hard outline of the chin, where lurked no soft relenting line.

But however the countenance might puzzle conjecture, of the mind she harboured not a doubt; Lady Pelham's, she was persuaded, was one of those open generous souls, which the young and unwary are always prepared to expect and to love--souls having no disguise, and needing none. Now, this was precisely the character which Lady Pelham often and sincerely drew of herself; and who ought to have been so intimately acquainted with her ladyship's dispositions?

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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.