It was not without hesitation that Laura formed her resolution to conceal from Hargrave her place of abode. She felt for the uneasiness which this concealment would cause him. She feared that her desertion might remove one incitement to a virtuous course. But she considered, that while their future connection was doubtful, it was imprudent to strengthen by habitual intercourse their need of each other's society; and she reflected, that she could best estimate his character from actions performed beyond the sphere of her influence. Her watchful self-distrust made her fear to expose her resolution to his importunities; and she felt the impropriety of introducing into her aunt's family a person who stood on terms with her which she did not choose to explain. These reasons induced her to withhold from Hargrave the knowledge of her new situation; and, certain that if it were known to Mrs Stubbs or her servants, he would soon be master of the secret, she left no clue by which to trace her retreat. Perhaps, though she did not confess it to herself, she was assisted in this act of self-command by a. latent hope, that as she was now to be introduced to a society on his own level, Hargrave might not find the mystery quite inscrutable.
She was kindly welcomed by Lady Pelham, and took possession of a small but commodious apartment, where she arranged her drawing materials, together with the few books she possessed, intending to make that her retreat as often as her aunt found amusement or occupation independent of her. She resolved to devote her chief attention to making herself useful and entertaining to her patroness. In the first, she derived hopes of success from Lady Pelham's declared incapacity for all employments that are strictly feminine. The second, she thought, would be at once easy and pleasant, for Lady Pelham was acute, lively, and communicative. This latter quality she possessed in an unusual degree, and yet Laura found it difficult to unravel her character. In general, she saw that her aunt's understanding was bright; she was persuaded that in general her heart was warm and generous; but the descent to particulars baffled Laura's penetration. Lady Pelham could amuse, could delight; she said many wise, and many brilliant things; but her wisdom was not always well timed, and her brilliant things were soap-bubbles in the sun, sparkling and highly coloured, but vanishing at the touch of him who would examine their structure. Lady Pelham could dispute with singular acuteness. By the use of ambiguous terms, by ingenious sophistry, by dexterously shifting from the ground of controversy, she could baffle, and perplex, and confound her opponents; but she could not argue--she never convinced. Her opinions seemed fluctuating, and Laura was sometimes ready to imagine that she defended them, not because they were just, nor even because they were her own, but merely because she had called them so; for with a new antagonist she could change sides, and maintain the opposite ground with equal address.
In spite of all the warmth of heart for which she gave her aunt credit, Laura soon began to imagine that Lady Pelham had no friends. Among all the acquaintances whom she attracted and amused, no one seemed to exchange regard with her. The gaiety of pleasure never softened in her presence into the tenderness of affection. Laura could not discover that there existed one being from whose failings Lady Pelham respectfully averted her own sight, while reverently veiling them from the eyes of others. A few, a very few, seemed to be the objects of Lady Pelham's esteem; those of her love Laura could not discover. Towards her, however, her aunt expressed a strong affection; and Laura continued to persuade herself, that if Lady Pelham had no friends, it was because she was surrounded by those who were not worthy of her friendship.
As she appeared to invite and to desire unreserved confidence, Laura had soon made her acquainted with the narrative of her short life, excepting in so far as it related to Hargrave. At the detail of the unworthy advantage which Warren had taken of Montreville's inability to enforce his claim for the annuity, Lady Pelham broke out into sincere and vehement expressions of indignation and contempt; for no one more cordially abhorred oppression or despised meanness in others. She immediately gave directions to her solicitor to attempt bringing the affair to a conclusion, and even to threaten Warren with a prosecution in case of his refusal. Virtuous resistance of injustice was motive sufficient for this action; pity that Lady Pelham should have sought another in the economy and ease with which it promised to provide for an indigent relative! Mr Warren was no sooner informed that the poor, obscure, unfriended Laura was the niece of Lady Pelham, and the inmate of her house, than he contrived to arrive at a marvellous certainty that the price of the annuity had been paid, and that the mistake in the papers relating to it originated in mere accident. In less than a fortnight the informality was rectified, and the arrears of the annuity paid into Laura's hands, the lawyer having first, at Lady Pelham's desire, deducted the price of his services.
With tears in her eyes, Laura surveyed her wealth, now of diminished value in her estimation. "Only a few weeks ago," said she, "how precious had this been to me. But now!-- Yet it is precious still," said she, as she wiped the tears away, "for it can minister occasions of obedience and usefulness." That very day she dispatched little presents for each of Mrs Douglas's children, in which use was more considered than show; and in the letter which announced her gifts, she enclosed half of the remaining sum to be distributed among her own poor at Glenalbert. That her appearance might not discredit her hostess, she next proceeded to renew her wardrobe; and though she carefully avoided unnecessary expense, she consulted not only decency but elegance in her attire. In this, and all other matters of mere indifference, Laura was chiefly guided by her aunt; for she had early observed that this lady, upon all occasions, small as well as great, loved to exercise the office of dictatrix. No person could have been better fitted than Laura to conciliate such a temper; for on all the lesser occasions of submission she was as gentle and complying as she was inflexible upon points of real importance. In their conversations, too, though Laura defended her own opinions with great firmness, she so carefully avoided direct contradiction or sarcastic retort, impatience in defeat, or triumph in victory, that even Lady Pelham could scarcely find subject of irritation in so mild an antagonist.
In some respects, their tempers seemed to tally admirably. Lady Pelham had great aptitude in detecting errors, Laura a genius for remedying them. Difficulty always roused her ladyship's impatience, but she found an infallible resource in the perseverance of Laura. In short, Laura contrived so many opportunities, or seized with such happy art those which presented themselves, of ministering to the comfort or convenience of her aunt, that she became both respectable and necessary to her; and this was, generally speaking, the utmost extent of Lady Pelham's attachments.
Lady Pelham sometimes spoke of her daughter, and Laura never missed the opportunity of urging a reconciliation. She insisted that the rights of natural affection were unalienable; that as they did not rest upon the merits, so neither could they be destroyed by the unworthiness, either of parents or of children. The mother answered, with great impatience, that Laura's argument was entirely founded on prejudice; that it was true that, for the helplessness of infancy, a peculiar feeling was provided; but that in all animals this peculiar feeling ceased as soon as it was no longer essential to the existence of the individual. "From thenceforth," added she, "the regard must be founded on the qualities of the head and heart; and if my child is destitute of these, I can see no reason why I should prefer her to the child of any other woman." "Ah!" said Laura, tears of grateful recollection rushing down her cheek, "some parents have loved their child with a fervour which no worth of hers could merit."
The gush of natural sensibility for this time averted the rising storm; but the next time that Laura renewed her conciliatory efforts, Lady Pelham, growing more vehement as she became herself more convinced that she was in the wrong, burst into a paroxysm of rage; and, execrating all rebellious children and their defenders, commanded Laura in future to confine her attention to what might concern herself. The humbling spectacle of a female face distorted with passion was not quite new to Laura. Undismayed, she viewed it with calm commiseration; and mildly expressing her sorrow for having given offence, took up her work, and left the ferment to subside at leisure. Her ladyship's passion soon cooled; and making advances with a sort of surly condescension, she entered on a new topic. Laura answered exactly as if nothing disagreeable had happened, and Lady Pelham could not divine whether her niece commanded her countenance or her temper. Upon one principle of judging, the lady had grounds for her doubt; she herself had sometimes commanded her countenance, her temper never.
Laura not only habitually avoided giving or taking offence, but made it a rule to extinguish its last traces by some act of cordiality and good-will. This evening, therefore, she proposed, with a grace which seemed rather to petition a favour than to offer a service, to attempt a portrait of her aunt. The offer was accepted with pleasure, and the portrait was begun on the following day. It proved a likeness, and a favourable one. Lady Pelham was kinder than ever. Laura avoided the prohibited subject, and all was quiet and serene. Lady Pelham at last herself reverted to it; for, indeed, she could not long forbear to speak upon any topic that roused her passions. No dread of personal inconvenience could deter Laura from an act of justice or mercy, and she again steadily pronounced her opinion. But aware that one who would persuade must be careful not to irritate, she expressed her sentiments with still more cautious gentleness than formerly; and perceiving that her aunt was far more governed by passion than by reason, she quitted argument for entreaty. By these means she avoided provoking hostility, though she failed to win compliance. Lady Pelham seemed to be utterly impenetrable to entreaty, or rather to take pride in resisting it, and Laura had only to hope that time would favour her suit.
Lady Pelham mentioned an intention of removing early to the country, and Laura rejoiced in the prospect of once more beholding the open face of heaven, of listening to nature's own music, of breathing the light air of spring. She longed to turn her ear from the discords of the city to the sweet sounds of peace--her eye from countenances wan with care, flushed with intemperance, or ghastly with famine, to cheeks brown with wholesome exercise, or ruddy with health and contentment--to exchange the sight of dusky brick walls, and walks overlooked by thousands, for the sunny slope, or the sheltered solitary lane. Lady Pelham took pleasure in describing the beauties of Walbourne, and Laura listened to her with interest, anticipating eagerly the time when she should inhabit so lovely, so peaceful a scene. But that interest and eagerness rose to the highest, when she accidentally discovered that the De Courcy family were Lady Pelham's nearest neighbours in the country.
The want of something to love and cherish, which was with her ladyship a mere form of speech, was with Laura a real necessity of nature; and though it was one which almost every situation could supply, since every creature that approached her was the object of her benevolence, yet much of the happiness of so domestic a being depended on the exercise of the dearer charities, and no one was more capable of a distinguishing preference than Laura. She had a hearty regard for the De Courcy family. She revered Mrs De Courcy; she liked Harriet; and bestowed on Montague her cordial esteem and gratitude. This gratitude had now acquired a sacred tenderness; for it was associated in her mind with the remembrance of a parent. De Courcy's self-denial had cheered her father's sick-bed, his benevolence gladdened her father's heart, and his self-denial appeared more venerable, his benevolence more endearing.
Having written to inform Harriet of the change in her situation, she discovered from her answer a new proof of De Courcy's friendship in the fruitless journey which he had made to relieve her, and she regretted that her caution had deprived her of an opportunity of seeing and thanking him for all his kindness. "Yet if we had met," said she, "I should probably have acted as I have done a hundred times before; left him to believe me an insensible, ungrateful creature, for want of courage to tell him that I was not so." She longed, however, to see De Courcy; for with him she thought she could talk of her father, to him lament her irreparable loss, dwell with him on the circumstances that aggravated her sorrow, on the prospects which mingled that sorrow with hope. This was a subject on which she never entered with Lady Pelham any farther than necessity required; real sorrow has its holy ground, on which no vulgar foot must tread. The self-command of Laura would have forbidden her, in any situation, to darken with a settled gloom the sunshine of domestic cheerfulness; but Lady Pelham had in her somewhat which repels the confidence of grief. Against all the arrows of misfortune, blunted at least as they rebound from the breasts of others, she seemed to "wear a charmed life." She often, indeed, talked of sensibility, and reprobated the want of it as the worst of faults; but the only kind of it in which she indulged, rather inclined to the acrimonious than the benevolent; and Laura began to perceive, that however her aunt might distinguish them in others, irascible passions and keen feelings were in herself synonymous.
After the effort of giving and receiving the entertainment which Lady Pelham constantly offered, and as constantly exacted in return, Laura experienced a sensation of recovered freedom when the arrival of a visitor permitted her to escape to her own apartment. She saw nobody but her aunt, and never went abroad except to church. Thus, during a fortnight which she had passed in Grosvenor Street, she had heard nothing of Hargrave. She was anxious to know whether he visited Lady Pelham; for, with rustic ignorance, she imagined that all people of condition who resided in the same town must be known to each other; but she had not courage to ask, and searched in vain for his name among the cards that crowded the table in the lobby. Though she was conscious of some curiosity to know how he employed the hours which her absence had left vacant, she did not own to herself that he was at all concerned in a resolution which she took to inquire in person whether any letters had been left for her with Mrs Stubbs. She did not choose to commit the inquiry to a servant, because she would not condescend to enjoin her messenger to secrecy as to the place of her abode; and she continued resolved to give her lover no clue to discover it.
Accordingly, she early one morning set out in a hackney-coach, which she took the precaution to leave at some distance from her old lodgings, ordering it to wait her return. Fanny was delighted to see her, and charmed with the improvement of her dress, and the returning healthfulness of her appearance; but the landlady eyed her askance, and surlily answered to her inquiry for letters, that she would bring the only one she had got; muttering, as she went to fetch it, something of which the words "secret doings" were all that reached Laura's ear. "There, miss," said the ungracious Mrs Stubbs, "there's your letter, and there's the queer scrawl it came wrapped up in." "Mr De Courcy's hand!" cried Laura, surprised, but thinking from its size that some time would be required to read it, she deferred breaking the seal till she should return to her carriage. "I suppose you're mistaken, miss," said Mrs Stubbs; "Mr De Courcy was here twice the day it came, and he never said a word of it."
Laura now tremulously inquired whether she might be permitted to revisit her father's room; but being roughly answered that it was occupied, she quietly prepared to go. As Fanny followed her through the garden to open the gate for her, Laura, a conscious blush rising to her face, inquired whether any other person had inquired for her since her departure. Fanny, who was ready to burst with the news of Hargrave's visit, and who was just meditating how she might venture to introduce it, improved this occasion of entering on a full detail of his behaviour. With the true waiting-maid-like fondness for romance, she enlarged upon all his extravagances, peeping side-long now and then under Laura's bonnet, to catch encouragement from the complacent simper with which such tales are often heard. But no smile repaid her eloquence. With immoveable seriousness did Laura listen to her, gravely revolving the strange nature of that love which could so readily amalgamate with rage and jealousy, and every discordant passion. She was hurt at the indecorum which exposed these weaknesses to the observation of a servant; and with a sigh reflected, that to constitute the happiness of a woman of sense and spirit, a husband must be possessed of qualities respectable as well as amiable.
Fanny next tried, whether what concerned De Courcy might not awaken more apparent interest; and here she had at least a better opportunity to judge of the effect of her narrative, for Laura stopped and turned full towards her. But Fanny had now no transports to relate, except De Courcy's indignation at Mrs Stubbs's calumny; and it was not without hesitating, and qualifying, and apologising, that the girl ventured to hint at the insinuation which her mistress had thrown out. She had at last succeeded in raising emotion, for indignant crimson dyed Laura's cheeks, and fire flashed from her eyes. But Laura seldom spoke while she was angry; and again she silently pursued her way. "Pray, madam," said the girl as she was opening the gate, "do be so good as to tell me where you live now, that nobody may speak ill of you before me?" "I thank you, my good girl," returned Laura, a placid smile again playing on her countenance; "but my character is in no danger. You were kind to us, Fanny, when you knew that we could not reward you; accept of this from me;" and she put five guineas into her hand. "No, indeed, ma'am," cried Fanny, drawing back her hand and colouring; "I was civil for pure, good will, and--" Laura, whose sympathy with her inferiors was not confined to their bodily wants, fully understood the feeling that revolts from bartering for gold alone the service of the heart. "I know it, my dear," answered she, in an affectionate tone; "and believe me, I only mean to acknowledge, not to repay, your kindness." Fanny persisted in her refusal, but took the opportunity to request Laura's recommendation to some service more comfortable than her present one. "Or if you need a servant yourself, madam," added she, "I am sure I had as lief serve you as my own mother." Laura, with all the pleasure which a good heart receives from the expression of honest affection, promised that she would take the first occasion of endeavouring to procure Fanny's admission into the family with whom she herself resided. She obliged her humble friend to leave her at the gate, where, with tears in her eyes, the girl stood gazing after her till she was out of sight. "I'm sure," said she, turning towards the house as Laura disappeared, "I'm sure she was made to be a queen, for the more one likes her, the more she frightens one."
As soon as Laura was seated in her carriage, she opened her packet, and with momentary disappointment examined its contents. "Not one line!" she cried in a tone of mortification, and then turned to the envelope addressed to Mrs Stubbs. Upon comparing this with the circumstances which she had lately heard, she at once comprehended De Courcy's intention of serving her by stealth, foregoing the credit due to his generosity. She wondered, indeed, that he had neglected to disguise his hand-writing in the superscription. "Did he think," said she, "that I could have forgotten the writing that has so often comforted my father? She little guessed how distant from his mind was the repose which can attend to minute contrivance.
Delighted to discover a trait of character which tallied so well with her preconceived opinion, she no sooner saw Lady Pelham than she related it to her aunt, and began a warm eulogium on De Courcy's temper and dispositions. Lady Pelham coldly cut her short, by saying, "I believe Mr De Courcy is a very good young man, but I am not very fond of prodigies. One can't both wonder and like at a time; your men with two heads are always either supposititious or disgusting." This speech was one of the dampers which the warm heart abhors; real injury could not more successfully chill affection or repress confidence. It had just malice and just truth enough to be provoking; and for the second time that day Laura had to strive with the risings of anger. She was upon the point of saying, "So, aware of the impossibility of being at once wonderful and pleasing, your ladyship, I suppose, aims at only one of these objects;" but ere the sarcasm found utterance, she checked herself, and hastened out of the room, with the sensation of having escaped from danger. She retired to write to De Courcy a letter of grateful acknowledgment; in which, after having received Lady Pelham's approbation, she enclosed his gift, explaining the circumstances which now rendered it unnecessary.
Lady Pelham was not more favourable to the rest of the De Courcy family than she had been to Montague. She owned, indeed, that Mrs De Courcy was the best woman in the world, but a virtue, she said, so cased in armour, necessarily precluded all grace or attraction. Harriet she characterised as a little sarcastic coquette. Laura, weary of being exposed to the double peril of weakly defending or angrily supporting her attacked friends, ceased to mention the De Courcys at all, though, with a pardonable spirit of contradiction, she loved them the better for the unprovoked hostility of Lady Pelham. The less she talked of them, the more she longed for the time when she might, unrestrained, exchange with them testimonies of regard. The trees in the park, as they burst into leaf, stimulated Laura's desire for the country; and while she felt the genial air of spring, or listened to the early song of some luckless bird caged in a neighbouring window, or saw the yellow glories of the crocus peeping from its unnatural sanctuary, she counted the days till her eyes should be gladdened with the joyous face of nature. Only a fortnight had now to pass before her wish was to be gratified, for Lady Pelham intended at the end of that time to remove to Walbourne.
Laura was just giving the finishing touches to her aunt's portrait, when a visitor was announced; and very unwilling to break off at this interesting crisis, Lady Pelham having first scolded the servant for letting in her friend, desired him to show the lady into the room where Laura was at work. The usual speeches being made, the lady began--"Who does your ladyship think bowed to me en passant just as I was getting out of the carriage? Why, Lady Bellamer! Can you conceive such effrontery!"
"Indeed, I think, in common modesty, she should have waited for your notice."
"Do you know, I am told on good authority that Hargrave is determined not to marry her."
Laura's breath came short.
"He is very right," returned Lady Pelham. "A man must be a great fool to marry where he has had such damning proofs of frailty."
Laura's heart seemed to pause for a moment, and then to redouble its beating. "What Hargrave can this be?" thought she; but she durst not inquire.
"I hear," resumed the lady, "that his uncle is enraged at him, and more for the duel than the crim. con."
The pencils dropped from Laura's hand. Fain would she have inquired what she yet so much dreaded to know, but her tongue refused its office.
"I see no cause for that," returned Lady Pelham; "Hargrave could not possibly refuse to fight after such an affair."
"Oh, certainly not!" replied the lady; "but Lord Lincourt thinks, that in such a case Hargrave ought to have insisted upon giving Lord Bellamer the first fire, and then have fired his own pistol in the air. But, bless me, what ails Miss Montreville?" cried the visitor, looking at Laura, who, dreadfully convinced, was stealing out of the room. "Nothing," answered Laura, and fainted.
Lady Pelham called loudly for help; and while the servants were administering it, stood by conjecturing what could be the cause of Laura's illness; wondering whether it could have any possible connection with Colonel Hargrave, or whether it were the effect of mere constitutional habit.
The moment Laura showed signs of recollection, Lady Pelham began her interrogations. "What has been the matter, my dear? What made you ill? Did any thing affect you? Are you subject to faintings?" Laura remained silent, and closing her eyes, seemed deaf to all her aunt's questions. After a pause, Lady Pelham renewed the attack. "Have you any concern with Colonel Hargrave, Laura?" "None," answered Laura, with a smile of ineffable bitterness; and again closing her eyes, maintained an obstinate silence. Weary of ineffectual inquiries, Lady Pelham quitted her, giving orders that she should be assisted into bed, and recommending to her to take some rest.
Vain advice! Laura could not rest! From the stupor which had overpowered her faculties, she awoke to the full conviction that all her earthly prospects were for ever darkened. Just entering on life, she seemed already forsaken of all its hopes and all its joys. The affections which had delighted her youth were torn from the bleeding soul; no sacred connection remained to bless her maturity, no endearment awaited her decline. In all her long and dreary journey to the grave, she saw no kindly resting-place. Still Laura's hopes and wishes had never been bounded to this narrow sphere; and when she found here no rest for the sole of her foot, she had, in the promises of religion, an ark whither she could turn for shelter. But how should she forget that these promises extended not to Hargrave!--how shut her ear to the dread voice which, in threatening the adulterer and the murderer, denounced vengeance against Hargrave! With horror unspeakable she considered his incorrigible depravity; with agony, revolved its fearful consequences.
Yet while the guilt was hateful in her eyes, her heart was full of love and compassion for the offender. The feeling with which she remembered his unfaithfulness to her, had no resemblance to jealousy. "He has been misled," she cried; "vilely betrayed by a wretch who has taken advantage of his weakness. Oh, how could she look on that form, that countenance, and see in them only the objects of a passion, vile as the heart that cherished it!" Then she would repent of her want of candour--"I am unjust, I am cruel," she said, "thus to load with all the burden of this foul offence her who had perhaps the least share in it. No! He must have been the tempter; it is not in woman to be so lost."
But in the midst of sorrow, whose violence seemed at times almost to confuse her reason, she never hesitated for a moment on the final dissolution of her connection with Hargrave. She formed no resolution on a subject where no alternative seemed to remain, but assumed, as the foundation of all her plans of joyless duty, her eternal separation from Hargrave; a separation final as death. By degrees she became more able to collect her thoughts; and the close of a sleepless night found her exercising the valuable habit of seeking in herself the cause of her misfortunes. The issue of her self-examination was the conviction that she had bestowed on a frail fallible creature a love disproportioned to the merits of any created thing; that she had obstinately clung to her idol after she had seen its baseness; and that now the broken reed whereon she had leaned was taken away, that she might restore her trust and her love where alone they were due.
That time infallibly brings comfort even to the sorest sorrows, that if we make not shipwreck of faith and a good conscience, we save from the storms of life the materials of peace at least, that lesser joys become valuable when we are deprived of those of keener relish, are lessons which even experience teaches but slowly, and Laura had them yet in a great measure to learn. She was persuaded that she should go mourning to the grave. What yet remained of her path of life seemed to lie through a desert waste, never more to be warmed with the sunshine of affection, never more to be brightened with any ray of hope, save that which beamed from beyond the tomb. She imagined, that lonely and desolate she should pass through life, and joyfully hail the messenger that called her away--like some wretch, who, cast alone on a desert rock, watches for the sail that is to waft him to his native land.
But the despair of strong minds is not listless or inactive. The more Laura was convinced that life was lost as to all its pleasing purposes, the more was she determined that it should be subservient to useful ends. Earthly felicity, she was convinced, had fled for ever from her grasp; and the only resolution she could form was never more to pursue it; but in the persevering- discharge of the duties which yet remained to her, to seek a preparation for joys which earth has not to bestow. That she might not devote to fruitless lamentation the time which was claimed by duty, she, as soon as it was day, attempted to rise, intending to spend the morning in acts of resignation for herself, and prayers that pardon and repentance might be granted to him whose guilt had destroyed her peace. But her head was so giddy, that, unable to stand, she was obliged to return to her bed. It was long ere she was again able to quit it. A slow fever seized her, and brought her to the brink of the grave. Her senses, however, remained uninjured, and she had full power and leisure to make those reflections which force themselves upon all who are sensible of approaching dissolution.
Happy were it if all who smart under disappointment would anticipate the hour which will assuredly arrive, when the burden which they impatiently bear shall appear to be lighter than vanity! The hand which is soon to be cold resigns without a struggle the baubles of the world. Its cheats delude not the eye that is for ever closing. A death-bed is that holy ground where the charms of the enchanter are dissolved; where the forms which he had clothed with unreal beauty, or aggravated to gigantic horror, are seen in their true form and colouring.
In its true form and colouring did Laura behold her disappointment, when with characteristic firmness she had wrung from her attendants a confession of her danger. With amazement she looked back on the infatuation which could waste on any concern less than eternal, the hopes, the fears, and the wishes, once squandered by her on a passion which now seemed trivial as the vapour scattered by the wind.
At last, aided by the rigid temperance of her former life, and her exemplary patience in suffering, the strength of her constitution began to triumph over her disorder As she measured back her steps to earth again, the concerns which had seemed to her reverting eye diminished into nothing, again swelled into importance : but Laura could not soon forget the time when she had seen them as they were, and this remembrance powerfully aided her mind in its struggle to cast off its now disgraceful shackles. Yet bitter was the struggle; for what is so painful as to tear at once from the breast what has twined itself with every fibre, linked itself with every hope, stimulated every desire, and long furnished objects of intense, of unceasing interest? The heart which death leaves desolate, slowly and gently resigns the affection to which it has fondly clung. It is permitted to seek indulgence in virtuous sorrow, to rejoice in religious hope; and even memory brings pleasures dear to the widowed mind. But she who mourned the depravity of her lover, felt that she was degraded by her sorrow; hope was, as far as he was concerned, utterly extinguished; and memory presented only a mortifying train of weaknesses and self-deceptions.
But love is not that irremediable calamity which romance has delighted to paint and the vulgar to believe it. Time, vanity, absence, or any of a hundred other easy remedies, serves to cure the disease in the mild form in which it affects feeble minds, while more Herculean spirits tear off the poisoned garment, though it be with mortal anguish. In a few weeks the passion which had so long disturbed the peace of Laura was hushed to lasting repose, but it was the repose of the land where the whirlwind has passed--dreary and desolate. Her spirits had received a shock from which it was long, very long, ere she could rouse them. And he who had ceased to be an object of passion, still excited an interest which no other human being could awaken. Many a wish did she breathe for his happiness; many a fervent prayer for his reformation. In spite of herself, she lamented the extinguished love as well as the lost lover; and never remembered, without a heavy sigh, that the season of enthusiastic attachment was, with her, past never to return.
But she cordially wished that she might never again behold the cause of so much anguish and humiliation. She longed to be distant from all chance of such a meeting, and was anxious to recover strength sufficient for her journey to Walbourne. Lady Pelham only waited for her niece's recovery; and as soon as she could bear the motion of a carriage, they left London.
This presentation of Self Control: A Novel, by Mary Brunton is Copyright 2003 by P.J. LaBrocca. It may not be copied, duplicated, stored or transmitted in any form without written permission. The text is in the public domain.