Though Laura could not escape the attacks of Lady Pelham, she sometimes found means to elude those of Hargrave. She watched his approach, and whenever he appeared, entrenched herself in her own apartment. She confined herself almost entirely to the house, and excused herself from every visit where she thought he might be of the party. He besieged her with letters; she sent them back unopened. Lady Pelham commanded her to be present during his visits; she respectfully but peremptorily refused to comply.
She had thus remained a sort of prisoner for some weeks, when her aunt one morning entered her room, with an aspect which Laura could not well decipher. "Well, Miss Montreville," said she, "you have at last accomplished your purpose; your capricious tyranny has prevailed at last; Colonel Hargrave leaves ---- this morning."
"Dear madam," cried Laura, starting up overjoyed, "what a deliverance!"
"Oh, to be sure, mighty cause you have to congratulate yourself upon a deliverance from a man who might aspire to the first woman in England! But you will never have it in your power to throw away such another offer. You need hardly expect to awaken such another passion."
"I hope, with all my heart, I shall not; but are you certain he will go?
"Oh, very certain. He has written to tell me so!"
"I trust he will keep his word," said Laura; "and when I am sure he is gone, I will beg of your ladyship to excuse me for a few hours, while I walk to Norwood. I have been so shackled of late; but the first use I make of my liberty shall be to visit my friends."
"I am afraid, my dear," returned Lady Pelham, with more gentleness than she was accustomed to use in contradiction, "you will scarcely find time to visit Mrs De courcy. I have long promised to pass some time with my friend Mrs Bathurst, and I propose setting off to-morrow. I should die of ennui here, now I have lost the society that has of late given me so much pleasure."
"Mrs Bathurst, madam? she who was formerly ----"
"Poh, poh, child," interrupted Lady Pelham, "don't stir up the embers of decayed slander. Will you never learn to forget the little mistakes of your fellow-creatures? Mrs Bathurst makes one of the best wives in the world, and to a man with whom every body would not live so well."
Practice had made Laura pretty expert in interpreting her aunt's language, and she understood more in the present instance than it was meant she should comprehend. She had heard of Mrs Bathurst's fame, and knowing that it was not quite spotless, was rather averse to being the companion of Lady Pelham's visit; but she never, without mature deliberation, refused compliance with her aunt's wishes, and she resolved to consider the matter before announcing opposition. Besides, she was determined to carry her point of seeing Mrs De courcy, and therefore did not wish to introduce any other subject of altercation. "Though I should accompany you to-morrow, madam," said she, "I shall have time sufficient for my walk to Norwood. The preparations for my journey cannot occupy an hour; and if I go to Norwood now," added she, tying on her bonnet, "I can return early. Good morning, madam; to-day I may walk in peace."
Laura felt as if a mountain had been lifted from her breast as she bounded across the lawn, and thought that Colonel Hargrave was by this time miles distant from Walbourne; but as she pursued her way, she began to wonder that Lady Pelham seemed so little moved by his departure. It was strange that she, who had remonstrated so warmly, so unceasingly, against Laura's behaviour to him, did not more vehemently upbraid her with its consequences. Lady Pelham's forbearance was not in character--Laura did not know how to explain it. "I have taken her by surprise," thought she, "with my excursion to Norwood, but she will discuss it at large in the evening; and probably in many an evening I shall never hear the last of it."
It was needless, however, to anticipate evil, and Laura turned her thoughts to the explanation which she was bent upon making to her friends. The more she reflected, the more she was persuaded that De Courcy suspected her of encouraging the addresses of Hargrave--addresses now provokingly notorious to all the neighbourhood. He had most probably communicated the same opinion to his mother; and Laura wished much to exculpate herself, if she could do so without appearing officiously communicative. If she could meet Mr De Courcy alone, if he should lead to the subject, or if it should accidentally occur, she thought she might be able to speak freely to him; more freely than even to Mrs De Courcy. "It is strange, too," thought she, "that I should feel so little restraint with a person of the other sex; less than ever I did with one of my own. But my father's friend ought not to be classed with other men."
Her eyes yet swam in tears of grateful recollection, when she raised them to a horseman who was meeting her. It was Montague De Courcy; and as he leisurely advanced, Laura's heart beat with a hope that he would, as he had often done before, dismount to accompany her walk. But Montague, though evidently in no haste to reach the place of his destination, stopped only to make a slight inquiry after her health, and then passed on. Laura's bosom swelled with grief, unmixed with resentment. "He thinks," said she, "that I invite the attentions of a libertine; and is it surprising that he should withdraw his friendship from me? But he will soon know his error." And again she more cheerfully pursued her way.
Her courage failed her a little as she entered Norwood. "What if Mrs De Courcy, too, should receive me coldly?" thought she. "Can I notice it to her? can I beg of her to listen to my justification?" These thoughts gave Laura an air of timidity and embarrassment, as she entered the room where Mrs De Courcy was sitting alone. Her fears were groundless. Mrs De Courcy received her with kindness, gently reproaching her for her long absence. Laura assured her that it was wholly involuntary, but "of late," said she, hesitating, "I have been very little from home." Mrs De Courcy gave a faint melancholy smile, but did not inquire what had confined her young friend. "Harriet has just left me," said she, "to pay some visits, and to secure the presence of a companion for a very important occasion. She meant also to solicit yours, if three weeks hence you are still to be capable of acting as a bridemaid." Laura, smiling, was about to reply, that being in no danger of forfeiting that privilege, she would most joyfully attend Miss De Courcy; but she met a glance of such marked, such mournful scrutiny, that she stopped, and the next moment was covered with blushes. "Ah!" thought she, " Mrs De Courcy indeed believes all that I feared, and more than I feared--what can I say to her?"
Her embarrassment confirmed Mrs De Courcy's belief; but unwilling further to distress Laura, she said, "Harriet herself will talk over all these matters with you, and then your own peculiar manner will soften the refusal into somewhat almost as pleasing as consent, if indeed you are obliged to refuse."
"Indeed, madam," said Laura, "nothing can be further from my thoughts than refusal; I shall most willingly, most gladly, attend Miss De Courcy; but may I--will you allow me to-to ask you why you should expect me to refuse!"
"And if I answer you," returned Mrs De Courcy, "will you promise to be candid with me on a subject where ladies think that candour may be dispensed with?"
"I will promise to be candid with you on every subject," said Laura, rejoiced at this opportunity of entering on her justification.
"Then I will own to you," said Mrs De Courcy, "that circumstances have conspired with public report to convince me that you are yourself about to need the good office which Harriet solicits from you. Colonel Hargrave and you share between you the envy of our little world of fashion."
"And have you, madam, has Harriet, has Mr De Courcy, given credit to this vexatious report?" cried Laura, the tears of mortification filling her eyes. "Ah, how differently should I have judged of you!"
"My dearest girl," said Mrs De Courcy, surprised but delighted, "I assure you that none of us would, upon, slight grounds, believe any thing concerning you, that you would not wish us to credit; but in this instance I thought my authority indisputable. Lady Pelham--"
"Is it possible," cried Laura, "that my aunt could propagate such a report, when she knew the teasing, the persecution, that I have endured?
"Lady Pelham did not directly assure me of its truth," answered Mrs De Courcy: "but when I made inquiries, somewhat, I own, in the hope of being empowered to contradict the rumour, her answer was certainly calculated to make me believe that you were soon to be lost to us."
"Lost indeed!" exclaimed Laura. "But what could be my aunt's intention. Surely she cannot still expect to prevail with me. My dear friend, if you knew what I have suffered from her importunities! But she has only my advantage in view, though, surely, she widely mistakes the means."
Laura now frankly informed Mrs De Courcy of the inquietude she had suffered from the persevering remonstrances of Lady Pelham, and the obtrusive assiduities of Hargrave. Mrs De Courcy, though she sincerely pitied the comfortless situation of Laura listened with pleasure to the tale. "And is all this confidential?" said she, "so confidential that I must not mention it even to Montague or Harriet?"
"Oh no, indeed, madam," cried Laura; "I wish above all things that Mr De Courcy should know it; tell him all, madam; and tell him too, that I would rather be in my grave than marry Colonel Hargrave."
Laura had scarcely spoken ere she blushed for the warmth with which she spoke, and Mrs De Courcy's smile made her blush again, and more deeply. But the plea which excused her to herself, she the next moment urged to her friend. "Ah, madam!" said she, "if you had witnessed Mr De Courcy's kindness to my father; if you had known how my father loved him, you would not wonder that I am anxious for his good opinion."
"I do not wonder, my love," said Mrs De Courcy, in a tone of heartfelt affection. "I should be much more surprised if such a mind as yours could undervalue the esteem of a man like Montague. But why did not my sweet Laura take refuge from her tormentors at Norwood, where no officious friends, no obtrusive lovers, would have disturbed her quiet?"
Laura excused herself, by saying that she was sure her aunt would never have consented to her absence for more than a few hours; but she promised, that now when Lady Pelham's particular reason for detaining her was removed, she would endeavour to obtain permission to spend some time at Norwood. "I fear I must first pay a much less agreeable visit," continued Laura, "for my aunt talks of carrying me to-morrow to the house of a Mrs Bathurst, of whom you probably have heard." Mrs De Courcy knew that Lady Pelham was on terms of intimacy with Mrs Bathurst, yet she could not help feeling some surprise that she should choose to introduce her niece to such a chaperon. She did not, however, think it proper, by expressing her opinion, to heighten Laura's reluctance towards what she probably could not prevent; and therefore merely expressed a strong wish that Lady Pelham would permit Laura to spend the time of her absence at Norwood. Laura, though she heartily wished the same, knew her aunt too well to expect that a purpose which she had once announced she would relinquish, merely because it interfered with the inclinations of others. Still it was not impossible that it might be relinquished. A thousand things might happen to alter Lady Pelham's resolutions, though they were invincible by entreaty.
Laura lingered with Mrs De Courcy for several hours, and when at last she was obliged to go, received at parting many a kind injunction to remember her promised visit. As she bent her steps homeward, she revolved in her mind every chance of escape from being the companion of her aunt's journey. She was the more averse to attend Lady Pelham, because she conjectured that they would not return before Miss De Courcy's marriage, on which occasion Laura was unwilling to be absent. But she was sensible that neither this nor any other reason she could urge, would in the least affect Lady Pelham's motions. Derham Green, the seat of Mrs Bathurst, was above ninety miles from Walbourne; and it was not likely that Lady Pelham would travel so far with the intention of making a short visit.
Laura had quitted the avenue of Norwood, and entered the lane which led to that of Walbourne, when the noise of singing, for it could not be called music, made her look round; and she perceived that she was overtaken by a figure in a dingy regimental coat, and a rusty hat, which, however, regained somewhat of its original shade by a contrast with the grey side-locks which blew up athwart it. This person was applying the whole force of his lungs to the utterance of "Hearts of Oak," in a voice the masculine bass of which was at times oddly interrupted by the weak and treble tones of age, while, with a large crabstick, he beat time against the sides of a starveling ass upon which he was mounted. The other hand was charged with the double employment of guiding the animal, and of balancing a large portmanteau, which was placed across its shoulders. Laura, retaining the habits of her country, addressed the man with a few words of courtesy, to which he replied with the frankness and garrulity of an old Englishman; and as they proceeded at much the same pace, they continued the conversation. It was, however, soon interrupted. At the gate of a grass field, with which the ass seemed acquainted, the creature made a full stop. "Get on!" cried the man, striking it with his heel. It would not stir. The rider applied the crabstick more vigorously than before. It had no effect; even an ass can despise the chastisement with which it is too familiar. The contention was obstinate; neither party seemed inclined to yield. At last fortune decided in favour of the ass. The portmanteau slipped from its balance, and fell to the ground. The man looked dolefully at it.
"How the plague shall I get it up again!" said he.
"Don't dismount," said Laura, who now first observed that her companion had but one leg; "I can lift it for you."
As she raised it, Laura observed that it was directed to Mr Jones, at Squire Bathurst's, Derham Green, ----shire. Though the name was too common to excite any suspicion, the address struck her as being to the same place which had so lately occupied her thoughts. "Have you far to go?" said she to the man. "No, ma'am," answered he; "only to Job Wilson, the carrier's, with this portmanteau, for Colonel Hargrave's gentleman. The colonel took Mr Jones with himself in the chay, but he had only room for one or two of his boxes, so he left this with the groom, and the groom gave me a pot of porter to go with it."
The whole affair was now clear. Lady Pelham, finding Laura unmanageable at home, was contriving that she should meet Colonel Hargrave at a place where, being among strangers, she would find it less possible to avoid him. Mrs Bathurst, too, was probably a good convenient friend, who would countenance whatever measures were thought necessary. In the first burst of indignation at the discovery of her aunt's treachery, Laura thought of retracing her steps to Norwood, never more to enter the presence of her unworthy relation; but resentment cooling at the recollection of the benefits she owed to Lady Pelham, she determined on returning to Walbourne, to announce in person her refusal to go with her aunt; conceiving this to be the most respectful way of intimating her intention.
As soon as she reached home, she retired to her chamber without seeing Lady Pelham, and immediately dispatched the following note to Mrs De Courcy:--"My dear madam, an accident has happened which determines me against going to Derham Green. Will you think I presume too soon on your kind invitation, if I say that I shall see you to-morrow at breakfast? Or will not your benevolence rather acquire a new motive in the shelterless condition which awaits your very affectionate L. M."
She then proceeded to make arrangements for her departure, reflecting, with tears, on the hard necessity which was about to set her at variance with the only living relation who had ever acknowledged her. She knew that Lady Pelham would be enraged at the frustration of a scheme to accomplish which she had stooped to such artifice; and she feared that, however gentle might be the terms of her intended refusal, her aunt would consider it as unpardonable rebellion. She was, however, firmly resolved against compliance, and all that remained was to use the least irritating mode of denial.
They met at dinner; Lady Pelham in high good humour, Laura grave and thoughtful. Lady Pelham mentioned her journey; but, dreading to rouse her aunt's unwearied powers of objurgation, Laura kept silence; and her just displeasure rendering her averse to Lady Pelham's company, she contrived to spend the evening chiefly alone.
As the supper hour approached, Laura began to tremble for the contest which awaited her. She felt herself more than half inclined to withdraw from the storm by departing without warning, and leaving Lady Pelham to discover the reason of her flight after she was beyond the reach of her fury. But she considered that such a proceeding must imply an irreconcilable breach with one to whom she owed great and substantial obligations, and would carry an appearance of ingratitude which she could not bear to incur. Summoning her courage, therefore, she resolved to brave the tempest. She determined, that whatever provocation she might endure, she would offer none but such as was unavoidable; though, at the same time, she would maintain that spirit which she had always found the most effectual check to her aunt's violence.
The supper passed in quiet; Laura unwilling to begin the attack, Lady Pelham glorying in her expected success. Her ladyship had taken her candle, and was about to retire, before Laura durst venture on the subject. "Good night, my dear," said Lady Pelham. "I fear," replied Laura, "I may rather say farewell, since it will be so long ere I see you again." "How do you mean!" inquired Lady Pelham. "That I cannot accompany you to Mrs Bathurst's," replied Laura; fetching, at the close of her speech, a breath longer than the speech itself. "You wont go?" exclaimed Lady Pelham, in a voice of angry astonishment. "Since it is your wish that I should," returned Laura, meekly, "I am sorry that it is not in my power." "And pray what puts it out of your power?" cried Lady Pelham, wrath working in her countenance. "I cannot go where I am to meet Colonel Hargrave." For a moment Lady Pelham looked confounded, but presently recovering utterance, she began--"So! this is your Norwood intelligence; and your charming Mrs De Courcy, your model of perfection, sets spies upon the conduct of all the neighbourhood?"
Laura reddened at this vulgar abuse of a person whom she revered so highly; but she had set a guard upon her temper, and only answered, that it was not at Norwood she received her information. "A fortunate, I should rather say a providential, accident," said she, "disclosed to me the whole--" the word "stratagem" was rising to her lips, but she exchanged it for one less offensive.
"And what if Colonel Hargrave is to be there?" said Lady Pelham, her choler rising as her confusion subsided. "I suppose, forsooth, my pretty prudish miss cannot trust herself in the house with a man!" "Not with Colonel Hargrave, madam," said Laura coolly.
Lady Pelham's rage was now strong enough to burst the restraints of Laura's habitual ascendancy. "But I say you shall go, miss," cried she, in a scream that mingled the fierceness of anger with the insolence of command. "Yes, I say you shall go; we shall see whether I am always to truckle to a baby-faced chit, a creature that might have died in a workhouse but for my charity." "Indeed, madam," said Laura, "I do not forget, I never shall forget, what I owe you; nor that when I was shelterless and unprotected, you received and cherished me." "Then show that you remember it, and do what I desire," returned Lady Pelham, softened, in spite of herself, by the resistless sweetness of Laura's look and manner. "Do not, I beseech you, madam," said Laura, "insist upon this proof of my gratitude. If you do, I can only thank you for your past kindness, and wish that it had been in my power to make a better return." "Do you dare to tell me that you will not go?" cried Lady Pelham, stamping till the room shook. "I beg, madam," said Laura entreatingly, "I beg of you not to command what I shall be compelled to refuse." "Refuse at your peril!" shrieked Lady Pelham, in a voice scarce articulate with passion, and grasping Laura's arm in the convulsion of her rage.
Laura had sometimes been the witness, but seldom the object, of her aunt's transports; and while Lady Pelham stood eyeing her with a countenance "fierce as ten furies," she, conscious with what burning shame she would herself have shrunk from making such an exhibition, sympathetically averted her eyes as if the virago had been sensible of the same feeling. "I say refuse at your peril!" cried Lady Pelham. "Why don't you speak, obstinate?" "Because," answered Laura, with saint-like meekness, "I can say nothing but what will offend you--I cannot go to Mrs Bathurst's."
Angry opposition Lady Pelham might have retorted with some small remains of self-possession, but the serenity of Laura exasperating her beyond all bounds, she was so far transported as to strike her a violent blow. Without uttering a syllable, Laura took her caudle and quitted the room; while Lady Pelham, herself confounded at the outrage she had committed, made no attempt to detain her.
Laura retired to her chamber, and sat quietly down to consider the state of her warfare, which she determined to conclude by letter, without exposing her person to another assault; but in a few minutes she was stormed in her citadel, and the enemy entered, conscious of mistake, but with spirit unbroken. Lady Pelham had gone too far to retract, and was too much in the wrong to recant her error; her passion, however, had somewhat exhausted itself in the intemperate exercise which she had allowed it; and though as unreasonable as ever, she was less outrageous. Advancing towards Laura with an air intended to express offended majesty (for studied dignity is generally the disguise chosen by conscious degradation), she began, "Miss Montreville, do you, in defiance of my commands, adhere to your resolution of not visiting Mrs Bathurst?" "Certainly, madam," replied Laura, provoked that Lady Pelham should expect to intimidate her by a blow; "I have seen no reason to relinquish it." "There is a reason, however," returned Lady Pelham, elevating her chin, curling her upper lip, and giving Laura the side-glance of disdain, "though probably it is too light to weigh with such a determined lady, and that is, that you must either prepare to attend me to-morrow, or return to that beggary from which I took you, and never more enter my presence." "Then, madam," said Laura, rising with her native mien of calm command, "we must part; for I cannot go to Mrs Bathurst's."
Laura's cool resistance of a threat which was expected to be all-powerful, discomposed Lady Pelham's heroics. Her eyes flashing fire, and her voice sharpening to a scream, "Perverse, ungrateful wretch!" she cried, "get out of my sight--leave my house this instant." "Certainly, if you desire it, madam," answered Laura, with unmoved self-possession; "but, perhaps, if you please, I had better remain till morning. I am afraid it might give rise to unpleasant observations, if it were known that I left your house at midnight."
"I care not who knows it--I would have the world see what a viper I have fostered in my bosom. Begone, and never let me see your hypocritical face again!"
"Then I hope," said Laura, "your ladyship will allow a servant to accompany me to Norwood. At this hour it would be improper for me to go alone." "Oh, to be sure," cried Lady Pelham, "do go to your friend and favourite, and make your complaint of all your harsh usage, and descant at large upon poor Lady Pelham's unlucky failings. No, no, I promise you, no servant of mine shall be sent on any such errand." "There is fine moonlight," said Laura, looking calmly from the window; "I dare say I shall be safe enough alone." "You shall not go to Norwood!" cried Lady Pelham; "I'll take care to keep you from that prying censorious old hag. You two shan't be allowed to sit primming up your mouths, and spitting venom on all the neighbourhood."
Weary of such low abuse, Laura took her bonnet, and was leaving the room. Lady Pelham placed herself between her and the door. "Where are you going?" she demanded, in a voice in which rage was a little mingled with dread. "To the only shelter that England affords me," returned Laura; "to the only friends from whom death or distance does not sever me." "I shall spoil your dish of scandal for to-night, however," said Lady Pelham, flouncing out of the room; and, slapping the door with a force that made the windows rattle, she locked it on the outside. Laura making no attempt to obtain release, quietly sat down, expecting a renewal of the charge. Soon, however, all the household seemed still, and Laura having mingled with the prayer that commended herself to the care of heaven, a supplication for pardon and amendment to her aunt, retired to sound and refreshing rest.
On quitting Laura, Lady Pelham went to bed, pride and anger in her breast fiercely struggling against a sense of blame. But the darkness, the silence, the loneliness of night, assuage the passions even of a termagant; and by degrees she turned from re-acting and excusing her conduct, to fretting at its probable consequences.
The courage of a virago is no more than the daring of intoxication. Wait till the paroxysm be past, and the timid hare is not more the slave of fear. Lady Pelham began to feel, though she would scarcely acknowledge it to herself, how very absurdly her contest would figure in the mouths of the gossips round Walbourne. If her niece left her house in displeasure, if a breach were known to subsist between them, was it not most likely that Laura would in her own defence relate the treatment to which she had been subjected? At all events, if she went to Norwood before a reconciliation took place, she would certainly explain her situation to Mrs De Courcy; and Lady Pelham could not brave the contempt of the woman whom she disliked and abused. Anger has been compared to a short madness; and the resemblance holds in this respect, that in both cases a little terror is of sovereign use in restoring quiet. Lady Pelham even feared the calm displeasure of Laura, and shrank from meeting the reproving eye of even the dependent girl whom she had persecuted, and reproached, and insulted.
By degrees, Laura's habitual ascendancy was completely restored, perhaps with added strength for its momentary suspension; for she had rather gained in respectability by patient endurance, while Lady Pelham was somewhat humbled by a sense of misconduct. Besides, in the course of eight mouths' residence under her roof, Laura was become necessary to her aunt. Her prudence, her good temper, her various domestic talents, were ever at hand to supply the capital defects of Lady Pelham's character. Lady Pelham could not justly be said to love any mortal, but she felt the advantages of the method and regularity which Laura had introduced into her family; Laura's beauty gratified her vanity; Laura's sweetness bore with her caprice; Laura's talents amused her solitude; and she made as near an approach as nature would permit to loving Laura. What was of more consequence, Laura was popular in the neighbourhood; her story would be no sooner told than believed; and Lady Pelham's lively imagination strongly represented to her the aggravation, commentary, and sarcasm, with which such an anecdote would be circulated.
But though these ideas floated in Lady Pelham's mind, let it not be thought that she once supposed them to be the motives of her determination to seek a reconcilement. No. Lady Pelham had explained, and disguised, and adorned her failings, till she had converted the natural shame of confession into a notion that a candid avowal atoned for many of her errors; and no sooner did she begin to think of making concessions to her niece, than the consciousness of blame was lost in inward applause of her own candour and condescension. An observing eye, therefore, would have seen more of conceit than of humility in her air, when early in the morning she entered Laura's apartment.
Laura was already dressed, and returned her aunt's salutation a little more coldly than she had ever formerly done, though with perfect good humour. Lady Pelham approached, and took her hand; Laura did not withdraw it. "I fear," said Lady Pelham, "you think I behaved very absurdly last night." Laura looked down, and said nothing. "I am willing to own I was to blame," continued her ladyship, "but people of strong feelings, you know, my dear, cannot always command themselves." Laura was still silent. "We must forget and forgive the failings of our friends," proceeded her ladyship. Laura, who dreaded that these overtures of peace only covered a projected attack, still stood speechless. "Will you not forgive me, Laura?" said Lady Pelham coaxingly, her desire of pardon increasing as she began to doubt of obtaining it.
"I do, madam," said Laura, clasping Lady Pelham's hand between her own. "I do from my heart forgive all, and if you will permit me, I will forget all--all but that when I was an orphan, alone in the world, you sheltered and protected me."
"Thank you, my dear good girl," returned Lady Pelham, sealing the reconciliation with a kiss. "I knew you would think it a duty to excuse an error arising merely from my natural warmth, and the interest I take in you--'A bad effect from a noble cause.' It is a melancholy truth, that those who have the advantages of a feeling heart must share its weaknesses too."
Laura had so often listened to similar nonsense, that it had ceased to provoke a smile. "Let us talk of this no more," said she; "let me rather try to persuade you not only to excuse but sanction the obstinacy that offended you."
"Ah, Laura," returned Lady Pelham, smiling, "I must not call you obstinate, but you are very firm. If I could but prevail on you to go with me only for a day or two, I should make my visit as short as you please; for now it has been all arranged I must go, and it would look so awkward to go without you!"
"If the length of your visit depend upon me," answered Laura, waiving a subject on which she was determined not to forfeit her character for firmness, "it shall be short indeed, for I shall long to offer some reparation for all my late perverseness and disobedience."
At another time, Lady Pelham's temper would have failed her at this steady opposition of her will; but fear kept her in check. After a few very gentle expostulations, she gave up the point, and inquired whether her niece still intended to spend the time of her absence at Norwood. Laura answered that she did, and had promised to breakfast there that morning. Upon this Lady Pelham overwhelmed her with such caresses and endearments, as she intended should obliterate the remembrance of her late injurious behaviour. She extolled Laura's prudence, her sweet and forgiving disposition, her commendable reserve with strangers, and her caution in speaking of herself, or of her own affairs. Unfortunately for the effect of the flattery, Laura recollected that some of these qualities had at times been the subject of Lady Pelham's severe reprehension. She had, besides, sufficient penetration to detect the motive of her ladyship's altered language; and she strove to repress a feeling of contempt, while she replied to her aunt's thoughts as frankly as if they had been frankly spoken; assuring her that she should be far from publishing to strangers the casual vexations of her domestic life. Lady Pelham reddened, as her latent thoughts were thus seized and exposed naked to her view; but fear again proved victorious, and she redoubled her blandishments. She had even recourse to a new expedient, and for the first time made Laura an offer of money. With infinite difficulty did Laura suppress the indignation which swelled her breast. She had forgiven abuse and insult, but it was beyond endurance that her aunt should suppose that her pardon and silence might be bought. Restraining her anger, however, she positively refused the money; and bidding Lady Pelham farewell, departed, amidst pressing injunctions to remain at Norwood no longer than till her aunt returned to Walbourne; her ladyship protesting that her own home would not be endurable for an hour without the company of her dear Laura.
Lady Pelham unwillingly set out on a journey of which the first intention had been totally defeated; but she had no alternative, since, besides having promised to visit Mrs Bathurst, she had made an appointment to meet Hargrave at the stage where she was to stop for the night, and it was now too late to give him warning of his disappointment. Even Hargrave's politeness was no match for his vexation, when he saw Lady Pelham, late in the evening, alight from her carriage, unaccompanied by Laura. He listened with impatience to her ladyship's apology and confused explanations; and more than half resolved upon returning to ---- to carry on his operations there. But he too had promised to Mrs Bathurst, whom for particular reasons he wished not to disoblige. The travellers, therefore, next day pursued their journey to Derham Green, beguiling the way by joint contrivances to conquer the stubbornness of Laura.
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.