When Laura was restored to recollection, she found herself in a plain decent apartment. Several persons of her own sex were humanely busied in attending her. Her mind retaining a confused impression of the past, she inquired where she was, and how she had been brought thither. An elderly woman, of a prepossessing appearance, answered, with almost maternal kindness, "that she was among friends all anxious for her safety; begged that she would try to sleep, and promised to satisfy her curiosity when she should be more able to converse." This benevolent person, whose name was Falkland, then administered a restorative to her patient, and Laura, uttering almost incoherent expressions of gratitude, composed herself to rest.
Awaking refreshed and collected, she found Mrs Falkland and one of her daughters still watching by her bed-side. Laura again repeated her questions, and Mrs Falkland fulfilled her promise, by relating that her husband, who was a farmer, having been employed with his two sons in a field which overlooked the river, had observed the canoe enter the rapid: that seeing it too late to prevent the accident, they had hurried down to the bed of the stream below the fall, in hopes of intercepting the boat at its reappearance: that being accustomed to float wood down the torrent, they knew precisely the spot where their assistance was most likely to prove effectual: that the canoe, though covered with foam for a moment, had instantly risen again, and that Mr Falkland and his sons had, not without danger, succeeded in drawing it to land.
She then, in her turn, inquired by what accident Laura had been exposed to such a perilous adventure; expressing wonder at the direction of her voyage, since Falkland farm was the last inhabited spot in that district. Laura, mingling her natural reserve with a desire to satisfy her kind hostess, answered that she had been torn from her friends by an inhuman enemy, and that her perilous voyage was the least effect of his barbarity. "Do you know," said Mrs Falkland, somewhat mistaking her meaning, "that to his cruelty you partly owe your life; for had he not bound you to the canoe, you must have sunk while the boat floated on." Laura heard with a faint smile the effect of her self-possession; but considering it as a call to pious gratitude rather than a theme of self-applause, she forbore to offer any claim to praise; and the subject was suffered to drop without further explanation. Having remained for two days with this hospitable family, Laura expressed a wish to depart. She communicated to Mr Falkland her desire of returning immediately to Europe, and begged that he would introduce her to some asylum where she might wait the departure of a vessel for Britain. She expressed her willingness to content herself with the poorest accommodation, confessing that she had not the means of purchasing any of a higher class. All the wealth, indeed, which she could command, consisted in a few guineas which she had accidentally had about her when she was taken from her home; and a ring which Mrs De Courcy had given her at parting. Her host kindly urged her to remain with them till they should ascertain that a vessel was immediately to sail, in which she might secure her passage; assuring her a week scarcely ever elapsed without some departure for her native country. Finding however, that she was anxious to begone, Mr Falkland himself accompanied her to Quebec.
They travelled by land. The country at first bore the characters of a half-redeemed wilderness. The road wound at times through dreary woods, at others through fields where noxious variety of hue bespoke imperfect cultivation. At last it approached the great river; and Laura gazed with delight on the ever-changing, rich, and beautiful scenes which were presented to her view; scenes which she had passed unheeded when grief and fear veiled every prospect in gloom.
One of the nuns in the Hotel Dieu was the sister of Mrs Falkland, and to her care Mr Falkland intended to commit his charge. But before he had been an hour in the town, he received information that a ship was weighing anchor for the Clyde, and Laura eagerly embraced the opportunity. The captain being informed by Mr Falkland that she could not advance the price of her passage, at first hesitated to receive her; but when, with the irresistible candour and majesty that shone in all her looks and words, she assured him of his reward, when she spoke to him in the accents of his native land, the Scotsman's heart melted; and having satisfied himself that she was a Highlander, he closed the bargain, by swearing that he was sure he might trust her.
With tears in her eyes, Laura took leave of her benevolent host; yet her heart bounded with joy as she saw the vessel cleaving the tide, and each object in the dreaded land of exile swiftly retiring from her view. In a few days that dreaded land disappeared. In a few more the mountains of Cape Breton sank behind the wave. The brisk gales of autumn wafted the vessel cheerfully on her way; and often did Laura compute her progress.
In a clear frosty morning towards the end of September, she heard once more the cry of "Land!"--now music to her ear. Now with a beating breast she ran to gaze upon a ridge of mountains indenting the disc of the rising sun; but the tears of rapture dimmed her eyes, when every voice at once shouted "Scotland!"
All day Laura remained on deck, oft measuring with the light splinter the vessel's course through the deep. The winds favoured not her impatience. Towards evening they died away, and scarcely did the vessel steal along the liquid mirror. Another and another morning came, and Laura's ear was blessed with the first sounds of her native land. The tolling of a bell was borne along the water; now swelling loud, and now falling softly away. The humble village church was seen on the shore; and Laura could distinguish the gay colouring of her country-women's Sunday attire; the scarlet plaid, transmitted from generation to generation, pinned decently over the plain clean coif; the bright blue gown, the trophy of more recent housewifery. To her every form in the well-known garb seemed the form of a friend. The blue mountains in the distance, the scattered woods, the fields yellow with the harvest, the river sparkling in the sun, seemed, to the wanderer returning from the land of strangers, fairer than the gardens of Paradise.
Land of my affections!--when "I forget thee, may my right hand forget her cunning!" Blessed be thou among nations! Long may thy wanderers return to thee rejoicing, and their hearts throb with honest pride when they own themselves thy children! The vessel at last cast anchor, and all was cheerful bustle; every one eager to hurry ashore. Some hastened to launch the boat; some ran below to seek out the little offerings of love which they had brought for their friends. Never had Laura heard sound so animating as the cry of "All ready!" followed by the light short stroke of the oar that sent her swiftly forward. Many a wistful glance did the rowers turn. "There's mother on the pier-head!" cried one. "I see Annie and the bairns!" cried another; and the oar was plied more swiftly. They landed. The shout of joy, and the whisper of affection, were exchanged on every side. Laura stood back from the tumult, breathing a silent thanksgiving on behalf of herself and her companions. "Poor lassie!" said the captain, approaching her, "is there naebody to welcome thee? Come! I'm going up to Glasgow the night to see my wife and the owners; and if ye like to gang wi' me, ye'll be sae far on your way to your friends." Laura thankfully accepted the proposal; and the fly-boat being just about to sail up the river, she placed in it the little packet of necessaries which she had collected at Quebec, and accompanied the good-natured sailor to his home.
She was kindly received by his wife and daughter, and furnished with the best accommodations they could command. The next morning she gave the captain a draft for the price of her passage; and producing her purse and Mrs De Courcy's ring, offered them as further security; saying, that as she was now in her own country, a few shillings would support her till she reached her friends, since she might travel to Perthshire on foot. The sailor, however, positively refused to accept of any thing more than the draft, swearing that if he were deceived in Laura, he would never trust woman again. He then, at her desire, procured her a seat in the stage-coach, and once more she proceeded on her journey.
At a small village, a few miles from Perth, she desired to be set down. A by-road led from the village to Mr Douglas's parish. The distance was said to be only seven miles; and Laura, forgetting the latitude allowed to Scottish measurement, thought she might easily reach the parsonage before night-fall. Leaving her little parcel at the village, she hastened forward; now pausing a moment as some well-known peak or cliff met her eye, now bounding on with the light step of joy. She pictured the welcome of affection; already she saw the mild countenance of her early friend; already she felt the embrace of love.
Darkness surprised her when she had yet much of her journey to perform, and had shrouded every object ere she reached the well-known gate, and saw across the narrow lawn the lights streaming from the window. She stopped--fear stealing on her joy. In five months what changes might not have happened! Her friend, her mother, might be ill, might be dead! So must weak man mitigate with the prospect of evil, the transports which belong not to his inheritance! She again proceeded. She entered the hall. The parlour door was open. A group of cheerful faces appeared, ruddy with youth and health; but Laura's eye rested on one of more mature, more interesting grace--one shaded with untimely silver, and lighted up with milder fires. She remained motionless, fearing to surprise her friend by too suddenly appearing, till one of the girls, observing her, exclaimed, in a transport of joy, "Laura! mamma! Laura!" Mrs Douglas sprang from her seat; and the welcome of affection, the embrace of love, were reality! The first burst of gladness was succeeded by the solicitous inquiry, by the interesting narrative; and Laura beguiled her friend of many tears by the story of her sad voyage, her hopeless captivity, her perilous escape. Tears, too, of real bitterness rose to her own eyes, at the thought that although she had escaped from the cruelty of her oppressor, yet its consequences must be lasting as her life; and that she was now pouring her story into almost the only ear which would be open to her protestations of innocence. But she would not cloud the hour of joy by calling the attention of her friend to the shade that rested on her prospects, nor diminish her own gratitude for deliverance from more real misfortune, by anticipating the scorns of the world. She uttered not the faintest foreboding of evil, but continued, with serene cheerfulness, to "charm as she was wont to do," till at a late hour the friendly party separated for the night.
Weary as she was, Laura could not rest. She had a task to perform too painful to be thought of with indifference. It was necessary to write to De Courcy; and to damp all the pleasure which a knowledge of her safety would convey, by retracting engagements which had been made when her alliance inferred no dishonour. She well knew that De Courcy himself, convinced of her innocence, would spurn the idea of forsaking her in misfortune, of giving, by his desertion, a sanction to calumny. And should she take advantage of his honour and his love to fix in his heart the incurable anguish of following to the wife of his bosom the glance of suspicion or of scorn! The world's neglect was trivial in her estimation. Even its reproach might be endured by one who could appeal from its sentence to a higher tribunal. But what should ease the heart whose best affections were turned to poison by domestic shame; the heart jealous of the honour which it could not defend, bleeding at the stab from which it dared not recoil?
Laura had already taken her resolution, and the next day saw it effected. She wrote to De Courcy, detailing minutely every event that had befallen her from the hour of their separation till her landing in Britain. There her narrative closed. She told not in what spot the wanderer had found rest. She did not even intimate in what part of the island she had disembarked, lest it should furnish a clue to her present retreat. Nor did she, by expressions of tenderness and regret, aggravate the pang which she was compelled to inflict. In words like these she proceeded. "And now, my respected friend, I imagine you pausing to offer a thanksgiving for yourself and for me. Let it not damp your just gratitude that somewhat of evil is permitted to mingle with this signal deliverance. Let not my escape from a misfortune the most dreadful be forgotten, even though the world should refuse to believe in that escape. For thus it must be. Known to have been in the power of that bad man, will the harsh-judging world believe me innocent? Will it be believed that he ventured to cast his very life upon my mercy, by dragging me unwilling from my home? So long the sport of his ungoverned passions, will it be believed that I have not even seen him?
I know it will be difficult to convince you that an unjust sentence can be pronounced against me. Certain yourself of the truth of my story, you imagine that it will find easy credence with others. But even if we could change the nature of man, and teach strangers to judge with the candour of friendship, who shall furnish them with the materials for judging? Not he, who, in corroborating my tale, must publish his own disgrace! Not the weak Laura, who, by a constitutional defect, shrinks even from the eye where she cannot read distrust!
Consider all this, and you will at once perceive the reasons which induce me to conceal myself from you for a time. Engagements formed under circumstances now so materially changed I cannot consider as binding. You, I fear, may think otherwise, and be hurried on by your generous nature to tempt a fate which that very turn of mind would render insupportable. My own part in this fate I think I can bear. The share which would fall upon you, I own would crush me to the dust. My spirits are not yet what they have been. I am weary of struggling with a perverse heart, ever leading me aside from duty. I will not lend it arms by exposing myself to entreaties and arguments to which I cannot yield without betraying my best friend to anguish unpitied and hopeless--anguish which would bear with double pressure on myself.
A stain is fallen on my good name, and 'the glory has departed from me.' Be it so! He who doth all things well hath chosen my lot, and his choice shall be mine. I trust I shall be enabled to act as becomes one who is degraded in the public eye. I have sometimes shrunk from the approbation of the world--that little circle I mean which we are apt to call the world. Now I will hide me from its censure; and shall find in the duties which peculiarly belong to the fallen--the duties of humility, of charity, and of devotion--enough to make life still no unpleasing pilgrimage. A good name has been justly likened to a jewel--precious, not necessary. But if you, my dear friend, covet fame for me, look forward to the time when an assembled universe shall behold my acquittal, when a judge, before whom the assembled universe is as nothing, shall proclaim me for his own."
This letter Laura accompanied with another, in which she begged Mrs De Courcy's assistance in reconciling her son to the change in his prospects. Both were enclosed by Mr Douglas to a friend in London, who was directed to forward them by post; thus avoiding any trace of the quarter from whence they came.
Her lot thus chosen, Laura began to make arrangements for entering on a mode of life befitting her situation. Fearing that the shaft of slander should glance aside from herself to the friends who still clung to her, she steadily resisted Mrs Douglas's warm invitations to make the parsonage her home. Her father's little farm at Glenalbert had been annexed to one of larger size. The cottage remained untenanted, and thither Laura determined to retire. Her fortune, however far from affluent, she thought would suffice to support the humble establishment which she meant to retain. One servant was sufficient for her who had been accustomed to make few claims on the assistance of others. To obviate the impropriety of living alone while yet extreme youth made even nominal protection valuable, she invited an elderly widow lady, poor, but respectable, to preside in her household.
In necessary preparations for her removal to Glenalbert, in affectionate assiduities to the friends with whom she resided, in compensating to her own poor for her long though involuntary neglect of their claims, Laura sought a refuge from painful reflection; and if a sigh arose at the review of her altered prospects, she called to mind her deliverance, and regret was exchanged for thankfulness. The vain might have bewailed a seclusion thus untimely, thus permanent; the worldly-minded might have mourned the forfeiture of earthly prosperity; any spirit unsupported by religion must have sunk under unmerited disgrace, embittered by keen sense of shame and constitutional timidity. Laura was a Christian, and could even at times rejoice that the spirit of vanity was mortified, that the temptations of the world were withdrawn; even where the blow was more painful she humbly believed that it was necessary, and thankfully owned that it was kind.
The arrangements for her new establishment were soon completed, and the time came when Laura was to begin her life of seclusion. The day before her intended removal she completed her twentieth year; and Mrs Douglas would have assembled a little group of friends to celebrate the occasion, but Laura steadily opposed it. "Let not one who is suspected," said she, "assume the boldness of innocence! Yet since the suspicion wrongs me, I will not wear the melancholy of guilt. Give the children a holiday for my sake, and I shall be as playful and as silly as the youngest of them." The holiday was granted; and Laura, amidst the joyful noisy little company that soon assembled round her, forgot that she was an outcast.
She was busily searching every corner for the hidden handkerchief, the little rogue who had concealed it in his shoe laughing the while and clapping his hands in delight, when she started at the voice of a stranger in the lobby, who was announcing that he had a letter for Mrs Douglas, which he could deliver to no person but herself. The next moment the stranger was shown into the room, and Laura with amazement beheld her American attendant. The amazement on his part was still greater. He started, he trembled, and at first shrank from Laura; then eagerly advancing towards her, "Bless my soul, madam!" he exclaimed, "are you alive! Then Mary's words are true, and the angels watch over you."
It was some time before the man's astonishment would permit him to declare his errand. At last, when his curiosity had been partially satisfied, he was prevailed upon to enter on his narrative. "You may remember, madam," said he, addressing himself to Laura, "it was the morning we expected my master, (though I told Mary, for a make-believe, that he would not come till evening,) that morning Mary took you out and left you; for which I was mortal angry with her, for my mind misgave me that some mischief would come of it. So she ran down to the place where she left you sitting, but you were not there. Then she looked all about, but she could see you nowhere. She was afraid to go among the canes for fear of the rattlesnakes, so she ran home and told me. So I went with her, scolding her, to be sure, all the way. Well, we sought and sought, till at last, half in the water, and half on the shore, we found your hat; and then, to be sure, none of us ever doubted that you had drowned yourself; and Mary cried and wrung her hands like a distracted creature, saying that my master was a wicked wretch that had broken your heart, and often and often she wished that we could find you to give you Christian burial, for she said she was sure your ghost would never let her rest in her bed. But we had no drags, nor any thing to take you up with out of the water.
Well, we were just in the midst of all our troubles when my master came. 'Well, Robert,' says he, in his hearty way, 'where is my angel?' I had not the heart to say a word; so with that Mary ran forward sobbing like a baby, and says she, just off hand, ' Miss Montreville is in a watery grave, and I am sure, sir, some heavy judgment will light on him that drove her to it.' So my master stood for a moment thunderstruck as it were, and then he flew upon us both like a tiger, and shook us till he scarce left breath in us, and swore that it was all a trick, and that he would make us produce you, or he would have our lives. So I tried to pacify him the best I could; but Mary answered him up, that it was all his own doing, and that he might seek you in the river, where he would find your corpse. This put my master quite beside himself; and he catched her up, and flung her from him, just as if she had been a kitten; and then he flew down to the river side, and I followed him, and showed him where we had found your hat; and explained to him how it was not our fault, for we had both been very civil, and given you no disturbance at all, which you know, madam, was true. So, close to the place where we found your hat, we saw the print of your little shoe in the bank; and when my master saw it, he grew quite distracted, crying out that he had murdered you, and that he would revenge you upon a wretch not fit to live (meaning himself, madam), and so he would have leaped into the river; but by this time one of the servants he brought with him came up, and we forced him back to the house. Then he grew more quiet; and called for Mary, and gave her his purse with all his money, and bid her tell every thing about you, madam; how you had behaved, and what you had said. So she told him, crying all the while, for she repented from her heart that ever she consented to have any hand in the business. And sometimes he would start away and gnash his teeth, and dash his head against the wall; and sometimes he would bid her go on, that he might run distracted at once and forget all. So she told him that you had written to one Mrs Douglas, in hopes that when you were dead he would take pity on you (repeating your very words, madam). Then he asked to see the letter, and he carried it into your room. And there we heard him groaning and speaking to himself, and throwing himself against the walls; and we thought it best to let him come to himself a little, and not disturb him. So, by and bye, he called for pen and ink, and I carried them to him, thinking if he wanted to write, it was a sign he was growing more calm. Then he continued writing for some time, though now and then we heard him restless as before. At last he opened the door, and called me. "Robert," says he, quite calm and composed like, "if you deliver this packet as directed, you will earn three hundred pounds. But be sure to deliver it with your own hand." I was going to ask him something more about it, for I did not just know what he meant about the £300; but he pushed me out, and shut himself into the room. Then I bethought myself that there was something strange like in his look, and that he was pale, and somehow not like himself. So I went to the kitchen to consult with the rest what we had best do. So I had scarcely got there when I heard a pistol go off, and we all ran and burst open the door, and there we saw my master, madam, laid out upon Miss Montreville's bed, and the pistol still in his hand; though he was stone dead, madam, for I suppose the ball had gone right through his heart."
Laura, dreadfully shocked, and no longer able to listen to this horrible relation, hastened out of the room, leaving Mrs Douglas to hear what yet remained to be told of the history of a man of pleasure!
The servant proceeded to tell that he and his companions had conveyed their master's body to headquarters, had seen it buried with military honours, and then had sailed in the first ship for Britain. That remembering the charge to deliver the packet with his own hand, he had come down to Scotland on purpose to execute his trust; and hoped that Mrs Douglas would fulfil his master's promise. He then delivered the packet, which Mrs Douglas opening in his presence, found to contain a bill for £300 in favour of Robert Lewson, not payable without her signature; the two letters which Laura had written during her exile; and the following lines, rendered almost illegible by the convulsive startings of the hand which traced them.
"The angel whom I have murdered was an angel still. 'The destroyer came,' but found her not. It was her last wish that you should know her innocence. None can attest it like me. She was purer than heaven's own light. She loved you. There is another, too, whom she protests that she loved to the last; but it was I alone whom she loved with passion. In the anguish of her soul she called it idolatry;' and the words of agony are true. But I, like a base fool, cast away her love for the heartless toyings of a wanton! And shall I, who might have been so blest, live now to bear the gnawings of this viper--this hell never to be escaped?
She has said that she must go to the grave laden with shame; that her name is degraded through me. Once more, then, I charge you, procla[i]m her innocence. Let no envious tongue presume to stain that name. Let it be accounted holy. I will save what she loved better than life, though I have persecuted her--driven her to death--forced her to hide in the cold waters all that was loveliest in woman.
She says that she will meet you in heaven, and it must be true, for falsehood was a stranger to her lips. Then tell her that he who was her murderer, was her avenger too. It is said that self-destruction is the last, worst crime. In others it may be so. In me it is but justice; for every law condemns the murderer to die. He who destroyed that angel should die a thousand deaths. Justice shall be speedy. VILLIERS HARGRAVE."
Mrs Douglas had no sooner read the contents of her packet, than she hastened to communicate them to Laura. The horror inspired by Hargrave's letter, and the dreadful destiny of the writer, did not render her insensible to the pleasure of being empowered to clear, beyond a doubt, the fame of her young friend. Laura was, however, for the present, in no state to share her joy. She could only weep; and, trembling, pray that she might be enabled to guard against the first beginnings of that self-indulgence whose end is destruction!
Mrs Douglas at last found means to rouse her by naming De Courcy, and reminding her of his right to immediate intelligence of this happy change in her situation. Laura, as superior to coquetry as to any other species of despicable cruelty, instantly sat down to communicate the news to her lover. To her plain unvarnished tale she added copies of the letters which attested her innocence, with Lewson's account of the names and address of those persons who had been employed to carry her from England.
Evening was drawing on before Laura had finished her task; and, desirous to recruit her spirits before she joined the family circle, she stole abroad to breathe the reviving air of her native hills. She had crossed the little lawn, and was opening the gate, when seeing a carriage drive quickly up, she drew back. The carriage stopped. She heard an exclamation of joy, and the next moment she was pressed to the heart of De Courcy. Laura first recovered utterance. "What happy chance," she cried, "has brought you here just at the moment when I am permitted to rejoice that you are come?" "Ah, Laura," said De Courcy, "could I know that you were alive and in Britain, yet make no effort to find you? I was convinced that Mrs Douglas must know your retreat. I was sure that I could plead so that no human heart could resist my entreaties. And now I have found thee, I will never leave thee but with life."
The little shrubbery walk which led round the lawn to the parsonage was not half a quarter of a mile in length, yet it was an hour before the lovers reached the house; and before Laura presented De Courcy to her friends, she had promised that in one week she would reward his tried affection; and had settled, that after they had spent a few days in delightful solitude at Glenalbert, she would accompany him to Norwood.
Laura has now been for some years a wife; and the same qualities which made her youth respectable, endear her to the happy partner of her maturer life. She still finds daily exercise for her characteristic virtue; since even amidst the purest worldly bliss self-denial is necessary. But the tranquil current of domestic happiness affords no materials for narrative. The joys that spring from chastened affection, tempered desires, useful employment, and devout meditation, must be felt--they cannot be described.
END OF SELF-CONTROL,
Printed by W. & R. CHAMBERS, 13, Waterloo Place.
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.