LETTER 7: MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE, TO MISS HOWE [AFTER HER RETURN FROM HER.] HARLOWE-PLACE,
I beg your excuse for not writing sooner. Alas! my dear, I have sad prospects before me! My brother and sister have succeeded in all their views. They have found out another lover for me; an hideous one!—Yet he is encouraged by every body. No wonder that I was ordered home so suddenly. At an hour’s warning!—No other notice, you know, than what was brought with the chariot that was to carry me back.—It was for fear, as I have been informed [an unworthy fear!] that I should have entered into any concert with Mr. Lovelace had I known their motive for commanding me home; apprehending, ’tis evident, that I should dislike the man they had to propose to me.
And well might they apprehend so:—For who do you think he is?—No other than that Solmes—Could you have believed it?—And they are all determined too; my mother with the rest!—Dear, dear excellence! how could she be thus brought over, when I am assured, that on his first being proposed she was pleased to say, That had Mr. Solmes the Indies in possession, and would endow me with them, she should not think him deserving of her Clarissa!
The reception I met with at my return, so different from what I used to meet with on every little absence [and now I had been from them three weeks], convinced me that I was to suffer for the happiness I had had in your company and conversation for that most agreeable period. I will give you an account of it.
My brother met me at the door, and gave me his hand when I stepped out of the chariot. He bowed very low: pray, Miss, favour me.—I thought it in good humour; but found it afterwards mock respect: and so he led me in great form, I prattling all the way, inquiring of every body’s health, (although I was so soon to see them, and there was hardly time for answers,) into the great parlour; where were my father, mother, my two uncles, and sister.
I was struck all of a heap as soon as I entered, to see a solemnity which I had been so little used to on the like occasions in the countenance of every dear relation. They all kept their seats. I ran to my father, and kneeled: then to my mother: and met from both a cold salute: From my father a blessing but half pronounced: My mother indeed called me child; but embraced me not with her usual indulgent ardour.
After I had paid my duty to my uncles, and my compliments to my sister, which she received with solemn and stiff form, I was bid to sit down. But my heart was full: and I said it became me to stand, if I could stand, upon a reception so awful and unusual. I was forced to turn my face from them, and pull out my handkerchief.
My unbrotherly accuser hereupon stood forth, and charged me with having received no less than five or six visits at Miss Howe’s from the man they had all so much reason to hate [that was the expression]; notwithstanding the commands I had had to the contrary. And he bid me deny it if I could.
I had never been used, I said, to deny the truth, nor would I now. I owned I had in the three weeks passed seen the person I presumed he meant oftener than five or six times [Pray hear me, brother, said I; for he was going to flame out], but he always asked for Mrs. or Miss Howe, when he came.
I proceeded, that I had reason to believe, that both Mrs. Howe and Miss, as matters stood, would much rather have excused his visits; but they had more than once apologized, that having not the same reason my papa had to forbid him their house, his rank and fortune entitled him to civility.
You see, my dear, I made not the pleas I might have made.
My brother seemed ready to give a loose to his passion: My father put on the countenance which always portends a gathering storm: My uncles mutteringly whispered: And my sister aggravatingly held up her hands. While I begged to be heard out:—And my mother said, let the child, that was her kind word, be heard.
I hoped, I said, there was no harm done: that it became not me to prescribe to Mrs. or Miss Howe who should be their visitors: that Mrs. Howe was always diverted with the raillery that passed between Miss and him: that I had no reason to challenge her guest for my visitor, as I should seem to have done had I refused to go into their company when he was with them: that I had never seen him out of the presence of one or both of those ladies; and had signified to him once, on his urging a few moments’ private conversation with me, that, unless a reconciliation were effected between my family and his, he must not expect that I would countenance his visits, much less give him an opportunity of that sort.
I told him further, that Miss Howe so well understood my mind, that she never left me a moment while Mr. Lovelace was there: that when he came, if I was not below in the parlour, I would not suffer myself to be called to him: although I thought it would be an affectation which would give him an advantage rather than the contrary, if I had left company when he came in; or refused to enter into it when I found he would stay any time.
My brother heard me out with such a kind of impatience as shewed he was resolved to be dissatisfied with me, say what I would. The rest, as the event has proved, behaved as if they would have been satisfied, had they not further points to carry by intimidating me. All this made it evident, as I mentioned above, that they themselves expected not my voluntary compliance; and was a tacit confession of the disagreeableness of the person they had to propose.
I was no sooner silent than my brother swore, although in my father’s presence, (swore, unchecked either by eye or countenance,) That for his part, he would never be reconciled to that libertine: and that he would renounce me for a sister, if I encouraged the addresses of a man so obnoxious to them all.
A man who had like to have been my brother’s murderer, my sister said, with a face even bursting with restraint of passion.
The poor Bella has, you know, a plump high-fed face, if I may be allowed the expression. You, I know, will forgive me for this liberty of speech sooner than I can forgive myself: Yet how can one be such a reptile as not to turn when trampled upon!
My father, with vehemence both of action and voice [my father has, you know, a terrible voice when he is angry] told me that I had met with too much indulgence in being allowed to refuse this gentleman, and the other gentleman,; and it was now his turn to be obeyed!
Very true, my mother said:—and hoped his will would not now be disputed by a child so favoured.
To shew they were all of a sentiment, my uncle Harlowe said, he hoped his beloved niece only wanted to know her father’s will, to obey it.
And my uncle Antony, in his rougher manner, added, that surely I would not give them reason to apprehend, that I thought my grandfather’s favour to me had made me independent of them all.—If I did, he would tell me, the will could be set aside, and should.
I was astonished, you must needs think.—Whose addresses now, thought I, is this treatment preparative to?—Mr. Wyerley’s again?—or whose? And then, as high comparisons, where self is concerned, sooner than low, come into young people’s heads; be it for whom it will, this is wooing as the English did for the heiress of Scotland in the time of Edward the Sixth. But that it could be for Solmes, how should it enter into my head?
I did not know, I said, that I had given occasion for this harshness. I hoped I should always have a just sense of every one’s favour to me, superadded to the duty I owed as a daughter and a niece: but that I was so much surprised at a reception so unusual and unexpected, that I hoped my papa and mamma would give me leave to retire, in order to recollect myself.
No one gainsaying, I made my silent compliments, and withdrew;—leaving my brother and sister, as I thought, pleased; and as if they wanted to congratulate each other on having occasioned so severe a beginning to be made with me.
I went up to my chamber, and there with my faithful Hannah deplored the determined face which the new proposal it was plain they had to make me wore.
I had not recovered myself when I was sent for down to tea. I begged my maid to be excused attending; but on the repeated command, went down with as much cheerfulness as I could assume; and had a new fault to clear myself of: for my brother, so pregnant a thing is determined ill-will, by intimations equally rude and intelligible, charged my desire of being excused coming down, to sullens, because a certain person had been spoken against, upon whom, as he supposed, my fancy ran.
I could easily answer you, Sir, said I, as such a reflection deserves: but I forbear. If I do not find a brother in you, you shall have a sister in me.
Pretty meekness! Bella whisperingly said; looking at my brother, and lifting up her lip in contempt.
He, with an imperious air, bid me deserve his love, and I should be sure to have it.
As we sat, my mother, in her admirable manner, expatiated upon brotherly and sisterly love; indulgently blamed my brother and sister for having taken up displeasure too lightly against me; and politically, if I may say so, answered for my obedience to my father’s will.—The it would be all well, my father was pleased to say: Then they should dote upon me, was my brother’s expression: Love me as well as ever, was my sister’s: And my uncles, That I then should be the pride of their hearts.—But, alas! what a forfeiture of all these must I make!
This was the reception I had on my return from you.
Mr. Solmes came in before we had done tea. My uncle Antony presented him to me, as a gentleman he had a particular friendship for. My uncle Harlowe in terms equally favourable for him. My father said, Mr. Solmes is my friend, Clarissa Harlowe. My mother looked at him, and looked at me, now-and-then, as he sat near me, I thought with concern.—I at her, with eyes appealing for pity. At him, when I could glance at him, with disgust little short of affrightment. While my brother and sister Mr. Solmes’d him, and Sirr’d—yet such a wretch!—But I will at present only add, My humble thanks and duty to your honoured mother (to whom I will particularly write, to express the grateful sense I have of her goodness to me); and that I am
Your ever obliged, CL. HARLOWE.