LETTER 21: Miss Clarissa Harlowe, To Miss Howe.

Sat. Night.

 

I have been down. I am to be unlucky in all I do, I think, be my intention ever so good. I have made matters worse instead of better; as I shall now tell you.

 

I found my mamma and sister together in my sister’s parlour. My mamma, I fear, by the glow in her fine face (and as the browner, sullener glow in my sister’s confirm’d), had been expressing herself with warmth, against her unhappier child: Perhaps giving such an account of what had passed, as should clear herself, and convince Bella, and thro’ her, my brother and uncles, of the sincere pains she had taken with me!—

 

I enter’d like a dejected criminal, I believe;—and besought the favour of a private audience. My mamma’s return, both looks and words, gave but too much reason for my surmize.

 

You have, said she (looking at me with a sternness that never sits well on her sweet features), rather a requesting than a conceding countenance, Clarissa Harlowe: If I am mistaken, tell me so; and I will withdraw with you where-ever you will. —Yet, if so, or not so, you may say what you have to say before your sister.

 

My mamma, I thought, might have withdrawn with me, as she knows, that I have not a friend in my sister.

 

I came down, I said, to beg of her to forgive me for any-thing she might have taken amiss in what had passed above respecting herself; and to use her interest to soften my papa’s displeasure, when she made the report she was to make to him.

 

Such aggravating looks; such lifting-up of hands and eyes; such a furrow’d forehead, in my sister!—

 

My mamma was angry enough without all that; and asked me, To what purpose I came down, if I were still so untractable?

 

She had hardly spoke the words, when Shorey came in to tell her, that Mr. Solmes was in the hall, and desired admittance.

 

Ugly creature! What, at the close of day, quite dark, brought him hither? —But, on second thoughts, I believe it was contrived, that he should be here at supper, to know the result of the conference between my mamma and me; and that my papa, on his return, might find us together.

 

I was hurrying away; but my mamma commanded me, since I had come down only, as she said, to mock her, not to stir; and at the same time see if I could behave so to him, as might encourage her to make the report to my papa which I had so earnestly besought her to make.

 

My sister triumphed. I was vexed to be so caught, and to have such an angry and cutting rebuke given me, with an aspect more like the taunting sister than the indulgent mother, if I may presume to say so. —

 

For my mamma herself seem’d to enjoy the surprize upon me.

 

The man stalked in. His usual walk is by pauses, as if (from the same vacuity of thought which made Dryden’s clown whistle) he was telling his steps: and first paid his clumsy respects to my mamma; then to my sister; next to me, as if I were already his wife, and therefore to be last in his notice; and sitting down by me, told us in general what weather it was. Very cold he made it; but I was warm enough. Then addressing himself to me; And how do you find it, Miss, was his question; and would have took my hand.

 

I withdrew it, I believe with disdain enough: My mamma frown’d; my sister bit her lip.

 

I could not contain myself: I never was so bold in my life; for I went on with my plea, as if Mr. Solmes had not been there.

 

My mamma colour’d, and look’d at him, look’d at my sister, and look’d at me. My sister’s eyes were opener and bigger than ever I saw them before.

 

The man understood me. He hemm’d, and remov’d from one chair to another.

 

I went on, supplicating for my mamma’s favourable report: Nothing but invincible dislike—

 

What would the girl be at? Why, Clary! —Is this a subject! —Is this! —Is this! —Is this a time—And again she look’d upon Mr. Solmes.

 

I am sorry, on reflection, that I put my mamma into so much confusion. —To be sure it was very saucy in me.

 

I begg’d pardon. But my papa, I said, would return. I should have no other opportunity. I thought it was requisite, since I was not permitted to withdraw, that Mr. Solmes’s presence should not deprive me of an opportunity of such importance for me to embrace; and at the same time, if he still visited on my account (looking at him), to shew, that it could not possibly be to any purpose.

 

Is the girl mad? said my mamma, interrupting me.

 

My sister, with the affectation of a whisper to my mamma—This is—This is spite, Madam (very spitefully she spoke the word), because you commanded her to stay.

 

I only looked at her, and turning to my mamma, Permit me, Madam, said I, to repeat my request. I have no brother, no sister! —If I lose my mamma’s favour, I am lost for ever!

 

Mr. Solmes removed to his first seat, and fell to gnawing the head of his hazel; a carved head, almost as ugly as his own. I did not think the man was so sensible .

 

My sister rose, with a face all over scarlet, and stepping to the table, where lay a fan, she took it up, and, altho’ Mr. Solmes had observ’d that the weather was cold, fann’d herself very violently.

 

My mamma came to me, and angrily taking my hand, led me out of that parlour into my own; which, you know, is next to it—Is not this behaviour very bold, very provoking, think you, Clary?

 

I beg your pardon, Madam, if it has that appearance to you. But indeed, my dear mamma, there seem to be snares laying for me. Too well I know my brother’s drift. With a good word he shall have my consent for all he wishes to worm me out of. —Neither he, nor my sister, shall need to take half this pains.—

 

My mamma was about to leave me in high displeasure.

 

I besought her to stay: One favour, but one favour, dearest Madam, said I, give me leave to beg of you—

 

What would the girl?

 

I see how every thing is working about. —I never, never can think of Mr. Solmes. My papa will be in tumults, when he is told that I cannot. They will judge of the tenderness of your heart to a poor child who seems devoted by every-one else, from the willingness you have already shewn to hearken to my prayers. There will be endeavours used to confine me, and keep me out of your presence, and out of the presence of every one who used to love me—(This, my dear, is threaten’d)—If This be effected; if it be put out of my power to plead my own cause, and to appeal to You, and to my uncle Harlowe, of whom only I have hope;—then will every ear be open’d against me; and every tale encourag’d. —It is, therefore, my humble request, That, added to the disgraceful prohibitions I now suffer under, you will not, if you can help it, give way to my being deny’d your ear.

 

Your listening Hannah has given you this intelligence, as she does many others.

 

My Hannah, Madam, listens not! —My Hannah—

 

No more in her behalf—She is known to make mischief—She is known—But no more of that busy intermeddler—‘Tis true, your father threaten’d to confine you to your chamber, if you comply’d not, in order the more assuredly to deprive you of the opportunity of corresponding with those who harden your heart against his will. He bid me tell you so, when he went out, if I found you refractory. But I was loth to deliver so harsh a declaration; being still in hope that you would come down to us in a compliant temper. —Hannah has overheard this, I suppose; and has told you of it; as also, that he declar’d he would break your heart, rather than you should break his. And I now assure you, that you will be confin’d, and prohibited making teazing appeals to any of us: And we shall see who is to submit, You, or every-body to you!

 

I offer’d to clear Hannah, and to lay the latter part of the intelligence to my sister’s echo, Betty Barnes, who had boasted of it to another servant: But I was again bid to be silent on that head. I should soon find, she was pleased to say, that others could be as determin’d as I was obstinate: And, once for all, would add, that since she saw that I built upon her indulgence, and matter’d not involving her in contentions with my father, and his brothers, and her other children, she would now assure me, that she was as much determin’d against Mr. Lovelace, and for Mr. Solmes and the family-schemes, as any-body; and would not refuse her consent to any measures that should be thought necessary to reduce a stubborn child to her duty.

 

I was ready to sink. She was so good as to lend me her arm to support me.

 

And this is all I have to hope for from my mamma?

 

It is. But, Clary, this one further opportunity I give you—Go in again to Mr. Solmes, and behave discreetly to him; and let your papa find you together, upon civil terms at least.

 

My feet moved (of themselves, I think) farther from the parlour where he was, and towards the stairs; and there I stopp’d and paused.

 

If, proceeded she, you are determin’d to stand in defiance of us all—then indeed may you go up to your chamber (as you are ready to do)—And God help you!

 

God help me indeed! for I cannot give hope of what I cannot intend—But let me have your prayers, my dear mamma! —Those shall have mine, who have brought me into all this distress!

 

I was moving to go up—

 

And will you go up, Clary?

 

I turn’d my face to her: My officious tears would needs plead for me: I could not just then speak; and stood still.

 

Good girl, distress me not thus! —Dear, good girl, do not thus distress me!—holding out her hand; but standing still likewise—

 

What can I do, Madam? —What can I do?—

 

Go in again, my child—Go in again, my dear child!—repeated she; and let your papa find you together!—

 

What, Madam, to give him hope? —To give hope to Mr. Solmes?

 

Obstinate, perverse, undutiful Clarissa Harlowe! with a rejecting hand, and angry aspect; then take your own way, and go up! —But stir not down again, I charge you, without leave, or till your papa’s pleasure be known concerning you.

 

She flung from me with high indignation: And I went up with a very heavy heart; and feet as slow as my heart was heavy.

 

My father is come home, and my brother with him. Late as it is, they are all shut up together. Not a door opens; not a soul stirs. Hannah, as she moves up and down, is shunn’d as a person infected.

 

The angry assembly is broke up. My two uncles and my aunt Hervey are sent for, it seems, to be here in the morning to breakfast. I shall then, I suppose, know my doom. ‘Tis past eleven, and I am order’d not to go to bed.

Twelve o’ clock.

This moment the keys of every thing are taken from me. It was proposed to send for me down: But my papa said, he could not bear to look upon me. —Strange alteration in a few weeks! Shorey was the messenger. The tears stood in her eyes when she deliver’d her message.

 

You, my dear, are happy! —May you always be so! —And then I can never be wholly miserable. Adieu, my beloved friend!

Cl. Harlowe.

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