LETTER 44: MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE TO MISS HOWE

 

My heart fluttered with the hope and the fear of seeing my mamma, and with the shame and the grief of having given her so much uneasiness. But it needed not: She was not permitted to come. But my aunt was so good as to return; yet not without my sister: And, taking my hand, made me sit down by her.

She came, she must own, officiously, she said, this once more; tho’ against the opinion of my father: But knowing, and dreading, the consequence of my opposition, she could not but come.

She then set forth to me, my friends expectations from me; Mr. Solmes’s riches (three times as rich he came out to be as any-body had thought him); the settlements proposed; Mr. Lovelace’s bad character; their aversion to him; all in a very strong light; but not a stronger, than my mamma had before placed them in. My mamma, surely, could not have given the particulars of what had passed between herself and me: If she had, my aunt would not have repeated many of the same sentiments, as you will find she did, that had been still more strongly urged, without effect, by her venerable sister.

She said, it would break the heart of my father to have it imagin’d, that he had not a power over his child; and that, as he thought, for my own good: A child too, whom they always had doated upon! —Dearest, dearest Miss, concluded she, clasping her fingers, with the most condescending earnestness, let me beg of you for my sake, for your own sake, for a hundred sakes, to get over this averseness, and give up your prejudices, and make every-one happy and easy once more. —I would kneel to you, my dearest niece—Nay, I will kneel to you!— And down she dropp’d, and I with her, kneeling to her, and beseeching her not to kneel; clasping my arms about her, and bathing her worthy bosom with my tears!

Oh rise! rise! my beloved aunt, said I: You cut me to the heart with this condescending goodness.

Say then, my dearest niece, say then, that you will oblige all your friends! If you love us, I beseech you do!

How can I promise what I can sooner choose to die than to perform!— Say then, my dear, you’ll consider of it. Say you will but reason with yourself. Give us but hopes. Don’t let me intreat, and thus intreat, in vain. For still she kneeled, and I by her.

What a hard case is mine! —Could I but doubt, I know I could conquer . —That which is an inducement to my friends, is none at all to me! —How often, my dearest aunt, must I repeat the same thing! —Let me but be single—Cannot I live single? Let me be sent, as I have proposed, to Scotland, to Florence; any-whither: Let me be sent a slave to the Indies; any-whither: Any of these I will consent to. But I cannot, cannot think of giving my vows to a man I cannot endure!—

Well then rising; (Bella silently, with uplifted hands, reproaching my supposed perverseness) I see nothing can prevail with you to oblige us.

What can I do, my dearest aunt Hervey? What can I do? Were I capable of giving a hope I meant not to inlarge, then could I say, I wouldconsider of your kind advice. But I would rather be thought perverse than insincere . Is there, however, no medium ? Can nothing be thought of? Will nothing do, but to have a man who is the more disgustful to me, because he is unjust in the very articles he offers?

Who now, Clary, said my sister, do you reflect upon? Consider That.

Make not invidious applications of what I say, Bella. It may not be look’d upon in the same light by every one. The giver and the accepter are principally answerable, in an unjust donation. While I think of it in this light, I should be inexcusable to be the latter. But why do I enter upon asupposition of this nature? My heart, as I have often, often said, recoils at the thoughts of the man, in every light. —Whose father, but mine, agrees upon articles, where there is no prospect of a liking? Where the direct contrary is avow’d, all along avow’d, without the least variation, or shadow of a change of sentiment? —But it is not my father’s doing originally. O my cruel, cruel brother, to cause a measure to be forced upon me, which he would not behave tolerably under, were the like to be offer’d to him!

The girl is got into her altitudes, aunt Hervey, said my sister. You see, Madam, she spares no-body. Be pleased to let her know what she has to trust to. Nothing is to be done with her. Pray, Madam, pronounce her doom.

My aunt retir’d to the window, weeping, with my sister in her hand: I cannot, indeed I cannot, Miss Harlowe, said she, softly (but yet I heard every word she said): There is great hardship in her case. She is a noble child, after all. What pity things are gone so far! But Mr. Solmes ought to be told to desist.

O Madam, said my sister, in a kind of loud whisper, are you caught too by the little Syren? —My mamma did well not to come up! —I question whether my papa himself, after his first indignation, would not be turn’d round by her. Nobody but my brother can do any-thing with her, I am sure.

Don’t think of your brother’s coming up, said my aunt, still in a low voice—He is too furious by much. I see no obstinacy, no perverseness in her manner! If your brother comes, I will not be answerable for the consequences: For I thought twice or thrice she would have gone into fits.

O Madam, she has a strong heart! —And you see there is no prevailing upon her, tho’ you were upon your knees to her.

My sister left my aunt musing at the window, with her back towards us; and took that opportunity to insult me still more barbarously: For, stepping to my closet, she took up the patterns which my mamma had sent me up, and bringing them to me, she spread them upon the chair by me; and, offering one, and then another, upon her sleeve and shoulder, Thus she ran on, with great seeming tranquillity, but whisperingly, that my aunt might not hear her. This, Clary, is a pretty pattern enough: But This is quite charming ! I would advise you to make your appearance in it. And This, were I you, should be my wedding night-gown—and This my second dress’d suit! Won’t you give orders, love, to have your grandmother’s jewels new set? Or will you think to shew away in the new ones that Mr. Solmes intends to present to you? He talks of laying out two or three thousand pounds in presents, child! Dear heart! —How gorgeously will you be array’d! — What! silent, my dear, mamma Norton’s sweet dear ! What! silent still? —But, Clary, won’t you have a Velvet suit? It would cut a great figure in a country church, you know: And the weather may bear it for a month yet to come. Crimson Velvet, suppose! Such a fine complection as yours, how would it be set off by it! What an agreeable blush would it give you! —High-ho! (mocking me; for I sighed to be thus fooled with): And do you sigh, love?—Well then, as it will be a solemn wedding, what think you of blackVelvet, child? —Silent still, Clary! —Black Velvet, so fair as you are, with those charming eyes, gleaming thro’ a wintry cloud, like an April Sun! — Does not Lovelace tell you they are charming eyes! — How lovely will you appear to every one! —What! silent still, love! —But about your laces, Clary!—

She would have gone on still further, had not my aunt advanced towards us, wiping her eyes—What! whispering, Ladies! You seem so easy and so pleas’d, Miss Harlowe, with your private conference, that I hope I shall carry down good news.

I am only giving her my opinion of her patterns, here . —Unask’d indeed. —But she seems, by her silence, to approve of my judgment.

O Bella! said I, that Mr. Lovelace had not taken you at your word! —You had before now been exercising your judgment on your own account: And I had been happy, as well as you ! —Was it my fault, I pray you, that it was not so? —O how she rav’d!

To be so ready to give, Bella, and so loth to take, is not very fair in you.

The poor Bella descended to call names.

Why, sister, said I, you are as angry, as if there were more in the hint, than possibly might be designed. My wish is sincere, for both our sakes!— for the whole family’s sake! —And what (good now) is there in it? —Do not, do not, dear Bella, give me cause to suspect, that I have found a reason for your unsisterly behaviour to me; and which till now was wholly unaccountable from sister to sister— Fie, fie, Miss Clary! said my aunt. My sister was more and more outrageous.

O how much sister, said I, to be a jest, than a jester ! —But now, Bella, turn the glass to you, and see how poorly sits the robe upon your own shoulders, which you have been so unmercifully fixing upon mine!

Fie, fie, Miss Clary! repeated my aunt.

And fie, fie, likewise, good Madam, to Miss Harlowe, you would say, were you to have heard her barbarous insults upon me!

Let us go, Madam, said my sister, with great violence; let us leave the creature to swell till she bursts with her own poison. —The last time I will ever come near her, in the mind I am in!

It is so easy a thing, return’d I, were I to be mean enough to follow an example that is so censureable in the setter of it, to vanquish such a teazing spirit as yours, with its own blunt weapons, that I am amaz’d you will provoke me! —Yet, Bella, since you will go (for she had hurry’d to the door), forgive me: I do you. And you have a double reason to do so, both from eldership, and the offence so studiously given to one in affliction. —But may you be happy, tho’ I never shall! —May you never have half the trials I have had! Be this your comfort, that you cannot have a sister to treat you, as you have treated me ! And so God bless you!

O thou art a—And down she flung without saying what.

Permit me, Madam, said I to my aunt, sinking down, and clasping her knees with my arms, to detain you one moment—Not to say any thing about my poor sister—She is her own punisher—Only to thank you for all your condescending goodness to me. I only beg of you, not to impute to obstinacy the immoveableness I have shewn to so tender a friend; and to forgive me every thing I have said or done amiss in your presence: For it has not proceeded from inward rancour to the poor Bella. But I will be bold to say, that neither She, nor my Brother, nor even my Father himself, knows what a heart they have set a bleeding.

I saw, to my comfort, what effect my sister’s absence wrought for me. —Rise, my noble-minded niece!—charming creature! —[Those were her kind words] kneel not to me! —Keep to yourself what I now say to you: I admire you more than I can express —And if you can forbear claiming your estate, and can resolve to avoid Lovelace, you will continue to be the greatest miracle I ever knew at your years. — But I must hasten down after your sister. —These are my last words to you: Conform to your father’s will, if you possibly can. How meritorious will it be in you to do so! Pray to God to enable you to conform. You don’t know what may be done.

Only, my dear aunt, one word, one word more (for she was going)—Speak up all you can for my dear Mrs. Norton. She is but low in the world: Should ill health overtake her, she may not know how to live without my mamma’s favour. I shall have no means to help her; for I will want necessaries before I will assert my right: And I do assure you, she has said so many things to me in behalf of my resigning to my father’s will, that her arguments have not a little contributed to make me resolve to avoid the extremities, which nevertheless I pray to God they do not at last force me upon. And yet they deprive me of her advice, and think unjustly of one of the most excellent of women.

I am glad to hear you say This: And take This, and This, and This, my charming niece (for so she call’d me at every word almost); kissing me earnestly, and clasping her arms about my neck: And God protect you, and direct you! But you must submit: Indeed you must . Some one dayin a month from This, is all the choice that is left you.

And this, I suppose, was the doom my sister call’d for; yet not worse than what had been pronounced upon me before.

She repeated these last sentences louder than the former. And remember, Miss, added she, it is your duty to comply—And down she went, leaving me with my heart full, and my eyes runing over.

The very repetition of this, fills me with almost equal concern, to that which I felt at the time. I can write no more; mistinesses of all the colours in the rainbow twinkling upon my deluged eye.

Wednesday, Five o’Clock.

I Will add a few lines—My aunt, as she went down from me, was met at the foot of the stairs by my sister, who seemed to think she had stay’d a good while after her: And hearing her last words prescribing to me implicit duty, praised her for it, and exclaim’d against my obstinacy, with, Did you ever hear of such perverseness, Madam? Could you have thought, that your Clarissa, and every body’s Clarissa, was such a girl?—And who, as you said, is to submit, her father or she? My aunt said something in answer to her compassionating me, as I thought, by her accent: But I heard not the words.

Such a strange perseverance in a measure so unreasonable! —But my brother and sister are continually misrepresenting all I say and do; and I am deprived of the opportunity of defending myself! —My sister says ( a ) , that had they thought me such a championess, they would not have engaged with me: And now, not knowing how to reconcile my supposed obstinacy with my general character, and natural temper, they seem to hope to tire me out, and resolve to vary their measures accordingly. My brother, you see, ( b ) 14 , is determin’d to carry this point, or to abandon Harlowe-place, and never to see it more: —So they are to lose a son, or to conquer a daughter—the perversest and most ingrateful that ever parents had! —This is the light he places things in: And has undertaken, it seems, to subdue me, if his advice be followed. It will befurther try’d, that I am convinced of; and what will be their next measure, who can divine?

I shall dispatch, with this, my answer to yours of Sunday last; begun on Monday ( c ) 15 ; but which is not yet quite finish’d. It is too long to copy: I have not time for it. In it I have been very free with you, my dear, in more places than one. I cannot say, that I am pleas’d with all I have written: —Yet will not now alter it. —My mind is not at ease enough for the subject. —Don’t be angry with me. Yet, if you can excuse one or two passages, it will be, because they were written by

Your Clarissa Harlowe .

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