Letter 65: MISS HOWE TO MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE

 

Thursday morning, daybreak, March 30

 

AN accident has occasioned my remissness, as, till you know it, you may justly think my silence.

 

My mamma was sent for on Sunday night, with the utmost earnestness, by her cousin Larkin, whom I mentioned in one of my former.

 

This poor woman was always afraid of death, and was one of those weak persons who imagine that the making of their will must be an undoubted forerunner of it.

 

She had always said, when urged to the necessary work, that whenever she made it, she should not live long after; and, one would think, imagined she was under an obligation to prove her words: For, though she had been long bed-rid, and was in a manner worn out before, yet she thought herself better, till she was persuaded to make it: and from that moment, remembering what she used to prognosticate (her fears helping on what she feared , as is often the case, particularly in the small-pox), grew worse; and had it in her head once to burn her will, in hopes to grow better upon it.

 

She sent my mamma word, that the doctors had given her over: but that she could not die till she saw her. I told my mamma, that if she wished her a chance for recovery, she should not, for that reason, go. But go she would; and, what was worse, would make me go with her; and that, at an hour’s warning (Had there been more time for argumentation, to be sure I had not gone!) for she said nothing of it to me till she was rising in the morning early , resolving to return at night. So that there was a kind of necessity that my preparation to obey her should, in a manner, accompany her command—a command so much out of the way on such a solemn occasion! And this I represented—but to no purpose—There never was such a contradicting girl in the world— My wisdom always made her a fool!—But she would be obliged this time , proper or improper.

 

I have but one way of accounting for this sudden whim of my mamma—She had a mind to accept of Mr Hickman’s offer to escort her—And I verily believe (I wish I were quite sure of it) had a mind to oblige him with my company—as far as I know, to keep me out of worse.

 

For, would you believe it?—As sure as you are alive, she is afraid for her favourite Hickman, because of the long visit your Lovelace, though so much by accident, made me in her absence, last time she was at the same place. I hope, my dear, you are not jealous too. But, indeed, I now and then, when she teases me with praises which Hickman cannot deserve, in return fall to praising those qualities and personalities in Lovelace which the other never will have. Indeed I do love to tease a little bit, that I do—My mamma’s girl!—I had like to have said.

 

As you know she is as passionate as I am pert, you will not wonder to be told that we generally fall out on these occasions: she flies from me at the long run. It would be undutiful in me to leave her first —and then I get an opportunity to pursue our correspondence.

 

For now I am rambling, let me tell you that she does not much favour that —for two reasons, I believe: one, that I don’t show her all that passes between us; the other, that she thinks I harden your mind against your duty, as it is called; and with her , for a reason at home, as I have hinted more than once, parents cannot do wrong; children cannot oppose and be right. This obliges me now and then to steal an hour, as I may say, and not let her know how I am employed.

 

You may guess from what I have written, how averse I was to comply with this stretch of motherly authority, made so much against rhyme and reason—But it came to be a test of duty ; so I was obliged to yield, though with a full persuasion of being in the right.

 

I have always your reproofs upon these occasions: in your late letters stronger than ever. A good reason why, you’ll say, because more deserved than ever. I thank you kindly for your correction. I hope to make cor -rection of it—But let me tell you, that your stripes, whether deserved or not, have made me sensible deeper than the skin—but of this another time.

 

It was Monday afternoon before we reached the old gentlewoman’s. That fiddling, parading fellow, you know who I mean, made us wait for him two hours (and I to go a journey I disliked!) only for the sake of having a little more tawdry upon his housings; which he had hurried his saddler to put on to make him look fine, being to escort his dear Madam Howe, and her fair daughter. I told him that

 

I supposed he was afraid that the double solemnity in the case, that of the visit to a dying woman and that of his own countenance, would give him the appearance of an undertaker ; to avoid which, he ran into as bad an extreme, and I doubted would be taken for a mountebank.

 

The man was confounded. He took it as strongly as if his conscience gave assent to the justice of the remark—otherwise he would have borne it better: for he is used enough to this sort of treatment. I thought he would have cried. I have heretofore observed, that on this side of the contract he seems to be a mighty meek sort of creature. And though I should like it in him hereafter , perhaps, yet I can’t help despising him a little in my heart for it now. I believe, my dear, we all love your blustering fellows best; could we but direct the bluster, and bid it roar when, and at whom, we pleased.

 

The poor man looked at my mamma. She was so angry (my airs upon it, and my opposition to the journey, having all helped), that for half the way she would not speak to me. And when she did, it was, I wish I had not brought you!—You know not what it is to condescend. It is my fault, not Mr Hickman’s , that you are here, so much against your will.—Have you no eyes for this side of the chariot?

 

And then he fared the better from her , as he always does for faring worse from me. For there was, how do you now , sir? And how do you now , Mr Hickman? as he ambled now on this side of the chariot, now on that, stealing a prim look at me; her head half out of the chariot, kindly smiling as if married to the man but a fortnight herself: while I always saw something to divert myself, on the side of the chariot where the honest man was not, were it but old Robin at a distance, on his roan, Keffel.

 

Our courtship days, they say, are our best days. Favour destroys courtship. Distance increases it. Its essence is distance. And to see how familiar these men-wretches grow upon a smile, what an awe they are struck into when one frowns! Who would not make them stand off? Who would not enjoy a power that is to be so short-lived?

 

Don’t chide me one bit for this, my dear. It is in nature. I can’t help it. Nay, for that matter, I love it, and wish not to help it. So spare your gravity, I beseech you, on this subject. I set not up for a perfect character. The man will bear it. And what need you care? My mamma over-balances all he suffers: and if he thinks himself unhappy, he ought never to be otherwise.

 

Then, did he not deserve a fit of sullens, think you, to make us lose our dinner for his parade, since in so short a journey one would not bait, and lose the opportunity of coming back that night, had the old gentlewoman’s condition permitted it? To say nothing of being the cause that my mamma was in the glout with her poor daughter all the way.

 

At our alighting I gave him another dab; but it was but a little one. Yet the manner and the air made up (as I intended they should) for that defect. My mamma’s hand was kindly put into his, with a simpering altogether bridal; and with another, How do you now, sir?—All his plump muscles were in motion, and double charge of care and obsequiousness fidgeted up his whole form, when he offered to me his officious palm. My mamma, when I was a girl, always bid me hold up my head. I just then remembered her commands, and was dutiful: I never held up my head so high. With an averted supercilious eye, and a rejecting hand half-flourishing—I have no need of help, sir!—You are in my way.

 

He ran back, as if on wheels; with a face excessively mortified: I had thoughts else to have followed the too gentle touch, with a declaration that I had as many hands and feet as himself: but this would have been telling him a piece of news, as to the latter, that I hope he had not the presumption to guess at.

 

WE found the poor woman, as we thought, at the last gasp. Had we come sooner , we could not have got away, as we intended, that night. You see I am for excusing the man all I can; and yet, I assure you, I have not so much as a conditional liking to him. My mamma sat up most part of the night, expecting every hour would have been her poor cousin’s last. I bore her company till two.

 

I never saw the approaches of death in a grown person before; and was extremely shocked. Death, to one in health, is a very terrible thing. We pity the person for what she suffers: and we pity ourselves for what we must some time hence, in like sort, suffer; and so are doubly affected.

 

She held out till Tuesday morning, eleven; and having told my mamma that she had left her an executrix, and her and me rings and mourning; we were employed all that day in matters of the will (by which my cousin Jenny Fynnett is handsomely provided for); so that it was Wednesday morning early, before we set out on our return.

 

It is true, we got home (having no housings to stay for) by noon; but though I sent Robin away before he alit; and he brought me back a whole packet, down to the same Wednesday noon; yet was I really so fatigued (and shocked, as I must own, at the hard death of the old gentlewoman); my mamma likewise (who has no reason to dislike this world) being indisposed from the same occasion; that I could not set about writing, time enough for Robin’s return that night.

 

But having recruited my spirits, my mamma having also had a good night, I arose with the dawn, to write this and get it dispatched time enough for your breakfast airing; that your suspense may be as short as possible.

 

I WILL soon follow this with another. I will employ a person directly to find out how Lovelace behaves himself at his inn. Such a busy spirit must be traceable.

 

But, perhaps, my dear, you are indifferent now about him, or his employments; for this request was made before he mortally offended you. Nevertheless, I will have inquiry made. The result, it is very probable, will be of use to confirm you in your present unforgiving temper—And yet, if the poor man (Shall I pity him for you , my dear?) should be deprived of the greatest blessing any man on earth can receive, and which he has the presumption, with so little merit, to aspire to; he will have run great risks; caught great colds; hazarded fevers; sustained the highest indignities; braved the inclemencies of skies, and all for—nothing!—Will not this move your generosity (if nothing else) in his favour?—Poor Mr Lovelace!—

 

I would occasion no throb; nor half-throb; no flash of sensibility, like lightning darting in, and as soon suppressed, by a discretion that no one of the sex ever before could give such an example of—I would not , I say; and yet, for a trial of you to yourself , rather than as an impertinent overflow of raillery in your friend, as money-takers try a suspected guinea by the sound , let me on such a supposition, sound you by repeating, poor Mr Lovelace !—

 

And now, my dear, how is it with you? How do you now, as my mamma says to Mr Hickman, when her pert daughter has made him look sorrowful?

 

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