LETTER 75: MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE TO MISS HOWE

Sunday Night, April 2.

 

I have many new particulars to acquaint you with, that shew a great change in my friends behaviour to me. I did not think we had so much art among us, as I find we have. I will give them to you as they offer’d.

 

All the family was at church in the morning. They brought good Dr. Lewin with them, in pursuance of a previous invitation. And the doctor sent up to desire my permission to attend me in my own apartment.

 

You may believe it was easily granted.

 

So the doctor came up.

 

We had a conversation of near an hour before dinner: But, to my surprize, he waved every thing that would have led to the subject I supposed he wanted to talk about. At last, I asked him, If it were not thought strange I should be so long absent from church? He made me some handsome compliments upon it: But said, For his part, he had ever made it a rule, to avoid interfering in the private concerns of families, unless desired to do so.

 

I was prodigiously disappointed: But supposing that he was thought too just a man to be made a judge of in this cause; I led no more to it: Nor, when he was called to dinner, did he take the least notice of leaving me behind him there.

 

But this was the first time, since my confinement, that I thought it a hardship not to dine below. And when I parted with him on the stairs, a tear would burst its way; and he hurried down; his own good-natured eyes glistening; for he saw it. —Nor trusted he his voice, lest the accent, I suppose, should have discover’d his concern; departing in silence; tho’ with his usual graceful obligingness.

 

I hear, that he praised me, and my part in the conversation we had held together. —To shew them, I suppose, that it was not upon the interesting subjects which I make no doubt he was desired not to enter upon.

 

He left me so dissatisfy’d, yet so perplexed with this new way of treatment, that I never found myself so puzzled, and so much out of my train.

 

But I was to be more so. This was to be a day of puzzle to me. Pregnant puzzle, if I may so say: — For there must great meaning lie behind it.

 

In the afternoon, all but my brother and sister went to church with the good doctor; who left his compliments for me. I took a walk in the garden: My brother and sister walked in it too, and kept me in their eye a good while, on purpose, as I thought, that I might see how gay and good-humour’d they were together. At last they came down the walk that I was coming up, hand-in-hand, lover-like.

 

Your servant, Miss—Your servant, Sir—passed between my brother and me.

 

Is it not cold-ish, sister Clary? in a kinder voice than usual, said my sister, and stopp’d. —I stopp’d, and courtesy’d low to her half-courtesy. —I think not, sister, said I.

 

She went on. I courtesy’d without return; and proceeded; turning to my poultry-yard.

 

By a shorter turn, arm-in-arm, they were there before me.

 

I think, Clary, said my brother, you must present me with some of this breed, for Scotland.

 

If you please, brother.

 

I’ll choose for you, said my sister.

 

And while I fed them, they picked out half a dozen: Yet intending nothing by it, I believe, but to shew a deal of love and good-humour to each other, before me.

 

My uncles next (after church was done, to speak in the common phrase) were to do me the honour of their notice. They bid Betty tell me, they would drink tea with me in my own apartment. Now, thought I, shall I have the subject of next Tuesday inforced upon me.

 

But they contradicted the tea-orders, and only my uncle Harlowe came up to me.

 

Half-distant, half-affectionate, was the air he put on to his daughter-niece, as he used to call me; and I threw myself at his feet, and besought his favour.

 

None of these discomposures, child! None of these apprehensions! You’ll now have every-body’s favour! All is coming about, my dear! —I was impatient to see you! —I could no longer deny myself this satisfaction. And raised me, and kissed me, and called me, Charming creature!

 

But he waved entering into any interesting subject. All will be well now! All will be right! —No more complainings! Every-body loves you! —I only came to make my earliest court to you, were his condescending words, and to sit and talk of twenty and twenty fond things, as I used to do. —And let every past disagreeable thing be forgotten; as if nothing had happen’d.

 

He understood me as beginning to hint at the disgrace of my confinement. —No disgrace, my dear, can fall to your lot: Your reputation is too well established. —I long’d to see you, repeated he. —I have seen no-body half so amiable, since I saw you last.

 

And again he kissed my cheek, my glowing cheek, for I was impatient, I was vexed, to be thus, as I thought, play’d upon: And how could I be grateful for a visit, that, it now was evident, was only a too humble artifice, to draw me in against the next Tuesday, or to leave me inexcusable to them all!

 

O my cunning brother! —This is his contrivance! And then my anger made me recollect the triumph in his and my sister’s loves to each other, acted before me; and the mingled indignation flashing from their eyes, as, arm in arm, they spoke to me, and the forced condescension playing upon their lips, when they called me Clary, and Sister.

 

Do you think I could, with these reflections, look upon my uncle Harlowe’s visit as the favour he seem’d desirous I should think it to be? —Indeed I could not; and seeing him so studiously avoid all recrimination, as I may call it, I gave into the affectation; and followed him in his talk of indifferent things: —While he seemed to admire This thing and That, as if he had never seen them before; and now and then, condescendingly kissed the hand that wrought some of the things he fixed his eyes upon; not so much to admire them, as to find subjects to divert what was most in his head, and in my own heart.

 

At his going away—How can I leave you here by yourself, my dear? —You, whose company used to enliven us all. —You are not expected down indeed! But I protest, I had a good mind to surprise your papa and mamma! —If I thought nothing would arise, that would be disagreeable—My dear, my love! [O the dear artful gentleman! how could my uncle Harlowe so dissemble?] What say you? —Will you give me your hand? —Will you see your father? — Can you stand his first displeasure, on seeing the dear creature who has given him and all of us so much disturbance? —Can you promise future—

 

He saw me rising in my temper—Nay, my dear, if you cannot be all resignation, I would not have you think of it!

 

My heart, struggling between duty and warmth of temper, was full. You know, my dear, I never could bear to be dealt meanly with! —How,—how can you, Sir! —You, my papa-uncle! —How can you, Sir! —The poor girl! —For I could not speak with connexion.

 

Nay, my dear, if you cannot be all duty, all resignation —better stay where you are. —But after the instance you have given—

 

Instance, I have given! —What instance, Sir?

 

Well, well, child, better stay where you are, if your past confinement hangs so heavy upon you—But now there will be a sudden end to it. —Adieu, my dear! —Three words only—Let your compliance be sincere! —And love me, as you used to love me— Your grandfather did not do so much for you, as I will do for you.

 

Without suffering me to reply, he hurry’d away, I thought, as if he had an escape, and was glad his part was over.

 

Don’t you see, my dear, how they are all determin’d? —Have I not reason to dread next Tuesday?

 

Up presently after came my sister: —To observe, I suppose, the way I was in—She found me in tears.

 

Have you not a Thomas à Kempis, sister? with a stiff air.

 

I have, Madam.

 

Madam ! How long are we to be at this distance, Clary?

 

No longer, if you allow me to call you, sister, my dear Bella! And I took her hand.

 

I withdrew my hand as hastily, as I should do, if, reaching at a parcel from under the wood, I had been bit by a scorpion. Cross Reference

 

I beg pardon. —Too, too ready to make advances, I am always subjecting myself to contempts!

 

People who know not how to keep a middle behaviour, said she, must ever-more do so.

 

I will fetch you the Kempis—I did—Here it is. — You will find excellent things, Bella, in that little book.

 

I wish, retorted she, you had profited by them.

 

I wish you may, said I. Example from a sister older than one’s self is a fine thing.

 

Older! Saucy little fool! —And away she flung.

 

What a captious old woman will my sister make, if she lives to be one! —Demanding the reverence; yet not aiming at the merit; and asham’d of the years, that only can intitle her to the reverence.

 

It is plain from what I have related, that they think they have got me at some advantage, by obtaining my consent to this interview: But if it werenot, Betty’s impertinence just now would make it more evident. She has been complimenting me upon it; and upon the visit of my uncle Harlowe. She says, the difficulty now is more than halfover with me. She is sure I would not see Mr. Solmes, but to have him. Now shall she be soon better imploy’d than of late she has been. All hands will be at work. She loves dearly to have weddings go forward! —Who knows whose turn will be next?

 

I found in the afternoon a reply to my answer to Mr. Lovelace’s letter: It is full of promises, full of gratidute, of eternal gratitude, is his word, among others still more hyperbolic. Yet Mr. Lovelance, the least of any man whose letters I have seen, runs into those elevated absurdities. I should be apt to despise him for it, it he did. Such language looks always to me, as if the flatterer thought to find a woman a fool, or hop’d to make her one.

 

‘He regrets my indifference to him; which puts all the hope he has in my favour, upon my friends shocking usage of me.

 

‘As to my change upon him of unpoliteness and uncontroubleness—What (he asks) can he say? since being unable absolutely to vindicate himself, he has too much ingenuity to attempt to do so: Yet is struck dumb by my harsh construction, that his acknowleging temper is owing more to his carelesness to defend himself, than to his inclination to amend. He had never before met with the objections against his morals which I had raised,justly raised. And he was resolved to obviate them. What is it, he asks, that he had promised, but reformation by my example? And what occasion for the promise, if he had no faults, and those very great ones, to reform of? He hopes, acknowlegement of an error is no bad sign; altho’ my severe virtue has interpreted it into one.

 

‘He believes I may be right ( severely right, he calls it) in my judgment against making reprisals in the case of the intelligence he receives from my family: He cannot charge himself to be of a temper that leads him to be inquisitive into any-body’s private affairs; but hopes, that the circumstances of the case, and the strange conduct of my friends, will excuse him; especially, when so much depends upon his knowing the movements of a family so violently bent, by measures right or wrong, to carry their point against me, in malice to him. People he says, who act like Angels, ought to have Angels to deal with. For his part, he has not yet learn’d the difficult lesson of returning good for evil : And shall think himself the less encourage’d to learn it, by the treatment I have met with, from the very spirits, which, were he to lay himself under their feet, would trample upon him, as they do upon me.

 

‘He excuses himself for the liberties he owns he has heretofore taken in ridiculing the marriage-state. Is is a subject, he says, that he has not of late treated so lightly. He owns it to be so trite, so beaten, a topic with all liberties and witlings; so frothy, so empty, so nothing-meaning, so worn-out atheme, that he is heartily ashamed of himself, ever to have made it his . He condemns it as a stupid reflection upon the laws and good order of society, and upon a man’s own ancestors: And in himself, who has some reason to value himself upon his descent and alliances, more censurable, than in those who have not the same advantage to boast of. He promises to be more circumspect than ever, both in his words and actions, that he may be more and more worthy of my approbation; and that he may give an assurance before-hand, that a foundation is laid in his mind, for my example to work upon, with equal reputation and effect to us both;—if he may be so happy as to call me his.

 

‘He gives me up, as absolutely lost, if I go to my uncle Antony’s: The close confinement; The Moated-house; The Chapel; the implacableness of my brother and sister, and their power over the rest of my family, he sets forth in strong lights, and plainly hints, that he must have a struggle to prevent my being carry’d thither.’

 

Your kind, your generous interesting of yourself in your mamma’s favour for me, I hope, will prevent those harsher extremities which I might otherwise be driven to. And to you I will fly, if permitted, and keep all my promises, of not corresponding with anybody, not seeing any-body, but by your mamma’s direction and yours. —I will close, and deposite at This place. It is not necessary to say, How much I am

Your ever-affectionate and obliged
Cl. Harlowe .

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