LETTER 80: MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE TO MISS HOWE

Wednesday, Four o’Clock in the Afternoon. 

 

I am just returned from depositing the letter I so lately finished, and such of Mr. Lovelace’s letters as I had sent you. My long letter, I found remaining there. —So you’ll have both together.

 

I am concerned, methinks, it is not with you. —But your servant cannot always be at leisure. However, I’ll deposite as fast as I write: I must keep nothing by me now; and when I write, lock myself in, that I may not be surprised, now they think I have no pen and ink.

 

I found, in the usual place, another letter from this diligent man: And by its contents, a confirmation, that nothing passes in this house, but he knows it; and that, as soon as it passes. For this letter must have been written before he could have received my
billet; and deposited, I suppose, when that was taken away; yet, he compliments me in it, upon asserting myself, as he calls it, on that occasion, to my uncle and to Mr. Solmes.

 

‘He assures me, however, that they are more and more determin’d to subdue me.

 

‘He sends me the compliments of his family; and acquaints me with their earnest desire to see me amongst them. Most vehemently does he press for my quitting This house, while it is in my power to get away: And again craves leave to order his uncle’s chariot-and-six to attend my orders at the style leading to the coppice, adjoining to the paddock.

 

‘Settlements to my own will, he again offers. Lord M. and both his aunts to be guaranties of his honour and justice. But, if I choose not to go to either of his aunts, nor yet to make him the happiest of men so soon, as it is nevertheless his hope that I will, he urges me to withdraw to my own house; and to accept of my Lord M. for my guardian and protector, till my cousin Morden arrives. He can contrive, he says, to give me easy possession of it, and will fill it with his female relations, on the first invitation from me; and Mrs. Norton, or Miss Howe, may be undoubtedly prevailed upon to be with me for a time. There can be no pretence for litigation, he says, when I am once in it. Nor, if I choose to have it so, will he appear to visit me; nor presume to mention marriage to me till all is quiet and easy; till every method I shall prescribe for a reconciliation with my friends, is try’d; till my cousin comes; till such settlements are drawn, as he shall approve of for me; and that I have unexceptionable proofs of his own good behaviour.’

 

As to the disgrace a person of my character may be apprehensive of, upon quitting my father’s house, he observes, too truly, I doubt, ‘That the treatment I meet with, is in every one’s mouth: Yet, he says, that the public voice is in my favour: My friends themselves, he says, expect that I will do myself, what he calls, this justice; why else do they confine me? He urges, that, thus treated, the independence I have a right to, will be my sufficient excuse, going but from their house to my own, if I choose that measure; or, in order to take possession of my own, if I do not: That all the disgrace I canreceive, they have already given me: That his concern, and his family’s concern, in my honour, will be equal to my own, if he may be so happy ever to call me his: And he presumes to aver, that no family can better supply the loss of my own friends to me, than his, in whatever way I do them the honour to accept of his and their protection.

 

‘But he repeats, that, in all events, he will oppose my being carried to my uncle’s; being well assured, that I shall be lost to him for ever, if once I enter into that house.’ He tells me, ‘That my brother and sister, and Mr. Solmes, design to be there to receive me: That my father and mother will not come near me, till the ceremony is actually over: And that then they will appear, in order to try to reconcile me to my odious husband, by urging upon me the obligations I shall be supposed to be under, from a double duty.’

 

How, my dear, am I driven between both! —This last intimation is but a too probable one. All the steps they take, seem to tend to this! And, indeed, they have declared almost as much.

 

He owns, ‘That he has already taken his measures upon this intelligence: —But that he is so desirous, for my sake [I must suppose, he says, that he owes them no forbearance for their own ], to avoid coming to extremities, that he has suffer’d a person, whom they do not suspect, to acquaint them, as if unknown to himself, with his resolutions, if they persist in their design to carry me by violence to my uncle’s; in hopes, that they may be induced, from fear of mischief, to change their measures: Altho’ he runs a risque, if he cannot be benefited by their fears, from their doubly guarding themselves against him on this intimation!’

 

What a dangerous enterprizer, however, is this man!

 

‘He begs a few lines from me, by way of answer to this letter, either This evening, or to-morrow morning. —If he be not so favour’d, he shall conclude, from what he knows of their fixed determination, that I shall be under a closer restraint than before: And he shall be obliged to take his measures according to that presumption.’

 

You will see by this abstract, as well as by his letter preceding This (for both run in the same strain); how strangely forward the difficulty of my situation has brought him in his declarations and proposals; and in his threatenings too: Which, but for That, I would not take from him.

 

Something, however, I must speedily resolve upon, or it will be out of my power to help myself.

 

Now I think of it, I will inclose his letter (so might have spared the abstract of it), that you may the better judge of all his proposals, and intelligence; and lest it should fall into other hands. I cannot forget the contents, altho’ I am at a loss what answer to return.

 

I cannot bear the thoughts of throwing myself upon the protection of his friends: —But I will not examine his proposals closely, till I hear from you. Indeed, I have no eligible hope, but in your mamma’s goodness. Hers is a protection I could more reputably fly to, than to That of any other person: And from hers should be ready to return to my father’s (for the breach then would not be irreparable, as it would be, if I fled to his family): To return, I repeat, on such terms as shall secure but my negative ; not my independence : I do not aim at That (so shall lay your mamma under the less difficulty); altho’ I have a right to it, if I were to insist upon it: —Such a right, I mean, as my brother exerts in the estate, left him ; and which no-body disputes. —God forbid, that I should ever think myself freed from my father’s reasonable controul, whatever right my grandfather’s will has given me! He, good gentleman, left me that estate, as a reward of my duty, and not to set me above it, as has been justly hinted to me: And this reflection makes me more fearful of not answering the intention of so valuable a bequest. —O that my friends knew but my heart! —Would but think of it, as they used to do—For once more, I say, If it deceive me not, it is not altered, altho’ theirs are!

 

Would but your mamma permit you to send her chariot, or chaise, to the bye-place where Mr. Lovelace proposes his uncle’s shall come (provoked, intimidated, and apprehensive, as I am), I would not hesitate a moment what to do! —Place me any-where, as I have said before! —In a cott, in a garret; anywhere —Disguised as a servant—or let me pass as a servant’s sister—So that I may but escape Mr. Solmes on one hand, and the disgrace of refuging with the family of a man at enmity with my own, on the other; and I shall be in some measure happy! —Should your good mamma refuse me, what refuge, or whose, can I fly to? —Dearest creature, advise your distressed friend.

 

 

I broke off here—I was so excessively uneasy, that I durst not trust myself with my own reflections: So went down to the garden, to try to calm my mind, by shifting the scene. I took but one turn upon the filbeard walk, when Betty came to me. Here Miss, is your Papa! —Here is your uncle Antony! —

Here is my young master—and my young mistress, coming, to take a walk in the garden; and your papa sends me to see where you are, for fear he should meet you.

 

I struck into an oblique path, and got behind the yew-hedge, feeling my sister appear; and there concealed myself till they were gone past me.

 

My mamma, it seems, is not well. My poor mamma keeps her chamber! —Should she be worse, I should have an additional unhappiness, in apprehension, that my reputed undutifulness has touched her heart!

 

You cannot imagine what my emotions were behind the yew-hedge, on seeing my papa so near me. —I was glad to look at him thro’ the hedge, as he passed by: But I trembled in every joint, when I heard him utter these words: Son James, To you, and to Bella, and to You, brother, do I wholly commit this matter. —For that I was meant, I cannot doubt. And yet, why was I so affected; since I may be said to have been given up to their cruelty, for many days past?

 

 

While my papa remained in the garden, I sent my dutiful compliments to my mamma, with inquiry after her health, by Shorey, whom I met accidentally upon the stairs; for none of the servants, except my gaoleress, dare to throw themselves in my way. I had the mortification of such a return, as made me repent my message, tho’ not my concern for her health. Let her not inquire after the disorders she occasions, was the harsh answer. I will not receive any compliments from her!

Very, very, hard, my dear! Indeed it is very hard!

 

 

I have the pleasure to hear my mamma is already better, however. A colicky disorder, to which she is too subject: —And it is hoped is gone off. —God send it may! —Every evil that happens in this house is owing to me!

 

This good news was told me, with a circumstance very unacceptable; for Betty said, she had orders to let me know, that my garden-walks, and poultry-visits were suspected; and that both will be prohibited, if I stay here till Saturday or Monday.

 

Possibly this is said by order, to make me go with less reluctance to my uncle’s.

 

My mamma bid her say, if I expostulated about these orders, and about my pen and ink, ‘That reading was more to the purpose, at present, than writeing: That by the one, I might be taught my duty; That the other, considering whom I was believed to write to, only stiffen’d my will: That my needleworks had better be pursued, than my airings; which were observed to be taken in all weathers.’

 

So, my dear, if I do not resolve upon something soon, I shall neither be able to avoid the intended evil, nor have it in my power to correspond with you.

Wednesday Night. 

All is in a hurry below-stairs. Betty is in and out like a spy. Something is working, I know not what. I am really a good deal disorder’d in body as well as mind. Indeed I am quite heart-sick!

 

I will go down, tho’ ’tis almost dark, on pretence of getting a little air and composure. Robert has my two former, I hope, before now: And I will deposite This, with Lovelace’s inclosed, if I can, for fear of another search.

 

I know not what I shall do! —All is so strangely busy! —Doors clapt to: Going-out of one apartment, hurryingly, as I may say, into another. Betty in her alarming way, staring, as if of frighted importance;

twice with me in half an hour; called down in haste, by Shorey, the last time; leaving me with still more meaning in her looks and gestures! —Yet possibly nothing in all This, worthy of my apprehensions. —Here, again, comes the creature, with her deep-drawn affected sighs, and her O dear’s! O dear’s !

 

 

More dark hints thrown out by this saucy creature. But she will not explain herself. ‘Suppose this pretty business ends in murder, she says. I may rue my opposition, as long as I live, for aught she knows. Parents will not be baffled out of their children by impudent gentlemen; nor is it fit they should. It may come home to me, when I least expect it.’

These are the gloomy and perplexing hints this impertinent throws out. Probably they arise from the information Mr. Lovelace says he has secretly permitted them to have [From his vile double-faced agent, I suppose!] of his resolution to prevent my being carried to my uncle’s.

How justly, if so, may This exasperate them! — How am I driven to and fro, like a feather in the wind, at the pleasure of the rash, the selfish, and the headstrong! and when I am as averse to the proceedings of the one, as I am to those of the other! But being forced into a clandestine correspondence, indiscreet measures are fallen upon by the rash man, before I can be consulted: And between them, I have not an option, altho’ my ruin [For is not the loss of reputation a ruin?] may be the dreadful consequence of the steps taken. What a perverse fate is mine!

If I am prevented depositing this, and the inclosed, as I intend to try to do, late as it is, I will add to

it, as occasion shall offer. Mean time, believe me to be

Your ever affectionate and grateful
Cl. Harlowe .

Under the superscription, written with a pensil, after she went down. 

    ‘My two former not taken away! —I am surprised! —I hope you are well—I hope All is right betwixt your mamma and you.’

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