LETTER 86: MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE TO MISS HOWE

Sat. Morn, 8 o’Clock, April 8.

Whether you will blame me, or not, I cannot tell, But I have deposited a letter confirming my former resolution to leave this house on Monday next, within the hours, if possible, prefixed in my former. I have not kept a copy of it. But this is the substance:

 

I tell him, ‘That I have no way to avoid the determin’d resolution of my friends in behalf of Mr. Solmes; but by abandoning this house by his assistance.’

 

I have not pretended to make a merit with him on this score; for I plainly tell him, ‘That could I, without an unpardonable sin, die when I would, I would sooner make death my choice, than take a step, which all the world, if not my own heart, will condemn me for taking.’

 

I tell him, ‘That I shall not try to bring any other cloaths with me, than those I shall have on; and those but my common wearing-apparel; lest I should be suspected. That I must expect to be deny’d the possession of my estate: But that I am determin’d never to consent to a litigation with my father, were I to be reduced to ever so low a state: So that the protection I am to be obliged for, to any one, must be alone for the distress-sake: And yet, that I have too much pride to think of marrying, until I have a fortune that shall make me appear upon a foot of equality with, and void of obligation to, any-body: That, therefore, he will have nothing to hope for from this step, that he had not before: And that, in every light, I reserve to myself to accept or refuse his address, as his behaviour and circumspection shall appear to me to deserve.’

 

I tell him, ‘That I think it best to go into a private lodging, in the neighbourhood of his aunt Lawrance; and not to her house; that it may not appear to the world, that I have refuged myself in his family; and that a reconciliation with my friends, may not, on that account, be made impracticable: That I will send for thither my faithful Hannah; and apprize only Miss Howe where I am: That he shall instantly leave me, and go to London, or to one of his uncle’s seats; and (as he had promised) not come near me, but by my leave; contenting himself with a correspondence by letter only.

 

‘That if I find myself in danger of being discovered, and carried back by violence, I will then throw myself directly into the protection of either of his aunts, who will receive me: But This only in case of absolute necessity; for that it will be more to my reputation, for me, by the best means I can, (taking advantage of my privacy) to enter by a second or third hand into a treaty of reconciliation with my friends.

 

‘That I must, however, plainly tell him, That if, in this treaty, my friends insist upon my resolving against marrying him, I will engage to comply with them; provided they will allow me to promise him, that I will never be any other man’s, while he remains single, or is living: That this is a compliment I am willing to pay to him, in return for the trouble and pains he has taken, and the usage he has met with, on my account: Altho’ I intimate, that he may, in a great measure, thank himself, and the little regard he has paid to his reputation, for the slights he has met with.’

 

I tell him, ‘That I may, in this privacy, write to my cousin Morden, and, if possible, interest him in my cause.

 

‘I take some brief notice of his alternatives.’

 

You must think my dear, that this unhappy force upon me, and this projected flight, makes it necessary for me to account to him much sooner than it agrees with my stomach to do, for every part of my conduct.

 

‘It is not to be expected, I tell him, that your mamma will embroil herself, or suffer you, or Mr. Hickman to be embroiled, on my account: And as to his proposal of my going to London, I am such an absolute stranger to every-body there, and have such a bad opinion of the place, that I cannot by any means think of going thither; except I should be induced, some time hence, by the Ladies of his family to attend them.

 

‘As to the meeting he is desirous of, I think it by no means proper; especially as it is so likely that I may soon see him. But that if any thing occurs to induce me to change my mind, as to withdrawing, I may then, very probably, take the first opportunity to see him, and give him my reasons for that change.’

 

This, my dear, I the less scrupled to write, that I might qualify him for such a disappointment, should I give it; he having, besides, behaved so very unexceptionably, when he surprized me some time ago in the lonely woodhouse.

 

Finally, ‘I commend myself, as a person in distress, and merely as such, to his honour, and to his aunt’s protection. I repeat [most cordially, I am sure!] my deep concern for being forced to take a step so disagreeable, and so derogatory to my honour. And having told him, that I will endeavour to obtain leave to dine in the Ivy summer-house ( a ) , and to send Betty of some errand, when there, I leave the rest to him; but imagine, that about four o’clock will be a proper time for him to contrive some signal to let me know he is at hand, and for me to unbolt the garden-door.’

 

I added, by way of postscript, ‘That their suspicions seeming to increase, I advise him to contrive to send or come to the usual place, as frequently as possible, in the interval of time, till Monday morning ten or eleven o’ clock; as something may possibly happen to make me alter my mind.’g is the necessity, forced upon me, for all this preparation and contrivance! —But it is now too late! —But how! — Too late, did I say? —What a word is that !—what a dreadful thing, were I to repent, to find it to be too late, to remedy the apprehended evil!

 

Saturday, Ten o’ Clock.

Mr. Solmes is here. He is to dine with his new relations, as Betty tells me he already calls them.

 

He would have thrown himself in my way, once more: But I hurry’d up to my prison, in my return from my garden-walk, to avoid him.

 

I had, when in the garden, the curiosity to see, if my letter were gone: I cannot say, with an intention to take it back again, if it had not; because I see not how I could do otherwise than I have done. Yet what a caprice was this! —For when I found it gone, I began (as yesterday-morning) to wish it had not: For no other reason, I believe, than because it was out of my power.

 

A strange diligence in this man! —He says, he almost lives upon the place; and I think so too.

 

He mentions, as you will see in his letter, four several disguises, which he put on in one day. It is a wonder, nevertheless, that he has not been seen by some of our tenants: For it is impossible that any disguise can hide the gracefulness of his figure. But this is to be said, that the adjoining grounds being all in our own hands, and no common foot-paths near that part of the garden, and thro’ the park and coppice, nothing can be more bye and unfrequented.

 

 

Then they are less watchful, I believe, over my garden-walks, and my poultry-visits, depending, as my aunt hinted, upon the bad character they have taken so much pains to fasten upon Mr. Lovelace. This, they think (and justly think), must fill me with doubts. And then the regard I have hitherto had for my reputation, is another of their securities. Were it not for these two, they would not surely have used me as they have done; and at the same time left me the opportunities, which I have several times had, to get away, had I been disposed to do so ( a ) 23 : And indeed, their dependencies on both these motives would have been well founded, had they kept but tolerable measures with me.

 

Then, perhaps, they have no notion of the backdoor; as it is seldom open’d, and leads to a place so pathless and lonesome ( b ) 24 . If not, therecan be no other way to go off (if one would), without discovery, unless by the plashy lane, so full of springs, by which your servant reaches the solitary wood-house; to which lane one must descend from a high bank, that bounds the poultry-yard. For, as to the front-way, you know, one must pass thro’ the house to That, and in sight of the parlours, and the servants hall; then have the large open court-yard to go through, and, by means of the iron-gate, be full in view, as one passe over the lawn, for a quarter of a mile together; the young plantations of elms and limes affording yet but little shade or covert.

 

The Ivy summer-house is the most convenient for this affecting purpose of any spot in the garden, as it is not far from the back-door, and yet in another alley, as you may remember. Then it is seldom resorted to by any-body else, except in the summer-months, because it is cool. When they loved me, they would often, for this reason, object to my long continuance in it: —But now, it is no matter what becomes of me. Besides, cold is a bracer, as my brother said yesterday.

 

Here I will desposite what I have written. Let me have your prayers, my dear; and your approbation, or your censure, of the steps I have taken: For yet it may not be quite too late to revoke the appointment. I am

 

Your most affectionate and faithful
Cl. Harlowe .

Why will you send your servant empty-handed?

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