LETTER 100: MISS HOWE TO MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE

LETTER VII

Miss Howe, To Miss Clarissa Harlowe .

Wednesday Night, April 12.

I Have your narrative, my dear. You are the same noble creature you ever were. Above disguise, above art, above extenuating a failing.

The only family in the world, yours, surely, that could have driven such a daughter into such extremities.

But you must not be so very much too good for them, and for the case .

You lay the blame so properly and so unsparingly upon your meeting him, that nothing can be added to that subject by your worst enemies, were they to see what you have written.

I am not surprised, now I have read your narrative, that so bold, and so contriving a man—I am forced to break off—

You stood it out much better and longer—Here again comes my bustling, jealous mother!

Don’t be so angry at yourself. Did you not do for the best at the time? As to your first fault, the answering his letters; it was almost incumbent upon you to assume the guardianship of such a family, when the bravo of it had run riot, as he did, and brought himself into danger.

Except your mamma, who is kept down, have any of them common sense?—

Forgive me, my dear—Here is that stupid uncle Antony of yours. A pragmatical, conceited, positive —He came yesterday, in a fearful pucker, and puffed, and blowed, and stumped about our hall and parlour, while his message was carried up.

My mamma was dressing herself. These widows are as starched as the batchelors. She would not see him in a dishabille, for the world—What can she mean by it?

His errand was to set her against you, and to shew their determined rage on your going away. The issue proved it to be so too evidently.

The odd creature desired to speak with her alone. I am not used to such exceptions, whenever any visits are made to my mamma.

When my mamma was primm’d out, down she came to him—The door was locked upon themselves; the two positive heads were put together—close together, I suppose—for I hearken’d, but could hear nothing distinctly, tho’ they both seem’d full of their subject.

I had a good mind, once or twice, to have made them open the door—Could I have been sure of keeping but tolerably my temper, I would have demanded admittance—But I was afraid, if I had obtained it, that I should have forgot it was my mamma’s house, and been for turning him out of it. —To come to rave against and abuse my dearest, dearest, faultless friend! and the ravings to be listen’d to— And this in order to justify themselves; the one for contributing to drive her out of her father’s house; the other for refusing her a temporary asylum, till the reconciliation could have been effected, which her dutiful heart was set upon! —And which it would have become the love my mamma had ever pretended for you, to have mediated for—Could I have had patience!

The issue, as I said, shew’d what the errand was— Its first appearance, after the old fusty fellow was marched off [You must excuse me, my dear], was in a kind of gloomy, Harlowe-like reservedness in my mamma; which, upon a few resenting flirts of mine, was followed by a rigorous prohibition of correspondence.

This put us, you may suppose, upon terms not the most agreeable. I desired to know, If I were prohibited dreaming of you? —For, my dear, you have all my sleeping, as well as waking hours.

I can easily allow for your correspondence with your wretch, at first [and yet your motives were excellent], by the effect this prohibition has upon me; since, if possible, it has made me love you better than before; and I am more desirous than ever of corresponding with you.

But I have still a more laudable motive—I should think myself the unworthiest of creatures, could I be brought to slight a dear friend, and such a meritorious one, in her distress. —I would die first—And so I told my mamma. And I have desired her not to watch me in my retired hours, nor to insist upon my lying with her constantly, which she now does more earnestly than ever. —‘Twere better, I told her, that the Harlowe-Betty were borrowed to be set over me.

Mr. Hickman, who greatly honours you, has, unknown to me, interposed so warmly in your favour with my mamma, that it makes for him no small merit with me.

I cannot, at present, write to every particular, unless I would be in set defiance. —Teaze, teaze, teaze, for ever! The same thing, tho’ answered fifty times over, is every hour to be repeated—Lord bless me! what a life must my poor papa—But I must remember to whom I am writing.

If this ever-active, ever-mischievous monkey of a man—This Lovelace—contrived as you suspect— But here comes my mamma again—Ay, stay a little longer, my mamma, if you please—I can but be suspected! I can but be chidden for making you wait; and chidden I am sure to be, whether I do or not, in the way you are Antony’d into.

Bless me! —how impatient! —I must break off—

A charming dialogue—But I am sent for down in a very peremptory manner, I assure you. —What an incoherent letter will you have, when I can get it to you! But now I know where to send it, Mr. Hickman shall find me a messenger. Yet, if he be detected, poor soul, he will be Harlowed-off, as well as his meek mistress!—

Thursday, April 13.

I have this moment your continuation-letter, and a little absence of my Argus-eyed mamma.—

Dear creature! —I can account for all your difficulties. A person of your delicacy! —And with such a man! —I must be brief—

The man’s a fool, my dear, with all his pride, and with all his complaisance, and affected regards to your injunctions. Yet his ready inventions—

Sometimes I think you should go to Lady Betty’s. —I know not what to advise you to. —I could, if you were not so intent upon reconciling yourself to your relations. But they are implacable, you can have no hopes from them—Your uncle’s errand to my mamma may convince you of that; and if you have an answer to your letter to your sister, that will confirm you, I dare say.

You need not to have been afraid of asking me, Whether I thought upon reading your narrative, any extenuation could lie for what you have done. I have told you above my mind as to that—And I repeat, that I think, your provocations and inducements considered, you are free from blame: At least, the freest, that ever young creature was who took such a step.

But you took it not—You were driven on one side, and, possibly, trick’d on the other. —If any young person on earth shall be circumstanced as you were, and shall hold out so long as you did, against her persecutors on one hand, and her seducer on the other, I will forgive her for all the rest.

All your acquaintance, you may suppose, talk of nobody but you. Some, indeed, bring your admirable character against you: But nobody does, or can, acquit your father and uncles.

Every-body seems apprized of your brother’s and sister’s motives. It is, no doubt, the very thing they aimed to drive you to, by the various attacks they made upon you; unhoping (as they might do all the time) the success. They knew, that if once you were restored to favour, Love suspended would be Love augmented, and that you must defeat and expose them, and triumph, by your amiable qualities, and great talents, over all their arts. —And now, I hear, they enjoy their successful malice.

Your father is all rage and violence. He ought, I am sure, to turn his rage inward. All your family accuse you of acting with deep art; and are put upon supposing, that you are actually every hour exulting over them, with your man, in the success of it.

They all pretend now, that your trial of Wednesday was to be the last.

Advantage would indeed, my mamma owns, have been taken of your yielding, if you had yielded. But had you not been to be prevailed upon, they would have given up their scheme, and taken your promise for renouncing Lovelace—Believe them who will! They own, however, that a minister was to be present. Mr. Solmes was to be at hand. And your father was previously to try his authority over you, in order to make you sign the settlements. —All of it a romantic contrivance of your wild-headed foolish brother, I make no doubt. —Is it likely, that he and Bell would have given way to your restoration to favour, on any other terms than those their hearts had been so long set upon?

How they took your flight, when they found it out, may be better supposed than described.

Your aunt Hervey, it seems, was the first that went down to the Ivy summer-house, in order to acquaint you, that their search was over. Betty followed her; and they not finding you there, went on toward the cascade, according to a hint of yours.

Returning by the garden-door, they met a servant [They don’t say, it was that Joseph Leman; but it is very likely, that it was he] running, as he said, from pursuing Mr. Lovelace (a great hedge-stake in his hand, and out of breath), to alarm the family.

If it were this fellow, and if he were employed in the double agency of cheating them, and cheating you, what shall we think of the wretch you are with? —Run away from him, my dear, if so—No matter to whom—or marry him, if you cannot.

Your aunt and all your family were accordingly alarmed by this fellow [evidently when too late for pursuit]. They got together, and, when a posse, ran to the place of interview; and some of them as far as to the tracks of the chariot-wheels, without stopping. And having heard the man’s tale, upon the spot, a general lamentation, a mutual upbraiding and rage, and grief, were echoed from the different persons, according to their different tempers and conceptions. And they returned like fools as they went.

Your brother, at first, ordered horses and armed men, to be got ready for a pursuit. Solmes and your uncle Tony were to be of the party. But your mamma and your aunt Hervey dissuaded them from it, for fear of adding evil to evil; not doubting but Lovelace had taken measures to support himself in what he had done; and especially when the servant declared, that he saw you run with him, as fast as you could set foot to ground; and that there were several armed men on horseback at a small distance off.

My mamma’s absence was owing to her suspicion, that the Knollys’s were to assist in our correspondence. She made them a visit upon it. She does every thing at once. And they have promised, that no more letters shall be left there, without her knowlege.

But Mr. Hickman has engaged one Filmer, a husbandman, in the lane we call Finch-lane, near us to receive them. Thither you will be pleased to direct yours, under cover, to Mr. John Soberton; and Mr. Hickman himself will call for them there; and there shall leave mine. It goes against me too, to make him so useful to me. —He looks already so proud upon it! —I shall have him (who knows?) give himself airs. —He had best consider, that the favour he has been long aiming at, may put him into a very dangerous, a very ticklish situation. He that can oblige, may disoblige—Happy for some people not to have it in their power to offend!

I will have patience, if I can, for a while, to see if these bustlings in my mamma will subside—But upon my word, I will not long bear this usage.

Sometimes I am ready to think, that my mamma carries it thus on purpose to tire me out, and to make me the sooner marry. If I find it to be so, and that Hickman, in order to make a merit with me, is in the low plot, I will never bear him in my sight.

Plotting wretch, as I doubt your man is, I wish to heaven, that you were married, that you might brave them all; and not be forced to hide yourself, and be hurried from one inconvenient place to another. I charge you, omit not to lay hold on any handsome opportunity that may offer for that purpose.

Here again comes my mamma.

 

We look mighty glum upon each other, I can tell you. She had not best Harlowe me at this rate!— won’t bear it!—

I have a vast deal to write. I know not what to write first. Yet my mind is full, and seems to run over.

I am got into a private corner of the garden, to be out of her way. —Lord help these mothers! — Do they think they can prevent a daughter’s writing, or doing any thing she has a mind to do, by suspicion, watchfulness, and scolding? —They had better place a confidence in one by half—A generous mind scorns to abuse a generous confidence.

You have a nice, a very nice part to act with this wretch—Who yet has, I think, but one plain path before him. I pity you! —But you must make the best of the lot you have been forced to draw. Yet I see your difficulties. —But if he do not offer to abuse your confidence, I would have you seem, at least, to place some in him.

If you think not of marrying soon, I approve of your resolution to fix somewhere out of his reach: And if he know not where to find you, so much the better. Yet I verily believe, they would force you back, could they but come at you, if they were not afraid of him .

I think, by all means, you should demand of both your trustees to be put in possession of your own estate. Mean time I have sixty guineas at your service. I beg you will command them. Before they are gone, I’ll take care you shall be further supplied. I don’t think you’ll have a shilling, or a shilling’s worth, of your own, from your relations, unless you extort it from them.

As they believe you went off by your own consent, they are surpriz’d, it seems, and glad, that you have left your jewels and money behind you, and have contrived for cloaths so ill. Very little likelihood this shews, of their answering your requests.

Indeed every-body, not knowing what I now know must be at a loss to account for your flight, as they will call it. And how, my dear, can one report with any tolerable advantage to you? —To say, you did not intend it, when you met him, who will believe it? —To say, that a person of your known steadiness and punctilio was over-persuaded, when you gave him the meeting, how will that sound? —To say you were trick’d out of yourself, and people were to give credit to it, how disreputable? —And when unmarried, and yet with him, he a man of such character, what would it not lead a censuring woman to think?

I want to see how you put it in your letter for your cloaths.

You may depend, I repeat, upon all the little spiteful and disgraceful things they can offer, instead of what you write for. So pray accept the sum I tender. What will seven guineas do? —And I will find a way to send you also any of my cloaths, and linen for present supply. I beg, my dearest Miss Harlowe, that you will not put your Anna Howe upon a foot with Lovelace, in refusing to accept of my offer. If you do not oblige me, I shall be apt to think, that you rather incline to be obliged to him, than to favour me. And if I find this, I shall not know how to reconcile it with your delicacy in other respects.

Pray inform me of every thing that passes between you and him. My cares for you (however needless from your own prudence) make me wish you to continue to be very minute. If any thing occur, that you would tell me of, if present, fail not to put down in writing, altho’, from your natural diffidence it should not appear to you altogether so worthy of your pen, or of my knowing. A stander-by may see more of the game than one that plays. Great consequences, like great folks, are generally attended, and seen made great, by small causes, and little incidents.

Upon the whole, I do not now think it is in your power to dismiss him when you please. I apprized you beforehand that it would not. I repeat, therefore, that were I you, I would at least seem to place some confidence in him: So long as he is decent, you may. Very visibly observable, to such delicacy as yours, must be that behaviour in him, which will make him unworthy of some confidence.

Your relations, according to old Antony to my mother, and she to me (by way of threatening, that you will not gain your supposed ends upon them by your flight), seem to expect, that you will throw yourself into Lady Betty’s protection; and that she will offer to mediate for you: And they vow, that they will never hearken to any accommodation, or terms, that shall come from that quarter. They might speak out, and say, from any quarter; for I dare aver, that your brother and sister will not let them cool—At least, till their uncles have made such dispositions, and your father too, perhaps, as they would have them make.

As this letter will apprize you of an alteration in the place to which you must direct your next, I send by a friend of Mr. Hickman’s, who may be depended upon. He has business in the neighbourhood of Mrs. Earlings, whom he knows; and will return to Mr. Hickman this night; and bring back any letter you shall have ready to send, or can get ready. It is moon-light. He won’t mind waiting for you. I choose not to send by any of Mr. Hickman’s servants;—at present, however. Every hour is now, or may be, important; and may make an alteration in your resolutions and situation necessary.

I hear, from where I sit, my mamma calling about her, and putting every-body into motion. She will soon, I suppose, make me, and my employment, the subject of her inquiry.

Adieu, my dear. May heaven preserve you, and restore you with honour as unsullied as your mind, to

Your ever-affectionate
Anna Howe .

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