LETTER 123: MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE, TO MISS HOWE

You may believe, my dear, that these letters put me in good humour with him. He saw it in my countenance, and congratulated himself upon it. But yet I wonder’d that I could not have the contents of them communicated to me last night.

 

He then urged me to go directly to Lady Betty’s, on the strength of her letter.

 

But how, said I, can I do that, were I out of all hope of a reconciliation with my friends [which yet, however improbable to be brought about, is my duty to attempt] as her ladyship has given me no particular invitation?

 

That, he was sure, was owing to her doubt that it would be accepted: Else she had done it with the greatest pleasure in the world.

 

That doubt itself, I said, was enough to deter me: Since her ladyship, who knew so well the boundaries of the fit and the unfit, by her not expecting I would accept of an invitation, had she given it, would have reason to think me very forward, if I had accepted it;

and much more forward to go without it. Then, said I, I thank you, Sir, I have no cloaths fit to go anywhere, or to be seen by any-body.

 

O, I was fit to appear in the ‘drawing-room, were full dress and jewels to be excused, and should make the most amiable [ extraordinary he must mean] figure there. He was astonish’d at the elegance of my dress. By what art he knew not, but I appeared to such advantage, as if I had a different suit every day. Besides, his cousins Montague would supply me with all I wanted for the present; and he would write to Miss Charlotte accordingly, if I would give him leave.

 

Do you think me the jay in the fable? said I. — Would you have me visit the owners of the borrowed dresses in their own cloaths? —Surely, Mr. Lovelace, you think I have either a very low, or a very confident mind.

 

Would I choose to go to London, for a few days only, in order to furnish myself with cloaths?

 

Not at his expence. I was not prepared to wear his livery yet.

 

I could not have appeared in earnest to him, in my displeasure at his artful contrivances to get me away, if I were not occasionally to shew my real fretfulness upon the destitute condition he has reduced me to. When people set out wrong together, it is very difficult to avoid recriminations.

 

He wish’d he knew but my mind—That should direct him in his proposals, and it would be his delight to observe it, whatever it was.

 

My mind was, that he should leave me out of hand. —How often must I tell him so?—

 

If I were any-where but here, he would obey me, he said, if I insisted upon it. But if I would assert my right, that would be infinitely preferable, in his opinion, to any other measure but one; which he durst only hint at : For then, admitting his visits, or refusing them, as I pleased [granting a correspondence by letter only] it would appear to all the world, that what I had done, was but in order to do myself justice.

 

How often must I tell you, Sir, that I will not litigate with my papa? —Do you think that my unhappy circumstances will alter my notions of my own duty, so far as it is practicable for me to perform it? —How can I obtain possession without litigation, and but by my trustees? One of them will be against me; the other is abroad. This must take up time, were I disposed to fall upon this measure. —And what I want, is present independence, and your immediate absence.

 

Upon his soul, the wretch swore, he did not think it safe, for the reasons he had before given, to leave me here. —He hoped I would think of some place, to which I should like to go. But he must take the liberty to say, that he hoped his behaviour had not been so exceptionable, as to make me so very earnest for his absence in the interim: And the less, surely, as I was almost eternally shutting up myself from him; altho’ he presumed, he said, to assure me, that he never went from me, but with a corrected heart, and with strengthened resolutions of improving by my example.

 

Eternally shutting myself up from you ! repeated I— I hope, Sir, that you will not pretend to take it amiss, that I expect to be uninvaded in my retirements. I hope you do not think me so weak a creature (novice as you have found me in a very capital instance) as to be fond of occasions to hear your fine speeches, especially as no differing circumstances require your over-frequent visits; nor that I am to be addressed to as if I thought hourly professions needful to assure me of your honour.

 

He seemed a little disconcerted.

 

You know, Mr. Lovelace, proceeded I, why I am so earnest for your absence. It is, that I may appear to the world independent of you; and in hopes, by that means, to find it less difficult to set on foot a reconciliation with my friends. And now let me add (in order to make you easier as to the terms of that hoped-for reconciliation) that since I find I have the good fortune to stand so well with your relations, I will, from time to time, acquaint you, by letter, when you are absent, with every step I shall take, and with every overture that shall be made to me. But not with an intention to render myself accountable to you, neither, as to my acceptance or non-acceptance of those overtures. They know, that I have a power given me by my grandfather’s will, to bequeath the estate he left me, together with my share of the effects, in a way that may affect them, though not absolutely from them: This consideration, I hope, will procure me some from them, when their passion subsides, and they know I am independent of you.

 

Charming reasoning! —And let him tell me, that the assurance I had given him was all he wished-for. It was more than he could ask. —What a happiness to have a woman of honour and generosity to depend upon! —Had he, on his first entrance into the world, met with such a one, he had never been other than a man of strict virtue—But all, he hoped, was for the best; since, in that case, he had never, perhaps, had the happiness now in his view; because his relations had been always urging him to marry; and that before he had the honour to know me. —And now, as he had not been so bad as some peoples malice reported him to be, he hoped, he should have more merit in his repentance, than if he had never err’d.

 

I said, I took it for granted, that he assented to the reasoning he seemed to approve, and would leave me. And then I asked him, What he really, and in his most deliberate mind, would advise me to, in my present situation? He must needs see, I said, that I was at a great loss what to resolve upon; intirely a stranger
to London, having no adviser, no protector, at present: —Himself, he must give me leave to tell him, greatly deficient in practice, if not in the knowlege, of those decorums, which, I had apprehended, were indispensable in the character of a man of birth, fortune, and education.

 

He imagines himself, I find, to be a very polite man, and cannot bear to be thought otherwise. He put up his lip,—I am sorry for it, Madam. —A man of breeding, a man of politeness, give me leave to say, colouring, is much more of a black swan with you, than with any lady I ever met with.

 

Then that is your misfortune, Mr. Lovelace, as well as mine, at present. —Every woman of discernment, I am confident, knowing what I know of you now, would say as I say [I had a mind to mortify a pride, that I am sure deserves to be mortify’d] that your politeness is not regular, nor constant. It is not habit. It is too much seen by fits, and starts, and sallies, and those not spontaneous. You must be remindedinto them.

 

O Lord! O Lord! —Poor I!—was the light, yet the half-angry wretch’s self-pitying expression!—

 

I proceeded. —Upon my word, Sir, you are not the accomplish’d man, which your talents and opportunities would have led one to expect you to be. — You are indeed in your noviciate [He had, in a former conversation, used that word] as to every laudable attainment.—

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