LETTER 137: MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE, TO MISS HOWE

 

Friday, April 21.

Mr. Lovelace communicated to me this morning early, from his intelligencer, the news of my brother’s scheme. I like him the better for making very light of it; and for his treating it with contempt. And indeed, had I not had the hint of it from you, I should have suspected it to be some contrivance of his, in order to hasten me to town, where he has long wished to be himself.

 

He read me the passage in that Leman’s letter, pretty much to the effect of what you wrote to me from Miss Lloyd; with this addition, that one Singleton, a master of a Scots vessel, is the man, who is to be the principal in this act of violence.

 

I have seen him. He has been twice entertained at Harlowe-Place, as my brother’s friend. He has the air of a very bold and fearless man; and I fancy it must be his project; as my brother, I suppose, talks to every-body of the rash step I have taken; having not spared me before he had this seeming reason to censure me. This Singleton lives at Leith; so, perhaps, I am to be carried to my brother’s house not far from that port.

 

Putting these passages together, I am not a little apprehensive, that the design, lightly as Mr. Lovelace, from his fearless temper, treats it, may be attempted to be carried into execution; and of the consequences that may attend it, if it be. I asked Mr. Lovelace, seeing him so frank and cool, what he would advise me to do?

 

Shall I ask you, Madam, what are your own thoughts? —Why I return the question, said he, is, because you have been so very earnest that I should leave you, as soon as you are in London, that I know not what to propose, without offending you.

 

My opinion is, said I, that I should studiously conceal myself from the knowlege of every-body but Miss Howe; and that you should leave me out of hand; since they will certainly conclude, that where one is, the other is not far off: And it is easier to trace you than me.

 

You would not surely wish, said he, to fall into your brother’s hands by such a violent measure as this? —I propose not to throw myself officiously in their way; but should they have reason to think I avoided them, would not that whet their diligence to find you, and their courage to attempt to carry you off; and subject me to insults that no man of spirit can bear? Lord bless me! said I, to what has this one fatal step that I have been betray’d into—

 

Dearest Madam! Let me beseech you to forbear this harsh language, when you see, by this new scheme, how determin’d they were upon carrying their old ones, had you not been betray’d, as you call it! Have I offer’d to defy the laws of society, as this brother of yours must do, if any thing be intended by this project? —I hope you will be pleased to observe, that there are as violent and as wicked enterprizers as myself—But this is so very wild a project, that I think there can be no room for apprehensions from it. —I know your brother well. When at College, he had always a romantic turn. But never had a head for any thing but to puzzle and confound himself: A half invention, and a whole conceit, and without any talents to do himself good, or others harm, but as those others gave him the power by their own folly, built upon his presumption.

 

This is very volubly run off, Sir! —But violent spirits are but too much alike; at least in their methods of resenting. You will not presume to make yourself a less innocent man surely, who had determin’d to brave my whole family in person, if my folly had not saved you the rashness, and them the insult—

 

Dear Madam! —Still must it be folly, rashness !— It is as impossible for you to think tolerably of anybody out of your own family, as it is for any onein it to deserve your love! —Forgive me, dearest creature! —If I did not love you as no man ever loved a woman, I might appear more indifferent to preferences so undeservedly made. —But let me ask you, Madam, What have you borne from me ? —What cause have I given you to treat me with so much severity, and so little confidence? —And what have you not borne from them ? —My general character may have been against me: But what of your own knowlege have you against me? I was startled. But I was resolved not to desert myself.

 

Is this a time, Mr. Lovelace, is this a proper occasion, to give yourself these high airs to me, a young creature destitute of protection? —It is a surprizing question you ask me. Had I aught against you of my own knowlege—I can tell you, Sir—And away I would have flung.

 

He snatched my hand, and besought me not to leave him in displeasure. —He pleaded his passion for me, and my severity to him, and partiality for those from whom I had suffer’d so much; and whose intended violence, he said, was now the subject of our deliberation. I was forced to hear him.

 

You condescended, dearest creature, said he, to ask my advice. —It is very easy, give me leave to say, to advise you what to do. I hope I may, on this new occasion, speak without offence, notwithstanding your former injunctions—You see that there can be no hope of reconciliation with your relations. —Can you, Madam, consent to honour with your hand, a wretch whom you have never yet obliged with one voluntary favour?— What a recriminating, what a reproachful way, my dear, was this, of putting a question of this nature!—

 

I expected not from him, at the time, either the question or the manner—I am ashamed to recollect the confusion I was thrown into;—all your advice in my head at the moment: Yet his words so prohibitory. He confidently seemed to enjoy my confusion [Indeed, my dear, he knows not what respectful love is!]; and gaz’d upon me, as if he would have looked me through. He was still more declarative afterwards indeed, as I shall mention by-and-by: But it was half-extorted from him.

 

My heart struggled violently between resentment and shame to be thus teazed by one, who seemed to have all his passions at command, at a time when I had very little over mine ; till at last I burst into tears, and was going from him in high disgust; when, throwing his arms about me, with an air, however, the most tenderly respectful, he gave a stupid turn to the subject.

 

It was far from his heart, he said, to take so much advantage of the streight, which the discovery of my brother’s foolish project had brought me into, as to renew, without my permission, a proposal which I had hitherto discountenanced; and which for that reason— And then he came with his half-sentences, apologizing for what he had hardly half proposed.

 

Surely, he had not the insolence to intend to teaze me, to see if I could be brought to speak what became me not to speak—But, whether he had or not, it did teaze me; insomuch that my very heart was fretted, and I broke out at last into fresh tears, and a declaration, that I was very unhappy. And just then recollecting how like a tame fool I stood, with his arms about me, I flung from him with indignation. But he seized my hand, as I was going out of the room, and upon his knees besought my stay for one moment: And then tendered himself, in words the most clear and explicit, to my acceptance, as the most effectual means to disappoint my brother’s scheme, and set all right.

 

But what could I say to this? —Extorted from him, as it seem’d to me, rather as the effect of his compassion, than of his love? What could I say? —I paused, I looked silly! I am sure I looked very silly. He suffered me to pause, and look silly; waiting for me to say something: And at last, ashamed of my confusion, and aiming to make an excuse for it, I told him, that I desired he would avoid such measures, as might add to an uneasiness which was so visible upon reflecting on the irreconcileableness of my friends, and what unhappy consequences might follow from this unaccountable project of my brother.

 

He promised to be governed by me in every thing. And again the wretch asked me, If I forgave him for the humble suit he had made to me? What had I to do, but to try for a palliation of my confusion, since it serv’d me not?

 

I told him, I had hopes it would not be long before Mr. Morden arrived; and doubted not, that he would be the readier to engage in my favour, when he found, that I made no other use of his, Mr. Lovelace’s, assistance, than to free myself from the addresses of a man so disagreeable to me as Mr. Solmes: I must therefore wish, that every thing might remain as it was, till I could hear from my cousin.

 

This, altho’ teazed by him as I was, was not a denial, you see, my dear. But he must throw himself into a heat, rather than try to persuade; which any other man, in his situation, I should think, would have done: And this warmth obliged me to adhere to my seeming negative.

 

This was what he said, with a vehemence that must harden any woman’s mind, who had a spirit above being frighted into passiveness: Good God! —And will you, Madam, still resolve to shew me, that I am to hope for no share in your favour, while any the remotest prospect remains, that you will be received by my bitterest enemies, at the price of my utter rejection?

 

This was what I return’d, with warmth, and with a salving art too —You have seen, Mr. Lovelace, how much my brother’s violence can affect me: But you will be mistaken, if you let loose yours upon me, with a thought of terrifying me into measures, the contrary of which you have acquiesced with.

 

He only besought me to suffer his future actions to speak for him; and, if I saw him worthy of any favour, that I would not let him be the onlyperson within my knowlege, who was not intitled to my consideration.

 

You refer to a future time, Mr. Lovelace; so do I, for the future proof of a merit you seem to think for the past time wanting: And justly you think so. And I was again going from him.

 

One word more he begged me to hear: —He was determined studiously to avoid all mischief, and every step that might lead to mischief, let my brother’s proceedings, short of a violence upon my person, be what they would: But if any attempt, that should extend to that, were to be made, would I have him to be a quiet spectator of my being seized, or carried back, or aboard, by this Singleton; or, in case of extremity, was he not permitted to stand up in my defence?

 

Stand up in my defence, Mr. Lovelace! —I should be very miserable, were there to be a call for that: But do you think I might not be safe and privatein London? —By your friend’s description of the widow’s house, I should think I might be safe there.

 

The widow’s house, he reply’d, as described by his friend, being a back-house within a front-one, and looking to a garden, rather than a street, had the appearance of privacy: But if, when there, it was not approved, it would be easy to find another more to my liking—Tho’, as to his part, the met would advise should be, to write to my uncle Harlowe as one of my trustees, and wait the issue of it here at Mrs. Sorling’s, fearlesly directing it to be answered hither . To be afraid of little spirits, was but to encourage insults, he said. The substance of the letter should be, ‘To demand as a right, what they would refuse if requested as a courtesy: To acknowlege, that I had put myself [too well, he said, did their treatment justify me] into the protection of the Ladies of his family (by whose orders, and Lord M.’s, he himself would appear to act): But that it was upon my own terms; which laid me under no obligation to them for the favour, it being no more than they would have granted to any one of my sex, equally distressed:’ If I approved not of this method, happy should he think himself, he said, if I would honour him with the opportunity of making such a claim in his ownname. —But this was a point [with his buts again!] that he durst but just touch upon. He hoped, however, that I would think their violence a sufficient inducement for me to take such a wished-for resolution.

 

Inwardly vexed, I told him, That he himself had proposed to leave me when I was in town: That I expected he would: And that, when I was known to be absolutely independent, I should consider what to write, and what to do: But that, while he was hanging about me, I neither would nor could.

 

He would be very sincere with me, he said: This project of my brother’s had changed the face of things. He must, before he left me, see how I liked the London widow, and her family, if I chose to go thither: They might be people whom my brother might buy. But if he saw they were persons of integrity, he then might go for a day or two, or so. But he must needs say, he could not leave me longer. Do you propose, Sir, said I, to take up your lodging in the same house?

 

He did not, he said; as he knew the use I intended to make of his absence, and my punctilio—And yet the house where he had lodgings was new-fronting: But he could go to his friend Belford’s, in Soho; or perhaps, to the same gentleman’s house at Edgware, and return on mornings, till he had reason to think this wild project of my brother’s laid aside. But no farther till then would he venture.

 

The result of all was, to set out on Monday next for town. I hope it will be in a happy hour.

 

I cannot, my dear, say too often, how much I am

 

Your ever-obliged
Cl. Harlowe .

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