LETTER 155: MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE, TO MISS HOWE

Wedn. P. M. Apr. 26.

 

At length, my dearest Miss Howe, I am in London, and in my new lodgings. They are neatly furnish’d, and the situation, for the town, is pleasant. But, I think, you must not ask me, how I like the old gentlewoman. Yet she seems courteous and obliging. Her kinswomen just appear to welcome me at my alighting. They seem to be genteel young women. But more of their aunt and of them, as I shall see more.

 

Miss Sorlings has an uncle at Barnet, whom she found so very ill, that her uneasiness to stay to attend him (having large expectations from him) made me comply with her desire. Yet I wish’d; as her uncle did not expect her, that she would first see me settled in London; and Mr. Lovelace was still more earnest that she would, offering to send her back again in a day or two, and urging, that her uncle’s malady intimated not a sudden change. But leaving the matter to her choice, after she knew what would have been mine, she made me not the expected compliment upon it. Mr. Lovelace, however, made her a handsome present at parting.

 

His genteel spirit on all occasions makes me often wish him more consistent.

 

As soon as I arrived, I took possession of my apartment. Shall make good use of the light closet in it, if I stay here any time.

 

One of his attendants returns in the morning to the Lawn; and I made writing to you by him, an excuse for my retiring.

 

And now give me leave to chide you, my dearest friend, for your rash, and I hope revocable resolution, not to make Mr. Hickman the happiest man in the world, while my happiness is in suspense. Suppose I were to be unhappy, what, my dear, would your resolution avail me? Marriage is the highest state of friendship: If happy, it lessens our cares, by dividing them, at the same time that it doubles our pleasures by a mutual participation. Why, my dear, if you love me, will you not rather give another friend to one who has not two that she is sure of? — Had you marry’d on your mother’s last birth-day, as she would have had you, I should not, I dare say, have wanted a refuge, that would have saved me so many mortifications, and so much disgrace.

 

Here I was broken in upon by Mr. Lovelace; introducing the widow leading in a kinswoman of hers to attend me, if I approved of her, till my Hannah should come, or till I had provided myself with some other servant. The widow gave her many good qualities; but said, that she had one great defect; which was, that she could not write, nor read writing; that part of her education having been neglected when she was young: But for discretion, fidelity, obligingness, she was not to be outdone by any-body. She commended her likewise for her skill in the needle.

 

As for her defect, I can easily forgive that. She is very likely and genteel; too genteel indeed, I think, for a servant. But what I like least of all in her, she has a strange sly eye. I never saw such an eye: — Half-confident, I think. But indeed Mrs. Sinclair herself (for that is the widow’s name) has an odd winking eye; and her respectfulness seems too much studied, methinks, for the London ease and freedom. But people can’t help their looks, you know; and after all, she is extremely civil and obliging: And as for the young woman (Dorcas her name), she will not be long with me.

 

I accepted her: How could I do otherwise (if I had a mind to make objections, which in my present situation I had not), her aunt present, and the young woman also present; and Mr. Lovelace officious in his introducing of them for my sake? —But upon their leaving me, I told him, who seem’d inclinable to begin a conversation with me, that I desired that this apartment might be consider’d as my retirement: That when I saw him, it might be in the dining-room; and that I might be as little broke in upon as possible, when I am here. He withdrew very respectfully to the door; but there stopt; and asked for my company then in the dining-room. If he was about setting out for other lodgings, I would go with him now, I told him: But if he did not just then go, I would first finish my letter to Miss Howe.

 

I see he has no mind to leave me, if he can help it. My brother’s scheme may give him a pretence to try to engage me to dispense with his promise. But if I now do, I must acquit him of it intirely.

 

My approbation of his tender behaviour in the midst of my grief, has given him a right, as he seems to think, of addressing me with all the freedom of an approved lover. I see by this man, that when once a woman embarks with this sex, there is no receding. One concession is but the prelude to another with them. He has been ever since Sunday last continually complaining of the distance I keep him at; and thinks himself intitled now, to call in question my value for him; strengthening his doubts by my declared readiness to give him up to a reconciliation with my friends—And yet has himself fallen off from that obsequious tenderness, if I may couple the words, which drew from me the concessions he builds upon.

 

While we were talking at the door, my new servant came up, with an invitation to us both to tea. I said he might accept of it, if he pleased; but I must pursue my writing; and not choosing either tea or supper, I desired him to make my excuses below, as to both; and inform them of my choice to be retired as much as possible; yet to promise for me my attendance on the widow and her nieces at breakfast in the morning.

 

He objected particularity in the eye of strangers, as to avoiding supper.

 

You know, said I, and can tell them, that I seldom eat suppers. My spirits are low! You must never urge me against a declared choice. Pray, Mr. Lovelace, inform them of all my particularities. If they are obliging, they will allow for them. I come not here to make new acquaintance.

 

I have turned over the books I have sound in my closet; and am not a little pleased with them; and think the better of the people of the house for their sales.

 

Stanhope’s Gospels; Sharp’s, Tillotson’s, and South’s Sermons; Nelson’s Feasts and Fasts; a Sacramental piece of the Bishop of Man, and another of Dr. Gauden, Bishop of Exeter; and Inett’s Devotions; are among the devout books: And among those of a lighter turn, these not ill-chosen ones; A Telemachus in French, another in English; Steele’s, Rowe’s, and Shakespeare’s Plays; that genteel Comedy of Mr. Cibber, The Careless Husband, and others of the same Author; Dryden’s Miscellanies; the Tattlers, Spectators, and Guardians; Pope’s, and Swift’s, and Addison’s Works.

 

In the blank leaves of the Nelson and Bishop Gauden, is Mrs. Sinclair’s name; in those of most of the others, either Sarah Martin, or Mary Horton, the names of the two nieces.

 

I am exceedingly out of humour with Mr. Lovelace: And have great reason to be so: As you will allow, when you have read the conversation I am going to give you an account of; for he would not let me rest till I gave him my company in the dining-room.

 

He began with letting me know, that he had been out to inquire after the character of the widow; which was the more necessary, he said, as he supposed that I would expect his frequent absence.

 

I did, I said; and that he would not think of taking up his lodging in the same house with me. But what was the issue of his inquiry?

 

Why, indeed, it was, in the main, what he liked well enough. But as it was Miss Howe’s opinion, as I had told him, that my brother had not given over his scheme; as the widow lived by letting lodgings; and had others to let in the same part of the house, which might be taken by an enemy; he knew no better way, than for him to take them all, as it could not be for a long time; unless I would think of removing to others.

 

So far was well enough: But as it was easy for me to see, that he spoke the flighter of the widow, in order to have a pretence to lodge here himself, I asked him his intention in that respect. And he frankly own’d, that if I chose to stay here, he could not, as matters stood, think of leaving me for six hours together; and he had prepared the widow to expect, that we should be here but for a few days;— only till we could fix ourselves in a house suitable to our condition; and this, that I might be under the less embarrass, if I pleased to remove.

 

Fix our -selves in a house, and we and our, Mr. Lovelace—Pray, in what light—

 

He interrupted me,—Why, my dearest life, if you will hear me with patience—Yet I am half afraid, that I have been too forward, as I have not consulted you upon it. —But as my friends in town, according to what Mr. Doleman has written, in the letter you have seen, conclude us to be marry’d—

 

Surely, Sir, you have not presumed—

 

Hear me out, dearest creature—You have received with favour my addresses—You have made me hope for the honour of your consenting hand: Yet, by declining my most fervent tender of myself to you at Mrs. Sorlings’s, have given me apprehensions of delay: I would not for the world be thought so ungenerous a wretch, now you have honoured me with your confidence, as to wish to precipitate you: Yet your brother’s schemes are not given up. Singleton, I am afraid, is actually in town; his vessel lies at Rotherhith—Your brother is absent from Harlowe-Place [indeed not with Singleton yet, as I can hear]. If you are known to be mine, or if you are but thought to be so, there will probably be an end of your brother’s contrivances. The widow’s character may be as worthy as it is said to be. But the worthier she is, the more danger, if your brother’s agent should find us out; since she may be persuaded, that she ought in conscience to take a parent’s part, against a child who stands in opposition to them. But if she believes us married, her good character will stand us in stead, and she will be of our party. —Then I have taken care to give her a reason why two apartments are requisite for us, at the hour of retirement.

 

I perfectly raved at him. I would have flung from him in resentment; but he would not let me: And what could I do? Whither go, the evening advanced?

 

I am astonish’d at you! said I: —If you are a man of honour, what need of all this strange obliquity? You delight in crooked ways. —Let me know, since I must stay in your company (for he held my hand), let me know all you have said. —Indeed, indeed, Mr. Lovelace, you are a very unaccountable man.

 

My dearest creature, need I to have mentioned any thing of this; and could I not have taken up my lodgings in this house, unknown to you, if I had not intended to make you the judge of all my proceedings? —But this is what I have told the widow before her kinswomen, and before your new servant,—That indeed we were privately married at Hertford; but that you had preliminarily bound me under a solemn vow, which I am most religiously resolved to keep, to be contented with separate apartments, and even not to lodge under the same roof, till a certain reconciliation shall take place, which is of high consequence to both. And further, that I might convince you of the purity of my intentions, and that my whole view in this was to prevent mischief, I have acquainted them, that I have solemnly promised to behave to you before every body, as if we were only betrothed, and not married; not even offering to take any of those innocent freedoms which are not refused in the most punctilious loves.

 

And then he solemnly vowed to me the strictest observance of the same respectful behaviour to me.

 

I told him, that I was not by any means satisfied with the tale he had told, nor with the necessity he wanted to lay me under, of appearing what I was not: That every step he took was a wry one, a needless wry one: And since he thought it necessary to tell the people below any thing about me, I insisted, that he should unsay all he had said, and tell them the truth.

 

What he had told them, he said, was with so many circumstances, that he could sooner die than contradict it. And still he insisted upon the propriety of appearing to be married, for the reasons he had given before. —And, dearest creature, said he, why this high displeasure with me upon so well-intended an expedient? You know, that I cannot wish to shun you brother, or his Singleton, but upon your account. The first step I would take, if left to myself, would be to find them out. I have always acted in this manner, when any-body has presumed to give out threatnings against me.

 

‘Tis true, I should have consulted you first, and had your leave. But since you dislike what I have said, let me implore you, dearest Madam, to give the only proper function to it, by naming an early day. Would to heaven that were to be to-morrow! —For God’s sake, let it be to-morrow! But if not [Was it his business, my dear, before I spoke (yet he seemed to be afraid of me), to say, If not?], let me beseech you, Madam, if my behaviour shall not be to your dislike, that you will not to-morrow at breakfast-time, discredit what I have told them. The moment I give you cause to think, that I take any advantage of your concession, that moment revoke it, and expose me, as I shall deserve. —And once more, let me remind you, that I have no view either to serve or save myself by this expedient. —It is only to prevent a probable mischief, for your own mind’s sake; and for the sake of those who deserve not the least consideration from me.

 

What could I say? What could I do? —I verily think, that had he urged me again, in a proper manner, I should have consented (little satisfy’d as I am with him) to give him a meeting to morrow morning at a more solemn place than in the parlour below.

 

But this I resolve, that he shall not have my consent to stay a night under this roof. He has now given me a stronger reason for this determination than I had before.

 

Alas ! my dear, how vain a thing to say, what we will or what we will not do, when we have put ourselves into the power of this sex! —He went down to the people below, on my desiring to be left to myself; and staid till their supper was just ready; and then, desiring a moment’s audience, as he called it, he besought my leave to stay that one night, promising to set out either for Lord M.’s, or for Edgware, to his friend Belford’s, in the morning after breakfast: But if I were against it, he said, he would not stay supper; and would attend me about eight next day. — Yet he added, that my denial would have a very particular appearance to the people below, from what he had told them; and the more, as he had actually agreed for all the vacant apartments (indeed only for a month), for the reason he had before hinted at: But I need not stay here two days, if, upon conversing with the widow and her nieces, in the morning, I should have any dislike to them.

 

I thought, notwithstanding my resolution above mentioned, that it would seem too punctilious to deny him; under the circumstances he had mentioned: — Having, besides, no reason to think he would obey me; for he looked, as if he were determin’d to debate the matter with me. And, as now, I see no likelihood of a reconciliation with my friends, and had actually received his addresses with less reserve than ever; I thought I would not quarrel with him, if I could help it, especially as he asked to stay but for one night, and could have done so without my knowing it; and you being of opinion, that the proud wretch, distrusting his own merits with me, or at least my regard for him, will probably bring me to some concessions in his favour: For all these reasons, I thought proper to yield this point; yet I was so vexed with him on the other, that it was impossible for me to comply with that grace which a concession should be made with, or not made at all.

 

This was what I said. —What you will do, you must do, I think. You are very ready to promise; very ready to depart from your promise. You say, however, that you will set out to-morrow for the country. You know how ill I have been. I am not well enough now to debate with you upon your incroaching ways. I am utterly dissatisfied with the tale you have told below. Nor will I promise to appear to the people of the house to-morrow, what I am not.

 

He withdrew, in the most respectful manner, beseeching me only to favour him with such a meeting in the morning, as might not make the widow and her nieces think he had given me reason to be offended with him.

 

I retired to my own apartment, and Dorcas came to me soon after to take my commands. I told her, that I required very little attendance, and always dressed and undressed myself.

 

She seemed concerned, as if she thought I had repulsed her, and said, It should be her whole study to oblige me.

 

I told her, that I was not difficult to please. And should let her know from time to time what assistances I should expect from her. But for that night I had no occasion for her further attendance.

 

She is not only genteel, but is well-bred, and well spoken. —She must have had what is generally thought to be the polite part of education: But it is strange, that fathers and mothers should make so light, as they generally do, of that preferable part, in girls, which would improve their minds, and give a grace to all the rest.

 

As soon as she was gone, I inspected the doors, the windows, the wainscot, the dark closet as well as the light one; and finding very good fastenings to the door, and to all the windows, I again had recourse to my pen.

 

Mrs. Sinclair is just now gone from me. Dorcas, she told me, had acquainted her, that I had dismissed her for the night. She came to ask me how I liked my apartment, and to wish me good rest. She expressed her concern, that they could not have my company at supper. Mr. Lovelace, she said, had informed them of my love of retirement. She assured me, that I should not be broken in upon. She highly extolled him, and gave me a share in the praise, as to person. But was sorry, she said, that she was likely to lose us so soon as Mr. Lovelace talked of.

 

I answered her with suitable civility; and she withdrew with great tokens of respect. With greater, I think, than should be from distance of years, as she was the wife of a gentleman; and as the appearance of every thing about her, as well house as dress, carries the marks of such good circumstances, as require not abasement.

 

If, my dear, you will write against prohibition, be pleased to direct, To Miss Lætitia Beaumont; To be left till called for, at Mr. Wilson’s in Pall-Mall .

 

Mr. Lovelace proposed this direction to me, not knowing of your desire that our letters should pass by a third hand. As his motive for it was, that my brother might not trace out where we are, I am glad, as well from this instance, as from others, that he seems to think he has done mischief enough already.

 

Do you know how my poor Hannah does?

 

Mr. Lovelace is so full of his contrivances and expedients, that I think it may not be amiss to desire you to look carefully to the seals of my letters, as I shall to those of yours. If I find him base in this particular, I shall think him capable of any evil; and will fly him as my worst enemy.

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