LETTER 313: MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE TO MISS HOWE

I was very ill, and obliged to lay down my pen. I thought I should have fainted. But am better now—So will proceed.

The pretended Ladies, the more we talked, seemed to be the fonder of me. And The Lady Betty had Mrs. Moore called up; and asked her, If she had accommodations for her niece and self, her woman, and two men-servants, for three or four days?

Mr. Lovelace answered for her, that she had.

She would not ask her dear niece Lovelace [ Permit me, my dear, whispered she, this charming style before strangers ! — I will keep your uncle’s secret ] whether she should be welcome or not to be so near her. But for the time she should stay in these parts, she would come up every night—What say you, niece Charlotte?

The pretended Charlotte answered, she should like to do so, of all things.

The Lady Betty called her an obliging girl. She liked the place, she said. Her cousin Leeson would excuse her. The air, and my company, would do her good. She never chose to lie in the smoaky town, if she could help it. In short, my dear, said she to me, I will stay till you hear from Miss Howe; and till I have your consent to go with me to Glenham-Hall. Not one moment will I be out of your company, when I can have it. Stedman my solicitor, as the distance from town is so small, may attend me here for instructions. Niece Charlotte, one word with you, child.

They retired to the farther end of the room, and talked about their night-dresses.

The Miss Charlotte said, Morrison might be dispatched for them.

True, the other said: —But she had some letters in her private box, which she must have up. And you know, Charlotte, that I trust nobody with the keys of that.

Could not Morrison bring up that box?

No. She thought it safest where it was. She had heard of a robbery committed but two days ago, at the foot of Hamstead-hill; and she should be ruined, if she lost her box.

Well then, it was but going to town to undress, and she would leave her jewels behind her, and return; and should be the easier a great deal on all accounts.

For my part, I wondered they came up with them. But that was to be taken as a respect paid to me. And then they hinted at another visit of ceremony which they had thought to make, had they not found me so inexpressibly engaging.

They talked loud enough for me to hear them; on purpose, no doubt, tho’ in affected whispers; and concluded with high praises of me.

I was not fool enough to believe, or to be puffed up with their encomiums; yet not suspecting them, I was not displeased at so favourable a beginning of acquaintance with ladies (whether I were to be related to them or not) of whom I had always heard honourable mention. And yet at the time, I thought, highly as they exalted me, that in some respects (tho’ I hardly knew in what) they fell short of what I expected them to be.

The grand deluder was at the farther end of the room, another way; probably to give me an opportunity to hear these preconcerted praises—looking into a book, which, had there not been a preconcert, would not have taken his attention for one moment. It was Taylor’s Holy Living and Dying .

When the pretended ladies joined me, he approached me, with it in his hand—A smart book, This, my dear! —This old divine affects, I see, a mighty flowery stile upon a very solemn subject. But it puts me in mind of an ordinary country funeral, where the young women, in honour of a defunct companion, especially if she were a virgin, or passed for such, make a flower-bed of her coffin.

And then, laying down the book, turning upon his heel, with one of his usual airs of gaiety, And are you determined, Ladies, to take up your lodgings with my charming creature?

Indeed they were.

Never were there more cunning, more artful impostors, than these women. Practised creatures, to be sure: Yet genteel; and they must have been well-educated—once, perhaps, as much the delight of their parents, as I was of mine: And who knows by what arts ruined, body and mind! —O my dear! how pregnant is this reflection!

But the man ! —Never was there a man so deep! Never so consummate a deceiver! except that detested Tomlinson; whose years, and seriousness, joined with a solidity of sense and judgment, that seemed uncommon, gave him, one would have thought, advantages in villainy, the other had not time for. Hard, very hard, that I should fall into the knowledge of two such wretches; when two more such I hope are not to be met with in the world: —Both so determined to carry on the most barbarous and perfidious projects against a poor young creature, who never did or wished harm to either!

Take the following slight account of these womens and of this man’s behaviour to each other before me.

Mr. Lovelace carried himself to his pretended aunt with high respect, and paid a great deference to all she said. He permitted her to have all the advantage over him in the repartees and retorts that passed between them. I could, indeed, easily see, that it was permitted; and that he forbore that acumen, that quickness, which he never spared shewing to the pretended Miss Montague; and which a man of wit seldom knows how to spare shewing, when an opportunity offers to display his wit.

The pretended Miss Montague was still more reverent in her behaviour to her aunt. While the aunt kept up the dignity of the character she had assumed, raillying both of them with the air of a person who depends upon the superiority which years and fortune give over younger persons; who might have a view to be obliged to her, either in her life, or at her death.

The severity of her raillery, however, was turned upon Mr. Lovelace, on occasion of the character of the people who kept the lodgings, which, she said, I had thought my self so well warranted to leave privately.

This startled me. For having then no suspicion of the vile Tomlinson, I concluded (and your letter of the 7th ( a ) favoured my conclusions), Cross Reference that if the house were notorious, either he, or Mr. Mennell, would have given me or him some hints of it—Nor, altho’ I liked not the people, did I observe any thing in them very culpable, till the Wednesday night before, that they offered not to come to my assistance, altho’ within hearing of my distress (as I am sure they were), and having as much reason to be frighted as I, at the fire, had it been real.

I looked with indignation upon Mr. Lovelace, at this hint.

He seemed abashed. I have not patience, but to recollect the specious looks of this vile deceiver. But how was it possible, that even this florid countenance of his should enable him to command a blush at his pleasure? For blush he did, more than once: And the blush, on this occasion, was a deep-dyed crimson, unstrained for, and natural, as I thought—But he is so much of the actor, that he seems able to enter into any character; and his muscles and features appear intirely under obedience to his wicked will ( b ) 298 .

The pretended Lady went on, saying, She had taken upon herself to inquire after the people, on hearing that I had left the house in disgust; and tho’ she heard not any thing much amiss, yet she heard enough to make her wonder, that he would carry his spouse, a person of so much delicacy, to a house, that, if it had not a bad fame, had not a good one.

You must think, my dear, that I liked the pretended Lady Betty the better for this. I suppose it was designed I should.┬áHe was surprised, he said, that her Ladyship should hear a bad character of the people. It was what he had never before heard that they deserved. It was easy, indeed, to see, that they had not very great delicacy, tho’ they were not indelicate. The nature of their livelihood, letting lodgings, and taking people to board (and yet he had understood that they were nice in these particulars), led them to aim at being free and obliging: And it was difficult, he said, for persons of chearful dispositions, so to behave, as to avoid censure: Openness of heart and countenance in the Sex (more was the pity!) too often subjected good population, whose fortunes did not set them above the world, to uncharitable censure.

He wished, however, that her Ladyship would tell what she had heard: Altho’ now it signified but little, because she would never ask me to set foot within their doors again: And he begged she would not mince the matter.

Nay, no great matter, she said. But she had been informed, that there were more women lodgers in the house than men: Yet that their visitors were more men than women. And this had been hinted to her (perhaps by ill-willers, she could not answer for that) in such a way, as if somewhat further were meant by it, than was spoken.

This, he said, was the true innuendo way of characterizing, used by detractors. Every-body and every-thing had a black and a white side, as ill-willers and well-willers were pleased to report. He had observed, that the front house was well lett, and he believed, more to the one sex, than to the other; for he had seen, occasionally passing to and fro, several genteel modest-looking women; and who, it was very probable, were not so ill-beloved, but they might have visitors and relations of both sexes: But they were none of them any-thing to us, or we to them: We were not once in any of their companies: But in the genteelest and most retired house of the two, which we had in a manner to ourselves, with the use of a parlour to the street, to serve us for a servants hall, or to receive common visitors, or our traders only, whom we admitted not up-stairs.

He always loved to speak as he found. No man in the world had suffered more from calumny than he himself had done.

Women, he owned, ought to be more scrupulous than men needed to be where they lodged. Nevertheless, he wished, that fact, rather than surmise, were to be the foundation of their judgments, especially when they spoke of one another.

He meant no reflection upon her Ladyship’s informants, or rather surmisants (as he might call them), be they who they would: Nor did he think himself obliged to defend characters impeached, or not thought well of, by women of virtue and honour. Neither were these people of importance enough to have so much said about them.

The pretended Lady Betty said, All who knew her would clear her of censoriousness: That it gave her some opinion, she must needs say, of the people, that he had continued there so long with me; that I had rather negative than positive reasons of dislike to them and that so shrewd a man, as she heard Capt. Tomlinson was, had not objected to them.

I think, niece Charlotte, proceeded she, as my nephew has not parted with these lodgings, you and I (for as my dear Miss Harlowe dislikes the people, I would not ask her for her company) will take a dish of tea with my nephew there, before we go out of town, and then we shall see what sort of people they are. I have heard that Mrs. Sinclair is a mighty forbidding creature.

With all my heart, Madam. In your Ladyship’s company I shall make no scruple of going any-whither.

It was Ladyship at every word; and as she seemed proud of her title, and of her dress too, I might have guessed that she was not used to either .

What say you, cousin Lovelace? Lady Sarah, tho’ melancholy woman, is very inquisitive about all your affairs. I must acquaint her with every particular circumstance when I go down.

With all his heart. He would attend her whenever she pleased. She would see very handsome apartments and very civil people.

The duce is in them, said The Miss Montague, if they appear other to us.

They then fell into family-talk: Family-happiness on my hoped-for accession into it. They mentioned Lord M.’s and Lady Sarah’s great desire to see me. How many friends and admirers, with up-lift hands, I should have! [ O my dear, what a triumph must these creatures, and he, have over the poor Devoted all the time !] —What a happy man he would be—They would not, The Lady Betty said, give themselves the mortification but to suppose, that I should not be one of Them!

Presents were hinted at. She resolved that I should go with her to Glenham-Hall. She would not be refused, altho’ she were to stay a week beyond her time for me.

She long’d for the expected letter from you. I must write to hasten it, and to let Miss Howe know how every thing stood since I wrote last. That might dispose me absolutely in their favour, and in her nephew’s; and then she hoped there would be no occasion for me to think of entering upon any new measures.

Indeed, my dear, I did at the time intend, if I heard not from you by morning, to dispatch a man and horse to you, with the particulars of all, that you might (if you thought proper), at least, put off Mrs. Townsend’s coming up to another day. —But I was miserably prevented.

She made me promise, that I would write to you upon this subject, whether I heard from you, or not. One of her servants should ride post with my letter, and wait for Miss Howe’s answer.

She then launched out in deserved praises of you, my dear. How fond should she be of the honour of your acquaintance!

The pretended Miss Montague joined in with her, as well for herself as for her sister.

Abominably well-instructed were they both.

O my dear! What risques may poor giddy girls run, when they throw themselves out of the protection of their natural friends, and into the wide world?

They then talked again of reconciliation and intimacy with every one of my friends; with my mother particularly; and gave the dear good lady the praises that every one gives her, who has the happiness to know her.

Ah, my dear Miss Howe! I had almost forgot my resentments against the pretended nephew! —So many agreeable things said, made me think, that, if you should advise it, and if I could bring my mind to forgive the wretch for an outrage so premeditatedly vile, and could forbear despising him for that and his other ingrateful and wicked ways, I might not be unhappy in an alliance with such a family. Yet, thought I at the time, With what intermixtures does every thing come to me, that has the appearance of good! —However, as my lucid hopes made me see fewer faults in the behaviour of these pretended Ladies, than recollection and abhorrence have helped me since to see, I began to reproach myself, that I had not at first thrown myself into their protection.

But amidst all these delightful prospects, I must not, said The Lady Betty, forget that I am to go to town.

She then ordered her coach to be got to the door— We will all go to town together, said she, and return together. Morrison shall stay here, and see every thing as I used to have it, in relation to my apartment, and my bed; for I am very particular in some respects. My cousin Leeson’s servants can do all I want to be done with regard to my night-dresses, and the like. And it will be a little airing for you, my dear, and a good opportunity for Mr. Lovelace to order what you want of your apparel to be sent from your former lodgings to Mrs. Leeson’s; and we can bring it up with us from thence.

I had no intention to comply. But as I did not imagine that she would insist upon my going to town with them, I made no answer to that part of her speech.

I must here lay down my tired pen!

Recollection! Heart-affecting Recollection! How it pains me!

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