LETTER 314: MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE, TO ANNA HOWE

In the midst of these agreeablenesses, the coach came to the door. The pretended Lady Betty besought me to give them my company to their cousin Leeson’s I desired to be excused: Yet suspected nothing. She would not be denied. How happy would a visit so condescending make her cousin Leeson! —Her cousin Leeson was not unworthy of my acquaintance: And would take it for the greatest favour in the world.

 

I objected my dress. But the objection was not admitted. She bespoke a supper of Mrs Moore to be ready at nine.

 

Mr. Lovelace, vile hypocrite, and wicked deceiver, seeing, as he said, my dislike to go, desired her Ladyship not to insist upon it.

 

Fondness for my company was pleaded. She begged me to oblige her: Made a motion to help me to my fan herself: And, in short, was so very urgent, that my feet complied against my speech, and my mind: And, being in a manner, led to the coach by her, and made to step in first, she followed me; and her pretended niece, and the wretch, followed her: And away it drove.

 

Nothing but the height of affectionate complaisance passed all the way: Over and over, What a joy would this unexpected visit give her cousin Leeson! What a pleasure must it be to such a mind as mine, to be able to give so much joy to every-body I came near!

 

The cruel, the savage seducer (as I have since recollected) was in rapture all the way; but yet such a sort of rapture, as he took visible pains to check.

 

Hateful villain! —How I abhor him! —What mischief must be then in his plotting heart! —What a devoted victim must I be in all their eyes!

 

Though not pleased, I was nevertheless just then thoughtless of danger; they endeavouring thus to lift me up above all apprehension of that, and above myself too.

 

But think, my dear, what a dreadful turn all had upon me, when, through several streets and ways I knew nothing of, the coach, slackening its pace, came within sight of the dreadful house of the dreadfullest woman in the world; as she proved to me.

 

Lord be good unto me! cry’d the poor fool, looking out of the coach—Mr. Lovelace! —Madam! turning to the pretended aunt—Madam! turning to the niece, my eyes and hands lifted up—Lord be good unto me!

 

What! What! What, my dear! 

He pulled the string—What need to have come this way? said he. —But since we are, I will but ask a question. —My dearest life! why this apprehension?

 

The coachman stopp’d: His servant, who, with one of hers was behind, alighted—Ask, said he, if I have any letters? —Who knows, my dearest creature, turning to me, but we may already have one from the Captain? — We will not go out of the coach! —Fear nothing—Why so apprehensive? —Oh! these fine spirits!—cry’d the execrable insulter.

 

Dreadfully did my heart then misgive me: I was ready to faint. —Why this terror, my life? —You shall not stir out of the coach! —But one question, now the fellow has drove us this way!

 

Your lady will faint! cry’d the execrable Lady Betty, turning to him. —My dearest niece! I will call you, taking my hand, we must alight, if you are so ill. —Let us alight—Only for a glass of water and hartshorn —Indeed we must alight.

 

No, no, no—I am well—Quite well—Won’t the man drive on? —I am well—quite well—Indeed I am. — Man, drive on, putting my head out of the coach— Man, drive on!—tho’ my voice was too low to be heard.

 

The coach stopp’d at the door. How I trembled!

 

Dorcas came to the door, on its stopping.

 

My dearest creature! said the vile man, gasping, as it were for breath, you shall not alight—Any letters for me, Dorcas?

 

There are two, Sir. And here is a gentleman, Mr. Belton, Sir, waits for your Honour; and has done so above an hour.

 

I’ll just speak to him. Open the door—You sha’n’t step out, my dear—A letter, perhaps, from the Captain already! —You sha’n’t step out, my dear.

 

I sighed, as if my heart would burst.

 

But we must step out, nephew: Your lady will faint— Maid, a glass of hartshorn and water! —My dear, you must step out. —You will faint, child—We must cut your laces. —[I believe my complexion was all manner of colours by turns]—Indeed, you must step out, my dear. 

He knew, he said, I should be well, the moment the coach drove from the door. I should not alight. By his soul, I should not.

 

Lord, Lord, nephew, Lord, Lord, cousin, both women in a breath, What ado you make about nothing! — You persuade your lady to be afraid of alighting! —See you not, that she is just fainting?

 

Indeed, Madam, said the vile seducer, my dearest love must not be moved in this point against her will! —I beg it may not be insisted upon.

 

Fiddle-faddle, foolish man! —What a pother is here! — I guess how it is: You are ashamed to let us see, what sort of people you carried your lady among! —But do you go out, and speak to your friend, and take your letters.

 

He stept out; but shut the coach-door after him, to oblige me.

 

The coach may go on, Madam! said I.

 

The coach shall go on, my dear life, said he—But he gave not, nor intended to give, orders that it should.

 

Let the coach go on! said I—Mr. Lovelace may come after us.

 

Indeed, my dear, you are ill! —Indeed you must alight! —Alight but for one quarter of an hour! —Alight but to give order yourself about your things. Whom can you be afraid of, in my company, and my niece’s? — These people must have behaved shockingly to you! — Please the Lord, I’ll inquire into it! —I’ll see what sort of people they are!

 

Immediately came the old creature to the door. A thousand pardons, dear Madam, stepping to the coach—side, if we have any-way offended you! —Be pleased, Ladies (to the other two), to alight.

 

Well, my dear, whispered the Lady Betty, I now find, that an hideous description of a person we never saw, is an advantage to them. I thought the woman was a monster! But, really, she seems tolerable.

 

I was afraid I should have fallen into fits: But still refused to go out—Man!—Man!—Man! cry’d I, gaspingly, my head out of the coach and in, by turns, half a dozen times running, drive on! —Let us go!

 

My heart misgave me beyond the power of my own accounting for it; for still I did not suspect these women. But the antipathy I had taken to the vile house, and to find myself so near it, when I expected no such matter, with the sight of the old creature, all together, made me behave like a distracted person.

 

The hartshorn and water was brought. The pretended lady Betty made me drink it. Heaven knows if there were any thing else in it!

 

Besides, said she, whisperingly, I must see what sort of creatures the nieces are. Want of delicacy cannot be hid from me. You could not surely, my dear, have this aversion to re-enter a house, for a few minutes, in our company, in which you lodged and boarded several weeks, unless these women could be so presumptuously vile, as my nephew ought not to know.

 

Out stept the pretended lady; the servant, at her command, having opened the door.

 

Dearest Madam, said the other, let me follow you (for I was next the door.) Fear nothing: I will not stir from your presence.

 

Come, my dear, said the pretended Lady: Give me your hand; holding out hers. Oblige me this once!

 

I will bless your footsteps, said the old creature, if once more you honour my house with your presence.

 

A croud by this time was gathered about us; but I was too much affected to mind that.

 

Again the pretended Miss Montague urged me (standing up as ready to go out if I would give her room). Lord, my dear, said she, who can bear this croud? — What will people think?

 

The pretended Lady again pressed me, with both her hands held out—Only, my dear, to give orders about your things.

 

And thus pressed, and gazed at (for then I looked about me), the women so richly dressed, people whispering; in an evil moment, out stepp’d I, trembling, forced to lean with both my hands (frighted too much for ceremony) on the pretended Lady Betty’s arm—O that I had dropped down dead upon the guilty threshold!

 

We shall stay but a few minutes, my dear!—but a few minutes! said the same specious jilt—out of breath with her joy, as I have since thought, that they had thus triumphed over the unhappy victim!

 

Come, Mrs. Sinclair, I think your name is, shew us the way—following her, and leading me. I am very thirsty. You have frighted me, my dear, with your strange fears. I must have tea made, if it can be done, in a moment. We have further to go, Mrs. Sinclair, and must return to Hamstead this night.

 

It shall be ready in a moment, cry’d the wretch. We have water boiling.

 

Hasten, then—Come, my dear, to me, as she led me through the passage to the fatal inner house—Lean upon me—How you tremble! —how you faulter in your steps! —Dearest niece Lovelace (the old wretch being in hearing), why these hurries upon your spirits? —We’ll begone in a minute.

 

And thus she led the poor sacrifice into the old wretch’s too well-known parlour.

 

Never was any-body so gentle, so meek, so low-voiced, as the odious woman; drawling out, in a puling accent, all the obliging things she could say: Awed, I then thought, by the conscious dignity of a woman of quality; glittering with jewels.

 

The called for tea was ready presently.

 

There was no Mr. Belton, I believe: For the wretch went not to any-body, unless it were while we were parlying in the coach. No such person, however, appeared at the tea-table.

 

I was made to drink two dishes, with milk, complaisantly urged by the pretended Ladies helping me each to one. I was stupid to their hands; and, when I took the tea, almost choaked with vapours; and could hardly swallow.

 

I thought, transiently thought, that the tea, the last dish particularly, had an odd taste. They, on my palating it, observed, that the milk was London milk ; far short in goodness of what they were accustomed to from their own dairies.

 

I have no doubt, that my two dishes, and perhaps my hartshorn, were prepared for me; in which case it was more proper for their purpose, that they should help me,  than that I should help myself . Ill before, I found myself still more and more disordered in my head; a heavy torpid pain increasing fast upon me. But I imputed it to my terror.

 

Nevertheless, at the pretended Ladies motion, I went up stairs, attended by Dorcas; who affected to weep for joy, that once more she saw my blessed face, that was the vile creature’s word; and immediately I set about taking out some of my cloaths, ordering what should be put up, and what sent after me.

 

While I was thus employed, up came the pretended Lady Betty, in a hurrying way—My dear, you won’t be long before you are ready. My nephew is very busy in writing answers to his letters: So, I’ll just whip away, and change my dress, and call upon you in an instant.

 

O Madam! —I am ready! I am now ready! —You must not leave me here: And down I sunk, affrighted, into a chair.

 

This instant, this instant, I will return—Before you can be ready—Before you can have packed up your things—We would not be late—The robbers we have heard of may be out—Don’t let us be late.

 

And away she hurried before I could say another word. Her pretended niece went with her, without taking notice to me of her going.

 

I had no suspicion yet, that these women were not indeed the Ladies they personated; and I blamed myself for my weak fears. —It cannot be, thought I, that such Ladies will abet treachery against a poor creature they are so fond of. They must undoubtedly be the persons they appear to be—What folly to doubt it! The air, the dress, the dignity, of women of quality. —How unworthy of them, and of my charity, concluded I, is this ungenerous shadow of suspicion!

 

So, recovering my stupified spirits, as well as they could be recovered (for I was heavier and heavier; and wondered to Dorcas, what ailed me; rubbing my eyes, and taking some of her snuff, pinch after pinch, to very little purpose), I pursued my employment: But when that was over, all packed up that I designed to be packed up; and I had nothing to do but to think ; and found them tarry so long; I thought I should have gone distracted. I shut myself into the chamber that had been mine; I kneeled, I prayed; yet knew not what I prayed for: Then ran out again: It was almost dark night, I said: Where, where, was Mr. Lovelace?

 

He came to me, taking no notice at first of my consternation and wildness (What they had given me made me incoherent and wild): All goes well, said he, my dear! —A line from Captain Tomlinson!

 

All indeed did go well for the villainous project of the most cruel and most villainous of men!

 

I demanded his aunt! —I demanded his cousin! —The evening, I said, was closing! —My head was very, very bad, I remember, I said. —And it grew worse and worse.

 

Terror, however, as yet kept up my spirits; and I insisted upon his going himself to hasten them.

 

He called his servant. He raved at the sex for their delay: ‘Twas well that business of consequence seldom depended upon such parading, unpunctual triflers!

 

His servant came.

 

He ordered him to fly to his cousin Leeson’s; and to let his aunt and cousins know how uneasy we both were at their delay: Adding, of his own accord, Desire them, if they don’t come instantly, to send their coach, and we will go without them. Tell them I wonder they’ll serve me so!

 

I thought this was considerately and fairly put. But now, indifferent as my head was, I had a little time to consider the man, and his behaviour. He terrified me with his looks, and with his violent emotions, as he gazed upon me. Evident joy-suppressed emotions, as I have since recollected. His sentences short, and pronounced as if his breath were touched. Never saw I his abominable eyes look, as then they looked—Triumph in them! —Fierce and wild; and more disagreeable than the womens at the vile house appeared to me, when I first saw them: And at times, such a leering, mischief-boding cast! —I would have given the world to have been an hundred miles from him. Yet his behaviour was decent —A decency, however, that I might have seen to be struggled for—For he snatched my hand two or three times, with a vehemence in his grasp that hurt me; speaking words of tenderness through his shut teeth, as it seemed; and let it go, with a beggar-voic’d humble accent, like the vile woman’s just before; half-inward; yet his words and manner carrying the appearance of strong and almost convulsed passion! —O my dear! What mischiefs was he not then meditating!

 

I complained once or twice of thirst. My mouth seemed parched. At the time, I supposed, that it was my terror (gasping often as I did for breath) that parched up the roof of my mouth. I called for water: Some table-beer was brought me: Beer, I suppose, was a better vehicle (if I were not dosed enough before) for their potions. I told the maid, That she knew I seldom tasted malt-liquor: Yet, suspecting nothing of this nature, being extremely thirsty, I drank it, as what came next: And instantly, as it were, found myself much worse than before; as if inebriated, I should fancy: I know not how.

 

His servant was gone twice as long as he needed: And, just before his return, came one of the pretended Lady Betty’s, with a letter for Mr. Lovelace.

 

He sent it up to me. I read it: And then it was that I thought myself a lost creature; it being to put off her going to Hamstead that night, on account of violent fits which Miss Montague was pretended to be seized with: For then immediately came into my head his vile attempt upon me in this house; the revenge that my flight might too probably inspire him with on that occasion, and because of the difficulty I made to forgive him, and to be reconciled to him; his very looks wild, and dreadful to me; and the women of the house such as I had more reason than ever, even from the pretended Lady Betty’s hints, to be afraid of: All these crouding together in my apprehensive mind, I fell into a kind of phrensy.

 

I have not remembrance how I was, for the time it lasted: But I know, that, in my first agitations, I pulled off my head-dress, and tore my ruffles in twenty tatters; and ran to find him out.

 

When a little recovered, I insisted upon the hint he had given of their coach. But the messenger, he said, had told him, that it was sent to fetch a physician, lest his chariot should be put up, or not ready.

I then insisted upon going directly to Lady Betty’s lodgings.

 

Mrs. Leeson’s was now a crouded house, he said: And as my earnestness could be owing to nothing but groundless apprehension [And O what vows, what protestations of his honour did he then make!], he hoped I would not add to their present concern. Charlotte, indeed, was used to fits, he said, upon any great surprizes, whether of joy or grief; and they would hold her for a week together, if not got off in a few hours.

 

You are an observer of eyes, my dear, said the villain; perhaps in secret insult: Saw you not in Miss Montague’s now-and-then, at Hamstead, something wildish? —I was afraid for her then—Silence and quiet only do her good: Your concern for her, and her love for you, will but augment the poor girl’s disorder, if you should go.

 

All impatient with grief and apprehension, I still declared myself resolved not to stay in that house till morning. All I had in the world, my rings, my watch, my little money, for a coach! or, if one were not to be got, I would go on foot to Hamstead that night, tho’ I walked it by myself..

 

A coach was hereupon sent for, or pretended to be sent for. Any price, he said, he would give to oblige me, late as it was; and he would attend me with all his soul. —But no coach was to be got.

 

Let me cut short the rest. I grew worse and worse in my head; now stupid, now raving, now senseless. The vilest of vile women was brought to frighten me. Never was there so horrible a creature as she appeared to me at the time.

 

I remember, I pleaded for mercy—I remember that I said I would be his—Indeed I would be his —to obtain his mercy—But no mercy found I! —My strength, my intellects, failed me! —And then such scenes followed—O my dear, such dreadful scenes! —Fits upon fits (faintly indeed, and imperfectly remembered) procuring me no compassion—But death was with-held from me. That would have been too great a mercy!

 

 

Thus was I tricked and deluded back by blacker hearts of my own sex, than I thought there were in the world; who appeared to me to be persons of honour: And, when in his power, thus barbarously was I treated by this villainous man!

 

I was so senseless, that I dare not averr, that the horrid creatures of the house were personally aiding and abetting: But some visionary remembrances I have of female figures, flitting, as I may say, before my sight; the wretched woman’s particularly. But as these confused ideas might be owing to the terror I had conceived of the worse than masculine violence she had been permitted to assume to me, for expressing my abhorrence of her house; and as what I suffered from his barbarity wants not that aggravation; I will say no more on a subject so shocking as this must ever be to my remembrance.

 

I never saw the personating wretches afterwards. He persisted to the last (dreadfully invoking heaven as a witness to the truth of his assertion), that they were really and truly the Ladies they pretended to be; declaring, that they could not take leave of me, when they left the town, because of the state of senselessness and phrensy I was in. For their intoxicating, or rather stupefying, potions, had almost deleterious effects upon my intellects, as I have hinted; insomuch that, for several days together, I was under a strange delirium; now moping, now dozing, now weeping, now raving, now scribbling, tearing what I scribbled, as fast as I wrote it: Most miserable when now-and-then a ray of reason brought confusedly to my remembrance what I had suffered.

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