Eight in the Evening.
I had but just time in my former, to tell you, that Colonel Morden was arrived. He was on horseback, attended by two servants, and alit at the door, just as the clock struck five. Mrs. Smith was then below in her backshop, weeping, her husband with her, who was as much affected as she; Mrs. Lovick having left them a little before, in tears likewise; for they had been bemoaning one another; joining in opinion, that the admirable lady would not live the night over. She had told them, it was her opinion too, from some numbnesses, which she called the forerunners of death, and from an increased inclination to doze.
The Colonel, as Mrs. Smith told me afterwards, asked with great impatience, the moment he alit, how Miss Harlowe was? She answered, Alive; but, she feared, drawing on apace. Good God! said he, with his hands and eyes lifted up. Can I see her? My name is Morden. I have the honour to be nearly related to her. Step up, pray; and let her know [She is sensible, I hope] that I am here. Who is with her?
No-body but her Nurse, and Mrs. Lovick, a widow gentlewoman, who is as careful of her, as if she were her mother.
And more careful too, interrupted he, or she is not careful at all.—
Except a gentleman be with her, one Mr. Belford, continued Mrs. Smith, who has been the best friend she has had.
If Mr. Belford be with her, surely I may—But, pray, step up, and let Mr. Belford know, that I shall take it for a favour to speak with him first.
Mrs. Smith came up to me in my new apartment. I had but just dispatched your servant, and was asking her nurse, if I might be again admitted; who answered, that she was dozing in the elbow-chair, having refused to lie down, saying, She should soon, she hoped, lie down for good.
The Colonel, who is really a fine gentleman, received me with great politeness. After the first compliments, My kinswoman, Sir, said he, is more obliged to you than to any of her own family. For my part, I have been endeavouring to move so many rocks in her favour; and, little thinking the dear creature so very bad, have neglected to attend her, as I ought to have done the moment I arrived; and would, had I known how ill she was, and what a task I should have had with the family. But, Sir, your friend has been excessively to blame; and you being so intimately his friend, has made her fare the worse for your civilities to her. But is there no hope of her recovery?
The doctors have left her, with the melancholy declaration, that there is none.
Has she had good attendance, Sir? A skilful physician? I hear these good folks have been very civil and obliging to her—
Who could be otherwise, said Mrs. Smith, weeping? She is the sweetest lady in the world!
The character, said the Colonel, lifting up his eyes and one hand, that she has from every living creature! —Good God! How could your accursed friend—
And how could her cruel parents, interrupted I? —We may as easily account for him, as for them .
Too true! returned he, the vileness of the profligates of our sex considered, whenever they can get any of the other into their power.
I satisfied him about the care that had been taken of her; and told him of the friendly and even paternal attendance she had had from Dr. H. and Mr. Goddard.
He was impatient to attend her, having not seen her, as he said, since she was twelve years old; and that then she gave promises of being one of the finest women in England.
She was so, replied I, a very few months ago: And, tho’ emaciated, she will appear to you to have confirmed those promises: For her features are so regular and exact, her proportion so fine, and her manner so inimitably graceful, that were she only skin and bone, she must be a beauty.
Mrs. Smith, at his request, stept up, and brought us down word, that Mrs. Lovick and her Nurse were with her; and that she was in so sound a sleep, leaning upon the former in her elbow-chair, that she neither heard her enter the room, nor go out. The Colonel begged, if not improper, that he might see her, tho’ sleeping. He said, That his impatience would not let him stay till she awaked. Yet he would not have her disturbed; and should be glad to contemplate her sweet features, when she saw not him; and asked, If she thought he could not go in, and come out, without disturbing her?
She believ’d he might, she answer’d; for her chair’s back was towards the door.
He said, He would take care to withdraw, if she awoke, that his sudden appearance might not surprise her.
Mrs. Smith, stepping up before us, bid Mrs. Lovick and the Nurse not stir, when we entered: And then we went up softly together.
We beheld the lady, in a charming attitude. Dressed, as I told you before, in her virgin white, she was sitting in her elbow-chair, Mrs. Lovick close by her, in another chair, with her left arm round her neck, supporting it, as it were; for, it seems, the lady had bid her do so, saying, She had been a Mother to her, and she would delight herself in thinking she was in her Mamma’s arms; for she found herself drowsy; perhaps, she said, for the last time she should ever be so.
One faded cheek rested upon the good woman’s bosom, the kindly warmth of which had overspread it with a faint, but charming flush; the other paler, and hollow, as if already iced over by death. Her hands, white as the lily, with her meandring veins more transparently blue, than ever I had seen even hers (veins so soon, alas! to be choaked up by the congealment of that purple stream, which already so languidly creeps rather than flows thro’ them! her hands hanging lifelesly, one before her, the other grasped by the right-hand of the kind widow, whose tears bedew’d the sweet face which her motherly bosom supported, though unfelt by the fair sleeper; and either insensibly to the good woman, or what she would not disturb her to wipe off, or to change her posture: Her aspect was sweetly calm and serene: And tho’ she started now-and-then, yet her sleep seemed easy; her breath indeed short and quick; but tolerably free, and not like that of a dying person.
In this heart-moving attitude she appeared to us when we approached her, and came to have her lovely face before us.
The Colonel sighing often, gazed upon her with his arms folded, and with the most profound and affectionate attention; till at last, on her starting, and fetching her breath with greater difficulty than before, he retired to a screen, that was drawn before her house, as she calls it, which, as I have heretofore observed, stands under one of the windows. This screen was placed there, at the time she found herself obliged take to her chamber; and in the depth of our concern, and the fulness of other discourse at our first interview, I had forgotten to apprise the Colonel of what he would probably see.
Retiring thither, he drew out his handkerchief, and, drowned in grief, seemed unable to speak: But, on casting his eye behind the screen, he soon broke silence; for, struck with the shape of the coffin, he lifted up a purplish-coloured cloth that was spread over it, and, starting back, Good God! said he, what’s here!
Mrs. Smith standing next him, Why, said he, with great emotion, is my cousin suffered to indulge her sad reflections with such an object before her?
Alas! Sir, reply’d the good woman, who should controul her? We are all strangers about her, in a manner: And yet we have expostulated with her upon this sad occasion.
I ought, said I, (stepping softly up to him, the lady again falling into a doze) to have apprised you of this. I was here when it was brought in, and never was so shocked in my life. But she had none of her friends about her, and no reason to hope for any of them to come near her; and, assured she should not recover, she was resolved to leave as little as possible, especially as to what related to her person, to her executor. But it is not a shocking object to her, tho’ it be to every body else.
Curse upon the hard-heartedness of those, said he, who occasion’d her to make so sad a provision for herself! What must her reflections have been, all the time she was thinking of it, and giving orders about it? And what must they be, every time she turns her head towards it? These uncommon genius’s—But indeed she should have been controuled in it, had I been here.
The lady fetched a profound sigh, and, starting, it broke off our talk; and the Colonel then withdrew further behind the screen, that his sudden appearance might not surprise her.
Where am I! said she. How drowsy I am! How long have I dozed? Don’t go, Sir (for I was retiring). I am very stupid, and shall be more and more so, I suppose.
She then offered to raise herself; but, being ready to faint thro’ weakness, was forced to sit down again, reclining her head on her chair-back; and, after a few moments, I believe now, my good friends, said she, all your kind trouble will soon be over. I have slept, but am not refreshed, and my fingers ends seem numb’d—have no feeling! (holding them up.) —‘Tis time to send the letter to my good Mrs. Norton.
Shall I, Madam, send my servant post with it?
I told her, this was not post-day.
Is it Wednesday still? said she: Bless me! I know not how the time goes : But very tediously, ’tis plain. And now I think I must soon take to my bed. All will be most conveniently and with least trouble over there—Will it not, Mrs. Lovick? —I think, Sir, turning to me, I have left nothing to these last incapacitating hours: Nothing either to say, or to do: I bless God, I have not: If I had, how unhappy should I be? Can you, Sir, remind me of any thing necessary to be done or said to make your office easy?
If, Madam, your cousin Morden should come, you would be glad to see him, I presume?
I am too weak to wish to see my cousin now. It would but discompose me, and him too. Yet, if he come while I can see, I will see him, were it but to thank him for former favours, and for his present kind intentions to me. Has any body been here from him?
He has called, and will be here, Madam, in half an hour; but he feared to surprise you.
Nothing can surprise me now, except my Mamma were to favour me with her last blessing in person. That would be a welcome surprise to me even yet. But did my Cousin come purposely to town to see me?
You are very kind, Sir. I am and have been greatly obliged to you. But I think I shall be pained to see him now, because he will be concerned to see me. And yet, as I am not so ill as I shall presently be—the sooner he comes, the better. But if he come, what shall I do about that screen? He will chide me very probably; and I cannot bear chiding now. Perhaps (leaning upon Mrs. Lovick and Mrs. Smith) I can walk into the next apartment to receive him.
She motion’d t rise; but was ready to faint again, and forced to fit still.
I stept to him, and favoured his retreat; she only saying, Are you going, Mr. Belford? Are you sent for down? Is my Cousin come? For she heard somebody step softly cross the room; and thought it me, her hearing being more perfect than her sight.
I told her, I believed he was; and she said, We must make the best of it, Mrs. Lovick, and Mrs. Smith. I shall otherwise most grievously shock my poor cousin : For he loved me dearly once. Pray give me a few of the doctor’s last drops in water, to keep up my spirits for this one interview; and that is all, I believe, that can concern me now.
The Colonel (who heard all this) sent in his name; and I, pretending to go down to him, introduced the afflicted gentleman; she having first ordered the screen to be put as close to the window as possible, that he might not see what was behind it; while he, having heard what she had said about it, was determined to take no notice of it.
He folded the angel in his arms as she sat, dropping down on one knee; for, supporting herself upon the two elbows of the chair, she attempted to rise, but could not. Excuse, my dear Cousin said she, excuse me, that I cannot stand up—I did not expect this favour now. But I am glad of this opportunity to thank you for all your generous goodness to me.
I never, my best beloved and dearest cousin, said he, (with eyes running over,) shall forgive myself, that I did not attend you sooner. Little did I think you were so ill; nor do any of your friends believe it. If they did—
If they did, repeated she, interrupting him, I should have had more compassion from them. I am sure I should. But pray, Sir, how did you leave them? Are you reconciled to them? If you are not, I beg, if you love your poor Clarissa, that you will: For every widen’d difference augments but my fault; since that is the foundation of all.
I had been expecting to hear from them in your favour, my dear cousin, said he, for some hours, when this gentleman’s letter arrived, which hastened me up: But I have the account of your grandfather’s estate to make up with you, and have bills and draughts upon their banker for the sums due to you; which they desire you may receive, lest you should have occasion for money. And this is such an earnest of an approaching reconciliation, that I dare to answer for all the rest being according to your wishes, if—
Sir, interrupted she, with frequent breaks and pauses, I wish, I wish, this does not rather shew, that were I to live, they would have nothing more to say to me. I never had any pride in being independent of them: All my actions, when I might have made myself more independent, shew this—But what avail these reflections now? —I only beg, Sir, that You, and this gentleman—to whom I am exceedingly obliged—will adjust those matters—according to the will I have written. Mr. Belford will excuse me; but it was in truth more necessity than choice, that made me think of giving him the trouble he so kindly accepts. Had I had the happiness to see you, my cousin, sooner—or to know, that you still honoured me with your regard—I should not have had the assurance to ask this favour of him —But—tho’ the friend of Mr. Lovelace, he is a man of honour, and he will make peace rather than break it. And, my dear cousin, let me beg of you—to contribute your part to it—and remember, that, while I have nearer relations than my cousin Morden, dear as you are, and always were to me, you have no title to avenge my wrongs upon Him who has been the occasion of them. But I wrote to you my mind on this subject; and my reasons; and hope I need not further urge them.
I must do Mr. Lovelace so much justice, answered he, wiping his eyes, as to witness, how sincerely he repents him of his ingrateful baseness to you, and how ready he is to make you all the amends in his power. He owns his wickedness, and your merit. If he did not, I could not pass it over, tho’ you have nearer relations: For, my dear cousin, did not your grandfather leave me in trust for you? And should I think myself concerned for your fortune, and not for your honour? —But, since he is so desirous to do you justice, I have the less to say; and you may make yourself intirely easy on that account.
I thank you, thank you, Sir, said she: All is now as I wished: But I am very faint, very low. I am sorry I cannot hold up; that I cannot better deserve the honour of this visit: But it will not be—And saying this, she sunk down in her chair, and was silent.
Hereupon we both withdrew, leaving word, that we would be at the Bedford-Head, if any thing extraordinary happened.
We bespoke a little repast, having neither of us dined; and while it was getting ready, you may guess at the subject of our discourse. Both joined in lamentation for the lady’s desperate state: Admired her manifold excellencies: Severely condemned you, and her friends. Yet, to bring him into better opinion of you, I read to him some passages from your last letters, which shew’d your concern for the wrongs you had done her, and your deep remorse: And he said, It was a dreadful thing to labour under the sense of a guilt so irremediable.
We procured Mr. Goddard (Dr. H. being not at home) once more to visit her, and to call upon us in his return.
He was so good as to do so; but he tarried with her not five minutes; and told us, That she was drawing on apace; that he feared she would not live till morning; and that she wished to see Colonel Morden directly.
The Colonel made excuses where none were needed; and tho’ our little refection was just brought in, he went away immediately.
I could not touch a morsel; and took pen and ink to amuse myself, and oblige you, knowing how impatient you would be for a few lines: For, from what I have recited, you will see it was impossible I could withdraw to write, when your servant came at half an hour after five, or have an opportunity for it till now; and This is accidental: And yet your poor fellow was afraid to go away with the verbal message I sent, importing, as no doubt he told you, that the Colonel was with us, the Lady excessively ill, and that I could not stir to write a line.
The Colonel sent to me afterwards, that the lady having been in convulsions, he was so much disordered, that he could not possibly attend me.
I have sent every half hour to know how she does: And just now I have the pleasure to hear, that her convulsions have left her; and that she is gone to rest in a much quieter way than could be expected.
Her poor cousin is very much indisposed; yet will not stir out of the house while she is in such a way; but intends to lie down on a couch, having refused any other accommodation.