LETTER 500: COLONEL MORDEN TO SIR JOHN BELFORD, ESQ

Sunday Night, Sept. 10.

 

Dear Sir,
According to my promise, I send you an account of matters here. Poor Mrs. Norton was so very ill upon the road, that, slowly as the herse moved, and the chariot followed, I was afraid we should not have got her to St. Alban’s. We put up there as I had intended. I was in hopes that she would have been better for the stop: But I was forced to leave her behind me. I ordered the servant-maid you was so considerately kind as to send down with her, to be very careful of her; and left the chariot to attend her. She deserves all the regard that can be paid her; not only upon my cousin’s account, but on her own. She is an excellent woman.

 

When we were within five miles of Harlowe-place, I put on a hand-gallop. I ordered the herse to proceed more slowly still, the cross-road we were in being rough, and having more time before us than I wanted; for I wished not the herse to be in till near dusk.

 

I got to my cousin’s about 4 o’clock. You may believe I found a mournful house. You desire me to be very minute.

 

At my entrance into the court, they were all in motion. Every servant whom I saw had swelled eyes, and looked with so much concern, that at first I apprehended some new disaster had happened in the family.

 

Mr. John and Mr. Antony Harlowe and Mrs. Hervey were there. They all helped on one another’s grief, as they had before each other’s hardness of heart.

 

My cousin James met me at the entrance of the hall. His countenance expressed a fixed concern; and he desired me to excuse his behaviour the last time I was there.

 

My cousin Arabella came to me full of tears and grief: O cousin! said she, hanging upon my arm, I dare not ask you any questions! —About the approach of the herse, I suppose she meant.

 

I myself was full of grief; and without going farther or speaking, sat down in the hall, in the first chair.

 

The brother sat down on one hand of me, the sister on the other. Both were silent. The latter in tears.

 

Mr. Antony Harlowe came to me soon after. His face was overspread with all the appearance of woe. He requested me to walk into the parlour; where, as he said, were all his fellow-mourners.

 

I attended him in. My cousins James and Arabella followed me.

 

A perfect concert of grief, as I may say, broke out the moment I entered the parlour.

 

My cousin Harlowe, the dear creature’s Father, as soon as he saw me, said, O cousin, cousin, of all our family, you are the only one, who have nothing to reproach yourself with! —You are a happy man!

 

The poor Mother bowing, her head to me in speechless grief, sat with her handkerchief held to her eyes, with one hand. The other hand was held by her sister Hervey, between both hers; Mrs. Hervey weeping upon it.

 

Near the window sat Mr. John Harlowe. His face and his body were turned from the sorrowing company. His eyes were red and swelled.

 

My cousin Antony, at his re-entering the parlour, went towards Mrs. Harlowe—Don’t—dear sister, said he! — Then towards my cousin Harlowe—Don’t—dear brother! —Don’t thus give way—And without being able to say another word, went to a corner of the parlour, and, wanting himself the comfort he would fain have given, sunk into a chair, and audibly sobbed.

 

Miss Arabella followed her uncle Antony, as he walked in before me; and seemed as if she would have spoken to the pierced mother some words of comfort. But she was unable to utter them, and got behind her mother’s chair; and inclining her face over it on the unhappy lady’s shoulder, seemed to claim the consolation that indulgent parent used, but then was unable to afford her.

 

Young Mr. Harlowe with all his vehemence of spirit, was now subdued. His self-reproaching conscience, no doubt, was the cause of it.

 

And what, Sir, must their thoughts be, which at that moment, in a manner deprived them all of motion, and turned their speech into sighs and groans! —How to be pitied, how greatly to be pitied, all of them! But how much to be cursed that abhorred Lovelace, who, as it seems, by arts uncommon, and a villainy without example, has been the sole author of a woe so complicated and extensive! — God judge me, as—But I stop—The man is your friend! —He already suffers, you tell me, in his intellect—Restore him heaven to That—If I find the matter come out, as I apprehend it will—Indeed her own hints of his usage of her, as in her Will, and in her first Letter to me, are enough! —Nor think, my beloved cousin, thou darling of my heart! that thy gentle spirit, breathing charity and forgiveness to the vilest of men, shall avail him!

 

But once more I stop—Forgive me, Sir! —Who could behold such a scene, who could recollect it, in order to describe it (as minutely as you wished me to relate how this unhappy family were affected on this sad occasion) every one of the mourners nearly related to himself, and not be exasperated against the author of all?

 

As I was the only person (grieved as I was myself, from whom any of them, at that instant, could derive comfort; Let us not, said I, my dear cousin, approaching the inconsolable Mother, give way to a grief, which however just, can now avail us nothing. We hurt ourselves, and cannot recall the dear creature for whom we mourn. Nor would you wish it, if you knew with what assurances of eternal happiness she left the world. —She is happy, Madam! —Depend upon it, she is happy! And comfort yourselves with that assurance.

 

O cousin, cousin! cried the unhappy mother, withdrawing her hand from her sister Hervey, and pressing mine with it, You know not what a child I have lost! — Then in a lower voice, And how lost! —That it is that makes the loss insupportable.

 

They all joined in a kind of melancholy chorus, and each accused him and herself, and some of them one another. But the eyes of all in turn, were cast upon my cousin James as the person who had kept up the general resentment against so sweet a creature. While he was hardly able to bear his own remorse: Nor Miss Harlowe hers; She breaking out into words, How tauntingly did I write to her! How barbarously did I insult her! Yet how patiently did she take it! —Who would have thought she had been so near her end! —O brother, brother!—but for you !—But for you !—

 

Double not upon me, said he, my own woes! —I have every thing before me that has passed! —I thought only to reclaim a dear creature that had erred! I intended not to break her tender heart! —But it was the villainous Lovelace who did that—Not any of us! —Yet, cousin, did she not attribute all to me ? —I fear she did! —Tell me only, did she name me, did she speak of me, in her last hours? I hope she, who could forgive the greatest villain on earth, and plead that he may be safe from our vengeance; I hope she could forgive me .

 

She died blessing you all; and justified rather than condemned your severity to her.

 

Then they set up another general lamentation. We see, said her father; Enough we see, in her heart-piercing letters to us, what a happy frame she was in a few days before her death: But did it hold to the last? Had she no repinings? Had the dear child no heart-burnings?

 

None at all! —I never saw, and never shall see, so blessed a departure : And no wonder, for I never heard of such a preparation . Every hour for weeks together was taken up in it. Let this be our comfort—We need only to wish for so happy an end for ourselves and for those who are nearest to our hearts. We may any of us be grieved, for acts of unkindness to her: But had all happened that once she wished for, she could not have made a happier, perhaps not so happy, an end.

 

Dear soul! and dear sweet soul! the Father, Uncles, Sister, my cousin Hervey cried out all at once in accents of anguish inexpressibly affecting.

 

We must for ever be disturbed for those acts of unkindness to so sweet a child, cried the unhappy Mother! — Indeed, indeed (softly to her Sister Hervey) I have been too passive, much too passive, in this case! —The temporary quiet I have been so studious all my life to preserve, has cost me everlasting disquiet!—

 

There she stopt.

 

Dear Sister ! was all Mrs. Hervey could say.

 

I have done but half my duty to the dearest and most meritorious of children, resumed the sorrowing mother! — Nay, not half! —How have we hardened our hearts against her!—

 

Again her tears choaked up the passage of her words.

 

My dearest, dearest Sister ! again was all Mrs. Hervey could say.

 

Would to Heaven, proceeded, exclaiming, the poor mother, I had but once seen her! Then turning to my Cousin James and his Sister—O my Son! O my Arabella! if WE were to receive as little mercy—

 

And there again she stopt, her tears interrupting her further speech: Every one, all the time, remaining silent; their countenances shewing a grief in their hearts too big for expression.

 

Now you see, Mr. Belford, that my dearest cousin could be allowed all her merit! —What a dreadful thing is after-reflection upon a conduct so perverse and unnatural?

 

O this cursed friend of yours, Mr. Belford! This detested Lovelace! —To him, To him is owing—

 

Pardon me, Sir. I will lay down my pen till I have recovered my temper.

One in the Morning.

 

In vain, Sir, have I endeavoured to compose myself to rest. You wished me to be very particular, and I cannot help it. This melancholy subject fills my whole mind. I Will proceed, tho’ it be midnight.

 

About six o’clock the herse came to the outward gate. The Parish-church is at some distance; but the wind sitting fair, the afflicted family were struck, just before it came, into a fresh fit of grief, on hearing the funeral bell tolled in a very solemn manner. A respect as it proved, and as they all guessed, paid to the memory of the dear deceased out of officious love, as the herse passed near the church.

 

Judge, when their grief was so great in expectation of it, what it must be when it arrived.

 

A servant came in to acquaint us with what its lumbering heavy noise up the paved inner court-yard apprized us of before.

 

He spoke not. He could not speak. He looked, bowed, and withdrew.

 

I stept out. No one else could then stir. Her brother, however, soon followed me.

 

When I came to the door, I beheld a sight very affecting.

 

You have heard, Sir, how universally my dear cousin was beloved. By the poor and middling sort especially, no young lady was ever so much beloved. And with reason: She was the common patroness of all the honest poor in her neighbourhood.

 

It is natural for us in every deep and sincere grief to interest all we know in what is so concerning to ourselves. The servants of the family, it seems, had told their friends, and those theirs, that, tho’ living, their dear young lady could not be received nor looked upon, her body was permitted to be brought home. The space of time was so confined, that those who knew when she died, must easily guess near the time the herse was to come. A herse, passing thro’ country villages, and from London, however slenderly attended (for the chariot, as I have said, waited upon poor Mrs. Norton) takes every one’s attention. Nor was it hard to guess whose this must be, tho’ not adorned by escutcheons, when the cross-roads to Harlowe-place were taken, as soon as it came within six miles of it: so that the Herse, and the solemn Tolling of the Bell, had drawn together at least fifty of the neighbouring men, women, and children, and some of good appearance. Not a soul of them, it seems, with a dry eye; and each lamenting the death of this admired lady, who, as I am told, never stirred out, but somebody was the better for her.

 

These, when the coffin was taken out of the herse, crouding about it, hindered, for a few moments, its being carried in; the young people struggling who should bear it; and yet with respectful whisperings, rather than clamorous contention . A mark of veneration I had never before seen paid, upon any occasion, in all my travels, from the under-bred Many, from whom noise is generally inseparable in all their emulations. At last six maidens were permitted to carry it in by the six handles.

 

The corpse was thus borne, with the most solemn respect, into the hall, and placed for the present upon two stools there. The plates, and emblems, and inscription, set every one gazing upon the Lid, and admiring. The more, when they were told, that all was of her own ordering. They wished to be permitted a sight of the corpse; but rather mentioned this as their wish than their hope. When they had all satisfied their curiosity, and remarked upon the emblems, they dispersed, with blessings upon her memory, and with tears and lamentations; pronouncing her to be happy; and inferring, that were She not so, what would become of Them? While others ran over with repetitions of the good she delighted to do. Nor were there wanting those among them, who heaped curses upon the man who was the author of her fall.

 

The servants of the family then got about the coffin. They could not before. And that afforded a new scene of sorrow: But a silent one; for they spoke only by their eyes, and by sighs, looking upon the lid, and upon one another, by turns, with hands lifted up. The presence of their young master possibly might awe them, and cause their grief to be expressed only in dumb shew.

 

As for Mr. James Harlowe (who had accompanied me, but withdrew when he saw the croud) he stood looking upon the lid when the people had left it, with a fixed attention: Yet, I dare say, knew not a symbol or letter upon it at that moment, had the question been asked him. In a profound reverie he stood, his arms folded, his head on one side, and marks of stupefaction imprinted upon every feature.

 

But when the corpse was carried into the lesser parlour, adjoining to the hall, which she used to call her parlour, and put on a table in the middle of the room, and the Father and Mother, the two Uncles, her Aunt Hervey, and her Sister came in (joining her Brother and me, with trembling feet, and eager woe) the scene was still more affecting. Their sorrow was heightened, no doubt, by the remembrance of their unforgiving severity: And now seeing before them the receptacle that contained the glory of their family, who so lately was driven thence by their indiscreet violence (never, never more to be restored to them!) no wonder that their grief was more than common grief.

 

They would have with-held the Mother, it seems, from coming in: But when they could not, tho’ undetermined before, they all bore her company, led on by an impulse they could not resist. The poor lady but just cast her eye upon the coffin, and then snatched it away, retiring with passionate grief towards the window; yet addressing herself, with clasped hands, as if to her beloved daughter; O my child! my child! cried she; thou pride of my hope! Why was I not permitted to speak pardon and peace to thee! —O forgive thy cruel mother!

 

Her Son (his heart then softened, as his eyes shewed) besought her to withdraw: And her woman looking in at that moment, he called her to assist him in conducting her lady into the middle parlour: And then returning, met his Father going out at the door, who also had but just cast his eye on the coffin, and yielded to my entreaties to withdraw.

 

His grief was too deep for utterance, till he saw his son coming in; and then, fetching a heavy groan, Never, said he, was sorrow like my sorrow! —O Son! Son!—in a reproaching accent, his face turned from him.

 

I attended him thro’ the middle parlour, endeavouring to console him. His Lady was there in agonies. She took his eye. He made a motion towards her: O my dear, said he—But turning short, his eyes as full as his heart, he hastened thro’ to the great parlour: And when there, he desired me to leave him to himself.

 

Her uncles and her sister looked and turned away, looked and turned away, very often upon the emblems, in silent sorrow. Mrs. Hervey would have read to them the inscription —These words she did read, Here the wicked cease from troubling : But could read no further. Her tears fell in large drops upon the plate she was contemplating, and yet she was desirous of gratifying a curiosity that mingled impatience with her grief because she could not gratify it, altho’ she often wiped her eyes as they flowed.

 

Judge you, Mr. Belford (for you have great humanity) how I must be affected. Yet was I forced to try to comfort them All.

 

But here I will close this letter, in order to send it to you in the morning early. Nevertheless, I will begin another, upon supposition that my doleful prolixity will not be disagreeable to you. Indeed I am altogether indisposed for Rest, as I mentioned before. So can do nothing but write. I have also more melancholy scenes to paint. My pen, if I may so say, is untired. These scenes are fresh in my memory: And I myself, perhaps, may owe to you the favour of a reviewal of them, with such other papers as you shall think proper to oblige me with, when heavy grief has given way to milder melancholy.

 

My servant, in his way to you with this letter, shall call at St. Alban’s upon the good woman, that he may inform you how she does. Miss Arabella asked me after her, when I withdrew to my chamber; to which she complaisantly accompanied me. She was much concerned at the bad way we left her in; and said her mother would be more so.

 

No wonder that the dear departed, who foresaw the remorse that would fall to the lot of this unhappy family, when they came to have the news of her death confirmed to them, was so grieved for their apprehended grief, and endeavoured to comfort them by her posthumous letters. But it was still a greater generosity in her to try to excuse them to me, as she did when we were alone together a few hours before she died; and to aggravate more than (as far as I can find) she ought to have done, the only error she was ever guilty of. The more freely however perhaps (exalted creature!) that I might think the better of her friends, although at her own expence. I am, dear Sir,

Your faithful and obedient Servant,
Wm. Morden .

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