Clarissa Harlowe LETTER LVII


The lady would not read the letter she had from Mrs. Norton till she had received the Communion, for fear it should contain any thing that might disturb that happy calm, which she had been endeavouring to obtain for it. And when that solemn office was over, she was so composed, she said, that she thought she could receive any news, however affecting, with tranquillity.

Nevertheless, in reading it, she was forced to leave off several times through weakness and a dimness in her sight, of which she complained; if I may say complained; for so easy and soft were her complaints, that they could hardly be called such.

She was very much affected at divers parts of this letter. She wept several times, and sighed often. Mrs. Lovick told me, that these were the gentle exclamations she broke out into, as she read:—Her unkind, her cruel brother!—How unsisterly!—Poor dear woman! seeming to speak of Mrs. Norton. Her kind cousin!—O these flaming spirits! And then reflecting upon herself more than once—What a deep error is mine!—What evils have I been the occasion of!—

When I was admitted to her presence, I have received, said she, a long and not very pleasing letter from my dear Mrs. Norton. It will soon be in your hands. I am advised against appointing you to the office you have so kindly accepted of: but you must resent nothing of these things. My choice will have an odd appearance to them: but it is now too late to alter it, if I would.

I would fain write an answer to it, continued she: but I have no distinct sight, Mr. Belford, no steadiness of fingers.—This mistiness, however, will perhaps be gone by-and-by.—Then turning to Mrs. Lovick, I don’t think I am dying yet—not actually dying, Mrs. Lovick—for I have no bodily pain—no numbnesses; no signs of immediate death, I think.—And my breath, which used of late to be so short, is now tolerable—my head clear, my intellects free—I think I cannot be dying yet—I shall have agonies, I doubt—life will not give up so blessedly easy, I fear—yet how merciful is the Almighty, to give his poor creature such a sweet serenity!—’Tis what I have prayed for!—What encouragement, Mrs. Lovick, so near one’s dissolution, to have it to hope that one’s prayers are answered.

Mrs. Smith, as well as Mrs. Lovick, was with her. They were both in tears; nor had I, any more than they, power to say a word in answer: yet she spoke all this, as well as what follows, with a surprising composure of mind and countenance.

But, Mr. Belford, said she, assuming a still sprightlier air and accent, let me talk a little to you, while I am thus able to say what I have to say.

Mrs. Lovick, don’t leave us, [for the women were rising to go,] pray sit down; and do you, Mrs. Smith, sit down too.—Dame Shelbourne, take this key, and open the upper drawer. I will move to it.

She did, with trembling knees. Here, Mr. Belford, is my will. It is witnessed by three persons of Mr. Smith’s acquaintance.

I dare to hope, that my cousin Morden will give you assistance, if you request it of him. My cousin Morden continued his affection for me: but as I have not seen him, I leave all the trouble upon you, Mr. Belford. This deed may want forms; and it does, no doubt: but the less, as I have my grandfather’s will almost by heart, and have often enough heard that canvassed. I will lay it by itself in this corner; putting it at the further end of the drawer.

She then took up a parcel of letters, enclosed in one cover, sealed with three seals of black wax: This, said she, I sealed up last night. The cover, Sir, will let you know what is to be done with what it encloses. This is the superscription [holding it close to her eyes, and rubbing them]; As soon as I am certainly dead, this to be broke open by Mr. Belford.—Here, Sir, I put it [placing it by the will].—These folded papers are letters, and copies of letters, disposed according to their dates. Miss Howe will do with those as you and she shall think fit. If I receive any more, or more come when I cannot receive them, they may be put into this drawer, [pulling out and pushing in the looking-glass drawer,] to be given to Mr. Belford, be they from whom they will. You’ll be so kind as to observe that, Mrs. Lovick, and dame Shelbourne.

Here, Sir, proceeded she, I put the keys of my apparel [putting them into the drawer with her papers]. All is in order, and the inventory upon them, and an account of what I have disposed of: so that nobody need to ask Mrs. Smith any questions.

There will be no immediate need to open or inspect the trunks which contain my wearing apparel. Mrs. Norton will open them, or order somebody to do it for her, in your presence, Mrs. Lovick; for so I have directed in my will. They may be sealed up now: I shall never more have occasion to open them.

She then, though I expostulated with her to the contrary, caused me to seal them up with my seal.

After this, she locked up the drawer where were her papers; first taking out her book of meditations, as she called it; saying, she should, perhaps, have use for that; and then desired me to take the key of that drawer; for she should have no further occasion for that neither.

All this in so composed and cheerful a manner, that we were equally surprised and affected with it.

You can witness for me, Mrs. Smith, and so can you, Mrs. Lovick, proceeded she, if any one ask after my life and conversation, since you have known me, that I have been very orderly; have kept good hours; and never have lain out of your house but when I was in prison; and then you know I could not help it.

O, Lovelace! that thou hadst heard her or seen her, unknown to herself, on this occasion!—Not one of us could speak a word.

I shall leave the world in perfect charity, proceeded she. And turning towards the women, don’t be so much concerned for me, my good friends. This is all but needful preparation; and I shall be very happy.

Then again rubbing her eyes, which she said were misty, and looked more intently round upon each, particularly on me—God bless you all! said she; how kindly are you concerned for me!—Who says I am friendless? Who says I am abandoned, and among strangers?—Good Mr. Belford, don’t be so generously humane!—Indeed [putting her handkerchief to her charming eyes,] you will make me less happy, than I am sure you wish me to be.

While we were thus solemnly engaged, a servant came with a letter from her cousin Morden:—Then, said she, he is not come himself!

She broke it open; but every line, she said, appeared two to her: so that, being unable to read it herself, she desired I would read it to her. I did so; and wished it were more consolatory to her: but she was all patient attention: tears, however, often trickling down her cheeks. By the date, it was written yesterday; and this is the substance of it.

He tells her, ’That the Thursday before he had procured a general meeting of her principal relations, at her father’s; though not without difficulty, her haughty brother opposing it, and, when met, rendering all his endeavours to reconcile them to her ineffectual. He censures him, as the most ungovernable young man he ever knew: some great sickness, he says, some heavy misfortune, is wanted to bring him to a knowledge of himself, and of what is due from him to others; and he wishes that he were not her brother, and his cousin. Nor doe he spare her father and uncles for being so implicitly led by him.’

He tells her, ’That he parted with them all in high displeasure, and thought never more to darken any of their doors: that he declared as much to her two uncles, who came to him on Saturday, to try to accommodate with him; and who found him preparing to go to London to attend her; and that, notwithstanding their pressing entreaties, he determined so to do, and not to go with them to Harlowe-place, or to either of their own houses; and accordingly dismissed them with such an answer.

’But that her noble letter,’ as he calls it, of Aug. 31,* ’being brought him about an hour after their departure, he thought it might affect them as much as it did him; and give them the exalted opinion of her virtue which was so well deserved; he therefore turned his horse’s head back to her uncle Antony’s, instead of forwards toward London.

* See Letter XLV. of this volume.

’That accordingly arriving there, and finding her two uncles together, he read to them the affecting letter; which left none of the three a dry eye: that the absent, as is usual in such cases, bearing all the load, they accused her brother and sister; and besought him to put off his journey to town, till he could carry with him the blessings which she had formerly in vain solicited for; and (as they hoped) the happy tidings of a general reconciliation.

’That not doubting but his visit would be the more welcome to her, if these good ends could be obtained, he the more readily complied with their desires. But not being willing to subject himself to the possibility of receiving fresh insult from her brother, he had given her uncles a copy of her letter, for the family to assemble upon; and desired to know, as soon as possible, the result of their deliberations.

’He tells her, that he shall bring her up the accounts relating to the produce of her grandfather’s estate, and adjust them with her; having actually in his hands the arrears due to her from it.

’He highly applauds the noble manner in which she resents your usage of her. It is impossible, he owns, that you can either deserve her, or to be forgiven. But as you do justice to her virtue, and offer to make her all the reparation now in your power; and as she is so very earnest with him not to resent that usage; and declares, that you could not have been the author of her calamities but through a strange concurrence of unhappy causes; and as he is not at a loss to know how to place to a proper account that strange concurrence; he desires her not to be apprehensive of any vindictive measures from him.’

Nevertheless (as may be expected) ’he inveighs against you; as he finds that she gave you no advantage over her. But he forbears to enter further into this subject, he says, till he has the honour to see her; and the rather, as she seems so much determined against you. However, he cannot but say, that he thinks you a gallant man, and a man of sense; and that you have the reputation of being thought a generous man in every instance but where the sex is concerned. In such, he owns, that you have taken inexcusable liberties. And he is sorry to say, that there are very few young men of fortune but who allow themselves in the same. Both sexes, he observes, too much love to have each other in their power: yet he hardly ever knew man or woman who was very fond of power make a right use of it.

’If she be so absolutely determined against marrying you, as she declares she is, he hopes, he says, to prevail upon her to take (as soon as her health will permit) a little tour abroad with him, as what will probably establish it; since traveling is certainly the best physic for all those disorders which owe their rise to grief or disappointment. An absence of two or three years will endear her to every one, on her return, and every one to her.

’He expresses his impatience to see her. He will set out, he says, the moment he knows the result of her family’s determination; which, he doubts not, will be favourable. Nor will he wait long for that.’

When I had read the letter through to the languishing lady, And so, my friends, said she, have I heard of a patient who actually died, while five or six principal physicians were in a consultation, and not agreed upon what name to give his distemper. The patient was an emperor, the emperor Joseph, I think.

I asked, if I should write to her cousin, as he knew not how ill she was, to hasten up?

By no means, she said; since, if he were not already set out, she was persuaded that she should be so low by the time he could receive my letter, and come, that his presence would but discompose and hurry her, and afflict him.

I hope, however, she is not so very near her end. And without saying any more to her, when I retired, I wrote to Colonel Morden, that if he expects to see his beloved cousin alive, he must lose no time in setting out. I sent this letter by his own servant.

Dr. H. sent away his letter to her father by a particular hand this morning.

Mrs. Walton the milliner has also just now acquainted Mrs. Smith, that her husband had a letter brought by a special messenger from Parson Brand, within this half hour, enclosing the copy of one he had written to Mr. John Harlowe, recanting his officious one.

And as all these, and the copy of the lady’s letter to Col. Morden, will be with them pretty much at a time, the devil’s in the family if they are not struck with a remorse that shall burst open the double-barred doors of their hearts.

Will. engages to reach you with this (late as it will be) before you go to rest. He begs that I will testify for him the hour and the minute I shall give it him. It is just half an hour after ten.

I pretend to be (now by use) the swiftest short-hand writer in England, next to yourself. But were matter to arise every hour to write upon, and I had nothing else to do, I cannot write so fast as you expect. And let it be remembered, that your servants cannot bring letters or messages before they are written or sent.