Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XXXVII

MR. BELFORD, TO ROBERT LOVELACE, ESQ. MONDAY NIGHT, AUG. 28.

I doubt you will be all impatience that you have not heard from me since mine of Thursday last. You would be still more so, if you knew that I had by me a letter ready written.

I went early yesterday morning to Epsom; and found every thing disposed according to the directions I had left on Friday; and at night the solemn office was performed. Tourville was there; and behaved very decently, and with greater concern than I thought he would ever have expressed for any body.

Thomasine, they told me, in a kind of disguise, was in an obscure pew, out of curiosity (for it seems she was far from showing any tokens of grief) to see the last office performed for the man whose heart she had so largely contributed to break.

I was obliged to stay till this afternoon, to settle several necessary matters, and to direct inventories to be taken, in order for appraisement; for every thing is to be turned into money, by his will. I presented his sister with the hundred guineas the poor man left me as his executor, and desired her to continue in the house, and take the direction of every thing, till I could hear from his nephew at Antigua, who is heir at law. He had left her but fifty pounds, although he knew her indigence; and that it was owing to a vile husband, and not to herself, that she was indigent.

The poor man left about two hundred pounds in money, and two hundred pounds in two East-India bonds; and I will contrive, if I can, to make up the poor woman’s fifty pounds, and my hundred guineas, two hundred pounds to her; and then she will have some little matter coming in certain, which I will oblige her to keep out of the hands of a son, who has completed that ruin which his father had very nearly effected.

I gave Tourville his twenty pounds, and will send you and Mowbray your’s by the first order.

And so much for poor Belton’s affairs till I see you.

I got to town in the evening, and went directly to Smith’s. I found Mrs. Lovick and Mrs. Smith in the back shop, and I saw they had been both in tears. They rejoiced to see me, however; and told me, that the Doctor and Mr. Goddard were but just gone; as was also the worthy clergyman, who often comes to pray by her; and all three were of opinion, that she would hardly live to see the entrance of another week. I was not so much surprised as grieved; for I had feared as much when I left her on Saturday.

I sent up my compliments; and she returned, that she would take it for a favour if I would call upon her in the morning by eight o’clock. Mrs. Lovick told me that she had fainted away on Saturday, while she was writing, as she had done likewise the day before; and having received benefit then by a little turn in a chair, she was carried abroad again. She returned somewhat better; and wrote till late; yet had a pretty good night: and went to Covent-garden church in the morning; but came home so ill that she was obliged to lie down.

When she arose, seeing how much grieved Mrs. Lovick and Mrs. Smith were for her, she made apologies for the trouble she gave them—You were happy, said she, before I came hither. It was a cruel thing in me to come amongst honest strangers, and to be sick, and die with you.

When they touched upon the irreconcileableness of her friends, I have had ill offices done me to them, said she, and they do not know how ill I am; nor will they believe any thing I should write. But yet I cannot sometimes forbear thinking it a little hard, that out of so many near and dear friends as I have living, not one of them will vouchsafe to look upon me. No old servant, no old friend, proceeded she, to be permitted to come near me, without being sure of incurring displeasure! And to have such a great work to go through by myself, a young creature as I am, and to have every thing to think of as to my temporal matters, and to order, to my very interment! No dear mother, said the sweet sufferer, to pray by me and bless me!—No kind sister to sooth and comfort me!—But come, recollected she, how do I know but all is for the best—if I can but make a right use of my discomforts?—Pray for me, Mrs. Lovick—pray for me, Mrs. Smith, that I may—I have great need of your prayers.—This cruel man has discomposed me. His persecutions have given me pain just here, [putting her hand to her heart.] What a step has he made me take to avoid him!—Who can touch pitch, and not be defiled? He had made a bad spirit take possession of me, I think—broken in upon all my duties —and will not yet, I doubt, let me be at rest. Indeed he is very cruel —but this is one of my trials, I believe. By God’s grace, I shall be easier to-morrow, and especially if I have no more of his tormentings, and if I can get a tolerable night. And I will sit up till eleven, that I may.

She said, that though this was so heavy a day with her, she was at other times, within these few days past especially, blessed with bright hours; and particularly that she had now and then such joyful assurances, (which she hoped were not presumptuous ones,) that God would receive her to his mercy, that she could hardly contain herself, and was ready to think herself above this earth while she was in it: And what, inferred she to Mrs. Lovick, must be the state itself, the very aspirations after which have often cast a beamy light through the thickest darkness, and, when I have been at the lowest ebb, have dispelled the black clouds of despondency?—As I hope they soon will this spirit of repining.

She had a pretty good night, it seems; and this morning went in a chair to St. Dunstan’s church.

The chairmen told Mrs. Smith, that after prayers (for she did not return till between nine and ten) they carried her to a house in Fleet-street, whither they never waited on her before. And where dost think this was? —Why to an undertaker’s! Good Heaven! what a woman is this! She went into the back shop, and talked with the master of it about half an hour, and came from him with great serenity; he waiting upon her to her chair with a respectful countenance, but full of curiosity and seriousness.

’Tis evident that she went to bespeak her house that she talked of*—As soon as you can, Sir, were her words to him as she got into the chair. Mrs. Smith told me this with the same surprise and grief that I heard it.

* See Letter XXIII. of this volume.

She was very ill in the afternoon, having got cold either at St. Dunstan’s, or at chapel, and sent for the clergyman to pray by her; and the women, unknown to her, sent both for Dr. H. and Mr. Goddard: who were just gone, as I told you, when I came to pay my respects to her this evening.

And thus have I recounted from the good women what passed to this night since my absence.

I long for to-morrow, that I may see her: and yet it is such a melancholy longing as I never experienced, and know not how to describe.

TUESDAY, AUG. 29.

I was at Smith’s at half an hour after seven. They told me that the lady was gone in a chair to St. Dunstan’s: but was better than she had been in either of the two preceding days; and that she said she to Mrs. Lovick and Mrs. Smith, as she went into the chair, I have a good deal to answer for to you, my good friends, for my vapourish conversation of last night.

If, Mrs. Lovick, said she, smiling, I have no new matters to discompose me, I believe my spirits will hold out purely.

She returned immediately after prayers.

Mr. Belford, said she, as she entered the back shop where I was, (and upon my approaching her,) I am very glad to see you. You have been performing for your poor friend a kind last office. ’Tis not long ago since you did the same for a near relation. Is it not a little hard upon you, that these troubles should fall so thick to your lot? But they are charitable offices: and it is a praise to your humanity, that poor dying people know not where to choose so well.

I told her I was sorry to hear she had been so ill since I had the honour to attend her; but rejoiced to find that now she seemed a good deal better.

It will be sometimes better, and sometimes worse, replied she, with poor creatures, when they are balancing between life and death. But no more of these matters just now. I hope, Sir, you’ll breakfast with me. I was quite vapourish yesterday. I had a very bad spirit upon me. Had I not, Mrs. Smith? But I hope I shall be no more so. And to-day I am perfectly serene. This day rises upon me as if it would be a bright one.

She desired me to walk up, and invited Mr. Smith and his wife, and Mrs. Lovick also, to breakfast with her. I was better pleased with her liveliness than with her looks.

The good people retiring after breakfast, the following conversation passed between us:

Pray, Sir, let me ask you, if you think I may promise myself that I shall be no more molested by your friend?

I hesitated: For how could I answer for such a man?

What shall I do, if he comes again?—You see how I am.—I cannot fly from him now—If he has any pity left for the poor creature whom he has thus reduced, let him not come.—But have you heard from him lately? And will he come?

I hope not, Madam. I have not heard from him since Thursday last, that he went out of town, rejoicing in the hopes your letter gave him of a reconciliation between your friends and you, and that he might in good time see you at your father’s; and he is gone down to give all his friends joy of the news, and is in high spirits upon it.

Alas! for me: I shall then surely have him come up to persecute me again! As soon as he discovers that that was only a stratagem to keep him away, he will come up, and who knows but even now he is upon the road? I thought I was so bad that I should have been out of his and every body’s way before now; for I expected not that this contrivance would serve me above two or three days; and by this time he must have found out that I am not so happy as to have any hope of a reconciliation with my family; and then he will come, if it be only in revenge for what he will think a deceit, but is not, I hope, a wicked one.

I believe I looked surprised to hear her confess that her letter was a stratagem only; for she said, You wonder, Mr. Belford, I observe, that I could be guilty of such an artifice. I doubt it is not right: it was done in a hurry of spirits. How could I see a man who had so mortally injured me; yet pretending a sorrow for his crimes, (and wanting to see me,) could behave with so much shocking levity, as he did to the honest people of the house? Yet, ’tis strange too, that neither you nor he found out my meaning on perusal of my letter. You have seen what I wrote, no doubt?

I have, Madam. And then I began to account for it, as an innocent artifice.

Thus far indeed, Sir, it is an innocent, that I meant him no hurt, and had a right to the effect I hoped for from it; and he had none to invade me. But have you, Sir, that letter of his in which he gives you (as I suppose he does) the copy of mine?

I have, Madam. And pulled it out of my letter-case. But hesitating— Nay, Sir, said she, be pleased to read my letter to yourself—I desire not to see his—and see if you can be longer a stranger to a meaning so obvious.

I read it to myself—Indeed, Madam, I can find nothing but that you are going down to Harlowe-place to be reconciled to your father and other friends: and Mr. Lovelace presumed that a letter from your sister, which he saw brought when he was at Mr. Smith’s, gave you the welcome news of it.

She then explained all to me, and that, as I may say, in six words—A religious meaning is couched under it, and that’s the reason that neither you nor I could find it out.

’Read but for my father’s house, Heaven, said she, and for the interposition of my dear blessed friend, suppose the mediation of my Saviour (which I humbly rely upon); and all the rest of the letter will be accounted for.’ I hope (repeated she) that it is a pardonable artifice. But I am afraid it is not strictly right.

I read it so, and stood astonished for a minute at her invention, her piety, her charity, and at thine and mine own stupidity to be thus taken in.

And now, thou vile Lovelace, what hast thou to do (the lady all consistent with herself, and no hopes left for thee) but to hang, drown, or shoot thyself, for an outwitted boaster?

My surprise being a little over, she proceeded: As to the letter that came from my sister while your friend was here, you will soon see, Sir, that it is the cruellest letter she ever wrote me.

And then she expressed a deep concern for what might be the consequence of Colonel Morden’s intended visit to you; and besought me, that if now, or at any time hereafter, I had opportunity to prevent any further mischief, without detriment or danger to myself, I would do it.

I assured her of the most particular attention to this and to all her commands; and that in a manner so agreeable to her, that she invoked a blessing upon me for my goodness, as she called it, to a desolate creature who suffered under the worst of orphanage; those were her words.

She then went back to her first subject, her uneasiness for fear of your molesting her again; and said, If you have any influence over him, Mr. Belford, prevail upon him that he will give me the assurance that the short remainder of my time shall be all my own. I have need of it. Indeed I have. Why will he wish to interrupt me in my duty? Has he not punished me enough for my preference of him to all his sex? Has he not destroyed my fame and my fortune? And will not his causeless vengeance upon me be complete, unless he ruin my soul too?—Excuse me, Sir, for this vehemence! But indeed it greatly imports me to know that I shall be no more disturbed by him. And yet, with all this aversion, I would sooner give way to his visit, though I were to expire the moment I saw him, than to be the cause of any fatal misunderstanding between you and him.

I assured her that I would make such a representation of the matter to you, and of the state of her health, that I would undertake to answer for you, that you would not attempt to come near her.

And for this reason, Lovelace, do I lay the whole matter before you, and desire you will authorize me, as soon as this and mine of Saturday last come to your hands, to dissipate her fears.

This gave her a little satisfaction; and then she said that had I not told her that I could promise for you, she was determined, ill as she is, to remove somewhere out of my knowledge as well as out of your’s. And yet, to have been obliged to leave people I am but just got acquainted with, said the poor lady, and to have died among perfect strangers, would have completed my hardships.

This conversation, I found, as well from the length as the nature of it, had fatigued her; and seeing her change colour once or twice, I made that my excuse, and took leave of her: desiring her permission, however, to attend her in the evening; and as often as possible; for I could not help telling her that, every time I saw her, I more and more considered her as a beatified spirit; and as one sent from Heaven to draw me after her out of the miry gulf in which I had been so long immersed.

And laugh at me if thou wilt; but it is true that, every time I approach her, I cannot but look upon her as one just entering into a companionship with saints and angels. This thought so wholly possessed me, that I could not help begging, as I went away, her prayers and her blessing, with the reverence due to an angel.

In the evening, she was so low and weak, that I took my leave of her in less than a quarter of an hour. I went directly home. Where, to the pleasure and wonder of my cousin and her family, I now pass many honest evenings: which they impute to your being out of town.

I shall dispatch my packet to-morrow morning early by my own servant, to make thee amends for the suspense I must have kept thee in: thou’lt thank me for that, I hope; but wilt not, I am sure, for sending thy servant back without a letter.

I long for the particulars of the conversation between you and Mr. Morden; the lady, as I have hinted, is full of apprehensions about it. Send me back this packet when perused; for I have not had either time or patience to take a copy of it. And I beseech you enable me to make good my engagements to the poor lady that you will not invade her again.