Clarissa Harlowe LETTER VI


Thus it was—My charmer accompanied Mrs. Moore again to church this afternoon. I had been in very earnest, in the first place, to obtain her company at dinner: but in vain. According to what she had said to Mrs. Moore,* I was too considerable to her to be allowed that favour. In the next place, I besought her to favour me, after dinner, with another garden-walk. But she would again go to church. And what reason have I to rejoice that she did!

* See Letter III. of this volume.

My worthy friend, Mrs. Bevis, thought one sermon a day, well observed, enough; so staid at home to bear me company.

The lady and Mrs. Moore had not been gone a quarter of an hour, when a young country-fellow on horseback came to the door, and inquired for Mrs. Harriot Lucas. The widow and I (undetermined how we were to entertain each other) were in the parlour next the door; and hearing the fellow’s inquiry, O my dear Mrs. Bevis, said I, I am undone, undone for ever, if you don’t help me out!—Since here, in all probability, is a messenger from that implacable Miss Howe with a letter; which, if delivered to Mrs. Lovelace, may undo all we have been doing.

What, said she, would you have me do?

Call the maid in this moment, that I may give her her lesson; and if it be as I imagined, I’ll tell you what you shall do.

Wid. Margaret!—Margaret! come in this minute.

Lovel. What answer, Mrs. Margaret, did you give the man, upon his asking for Mrs. Harriot Lucas?

Peggy. I only asked, What was his business, and who he came from? (for, Sir, your honour’s servant had told me how things stood): and I came at your call, Madam, before he answered me.

Lovel. Well, child, if ever you wish to be happy in wedlock yourself, and would have people disappointed who want to make mischief between you and your husband, get out of him his message, or letter if he has one, and bring it to me, and say nothing to Mrs. Lovelace, when she comes in; and here is a guinea for you.

Peggy. I will do all I can to serve your honour’s worship for nothing: [nevertheless, with a ready hand, taking the guinea:] for Mr. William tells me what a good gentleman you be.

Away went Peggy to the fellow at the door.

Peggy. What is your business, friend, with Mrs. Harry Lucas?

Fellow. I must speak to her her own self.

Lovel. My dearest widow, do you personate Mrs. Lovelace—for Heaven’s sake do you personate Mrs. Lovelace.

Wid. I personate Mrs. Lovelace, Sir! How can I do that?—She is fair; I am brown. She is slender: I am plump—

Lovel. No matter, no matter—The fellow may be a new-come servant: he is not in livery, I see. He may not know her person. You can but be bloated and in a dropsy.

Wid. Dropsical people look not so fresh and ruddy as I do.

Lovel. True—but the clown may not know that. ’Tis but for a present deception. Peggy, Peggy, call’d I, in a female tone, softly at the door. Madam, answer’d Peggy; and came up to me to the parlour-door.

Lovel. Tell him the lady is ill; and has lain down upon the couch. And get his business from him, whatever you do.

Away went Peggy.

Lovel. Now, my dear widow, lie along the settee, and put your handkerchief over your face, that, if he will speak to you himself, he may not see your eyes and your hair.—So—that’s right.—I’ll step into the closet by you.

I did so.

Peggy. [Returning.] He won’t deliver his business to me. He will speak to Mrs. Harriot Lucas her own self.

Lovel. [Holding the door in my hand.] Tell him that this is Mrs. Harriot Lucas; and let him come in. Whisper him (if he doubts) that she is bloated, dropsical, and not the woman she was.

Away went Margery.

Lovel. And now, my dear widow, let me see what a charming Mrs. Lovelace you’ll make!—Ask if he comes from Miss Howe. Ask if he lives with her. Ask how she does. Call her, at every word, your dear Miss Howe. Offer him money—take this half-guinea for him—complain of your head, to have a pretence to hold it down; and cover your forehead and eyes with your hand, where your handkerchief hides not your face.—That’s right—and dismiss the rascal—[here he comes]—as soon as you can.

In came the fellow, bowing and scraping, his hat poked out before him with both his hands.

Fellow. I am sorry, Madam, an’t please you, to find you ben’t well.

Widow. What is your business with me, friend?

Fellow. You are Mrs. Harriot Lucas, I suppose, Madam?

Widow. Yes. Do you come from Miss Howe?

Fellow. I do, Madam.

Widow. Dost thou know my right name, friend?

Fellow. I can give a shrewd guess. But that is none of my business.

Widow. What is thy business? I hope Miss Howe is well?

Fellow. Yes, Madam; pure well, I thank God. I wish you were so too.

Widow. I am too full of grief to be well.

Fellow. So belike I have hard to say.

Widow. My head aches so dreadfully, I cannot hold it up. I must beg of you to let me know your business.

Fellow. Nay, and that be all, my business is soon known. It is but to give this letter into your own partiklar hands—here it is.

Widow. [Taking it.] From my dear friend Miss Howe?—Ah, my head!

Fellow. Yes, Madam: but I am sorry you are so bad.

Widow. Do you live with Miss Howe?

Fellow. No, Madam: I am one of her tenants’ sons. Her lady-mother must not know as how I came of this errand. But the letter, I suppose, will tell you all.

Widow. How shall I satisfy you for this kind trouble?

Fellow. No how at all. What I do is for love of Miss Howe. She will satisfy me more than enough. But, may-hap, you can send no answer, you are so ill.

Widow. Was you ordered to wait for an answer?

Fellow. No, I cannot say as that I was. But I was bidden to observe how you looked, and how you was; and if you did write a line or two, to take care of it, and give it only to our young landlady in secret.

Widow. You see I look strangely. Not so well as I used to do.

Fellow. Nay, I don’t know that I ever saw you but once before; and that was at a stile, where I met you and my young landlady; but knew better than to stare a gentlewoman in the face; especially at a stile.

Widow. Will you eat, or drink, friend?

Fellow. A cup of small ale, I don’t care if I do.

Widow. Margaret, take the young man down, and treat him with what the house affords.

Fellow. Your servant, Madam. But I staid to eat as I come along, just upon the Heath yonder; or else, to say the truth, I had been here sooner. [Thank my stars, thought I, thou didst.] A piece of powdered beef was upon the table, at the sign of the Castle, where I stopt to inquire for this house: and so, thoff I only intended to wet my whistle, I could not help eating. So shall only taste of your ale; for the beef was woundily corned.

Prating dog! Pox on thee! thought I.

He withdrew, bowing and scraping.

Margaret, whispered I, in a female voice [whispering out of the closet, and holding the parlour-door in my hand] get him out of the house as fast as you can, lest they come from church, and catch him here.

Peggy. Never fear, Sir.

The fellow went down, and it seems, drank a large draught of ale; and Margaret finding him very talkative, told him, she begged his pardon, but she had a sweetheart just come from sea, whom she was forced to hide in the pantry; so was sure he would excuse her from staying with him.

Ay, ay, to be sure, the clown said: for if he could not make sport, he would spoil none. But he whispered her, that one ’Squire Lovelace was a damnation rogue, if the truth might be told.

For what? said Margaret. And could have given him, she told the widow (who related to me all this) a good dowse of the chaps.

For kissing all the women he came near.

At the same time, the dog wrapped himself round Margery, and gave her a smack, that, she told Mrs. Bevis afterwards, she might have heard into the parlour.

Such, Jack, is human nature: thus does it operate in all degrees; and so does the clown, as well as his practises! Yet this sly dog knew not but the wench had a sweetheart locked up in the pantry! If the truth were known, some of the ruddy-faced dairy wenches might perhaps call him a damnation rogue, as justly as their betters of the same sex might ’Squire Lovelace.

The fellow told the maid, that, by what he discovered of the young lady’s face, it looked very rosy to what he took it to be; and he thought her a good deal fatter, as she lay, and not so tall.

All women are born to intrigue, Jack; and practise it more or less, as fathers, guardians, governesses, from dear experience, can tell; and in love affairs are naturally expert, and quicker in their wits by half than men. This ready, though raw wench, gave an instance of this, and improved on the dropsical hint I had given her. The lady’s seeming plumpness was owing to a dropsical disorder, and to the round posture she lay in—very likely, truly. Her appearing to him to be shorter, he might have observed, was owing to her drawing her feet up from pain, and because the couch was too short, she supposed—Adso, he did not think of that. Her rosy colour was owing to her grief and head-ache.—Ay, that might very well be—but he was highly pleased that he had given the letter into Mrs. Harriot’s own hand, as he should tell Miss Howe.

He desired once more to see the lady at his going away, and would not be denied. The widow therefore sat up, with her handkerchief over her face, leaning her head against the wainscot.

He asked if she had any partiklar message?

No: she was so ill she could not write; which was a great grief to her.

Should he call the next day? for he was going to London, now he was so near; and should stay at a cousin’s that night, who lived in a street called Fetter-Lane.

No: she would write as soon as able, and send by the post.

Well, then, if she had nothing to send by him, mayhap he might stay in town a day or two; for he had never seen the lions in the Tower, nor Bedlam, nor the tombs; and he would make a holiday or two, as he had leave to do, if she had no business or message that required his posting down next day.

She had not.

She offered him the half-guinea I had given her for him; but he refused it with great professions of disinterestedness, and love, as he called it, to Miss Howe; to serve whom, he would ride to the world’s-end, or even to Jericho.

And so the shocking rascal went away: and glad at my heart was I when he was gone; for I feared nothing so much as that he would have staid till they came from church.

Thus, Jack, got I my heart’s ease, the letter of Miss Howe; and through such a train of accidents, as makes me say, that the lady’s stars fight against her. But yet I must attribute a good deal to my own precaution, in having taken right measures. For had I not secured the widow by my stories, and the maid by my servant, all would have signified nothing. And so heartily were they secured, the one by a single guinea, the other by half a dozen warm kisses, and the aversion they both had to such wicked creatures as delighted in making mischief between man and wife, that they promised, that neither Mrs. Moore, Miss Rawlins, Mrs. Lovelace, nor any body living, should know any thing of the matter.

The widow rejoiced that I had got the mischief-maker’s letter. I excused myself to her, and instantly withdrew with it; and, after I had read it, fell to my short-hand, to acquaint thee with my good luck: and they not returning so soon as church was done, (stepping, as it proved, into Miss Rawlins’s, and tarrying there awhile, to bring that busy girl with them to drink tea,) I wrote thus far to thee, that thou mightest, when thou camest to this place, rejoice with me upon the occasion.

They are all three just come in.

I hasten to them.