Clarissa Harlowe LETTER X


Well, but now my plots thicken; and my employment of writing to thee on this subject will soon come to a conclusion. For now, having got the license; and Mrs. Townsend with her tars, being to come to Hampstead next Wednesday or Thursday; and another letter possibly, or message from Miss Howe, to inquire how Miss Harlowe does, upon the rustic’s report of her ill health, and to express her wonder that she has not heard from her in answer to her’s on her escape; I must soon blow up the lady, or be blown up myself. And so I am preparing, with Lady Betty and my cousin Montague, to wait upon my beloved with a coach-and-four, or a sett; for Lady Betty will not stir out with a pair for the world; though but for two or three miles. And this is a well-known part of her character.

But as to the arms and crest upon the coach and trappings?

Dost thou not know that a Blunt’s must supply her, while her own is new lining and repairing? An opportunity she is willing to take now she is in town. Nothing of this kind can be done to her mind in the country. Liveries nearly Lady Betty’s.

Thou hast seen Lady Betty Lawrance several times—hast thou not, Belford?

No, never in my life.

But thou hast—and lain with her too; or fame does thee more credit than thou deservest—Why, Jack, knowest thou not Lady Betty’s other name?

Other name!—Has she two?

She has. And what thinkest thou of Lady Bab. Wallis?

O the devil!

Now thou hast it. Lady Barbara thou knowest, lifted up in circumstances, and by pride, never appears or produces herself, but on occasions special—to pass to men of quality or price, for a duchess, or countess, at least. She has always been admired for a grandeur in her air, that few women of quality can come up to; and never was supposed to be other than what she passed for; though often and often a paramour for lords.

And who, thinkest thou, is my cousin Montague?

Nay, how should I know?

How indeed! Why, my little Johanetta Golding, a lively, yet modest-looking girl, is my cousin Montague.

There, Belford, is an aunt!—There’s a cousin!—Both have wit at will. Both are accustomed to ape quality.—Both are genteelly descended. Mistresses of themselves, and well educated—yet past pity.—True Spartan dames; ashamed of nothing but detection—always, therefore, upon their guard against that. And in their own conceit, when assuming top parts, the very quality they ape.

And how dost think I dress them out?—I’ll tell thee.

Lady Betty in a rich gold tissue, adorned with jewels of high price.

My cousin Montague in a pale pink, standing on end with silver flowers of her own working. Charlotte as well as my beloved is admirable at her needle. Not quite so richly jewell’d out as Lady Betty; but ear-rings and solitaire very valuable, and infinitely becoming.

Johanetta, thou knowest, has a good complexion, a fine neck, and ears remarkably fine—so has Charlotte. She is nearly of Charlotte’s stature too.

Laces both, the richest that could be procured.

Thou canst not imagine what a sum the loan of the jewels cost me, though but for three days.

This sweet girl will half ruin me. But seest thou not, by this time, that her reign is short!—It must be so. And Mrs. Sinclair has already prepared every thing for her reception once more.

Here come the ladies—attended by Susan Morrison, a tenant-farmer’s daughter, as Lady Betty’s woman; with her hands before her, and thoroughly instructed.

How dress advantages women!—especially those who have naturally a genteel air and turn, and have had education.

Hadst thou seen how they paraded it—Cousin, and Cousin, and Nephew, at every word; Lady Betty bridling and looking haughtily-condescending.—Charlotte galanting her fan, and swimming over the floor without touching it.

How I long to see my niece-elect! cries one—for they are told that we are not married; and are pleased that I have not put the slight upon them that they had apprehended from me.

How I long to see my dear cousin that is to be, the other!

Your La’ship, and your La’ship, and an awkward courtesy at every address—prim Susan Morrison.

Top your parts, ye villains!—You know how nicely I distinguish. There will be no passion in this case to blind the judgment, and to help on meditated delusion, as when you engage with titled sinners. My charmer is as cool and as distinguishing, though not quite so learned in her own sex, as I am. Your commonly-assumed dignity won’t do for me now. Airs of superiority, as if born to rank.—But no over-do!—Doubting nothing. Let not your faces arraign your hearts.

Easy and unaffected!—Your very dresses will give you pride enough.

A little graver, Lady Betty.—More significance, less bridling in your dignity.

That’s the air! Charmingly hit——Again——You have it.

Devil take you!—Less arrogance. You are got into airs of young quality. Be less sensible of your new condition. People born to dignity command respect without needing to require it.

Now for your part, Cousin Charlotte!—

Pretty well. But a little too frolicky that air.—Yet have I prepared my beloved to expect in you both great vivacity and quality-freedom.

Curse those eyes!—Those glancings will never do. A down-cast bashful turn, if you can command it. Look upon me. Suppose me now to be my beloved.

Devil take that leer. Too significantly arch!—Once I knew you the girl I would now have you to be.

Sprightly, but not confident, cousin Charlotte!—Be sure forget not to look down, or aside, when looked at. When eyes meet eyes, be your’s the retreating ones. Your face will bear examination.

O Lord! Lord! that so young a creature can so soon forget the innocent appearance she first charmed by; and which I thought born with you all!—Five years to ruin what twenty had been building up! How natural the latter lesson! How difficult to regain the former!

A stranger, as I hope to be saved, to the principal arts of your sex!—Once more, what a devil has your heart to do in your eyes?

Have I not told you, that my beloved is a great observer of the eyes? She once quoted upon me a text,* which showed me how she came by her knowledge—Dorcas’s were found guilty of treason the first moment she saw her.

* Eccles. xxvi. The whoredom of a woman may be known in her haughty looks and eye-lids. Watch over an impudent eye, and marvel not if it trespass against thee.

Once more, suppose me to be my charmer.—Now you are to encounter my examining eye, and my doubting heart—

That’s my dear!

Study that air in the pier-glass!—

Charmingly!—Perfectly right!

Your honours, now, devils!—

Pretty well, Cousin Charlotte, for a young country lady! Till form yields to familiarity, you may courtesy low. You must not be supposed to have forgot your boarding-school airs.

But too low, too low Lady Betty, for your years and your quality. The common fault of your sex will be your danger: aiming to be young too long!—The devil’s in you all, when you judge of yourselves by your wishes, and by your vanity! Fifty, in that case, is never more than fifteen.

Graceful ease, conscious dignity, like that of my charmer, Oh! how hard to hit!

Both together now—

Charming!—That’s the air, Lady Betty!—That’s the cue, Cousin Charlotte, suited to the character of each!—But, once more, be sure to have a guard upon your eyes.

Never fear, Nephew!—

Never fear, Cousin.

A dram of Barbadoes each—

And now we are gone—