Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XLVIII

MR. BELFORD, TO ROBERT LOVELACE, ESQ. THURSDAY, JUNE 29.

Thou hast heard from M’Donald and Mowbray the news. Bad or good, I know not which thou’lt deem it. I only wish I could have given thee joy upon the same account, before the unhappy lady was seduced from Hampstead; for then of what an ungrateful villany hadst thou been spared the perpetration, which now thou hast to answer for!

I came to town purely to serve thee with her, expecting that thy next would satisfy me that I might endeavour it without dishonour. And at first when I found her gone, I half pitied thee; for now wilt thou be inevitably blown up: and in what an execrable light wilt thou appear to all the world!—Poor Lovelace! caught in thy own snares! thy punishment is but beginning.

But to my narrative: for I suppose thou expectest all particulars from me, since Mowbray has informed thee that I have been collecting them.

‘The noble exertion of spirit she has made on Friday night, had, it seems, greatly disordered her; insomuch that she was not visible till Saturday evening; when Mabell saw her; and she seemed to be very ill: but on Sunday morning, having dressed herself, as if designing to go to church, she ordered Mabell to get her a coach to the door.

‘The wench told her, She was to obey her in every thing but the calling of a coach or chair, or in relation to letters.

‘She sent for Will. and gave him the same command.

‘He pleaded his master’s orders to the contrary, and desired to be excused.

‘Upon this, down she went, herself, and would have gone out without observation; but finding the street-door double-locked, and the key not in the lock, she stept into the street-parlour, and would have thrown up the sash to call out to the people passing by, as they doubted not: but that, since her last attempt of the same nature, had been fastened down.

‘Hereupon she resolutely stept into Mrs. Sinclair’s parlour in the back-house; where were the old devil and her two partners; and demanded the key of the street-door, or to have it opened for her.

‘They were all surprised; but desired to be excused, and pleaded your orders.

‘She asserted, that you had no authority over her; and never should have any: that their present refusal was their own act and deed: she saw the intent of their back house, and the reason of putting her there: she pleaded her condition and fortune; and said, they had no way to avoid utter ruin, but by opening their doors to her, or by murdering her, and burying her in their garden or cellar, too deep for detection: that already what had been done to her was punishable by death: and bid them at their peril detain her.’

What a noble, what a right spirit has this charming creature, in cases that will justify an exertion of spirit!—

‘They answered that Mr. Lovelace could prove his marriage, and would indemnify them. And they all would have vindicated their behaviour on Friday night, and the reputation of their house. But refusing to hear them on that topic, she flung from them threatening.

‘She then went up half a dozen stairs in her way to her own apartment: but, as if she had bethought herself, down she stept again, and proceeded towards the street-parlour; saying, as she passed by the infamous Dorcas, I’ll make myself protectors, though the windows suffer. But that wench, of her own head, on the lady’s going out of that parlour to Mrs. Sinclair’s, had locked the door, and taken out the key: so that finding herself disappointed, she burst into tears, and went sobbing and menacing up stairs again.

‘She made no other attempt till the effectual one. Your letters and messages, they suppose, coming so fast upon one another (though she would not answer one of them) gave her some amusement, and an assurance to them, that she would at last forgive you; and that then all would end as you wished.

‘The women, in pursuance of your orders, offered not to obtrude themselves upon her; and Dorcas also kept out of her sight all the rest of Sunday; also on Monday and Tuesday. But by the lady’s condescension, (even to familiarity) to Mabell, they imagined, that she must be working in her mind all that time to get away. They therefore redoubled their cautions to the wench; who told them so faithfully all that passed between her lady and her, that they had no doubt of her fidelity to her wicked trust.

‘’Tis probable she might have been contriving something all this time; but saw no room for perfecting any scheme. The contrivance by which she effected her escape seems to me not to have been fallen upon till the very day; since it depended partly upon the weather, as it proved. But it is evident she hoped something from Mabell’s simplicity, or gratitude, or compassion, by cultivating all the time her civility to her.

‘Polly waited on her early on Wednesday morning; and met with a better reception than she had reason to expect. She complained however, with warmth, of her confinement. Polly said there would be an happy end to it (if it were a confinement,) next day, she presumed. She absolutely declared to the contrary, in the way Polly meant it; and said, That Mr. Lovelace, on his return [which looked as if she intended to wait for it] should have reason to repent the orders he had given, as they all should their observance of them: let him send twenty letters, she would not answer one, be the consequence what it would; nor give him hope of the least favour, while she was in that house. She had given Mrs. Sinclair and themselves fair warning, she said: no orders of another ought to make them detain a free person: but having made an open attempt to go, and been detained by them, she was the calmer, she told Polly; let them look to the consequence.

‘But yet she spoke this with temper; and Polly gave it as her opinion, (with apprehension for their own safety,) that having so good a handle to punish them all, she would not go away if she might. And what, inferred Polly, is the indemnity of a man who has committed the vilest of rapes on a person of condition; and must himself, if prosecuted for it, either fly, or be hanged?

‘Sinclair, [so I will still call her,] upon this representation of Polly, foresaw, she said, the ruin of her poor house in the issue of this strange business; and the infamous Sally and Dorcas bore their parts in the apprehension: and this put them upon thinking it advisable for the future, that the street-door should generally in the day-time be only left upon a bolt-latch, as they called it, which any body might open on the inside; and that the key should be kept in the door; that their numerous comers and goers, as they called their guests, should be able to give evidence, that she might have gone out if she would: not forgetting, however, to renew their orders to Will. to Dorcas, to Mabell, and the rest, to redouble their vigilance on this occasion, to prevent her escape: none of them doubting, at the same time, that her love of a man so considerable in their eyes, and the prospect of what was to happen, as she had reason to believe, on Thursday, her uncle’s birth-day, would (though perhaps not till the last hour, for her pride sake, was their word) engage her to change her temper.

‘They believe, that she discovered the key to be left in the door; for she was down more than once to walk in the little garden, and seemed to cast her eye each time to the street-door.

‘About eight yesterday morning, an hour after Polly had left her, she told Mabell, she was sure she should not live long; and having a good many suits of apparel, which after her death would be of no use to any body she valued, she would give her a brown lustring gown, which, with some alterations to make it more suitable to her degree, would a great while serve her for a Sunday wear; for that she (Mabell) was the only person in that house of whom she could think without terror or antipathy.

‘Mabell expressing her gratitude upon the occasion, the lady said, she had nothing to employ herself about, and if she could get a workwoman directly, she would look over her things then, and give her what she intended for her.

‘Her mistress’s mantua-maker, the maid replied, lived but a little way off: and she doubted not that she could procure her, or one of the journey-women to alter the gown out of hand.

‘I will give you also, said she, a quilted coat, which will require but little alteration, if any; for you are much about my stature: but the gown I will give directions about, because the sleeves and the robings and facings must be altered for your wear, being, I believe, above your station: and try, said she, if you can get the workwoman, and we’ll advise about it. If she cannot come now, let her come in the afternoon; but I had rather now, because it will amuse me to give you a lift.

‘Then stepping to the window, it rains, said she, [and so it had done all the morning:] slip on the hood and short cloak I have seen you wear, and come to me when you are ready to go out, because you shall bring me in something that I want.

‘Mabell equipped herself accordingly, and received her commands to buy her some trifles, and then left her; but in her way out, stept into the back parlour, where Dorcas was with Mrs. Sinclair, telling her where she was going, and on what account, bidding Dorcas look out till she came back. So faithful as the wench to the trust reposed in her, and so little had the lady’s generosity wrought upon her.

‘Mrs. Sinclair commended her; Dorcas envied her, and took her cue: and Mabell soon returned with the mantua-maker’s journey-woman; (she resolved, she said, but she would not come without her); and then Dorcas went off guard.

‘The lady looked out the gown and petticoat, and before the workwoman caused Mabell to try it on; and, that it might fit the better, made the willing wench pull off her upper-petticoat, and put on that she gave her. Then she bid them go into Mr. Lovelace’s apartment, and contrive about it before the pier-glass there, and stay till she came to them, to give them her opinion.

‘Mabell would have taken her own clothes, and hood, and short cloak with her: but her lady said, No matter; you may put them on again here, when we have considered about the alterations: there’s no occasion to litter the other room.

‘They went; and instantly, as it is supposed, she slipt on Mabell’s gown and petticoat over her own, which was white damask, and put on the wench’s hood, short cloak, and ordinary apron, and down she went.

‘Hearing somebody tripping along the passage, both Will. and Dorcas whipt to the inner-hall door, and saw her; but, taking her for Mabell, Are you going far, Mabell? cried Will.

‘Without turning her face, or answering, she held out her hand, pointing to the stairs; which they construed as a caution for them to look out in her absence; and supposing she would not be long gone, as she had not in form, repeated her caution to them, up went Will, tarrying at the stairs-head in expectation of the supposed Mabell’s return.

‘Mabell and the workwoman waited a good while, amusing themselves not disagreeably, the one with contriving in the way of her business, the other delighting herself with her fine gown and coat. But at last, wondering the lady did not come in to them, Mabell tiptoed it to her door, and tapping, and not being answered, stept into the chamber.

‘Will. at that instant, from his station at the stairs-head, seeing Mabell in her lady’s clothes; for he had been told of the present, [gifts to servants fly from servant to servant in a minute,] was very much surprised, having, as he thought, just seen her go out in her own; and stepping up, met her at the door. How the devil can this be? said he: just now you went out in your own dress! How came you here in this? and how could you pass me unseen? but nevertheless, kissing her, said, he would now brag he had kissed his lady, or one in her clothes.

‘I am glad, Mr. William, cried Mabell, to see you here so diligently. But know you where my lady is?

‘In my master’s apartment, answered Will. Is she not? Was she not talking with you this moment?

‘No, that’s Mrs. Dolins’s journey-woman.

‘They both stood aghast, as they said; Will, again recollecting he had seen Mabell, as he thought, go out in her own clothes. And while they were debating and wondering, up comes Dorcas with your fourth letter, just then brought for the lady, and seeing Mabell dressed out, (whom she had likewise beheld a little before), as she supposed, in her common clothes; she joined in the wonder; till Mabell, re-entering the lady’s apartment, missed her own clothes; and then suspecting what had happened, and letting the others into the ground of the suspicion, they all agreed that she had certainly escaped. And then followed such an uproar of mutual accusation, and you should have done this, and you have done that, as alarmed the whole house; every apartment in both houses giving up its devil, to the number of fourteen or fifteen, including the mother and her partners.

‘Will. told them his story; and then ran out, as on the like occasion formerly, to make inquiry whether the lady was seen by any of the coachmen, chairmen, or porters, plying in that neighbourhood: while Dorcas cleared herself immediately, and that at the poor Mabell’s expense, who made a figure as guilty as awkward, having on the suspected price of her treachery; which Dorcas, out of envy, was ready to tear from her back.

‘Hereupon all the pack opened at the poor wench, while the mother foamed at the mouth, bellowed out her orders for seizing the suspected offender; who could neither be heard in her own defence, nor had she been heard, would have been believed.

‘That such a perfidious wretch should ever disgrace her house, was the mother’s cry; good people might be corrupted; but it was a fine thing if such a house as her’s could not be faithfully served by cursed creatures who were hired knowing the business they were to be employed in, and who had no pretence to principle!—D—n her, the wretch proceeded!—She had no patience with her! call the cook, and call the scullion!

‘They were at hand.

‘See, that guilty pyeball devil, was her word—(her lady’s gown upon her back)—but I’ll punish her for a warning to all betrayers of their trust. Put on the great gridiron this moment, [an oath or a curse at every word:] make up a roaring fire—the cleaver bring me this instant—I’ll cut her into quarters with my own hands; and carbonade and broil the traitress for a feast to all the dogs and cats in the neighbourhood, and eat the first slice of the toad myself, without salt or pepper.

‘The poor Mabell, frighted out of her wits, expected every moment to be torn in pieces, having half a score open-clawed paws upon her all at once. She promised to confess all. But that all, when she had obtained a hearing, was nothing: for nothing had she to confess.

‘Sally, hereupon with a curse of mercy, ordered her to retire; undertaking that she and Polly would examine her themselves, that they might be able to write all particulars to his honour; and then, if she could not clear herself, or, if guilty, give some account of the lady, (who had been so wicked as to give them all this trouble,) so as they might get her again, then the cleaver and gridiron might go to work with all their heart.

‘The wench, glad of this reprieve, went up stairs; and while Sally was laying out the law, and prating away in her usual dictorial manner, whipt on another gown, and sliding down the stairs, escaped to her relations. And this flight, which was certainly more owing to terror than guilt, was, in the true Old Bailey construction, made a confirmation of the latter.’

These are the particulars of Miss Harlowe’s flight. Thou’lt hardly think me too minute.—How I long to triumph over thy impatience and fury on the occasion!

Let me beseech thee, my dear Lovelace, in thy next letter, to rave most gloriously!—I shall be grievously disappointed if thou dost not.

Where, Lovelace, can the poor lady be gone? And who can describe the distress she must be in?

By thy former letters, it may be supposed, that she can have very little money: nor, by the suddenness of her flight, more clothes than those she has on. And thou knowest who once said,* ‘Her parents will not receive her. Her uncles will not entertain her. Her Norton is in their direction, and cannot. Miss Howe dare not. She has not one friend or intimate in town—entirely a stranger to it.’ And, let me add, has been despoiled of her honour by the man for whom she had made all these sacrifices; and who stood bound to her by a thousand oaths and vows, to be her husband, her protector, and friend!

* See Vol. IV. Letter XXI.

How strong must be her resentment of the barbarous treatment she has received! how worthy of herself, that it has made her hate the man she once loved! and, rather than marry him, choose to expose her disgrace to the whole world: to forego the reconciliation with her friends which her heart was so set upon: and to hazard a thousand evils to which her youth and her sex may too probably expose an indigent and friendly beauty!

Rememberest thou not that home push upon thee, in one of the papers written in her delirium; of which, however it savours not?——

I will assure thee, that I have very often since most seriously reflected upon it: and as thy intended second outrage convinces me that it made no impression upon thee then, and perhaps thou hast never thought of it since, I will transcribe the sentence.

‘If, as religion teaches us, God will judge us, in a great measure! by our benevolent or evil actions to one another—O wretch! bethink thee, in time bethink thee, how great must be thy condemnation.’*

* See Vol. VI. Letter XVI.

And is this amiable doctrine the sum of religion? Upon my faith, believe it is. For, to indulge a serious thought, since we are not atheists, except in practice, does God, the BEING of Beings, want any thing of us for HIMSELF! And does he not enjoin us works of mercy to one another, as the means to obtain his mercy? A sublime principle, and worthy of the SUPREME SUPERINTENDENT and FATHER of all things!—But if we are to be judged by this noble principle, what, indeed, must be thy condemnation on the score of this lady only? and what mine, and what all our confraternity’s, on the score of other women: though we are none of us half so bad as thou art, as well for want of inclination, I hope, as of opportunity!

I must add, that, as well for thy own sake, as for the lady’s, I wish ye were yet to be married to each other. It is the only medium that can be hit upon to salve the honour of both. All that’s past may yet be concealed from the world, and from all her sufferings, if thou resolvest to be a tender and kind husband to her.

And if this really be thy intention, I will accept with pleasure of a commission from thee that shall tend to promote so good an end, whenever she can be found; that is to say, if she will admit to her presence a man who professes friendship to thee. Nor can I give a greater demonstration, that I am

Thy sincere friend, J. BELFORD.

P.S. Mabell’s clothes were thrown into the passage this morning: nobody knows by whom.