Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XV

MR. LOVELACE, TO JOHN BELFORD, ESQ.

Curse upon my stars!—Disappointed again! It was about eight when I arrived at Smith’s.—The woman was in the shop.

So, old acquaintance, how do you now? I know my love is above.—Let her be acquainted that I am here, waiting for admission to her presence, and can take no denial. Tell her, that I will approach her with the most respectful duty, and in whose company she pleases; and I will not touch the hem of her garment, without her leave.

Indeed, Sir, you are mistaken. The lady is not in this house, nor near it.

I’ll see that.—Will.! beckoning him to me, and whispering, see if thou canst any way find out (without losing sight of the door, lest she should be below stairs) if she be in the neighbourhood, if not within.

Will. bowed, and went off. Up went I, without further ceremony; attended now only by the good woman.

I went into each apartment, except that which was locked before, and was now also locked: and I called to my Clarissa in the voice of love; but, by the still silence, was convinced she was not there. Yet, on the strength of my intelligence, I doubted not but she was in the house.

I then went up two pairs of stairs, and looked round the first room: but no Miss Harlowe.

And who, pray, is in this room? stopping at the door of another.

A widow gentlewoman, Sir.—Mrs. Lovick.

O my dear Mrs. Lovick! said I.—I am intimately acquainted with Mrs. Lovick’s character, from my cousin John Belford. I must see Mrs. Lovick by all means.—Good Mrs. Lovick, open the door.

She did.

Your servant, Madam. Be so good as to excuse me.—You have heard my story. You are an admirer of the most excellent woman in the world. Dear Mrs. Lovick, tell me what is become of her?

The poor lady, Sir, went out yesterday, on purpose to avoid you.

How so? she knew not that I would be here.

She was afraid you would come, when she heard you were recovered from your illness. Ah! Sir, what pity it is that so fine a gentleman should make such ill returns for God’s goodness to him!

You are an excellent woman, Mrs. Lovick: I know that, by my cousin John Belford’s account of you: and Miss Clarissa Harlowe is an angel.

Miss Harlowe is indeed an angel, replied she; and soon will be company for angels.

No jesting with such a woman as this, Jack.

Tell me of a truth, good Mrs. Lovick, where I may see this dear lady. Upon my soul, I will neither fright for offend her. I will only beg of her to hear me speak for one half-quarter of an hour; and, if she will have it so, I will never trouble her more.

Sir, said the widow, it would be death for her to see you. She was at home last night; I’ll tell you truth: but fitter to be in bed all day. She came home, she said, to die; and, if she could not avoid your visit, she was unable to fly from you; and believed she should die in your presence.

And yet go out again this morning early? How can that be, widow?

Why, Sir, she rested not two hours, for fear of you. Her fear gave her strength, which she’ll suffer for, when that fear is over. And finding herself, the more she thought of your visit, the less able to stay to receive it, she took chair, and is gone nobody knows whither. But, I believe, she intended to be carried to the waterside, in order to take boat; for she cannot bear a coach. It extremely incommoded her yesterday.

But before we talk any further, said I, if she be gone abroad, you can have no objection to my looking into every apartment above and below; because I am told she is actually in the house.

Indeed, Sir, she is not. You may satisfy yourself, if you please: but Mrs. Smith and I waited on her to her chair. We were forced to support her, she was so weak. She said, Whither can I go, Mrs. Lovick? whither can I go, Mrs. Smith?—Cruel, cruel man!—tell him I called him so, if he come again!—God give him that peace which he denies me!

Sweet creature! cried I; and looked down, and took out my handkerchief.

The widow wept. I wish, said she, I had never known so excellent a lady, and so great a sufferer! I love her as my own child!

Mrs. Smith wept.

I then gave over the hope of seeing her for this time, I was extremely chagrined at my disappointment, and at the account they gave of her ill health.

Would to Heaven, said I, she would put it in my power to repair her wrongs! I have been an ungrateful wretch to her. I need not tell you, Mrs. Lovick, how much I have injured her, nor how much she suffers by her relations’ implacableness, Mrs. Smith, that cuts her to the heart. Her family is the most implacable family on earth; and the dear creature, in refusing to see me, and to be reconciled to me, shows her relation to them a little too plainly.

O Sir, said the widow, not one syllable of what you say belongs to this lady. I never saw so sweet a temper! she is always accusing herself, and excusing her relations. And, as to you, Sir, she forgives you: she wishes you well; and happier than you will let her die in peace? ’tis all she wishes for. You don’t look like a hard-hearted gentleman!—How can you thus hunt and persecute a poor lady, whom none of her relations will look upon? It makes my heart bleed for her.

And then she wept again. Mrs. Smith wept also. My seat grew uneasy to me. I shifted to another several times; and what Mrs. Lovick farther said, and showed me, made me still more uneasy.

Bad as the poor lady was last night, said she, she transcribed into her book a meditation on your persecuting her thus. I have a copy of it. If I thought it would have any effect, I would read it to you.

Let me read it myself, Mrs. Lovick.

She gave it to me. It has an Harlowe-spirited title: and, from a forgiving spirit, intolerable. I desired to take it with me. She consented, on condition that I showed it to ’Squire Belford. So here, Mr. ’Squire Belford, thou mayest read it, if thou wilt.

ON BEING HUNTED AFTER BY THE ENEMY OF MY SOUL. MONDAY, AUG. 21.

Deliver me, O Lord, from the evil man.

Preserve me from the violent man.

Who imagines mischief in his heart.

He hath sharpened his tongue like a serpent. Adders’ poison is under his lips.

Keep me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked. Preserve me from the violent man, who hath purposed to overthrow my goings.

He hath hid a snare for me. He hath spread a net by the way-side. He hath set gins for me in the way wherein I walked.

Keep me from the snares which he hath laid for me, and the gins of this worker of iniquity.

The enemy hath persecuted my soul. He hath smitten my life down to the ground. He hath made me dwell in darkness, as those that have been long dead.

Therefore is my spirit overwhelmed within me. My heart within me is desolate.

Hide not thy face from me in the day when I am in trouble.

For my days are consumed like smoke: and my bones are burnt as the hearth.

My heart is smitten and withered like grass: so that I forget to eat my bread.

By reason of the voice of my groaning, my bones cleave to my skin.

I am like a pelican of the wilderness. I am like an owl of the desert.

I watch; and am as a sparrow alone upon the house-top.

I have eaten ashes like bread; and mingled my drink with weeping:

Because of thine indignation, and thy wrath: for thou hast lifted me up, and cast me down.

My days are like a shadow that declineth, and I am withered like grass.

Grant not, O Lord, the desires of the wicked: further not his devices, lest he exalt himself.

Why now, Mrs. Lovick, said I, when I had read this meditation, as she called it, I think I am very severely treated by the lady, if she mean me in all this. For how is it that I am the enemy of her soul, when I love her both soul and body?

She says, that I am a violent man, and a wicked man.—That I have been so, I own: but I repent, and only wish to have it in my power to repair the injuries I have done her.

The gin, the snare, the net, mean matrimony, I suppose—But is it a crime in me to wish to marry her? Would any other woman think it so? and choose to become a pelican in the wilderness, or a lonely sparrow on the house-top, rather than have a mate that would chirp about her all day and all night?

She says, she has eaten ashes like bread—A sad mistake to be sure!—And mingled her drink with weeping—Sweet maudlin soul! should I say of any body confessing this, but Miss Harlowe.

She concludes with praying, that the desires of the wicked (meaning poor me, I doubt) may not be granted; that my devices may not be furthered, lest I exalt myself. I should undoubtedly exalt myself, and with reason, could I have the honour and the blessing of such a wife. And if my desires have so honourable an end, I know not why I should be called wicked, and why I should not be allowed to hope, that my honest devices may be furthered, that I MAY exalt myself.

But here, Mrs. Lovick, let me ask, as something is undoubtedly meant by the lonely sparrow on the house-top, is not the dear creature at this very instant (tell me truly) concealed in Mrs. Smith’s cockloft?—What say you, Mrs. Lovick? What say you, Mrs. Smith, to this?

They assured me to the contrary; and that she was actually abroad, and they knew not where.

Thou seest, Jack, that I would fain have diverted the chagrin given me not only by the women’s talk, but by this collection of Scripture-texts drawn up in array against me. Several other whimsical and light things I said [all I had for it!] with the same view. But the widow would not let me come off so. She stuck to me; and gave me, as I told thee, a good deal of uneasiness, by her sensible and serious expostulations. Mrs. Smith put in now-and-then; and the two Jack-pudding fellows, John and Joseph, not being present, I had no provocation to turn the conversation into a farce; and, at last, they both joined warmly to endeavour to prevail upon me to give up all thoughts of seeing the lady. But I could not hear of that. On the contrary, I besought Mrs. Smith to let me have one of her rooms but till I could see her; and were it but for one, two, or three days, I would pay a year’s rent for it; and quit it the moment the interview was over. But they desired to be excused; and were sure the lady would not come to the house till I was gone, were it for a month.

This pleased me; for I found they did not think her so very ill as they would have me believe her to be; but I took no notice of the slip, because I would not guard them against more of the like.

In short, I told them, I must and would see her: but that it should be with all the respect and veneration that heart could pay to excellence like her’s: and that I would go round to all the churches in London and Westminster, where there were prayers or service, from sun-rise to sun-set, and haunt their house like a ghost, till I had the opportunity my soul panted after.

This I bid them tell her. And thus ended our serious conversation.

I took leave of them; and went down; and, stepping into my chair, caused myself to be carried to Lincoln’s-Inn; and walked in the gardens till the chapel was opened; and then I went in, and said prayers, in hopes of seeing the dear creature enter: but to no purpose; and yet I prayed most devoutly that she might be conducted thither, either by my good angel, or her own. And indeed I burn more than ever with impatience to be once more permitted to kneel at the feet of this adorable woman. And had I met her, or espied her in the chapel, it is my firm belief that I should not have been able (though it had been in the midst of the sacred office, and in the presence of thousands) to have forborne prostration to her, and even clamorous supplication for her forgiveness: a christian act; the exercise of it therefore worthy of the place.

After service was over, I stept into my chair again, and once more was carried to Smith’s, in hopes I might have surprised her there: but no such happiness for thy friend. I staid in the back-shop an hour and an half, by my watch; and again underwent a good deal of preachment from the women. John was mainly civil to me now; won over a little by my serious talk, and the honour I professed for the lady. They all three wished matters could be made up between us: but still insisted that she could never get over her illness; and that her heart was broken. A cue, I suppose, they had from you.

While I was there a letter was brought by a particular hand. They seemed very solicitous to hide it from me; which made me suspect it was for her. I desired to be suffered to cast an eye upon the seal, and the superscription; promising to give it back to them unopened.

Looking upon it, I told them I knew the hand and seal. It was from her sister.* And I hoped it would bring her news that she would be pleased with.

* See Letter XXVI. of this volume.

They joined most heartily in the same hope: and, giving the letter to them again, I civilly took leave, and went away.

But I will be there again presently; for I fancy my courteous behaviour to these women will, on their report of it, procure me the favour I so earnestly covet. And so I will leave my letter unsealed, to tell thee the event of my next visit at Smith’s.

***

Thy servant just calling, I sent thee this: and will soon follow it by another. Mean time, I long to hear how poor Belton is: to whom my best wishes.