Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XVIII


On my return to Rowland’s, I found that the apothecary was just gone up. Mrs. Rowland being above with him, I made the less scruple to go up too, as it was probable, that to ask for leave would be to ask to be denied; hoping also, that the letters had with me would be a good excuse.

She was sitting on the side of the broken couch, extremely weak and low; and, I observed, cared not to speak to the man: and no wonder; for I never saw a more shocking fellow, of a profession tolerably genteel, nor heard a more illiterate one prate—physician in ordinary to this house, and others like it, I suppose! He put me in mind of Otway’s apothecary in his Caius Marius; as borrowed from the immortal Shakspeare:

Meagre and very rueful were his looks:

Sharp misery had worn him to the bones.

—————— Famine in his cheeks:

Need and oppression staring in his eyes:

Contempt and beggary hanging on his back:

The world no friend of his, nor the world’s law.

As I am in black, he took me, at my entrance, I believe, to be a doctor; and slunk behind me with his hat upon his two thumbs, and looked as if he expected the oracle to open, and give him orders.

The lady looked displeased, as well at me as at Rowland, who followed me, and at the apothecary. It was not, she said, the least of her present misfortunes, that she could not be left to her own sex; and to her option to see whom she pleased.

I besought her excuse; and winking for the apothecary to withdraw, [which he did,] told her, that I had been at her new lodgings, to order every thing to be got ready for reception, presuming she would choose to go thither: that I had a chair at the door: that Mr. Smith and his wife [I named their names, that she should not have room for the least fear of Sinclair’s] had been full of apprehensions for her safety: that I had brought two letters, which were left there fore her; the one by the post, the other that very morning.

This took her attention. She held out her charming hand for them; took them, and, pressing them to her lips—From the only friend I have in the world! said she; kissing them again; and looking at the seals, as if to see whether they had been opened. I can’t read them, said she, my eyes are too dim; and put them into her bosom.

I besought her to think of quitting that wretched hole.

Whither could she go, she asked, to be safe and uninterrupted for the short remainder of her life; and to avoid being again visited by the creatures who had insulted her before?

I gave her the solemnest assurances that she should not be invaded in her new lodgings by any body; and said that I would particularly engage my honour, that the person who had most offended her should not come near her, without her own consent.

Your honour, Sir! Are you not that man’s friend!

I am not a friend, Madam, to his vile actions to the most excellent of women.

Do you flatter me, Sir? then you are a MAN.—But Oh, Sir, your friend, holding her face forward with great earnestness, your barbarous friend, what has he not to answer for!

There she stopt: her heart full; and putting her hand over her eyes and forehead, the tears tricked through her fingers: resenting thy barbarity, it seemed, as Caesar did the stab from his distinguished Brutus!

Though she was so very much disordered, I thought I would not lose this opportunity to assert your innocence of this villanous arrest.

There is no defending the unhappy man in any of his vile actions by you, Madam; but of this last outrage, by all that’s good and sacred, he is innocent.

O wretches; what a sex is your’s!—Have you all one dialect? good and sacred!—If, Sir, you can find an oath, or a vow, or an adjuration, that my ears have not been twenty times a day wounded with, then speak it, and I may again believe a MAN.

I was excessively touched at these words, knowing thy baseness, and the reason she had for them.

But say you, Sir, for I would not, methinks, have the wretch capable of this sordid baseness!—Say you, that he is innocent of this last wickedness? can you truly say that he is?

By the great God of Heaven!——

Nay, Sir, if you swear, I must doubt you!—If you yourself think your WORD insufficient, what reliance can I have on your OATH!—O that this my experience had not cost me so dear! but were I to love a thousand years, I would always suspect the veracity of a swearer. Excuse me, Sir; but is it likely, that he who makes so free with his GOD, will scruple any thing that may serve his turn with his fellow creature?

This was a most affecting reprimand!

Madam, said I, I have a regard, a regard a gentleman ought to have, to my word; and whenever I forfeit it to you——

Nay, Sir, don’t be angry with me. It is grievous to me to question a gentleman’s veracity. But your friend calls himself a gentleman—you know not what I have suffered by a gentleman!——And then again she wept.

I would give you, Madam, demonstration, if your grief and your weakness would permit it, that he has no hand in this barbarous baseness: and that he resents it as it ought to be resented.

Well, well, Sir, [with quickness,] he will have his account to make up somewhere else; not to me. I should not be sorry to find him able to acquit his intention on this occasion. Let him know, Sir, only one thing, that when you heard me in the bitterness of my spirit, most vehemently exclaim against the undeserved usage I have met with from him, that even then, in that passionate moment, I was able to say [and never did I see such an earnest and affecting exultation of hands and eyes,] ’Give him, good God! repentance and amendment; that I may be the last poor creature, who shall be ruined by him!—and, in thine own good time, receive to thy mercy the poor wretch who had none on me!—’

By my soul, I could not speak.—She had not her Bible before her for nothing.

I was forced to turn my head away, and to take out my handkerchief.

What an angel is this!—Even the gaoler, and his wife and maid, wept.

Again I wish thou hadst been there, that thou mightest have sunk down at her feet, and begun that moment to reap the effect of her generous wishes for thee; undeserving, as thou art, of any thing but perdition.

I represented to her that she would be less free where she was from visits she liked not, than at her own lodgings. I told her, that it would probably bring her, in particular, one visiter, who, otherwise I would engage, [but I durst not swear again, after the severe reprimand she had just given me,] should not come near her, without her consent. And I expressed my surprize, that she should be unwilling to quit such a place as this; when it was more than probable that some of her friends, when it was known how bad she was, would visit her.

She said the place, when she was first brought into it, was indeed very shocking to her: but that she had found herself so weak and ill, and her griefs had so sunk her, that she did not expect to have lived till now: that therefore all places had been alike to her; for to die in a prison, was to die; and equally eligible as to die in a palace, [palaces, she said, could have no attractions for a dying person:] but that, since she feared she was not so soon to be released, as she had hoped; since she was suffered to be so little mistress of herself here; and since she might, by removal, be in the way of her dear friend’s letters; she would hope that she might depend upon the assurances I gave her of being at liberty to return to her last lodgings, (otherwise she would provide herself with new ones, out of my knowledge, as well as your’s;) and that I was too much of a gentleman, to be concerned in carrying her back to the house she had so much reason to abhor, and to which she had been once before most vilely betrayed to her ruin.

I assured her, in the strongest terms [but swore not,] that you were resolved not to molest her: and, as a proof of the sincerity of my professions, besought her to give me directions, (in pursuance of my friend’s express desire,) about sending all her apparel, and whatever belonged to her, to her new lodgings.

She seemed pleased; and gave me instantly out of her pocket her keys; asking me, If Mrs. Smith, whom I had named, might not attend me; and she would give her further directions? To which I cheerfully assented; and then she told me that she would accept of the chair I had offered her.

I withdrew; and took the opportunity to be civil to Rowland and his maid; for she found no fault with their behaviour, for what they were; and the fellow seems to be miserably poor. I sent also for the apothecary, who is as poor as the officer, (and still poorer, I dare say, as to the skill required in his business,) and satisfied him beyond his hopes.

The lady, after I had withdrawn, attempted to read the letters I had brought her. But she could read but a little way in one of them, and had great emotions upon it.

She told the woman she would take a speedy opportunity to acknowledge her civilities and her husband’s, and to satisfy the apothecary, who might send her his bill to her lodgings.

She gave the maid something; probably the only half-guinea she had: and then with difficulty, her limbs trembling under her, and supported by Mrs. Rowland, got down stairs.

I offered my arm: she was pleased to lean upon it. I doubt, Sir, said she, as she moved, I have behaved rudely to you: but, if you knew all, you would forgive me.

I know enough, Madam, to convince me, that there is not such purity and honour in any woman upon earth; nor any one that has been so barbarously treated.

She looked at me very earnestly. What she thought, I cannot say; but, in general, I never saw so much soul in a woman’s eyes as in her’s.

I ordered my servant, (whose mourning made him less observable as such, and who had not been in the lady’s eye,) to keep the chair in view; and to bring me word, how she did, when set down. The fellow had the thought to step into the shop, just before the chair entered it, under pretence of buying snuff; and so enabled himself to give me an account, that she was received with great joy by the good woman of the house; who told her, she was but just come in; and was preparing to attend her in High Holborn.—O Mrs. Smith, said she, as soon as she saw her, did you not think I was run away?—You don’t know what I have suffered since I saw you. I have been in a prison!——Arrested for debts I owe not!—But, thank God, I am here!—Will your maid—I have forgot her name already——

Catharine, Madam——

Will you let Catharine assist me to bed?—I have not had my clothes off since Thursday night.

What she further said the fellow heard not, she leaning upon the maid, and going up stairs.

But dost thou not observe, what a strange, what an uncommon openness of heart reigns in this lady? She had been in a prison, she said, before a stranger in the shop, and before the maid-servant: and so, probably, she would have said, had there been twenty people in the shop.

The disgrace she cannot hide from herself, as she says in her letter to Lady Betty, she is not solicitous to conceal from the world!

But this makes it evident to me, that she is resolved to keep no terms with thee. And yet to be able to put up such a prayer for thee, as she did in her prison; [I will often mention the prison-room, to tease thee!] Does this not show, that revenge has very little sway in her mind; though she can retain so much proper resentment?

And this is another excellence in this admirable woman’s character: for whom, before her, have we met with in the whole sex, or in ours either, that knew how, in practice, to distinguish between REVENGE and RESENTMENT, for base and ungrateful treatment?

’Tis a cursed thing, after all, that such a woman as this should be treated as she has been treated. Hadst thou been a king, and done as thou hast done by such a meritorious innocent, I believe, in my heart, it would have been adjudged to be a national sin, and the sword, the pestilence, or famine, must have atoned for it!—But as thou art a private man, thou wilt certainly meet with thy punishment, (besides what thou mayest expect from the justice of the country, and the vengeance of her friends,) as she will her reward, HEREAFTER.

It must be so, if there be really such a thing as future remuneration; as now I am more and more convinced there must:—Else, what a hard fate is her’s, whose punishment, to all appearance, has so much exceeded her fault? And, as to thine, how can temporary burnings, wert thou by some accident to be consumed in thy bed, expiate for thy abominable vileness to her, in breach of all obligations moral and divine?

I was resolved to lose no time in having every thing which belonged to the lady at the cursed woman’s sent her. Accordingly, I took coach to Smith’s, and procured the lady, (to whom I sent up my compliments, and inquiries how she bore her removal,) ill as she sent down word she was, to give proper direction to Mrs. Smith: whom I took with me to Sinclair’s: and who saw every thing looked out, and put into the trunks and boxes they were first brought in, and carried away in two coaches.

Had I not been there, Sally and Polly would each of them have taken to herself something of the poor lady’s spoils. This they declared: and I had some difficulty to get from Sally a fine Brussels-lace head, which she had the confidence to say she would wear for Miss Harlowe’s sake. Nor should either I or Mrs. Smith have known she had got it, had she not been in search of the ruffles belonging to it.

My resentment on this occasion, and the conversation which Mrs. Smith and I had, (in which I not only expatiated on the merits of the lady, but expressed my concern for her sufferings; though I left her room to suppose her married, yet without averring it,) gave me high credit with the good woman: so that we are perfectly well acquainted already: by which means I shall be enabled to give you accounts from time to time of all that passes; and which I will be very industrious to do, provided I may depend upon the solemn promises I have given the lady, in your name, as well as in my own, that she shall be free from all personal molestation from you. And thus shall I have it in my power to return in kind your writing favours; and preserve my short-hand besides: which, till this correspondence was opened, I had pretty much neglected.

I ordered the abandoned women to make out your account. They answered, That they would do it with a vengeance. Indeed they breathe nothing but vengeance. For now, they say, you will assuredly marry; and your example will be followed by all your friends and companions—as the old one says, to the utter ruin of her poor house.