Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XXI


Pity me, Jack, for pity’s sake; since, if thou dost not, nobody else will: and yet never was there a man of my genius and lively temper that wanted it more. We are apt to attribute to the devil every thing happens to us, which we would not have happen: but here, being, (as perhaps thou’lt say,) the devil myself, my plagues arise from an angel. I suppose all mankind is to be plagued by its contrary.

She began with me like a true woman, [she in the fault, I to be blamed,] the moment I entered the dining-room: not the least apology, not the least excuse, for the uproar she had made, and the trouble she had given me.

I come, said she, into thy detested presence, because I cannot help it. But why am I to be imprisoned here?—Although to no purpose, I cannot help——

Dearest Madam, interrupted I, give not way to so much violence. You must know, that your detention is entirely owing to the desire I have to make you all the amends that is in my power to make you. And this, as well for your sake as my own. Surely there is still one way left to repair the wrongs you have suffered——

Canst thou blot out the past week! Several weeks past, I should say; ever since I have been with thee? Canst thou call back time?—If thou canst——

Surely, Madam, again interrupting her, if I may be permitted to call you legally mine, I might have but anticip——

Wretch, that thou art! Say not another word upon this subject. When thou vowedst, when thou promisedst at Hampstead, I had begun to think that I must be thine. If I had consented, at the request of those I thought thy relations, this would have been a principal inducement, that I could then have brought thee, what was most wanted, an unsullied honour in dowry, to a wretch destitute of all honour; and could have met the gratulations of a family to which thy life has been one continued disgrace, with a consciousness of deserving their gratulations. But thinkest thou, that I will give a harlot niece to thy honourable uncle, and to thy real aunts; and a cousin to thy cousins from a brothel? for such, in my opinion, is this detested house!—Then, lifting up her clasped hands, ‘Great and good God of Heaven,’ said she, ‘give me patience to support myself under the weight of those afflictions, which thou, for wise and good ends, though at present impenetrable by me, hast permitted!’

Then, turning towards me, who knew neither what to say to her, nor for myself, I renounce thee for ever, Lovelace!—Abhorred of my soul! for ever I renounce thee!—Seek thy fortunes wheresoever thou wilt!—only now, that thou hast already ruined me!—

Ruined you, Madam—the world need not—I knew not what to say.

Ruined me in my own eyes; and that is the same to me as if all the world knew it—hinder me not from going whither my mysterious destiny shall lead me.

Why hesitate you, Sir? What right have you to stop me, as you lately did; and to bring me up by force, my hands and arms bruised by your violence? What right have you to detain me here?

I am cut to the heart, Madam, with invectives so violent. I am but too sensible of the wrong I have done you, or I could not bear your reproaches. The man who perpetrates a villany, and resolves to go on with it, shows not the compunction I show. Yet, if you think yourself in my power, I would caution you, Madam, not to make me desperate. For you shall be mine, or my life shall be the forfeit! Nor is life worth having without you!—

Be thine!—I be thine!—said the passionate beauty. O how lovely in her violence!

Yes, Madam, be mine! I repeat you shall be mine! My very crime is your glory. My love, my admiration of you is increased by what has passed—and so it ought. I am willing, Madam, to court your returning favour; but let me tell you, were the house beset by a thousand armed men, resolved to take you from me, they should not effect their purpose, while I had life.

I never, never will be your’s, said she, clasping her hands together, and lifting up her eyes!—I never will be your’s!

We may yet see many happy years, Madam. All your friends may be reconciled to you. The treaty for that purpose is in greater forwardness than you imagine. You know better than to think the worse of yourself for suffering what you could not help. Enjoin but the terms I can make my peace with you upon, and I will instantly comply.

Never, never, repeated she, will I be your’s!

Only forgive me, my dearest life, this one time!—A virtue so invincible! what further view can I have against you?—Have I attempted any further outrage?—If you will be mine, your injuries will be injuries done to myself. You have too well guessed at the unnatural arts that have been used. But can a greater testimony be given of your virtue?—And now I have only to hope, that although I cannot make you complete amends, yet you will permit me to make you all the amends that can possibly be made.

Hear me out, I beseech you, Madam; for she was going to speak with an aspect unpacifiedly angry: the God, whom you serve, requires but repentance and amendment. Imitate him, my dearest love, and bless me with the means of reforming a course of life that begins to be hateful to me. That was once your favourite point. Resume it, dearest creature, in charity to a soul, as well as body, which once, as I flattered myself, was more than indifferent to you, resume it. And let to-morrow’s sun witness to our espousals.

I cannot judge thee, said she; but the GOD to whom thou so boldly referrest can, and, assure thyself, He will. But, if compunction has really taken hold of thee—if, indeed, thou art touched for thy ungrateful baseness, and meanest any thing by this pleading the holy example thou recommendest to my imitation; in this thy pretended repentant moment, let me sift thee thoroughly, and by thy answer I shall judge of the sincerity of thy pretended declarations.

Tell me, then, is there any reality in the treaty thou has pretended to be on foot between my uncle and Capt. Tomlinson, and thyself?—Say, and hesitate not, is there any truth in that story?—But, remember, if there be not, and thou avowest that there is, what further condemnation attends to thy averment, if it be as solemn as I require it to be!

This was a cursed thrust! What could I say!—Surely this merciless lady is resolved to d—n me, thought I, and yet accuses me of a design against her soul!—But was I not obliged to proceed as I had begun?

In short, I solemnly averred that there was!—How one crime, as the good folks say, brings on another!

I added, that the Captain had been in town, and would have waited on her, had she not been indisposed; that he went down much afflicted, as well on her account, as on that of her uncle; though I had not acquainted him either with the nature of her disorder, or the ever-to-be-regretted occasion of it, having told him that it was a violent fever; That he had twice since, by her uncle’s desire, sent up to inquire after her health; and that I had already dispatched a man and horse with a letter, to acquaint him, (and her uncle through him,) with her recovery; making it my earnest request, that he would renew his application to her uncle for the favour of his presence at the private celebrations of our nuptials; and that I expected an answer, if not this night, as to-morrow.

Let me ask thee next, said she, (thou knowest the opinion I have of the women thou broughtest to me at Hampstead; and who have seduced me hither to my ruin; let me ask thee,) If, really and truly, they were Lady Betty Lawrance and thy cousin Montague?—What sayest thou—hesitate not—what sayest thou to this question?

Astonishing, my dear, that you should suspect them!—But, knowing your strange opinion of them, what can I say to be believed?

And is this the answer thou returnest me? Dost thou thus evade my question? But let me know, for I am trying thy sincerity now, and all shall judge of thy new professions by thy answer to this question; let me know, I repeat, whether those women be really Lady Betty Lawrance and thy cousin Montague?

Let me, my dearest love, be enabled to-morrow to call you lawfully mine, and we will set out the next day, if you please, to Berkshire to my Lord M.’s, where they both are at this time; and you shall convince yourself by your own eyes, and by your own ears; which you will believe sooner than all I can say or swear.

Now, Belford, I had really some apprehension of treachery from thee; which made me so miserably evade; for else, I could as safely have sworn to the truth of this, as to that of the former: but she pressing me still for a categorical answer, I ventured plumb; and swore to it, [lover’s oaths, Jack!] that they were really and truly Lady Betty Lawrance and my cousin Montague.

She lifted up her hands and eyes—What can I think!—what can I think!

You think me a devil, Madam; a very devil! or you could not after you have put these questions to me, seem to doubt the truth of answers so solemnly sworn to.

And if I do think thee so, have I not cause? Is there another man in the world, (I hope for the sake of human nature, there is not,) who could act by any poor friendless creature as thou hast acted by me, whom thou hast made friendless—and who, before I knew thee, had for a friend every one who knew me?

I told you, Madam, before that Lady Betty and my cousin were actually here, in order to take leave of you, before they set out for Berkshire: but the effects of my ungrateful crime, (such, with shame and remorse, I own it to be,) were the reason you could not see them. Nor could I be fond that they should see you; since they never would have forgiven me, had they known what had passed—and what reason had I to expect your silence on the subject, had you been recovered?

It signifies nothing now, that the cause of their appearance has been answered in my ruin, who or what they are: but if thou hast averred thus solemnly to two falsehoods, what a wretch do I see before me!

I thought she had now reason to be satisfied; and I begged her to allow me to talk to her of to-morrow, as of the happiest day of my life. We have the license, Madam—and you must excuse me, that I cannot let you go hence till I have tried every way I can to obtain your forgiveness.

And am I then, [with a kind of frantic wildness,] to be detained a prisoner in this horrid house—am I, Sir?—Take care! take care! holding up her hand, menacing, how you make me desperate! If I fall, though by my own hand, inquisition will be made for my blood; and be not out in thy plot, Lovelace, if it should be so—make sure work, I charge thee—dig a hole deep enough to cram in and conceal this unhappy body; for, depend upon it, that some of those who will not stir to protect me living, will move heaven and earth to avenge me dead!

A horrid dear creature!—By my soul she made me shudder! She had need indeed to talk of her unhappiness in falling into the hands of the only man in the world, who could have used her as I have used her—she is the only woman in the world, who could have shocked and disturbed me as she has done. So we are upon a foot in that respect. And I think I have the worst of it by much: since very little has been my joy—very much my trouble. And her punishment, as she calls it, is over: but when mine will, or what it may be, who can tell?

Here, only recapitulating, (think, then, how I must be affected at the time,) I was forced to leave off, and sing a song to myself. I aimed at a lively air; but I croaked rather than sung. And fell into the old dismal thirtieth of January strain; I hemmed up for a sprightlier note; but it would not do; and at last I ended, like a malefactor, in a dead psalm melody.

Heigh-ho!—I gape like an unfledged kite in its nest, wanting to swallow a chicken, bobbed at its mouth by its marauding dam!—

What a-devil ails me?—I can neither think nor write!

Lie down, pen, for a moment!