Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XXIX


Disappointed in her meditated escape; obliged, against her will, to meet me in the dining-room; and perhaps apprehensive of being upbraided for her art in feigning herself ill; I expected that the dear perverse would begin with me with spirit and indignation. But I was in hopes, from the gentleness of her natural disposition; from the consideration which I expected from her on her situation; from the contents of the letter of Captain Tomlinson, which Dorcas told me she had seen; and from the time she had had to cool and reflect since she last admitted me to her presence, that she would not have carried it so strongly through as she did.

As I entered the dining-room, I congratulated her and myself upon her sudden recovery. And would have taken her hand, with an air of respectful tenderness; but she was resolved to begin where she left off.

She turned from me, drawing in her hand, with a repulsing and indignant aspect—I meet you once more, said she, because I cannot help it. What have you to say to me? Why am I to be thus detained against my will?

With the utmost solemnity of speech and behaviour, I urged the ceremony. I saw I had nothing else for it. I had a letter in my pocket I said, [feeling for it, although I had not taken it from the table where I left it in the same room,] the contents of which, if attended to, would make us both happy. I had been loth to show it to her before, because I hoped to prevail upon her to be mine sooner than the day mentioned in it.

I felt for it in all my pockets, watching her eye mean time, which I saw glance towards the table where it lay.

I was uneasy that I could not find it—at last, directed again by her sly eye, I spied it on the table at the farther end of the room.

With joy I fetched it. Be pleased to read that letter, Madam; with an air of satisfied assurance.

She took it, and cast her eye over it, in such a careless way, as made it evident, that she had read it before: and then unthankfully tossed it into the window-seat before her.

I urged her to bless me to-morrow, or Friday morning; at least, that she would not render vain her uncle’s journey, and kind endeavours to bring about a reconciliation among us all.

Among us all! repeated she, with an air equally disdainful and incredulous. O Lovelace, thou art surely nearly allied to the grand deceiver, in thy endeavour to suit temptations to inclinations?—But what honour, what faith, what veracity, were it possible that I could enter into parley with thee on this subject, (which it is not,) may I expect from such a man as thou hast shown thyself to be?

I was touched to the quick. A lady of your perfect character, Madam, who has feigned herself sick, on purpose to avoid seeing the man who adored her, should not—

I know what thou wouldst say, interrupted she—Twenty and twenty low things, that my soul would have been above being guilty of, and which I have despised myself for, have I been brought into by the infection of thy company, and by the necessity thou hadst laid me under, of appearing mean. But, I thank God, destitute as I am, that I am not, however, sunk so low, as to wish to be thine.

I, Madam, as the injurer, ought to have patience. It is for the injured to reproach. But your uncle is not in a plot against you, it is to be hoped. There are circumstances in the letter you cast your eyes over——

Again she interrupted me, Why, once more I ask you, am I detained in this house?—Do I not see myself surrounded by wretches, who, though they wear the habit of my sex, may yet, as far as I know, lie in wait for my perdition?

She would be very loth, I said, that Mrs. Sinclair and her nieces should be called up to vindicate themselves and their house.

Would but they kill me, let them come, and welcome, I will bless the hand that will strike the blow! Indeed I will.

’Tis idle, very idle, to talk of dying. Mere young-lady talk, when controuled by those they hate. But let me beseech you, dearest creature——

Beseech me nothing. Let me not be detained thus against my will!—Unhappy creature that I am, said she, in a kind of phrensy, wringing her hands at the same time, and turning from me, her eyes lifted up! ‘Thy curse, O my cruel father, seems to be now in the height of its operation!—My weakened mind is full of forebodings, that I am in the way of being a lost creature as to both worlds! Blessed, blessed God, said she, falling on her knees, save me, O save me, from myself and from this man!’

I sunk down on my knees by her, excessively affecting—O that I could recall yesterday!—Forgive me, my dearest creature, forgive what is past, as it cannot now, but by one way, be retrieved. Forgive me only on this condition—That my future faith and honour—

She interrupted me, rising—If you mean to beg of me never to seek to avenge myself by law, or by an appeal to my relations, to my cousin Morden in particular, when he comes to England——

D—n the law, rising also, [she started,] and all those to whom you talk of appealing!—I defy both the one and the other—All I beg is YOUR forgiveness; and that you will, on my unfeigned contrition, re-establish me in your favour——

O no, no, no! lifting up her clasped hands, I never never will, never, never can forgive you!—and it is a punishment worse than death to me, that I am obliged to meet you, or to see you.

This is the last time, my dearest life, that you will ever see me in this posture, on this occasion: and again I kneeled to her. Let me hope, that you will be mine next Thursday, your uncle’s birth-day, if not before. Would to Heaven I had never been a villain! Your indignation is not, cannot be greater, than my remorse—and I took hold of her gown for she was going from me.

Be remorse thy portion!—For thine own sake, be remorse thy portion!—I never, never will forgive thee!—I never, never will be thine!—Let me retire!—Why kneelest thou to the wretch whom thou hast so vilely humbled?

Say but, dearest creature, you will consider—say but you will take time to reflect upon what the honour of both our families requires of you. I will not rise. I will not permit you to withdraw [still holding her gown] till you tell me you will consider.—Take this letter. Weigh well your situation, and mine. Say you will withdraw to consider; and then I will not presume to withhold you.

Compulsion shall do nothing with me. Though a slave, a prisoner, in circumstance, I am no slave in my will!—Nothing will I promise thee!—Withheld, compelled—nothing will I promise thee!

Noble creature! but not implacable, I hope!—Promise me but to return in an hour!

Nothing will I promise thee!

Say but that you will see me again this evening!

O that I could say—that it were in my power to say—I never will see thee more!—Would to Heaven I never were to see thee more!

Passionate beauty!—still holding her—

I speak, though with vehemence, the deliberate wish of my heart.—O that I could avoid looking down upon thee, mean groveler, and abject as insulting—Let me withdraw! My soul is in tumults! Let me withdraw!

I quitted my hold to clasp my hands together—Withdraw, O sovereign of my fate!—Withdraw, if you will withdraw! My destiny is in your power!—It depends upon your breath!—Your scorn but augments my love! Your resentment is but too well founded!—But, dearest creature, return, return, return, with a resolution to bless with pardon and peace your faithful adorer!

She flew from me. The angel, as soon as she found her wings, flew from me. I, the reptile kneeler, the despicable slave, no more the proud victor, arose; and, retiring, tried to comfort myself, that, circumstanced as she is, destitute of friends and fortune; her uncle moreover, who is to reconcile all so soon, (as I thank my stars she still believes,) expected.

O that she would forgive me!—Would she but generously forgive me, and receive my vows at the altar, at the instant of her forgiving me, that I might not have time to relapse into my old prejudices! By my soul, Belford, this dear girl gives the lie to all our rakish maxims. There must be something more than a name in virtue!—I now see that there is!—Once subdued, always subdued—’Tis an egregious falsehood!—But, O Jack, she never was subdued. What have I obtained but an increase of shame and confusion!—While her glory has been established by her sufferings!

This one merit is, however, left me, that I have laid all her sex under obligation to me, by putting this noble creature to trials, which, so gloriously supported, have done honour to them all.

However—But no more will I add—What a force have evil habits!—I will take an airing, and try to fly from myself!—Do not thou upbraid me on my weak fits—on my contradictory purposes—on my irresolution—and all will be well.