Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XXV


Very ill—exceedingly ill—as Dorcas tells me, in order to avoid seeing me—and yet the dear soul may be so in her mind. But is not that equivocation? Some one passion predominating in every human breast, breaks through principle, and controuls us all. Mine is love and revenge taking turns. Her’s is hatred.—But this is my consolation, that hatred appeased is love begun; or love renewed, I may rather say, if love ever had footing here.

But reflectioning apart, thou seest, Jack, that her plot is beginning to work. To-morrow is to break out.

I have been abroad, to set on foot a plot of circumvention. All fair now, Belford!

I insisted upon visiting my indisposed fair-one. Dorcas made officious excuses for her. I cursed the wench in her hearing for her impertinence; and stamped and made a clutter; which was improved into an apprehension to the lady that I would have flung her faithful confidante from the top of the stairs to the bottom.

He is a violent wretch!—But, Dorcas, [dear Dorcas, now it is,] thou shalt have a friend in me to the last day of my life.

And what now, Jack, dost think the name of her good angel is!—Why Dorcas Martindale, christian and super (no more Wykes) as in the promissory note in my former—and the dear creature has bound her to her by the most solemn obligations, besides the tie of interest.

Whither, Madam, do you design to go when you get out of this house?

I will throw myself into the first open house I can find; and beg protection till I can get a coach, or a lodging in some honest family.

What will you do for clothes, Madam? I doubt you’ll be able to take any away with you, but what you’ll have on.

O, no matter for clothes, if I can but get out of this house.

What will you do for money, Madam? I have heard his honour express his concern, that he could not prevail upon you to be obliged to him, though he apprehended that you must be short of money.

O, I have rings and other valuables. Indeed I have but four guineas, and two of them I found lately wrapt up in a bit of lace, designed for a charitable use. But now, alas! charity begins at home!—But I have one dear friend left, if she be living, as I hope in God she is! to whom I can be obliged, if I want. O Dorcas! I must ere now have heard from her, if I had had fair play.

Well, Madam, your’s is a hard lot. I pity you at my heart!

Thank you, Dorcas!—I am unhappy, that I did not think before, that I might have confided in thy pity, and in thy sex!

I pitied you, Madam, often and often: but you were always, as I thought, diffident of me. And then I doubted not but you were married; and I thought his honour was unkindly used by you. So that I thought it my duty to wish well to his honour, rather than to what I thought to be your humours, Madam. Would to Heaven that I had known before that you were not married!—Such a lady! such a fortune! to be so sadly betrayed;——

Ah, Dorcas! I was basely drawn in! My youth—my ignorance of the world—and I have some things to reproach myself with when I look back.

Lord, Madam, what deceitful creatures are these men!—Neither oaths, nor vows—I am sure! I am sure! [and then with her apron she gave her eyes half a dozen hearty rubs] I may curse the time that I came into this house!

Here was accounting for her bold eyes! And was it not better for Dorcas to give up a house which her lady could not think worse of than she did, in order to gain the reputation of sincerity, than by offering to vindicate it, to make her proffered services suspected.

Poor Dorcas!—Bless me! how little do we, who have lived all our time in the country, know of this wicked town!

Had I been able to write, cried the veteran wench, I should certainly have given some other near relations I have in Wales a little inkling of matters; and they would have saved me from——from——from——

Her sobs were enough. The apprehensions of women on such subjects are ever aforehand with speech.

And then, sobbing on, she lifted her apron to her face again. She showed me how.

Poor Dorcas!—Again wiping her own charming eyes.

All love, all compassion, is this dear creature to every one in affliction but me.

And would not an aunt protect her kinswoman?—Abominable wretch!

I can’t—I can’t—I can’t—say, my aunt was privy to it. She gave me good advice. She knew not for a great while that I was—that I was—that I was—ugh!—ugh!—ugh!—

No more, no more, good Dorcas—What a world do we live in!—What a house am I in!—But come, don’t weep, (though she herself could not forbear:) my being betrayed into it, though to my own ruin, may be a happy event for thee: and, if I live, it shall.

I thank you, my good lady, blubbering. I am sorry, very sorry, you have had so hard a lot. But it may be the saving of my soul, if I can get to your ladyship’s house. Had I but known that your ladyship was not married, I would have eat my own flesh, before——before——before——

Dorcas sobbed and wept. The lady sighed and wept also.

But now, Jack, for a serious reflection upon the premises.

How will the good folks account for it, that Satan has such faithful instruments, and that the bond of wickedness is a stronger bond than the ties of virtue; as if it were the nature of the human mind to be villanous? For here, had Dorcas been good, and been tempted as she was tempted to any thing evil, I make no doubt but she would have yielded to the temptation.

And cannot our fraternity in an hundred instances give proof of the like predominance of vice over virtue? And that we have risked more to serve and promote the interests of the former, than ever a good man did to serve a good man or a good cause? For have we not been prodigal of life and fortune? have we not defied the civil magistrate upon occasion? and have we not attempted rescues, and dared all things, only to extricate a pounded profligate?

Whence, Jack, can this be?

O! I have it, I believe. The vicious are as bad as they can be; and do the Devil’s work without looking after; while he is continually spreading snares for the others; and, like a skilful angler, suiting his baits to the fish he angles for.

Nor let even honest people, so called, blame poor Dorcas for her fidelity in a bad cause. For does not the general, who implicitly serves an ambitious prince in his unjust designs upon his neighbours, or upon his own oppressed subjects; and even the lawyer, who, for the sake of a paltry fee, undertakes to whiten a black cause, and to defend it against one he knows to be good, do the very same thing as Dorcas? And are they not both every whit as culpable? Yet the one shall be dubbed a hero, the other called an admirable fellow, and be contended for by every client, and his double-tongued abilities shall carry him through all the high preferments of the law with reputation and applause.

Well, but what shall be done, since the lady is so much determined on removing!—Is there no way to oblige her, and yet to make the very act subservient to my other views? I fancy such a way may be found out.

I will study for it——

Suppose I suffer her to make an escape? Her heart is in it. If she effect it, the triumph she will have over me upon it will be a counterbalance for all she has suffered.

I will oblige her if I can.