Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XXVI


Tired with a succession of fatiguing days and sleepless nights, and with contemplating the precarious situation I stand in with my beloved, I fell into a profound reverie; which brought on sleep; and that produced a dream; a fortunate dream; which, as I imagine, will afford my working mind the means to effect the obliging double purpose my heart is now once more set upon.

What, as I have often contemplated, is the enjoyment of the finest woman in the world, to the contrivance, the bustle, the surprises, and at last the happy conclusion of a well-laid plot!—The charming round-abouts, to come to the nearest way home;—the doubts; the apprehensions; the heart-achings; the meditated triumphs—these are the joys that make the blessing dear.—For all the rest, what is it?—What but to find an angel in imagination dwindled down to a woman in fact?——But to my dream——

Methought it was about nine on Wednesday morning that a chariot, with a dowager’s arms upon the doors, and in it a grave matronly lady [not unlike mother H. in the face; but, in her heart, Oh! how unlike!] stopped at a grocer’s shop, about ten doors on the other side of the way, in order to buy some groceries: and methought Dorcas, having been out to see if the coast were clear for her lady’s flight, and if a coach were to be got near the place, espied the chariot with the dowager’s arms, and this matronly lady: and what, methought, did Dorcas, that subtle traitress, do, but whip up to the old matronly lady, and lifting up her voice, say, Good my Lady, permit me one word with your Ladyship!

What thou hast to say to me, say on, quoth the old lady; the grocer retiring, and standing aloof, to give Dorcas leave to speak; who, methought, in words like these accosted the lady:

‘You seem, Madam, to be a very good lady; and here, in this neighbourhood, at a house of no high repute, is an innocent lady of rank and fortune, beautiful as a May morning, and youthful as a rose-bud, and full as sweet and lovely, who has been tricked thither by a wicked gentleman, practised in the ways of the town, and this very night will she be ruined if she get not out of his hands. Now, O Lady! if you will extend your compassionate goodness to this fair young lady, in whom, the moment you behold her, you will see cause to believe all I say, and let her but have a place in your chariot, and remain in your protection for one day only, till she can send a man and horse to her rich and powerful friends, you may save from ruin a lady who has no equal for virtue as well as beauty.’

Methought the old lady, moved with Dorcas’s story, answered and said, ‘Hasten, O damsel, who in a happy moment art come to put it in my power to serve the innocent and virtuous, which it has always been my delight to do: hasten to this young lady, and bid her hie hither to me with all speed; and tell her, that my chariot shall be her asylum: and if I find all that thou sayest true, my house shall be her sanctuary, and I will protect her from all her oppressors.’

Hereupon, methought, this traitress Dorcas hied back to the lady, and made report of what she had done. And, methought, the lady highly approved of Dorcas’s proceeding and blessed her for her good thought.

And I lifted up mine eyes, and behold the lady issued out of the house, and without looking back, ran to the chariot with the dowager’s coat upon it; and was received by the matronly lady with open arms, and ‘Welcome, welcome, welcome, fair young lady, who so well answer the description of the faithful damsel: and I will carry you instantly to my house, where you shall meet with all the good usage your heart can wish for, till you can apprize your rich and powerful friends of your past dangers, and present escape.’

‘Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, worthy, thrice worthy lady, who afford so kindly your protection to a most unhappy young creature, who has been basely seduced and betrayed, and brought to the very brink of destruction.’

Methought, then, the matronly lady, who had, by the time the young lady came to her, bought and paid for the goods she wanted, ordered her coachman to drive home with all speed; who stopped not till he had arrived in a certain street not far from Lincoln’s-inn-fields, where the matronly lady lived in a sumptuous dwelling, replete with damsels who wrought curiously in muslins, cambrics, and fine linen, and in every good work that industrious damsels love to be employed about, except the loom and the spinning-wheel.

And, methought, all the way the young lady and the old lady rode, and after they came in, till dinner was ready, the young lady filled up the time with the dismal account of her wrongs and her sufferings, the like of which was never heard by mortal ear; and this in so moving a manner, that the good old lady did nothing but weep, and sigh, and sob, and inveigh against the arts of wicked men, and against that abominable ’Squire Lovelace, who was a plotting villain, methought she said; and more than that, an unchained Beelzebub.

Methought I was in a dreadful agony, when I found the lady had escaped, and in my wrath had like to have slain Dorcas, and our mother, and every one I met. But, by some quick transition, and strange metamorphosis, which dreams do not usually account for, methought, all of a sudden, this matronly lady turned into the famous mother H. herself; and, being an old acquaintance of mother Sinclair, was prevailed upon to assist in my plot upon the young lady.

Then, methought, followed a strange scene; for mother H. longing to hear more of the young lady’s story, and night being come, besought her to accept of a place in her own bed, in order to have all the talk to themselves. For, methought, two young nieces of her’s had broken in upon them, in the middle of the dismal tale.

Accordingly, going early to bed, and the sad story being resumed, with as great earnestness on one side as attention on the other, before the young lady had gone far in it, mother H. methought was taken with a fit of the colic; and her tortures increasing, was obliged to rise to get a cordial she used to find specific in this disorder, to which she was unhappily subject.

Having thus risen, and stept to her closet, methought she let fall the wax taper in her return; and then [O metamorphosis still stranger than the former! what unaccountable things are dreams!] coming to bed again in the dark, the young lady, to her infinite astonishment, grief, and surprise, found mother H. turned into a young person of the other sex; and although Lovelace was the abhorred of her soul, yet, fearing it was some other person, it was matter of consolation to her, when she found it was no other than himself, and that she had been still the bed-fellow of but one and the same man.

A strange promiscuous huddle of adventures followed, scenes perpetually shifting; now nothing heard from the lady, but sighs, groans, exclamations, faintings, dyings—From the gentleman, but vows, promises, protestations, disclaimers of purposes pursued, and all the gentle and ungentle pressures of the lover’s warfare.

Then, as quick as thought (for dreams, thou knowest confine not themselves to the rules of the drama) ensued recoveries, lyings-in, christenings, the smiling boy, amply, even in her own opinion, rewarding the suffering mother.

Then the grandfather’s estate yielded up, possession taken of it: living very happily upon it: her beloved Norton her companion; Miss Howe her visiter; and (admirable! thrice admirable!) enabled to compare notes with her; a charming girl, by the same father, to her friend’s charming boy; who, as they grow up, in order to consolidate their mamma’s friendships, (for neither have dreams regard to consanguinity,) intermarry; change names by act of parliament, to enjoy my estate—and I know not what of the like incongruous stuff.

I awoke, as thou mayest believe, in great disorder, and rejoiced to find my charmer in the next room, and Dorcas honest.

Now thou wilt say this was a very odd dream. And yet, (for I am a strange dreamer,) it is not altogether improbable that something like it may happen; as the pretty simpleton has the weakness to confide in Dorcas, whom till now she disliked.

But I forgot to tell thee one part of my dream; and that was, that, the next morning, the lady gave way to such transports of grief and resentment, that she was with difficulty diverted from making an attempt upon her own life. But, however, at last was prevailed upon to resolve to live, and make the best of the matter: a letter, methought, from Captain Tomlinson helping to pacify her, written to apprize me, that her uncle Harlowe would certainly be at Kentish-town on Wednesday night, June 28, the following day (the 29th) being his birth-day; and be doubly desirous, on that account, that our nuptials should be then privately solemnized in his presence.

But is Thursday, the 29th, her uncle’s anniversary, methinks thou askest?—It is; or else the day of celebration should have been earlier still. Three weeks ago I heard her say it was: and I have down the birthday of every one in the family, and the wedding-day of her father and mother. The minutest circumstances are often of great service in matters of the last importance.

And what sayest thou now to my dream?

Who says that, sleeping and waking, I have not fine helps from somebody, some spirit rather, as thou’lt be apt to say? But no wonder that a Beelzebub has his devilkins to attend his call.

I can have no manner of doubt of succeeding in mother H.’s part of the scheme; for will the lady (who resolves to throw herself into the first house she can enter, or to bespeak the protection of the first person she meets, and who thinks there can be no danger out of this house, equal to what she apprehends from me in it) scruple to accept of the chariot of a dowager, accidentally offered? and the lady’s protection engaged by her faithful Dorcas, so highly bribed to promote her escape?—And then Mrs. H. has the air and appearance of a venerable matron, and is not such a forbidding devil as Mrs. Sinclair.

The pretty simpleton knows nothing in the world; nor that people who have money never want assistants in their views, be they what they will. How else could the princes of the earth be so implicitly served as they are, change they hands every so often, and be their purposes ever so wicked.

If I can but get her to go on with me till Wednesday next week, we shall be settled together pretty quietly by that time. And indeed if she has any gratitude, and has in her the least of her sex’s foibles, she must think I deserve her favour, by the pains she has cost me. For dearly do they all love that men should take pains about them and for them.

And here, for the present, I will lay down my pen, and congratulate myself upon my happy invention (since her obstinacy puts me once more upon exercising it.)—But with this resolution, I think, that, if the present contrivance fail me, I will exert all the faculties of my mind, all my talents, to procure for myself a regal right to her favour and that in defiance of all my antipathies to the married state; and of the suggestions of the great devil out of the house, and of his secret agents in it.—Since, if now she is not to be prevailed upon, or drawn in, it will be in vain to attempt her further.