Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XXXI


Let me perish if I know what to make either of myself or of this surprising creature—now calm, now tempestuous.—But I know thou lovest not anticipation any more than I.

At my repeated requests, she met me at six this morning.

She was ready dressed; for she had not her clothes off every since she declared, that they never more should be off in this house. And charmingly she looked, with all the disadvantages of a three-hours violent stomach-ache—(for Dorcas told me that she had been really ill)—no rest, and eyes red and swelled with weeping. Strange to me that those charming fountains have not been so long ago exhausted! But she is a woman. And I believe anatomists allow, that women have more watry heads than men.

Well, my dearest creature, I hope you have now thoroughly considered of the contents of Captain Tomlinson’s letter. But as we are thus early met, let me beseech you to make this my happy day.

She looked not favourably upon me. A cloud hung upon her brow at her entrance: but as she was going to answer me, a still greater solemnity took possession of her charming features.

Your air, and your countenance, my beloved creature, are not propitious to me. Let me beg of you, before you speak, to forbear all further recriminations: for already I have such a sense of my vileness to you, that I know not how to bear the reproaches of my own mind.

I have been endeavouring, said she, since I am not permitted to avoid you, to obtain a composure which I never more expected to see you in. How long I may enjoy it, I cannot tell. But I hope I shall be enabled to speak to you without that vehemence which I expressed yesterday, and could not help it.*

* The Lady, in her minutes, says, ‘I fear Dorcas is a false one. May I not be able to prevail upon him to leave me at my liberty? Better to try than to trust to her. If I cannot prevail, but must meet him and my uncle, I hope I shall have fortitude enough to renounce him then. But I would fain avoid qualifying with the wretch, or to give him an expectation which I intend not to answer. If I am mistress of my own resolutions, my uncle himself shall not prevail with me to bind my soul in covenant with so vile a man.’

After a pause (for I was all attention) thus she proceeded:

It is easy for me, Mr. Lovelace, to see that further violences are intended me, if I comply not with your purposes, whatever they are, I will suppose them to be what you solemnly profess they are. But I have told you as solemnly my mind, that I never will, that I never can be your’s; nor, if so, any man’s upon earth. All vengeance, nevertheless, for the wrongs you have done me, I disclaim. I want but to slide into some obscure corner, to hide myself from you and from every one who once loved me. The desire lately so near my heart, of a reconciliation with my friends, is much abated. They shall not receive me now, if they would. Sunk in mine own eyes, I now think myself unworthy of their favour. In the anguish of my soul, therefore, I conjure you, Lovelace, [tears in her eyes,] to leave me to my fate. In doing so, you will give me a pleasure the highest I now can know.

Where, my dearest life——

No matter where. I will leave to Providence, when I am out of this house, the direction of my future steps. I am sensible enough of my destitute condition. I know that I have not now a friend in the world. Even Miss Howe has given me up—or you are—But I would fain keep my temper!—By your means I have lost them all—and you have been a barbarous enemy to me. You know you have.

She paused.

I could not speak.

The evils I have suffered, proceeded she, [turning from me,] however irreparable, are but temporarily evils. Leave me to my hopes of being enabled to obtain the Divine forgiveness for the offence I have been drawn in to give to my parents and to virtue; that so I may avoid the evils that are more than temporary. This is now all I have to wish for. And what is it that I demand, that I have not a right to, and from which it is an illegal violence to withhold me?

It was impossible for me, I told her plainly, to comply.

I besought her to give me her hand as this very day. I could not live without her. I communicated to her my Lord’s illness, as a reason why I wished not to stay for her uncle’s anniversary. I besought her to bless me with her consent; and, after the ceremony was passed, to accompany me down to Berks. And thus, my dearest life, said I, will you be freed from a house, to which you have conceived so great an antipathy.

This, thou wilt own, was a princely offer. And I was resolved to be as good as my word. I thought I had killed my conscience, as I told thee, Belford, some time ago. But conscience, I find, though it may be temporarily stifled, cannot die, and, when it dare not speak aloud, will whisper. And at this instant I thought I felt the revived varletess (on but a slight retrograde motion) writhing round my pericardium like a serpent; and in the action of a dying one, (collecting all its force into its head,) fix its plaguy fangs into my heart.

She hesitated, and looked down, as if irresolute. And this set my heart up at my mouth. And, believe me, I had instantly popt in upon me, in imagination, an old spectacled parson, with a white surplice thrown over a black habit, [a fit emblem of the halcyon office, which, under a benign appearance, often introduced a life of storms and tempests,] whining and snuffling through his nose the irrevocable ceremony.

I hope now, my dearest life, said I, snatching her hand, and pressing it to my lips, that your silence bodes me good. Let me, my beloved creature, have but your tacit consent; and this moment I will step out and engage a minister. And then I promised how much my whole future life should be devoted to her commands, and that I would make her the best and tenderest of husbands.

At last, turning to me, I have told you my mind, Mr. Lovelace, said she. Think you, that I could thus solemnly—There she stopt—I am too much in your power, proceeded she; your prisoner, rather than a person free to choose for myself, or to say what I will do or be. But as a testimony that you mean me well, let me instantly quit this house; and I will then give you such an answer in writing, as best befits my unhappy circumstances.

And imaginest thou, fairest, thought I, that this will go down with a Lovelace? Thou oughtest to have known that free-livers, like ministers of state, never part with a power put into their hands, without an equivalent of twice the value.

I pleaded, that if we joined hands this morning, (if not, to-morrow; if not, on Thursday, her uncle’s birth-day, and in his presence); and afterwards, as I had proposed, set out for Berks; we should, of course, quit this house; and, on our return to town, should have in readiness the house I was in treaty for.

She answered me not, but with tears and sighs; fond of believing what I hoped I imputed her silence to the modesty of her sex. The dear creature, (thought I,) solemnly as she began with me, is ruminating, in a sweet suspence, how to put into fit words the gentle purposes of her condescending heart. But, looking in her averted face with a soothing gentleness, I plainly perceived, that it was resentment, and not bashfulness, that was struggling in her bosom.*

* The Lady, in her minutes, owns the difficulty she lay under to keep her temper in this conference. ‘But when I found,’ says she, ‘that all my entreaties were ineffectual, and that he was resolved to detain me, I could no longer withhold my impatience.’

At last she broke silence—I have no patience, said she, to find myself a slave, a prisoner, in a vile house—Tell me, Sir, in so many words tell me, whether it be, or be not, your intention to permit me to quit it?—To permit me the freedom which is my birthright as an English subject?

Will not the consequence of your departure hence be that I shall lose you for ever, Madam?—And can I bear the thoughts of that?

She flung from me—My soul disdains to hold parley with thee! were her violent words.—But I threw myself at her feet, and took hold of her reluctant hand, and began to imprecate, avow, to promise—But thus the passionate beauty, interrupting me, went on:

I am sick of thee, MAN!—One continued string of vows, oaths, and protestations, varied only by time and place, fills thy mouth!—Why detainest thou me? My heart rises against thee, O thou cruel implement of my brother’s causeless vengeance.—All I beg of thee is, that thou wilt remit me the future part of my father’s dreadful curse! the temporary part, base and ungrateful as thou art! thou hast completed!

I was speechless!—Well I might!—Her brother’s implement!—James Harlowe’s implement!—Zounds, Jack! what words were these!

I let go her struggling hand. She took two or three turns cross the room, her whole haughty soul in her air. Then approaching me, but in silence, turning from me, and again to me, in a milder voice—I see thy confusion, Lovelace. Or is it thy remorse?—I have but one request to make thee—the request so often repeated—That thou wilt this moment permit me to quit this house. Adieu, then, let me say, for ever adieu! And mayest thou enjoy that happiness in this world, which thou hast robbed me of; as thou hast of every friend I have in it!

And saying this, away she flung, leaving me in a confusion so great, that I knew not what to think, say, or do!

But Dorcas soon roused me—Do you know, Sir, running in hastily, that my lady is gone down stairs!

No, sure!—And down I flew, and found her once more at the street-door, contending with Polly Horton to get out.

She rushed by me into the fore parlour, and flew to the window, and attempted once more to throw up the sash—Good people! good people! cried she.

I caught her in my arms, and lifted her from the window. But being afraid of hurting the charming creature, (charming in her very rage,) she slid through my arms on the floor.—Let me die here! let me die here! were her words; remaining jointless and immovable, till Sally and Mrs. Sinclair hurried in.

She was visibly terrified at the sight of the old wretch; while I (sincerely affected) appealed, Bear witness, Mrs. Sinclair!—bear witness, Miss Martin!—Miss Horton!—Every one bear witness, that I offer not violence to this beloved creature!

She then found her feet—O house [look towards the windows, and all round her, O house,] contrived on purpose for my ruin! said she—but let not that woman come into my presence—not that Miss Horton neither, who would not have dared to controul me, had she not been a base one!—

Hoh, Sir! Hoh, Madam! vociferated the old dragon, her armed kemboed, and flourishing with one foot to the extent of her petticoats—What’s ado here about nothing! I never knew such work in my life, between a chicken of a gentleman and a tiger of a lady!—

She was visibly affrighted: and up stairs she hastened. A bad woman is certainly, Jack, more terrible to her own sex than even a bad man.

I followed her up. She rushed by her own apartment into the dining-room: no terror can make her forget her punctilio.

To recite what passed there of invective, exclamations, threatenings, even of her own life, on one side; of expostulations, supplications, and sometimes menaces, on the other; would be too affecting; and, after my particularity in like scenes, these things may as well be imagined as expressed.

I will therefore only mention, that, at length, I extorted a concession from her. She had reason* to think it would have been worse for her on the spot, if she had not made it. It was, That she would endeavour to make herself easy till she saw what next Thursday, her uncle’s birth-day, would produce. But Oh! that it were not a sin, she passionately exclaimed on making this poor concession, to put and end to her own life, rather than yield to give me but that assurance!

* The Lady mentions, in her memorandum-book, that she had no other way, as is apprehended, to save herself from instant dishonour, but by making this concession. Her only hope, now, she says, if she cannot escape by Dorcas’s connivance, (whom, nevertheless she suspects,) is to find a way to engage the protection of her uncle, and even of the civil magistrate, on Thursday next, if necessary. ‘He shall see,’ says she, ‘tame and timid as he thought me, what I dare to do, to avoid so hated a compulsion, and a man capable of a baseness so premeditatedly vile and inhuman.’

This, however, shows me, that she is aware that the reluctantly-given assurance may be fairly construed into a matrimonial expectation on my side. And if she will now, even now, look forward, I think, from my heart, that I will put on her livery, and wear it for life.

What a situation am I in, with all my cursed inventions! I am puzzled, confounded, and ashamed of myself, upon the whole. To take such pains to be a villain!—But (for the fiftieth time) let me ask thee, Who would have thought that there had been such a woman in the world?—Nevertheless, she had best take care that she carries not her obstinacy much farther. She knows not what revenge for slighted love will make me do.

The busy scenes I have just passed through have given emotions to my heart, which will not be quieted one while. My heart, I see, (on re-perusing what I have written,) has communicated its tremors to my fingers; and in some places the characters are so indistinct and unformed, that thou’lt hardly be able to make them out. But if one half of them is only intelligible, that will be enough to expose me to thy contempt, for the wretched hand I have made of my plots and contrivances.—But surely, Jack, I have gained some ground by this promise.

And now, one word to the assurances thou sendest me, that thou hast not betrayed my secrets in relation to this charming creature. Thou mightest have spared them, Belford. My suspicions held no longer than while I wrote about them.* For well I knew, when I allowed myself time to think, that thou hadst no principles, no virtue, to be misled by. A great deal of strong envy, and a little of weak pity, I knew to be thy motives. Thou couldst not provoke my anger, and my compassion thou ever hadst; and art now more especially entitled to it; because thou art a pityful fellow.

All thy new expostulations in my beloved’s behalf I will answer when I see thee.