Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XXXII


Confoundedly out of humour with this perverse woman!—Nor wilt thou blame me, if thou art my friend. She regards the concession she made, as a concession extorted from her: and we are but just where we were before she made it.

With great difficulty I prevailed upon her to favour me with her company for one half hour this evening. The necessity I was under to go down to M. Hall was the subject I wanted to talk upon.

I told her, that as she had been so good as to promise that she would endeavour to make herself easy till she saw the Thursday in next week over, I hoped that she would not scruple to oblige me with her word, that I should find her here at my return from M. Hall.

Indeed she would make no such promise. Nothing of this house was mentioned to me, said she: you know it was not. And do you think that I would have given my consent to my imprisonment in it?

I was plaguily nettled, and disappointed too. If I go not down to Mr. Hall, Madam, you’ll have no scruple to stay here, I suppose, till Thursday is over?

If I cannot help myself I must—but I insist upon being permitted to go out of this house, whether you leave it or not.

Well, Madam, then I will comply with your commands. And I will go out this very evening in quest of lodgings that you shall have no objections to.

I will have no lodgings of your providing, Sir—I will go to Mrs. Moore’s, at Hampstead.

Mrs. Moore’s, Madam!—I have no objection to Mrs. Moore’s—but will you give me your promise, to admit me there to your presence?

As I do here—when I cannot help it.

Very well, Madam—Will you be so good as to let me know what you intend by your promise to make yourself easy.

To endeavour, Sir, to make myself easy—were the words——

Till you saw what next Thursday would produce?

Ask me no questions that may ensnare me. I am too sincere for the company I am in.

Let me ask you, Madam, What meant you, when you said, ‘that, were it not a sin, you would die before you gave me that assurance?’

She was indignantly silent.

You thought, Madam, you had given me room to hope your pardon by it?

When I think I ought to answer you with patience I will speak.

Do you think yourself in my power, Madam?

If I were not—And there she stopt——

Dearest creature, speak out—I beseech you, dearest creature, speak out——

She was silent; her charming face all in a glow.

Have you, Madam, any reliance upon my honour?

Still silent.

You hate me, Madam! You despise me more than you do the most odious of God’s creatures!

You ought to despise me, if I did not.

You say, Madam, you are in a bad house. You have no reliance upon my honour—you believe you cannot avoid me——

She arose. I beseech you, let me withdraw.

I snatched her hand, rising, and pressed it first to my lips, and then to my heart, in wild disorder. She might have felt the bounding mischief ready to burst its bars—You shall go—to your own apartment, if you please—But, by the great God of Heaven, I will accompany you thither!

She trembled—Pray, pray, Mr. Lovelace, don’t terrify me so!

Be seated, Madam! I beseech you, be seated!——

I will sit down——

Do then—All my soul is in my eyes, and my heart’s blood throbbing at my fingers’ ends.

I will—I will—You hurt me—Pray, Mr. Lovelace, don’t—don’t frighten me so—And down she sat, trembling; my hand still grasping her’s.

I hung over her throbbing bosom, and putting my other arm round her waist—And you say, you hate me, Madam—and you say, you despise me—and you say, you promise me nothing——

Yes, yes, I did promise you—let me not be held down thus—you see I sat down when you bid me—Why [struggling] need you hold me down thus?—I did promise to endeavour to be easy till Thursday was over! But you won’t let me!—How can I be easy?—Pray, let me not be thus terrified.

And what, Madam, meant you by your promise? Did you mean any thing in my favour?—You designed that I should, at that time, think you did. Did you mean any thing in my favour, Madam?—Did you intend that I should think you did?

Let go my hand, Sir—Take away your arm from about me, [struggling, yet trembling,]—Why do you gaze upon me so?

Answer me, Madam—Did you mean any thing in my favour by your promise?

Let me be not thus constrained to answer.

Then pausing, and gaining more spirit, Let me go, said she: I am but a woman—but a weak woman.

But my life is in my own power, though my person is not—I will not be thus constrained.

You shall not, Madam, quitting her hand, bowing; but my heart is at my mouth, and hoping farther provocation.

She arose, and was hurrying away.

I pursue you not, Madam—I will try your generosity. Stop—return—this moment stop, return, if, Madam, you would not make me desperate.

She stopt at the door; burst into tears—O Lovelace!—How, how, have I deserved——

Be pleased, dearest angel, to return.

She came back—but with declared reluctance; and imputing her compliance to terror.

Terror, Jack, as I have heretofore found out, though I have so little benefited by the discovery, must be my resort, if she make it necessary—nothing else will do with the inflexible charmer.

She seated herself over-against me; extremely discomposed—but indignation had a visible predominance in her features.

I was going towards her, with a countenance intendedly changed to love and softness: Sweetest, dearest angel, were my words, in the tenderest accent:—But, rising up, she insisted upon my being seated at a distance from her.

I obeyed, and begged her hand over the table, to my extended hand; to see, if in any thing she would oblige me. But nothing gentle, soft, or affectionate, would do. She refused me her hand!—Was she wise, Jack, to confirm to me, that nothing but terror would do?

Let me only know, Madam, if your promise to endeavour to wait with patience the event of next Thursday meant me favour?

Do you expect any voluntary favour from one to whom you give not a free choice?

Do you intend, Madam, to honour me with your hand, in your uncle’s presence, or do you not?

My heart and my hand shall never be separated. Why, think you, did I stand in opposition to the will of my best, my natural friends.

I know what you mean, Madam—Am I then as hateful to you as the vile Solmes?

Ask me not such a question, Mr. Lovelace.

I must be answered. Am I as hateful to you as the vile Solmes?

Why do you call Mr. Solmes vile?

Don’t you think him so, Madam?

Why should I? Did Mr. Solmes ever do vilely by me?

Dearest creature! don’t distract me by hateful comparisons! and perhaps by a more hateful preference.

Don’t you, Sir, put questions to me that you know I will answer truly, though my answer were ever so much to enrage you.

My heart, Madam, my soul is all your’s at present. But you must give me hope, that your promise, in your own construction, binds you, no new cause to the contrary, to be mine on Thursday. How else can I leave you?

Let me go to Hampstead; and trust to my favour.

May I trust to it?—Say only may I trust to it?

How will you trust to it, if you extort an answer to this question?

Say only, dearest creature, say only, may I trust to your favour, if you go to Hampstead?

How dare you, Sir, if I must speak out, expect a promise of favour from me?—What a mean creature must you think me, after the ungrateful baseness to me, were I to give you such a promise?

Then standing up, Thou hast made me, O vilest of men! [her hands clasped, and a face crimsoned with indignation,] an inmate of the vilest of houses—nevertheless, while I am in it, I shall have a heart incapable of any thing but abhorrence of that and of thee!

And round her looked the angel, and upon me, with fear in her sweet aspect of the consequence of her free declaration—But what a devil must I have been, I who love bravery in a man, had I not been more struck with admiration of her fortitude at the instant, than stimulated by revenge?

Noblest of creatures!—And do you think I can leave you, and my interest in such an excellence, precarious? No promise!—no hope!—If you make me not desperate, may lightning blast me, if I do you not all the justice ’tis in my power to do you!

If you have any intention to oblige me, leave me at my own liberty, and let me not be detained in this abominable house. To be constrained as I have been constrained! to be stopt by your vile agents! to be brought up by force, and be bruised in my own defence against such illegal violence!—I dare to die, Lovelace—and she who fears not death, is not to be intimidated into a meanness unworthy of her heart and principles!

Wonderful creature! But why, Madam, did you lead me to hope for something favourable for next Thursday?—Once more, make me not desperate—With all your magnanimity, glorious creature! [I was more than half frantic, Belford,] you may, you may—but do not, do not make me brutally threaten you—do not, do not make me desperate!

My aspect, I believe, threatened still more than my words. I was rising—She rose—Mr. Lovelace, be pacified—you are even more dreadful than the Lovelace I have long dreaded—let me retire—I ask your leave to retire—you really frighten me—yet I give you no hope—from my heart I ab——

Say not, Madam, you abhor me. You must, for your own sake, conceal your hatred—at least not avow it. I seized her hand.

Let me retire—let me, retire, said she, in a manner out of breath.

I will only say, Madam, that I refer myself to your generosity. My heart is not to be trusted at this instant. As a mark of my submission to your will, you shall, if you please, withdraw—but I will not go to M. Hall—live or die my Lord M. I will not go to M. Hall—but will attend the effect of your promise. Remember, Madam, you have promised to endeavour to make yourself easy till you see the event of next Thursday—next Thursday, remember, your uncle comes up, to see us married—that’s the event.—You think ill of your Lovelace—do not, Madam, suffer your own morals to be degraded by the infection, as you called it, of his example.

Away flew the charmer with this half permission—and no doubt thought that she had an escape—nor without reason.

I knew not for half an hour what to do with myself. Vexed at the heart, nevertheless, (now she was from me, and when I reflected upon her hatred of me, and her defiances,) that I suffered myself to be so overawed, checked, restrained——

And now I have written thus far, (have of course recollected the whole of our conversation,) I am more and more incensed against myself.

But I will go down to these women—and perhaps suffer myself to be laughed at by them.

Devil fetch them, they pretend to know their own sex. Sally was a woman well educated—Polly also—both have read—both have sense—of parentage not mean—once modest both—still, they say, had been modest, but for me—not entirely indelicate now; though too little nice for my personal intimacy, loth as they both are to have me think so—the old one, too, a woman of family, though thus (from bad inclination as well as at first from low circumstances) miserably sunk:—and hence they all pretend to remember what once they were; and vouch for the inclinations and hypocrisy of the whole sex, and wish for nothing so ardently, as that I will leave the perverse lady to their management while I am gone to Berkshire; undertaking absolutely for her humility and passiveness on my return; and continually boasting of the many perverse creatures whom they have obliged to draw in their traces.

I am just come from the sorceresses.

I was forced to take the mother down; for she began with her Hoh, Sir! with me; and to catechize and upbraid me, with as much insolence as if I owed her money.

I made her fly the pit at last. Strange wishes wished we against each other at her quitting it——What were they?—I’ll tell thee——She wished me married, and to be jealous of my wife; and my heir-apparent the child of another man. I was even with her with a vengeance. And yet thou wilt think that could not well be.—As how?—As how, Jack!—Why, I wished for her conscience come to life! And I know, by the gripes mine gives me every half-hour, that she would then have a cursed time of it.

Sally and Polly gave themselves high airs too. Their first favours were thrown at me, [women to boast of those favours which they were as willing to impart, first forms all the difficulty with them! as I to receive!] I was upbraided with ingratitude, dastardice and all my difficulties with my angel charged upon myself, for want of following my blows; and for leaving the proud lady mistress of her own will, and nothing to reproach herself with. And all agreed, that the arts used against her on a certain occasion, had too high an operation for them or me to judge what her will would have been in the arduous trial. And then they blamed one another; as I cursed them all.

They concluded, that I should certainly marry, and be a lost man. And Sally, on this occasion, with an affected and malicious laugh, snapt her fingers at me, and pointing two of each hand forkedly at me, bid me remember the lines I once showed her of my favourite Jack Dryden, as she always familiarly calls that celebrated poet:

We women to new joys unseen may move:

There are no prints left in the paths of love.

All goods besides by public marks are known:

But those men most desire to keep, have none.

This infernal implement had the confidence further to hint, that when a wife, some other man would not find half the difficulty with my angel that I had found. Confidence indeed! But yet, I must say, if a man gives himself up to the company of these devils, they never let him rest till he either suspects or hate his wife.

But a word or two of other matters, if possible.

Methinks I long to know how causes go at M. Hall. I have another private intimation, that the old peer is in the greatest danger.

I must go down. Yet what to do with this lady the mean while! These cursed women are full of cruelty and enterprise. She will never be easy with them in my absence. They will have provocation and pretence therefore. But woe be to them, if——

Yet what will vengeance do, after an insult committed? The two nymphs will have jealous rage to goad them on. And what will withhold a jealous and already-ruined woman?

To let her go elsewhere; that cannot be done. I am still too resolved to be honest, if she’ll give me hope: if yet she’ll let me be honest. But I’ll see how she’ll be after the contention she will certainly have between her resentment and the terror she has reason for from our last conversation. So let this subject rest till the morning. And to the old peer once more.

I shall have a good deal of trouble, I reckon, though no sordid man, to be decent on the expected occasion. Then how to act (I who am no hypocrite) in the days of condolement! What farces have I to go through; and to be the principal actor in them! I’ll try to think of my own latter end; a gray beard, and a graceless heir; in order to make me serious.

Thou, Belford, knowest a good deal of this sort of grimace; and canst help a gay heart to a little of the dismal. But then every feature of thy face is cut out for it. My heart may be touched, perhaps, sooner than thine; for, believe me or not, I have a very tender one. But then, no man looking into my face, be the occasion for grief ever so great, will believe that heart to be deeply distressed.

All is placid, easy, serene, in my countenance. Sorrow cannot sit half an hour together upon it. Nay, I believe, that Lord M.’s recovery, should it happen, would not affect me above a quarter of an hour. Only the new scenery, (and the pleasure of aping an Heraclitus to the family, while I am a Democritus among my private friends,) or I want nothing that the old peer can leave me. Wherefore then should grief sadden and distort such blythe, such jocund, features as mine?

But as for thine, were there murder committed in the street, and thou wert but passing by, the murderer even in sight, the pursuers would quit him, and lay hold of thee: and thy very looks would hang, as well as apprehend thee.

But one word to business, Jack. Whom dealest thou with for thy blacks?—Wert thou well used?—I shall want a plaguy parcel of them. For I intend to make every soul of the family mourn—outside, if not in.