Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XXXV


The lady staid longer above than we wished; and I hoping that (lady-like) she only waited for an invitation to return to us, desired the widow Bevis, in the Captain’s name, (who wanted to go to town,) to request the favour of her company.

I cared not to send up either Miss Rawlins or Mrs. Moore on the errand, lest my beloved should be in a communicative disposition; especially as she had hinted at an appeal to Miss Rawlins; who, besides, has such an unbounded curiosity.

Mrs. Bevis presently returned with an answer (winking and pinking at me) that the lady would follow her down.

Miss Rawlins could not but offer to retire, as the others did. Her eyes, however, intimated that she had rather stay. But they not being answered as she seemed to wish, she went with the rest, but with slower feet; and had hardly left the parlour, when the lady entered it by the other door; a melancholy dignity in her person and air.

She sat down. Pray, Mr. Tomlinson, be seated.

He took his chair over against her. I stood behind her’s that I might give him agreed-upon signals, should there be occasion for them.

As thus—a wink of the left eye was to signify push that point, Captain.

A wink of the right, and a nod, was to indicate approbation of what he had said.

My fore-finger held up, and biting my lip, get off of that, as fast as possible.

A right-forward nod, and a frown, swear to it, Captain.

My whole spread hand, to take care not to say too much on that particular subject.

A scowling brow, and a positive nod, was to bid him rise in temper.

And these motions I could make, even those with my hand, without holding up my arm, or moving my wrist, had the women been there; as, when the motions were agreed upon, I knew not but they would.

She hemmed—I was going to speak, to spare her supposed confusion: but this lady never wants presence of mind, when presence of mind is necessary either to her honour, or to that conscious dignity which distinguishes her from all the women I ever knew.

I have been considering, said she, as well as I was able, of every thing that has passed; and of all that has been said; and of my unhappy situation. I mean no ill, I wish no ill, to any creature living, Mr. Tomlinson. I have always delighted to draw favourable rather than unfavourable conclusions; sometimes, as it has proved, for very bad hearts. Censoriousness, whatever faults I have, is not naturally my fault.—But, circumstanced as I am, treated as I have been, unworthily treated, by a man who is full of contrivances, and glories in them—

Lovel. My dearest life!—But I will not interrupt you.

Cl. Thus treated, it becomes me to doubt—it concerns my honour to doubt, to fear, to apprehend—your intervention, Sir, is so seasonable, so kind, for this man—my uncle’s expedient, the first of the kind he ever, I believe, thought of! a plain, honest, good-minded man, as he is, not affecting such expedients—your report in conformity to it—the consequences of that report; the alarm taken by my brother; his rash resolution upon it—the alarm taken by Lady Betty, and the rest of Mr. Lovelace’s relations—the sudden letters written to him upon it, which, with your’s, he showed me—all ceremony, among persons born observers of ceremony, and entitled to value themselves upon their distinction, dispensed with—all these things have happened so quick, and some of them so seasonable—

Lovel. Lady Betty, you see, Madam, in her letter, dispenses with punctilo, avowedly in compliment to you. Charlotte, in her’s, professes to do the same for the same reason. Good Heaven! that the respect intended you by my relations, who, in every other case, are really punctilious, should be thus construed! They were glad, Madam, to have an opportunity to compliment you at my expense. Every one of my family takes delight in rallying me. But their joy on the supposed occasion—

Cl. Do I doubt, Sir, that you have not something to say for any thing you think fit to do? I am speaking to Captain Tomlinson, Sir. I will you would be pleased to withdraw—at least to come from behind my chair.

And she looked at the Captain, observing, no doubt, that his eyes seemed to take lessons from mine.

A fair match, by Jupiter!

The Captain was disconcerted. The dog had not had such a blush upon his face for ten years before. I bit my lip for vexation: walked about the room; but nevertheless took my post again; and blinked with my eyes to the Captain, as a caution for him to take more care of his: and then scouling with my brows, and giving the nod positive, I as good as said, resent that, Captain.

Capt. I hope, Madam, you have no suspicion that I am capable—

Cl. Be not displeased with me, Captain Tomlinson. I have told you that I am not of a suspicious temper. Excuse me for the sake of my sincerity. There is not, I will be bold to say, a sincerer heart in the world than her’s before you.

She took out her handkerchief, and put it to her eyes.

I was going, at that instant, after her example, to vouch for the honesty of my heart; but my conscience Mennelled upon me; and would not suffer the meditated vow to pass my lips.—A devilish thing, thought I, for a man to be so little himself, when he has most occasion for himself!

The villain Tomlinson looked at me with a rueful face, as if he begged leave to cry for company. It might have been as well, if he had cried. A feeling heart, or the tokens of it given by a sensible eye, are very reputable things, when kept in countenance by the occasion.

And here let me fairly own to thee, that twenty times in this trying conversation I said to myself, that could I have thought that I should have had all this trouble, and incurred all this guilt, I would have been honest at first. But why, Jack, is this dear creature so lovely, yet so invincible?—Ever heardst thou before that the sweets of May blossomed in December?

Capt. Be pleased—be pleased, Madam—if you have any doubts of my honour—

A whining varlet! He should have been quite angry—For what gave I him the nod positive? He should have stalked again to the window, as for his whip and hat.

Cl. I am only making such observations as my youth, my inexperience, and my present unhappy circumstances, suggest to me—a worthy heart (such, I hope, as Captain Tomlinson’s) need not fear an examination— need not fear being looked into—whatever doubts that man, who has been the cause of my errors, and, as my severe father imprecated, the punisher of the errors he has caused, might have had of me, or of my honour, I would have forgiven him for them, if he had fairly proposed them to me: for some doubts perhaps such a man might have of the future conduct of a creature whom he could induce to correspond with him against parental prohibition, and against the lights which her own judgment threw in upon her: and if he had propounded them to me like a man and a gentleman, I would have been glad of the opportunity given me to clear my intentions, and to have shown myself entitled to his good opinion—and I hope you, Sir—

Capt. I am ready to hear all your doubts, Madam, and to clear them up—

Cl. I will only put it, Sir, to your conscience and honour—

The dog sat uneasy—he shuffled with his feet—her eye was upon him—he was, therefore, after the rebuff he had met with, afraid to look at me for my motions; and now turned his eyes towards me, then from me, as if he would unlook his own looks.

Cl. That all is true, that you have written, and that you have told me.

I gave him a right forward nod, and a frown—as much as to say, swear to it, Captain. But the varlet did not round it off as I would have had him. However, he averred that it was.

He had hoped, he said, that the circumstances with which his commission was attended, and what he had communicated to her, which he could not know but from his dear friend, her uncle, might have shielded him even from the shadow of suspicion. But I am contented, said he, stammering, to be thought—to be thought—what—what you please to think of me—till, till, you are satisfied—

A whore’s-bird!

Cl. The circumstances you refer to, I must own ought to shield you, Sir, from suspicion; but the man before you is a man that would make an angel suspected, should that angel plead for him.

I came forward,—traversed the room,—was indeed in a bl—dy passion.—I have no patience, Madam!—and again I bit my unpersuasive lips.

Cl. No man ought to be impatient at imputations he is not ashamed to deserve. An innocent man will not be outrageous upon such imputations. A guilty man ought not. [Most excellently would this charming creature cap sentences with Lord M.!] But I am not now trying you, Sir, [to me,] on the foot of your merits. I am only sorry that I am constrained to put questions to this worthier gentleman, [worthier gentleman, Jack!] which, perhaps, I ought not to put, so far as they regard himself. And I hope, Captain Tomlinson, that you, who know not Mr. Lovelace so well, as, to my unhappiness, I do, and who have children of your own, will excuse a poor young creature, who is deprived of all worldly protection, and who has been insulted and endangered by the most designing man in the world, and, perhaps, by a confederacy of his creatures.

There she stopt; and stood up, and looked at me; fear, nevertheless, apparently mingled with her anger.—And so it ought. I was glad, however, of this poor sign of love; no one fears whom they value not.

Women’s tongues were licensed, I was going to say; but my conscience would not let me call her a woman; nor use to her so vulgar a phrase. I could only rave by my motions, lift up my eyes, spread my hands, rub my face, pull my wig, and look like a fool. Indeed, I had a great mind to run mad. Had I been alone with her, I would; and she should have taken consequences.

The Captain interposed in my behalf; gently, however, and as a man not quite sure that he was himself acquitted. Some of the pleas we had both insisted on he again enforced; and, speaking low, Poor gentleman! said he, who can but pity him? Indeed, Madam, it is easy to see, with all his failings, the power you have over him!

Cl. I have no pleasure, Sir, in distressing any one; not even him, who has so much distressed me. But, Sir, when I THINK, and when I see him before me, I cannot command my temper! Indeed, indeed, Captain Tomlinson, Mr. Lovelace has not acted by me either as a grateful or a generous man, nor even as a prudent one!—He knows not, as I told him yesterday, the value of the heart he has insulted!

There the angel stopt; her handkerchief at her eyes.

O Belford, Belford! that she should so greatly excel, as to make me, at times, appear as a villain in my own eyes!

I besought her pardon. I promised that it should be the study of my whole life to deserve it. My faults, I said, whatever they had been, were rather faults in her apprehension than in fact. I besought her to give way to the expedient I had hit upon—I repeated it. The Captain enforced it, for her uncle’s sake. I, once more, for the sake of the general reconciliation; for the sake of all my family; for the sake of preventing further mischief.

She wept. She seemed staggered in her resolution—she turned from me. I mentioned the letter of Lord M. I besought her to resign to Lady Betty’s mediation all our differences, if she would not forgive me before she saw her.

She turned towards me—she was going to speak; but her heart was full, and again she turned away her eyes,—And do you really and indeed expect Lady Betty and Miss Montague?—And do you—Again she stopt.

I answered in a solemn manner.

She turned from me her whole face, and paused, and seemed to consider. But, in a passionate accent, again turning towards me, [O how difficult, Jack, for a Harlowe spirit to forgive!] Let her Ladyship come, if she pleases, said she, I cannot, cannot, wish to see her; and if I did see her, and she were to plead for you, I cannot wish to hear her! The more I think, the less I can forgive an attempt, that I am convinced was intended to destroy me. [A plaguy strong word for the occasion, supposing she was right!] What has my conduct been, that an insult of such a nature should be offered to me, and it would be a weakness in me to forgive? I am sunk in my own eyes! And how can I receive a visit that must depress me more?

The Captain urged her in my favour with greater earnestness than before. We both even clamoured, as I may say, for mercy and forgiveness. [Didst thou never hear the good folks talk of taking Heaven by storm?]— Contrition repeatedly avowed; a total reformation promised; the happy expedient again urged.

Cl. I have taken my measures. I have gone too far to recede, or to wish to recede. My mind is prepared for adversity. That I have not deserved the evils I have met with is my consolation; I have written to Miss Howe what my intentions are. My heart is not with you—it is against you, Mr. Lovelace. I had not written to you as I did in the letter I left behind me, had I not resolved, whatever became of me, to renounce you for ever.

I was full of hope now. Severe as her expressions were, I saw she was afraid that I should think of what she had written. And, indeed, her letter is violence itself.—Angry people, Jack, should never write while their passion holds.

Lovel. The severity you have shown me, Madam, whether by pen or by speech, shall never have place in my remembrance, but for your honor. In the light you have taken things, all is deserved, and but the natural result of virtuous resentment; and I adore you, even for the pangs you have given me.

She was silent. She had employment enough with her handkerchief at her eyes.

Lovel. You lament, sometimes, that you have no friends of your own sex to consult with. Miss Rawlins, I must confess, is too inquisitive to be confided in, [I liked not, thou mayest think, her appeal to Miss Rawlins.] She may mean well. But I never in my life knew a person, who was fond of prying into the secrets of others, that was fit to be trusted. The curiosity of such is governed by pride, which is not gratified but by whispering about a secret till it becomes public, in order to show either their consequence, or their sagacity. It is so in every case. What man or woman, who is covetous of power, or of making a right use of it? But in the ladies of my family you may confide. It is their ambition to think of you as one of themselves. Renew but your consent to pass to the world, for the sake of your uncle’s expedient, and for the prevention of mischief, as a lady some time married. Lady Betty may be acquainted with the naked truth; and you may, (as she hopes you will,) accompany her to her seat; and, if it must be so, consider me as in a state of penitence or probation, to be accepted or rejected, as I may appear to deserve.

The Captain again clapt his hands on his breast, and declared, upon his honour, that this was a proposal that, were the case that of his own daughter, and she were not resolved upon immediate marriage, (which yet he thought by far the more eligible choice,) he should be very much concerned were she to refuse it.

Cl. Were I with Mr. Lovelace’s relations, and to pass as his wife to the world, I could not have any choice. And how could he be then in a state of probation?—O Mr. Tomlinson, you are too much his friend to see into his drift.

Capt. His friend, Madam, as I said before, as I am your’s and your uncle’s, for the sake of a general reconciliation, which must begin with a better understanding between yourselves.

Lovel. Only, my dearest life, resolve to attend the arrival and visit of Lady Betty; and permit her to arbitrate between us.

Capt. There can be no harm in that, Madam. You can suffer no inconvenience from that. If Mr. Lovelace’s offence be such, that a woman of Lady Betty’s character judges it to be unpardonable, why then—

Cl. [Interrupting; and to me,] If I am not invaded by you, Sir; if I am, (as I ought to be,) my own mistress, I think to stay here, in this honest house, [and then had I an eye-beam, as the Captain calls it, flashed at me,] till I receive a letter from Miss Howe. That, I hope, will be in a day or two. If in that time the ladies come whom you expect, and if they are desirous to see the creature whom you have made unhappy, I shall know whether I can or cannot receive their visit.

She turned short to the door, and, retiring, went up stairs to her chamber.

O Sir, said the Captain, as soon as she was gone, what an angel of a woman is this! I have been, and I am a very wicked man. But if any thing should happen amiss to this admirable lady, through my means, I shall have more cause for self-reproach than for all the bad actions of my life put together.

And his eyes glistened.

Nothing can happen amiss, thou sorrowful dog!—What can happen amiss? Are we to form our opinion of things by the romantic notions of a girl, who supposes that to be the greatest which is the slightest of evils? Have I not told thee our whole story? Has she not broken her promise? Did I not generously spare her, when in my power? I was decent, though I had her at such advantage.—Greater liberties have I taken with girls of character at a common romping ’bout, and all has been laughed off, and handkerchief and head-clothes adjusted, and petticoats shaken to rights, in my presence. Never man, in the like circumstances, and resolved as I was resolved, goaded on as I was goaded on, as well by her own sex, as by the impulses of a violent passion, was ever so decent. Yet what mercy does she show me?

Now, Jack, this pitiful dog was such another unfortunate one as thyself —his arguments serving to confirm me in the very purpose he brought them to prevail upon me to give up. Had he left me to myself, to the tenderness of my own nature, moved as I was when the lady withdrew, and had he set down, and made odious faces, and said nothing—it is very possible that I should have taken the chair over against him, which she had quitted, and have cried and blubbered with him for half an hour together. But the varlet to argue with me!—to pretend to convince a man, who knows in is heart that he is doing a wrong thing!—He must needs think that this would put me upon trying what I could say for myself; and when the extended compunction can be carried from the heart to the lips it must evaporate in words.

Thou, perhaps, in this place, wouldst have urged the same pleas that he urged. What I answered to him therefore may do for thee, and spare thee the trouble of writing, and me of reading, a good deal of nonsense.

Capt. You were pleased to tell me, Sir, that you only proposed to try her virtue; and that you believed you should actually marry her.

Lovel. So I shall, and cannot help it. I have no doubt but I shall. And as to trying her, is she not now in the height of her trial? Have I not reason to think that she is coming about? Is she not now yielding up her resentment for an attempt which she thinks she ought not to forgive? And if she do, may she not forgive the last attempt?—Can she, in a word, resent that more than she does this? Women often, for their own sakes, will keep the last secret; but will ostentatiously din the ears of gods and men with their clamours upon a successless offer. It was my folly, my weakness, that I gave her not more cause for this her unsparing violence!

Capt. O Sir, you will never be able to subdue this lady without force.

Lovel. Well, then, puppy, must I not endeavour to find a proper time and place—

Capt. Forgive me, Sir! but can you think of force to such a fine creature?

Lovel. Force, indeed, I abhor the thought of; and for what, thinkest thou, have I taken all the pains I have taken, and engaged so many persons in my cause, but to avoid the necessity of violent compulsion? But yet, imaginest thou that I expect direct consent from such a lover of forms as this lady is known to be! Let me tell thee, M’Donald, that thy master, Belford, has urged on thy side of the question all that thou canst urge. Must I have every sorry fellow’s conscience to pacify, as well as my own?—By my soul, Patrick, she has a friend here, [clapping my hand on my breast,] that pleads for her with greater and more irresistible eloquence than all the men in the world can plead for her. And had she not escaped me—And yet how have I answered my first design of trying her,* and in her the virtue of the most virtuous of the sex?— Perseverance, man!—Perseverance!—What! wouldst thou have me decline a trial that they make for the honour of a sex we all so dearly love?

* See Vol. III. Letter XVIII.

Then, Sir, you have no thoughts—no thoughts—[looking still more sorrowfully,] of marrying this wonderful lady?

Yes, yes, Patrick, but I have. But let me, first, to gratify my pride, bring down her’s. Let me see, that she loves me well enough to forgive me for my own sake. Has she not heretofore lamented that she staid not in her father’s house, though the consequence must have been, if she had, that she would have been the wife of the odious Solmes? If now she be brought to consent to be mine, seest thou not that the reconciliation with her detested relations is the inducement, as it always was, and not love of me?—Neither her virtue nor her love can be established but upon full trial; the last trial—but if her resistance and resentment be such as hitherto I have reason to expect they will be, and if I find in that resentment less of hatred of me than of the fact, then shall she be mine in her own way. Then, hateful as is the life of shackles to me, will I marry her.

Well, Sir, I can only say, that I am dough in your hands, to be moulded into what shape you please. But if, as I said before—

None of thy Said-before’s, Patrick. I remember all thou saidst—and I know all thou canst farther say—thou art only, Pontius Pilate like, washing thine own hands, (don’t I know thee?) that thou mayest have something to silence thy conscience with by loading me. But we have gone too far to recede. Are not all our engines in readiness? Dry up thy sorrowful eyes. Let unconcern and heart’s ease once more take possession of thy solemn features. Thou hast hitherto performed extremely well.— Shame not thy past by thy future behaviour; and a rich reward awaits thee. If thou art dough be dough; and I slapt him on the shoulder— Resume but thy former shape, and I’ll be answerable for the event.

He bowed assent and compliance; went to the glass; and began to untwist and unsadden his features; pulled his wig right, as if that, as well as his head and heart had been discomposed by his compunction, and once more became old Lucifer’s and mine.

But didst thou think, Jack, that there was so much—What-shall-I-call-it? —in this Tomlinson? Didst thou imagine that such a fellow as that had bowels? That nature, so long dead and buried in him, as to all humane effects, should thus revive and exert itself?—Yet why do I ask this question of thee, who, to my equal surprise, hast shown, on the same occasion, the like compassionate sensibilities?

As to Tomlinson, it looks as if poverty had made him the wicked fellow he is; as plenty and wantonness have made us what we are. Necessity, after all, is the test of principle. But what is there in this dull word, or thing, called HONESTY, that even I, who cannot in my present views be served by it, cannot help thinking even the accidental emanations of it amiable in Tomlinson, though demonstrated in a female case; and judging better of him for being capable of such?