Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XXXVI


This debate between the Captain and me was hardly over when the three women, led by Miss Rawlins, entered, hoping no intrusion, but very desirous, the maiden said, to know if we were likely to accommodate.

O yes, I hope so. You know, Ladies, that your sex must, in these cases, preserve their forms. They must be courted to comply with their own happiness. A lucky expedient we have hit upon. The uncle has his doubts of our marriage. He cannot believe, nor will any body, that it is possible that a man so much in love, the lady so desirable—

They all took the hint. It was a very extraordinary case, the two widows allowed. Women, Jack, [as I believe I have observed* elsewhere,] have a high opinion of what they can do for us. Miss Rawlins desired, if I pleased, to let them know the expedient; and looked as if there was no need to proceed in the rest of my speech.

* See Letter XXIV. of this volume.

I begged that they would not let the lady know I had told them what this expedient was; and they should hear it.

They promised.

It was this: that to oblige and satisfy Mr. Harlowe, the ceremony was to be again performed. He was to be privately present, and to give his niece to me with his own hands—and she was retired to consider of it.

Thou seest, Jack, that I have provided an excuse, to save my veracity to the women here, in case I should incline to marriage, and she should choose to have Miss Rawlins’s assistance at the ceremony. Nor doubted I to bring my fair-one to save my credit on this occasion, if I could get her to consent to be mine.

A charming expedient! cried the widow. They were all three ready to clap their hands for joy upon it. Women love to be married twice at least, Jack; though not indeed to the same man. And all blessed the reconciliatory scheme and the proposer of it; and, supposing it came from the Captain, they looked at him with pleasure, while his face shined with the applause implied. He should think himself very happy, if he could bring about a general reconciliation; and he flourished with his head like my man Will. on his victory over old Grimes; bridling by turns, like Miss Rawlins in the height of a prudish fit.

But now it was time for the Captain to think of returning to town, having a great deal of business to dispatch before morning. Nor was he certain that he should be able again to attend us at Hampstead before he went home.

And yet, as every thing was drawing towards a crisis, I did not intend that he should leave Hampstead that night.

A message to the above effect was carried up, at my desire, by Mrs. Moore; with the Captain’s compliments, and to know if she had any commands for him to her uncle?

But I hinted to the women, that it would be proper for them to withdraw, if the lady did come down; lest she should not care to be so free before them on a proposal so particular, as she would be to us, who had offered it to her consideration.

Mrs. Moore brought down word that the lady was following her. They all three withdrew; and she entered at one door, as they went out at the other.

The Captain accosted her, repeating the contents of the message sent up; and desired that she would give him her commands in relation to the report he was to make to her uncle Harlowe.

I know not what to say, Sir, nor what I would have you to say, to my uncle—perhaps you may have business in town—perhaps you need not see my uncle till I have heard from Miss Howe; till after Lady Betty—I don’t know what to say.

I implored the return of that value which she had so generously acknowledged once to have had for me. I presumed, I said, to flatter myself that Lady Betty, in her own person, and in the name of all my family, would be able, on my promised reformation and contrition, to prevail in my favour, especially as our prospects in other respects with regard to the general reconciliation wished for were so happy. But let me owe to your own generosity, my dearest creature, said I, rather than to the mediation of any person on earth, the forgiveness I am an humble suitor for. How much more agreeable to yourself, O best beloved of my soul, must it be, as well as obliging to me, that your first personal knowledge of my relations, and theirs of you, (for they will not be denied attending you) should not be begun in recriminations, in appeals? As Lady Betty will be here soon, it will not perhaps be possible for you to receive her visit with a brow absolutely serene. But, dearest, dearest creature, I beseech you, let the misunderstanding pass as a slight one—as a misunderstanding cleared up. Appeals give pride and superiority to the persons appealed to, and are apt to lessen the appellant, not only in their eye, but in her own. Exalt not into judges those who are prepared to take lessons and instructions from you. The individuals of my family are as proud as I am said to be. But they will cheerfully resign to your superiority—you will be the first woman of the family in every one’s eyes.

This might have done with any other woman in the world but this; and yet she is the only woman in the world of whom it may with truth be said. But thus, angrily, did she disclaim the compliment.

Yes, indeed!—[and there she stopt a moment, her sweet bosom heaving with a noble disdain]—cheated out of myself from the very first!—A fugitive from my own family! Renounced by my relations! Insulted by you!—Laying humble claim to the protection of your’s!—Is not this the light in which I must appear not only to the ladies of your family, but to all the world?—Think you, Sir, that in these circumstances, or even had I been in the happiest, that I could be affected by this plea of undeserved superiority?—You are a stranger to the mind of Clarissa Harlowe, if you think her capable of so poor and so undue a pride!

She went from us to the farther end of the room.

The Captain was again affected—Excellent creature! I called her; and, reverently approaching her, urged farther the plea I had last made.

It is but lately, said I, that the opinions of my relations have been more than indifferent to me, whether good or bad; and it is for your sake, more than for my own, that I now wish to stand well with my whole family. The principal motive of Lady Betty’s coming up, is, to purchase presents for the whole family to make on the happy occasion.

This consideration, turning to the Captain, with so noble-minded a dear creature, I know, can have no weight; only as it will show their value and respect. But what a damp would their worthy hearts receive, were they to find their admired new niece, as they now think her, not only not their niece, but capable of renouncing me for ever! They love me. They all love me. I have been guilty of carelessness and levity to them, indeed; but of carelessness and levity only; and that owing to a pride that has set me above meanness, though it has not done every thing for me.

My whole family will be guaranties for my good behaviour to this dear creature, their niece, their daughter, their cousin, their friend, their chosen companion and directress, all in one.—Upon my soul, Captain, we may, we must be happy.

But, dearest, dearest creature, let me on my knees [and down I dropt, her face all the time turned half from me, as she stood at the window, her handkerchief often at her eyes] on my knees let me plead your promised forgiveness; and let us not appear to them, on their visit, thus unhappy with each other. Lady Betty, the next hour that she sees you, will write her opinion of you, and of the likelihood of our future happiness, to Lady Sarah her sister, a weak-spirited woman, who now hopes to supply to herself, in my bride, the lost daughter she still mourns for!

The Captain then joined in, and re-urged her uncle’s hopes and expectations, and his resolution effectually to set about the general reconciliation; the mischief that might be prevented; and the certainty that there was that her uncle might be prevailed on to give her to me with his own hand, if she made it her choice to wait for his coming up. but, for his own part, he humbly advised, and fervently pressed her, to make the very next day, or Monday at farthest, my happy day.

Permit me, dearest lady, said he, and I could kneel to you myself, [bending his knee,] though I have no interest in my earnestness, but the pleasure I should have to be able to serve you all, to beseech you to give me an opportunity to assure your uncle that I myself saw with my own eyes the happy knot tied!—All misunderstandings, all doubts, all diffidences, will then be at an end.

And what, Madam, rejoined I, still kneeling, can there be in your new measures, be they what they will, that can so happily, so reputably, I will presume to say, for all around, obviate the present difficulties?

Miss Howe herself, if she love you, and if she love your fame, Madam, urged the Captain, his knee still bent, must congratulate you on such happy conclusion.

Then turning her face, she saw the Captain half-kneeling—O Sir! O Capt. Tomlinson!—Why this undue condescension? extending her hand to his elbow, to raise him. I cannot bear this!—Then casting her eye on me, Rise, Mr. Lovelace—kneel not to the poor creature whom you have insulted!—How cruel the occasion for it!—And how mean the submission!

Not mean to such an angel!—Nor can I rise but to be forgiven!

The Captain then re-urged once more the day—he was amazed, he said, if she ever valued me—

O Captain Tomlinson, interrupted she, how much are you the friend of this man!—If I had never valued him, he never would have had it in his power to insult me; nor could I, if I had never regarded him, have taken to heart as I do, the insult (execrable as it was) so undeservedly, so ungratefully given—but let him retire—for a moment let him retire.

I was more than half afraid to trust the Captain by himself with her. He gave me a sign that I might depend upon him. And then I took out of my pocket his letter to me, and Lady Betty’s and Miss Montague’s, and Lord M.’s letters (which last she had not then seen); and giving them to him, procure for me, in the first place, Mr. Tomlinson, a re-perusal of these three letters; and of this from Lord M. And I beseech you, my dearest life, give them due consideration: and let me on my return find the happy effects of that consideration.

I then withdrew; with slow feet, however, and a misgiving heart.

The Captain insisted upon this re-perusal previously to what she had to say to him, as he tells me. She complied, but with some difficulty; as if she were afraid of being softened in my favour.

She lamented her unhappy situation; destitute of friends, and not knowing whither to go, or what to do. She asked questions, sifting-questions, about her uncle, about her family, and after what he knew of Mr. Hickman’s fruitless application in her favour.

He was well prepared in this particular; for I had shown him the letters and extracts of letter of Miss Howe, which I had so happily come at.* Might she be assured, she asked him, that her brother, with Singleton and Solmes, were actually in quest of her?

* Vol. IV. Letter XLIV.

He averred that they were.

She asked, if he thought I had hopes of prevailing on her to go back to town?

He was sure I had not.

Was he really of opinion that Lady Betty would pay her a visit?

He had no doubt of it.

But, Sir; but, Captain Tomlinson—[impatiently turning from him, and again to him] I know not what to do—but were I your daughter, Sir—were you my own father—Alas! Sir, I have neither father nor mother!

He turned from her and wiped his eyes.

O Sir! you have humanity! [She wept too.] There are some men in the world, thank Heaven, that can be moved. O Sir, I have met with hard- hearted men—in my own family too—or I could not have been so unhappy as I am—but I make every body unhappy!

His eyes no doubt ran over.—

Dearest Madam! Heavenly Lady!—Who can—who can—hesitated and blubbered the dog, as he owned. And indeed I heard some part of what passed, though they both talked lower than I wished; for, from the nature of their conversation, there was no room for altitudes.

THEM, and BOTH, and THEY!—How it goes against me to include this angel of a creature, and any man on earth but myself, in one world!

Capt. Who can forbear being affected?—But, Madam, you can be no other man’s.

Cl. Nor would I be. But he is so sunk with me!—To fire the house!—An artifice so vile!—contrived for the worst of purposes!—Would you have a daughter of your’s—But what would I say?—Yet you see that I have nobody in whom I can confide!—Mr. Lovelace is a vindictive man!—He could not love the creature whom he could insult as he has insulted me!

She paused. And then resuming—in short, I never, never can forgive him, nor he me.—Do you think, Sir, I never would have gone so far as I have gone, if I had intended ever to draw with him in one yoke?—I left behind me such a letter—

You know, Madam, he has acknowledged the justice of your resentment—

O Sir, he can acknowledge, and he can retract, fifty times a day—but do not think I am trifling with myself and you, and want to be persuaded to forgive him, and to be his. There is not a creature of my sex, who would have been more explicit, and more frank, than I would have been, from the moment I intended to be his, had I a heart like my own to deal with. I was always above reserve, Sir, I will presume to say, where I had no cause of doubt. Mr. Lovelace’s conduct has made me appear, perhaps, over-nice, when my heart wanted to be encouraged and assured! and when, if it had been so, my whole behaviour would have been governed by it.

She stopt; her handkerchief at her eyes.

I inquired after the minutest part of her behaviour, as well as after her words. I love, thou knowest, to trace human nature, and more particularly female nature, through its most secret recesses.

The pitiful fellow was lost in silent admiration of her. And thus the noble creature proceeded.

It is the fate in unequal unions, that tolerable creatures, through them, frequently incur censure, when more happily yoked they might be entitled to praise. And shall I not shun a union with a man, that might lead into errors a creature who flatters herself that she is blest with an inclination to be good; and who wishes to make every one happy with whom she has any connection, even to her very servants?

She paused, taking a turn about the room—the fellow, devil fetch him, a mummy all the time:—Then proceeded.

Formerly, indeed, I hoped to be an humble mean of reforming him. But, when I have no such hope, is it right [you are a serious man, Sir] to make a venture that shall endanger my own morals?

Still silent was the varlet. If my advocate had nothing to say for me, what hope of carrying my cause?

And now, Sir, what is the result of all?—It is this—that you will endeavour, if you have that influence over him which a man of your sense and experience ought to have, to prevail upon him, and that for his own sake, as well as for mine, to leave me free, to pursue my own destiny. And of this you may assure him, that I will never be any other man’s.

Impossible, Madam! I know that Mr. Lovelace would not hear me with patience on such a topic. And I do assure you that I have some spirit, and should not care to take an indignity from him or from any man living.

She paused—then resuming—and think you, Sir, that my uncle will refuse to receive a letter from me? [How averse, Jack, to concede a tittle in my favour!]

I know, Madam, as matters are circumstanced, that he would not answer it. If you please I will carry one down from you.

And will he not pursue his intentions in my favour, nor be himself reconciled to me, except I am married?

From what your brother gives out, and effects to believe, on Mr. Lovelace’s living with you in the same—

No more, Sir—I am an unhappy creature!

He then re-urged, that it would be in her power instantly, or on the morrow, to put an end to all her difficulties.

How can that be? said she: the license still to be obtained? The settlements still to be signed? Miss Howe’s answer to my last unreceived?—And shall I, Sir, be in such a HURRY, as if I thought my honour in danger if I delayed? Yet marry the man from whom only it can be endangered!—Unhappy, thrice unhappy Clarissa Harlowe!—In how many difficulties has one rash step involved thee!—And she turned from him and wept.

The varlet, by way of comfort, wept too: yet her tears, as he might have observed, were tears that indicated rather a yielding than a perverse temper.

There is a sort of stone, thou knowest, so soft in the quarry, that it may in manner be cut with a knife; but if the opportunity not be taken, and it is exposed to the air for any time, it will become as hard as marble, and then with difficulty it yields to the chisel.* So this lady, not taken at the moment, after a turn or two across the room, gained more resolution! and then she declared, as she had done once before, that she would wait the issue of Miss Howe’s answer to the letter she had sent her from hence, and take her measures accordingly—leaving it to him, mean time, to make what report he thought fit to her uncle—the kindest that truth could bear, she doubted not from Captain Tomlinson: and she should be glad of a few lines from him, to hear what that was.

* The nature of the Bath stone, in particular.

She wished him a good journey. She complained of her head; and was about to withdraw: but I stept round to the door next the stairs, as if I had but just come in from the garden (which, as I entered, I called a very pretty one) and took her reluctant hand as she was going out: My dearest life, you are not going?—What hopes, Captain?—Have you not some hopes to give me of pardon and reconciliation?

She said she would not be detained. But I would not let her go till she had promised to return, when the Captain had reported to me what her resolution was.

And when he had, I sent up and claimed her promise; and she came down again, and repeated (as what she was determined upon) that she would wait for Miss Howe’s answers to the letter she had written to her, and take her measures according to its contents.

I expostulated with her upon it, in the most submissive and earnest manner. She made it necessary for me to repeat many of the pleas I had before urged. The Captain seconded me with equal earnestness. At last, each fell down on our knees before her.

She was distressed. I was afraid at one time she would have fainted. Yet neither of us would rise without some concessions. I pleaded my own sake; the Captain, his dear friend, her uncle’s; and both re-pleaded the prevention of future mischief; and the peace and happiness of the two families.

She owned herself unequal to the conflict. She sighed. She sobbed. She wept. She wrung her hands.

I was perfectly eloquent in my vows and protestations. Her tearful eyes were cast down upon me; a glow upon each charming cheek; a visible anguish in every lovely feature—at last, her trembling knees seemed to fail her, she dropt into the next chair; her charming face, as if seeking for a hiding place (which a mother’s bosom would have best supplied) sinking upon her own shoulder.

I forgot at the instant all my vows of revenge. I threw myself at her feet, as she sat; and, snatching her hand, pressed it with my lips. I besought Heaven to forgive my past offences, and prosper my future hopes, as I designed honourably and justly by the charmer of my heart, if once more she should restore me to her favour. And I thought I felt drops of scalding water [could they be tears?] trickle down upon my cheeks; while my cheeks, glowing like fire, seemed to scorch up the unwelcome strangers.

I then arose, not doubting of an implied pardon in this silent distress. I raised the Captain. I whispered him—by my soul, man, I am in earnest. —Now talk of reconciliation, of her uncle, of the license, of settlement —and raising my voice, If now at last, Captain Tomlinson, my angel will give me leave to call so great a blessing mine, it will be impossible that you should say too much to her uncle in praise of my gratitude, my affection, and fidelity to his charming niece; and he may begin as soon as he pleases his kind schemes for effecting the desirable reconciliation!—Nor shall he prescribe any terms to me that I will not comply with.

The Captain blessed me with his eyes and hands—Thank God! whispered he. We approached the lady together.

Capt. What hinders, dearest Madam, what now hinders, but that Lady Betty Lawrance, when she comes, may be acquainted with the truth of every thing? And that then she may assist privately at your nuptials? I will stay till they are celebrated; and then shall go down with the happy tidings to my dear Mr. Harlowe. And all will, all must, soon be happy.

I must have an answer from Miss Howe, replied the still trembling fair- one. I cannot change my new measures but with her advice. I will forfeit all my hopes of happiness in this world, rather than forfeit her good opinion, and that she should think me giddy, unsteady, or precipitate. All I shall further say on the present subject is this, that when I have her answer to what I have written, I will write to her the whole state of the matter, as I shall then be enabled to do.

Lovel. Then must I despair for ever!—O Captain Tomlinson, Miss Howe hates me!—Miss Howe—

Capt. Not so, perhaps—when Miss Howe knows your concern for having offended, she will never advise that, with such prospects of general reconciliation, the hopes of so many considerable persons in both families should be frustrated. Some little time, as this excellent lady had foreseen and hinted, will necessarily be taken up in actually procuring the license, and in perusing and signing the settlements. In that time Miss Howe’s answer may be received; and Lady Betty may arrive; and she, no doubt, will have weight to dissipate the lady’s doubts, and to accelerate the day. It shall be my part, mean time, to make Mr. Harlowe easy. All I fear is from Mr. James Harlowe’s quarter; and therefore all must be conducted with prudence and privacy: as your uncle, Madam, has proposed.

She was silent, I rejoiced in her silence. The dear creature, thought I, has actually forgiven me in her heart!—But why will she not lay me under obligation to her, by the generosity of an explicit declaration?—And yet, as that would not accelerate any thing, while the license is not in my hands, she is the less to be blamed (if I do her justice) for taking more time to descend.

I proposed, as on the morrow night, to go to town; and doubted not to bring the license up with me on Monday morning; would she be pleased to assure me, that she would not depart form Mrs. Moore’s.

She should stay at Mrs. Moore’s till she had an answer from Miss Howe.

I told her that I hoped I might have her tacit consent at least to the obtaining of the license.

I saw by the turn of her countenance that I should not have asked this question. She was so far from tacitly consenting, that she declared to the contrary.

As I never intended, I said, to ask her to enter again into a house, with the people of which she was so much offended, would she be pleased to give orders for her clothes to be brought up hither? Or should Dorcas attend her for any of her commands on that head?

She desired not ever more to see any body belonging to that house. She might perhaps get Mrs. Moore or Mrs. Bevis to go thither for her, and take her keys with them.

I doubted not, I said, that Lady Betty would arrive by that time. I hoped she had no objection to my bringing that lady and my cousin Montague up with me?

She was silent.

To be sure, Mr. Lovelace, said the Captain, the lady can have no objection to this.

She was still silent. So silence in this case was assent.

Would she be pleased to write to Miss Howe?—

Sir! Sir! peevishly interrupting—no more questions; no prescribing to me —you will do as you think fit—so will I, as I please. I own no obligation to you. Captain Tomlinson, your servant. Recommend me to my uncle Harlowe’s favour. And was going.

I took her reluctant hand, and besought her only to promise to meet me early in the morning.

To what purpose meet you? Have you more to say than has been said? I have had enough of vows and protestations, Mr. Lovelace. To what purpose should I meet you to-morrow morning?

I repeated my request, and that in the most fervent manner, naming six in the morning.

’You know that I am always stirring before that hour, at this season of the year,’ was the half-expressed consent.

She then again recommended herself to her uncle’s favour; and withdrew.

And thus, Belford, has she mended her markets, as Lord M. would say, and I worsted mine. Miss Howe’s next letter is now the hinge on which the fate of both must turn. I shall be absolutely ruined and undone, if I cannot intercept it.