Clarissa Harlowe LETTER LIV

MR. LOVELACE, TO JOHN BELFORD, ESQ.

And now, that my beloved seems secure in my net, for my project upon the vixen Miss Howe, and upon her mother: in which the officious prancer Hickman is to come in for a dash.

But why upon her mother, methinks thou askest, who, unknown to herself, has only acted, by the impulse, through thy agent Joseph Leman, upon the folly of old Tony the uncle?

No matter for that: she believes she acts upon her own judgment: and deserves to be punished for pretending to judgment, when she has none.— Every living soul, but myself, I can tell thee, shall be punished, that treats either cruelly or disrespectfully so adored a lady.—What a plague! is it not enough that she is teased and tormented in person by me?

I have already broken the matter to our three confederates; as a supposed, not a resolved-on case indeed. And yet they know, that with me, in a piece of mischief, execution, with its swiftest feel, is seldom three paces behind projection, which hardly ever limps neither.

MOWBRAY is not against it. It is a scheme, he says, worthy of us: and we have not done any thing for a good while that has made a noise.

BELTON, indeed, hesitates a little, because matters go wrong between him and his Thomasine; and the poor fellow has not the courage to have his sore place probed to the bottom.

TOURVILLE has started a fresh game, and shrugs his shoulders, and should not choose to go abroad at present, if I please. For I apprehend that (from the nature of the project) there will be a kind of necessity to travel, till all is blown over.

To ME, one country is as good as another; and I shall soon, I suppose, choose to quit this paltry island; except the mistress of my fate will consent to cohabit at home; and so lay me under no necessity of surprising her into foreign parts. TRAVELLING, thou knowest, gives the sexes charming opportunities of being familiar with one another. A very few days and nights must now decide all matters betwixt me and my fair inimitable.

DOLEMAN, who can act in these causes only as chamber-counsel, will inform us by pen and ink [his right hand and right side having not yet been struck, and the other side beginning to be sensible] of all that shall occur in our absence.

As for THEE, we had rather have thy company than not; for, although thou art a wretched fellow at contrivance, yet art thou intrepid at execution. But as thy present engagements make thy attendance uncertain, I am not for making thy part necessary to our scheme; but for leaving thee to come after us when abroad. I know thou canst not long live without us.

The project, in short, is this:—Mrs. Howe has an elder sister in the Isle of Wight, who is lately a widow; and I am well informed, that the mother and daughter have engaged, before the latter is married, to pay a visit to this lady, who is rich, and intends Miss for her heiress; and in the interim will make her some valuable presents on her approaching nuptials; which, as Mrs. Howe, who loves money more than any thing but herself, told one of my acquaintance, would be worth fetching.

Now, Jack, nothing more need be done, than to hire a little trim vessel, which shall sail a pleasuring backward and forward to Portsmouth, Spithead, and the Isle of Wight, for a week or fortnight before we enter upon our parts of the plot. And as Mrs. Howe will be for making the best bargain she can for her passage, the master of the vessel may have orders (as a perquisite allowed him by his owners) to take what she will give: and the master’s name, be it what it will, shall be Ganmore on the occasion; for I know a rogue of that name, who is not obliged to be of any country, any more than we.

Well, then, we will imagine them on board. I will be there in disguise. They know not any of ye four—supposing (the scheme so inviting) that thou canst be one.

’Tis plaguy hard, if we cannot find, or make a storm.

Perhaps they will be sea-sick: but whether they be or not, no doubt they will keep their cabin.

Here will be Mrs. Howe, Miss Howe, Mr. Hickman, a maid, and a footman, I suppose: and thus we will order it.

I know it will be hard weather: I know it will: and, before there can be the least suspicion of the matter, we shall be in sight of Guernsey, Jersey, Dieppe, Cherbourg, or any where on the French coast that it shall please us to agree with the winds to blow us: and then, securing the footman, and the women being separated, one of us, according to lots that may be cast, shall overcome, either by persuasion or force, the maid servant: that will be no hard task; and she is a likely wench, [I have seen her often:] one, Mrs. Howe; nor can there be much difficulty there; for she is full of health and life, and has been long a widow: another, [that, says the princely lion, must be I!] the saucy daughter; who will be much too frightened to make great resistance, [violent spirits, in that sex, are seldom true spirits—’tis but where they can:] and after beating about the coast for three or four days for recreation’s sake, and to make sure work, till we see our sullen birds begin to eat and sip, we will set them all ashore where it will be most convenient; sell the vessel, [to Mrs. Townsend’s agents, with all my heart, or to some other smugglers,] or give it to Ganmore; and pursue our travels, and tarry abroad till all is hushed up.

Now I know thou wilt make difficulties, as it is thy way; while it is mine to conquer them. My other vassals made theirs; and I condescended to obviate them: as thus I will thine, first stating them for thee according to what I know of thy phlegm.

What, in the first place, wilt thou ask, shall be done with Hickman? who will be in full parade of dress and primness, in order to show the old aunt what a devilish clever fellow of a nephew she is to have.

What!—I’ll tell thee—Hickman, in good manners, will leave the women in their cabin—and, to show his courage with his breeding, be upon deck—

Well, and suppose he is!—Why then I hope it is easy for Ganmore, or any body else, myself suppose in my pea-jacket and great watch coat, (if any other make scruple to do it), while he stands in the way, gaping and staring like a novice, to stumble against him, and push him overboard! —A rich thought—is it not, Belford?—He is certainly plaguy officious in the ladies’ correspondence; and I am informed, plays double between mother and daughter, in fear of both.—Dost not see him, Jack?—I do— popping up and down, his wig and hat floating by him; and paddling, pawing, and dashing, like a frighted mongrel—I am afraid he never ventured to learn to swim.

But thou wilt not drown the poor fellow; wilt thou?

No, no!—that is not necessary to the project—I hate to do mischiefs supererogatory. The skiff shall be ready to save him, while the vessel keeps its course: he shall be set on shore with the loss of wig and hat only, and of half his little wits, at the place where he embarked, or any where else.

Well, but shall we not be in danger of being hanged for three such enormous rapes, although Hickman should escape with only a bellyful of sea-water?

Yes, to be sure, when caught—But is there any likelihood of that?— Besides, have we not been in danger before now for worse facts? and what is there in being only in danger?—If we actually were to appear in open day in England before matters are made up, there will be greater likelihood that these women will not prosecute that they will.—For my own part, I should wish they may. Would not a brave fellow choose to appear in court to such an arraignment, confronting women who would do credit to his attempt? The country is more merciful in these cases, than in any others: I should therefore like to put myself upon my country.

Let me indulge in a few reflections upon what thou mayest think the worst that can happen. I will suppose that thou art one of us; and that all five are actually brought to trial on this occasion: how bravely shall we enter a court, I at the head of you, dressed out each man, as if to his wedding appearance!—You are sure of all the women, old and young, of your side.—What brave fellows!—what fine gentlemen!—There goes a charming handsome man!—meaning me, to be sure!—who could find in their hearts to hang such a gentleman as that? whispers one lady, sitting perhaps on the right hand of the recorder: [I suppose the scene to be in London:] while another disbelieves that any woman could fairly swear against me. All will crowd after me: it will be each man’s happiness (if ye shall chance to be bashful) to be neglected: I shall be found to be the greatest criminal; and my safety, for which the general voice will be engaged, will be yours.

But then comes the triumph of triumphs, that will make the accused look up, while the accusers are covered with confusion.

Make room there!—stand by!—give back!—One receiving a rap, another an elbow, half a score a push a piece!—

Enter the slow-moving, hooded-faced, down-looking plaintiffs.—

And first the widow, with a sorrowful countenance, though half-veiled, pitying her daughter more than herself. The people, the women especially, who on this occasion will be five-sixths of the spectators, reproaching her—You’d have the conscience, would you, to have five such brave gentlemen as these hanged for you know not what?

Next comes the poor maid—who, perhaps, has been ravished twenty times before; and had not appeared now, but for company-sake; mincing, simpering, weeping, by turns; not knowing whether she should be sorry or glad.

But every eye dwells upon Miss!—See, see, the handsome gentleman bows to her!

To the very ground, to be sure, I shall bow; and kiss my hand.

See her confusion! see! she turns from him!—Ay! that’s because it is in open court, cries an arch one!—While others admire her—Ay! that’s a girl worth venturing one’s neck for!

Then we shall be praised—even the judges, and the whole crowded bench, will acquit us in their hearts! and every single man wish he had been me! —the women, all the time, disclaiming prosecution, were the case to be their own. To be sure, Belford, the sufferers cannot put half so good a face upon the matter as we.

Then what a noise will this matter make!—Is it not enough, suppose us moving from the prison to the sessions-house,* to make a noble heart thump it away most gloriously, when such an one finds himself attended to his trial by a parade of guards and officers, of miens and aspects warlike and unwarlike; himself of their whole care, and their business! weapons in their hands, some bright, some rusty, equally venerable for their antiquity and inoffensiveness! others of more authoritative demeanour, strutting before with fine painted staves! shoals of people following, with a Which is he whom the young lady appears against?— Then, let us look down, look up, look round, which way we will, we shall see all the doors, the shops, the windows, the sign-irons, and balconies, (garrets, gutters, and chimney-tops included,) all white-capt, black- hooded, and periwigg’d, or crop-ear’d up by the immobile vulgus: while the floating street-swarmers, who have seen us pass by at one place, run with stretched-out necks, and strained eye-balls, a roundabout way, and elbow and shoulder themselves into places by which we have not passed, in order to obtain another sight of us; every street continuing to pour out its swarms of late-comers, to add to the gathering snowball; who are content to take descriptions of our persons, behaviour, and countenances, from those who had the good fortune to have been in time to see us.

* Within these few years past, a passage has been made from the prison to the sessions-house, whereby malefactors are carried into court without going through the street. Lovelace’s triumph on their supposed march shows the wisdom of this alteration.

Let me tell thee, Jack, I see not why (to judge according to our principles and practices) we should not be as much elated in our march, were this to happen to us, as others may be upon any other the most mob- attracting occasion—suppose a lord-mayor on his gawdy—suppose a victorious general, or ambassador, on his public entry—suppose (as I began with the lowest) the grandest parade that can be supposed, a coronation—for, in all these, do not the royal guard, the heroic trained-bands, the pendent, clinging throngs of spectators, with their waving heads rolling to-and-fro from house-tops to house-bottoms and street-ways, as I have above described, make the principal part of the raree-show?

And let me ask thee, if thou dost not think, that either the mayor, the ambassador, or the general would not make very pitiful figures on their galas, did not the trumpets and tabrets call together the canaille to gaze at them?—Nor perhaps should we be the most guilty heroes neither: for who knows how the magistrate may have obtained his gold chain? while the general probably returns from cutting of throats, and from murders, sanctified by custom only.—Caesar, we are told,* had won, at the age of fifty-six, when he was assassinated, fifty pitched battles, had taken by assault above a thousand towns, and slain near 1,200,000 men; I suppose exclusive of those who fell on his own side in slaying them. Are not you and I, Jack, innocent men, and babes in swaddling-clothes, compared to Caesar, and to his predecessor in heroism, Alexander, dubbed, for murders and depredation, Magnus?

* Pliny gives this account, putting the number of men slain at 1,100,092. See also Lipsius de Constandia.

The principal difference that strikes me in the comparison between us and the mayor, the ambassador, the general, on their gawdies, is, that the mob make a greater noise, a louder huzzaing, in the one case than the other, which is called acclamation, and ends frequently in higher taste, by throwing dead animals at one another, before they disperse; in which they have as much joy, as in the former part of the triumph: while they will attend us with all the marks of an awful or silent (at most only a whispering) respect; their mouths distended, as if set open with gags, and their voices generally lost in goggle-ey’d admiration.

Well, but suppose, after all, we are convicted; what have we to do, but in time make over our estates, that the sheriffs may not revel in our spoils?—There is no fear of being hanged for such a crime as this, while we have money or friends.—And suppose even the worst, that two or three were to die, have we not a chance, each man of us, to escape? The devil’s in them, if they’ll hang five for ravishing three!

I know I shall get off for one—were it but for family sake: and being a handsome fellow, I shall have a dozen or two young maidens, all dressed in white, go to court to beg my life—and what a pretty show they will make, with their white hoods, white gowns, white petticoats, white scarves, white gloves, kneeling for me, with their white handkerchiefs at their eyes, in two pretty rows, as his Majesty walks through them and nods my pardon for their sakes!—And, if once pardoned, all is over: for, Jack, in a crime of this nature there lies no appeal, as in a murder.

So thou seest the worst that can happen, should we not make the grand tour upon this occasion, but stay and take our trials. But it is most likely, that they will not prosecute at all. If not, no risque on our side will be run; only taking our pleasure abroad, at the worst; leaving friends tired of us, in order, after a time, to return to the same friends endeared to us, as we to them, by absence.

This, Jack, is my scheme, at the first running. I know it is capable of improvement—for example: I can land these ladies in France; whip over before they can get a passage back, or before Hickman can have recovered his fright; and so find means to entrap my beloved on board—and then all will be right; and I need not care if I were never to return to England.

Memorandum, To be considered of—Whether, in order to complete my

vengeance, I cannot contrive to kidnap away either James Harlowe or

Solmes? or both? A man, Jack, would not go into exile for nothing.