Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XLII

MISS HOWE, TO MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE SATURDAY, MAY 20.

I did not know, my dear, that you deferred giving an answer to Mr. Lovelace’s proposals till you had my opinion of them. A particular hand, occasionally going to town, will leave this at Wilson’s, that no delay may be made on that account.

I never had any doubt of the man’s justice and generosity in matters of settlement; and all his relations are as noble in their spirits as in their descent; but now, it may not be amiss for you to wait, to see what returns my Lord makes to his letter of invitation.

The scheme I think of is this:

There is a person, whom I believe you have seen with me, her name Townsend, who is a great dealer in Indian silks, Brussels and French laces, cambricks, linen, and other valuable goods; which she has a way of coming at duty-free; and has a great vend for them (and for other curiosities which she imports) in the private families of the gentry round us.

She has her days of being in town, and then is at a chamber she rents at an inn in Southwark, where she keeps patterns of all her silks, and much of her portable goods, for the conveniency of her London customers. But her place of residence, and where she has her principal warehouse, is at Depford, for the opportunity of getting her goods on shore.

She was first brought to me by my mother, to whom she was recommended on the supposal of my speedy marriage, ’that I might have an opportunity to be as fine as a princess,’ was my mother’s expression, ’at a moderate expense.’

Now, my dear, I must own, that I do not love to encourage these contraband traders. What is it, but bidding defiance to the laws of our country, when we do, and hurting fair traders; and at the same time robbing our prince of his legal due, to the diminution of those duties which possibly must be made good by new levities upon the public?

But, however, Mrs. Townsend and I, though I have not yet had dealings with her, are upon a very good foot of understanding. She is a sensible woman; she has been abroad, and often goes abroad in the way of her business, and gives very entertaining accounts of all she has seen.

And having applied to me to recommend her to you, (as it is her view to be known to young ladies who are likely to change their condition,) I am sure I can engage her to give you protection at her house at Deptford; which she says is a populous village, and one of the last, I should think, in which you would be sought for. She is not much there, you will believe, by the course of her dealings, but, no doubt, must have somebody on the spot, in whom she can confide: and there, perhaps, you might be safe till your cousin comes. And I should not think it amiss that you write to him out of hand. I cannot suggest to you what you should write. That must be left to your own discretion. For you will be afraid, no doubt, of the consequence of a variance between the two men.

But, notwithstanding all this, and were I sure of getting you safely out of his hands, I will nevertheless forgive you, were you to make all up with him, and marry to-morrow. Yet I will proceed with my projected scheme in relation to Mrs. Townsend; though I hope there will be no occasion to prosecute it, since your prospects seem to be changed, and since you have had twenty-four not unhappy hours together. How my indignation rises for this poor consolation in the courtship [courtship must I call it?] of such a woman! let me tell you, my dear, that were you once your own absolute and independent mistress, I should be tempted, notwithstanding all I have written, to wish you to be the wife of any man in the world, rather than the wife either of Lovelace or of Solmes.

Mrs. Townsend, as I have recollected, has two brothers, each a master of a vessel; and who knows, as she and they have concerns together, but that, in case of need, you may have a whole ship’s crew at your devotion? If Lovelace give you cause to leave him, take no thought for the people at Harlowe-place. Let them take care of one another. It is a care they are used to. The law will help to secure them. The wretch is no assassin, no night-murderer. He is an open, because a fearless enemy; and should he attempt any thing that would make him obnoxious to the laws of society, you might have a fair riddance of him, either by flight or the gallows; no matter which.

Had you not been so minute in your account of the circumstances that attended the opportunity you had of overhearing the dialogue between Mr. Lovelace and two of the women, I should have thought the conference contrived on purpose for your ear.

I showed Mr. Lovelace’s proposals to Mr. Hickman, who had chambers once in Lincoln’s-inn, being designed for the law, had his elder brother lived. He looked so wise, so proud, and so important, upon the occasion; and wanted to take so much consideration about them—Would take them home if I pleased—and weigh them well—and so forth—and the like—and all that—that I had no patience with him, and snatched them back with anger.

O dear!—to be so angry, an’t please me, for his zeal!—

Yes, zeal without knowledge, I said—like most other zeals—if there were no objections that struck him at once, there were none.

So hasty, dearest Madam—

And so slow, un-dearest Sir, I could have said—But SURELY, said I, with a look that implied, Would you rebel, Sir!

He begged my pardon—Saw no objection, indeed!—But might he be allowed once more—

No matter—no matter—I would have shown them to my mother, I said, who, though of no inn of court, knew more of these things than half the lounging lubbers of them; and that at first sight—only that she would have been angry at the confession of our continued correspondence.

But, my dear, let the articles be drawn up, and engrossed; and solemnize upon them; and there’s no more to be said.

Let me add, that the sailor-fellow has been tampering with my Kitty, and offered a bribe, to find where to direct to you. Next time he comes, I will have him laid hold of; and if I can get nothing out of him, will have him drawn through one of our deepest fishponds. His attempt to corrupt a servant of mine will justify my orders.

I send this letter away directly. But will follow it by another; which shall have for its subject only my mother, myself, and your uncle Antony. And as your prospects are more promising than they have been, I will endeavour to make you smile upon the occasion. For you will be pleased to know, that my mother has had a formal tender from that grey goose, which may make her skill in settlements useful to herself, were she to encourage it.

May your prospects be still more and more happy, prays

Your own, ANNA HOWE.