Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XLV


Mr. Lovelace communicated to me this morning early, from his intelligencer, the news of my brother’s scheme. I like him the better for making very light of it, and for his treating it with contempt. And indeed, had I not had the hint of it from you, I should have suspected it to be some contrivance of his, in order to hasten me to town, where he has long wished to be himself.

He read me the passage in that Leman’s letter, which is pretty much to the effect of what you wrote to me from Miss Lloyd; with this addition, that one Singleton, a master of a Scots vessel, is the man who is to be the principal in this act of violence.

I have seen him. He had been twice entertained at Harlowe-place, as my brother’s friend. He has the air of a very bold and fearless man, and I fancy it must be his project; as my brother, I suppose, talks to every body of the rash step I have taken, for he did not spare me before he had this seeming reason to censure me.

This Singleton lives at Leith; so, perhaps, I am to be carried to my brother’s house not far from that port.

Putting these passages together, I am not a little apprehensive that the design, lightly as Mr. Lovelace, from his fearless temper, treats it, may be attempted to be carried into execution; and of the consequences that may attend it, if it be.

I asked Mr. Lovelace, seeing him so frank and cool, what he would advise me to do.

Shall I ask you, Madam, what are your own thoughts?—Why I return the question, said he, is, because you have been so very earnest that I should leave you as soon as you are in London, that I know not what to propose without offending you.

My opinion is, said I, that I should studiously conceal myself from the knowledge of every body but Miss Howe; and that you should leave me out of hand; since they will certainly conclude, that where one is, the other is not far off: and it is easier to trace you than me.

You would not surely wish, said he, to fall into your brother’s hands by such a violent measure as this? I propose not to throw myself officiously in their way; but should they have reason to think I avoided them, would not that whet their diligence to find you, and their courage to attempt to carry you off, and subject me to insults that no man of spirit can bear?

Lord bless me! said I, to what had this one fatal step that I have been betrayed into——

Dearest Madam, let me beseech you to forbear this harsh language, when you see, by this new scheme, how determined they were upon carrying their old ones, had you not been betrayed, as you call it. Have I offered to defy the laws of society, as this brother of yours must do, if any thing be intended by this project? I hope you will be pleased to observe that there are as violent and as wicked enterprisers as myself. But this is so very wild a project, that I think there can be no room for apprehensions from it. I know your brother well. When at college, he had always a romantic turn: but never had a head for any thing but to puzzle and confound himself. A half-invention, and a whole conceit; but not master of talents to do himself good, or others harm, but as those others gave him the power by their own folly.

This is very volubly run off, Sir!—But violent spirits are but too much alike; at least in their methods of resenting. You will not presume to make yourself a less innocent man, surely, who had determined to brave my whole family in person, if my folly had not saved you the rashness, and them the insult—

Dear Madam!—Still must it be folly, rashness!—It is as impossible for you to think tolerably of any body out of your own family, as it is for any one in your family to deserve your love! Forgive me, dearest creature! If I did not love you as never man loved a woman, I might appear more indifferent to preferences so undeservedly made. But let me ask you, Madam, What have you borne from me? What cause have I given you to treat me with so much severity and so little confidence? And what have you not borne from them? Malice and ill-will, sitting in judgment upon my character, may not give sentence in my favour: But what of your own knowledge have you against me?

Spirited questions, were they not, my dear?—And they were asked with as spirited an air. I was startled. But I was resolved not to desert myself.

Is this a time, Mr. Lovelace, is this a proper occasion taken, to give yourself these high airs to me, a young creature destitute of protection? It is a surprising question you ask me—Had I aught against you of my own knowledge—I can tell you, Sir—And away I would have flung.

He snatched my hand, and besought me not to leave him in displeasure. He pleaded his passion for me, and my severity to him, and partiality for those from whom I had suffered so much; and whose intended violence, he said, was now the subject of our deliberation.

I was forced to hear him.

You condescended, dearest creature, said he, to ask my advice. It was very easy, give me leave to say, to advise you what to do. I hope I may, on this new occasion, speak without offence, notwithstanding your former injunctions—You see that there can be no hope of reconciliation with your relations. Can you, Madam, consent to honour with your hand a wretch whom you have never yet obliged with one voluntary favour!

What a recriminating, what a reproachful way, my dear, was this, of putting a question of this nature!

I expected not from him, at the time, and just as I was very angry with him, either the question or the manner. I am ashamed to recollect the confusion I was thrown into; all your advice in my head at the moment: yet his words so prohibitory. He confidently seemed to enjoy my confusion [indeed, my dear, he knows not what respectful love is!] and gazed upon me, as if he would have looked me through.

He was still more declarative afterwards, as I shall mention by-and-by: but it was half extorted from him.

My heart struggled violently between resentment and shame, to be thus teased by one who seemed to have all his passions at command, at a time when I had very little over mine! till at last I burst into tears, and was going from him in high disgust: when, throwing his arms about me, with an air, however, the most tenderly respectful, he gave a stupid turn to the subject.

It was far from his heart, he said, to take so much advantage of the streight, which the discovery of my brother’s foolish project had brought me into, as to renew, without my permission, a proposal which I had hitherto discountenanced, and which for that reason—

And then he came with his half-sentences, apologizing for what he had not so much as half-proposed.

Surely he had not the insolence to intend to tease me, to see if I could be brought to speak what became me not to speak. But whether he had or not, it did tease me; insomuch that my very heart was fretted, and I broke out, at last, into fresh tears, and a declaration that I was very unhappy. And just then recollecting how like a tame fool I stood with his arms about me, I flung from him with indignation. But he seized my hand, as I was going out of the room, and upon his knees besought my stay for one moment: and then, in words the most clear and explicit, tendered himself to my acceptance, as the most effectual means to disappoint my brother’s scheme, and set all right.

But what could I say to this?—Extorted from him, as it seemed to me, rather as the effect of his compassion than his love? What could I say? I paused, I looked silly—I am sure I looked very silly. He suffered me to pause, and look silly; waiting for me to say something: and at last (ashamed of my confusion, and aiming to make an excuse for it) I told him that I desired he would avoid such measures as might add to the uneasiness which it must be visible to him I had, when he reflected upon the irreconcilableness of my friends, and upon what might follow from this unaccountable project of my brother.

He promised to be governed by me in every thing. And again the wretch, instead of pressing his former question, asked me, If I forgave him for the humble suit he had made to me? What had I to do but to try for a palliation of my confusion, since it served me not?

I told him I had hopes it would not be long before Mr. Morden arrived; and doubted not that that gentleman would be the readier to engage in my favour, when he found that I made no other use of his (Mr. Lovelace’s) assistance, than to free myself from the addresses of a man so disagreeable to me as Mr. Solmes: I must therefore wish that every thing might remain as it was till I could hear from my cousin.

This, although teased by him as I was, was not, you see, my dear, a denial. But he must throw himself into a heat, rather than try to persuade; which any other man in his situation, I should think, would have done; and this warmth obliged me to adhere to my seeming negative.

This was what he said, with a vehemence that must harden any woman’s mind, who had a spirit above being frighted into passiveness—

Good God! and will you, Madam, still resolve to show me that I am to hope for no share in your favour, while any the remotest prospect remains that you will be received by my bitterest enemies, at the price of my utter rejection?

This was what I returned, with warmth, and with a salving art too—You should have seen, Mr. Lovelace, how much my brother’s violence can affect me: but you will be mistaken if you let loose yours upon me, with a thought of terrifying me into measures the contrary of which you have acquiesced with.

He only besought me to suffer his future actions to speak for him; and if I saw him worthy of any favour, that I would not let him be the only person within my knowledge who was not entitled to my consideration.

You refer to a future time, Mr. Lovelace, so do I, for the future proof of a merit you seem to think for the past time wanting: and justly you think so. And I was again going from him.

One word more he begged me to hear—He was determined studiously to avoid all mischief, and every step that might lead to mischief, let my brother’s proceedings, short of a violence upon my person, be what they would: but if any attempt that should extend to that were to be made, would I have had him to be a quiet spectator of my being seized, or carried back, or on board, by this Singleton; or, in case of extremity, was he not permitted to stand up in my defence?

Stand up in my defence, Mr. Lovelace!—I should be very miserable were there to be a call for that. But do you think I might not be safe and private in London? By your friend’s description of the widow’s house, I should think I might be safe there.

The widow’s house, he replied, as described by his friend, being a back house within a front one, and looking to a garden, rather than to a street, had the appearance of privacy: but if, when there, it was not approved, it would be easy to find another more to my liking—though, as to his part, the method he would advise should be, to write to my uncle Harlowe, as one of my trustees, and wait the issue of it here at Mrs. Sorlings’s, fearlessly directing it to be answered hither. To be afraid of little spirits was but to encourage insults, he said. The substance of the letter should be, ’To demand as a right, what they would refuse if requested as a courtesy: to acknowledge that I had put myself [too well, he said, did their treatment justify me] into the protection of the ladies of his family [by whose orders, and Lord M.’s, he himself would appear to act]: but that upon my own terms, which were such, that I was under no obligation to those ladies for the favour; it being no more than they would have granted to any one of my sex, equally distressed.’ If I approved not of his method, happy should he think himself, he said, if I would honour him with the opportunity of making such a claim in his own name—but this was a point [with his but’s again in the same breath!] that he durst but just touch upon. He hoped, however, that I would think their violence a sufficient inducement for me to take such a wished-for resolution.

Inwardly vexed, I told him that he himself had proposed to leave me when I was in town; that I expected he would: and that, when I was known to be absolutely independent, I should consider what to write, and what to do: but that while he was with me, I neither would nor could.

He would be very sincere with me, he said: this project of my brother’s had changed the face of things. He must, before he left me, see whether I should or should not approve of the London widow and her family, if I chose to go thither. They might be people whom my brother might buy. But if he saw they were persons of integrity, he then might go for a day or two, or so. But he must needs say, he could not leave me longer at a time.

Do you propose, Sir, said I, to take up your lodgings in the house where I shall lodge?

He did not, he said, as he knew the use I intended to make of his absence, and my punctilio—and yet the house where he had lodgings was new-fronting, and not in condition to receive him: but he could go to his friend Belford’s, in Soho; or perhaps he might reach to the same gentleman’s house at Edgware, over night, and return on the mornings, till he had reason to think this wild project of my brother’s laid aside. But to no greater distance till then should he care to venture.

The result of all was, to set out on Monday next for town. I hope it will be in a happy hour.