Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XXVIII


We had hardly dined, when my coachman, who kept a look-out for Captain Tomlinson, as Will. did for old Grimes, conducted hither that worthy gentleman, attended by one servant, both on horseback. He alighted. I went out to meet him at the door.

Thou knowest his solemn appearance, and unblushing freedom; and yet canst not imagine what a dignity the rascal assumed, nor how respectful to him I was.

I led him into the parlour, and presented him to the women, and them to him. I thought it highly imported me (as they might still have some diffidences about our marriage, from my fair-one’s home-pushed questions on that head) to convince them entirely of the truth of all I had asserted. And how could I do this better, than by dialoguing a little with him before them?

Dear Captain, I thought you long; for I have had a terrible conflict with my spouse.

Capt. I am sorry that I am later than my intention—my account with my banker—[There’s a dog, Jack!] took me up longer time to adjust than I had foreseen [all the time pulling down and stroking his ruffles]: for there was a small difference between us—only twenty pounds, indeed, which I had taken no account of.

The rascal has not seen twenty pounds of his own these ten years.

Then had we between us the character of the Harlowe family; I railed against them all; the Captain taking his dear friend Mr. John Harlowe’s part; with a Not so fast!—not so fast, young gentleman!—and the like free assumptions.

He accounted for their animosity by my defiances: no good family, having such a charming daughter, would care to be defied, instead of courted: he must speak his mind: never was a double-tongued man.—He appealed to the ladies, if he were not right?

He got them on his side.

The correction I had given the brother, he told me, must have aggravated matters.

How valiant this made me look to the women!—The sex love us mettled fellows at their hearts.

Be that as it would, I should never love any of the family but my spouse; and wanting nothing from them, I would not, but for her sake, have gone so far as I had gone towards a reconciliation.

This was very good of me; Mrs. Moore said.

Very good indeed; Miss Rawlins.

Good;—It is more than good; it is very generous; said the widow.

Capt. Why so it is, I must needs say: for I am sensible that Mr. Lovelace has been rudely treated by them all—more rudely, than it could have been imagined a man of his quality and spirit would have put up with. But then, Sir, [turning to me,] I think you are amply rewarded in such a lady; and that you ought to forgive the father for the daughter’s sake.

Mrs. Moore. Indeed so I think.

Miss R. So must every one think who has seen the lady.

Widow B. A fine lady, to be sure! But she has a violent spirit; and some very odd humours too, by what I have heard. The value of good husbands is not known till they are lost!

Her conscience then drew a sigh from her.

Lovel. Nobody must reflect upon my angel!—An angel she is—some little blemishes, indeed, as to her over-hasty spirit, and as to her unforgiving temper. But this she has from the Harlowes; instigated too by that Miss Howe.—But her innumerable excellencies are all her own.

Capt. Ay, talk of spirit, there’s a spirit, now you have named Miss Howe! [And so I led him to confirm all I had said of that vixen.] Yet she was to be pitied too; looking with meaning at me.

As I have already hinted, I had before agreed with him to impute secret love occasionally to Miss Howe, as the best means to invalidate all that might come from her in my disfavour.

Capt. Mr. Lovelace, but that I know your modesty, or you could give a reason—

Lovel. Looking down, and very modest—I can’t think so, Captain—but let us call another cause.

Every woman present could look me in the face, so bashful was I.

Capt. Well, but as to our present situation—only it mayn’t be proper— looking upon me, and round upon the women.

Lovel. O Captain, you may say any thing before this company—only, Andrew, [to my new servant, who attended us at table,] do you withdraw: this good girl [looking at the maid-servant] will help us to all we want.

Away went Andrew: he wanted not his cue; and the maid seemed pleased at my honour’s preference of her.

Capt. As to our present situation, I say, Mr. Lovelace—why, Sir, we shall be all untwisted, let me tell you, if my friend Mr. John Harlowe were to know what that is. He would as much question the truth of your being married, as the rest of the family do.

Here the women perked up their ears; and were all silent attention.

Capt. I asked you before for particulars, Mr. Lovelace; but you declined giving them.—Indeed it may not be proper for me to be acquainted with them.—But I must own, that it is past my comprehension, that a wife can resent any thing a husband can do (that is not a breach of the peace) so far as to think herself justified for eloping from him.

Lovel. Captain Tomlinson:—Sir—I do assure you, that I shall be offended—I shall be extremely concerned—if I hear that word eloping mentioned again—

Capt. Your nicety and your love, Sir, may make you take offence—but it is my way to call every thing by its proper name, let who will be offended—

Thou canst not imagine, Belford, how brave and how independent the rascal looked.

Capt. When, young gentleman, you shall think proper to give us particulars, we will find a word for this rash act in so admirable a lady, that shall please you better.—You see, Sir, that being the representative of my dear friend Mr. John Harlowe, I speak as freely as I suppose he would do, if present. But you blush, Sir—I beg your pardon, Mr. Lovelace: it becomes not a modest man to pry into those secrets, which a modest man cannot reveal.

I did not blush, Jack; but denied not the compliment, and looked down: the women seemed delighted with my modesty: but the widow Bevis was more inclined to laugh at me than praise me for it.

Capt. Whatever be the cause of this step, (I will not again, Sir, call it elopement, since that harsh word wounds your tenderness,) I cannot but express my surprise upon it, when I recollect the affectionate behaviour, to which I was witness between you, when I attended you last. Over-love, Sir, I think you once mention—but over-love [smiling] give me leave to say, Sir, it is an odd cause of quarrel—few ladies—

Lovel. Dear Captain!—And I tried to blush.

The women also tried; and being more used to it, succeeded better.—Mrs. Bevis indeed has a red-hot countenance, and always blushes.

Miss R. It signifies nothing to mince the matter: but the lady above as good as denies her marriage. You know, Sir, that she does; turning to me.

Capt. Denies her marriage! Heavens! how then have I imposed upon my dear friend Mr. John Harlowe!

Lovel. Poor dear!—But let not her veracity be called into question. She would not be guilty of a wilful untruth for the world.

Then I had all their praises again.

Lovel. Dear creature!—She thinks she has reason for her denial. You know, Mrs. Moore; you know, Miss Rawlins; what I owned to you above as my vow.

I looked down, and, as once before, turned round my diamond ring.

Mrs. Moore looked awry, and with a leer at Miss Rawlins, as to her partner in the hinted-at reference.

Miss Rawlins looked down as well as I; her eyelids half closed, as if mumbling a pater-noster, meditating her snuff-box, the distance between her nose and chin lengthened by a close-shut mouth.

She put me in mind of the pious Mrs. Fetherstone at Oxford, whom I pointed out to thee once, among other grotesque figures, at St. Mary’s church, whither we went to take a view of her two sisters: her eyes shut, not daring to trust her heart with them open; and but just half-rearing her lids, to see who the next comer was; and falling them again, when her curiosity was satisfied.

The widow Bevis gazed, as if on the hunt for a secret.

The Captain looked archly, as if half in the possession of one.

Mrs. Moore at last broke the bashful silence. Mrs. Lovelace’s behaviour, she said, could be no otherwise so well accounted for, as by the ill offices of that Miss Howe; and by the severity of her relations; which might but too probably have affected her head a little at times: adding, that it was very generous in me to give way to the storm when it was up, rather than to exasperate at such a time.

But let me tell you, Sirs, said the widow Bevis, that is not what one husband in a thousand would have done.

I desired, that no part of this conversation might be hinted to my spouse; and looked still more bashfully. Her great fault, I must own, was over-delicacy.

The Captain leered round him; and said, he believed he could guess from the hints I had given him in town (of my over-love) and from what had now passed, that we had not consummated our marriage.

O Jack! how sheepishly then looked, or endeavoured to look, thy friend! how primly goody Moore! how affectedly Miss Rawlins!—while the honest widow Bevis gazed around her fearless; and though only simpering with her mouth, her eyes laughed outright, and seemed to challenge a laugh from every eye in the company.

He observed, that I was a phoenix of a man, if so; and he could not but hope that all matters would be happily accommodated in a day or two; and that then he should have the pleasure to aver to her uncle, that he was present, as he might say, on our wedding-day.

The women seemed all to join in the same hope.

Ah, Captain! Ah, Ladies! how happy should I be, if I could bring my dear spouse to be of the same mind!

It would be a very happy conclusion of a very knotty affair, said the widow Bevis; and I see not why we may not make this very night a merry one.

The Captain superciliously smiled at me. He saw plainly enough, he said, that we had been at children’s play hitherto. A man of my character, who could give way to such a caprice as this, must have a prodigious value for his lady. But one thing he would venture to tell me; and that was this—that, however desirous young skittish ladies might be to have their way in this particular, it was a very bad setting-out for the man; as it gave his bride a very high proof of the power she had over him: and he would engage, that no woman, thus humoured, ever valued the man the more for it; but very much the contrary—and there were reasons to be given why she should not.

Well, well, Captain, no more of this subject before the ladies.—One feels [shrugging my shoulders in a bashful try-to-blush manner] that one is so ridiculous—I have been punished enough for my tender folly.

Miss Rawlins had taken her fan, and would needs hide her face behind it— I suppose because her blush was not quite ready.

Mrs. Moore hemmed, and looked down; and by that gave her’s over.

While the jolly widow, laughing out, praised the Captain as one of Hudibras’s metaphysicians, repeating,

He knew what’s what, and that’s as high

As metaphysic wit can fly.

This made Miss Rawlins blush indeed:—Fie, fie, Mrs. Bevis! cried she, unwilling, I suppose, to be thought absolutely ignorant.

Upon the whole, I began to think that I had not made a bad exchange of our professing mother, for the unprofessing Mrs. Moore. And indeed the women and I, and my beloved too, all mean the same thing: we only differ about the manner of coming at the proposed end.