Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XXX

MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE, TO MISS HOWE MONDAY AFTERNOON, MAY 15.

Now indeed it is evident, my best, my only friend, that I have but one choice to make. And now I do find that I have carried my resentment against this man too far; since now I am to appear as if under an obligation to his patience with me for a conduct, which perhaps he will think (if not humoursome and childish) plainly demonstrative of my little esteem of him; of but a secondary esteem at least, where before, his pride, rather than his merit, had made him expect a first. O my dear! to be cast upon a man that is not a generous man; that is indeed a cruel man! a man that is capable of creating a distress to a young creature, who, by her evil destiny is thrown into his power; and then of enjoying it, as I may say! [I verily think I may say so, of this savage!]—What a fate is mine!

You give me, my dear, good advice, as to the peremptory manner in which I ought to treat him: But do you consider to whom it is that you give it?— And then should I take it, and should he be capable of delay, I unprotected, desolate, nobody to fly to, in what a wretched light must I stand in his eyes; and, what is still as bad, in my own! O my dear, see you not, as I do, that the occasion for this my indelicate, my shocking situation should never have been given by me, of all creatures; since I am unequal, utterly unequal, to the circumstances to which my inconsideration has reduced me?—What! I to challenge a man for a husband!—I to exert myself to quicken the delayer in his resolutions! and, having as you think lost an opportunity, to begin to try to recall it, as from myself, and for myself! to threaten him, as I may say, into the marriage state!—O my dear! if this be right to be done, how difficult is it, where modesty and self (or where pride, if you please) is concerned, to do that right? or, to express myself in your words, to be father, mother, uncle, to myself!—especially where one thinks a triumph over one is intended.

You say, you have tried Mrs. Norton’s weight with my mother—bad as the returns are which my application by Mr. Hickman has met with, you tell me, ’that you have not acquainted me with all the bad, nor now, perhaps, ever will.’ But why so, my dear? What is the bad, what can be the bad, which now you will never tell me of?—What worse, than renounce me! and for ever! ’My uncle, you say, believes me ruined: he declares that he can believe every thing bad of a creature who could run away with a man: and they have all made a resolution not to stir an inch in my favour; no, not to save my life!’—Have you worse than this, my dear, behind?—Surely my father has not renewed his dreadful malediction!—Surely, if so, my mother has not joined in it! Have my uncles given their sanction, and made it a family act? And themselves thereby more really faulty, than ever THEY suppose me to be, though I the cause of that greater fault in them?—What, my dear, is the worst, that you will leave for ever unrevealed?

O Lovelace! why comest thou not just now, while these black prospects are before me? For now, couldst thou look into my heart, wouldst thou see a distress worthy of thy barbarous triumph!

***

I was forced to quit my pen. And you say you have tried Mrs. Norton’s weight with my mother?

What is done cannot be remedied: but I wish you had not taken a step of this importance to me without first consulting me. Forgive me, my dear, but I must tell you that that high-soul’d and noble friendship which you have ever avowed with so obliging and so uncommon a warmth, although it has been always the subject of my grateful admiration, has been often the ground of my apprehension, because of its unbridled fervour.

Well, but now to look forward, you are of opinion that I must be his: and that I cannot leave him with reputation to myself, whether with or without his consent. I must, if so, make the best of the bad matter.

He went out in the morning; intending not to return to dinner, unless (as he sent me word) I would admit him to dine with me.

I excused myself. The man, whose anger is now to be of such high importance to me, was, it seems, displeased.

As he (as well as I) expected that I should receive a letter from you this day by Collins, I suppose he will not be long before he returns; and then, possibly, he is to be mighty stately, mighty mannish, mighty coy, if you please! And then must I be very humble, very submissive, and try to insinuate myself into his good graces: with downcast eye, if not by speech, beg his forgiveness for the distance I have so perversely kept him at?—Yes, I warrant!—But I shall see how this behaviour will sit upon me!—You have always rallied me upon my meekness, I think: well then, I will try if I can be still meeker, shall I!—O my dear!—

But let me sit with my hands before me, all patience, all resignation; for I think I hear him coming up. Or shall I roundly accost him, in the words, in the form, which you, my dear, prescribed?

He is come in. He has sent to me, all impatience, as Dorcas says, by his aspect.—But I cannot, cannot see him!

MONDAY NIGHT.

The contents of your letter, and my own heavy reflections, rendered me incapable of seeing this expecting man. The first word he asked Dorcas, was, If I had received a letter since he had been out? She told me this; and her answer, that I had; and was fasting, and had been in tears ever since.

He sent to desire an interview with me.

I answered by her, That I was not very well. In the morning, if better, I would see him as soon as he pleased.

Very humble! was it not, my dear? Yet he was too royal to take it for humility; for Dorcas told me, he rubbed one side of his face impatiently; and said a rash word, and was out of humour; stalking about the room.

Half an hour later, he sent again; desiring very earnestly, that I should admit him to supper with me. He would enter upon no subjects of conversation but what I should lead to.

So I should have been at liberty, you see, to court him!

I again desired to be excused.

Indeed, my dear, my eyes were swelled: I was very low spirited; and could not think of entering all at once, after the distance I had kept him at for several days, into the freedom of conversation which the utter rejection I have met with from my relations, as well as your advice, has made necessary.

He sent up to tell me, that as he heard I was fasting, if I would promise to eat some chicken which Mrs. Sinclair had ordered for supper, he would acquiesce.—Very kind in his anger! Is he not?

I promised that I would. Can I be more preparatively condescending?—How happy, I’ll warrant, if I may meet him in a kind and forgiving humour!

I hate myself! But I won’t be insulted. Indeed I won’t, for all this.