Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XXXIX


He begins with communicating to him the letter he wrote to

Mr. Doleman, to procure suitable lodgings in town, and which

he sent away by the Lady’s approbation: and then gives him a

copy of the answer to it (see p. 218): upon which he thus

expresses himself:

Thou knowest the widow; thou knowest her nieces; thou knowest the lodgings: and didst thou ever read a letter more artfully couched than this of Tom Doleman? Every possible objection anticipated! Every accident provided against! Every tittle of it plot-proof!

Who could forbear smiling, to see my charmer, like a farcical dean and chapter, choose what was before chosen for her; and sagaciously (as they go in form to prayers, that Heaven would direct their choice) pondering upon the different proposals, as if she would make me believe she had a mind for some other? The dear sly rogue looking upon me, too, with a view to discover some emotion in me. Emotions I had; but I can tell her that they lay deeper than her eye could reach, though it had been a sun-beam.

No confidence in me, fair one! None at all, ’tis plain. Thou wilt not, if I were inclined to change my views, encourage me by a generous reliance on my honour!—And shall it be said that I, a master of arts in love, shall be overmatched by so unpractised a novice?

But to see the charmer so far satisfied with my contrivance as to borrow my friend’s letter, in order to satisfy Miss Howe likewise—!

Silly little rogues! to walk out into bye-paths on the strength of their own judgment!—When nothing but experience can enable them to disappoint us, and teach them grandmother-wisdom! When they have it indeed, then may they sit down, like so many Cassandras, and preach caution to others; who will as little mind them as they did their instructresses, whenever a fine handsome confidant young fellow, such a one as thou knowest who, comes across them.

But, Belford, didst thou not mind that sly rogue Doleman’s naming Dover-street for the widow’s place of abode?—What dost thou think could be meant by that?—’Tis impossible thou shouldst guess, so, not to puzzle thee about it, suppose the Widow Sinclair’s in Dover-street should be inquired after by some officious person, in order to come at characters [Miss Howe is as sly as the devil, and as busy to the full,] and neither such a name, nor such a house, can be found in that street, nor a house to answer the description; then will not the keenest hunter in England be at a fault?

But how wilt thou do, methinks thou askest, to hinder the lady from resenting the fallacy, and mistrusting thee the more on that account, when she finds it out to be in another street?

Pho! never mind that: either I shall have a way for it, or we shall thoroughly understand one another by that time; or if we don’t, she’ll know enough of me, not to wonder at such a peccadilla.

But how wilt thou hinder the lady from apprizing her friend of the real name?

She must first know it herself, monkey, must she not?

Well, but how wilt thou do to hinder her from knowing the street, and her friend from directing letters thither, which will be the same thing as if the name were known?

Let me alone for that too.

If thou further objectest, that Tom Doleman, is too great a dunce to write such a letter in answer to mine:—Canst thou not imagine that, in order to save honest Tom all this trouble, I who know the town so well, could send him a copy of what he should write, and leave him nothing to do but transcribe?

What now sayest thou to me, Belford?

And suppose I had designed this task of inquiry for thee; and suppose the lady excepted against thee for no other reason in the world, but because of my value for thee? What sayest thou to the lady, Jack?

This it is to have leisure upon my hands!—What a matchless plotter thy friend!—Stand by, and let me swell!—I am already as big as an elephant, and ten times wiser!—Mightier too by far! Have I not reason to snuff the moon with my proboscis?—Lord help thee for a poor, for a very poor creature!—Wonder not that I despise thee heartily; since the man who is disposed immoderately to exalt himself, cannot do it but by despising every body else in proportion.

I shall make good use of the Dolemanic hint of being married. But I will not tell thee all at once. Nor, indeed, have I thoroughly digested that part of my plot. When a general must regulate himself by the motions of a watchful adversary, how can he say beforehand what he will, or what he will not, do?

Widow SINCLAIR, didst thou not say, Lovelace?—

Ay, SINCLAIR, Jack!—Remember the name! SINCLAIR, I repeat. She has no other. And her features being broad and full-blown, I will suppose her to be of Highland extraction; as her husband the colonel [mind that too] was a Scot, as brave, as honest.

I never forget the minutiae in my contrivances. In all matters that admit of doubt, the minutiae, closely attended to and provided for, are of more service than a thousand oaths, vows, and protestations made to supply the neglect of them, especially when jealousy has made its way in the working mind.

Thou wouldst wonder if thou knewest one half of my providences. To give thee but one—I have already been so good as to send up a list of books to be procured for the lady’s closet, mostly at second hand. And thou knowest that the women there are all well read. But I will not anticipate—Besides, it looks as if I were afraid of leaving any thing to my old friend CHANCE; which has many a time been an excellent second to me, and ought not be affronted or despised; especially by one who has the art of making unpromising incidents turn out in his favour.