Clarissa Harlowe LETTER XII


A letter received from the worthy Captain Tomlinson has introduced me into the presence of my charmer sooner than perhaps I should otherwise have been admitted.

Sullen her brow, at her first entrance into the dining-room. But I took no notice of what had passed, and her anger of itself subsided.

’The Captain, after letting me know that he chose not to write till he had promised the draught of the settlements, acquaint me, that his friend Mr. John Harlowe, in their first conference (which was held as soon as he got down) was extremely surprised, and even grieved (as he feared he would be) to hear that we were not married. The world, he said, who knew my character, would be very censorious, were it owned, that we had lived so long together unmarried in the same lodgings; although our marriage were now to be ever so publicly celebrated.

’His nephew James, he was sure, would make a great handle of it against any motion that might be made towards a reconciliation; and with the greater success, as there was not a family in the kingdom more jealous of their honour than theirs.’

This is true of the Harlowes, Jack: they have been called The proud Harlowes: and I have ever found, that all young honour is supercilious and touchy.

But seest thou not how right I was in my endeavour to persuade my fair- one to allow her uncle’s friend to think us married; especially as he came prepared to believe it; and as her uncle hoped it was so?—But nothing on earth is so perverse as a woman, when she is set upon carrying a point, and has a meek man, or one who loves his peace, to deal with.

My beloved was vexed. She pulled out her handkerchief: but was more inclined to blame me than herself.

Had you kept your word, Mr. Lovelace, and left me when we came to town—And there she stopt; for she knew, that it was her own fault that we were not married before we left the country; and how could I leave her afterwards, while her brother was plotting to carry her off by violence?

Nor has this brother yet given over his machinations.

For, as the Captain proceeds, ’Mr. John Harlowe owned to him (but in confidence) that his nephew is at this time busied in endeavouring to find out where we are; being assured (as I am not to be heard of at any of my relations, or at my usual lodgings) that we are together. And that we are not married is plain, as he will have it, from Mr. Hickman’s application so lately made to her uncle; and which was seconded by Mrs. Norton to her mother. And her brother cannot bear that I should enjoy such a triumph unmolested.’

A profound sigh, and the handkerchief again lifted to the eye. But did not the sweet soul deserve this turn upon her, for feloniously resolving to rob me of herself, had the application made by Hickman succeeded?

I read on to the following effect:

’Why (asked Mr. Harlowe) was it said to his other inquiring friend, that we were married; and that by his niece’s woman, who ought to know? who could give convincing reasons, no doubt’—

Here again she wept; took a turn across the room; then returned—Read on, says she—

Will you, my dearest life, read it yourself?

I will take the letter with me, by-and-by—I cannot see to read it just now, wiping her eyes—read on—let me hear it all—that I may know your sentiments upon this letter, as well as give my own.

’The Captain then told uncle John the reasons that induced me to give out that we were married; and the conditions on which my beloved was brought to countenance it; which had kept us at the most punctilious distance.

’But still Mr. Harlowe objected my character. And went away dissatisfied. And the Captain was also so much concerned, that he cared not to write what the result of his first conference was.

’But in the next, which was held on receipt of the draughts, at the Captain’s house, (as the former was, for the greater secrecy,) when the old gentleman had read them, and had the Captain’s opinion, he was much better pleased. And yet he declared, that it would not be easy to persuade any other person of his family to believe so favourably of the matter, as he was now willing to believe, were they to know that we had lived so long together unmarried.

’And then the Captain says, his dear friend made a proposal:—It was this—That we should marry out of hand, but as privately as possible, as indeed he found we intended, (for he could have no objection to the draughts)—but yet, he expected to have present one trusty friend of his own, for his better satisfaction’—

Here I stopt, with a design to be angry—but she desiring me to read on, I obeyed.

’—But that it should pass to every one living, except to that trusty person, to himself, and to the Captain, that we were married from the time that we had lived together in one house; and that this time should be made to agree with that of Mr. Hickman’s application to him from Miss Howe.’

This, my dearest life, said I, is a very considerate proposal. We have nothing to do but to caution the people below properly on this head. I did not think your uncle Harlowe capable of hitting upon such a charming expedient as this. But you see how much his heart is in the reconciliation.

This was the return I met with—You have always, as a mark of your politeness, let me know how meanly you think of every one in my family.

Yet thou wilt think, Belford, that I could forgive her for the reproach.

’The Captain does not know, says he, how this proposal will be relished by us. But for his part, he thinks it an expedient that will obviate many difficulties, and may possibly put an end to Mr. James Harlowe’s further designs: and on this account he has, by the uncle’s advice, already declared to two several persons, by whose means it may come to that young gentleman’s, that he [Captain Tomlinson] has very great reason to believe that we were married soon after Mr. Hickman’s application was rejected.

’And this, Mr. Lovelace, (says the Captain,) will enable you to pay a compliment to the family, that will not be unsuitable to the generosity of some of the declarations you were pleased to make to the lady before me, (and which Mr. John Harlowe may make some advantage of in favour of a reconciliation,) in that you were entitled to make the demand.’ An excellent contriver, surely, she must think this worthy Mr. Tomlinson to be!

But the Captain adds, ’that if either the lady or I disapprove of his report of our marriage, he will retract it. Nevertheless, he must tell me, that Mr. John Harlowe is very much set upon this way of proceeding; as the only one, in his opinion, capable of being improved into a general reconciliation. But if we do acquiesce in it, he beseeches my fair-one not to suspend my day, that he may be authorized in what he says, as to the truth of the main fact. [How conscientious this good man!] Nor must it be expected, he says, that her uncle will take one step towards the wished-for reconciliation, till the solemnity is actually over.’

He adds, ’that he shall be very soon in town on other affairs; and then proposes to attend us, and give us a more particular account of all that has passed, or shall further pass, between Mr. Harlowe and him.’

Well, my dearest life, what say you to your uncle’s expedient? Shall I write to the Captain, and acquaint him, that we have no objection to it?

She was silent for a few minutes. At last, with a sigh, See, Mr. Lovelace, said she, what you have brought me to, by treading after you in such crooked paths!—See what disgrace I have incurred!—Indeed you have not acted like a wise man.

My beloved creature, do you not remember, how earnestly I besought the honour of your hand before we came to town?—Had I been then favoured—

Well, well, Sir; there has been much amiss somewhere; that’s all I will say at present. And since what’s past cannot be recalled, my uncle must be obeyed, I think.

Charmingly dutiful!—I had nothing then to do, that I might not be behind-hand with the worthy Captain and her uncle, but to press for the day. This I fervently did. But (as I might have expected) she repeated her former answer; to wit, That when the settlements were completed; when the license was actually obtained; it would be time enough to name the day: and, O Mr. Lovelace, said she, turning from me with a grace inimitably tender, her handkerchief at her eyes, what a happiness, if my dear uncle could be prevailed upon to be personally a father, on this occasion, to the poor fatherless girl!

What’s the matter with me!—Whence this dew-drop!—A tear!—As I hope to be saved, it is a tear, Jack!—Very ready methinks!—Only on reciting!—But her lovely image was before me, in the very attitude she spoke the words—and indeed at the time she spoke them, these lines of Shakespeare came into my head:

Thy heart is big. Get thee apart and weep!

Passion, I see, is catching:—For my eye,

Seeing those beads of sorrow stand in thine,

Begin to water—

I withdrew, and wrote to the Captain to the following effect—’I desired that he would be so good as to acquaint his dear friend that we entirely acquiesced with what he had proposed; and had already properly cautioned the gentlewomen of the house, and their servants, as well as our own: and to tell him, That if he would in person give me the blessing of his dear niece’s hand, it would crown the wishes of both. In this case, I consented, that his own day, as I presumed it would be a short one, should be ours: that by this means the secret would be with fewer persons: that I myself, as well as he, thought the ceremony could not be too privately performed; and this not only for the sake of the wise end he had proposed to answer by it, but because I would not have Lord M. think himself slighted; since that nobleman, as I had told him [the Captain] had once intended to be our nuptial-father; and actually made the offer; but that we had declined to accept of it, and that for no other reason than to avoid a public wedding; which his beloved niece would not come into, while she was in disgrace with her friends. But that if he chose not to do us this honour, I wished that Captain Tomlinson might be the trusty person whom he would have be present on the happy occasion.’

I showed this letter to my fair-one. She was not displeased with it. So, Jack, we cannot now move too fast, as to settlements and license: the day is her uncle’s day, or Captain Tomlinson’s, perhaps, as shall best suit the occasion. Miss Howe’s smuggling scheme is now surely provided against in all events.

But I will not by anticipation make thee a judge of all the benefits that may flow from this my elaborate contrivance. Why will these girls put me upon my master-strokes?

And now for a little mine which I am getting ready to spring. The first that I have sprung, and at the rate I go on (now a resolution, and now a remorse) perhaps the last that I shall attempt to spring.

A little mine, I call it. But it may be attended with great effects. I shall not, however, absolutely depend upon the success of it, having much more effectual ones in reserve. And yet great engines are often moved by small springs. A little spark falling by accident into a powder-magazine, hath done more execution in a siege, than an hundred cannon.

Come the worst, the hymeneal torch, and a white sheet, must be my amende honorable, as the French have it.