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But, Mr. Hickman, 'tis part of mine. I hope you would not expect, that I should answer your questions, at the same time that you refuse to answer mine. What, pray, have you further heard?
Why then, sir, if I must say, I am told, that Miss Harlowe was carried to a very bad house.
Why, indeed, the people did not prove so good as they should be.—What further have you heard?
I have heard, sir, that the lady had strange advantages taken of her, very unfair ones : but what I cannot say.
And cannot you say? Cannot you guess?— Then I'll tell you, sir. Perhaps some liberty was taken with her when she was asleep. Do you think no lady ever was taken at such an advantage ?— You know, Mr. Hickman, that ladies are very shy of trusting themselves with the modestest of our sex, when they are disposed to sleep ; and why so, if they did not expect that advantages would be taken of them at such times?
But, sir, had not the lady something given her to make her sleep?
Ay, Mr. Hickman, that's the question: I want to know if the lady says she had?
I have not seen all she has written ; but by what J have heard, it is a very black affair—excuse me, sir.
I do excuse you, Mr. Hickman: but, supposing it were so, do you think a lady was never imposed upon by wine, or so ?—Do you think the most cautious woman in the world might not be cheated by a stronger liquor for a smaller, when she was thirsty, after a fatigue in this very warm weather! And do you think, if she was thus thrown into a profound sleep, that she is the only lady that ever was taken at such advantage?
Even as you make it, Mr. Lovelace, this matter if not a light one. But I fear it is a great deal heavier than as you put it.
What reasons have you to fear this, sir? What has the lady said? Pray let me know, I have reason to be so earnest.
Why, sir, Miss Howe herself knows not the whole. The lady promises to give her all the particulars at a proper time, if she lives; but has said enough to make it out to be a very bad affair.
I am glad Miss Harlowe has not yet given all the particulars. And since she has not, you may tell Miss Howe from me, that neither she nor any woman in the world can be more virtuous than Miss Harlowe is to this hour, as to her own mind. Tell her that I hope she never will know the particulars; but that she has been unworthily used: tell her, that though I know not what she has said, yet I have such an opinion of her veracity, that I would blindly subscribe to the truth of every tittle of it, though it make me ever so black. Tell her, that I have but three things to blame her for: one, that she won't give me an opportunity of repairing her wrongs: the second, that she is so ready to acquaint every body with what she has suffered, that it will put it out of my power to redress those wrongs, with any tolerable reputation to either of us. Will this, Mr. Hickman, answer any part of the intentions of this visit?
Why, sir, this is talking like a man of honour, I own. But you say there is a third thing you blame the lady for: may I ask what that is?
I don't know, sir, whether I ought to tell it you, or not. Perhaps you won't believe it, if I do. But though the lady will tell the truth, and nothing but the truth; yet, perhaps, she will not tell you the whole truth.
Pray, sir—but it mayn't be proper:—yet you ive me great curiosity. Sure there is no misconuct in the lady. I hope there is not. I am sure, if Miss Howe did not believe her to be faultless in every particular, she would not interest herself so much in her favour as she does, dearly as she loves her.
I love Miss Harlowe too well, Mr. Hickman, to wish to lessen her in Miss Howe's opinion; especially as she is abandoned of every other friend. But, perhaps, it would hardly be credited, if I should tell you.
I should be very sorry, sir, and so would Miss Howe, if this poor lady's conduct had laid her under obligation to you for this reserve.—You have so much the appearance of a gentleman, as well as are so much distinguished in your family and fortunes, that I hope you are incapable of loading such a young lady as this, in order to lighten yourself. Excuse me, sir.
I do, I do, Mr. Hickman. You say you came not with any intention to affront me. I take freedom, and I give it. I should be very loth, I repeat, to say any thing that may weaken Miss Harlowe in the good opinion of the only friend she thinks she has left.
It may not be proper, said he, for me to know your third article against this unhappy lady: but I never heard of an)' body, out of her own implacable family, that had the least doubt of her honour. Mrs. Howe, indeed, once said, after a conference with one of her uncles, that she feared all was not right on her side—but else, I never heard—
Oons, sir, in a fierce tone, and with an erect mien, stopping short upon him, which made him start back—'Tis next to blasphemy to question this lady's honour. She is more pure than a vestal; for vestals have been .often warmed by their own fires. No age, from the first to the present, ever produced, nor will the future, to the end of the world, I dare aver, ever produce, a young blooming lad}', tried as she has been tried, who has stood all trials as she has done.—Let me tell you, sir, that you never saw, never knew, never heard of,' such another woman, as Miss Harlowe.
Sir, sir, I beg your pardon. Far be it from me to question the lady. You have not heard me say, a word, that could be so construed. I have the utmost honour for her. Miss Howe loves her, as she loves her own soul; and that she would not do, if she were not sure she were as virtuous as herself.
As herself, sir!—I have a high opinion of Miss Howe, sir—but, I dare say—
What, sir, dare you say of Miss Howe!—I hope, sir, you will not presume to say any thing to the disparagement of Miss Howe.
Presume, Mr. Hickman!—That is presuming language, let me tell you, Mr. Hickman!
The occasion for it, Mr. Lovelace, if designed, is presuming, if you please.—I am not a man ready to take offence, sir—especially where I am employed as a mediator. But no man breathing shall say disparaging things of Miss Howe, in my hearing, without observation.
Well said, Mr. Hickman. I dislike not your spirit on such a supposed occasion. But what I was going to say is this. That there is not, in my opinion, a woman in the world, who ought to compare herself with Miss Clarissa Harlowe till she has stood her trials, and has behaved under them, and after them, as she has done. You see, sir, I speak against myself. You see I do. For, libertine as I am thought to be, I never will attempt to bring down the measures of right and wrong to the standard of my actions.
Well, sir, this is very right. It is very noble, I will say. But 'tis pity—excuse me, sir—'tis pity, that the man who can pronounce so fine a sentence, will not square his actions accordingly.
That, Mr. Hickman, is another point. We all err in some things. I wish not that Miss Howe should have Miss Harlowe's trials: and I rejoice that she is in no danger of any such from so good a man.
(Poor Hickman!—He looked as if he knew not whether I meant a compliment or a reflection !)
But, proceeded I, since I find that I have excited your curiosity, that you may not go away with a doubt that may be injurious to the most admirable of women, I am inclined to hint to you, what I have in the third place to blame her for.
Sir, as you please—it may not be proper— It cannot be very improper, Mr. Hickman—so let me ask you, what would Miss Howe think, if her friend is the more determined against me, because she thinks (in revenge to me, I verily believe that!) of encouraging another lover?
How, sir!—Sure this cannot be the case;—I can tell you, sir, if Miss Howe thought this, she would not approve of it at all: for little as you think. Miss Howe likes you, sir, and little as she approves . of your actions by her friend, I know she is of opinion, that she ought to have nobody living but you: and should continue single all her life, if she be .not yours.
Revenge and obstinacy, Mr. Hickman, will make women, the best of them, do very unaccountable things. Rather than not put out both eyes of the man they are offended with, they will give up one of their own.
I don't know what to say to this, sir: but, sure