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MISS HOWE TO MISS CLARISSA HARLOWE.
Tuesday, July 25. SOUR affecting letters were brought to me (as I Ne had directed any letter from you should be) to W the Colonel's, about an hour before we broke up. I could not forbear dipping into them there; and shedding more tears over them than I will tell you of; although I dried my eyes as well as I could, that the company I was obliged to return to, and my mother, should see as little of my concern as possible.
I am yet (and was then still more) excessively fluttered. The occasion I will communicate to you by-and-by: for nothing but the flutters given by the stroke of death could divert my first attention from the sad and solemn contents of your last favour. These therefore I must begin with.
How can I bear the thoughts of losing so dear a friend ! I will not so much as suppose it. Indeed I cannot ! Such a mind as yours was not vested in humanity to be snatched away from us so soon. There must be still a great deal for you to do for the good of all who have the happiness to know you.
You leave it to me, to give a negative to the hopes of the noble family, whose only disgrace is that so very vile a man is so nearly related to them. But yet-Alas! my dear, I am so fearful of consequences, so selfishly fearful, if this negative must be given—I don't know what I should say—But give me leave to suspend, however, this negative till I hear from you again.
This earnest courtship of you into their splendid family is so very honourable to you — they so justly admire you—you must have had such a noble triumph over the base man—he is so much in earnest—the world knows so much of the unhappy affair—you may do still so much good-your will is so inviolate—your relations are so implacable—think, my dear, and re-think.
And let me leave you to do so, while I give you the occasion of the flutter I mentioned at the beginning of this letter; in the conclusion of which you will find the obligation I have consented to lay myself under, to refer this important point once more to your discussion, before I give, in your name, the negative that cannot, when given, be with honour to yourself repented of or recalled.
Know, then, my dear, that I accompanied my mother to Colonel Ambrose's, on the occasion I mentioned to you in my former. Many ladies and gentlemen were there whom you know, particularly Miss Kitty D'Oily, Miss Lloyd, Miss Biddy D’Ollyffe, Miss Biddulph, and their respective admirers, with the colonel's two nieces, fine women both; besides many whom you know not; for they were strangers to me, but by name. A splendid company, and all pleased with one another, till Colonel Ambrose introduced one, who, the moment he was brought into the great hall, set the whole assembly into a kind of agitation.
It was your villain.
I thought I should have sunk as soon as I set my eyes upon him. My mother was also affected ; and, coming to me, Nancy, whispered she, can you bear the sight of that wretch without too much emotion ? If not, withdraw into the next apartment.
I could not remove. Everybody's eyes were glanced from him to me. I sat down and fanned myself, and was forced to order a glass of water.
He entered with an air so hateful to me, but so agreeable to every other eye, that I could have looked him dead for that too.
Miss D'Oily, upon his complimenting her among a knot of ladies, asked him, in their hearing, How Miss Clarissa Harlowe did ?
He heard, he said, you were not so well as he wished you to be, and as you deserved to be.
Oh Mr. Lovelace, said she, what have you to answer for on that young lady's account, if all be true that I have heard ?
I have a great deal to answer for, said the unblushing villain : but that dear lady has so many excellencies, and so much delicacy, that little sins are great ones in her eye.
Little sins ! replied Miss D'Oily; Mr. Lovelace's character is so well known that nobody believes he can commit little sins.
You are very good to me, Miss D'Oily.
Then I am the only person to whom you're not very good ; and so I am the less obliged to you.
He turned with an unconcerned air to Miss Playford, and made her some genteel compliments. I believe you know her not. She visits his cousins Montague. Indeed, he had something in his specious manner to say to everybody; and this too soon quieted the disgust each person had at his entrance.
I still kept my seat, and he either saw me not, or would not yet see me; and addressing himself to my mother, taking her unwilling hand, with an air of high assurance, I am glad to see you here, madam. I hope Miss Howe is well. I have reason to complain greatly of her; but hope to owe to her the highest obligation that can be laid on man.
My daughter, sir, is accustomed to be too warm and too zealous in her friendships for either my tranquillity, or her own.
There had indeed been some late occasion given for mutual displeasure between my mother and me; but I think she might have spared this to him ; though nobody heard it, I believe, but the person to whom it was spoken, and the lady who told it to me; for my mother spoke it low.
We are not wholly, madam, to live for ourselves, said the vile hypocrite. It is not every one who has a soul capable of friendship; and what a heart must that be which can be insensible to the interests of a suffering friend?
This sentiment from Mr. Lovelace's mouth! said my mother. Forgive me, sir, but you can have no end, surely, in endeavouring to make me think as well of you as some innocent creatures have thought of you, to their cost.
She would have flung from him. But detaining her hand. Less severe, dear madam, said he, be less severe, in this place, I beseech you. You will allow that a very faulty person may see his errors ; and when he does, and owns them, and repents, should he not be treated mercifully ?
Your air, sir, seems not to be that of a penitent. But the place may as properly excuse this subject, as what you call my severity.
But, dearest madam, permit me to say, that I hope for your interest with your charming daughter (was his sycophant word) to have it put into my power to convince all the world that there never was a truer penitent. And why, why this anger, dear madam ? (for she struggled to get her hand out of his) these violent airs—so maidenly ! (Impudent fellow !)—may I not ask if Miss Howe be here?
She would not have been here, replied my mother, had she known whom she had been to see.
And is she here, then ?—Thank heaven!-He disengaged her hand, and stepped forward into company.
Dear Miss Lloyd, said he, with an air (taking her hand, as he quitted my mother's), tell me, tell me, is Miss Arabella Harlowe here? Or will she be here? I was informed
she would--and this, and the opportunity of paying my compliments to your friend Miss Howe, were great inducements with me to attend the colonel.
Superlative assurance! Was it not, my dear ?
Miss Arabella Harlowe, excuse me, sir, said Miss Lloyd, would be very little inclined to meet you here, or anywhere else.
Perhaps so, my dear Miss Lloyd ; but, perhaps, for that very reason, I am more desirous to see her.
Miss Harlowe, sir, said Miss Biddulph, with a threatening air, will hardly be here without her brother. I imagine, if one come, both will come.
Heaven grant they both may! said the wretch. Nothing, Miss Biddulph, shall begin from me to disturb this assembly, I assure you, if they do. One calm half-hour's conversation with that brother and sister, would be a most fortunate opportunity to me, in presence of the colonel and his lady, or whom else they should choose.
Then turning round, as if desirous to find out the one or the other, or both, he espied me, and, with a very low bow, approached me.
I was all in a flutter, you may suppose. He would have taken my hand. I refused it, all glowing with indignation : everybody's eyes upon us.
I went from him to the other end of the room, and sat down, as I thought, out of his hated sight: but presently I heard his odious voice, whispering, behind my chair (he leaning upon the back of it, with impudent unconcern) Charming Miss Howe! looking over my shoulder : one request-I started up from my seat; but could hardly stand neither, for very indignation—0) this sweet, but becoming disdain! whispered on the insufferable creatureI am sorry to give you all this emotion : but either here, or at your own house, let me entreat from you one quarter of an hour's audience. I beseech you, madam, but one quarter of an hour, in any of the adjoining apartments.