Evelina, by Fanny Burney

Letter xii

Evelina in Continuation

Tuesday, April 5.

THERE is to be no end to the troubles of last night. I have this moment, between persuasion and laughter, gathered from Maria the most curious dialogue that ever I heard. You will at first be startled at my vanity; but, my dear Sir, have patience!

It must have passed while I was sitting with Mrs. Mirvan, in the card-room. Maria was taking some refreshment, and saw Lord Orville advancing for the same purpose himself; but he did not know her, though she immediately recollected him. Presently after, a very gay-looking man, stepping hastily up to him cried, “Why, my Lord, what have you done with your lovely partner?”

“Nothing!” answered Lord Orville with a smile and a shrug.

“By Jove,” cried the man, “she is the most beautiful creature I ever saw in my life!”

Lord Orville, as he well might, laughed; but answered, “Yes, a pretty modest-looking girl.”

“O my Lord!” cried the madman, “she is an angel!”

“A silent one,” returned he.

“Why ay, my Lord, how stands she as to that? She looks all intelligence and expression.”

“A poor weak girl!” answered Lord Orville, shaking his head.

“By Jove,” cried the other, “I am glad to hear it!”

At that moment, the same odious creature who had been my former tormentor, joined them. Addressing Lord Orville with great respect, he said, “I beg pardon, my Lord — if I was — as I fear might be the case — rather too severe in my censure of the lady who is honoured with your protection — but, my Lord, ill-breeding is apt to provoke a man.”

“Ill-breeding!” cried my unknown champion, “impossible! that elegant face can never be so vile a mask!”

“O Sir, as to that,” answered he, “you must allow me to judge; for though I pay all deference to your opinion — in other things — yet I hope you will grant — and I appeal to your Lordship also — that I am not totally despicable as a judge of good or ill-manners.”

“I was so wholly ignorant,” said Lord Orville, gravely, “of the provocation you might have had, that I could not but be surprised at your singular resentment.”

“It was far from my intention,” answered he, “to offend your lordship; but, really, for a person who is nobody, to give herself such airs — I own I could not command my passion. For, my Lord, though I have made diligent inquiry — I cannot learn who she is.”

“By what I can make out,” cried my defender, “she must be a country parson’s daughter.”

“He! he! he! very good, ‘pon honour!” cried the fop; —“well, so I could have sworn by her manners.”

And then, delighted at his own wit, he laughed, and went away, as I suppose, to repeat it.

“But what the deuce is all this?” demanded the other.

“Why a very foolish affair,” answered Lord Orville; “your Helen first refused this coxcomb, and then — danced with me. This is all I can gather of it.”

“O, Orville,” returned he, “you are a happy man! — But ill-bred? — I can never believe it! And she looks too sensible to be ignorant.”

“Whether ignorant or mischievous, I will not pretend to determine; but certain it is, she attended to all I could say to her, though I have really fatigued myself with fruitless endeavours to entertain her, with the most immovable gravity; but no sooner did Lovel begin his complaint, than she was seized with a fit of laughing, first affronting the poor beau, and then enjoying his mortification.”

“Ha! ha! ha! why there is some genius in that, my Lord, perhaps rather — rustic.”

Here Maria was called to dance, and so heard no more.

Now, tell me, my dear Sir, did you ever know any thing more provoking? “A poor weak girl!” “ignorant or mischievous!” What mortifying words! I am resolved, however, that I will never again be tempted to go to an assembly. I wish I had been in Dorsetshire.

Well, after this, you will not be surprised that Lord Orville contented himself with an inquiry after our healths this morning, by his servant, without troubling himself to call, as Miss Mirvan had told me he would; but perhaps it may be only a country custom.

I would not live here for the world. I care not how soon we leave town. London soon grows tiresome. I wish the Captain would come. Mrs. Mirvan talks of the opera for this evening; however, I am very indifferent about it.

Wednesday Morning.

Well, my dear Sir, I have been pleased against my will, I could almost say; for I must own I went out in very ill humour, which I think you cannot wonder at: but the music and the singing were charming; they soothed me into a pleasure the most grateful, the best suited to my present disposition in the world. I hope to persuade Mrs. Mirvan to go again on Saturday. I wish the opera was every night. It is, of all entertainments, the sweetest and most delightful. Some of the songs seemed to melt my very soul. It was what they call a serious opera, as the comic first singer was ill.

To-night we go to Ranelagh. If any of those three gentlemen who conversed so freely about me should be there — but I won’t think of it.

Thursday Morning.

Well, my dear Sir, we went to Ranelagh. It is a charming place; and the brilliancy of the lights, on my first entrance, made me almost think I was in some enchanted castle or fairy palace, for all looked like magic to me.

The very first person I saw was Lord Orville. I felt so confused! — but he did not see me. After tea, Mrs. Mirvan being tired, Maria and I walked round the room alone. Then again we saw him, standing by the orchestra. We, too, stopt to hear a singer. He bowed to me; I courtesied, and I am sure I coloured. We soon walked on, not liking our situation; however, he did not follow us; and when we passed by the orchestra again, he was gone. Afterwards, in the course of the evening, we met him several times; but he was always with some party, and never spoke to us, though whenever he chanced to meet my eyes, he condescended to bow.

I cannot but be hurt at the opinion he entertains of me. It is true my own behaviour incurred it — yet he is himself the most agreeable, and, seemingly, the most amiable man in the world, and therefore it is that I am grieved to be thought ill of by him: for of whose esteem ought we to be ambitious, if not of those who most merit our own? — But it is too late to reflect upon this now. Well I can’t help it. — However, I think I have done with assemblies.

This morning was destined for seeing sights, auctions, curious shops, and so forth; but my head ached, and I was not in a humour to be amused, and so I made them go without me, though very unwillingly. They are all kindness.

And now I am sorry I did not accompany them, for I know not what to do with myself. I had resolved not to go to the play to-night; but I believe I shall. In short, I hardly care whether I do or not.

* * * *

I thought I had done wrong! Mrs. Mirvan and Maria have been half the town over, and so entertained! — while I, like a fool, staid at home to do nothing. And, at the auction in Pall-mall, who should they meet but Lord Orville. He sat next to Mrs. Mirvan, and they talked a great deal together; but she gave me no account of the conversation.

I may never have such another opportunity of seeing London; I am quite sorry that I was not of the party; but I deserve this mortification, for having indulged my ill-humour.

Thursday Night.

We are just returned from the play, which was King Lear, and has made me very sad. We did not see any body we knew.

Well, adieu, it is too late to write more.

Friday.

Captain Mirvan is arrived. I have not spirits to give an account of his introduction, for he has really shocked me. I do not like him. He seems to be surly, vulgar, and disagreeable.

Almost the same moment that Maria was presented to him, he began some rude jests upon the bad shape of her nose, and called her a tall ill-formed thing. She bore it with the utmost good-humour; but that kind and sweet-tempered woman, Mrs. Mirvan, deserved a better lot. I am amazed she would marry him.

For my own part, I have been so shy, that I have hardly spoken to him, or he to me. I cannot imagine why the family was so rejoiced at his return. If he had spent his whole life abroad, I should have supposed they might rather have been thankful than sorrowful. However, I hope they do not think so ill of him as I do. At least, I am sure they have too much prudence to make it known.

Saturday Night.

We have been to the opera, and I am still more pleased than I was on Tuesday. I could have thought myself in Paradise, but for the continual talking of the company around me. We sat in the pit, where every body was dressed in so high a style, that if I had been less delighted with the performance, my eyes would have found me sufficient entertainment from looking at the ladies.

I was very glad I did not sit next the Captain; for he could not bear the music or singers, and was extremely gross in his observations of both. When the opera was over, we went into a place called the coffee-room where ladies, as well as gentlemen, assemble. There are all sorts of refreshments, and the company walk about, and chat with the same ease and freedom as in a private room.

On Monday we go to a ridotto, and on Wednesday we return to Howard Grove. The Captain says he won’t stay here to be smoked with filth any longer; but, having been seven years smoked with a burning sun, he will retire to the country, and sink into a fair weather chap. Adieu, my dear Sir.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32