Evelina, by Fanny Burney

Letter xiii

Evelina in Continuation

Tuesday, April 12.

My dear Sir,

WE came home from the ridotto so late, or rather so early that it was not possible for me to write. Indeed, we did not go — you will be frightened to hear it — till past eleven o’clock: but no body does. A terrible reverse of the order of nature! We sleep with the sun, and wake with the moon.

The room was very magnificent, the lights and decorations were brilliant, and the company gay and splendid. But I should have told you, that I made many objections to being of the party, according to the resolution I had formed. However, Maria laughed me out of my scruples, and so once again I went to an assembly.

Miss Mirvan danced a minuet; but I had not the courage to follow her example. In our walks I saw Lord Orville. He was quite alone, but did not observe us. Yet, as he seemed of no party, I thought it was not impossible that he might join us; and though I did not wish much to dance at all — yet, as I was more acquainted with him than with any other person in the room, I must own I could not help thinking it would be infinitely more desirable to dance again with him than with an entire stranger. To be sure, after all that had passed, it was very ridiculous to suppose it even probable that Lord Orville would again honour me with his choice; yet I am compelled to confess my absurdity, by way of explaining what follows.

Miss Mirvan was soon engaged; and presently after a very fashionable gay looking man, who seemed about thirty years of age, addressed himself to me, and begged to have the honour of dancing with me. Now Maria’s partner was a gentleman of Mrs. Mirvan’s acquaintance; for she had told us it was highly improper for young women to dance with strangers at any public assembly. Indeed it was by no means my wish so to do: yet I did not like to confine myself from dancing at all; neither did I dare refuse this gentleman as I had done Mr. Lovel, and then, if any acquaintance should offer, accept him: and so, all these reasons combining, induced me to tell him — yet I blush to write it to you! — that I was already engaged; by which I meant to keep myself at liberty to a dance, or not, as matters should fall out.

I suppose my consciousness betrayed my artifice, for he looked at me as if incredulous; and, instead of being satisfied with my answer and leaving me, according to my expectation, he walked at my side, and, with the greatest ease imaginable, began a conversation in the free style which only belongs to old and intimate acquaintance. But, what was most provoking, he asked me a thousand questions concerning the partner to whom I was engaged. And at last he said, “Is it really possible that a man whom you have honoured with your acceptance can fail to be at hand to profit from your goodness?”

I felt extremely foolish; and begged Mrs. Mirvan to lead to a seat; which she very obligingly did. The Captain sat next her; and to my great surprise, this gentleman thought proper to follow, and seat himself next to me.

“What an insensible!” continued he; “why, Madam, you are missing the most delightful dance in the world! — The man must be either mad or a fool — Which do you incline to think him yourself?”

“Neither, Sir,” answered I, in some confusion.

He begged my pardon for the freedom of his supposition, saying, “I really was off my guard, from astonishment that any man can be so much and so unaccountably his own enemy. But where, Madam, can he possibly be! — has he left the room! — or has not he been in it?”

“Indeed, Sir,” said I peevishly, “I know nothing of him.”

“I don’t wonder that you are disconcerted, Madam; it is really very provoking. The best part of the evening will be absolutely lost. He deserves not that you should wait for him.”

“I do not, Sir,” said I, “and I beg you not to —”

“Mortifying, indeed, Madam,” interrupted he, “a lady to wait for a gentleman! — O fie! — careless fellow! — What can detain him? — Will you give me leave to seek him?”

“If you please, Sir,” answered I; quite terrified lest Mrs. Mirvan should attend to him; for she looked very much surprised at seeing me enter into conversation with a stranger.

“With all my heart,” cried he; “pray, what coat has he on?”

“Indeed I never looked at it.”

“Out upon him!” cried he; “What! did he address you in a coat not worth looking at? — What a shabby wretch!”

How ridiculous! I really could not help laughing, which I fear encouraged him, for he went on.

“Charming creature! — and can you really bear ill usage with so much sweetness? Can you, like patience on a monument, smile in the midst of disappointment? For my part, though I am not the offended person, my indignation is so great, that I long to kick the fellow round the room! — unless, indeed — (hesitating and looking earnestly at me,) unless, indeed — it is a partner of your own creating?”

I was dreadfully abashed, and could not make an answer.

“But no!” cried he (again, and with warmth,) “It cannot be that you are so cruel! Softness itself is painted in your eyes. — You could not, surely, have the barbarity so wantonly to trifle with my misery.”

I turned away from this nonsense with real disgust, Mrs. Mirvan saw my confusion, but was perplexed what to think of it, and I could not explain to her the cause, lest the Captain should hear me. I therefore proposed to walk; she consented, and we all rose; but, would you believe it? this man had the assurance to rise too, and walk close by my side, as if of my party!

“Now,” cried he, “I hope we shall see this ingrate. — Is that he?”— pointing to an old man who was lame, “or that?” And in this manner he asked me of whoever was old or ugly in the room. I made no sort of answer: and when he found that I was resolutely silent, and walked on as much as I could without observing him, he suddenly stamped his foot, and cried out in a passion, “Fool! idiot! booby!”

I turned hastily toward him: “O, Madam,” continued he, “forgive my vehemence; but I am distracted to think there should exist a wretch who can slight a blessing for which I would forfeit my life! — O that I could but meet him, I would soon — But I grow angry: pardon me, Madam, my passions are violent, and your injuries affect me!”

I began to apprehend he was a madman, and stared at him with the utmost astonishment. “I see you are moved, Madam,” said he; “generous creature! — but don’t be alarmed, I am cool again, I am indeed — upon my soul I am; — I entreat you, most lovely of mortals! I intreat you to be easy.”

“Indeed, Sir,” said I very seriously, “I must insist upon your leaving me; you are quite a stranger to me, and I am both unused, and averse to your language and your manners.”

This seemed to have some effect on him. He made me a low bow, begged my pardon, and vowed he would not for the world offend me.

“Then, Sir, you must leave me,” cried I. “I am gone, Madam, I am gone!” with a most tragical air; and he marched away at a quick pace, out of sight in a moment; but before I had time to congratulate myself, he was again at my elbow.

“And could you really let me go, and not be sorry? — Can you see me suffer torments inexpressible, and yet retain all your favour for that miscreant who flies you? — Ungrateful puppy! — I could bastinado him!”

“For Heaven’s sake, my dear,” cried Mrs. Mirvan, “who is he talking of?”

“Indeed — I do not know, Madam,” said I; “but I wish he would leave me.”

“What’s all that there?” cried the Captain.

The man made a low bow, and said, “Only, Sir, a slight objection which this young lady makes to dancing with me, and which I am endeavouring to obviate. I shall think myself greatly honoured if you will intercede for me.”

“That lady, Sir,” said the Captain coldly, “is her own mistress.” And he walked sullenly on.

“You, Madam,” said the man (who looked delighted, to Mrs. Mirvan), “You, I hope, will have the goodness to speak for me.”

“Sir,” answered she gravely, “I have not the pleasure of being acquainted with you.”

“I hope when you have, Ma’am,” cried he, undaunted, “you will honour me with your approbation: but, while I am yet unknown to you, it would be truly generous in you to countenance me; and I flatter myself, Madam, that you will not have cause to repent it.”

Mrs. Mirvan, with an embarrassed air, replied, “I do not at all mean, Sir, to doubt your being a gentleman — but —”

“But what, Madam? — that doubt removed, why a but?”

“Well, Sir,” said Mrs. Mirvan (with a good humoured smile), “I will even treat you with your own plainness, and try what effect that will have on you: I must therefore tell you, once for all —”

“O pardon me, Madam!” interrupted he, eagerly, “you must not proceed with those words once for all; no, if I have been too plain, and though a man, deserve a rebuke, remember, dear ladies that if you copy, you ought in justice to excuse me.”

We both stared at the man’s strange behaviour.

“Be nobler than your sex,” continued he, turning to me, “honour me with one dance, and give up the ingrate who has merited so ill your patience.”

Mrs. Mirvan looked with astonishment at us both.

“Who does he speak of, my dear? — you never mentioned —”

“O, Madam!” exclaimed he, “he was not worth mentioning — it is a pity he was ever though of; but let us forget his existence. One dance is all I solicit. Permit me, Madam, the honour of this young lady’s hand; it will be a favour I shall ever most gratefully acknowledge.”

“Sir,” answered she, “favours and strangers have with me no connection.”

“If you have hitherto,” said he, “confined your benevolence to your intimate friends, suffer me to be the first for whom your charity is enlarged.”

“Well, Sir, I know not what to say to you — but —”

He stopt her but with so many urgent entreaties that she at last told me, I must either go down one dance, or avoid his importunities by returning home. I hesitated which alternative to chose; but this impetuous man at length prevailed, and I was obliged to consent to dance with him.

And thus was my deviation from truth punished; and thus did this man’s determined boldness conquer.

During the dance, before we were too much engaged in it for conversation, he was extremely provoking about my partner, and tried every means in his power to make me own that I had deceived him; which, though I would not so far humble myself as to acknowledge, was indeed but too obvious.

Lord Orville, I fancy, did not dance at all. He seemed to have a large acquaintance, and joined several different parties: but you will easily suppose, I was not much pleased to see him, in a few minutes after I was gone, walk towards the place I had just left, and bow to and join Mrs. Mirvan!

How unlucky I thought myself, that I had not longer withstood this stranger’s importunities! The moment we had gone down the dance, I was hastening away from him; but he stopt me, and said, that I could by no means return to my party without giving offence, before we had done our duty of walking up the dance. As I know nothing at all of these rules and customs I was obliged to submit to his directions; but I fancy I looked rather uneasy, for he took notice of my inattention, saying, in his free way, “Whence that anxiety? — Why are those lovely eyes perpetually averted?”

“I wish you would say no more to me, Sir,” cried I peevishly; “you have already destroyed all my happiness for this evening.”

“Good Heaven! What is it I have done? — How have I merited this scorn?”

“You have tormented me to death; you have forced me from my friends, and intruded yourself upon me, against my will, for a partner.”

“Surely, my dear Madam, we ought to be better friends, since there seems to be something of sympathy in the frankness of our dispositions. — And yet, were you not an angel — how do you think I could brooke such contempt?”

“If I have offended you,” cried I, “you have but to leave me — and O how I wish you would!”

“My dear creature,” said he, half laughing, “why where could you be educated?”

“Where I most sincerely wish I now was!”

“How conscious you must be, all beautiful that you are, that those charming airs serve only to heighten the bloom of your complexion!”

“Your freedom, Sir, where you are more acquainted, may perhaps be less disagreeable; but to me —”

“You do me justice,” cried he, interrupting me, “yes, I do indeed improve upon acquaintance; you will hereafter be quite charmed with me.”

“Hereafter, Sir, I hope I shall never —”

“O hush! — hush! — have you forgot the situation in which I found you? — Have you forgot, that when deserted, I pursued you — when betrayed, I adored you? — but for me —”

“But for you, Sir, I might perhaps have been happy.”

“What then, am I to conclude that, but for me, your partner would have appeared? — poor fellow! — and did my presence awe him?”

“I wish his presence, Sir, could awe you!”

“His presence! — perhaps then you see him?”

“Perhaps, Sir, I do,” cried I, quite wearied of his raillery.

“Where? Where? — for Heaven’s sake show me the wretch!”

“Wretch, Sir!”

“O, a very savage! — a sneaking, shame-faced, despicable puppy!”

I know not what bewitched me — but my pride was hurt, and my spirits were tired, and — in short, I had the folly, looking at Lord Orville, to repeat, “Despicable, you think?”

His eyes instantly followed mine; “Why, is that the gentleman?”

I made no answer; I could not affirm, and I would not deny:— for I hoped to be relieved from his teasing by his mistake.

The very moment we had done what he called our duty, I eagerly desired to return to Mrs. Mirvan.

“To your partner, I presume, Madam?” said he, very gravely.

This quite confounded me. I dreaded lest this mischievous man ignorant of his rank, should address himself to Lord Orville, and say something which might expose my artifice. Fool! to involve myself in such difficulties! I now feared what I had before wished; and therefore, to avoid Lord Orville, I was obliged myself to propose going down another dance, though I was ready to sink with shame while I spoke.

“But your partner, Ma’am?” said he, affecting a very solemn air, “perhaps he may resent my detaining you: if you will give me leave to ask his consent —”

“Not for the universe.”

“Who is he, Madam?”

I wished myself a hundred miles off. He repeated his question, “What is his name?”

“Nothing — nobody — I don’t know —”

He assumed a most important solemnity: “How! — not know? — Give me leave, my dear Madam, to recommend this caution to you: Never dance in public with a stranger — with one whose name you are unacquainted with — who may be a mere adventurer — a man of no character, consider to what impertinence you may expose yourself.”

Was ever anything so ridiculous? I could not help laughing, in spite of my vexation.

At this instant, Mrs. Mirvan, followed by Lord Orville, walked up to us. You will easily believe it was not difficult for me to recover my gravity; but what was my consternation, when this strange man, destined to be the scourge of my artifice, exclaimed, “Ha! My Lord Orville! — I protest I did not know your Lordship. What can I say for my usurpation? — Yet, faith, my Lord, such a prize was not to be neglected.”

My shame and confusion were unspeakable. Who could have supposed or foreseen that this man knew Lord Orville? But falsehood is not more unjustifiable than unsafe.

Lord Orville — well he might — looked all amazement.

“The philosophic coldness of your Lordship,” continued this odious creature, “every man is not endowed with. I have used my utmost endeavours to entertain this lady, though I fear without success; and your lordship will not be a little flattered, if acquainted with the difficulty which attended my procuring the honour of only one dance.” Then, turning to me, who was sinking with shame, while Lord Orville stood motionless, and Mrs. Mirvan astonished — he suddenly seized my hand, saying, “Think, my Lord, what must be my reluctance to resign this fair hand to your Lordship!”

In the same instant, Lord Orville took it of him; I coloured violently, and made an effort to recover it. “You do me too much honour, Sir,” cried he, (with an air of gallantry, pressing it to his lips before he let it go;) “however, I shall be happy to profit by it, if this lady,” turning to Mrs. Mirvan, “will permit me to seek for her party.”

To compel him thus to dance, I could not endure; and eagerly called out, “By no means — not for the world! — I must beg —”

“Will you honour me, Madam, with your commands,” cried my tormentor; “may I seek the lady’s party?”

“No, Sir,” answered I, turning from him.

“What shall be done, my dear?” said Mrs. Mirvan.

“Nothing, Ma’am; — anything, I mean —”

“But do you dance, or not? you see his Lordship waits.”

“I hope not — I beg that — I would not for the world — I am sure I ought to — to —”

I could not speak; but that confident man, determining to discover whether or not I had deceived him, said to Lord Orville, who stood suspended, “My Lord, this affair, which at present seems perplexed, I will briefly explain:— this lady proposed to me another dance — nothing could have made me more happy — I only wished for your Lordship’s permission; which, if now granted, will, I am persuaded, set everything right.”

I glowed with indignation. “No, Sir — it is your absence, and that alone, can set everything right.”

“For Heaven’s sake, my dear,” cried Mrs. Mirvan, who could no longer contain her surprise, “what does all this mean? — were you pre-engaged? — had Lord Orville —”

“No, Madam,” cried I, “only — only I did not know that gentleman — and so-and so I thought — I intended — I—”

Overpowered by all that had passed, I had not strength to make my mortifying explanation; — my spirits quite failed me, and I burst into tears.

They all seemed shocked and amazed.

“What is the matter, my dearest love?” cried Mrs. Mirvan, with kindest concern.

“What have I done!” exclaimed my evil genius, and ran officiously for a glass of water.

However, a hint was sufficient for Lord Orville, who comprehended all I would have explained. He immediately led me to a seat, and said in a low voice, “Be not distressed, I beseech you: I shall ever think my name honoured by your making use of it.”

This politeness relieved me. A general murmur had alarmed Miss Mirvan, who flew instantly to me; while Lord Orville the moment Mrs. Mirvan had taken the water, led my tormentor away.

“For Heaven’s sake, dear Madam,” cried I, “let me go home; — indeed I cannot stay here any longer.”

“Let us all go,” cried my kind Maria.

“But the Captain, what will he say — I had better go home in a chair.”

Mrs. Mirvan consented, and I rose to depart. Lord Orville and that man both came to me. The first, with an attention I but ill-merited from him, led me to a chair; while the other followed, pestering me with apologies. I wished to have made mine to Lord Orville, but was too much ashamed.

It was about one o’clock. Mrs. Mirvan’s servants saw me home.

And now — what again shall ever tempt me to an assembly? I dread to hear what you will think of me, my most dear and honoured Sir: you will need your utmost partiality to receive me without displeasure.

This morning Lord Orville has sent to inquire after our health; and Sir Clement Willoughby, for that, I find, is the name of my persecutor, has called; but I would not go down stairs till he was gone.

And now, my dear Sir, I can somewhat account for the strange, provoking, and ridiculous conduct of this Sir Clement last night; for Miss Mirvan says he is the very man with whom she heard Lord Orville conversing at Mrs. Stanley’s, when I was spoken of in so mortifying a manner. He was pleased to say he was glad to hear I was a fool; and therefore, I suppose, he concluded he might talk as much nonsense as he pleased to me: however, I am very indifferent as to his opinion; — but for Lord Orville — if then he thought me an idiot, now, I am sure, he must suppose me both bold and presuming. Make use of his name! — what impertinence — he can never know how it happened — he can only imagine it was from an excess of vanity; — well, however, I shall leave this bad city tomorrow, and never again will I enter it.

The Captain intends to take us to-night to the Fantoccini. I cannot bear that Captain; I can give you no idea how gross he is. I heartily rejoice that he was not present at the disagreeable conclusion of yesterday’s adventure, for I am sure he would have contributed to my confusion; which might, perhaps, have diverted him, as he seldom or never smiles but at some other person’s expense.

And here I conclude my London letters — and without any regret; for I am too inexperienced and ignorant to conduct myself with propriety in this town, where everything is new to me, and many things are unaccountable and perplexing.

Adieu, my dear Sir; Heaven restore me safely to you! I wish I was to go immediately to Berry Hill; yet the wish is ungrateful to Mrs. Mirvan, and therefore I will repress it. I shall write an account of the Fantoccini from Howard Grove. We have not been to half the public places that are now open, though I dare say you will think we have been to all. But they are almost as innumerable as the persons who fill them.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/burney/fanny/evelina/letter13.html

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