Evelina, by Fanny Burney

Letter xliii

Evelina in Continuation

June 10th

THIS morning Mr. Smith called, on purpose, he said, to offer me a ticket for the next Hampstead assembly. I thanked him, but desired to be excused accepting it: he would not, however, be denied, nor answered; and, in a manner both vehement and free, pressed and urged his offer, till I was wearied to death: but, when he found me resolute, he seemed thunderstruck with amazement, and thought proper to desire I would tell him my reasons.

Obvious as they must surely have been to any other person, they were such as I knew not how to repeat to him; and, when he found I hesitated, he said, “Indeed, Ma’am, you are too modest; I assure you the ticket is quite at your service, and I shall be very happy to dance with you; so pray don’t be so coy.”

“Indeed, Sir,” returned I, “you are mistaken; I never supposed you would offer a ticket without wishing it should be accepted; but it would answer no purpose to mention the reasons which make me decline it, since they cannot possibly be removed.”

This speech seemed very much to mortify him; which I could not be concerned at, as I did not choose to be treated by him with so much freedom. When he was, at last, convinced that his application to me was ineffectual, he addressed himself to Madame Duval, and begged she would interfere in his favour; offering at the same time to procure another ticket for herself.

“Ma foi, Sir,” answered she, angrily, “you might as well have had the complaisance to ask me before; for, I assure you, I don’t approve of no such rudeness: however, you may keep your tickets to yourself, for we don’t want none of ’em.”

This rebuke almost overset him; he made many apologies, and said that he should certainly have first applied to her, but that he had no notion the young lady would have refused him, and, on the contrary, had concluded that she would have assisted him to persuade Madame Duval herself.

This excuse appeased her; and he pleaded his cause so successfully, that, to my great chagrin, he gained it, and Madame Duval promised that she would go herself, and take me to the Hampstead assembly whenever he pleased.

Mr. Smith then, approaching me with an air of triumph, said, “Well, Ma’am, now I think you can’t possibly keep to your denial.”

I made no answer; and he soon took leave, tho’ not till he had so wonderfully gained the favour of Madame Duval, that she declared, when he was gone, he was the prettiest young man she had seen since she came to England.

As soon as I could find an opportunity, I ventured, in the most humble manner, to intreat Madame Duval would not insist upon my attending her to this ball; and represented to her, as well as I was able, the impropriety of my accepting any present from a man so entirely unknown to me: but she laughed at my scruples; called me a foolish, ignorant country-girl; and said she should make it her business to teach me something of the world.

This ball is to be next week. I am sure it is not more improper for, than unpleasant to me, and I will use every possible endeavour to avoid it. Perhaps I may apply to Miss Branghton for advice, as I believe she will be willing to assist me, from disliking, equally with myself, that I should dance with Mr. Smith.

June 11th

O, my dear Sir! I have been shocked to death; and yet at the same time delighted beyond expression, in the hope that I have happily been the instrument of saving a human creature from destruction.

This morning Madame Duval said she would invite the Branghton family to return our visit tomorrow; and, not choosing to rise herself — for she generally spends the morning in bed — she desired me to wait upon them with her message. M. Du Bois, who just then called, insisted upon attending me.

Mr. Branghton was in the shop, and told us that his son and daughter were out; but desired me to step up stairs, as he very soon expected them home. This I did, leaving M. Du Bois below. I went into the room where we had dined the day before; and, by a wonderful chance, I happened to seat myself, that I had a view of the stairs, and yet could not be seen from them.

In about ten minutes time, I saw, passing by the door, with a look perturbed and affrighted, the same young man I mentioned in my last letter. Not heeding, as I suppose, how he went, in turning the corner of the stairs, which are narrow and winding, his foot slipped and he fell; but almost instantly rising, I plainly perceived the end of a pistol, which started from his pocket by hitting against the stairs.

I was inexpressibly shocked. All that I had heard of his misery occurring to my memory, made me conclude that he was, at that very moment, meditating suicide! Struck with the dreadful idea, all my strength seemed to fail me. He moved on slowly, yet I soon lost sight of him; I sat motionless with terror; all power of action forsook me; and I grew almost stiff with horror; till recollecting that it was yet possible to prevent the fatal deed, all my faculties seemed to return, with the hope of saving him.

My first thought was to fly to Mr. Branghton; but I feared, that an instant of time lost might for ever be rued; and, therefore, guided by the impulse of my apprehensions, as well as I was able I followed him up stairs, stepping very softly, and obliged to support myself by the banisters.

When I came within a few stairs of the landing-place I stopped; for I could then see into his room, as he had not yet shut the door.

He had put the pistol upon a table, and had his hand in his pocket, whence, in a few moments, he took out another: he then emptied something on the table from a small leather bag; after which, taking up both the pistols, one in each hand, he dropt hastily upon his knees, and called out, “O, God! — forgive me!”

In a moment strength and courage seemed lent to me as by inspiration: I started, and rushing precipitately into the room, just caught his arm, and then, overcome by my own fears, I fell down at his side breathless and senseless. My recovery, however, was, I believe, almost instantaneous; and then the sight of this unhappy man, regarding me with a look of unutterable astonishment, mixed with concern, presently restored to me my recollection. I arose, though with difficulty; he did the same; the pistols, as I soon saw, were both on the floor.

Unwilling to leave them, and, indeed, too weak to move, I leant one hand on the table, and then stood perfectly still; while he, his eyes cast wildly towards me, seemed too infinitely amazed to be capable of either speech or action.

I believe we were some minutes in this extraordinary situation; but, as my strength returned, I felt myself both ashamed and awkward, and moved towards the door. Pale and motionless, he suffered me to pass, without changing his posture, or uttering a syllable; and, indeed,

He look’d a bloodless image of despair. — POPE.

When I reached the door, I turned round; I looked fearfully at the pistols, and, impelled by an emotion I could not repress, I hastily stepped back, with an intention of carrying them away: but their wretched owner, perceiving my design, and recovering from his astonishment, darting suddenly down, seized them both himself.

Wild with fright, and scarce knowing what I did, I caught, almost involuntarily, hold of both his arms, and exclaimed, “O, Sir! have mercy on yourself!”

The guilty pistols fell from his hands, which, disengaging from me, he fervently clasped, and cried, “Sweet Heaven! is this thy angel?”

Encouraged by such gentleness, I again attempted to take the pistols; but, with a look half frantic, he again prevented me, saying “What would you do?”

“Awaken you,” I cried, with a courage I now wonder at, “to worthier thoughts, and rescue you from perdition.”

I then seized the pistols; he said not a word — he made no effort to stop me; — I glided quick by him, and tottered down stairs ere he had recovered from the extremest amazement.

The moment I reached again the room I had so fearfully left, I threw away the pistols, and flinging myself on the first chair, gave free vent to the feelings I had most painfully stifled, in a violent burst of tears, which, indeed, proved a happy relief to me.

In this situation I remained some time; but when, at length, I lifted up my head, the first object I saw was the poor man who had occasioned my terror, standing, as if petrified, at the door, and gazing at me with eyes of wild wonder.

I started from the chair; but trembled so excessively, that I almost instantly sunk again into it. He then, though without advancing, and, in a faultering voice, said, “Whoever, or whatever you are, relieve me, I pray you, from the suspense under which my soul labours — and tell me if indeed I do not dream?”

To this address, so singular, and so solemn, I had not then the presence of mind to frame any answer; but as I presently perceived that his eyes turned from me to the pistols, and that he seemed to intend regaining them, I exerted all my strength, and saying, “O, for Heaven’s sake forbear!” I rose and took them myself.

“Do my sense deceive me!” cried he, “do I live —? And do you?”

As he spoke he advanced towards me; and I, still guarding the pistols, retreated, saying, “No, no — you must not — must not have them!”

“Why — for what purpose, tell me! — do you withhold them?”

“To give you time to think — to save you from eternal misery; — and, I hope, to reserve you for mercy and forgiveness.”

“Wonderful!” cried he, with uplifted hands and eyes, “most wonderful!”

For some time he seemed wrapped in deep thought, till a sudden noise of tongues below announcing the approach of the Branghtons, made him start from his reverie: he sprung hastily forward, — dropt on one knee — caught hold of my gown, which he pressed to his lips; and then, quick as lightning, he rose, and flew up stairs to his own room.

There was something in the whole of this extraordinary and shocking adventure, really too affecting to be borne; and so entirely had I spent my spirits, and exhausted my courage, that before the Branghtons reached me, I had sunk on the ground without sense or motion.

I believe I must have been a very horrid sight to them on their entrance into the room; for to all appearance, I seemed to have suffered a violent death, either by my own rashness, or the cruelty of some murderer, as the pistols had fallen close by my side.

How soon I recovered I know not; but, probably I was more indebted to the loudness of their cries than to their assistance; for they all concluded that I was dead, and, for some time, did not make any effort to revive me.

Scarcely could I recollect where, or indeed what, I was, ere they poured upon me such a torrent of questions and enquiries, that I was almost stunned by their vociferation. However, as soon, and as well as I was able, I endeavoured to satisfy their curiosity, by recounting what had happened as clearly as was in my power. They all looked aghast at the recital; but, not being well enough to enter into any discussions, I begged to have a chair called, and to return instantly home.

Before I left them, I recommended, with great earnestness, a vigilant observance of their unhappy lodger; and that they would take care to keep from him, if possible, all means of self-destruction.

M. Du Bois, who seemed extremely concerned at my indisposition, walked by the side of the chair, and saw me safe to my own apartment.

The rashness and the misery of this ill-fated young man engross all my thoughts. If indeed, he is bent upon destroying himself, all efforts to save him will be fruitless. How much do I wish it were in my power to discover the nature of the malady which thus maddens him and to offer or to procure alleviation to his sufferings! I am sure, my dearest Sir, you will be much concerned for this poor man; and, were you here, I doubt not but you would find some method of awakening him from the error which blinds him, and of pouring the balm of peace and comfort into his afflicted soul.

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