Evelina, by Fanny Burney

Letter xlviii.

Evelina in Continuation.

June 21st.

THE last three evenings have passed tolerably quiet, for the Vauxhall adventures had given Madame Duval a surfeit of public places: home, however, soon growing tiresome, she determined to-night, she said, to relieve her ennui by some amusement; and it was therefore settled, that we should call upon the Branghtons at their house, and thence proceed to Marybone Gardens.

But, before we reached Snow Hill, we were caught in a shower of rain: we hurried into the shop, where the first object I saw was Mr. Macartney, with a book in his hand, seated in the same corner where I saw him last; but his looks were still more wretched than before, his face yet thinner, and his eyes sunk almost hollow into his head. He lifted them up as we entered, and I even thought that they emitted a gleam of joy: involuntarily I made to him my first courtesy; he rose and bowed with a precipitation that manifested surprise and confusion.

In a few minutes were joined by all the family, except Mr. Smith, who fortunately was engaged.

Had all the future prosperity of our lives depended upon the good or bad weather of this evening, it could not have been treated as a subject of greater importance. “Sure, never anything was so unlucky!”—“Lord, how provoking!”—“It might rain for ever, if it would hold up now.”— These, and such expressions, with many anxious observations upon the kennels, filled up all the conversation till the shower was over.

And then a very warm debate arose, whether we should pursue our plan, or defer it to some finer evening. The Miss Branghtons were for the former; their father was sure it would rain again; Madame Duval, though she detested returning home, yet dreaded the dampness of the gardens.

M. Du Bois then proposed going to the top of the house, to examine whether the clouds looked threatening or peaceable: Miss Branghton, starting at this proposal, said they might go to Mr. Macartney’s room, if they would, but not to her’s.

This was enough for the brother; who, with a loud laugh, declared he would have some fun; and immediately led the way, calling to us all to follow. His sisters both ran after, but no one else moved.

In a few minutes young Branghton, coming half-way down stairs, called out, “Lord, why don’t you all come? why, here’s Poll’s things all about the room!”

Mr. Branghton then went; and Madame Duval, who cannot bear to be excluded from whatever is going forward, was handed up stairs by M. Du Bois.

I hesitated a few moments whether or not to join them; but, soon perceiving that Mr. Macartney had dropped his book, and that I engrossed his whole attention, I prepared, from mere embarrassment, to follow them.

As I went, I heard him move from his chair, and walk slowly after me. Believing that he wished to speak to me, and earnestly desiring myself to know if, by your means, I could possibly be of any service to him, I first slackened my pace, and then turned back. But, though I thus met him half-way, he seemed to want courage or resolution to address me; for, when he saw me returning, with a look extremely disordered, he retreated hastily from me.

Not knowing what I ought to do, I went to the street-door, where I stood some time, hoping he would be able to recover himself; but, on the contrary, his agitation increased every moment; he walked up and down the room in a quick but unsteady pace, seeming equally distressed and irresolute; and, at length, with a deep sigh, he flung himself into a chair.

I was so much affected by the appearance of such extreme anguish, that I could remain no longer in the room: I therefore glided by him and went up stairs; but, ere I had gone five steps, he precipitately followed me, and, in a broken voice, called out “Madam! — for Heaven’s sake —”

He stopped; but I instantly descended, restraining, as well as I was able, the fulness of my own concern. I waited some time, in painful expectation, for his speaking: all that I had heard of his poverty occurring to me, I was upon the point of presenting him my purse; but the fear of mistaking or offending him deterred me. Finding, however, that he continued silent, I ventured to say, “Did you — Sir, wish to speak to me?”

“I did,” cried he with quickness, “but now — I cannot! —”

“Perhaps, Sir, another time — perhaps if you recollect yourself —”

“Another time?” repeated he mournfully; “alas! I look not forward but to misery and despair!”

“O, Sir,” cried I, extremely shocked, “you must not talk thus! — If you forsake yourself, how can you expect —”

I stopped. “Tell me, tell me,” cried he, with eagerness, “who you are? — whence you come? — and by what strange means you seem to be arbitress and ruler of the destiny of such a wretch as I am?”

“Would to Heaven,” cried I, “I could serve you!”

“You can!”

“And how? Pray tell me how?”

“To tell you — is death to me! yet I will tell you. — I have a right to your assistance — you have deprived me of the only resource to which I could apply — and therefore —”

“Pray, pray speak,” cried I, putting my hand into my pocket; “they will be down stairs in a moment!”

“I will, Madam. — Can you — will you — I think you will! — may I then —” he stopped and paused; “say, will you”— then, suddenly turning from me, “Great Heaven, I cannot speak!” and he went back to the shop.

I now put my purse in my hand, and following him, said, “If, indeed, Sir, I can assist you, why should you deny me so great a satisfaction? Will you permit me to —”

I dared not go on; but with a countenance very much softened, he approached me and said, “Your voice, Madam, is the voice of compassion! — such a voice as these ears have long been strangers to!”

Just then young Branghton called out vehemently to me to come up stairs. I seized the opportunity of hastening away: and therefore saying, “Heaven, Sir, protect and comfort you!” I let fall my purse upon the ground, not daring to present it to him, and ran up stairs with the utmost swiftness.

Too well do I know you, my ever honoured Sir, to fear your displeasure for this action: I must, however, assure you, I shall need no fresh supply during my stay in town, as I am at little expense, and hope soon to return to Howard Grove.

Soon, did I say! when not a fortnight is yet expired of the long and tedious month I must linger out here!

I had many witticisms to endure from the Branghtons, upon account of my staying so long with the Scotch mope, as they call him; but I attended to them very little, for my whole heart was filled with pity and concern. I was very glad to find the Marybone scheme was deferred, another shower of rain having put a stop to the dissension upon this subject; the rest of the evening was employed in most violent quarrelling between Miss Polly and her brother, on account of the discovery made by the latter of the state of her apartment.

We came home early; and I have stolen from Madame Duval and M. Du Bois, who is here for ever, to write to my best friend.

I am most sincerely rejoiced, that this opportunity has offered for my contributing what little relief was in my power to this unhappy man; and I hope it will be sufficient to enable him to pay his debts to this pitiless family.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/burney/fanny/evelina/letter48.html

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