Evelina, by Fanny Burney

Letter lxvi.

Evelina in Continuation.

Clifton, Sept. 24th.

THIS morning I came down stairs very early; and supposing that the family would not assemble for some time, I strolled out, purposing to take a long walk, in the manner I was wont to do at Berry Hill, before breakfast: but I had scarce shut the garden-gate, before I was met by a gentleman, who, immediately bowing to me, I recollected to be the unhappy Mr. Macartney. Very much surprised, I courtsied, and stopped till he came up to me. He was still in mourning, but looked better than when I saw him last, though he had the same air of melancholy which so much struck me at first sight of him.

Addressing me with the utmost respect, “I am happy, Madam,” said he, “to have met with you so soon. I came to Bristol but yesterday, and have had no small difficulty in tracing you to Clifton.”

“Did you know, then, of my being here?”

“I did, Madam; the sole motive of my journey was to see you. I have been to Berry Hill, and there I had my intelligence, and, at the same time, the unwelcome information of your ill health.”

“Good God! Sir — and can you possibly have taken so much trouble?”

“Trouble! O, Madam, could there be any, to return you, the moment I had the power, my personal acknowledgments for your goodness?”

I then enquired after Madame Duval and the Snow–Hill family. He told me they were all well, and that Madame Duval proposed soon returning to Paris. When I congratulated him on looking better, “It is yourself, Madam,” said he, “you should congratulate; for to your humanity alone it may now be owing that I exist at all.” He then told me, that his affairs were now in a less desperate situation; and that he hoped, by the assistance of time and reason, to accommodate his mind to a more cheerful submission to his fate. “The interest you so generously took in my affliction,” added he, “assures me you will not be displeased to hear of my better fortune; I was therefore eager to acquaint you with it.” He then told me that his friend, the moment he had received his letter, quitted Paris, and flew to give him his personal assistance and consolation. With a heavy heart, he acknowledged, he accepted it; “but yet,” he added, “I have accepted it; and therefore, as bound equally by duty and honour, my first step was to hasten to the benefactress of my distress, and to return” (presenting me something in a paper) “the only part of my obligations that can be returned; for the rest, I have nothing but my gratitude to offer, and must always be contented to consider myself her debtor.”

I congratulated him most sincerely upon his dawning prosperity, but begged he would not deprive me of the pleasure of being his friend; and declined receiving the money, till his affairs were more settled.

While this point was in agitation, I heard Lord Orville’s voice inquiring of the gardener if he had seen me? I immediately opened the garden gate; and his Lordship, advancing to me with quickness, said, “Good God! Miss Anville, have you been out alone? Breakfast has been ready some time, and I have been round the garden in search of you.”

“Your Lordship has been very good,” said I; “but I hope you have not waited.”

“Not waited!” repeated he, smiling: “Do you think we could sit down quietly to breakfast, with the idea that you had run away from us? But come,” (offering to hand me) “if we do not return, they will suppose I am run away too; and they very naturally may, as they know the attraction of the magnet that draws me.”

“I will come, my Lord,” said I, rather embarrassed, “in two minutes.” Then, turning to Mr. Macartney, with yet more embarrassment, I wished him good morning.

He advanced towards the garden, with the paper still in his hand.

“No, no,” cried I, “some other time.”

“May I then, Madam, have the honour of seeing you again?”

I did not dare take the liberty of inviting any body to the house of Mrs. Beaumont, nor yet had I the presence of mind to make an excuse; and, therefore, not knowing how to refuse him, I said, “Perhaps you may be this way again tomorrow morning — and I believe I shall walk out before breakfast.”

He bowed, and went away; while I, turning again to Lord Orville, saw his countenance so much altered, that I was frightened at what I had so hastily said. He did not again offer me his hand; but walked, silent and slow, by my side. Good Heaven! thought I, what may he not suppose from this adventure? May he not, by my desire of meeting Mr. Macartney tomorrow, imagine it was by design I walked out to meet him today? Tormented by this apprehension, I determined to avail myself of the freedom which his behaviour, since I came hither, has encouraged; and, since he would not ask any questions, begin an explanation myself. I therefore slackened my pace to gain time; and then said, “Was not your Lordship surprised to see me speaking with a stranger?”

“A stranger?” repeated he; “is it possible that gentleman can be a stranger to you?”

“No, my Lord,” said I, stammering, “not to me — but only it might look — he might seem —”

“No, believe me,” said he, with a forced smile, “I could never suppose Miss Anville would make an appointment with a stranger.”

“An appointment, my Lord?” repeated I, colouring violently.

“Pardon me, Madam,” answered he, “but I thought I had heard one.”

I was so much confounded that I could not speak: yet, finding he walked quietly on, I could not endure he should make his own interpretation of my silence: and therefore, as soon as I recovered from my surprise, I said, “Indeed, my Lord, you are much mistaken, Mr. Macartney had particular business with me — and I could not — I knew not, how to refuse seeing him; — but indeed, my Lord — I had not — he had not — ” I stammered so terribly that I could not go on.

“I am very sorry,” said he, gravely, “that I have been so unfortunate as to distress you; but I should not have followed you had I not imagined you were merely walked out for the air.”

“And so I was!” cried I, eagerly, “indeed, my Lord, I was! My meeting with Mr. Macartney was quite accidental; and, if your Lordship thinks there is any impropriety in my seeing him tomorrow, I am ready to give up that intention.”

“If I think!” said he, in a tone of surprise; “surely Miss Anville cannot leave the arbitration of a point so delicate to one who is ignorant of all the circumstances which attend it?”

“If,” said I, “it was worth your Lordship’s time to hear them — you should not be ignorant of the circumstances which attend it.”

“The sweetness of Miss Anville’s disposition,” said he, in a softened voice, “I have long admired; and the offer of a communication, which does me so much honour, is too grateful to me not to be eagerly caught at.”

Just then Mrs. Selwyn opened the parlour window, and our conversation ended. I was rallied upon my passion for solitary walking; but no questions were asked me.

When breakfast was over, I hoped to have had some opportunity of speaking with Lord Orville; but Lord Merton and Mr. Coverley came in, and insisted up his opinion of the spot they had fixed upon for the old women’s race. The ladies declared they would be of the party; and accordingly we all went.

The race is to be run in Mrs. Beaumont’s garden; the two gentlemen are as anxious, as if their joint lives depended upon it. They have at length fixed upon objects; but have found great difficulty in persuading them to practise running, in order to try their strength. This grand affair is to be decided next Thursday.

When we returned to the house, the entrance of more company still prevented my having any conversation with Lord Orville. I was very much chagrined, as I knew he was engaged at the Hotwells in the afternoon. Seeing, therefore, no probability of speaking to him before the time of my meeting Mr. Macartney arrived, I determined that, rather than risk his ill opinion, I would leave Mr. Macartney to his own suggestions.

Yet, when I reflected upon his peculiar situation, his poverty, his sadness, and, more than all the rest, the idea I knew he entertained of what he calls his obligations to me, I could not resolve upon a breach of promise, which might be attributed to causes, of all the others the most offensive to one whom misfortune has made extremely suspicious of slights and contempt.

After the most uneasy consideration, I at length determined upon writing an excuse, which would, at once, save me from either meeting or affronting him. I therefore begged Mrs. Selwyn’s leave to send her man to the Hotwells, which she instantly granted; and then I wrote the following note:

“To Mr. Macartney.

“SIR,

“As it will not be in my power to walk out tomorrow morning, I would by no means give you the trouble of coming to Clifton. I hope, however, to have the pleasure of seeing you before you quit Bristol.

“I am, Sir, your obedient servant,

“ EVELINA ANVILLE.”

I desired the servant to enquire at the pump-room where Mr. Macartney lived, and returned to the parlour.

As soon as the company dispersed, the ladies retired to dress. I then, unexpectedly, found myself alone with Lord Orville; who, the moment I rose to follow Mrs. Selwyn, advanced to me, and said, “Will Miss Anville pardon my impatience, if I remind her of the promise she was so good as to make me this morning?”

I stopped, and would have returned to my seat; but before I had time, the servants came to lay the cloth. He retreated, and went towards the window; and, while I was considering in what manner to begin, I could not help asking myself what right I had to communicate the affairs of Mr. Macartney: and I doubted whether, to clear myself from one act of imprudence, I had not committed another.

Distressed by this reflection, I thought it best to quit the room, and give myself some time for consideration before I spoke; and therefore, only saying I must hasten to dress, I ran up stairs, rather abruptly I own; and so, I fear, Lord Orville must think. Yet what could I do? Unused to the situations in which I find myself, and embarrassed by the slightest difficulties, I seldom, till too late, discover how I ought to act.

Just as we were all assembled to dinner, Mrs. Selwyn’s man, coming into the parlour, presented to me a letter, and said, “I can’t find out Mr. Macartney, Madam; but the post-office people will let you know if they hear of him.”

I was extremely ashamed of this public message; and, meeting the eyes of Lord Orville, which were earnestly fixed on me, my confusion redoubled, and I knew not which way to look. All dinner-time he was as silent as myself; and the moment it was in my power I left the table, and went to my own room. Mrs. Selwyn presently followed me; and her questions obliged me to own almost all the particulars of my acquaintance with Mr. Macartney, in order to excuse my writing to him. She said it was a most romantic affair, and spoke her sentiments with great severity; declaring that she had no doubt but he was an adventurer and an impostor.

And now, my dear Sir, I am totally at a loss what I ought to do; the more I reflect, the more sensible I am of the utter impropriety, nay, treachery, of revealing the story, and publishing the misfortunes and poverty of Mr. Macartney; who has an undoubted right to my secrecy and discretion, and whose letter charges me to regard his communication as sacred. — And yet, the appearance of mystery — perhaps something worse, which this affair must have to Lord Orville — his seriousness — and the promise I have made him, are inducements scarce to be resisted for trusting him with the openness he has reason to expect from me.

I am equally distressed, too, whether or not I should see Mr. Macartney tomorrow morning.

Oh, Sir, could I now be enlightened by your counsel, from what anxiety and perplexity should I be relieved!

But now — I ought not to betray Mr. Macartney, and I will not forfeit a confidence which would never have been reposed in me, but from a reliance upon my honour, which I should blush to find myself unworthy of. Desirous as I am of the good opinion of Lord Orville, I will endeavour to act as if I was guided by your advice; and, making it my sole aim to deserve it, leave to time and to fate my success or disappointment.

Since I have formed this resolution, my mind is more at ease. But I will not finish my letter till the affair is decided.

Sept. 25th.

I rose very early this morning; and, after a thousand different plans, not being able to resolve upon giving poor Mr. Macartney leave to suppose I neglected him, I thought it incumbent upon me to keep my word, since he had not received my letter; I therefore determined to make my own apologies, not to stay with him two minutes, and to excuse myself from meeting him any more.

Yet, uncertain whether I was wrong or right, it was with fear and trembling that I opened the garden-gate; — judge then, of my feelings, when the first object I saw was Lord Orville! — he, too, looked extremely disconcerted, and said, in a hesitating manner, “Pardon me, Madam — I did not intend — I did not imagine you would have been here so soon — or — or I would not have come.”— And then, with a hasty bow, he passed me, and proceeded to the garden.

I was scarce able to stand, so greatly did I feel myself shocked; but, upon my saying, almost involuntarily, “Oh, my Lord!”— he turned back, and, after a short pause, said, “Did you speak to me, Madam?”

I could not immediately answer; I seemed choaked, and was even forced to support myself by the garden-gate.

Lord Orville, soon recovering his dignity, said, “I know not how to apologize for being, just now, at this place; — and I cannot, immediately — if ever — clear myself from the imputation of impertinent curiosity, to which I fear you will attribute it: however, at present, I will only intreat your pardon, without detaining you any longer.” Again he bowed, and left me.

For some moments I remained fixed to the same spot, and in the same position, immoveable, as if I had been transformed to a stone. My first impulse was to call him back, and instantly tell him the whole affair; but I checked this desire, though I would have given the world to have indulged it; something like pride aided what I thought due to Mr. Macartney, and I determined not only to keep his secret, but to delay any sort of explanation till Lord Orville should condescend to request it.

Slowly he walked; and, before he entered the house, he looked back, but hastily withdrew his eyes, upon finding I observed him.

Indeed, my dear Sir, you cannot easily imagine a situation more uncomfortable than mine was at that time; to be suspected by Lord Orville of any clandestine actions wounded my soul; I was too much discomposed to wait for Mr. Macartney, nor in truth, could I endure to have the design of my staying so well known. Yet I was so extremely agitated, that I could hardly move; and I have reason to believe Lord Orville, from the parlour-window, saw me tottering along; for, before I had taken five steps, he came out, and, hastening to meet me, said, “I fear you are not well; pray, allow me (offering his arm) to assist you.”

“No, my Lord,” said I, with all the resolution I could assume; yet I was affected by an attention, at that time so little expected, and forced to turn away my head to conceal my emotion.

“You must,” said he, with earnestness, “indeed you must — I am sure you are not well; — refuse me not the honour of assisting you;” and, almost forcibly, he took my hand, and, drawing it under his arm, obliged me to lean upon him. That I submitted was partly the effect of surprise, at an earnestness so uncommon in Lord Orville, and, partly, that I did not just then dare trust my voice to make any objection.

When we came to the house, he led me into the parlour, and to a chair, and begged to know if I would not have a glass of water.

“No, my Lord, I thank you,” said I, “I am perfectly recovered;” and, rising, I walked to the window, where, for some time, I pretended to be occupied in looking at the garden.

Determined as I was to act honourably by Mr. Macartney, I yet most anxiously wished to be restored to the good opinion of Lord Orville; but his silence, and the thoughtfulness of his air, discouraged me from speaking.

My situation soon grew disagreeable and embarrassing, and I resolved to return to my chamber till breakfast was ready. To remain longer I feared might seem asking for his enquiries; and I was sure it would ill become me to be more eager to speak, than he was to hear.

Just as I reached the door, turning to me hastily, he said, “Are you going, Miss Anville?”

“I am, my Lord,” answered I; yet I stopped.

“Perhaps to return to — but I beg your pardon!” He spoke with a degree of agitation that made me readily comprehend he meant to the garden; and I instantly said, “To my own room, my Lord.” And again I would have gone; but, convinced by my answer that I understood him, I believe he was sorry for the insinuation: he approached me with a very serious air, though at the same time he forced a smile, and said, “I know not what evil genius pursues me this morning, but I seem destined to do or to say something I ought not: I am so much ashamed of myself, that I can scarce solicit your forgiveness.”

“My forgiveness! my Lord?” cried I, abashed, rather than elated by his condescension; “surely you cannot — you are not serious?”

“Indeed, never more so! yet, if I may be my own interpreter, Miss Anville’s countenance pronounces my pardon.”

“I know not, my Lord, how any one can pardon, who never has been offended.”

“You are very good; yet I could expect no less from a sweetness of disposition which baffles all comparison: you will not think I am an encroacher, and that I take advantage of your goodness, should I once more remind you of the promise you vouchsafed me yesterday?”

“No, indeed; on the contrary I shall be very happy to acquit myself in your Lordship’s opinion.”

“Acquittal you need not,” said he, leading me again to the window; “yet I own my curiosity is strongly excited.”

When I was seated, I found myself much at a loss what to say; yet, after a short silence, assuming all the courage in my power, “Will you not, my Lord,” said I, “think me trifling and capricious, should I own I have repented the promise I made, and should I entreat your Lordship not to insist upon my strict performance of it?” I spoke so hastily, that I did not, at the time, consider the impropriety of what I said.

As he was entirely silent, and profoundly attentive, I continued to speak without interruption.

“If your Lordship, by any other means, knew the circumstances attending my acquaintance with Mr. Macartney, I am most sure you would yourself disapprove my relating them. He is a gentleman, and has been very unfortunate; — but I am not — I think — at liberty to say more: yet I am sure, if he knew your Lordship wished to hear any particulars of his affairs, he would readily consent to my acknowledging them; — shall I, my Lord, ask his permission?”

“His affairs!” repeated Lord Orville; “by no means, I have not the least curiosity about them.”

“I beg your Lordship’s pardon — but indeed I had understood the contrary.”

“Is it possible, Madam, you could suppose the affairs of an utter stranger can excite my curiosity?”

The gravity and coldness with which he asked this question very much abashed me. But Lord Orville is the most delicate of men! and, presently recollecting himself, he added, “I mean not to speak with indifference of any friend of yours — far from it; any such will always command my good wishes: yet I own I am rather disappointed; and though I doubt not the justice of your reason, to which I implicitly submit, you must not wonder, that, when upon the point of being honoured with your confidence, I should feel the greatest regret at finding it withdrawn.”

Do you think, my dear sir, I did not, at that moment, require all my resolution to guard me from frankly telling him whatever he wished to hear? yet I rejoice that I did not; for, added to the actual wrong I should have done, Lord Orville himself, when he had heard, would, I am sure, have blamed me. Fortunately, this thought occurred to me; an I said, “Your Lordship shall yourself be my judge; the promise I made, though voluntary, was rash and inconsiderate; yet, had it concerned myself, I would not have hesitated in fulfilling it; but the gentleman, whose affairs I should be obliged to relate —”

“Pardon me,” cried he, “for interrupting you; yet allow me to assure you, I have not the slightest desire to be acquainted with his affairs, further than what belongs to the motives which induced you yesterday morning —” He stopped; but there was no occasion to say more.

“That, my Lord,” cried I, “I will tell you honestly. Mr. Macartney had some particular business with me, and I could not take the liberty to ask him hither.”

“And why not? — Mr. Beaumont, I am sure —”

“I could not, my Lord, think of intruding upon Mrs. Beaumont’s complaisance; and so, with the same hasty folly I promised your Lordship, I much more rashly promised to meet him.”

“And did you?”

“No, my Lord,” said I, colouring, “I returned before he came.”

Again, for some time, we were both silent; yet, unwilling to leave him to reflections which could not but be to my disadvantage, I summoned sufficient courage to say, “There is no young creature, my Lord, who so greatly wants, or so earnestly wishes for, the advice and assistance of her friends, as I do: I am new to the world, and unused to acting for myself; — my intentions are never willfully blameable, yet I err perpetually! — I have hitherto been blessed with the most affectionate of friends, and, indeed, the ablest of men, to guide and instruct me upon every occasion:— but he is too distant, now, to be applied to at the moment I want his aid:— and here — there is not a human being whose counsel I can ask.”

“Would to Heaven,” cried he, with a countenance from which all coldness and gravity were banished, and succeeded by the mildest benevolence, “that I were worthy — and capable — of supplying the place of such a friend to Miss Anville!”

“You do me but too much honour,” said I, “yet I hope your Lordship’s candour — perhaps I ought to say indulgence — will make some allowance, on account of my inexperience, for behaviour so inconsiderate:— May I, my Lord, hope that you will?”

“May I,” cried he, “hope that you will pardon the ill-grace with which I have submitted to my disappointment? And that you will permit me (kissing my hand) thus to seal my peace?”

“Our peace, my Lord!” said I, with revived spirits.

“This, then,” said he, again pressing it to his lips, “for our peace: and now — are we not friends?”

Just then the door opened, and I had only time to withdraw my hand, before the ladies came in to breakfast.

I have been, all day, the happiest of human beings! — to be thus reconciled to Lord Orville, and yet to adhere to my resolution — what could I wish for more? — he too has been very cheerful, and more attentive, more obliging to me than ever. Yet Heaven forbid I should again be in a similar situation, for I cannot express how much uneasiness I have suffered from the fear of incurring his ill opinion.

But what will poor Mr. Macartney think of me? Happy as I am, I much regret the necessity I have been under of disappointing him.

Adieu, my dearest Sir.

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