Evelina, by Fanny Burney

Letter lxxii.

Evelina in Continuation.

October 2nd.

YESTERDAY, from the time I received your kind, though heart-piercing letter, I kept my room — for I was equally unable and unwilling to see Lord Orville; but this morning, finding I seemed destined to pass a few days longer here, I endeavoured to calm my spirits, and to appear as usual; though I determined to avoid him to the utmost of my power. Indeed, as I entered the parlour, when called to breakfast, my thoughts were so much occupied with your letter, that I felt as much confusion at his sight, as if he had himself been informed of its contents.

Mrs. Beaumont made me a slight compliment upon my recovery, for I had pleaded illness to excuse keeping my room: Lady Louisa spoke not a word; but Lord Orville, little imagining himself the cause of my indisposition, enquired concerning my health with the most distinguishing politeness. I hardly made any answer; and, for the first time since I have been here, contrived to sit at some distance from him.

I could not help observing that my reserve surprised him; yet he persisted in his civilities, and seemed to wish to remove it. But I paid him very little attention; and the moment breakfast was over, instead of taking a book, or walking in the garden, I retired to my own room.

Soon after, Mrs. Selwyn came to tell me, that Lord Orville had been proposing I should take an airing, and persuading her to let him drive us both in his phaeton. She delivered the message with an archness that made me blush; and added, that an airing, in my Lord Orville’s carriage, could not fail to revive my spirits. There is no possibility of escaping her discernment; she has frequently rallied me upon his Lordship’s attention — and, alas! — upon the pleasure with which I have received it! However, I absolutely refused the offer.

“Well,” said she, laughing, “I cannot just now indulge you with any solicitation; for, to tell you the truth, I have business to transact at the Wells, and am glad to be excused myself. I would ask you to walk with me; — but since Lord Orville is refused, I have not the presumption to hope for success.”

“Indeed,” cried I, “you are mistaken; I will attend you with pleasure.”

“O rare coquetry!” cried she, “surely it must be inherent in our sex, or it could not have been imbibed at Berry Hill.”

I had not spirits to answer her, and therefore put on my hat and cloak in silence.

“I presume,” continued she, drily, “his Lordship may walk with us.”

“If so, Madam,” said I, “you will have a companion, and I will stay at home.”

“My dear child,” cried she, “did you bring the certificate of your birth with you?”

“Dear Madam, no!”

“Why then, we shall never be known again at Berry Hill.”

I felt too conscious to enjoy her pleasantry; but I believe she was determined to torment me, for she asked if she should inform Lord Orville that I desired him not to be of the party?

“By no means, Madam; but, indeed, I had rather not walk myself.”

“My dear,” cried she, “I really do not know you this morning — you have certainly been taking a lesson of Lady Louisa.”

She then went down stairs; but presently returning, told me she had acquainted Lord Orville that I did not choose to go out in the phaeton, but preferred a walk, tete-a-tete with her, by way of variety.

I said nothing, but was really vexed. She bad me go down stairs, and said she would follow me immediately.

Lord Orville met me in the hall. “I fear,” said he, “Miss Anville is not yet quite well?” and he would have taken my hand, but I turned from him, and courtsying slightly, went into the parlour.

Mrs. Beaumont and Lady Louisa were at work: Lord Merton was talking with the latter; for he has now made his peace, and is again received into favour.

I seated myself, as usual, by the window. Lord Orville, in a few minutes, came to me, and said, “Why is Miss Anville so grave?”

“Not grave, my Lord,” said I, “only stupid;” and I took up a book.

“You will go,” said he, after a short pause, “to the assembly to-night?”

“No, my Lord, certainly not.”

“Neither then will I; for I should be sorry to sully the remembrance I have of the happiness I enjoyed at the last.”

Mrs. Selwyn then coming in, general enquiries were made to all but me, of who would go to the assembly? Lord Orville instantly declared he had letters to write at home; but every one else settled to go.

I then hastened Mrs. Selwyn away, though not before she had said to Lord Orville, “Pray, has your Lordship obtained Miss Anville’s leave to favour us with your company?”

“I have not, Madam,” answered he, “had the vanity to ask it.”

During our walk, Mrs. Selvyn tormented me unmercifully. She told me, that since I declined any addition to our party, I must, doubtless, be conscious of my own powers of entertainment; and begged me, therefore, to exert them freely. I repented a thousand times having consented to walk alone with her; for though I made the most painful efforts to appear in spirits, her raillery quite overpowered me.

We went first to the pump-room. It was full of company; and the moment we entered, I heard a murmuring of, “That’s she!” and, to my great confusion, I saw every eye turned towards me. I pulled my hat over my face, and, by the assistance of Mrs. Selwyn, endeavoured to screen myself from observation, nevertheless, I found I was so much the object of general attention, that I entreated her to hasten away. But unfortunately she had entered into conversation, very earnestly, with a gentleman of her acquaintance, and would not listen to me; but said, that if I was tired of waiting, I might walk on to the milliner’s with the Miss Watkins, two young ladies I had seen at Mrs. Beaumont’s, who were going thither.

I accepted the offer very readily, and away we went. But we had not gone three yards, before we were followed by a party of young men, who took every possible opportunity of looking at us, and, as they walked behind, talked aloud, in a manner at once unintelligible and absurd. “Yes,” cried one,” ’tis certainly she! — mark but her blushing cheek!”

“And then her eye — her downcast eye!” cried another.

“True, oh most true,” said a third, “every beauty is her own!”

“But then,” said the first, “her mind — now the difficulty is, to find out the truth of that, for she will not say a word.”

“She is timid,” answered another; “mark but her timid air.”

During this conversation, we walked on silent and quick; as we knew not to whom it was particularly addressed, we were all equally ashamed, and equally desirous to avoid such unaccountable observations.

Soon after we were caught in a shower of rain. We hurried on; and these gentlemen, following us, offered their services in the most pressing manner, begging us to make use of their arms; and, while I almost ran, in order to avoid their impertinence, I was suddenly met by Sir Clement Willoughby!

We both started; “Good God!” he exclaimed, “Miss Anville!” and then, regarding my tormentors with an air of displeasure, he earnestly enquired, if any thing had alarmed me?

“No, no;” cried I, for I found no difficulty now to disengage myself from these youths, who, probably, concluding from the commanding air of Sir Clement, that he had a right to protect me, quietly gave way to him, and entirely quitted us.

With his usual impetuosity, he then began a thousand enquiries, accompanied with as many compliments; and he told me, that he arrived at Bristol but this morning, which he had entirely devoted to endeavours to discover where I lodged.

“Did you know, then,” said I, “that I was at Bristol?”

“Would to Heaven,” cried he, “that I could remain in ignorance of your proceedings with the same contentment you do of mine! then should I not for ever journey upon the wings of Hope, to meet my own despair! You cannot even judge of the cruelty of my fate; for the ease and serenity of your mind incapacitates you from feeling for the agitation of mine!”

The ease and serenity of my mind! alas, how little do I merit those words!

“But,” added he, “had accident brought me hither, had I not known of your journey, the voice of fame would have proclaimed it to me instantly upon my arrival.”

“The voice of fame!” repeated I.

“Yes, for yours was the first name I heard at the pump-room. But had I not heard your name, such a description could have painted no one else.”

“Indeed,” said I, “I do not understand you.” But just then arriving at the milliner’s our conversation ended; for Miss Watkins called me to look at caps and ribbons.

Sir Clement, however, has the art of being always at home; he was very soon engaged, as busily as ourselves, in looking at lace ruffles; yet he took an opportunity of saying to me, in a low voice, “How charmed I am to see you look so well! I was told you were ill; — but I never saw you in better health — never more infinitely lovely!”

I turned away to examine the ribbons, and soon after Mrs. Selwyn made her appearance. I found that she was acquainted with Sir Clement; and her manner of speaking to him convinced me that he was a favourite with her.

When their mutual compliments were over, she turned to me, and said, “Pray, Miss Anville, how long can you live without nourishment?”

“Indeed, Ma’am,” said I, laughing, “I have never tried.”

“Because so long, and no longer,” answered she, “you may remain at Bristol.”

“Why, what is the matter, Ma’am?”

“The matter! — why, all the ladies are at open war with you — the whole pump-room is in confusion; and you, innocent as you pretend to look, are the cause. However, if you take my advice, you will be very careful how you eat and drink during your stay.”

I begged her to explain herself: and she then told me, that a copy of verses had been dropped in the pump-room, and read there aloud: “The beauties of the Wells,” said she, “are all mentioned, but you are the Venus to whom the prize is given.”

“Is it then possible,” cried Sir Clement, “that you have not seen these verses?”

“I hardly know,” answered I, “whether any body has.”

“I assure you,” said Mrs. Selwyn, “if you give me the invention of them, you do me an honour I by no means deserve.”

“I wrote down in my tablets,” said Sir Clement, “the stanzas which concern Miss Anville this morning at the pump-room; and I will do myself the honour of copying them for her this evening.”

“But why the part that concerns Miss Anville?” said Mrs. Selwyn; “Did you ever see her before this morning?”

“O yes,” answered he, “I have had that happiness frequently at Captain Mirvan’s. Too, too frequently!” added he, in a low voice, as Mrs. Selwyn turned to the milliner: and as soon as she was occupied in examining some trimmings, he came to me, and almost whether I would or not, entered into conversation with me.

“I have a thousand things,” cried he, “to say to you. Pray where are you?”

“With Mrs. Selwyn, Sir.”

“Indeed! — then, for once, chance is my friend. And how long have you been here?”

“About three weeks.”

“Good Heaven! what an anxious search have I had, to discover your abode, since you so suddenly left town! The termagant, Madame Duval, refused me all intelligence. Oh, Miss Anville, did you know what I have endured! the sleepless, restless state of suspense I have been tortured with, you could not, all cruel as you are, you could not have received me with such frigid indifference?”

“Received you, Sir!”

“Why, is not my visit to you?” Do you think I should have made this journey, but for the happiness of again seeing you?”

“Indeed it is possible I might — since so many others do.”

“Cruel, cruel girl! you know that I adore you! you know you are the mistress of my soul, and arbitress of my fate!”

Mrs. Selwyn then advancing to us, he assumed a more disengaged air, and asked, if he should not have the pleasure of seeing her in the evening at the assembly?

“Oh, yes,” cried she, “we shall certainly be there; so you may bring the verses with you, if Miss Anville can wait for them so long.”

“I hope then,” returned he, “that you will do me the honour to dance with me?”

I thanked him, but said I should not be at the assembly.

“Not be at the assembly?” cried Mrs. Selwyn, “Why, have you, too, letters to write?”

She looked at me with a significant archness, that made me colour; and I hastily answered, “No, indeed, Ma’am!”

“You have not!” cried she, yet more drily; “then pray, my dear, do you stay at home to help — or to hinder others?”

“To do neither, Ma’am,” answered I, in much confusion; “so, if you please, I will not stay at home.”

“You allow me, then,” said Sir Clement, “to hope for the honour of your hand?”

I only bowed — for the dread of Mrs. Selwyn’s raillery made me not dare refuse him.

Soon after this we walked home: Sir Clement accompanied us; and the conversation that passed between Mrs. Selwyn and him was supported in so lively a manner, that I should have been much entertained, had my mind been more at ease: but, alas! I could think of nothing but the capricious, the unmeaning appearance which the alteration in my conduct must make in the eyes of the Lord Orville! And much as I wished to avoid him, greatly as I desire to save myself from having my weakness known to him — yet I cannot endure to incur his ill opinion — and, unacquainted as he is with the reasons by which I am actuated, how can he fail contemning a change to him so unaccountable?

As we entered the garden, he was the first object we saw. He advanced to meet us; and I could not help observing, that at sight of each other both he and Sir Clement changed colour.

We went into the parlour, where we found the same party we had left. Mrs. Selwyn presented Sir Clement to Mrs. Beaumont; Lady Louisa and Lord Merton he seemed well acquainted with already.

The conversation was upon the general subjects, of the weather, the company at the Wells, and the news of the day. But Sir Clement, drawing his chair next to mine, took every opportunity of addressing himself to me in particular.

I could not but remark the striking difference of his attention, and that of Lord Orville: the latter has such gentleness of manners, such delicacy of conduct, and an air so respectful, that, when he flatters most, he never distresses; and when he most confers honour, appears to receive it! The former obtrudes his attention, and forces mine; it is so pointed, that it always confuses me, and so public, that it attracts general notice. Indeed I have sometimes thought that he would rather wish, than dislike to have his partiality for me known, as he takes great care to prevent my being spoken to by any but himself.

When at length he went away, Lord Orville took his seat, and said, with a half smile, “Shall I call Sir Clement — or will you call me an usurper for taking this place? — You make me no answer? — Must I then suppose that Sir Clement —”

“It is little worth your Lordship’s while,” said I, “to suppose any thing upon so insignificant an occasion.”

“Pardon me,” cried he; —“to me nothing is insignificant in which you are concerned.”

To this I made no answer; neither did he say any thing more, till the ladies retired to dress: and then, when I would have followed them, he stopped me, saying, “One moment, I entreat you!”

I turned back, and he went on, “I greatly fear that I have been so unfortunate as to offend you; yet so repugnant to my very soul is the idea, that I know not how to suppose it possible I can unwittingly have done the thing in the world that, designedly, I would wish to avoid.”

“No, indeed, my Lord, you have not,” said I.

“You sigh!” cried he, taking my hand, “would to Heaven I were the sharer of your uneasiness, whencesoever it springs! with what earnestness would I not struggle to alleviate it! — Tell me, my dear Miss Anville — my new-adopted sister, my sweet and most amiable friend! — tell me, I beseech you, if I can afford you any assistance?”

“None, none, my Lord!” cried I, withdrawing my hand, and moving towards the door.

“Is it then impossible I can serve you? — Perhaps you wish to see Mr. Macartney again?”

“No, my Lord.” And I held the door open.

“I am not, I own, sorry for that. Yet, oh! Miss Anville, there is a question — there is a conjecture — I know not how to mention, because I dread the result! — But I see you are in haste; — perhaps in the evening I may have the honour of a longer conversation. — Yet one thing, will you have the goodness to allow me to ask? — Did you, this morning, when you went to the Wells — did you know whom you should meet there?”

“Who, my Lord?”

“I beg your pardon a thousand times for a curiosity so unlicensed; — but I will say no more at present.”

He bowed, expecting me to go; — and then, with quick steps, but a heavy heart, I came to my own room. His question, I am sure, meant Sir Clement Willoughby; and had I not imposed upon myself the severe task of avoiding, flying Lord Orville, with all my power, I would instantly have satisfied him of my ignorance of Sir Clement’s journey. And yet more did I long to say something of the assembly, since I found he depended upon my spending the evening at home.

I did not go down stairs again till the family was assembled to dinner. My dress, I saw, struck Lord Orville with astonishment; and I was myself so much ashamed of appearing whimsical and unsteady, that I could not look up.

“I understood,” said Mrs. Beaumont, “that Miss Anville did not go out this evening.”

“Her intention in the morning,” said Mrs. Selwyn, “was to stay at home; but there is a fascinating power in an assembly, which, upon second thoughts, is not to be resisted.”

“The assembly!” cried Lord Orville; “are you then going to the assembly?”

I made no answer; and we all took our places at table.

It was not without difficulty that I contrived to give up my usual seat; but I was determined to adhere to the promise in my yesterday’s letter, though I saw that Lord Orville seemed quite confounded at my visible endeavours to avoid him.

After dinner, we all went into the drawing-room together, as there were no gentlemen to detain his Lordship; and then, before I could place myself out of his way, he said, “You are then really going to the assembly? — May I ask if you shall dance?”

“I believe not — my Lord.”

“If I did not fear,” continued he, “that you would be tired of the same partner at two following assemblies, I would give up my letter-writing till tomorrow evening, and solicit the honour of your hand.”

“If I do dance,” said I, in great confusion, “I believe I am engaged.”

“Engaged!” cried he, with earnestness, “May I ask to whom?”

“To–Sir Clement Willoughby, my Lord.”

He said nothing, but looked very little pleased, and did not address himself to me any more all the afternoon. Oh, Sir! — thus situated, how comfortless were the feelings of your Evelina!

Early in the evening, with his accustomed assiduity, Sir Clement came to conduct us to the assembly. He soon contrived to seat himself next me, and, in a low voice, paid me so many compliments, that I knew not which way to look.

Lord Orville hardly spoke a word, and his countenance was grave and thoughtful; yet, whenever I raised my eyes, his, I perceived, were directed towards me, though instantly, upon meeting mine, he looked another way.

In a short time, Sir Clement, taking from his pocket a folded paper, said, almost in a whisper, “Here, loveliest of women, you will see a faint, an unsuccessful attempt to paint the object of all my adoration! yet, weak as are the lines for the purpose, I envy beyond expression the happy mortal who has dared make the effort.”

“I will look at them,” said I, “some other time.” For, conscious that I was observed by Lord Orville, I could not bear he should see me take a written paper, so privately offered, from Sir Clement. But Sir Clement is an impracticable man, and I never succeeded in any attempt to frustrate whatever he had planned.

“No,” said he, still in a whisper, “you must take them now, while Lady Louisa is away;” for she and Mrs. Selwyn were gone up stairs to finish their dress, “as she must by no means see them.”

“Indeed,” said I, “I have no intention to show them.”

“But the only way,” answered he, “to avoid suspicion, is to take them in her absence. I would have read them aloud myself, but that they are not proper to be seen by any body in this house, yourself and Mrs. Selwyn excepted.”

Then again he presented me the paper, which I now was obliged to take, as I found declining it was vain. But I was sorry that this action should be seen, and the whispering remarked, though the purport of the conversation was left to conjecture.

As I held it in my hand, Sir Clement teazed me to look at it immediately; and told me, the reason he could not produce the lines publicly was, that among the ladies who were mentioned, and supposed to be rejected, was Lady Louisa Larpent. I am much concerned at this circumstance, as I cannot doubt but that it will render me more disagreeable to her than ever, if she should hear of it.

I will now copy the verses, which Sir Clement would not let me rest till I had read.

See last advance, with bashful grace,

Downcast eye, and blushing cheek,

Timid air, and beauteous face,

Anville — whom the Graces seek.

Though ev’ry beauty is her own,

And though her mind each virtue fills,

Anville — to her power unknown,

Artless strikes — unconscious kills.

I am sure, my dear Sir, you will not wonder that a panegyric such as this should, in reading, give me the greatest confusion; and, unfortunately, before I had finished it, the ladies returned.

“What have you there, my dear?” said Mrs. Selwyn.

“Nothing, Ma’am,” said I, hastily folding, and putting it in my pocket.

“And has nothing,” cried she, “the power of rouge?”

I made no answer; a deep sigh, which escaped Lord Orville at that moment, reached my ears, and gave me sensations — which I dare not mention!

Lord Merton then handed Lady Louisa and Mrs. Beaumont to the latter’s carriage. Mrs. Selwyn led the way to Sir Clement’s, who handed me in after her.

During the ride I did not once speak; but when I came to the assembly room, Sir Clement took care that I should not preserve my silence. He asked me immediately to dance; I begged him to excuse me, and seek some other partner. But on the contrary, he told me, he was very glad I would sit still, as he had a million of things to say to me.

He then began to tell me, how much he had suffered from absence; how greatly he was alarmed when he heard I had left town; and how cruelly difficult he had found it to trace me; which, at last, he could only do by sacrificing another week to Captain Mirvan.

“And Howard Grove,” continued he, “which, at my first visit, I thought the most delightful spot upon earth, now appeared to me the most dismal: the face of the country seemed altered; the walks, which I had thought most pleasant, were now most stupid: Lady Howard, who had appeared a cheerful and respectable old lady, now appeared in the common John Trot style of other aged dames: Mrs. Mirvan, whom I had esteemed as an amiable piece of still-life, now became so insipid, that I could hardly keep awake in her company: the daughter, too, whom I had regarded as a good-humoured, pretty sort of a girl, now seemed too insignificant for notice: and as to the Captain, I had always thought him a booby — but now he appeared a savage!”

“Indeed, Sir Clement,” cried I, angrily, “I will not hear you speak thus of my best friends.”

“I beg your pardon,” said he, “but the contrast of my two visits was too striking not to be mentioned.”

He then asked what I thought of the verses?

“Either,” said I, “they are written ironically, or by some madman.”

Such a profusion of compliments ensued, that I was obliged to propose dancing, in my own defence. When we stood up, “I intended,” said he, “to have discovered the author by his looks; but I find you so much the general loadstone of attention, that my suspicions change their object every moment. Surely you must yourself have some knowledge who he is?”

I told him no. Yet, my dear Sir, I must own to you, I have no doubt but that Mr. Macartney must be the author; no one else would speak of me so partially; and, indeed, his poetical turn puts it, with me, beyond dispute.

He asked me a thousand questions concerning Lord Orville; how long he had been at Bristol? — what time I had spent at Clifton? — whether he rode out every morning? — whether I ever trusted myself in a phaeton? and a multitude of other enquiries, all tending to discover if I was honoured with much of his Lordship’s attention, and all made with his usual freedom and impetuosity.

Fortunately, as I much wished to retire early, Lady Louisa makes a point of being the first who quit the rooms, and therefore we got home in very tolerable time.

Lord Orville’s reception of us was grave and cold: far from distinguishing me, as usual, by particular civilities, Lady Louisa herself could not have seen me enter the room with more frigid unconcern, nor have more scrupulously avoided honouring me with any notice. But chiefly I was struck to see, that he suffered Sir Clement, who stayed supper, to sit between us, without any effort to prevent him, though till then, he had seemed to be even tenacious of a seat next mine.

This little circumstance affected me more than I can express; yet I endeavoured to rejoice at it, since neglect and indifference from him may be my best friends. — But, alas! — so suddenly, so abruptly to forfeit his attention! — to lose his friendship! — Oh, Sir, these thoughts pierced my soul! — scarce could I keep my seat; for not all my efforts could restrain the tears from trickling down my cheeks: however, as Lord Orville saw them not, for Sir Clement’s head was constantly between us, I tried to collect my spirits, and succeeded so far as to keep my place with decency, till Sir Clement took leave; and then, not daring to trust my eyes to meet those of Lord Orville, I retired.

I have been writing ever since; for, certain that I could not sleep, I would not go to bed. Tell me, my dearest Sir, if you possibly can, tell me that you approve my change of conduct — tell me that my altered behaviour to Lord Orville is right — that my flying his society, and avoiding his civilities, are actions which you would have dictated. — Tell me this, and the sacrifices I have made will comfort me in the midst of my regret — for never, never can I cease to regret that I have lost the friendship of Lord Orville! — Oh, Sir, I have slighted — have rejected — have thrown it away! — No matter, it was an honour I merited not to preserve; and now I see — that my mind was unequal to sustaining it without danger.

Yet so strong is the desire you have implanted in me to act with uprightness and propriety, that, however the weakness of my heart may distress and afflict me, it will never, I humbly trust, render me wilfully culpable. The wish of doing well governs every other, as far as concerns my conduct — for am I not your child? — the creature of your own forming! — Yet, Oh Sir, friend, parent, of my heart! — my feelings are all at war with my duties! and, while I most struggle to acquire self-approbation, my peace, my happiness, my hopes — are lost!

’Tis you alone can compose a mind so cruelly agitated: you, I well know, can feel pity for the weakness to which you are a stranger; and, though you blame the affliction, soothe and comfort the afflicted.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/burney/fanny/evelina/letter72.html

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