Evelina, by Fanny Burney

Letter lxxv.

Evelina to the Rev. Mr. Villars.

Clifton, Oct. 3rd.

THIS morning I saw from my window, that Lord Orville was walking in the garden; but I would not go down stairs till breakfast was ready: and then, he paid me his compliments almost as coldly as Lady Louisa paid hers.

I took my usual place, and Mrs. Belmont, Lady Louisa, and Mrs. Selwyn, entered into their usual conversation. — Not so your Evelina: disregarded, silent, and melancholy, she sat like a cypher, whom, to nobody belonging, by nobody was noticed.

Ill brooking such a situation, and unable to suport the neglect of Lord Orville, the moment breakfast was over I left the room, and was going up stairs; when, very unpleasantly, I was stopped by Sir Clement Willoughby, who, flying into the hall, prevented my proceeding.

He enquired very particularly after my health, and entreated me to return into the parlour. Unwillingly, I consented, but thought any thing preferable to continuing alone with him; and he would neither leave me, nor suffer me to pass on. Yet, in returning, I felt not a little ashamed at appearing thus to take the visit of Sir Clement to myself. And, indeed, he endeavoured, by his manner of addressing me, to give it that air.

He stayed, I believe, an hour; nor would he, perhaps, even then have gone, had not Mrs. Beaumont broken up the party, by proposing an airing in her coach. Lady Louisa consented to accompany her; but Mrs. Selwyn, when applied to, said, “If my Lord, or Sir Clement, will join us, I shall be happy to make one; — but really a trio of females will be nervous to the last degree.”

Sir Clement readily agreed to attend them; indeed, he makes it his evident study to court the favour of Mrs. Beaumont. Lord Orville excused himself from going out; and I retired to my own room. What he did with himself I know not, for I would not go down stairs till dinner was ready: his coldness, though my own change of behaviour had occasioned it, so cruelly depresses my spirits, that I know not how to support myself in his presence.

At dinner, I found Sir Clement again of the party. Indeed, he manages every thing his own way; for Mrs. Beaumont, though by no means easy to please, seems quite at his disposal.

The dinner, the afternoon, and the evening, were to me the most irksome imaginable: I was tormented by the assiduity of Sir Clement, who not only took, but made opportunities of speaking to me — and I was hurt — Oh, how inexpressibly hurt! — that Lord Orville not only forebore, as hitherto, seeking, he even neglected all occasions of talking with me!

I begin to think, my dear Sir, that the sudden alteration in my behaviour was ill-judged and improper; for, as I had received no offence, as the cause of the change was upon my account, not his, I should not have assumed, so abruptly, a reserve for which I dared assign no reason — nor have shunned his presence so obviously, without considering the strange appearance of such a conduct.

Alas, my dearest Sir, that my reflections should always be too late to serve me! dearly, indeed, do I purchase experience! and much, I fear, I shall suffer yet more severely, from the heedless indiscretion of my temper, ere I attain that prudence and consideration, which, by foreseeing distant consequences, may rule and direct in present exigencies. Oct. 4th.

Yesterday morning every body rode out, except Mrs. Selwyn and myself; and we two sat for some time together in her room; but, as soon as I could, I quitted her, to saunter in the garden; for she diverts herself so unmercifully with rallying me, either upon my gravity, or concerning Lord Orville — that I dread having any conversation with her.

Here I believe I spent an hour by myself; when, hearing the garden-gate open, I went into an arbour at the end of a long walk, where, ruminating, very unpleasantly, upon my future prospects, I remained quietly seated but a few minutes, before I was interrupted by the appearance of Sir Clement Willoughby.

I started; and would have left the arbour, but he prevented me. Indeed, I am almost certain he had heard in the house where I was, as it is not, otherwise, probable he would have strolled down the garden alone.

“Stop, stop,” cried he, “loveliest and most beloved of women, stop and hear me!”

Then, making me keep my place, he sat down by me, and would have taken my hand; but I drew it back, and said I could not stay.

“Can you, then,” cried he, “refuse me the smallest gratification, though, but yesterday, I almost suffered martyrdom for the pleasure of seeing you?”

“Martyrdom! Sir Clement.”

“Yes, beauteous insensible! martyrdom: for did I not compel myself to be immured in a carriage, the tedious length of a whole morning, with the three most fatiguing women in England?”

“Upon my word, the ladies are extremely obliged to you.”

“Oh,” returned he, “they have, every one of them, so copious a share of their own personal esteem, that they have no right to repine at the failure of it in the world; and, indeed, they will themselves be the last to discover it.”

“How little,” cried I, “are those ladies aware of such severity from you!”

“They are guarded,” answered he, “so happily and so securely by their own conceit, that they are not aware of it from any body. Oh, Miss Anville, to be torn away from you, in order to be shut up with them — is there a human being, except your cruel self, could forbear to pity me?”

“I believe, Sir Clement, however hardly you may choose to judge of them, your situation, by the world in general, would rather have been envied than pitied.”

“The world in general,” answered he, “has the same opinion of them that I have myself: Mrs. Beaumont is every where laughed at, Lady Louisa ridiculed, and Mrs. Selwyn hated.”

“Good God, Sir Clement, what cruel strength of words do you use!”

“It is you, my angel, are to blame, since your perfections have rendered their faults so glaring. I protest to you, during our whole ride, I thought the carriage drawn by snails. The absurd pride of Mrs. Beaumont, and the respect she exacts, are at once insufferable and stupifying; had I never before been in her company, I should have concluded that this had been her first airing from the herald’s office — and wished her nothing worse, than that it might also be the last. I assure you, that but for gaining the freedom of her house, I would fly her as I would plague, pestilence, and famine. Mrs. Selwyn, indeed, afforded some relief from this formality, but the unbounded license of her tongue —”

“O, Sir Clement, do you object to that?”

“Yes, my sweet reproacher, in a woman I do; in a woman I think it intolerable. She has wit, I acknowledge, and more understanding than half her sex put together; but she keeps alive a perpetual expectation of satire, that spreads a general uneasiness among all who are in her presence; and she talks so much, that even the best things she says weary the attention. As to the little Louisa, ’tis such a pretty piece of languor, that ’tis almost cruel to speak rationally about her — else I should say, she is a mere compound of affectation, impertinence, and airs.”

“I am quite amazed,” said I, “that, with such opinions, you can behave to them all with so much attention and civility.”

“Civility! my angel — why I could worship, could adore them, only to procure myself a moment of your conversation! Have you not seen me pay my court to the gross Captain Mirvan, and the virago Madame Duval? Were it possible that a creature so horrid could be formed, as to partake of the worst qualities of all these characters — a creature who should have the haughtiness of Mrs. Beaumont, the brutality of Captain Mirvan, the self-conceit of Mrs. Selwyn, the affectation of Lady Louisa, and the vulgarity of Madame Duval — even to such a monster as that I would pay homage, and pour forth adulation, only to obtain one word, one look from my adored Miss Anville!”

“Sir Clement,” said I, “you are greatly mistaken if you suppose this duplicity of character recommends you to my good opinion. But I must take this opportunity of begging you never more to talk to me in this strain.”

“Oh, Miss Anville, your reproofs, your coldness, pierce me to the soul! look upon me with less rigour, and make me what you please; — you shall govern and direct all my actions — you shall new-form, new-model me:— I will not have even a wish but of your suggestion; only deign to look upon me with pity — if not with favour!”

“Suffer me, Sir,” said I, very gravely, “to make use of this occasion to put a final conclusion to such expressions. I entreat you never again to address me in a language so flighty and so unwelcome. You have already given me great uneasiness; and I must frankly assure you, that if you do not desire to banish me from wherever you are, you will adopt a very different style and conduct in future.”

I then rose, and was going, but he flung himself at my feet to prevent me, exclaiming, in a most passionate manner, “Good God! Miss Anville, what do you say? — is it, can it be possible, that, so unmoved, that, with such petrifying indifference, you can tear from me even the remotest hope!”

“I know not, Sir,” said I, endeavouring to disengage myself from him, “what hope you mean, but I am sure that I never intended to give you any.”

“You distract me,” cried he, “I cannot endure such scorn; — I beseech you to have some moderation in your cruelty, lest you make me desperate:— say, then, that you pity me — O fairest inexorable! loveliest tyrant! — say, tell me, at least, that you pity me!”

Just then, who should come in sight, as if intending to pass by the arbour, but Lord Orville! Good Heaven, how did I start! and he, the moment he saw me, turned pale, and was hastily retiring; — but I called out “Lord Orville! — Sir Clement, release me — let go my hand!”

Sir Clement, in some confusion, suddenly rose, but still grasped my hand. Lord Orville, who had turned back, was again walking away; but, still struggling to disengage myself, I called out “Pray, pray, my Lord, don’t go! — Sir Clement, I insist upon your releasing me!”

Lord Orville then, hastily approaching us, said, with great spirit, “Sir Clement, you cannot wish to detain Miss Anville by force!”

“Neither, my Lord,” cried Sir Clement, proudly, “do I request the honour of your Lordship’s interference.”

However, he let go my hand, and I immediately ran into the house.

I was now frightened to death, lest Sir Clement’s mortified pride should provoke him to affront Lord Orville: I therefore ran hastily to Mrs. Selwyn, and entreated her, in a manner hardly to be understood, to walk towards the arbour. She asked no questions, for she is quick as lightening in taking a hint, but instantly hastened into the garden.

Imagine, my dear Sir, how wretched I must be till I saw her return! scarce could I restrain myself from running back: however, I checked my impatience, and waited, though in agonies, till she came.

And now, my dear Sir, I have a conversation to write, the most interesting to me that I ever heard. The comments and questions with which Mrs. Selwyn interrupted her account I shall not mention; for they are such as you may very easily suppose.

Lord Orville and Sir Clement were both seated very quietly in the arbour: and Mrs. Selwyn, standing still, as soon as she was within a few yards of them, heard Sir Clement say, “Your question, my Lord, alarms me, and I can by no means answer it, unless you will allow me to propose another.”

“Undoubtedly, Sir.”

“You ask me, my Lord, what are my intentions? — I should be very happy to be satisfied as to your Lordship’s.”

“I have never, Sir, professed any.”

Here they were both, for a few moments, silent; and then Sir Clement said, “To what, my Lord, must I then impute your desire of knowing mine?”

“To an unaffected interest in Miss Anville’s welfare.”

“Such an interest,” said Sir Clement, drily, “is indeed very generous; but, except in a father — a brother — or a lover —”

“Sir Clement,” interrupted his Lordship, “I know your inference; and I acknowledge I have not the right of enquiry which any of those three titles bestow; and yet I confess the warmest wishes to serve her and to see her happy. Will you, then, excuse me, if I take the liberty to repeat my question?”

“Yes, if your Lordship will excuse my repeating, that I think it a rather extraordinary one.”

“It may be so,” said Lord Orville; “but this young lady seems to be peculiarly situated; she is very young, very inexperienced, yet appears to be left totally to her own direction. She does not, I believe, see the dangers to which she is exposed, and I will own to you, I feel a strong desire to point them out.”

“I don’t rightly understand your Lordship — but I think you cannot mean to prejudice her against me?”

“Her sentiments of you, Sir, are as much unknown to me, as your intentions towards her. Perhaps, were I acquainted with either, my officiousness might be at an end: but I presume not to ask upon what terms —”

Here he stopped; and Sir Clement said, “You know, my Lord, I am not given to despair; I am by no means such a puppy as to tell you I am upon sure ground; however, perseverance —”

“You are, then, determined to perservere?”

“I am, my Lord.”

“Pardon me, then, Sir Clement, if I speak to you with freedom. This young lady, though she seems alone, and, in some measure, unprotected, is not entirely without friends; she has been extremely well educated, and accustomed to good company; she has a natural love of virtue, and a mind that might adorn any station, however exalted: is such a young lady, Sir Clement, a proper object to trifle with? — for your principles, excuse me, Sir, are well known.”

“As to that, my Lord, let Miss Anville look to herself; she has an excellent understanding, and needs no counsellor.”

“Her understanding is indeed excellent; but she is too young for suspicion, and has an artlessness of disposition I never saw equalled.”

“My Lord,” cried Sir Clement, warmly, “your praises make me doubt your disinterestedness, and there exists not the man, whom I would so unwillingly have for a rival as yourself. But you must give me leave to say, you have greatly deceived me in regard to this affair.”

“How so, Sir?” cried Lord Orville, with equal warmth.

“You were pleased, my Lord,” answered Sir Clement, “upon our first conversation concerning this young lady, to speak to her in terms by no means suited to your present encomiums; you said she was a poor, weak, ignorant girl, and I had great reason to believe you had a most contemptuous opinion of her.”

“It is very true,” said Lord Orville, “that I did not, at our first acquaintance, do justice to the merits of Miss Anville; but I knew not then how new she was to the world; at present, however, I am convinced, that whatever might appear strange in her behaviour, was simply the effect of inexperience, timidity, and a retired education; for I find her informed, sensible, and intelligent. She is not, indeed, like most modern young ladies, to be known in half an hour: her modest worth, and fearful excellence, require both time and encouragement to show themselves. She does not, beautiful as she is, seize the soul by surprise, but, with more dangerous fascination, she steals it almost imperceptibly.”

“Enough, my Lord,” cried Sir Clement, “your solicitude for her welfare is now sufficiently explained.”

“My friendship and esteem,” returned Lord Orville, “I do not wish to disguise; but assure yourself, Sir Clement, I should not have troubled you upon this subject, had Miss Anville and I ever conversed but as friends. However, since you do not choose to avow your intentions, we must drop the subject.”

“My intentions,” cried he, “I will frankly own, are hardly known to myself. I think Miss Anville the loveliest of her sex; and, were I a marrying man, she, of all the women I have seen, I would fix upon for a wife: but I believe that not even the philosophy of your Lordship would recommend me to a connection of that sort, with a girl of obscure birth, whose only dowry is her beauty, and who is evidently in a state of dependency.”

“Sir Clement,” cried Lord Orville, with some heat, “we will discuss this point no further; we are both free agents, and must act for ourselves.”

Here Mrs. Selwyn, fearing a surprise, and finding my apprehensions of danger were groundless, retired hastily into another walk, and soon after came to give me this account.

Good Heaven, what a man is this Sir Clement! So designing, though so easy; so deliberately artful, though so flighty! Greatly, however, is he mistaken, all confident as he seems; for the girl, obscure, poor, dependent as she is, far from wishing the honour of his alliance, would not only now, but always have rejected it.

As to Lord Orville — but I will not trust my pen to mention him — tell me, my dear sir, what you think of him? — tell me if he is not the noblest of men? — and if you can either wonder at, or blame my admiration?

The idea of being seen immediately by either party, after so singular a conversation, was both awkward and distressing to me; but I was obliged to appear at dinner. Sir Clement, I saw, was absent and uneasy; he watched me, he watched Lord Orville, and was evidently disturbed in his mind. Whenever he spoke to me, I turned from him with undisguised disdain, for I am too much irritated against him, to bear with his ill-meant assiduities any longer.

But, not once — not a moment, did I dare meet the eyes of Lord Orville! All consciousness myself, I dreaded his penetration, and directed mine every way — but towards his. The rest of the day I never quitted Mrs. Selwyn.

Adieu, my dear Sir: tomorrow I expect your directions, whether I am to return to Berry Hill, or once more to visit London.

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