Evelina, by Fanny Burney

Letter lxxx.

Evelina in Continuation.

Oct. 11th.

YESTERDAY morning, as soon as breakfast was over, Lord Orville went to the Hot Wells, to wait upon my father with my double petition.

Mrs. Beaumont then, in general terms, proposed a walk in the garden. Mrs. Selwyn said she had letters to write; but Lady Louisa rose to accompany Mrs. Beaumont.

I had had some reason to imagine, from the notice with which her Ladyship had honoured me during breakfast, that her brother had acquainted her with my present situation: and her behaviour now confirmed my conjectures: for, when I would have gone up stairs, instead of suffering me, as usual, to pass disregarded, she called after me with an affected surprise, “Miss Anville, don’t you walk with us?”

There seemed something so little-minded in this sudden change of conduct, that, from an involuntary motion of contempt, I thanked her with a coldness like her own, and declined her offer. Yet, observing that she blushed extremely at my refusal, and recollecting she was sister to Lord Orville, my indignation subsided; and, upon Mrs. Beaumont repeating the invitation, I accepted it.

Our walk proved extremely dull: Mrs. Beaumont, who never says much, was more silent than usual; Lady Louisa strove in vain to lay aside the restraint and distance she has hitherto preserved; and, as to me, I was too conscious of the circumstances to which I owed their attention, to feel either pride or pleasure from receiving it.

Lord Orville was not long absent: he joined us in the garden with a look of gaiety and good humour that revived us all. “You are just the party,” said he, “I wished to see together. Will you, Madam (taking my hand), allow me the honour of introducing you, by your real name, to two of my nearest relations? Mrs. Beaumont, give me leave to present to you the daughter of Sir John Belmont, a young lady who, I am sure, must long since have engaged your esteem and admiration, though you were a stranger to her birth.”

“My Lord,” said Mrs. Beaumont, graciously saluting me, “the young lady’s rank in life, your Lordship’s recommendation, or her own merit, would, any one of them, have been sufficient to have entitled her to my regard; and I hope she has always met with that respect in my house which is so much her due; though, had I been sooner made acquainted with her family, I should doubtless have better known how to have secured it.”

“Miss Belmont,” said Lord Orville, “can receive no lustre from family, whatever she may give to it. Louisa, you will, I am sure, be happy to make yourself an interest in the friendship of Miss Belmont, whom I hope shortly (kissing my hand, and joining it with her Ladyship’s) to have the happiness of presenting to you by yet another name, and by the most endearing of all titles.”

I believe it would be difficult to say whose cheeks were, at that moment, of the deepest dye, Lady Louisa’s or my own; for the conscious pride with which she has hitherto slighted me, gave to her an embarrassment which equalled the confusion that an introduction so unexpected gave to me. She saluted me, however; and, with a faint smile said, “I shall esteem myself very happy to profit by the honour of Miss Belmont’s acquaintance.”

I only courtsied, and we walked on; but it was evident, from the little surprise they expressed, that they had been already informed of the state of the affair.

We were soon after joined by more company: and Lord Orville then, in a low voice, took an opportunity to tell me the success of his visit. In the first place, Thursday was agreed to; and, in the second, my father, he said, was much concerned to hear of my uneasiness; sent me his blessing; and complied with my request of seeing him, with the same readiness he should agree to any other I could make. Lord Orville, therefore, settled that I should wait upon him in the evening, and, at his particular request, unaccompanied by Mrs. Selwyn.

This kind message, and the prospect of so soon seeing him, gave me sensations of mixed pleasure and pain, which wholly occupied my mind till the time of my going to the Hot Wells.

Mrs. Beaumont lent me her chariot, and Lord Orville absolutely insisted upon attending me. “If you go alone,” said he, “Mrs. Selwyn will certainly be offended; but if you allow me to conduct you, though she may give the freer scope to her raillery, she cannot possibly be affronted: and we had much better suffer her laughter, than provoke her satire.”

Indeed, I must own, I had no reason to regret being so accompanied; for his conversation supported my spirits from drooping, and made the ride seem so short, that we actually stopped at my father’s door, before I knew we had proceeded ten yards.

He handed me from the carriage, and conducted me to the parlour, at the door of which I was met by Mr. Macartney. “Ah, my dear brother,” cried I, “how happy am I to see you here!”

He bowed, and thanked me. Lord Orville, then, holding out his hand, said, “Mr. Macartney, I hope we shall be better acquainted; I promise myself much pleasure from cultivating your friendship.”

“Your Lordship does me but too much honour,” answered Mr. Macartney.

“But where,” cried I, “is my sister? for so I must already call, and always consider her:— I am afraid she avoids me; — you must endeavour, my dear brother, to prepossess her in my favour, and reconcile her to owning me.”

“Oh, Madam,” cried he, “you are all goodness and benevolence! but at present I hope you will excuse her, for I fear she has hardly fortitude sufficient to see you: in a short time perhaps —”

“In a very short time, then,” said Lord Orville, “I hope you will yourself introduce her, and that we shall have the pleasure of wishing you both joy:— allow me, my Evelina, to say we, and permit me, in your name, as well as my own, to entreat that the first guests we shall have the happiness of receiving may be Mr. and Mrs. Macartney.”

A servant then came to beg I would walk up stairs.

I besought Lord Orville to accompany me; but he feared the displeasure of Sir John, who had desired to see me alone. He led me, however, to the foot of the stairs, and made the kindest efforts to give me courage: but indeed he did not succeed; for the interview appeared to me in all its terrors, and left me no feeling but apprehension.

The moment I reached the landing-place, the drawing-room door was opened: and my father, with a voice of kindness, called out, “My child, is it you?”

“Yes, Sir,” cried I, springing forward, and kneeling at his feet, “it is your child, if you will own her!”

He knelt by my side, and, folding me in his arms, “Own thee,” repeated he, “yes, my poor girl, and Heaven knows with what bitter contrition!” Then, raising both himself and me, he brought me into the drawing-room, shut the door, and took me to the window; where, looking at me with great earnestness, “Poor unhappy Caroline!” cried he; and, to my inexpressible concern, he burst into tears. Need I tell you, my dear Sir, how mine flowed at the sight?

I would again have embraced his knees; but, hurrying from me, he flung himself upon a sofa, and, leaning his face on his arms, seemed for some time absorbed in bitterness of grief.

I ventured not to interrupt a sorrow I so much respected; but waited in silence, and at a distance, till he recovered from its violence. But then it seemed in a moment to give way to a kind of frantic fury; for starting suddenly, with a sternness which at once surprised and frightened me, “Child,” cried he, “hast thou yet sufficiently humbled thy father? — if thou hast, be contented with this proof of my weakness, and no longer force thyself into my presence!”

Thunderstruck by a command so unexpected, I stood still and speechless, and doubted whether my own ears did not deceive me.

“Oh go, go!” cried he, passionately; “in pity — in compassion — if thou valuest my senses, leave me — and for ever!”

“I will, I will,” cried I, greatly terrified; and I moved hastily towards the door: yet, stopping when I reached it, and, almost involuntarily, dropping on my knees, “Vouchsafe,” cried I, “Oh, Sir, vouchsafe but once to bless your daughter, and her sight shall never more offend you!”

“Alas,” cried he, in a softened voice, “I am not worthy to bless thee! — I am not worthy to call thee daughter! — I am not worthy that the fair light of Heaven should visit my eyes! — Oh God! that I could but call back the time ere thou wast born — or else bury its remembrance in eternal oblivion!”

“Would to Heaven,” cried I, “that the sight of me were less terrible to you! that, instead of irritating, I could soothe your sorrows! — Oh Sir, how thankfully would I then prove my duty, even at the hazard of my life!”

“Are you so kind?” cried he, gently; “come hither, child; — rise, Evelina:— Alas, it is for me to kneel — not you; — and I would kneel — I would crawl upon the earth — I would kiss the dust — could I, by such submission, obtain the forgiveness of the representative of the most injured of women!”

“Oh, Sir,” exclaimed I, “that you could but read my heart! — that you could but see the filial tenderness and concern with which it overflows! — you would not then talk thus — you would not then banish me your presence, and exclude me from your affection!”

“Good God,” cried he, “is it then possible that you do not hate me? — Can the child of the wronged Caroline look at — and not execrate me? Wast thou not born to abhor, and bred to curse me? Did not thy mother bequeath thee her blessing on condition that thou should’st detest and avoid me?”

“Oh no, no, no!” cried I; “think not so unkindly of her, nor so hardly of me.” I then took from my pocketbook her last letter; and, pressing it to my lips, with a trembling hand, and still upon my knees, I held it out to him.

Hastily snatching it from me, “Great Heaven!” cried he, “’tis her writing — Whence comes this? — who gave it you — why had I it not sooner?”

I made no answer; his vehemence intimidated me, and I ventured not to move from the suppliant posture in which I had put myself.

He went from me to the window, where his eyes were for some time rivetted upon the direction of the letter, though his hand shook so violently he could hardly hold it. Then, bringing it to me, “Open it,” cried he — “for I cannot!”

I had myself hardly strength to obey him: but when I had, he took it back, and walked hastily up and down the room, as if dreading to read it. At length, turning to me, “Do you know,” cried he, “its contents?”

“No, Sir,” answered I, “it has never been unsealed.”

He then again went to the window, and began reading. Having hastily run it over, he cast up his eyes with a look of desperation; the letter fell from his hand, and he exclaimed, “Yes! thou art sainted! — thou art blessed! — and I am cursed for ever!” He continued some time fixed in this melancholy position; after which, casting himself with violence upon the ground, “Oh wretch,” cried he, “unworthy life and light, in what dungeon canst thou hide thy head?”

I could restrain myself no longer; I rose and went to him; I did not dare speak; but, with pity and concern unutterable, I wept and hung over him.

Soon after, starting up, he again seized the letter, exclaiming, “Acknowledge thee, Caroline! — yes, with my heart’s best blood would I acknowledge thee! — Oh that thou could’st witness the agony of my soul! — Ten thousand daggers could not have wounded me like this letter!”

Then, after again reading it, “Evelina,” he cried, “she charges me to receive thee; — wilt thou, in obedience to her will, own for thy father the destroyer of thy mother?”

What a dreadful question! — I shuddered, but could not speak.

“To clear her fame, and receive her child,” continued he, looking stedfastly at the letter, “are the conditions upon which she leaves me her forgiveness: her fame I have already cleared; — and Oh, how willingly would I take her child to my bosom, fold her to my heart — call upon her to mitigate my anguish, and pour the balm of comfort on my wounds, were I not conscious I deserve not to receive it, and that all my affliction is the result of my own guilt!”

It was in vain I attempted to speak; horror and grief took from me all power of utterance.

He then read aloud from the letter, “Look not like thy unfortunate mother!” “Sweet soul, with what bitterness of spirit hast thou written! — Come hither, Evelina: Gracious Heaven! (looking earnestly at me) never was likeness more striking! — the eyes — the face — the form — Oh, my child, my child!” Imagine, Sir — for I can never describe my feelings, when I saw him sink upon his knees before me! “Oh, dear resemblance of thy murdered mother! — Oh, all that remains of the most injured of women! behold thy father at thy feet! — bending thus lowly to implore you would not hate him. — Oh, then, thou representative of my departed wife, speak to me in her name, and say that the remorse which tears my soul tortures me not in vain!”

“Oh, rise, rise, my beloved father,” cried I, attempting to assist him; “I cannot bear to see you thus; reverse not the law of nature; rise yourself, and bless your kneeling daughter!”

“May Heaven bless thee, my child! —“cried he, “for I dare not.” He then rose; and, embracing me most affectionately, added, “I see, I see that thou art all kindness, softness, and tenderness; I need not have feared thee, thou art all the fondest father could wish, and I will try to frame my mind to less painful sensations at thy sight. Perhaps the time may come, when I may know the comfort of such a daughter; — at present I am only fit to be alone: dreadful as are my reflections, they ought merely to torment myself. — Adieu, my child; — be not angry — I cannot stay with thee; — Oh, Evelina! thy countenance is a dagger to my heart! — just so thy mother looked — just so —”

Tears and sighs seemed to choak him; — and, waving his hand, he would have left me; — but, clinging to him, “Oh, Sir,” cried I, “will you so soon abandon me? — am I again an orphan! — Oh, my dear, my long-lost father, leave me not, I beseech you! take pity on your child, and rob her not of the parent she so fondly hoped would cherish her!”

“You know not what you ask,” cried he; “the emotions which now rend my soul are more than my reason can endure; suffer me then, to leave you; — impute it not to unkindness, but think of me as well as thou canst. Lord Orville has behaved nobly; — I believe he will make thee happy.” Then, again embracing me, “God bless thee, my dear child,” cried he, “God bless thee, my Evelina! — endeavour to love — at least not to hate me — and to make me an interest in thy filial bosom, by thinking of me as thy father.”

I could not speak; I kissed his hands on my knees: and then, with yet more emotion, he again blessed me, and hurried out of the room — leaving me almost drowned in tears.

Oh, Sir, all goodness as you are, how much will you feel for your Evelina, during a scene of such agitation! I pray Heaven to accept the tribute of his remorse, and restore him to tranquillity!

When I was sufficiently composed to return to the parlour, I found Lord Orville waiting for me with the utmost anxiety:— and then a new scene of emotion, though of a far different nature, awaited me; for I learned by Mr. Macartney, that this noblest of men had insisted the so-long supposed Miss Belmont should be considered, indeed, as my sister, and as the co-heiress of my father; though not in law, in justice, he says, she ought ever to be treated as the daughter of Sir John Belmont.

Oh! Lord Orville! — it shall be the sole study of my happy life, to express, better than by words, the sense I have of your exalted benevolence and greatness of mind!

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/burney/fanny/evelina/letter80.html

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