Evelina, by Fanny Burney

Letter lxxxi.

Evelina in Continuation.

Clifton, Oct. 12th.

THIS morning, early, I received the following letter from Sir Clement Willoughby:

“To Miss Anville.

“I HAVE this moment received intelligence that preparations are actually making for your marriage with Lord Orville.

“Imagine not that I write with the imbecile idea of rendering those preparations abortive. No, I am not so mad. My sole view is to explain the motive of my conduct in a particular instance, and to obviate the accusation of treachery which may be laid to my charge.

“My unguarded behaviour, when I last saw you, has, probably, already acquainted you, that the letter I then saw you reading was written by myself. For your further satisfaction, let me have the honour of informing you, that the letter you had designed for Lord Orville, had fallen into my hands.

“However I may have been urged on by a passion the most violent that ever warmed the heart of man, I can by no means calmly submit to be stigmatized for an action seemingly so dishonourable; and it is for this reason that I trouble you with this justification.

“Lord Orville — the happy Orville, whom you are so ready to bless — had made me believe he loved you not; — nay, that he held you in contempt.

“Such were my thoughts of his sentiments of you, when I got possession of the letter you meant to send him. I pretend not to vindicate either the means I used to obtain it, or the action of breaking the seal; but I was impelled, by an impetuous curiosity, to discover the terms upon which you wrote to him.

“The letter, however, was wholly unintelligible to me, and the perusal of it only added to my perplexity.

“A tame suspense I was not born to endure, and I determined to clear my doubts at all hazards and events.

“I answered it, therefore, in Orville’s name.

“The views which I am now going to acknowledge, must, infallibly, incur your displeasure; — yet I scorn all palliation.

“Briefly, then, I concealed your letter to prevent a discovery of your capacity; and I wrote you an answer, which I hoped would prevent your wishing for any other.

“I am well aware of every thing which can be said upon this subject. Lord Orville will, possibly, think himself ill-used; but I am extremely indifferent as to his opinion; nor do I now write by way of offering any apology to him, but merely to make known to yourself the reasons by which I have been governed.

“I intend to set off next week for the Continent. Should his Lordship have any commands for me in the mean time, I shall be glad to receive them. I say not this by way of defiance — I should blush to be suspected of so doing through an indirect channel; but simply that, if you show him this letter, he may know I dare defend, as well as excuse, my conduct.

“CLEMENT WILLOUGHBY.”

What a strange letter! how proud and how piqued does its writer appear! To what alternate meanness and rashness do the passions lead, when reason and self-denial do not oppose them! Sir Clement is conscious he has acted dishonourably; yet the same unbridled vehemence, which urged him to gratify a blameable curiosity, will sooner prompt him to risk his life, than, confess his misconduct. The rudeness of his manner of writing to me, springs, from the same cause: the proof which he has received of my indifference to him, has stung him to the soul, and he has neither the delicacy nor forbearance to disguise his displeasure.

I determined not to show this letter to Lord Orville, and thought it most prudent to let Sir Clement know I should not. I therefore wrote the following note:

“To Sir Clement Willoughby.

“SIR,

“The letter you have been pleased to address to me, is so little calculated to afford Lord Orville any satisfaction, that you may depend upon my carefully keeping it from his sight. I will bear you no resentment for what is past; but I most earnestly intreat, nay implore, that you will not write again, while in your present frame of mind, by any channel, direct or indirect.

“I hope you will have much pleasure in your promised expedition; and I beg leave to assure you of my good wishes.”

Not knowing by what name to sign, I was obliged to send it without any.

The preparations which Sir Clement mentions, go on just as if your consent were arrived: it is in vain that I expostulate; Lord Orville says, should any objections be raised, all shall be given up; but that, as his hopes forbid him to expect any, he must proceed as if already assured of your concurrence.

We have had, this afternoon, a most interesting conversation, in which we have traced our sentiments of each other from our first acquaintance. I have made him confess how ill he thought of me upon my foolish giddiness at Mrs. Stanley’s ball; but he flatters me with assurances, that every succeeding time he saw me, I appeared to something less and less disadvantage.

When I expressed my amazement that he could honour with his choice a girl who seemed so infinitely, in every respect, beneath his alliance, he frankly owned, that he had fully intended making more minute inquiries into my family and connections; particularly concerning those people he saw me with at Marybone, before he acknowledged his prepossession in my favour: but seeing me again, put him quite off his guard; and, “divesting him of prudence, left him nothing but love.” These were his words; and yet, he has repeatedly assured me, that his partiality has known no bounds from the time of my residing at Clifton.

* * * *

Mr. Macartney has just been with me, on an embassy from my father. He has sent me his kindest love and assurances of favour; and desired to know if I am happy in the prospect of changing my situation, and if there is any thing I can name which he can do for me. And, at the same time, Mr. Macartney delivered to me a draught on my father’s banker for a thousand pounds, which he insisted that I should receive entirely for my own use, and expend in equipping myself properly for the new rank of life to which I seem destined.

I am sure I need not say how much I was penetrated by this goodness: I wrote my thanks, and acknowledged, frankly, that if I could see him restored to tranquillity, my heart would be without a wish.

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