Holborn, July 1. — 5 o’clock in the morning.
O SIR, what and adventure have I to write! — all night it has occupied my thoughts, and I am now risen thus early to write it to you.
Yesterday it was settled that we should spend the evening in Marybone Gardens, where M. Torre, a celebrated foreigner, was to exhibit some fire-works. The party consisted of Madame Duval, all the Branghtons, M. Du Bois, Mr. Smith, and Mr. Brown.
We were almost the first persons who entered the Gardens, Mr. Branghton having declared he would have all he could get for his money, which, at best, was only fooled away at such silly and idle places.
We walked in parties, and very much detached from one another. Mr. Brown and Miss Polly led the way by themselves; Miss Branghton and Mr. Smith followed; and the latter seemed determined to be revenged for my behaviour at the ball, by transferring all his former attention for me to Miss Branghton, who received it with an air of exultation; and very frequently they each of them, though from different motives, looked back, to discover whether I observed their good intelligence. Madame Duval walked with M. Du Bois, and Mr. Branghton by himself; but his son would willingly have attached himself wholly to me; saying frequently, “come, Miss, let’s you and I have a little fun together: you see they have all left us, so now let’s leave them.” But I begged to be excused, and went to the other side of Madame Duval.
This Garden, as it is called, is neither striking for magnificence nor for beauty; and we were all so dull and languid, that I was extremely glad when we were summoned to the orchestra, upon the opening of a concert; in the course of which I had the pleasure of hearing a concerto on the violin by Mr. Barthelemon, who to me seems a player of exquisite fancy, feeling and variety.
When notice was given us that the fire-works were preparing we hurried along to secure good places for the sight; but very soon we were so encircled and incommoded by the crowd, that Mr. Smith proposed the ladies should make interest for a form to stand upon: this was soon effected: and the men then left us to accommodate themselves better; saying, they would return the moment the exhibition was over.
The fire-work was really beautiful; and told, with wonderful ingenuity, the story of Orpheus and Eurydice: but, at the moment of the fatal look which separated them for ever, there was such an explosion of fire, and so horrible a noise, that we all, as of one accord, jumpt hastily from the form, and ran away some paces, fearing that we were in danger of mischief, from the innumerable sparks of fire which glittered in the air.
For a moment or two I neither knew nor considered whither I had run; but my recollection was soon awakened by a stranger’s addressing me with, “Come along with me, my dear, and I’ll take care of you.”
I started; and then, to my great terror, perceived that I had outrun all my companions, and saw not one human being I knew! With all the speed in my power, and forgetful of my first fright, I hastened back to the place I had left; — but found the form occupied by a new set of people.
In vain, from side to side, I looked for some face I knew; I found myself in the midst of a crowd, yet without party, friend, or acquaintance. I walked in disordered haste from place to place, without knowing which way to turn, or whither I went. Every other moment I was spoken to by some bold and unfeeling man; to whom my distress, which I think must be very apparent, only furnished a pretence for impertinent witticisms, or free gallantry.
At last a young officer, marching fiercely up to me, said, “You are a sweet pretty creature, and I enlist you in my service;” and then, with great violence, he seized my hand. I screamed aloud with fear; and forcibly snatching it away, I ran hastily up to two ladies, and cried, “for Heaven’s sake, dear ladies, afford me some protection!”
They heard me with a loud laugh, but very readily said, “Ay, let her walk between us;” and each of them took hold of an arm.
Then, in a drawling, ironical tone of voice, they asked what had frightened my little Ladyship? I told them my adventure very simply, and intreated they would have the goodness to assist me in finding my friends.
O yes, to be sure, they said, I should not want for friends, whilst I was with them. Mine, I said, would be very grateful for any civilities with which they might favour me. But imagine, my dear Sir, how I must have been confounded, when I observed, that every other word I spoke produced a loud laugh! However, I will not dwell upon a conversation, which soon, to my inexpressible horror, convinced me I had sought protection from insult, of those who were themselves most likely to offer it! You, my dearest Sir, I well know, will both feel for and pity my terror, which I have no words to describe.
Had I been at liberty, I should have instantly run away from them when I made the shocking discovery: but, as they held me fast, that was utterly impossible: and such was my dread of their resentment or abuse that I did not dare make any open attempt to escape.
They asked me a thousand questions, accompanied by as many halloos, of who I was, what I was, and whence I came? My answers were very incoherent; — but what, good Heaven, were my emotions, when, a few moments afterwards, I perceived advancing our way — Lord Orville!
Never shall I forget what I felt at that instant: had I, indeed, been sunk to the guilty state which such companions might lead him to suspect, I could scarce have had feelings more cruelly depressing.
However, to my infinite joy, he passed us without distinguishing me; though I saw that in a careless manner, his eyes surveyed the party.
As soon as he was gone, one of these unhappy women said, “Do you know that young fellow?”
Not thinking it possible she should mean Lord Orville by such a term, I readily answered, “No, Madam.”
“Why then,” answered she, “you have a monstrous good stare, for a little county Miss.”
I now found I had mistaken her, but was glad to avoid an explanation.
A few minutes after, what was my delight to hear the voice of Mr. Brown, who called out,” Lord, i’n’t that Miss what’s her name?”
“Thank God,” cried I, suddenly springing from them both, “thank God, I have found my party.”
Mr. Brown was, however, alone; and, without knowing what I did, I took hold of his arm.
“Lord, Miss,” cried he, “we’ve had such a hunt you can’t think! some of them thought you was gone home: but I says, says I, I don’t think, says I, that she’s like to go home all alone, says I.”
“So that gentleman belongs to you, Miss, does he?” said one of the women.
“Yes, Madam,” answered I, “and I now thank you for your civility; but as I am safe, will not give you any further trouble.”
I courtsied slightly, and would gave walked away; but, most unfortunately, Madame Duval and the two Miss Branghtons just then joined us.
They all began to make a thousand enquiries; to which I briefly answered, that I had been obliged to these two ladies for walking with me, and would tell them more another time: for, though I felt great comparative courage, I was yet too much intimidated by their presence, to dare be explicit.
Nevertheless, I ventured once more to wish them a goodnight, and proposed seeking Mr. Branghton. These unhappy women listened to all that was said with a kind of callous curiosity, and seemed determined not to take any hint. But my vexation was terribly augmented when, after having whispered something to each other, they very cavalierly declared, that they intended joining our party! and then, one of them very boldly took hold of my arm, while the other, going round, seized that of Mr. Brown; and thus, almost forcibly, we were moved on between them, and followed by Madame Duval and the Miss Branghton.
It would be very difficult to say which was greatest, my fright, or Mr. Brown’s consternation; who ventured not to make the least resistance, though his uneasiness made him tremble almost as much as myself. I would instantly have withdrawn my arm: but it was held so tight I could not move it; and poor Mr. Brown was circumstanced in the same manner on the other side; for I heard him say, “Lord, Ma’am, there’s no need to squeeze one’s arm so!”
And this was our situation — for we had not taken three steps, when — O sir — we again met Lord Orville! — but not again did he pass quietly by us:— unhappily I caught his eye; — both mine immediately were bent to the ground; but he approached me, and we all stopped.
I then looked up. He bowed. Good God, with what expressive eyes did he regard me! Never were surprise and concern so strongly marked:— yes, my dear Sir, he looked greatly concerned: and that, the remembrance of that, is the only consolation I feel for an evening the most painful of my life.
What he said I know not; for indeed, I seemed to have neither ears nor understanding; but I recollect that I only courtsied in silence. He paused for an instant, as if — I believe so — as if unwilling to pass on; and then, finding the whole party detained, he again bowed, and took leave.
Indeed, my dear Sir, I thought I should have fainted; so great was my emotion, from shame, vexation, and a thousand other feelings, for which I have no expressions. I absolutely tore myself from the woman’s arms; and then, disengaging myself from that of Mr. Brown, I went to Madame Duval, and besought that she would not suffer me to be again parted from her.
I fancy — that Lord Orville saw what passed; for scarcely was I at liberty, ere he returned. Methought, my dear Sir, the pleasure, the surprise of that moment, recompensed me for all the chagrin I had before felt: for do you not think, that his return manifests, for a character so quiet, so reserved as Lord Orville’s, something like solicitude in my concerns? such at least was the interpretation I involuntarily made upon again seeing him.
With a politeness to which I have been sometime very little used, he apologized for returning; and then inquired after the health of Mrs. Mirvan, and the rest of the Howard Grove family. The flattering conjecture which I have just acknowledged, had so wonderfully restored my spirits, that I believe I never answered him so readily, and with so little constraint. Very short, however, was the duration of this conversation; for we were soon most disagreeably interrupted.
The Miss Branghtons, though they saw almost immediately the characters of the women to whom I had so unfortunately applied, were, nevertheless, so weak and foolish, as merely to titter at their behaviour. As to Madame Duval, she was for some time so strangely imposed upon, that she thought they were two real fine ladies. Indeed, it is wonderful to see how easily and how frequently she is deceived. Our disturbance, however, arose from young Brown, who was now between the two women, by whom his arms were absolutely pinioned to his sides: for a few minutes his complaints had been only murmured: but he now called out aloud, “Goodness, Ladies, you hurt me like any thing! why, I can’t walk at all, if you keep pinching my arms so!”
This speech raised a loud laugh in the women, and redoubled the tittering of the Miss Branghtons. For my own part, I was most cruelly confused: while the countenance of Lord Orville manifested a sort of indignant astonishment; and, from that moment, he spoke to me no more till he took leave.
Madame Duval, who now began to suspect her company, proposed our taking the first box we saw empty, bespeaking a supper, and waiting till Mr. Branghton should find us.
Miss Polly mentioned one she had remarked, to which we all turned. Madame Duval instantly seated herself; and the two bold women, forcing the frightened Mr. Brown to go between them, followed her example.
Lord Orville, with an air of gravity that wounded my very soul, then wished me good night. I said not a word; but my face, if it had any connection with my heart, must have looked melancholy indeed: and so I have some reason to believe it did; for he added with much more softness, though no less dignity, “Will Miss Anville allow me to ask her address, and to pay my respects to her before I leave town?”
O how I changed colour at this unexpected request! — yet, what was the mortification I suffered in answering, “My Lord, I am — in Holborn!”
He then bowed and left us.
What, what can he think of this adventure! how strangely how cruelly have all appearances turned against me! Had I been blessed with any presence of mind, I should instantly have explained to him the accident which occasioned my being in such terrible company:— but I have none!
As to the rest of the evening, I cannot relate the particulars of what passed; for, to you, I only write of what I think; and I can think of nothing but this unfortunate, this disgraceful meeting. These two wretched women continued to torment us all, but especially poor Mr. Brown, who seemed to afford them uncommon diversion, till we were discovered by Mr. Branghton, who very soon found means to release us from their persecutions, by frightening them away. We stayed but a short time after they left us, which was all employed in explanation.
Whatever may be the construction which Lord Orville may put upon this affair, to me it cannot fail of being unfavourable; to be seen — gracious Heaven! to be seen in company with two women of such character! — How vainly, how proudly have I wished to avoid meeting him when only with the Branghtons and Madame Duval; — but now, how joyful should I be had he seen me to no greater disadvantage! — Holborn, too! what a direction! he who had always — but I will not torment you, my dearest Sir, with any more of my mortifying conjectures and apprehensions: perhaps he may call — and then I shall have an opportunity of explaining to him all the most shocking part of the adventure. And yet, as I did not tell him at whose house I lived, he may not be able to discover me; I merely said in Holborn; and he, who I suppose saw my embarrassment, forbore to ask any other direction.
Well, I must take my chance!
Yet let me, in the justice to Lord Orville, and in justice to the high opinion I have always entertained of his honour and delicacy — let me observe the difference of his behaviour, when nearly in the same situation, to that of Sir Clement Willoughby. He had, at least, equal cause to depreciate me in his opinion, and to mortify and sink me in my own; but far different was his conduct:— perplexed, indeed, he looked, and much surprised:— but it was benevolently, not with insolence. I am even inclined to think, that he could not see a young creature whom he had so lately known in a higher sphere, appear so suddenly, so strangely, so disgracefully altered in her situation, without some pity and concern. But whatever might be his doubts and suspicions, far from suffering them to influence his behaviour, he spoke, he looked with the same politeness and attention with which he had always honoured me when countenanced by Mrs. Mirvan.
Once again, let me drop this subject.
In every mortification, every disturbance, how grateful to my heart, how sweet to my recollection, is the certainty of your never-failing tenderness, sympathy and protection! Oh, Sir, could I upon this subject, could I write as I feel — how animated would be the language of your devoted
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