Evelina, by Fanny Burney

Letter liii.

Evelina in Continuation.

Holborn, July 1st.

LISTLESS, uneasy, and without either spirit or courage to employ myself, from the time I had finished my last letter, I indolently seated myself at the window, where, while I waited Madame Duval’s summons to breakfast, I perceived, among the carriages which passed by, a coronet-coach, and in a few minutes, from the window of it, Lord Orville! I instantly retreated, but not I believe, unseen; for the coach immediately drove up to our door.

Indeed, my dear Sir, I must own I was greatly agitated; the idea of receiving Lord Orville by myself — the knowledge that his visit was entirely to me — the wish of explaining the unfortunate adventure of yesterday — and the mortification of my present circumstances — all these thoughts, occurring to me nearly at the same time, occasioned me more anxiety, confusion, and perplexity, than I can possibly express.

I believe he meant to sent up his name; but the maid, unused to such a ceremony, forgot it by the way, and only told me, that a great Lord was below, and desired to see me; and, the next moment, he appeared himself.

If, formerly, when in the circle of high life, and accustomed to its manners, I so much admired and distinguished the grace, the elegance of Lord Orville, think Sir, how they must strike me now — now, when far removed from that splendid circle, I live with those to whom even civility is unknown, and decorum a stranger!

I am sure I received him very awkwardly: depressed by a situation so disagreeable — could I do otherwise? When his first enquiries were made, “I think myself very fortunate,” he said, “in meeting with Miss Anville at home, and still more so in finding her disengaged.”

I only courtsied. He then talked of Mrs. Mirvan, asked how long I had been in town, and other such general questions, which happily gave me time to recover from my embarrassment. After which he said, “If Miss Anville will allow me the honour of sitting by her a few minutes (for we were both standing) I will venture to tell her the motive which, next to enquiring after her health, has prompted me to wait on her thus early.”

We were then both seated; and, after a short pause, he said, “How to apologize for so great a liberty as I am upon the point of taking, I know not; — shall I, therefore, rely wholly upon your goodness, and not apologize at all?”

I only bowed.

“I should be extremely sorry to appear impertinent — yet hardly know how to avoid it.”

“Impertinent! O, my Lord,” cried I, eagerly, “that, I am sure, is impossible!”

“You are very good,” answered he, “and encourage me to be ingenuous —”

Again he stopped: but my expectation was too great for speech. At last, without looking at me, in a low voice, and hesitating manner, he said, “Were those ladies with whom I saw you last night ever in your company before?”

“No, my Lord,” cried I, rising and colouring violently, “nor will they ever be again.”

He rose too; and, with an air of the most condescending concern, said, “Pardon, Madam, the abruptness of a question which I knew not how to introduce as I ought, and for which I have no excuse to offer but my respect for Mrs. Mirvan, joined to the sincerest wishes for your happiness: yet I fear I have gone too far!”

“I am very sensible of the honour of your lordship’s attention,” said I; “but —”

“Permit me to assure you,” cried he, finding I hesitated, “that officiousness is not my characteristic; and that I would by no means have risked your displeasure, had I not been fully satisfied you were too generous to be offended without a real cause of offence.”

“Offended!” cried I, “no, my Lord, I am only grieved — grieved, indeed! to find myself in a situation so unfortunate as to be obliged to make explanations, which cannot but mortify and shock me.”

“It is I alone,” cried he, with some eagerness, “who am shocked, as it is I who deserve to be mortified. I seek no explanation, for I have no doubt; but in mistaking me, Miss Anville injures herself: allow me therefore, frankly and openly, to tell you the intention of my visit.”

I bowed, and we both returned to our seats.

“I will own myself to have been greatly surprised,” continued he, “when I met you yesterday evening, in company with two persons who I was sensible merited not the honour of your notice: nor was it easy for me to conjecture the cause of your being so situated; yet, believe me, my incertitude did not for a moment do you injury. I was satisfied that their characters must be unknown to you; and I thought, with concern, of the shock you would sustain when you discovered their unworthiness. I should not, however, upon so short an acquaintance, have usurped the privilege of intimacy, in giving my unasked sentiments upon so delicate a subject, had I not known that credulity is the sister of innocence, and therefore feared you might be deceived. A something which I could not resist, urged me to the freedom I have taken to caution you; but I shall not easily forgive myself if I have been so unfortunate as to give you pain.”

The pride which his first question had excited, now subsided into delight and gratitude; and I instantly related to him, as well as I could, the accident which had occasioned my joining the unhappy women with whom he had met me. He listened with an attention so flattering, seemed so much interested during the recital, and, when I had done, thanked me in terms so polite, for what he was pleased to call my condescension, that I was almost ashamed either to look at or hear him.

Soon after the maid came to tell me, that Madame Duval desired to have breakfast made in her own room.

“I fear,” cried Lord Orville, instantly rising, “that I have intruded upon your time; — yet who, so situated, could do otherwise?” Then, taking my hand, “Will Miss Anville allow me thus to seal my peace?” he pressed it to his lips, and took leave.

Generous, noble Lord Orville! how disinterested his conduct! how delicate his whole behaviour! Willing to advise, yet afraid to wound me! — Can I ever, in future, regret the adventure I met with at Marybone, since it has been productive of a visit so flattering? Had my mortifications been still more humiliating, my terrors still more alarming, such a mark of esteem — may I not call it so? — from Lord Orville, would have made me ample amends.

And indeed, my dear Sir, I require some consolation in my present very disagreeable situation; for, since he went, two incidents have happened, that, had not my spirits been particularly elated, would greatly have disconcerted me.

During breakfast, Madame Duval, very abruptly, asked, if I should like to be married? and added, that Mr. Branghton had been proposing a match for me with his son. Surprised, and, I must own, provoked, I assured her that in thinking of me, Mr. Branghton would very vainly lose his time.

“Why,” cried she, “I have had grander views for you myself, if once I could get you to Paris, and make you be owned; but if I can’t do that, and you can do no better, why, as you are both my relations, I think to leave my fortune between you; and then, if you marry, you never need want for nothing.”

I begged her not to pursue the subject, as, I assured her, Mr. Branghton was totally disagreeable to me; but she continued her admonitions and reflections, with her usual disregard of whatever I could answer. She charged me, very peremptorily, neither wholly to discourage, nor yet to accept Mr. Branghton’s offer, till she saw what could be done for me: the young man, she added, had often intended to speak to me himself, but, not well knowing how to introduce the subject, he had desired her to pave the way for him.

I scrupled not, warmly and freely, to declare my aversion to this proposal; but it was to no effect; she concluded, just as she had begun, by saying, that I should not have him, if I could do better.

Nothing, however, shall persuade me to listen to any other person concerning this odious affair.

My second cause of uneasiness arises, very unexpectedly, from M. Du Bois; who, to my infinite surprise, upon Madame Duval’s quitting the room after dinner, put into my hand a note, and immediately left the house.

This note contains an open declaration of an attachment to me; which, he says, he should never have presumed to have acknowledged, had he not been informed that Madame Duval destined my hand to young Branghton — a match which he cannot endure to think of. He beseeches me earnestly to pardon his temerity; professes the most inviolable respect; and commits his fate to time, patience, and pity.

This conduct in M. du Bois gives me real concern, as I was disposed to think very well of him. It will not, however, be difficult to discourage him; and therefore, I shall not acquaint Madame Duval of his letter, as I have reason to believe it would greatly displease her.


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