Evelina, by Fanny Burney

Letter lxxix.

Evelina in Continuation.

October 9th.

HOW agitated, my dear Sir, is the present life of your Evelina! every day seems important, and one event only a prelude to another.

Mrs. Selwyn, upon her return this morning from the Hot Wells, entering my room very abruptly, said, “Oh, my dear, I have terrible news for you!”

“For me, Ma’am! — Good God! what now?”

“Arm yourself,” cried she, “with all your Berry Hill philosophy; — con over every lesson of fortitude or resignation you ever learnt in your life; — for know — you are next week to be married to Lord Orville!”

Doubt, astonishment, and a kind of perturbation I cannot describe, made this abrupt communication alarm me extremely; and, almost breathless, I could only exclaim, “Good God, Madam, what do you tell me!”

“You may well be frightened, my dear,” said she, ironically; “for really there is something mighty terrific in becoming, at once, the wife of the man you adore — and a Countess!”

I entreated her to spare her raillery, and tell me her real meaning. She could not prevail with herself to grant the first request, though she readily complied with the second.

My poor father, she said, was still in the utmost uneasiness: he entered upon his affairs with great openness, and told her, he was equally disturbed how to dispose either of the daughter he had discovered, or the daughter he was now to give up; the former he dreaded to trust himself with again beholding, and the latter he knew not how to shock with the intelligence of her disgrace. Mrs. Selwyn then acquainted him with my situation in regard to Lord Orville: this delighted him extremely; and, when he heard of his Lordship’s eagerness, he said he was himself of opinion, the sooner the union took place the better; and, in return, he informed her of the affair of Mr. Macartney. “And, after a very long conversation,” continued Mrs. Selwyn, “we agreed, that the most eligible scheme for all parties would be, to have both the real and the fictitious daughter married without delay. Therefore, if either of you have any inclination to pull caps for the title of Miss Belmont, you must do it with all speed, as next week will take from both of you all pretensions to it.”

“Next week! — dear Madam, what a strange plan! — without my being consulted — without applying to Mr. Villars — without even the concurrence of Lord Orville!”

“As to consulting you, my dear, it was out of all question; because, you know, young ladies’ hearts and hands are always to be given with reluctance; — as to Mr. Villars, it is sufficient we know him for your friend; — and as for Lord Orville, he is a party concerned.”

“A party concerned! — you amaze me!”

“Why, yes; for, as I found our consultation likely to redound to his advantage, I persuaded Sir John to send for him.”

“Send for him! — Good God!”

“Yes; and Sir John agreed. I told the servant, that if he could not hear of his Lordship in the house, he might be pretty certain of encountering him in the arbour. — Why do you colour, my dear? — Well, he was with us in a moment: I introduced him to Sir John; and we proceeded to business.”

“I am very, very sorry for it! — Lord Orville must himself think this conduct strangely precipitate.”

“No, my dear, you are mistaken; Lord Orville has too much good sense. Everything was then discussed in a rational manner. You are to be married privately, though not secretly, and then go to one of his Lordship’s country seats: and poor little Miss Green and your brother, who have no house of their own, must go to one of Sir John’s.”

“But why, my dear Madam, why all this haste? why may we not be allowed a little longer time?”

“I could give you a thousand reasons,” answered she, “but that I am tolerably certain two or three will be more than you can controvert, even with all the logic of genuine coquetry. In the first place, you doubtless wish to quit the house of Mrs. Beaumont: to whose, then, can you with such propriety remove as to Lord Orville’s?”

“Surely, Madam,” cried I, “I am not more destitute now than when I thought myself an orphan.”

“Your father, my dear,” answered she, “is willing to save the little impostor as much of the mortification of her disgrace as is in his power; now, if you immediately take her place, according to your right, as Miss Belmont, why, not all that either of you can do for her, will prevent her being eternally stigmatized as the bantling of Dame Green, wash-woman and wet nurse, of Berry Hill, Dorsetshire. Now such a genealogy will not be very flattering, even to Mr. Macartney, who, all-dismal as he is, you will find by no means wanting in pride and self-consequence.”

“For the universe,” interrupted I, “I would not be accessary to the degradation you mention; but surely, Madam, I may return to Berry Hill?”

“By no means,” said she; “for though compassion may make us wish to save the poor girl the confusion of an immediate and public fall, yet justice demands you should appear henceforward in no other light than that of Sir John Belmont’s daughter. Besides, between friends, I, who know the world, can see that half this prodigious delicacy for the little usurper is the mere result of self-interest; for, while her affairs are hushed up, Sir John’s, you know, are kept from being brought further to light. Now the double marriage we have projected obviates all rational objections. Sir John will give you immediately L.30,000; all settlements, and so forth, will be made for you in the name of Evelina Belmont:— Mr. Macartney will at the same time take poor Polly Green; and yet, at first, it will only be generally known that a daughter of Sir John Belmont is married.”

In this manner, though she did not convince me, yet the quickness of her arguments silenced and perplexed me. I enquired, however, if I might not be permitted to again see my father, or whether I must regard myself as banished his presence for ever?

“My dear,” said she, “he does not know you: he concludes that you have been brought up to detest him; and therefore he is rather prepared to dread than to love you.”

This answer made me very unhappy: I wished, most impatiently, to remove his prejudice, and endeavour, by dutiful assiduity, to engage his kindness; yet knew not how to propose seeing him, while conscious he wished to avoid me.

This evening, as soon as the company was engaged with cards, Lord Orville exerted his utmost eloquence to reconcile me to this hasty plan; but how was I startled when he told me that next Tuesday was the day appointed by my father to be the most important of my life!

“Next Tuesday!” repeated I, quite out of breath, “Oh, my Lord! —”

“My sweet Evelina,” said he, “the day which will make me the happiest of mortals, would probably appear awful to you, were it to be deferred a twelvemonth. Mrs. Selwyn has, doubtless, acquainted you with the many motives which, independent of my eagerness, require it to be speedy; suffer, therefore, its acceleration, and generously complete my felicity, by endeavouring to suffer it without repugnance.”

“Indeed, my Lord, I would not wilfully raise objections, nor do I desire to appear insensible of the honour of your good opinion; — but there is something in this plan — so very hasty — so unreasonably precipitate:— besides, I shall have no time to hear from Berry Hill; — and believe me, my Lord, I should be for ever miserable, were I, in an affair so important, to act without the sanction of Mr. Villars’s advice.”

He offered to wait on you himself: but I told him I had rather write to you. And then he proposed, that, instead of my immediately accompanying him to Lincolnshire, we should first pass a month at my native Berry Hill.

This was, indeed, a grateful proposal to me, and I listened to it with undisguised pleasure. And, in short, I was obliged to consent to a compromise in merely deferring the day till Thursday! He readily undertook to engage my father’s concurrence in this little delay; and I besought him, at the same time, to make use of his influence to obtain me a second interview, and to represent the deep concern I felt in being thus banished his sight.

He would then have spoken of settlements; but I assured him I was almost ignorant of the word.

And now, my dearest Sir, what is your opinion of these hasty proceedings? Believe me, I half regret the simple facility with which I have suffered myself to be hurried into compliance; and, should you start but the smallest objection, I will yet insist upon being allowed more time.

I must now write a concise account of the state of my affairs to Howard Grove, and to Madame Duval.

Adieu, dearest and most honoured Sir! everything at present depends upon your single decision; to which, though I yield in trembling, I yield implicitly.


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