GOOD God, my dear Sir, what a wonderful tale have I again to relate! even yet, I am not recovered from my extreme surprise.
Yesterday morning, as soon as I had finished my hasty letter, I was summoned to attend a walking party to the Hot Wells. It consisted only of Mrs. Selwyn and Lord Orville. The latter walked by my side all the way; and his conversation dissipated my uneasiness, and insensibly restored my serenity.
At the pump-room I saw Mr. Macartney; I courtsied to him twice ere he would speak to me. When he did, I began to apologize for having disappointed him; but I did not find it very easy to excuse myself, as Lord Orville's eyes, with an expression of anxiety that distressed me, turned from him to me, and me to him, every word I spoke. Convinced, however, that I had really trifled with Mr. Macartney, I scrupled not to beg his pardon. He was then not merely appeased, but even grateful.
He requested me to see him to-morrow; but I had not the folly to be again guilty of an indiscretion; which had already caused me so much uneasiness; and therefore I told him frankly, that it was not in my power at present to see him but by accident; and, to prevent his being offended, I hinted to him the reason I could not receive him as I wished to do.
When I had satisfied both him and myself upon this subject, I turned to Lord Orville, and saw, with concern, the gravity of his countenance. I would have spoken to him, but knew not how; I believe, however, he read my thoughts; for, in a little time, with a sort of serious smile, he said, "Does not Mr. Macartney complain of his disappointment?"
"Not much, my Lord."
"And how have you appeased him?" Finding I hesitated what to answer, "Am I not your brother?" continued he, "and must I not enquire into your affairs?"
"Certainly, my Lord," said I, laughing. "I only wish it were better worth your Lordship's while."
"Let me, then, make immediate use of my privilege. When shall you see Mr. Macartney again?"
"Indeed, my Lord, I can't tell."
"But,-do you know that I shall not suffer my sister to make a private appointment?"
"Pray, my Lord," cried I earnestly, "use that word no more! Indeed you shock me extremely."
"That would I not do for the world," cried he, "yet you know not how warmly, how deeply I am interested, not only in all your concerns, but in all your actions."
This speech-the most particular one Lord Orville had ever made to me, ended our conversation at that time; for I was too much struck by it to make any answer.
Soon after, Mr. Macartney, in a low voice, intreated me not to deny him the gratification of returning the money. While he was speaking, the young lady I saw yesterday at the assembly, with the large party, entered the pump-room. Mr. Macartney turned as pale as death, his voice faultered, and he seemed not to know what he said. I was myself almost equally disturbed, by the crowd of confused ideas that occurred to me. Good Heaven! thought I, why should he be thus agitated?-is it possible this can be the young lady he loved?-
In a few minutes we quitted the pump-room; and, though I twice wished Mr. Macartney good morning, he was so absent he did not hear me.
We did not immediately return to Clifton, as Mrs. Selwyn had business at a pamphlet shop. While she was looking at some new poems, Lord Orville again asked me when I should see Mr. Macartney?
"Indeed, my Lord," cried I, "I know not, but I would give the universe for a few moments' conversation with him!" I spoke this with a simple sincerity, and was not aware of the force of my own words.
"The universe!" repeated he, "Good God, Miss Anville, do you say this to me?"
"I would say it," returned I, "to any body, my Lord."
"I beg your pardon," said he, in a voice that showed him ill pleased, "I am answered."
"My Lord," cried I, "you must not judge hardly of me. I spoke inadvertently; but if you knew the painful suspense I suffer at this moment, you would not be surprised at what I have said."
"And would a meeting with Mr. Macartney relieve you from that suspense?"
"Yes, my Lord, two words might be sufficient."
"Would to Heaven," cried he, after a short pause, "that I were worthy to know their import!"
"Worthy, my Lord!-O, if that were all, your Lordship could ask nothing I should not be ready to answer! If I were but at liberty to speak, I should be proud of your Lordship's enquiries: but, indeed, I am not-I have not any right to communicate the affairs of Mr. Macartney;-your Lordship cannot suppose I have."
"I will own to you," answered he, "I know not what to suppose; yet there seems a frankness even in your mystery-and such an air of openness in your countenance, that I am willing to hope,-" He stopped a moment, and then added, "This meeting, you say, is essential to your repose?"
"I did not say that, my Lord; but yet I have the most important reasons for wishing to speak to him."
He paused a few minutes; and then said, with warmth, "Yes, you shall speak to him!-I will myself assist you!-Miss Anville, I am sure, cannot form a wish against propriety: I will ask no questions, I will rely upon her own purity, and, uninformed, blindfold as I am, I will serve her with all my power!" And then he went into the shop, leaving me so strangely affected by his generous behaviour, that I almost wished to follow him with my thanks.
When Mrs. Selwyn had transacted her affairs, we returned home.
The moment dinner was over, Lord Orville went out, and did not come back till just as we were summoned to supper. This is the longest time he has spent from the house since I have been at Clifton; and you cannot imagine, my dear Sir, how much I missed him. I scarce knew before how infinitely I am indebted to him alone for the happiness I have enjoyed since I have been at Mrs. Beaumont's.
As I generally go down stairs last, he came to me, the moment the ladies had passed by, and said, "Shall you be at home tomorrow morning?"
"I believe so, my Lord."
"And will you then receive a visitor for me?"
"For you, my Lord?"
"Yes:-I have made acquaintance with Mr. Macartney, and he has promised to call upon me to-morrow about three o'clock."
And then, taking my hand, he led me down stairs.
O, Sir!-was there ever such another man as Lord Orville?-Yes, one other now resides at Berry Hill!
This morning there has been a great deal of company here; but at the time appointed by Lord Orville, doubtless with that consideration, the parlour is almost always empty, as every body is dressing.
Mrs. Beaumont, however, was not gone up stairs when Mr. Macartney sent in his name.
Lord Orville immediately said, "Beg the favour of him to walk in. You see, Madam, that I consider myself as at home."
"I hope so," answered Mrs. Beaumont, "or I should be very uneasy."
Mr. Macartney then entered. I believe we both felt very conscious to whom the visit was paid: but Lord Orville received him as his own guest; and not merely entertained him as such while Mrs. Beaumont remained in the room, but for some time after she had left it, a delicacy that saved me from the embarrassment I should have felt, had he immediately quitted us.
In a few minutes, however, he gave Mr. Macartney a book,-for I, too, by way of pretence for continuing in the room, pretended to be reading,-and begged he would be so good as to look it over, while he answered a note, which he would dispatch in a few minutes, and return to him.
When he was gone, we both parted with our books; and Mr. Macartney, again producing the paper with the money, besought me to accept it.
"Pray," said I, still declining it, "did you know the young lady who came into the pump-room yesterday morning?"
"Know her!" repeated he, changing colour, "Oh, but too well!"
"Why, Madam, do you ask?"
"I must beseech you to satisfy me further upon this subject; pray tell me who she is."
"Inviolably as I meant to keep my secret, I can refuse you, Madam, nothing;-that lady-is the daughter of Sir John Belmont!-of my father!"
"Gracious Heaven!" cried I, involuntarily laying my hand on his arm, "you are then-" my brother, I would have said, but my voice failed me, and I burst into tears.
"Oh, Madam," cried he, "what does this mean?-what can thus distress you?"
I could not answer, but held out my hand to him. He seemed greatly surprised, and talked in high terms of my condescension.
"Spare yourself," cried I, wiping my eyes, "spare yourself this mistake,-you have a right to all I can do for you; the similarity of our circumstances-"
We were then interrupted by the entrance of Mrs. Selwyn; and Mr. Macartney, finding no probability of our being left alone, was obliged to take leave, though, I believe, very reluctantly, while in such suspense.
Mrs. Selwyn, then, by dint of interrogatories, drew from me the state of this affair. She is so penetrating, that there is no possibility of evading to give her satisfaction.
Is not this a strange event? Good Heaven! how little did I think that the visits I so unwillingly paid at Mr. Branghton's would have introduced me to so near a relation! I will never again regret the time I spent in town this summer: a circumstance so fortunate will always make me think of it with pleasure. * * * * * *
I have just received your letter,-and it has almost broken my heart!-Oh, Sir! the illusion is over, indeed! how vainly have I flattered, how miserably deceived myself! Long since, doubtful of the situation of my heart, I dreaded a scrutiny;-but now, now that I have so long escaped, I began, indeed, to think my safety insured, to hope that my fears were causeless, and to believe that my good opinion and esteem of Lord Orville might be owned without suspicion, and felt without danger;-miserably deceived, indeed! His sight is baneful to my repose;-his society is death to my future tranquillity! Oh, Lord Orville! could I have believed that a friendship so grateful to my heart, so soothing to my distresses, a friendship, which, in every respect, did me so much honour, would only serve to embitter all my future moments!-What a strange, what an unhappy circumstance, that my gratitude, though so justly excited, should be so fatal to my peace!
Yes, Sir, I will quit him;-would to Heaven I could at this moment! without seeing him again,-without trusting to my now conscious emotion!-Oh, Lord Orville, how little do you know the evils I owe to you! how little suppose that, when most dignified by your attention, I was most to be pitied,-and when most exalted by your notice, you were most my enemy!
You, Sir, relied upon my ignorance;-I, alas, upon your experience; and, whenever I doubted the weakness of my heart, the idea that you did not suspect it, reassured me,-restored my courage, and confirmed my error!-Yet am I most sensible of the kindness of your silence.
Oh, Sir! why have I ever quitted you? why been exposed to dangers to which I am so unequal?
But I will leave this place, leave Lord Orville,-leave him, perhaps, for ever!-no matter; your counsel, your goodness, may teach me how to recover the peace and the serenity of which my unguarded folly has beguiled me. To you alone do I trust,-in you alone confide, for every future hope I may form.
The more I consider the parting with Lord Orville, the less fortitude do I feel to bear the separation;-the friendship he has shown me,-his politeness,-his sweetness of manners,-his concern in my affairs,-his solicitude to oblige me,-all, all to be given up!-
No, I cannot tell him I am going,-I dare not trust myself to take leave of him,-I will run away without seeing him:-implicitly will I follow your advice, avoid his sight, and shun his society!
To-morrow morning I will set off for Berry Hill. Mrs. Selwyn and Mrs. Beaumont shall alone know my intention. And to-day-I will spend in my own room. The readiness of my obedience is the only atonement I can offer for the weakness which calls for its exertion.
Can you, will you, most honoured, most dear Sir! sole prop by which the poor Evelina is supported,-can you, without reproach, without displeasure, receive the child you have so carefully reared,-from whose education better fruit might have been expected, and who, blushing for her unworthiness, fears to meet the eye by which she has been cherished?-Oh, yes, I am sure you will! Your Evelina's errors are those of the judgment; and you, I well know, pardon all but those of the heart!