Evelina/Letter LXXVI

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Evelina by Fanny Burney
Letter LXXVI: EVELINA IN CONTINUATION. Oct. 6th.


AND now, my dearest Sir, if the perturbation of my spirits will allow me, I will finish my last letter from Clifton Hill. This morning, though I did not go down stairs early, Lord Orville was the only person in the parlour when I entered it. I felt no small confusion at seeing him alone, after having so long and successfully avoided such a meeting. As soon as the usual compliments were over, I would have left the room, but he stopped me by saying, "If I disturb you Miss Anville, I am gone."

"My Lord," said I, rather embarrassed, "I did not mean to stay."

"I flattered myself," cried he, "I should have had a moment's conversation with you."

I then turned back; and he seemed himself in some perplexity: but, after a short pause, "You are very good," said he, "to indulge my request; I have, indeed, for some time past, most ardently desired an opportunity of speaking to you."

Again he paused; but I said nothing, so he went on.

"You allowed me, Madam, a few days since, you allowed me to lay claim to your friendship,-to interest myself in your affairs,-to call you by the affectionate title of sister;-and the honour you did me, no man could have been more sensible of; I am ignorant, therefore, how I have been so unfortunate as to forfeit it:-but, at present, all is changed! you fly me,-your averted eye shuns to meet mine, and you sedulously avoid my conversation."

I was extremely disconcerted at this grave, and but too just accusation, and I am sure I must look very simple;-but I made no answer.

"You will not, I hope," continued he, "condemn me unheard; if there is any thing I have done,-or any thing I have neglected, tell me, I beseech you, what, and it shall be the whole study of my thoughts how to deserve your pardon."

"Oh, my Lord," cried I, penetrated at once with shame and gratitude, "your too, too great politeness oppresses me!-you have done nothing,-I have never dreamt of offence-if there is any pardon to be asked it is rather for me, than for you to ask it."

"You are all sweetness and condescension!" cried he, "and I flatter myself you will again allow me to claim those titles which I find myself so unable to forego. Yet, occupied as I am, with an idea that gives me the greatest uneasiness, I hope you will not think me impertinent, if I still solicit, still intreat, nay implore, you to tell me, to what cause your late sudden, and to me most painful, reserve was owing?"

"Indeed, my Lord," said I, stammering, "I don't,-I can't,-indeed, my Lord,-"

"I am sorry to distress you," said he, "and ashamed to be so urgent,-yet I know not how to be satisfied while in ignorance,-and the time when the change happened, makes me apprehend,-may I, Miss Anville, tell you what it makes me apprehend?"

"Certainly, my Lord."

"Tell me, then,-and pardon a question most essentially important to me;-Had, or had not, Sir Clement Willoughby any share in causing your inquietude?"

"No, my Lord," answered I, with firmness, "none in the world."

"A thousand, thousand thanks!" cried he: "you have relieved me from a weight of conjecture which I supported very painfully. But one thing more; is it, in any measure, to Sir Clement that I may attribute the alteration in your behaviour to myself, which, I could not but observe, began the very day after his arrival at the Hot Wells?"

"To Sir Clement, my Lord," said I, "attribute nothing. He is the last man in the world who would have any influence over my conduct."

"And will you, then, restore to me that share of confidence and favour with which you honoured me before he came?"

Just then, to my great relief,-for I knew not what to say,-Mrs. Beaumont opened the door, and in a few minutes we went to breakfast.

Lord Orville was all gaiety; never did I see him more lively or more agreeable. Very soon after, Sir Clement Willoughby called, to pay his respects, he said, to Mrs. Beaumont. I then came to my own room, where, indulging my reflections, which, now soothed, and now alarmed me, I remained very quietly, till I received your most kind letter.

Oh, Sir, how sweet are the prayers you offer for your Evelina! how grateful to her are the blessings you pour upon her head!-You commit me to my real parent,-Ah, Guardian, Friend, Protector of my youth,-by whom my helpless infancy was cherished, my mind formed, my very life preserved,-you are the Parent my heart acknowledges, and to you do I vow eternal duty, gratitude, and affection!

I look forward to the approaching interview with more fear than hope; but, important as is this subject, I am just now wholly engrossed with another, which I must hasten to communicate.

I immediately acquainted Mrs. Selwyn with the purport of your letter. She was charmed to find your opinion agreed with her own, and settled that we should go to town to-morrow morning: and a chaise is actually ordered to be here by one o'clock.

She then desired me to pack up my clothes; and said she must go herself to make speeches and tell lies to Mrs. Beaumont.

When I went down stairs to dinner, Lord Orville, who was still in excellent spirits, reproached me for secluding myself so much from the company. He sat next me,-he would sit next me,-at table; and he might, I am sure, repeat what he once said of me before, that he almost exhausted himself in fruitless endeavours to entertain me; -for, indeed, I was not to be entertained: I was totally spiritless and dejected; the idea of the approaching meeting,-and Oh, Sir, the idea of the approaching parting,-gave a heaviness to my heart that I could neither conquer nor repress. I even regretted the half explanation that had passed, and wished Lord Orville had supported his own reserve, and suffered me to support mine.

However, when, during dinner, Mrs. Beaumont spoke of our journey, my gravity was no longer singular; a cloud instantly overspread the countenance of Lord Orville, and he became nearly as thoughtful and as silent as myself.

We all went together to the drawing-room. After a short and unentertaining conversation, Mrs. Selwyn said she must prepare for her journey, and begged me to see for some books she had left in the parlour.

And here, while I was looking for them, I was followed by Lord Orville. He shut the door after he came in, and, approaching me with a look of anxiety, said, "Is this true, Miss Anville, are you going?"

"I believe so, my Lord," said I, still looking for the books.

"So suddenly, so unexpectedly must I lose you?"

"No great loss, my Lord," cried I, endeavouring to speak cheerfully.

"Is it possible," said he gravely, "Miss Anville can doubt my sincerity?"

"I can't imagine," cried I, "what Mrs. Selwyn has done with these books."

"Would to Heaven," continued he, "I might flatter myself you would allow me to prove it!"

"I must run up stairs," cried I, greatly confused, "and ask what she has done with them."

"You are going, then," cried he, taking my hand, "and you give me not the smallest hope of your return!-will you not, then, my too lovely friend!-will you not, at least, teach me, with fortitude like your own, to support your absence?"

"My Lord," cried I, endeavouring to disengage my hand, "pray let me go!"

"I will," cried he, to my inexpressible confusion, dropping on one knee, "if you wish to leave me!"

"O, my Lord," exclaimed I, "rise, I beseech you, rise!-such a posture to me!-surely your Lordship is not so cruel as to mock me!"

"Mock you!" repeated he earnestly, "no I revere you! I esteem and I admire you above all human beings! you are the friend to whom my soul is attached as to its better half! you are the most amiable, the most perfect of women! and you are dearer to me than language has the power of telling."

I attempt not to describe my sensations at that moment; I scarce breathed; I doubted if I existed,-the blood forsook my cheeks, and my feet refused to sustain me: Lord Orville, hastily rising, supported me to a chair, upon which I sunk, almost lifeless.

For a few minutes, we neither of us spoke; and then, seeing me recover, Lord Orville, though in terms hardly articulate, intreated my pardon for his abruptness. The moment my strength returned, I attempted to rise, but he would not permit me.

I cannot write the scene that followed, though every word is engraven on my heart; but his protestations, his expressions, were too flattering for repetition: nor would he, in spite of my repeated efforts to leave him, suffer me to escape:-in short, my dear Sir, I was not proof against his solicitations-and he drew from me the most sacred secret of my heart!

I know not how long we were together; but Lord Orville was upon his knees, when the door was opened by Mrs. Selwyn!-To tell you, Sir, the shame with which I overwhelmed, would be impossible;-I snatched my hand from Lord Orville,-he, too, started and rose, and Mrs. Selwyn, for some instants, stood facing us both in silence.

At last, "My Lord" said she, sarcastically, "have you been so good as to help Miss Anville to look for my books?"

"Yes, Madam," answered he, attempting to rally, "and I hope we shall soon be able to find them."

"Your Lordship is extremely kind," said she, drily, "but I can by no means consent to take up any more of your time." Then looking on the window-seat, she presently found the books, and added, "Come, here are just three, and so like the servants in the Drummer, this important affair may give employment to us all." She then presented one of them to Lord Orville, another to me, and taking a third herself, with a most provoking look, she left the room.

I would instantly have followed her; but Lord Orville, who could not help laughing, begged me to stay a minute, as he had many important matters to discuss.

"No, indeed, my Lord, I cannot,-perhaps I have already stayed too long."

"Does Miss Anville so soon repent her goodness?"

"I scarce know what I do, my Lord,-I am quite bewildered!"

"One hour's conversation," cried he, "will, I hope, compose your spirits, and confirm my happiness. When, then, may I hope to see you alone?-shall you walk in the garden to-morrow before breakfast?"

"No, no, my Lord; you must not, a second time, reproach me with making an appointment."

"Do you then," said he, laughing, "reserve that honour only for Mr. Macartney?"

"Mr. Mccartney," said I, "is poor, and thinks himself obliged to me; otherwise-"

"Poverty," cried he, "I will not plead; but, if being obliged to you has any weight, who shall dispute my title to an appointment?"

"My Lord, I can stay no longer,-Mrs. Selwyn will lose all patience."

"Deprive her not of the pleasure of her conjectures,-but tell me, are you under Mrs. Selwyn's care?"

"Only for the present, my Lord."

"Not a few are the questions I have to ask Miss Anville: among them, the most important is, whether she depends wholly on herself, or whether there is any other person for whose interest I must solicit?"

"I hardly know, my Lord, I hardly know myself to whom I most belong."

"Suffer, suffer me, then," cried he, with warmth, "to hasten the time when that shall no longer admit a doubt!-when your grateful Orville may call you all his own!"

At length, but with difficulty, I broke from him. I went, however, to my own room, for I was too much agitated to follow Mrs. Selwyn. Good God, my dear Sir, what a scene! surely the meeting for which I shall prepare to-morrow cannot so greatly affect me! To be loved by Lord Orville,-to be the honoured choice of his noble heart,-my happiness seemed too infinite to be borne, and I wept, even bitterly I wept, from the excess of joy which overpowered me.

In this state of almost painful felicity I continued till I was summoned to tea. When I re-entered the drawing room, I rejoiced much to find it full of company, as the confusion with which I met Lord Orville was rendered the less observable.

Immediately after tea, most of the company played at cards,-and then-till supper time, Lord Orville devoted himself wholly to me.

He saw that my eyes were red, and would not let me rest till he made me confess the cause; and when, though most reluctantly, I had acknowledged my weakness, I could with difficulty refrain from weeping again at the gratitude he expressed.

He earnestly desired to know if my journey could not be postponed! and when I no, entreated permission to attend me to town.

"Oh, my Lord," cried I, "what a request!"

"The sooner," answered he, "I make my devotion to you in public, the sooner I may expect, from your delicacy, you will convince the world you encourage no mere danglers."

"You teach me, then, my Lord, the inference I might expect, if I complied."

"And can you wonder I should seek to hasten the happy time, when no scruples, no discretion will demand our separation? and the most punctilious delicacy will rather promote, than oppose, my happiness in attending you?"

To this I was silent, and he re-urged his request.

"My Lord," said I, "you ask what I have no power to grant. This journey will deprive me of all right to act for myself."

"What does Miss Anville mean?"

"I cannot now explain myself; indeed, if I could, the task would be both painful and tedious."

"O, Miss Anville," cried he, "when may I hope to date the period of this mystery? when flatter myself that my promised friend will indeed honour me with her confidence?"

"My Lord," said I, "I mean not to affect any mystery,-but my affairs are so circumstanced, that a long and most unhappy story can alone explain them. However, if a short suspense will give your Lordship any uneasiness,-"

"My beloved Miss Anville," cried he, eagerly, "pardon my impatience!-You shall tell me nothing you would wish to conceal,-I will wait your own time for information, and trust to your goodness for its speed."

"There is nothing, my Lord, I wish to conceal,-to postpone an explanation is all I desire."

He then requested, that, since I would not allow him to accompany me to town, I would permit him to write to me, and promise to answer his letters.

A sudden recollection of the two letters which had already passed between us occurring to me, I hastily answered, "No, indeed, my Lord!-"

"I am extremely sorry," said he, gravely, "that you think me too presumptuous. I must own I had flattered myself, that, to soften the inquietude of an absence, which seems attended by so many inexplicable circumstances, would not have been to incur your displeasure." This seriousness hurt me; and I could not forbear saying, "Can you indeed desire, my Lord, that I should, a second time, expose myself, by an unguarded readiness, to write to you?"

"A second time! unguarded readiness!" repeated he; "you amaze me!"

"Has your Lordship then quite forgot the foolish letter I was so imprudent as to send you when in town?"

"I have not the least idea," cried he, "of what you mean."

"Why then, my Lord," said I, "we had better let the subject drop."

"Impossible!" cried he, "I cannot rest without an explanation!"

And then, he obliged me to speak very openly of both the letters: but, my dear Sir, imagine my surprise, when he assured me, in the most solemn manner, that, far from having ever written me a single line, he had never received, seen, or heard of my letter!

This subject, which caused mutual astonishment and perplexity to us both, entirely engrossed us for the rest of the evening; and he made me promise to show him the letter I had received in his name to-morrow morning, that he might endeavour to discover the author.

After supper, the conversation became general.

And now, my dearest Sir, may I not call for your congratulations upon the events of this day? a day never to be recollected by me but with the most grateful joy! I know how much you are inclined to think well of Lord Orville; I cannot, therefore, apprehend that my frankness to him will displease you. Perhaps the time is not very distant, when your Evelina's choice may receive the sanction of her best friend's judgment and approbation,-which seems now all she has to wish!

In regard to the change in my situation which must first take place, surely I cannot be blamed for what has passed! the partiality of Lord Orville must not only reflect honour upon me, but upon all to whom I do, or may belong.

Adieu, most dear Sir, I will write again when I arrive at London.