Fanny Burney, Evelina : Vol. 1, Ch. 13

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Letter XIII

EVELINA IN CONTINUATION Tuesday, April 12. My dear Sir,

WE came home from the ridotto so late, or rather so early that it was not possible for me to write. Indeed, we did not go -you will be frightened to hear it-till past eleven o'clock: but no body does. A terrible reverse of the order of nature! We sleep with the sun, and wake with the moon.

The room was very magnificent, the lights and decorations were brilliant, and the company gay and splendid. But I should have told you, that I made many objections to being of the party, according to the resolution I had formed. However, Maria laughed me out of my scruples, and so once again I went to an assembly.

Miss Mirvan danced a minuet; but I had not the courage to follow her example. In our walks I saw Lord Orville. He was quite alone, but did not observe us. Yet, as he seemed of no party, I thought it was not impossible that he might join us; and though I did not wish much to dance at all-yet, as I was more acquainted with him than with any other person in the room, I must own I could not help thinking it would be infinitely more desirable to dance again with him than with an entire stranger. To be sure, after all that had passed, it was very ridiculous to suppose it even probable that Lord Orville would again honour me with his choice; yet I am compelled to confess my absurdity, by way of explaining what follows.

Miss Mirvan was soon engaged; and presently after a very fashionable gay looking man, who seemed about thirty years of age, addressed himself to me, and begged to have the honour of dancing with me. Now Maria's partner was a gentleman of Mrs. Mirvan's acquaintance; for she had told us it was highly improper for young women to dance with strangers at any public assembly. Indeed it was by no means my wish so to do: yet I did not like to confine myself from dancing at all; neither did I dare refuse this gentleman as I had done Mr. Lovel, and then, if any acquaintance should offer, accept him: and so, all these reasons combining, induced me to tell him-yet I blush to write it to you!-that I was already engaged; by which I meant to keep myself at liberty to a dance, or not, as matters should fall out.

I suppose my consciousness betrayed my artifice, for he looked at me as if incredulous; and, instead of being satisfied with my answer and leaving me, according to my expectation, he walked at my side, and, with the greatest ease imaginable, began a conversation in the free style which only belongs to old and intimate acquaintance. But, what was most provoking, he asked me a thousand questions concerning the partner to whom I was engaged. And at last he said, "Is it really possible that a man whom you have honoured with your acceptance can fail to be at hand to profit from your goodness?"

I felt extremely foolish; and begged Mrs. Mirvan to lead to a seat; which she very obligingly did. The Captain sat next her; and to my great surprise, this gentleman thought proper to follow, and seat himself next to me.

"What an insensiblew!" continued he; "why, Madam, you are missing the most delightful dance in the world!-The man must be either mad or a fool-Which do you incline to think him yourself?"

"Neither, Sir," answered I, in some confusion.

He begged my pardon for the freedom of his supposition, saying, "I really was off my guard, from astonishment that any man can be so much and so unaccountably his own enemy. But where, Madam, can he possibly be!-has he left the room!-or has not he been in it?"

"Indeed, Sir," said I peevishly, "I know nothing of him."

"I don't wonder that you are disconcerted, Madam; it is really very provoking. The best part of the evening will be absolutely lost. He deserves not that you should wait for him."

"I do not, Sir," said I, "and I beg you not to-"

"Mortifying, indeed, Madam," interrupted he, "a lady to wait for a gentleman!-O fie!-careless fellow!-What can detain him?-Will you give me leave to seek him?"

X [w] insensible

"A person destitute of sense, a fool." OED The speaker refers to the gentleman who has supposedly pre-engaged Evelina but now fails to seize the opportunity for this dance.