Fanny Burney, Evelina : Vol. 2, Ch. 1

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Volume II

Letter I

EVELINA TO THE REV. MR. VILLARS Howard Grove, Kent, May 10.

OUR house has been enlivened to-day by the arrival of a London visitor; and the necessity I have been under of concealing the uneasiness of my mind, has made me exert myself so effectually, that I even think it is really diminished; or, at least, my thoughts are not so totally, so very anxiously, occupied by one subject only as they lately were.

I was strolling this morning with Miss Mirvan, down a lane about a mile from the Grove, when we heard the trampling of horses; and, fearing the narrowness of the passage, we were turning hastily back, but stopped upon hearing a voice call out, "Pray, Ladies, don't be frightened, for I will walk my horse." We turned again, and then saw Sir Clement Willoughby. He dismounted; and approaching us with the reins in his hand, presently recollected us. "Good Heaven," cried he, with his usual quickness, "do I see Miss Anville ?-and you too, Miss Mirvan?"

He immediately ordered his servant to take charge of his horse; and then, advancing to us, took a hand of each, which he pressed to his lips, and said a thousand fine things concerning his good fortune, our improved looks, and the charms of the country, when inhabited by such rural deities. "The town, Ladies, has languished since your absence;-or, at least, I have so much languished myself, as to be absolutely insensible to all it had to offer. One refreshing breeze, such as I now enjoy, awakens me to new vigour, life, and spirit. But I never before had the good luck to see the country in such perfection."

"Has not almost every body left town, Sir?" said Miss Mirvan.

"I am ashamed to answer you, Madam,-but indeed it is as full as ever, and will continue so till after the birth-day. However, you Ladies were so little seen, that there are but few who know what it has lost. For my own part, I felt it too sensibly, to be able to endure the place any longer."

"Is there any body remaining there, that we were acquainted with?" cried I.

"O yes, Ma'am." And then he named two or three persons we have seen when with him; but he did not mention Lord Orville, and I would not ask him, lest he should think me curious. Perhaps, if he stays here some time, he may speak of him by accident.

He was proceeding in this complimentary style, when we were met by the Captain; who no sooner perceived Sir Clement, than he hastened up to him, gave him a hearty shake of the hand, a cordial slap on the back, and some other equally gentle tokens of satisfaction, assuring him of his great joy at his visit, and declaring he was as glad to see him as if he had been a messenger who brought news that a French ship was sunk. Sir Clement, on the other side, expressed himself with equal warmth; and protested he had been so eager to pay his respects to Captain Mirvan, that he had left London in its full lustre, and a thousand engagements unanswered, merely to give himself that pleasure.

"We shall have rare sport," said the Captain; "for, do you know, the old French-woman is among us? 'Fore George, I have scarce made any use of her yet, by reason I have had nobody with me that could enjoy a joke: howsomever, it shall go hard but we'll have some diversion now."

Sir Clement very much approved of the proposal; and we then went into the house, where he had a very grave reception from Mrs. Mirvan, who is by no means pleased with his visit, and a look of much discontent from Madame Duval, who said to me in a low voice, "I'd as soon have seen Old Nick as that man, for he's the most impertinentest person in the world, and isn't never of my side."

The Captain is now actually occupied in contriving some scheme, which, he says, is to pay the old Dowagerw off; and so eager and delighted is he at the idea, that he can scarcely restrain his raptures sufficiently to conceal his design even from herself. I wish, however, since I do not dare put Madame Duval upon her guard, that he had the delicacy not to acquaint me with his intention.

X [w] Dowager

"A widow whose husband is dead and who is in the enjoyment of some title or some property that has come to her from him." OED  Later the term could apply to any dignified elderly widow, but the element of inherited property is significant in the 18th-century usage and specific to Madame Duval whose control of the Evelyn inheritance is an issue in the novel.