Fanny Burney, Evelina : Vol. 3, Ch. 7

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Letter VII.

EVELINA TO THE REV. MR. VILLARS. Clifton, Sept. 28th.

SWEETLY, most sweetly, have two days more passed since I wrote: but I have been too much engaged to be exact in my journal.

To-day has been less tranquil. It was destined for the decision of the important bet, and has been productive of general confusion throughout the house. It was settled that the race should be run at five o'clock in the afternoon. Lord Merton breakfasted here, and staid till noon. He wanted to engage the ladies to bet on his side, in the true spirit of gaming, without seeing the racers. But he could only prevail on Lady Louisa, as Mrs. Selwyn said she never laid a wager against her own wishes, and Mrs. Beaumont would not take sides. As for me, I was not applied to. It is impossible for negligence to be more pointed than that of Lord Merton to me, in the presence of Lady Louisa.

But, just before dinner, I happened to be alone in the drawing-room, when his Lordship suddenly returned; and, coming in with his usual familiarity, he was beginning, "You see, Lady Louisa,-" but stopping short, "Pray, where's every body gone?"

"Indeed I don't know, my Lord."

He then shut the door; and, with a great alteration in his face and manner, advanced eagerly towards me, and said, "How glad I am, my sweet girl, to meet you, at last, alone! By my soul I began to think there was a plot against me, for I've never been able to have you a minute to myself." And very freely he seized my hand.

I was so much surprised at this address, after having been so long totally neglected, that I could make no other answer, than staring at him with unfeigned astonishment.

"Why now," continued he, "if you was not the cruellest little angel in the world, you would have helped me to some expedient: for you see how I am watched here; Lady Louisa's eyes are never off me. She gives me a charming foretaste of the pleasures of a wife! However, it won't last long."

Disgusted to the greatest degree, I attempted to draw away my hand; but I believe I should not have succeeded if Mrs. Beaumont had not made her appearance. He turned from me with the greatest assurance, and said, "How are you, Ma'am?-how is Lady Louisa?-you see I can't live a moment out of the house."

Could you, my dearest Sir, have believed it possible for such effrontery to be in man?

Before dinner came Mr. Coverley, and, before five o'clock, Mr. Lovel and some other company. The place marked out for the race, was a gravel-walk in Mrs. Beaumont's garden, and the length of the ground twenty yards. When we were summoned to the course, the two poor old women made their appearance. Though they seemed very healthy for their time of life, they yet looked so weak, so infirm, so feeble, that I could feel no sensation but that of pity at the sight. However, this was not the general sense of the company; for they no sooner came forward, than they were greeted with a laugh from every beholder, Lord Orville excepted, who looked very grave during the whole transaction. Doubtless he must be greatly discontented at the dissipated conduct and extravagance of a man, with whom he is soon to be so nearly connected.

For some time, the scene was truly ridiculous: the agitation of the parties concerned, and the bets that were laid upon the old women, were absurd beyond measure. Who are you for? and whose side are you of? was echoed from mouth to mouth by the whole company. Lord Merton and Mr. Coverley were both so excessively gay and noisy, that I soon found they had been free in drinking to their success. They handed, with loud shouts, the old women to the race-ground, and encouraged them by liberal promises to exert themselves.

When the signal was given for them to set off, the poor creatures, feeble and frightened, ran against each other: and, neither of them able to support the shock, they both fell on the ground.

Lord Merton and Mr. Coverley flew to their assistance. Seats were brought for them; and they each drank a glass of wine. They complained of being much bruised; for, heavy and helpless, they had not been able to save themselves, but fell with their whole weight upon the gravel. However, as they seemed equal sufferers, both parties were too eager to have the affair deferred.