Fanny Burney, Evelina : Vol. 3, Ch. 15

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Letter XV.


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 simplew;-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?"

X [w] simple

Foolish, but in the sense of being nonplussed, confused, or perplexed.