A few days later Dr. Burney was at the point of setting out for Chessington to share Mr. Crisp’s hermitage until the end of the week. He had already said good-bye to the household; but Fanny accompanied him to the door. It was her last chance, she knew. She had long ago made up her mind that one of her secrets must be told to him, and she had more than once, since the printed sheets had been brought to her, tried to screw up her courage to the point of telling him, but she had not yet succeeded. And now he was going to Chessington for four days, and in the meantime the book should be returned to the printer. It was the last chance she would have of discharging the duty which was incumbent on her. She had been hovering around him in the hall, shaking out his gloves for him, polishing the gold knob of his cane, picking a scrap of dust from the collar of his travelling-cloak. In another minute he would be gone—her opportunity would be gone.

And then came the relieving thought of further procrastination:

“I shall write to him at Chessington and confess all.”

It seemed as though she had uttered her thought aloud, for he turned to her with his hand on the latch of the hall door, saying:

“You will write to Chessington to-morrow or the day after, my dear. It is no trouble to you to write. You enjoy it, do you not?”

“Oh, it is my chief enjoyment. That is why I have been practising it so much, just as the others have been practising their music. I have no music in my soul, so I—I have been writing. Of course, it is not to be expected that I could do more than write some nonsense—my equivalent to the strumming of the scales.”

“It pleases me greatly to hear that,” said he. “But you do yourself an injustice; Mr. Crisp never ceases to praise your letters.”

“He is praising his own pupil then,” said she, “for ’twas he who first taught me how to write, and now I have been putting together some imaginary letters, and I thought that if he could see them printed in front of him he would be amused.”

“Imaginary letters? Why not continue your real ones, my dear? It would cost a great deal to have your imaginary ones printed.”

“My dear father,” she cried, “you surely do not think that I would ask you for money to pay for my whim? But if I could prevail on someone—a bookseller—to print what I write, I hope you will consent to my doing so—not putting my name to the thing, of course?”

“And does my Fanny believe that ’tis all so easy to persuade a bookseller to pay her printer’s bill?” he said, pinching her ear. “Booksellers are shrewd men of business.”

“But even men of business have their weak moments,” said she. “And so if—if—you would not think it too bold of me to let James take my parcel to a bookseller? You would not forbid me to try to realize my ambition?”

“You may be sure that the one to frustrate your aims will not be your father,” said he, smiling shrewdly. “I will consent if—ah, there is the fatal if—if your bookseller consents. Now good-bye, my dear child. I will take your love to your Daddy Crisp, and tell him to await a real letter from you—not an imaginary one.”

She stood on tiptoe to kiss him—but even then he had to stoop before his lips were on her forehead.

He was gone in another moment. She stood at the inner side of the closed door and listened to the rattling of the wheels of the chaise over the cobble-stones.

So the ordeal that she dreaded had been faced, and how simple a thing it had turned out after all! Her father had treated the idea which she had submitted to him as if it were nothing beyond the thought of a simpleton—a foolish, simple girl who knew nothing of the world of business and booksellers, and who fancied that a bookseller would print everything that was sent to him.

He had delivered that contingent “if” with the shake of the head and the shrewd smile of one who is acquainted with the seamy side of business, in the presence of a child who fancies that printing follows automatically upon the writing of a book and that there are thousands of buyers eagerly awaiting the chance of securing everything that passes through a printing-press. She had perceived just what was in his mind; and his consent, followed by that contingent “if,” to her publishing what she had written, was given to her with the same freedom that would have accompanied his permission to appropriate all the gold used in paving the streets of the City. She could see from the way he smiled that he felt that she knew as little about the conditions under which books are printed as a child does about the paving of the streets of the City.

She knew that he would never again refer to the subject of those imaginary letters of hers—he would be too considerate of her feelings to do so; he would have no desire to humiliate her. He would not even rally her in a playful way about her literary work, asking her how the printing was progressing, and if she had made up her mind to start a coach as grand as that magnificent piece of carved and gilded furniture which Sir Joshua had just had built for himself—oh, no: her father had always respected her sensibility. Years ago, when her brothers and sisters were making their light jests upon her backwardness, he had stopped them and said that he had no fears for the future of Fanny; and she was certain that in referring to her, as he so frequently did, as “poor Fanny,” he meant nothing but kindness to her. To be sure, at first it grated upon her sensitiveness to be referred to in that kindly pitying way, but she did not resent it—indeed, she usually thought of herself as “poor Fanny.” In a household where proficiency in music was the standard from which every member was judged, it was inevitable that her incompetence should be impressed upon her; but no one was hard upon her—the kindly “poor Fanny” of her father represented the attitude of the household toward her, even when she had confided to some of the members the fact that she was writing a novel. They had been startled; but, then, a novel was not a musical composition, and such an achievement could not be received with the warmth that Esther’s playing received. It was really not until the printed sheets of the book lay before Susy that she felt that Fanny had, in one leap, brought herself wellnigh to the level of Esther; and by the time Susy had read the story to the end she had made up her mind that if it might be possible to compare the interest of a literary work with that of the playing of a piece of music, Fanny’s work could claim precedence over the best that Esther had done—she had confessed as much to Fanny in secret, and Fanny had called her a foolish child.

Fanny had seated herself in the parlour opening off the little hall, on the departure of her father, and her memory took her back to the days she had passed in the house at Poland Street, when she had written her story of Caroline Evelyn, and had been induced by her stepmother to burn it, with sundry dramas and literary moralizings after the manner of the Tatler—all the work of her early youth. She recalled her resolution never again to engage in any such unprofitable practices as were represented by the smoke which was ascending from the funeral pyre of her “Caroline Evelyn” and the rest.

How long had she kept to her resolution? She could not remember. She could not recall having any sense of guilt when she had begun her “Evelina”—it seemed to have sprung from the ashes of “Caroline Evelyn”—nor could she recollect what had been on her mind when she was spending those long chilly hours of her restricted leisure toiling over the book. All that she could remember now was her feeling that it had to be written—that it seemed as if someone in authority had laid on her the injunction to write it, and she had no choice but to obey.

Well, she had obeyed—the book had been written and printed and she meant to send the corrected sheets back to Mr. Lowndes in the course of the day. Her father’s consent to its publication had been obtained and it would be advertised for sale within some months, and then—

Her imagination was not equal to the pursuit of the question of its future. Sometimes she felt that she never wished to hear of the book again. She could almost hope that sending the sheets back to Mr. Lowndes would be the same as dropping them, with a heavy stone in the parcel, into the deep sea.

But that was when the trouble of getting her father’s permission to publish it was looming before her. Now that this cloud had been dispelled she felt less gloomy. She had a roseate dream of hearing people talk about the book and even wishing to know the name of the author. She had a dream of Fame herself carrying her away to sublime heights—to such heights as she had been borne by the singing of “Waft her, Angels.” Her dream was of sitting on these heights of Fame by the side of the singer—on the same level—not inferior in the eyes of the world—not as the beggar maid uplifted in her rags to the side of the King.

That had been her dream when listening to the singing, and it returned to her now, as she sat alone in the little parlour, having just taken the last step that was necessary before giving to the world the book which was to do so much for her. Her visions of success showed her no more entrancing a prospect than that of being by his side with her fame as a dowry worthy of his acceptance at her hands; so that people might not say that he had chosen unworthily—he, who had all the world to choose from.

And quite naturally there came to her in due sequence the marvellous thought that he had already chosen her out of all the world—he had chosen her, believing her to be the dowerless daughter of a music-teacher—the one uninteresting member of a popular family!

This was the most delightful thought of the whole train that came to her. It was worth cherishing above all the rest—close to her heart—close to her heart. She hugged that thought so close to her that it became warm with the warmth of her heart. Even though her book should never be heard of again, even though the world might treat it with contempt, she would still be consoled by the reflection that he had chosen her.

“Why on earth should you be sitting here in the cold, Fanny?” came the voice from the opened door—the voice of firm domestic virtue.

“Cold? cold? Surely ’tis not cold, mamma,” she said.

“Not so very cold; but when there is a fire in the work-room it should not be wasted,” said Mrs. Burney. “But to say the truth you do not look as if you were cold; your face is quite flushed, child. I hope you do not feel that you are on the brink of a sickness, my dear.”

“Dear mamma, I never felt stronger in my life,” cried Fanny with a laugh.

“I am glad to hear that. I was saying to Lottie just now that for some days past you have had alternately a worried look and the look of one whose brain is over-excited. Is anything the matter, my child?”

“Nothing—nothing—indeed nothing! I never felt more at ease in all my life.”

“Well, well, a little exercise will do you no harm, I am sure; so put on your hat and accompany me to the fishmonger’s. He has not been treating us at all fairly of late. It is not that I mind the remark made quite respectfully by James at dinner yesterday—it would be ridiculous to expect to find fish as fresh in the centre of London as he and his shipmates were accustomed to in the middle of the Pacific Ocean; but it would not be unreasonable for us to look for turbot with less of a taint than that we had yesterday. You will hear the man excuse himself by asserting that I chose the fish at his stall; but my answer to that—well, come with me and you shall hear what is my answer.”

Fanny went with her and heard.

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