Fanny was at her stepmother’s elbow while Sir Joshua gave her a full account of how he had been induced to send to Lowndes for this wonderful book on the recommendation of Mrs. Damer, whose portrait he was painting. Mrs. Damer had excused her unpunctuality at one of her sittings on the ground that she had become so interested in the fortunes of “Evelina” that she could not put the book down.

“Get it for yourself, sir,” she had said, “and you will quickly acknowledge that my excuse is valid.”

“Of course I did not get it then,” said Sir Joshua. “I find it impossible to keep pace with the useful books that are printed in these days, and I have long ago given up novels. But when, the next day, Mrs. Damer came to sit to me with a woebegone countenance and the traces of tears on her cheeks, so that I could only paint her draping, and that, too, had a woeful droop in its folds—for let me tell you, madam, that a woman’s dress is usually in sympathy with the mood of the wearer—when, I say, the lady entered my painting-room in this guise, I ventured to inquire if she was serious in her wish that I should depict her in the character of Niobe. ‘Oh, sir,’ she cried, ‘’tis all due to that horrid Branghton—he it is that has brought me to this.’ ‘The wretch!’ said I. ‘Have you no friend who will run him through the vitals? Where is he to be found, that I may arrange for his destruction?’ ‘He is the persecutor of my beloved Evelina,’ she replied, ‘and heaven only knows what is to become of the poor girl.’

“Now, madam, when I had thus brought before me the effect that the book had produced upon so natural a lady as Mrs. Damer, what was left for me but to buy it? And now you see the effect that it has had upon me,” continued Sir Joshua, “so you must e’en buy it also.”

“Nay, Sir Joshua,” said Mrs. Burney, “your case has furnished me with the strongest of reasons for not buying it. I would not allow a book into my house that would so turn me aside from my ordinary life and my daily business. What, sir, would you have me stay out of my comfortable bed for hours, in order that I might make myself more uncomfortable still by reading of the imaginary woes of a young woman who is nothing to me but a shadow?”

“Oh, I promise you that you will find Evelina far from being a shadow,” said Sir Joshua. “She is a creature of flesh and blood, with a heart that beats so that you find your own heart keeping time with it, whether it pulsates slowly or fast. In short, Evelina lives. I have no patience with those attenuated figures that dance on the stage of so many of our new novel writers: I can see the stuffing of straw when their constant gyrating has worked a rip in their seamy side; creatures of rag and wire—they never deceive one for a moment—why, their very gyrations are not true to life. But Evelina lives. Some of the characters in the book are distasteful—some of them are vulgar, but the world is made up of distasteful and vulgar people, and a novel should be true to the world in which the characters are placed. Oh, that was where the greatness of poor Dr. Goldsmith was to be found. He would abate nothing of the vulgarity of the vulgar characters in his plays, because he meant them to live. The people hissed his vulgar bailiffs in his Good-Natured Man, and when Colman cut them out he himself restored them when Shuter played the piece for his benefit the following year, and everyone saw that they were true to life. The vulgarity of Tony Lumpkin and the Three Pigeons made Walpole shudder, but there they remain in the best comedy of our time, and there they will remain for ever. Oh, yes; the author of ‘Evelina’ knows what life is, and so his book will live.”

“And who is the author of this surprising book?” asked Mrs. Burney.

“That is a mystery,” replied Reynolds. “I sent to Lowndes, the bookseller, to inquire, and he pretended that he did not know. He could only say that he was a gentleman of note living in Westminster.”

“Ah, that is one of the booksellers’ tricks to make their wares seem more attractive,” said she. “They know that a man in a mask awakens curiosity.”

“That is so; but ‘Evelina’ stands in need of no advertisement of such a nature. It would attract attention even though the name of Mr. Kenrick were attached to it. But everyone is dying to find out the name of the author; Mrs. Damer believes it to have been written by Horace Walpole, but only because ‘The Castle of Otranto’ was published without his name being on the title page.”

“Not a very cogent line of argument, it seems to me,” said Mrs. Burney. “Well, Sir Joshua, I hope you will enjoy a comfortable sleep to-night, now that you have the fortunes of that young lady off your mind.”

“Oh, my dear madam, I do assure you that my mind is not yet free from the effects of reading that book,” cried Reynolds. “I am more faithful to my friends in some books than to forget all about them when I lay them on the shelf. If they live, be assured that I live with them, and the thought of them is to me at times as pleasant as the thought of the best friends I have met in my daily life. I have laid ‘Evelina’ on a shelf in my memory—not one of the back shelves, but one that is near to me, so that I can console myself with her companionship when I am lonely.”

“I have never heard you praise a book so heartily, sir,” said Mrs. Burney. “But I will beg of you not to mention it to any of my family, for if it has so unhinged you, what would it not do to those poor girls?”

He did not catch all she had said, for she spoke in a voice which she did not mean to travel to Fanny or Susy, who were chatting to Miss Theophila Palmer, Sir Joshua’s niece.

“You may depend on my telling them all I find out in regard to the author,” said he in a tone of assent.

“No, no,” she cried, getting nearer to the bell of his trumpet. “No, no; I want you to refrain from mentioning the book to them. I discourage all novel reading, excepting, of course, the works of Mr. Richardson, and perhaps one or two of Fielding, with some of the pages gummed together to prevent them from being read.”

“Nay, to tempt people to read them,” said Reynolds. “What were we saying about the attractions of a mask? Well, my word for it, the attractions of a book without a name are as nothing compared with the attraction of gummed pages. But you will let them read ‘Evelina,’ and you will, moreover, read it yourself—yes, and you will all be the better and not the worse for doing so.”

Mrs. Burney shook her head.

It was no wonder that Mrs. Thrale thought that Miss Burney looked flushed at this time, or that there was an unwonted sparkle in her eyes; for she had heard nearly every word that Sir Joshua had said, and she could scarcely contain herself for delight. For all her primness, she was at heart a merry schoolgirl, ready to break into a dance at good news, and to shout for joy when things had advanced as she had hoped they would. She felt that it was very hard on her that she could not throw her hat up to the ceiling of the room, as she had heard of Dr. Goldsmith’s doing with his wig in the exuberance of his spirits in this same room—when Miss Reynolds was in her bed upstairs. It was very hard on her to be compelled to restrain her feelings; she was unconscious of the sparkle in her eyes, or of the pæony flush of her cheeks that Mrs. Thrale had noticed and was still noticing.

She had never felt so happy in all her life. A short time before she had felt that everything in the world was insignificant in comparison with love; but now she realized that there was another joy worthy of recognition. She was not wise enough to perceive that the two emotions sprang from the same source—that the foundation of love is the impulse to create, and that the foundation of an artist’s joy in fame is the knowledge that what he has created is recognized by the world. She was (fortunately) not wise enough to be able to analyse her feelings—to be wise enough to analyse one’s feelings is to be incapable of feeling. All that she was conscious of at that moment was that all worth having in the world was hers—the instinct to create, which men call Love, the joy of obtaining recognition for the thing created, which men call Fame.

It was no wonder that Mrs. Thrale saw that light in her face and in her eyes; nor was it strange that the same observant lady should attribute that illumination to the touch of the fire of the sacred torch. She looked at the handsome face of the Roman youth, with its expression of frankness, and at his eyes, full of the generous warmth of the South, and once more she glanced at Miss Burney, and saw in her face the reflection of the southern sunny glow.

“Poor girl—poor girl!” were the words that sprung to her lips. “Only a moment’s attention from him—only a word—nay, a glance from those eyes would have been enough—and she is at his feet. Poor girl! Knowing nothing of the world—incapable of understanding anything of life—having no gift to attract attention—”

“Dear Mrs. Thrale, I have come to you for help. You are sure to have read this book that everyone is talking about—this ‘Evelina’—and you can, I am certain, tell us who is the author. Pray let us know if your friend Dr. Johnson had a finger in it—I have heard that some of the writing is in the style of Dr. Johnson—or was it Mr. Anstey—they say that some chapters could only have come from the author of ‘The Bath Guide.’”

It was Lady Hales who had hurried up with her inquiries. She seemed to be the representative of a group with whom she had been standing, several ladies and two or three men.

It so happened, however, that Mrs. Thrale had not yet read the book around which discussion had been buzzing; but she had no intention of acknowledging that, with her literary tastes and with her friendship for Dr. Johnson, she was behind the times. Two or three people had within the week made remarks about “Evelina” in her presence, but she had no idea that it was to become a topic of society.

She smiled enigmatically, to give herself time to make up her mind what her reply should be—whatever it might be, it certainly would not be a confession of ignorance. She came to the conclusion that on the whole she could not do better than mould her answer so as to heighten the mystery of the authorship.

“Is it possible that none of our friends have discovered the author?” she asked, still smiling shrewdly, so as to suggest that she herself had long ago been let into the secret.

“We have had many conjectures,” said Lady Hales. “And let me whisper in your ear—there is one among us who is ready to affirm that the address of the author is Thrale Hall, Streatham.”

“I vow that I am overwhelmed,” cried the little lady. “The compliment is one that any writer might envy. Pray how could it enter the mind of any of our friends to connect me with the authorship of such a book?”

“There are some touches of your style in many of the letters of Evelina,” replied Lady Hales. “And some have said that only you could have had the varied experiences described so vividly.”

“A marvellous book, truly, this ‘Evelina,’” cried Mrs. Thrale. “Some people, you say, recognize the hand of Dr. Johnson in its pages, others the pen that wrote ‘The Bath Guide,’ and now it is suggested that the whole was the work of a humble scribbler named Mrs. Thrale—a person who has surely little in common with the two writers you have named.”

She took care that her affectation of surprise had an artificial note about it. There was no knowing how things might turn out. Mrs. Thrale had no objection in the world to have her name associated with the authorship of a book about which it was clear a good many people would be talking for some months to come.

“May I not be entrusted with something more definite?” asked Lady Hales in a low voice. “If it is a secret for the present—well, you know that I am one to be trusted.”

“I can assure you definitely that the book was not written by Dr. Johnson,” replied Mrs. Thrale, with a smile. “He has not for a single week during the past year failed to visit us at Streatham for at least four days at a time. He reads to me all that he writes—it is not much—and I can give you an assurance that the name of Evelina has not once appeared in his manuscript. I may also say that if you take my advice you will not be in too great haste to attribute the book to Mr. Anstey.”

This was not mystification, it sounded much more like revelation, Lady Hales thought.

“I dare not press you further, madam,” she said. “Believe me, I can appreciate your reticence, if—”

“Nay, now you suggest that I have told you a secret that I have concealed from everyone else, and that is going too far,” cried Mrs. Thrale. “Now, dear madam, cannot you see that even if I were in the secret of the authorship, I should be guilty of a great breach of courtesy were I to reveal it to anyone? If an author choose to remain anonymous, is it not discourteous to try to snatch away his—or her—veil of anonymity?”

“I can but assent,” said Lady Hales. “I do not doubt that this view of the matter is the correct one. At any rate, you may depend on my acting in accordance with it. I shall make no further attempt to pry into the secret, and I shall think it right to dissuade my friends from the quest.”

“In that I am sure you will be acting in accordance with the author’s wishes,” said Mrs. Thrale, smiling knowingly.

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