Dr. Burney had given instructions that Fanny was not to be communicated with at Chessington until he had seen her; but that the third volume of the book was to be sent to Mr. Crisp without delay. He was to go to Streatham again in two days’ time, and thence to Chessington, where he would make Mr. Crisp aware of the identity of the writer of “Evelina.”

He anticipated an interesting hour with Mr. Crisp, but a very much more interesting half-hour with Mrs. Thrale; for he meant, of course, to lose no time in letting that lady into the secret: he knew that she would make the most of the information he could impart to her; to be the first to learn what all her friends were striving to learn would at once place her above Mrs. Cholmondeley, who was willing to pay twenty guineas for the knowledge, and even Mrs. Montagu, who was inclined to patronize Mrs. Thrale and a good many other ladies, in spite of the fact that Dr. Johnson dined usually five days out of every week with Mrs. Thrale, but had only dined once with Mrs. Montagu since she had gone to her new house.

Dr. Burney was well aware how valuable the Thrale connection was to him; a teacher of music is apt to look with sparkling eyes at a houseful of girls whose father possesses the possibilities of such wealth as was defined by Dr. Johnson in this particular case as beyond the dreams of avarice. Dr. Burney had a very nice judgment on the subject of an influential connection, and so was delighted to have a chance of doing a signal good turn to so deserving a patroness as Mrs. Thrale. Yes, he felt sure that his half-hour at Streatham Hall would be the most interesting of the many half-hours he had spent under the same hospitable roof.

And he was not mistaken in his surmise.

Mrs. Thrale had, as usual, several friends coming to partake of an early repast with her; and Dr. Burney had pictured to himself the effect of his announcement to the company that his daughter had written the book upon which he was pretty sure the conversation would turn—indeed, he felt that he would be greatly surprised if the conversation did not immediately rush to the question of “Evelina” and remain there for the rest of the afternoon; for the enterprising ladies would doubtless bring with them some fresh suggestions or new cues to its authorship. He pictured himself allowing them to go on for some time until perhaps a statement would be made which he should have to contradict point-blank. They would all look at him in surprise. What did he know about the matter? Was he interested in the question? Had he found out anything?

How he would smile while saying quietly:

“Well, I am more or less interested in the matter, the fact being that ‘Evelina’ is the work of my daughter, Fanny Burney!”

That would be, he thought, a fitting moment in which to divulge the secret; he saw the whole scene clearly before him.

But before he had reached his destination that intuition of what would commend itself to a patron which had been so important an auxiliary to his ability in placing him above his rivals in his profession, overcame his desire to play the most important part in a dramatic scene; he perceived that such a rôle should be taken by an influential patroness, and not by himself. Thus it was that when Mrs. Thrale was giving him a cup of chocolate after his journey he smiled, saying:

“I was greatly interested in the conversation between Mrs. Cholmondeley and the other ladies when I was last here.”

“About ‘Evelina’?” she inquired. “Ah, I wonder if Mrs. Cholmondeley has yet paid over her twenty guineas to the discoverer of the author. It seems that she has as arduous a task in regard to ‘Evelina’ as Raleigh had in regard to his El Dorado.”

“So it would appear,” said Dr. Burney. “Let us hope that his efforts will be more highly valued than those of poor Sir Walter. Have you yourself no suspicions on the subject, madam?”

“Oh, suspicions? There have been as many suspicions set going on this subject within the month as would be entertained only by the most imaginative Bow Street runner. For my own part, I maintain that the book could only have been writ by our friend Horace Walpole. He found that his ‘Otranto’ excited so much curiosity when published without a name, he came to the conclusion that he would produce another novel with the same amount of mystery attached to it. The only point against this assumption is that—”

“That the book was assuredly written by another person,” said Burney, smiling in a way that he designed to be somewhat enigmatical.

Mrs. Thrale tried to interpret his smile.

“What!” she exclaimed, “you have formed another theory—you—you have heard something since you were last here?”

“Not something, madam—not a mere something, but everything—everything that is to be known regarding the writer of that book.”

“Is’t possible? Who is your informant?—the value of all that you have heard is dependent upon the accuracy of your informant.”

“The book was written by the person whom I fancied I knew best of all the people in the world, and yet the last person whom I would believe capable of such a feat. The author of the book—I am the author of her being—she is none other than my daughter Fanny.”

Mrs. Thrale sat staring at him, one arm resting upon the table, her lips parted as if about to utter an exclamation of surprise, but unable to do so by reason of her surprise.

More than a minute had passed before she was able to speak, and then she could do no more than repeat his words.

“Your daughter Fanny—your daughter—but is not Fanny the little shy one that goes into a corner when you have company?” she asked, in a tone that suggested that she had heard something too ridiculous to be believed.

“She is that one, madam,” he replied. “It would seem as if the corner of a room has its advantages in enabling one to observe life from a true standpoint. Two eyes looking out from a corner with a brain behind them—there you have the true writer of a novel of life and character. Poor Fanny! How often have not I talked of her as ‘poor Fanny’? She had no education except what she contrived to pick up haphazard—a sweet child—a lovable daughter, but the last person in the world to be suspected of such a book as ‘Evelina.’”

“You are sure, sir—you have seen—heard—you know?”

“Beyond any doubt. Her sisters were let into the secret, but neither of her parents. I know now why that was—no want of duty—no lack of respect—she began the book for her own amusement, and it grew under her hand; she sent it to a bookseller, more as a jest than in the belief that anything would come of it, and up to the last it was treated by her and her sisters as a schoolroom mystery—a nursery secret—and Mrs. Burney and I were kept out of it solely because we were not of the nursery or the schoolroom. And when it became a serious matter we were excluded because they were afraid to reveal it to us—Fanny herself, dear child!—feared that we would be concerned if it were still born. It was only when it was at the point of being published by Mr. Lowndes that she came to me saying that she had been writing something and wanted my leave to send it forth, promising that no name would appear upon the title page. I gave my leave with a smile, and when I had my laugh at the innocence of the girl in fancying that any bookseller would pay for the printing of what she might scribble, I forgot all about the matter. It was only when I sent for the book and read the Ode addressed to myself that I seemed to hear Fanny’s voice speaking the words in my ear—I told the others so when they returned from visiting her at Chessington. But meantime Esther had come to me, and she told me all that was known to her about the book and its secret.”

“The most wonderful story ever known—more wonderful than the story of Evelina herself!” cried Mrs. Thrale. “How people—Mrs. Cholmondeley and the rest—will lift up their hands! Who among them will believe it all possible? List, my dear doctor, you must bring her to me in the first instance—all the others will be clamouring for her to visit them—I know them! You must bring her to me without delay—why not to-day? I can easily send a chaise for her—a coach if necessary. Well, if not to-day, to-morrow. I must have her here. We will understand each other—she and I; and Dr. Johnson will be with us—quite a little company—for dinner. You will promise me?”

“Be assured, dear madam, that there is no house apart from her home where I feel she would be happier than in this,” said Dr. Burney. “She has often expressed the warmest admiration for you, and I know that her dearest wish is to be on terms of intimacy with you.”

“The sweet girl! she shall have her dearest wish gratified to the fullest extent, sir. You will bring her as early to-morrow as it suits you. Good heavens! to think of that dear retiring child taking the town by storm! Dr. Johnson wrote to me no later than last evening, expressing once more his delight in reading the book, and Mr. Burke, too—but you heard about Mr. Burke. I will never forget your courtesy in telling me first of all your friends that she was the author, dear doctor.”

“If not you, madam, whom would I have told?”

“I shall be ever grateful. You will give me leave to make the revelation to my friends who will be here to-day?”

“It is open for you to tell them all that I have told you, my dear madam; and you may truthfully add that if the writing of the book will bring her into closer intimacy with Mrs. Thrale, the author will feel that it has not been written in vain.”

He made his lowest bow on rising from the table to receive his pupil, who entered the room at that moment.

He had confidence that he was right in his intuition that his patroness would act with good effect the rôle which he had relinquished in her favour, when her friends would arrive in another hour for their “collation”; and he was ready to allow that none could have played the part more neatly than she did when the time came to prove how much better-informed she was than the rest of the world. She might have been possessed of the knowledge that Miss Burney was the writer of “Evelina” from the first, from the easy and natural way in which she said:

“Pray do not trouble yourselves telling me what Mrs. Cholmondeley said to Mr. Lowndes, or what Mr. Lowndes said to someone else about the writer of the novel; for it happens that I know, and have known for—for some time the name of the author.”

There were a few little exclamations of surprise, and a very pretty uplifting of several pairs of jewelled hands at this calm announcement.

“Oh, yes,” she continued, “the writer is a friend of my own, and the daughter of one of my most valued friends, and if any people talk to you in future of ‘Evelina’ being the work of Mr. Walpole or Mr. Anstey or any man of letters, pay no attention to these astute investigators, but tell them that I said the book is the work of Miss Fanny Burney, one of the daughters of the celebrated Dr. Charles Burney, himself the author of a History of Music’ that will live so long as the English language has a literature of its own.”

Mrs. Thrale did it all with amazing neatness, Dr. Burney thought; and the attempt that she made to conceal the expression of triumph in the glance that she gave to her guests let him know that his tact had been exercised in the right direction. Mrs. Thrale was not the woman to forget that he had given her such a chance of proving to her friends how intimate was her association with the literary history of the day. She had been for several years the patroness of Dr. Johnson, who had written the best dictionary, and now she was about to take under her protection Miss Burney, who had written the best novel. He knew that Mrs. Thrale was almost as glad to be able to reveal the secret of “Evelina” as if she had written the book herself.

And everyone else at the table felt that Mrs. Thrale was indeed an amazingly clever woman; and wondered how Mrs. Cholmondeley would feel when she had learned that she had been forestalled in her quest after the information on which she had placed a value of twenty guineas.

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