Fanny Burney, Evelina : Vol. 2, Ch. 29

[+] | [-] | reset

"In your London journal, nobody appears in a more amiable, a more respectable light than Lord Orville; and perhaps-"

"I knew what you would say," cried I, hastily, "and I have long feared
where your suspicions would fall; but indeed, Sir, you are mistaken:
I hate Lord Orville,-he is the last man in the world in whose favour
I should be prejudiced."

I stopped; for Mr. Villars looked at me with such infinite surprise, that my own warmth made me blush.

"You hate Lord Orville!" repeated he.

I could make no answer; but took from my pocket-book the letter, and giving it to him, "See, Sir," said I, "how differently the same man can talk and write!"

He read it three times before he spoke; and then said, "I am so much astonished, that I know not what I read. When had you this letter?"

I told him. Again he read it, and, after considering its contents some time, said, "I can form but one conjecture concerning this most extraordinary performance: he must certainly have been intoxicated when he wrote it."

"Lord Orville intoxicated!" repeated I: "once I thought him a stranger to all intemperance;-but it is very possible, for I can believe any thing now."

"That a man who had behaved with so strict a regard to delicacy," continued Mr. Villars, "and who, as far as occasion had allowed, manifested sentiments the most honourable, should thus insolently, thus wantonly, insult a modest young woman, in his perfect senses, I cannot think possible. But, my dear, you should have inclosed this letter in an empty cover, and have returned it to him again: such a resentment would at once have become your character, and have given him an opportunity, in some measure, of clearing his own. He could not well have read this letter the next morning without being sensible of the impropriety of having written it."

Oh, Maria! why had I not this thought? I might then have received some apology; the mortification would then have been his, not mine. It is true, he could not have reinstated himself so highly in my opinion as I had once ignorantly placed him, since the conviction of such intemperance would have levelled him with the rest of his imperfect race; yet my humbled pride might have been consoled by his acknowledgments.

But why should I allow myself to be humbled by a man who can suffer his reason to be thus abjectly debased, when I am exalted by one who knows no vice, and scarcely a failing, but by hearsay? To think of his kindness, and reflect upon his praises, might animate and comfort me even in the midst of affliction. "Your indignation," said he, "is the result of virtue; you fancied Lord Orville was without fault-he had the appearance of infinite worthiness, and you supposed his character accorded with appearance: guileless yourself, how could you prepare against the duplicity of another? Your disappointment has but been proportioned to your expectations, and you have chiefly owed its severity to the innocence which hid its approach."

I will bid these words dwell ever in my memory, and they shall cheer, comfort, and enliven me! This conversation, though extremely affecting to me at the time it passed, has relieved my mind from much anxiety. Concealment, my dear Maria, is the foe of tranquillity: however I may err in future, I will never be disingenuous in acknowledging my errors. To you and to Mr. Villars I vow an unremitting confidence.

And yet, though I am more at ease, I am far from well: I have been some time writing this letter; but I hope I shall send you soon a more cheerful one.

Adieu, my sweet friend. I intreat you not to acquaint even your dear mother with this affair; Lord Orville is a favourite with her, and why should I publish that he deserves not that honour?