Fanny Burney, Evelina : Vol. 1, Ch. 15

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Letter XV

MR. VILLARS TO EVELINA Berry Hill, April 16.

IN the belief and hope that my Evelina would, ere now, have bid adieu to London, I had intended to have deferred writing, till I heard of her return to Howard Grove; but the letter I have this moment received, with intelligence of Madame Duval's arrival in England, demands an immediate answer.

Her journey hither equally grieves and alarms me. How much did I pity my child, when I read of a discovery at once so unexpected and unwished! I have long dreaded this meeting and its consequence; to claim you seems naturally to follow acknowledging you. I am well acquainted with her disposition, and have for many years foreseen the contest which now threatens us.

Cruel as are the circumstances of this affair, you must not, my love, suffer it to depress your spirits: remember, that while life is lent me, I will devote it to your service; and, for future time, I will make such provisions as shall seem to me most conducive to your future happiness. Secure of my protection, and relying on my tenderness, let no apprehensions of Madame Duval disturb your peace: conduct yourself towards her with all the respect and deference due to so near a relation, remembering always, that the failure of duty on her part, can by no means justify any neglect on your's. Indeed, the more forcibly you are struck with improprieties and misconduct in another, the greater should be your observance and diligence to avoid even the shadow of similar errors. Be careful, therefore, that no remissness of attention, no indifference of obliging, make known to her the independence I assure you of; but when she fixes the time for her leaving England, trust to me the task of refusing your attending her: disagreeable to myself, I own, it will be; yet to you it would be improper, if not impossible.

In regard to her opinion of me, I am more sorry than surprised at her determined blindness; the palliation which she feels the want of, for her own conduct, leads her to seek for failings in all who were concerned in those unhapppy transactions which she has so much reason to lament. And this, as it is the cause, so we must in some measure consider it as the excuse of her inveteracy.

How grateful to me are your wishes to return to Berry Hill! Your lengthened stay in London, and the dissipation in which I find you are involved, fill me with uneasiness. I mean not, however, that I would have you sequester yourself from the party to which you belong, since Mrs. Mirvan might thence infer a reproof which your youth and her kindness would render inexcusable. I will not, therefore, enlarge upon this subject; but content myself with telling you, that I shall heartily rejoice when I hear of your safe arrival at Howard Grove, for which place I hope you will be preparing at the time you receive this letter.

I cannot too much thank you, my best Evelina, for the minuteness of your communications. Continue to me this indulgence, for I should be miserable if in ignorance of your proceedings.

How new to you is the scene of life in which you are engaged!-balls-plays-operas-ridottos!-Ah, my child! At your return hither, how will you bear the change? My heart trembles for your future tranquility.-Yet I will hope every thing from the unsullied whiteness of your soul, and the native liveliness of your disposition.

I am sure I need not say, how much more I was pleased with the mistakes of your inexperience at the private ball, than with the attempted adoption of more fashionable manners at the ridotto. But your confusion and mortifications were such as to entirely silence all reproofs on my part.

I hope you will see no more of Sir Clement Willoughby, whose conversation and boldness are extremely disgustful to me. I was gratified by the good nature of Lord Orville, upon your making use of his name; but I hope you will never again put it to such a trial.

Heaven bless thee, my dear child! And grant that neither misfortune nor vice may ever rob thee of that gaiety of heart, which, resulting from innocence, while it constitutes your own, contributes also to the felicity of all who know you! ARTHUR VILLARS.