Fanny Burney, Evelina : Vol. 1, Ch. 28

[+] | [-] | reset
 

Letter XXVIII

MR VILLARS TO LADY HOWARD Berry Hill, May 2.

YOUR letter, Madam, has opened a source of anxiety, to which I look forward with dread, and which, to see closed, I scarcely dare expect. I am unwilling to oppose my opinion to that of your Ladyship; nor, indeed, can I, but by arguments which I believe will rather rank me as a hermit ignorant of the world, and fit only for my cell, than as a proper guardian, in an age such as this, for an accomplished young woman. Yet, thus called upon, it behoves me to explain, and endeavour to vindicate, the reasons by which I have been hitherto guided.

The mother of this dear child,-who was led to destruction by her own imprudence, the hardness of heart of Madame Duval, and the villany of Sir John Belmont,-was once, what her daughter is now, the best beloved of my heart: and her memory, so long as my own holds, I shall love, mourn and honour! On the fatal day that her gentle soul left its mansion, and not many hours ere she ceased to breathe, I solemnly plighted my faith, That her child if it lived, should know no father but myself, or her acknowledged husband.

You cannot, Madam, suppose that I found much difficulty in adhering to this promise, and forbearing to make any claim upon Sir John Belmont. Could I feel an affection the most paternal for this poor sufferer, and not abominate her destroyer? Could I wish to deliver to him, who had so basely betrayed the mother, the helpless and innocent offspring, who, born in so much sorrow, seemed entitled to all the compassionate tenderness of pity?

For many years, the name alone of that man, accidentally spoken in my hearing, almost divested me of my Christianity, and scarce could I forbear to execrate him. Yet I sought not, neither did I desire, to deprive him of his child, had he with any appearance of contrition, or, indeed, of humanity, endeavoured to become less unworthy such a blessing;-but he is a stranger to all parental feelings, and has with a savage insensibility, forborne to enquire even into the existence of this sweet orphan, though the situation of his injured wife was but too well known to him.

You wish to be acquainted with my intentions.-I must acknowledge they were such as I now perceive would not be honoured with your Ladyship's approbation; for though I have sometimes thought of presenting Evelina to her father, and demanding the justice which is her due, yet, at other times, I have both disdained and feared the application; disdained lest it should be refused; and feared, lest it should be accepted!

Lady Belmont, who was firmly persuaded of her approaching dissolution, frequently and earnestly besought me, that if her infant was a female, I would not abandon her to the direction of a man so wholly unfit to take the charge of her education: but, should she be importunately demanded, that I would retire with her abroad, and carefully conceal her from Sir John, till some apparent change in his sentiments and conduct should announce him less improper for such a trust. And often would she say, "Should the poor babe have any feelings correspondent with its mother's, it will have no want while under your protection." Alas! she had no sooner quitted it herself, than she was plunged into a gulph of misery, that swallowed up her peace, reputation, and life.