Evelina, by Fanny Burney

Letter lviii.

Evelina to Miss Mirvan.

Berry Hill, July 21st.

YOU accuse me of mystery, and charge me with reserve: I cannot doubt but I must have merited the accusation; yet, to clear myself — you know not how painful will be the task. But I cannot resist your kind entreaties; — indeed I do not wish to resist them; for your friendship and affection will soothe my chagrin. Had it arisen from any other cause, not a moment would I have deferred the communication you ask; — but as it is, I would, were it possible, not only conceal it from all the world, but endeavour to disbelieve it myself. Yet since I must tell you, why trifle with your impatience?

I know not how to come to the point; twenty times have I attempted it in vain; — but I will force myself to proceed.

Oh, Miss Mirvan, could you ever have believed, that one who seemed formed as a pattern for his fellow-creatures, as a model of perfection — one whose elegance surpassed all description — whose sweetness of manners disgraced all comparison; — oh, Miss Mirvan, could you ever have believed that Lord Orville, would have treated me with indignity?

Never, never again will I trust to appearances; — never confide in my own weak judgment; — never believe that person to be good who seems to be amiable! What cruel maxims are we taught by a knowledge of the world! — But while my own reflections absorb me, I forget you are still in suspense.

I had just finished the last letter which I wrote to you from London, when the maid of the house brought me a note. It was given to her, she said, by a footman, who told her he would call the next day for an answer.

This note — but let it speak for itself.

“To Miss Anville.

“With transport, most charming of thy sex, did I read the letter with which you yesterday morning favoured me. I am sorry the affair of the carriage should have given you any concern, but I am highly flattered by the anxiety you express so kindly. Believe me, my lovely girl, I am truly sensible to the honour of your good opinion, and feel myself deeply penetrated with love and gratitude. The correspondence you have so sweetly commenced, I shall be proud of continuing; and I hope the strong sense I have of the favour you do me will prevent your withdrawing it. Assure yourself, that I desire nothing more ardently than to pour forth my thanks at your feet, and to offer those vows which are so justly the tribute of your charms and accomplishments. In your next I intreat you to acquaint me how long you shall remain in town. The servant, whom I shall commission to call for an answer, has orders to ride post with it to me. My impatience for his arrival will be very great, though inferior to that with which I burn to tell you, in person, how much I am, my sweet girl, your grateful admirer, “ORVILLE.”

What a letter! how has my proud heart swelled every line I have copied! What I wrote to him you know; tell me, then, my dear friend, do you think it merited such an answer? — and that I have deservedly incurred the liberty he has taken? I meant nothing but a simple apology, which I thought as much due to my own character as to his; yet by the construction he seems to have put upon it, should you not have imagined it contained the avowal of sentiments which might indeed have provoked his contempt?

The moment the letter was delivered to me, I retired to my own room to read it; and so eager was my first perusal, that — I am ashamed to own — it gave me no sensation but of delight. Unsuspicious of any impropriety from Lord Orville, I perceived not immediately the impertinence it implied — I only marked the expressions of his own regard; and I was so much surprised, that I was unable for some time to compose myself, or read it again:— I could only walk up and down the room, repeating to myself, “Good God, is it possible? — am I then loved by Lord Orville?”

But this dream was soon over, and I awoke to far different feelings. Upon a second reading I thought every word changed — it did not seem the same letter — I could not find one sentence that I could look at without blushing: my astonishment was extreme, and it was succeeded by the utmost indignation.

If, as I am very ready to acknowledge, I erred in writing to Lord Orville, was it for him to punish the error? If he was offended, could he not have been silent? If he thought my letter ill-judged, should he not have pitied my ignorance? have considered my youth, and allowed for my inexperience?

Oh, Maria! how have I been deceived in this man! Words have no power to tell the high opinion I had of him; to that was owing the unfortunate solicitude which prompted my writing; a solicitude I must for ever repent!

Yet perhaps I have rather reason to rejoice than to grieve, since this affair has shown me his real disposition, and removed that partiality which, covering his every imperfection, left only his virtues and good qualities exposed to view. Had the deception continued much longer, had my mind received any additional prejudice in his favour, who knows whither my mistaken ideas might have led me? Indeed I fear I was in greater danger than I apprehended, or can now think of without trembling; — for, oh, if this weak heart of mine had been penetrated with too deep an impression of his merit — my peace and happiness had been lost for ever.

I would fain encourage more cheerful thoughts, fain drive from my mind the melancholy that has taken possession of it; but I cannot succeed: for, added to the humiliating feelings which so powerfully oppress me, I have yet another cause of concern; — alas, my dear Maria, I have broken the tranquillity of the best of men!

I have never had the courage to show him this cruel letter; I could not bear so greatly to depreciate in his opinion, one whom I had, with infinite anxiety, raised in it myself. Indeed, my first determination was to confine my chagrin totally to my own bosom; but your friendly enquiries have drawn it from me: and now I wish I had made no concealment from the beginning, since I know not how to account for a gravity, which not all my endeavours can entirely hide or repress.

My greatest apprehension is, lest he should imagine that my residence in London has given me a distaste to the country. Every body I see takes notice of my being altered, and looking pale and ill. I should be very indifferent to all such observations, did I not perceive that they draw upon me the eyes of Mr. Villars, which glisten with affectionate concern.

This morning, in speaking of my London expedition he mentioned Lord Orville. I felt so much disturbed, that I would instantly have changed the subject; but he would not allow me, and, very unexpectedly, he began his panegyric; extolling in strong terms, his manly and honourable behaviour in regard to the Marybone adventure. My cheeks glowed with indignation every word he spoke; — so lately as I had myself fancied him the noblest of his sex, now that I was so well convinced of my mistake, I could not bear to hear his undeserved praises uttered by one so really good, so unsuspecting, so pure of heart.

What he thought of my silence and uneasiness I fear to know; but I hope he will mention the subject no more. I will not, however, with ungrateful indolence, give way to a sadness which I find infectious to him who merits the most cheerful exertion of my spirits. I am thankful that he has forborne to probe my wound; and I will endeavour to heal it by the consciousness that I have not deserved the indignity I have received. Yet I cannot but lament to find myself in a world so deceitful, where we must suspect what we see, distrust what we hear, and doubt even what we feel!

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32