Evelina, by Fanny Burney

Letter lxxiii.

Mr. Villars to Evelina.

Berry Hill, Oct. 3rd.

YOUR last communication, my dearest child, is indeed astonishing; that an acknowledged daughter and heiress of Sir John Belmont should be at Bristol, and still my Evelina bear the name of Anville, is to me inexplicable; yet the mystery of the letter to Lady Howard prepared me to expect something extraordinary upon Sir John Belmont’s return to England.

Whoever this young lady may be, it is certain she now takes a place to which you have a right indisputable. An after-marriage I never heard of; yet, supposing such a one to have happened, Miss Evelyn was certainly the first wife, and therefore her daughter must, at least, be entitled to the name of Belmont.

Either there are circumstances in this affair at present utterly incomprehensible, or else some strange and most atrocious fraud has been practiced; which of these two is the case it now behoves us to enquire.

My reluctance to this step gives way to my conviction of its propriety, since the reputation of your dear and much-injured mother must now either be fully cleared from blemish, or receive its final and indelible wound.

The public appearance of a daughter of Sir John Belmont will revive the remembrance of Miss Evelyn’s story in all who have heard it — who the mother was, will be universally demanded — and if any other Lady Belmont should be named, the birth of my Evelina will receive a stigma, against which, honour, truth, and innocence may appeal in vain! — a stigma, which will eternally blast the fair fame of her virtuous mother, and cast upon her blameless self the odium of a title, which not all her purity can rescue from established shame and dishonour!

No, my dear child, no; I will not quietly suffer the ashes of your mother to be treated with ignominy! her spotless character shall be justified to the world — her marriage shall be acknowledged, and her child shall bear the name to which she is lawfully entitled.

It is true, that Mrs. Mirvan would conduct this affair with more delicacy than Mrs. Selwyn; yet, perhaps, to save time, is of all considerations the most important, since the longer this mystery is suffered to continue, the more difficult may be rendered its explanation. The sooner, therefore, you can set out for town, the less formidable will be your task.

Let not your timidity, my dear love, depress your spirits: I shall, indeed, tremble for you at a meeting so singular and so affecting, yet there can be no doubt of the success of your application: I enclose a letter from your unhappy mother, written, and reserved purposely for this occasion: Mrs. Clinton too, who attended her in her last illness, must accompany you to town. — But, without any other certificate of your birth, that which you carry in your countenance, as it could not be affected by artifice, so it cannot admit of a doubt.

And now, my Evelina, committed at length to the care of your real parent, receive the fervent prayers, wishes, and blessings, of him who so fondly adopted you!

May’st thou, O child of my bosom! may’st thou, in this change of situation, experience no change of disposition! but receive with humility, and support with meekness the elevation to which thou art rising! May thy manners, language, and deportment, all evince that modest equanimity, and cheerful gratitude, which not merely deserve, but dignify prosperity! May’st thou, to the last moments of an unblemished life, retain thy genuine simplicity, thy singleness of heart, thy guileless sincerity! And may’st thou, stranger to ostentation, and superior to insolence, with true greatness of soul shine forth conspicuous only in beneficence!

ARTHUR VILLARS.

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