Henry Craik, ed. English Prose. 1916. Vol. IV. Eighteenth Century
Evelina to Miss Mirvan
By Frances (Fanny) Burney (Madame dArblay) (17521840)
YOU complain of my silence, my dear Miss Mirvanbut what have I to write? Narrative does not offer, nor does a lively imagination supply the deficiency. I have, however, at present sufficient matter for a letter, in relating a conversation I had yesterday with Mr. Villars.
Our breakfast had been the most cheerful we have had since my return hither; and when it was over, he did not, as usual, retire to his study, but continued to converse with me while I worked. We might, probably, have passed all the morning thus sociably, but for the entrance of a farmer, who came to solicit advice concerning some domestic affairs. They withdrew together into the study.
The moment I was alone my spirits failed me; the exertion with which I had supported them had fatigued my mind; I flung away my work, and leaning my arms on the table, gave way to a train of disagreeable reflections, which, bursting from the restraint that had smothered them, filled me with unusual sadness.
This was my situation, when, looking towards the door, which was open, I perceived Mr. Villars, who was earnestly regarding me. Is Farmer Smith gone, sir? cried I, hastily rising, and snatching up my work.
This question was so unexpected, that I knew not how to answer it; but, as I saw he was moving away, I followed, and begged him to return. No, my dear, no, said he, with a forced smile, I only interrupt your meditations.
Again I knew not what to say; and while I hesitated, he retired. My heart was with him, but I had not the courage to follow. The idea of an explanation brought on in so serious a manner frightened me. I recollected the inference you had drawn from my uneasiness, and I feared that he might make a similar interpretation.
Solitary and thoughtful, I passed the rest of the morning in my own room. At dinner I again attempted to be cheerful; but Mr. Villars himself was grave, and I had not sufficient spirits to support a conversation merely by my own efforts. As soon as dinner was over, he took a book, and I walked to the window. I believe I remained near an hour in this situation. All my thoughts were directed to considering how I might dispel the doubts which I apprehended Mr. Villars had formed, without acknowledging a circumstance which I had suffered so much pain merely to conceal. But while I was thus planning for the future, I forgot the present; and so intent was I upon the subject which occupied me, that the strange appearance of my unusual inactivity and extreme thoughtfulness never occurred to me. But when, at last, I recollected myself, and turned round, I saw that Mr. Villars, who had parted with his book, was wholly engrossed in attending to me. I started from my reverie, and hardly knowing what I said, asked if he had been reading?
I knew not what to say; but I sighed involuntarily from the bottom of my heart. He rose, and approaching me, said with emotion, My child, I can no longer be a silent witness of thy sorrow,is not thy sorrow my sorrow?and ought I to be a stranger to the cause, when I so deeply sympathise in the effect?
Fear not, said he, kindly, to unbosom thyself to me, my dearest Evelina; open to me thy whole heart,it can have no feelings for which I will not make allowance. Tell me, therefore, what it is that thus afflicts us both; and who knows but I may suggest some means of relief?
Impossible! impossible! cried I eagerly; no one living could ever guess, ever suppose I stopped abruptly; for I then recollected I was acknowledging something was to be guessed: however, he noticed not my mistake.
At least let me try, answered he, mildly; perhaps I may be a better diviner than you imagine: if I guess everything that is probable, surely I must approach near the real reason. Be honest, then, my love, and speak without reservedoes not the country, after so much gaiety, so much variety, does it not appear insipid and tiresome?
It is too late now, answered he, to reflect upon this subject: let us endeavour to avoid repentance for the time to come, and we shall not have erred without reaping some instruction. Then, seating himself, and making me sit by him, he continued, I must now guess again: perhaps you regret the loss of those friends you knew in town;perhaps you miss their society, and fear you may see them no more?perhaps Lord Orville
I could not keep my seat; but rising hastily, said, Dear sir, ask me nothing more!for I have nothing to own,nothing to say;my gravity has been merely accidental, and I can give no reason for it at all.Shall I fetch you another book?or will you have this again?
For some minutes he was totally silent, and I pretended to employ myself in looking for a book. At last with a deep sigh, I see said he, I see but too plainly, that though Evelina is returned,I have lost my child!
No, sir, no, cried I, inexpressibly shocked, she is more yours than ever! Without you, the world would be a desert to her, and life a burden:forgive her, then, and,if you can,condescend to be once more, the confidant of all her thoughts.
How highly I value, how greatly I wish for her confidence, returned he, she cannot but know;yet to extort, to tear it from her,my justice, my affection both revolt at the idea. I am sorry I was so earnest with you; leave me, my dear, leave me, and compose yourself; we will meet again at tea.
No, but I abhor to compel you. I have long seen that your mind has been ill at ease, and mine has largely partaken of your concern: I forbore to question you; for I hoped that time and absence from whatever excited your uneasiness, might best operate in silence: but alas! your affection seems only to augment,your health declines,your look alters!O, Evelina, my aged heart bleeds to see the change!bleeds to behold the darling it had cherished, the prop it had reared for its support when bowed down by years and infirmities, sinking itself under the pressure of internal grief!struggling to hide what it should seek to participate! But go my dear, go to your own room; we both want composure, and we will talk of this matter some other time.
Not a word of that, interrupted he: it pains me you should think upon that subject; pains me you should ever remember that you have not a natural, an hereditary right to everything within my power. I meant not to affect you thus,I hoped to have soothed you!but my anxiety betrayed me to an urgency that has distressed you. Comfort yourself, my love; and doubt not but that time will stand your friend, and all will end well.
I burst into tears: with difficulty I had so long restrained them; for my heart, while it glowed with tenderness and gratitude, was oppressed with a sense of its own unworthiness. You are all, all goodness! cried I, in a voice scarce audible; little as I deserve,unable as I am to repay, such kindness,yet my whole soul feels,thanks you for it!
Say then, cried I, kneeling at his feet, say then that you forgive me! that you pardon my reserve,that you will again suffer me to tell you my most secret thoughts, and rely upon my promise never more to forfeit your confidence!my father!my protector!my ever-honoured,ever-lovedmy best and only friend!say you forgive your Evelina, and she will study better to deserve your goodness!
He raised, he embraced me: he called me his sole joy, his only earthly hope, and the child of his bosom! He folded me to his heart: and while I wept from the fulness of mine, with words of sweetest kindness and consolation, he soothed and tranquillised me.