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I told him no. Yet, my dear Sir, I must own to you, I have no doubt but that Mr. Macartney must be the author; no one else would speak of me so partially; and, indeed, his poetical turn puts it, with me, beyond dispute.
He asked me a thousand questions concerning Lord Orville; how long he had been at Bristol?-what time I had spent at Clifton?-whether he rode out every morning?-whether I ever trusted myself in a phaeton? and a multitude of other enquiries, all tending to discover if I was honoured with much of his Lordship's attention, and all made with his usual freedom and impetuosity.
Fortunately, as I much wished to retire early, Lady Louisa makes a point of being the first who quit the rooms, and therefore we got home in very tolerable time.
Lord Orville's reception of us was grave and cold: far from distinguishing me, as usual, by particular civilities, Lady Louisa herself could not have seen me enter the room with more frigid unconcern, nor have more scrupulously avoided honouring me with any notice. But chiefly I was struck to see, that he suffered Sir Clement, who stayed supper, to sit between us, without any effort to prevent him, though till then, he had seemed to be even tenacious of a seat next mine.
This little circumstance affected me more than I can express; yet I endeavoured to rejoice at it, since neglect and indifference from him may be my best friends.-But, alas!-so suddenly, so abruptly to forfeit his attention!-to lose his friendship!-Oh, Sir, these thoughts pierced my soul!-scarce could I keep my seat; for not all my efforts could restrain the tears from trickling down my cheeks: however, as Lord Orville saw them not, for Sir Clement's head was constantly between us, I tried to collect my spirits, and succeeded so far as to keep my place with decency, till Sir Clement took leave; and then, not daring to trust my eyes to meet those of Lord Orville, I retired.
I have been writing ever since; for, certain that I could not sleep, I would not go to bed. Tell me, my dearest Sir, if you possibly can, tell me that you approve my change of conduct,-tell me that my altered behaviour to Lord Orville is right,-that my flying his society, and avoiding his civilities, are actions which you would have dictated.-Tell me this, and the sacrifices I have made will comfort me in the midst of my regret,-for never, never can I cease to regret that I have lost the friendship of Lord Orville!-Oh, Sir, I have slighted,-have rejected,-have thrown it away!-No matter, it was an honour I merited not to preserve; and now I see,-that my mind was unequal to sustaining it without danger.
Yet so strong is the desire you have implanted in me to act with uprightness and propriety, that, however the weakness of my heart may distress and afflict me, it will never, I humbly trust, render me wilfully culpable. The wish of doing well governs every other, as far as concerns my conduct,-for am I not your child?-the creature of your own forming!-Yet, Oh Sir, friend, parent, of my heart!-my feelings are all at war with my duties! and, while I most struggle to acquire self-approbation, my peace, my happiness, my hopes,-are lost!
'Tis you alone can compose a mind so cruelly agitated: you, I well know, can feel pity for the weakness to which you are a stranger; and, though you blame the affliction, soothe and comfort the afflicted.
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.
LETTER LXXIV. [Inclosed in the preceding Letter.]
LADY BELMONT TO SIR JOHN BELMONT.
IN the firm hope that the moment of anguish which approaches will prove the period of my sufferings, once more I address myself to Sir John Belmont, in behalf of the child, who, if it survives its mother, will hereafter be the bearer of this letter.
Yet, in what terms,-Oh, most cruel of men!-can the lost Caroline address you, and not address you in vain? Oh, deaf to the voice of compassion-deaf to the sting of truth-deaf to every tie of honour-say, in what terms may the lost Caroline address you, and not address you in vain!
Shall I call you by the loved, the respected title of husband?-No, you disclaim it!-the father of my infant?-No, you doom it to infamy!-the lover who rescued me from a forced marriage?-No, you have yourself betrayed me!-the friend from whom I hoped succour and protection?-No, you have consigned me to misery and destruction!
Oh, hardened against every plea of justice, remorse, or pity! how, and in what manner, may I hope to move thee? Is there one method I have left untried? remains there one resource unessayed? No! I have exhausted all the bitterness of reproach, and drained every sluice of compassion!
Hopeless, and almost desperate, twenty times have I flung away my pen;-but the feelings of a mother, a mother agonizing for the fate of her child, again animating my courage, as often I have resumed it.
Perhaps when I am no more, when the measure of my woes is completed, and the still, silent, unreproaching dust has received my sad remains,-then, perhaps, when accusation is no longer to be feared, nor detection to be dreaded, the voice of equity and the cry of nature may be heard.
Listen, Oh Belmont, to their dictates! reprobate not your child, though you have reprobated its mother. The evils that are past, perhaps, when too late, you may wish to recal; the young creature you have persecuted, perhaps, when too late, you may regret that you have destroyed;-you may think with horror of the deceptions you have practised, and the pangs of remorse may follow me to the tomb:-Oh, Belmont, all my resentment softens into pity at the thought! what will become of thee, good Heaven, when, with the eye of penitence, thou reviewest thy past conduct!
Hear, then, the solemn, the last address, with which the unhappy Caoline will importune thee.
If when the time of thy contrition arrives,-for arrive it must!-when the sense of thy treachery shall rob thee of almost every other, if then thy tortured heart shall sigh to expiate thy guilt,-mark the conditions upon which I leave thee my forgiveness.
Thou knowest I am thy wife!-clear, then, to the world the reputation thou hast sullied, and receive, as thy lawful successor, the child who will present thee this, my dying request!
The worthiest, the most benevolent, the best of men, to whose consoling kindness I owe the little tranquillity I have been able to preserve, has plighted me his faith, that, upon no other conditions, he will part with his helpless charge.
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