Evelina, by Fanny Burney

Letter xiv.

Evelina in Continuation.

Queen Ann Street, April 13.

HOW much will you be surprised, my dearest Sir, at receiving another letter, from London, of your Evelina’s writing! But, believe me, it was not my fault, neither is it my happiness, that I am still here: our journey has been postponed by an accident equally unexpected and disagreeable.

We went last night to see the Fantoccini, where we had infinite entertainment from the performance of a little comedy in French and Italian, by puppets, so admirably managed, that they both astonished and diverted us all, except the Captain, who has a fixed and most prejudiced hatred of whatever is not English.

When it was over, while we waited for the coach, a tall elderly woman brushed quickly past us, calling out, “My God, what shall I do?”

“Why, what would you do?” cried the Captain.

“Ma foi, Monsieur,” answered she, “I have lost my company, and in this place I don’t know nobody.”

There was something foreign in her accent, though it was difficult to discover whether she was an English or a French woman. She was very well dressed; and seemed so entirely at a loss what to do, that Mrs. Mirvan proposed to the Captain to assist her.

“Assist her!” cried he, “ay, with all my heart; — let a link-boy call her a coach.”

There was not one to be had, and it rained very fast.

“Mon Dieu!” exclaimed the stranger, “what shall become of me? Je suis au desespoir!”

“Dear Sir,” cried Miss Mirvan, “pray let us take the poor lady into our coach. She is quite alone, and a foreigner —”

“She’s never the better for that,” answered he: “she may be a woman of the town, for anything you know.”

“She does not appear such,” said Mrs. Mirvan; “and indeed she seems so much distressed, that we shall but follow the golden rule, if we carry her to her lodgings.”

“You are mighty fond of new acquaintance,” returned he; “but first let us know if she be going our way.”

Upon inquiry, we found that she lived in Oxford Road; and, after some disputing, the Captain surlily, and, with a very bad grace, consented to admit her into his coach; though he soon convinced us, that he was determined she should not be too much obliged to him, for he seemed absolutely bent upon quarrelling with her: for which strange inhospitality I can assign no other reason, than that she appeared to be a foreigner.

The conversation began, by her telling us, that she had been in England only two days; that the gentlemen belonging to her were Parisians, and had left her to see for a hackney-coach, as her own carriage was abroad; and that she had waited for them till she was quite frightened, and concluded that they had lost themselves.

“And pray,” said the Captain, “why did you go to a public place without an Englishman?”

“Ma foi, Sir,” answered she, “because none of my acquaintance is in town.”

“Why then,” said he, “I’ll tell you what, your best way is to go out of it yourself.”

“Pardi, Monsieur,” returned she, “and so I shall; for, I promise you, I think the English a parcel of brutes; and I’ll go back to France as fast as I can, for I would not live among none of you.”

“Who wants you?” cried the Captain: “do you suppose, Madam French, we have not enough of other nations to pick our pockets already? I’ll warrant you, there’s no need for you for to put in your oar.”

“Pick your pockets, Sir! I wish nobody wanted to pick your pockets no more than I do; and I’ll promise you you’d be safe enough. But there’s no nation under the sun can beat the English for ill-politeness: for my part, I hate the very sight of them; and so I shall only just visit a person of quality or two of my particular acquaintance, and then I shall go back again to France.”

“Ay, do,” cried he; “and then go to the devil together, for that’s the fittest voyage for the French and the quality.”

“We’ll take care, however,” cried the stranger with great vehemence, “not to admit none of your vulgar unmannered English among us.”

“O never fear,” returned he, coolly, “we shan’t dispute the point with you; you and the quality may have the devil all to yourselves.”

Desirous of changing the subject of a conversation which now became very alarming, Miss Mirvan called out, “Lord, how slow the man drives!”

“Never mind, Moll,” said her father, “I’ll warrant you he’ll drive fast enough tomorrow, when you are going to Howard Grove.”

“To Howard Grove!” exclaimed the stranger, “why, mon Dieu, do you know Lady Howard?”

“Why, what if we do?” answered he; “that’s nothing to you; she’s none of your quality, I’ll promise you.”

“Who told you that?” cried she; “you don’t know nothing about the matter! besides, you’re the ill-bredest person ever I see: and as to your knowing Lady Howard, I don’t believe no such a thing; unless, indeed, you are her steward.”

The Captain, swearing terribly, said, with great fury, “You would much sooner be taken for her wash-woman.”

“Her wash-woman, indeed? — Ha, ha, ha, why you han’t no eyes; did you ever see a wash-woman in such a gown as this? — Besides, I’m no such mean person, for I’m as good as Lady Howard, and as rich too; and besides, I’m now come to England to visit her.”

“You may spare yourself that there trouble,” said the Captain, “she has paupers enough about her already.”

“Paupers, Mister! — no more a pauper than yourself, nor so much neither; — but you are a low, dirty fellow, and I shan’t stoop to take no more notice of you.”

“Dirty fellow!” exclaimed the Captain, seizing both her wrists, “hark you, Mrs. Frog, you’d best hold your tongue; for I must make bold to tell you, if you don’t, that I shall make no ceremony of tripping you out of the window, and there you may lie in the mud till some of your Monseers come to help you out of it.”

Their increasing passion quite terrified us; and Mrs. Mirvan was beginning to remonstrate with the Captain, when we were all silenced by what follows.

“Let me go, villain that you are, let me go, or I’ll promise you I’ll get you put to prison for this usage. I’m no common person, I assure you; and, ma foi, I’ll go to Justice Fielding about you; for I’m a person of fashion, and I’ll make you know it, or my name a’n’t Duval.”

I heard no more: amazed, frightened, and unspeakably shocked, an involuntary exclamation of Gracious Heaven! escaped me, and, more dead than alive, I sunk into Mrs. Mirvan’s arms. But let me draw a veil over a scene too cruel for a heart so compassionately tender as your’s; it is sufficient that you know this supposed foreigner proved to be Madame Duval — the grandmother of your Evelina!

O, Sir, to discover so near a relation in a woman, who had thus introduced herself! — what would become of me, were it not for you, my protector, my friend, and my refuge?

My extreme concern, and Mrs. Mirvan’s surprise, immediately betrayed me. But, I will not shock you with the manner of her acknowledging me, or the bitterness, the grossness — I cannot otherwise express myself — with which she spoke of those unhappy past transactions you have so pathetically related to me. All the misery of a much injured parent, dear, though never seen, regretted, though never known, crowded so forcibly upon my memory, that they rendered this interview — one only excepted — the most afflicting I can ever know.

When we stopt at her lodgings, she desired me to accompany her into the house, and said she could easily procure a room for me to sleep in. Alarmed and trembling, I turned to Mrs. Mirvan. “My daughter, Madam,” said that sweet woman, “cannot so abruptly part with her young friend; you must allow a little time to wean them from each other.”

“Pardon me, Ma’am,” answered Madame Duval, (who, from the time of her being known, somewhat softened her manners) “Miss can’t possibly be so nearly connected to this child as I am.”

“No matter for that,” cried the Captain, (who espoused my cause to satisfy his own pique, tho’ an awkward apology had passed between them) “she was sent to us; and so, dy’e see, we don’t choose for to part with her.”

I promised to wait upon her at what time she pleased the next day; and, after a short debate, she desired me to breakfast with her, and we proceeded to Queen Ann Street.

What an unfortunate adventure! I could not close my eyes the whole night. A thousand times I wished I had never left Berry Hill: however, my return thither shall be accelerated to the utmost of my power; and, once more in that abode of tranquil happiness, I will suffer no temptation to allure me elsewhere.

Mrs. Mirvan was so kind as to accompany me to Madame Duval’s house this morning. The Captain, too, offered his service; which I declined, from a fear she should suppose I meant to insult her.

She frowned most terribly upon Mrs. Mirvan; but she received me with as much tenderness as I believe she is capable of feeling. Indeed, our meeting seems really to have affected her; for when, overcome by the variety of emotions which the sight of her occasioned, I almost fainted in her arms, she burst into tears, and said, “let me not lose my poor daughter a second time!” This unexpected humanity softened me extremely; but she very soon excited my warmest indignation, by the ungrateful mention she made of the best of men, my dear and most generous benefactor. However, grief and anger mutually gave way to terror, upon her avowing the intention of her visiting England was to make me return with her to France. This, she said, was a plan she had formed from the instant she had heard of my birth; which, she protested, did not reach her ears till I must have been twelve years of age; but Monsieur Duval, who she declared was the worst husband in the world, would not permit her to do any thing she wished: he had been dead but three months; which had been employed in arranging certain affairs, that were no sooner settled, than she set off for England. She was already out of mourning, for she said nobody here could tell how long she had been a widow.

She must have been married very early in life: what her age is I do not know; but she really looks to be less than fifty. She dresses very gaily, paints very high, and the traces of former beauty are still very visible in her face.

I know not when, or how, this visit would have ended, had not the Captain called for Mrs. Mirvan, and absolutely insisted upon my attending her. He is become, very suddenly, so warmly my friend, that I quite dread his officiousness. Mrs. Mirvan, however, whose principal study seems to be healing those wounds which her husband inflicts, appeased Madame Duval’s wrath, by a very polite invitation to drink tea and spend the evening here. Not without great difficulty was the Captain prevailed upon to defer his journey some time longer; but what could be done? It would have been indecent for me to have quitted town the very instant I discovered that Madame Duval was in it; and to have staid here solely under her protection — Mrs. Mirvan, thank Heaven, was too kind for such a thought. That she should follow us to Howard Grove, I almost equally dreaded. It is therefore determined, that we remain in London for some days, or a week: though the Captain has declared that the old French hag, as he is pleased to call her, shall fare never the better for it.

My only hope is to get safe to Berry Hill; where, counselled and sheltered by you, I shall have nothing more to fear. Adieu, my ever dear and most honoured Sir! I shall have no happiness till I am again with you.

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