Evelina, by Fanny Burney

Letter xvi

Evelina to the Rev. Mr. Villars

Queen Ann Street, Thursday morning, April 14.

BEFORE our dinner was over yesterday Madame Duval came to tea; though it will lessen your surprise, to hear that it was near five o’clock, for we never dine till the day is almost over. She was asked into another room while the table was cleared, and then was invited to partake of the dessert.

She was attended by a French gentleman, whom she introduced by the name of Monsieur Du Bois: Mrs. Mirvan received them both with her usual politeness; but the Captain looked very much displeased; and after a short silence, very sternly said to Madame Duval, “Pray who asked you to bring that there spark with you?”

“O,” cried she, “I never go no where without him.”

Another short silence ensued, which was terminated by the Captain’s turning roughly to the foreigner, and saying, “Do you know, Monseer, that you are the first Frenchman I ever let come into my house?”

Monsieur Du Bois made a profound bow. He speaks no English, and understands it so imperfectly, that he might possibly imagine he had received a compliment.

Mrs. Mirvan endeavourd to divert the Captain’s ill-humour, by starting new subjects: but he left to her all the trouble of supporting them, and leant back in his chair in gloomy silence, except when any opportunity offered of uttering some sarcasm upon the French. Finding her efforts to render the evening agreeable were fruitless, Mrs. Mirvan proposed a party to Ranelagh. Madame Duval joyfully consented to it; and the Captain though he railed against the dissipation of the women, did not oppose it; and therefore Maria and I ran up stairs to dress ourselves.

Before we were ready, word was brought us that Sir Clement Willoughby was in the drawing-room. He introduced himself under the pretence of inquiring after all our healths, and entered the room with the easy air of an old acquaintance; though Mrs. Mirvan confessed that he seemed embarrassed when he found how coldly he was received, not only by the Captain, but by herself.

I was extremely disconcerted at the thoughts of seeing this man again, and did not go downstairs till I was called to tea. He was then deeply engaged in a discourse upon French manners with Madame Duval and the Captain; and the subject seemed so entirely to engross him, that he did not, at first, observe my entrance into the room. Their conversation was supported with great vehemence; the Captain roughly maintaining the superiority of the English in every particular, and Madame Duval warmly refusing to allow of it in any; while Sir Clement exerted all his powers of argument and of ridicule, to second and strengthen whatever was advanced by the Captain: for he had the sagacity to discover, that he could take no method so effectual for making the master of the house his friend, as to make Madame Duval his enemy; and indeed, in a very short time, he had reason to congratulate himself upon his successful discernment.

As soon as he saw me, he made a most respectful bow, and hoped I had not suffered from the fatigue of the ridotto: I made no other answer than a slight inclination of the head, for I was very much ashamed of that whole affair. He then returned to the disputants; where he managed the argument so skilfully, at once provoking Madame Duval, and delighting the Captain, that I could not forbear admiring his address, though I condemned his subtlety. Mrs. Mirvan, dreading such violent antagonists, attempted frequently to change the subject; and she might have succeeded, but for the interposition of Sir Clement, who would not suffer it to be given up, and supported it with such humour and satire, that he seems to have won the Captain’s heart; though their united forces so enraged and overpowered Madame Duval, that she really trembled with passion.

I was very glad when Mrs. Mirvan said it was time to be gone. Sir Clement arose to take leave; but the Captain very cordially invited him to join our party: he had an engagement, he said, but would give it up to have that pleasure.

Some little confusion ensued in regard to our manner of setting off. Mrs. Mirvan offered Madame Duval a place in her coach, and proposed that we four females should go all together; however, this she rejected, declaring she would by no means go so far without a gentleman, and wondering so polite a lady could make so English a proposal. Sir Clement Willoughby said, his chariot was waiting at the door, and begged to know if it could be of any use. It was at last decided, that a hackney-coach should be called for Monsieur Du Bois and Madame Duval, in which the Captain, and, at his request, Sir Clement, went also; Mrs. and Miss Mirvan and I had a peaceful and comfortable ride by ourselves.

I doubt not but they quarrelled all the way; for when we met at Ranelagh every one seemed out of humour; and though we joined parties, poor Madame Duval was avoided as much as possible by all but me.

The room was so very much crowded, that but for the uncommon assiduity of Sir Clement Willoughby, we should not have been able to procure a box (which is the name given to the arched recesses that are appropriated for tea-parties) till half the company had retired. As we were taking possession of our places, some ladies of Mrs. Mirvan’s acquaintance stopped to speak to her, and persuaded her to take a round with them. When she returned to us, what was my surprise, to see that Lord Orville had joined her party! The ladies walked on: Mrs. Mirvan seated herself, and made a slight, though respectful, invitation to Lord Orville to drink his tea with us; which, to my no small consternation, he accepted.

I felt a confusion unspeakable at again seeing him, from the recollection of the ridotto adventure: nor did my situation lessen it; for I was seated between Madame Duval and Sir Clement, who seemed as little as myself to desire Lord Orville’s presence. Indeed, the continual wrangling and ill-breeding of Captain Mirvan and Madame Duval made me blush that I belonged to them. And poor Mrs. Mirvan and her amiable daughter had still less reason to be satisfied.

A general silence ensued after he was seated: his appearance, from different motives, gave an universal restraint to every body. What his own reasons were for honouring us with his company, I cannot imagine; unless, indeed, he had a curiosity to know whether I should invent any new impertinence concerning him.

The first speech was made by Madame Duval, who said, “It’s quite a shocking thing to see ladies come to so genteel a place as Ranelagh with hats on; it has a monstrous vulgar look: I can’t think what they wear them for. There is no such a thing to be seen in Paris.”

“Indeed,” cried Sir Clement, “I must own myself no advocate for hats; I am sorry the ladies ever invented or adopted so tantalizing a fashion: for, where there is beauty, they only serve to shade it; and, where there is none, to excite a most unavailing curiosity. I fancy they were originally worn by some young and whimsical coquette.”

“More likely,” answered the Captain, “they were invented by some wrinkled old hag, who’d a mind for to keep the young fellows in chace, let them be never so weary.”

“I don’t know what you may do in England,” cried Madame Duval, “but I know in Paris no woman needn’t be at such a trouble as that to be taken very genteel notice of.”

“Why, will you pretend for to say,” returned the Captain, “that they don’t distinguish the old from the young there as well as here?”

“They don’t make no distinguishments at all,” said she; “they’re vastly too polite.”

“More fools they!” cried the Captain, sneeringly.

“Would to Heaven,” cried, Sir Clement, “that, for our own sakes, we Englishmen too were blest with so accommodating a blindness!”

“Why the devil do you make such a prayer as that?” demanded the Captain: “them are the first foolish words I’ve heard you speak; but I suppose you’re not much used to that sort of work. Did you ever make a prayer before, since you were a sniveler?”

“Ay, now,” cried Madame Duval, “that’s another of the unpolitenesses of you English, to go to talking of such things as that: now in Paris nobody never says nothing about religion, no more than about politics.”

“Why then,” answered he, “it’s a sign they take no more care of their souls than of their country, and so both one and t’other go to old Nick.”

“Well, if they do,” said she, “who’s the worse, so long as they don’t say nothing about it? It’s the tiresomest thing in the world to be always talking of them sort of things, and nobody that’s ever been abroad troubles their heads about them.”

“Pray then,” cried the Captain, “since you know so much of the matter, be so good as to tell us what they do trouble their heads about? — Hey, Sir Clement! han’t we a right to know that much?”

“A very comprehensive question,” said Sir Clement, “and I expect much instruction from the lady’s answer.”

“Come, Madam,” continued the Captain, “never flinch; speak at once; don’t stop for thinking.”

“I assure you I am not going,” answered she; “for as to what they do do, why they’ve enough to do, I promise you, what with one thing or another.”

“But what, what do they do, these famous Monseers?” demanded the Captain; “can’t you tell us? do they game? — or drink? — or fiddle? — or are they jockeys? — or do they spend all their time in flummering old women?”

“As to that, Sir — but indeed I shan’t trouble myself to answer such a parcel of low questions, so don’t ask me no more about it.” And then, to my great vexation, turning to Lord Orville, she said, “Pray, Sir, was you ever in Paris?”

He only bowed.

“And pray, Sir, how did you like it?”

This comprehensive question, as Sir Clement would have called it, though it made him smile, also made him hesitate; however, his answer was expressive of his approbation.

“I thought you would like it, Sir, because you look so like a gentleman. As to the Captain, and as to that other gentleman, why they may very well not like what they don’t know: for I suppose, Sir, you was never abroad?”

“Only three years, Ma’am,” answered Sir Clement, drily.

“Well, that’s very surprising! I should never have thought it: however, I dare say you only kept company with the English.”

“Why, pray, who should he keep company with?” cried the Captain: “what I suppose you’d have him ashamed of his own nation, like some other people not a thousand miles off, on purpose to make his own nation ashamed of him?”

“I’m sure it would be a very good thing if you’d go abroad yourself.”

“How will you make out that, hey, Madam? come, please to tell me, where would be the good of that?”

“Where! why a great deal. They’d make quite another person of you.”

“What, I suppose you’d have me to learn to cut capers? — and dress like a monkey? — and palaver in French gibberish? — hey, would you? — And powder, and daub, and make myself up, like some other folks?”

“I would have you learn to be more politer, Sir, and not to talk to ladies in such a rude, old-fashion way as this. You, Sir, as have been in Paris,” again addressing herself to Lord Orville, “can tell this English gentleman how he’d be despised, if he was to talk in such an ungenteel manner as this before any foreigners. Why, there isn’t a hairdresser, nor a shoemaker, nor nobody, that wouldn’t blush to be in your company.”

“Why, look ye, Madam,” answered the Captain, “as to your hair-pinchers and shoe-blacks, you may puff off their manners, and welcome; and I am heartily glad you like ’em so well: but as to me, since you must needs make so free of your advice, I must e’en tell you, I never kept company with any such gentry.”

“Come, ladies and gentlemen,” said Mrs. Mirvan, “as many of you as have done tea, I invite to walk with me.” Maria and I started up instantly; Lord Orville followed; and I question whether we were not half round the room ere the angry disputants knew that we had left the box.

As the husband of Mrs. Mirvan had borne so large a share in the disagreeable altercation, Lord Orville forbore to make any comments upon it; so that the subject was immediately dropt, and the conversation became calmly sociable, and politely cheerful, and, to every body but me, must have been highly agreeable:— but, as to myself, I was so eagerly desirous of making some apology to Lord Orville, for the impertinence of which he must have thought me guilty at the ridotto, and yet so utterly unable to assume sufficient courage to speak to him, concerning an affair in which I had so terribly exposed myself, that I hardly ventured to say a word all the time we were walking. Besides, the knowledge of his contemptuous opinion haunted and dispirited me, and made me fear he might possibly misconstrue whatever I should say. So that, far from enjoying a conversation which might, at any other time, have delighted me, I continued silent, uncomfortable, and ashamed. O, Sir, shall I ever again involve myself in so foolish an embarrassment? I am sure that, if I do, I shall deserve greater mortification.

We were not joined by the rest of the party till we had taken three or four turns around the room; and then they were so quarrelsome, that Mrs. Mirvan complained of being fatigued and proposed going home. No one dissented. Lord Orville joined another party, having first made an offer of his services, which the gentlemen declined, and we proceeded to an outward room, where we waited for the carriages. It was settled that we should return to town in the same manner we came to Ranelagh; and, accordingly, Monsieur Du Bois handed Madame Duval into a hackney coach, and was just preparing to follow her, when she screamed, and jumped hastily out, declaring she was wet through all her clothes. Indeed, upon examination the coach was found to be in a dismal condition; for the weather proved very bad, and the rain had, though I know not how, made its way into the carriage.

Mrs. and Miss Mirvan, and myself, were already disposed of as before; but no sooner did the Captain hear this account, than, without any ceremony, he was so civil as to immediately take possession of the vacant seat in his own coach, leaving Madame Duval and Monsieur Du Bois to take care of themselves. As to Sir Clement Willoughby, his own chariot was in waiting.

I instantly begged permission to offer Madame Duval my own place, and made a motion to get out; but Mrs. Mirvan stopped me, saying, that I should then be obliged to return to town with only the foreigner, or Sir Clement.

“O never mind the old beldame,” cried the Captain, “she’s weather-proof, I’ll answer for her; and besides, as we are all, I hope, English, why she’ll meet with no worse than she expects from us.”

“I do not mean to defend her,” said Mrs. Mirvan; “but indeed, as she belongs to our party, we cannot, with any decency, leave the place till she is, by some means, accommodated.”

“Lord, my dear,” cried the Captain, whom the distress of Madame Duval had put into very good humour, “why, she’ll break her heart if she meets with any civility from a filthy Englishman.”

Mrs. Mirvan, however, prevailed; and we all got out of the coach, to wait till Madame Duval could meet with some better carriage. We found her, attended by Monsieur Du Bois, standing amongst the servants, and very busy in wiping her negligee, and endeavouring to save it from being stained by the wet, as she said it was a new Lyons silk. Sir Clement Willoughby offered her the use of his chariot, but she had been too much piqued by his raillery to accept it. We waited some time, but in vain; for no hackney-coach could be procured. The Captain, at last, was persuaded to accompany Sir Clement himself, and we four females were handed into Mrs. Mirvan’s carriage, though not before Madame Duval had insisted upon our making room for Monsieur Du Bois, to which the Captain only consented in preference to being incommoded by him in Sir Clement’s chariot.

Our party drove off first. We were silent and unsociable; for the difficulties attending this arrangement had made every one languid and fatigued. Unsociable, I must own, we continued; but very short was the duration of our silence, as we had not proceeded thirty yards before every voice was heard at once — for the coach broke down! I suppose we concluded, of course, that we were all half killed, by the violent shrieks that seemed to come from every mouth. The chariot was stopped, the servants came to our assistance, and we were taken out of the carriage, without having been at all hurt. The night was dark and wet; but I had scarce touched the ground when I was lifted suddenly from it by Sir Clement Willoughby, who begged permission to assist me, though he did not wait to have it granted, but carried me in his arms back to Ranelagh.

He enquired very earnestly if I was not hurt by the accident? I assured him I was perfectly safe, and free from injury; and desired he would leave me, and return to the rest of the party, for I was very uneasy to know whether they had been equally fortunate. He told me he was happy in being honoured with my commands, and would joyfully execute them; but insisted upon first conducting me to a warm room, as I had not wholly escaped being wet. He did not regard my objections; but made me follow him to an apartment, where we found an excellent fire, and some company waiting for carriages. I readily accepted a seat, and then begged he would go.

And go, indeed, he did; but he returned in a moment, telling me that the rain was more violent than ever, and that he had sent his servants to offer their assistance, and acquaint the Mirvans of my situation. I was very mad that he would not go himself; but as my acquaintance with him was so very slight, I did not think proper to urge him contrary to his inclination.

Well, he drew a chair close to mine; and, after again enquiring how I did, said, in a low voice, “You will pardon me, Miss Anville, if the eagerness I feel to vindicate myself, induces me to snatch this opportunity of making sincere acknowledgments for the impertinence with which I tormented you at the last ridotto. I can assure you, Madam, I have been a true and sorrowful penitent ever since; but — shall I tell you honestly what encouraged me to —”

He stopt, but I said nothing; for I thought instantly of the conversation Miss Mirvan had overheard, and supposed he was going to tell me himself what part Lord Orville had borne in it; and really I did not wish to hear it repeated. Indeed, the rest of his speech convinces me that such was his intention; with what view I know not, except to make a merit of his defending me.

“And yet,” he continued, “my excuse may only expose my own credulity, and want of judgment and penetration. I will, therefore, merely beseech your pardon, and hope that some future time —”

Just then the door was opened by Sir Clement’s servant, and I had the pleasure of seeing the Captain, Mrs. and Miss Mirvan, enter the room.

“O ho!” cried the former, “you have got a good warm berth here; but we shall beat up your quarters. Here, Lucy, Moll, come to the fire, and dry your trumpery. But, hey-day — why, where’s old Madame French?”

“Good God,” cried I, “is not Madame Duval then with you?”

“With me! No — thank God.”

I was very uneasy to know what might have become of her; and, if they would have suffered me, I should have gone in search of her myself; but all the servants were dispatched to find her; and the Captain said, we might be very sure her French beau would take care of her.

We waited some time without any tidings, and were soon the only party in the room. My uneasiness increased so much that Sir Clement now made a voluntary offer of seeking her. However, the same moment that he opened the door with this design, she presented herself at it, attended by Monsieur Du Bois.

“I was this instant, Madam,” said he, “coming to see for you.”

“You are mighty good, truly,” cried she, “to come when all the mischief’s over.”

She then entered — in such a condition! — entirely covered with mud, and in so great a rage, it was with difficulty she could speak. We all expressed our concern, and offered our assistance — except the Captain, who no sooner beheld her than he burst out into a loud laugh.

We endeavoured, by our enquiries and condolements, to prevent her attending to him; and she was for some time so wholly engrossed by her anger and her distress, that we succeeded without much trouble. We begged her to inform us how this accident happened. “How!” repeated she — “why it was all along of your all going away — and there poor Monsieur Du Bois — but it wasn’t his fault — for he’s as bad off as me.”

All eyes were then turned to Monsieur Du Bois, whose clothes were in the same miserable plight with those of Madame Duval; and who, wet, shivering, and disconsolate, had crept to the fire.

The Captain laughed yet more heartily; while Mrs. Mirvan, ashamed of his rudeness, repeated her inquiries to Madame Duval; who answered, “Why, as we were a-coming along, all in the rain, Monsieur Du Bois was so obliging, though I’m sure it was an unlucky obligingness for me, as to lift me up in his arms to carry me over a place that was ankle-deep in mud; but instead of my being ever the better for it, just as we were in the worst part — I’m sure I wish we had been fifty miles off — for somehow or other his foot slipt — at least, I suppose so — though I can’t think how it happened, for I’m so such great weight; — but, however that was, down we both came, together, all in the mud; and the more we tried to get up, the more deeper we got covered with the nastiness — and my new Lyons negligee, too, quite spoilt! — however, it’s well we got up at all, for we might have laid there till now, for aught you all cared; nobody never came near us.”

This recital put the Captain into an ecstasy; he went from the lady to the gentleman, and from the gentleman to the lady, to enjoy alternately the sight of their distress. He really shouted with pleasure; and, shaking Monsieur Du Bois strenuously by the hand, wished him joy of having touched English ground; and then he held a candle to Madame Duval, that he might have a more complete view of her disaster, declaring repeatedly, that he had never been better pleased in his life.

The rage of poor Madame Duval was unspeakable; she dashed the candle out of his hand, stamping upon the floor, and, at last, spat in his face.

This action seemed immediately to calm them both, as the joy of the Captain was converted into resentment, and the wrath of Madame Duval into fear: for he put his hands upon her shoulders, and gave her so violent a shake, that she screamed out for help; assuring her, at the same time, that if she had been one ounce less old, or less ugly, she should have had it all returned in her own face.

Monsieur Du Bois, who had seated himself very quietly at the fire, approached them, and expostulated very warmly with the Captain; but he was neither understood nor regarded; and Madame Duval was not released till she quite sobbed with passion.

When they were parted, I intreated her to permit the woman who has charge of the ladies’ cloaks to assist in drying her clothes; she consented, and we did what was possible to save her from catching cold. We were obliged to wait in this disagreeable situation near an hour before a hackney-coach could be found; and then we were disposed in the same manner as before our accident.

I am going this morning to see poor Madame Duval, and to inquire after her health, which I think must have suffered by her last night’s misfortunes; though, indeed, she seems to be naturally strong and hearty.

Adieu, my dear Sir, till tomorrow.

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