Evelina, by Fanny Burney

Letter xix

Evelina in Continuation

Saturday Morning, April 16.

MADAM DUVAL was accompanied by Monsieur Du Bois. I am surprised that she should choose to introduce him where he is so unwelcome: and, indeed, it is strange that they should be so constantly together, though I believe I should have taken notice of it, but that Captain Mirvan is perpetually rallying me upon my grandmama’s beau.

They were both received by Mrs. Mirvan with her usual good-breeding; but the Captain, most provokingly, attacked her immediately, saying, “Now, Madame, you that have lived abroad, please to tell me this here: Which did you like best, the warm room at Ranelagh, or the cold bath you went into afterwards? though I assure you, you look so well, that I should advise you to take another dip.”

“Ma foi, Sir,” cried she, “nobody asked for your advice, so you may as well keep it to yourself: besides, it’s no such great joke to be splashed, and to catch cold, and spoil all one’s things, whatever you may think of it.”

“Splashed, quoth-a! — why I thought you were soused all over. — Come, come, don’t mince the matter, never spoil a good story; you know you hadn’t a dry thread about you —’Fore George, I shall never think on’t without hollooing! such a poor forlorn draggle-tailed-gentlewoman! and poor Monseer French, here, like a drowned rat, by your side! —”

“Well, the worse pickle we was in, so much the worser in you not to help us; for you knowed where we were fast enough, because, while I laid in the mud, I’m pretty sure I heard you snigger: so it’s like enough you jostled us down yourself; for Monsieur Du Bois says, that he is sure he had a great jolt given him, or he shouldn’t have fell.”

The Captain laughed so immoderately, that he really gave me also a suspicion that he was not entirely innocent of the charge: however, he disclaimed it very peremptorily.

“Why then,” continued she, “if you didn’t do that, why didn’t you come to help us?”

“Who, I? — what, do you suppose I had forgot I was an Englishman, a filthy, beastly Englishman?”

“Very well, Sir, very well; but I was a fool to expect any better, for it’s all of a piece with the rest; you know, you wanted to fling me out of the coach-window, the very first time ever I see you: but I’ll never go to Ranelagh with you no more, that I’m resolved; for I dare say, if the horses had runn’d over me, as I laid in that nastiness, you’d never have stirred a step to save me.”

“Lord, no, to be sure, Ma’am, not for the world! I know your opinion of our nation too well, to affront you by supposing a Frenchman would want my assistance to protect you. Did you think that Monseer here, and I had changed characters, and that he should pop you into the mud, and I help you out of it? Ha, ha, ha!”

“O very well, Sir, laugh on, it’s like your manners; however, if poor Monsieur Du Bois hadn’t met with that unlucky accident himself I shouldn’t have wanted nobody’s help.”

“O, I promise you, Madame, you’d never have had mine; I knew my distance better: and as to your being a little ducked, or so, why, to be sure, Monseer and you settled that between yourselves; so it was no business of mine.”

“What, then, I suppose you want to make me believe as Monsieur Du Bois served me that trick o’purpose?”

“O’ purpose! ay, certainly; whoever doubted that? Do you think a Frenchman ever made a blunder? If he had been some clumsy-footed English fellow, indeed, it might have been accidental: but what the devil signifies all your hopping and capering with your dancing-masters, if you can’t balance yourselves upright?”

In the midst of this dialogue, Sir Clement Willoughby made his appearance. He affects to enter the house with the freedom of an old acquaintance; and this very easiness, which, to me, is astonishing, is what most particularly recommends him to the Captain. Indeed, he seems very successfully to study all the humours of that gentleman.

After having heartily welcomed him, “You are just come in time, my boy,” said he, “to settle a little matter of a dispute between this here gentlewoman and I; do you know she has been trying to persuade me, that she did not above half like the ducking Monseer gave her t’other night.”

“I should have hoped,” said Sir Clement, with the utmost gravity, “that the friendship subsisting between that lady and gentleman would have guarded them against any actions professed disagreeable to each other: but, probably, they might not have discussed the matter previously; in which case the gentleman, I must own, seems to have been guilty of inattention, since, in my humble opinion, it was his business first to have inquired whether the lady preferred soft or hard ground, before he dropt her.”

“O very fine, gentlemen, very fine,” cried Madame Duval, “you may try to set us together by the ears as much as you will; but I’m not such an ignorant person as to be made a fool of so easily; so you needn’t talk no more about it, for I sees into your designs.”

Monsieur Du Bois, who was just able to discover the subject upon which the conversation turned, made his defence, in French, with great solemnity: he hoped, he said, that the company would at least acknowledge he did not come from a nation of brutes; and consequently, that to wilfully offend any lady, was, to him, utterly impossible; but that, on the contrary, in endeavouring, as was his duty, to save and guard her, he had himself suffered, in a manner which he would forbear to relate, but which, he greatly apprehended, he should feel the ill effects of for many months: and then, with a countenance exceedingly lengthened, he added, that he hoped it would not be attributed to him as national prejudice, when he owned that he must, to the best of his memory, aver, that his unfortunate fall was owing to a sudden but violent push, which, he was shocked to say, some malevolent person, with a design to his injury, must certainly have given him; but whether with a view to mortify him, by making him let the lady fall, or whether merely to spoil his clothes, he could not pretend to determine.

This disputation was, at last, concluded by Mrs. Mirvan’s proposing that we should all go to Cox’s Museum. Nobody objected, and carriages were immediately ordered.

In our way down stairs, Madame Duval, in a very passionate manner, said, “Ma foi, if I wouldn’t give fifty guineas only to know who gave us that shove!”

This Museum is very astonishing, and very superb; yet if afforded me but little pleasure, for it is a mere show, though a wonderful one.

Sir Clement Willoughby, in our walk round the room, asked me what my opinion was of this brilliant spectacle!

“It is a very fine, and very ingenious,” answered I; “and yet — I don’t know how it is — but I seem to miss something.”

“Excellently answered!” cried he; “you have exactly defined my own feelings, though in a manner I should never have arrived at. But I was certain your taste was too well formed, to be pleased at the expense of your understanding.”

“Pardi,” cried Madame Duval, “I hope you two is difficult enough! I’m sure if you don’t like this you like nothing; for it’s the grandest, prettiest, finest sight that ever I see in England.”

“What,” cried the Captain with a sneer, “I suppose this may be in your French taste? it’s like enough, for it’s all kickshaw work. But pr’ythee, friend,” turning to the person who explained the devices, “will you tell me the use of all this? for I’m not enough of a conjuror to find it out.”

“Use, indeed!” repeated Madame Duval, disdainfully; “Lord if every thing’s to be useful! —”

“Why, Sir, as to that, Sir,” said our conductor, “the ingenuity of the mechanism — the beauty of the workmanship — the — undoubtedly, Sir, any person of taste may easily discern the utility of such extraordinary performances.”

“Why then, Sir,” answered the Captain, “your person of taste must be either a coxcomb, or a Frenchman; though, for the matter of that, ’tis the same thing.”

Just then our attention was attracted by a pine-apple; which, suddenly opening, discovered a nest of birds, which immediately began to sing. “Well,” cried Madame Duval, “this is prettier than all the rest! I declare, in all my travels, I never see nothing eleganter.”

“Hark ye, friend,” said the Captain, “hast never another pine-apple?”

“Sir? —”

“Because, if thou hast, pr’ythee give it us without the birds; for, d’ye see, I’m no Frenchman, and should relish something more substantial.”

This entertainment concluded with a concert of mechanical music: I cannot explain how it was produced, but the effect was pleasing. Madame Duval was in ecstasies; and the Captain flung himself into so many ridiculous distortions, by way of mimicking her, that he engaged the attention of all the company; and, in the midst of the performance of the Coronation Anthem, while Madame Duval was affecting to beat time, and uttering many expressions of delight, he called suddenly for salts, which a lady, apprehending some distress, politely handed to him, and which, instantly applying to the nostrils of poor Madame Duval, she involuntarily snuffed up such a quantity, that the pain and surprise made her scream aloud. When she recovered, she reproached him with her usual vehemence; but he protested he had taken that measure out of pure friendship, as he concluded, from her raptures, that she was going into hysterics. This excuse by no means appeased her, and they had a violent quarrel; but the only effect her anger had on the Captain, was to increase his diversion. Indeed, he laughs and talks so terribly loud in public, that he frequently makes us ashamed of belonging to him.

Madame Duval, notwithstanding her wrath, made no scruple of returning to dine in Queen Ann Street. Mrs. Mirvan had secured places for the play at Drury–Lane Theatre, and, though ever uneasy in her company, she very politely invited Madame Duval to be of our party; however, she had a bad cold and chose to nurse it. I was sorry for her indisposition; but I knew not how to be sorry she did not accompany us, for she is — I must not say what, but very unlike other people.

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