Evelina, by Fanny Burney

Letter xx

Evelina in Continuation

OUR places were in the front row of a side-box. Sir Clement Willoughby, who knew our intention, was at the door of the theatre, and handed us from the carriage.

We had not been seated five minutes before Lord Orville, whom we saw in the stage-box, came to us; and he honoured us with his company all the evening; Miss Mirvan and I both rejoiced that Madam Duval was absent, as we hoped for the enjoyment of some conversation, uninterrupted by her quarrels with the Captain: but I soon found that her presence would have made very little alteration; for as far was I from daring to speak, that I knew not where even to look.

The play was Love for Love; and though it is fraught with wit and entertainment I hope I shall never see it represented again; for it is so extremely indelicate — to use the softest word I can — that Miss Mirvan and I were perpetually out of countenance, and could neither make any observations ourselves, nor venture to listen to those of others. This was the most provoking, as Lord Orville was in excellent spirits, and exceedingly entertaining.

When the play was over, I flattered myself I should be able to look about me with less restraint, as we intended to stay the farce; but the curtain had hardly dropped, when the box-door opened, and in came Mr. Lovel, the man by whose foppery and impertinence I was so much teased at the ball where I first saw Lord Orville.

I turned away my head, and began talking to Miss Mirvan; for I was desirous to avoid speaking to him — but in vain; for, as soon as he had made his compliments to Lord Orville and Sir Clement Willoughby, who returned them very coldly, he bent his head forward and said to me, “I hope, Ma’am, you have enjoyed your health since I had the honour — I beg ten thousand pardons, but, I protest I was going to say the honour of dancing with you — however, I mean the honour of seeing you dance?”

He spoke with a self-complacency that convinced me that he had studied this address, by way of making reprisals for my conduct at the ball; I therefore bowed slightly, but made no answer.

After a short silence he again called my attention, by saying, in an easy, negligent way, “I think, Ma’am, you was never in town before?”

“No, Sir.”

“So I did presume. Doubtless, Ma’am, every thing must be infinitely novel to you. Our customs, our manners, and les etiquettes de nous autres, can have little very resemblance to those you have been used to. I imagine, Ma’am, your retirement is at no very small distance from the capital?”

I was so much disconcerted at this sneering speech, that I said not a word; though I have since thought my vexation both stimulated and delighted him.

“The air we breathe here, however, Ma’am,” continued he, very conceitedly, “though foreign to that you have been accustomed to, has not I hope been at variance with your health?”

“Mr. Lovel,” said Lord Orville, “could not your eye have spared that question?”

“O, my Lord,” answered he, “if health were the only cause of a lady’s bloom, my eye, I grant, had been infallible from the first glance; but —”

“Come, come,” cried Mrs. Mirvan, “I must beg no insinuations of that sort: Miss Anville’s colour, as you have successfully tried, may, you see, be heightened; but, I assure you, it would be past your skill to lessen it.”

“‘Pon honour, Madam,” returned he, “you wrong me; I presumed not to infer that rouge was the only succedaneum for health; but, really, I have known so many different causes for a lady’s colour, such as flushing — anger — mauvaise honte — and so forth, that I never dare decide to which it may be owing.”

“As to such causes as them there,” cried the Captain, “they must belong to those that they keep company with.”

“Very true, Captain,” said Sir Clement; “the natural complexion has nothing to do with the occasional sallies of the passions, or any accidental causes.”

“No, truly,” returned the Captain: “for now here’s me, why I look like any other man; just now; and yet, if you were to put me in a passion, ‘fore George, you’d soon see me have as fine a high colour as any painted Jezebel in all this place, be she never so bedaubed.”

“But,” said Lord Orville, “the difference of natural and of artificial colour seems to me very easily discerned; that of nature is mottled and varying; that of art set, and too smooth; it wants that animation, that glow, that indescribable something, which, even now that I see it, wholly surpasses all my powers of expression.”

“Your Lordship,” said Sir Clement, “is universally acknowledged to be a connoisseur in beauty.”

“And you, Sir Clement,” returned he, “an enthusiast.”

“I am proud to own it,” cried Sir Clement; “in such a cause, and before such objects, enthusiasm is simply the consequence of not being blind.”

“Pr’ythee, a truce with all this palavering,” cried the Captain: “the women are vain enough already; no need for to puff ’em up more.”

“We must all submit to the commanding officer,” said Sir Clement: “therefore, let us call another subject. Pray, ladies, how have you been entertained with the play?”

“Want of entertainment,” said Mrs. Mirvan, “is its least fault; but I own there are objections to it, which I should be glad to see removed.”

“I could have ventured to answer for the ladies,” said Lord Orville, “since I am sure this is not a play that can be honoured with their approbation.”

“What, I suppose it is not sentimental enough!” cried the Captain, “or else it is too good for them; for I’ll maintain it’s one of the best comedies in our language, and has more wit in one scene than there is in all the new plays put together.”

“For my part,” said Mr. Lovel, “I confess I seldom listen to the players: one has so much to do, in looking about and finding out one’s acquaintance, that, really, one has no time to mind the stage. Pray,” most affectedly fixing his eyes upon a diamond ring on his little finger, “pray — what was the play to-night?”

“Why, what the D— l,” cried the Captain, “do you come to the play without knowing what it is?”

“O yes, Sir, yes, very frequently: I have no time to read play-bills; one merely comes to meet one’s friends, and shew that one’s alive.”

“Ha, ha, ha! — and so,” cried the Captain, “it costs you five shillings a-night just to shew you’re alive! Well, faith, my friends should all think me dead and underground before I’d be at that expense for ’em. Howsomever — this here you may take from me — they’ll find you out fast enough if you have anything to give ’em. — And so you’ve been here all this time, and don’t know what the play was?”

“Why, really Sir, a play requires so much attention — it is scarce possible to keep awake if one listens; — for, indeed, by the time it is evening, one has been so fatigued with dining — or wine — or the house — or studying — that it is — it is perfectly an impossibility. But, now I think of it, I believe I have a bill in my pocket; O, ay, here it is — Love for Love, ay — true, ha, ha! — how could I be so stupid!”

“O, easily enough, as to that, I warrant you,” said the Captain; “but, by my soul, this is one of the best jokes I ever heard! — Come to a play, and not know what it is! — Why, I suppose you wouldn’t have found it out, if they had fob’d you off with a scraping of fiddlers, or an opera? — Ha, ha, ha! — Why, now, I should have thought you might have taken some notice of one Mr. Tattle, that is in this play!”

This sarcasm, which caused a general smile, made him colour: but, turning to the Captain with a look of conceit, which implied that he had a retort ready, he said, “Pray, Sir, give me leave to ask — What do you think of one Mr. Ben, who is also in this play?”

The Captain, regarding him with the utmost contempt, answered in a loud voice, “Think of him! — why, I think he is a man!” And then, staring full in his face, he struck his cane on the ground with a violence that made him start. He did not however, choose to take any notice of this: but, having bit his nails some time in manifest confusion, he turned very quick to me, and in a sneering tone of voice, said, “For my part, I was most struck with the country young lady, Miss Prue; pray what do you think of her, Ma’am?”

“Indeed, Sir,” cried I, very much provoked, “I think — that is, I do not think any thing about her.”

“Well, really, Ma’am, you prodigiously surprise me! — mais, apparemment ce n’est qu’une facon de parler? — though I should beg your pardon, for probably you do not understand French?”

I made no answer, for I thought his rudeness intolerable; but Sir Clement, with great warmth, said, “I am surprised that you can suppose such an object as Miss Prue would engage the attention of Miss Anville even for a moment.”

“O, Sir,” returned this fop, “’tis the first character in the piece! — so well drawn! — so much the thing! — such true country breeding — such rural ignorance! ha, ha, ha! —’tis most admirably hit off, ‘pon honour!”

I could almost have cried, that such impertinence should be leveled at me; and yet, chagrined as I was, I could never behold Lord Orville and this man at the same time, and feel any regret for the cause I had given of displeasure.

“The only female in the play,” said Lord Orville, “worthy of being mentioned to these ladies is Angelica.”

“Angelica,” cried Sir Clement, “is a noble girl; she tries her lover severely, but she rewards him generously.”

“Yet, in a trial so long,” said Mrs. Mirvan, “there seems rather too much consciousness of her power.”

“Since my opinion has the sanction of Mrs. Mirvan,” added Lord Orville, “I will venture to say, that Angelica bestows her hand rather with the air of a benefactress, than with the tenderness of a mistress. Generosity without delicacy, like wit without judgment, generally gives as much pain as pleasure. The uncertainty in which she keeps Valentine, and her manner of trifling with his temper, give no very favourable idea of her own.”

“Well, my Lord,” said Mr. Lovel, “it must, however, be owned, that uncertainty is not the ton among our ladies at present; nay, indeed, I think they say — though faith,” taking a pinch of snuff, “I hope it is not true — but they say, that we now are most shy and backward.”

The curtain then drew up, and our conversation ceased. Mr. Lovel, finding we chose to attend to the players, left the box. How strange it is, Sir, that this man, not contented with the large share of foppery and nonsense which he has from nature, should think proper to affect yet more! for what he said of Tattle and of Miss Prue, convinced me that he really had listened to the play, though he was so ridiculous and foolish as to pretend ignorance.

But how malicious and impertinent is this creature to talk to me in such a manner! I am sure I hope I shall never see him again. I should have despised him heartily as a fop, had he never spoken to me at all; but now, that he thinks proper to resent his supposed ill-usage, I am really quite afraid of him.

The entertainment was, The Duece is in Him; which Lord Orville observed to be the most finished and elegant petit piece that was ever written in English.

In our way home, Mrs. Mirvan put me into some consternation by saying, it was evident, from the resentment which this Mr. Lovel harbours of my conduct, that he would think it a provocation sufficiently important for a duel, if his courage equaled his wrath.

I am terrified at the very idea. Good Heaven! that a man so weak and frivolous should be so revengeful! However, if bravery would have excited him to affront Lord Orville, how much reason have I to rejoice that cowardice makes him contended with venting his spleen upon me! But we shall leave town soon, and, I hope, see him no more.

It was some consolation to me to hear from Miss Mirvan, that, while he was speaking to me so cavalierly, Lord Orville regarded him with great indignation.

But, really, I think there ought to be a book of the laws and customs — a-la-mode, presented to all young people upon their first introduction into public company.

To-night we go to the opera, where I expect very great pleasure. We shall have the same party as at the play, for Lord Orville said he should be there, and would look for us.

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