Evelina, by Fanny Burney

Letter xl

Evelina to the Rev. Mr. Villars

London, June 6.

ONCE more, my dearest Sir, I write to you from this great city. Yesterday morning, with the truest concern, I quitted the dear inhabitants of Howard Grove, and most impatiently shall I count the days till I see them again. Lady Howard and Mrs. Mirvan took leave of me with the most flattering kindness; but indeed I knew not how to part with Maria, whose own apparent sorrow redoubled mine. She made me promise to send her a letter every post: and I shall write to her with the same freedom, and almost the same confidence, you allow me to make use of to yourself.

The Captain was very civil to me: but he wrangled with poor Madame Duval to the last moment; and, taking me aside, just before we got into the chaise, he said, “Hark’ee, Miss Anville, I’ve a favour for to ask of you, which is this; that you will write us word how the old gentlewoman finds herself, when she sees it was all a trick; and what the French lubber says to it, and all about it.”

I answered that I would obey him, though I was very little pleased with the commission, which, to me, was highly improper; but he will either treat me as an informer, or make me a party in his frolic.

As soon as we drove away, Madame Duval, with much satisfaction, exclaimed, “Dieu merci, we’ve got off at last! I’m sure I never desire to see that place again. It’s a wonder I’ve got away alive; for I believe I’ve had the worst luck ever was known, from the time I set my foot upon the threshold. I know I wish I’d never a gone. Besides, into the bargain, it’s the most dullest place in all Christendom: there’s never no diversions, nor nothing at all.”

Then she bewailed M. Du Bois; concerning whose adventures she continued to make various conjectures during the rest of our journey.

When I asked her what part of London she should reside in, she told me that Mr. Branghton was to meet us at an inn, and would conduct us to a lodging. Accordingly, we proceeded to a house in Bishopsgate Street, and were led by a waiter into a room where we found Mr. Branghton.

He received us very civilly; but seemed rather surprised at seeing me, saying, “Why, I didn’t think of your bringing Miss; however, she’s very welcome.”

“I’ll tell you how it was,” said Madame Duval: “you must know I’ve a mind to take the girl to Paris, that she may see something of the world, and improve herself a little; besides, I’ve another reason, that you and I will talk more about. But, do you know, that meddling old parson, as I told you of, would not let her go: however, I’m resolved I’ll be even with him; for I shall take her on with me, without saying never a word more to nobody.”

I started at this intimation, which very much surprised me. But, I am very glad she has discovered her intention, as I shall be carefully upon my guard not to venture from town with her.

Mr. Branghton then hoped we had passed our time agreeably in the country.

“O Lord, cousin,” cried she, “I’ve been the miserablest creature in the world! I’m sure all the horses in London sha’n’t drag me into the country again of one while: why, how do you think I’ve been served? — only guess.”

“Indeed, cousin, I can’t pretend to do that.”

“Why then I’ll tell you. Do you know I’ve been robbed! — that is, the villain would have robbed me if he could, only I’d secured all my money.”

“Why, then cousin, I think your loss can’t have been very great.”

“O Lord, you don’t know what you’re a saying; you’re talking in the unthinkingest manner in the world: why, it was all along of not having no money that I met with that misfortune.”

“How’s that, cousin? I don’t see what great misfortune you can have met with, if you’d secured all your money.”

“That’s because you don’t know nothing of the matter: for there the villain came to the chaise; and, because we hadn’t got nothing to give him, though he’d no more right to our money than the man in the moon, yet, do you know, he fell into the greatest passion ever you see, and abused me in such a manner, and put me in a ditch, and got a rope o’purpose to hang me; — and I’m sure, if that wasn’t misfortune enough, why I don’t know what is.”

“This is a hard case, indeed, cousin. But why don’t you go to Justice Fielding?”

“O as to that, I’m a going to him directly; but only I want first to see M. Du Bois; for the oddest thing of all is, that he has wrote to me, and never said nothing of where he is, nor what’s become of him, nor nothing else.”

“M. Du Bois! why, he’s at my house at this very time.”

“M. Du Bois at your house! well, I declare this is the surprisingest part of all: However, I assure you, I think he might have comed for me, as well as you, considering what I have gone through on his account; for, to tell you the truth, it was all along of him that I met with that accident; so I don’t take it very kind of him, I promise you.”

“Well, but cousin, tell me some of the particulars of this affair.”

“As to the particulars, I’m sure they’d make your hair stand on end to hear them; however, the beginning of it all was through the fault of M. Du Bois: but, I’ll assure you, he may take care of himself in future, since he don’t so much as come to see if I’m dead or alive. — But, there, I went for him to a justice of peace, and rode all out of the way, and did every thing in the world, and was used worser than a dog, and all for the sake of serving of him; and now, you see, he don’t so much — well, I was a fool for my pains. — However, he may get somebody else to be treated so another time; for, if he’s taken up every day in the week, I’ll never go after him no more.”

This occasioned an explanation; in the course of which Madame Duval, to her utter amazement, heard that M. Du Bois had never left London during her absence! nor did Mr. Branghton believe that he had ever been to the Tower, or met with any kind of accident.

Almost instantly the whole truth of the transaction seemed to rush upon her mind, and her wrath was inconceivably violent. She asked me a thousand questions in a breath; but, fortunately, was too vehement to attend to my embarrassment, which must otherwise have betrayed my knowledge of the deceit. Revenge was her first wish; and she vowed she would go the next morning to Justice Fielding, and inquire what punishment she might lawfully inflict upon the Captain for his assault.

I believe we were an hour at Bishopsgate Street before poor Madame Duval could allow any thing to be mentioned but her own story; at any length, however, Mr. Branghton told her, that M. Du Bois, and all his own family, were waiting for her at his house. A hackney-coach was then called, and we proceeded to Snow Hill.

Mr. Branghton’s house is small and inconvenient; though his shop, which takes in all the ground floor, is large and commodious. I believe I told you before, that he is a silver-smith.

We were conducted up two pairs of stairs: for the dining-room, Mr. Branghton told us, was let. His two daughters, their brother, M. Du Bois, and a young man, were at tea. They had waited some time for Madame Duval, but I found they had not any expectation that I should accompany her; and the young ladies, I believe, were rather more surprised than pleased when I made my appearance; for they seemed hurt that I should see their apartment. Indeed, I would willingly have saved them that pain, had it been in my power.

The first person who saw me was M. Du Bois, “Ah, mon Dieu!” exclaimed he, “voila Mademoiselle!”

“Goodness,” cried young Branghton, “if there isn’t Miss!”

“Lord, so there is!” said Miss Polly; “well, I’m sure I should never have dreamed of Miss’s coming.”

“Nor I neither, I’m sure,” cried Miss Branghton, “or else I would not have been in this room to see her: I’m quite ashamed about it; — only not thinking of seeing any body but my aunt — however, Tom, it’s all your fault; for, you know very well I wanted to borrow Mr. Smith’s room, only you were so grumpy you would not let me.”

“Lord, what signifies?” said her brother; “I dare be sworn Miss has been up two pair of stairs before now; — ha’n’t you, Miss?”

I begged that I might not give them the least disturbance; and assured them that I had not any choice in regard to what room we sat in.

“Well,” said Miss Polly, “when you come next, Miss, we’ll have Mr. Smith’s room: and it’s a very pretty one, and only up one pair of stairs, and nicely furnished, and every thing.”

“To say the truth,” said Miss Branghton, “I thought that my cousin would not, upon any account, have come to town in the summer-time; for it’s not at all the fashion; — so, to be sure, thinks I, she’ll stay till September, when the play-houses open.”

This was my reception, which I believe you will not call a very cordial one. Madame Duval, who, after having severely reprimanded M. Du Bois for his negligence, was just entering upon the story of her misfortunes, now wholly engaged the company.

M. Du Bois listened to her with a look of the utmost horror, repeatedly lifting up his eyes and hands, and exclaiming, “O ciel! quel barbare!” The young ladies gave her the most earnest attention; but their brother, and the young man, kept a broad grin upon their faces during the whole recital. She was, however, too much engaged to observe them; but, when she mentioned having been tied in a ditch, young Branghton, no longer able to contain himself, burst into a loud laugh, declaring that he had never heard any thing so funny in his life! His laugh was heartily re-echoed by his friend; the Miss Branghtons could not resist the example; and poor Madame Duval, to her extreme amazement, was absolutely overpowered and stopped by the violence of their mirth.

For some minutes the room seemed quite in an uproar; the rage of Madame Duval, the astonishment of M. Du Bois, and the angry interrogatories of Mr. Branghton, on one side; the convulsive tittering of the sisters, and the loud laughs of the young men, on the other, occasioned such noise, passion and confusion, that had any one stopped an instant on the stairs, he must have concluded himself in Bedlam. At length, however, the father brought them to order; and, half-laughing, half-frightened, they made Madame Duval some very awkward apologies. But she would not be prevailed upon to continue her narrative, till they had protested they were laughing at the Captain, and not at her. Appeased by this, she resumed her story; which by the help of stuffing handkerchiefs into their mouths, the young people heard with tolerable decency.

Every body agreed, that the ill-usage the Captain had given her was actionable; and Mr. Branghton said, he was sure she might recover what damages she pleased, since she had been put in fear of her life.

She then, with great delight, declared, that she would lose no time in satisfying her revenge, and vowed she would not be contented with less than half his fortune: “For though,” she said, “I don’t put no value upon the money, because, Dieu merci, I ha’n’t no want of it, yet I don’t wish for nothing so much as to punish that fellow; for I’m sure, whatever’s the cause of it, he owes me a great grudge, and I know no more what it’s for than you do; but he’s always been doing me one spite or another ever since I knew him.”

Soon after tea, Miss Branghton took an opportunity to tell me, in a whisper, that the young man I saw was a lover of her sister’s, that his name was Brown, and that he was a haberdasher: with many other particulars of his circumstances and family; and then she declared her utter aversion to the thoughts of such a match; but added, that her sister had no manner of spirit or ambition, though, for her part, she would ten times rather die an old maid, than marry any person but a gentleman. “And, for that matter,” added she, “I believe Polly herself don’t care much for him, only she’s in such a hurry, because, I suppose, she’s a mind to be married before me; however, she’s very welcome; for, I’m sure, I don’t care a pin’s point whether I ever marry at all; — it’s all one to me.”

Some time after this, Miss Polly contrived to tell her story. She assured me, with much tittering, that her sister was in a great fright lest she should be married first. “So I make her believe that I will,” continued she; “for I dearly love to plague her a little; though, I declare, I don’t intend to have Mr. Brown in reality; — I’m sure I don’t like him half well enough — do you, Miss?”

“It is not possible for me to judge of his merits,” said I, “as I am entirely a stranger to him.”

“But what do you think of him, Miss?”

“Why, really, I— I don’t know.”

“But do you think him handsome? Some people reckon him to have a good pretty person; — but I’m sure, for my part, I think he’s monstrous ugly:— don’t you, Miss?”

“I am no judge — but I think his person is very — very well.”

“Very well! — Why, pray Miss,” in a tone of vexation, “what fault can you find with it?”

“O, none at all!”

“I’m sure you must be very ill-natured if you could. Now there’s Biddy says she thinks nothing of him — but I know it’s all out of spite. You must know, Miss, it makes her as mad as can be that I should have a lover before her; but she’s so proud that nobody will court her, and I often tell her she’ll die an old maid. But the thing is, she has taken it into her head to have a liking for Mr. Smith, as lodges on the first floor; but, Lord, he’ll never have her, for he’s quite a fine gentleman; and besides, Mr. Brown heard him say one day, that he’d never marry as long as he lived, for he’d no opinion of matrimony.”

“And did you tell your sister this?”

“O, to be sure, I told her directly; but she did not mind me; however, if she will be a fool she must.”

This extreme want of affection and good-nature increased the distaste I already felt for these unamiable sisters; and a confidence so entirely unsolicited and unnecessary, manifested equally their folly and their want of decency.

I was very glad when the time for our departing arrived. Mr. Branghton said our lodgings were in Holborn, that we might be near his house, and neighbourly. He accompanied us to them himself.

Our rooms are large, and not inconvenient; our landlord is an hosier. I am sure I have a thousand reasons to rejoice that I am so little known: for my present situation is, in every respect, very unenviable; and I would not, for the world, be seen by any acquaintance of Mrs. Mirvan.

This morning, Madame Duval, attended by all the Branghtons, actually went to a Justice in the neighborhood, to report the Captain’s ill usage of her. I had great difficulty in excusing myself from being of the party, which would have given me very serious concern. Indeed, I was extremely anxious, though at home, till I heard the result of the application, for I dread to think of the uneasiness which such an affair would occasion the amiable Mrs. Mirvan. But, fortunately, Madame Duval has received very little encouragement to proceed in her design; for she has been informed, that, as she neither heard the voice, nor saw the face of the person suspected, she will find difficulty to cast him upon conjecture, and will have but little probability of gaining her cause, unless she can procure witnesses of the transaction. Mr. Branghton, therefore, who has considered all the circumstances of the affair, is of the opinion; the lawsuit will not only be expensive, but tedious and hazardous, and has advised against it. Madame Duval, though very unwillingly, has acquiesced in his decision; but vows, that if she ever is so affronted again, she will be revenged, even if she ruins herself. I am extremely glad that this ridiculous adventure seems now likely to end without more serious consequences.

Adieu, my dearest Sir. My direction is at Mr. Dawkin’s, a hosier in High Holborn.

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