Evelina, by Fanny Burney

Letter xlvii.

Evelina to the Rev. Mr. Villars.

Holborn, June 18th.

MADAME DUVAL rose very late this morning, and, at one o’clock, we had but just breakfasted, when Miss Branghton, her brother, Mr. Smith, and Monsieur Du Bois, called to enquire after our healths.

The civility in young Branghton, I much suspect, was merely the result of his father’s commands; but his sister and Mr. Smith, I soon found, had motives of their own. Scarce had they spoken to Madame Duval, when, advancing eagerly to me, “Pray, Ma’am,” said Mr. Smith, “who was that gentleman?”

“Pray, cousin,” cried Miss Branghton, “was not he the same gentleman you ran away with that night at the opera?”

“Goodness! that he was,” said young Branghton, “and, I declare, as soon as ever I saw him, I thought I knew his face.”

“I’m sure, I’ll defy you to forget him,” answered his sister, “if once you had seen him: he is the finest gentleman I ever saw in my life, don’t you think so, Mr. Smith?”

“Why, you won’t give the lady time to speak,” said Mr. Smith. —“Pray, Ma’am, what is the gentleman’s name?”

“Willoughby, Sir.”

“Willoughby! I think I have heard the name. Pray, Ma’am, is he married?”

“Lord, no, that he is not,” cried Miss Branghton; “he looks too smart by a great deal for a married man. Pray, cousin, how did you get acquainted with him?”

“Pray, Miss,” said young Branghton, in the same breath, “what’s his business?”

“Indeed I don’t know,” answered I.

“Something very genteel, I dare say,” added Miss Branghton, “because he dresses so fine.”

“It ought to be something that brings in a good income” said Mr. Smith; “for I’m sure that he did not get that suit of clothes he had on under thirty or forty pounds; for I know the price of clothes pretty well. — Pray, Ma’am, can you tell me what he has a-year?”

“Don’t talk no more about him,” cried Madame Duval, “for I don’t like to hear his name: I believe he’s one of the worst persons in the world; for though I never did him no manner of harm, nor so much as hurt a hair of his head, I know he was an accomplice with the fellow, Captain Mirvan, to take away my life.”

Everybody, but myself, now crowding around her for an explanation, a violent rapping at the street-door was unheard; and, without any previous notice, in the midst of her narration, Sir Clement Willoughby entered the room. They all started; and, with looks of guilty confusion, as if they feared his resentment for having listened to Madame Duval, they scrambled for chairs, and in a moment were all formally seated.

Sir Clement, after a general bow, singling out Madame Duval, said with his usual easiness, “I have done myself the honour of waiting on you, Madame, to enquire if you have any commands to Howard Grove, whither I am going tomorrow morning.”

Then, seeing the storm that gathered in her eyes, before he allowed her time to answer, he addressed himself to me; —“And if you, Madam, have any with which you will honour me, I shall be happy to execute them.”

“None at all, Sir.”

“None! — not to Miss Mirvan! — no message! no letter!”

“I wrote to Miss Mirvan yesterday by the post.”

“My application should have been earlier, had I sooner known your address.”

“Ma foi,” cried Madame Duval, recovering from her surprise, “I believe never nobody saw the like of this!”

“Of what, Madam?” cried the undaunted Sir Clement, turning quick towards her; “I hope no one has offended you!”

“You don’t hope no such a thing!” cried she, half choked with passion, and rising from her chair. This motion was followed by the rest; and in a moment, every body stood up.

Still Sir Clement was not abashed; affecting to make a bow of acknowledgment to the company in general, he said, “Pray — I beg — Ladies — Gentlemen — pray don’t let me disturb you, pray keep your seats.”

“Pray, Sir,” said Miss Branghton, moving a chair towards him, “won’t you sit down yourself?”

“You are extremely good, Ma’am:— rather than make any disturbance —”

And so saying, this strange man seated himself, as did, in an instant every body else, even Madame Duval herself, who, overpowered by his boldness, seemed too full for utterance.

He then, and with as much composure as if he had been an expected guest, began to discourse on the weather — its uncertainty — the heat of the public places in summer — the emptiness of the town — and other such common topics.

Nobody, however, answered him; Mr. Smith seemed afraid, young Branghton ashamed, M. Du Bois amazed, Madame Duval enraged, and myself determined not to interfere. All that he could obtain, was the notice of Miss Branghton, whose nods, smiles, and attention, had some appearance of entering into conversation with him.

At length, growing tired, I suppose, of engaging every body’s eyes, and nobody’s tongue, addressing himself to Madame Duval and to me, the said, “I regard myself as peculiarly unfortunate, Ladies, in having fixed upon a time for my visit to Howard Grove, when you are absent from it.”

“So I suppose, Sir, so I suppose,” cried Madame Duval, hastily rising, and the next moment as hastily seating herself; —“you’ll be wanting of somebody to make your game of, and so you may think to get me there again; — but, I promise you, Sir, you won’t find it so easy a matter to make me a fool; and besides that,” raising her voice, “I’ve found you out, I assure you; so if ever you go to play your tricks upon me again, I’ll make no more ado, but go directly to a justice of peace; so, Sir, if you can’t think of nothing but making people ride about the country at all hours of the night, just for your diversion, why, you’ll find I know some justices as well as Justice Tyrrell.”

Sir Clement was evidently embarrassed at this attack; yet he affected a look of surprise, and protested he did not understand her meaning.

“Well,” cried she, “if I don’t wonder where people can get such impudence! if you’ll say that, you’ll say anything: however, if you swear till you’re black in the face, I sha’n’t believe you; for nobody sha’n’t persuade me out of my senses, that I’m resolved.”

“Doubtless not, Madam,” answered he with some hesitation; “and I hope you do not suspect I ever had such an intention; my respect for you —”

“O, Sir, you’re vastly polite all of a sudden! but I know what it’s all for! it’s only for what you can get! — You could treat me like nobody at Howard Grove; but now you see I’ve a house of my own, you’re mind to wheedle yourself into it; but I sees your design, so you needn’t trouble yourself to take no more trouble about that, for you shall never get nothing at my house — not so much as a dish of tea:— so now, Sir, you see I can play you trick for trick.”

There was something so extremely gross in this speech, that it even disconcerted Sir Clement, who was too much confounded to make any answer.

It was curious to observe the effect which his embarrassment, added to the freedom with which Madame Duval addressed him, had upon the rest of the company. Every one, who before seemed at a loss how or if at all, to occupy a chair, how filled it with the most easy composure: and Mr. Smith, whose countenance had exhibited the most striking picture of mortified envy, now began to recover his usual expression of satisfied conceit. Young Branghton, too, who had been apparently awed by the presence of so fine a gentleman, was again himself, rude and familiar: while his mouth was wide distended into a broad grin, at hearing his aunt give the beau such a trimming.

Madame Duval, encouraged by this success, looked around her with an air of triumph, and continued her harangue. “And so, Sir, I suppose you thought to have had it all your own way, and to have comed here as often as you pleased, and to have got me to Howard Grove again, on purpose to have served me as you did before; but you shall see I’m as cunning as you; so you may go and find somebody else to use in that manner, and to put your mask on, and to make a fool of; for as to me, if you go to tell me your stories about the Tower again, for a month together, I’ll never believe ‘m no more: and I’ll promise you, Sir, if you think I like such jokes, you’ll find I’m no such person.”

“I assure you, Ma’am — upon my honour — I really don’t comprehend — I fancy there is some misunderstanding —”

“What, I suppose you’ll tell me next you don’t know nothing of the matter?”

“Not a word, upon my honour.”

O, Sir Clement, thought I, is it thus you prize your honour!

“Pardi,” cried Madame Duval, “this is the most provokingest part of all! why, you might as well tell me I don’t know my own name.”

“Here is certainly some mistake; for I assure you, Ma’am —”

“Don’t assure me nothing,” cried Madame Duval, raising her voice; “I know what I’m saying, and so do you too; for did not you tell me all that about the Tower, and about M. Du Bois? — why M. Du Bois wasn’t never there, nor nigh it, and so it was all your own invention.”

“May there not be two persons of the same name? the mistake was but natural —”

“Don’t tell me of no mistake, for it was all on purpose: besides, did not you come, all in a mask, to the chariot-door, and help to get me put in that ditch? — I’ll promise you, I’ve had the greatest mind in the world to take the law of you ever since; and if ever you do as much again, so I will, I assure you!”

Here Miss Branghton tittered, Mr. Smith smiled contemptously, and young Branghton thrust his handkerchief into his mouth to stop his laughter.

The situation of Sir Clement, who saw all that passed, became now very awkward even to himself, and he stammered very much in saying, “Surely, Madam — surely you — you cannot do me the — the injustice to think — that I had any share in the — the — the misfortune which —”

“Ma foi, Sir,” cried Madame Duval, with increasing passion, “you’d best not stand talking to me at that rate: I know it was you; and if you stay there, a provoking me in such a manner, I’ll send for a constable this minute.”

Young Branghton, at these words, in spite of all his efforts, burst into a loud laugh; nor could either his sister or Mr. Smith, though with more moderation, forbear joining in his mirth.

Sir Clement darted his eyes towards them with looks of the most angry contempt; and then told Madame Duval, that he would not now detain her to make his vindication, but would wait on her some time when she was alone.

“O Pardi, Sir,” cried she, “I don’t desire none of your company; and if you wasn’t the most boldest person in the world, you would not dare look me in the face.”

The ha, ha ha’s! and he, he, he’s! grew more and more uncontrollable, as if the restraint, from which they had burst, had added to their violence. Sir Clement could no longer endure being the object who excited them; and, having no answer ready for Madame Duval, he hastily stalked towards Mr. Smith and young Branghton, and sternly demanded what they laughed at?

Struck by the air of importance which he assumed, and alarmed at the angry tone of his voice, their merriment ceased as instantaneously as if it had been directed by clock-work; and they stared foolishly, now at him, now at each other, without making any answer but a simple “Nothing, Sir.”

“O pour le coup,” cried Madame Duval, “this is too much! Pray, Sir, what business have you to come here a ordering people that comes to see me? I suppose next nobody must laugh but yourself!”

“With me, Madam,” said Sir Clement, bowing, “a lady may do any thing, and consequently there is no liberty in which I shall not be happy to indulge you:— but it has never been my custom to give the same licence to gentlemen.”

Then, advancing to me, who had sat very quietly on a window during this scene, he said, “Miss Anville, I may at least acquaint our friends at Howard Grove that I had the honour of leaving you in good health.” And then, lowering his voice, he added, “For Heaven’s sake, my dearest creature, who are these people? and how came you so strangely situated?”

“I beg my respects to all the family, Sir,” answered I, aloud; “and I hope you will find them well.”

He looked at me reproachfully, but kissed my hand; and then, bowing to Madame Duval and Miss Branghton, passed hastily by the men, and made his exit.

I fancy he will not be very eager to repeat his visit; for I should imagine he has rarely, if ever, been before in a situation so awkward and disagreeable.

Madame Duval has been all spirits and exultation ever since he went, and only wishes Captain Mirvan would call, that she might do the same by him. Mr. Smith, upon hearing that he was a baronet, and seeing him drive off in a very beautiful chariot, declared that he would not have laughed upon any account, had he known his rank; and regretted extremely having missed such an opportunity of making so genteel an acquaintance. Young Branghton vowed, that if he had known as much, he would have asked for his custom: and his sister has sung his praises ever since, protesting she thought all along he was a man of quality by his look.

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