Evelina, by Fanny Burney

Letter xvii

Evelina in Continuation

Friday Morning, April 15.

SIR CLEMENT WILLOUGHBY called here yesterday at noon, and Captain Mirvan invited him to dinner. For my part I spent the day in a manner the most uncomfortable imaginable.

I found Madame Duval at breakfast in bed, though Monsieur Du Bois was in the chamber; which so much astonished me, that I was, involuntarily, retiring, without considering how odd an appearance my retreat would have, when Madame Duval called me back, and laughed very heartily at my ignorance of foreign customs.

The conversation, however, very soon took a more serious turn; for she began, with great bitterness, to inveigh against the barbarous brutality of that fellow the Captain, and the horrible ill-breeding of the English in general, declaring, she should make her escape with all expedition from so beastly a nation. But nothing can be more strangely absurd, than to hear politeness recommended in language so repugnant to it as that of Madame Duval.

She lamented, very mournfully, the fate of her Lyons silk; and protested she had rather have parted with all the rest of her wardrobe, because it was the first gown she had bought to wear upon leaving off her weeds. She has a very bad cold, and Monsieur Du Bois is so hoarse, he can hardly speak.

She insisted upon my staying with her all day; as she intended, she said, to introduce me to some of my own relations. I would very fain have excused myself, but she did not allow me any choice.

Till the arrival of these relations, one continued series of questions on her side, and of answers on mine, filled up all the time we passed together. Her curiosity was insatiable; she inquired into every action of my life, and every particular that had fallen under my observation in the lives of all I knew. Again, she was so cruel as to avow the most inveterate rancour against the sole benefactor her deserted child and grand-child have met with; and such was the indignation her ingratitude raised, that I would actually have quitted her presence and house, had she not, in a manner the most peremptory, absolutely forbid me. But what, good Heaven! can induce her to such shocking injustice? O, my friend and father! I have no command of myself when this subject is started.

She talked very much of taking me to Paris, and said I greatly wanted the polish of a French education. She lamented that I had been brought up in the country, which, she observed, had given me a very bumpkinish air. However, she bid me not despair, for she had known many girls much worse than me, who had become very fine ladies after a few years residence abroad; and she particularly instanced a Miss Polly Moore, daughter of a chandler’s-shop woman, who, by an accident not worth relating, happened to be sent to Paris, where, from an awkward ill-bred girl, she so much improved, that she has since been taken for a woman of quality.

The relations to whom she was pleased to introduce me, consisted of a Mr. Branghton, who is her nephew, and three of his children, the eldest of which is a son, and the two younger are daughters.

Mr. Branghton appears about forty years of age. He does not seem to want a common understanding, though he is very contracted and prejudiced: he has spent his whole time in the city, and I believe feels a great contempt for all who reside elsewhere.

His son seems weaker in his understanding, and more gay in his temper; but his gaiety is that of a foolish, overgrown school-boy, whose mirth consists in noise and disturbance. He disdains his father for his close attention to business, and love of money; though he seems himself to have no talents, spirit, or generosity, to make him superior to either. His chief delight appears to be tormenting and ridiculing his sisters; who, in return, most heartily despise him.

Miss Branghton, the eldest daughter, is by no means ugly; but looks proud, ill-tempered, and conceited. She hates the city, though without knowing why; for it is easy to discover she has lived no where else.

Miss Polly Branghton is rather pretty, very foolish, very ignorant, very giddy, and, I believe, very good-natured.

The first half-hour was allotted to making themselves comfortable; for they complained of having had a very dirty walk, as they came on foot from Snow Hill, where Mr. Branghton keeps a silversmith’s shop; and the young ladies had not only their coats to brush, and shoes to dry, but to adjust their head-dress, which their bonnets had totally discomposed.

The manner in which Madame Duval was pleased to introduce me to this family extremely shocked me. “Here, my dears,” said she, “here’s a relation you little thought of; but you must know, my poor daughter Caroline had this child after she run away from me — though I never knew nothing of it, not I, for a long while after; for they took care to keep it a secret from me, though the poor child has never a friend in the world besides.”

“Miss seems very tender-hearted, aunt,” said Miss Polly; “and to be sure she’s not to blame for her mama’s undutifulness, for she couldn’t help it.”

“Lord, no,” answered she, “and I never took no notice of it to her: for, indeed, as to that, my own poor daughter wasn’t so much to blame as you may think; for she’d never have gone astray, if it had not been for that meddling old parson I told you of.”

“If aunt pleases,” said young Mr. Branghton, “we’ll talk o’ somewhat else, for Miss looks very uneasy-like.”

The next subject that was chosen was the age of the three young Branghtons and myself. The son is twenty; the daughters upon hearing that I was seventeen, said that was just the age of Miss Polly; but their brother, after a long dispute, proved that she was two years older, to the great anger of both sisters, who agreed that he was very ill-natured and spiteful.

When this point was settled, the question was put, Which was tallest? — We were desired to measure, as the Branghtons were all of different opinions. None of them, however, disputed my being the tallest in the company; but, in regard to one another, they were extremely quarrelsome: the brother insisted upon their measuring fair, and not with heads and heels; but they would by no means consent to lose those privileges of our sex; and therefore the young man was cast, as shortest; though he appealed to all present upon the injustice of the decree.

This ceremony over, the young ladies begun, very freely, to examine my dress, and to interrogate me concerning it. “This apron’s your own work, I suppose, Miss? but these sprigs a’n’t in fashion now. Pray, if it is not impertinent, what might you give a yard for this lutestring? — Do you make your own caps, Miss?” and many other questions equally interesting and well-bred.

Then they asked me how I liked London? and whether I should not think the country a very dull place, when I returned thither? “Miss must try if she can’t get a good husband,” said Mr. Branghton, “and then she may stay and live here.”

The next topic was public places, or rather the theatres, for they knew of no other; and the merits and defects of all the actors and actresses were discussed: the young man here took the lead, and seemed to be very conversant on the subject. But during this time, what was my concern, and, suffer me to add, my indignation, when I found, by some words I occasionally heard, that Madame Duval was entertaining Mr. Branghton with all the most secret and cruel particulars of my situation! The eldest daughter was soon drawn to them by the recital; the youngest and the son still kept their places; intending, I believe, to divert me, though the conversation was all their own.

In a few minutes, Miss Branghton coming suddenly up to her sister, exclaimed, “Lord, Polly, only think! Miss never saw her papa!”

“Lord, how odd!” cried the other; “why, then, Miss, I suppose you wouldn’t know him?”

This was quite too much for me; I rose hastily, and ran out of the room: but I soon regretted I had so little command of myself; for the two sisters both followed, and insisted upon comforting me, notwithstanding my earnest intreaties to be left alone.

As soon as I returned to the company, Madame Duval said, “Why, my dear, what was the matter with you? why did you run away so?”

This question almost made me run again, for I knew not how to answer it. But, is it not very extraordinary, that she can put me in situations so shocking, and then wonder to find me sensible of any concern?

Mr. Branghton junior now inquired of me, whether I had seen the Tower, or St. Paul’s church? and upon my answering in the negative, they proposed making a party to shew them to me. Among other questions, they also asked, if I had ever seen such a thing as an opera? I told them I had. “Well,” said Mr. Branghton, “I never saw one in my life, so long as I’ve lived in London; and I never desire to see one, if I live here as much longer.”

“Lord, papa,” cried Miss Polly, “why not? you might as well for once, for the curiosity of the thing: besides, Miss Pomfret saw one, and she says it was very pretty.”

“Miss will think us very vulgar,” said Miss Branghton, “to live in London, and never have been to an opera; but it’s no fault of mine, I assure you, Miss, only papa don’t like to go.”

The result was, that a party was proposed, and agreed to, for some early opportunity. I did not dare contradict them; but I said that my time, while I remained in town, was at the disposal of Mrs. Mirvan. However, I am sure I will not attend them, if I can possibly avoid doing so.

When we parted, Madame Duval desired to see me the next day; and the Branghtons told me, that the first time I went towards Snow Hill, they should be very glad if I would call upon them.

I wish we may not meet again till that time arrives.

I am sure I shall not be very ambitious of being known to any more of my relations, if they have any resemblance to those whose acquaintance I have been introduced to already.


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