Evelina, by Fanny Burney

Letter xlv

Evelina in Continuation

June 15th.

YESTERDAY morning Madame Duval again sent me to Mr. Branghton’s, attended by M. Du Bois, to make some party for the evening, because she had had the vapours the preceding day from staying at home.

As I entered the shop, I perceived the unfortunate North Briton seated in a corner, with a book in his hand. He cast his melancholy eyes up as we came in; and, I believe, immediately recollected my face — for he started, and changed colour. I delivered Madame Duval’s message to Mr. Branghton, who told me I should find Polly up stairs, but that the others were gone out.

Up stairs, therefore, I went; and, seated on a window, with Mr. Brown at her side, sat Miss Polly. I felt a little awkward at disturbing them, and much more so at their behaviour afterwards; for, as soon as the common enquiries were over, Mr. Brown grew so fond and so foolish, that I was extremely disgusted. Polly, all the time, only rebuked him with, “La, now, Mr. Brown, do be quiet, can’t you? — you should not behave so before company. — Why, now, what will Miss think of me?”— While her looks plainly showed not merely the pleasure, but the pride which she took in his caresses.

I did not by any means think it necessary to punish myself by witnessing their tenderness; and therefore telling them I would see if Miss Branghton were returned home, I soon left them, and against descended into the shop.

“So, Miss, you’ve come again,” said Mr. Branghton; “what, I suppose you’ve a mind to sit a little in the shop, and see how the world goes, hey, Miss?”

I made no answer; and M. Du Bois instantly brought me a chair.

The unhappy stranger, who had risen at my entrance, again seated himself; and though his head leant towards his book, I could not help observing, his eyes were most intently and earnestly turned towards me.

M. Du Bois, as well as his broken English would allow him, endeavoured to entertain us till the return of Miss Branghton and her brother.

“Lord, how tired I am!” cried the former; “I have not a foot to stand upon.” And, then, without any ceremony, she flung herself into the chair from which I had risen to receive her.

“You tired!” said the brother; “why, then, what must I be, that have walked twice as far?” And, with equal politeness, he paid the same compliment to M. Du Bois which his sister had done to me.

Two chairs and three stools completed the furniture of the shop; and Mr. Branghton, who chose to keep his own seat himself, desired M. Du Bois to take another; and then seeing that I was without any, called out to the stranger, “Come, Mr. Macartney, lend us your stool.”

Shocked at their rudeness, I declined the offer; and, approaching Miss Branghton, said, “If you will be so good as to make room for me on your chair, there will be no occasion to disturb that gentleman.”

“Lord, what signifies that?” cried the brother; “he has had his share of sitting, I’ll be sworn.”

“And, if he has not,” said the sister, “he has a chair up stairs; and the shop is our own, I hope.”

This grossness so much disgusted me, that I took the stool, and carrying it back to Mr. Macartney myself, I returned him thanks as civilly as I could for his politeness, but said that I had rather stand.

He looked at me as if unaccustomed to such attention, bowed very respectfully, but neither spoke nor yet made use of it.

I soon found that I was an object of derision to all present, except M. Du Bois; and therefore, I begged Mr. Branghton would give me an answer for Madame Duval, as I was in haste to return.

“Well, then, Tom — Biddy, where have you a mind to go tonight? your aunt and Miss want to be abroad and amongst them.”

“Why, then, Papa,” said Miss Branghton, “we’ll go to Don Saltero’s. Mr. Smith likes that place, so may be he’ll go along with us.”

“No, no,” said the son, “I’m for White–Conduit House; so let’s go there.”

“White–Conduit House, indeed!” cried his sister; “no, Tom, that I won’t.”

“Why, then, let it alone; nobody wants your company; — we shall do as well without you, I’ll be sworn, and better too.”

“I’ll tell you what, Tom, if you don’t hold your tongue, I’ll make you repent it — that I assure you.”

Just then Mr. Smith came into the shop, which he seemed to intend passing through; but when he saw me, he stopped, and began a most courteous enquiry after my health, protesting, that, had he known I was there, he should have come down sooner. “But, bless me, Ma’am,” added he, “what is the reason you stand?” and then he flew to bring me the seat from which I had just parted.

“Mr. Smith, you are come in very good time,” said Mr. Branghton, “to end a dispute between my son and daughter, about where they shall all go to-night.”

“O, fie, Tom — dispute with a lady!” cried Mr. Smith. “Now, as for me, I’m for where you will, provided this young lady is of the party; — one place is the same as another to me, so that it be but agreeable to the ladies. — I would go any where with you, Ma’am,” (to me) “unless, indeed, it were to church; — ha, ha, ha! — You’ll excuse me, Ma’am; but, really, I never could conquer my fear of a parson; — ha, ha, ha! — Really, ladies, I beg your pardon for being so rude; but I can’t help laughing for my life!”

“I was just saying, Mr. Smith,” said Miss Branghton, “that I should like to go to Don Saltero’s; — now, pray, where should you like to go?”

“Why, really, Miss Biddy, you know I always let the ladies decide; I never fix any thing myself; but I should suppose it would be rather hot at the coffee-house:— however, pray, ladies, settle it among yourselves; — I’m agreeable to whatever you choose.”

It was easy for me to discover, that this man, with all his parade of conformity, objects to every thing that is not proposed by himself: but he is so much admired by this family for his gentility, that he thinks himself a complete fine gentleman!

“Come,” said Mr. Branghton, “the best way will be to put it to the vote, and then every body will speak their minds. Biddy, call Poll down stairs. We’ll start fair.”

“Lord, Papa,” said Miss Branghton, “why can’t you as well send Tom? — you’re always sending me of the errands.”

A dispute then ensued, but Miss Branghton was obliged to yield.

When Mr. Brown and Miss Polly made their appearance, the latter uttered many complaints of having been called, saying, she did not want to come, and was very well where she was.

“Now, ladies, your votes,” cried Mr. Smith; “and so, Ma’am (to me), we’ll begin with you. What place shall you like best?” and then, in a whisper, he added, “I assure you, I shall say the same as you do, whether I like it or not.”

I said, that as I was ignorant what choice was in my power, I must beg to hear their decisions first. This was reluctantly assented to; and then Miss Branghton voted for Saltero’s Coffee-house; her sister, for a party to Mother Red Cap’s; the brother for White–Conduit House; Mr. Brown, for Bagnigge Wells; Mr. Braughton, for Sadler’s Wells; and Mr. Smith, for Vauxhall.

“Well now, Ma’am,” said Mr. Smith, “we have all spoken, and so you must give the casting vote. Come, what will you fix upon?”

“Sir,” answered I, “I was to speak last.”

“Well, so you will,” said Miss Branghton, “for we’ve all spoke first.”

“Pardon me,” returned I, “the voting has not yet been quite general.”

And I turned towards Mr. Macartney, to whom I wished extremely to show that I was not of the same brutal nature with those by whom he was treated so grossly.

“Why, pray,” said Mr. Branghton, “who have we left out? would you have the cats and dogs vote?”

“No, Sir,” cried I, with some spirit, “I would have that gentleman vote — if, indeed, he is not superior to joining our party.”

They all looked at me, as if they doubted whether or not they had heard me right: but, in a few moments, their surprise gave way to a rude burst of laughter.

Very much displeased, I told M. Du Bois that if he was not ready to go, I would have a coach called for myself.

O yes, he said, he was always ready to attend me.

Mr. Smith then, advancing, attempted to take my hand, and begged me not to leave them till I had settled the evening’s plans.

“I have nothing, Sir,” said I, “to do with it, as it is my intention to stay at home; and therefore Mr. Branghton will be so good as to send Madame Duval word what place is fixed upon, when it is convenient to him.”

And then, making a slight courtesy, I left them.

How much does my disgust for these people increase my pity for poor Mr. Macartney! I will not see them when I can avoid so doing; but I am determined to take every opportunity in my power to show civility to this unhappy man, whose misfortunes with this family, only render him an object of scorn. I was, however, very well pleased with M. Du Bois, who, far from joining in their mirth, expressed himself extremely shocked at their ill-breeding.

We had not walked ten yards before we were followed by Mr. Smith, who came to make excuses, and to assure me they were only joking, and hoped I took nothing ill; for if I did, he would make a quarrel of it himself with the Branghtons, rather than I should receive any offense.

I begged him not to take any trouble about so immaterial an affair, and assured him I should not myself. He was so officious, that he would not be prevailed upon to return home, till he had walked with us to Mr. Dawkins’s.

Madame Duval was very much displeased that I brought her so little satisfaction. White–Conduit House was at last fixed upon; and, notwithstanding my great dislike of such parties and such places, I was obliged to accompany them.

Very disagreeable, and much according to my expectations, the evening proved. There were many people all smart and gaudy, and so pert and low-bred, that I could hardly endure being amongst them; but the party to which, unfortunately, I belonged, seemed all at home.


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