Fanny Burney, Evelina : Vol. 1, Ch. 20

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Letter XX

EVELINA IN CONTINUATION

OUR places were in the front row of a side-boxw. 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-boxw, 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 Lovew; 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 succedaneumw for health; but, really, I have known so many different causes for a lady's colour, such as flushing-anger-mauvaise hontew-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."

X [w] side-box

Amusements

"A box or enclosed seat at the side of a theatre." OED.  See the atttached print, A Side Box (1781), courtesy of the Library of Congress, Department of Prints and Photographs, in which a gentlemen offers a peach to one of two fashionably dressed ladies seated in their side box.   

 

X [w] stage-box

Amusements

"each of the boxes over the proscenium of a theatre." OED 

 

X [w] Love for Love

Arts

William Congreve's comedy first performed 1695.  Though Evelina and Miss Mirvan register polite aversion to the risque humor of Restoration comedy, the play was a staple of London theatre. 

 

X [w] succedaneum

An artificial substitute.

X [w] mauvaise honte

Self-consciousness or shyness.