Fanny Burney, Evelina : Vol. 2, Ch. 13

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Letter XIII


YESTERDAY all the Branghtons dined here. Our conversation was almost wholly concerning the adventure of the day before. Mr. Branghton said, that his first thought was instantly to turn his lodger out of doors, "Lest," continued he, "his killing himself in my house should bring me into any trouble: but then I was afraid I should never get the money that he owes me; whereas, if he dies in my house, I have a right to all he leaves behind him, if he goes off in my debt. Indeed, I would put him in prisonh,-but what should I get by that? he could not earn anything there to pay me: so I considered about it some time, and then I determined to ask him, point-blank, for my money out of hand. And so I did; but he told me he'd pay me next week: however, I gave him to understand, that though I was no Scotchman, yet, I did not like to be over-reached any more than he: so he then gave me a ring, which, to my certain knowledge, must be worth ten guineas, and told me he would not part with it for his life, and a good deal more such sort of stuff, but that I might keep it until he could pay me."

"It is ten to one, father," said young Branghton, "if he came fairly by it."

"Very likely not," answered he; "but that will make no great difference, for I shall be able to prove my right to it all one."

What principles! I could hardly stay in the room.

"I'm determined," said the son, "I'll take some opportunity to affront him soon, now I know how poor he is, because of the airs he gave himself when he first came."

"And pray how was that, child?" said Madame Duval.

"Why, you never knew such a fuss in your life as he made, because one day at dinner I only happened to say, that I supposed he had never got such a good meal in his life before he came to England: there, he fell in such a passion as you can't think: but for my part, I took no notice of it: for to be sure, thinks I, he must needs be a gentleman, or he'd never go to be so angry about it. However, he won't put his tricks upon me again in a hurry."

"Well," said Miss Polly, "he's grown quite another creature to what he was, and he doesn't run away from us, nor hide himself, nor any thing; and he's as civil as can be, and he's always in the shop, and he saunters about the stairs, and he looks at every body as comes in."

"Why, you may see what he's after plain enough," said Mr. Branghton; "he wants to see Miss again."

"Ha, ha, ha! Lord, how I should laugh," said the son, "if he should have fell in love with Miss!"

"I'm sure," said Miss Branghton, "Miss is welcome; but, for my part,
I should be quite ashamed of such a beggarly conquest."

Such was the conversation till tea-time, when the appearance of
Mr. Smith gave a new turn to the discourse.

Miss Branghton desired me to remark with what a smart air he entered the room, and asked me if he had not very much a quality look?

"Come," cried he, advancing to us, "you ladies must not sit together; wherever I go I always make it a rule to part the ladies."

And then, handing Miss Branghton to the next chair, he seated himself between us.

"Well, now, ladies, I think we sit very well. What say you? for my part I think it was a very good motion."

"If my cousin likes it," said Miss Branghton, "I'm sure I've no objection."

"O," cried he, "I always study what the ladies like,-that's my first thought. And, indeed, it is but natural that you should like best to sit by the gentlemen, for what can you find to say to one another?"

"Say!" cried young Branghton; "O, never you think of that, they'll find enough to say, I'll be sworn. You know the women are never tired of talking."

"Come, come, Tom," said Mr. Smith, "don't be severe upon the ladies; when I'm by, you know I always take their part."

Soon after, when Miss Branghton offered me some cake, this man of gallantry said, "Well, if I was that lady, I'd never take any thing from a woman."

X [h] I would put him in prison

Custom & Law

A debtor could be thrown into debtor's prison, a common practice until the mid-19th century, but Branghton sees the difficulty; that is, unless the debtor is helped by relatives or friends, he has no way to secure the means to pay off the debt and regain his freedom.