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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Frances (Fanny) Burney (Madame d’Arblay) (1752–1840)

Who Gave Us that Shove?

From “Evelina”

MADAME DUVAL was accompanied by Monsieur Du Bois. I am surprised that she should introduce him where he is so unwelcome; and, indeed, it is strange that they should be so constantly together, though I believe I should not have taken notice of it, but that Captain Mirvan is perpetually rallying me on my grandmamma’s beau.

They were both received by Mrs. Mirvan with her usual good-breeding, but the captain most provokingly attacked her immediately, saying, “Now, madam, you that have lived abroad, please tell me this here: which did you like best, the warm room at Ranlagh, or the cold bath you went into afterward? Though, I assure you, you look so well, that I should advise you to take another dip.”

“Ma foi, sir!” cried she, “nobody asked for your advice, so you may as well keep it to yourself. Besides, it’s no such great joke to be splashed and to catch cold, and spoil all one’s things, whatever you may think of it.”

“Splashed, quoth-a! Why, I thought you were soused all over. Come, come, don’t mince the matter; never spoil a good story; you know you had not a dry thread about you. ’Fore George, I shall never think on’t without hallooing! Such a poor, forlorn, draggle-tailed gentlewoman! And poor Monseer French here, like a drowned rat, by your side!”

“Well, the worse pickle we was in, so much the worser in you not to help us; for you know where we were fast enough, because, while I laid in the mud, I’m pretty sure I heard you snicker. So it’s like enough you jostled us down yourself; for Monsieur Du Bois says that he is sure he had a great jolt given him, or he shouldn’t have fell.”

The captain laughed so immoderately that he really gave me also a suspicion that he was not entirely innocent of the charge. However, he disclaimed it very peremptorily.

“Why, then,” continued she, “if you didn’t do that, why didn’t you come to help us?”

“Who, I? What! do you suppose I had forgot I was an Englishman—a filthy, beastly Englishman?”

“Very well, sir, very well; but I was a fool to expect any better, for it’s all of a piece with the rest. You know you wanted to fling me out of the coach-window the very first time I ever see you. But I’ll never go to Ranlagh with you no more, that I’m resolved; for I dare say, if the horses had runned over me, as I laid in that nastiness, you’d never have stirred a step to save me.”

“Lord, no, to be sure, ma’am, not for the world! I know your opinion of our nation too well to affront you by supposing a Frenchman would want my assistance to protect you. Did you think that monseer here and I had changed characters, and that he should pop you into the mud, and I help you out of it? Ha-ha-ha!”

“Oh, very well, sir, laugh on; it’s like your manners. However, if poor Monsieur Du Bois had not met with that unlucky accident himself, I shouldn’t have wanted nobody’s help.”

“Oh, I promise you, madam, you’d never have had mine; I knew my distance better. And as to your being a little ducked, or so, why, to be sure, monseer and you settled that between yourselves; so it was no business of mine.”

“What then; I suppose you want to make me believe as Monsieur Du Bois served me that trick o’ purpose?”

“O’ purpose! Aye, certainly; who ever doubted that? Do you think a Frenchman ever made a blunder? If he had been some clumsy-footed English fellow, indeed it might have been accidental. But what the devil signifies all your hopping and capering with your dancing-masters, if you can’t balance yourselves upright?”

In the midst of this dialogue Sir Clement Willoughby made his appearance. He affects to enter the house with the freedom of an old acquaintance; and this very easiness, which to me is astonishing, is what most particularly recommends him to the captain. Indeed, he seems very successfully to study all the humours of that gentleman.

After having heartily welcomed him, “You are just come in time, my boy,” said he, “to settle a little matter of a dispute between this here gentlewoman and I. Do you know, she has been trying to persuade me that she did not above half like the ducking monseer gave her t’other night.”

“I should have hoped,” said Sir Clement with the utmost gravity, “that the friendship subsisting between that lady and gentleman would have guarded them against actions professedly disagreeable to each other. But probably they might not have discussed the matter previously, in which case the gentleman, I must own, seems to have been guilty of inattention, since, in my humble opinion, it was his business first to inquire whether the lady preferred soft or hard ground, before he dropped her.”

“Oh, very fine, gentlemen—very fine!” cried Madame Duval. “You may try to set us together by the ears as much as you like; but I’m not such an ignorant person as to be made a fool of so easily; so you needn’t talk no more about it, for I sees into your designs.”

Monsieur Du Bois, who was just able to discover the subject on which the conversation turned, made his defence in French, with great solemnity. He hoped, he said, the company would at least acknowledge he did not come from a nation of brutes, and consequently that to wilfully offend any lady was, to him, utterly impossible; but that on the contrary, in endeavouring, as was his duty, to save and guard her, he had himself suffered in a manner he would forbear to relate, but which, he greatly apprehended, he should feel the ill effects of for many months. And then, with a countenance exceedingly lengthened, he added that he hoped it would not be attributed to him as national prejudice when he owned that he must, to the best of his memory, aver that his unfortunate fall was due to a sudden but violent push, which, he was shocked to say, some malevolent person, with a design to his injury, must certainly have given him; but whether with a view to mortify him, by making him let the lady fall, or whether merely to spoil his clothes, he could not pretend to determine.

The disputation was at last concluded by Mrs. Mirvan’s proposing that we should all go to Cox’s Museum of mechanical curiosities. Nobody objected, and carriages were immediately ordered.

In our way down-stairs, Madame Duval in a very passionate manner said, “Ma foi, if I wouldn’t give fifty guineas to know who gave us that shove!”