But little Miss Burney had recovered all her primness on the evening when, a week later, she accompanied her stepmother to partake of tea at the home of the Barlowes in the Poultry.

Young Mr. Barlowe had, for some time after his visit to St. Martin’s Street, brooded over his indiscretion in allowing his impulse at the moment of saying good night to carry him away so that he pressed Miss Burney’s hand, looking into her eyes with an expression in his own of the deepest sympathy—rather more than sympathy. He felt that he had been unduly and indiscreetly hasty in his action. It had been purely impulsive. He had by no means made up his mind that Miss Burney would make him a satisfactory wife. His father and mother had, for a long time, thought very highly of Mrs. Burney, looking on her as a most thrifty and excellent manager of a household. She had shown herself to be all this and more when her first husband was alive and they had visited her at Lynn; and she had proved her capabilities in the same direction since she had married Dr. Burney. Unfortunately, however, the virtues of a stepmother could not be depended on to descend to the children of her husband’s family, and it was by no means certain that Miss Burney had made full use of her opportunities of modelling herself upon her father’s second wife.

No, he had not quite made up his mind on this subject—the gravest that had ever occupied his attention, and he remained sleepless for hours, fearful that he had gone too far in that look and that squeeze. He had heard of fathers and even brothers waiting upon young men who had acted toward a daughter or a sister pretty much as he had in regard to Miss Burney. He had rather a dread of being visited by Miss Burney’s brother, that young naval officer who had boasted of having been educated by a murderer. Mr. Barlowe thought that a visit from such a young man would be most undesirable, and for several days he went about his business with great uneasiness.

But when a week had gone by and neither father nor brother had waited upon him, he began to review his position more indulgently than when he had previously given it his consideration. He thought more hopefully of Miss Burney as a wife. Perhaps she might have profited more largely than he had thought by her daily intercourse with so capable a woman as Mrs. Burney. At any rate, she was not musical, and that was something in her favour. Then her stepmother had praised her needlework, and everyone knows that to be a good sempstress is next to being a good housekeeper.

He thought that on the whole she would do. Her brother, Lieutenant Burney, would naturally spend most of his time at sea. That was a good thing. Thomas felt that he should hesitate to make any change in his life that involved a liability of frequent visits from a young man who had been taught by a murderer. Who could tell what might happen in the case of such a young man? As for Miss Burney herself, she was, quite apart from her housewifely qualities, a most estimable young lady—modest and retiring, as a young woman should be, and very beautiful. To be sure, he had often heard that beauty was only skin deep, but even assuming that it did not go any deeper, it had always been highly esteemed by men—none of them seemed to wish it to be of any greater depth; and it was certain that a man with a handsome wife was greatly envied—more so even than a man who was married to a plain woman but a good housewife. Oh, undoubtedly her beauty commended her to his most indulgent consideration. He had no objection in the world to be widely envied, if only on account of his wife’s good looks. It never occurred to him that it might be that some people would think very ordinary a face that seemed to one who was in love with it extremely lovely. He preserved the precious privilege of a man to raise up his own standard of beauty and expect all the rest of the world to acknowledge its supremacy.

Yes, he thought that Miss Burney, beauty and all, would suit him, but still he hesitated in making another call.

This was when Mr. Kendal had the honour of waiting upon Mrs. Burney, and his visit only preceded by a day or two Mrs. Burney’s call upon her old friend, Mrs. Barlowe, in the Poultry; this interchange of courtesies being speedily followed by an invitation for Mrs. Burney and a stepdaughter to drink tea with the Barlowe family.

“I am taking you with me, Fanny, because you are the eldest and, as should be, the most sensible of the household,” said Mrs. Burney, explaining—so far as she thought wise—the invitation on the morning it was received. “There will be no music at Mrs. Barlowe’s, I think, and so you will have no distracting influence to prevent your forming a just opinion of my old friends.”

“I do not mind in the least the absence of music for one night,” said Fanny.

“I am sure of that,” said Mrs. Burney. “Goodness knows we have music enough here during any day to last us over a whole week. The others could not live without it, even if it were not your father’s profession.”

“Without which none of us could live,” remarked Fanny, who had no wish to be forced into the position of the opponent of music in the household.

“Quite right, my dear,” acquiesced the elder lady. “It is a precarious way of making a living. To my mind there is nothing so satisfactory as a good commercial business—a merchant with a shop at his back can afford to laugh at all the world.”

“But he usually refrains,” said Fanny.

“True; he looks at life with proper seriousness, and without levity. Great fortunes are the result of serious attention to business. Levity leads to poverty.”

“Except in the case of Mr. Garrick and a few others.”

“Mr. Garrick is certainly an exception. But, then, you must remember that he was a merchant before he became an actor, and his business habits never left him. I have heard it said that he got more out of his company for the salaries he paid than any theatre manager in Europe. But I did not come to you to talk about Mr. Garrick. I only meant to say that I know you are an observant girl. You do not merely glance at the surface of things, so I am sure that you will perceive much to respect in all the members of Mrs. Barlowe’s family.”

“I am sure they are eminently—respectable, mamma; and I am glad that you have chosen me to be your companion this evening. I like going among such people—it is useful.”

She stopped short in a way that should have aroused the suspicions of Mrs. Burney, but that lady was unsuspecting, she was only puzzled.

“Useful?” she said interrogatively.

Fanny had no mind to explain that she thought herself rather good at describing people of the Barlowe type, and was ready to submit herself to more experience of them in case she might be encouraged to write another novel. But she knew that she would have some difficulty in explaining this to her stepmother, who herself was an excellent type.

“Useful—perhaps I should rather have said ‘instructive,’” she replied, after a little pause.

“Instructive, yes; I am glad that you look at our visit so sensibly—I knew you would do so. Yes, you should learn much of the excellence of these people even in the short time that we shall be with them. And it is well that you should remember, my dear Fanny, that you are now quite old enough to have a house of your own to look after.”

It was now Fanny’s turn to seem puzzled.

“I do not quite see how—I mean why—why—that is, the connection—is there any connection between—?”

“What I mean to say is that if at some time a suitor for your hand should appear, belonging to a respectable mercantile family, you will know, without the need of any telling, that your chances of happiness with such a man are far greater than they would be were you to wed someone whose means of getting a living were solely the practice of some of the arts, as they are called—music or painting or the rest.”

“I do not doubt that, mamma,” said Fanny demurely. She was beginning to think that her stepmother was a far better type than she had fancied.

And her stepmother was beginning to think that she had never given Fanny credit for all the good sense she possessed.

The six o’clock tea-party in the Poultry was a function that Fanny Burney’s quick pen only could describe as it deserved to be described. All the time that it was proceeding her fingers were itching to start on it. She could see Mr. Crisp smiling in that appreciative way that he had, as he read her smart sentences, every one of them with its little acid flavour, that remained on the palate of his memory. She was an artist in character drawing, and she was one of the first to perceive how excellent was the material for artistic treatment that might be found in the house of the English tradesman—the superior tradesman who aspired to be called a merchant. She neglected no opportunity of observing such houses; it was only when she was daily consorting with people of the highest rank that she became alarmed lest her descriptions should be accepted as proof that she was in the habit of meeting on terms of intimacy the types of English bourgeois which she had drawn.

The ground-floor of Mr. Barlowe’s house in the Poultry was given over to his business, which, as has already been mentioned, was that of a vendor of gold and silver lace. The walls carried shelves from floor to ceiling, and every shelf had its line of boxes enclosing samples of an abundant and valuable stock. The large room at the back was a sort of counting-house parlour, where Mr. Barlowe sat during the day with his son and an elderly clerk, ready for the customers, whose arrival was announced by the ringing of a spring bell. The scales for the weighing of the bullion and the worked gold and silver wire were suspended above the broad counter in the shop, and from a hook between the shelves there hung a number of ruled forms with spaces for oz., dwt. and grs. On these were entered the particulars of the material supplied to the workmen who made up the lace as required. The upper part of the house was the home of the family, the spacious dining-room being in the front, its convex windows overhanging the busy thoroughfare. Opening off this apartment was an equally large drawing-room, and the furniture of both was of walnut made in the reign of Queen Anne, with an occasional piece of Dutch marqueterie of the heavier character favoured by the craftsmen of the previous sovereigns. The rooms themselves were panelled with oak and lighted by candles in brass sconces.

It seemed to Fanny, on entering the dining-room, that every seat was occupied. But she soon saw that there were several vacant chairs. It was the imposing row of figures confronting her that made the room seem full, although only six persons were present besides young Mr. Barlowe and his parents, who met Mrs. Burney and her stepdaughter at the door. Fanny greeted Thomas at once, and she could see that his eyes were beaming, but with a rather more subdued light than shone in them on that night when he had pressed her hand. She was conscious, at the same time, of the approach of a big elderly gentleman, wearing a well-ordered wig, evidently newly curled, with a small lady clad in expensive and expansive black silk by his side. He was holding the tips of her fingers and they advanced in step as though they were starting to dance a minuet.

They stood in front of her and her mother, while Thomas, moving to one side, said, making a low bow:

“Miss Burney, I have the honour to present to you my father, Mr. Barlowe, and my mother, Mrs. Barlowe. Mrs. Burney, madam, you are, I know, already acquainted with my parents.”

The little lady curtsied and her husband made a fine shopkeeper’s bow, first to Fanny, then to Mrs. Burney.

The formality of the presentation was overwhelming to poor Fanny. She could feel herself blushing, and she certainly was more overcome than she had been when Count Orloff, the Russian, visited the house in St. Martin’s Street and she gazed with awe upon the thumb that had, it was rumoured, pressed too rigidly the windpipe of the unfortunate Peter. All that she could do was to try to hide her confusion by the deepest of curtsies.

“We are sensible of the honour you have done us, madam,” said Mr. Barlowe when he had recovered himself—he was addressing Fanny, ignoring for the moment the presence of Mrs. Burney.

“Our son has spoken to us of you with great admiration, Miss Burney,” said the little lady. “But I protest that when I look at you I feel as King Solomon did when he saw the Queen of Sheba, the half has not been told.”

“Oh, madam, you flatter me,” said Fanny, trying to put some force into a voice that her shyness had rendered scarcely audible.

Her stepmother, perceiving how she was suffering, hastened to greet in a much less formal way their host and hostess; but she had considerable difficulty in bringing them down to her level. It seemed that they had prepared some high phrases of welcome for their younger visitor only, and they had no mind that they should be wasted.

“My stepdaughter is of a retiring nature,” said Mrs. Burney. “She is quite unused to such ceremony as you honour her with. Well, Martha, how is the rheumatism?”

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