It was an interesting experience for Miss Burney, the writer of novels and the writer of letters. She had never sat down with such a company. They all had their table peculiarities. One uncle took ale for his tea, and drained a tankard before eating anything. The other claimed a particular cup on account of its capacity, and he held it to his mouth with one hand, while he passed a second down the table to Miss Burney, only spilling a spoonful or two in effecting the transit. One of the aunts refused to eat anything except cake, explaining, in order to relieve the anxiety of the company, the details of an acute attack of spleen from which she had recently suffered. The spleen and its humours formed the subject of a fitful conversation at her end of the table.

But it was plain that everyone understood that the company had not come to the table for conversation, but for food. They did not converse, but that was not the same as saying the room was silent. There was a constant clanging of cups, a constant clatter of platters, a loud and insistent demand on the part of Thomas, the elder, and Thomas, the younger, for their guests to say what they would like to eat. This was followed by the handing of plates up and down the table, the sound of steel knives being sharpened, and the jingle of spoons in saucers. The Alderman, who was, of course, an authority on the etiquette of banquets, was formulating an elaborate explanation of the mistake that had been made in the service of the cold sirloin in advance of the venison pasty; and all the time his neighbour was striking the haft of his knife upon the table with a request for someone to pass him the pickles.

All the ceremonial veneer had plainly left the company the moment they seated themselves, and they addressed themselves to the business of feeding. They had healthy appetites—even the lady who had had a recent attack of the spleen. She would eat nothing but cake, but she did eat cake with confidence. There was no sort of cake that she did not try, and her cup was kept in constant circulation from the tea-maker to herself—four times she had it refilled, Fanny could not help noticing, and she wondered what effect such a diet would have upon her capricious spleen. Fanny had an inward hint or two that she had observed quite enough of the party to serve her purpose, and she began to count the moments until she might be able to steal away without offending the susceptibilities of her over-hospitable host and hostess. She hoped that her stepmother would listen to her plea of weariness and take her back to St. Martin’s Street—to the music of St. Martin’s Street—to the quiet of St. Martin’s Street.

The most solid hour of her life had, however, to elapse before her fellow-guests pushed their plates (empty) away from them, and Mrs. Barlowe said:

“I am afraid you have made a poor tea, Miss Burney; but if you cannot be persuaded to have a slice of ham—my son’s ham, I call it, for ’tis he who picks it out of the curer’s stock whenever we have a party—if you still refuse it, we might go to the drawing-room.”

Fanny was on her feet in an instant. But not sooner than Alderman Kensit. That gentleman, rapping with the haft of his knife on the table, stood with a sheaf of notes in his hand and clearing his throat with great deliberation, started upon a speech in eulogy of Mr. Barlowe’s merits as a host and as a merchant, and droned away for a good half-hour in praise of the virtue of hospitality, his text being on the possibility of entertaining angels unawares. Of course, it was only natural that, having got upon this track and with the word “angels” in his mind, he should go on to say that it was quite possible for a hospitably-inclined person to entertain an angel and be fully cognizant of the fact, and so forth: in a speech of well-worn platitudes such a suggestion seemed inevitable; and all eyes were directed to poor Fanny when it seemed impending. It was a great disappointment to everybody—except Fanny and her stepmother—when the orator skipped the expected phrases, and went on to describe a business visit which he had once made to Spain, apropos of nothing in particular. His account of this feat was familiar to all his relations, but they listened to him without a murmur, only wondering when he would come to the angel and Miss Burney.

He never came to the angel and Miss Burney, for it so happened that he had turned over two pages of his notes when he should have only turned over one. The omitted platitude was on the first, and he failed to notice the absence of a platitudinal sequence in the heads of his discourse which he had jotted down during the day.

When he had seated himself, Mr. Barlowe, the elder, got upon his feet, but he had no notes, and not being a member of the Common Council, he was not a past-master of commonplaces. He was only dull for about five minutes instead of half an hour. He had risen with a view to repair his relative’s omission of that obvious point about entertaining an angel by appointment in the shape of Miss Burney, but he lost himself before he managed to deliver it; it swam out of his ken with several other points the moment he got upon his legs.

Fully recognizing how narrow was the escape she had had, Fanny was resolved not to run any further chances. She was looking imploringly toward Mrs. Burney, trying to catch that lady’s eye, but without success, and she was about to walk round the table to her side and to beg her to come away, when Mrs. Barlowe moved up to her.

“Miss Burney,” she said, “I am afraid you did not get anything you liked at the table: I saw that you scarce ate more than a morsel of cake.”

“I assure you, madam, I had enough,” said Fanny. “Your cake was so tasty I had no mind to go away from it in search of other delicacies.”

“I am glad you liked it. I made it with my own hands,” said the hostess. “That cake was ever a favourite with Mr. Barlowe and my son. It pleases me to know that you and my son have tastes in common. He is a good son, is Thomas, though I say it that shouldn’t; and he is making his way to the front by treading in his father’s footsteps. Mr. Barlowe is not a Common Councilman, but his father, Thomas’s grandfather, was for a year Deputy-Master of the Wyre Drawers’ Company—his certificate still hangs on the wall of the drawing-room. You must see it. Thomas, you will show Miss Burney your grandfather’s certificate as Deputy-Master.”

“I should like very much to see it,” said Fanny quickly, “but I fear that mamma will wish me to accompany her home at once. My sisters are alone to-night and they will feel lonely: we promised to return early.”

“I will get Mrs. Burney’s permission for you—so good an opportunity should not be thrown away,” said Mrs. Barlowe, giving the latter part of her sentence an unmistakable inflection as she looked toward her son and smiled.

She had gone round the table before Fanny could think of another excuse for evading the visit to the drawing-room in the company of Mr. Barlowe, the younger.

And Mr. Barlowe, the younger, was still by her side.

“Doesn’t Uncle Kensit make a fine speech?” he inquired. “He is always ready. I have heard it said that he speaks longer than any Alderman in the Council.”

“I can quite believe it,” replied Fanny.

“’Tis a wonderful gift,” said he—“to be always ready to say what one is expected to say. Though I did think that when he referred to the angels he meant to—to—go farther—I mean nearer—nearer home.”

Thomas might himself have gone farther had his mother not returned at that moment from her diplomatic errand.

“I have prevailed upon Mrs. Burney to let you stay to see the certificate,” said she. “Thomas, you will conduct Miss Burney to the drawing-room.”

“I am sure that mamma would wish to see the certificate also,” said Fanny. “I will ask her.”

“There is no need, Miss Burney: we shall all join you later,” said Mrs. Barlowe.

Poor Fanny saw that there was no use trying to evade the attentions of Thomas, and as she walked toward the folding doors by his side she was conscious of a silence in the room and of all eyes being turned upon her—smiles—such knowing smiles—and a smirk from the young lady. Fanny was aware of all, and what she was too short-sighted to see she was able to imagine. She was burning at the thought of all those people gazing at her in silence. It was the most trying moment of her life.

She passed through the door which Thomas opened for her and closed behind her.

“I am glad to have this opportunity, Miss Burney,” said he, when they were alone in the big half-lighted room.

“You must hold your grandfather’s certificate in high esteem, sir,” said she. “I suppose so high a place as he reached is but rarely attained by mortals. You will have to guide me to the document; I have very poor eyesight, as you must have noticed.”

“It is a great drawback,” said he. “But we will not talk about grandfather’s certificate just yet, if you please: I have something to say to you that will, I hope, interest you even more than that.”

“You surprise me, sir,” said Fanny icily.

“Nay, I hope that you know me well enough not to be surprised by all that I have to reveal to you now that the opportunity has been given to me. Have you no inkling of what I am about to say, Miss Burney?”

“Not the least, sir. I expected only to see that relic of your grandfather’s honourable career.”

“What, after meeting Uncle Kensit and Aunt Jelicoe, you do not feel interested in their families?” said he, in a tone of genuine surprise.

Fanny looked at him before she spoke, and there certainly was more than a note of casual interest in her voice as she said:

“Their families? Oh, I should like above all things to hear about their families.”

“I knew that you would,” said he, apparently much relieved. (She wondered if the relief that she felt was as apparent as his.) “Yes, I felt certain that you would welcome this opportunity of learning something about the Kensits and the Jelicoes. They are remarkable people, as you cannot have failed to perceive.”

He made a pause—a pause that somehow had an interrogative tendency. She felt that he meant it to be filled up by her.

“They are remarkable people—very remarkable,” said she.

“We are very fortunate in all our relations, Miss Burney,” said he with great solemnity. “But, of course, Uncle Kensit stands high above them all in force of character. A great man indeed is Alderman Kensit—a member of the Haberdashers’ and Grocers’ Companies as well as the City Council, and yet quite ready to meet ordinary persons as fellow-men. He had heard the name of your friend, Sir Joshua Reynolds, though not the name of Dr. Burney, and he was kind enough to say that he would have no objection in the world to meet either of these gentlemen. That shows you what sort of man he is—his fine, simple nature. ‘If Dr. Burney or Sir Joshua Reynolds were duly presented to me, I should feel it my duty to be civil to him’—those were his exact words.”

Once more there was an interrogative pause.

“Perhaps they may be fortunate enough to meet him some day,” was all Fanny could trust herself to say.

“I would not say so much to them—he is very busy just now,” said Thomas hastily. “It would have to be arranged with care and thought—I would not like them to be disappointed. But if it would please you, I daresay a meeting could be brought about; meantime, I would not raise up any false hopes on the matter, if I were you.”

“You may depend on my preserving the strictest secrecy, Mr. Barlowe,” said Fanny. “I should think that I might even discipline myself to forget that such a person as Alderman Kensit existed.”

“That would perhaps be the safest course to pursue,” said he thoughtfully, and with an air of prudence that made him for the moment the subject of a description after Fanny’s own heart. She felt that she could fool this young man as easily as her brother had fooled him. Surely he was made to be fooled, with his solemn airs and his incapacity to distinguish what is worthy from what is pompous.

“Yes,” she continued, “Dr. Burney has had it intimated to him since the publication of his ‘History’ that the King was desirous of talking to him at Windsor, and I know that Sir Joshua is being visited daily by the Duchess of Devonshire and the Duchess of Ancaster, and it would be a great pity if my father were forced to write excusing himself to His Majesty on account of having to meet Alderman—Alderman—I protest that I have already forgotten the gentleman’s name—nay, do not tell it to me; I might be tempted to boast of having met him, and if I did so in Sir Joshua’s presence, his beautiful Duchesses would be forlorn when they found that he had hurried away on the chance of meeting the Alderman. And now, sir, I think that I shall return to Mrs. Burney.”

“But I have not told you half of what I can tell about our family,” he cried. “I have said nothing about my aunts—I have four aunts and eleven cousins. You would surely like to hear of my cousins. They do not all live in London. I have three as far away as Lewes; their name is Johnson. My mother’s youngest sister married a Johnson, as you may have heard. I believe that some objection was raised to the match at first, but it turned out quite satisfactory.”

“It is pleasant to know that; and so, sir, as we have come to this point, don’t you think that we had better adjourn our conference?” said Fanny. “It would be doing the Johnson family a grave injustice were you to attempt to describe their virtues within the time that is left to us, and that would be the greatest catastrophe of all. Besides, I came hither all unprepared for these revelations. If you had hinted at what was in store for me I would, of course, have disciplined myself—forewarned is forearmed, you know.”

Miss Burney had received many a lesson from Mr. Garrick, from the days when he had come to entertain her in the nursery, in the art of fooling, and she was now quite capable of holding her own when she found herself in the presence of so foolable a person as this egregious young man. But the game was apt to become wearisome at the close of an evening when she had suffered much, and when the subject of her raillery had shown himself to be incapable even of suspecting her of practising on him.

“But there is Aunt Jelicoe; I should like to tell you something of Aunt Jelicoe,” pleaded Thomas. “Without any of the advantages of her parents, Aunt Jelicoe—and—oh, I have something more to say to you—not about them—about ourselves—you and me—I was nearly forgetting—you will stay—”

“One cannot remember everything, Mr. Barlowe,” said Fanny, with her hand on the knob of the door. “You have done very well, I think, in remembering so much as you have told me. As for ourselves—you have quite convinced me of my own insignificance—and yours also, sir. You would be doing us a grave injustice were you to speak of us so soon after your estimable relations.”

“Perhaps you are right,” said he, after a few moments of frowning thought. “Yes. I see now that it might have been wiser if I had begun with ourselves and then—”

Fanny had turned the handle. She re-entered the dining-room, and the moment that she appeared silence fell upon the company, and once again she was conscious of many eyes gazing at her and of horrid smiles and a smirk. That was another ordeal for the shy little Miss Burney—it was an evening of ordeals.

She walked straight across the room to her stepmother.

“I am ready to go away now,” she said. “We have never stayed at any house so long when we only came for tea. I am tired to death.”

She took care, of course, that Mrs. Burney only should hear her; and Mrs. Burney, being well aware that Fanny was not one to complain unless with ample cause, charitably interposed between her and Mrs. Barlowe, whom she saw bearing down upon her from the other side of the room.

“Fanny and I will say our good-night to you now, my dear Martha,” she said. “You have treated us far too kindly. That must be our excuse for staying so long. When people drop in to tea they do not, as a rule, stop longer than an hour, as you know. But you overwhelmed us.”

“I was hoping—” began Mrs. Barlowe, trying to get on to Fanny, but by the adroitness of Mrs. Burney, not succeeding. “I was hoping—you know what I was hoping—we were all hoping—expecting—they were in the drawing-room long enough.”

Mrs. Burney gave her a confidential look, which she seemed to interpret easily enough. She replied by a confidential nod—the nod of one who understands a signal.

“Mum it shall be, then,” she whispered. “Not a word will come from me, simply good-night; but we could all have wished—never mind, Thomas will tell us all.”

Mrs. Burney allowed her to pass on to Fanny, having obtained her promise not to bother the girl—that was how Mrs. Burney framed the promise in her own mind—and Mrs. Barlowe kept faith with her, and even persuaded Alderman Kensit, who was approaching them slowly with a sheaf of notes in his hand, to defer their delivery in the form of a speech until the young woman had gone.

And thus the visitors from St. Martin’s Street were able to escape going through the formality of taking leave of all the party. They shook hands only with their host and hostess and their son, curtseying very politely to the company of relations.

“They are warm-hearted people, but their weakness for ceremony and the like is foolish enough,” said Mrs. Burney to Fanny, when they were safe within the hackney carriage.

Fanny laughed.

“Oh, indeed, there is no harm in any of them,” she said. “They may be a little foolish in thinking that the Poultry is St. James’s Palace or Buckingham House. The only one among them who is an arrant fool is the son. You saw how his mother made it up that he should lead me into the other room?”

“It was maladroitly done indeed. What had he to say to you when he got you there, I wonder?”

“He had nothing to say to me except that his uncles were second in all the virtues and all the talents to no man in town, and that his aunts and cousins—but he did not get so far in his praise of his aunts and cousins; I fled. Oh, did you see him cut slices off the ham?”

Fanny laughed quite pleasantly, with a consciousness of having at her command the material on which to found a scene that would set her sisters shrieking.

“Oh, if Mr. Garrick had but seen him carve that ham!” she cried.

“I wish that Mr. Garrick would give all his attention to his own affairs and leave us to manage ours in our own way,” said Mrs. Burney.

“What? Why, what had Mr. Garrick to do with our visit to—”

“’Twas Mr. Garrick who continued his fooling of Mr. Kendal, sending him all over the town trying to make matches. He believes that he is under a debt of gratitude to Mr. Garrick and your father for the happiness he enjoys with his bride.”

“And he suggested that a match might be made between someone in St. Martin’s Street and someone in the Poultry? But how does Mr. Kendal come to be acquainted with the Barlowes?”

“His wife was a Johnson before she married her first husband, and the Johnsons are closely connected with the Barlowes.”

“Young Mr. Barlowe was just coming to the family history of the Johnsons when I interrupted him.”

“Was he coming to any other matter that concerned you more closely, think you?”

Fanny laughed again, only much longer this time than before. She had to wipe her eyes before she could answer.

“Dear mamma,” she said, “you would laugh as heartily if you had seen him when he suddenly recollected that in his eagerness to make me acquainted with the glories of the Kensits and the abilities of the Johnsons, he had neglected the object of his excursion to that room with my poor self, until it was too late.”

“I doubt it,” said Mrs. Burney. “I do not laugh at incidents of that sort. I lose patience when I hear of a young man neglecting his chances when they are offered to him. But had he ever a chance with you, Fanny?”

“Not the remotest, dear mamma. If he had remembered to speak in time, and if he had spoken with all the eloquence of his admirable uncle, the Alderman, he would not have succeeded. If Thomas Barlowe were the last man in the world I should e’en die an old maid.”

“That is a foolish thing for you to say. You may die an old maid for that. But indeed when I saw young Mr. Barlowe in his home, I perceived that he was not for you. I could not see you a member of that family, worthy though they may be.”

“I think if a girl loves a young man with all her heart she will agree to marry him, however worthy may be his family,” said Fanny. “But I am not that girl, and young Mr. Barlowe is not that man.”

“I daresay that is how you feel,” said the elder lady. “But you must not forget, Fanny, that you are no longer a girl; it is quite time that you had a house of your own.”

“That is true, dear mamma, but for the present I am happy in living in your house, and I ask for nothing better than to be allowed to stay in your service.”

“That is all very well, but—”

“Ah, do not introduce that ‘but’—life would be thoroughly happy if it were not for its ‘buts.’ Here we are in Leicester Fields. I feel as if I should like a roast apple for supper, to put a pleasant taste in my mouth at the close of the longest day I can remember.”

They entered the parlour on the ground floor, and found Lottie and Susy roasting apples on the hearth, while Dr. Burney sat in his chair reading.

“I did not expect you back so soon,” said Mrs. Burney to her husband.

“I did not mean to return for another hour,” said he, “but Sir Joshua left early and brought me with him in his coach. He cut his evening short in order to get back to a book which he affirms is the best he has read since Fielding.”

“It would have to be a good book to take the attention of Sir Joshua,” said Mrs. Burney. “Did you hear what was its name?”

“It is called ‘Evelina,’ I believe,” replied Dr. Burney.

“A novel, of course. I remember hearing the name some time ago,” said his wife. “‘Evelina’; yes, it has a familiar sound. I cannot recollect at this moment who it was that mentioned it to me. I believe I told you of it at the time, Fanny.”

“I do not remember your telling me that anyone had mentioned it to you; but I am nearly sure that that was the name of the novel advertised in the Chronicle—you read out all about it after breakfast one morning,” said Fanny.

“You are quite right—that was how I got the name in my mind. Now you can have your roasted apple, child. But if you are hungry you have only yourself to thank for it. Don’t bend so over the fire, Susy; your face is frightfully red—so, for that matter, is Lottie’s. No, thanks, you need not roast one for me.”

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