Summary (Masterplots, Definitive Revised Edition)
Mr. James Formal, who made his living in trade with the Spanish and who admired their pride and gallantry to the point of affecting their manners, had confined his fourteen-year-old daughter Hippolita, recently returned from boarding school, to the house for a period of a year. During his absence his sister, the widow Caution, acted the part of a duenna to see that Hippolita’s virtue was protected in the Spanish manner. In spite of the soured old woman’s puritanical wishes—she was adept at sensing sin since it was always on her mind—from her balcony the young girl carried on a flirtation with a young gentleman who frequented a neighboring inn.
Several days before Mr. Formal was due to return, Mr. Paris, his nephew and a suitor for the hand of Hippolita, arrived in London after a brief stay in France which had made of him a slavish imitator of French dress, manners, and idiom without in the least understanding his own ridiculousness. Since only he had access to the young lady’s presence, she made of him a willing dupe in order to make the acquaintance of the tall, handsome Gerrard. As a jest, M. de Paris—as the silly coxcomb called himself—challenged Gerrard to contrive a meeting with the young lady whom he had seen only from a distance but of whom he was enamored.
Accepting the challenge, Gerrard broke into Hippolita’s chamber, proposed a hasty elopement, and was caught in a near-embrace by her returning father. Hippolita, her actions always covered by her resourceful maid, cleverly pretended that Gerrard, who was unable to dance a step, was the dancing instructor hired at the behest of her husband-to-be, who would not have a wife without such French refinement as the ability to dance. The deception was further extended by M. de Paris who, blinded as he was by his own ego and splendor in dress and speech, helped the lovers at every turn. Mrs. Caution, immediately suspicious of the true situation, repeatedly warned the affected Spanish grandee of a father, who proudly protested that he would never permit such an affair to occur under his roof. Mr. Formal, in fact, took a liking to the supposed dancing master and urged him to come three times a day in order that his daughter could learn as rapidly as possible before her imminent marriage. At the same time he took a dislike to his ridiculous nephew and forced that embarrassed but docile young man to change to a Spanish costume and English speech, a calamity in the eyes of the young Gallophile. Meanwhile, Hippolita carried off her flirtation to the point of elopement, a conspiring innocent who allowed herself to be pursued only to become the pursuer. Paris, in turn, had...
(The entire section is 1086 words.)
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