I am translating some old letters written in the 1800s by someone who was possibly not a native French speaker. Sadly, I do not have access to the letters themselves, only to a transcript made by people who are most definitely not native French speakers, and generally don’t seem to know much, if anything, about French at all.
Most of the time, a bit of guesswork works fine for figuring out what the original presumably said, and usually that ends up making good enough sense that I can at least translate it with a fair amount of confidence.
There’s one bit in one letter, though, that I can simply make neither head nor tail of. The letter is describing a ball held in connection with the christening of an infant—the writer’s nephew—in quite a fancy house in India. The infant was severely ill, and people didn’t really feel much like dancing and throwing a ball, since they feared the child might die; but the child’s father (who was governor) insisted on giving the ball as part of his sociopolitical duties.
After describing how she (the aunt who wrote the letter) had staid with the child as much as she could and felt disgusted with having to go down and play graceful hostess at the ball knowing that her nephew was hovering between life and death upstairs, she finishes the letter in this way—the sentence I can’t figure out is the very last bit, in bold:
Notre société auraitsurement préféré n’être point ici en de pareil circonstances, & nous le proposâmes au frère [= the governor, ed.]; mais il n’en avait par envie, disant que ses affaires domestiques, ne devaient pas être confindus d’avec ceux de son devoir. J ene pus m’empêcher de pleurer devant les étrangers qui venaient d’avoir un audience enhaut, car leurs rèponses n’étaient qu’inquittantes; le petit ayant en des bandages – Omslag Fomentativ – trampées dans du vin & une décoction de médicine; ce bandâges furent renouvellées tous le 5 minutes. En même tems que je craignais pour sa vie, je me disais que notre baptême resemblait en quelques sortes à celu du « Skrædder-Barsel, hvor man ogsaa gjorde Ende paa Barnet ». On ne dansa qu’une danse après le souper, & à une heure on s’était plus ressemblant à une Zero.
Omslag means ‘poultice’; I’m not sure if Fomentativ is supposed to be Danish (if so, it’s in the wrong place, since adjectives precede the nouns they qualify in Danish) or French (if so, it’s misspelt, and a bit odd). Skrædder-Barsel, hvor man ogsaa gjorde Ende paa Barnet is a variation on an old Danish saying that means ‘a tailor’s christening, where the child too was eaten’, referring to the fact that christening feasts were often lavish, extravagant events that could easily impoverish an entire family from the lower classes.
Note: This is an exact rendition of the text I have. I presume that obvious mistakes like « j ene » instead of « je ne » are errors on the part of the transcriber; but even so, assuming the letter is more or less accurately transcribed, it is clear that the writer’s orthography was quite irregular.
It seems like the last sentence is supposed to say something like, “at one in the morning we retired/closed the ball, looking/feeling horrible/like nothing at all”, but grammatically, it seems completely nonsensical as it stands—and even semantically, I can’t make much sense of it.
Is it possible for a native French speaker (or just someone with a better feel for the French language than mine) to guess what was meant here?
Please feel free to assume both typos and mistranscriptions on the part of the transcriber, and shoddy spelling and grammar in the original writer. The letter in general has shown multiple instances of both.