"Well," cried he, as he entered, "did you think I should not come?"
"I was very willing, sir, to wait your leisure."
"Ay, ay, knew you had not much to do. Been looking for my shaving- rag. Going out of town; never use such a thing at home, paper does as well. Warrant Master Harrel never heard of such a thing; ever see him comb his own wig? Warrant he don't know how! never trust mine out of my hands, the boy would tear off half the hair; all one to master Harrel, I suppose. Well, which is the warmer man, that's all? Will he cast an account with me?"
Cecilia, at a loss what to say to this singular exordium, began an apology for not waiting upon him sooner.
"Ay, ay," cried he, "always gadding, no getting sight of you. Live a fine life! A pretty guardian, Master Harrel! and where's t'other? where's old Don Puffabout?"
"If you mean Mr Delvile, sir, I have not yet seen him."
"Thought so. No matter, as well not. Only tell you he's a German Duke, or a Spanish Don Ferdinand. Well, you've me! poorly off else. A couple of ignoramuses! don't know when to buy nor when to sell. No doing business with either of them. We met once or twice; all to no purpose; only heard Don Vampus count his old Grandees; how will that get interest for money? Then comes Master Harrel—twenty bows to a word,—looks at a watch,—about as big as a sixpence,—poor raw ninny!—a couple of rare guardians! Well, you've me, I say; mind that!"
Cecilia was wholly unable to devise any answer to these effusions of contempt and anger; and therefore his harangue lasted without interruption, till he had exhausted all his subjects of complaint, and emptied his mind of ill-will; and then, settling his wig, he drew a chair near her, and twinkling his little black eyes in her face, his rage subsided into the most perfect good humour; and, after peering at her some time with a look of much approbation, he said, with an arch nod, "Well, my duck, got ever a sweetheart yet?"
Cecilia laughed, and said "No."
"Ah, little rogue, don't believe you! all a fib! better speak out: come, fit I should know; a'n't you my own ward? to be sure, almost of age, but not quite, so what's that to me?"
She then, more seriously, assured him she had no intelligence of that sort to communicate.
"Well, when you have, tell, that's all. Warrant sparks enough hankering. I'll give you some advice Take care of sharpers; don't trust shoe-buckles, nothing but Bristol stones! tricks in all things. A fine gentleman sharp as another man. Never give your heart to a gold-topped cane, nothing but brass gilt over. Cheats everywhere: fleece you in a year; won't leave you a groat. But one way to be safe,—bring 'em all to me."
Cecilia thanked him for his caution, and promised not to forget his advice.
"That's the way," he continued, "bring 'em to me. Won't be bamboozled. Know their tricks. Shew 'em the odds on't. Ask for the rent-roll,—see how they look! stare like stuck pigs! got no such thing."
"Certainly, sir, that will be an excellent method of trial."
"Ay, ay, know the way! soon find if they are above par. Be sure don't mind gold waistcoats; nothing but tinsel, all shew and no substance; better leave the matter to me; take care of you myself; know where to find one will do."
She again thanked him; and, being fully satisfied with this specimen of his conversation, and unambitious of any further counsel from him, she arose to depart.
"Well," repeated he, nodding at her, with a look of much kindness, "leave it to me, I say; I'll get you a careful husband, so take no thought about the matter."
Cecilia, half-laughing, begged he would not give himself much trouble, and assured him she was not in any haste.
"All the better," said he, "good girl; no fear for you: look out myself; warrant I'll find one. Not very easy, neither! hard times! men scarce; wars and tumults! stocks low! women chargeable!—but don't fear; do our best; get you off soon."
She then returned to her carriage: full of reflection upon the scene in which she had just been engaged, and upon the strangeness of hastening from one house to avoid a vice the very want of which seemed to render another insupportable! but she now found that though luxury was more baneful in its consequences, it was less disgustful in its progress than avarice; yet, insuperably averse to both, and almost equally desirous to fly from the unjust extravagance of Mr Harrel, as from the comfortless and unnecessary parsimony of Mr Briggs, she proceeded instantly to St James's Square, convinced that her third guardian, unless exactly resembling one of the others, must inevitably be preferable to both.
A MAN OF FAMILY.
The house of Mr Delvile was grand and spacious, fitted up not with modern taste, but with the magnificence of former times; the servants were all veterans, gorgeous in their liveries, and profoundly respectful in their manners; every thing had an air of state, but of a state so gloomy, that while it inspired awe, it repressed pleasure.
Cecilia sent in her name and was admitted without difficulty, and was then ushered with great pomp through sundry apartments, and rows of servants, before she came into the presence of Mr Delvile.
He received her with an air of haughty affability which, to a spirit open and liberal as that of Cecilia, could not fail being extremely offensive; but too much occupied with the care of his own importance to penetrate into the feelings of another, he attributed the uneasiness which his reception occasioned to the overawing predominance of superior rank and consequence.
He ordered a servant to bring her a chair, while he only half rose from his own upon her entering into the room; then, waving his hand and bowing, with a motion that desired her to be seated, he said, "I am very happy, Miss Beverley, that you have found me alone; you would rarely have had the same good fortune. At this time of day I am generally in a crowd. People of large connections have not much leisure in London, especially if they see a little after their own affairs, and if their estates, like mine, are dispersed in various parts of the kingdom. However, I am glad it happened so. And I am glad, too, that you have done me the favour of calling without waiting till I sent, which I really would have done as soon as I heard of your arrival, but that the multiplicity of my engagements allowed me no respite."
A display of importance so ostentatious made Cecilia already half repent her visit, satisfied that the hope in which she had planned it would be fruitless.
Mr Delvile, still imputing to embarrassment, an inquietude of countenance that proceeded merely from disappointment, imagined her veneration was every moment increasing; and therefore, pitying a timidity which both gratified and softened him, and equally pleased with himself for inspiring, and with her for feeling it, he abated more and more of his greatness, till he became, at length, so infinitely condescending, with intention to give her courage, that he totally depressed her with mortification and chagrin.
After some general inquiries concerning her way of life, he told her that he hoped she was contented with her situation at the Harrels, adding, "If you have any thing to complain of, remember to whom you may appeal." He then asked if she had seen Mr Briggs?
"Yes, sir, I am this moment come from his house."
"I am sorry for it; his house cannot be a proper one for the reception of a young lady. When the Dean made application that I would be one of your guardians, I instantly sent him a refusal, as is my custom upon all such occasions, which indeed occur to me with a frequency extremely importunate: but the Dean was a man for whom I had really a regard, and, therefore, when I found my refusal had affected him, I suffered myself to be prevailed upon to indulge him, contrary not only to my general rule, but to my inclination."
Here he stopt, as if to receive some compliment, but Cecilia, very little disposed to pay him any, went no farther than an inclination of the head.
"I knew not, however," he continued, "at the time I was induced to give my consent, with whom I was to be associated; nor could I have imagined the Dean so little conversant with the distinctions of the world, as to disgrace me with inferior coadjutors: but the moment I learnt the state of the affair, I insisted upon withdrawing both my name and countenance."
Here again he paused; not in expectation of an answer from Cecilia, but merely to give her time to marvel in what manner he had at last been melted.
"The Dean," he resumed, "was then very ill; my displeasure, I believe, hurt him. I was sorry for it; he was a worthy man, and had not meant to offend me; in the end, I accepted his apology, and was even persuaded to accept the office. You have a right, therefore, to consider yourself as personally my ward, and though I do not think proper to mix much with your other guardians, I shall always be ready to serve and advise you, and much pleased to see you."
"You do me honour, sir," said Cecilia, extremely wearied of such graciousness, and rising to be gone.
"Pray sit still," said he, with a smile; "I have not many engagements for this morning. You must give me some account how you pass your time. Are you much out? The Harrels, I am told, live at a great expense. What is their establishment?"
"I don't exactly know, sir."
"They are decent sort of people, I believe; are they not?"
"I hope so, sir!"
"And they have a tolerable acquaintance, I believe: I am told so; for I know nothing of them."
"They have, at least, a very numerous one, sir."
"Well, my dear," said he, taking her hand, "now you have once ventured to come, don't be apprehensive of repeating your visits. I must introduce you to Mrs Delvile; I am sure she will be happy to shew you any kindness. Come, therefore, when you please, and without scruple. I would call upon you myself, but am fearful of being embarrassed by the people with whom you live."
He then rang his bell, and with the same ceremonies which had attended her admittance, she was conducted back to her carriage.
And here died away all hope of putting into execution, during her minority, the plan of which the formation had given her so much pleasure. She found that her present situation, however wide of her wishes, was by no means the most disagreeable in which she could be placed; she was tired, indeed, of dissipation, and shocked at the sight of unfeeling extravagance; but notwithstanding the houses of each of her other guardians were exempt from these particular vices, she saw not any prospect of happiness with either of them; vulgarity seemed leagued with avarice to drive her from the mansion of Mr Briggs, and haughtiness with ostentation to exclude her from that of Mr Delvile.
She came back, therefore, to Portman Square, disappointed in her hopes, and sick both of those whom she quitted and of those to whom she was returning; but in going to her own apartment Mrs Harrel, eagerly stopping her, begged she would come into the drawing-room, where she promised her a most agreeable surprise.
Cecilia, for an instant, imagined that some old acquaintance was just arrived out of the country; but, upon her entrance, she saw only Mr Harrel and some workmen, and found that the agreeable surprise was to proceed from the sight of an elegant Awning, prepared for one of the inner apartments, to be fixed over a long desert-table, which was to be ornamented with various devices of cut glass.
"Did you ever see any thing so beautiful in your life?" cried Mrs Harrel; "and when the table is covered with the coloured ices and those sort of things, it will be as beautiful again. We shall have it ready for Tuesday se'nnight.
"I understood you were engaged to go to the Masquerade ?"
"So we shall; only we intend to see masks at home first."
"I have some thoughts," said Mr Harrel, leading the way to another small room, "of running up a flight of steps and a little light gallery here, and so making a little Orchestra. What would such a thing come to, Mr Tomkins?"
"O, a trifle, sir," answered Mr Tomkins, "a mere nothing."
"Well, then, give orders for it, and let it be done directly. I don't care how slight it is, but pray let it be very elegant. Won't it be a great addition, Miss Beverley?"
"Indeed, sir, I don't think it seems to be very necessary," said Cecilia, who wished much to take that moment for reminding him of the debt he had contracted with Mr Arnott.
"Lord, Miss Beverley is so grave!" cried Mrs Harrel; "nothing of this sort gives her any pleasure."
"She has indeed," answered Cecilia, trying to smile, "not much taste for the pleasure of being always surrounded by workmen."
And, as soon as she was able, she retired to her room, feeling, both on the part of Mr Arnott and the Hills, a resentment at the injustice of Mr Harrel, which fixed her in the resolution of breaking through that facility of compliance, which had hitherto confined her disapprobation to her own breast, and venturing, henceforward, to mark the opinion she entertained of his conduct by consulting nothing but reason and principle in her own.
Her first effort towards this change was made immediately, in begging to be excused from accompanying Mrs Harrel to a large card assembly that evening.
Mrs Harrel, extremely surprised, asked a thousand times the reason of her refusal, imagining it to proceed from some very extraordinary cause; nor was she, without the utmost difficulty, persuaded at last that she merely meant to pass one evening by herself.
But the next day, when the refusal was repeated, she was still more incredulous; it seemed to her impossible that any one who had the power to be encircled with company, could by choice spend a second afternoon alone: and she was so urgent in her request to be entrusted with the secret, that Cecilia found no way left to appease her, but by frankly confessing she was weary of eternal visiting, and sick of living always in a crowd.
"Suppose, then," cried she, "I send for Miss Larolles to come and sit with you?"
Cecilia, not without laughing, declined this proposal, assuring her that no such assistant was necessary for her entertainment: yet it was not till after a long contention that she was able to convince her there would be no cruelty in leaving her by herself.
The following day, however, her trouble diminished; for Mrs Harrel, ceasing to be surprised, thought little more of the matter, and forbore any earnestness of solicitation: and, from that time, she suffered her to follow her own humour with very little opposition. Cecilia was much concerned to find her so unmoved; and not less disappointed at the indifference of Mr Harrel, who, being seldom of the same parties with his lady, and seeing her too rarely either to communicate or hear any domestic occurrences, far from being struck, as she had hoped, with the new way in which she passed her time, was scarce sensible of the change, and interfered not upon the subject.
Sir Robert Floyer, who continued to see her when he dined in Portman Square, often enquired what she did with herself in an evening; but never obtaining any satisfactory answer, he concluded her engagements were with people to whom he was a stranger.
Poor Mr Arnott felt the cruellest disappointment in being deprived of the happiness of attending her in her evening's expeditions, when, whether he conversed with her or not, he was sure of the indulgence of seeing and hearing her.
But the greatest sufferer from this new regulation was Mr Monckton, who, unable any longer to endure the mortifications of which his morning visits to Portman Square had been productive, determined not to trust his temper with such provocations in future, but rather to take his chance of meeting with her elsewhere: for which purpose, he assiduously frequented all public places, and sought acquaintance with every family and every person he believed to be known to the Harrels: but his patience was unrewarded, and his diligence unsuccessful; he met with her no where, and, while he continued his search, fancied every evil power was at work to lead him whither he was sure never to find her.
Meanwhile Cecilia passed her time greatly to her own satisfaction. Her first care was to assist and comfort the Hills. She went herself to their lodgings, ordered and paid for whatever the physician prescribed to the sick man, gave clothes to the children, and money and various necessaries to the wife. She found that the poor carpenter was not likely to languish much longer, and therefore, for the present, only thought of alleviating his sufferings, by procuring him such indulgences as were authorised by his physician, and enabling his family to abate so much of their labour as was requisite for obtaining time to nurse and attend him: but she meant, as soon as the last duties should be paid him, to assist his survivors in attempting to follow some better and more profitable business.
Her next solicitude was to furnish herself with a well-chosen collection of books: and this employment, which to a lover of literature, young and ardent in its pursuit, is perhaps the mind's first luxury, proved a source of entertainment so fertile and delightful that it left her nothing to wish.
She confined not her acquisitions to the limits of her present power, but, as she was laying in a stock for future as well as immediate advantage, she was restrained by no expence from gratifying her taste and her inclination. She had now entered the last year of her minority, and therefore had not any doubt that her guardians would permit her to take up whatever sum she should require for such a purpose.
And thus, in the exercise of charity, the search of knowledge, and the enjoyment of quiet, serenely in innocent philosophy passed the hours of Cecilia.
The first check this tranquillity received was upon the day of the masquerade, the preparations for which have been already mentioned. The whole house was then in commotion from various arrangements and improvements which were planned for almost every apartment that was to be opened for the reception of masks. Cecilia herself, however little pleased with the attendant circumstance of wantonly accumulating unnecessary debts, was not the least animated of the party: she was a stranger to every diversion of this sort, and from the novelty of the scene, hoped for uncommon satisfaction.
At noon Mrs Harrel sent for her to consult upon a new scheme which occurred to Mr Harrel, of fixing in fantastic forms some coloured lamps in the drawing-room.
While they were all discoursing this matter over, one of the servants, who had two or three times whispered some message to Mr Harrel, and then retired, said, in a voice not too low to be heard by Cecilia, "Indeed, Sir, I can't get him away."
"He's an insolent scoundrel," answered Mr Harrel; "however, if I must speak to him, I must;" and went out of the room.
Mrs Harrel still continued to exercise her fancy upon this new project, calling both upon Mr Arnott and Cecilia to admire her taste and contrivance; till they were all interrupted by the loudness of a voice from below stairs, which frequently repeated, "Sir, I can wait no longer! I have been put off till I can be put off no more!"
Startled by this, Mrs Harrel ceased her employment, and they all stood still and silent. They then heard Mr Harrel with much softness answer, "Good Mr Rawlins, have a little patience; I shall receive a large sum of money to-morrow, or next day, and you may then depend upon being paid."
"Sir," cried the man, "you have so often told me the same, that it goes just for nothing: I have had a right to it a long time, and I have a bill to make up that can't be waited for any longer."
"Certainly, Mr Rawlins," replied Mr Harrel, with still increasing gentleness, "and certainly you shall have it: nobody means to dispute your right; I only beg you to wait a day, or two days at furthest, and you may then depend upon being paid. And you shall not be the worse for obliging me; I will never employ any body else, and I shall have occasion for you very soon, as I intend to make some alterations at Violet-Bank that will be very considerable."
"Sir," said the man, still louder, "it is of no use your employing me, if I can never get my money. All my workmen must be paid whether I am or no; and so, if I must needs speak to a lawyer, why there's no help for it."
"Did you ever hear any thing so impertinent?" exclaimed Mrs Harrel; "I am sure Mr Harrel will be very much to blame, if ever he lets that man do any thing more for him."
Just then Mr Harrel appeared, and, with an air of affected unconcern, said, "Here's the most insolent rascal of a mason below stairs I ever met with in my life; he has come upon me, quite unexpectedly, with a bill of 400 pounds, and won't leave the house without the money. Brother Arnott, I wish you would do me the favour to speak to the fellow, for I could not bear to stay with him any longer."
"Do you wish me to give him a draft for the money upon my own banker?"
"That would be vastly obliging," answered Mr Harrel, "and I will give you my note for it directly. And so we shall get rid of this fellow at once: and he shall do nothing more for me as long as he lives. I will run up a new building at Violet-Bank next summer, if only to shew him what a job he has lost."
"Pay the man at once, there's a good brother," cried Mrs Harrel, "and let's hear no more of him."
The two gentlemen then retired to another room, and Mrs Harrel, after praising the extreme good-nature of her brother, of whom she was very fond, and declaring that the mason's impertinence had quite frightened her, again returned to her plan of new decorations.
Cecilia, amazed at this indifference to the state of her husband's affairs, began to think it was her own duty to talk with her upon the subject: and therefore, after a silence so marked that Mrs Harrel enquired into its reason, she said, "Will you pardon me, my dear friend, if I own I am rather surprized to see you continue these preparations?"
"Because any fresh unnecessary expences just now, till Mr Harrel actually receives the money he talks of—"
"Why, my dear, the expence of such a thing as this is nothing; in Mr Harrel's affairs I assure you it will not be at all felt. Besides, he expects money so soon, that it is just the same as if he had it already."
Cecilia, unwilling to be too officious, began then to express her admiration of the goodness and generosity of Mr Arnott; taking frequent occasion, in the course of her praise, to insinuate that those only can be properly liberal, who are just and economical.
She had prepared no masquerade habit for this evening, as Mrs Harrel, by whose direction she was guided, informed her it was not necessary for ladies to be masked at home, and said she should receive her company herself in a dress which she might wear upon any other occasion. Mr Harrel, also, and Mr Arnott made not any alteration in their appearance.
At about eight o'clock the business of the evening began; and before nine, there were so many masks that Cecilia wished she had herself made one of the number, as she was far more conspicuous in being almost the only female in a common dress, than any masquerade habit could have made her. The novelty of the scene, however, joined to the general air of gaiety diffused throughout the company, shortly lessened her embarrassment; and, after being somewhat familiarized to the abruptness with which the masks approached her, and the freedom with which they looked at or addressed her, the first confusion of her situation subsided, and in her curiosity to watch others, she ceased to observe how much she was watched herself.
Her expectations of entertainment were not only fulfilled but surpassed; the variety of dresses, the medley of characters, the quick succession of figures, and the ludicrous mixture of groups, kept her attention unwearied: while the conceited efforts at wit, the total thoughtlessness of consistency, and the ridiculous incongruity of the language with the appearance, were incitements to surprise and diversion without end. Even the local cant of, Do you know me? Who are you? and I know you; with the sly pointing of the finger, the arch nod of the head, and the pert squeak of the voice, though wearisome to those who frequent such assemblies, were, to her unhackneyed observation, additional subjects of amusement.
Soon after nine o'clock, every room was occupied, and the common crowd of regular masqueraders were dispersed through the various apartments. Dominos of no character, and fancy dresses of no meaning, made, as is usual at such meetings, the general herd of the company: for the rest, the men were Spaniards, chimney-sweepers, Turks, watchmen, conjurers, and old women; and the ladies, shepherdesses, orange girls, Circassians, gipseys, haymakers, and sultanas.
Cecilia had, as yet, escaped any address beyond the customary enquiry of Do you know me? and a few passing compliments; but when the rooms filled, and the general crowd gave general courage, she was attacked in a manner more pointed and singular.
The very first mask who approached her seemed to have nothing less in view than preventing the approach of every other: yet had he little reason to hope favour for himself, as the person he represented, of all others least alluring to the view, was the devil! He was black from head to foot, save that two red horns seemed to issue from his forehead; his face was so completely covered that the sight only of his eyes was visible, his feet were cloven, and in his right hand he held a wand the colour of fire.
Waving this wand as he advanced towards Cecilia, he cleared a semi- circular space before her chair, thrice with the most profound reverence bowed to her, thrice. turned himself around with sundry grimaces, and then fiercely planted himself at her side.
Cecilia was amused by his mummery, but felt no great delight in his guardianship, and, after a short time, arose, with intention to walk to another place; but the black gentleman, adroitly moving round her, held out his wand to obstruct her passage, and therefore, preferring captivity to resistance, she was again obliged to seat herself.
An Hotspur, who just then made his appearance, was now strutting boldly towards her; but the devil, rushing furiously forwards, placed himself immediately between them. Hotspur, putting his arms a-kimbo with an air of defiance, gave a loud stamp with his right foot, and then—marched into another room!
The victorious devil ostentatiously waved his wand, and returned to his station.
Mr Arnott, who had never moved two yards from Cecilia, knowing her too well to suppose she received any pleasure from being thus distinguished, modestly advanced to offer his assistance in releasing her from confinement; but the devil, again describing a circle with his wand, gave him three such smart raps on the head that his hair was disordered, and his face covered with powder. A general laugh succeeded, and Mr Arnott, too diffident to brave raillery, or withstand shame, retired in confusion.
The black gentleman seemed now to have all authority in his own hands, and his wand was brandished with more ferocity than ever, no one again venturing to invade the domain he thought fit to appropriate for his own.
At length, however, a Don Quixote appeared, and every mask in the room was eager to point out to him the imprisonment of Cecilia.
This Don Quixote was accoutered with tolerable exactness according to the description of the admirable Cervantes; his armour was rusty, his helmet was a barber's basin, his shield, a pewter dish, and his lance, an old sword fastened to a slim cane. His figure, tall and thin, was well adapted to the character he represented, and his mask, which depictured a lean and haggard face, worn with care, yet fiery with crazy passions, exhibited, with propriety the most striking, the knight of the doleful countenance.
The complaints against the devil with which immediately and from all quarters he was assailed, he heard with the most solemn taciturnity: after which, making a motion for general silence, he stalked majestically towards Cecilia, but stopping short of the limits prescribed by her guard, he kissed his spear in token of allegiance, and then, slowly dropping upon one knee, began the following address:
"Most incomparable Princess!—Thus humbly prostrate at the feet of your divine and ineffable beauty, graciously permit the most pitiful of your servitors, Don Quixote De la Mancha, from your high and tender grace, to salute the fair boards which sustain your corporeal machine."
Then, bending down his head, he kissed the floor; after which, raising himself upon his feet, he proceeded in his speech.
"Report, O most fair and unmatchable virgin! daringly affirmeth that a certain discourteous person, who calleth himself the devil, even now, and in thwart of your fair inclinations, keepeth and detaineth your irradiant frame in hostile thraldom. Suffer then, magnanimous and undescribable lady! that I, the most groveling of your unworthy vassals, do sift the fair truth out of this foul sieve, and obsequiously bending to your divine attractions, conjure your highness veritably to inform me, if that honourable chair which haply supports your terrestrial perfections, containeth the inimitable burthen with the free and legal consent of your celestial spirit?"
Here he ceased: and Cecilia, who laughed at this characteristic address, though she had not courage to answer it, again made an effort to quit her place, but again by the wand of her black persecutor was prevented.
This little incident was answer sufficient for the valorous knight, who indignantly exclaimed,
"Sublime Lady!—I beseech but of your exquisite mercy to refrain mouldering the clay composition of my unworthy body to impalpable dust, by the refulgence of those bright stars vulgarly called eyes, till I have lawfully wreaked my vengeance upon this unobliging caitiff, for his most disloyal obstruction of your highness's adorable pleasure."
Then, bowing low, he turned from her, and thus addressed his intended antagonist:
"Uncourtly Miscreant,—The black garment which envellopeth thy most unpleasant person, seemeth even of the most ravishing whiteness, in compare of the black bile which floateth within thy sable interior. Behold, then, my gauntlet! yet ere I deign to be the instrument of thy extirpation, O thou most mean and ignoble enemy! that the honour of Don Quixote De la Mancha may not be sullied by thy extinction, I do here confer upon thee the honour of knighthood, dubbing thee, by my own sword, Don Devil, knight of the horrible physiognomy."
He then attempted to strike his shoulder with his spear, but the black gentleman, adroitly eluding the blow, defended himself with his wand: a mock fight ensued, conducted on both sides with admirable dexterity; but Cecilia, less eager to view it than to become again a free agent, made her escape into another apartment; while the rest of the ladies, though they almost all screamed, jumped upon chairs and sofas to peep at the combat.
In conclusion, the wand of the knight of the horrible physiognomy was broken against the shield of the knight of the doleful countenance; upon which Don Quixote called out victoria! the whole room echoed the sound; the unfortunate new knight retired abruptly into another apartment, and the conquering Don, seizing the fragments of the weapon of his vanquished enemy went out in search of the lady for whose releasement he had fought: and the moment he found her, prostrating both himself and the trophies at her feet, he again pressed the floor with his lips, and then, slowly arising, repeated his reverences with added formality, and, without waiting her acknowledgments, gravely retired.
The moment he departed a Minerva, not stately nor austere, not marching in warlike majesty, but gay and airy,
"Tripping on light fantastic toe,"
ran up to Cecilia, and squeaked out, "Do you know me?"
"Not," answered she, instantly recollecting Miss Larolles, "by your appearance, I own! but by your voice, I think I can guess you."
"I was monstrous sorry," returned the goddess, without understanding this distinction, "that I was not at home when you called upon me. Pray, how do you like my dress? I assure you I think it's the prettiest here. But do you know there's the most shocking thing in the world happened in the next room! I really believe there's a common chimney-sweeper got in! I assure you it's enough to frighten one to death, for every time he moves the soot smells so you can't think; quite real soot, I assure you! only conceive how nasty! I declare I wish with all my heart it would suffocate him!"
Here she was interrupted by the re-appearance of Don Devil; who, looking around him, and perceiving that his antagonist was gone, again advanced to Cecilia: not, however, with the authority of his first approach, for with his wand he had lost much of his power; but to recompense himself for this disgrace, he had recourse to another method equally effectual for keeping his prey to himself, for he began a growling, so dismal and disagreeable, that while many of the ladies, and, among the first, the Goddess of Wisdom and Courage, ran away to avoid him, the men all stood aloof to watch what next was to follow.
Cecilia now became seriously uneasy; for she was made an object of general attention, yet could neither speak nor be spoken to. She could suggest no motive for behaviour so whimsical, though she imagined the only person who could have the assurance to practise it was Sir Robert Floyer.
After some time spent thus disagreeably, a white domino, who for a few minutes had been a very attentive spectator, suddenly came forward, and exclaiming, "I'll cross him though he blast me!" rushed upon the fiend, and grasping one of his horns, called out to a Harlequin who stood near him, "Harlequin! do you fear to fight the devil?"
"Not I truly!" answered Harlequin, whose voice immediately betrayed young Morrice, and who, issuing from the crowd, whirled himself round before the black gentleman with yet more agility than he had himself done before Cecilia, giving him, from time to time, many smart blows on his shoulders, head, and back, with his wooden sword.
The rage of Don Devil at this attack seemed somewhat beyond what a masquerade character rendered necessary; he foamed at the mouth with resentment, and defended himself with so much vehemence, that he soon drove poor Harlequin into another room: but, when he would have returned to his prey, the genius of pantomime, curbed, but not subdued, at the instigation of the white domino, returned to the charge, and by a perpetual rotation of attack and retreat, kept him in constant employment, pursuing him from room to room, and teazing him without cessation or mercy.
Mean time Cecilia, delighted at being released, hurried into a corner, where she hoped to breathe and look on in quiet; and the white domino having exhorted Harlequin to torment the tormentor, and keep him at bay, followed her with congratulations upon her recovered freedom.
"It is you," answered she, "I ought to thank for it, which indeed I do most heartily. I was so tired of confinement, that my mind seemed almost as little at liberty as my person."
"Your persecutor, I presume," said the domino, "is known to you."
"I hope so," answered she, "because there is one man I suspect, and I should be sorry to find there was another equally disagreeable."
"O, depend upon it," cried he, "there are many who would be happy to confine you in the same manner; neither have you much cause for complaint; you have, doubtless, been the aggressor, and played this game yourself without mercy, for I read in your face the captivity of thousands: have you, then, any right to be offended at the spirit of retaliation which one, out of such numbers has courage to exert in return?"
"I protest," cried Cecilia, "I took you for my defender! whence is it you are become my accuser?"
"From seeing the danger to which my incautious knight-errantry has exposed me; I begin, indeed, to take you for a very mischievous sort of person, and I fear the poor devil from whom I rescued you will be amply revenged for his disgrace, by finding that the first use you make of your freedom is to doom your deliverer to bondage."
Here they were disturbed by the extreme loquacity of two opposite parties: and listening attentively, they heard from one side, "My angel! fairest of creatures! goddess of my heart!" uttered in accents of rapture; while from the other, the vociferation was so violent they could distinctly hear nothing.
The white domino satisfied his curiosity by going to both parties; and then, returning to Cecilia, said, "Can you conjecture who was making those soft speeches? a Shylock! his knife all the while in his hand, and his design, doubtless, to cut as near the heart as possible! while the loud cackling from the other side is owing to the riotous merriment of a noisy Mentor! when next I hear a disturbance, I shall expect to see some simpering Pythagoras stunned by his talkative disciples."
"To own the truth," said Cecilia, "the almost universal neglect of the characters assumed by these masquers has been the chief source of my entertainment this evening: for at a place of this sort, the next best thing to a character well supported is a character ridiculously burlesqued."
"You cannot, then, have wanted amusement," returned the domino, "for among all the persons assembled in these apartments, I have seen only three who have seemed conscious that any change but that of dress was necessary to disguise them."
"And pray who are those?"
"A Don Quixote, a schoolmaster, and your friend the devil."
"O, call him not my friend," exclaimed Cecilia, "for indeed in or out of that garb he is particularly my aversion."
"My friend, then, I will call him," said the domino, "for so, were he ten devils, I must think him, since I owe to him the honour of conversing with you. And, after all, to give him his due, to which, you know, he is even proverbially entitled, he has shewn such abilities in the performance of his part, so much skill in the display of malice, and so much perseverance in the art of tormenting, that I cannot but respect his ingenuity and capacity. And, indeed, if instead of an evil genius, he had represented a guardian angel, he could not have shewn a more refined taste in his choice of an object to hover about."
Just then they were approached by a young haymaker, to whom the white domino called out, "You look as gay and as brisk as if fresh from the hay-field after only half a day's work. Pray, how is it you pretty lasses find employment for the winter"
"How?" cried she, pertly, "why, the same as for the summer!" And pleased with her own readiness at repartee, without feeling the ignorance it betrayed, she tript lightly on.
Immediately after the schoolmaster mentioned by the white domino advanced to Cecilia. His dress was merely a long wrapping gown of green stuff, a pair of red slippers, and a woollen night-cap of the same colour; while, as the symbol of his profession, he held a rod in his hand.
"Ah, fair lady," he cried, "how soothing were it to the austerity of my life, how softening to the rigidity of my manners, might I— without a breaking out of bounds, which I ought to be the first to discourage, and a "confusion to all order" for which the school-boy should himself chastise his master—be permitted to cast at your feet this emblem of my authority! and to forget, in the softness of your conversation, all the roughness of discipline!"
"No, no," cried Cecilia, "I will not be answerable for such corruption of taste!"
"This repulse," answered he, "is just what I feared; for alas! under what pretence could a poor miserable country pedagogue presume to approach you? Should I examine you in the dead languages, would not your living accents charm from me all power of reproof? Could I look at you, and hear a false concord? Should I doom you to water-gruel as a dunce, would not my subsequent remorse make me want it myself as a madman? Were your fair hand spread out to me for correction, should I help applying my lips to it, instead of my rat-tan? If I ordered you to be called up, should I ever remember to have you sent back? And if I commanded you to stand in a corner, how should I forbear following you thither myself?"
Cecilia, who had no difficulty in knowing this pretended schoolmaster for Mr Gosport, was readily beginning to propose conditions for according him her favour, when their ears were assailed by a forced phthisical cough, which they found proceeded from an apparent old woman, who was a young man in disguise, and whose hobbling gait, grunting voice, and most grievous asthmatic complaints, seemed greatly enjoyed and applauded by the company.
"How true is it, yet how inconsistent," cried the white domino, "that while we all desire to live long, we have all a horror of being old! The figure now passing is not meant to ridicule any particular person, nor to stigmatize any particular absurdity; its sole view is to expose to contempt and derision the general and natural infirmities of age! and the design is not more disgusting than impolitic; for why, while so carefully we guard from all approaches of death, should we close the only avenues to happiness in long life, respect and tenderness?"
Cecilia, delighted both by the understanding and humanity of her new acquaintance, and pleased at being joined by Mr Gosport, was beginning to be perfectly satisfied with her situation, when, creeping softly towards her, she again perceived the black gentleman.
"Ah!" cried she, with some vexation, "here comes my old tormentor! screen me from him if possible, or he will again make me his prisoner."
"Fear not," cried the white domino, "he is an evil spirit, and we will surely lay him. If one spell fails, we must try another."
Cecilia then perceiving Mr Arnott, begged he would also assist in barricading her from the fiend who so obstinately pursued her.
Mr Arnott most gratefully acceded to the proposal; and the white domino, who acted as commanding officer, assigned to each his station: he desired Cecilia would keep quietly to her seat, appointed the schoolmaster to be her guard on the left, took possession himself of the opposite post, and ordered Mr Arnott to stand centinel in front.
This arrangement being settled, the guards of the right and left wings instantly secured their places; but while Mr Arnott was considering whether it were better to face the besieged or the enemy, the arch-foe rushed suddenly before him, and laid himself down at the feet of Cecilia!
Mr Arnott, extremely disconcerted, began a serious expostulation upon the ill-breeding of this behaviour; but the devil, resting all excuse upon supporting his character, only answered by growling.
The white domino seemed to hesitate for a moment in what manner to conduct himself, and with a quickness that marked his chagrin, said to Cecilia, "You told me you knew him,—has he any right to follow you?"
"If he thinks he has," answered she, a little alarmed by his question, "this is no time to dispute it."
And then, to avoid any hazard of altercation, she discreetly forbore making further complaints, preferring any persecution to seriously remonstrating with a man of so much insolence as the Baronet.
The schoolmaster, laughing at the whole transaction, only said, "And pray, madam, after playing the devil with all mankind, what right have you to complain that one man plays the devil with you?"
"We shall, at least, fortify you," said the white domino, "from any other assailant: no three-headed Cerberus could protect you more effectually: but you will not, therefore, fancy yourself in the lower regions, for, if I mistake not, the torment of three guardians is nothing new to you."
"And how," said Cecilia, surprised, "should you know of my three guardians? I hope I am not quite encompassed with evil spirits!"
"No," answered he; "you will find me as inoffensive as the hue of the domino I wear;——and would I could add as insensible!"
"This black gentleman," said the schoolmaster, "who, and very innocently, I was going to call your black-guard, has as noble and fiend-like a disposition as I remember to have seen; for without even attempting to take any diversion himself, he seems gratified to his heart's content in excluding from it the lady he serves."
"He does me an honour I could well dispense with," said Cecilia; "but I hope he has some secret satisfaction in his situation which pays him for its apparent inconvenience."
Here the black gentleman half-raised himself, and attempted to take her hand. She started, and with much displeasure drew it back. He then growled, and again sank prostrate.
"This is a fiend," said the schoolmaster, "who to himself sayeth, Budge not! let his conscience never so often say budge! Well, fair lady, your fortifications, however, may now be deemed impregnable, since I, with a flourish of my rod, can keep off the young by recollection of the past, and since the fiend, with a jut of his foot, may keep off the old from dread of the future!"
Here a Turk, richly habited and resplendent with jewels, stalked towards Cecilia, and, having regarded her some time, called out, "I have been looking hard about me the whole evening, and, faith, I have seen nothing handsome before!"
The moment he opened his mouth, his voice, to her utter astonishment, betrayed Sir Robert Floyer! "Mercy on me," cried she aloud, and pointing to the fiend, "who, then, can this possibly be?"
"Do you not know?" cried the white domino.
"I thought I had known with certainty," answered she, "but I now find I was mistaken."
"He is a happy man," said the schoolmaster, sarcastically looking at the Turk, "who has removed your suspicions only by appearing in another character!"
"Why, what the deuce, then," exclaimed the Turk, "have you taken that black dog there for me?"
Before this question could be answered, an offensive smell of soot, making everybody look around the room, the chimney-sweeper already mentioned by Miss Larolles was perceived to enter it. Every way he moved a passage was cleared for him, as the company, with general disgust, retreated wherever he advanced.
He was short, and seemed somewhat incommoded by his dress; he held his soot-bag over one arm, and his shovel under the other. As soon as he espied Cecilia, whose situation was such as to prevent her eluding him, he hooted aloud, and came stumping up to her; "Ah ha," he cried, "found at last;" then, throwing down his shovel, he opened the mouth of his bag, and pointing waggishly to her head, said, "Come, shall I pop you?—a good place for naughty girls; in, I say, poke in!—cram you up the chimney."
And then he put forth his sooty hands to reach her cap.
Cecilia, though she instantly knew the dialect of her guardian Mr Briggs, was not therefore the more willing to be so handled, and started back to save herself from his touch; the white domino also came forward, and spread out his arms as a defence to her, while the devil, who was still before her, again began to growl.
"Ah ha!" cried the chimney-sweeper, laughing, "so did not know me? Poor duck! won't hurt you; don't be frightened; nothing but old guardian; all a joke!" And then, patting her cheek with his dirty hand, and nodding at her with much kindness, "Pretty dove," he added, "be of good heart! shan't be meddled with; come to see after you. Heard of your tricks; thought I'd catch you!—come o' purpose. —Poor duck! did not know me! ha! ha!—good joke enough!"
"What do you mean, you dirty dog," cried the Turk, "by touching that lady?"
"Won't tell!" answered he; "not your business. Got a good right. Who cares for pearls? Nothing but French beads." Pointing with a sneer to his turban. Then, again addressing Cecilia, "Fine doings!" he continued, "Here's a place! never saw the like before! turn a man's noddle!—All goings out; no comings in; wax candles in every room; servants thick as mushrooms! And where's the cash? Who's to pay the piper? Come to more than a guinea; warrant Master Harrel thinks that nothing!"
"A guinea?" contemptuously repeated the Turk, "and what do you suppose a guinea will do?"
"What? Why, keep a whole family handsome a week;—never spend so much myself; no, nor half neither."
"Why then, how the devil do you live? Do you beg?"
"Beg? Who should I beg of? You?—Got anything to give? Are warm?"
"Take the trouble to speak more respectfully, sir!" said the Turk, haughtily; "I see you are some low fellow, and I shall not put up with your impudence."
"Shall, shall! I say!" answered the chimneysweeper, sturdily; "Hark'ee, my duck," chucking Cecilia under the chin, "don't be cajoled, nick that spark! never mind gold trappings; none of his own; all a take-in; hired for eighteenpence; not worth a groat. Never set your heart on a fine outside, nothing within. Bristol stones won't buy stock: only wants to chouse you."
"What do you mean by that, you little old scrub!" cried the imperious Turk; "would you provoke me to soil my fingers by pulling that beastly snub nose?" For Mr Briggs had saved himself any actual mask, by merely blacking his face with soot.
"Beastly snub nose!" sputtered out the chimneysweeper in much wrath, "good nose enough; don't want a better; good as another man's. Where's the harm on't?"
"How could this blackguard get in?" cried the Turk, "I believe he's a mere common chimneysweeper out of the streets, for he's all over dirt and filth. I never saw such a dress at a masquerade before in my life."
"All the better," returned the other; "would not change. What do think it cost?"
"Cost? Why, not a crown."
"A crown? ha! ha!—a pot o' beer! Little Tom borrowed it; had it of our own sweep. Said 'twas for himself. I bid him a pint; rascal would not take less."
"Did your late uncle," said the white domino in a low voice to Cecilia, "chuse for two of your guardians Mr Harrel and Mr Briggs, to give you an early lesson upon the opposite errors of profusion and meanness?"
"My uncle?" cried Cecilia, starting, "were you acquainted with my uncle?"
"No," said he, "for my happiness I knew him not."
"You would have owed no loss of happiness to an acquaintance with him," said Cecilia, very seriously, "for he was one who dispensed to his friends nothing but good."
"Perhaps so," said the domino; "but I fear I should have found the good he dispensed through his niece not quite unmixed with evil!"
"What's here?" cried the chimney-sweeper, stumbling over the fiend, "what's this black thing? Don't like it; looks like the devil. You shan't stay with it; carry you away; take care of you myself."
He then offered Cecilia his hand; but the black gentleman, raising himself upon his knees before her, paid her, in dumb shew, the humblest devoirs, yet prevented her from removing.
"Ah ha!" cried the chimney-sweeper, significantly nodding his head, "smell a rat! a sweetheart in disguise. No bamboozling! it won't do; a'n't so soon put upon. If you've got any thing to say, tell me, that's the way. Where's the cash? Got ever a rental? Are warm? That's the point; are warm?"
The fiend, without returning any answer, continued his homage to Cecilia; at which the enraged chimney-sweeper exclaimed, "Come, come with me! won't be imposed upon; an old fox,—understand trap!"
He then again held out his hand, but Cecilia, pointing to the fiend, answered, "How can I come, sir?"
"Shew you the way," cried he, "shovel him off." And taking his shovel, he very roughly set about removing him.
The fiend then began a yell so horrid, that it disturbed the whole company; but the chimney-sweeper, only saying, "Aye, aye, blacky, growl away, blacky,—makes no odds," sturdily continued his work, and, as the fiend had no chance of resisting so coarse an antagonist without a serious struggle, he was presently compelled to change his ground.
"Warm work!" cried the victorious chimney-sweeper, taking off his wig, and wiping his head with the sleeves of his dress, "pure warm work this!"
Cecilia, once again freed from her persecutor, instantly quitted her place, almost equally desirous to escape the haughty Turk, who was peculiarly her aversion, and the facetious chimney-sweeper, whose vicinity, either on account of his dress or his conversation, was by no means desirable. She was not, however, displeased that the white domino and the schoolmaster still continued to attend her.
"Pray, look," said the white domino, as they entered another apartment, "at that figure of Hope; is there any in the room half so expressive of despondency?"
"The reason, however," answered the schoolmaster, "is obvious; that light and beautiful silver anchor upon which she reclines presents an occasion irresistible for an attitude of elegant dejection; and the assumed character is always given up where an opportunity offers to display any beauty, or manifest any perfection in the dear proper person!"
"But why," said Cecilia, "should she assume the character of Hope? Could she not have been equally dejected and equally elegant as Niobe, or some tragedy queen?"
"But she does not assume the character," answered the schoolmaster, "she does not even think of it: the dress is her object, and that alone fills up all her ideas. Enquire of almost any body in the room concerning the persons they seem to represent, and you will find their ignorance more gross than you can imagine; they have not once thought upon the subject; accident, or convenience, or caprice has alone directed their choice."
A tall and elegant youth now approached them, whose laurels and harp announced Apollo. The white domino immediately enquired of him if the noise and turbulence of the company had any chance of being stilled into silence and rapture by the divine music of the inspired god?
"No," answered he, pointing to the room in which was erected the new gallery, and whence, as he spoke, issued the sound of a hautboy, "there is a flute playing there already."
"O for a Midas," cried the white domino, "to return to this leather- eared god the disgrace he received from him!"
They now proceeded to the apartment which had been lately fitted up for refreshments, and which was so full of company that they entered it with difficulty. And here they were again joined by Minerva, who, taking Cecilia's hand, said, "Lord, how glad I am you've got away from that frightful black mask! I can't conceive who he is; nobody can find out; it's monstrous odd, but he has not spoke a word all night, and he makes such a shocking noise when people touch him, that I assure you it's enough to put one in a fright."
"And pray," cried the schoolmaster, disguising his voice, "how camest thou to take the helmet of Minerva for a fool's cap?"
"Lord, I have not," cried she, innocently, "why, the whole dress is Minerva's; don't you see?"
"My dear child," answered he, "thou couldst as well with that little figure pass for a Goliath, as with that little wit for a Pallas."
Their attention was now drawn from the goddess of wisdom to a mad Edgar, who so vehemently ran about the room calling out "Poor Tom's a cold!" that, in a short time, he was obliged to take off his mask, from an effect, not very delicate, of the heat!
Soon after, a gentleman desiring some lemonade whose toga spoke the consular dignity, though his broken English betrayed a native of France, the schoolmaster followed him, and, with reverence the most profound, began to address him in Latin; but, turning quick towards him, he gaily said, "Monsieur, j'ai l'honneur de representer Ciceron, le grand Ciceron, pere de sa patrie! mais quoique j'ai cet honneur-la, je ne suit pas pedant!—mon dieu, Monsieur, je ne parle que le Francois dans la bonne compagnie!" And, politely bowing, he went on.
Just then Cecilia, while looking about the room for Mrs Harrel, found herself suddenly pinched by the cheek, and hastily turning round, perceived again her friend the chimney-sweeper, who, laughing, cried, "Only me! don't be frightened. Have something to tell you;—had no luck!—got never a husband yet! can't find one! looked all over, too; sharp as a needle. Not one to be had! all catched up!"
"I am glad to hear it, sir," said Cecilia, somewhat vexed by observing the white domino attentively listening; "and I hope, therefore, you will give yourself no farther trouble."
"Pretty duck!" cried he, chucking her under the chin; "never mind, don't be cast down; get one at last. Leave it to me. Nothing under a plum; won't take up with less. Good-by, ducky, good-by! must go home now,—begin to be nodding."
And then, repeating his kind caresses, he walked away.
"Do you think, then," said the white domino, "more highly of Mr Briggs for discernment and taste than of any body?"
"I hope not!" answered she, "for low indeed should I then think of the rest of the world!"
"The commission with which he is charged," returned the domino, "has then misled me; I imagined discernment and taste might be necessary ingredients for making such a choice as your approbation would sanctify: but perhaps his skill in guarding against any fraud or deduction in the stipulation he mentioned, may be all that is requisite for the execution of his trust."
"I understand very well," said Cecilia, a little hurt, "the severity of your meaning; and if Mr Briggs had any commission but of his own suggestion, it would fill me with shame and confusion; but as that is not the case, those at least are sensations which it cannot give me."
"My meaning," cried the domino, with some earnestness, "should I express it seriously, would but prove to you the respect and admiration with which you have inspired me, and if indeed, as Mr Briggs hinted, such a prize is to be purchased by riches, I know not, from what I have seen of its merit, any sum I should think adequate to its value."
"You are determined, I see," said Cecilia, smiling, "to make most liberal amends for your asperity."
A loud clack of tongues now interrupted their discourse; and the domino, at the desire of Cecilia, for whom he had procured a seat, went forward to enquire what was the matter. But scarce had he given up his place a moment, before, to her great mortification, it was occupied by the fiend.
Again, but with the same determined silence he had hitherto preserved, he made signs of obedience and homage, and her perplexity to conjecture who he could be, or what were his motives for this persecution, became the more urgent as they seemed the less likely to be satisfied. But the fiend, who was no other than Mr Monckton, had every instant less and less encouragement to make himself known: his plan had in nothing succeeded, and his provocation at its failure had caused him the bitterest disappointment; he had intended, in the character of a tormentor, not only to pursue and hover around her himself, but he had also hoped, in the same character, to have kept at a distance all other admirers: but the violence with which he had over-acted his part, by raising her disgust and the indignation of the company, rendered his views wholly abortive while the consciousness of an extravagance for which, if discovered, he could assign no reason not liable to excite suspicions of his secret motives, reduced him to guarding a painful and most irksome silence the whole evening. And Cecilia, to whose unsuspicious mind the idea of Mr Monckton had never occurred, added continually to the cruelty of his situation, by an undisguised abhorrence of his assiduity, as well as by a manifest preference to the attendance of the white domino. All, therefore, that his disappointed scheme now left in his power, was to watch her motions, listen to her discourse, and inflict occasionally upon others some part of the chagrin with which he was tormented himself.
While they were in this situation, Harlequin, in consequence of being ridiculed by the Turk for want of agility, offered to jump over the new desert table, and desired to have a little space cleared to give room for his motions. It was in vain the people who distributed the refreshments, and who were placed at the other side of the table, expostulated upon the danger of the experiment; Morrice had a rage of enterprise untameable, and, therefore, first taking a run, he attempted the leap.
The consequence was such as might naturally be expected; he could not accomplish his purpose, but, finding himself falling, imprudently caught hold of the lately erected Awning, and pulled it entirely upon his own head, and with it the new contrived lights, which, in various forms, were fixed to it, and which all came down together.
The mischief and confusion occasioned by this exploit were very alarming, and almost dangerous; those who were near the table suffered most by the crush, but splinters of the glass flew yet further; and as the room, which was small, had been only lighted up by lamps hanging from the Awning, it was now in total darkness, except close to the door, which was still illuminated from the adjoining apartments.
The clamour of Harlequin, who was covered with glass, papier-machee, lamps and oil, the screams of the ladies, the universal buz of tongues, and the struggle between the frighted crowd which was enclosed to get out, and the curious crowd from the other apartments to get in, occasioned a disturbance and tumult equally noisy and confused. But the most serious sufferer was the unfortunate fiend, who, being nearer the table than Cecilia, was so pressed upon by the numbers which poured from it, that he found a separation unavoidable, and was unable, from the darkness and the throng, to discover whether she was still in the same place, or had made her escape into another.
She had, however, encountered the white domino, and, under his protection, was safely conveyed to a further part of the room. Her intention and desire were to quit it immediately, but at the remonstrance of her conductor, she consented to remain some time longer. "The conflict at the door," said he, "will quite overpower you. Stay here but a few minutes, and both parties will have struggled themselves tired, and you may then go without difficulty. Meantime, can you not, by this faint light, suppose me one of your guardians, Mr Briggs, for example, or, if he is too old for me, Mr Harrel, and entrust yourself to my care?"
"You seem wonderfully well acquainted with my guardians," said Cecilia; "I cannot imagine how you have had your intelligence."
"Nor can I," answered the domino, "imagine how Mr Briggs became so particularly your favourite as to be entrusted with powers to dispose of you."
"You are mistaken indeed; he is entrusted with no powers but such as his own fancy has suggested."
"But how has Mr Delvile offended you, that with him only you seem to have no commerce or communication?"
"Mr Delvile!" repeated Cecilia, still more surprised, "are you also acquainted with Mr Delvile?"
"He is certainly a man of fashion," continued the domino, "and he is also a man of honour; surely, then, he would be more pleasant for confidence and consultation than one whose only notion of happiness is money, whose only idea of excellence is avarice, and whose only conception of sense is distrust!" Here a violent outcry again interrupted their conversation; but not till Cecilia had satisfied her doubts concerning the white domino, by conjecturing he was Mr Belfield, who might easily, at the house of Mr Monckton, have gathered the little circumstances of her situation to which he alluded, and whose size and figure exactly resembled those of her new acquaintance.
The author of the former disturbance was now the occasion of the present: the fiend, having vainly traversed the room in search of Cecilia, stumbled accidentally upon Harlequin, before he was freed from the relicks of his own mischief; and unable to resist the temptation of opportunity and the impulse of revenge, he gave vent to the wrath so often excited by the blunders, forwardness, and tricks of Morrice, and inflicted upon him, with his own wooden sword, which he seized for that purpose, a chastisement the most serious and severe.
Poor Harlequin, unable to imagine any reason for this violent attack, and already cut with the glass, and bruised with the fall, spared not his lungs in making known his disapprobation of such treatment: but the fiend, regardless either of his complaints or his resistance, forbore not to belabour him till compelled by the entrance of people with lights. And then, after artfully playing sundry antics under pretence of still supporting his character, with a motion too sudden for prevention, and too rapid for pursuit, he escaped out of the room, and hurrying down stairs, threw himself into an hackney chair, which conveyed him to a place where he privately changed his dress before he returned home, bitterly repenting the experiment he had made, and conscious too late that, had he appeared in a character he might have avowed, he could, without impropriety, have attended Cecilia the whole evening. But such is deservedly the frequent fate of cunning, which, while it plots surprise and detection of others, commonly overshoots its mark, and ends in its own disgrace.
The introduction of the lights now making manifest the confusion which the frolic of Harlequin had occasioned, he was seized with such a dread of the resentment of Mr Harrel, that, forgetting blows, bruises, and wounds, not one of which were so frightful to him as reproof, he made the last exhibition of his agility by an abrupt and hasty retreat.
He had, however, no reason for apprehension, since, in every thing that regarded expence, Mr Harrel had no feeling, and his lady had no thought.
The rooms now began to empty very fast, but among the few masks yet remaining, Cecilia again perceived Don Quixote; and while, in conjunction with the white domino, she was allowing him the praise of having supported his character with more uniform propriety than any other person in the assembly, she observed him taking off his mask for the convenience of drinking some lemonade, and, looking in his face, found he was no other than Mr Belfield! Much astonished, and more than ever perplexed, she again turned to the white domino, who, seeing in her countenance a surprise of which he knew not the reason, said, half-laughing, "You think, perhaps, I shall never be gone? And indeed I am almost of the same opinion; but what can I do? Instead of growing weary by the length of my stay, my reluctance to shorten it increases with its duration; and all the methods I take, whether by speaking to you or looking at you, with a view to be satiated, only double my eagerness for looking and listening again! I must go, however; and if I am happy, I may perhaps meet with you again,—though, if I am wise, I shall never seek you more!"
And then, with the last stragglers that reluctantly disappeared, he made his exit, leaving Cecilia greatly pleased with his conversation and his manners, but extremely perplexed to account for his knowledge of her affairs and situation.
The schoolmaster had already been gone some time.
She was now earnestly pressed by the Harrels and Sir Robert, who still remained, to send to a warehouse for a dress, and accompany them to the Pantheon; but though she was not without some inclination to comply, in the hope of further prolonging the entertainment of an evening from which she had received much pleasure, she disliked the attendance of the Baronet, and felt averse to grant any request that he could make, and therefore she begged they would excuse her; and having waited to see their dresses, which were very superb, she retired to her own apartment.
A great variety of conjecture upon all that had passed, now, and till the moment that she sunk to rest, occupied her mind; the extraordinary persecution of the fiend excited at once her curiosity and amazement, while the knowledge of her affairs shown by the white domino surprised her not less, and interested her more.
The next morning, during breakfast, Cecilia was informed that a gentleman desired to speak with her. She begged permission of Mrs Harrel to have him asked upstairs, and was not a little surprized when he proved to be the same old gentleman whose singular exclamations had so much struck her at Mr Monckton's, and at the rehearsal of Artaserse.
Abruptly and with a stern aspect advancing to her, "You are rich," he cried; "are you therefore worthless?"
"I hope not," answered she, in some consternation; while Mrs Harrel, believing his intention was to rob them, ran precipitately to the bell, which she rang without ceasing till two or three servants hastened into the room; by which time, being less alarmed, she only made signs to them to stay, and stood quietly herself to wait what would follow.
The old man, without attending to her, continued his dialogue with Cecilia.
"Know you then," he said, "a blameless use of riches? such a use as not only in the broad glare of day shall shine resplendent, but in the darkness of midnight, and stillness of repose, shall give you reflections unembittered, and slumbers unbroken? tell me, know you this use?"
"Not so well, perhaps," answered she, "as I ought; but I am very willing to learn better."
"Begin, then, while yet youth and inexperience, new to the callousness of power and affluence, leave something good to work upon: yesterday you saw the extravagance of luxury and folly; to-day look deeper, and see, and learn to pity, the misery of disease and penury."
He then put into her hand a paper which contained a most affecting account of the misery to which a poor and wretched family had been reduced, by sickness and various other misfortunes.
Cecilia, "open as day to melting charity," having hastily perused it, took out her purse, and offering to him three guineas, said, "You must direct me, sir, what to give if this is insufficient."
"Hast thou so much heart?" cried he, with emotion, "and has fortune, though it has cursed thee with the temptation of prosperity, not yet rooted from thy mind its native benevolence? I return in part thy liberal contribution; this," taking one guinea, "doubles my expectations; I will not, by making thy charity distress thee, accelerate the fatal hour of hardness and degeneracy."
He was then going; but Cecilia, following him, said "No, take it all! Who should assist the poor if I will not? Rich, without connections; powerful, without wants; upon whom have they any claim if not upon me?"
"True," cried he, receiving the rest, "and wise as true. Give, therefore, whilst yet thou hast the heart to give, and make, in thy days of innocence and kindness, some interest with Heaven and the poor!"
And then he disappeared.
"Why, my dear, cried Mrs Harrel, "what could induce you to give the man so much money? Don't you see he is crazy? I dare say he would have been just as well contented with sixpence."
"I know not what he is," said Cecilia, "but his manners are not more singular than his sentiments are affecting; and if he is actuated by charity to raise subscriptions for the indigent, he can surely apply to no one who ought so readily to contribute as myself."
Mr Harrel then came in, and his lady most eagerly told him the transaction.
"Scandalous!" he exclaimed; "why, this is no better than being a housebreaker! Pray give orders never to admit him again. Three guineas! I never heard so impudent a thing in my life! Indeed, Miss Beverley, you must be more discreet in future, you will else be ruined before you know where you are."
"Thus it is," said Cecilia, half smiling, "that we can all lecture one another! to-day you recommend economy to me; yesterday I with difficulty forbore recommending it to you."
"Nay," answered he, "that was quite another matter; expence incurred in the common way of a man's living is quite another thing to an extortion of this sort."
"It is another thing indeed," said she, "but I know not that it is therefore a better."
Mr Harrel made no answer: and Cecilia, privately moralizing upon the different estimates of expence and economy made by the dissipated and the charitable, soon retired to her own apartment, determined firmly to adhere to her lately adopted plan, and hoping, by the assistance of her new and very singular monitor, to extend her practice of doing good, by enlarging her knowledge of distress.
Objects are, however, never wanting for the exercise of benevolence; report soon published her liberality, and those who wished to believe it, failed not to enquire into its truth. She was soon at the head of a little band of pensioners, and, never satisfied with the generosity of her donations, found in a very short time that the common allowance of her guardians was scarce adequate to the calls of her munificence.
And thus, in acts of goodness and charity, passed undisturbed another week of the life of Cecilia: but when the fervour of self- approbation lost its novelty, the pleasure with which her new plan was begun first subsided into tranquillity, and then sunk into languor. To a heart formed for friendship and affection the charms of solitude are very short-lived; and though she had sickened of the turbulence of perpetual company, she now wearied of passing all her time by herself, and sighed for the comfort of society and the relief of communication. But she saw with astonishment the difficulty with which this was to be obtained: the endless succession of diversions, the continual rotation of assemblies, the numerousness of splendid engagements, of which, while every one complained, every one was proud to boast, so effectually impeded private meetings and friendly intercourse, that, whichever way she turned herself, all commerce seemed impracticable, but such as either led to dissipation, or accidentally flowed from it.
Yet, finding the error into which her ardour of reformation had hurried her, and that a rigid seclusion from company was productive of a lassitude as little favourable to active virtue as dissipation itself, she resolved to soften her plan, and by mingling amusement with benevolence, to try, at least, to approach that golden mean, which, like the philosopher's stone, always eludes our grasp, yet always invites our wishes.
For this purpose she desired to attend Mrs Harrel to the next Opera that should be represented.
The following Saturday, therefore, she accompanied that lady and Mrs Mears to the Haymarket, escorted by Mr Arnott.
They were very late; the Opera was begun, and even in the lobby the crowd was so great that their passage was obstructed. Here they were presently accosted by Miss Larolles, who, running up to Cecilia and taking her hand, said, "Lord, you can't conceive how glad I am to see you! why, my dear creature, where have you hid yourself these twenty ages? You are quite in luck in coming to-night, I assure you; it's the best Opera we have had this season: there's such a monstrous crowd there's no stirring. We shan't get in this half hour. The coffee-room is quite full; only come and see; is it not delightful?"
This intimation was sufficient for Mrs Harrel, whose love of the Opera was merely a love of company, fashion, and shew; and therefore to the coffee-room she readily led the way.
And here Cecilia found rather the appearance of a brilliant assembly of ladies and gentlemen, collected merely to see and to entertain one another, than of distinct and casual parties, mixing solely from necessity, and waiting only for room to enter a theatre.
The first person that addressed them was Captain Aresby, who, with his usual delicate languishment, smiled upon Cecilia, and softly whispering, "How divinely you look to-night!" proceeded to pay his compliments to some other ladies.
"Do, pray, now," cried Miss Larolles, "observe Mr Meadows! only just see where he has fixed himself! in the very best place in the room, and keeping the fire from every body! I do assure you that's always his way, and it's monstrous provoking, for if one's ever so cold, he lollops so, that one's quite starved. But you must know there's another thing he does that is quite as bad, for if he gets a seat, he never offers to move, if he sees one sinking with fatigue. And besides, if one is waiting for one's carriage two hours together, he makes it a rule never to stir a step to see for it. Only think how monstrous!"
"These are heavy complaints, indeed," said Cecilia, looking at him attentively; "I should have expected from his appearance a very different account of his gallantry, for he seems dressed with more studied elegance than anybody here."
"O yes," cried Miss Larolles, "he is the sweetest dresser in the world; he has the most delightful taste you can conceive, nobody has half so good a fancy. I assure you it's a great thing to be spoke to by him: we are all of us quite angry when he won't take any notice of us."
"Is your anger," said Cecilia, laughing, "in honour of himself or of his coat?"
"Why, Lord, don't you know all this time that he is an ennuye?
"I know, at least," answered Cecilia, "that he would soon make one of me."
"O, but one is never affronted with an ennuye, if he is ever so provoking, because one always knows what it means."
"Is he agreeable?"
"Why, to tell you the truth,—but pray now, don't mention it,—I think him most excessive disagreeable! He yawns in one's face every time one looks at him. I assure you sometimes I expect to see him fall fast asleep while I am talking to him, for he is so immensely absent he don't hear one half that one says; only conceive how horrid!"
"But why, then, do you encourage him? why do you take any notice of him?"
"O, every body does, I assure you, else I would not for the world; but he is so courted you have no idea. However, of all things let me advise you never to dance with him; I did once myself, and I declare I was quite distressed to death the whole time, for he was taken with such a fit of absence he knew nothing he was about, sometimes skipping and jumping with all the violence in the world, just as if he only danced for exercise, and sometimes standing quite still, or lolling against the wainscoat and gaping, and taking no more notice of me than if he had never seen me in his life!"
The Captain now, again advancing to Cecilia, said, "So you would not do us the honour to try the masquerade at the Pantheon? however, I hear you had a very brilliant spectacle at Mr Harrel's. I was quite au desespoir that I could not get there. I did mon possible, but it was quite beyond me."
"We should have been very happy," said Mrs Harrel, "to have seen you; I assure you we had some excellent masks."
"So I have heard partout, and I am reduced to despair that I could not have the honour of sliding in. But I was accable with affairs all day. Nothing could be so mortifying."
Cecilia now, growing very impatient to hear the Opera, begged to know if they might not make a trial to get into the pit?
"I fear," said the Captain, smiling as they passed him, without offering any assistance, "you will find it extreme petrifying; for my part, I confess I am not upon the principle of crowding."
The ladies, however, accompanied by Mr Arnott, made the attempt, and soon found, according to the custom of report, that the difficulty, for the pleasure of talking of it, had been considerably exaggerated. They were separated, indeed, but their accommodation was tolerably good.
Cecilia was much vexed to find the first act of the Opera almost over; but she was soon still more dissatisfied when she discovered that she had no chance of hearing the little which remained: the place she had happened to find vacant was next to a party of young ladies, who were so earnestly engaged in their own discourse, that they listened not to a note of the Opera, and so infinitely diverted with their own witticisms, that their tittering and loquacity allowed no one in their vicinity to hear better than themselves. Cecilia tried in vain to confine her attention to the singers; she was distant from the stage, and to them she was near, and her fruitless attempts all ended in chagrin and impatience.
At length she resolved to make an effort for entertainment in another way, and since the expectations which brought her to the Opera were destroyed, to try by listening to her fair neighbours, whether those who occasioned her disappointment could make her any amends.
For this purpose she turned to them wholly; yet was at first in no little perplexity to understand what was going forward, since so universal was the eagerness for talking, and so insurmountable the antipathy to listening, that every one seemed to have her wishes bounded by a continual utterance of words, without waiting for any answer, or scarce even desiring to be heard.
But when, somewhat more used to their dialect and manner, she began better to comprehend their discourse, wretchedly indeed did it supply to her the loss of the Opera. She heard nothing but descriptions of trimmings, and complaints of hair-dressers, hints of conquest that teemed with vanity, and histories of engagements which were inflated with exultation.
At the end of the act, by the crowding forward of the gentlemen to see the dance, Mrs Harrel had an opportunity of making room for her by herself, and she had then some reason to expect hearing the rest of the Opera in peace, for the company before her, consisting entirely of young men, seemed, even during the dance, fearful of speaking, lest their attention should be drawn for a moment from the stage.
But to her infinite surprize, no sooner was the second act begun, than their attention ended! they turned from the performers to each other, and entered into a whispering but gay conversation, which, though not loud enough to disturb the audience in general, kept in the ears of their neighbours a buzzing which interrupted all pleasure from the representation. Of this effect of their gaiety it seemed uncertain whether they were conscious, but very evident that they were totally careless.
The desperate resource which she had tried during the first act, of seeking entertainment from the very conversation which prevented her enjoying it, was not now even in her power: for these gentlemen, though as negligent as the young ladies had been whom they disturbed, were much more cautious whom they instructed: their language was ambiguous, and their terms, to Cecilia, were unintelligible: their subjects, indeed, required some discretion, being nothing less than a ludicrous calculation of the age and duration of jointured widows, and of the chances and expectations of unmarried young ladies.
But what more even than their talking provoked her, was finding that the moment the act was over, when she cared not if their vociferation had been incessant, one of them called out, "Come, be quiet, the dance is begun;" and then they were again all silent attention!
In the third act, however, she was more fortunate; the gentlemen again changed their places, and they were succeeded by others who came to the Opera not to hear themselves but the performers: and as soon as she was permitted to listen, the voice of Pacchierotti took from her all desire to hear any thing but itself.
During the last dance she was discovered by Sir Robert Floyer, who, sauntering down fop's alley, stationed himself by her side, and whenever the figurante relieved the principal dancers, turned his eyes from the stage to her face, as better worth his notice, and equally destined for his amusement.
Mr Monckton, too, who for some time had seen and watched her, now approached; he had observed with much satisfaction that her whole mind had been intent upon the performance, yet still the familiarity of Sir Robert Floyer's admiration disturbed and perplexed him; he determined, therefore, to make an effort to satisfy his doubts by examining into his intentions: and, taking him apart, before the dance was quite over, "Well," he said, "who is so handsome here as Harrel's ward?"
"Yes," answered he, calmly, "she is handsome, but I don't like her expression."
"No? why, what is the fault of it?"
"Proud, cursed proud. It is not the sort of woman I like. If one says a civil thing to her, she only wishes one at the devil for one's pains."
"O, you have tried her, then, have you? why, you are not, in general, much given to say civil things."
"Yes, you know, I said something of that sort to her once about Juliet, at the rehearsal. Was not you by?"
"What, then, was that all? and did you imagine one compliment would do your business with her?"
"O, hang it, who ever dreams of complimenting the women now? that's all at an end."
"You won't find she thinks so, though; for, as you well say, her pride is insufferable, and I, who have long known her, can assure you it does not diminish upon intimacy."
"Perhaps not,—but there's very pretty picking in 3000 pounds per annum! one would not think much of a little encumbrance upon such an estate."
"Are you quite sure the estate is so considerable? Report is mightily given to magnify."
"O, I have pretty good intelligence: though, after all, I don't know but I may be off; she'll take a confounded deal of time and trouble."
Monckton, too much a man of interest and of the world to cherish that delicacy which covets universal admiration for the object of its fondness, then artfully enlarged upon the obstacles he already apprehended, and insinuated such others as he believed would be most likely to intimidate him. But his subtlety was lost upon the impenetrable Baronet, who possessed that hard insensibility which obstinately pursues its own course, deaf to what is said, and indifferent to what is thought.
Meanwhile the ladies were now making way to the coffee-room, though very slowly on account of the crowd; and just as they got near the lobby, Cecilia perceived Mr Belfield, who, immediately making himself known to her, was offering his service to hand her out of the pit, when Sir Robert Floyer, not seeing or not heeding him, pressed forward, and said, "Will you let me have the honour, Miss Beverley, of taking care of you?"
Cecilia, to whom he grew daily more disagreeable, coldly declined his assistance, while she readily accepted that which had first been offered her by Mr Belfield.
The haughty Baronet, extremely nettled, forced his way on, and rudely stalking up to Mr Belfield, motioned with his hand for room to pass him, and said, "Make way, sir!"
"Make way for me, Sir!" cried Belfield, opposing him with one hand, while with the other he held Cecilia.
"You, Sir? and who are you, Sir?" demanded the Baronet, disdainfully.
"Of that, Sir, I shall give you an account whenever you please," answered Belfield, with equal scorn.
"What the devil do you mean, Sir?"
"Nothing very difficult to be understood," replied Belfield, and attempted to draw on Cecilia, who, much alarmed, was shrinking back.
Sir Robert then, swelling with rage, reproachfully turned to her, and said, "Will you suffer such an impertinent fellow as that, Miss Beverley, to have the honour of taking your hand?"
Belfield, with great indignation, demanded what he meant by the term impertinent fellow; and Sir Robert yet more insolently repeated it: Cecilia, extremely shocked, earnestly besought them both to be quiet; but Belfield, at the repetition of this insult, hastily let go her hand and put his own upon his sword, whilst Sir Robert, taking advantage of his situation in being a step higher than his antagonist, fiercely pushed him back, and descended into the lobby.
Belfield, enraged beyond endurance, instantly drew his sword, and Sir Robert was preparing to follow his example, when Cecilia, in an agony of fright, called out, "Good Heaven! will nobody interfere?" And then a young man, forcing his way through the crowd, exclaimed, "For shame, for shame, gentlemen! is this a place for such violence?"
Belfield, endeavouring to recover himself, put up his sword, and, though in a voice half choaked with passion, said, "I thank you, Sir! I was off my guard. I beg pardon of the whole company."
Then, walking up to Sir Robert, he put into his hand a card with his name and direction, saying, "With you, Sir, I shall be happy to settle what apologies are necessary at your first leisure;" and hurried away.
Sir Robert, exclaiming aloud that he should soon teach him to whom he had been so impertinent, was immediately going to follow him, when the affrighted Cecilia again called out aloud, "Oh, stop him!— good God! will nobody stop him!"
The rapidity with which this angry scene had passed had filled her with amazement, and the evident resentment of the Baronet upon her refusing his assistance, gave her an immediate consciousness that she was herself the real cause of the quarrel; while the manner in which he was preparing to follow Mr Belfield convinced her of the desperate scene which was likely to succeed; fear, therefore, overcoming every other feeling, forced from her this exclamation before she knew what she said.
The moment she had spoken, the young man who had already interposed again rushed forward, and seizing Sir Robert by the arm, warmly remonstrated against the violence of his proceedings, and being presently seconded by other gentlemen, almost compelled him to give up his design.
Then, hastening to Cecilia, "Be not alarmed, madam," he cried, "all is over, and every body is safe."
Cecilia, finding herself thus addressed by a gentleman she had never before seen, felt extremely ashamed of having rendered her interest in the debate so apparent; she courtsied to him in some confusion, and taking hold of Mrs Harrel's arm, hurried her back into the pit, in order to quit a crowd, of which she now found herself the principal object.
Curiosity, however, was universally excited, and her retreat served but to inflame it: some of the ladies, and most of the gentlemen, upon various pretences, returned into the pit merely to look at her, and in a few minutes the report was current that the young lady who had been the occasion of the quarrel, was dying with love for Sir Robert Floyer.
Mr Monckton, who had kept by her side during the whole affair, felt thunderstruck by the emotion she had shewn; Mr Arnott too, who had never quitted her, wished himself exposed to the same danger as Sir Robert, so that he might be honoured with the same concern: but they were both too much the dupes of their own apprehensions and jealousy, to perceive that what they instantly imputed to fondness, proceeded simply from general humanity, accidentally united with the consciousness of being accessary to the quarrel.
The young stranger who had officiated as mediator between the disputants, in a few moments followed her with a glass of water, which he had brought from the coffee-room, begging her to drink it and compose herself.
Cecilia, though she declined his civility with more vexation than gratitude, perceived, as she raised her eyes to thank him, that her new friend was a young man very strikingly elegant in his address and appearance.
Miss Larolles next, who, with her party, came back into the pit, ran up to Cecilia, crying, "O my dear creature, what a monstrous shocking thing! You've no Idea how I am frightened; do you know I happened to be quite at the further end of the coffee-room when it began, and I could not get out to see what was the matter for ten ages; only conceive what a situation!"
"Would your fright, then, have been less," said Cecilia, "had you been nearer the danger?"
"O Lord no, for when I came within sight I was fifty times worse! I gave such a monstrous scream, that it quite made Mr Meadows start. I dare say he'll tell me of it these hundred years: but really when I saw them draw their swords I thought I should have died; I was so amazingly surprized you've no notion."
Here she was interrupted by the re-appearance of the active stranger, who again advancing to Cecilia, said, "I am in doubt whether the efforts I make to revive will please or irritate you, but though you rejected the last cordial I ventured to present you, perhaps you will look with a more favourable eye towards that of which I am now the herald."
Cecilia then, casting her eyes around, saw that he was followed by Sir Robert Floyer. Full of displeasure both at this introduction and at his presence, she turned hastily to Mr Arnott, and entreated him to enquire if the carriage was not yet ready.
Sir Robert, looking at her with all the exultation of new-raised vanity, said, with more softness than he had ever before addressed her, "Have you been frightened?"
"Every body, I believe was frightened," answered Cecilia, with an air of dignity intended to check his rising expectations.
"There was no sort of cause," answered he; "the fellow did not know whom he spoke [to], that was all."
"Lord, Sir Robert," cried Miss Larolles, "how could you be so shocking as to draw your sword? you can't conceive how horrid it looked."
"Why I did not draw my sword," cried he, "I only had my hand on the hilt."
"Lord, did not you, indeed! well, every body said you did, and I'm sure I thought I saw five-and-twenty swords all at once. I thought one of you would be killed every moment. It was horrid disagreeable, I assure you."
Sir Robert was now called away by some gentlemen; and Mr Monckton, earnest to be better informed of Cecilia's real sentiments, said, with affected concern, "At present this matter is merely ridiculous; I am sorry to think in how short a time it may become more important."
"Surely," cried Cecilia with quickness, "some of their friends will interfere! surely upon so trifling a subject they will not be so mad, so inexcusable, as to proceed to more serious resentment!"
"Whichever of them," said the stranger, "is most honoured by this anxiety, will be mad indeed to risk a life so valued!"
"Cannot you, Mr Monckton," continued Cecilia, too much alarmed to regard this insinuation, "speak with Mr Belfield? You are acquainted with him, I know; is it impossible you can follow him?"
"I will with pleasure do whatever you wish; but still if Sir Robert—"
"O, as to Sir Robert, Mr Harrel, I am very sure, will undertake him; I will try to see him to-night myself, and entreat him to exert all his influence."
"Ah, madam," cried the stranger, archly, and lowering his voice, "those French beads and Bristol stones have not, I find, shone in vain!"
At these words Cecilia recognised her white domino acquaintance at the masquerade; she had before recollected his voice, but was too much perturbed to consider where or when she had heard it.
"If Mr Briggs," continued he, "does not speedily come forth with his plum friend, before the glittering of swords and spears is joined to that of jewels, the glare will be so resplendent, that he will fear to come within the influence of its rays. Though, perhaps, he may only think the stronger the light, the better he shall see to count his guineas: for as
'—-in ten thousand pounds Ten thousand charms are centred,'
in an hundred thousand, the charms may have such magic power, that he may defy the united efforts of tinsel and knight-errantry to deliver you from the golden spell."
Here the Captain, advancing to Cecilia, said, "I have been looking for you in vain partout, but the crowd has been so accablant I was almost reduced to despair. Give me leave to hope you are now recovered from the horreur of this little fracas?"
Mr Arnott then brought intelligence that the carriage was ready. Cecilia, glad to be gone, instantly hastened to it; and, as she was conducted by Mr Monckton, most earnestly entreated him to take an active part, in endeavouring to prevent the fatal consequences with which the quarrel seemed likely to terminate.
A FASHIONABLE FRIEND.
As soon as they returned home, Cecilia begged Mrs Harrel not to lose a moment before she tried to acquaint Mr Harrel with the state of the affair. But that lady was too helpless to know in what manner to set about it; she could not tell where he was, she could not conjecture where he might be.
Cecilia then rang for his own man, and upon enquiry, heard that he was, in all probability, at Brookes's in St James's-Street.
She then begged Mrs Harrel would write to him.
Mrs Harrel knew not what to say.
Cecilia therefore, equally quick in forming and executing her designs, wrote to him herself, and entreated that without losing an instant he would find out his friend Sir Robert Floyer, and endeavour to effect an accommodation between him and Mr Belfield, with whom he had had a dispute at the Opera-house.
The man soon returned with an answer that Mr Harrel would not fail to obey her commands.
She determined to sit up till he came home in order to learn the event of the negociation. She considered herself as the efficient cause of the quarrel, yet scarce knew how or in what to blame herself; the behaviour of Sir Robert had always been offensive to her; she disliked his manners, and detested his boldness; and she had already shewn her intention to accept the assistance of Mr Belfield before he had followed her with an offer of his own. She was uncertain, indeed, whether he had remarked what had passed, but she had reason to think that, so circumstanced, to have changed her purpose, would have been construed into an encouragement that might have authorised his future presumption of her favour. All she could find to regret with regard to herself, was wanting the presence of mind to have refused the civilities of both.
Mrs Harrel, though really sorry at the state of the affair, regarded herself as so entirely unconcerned in it, that, easily wearied when out of company, she soon grew sleepy, and retired to her own room.