The anxious Cecilia, hoping every instant the return of Mr Harrel, sat up by herself: but it was not till near four o'clock in the morning that he made his appearance.
"Well, sir," cried she, the moment she saw him, "I fear by your coming home so late you have had much trouble, but I hope it has been successful?"
Great, however, was her mortification when he answered that he had not even seen the Baronet, having been engaged himself in so particular a manner, that he could not possibly break from his party till past three o'clock, at which time he drove to the house of Sir Robert, but heard that he was not yet come home.
Cecilia, though much disgusted by such a specimen of insensibility towards a man whom he pretended to call his friend, would not leave him till he had promised to arise as soon as it was light, and make an effort to recover the time lost.
She was now no longer surprised either at the debts of Mr Harrel, or at his particular occasions for money. She was convinced he spent half the night in gaming, and the consequences, however dreadful, were but natural. That Sir Robert Floyer also did the same was a matter of much less importance to her, but that the life of any man should through her means be endangered, disturbed her inexpressibly.
She went, however, to bed, but arose again at six o'clock, and dressed herself by candle light. In an hour's time she sent to enquire if Mr Harrel was stirring, and hearing he was asleep, gave orders to have him called. Yet he did not rise till eight o'clock, nor could all her messages or expostulations drive him out of the house till nine.
He was scarcely gone before Mr Monckton arrived, who now for the first time had the satisfaction of finding her alone.
"You are very good for coming so early," cried she; "have you seen Mr Belfield? Have you had any conversation with him?"
Alarmed at her eagerness, and still more at seeing by her looks the sleepless night she had passed, he made at first no reply; and when, with increasing impatience, she repeated her question, he only said, "Has Belfield ever visited you since he had the honour of meeting you at my house?"
"Have you seen him often in public?"
"No, I have never seen him at all but the evening Mrs Harrel received masks, and last night at the Opera."
"Is it, then, for the safety of Sir Robert you are so extremely anxious?"
"It is for the safety of both; the cause of their quarrel was so trifling, that I cannot bear to think its consequence should be serious."
"But do you not wish better to one of them than to the other?"
"As a matter of justice I do, but not from any partiality: Sir Robert was undoubtedly the aggressor, and Mr Belfield, though at first too fiery, was certainly ill-used."
The candour of this speech recovered Mr Monckton from his apprehensions; and, carefully observing her looks while he spoke, he gave her the following account.
That he had hastened to Belfield's lodgings the moment he left the Opera-house, and, after repeated denials, absolutely forced himself into his room, where he was quite alone, and in much agitation: he conversed with him for more than an hour upon the subject of the quarrel, but found he so warmly resented the personal insult given him by Sir Robert, that no remonstrance had any effect in making him alter his resolution of demanding satisfaction.
"And could you bring him to consent to no compromise before you left him?" cried Cecilia.
"No; for before I got to him—the challenge had been sent."
"The challenge! good heaven!—and do you know the event?"
"I called again this morning at his lodgings, but he was not returned home."
"And was it impossible to follow him? Were there no means to discover whither he was gone?"
"None; to elude all pursuit, he went out before any body in the house was stirring, and took his servant with him."
"Have you, then, been to Sir Robert?"
"I have been to Cavendish-Square, but there, it seems, he has not appeared all night; I traced him, through his servants, from the Opera to a gaminghouse, where I found he had amused himself till this morning."
The uneasiness of Cecilia now encreased every moment; and Mr Monckton, seeing he had no other chance of satisfying her, offered his service to go again in search of both the gentlemen, and endeavour to bring her better information. She accepted the proposal with gratitude, and he departed.
Soon after she was joined by Mr Arnott, who, though seized with all the horrors of jealousy at sight of her apprehensions, was so desirous to relieve them, that without even making any merit of obliging her, he almost instantly set out upon the same errand that employed Mr Monckton, and determined not to mention his design till he found whether it would enable him to bring her good tidings.
He was scarce gone when she was told that Mr Delvile begged to have the honour of speaking to her. Surprised at this condescension, she desired he might immediately be admitted; but much was her surprise augmented, when, instead of seeing her ostentatious guardian, she again beheld her masquerade friend, the white domino.
He entreated her pardon for an intrusion neither authorised by acquaintance nor by business, though somewhat, he hoped, palliated, by his near connection with one who was privileged to take an interest in her affairs: and then, hastening to the motives which had occasioned his visit, "when I had the honour," he said, "of seeing you last night at the Opera-house, the dispute which had just happened between two gentlemen, seemed to give you an uneasiness which could not but be painful to all who observed it, and as among that number I was not the least moved, you will forgive, I hope, my eagerness to be the first to bring you intelligence that nothing fatal has happened, or is likely to happen."
"You do me, sir," said Cecilia, "much honour; and indeed you relieve me from a suspense extremely disagreeable. The accommodation, I suppose, was brought about this morning?"
"I find," answered he, smiling, "you now expect too much; but hope is never so elastic as when it springs from the ruins of terror."
"What then is the matter? Are they at last, not safe?"
"Yes, perfectly safe; but I cannot tell you they have never been in danger."
"Well, if it is now over I am contented: but you will very much oblige me, sir, if you will inform me what has passed."
"You oblige me, madam, by the honour of your commands. I saw but too much reason to apprehend that measures the most violent would follow the affray of last night; yet as I found that the quarrel had been accidental, and the offence unpremeditated, I thought it not absolutely impossible that an expeditious mediation might effect a compromise: at least it was worth trying; for though wrath slowly kindled or long nourished is sullen and intractable, the sudden anger that has not had time to impress the mind with a deep sense of injury, will, when gently managed, be sometimes appeased with the same quickness it is excited: I hoped, therefore, that some trifling concession from Sir Robert, as the aggressor,—"
"Ah sir!" cried Cecilia, "that, I fear, was not to be obtained!"
"Not by me, I must own," he answered; "but I was not willing to think of the difficulty, and therefore ventured to make the proposal: nor did I leave the Opera-house till I had used every possible argument to persuade Sir Robert an apology would neither stain his courage nor his reputation. But his spirit brooked not the humiliation."
"Spirit!" cried Cecilia, "how mild a word! What, then, could poor Mr Belfield resolve upon?"
"That, I believe, took him very little time to decide. I discovered, by means of a gentleman at the Opera who was acquainted with him, where he lived, and I waited upon him with an intention to offer my services towards settling the affair by arbitration: for since you call him poor Mr Belfield, I think you will permit me, without offence to his antagonist, to own that his gallantry, though too impetuous for commendation, engaged me in his interest."
"I hope you don't think," cried Cecilia, "that an offence to his antagonist must necessarily be an offence to me?"
"Whatever I may have thought," answered he, looking at her with evident surprise, "I certainly did not wish that a sympathy offensive and defensive had been concluded between you. I could not, however, gain access to Mr Belfield last night, but the affair dwelt upon my mind, and this morning I called at his lodging as soon as it was light."
"How good you have been!" cried Cecilia; "your kind offices have not, I hope, all proved ineffectual!"
"So valorous a Don Quixote," returned he, laughing, "certainly merited a faithful Esquire! He was, however, gone out, and nobody knew whither. About half an hour ago I called upon him again; he was then just returned home."
"I saw him; the affair was over; and in a short time he will be able, if you will allow him so much honour, to thank you for these enquiries."
"He is then wounded?"
"He is a little hurt, but Sir Robert is perfectly safe. Belfield fired first, and missed; the Baronet was not so successless."
"I am grieved to hear it, indeed! And where is the wound?"
"The ball entered his right side, and the moment he felt it, he fired his second pistol in the air. This I heard from his servant. He was brought home carefully and slowly; no surgeon had been upon the spot, but one was called to him immediately. I stayed to enquire his opinion after the wound had been dressed: he told me he had extracted the ball, and assured me Mr Belfield was not in any danger. Your alarm, madam, last night, which had always been present to me, then encouraged me to take the liberty of waiting upon you; for I concluded you could yet have had no certain intelligence, and thought it best to let the plain and simple fact out-run the probable exaggeration of rumour."
Cecilia thanked him for his attention, and Mrs Harrel then making her appearance, he arose and said, "Had my father known the honour I have had this morning of waiting upon Miss Beverley, I am sure I should have been charged with his compliments, and such a commission would somewhat have lessened the presumption of this visit; but I feared lest while I should be making interest for my credentials, the pretence of my embassy might be lost, and other couriers, less scrupulous, might obtain previous audiences, and anticipate my dispatches."
He then took his leave.
"This white domino, at last then," said Cecilia, "is the son of Mr Delvile! and thence the knowledge of my situation which gave me so much surprise:—a son how infinitely unlike his father!"
"Yes," said Mrs Harrel, "and as unlike his mother too, for I assure you she is more proud and haughty even than the old gentleman. I hate the very sight of her, for she keeps every body in such awe that there's nothing but restraint in her presence. But the son is a very pretty young man, and much admired; though I have only seen him in public, for none of the family visit here."
Mr Monckton, who now soon returned, was not a little surprised to find that all the intelligence he meant to communicate was already known: and not the more pleased to hear that the white domino, to whom before he owed no good-will, had thus officiously preceded him.
Mr Arnott, who also came just after him, had been so little satisfied with the result of his enquiries, that from the fear of encreasing Cecilia's uneasiness, he determined not to make known whither he had been; but he soon found his forbearance was of no avail, as she was already acquainted with the duel and its consequences. Yet his unremitting desire to oblige her urged him twice in the course of the same day to again call at Mr Belfield's lodgings, in order to bring her thence fresh and unsolicited intelligence.
Before breakfast was quite over, Miss Larolles, out of breath with eagerness, came to tell the news of the duel, in her way to church, as it was Sunday morning! and soon after Mrs Mears, who also was followed by other ladies, brought the same account, which by all was addressed to Cecilia, with expressions of concern that convinced her, to her infinite vexation, she was generally regarded as the person chiefly interested in the accident.
Mr Harrel did not return till late, but then seemed in very high spirits: "Miss Beverley," he cried, "I bring you news that will repay all your fright; Sir Robert is not only safe, but is come off conqueror."
"I am very sorry, Sir," answered Cecilia, extremely provoked to be thus congratulated, "that any body conquered, or any body was vanquished."
"There is no need for sorrow," cried Mr Harrel, "or for any thing but joy, for he has not killed his man; the victory, therefore, will neither cost him a flight nor a trial. To-day he means to wait upon you, and lay his laurels at your feet."
"He means, then, to take very fruitless trouble," said Cecilia, "for I have not any ambition to be so honoured."
"Ah, Miss Beverley," returned he, laughing, "this won't do now! it might have passed a little while ago, but it won't do now, I promise you!"
Cecilia, though much displeased by this accusation, found that disclaiming it only excited further raillery, and therefore prevailed upon herself to give him a quiet hearing, and scarce any reply.
At dinner, when Sir Robert arrived, the dislike she had originally taken to him, encreased already into disgust by his behaviour the preceding evening, was now fixed into the strongest aversion by the horror she conceived of his fierceness, and the indignation she felt excited by his arrogance. He seemed, from the success of this duel, to think himself raised to the highest pinnacle of human glory; triumph sat exulting on his brow; he looked down on whoever he deigned to look at all, and shewed that he thought his notice an honour, however imperious the manner in which it was accorded.
Upon Cecilia, however, he cast an eye of more complacency; he now believed her subdued, and his vanity revelled in the belief: her anxiety had so thoroughly satisfied him of her love, that she had hardly the power left to undeceive him; her silence he only attributed to admiration, her coldness to fear, and her reserve to shame.
Sickened by insolence so undisguised and unauthorised, and incensed at the triumph of his successful brutality, Cecilia with pain kept her seat, and with vexation reflected upon the necessity she was under of passing so large a portion of her time in company to which she was so extremely averse.
After dinner, when Mrs Harrel was talking of her party for the evening, of which Cecilia declined making one, Sir Robert, with a sort of proud humility, that half feared rejection, and half proclaimed an indifference to meeting it, said, "I don't much care for going further myself, if Miss Beverley will give me the honour of taking my tea with her."
Cecilia, regarding him with much surprise, answered that she had letters to write into the country, which would confine her to her own room for the rest of the evening. The Baronet, looking at his watch, instantly cried, "Faith, that is very fortunate, for I have just recollected an engagement at the other end of the town which had slipt my memory."
Soon after they were all gone, Cecilia received a note from Mrs Delvile, begging the favour of her company the next morning to breakfast. She readily accepted the invitation, though she was by no means prepared, by the character she had heard of her, to expect much pleasure from an acquaintance with that lady.
A FAMILY PARTY.
Cecilia the next morning, between nine and ten o'clock, went to St James'-Square; she found nobody immediately ready to receive her, but in a short time was waited upon by Mr Delvile.
After the usual salutations, "Miss Beverley," he said, "I have given express orders to my people, that I may not be interrupted while I have the pleasure of passing some minutes in conversation with you before you are presented to Mrs Delvile."
And then, with an air of solemnity, he led her to a seat, and having himself taken possession of another, continued his speech.
"I have received information, from authority which I cannot doubt, that the indiscretion of certain of your admirers last Saturday at the Opera-house occasioned a disturbance which to a young woman of delicacy I should imagine must be very alarming: now as I consider myself concerned in your fame and welfare from regarding you as my ward, I think it is incumbent upon me to make enquiries into such of your affairs as become public; for I should feel in some measure disgraced myself, should it appear to the world, while you are under my guardianship, that there was any want of propriety in the direction of your conduct."
Cecilia, not much flattered by this address, gravely answered that she fancied the affair had been misrepresented to him.
"I am not much addicted," he replied, "to give ear to any thing lightly; you must therefore permit me to enquire into the merits of the cause, and then to draw my own inferences. And let me, at the same time, assure you there is no other young lady who has any right to expect such an attention from me. I must begin by begging you to inform me upon what grounds the two gentlemen in question, for such, by courtesy, I presume they are called, thought themselves entitled publicly to dispute your favour?"
"My favour, Sir!" cried Cecilia, much amazed.
"My dear," said he, with a complacency meant to give her courage, "I know the question is difficult for a young lady to answer; but be not abashed, I should be sorry to distress you, and mean to the utmost of my power to save your blushes. Do not, therefore, fear me; consider me as your guardian, and assure yourself I am perfectly well disposed to consider you as my ward. Acquaint me, then, freely, what are the pretensions of these gentlemen?"
"To me, Sir, they have, I believe, no pretensions at all."
"I see you are shy," returned he, with encreasing gentleness, "I see you cannot be easy with me; and when I consider how little you are accustomed to me, I do not wonder. But pray take courage; I think it necessary to inform myself of your affairs, and therefore I beg you will speak to me with freedom."
Cecilia, more and more mortified by this humiliating condescension, again assured him he had been misinformed, and was again, though discredited, praised for her modesty, when, to her great relief, they were interrupted by the entrance of her friend the white domino.
"Mortimer," said Mr Delvile, "I understand you have already had the pleasure of seeing this young lady?"
"Yes, Sir," he answered, "I have more than once had that happiness, but I have never had the honour of being introduced to her."
"Miss Beverley, then," said the father, "I must present to you Mr Mortimer Delvile, my son; and, Mortimer, in Miss Beverley I desire you will remember that you respect a ward of your father's."
"I will not, Sir," answered he, "forget an injunction my own inclinations had already out-run."
Mortimer Delvile was tall and finely formed, his features, though not handsome, were full of expression, and a noble openness of manners and address spoke the elegance of his education, and the liberality of his mind.
When this introduction was over, a more general conversation took place, till Mr Delvile, suddenly rising, said to Cecilia, "You will pardon me, Miss Beverley, if I leave you for a few minutes; one of my tenants sets out to-morrow morning for my estate in the North, and he has been two hours waiting to speak with me. But if my son is not particularly engaged, I am sure he will be so good as to do the honours of the house till his mother is ready to receive you."
And then, graciously waving his hand, he quitted the room.
"My father," cried young Delvile, "has left me an office which, could I execute it as perfectly as I shall willingly, would be performed without a fault."
"I am very sorry," said Cecilia, "that I have so much mistaken your hour of breakfast; but let me not be any restraint upon you, I shall find a book, or a newspaper, or something to fill up the time till Mrs Delvile honours me with a summons."
"You can only be a restraint upon me," answered he, "by commanding me from your presence. I breakfasted long ago, and am now just come from Mr Belfield. I had the pleasure, this morning, of being admitted into his room."
"And how, Sir, did you find him?"
"Not so well, I fear, as he thinks himself; but he was in high spirits, and surrounded by his friends, whom he was entertaining with all the gaiety of a man in full health, and entirely at his ease; though I perceived, by the frequent changes of his countenance, signs of pain and indisposition, that made me, however pleased with his conversation, think it necessary to shorten my own visit, and to hint to those who were near me the propriety of leaving him quiet."
"Did you see his surgeon, Sir?"
"No; but he told me he should only have one dressing more of his wound, and then get rid of the whole business by running into the country."
"Were you acquainted with him, Sir, before this accident?"
"No, not at all; but the little I have seen of him has strongly interested me in his favour: at Mr Harrel's masquerade, where I first met with him, I was extremely entertained by his humour,— though there, perhaps, as I had also the honour of first seeing Miss Beverley, I might be too happy to feel much difficulty in being pleased. And even at the Opera he had the advantage of finding me in the same favourable disposition, as I had long distinguished you before I had taken any notice of him. I must, however, confess I did not think his anger that evening quite without provocation,—but I beg your pardon, I may perhaps be mistaken, and you, who know the whole affair, must undoubtedly be better able to account for what happened."
Here he fixed his eyes upon Cecilia, with a look of curiosity that seemed eager to penetrate into her sentiments of the two antagonists.
"No, certainly," she answered, "he had all the provocation that ill- breeding could give him."
"And do you, madam," cried he, with much surprize, "judge of this matter with such severity?"
"No, not with severity, simply with candour."
"With candour? alas, then, poor Sir Robert! Severity were not half so bad a sign for him!"
A servant now came in, to acquaint Cecilia that Mrs Delvile waited breakfast for her.
This summons was immediately followed by the re-entrance of Mr Delvile, who, taking her hand, said he would himself present her to his lady, and with much graciousness assured her of a kind reception.
The ceremonies preceding this interview, added to the character she had already heard of Mrs Delvile, made Cecilia heartily wish it over; but, assuming all the courage in her power, she determined to support herself with a spirit that should struggle against the ostentatious superiority she was prepared to expect.
She found her seated upon a sofa, from which, however, she arose at her approach; but the moment Cecilia beheld her, all the unfavourable impressions with which she came into her presence immediately vanished, and that respect which the formalities of her introduction had failed to inspire, her air, figure, and countenance instantaneously excited.
She was not more than fifty years of age; her complection, though faded, kept the traces of its former loveliness, her eyes, though they had lost their youthful fire, retained a lustre that evinced their primeval brilliancy, and the fine symmetry of her features, still uninjured by the siege of time, not only indicated the perfection of her juvenile beauty, but still laid claim to admiration in every beholder. Her carriage was lofty and commanding; but the dignity to which high birth and conscious superiority gave rise, was so judiciously regulated by good sense, and so happily blended with politeness, that though the world at large envied or hated her, the few for whom she had herself any regard, she was infallibly certain to captivate.
The surprise and admiration with which Cecilia at the first glance was struck proved reciprocal: Mrs Delvile, though prepared for youth and beauty, expected not to see a countenance so intelligent, nor manners so well formed as those of Cecilia: thus mutually astonished and mutually pleased, their first salutations were accompanied by looks so flattering to both, that each saw in the other, an immediate prepossession in her favour, and from the moment that they met, they seemed instinctively impelled to admire.
"I have promised Miss Beverley, madam," said Mr Delvile to his lady, "that you would give her a kind reception; and I need not remind you that my promises are always held sacred."
"But I hope you have not also promised," cried she, with quickness, "that I should give you a kind reception, for I feel at this very moment extremely inclined to quarrel with you."
"Why so, madam?"
"For not bringing us together sooner; for now I have seen her, I already look back with regret to the time I have lost without the pleasure of knowing her."
"What a claim is this," cried young Delvile, "upon the benevolence of Miss Beverley! for if she has not now the indulgence by frequent and diligent visits to make some reparation, she must consider herself as responsible for the dissension she will occasion."
"If peace depends upon my visits," answered Cecilia, "it may immediately be proclaimed; were it to be procured only by my absence, I know not if I should so readily agree to the conditions."
"I must request of you, madam," said Mr Delvile, "that when my son and I retire, you will bestow half an hour upon this young lady, in making enquiries concerning the disturbance last Saturday at the Opera-house. I have not, myself, so much time to spare, as I have several appointments for this morning; but I am sure you will not object to the office, as I know you to be equally anxious with myself, that the minority of Miss Beverley should pass without reproach."
"Not only her minority, but her maturity," cried young Delvile, warmly, "and not only her maturity, but her decline of life will pass, I hope, not merely without reproach, but with fame and applause!"
"I hope so too;" replied Mr Delvile: "I wish her well through every stage of her life, but for her minority alone it is my business to do more than wish. For that, I feel my own honour and my own credit concerned; my honour, as I gave it to the Dean that I would superintend her conduct, and my credit, as the world is acquainted with the claim she has to my protection."
"I will not make any enquiries," said Mrs Delvile, turning to Cecilia with a sweetness that recompensed her for the haughtiness of her guardian, "till I have had some opportunity of convincing Miss Beverley, that my regard for her merits they should be answered."
"You see, Miss Beverley," said Mr Delvile, "how little reason you had to be afraid of us; Mrs Delvile is as much disposed in your favour as myself, and as desirous to be of service to you. Endeavour, therefore, to cast off this timidity, and to make yourself easy. You must come to us often; use will do more towards removing your fears, than all the encouragement we can give you."
"But what are the fears," cried Mrs Delvile, "that Miss Beverley can have to remove? unless, indeed, she apprehends her visits will make us encroachers, and that the more we are favoured with her presence, the less we shall bear her absence."
"Pray, son," said Mr Delvile, "what was the name of the person who was Sir Robert Floyer's opponent? I have again forgotten it."
"True; it is a name I am perfectly unacquainted with: however, he may possibly be a very good sort of man; but certainly his opposing himself to Sir Robert Floyer, a man of some family, a gentleman, rich, and allied to some people of distinction, was a rather strange circumstance: I mean not, however, to prejudge the case; I will hear it fairly stated; and am the more disposed to be cautious in what I pronounce, because I am persuaded Miss Beverley has too much sense to let my advice be thrown away upon her."
"I hope so, Sir; but with respect to the disturbance at the Opera, I know not that I have the least occasion to trouble you."
"If your measures," said he, very gravely, "are already taken, the Dean your uncle prevailed upon me to accept a very useless office; but if any thing is yet undecided, it will not, perhaps, be amiss that I should be consulted. Mean time, I will only recommend to you to consider that Mr Belfield is a person whose name nobody has heard, and that a connection with Sir Robert Floyer would certainly be very honourable for you."
"Indeed, Sir," said Cecilia, "here is some great mistake; neither of these gentlemen, I believe, think of me at all."
"They have taken, then," cried young Delvile with a laugh, "a very extraordinary method to prove their indifference!"
"The affairs of Sir Robert Floyer," continued Mr Delvile, "are indeed, I am informed, in some disorder; but he has a noble estate, and your fortune would soon clear all its incumbrances. Such an alliance, therefore, would be mutually advantageous: but what would result from a union with such a person as Mr Belfield? he is of no family, though in that, perhaps, you would not be very scrupulous; but neither has he any money; what, then, recommends him?"
"To me, Sir, nothing!" answered Cecilia.
"And to me," cried young Delvile, "almost every thing! he has wit, spirit, and understanding, talents to create admiration, and qualities, I believe, to engage esteem!"
"You speak warmly," said Mrs Delvile; "but if such is his character, he merits your earnestness. What is it you know of him?"
"Not enough, perhaps," answered he, "to coolly justify my praise; but he is one of those whose first appearance takes the mind by surprise, and leaves the judgment to make afterwards such terms as it can. Will you, madam, when he is recovered, permit me to introduce him to you?"
"Certainly;" said she, smiling; "but have a care your recommendation does not disgrace your discernment."
"This warmth of disposition, Mortimer," cried Mr Delvile, "produces nothing but difficulties and trouble: you neglect the connections I point out, and which a little attention might render serviceable as well as honourable, and run precipitately into forming such as can do you no good among people of rank, and are not only profitless in themselves, but generally lead you into expence and inconvenience. You are now of an age to correct this rashness: think, therefore, better of your own consequence, than thus idly to degrade yourself by forming friendships with every shewy adventurer that comes in your way."
"I know not, Sir," answered he, "how Mr Belfield deserves to be called an adventurer: he is not, indeed, rich; but he is in a profession where parts such as his seldom fail to acquire riches; however, as to me his wealth can be of no consequence, why should my regard to him wait for it? if he is a young man of worth and honour—"
"Mortimer," interrupted Mr Delvile, "whatever he is, we know he is not a man of rank, and whatever he may be, we know he cannot become a man of family, and consequently for Mortimer Delvile he is no companion. If you can render him any service, I shall commend your so doing; it becomes your birth, it becomes your station in life to assist individuals, and promote the general good: but never in your zeal for others forget what is due to yourself, and to the ancient and honourable house from which you are sprung."
"But can we entertain Miss Beverley with nothing better than family lectures?" cried Mrs Delvile.
"It is for me," said young Delvile, rising, "to beg pardon of Miss Beverley for having occasioned them: but when she is so good as to honour us with her company again, I hope I shall have more discretion."
He then left the room; and Mr Delvile also rising to go, said, "My dear, I commit you to very kind hands; Mrs Delvile, I am sure, will be happy to hear your story; speak to her, therefore, without reserve. And pray don't imagine that I make you over to her from any slight; on the contrary, I admire and commend your modesty very much; but my time is extremely precious, and I cannot devote so much of it to an explanation as your diffidence requires."
And then, to the great joy of Cecilia, he retired; leaving her much in doubt whether his haughtiness or his condescension humbled her most.
"These men," said Mrs Delvile, "can never comprehend the pain of a delicate female mind upon entering into explanations of this sort: I understand it, however, too well to inflict it. We will, therefore, have no explanations at all till we are better acquainted, and then if you will venture to favour me with any confidence, my best advice, and, should any be in my power, my best services shall be at your command."
"You do me, madam, much honour," answered Cecilia, "but I must assure you I have no explanation to give."
"Well, well, at present," returned Mrs Delvile, "I am content to hear that answer, as I have acquired no right to any other: but hereafter I shall hope for more openness: it is promised me by your countenance, and I mean to claim the promise by my friendship."
"Your friendship will both honour and delight me, and whatever are your enquiries, I shall always be proud to answer them; but indeed, with regard to this affair—"
"My dear Miss Beverley," interrupted Mrs Delvile, with a look of arch incredulity, "men seldom risk their lives where an escape is without hope of recompence. But we will not now say a word more upon the subject. I hope you will often favour me with your company, and by the frequency of your visits, make us both forget the shortness of our acquaintance."
Cecilia, finding her resistance only gave birth to fresh suspicion, now yielded, satisfied that a very little time must unavoidably clear up the truth. But her visit was not therefore shortened; the sudden partiality with which the figure and countenance of Mrs Delvile had impressed her, was quickly ripened into esteem by the charms of her conversation: she found her sensible, well bred, and high spirited, gifted by nature with superior talents, and polished by education and study with all the elegant embellishments of cultivation. She saw in her, indeed, some portion of the pride she had been taught to expect, but it was so much softened by elegance, and so well tempered with kindness, that it elevated her character, without rendering her manners offensive.
With such a woman, subjects of discourse could never be wanting, nor fertility of powers to make them entertaining: and so much was Cecilia delighted with her visit, that though her carriage was announced at twelve o'clock, she reluctantly concluded it at two; and in taking her leave, gladly accepted an invitation to dine with her new friend three days after; who, equally pleased with her young guest, promised before that time to return her visit.
Cecilia found Mrs Harrel eagerly waiting to hear some account how she had passed the morning, and fully persuaded that she would leave the Delviles with a determination never more, but by necessity, to see them: she was, therefore, not only surprised but disappointed, when instead of fulfilling her expectations, she assured her that she had been delighted with Mrs Delvile, whose engaging qualities amply recompensed her for the arrogance of her husband; that her visit had no fault but that of being too short, and that she had already appointed an early day for repeating it.
Mrs Harrel was evidently hurt by this praise, and Cecilia, who perceived among all her guardians a powerful disposition to hatred and jealousy, soon dropt the subject: though so much had she been charmed with Mrs Delvile, that a scheme of removal once more occurred to her, notwithstanding her dislike of her stately guardian.
At dinner, as usual, they were joined by Sir Robert Floyer, who grew more and more assiduous in his attendance, but who, this day, contrary to his general custom of remaining with the gentlemen, made his exit before the ladies left the table; and as soon as he was gone, Mr Harrel desired a private conference with Cecilia.
They went together to the drawing-room, where, after a flourishing preface upon the merits of Sir Robert Floyer, he formally acquainted her that he was commissioned by that gentleman, to make her a tender of his hand and fortune.
Cecilia, who had not much reason to be surprised at this overture, desired him to tell the Baronet, she was obliged to him for the honour he intended her, at the same time that she absolutely declined receiving it.
Mr Harrel, laughing, told her this answer was very well for a beginning, though it would by no means serve beyond the first day of the declaration; but when Cecilia assured him she should firmly adhere to it, he remonstrated with equal surprise and discontent upon the reasons of her refusal. She thought it sufficient to tell him that Sir Robert did not please her, but, with much raillery, he denied the assertion credit, assuring her that he was universally admired by the ladies, that she could not possibly receive a more honourable offer, and that he was reckoned by every body the finest gentleman about the town. His fortune, he added, was equally unexceptionable with his figure and his rank in life; all the world, he was certain, would approve the connexion, and the settlement made upon her should be dictated by herself.
Cecilia begged him to be satisfied with an answer which she never could change, and to spare her the enumeration of particular objections, since Sir Robert was wholly and in every respect disagreeable to her.
"What, then," cried he, "could make you so frightened for him at the Opera-house? There has been but one opinion about town ever since of your prepossession in his favour."
"I am extremely concerned to hear it; my fright was but the effect of surprise, and belonged not more to Sir Robert than to Mr Belfield."
He told her that nobody else thought the same, that her marriage with the Baronet was universally expected, and, in conclusion, notwithstanding her earnest desire that he would instantly and explicitly inform Sir Robert of her determination, he repeatedly refused to give him any final answer till she had taken more time for consideration.
Cecilia was extremely displeased at this irksome importunity, and still more chagrined to find her incautious emotion at the Opera- house, had given rise to suspicions of her harbouring a partiality for a man whom every day she more heartily disliked.
While she was deliberating in what manner she could clear up this mistake, which, after she was left alone, occupied all her thoughts, she was interrupted by the entrance of Mr. Monckton, whose joy in meeting her at length by herself exceeded not her own, for charmed as he was that he could now examine into the state of her affairs, she was not less delighted that she could make them known to him.
After mutual expressions, guarded, however, on the part of Mr. Monckton, though unreserved on that of Cecilia, of their satisfaction in being again able to converse as in former times, he asked if she would permit him, as the privilege of their long acquaintance, to speak to her with sincerity.
She assured him he could not more oblige her.
"Let me, then," said he, "enquire if yet that ardent confidence in your own steadiness, which so much disdained my fears that the change of your residence might produce a change in your sentiments, is still as unshaken as when we parted in Suffolk? Or whether experience, that foe to unpractised refinement, has already taught you the fallibility of theory?"
"When I assure you," replied Cecilia, "that your enquiry gives me no pain, I think I have sufficiently answered it, for were I conscious of any alteration, it could not but embarrass and distress me. Very far, however, from finding myself in the danger with which you threatened me, of forgetting Bury, its inhabitants and its environs, I think with pleasure of little else, since London, instead of bewitching, has greatly disappointed me."
"How so?" cried Mr Monckton, much delighted.
"Not," answered she, "in itself, not in its magnificence, nor in its diversions, which seem to be inexhaustible; but these, though copious as instruments of pleasure, are very shallow as sources of happiness: the disappointment, therefore, comes nearer home, and springs not from London, but from my own situation."
"Is that, then, disagreeable to you?"
"You shall yourself judge, when I have told you that from the time of my quitting your house till this very moment, when I have again the happiness of talking with you, I have never once had any conversation, society or intercourse, in which friendship or affection have had any share, or my mind has had the least interest."
She then entered into a detail of her way of life, told him how little suited to her taste was the unbounded dissipation of the Harrels, and feelingly expatiated upon the disappointment she had received from the alteration in the manners and conduct of her young friend. "In her," she continued, "had I found the companion I came prepared to meet, the companion from whom I had so lately parted, and in whose society I expected to find consolation for the loss of yours and of Mrs Charlton's, I should have complained of nothing; the very places that now tire, might then have entertained me, and all that now passes for unmeaning dissipation, might then have worn the appearance of variety and pleasure. But where the mind is wholly without interest, every thing is languid and insipid; and accustomed as I have long been to think friendship the first of human blessings, and social converse the greatest of human enjoyments, how ever can I reconcile myself to a state of careless indifference, to making acquaintance without any concern either for preserving or esteeming them, and to going on from day to day in an eager search of amusement, with no companion for the hours of retirement, and no view beyond that of passing the present moment in apparent gaiety and thoughtlessness?"
Mr Monckton, who heard these complaints with secret rapture, far from seeking to soften or remove, used his utmost endeavours to strengthen and encrease them, by artfully retracing her former way of life, and pointing out with added censures the change in it she had been lately compelled to make: "a change," he continued, "which though ruinous of your time, and detrimental to your happiness, use will, I fear, familiarize, and familiarity render pleasant."
"These suspicions, sir," said Cecilia, "mortify me greatly; and why, when far from finding me pleased, you hear nothing but repining, should you still continue to harbour them?"
"Because your trial has yet been too short to prove your firmness, and because there is nothing to which time cannot contentedly accustom us."
"I feel not much fear," said Cecilia, "of standing such a test as might fully satisfy you; but nevertheless, not to be too presumptuous, I have by no means exposed myself to all the dangers which you think surround me, for of late I have spent almost every evening at home and by myself."
This intelligence was to Mr Monckton a surprise the most agreeable he could receive. Her distaste for the amusements which were offered her greatly relieved his fears of her forming any alarming connection, and the discovery that while so anxiously he had sought her every where in public, she had quietly passed her time by her own fireside, not only re-assured him for the present, but gave him information where he might meet with her in future.
He then talked of the duel, and solicitously led her to speak [openly] of Sir Robert Floyer; and here too, his satisfaction was entire; he found her dislike of him such as his knowledge of her disposition made him expect, and she wholly removed his suspicions concerning her anxiety about the quarrel, by explaining to him her apprehensions of having occasioned it herself, from accepting the civility of Mr Belfield, at the very moment she shewed her aversion to receiving that of Sir Robert.
Neither did her confidence rest here; she acquainted him with the conversation she had just had with Mr Harrel, and begged his advice in what manner she might secure herself from further importunity.
Mr Monckton had now a new subject for his discernment. Every thing had confirmed to him the passion which Mr Arnott had conceived for Cecilia, and he had therefore concluded the interest of the Harrels would be all in his favour: other ideas now struck him; he found that Mr Arnott was given up for Sir Robert, and he determined carefully to watch the motions both of the Baronet and her young guardian, in order to discover the nature of their plans and connection. Mean time, convinced by her unaffected aversion to the proposals she had received, that she was at present in no danger from the league he suspected, he merely advised her to persevere in manifesting a calm repugnance to their solicitations, which could not fail, before long, to dishearten them both.
"But Sir," cried Cecilia, "I now fear this man as much as I dislike him, for his late fierceness and brutality, though they have encreased my disgust, make me dread to shew it. I am impatient, therefore, to have done with him, and to see him no more. And for this purpose, I wish to quit the house of Mr Harrel, where he has access at his pleasure."
"You can wish nothing more judiciously," cried he; "would you, then, return into the country?"
"That is not yet in my power; I am obliged to reside with one of my guardians. To-day I have seen Mrs Delvile, and—"
"Mrs Delvile?" interrupted Mr Monckton, in a voice of astonishment. "Surely you do not think of removing into that family?"
"What can I do so well? Mrs Delvile is a charming woman, and her conversation would afford me more entertainment and instruction in a single day, than under this roof I should obtain in a twelvemonth."
"Are you serious? Do you really think of making such a change?"
"I really wish it, but I know not yet if it is practicable: on Thursday, however, I am to dine with her, and then, if it is in my power, I will hint to her my desire."
"And can Miss Beverley possibly wish," cried Mr Monckton with earnestness, "to reside in such a house? Is not Mr Delvile the most ostentatious, haughty, and self-sufficient of men? Is not his wife the proudest of women? And is not the whole family odious to all the world?"
"You amaze me!" cried Cecilia; "surely that cannot be their general character? Mr Delvile, indeed, deserves all the censure he can meet for his wearisome parade of superiority; but his lady by no means merits to be included in the same reproach. I have spent this whole morning with her, and though I waited upon her with a strong prejudice in her disfavour, I observed in her no pride that exceeded the bounds of propriety and native dignity."
"Have you often been at the house? Do you know the son, too?"
"I have seen him three or four times."
"And what do you think of him?"
"I hardly know enough of him to judge fairly."
"But what does he seem to you? Do you not perceive in him already all the arrogance, all the contemptuous insolence of his father?"
"O no! far from it indeed; his mind seems to be liberal and noble, open to impressions of merit, and eager to honour and promote it."
"You are much deceived; you have been reading your own mind, and thought you had read his: I would advise you sedulously to avoid the whole family; you will find all intercourse with them irksome and comfortless: such as the father appears at once, the wife and the son will, in a few more meetings, appear also. They are descended from the same stock, and inherit the same self-complacency. Mr Delvile married his cousin, and each of them instigates the other to believe that all birth and rank would be at an end in the world, if their own superb family had not a promise of support from their hopeful Mortimer. Should you precipitately settle yourself in their house, you would very soon be totally weighed down by their united insolence."
Cecilia again and warmly attempted to defend them; but Mr Monckton was so positive in his assertions, and so significant in his insinuations to their discredit, that she was at length persuaded she had judged too hastily, and, after thanking him for his counsel, promised not to take any measures towards a removal without his advice.
This was all he desired; and now, enlivened by finding that his influence with her was unimpaired, and that her heart was yet her own, he ceased his exhortations, and turned the discourse to subjects more gay and general, judiciously cautious neither by tedious admonitions to disgust, nor by fretful solicitude to alarm her. He did not quit her till the evening was far advanced, and then, in returning to his own house, felt all his anxieties and disappointments recompensed by the comfort this long and satisfactory conversation had afforded him. While Cecilia, charmed with having spent the morning with her new acquaintance, and the evening with her old friend, retired to rest better pleased with the disposal of her time than she had yet been since her journey from Suffolk.
A TETE A TETE.
The two following days had neither event nor disturbance, except some little vexation occasioned by the behaviour of Sir Robert Floyer, who still appeared not to entertain any doubt of the success of his addresses. This impertinent confidence she could only attribute to the officious encouragement of Mr Harrel, and therefore she determined rather to seek than to avoid an explanation with him. But she had, in the mean time, the satisfaction of hearing from Mr Arnott, who, ever eager to oblige her, was frequent in his enquiries, that Mr Belfield was almost entirely recovered.
On Thursday, according to her appointment, she again went to St James' Square, and being shewn into the drawing-room till dinner was ready, found there only young Mr Delvile.
After some general conversation, he asked her how lately she had had any news of Mr Belfield?
"This morning," she answered, "when I had the pleasure of hearing he was quite recovered. Have you seen him again, sir?"
"Yes madam, twice."
"And did you think him almost well?"
"I thought," answered he, with some hesitation, "and I think still, that your enquiries ought to be his cure."
"O," cried Cecilia, "I hope he has far better medicines: but I am afraid I have been misinformed, for I see you do not think him better."
"You must not, however," replied he, "blame those messengers whose artifice has only had your satisfaction in view; nor should I be so malignant as to blast their designs, if I did not fear that Mr Belfield's actual safety may be endangered by your continual deception."
"What deception, sir? I don't at all understand you. How is his safety endangered?"
"Ah madam!" said he smiling, "what danger indeed is there that any man would not risk to give birth to such solicitude! Mr Belfield however, I believe is in none from which a command of yours cannot rescue him."
"Then were I an hard-hearted damsel indeed not to issue it! but if my commands are so medicinal, pray instruct me how to administer them."
"You must order him to give up, for the present, his plan of going into the country, where he can have no assistance, and where his wound must be dressed only by a common servant, and to remain quietly in town till his surgeon pronounces that he may travel without any hazard."
"But is he, seriously, so mad as to intend leaving town without the consent of his surgeon?"
"Nothing less than such an intention could have induced me to undeceive you with respect to his recovery. But indeed I am no friend to those artifices which purchase present relief by future misery: I venture, therefore, to speak to you the simple truth, that by a timely exertion of your influence you may prevent further evil."
"I know not, Sir," said Cecilia, with the utmost surprise, "why you should suppose I have any such influence; nor can I imagine that any deception has been practiced."
"It is possible," answered he, "I may have been too much alarmed; but in such a case as this, no information ought to be depended upon but that of his surgeon. You, madam, may probably know his opinion?"
"Me?—No, indeed? I never saw his surgeon; I know not even who he is."
"I purpose calling upon him to-morrow morning; will Miss Beverley permit me afterwards the honour of communicating to her what may pass?"
"I thank you, sir," said she, colouring very high; "but my impatience is by no means so great as to occasion my giving you that trouble."
Delvile, perceiving her change of countenance, instantly, and with much respect, entreated her pardon for the proposal; which, however, she had no sooner granted, than he said very archly, "Why indeed you have not much right to be angry, since it was your own frankness that excited mine. And thus, you find, like most other culprits, I am ready to cast the blame of the offence upon the offended. I feel, however, an irresistible propensity to do service to Mr Belfield;— shall I sin quite beyond forgiveness if I venture to tell you how I found him situated this morning?"
"No, certainly,—if you wish it, I can have no objection."
"I found him, then, surrounded by a set of gay young men, who, by way of keeping up his spirits, made him laugh and talk without ceasing: he assured me himself that he was perfectly well, and intended to gallop out of town to-morrow morning; though, when I shook hands with him at parting, I was both shocked and alarmed to feel by the burning heat of the skin, that far from discarding his surgeon, he ought rather to call in a physician."
"I am very much concerned to hear this account," said Cecilia; "but I do not well understand what you mean should on my part follow it?"
"That," answered he, bowing, with a look of mock gravity, "I pretend not to settle! In stating the case I have satisfied my conscience, and if in hearing it you can pardon the liberty I have taken, I shall as much honour the openness of your character, as I admire that of your countenance."
Cecilia now, to her no little astonishment, found she had the same mistake to clear up at present concerning Mr Belfield, that only three days before she had explained with respect to the Baronet. But she had no time to speak further upon the subject, as the entrance of Mrs Delvile put an end to their discourse.
That lady received her with the most distinguishing kindness; apologised for not sooner waiting upon her, and repeatedly declared that nothing but indisposition should have prevented her returning the favour of her first visit.
They were soon after summoned to dinner. Mr Delvile, to the infinite joy of Cecilia, was out.
The day was spent greatly to her satisfaction. There was no interruption from visitors, she was tormented by the discussion of no disagreeable subjects, the duel was not mentioned, the antagonists were not hinted at, she was teized with no self- sufficient encouragement, and wearied with no mortifying affability; the conversation at once was lively and rational, and though general, was rendered interesting, by a reciprocation of good-will and pleasure in the conversers.
The favourable opinion she had conceived both of the mother and the son this long visit served to confirm: in Mrs Delvile she found strong sense, quick parts, and high breeding; in Mortimer, sincerity and vivacity joined with softness and elegance; and in both there seemed the most liberal admiration of talents, with an openness of heart that disdained all disguise. Greatly pleased with their manners, and struck with all that was apparent in their characters, she much regretted the prejudice of Mr Monckton, which now, with the promise she had given him, was all that opposed her making an immediate effort towards a change in her abode.
She did not take her leave till eleven o'clock, when Mrs Delvile, after repeatedly thanking her for her visit, said she would not so much encroach upon her good nature as to request another till she had waited upon her in return; but added, that she meant very speedily to pay that debt, in order to enable herself, by friendly and frequent meetings, to enter upon the confidential commission with which her guardian had entrusted her.
Cecilia was pleased with the delicacy which gave rise to this forbearance, yet having in fact nothing either to relate or conceal, she was rather sorry than glad at the delay of an explanation, since she found the whole family was in an error with respect to the situation of her affairs.
Cecilia, upon her return home, heard with some surprise that Mr and Mrs Harrel were by themselves in the drawing-room; and, while she was upon the stairs, Mrs Harrel ran out, calling eagerly, "Is that my brother?"
Before she could make an answer, Mr Harrel, in the same impatient tone, exclaimed, "Is it Mr Arnott?"
"No;" said Cecilia, "did you expect him so late?"
"Expect him? Yes," answered Mr Harrel, "I have expected him the whole evening, and cannot conceive what he has done with himself."
"'Tis abominably provoking," said Mrs Harrel, "that he should be out of the way just now when he is wanted. However, I dare say to-morrow will do as well."
"I don't know that," cried Mr Harrel. "Reeves is such a wretch that I am sure he will give me all the trouble in his power."
Here Mr Arnott entered; and Mrs Harrel called out "O brother, we have been distressed for you cruelly; we have had a man here who has plagued Mr Harrel to death, and we wanted you sadly to speak to him."
"I should have been very glad," said Mr Arnott, "to have been of any use, and perhaps it is not yet too late; who is the man?"
"O," cried Mr Harrel, carelessly, "only a fellow from that rascally taylor who has been so troublesome to me lately. He has had the impudence, because I did not pay him the moment he was pleased to want his money, to put the bill into the hands of one Reeves, a griping attorney, who has been here this evening, and thought proper to talk to me pretty freely. I can tell the gentleman I shall not easily forget his impertinence! however, I really wish mean time I could get rid of him."
"How much is the bill, Sir?" said Mr Arnott.
"Why it's rather a round sum; but I don't know how it is, one's bills mount up before one is aware: those fellows charge such confounded sums for tape and buckram; I hardly know what I have had of him, and yet he has run me up a bill of between three and four hundred pound."
Here there was a general silence; till Mrs Harrel said "Brother, can't you be so good as to lend us the money? Mr Harrel says he can pay it again very soon."
"O yes, very soon," said Mr Harrel, "for I shall receive a great deal of money in a little time; I only want to stop this fellow's mouth for the present."
"Suppose I go and talk with him?" said Mr Arnott.
"O, he's a brute, a stock!" cried Mr Harrel, "nothing but the money will satisfy him: he will hear no reason; one might as well talk to a stone."
Mr Arnott now looked extremely distressed; but upon his sister's warmly pressing him not to lose any time, he gently said, "If this person will but wait a week or two, I should be extremely glad, for really just now I cannot take up so much money, without such particular loss and inconvenience, that I hardly know how to do it: —but yet, if he will not be appeased, he must certainly have it."
"Appeased?" cried Mr Harrel, "you might as well appease the sea in a storm! he is hard as iron."
Mr Arnott then, forcing a smile, though evidently in much uneasiness, said he would not fail to raise the money the next morning, and was taking his leave, when Cecilia, shocked that such tenderness and good-nature should be thus grossly imposed upon, hastily begged to speak with Mrs Harrel, and taking her into another room, said, "I beseech you, my dear friend, let not your worthy brother suffer by his generosity; permit me in the present exigence to assist Mr Harrel: my having such a sum advanced can be of no consequence; but I should grieve indeed that your brother, who so nobly understands the use of money, should take it up at any particular disadvantage."
"You are vastly kind," said Mrs Harrel, "and I will run and speak to them about it: but which ever of you lends the money, Mr Harrel has assured me he shall pay it very soon."
She then returned with the proposition. Mr Arnott strongly opposed it, but Mr Harrel seemed rather to prefer it, yet spoke so confidently of his speedy payment, that he appeared to think it a matter of little importance from which he accepted it. A generous contest ensued between Mr Arnott and Cecilia, but as she was very earnest, she at length prevailed, and settled to go herself the next morning into the city, in order to have the money advanced by Mr Briggs, who had the management of her fortune entirely to himself, her other guardians never interfering in the executive part of her affairs.
This arranged, they all retired.
And then, with encreasing astonishment, Cecilia reflected upon the ruinous levity of Mr Harrel, and the blind security of his wife; she saw in their situation danger the most alarming, and in the behaviour of Mr Harrel selfishness the most inexcusable; such glaring injustice to his creditors, such utter insensibility to his friends, took from her all wish of assisting him, though the indignant compassion with which she saw the easy generosity of Mr Arnott so frequently abused, had now, for his sake merely, induced her to relieve him.
She resolved, however, as soon as the present difficulty was surmounted, to make another attempt to open the eyes of Mrs Harrel to the evils which so apparently threatened her, and press her to exert all her influence with her husband, by means both of example and advice, to retrench his expences before it should be absolutely too late to save him from ruin.
She determined also at the same time dial she applied for the money requisite for this debt, to take up enough for discharging her own bill at the bookseller's, and putting in execution her plan of assisting the Hills.
The next morning she arose early, and attended by her servant, set out for the house of Mr Briggs, purposing, as the weather was clear and frosty, to walk through Oxford Road, and then put herself into a chair; and hoping to return to Mr Harrel's by the usual hour of breakfast.
She had not proceeded far, before she saw a mob gathering, and the windows of almost all the houses filling with spectators. She desired her servant to enquire what this meant, and was informed that the people were assembling to see some malefactors pass by in their way to Tyburn.
Alarmed at this intelligence from the fear of meeting the unhappy criminals, she hastily turned down die next street, but found that also filling with people who were running to the scene she was trying to avoid: encircled thus every way, she applied to a maidservant who was standing at the door of a large house, and begged leave to step in till the mob was gone by. The maid immediately consented, and she waited here while she sent her man for a chair.
He soon arrived with one; but just as she returned to the street door, a gentleman, who was hastily entering the house, standing back to let her pass, suddenly exclaimed, "Miss Beverley!" and looking at him, she perceived young Delvile.
"I cannot stop an instant," cried she, running down the steps, "lest the crowd should prevent the chair from going on."
"Will you not first," said he, handing her in, "tell me what news you have heard?"
"News?" repeated she. "No, I have heard none!"
"You will only, then, laugh at me for those officious offers you did so well to reject?"
"I know not what offers you mean!"
"They were indeed superfluous, and therefore I wonder not you have forgotten them. Shall I tell the chairmen whither to go?"
"To Mr Briggs. But I cannot imagine what you mean."
"To Mr Briggs!" repeated he, "O live for ever French beads and Bristol stones! fresh offers may perhaps be made there, impertinent, officious, and useless as mine!"
He then told her servant the direction, and, making his bow, went into the house she had just quitted.
Cecilia, extremely amazed by this short, but unintelligible conversation, would again have called upon him to explain his meaning, but found the crowd encreasing so fast that she could not venture to detain the chair, which with difficulty made its way to the adjoining streets: but her surprize at what had passed so entirely occupied her, that when she stopt at the house of Mr Briggs, she had almost forgotten what had brought her thither.
The foot-boy, who came to the door, told her that his master was at home, but not well.
She desired he might be acquainted that she wished to speak to him upon business, and would wait upon him again at any hour when he thought he should be able to see her.
The boy returned with an answer that she might call again the next week.
Cecilia, knowing that so long a delay would destroy all the kindness of her intention, determined to write to him for the money, and therefore went into the parlour, and desired to have pen and ink.
The boy, after making her wait some time in a room without any fire, brought her a pen and a little ink in a broken tea-cup, saying "Master begs you won't spirt it about, for he's got no more; and all our blacking's as good as gone."
"Blacking?" repeated Cecilia.
"Yes, Miss; when Master's shoes are blacked, we commonly gets a little drap of fresh ink."
Cecilia promised to be careful, but desired him to fetch her a sheet of paper.
"Law, Miss," cried the boy, with a grin, "I dare say master'd as soon give you a bit of his nose! howsever, I'll go ax."
In a few minutes he again returned, and brought in his hand a slate and a black lead pencil; "Miss," cried he, "Master says how you may write upon this, for he supposes you've no great matters to say."
Cecilia, much astonished at this extreme parsimony, was obliged to consent, but as the point of the pencil was very blunt, desired the boy to get her a knife that she might cut it. He obeyed, but said "Pray Miss, take care it ben't known, for master don't do such a thing once in a year, and if he know'd I'd got you the knife, he'd go nigh to give me a good polt of the head."
Cecilia then wrote upon the slate her desire to be informed in what manner she should send him her receipt for 600 pounds, which she begged to have instantly advanced.
The boy came back grinning, and holding up his hands, and said, "Miss, there's a fine piece of work upstairs! Master's in a peck of troubles; but he says how he'll come down, if you'll stay till he's got his things on."
"Does he keep his bed, then? I hope I have not made him rise?"
"No, Miss, he don't keep his bed, only he must get ready, for he wears no great matters of cloaths when he's alone. You are to know, Miss," lowering his voice, "that that day as he went abroad with our sweep's cloaths on, he comed home in sich a pickle you never see! I believe somebody'd knocked him in the kennel; so does Moll; but don't you say as I told you! He's been special bad ever since. Moll and I was as glad as could be, because he's so plaguy sharp; for, to let you know, Miss, he's so near, it's partly a wonder how he lives at all: and yet he's worth a power of money, too."
"Well, well," said Cecilia, not very desirous to encourage his forwardness, "if I want any thing, I'll call for you."
The boy, however, glad to tell his tale, went on.
"Our Moll won't stay with him above a week longer, Miss, because she says how she can get nothing to eat, but just some old stinking salt meat, that's stayed in the butcher's shop so long, it would make a horse sick to look at it. But Moll's pretty nice; howsever, Miss, to let you know, we don't get a good meal so often as once a quarter! why this last week we ha'n't had nothing at all but some dry musty red herrings; so you may think, Miss, we're kept pretty sharp!"
He was now interrupted by hearing Mr Briggs coming down the stairs, upon which, abruptly breaking off his complaints, he held up his finger to his nose in token of secrecy, and ran hastily into the kitchen.
The appearance of Mr Briggs was by no means rendered more attractive by illness and negligence of dress. He had on a flannel gown and night cap; his black beard, of many days' growth, was long and grim, and upon his nose and one of his cheeks was a large patch of brown paper, which, as he entered the room, he held on with both his hands.
Cecilia made many apologies for having disturbed him, and some civil enquiries concerning his health.
"Ay, ay," cried he, pettishly, "bad enough: all along of that trumpery masquerade; wish I had not gone! Fool for my pains."
"When were you taken ill, Sir?"
"Met with an accident; got a fall, broke my head, like to have lost my wig. Wish the masquerade at old Nick! thought it would cost nothing, or would not have gone. Warrant sha'n't get me so soon to another!"
"Did you fall in going home, Sir?"
"Ay, ay, plump in the kennel; could hardly get out of it; felt myself a going, was afraid to tear my cloaths, knew the rascal would make me pay for them, so by holding up the old sack, come bolt on my face! off pops my wig; could not tell what to do; all as dark as pitch!"
"Did not you call for help?"
"Nobody by but scrubs, knew they would not help for nothing. Scrawled out as I could, groped about for my wig, found it at last, all soused in the mud; stuck to my head like Turner's cerate,"
"I hope, then, you got into a hackney coach?"
"What for? to make things worse? was not bad enough, hay?—must pay two shillings beside?"
"But how did you find yourself when you got home, Sir?"
"How? why wet as muck; my head all bumps, my cheek all cut, my nose big as two! forced to wear a plaister; half ruined in vinegar. Got a great cold; put me in a fever; never been well since."
"But have you had no advice, Sir? Should not you send for a physician?"
"What to do, hay? fill me with jallop? can get it myself, can't I? Had one once; was taken very bad, thought should have popt off; began to flinch, sent for the doctor, proved nothing but a cheat! cost me a guinea, gave it at fourth visit, and he never came again! —-warrant won't have no more!"
Then perceiving upon the table some dust from the black lead pencil, "What's here?" cried he, angrily, "who's been cutting the pencil? wish they were hanged; suppose it's the boy; deserves to be horsewhipped: give him a good banging."
Cecilia immediately cleared him, by acknowledging she had herself been the culprit.
"Ay, ay," cried he, "thought as much all the time! guessed how it was; nothing but ruin and waste; sending for money, nobody knows why; wanting 600 pounds—what to do? throw it in the dirt? Never heard the like! Sha'n't have it, promise you that," nodding his head, "shan't have no such thing!"
"Sha'n't have it?" cried Cecilia, much surprised, "why not, Sir?"
"Keep it for your husband; get you one soon: won't have no juggling. Don't be in a hurry; one in my eye."
Cecilia then began a very earnest expostulation, assuring him she really wanted the money, for an occasion which would not admit of delay. Her remonstrances, however, he wholly disregarded, telling her that girls knew nothing of the value of money, and ought not to be trusted with it; that he would not hear of such extravagance, and was resolved not to advance her a penny. Cecilia was both provoked and confounded by a refusal so unexpected, and as she thought herself bound in honour to Mr Harrel not to make known the motive of her urgency, she was for some time totally silenced: till recollecting her account with the bookseller, she determined to rest her plea upon that, persuaded that he could not, at least, deny her money to pay her own bills. He heard her, however, with the utmost contempt; "Books?" he cried, "what do you want with books? do no good; all lost time; words get no cash." She informed him his admonitions were now too late, as she had already received them, and must therefore necessarily pay for them. "No, no," cried he, "send 'em back, that's best; keep no such rubbish, won't turn to account; do better without 'em." "That, Sir, will be impossible, for I have had them some time, and cannot expect the bookseller to take them again." "Must, must," cried he, "can't help himself; glad to have 'em too. Are but a minor, can't be made pay a farthing." Cecilia with much indignation heard such fraud recommended, and told him she could by no means consent to follow his advice. But she soon found, to her utter amazement, that he steadily refused to give her any other, or to bestow the slightest attention upon her expostulations, sturdily saying that her uncle had left her a noble estate, and he would take care to see it put in proper hands, by getting her a good and careful husband.
"I have no intention, no wish, Sir," cried she, "to break into the income or estate left me by my uncle; on the contrary, I hold them sacred, and think myself bound in conscience never to live beyond them: but the L10,000 bequeathed me by my Father, I regard as more peculiarly my own property, and therefore think myself at liberty to dispose of it as I please."
"What," cried he, in a rage, "make it over to a scrubby bookseller! give it up for an old pot-hook? no, no, won't suffer it; sha'n't be, sha'n't be, I say! if you want some books, go to Moorfields, pick up enough at an old stall; get 'em at two pence a-piece; dear enough, too."
Cecilia for some time hoped he was merely indulging his strange and sordid humour by an opposition that was only intended to teize her; but she soon found herself extremely mistaken: he was immoveable in obstinacy, as he was incorrigible in avarice; he neither troubled himself with enquiries nor reasoning, but was contented with refusing her as a child might be refused, by peremptorily telling her she did not know what she wanted, and therefore should not have what she asked.
And with this answer, after all that she could urge, she was compelled to leave the house, as he complained that his brown paper plaister wanted fresh dipping in vinegar, and he could stay talking no longer.
The disgust with which this behaviour filled her, was doubled by the shame and concern of returning to the Harrels with her promise unperformed; she deliberated upon every method that occurred to her of still endeavouring to serve them, but could suggest nothing, except trying to prevail upon Mr Delvile to interfere in her favour. She liked not, indeed, the office of solicitation to so haughty a man, but, having no other expedient, her repugnance gave way to her generosity, and she ordered the chairmen to carry her to St James's Square.
And here, at the door of his Father's house, and just ascending the steps, she perceived young Delvile.
"Again!" cried he, handing her out of the chair, "surely some good genius is at work for me this morning!"
She told him she should not have called so early, now she was acquainted with the late hours of Mrs Delvile, but that she merely meant to speak with his Father, for two minutes, upon business.
He attended her up stairs; and finding she was in haste, went himself with her message to Mr Delvile: and soon returned with an answer that he would wait upon her presently.
The strange speeches he had made to her when they first met in the morning now recurring to her memory, she determined to have them explained, and in order to lead to the subject, mentioned the disagreeable situation in which he had found her, while she was standing up to avoid the sight of the condemned malefactors.
"Indeed?" cried he, in a tone of voice somewhat incredulous, "and was that the purpose for which you stood up?"
"Certainly, Sir;—what other could I have?"
"None, surely!" said he, smiling, "but the accident was singularly opportune."
"Opportune?" cried Cecilia, staring, "how opportune? this is the second time in the same morning that I am not able to understand you!"
"How should you understand what is so little intelligible?"
"I see you have some meaning which I cannot fathom, why, else, should it be so extraordinary that I should endeavour to avoid a mob? or how could it be opportune that I should happen to meet with one?"
He laughed at first without making any answer; but perceiving she looked at him with impatience, he half gaily, half reproachfully, said, "Whence is it that young ladies, even such whose principles are most strict, seem universally, in those affairs where their affections are concerned, to think hypocrisy necessary, and deceit amiable? and hold it graceful to disavow to-day, what they may perhaps mean publicly to acknowledge to-morrow?"
Cecilia, who heard these questions with unfeigned astonishment, looked at him with the utmost eagerness for an explanation.
"Do you so much wonder," he continued, "that I should have hoped in Miss Beverley to have seen some deviation from such rules? and have expected more openness and candour in a young lady who has given so noble a proof of the liberality of her mind and understanding?"
"You amaze me beyond measure!" cried she, "what rules, what candour, what liberality, do you mean?"
"Must I speak yet more plainly? and if I do, will you bear to hear me?"
"Indeed I should be extremely glad if you would give me leave to understand you."
"And may I tell you what has charmed me, as well as what I have presumed to wonder at?"
"You may tell me any thing, if you will but be less mysterious."
"Forgive then the frankness you invite, and let me acknowledge to you how greatly I honour the nobleness of your conduct. Surrounded as you are by the opulent and the splendid, unshackled by dependance, unrestrained by authority, blest by nature with all that is attractive, by situation with all that is desirable,—to slight the rich, and disregard the powerful, for the purer pleasure of raising oppressed merit, and giving to desert that wealth in which alone it seemed deficient—how can a spirit so liberal be sufficiently admired, or a choice of so much dignity be too highly extolled?"
"I find," cried Cecilia, "I must forbear any further enquiry, for the more I hear, the less I understand."
"Pardon me, then," cried he, "if here I return to my first question: whence is it that a young lady who can think so nobly, and act so disinterestedly, should not be uniformly great, simple in truth, and unaffected in sincerity? Why should she be thus guarded, where frankness would do her so much honour? Why blush in owning what all others may blush in envying?"
"Indeed you perplex me intolerably," cried Cecilia, with some vexation, "why Sir, will you not be more explicit?"
"And why, Madam," returned he, with a laugh, "would you tempt me to be more impertinent? have I not said strange things already?"
"Strange indeed," cried she, "for not one of them can I comprehend!"
"Pardon, then," cried he, "and forget them all! I scarce know myself what urged me to say them, but I began inadvertently, without intending to go on, and I have proceeded involuntarily, without knowing how to stop. The fault, however, is ultimately your own, for the sight of you creates an insurmountable desire to converse with you, and your conversation a propensity equally incorrigible to take some interest in your welfare."
He would then have changed the discourse, and Cecilia, ashamed of pressing him further, was for some time silent; but when one of the servants came to inform her that his master meant to wait upon her directly, her unwillingness to leave the matter in suspense induced her, somewhat abruptly, to say, "Perhaps, Sir, you are thinking of Mr Belfield?"
"A happy conjecture!" cried he, "but so wild a one, I cannot but marvel how it should occur to you!"
"Well, Sir," said she, "I must acknowledge I now understand your meaning; but with respect to what has given rise to it, I am as much a stranger as ever."
The entrance of Mr Delvile here closed the conversation.
He began with his usual ostentatious apologies, declaring he had so many people to attend, so many complaints to hear, and so many grievances to redress, that it was impossible for him to wait upon her sooner, and not without difficulty that he waited upon her now.
Mean time his son almost immediately retired: and Cecilia, instead of listening to this harangue, was only disturbing herself with conjectures upon what had just passed. She saw that young Delvile concluded she was absolutely engaged to Mr Belfield, and though she was better pleased that any suspicion should fall there than upon Sir Robert Floyer, she was yet both provoked and concerned to be suspected at all. An attack so earnest from almost any other person could hardly have failed being very offensive to her, but in the manners of young Delvile good breeding was so happily blended with frankness, that his freedom seemed merely to result from the openness of his disposition, and even in its very act pleaded its own excuse.
Her reverie was at length interrupted by Mr Delvile's desiring to know in what he could serve her.
She told him she had present occasion for L600, and hoped he would not object to her taking up that sum.
"Six hundred pounds," said he, after some deliberation, "is rather an extraordinary demand for a young lady in your situation; your allowance is considerable, you have yet no house, no equipage, no establishment; your expences, I should imagine, cannot be very great—"
He stopt, and seemed weighing her request.
Cecilia, shocked at appearing extravagant, yet too generous to mention Mr Harrel, had again recourse to her bookseller's bill, which she told him she was anxious to discharge.
"A bookseller's bill?" cried he; "and do you want L600 for a bookseller's bill?"
"No, Sir," said she, stammering, "no,—not all for that,—I have some other—I have a particular occasion—"
"But what bill at all," cried he, with much surprise, "can a young lady have with a bookseller? The Spectator, Tatler and Guardian, would make library sufficient for any female in the kingdom, nor do I think it like a gentlewoman to have more. Besides, if you ally yourself in such a manner as I shall approve and recommend, you will, in all probability, find already collected more books than there can ever be any possible occasion for you to look into. And let me counsel you to remember that a lady, whether so called from birth or only from fortune, should never degrade herself by being put on a level with writers, and such sort of people."
Cecilia thanked him for his advice, but confessed that upon the present occasion it came too late, as the books were now actually in her own possession.
"And have you taken," cried he, "such a measure as this without consulting me? I thought I had assured you my opinion was always at your service when you were in any dilemma."
"Yes, Sir," answered Cecilia; "but I knew how much you were occupied, and wished to avoid taking up your time."
"I cannot blame your modesty," he replied, "and therefore, as you have contracted the debt, you are, in honour, bound to pay it. Mr Briggs, however, has the entire management of your fortune, my many avocations obliging me to decline so laborious a trust; apply, therefore, to him, and, as things are situated, I will make no opposition to your demand."
"I have already, Sir," said Cecilia, "spoke to Mr Briggs, but—"
"You went to him first, then?" interrupted Mr Delvile, with a look of much displeasure.
"I was unwilling, Sir, to trouble you till I found it unavoidable." She then acquainted him with Mr Briggs' refusal, and entreated he would do her the favour to intercede in her behalf, that the money might no longer be denied her.
Every word she spoke his pride seemed rising to resent, and when, she had done, after regarding her some time with apparent indignation, he said, "I intercede! I become an agent!"
Cecilia, amazed to find him thus violently irritated, made a very earnest apology for her request; but without paying her any attention, he walked up and down the room, exclaiming, "an agent! and to Mr Briggs!—This is an affront I could never have expected! why did I degrade myself by accepting this humiliating office? I ought to have known better!" Then, turning to Cecilia, "Child," he added, "for whom is it you take me, and for what?"
Cecilia again, though affronted in her turn, began some protestations of respect; but haughtily interrupting her, he said, "If of me, and of my rank in life you judge by Mr Briggs or by Mr Harrel, I may be subject to proposals such as these every day; suffer me, therefore, for your better information, to hint to you, that the head of an ancient and honourable house, is apt to think himself somewhat superior to people but just rising from dust and obscurity."
Thunderstruck by this imperious reproof, she could attempt no further vindication; but when he observed her consternation, he was somewhat appeased, and hoping he had now impressed her with a proper sense of his dignity, he more gently said, "You did not, I believe, intend to insult me."
"Good Heaven, Sir; no!" cried Cecilia, "nothing was more distant from my thoughts: if my expressions have been faulty, it has been wholly from ignorance."
"Well, well, we will think then no more of it."
She then said she would no longer detain him, and, without daring to again mention her petition, she wished him good morning.
He suffered her to go, yet, as she left the room, graciously said, "Think no more of my displeasure, for it is over: I see you were not aware of the extraordinary thing you proposed. I am sorry I cannot possibly assist you; on any other occasion you may depend upon my services; but you know Mr Briggs, you have seen him yourself,— judge, then, how a man of any fashion is to accommodate himself with such a person!"
Cecilia concurred, and, courtsying, took her leave.
"Ah!" thought she, in her way home, "how happy is it for me that I followed the advice of Mr Monckton! else I had surely made interest to become an inmate of that house, and then indeed, as he wisely foresaw, I should inevitably have been overwhelmed by this pompous insolence! no family, however amiable, could make amends for such a master of it."
The Harrels and Mr Arnott waited the return of Cecilia with the utmost impatience; she told them with much concern the failure of her embassy, which Mr Harrel heard with visible resentment and discontent, while Mr Arnott, entreating him not to think of it, again made an offer of his services, and declared he would disregard all personal convenience for the pleasure of making him and his sister easy.
Cecilia was much mortified that she had not the power to act the same part, and asked Mr Harrel whether he believed his own influence with Mr Briggs would be more successful.
"No, no," answered he, "the old curmudgeon would but the rather refuse. I know his reason, and therefore am sure all pleas will be vain. He has dealings in the alley, and I dare say games with your money as if it were his own. There is, indeed, one way—but I do not think you would like it—though I protest I hardly know why not— however, 'tis as well let alone."
Cecilia insisted upon hearing what he meant, and, after some hesitation, he hinted that there were means by which, with very little inconvenience, she might borrow the money.
Cecilia, with that horror natural to all unpractised minds at the first idea of contracting a voluntary debt, started at this suggestion, and seemed very ill disposed to listen to it. Mr Harrel, perceiving her repugnance, turned to Mr Arnott, and said, "Well, my good brother, I hardly know how to suffer you to sell out at such a loss, but yet, my present necessity is so urgent—"
"Don't mention it," cried Mr Arnott, "I am very sorry I let you know it; be certain, however, that while I have anything, it is yours and my sister's."
The two gentlemen we then retiring together; but Cecilia, shocked for Mr Arnott, though unmoved by Mr Harrel, stopt them to enquire what was the way by which it was meant she could borrow the money?
Mr Harrel seemed averse to answer, but she would not be refused; and then he mentioned a Jew, of whose honesty he had made undoubted trial, and who, as she was so near being of age, would accept very trifling interest for whatever she should like to take up.
The heart of Cecilia recoiled at the very mention of a Jew, and taking up money upon interest; but, impelled strongly by her own generosity to emulate that of Mr Arnott, she agreed, after some hesitation, to have recourse to this method.
Mr Harrel then made some faint denials, and Mr Arnott protested he had a thousand times rather sell out at any discount, than consent to her taking such a measure; but, when her first reluctance was conquered, all that he urged served but to shew his worthiness in a stronger light, and only increased her desire of saving him from such repeated imposition.
Her total ignorance in what manner to transact this business, made her next put it wholly into the hands of Mr Harrel, whom she begged to take up 600 pounds, upon such terms as he thought equitable, and to which, what ever they might be, she would sign her name.
He seemed somewhat surprised at the sum, but without any question or objection undertook the commission: and Cecilia would not lessen it, because unwilling to do more for the security of the luxurious Mr Harrel, than for the distresses of the laborious Hills.
Nothing could be more speedy than the execution of this affair, Mr Harrel was diligent and expert, the whole was settled that morning, and, giving to the Jew her bond for the payment at the interest he required, she put into the hands of Mr Harrel L350, for which he gave his receipt, and she kept the rest for her own purposes.
She intended the morning after this transaction to settle her account with the bookseller. When she went into the parlour to breakfast, she was somewhat surprised to see Mr Harrel seated there, in earnest discourse with his wife. Fearful of interrupting a tete-a-tete so uncommon, she would have retired, but Mr Harrel, calling after her, said, "O pray come in! I am only telling Priscilla a piece of my usual ill luck. You must know I happen to be in immediate want of L200, though only for three or four days, and I sent to order honest old Aaron to come hither directly with the money, but it so happens that he went out of town the moment he had done with us yesterday, and will not be back again this week. Now I don't believe there is another Jew in the kingdom who will let me have money upon the same terms; they are such notorious rascals, that I hate the very thought of employing them."
Cecilia, who could not but understand what this meant, was too much displeased both by his extravagance and his indelicacy, to feel at all inclined to change the destination of the money she had just received; and therefore coolly agreed that it was unfortunate, but added nothing more.
"O, it is provoking indeed," cried he, "for the extra-interest I must pay one of those extortioners is absolutely so much money thrown away."
Cecilia, still without noticing these hints, began her breakfast. Mr Harrel then said he would take his tea with them: and, while he was buttering some dry toast, exclaimed, as if from sudden recollection, "O Lord, now I think of it, I believe, Miss Beverley, you can lend me this money yourself for a day or two. The moment old Aaron comes to town, I will pay you."
Cecilia, whose generosity, however extensive, was neither thoughtless nor indiscriminate, found something so repulsive in this gross procedure, that instead of assenting to his request with her usual alacrity, she answered very gravely that the money she had just received was already appropriated to a particular purpose, and she knew not how to defer making use of it.
Mr Harrel was extremely chagrined by this reply, which was by no means what he expected; but, tossing down a dish of tea, he began humming an air, and soon recovered his usual unconcern.
In a few minutes, ringing his bell, he desired a servant to go to Mr Zackery, and inform him that he wanted to speak with him immediately.
"And now," said he, with a look in which vexation seemed struggling with carelessness, "the thing is done! I don't like, indeed, to get into such hands, for 'tis hard ever to get out of them when once one begins,—and hitherto I have kept pretty clear. But there's no help for it—Mr Arnott cannot just now assist me—and so the thing must take its course. Priscilla, why do you look so grave?"
"I am thinking how unlucky it is my Brother should happen to be unable to lend you this money."
"O, don't think about it; I shall get rid of the man very soon I dare say—I hope so, at least—I am sure I mean it."
Cecilia now grew a little disturbed; she looked at Mrs. Harrel, who seemed also uneasy, and then, with some hesitation, said "Have you really never, Sir, employed this man before?"
"Never in my life: never any but old Aaron. I dread the whole race; I have a sort of superstitious notion that if once I get into their clutches, I shall never be my own man again; and that induced me to beg your assistance. However, 'tis no great matter."
She then began to waver; she feared there might be future mischief as well as present inconvenience, in his applying to new usurers, and knowing she had now the power to prevent him, thought herself half cruel in refusing to exert it. She wished to consult Mr. Monckton, but found it necessary to take her measures immediately, as the Jew was already sent for, and must in a few moments be either employed or discarded.
Much perplext how to act, between a desire of doing good, and a fear of encouraging evil, she weighed each side hastily, but while still uncertain which ought to preponderate, her kindness for Mrs. Harrel interfered, and, in the hope of rescuing her husband from further bad practices, she said she would postpone her own business for the few days he mentioned, rather than see him compelled to open any new account with so dangerous a set of men.
He thanked her in his usual negligent manner, and accepting the 200 pounds, gave her his receipt for it, and a promise she should be paid in a week.
Mrs. Harrel, however, seemed more grateful, and with many embraces spoke her sense of this friendly good nature. Cecilia, happy from believing she had revived in her some spark of sensibility, determined to avail herself of so favourable a symptom, and enter at once upon the disagreeable task she had set herself, of representing to her the danger of her present situation.
As soon, therefore, as breakfast was done, and Mr Arnott, who came in before it was over, was gone, with a view to excite her attention by raising her curiosity, she begged the favour of a private conference in her own room, upon matters of some importance.
She began with hoping that the friendship in which they had so long lived would make her pardon the liberty she was going to take, and which nothing less than their former intimacy, joined to strong apprehensions for her future welfare, could authorise; "But oh Priscilla!" she continued, "with open eyes to see your danger, yet not warn you of it, would be a reserve treacherous in a friend, and cruel even in a fellow-creature."
"What danger?" cried Mrs Harrel, much alarmed, "do you think me ill? do I look consumptive?"
"Yes, consumptive indeed!" said Cecilia, "but not, I hope, in your constitution."
And then, with all the tenderness in her power, she came to the point, and conjured her without delay to retrench her expences, and change her thoughtless way of life for one more considerate and domestic.
Mrs Harrel, with much simplicity, assured her she did nothing but what every body else did, and that it was quite impossible for her to appear in the world in any other manner.
"But how are you to appear hereafter?" cried Cecilia, "if now you live beyond your income, you must consider that in time your income by such depredations will be exhausted."
"But I declare to you," answered Mrs Harrel, "I never run in debt for more than half a year, for as soon as I receive my own money, I generally pay it away every shilling: and so borrow what I want till pay day comes round again."
"And that," said Cecilia, "seems a method expressly devised for keeping you eternally comfortless: pardon me, however, for speaking so openly, but I fear Mr Harrel himself must be even still less attentive and accurate in his affairs, or he could not so frequently be embarrassed. And what is to be the result? look but, my dear Priscilla, a little forward, and you will tremble at the prospect before you!"
Mrs Harrel seemed frightened at this speech, and begged to know what she would have them do?
Cecilia then, with equal wisdom and friendliness, proposed a general reform in the household, the public and private expences of both; she advised that a strict examination might be made into the state of their affairs, that all their bills should be called in, and faithfully paid, and that an entire new plan of life should be adopted, according to the situation of their fortune and income when cleared of all incumbrances.
"Lord, my dear!" exclaimed Mrs Harrel, with a look of astonishment, "why Mr Harrel would no more do all this than fly! If I was only to make such a proposal, I dare say he would laugh in my face."
"Why?—why because it would seem such an odd thing—it's what nobody thinks of—though I am sure I am very much obliged to you for mentioning it. Shall we go down stairs? I think I heard somebody come in.
"No matter who comes in," said Cecilia, "reflect for a moment upon my proposal, and, at least, if you disapprove it, suggest something more eligible."
"Oh, it's a very good proposal, that I agree," said Mrs Harrel, looking very weary, "but only the thing is it's quite impossible."