Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 10

A Provocation.

The next morning, when breakfast was over, Cecilia waited with much impatience to hear some tidings of the poor carpenter’s wife; but though Mr Harrel, who had always that meal in his own room, came into his lady’s at his usual hour, to see what was going forward, he did not mention her name. She therefore went into the hall herself, to enquire among the servants if Mrs Hill was yet come?

Yes, they answered, and had seen their master, and was gone.

She then returned to the breakfast room, where her eagerness to procure some information detained her, though the entrance of Sir Robert Floyer made her wish to retire. But she was wholly at a loss whether to impute to general forgetfulness, or to the failure of performing his promise, the silence of Mr Harrel upon the subject of her petition.

In a few minutes they were visited by Mr Morrice, who said he called to acquaint the ladies that the next morning there was to be a rehearsal of a very grand new dance at the Opera–House, where, though admission was difficult, if it was agreeable to them to go, he would undertake to introduce them.

Mrs Harrel happened to be engaged, and therefore declined the offer. He then turned to Cecilia, and said, “Well, ma’am, when did you see our friend Monckton?”

“Not since the rehearsal, sir.”

“He is a mighty agreeable fellow,” he continued, “and his house in the country is charming. One is as easy at it as at home. Were you ever there, Sir Robert?”

“Not I, truly,” replied Sir Robert; “what should I go for? — to see an old woman with never a tooth in her head sitting at the top of the table! Faith, I’d go an hundred miles a day for a month never to see such a sight again.”

“O but you don’t know how well she does the honours,” said Morrice; “and for my part, except just at meal times, I always contrive to keep out of her way.”

“I wonder when she intends to die,” said Mr Harrel.

“She’s been a long time about it,” cried Sir Robert; “but those tough old cats last for ever. We all thought she was going when Monckton married her; however, if he had not managed like a driveler, he might have broke her heart nine years ago.”

“I am sure I wish he had,” cried Mrs Harrel, “for she’s an odious creature, and used always to make me afraid of her.”

“But an old woman,” answered Sir Robert, “is a person who has no sense of decency; if once she takes to living, the devil himself can’t get rid of her.”

“I dare say,” cried Morrice, “she’ll pop off before long in one of those fits of the asthma. I assure you sometimes you may hear her wheeze a mile off.”

“She’ll go never the sooner for that,” said Sir Robert, “for I have got an old aunt of my own, who has been puffing and blowing as if she was at her last gasp ever since I can remember; and for all that, only yesterday, when I asked her doctor when she’d give up the ghost, he told me she might live these dozen years.”

Cecilia was by no means sorry to have this brutal conversation interrupted by the entrance of a servant with a letter for her. She was immediately retiring to read it; but upon the petition of Mr Monckton, who just then came into the room, she only went to a window. The letter was as follows:

To Miss, at his Honour Squire Harrel’s — These:

Honoured Madam — This with my humble duty. His Honour has given me nothing. But I would not be troublesome, having wherewithal to wait, so conclude, Honoured Madam, your dutiful servant to command, till death, M. HILL.

The vexation with which Cecilia read this letter was visible to the whole company; and while Mr Arnott looked at her with a wish of enquiry he did not dare express, and Mr Monckton, under an appearance of inattention, concealed the most anxious curiosity, Mr Morrice alone had courage to interrogate her; and, pertly advancing, said, “He is a happy man who writ that letter, ma’am, for I am sure you have not read it with indifference.”

“Were I the writer,” said Mr Arnott, tenderly, “I am sure I should reckon myself far otherwise, for Miss Beverley seems to have read it with uneasiness.”

“However, I have read it,” answered she, “I assure you it is not from any man.”

“O pray, Miss Beverley,” cried Sir Robert, coming forward, “are you any better today?”

“No, sir, for I have not been ill.”

“A little vapoured, I thought, yesterday; perhaps you want exercise.”

“I wish the ladies would put themselves under my care,” cried Morrice, “and take a turn round the park.”

“I don’t doubt you, Sir,” said Mr Monckton, contemptuously, “and, but for the check of modesty, probably there is not a man here who would not wish the same.”

“I could propose a much better scheme than that,” said Sir Robert; “what if you all walk to Harley Street, and give me your notions of a house I am about there? what say you, Mrs Harrel?”

“O, I shall like it vastly.”

“Done,” cried Mr Harrel; “’tis an excellent motion.”

“Come then,” said Sir Robert, “let’s be off. Miss Beverley, I hope you have a good warm cloak?”

“I must beg you to excuse my attending you, sir.”

Mr Monckton, who had heard this proposal with the utmost dread of its success, revived at the calm steadiness with which it was declined. Mr and Mrs Harrel both teized Cecilia to consent; but the haughty Baronet, evidently more offended than hurt by her refusal, pressed the matter no further, either with her or the rest of the party, and the scheme was dropt entirely.

Mr Monckton failed not to remark this circumstance, which confirmed his suspicions, that though the proposal seemed made by chance, its design was nothing else than to obtain Cecilia’s opinion concerning his house. But while this somewhat alarmed him, the unabated insolence of his carriage, and the confident defiance of his pride, still more surprized him; and notwithstanding all he observed of Cecilia, seemed to promise nothing but dislike; he could draw no other inference from his behaviour, than that if he admired, he also concluded himself sure of her.

This was not a pleasant conjecture, however little weight he allowed to it; and he resolved, by outstaying all the company, to have a few minutes’ private discourse with her upon the subject.

In about half an hour, Sir Robert and Mr Harrel went out together: Mr Monckton still persevered in keeping his ground, and tried, though already weary, to keep up a general conversation; but what moved at once his wonder and his indignation was the assurance of Morrice, who seemed not only bent upon staying as long as himself, but determined, by rattling away, to make his own entertainment.

At length a servant came in to tell Mrs Harrel that a stranger, who was waiting in the house-keeper’s room, begged to speak with her upon very particular business.

“O, I know,” cried she, “’tis that odious John Groot: do pray, brother, try to get rid of him for me, for he comes to teize me about his bill, and I never know what to say to him.”

Mr Arnott went immediately, and Mr Monckton could scarce refrain from going too, that he might entreat John Groot by no means to be satisfied without seeing Mrs Harrel herself: John Groot, however, wanted not his entreaties, as the servant soon returned to summons his lady to the conference.

But though Mr Monckton now seemed near the completion of his purpose, Morrice still remained; his vexation at this circumstance soon grew intolerable; to see himself upon the point of receiving the recompense of his perseverance, by the fortunate removal of all the obstacles in its way, and then to have it held from him by a young fellow he so much despised, and who had no entrance into the house but through his own boldness, and no inducement to stay in it but from his own impertinence, mortified him so insufferably, that it was with difficulty he even forbore from affronting him. Nor would he have scrupled a moment desiring him to leave the room, had he not prudently determined to guard with the utmost sedulity against raising any suspicions of his passion for Cecilia.

He arose, however, and was moving towards her, with the intention to occupy a part of a sofa on which she was seated, when Morrice, who was standing at the back of it, with a sudden spring which made the whole room shake, jumpt over, and sunk plump into the vacant place himself, calling out at the same time, “Come, come, what have you married men to do with young ladies? I shall seize this post for myself.”

The rage of Mr Monckton at this feat, and still more at the words married men, almost exceeded endurance; he stopt short, and looking at him with a fierceness that overpowered his discretion, was bursting out with, “Sir, you are an —— impudent fellow,” but checking himself when he got half way, concluded with, “a very facetious gentleman!”

Morrice, who wished nothing so little as disobliging Mr Monckton, and whose behaviour was merely the result of levity and a want of early education, no sooner perceived his displeasure, than, rising with yet more agility than he had seated himself, he resumed the obsequiousness of which an uncommon flow of spirits had robbed him, and guessing no other subject for his anger than the disturbance he had made, he bowed almost to the ground, first to him, and afterwards to Cecilia, most respectfully begging pardon of them both for his frolic, and protesting he had no notion he should have made such a noise!

Mrs Harrel and Mr Arnott, now hastening back, enquired what had been the matter? Morrice, ashamed of his exploit, and frightened by the looks of Mr Monckton, made an apology with the utmost humility, and hurried away: and Mr Monckton, hopeless of any better fortune, soon did the same, gnawn with a cruel discontent which he did not dare avow, and longing. to revenge himself upon Morrice, even by personal chastisement.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32