Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 11

A Narration.

The moment Cecilia was at liberty, she sent her own servant to examine into the real situation of the carpenter and his family, and to desire his wife would call upon her as soon as she was at leisure. The account which he brought back encreased her concern for the injuries of these poor people, and determined her not to rest satisfied till she saw them redressed. He informed her that they lived in a small lodging up two pair of stairs; that there were five children, all girls, the three eldest of whom were hard at work with their mother in matting chair-bottoms, and the fourth, though a mere child, was nursing the youngest; while the poor carpenter himself was confined to his bed, in consequence of a fall from a ladder while working at Violet–Bank, by which he was covered with wounds and contusions, and an object of misery and pain.

As soon as Mrs Hill came, Cecilia sent for her into her own room, where she received her with the most compassionate tenderness, and desired to know when Mr Harrel talked of paying her?

“To-morrow, madam,” she answered, shaking her head, “that is always his honour’s speech: but I shall bear it while I can. However, though I dare not tell his honour, something bad will come of it, if I am not paid soon.”

“Do you mean, then, to apply to the law?”

“I must not tell you, madam; but to be sure we have thought of it many a sad time and often; but still, while we could rub on, we thought it best not to make enemies: but, indeed, madam, his honour was so hardhearted this morning, that if I was not afraid you would be angry, I could not tell how to bear it; for when I told him I had no help now, for I had lost my Billy, he had the heart to say, ‘So much the better, there’s one the less of you.’”

“But what,” cried Cecilia, extremely shocked by this unfeeling speech, “is the reason he gives for disappointing you so often?”

“He says, madam, that none of the other workmen are paid yet; and that, to be sure, is very true; but then they can all better afford to wait than we can, for we were the poorest of all, madam, and have been misfortunate from the beginning: and his honour would never have employed us, only he had run up such a bill with Mr Wright, that he would not undertake any thing more till he was paid. We were told from the first we should not get our money; but we were willing to hope for the best, for we had nothing to do, and were hard run, and had never had the offer of so good a job before; and we had a great family to keep, and many losses, and so much illness! — Oh madam! if you did but know what the poor go through!”

This speech opened to Cecilia a new view of life; that a young man could appear so gay and happy, yet be guilty of such injustice and inhumanity, that he could take pride in works which not even money had made his own, and live with undiminished splendor, when his credit itself began to fail, seemed to her incongruities so irrational, that hitherto she had supposed them impossible.

She then enquired if her husband had yet had any physician?

“Yes, madam, I humbly thank your goodness,” she answered; “but I am not the poorer for that, for the gentleman was so kind he would take nothing.”

“And does he give you any hopes? what does he say?”

“He says he must die, madam, but I knew that before.”

“Poor woman! and what will you do then?”

“The same, madam, as I did when I lost my Billy, work on the harder!”

“Good heaven, how severe a lot! but tell me, why is it you seem to love your Billy so much better than the rest of your children?”

“Because, madam, he was the only boy that ever I had; he was seventeen years old, madam, and as tall and as pretty a lad! and so good, that he never cost me a wet eye till I lost him. He worked with his father, and all the folks used to say he was the better workman of the two.”

“And what was the occasion of his death?”

“A consumption, madam, that wasted him quite to nothing: and he was ill a long time, and cost us a deal of money, for we spared neither for wine nor any thing that we thought would but comfort him; and we loved him so we never grudged it. But he died, madam! and if it had not been for very hard work, the loss of him would quite have broke my heart.”

“Try, however, to think less of him,” said Cecilia; “and depend upon my speaking again for you to Mr Harrel. You shall certainly have your money; take care, therefore, of your own health, and go home and give comfort to your sick husband.”

“Oh, madam,” cried the poor woman, tears streaming down her cheeks, “you don’t know how touching it is to hear gentlefolks talk so kindly! And I have been used to nothing but roughness from his honour! But what I most fear, madam, is that when my husband is gone, he will be harder to deal with than ever; for a widow, madam, is always hard to be righted; and I don’t expect to hold out long myself, for sickness and sorrow wear fast: and then, when we are both gone, who is to help our poor children?”

I will!” cried the generous Cecilia; “I am able, and I am willing; you shall not find all the rich hardhearted, and I will try to make you some amends for the unkindness you have suffered.”

The poor woman, overcome by a promise so unexpected, burst into a passionate fit of tears, and sobbed out her thanks with a violence of emotion that frightened Cecilia almost as much as it melted her. She endeavoured, by re-iterated assurances of assistance, to appease her, and solemnly pledged her own honour that she should certainly be paid the following Saturday, which was only three days distant.

Mrs Hill, when a little calmer, dried her eyes, and humbly begging her to forgive a transport which she could not restrain, most gratefully thanked her for the engagement into which she had entered, protesting that she would not be troublesome to her goodness as long as she could help it; “And I believe,” she continued, “that if his honour will but pay me time enough for the burial, I can make shift with what I have till then. But when my poor Billy died, we were sadly off indeed, for we could not bear but bury him prettily, because it was the last we could do for him: but we could hardly scrape up enough for it, and yet we all went without our dinners to help forward, except the little one of all. But that did not much matter, for we had no great heart for eating.”.

“I cannot bear this!” cried Cecilia; “you must tell me no more of your Billy; but go home, and chear your spirits, and do every thing in your power to save your husband.”

“I will, madam,” answered the woman, “and his dying prayers shall bless you! and all my children shall bless you, and every night they shall pray for you. And oh!”— again bursting into tears, “that Billy was but alive to pray for you too!”

Cecilia kindly endeavoured to soothe her, but the poor creature, no longer able to suppress the violence of her awakened sorrows, cried out, “I must go, madam, and pray for you at home, for now I have once begun crying again, I don’t know how to have done!” and hurried away.

Cecilia determined to make once more an effort with Mr Harrel for the payment of the bill, and if that, in two days, did not succeed, to take up money for the discharge of it herself, and rest all her security for reimbursement upon the shame with which such a proceeding must overwhelm him. Offended, however, by the repulse she had already received from him, and disgusted by all she had heard of his unfeeling negligence, she knew not how to address him, and resolved upon applying again to Mr Arnott, who was already acquainted with the affair, for advice and assistance.

Mr Arnott, though extremely gratified that she consulted him, betrayed by his looks a hopelessness of success, that damped all her expectations. He promised, however, to speak to Mr Harrel upon the subject, but the promise was evidently given to oblige the fair mediatrix, without any hope of advantage to the cause.

The next morning Mrs Hill again came, and again without payment was dismissed.

Mr Arnott then, at the request of Cecilia, followed Mr Harrel into his room, to enquire into the reason of this breach of promise; they continued some time together, and when he returned to Cecilia, he told her, that his brother had assured him he would give orders to Davison, his gentleman, to let her have the money the next day.

The pleasure with which she would have heard this intelligence was much checked by the grave and cold manner in which it was communicated: she waited, therefore, with more impatience than confidence for the result of this fresh assurance.

The next morning, however, was the same as the last; Mrs Hill came, saw Davison, and was sent away.

Cecilia, to whom she related her grievances, then flew to Mr Arnott, and entreated him to enquire at least of Davison why the woman had again been disappointed.

Mr Arnott obeyed her, and brought for answer, that Davison had received no orders from his master.

“I entreat you then,” cried she, with mingled eagerness and vexation, “to go, for the last time, to Mr Harrel. I am sorry to impose upon you an office so disagreeable, but I am sure you compassionate these poor people, and will serve them now with your interest, as you have already done with your purse. I only wish to know if there has been any mistake, or if these delays are merely to sicken me of petitioning.”

Mr Arnott, with a repugnance to the request which he could as ill conceal as his admiration of the zealous requester, again forced himself to follow Mr Harrel. His stay was not long, and Cecilia at his return perceived that he was hurt and disconcerted. As soon as they were alone together, she begged to know what had passed? “Nothing,” answered he, “that will give you any pleasure. When I entreated my brother to come to the point, he said it was his intention to pay all his workmen together, for that if he paid any one singly, all the rest would be dissatisfied.”

“And why,” said Cecilia, “should he not pay them at once? There can be no more comparison in the value of the money to him and to them, than, to speak with truth, there is in his and in their right to it.”

“But, madam, the bills for the new house itself are none of them settled, and he says that the moment he is known to discharge an account for the Temple, he shall not have any rest for the clamours it will raise among the workmen who were employed about the house.”

“How infinitely strange!” exclaimed Cecilia; “will he not, then, pay anybody?”

“Next quarter, he says, he shall pay them all, but, at present, he has a particular call for his money.”

Cecilia would not trust herself to make any comments upon such an avowal, but thanking Mr Arnott for the trouble which he had taken, she determined, without any further application, to desire Mr Harrel to advance her 20 pounds the next morning, and satisfy the carpenter herself, be the risk what it might.

The following day, therefore, which was the Saturday when payment was promised, she begged an audience of Mr Harrel; which he immediately granted; but, before she could make her demand, he said to her, with an air of the utmost gaiety and good-humour, “Well, Miss Beverley, how fares it with your protegee? I hope, at length, she is contented. But I must beg you would charge her to keep her own counsel, as otherwise she will draw me into a scrape I shall not thank her for.”

“Have you, then, paid her?” cried Cecilia, with much amazement.

“Yes; I promised you I would, you know.”

This intelligence equally delighted and astonished her; she repeatedly thanked him for his attention to her petition, and, eager to communicate her success to Mr Arnott, she hastened to find him. “Now,” cried she, “I shall torment you no more with painful commissions; the Hills, at last, are paid!”

“From you, madam,” answered he gravely, “no commissions could be painful.”

“Well, but,” said Cecilia, somewhat disappointed, “you don’t seem glad of this?”

“Yes,” answered he, with a forced smile, “I am very glad to see you so.”

“But how was it brought about? did Mr Harrel relent? or did you attack him again?”

The hesitation of his answer convinced her there was some mystery in the transaction; she began to apprehend she had been deceived, and hastily quitting the room, sent for Mrs Hill: but the moment the poor woman appeared, she was satisfied of the contrary, for, almost frantic with joy and gratitude, she immediately flung herself upon her knees, to thank her benefactress for having seen her righted.

Cecilia then gave her some general advice, promised to continue her friend, and offered her assistance in getting her husband into an hospital; but she told her he had already been in one many months, where he had been pronounced incurable, and therefore was desirous to spend his last days in his own lodgings.

“Well,” said Cecilia, “make them as easy to him as you, can, and come to me next week, and I will try to put you in a better way of living.”

She then, still greatly perplexed about Mr Arnott, sought him again, and, after various questions and conjectures, at length brought him to confess he had himself lent his brother the sum with which the Hills had been paid.

Struck with his generosity, she poured forth thanks and praises so grateful to his ears, that she soon gave him a recompense which he would have thought cheaply purchased by half his fortune.

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