Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 6

A Breakfast.

The next morning, during breakfast, a servant acquainted Cecilia that a young gentleman was in the hall, who begged to speak with her. She desired he might be admitted; and Mrs Harrel, laughing, asked if she ought not to quit the room; while Mr Arnott, with even more than his usual gravity, directed his eye towards the door to watch who should enter.

Neither of them, however, received any satisfaction when it was opened, for the gentleman who made his appearance was unknown to both: but great was the amazement of Cecilia, though little her emotion, when she saw Mr Morrice!

He came forward with an air of the most profound respect for the company in general, and obsequiously advancing to Cecilia, made an earnest enquiry into her health after her journey, and hoped she had heard good news from her friends in the country.

Mrs Harrel, naturally concluding both from his visit and behaviour, that he was an acquaintance of some intimacy, very civilly offered him a seat and some breakfast, which, very frankly, he accepted. But Mr Arnott, who already felt the anxiety of a rising passion which was too full of veneration to be sanguine, looked at him with uneasiness, and waited his departure with impatience.

Cecilia began to imagine he had been commissioned to call upon her with some message from Mr Monckton: for she knew not how to suppose that merely and accidentally having spent an hour or two in the same room with her, would authorize a visiting acquaintance. Mr Morrice, however, had a faculty the most happy of reconciling his pretensions to his inclination; and therefore she soon found that the pretence she had suggested appeared to him unnecessary. To lead, however, to the subject from which she expected his excuse, she enquired how long he had left Suffolk?

“But yesterday noon, ma’am,” he answered, “or I should certainly have taken the liberty to wait upon you before.”

Cecilia, who had only been perplexing herself to devise some reason why he came at all, now looked at him with a grave surprize, which would totally have abashed a man whose courage had been less, or whose expectations had been greater; but Mr Morrice, though he had hazarded every danger upon the slightest chance of hope, knew too well the weakness of his claims to be confident of success, and had been too familiar with rebuffs to be much hurt by receiving them. He might possibly have something to gain, but he knew he had nothing to lose.

“I had the pleasure,” he continued, “to leave all our friends well, except poor Lady Margaret, and she has had an attack of the asthma; yet she would not have a physician, though Mr Monckton would fain have persuaded her: however, I believe the old lady knows better things.” And he looked archly at Cecilia: but perceiving that the insinuation gave her nothing but disgust, he changed his tone, and added, “It is amazing how well they live together; nobody would imagine the disparity in their years. Poor old lady! Mr Monckton will really have a great loss of her when she dies.”

“A loss of her!” repeated Mrs Harrel, “I am sure she is an exceeding ill-natured old woman. When I lived at Bury, I was always frightened out of my wits at the sight of her.”

“Why indeed, ma’am,” said Morrice, “I must own her appearance is rather against her: I had myself a great aversion to her at first sight. But the house is chearful — very chearful; I like to spend a few days there now and then of all things. Miss Bennet, too, is agreeable enough, and ——”

“Miss Bennet agreeable!” cried Mrs Harrel, “I think she’s the most odious creature I ever knew in my life; a nasty, spiteful old maid!”

“Why indeed, ma’am, as you say,” answered Morrice, “she is not very young; and as to her temper, I confess I know very little about it; and Mr Monckton is likely enough to try it, for he is pretty severe.”

“Mr Monckton,” cried Cecilia, extremely provoked at hearing him censured by a man she thought highly honoured in being permitted to approach him, “whenever I have been his guest, has merited from me nothing but praise and gratitude.”

“O,” cried Morrice, eagerly, “there is not a more worthy man in the world! he has so much wit, so much politeness! I don’t know a more charming man anywhere than my friend Mr Monckton.” Cecilia now perceiving that the opinions of her new acquaintance were as pliant as his bows, determined to pay him no further attention, and hoped by sitting silent to force from him the business of his visit, if any he had, or if, as she now suspected, he had none, to weary him into a retreat.

But this plan, though it would have succeeded with herself, failed with Mr Morrice, who to a stock of good humour that made him always ready to oblige others, added an equal portion of insensibility that hardened him against all indignity. Finding, therefore, that Cecilia, to whom his visit was intended, seemed already satisfied with its length, he prudently forbore to torment her; but perceiving that the lady of the house was more accessible, he quickly made a transfer of his attention, and addressed his discourse to her with as much pleasure as if his only view had been to see her, and as much ease as if he had known her all his life.

With Mrs Harrel this conduct was not injudicious; she was pleased with his assiduity, amused with his vivacity, and sufficiently satisfied with his understanding. They conversed, therefore, upon pretty equal terms, and neither of them were yet tired, when they were interrupted by Mr Harrel, who came into the room, to ask if they had seen or heard any thing of Sir Robert Floyer?

“No,” answered Mrs Harrel, “nothing at all.”

“I wish he was hanged,” returned he, “for he has kept me waiting this hour. He made me promise not to ride out till he called and now he’ll stay till the morning is over.”

“Pray where does he live, sir?” cried Morrice, starting from his seat.

“In Cavendish Square, sir,” answered Mr Harrel, looking at him with much surprise.

Not a word more said Morrice, but scampered out of the room.

“Pray who is this Genius?” cried Mr Harrel, “and what has he run away for?”

“Upon my word I know nothing at all of him,” said Mrs Harrel; “he is a visitor of Miss Beverley’s.”

“And I, too,” said Cecilia, “might almost equally disclaim all knowledge of him; for though I once saw, I never was introduced to him.”

She then began a relation of her meeting him at Mr Monckton’s house, and had hardly concluded it, before again, and quite out of breath, he made his appearance.

“Sir Robert Floyer, sir,” said he to Mr Harrel, “will be here in two minutes.”

“I hope, sir,” said Mr Harrel, “you have not given yourself the trouble of going to him?”

“No, sir, it has given me nothing but pleasure; a run these cold mornings is the thing I like best.”

“Sir, you are extremely good,” said Mr Harrel, “but I had not the least intention of your taking such a walk upon my account.”

He then begged him to be seated, to rest himself, and to take some refreshment; which civilities he received without scruple.

“But, Miss Beverley,” said Mr Harrel, turning suddenly to Cecilia, “you don’t tell me what you think of my friend?”

“What friend, sir?”

“Why, Sir Robert Floyer; I observed he never quitted you a moment while he stayed at Mrs Mears.”

“His stay, however, was too short,” said Cecilia, “to allow me to form a fair opinion of him.”

“But perhaps,” cried Morrice,” it was long enough to allow you to form a foul one.”

Cecilia could not forbear laughing to hear the truth thus accidentally blundered out; but Mr Harrel, looking very little pleased, said, “Surely you can find no fault with him? he is one of the most fashionable men I know.”

“My finding fault with him then,” said Cecilia, “will only farther prove what I believe is already pretty evident, that I am yet a novice in the art of admiration.”

Mr Arnott, animating at this speech, glided behind her chair, and said, “I knew you could not like him! I knew it from the turn of your mind; — I knew it even from your countenance!”

Soon after, Sir Robert Floyer arrived.

“You are a pretty fellow, a’n’t you,” cried Mr Harrel, “to keep me waiting so long.”

“I could not come a moment sooner; I hardly expected to get here at all, for my horse has been so confounded resty I could not tell how to get him along.”

“Do you come on horseback through the streets, Sir Robert?” asked Mrs Harrel.

“Sometimes; when I am lazy. But what the d —— l is the matter with him I don’t know; he has started at everything. I suspect there has been some foul play with him.”

“Is he at the door, sir?” cried Morrice.

“Yes,” answered Sir Robert.

“Then I’ll tell you what’s the matter with him in a minute;” and away again ran Morrice.

“What time did you get off last night, Harrel?” said Sir Robert.

“Not very early; but you were too much engaged to miss me. By the way,” lowering his voice, “what do you think I lost?”

“I can’t tell indeed, but I know what I gained: I have not had such a run of luck this winter.”

They then went up to a window to carry on their enquiries more privately.

At the words what do you think I lost, Cecilia, half starting, cast her eyes uneasily upon Mrs Harrel, but perceived not the least change in her countenance. Mr Arnott, however, seemed as little pleased as herself, and from a similar sensation looked anxiously at his sister.

Morrice now returning, called out, “He’s had a fall, I assure you!”

“Curse him!” cried Sir Robert, “what shall I do now? he cost me the d —— l and all of money, and I have not had him a twelvemonth. Can you lend me a horse for this morning, Harrel?”

“No, I have not one that will do for you. You must send to Astley.”

“Who can I send? John must take care of this.”

“I’ll go, sir,” cried Morrice, “if you’ll give me the commission.”

“By no means, sir,” said Sir Robert, “I can’t think of giving you such an office.”

“It is the thing in the world I like best,” answered he; “I understand horses, and had rather go to Astley’s than any where.”

The matter was now settled in a few minutes, and having received his directions, and an invitation to dinner, Morrice danced off, with a heart yet lighter than his heels.

“Why, Miss Beverley,” said Mr Harrel, “this friend of yours is the most obliging gentleman I ever met with; there was no avoiding asking him to dinner.”

“Remember, however,” said Cecilia, who was involuntarily diverted at the successful officiousness of her new acquaintance, “that if you receive him henceforth as your guest, he obtains admission through his own merits, and not through my interest.”

At dinner, Morrice, who failed not to accept the invitation of Mr Harrel, was the gayest, and indeed the happiest man in the company: the effort he had made to fasten himself upon Cecilia as an acquaintance, had not, it is true, from herself met with much encouragement; but he knew the chances were against him when he made the trial, and therefore the prospect of gaining admission into such a house as Mr Harrel’s, was not only sufficient to make amends for what scarcely amounted to a disappointment, but a subject of serious comfort from the credit of the connection, and of internal exultation at his own management and address.

In the evening, the ladies, as usual, went to a private assembly, and, as usual, were attended to it by Mr Arnott. The other gentlemen had engagements elsewhere.

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