Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 8

An Opera Rehearsal.

The next day, between eleven and twelve o’clock, Mr Monckton was again in Portman Square; he found, as he expected, both the ladies, and he found, as he feared, Mr Arnott prepared to be of their party. He had, however, but little time to repine at this intrusion, before he was disturbed by another, for, in a few minutes, they were joined by Sir Robert Floyer, who also declared his intention of accompanying them to the Haymarket.

Mr Monckton, to disguise his chagrin, pretended he was in great haste to set off, lest they should be too late for the overture: they were, therefore, quitting the breakfast room, when they were stopt by the appearance of Mr Morrice.

The surprise which the sight of him gave to Mr Monckton was extreme; he knew that he was unacquainted with Mr Harrel, for he remembered they were strangers to each other when they lately met at his house; he concluded, therefore, that Cecilia was the object of his visit, but he could frame no conjecture under what pretence.

The easy terms upon which he seemed with all the family by no means diminished his amazement; for when Mrs Harrel expressed some concern that she was obliged to go out, he gaily begged her not to mind him, assuring her he could not have stayed two minutes, and promising, unasked, to call again the next day: and when she added, “We would not hurry away so, only we are going to a rehearsal of an Opera,” he exclaimed with quickness, “A rehearsal! — are you really? I have a great mind to go too!”

Then, perceiving Mr Monckton, he bowed to him with great respect, and enquired, with no little solemnity, how he had left Lady Margaret, hoped she was perfectly recovered from her late indisposition, and asked sundry questions with regard to her plan for the winter.

This discourse was ill constructed for rendering his presence desirable to Mr Monckton; he answered him very drily, and again pressed their departure.

“O,” cried Morrice, “there’s no occasion for such haste; the rehearsal does not begin till one.”

“You are mistaken, sir,” said Mr Monckton; “it is to begin at twelve o’clock.”

“O ay, very true,” returned Morrice; “I had forgot the dances, and I suppose they are to be rehearsed first. Pray, Miss Beverley, did you ever see any dances rehearsed?”

“No, sir.”

“You will be excessively entertained, then, I assure you. It’s the most comical thing in the world to see those signores and signoras cutting capers in a morning. And the figuranti will divert you beyond measure; you never saw such a shabby set in your life: but the most amusing thing is to look in their faces, for all the time they are jumping and skipping about the stage as if they could not stand still for joy, they look as sedate and as dismal as if they were so many undertaker’s men.”

“Not a word against dancing!” cried Sir Robert, “it’s the only thing carries one to the Opera; and I am sure it’s the only thing one minds at it.”

The two ladies were then handed to Mrs Harrel’s vis-a-vis; and the gentlemen, joined without further ceremony by Mr Morrice, followed them to the Haymarket.

The rehearsal was not begun, and Mrs Harrel and Cecilia secured themselves a box upon the stage, from which the gentlemen of their party took care not to be very distant.

They were soon perceived by Mr Gosport, who instantly entered into conversation with Cecilia. Miss Larolles, who with some other ladies came soon after into the next box, looked out to courtsie and nod, with her usual readiness, at Mrs Harrel, but took not any notice of Cecilia, though she made the first advances.

“What’s the matter now?” cried Mr Gosport; “have you affronted your little prattling friend?”

“Not with my own knowledge,” answered Cecilia; “perhaps she does not recollect me.”

Just then Miss Larolles, tapping at the door, came in from the next box to speak to Mrs Harrel; with whom she stood chatting and laughing some minutes, without seeming to perceive that Cecilia was of her party.

“Why, what have you done to the poor girl?” whispered Mr Gosport; “did you talk more than herself when you saw her last?”

“Would that have been possible?” cried Cecilia; “however, I still fancy she does not know me.”

She then stood up, which making Miss Larolles involuntarily turn towards her, she again courtsied; a civility which that young lady scarce deigned to return, before, bridling with an air of resentment, she hastily looked another way, and then, nodding good-humouredly at Mrs Harrel, hurried back to her party.

Cecilia, much amazed, said to Mr Gosport, “See now how great was our presumption in supposing this young lady’s loquacity always at our devotion!”

“Ah, madam!” cried he, laughing, “there is no permanency, no consistency in the world! no, not even in the tongue of a VOLUBLE! and if that fails, upon what may we depend?”

“But seriously,” said Cecilia, “I am sorry I have offended her, and the more because I so little know how, that I can offer her no apology.”

“Will you appoint me your envoy? Shall I demand the cause of these hostilities?”

She thanked him, and he followed Miss Larolles; who was now addressing herself with great earnestness to Mr Meadows, the gentleman with whom she was conversing when Cecilia first saw her in Portman Square. He stopt a moment to let her finish her speech, which, with no little spirit, she did in these words, “I never knew anything like it in my life; but I shan’t put up with such airs, I assure her!”

Mr Meadows made not any other return to her harangue, but stretching himself with a languid smile, and yawning: Mr Gosport, therefore, seizing the moment of cessation, said, “Miss Larolles, I hear a strange report about you.”

“Do you?” returned she, with quickness, “pray what is it? something monstrous impertinent, I dare say —— however, I assure you it i’n’t true.”

“Your assurance,” cried he, “carries conviction indisputable, for the report was that you had left off talking.”

“O, was that all?” cried she, disappointed, “I thought it had been something about Mr Sawyer, for I declare I have been plagued so about him, I am quite sick of his name.”

“And for my part, I never heard it! so fear nothing from me upon his account.”

“Lord, Mr Gosport, how can you say so? I am sure you must know about the Festino that night, for it was all over the town in a moment.”

“What festino?”

“Well, only conceive, how provoking! — why, I know nothing else was talked of for a month!”

“You are most formidably stout this morning! it is not two minutes since I saw you fling the gauntlet at Miss Beverley, and yet you are already prepared for another antagonist.”

“O as to Miss Beverley, I must really beg you not to mention her; she has behaved so impertinently, that I don’t intend ever to speak to her again.”

“Why, what has she done?”

“O she’s been so rude you’ve no notion. I’ll tell you how it was. You must know I met her at Mrs Barrel’s the day she came to town, and the very next morning I waited on her myself, for I would not send a ticket, because I really wished to be civil to her; well, the day after, she never came near me, though I called upon her again; however, I did not take any notice of that; but when the third day came, and I found she had not even sent me a ticket, I thought it monstrous ill bred indeed; and now there has passed more than a week, and yet she has never called: so I suppose she don’t like me; so I shall drop her acquaintance.”

Mr Gosport, satisfied now with the subject of her complaint, returned to Cecilia, and informed her of the heavy charge which was brought against her.

“I am glad, at least, to know my crime,” said she, “for otherwise I should certainly have sinned on in ignorance, as I must confess I never thought of returning her visits: but even if I had, I should not have supposed I had yet lost much time.”

“I beg your pardon there,” said Mrs Harrel; “a first visit ought to be returned always by the third day.”

“Then have I an unanswerable excuse,” said Cecilia, “for I remember that on the third day I saw her at your house.”

“O that’s nothing at all to the purpose; you should have waited upon her, or sent her a ticket, just the same as if you had not seen her.”

The overture was now begun, and Cecilia declined any further conversation. This was the first Opera she had ever heard, yet she was not wholly a stranger to Italian compositions, having assiduously studied music from a natural love of the art, attended all the best concerts her neighbourhood afforded, and regularly received from London the works of the best masters. But the little skill she had thus gained, served rather to increase than to lessen the surprize with which she heard the present performance — a surprize of which the discovery of her own ignorance made not the least part. Unconscious from the little she had acquired how much was to be learnt, she was astonished to find the inadequate power of written music to convey any idea of vocal abilities: with just knowledge enough, therefore, to understand something of the difficulties, and feel much of the merit, she gave to the whole Opera an avidity of attention almost painful from its own eagerness.

But both the surprize and the pleasure which she received from the performance in general, were faint, cold, and languid, compared to the strength of those emotions when excited by Signore Pacchierotti in particular; and though not half the excellencies of that superior singer were necessary either to amaze or charm her unaccustomed ears, though the refinement of his taste and masterly originality of his genius, to be praised as they deserved, called for the judgment and knowledge of professors, yet a natural love of music in some measure supplied the place of cultivation, and what she could neither explain nor understand, she could feel and enjoy.

The opera was Artaserse; and the pleasure she received from the music was much augmented by her previous acquaintance with that interesting drama; yet, as to all noviciates in science, whatever is least complicated is most pleasing, she found herself by nothing so deeply impressed, as by the plaintive and beautiful simplicity with which Pacchierotti uttered the affecting repetition of sono innocente! his voice, always either sweet or impassioned, delivered those words in a tone of softness, pathos, and sensibility, that struck her with a sensation not more new than delightful.

But though she was, perhaps, the only person thus astonished, she was by no means the only one enraptured; for notwithstanding she was too earnestly engaged to remark the company in general, she could not avoid taking notice of an old gentleman who stood by one of the side scenes, against which he leant his head in a manner that concealed his face, with an evident design to be wholly absorbed in listening: and during the songs of Pacchierotti he sighed so deeply that Cecilia, struck by his uncommon sensibility to the power of music, involuntarily watched him, whenever her mind was sufficiently at liberty to attend to any emotions but its own.

As soon as the rehearsal was over, the gentlemen of Mrs Harrel’s party crowded before her box; and Cecilia then perceived that the person whose musical enthusiasm had excited her curiosity, was the same old gentleman whose extraordinary behaviour had so much surprized her at the house of Mr Monckton. Her desire to obtain some information concerning him again reviving, she was beginning to make fresh enquiries, when she was interrupted by the approach of Captain Aresby.

That gentleman, advancing to her with a smile of the extremest self-complacency, after hoping, in a low voice, he had the honour of seeing her well, exclaimed, “How wretchedly empty is the town! petrifying to a degree! I believe you do not find yourself at present obsede by too much company?”

At present, I believe the contrary!” cried Mr Gosport.

“Really!” said the Captain, unsuspicious of his sneer, “I protest I have hardly seen a soul. Have you tried the Pantheon yet, ma’am?”

“No, sir.”

“Nor I; I don’t know whether people go there this year. It is not a favourite spectacle with me; that sitting to hear the music is a horrid bore. Have you done the Festino the honour to look in there yet?”

“No, sir.”

“Permit me, then, to have the honour to beg you will try it.”

“O, ay, true,” cried Mrs Harrel; “I have really used you very ill about that; I should have got you in for a subscriber: but Lord, I have done nothing for you yet, and you never put me in mind. There’s the ancient music, and Abel’s concert; — as to the opera, we may have a box between us; — but there’s the ladies’ concert we must try for; and there’s — O Lord, fifty other places we must think of!”

“Oh times of folly and dissipation!” exclaimed a voice at some distance; “Oh mignons of idleness and luxury! What next will ye invent for the perdition of your time! How yet further will ye proceed in the annihilation of virtue!”

Everybody stared; but Mrs Harrel coolly said, “Dear, it’s only the man-hater!”

“The man-hater?” repeated Cecilia, who found that the speech was made by the object of her former curiosity; “is that the name by which he is known?”

“He is known by fifty names,” said Mr Monckton; “his friends call him the moralist; the young ladies, the crazy-man; the macaronies, the bore; in short, he is called by any and every name but his own.”

“He is a most petrifying wretch, I assure you,” said the Captain; “I am obsede by him partout; if I had known he had been so near, I should certainly have said nothing.”

“That you have done so well,” cried Mr Gosport, “that if you had known it the whole time, you could have done it no better.”

The Captain, who had not heard this speech, which was rather made at him than to him, continued his address to Cecilia; “Give me leave to have the honour of hoping you intend to honour our select masquerade at the Pantheon with your presence. We shall have but five hundred tickets, and the subscription will only be three guineas and a half.”

“Oh objects of penury and want!” again exclaimed the incognito; “Oh vassals of famine and distress! Come and listen to this wantonness of wealth! Come, naked and breadless as ye are, and learn how that money is consumed which to you might bring raiment and food!”

“That strange wretch,” said the Captain, “ought really to be confined; I have had the honour to be degoute by him so often, that I think him quite obnoxious. I make it quite a principle to seal up my lips the moment I perceive him.”

“Where is it, then,” said Cecilia, “that you have so often met him?”

“O,” answered the Captain, “partout; there is no greater bore about town. But the time I found him most petrifying was once when I happened to have the honour of dancing with a very young lady, who was but just come from a boarding-school, and whose friends had done me the honour to fix upon me upon the principle of first bringing her out: and while I was doing mon possible for killing the time, he came up, and in his particular manner, told her I had no meaning in any thing I said! I must own I never felt more tempted to be enrage with a person in years, in my life.”

Mr Arnott now brought the ladies word that their carriage was ready, and they quitted their box: but as Cecilia had never before seen the interior parts of a theatre, Mr Monckton, hoping while they loitered to have an opportunity of talking with her, asked Morrice why he did not shew the lions? Morrice, always happy in being employed, declared it was just the thing he liked best, and begged permission to do the honours to Mrs Harrel, who, ever eager in the search of amusement, willingly accepted his offer.

They all, therefore, marched upon the stage, their own party now being the only one that remained.

“We shall make a triumphal entry here,” cried Sir Robert Floyer; “the very tread of the stage half tempts me to turn actor.”

“You are a rare man,” said Mr Gosport, “if, at your time of life, that is a turn not already taken.”

“My time of life!” repeated he; “what do you mean by that? do you take me for an old man?”

“No, sir, but I take you to be past childhood, and consequently to have served your apprenticeship to the actors you have mixed with on the great stage of the world, and, for some years at least, to have set up for yourself.”

“Come,” cried Morrice, “let’s have a little spouting; ’twill make us warm.”

“Yes,” said Sir Robert, “if we spout to an animating object. If Miss Beverley will be Juliet, I am Romeo at her service.”

At this moment the incognito, quitting the corner in which he had planted himself, came suddenly forward, and standing before the whole group, cast upon Cecilia a look of much compassion, and called out, “Poor simple victim! hast thou already so many pursuers? yet seest not that thou art marked for sacrifice! yet knowest not that thou art destined for prey!”

Cecilia, extremely struck by this extraordinary address, stopt short and looked much disturbed: which, when he perceived, he added, “Let the danger, not the warning affect you! discard the sycophants that surround you, seek the virtuous, relieve the poor, and save yourself from the impending destruction of unfeeling prosperity!”

Having uttered these words with vehemence and authority, he sternly passed them, and disappeared.

Cecilia, too much astonished for speech, stood for some time immoveable, revolving in her mind various conjectures upon the meaning of an exhortation so strange and so urgent.

Nor was the rest of the company much less discomposed: Sir Robert, Mr Monckton, and Mr Arnott, each conscious of their own particular plans, were each apprehensive that the warning pointed at himself: Mr Gosport was offended at being included in the general appellation of sycophants; Mrs Harrel was provoked at being interrupted in her ramble; and Captain Aresby, sickening at the very sight of him, retreated the moment he came forth.

“For heaven’s sake,” cried Cecilia, when somewhat recovered from her consternation, “who can this be, and what can he mean? You, Mr Monckton, must surely know something of him; it was at your house I first saw him.”

“Indeed,” answered Mr Monckton, “I knew almost nothing of him then, and I am but little better informed now. Belfield picked him up somewhere, and desired to bring him to my house: he called him by the name of Albany: I found him a most extraordinary character, and Belfield, who is a worshipper of originality, was very fond of him.”

“He’s a devilish crabbed old fellow,” cried Sir Robert, “and if he goes on much longer at this confounded rate, he stands a very fair chance of getting his ears cropped.”

“He is a man of the most singular conduct I have ever met with,” said Mr Gosport; “he seems to hold mankind in abhorrence, yet he is never a moment alone, and at the same time that he intrudes himself into all parties, he associates with none: he is commonly a stern and silent observer of all that passes, or when he speaks, it is but to utter some sentence of rigid morality, or some bitterness of indignant reproof.”

The carriage was now again announced, and Mr Monckton taking Cecilia’s hand, while Mr Morrice secured to himself the honour of Mrs Harrel’s, Sir Robert and Mr Gosport made their bows and departed. But though they had now quitted the stage, and arrived at the head of a small stair case by which they were to descend out of the theatre, Mr Monckton, finding all his tormentors retired, except Mr Arnott, whom he hoped to elude, could not resist making one more attempt for a few moments’ conversation with Cecilia; and therefore, again applying to Morrice, he called out, “I don’t think you have shewn the ladies any of the contrivances behind the scenes?”

“True,” cried Morrice, “no more I have; suppose we go back?”

“I shall like it vastly,” said Mrs Harrel; and back they returned.

Mr Monckton now soon found an opportunity to say to Cecilia, “Miss Beverley, what I foresaw has exactly come to pass; you are surrounded by selfish designers, by interested, double-minded people, who have nothing at heart but your fortune, and whose mercenary views, if you are not guarded against them ——”

Here a loud scream from Mrs Harrel interrupted his speech; Cecilia, much alarmed, turned from him to enquire the cause, and Mr Monckton was obliged to follow her example: but his mortification was almost intolerable when he saw that lady in a violent fit of laughter, and found her scream was only occasioned by seeing Mr Morrice, in his diligence to do the honours, pull upon his own head one of the side scenes!

There was now no possibility of proposing any further delay; but Mr Monckton, in attending the ladies to their carriage, was obliged to have recourse to his utmost discretion and forbearance, in order to check his desire of reprimanding Morrice for his blundering officiousness.

Dressing, dining with company at home, and then going out with company abroad, filled up, as usual, the rest of the day.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/burney/fanny/cecilia/book1.8.html

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