Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 6

A Prating.

Cecilia was shewn into a parlour, where Mrs Belfield was very earnestly discoursing with Mr Hobson and Mr Simkins; and Belfield himself, to her great satisfaction, was already there, and reading.

“Lack a-day!” cried Mrs Belfield, “if one does not always see the people one’s talking of! Why it was but this morning, madam, I was saying to Mr Hobson, I wonder, says I, a young lady of such fortunes as Miss Beverley should mope herself up so in the country! Don’t you remember it, Mr Hobson?”

“Yes, madam,” answered Mr Hobson, “but I think, for my part, the young lady’s quite in the right to do as she’s a mind; for that’s what I call living agreeable: and if I was a young lady tomorrow, with such fine fortunes, and that, it’s just what I should do myself: for what I say is this: where’s the joy of having a little money, and being a little matter above the world, if one has not one’s own will?”

“Ma’am,” said Mr Simkins, who had scarce yet raised his head from the profoundness of his bow upon Cecilia’s entrance into the room, “if I may be so free, may I make bold just for to offer you this chair?”

“I called, madam,” said Cecilia, seizing the first moment in her power to speak, “in order to acquaint you that your daughter, who is perfectly well, has made a little change in her situation, which she was anxious you should hear from myself.”

“Ha! ha! stolen a match upon you, I warrant!” cried the facetious Mr Hobson; “a good example for you, young lady; and if you take my advice, you won’t be long before you follow it; for as to a lady, let her be worth never so much, she’s a mere nobody, as one may say, till she can get herself a husband, being she knows nothing of business, and is made to pay for every thing through the nose.”

“Fie, Mr Hobson, fie!” said Mr Simkins, “to talk so slighting of the ladies before their faces! what one says in a corner, is quite of another nature; but for to talk so rude in their company — I thought you would scorn to do such a thing.”

“Sir, I don’t want to be rude no more than yourself,” said Mr Hobson, “for what I say is, rudeness is a thing that makes nobody agreeable; but I don’t see because of that, why a man is not to speak his mind to a lady as well as to a gentleman, provided he does it in a complaisant fashion.”

“Mr Hobson,” cried Mrs Belfield, very impatiently, “you might as well let me speak, when the matter is all about my own daughter.”

“I ask pardon, ma’am,” said he, “I did not mean to stop you; for as to not letting a lady speak, one might as well tell a man in business not to look at the Daily Advertiser; why, it’s morally impossible!”

“But sure, madam,” cried Mrs Belfield, “it’s no such thing? You can’t have got her off already?”

“I would I had!” thought Cecilia; who then explained her meaning; but in talking of Mrs Harrel, avoided all mention of Mr Arnott, well foreseeing that to hear such a man existed, and was in the same house with her daughter, would be sufficient authority to her sanguine expectations, for depending upon a union between them, and reporting it among her friends, his circumstance being made clear, Cecilia added, “I could by no means have consented voluntarily to parting so soon with Miss Belfield, but that my own affairs call me at present out of the kingdom.” And then, addressing herself to Belfield, she enquired if he could recommend to her a trusty foreign servant, who would be hired only for the time she was to spend abroad?

While Belfield was endeavouring to recollect some such person, Mr Hobson eagerly called out “As to going abroad, madam, to be sure you’re to do as you like, for that, as I say, is the soul of every thing; but else I can’t say it’s a thing I much approve; for my notion is this: here’s a fine fortune, got as a man may say, out of the bowels of one’s mother country, and this fine fortune, in default of male issue, is obliged to come to a female, the law making no proviso to the contrary. Well, this female, going into a strange country, naturally takes with her this fortune, by reason it’s the main article she has to depend upon; what’s the upshot? why she gets pilfered by a set of sharpers that never saw England in their lives, and that never lose sight of her till she has not a sous in the world. But the hardship of the thing is this: when it’s all gone, the lady can come back, but will the money come back? — No, you’ll never see it again: now this is what I call being no true patriot.”

“I am quite ashamed for to hear you talk so, Mr Hobson!” cried Mr Simkins, affecting to whisper; “to go for to take a person to task at this rate, is behaving quite unbearable; it’s enough to make the young lady afraid to speak before you.”

“Why, Mr Simkins,” answered Mr Hobson, “truth is truth, whether one speaks it or not; and that, ma’am, I dare say, a young lady of your good sense knows as well as myself.”

“I think, madam,” said Belfield, who waited their silence with great impatience, “that I know just such a man as you will require, and one upon whose honesty I believe you may rely.”

“That’s more,” said Mr Hobson, “than I would take upon me to say for any Englishman! where you may meet with such a Frenchman, I won’t be bold to say.”

“Why indeed,” said Mr Simkins, “if I might take the liberty for to put in, though I don’t mean in no shape to go to contradicting the young gentleman, but if I was to make bold to speak my private opinion upon the head, I should be inclinable for to say, that as to putting a dependance upon the French, it’s a thing quite dubious how it may turn out.”

“I take it as a great favour, ma’am,” said Mrs Belfield, “that you have been so complaisant as to make me this visit to-night, for I was almost afraid you would not have done me the favour any more; for, to be sure, when you was here last, things went a little unlucky: but I had no notion, for my part, who the old gentleman was till after he was gone, when Mr Hobson told me it was old Mr Delvile: though, sure enough, I thought it rather upon the extraordinary order, that he should come here into my parlour, and make such a secret of his name, on purpose to ask me questions about my own son.”

“Why I think, indeed, if I may be so free,” said Mr Simkins, “it was rather petickeler of the gentleman; for, to be sure, if he was so over curious to hear about your private concerns, the genteel thing, if I may take the liberty for to differ, would have been for him to say, ma’am, says he, I’m come to ask the favour of you just to let me a little into your son’s goings on; and any thing, ma’am, you should take a fancy for to ask me upon the return, why I shall be very compliable, ma’am, says he, to giving of you satisfaction.”

“I dare say,” answered Mrs Belfield, “he would not have said so much if you’d have gone down on your knees to ask him. Why he was upon the very point of being quite in a passion because I only asked him his name! though what harm that could do him, I’m sure I never could guess. However, as he was so mighty inquisitive about my son, if I had but known who he was in time, I should have made no scruple in the world to ask him if he could not have spoke a few words for him to some of those great people that could have done him some good. But the thing that I believe put him so out of humour, was my being so unlucky as to say, before ever I knew who he was, that I had heard he was not over and above good-natured; for I saw he did not seem much to like it at the time.”

“If he had done the generous thing,” said Mr Simkins, “it would have been for him to have made the proffer of his services of his own free-will; and it’s rather surpriseable to me he should never have thought of it; for what could be so natural as for him to say, I see, ma’am, says he, you’ve got a very likely young gentleman here, that’s a little out of cash, says he, so I suppose, ma’am, says he, a place, or a pension, or something in that shape of life, would be no bad compliment, says he.”

“But no such good luck as that will come to my share,” cried Mrs Belfield, “I can tell you that, for every thing I want to do goes quite contrary. Who would not have thought such a son as mine, though I say it before his face, could not have made his fortune long ago, living as he did, among all the great folks, and dining at their table just like one of themselves? yet, for all that, you see they let him go on his own way, and think of him no more than of nobody! I’m sure they might be ashamed to shew their faces, and so I should tell them at once, if I could but get sight of them.”

“I don’t mean, ma’am,” said Mr Simkins, “for to be finding fault with what you say, for I would not be unpelite in no shape; but if I might be so free as for to differ a little bit, I must needs say I am rather for going to work in anotherguess sort of a manner; and if I was as you —”

“Mr Simkins,” interrupted Belfield, “we will settle this matter another time.” And then, turning to the wearied Cecilia, “The man, madam,” he said, “whom I have done myself the honour to recommend to you, I can see tomorrow morning; may I then tell him to wait upon you?”

“I ask pardon for just putting in,” cried Mr Simkins, before Cecilia could answer, and again bowing down to the ground, “but I only mean to say I had no thought for to be impertinent, for as to what I was agoing to remark, is was not of no consequence in the least.”

“Its a great piece of luck, ma’am,” said Mrs Belfield, “that you should happen to come here, of a holiday! If my son had not been at home, I should have been ready to cry for a week: and you might come any day the year through but a Sunday, and not meet with him any more than if he had never a home to come to.”

“If Mr Belfield’s home-visits are so periodical,” said Cecilia, “it must be rather less, than more, difficult to meet with him.”

“Why you know, ma’am,” answered Mrs Belfield, “today is a red-letter day, so that’s the reason of it.”

“A red-letter day?”

“Good lack, madam, why have not you heard that my son is turned book-keeper?”

Cecilia, much surprised, looked at Belfield, who, colouring very high, and apparently much provoked by his mother’s loquacity, said, “Had Miss Beverley not heard it even now, madam, I should probably have lost with her no credit.”

“You can surely lose none, Sir,” answered Cecilia, “by an employment too little pleasant to have been undertaken from any but the most laudable motives.”

“It is not, madam, the employment,” said he, “for which I so much blush as for the person employed — for myself! In the beginning of the winter you left me just engaged in another business, a business with which I was madly delighted, and fully persuaded I should be enchanted for ever; — now, again, in the beginning of the summer — you find me, already, in a new occupation!”

“I am sorry,” said Cecilia, “but far indeed from surprised, that you found yourself deceived by such sanguine expectations.”

“Deceived!” cried he, with energy, “I was bewitched, I was infatuated! common sense was estranged by the seduction of a chimera; my understanding was in a ferment from the ebullition of my imagination! But when this new way of life lost its novelty — novelty! that short-liv’d, but exquisite bliss! no sooner caught than it vanishes, no sooner tasted than it is gone! which charms but to fly, and comes but to destroy what it leaves behind! — when that was lost, reason, cool, heartless reason, took its place, and teaching me to wonder at the frenzy of my folly, brought me back to the tameness — the sadness of reality!”

“I am sure,” cried Mrs Belfield, “whatever it has brought you back to, it has brought you back to no good! it’s a hard case, you must needs think, madam, to a mother, to see a son that might do whatever he would, if he’d only set about it, contenting himself with doing nothing but scribble and scribe one day, and when he gets tired of that, thinking of nothing better than casting up two and two!”

“Why, madam,” said Mr Hobson, “what I have seen of the world is this; there’s nothing methodizes a man but business. If he’s never so much upon the stilts, that’s always a sure way to bring him down, by reason he soon finds there’s nothing to be got by rhodomontading. Let every man be his own carver; but what I say is, them gentlemen that are what one may call geniuses, commonly think nothing of the main chance, till they get a tap on the shoulder with a writ; and a solid lad, that knows three times five is fifteen, will get the better of them in the long run. But as to arguing with gentlemen of that sort, where’s the good of it? You can never bring them to the point, say what you will; all you can get from them, is a farrago of fine words, that you can’t understand without a dictionary.”

“I am inclinable to think,” said Mr Simkins, “that the young gentleman is rather of opinion to like pleasure better than business; and, to be sure, it’s very excusable of him, because it’s more agreeabler. And I must needs say, if I may be so free, I’m partly of the young gentleman’s mind, for business is a deal more trouble.”

“I hope, however,” said Cecilia to Belfield, “your present situation is less irksome to you?”

“Any situation, madam, must be less irksome than that which I quitted: to write by rule, to compose by necessity, to make the understanding, nature’s first gift, subservient to interest, that meanest offspring of art! — when weary, listless, spiritless, to rack the head for invention, the memory for images, and the fancy for ornament and illusion; and when the mind is wholly occupied by its own affections and affairs, to call forth all its faculties for foreign subjects, uninteresting discussions, or fictitious incidents! — Heavens! what a life of struggle between the head and the heart! how cruel, how unnatural a war between the intellects and the feelings!”

“As to these sort of things,” said Mr Hobson, “I can’t say I am much versed in them, by reason they are things I never much studied; but if I was to speak my notion, it is this; the best way to thrive in the world is to get money; but how is it to be got? Why by business: for business is to money, what fine words are to a lady, a sure road to success. Now I don’t mean by this to be censorious upon the ladies, being they have nothing else to go by, for as to examining if a man knows any thing of the world, and that, they have nothing whereby to judge, knowing nothing of it themselves. So that when they are taken in by rogues and sharpers, the fault is all in the law, for making no proviso against their having money in their own hands. Let every one be trusted according to their headpiece and what I say is this: a lady in them cases is much to be pitied, for she is obligated to take a man upon his own credit, which is tantamount to no credit at all, being what man will speak an ill word of himself? you may as well expect a bad shilling to cry out don’t take me! That’s what I say, and that’s my way of giving my vote.”

Cecilia, quite tired of these interruptions, and impatient to be gone, now said to Belfield, “I should be much obliged to you, Sir, if you could send to me the man you speak of tomorrow morning. I wished, also to consult you with regard to the route I ought to take. My purpose is to go to Nice, and as I am very desirous to travel expeditiously, you may perhaps be able to instruct me what is the best method for me to pursue.”

“Come, Mr Hobson and Mr Simkins,” cried Mrs Belfield, with a look of much significance and delight, “suppose you two and I was to walk into the next room? There’s no need for us to hear all the young lady may have a mind to say.”

“She has nothing to say, madam,” cried Cecilia, “that the whole world may not hear. Neither is it my purpose to talk, but to listen, if Mr Belfield is at leisure to favour me with his advice.”

“I must always be at leisure, and always be proud, madam,” Belfield began, when Hobson, interrupting him, said, “I ask pardon, Sir, for intruding, but I only mean to wish the young lady good night. As to interfering with business, that’s not my way, for it’s not the right method, by reason —”

“We will listen to your reason, Sir,” cried Belfield, “some other time; at present we will give you all credit for it unheard.”

“Let every man speak his own maxim, Sir,” cried Hobson; “for that’s what I call fair arguing: but as to one person’s speaking, and then making an answer for another into the bargain, why it’s going to work no-how; you may as well talk to a counter, and think because you make a noise upon it with your own hand, it gives you the reply.”

“Why, Mr Hobson,” cried Mrs Belfield, “I am quite ashamed of you for being so dull! don’t you see my son has something to say to the lady that you and I have no business to be meddling with?”

“I’m sure, ma’am, for my part,” said Mr Simkins, “I’m very agreeable to going away, for as to putting the young lady to the blush, it’s what I would not do in no shape.”

“I only mean,” said Mr Hobson, when he was interrupted by Mrs Belfield, who, out of all patience, now turned him out of the room by the shoulders, and, pulling Mr Simkins after, followed herself, and shut the door, though Cecilia, much provoked, desired she would stay, and declared repeatedly that all her business was public.

Belfield, who had, looked ready to murder them all during this short scene, now approached Cecilia, and with an air of mingled spirit and respect, said, “I am much grieved, much confounded, madam, that your ears should be offended by speeches so improper to reach them; yet if it is possible I can have the honour of being of any use to you, in me, still, I hope, you feel you may confide. I am too distant from you in situation to give you reason to apprehend I can form any sinister views in serving you; and, permit me to add, I am too near you in mind, ever to give you the pain of bidding me remember that distance.”

Cecilia then, extremely unwilling to shock a sensibility not more generous than jealous, determined to continue her enquiries, and, at the same time, to prevent any further misapprehension, by revealing her actual situation.

“I am sorry, Sir,” she answered, “to have occasioned this disturbance; Mrs Belfield, I find, is wholly unacquainted with the circumstance which now carries me abroad, or it would not have happened.”

Here a little noise in the passage interrupting her, she heard Mrs Belfield, though in a low voice, say, “Hush, Sir, hush! you must not come in just now; you’ve caught me, I confess, rather upon the listening order; but to tell you the truth, I did not know what might be going forward. However, there’s no admittance now, I assure you, for my son’s upon particular business with a lady, and Mr Hobson and Mr Simkins and I, have all been as good as turned out by them but just now.”

Cecilia and Belfield, though they heard this speech with mutual indignation, had no time to mark or express it, as it was answered without in a voice at once loud and furious, “You, madam, may be content to listen here; pardon me if I am less humbly disposed!” And the door was abruptly opened by young Delvile!

Cecilia, who half screamed from excess of astonishment, would scarcely, even by the presence of Belfield and his mother, have been restrained from flying to meet him, had his own aspect invited such a mark of tenderness; but far other was the case; when the door was open, he stopt short with a look half petrified, his feet seeming rooted to the spot upon which they stood.

“I declare I ask pardon, ma’am,” cried Mrs Belfield, “but the interruption was no fault of mine, for the gentleman would come in; and —”

“It is no interruption, madam;” cried Belfield, “Mr Delvile does me nothing but honour.”

“I thank you, Sir!” said Delvile, trying to recover and come forward, but trembling violently, and speaking with the most frigid coldness.

They were then, for a few instants, all silent; Cecilia, amazed by his arrival, still more amazed by his behaviour, feared to speak lest he meant not, as yet, to avow his marriage, and felt a thousand apprehensions that some new calamity had hurried him home: while Belfield was both hurt by his strangeness, and embarrassed for the sake of Cecilia; and his mother, though wondering at them all, was kept quiet by her son’s looks.

Delvile then, struggling for an appearance of more ease, said, “I seem to have made a general confusion here:— pray, I beg”—

“None at all, Sir,” said Belfield, and offered a chair to Cecilia.

“No, Sir,” she answered, in a voice scarce audible, “I was just going.” And again rang the bell.

“I fear I hurry you, madam?” cried Delvile, whose whole frame was now shaking with uncontrollable emotion; “you are upon business — I ought to beg your pardon — my entrance, I believe, was unseasonable.”—

“Sir!” cried she, looking aghast at this speech.

“I should have been rather surprised,” he added, “to have met you here, so late — so unexpectedly — so deeply engaged — had I not happened to see your servant in the street, who told me the honour I should be likely to have by coming.”

“Good God! —” exclaimed she, involuntarily; but, checking herself as well as she could, she courtsied to Mrs Belfield, unable to speak to her, and avoiding even to look at Belfield, who respectfully hung back, she hastened out of the room: accompanied by Mrs Belfield, who again began the most voluble and vulgar apologies for the intrusion she had met with.

Delvile also, after a moment’s pause, followed, saying, “Give me leave, madam, to see you to your carriage.”

Cecilia then, notwithstanding Mrs Belfield still kept talking, could no longer refrain saying, “Good heaven, what does all this mean?”

“Rather for me is that question,” he answered, in such agitation he could not, though he meant it, assist her into the chaise, “for mine, I believe, is the greater surprise!”

“What surprise?” cried she, “explain, I conjure you!”

“By and bye I will,” he answered; “go on postilion.”

“Where, Sir?”

“Where you came from, I suppose.”

“What, Sir, back to Rumford?”

“Rumford!” exclaimed he, with encreasing disorder, “you came then from Suffolk hither? — from Suffolk to this very house?”

“Good heaven!” cried Cecilia, “come into the chaise, and let me speak and hear to be understood!”

“Who is that now in it?”

“My Maid.”

“Your maid? — and she waits for you thus at the door?”—

“What, what is it you mean?”

“Tell the man, madam, whither to go.”

“I don’t know myself — any where you please — do you order him.”

“I order him! — you came not hither to receive orders from me! — where was it you had purposed to rest?”

“I don’t know — I meant to go to Mrs Hill’s — I have no place taken.”—

“No place taken!” repeated he, in a voice faultering between passion and grief; “you purposed, then, to stay here? — I have perhaps driven you away?”

“Here!” cried Cecilia, mingling, in her turn, indignation with surprise, “gracious heaven! what is it you mean to doubt?”

“Nothing!” cried he, with emphasis, “I never have had, I never will have a doubt! I will know, I will have conviction for every thing! Postilion, drive to St James’s-square! — to Mr Delvile’s. There, madam, I will wait upon you.”

“No! stay, postilion!” called out Cecilia, seized with terror inexpressible; “let me get out, let me speak with you at once!”

“It cannot be; I will follow you in a few minutes — drive on, postilion!”

“No, no! — I will not go — I dare not leave you — unkind Delvile! — what is it you suspect.”

“Cecilia,” cried he, putting his hand upon the chaise-door, “I have ever believed you spotless as an angel! and, by heaven! I believe you so still, in spite of appearances — in defiance of every thing! — Now then be satisfied; — I will be with you very soon. Meanwhile, take this letter, I was just going to send to you. — Postilion, drive on, or be at your peril!”

The man waited no further orders, nor regarded the prohibition of Cecilia, who called out to him without ceasing; but he would not listen to her till he got to the end of the street; he then stopt, and she broke the seal of her letter, and read, by the light of the lamps, enough to let her know that Delvile had written it upon the road from Dover to London, to acquaint her his mother was now better, and had taken pity of his suspense and impatience, and insisted upon his coming privately to England, to satisfy himself fully about Mr Monckton, communicate his marriage to his father, and give those orders towards preparing for its being made public, which his unhappy precipitation in leaving the kingdom had prevented.

This letter, which, though written but a few hours before she received it, was full of tenderness, gratitude and anxiety for her happiness, instantly convinced her that his strange behaviour had been wholly the effect of a sudden impulse of jealousy; excited by so unexpectedly finding her in town, at the very house where his father had assured him she had an improper connexion, and alone, so suspiciously, with the young man affirmed to be her favourite. He knew nothing of the ejectment, nothing of any reason for her leaving Suffolk, every thing had the semblance of no motive but to indulge a private and criminal inclination.

These thoughts, which confusedly, yet forcibly, rushed upon her mind, brought with them at once an excuse for his conduct, and an alarm for his danger; “He must think,” she cried, “I came to town only to meet Mr Belfield!” then, opening the chaise-door herself, she jumpt out, and ran back into Portland-street, too impatient to argue with the postilion to return with her, and stopt not till she came to Mrs Belfield’s house.

She knocked at the door with violence; Mrs Belfield came to it herself; “Where,” cried she, hastily entering as she spoke, “are the gentlemen?”

“Lack-a-day! ma’am,” answered Mrs Belfield, “they are both gone out.”

“Gone out? — where to? — which way?”

“I am sure I can’t tell, ma’am, no more than you can; but I am sadly afraid they’ll have a quarrel before they’ve done.”

“Oh heaven!” cried Cecilia, who now doubted not a second duel, “tell me, shew me, which way they went?”

“Why, ma’am, to let you into the secret,” answered Mrs Belfield, “only I beg you’ll take no notice of it to my son, but, seeing them so much out of sorts, I begged the favour of Mr Simkins, as Mr Hobson was gone out to his club, just to follow them, and see what they were after.”

Cecilia was much rejoiced this caution had been taken, and determined to wait his return. She would have sent for the chaise to follow her; but Mrs Belfield kept no servant, and the maid of the house was employed in preparing the supper.

When Mr Simkins came back, she learnt, after various interruptions from Mrs Belfield, and much delay from his own slowness and circumlocution, that he had pursued the two gentlemen to the * * coffee-house.

She hesitated not a moment in resolving to follow them: she feared the failure of any commission, nor did she know whom to entrust with one: and the danger was too urgent for much deliberation. She begged, therefore, that Mr. Simkins would walk with her to the chaise; but hearing that the coffee-house was another way, she desired Mrs Belfield to let the servant run and order it to Mrs Roberts, in Fetterlane, and then eagerly requested Mr Simkins to accompany her on foot till they met with an hackney-coach.

They then set out, Mr Simkins feeling proud and happy in being allowed to attend her, while Cecilia, glad of any protection, accepted his offer of continuing with her, even after she met with an hackney-coach.

When she arrived at the coffee-house, she ordered the coachman to desire the master of it to come and speak with her.

He came, and she hastily called out, “Pray, are two gentlemen here?”

“Here are several gentlemen here, madam.”

“Yes, yes — but are two upon any business — any particular business —”

“Two gentlemen, madam, came about half an hour ago, and asked for a room to themselves.”

“And where are they now? — are they up stairs? — down stairs? — where are they?”

“One of them went away in about ten minutes, and the other soon after.”

Bitterly chagrined and disappointed, she knew not what step to take next; but, after some consideration, concluded upon obeying Delvile’s own directions, and proceeding to St James’s-square, where alone, now, she seemed to have any chance of meeting with him. Gladly, however, she still consented to be accompanied by Mr Simkins, for her dread of being alone, at so late an hour, in an hackney-coach, was invincible. Whether Delvile himself had any authority for directing her to his father’s, or whether, in the perturbation of his new — excited and agonising sensations of jealousy, he had forgotten that any authority was necessary, she knew not; nor could she now interest herself in the doubt: a second scene, such as had so lately passed with Mr Monckton, occupied all her thoughts: she knew the too great probability that the high spirit of Belfield would disdain making the explanation which Delvile in his present agitation might require, and the consequence of such a refusal must almost inevitably be fatal.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/burney/fanny/cecilia/book10.6.html

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