Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Book ii

Chapter 1

A Man of Wealth

The meanness with which Mr Harrel had assumed the credit, as well as accepted the assistance of Mr Arnott, increased the disgust he had already excited in Cecilia, and hastened her resolution of quitting his house; and therefore, without waiting any longer for the advice of Mr Monckton, she resolved to go instantly to her other guardians, and see what better prospects their habitations might offer.

For this purpose she borrowed one of the carriages, and gave orders to be driven into the city to the house of Mr Briggs.

She told her name, and was shewn, by a little shabby footboy, into a parlour.

Here she waited, with tolerable patience, for half an hour, but then, imagining the boy had forgotten to tell his master she was in the house, she thought it expedient to make some enquiry.

No bell, however, could she find, and therefore she went into the passage in search of the footboy; but, as she was proceeding to the head of the kitchen stairs, she was startled by hearing a man’s voice from the upper part of the house exclaiming, in a furious passion, “Dare say you’ve filched it for a dish-clout!”

She called out, however, “Are any of Mr Briggs’s servants below?”

“Anan!” answered the boy, who came to the foot of the stairs, with a knife in one hand and an old shoe, upon the sole of which he was sharpening it, in the other, “Does any one call?”

“Yes,” said Cecilia, “I do; for I could not find the bell.”

“O, we have no bell in the parlour,” returned the boy, “master always knocks with his stick.”

“I am afraid Mr Briggs is too busy to see me, and if so, I will come another time.”

“No, ma’am,” said the boy, “master’s only looking over his things from the wash.”

“Will you tell him, then, that I am waiting?”

“I has, ma’am; but master misses his shaving-rag, and he says he won’t come to the Mogul till he’s found it.” And then he went on with sharpening his knife.

This little circumstance was at least sufficient to satisfy Cecilia that if she fixed her abode with Mr Briggs, she should not have much uneasiness to fear from the sight of extravagance and profusion.

She returned to the parlour, and after waiting another half-hour, Mr Briggs made his appearance.

Mr Briggs was a short, thick, sturdy man, with very small keen black eyes, a square face, a dark complexion, and a snub nose. His constant dress, both in winter and summer, was a snuff-colour suit of clothes, blue and white speckled worsted stockings, a plain shirt, and a bob wig. He was seldom without a stick in his hand, which he usually held to his forehead when not speaking.

This bob wig, however, to the no small amazement of Cecilia, he now brought into the room upon the forefinger of his left hand, while, with his right, he was smoothing the curls; and his head, in defiance of the coldness of the weather, was bald and uncovered.

“Well,” cried he, as he entered, “did you think I should not come?”

“I was very willing, sir, to wait your leisure.”

“Ay, ay, knew you had not much to do. Been looking for my shaving-rag. Going out of town; never use such a thing at home, paper does as well. Warrant Master Harrel never heard of such a thing; ever see him comb his own wig? Warrant he don’t know how! never trust mine out of my hands, the boy would tear off half the hair; all one to master Harrel, I suppose. Well, which is the warmer man, that’s all? Will he cast an account with me?”

Cecilia, at a loss what to say to this singular exordium, began an apology for not waiting upon him sooner.

“Ay, ay,” cried he, “always gadding, no getting sight of you. Live a fine life! A pretty guardian, Master Harrel! and where’s t’other? where’s old Don Puffabout?”

“If you mean Mr Delvile, sir, I have not yet seen him.”

“Thought so. No matter, as well not. Only tell you he’s a German Duke, or a Spanish Don Ferdinand. Well, you’ve me! poorly off else. A couple of ignoramuses! don’t know when to buy nor when to sell. No doing business with either of them. We met once or twice; all to no purpose; only heard Don Vampus count his old Grandees; how will that get interest for money? Then comes Master Harrel — twenty bows to a word — looks at a watch — about as big as a sixpence — poor raw ninny! — a couple of rare guardians! Well, you’ve me, I say; mind that!”

Cecilia was wholly unable to devise any answer to these effusions of contempt and anger; and therefore his harangue lasted without interruption, till he had exhausted all his subjects of complaint, and emptied his mind of ill-will; and then, settling his wig, he drew a chair near her, and twinkling his little black eyes in her face, his rage subsided into the most perfect good humour; and, after peering at her some time with a look of much approbation, he said, with an arch nod, “Well, my duck, got ever a sweetheart yet?”

Cecilia laughed, and said “No.”

“Ah, little rogue, don’t believe you! all a fib! better speak out: come, fit I should know; a’n’t you my own ward? to be sure, almost of age, but not quite, so what’s that to me?”

She then, more seriously, assured him she had no intelligence of that sort to communicate.

“Well, when you have, tell, that’s all. Warrant sparks enough hankering. I’ll give you some advice Take care of sharpers; don’t trust shoe-buckles, nothing but Bristol stones! tricks in all things. A fine gentleman sharp as another man. Never give your heart to a gold-topped cane, nothing but brass gilt over. Cheats everywhere: fleece you in a year; won’t leave you a groat. But one way to be safe — bring ’em all to me.”

Cecilia thanked him for his caution, and promised not to forget his advice.

“That’s the way,” he continued, “bring ’em to me. Won’t be bamboozled. Know their tricks. Shew ’em the odds on’t. Ask for the rent-roll — see how they look! stare like stuck pigs! got no such thing.”

“Certainly, sir, that will be an excellent method of trial.”

“Ay, ay, know the way! soon find if they are above par. Be sure don’t mind gold waistcoats; nothing but tinsel, all shew and no substance; better leave the matter to me; take care of you myself; know where to find one will do.”

She again thanked him; and, being fully satisfied with this specimen of his conversation, and unambitious of any further counsel from him, she arose to depart.

“Well,” repeated he, nodding at her, with a look of much kindness, “leave it to me, I say; I’ll get you a careful husband, so take no thought about the matter.”

Cecilia, half-laughing, begged he would not give himself much trouble, and assured him she was not in any haste.

“All the better,” said he, “good girl; no fear for you: look out myself; warrant I’ll find one. Not very easy, neither! hard times! men scarce; wars and tumults! stocks low! women chargeable! — but don’t fear; do our best; get you off soon.”

She then returned to her carriage: full of reflection upon the scene in which she had just been engaged, and upon the strangeness of hastening from one house to avoid a vice the very want of which seemed to render another insupportable! but she now found that though luxury was more baneful in its consequences, it was less disgustful in its progress than avarice; yet, insuperably averse to both, and almost equally desirous to fly from the unjust extravagance of Mr Harrel, as from the comfortless and unnecessary parsimony of Mr Briggs, she proceeded instantly to St James’s Square, convinced that her third guardian, unless exactly resembling one of the others, must inevitably be preferable to both.

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