Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 3

A Masquerade.

The first check this tranquillity received was upon the day of the masquerade, the preparations for which have been already mentioned. The whole house was then in commotion from various arrangements and improvements which were planned for almost every apartment that was to be opened for the reception of masks. Cecilia herself, however little pleased with the attendant circumstance of wantonly accumulating unnecessary debts, was not the least animated of the party: she was a stranger to every diversion of this sort, and from the novelty of the scene, hoped for uncommon satisfaction.

At noon Mrs Harrel sent for her to consult upon a new scheme which occurred to Mr Harrel, of fixing in fantastic forms some coloured lamps in the drawing-room.

While they were all discoursing this matter over, one of the servants, who had two or three times whispered some message to Mr Harrel, and then retired, said, in a voice not too low to be heard by Cecilia, “Indeed, Sir, I can’t get him away.”

“He’s an insolent scoundrel,” answered Mr Harrel; “however, if I must speak to him, I must;” and went out of the room.

Mrs Harrel still continued to exercise her fancy upon this new project, calling both upon Mr Arnott and Cecilia to admire her taste and contrivance; till they were all interrupted by the loudness of a voice from below stairs, which frequently repeated, “Sir, I can wait no longer! I have been put off till I can be put off no more!”

Startled by this, Mrs Harrel ceased her employment, and they all stood still and silent. They then heard Mr Harrel with much softness answer, “Good Mr Rawlins, have a little patience; I shall receive a large sum of money tomorrow, or next day, and you may then depend upon being paid.”

“Sir,” cried the man, “you have so often told me the same, that it goes just for nothing: I have had a right to it a long time, and I have a bill to make up that can’t be waited for any longer.”

“Certainly, Mr Rawlins,” replied Mr Harrel, with still increasing gentleness, “and certainly you shall have it: nobody means to dispute your right; I only beg you to wait a day, or two days at furthest, and you may then depend upon being paid. And you shall not be the worse for obliging me; I will never employ any body else, and I shall have occasion for you very soon, as I intend to make some alterations at Violet–Bank that will be very considerable.”

“Sir,” said the man, still louder, “it is of no use your employing me, if I can never get my money. All my workmen must be paid whether I am or no; and so, if I must needs speak to a lawyer, why there’s no help for it.”

“Did you ever hear any thing so impertinent?” exclaimed Mrs Harrel; “I am sure Mr Harrel will be very much to blame, if ever he lets that man do any thing more for him.”

Just then Mr Harrel appeared, and, with an air of affected unconcern, said, “Here’s the most insolent rascal of a mason below stairs I ever met with in my life; he has come upon me, quite unexpectedly, with a bill of 400 pounds, and won’t leave the house without the money. Brother Arnott, I wish you would do me the favour to speak to the fellow, for I could not bear to stay with him any longer.”

“Do you wish me to give him a draft for the money upon my own banker?”

“That would be vastly obliging,” answered Mr Harrel, “and I will give you my note for it directly. And so we shall get rid of this fellow at once: and he shall do nothing more for me as long as he lives. I will run up a new building at Violet–Bank next summer, if only to shew him what a job he has lost.”

“Pay the man at once, there’s a good brother,” cried Mrs Harrel, “and let’s hear no more of him.”

The two gentlemen then retired to another room, and Mrs Harrel, after praising the extreme good-nature of her brother, of whom she was very fond, and declaring that the mason’s impertinence had quite frightened her, again returned to her plan of new decorations.

Cecilia, amazed at this indifference to the state of her husband’s affairs, began to think it was her own duty to talk with her upon the subject: and therefore, after a silence so marked that Mrs Harrel enquired into its reason, she said, “Will you pardon me, my dear friend, if I own I am rather surprized to see you continue these preparations?”

“Lord, why?”

“Because any fresh unnecessary expences just now, till Mr Harrel actually receives the money he talks of —”

“Why, my dear, the expence of such a thing as this is nothing; in Mr Harrel’s affairs I assure you it will not be at all felt. Besides, he expects money so soon, that it is just the same as if he had it already.”

Cecilia, unwilling to be too officious, began then to express her admiration of the goodness and generosity of Mr Arnott; taking frequent occasion, in the course of her praise, to insinuate that those only can be properly liberal, who are just and economical.

She had prepared no masquerade habit for this evening, as Mrs Harrel, by whose direction she was guided, informed her it was not necessary for ladies to be masked at home, and said she should receive her company herself in a dress which she might wear upon any other occasion. Mr Harrel, also, and Mr Arnott made not any alteration in their appearance.

At about eight o’clock the business of the evening began; and before nine, there were so many masks that Cecilia wished she had herself made one of the number, as she was far more conspicuous in being almost the only female in a common dress, than any masquerade habit could have made her. The novelty of the scene, however, joined to the general air of gaiety diffused throughout the company, shortly lessened her embarrassment; and, after being somewhat familiarized to the abruptness with which the masks approached her, and the freedom with which they looked at or addressed her, the first confusion of her situation subsided, and in her curiosity to watch others, she ceased to observe how much she was watched herself.

Her expectations of entertainment were not only fulfilled but surpassed; the variety of dresses, the medley of characters, the quick succession of figures, and the ludicrous mixture of groups, kept her attention unwearied: while the conceited efforts at wit, the total thoughtlessness of consistency, and the ridiculous incongruity of the language with the appearance, were incitements to surprise and diversion without end. Even the local cant of, Do you know me? Who are you? and I know you; with the sly pointing of the finger, the arch nod of the head, and the pert squeak of the voice, though wearisome to those who frequent such assemblies, were, to her unhackneyed observation, additional subjects of amusement.

Soon after nine o’clock, every room was occupied, and the common crowd of regular masqueraders were dispersed through the various apartments. Dominos of no character, and fancy dresses of no meaning, made, as is usual at such meetings, the general herd of the company: for the rest, the men were Spaniards, chimney-sweepers, Turks, watchmen, conjurers, and old women; and the ladies, shepherdesses, orange girls, Circassians, gipseys, haymakers, and sultanas.

Cecilia had, as yet, escaped any address beyond the customary enquiry of Do you know me? and a few passing compliments; but when the rooms filled, and the general crowd gave general courage, she was attacked in a manner more pointed and singular.

The very first mask who approached her seemed to have nothing less in view than preventing the approach of every other: yet had he little reason to hope favour for himself, as the person he represented, of all others least alluring to the view, was the devil! He was black from head to foot, save that two red horns seemed to issue from his forehead; his face was so completely covered that the sight only of his eyes was visible, his feet were cloven, and in his right hand he held a wand the colour of fire.

Waving this wand as he advanced towards Cecilia, he cleared a semi-circular space before her chair, thrice with the most profound reverence bowed to her, thrice. turned himself around with sundry grimaces, and then fiercely planted himself at her side.

Cecilia was amused by his mummery, but felt no great delight in his guardianship, and, after a short time, arose, with intention to walk to another place; but the black gentleman, adroitly moving round her, held out his wand to obstruct her passage, and therefore, preferring captivity to resistance, she was again obliged to seat herself.

An Hotspur, who just then made his appearance, was now strutting boldly towards her; but the devil, rushing furiously forwards, placed himself immediately between them. Hotspur, putting his arms a-kimbo with an air of defiance, gave a loud stamp with his right foot, and then — marched into another room!

The victorious devil ostentatiously waved his wand, and returned to his station.

Mr Arnott, who had never moved two yards from Cecilia, knowing her too well to suppose she received any pleasure from being thus distinguished, modestly advanced to offer his assistance in releasing her from confinement; but the devil, again describing a circle with his wand, gave him three such smart raps on the head that his hair was disordered, and his face covered with powder. A general laugh succeeded, and Mr Arnott, too diffident to brave raillery, or withstand shame, retired in confusion.

The black gentleman seemed now to have all authority in his own hands, and his wand was brandished with more ferocity than ever, no one again venturing to invade the domain he thought fit to appropriate for his own.

At length, however, a Don Quixote appeared, and every mask in the room was eager to point out to him the imprisonment of Cecilia.

This Don Quixote was accoutered with tolerable exactness according to the description of the admirable Cervantes; his armour was rusty, his helmet was a barber’s basin, his shield, a pewter dish, and his lance, an old sword fastened to a slim cane. His figure, tall and thin, was well adapted to the character he represented, and his mask, which depictured a lean and haggard face, worn with care, yet fiery with crazy passions, exhibited, with propriety the most striking, the knight of the doleful countenance.

The complaints against the devil with which immediately and from all quarters he was assailed, he heard with the most solemn taciturnity: after which, making a motion for general silence, he stalked majestically towards Cecilia, but stopping short of the limits prescribed by her guard, he kissed his spear in token of allegiance, and then, slowly dropping upon one knee, began the following address:

“Most incomparable Princess! — Thus humbly prostrate at the feet of your divine and ineffable beauty, graciously permit the most pitiful of your servitors, Don Quixote De la Mancha, from your high and tender grace, to salute the fair boards which sustain your corporeal machine.”

Then, bending down his head, he kissed the floor; after which, raising himself upon his feet, he proceeded in his speech.

“Report, O most fair and unmatchable virgin! daringly affirmeth that a certain discourteous person, who calleth himself the devil, even now, and in thwart of your fair inclinations, keepeth and detaineth your irradiant frame in hostile thraldom. Suffer then, magnanimous and undescribable lady! that I, the most groveling of your unworthy vassals, do sift the fair truth out of this foul sieve, and obsequiously bending to your divine attractions, conjure your highness veritably to inform me, if that honourable chair which haply supports your terrestrial perfections, containeth the inimitable burthen with the free and legal consent of your celestial spirit?”

Here he ceased: and Cecilia, who laughed at this characteristic address, though she had not courage to answer it, again made an effort to quit her place, but again by the wand of her black persecutor was prevented.

This little incident was answer sufficient for the valorous knight, who indignantly exclaimed,

“Sublime Lady! — I beseech but of your exquisite mercy to refrain mouldering the clay composition of my unworthy body to impalpable dust, by the refulgence of those bright stars vulgarly called eyes, till I have lawfully wreaked my vengeance upon this unobliging caitiff, for his most disloyal obstruction of your highness’s adorable pleasure.”

Then, bowing low, he turned from her, and thus addressed his intended antagonist:

“Uncourtly Miscreant — The black garment which envellopeth thy most unpleasant person, seemeth even of the most ravishing whiteness, in compare of the black bile which floateth within thy sable interior. Behold, then, my gauntlet! yet ere I deign to be the instrument of thy extirpation, O thou most mean and ignoble enemy! that the honour of Don Quixote De la Mancha may not be sullied by thy extinction, I do here confer upon thee the honour of knighthood, dubbing thee, by my own sword, Don Devil, knight of the horrible physiognomy.”

He then attempted to strike his shoulder with his spear, but the black gentleman, adroitly eluding the blow, defended himself with his wand: a mock fight ensued, conducted on both sides with admirable dexterity; but Cecilia, less eager to view it than to become again a free agent, made her escape into another apartment; while the rest of the ladies, though they almost all screamed, jumped upon chairs and sofas to peep at the combat.

In conclusion, the wand of the knight of the horrible physiognomy was broken against the shield of the knight of the doleful countenance; upon which Don Quixote called out victoria! the whole room echoed the sound; the unfortunate new knight retired abruptly into another apartment, and the conquering Don, seizing the fragments of the weapon of his vanquished enemy went out in search of the lady for whose releasement he had fought: and the moment he found her, prostrating both himself and the trophies at her feet, he again pressed the floor with his lips, and then, slowly arising, repeated his reverences with added formality, and, without waiting her acknowledgments, gravely retired.

The moment he departed a Minerva, not stately nor austere, not marching in warlike majesty, but gay and airy,

“Tripping on light fantastic toe,”

ran up to Cecilia, and squeaked out, “Do you know me?”

“Not,” answered she, instantly recollecting Miss Larolles, “by your appearance, I own! but by your voice, I think I can guess you.”

“I was monstrous sorry,” returned the goddess, without understanding this distinction, “that I was not at home when you called upon me. Pray, how do you like my dress? I assure you I think it’s the prettiest here. But do you know there’s the most shocking thing in the world happened in the next room! I really believe there’s a common chimney-sweeper got in! I assure you it’s enough to frighten one to death, for every time he moves the soot smells so you can’t think; quite real soot, I assure you! only conceive how nasty! I declare I wish with all my heart it would suffocate him!”

Here she was interrupted by the re-appearance of Don Devil; who, looking around him, and perceiving that his antagonist was gone, again advanced to Cecilia: not, however, with the authority of his first approach, for with his wand he had lost much of his power; but to recompense himself for this disgrace, he had recourse to another method equally effectual for keeping his prey to himself, for he began a growling, so dismal and disagreeable, that while many of the ladies, and, among the first, the Goddess of Wisdom and Courage, ran away to avoid him, the men all stood aloof to watch what next was to follow.

Cecilia now became seriously uneasy; for she was made an object of general attention, yet could neither speak nor be spoken to. She could suggest no motive for behaviour so whimsical, though she imagined the only person who could have the assurance to practise it was Sir Robert Floyer.

After some time spent thus disagreeably, a white domino, who for a few minutes had been a very attentive spectator, suddenly came forward, and exclaiming, “I’ll cross him though he blast me!” rushed upon the fiend, and grasping one of his horns, called out to a Harlequin who stood near him, “Harlequin! do you fear to fight the devil?”

“Not I truly!” answered Harlequin, whose voice immediately betrayed young Morrice, and who, issuing from the crowd, whirled himself round before the black gentleman with yet more agility than he had himself done before Cecilia, giving him, from time to time, many smart blows on his shoulders, head, and back, with his wooden sword.

The rage of Don Devil at this attack seemed somewhat beyond what a masquerade character rendered necessary; he foamed at the mouth with resentment, and defended himself with so much vehemence, that he soon drove poor Harlequin into another room: but, when he would have returned to his prey, the genius of pantomime, curbed, but not subdued, at the instigation of the white domino, returned to the charge, and by a perpetual rotation of attack and retreat, kept him in constant employment, pursuing him from room to room, and teazing him without cessation or mercy.

Mean time Cecilia, delighted at being released, hurried into a corner, where she hoped to breathe and look on in quiet; and the white domino having exhorted Harlequin to torment the tormentor, and keep him at bay, followed her with congratulations upon her recovered freedom.

“It is you,” answered she, “I ought to thank for it, which indeed I do most heartily. I was so tired of confinement, that my mind seemed almost as little at liberty as my person.”

“Your persecutor, I presume,” said the domino, “is known to you.”

“I hope so,” answered she, “because there is one man I suspect, and I should be sorry to find there was another equally disagreeable.”

“O, depend upon it,” cried he, “there are many who would be happy to confine you in the same manner; neither have you much cause for complaint; you have, doubtless, been the aggressor, and played this game yourself without mercy, for I read in your face the captivity of thousands: have you, then, any right to be offended at the spirit of retaliation which one, out of such numbers has courage to exert in return?”

“I protest,” cried Cecilia, “I took you for my defender! whence is it you are become my accuser?”

“From seeing the danger to which my incautious knight-errantry has exposed me; I begin, indeed, to take you for a very mischievous sort of person, and I fear the poor devil from whom I rescued you will be amply revenged for his disgrace, by finding that the first use you make of your freedom is to doom your deliverer to bondage.”

Here they were disturbed by the extreme loquacity of two opposite parties: and listening attentively, they heard from one side, “My angel! fairest of creatures! goddess of my heart!” uttered in accents of rapture; while from the other, the vociferation was so violent they could distinctly hear nothing.

The white domino satisfied his curiosity by going to both parties; and then, returning to Cecilia, said, “Can you conjecture who was making those soft speeches? a Shylock! his knife all the while in his hand, and his design, doubtless, to cut as near the heart as possible! while the loud cackling from the other side is owing to the riotous merriment of a noisy Mentor! when next I hear a disturbance, I shall expect to see some simpering Pythagoras stunned by his talkative disciples.”

“To own the truth,” said Cecilia, “the almost universal neglect of the characters assumed by these masquers has been the chief source of my entertainment this evening: for at a place of this sort, the next best thing to a character well supported is a character ridiculously burlesqued.”

“You cannot, then, have wanted amusement,” returned the domino, “for among all the persons assembled in these apartments, I have seen only three who have seemed conscious that any change but that of dress was necessary to disguise them.”

“And pray who are those?”

“A Don Quixote, a schoolmaster, and your friend the devil.”

“O, call him not my friend,” exclaimed Cecilia, “for indeed in or out of that garb he is particularly my aversion.”

My friend, then, I will call him,” said the domino, “for so, were he ten devils, I must think him, since I owe to him the honour of conversing with you. And, after all, to give him his due, to which, you know, he is even proverbially entitled, he has shewn such abilities in the performance of his part, so much skill in the display of malice, and so much perseverance in the art of tormenting, that I cannot but respect his ingenuity and capacity. And, indeed, if instead of an evil genius, he had represented a guardian angel, he could not have shewn a more refined taste in his choice of an object to hover about.”

Just then they were approached by a young haymaker, to whom the white domino called out, “You look as gay and as brisk as if fresh from the hay-field after only half a day’s work. Pray, how is it you pretty lasses find employment for the winter”

“How?” cried she, pertly, “why, the same as for the summer!” And pleased with her own readiness at repartee, without feeling the ignorance it betrayed, she tript lightly on.

Immediately after the schoolmaster mentioned by the white domino advanced to Cecilia. His dress was merely a long wrapping gown of green stuff, a pair of red slippers, and a woollen night-cap of the same colour; while, as the symbol of his profession, he held a rod in his hand.

“Ah, fair lady,” he cried, “how soothing were it to the austerity of my life, how softening to the rigidity of my manners, might I— without a breaking out of bounds, which I ought to be the first to discourage, and a “confusion to all order” for which the school-boy should himself chastise his master — be permitted to cast at your feet this emblem of my authority! and to forget, in the softness of your conversation, all the roughness of discipline!”

“No, no,” cried Cecilia, “I will not be answerable for such corruption of taste!”

“This repulse,” answered he, “is just what I feared; for alas! under what pretence could a poor miserable country pedagogue presume to approach you? Should I examine you in the dead languages, would not your living accents charm from me all power of reproof? Could I look at you, and hear a false concord? Should I doom you to water-gruel as a dunce, would not my subsequent remorse make me want it myself as a madman? Were your fair hand spread out to me for correction, should I help applying my lips to it, instead of my rat-tan? If I ordered you to be called up, should I ever remember to have you sent back? And if I commanded you to stand in a corner, how should I forbear following you thither myself?”

Cecilia, who had no difficulty in knowing this pretended schoolmaster for Mr Gosport, was readily beginning to propose conditions for according him her favour, when their ears were assailed by a forced phthisical cough, which they found proceeded from an apparent old woman, who was a young man in disguise, and whose hobbling gait, grunting voice, and most grievous asthmatic complaints, seemed greatly enjoyed and applauded by the company.

“How true is it, yet how inconsistent,” cried the white domino, “that while we all desire to live long, we have all a horror of being old! The figure now passing is not meant to ridicule any particular person, nor to stigmatize any particular absurdity; its sole view is to expose to contempt and derision the general and natural infirmities of age! and the design is not more disgusting than impolitic; for why, while so carefully we guard from all approaches of death, should we close the only avenues to happiness in long life, respect and tenderness?”

Cecilia, delighted both by the understanding and humanity of her new acquaintance, and pleased at being joined by Mr Gosport, was beginning to be perfectly satisfied with her situation, when, creeping softly towards her, she again perceived the black gentleman.

“Ah!” cried she, with some vexation, “here comes my old tormentor! screen me from him if possible, or he will again make me his prisoner.”

“Fear not,” cried the white domino, “he is an evil spirit, and we will surely lay him. If one spell fails, we must try another.”

Cecilia then perceiving Mr Arnott, begged he would also assist in barricading her from the fiend who so obstinately pursued her.

Mr Arnott most gratefully acceded to the proposal; and the white domino, who acted as commanding officer, assigned to each his station: he desired Cecilia would keep quietly to her seat, appointed the schoolmaster to be her guard on the left, took possession himself of the opposite post, and ordered Mr Arnott to stand centinel in front.

This arrangement being settled, the guards of the right and left wings instantly secured their places; but while Mr Arnott was considering whether it were better to face the besieged or the enemy, the arch-foe rushed suddenly before him, and laid himself down at the feet of Cecilia!

Mr Arnott, extremely disconcerted, began a serious expostulation upon the ill-breeding of this behaviour; but the devil, resting all excuse upon supporting his character, only answered by growling.

The white domino seemed to hesitate for a moment in what manner to conduct himself, and with a quickness that marked his chagrin, said to Cecilia, “You told me you knew him — has he any right to follow you?”

“If he thinks he has,” answered she, a little alarmed by his question, “this is no time to dispute it.”

And then, to avoid any hazard of altercation, she discreetly forbore making further complaints, preferring any persecution to seriously remonstrating with a man of so much insolence as the Baronet.

The schoolmaster, laughing at the whole transaction, only said, “And pray, madam, after playing the devil with all mankind, what right have you to complain that one man plays the devil with you?”

“We shall, at least, fortify you,” said the white domino, “from any other assailant: no three-headed Cerberus could protect you more effectually: but you will not, therefore, fancy yourself in the lower regions, for, if I mistake not, the torment of three guardians is nothing new to you.”

“And how,” said Cecilia, surprised, “should you know of my three guardians? I hope I am not quite encompassed with evil spirits!”

“No,” answered he; “you will find me as inoffensive as the hue of the domino I wear; —— and would I could add as insensible!”

“This black gentleman,” said the schoolmaster, “who, and very innocently, I was going to call your black-guard, has as noble and fiend-like a disposition as I remember to have seen; for without even attempting to take any diversion himself, he seems gratified to his heart’s content in excluding from it the lady he serves.”

“He does me an honour I could well dispense with,” said Cecilia; “but I hope he has some secret satisfaction in his situation which pays him for its apparent inconvenience.”

Here the black gentleman half-raised himself, and attempted to take her hand. She started, and with much displeasure drew it back. He then growled, and again sank prostrate.

“This is a fiend,” said the schoolmaster, “who to himself sayeth, Budge not! let his conscience never so often say budge! Well, fair lady, your fortifications, however, may now be deemed impregnable, since I, with a flourish of my rod, can keep off the young by recollection of the past, and since the fiend, with a jut of his foot, may keep off the old from dread of the future!”

Here a Turk, richly habited and resplendent with jewels, stalked towards Cecilia, and, having regarded her some time, called out, “I have been looking hard about me the whole evening, and, faith, I have seen nothing handsome before!”

The moment he opened his mouth, his voice, to her utter astonishment, betrayed Sir Robert Floyer! “Mercy on me,” cried she aloud, and pointing to the fiend, “who, then, can this possibly be?”

“Do you not know?” cried the white domino.

“I thought I had known with certainty,” answered she, “but I now find I was mistaken.”

“He is a happy man,” said the schoolmaster, sarcastically looking at the Turk, “who has removed your suspicions only by appearing in another character!”

“Why, what the deuce, then,” exclaimed the Turk, “have you taken that black dog there for me?”

Before this question could be answered, an offensive smell of soot, making everybody look around the room, the chimney-sweeper already mentioned by Miss Larolles was perceived to enter it. Every way he moved a passage was cleared for him, as the company, with general disgust, retreated wherever he advanced.

He was short, and seemed somewhat incommoded by his dress; he held his soot-bag over one arm, and his shovel under the other. As soon as he espied Cecilia, whose situation was such as to prevent her eluding him, he hooted aloud, and came stumping up to her; “Ah ha,” he cried, “found at last;” then, throwing down his shovel, he opened the mouth of his bag, and pointing waggishly to her head, said, “Come, shall I pop you? — a good place for naughty girls; in, I say, poke in! — cram you up the chimney.”

And then he put forth his sooty hands to reach her cap.

Cecilia, though she instantly knew the dialect of her guardian Mr Briggs, was not therefore the more willing to be so handled, and started back to save herself from his touch; the white domino also came forward, and spread out his arms as a defence to her, while the devil, who was still before her, again began to growl.

“Ah ha!” cried the chimney-sweeper, laughing, “so did not know me? Poor duck! won’t hurt you; don’t be frightened; nothing but old guardian; all a joke!” And then, patting her cheek with his dirty hand, and nodding at her with much kindness, “Pretty dove,” he added, “be of good heart! shan’t be meddled with; come to see after you. Heard of your tricks; thought I’d catch you! — come o’ purpose. — Poor duck! did not know me! ha! ha! — good joke enough!”

“What do you mean, you dirty dog,” cried the Turk, “by touching that lady?”

“Won’t tell!” answered he; “not your business. Got a good right. Who cares for pearls? Nothing but French beads.” Pointing with a sneer to his turban. Then, again addressing Cecilia, “Fine doings!” he continued, “Here’s a place! never saw the like before! turn a man’s noddle! — All goings out; no comings in; wax candles in every room; servants thick as mushrooms! And where’s the cash? Who’s to pay the piper? Come to more than a guinea; warrant Master Harrel thinks that nothing!”

“A guinea?” contemptuously repeated the Turk, “and what do you suppose a guinea will do?”

“What? Why, keep a whole family handsome a week; — never spend so much myself; no, nor half neither.”

“Why then, how the devil do you live? Do you beg?”

“Beg? Who should I beg of? You? — Got anything to give? Are warm?”

“Take the trouble to speak more respectfully, sir!” said the Turk, haughtily; “I see you are some low fellow, and I shall not put up with your impudence.”

“Shall, shall! I say!” answered the chimneysweeper, sturdily; “Hark’ee, my duck,” chucking Cecilia under the chin, “don’t be cajoled, nick that spark! never mind gold trappings; none of his own; all a take-in; hired for eighteenpence; not worth a groat. Never set your heart on a fine outside, nothing within. Bristol stones won’t buy stock: only wants to chouse you.”

“What do you mean by that, you little old scrub!” cried the imperious Turk; “would you provoke me to soil my fingers by pulling that beastly snub nose?” For Mr Briggs had saved himself any actual mask, by merely blacking his face with soot.

“Beastly snub nose!” sputtered out the chimneysweeper in much wrath, “good nose enough; don’t want a better; good as another man’s. Where’s the harm on’t?”

“How could this blackguard get in?” cried the Turk, “I believe he’s a mere common chimneysweeper out of the streets, for he’s all over dirt and filth. I never saw such a dress at a masquerade before in my life.”

“All the better,” returned the other; “would not change. What do think it cost?”

“Cost? Why, not a crown.”

“A crown? ha! ha! — a pot o’ beer! Little Tom borrowed it; had it of our own sweep. Said ’twas for himself. I bid him a pint; rascal would not take less.”

“Did your late uncle,” said the white domino in a low voice to Cecilia, “chuse for two of your guardians Mr Harrel and Mr Briggs, to give you an early lesson upon the opposite errors of profusion and meanness?”

“My uncle?” cried Cecilia, starting, “were you acquainted with my uncle?”

“No,” said he, “for my happiness I knew him not.”

“You would have owed no loss of happiness to an acquaintance with him,” said Cecilia, very seriously, “for he was one who dispensed to his friends nothing but good.”

“Perhaps so,” said the domino; “but I fear I should have found the good he dispensed through his niece not quite unmixed with evil!”

“What’s here?” cried the chimney-sweeper, stumbling over the fiend, “what’s this black thing? Don’t like it; looks like the devil. You shan’t stay with it; carry you away; take care of you myself.”

He then offered Cecilia his hand; but the black gentleman, raising himself upon his knees before her, paid her, in dumb shew, the humblest devoirs, yet prevented her from removing.

“Ah ha!” cried the chimney-sweeper, significantly nodding his head, “smell a rat! a sweetheart in disguise. No bamboozling! it won’t do; a’n’t so soon put upon. If you’ve got any thing to say, tell me, that’s the way. Where’s the cash? Got ever a rental? Are warm? That’s the point; are warm?”

The fiend, without returning any answer, continued his homage to Cecilia; at which the enraged chimney-sweeper exclaimed, “Come, come with me! won’t be imposed upon; an old fox — understand trap!”

He then again held out his hand, but Cecilia, pointing to the fiend, answered, “How can I come, sir?”

“Shew you the way,” cried he, “shovel him off.” And taking his shovel, he very roughly set about removing him.

The fiend then began a yell so horrid, that it disturbed the whole company; but the chimney-sweeper, only saying, “Aye, aye, blacky, growl away, blacky — makes no odds,” sturdily continued his work, and, as the fiend had no chance of resisting so coarse an antagonist without a serious struggle, he was presently compelled to change his ground.

“Warm work!” cried the victorious chimney-sweeper, taking off his wig, and wiping his head with the sleeves of his dress, “pure warm work this!”

Cecilia, once again freed from her persecutor, instantly quitted her place, almost equally desirous to escape the haughty Turk, who was peculiarly her aversion, and the facetious chimney-sweeper, whose vicinity, either on account of his dress or his conversation, was by no means desirable. She was not, however, displeased that the white domino and the schoolmaster still continued to attend her.

“Pray, look,” said the white domino, as they entered another apartment, “at that figure of Hope; is there any in the room half so expressive of despondency?”

“The reason, however,” answered the schoolmaster, “is obvious; that light and beautiful silver anchor upon which she reclines presents an occasion irresistible for an attitude of elegant dejection; and the assumed character is always given up where an opportunity offers to display any beauty, or manifest any perfection in the dear proper person!”

“But why,” said Cecilia, “should she assume the character of Hope? Could she not have been equally dejected and equally elegant as Niobe, or some tragedy queen?”

“But she does not assume the character,” answered the schoolmaster, “she does not even think of it: the dress is her object, and that alone fills up all her ideas. Enquire of almost any body in the room concerning the persons they seem to represent, and you will find their ignorance more gross than you can imagine; they have not once thought upon the subject; accident, or convenience, or caprice has alone directed their choice.”

A tall and elegant youth now approached them, whose laurels and harp announced Apollo. The white domino immediately enquired of him if the noise and turbulence of the company had any chance of being stilled into silence and rapture by the divine music of the inspired god?

“No,” answered he, pointing to the room in which was erected the new gallery, and whence, as he spoke, issued the sound of a hautboy, “there is a flute playing there already.”

“O for a Midas,” cried the white domino, “to return to this leather-eared god the disgrace he received from him!”

They now proceeded to the apartment which had been lately fitted up for refreshments, and which was so full of company that they entered it with difficulty. And here they were again joined by Minerva, who, taking Cecilia’s hand, said, “Lord, how glad I am you’ve got away from that frightful black mask! I can’t conceive who he is; nobody can find out; it’s monstrous odd, but he has not spoke a word all night, and he makes such a shocking noise when people touch him, that I assure you it’s enough to put one in a fright.”

“And pray,” cried the schoolmaster, disguising his voice, “how camest thou to take the helmet of Minerva for a fool’s cap?”

“Lord, I have not,” cried she, innocently, “why, the whole dress is Minerva’s; don’t you see?”

“My dear child,” answered he, “thou couldst as well with that little figure pass for a Goliath, as with that little wit for a Pallas.”

Their attention was now drawn from the goddess of wisdom to a mad Edgar, who so vehemently ran about the room calling out “Poor Tom’s a cold!” that, in a short time, he was obliged to take off his mask, from an effect, not very delicate, of the heat!

Soon after, a gentleman desiring some lemonade whose toga spoke the consular dignity, though his broken English betrayed a native of France, the schoolmaster followed him, and, with reverence the most profound, began to address him in Latin; but, turning quick towards him, he gaily said, “Monsieur, j’ai l’honneur de representer Ciceron, le grand Ciceron, pere de sa patrie! mais quoique j’ai cet honneur-la, je ne suit pas pedant! — mon dieu, Monsieur, je ne parle que le Francois dans la bonne compagnie!” And, politely bowing, he went on.

Just then Cecilia, while looking about the room for Mrs Harrel, found herself suddenly pinched by the cheek, and hastily turning round, perceived again her friend the chimney-sweeper, who, laughing, cried, “Only me! don’t be frightened. Have something to tell you; — had no luck! — got never a husband yet! can’t find one! looked all over, too; sharp as a needle. Not one to be had! all catched up!”

“I am glad to hear it, sir,” said Cecilia, somewhat vexed by observing the white domino attentively listening; “and I hope, therefore, you will give yourself no farther trouble.”

“Pretty duck!” cried he, chucking her under the chin; “never mind, don’t be cast down; get one at last. Leave it to me. Nothing under a plum; won’t take up with less. Good-by, ducky, good-by! must go home now — begin to be nodding.”

And then, repeating his kind caresses, he walked away.

“Do you think, then,” said the white domino, “more highly of Mr Briggs for discernment and taste than of any body?”

“I hope not!” answered she, “for low indeed should I then think of the rest of the world!”

“The commission with which he is charged,” returned the domino, “has then misled me; I imagined discernment and taste might be necessary ingredients for making such a choice as your approbation would sanctify: but perhaps his skill in guarding against any fraud or deduction in the stipulation he mentioned, may be all that is requisite for the execution of his trust.”

“I understand very well,” said Cecilia, a little hurt, “the severity of your meaning; and if Mr Briggs had any commission but of his own suggestion, it would fill me with shame and confusion; but as that is not the case, those at least are sensations which it cannot give me.”

“My meaning,” cried the domino, with some earnestness, “should I express it seriously, would but prove to you the respect and admiration with which you have inspired me, and if indeed, as Mr Briggs hinted, such a prize is to be purchased by riches, I know not, from what I have seen of its merit, any sum I should think adequate to its value.”

“You are determined, I see,” said Cecilia, smiling, “to make most liberal amends for your asperity.”

A loud clack of tongues now interrupted their discourse; and the domino, at the desire of Cecilia, for whom he had procured a seat, went forward to enquire what was the matter. But scarce had he given up his place a moment, before, to her great mortification, it was occupied by the fiend.

Again, but with the same determined silence he had hitherto preserved, he made signs of obedience and homage, and her perplexity to conjecture who he could be, or what were his motives for this persecution, became the more urgent as they seemed the less likely to be satisfied. But the fiend, who was no other than Mr Monckton, had every instant less and less encouragement to make himself known: his plan had in nothing succeeded, and his provocation at its failure had caused him the bitterest disappointment; he had intended, in the character of a tormentor, not only to pursue and hover around her himself, but he had also hoped, in the same character, to have kept at a distance all other admirers: but the violence with which he had over-acted his part, by raising her disgust and the indignation of the company, rendered his views wholly abortive while the consciousness of an extravagance for which, if discovered, he could assign no reason not liable to excite suspicions of his secret motives, reduced him to guarding a painful and most irksome silence the whole evening. And Cecilia, to whose unsuspicious mind the idea of Mr Monckton had never occurred, added continually to the cruelty of his situation, by an undisguised abhorrence of his assiduity, as well as by a manifest preference to the attendance of the white domino. All, therefore, that his disappointed scheme now left in his power, was to watch her motions, listen to her discourse, and inflict occasionally upon others some part of the chagrin with which he was tormented himself.

While they were in this situation, Harlequin, in consequence of being ridiculed by the Turk for want of agility, offered to jump over the new desert table, and desired to have a little space cleared to give room for his motions. It was in vain the people who distributed the refreshments, and who were placed at the other side of the table, expostulated upon the danger of the experiment; Morrice had a rage of enterprise untameable, and, therefore, first taking a run, he attempted the leap.

The consequence was such as might naturally be expected; he could not accomplish his purpose, but, finding himself falling, imprudently caught hold of the lately erected Awning, and pulled it entirely upon his own head, and with it the new contrived lights, which, in various forms, were fixed to it, and which all came down together.

The mischief and confusion occasioned by this exploit were very alarming, and almost dangerous; those who were near the table suffered most by the crush, but splinters of the glass flew yet further; and as the room, which was small, had been only lighted up by lamps hanging from the Awning, it was now in total darkness, except close to the door, which was still illuminated from the adjoining apartments.

The clamour of Harlequin, who was covered with glass, papier-machee, lamps and oil, the screams of the ladies, the universal buz of tongues, and the struggle between the frighted crowd which was enclosed to get out, and the curious crowd from the other apartments to get in, occasioned a disturbance and tumult equally noisy and confused. But the most serious sufferer was the unfortunate fiend, who, being nearer the table than Cecilia, was so pressed upon by the numbers which poured from it, that he found a separation unavoidable, and was unable, from the darkness and the throng, to discover whether she was still in the same place, or had made her escape into another.

She had, however, encountered the white domino, and, under his protection, was safely conveyed to a further part of the room. Her intention and desire were to quit it immediately, but at the remonstrance of her conductor, she consented to remain some time longer. “The conflict at the door,” said he, “will quite overpower you. Stay here but a few minutes, and both parties will have struggled themselves tired, and you may then go without difficulty. Meantime, can you not, by this faint light, suppose me one of your guardians, Mr Briggs, for example, or, if he is too old for me, Mr Harrel, and entrust yourself to my care?”

“You seem wonderfully well acquainted with my guardians,” said Cecilia; “I cannot imagine how you have had your intelligence.”

“Nor can I,” answered the domino, “imagine how Mr Briggs became so particularly your favourite as to be entrusted with powers to dispose of you.”

“You are mistaken indeed; he is entrusted with no powers but such as his own fancy has suggested.”

“But how has Mr Delvile offended you, that with him only you seem to have no commerce or communication?”

“Mr Delvile!” repeated Cecilia, still more surprised, “are you also acquainted with Mr Delvile?”

“He is certainly a man of fashion,” continued the domino, “and he is also a man of honour; surely, then, he would be more pleasant for confidence and consultation than one whose only notion of happiness is money, whose only idea of excellence is avarice, and whose only conception of sense is distrust!” Here a violent outcry again interrupted their conversation; but not till Cecilia had satisfied her doubts concerning the white domino, by conjecturing he was Mr Belfield, who might easily, at the house of Mr Monckton, have gathered the little circumstances of her situation to which he alluded, and whose size and figure exactly resembled those of her new acquaintance.

The author of the former disturbance was now the occasion of the present: the fiend, having vainly traversed the room in search of Cecilia, stumbled accidentally upon Harlequin, before he was freed from the relicks of his own mischief; and unable to resist the temptation of opportunity and the impulse of revenge, he gave vent to the wrath so often excited by the blunders, forwardness, and tricks of Morrice, and inflicted upon him, with his own wooden sword, which he seized for that purpose, a chastisement the most serious and severe.

Poor Harlequin, unable to imagine any reason for this violent attack, and already cut with the glass, and bruised with the fall, spared not his lungs in making known his disapprobation of such treatment: but the fiend, regardless either of his complaints or his resistance, forbore not to belabour him till compelled by the entrance of people with lights. And then, after artfully playing sundry antics under pretence of still supporting his character, with a motion too sudden for prevention, and too rapid for pursuit, he escaped out of the room, and hurrying down stairs, threw himself into an hackney chair, which conveyed him to a place where he privately changed his dress before he returned home, bitterly repenting the experiment he had made, and conscious too late that, had he appeared in a character he might have avowed, he could, without impropriety, have attended Cecilia the whole evening. But such is deservedly the frequent fate of cunning, which, while it plots surprise and detection of others, commonly overshoots its mark, and ends in its own disgrace.

The introduction of the lights now making manifest the confusion which the frolic of Harlequin had occasioned, he was seized with such a dread of the resentment of Mr Harrel, that, forgetting blows, bruises, and wounds, not one of which were so frightful to him as reproof, he made the last exhibition of his agility by an abrupt and hasty retreat.

He had, however, no reason for apprehension, since, in every thing that regarded expence, Mr Harrel had no feeling, and his lady had no thought.

The rooms now began to empty very fast, but among the few masks yet remaining, Cecilia again perceived Don Quixote; and while, in conjunction with the white domino, she was allowing him the praise of having supported his character with more uniform propriety than any other person in the assembly, she observed him taking off his mask for the convenience of drinking some lemonade, and, looking in his face, found he was no other than Mr Belfield! Much astonished, and more than ever perplexed, she again turned to the white domino, who, seeing in her countenance a surprise of which he knew not the reason, said, half-laughing, “You think, perhaps, I shall never be gone? And indeed I am almost of the same opinion; but what can I do? Instead of growing weary by the length of my stay, my reluctance to shorten it increases with its duration; and all the methods I take, whether by speaking to you or looking at you, with a view to be satiated, only double my eagerness for looking and listening again! I must go, however; and if I am happy, I may perhaps meet with you again — though, if I am wise, I shall never seek you more!”

And then, with the last stragglers that reluctantly disappeared, he made his exit, leaving Cecilia greatly pleased with his conversation and his manners, but extremely perplexed to account for his knowledge of her affairs and situation.

The schoolmaster had already been gone some time.

She was now earnestly pressed by the Harrels and Sir Robert, who still remained, to send to a warehouse for a dress, and accompany them to the Pantheon; but though she was not without some inclination to comply, in the hope of further prolonging the entertainment of an evening from which she had received much pleasure, she disliked the attendance of the Baronet, and felt averse to grant any request that he could make, and therefore she begged they would excuse her; and having waited to see their dresses, which were very superb, she retired to her own apartment.

A great variety of conjecture upon all that had passed, now, and till the moment that she sunk to rest, occupied her mind; the extraordinary persecution of the fiend excited at once her curiosity and amazement, while the knowledge of her affairs shown by the white domino surprised her not less, and interested her more.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/burney/fanny/cecilia/book2.3.html

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