Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 5

A Fashionable Friend.

As soon as they returned home, Cecilia begged Mrs Harrel not to lose a moment before she tried to acquaint Mr Harrel with the state of the affair. But that lady was too helpless to know in what manner to set about it; she could not tell where he was, she could not conjecture where he might be.

Cecilia then rang for his own man, and upon enquiry, heard that he was, in all probability, at Brookes’s in St James’s-Street.

She then begged Mrs Harrel would write to him.

Mrs Harrel knew not what to say.

Cecilia therefore, equally quick in forming and executing her designs, wrote to him herself, and entreated that without losing an instant he would find out his friend Sir Robert Floyer, and endeavour to effect an accommodation between him and Mr Belfield, with whom he had had a dispute at the Opera-house.

The man soon returned with an answer that Mr Harrel would not fail to obey her commands.

She determined to sit up till he came home in order to learn the event of the negociation. She considered herself as the efficient cause of the quarrel, yet scarce knew how or in what to blame herself; the behaviour of Sir Robert had always been offensive to her; she disliked his manners, and detested his boldness; and she had already shewn her intention to accept the assistance of Mr Belfield before he had followed her with an offer of his own. She was uncertain, indeed, whether he had remarked what had passed, but she had reason to think that, so circumstanced, to have changed her purpose, would have been construed into an encouragement that might have authorised his future presumption of her favour. All she could find to regret with regard to herself, was wanting the presence of mind to have refused the civilities of both.

Mrs Harrel, though really sorry at the state of the affair, regarded herself as so entirely unconcerned in it, that, easily wearied when out of company, she soon grew sleepy, and retired to her own room.

The anxious Cecilia, hoping every instant the return of Mr Harrel, sat up by herself: but it was not till near four o’clock in the morning that he made his appearance.

“Well, sir,” cried she, the moment she saw him, “I fear by your coming home so late you have had much trouble, but I hope it has been successful?”

Great, however, was her mortification when he answered that he had not even seen the Baronet, having been engaged himself in so particular a manner, that he could not possibly break from his party till past three o’clock, at which time he drove to the house of Sir Robert, but heard that he was not yet come home.

Cecilia, though much disgusted by such a specimen of insensibility towards a man whom he pretended to call his friend, would not leave him till he had promised to arise as soon as it was light, and make an effort to recover the time lost.

She was now no longer surprised either at the debts of Mr Harrel, or at his particular occasions for money. She was convinced he spent half the night in gaming, and the consequences, however dreadful, were but natural. That Sir Robert Floyer also did the same was a matter of much less importance to her, but that the life of any man should through her means be endangered, disturbed her inexpressibly.

She went, however, to bed, but arose again at six o’clock, and dressed herself by candle light. In an hour’s time she sent to enquire if Mr Harrel was stirring, and hearing he was asleep, gave orders to have him called. Yet he did not rise till eight o’clock, nor could all her messages or expostulations drive him out of the house till nine.

He was scarcely gone before Mr Monckton arrived, who now for the first time had the satisfaction of finding her alone.

“You are very good for coming so early,” cried she; “have you seen Mr Belfield? Have you had any conversation with him?”

Alarmed at her eagerness, and still more at seeing by her looks the sleepless night she had passed, he made at first no reply; and when, with increasing impatience, she repeated her question, he only said, “Has Belfield ever visited you since he had the honour of meeting you at my house?”

“No, never.”

“Have you seen him often in public?”

“No, I have never seen him at all but the evening Mrs Harrel received masks, and last night at the Opera.”

“Is it, then, for the safety of Sir Robert you are so extremely anxious?”

“It is for the safety of both; the cause of their quarrel was so trifling, that I cannot bear to think its consequence should be serious.”

“But do you not wish better to one of them than to the other?”

“As a matter of justice I do, but not from any partiality: Sir Robert was undoubtedly the aggressor, and Mr Belfield, though at first too fiery, was certainly ill-used.”

The candour of this speech recovered Mr Monckton from his apprehensions; and, carefully observing her looks while he spoke, he gave her the following account.

That he had hastened to Belfield’s lodgings the moment he left the Opera-house, and, after repeated denials, absolutely forced himself into his room, where he was quite alone, and in much agitation: he conversed with him for more than an hour upon the subject of the quarrel, but found he so warmly resented the personal insult given him by Sir Robert, that no remonstrance had any effect in making him alter his resolution of demanding satisfaction.

“And could you bring him to consent to no compromise before you left him?” cried Cecilia.

“No; for before I got to him — the challenge had been sent.”

“The challenge! good heaven! — and do you know the event?”

“I called again this morning at his lodgings, but he was not returned home.”

“And was it impossible to follow him? Were there no means to discover whither he was gone?”

“None; to elude all pursuit, he went out before any body in the house was stirring, and took his servant with him.”

“Have you, then, been to Sir Robert?”

“I have been to Cavendish–Square, but there, it seems, he has not appeared all night; I traced him, through his servants, from the Opera to a gaminghouse, where I found he had amused himself till this morning.”

The uneasiness of Cecilia now encreased every moment; and Mr Monckton, seeing he had no other chance of satisfying her, offered his service to go again in search of both the gentlemen, and endeavour to bring her better information. She accepted the proposal with gratitude, and he departed.

Soon after she was joined by Mr Arnott, who, though seized with all the horrors of jealousy at sight of her apprehensions, was so desirous to relieve them, that without even making any merit of obliging her, he almost instantly set out upon the same errand that employed Mr Monckton, and determined not to mention his design till he found whether it would enable him to bring her good tidings.

He was scarce gone when she was told that Mr Delvile begged to have the honour of speaking to her. Surprised at this condescension, she desired he might immediately be admitted; but much was her surprise augmented, when, instead of seeing her ostentatious guardian, she again beheld her masquerade friend, the white domino.

He entreated her pardon for an intrusion neither authorised by acquaintance nor by business, though somewhat, he hoped, palliated, by his near connection with one who was privileged to take an interest in her affairs: and then, hastening to the motives which had occasioned his visit, “when I had the honour,” he said, “of seeing you last night at the Opera-house, the dispute which had just happened between two gentlemen, seemed to give you an uneasiness which could not but be painful to all who observed it, and as among that number I was not the least moved, you will forgive, I hope, my eagerness to be the first to bring you intelligence that nothing fatal has happened, or is likely to happen.”

“You do me, sir,” said Cecilia, “much honour; and indeed you relieve me from a suspense extremely disagreeable. The accommodation, I suppose, was brought about this morning?”

“I find,” answered he, smiling, “you now expect too much; but hope is never so elastic as when it springs from the ruins of terror.”

“What then is the matter? Are they at last, not safe?”

“Yes, perfectly safe; but I cannot tell you they have never been in danger.”

“Well, if it is now over I am contented: but you will very much oblige me, sir, if you will inform me what has passed.”

“You oblige me, madam, by the honour of your commands. I saw but too much reason to apprehend that measures the most violent would follow the affray of last night; yet as I found that the quarrel had been accidental, and the offence unpremeditated, I thought it not absolutely impossible that an expeditious mediation might effect a compromise: at least it was worth trying; for though wrath slowly kindled or long nourished is sullen and intractable, the sudden anger that has not had time to impress the mind with a deep sense of injury, will, when gently managed, be sometimes appeased with the same quickness it is excited: I hoped, therefore, that some trifling concession from Sir Robert, as the aggressor — ”

“Ah sir!” cried Cecilia, “that, I fear, was not to be obtained!”

“Not by me, I must own,” he answered; “but I was not willing to think of the difficulty, and therefore ventured to make the proposal: nor did I leave the Opera-house till I had used every possible argument to persuade Sir Robert an apology would neither stain his courage nor his reputation. But his spirit brooked not the humiliation.”

“Spirit!” cried Cecilia, “how mild a word! What, then, could poor Mr Belfield resolve upon?”

“That, I believe, took him very little time to decide. I discovered, by means of a gentleman at the Opera who was acquainted with him, where he lived, and I waited upon him with an intention to offer my services towards settling the affair by arbitration: for since you call him poor Mr Belfield, I think you will permit me, without offence to his antagonist, to own that his gallantry, though too impetuous for commendation, engaged me in his interest.”

“I hope you don’t think,” cried Cecilia, “that an offence to his antagonist must necessarily be an offence to me?”

“Whatever I may have thought,” answered he, looking at her with evident surprise, “I certainly did not wish that a sympathy offensive and defensive had been concluded between you. I could not, however, gain access to Mr Belfield last night, but the affair dwelt upon my mind, and this morning I called at his lodging as soon as it was light.”

“How good you have been!” cried Cecilia; “your kind offices have not, I hope, all proved ineffectual!”

“So valorous a Don Quixote,” returned he, laughing, “certainly merited a faithful Esquire! He was, however, gone out, and nobody knew whither. About half an hour ago I called upon him again; he was then just returned home.”

“Well, Sir?”

“I saw him; the affair was over; and in a short time he will be able, if you will allow him so much honour, to thank you for these enquiries.”

“He is then wounded?”

“He is a little hurt, but Sir Robert is perfectly safe. Belfield fired first, and missed; the Baronet was not so successless.”

“I am grieved to hear it, indeed! And where is the wound?”

“The ball entered his right side, and the moment he felt it, he fired his second pistol in the air. This I heard from his servant. He was brought home carefully and slowly; no surgeon had been upon the spot, but one was called to him immediately. I stayed to enquire his opinion after the wound had been dressed: he told me he had extracted the ball, and assured me Mr Belfield was not in any danger. Your alarm, madam, last night, which had always been present to me, then encouraged me to take the liberty of waiting upon you; for I concluded you could yet have had no certain intelligence, and thought it best to let the plain and simple fact out-run the probable exaggeration of rumour.”

Cecilia thanked him for his attention, and Mrs Harrel then making her appearance, he arose and said, “Had my father known the honour I have had this morning of waiting upon Miss Beverley, I am sure I should have been charged with his compliments, and such a commission would somewhat have lessened the presumption of this visit; but I feared lest while I should be making interest for my credentials, the pretence of my embassy might be lost, and other couriers, less scrupulous, might obtain previous audiences, and anticipate my dispatches.”

He then took his leave.

“This white domino, at last then,” said Cecilia, “is the son of Mr Delvile! and thence the knowledge of my situation which gave me so much surprise:— a son how infinitely unlike his father!”

“Yes,” said Mrs Harrel, “and as unlike his mother too, for I assure you she is more proud and haughty even than the old gentleman. I hate the very sight of her, for she keeps every body in such awe that there’s nothing but restraint in her presence. But the son is a very pretty young man, and much admired; though I have only seen him in public, for none of the family visit here.”

Mr Monckton, who now soon returned, was not a little surprised to find that all the intelligence he meant to communicate was already known: and not the more pleased to hear that the white domino, to whom before he owed no good-will, had thus officiously preceded him.

Mr Arnott, who also came just after him, had been so little satisfied with the result of his enquiries, that from the fear of encreasing Cecilia’s uneasiness, he determined not to make known whither he had been; but he soon found his forbearance was of no avail, as she was already acquainted with the duel and its consequences. Yet his unremitting desire to oblige her urged him twice in the course of the same day to again call at Mr Belfield’s lodgings, in order to bring her thence fresh and unsolicited intelligence.

Before breakfast was quite over, Miss Larolles, out of breath with eagerness, came to tell the news of the duel, in her way to church, as it was Sunday morning! and soon after Mrs Mears, who also was followed by other ladies, brought the same account, which by all was addressed to Cecilia, with expressions of concern that convinced her, to her infinite vexation, she was generally regarded as the person chiefly interested in the accident.

Mr Harrel did not return till late, but then seemed in very high spirits: “Miss Beverley,” he cried, “I bring you news that will repay all your fright; Sir Robert is not only safe, but is come off conqueror.”

“I am very sorry, Sir,” answered Cecilia, extremely provoked to be thus congratulated, “that any body conquered, or any body was vanquished.”

“There is no need for sorrow,” cried Mr Harrel, “or for any thing but joy, for he has not killed his man; the victory, therefore, will neither cost him a flight nor a trial. To-day he means to wait upon you, and lay his laurels at your feet.”

“He means, then, to take very fruitless trouble,” said Cecilia, “for I have not any ambition to be so honoured.”

“Ah, Miss Beverley,” returned he, laughing, “this won’t do now! it might have passed a little while ago, but it won’t do now, I promise you!”

Cecilia, though much displeased by this accusation, found that disclaiming it only excited further raillery, and therefore prevailed upon herself to give him a quiet hearing, and scarce any reply.

At dinner, when Sir Robert arrived, the dislike she had originally taken to him, encreased already into disgust by his behaviour the preceding evening, was now fixed into the strongest aversion by the horror she conceived of his fierceness, and the indignation she felt excited by his arrogance. He seemed, from the success of this duel, to think himself raised to the highest pinnacle of human glory; triumph sat exulting on his brow; he looked down on whoever he deigned to look at all, and shewed that he thought his notice an honour, however imperious the manner in which it was accorded.

Upon Cecilia, however, he cast an eye of more complacency; he now believed her subdued, and his vanity revelled in the belief: her anxiety had so thoroughly satisfied him of her love, that she had hardly the power left to undeceive him; her silence he only attributed to admiration, her coldness to fear, and her reserve to shame.

Sickened by insolence so undisguised and unauthorised, and incensed at the triumph of his successful brutality, Cecilia with pain kept her seat, and with vexation reflected upon the necessity she was under of passing so large a portion of her time in company to which she was so extremely averse.

After dinner, when Mrs Harrel was talking of her party for the evening, of which Cecilia declined making one, Sir Robert, with a sort of proud humility, that half feared rejection, and half proclaimed an indifference to meeting it, said, “I don’t much care for going further myself, if Miss Beverley will give me the honour of taking my tea with her.”

Cecilia, regarding him with much surprise, answered that she had letters to write into the country, which would confine her to her own room for the rest of the evening. The Baronet, looking at his watch, instantly cried, “Faith, that is very fortunate, for I have just recollected an engagement at the other end of the town which had slipt my memory.”

Soon after they were all gone, Cecilia received a note from Mrs Delvile, begging the favour of her company the next morning to breakfast. She readily accepted the invitation, though she was by no means prepared, by the character she had heard of her, to expect much pleasure from an acquaintance with that lady.

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