Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Book iii

Chapter 1

An Application.

Cecilia, upon her return home, heard with some surprise that Mr and Mrs Harrel were by themselves in the drawing-room; and, while she was upon the stairs, Mrs Harrel ran out, calling eagerly, “Is that my brother?”

Before she could make an answer, Mr Harrel, in the same impatient tone, exclaimed, “Is it Mr Arnott?”

“No;” said Cecilia, “did you expect him so late?”

“Expect him? Yes,” answered Mr Harrel, “I have expected him the whole evening, and cannot conceive what he has done with himself.”

“’Tis abominably provoking,” said Mrs Harrel, “that he should be out of the way just now when he is wanted. However, I dare say tomorrow will do as well.”

“I don’t know that,” cried Mr Harrel. “Reeves is such a wretch that I am sure he will give me all the trouble in his power.”

Here Mr Arnott entered; and Mrs Harrel called out “O brother, we have been distressed for you cruelly; we have had a man here who has plagued Mr Harrel to death, and we wanted you sadly to speak to him.”

“I should have been very glad,” said Mr Arnott, “to have been of any use, and perhaps it is not yet too late; who is the man?”

“O,” cried Mr Harrel, carelessly, “only a fellow from that rascally taylor who has been so troublesome to me lately. He has had the impudence, because I did not pay him the moment he was pleased to want his money, to put the bill into the hands of one Reeves, a griping attorney, who has been here this evening, and thought proper to talk to me pretty freely. I can tell the gentleman I shall not easily forget his impertinence! however, I really wish mean time I could get rid of him.”

“How much is the bill, Sir?” said Mr Arnott.

“Why it’s rather a round sum; but I don’t know how it is, one’s bills mount up before one is aware: those fellows charge such confounded sums for tape and buckram; I hardly know what I have had of him, and yet he has run me up a bill of between three and four hundred pound.”

Here there was a general silence; till Mrs Harrel said “Brother, can’t you be so good as to lend us the money? Mr Harrel says he can pay it again very soon.”

“O yes, very soon,” said Mr Harrel, “for I shall receive a great deal of money in a little time; I only want to stop this fellow’s mouth for the present.”

“Suppose I go and talk with him?” said Mr Arnott.

“O, he’s a brute, a stock!” cried Mr Harrel, “nothing but the money will satisfy him: he will hear no reason; one might as well talk to a stone.”

Mr Arnott now looked extremely distressed; but upon his sister’s warmly pressing him not to lose any time, he gently said, “If this person will but wait a week or two, I should be extremely glad, for really just now I cannot take up so much money, without such particular loss and inconvenience, that I hardly know how to do it:— but yet, if he will not be appeased, he must certainly have it.”

“Appeased?” cried Mr Harrel, “you might as well appease the sea in a storm! he is hard as iron.”

Mr Arnott then, forcing a smile, though evidently in much uneasiness, said he would not fail to raise the money the next morning, and was taking his leave, when Cecilia, shocked that such tenderness and good-nature should be thus grossly imposed upon, hastily begged to speak with Mrs Harrel, and taking her into another room, said, “I beseech you, my dear friend, let not your worthy brother suffer by his generosity; permit me in the present exigence to assist Mr Harrel: my having such a sum advanced can be of no consequence; but I should grieve indeed that your brother, who so nobly understands the use of money, should take it up at any particular disadvantage.”

“You are vastly kind,” said Mrs Harrel, “and I will run and speak to them about it: but which ever of you lends the money, Mr Harrel has assured me he shall pay it very soon.”

She then returned with the proposition. Mr Arnott strongly opposed it, but Mr Harrel seemed rather to prefer it, yet spoke so confidently of his speedy payment, that he appeared to think it a matter of little importance from which he accepted it. A generous contest ensued between Mr Arnott and Cecilia, but as she was very earnest, she at length prevailed, and settled to go herself the next morning into the city, in order to have the money advanced by Mr Briggs, who had the management of her fortune entirely to himself, her other guardians never interfering in the executive part of her affairs.

This arranged, they all retired.

And then, with encreasing astonishment, Cecilia reflected upon the ruinous levity of Mr Harrel, and the blind security of his wife; she saw in their situation danger the most alarming, and in the behaviour of Mr Harrel selfishness the most inexcusable; such glaring injustice to his creditors, such utter insensibility to his friends, took from her all wish of assisting him, though the indignant compassion with which she saw the easy generosity of Mr Arnott so frequently abused, had now, for his sake merely, induced her to relieve him.

She resolved, however, as soon as the present difficulty was surmounted, to make another attempt to open the eyes of Mrs Harrel to the evils which so apparently threatened her, and press her to exert all her influence with her husband, by means both of example and advice, to retrench his expences before it should be absolutely too late to save him from ruin.

She determined also at the same time dial she applied for the money requisite for this debt, to take up enough for discharging her own bill at the bookseller’s, and putting in execution her plan of assisting the Hills.

The next morning she arose early, and attended by her servant, set out for the house of Mr Briggs, purposing, as the weather was clear and frosty, to walk through Oxford Road, and then put herself into a chair; and hoping to return to Mr Harrel’s by the usual hour of breakfast.

She had not proceeded far, before she saw a mob gathering, and the windows of almost all the houses filling with spectators. She desired her servant to enquire what this meant, and was informed that the people were assembling to see some malefactors pass by in their way to Tyburn.

Alarmed at this intelligence from the fear of meeting the unhappy criminals, she hastily turned down die next street, but found that also filling with people who were running to the scene she was trying to avoid: encircled thus every way, she applied to a maidservant who was standing at the door of a large house, and begged leave to step in till the mob was gone by. The maid immediately consented, and she waited here while she sent her man for a chair.

He soon arrived with one; but just as she returned to the street door, a gentleman, who was hastily entering the house, standing back to let her pass, suddenly exclaimed, “Miss Beverley!” and looking at him, she perceived young Delvile.

“I cannot stop an instant,” cried she, running down the steps, “lest the crowd should prevent the chair from going on.”

“Will you not first,” said he, handing her in, “tell me what news you have heard?”

“News?” repeated she. “No, I have heard none!”

“You will only, then, laugh at me for those officious offers you did so well to reject?”

“I know not what offers you mean!”

“They were indeed superfluous, and therefore I wonder not you have forgotten them. Shall I tell the chairmen whither to go?”

“To Mr Briggs. But I cannot imagine what you mean.”

“To Mr Briggs!” repeated he, “O live for ever French beads and Bristol stones! fresh offers may perhaps be made there, impertinent, officious, and useless as mine!”

He then told her servant the direction, and, making his bow, went into the house she had just quitted.

Cecilia, extremely amazed by this short, but unintelligible conversation, would again have called upon him to explain his meaning, but found the crowd encreasing so fast that she could not venture to detain the chair, which with difficulty made its way to the adjoining streets: but her surprize at what had passed so entirely occupied her, that when she stopt at the house of Mr Briggs, she had almost forgotten what had brought her thither.

The foot-boy, who came to the door, told her that his master was at home, but not well.

She desired he might be acquainted that she wished to speak to him upon business, and would wait upon him again at any hour when he thought he should be able to see her.

The boy returned with an answer that she might call again the next week.

Cecilia, knowing that so long a delay would destroy all the kindness of her intention, determined to write to him for the money, and therefore went into the parlour, and desired to have pen and ink.

The boy, after making her wait some time in a room without any fire, brought her a pen and a little ink in a broken tea-cup, saying “Master begs you won’t spirt it about, for he’s got no more; and all our blacking’s as good as gone.”

“Blacking?” repeated Cecilia.

“Yes, Miss; when Master’s shoes are blacked, we commonly gets a little drap of fresh ink.”

Cecilia promised to be careful, but desired him to fetch her a sheet of paper.

“Law, Miss,” cried the boy, with a grin, “I dare say master’d as soon give you a bit of his nose! howsever, I’ll go ax.”

In a few minutes he again returned, and brought in his hand a slate and a black lead pencil; “Miss,” cried he, “Master says how you may write upon this, for he supposes you’ve no great matters to say.”

Cecilia, much astonished at this extreme parsimony, was obliged to consent, but as the point of the pencil was very blunt, desired the boy to get her a knife that she might cut it. He obeyed, but said “Pray Miss, take care it ben’t known, for master don’t do such a thing once in a year, and if he know’d I’d got you the knife, he’d go nigh to give me a good polt of the head.”

Cecilia then wrote upon the slate her desire to be informed in what manner she should send him her receipt for 600 pounds, which she begged to have instantly advanced.

The boy came back grinning, and holding up his hands, and said, “Miss, there’s a fine piece of work upstairs! Master’s in a peck of troubles; but he says how he’ll come down, if you’ll stay till he’s got his things on.”

“Does he keep his bed, then? I hope I have not made him rise?”

“No, Miss, he don’t keep his bed, only he must get ready, for he wears no great matters of cloaths when he’s alone. You are to know, Miss,” lowering his voice, “that that day as he went abroad with our sweep’s cloaths on, he comed home in sich a pickle you never see! I believe somebody’d knocked him in the kennel; so does Moll; but don’t you say as I told you! He’s been special bad ever since. Moll and I was as glad as could be, because he’s so plaguy sharp; for, to let you know, Miss, he’s so near, it’s partly a wonder how he lives at all: and yet he’s worth a power of money, too.”

“Well, well,” said Cecilia, not very desirous to encourage his forwardness, “if I want any thing, I’ll call for you.”

The boy, however, glad to tell his tale, went on.

“Our Moll won’t stay with him above a week longer, Miss, because she says how she can get nothing to eat, but just some old stinking salt meat, that’s stayed in the butcher’s shop so long, it would make a horse sick to look at it. But Moll’s pretty nice; howsever, Miss, to let you know, we don’t get a good meal so often as once a quarter! why this last week we ha’n’t had nothing at all but some dry musty red herrings; so you may think, Miss, we’re kept pretty sharp!”

He was now interrupted by hearing Mr Briggs coming down the stairs, upon which, abruptly breaking off his complaints, he held up his finger to his nose in token of secrecy, and ran hastily into the kitchen.

The appearance of Mr Briggs was by no means rendered more attractive by illness and negligence of dress. He had on a flannel gown and night cap; his black beard, of many days’ growth, was long and grim, and upon his nose and one of his cheeks was a large patch of brown paper, which, as he entered the room, he held on with both his hands.

Cecilia made many apologies for having disturbed him, and some civil enquiries concerning his health.

“Ay, ay,” cried he, pettishly, “bad enough: all along of that trumpery masquerade; wish I had not gone! Fool for my pains.”

“When were you taken ill, Sir?”

“Met with an accident; got a fall, broke my head, like to have lost my wig. Wish the masquerade at old Nick! thought it would cost nothing, or would not have gone. Warrant sha’n’t get me so soon to another!”

“Did you fall in going home, Sir?”

“Ay, ay, plump in the kennel; could hardly get out of it; felt myself a going, was afraid to tear my cloaths, knew the rascal would make me pay for them, so by holding up the old sack, come bolt on my face! off pops my wig; could not tell what to do; all as dark as pitch!”

“Did not you call for help?”

“Nobody by but scrubs, knew they would not help for nothing. Scrawled out as I could, groped about for my wig, found it at last, all soused in the mud; stuck to my head like Turner’s cerate,”

“I hope, then, you got into a hackney coach?”

“What for? to make things worse? was not bad enough, hay? — must pay two shillings beside?”

“But how did you find yourself when you got home, Sir?”

“How? why wet as muck; my head all bumps, my cheek all cut, my nose big as two! forced to wear a plaister; half ruined in vinegar. Got a great cold; put me in a fever; never been well since.”

“But have you had no advice, Sir? Should not you send for a physician?”

“What to do, hay? fill me with jallop? can get it myself, can’t I? Had one once; was taken very bad, thought should have popt off; began to flinch, sent for the doctor, proved nothing but a cheat! cost me a guinea, gave it at fourth visit, and he never came again! —— warrant won’t have no more!”

Then perceiving upon the table some dust from the black lead pencil, “What’s here?” cried he, angrily, “who’s been cutting the pencil? wish they were hanged; suppose it’s the boy; deserves to be horsewhipped: give him a good banging.”

Cecilia immediately cleared him, by acknowledging she had herself been the culprit.

“Ay, ay,” cried he, “thought as much all the time! guessed how it was; nothing but ruin and waste; sending for money, nobody knows why; wanting 600 pounds — what to do? throw it in the dirt? Never heard the like! Sha’n’t have it, promise you that,” nodding his head, “shan’t have no such thing!”

“Sha’n’t have it?” cried Cecilia, much surprised, “why not, Sir?”

“Keep it for your husband; get you one soon: won’t have no juggling. Don’t be in a hurry; one in my eye.”

Cecilia then began a very earnest expostulation, assuring him she really wanted the money, for an occasion which would not admit of delay. Her remonstrances, however, he wholly disregarded, telling her that girls knew nothing of the value of money, and ought not to be trusted with it; that he would not hear of such extravagance, and was resolved not to advance her a penny. Cecilia was both provoked and confounded by a refusal so unexpected, and as she thought herself bound in honour to Mr Harrel not to make known the motive of her urgency, she was for some time totally silenced: till recollecting her account with the bookseller, she determined to rest her plea upon that, persuaded that he could not, at least, deny her money to pay her own bills. He heard her, however, with the utmost contempt; “Books?” he cried, “what do you want with books? do no good; all lost time; words get no cash.” She informed him his admonitions were now too late, as she had already received them, and must therefore necessarily pay for them. “No, no,” cried he, “send ’em back, that’s best; keep no such rubbish, won’t turn to account; do better without ’em.” “That, Sir, will be impossible, for I have had them some time, and cannot expect the bookseller to take them again.” “Must, must,” cried he, “can’t help himself; glad to have ’em too. Are but a minor, can’t be made pay a farthing.” Cecilia with much indignation heard such fraud recommended, and told him she could by no means consent to follow his advice. But she soon found, to her utter amazement, that he steadily refused to give her any other, or to bestow the slightest attention upon her expostulations, sturdily saying that her uncle had left her a noble estate, and he would take care to see it put in proper hands, by getting her a good and careful husband.

“I have no intention, no wish, Sir,” cried she, “to break into the income or estate left me by my uncle; on the contrary, I hold them sacred, and think myself bound in conscience never to live beyond them: but the L10,000 bequeathed me by my Father, I regard as more peculiarly my own property, and therefore think myself at liberty to dispose of it as I please.”

“What,” cried he, in a rage, “make it over to a scrubby bookseller! give it up for an old pot-hook? no, no, won’t suffer it; sha’n’t be, sha’n’t be, I say! if you want some books, go to Moorfields, pick up enough at an old stall; get ’em at two pence a-piece; dear enough, too.”

Cecilia for some time hoped he was merely indulging his strange and sordid humour by an opposition that was only intended to teize her; but she soon found herself extremely mistaken: he was immoveable in obstinacy, as he was incorrigible in avarice; he neither troubled himself with enquiries nor reasoning, but was contented with refusing her as a child might be refused, by peremptorily telling her she did not know what she wanted, and therefore should not have what she asked.

And with this answer, after all that she could urge, she was compelled to leave the house, as he complained that his brown paper plaister wanted fresh dipping in vinegar, and he could stay talking no longer.

The disgust with which this behaviour filled her, was doubled by the shame and concern of returning to the Harrels with her promise unperformed; she deliberated upon every method that occurred to her of still endeavouring to serve them, but could suggest nothing, except trying to prevail upon Mr Delvile to interfere in her favour. She liked not, indeed, the office of solicitation to so haughty a man, but, having no other expedient, her repugnance gave way to her generosity, and she ordered the chairmen to carry her to St James’s Square.

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