Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 3

An Admonition.

The Harrels and Mr Arnott waited the return of Cecilia with the utmost impatience; she told them with much concern the failure of her embassy, which Mr Harrel heard with visible resentment and discontent, while Mr Arnott, entreating him not to think of it, again made an offer of his services, and declared he would disregard all personal convenience for the pleasure of making him and his sister easy.

Cecilia was much mortified that she had not the power to act the same part, and asked Mr Harrel whether he believed his own influence with Mr Briggs would be more successful.

“No, no,” answered he, “the old curmudgeon would but the rather refuse. I know his reason, and therefore am sure all pleas will be vain. He has dealings in the alley, and I dare say games with your money as if it were his own. There is, indeed, one way — but I do not think you would like it — though I protest I hardly know why not — however, ’tis as well let alone.”

Cecilia insisted upon hearing what he meant, and, after some hesitation, he hinted that there were means by which, with very little inconvenience, she might borrow the money.

Cecilia, with that horror natural to all unpractised minds at the first idea of contracting a voluntary debt, started at this suggestion, and seemed very ill disposed to listen to it. Mr Harrel, perceiving her repugnance, turned to Mr Arnott, and said, “Well, my good brother, I hardly know how to suffer you to sell out at such a loss, but yet, my present necessity is so urgent —”

“Don’t mention it,” cried Mr Arnott, “I am very sorry I let you know it; be certain, however, that while I have anything, it is yours and my sister’s.”

The two gentlemen we then retiring together; but Cecilia, shocked for Mr Arnott, though unmoved by Mr Harrel, stopt them to enquire what was the way by which it was meant she could borrow the money?

Mr Harrel seemed averse to answer, but she would not be refused; and then he mentioned a Jew, of whose honesty he had made undoubted trial, and who, as she was so near being of age, would accept very trifling interest for whatever she should like to take up.

The heart of Cecilia recoiled at the very mention of a Jew, and taking up money upon interest; but, impelled strongly by her own generosity to emulate that of Mr Arnott, she agreed, after some hesitation, to have recourse to this method.

Mr Harrel then made some faint denials, and Mr Arnott protested he had a thousand times rather sell out at any discount, than consent to her taking such a measure; but, when her first reluctance was conquered, all that he urged served but to shew his worthiness in a stronger light, and only increased her desire of saving him from such repeated imposition.

Her total ignorance in what manner to transact this business, made her next put it wholly into the hands of Mr Harrel, whom she begged to take up 600 pounds, upon such terms as he thought equitable, and to which, what ever they might be, she would sign her name.

He seemed somewhat surprised at the sum, but without any question or objection undertook the commission: and Cecilia would not lessen it, because unwilling to do more for the security of the luxurious Mr Harrel, than for the distresses of the laborious Hills.

Nothing could be more speedy than the execution of this affair, Mr Harrel was diligent and expert, the whole was settled that morning, and, giving to the Jew her bond for the payment at the interest he required, she put into the hands of Mr Harrel L350, for which he gave his receipt, and she kept the rest for her own purposes.

She intended the morning after this transaction to settle her account with the bookseller. When she went into the parlour to breakfast, she was somewhat surprised to see Mr Harrel seated there, in earnest discourse with his wife. Fearful of interrupting a tete-a-tete so uncommon, she would have retired, but Mr Harrel, calling after her, said, “O pray come in! I am only telling Priscilla a piece of my usual ill luck. You must know I happen to be in immediate want of L200, though only for three or four days, and I sent to order honest old Aaron to come hither directly with the money, but it so happens that he went out of town the moment he had done with us yesterday, and will not be back again this week. Now I don’t believe there is another Jew in the kingdom who will let me have money upon the same terms; they are such notorious rascals, that I hate the very thought of employing them.”

Cecilia, who could not but understand what this meant, was too much displeased both by his extravagance and his indelicacy, to feel at all inclined to change the destination of the money she had just received; and therefore coolly agreed that it was unfortunate, but added nothing more.

“O, it is provoking indeed,” cried he, “for the extra-interest I must pay one of those extortioners is absolutely so much money thrown away.”

Cecilia, still without noticing these hints, began her breakfast. Mr Harrel then said he would take his tea with them: and, while he was buttering some dry toast, exclaimed, as if from sudden recollection, “O Lord, now I think of it, I believe, Miss Beverley, you can lend me this money yourself for a day or two. The moment old Aaron comes to town, I will pay you.”

Cecilia, whose generosity, however extensive, was neither thoughtless nor indiscriminate, found something so repulsive in this gross procedure, that instead of assenting to his request with her usual alacrity, she answered very gravely that the money she had just received was already appropriated to a particular purpose, and she knew not how to defer making use of it.

Mr Harrel was extremely chagrined by this reply, which was by no means what he expected; but, tossing down a dish of tea, he began humming an air, and soon recovered his usual unconcern.

In a few minutes, ringing his bell, he desired a servant to go to Mr Zackery, and inform him that he wanted to speak with him immediately.

“And now,” said he, with a look in which vexation seemed struggling with carelessness, “the thing is done! I don’t like, indeed, to get into such hands, for ’tis hard ever to get out of them when once one begins — and hitherto I have kept pretty clear. But there’s no help for it — Mr Arnott cannot just now assist me — and so the thing must take its course. Priscilla, why do you look so grave?”

“I am thinking how unlucky it is my Brother should happen to be unable to lend you this money.”

“O, don’t think about it; I shall get rid of the man very soon I dare say — I hope so, at least — I am sure I mean it.”

Cecilia now grew a little disturbed; she looked at Mrs. Harrel, who seemed also uneasy, and then, with some hesitation, said “Have you really never, Sir, employed this man before?”

“Never in my life: never any but old Aaron. I dread the whole race; I have a sort of superstitious notion that if once I get into their clutches, I shall never be my own man again; and that induced me to beg your assistance. However, ’tis no great matter.”

She then began to waver; she feared there might be future mischief as well as present inconvenience, in his applying to new usurers, and knowing she had now the power to prevent him, thought herself half cruel in refusing to exert it. She wished to consult Mr. Monckton, but found it necessary to take her measures immediately, as the Jew was already sent for, and must in a few moments be either employed or discarded.

Much perplext how to act, between a desire of doing good, and a fear of encouraging evil, she weighed each side hastily, but while still uncertain which ought to preponderate, her kindness for Mrs. Harrel interfered, and, in the hope of rescuing her husband from further bad practices, she said she would postpone her own business for the few days he mentioned, rather than see him compelled to open any new account with so dangerous a set of men.

He thanked her in his usual negligent manner, and accepting the 200 pounds, gave her his receipt for it, and a promise she should be paid in a week.

Mrs. Harrel, however, seemed more grateful, and with many embraces spoke her sense of this friendly good nature. Cecilia, happy from believing she had revived in her some spark of sensibility, determined to avail herself of so favourable a symptom, and enter at once upon the disagreeable task she had set herself, of representing to her the danger of her present situation.

As soon, therefore, as breakfast was done, and Mr Arnott, who came in before it was over, was gone, with a view to excite her attention by raising her curiosity, she begged the favour of a private conference in her own room, upon matters of some importance.

She began with hoping that the friendship in which they had so long lived would make her pardon the liberty she was going to take, and which nothing less than their former intimacy, joined to strong apprehensions for her future welfare, could authorise; “But oh Priscilla!” she continued, “with open eyes to see your danger, yet not warn you of it, would be a reserve treacherous in a friend, and cruel even in a fellow-creature.”

“What danger?” cried Mrs Harrel, much alarmed, “do you think me ill? do I look consumptive?”

“Yes, consumptive indeed!” said Cecilia, “but not, I hope, in your constitution.”

And then, with all the tenderness in her power, she came to the point, and conjured her without delay to retrench her expences, and change her thoughtless way of life for one more considerate and domestic.

Mrs Harrel, with much simplicity, assured her she did nothing but what every body else did, and that it was quite impossible for her to appear in the world in any other manner.

“But how are you to appear hereafter?” cried Cecilia, “if now you live beyond your income, you must consider that in time your income by such depredations will be exhausted.”

“But I declare to you,” answered Mrs Harrel, “I never run in debt for more than half a year, for as soon as I receive my own money, I generally pay it away every shilling: and so borrow what I want till pay day comes round again.”

“And that,” said Cecilia, “seems a method expressly devised for keeping you eternally comfortless: pardon me, however, for speaking so openly, but I fear Mr Harrel himself must be even still less attentive and accurate in his affairs, or he could not so frequently be embarrassed. And what is to be the result? look but, my dear Priscilla, a little forward, and you will tremble at the prospect before you!”

Mrs Harrel seemed frightened at this speech, and begged to know what she would have them do?

Cecilia then, with equal wisdom and friendliness, proposed a general reform in the household, the public and private expences of both; she advised that a strict examination might be made into the state of their affairs, that all their bills should be called in, and faithfully paid, and that an entire new plan of life should be adopted, according to the situation of their fortune and income when cleared of all incumbrances.

“Lord, my dear!” exclaimed Mrs Harrel, with a look of astonishment, “why Mr Harrel would no more do all this than fly! If I was only to make such a proposal, I dare say he would laugh in my face.”

“And why?”

“Why? — why because it would seem such an odd thing — it’s what nobody thinks of — though I am sure I am very much obliged to you for mentioning it. Shall we go down stairs? I think I heard somebody come in.

“No matter who comes in,” said Cecilia, “reflect for a moment upon my proposal, and, at least, if you disapprove it, suggest something more eligible.”

“Oh, it’s a very good proposal, that I agree,” said Mrs Harrel, looking very weary, “but only the thing is it’s quite impossible.”

“Why so? why is it impossible?”

“Why because — dear, I don’t know — but I am sure it is.”

“But what is your reason? What makes you sure of it?”

“Lord, I can’t tell — but I know it is — because — I am very certain it is.”

Argument such as this, though extremely fatiguing to the understanding of Cecilia, had yet no power to blunt her purpose: she warmly expostulated against the weakness of her defence, strongly represented the imprudence of her conduct, and exhorted her by every tie of justice, honour and discretion to set about a reformation.

“Why what can I do?” cried Mrs Harrel, impatiently, “one must live a little like other people. You would not have me stared at, I suppose; and I am sure I don’t know what I do that every body else does not do too.”

“But were it not better,” said Cecilia, with more energy, “to think less of other people, and more of yourself? to consult your own fortune, and your own situation in life, instead of being blindly guided by those of other people? If, indeed, other people would be responsible for your losses, for the diminution of your wealth, and for the disorder of your affairs, then might you rationally make their way of life the example of yours: but you cannot flatter yourself such will be the case; you know better; your losses, your diminished fortune, your embarrassed circumstances will be all your own! pitied, perhaps, by some, but blamed by more, and assisted by none!”

“Good Lord, Miss Beverley!” cried Mrs Harrel, starting, “you talk just as if we were ruined!”

“I mean not that,” replied Cecilia, “but I would fain, by pointing out your danger, prevail with you to prevent in time so dreadful a catastrophe.”

Mrs Harrel, more affronted than alarmed, heard this answer with much displeasure, and after a sullen hesitation, peevishly said, “I must own I don’t take it very kind of you to say such frightful things to me; I am sure we only live like the rest of the world, and I don’t see why a man of Mr Harrel’s fortune should live any worse. As to his having now and then a little debt or two, it is nothing but what every body else has. You only think it so odd, because you a’n’t used to it: but you are quite mistaken if you suppose he does not mean to pay, for he told me this morning that as soon as ever he receives his rents, he intends to discharge every bill he has in the world.”

“I am very glad to hear it,” answered Cecilia, “and I heartily wish he may have the resolution to adhere to his purpose. I feared you would think me impertinent, but you do worse in believing me unkind: friendship and good-will could alone have induced me to hazard what I have said to you. I must, however, have done; though I cannot forbear adding that I hope what has already passed will sometimes recur to you.”

They then separated; Mrs Harrel half angry at remonstrances she thought only censorious, and Cecilia offended at her pettishness and folly, though grieved at her blindness.

She was soon, however, recompensed for this vexation by a visit from Mrs Delvile, who, finding her alone, sat with her some time, and by her spirit, understanding and elegance, dissipated all her chagrin.

From another circumstance, also, she received much pleasure, though a little perplexity; Mr Arnott brought her word that Mr Belfield, almost quite well, had actually left his lodgings, and was gone into the country.

She now half suspected that the account of his illness given her by young Delvile, was merely the effect of his curiosity to discover her sentiments of him; yet when she considered how foreign to his character appeared every species of artifice, she exculpated him from the design, and concluded that the impatient spirit of Belfield had hurried him away, when really unfit for travelling. She had no means, however, to hear more of him now he had quitted the town, and therefore, though uneasy, she was compelled to be patient.

In the evening she had again a visit from Mr Monckton, who, though he was now acquainted how much she was at home, had the forbearance to avoid making frequent use of that knowledge, that his attendance might escape observation.

Cecilia, as usual, spoke to him of all her affairs with the utmost openness; and as her mind was now chiefly occupied by her apprehensions for the Harrels, she communicated to him the extravagance of which they were guilty, and hinted at the distress that from time to time it occasioned; but the assistance she had afforded them her own delicacy prevented her mentioning.

Mr Monckton scrupled not from this account instantly to pronounce Harrel a ruined man; and thinking Cecilia, from her connection with him, in much danger of being involved in his future difficulties, he most earnestly exhorted her to suffer no inducement to prevail with her to advance him any money, confidently affirming she would have little chance of being ever repaid.

Cecilia listened to this charge with much alarm, but readily promised future circumspection. She confessed to him the conference she had had in the morning with Mrs Harrel, and after lamenting her determined neglect of her affairs, she added, “I cannot but own that my esteem for her, even more than my affection, has lessened almost every day since I have been in her house; but this morning, when I ventured to speak to her with earnestness, I found her powers of reasoning so weak, and her infatuation to luxury and expence so strong, that I have ever since felt ashamed of my own discernment in having formerly selected her for my friend.”

“When you gave her that title,” said Mr Monckton, “you had little choice in your power; her sweetness and good-nature attracted you; childhood is never troubled with foresight, and youth is seldom difficult: she was lively and pleasing, you were generous and affectionate; your acquaintance with her was formed while you were yet too young to know your own worth, your fondness of her grew from habit, and before the inferiority of her parts had weakened your regard, by offending your judgment, her early marriage separated you from her entirely. But now you meet again the scene is altered; three years of absence spent in the cultivation of an understanding naturally of the first order, by encreasing your wisdom, has made you more fastidious; while the same time spent by her in mere idleness and shew, has hurt her disposition, without adding to her knowledge, and robbed her of her natural excellencies, without enriching her with acquired ones. You see her now with impartiality, for you see her almost as a stranger, and all those deficiencies which retirement and inexperience had formerly concealed, her vanity, and her superficial acquaintance with the world, have now rendered glaring. But folly weakens all bands: remember, therefore, if you would form a solid friendship, to consult not only the heart but the head, not only the temper, but the understanding.”

“Well, then,” said Cecilia, “at least it must be confessed I have judiciously chosen you!”

“You have, indeed, done me the highest honour,” he answered.

They then talked of Belfield, and Mr Monckton confirmed the account of Mr Arnott, that he had left London in good health. After which, he enquired if she had seen any thing more of the Delviles?

“Yes,” said Cecilia, “Mrs. Delvile called upon me this morning. She is a delightful woman; I am sorry you know her not enough to do her justice.”

“Is she civil to you?”

“Civil? she is all kindness!”

“Then depend upon it she has something in view: whenever that is not the case she is all insolence. And Mr Delvile — pray what do you think of him?”

“O, I think him insufferable! and I cannot sufficiently thank you for that timely caution which prevented my change of habitation. I would not live under the same roof with him for the world!”

“Well, and do you not now begin also to see the son properly?”

“Properly? I don’t understand you.”

“Why as the very son of such parents, haughty and impertinent.”

“No, indeed; he has not the smallest resemblance [to] his father, and if he resembles his mother, it is only what every one must wish who impartially sees her.”

“You know not that family. But how, indeed, should you, when they are in a combination to prevent your getting that knowledge? They have all their designs upon you, and if you are not carefully upon your guard, you will be the dupe to them.”

“What can you possibly mean?”

“Nothing but what every body else must immediately see; they have a great share of pride, and a small one of wealth; you seem by fortune to be flung in their way, and doubtless they mean not to neglect so inviting an opportunity of repairing their estates.”

“Indeed you are mistaken; I am certain they have no such intention: on the contrary, they all even teasingly persist in thinking me already engaged elsewhere.”

She then gave him a history of their several suspicions.

“The impertinence of report,” she added, “has so much convinced them that Sir Robert Floyer and Mr Belfield fought merely as rivals, that I can only clear myself of partiality for one of them, to have it instantly concluded I feel it for the other. And, far from seeming hurt that I appear to be disposed of, Mr Delvile openly seconds the pretensions of Sir Robert, and his son officiously persuades me that I am already Mr Belfield’s.”

“Tricks, nothing but tricks to discover your real situation.”

He then gave her some general cautions to be upon her guard against their artifices, and changing the subject, talked, for the rest of his visit, upon matters of general entertainment.

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