Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 7

An Expedient.

The scheme now projected by Cecilia, was to acquaint the surgeon who had already attended Mr. Belfield with his present situation and address, and to desire him to continue his visits, for the payment of which she would herself be accountable.

The raillery of young Delvile, however, had taught her to fear the constructions of the world, and she therefore purposed to keep both the surgeon and Mr Belfield ignorant to whom they were indebted. She was aware, indeed, that whatever might be her management, that high-spirited and unfortunate young man would be extremely hurt to find himself thus detected and pursued; but she thought his life too well worth preserving to let it be sacrificed to his pride, and her internal conviction of being herself the immediate cause of its present danger, gave to her an anxious and restless desire to be herself the means of extricating him from it.

Rupil, the name of the surgeon, she had already heard mentioned by Mr. Arnott, and in getting into her chair, she ordered Ralph, her man, to enquire where he lived.

“I know already where he lives, madam,” answered Ralph, “for I saw his name over a door in Cavendish-street, Oxford-road; I took particular notice of it, because it was at the house where you stood up that day on account of the mob that was waiting to see the malefactors go to Tyburn.”

This answer unravelled to Cecilia a mystery which had long perplext her; for the speeches of young Delvile when he had surprised her in that situation were now fully explained. In seeing her come out of the surgeon’s house, he had naturally concluded she had only entered it to ask news of his patient, Mr. Belfield; her protestations of merely standing up to avoid the crowd, he had only laughed at; and his hints at her reserve and dissimulation, were meant but to reproach her for refusing his offer of procuring her intelligence, at the very time when, to all appearance, she anxiously, though clandestinely, sought it for herself.

This discovery, notwithstanding it relieved her from all suspense of his meaning, gave her much vexation: to be supposed to take an interest so ardent, yet so private, in the affairs of Mr Belfield, might well authorise all suspicions of her partiality for him: and even if any doubt had yet remained, the unlucky meeting upon the stairs at his lodgings, would not fail to dispel it, and confirm the notion of her secret regard. She hoped, however, to have soon some opportunity of clearing up the mistake, and resolved in the mean time to be studiously cautious in avoiding all appearances that might strengthen it.

No caution, however, and no apprehension, could intimidate her active humanity from putting into immediate execution a plan in which she feared any delay might be fatal; and therefore the moment she got home, she wrote the following note to the surgeon.

“To ——— Rupil, Esq.

March 27, 1779.

“A friend of Mr Belfield begs Mr Rupil will immediately call upon that gentleman, who is in lodgings about the middle of Swallow-street, and insist upon visiting him till he is perfectly recovered. Mr Rupil is entreated not to make known this request, nor to receive from Mr Belfield any return for his attendance; but to attribute the discovery of his residence to accident, and to rest assured he shall be amply recompensed for his time and trouble by the friend who makes this application, and who is willing to give any security that Mr Rupil shall think proper to mention, for the performance of this engagement.”

Her next difficulty was in what manner to have this note conveyed; to send her own servant was inevitably betraying herself, to employ any other was risking a confidence that might be still more dangerous, and she could not trust to the penny-post, as her proposal required an answer. After much deliberation, she at length determined to have recourse to Mrs Hill, to whose services she was entitled, and upon whose fidelity she could rely.

The morning was already far advanced, but the Harrels dined late, and she would not lose a day where even an hour might be of importance. She went therefore immediately to Mrs. Hill, whom she found already removed into her new habitation in Fetter-lane, and equally busy and happy in the change of scene and of employment. She gave to her the note, which she desired her to carry to Cavendish-street directly, and either to deliver it into Mr. Rupil’s own hands, or to bring it back if he was out; but upon no consideration to make known whence or from whom it came.

She then went into the back part of the shop, which by Mrs. Roberts was called the parlour, and amused herself during the absence of her messenger, by playing with the children.

Mrs. Hill at her return said she had found Mr. Rupil at home, and as she refused to give the letter to the servant, she had been taken into a room where he was talking with a gentleman, to whom, as soon as he had read it, he said with a laugh, “Why here’s another person with the same proposal as yours! however, I shall treat you both alike.” And then he wrote an answer, which he sealed up, and bid her take care of. This answer was as follows:

“Mr. Rupil will certainly attend Mr. Belfield, whose friends may be satisfied he will do all in his power to recover him, without receiving any recompense but the pleasure of serving a gentleman who is so much beloved.”

Cecilia, charmed at this unhoped for success, was making further enquiries into what had passed, when Mrs Hill, in a low voice, said, “There’s the gentleman, madam, who was with Mr. Rupil when I gave him the letter. I had a notion he was dodging me all the way I came, for I saw him just behind me, turn which way I would.”

Cecilia then looked — and perceived young Delvile! who, after stopping a moment at the door, came into the shop, and desired to be shewn some gloves, which, among other things, were laid in the window.

Extremely disconcerted at the sight of him, she began now almost to fancy there was some fatality attending her acquaintance with him, since she was always sure of meeting, when she had any reason to wish avoiding him.

As soon as he saw he was observed by her, he bowed with the utmost respect: she coloured in returning the salutation, and prepared, with no little vexation, for another attack, and further [raillery], similar to what she had already received from him: but, as soon as he had made his purchase, he bowed to her again, and, without speaking, left the shop.

A silence so unexpected at once astonished and disturbed her; she again desired to hear all that had passed at Mr. Rupil’s, and from the relation gathered that Delvile had himself undertaken to be responsible for his attendance upon Mr. Belfield.

A liberality so like her own failed not to impress her with the most lively esteem: but this served rather to augment than lessen the pain with which she considered the clandestine appearance she thus repeatedly made to him. She had no doubt he had immediately concluded she was author of the application to the surgeon, and that he followed her messenger merely to ascertain the fact; while his silence when he had made the discovery, she could only attribute to his now believing that her regard for Mr Belfield was too serious for raillery.

Doubly, however, she rejoiced at the generosity of Mr Rupil, as it rendered wholly unnecessary her further interference: for she now saw with some alarm the danger to which benevolence itself, directed towards a youthful object, might expose her.

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