Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Book iv.

Chapter 1

A Complaint.

As Cecilia now found herself cleared, at least, of all suspicions of harbouring too tender a regard for Mr Belfield, her objections to visiting his sister were removed, and the morning after her return to Mr Harrel’s, she went in a chair to Swallow-street.

She sent her servant up stairs to enquire if she might be admitted, and was immediately taken into the room where she had twice before been received.

In a few minutes Miss Belfield, softly opening and shutting the door of the next apartment, made her appearance. She looked thin and pale, but much gratified by the sight of Cecilia. “Ah madam!” she cried, “you are good indeed not to forget us! and you can little think how it cheers and consoles me, that such a lady as you can condescend to be kind to me. It is quite the only pleasure that I have now in the whole world.”

“I grieve that you have no greater;” cried Cecilia, “you seem much fatigued and harassed. How is your brother? I fear you neglect your own health, by too much attention to his.”

“No, indeed, madam; my mother does everything for him herself, and hardly suffers anybody else to go near him.”

“What, then, makes you so melancholy?” said Cecilia, taking her hand; “you do not look well; your anxiety, I am sure, is too much for your strength.”

“How should I look well, madam,” answered she, “living as I live? However, I will not talk of myself, but of my brother — O he is so ill! Indeed I am sadly, sadly afraid he will never be well again!”

“What does his surgeon say? You are too tender, and too much frightened to be any judge.”

“It is not that I think myself he will die of his wound, for Mr Rupil says the wound is almost nothing; but he is in a constant fever, and so thin, and so weak, that indeed it is almost impossible he should recover!”

“You are too apprehensive,” said Cecilia, “you know not what effect the country air may have upon him; there are many, many expedients that with so young a man may yet be successful.”

“O no, the country air can do nothing for him! for I will not deceive you, madam, for that would be doubly a fault when I am so ready in blaming other people for wearing false appearances: besides, you are so good and so gentle, that it quite composes me to talk with you. So I will honestly speak the truth, and the whole truth at once; my poor brother is lost — O I fear for ever lost! — all by his own unhappy pride! He forgets his father was a tradesman, he is ashamed of all his family, and his whole desire is to live among the grandest people, as if he belonged to no other. And now that he can no longer do that, he takes the disappointment so to heart that he cannot get the better of it; and he told me this morning that he wished he was dead, for he did not know why he should live only to see his own ruin! But when he saw how I cried at his saying so, he was very sorry indeed, for he has always been the kindest brother in the world, when he has been away from the great folks who have spoilt him: ‘But why,’ said he, ‘Henrietta, why would you have me live, when instead of raising you and my poor mother into an higher station, I am sunk so low, that I only help to consume your own poor pittances to support me in my disgrace!’”

“I am sorry indeed,” said Cecilia, “to find he has so deep a sense of the failure of his expectations: but how happens it that you are so much wiser? Young and inexperienced as you are, and early as you must have been accustomed, from your mother as well as from Mr Belfield, to far other doctrine, the clearness of your judgment, and the justness of your remarks, astonish as much as they charm me.”

“Ah madam! Brought up as I have been brought up, there is little wonder I should see the danger of an high education, let me be ever so ignorant of everything else; for I, and all my sisters, have been the sufferers the whole time: and while we were kept backward, that he might be brought forward, while we were denied comforts, that he might have luxuries, how could we help seeing the evil of so much vanity, and wishing we had all been brought up according to our proper station? instead of living in continual inconvenience, and having one part of a family struggling with distress, only to let another part of it appear in a way he had no right to!”

“How rationally,” said Cecilia, “have you considered this subject! and how much do I honour you for the affection you retain for your brother, notwithstanding the wrongs you have suffered to promote his elevation!”

“Indeed he deserves it; take but from him that one fault, pride, and I believe he has not another: and humoured and darling child as from his infancy he has always been, who at that can wonder, or be angry?”

“And he has still no plan, no scheme for his future destination?”

“No, madam, none at all; and that it is makes him so miserable, and being so miserable makes him so ill, for Mr Rupil says that with such uneasiness upon his mind, he can never, in his present low state, get well. O it is melancholy to see how he is altered! and how he has lost all his fine spirits! he that used to be the life of us all! — And now he hardly ever speaks a word, or if he does, he says something so sorrowful that it cuts us to the soul! But yesterday, when my mother and I thought he was asleep, he lifted up his head, and looked at us both with the tears in his eyes, which almost broke our hearts to see, and then, in a low voice, he said ‘What a lingering illness is this! Ah, my dear mother, you and poor Henrietta ought to wish it quicker over! for should I recover, my life, hereafter, will but linger like this illness.’ And afterwards he called out, ‘what on earth is to become of me? I shall never have health for the army, nor interest, nor means; what am I to do? subsist in the very prime of my life upon the bounty of a widowed mother! or, with such an education, such connections as mine, enter at last into some mean and sordid business?’”

“It seems, then,” said Cecilia, “he now less wants a physician than a friend.”

“He has a friend, madam, a noble friend, would he but accept his services; but he never sees him without suffering fresh vexation, and his fever encreases after every visit he pays him.”

“Well,” said Cecilia, rising, “I find we shall not have an easy task to manage him; but keep up your spirits, and assure yourself he shall not be lost, if it be possible to save him.”

She then, though with much fearfulness of offending, once more made an offer of her purse. Miss Belfield no longer started at the proposal; yet, gratefully thanking her, said she was not in any immediate distress, and did not dare risk the displeasure of her brother, unless driven to it by severer necessity. Cecilia, however, drew from her a promise that she would apply to her in any sudden difficulty, and charged her never to think herself without a banker while her direction was known to her.

She then bid her adieu, and returned home; meditating the whole way upon some plan of employment and advantage for Mr Belfield, which by clearing his prospects, might revive his spirits, and facilitate his recovery: for since his mind was so evidently the seat of his disease, she saw that unless she could do more for him, she had yet done nothing.

Her meditation, however, turned to no account; she could suggest nothing, for she was ignorant what was eligible to suggest. The stations and employments of men she only knew by occasionally hearing that such were their professions, and such their situations in life; but with the means and gradations by which they arose to them she was wholly unacquainted.

Mr Monckton, her constant resource in all cases of difficulty, immediately occurred to her as her most able counsellor, and she determined by the first opportunity to consult with him upon the subject, certain of advice the most judicious from his experience, and knowledge of the world.

But though she rested upon him her serious expectations of assistance, another idea entered her mind not less pleasant, though less promising of utility: this was to mention her views to young Delvile. He was already, she knew, well informed of the distress of Mr Belfield, and she hoped, by openly asking his opinion, to confirm to him her freedom from any engagement with that gentleman, and convince him, at the same time, by her application to himself, that she was equally clear of any tie with the Baronet.

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