Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 10

A Gamester’s Conscience.

From this soothing prospect, Cecilia was presently disturbed by Mrs Harrel’s maid, who came to entreat she would hasten to her lady, whom she feared was going into fits.

Cecilia flew to her immediately, and found her in the most violent affliction. She used every kind effort in her power to quiet and console her, but it was not without the utmost difficulty she could sob out the cause of this fresh sorrow, which indeed was not trifling. Mr Harrel, she said, had told her he could not possibly raise money even for his travelling expences, without risking a discovery of his project, and being seized by his creditors: he had therefore charged her, through her brother or her friend, to procure for him £3000, as less would not suffice to maintain them while abroad, and he knew no method by which he could have any remittances without danger. And, when she hesitated in her compliance, he furiously accused her of having brought on all this distress by her negligence and want of management, and declared that if she did not get the money, she would only be served as she merited by starving in a foreign gaol, which he swore would be the fate of them both.

The horror and indignation with which Cecilia heard this account were unspeakable. She saw evidently that she was again to be played upon by terror and distress, and the cautions and opinions of Mr Monckton no longer appeared overstrained; one year’s income was already demanded, the annuity and the country house might next be required: she rejoiced, however, that thus wisely forewarned, she was not liable to surprise, and she determined, be their entreaties or representations what they might, to be immovably steady in her purpose of leaving them the next morning.

Yet she could not but grieve at suffering the whole burthen of this clamorous imposition to fall upon the soft-hearted Mr Arnott, whose inability to resist solicitation made him so unequal to sustaining its weight: but when Mrs Harrel was again able to go on with her account, she heard, to her infinite surprise, that all application to her brother had proved fruitless. “He will not hear me,” continued Mrs Harrel, “and he never was deaf to me before! so now I have lost my only and last resource, my brother himself gives me up, and there is no one else upon earth who will assist me!”

“With pleasure, with readiness, with joy,” cried Cecilia, “should you find assistance from me, were it to you alone it were given; but to supply fuel for the very fire that is consuming you — no, no, my whole heart is hardened against gaming and gamesters, and neither now nor ever will I suffer any consideration to soften me in their favour.”

Mrs Harrel only answered by tears and lamentations; and Cecilia, whose justice shut not out compassion, having now declared her purposed firmness, again attempted to sooth her, entreating her not to give way to such immoderate grief, since better prospects might arise from the very gloom now before her, and a short time spent in solitude and oeconomy, might enable her to return to her native land with recovered happiness.

“No, I shall never return!” cried she, weeping, “I shall die, I shall break my heart before I have been banished a month! Oh Miss Beverley, how happy are you! able to stay where you please — rich — rolling in wealth which you do not want — of which had we but one year’s income only, all this misery would be over, and we might stay in our dear, dear, country!”

Cecilia, struck by a hint that so nearly bordered upon reproach, and offended by seeing the impossibility of ever doing enough, while anything remained to be done, forbore not without difficulty enquiring what next was expected from her, and whether any part of her fortune might be guarded, without giving room for some censure! but the deep affliction of Mrs Harrel soon removed her resentment, and scarcely thinking her, while in a state of such wretchedness, answerable for what she said, after a little recollection, she mildly replied “As affluence is all comparative, you may at present think I have more than my share: but the time is only this moment past, when your own situation seemed as subject to the envy of others as mine may be now. My future destiny is yet undetermined, and the occasion I may have for my fortune is unknown to myself; but whether I possess it in peace or in turbulence, whether it proves to me a blessing or an injury, so long as I can call it my own, I shall always remember with alacrity the claim upon that and upon me which early friendship has so justly given Mrs Harrel. Yet permit me, at the same time, to add, that I do not hold myself so entirely independent as you may probably suppose me. I have not, it is true, any Relations to call me to account, but respect for their memory supplies the place of their authority, and I cannot, in the distribution of the fortune which has devolved to me, forbear sometimes considering how they would have wished it should be spent, and always remembering that what was acquired by industry and labour, should never be dissipated in idleness and vanity. Forgive me for thus speaking to the point; you will not find me less friendly to yourself, for this frankness with respect to your situation.”

Tears were again the only answer of Mrs Harrel; yet Cecilia, who pitied the weakness of her mind, stayed by her with the most patient kindness till the servants announced dinner. She then declared she would not go down stairs: but Cecilia so strongly represented the danger of awakening suspicion in the servants, that she at last prevailed with her to make her appearance.

Mr Harrel was already in the parlour, and enquiring for Mr Arnott, but was told by the servants he had sent word he had another engagement. Sir Robert Floyer also kept away, and, for the first time since her arrival in town, Cecilia dined with no other company than the master and mistress of the house.

Mrs Harrel could eat nothing; Cecilia, merely to avoid creating surprise in the servants, forbore following her example; but Mr Harrel eat much as usual, talked all dinner-time, was extremely civil to Cecilia, and discovered not by his manners the least alteration in his affairs.

When the servants were gone, he desired his wife to step for a moment with him into the library. They soon returned, and then Mr Harrel, after walking in a disordered manner about the room, rang the bell, and ordered his hat and cane, and as he took them, said “If this fails —” and, stopping short, without speaking to his wife, or even bowing to Cecilia, he hastily went out of the house.

Mrs Harrel told Cecilia that he had merely called her to know the event of her two petitions, and had heard her double failure in total silence. Whither he was now gone it was not easy to conjecture, nor what was the new resource which he still seemed to think worth trying; but the manner of his quitting the house, and the threat implied by if this fails, contributed not to lessen the grief of Mrs Harrel, and gave to Cecilia herself the utmost alarm.

They continued together till tea-time, the servants having been ordered to admit no company. Mr Harrel himself then returned, and returned, to the amazement of Cecilia, accompanied by Mr Marriot.

He presented that young man to both the ladies as a gentleman whose acquaintance and friendship he was very desirous to cultivate. Mrs Harrel, too much absorbed in her own affairs to care about any other, saw his entrance with a momentary surprise, and then thought of it no more: but it was not so with Cecilia, whose better understanding led her to deeper reflection.

Even the visits of Mr Marriot but a few weeks since Mr Harrel had prohibited, yet he now introduced him into his house with particular distinction; he came back too himself in admirable spirits, enlivened in his countenance, and restored to his good humour. A change so extraordinary both in conduct and disposition convinced her that some change no less extra-ordinary of circumstance must previously have happened: what that might be it was not possible for her to divine, but the lessons she had received from Mr Monckton led her to suspicions of the darkest kind.

Every part of his behaviour served still further to confirm them; he was civil even to excess to Mr Marriot; he gave orders aloud not to be at home to Sir Robert Floyer; he made his court to Cecilia with unusual assiduity, and he took every method in his power to procure opportunity to her admirer of addressing and approaching her.

The young man, who seemed enamoured even to madness, could scarce refrain not merely from prostration to the object of his passion, but to Mr Harrel himself for permitting him to see her. Cecilia, who not without some concern perceived a fondness so fruitless, and who knew not by what arts or with what views Mr Harrel might think proper to encourage it, determined to take all the means that were in her own power towards giving it immediate control. She behaved, therefore, with the utmost reserve, and the moment tea was over, though earnestly entreated to remain with them, she retired to her own room, without making any other apology than coldly saying she could not stay.

In about an hour Mrs Harrel ran up stairs to her.

“Oh Miss Beverley,” she cried, “a little respite is now granted me! Mr Harrel says he shall stay another day; he says, too, one single thousand pound would now make him a new man.”

Cecilia returned no answer; she conjectured some new deceit was in agitation to raise money, and she feared Mr Marriot was the next dupe to be played upon. Mrs Harrel, therefore, with a look of the utmost disappointment, left her, saying she would send for her brother, and once more try if he had yet any remaining regard for her.

Cecilia rested quiet till eleven o’clock, when she was summoned to supper: she found Mr Marriot still the only guest, and that Mr Arnott made not his appearance.

She now resolved to publish her resolution of going the next morning to St James’s-square. As soon, therefore, as the servants withdrew, she enquired of Mr Harrel if he had any commands with Mr or Mrs Delvile, as she should see them the next morning, and purposed to spend some time with them.

Mr Harrel, with a look of much alarm, asked if she meant the whole day.

Many days, she answered, and probably some months.

Mrs Harrel exclaimed her surprise aloud, and Mr Harrel looked aghast: while his new young friend cast upon him a glance of reproach and resentment, which fully convinced Cecilia he imagined he had procured himself a title to an easiness of intercourse and frequency of meeting which this intelligence destroyed. Cecilia, thinking after all that had passed, no other ceremony on her part was necessary but that of simply speaking her intention, then arose and returned to her own room.

She acquainted her maid that she was going to make a visit to Mrs Delvile, and gave her directions about packing up her clothes, and sending for a man in the morning to take care of her books.

This employment was soon interrupted by the entrance of Mrs Harrel, who desiring to speak with her alone, when the maid was gone, said “O Miss Beverley, can you indeed be so barbarous as to leave me?”

“I entreat you, Mrs Harrel,” answered Cecilia, “to save both yourself and me any further discussions. I have delayed this removal very long, and I can now delay it no longer.”

Mrs Harrel then flung herself upon a chair in the bitterest sorrow, declaring she was utterly undone; that Mr Harrel had declared he could not stay even an hour in England if she was not in his house; that he had already had a violent quarrel with Mr Marriot upon the subject; and that her brother, though she had sent him the most earnest entreaties, would not come near her.

Cecilia, tired of vain attempts to offer comfort, now urged the warmest expostulations against her opposition, strongly representing the real necessity of her going abroad, and the unpardonable weakness of wishing to continue such a life as she now led, adding debt to debt, and hoarding distress upon distress.

Mrs Harrel then, though rather from compulsion than conviction, declared she would agree to go, if she had not a dread of ill usage; but Mr Harrel, she said, had behaved to her with the utmost brutality, calling her the cause of his ruin, and threatening that if she procured not this thousand pound before the ensuing evening, she should be treated as she deserved for her extravagance and folly.

“Does he think, then,” said Cecilia with the utmost indignation, “that I am to be frightened through your fears into what compliances he pleases?”

“O no,” cried Mrs Harrel, “no; his expectations are all from my brother. He surely thought that when I supplicated and pleaded to him, he would do what I wished, for so he always did formerly, and so once again I am sure he would do now, could I but make him come to me, and tell him how I am used, and tell him that if Mr Harrel takes me abroad in this humour, I verily think in his rage he will half murder me.”

Cecilia, who well knew she was herself the real cause of Mr Arnott’s resistance, now felt her resolution waver, internally reproaching herself with the sufferings of his sister; alarmed, however, for her own constancy, she earnestly besought Mrs Harrel to go and compose herself for the night, and promised to deliberate what could be done for her before morning.

Mrs Harrel complied; but scarce was her own rest more broken than that of Cecilia, who, though extremely fatigued with a whole night’s watching, was so perturbed in her mind she could not close her eyes. Mrs Harrel was her earliest, and had once been her dearest friend; she had deprived her by her own advice of her customary refuge in her brother; to refuse, therefore, assistance to her seemed cruelty, though to deny it to Mr Harrel was justice: she endeavoured, therefore, to make a compromise between her judgment and compassion, by resolving that though she would grant nothing further to Mr Harrel while he remained in London, she would contribute from time to time both to his necessities and comfort, when once he was established elsewhere upon some plan of prudence and economy.

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