Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 11

A Persecution.

The next morning by five o’clock Mrs Harrel came into Cecilia’s room to know the result of her deliberation; and Cecilia, with that graceful readiness which accompanied all her kind offices, instantly assured her the thousand pound should be her own, if she would consent to seek some quiet retreat, and receive it in small sums, of fifty or one hundred pounds at a time, which should be carefully transmitted, and which, by being delivered to herself, might secure better treatment from Mr Harrel, and be a motive to revive his care and affection.

She flew, much delighted, with this proposal to her husband; but presently, and with a dejected look, returning, said Mr Harrel protested he could not possibly set out without first receiving the money. “I shall go myself, therefore,” said she, “to my brother after breakfast, for he will not, I see, unkind as he is grown, come to me; and if I do not succeed with him, I believe I shall never come back!”

To this Cecilia, offended and disappointed, answered “I am sorry for Mr Arnott, but for myself I have done!”

Mrs Harrel then left her, and she arose to make immediate preparations for her removal to St James’s-square, whither, with all the speed in her power, she sent her books, her trunks, and all that belonged to her.

When she was summoned down stairs, she found, for the first time, Mr Harrel breakfasting at the same table with his wife: they seemed mutually out of humour and comfortless, nothing hardly was spoken, and little was swallowed: Mr Harrel, however, was civil, but his wife was totally silent, and Cecilia the whole time was planning how to take her leave.

When the tea things were removed, Mr Harrel said, “You have not, I hope, Miss Beverley, quite determined upon this strange scheme?”

“Indeed I have, Sir,” she answered, “and already I have sent my clothes.”

At this information he seemed thunderstruck; but, after somewhat recovering, said with much bitterness, “Well, madam, at least may I request you will stay here till the evening?”

“No, Sir,” answered she coolly, “I am going instantly.”

“And will you not,” said he, with yet greater asperity, “amuse yourself first with seeing bailiffs take possession of my house, and your friend Priscilla follow me to jail?”

“Good God, Mr Harrel!” exclaimed Cecilia, with uplifted hands, “is this a question, is this behaviour I have merited!”

“O no!” cried he with quickness, “should I once think that way —” then rising and striking his forehead, he walked about the room.

Mrs Harrel arose too, and weeping violently went away.

“Will you at least,” said Cecilia, when she was gone, “till your affairs are settled, leave Priscilla with me? When I go into my own house, she shall accompany me, and mean time Mr Arnott’s I am sure will gladly be open to her.”

“No, no,” answered he, “she deserves no such indulgence; she has not any reason to complain, she has been as negligent, as profuse, as expensive as myself; she ha practised neither oeconomy nor self-denial, she has neither thought of me nor my affairs, nor is she now afflicted at any thing but the loss of that affluence she has done her best towards diminishing.

“All recrimination,” said Cecilia, “were vain, or what might not Mrs Harrel urge in return! but let us not enlarge upon so ungrateful a subject, the wisest and the happiest scheme now were mutually and kindly to console each other.”

“Consolation and kindness,” cried he, with abruptness, “are out of the question. I have ordered a post chaise to be here at night, and if till then you will stay, I will promise to release you without further petition if not, eternal destruction be my portion if I live to see the scene which your removal will occasion!”

“My removal.” cried Cecilia, shuddering, “good heaven, and how can my removal be of such dreadful consequence?”

“Ask me not,” cried he, fiercely, “questions or reasons now; the crisis is at hand, and you will soon, happen what may, know all: mean time what I have said is a fact, and immutable: and you must hasten my end, or give me a chance for avoiding it, as you think fit. I scarce care at this instant which way you decide remember, however, all I ask of you is to defer your departure; what else I have to hope is from Mr Arnott.”

He then left the room.

Cecilia now was again a coward! In vain she called to her support the advice, the prophesies, the cautions of Mr Monckton, in vain she recollected the impositions she had already seen practised, for neither the warnings of her counsellor, nor the lessons of her own experience, were proofs against the terrors which threats so desperate inspired: and though more than once she determined to fly at all events from a tyranny he had so little right to usurp, the mere remembrance of the words if you stay not till night I will not live, robbed her of all courage; and however long she had prepared herself for this very attack, when the moment arrived, its power over her mind was too strong for resistance.

While this conflict between fear and resolution was still undecided, her servant brought her the following letter from Mr Arnott.

To Miss Beverley, Portman-square.

June 13th, 1779.

MADAM— Determined to obey those commands which you had the goodness to honour me with, I have absented myself from town till Mr Harrel is settled; for though I am as sensible of your wisdom as of your beauty, I find myself too weak to bear the distress of my unhappy sister, and therefore I run from the sight, nor shall any letter or message follow me, unless it comes from Miss Beverley herself, lest she should in future refuse the only favour I dare presume to solicit, that of sometimes deigning to honour with her directions, the most humble and devoted of her servants, J. ARNOTT.

In the midst of her apprehensions for herself and her own interest, Cecilia could not forbear rejoicing that Mr Arnott, at least, had escaped the present storm: yet she was certain it would fall the more heavily upon herself; and dreaded the sight of Mrs Harrel after the shock which this flight would occasion.

Her expectations were but too quickly fulfilled: Mrs Harrel in a short time after rushed wildly into the room, calling out “My brother is gone! he has left me for ever! Oh save me, Miss Beverley, save me from abuse and insult!” And she wept with so much violence she could utter nothing more.

Cecilia, quite tortured by this persecution, faintly asked what she could do for her?

“Send,” cried she, “to my brother, and beseech him not to abandon me! send to him, and conjure him to advance this thousand pound! — the chaise is already ordered — Mr Harrel is fixed upon going — yet he says without that money we must both starve in a strange land — O send to my cruel brother! he has left word that nothing must follow him that does not come from you.”

“For the world, then,” cried Cecilia, “would I not baffle his discretion! indeed you must submit to your fate, indeed Mrs Harrel you must endeavour to bear it better.”

Mrs Harrel, shedding a flood of tears, declared she would try to follow her advice, but again besought her in the utmost agony to send after her brother, protesting she did not think even her life would be safe in making so long a journey with Mr Harrel in his present state of mind: his character, she said, was totally changed, his gaiety, good humour, and sprightliness were turned into roughness and moroseness, and, since his great losses at play, he was grown so fierce and furious, that to oppose him even in a trifle, rendered him quite outrageous in passion.

Cecilia, though truly concerned, and almost melted, yet refused to interfere with Mr Arnott, and even thought it but justice to acknowledge she had advised his retreat.

“And can you have been so cruel?” cried Mrs Harrel, with still encreasing violence of sorrow, “to rob me of my only friend, to deprive me of my Brother’s affection, at the very time I am forced out of the kingdom, with a husband who is ready to murder me, and who says he hates the sight of me, and all because I cannot get him this fatal, fatal money! — O Miss Beverley, how could I have thought to have had such an office from you?”

Cecilia was beginning a justification, when a message came from Mr Harrel, desiring to see his wife immediately.

Mrs Harrel, in great terror, cast herself at Cecilia’s feet, and clinging to her knees, called out “I dare not go to him! I dare not go to him! he wants to know my success, and when he hears my brother is run away, I am sure he will kill me! — Oh Miss Beverley, how could you send him away? how could you be so inhuman as to leave me to the rage of Mr Harrel?”

Cecilia, distressed and trembling herself, conjured her to rise and be consoled; but Mrs Harrel, weak and frightened, could only weep and supplicate: “I don’t ask you,” she cried, “to give the money yourself, but only to send for my brother, that he may protect me, and beg Mr Harrel not to treat me so cruelly — consider but what a long, long journey I am going to make! consider how often you used to say you would love me for ever! consider you have robbed me of the tenderest brother in the world! — Oh Miss Beverley, send for him back, or be a sister to me yourself, and let not your poor Priscilla leave her native land without help or pity!”

Cecilia, wholly overcome, now knelt too, and embracing her with tears, said “Oh Priscilla, plead and reproach no more! what you wish shall be yours — I will send for your brother — I will do what you please!”

“Now you are my friend indeed!” cried Mrs Harrel, “let me but see my brother, and his heart will yield to my distress, and he will soften Mr Harrel by giving his unhappy sister this parting bounty.”

Cecilia then took a pen in her hand to write to Mr Arnott; but struck almost in the same moment with a notion of treachery in calling him from a retreat which her own counsel made him seek, professedly to expose him to a supplication which from his present situation might lead him to ruin, she hastily flung it from her, and exclaimed “No, excellent Mr Arnott, I will not so unworthily betray you!”

“And can you, Miss Beverley, can you at last,” cried Mrs Harrel, “be so barbarous as to retract?”

“No, my poor Priscilla,” answered Cecilia, “I cannot so cruelly disappoint you; my pity shall however make no sufferer but myself — I cannot send for Mr Arnott — from me you must have the money, and may it answer the purpose for which it is given, and restore to you the tenderness of your husband, and the peace of your own heart!”

Priscilla, scarce waiting to thank her, flew with this intelligence to Mr Harrel; who with the same impetuosity, scarce waiting to say he was glad of it, ran himself to bring the Jew from whom the money was to be procured. Every thing was soon settled, Cecilia had no time for retracting, and repentance they had not the delicacy to regard: again, therefore, she signed her name for paying the principal and interest of another 1000_l. within ten days after she was of age: and having taken the money, she accompanied Mr and Mrs Harrel into another room. Presenting it then with an affecting solemnity to Mrs Harrel, “accept, Priscilla,” she cried, “this irrefragable mark of the sincerity of my friendship: but suffer me at the same time to tell you, it is the last to so considerable an amount I ever mean to offer; receive it, therefore, with kindness, but use it with discretion.”

She then embraced her, and eager now to avoid acknowledgment, as before she had been to escape importunities, she left them together.

The soothing recompense of succouring benevolence, followed not this gift, nor made amends for this loss: perplexity and uneasiness, regret and resentment, accompanied the donation, and rested upon her mind; she feared she had done wrong; she was certain Mr Monckton would blame her; he knew not the persecution she suffered, nor would he make any allowance for the threats which alarmed, or the intreaties which melted her.

Far other had been her feelings at the generosity she exerted for the Hills; no doubts then tormented her, and no repentance embittered her beneficence. Their worth was without suspicion, and their misfortunes were not of their own seeking; the post in which they had been stationed they had never deserted, and the poverty into which they had sunk was accidental and unavoidable.

But here, every evil had been wantonly incurred by vanity and licentiousness, and shamelessly followed by injustice and fraud: the disturbance of her mind only increased by reflection, for when the rights of the creditors with their injuries occurred to her, she enquired of herself by what title or equity, she had so liberally assisted Mr Harrel in eluding their claims, and flying the punishment which the law would inflict.

Startled by this consideration, she most severely reproached herself for a compliance of which she had so lightly weighed the consequences, and thought with the utmost dismay, that while she had flattered herself she was merely indulging the dictates of humanity, she might perhaps be accused by the world as an abettor of guile and injustice.

“And yet,” she continued, “whom can I essentially have injured but myself? would his creditors have been benefitted by my refusal? had I braved the execution of his dreadful threat, and quitted his house before I was wrought upon to assist him, would his suicide have lessened their losses, or secured their demands? even if he had no intention but to intimidate me, who will be wronged by my enabling him to go abroad, or who would be better paid were he seized and confined? All that remains of his shattered fortune may still be claimed, though I have saved him from a lingering imprisonment, desperate for himself and his wife, and useless for those he has plundered.”

And thus, now soothed by the purity of her intentions, and now uneasy from the rectitude of her principles, she alternately rejoiced and repined at what she had done.

At dinner Mr Harrel was all civility and good humour. He warmly thanked Cecilia for the kindness she had shewn him, and gaily added, “You should be absolved from all the mischief you may do for a twelvemonth to come, in reward for the preservation from mischief which you have this day effected.”

“The preservation,” said Cecilia, “will I hope be for many days. But tell me, sir, exactly, at what time I may acquaint Mrs Delvile I shall wait upon her?”

“Perhaps,” he answered, “by eight o’clock; perhaps by nine; you will not mind half an hour?”

“Certainly not;” she answered, unwilling by disputing about a trifle to diminish his satisfaction in her assistance. She wrote, therefore, another note to Mrs Delvile, desiring she would not expect her till near ten o’clock, and promising to account and apologize for these seeming caprices when she had the honour of seeing her.

The rest of the afternoon she spent wholly in exhorting Mrs Harrel to shew more fortitude, and conjuring her to study nothing while abroad but oeconomy, prudence and housewifery: a lesson how hard for the thoughtless and negligent Priscilla! she heard the advice with repugnance, and only answered it with helpless complaints that she knew not how to spend less money than she had always done.

After tea, Mr Harrel, still in high spirits, went out, entreating Cecilia to stay with Priscilla till his return, which he promised should be early.

Nine o’clock, however, came, and he did not appear; Cecilia then grew anxious to keep her appointment with Mrs Delvile; but ten o’clock also came, and still Mr Harrel was absent.

She then determined to wait no longer, and rang her bell for her servant and chair: but when Mrs Harrel desired to be informed the moment that Mr Harrel returned, the man said he had been come home more than half an hour.

Much surprised, she enquired where he was.

“In his own room, madam, and gave orders not to be disturbed.”

Cecilia, who was not much pleased at this account, was easily persuaded to stay a few minutes longer; and, fearing some new evil, she was going to send him a message, by way of knowing how he was employed, when he came himself into the room.

“Well, ladies,” he cried in a hurrying manner, “who is for Vauxhall?”

“Vauxhall!” repeated Mrs Harrel, while Cecilia, staring, perceived in his face a look of perturbation that extremely alarmed her.

“Come, come,” he cried, “we have no time to lose. A hackney coach will serve us; we won’t wait for our own.”

“Have you then given up going abroad?” said Mrs Harrel.

“No, no; where can we go from half so well? let us live while we live! I have ordered a chaise to be in waiting there. Come, let’s be gone.”

“First,” said Cecilia, “let me wish you both good night.”

“Will you not go with me?” cried Mrs Harrel, “how can I go to Vauxhall alone?”

“You are not alone,” answered she; “but if I go, how am I to return?”

“She shall return with you,” cried Mr Harrel, “if you desire it; you shall return together.”

Mrs Harrel, starting up in rapture, called out “Oh Mr Harrel, will you indeed leave me in England?”

“Yes,” answered he reproachfully, “if you will make a better friend than you have made a wife, and if Miss Beverley is content to take charge of you.”

“What can all this mean?” exclaimed Cecilia, “is it possible you can be serious? Are you really going yourself, and will you suffer Mrs Harrel to remain?”

“I am,” he answered, “and I will.”

Then ringing the bell, he ordered a hackney coach.

Mrs Harrel was scarce able to breathe for extacy, nor Cecilia for amazement: while Mr Harrel, attending to neither of them, walked for some time silently about the room.

“But how,” cried Cecilia at last, “can I possibly go? Mrs Delvile must already be astonished at my delay, and if I disappoint her again she will hardly receive me.”

“O make not any difficulties,” cried Mrs Harrel in an agony; “if Mr Harrel will let me stay, sure you will not be so cruel as to oppose him?”

“But why,” said Cecilia, “should either of us go to Vauxhall? surely that is no place for a parting so melancholy.”

A servant then came in, and said the hackney coach was at the door.

Mr Harrel, starting at the sound, called out, “come, what do we wait for? if we go not immediately, we may be prevented.”

Cecilia then again wished them good night, protesting she could fail Mrs Delvile no longer.

Mrs Harrel, half wild at this refusal, conjured her in the most frantic manner, to give way, exclaiming, “Oh cruel! cruel! to deny me this last request! I will kneel to you day and night,” sinking upon the ground before her, “and I will serve you as the humblest of your slaves, if you will but be kind in this last instance, and save me from banishment and misery!”

“Oh rise, Mrs Harrel,” cried Cecilia, ashamed of her prostration, and shocked by her vehemence, “rise and let me rest! — it is painful to me to refuse, but to comply for ever in defiance of my judgment — Oh Mrs Harrel, I know no longer what is kind or what is cruel, nor have I known for some time past right from wrong, nor good from evil!”

“Come,” cried Mr Harrel impetuously, “I wait not another minute!”

“Leave her then with me!” said Cecilia, “I will perform my promise, Mr Arnott will I am sure hold his to be sacred, she shall now go with him, she shall hereafter come to me — leave her but behind, and depend upon our care.”

“No, no,” cried he, with quickness, “I must take care of her myself. I shall not carry her abroad with me, but the only legacy I can leave her, is a warning which I hope she will remember for ever. You, however, need not go.”

“What,” cried Mrs Harrel, “leave me at Vauxhall, and yet leave me alone?”

“What of that?” cried he with fierceness, “do you not desire to be left? have you any regard for me? or for any thing upon earth but yourself! cease these vain clamours, and come, I insist upon it, this moment.”

And then, with a violent oath, he declared he would be detained no longer, and approached in great rage to seize her; Mrs Harrel shrieked aloud, and the terrified Cecilia exclaimed, “If indeed you are to part to-night, part not thus dreadfully! — rise, Mrs Harrel, and comply! — be reconciled, be kind to her, Mr Harrel! — and I will go with her myself, — we will all go together!”

“And why,” cried Mr Harrel, more gently yet with the utmost emotion, “why should you go! — you want no warning! you need no terror! — better far had you fly us, and my wife when I am set out may find you.”

Mrs Harrel, however, suffered her not to recede; and Cecilia, though half distracted by the scenes of horror and perplexity in which she was perpetually engaged, ordered her servant to acquaint Mrs Delvile she was again compelled to defer waiting upon her.

Mr Harrel then hurried them both into the coach, which he directed to Vauxhall.

“Pray write to me when you are landed,” said Mrs Harrel, who now released from her personal apprehensions, began to feel some for her husband.

He made not any answer. She then asked to what part of France he meant to go: but still he did not reply: and when she urged him by a third question, he told her in a rage to torment him no more.

During the rest of the ride not another word was Said; Mrs Harrel wept, her husband guarded a gloomy silence, and Cecilia most unpleasantly passed her time between anxious suspicions of some new scheme, and a terrified wonder in what all these transactions would terminate.

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