Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 2

A Broad Hint.

The next day Cecilia, to drive Delvile a little from her thoughts, which she now no longer wished him to occupy, again made a visit to Miss Belfield, whose society afforded her more consolation than any other she could procure.

She found her employed in packing up, and preparing to remove to another lodging, for her brother, she said, was so much better, that he did not think it right to continue in so disgraceful a situation.

She talked with her accustomed openness of her affairs, and the interest which Cecilia involuntarily took in them, contributed to lessen her vexation in thinking of her own. “The generous friend of my brother,” said she, “who, though but a new acquaintance to him, has courted him in all his sorrows, when every body else forsook him, has brought him at last into a better way of thinking. He says there is a gentleman whose son is soon going abroad, who he is almost sure will like my brother vastly, and in another week, he is to be introduced to him. And so, if my mother can but reconcile herself to parting with him, perhaps we may all do well again.”

“Your mother,” said Cecilia, “when he is gone, will better know the value of the blessing she has left in her daughter.”

“O no, madam, no; she is wrapt up in him, and cares nothing for all the world besides. It was always so, and we have all of us been used to it. But we have had a sad scene since you were so kind as to come last; for when she told him what you had done, he was almost out of his senses with anger that we had acquainted you with his distress, and he said it was publishing his misery, and undoing whatever his friend or himself could do, for it was making him ashamed to appear in the world, even when his affairs might be better. But I told him again and again that you had as much sweetness as goodness, and instead of hurting his reputation, would do him nothing but credit.”

“I am sorry,” said Cecilia, “Mrs Belfield mentioned the circumstance at all; it would have been better, for many reasons, that he should not have heard of it.”

“She hoped it would please him,” answered Miss Belfield, “however, he made us both promise we would take no such step in future, for he said we were not reduced to so much indigence, whatever he was: and that as to our accepting money from other people, that we might save up our own for him, it would be answering no purpose, for he should think himself a monster to make use of it.”

“And what said your mother?”

“Why she gave him a great many promises that she would never vex him about it again; and indeed, much as I know we are obliged to you, madam, and gratefully as I am sure I would lay down my life to serve you, I am very glad in this case that my brother has found it out. For though I so much wish him to do something for himself, and not to be so proud, and live in a manner he has no right to do, I think, for all that, that it is a great disgrace to my’ poor father’s honest memory, to have us turn beggars after his death, when he left us all so well provided for, if we had but known how to be satisfied.”

“There is a natural rectitude in your heart,” said Cecilia, “that the ablest casuists could not mend.”

She then enquired whither they were removing, and Miss Belfield told her to Portland Street, Oxford Road, where they were to have two apartments up two pair of stairs, and the use of a very good parlour, in which her brother might see his friends. “And this,” added she, “is a luxury for which nobody can blame him, because if he has not the appearance of a decent home, no gentleman will employ him.”

The Padington house, she said, was already let, and her mother was determined not to hire another, but still to live as penuriously as possible, in order, notwithstanding his remonstrances, to save all she could of her income for her son.

Here the conversation was interrupted by the entrance of Mrs Belfield, who very familiarly said she came to tell Cecilia they were all in the wrong box in letting her son know of the £10 bank note, “for,” continued she, “he has a pride that would grace a duke, and he thinks nothing of his hardships, so long as nobody knows of them. So another time we must manage things better, and when we do him any good, not let him know a word of the matter. We’ll settle it all among ourselves, and one day or other he’ll be glad enough to thank us.”

Cecilia, who saw Miss Belfield colour with shame at the freedom of this hint, now arose to depart: but Mrs Belfield begged her not to go so soon, and pressed her with such urgency to again sit down, that she was obliged to comply.

She then began a warm commendation of her son, lavishly praising all his good qualities, and exalting even his defects, concluding with saying “But, ma’am, for all he’s such a complete gentleman, and for all he’s made so much of, he was so diffident, I could not get him to call and thank you for the present you made him, though, when he went his last airing, I almost knelt to him to do it. But, with all his merit, he wants as much encouragement as a lady, for I can tell you it is not a little will do for him.”

Cecilia, amazed at this extraordinary speech, looked from the mother to the daughter in order to discover its meaning, which, however, was soon rendered plainer by what followed.

“But pray now, ma’am, don’t think him the more ungrateful for his shyness, for young ladies so high in the world as you are, must go pretty good lengths before a young man will get courage to speak to them. And though I have told my son over and over that the ladies never like a man the worse for being a little bold, he’s so much down in the mouth that it has no effect upon him. But it all comes of his being brought up at the university, for that makes him think he knows better than I can tell him. And so, to be sure, he does. However, for all that, it is a hard thing upon a mother to find all she says goes just for nothing. But I hope you’ll excuse him, ma’am, for it’s nothing in the world but his over-modesty.”

Cecilia now stared with a look of so much astonishment and displeasure, that Mrs Belfield, suspecting she had gone rather too far, added “I beg you won’t take what I’ve said amiss, ma’am, for we mothers of families are more used to speak out than maiden ladies. And I should not have said so much, but only I was afraid you would misconstrue my son’s backwardness, and so that he might be flung out of your favour at last, and all for nothing but having too much respect for you.”

“O dear mother!” cried Miss Belfield, whose face was the colour of scarlet, “pray!”—

“What’s the matter now?” cried Mrs Belfield; “you are as shy as your brother; and if we are all to be so, when are we to come to an understanding?”

“Not immediately, I believe indeed,” said Cecilia, rising, “but that we may not plunge deeper in our mistakes, I will for the present take my leave.”

“No, ma’am,” cried Mrs Belfield, stopping her, “pray don’t go yet, for I’ve got a great many things I want to talk to you about. In the first place, ma’am, pray what is your opinion of this scheme for sending my son abroad into foreign parts? I don’t know what you may think of it, but as to me, it half drives me out of my senses to have him taken away from me at last in that unnatural manner. And I’m sure, ma’am, if you would only put in a word against it, I dare say he would give it up without a demur.”

“Me?” cried Cecilia, disengaging herself from her hold, “No, madam, you must apply to those friends who better understand his affairs, and who would have a deeper interest in detaining him.”

“Lack a day!” cried Mrs Belfield, with scarcely smothered vexation, “how hard it is to make these grand young ladies come to reason! As to my son’s other friends, what good will it do for him to mind what they say? who can expect him to give up his journey, without knowing what amends he shall get for it?”

“You must settle this matter with him at your leisure,” said Cecilia, “I cannot now stay another moment.”

Mrs Belfield, again finding she had been too precipitate, tried to draw back, saying “Pray, ma’am, don’t let what I have mentioned go against my son in your good opinion, for he knows no more of it than the furthest person in the world, as my daughter can testify for as to shyness, he’s just as shy as a lady himself; so what good he ever got at the University, as to the matter of making his fortune, it’s what I never could discover. However, I dare say he knows best; though when all comes to all, if I was to speak my mind, I think he’s made but a poor hand of it.”

Cecilia, who only through compassion to the blushing Henrietta forbore repressing this forwardness more seriously, merely answered Mrs Belfield by wishing her good morning: but, while she was taking a kinder leave of her timid daughter, the mother added “As to the present, ma’am, you was so kind to make us, Henny can witness for me every penny of it shall go to my son.”

“I rather meant it,” said Cecilia, “for your daughter; but if it is of use to any body, my purpose is sufficiently answered.”

Mrs Belfield again pressed her to sit down, but she would not again listen to her, coldly saying “I am sorry you troubled Mr Belfield with any mention of what passed between his sister and me, but should you speak of it again, I beg you will explain to him that he had no concern in that little transaction, which belonged wholly to ourselves.”

She then hastened down stairs, followed, however, by Mrs Belfield, making awkward excuses for what she had said, intermixed with frequent hints that she knew all the time she was in the right.

This little incident, which convinced Cecilia Mrs Belfield was firmly persuaded she was in love with her son, gave her much uneasiness; she feared the son himself might entertain the same notion, and thought it most probable the daughter also had imbibed it, though but for the forward vulgarity of the sanguine mother, their opinions might long have remained concealed. Her benevolence towards them, notwithstanding its purity, must now therefore cease to be exerted: nor could she even visit Miss Belfield, since prudence, and a regard for her own character, seemed immediately to prohibit all commerce with the family.

“And thus difficult,” cried she, “is the blameless use of riches, though: all who want them, think nothing so easy as their disposal! This family I have so much wished to serve, I may at last only have injured, since the disappointment of their higher expectations, may render all smaller benefits contemptible. And thus this unfortunate misconstruction of my good offices, robs them of a useful assistant, and deprives me at the same time of an amiable companion.”

As soon as she returned home, she had a letter put into her hand which came from Mr Marriot, whose servant had twice called for an answer in the short time she had been absent.

This letter contained a most passionate avowal of the impression she had made on his heart the preceding evening, and an angry complaint that Mr Harrel had refused to hear his proposals. He entreated her permission to wait upon her for only five minutes, and concluded with the most fervent professions of respect and admiration.

The precipitancy of this declaration served merely to confirm the opinion she had already conceived of the weakness of his understanding: but the obstinacy of Mr Harrel irritated and distressed her, though weary of expostulating with so hopeless a subject, whom neither reason nor gratitude could turn from his own purposes, she was obliged to submit to his management, and was well content, in the present instance, to affirm his decree. She therefore wrote a concise answer to her new admirer, in the usual form of civil rejection.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/burney/fanny/cecilia/book5.2.html

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