Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 7

A Bold Stroke.

When Cecilia returned home, she heard with much concern that no tidings of Mr Harrel had yet been obtained. His lady, who did not stay out late, was now very seriously frightened, and entreated Cecilia to sit up with her till some news could be procured: she sent also for her brother, and they all three, in trembling expectation of what was to ensue, passed the whole night in watching.

At six o’clock in the morning, Mr Arnott besought his sister and Cecilia to take some rest, promising to go out himself to every place where Mr Harrel was known to resort, and not to return without bringing some account of him.

Mrs Harrel, whose feelings were not very acute, finding the persuasions of her brother were seconded by her own fatigue, consented to follow his advice, and desired him to begin his search immediately.

A few moments after he was gone, while Mrs Harrel and Cecilia were upon the stairs, they were startled by a violent knocking at the door: Cecilia, prepared for some calamity, hurried her friend back to the drawing-room, and then flying out of it again to enquire who entered, saw to her equal surprize and relief, Mr Harrel himself.

She ran back with the welcome information, and he instantly followed her: Mrs Harrel eagerly told him of her fright, and Cecilia expressed her pleasure at his return: but the satisfaction of neither was of long duration.

He came into the room with a look of fierceness the most terrifying, his hat on, and his arms folded. He made no answer to what they said, but pushed back the door with his foot, and flung himself upon a sofa.

Cecilia would now have withdrawn, but Mrs Harrel caught her hand to prevent her. They continued some minutes in this situation, and then Mr Harrel, suddenly rising, called-out “Have you any thing to pack up?”

“Pack up?” repeated Mrs Harrel, “Lord bless me, for what?”

“I am going abroad,” he answered; “I shall set off tomorrow.”

“Abroad?” cried she, bursting into tears, “I am sure I hope not!”

“Hope nothing!” returned he, in a voice of rage; and then, with a dreadful oath, he ordered her to leave him and pack up.

Mrs Harrel, wholly unused to such treatment, was frightened into violent hysterics; of which, however, he took no notice, but swearing at her for a fool who had been the cause of his ruin, he left the room.

Cecilia, though she instantly rang the bell, and hastened to her assistance, was so much shocked by this unexpected brutality, that she scarcely knew how to act, or what to order. Mrs Harrel, however, soon recovered, and Cecilia accompanied her to her own apartment, where she stayed, and endeavoured to sooth her till Mr Arnott returned.

The terrible state in which Mr Harrel had at last come home was immediately communicated to him, and his sister entreated him to use all his influence that the scheme for going abroad might be deferred, at least, if not wholly given up.

Fearfully he went on the embassy, but speedily, and with a look wholly dismayed, he returned. Mr Harrel, he said, told him that he had contracted a larger debt of honour than he had any means to raise, and as he could not appear till it was paid, he was obliged to quit the kingdom without delay.

“Oh brother!” cried Mrs Harrel, “and can you suffer us to go?”

“Alas, my dear sister,” answered he, “what can I do to prevent it? and who, if I too am ruined, will in future help you?”

Mrs Harrel then wept bitterly, nor could the gentle Mr Arnott, forbear, while he tried to comfort her, mixing his own tears with those of his beloved sister; but Cecilia, whose reason was stronger, and whose justice was offended, felt other sensations: and leaving Mrs Harrel to the care of her brother, whose tenderness she infinitely compassionated, she retreated into her own room. Not, however, to rest; the dreadful situation of the family made her forget she wanted it, but to deliberate upon what course she ought herself to pursue.

She determined without any hesitation against accompanying them in their flight, as the irreparable injury she was convinced she had already done her fortune, was more than sufficient to satisfy the most romantic ideas of friendship and humanity: but her own place of abode must now immediately be changed, and her choice rested only between Mr Delvile and Mr Briggs.

Important as were the obstacles which opposed her residence at Mr Delvile’s, all that belonged to inclination and to happiness encouraged it: while with respect to Mr Briggs, though the objections were lighter, there was not a single allurement. Yet whenever the suspicion recurred to her that Miss Belfield was beloved by young Delvile, she resolved at all events to avoid him; but when better hopes intervened, and represented that his enquiries were probably accidental, the wish of being finally acquainted with his sentiments, made nothing so desirable as an intercourse more frequent.

Such still was her irresolution, when she received a message from Mr Arnott to entreat the honour of seeing her. She immediately went down stairs, and found him in the utmost distress, “O Miss Beverley,” he cried, “what can I do for my sister! what can I possibly devise to relieve her affliction!”

“Indeed I know not!” said Cecilia, “but the utter impracticability of preparing her for this blow, obviously as it has long been impending, makes it now fall so heavily I wish much to assist her — but a debt so unjustifiably contracted —”

“O madam,” interrupted he, “imagine not I sent to you with so treacherous a view as to involve you in our misery; far too unworthily has your generosity already been abused. I only wish to consult with you what I can do for my sister.”

Cecilia, after some little consideration, proposed that Mrs Harrel should still be left in England, and under their joint care.

“Alas!” cried he, “I have already made that proposal, but Mr Harrel will not go without her, though his whole behaviour is so totally altered, that I fear to trust her with him.”

“Who is there, then, that has more weight with him?” said Cecilia, “shall we send for Sir Robert Floyer to second our request?”

To this Mr Arnott assented, forgetting in his apprehension of losing his sister, the pain he should suffer from the interference of his rival.

The Baronet presently arrived, and Cecilia, not chusing to apply to him herself, left him with Mr Arnott, and waited for intelligence in the library.

In about an hour after, Mrs Harrel ran into the room, her tears dried up, and out of breath with joy, and called out “My dearest friend, my fate is now all in your hands, and I am sure you will not refuse to make me happy.”

“What is it I can do for you?” cried Cecilia, dreading some impracticable proposal; “ask me not, I beseech you, what I cannot perform!”

“No, no,” answered she, “What I ask requires nothing but good nature; Sir Robert Floyer has been begging Mr Harrel to leave me behind, and he has promised to comply, upon condition you will hasten your marriage, and take me into your own house.”

“My marriage!” cried the astonished Cecilia.

Here they were joined by Mr Harrel himself, who repeated the same offer.

“You both amaze and shock me!” cried Cecilia, “what is it you mean, and why do you talk to me so wildly?”

“Miss Beverley,” cried Mr Harrel, “it is high time now to give up this reserve, and trifle no longer with a gentleman so unexceptionable as Sir Robert Floyer. The whole town has long acknowledged him as your husband, and you are every where regarded as his bride, a little frankness, therefore, in accepting him, will not only bind him to you for ever, but do credit to the generosity of your character.”

At that moment Sir Robert himself burst into the room, and seizing one of her hands, while both of them were uplifted in mute amazement, he pressed it to his lips, poured forth a volley of such compliments as he had never before prevailed with himself to utter, and confidently entreated her to complete his long-attended happiness without the cruelty of further delay.

Cecilia, almost petrified by the excess of her surprise, at an attack so violent, so bold, and apparently so sanguine, was for some time scarce able to speak or to defend herself; but when Sir Robert, presuming on her silence, said she had made him the happiest of men, she indignantly drew back her hand, and with a look of displeasure that required little explanation, would have walked out of the room: when Mr Harrel, in a tone of bitterness and disappointment, called out “Is this lady-like tyranny then never to end?” And Sir Robert, impatiently following her, said “And is my suspense to endure for ever? After so many months’ attendance —”

“This, indeed, is something too much,” said Cecilia, turning back, “You have been kept, Sir, in no suspense; the whole tenor of my conduct has uniformly declared the same disapprobation I at present avow, and which my letter, at least, must have put beyond all doubt.”

“Harrel,” exclaimed Sir Robert, “did not you tell me —”

“Pho, Pho,” cried Harrel, “what signifies calling upon me? I never saw in Miss Beverley any disapprobation beyond what it is customary for young ladies of a sentimental turn to shew; and every body knows that where a gentleman is allowed to pay his devoirs for any length of time, no lady intends to use him very severely.”

“And can you, Mr Harrel,” said Cecilia, “after such conversations as have passed between us, persevere in this wilful misapprehension? But it is vain to debate where all reasoning is disregarded, or to make any protestations where even rejection is received as a favour.”

And then, with an air of disdain, she insisted upon passing them, and went to her own room.

Mrs Harrel, however, still followed, and clinging round her, still supplicated her pity and compliance.

“What infatuation is this!” cried Cecilia, “is it possible that you, too, can suppose I ever mean to accept Sir Robert?”

“To be sure I do,” answered she, “for Mr Harrel has told me a thousand times, that however you played the prude, you would be his at last.”

Cecilia, though doubly irritated against Mr Harrel, was now appeased with his lady, whose mistake, however ill-founded, offered an excuse for her behaviour: but she assured her in the strongest terms that her repugnance to the Baronet was unalterable, yet told her she might claim from her every good office that was not wholly unreasonable.

These were words of slender comfort to Mrs Harrel, who well knew that her wishes and reason had but little affinity, and she soon, therefore, left the room.

Cecilia then resolved to go instantly to Mrs Delvile, acquaint her with the necessity of her removal, and make her decision whither, according to the manner in which her intelligence should be received.

She sent, therefore, to order a chair, and was already in the hall, when she was stopt by the entrance of Mr Monckton, who, addressing her with a look of haste and earnestness, said, “I will not ask whither you are going so early, or upon what errand, for I must beg a moment’s audience, be your business what it may.”

Cecilia then accompanied him to the deserted breakfast room, which none but the servants had this morning entered, and there, grasping her hand, he said, “Miss Beverley, you must fly this house directly! it is the region of disorder and licentiousness, and unfit to contain you.”

She assured him she was that moment preparing to quit it, but begged he would explain himself.

“I have taken care,” he answered, “for some time past, to be well informed of all the proceedings of Mr Harrel; and the intelligence I procured this morning is of the most alarming nature. I find he spent the night before the last entirely at a gaming table, where, intoxicated by a run of good luck, he passed the whole of the next day in rioting with his profligate intimates, and last night, returning again to his favourite amusement, he not only lost all he had gained, but much more than he could pay. Doubt not, therefore, but you will be called upon to assist him: he still considers you as his resource in times of danger, and while he knows you are under his roof, he will always believe himself secure.”

“Every thing indeed conspires,” said Cecilia, more shocked than surprised at this account, “to make it necessary I should quit his house: yet I do not think he has at present any further expectations from me, as he came into the room this morning not merely without speaking to me, but behaved with a brutality to Mrs Harrel that he must be certain would give me disgust. It shewed me, indeed, a new part of his character, for ill as I have long thought of him, I did not suspect he could be guilty of such unmanly cruelty.”

“The character of a gamester,” said Mr Monckton, “depends solely upon his luck; his disposition varies with every throw of the dice, and he is airy, gay and good humoured, or sour, morose and savage, neither from nature nor from principle, but wholly by the caprice of chance.”

Cecilia then related to him the scene in which she had just been engaged with Sir Robert Floyer.

“This,” cried he, “is a manoeuvre I have been some time expecting: but Mr Harrel, though artful and selfish, is by no means deep. The plan he had formed would have succeeded with some women, and he therefore concluded it would with all. So many of your sex have been subdued by perseverance, and so many have been conquered by boldness, that he supposed when he united two such powerful besiegers in the person of a Baronet, he should vanquish all obstacles. By assuring you that the world thought the marriage already settled, he hoped to surprise you into believing there was no help for it, and by the suddenness and vehemence of the attack, to frighten and hurry you into compliance. His own wife, he knew, might have been managed thus with ease, and so, probably, might his sister, and his mother, and his cousin, for in love matters, or what are so called, women in general are, readily duped. He discerned not the superiority of your understanding to tricks so shallow and impertinent, nor the firmness of your mind in maintaining its own independence. No doubt but he was amply to have been rewarded for his assistance, and probably had you this morning been propitious, the Baronet in return was to have cleared him from his present difficulty.”

“Even in my own mind,” said Cecilia, “I can no longer defend him, for he could never have been so eager to promote the interest of Sir Robert, in the present terrible situation of his own affairs, had he not been stimulated by some secret motives. His schemes and his artifices, however, will now be utterly lost upon me, since your warning and advice, aided by my own suffering experience of the inutility of all I can do for him, will effectually guard me from all his future attempts.”

“Rest no security upon yourself,” said Mr Monckton, “since you have no knowledge of the many tricks and inventions by which you may yet be plundered. Perhaps he may beg permission to reside in your house in Suffolk, or desire an annuity for his wife, or chuse to receive your first rents when you come of age; and whatever he may fix upon, his dagger and his bowl will not fail to procure him. A heart so liberal as yours can only be guarded by flight. You were going, you said, when I came — and whither?”

“To — to St James’s-square,” answered she, with a deep blush.

“Indeed! — is young Delvile, then, going abroad?”

“Abroad? — no — I believe not.”

“Nay, I only imagined it from your chusing to reside in his house.”

“I do not chuse it,” cried Cecilia, with quickness, “but is not any thing preferable to dwelling with Mr Briggs?”

“Certainly,” said Mr Monckton coolly, “nor should I have supposed he had any chance with you, had I not hitherto observed that your convenience has always been sacrificed to your sense of propriety.”

Cecilia, touched by praise so full of censure, and earnest to vindicate her delicacy, after an internal struggle, which Mr Monckton was too subtle to interrupt, protested she would go instantly to Mr Briggs, and see if it were possible to be settled in his house, before she made any attempt to fix herself elsewhere.

“And when?” said Mr Monckton.

“I don’t know,” answered she, with some hesitation, “perhaps this afternoon.”

“Why not this morning?”

“I can go out no where this morning; I must stay with Mrs Harrel.”

“You thought otherwise when I came, you were then content to leave her.”

Cecilia’s alacrity, however, for changing her abode, was now at an end, and she would fain have been left quietly to re-consider her plans: but Mr Monckton urged so strongly the danger of her lengthened stay in the house of so designing a man as Mr Harrel, that he prevailed with her to quit it without delay, and had himself the satisfaction of handing her to her chair.

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