Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 8

A Miser’s Mansion.

Mr Briggs was at home, and Cecilia instantly and briefly informed him that it was inconvenient for her to live any longer at Mr Harrel’s, and that if she could be accommodated at his house, she should be glad to reside with him during the rest of her minority.

“Shall, shall,” cried he, extremely pleased, “take you with all my heart. Warrant Master Harrel’s made a good penny of you. Not a bit the better for dressing so fine; many a rogue in a gold lace hat.”

Cecilia begged to know what apartments he could spare for her.

“Take you up stairs,” cried he, “shew you a place for a queen.”

He then led her up stairs, and took her to a room entirely dark, and so close for want of air that she could hardly breathe in it. She retreated to the landing-place till he had opened the shutters, and then saw an apartment the most forlorn she had ever beheld, containing no other furniture than a ragged stuff bed, two worn-out rush-bottomed chairs, an old wooden box, and a bit of broken glass which was fastened to the wall by two bent nails.

“See here, my little chick,” cried he, “everything ready! and a box for your gimcracks into the bargain.”

“You don’t mean this place for me, Sir!” cried Cecilia, staring.

“Do, do;” cried he, “a deal nicer by and by. Only wants a little furbishing: soon put to rights. Never sweep a room out of use; only wears out brooms for nothing.”

“But, Sir, can I not have an apartment on the first floor?”

“No, no, something else to do with it; belongs to the club; secrets in all things! Make this do well enough. Come again next week; wear quite a new face. Nothing wanting but a table; pick you up one at a broker’s.”

“But I am obliged, Sir, to leave Mr Harrel’s house directly.”

“Well, well, make shift without a table at first; no great matter if you ha’n’t one at all, nothing particular to do with it. Want another blanket, though. Know where to get one; a very good broker hard by. Understand how to deal with him! A close dog, but warm.”

“I have also two servants, Sir,” said Cecilia.

“Won’t have ’em! Sha’n’t come! Eat me out of house and home.”

“Whatever they eat, Sir,” answered she, “will be wholly at my expence, as will everything else that belongs to them.”

“Better get rid of them: hate servants; all a pack of rogues: think of nothing but stuffing and guzzling.”

Then opening another door, “See here,” he cried, “my own room just by; snug as a church!”

Cecilia, following him into it, lost a great part of her surprise at the praise he had lavished upon that which he destined for herself, by perceiving that his own was yet more scantily furnished, having nothing in it but a miserable bed without any curtains, and a large chest, which, while it contained his clothes, sufficed both for table and chair.

“What are doing here?” cried he angrily, to a maid who was making the bed, “can’t you take more care? beat ‘out all the feathers, see! two on the ground; nothing but waste and extravagance! never mind how soon a man’s ruined. Come to want, you slut, see that, come to want!”

“I can never want more than I do here,” said the girl, “so that’s one comfort.”

Cecilia now began to repent she had made known the purport of her visit, for she found it would be utterly impossible to accommodate either her mind or her person to a residence such as was here to be obtained and she only wished Mr Monckton had been present, that he might himself be convinced of the impracticability of his scheme. Her whole business, therefore, now, was to retract her offer, and escape from the house.

“I see, Sir,” said she, when he turned from his servant, “that I cannot be received here without inconvenience, and therefore I will make some new arrangement in my plan.”

“No, no,” cried he, “like to have you, ’tis but fair, all in our turn; won’t be chorused; Master Harrel’s had his share. Sorry could not get you that sweetheart! would not bite; soon find out another; never fret.”

“But there are so many things with which I cannot possibly dispense,” said Cecilia, “that I am certain my removing hither would occasion you far more trouble than you at present foresee.”

“No, no; get all in order soon: go about myself; know how to bid; understand trap; always go shabby; no making a bargain in a good coat. Look sharp at the goods; say they won’t do; come away; send somebody else for ’em. Never go twice myself; nothing got cheap if one seems to have a hankering.”

“But I am sure it is not possible,” said Cecilia, hurrying down stairs, “that my room, and one for each of my servants, should be ready in time.”

“Yes, yes,” cried he, following her, “ready in a trice. Make a little shift at first; double the blanket till we get another; lie with the maid a night or two; never stand for a trifle.”

And, when she was seated in her chair, the whole time disclaiming her intention of returning, he only pinched her cheek with a facetious smirk, and said, “By, by, little duck; come again soon. Warrant I’ll have the room ready. Sha’n’t half know it again; make it as smart as a carrot.”

And then she left the house; fully satisfied that no one could blame her refusing to inhabit it, and much less chagrined than she was willing to suppose herself, in finding she had now no resource but in the Delviles.

Yet, in her serious reflections, she could not but think herself strangely unfortunate that the guardian with whom alone it seemed proper for her to reside, should by parsimony, vulgarity, and meanness, render riches contemptible, prosperity unavailing, and economy odious: and that the choice of her uncle should thus unhappily have fallen upon the lowest and most wretched of misers, in a city abounding with opulence, hospitality, and splendour, and of which the principal inhabitants, long eminent for their wealth and their probity, were now almost universally rising in elegance and liberality.

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