Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 9

A Declaration.

Cecilia’s next progress, therefore, was to St James’s-square, whither she went in the utmost anxiety, from her uncertainty of the reception with which her proposal would meet.

The servants informed her that Mr and Mrs Delvile were at breakfast, and that the Duke of Derwent and his two daughters were with them.

Before such witnesses to relate the reasons of her leaving the Harmless was impossible; and from such a party to send for Mrs Delvile, would, by her stately guardian, be deemed an indecorum unpardonable. She was obliged, therefore, to return to Portman-square, in order to open her cause in a letter to Mrs Delvile.

Mr Arnott, flying instantly to meet her, called out O madam, what alarm has your absence occasioned! My sister believed she should see you no more, Mr Harrel feared a premature discovery of his purposed retreat, and we have all been under the cruellest apprehensions lest you meant not to come back.”

“I am sorry I spoke not with you before I went out,” said Cecilia, accompanying him to the library, “but I thought you were all too much occupied to miss me. I have been, indeed, preparing for a removal, but I meant not to leave your sister without bidding her adieu, nor, indeed, to quit any part of the family with so little ceremony. Is Mr Harrel still firm to his last plan?”

“I fear so! I have tried what is possible to dissuade him, and my poor sister has wept without ceasing. Indeed, if she will take no consolation, I believe I shall do what she pleases, for I cannot bear the sight of her in such distress.”

“You are too generous, and too good!” said Cecilia, “and I know not how, while flying from danger myself, to forbear counselling you to avoid it also.”

“Ah madam!” cried he, “the greatest danger for me is what I have now no power to run from!”

Cecilia, though she could not but understand him, felt not the less his friend for knowing him the humblest of her admirers; and as she saw the threatening ruin to which his too great tenderness exposed him, she kindly said “Mr Arnott, I will speak, to you without reserve. It is not difficult to see that the destruction which awaits Mr Harrel, is ready also to ensnare his brother-inlaw: but let not that blindness to the future which we have so often lamented for him, hereafter be lamented for yourself. Till his present connections are broken, and his way of living is changed, nothing can be done for him, and whatever you were to advance, would merely be sunk at the gaming table. Reserve, therefore, your liberality till it may indeed be of service to him, for believe me, at present, his mind is as much injured as his fortune.”

“And is it possible, madam,” said Mr Arnott, in an accent of surprize and delight, “that you can deign to be interested in what may become of me! and that my sharing or escaping the ruin of this house is not wholly indifferent to you?”

“Certainly not,” answered Cecilia; “as the brother of my earliest friend, I can never be insensible to your welfare.”

“Ah madam!” cried he, “as her brother! — Oh that there were any other tie! —”

“Think a little,” said Cecilia, preparing to quit the room, “of what I have mentioned, and, for your sister’s sake, be firm now, if you would be kind hereafter.”

“I will be any and every thing,” cried he, “that Miss Beverley will command.”

Cecilia, fearful of any misinterpretation, then came back, and gravely said, “No, Sir, be ruled only by your own judgment: or, should my advice have any weight with you, remember it is given from the most disinterested motives, and with no other view than that of securing your power to be of service to your sister.”

“For that sister’s sake, then, have the goodness to hear my situation, and honour me with further directions.”

“You will make me fear to speak,” said Cecilia, “if you give so much consequence to my opinion. I have seen, however, nothing in your conduct I have ever wished changed, except too little attention to your own interest and affairs.”

“Ah!” cried he, “with what rapture should I hear those words, could I but imagine —”

“Come, come,” said Cecilia, smiling, “no digression! You called me back to talk of your sister; if you change your subject, perhaps you may lose your auditor.”

“I would not, madam, for the world encroach upon your goodness; the favour I have found has indeed always exceeded my expectations, as it has always surpassed my desert: yet has it never blinded me to my own unworthiness. Do not, then, fear to indulge me with your conversation; I shall draw from it no inference but of pity, and though pity from Miss Beverley is the sweetest balm to my heart, it shall never seduce me to the encouragement of higher hopes.”

Cecilia had long had reason to expect such a declaration, yet she heard it with unaffected concern, and looking at him with the utmost gentleness, said “Mr Arnott, your regard does me honour, and, were it somewhat more rational, would give me pleasure; take, then, from it what is more than I wish or merit, and, while you preserve the rest, be assured it will be faithfully returned.”

“Your rejection is so mild,” cried he, “that I, who had no hope of acceptance, find relief in having at last told my sufferings. Could I but continue to see you every day, and to be blest with your conversation, I think I should be happy, and I am sure I should be grateful.”

“You are already,” answered she, shaking her head, and moving towards the door, “infringing the conditions upon which our friendship is to be founded.”

“Do not go, madam,” he cried, “till I have done what you have just promised to permit, acquainted you with my situation, and been honoured with your advice. I must own to you, then, that £5000, which I had in the stocks, as well as a considerable sum in a banker’s hands, I have parted with, as I now find for ever but I have no heart for refusal, nor would my sister at this moment be thus distressed, but that I have nothing more to give without I cut down my trees, or sell some farm, since all I was worth, except my landed property, is already gone. What, therefore, I can now do to save Mr Harrel from this desperate expedition I know not.”

“I am sorry,” said Cecilia, “to speak with severity of one so nearly connected with you, yet, suffer me to ask, why should he be saved from it at all? and what is there he can at present do better? Has not he long been threatened with every evil that is now arrived? have we not both warned him, and have not the clamours of his creditors assailed him? yet what has been the consequence? he has not submitted to the smallest change in his way of life, he has not denied himself a single indulgence, nor spared any expence, nor thought of any reformation. Luxury has followed luxury, and he has only grown fonder of extravagance, as extravagance has become more dangerous. Till the present storm, therefore, blows over, leave him to his fate, and when a calm succeeds, I will myself, for the sake of Priscilla, aid you to save what is possible of the wreck.”

“All you say, madam, is as wise as it is good, and now I am acquainted with your opinion, I will wholly new model myself upon it, and grow as steady against all attacks as hitherto I have been yielding.”

Cecilia was then retiring; but again detaining her, he Said “You spoke, madam, of a removal, and indeed it is high time you should quit this scene: yet I hope you intend not to go till tomorrow, as Mr Harrel has declared your leaving him sooner will be his destruction.”

“Heaven forbid,” said Cecilia, “for I mean to be gone with all the speed in my power.”

“Mr Harrel,” answered he, “did not explain himself; but I believe he apprehends your deserting his house at this critical time, will raise a suspicion of his own design of going abroad, and make his creditors interfere to prevent him.”

“To what a wretched state,” cried Cecilia, “has he reduced himself! I will not, however, be the voluntary instrument of his disgrace; and if you think my stay is so material to his security, I will continue here till tomorrow morning.”

Mr Arnott almost wept his thanks for this concession, and Cecilia, happy in making it to him instead of Mr Harrel, then went to her own room, and wrote the following letter to Mrs Delvile.

To the Hon. Mrs Delvile, St James’s-square.

PORTMAN SQUARE, June 12.

DEAR MADAM— I am willing to hope you have been rather surprised that I have not sooner availed myself of the permission with which you yesterday honoured me of spending this whole day with you, but, unfortunately for myself, I am prevented waiting upon you even for any part of it. Do not, however, think me now ungrateful if I stay away, nor tomorrow impertinent, if I venture to enquire whether that apartment which you had once the goodness to appropriate to my use, may then again be spared for me! The accidents which have prompted this strange request will, I trust, be sufficient apology for the liberty I take in making it, when I have the honour to see you, and acquaint you what they are. — I am, with the utmost respect, Dear Madam, your most obedient humble servant, CECILIA BEVERLEY.

She would not have been thus concise, had not the caution of Mr Arnott made her fear, in the present perilous situation of affairs, to trust the secret of Mr Harrel to paper.

The following answer was returned her from Mrs Delvile:—

To Miss Beverley, Portman-square.

The accidents you mention are not, I hope, of a very serious nature, since I shall find difficulty insurmountable in trying to lament them, if they are productive of a lengthened visit from my dear Miss Beverley to her Faithful humble servant, AUGUSTA DELVILE.

Cecilia, charmed with this note, could now no longer forbear looking forward to brighter prospects, flattering herself that once under the roof of Mrs Delvile, she must necessarily be happy, let the engagements or behaviour of her son be what they might.

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