Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 2

A Railing.

The next morning the family purposed setting off as soon as breakfast was over: young Delvile, however, waited not so long; the fineness of the weather tempted him, he said, to travel on horse-back, and therefore he had risen very early, and was already gone. Cecilia could not but wonder, yet did not repine.

Just as breakfast was over, and Mr and Mrs Delvile and Cecilia were preparing to depart, to their no little surprise, the door was opened, and, out of breath with haste and with heat, in stumpt Mr Briggs! “So,” cried he to Cecilia, “what’s all this? hay? — where are you going? — a coach at the door! horses to every wheel! Servants fine as lords! what’s in the wind now? think to chouse me out of my belongings?”

“I thought, Sir,” said Cecilia, who instantly understood him, though Mr and Mrs Delvile stared at him in utter astonishment, “I had explained before I left you that I should not return.”

“Didn’t, didn’t!” answered he, angrily; “waited for you three days, dressed a breast o’ mutton o’ purpose; got in a lobster, and two crabs; all spoilt by keeping; stink already; weather quite muggy, forced to souse ’em in vinegar; one expense brings on another; never begin the like agen.”

“I am very sorry, indeed,” said Cecilia, much disconcerted, “if there has been any mistake through my neglect; but I had hoped I was understood, and I have been so much occupied —”

“Ay, ay,” interrupted he, “fine work! rare doings! a merry Vauxhalling, with pistols at all your noddles! thought as much! thought he’d tip the perch; saw he wasn’t stanch; knew he’d go by his company — a set of jackanapes! all blacklegs! nobody warm among ’em: fellows with a month’s good living upon their backs, and not sixpence for the hangman in their pockets!”

Mrs Delvile now, with a look of arch congratulation at Cecilia as the object of this agreeable visit, finding it not likely to be immediately concluded, returned to her chair: but Mr Delvile, leaning sternly upon his cane, moved not from the spot where he stood at his entrance, but surveyed him from head to foot, with the most astonished contempt at his undaunted vulgarity.

“Well I’d all your cash myself; seized that, else! — run out the constable for you, next, and made you blow out your brains for company. Mind what I say, never give your mind to a gold lace hat! many a one wears it don’t know five farthings from twopence. A good man always wears a bob wig; make that your rule. Ever see Master Harrel wear such a thing? No, I’ll warrant! better if he had; kept his head on his own shoulders. And now, pray, how does he cut up? what has he left behind him? a twey-case, I suppose, and a bit of a hat won’t go on a man’s head!”

Cecilia, perceiving, with great confusion, that Mr Delvile, though evidently provoked by this intrusion, would not deign to speak, that Mr Briggs might be regarded as belonging wholly to herself, hastily said “I will not, Sir, as your time is precious, detain you here, but, as soon as it is in my power, I will wait upon you in the city.”

Mr Briggs, however, without listening to her, thought proper to continue his harangue.

“Invited me once to his house; sent me a card, half of it printed like a book! t’other half a scrawl could not read; pretended to give a supper; all a mere bam; went without my dinner, and got nothing to eat; all glass and shew: victuals painted all manner of colours; lighted up like a pastry-cook on twelfth-day; wanted something solid, and got a great lump of sweetmeat; found it as cold as a stone, all froze in my mouth like ice; made me jump again, and brought the tears in my eyes; forced to spit it out; believe it was nothing but a snowball, just set up for show, and covered over with a little sugar. Pretty way to spend money! Stuffing, and piping, and hopping! never could rest till every farthing was gone; nothing left but his own fool’s pate, and even that he could not hold together.”

“At present, Sir,” said Cecilia, “we are all going out of town; the carriage is waiting at the door, and therefore —”

“No such thing,” cried he; “Sha’n’t go; come for you myself; take you to my own house. Got every thing ready, been to the broker’s, bought a nice blanket, hardly a brack in it. Pick up a table soon; one in my eye.”

“I am sorry you have so totally mistaken me, Sir; for I am now going into the country with Mr and Mrs Delvile.”

“Won’t consent, won’t consent! what will you go there for? hear of nothing but dead dukes; as well visit an old tomb.”

Here Mr Delvile, who felt himself insulted in a manner he could least support, after looking at him very disdainfully, turned to Cecilia, and said “Miss Beverley, if this person wishes for a longer conference with you, I am sorry you did not appoint a more seasonable hour for your interview.” “Ay, ay,” cried the impenetrable Mr Briggs; “want to hurry her off! see that! But ‘t won’t do; a’n’t to be nicked; chuse to come in for my thirds; won’t be gulled, sha’n’t have more than your share.”

“Sir!” cried Mr Delvile, with a look meant to be nothing less than petrific.

“What!” cried he, with an arch leer; “all above it, hay? warrant your Spanish Don never thinks of such a thing! don’t believe ’em my duck! great cry and little wool; no more of the ready than other folks; mere puff and go one.”

“This is language, Sir,” said Mr Delvile, “so utterly incomprehensible, that I presume you do not even intend it should be understood: otherwise, I should very little scruple to inform you, that no man of the name of Delvile brooks the smallest insinuation of dishonour.”

“Don’t he?” returned Mr Briggs, with a grin; “why how will he help it? will the old grandees jump up out of their graves to frighten us?”

“What old grandees, Sir? to whom are you pleased to allude?”

“Why all them old grandfathers and aunts you brag of; a set of poor souls you won’t let rest in their coffins; mere clay and dirt! fine things to be proud of! a parcel of old mouldy rubbish quite departed this life! raking up bones and dust, nobody knows for what! ought to be ashamed; who cares for dead carcases? nothing but [carrion]. My little Tom’s worth forty of ’em!”

“I can so ill make out, Miss Beverley,” said the astonished Mr Delvile, “what this person is pleased to dive at, that I cannot pretend to enter into any sort of conversation with him; you will therefore be so good as to let me know when he has finished his discourse, and you are at leisure to set off.”

And then, with a very stately air, he was quitting the room; but was soon stopt, upon Mr Briggs calling out “Ay, ay, Don Duke, poke in the old charnel houses by yourself, none of your defunct for me! didn’t care if they were all hung in a string. Who’s the better for ’em?’

“Pray, Sir,” cried Mr Delvile, turning round, “to whom were you pleased to address that speech?”

“To one Don Puffendorff,” replied Mr Briggs; “know ever such a person, hay?”

“Don who? Sir!” said Mr Delvile, stalking nearer to him, “I must trouble you to say that name over again.”

“Suppose don’t chuse it? how then?”

“I am to blame,” said Mr Delvile, scornfully waving his hand with a repulsive motion, “to suffer myself to be irritated so unworthily; and I am sorry, in my own house, to be compelled to hint that the sooner I have it to myself, the better I shall be contented with it.”

“Ay, ay, want to get me off; want to have her to yourself! won’t be so soon choused; who’s the better man? hay? which do you think is warmest? and all got by myself; obliged to never a grandee for a penny; what do you say to that? will you cast an account with me?”

“Very extraordinary this!” cried Mr Delvile; “the most extraordinary circumstance of the kind I ever met with! a person to enter my house in order to talk in this incomprehensible manner! a person, too, I hardly know by sight!”

“Never mind, old Don,” cried Briggs, with a facetious nod, “Know me better another time!”

“Old who, Sir! — what!”

“Come to a fair reckoning,” continued Mr Briggs; “suppose you were in my case, and had never a farthing but of your own getting; where would you be then? What would become of your fine coach and horses? you might stump your feet off before you’d ever get into one. Where would be all this fine crockery work for your breakfast? you might pop your head under a pump, or drink out of your own paw; what would you do for that fine jemmy tye? Where would you get a gold head to your stick? — You might dig long enough in them cold vaults before any of your old grandfathers would pop out to give you one.”

Mr Delvile, feeling more enraged than he thought suited his dignity, restrained himself from making any further answer, but going up to the bell, rang it with great violence.

“And as to ringing a bell,” continued Mr Briggs, “you’d never know what it was in your life, unless could make interest to be a dust-man.”

“A dust-man!”— repeated Mr Delvile, unable to command his silence longer, “I protest”— and biting his lips, he stopt short.

“Ay, love it, don’t you? suits your taste; why not one dust as well as another? Dust in a cart good as dust of a charnel-house; don’t smell half so bad.”

A servant now entering, Mr Delvile called out “Is everything ready?”

“Yes, Sir.”

He then begged Mrs Delvile to go into the coach, and telling Cecilia to follow when at leisure, left the room.

“I will come immediately, Sir,” said Cecilia; “Mr Briggs, I am sorry to leave you, and much concerned you have had this trouble; but I can detain Mr Delvile no longer.”

And then away she ran, notwithstanding he repeatedly charged her to stay. He followed them, however, to the coach, with bitter revilings that every body was to make more of his ward than himself, and with the most virulent complaints of his losses from the blanket, the breast of mutton, the crabs and the lobster!

Nothing, however, more was said to him; Cecilia, as if she had not heard him, only bowed her head, and the coach driving off, they soon lost sight of him.

This incident by no means rendered the journey pleasant, or Mr Delvile gracious: his own dignity, that constant object of his thoughts and his cares, had received a wound from this attack which he had not the sense to despise; and the vulgarity and impudence of Mr Briggs, which ought to have made his familiarity and boldness equally contemptible and ridiculous, served only with a man whose pride out-ran his understanding, to render them doubly mortifying and stinging. He could talk, therefore, of nothing the whole way that they went, but the extreme impropriety of which the Dean of had been guilty, in exposing him to scenes and situations so much beneath his rank, by leaguing him with a person so coarse and disgraceful.

They slept one night upon the road, and arrived the next day at Delvile Castle.

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