Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 4

A Wrangling.

Mr Monckton, the next day, as soon as breakfast was over, went out, to avoid showing, even to Cecilia, the anxiety he felt concerning the regulation of her fortune, and arrangement of her affairs. He strongly, however, advised her not to mention her large debt, which, though contracted in the innocence of the purest benevolence, would incur nothing but reproof and disapprobation, from all who only heard of it, when they heard of its inutility.

At eleven o’clock, though an hour before the time appointed, while Cecilia was sitting in Lady Margaret’s dressing room, “with sad civility and an aching head,” she was summoned to Mr Briggs in the parlour.

He immediately began reproaching her with having eloped from him, in the summer, and with the various expences she had caused him from useless purchases and spoilt provisions. He then complained of Mr Delvile, whom he charged with defrauding him of his dues; but observing in the midst of his railing her dejection of countenance, he suddenly broke off, and looking at her with some concern, said, “what’s the matter, Ducky? a’n’t well? look as if you could not help it.”

“O yes,” cried Cecilia, “I thank you, Sir, I am very well.”

“What do you look so blank for, then?” said he, “bay? what are fretting for? — crossed in love? — lost your sweetheart?”

“No, no, no,” cried she, with quickness.

“Never mind, my chick, never mind,” said he, pinching her cheek, with resumed good humour, “more to be had; if one won’t snap, another will; put me in a passion by going off from me with that old grandee, or would have got one long ago. Hate that old Don; used me very ill; wish I could trounce him. Thinks more of a fusty old parchment than the price of stocks. Fit for nothing but to be stuck upon an old monument for a Death’s head.”

He then told her that her accounts were all made out, and he was ready at any time to produce them; he approved much of her finishing wholly with the old Don, who had been a mere cypher in the executorship; but he advised her not to think of taking her money into her own hands, as he was willing to keep the charge of it himself till she was married.

Cecilia, thanking him for the offer, said she meant now to make her acknowledgments for all the trouble he had already taken, but by no means purposed to give him any more.

He debated the matter with her warmly, told her she had no chance to save herself from knaves and cheats, but by trusting to nobody but himself, and informing her what interest he had already made of her money, enquired how she would set about getting more?

Cecilia, though prejudiced against him by Mr Monckton, knew not how to combat his arguments; yet conscious that scarce any part of the money to which he alluded was in fact her own, she could not yield to them. He was, however, so stubborn and so difficult to deal with, that she at length let him talk without troubling herself to answer, and privately determined to beg Mr Monckton would fight her battle.

She was not, therefore, displeased by his interruption, though very much surprised by the sight of his person, when, in the midst of Mr Briggs’s oratory, Mr Hobson entered the parlour.

“I ask pardon, ma’am,” cried he, “if I intrude; but I made free to call upon the account of two ladies that are acquaintances of yours, that are quite, as one may say, at their wit’s ends.”

“What is the matter with them, Sir?”

“Why, ma’am, no great matter, but mothers are soon frightened, and when once they are upon the fret, one may as well talk to the boards! they know no more of reasoning and arguing, than they do of a shop ledger! however, my maxim is this; every body in their way; one has no more right to expect courageousness from a lady in them cases, than one has from a child in arms; for what I say is, they have not the proper use of their heads, which makes it very excusable.”

“But what has occasioned any alarm? nothing, I hope, is the matter with Miss Belfield?”

“No, ma’am; thank God, the young lady enjoys her health very well: but she is taking on just in the same way as her mamma, as what can be more natural? Example, ma’am, is apt to be catching, and one lady’s crying makes another think she must do the same, for a little thing serves for a lady’s tears, being they can cry at any time: but a man is quite of another nature, let him but have a good conscience, and be clear of the world, and I’ll engage he’ll not wash his face without soap! that’s what I say!”

“Will, will!” cried Mr Briggs, “do it myself! never use soap; nothing but waste; take a little sand; does as well.”

“Let every man have his own proposal;” answered Hobson; “for my part, I take every morning a large bowl of water, and souse my whole head in it; and then when I’ve rubbed it dry, on goes my wig, and I am quite fresh and agreeable: and then I take a walk in Tottenham Court Road as far as the Tabernacle, or thereabouts, and snuff in a little fresh country air, and then I come back, with a good wholesome appetite, and in a fine breathing heat, asking the young lady’s pardon; and I enjoy my pot of fresh tea, and my round of hot toast and butter, with as good a relish as if I was a Prince.”

“Pot of fresh tea,” cried Briggs, “bring a man to ruin; toast and butter! never suffer it in my house. Breakfast on water-gruel, sooner done; fills one up in a second. Give it my servants; can’t eat much of it. Bob ’em there!” nodding significantly.

“Water-gruel!” exclaimed Mr Hobson, “why I could not get it down if I might have the world for it! it would make me quite sick, asking the young lady’s pardon, by reason I should always think I was preparing for the small-pox. My notion is quite of another nature; the first thing I do is to have a good fire; for what I say is this, if a man is cold in his fingers, it’s odds if ever he gets warm in his purse! ha! ha! warm, you take me, Sir? I mean a pun. Though I ought to ask pardon, for I suppose the young lady don’t know what I am a saying.”

“I should indeed be better pleased, Sir,” said Cecilia, “to hear what you have to say about Miss Belfield.”

“Why, ma’am, the thing is this; we have been expecting the young ‘Squire, as I call him, all the morning, and he has never come; so Mrs Belfield, not knowing where to send after him, was of opinion he might be here, knowing your kindness to him, and that.”

“You make the enquiry at the wrong place, Sir,” said Cecilia, much provoked by the implication it conveyed; “if Mr Belfield is in this house, you must seek him with Mr Monckton.”

“You take no offence, I hope, ma’am, at my just asking of the question? for Mrs Belfield crying, and being in that dilemma, I thought I could do no less than oblige her by coming to see if the young gentleman was here.”

“What’s this? what’s this?” cried Mr Briggs eagerly; “who are talking of? hay? — who do mean? is this the sweet heart? eh, Duck?”

“No, no, Sir,” cried Cecilia.

“No tricks! won’t be bit! who is it? will know; tell me, I say!”

I’ll tell Sir,” cried Mr Hobson; “it’s a very handsome young gentleman, with as fine a person, and as genteel a way of behaviour, and withal, as pretty a manner of dressing himself, and that, as any lady need desire. He has no great head for business, as I am told, but the ladies don’t stand much upon that topic, being they know nothing of it themselves.”

“Has got the ready?” cried Mr Briggs, impatiently; “can cast an account? that’s the point; can come down handsomely? eh?”

“Why as to that, Sir, I’m not bound to speak to a gentleman’s private affairs. What’s my own, is my own, and what is another person’s, is another person’s; that’s my way of arguing, and that’s what I call talking to the purpose.”

“Dare say he’s a rogue! don’t have him, chick. Bet a wager i’n’t worth two shillings; and that will go for powder and pomatum; hate a plaistered pate; commonly a numscull: love a good bob-jerom.”

“Why this is talking quite wide of the mark,” said Mr Hobson, “to suppose a young lady of fortunes would marry a man with a bob-jerom. What I say is, let every body follow their nature; that’s the way to be comfortable; and then if they pay every one his own, who’s a right to call ’em to account, whether they wear a bob-jerom, or a pig-tail down to the calves of their legs?”

“Ay, ay,” cried Briggs, sneeringly, “or whether they stuff their gullets with hot rounds of toast and butter.”

“And what if they do, Sir?” returned Hobson, a little angrily; “when a man’s got above the world, where’s the harm of living a little genteel? as to a round of toast and butter, and a few oysters, fresh opened, by way of a damper before dinner, no man need be ashamed of them, provided he pays as he goes: and as to living upon water-gruel, and scrubbing one’s flesh with sand, one might as well be a galley-slave at once. You don’t understand life, Sir, I see that.”

“Do! do!” cried Briggs, speaking through his shut teeth; “you’re out there! oysters! — come to ruin, tell you! bring you to jail!”

“To jail, Sir?” exclaimed Hobson, “this is talking quite ungenteel! let every man be civil; that’s what I say, for that’s the way to make every thing agreeable but as to telling a man he’ll go to jail, and that, it’s tantamount to affronting him.”

A rap at the street-door gave now a new relief to Cecilia, who began to grow very apprehensive lest the delight of spending money, thus warmly contested with that of hoarding it, should give rise to a quarrel, which, between two such sturdy champions for their own opinions, might lead to a conclusion rather more rough and violent than she desired to witness: but when the parlour-door opened, instead of Mr Delvile, whom she now fully expected, Mr Albany made his entrance.

This was rather distressing, as her real business with her guardians made it proper her conference with them should be undisturbed: and Albany was not a man with whom a hint that she was engaged could be risked: but she had made no preparation to guard against interruption, as her little acquaintance in London had prevented her expecting any visitors.

He advanced with a solemn air to Cecilia, and, looking as if hardly determined whether to speak with severity or gentleness, said, “once more I come to prove thy sincerity; now wilt thou go with me where sorrow calls thee? sorrow thy charity can mitigate?”

“I am very much concerned,” she answered, “but indeed at present it is utterly impossible.”

“Again,” cried he, with a look at once stern and disappointed, “again thou failest me? what wanton trifling! why shouldst thou thus elate a worn-out mind, only to make it feel its lingering credulity? or why, teaching me to think I had found an angel, so unkindly undeceive me?”

“Indeed,” said Cecilia, much affected by this reproof, “if you knew how heavy a loss I had personally suffered —”

“I do know it,” cried he, “and I grieved for thee when I heard it. Thou hast lost a faithful old friend, a loss which with every setting sun thou mayst mourn, for the rising sun will never repair it! but was that a reason for shunning the duties of humanity? was the sight of death a motive for neglecting the claims of benevolence? ought it not rather to have hastened your fulfilling them? and should not your own suffering experience of the brevity of life, have taught you the vanity of all things but preparing for its end?”

“Perhaps so, but my grief at that time made me think only of myself.”

“And of what else dost thou think now?”

“Most probably of the same person still!” said she, half smiling, “but yet believe me, I have real business to transact.”

“Frivolous, unmeaning, ever-ready excuses! what business is so important as the relief of a fellow-creature?”

“I shall not, I hope, there,” answered she, with alacrity, “be backward; but at least for this morning I must beg to make you my Almoner.”

She then took out her purse.

Mr Briggs and Mr Hobson, whose quarrel had been suspended by the appearance of a third person, and who had stood during this short dialogue in silent amazement, having first lost their anger in their mutual consternation, now lost their consternation in their mutual displeasure Mr. Hobson felt offended to hear business spoken of slightly, and Mr Briggs felt enraged at the sight of Cecilia’s ready purse. Neither of them, however, knew which way to interfere, the stem gravity of Albany, joined to a language too lofty for their comprehension, intimidating them both. They took, however, the relief of communing with one another, and Mr Hobson said in a whisper “This, you must know, is, I am told, a very particular old gentleman; quite what I call a genius. He comes often to my house, to see my lodger Miss Henny Belfield, though I never happen to light upon him myself, except once in the passage: but what I hear of him is this; he makes a practice, as one may say, of going about into people’s houses, to do nothing but find fault.”

“Shan’t get into mine!” returned Briggs, “promise him that! don’t half like him; be bound he’s an old sharper.”

Cecilia, mean time, enquired what he desired to have.

“Half a guinea,” he answered.

“Will that do?”

“For those who have nothing,” said he, “it is much. Hereafter, you may assist them again. Go but and see their distresses, and you will wish to give them every thing.”

Mr Briggs now, when actually between her fingers he saw the half guinea, could contain no longer; he twitched the sleeve of her gown, and pinching her arm, with a look of painful eagerness, said in a whisper “Don’t give it! don’t let him have it! chouse him, chouse him! nothing but an old bite!”

“Pardon me, Sir,” said Cecilia, in a low voice, “his character is very well known to me.” And then, disengaging her arm from him, she presented her little offering.

At this sight, Mr Briggs was almost outrageous, and losing in his wrath, all fear of the stranger, he burst forth with fury into the following outcries, “Be ruined! see it plainly; be fleeced! be stript! be robbed! won’t have a gown to your back! won’t have a shoe to your foot! won’t have a rag in the world! be a beggar in the street! come to the parish! rot in a jail! — half a guinea at a time! — enough to break the Great Mogul!”

“Inhuman spirit of selfish parsimony!” exclaimed Albany, “repinest thou at this loan, given from thousands to those who have worse than nothing? who pay today in hunger for bread they borrowed yesterday from pity? who to save themselves from the deadly pangs of famine, solicit but what the rich know not when they possess, and miss not when they give?”

“Anan!” cried Briggs, recovering his temper from the perplexity of his understanding, at a discourse to which his ears were wholly unaccustomed, “what d’ye say?”

“If to thyself distress may cry in vain,” continued Albany, “if thy own heart resists the suppliant’s prayer, callous to entreaty, and hardened in the world, suffer, at least, a creature yet untainted, who melts at sorrow, and who glows with charity, to pay from her vast wealth a generous tax of thankfulness, that fate has not reversed her doom, and those whom she relieves, relieve not her!”

“Anan!” was again all the wondering Mr Briggs could say.

“Pray, ma’am,” said Mr Hobson, to Cecilia, “if it’s no offence, was the Gentleman ever a player?”

“I fancy not, indeed!”

“I ask pardon, then, ma’am; I mean no harm; but my notion was the gentleman might be speaking something by heart.”

“Is it but on the stage, humanity exists?” cried Albany, indignantly; “Oh thither hasten, then, ye monopolizers of plenty! ye selfish, unfeeling engrossers of wealth, which ye dissipate without enjoying, and of abundance, which ye waste while ye refuse to distribute! thither, thither haste, if there humanity exists!”

“As to engrossing,” said Mr Hobson, happy to hear at last a word with which he was familiar, “it’s what I never approved myself. My maxim is this; if a man makes a fair penny, without any underhand dealings, why he has as much a title to enjoy his pleasure as the Chief Justice, or the Lord Chancellor: and it’s odds but he’s as happy as a greater man. Though what I hold to be best of all, is a clear conscience, with a neat income of 2 or 3000 a year. That’s my notion; and I don’t think it’s a bad one.”

“Weak policy of short-sighted ignorance!” cried Albany, “to wish for what, if used, brings care, and if neglected, remorse! have you not now beyond what nature craves? why then still sigh for more?”

“Why?” cried Mr Briggs, who by dint of deep attention began now better to comprehend him, “why to buy in, to be sure! ever hear of stocks, eh? know any thing of money?”

“Still to make more and more,” cried Albany, “and wherefore? to spend in vice and idleness, or hoard in chearless misery! not to give succour to the wretched, not to support the falling; all is for self, however little wanted, all goes to added stores, or added luxury; no fellow-creature served, nor even one beggar relieved!”

“Glad of it!” cried Briggs, “glad of it; would not have ’em relieved; don’t like ’em; hate a beggar; ought to be all whipt; live upon spunging.”

“Why as to a beggar, I must needs say,” cried Mr Hobson, “I am by no means an approver of that mode of proceeding; being I take ’em all for cheats: for what I say is this, what a man earns, he earns, and it’s no man’s business to enquire what he spends, for a free-born Englishman is his own master by the nature of the law, and as to his being a subject, why a duke is no more, nor a judge, nor the Lord High Chancellor, and the like of those; which makes it tantamount to nothing, being he is answerable to nobody by the right of Magna Charta: except in cases of treason, felony, and that. But as to a beggar, it’s quite another thing; he comes and asks me for money; but what has he to shew for it? what does he bring me in exchange? why a long story that he i’n’t worth a penny! what’s that to me? nothing at all. Let every man have his own; that’s my way of arguing.”

“Ungentle mortals!” cried Albany, “in wealth exulting; even in inhumanity! think you these wretched outcasts have less sensibility than yourselves? think you, in cold and hunger, they lose those feelings which even in voluptuous prosperity from time to time disturb you? you say they are all cheats? ’tis but the niggard cant of avarice, to lure away remorse from obduracy. Think you the naked wanderer begs from choice? give him your wealth and try.”

“Give him a whip!” cried Briggs, “sha’n’t have a souse! send him to Bridewell! nothing but a pauper; hate ’em; hate ’em all! full of tricks; break their own legs, put out their arms, cut off their fingers, snap their own ancles — all for what? to get at the chink! to chouse us of cash! ought to be well flogged; have ’em all sent to the Thames; worse than the Convicts.”

“Poor subterfuge of callous cruelty! you cheat yourselves, to shun the fraud of others! and yet, how better do you use the wealth so guarded? what nobler purpose can it answer to you, than even a chance to snatch some wretch from sinking? think less how much ye save, and more for what; and then consider how thy full coffers may hereafter make reparation, for the empty catalogue of thy virtues.”

“Anan!” said Mr Briggs, again lost in perplexity and wonder.

“Oh yet,” continued Albany, turning towards Cecilia, “preach not here the hardness which ye practice; rather amend yourselves than corrupt her; and give with liberality what ye ought to receive with gratitude!”

“This is not my doctrine,” cried Hobson; “I am not a near man, neither, but as to giving at that rate, it’s quite out of character. I have as good a right to my own savings, as to my own gettings; and what I say is this, who’ll give to me? let me see that, and it’s quite another thing: and begin who will, I’ll be bound to go on with him, pound for pound, or pence for pence. But as to giving to them beggars, it’s what I don’t approve; I pay the poor’s rate, and that’s what I call charity enough for any man. But for the matter of living well, and spending one’s money handsomely, and having one’s comforts about one, why it’s a thing of another nature, and I can say this for myself, and that is, I never grudged myself any thing in my life. I always made myself agreeable, and lived on the best. That’s my way.”

“Bad way too,” cried Briggs, “never get on with it, never see beyond your nose; won’t be worth a plum while your head wags!” then, taking Cecilia apart, “hark’ee, my duck,” he added, pointing to Albany, “who is that Mr Bounce, eh? what is he?”

“I have known him but a short time, Sir; but I think of him very highly.”

“Is he a good man? that’s the point, is he a good man?”

“Indeed he appears to me uncommonly benevolent and charitable.”

“But that i’n’t the thing; is he warm? that’s the point, is he warm?”

“If you mean passionate,” said Cecilia, “I believe the energy of his manner is merely to enforce what he says.”

“Don’t take me, don’t take me,” cried he, impatiently; “can come down with the ready, that’s the matter; can chink the little gold boys? eh?”

“Why I rather fear not by his appearance; but I know nothing of his affairs.”

“What does come for? eh? come a courting?”

“Mercy on me, no!”

“What for then? only a spunging?”

“No, indeed. He seems to have no wish but to assist and plead for others.”

“All fudge! think he i’n’t touched? ay, ay; nothing but a trick! only to get at the chink: see he’s as poor as a rat, talks of nothing but giving money; a bad sign! if he’d got any, would not do it. Wanted to make us come down; warrant thought to bam us all! out there! a’n’t so soon gulled.”

A knock at the street door gave now a new interruption, and Mr Delvile at length appeared.

Cecilia, whom his sight could not fail to disconcert, felt doubly distressed by the unnecessary presence of Albany and Hobson; she regretted the absence of Mr Monckton, who could easily have taken them away; for though without scruple she could herself have acquainted Mr Hobson she had business, she dreaded offending Albany, whose esteem she was ambitious of obtaining.

Mr Delvile entered the room with an air stately and erect; he took off his hat, but deigned not to make the smallest inclination of his head, nor offered any excuse to Mr Briggs for being past the hour of his appointment: but having advanced a few paces, without looking either to the right or left, said, “as I have never acted, my coming may not, perhaps, be essential; but as my name is in the Dean’s Will, and I have once or twice met the other executors mentioned in it, I think it a duty I owe to my own heirs to prevent any possible future enquiry or trouble to them.”

This speech was directly addressed to no one, though meant to be attended to by every one, and seemed proudly uttered as a mere apology to himself for not having declined the meeting.

Cecilia, though she recovered from her confusion by the help of her aversion to this self-sufficiency, made not any answer. Albany retired to a corner of the room; Mr Hobson began to believe it was time for him to depart; and Mr Briggs thinking only of the quarrel in which he had separated with Mr Delvile in the summer, stood swelling with venom, which he longed for an opportunity to spit out.

Mr Delvile, who regarded this silence as the effect of his awe-inspiring presence, became rather more complacent; but casting his eyes round the room, and perceiving the two strangers, he was visibly surprised, and looking at Cecilia for some explanation, seemed to stand suspended from the purpose of his visit till he heard one.

Cecilia, earnest to have the business concluded, turned to Mr Briggs, and said, “Sir, here is pen and ink: are you to write, or am I? or what is to be done?”

“No, no,” said he, with a sneer, “give it t’other; all in our turn; don’t come before his Grace the Right Honourable Mr Vampus.”

“Before whom, Sir?” said Mr Delvile, reddening.

“Before my Lord Don Pedigree,” answered Briggs, with a spiteful grin, “know him? eh? ever hear of such a person?”

Mr Delvile coloured still deeper, but turning contemptuously from him, disdained making any reply.

Mr Briggs, who now regarded him as a defeated man, said exultingly to Mr Hobson, “what do stand here for? — hay? — fall o’ your marrowbones; don’t see ‘Squire High and Mighty?”

“As to falling on my marrowbones,” answered Mr Hobson, “it’s what I shall do to no man, except he was the King himself, or the like of that, and going to make me Chancellor of the Exchequer, or Commissioner of Excise. Not that I mean the gentleman any offence; but a man’s a man, and for one man to worship another is quite out of law.”

“Must, must!” cried Briggs, “tell all his old grand-dads else: keeps ’em in a roll; locks ’em in a closet; says his prayers to ’em; can’t live without ’em: likes ’em better than cash! — wish had ’em here! pop ’em all in the sink!”

“If your intention, Sir,” cried Mr Delvile, fiercely, “is only to insult me, I am prepared for what measures I shall take. I declined seeing you in my own house, that I might not be under the same restraint as when it was my unfortunate lot to meet you last.”

“Who cares?” cried Briggs, with an air of defiance, “what can do, eh? poke me into a family vault? bind me o’ top of an old monument? tie me to a stinking carcase? make a corpse of me, and call it one of your famous cousins? —”

“For heaven’s sake, Mr Briggs,” interrupted Cecilia, who saw that Mr Delvile, trembling with passion, scarce refrained lifting up his stick, “be appeased, and let us finish our business!”

Albany now, hearing in Cecilia’s voice the alarm with which she was seized, came forward and exclaimed, “Whence this unmeaning dissension? to what purpose this irritating abuse? Oh vain and foolish! live ye so happily, last ye so long, that time and peace may thus be trifled with?”

“There, there!” cried Briggs, holding up his finger at Mr Delvile, “have it now! got old Mr Bounce upon you! give you enough of it; promise you that!”

“Restrain,” continued Albany, “this idle wrath; and if ye have ardent passions, employ them to nobler uses; let them stimulate acts of virtue, let them animate deeds of beneficence! Oh waste not spirits that may urge you to good, lead you to honour, warm you to charity, in poor and angry words, in unfriendly, unmanly debate!”

Mr Delvile, who from the approach of Albany, had given him his whole attention, was struck with astonishment at this address, and almost petrified with wonder at his language and exhortations.

“Why I must own,” said Mr Hobson, “as to this matter I am much of the same mind myself; for quarreling’s a thing I don’t uphold; being it advances one no way; for what I say is this, if a man gets the better, he’s only where he was before, and if he gets worsted, why it’s odds but the laugh’s against him: so, if I may make bold to give my verdict, I would have one of these gentlemen take the other by the hand, and so put an end to bad words. That’s my maxim, and that’s what I call being agreeable.”

Mr Delvile, at the words one of these gentlemen take the other by the hand, looked scornfully upon Mr Hobson, with a frown that expressed his highest indignation, at being thus familiarly coupled with Mr Briggs. And then, turning from him to Cecilia, haughtily said, “Are these two persons,” pointing towards Albany and Hobson, “waiting here to be witnesses to any transaction?”

“No, Sir, no,” cried Hobson, “I don’t mean to intrude, I am going directly. So you can give me no insight, ma’am,” addressing Cecilia, “as to where I might light upon Mr Belfield?”

“Me? no!” cried she, much provoked by observing that Mr Delvile suddenly looked at her.

“Well, ma’am, well, I mean no harm: only I hold it that the right way to hear of a young gentleman, is to ask for him of a young lady: that’s my maxim. Come, Sir,” to Mr Briggs, “you and I had like to have fallen out, but what I say is this; let no man bear malice; that’s my way: so I hope we part without ill blood?”

“Ay, ay;” said Mr Briggs, giving him a nod.

“Well, then,” added Hobson, “I hope the good-will may go round, and that not only you and I, but these two good old gentlemen will also lend a hand.”

Mr Delvile now was at a loss which way to turn for very rage; but after looking at every one with a face flaming with ire, he said to Cecilia, “If you have collected together these persons for the purpose of affronting me, I must beg you to remember I am not one to be affronted with impunity!”

Cecilia, half frightened, was beginning an answer that disclaimed any such intention, when Albany, with the most indignant energy, called out, “Oh pride of heart, with littleness of soul! check this vile arrogance, too vain for man, and spare to others some part of that lenity thou nourishest for thyself, or justly bestow on thyself that contempt thou nourishest for others!”

And with these words he sternly left the house.

The thunderstruck Mr Delvile began now to fancy that all the demons of torment were designedly let loose upon him, and his surprise and resentment operated so powerfully that it was only in broken sentences he could express either. “Very extraordinary! — a new method of conduct! — liberties to which I am not much used! — impertinences I shall not hastily forget — treatment that would scarce be pardonable to a person wholly unknown! —”

“Why indeed, Sir,” said Hobson, “I can’t but say it was rather a cut up; but the old gentleman is what one may call a genius, which makes it a little excusable; for he does things all his own way, and I am told it’s the same thing who he speaks to, so he can but find fault, and that.”

“Sir,” interrupted the still more highly offended Mr Delvile, “what you may be told is extremely immaterial to me; and I must take the liberty to hint to you, a conversation of this easy kind is not what I am much in practice in hearing.”

“Sir, I ask pardon,” said Hobson, “I meant nothing but what was agreeable; however, I have done, and I wish you good day. Your humble servant, ma’am, and I hope, Sir,” to Mr Briggs, “you won’t begin bad words again?”

“No, no,” said Briggs, “ready to make up; all at end; only don’t much like Spain, that’s all!” winking significantly, “nor a’n’t over fond of a skeleton!”

Mr Hobson now retired; and Mr Delvile and Mr Briggs, being both wearied and both in haste to have done, settled in about five minutes all for which they met, after passing more than an hour in agreeing what that was.

Mr Briggs then, saying he had an engagement upon business, declined settling his own accounts till another time, but promised to see Cecilia again soon, and added, “be sure take care of that old Mr Bounce! cracked in the noddle; see that with half an eye! better not trust him! break out some day: do you a mischief!”

He then went away: but while the parlour-door was still open, to the no little surprise of Cecilia, the servant announced Mr Belfield. He hardly entered the room, and his countenance spoke haste and eagerness. “I have this moment, madam,” he said, “been informed a complaint has been lodged against me here, and I could not rest till I had the honour of assuring you, that though I have been rather dilatory, I have not neglected my appointment, nor has the condescension of your interference been thrown away.”

He then bowed, shut the door, and ran off Cecilia, though happy to understand by this speech that he was actually restored to his family, was sorry at these repeated intrusions in the presence of Mr Delvile, who was now the only one that remained.

She expected every instant that he would ring for his chair, which he kept in waiting; but, after a pause of some continuance, to her equal surprise and disturbance, he made the following speech. “As it is probable I am now for the last time alone with you, ma’am, and as it is certain we shall meet no more upon business, I cannot, in justice to my own character, and to the respect I retain for the memory of the Dean, your uncle, take a final leave of the office with which he was pleased to invest me, without first fulfilling my own ideas of the duty it requires from me, by giving you some counsel relating to your future establishment.”

This was not a preface much to enliven Cecilia; it prepared her for such speeches as she was least willing to hear, and gave to her the mixt and painful sensation of spirits depressed, with ride alarmed.

“My numerous engagements,” he continued, “and the appropriation of my time, already settled, to their various claims, must make me brief in what I have to represent, and somewhat, perhaps, abrupt in coming to the purpose. But that you will excuse.”

Cecilia disdained to humour this arrogance by any compliments or concessions: she was silent, therefore; and when they were both seated, he went on.

“You are now at a time of life when it is natural for young women to wish for some connection: and the largeness of your fortune will remove from you such difficulties as prove bars to the pretensions, in this expensive age, of those who possess not such advantages. It would have been some pleasure to me, while I yet considered you as my Ward, to have seen you properly disposed of: but as that time is past, I can only give you some general advice, which you may follow or neglect as you think fit. By giving it, I shall satisfy myself; for the rest, I am not responsible.”

He paused; but Cecilia felt less and less inclination to make use of the opportunity by speaking in her turn.

“Yet though, as I just now hinted, young women of large fortunes may have little trouble in finding themselves establishments, they ought not, therefore, to trifle when proper ones are in their power, nor to suppose themselves equal to any they may chance to desire.”

Cecilia coloured high at this pointed reprehension; but feeling her disgust every moment encrease, determined to sustain herself with dignity, and at least not suffer him to perceive the triumph of his ostentation and rudeness.

“The proposals,” he continued, “of the Earl of Ernolf had always my approbation; it was certainly an ill-judged thing to neglect such an opportunity of being honourably settled. The clause of the name was, to him, immaterial; since his own name half a century ago was unheard of, and since he is himself only known by his title. He is still, however, I have authority to acquaint you, perfectly well disposed to renew his application to you.”

“I am sorry, Sir,” said Cecilia coldly, “to hear it.”

“You have, perhaps, some other better offer in view?”

“No, Sir,” cried she, with spirit, “nor even in desire.”

“Am I, then, to infer that some inferior offer has more chance of your approbation?”

“There is no reason, Sir, to infer any thing; I am content with my actual situation, and have, at present, neither prospect nor intention of changing it.”

“I perceive, but without surprise, your unwillingness to discuss the subject; nor do I mean to press it: I shall merely offer to your consideration one caution, and then relieve you from my presence. Young women of ample fortunes, who are early independent, are sometimes apt to presume they may do every thing with impunity; but they are mistaken; they are as liable to censure as those who are wholly unprovided for.”

“I hope, Sir,” said Cecilia, staring, “this at least is a caution rather drawn from my situation than my behaviour?”

“I mean not, ma’am, narrowly to go into, or investigate the subject; what I have said you may make your own use of; I have only to observe further, that when young women, at your time of life, are at all negligent of so nice a thing as reputation, they commonly live to repent it.”

He then arose to go, but Cecilia, not more offended than amazed, said, “I must beg, Sir, you will explain yourself!”

“Certainly this matter,” he answered, “must be immaterial to me: yet, as I have once been your guardian by the nomination of the Dean your uncle, I cannot forbear making an effort towards preventing any indiscretion: and frequent visits to a young man —”

“Good God! Sir,” interrupted Cecilia, “what is it you mean?”

“It can certainly, as I said before, be nothing to me, though I should be glad to see you in better hands: but I cannot suppose you have been led to take such steps without some serious plan; and I would advise you, without loss of time, to think better of what you are about.”

“Should I think, Sir, to eternity,” cried Cecilia, “I could never conjecture what you mean!”

“You may not chuse,” said he, proudly, “to understand me; but I have done. If it had been in my power to have interfered in your service with my Lord Derford, notwithstanding my reluctance to being involved in any fresh employment, I should have made a point of not refusing it: but this young man is nobody — a very imprudent connection —”

“What young man, Sir?”

“Nay, I know nothing of him! it is by no means likely I should: but as I had already been informed of your attention to him, the corroborating incidents of my servant’s following you to his house, his friend’s seeking him at yours, and his own waiting upon you this morning; were not well calculated to make me withdraw my credence to it.”

“Is it, then, Mr Belfield, Sir, concerning whom you draw these inferences, from circumstances the most accidental and unmeaning?”

“It is by no means my practice,” cried he, haughtily, and with evident marks of high displeasure at this speech, “to believe any thing lightly, or without even unquestionable authority; what once, therefore, I have credited, I do not often find erroneous. Mistake not, however, what I have said into supposing I have any objection to your marrying; on the contrary, it had been for the honour of my family had you been married a year ago I should not then have suffered the degradation of seeing a son of the first expectations in the kingdom upon the point of renouncing his birth, nor a woman of the first distinction ruined in her health, and broken for ever in her constitution.”

The emotions of Cecilia at this speech were too powerful for concealment; her colour varied, now reddening with indignation, now turning pale with apprehension; she arose, she trembled and sat down, she arose again, but not knowing what to say or what to do, again sat down.

Mr Delvile then, making a stiff bow, wished her good morning.

“Go not so, Sir!” cried she, in faltering accents; “let me at least convince you of the mistake with regard to Mr Belfield —”

“My mistakes, ma’am,” said he, with a contemptuous smile, “are perhaps not easily convicted: and I may possibly labour under others that would give you no less trouble: it may therefore be better to avoid any further disquisition.”

“No, not better,” answered she, again recovering her courage from this fresh provocation; “I fear no disquisition; on the contrary, it is my interest to solicit one.”

“This intrepidity in a young woman,” said he, ironically, “is certainly very commendable; and doubtless, as you are your own mistress, your having run out great part of your fortune, is nothing beyond what you have a right to do.”

“Me!” cried Cecilia, astonished, “run out great part of my fortune!”

“Perhaps that is another mistake! I have not often been so unfortunate; and you are not, then, in debt?”

“In debt, Sir?”

“Nay, I have no intention to inquire into your affairs. Good morning to you, ma’am.”

“I beg, I entreat, Sir, that you will stop! — make me, at least, understand what you mean, whether you deign to hear my justification or not.”

“O, I am mistaken, it seems! misinformed, deceived; and you have neither spent more than you have received, nor taken up money of Jews? your minority has been clear of debts? and your fortune, now you are of age, will be free from incumbrances?”

Cecilia, who now began to understand him, eagerly answered, “do you mean, Sir, the money which I took up last spring?”

“O no; by no means, I conceive the whole to be a mistake!”

And he went to the door.

“Hear me but a moment, Sir!” cried she hastily, following him; “since you know of that transaction, do not refuse to listen to its occasion; I took up the money for Mr Harrel; it was all, and solely for him.”

“For Mr Harrel, was it?” said he, with an air of supercilious incredulity; “that was rather an unlucky step. Your servant, ma’am.”

And he opened the door.

“You will not hear me, then? you will not credit me?” cried she in the cruellest agitation.

“Some other time, ma’am; at present my avocations are too numerous to permit me.”

And again, stiffly bowing, he called to his servants, who were waiting in the hall, and put himself into his chair.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/burney/fanny/cecilia/book9.4.html

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