Cecilia/Book 4/Chapter v
With this intention, and every faculty of her mind absorbed in reflecting upon the reasons which gave rise to it, she returned to Portman-square.
As her chair was carried into the hall, she observed, with some alarm, a look of consternation among the servants, and an appearance of confusion in the whole house. She was proceeding to her own room, intending to enquire of her maid if any evil had happened, when she was crossed upon the stairs by Mr Harrel, who passed her with an air so wild and perturbed, that he hardly seemed to know her.
Frightened and amazed, she stopt short, irresolute which way to go; but, hastily returning, he beckoned her to follow him.
She obeyed, and he led her to the library. He then shut the door, and abruptly seizing her hand, called out, "Miss Beverley, I am ruined!—I am undone!—I am blasted for ever!"
"I hope not, Sir!" said Cecilia, extremely terrified, "I hope not! Where is Mrs Harrel?"
"O I know not! I know not!" cried he, in a frantic manner, "but I have not seen her,—I cannot see her,—I hope I shall never see her more!—"
"O fie! fie!" said Cecilia, "let me call her, I beg; you should consult with her in this distress, and seek comfort from her affection."
"From her affection?" repeated he, fiercely, "from her hatred you mean! do you not know that she, too, is ruined? Oh past redemption ruined!—and yet that I should hesitate, that I should a moment hesitate to conclude the whole business at once!"
"How dreadful!" cried Cecilia, "what horrible thing has happened?"
"I have undone Priscilla!" cried he, "I have blasted my credit! I have destroyed—no, not yet quite destroyed myself!"
"O yet nor ever!" cried Cecilia, whose agitation now almost equalled his own, "be not so desperate, I conjure you! speak to me more intelligibly,—what does all this mean? How has it come to pass?"
"My debts!—my creditors!—one way only," striking his hand upon his forehead, "is left for me!"
"Do not say so, Sir!" said Cecilia, "you shall find many ways; pray have courage! pray speak calmly; and if you will but be more prudent, will but, in future, better regulate your affairs, I will myself undertake—"
She stopt; checked in the full career of her overflowing compassion, by a sense of the worthlessness of its object; and by the remembrance of the injunctions of Mr Monckton.
"What will you undertake?" cried he, eagerly, "I know you are an angel!—tell me, what will you undertake?"
"I will,—" said Cecilia, hesitating, "I will speak to Mr Monckton, —I will consult—"
"You may as well consult with every cursed creditor in the house!" interrupted he; "but do so, if you please; my disgrace must perforce reach him soon, and a short anticipation is not worth begging off."
"Are your creditors then actually in the house?"
"O yes, yes! and therefore it is high time I should be out of it!— Did you not see them?—Do they not line the hall?—They threaten me with three executions before night!—three executions unless I satisfy their immediate demands!—"
"And to what do their demands amount?"
"I know not!—I dare not ask!—to some thousand pounds, perhaps,— and I have not, at this minute, forty guineas in the house!"
"Nay, then," cried Cecilia, retreating, "I can indeed do nothing! if their demands are so high, I ought to do nothing."
She would then have quitted him, not more shocked at his situation, than indignant at the wilful extravagance which had occasioned it.
"Stay," cried he, "and hear me!" then, lowering his voice, "seek out," he continued, "your unfortunate friend,—go to the poor ruined Priscilla,—prepare her for tidings of horror! and do not, though you renounce Me, do not abandon Her!"
Then, fiercely passing her, he was himself leaving the room; but Cecilia, alarmed by the fury of his manner, called out, "What is it you mean? what tidings of horror? whither are you going?"
"To hell!" cried he, and rushed out of the apartment.
Cecilia screamed aloud, and conjuring him to hear her, ran after him; he paid her no regard, but, flying faster than she had power to pursue, reached his own dressing-room, shut himself into it with violence, and just as she arrived at the door, turned the key, and bolted it.
Her terror was now inexpressible; she believed him in the very act of suicide, and her refusal of assistance seemed the signal for the deed: her whole fortune, at that moment, was valueless and unimportant to her, compared with the preservation of a fellow-creature: she called out with all the vehemence of agony to beg he would open the door, and eagerly promised by all that was sacred to do everything in her power to save him.
At these words he opened it; his face was totally without colour, and he grasped a razor in his hand.
"You have stopt me," said he, in a voice scarce audible, "at the very moment I had gathered courage for the blow: but if indeed you will assist me, I will shut this up,—if not, I will steep it in my blood!"
"I will! I will!" cried Cecilia, "I will do every thing you desire!"
"Before my disgrace is known? and while all may yet be hushed up?"
"Yes, yes! all—any—every thing you wish!"
Here Cecilia drew back; her recollection returned as her terror abated, and her repugnance to entering into an engagement for she knew not what, with a man whose actions she condemned, and whose principles she abhorred, made all her fright now give way to indignation, and, after a short pause, she angrily answered, "No, Sir, I will not swear!—but yet, all that is reasonable, all that is friendly—"
"Hear me swear, then!" interrupted he, furiously, "which at this moment I do, by every thing eternal, and by every thing infernal, that I will not outlive the seizure of my property, and that the moment I am informed there is an execution in my house, shall be the last of my existence!"
"What cruelty! what compulsion! what impiety!" cried Cecilia: "give me, however, that horrible instrument, and prescribe to me what conditions you please."
A noise was now heard below stairs, at which Cecilia, who had not dared call for help lest he should quicken his desperation, was secretly beginning to rejoice, when, starting at the sound, he exclaimed, "I believe you are too late!—the ruffians have already seized my house!" then, endeavouring to force her out of the room, "Go," he cried, "to my wife;—I want to be alone!"
"Oh give me first," cried she, "that weapon, and I will take what oath you please!"
"No, no!—go,—leave me,—" cried he, almost breathless with emotion, "I must not now be trifled with."
"I do not trifle! indeed I do not!" cried Cecilia, holding by his arm: "try, put me to the proof!"
"Swear, solemnly swear, to empty my house of these creditors this moment!"
"I do swear," cried she, with energy, "and Heaven prosper me as I am sincere!"
"I see, I see you are an angel!" cried he, rapturously, "and as such I worship and adore you! O you have restored me to life, and rescued me from perdition!"
"Give me, then, that fatal instrument!"
"That instrument," returned he, "is nothing, since so many others are in my power; but you have now taken from me all desire of using them. Go, then, and stop those wretches from coming to me,—send immediately for the Jew!—he will advance what money you please,—my man knows where to find him; consult with Mr Arnott,—speak a word of comfort to Priscilla,—but do nothing, nothing at all, till you have cleared my house of those cursed scoundrels!"
Cecilia, whose heart sunk within her at the solemn promise she had given, the mention of the Jew, and the arduous task she had undertaken, quitted him without reply, and was going to her own room, to compose her hurried spirits, and consider what steps she had to take, when hearing the noise in the hall grow louder, she stopt to listen, and catching some words that greatly alarmed her, went half way down stairs, when she was met by Davison, Mr Harrel's man, of whom she enquired into the occasion of the disturbance.
He answered that he must go immediately to his master, for the bailiffs were coming into the house.
"Let him not know it if you value his life!" cried she, with new terror. "Where is Mr Arnott? call him to me,—beg him to come this moment;—I will wait for him here."
The man flew to obey her; and Cecilia, finding she had time neither for deliberation nor regret, and dreading lest Mr Harrel, by hearing of the arrival of the bailiffs, should relapse into despair, determined to call to her aid all the courage, prudence, and judgment she possessed, and, since to act she was compelled, endeavour with her best ability, to save his credit, and retrieve his affairs.
The moment Mr Arnott came, she ordered Davison to hasten to his master, and watch his motions.
Then, addressing Mr Arnott, "Will you. Sir," she said, "go and tell those people that if they will instantly quit the house, every thing shall be settled, and Mr Harrel will satisfy their demands?"
"Ah madam!" cried Mr Arnott, mournfully, "and how? he has no means to pay them, and I have none—without ruin to myself,—to help him!"
"Send them but away," said Cecilia, "and I will myself be your security that your promise shall not be disgraced."
"Alas, madam," cried he, "what are you doing? well as I wish to Mr Harrel, miserable as I am for my unfortunate sister, I yet cannot bear that such goodness, such beneficence should be injured!"
Cecilia, however, persisted, and with evident reluctance he obeyed her.
While she waited his return, Davison came from Mr Harrel, who had ordered him to run instantly for the Jew.
Good Heaven, thought Cecilia, that a man so wretchedly selfish and worldly, should dare, with all his guilt upon his head,
- To rush unlicenced on eternity!
Mr Arnott was more than half an hour with the people; and when, at last, he returned, his countenance immediately proclaimed the ill success of his errand. The creditors, he said, declared they had so frequently been deceived, that they would not dismiss the bailiffs, or retire themselves, without actual payment.
"Tell them, then, Sir," said Cecilia," to send me their accounts, and, if it be possible, I will discharge them directly."
Mr Arnott's eyes were filled with tears at this declaration, and he protested, be the consequence to himself what it might, he would pay away every shilling he was worth, rather than witness such injustice.
"No," cried Cecilia, exerting more spirit, that she might shock him less, "I did not save Mr Harrel, to destroy so much better a man! you have suffered but too much oppression already; the present evil is mine; and from me, at least, none I hope will ever spread to Mr Arnott."
Mr Arnott could not bear this; he was struck with grief, with admiration, and with gratitude, and finding his tears now refused to be restrained, he went to execute her commission in silent dejection.
The dejection, however, was encreased, though his tears were dispersed, when he returned; "Oh madam!" he cried, "all your efforts, generous as they are, will be of no avail! the bills even now in the house amount to more than L7000!"
Cecilia, amazed and confounded, started and clasped her hands, calling out, "What must I do! to what have I bound myself! and how can I answer to my conscience,—to my successors, such a disposal, such an abuse of so large a part of my fortune!"
Mr Arnott could make no answer; and they stood looking at each other in silent irresolution, till Davison brought intelligence that the Jew was already come, and waited to speak with her.
"And what can I say to him?" cried she, more and more agitated; "I understand nothing of usury; how am I to deal with him?"
Mr Arnott then confessed that he should himself have instantly been bail for his brother, but that his fortune, originally not large, was now so much impaired by the many debts which from time to time he had paid for him, that as he hoped some day to have a family of his own, he dare not run a risk by which he might be utterly ruined, and the less, as his sister had at Violet Bank been prevailed upon to give up her settlement.
This account, which explained the late uneasiness of Mrs Harrel, still encreased the distress of Cecilia; and every moment she obtained for reflection, augmented her reluctance to parting with so large a sum of money for so worthless an object, and added strength to her resentment for the unjustifiable menaces which had extorted from her such a promise. Yet not an instant would she listen to Mr Arnott's offer of fulfilling her engagement, and charged him, as he considered her own self-esteem worth her keeping, not to urge to her a proposal so ungenerous and selfish.
Davison now came again to hasten her, and said that the Jew was with his master, and they both impatiently expected her.
Cecilia, half distracted with her uncertainty how to act, changed colour at this message, and exclaimed "Oh Mr Arnott, run I beseech you for Mr Monckton! bring him hither directly,—if any body can save me it is him; but if I go back to Mr Harrel, I know it will be all over!"
"Certainly," said Mr Arnott, "I will run to him this moment."
"Yet no!—stop!—" cried the trembling Cecilia, "he can now do me no good,—his counsel will arrive too late to serve me,—it cannot call back the oath I have given! it cannot, compulsatory as it was, make me break it, and not be miserable for ever!"
This idea sufficed to determine her; and the apprehension of self-reproach, should the threat of Mr Harrel be put in execution, was more insupportable to her blameless and upright mind, than any loss or diminution which her fortune could sustain.
Slowly however, with tardy and unwilling steps, her judgment repugnant, and her spirit repining, she obeyed the summons of Mr Harrel, who, impatient of her delay, came forward to meet her.
"Miss Beverley," he cried, "there is not a moment to be lost; this good man will bring you any sum of money, upon a proper consideration, that you will command; but if he is not immediately commissioned, and these cursed fellows are not got out of my house, the affair will be blown,"—"and what will follow," added he, lowering his voice, "I will not again frighten you by repeating, though I shall never recant."
Cecilia turned from him in horror; and, with a faltering voice and heavy heart, entreated Mr Arnott to settle for her with the Jew.
Large as was the sum, she was so near being of age, and her security was so good, that the transaction was soon finished: 7500 pounds was received of the Jew, Mr Harrel gave Cecilia his bond for the payment, the creditors were satisfied, the bailiffs were dismissed, and the house was soon restored to its customary appearance of splendid gaiety.
Mrs Harrel, who during this scene had shut herself up in her own room to weep and lament, now flew to Cecilia, and in a transport of joy and gratitude, thanked her upon her knees for thus preserving her from utter ruin: the gentle Mr Arnott seemed uncertain whether most to grieve or rejoice; and Mr Harrel repeatedly protested she should have the sole guidance of his future conduct.
This promise, the hope of his amendment, and the joy she had expanded, somewhat revived the spirits of Cecilia; who, however, deeply affected by what had passed, hastened from them all to her own room.
She had now parted with 8050 pounds to Mr Harrel, without any security when or how it was to be paid; and that ardour of benevolence which taught her to value her riches merely as they enabled her to do good and generous actions, was here of no avail to console or reward her, for her gift was compelled, and its receiver was all but detested. "How much better," cried she, "would this have been bestowed upon the amiable Miss Belfield! or upon her noble-minded, though proud-spirited brother! and how much less a sum would have made the virtuous and industrious Hills easy and happy for life! but here, to become the tool of the extravagance I abhor! to be made responsible for the luxury I condemn! to be liberal in opposition to my principles, and lavish in defiance of my judgment!—Oh that my much-deceived Uncle had better known to what dangerous hands he committed me! and that my weak and unhappy friend had met with a worthier protector of her virtue and safety!"
As soon, however, as she recovered from the first shock of her reflections, she turned her thoughts from herself to the formation of some plan that might, at least, render her donation of serious and lasting use. The signal service she had just done them gave her at present an ascendency over the Harrels, which she hoped, if immediately exerted, might prevent the return of so calamitous a scene, by engaging them both to an immediate change of conduct. But unequal herself to contriving expedients for this purpose that might not easily be controverted, she determined to send the next morning a petition to Mr Monckton to call upon her, reveal to him the whole transaction, and entreat him to suggest to her what, with most probability of success, she might offer to their consideration.
While this was passing in her mind, on the evening of the day in which she had so dearly purchased the right of giving counsel, she was summoned to tea.
She found Mr Harrel and his lady engaged in earnest discourse; as soon as she appeared, the former said, "My dear Miss Beverley, after the extraordinary kindness you have shewn me this morning, you will not, I am sure, deny me one trifling favour which I mean to ask this evening."
"No," said Mrs Harrel, "that I am sure she will not, when she knows that our future appearance in the world depends upon her granting it."
"I hope, then," said Cecilia, "I shall not wish to refuse it."
"It is nothing in the world," said Mr Harrel, "but to go with us to-night to the Pantheon."
Cecilia was struck with the utmost indignation at this proposal; that the man who in the morning had an execution in his house, should languish in the evening for the amusement of a public place, —that he who but a few hours before was plunging uncalled into eternity, should, while the intended instrument of death was yet scarce cold from the grasp of his hand, deliberately court a return of his distress, by instantly recurring to the methods which had involved him in it, irritated and shocked her beyond even a wish of disguising her displeasure, and therefore, after an expressive silence, she gave a cold, but absolute denial.
"I see," said Mr Harrel, somewhat confused, "you do not understand the motives of our request. The unfortunate affair of this morning is very likely to spread presently all over the town; the only refutation that can be given to it, is by our all appearing in public before any body knows whether to believe it or not."
"Do, my dearest friend," cried his lady, "oblige me by your compliance; indeed our whole reputation depends upon it. I made an engagement yesterday to go with Mrs Mears, and if I disappoint her, every body will be guessing the reason."
"At least," answered Cecilia, "my going can answer no purpose to you: pray, therefore, do not ask me; I am ill disposed for such sort of amusement, and have by no means your opinion of its necessity."
"But if we do not all go," said Mr Harrel, "we do almost nothing: you are known to live with us, and, your appearance at this critical time is important to our credit. If this misfortune gets wind, the consequence is that every dirty tradesman in town to whom I owe a shilling, will be forming the same cursed combination those scoundrels formed this morning, of coming in a body, and waiting for their money, or else bringing an execution into my house.. The only way to silence report is by putting a good face upon the matter at once, and shewing ourselves to the world as if nothing had happened. Favour us, therefore, to-night with your company, which is really important to us, or ten to one, but in another fortnight, I shall be just in the same scrape."
Cecilia, however incensed at this intelligence that his debts were still so numerous, felt now so much alarmed at the mention of an execution, as if she was in actual danger of ruin herself. Terrified, therefore, though not convinced, she yielded to their persuasions, and consented to accompany them.
They soon after separated to make some alteration in their dress, and then, calling in their way for Mrs Mears, they proceeded to the Pantheon.
- Mason's Elfrida