Cecilia/Book 5/Chapter xii
When they entered Vauxhall, Mr Harrel endeavoured to dismiss his moroseness, and affecting his usual gaiety, struggled to recover his spirits; but the effort was vain, he could neither talk nor look like himself, and though from time to time he resumed his air of wonted levity, he could not support it, but drooped and hung his head in evident despondency.
He made them take several turns in the midst of the company, and walked so fast that they could hardly keep pace with him, as if he hoped by exercise to restore his vivacity; but every attempt failed, he sunk and grew sadder, and muttering between his teeth "this is not to be borne!" he hastily called to a waiter to bring him a bottle of champagne.
Of this he drank glass after glass, notwithstanding Cecilia, as Mrs Harrel had not courage to speak, entreated him to forbear. He seemed, however, not to hear her; but when he had drunk what he thought necessary to revive him, he conveyed them into an unfrequented part of the garden, and as soon as they were out of sight of all but a few stragglers, he suddenly stopt, and, in great agitation, said, "my chaise will soon be ready, and I shall take of you a long farewell!— all my affairs are unpropitious to my speedy return:—the wine is now mounting into my head, and perhaps I may not be able to say much by and by. I fear I have been cruel to you, Priscilla, and I begin to wish I had spared you this parting scene; yet let it not be banished your remembrance, but think of it when you are tempted to such mad folly as has ruined us."
Mrs Harrel wept too much to make any answer; and turning from her to Cecilia, "Oh Madam," he cried, "to you, indeed, I dare not speak! I have used you most unworthily, but I pay for it all! I ask you not to pity or forgive me, I know it is impossible you should do either."
"No," cried the softened Cecilia, "it is not impossible, I do both at this moment, and I hope—"
"Do not hope," interrupted he, "be not so angelic, for I cannot bear it! benevolence like yours should have fallen into worthier hands. But come, let us return to the company. My head grows giddy, but my heart is still heavy; I must make them more fit companions for each other."
He would then have hurried them back; but Cecilia, endeavouring to stop him, said "You do not mean, I hope, to call for more wine?"
"Why not?" cried he, with affected spirit, "what, shall we not be merry before we part? Yes, we will all be merry, for if we are not, how shall we part at all?—Oh not without a struggle!—" Then, stopping, he paused a moment, and casting off the mask of levity, said in accents the most solemn "I commit this packet to you," giving a sealed parcel to Cecilia; "had I written it later, its contents had been kinder to my wife, for now the hour of separation approaches, ill will and resentment subside. Poor Priscilla!—I am sorry—but you will succour her, I am sure you will,—Oh had I known you myself before this infatuation—bright pattern of all goodness!— but I was devoted,—a ruined wretch before ever you entered my house; unworthy to be saved, unworthy that virtues such as yours should dwell under the same roof with me! But come,—come now, or my resolution will waver, and I shall not go at last."
"But what is this packet?" cried Cecilia, "and why do you give it to me?"
"No matter, no matter, you will know by and by;—the chaise waits, and I must gather courage to be gone."
He then pressed forward, answering neither to remonstrance nor intreaty from his frightened companions.
The moment they returned to the covered walk, they were met by Mr Marriot; Mr Harrel, starting, endeavoured to pass him; but when he approached, and said "you have sent, Sir, no answer to my letter!" he stopt, and in a tone of forced politeness, said, "No, Sir, but I shall answer it to-morrow, and to-night I hope you will do me the honour of supping with me."
Mr Marriot, looking openly at Cecilia as his inducement, though evidently regarding himself as an injured man, hesitated a moment, yet accepted the invitation.
"To supper?" cried Mrs Harrel, "what here?"
"To supper?" repeated Cecilia, "and how are we to get home?"
"Think not of that these two hours," answered he; "come, let us look for a box."
Cecilia then grew quite urgent with him to give up a scheme which must keep them so late, and Mrs Harrel repeatedly exclaimed "Indeed people will think it very odd to see us here without any party:" but he heeded them not, and perceiving at some distance Mr Morrice, he called out to him to find them a box; for the evening was very pleasant, and the gardens were so much crowded that no accommodation was unseized.
"Sir," cried Morrice, with his usual readiness, "I'll get you one if I turn out ten old Aldermen sucking custards."
Just after he was gone, a fat, sleek, vulgar-looking man, dressed in a bright purple coat, with a deep red waistcoat, and a wig bulging far from his head with small round curls, while his plump face and person announced plenty and good living, and an air of defiance spoke the fullness of his purse, strutted boldly up to Mr Harrel, and accosting him in a manner that shewed some diffidence of his reception, but none of his right, said "Sir your humble servant." And made a bow first to him, and then to the ladies.
"Sir yours," replied Mr Harrel scornfully, and without touching his hat he walked quickly on.
His fat acquaintance, who seemed but little disposed to be offended with impunity, instantly replaced his hat on his head, and with a look that implied I'll fit you for this! put his hands to his sides, and following him, said "Sir, I must make bold to beg the favour of exchanging a few words with you."
"Ay, Sir," answered Mr Harrel, "come to me to-morrow, and you shall exchange as many as you please."
"Nothing like the time present, Sir," answered the man; "as for to-morrow, I believe it intends to come no more; for I have heard of it any time these three years. I mean no reflections, Sir, but let every man have his right. That's what I say, and that's my notion of things."
Mr Harrel, with a violent execration, asked what he meant by dunning him at such a place as Vauxhall?
"One place, Sir," he replied, "is as good as another place; for so as what one does is good, 'tis no matter for where it may be. A man of business never wants a counter if he can meet with a joint-stool. For my part, I'm all for a clear conscience, and no bills without receipts to them."
"And if you were all for broken bones," cried Mr Harrel, angrily, "I would oblige you with them without delay."
"Sir," cried the man, equally provoked, "this is talking quite out of character, for as to broken bones, there's ne'er a person in all England, gentle nor simple, can say he's a right to break mine, for I'm not a person of that sort, but a man of as good property as another man; and there's ne'er a customer I have in the world that's more his own man than myself."
"Lord bless me, Mr Hobson," cried Mrs Harrel, "don't follow us in this manner! If we meet any of our acquaintance they'll think us half crazy."
"Ma'am," answered Mr Hobson, again taking off his hat, "if I'm treated with proper respect, no man will behave more generous than myself; but if I'm affronted, all I can say is, it may go harder with some folks than they think for."
Here a little mean-looking man, very thin, and almost bent double with perpetual cringing, came up to Mr Hobson, and pulling him by the sleeve, whispered, yet loud enough to be heard, "It's surprizeable to me, Mr Hobson, you can behave so out of the way! For my part, perhaps I've as much my due as another person, but I dares to say I shall have it when it's convenient, and I'd scorn for to mislest a gentleman when he's taking his pleasure."
"Lord bless me," cried Mrs Harrel, "what shall we do now? here's all Mr Harrel's creditors coming upon us!"
"Do?" cried Mr Harrel, re-assuming an air of gaiety, "why give them all a supper, to be sure. Come, gentlemen, will you favour me with your company to supper?"
"Sir," answered Mr Hobson, somewhat softened by this unexpected invitation, "I've supped this hour and more, and had my glass too, for I'm as willing to spend my money as another man; only what I say is this, I don't chuse to be cheated, for that's losing one's substance, and getting no credit; however, as to drinking another glass, or such a matter as that, I'll do it with all the pleasure in life."
"And as to me," said the other man, whose name was Simkins, and whose head almost touched the ground by the profoundness of his reverence, "I can't upon no account think of taking the liberty; but if I may just stand without, I'll make bold to go so far as just for to drink my humble duty to the ladies in a cup of cyder."
"Are you mad, Mr Harrel, are you mad!" cried his wife, "to think of asking such people as these to supper? what will every body say? suppose any of our acquaintance should see us? I am sure I shall die with shame."
"Mad!" repeated he, "no, not mad but merry. O ho, Mr Morrice, why have you been so long? what have you done for us?"
"Why Sir," answered Morrice, returning with a look somewhat less elated than he had set out, "the gardens are so full, there is not a box to be had: but I hope we shall get one for all that; for I observed one of the best boxes in the garden, just to the right there, with nobody in it but that gentleman who made me spill the tea-pot at the Pantheon. So I made an apology, and told him the case; but he only said humph? and hay? so then I told it all over again, but he served me just the same, for he never seems to hear what one says till one's just done, and then he begins to recollect one's speaking to him; however, though I repeated it all over and over again, I could get nothing from him but just that humph? and hay? but he is so remarkably absent, that I dare say if we all go and sit down round him, he won't know a word of the matter."
"Won't he?" cried Mr Harrel, "have at him, then!"
And he followed Mr Morrice, though Cecilia, who now half suspected that all was to end in a mere idle frolic, warmly joined her remonstrances to those of Mrs Harrel, which were made with the utmost, but with fruitless earnestness.
Mr Meadows, who was seated in the middle of the box, was lolloping upon the table with his customary ease, and picking his teeth with his usual inattention to all about him. The intrusion, however, of so large a party, seemed to threaten his insensibility with unavoidable disturbance; though imagining they meant but to look in at the box, and pass on, he made not at their first approach any alteration in his attitude or employment.
"See, ladies," cried the officious Morrice, "I told you there was room; and I am sure this gentleman will be very happy to make way for you, if it's only out of good-nature to the waiters, as he is neither eating nor drinking, nor doing any thing at all. So if you two ladies will go in at that side, Mr Harrel and that other gentleman," pointing to Mr Marriot, "may go to the other, and then I'll sit by the ladies here, and those other two gentlemen—"
Here Mr Meadows, raising himself from his reclining posture, and staring Morrice in the face, gravely said, "What's all this, Sir!"
Morrice, who expected to have arranged the whole party without a question, and who understood so little of modish airs as to suspect neither affectation nor trick in the absence of mind and indolence of manners which he observed in Mr Meadows, was utterly amazed by this interrogatory, and staring himself in return, said, "Sir, you seemed so thoughtful—I did not think—I did not suppose you would have taken any notice of just a person or two coming into the box."
"Did not you, Sir?" said Mr Meadows very coldly, "why then now you do, perhaps you'll be so obliging as to let me have my own box to myself."
And then again he returned to his favourite position.
"Certainly, Sir," said Morrice, bowing; "I am sure I did not mean to disturb you: for you seemed so lost in thought, that I'm sure I did not much believe you would have seen us."
"Why Sir," said Mr Hobson, strutting forward, "if I may speak my opinion, I should think, as you happen to be quite alone, a little agreeable company would be no such bad thing. At least that's my notion."
"And if I might take the liberty," said the smooth tongued Mr Simkins, "for to put in a word, I should think the best way would be, if the gentleman has no peticklar objection, for me just to stand somewhere hereabouts, and so, when he's had what he's a mind to, be ready for to pop in at one side, as he comes out at the t'other; for if one does not look pretty 'cute such a full night as this, a box is whipt away before one knows where one is."
"No, no, no," cried Mrs Harrel impatiently, "let us neither sup in this box nor in any other; let us go away entirely."
"Indeed we must! indeed we ought!" cried Cecilia; "it is utterly improper we should stay; pray let us be gone immediately."
Mr Harrel paid not the least regard to these requests; but Mr Meadows, who could no longer seem unconscious of what passed, did himself so much violence as to arise, and ask if the ladies would be seated.
"I said so!" cried Morrice triumphantly, "I was sure there was no gentleman but would be happy to accommodate two such ladies!"
The ladies, however, far from happy in being so accommodated, again tried their utmost influence in persuading Mr Harrel to give up this scheme; but he would not hear them, he insisted upon their going into the box, and, extending the privilege which Mr Meadows had given, he invited without ceremony the whole party to follow.
Mr Meadows, though he seemed to think this a very extraordinary encroachment, had already made such an effort from his general languor in the repulse he had given to Morrice, that he could exert himself no further; but after looking around him with mingled vacancy and contempt, he again seated himself, and suffered Morrice to do the honours without more opposition. Morrice, but too happy in the office, placed Cecilia next to Mr Meadows, and would have made Mr Marriot her other neighbour, but she insisted upon not being parted from Mrs Harrel, and therefore, as he chose to sit also by that lady himself, Mr Marriot was obliged to follow Mr Harrel to the other side of the box: Mr Hobson, without further invitation, placed himself comfortably in one of the corners, and Mr Simkins, who stood modestly for some time in another, finding the further encouragement for which be waited was not likely to arrive, dropt quietly into his seat without it.
Supper was now ordered, and while it was preparing Mr Harrel sat totally silent; but Mr Meadows thought proper to force himself to talk with Cecilia, though she could well have dispensed with such an exertion of his politeness.
"Do you like this place, ma'am?"
"Indeed I hardly know,—I never was here before."
"No wonder! the only surprise is that any body can come to it at all. To see a set of people walking after nothing! strolling about without view or object! 'tis strange! don't you think so, ma'am?"
"Yes,—I believe so," said Cecilia, scarce hearing him.
"O it gives me the vapours, the horrors," cried he, "to see what poor creatures we all are! taking pleasure even from the privation of it! forcing ourselves into exercise and toil, when we might at least have the indulgence of sitting still and reposing!"
"Lord, Sir," cried Morrice, "don't you like walking?"
"Walking?" cried he, "I know nothing so humiliating: to see a rational being in such mechanical motion! with no knowledge upon what principles he proceeds, but plodding on, one foot before another, without even any consciousness which is first, or how either—"
"Sir," interrupted Mr Hobson, "I hope you won't take it amiss if I make bold to tell my opinion, for my way is this, let every man speak his maxim! But what I say as to this matter, is this, if a man must always be stopping to consider what foot he is standing upon, he had need have little to do, being the right does as well as the left, and the left as well as the right. And that, Sir, I think is a fair argument."
Mr Meadows deigned no other answer to this speech than a look of contempt.
"I fancy, Sir," said Morrice, "you are fond of riding, for all your good horsemen like nothing else."
"Riding!" exclaimed Mr Meadows, "Oh barbarous! Wrestling and boxing are polite arts to it! trusting to the discretion of an animal less intellectual than ourselves! a sudden spring may break all our limbs, a stumble may fracture our sculls! And what is the inducement? to get melted with heat, killed with fatigue, and covered with dust! miserable infatuation!—Do you love riding, ma'am?"
"Yes, very well, Sir."
"I am glad to hear it," cried he, with a vacant smile; "you are quite right; I am entirely of your opinion."
Mr Simkins now, with a look of much perplexity, yet rising and bowing, said "I don't mean, Sir, to be so rude as to put in my oar, but if I did not take you wrong, I'm sure just now I thought you seemed for to make no great 'count of riding, and yet now, all of the sudden, one would think you was a speaking up for it!"
"Why, Sir," cried Morrice, "if you neither like riding nor walking, you can have no pleasure at all but only in sitting."
"Sitting!" repeated Mr Meadows, with a yawn, "O worse and worse! it dispirits me to death! it robs me of all fire and life! it weakens circulation, and destroys elasticity."
"Pray then, Sir," said Morrice, "do you like any better to stand?"
"To stand? O intolerable! the most unmeaning thing in the world! one had better be made a mummy!"
"Why then, pray Sir," said Mr Hobson, "let me ask the favour of you to tell us what it is you do like?"
Mr Meadows, though he stared him full in the face, began picking his teeth without making any answer.
"You see, Mr Hobson," said Mr Simkins, "the gentleman has no mind for to tell you; but if I may take the liberty just to put in, I think if he neither likes walking, nor riding, nor sitting, nor standing, I take it he likes nothing."
"Well, Sir," said Morrice, "but here comes supper, and I hope you will like that. Pray Sir, may I help you to a bit of this ham?"
Mr Meadows, not seeming to hear him, suddenly, and with an air of extreme weariness, arose, and without speaking to anybody, abruptly made his way out of the box.
Mr Harrel now, starting from the gloomy reverie into which he had sunk, undertook to do the honours of the table, insisting with much violence upon helping every body, calling for more provisions, and struggling to appear in high spirits and good humour.
In a few minutes Captain Aresby, who was passing by the box, stopt to make his compliments to Mrs Harrel and Cecilia.
"What a concourse!" he cried, casting up his eyes with an expression of half-dying fatigue, "are you not accablé? for my part, I hardly respire. I have really hardly ever had the honour of being so obsedé before."
"We can make very good room, Sir," said Morrice, "if you chuse to come in."
"Yes," said Mr Simkins, obsequiously standing up, I am sure the gentleman will be very welcome to take my place, for I did not mean for to sit down, only just to look agreeable."
"By no means, Sir," answered the Captain: "I shall be quite au desespoir if I derange any body."
"Sir," said Mr Hobson, "I don't offer you my place, because I take it for granted if you had a mind to come in, you would not stand upon ceremony; for what I say is, let every man speak his mind, and then we shall all know how to conduct ourselves. That's my way, and let any man tell me a better!"
The Captain, after looking at him with a surprise not wholly unmixt with horror, turned from him without making any answer, and said to Cecilia, "And how long, ma'am, have you tried this petrifying place?"
"An hour,—two hours, I believe," she answered.
"Really? and nobody here! assez de monde, but nobody here! a blank partout!"
"Sir," said Mr Simkins, getting out of the box that he might bow with more facility, "I humbly crave pardon for the liberty, but if I understood right, you said something of a blank? pray, Sir, if I may be so free, has there been any thing of the nature of a lottery, or a raffle, in the garden? or the like of that?"
"Sir!" said the Captain, regarding him from head to foot, "I am quite assommé that I cannot comprehend your allusion."
"Sir, I ask pardon," said the man, bowing still lower, "I only thought if in case it should not be above half a crown, or such a matter as that, I might perhaps stretch a point once in a way."
The Captain, more and more amazed, stared at him again, but not thinking it necessary to take any further notice of him, he enquired of Cecilia if she meant to stay late.
"I hope not," she replied, "I have already stayed later than I wished to do."
"Really!" said he, with an unmeaning smile, "Well, that is as horrid a thing as I have the malheur to know. For my part, I make it a principle not to stay long in these semi-barbarous places, for after a certain time, they bore me to that degree I am quite abimé. I shall, however, do mon possible to have the honour of seeing you again."
And then, with a smile of yet greater insipidity, he protested he was reduced to despair in leaving her, and walked on.
"Pray, ma'am, if I may be so bold," said Mr Hobson, "what countryman may that gentleman be?"
"An Englishman, I suppose, Sir," said Cecilia.
"An Englishman, ma'am!" said Mr Hobson, "why I could not understand one word in ten that came out of his mouth."
"Why indeed," said Mr Simkins, "he has a mighty peticklar way of speaking, for I'm sure I thought I could have sworn he said something of a blank, or to that amount, but I could make nothing of it when I come to ask him about it."
"Let every man speak to be understood," cried Mr Hobson, "that's my notion of things: for as to all those fine words that nobody can make out, I hold them to be of no use. Suppose a man was to talk in that manner when he's doing business, what would be the upshot? who'd understand what he meant? Well, that's the proof; what i'n't fit for business, i'n't of no value: that's my way of judging, and that's what I go upon."
"He said some other things," rejoined Mr Simkins, "that I could not make out very clear, only I had no mind to ask any more questions, for fear of his answering me something I should not understand: but as well as I could make it out, I thought I heard him say there was nobody here! what he could mean by that, I can't pretend for to guess, for I'm sure the garden is so stock full, that if there was to come many more, I don't know where they could cram 'em."
"I took notice of it at the time," said Mr Hobson, "for it i'n't many things are lost upon me; and, to tell you the truth, I thought he had been making pretty free with his bottle, by his seeing no better."
"Bottle!" cried Mr Harrel, "a most excellent hint, Mr Hobson! come! let us all make free with the bottle!"
He then called for more wine, and insisted that every body should pledge him. Mr Marriot and Mr Morrice made not any objection, and Mr Hobson and Mr Simkins consented with much delight.
Mr Harrel now grew extremely unruly, the wine he had already drunk being thus powerfully aided; and his next project was to make his wife and Cecilia follow his example. Cecilia, more incensed than ever to see no preparation made for his departure, and all possible pains taken to unfit him for setting out, refused him with equal firmness and displeasure, and lamented, with the bitterest self-reproaches, the consent which had been forced from her to be present at a scene of such disorder: but Mrs Harrel would have opposed him in vain, had not his attention been called off to another object. This was Sir Robert Floyer, who perceiving the party at some distance, no sooner observed Mr Marriot in such company, than advancing to the box with an air of rage and defiance, he told Mr Harrel he had something to say to him.
"Ay," cried Harrel, "say to me? and so have I to say to you! Come amongst us and be merry! Here, make room, make way! Sit close, my friends!"
Sir Robert, who now saw he was in no situation to be reasoned with, stood for a moment silent; and then, looking round the box, and observing Messrs Hobson and Simkins, he exclaimed aloud "Why what queer party have you got into? who the d——l have you picked up here?"
Mr Hobson, who, to the importance of lately acquired wealth, now added the courage of newly drunk Champagne, stoutly kept his ground, without seeming at all conscious he was included in this interrogation; but Mr Simkins, who had still his way to make in the world, and whose habitual servility would have resisted a larger draught, was easily intimidated; he again, therefore stood up, and with the most cringing respect offered the Baronet his place: who, taking neither of the offer nor offerer the smallest notice, still stood opposite to Mr Harrel, waiting for some explanation.
Mr Harrel, however, who now grew really incapable of giving any, only repeated his invitation that he would make one among them.
"One among you?" cried he, angrily, and pointing to Mr Hobson, "why you don't fancy I'll sit down with a bricklayer?"
"A bricklayer?" said Mr Harrel, "ay, sure, and a hosier too; sit down, Mr Simkins, keep your place, man!"
Mr Simkins most thankfully bowed; but Mr Hobson, who could no longer avoid feeling the personality of this reflection, boldly answered, "Sir, you may sit down with a worse man any day in the week! I have done nothing I'm ashamed of, and no man can say to me why did you so? I don't tell you, Sir, what I'm worth; no one has a right to ask; I only say three times five is fifteen! that's all."
"Why what the d——l, you impudent fellow," cried the haughty Baronet, "you don't presume to mutter, do you?"
"Sir," answered Mr Hobson, very hotly, "I sha'n't put up with abuse from no man! I've got a fair character in the world, and wherewithal to live by my own liking. And what I have is my own, and all I say is, let every one say the same, for that's the way to fear no man, and face the d——l."
"What do you mean by that, fellow?" cried Sir Robert.
"Fellow, Sir! this is talking no how. Do you think a man of substance, that's got above the world, is to be treated like a little scrubby apprentice? Let every man have his own, that's always my way of thinking; and this I can say for myself, I have as good a right to shew my head where I please as ever a member of parliament in all England: and I wish every body here could say as much."
Sir Robert, fury starting into his eyes, was beginning an answer; but Mrs Harrel with terror, and Cecilia with dignity, calling upon them both to forbear, the Baronet desired Morrice to relinquish his place to him, and seating himself next to Mrs Harrel, gave over the contest.
Meanwhile Mr Simkins, hoping to ingratiate himself with the company, advanced to Mr Hobson, already cooled by finding himself unanswered, and reproachfully said "Mr Hobson, if I may make so free, I must needs be bold to say I am quite ashamed of you! a person of your standing and credit for to talk so disrespectful! as if a gentleman had not a right to take a little pleasure, because he just happens to owe you a little matters of money: fie, fie, Mr Hobson! I did not expect you to behave so despiseable!"
"Despiseable!" answered Mr Hobson, "I'd scorn as much to do anything despiseable as yourself, or any thing misbecoming of a gentleman; and as to coming to such a place as this may be, why I have no objection to it. All I stand to is this, let every man have his due; for as to taking a little pleasure, here I am, as one may say, doing the same myself; but where's the harm of that? who's a right to call a man to account that's clear of the world? Not that I mean to boast, nor nothing like it, but, as I said before; five times five is fifteen; —that's my calculation."
Mr Harrel, who, during this debate, had still continued drinking, regardless of all opposition from his wife and Cecilia, now grew more and more turbulent: he insisted that Mr Simkins should return to his seat, ordered him another bumper of champagne, and saying he had not half company enough to raise his spirits, desired Morrice to go and invite more.
Morrice, always ready to promote a frolic, most chearfully consented; but when Cecilia, in a low voice, supplicated him to bring no one back, with still more readiness he made signs that he understood and would obey her.
Mr Harrel then began to sing, and in so noisy and riotous a manner, that nobody approached the box without stopping to stare at him; and those who were new to such scenes, not contented with merely looking in, stationed themselves at some distance before it, to observe what was passing, and to contemplate with envy and admiration an appearance of mirth and enjoyment which they attributed to happiness and pleasure! Mrs Harrel, shocked to be seen in such mixed company, grew every instant more restless and miserable; and Cecilia, half distracted to think how they were to get home, had passed all her time in making secret vows that if once again she was delivered from Mr Harrel she would never see him more.
Sir Robert Floyer perceiving their mutual uneasiness, proposed to escort them home himself; and Cecilia, notwithstanding her aversion to him, was listening to the scheme, when Mr Marriot, who had been evidently provoked and disconcerted since the junction of the Baronet, suspecting what was passing, offered his services also, and in a tone of voice that did not promise a very quiet acquiescence in a refusal.
Cecilia, who, too easily, in their looks, saw all the eagerness of rivalry, now dreaded the consequence of her decision, and therefore declined the assistance of either: but her distress was unspeakable, as there was not one person in the party to whose care she could commit herself, though the behaviour of Mr Harrel, which every moment grew more disorderly, rendered the necessity of quitting him urgent and uncontroulable.
When Morrice returned, stopping in the midst of his loud and violent singing, he vehemently demanded what company he had brought him?
"None at all, sir," answered Morrice, looking significantly at Cecilia; "I have really been so unlucky as not to meet with any body who had a mind to come."
"Why then," answered he, starting up, "I will seek some for myself." "O no, pray, Mr Harrel, bring nobody else," cried his wife. "Hear us in pity," cried Cecilia, "and distress us no further."
"Distress you?" cried he, with quickness, "what shall I not bring you those pretty girls? Yes, one more glass, and I will teach you to welcome them."
And he poured out another bumper.
"This is so insupportable!" cried Cecilia, rising, "[that] I can remain here no longer."
"This is cruel indeed," cried Mrs. Harrel, bursting into tears; "did you only bring me here to insult me?"
"No!" cried he, suddenly embracing her, "by this parting kiss!" then wildly jumping upon his seat, he leapt over the table, and was out of sight in an instant.
Amazement seized all who remained; Mrs Harrel and Cecilia, indeed, doubted not but he was actually gone to the chaise he had ordered; but the manner of his departure affrighted them, and his preceding behaviour had made them cease to expect it: Mrs Harrel, leaning upon Cecilia, continued to weep, while she, confounded and alarmed, scarce knew whether she should stay and console her, or fly after Mr Harrel, whom she feared had incapacitated himself from finding his chaise, by the very method he had taken to gather courage for seeking it.
This, however, was but the apprehension of a moment; another and a far more horrible one drove it from her imagination: for scarcely had Mr Harrel quitted the box and their sight, before their ears were suddenly struck with the report of a pistol.
Mrs Harrel gave a loud scream, which was involuntarily echoed by, Cecilia: everybody arose, some with officious zeal to serve the ladies, and others to hasten to the spot whence the dreadful sound proceeded.
Sir Robert Floyer again offered his services in conducting them home; but they could listen to no such proposal: Cecilia, with difficulty refrained from rushing out herself to discover what was passing; but her dread of being followed by Mrs Harrel prevented her; they both, therefore, waited, expecting every instant some intelligence, as all but the Baronet and Mr Marriot were now gone to seek it.
Nobody, however, returned; and their terrors encreased every moment: Mrs Harrel wanted to run out herself, but Cecilia, conjuring her to keep still, begged Mr Marriot to bring them some account. Mr Marriot, like the messengers who had preceded him, came not back: an instant seemed an age, and Sir Robert Floyer was also entreated to procure information.
Mrs Harrel and Cecilia were now left to themselves, and their horror was too great for speech or motion: they stood close to each other, listening to every sound and receiving every possible addition to their alarm, by the general confusion which they observed in the gardens, in which, though both gentlemen and waiters were running to and fro, not a creature was walking, and all amusement seemed forgotten.
From this dreadful state they were at length removed, though not relieved, by the sight of a waiter, who, as he was passing shewed himself almost covered with blood! Mrs Harrel vehemently called after him, demanding whence it came? "From the gentleman, ma'am," answered he in haste, "that has shot himself," and then ran on.
Mrs Harrel uttered a piercing scream, and sunk on the ground; for Cecilia, shuddering with horror, lost all her own strength, and could no longer lend her any support.
So great at this time was the general confusion of the place, that for some minutes their particular distress was unknown, and their situation unnoticed; till at length an elderly gentleman came up to the box, and humanely offered his assistance.
Cecilia, pointing to her unfortunate friend, who had not fallen into a fainting fit, but merely from weakness and terror, accepted his help in raising her. She was lifted up, however, without the smallest effort on her own part, and was only kept upon her seat by being held there by the stranger, for Cecilia, whose whole frame was shaking, tried in vain to sustain her.
This gentleman, from the violence of their distress, began now to suspect its motive, and addressing himself to Cecilia, said, "I am afraid, madam, this unfortunate gentleman was some Relation to you?"
Neither of them spoke, but their silence was sufficiently expressive.
"It is pity, madam," he continued, "that some friend can't order him out of the crowd, and have him kept quiet till a surgeon can be brought."
"A surgeon!" exclaimed Cecilia, recovering from one surprize by the effect of another; "is it then possible he may be saved?"
And without waiting to have her question answered, she ran out of the box herself, flying wildly about the garden, and calling for help as she flew, till she found the house by the entrance; and then, going up to the bar, "Is a surgeon sent for?" she exclaimed, "let a surgeon be fetched instantly!" "A surgeon, ma'am," she was answered, "is not the gentleman dead?" "No, no, no!" she cried; "he must be brought in; let some careful people go and bring him in." Nor would she quit the bar, till two or three waiters were called, and received her orders. And then, eager to see them executed herself, she ran, fearless of being alone, and without thought of being lost, towards the fatal spot whither the crowd guided her. She could not, indeed, have been more secure from insult or molestation if surrounded by twenty guards; for the scene of desperation and horror which many had witnessed, and of which all had heard the signal, engrossed the universal attention, and took, even from the most idle and licentious, all spirit for gallantry and amusement.
Here, while making vain attempts to penetrate through the multitude, that she might see and herself judge the actual situation of Mr Harrel, and give, if yet there was room for hope, such orders as would best conduce to his safety and recovery, she was met by Mr Marriot, who entreated her not to press forward to a sight which he had found too shocking for himself, and insisted upon protecting her through the crowd.
"If he is alive," cried she, refusing his aid, "and if there is any chance he may be saved, no sight shall be too shocking to deter me from seeing him properly attended."
"All attendance," answered he, "will be in vain: he is not indeed, yet dead, but his recovery is impossible. There is a surgeon with him already; one who happened to be in the gardens, and he told me himself that the wound was inevitably mortal."
Cecilia, though greatly disappointed, still determined to make way to him, that she might herself enquire if, in his last moments, there was any thing he wished to communicate, or desired to have done: but, as she struggled to proceed, she was next met and stopt by Sir Robert Floyer, who, forcing her back, acquainted her that all was over!
The shock with which she received this account, though unmixed with any tenderness of regret, and resulting merely from general humanity, was yet so violent as almost to overpower her. Mr Harrel, indeed, had forfeited all right to her esteem, and the unfeeling selfishness of his whole behaviour had long provoked her resentment and excited her disgust; yet a catastrophe so dreadful, and from which she had herself made such efforts to rescue him, filled her with so much horror, that, turning extremely sick, she was obliged to be supported to the nearest box, and stop there for hartshorn and water.
A few minutes, however, sufficed to divest her of all care for herself, in the concern with which she recollected the situation of Mrs Harrel; she hastened, therefore, back to her, attended by the Baronet and Mr Marriot, and found her still leaning upon the stranger, and weeping aloud.
The fatal news had already reached her; and though all affection between Mr Harrel and herself had mutually subsided from the first two or three months of their marriage, a conclusion so horrible to all connection between them could not be heard without sorrow and distress. Her temper, too, naturally soft, retained not resentment, and Mr Harrel, now separated from her for ever, was only remembered as the Mr Harrel who first won her heart.
Neither pains nor tenderness were spared on the part of Cecilia to console her; who finding her utterly incapable either of acting or directing for herself, and knowing her at all times to be extremely helpless, now summoned to her own aid all the strength of mind she possessed, and determined upon this melancholy occasion, both to think and act for her widowed friend to the utmost stretch of her abilities and power.
As soon, therefore, as the first effusions of her grief were over, she prevailed with her to go to the house, where she was humanely offered the use of a quiet room till she should be better able to set off for town. Cecilia, having seen her thus safely lodged, begged Mr Marriot to stay with her, and then, accompanied by the Baronet, returned herself to the bar, and desiring the footman who had attended them to be called, sent him instantly to his late master, and proceeded next with great presence of mind, to inquire further into the particulars of what had passed, and to consult upon what was immediately to be done with the deceased: for she thought it neither decent nor right to leave to chance or to strangers the last duties which could be paid him.
He had lingered, she found, about a quarter of an hour, but in a condition too dreadful for description, quite speechless, and, by all that could be judged, out of his senses; yet so distorted with pain, and wounded so desperately beyond any power of relief, that the surgeon, who every instant expected his death, said it would not be merely useless but inhuman, to remove him till he had breathed his last. He died, therefore, in the arms of this gentleman and a waiter.
"A waiter!" cried Cecilia, reproachfully looking at Sir Robert, "and was there no friend who for the few poor moments that remained had patience to support him?"
"Where would be the good," said Sir Robert, "of supporting a man in his last agonies?"
This unfeeling speech she attempted not to answer, but, suffering neither her dislike to him, nor her scruples for herself, to interfere with the present occasion, she desired to have his advice what was now best to be done.
Undertaker's men must immediately, he said, be sent for, to remove the body.
She then gave orders for that purpose, which were instantly executed.
Whither the body was to go was the next question: Cecilia wished the removal to be directly to the townhouse, but Sir Robert told her it must be carried to the nearest undertaker's, and kept there till it could be conveyed to town in a coffin.
For this, also, in the name of Mrs Harrel, she gave directions. And then addressing herself to Sir Robert, "You will now Sir, I hope," she said, "return to the fatal spot, and watch by your late unfortunate friend till the proper people arrive to take charge of him?"
"And what good will that do?" cried he; "had I not better watch by you?"
"It will do good," answered she, with some severity, "to decency and to humanity; and surely you cannot refuse to see who is with him, and in what situation he lies, and whether he has met, from the strangers with whom he was left, the tenderness and care which his friends ought to have paid him."
"Will you promise, then," he answered, "not to go away till I come back? for I have no great ambition to sacrifice the living for the dead."
"I will promise nothing, Sir," said she, shocked at his callous insensibility; "but if you refuse this last poor office, I must apply elsewhere; and firmly I believe there is no other I can ask who will a moment hesitate in complying."
She then went back to Mrs Harrel, leaving, however, an impression upon the mind of Sir Robert, that made him no longer dare dispute her commands.
Her next solicitude was how they should return to town; they had no equipage of their own, and the only servant who came with them was employed in performing the last duties for his deceased master. Her first intention was to order a hackney coach, but the deplorable state of Mrs Harrel made it almost impossible she could take the sole care of her, and the lateness of the night, and their distance from home, gave her a dread invincible to going so far without some guard or assistant. Mr Marriot earnestly desired to have the honour of conveying them to Portman-square in his own carriage, and notwithstanding there were many objections to such a proposal, the humanity of his behaviour upon the present occasion, and the evident veneration which accompanied his passion, joined to her encreasing aversion to the Baronet, from whom she could not endure to receive the smallest obligation, determined her, after much perplexity and hesitation, to accept his offer.
She begged him, therefore, to immediately order his coach, and, happy to obey her, he went out with that design; but, instantly coming back, told her, in a low voice, that they must wait some time longer, as the Undertaker's people were then entering the garden, and if they stayed not till the removal had taken place, Mrs Harrel might be shocked with the sight of some of the men, or perhaps even meet the dead body.
Cecilia, thanking him for this considerate precaution, readily agreed to defer setting out; devoting, mean time, all her attention to Mrs Harrel, whose sorrow, though violent, forbad not consolation. But before the garden was cleared, and the carriage ordered, Sir Robert returned; saying to Cecilia, with an air of parading obedience which seemed to claim some applause, "Miss Beverley, your commands have been executed."
Cecilia made not any answer, and he presently added, "Whenever you chuse to go I will order up my coach."
"My coach, Sir," said Mr Marriot, "will be ordered when the ladies are ready, and I hope to have the honour myself of conducting them to town."
"No, Sir," cried the Baronet, "that can never be; my long acquaintance with Mrs Harrel gives me a prior right to attend her, and I can by no means suffer any other person to rob me of it."
"I have nothing," said Mr Marriot, "to say to that, Sir, but Miss Beverley herself has done me the honour to consent to make use of my carriage."
"Miss Beverley, I think," said Sir Robert, extremely piqued, "can never have sent me out of the way in order to execute her own commands, merely to deprive me of the pleasure of attending her and Mrs Harrel home."
Cecilia, somewhat alarmed, now sought to lessen the favour of her decision, though she adhered to it without wavering.
"My intention," said she, "was not to confer, but to receive an obligation; and I had hoped, while Mr. Marriot assisted us, Sir Robert would be far more humanely employed in taking charge of what we cannot superintend, and yet are infinitely more anxious should not be neglected."
"That," said Sir Robert, "is all done; and I hope, therefore, after sending me upon such an errand, you don't mean to refuse me the pleasure of seeing you to town?"
"Sir Robert," said Cecilia, greatly displeased, "I cannot argue with you now; I have already settled my plan, and I am not at leisure to re-consider it."
Sir Robert bit his lips for a moment in angry silence; but not enduring to lose the victory to a young rival he despised, he presently said, "If I must talk no more about it to you, madam, I must at least beg leave to talk of it to this gentleman, and take the liberty to represent to him—"
Cecilia now, dreading how his speech might be answered, prevented its being finished, and with an air of the most spirited dignity, said, "Is it possible, sir, that at a time such as this, you should not be wholly indifferent to a matter so frivolous? little indeed will be the pleasure which our society can afford! your dispute however, has given it some importance, and therefore Mr Marriot must accept my thanks for his civility, and excuse me for retracting my consent."
Supplications and remonstrances were, however, still poured upon her from both, and the danger, the impossibility that two ladies could go to town alone, in a hackney coach, and without even a servant, at near four o'clock in the morning, they mutually urged, vehemently entreating that she would run no such hazard.
Cecilia was far other than insensible to these representations: the danger, indeed, appeared to her so formidable, that her inclination the whole time opposed her refusal; yet her repugnance to giving way to the overbearing Baronet, and her fear of his resentment if she listened to Mr Marriot, forced her to be steady, since she saw that her preference would prove the signal of a quarrel.
Inattentive, therefore, to their joint persecution, she again deliberated by what possible method she could get home in safety; but unable to devise any, she at last resolved to make enquiries of the people in the bar, who had been extremely humane and civil, whether they could assist or counsel her. She therefore desired the two gentlemen to take care of Mrs Harrel, to which neither dared dissent, as both could not refuse, and hastily arising, went out of the room: but great indeed was her surprize when, as she was walking up to the bar, she was addressed by young Delvile!
Approaching her with that air of gravity and distance which of late he had assumed in her presence, he was beginning some speech about his mother; but the instant the sound of his voice reached Cecilia, she joyfully clasped her hands, and eagerly exclaimed, "Mr Delvile!—O now we are safe!—this is fortunate indeed!"
"Safe, Madam," cried he astonished, "yes I hope so!—has any thing endangered your safety?"
"O no matter for danger," cried she, "we will now trust ourselves with you, and I am sure you will protect us."
"Protect you!" repeated he again, and with warmth, "yes, while I live!—but what is the matter?—why are you so pale?—are you ill?— are you frightened?—what is the matter?"
And losing all coldness and reserve, with the utmost earnestness he begged her to explain herself.
"Do you not know," cried she, "what has happened? Can you be here and not have heard it?"
"Heard what?" cried he, "I am but this moment arrived: my mother grew uneasy that she did not see you, she sent to your house, and was told that you were not returned from Vauxhall; some other circumstances also alarmed her, and therefore, late as it was, I came hither myself. The instant I entered this place, I saw you here. This is all my history; tell me now yours. Where is your party? where are Mr and Mrs Harrel?—Why are you alone?"
"O ask not!" cried she, "I cannot tell you!—take us but under your care, and you will soon know all."
She then hurried from him, and returning to Mrs Harrel, said she had now a conveyance at once safe and proper, and begged her to rise and come away.
The gentlemen, however, rose first, each of them declaring he would himself attend them.
"No," said Cecilia, steadily, "that trouble will now be superfluous: Mrs Delvile herself has sent for me, and her son is now waiting till we join him."
Amazement and disappointment at this intelligence were visible in the faces of them both: Cecilia waited not a single question, but finding she was unable to support Mrs Harrel, who rather suffered herself to be carried than led, she entrusted her between them, and ran forward to enquire of Delvile if his carriage was ready.
She found him with a look of horror that told the tale he had been hearing, listening to one of the waiters: the moment she appeared, he flew to her, and with the utmost emotion exclaimed, "Amiable Miss Beverley! what a dreadful scene have you witnessed! what a cruel task have you nobly performed! such spirit with such softness! so much presence of mind with such feeling!—but you are all excellence! human nature can rise no higher! I believe indeed you are its most perfect ornament!"
Praise such as this, so unexpected, and delivered with such energy, Cecilia heard not without pleasure, even at a moment when her whole mind was occupied by matters foreign to its peculiar interests. She made, however, her enquiry about the carriage, and he told her that he had come in a hackney coach, which was waiting for him at the door.
Mrs Harrel was now brought in, and little was the recompense her assistants received for their aid, when they saw Cecilia so contentedly engaged with young Delvile, whose eyes were rivetted on her face, with an expression of the most lively admiration: each, however, then quitted the other, and hastened to the fair mourner; no time was now lost, Mrs Harrel was supported to the coach, Cecilia followed her, and Delvile, jumping in after them, ordered the man to drive to Portman-square.
Sir Robert and Mr Marriot, confounded though enraged, saw their departure in passive silence: the right of attendance they had so tenaciously denied to each other, here admitted not of dispute: Delvile upon this occasion, appeared as the representative of his father, and his authority seemed the authority of a guardian. Their only consolation was that neither had yielded to the other, and all spirit of altercation or revenge was sunk in their mutual mortification. At the petition of the waiters, from sullen but proud emulation, they paid the expences of the night, and then throwing themselves into their carriages, returned to their respective houses.
- I hardly know whether the authoress has here forgotten her arithmetic, or intentionally suffered Mr Hobson to forget his, from the effects of champagne.—Ed.