Cecelia passed the rest of the day in fanciful projects of beneficence; she determined to wander with her romantic new ally whither-so-ever he would lead her, and to spare neither fortune, time, nor trouble, in seeking and relieving the distressed. Not all her attempted philosophy had calmed her mind like this plan; in merely refusing indulgence to grief, she had only locked it up in her heart, where eternally struggling for vent, she was almost overpowered by restraining it; but now her affliction had no longer her whole faculties to itself; the hope of doing good, the pleasure of easing pain, the intention of devoting her time to the service of the unhappy, once more delighted her imagination,—that source of promissory enjoyment, which though often obstructed, is never, in youth, exhausted.
She would not give Mrs Charlton the unnecessary pain of hearing the letter with which she had been so, much affected, but she told her of the visit of Albany, and pleased her with the account of their scheme.
At night, with less sadness than usual, she retired to rest. In her sleep she bestowed riches, and poured plenty upon the land; she humbled the oppressor, she exalted the oppressed; slaves were raised to dignities, captives restored to liberty; beggars saw smiling abundance, and wretchedness was banished the world. From a cloud in which she was supported by angels, Cecilia beheld these wonders, and while enjoying the glorious illusion, she was awakened by her maid, with news that Mrs Charlton was dying!
She started up, and, undressed, was running to her apartment,—when the maid, calling to stop her, confessed she was already dead!
She had made her exit in the night, but the time was not exactly known; her own maid, who slept in the room with her, going early to her bedside to enquire how she did, found her cold and motionless, and could only conclude that a paralytic stroke had taken her off.
Happily and in good time had Cecilia been somewhat recruited by one night of refreshing slumbers and flattering dreams, for the shock she now received promised her not soon another.
She lost in Mrs Charlton a friend, whom nearly from her infancy she had considered as a mother, and by whom she had been cherished with tenderness almost unequalled. She was not a woman of bright parts, or much cultivation, but her heart was excellent, and her disposition was amiable. Cecilia had known her longer than her memory could look back, though the earliest circumstances she could trace were kindnesses received from her. Since she had entered into life, and found the difficulty of the part she had to act, to this worthy old lady alone had she unbosomed her secret cares. Though little assisted by her counsel, she was always certain of her sympathy; and while her own superior judgment directed her conduct, she had the relief of communicating her schemes, and weighing her perplexities, with a friend to whom nothing that concerned her was indifferent, and whose greatest wish and chief pleasure was the enjoyment of her conversation.
If left to herself, in the present period of her life, Mrs Charlton had certainly not been the friend of her choice. The delicacy of her mind, and the refinement of her ideas, had now rendered her fastidious, and she would have looked out for elegancies and talents to which Mrs Charlton had no pretensions: but those who live in the country have little power of selection; confined to a small circle, they must be content with what it offers; and however they may idolize extraordinary merit when they meet with it, they must not regard it as essential to friendship, for in their circumscribed rotation, whatever may be their discontent, they can make but little change.
Such had been the situation to which Mrs Charlton and Mrs Harrel owed the friendship of Cecilia. Greatly their superior in understanding and intelligence, had the candidates for her favour been more numerous, the election had not fallen upon either of them. But she became known to both before discrimination made her difficult, and when her enlightened mind discerned their deficiencies, they had already an interest in her affections, which made her see them with lenity: and though sometimes, perhaps, conscious she should not have chosen them from many, she adhered to them with sincerity, and would have changed them for none.
Mrs Harrel, however, too weak for similar sentiments, forgot her when out of sight, and by the time they met again, was insensible to everything but shew and dissipation. Cecilia, shocked and surprised, first grieved from disappointed affection, and then lost that affection in angry contempt. But her fondness for Mrs Charlton had never known abatement, as the kindness which had excited it had never known allay. She had loved her first from childish gratitude; but that love, strengthened and confirmed by confidential intercourse, was now as sincere and affectionate as if it had originated from sympathetic admiration. Her loss, therefore, was felt with the utmost severity, and neither seeing nor knowing any means of replacing it, she considered it as irreparable, and mourned it with bitterness.
When the first surprize of this cruel stroke was somewhat lessened, she sent an express to Mr Monckton with the news, and entreated to see him immediately. He came without delay, and she begged his counsel what step she ought herself to take in consequence of this event. Her own house was still unprepared for her; she had of late neglected to hasten the workmen, and almost forgotten her intention of entering it. It was necessary, however, to change her abode immediately; she was no longer in the house of Mrs Charlton, but of her grand-daughters and co- heiresses, each of whom she disliked, and upon neither of whom she had any claim.
Mr Monckton then, with the quickness of a man who utters a thought at the very moment of its projection, mentioned a scheme upon which during his whole ride he had been ruminating; which was that she would instantly remove to his house, and remain there till settled to her satisfaction.
Cecilia objected her little right of surprising Lady Margaret; but, without waiting to discuss it, lest new objections should arise, he quitted her, to fetch himself from her ladyship an invitation he meant to insist upon her sending.
Cecilia, though heartily disliking this plan, knew not at present what better to adopt, and thought anything preferable to going again to Mrs Harrel, since that only could be done by feeding the anxiety of Mr Arnott.
Mr Monckton soon returned with a message of his own fabrication; for his lady, though obliged to receive whom he pleased, took care to guard inviolate the independence of speech, sullenly persevering in refusing to say anything, or perversely saying only what he least wished to hear.
Cecilia then took a hasty leave of Miss Charltons, who, little affected by what they had lost, and eager to examine what they had gained, parted from her gladly, and, with a heavy heart and weeping eyes, borrowed for the last time the carriage of her late worthy old friend, and for-ever quitting her hospitable house, sorrowfully set out for the Grove.
Lady Margaret Monckton received Cecilia with the most gloomy coldness: she apologised for the liberty she had taken in making use of her ladyship's house, but, meeting no return of civility, she withdrew to the room which had been prepared for her, and resolved as much as possible to keep out of her sight.
It now became necessary without further delay to settle her plan of life, and fix her place of residence. The forbidding looks of Lady Margaret made her hasten her resolves, which otherwise would for a while have given way to grief for her recent misfortune.
She sent for the surveyor who had the superintendance of her estates, to enquire how soon her own house would be fit for her reception; and heard there was yet work for near two months.
This answer made her very uncomfortable. To continue two months under the roof with Lady Margaret was a penance she could not enjoin herself, nor was she at all sure Lady Margaret would submit to it any better: she determined, therefore, to release herself from the conscious burthen of being an unwelcome visitor, by boarding with some creditable family at Bury, and devoting the two months in which she was to be kept from her house, to a general arrangement of her affairs, and a final settling with her guardians.
For these purposes it would be necessary she should go to London: but with whom, or in what manner, she could not decide. She desired, therefore, another conference with Mr Monckton, who met her in the parlour.
She then communicated to him her schemes; and begged his counsel in her perplexities.
He was delighted at the application, and extremely well pleased with her design of boarding at Bury, well knowing, he could then watch and visit her at his pleasure, and have far more comfort in her society than even in his own house, where all the vigilance with which he observed her, was short of that with which he was himself observed by Lady Margaret. He endeavoured, however, to dissuade her from going to town, but her eagerness to pay the large sum she owed him, was now too great to be conquered. Of age, her fortune wholly in her power, and all attendance upon Mrs Charlton at an end, she had no longer any excuse for having a debt in the world, and would suffer no persuasion to make her begin her career in life, with a negligence in settling her accounts which she had so often censured in others. To go to London therefore she was fixed, and all that she desired was his advice concerning the journey.
He then told her that in order to settle with her guardians, she must write to them in form, to demand an account of the sums that had been expended during her minority, and announce her intention for the future to take the management of her fortune into her own hands.
She immediately followed his directions, and consented to remain at the Grove till their answers arrived.
Being now, therefore, unavoidably fixed for some time at the house, she thought it proper and decent to attempt softening Lady Margaret in her favour. She exerted all her powers to please and to oblige her; but the exertion was necessarily vain, not only from the disposition, but the situation of her ladyship, since every effort made for this conciliatory purpose, rendered her doubly amiable in the eyes of her husband, and consequently to herself more odious than ever. Her jealousy, already but too well founded, received every hour the poisonous nourishment of fresh conviction, which so much soured and exasperated a temper naturally harsh, that her malignity and ill- humour grew daily more acrimonious. Nor would she have contented herself with displaying this irascibility by general moroseness, had not the same suspicious watchfulness which discovered to her the passion of her husband, served equally to make manifest the indifference and innocence of Cecilia; to reproach her therefore, she had not any pretence, though her knowledge how much she had to dread her, past current in her mind for sufficient reason to hate her. The Angry and the Violent use little discrimination; whom they like, they enquire not if they approve; but whoever, no matter how unwittingly, stands in their way, they scruple not to ill use, and conclude they may laudably detest.
Cecilia, though much disgusted, gave not over her attempt, which she considered but as her due while she continued in her house. Her general character, also, for peevishness and haughty ill-breeding, skilfully, from time to time, displayed, and artfully repined at by Mr Monckton, still kept her from suspecting any peculiar animosity to herself, and made her impute all that passed to the mere rancour of ill-humour. She confined herself, however, as much as possible to her own apartment, where her sorrow for Mrs Charlton almost hourly increased, by the comparison she was forced upon making of her house with the Grove.
That worthy old lady left her grand-daughters her co-heiresses and sole executrixes. She bequeathed from them nothing considerable, though she left some donations for the poor, and several of her friends were remembered by small legacies. Among them Cecilia had her picture, and favourite trinkets, with a paragraph in her will, that as there was no one she so much loved, had her fortune been less splendid, she should have shared with her grand-daughters whatever she had to bestow.
Cecilia was much affected by this last and solemn remembrance. She more than ever coveted to be alone, that she might grieve undisturbed, and she lamented without ceasing the fatigue and the illness which, in so late a period, as it proved, of her life, she had herself been the means of occasioning to her.
Mr Monckton had too much prudence to interrupt this desire of solitude, which indeed cost him little pain, as he considered her least in danger when alone. She received in about a week answers from both her guardians. Mr Delvile's letter was closely to the purpose, without a word but of business, and couched in the haughtiest terms. As he had never, he said, acted, he had no accounts to send in; but as he was going to town in a few days, he would see her for a moment in the presence of Mr Briggs, that a joint release might be signed, to prevent any future application to him.
Cecilia much lamented there was any necessity for her seeing him at all, and looked forward to the interview as the greatest mortification she could suffer.
Mr Briggs, though still more concise, was far kinder in his language: but he advised her to defer her scheme of taking the money into her own hands, assuring her she would be cheated, and had better leave it to him.
When she communicated these epistles to Mr Monckton, he failed not to read, with an emphasis, by which his arrogant meaning was still more arrogantly enforced, the letter of Mr Delvile aloud. Nor was he sparing in comments that might render it yet more offensive. Cecilia neither concurred in what he said, nor opposed it, but contented herself, when he was silent, with producing the other letter.
Mr Monckton read not this with more favour. He openly attacked the character of Briggs, as covetous, rapacious, and over-reaching, and warned her by no means to abide by his counsel, without first taking the opinion of some disinterested person. He then stated the various arts which might be practised upon her inexperience, enumerated the dangers to which her ignorance of business exposed her, and annotated upon the cheats, double dealings, and tricks of stock jobbing, to which he assured her Mr Briggs owed all he was worth, till, perplexed and confounded, she declared herself at a loss how to proceed, and earnestly regretted that she could not have his counsel upon the spot.
This was his aim: to draw the wish from her, drew all suspicion of selfish views from himself: and he told her that he considered her present situation as so critical, the future confusion or regularity of her money transactions seeming to depend upon it, that he would endeavour to arrange his affairs for meeting her in London.
Cecilia gave him many thanks for the kind intention, and determined to be totally guided by him in the disposal and direction of her fortune.
Mean time he had now another part to act; he saw that with Cecilia nothing more remained to be done, and that, harbouring not a doubt of his motives, she thought his design in her favour did her nothing but honour; but he had too much knowledge of the world to believe it would judge him in the same manner, and too much consciousness of duplicity to set its judgment at defiance.
To parry, therefore, the conjectures which might follow his attending her, he had already prepared Lady Margaret to wish herself of the party: for however disagreeable to him was her presence and her company, he had no other means to be under the same roof with Cecilia.
Miss Bennet, the wretched tool of his various schemes, and the mean sycophant of his lady, had been employed by him to work upon her jealousy, by secretly informing her of his intention to go to town, at the same time that Cecilia went thither to meet her guardians. She pretended to have learned this intelligence by accident, and to communicate it from respectful regard; and advised her to go to London herself at the same time, that she might see into his designs, and be some check upon his pleasure.
The encreasing infirmities of Lady Margaret made this counsel by no means palatable: but Miss Bennet, following the artful instructions which she received, put in her way so strong a motive, by assuring her how little her company was wished, that in the madness of her spite she determined upon the journey. And little heeding how she tormented herself while she had any view of tormenting Mr Monckton, she was led on by her false confident to invite Cecilia to her own house.
Mr Monckton, in whom by long practice, artifice was almost nature, well knowing his wife's perverseness, affected to look much disconcerted at the proposal; while Cecilia, by no means thinking it necessary to extend her compliance to such a punishment, instantly made an apology, and declined the invitation.
Lady Margaret, little versed in civility, and unused to the arts of persuasion, could not, even for a favourite project, prevail upon herself to use entreaty, and therefore, thinking her scheme defeated, looked gloomily disappointed, and said nothing more.
Mr Monckton saw with delight how much this difficulty inflamed her, though the moment he could speak alone with Cecilia he made it his care to remove it.
He represented to her that, however privately she might live, she was too young to be in London lodgings by herself, and gave an hint which she could not but understand, that in going or in staying with only servants, suspicions might soon be raised, that the plan and motive of her journey were different to those given out.
She knew he meant to insinuate that it would be conjectured she designed to meet Delvile, and though colouring, vext and provoked at the suggestion, the idea was sufficient to frighten her into his plan.
In a few days, therefore, the matter was wholly arranged, Mr Monckton, by his skill and address, leading every one whither he pleased, while, by the artful coolness of his manner, he appeared but to follow himself. He [set] out the day before, though earnestly wishing to accompany them, but having as yet in no single instance gone to town in the same carriage with Lady Margaret, he dared trust neither the neighbourhood nor the servants with so dangerous a subject for their comments.
Cecilia, compelled thus to travel with only her Ladyship and Miss Bennet, had a journey the most disagreeable, and determined, if possible, to stay in London but two days. She had already fixed upon a house in which she could board at Bury when she returned, and there she meant quietly to reside till she could enter her own.
Lady Margaret herself, exhilarated by a notion of having outwitted her husband, was in unusual good spirits, and almost in good humour. The idea of thwarting his designs, and being in the way of his entertainment, gave to her a delight she had seldom received from any thing; and the belief that this was effected by the superiority of her cunning, doubled her contentment, and raised it to exultation. She owed him, indeed, much provocation and uneasiness, and was happy in this opportunity of paying her arrears.
Mean while that consummate master in every species of hypocrisy, indulged her in this notion, by the air of dissatisfaction with which he left the house. It was not that she meant by her presence to obviate any impropriety: early and long acquainted with the character of Cecilia, she well knew, that during her life the passion of her husband must be confined to his own breast: but conscious of his aversion to herself, which she resented with the bitterest ill-will, and knowing how little, at any time, he desired her company, she consoled herself for her inability to give pleasure by the power she possessed of giving pain, and bore with the fatigue of a journey disagreeable and inconvenient to her, with no other view than the hope of breaking into his plan of avoiding her. Little imagining that the whole time she was forwarding his favourite pursuit, and only acting the part which he had appointed her to perform.
Lady Margaret's town house was in Soho Square; and scarcely had Cecilia entered it, before her desire to speed her departure, made her send a note to each of her guardians, acquainting them of her arrival, and begging, if possible, to see them the next day.
She had soon the two following answers:
To Miss Cecilia Beverley,——These November 8, 1779. Miss,—Received yours of the same date; can't come tomorrow. Will, Wednesday the 10th.—Am, &c., Jno. Briggs.
Miss Cecilia Beverley
To Miss Beverley.
Mr Delvile has too many affairs of importance upon his hands, to make any appointment till he has deliberated how to arrange them. Mr Delvile will acquaint Miss Beverley when it shall be in his power to see her.
St James's-square, Nov 8.
These characteristic letters, which at another time might have diverted Cecilia, now merely served to torment her. She was eager to quit town, she was more eager to have her meeting with Mr Delvile over, who, oppressive to her even when he meant to be kind, she foresaw, now he was in wrath, would be imperious even to rudeness. Desirous, however, to make one interview suffice for both, and to settle whatever business might remain unfinished by letters, she again wrote to Mr Briggs, whom she had not spirits to encounter without absolute necessity, and informing him of Mr Delvile's delay, begged he would not trouble himself to call till he heard from her again.
Two days passed without any message from them; they were spent chiefly alone, and very uncomfortably, Mr Monckton being content to see little of her, while he knew she saw nothing of any body else. On the third morning, weary of her own thoughts, weary of Lady Margaret's ill- humoured looks, and still more weary of Miss Bennet's parasitical conversation, she determined, for a little relief to the heaviness of her mind, to go to her bookseller, and look over and order into the country such new publications as seemed to promise her any pleasure.
She sent therefore, for a chair, and glad to have devised for herself any amusement, set out in it immediately.
Upon entering the shop, she saw the Bookseller engaged in close conference with a man meanly dressed, and much muffled up, who seemed talking to him with uncommon earnestness, and just as she was approaching, said, "To terms I am indifferent, for writing is no labour to me; on the contrary, it is the first delight of my life, and therefore, and not for dirty pelf, I wish to make it my profession."
The speech struck Cecilia, but the voice struck her more, it was Belfield's! and her amazement was so great, that she stopt short to look at him, without heeding a man who attended her, and desired to know her commands.
The bookseller now perceiving her, came forward, and Belfield, turning to see who interrupted them, started as if a spectre had crossed his eyes, slapped his hat over his face, and hastily went out of the shop.
Cecilia checking her inclination to speak to him, from observing his eagerness to escape her, soon recollected her own errand, and employed herself in looking over new books.
Her surprize, however, at a change so sudden in the condition of this young man, and at a declaration of a passion for writing, so opposite to all the sentiments which he had professed at their late meeting in the cottage, awakened in her a strong curiosity to be informed of his situation; and after putting aside some books which she desired to have packed up for her, she asked if the gentleman who had just left the shop, and who, she found by what he had said, was an Author, had written anything that was published with his name?
"No, ma'am," answered the Bookseller, "nothing of any consequence; he is known, however, to have written several things that have appeared as anonymous; and I fancy, now, soon, we shall see something considerable from him."
"He is about some great work, then?"
"Why no, not exactly that, perhaps, at present; we must feel our way, with some little smart jeu d'esprit before we undertake a great work. But he is a very great genius, and I doubt not will produce something extraordinary."
"Whatever he produces," said Cecilia, "as I have now chanced to see him, I shall be glad you will, at any time, send to me."
"Certainly, ma'am; but it must be among other things, for he does not chuse, just now to be known; and it is a rule in our business never to tell people's names when they desire to be secret. He is a little out of cash, just now, as you may suppose by his appearance, so instead of buying books, he comes to sell them. However, he has taken a very good road to bring himself home again, for we pay very handsomely for things of any merit, especially if they deal smartly in a few touches of the times."
Cecilia chose not to risk any further questions, lest her knowledge of him should be suspected, but got into her chair, and returned to Lady Margaret's.
The sight of Belfield reminded her not only of himself; the gentle Henrietta again took her place in her memory, whence her various distresses and suspences had of late driven from it everybody but Delvile, and those whom Delvile brought into it. But her regard for that amiable girl, though sunk in the busy scenes of her calamitous uncertainties, was only sunk in her own bosom, and ready, upon their removal, to revive with fresh vigour. She was now indeed more unhappy than even in the period of her forgetfulness, yet her mind, was no longer filled with the restless turbulence of hope, which still more than despondency unfitted it for thinking of others.
This remembrance thus awakened, awakened also a desire of renewing the connection so long neglected. All scruples concerning Delvile had now lost their foundation, since the doubts from which they arose were both explained and removed: she was certain alike of his indifference to Henrietta, and his separation from herself; she knew that nothing was to be feared from painful or offensive rivalry, and she resolved, therefore, to lose no time in seeking the first pleasure to which since her disappointment she had voluntarily looked forward.
Early in the evening, she told Lady Margaret she was going out for an hour or two, and sending again for a chair, was carried to Portland- street.
She enquired for Miss Belfield, and was shewn into a parlour, where she found her drinking tea with her mother, and Mr Hobson, their landlord.
Henrietta almost screamed at her sight, from a sudden impulse of joy and surprize, and, running up to her, flung her arms round her neck, and embraced her with the most rapturous emotion: but then, drawing back with a look of timidity and shame, she bashfully apologized for her freedom, saying, "Indeed, dearest Miss Beverley, it is no want of respect, but I am so very glad to see you it makes me quite forget myself!"
Cecilia, charmed at a reception so ingenuously affectionate, soon satisfied her doubting diffidence by the warmest thanks that she had preserved so much regard for her, and by doubling the kindness with which she returned her caresses.
"Mercy on me, madam," cried Mrs Belfield, who during this time had been busily employed in sweeping the hearth, wiping some slops upon the table, and smoothing her handkerchief and apron, "why the girl's enough to smother you. Henny, how can you be so troublesome? I never saw you behave in this way before."
"Miss Beverley, madam," said Henrietta, again retreating, "is so kind as to pardon me, and I was so much surprised at seeing her, that I hardly knew what I was about."
"The young ladies, ma'am," said Mr Hobson, "have a mighty way of saluting one another till such time as they get husbands: and then I'll warrant you they can meet without any salutation at all. That's my remark, at least, and what I've seen of the world has set me upon making it."
This speech led Cecilia to check, however artless, the tenderness of her fervent young friend, whom she was much teized by meeting in such company, but who seemed not to dare understand the frequent looks which she gave her expressive of a wish to be alone with her.
"Come, ladies," continued the facetious Mr Hobson, "what if we were all to sit down, and have a good dish of tea? and suppose, Mrs Belfield, you was to order us a fresh round of toast and butter? do you think the young ladies here would have any objection? and what if we were to have a little more water in the tea-kettle? not forgetting a little more tea in the teapot. What I say is this, let us all be comfortable; that's my notion of things."
"And a very good notion too," said Mrs Belfield, "for you who have nothing to vex you. Ah, ma'am, you have heard, I suppose, about my son? gone off! nobody knows where! left that lord's house, where he might have lived like a king, and gone out into the wide world nobody knows for what!"
"Indeed?" said Cecilia, who, from seeing him in London concluded he was again with his family, "and has he not acquainted you where he is?"
"No, ma'am, no," cried Mrs Belfield, "he's never once told me where he is gone, nor let me know the least about the matter, for if I did I would not taste a dish of tea again for a twelvemonth till I saw him get back again to that lord's! and I believe in my heart there's never such another in the three kingdoms, for he has sent here after him I dare say a score of times. And no wonder, for I will take upon me to say he won't find his fellow in a hurry, Lord as he is."
"As to his being a Lord," said Mr Hobson, "I am one of them that lay no great stress upon that, unless he has got a good long purse of his own, and then, to be sure, a Lord's no bad thing. But as to the matter of saying Lord such a one, how d'ye do? and Lord such a one, what do you want? and such sort of compliments, why in my mind, it's a mere nothing, in comparison of a good income. As to your son, ma'am, he did not go the right way to work. He should have begun with business, and gone into pleasure afterwards and if he had but done that, I'll be bold to say we might have had him at this very minute drinking tea with us over this fireside."
"My son, Sir," said Mrs Belfield, rather angrily, "was another sort of a person than a person of business: he always despised it from a child, and come of it what may, I am sure he was born to be a gentleman."
"As to his despising business," said Mr Hobson, very contemptuously, "why so much the worse, for business is no such despiseable thing. And if he had been brought up behind a counter, instead of dangling after these same Lords, why he might have had a house of his own over his head, and been as good a man as myself."
"A house over his head?" said Mrs Belfield, "why he might have had what he would, and have done what he would, if he had but followed my advice, and put himself a little forward. I have told him a hundred times to ask some of those great people he lived amongst for a place at court, for I know they've so many they hardly know what to do with them, and it was always my design from the beginning that he should be something of a great man; but I never could persuade him, though, for anything I know, as I have often told him, if he had but had a little courage he might have been an Ambassador by this time. And now, all of a sudden, to be gone nobody knows where!"—
"I am sorry, indeed," said Cecilia, who knew not whether most to pity or wonder at her blind folly; "but I doubt not you will hear of him soon."
"As to being an Ambassador, ma'am," said Mr Hobson, "it's talking quite out of character. Those sort of great people keep things of that kind for their own poor relations and cousins. What I say is this; a man's best way is to take care of himself. The more those great people see you want them, the less they like your company. Let every man be brought up to business, and then when he's made his fortune, he may walk with his hat on. Why now there was your friend, ma'am," turning to Cecilia, "that shot out his brains without paying any body a souse; pray how was that being more genteel than standing behind a counter, and not owing a shilling?"
"Do you think a young lady," cried Mrs Belfield warmly, "can bear to hear of such a thing as standing behind a counter? I am sure if my son had ever done it, I should not expect any lady would so much as look at him, And yet, though I say it, she might look a good while, and not see many such persons, let her look where she pleased. And then he has such a winning manner into the bargain, that I believe in my heart there's never a lady in the land could say no to him. And yet he has such a prodigious shyness, I never could make him own he had so much as asked the question. And what lady can begin first?"
"Why no," said Mr Hobson, "that would be out of character another way. Now my notion is this; let every man be agreeable! and then he may ask what lady he pleases. And when he's a mind of a lady, he should look upon a frown or two as nothing; for the ladies frown in courtship as a thing of course; it's just like a man swearing at a coachman; why he's not a bit more in a passion, only he thinks he sha'n't be minded without it."
"Well, for my part," said Mrs Belfield, "I am sure if I was a young lady, and most especially if I was a young lady of fortune, and all that, I should like a modest young gentleman, such as my son, for example, better by half than a bold swearing young fellow, that would make a point to have me whether I would or no."
"Ha! Ha! Ha!" cried Mr Hobson; "but the young ladies are not of that way of thinking; they are all for a little life and spirit. Don't I say right, young ladies?"
Cecilia, who could not but perceive that these speeches was levelled at herself, felt offended and tired; and finding she had no chance of any private conversation with Henrietta, arose to take leave: but while she stopped in the passage to enquire when she could see her alone, a footman knocked at the door, who, having asked if Mr Belfield lodged there, and been answered in the affirmative; begged to know whether Miss Beverley was then in the house?
Cecilia, much surprised, went forward, and told him who she was.
"I have been, madam," said he, "with a message to you at Mr Monckton's, in Soho-Square: but nobody knew where you was; and Mr Monckton came out and spoke to me himself, and said that all he could suppose was that you might be at this house. So he directed me to come here."
"And from whom, Sir, is your message?"
"From the honourable Mr Delvile, madam, in St James's-Square. He desires to know if you shall be at home on Saturday morning, the day after to-morrow, and whether you can appoint Mr Briggs to meet him by twelve o'clock exactly, as he sha'n't be able to stay above three minutes."
Cecilia gave an answer as cold as the message; that she would be in Soho-Square at the time he mentioned, and acquaint Mr Briggs of his intention.
The footman then went away; and Henrietta told her, that if she could call some morning she might perhaps contrive to be alone with her, and added, "indeed I wish much to see you, if you could possibly do me so great an honour; for I am very miserable, and have nobody to tell so! Ah, Miss Beverley! you that have so many friends, and that deserve as many again, you little know what a hard thing it is to have none!—but my brother's strange disappearing has half broke our hearts!"
Cecilia was beginning a consolatory speech, in which she meant to give her private assurances of his health and safety, when she was interrupted by Mr Albany, who came suddenly into the passage.
Henrietta received him with a look of pleasure, and enquired why he had so long been absent; but, surprised by the sight of Cecilia, he exclaimed, without answering her, "why didst thou fail me? why appoint me to a place thou wert quitting thyself?—thou thing of fair professions! thou inveigler of esteem! thou vain, delusive promiser of pleasure!"
"You condemn me too hastily," said Cecilia; if I failed in my promise, it was not owing to caprice or insincerity, but to a real and bitter misfortune which incapacitated me from keeping it. I shall soon, however,—nay, I am already at your disposal, if you have any commands for me."
"I have always," answered he, "commands for the rich, for I have always compassion for the poor."
"Come to me, then, at Mr Monckton's in Soho-Square," cried she, and hastened into her chair, impatient to end a conference which she saw excited the wonder of the servants, and which also now drew out from the parlour Mr Hobson and Mrs Belfield. She then kissed her hand to Henrietta, and ordered the chairmen to carry her home.
It had not been without difficulty that she had restrained herself from mentioning what she knew of Belfield, when she found his mother and sister in a state of such painful uncertainty concerning him. But her utter ignorance of his plans, joined to her undoubted knowledge of his wish of concealment, made her fear doing mischief by officiousness, and think it wiser not to betray what she had seen of him, till better informed of his own views and intentions. Yet, willing to shorten a suspence so uneasy to them, she determined to entreat Mr Monckton would endeavour to find him out, and acquaint him with their anxiety.
That gentleman, when she returned to his house, was in a state of mind by no means enviable. Missing her at tea, he had asked Miss Bennet where she was, and hearing she had not left word, he could scarce conceal his chagrin. Knowing, however, how few were her acquaintances in town, he soon concluded she was with Miss Belfield, but, not satisfied with sending Mr Delvile's messenger after her, he privately employed one in whom he trusted for himself, to make enquiries at the house without saying whence he came.
But though this man was returned, and he knew her safety, he still felt alarmed; he had flattered himself, from the length of time in which she had now done nothing without consulting him, she would scarce even think of any action without his previous concurrence. And he had hoped, by a little longer use, to make his counsel become necessary, which he knew to be a very short step from rendering it absolute.
Nor was he well pleased to perceive, by this voluntary excursion, a struggle to cast off her sadness, and a wish to procure herself entertainment: it was not that he desired her misery, but he was earnest that all relief from it should spring from himself: and though far from displeased that Delvile should lose his sovereignty over her thoughts, he was yet of opinion that, till his own liberty was restored, he had less to apprehend from grief indulged, than grief allayed; one could but lead her to repining retirement, the other might guide her to a consolatory rival.
He well knew, however, it was as essential to his cause to disguise his disappointments as his expectations, and, certain that by pleasing alone he had any chance of acquiring power, he cleared up when Cecilia returned, who as unconscious of feeling, as of owing any subjection to him, preserved uncontrolled the right of acting for herself, however desirous and glad of occasional instruction.
She told him where she had been, and related her meeting Belfield, and the unhappiness of his friends, and hinted her wish that he could be informed what they suffered. Mr Monckton, eager to oblige her, went instantly in search of him, and returning to supper, told her he had traced him through the Bookseller, who had not the dexterity to parry his artful enquiries, and had actually appointed him to breakfast in Soho-Square the next morning.
He had found him, he said, writing, but in high spirits and good humour. He had resisted, for a while, his invitation on account of his dress, all his clothes but the very coat which he had on being packed up and at his mother's: but, when laughed at by Mr Monckton for still retaining some foppery, he gaily protested what remained of it should be extinguished; and acknowledging that his shame was no part of his philosophy, declared he would throw it wholly aside, and, in spite of his degradation, renew his visits at his house.
"I would not tell him," Mr Monckton continued, "of the anxiety of his family; I thought it would come more powerfully from yourself, who, having seen, can better enforce it."
Cecilia was very thankful for this compliance with her request, and anticipated the pleasure she hoped soon to give Henrietta, by the restoration of a brother so much loved and so regretted.
She sent, mean time, to Mr Briggs the message she had received from Mr Delvile, and had the satisfaction of an answer that he would observe the appointment.
The next morning, while the family was at breakfast, Belfield, according to his promise, made his visit.
A high colour overspread his face as he entered the room, resulting from a sensation of grief at his fallen fortune, and shame at his altered appearance, which though he endeavoured to cover under an air of gaiety and unconcern, gave an awkwardness to his manners, and a visible distress to his countenance: Mr Monckton received him with pleasure, and Cecilia, who saw the conflict of his philosophy with his pride, dressed her features once more in smiles, which however faint and heartless, shewed her desire to reassure him. Miss Bennet, as usual when not called upon by the master or lady of the house, sat as a cypher; and Lady Margaret, always disagreeable and repulsive to the friends of her husband, though she was not now more than commonly ungracious, struck the quick-feeling and irritable Belfield, to wear an air of rude superiority meant to reproach him with his disgrace.
This notion, which strongly affected him, made him, for one instant, hesitate whether he should remain another in the same room with her: but the friendliness of Mr Monckton, and the gentleness and good breeding of Cecilia, seemed so studious to make amends for her moroseness, that he checked his too ready indignation, and took his seat at the table. Yet was it some time before he could recover even the assumed vivacity which this suspected insult had robbed him of, sufficiently to enter into conversation with any appearance of ease or pleasure. But, after a while, soothed by the attentions of Cecilia and Mr Monckton, his uneasiness wore off, and the native spirit and liveliness of his character broke forth with their accustomed energy.
"This good company, I hope," said he, addressing himself, however, only to Cecilia, "will not so much mistake the thing as to criticise my dress of this morning; since it is perfectly according to rule, and to rule established from time immemorial: but lest any of you should so much err as to fancy shabby what is only characteristic, I must endeavour to be beforehand with the malice of conjecture, and have the honour to inform you, that I am enlisted in the Grub-street regiment, of the third story, and under the tattered banner of scribbling volunteers! a race which, if it boasts not the courage of heroes, at least equals them in enmity. This coat, therefore, is merely the uniform of my corps, and you will all, I hope, respect it as emblematical of wit and erudition."
"We must at least respect you," said Cecilia, "who thus gaily can sport with it."
"Ah, madam!" said he, more seriously, "it is not from you I ought to look for respect! I must appear to you the most unsteady and coward- hearted of beings. But lately I blushed to see you from poverty, though more worthily employed than when I had been seen by you in affluence; that shame vanquished, another equally narrow took its place, and yesterday I blushed again that you detected me in a new pursuit, though I had only quitted my former one from a conviction it was ill chosen. There seems in human nature a worthlessness not to be conquered! yet I will struggle with it to the last, and either die in the attempt, or dare seem that which I am, without adding to the miseries of life, the sting, the envenomed sting of dastardly false shame!"
"Your language is wonderfully altered within this twelvemonth," said Mr Monckton; "the worthlessness of human nature! the miseries of life! this from you! so lately the champion of human nature, and the panegyrist of human life!"
"Soured by personal disappointment," answered he, "I may perhaps speak with too much acrimony; yet, ultimately, my opinions have not much changed. Happiness is given to us with more liberality than we are willing to confess; it is judgment only that is dealt us sparingly, and of that we have so little, that when felicity is before us, we turn to the right or left, or when at the right or left, we proceed strait forward. It has been so with me; I have sought it at a distance, amidst difficulty and danger, when all that I could wish has been immediately within my grasp."
"It must be owned," said Mr Monckton, "after what you have suffered from this world you were wont to defend, there is little reason to wonder at some change in your opinion."
"Yet whatever have been my sufferings," he answered, "I have generally been involved in them by my own rashness or caprice. My last enterprise especially, from which my expectations were highest, was the most ill- judged of any. I considered not how little my way of life had fitted me for the experiment I was making, how irreparably I was enervated by long sedentary habits, and how insufficient for bodily strength was mental resolution. We may fight against partial prejudices, and by spirit and fortitude we may overcome them; but it will not do to war with the general tenor of education. We may blame, despise, regret as we please, but customs long established, and habits long indulged, assume an empire despotic, though their power is but prescriptive. Opposing them is vain; Nature herself, when forced aside, is not more elastic in her rebound."
"Will you not then," said Cecilia, "since your experiment has failed, return again to your family, and to the plan of life you formerly settled?"
"You speak of them together," said he, with a smile, "as if you thought them inseparable; and indeed my own apprehension they would be deemed so, has made me thus fear to see my friends, since I love not resistance, yet cannot again attempt the plan of life they would have me pursue. I have given up my cottage, but my independence is as dear to me as ever; and all that I have gathered from experience, is to maintain it by those employments for which my education has fitted me, instead of seeking it injudiciously by the very road for which it has unqualified me."
"And what is this independence," cried Mr Monckton, "which has thus bewitched your imagination? a mere idle dream of romance and enthusiasm; without existence in nature, without possibility in life. In uncivilised countries, or in lawless times, independence, for a while, may perhaps stalk abroad; but in a regular government, 'tis only the vision of a heated brain; one part of a community must inevitably hang upon another, and 'tis a farce to call either independent, when to break the chain by which they are linked would prove destruction to both. The soldier wants not the officer more than the officer the soldier, nor the tenant the landlord, more than the landlord the tenant. The rich owe their distinction, their luxuries, to the poor, as much as the poor owe their rewards, their necessaries, to the rich."
"Man treated as an Automaton," answered Belfield, "and considered merely with respect to his bodily operations, may indeed be called dependent, since the food by which he lives, or, rather, without which he dies, cannot wholly be cultivated and prepared by his own hands: but considered in a nobler sense, he deserves not the degrading epithet; speak of him, then, as a being of feeling and understanding, with pride to alarm, with nerves to tremble, with honour to satisfy, and with a soul to be immortal!—as such, may he not claim the freedom of his own thoughts? may not that claim be extended to the liberty of speaking, and the power of being governed by them? and when thoughts, words, and actions are exempt from controul, will you brand him with dependency merely because the Grazier feeds his meat, and the Baker kneads his bread?"
"But who is there in the whole world," said Mr Monckton, "extensive as it is, and dissimilar as are its inhabitants, that can pretend to assert, his thoughts, words, and actions, are exempt from controul? even where interest, which you so much disdain, interferes not,— though where that is I confess I cannot tell!—are we not kept silent where we wish to reprove by the fear of offending? and made speak where we wish to be silent by the desire of obliging? do we not bow to the scoundrel as low as to the man of honour? are we not by mere forms kept standing when tired? made give place to those we despise? and smiles to those we hate? or if we refuse these attentions, are we not regarded as savages, and shut out of society?"
"All these," answered Belfield, "are so merely matters of ceremony, that the concession can neither cost pain to the proud, nor give pleasure to the vain. The bow is to the coat, the attention is to the rank, and the fear of offending ought to extend to all mankind. Homage such as this infringes not our sincerity, since it is as much a matter of course as the dress that we wear, and has as little reason to flatter a man as the shadow which follows him. I no more, therefore, hold him deceitful for not opposing this pantomimical parade, than I hold him to be dependent for eating corn he has not sown."
"Where, then, do you draw the line? and what is the boundary beyond which your independence must not step?"
"I hold that man," cried he, with energy, "to be independent, who treats the Great as the Little, and the Little as the Great, who neither exults in riches nor blushes in poverty, who owes no man a groat, and who spends not a shilling he has not earned."
"You will not, indeed, then, have a very numerous acquaintance, if this is the description of those with whom you purpose to associate! but is it possible you imagine you can live by such notions? why the Carthusian in his monastery, who is at least removed from temptation, is not mortified so severely as a man of spirit living in the world, who would prescribe himself such rules."
"Not merely have I prescribed," returned Belfield, "I have already put them in practice; and far from finding any pennance, I never before found happiness. I have now adopted, though poor, the very plan of life I should have elected if rich; my pleasure, therefore, is become my business, and my business my pleasure."
"And is this plan," cried Monckton, "nothing more than turning Knight- errant to the Booksellers?"
"'Tis a Knight-errantry," answered Belfield, laughing, "which, however ludicrous it may seem to you, requires more soul and more brains than any other. Our giants may, indeed, be only windmills, but they must be attacked with as much spirit, and conquered with as much bravery, as any fort or any town, in time of war [to] be demolished; and though the siege, I must confess, may be of less national utility, the assailants of the quill have their honour as much at heart as the assailants of the sword."
"I suppose then," said Monckton, archly, "if a man wants a biting lampoon, or an handsome panegyric, some newspaper scandal, or a sonnet for a lady—"
"No, no," interrupted Belfield eagerly, "if you imagine me a hireling scribbler for the purposes of defamation or of flattery, you as little know my situation as my character. My subjects shall be my own, and my satire shall be general. I would as much disdain to be personal with an anonymous pen, as to attack an unarmed man in the dark with a dagger I had kept concealed."
A reply of rallying incredulity was rising to the lips of Mr Monckton, when reading in the looks of Cecilia an entire approbation of this sentiment, he checked his desire of ridicule, and exclaimed, "spoken like a man of honour, and one whose works may profit the world!"
"From my earliest youth to the present hour," continued Belfield, "literature has been the favourite object of my pursuit, my recreation in leisure, and my hope in employment. My propensity to it, indeed, has been so ungovernable, that I may properly call it the source of my several miscarriages throughout life. It was the bar to my preferment, for it gave me a distaste to other studies; it was the cause of my unsteadiness in all my undertakings, because to all I preferred it. It has sunk me to distress, it has involved me in difficulties; it has brought me to the brink of ruin by making me neglect the means of living, yet never, till now, did I discern it might itself be my support."
"I am heartily glad, Sir," said Cecilia, "your various enterprizes and struggles have at length ended in a project which promises you so much satisfaction. But you will surely suffer your sister and your mother to partake of it? for who is there that your prosperity will make so happy?"
"You do them infinite honour, madam, by taking any interest in their affairs; but to own to you the truth, what to me appears prosperity, will to them wear another aspect. They have looked forward to my elevation with expectations the most improbable, and thought everything within my grasp, with a simplicity incredible. But though their hopes were absurd, I am pained by their disappointment, and I have not courage to meet their tears, which I am sure will not be spared when they see me."
"'Tis from tenderness, then," said Cecilia, half smiling, "that you are cruel, and from affection to your friends that you make them believe you have forgotten them?"
There was a delicacy in this reproach exactly suited to work upon Belfield, who feeling it with quickness, started up, and cried, "I believe I am wrong!—I will go to them this moment!"
Cecilia felt eager to second the generous impulse; but Mr Monckton, laughing at his impetuosity, insisted he should first finish his breakfast.
"Your friends," said Cecilia, "can have no mortification so hard to bear as your voluntary absence; and if they see but that you are happy, they will soon be reconciled to whatever situation you may chuse."
"Happy!" repeated he, with animation, "Oh I am in Paradise! I am come from a region in the first rude state of nature, to civilization and refinement! the life I led at the cottage was the life of a savage; no intercourse with society, no consolation from books; my mind locked up, every source dried of intellectual delight, and no enjoyment in my power but from sleep and from food. Weary of an existence which thus levelled me with a brute, I grew ashamed of the approximation, and listening to the remonstrance of my understanding, I gave up the precipitate plan, to pursue one more consonant to reason. I came to town, hired a room, and sent for pen, ink and paper: what I have written are trifles, but the Bookseller has not rejected them. I was settled, therefore, in a moment, and comparing my new occupation with that I had just quitted, I seemed exalted on the sudden from a mere creature of instinct, to a rational and intelligent being. But when first I opened a book, after so long an abstinence from all mental nourishment,—Oh it was rapture! no half-famished beggar regaled suddenly with food, ever seized on his repast with more hungry avidity."
"Let fortune turn which way it will," cried Monckton, "you may defy all its malice, while possessed of a spirit of enjoyment which nothing can subdue!"
"But were you not, Sir," said Cecilia, "as great an enthusiast the other day for your cottage, and for labour?"
"I was, madam; but there my philosophy was erroneous: in my ardour to fly from meanness and from dependence, I thought in labour and retirement I should find freedom and happiness; but I forgot that my body was not seasoned for such work, and considered not that a mind which had once been opened by knowledge, could ill endure the contraction of dark and perpetual ignorance. The approach, however, of winter, brought me acquainted with my mistake. It grew cold, it grew bleak; little guarded against the inclemency of the ——, I felt its severity in every limb, and missed a thousand indulgencies which in possession I had never valued. To rise at break of day, chill, freezing, and comfortless! no sun abroad, no fire at home! to go out in all weather to work, that work rough, coarse, and laborious!—unused to such hardships, I found I could not bear them, and, however unwillingly, was compelled to relinquish the attempt."
Breakfast now being over, he again arose to take leave.
"You are going, then, Sir," said Cecilia, "immediately to your friends?"
"No, madam," answered he hesitating, "not just this moment; to-morrow morning perhaps,—but it is now late, and I have business for the rest of the day."
"Ah, Mr Monckton!" cried Cecilia, "what mischief have you done by occasioning this delay!"
"This goodness, madam," said Belfield, "my sister can never sufficiently acknowledge. But I will own, that though, just now, in a warm moment, I felt eager to present myself to her and my mother, I rather wish, now I am cooler, to be saved the pain of telling them in person my situation. I mean, therefore, first to write to them."
"You will not fail, then, to see them to-morrow?"
"Certainly—I think not."
"Nay, but certainly you must not, for I shall call upon them to-day, and assure them they may expect you. Can I soften your task of writing by giving them any message from you?"
"Ah, madam, have a care!" cried he; "this condescension to a poor author may be more dangerous than you have any suspicion! and before you have power to help yourself, you may see your name prefixed to the Dedication of some trumpery pamphlet!"
"I will run," cried she, "all risks; remember, therefore, you will be responsible for the performance of my promise."
"I will be sure," answered he, "not to forget what reflects so much honour upon myself."
Cecilia was satisfied by this assent, and he then went away.
"A strange flighty character!" cried Mr Monckton, "yet of uncommon capacity, and full of genius. Were he less imaginative, wild and eccentric, he has abilities for any station, and might fix and distinguish himself almost where-ever he pleased."
"I knew not," said Cecilia, "the full worth of steadiness and prudence till I knew this young man; for he has every thing else; talents the most striking, a love of virtue the most elevated, and manners the most pleasing; yet wanting steadiness and prudence, he can neither act with consistency nor prosper with continuance."
"He is well enough," said Lady Margaret, who had heard the whole argument in sullen taciturnity, "he is well enough, I say; and there comes no good from young women's being so difficult."
Cecilia, offended by a speech which implied a rude desire to dispose of her, went up stairs to her own room; and Mr Monckton, always enraged when young men and Cecilia were alluded to in the same sentence, retired to his library.
She then ordered a chair, and went to Portland-street, to fulfil what she had offered to Belfield, and to revive his mother and sister by the pleasure of the promised interview.
She found them together: and her intelligence being of equal consequence to both, she did not now repine at the presence of Mrs Belfield. She made her communication with the most cautious attention to their characters, softening the ill she had to relate with respect to Belfield's present way of living, by endeavouring to awaken affection and joy from the prospect of the approaching meeting. She counselled them as much as possible to restrain their chagrin at his misfortunes, which he would but construe into reproach of his ill management; and she represented that when once he was restored to his family, he might almost imperceptibly be led into some less wild and more profitable scheme of business.
When she had told all she thought proper to relate, kindly interspersing her account with the best advice and best comfort she could suggest, she made an end of her visit; for the affliction of Mrs Belfield upon hearing the actual situation of her son, was so clamorous and unappeaseable, that, little wondering at Belfield's want of courage to encounter it, and having no opportunity in such a storm to console the soft Henrietta, whose tears flowed abundantly that her brother should thus be fallen, she only promised before she left town to see her again, and beseeching Mrs Belfield to moderate her concern, was glad to leave the house, where her presence had no power to quiet their distress.
She passed the rest of the day in sad reflections upon the meeting she was herself to have the next morning with Mr Delvile. She wished ardently to know whether his son was gone abroad, and whether Mrs Delvile was recovered, whose health, in her own letter, was mentioned in terms the most melancholy: yet neither of these enquiries could she even think of making, since reasonably, without them, apprehensive of some reproach.
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 to-day 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."