"I hope, Sir," said Cecilia, staring, "this at least is a caution rather drawn from my situation than my behaviour?"
"I mean not, ma'am, narrowly to go into, or investigate the subject; what I have said you may make your own use of; I have only to observe further, that when young women, at your time of life, are at all negligent of so nice a thing as reputation, they commonly live to repent it."
He then arose to go, but Cecilia, not more offended than amazed, said, "I must beg, Sir, you will explain yourself!"
"Certainly this matter," he answered, "must be immaterial to me: yet, as I have once been your guardian by the nomination of the Dean your uncle, I cannot forbear making an effort towards preventing any indiscretion: and frequent visits to a young man—"
"Good God! Sir," interrupted Cecilia, "what is it you mean?"
"It can certainly, as I said before, be nothing to me, though I should be glad to see you in better hands: but I cannot suppose you have been led to take such steps without some serious plan; and I would advise you, without loss of time, to think better of what you are about."
"Should I think, Sir, to eternity," cried Cecilia, "I could never conjecture what you mean!"
"You may not chuse," said he, proudly, "to understand me; but I have done. If it had been in my power to have interfered in your service with my Lord Derford, notwithstanding my reluctance to being involved in any fresh employment, I should have made a point of not refusing it: but this young man is nobody,—a very imprudent connection—"
"What young man, Sir?"
"Nay, I know nothing of him! it is by no means likely I should: but as I had already been informed of your attention to him, the corroborating incidents of my servant's following you to his house, his friend's seeking him at yours, and his own waiting upon you this morning; were not well calculated to make me withdraw my credence to it."
"Is it, then, Mr Belfield, Sir, concerning whom you draw these inferences, from circumstances the most accidental and unmeaning?"
"It is by no means my practice," cried he, haughtily, and with evident marks of high displeasure at this speech, "to believe any thing lightly, or without even unquestionable authority; what once, therefore, I have credited, I do not often find erroneous. Mistake not, however, what I have said into supposing I have any objection to your marrying; on the contrary, it had been for the honour of my family had you been married a year ago I should not then have suffered the degradation of seeing a son of the first expectations in the kingdom upon the point of renouncing his birth, nor a woman of the first distinction ruined in her health, and broken for ever in her constitution."
The emotions of Cecilia at this speech were too powerful for concealment; her colour varied, now reddening with indignation, now turning pale with apprehension; she arose, she trembled and sat down, she arose again, but not knowing what to say or what to do, again sat down.
Mr Delvile then, making a stiff bow, wished her good morning.
"Go not so, Sir!" cried she, in faltering accents; "let me at least convince you of the mistake with regard to Mr Belfield—"
"My mistakes, ma'am," said he, with a contemptuous smile, "are perhaps not easily convicted: and I may possibly labour under others that would give you no less trouble: it may therefore be better to avoid any further disquisition."
"No, not better," answered she, again recovering her courage from this fresh provocation; "I fear no disquisition; on the contrary, it is my interest to solicit one."
"This intrepidity in a young woman," said he, ironically, "is certainly very commendable; and doubtless, as you are your own mistress, your having run out great part of your fortune, is nothing beyond what you have a right to do."
"Me!" cried Cecilia, astonished, "run out great part of my fortune!"
"Perhaps that is another mistake! I have not often been so unfortunate; and you are not, then, in debt?"
"In debt, Sir?"
"Nay, I have no intention to inquire into your affairs. Good morning to you, ma'am."
"I beg, I entreat, Sir, that you will stop!—make me, at least, understand what you mean, whether you deign to hear my justification or not."
"O, I am mistaken, it seems! misinformed, deceived; and you have neither spent more than you have received, nor taken up money of Jews? your minority has been clear of debts? and your fortune, now you are of age, will be free from incumbrances?"
Cecilia, who now began to understand him, eagerly answered, "do you mean, Sir, the money which I took up last spring?"
"O no; by no means, I conceive the whole to be a mistake!"
And he went to the door.
"Hear me but a moment, Sir!" cried she hastily, following him; "since you know of that transaction, do not refuse to listen to its occasion; I took up the money for Mr Harrel; it was all, and solely for him."
"For Mr Harrel, was it?" said he, with an air of supercilious incredulity; "that was rather an unlucky step. Your servant, ma'am."
And he opened the door.
"You will not hear me, then? you will not credit me?" cried she in the cruellest agitation.
"Some other time, ma'am; at present my avocations are too numerous to permit me."
And again, stiffly bowing, he called to his servants, who were waiting in the hall, and put himself into his chair.
Cecilia was now left in a state of perturbation that was hardly to be endured. The contempt with which she had been treated during the whole visit was nothing short of insult, but the accusations with which it was concluded did not more irritate than astonish her.
That some strange prejudice had been taken against her, even more than belonged to her connection with young Delvile, the message brought her by Dr Lyster had given her reason to suppose: what that prejudice was she now knew, though how excited she was still ignorant; but she found Mr Delvile had been informed she had taken up money of a Jew, without having heard it was for Mr Harrel, and that he had been acquainted with her visits in Portland-street, without seeming to know Mr Belfield had a sister. Two charges such as these, so serious in their nature, and so destructive of her character, filled her with horror and consternation, and even somewhat served to palliate his illiberal and injurious behaviour.
But how reports thus false and thus disgraceful should be raised, and by what dark work of slander and malignity they had been spread, remained a doubt inexplicable. They could not, she was certain, be the mere rumour of chance, since in both the assertions there was some foundation of truth, however cruelly perverted, or basely over- charged.
This led her to consider how few people there were not only who had interest, but who had power to propagate such calumnies; even her acquaintance with the Belfields she remembered not ever mentioning, for she knew none of their friends, and none of her own knew them. How, then, should it be circulated, that she "visited often at the house?" however be invented that it was from her "attention to the young man?" Henrietta, she was sure, was too good and too innocent to be guilty of such perfidy; and the young man himself had always shewn a modesty and propriety that manifested his total freedom from the vanity of such a suspicion, and an elevation of sentiment that would have taught him to scorn the boast, even if he believed the partiality.
The mother, however, had neither been so modest nor so rational; she had openly avowed her opinion that Cecilia was in love with her son; and as that son, by never offering himself, had never been refused, her opinion had received no check of sufficient force, for a mind so gross and literal, to change it.
This part, therefore, of the charge she gave to Mrs Belfield, whose officious and loquacious forwardness she concluded had induced her to narrate her suspicions, till, step by step, they had reached Mr Delvile.
But though able, by the probability of this conjecture, to account for the report concerning Belfield, the whole affair of the debt remained a difficulty not to be solved. Mr Harrel, his wife, Mr Arnott, the Jew and Mr Monckton, were the only persons to whom the transaction was known; and though from five, a secret, in the course of so many months, might easily be supposed likely to transpire, those five were so particularly bound to silence, not only for her interest but their own, that it was not unreasonable to believe it as safe among them all, as if solely consigned to one. For herself, she had revealed it to no creature but Mr Monckton; not even to Delvile; though, upon her consenting to marry him, he had an undoubted right to be acquainted with the true state of her affairs; but such had been the hurry, distress, confusion and irresolution of her mind at that period, that this whole circumstance had been driven from it entirely, and she had, since, frequently blamed herself for such want of recollection. Mr Harrel, for a thousand reasons, she was certain had never named it; and had the communication come from his widow or from Mr Arnott, the motives would have been related as well as the debt, and she had been spared the reproach of contracting it for purposes of her own extravagance. The Jew, indeed, was, to her, under no obligation of secrecy, but he had an obligation far more binding,—he was tied to himself.
A suspicion now arose in her mind which made it thrill with horror; "good God! she exclaimed, can Mr Monckton—-"
She stopt, even to herself;—she checked the idea;—she drove it hastily from her;—she was certain it was false and cruel,—she hated herself for having started it.
"No," cried she, "he is my friend, the confirmed friend of many years, my well-wisher from childhood, my zealous counsellor and assistant almost from my birth to this hour:—such perfidy from him would not even be human!"
Yet still her perplexity was undiminished; the affair was undoubtedly known, and it only could be known by the treachery of some one entrusted with it: and however earnestly her generosity combated her rising suspicions, she could not wholly quell them; and Mr Monckton's strange aversion to the Delviles, his earnestness to break off her connexion with them, occurred to her remembrance, and haunted her perforce with surmises to his disadvantage.
That gentleman, when he came home, found her in this comfortless and fluctuating state, endeavouring to form conjectures upon what had happened, yet unable to succeed, but by suggestions which one moment excited her abhorrence of him, and the next of herself.
He enquired, with his usual appearance of easy friendliness, into what had passed with her two guardians, and how she had settled her affairs. She answered without hesitation all his questions, but her manner was cold and reserved, though her communication was frank.
This was not unheeded by Mr Monckton, who, after a short time, begged to know if any thing had disturbed her.
Cecilia, ashamed of her doubts, though unable to get rid of them, then endeavoured to brighten up, and changed the subject to the difficulties she had had to encounter from the obstinacy of Mr Briggs.
Mr Monckton for a while humoured this evasion; but when, by her own exertion, her solemnity began to wear off, he repeated his interrogatory, and would not be satisfied without an answer.
Cecilia, earnest that surmises so injurious should be removed, then honestly, but without comments, related the scene which had just past between Mr Delvile and herself.
No comments were, however, wanting to explain to Mr Monckton the change of her behaviour. "I see," he cried hastily, "what you cannot but suspect; and I will go myself to Mr Delvile, and insist upon his clearing me."
Cecilia, shocked to have thus betrayed what was passing within her, assured him his vindication required not such a step, and begged he would counsel her how to discover this treachery, without drawing from her concern at it a conclusion so offensive to himself.
He was evidently, however, and greatly disturbed; he declared his own wonder equal to hers how the affair had been betrayed, expressed the warmest indignation at the malevolent insinuations against her conduct, and lamented with mingled acrimony and grief, that there should exist even the possibility of casting the odium of such villainy upon himself.
Cecilia, distressed, perplexed, and ashamed at once, again endeavoured to appease him, and though a lurking doubt obstinately clung to her understanding, the purity of her own principles, and the softness of her heart, pleaded strongly for his innocence, and urged her to detest her suspicion, though to conquer it they were unequal.
"It is true," said he, with an air ingenuous though mortified, "I dislike the Delviles, and have always disliked them; they appear to me a jealous, vindictive, and insolent race, and I should have thought I betrayed the faithful regard I professed for you, had I concealed my opinion when I saw you in danger of forming an alliance with them; I spoke to you, therefore, with honest zeal, thoughtless of any enmity I might draw upon myself; but though it was an interference from which I hoped, by preventing the connection, to contribute to your happiness, it was not with a design to stop it at the expence of your character, —a design black, horrible, and diabolic! a design which must be formed by a Daemon, but which even a Daemon could never, I think, execute!"
The candour of this speech, in which his aversion to the Delviles was openly acknowledged, and rationally justified, somewhat quieted the suspicions of Cecilia, which far more anxiously sought to be confuted than confirmed: she began, therefore, to conclude that some accident, inexplicable as unfortunate, had occasioned the partial discovery to Mr Delvile, by which her own goodness proved the source of her defamation: and though something still hung upon her mind that destroyed that firm confidence she had hitherto felt in the friendship of Mr Monckton, she held it utterly unjust to condemn him without proof, which she was not more unable to procure, than to satisfy herself with any reason why so perfidiously he should calumniate her.
Comfortless, however, and tormented with conjectures equally vague and afflicting, she could only clear him to be lost in perplexity, she could only accuse him to be penetrated with horror. She endeavoured to suspend her judgment till time should develop the mystery, and only for the present sought to finish her business and leave London.
She renewed, therefore, again, the subject of Mr Briggs, and told him how vain had been her effort to settle with him. Mr Monckton instantly offered his services in assisting her, and the next morning they went together to his house, where, after an obstinate battle, they gained a complete victory: Mr Briggs gave up all his accounts, and, in a few days, by the active interference of Mr Monckton, her affairs were wholly taken out of his hands. He stormed, and prophesied all ill to Cecilia, but it was not to any purpose; he was so disagreeable to her, by his manners, and so unintelligible to her in matters of business, that she was happy to have done with him; even though, upon inspecting his accounts, they were all found clear and exact, and his desire to retain his power over her fortune, proved to have no other motive than a love of money so potent, that to manage it, even for another, gave him a satisfaction he knew not how to relinquish.
Mr Monckton, who, though a man of pleasure, understood business perfectly well, now instructed and directed her in making a general arrangement of her affairs. The estate which devolved to her from her uncle, and which was all in landed property, she continued to commit to the management of the steward who was employed in his life-time; and her own fortune from her father, which was all in the stocks, she now diminished to nothing by selling out to pay Mr Monckton the principal and interest which she owed him, and by settling with her Bookseller.
While these matters were transacting, which, notwithstanding her eagerness to leave town, could not be brought into such a train as to permit her absence in less than a week, she passed her time chiefly alone. Her wishes all inclined her to bestow it upon Henrietta, but the late attack of Mr Delvile had frightened her from keeping up that connection, since however carefully she might confine it to the daughter, Mrs Belfield, she was certain, would impute it all to the son.
That attack rested upon her mind, in defiance of all her endeavours to banish it; the contempt with which it was made seemed intentionally offensive, as if he had been happy to derive from her supposed ill conduct, a right to triumph over as well as reject her. She concluded, also, that Delvile would be informed of these calumnies, yet she judged his generosity by her own, and was therefore convinced he would not credit them: but what chiefly at this time encreased her sadness and uneasiness, was the mention of Mrs Delvile's broken constitution and ruined health. She had always preserved for that lady the most affectionate respect, and could not consider herself as the cause of her sufferings, without feeling the utmost concern, however conscious she had not wilfully occasioned them.
Nor was this scene the only one by which her efforts to forget this family were defeated; her watchful monitor, Albany, failed not again to claim her promise; and though Mr Monckton earnestly exhorted her not to trust herself out with him, she preferred a little risk to the keenness of his reproaches, and the weather being good on the morning that he called, she consented to accompany him in his rambles: only charging her footman to follow where-ever they went, and not to fail enquiring for her if she stayed long out of his sight. These precautions were rather taken to satisfy Mr Monckton than herself, who, having now procured intelligence of the former disorder of his intellects, was fearful of some extravagance, and apprehensive for her safety.
He took her to a miserable house in a court leading into Piccadilly, where, up three pair of stairs, was a wretched woman ill in bed, while a large family of children were playing in the room.
"See here," cried he, "what human nature can endure! look at that poor wretch, distracted with torture, yet lying in all this noise! unable to stir in her bed, yet without any assistant! suffering the pangs of acute disease, yet wanting the necessaries of life!"
Cecilia went up to the bed-side, and enquired more particularly into the situation of the invalid; but finding she could hardly speak from pain, she sent for the woman of the house, who kept a Green Grocer's shop on the ground floor, and desired her to hire a nurse for her sick lodger, to call all the children down stairs, and to send for an apothecary, whose bill she promised to pay. She then gave her some money to get what necessaries might be wanted, and said she would come again in two days to see how they went on.
Albany, who listened to these directions with silent, yet eager attention, now clasped both his hands with a look of rapture, and exclaimed "Virtue yet lives,—and I have found her?"
Cecilia, proud of such praise, and ambitious to deserve it, chearfully said, "where, Sir, shall we go now?"
"Home;" answered he with an aspect the most benign; "I will not wear out thy pity by rendering woe familiar to it."
Cecilia, though at this moment more disposed for acts of charity than for business or for pleasure, remembered that her fortune however large was not unlimited, and would not press any further bounty for objects she knew not, certain that occasions and claimants, far beyond her ability of answering, would but too frequently arise among those with whom she was more connected, she therefore yielded herself to his direction, and returned to Soho-Square.
Again, however, he failed not to call the time she had appointed for re-visiting the invalid, to whom, with much gladness, he conducted her.
The poor woman, whose disease was a rheumatic fever, was already much better; she had been attended by an apothecary who had given her some alleviating medicine; she had a nurse at her bedside, and the room being cleared of the children, she had had the refreshment of some sleep.
She was now able to raise her head, and make her acknowledgments to her benefactress; but not a little was the surprise of Cecilia, when, upon looking in her face, she said, "Ah, madam, I have seen you before!"
Cecilia, who had not the smallest recollection of her, in return desired to know when, or where?
"When you were going to be married, madam, I was the Pew-Opener at—— Church."
Cecilia started with secret horror, and involuntarily retreated from the bed; while Albany with a look of astonishment exclaimed, "Married! —why, then, is it unknown?"
"Ask me not!" cried she, hastily; "it is all a mistake."
"Poor thing!" cried he, "this, then, is the string thy nerves endure not to have touched! sooner will I expire than a breath of mine shall make it vibrate! Oh sacred be thy sorrow, for thou canst melt at that of the indigent!"
Cecilia then made a few general enquiries, and heard that the poor woman, who was a widow, had been obliged to give up her office, from the frequent attacks which she suffered of the rheumatism; that she had received much assistance both from the Rector and the Curate of —— Church, but her continual illness, with the largeness of her family, kept her distressed in spite of all help.
Cecilia promised to consider what she could do for her, and then giving her more money, returned to Lady Margaret's.
Albany, who found that the unfortunate recollection of the Pew-Opener had awakened in his young pupil a melancholy train of reflections, seemed now to compassionate the sadness which hitherto he had reproved, and walking silently by her side till she came to Soho-Square, said in accents of kindness, "Peace light upon thy head, and dissipate thy woes!" and left her.
"Ah when!" cried she to herself, "if thus they are to be revived for- ever!"
Mr Monckton, who observed that something had greatly affected her, now expostulated warmly against Albany and his wild schemes; "You trifle with your own happiness," he cried, "by witnessing these scenes of distress, and you will trifle away your fortune upon projects you can never fulfil: the very air in those miserable houses is unwholesome for you to breathe; you will soon be affected with some of the diseases to which you so uncautiously expose yourself, and while not half you give in charity will answer the purpose you wish, you will be plundered by cheats and sharpers till you have nothing left to bestow. You must be more considerate for yourself, and not thus governed by Albany, whose insanity is but partially cured, and whose projects are so boundless, that the whole capital of the East India Company would not suffice to fulfil them."
Cecilia, though she liked not the severity of this remonstrance, acknowledged there was some truth in it, and promised to be discreet, and take the reins into her own hands.
There remained for her, however, no other satisfaction; and the path which had thus been pointed out to her, grew more and more alluring every step. Her old friends, the poor Hills, now occurred to her memory, and she determined to see herself in what manner they went on.
The scene which this enquiry presented to her, was by no means calculated to strengthen Mr Monckton's doctrine, for the prosperity in which she found this little family, amply rewarded the liberality she had shewn to it, and proved an irresistible encouragement to similar actions. Mrs Hill wept for joy in recounting how well she succeeded, and Cecilia, delighted by the power of giving such pleasure, forgot all cautions and promises in the generosity which she displayed. She paid Mrs Roberts the arrears that were due to her, she discharged all that was owing for the children who had been put to school, desired they might still be sent to it solely at her expense, and gave the mother a sum of money to be laid out in presents for them all.
To perform her promise with the Pew Opener was however more difficult; her ill health, and the extreme youth of her children making her utterly helpless: but these were not considerations for Cecilia to desert her, but rather motives for regarding her as more peculiarly an object of charity. She found she had once been a clear starcher, and was a tolerable plain work-woman; she resolved, therefore, to send her into the country, where she hoped to be able to get her some business, and knew that at least, she could help her, if unsuccessful, and see that her children were brought up to useful employments. The, woman herself was enchanted at the plan, and firmly persuaded the country air would restore her health. Cecilia told her only to wait till she was well enough to travel, and promised, in the mean time, to look out some little habitation for her. She then gave her money to pay her bills, and for her journey, and writing a full direction where she would hear of her at Bury, took leave of her till that time.
These magnificent donations and designs, being communicated to Albany, seemed a renovation to him of youth, spirit, and joy! while their effect upon Mr Monckton resembled an annihilation of all three! to see money thus sported away, which he had long considered as his own, to behold those sums which he had destined for his pleasures, thus lavishly bestowed upon beggars, excited a rage he could with difficulty conceal, and an uneasiness he could hardly endure; and he languished, he sickened for the time, when he might put a period to such romantic proceedings.
Such were the only occupations which interrupted the solitude of Cecilia, except those which were given to her by actual business; and the moment her affairs were in so much forwardness that they could be managed by letters, she prepared for returning into the country. She acquainted Lady Margaret and Mr Monckton with her design, and gave orders to her servants to be ready to set off the next day.
Mr Monckton made not any opposition, and refused himself the satisfaction of accompanying her: and Lady Margaret, whose purpose was now answered, and who wished to be in the country herself, determined to follow her.
This matter being settled at breakfast, Cecilia, having but one day more to spend in London, knew not how to let it pass without taking leave of Henrietta, though she chose not again to expose herself to the forward insinuations of her mother; she sent her, therefore, a short note, begging to see her at Lady Margaret's, and acquainting her that the next day she was going out of town.
Henrietta returned the following answer.
To Miss Beverley.
Madam,—My mother is gone to market, and I must not go out without her leave; I have run to the door at every knock this whole week in hopes you were coming, and my heart has jumpt at every coach that has gone through the street. Dearest lady, why did you tell me you would come? I should not have thought of such a great honour if you had not put it in my head. And now I have got the use of a room where I can often be alone for two or three hours together. And so I shall this morning, if it was possible my dear Miss Beverley could come. But I don't mean to be teasing, and I would not be impertinent or encroaching for the world; but only the thing is I have a great deal to say to you, and if you was not so rich a lady, and so much above me, I am sure I should love you better than any body in the whole world, almost; and now I dare say I shan't see you at all; for it rains very hard, and my mother, I know, will be sadly angry if I ask to go in a coach. O dear! I don't know what I can do! for it will half break my heart, if my dear Miss Beverley should go out of town, and I not see her!—I am, Madam, with the greatest respectfulness, your most humble servant,
This artless remonstrance, joined to the intelligence that she could see her alone, made Cecilia instantly order a chair, and go herself to Portland-street: for she found by this letter there was much doubt if she could otherwise see her, and the earnestness of Henrietta made her now not endure to disappoint her. "She has much," cried she, "to say to me, and I will no longer refuse to hear her; she shall unbosom to me her gentle heart, for we have now nothing to fear from each other. She promises herself pleasure from the communication, and doubtless it must be some relief to her. Oh were there any friendly bosom, in which I might myself confide!—happier Henrietta! less fearful of thy pride, less tenacious of thy dignity! thy sorrows at least seek the consolation of sympathy,—mine, alas! fettered by prudence, must fly it!"
She was shewn into the parlour, which she had the pleasure to find empty; and, in an instant, the warm-hearted Henrietta was in her arms. "This is sweet of you indeed," cried she, "for I did not know how to ask it, though it rains so hard I could not have walked to you, and I don't know what I should have done, if you had gone away and quite forgot me."
She then took her into the back parlour, which she said they had lately hired, and, as it was made but little use of, she had it almost entirely to herself.
There had passed a sad scene, she told her, at the meeting with her brother, though now they were a little more comfortable; yet, her mother, she was sure, would never be at rest till he got into some higher way of life; "And, indeed, I have some hopes," she continued, "that we shall be able by and bye to do something better for him; for he has got one friend in the world, yet; thank God, and such a noble friend!—indeed I believe he can do whatever he pleases for him,—that is I mean I believe if he was to ask any thing for him, there's nobody would deny him. And this is what I wanted to talk to you about."—
Cecilia, who doubted not but she meant Delvile, scarce knew how to press the subject, though she came with no other view: Henrietta, however, too eager to want solicitation, went on.
"But the question is whether we shall be able to prevail upon my brother to accept any thing, for he grows more and more unwilling to be obliged, and the reason is, that being poor, he is afraid, I believe, people should think he wants to beg of them: though if they knew him as well as I do, they would not long think that, for I am sure he would a great deal rather be starved to death. But indeed, to say the truth, I am afraid he has been sadly to blame in this affair, and quarrelled when there was no need to be affronted; for I have seen a gentleman who knows a great deal better than my brother what people should do, and he says he took every thing wrong that was done, all the time he was at Lord Vannelt's."
"And how does this gentleman know it?"
"O because he went himself to enquire about it; for he knows Lord Vannelt very well, and it was by his means my brother came acquainted with him. And this gentleman would not have wished my brother to be used ill any more than I should myself, so I am sure I may believe what he says. But my poor brother, not being a lord himself, thought every body meant to be rude to him, and because he knew he was poor, he suspected they all behaved disrespectfully to him. But this gentleman gave me his word that every body liked him and esteemed him, and if he would not have been so suspicious, they would all have done any thing for him in the world."
"You know this gentleman very well, then?"
"O no, madam!" she answered hastily, "I don't know him at all! he only comes here to see my brother; it would be very impertinent for me to call him an acquaintance of mine."
"Was it before your brother, then, he held this conversation with you?"
"O no, my brother would have been affronted with him, too, if he had! but he called here to enquire for him at the time when he was lost to us, and my mother quite went down upon her knees to him to beg him to go to Lord Vannelt's, and make excuses for him, if he had not behaved properly: but if my brother was to know this, he would hardly speak to her again! so when this gentleman came next, I begged him not to mention it, for my mother happened to be out, and so I saw him alone."
"And did he stay with you long?"
"No, ma'am, a very short time indeed; but I asked him questions all the while, and kept him as long as I could, that I might hear all he had to say about my brother."
"Have you never seen him since?"
"No, ma'am, not once! I suppose he does not know my brother is come back to us. Perhaps when he does, he will call."
"Do you wish him to call?"
"Me?" cried she, blushing, "a little;—sometimes I do;—for my brother's sake."
"For your brother's sake! Ah my dear Henrietta! but tell me,—or don't tell me if you had rather not,—did I not once see you kissing a letter? perhaps it was from this same noble friend?"
"It was not a letter, madam," said she, looking down, "it was only the cover of one to my brother."
"The cover of a letter only!—and that to your brother!—is it possible you could so much value it?"
"Ah madam! You, who are always used to the good and the wise, who see no other sort of people but those in high life, you can have no notion how they strike those that they are new to!—but I who see them seldom, and who live with people so very unlike them—Oh you cannot guess how sweet to me is every thing that belongs to them! whatever has but once been touched by their hands, I should like to lock up, and keep for ever! though if I was used to them, as you are, perhaps I might think less of them."
Alas! thought Cecilia, who by them knew she only meant him, little indeed would further intimacy protect you!
"We are all over-ready," continued Henrietta, "to blame others, and that is the way I have been doing all this time myself; but I don't blame my poor brother now for living so with the great as I used to do, for now I have seen a little more of the world, I don't wonder any longer at his behaviour: for I know how it is, and I see that those who have had good educations, and kept great company, and mixed with the world,—O it is another thing!—they seem quite a different species!— they are so gentle, so soft-mannered! nothing comes from them but what is meant to oblige! they seem as if they only lived to give pleasure to other people, and as if they never thought at all of themselves!"
"Ah Henrietta!" said Cecilia, shaking her head, "you have caught the enthusiasm of your brother, though you so long condemned it! Oh have a care lest, like him also, you find it as pernicious as it is alluring!"
"There, is no danger for me, madam," answered she, "for the people I so much admire are quite out of my reach. I hardly ever even see them; and perhaps it may so happen I may see them no more!"
"The people?" said Cecilia, smiling, "are there, then, many you so much distinguish?"
"Oh no indeed!" cried she, eagerly, "there is only one! there can be —I mean there are only a few—" she checked herself, and stopt.
"Whoever you admire," cried Cecilia, "your admiration cannot but honour: yet indulge it not too far, lest it should wander from your heart to your peace, and make you wretched for life."
"Ah madam!—I see you know who is the particular person I was thinking of! but indeed you are quite mistaken if you suppose any thing bad of me!"
"Bad of you!" cried Cecilia, embracing her, "I scarce think so well of any one!"
"But I mean, madam, if you think I forget he is so much above me. But indeed I never do; for I only admire him for his goodness to my brother, and never think of him at all, but just by way of comparing him, sometimes, to the other people that I see, because he makes me hate them so, that I wish I was never to see them again."
"His acquaintance, then," said Cecilia, "has done you but an ill office, and happy it would be for you could you forget you had ever made it."
"O, I shall never do that! for the more I think of him, the more I am out of humour with every body else! O Miss Beverley! we have a sad acquaintance indeed! I'm sure I don't wonder my brother was so ashamed of them. They are all so rude, and so free, and put one so out of countenance,—O how different is this person you are thinking of! he would not distress anybody, or make one ashamed for all the world! You only are like him! always gentle, always obliging!—sometimes I think you must be his sister—once, too, I heard—but that was contradicted."
A deep sigh escaped Cecilia at this speech; she guessed too well what she might have heard, and she knew too well how it might be contradicted.
"Surely, you cannot be unhappy, Miss Beverley!" said Henrietta, with a look of mingled surprise and concern.
"I have much, I own," cried Cecilia, assuming more chearfulness, "to be thankful for, and I endeavour not to forget it."
"O how often do I think," cried Henrietta, "that you, madam, are the happiest person in the world! with every thing at your own disposal,— with every body in love with you, with all the money that you can wish for, and so much sweetness that nobody can envy you it! with power to keep just what company you please, and every body proud to be one of the number!—Oh if I could chuse who I would be, I should sooner say Miss Beverley than any princess in the world!"
Ah, thought Cecilia, if such is my situation,—how cruel that by one dreadful blow all its happiness should be thrown away!
"Were I a rich lady, like you," continued Henrietta, "and quite in my own power, then, indeed, I might soon think of nothing but those people that I admire! and that makes me often wonder that you, madam, who are just such another as himself—but then, indeed, you may see so many of the same sort, that just this one may not so much strike you: and for that reason I hope with all my heart that he will never be married as long as he lives, for as he must take some lady in just such high life as his own, I should always be afraid that she would never love him as she ought to do!"
He need not now be single, thought Cecilia, were that all he had cause to apprehend!
"I often think," added Henrietta, "that the rich would be as much happier for marrying the poor, as the poor for marrying the rich, for then they would take somebody that would try to deserve their kindness, and now they only take those that know they have a right to it. Often and often have I thought so about this very gentleman! and sometimes when I have been in his company, and seen his civility and his sweetness, I have fancied I was rich and grand myself, and it has quite gone out of my head that I was nothing but poor Henrietta Belfield!"
"Did he, then," cried Cecilia a little alarmed, "ever seek to ingratiate himself into your favour?"
"No, never! but when treated with so much softness, 'tis hard always to remember one's meanness! You, madam, have no notion of that task: no more had I myself till lately, for I cared not who was high, nor who was low: but now, indeed, I must own I have some times wished myself richer! yet he assumes so little, that at other times, I have almost forgot all distance between us, and even thought—Oh foolish thought!—
"Tell it, sweet Henrietta, however!"
"I will tell you, madam, every thing! for my heart has been bursting to open itself, and nobody have I dared trust. I have thought, then, I have sometimes thought,—my true affection, my faithful fondness, my glad obedience,—might make him, if he did but know them, happier in me than in a greater lady!"
"Indeed," cried Cecilia, extremely affected by this plaintive tenderness, "I believe it—and were I him, I could not, I think, hesitate a moment in my choice!"
Henrietta now, hearing her mother coming in, made a sign to her to be silent; but Mrs Belfield had not been an instant in the passage, before a thundering knocking at the street-door occasioned it to be instantly re-opened. A servant then enquired if Mrs Belfield was at home, and being answered by herself in the affirmative, a chair was brought into the house.
But what was the astonishment of Cecilia, when, in another moment, she heard from the next parlour the voice of Mr Delvile senior, saying, "Your servant, ma'am; Mrs Belfield, I presume?"
There was no occasion, now, to make a sign to her of silence, for her own amazement was sufficient to deprive her of speech.
"Yes, Sir," answered Mrs Belfield; "but I suppose, Sir, you are some gentleman to my son."
"No, madam," he returned, "my business is with yourself."
Cecilia now recovering from her surprise, determined to hasten unnoticed out of the house, well knowing that to be seen in it would be regarded as a confirmation of all that he had asserted. She whispered, therefore, to Henrietta, that she must instantly run away, but, upon softly opening the door leading to the passage, she found Mr Delvile's chairmen, and a footman there in waiting.
She closed it again, irresolute what to do: but after a little deliberation, she concluded to out-stay him, as she was known to all his servants, who would not fail to mention seeing her; and a retreat so private was worse than any other risk. A chair was also in waiting for herself, but it was a hackney one, and she could not be known by it; and her footman she had fortunately dismissed, as he had business to transact for her journey next day.
Mean-while the thinness of the partition between the two parlours made her hearing every word that was said unavoidable.
"I am sure, Sir, I shall be very willing to oblige you," Mrs Belfield answered; "but pray, Sir, what's your name?"
"My name, ma'am," he replied, in a rather elevated voice, "I am seldom obliged to announce myself; nor is there any present necessity I should make it known. It is sufficient I assure you, you are speaking to no very common person, and probably to one you will have little chance to meet with again."
"But how can I tell your business, Sir, if I don't so much as know your name?"
"My business, madam, I mean to tell myself; your affair is only to hear it. I have some questions, indeed, to ask, which I must trouble you to answer, but they will sufficiently explain themselves to prevent any difficulty upon your part. There is no need, therefore, of any introductory ceremonial."
"Well, Sir," said Mrs Belfield, wholly insensible of this ambiguous greatness, "if you mean to make your name a secret."
"Few names, I believe, ma'am," cried he, haughtily, "have less the advantage of secrecy than mine! on the contrary, this is but one among a very few houses in this town to which my person would not immediately announce it. That, however, is immaterial; and you will be so good as to rest satisfied with my assurances, that the person with whom you are now conversing, will prove no disgrace to your character."
Mrs Belfield, overpowered, though hardly knowing, with what, only said he was very welcome, and begged him to sit down.
"Excuse me, ma'am," he answered, "My business is but of a moment, and my avocations are too many to suffer my infringing that time. You say you have a son; I have heard of him, also, somewhere before; pray will you give me leave to enquire—I don't mean to go deep into the matter, —but particular family occurrences make it essential for me to know,— whether there is not a young person of rather a capital fortune, to whom he is supposed to make proposals?"
"Lack-a-day, no, Sir!" answered Mrs Belfield, to the infinite relief of Cecilia, who instantly concluded this question referred to herself.
"I beg your pardon, then; good morning to you, ma'am," said Mr Delvile, in a tone that spoke his disappointment; but added "And there is no such young person, you say, who favours his pretensions?"
"Dear Sir," cried she, "why there's nobody he'll so much as put the question to! there's a young lady at this very time, a great fortune, that has as much a mind to him, I tell him, as any man need desire to see; but there's no making him think it! though he has been brought up at the university, and knows more about all the things, or as much, as any body in the king's dominions."
"O, then," cried Mr Delvile, in a voice of far more complacency, "it is not on the side of the young woman that the difficulty seems to rest?"
"Lord, no, Sir! he might have had her again and again only for asking! She came after him ever so often; but being brought up, as I said, at the university, he thought he knew better than me, and so my preaching was all as good as lost upon him."
The consternation of Cecilia at these speeches could by nothing be equalled but by the shame of Henrietta, who, though she knew not to whom her mother made them, felt all the disgrace and the shock of them herself.
"I suppose, Sir," continued Mrs Belfield, "you know my son?"
"No, ma'am, my acquaintance is—not very universal."
"Then, Sir, you are no judge how well he might make his own terms. And as to this young lady, she found him out, Sir, when not one of his own natural friends could tell where in the world he was gone! She was the first, Sir, to come and tell me news of him though I was his own mother! Love, Sir, is prodigious for quickness! it can see, I sometimes think, through bricks and mortar. Yet all this would not do, he was so obstinate not to take the hint!"
Cecilia now felt so extremely provoked, she was upon the point of bursting in upon them to make her own vindication; but as her passions, though they tried her reason never conquered it, she restrained herself by considering that to issue forth from a room in that house, would do more towards strengthening what was thus boldly asserted, than all her protestations could have chance to destroy.
"And as to young ladies themselves," continued Mrs Belfield, "they know no more how to make their minds known than a baby does: so I suppose he'll shilly shally till somebody else will cry snap, and take her. It is but a little while ago that it was all the report she was to have young Mr Delvile, one of her guardian's sons."
"I am sorry report was so impertinent," cried Mr Delvile, with much displeasure; "young Mr Delvile is not to be disposed of with so little ceremony; he knows better what is due to his family."
Cecilia here blushed from indignation, and Henrietta sighed from despondency.
"Lord, Sir," answered Mrs Belfield, "what should his family do better? I never heard they were any so rich, and I dare say the old gentleman, being her guardian, took care to put his son enough in her way, however it came about that they did not make a match of it: for as to old Mr Delvile, all the world says—-"
"All the world takes a very great liberty," angrily interrupted Mr Delvile, "in saying any thing about him: and you will excuse my informing you that a person of his rank and consideration, is not lightly to be mentioned upon every little occasion that occurs."
"Lord, Sir," cried Mrs Belfield, somewhat surprised at this unexpected prohibition, "I don't care for my part if I never mention the old gentleman's name again! I never heard any good of him in my life, for they say he's as proud as Lucifer, and nobody knows what it's of, for they say—"
"They say?" cried he, firing with rage, "and who are they? be so good as inform me that?"
"Lord, every body, Sir! it's his common character."
"Then every body is extremely indecent," speaking very loud, "to pay no more respect to one of the first families in England. It is a licentiousness that ought by no means to be suffered with impunity."
Here, the street-door being kept open by the servants in waiting, a new step was heard in the passage, which Henrietta immediately knowing, turned, with uplifted hands to Cecilia, and whispered, "How unlucky! it's my brother! I thought he would not have returned till night!"
"Surely he will not come in here?" re-whispered Cecilia.
But, at the same moment, he opened the door, and entered the room. He was immediately beginning an apology, and starting back, but Henrietta catching him by the arm, told him in a low voice, that she had made use of his room because she had thought him engaged for the day, but begged him to keep still and quiet, as the least noise would discover them.
Belfield then stopt; but the embarrassment of Cecilia was extreme; to find herself in his room after the speeches she had heard from his mother, and to continue with him in it by connivance, when she knew she had been represented as quite at his service, distressed and provoked her immeasurably; and she felt very angry with Henrietta for not sooner informing her whose apartment she had borrowed. Yet now to remove, and to be seen, was not to be thought of; she kept, therefore, fixed to her seat, though changing colour every moment from the variety of her emotions.
During this painful interruption she lost Mrs Belfield's next answer, and another speech or two from Mr Delvile, to whose own passion and loudness was owing Belfield's entering his room unheard: but the next voice that called their attention was that of Mr Hobson, who just then walked into the parlour.
"Why what's to do here?" cried he, facetiously, "nothing but chairs and livery servants! Why, ma'am, what is this your rout day? Sir your most humble servant. I ask pardon, but I did not know you at first. But come, suppose we were all to sit down? Sitting's as cheap as standing, and what I say is this; when a man's tired, it's more agreeable."
"Have you any thing further, ma'am," said Mr Delvile, with great solemnity, "to communicate to me?"
"No, Sir," said Mrs Belfield, rather angrily, "it's no business of mine to be communicating myself to a gentleman that I don't know the name of. Why, Mr Hobson, how come you to know the gentleman?"
"To know me!" repeated Mr Delvile, scornfully.
"Why I can't say much, ma'am," answered Mr Hobson, "as to my knowing the gentleman, being I have been in his company but once; and what I say is, to know a person if one leaves but a quart in a hogshead, it's two pints too much. That's my notion. But, Sir, that was but an ungain business at 'Squire Monckton's t'other morning. Every body was no-how, as one may say. But, Sir, if I may be so free, pray what is your private opinion of that old gentleman that talked so much out of the way?"
"My private opinion, Sir?"
"Yes, Sir; I mean if it's no secret, for as to a secret, I hold it's what no man has a right to enquire into, being of its own nature it's a thing not to be told. Now as to what I think myself, my doctrine is this; I am quite of the old gentleman's mind about some things, and about others I hold him to be quite wide of the mark. But as to talking in such a whisky frisky manner that nobody can understand him, why its tantamount to not talking at all, being he might as well hold his tongue. That's what I say. And then as to that other article, of abusing a person for not giving away all his lawful gains to every cripple in the streets, just because he happens to have but one leg, or one eye, or some such matter, why it's knowing nothing of business! it's what I call talking at random."
"When you have finished, Sir," said Mr Delvile, "you will be so good to let me know."
"I don't mean to intrude, Sir; that's not my way, so if you are upon business—"
"What else, Sir, could you suppose brought me hither? However, I by no means purpose any discussion. I have only a few words more to say to this gentlewoman, and as my time is not wholly inconsequential, I should not be sorry to have an early opportunity of being heard."
"I shall leave you with the lady directly, Sir; for I know business better than to interrupt it: but seeing chairs in the entry, my notion was I should see ladies in the parlour, not much thinking of gentlemen's going about in that manner, being I never did it myself. But I have nothing to offer against that; let every man have his own way; that's what I say. Only just let me ask the lady before I go, what's the meaning of my seeing two chairs in the entry, and only a person for one in the parlour? The gentleman, I suppose, did not come in both; ha! ha! ha!"
"Why now you put me in mind," said Mrs Belfield, "I saw a chair as soon as I come in; and I was just going to say who's here, when this gentleman's coming put it out of my head."
"Why this is what I call Hocus Pocus work!" said Mr Hobson; "but I shall make free to ask the chairmen who they are waiting for."
Mrs Belfield, however, anticipated him; for running into the passage, she angrily called out, "What do you do here, Misters? do you only come to be out of the rain? I'll have no stand made of my entry, I can tell you!"
"Why we are waiting for the lady," cried one of them.
"Waiting for a fiddlestick!" said Mrs Belfield; "here's no lady here, nor no company; so if you think I'll have my entry filled up by two hulking fellows for nothing, I shall shew you the difference. One's dirt enough of one's own, without taking people out of the streets to help one. Who do you think's to clean after you?"
"That's no business of ours; the lady bid us wait," answered the man.
Cecilia at this dispute could with pleasure have cast herself out of the window to avoid being discovered; but all plan of escape was too late; Mrs Belfield called aloud for her daughter, and then, returning to the front parlour, said, "I'll soon know if there's company come to my house without my knowing it!" and opened a door leading to the next room!
Cecilia, who had hitherto sat fixed to her chair, now hastily arose, but in a confusion too cruel for speech: Belfield, wondering even at his own situation, and equally concerned and surprised at her evident distress, had himself the feeling of a culprit, though without the least knowledge of any cause: and Henrietta, terrified at the prospect of her mother's anger, retreated as much as possible out of sight.
Such was the situation of the discovered, abashed, perplexed, and embarrassed! while that of the discoverers, far different, was bold, delighted, and triumphant!
"So!" cried Mrs Belfield, "why here's Miss Beverley!—in my son's back room!" winking at Mr Delvile.
"Why here's a lady, sure enough!" said Mr Hobson, "and just where she should be, and that is with a gentleman. Ha! ha! that's the right way, according to my notion! that's the true maxim for living agreeable."
"I came to see Miss Belfield," cried Cecilia, endeavouring, but vainly, to speak with composure, "and she brought me into this room."
"I am but this moment," cried Belfield, with eagerness, "returned home; and unfortunately broke into the room, from total ignorance of the honour which Miss Beverley did my sister."
These speeches, though both literally true, sounded, in the circumstances which brought them out, so much as mere excuses, that while Mr Delvile haughtily marked his incredulity by a motion of his chin, Mrs Belfield continued winking at him most significantly, and Mr Hobson, with still less ceremony, laughed aloud.
"I have nothing more, ma'am," said Mr Delvile to Mrs Belfield, "to enquire, for the few doubts with which I came to this house are now entirely satisfied. Good morning to you, ma'am."
"Give me leave, Sir," said Cecilia, advancing with more spirit, "to explain, in presence of those who can best testify my veracity, the real circumstances—"
"I would by no means occasion you such unnecessary trouble, ma'am," answered he, with an air at once exulting and pompous, "the situation in which I see you abundantly satisfies my curiosity, and saves me from the apprehension I was under of being again convicted of a mistake!"
He then made her a stiff bow, and went to his chair.
Cecilia, colouring deeply at this contemptuous treatment, coldly took leave of Henrietta, and courtsying to Mrs Belfield, hastened into the passage, to get into her own.
Henrietta was too much intimidated to speak, and Belfield was too delicate to follow her; Mr Hobson only said "The young lady seems quite dashed;" but Mrs Belfield pursued her with entreaties she would stay.
She was too angry, however, to make any answer but by a distant bow of the head, and left the house with a resolution little short of a vow never again to enter it.
Her reflections upon this unfortunate visit were bitter beyond measure; the situation in which she had been surprised,—clandestinely concealed with only Belfield and his sister—joined to the positive assertions of her partiality for him made by his mother, could not, to Mr Delvile, but appear marks irrefragable that his charge in his former conversation was rather mild than over-strained, and that the connection he had mentioned, for whatever motives denied, was incontestably formed.
The apparent conviction of this part of the accusation, might also authorise, to one but too happy in believing ill of her, an implicit faith in that which regarded her having run out her fortune. His determination not to hear her shewed the inflexibility of his character; and it was evident, notwithstanding his parading pretensions of wishing her welfare, that his inordinate pride was inflamed, at the very supposition he could be mistaken or deceived for a moment.
Even Delvile himself, if gone abroad, might now hear this account with exaggerations that would baffle all his confidence: his mother, too, greatly as she esteemed and loved her, might have the matter so represented as to stagger her good opinion;—these were thoughts the most afflicting she could harbour, though their probability was such that to banish them was impossible.
To apply again to Mr Delvile to hear her vindication, was to subject herself to insolence, and almost to court indignity. She disdained even to write to him, since his behaviour called for resentment, not concession; and such an eagerness to be heard, in opposition to all discouragement, would be practising a meanness that would almost merit repulsion.
Her first inclination was to write to Mrs Delvile, but what now, to her, was either her defence or accusation? She had solemnly renounced all further intercourse with her, she had declared against writing again, and prohibited her letters: and, therefore, after much fluctuation of opinion, her delicacy concurred with her judgment, to conclude it would be most proper, in a situation so intricate, to leave the matter to chance, and commit her character to time.
In the evening, while she was at tea with Lady Margaret and Miss Bennet, she was suddenly called out to speak to a young woman; and found, to her great surprise, she was no other than Henrietta.
"Ah madam!" she cried, "how angrily did you go away this morning! it has made me miserable ever since, and if you go out of town without forgiving me, I shall fret myself quite ill! my mother is gone out to tea, and I have run here all alone, and in the dark, and in the wet, to beg and pray you will forgive me, for else I don't know what I shall do!"
"Sweet, gentle girl!" cried Cecilia, affectionately embracing her, "if you had excited all the anger I am capable of feeling, such softness as this would banish it, and make me love you more than ever!"
Henrietta then said, in her excuse, that she had thought herself quite sure of her brother's absence, who almost always spent the whole day at the bookseller's, as in writing himself he perpetually wanted to consult other authors, and had very few books at their lodgings: but she would not mention that the room was his, lest Cecilia should object to making use of it, and she knew she had no other chance of having the conversation with her she had so very long wished for. She then again begged her pardon, and hoped the behaviour of her mother would not induce her to give her up, as she was shocked at it beyond measure, and as her brother, she assured her, was as innocent of it as herself.
Cecilia heard her with pleasure, and felt for her an encreasing regard. The openness of her confidence in the morning had merited all her affection, and she gave her the warmest protestations of a friendship which she was certain would be lasting as her life.
Henrietta then, with a countenance that spoke the lightness of her heart, hastily took her leave, saying she did not dare be out longer, lest her mother should discover her excursion. Cecilia insisted, however, upon her going in a chair, which she ordered her servant to attend, and take care himself to discharge.
This visit, joined to the tender and unreserved conversation of the morning, gave Cecilia the strongest desire to invite her to her house in the country; but the terror of Mrs Belfield's insinuations, added to the cruel interpretations she had to expect from Mr Delvile, forbid her indulging this wish, though it was the only one that just now she could form.
Cecilia took leave over night of the family, as she would not stay their rising in the morning: Mr Monckton, though certain not to sleep when she was going, forbearing to mark his solicitude by quitting his apartment at any unusual hour. Lady Margaret parted from her with her accustomed ungraciousness, and Miss Bennet, because in her presence, in a manner scarcely less displeasing.
The next morning, with only her servants, the moment it was light, she set out. Her journey was without incident or interruption, and she went immediately to the house of Mrs Bayley, where she had settled to board till her own was finished.
Mrs Bayley was a mere good sort of woman, who lived decently well with her servants, and tolerably well with her neighbours, upon a small annuity, which made her easy and comfortable, though by no means superior to such an addition to her little income as an occasional boarder might produce.
Here Cecilia continued a full month: which time had no other employment than what she voluntarily gave to herself by active deeds of benevolence.
At Christmas, to the no little joy of the neighbourhood, she took possession of her own house, which was situated about three miles from Bury.
The better sort of people were happy to see her thus settled amongst them, and the poorer, who by what they already had received, knew well what they still might expect, regarded the day in which she fixed herself in her mansion, as a day to themselves of prosperity and triumph.
As she was no longer, as hitherto, repairing to a temporary habitation, which at pleasure she might quit, and to which, at a certain period, she could have no possible claim, but to a house which was her own for ever, or, at least, could solely by her own choice be transferred, she determined, as much as was in her power, in quitting her desultory dwellings, to empty her mind of the transactions which had passed in them, and upon entering a house where she was permanently to reside, to make the expulsion of her past sorrows, the basis upon which to establish her future serenity.
And this, though a work of pain and difficulty, was not impracticable; her sensibility, indeed, was keen, and she had suffered from it the utmost torture; but her feelings were not more powerful than her understanding was strong, and her fortitude was equal to her trials. Her calamities had saddened, but not weakened her mind, and the words of Delvile in speaking of his mother occurred to her now with all the conviction of experience, that "evils inevitable are always best supported, because known to be past amendment, and felt to give defiance to struggling." [Footnote: See Vol. ii. p. 317.]
A plan by which so great a revolution was to be wrought in her mind, was not to be effected by any sudden effort of magnanimity, but by a regular and even tenour of courage mingled with prudence. Nothing, therefore, appeared to her so indispensable as constant employment, by which a variety of new images might force their way in her mind to supplant the old ones, and by which no time might be allowed for brooding over melancholy retrospections.
Her first effort, in this work of mental reformation, was to part with Fidel, whom hitherto she had almost involuntarily guarded, but whom she only could see to revive the most dangerous recollections. She sent him, therefore, to the castle, but without any message; Mrs Delvile, she was sure, would require none to make her rejoice in his restoration.
Her next step was writing to Albany, who had given her his direction, to acquaint him she was now ready to put in practice their long concerted scheme. Albany instantly hastened to her, and joyfully accepted the office of becoming at once her Almoner and her Monitor. He made it his business to seek objects of distress, and always but too certain to find them, of conducting her himself to their habitations, and then leaving to her own liberality the assistance their several cases demanded: and, in the overflowing of his zeal upon these occasions, and the rapture of his heart in thus disposing, almost at his pleasure, of her noble fortune, he seemed, at times, to feel an extasy that, from its novelty and its excess, was almost too exquisite to be borne. He joined with the beggars in pouring blessings upon her head, he prayed for her with the poor, and he thanked her with the succoured.
The pew-opener and her children failed not to keep their appointment, and Cecilia presently contrived to settle them in her neighbourhood: where the poor woman, as she recovered her strength, soon got a little work, and all deficiencies in her power of maintaining herself were supplied by her generous patroness. The children, however, she ordered to be coarsely brought up, having no intention to provide for them but by helping them to common employments.
The promise, also, so long made to Mrs Harrel of an apartment in her house, was now performed. That lady accepted it with the utmost alacrity, glad to make any change in her situation, which constant solitude had rendered wholly insupportable. Mr Arnott accompanied her to the house, and spent one day there; but receiving from Cecilia, though extremely civil and sweet to him, no hint of any invitation for repeating his visit, he left it in sadness, and returned to his own in deep dejection. Cecilia saw with concern how he nourished his hopeless passion, but knew that to suffer his visits would almost authorise his feeding it; and while she pitied unaffectedly the unhappiness she occasioned, she resolved to double her own efforts towards avoiding similar wretchedness.
This action, however, was a point of honour, not of friendship, the time being long since past that the society of Mrs Harrel could afford her any pleasure; but the promises she had so often made to Mr Harrel in his distresses, though extorted from her merely by the terrors of the moment, still were promises, and, therefore, she held herself bound to fulfil them.
Yet far from finding comfort in this addition to her family, Mrs Harrel proved to her nothing more than a trouble and an incumbrance; with no inherent resources, she was continually in search of occasional supplies; she fatigued Cecilia with wonder at the privacy of her life, and tormented her with proposals of parties and entertainments. She was eternally in amazement that with powers so large, she had wishes so confined, and was evidently disappointed that upon coming to so ample an estate, she lived, with respect to herself and her family, with no more magnificence or shew than if Heiress to only u500 a year.
But Cecilia was determined to think and to live for herself, without regard to unmeaning wonder or selfish remonstrances; she had neither ambition for splendour, nor spirits for dissipation; the recent sorrow of her heart had deadened it for the present to all personal taste of happiness, and her only chance for regaining it, seemed through the medium of bestowing it upon others. She had seen, too, by Mr Harrel, how wretchedly external brilliancy could cover inward woe, and she had learned at Delvile Castle to grow sick of parade and grandeur. Her equipage, therefore, was without glare, though not without elegance, her table was plain, though hospitably plentiful, her servants were for use, though too numerous to be for labour. The system of her oeconomy, like that of her liberality, was formed by rules of reason, and her own ideas of right, and not by compliance with example, nor by emulation with the gentry in her neighbourhood.
But though thus deviating in her actions from the usual customs of the young and rich, she was peculiarly careful not to offend them by singularity of manners. When she mixed with them, she was easy, unaffected, and well bred, and though she saw them but seldom, her good humour and desire of obliging kept them always her friends. The plan she had early formed at Mrs Harrel's she now studied daily to put in practice; but that part by which the useless or frivolous were to be excluded her house, she found could only be supported by driving from her half her acquaintance.
Another part, also, of that project she found still less easy of adoption, which was solacing herself with the society of the wise, good, and intelligent. Few answered this description, and those few were with difficulty attainable. Many might with joy have sought out her liberal dwelling, but no one had idly waited till the moment it was at her disposal. All who possessed at once both talents and wealth, were so generally courted they were rarely to be procured; and all who to talents alone owed their consequence, demanded, if worth acquiring, time and delicacy to be obtained. Fortune she knew, however, was so often at war with Nature, that she doubted not shortly meeting those who would gladly avail themselves of her offered protection.
Yet, tired of the murmurs of Mrs Harrel, she longed for some relief from her society, and her desire daily grew stronger to owe that relief to Henrietta Belfield. The more she meditated upon this wish, the less unattainable it appeared to her, till by frequently combating its difficulties, she began to consider them imaginary: Mrs Belfield, while her son was actually with herself, might see she took not Henrietta as his appendage; and Mr Delvile, should he make further enquiries, might hear that her real connection was with the sister, since she received her in the country, where the brother made no pretence to follow her. She considered, too, how ill she should be rewarded in giving up Henrietta for Mr Delvile, who was already determined to think ill of her, and whose prejudices no sacrifice would remove.
Having hesitated, therefore, some time between the desire of present alleviation, and the fear of future mischief, the consciousness of her own innocence at length vanquished all dread of unjust censure, and she wrote an invitation to Henrietta enclosed in a letter to her mother.
The answer of Henrietta expressed her rapture at the proposal; and that of Mrs Belfield made no objection but to the expence.
Cecilia, therefore, sent her own maid to travel with her into Suffolk, with proper directions to pay for the journey.
The gratitude of the delighted Henrietta at the meeting was boundless; and her joy at so unexpected a mark of favour made her half wild. Cecilia suffered it not to languish for want of kindness to support it; she took her to her bosom, became the soother of all her cares, and reposed in her, in return, every thought that led not to Delvile.
There, however, she was uniformly silent; solemnly and eternally parted from him, far from trusting the secret of her former connexion to Henrietta, the whole study of her life was to drive the remembrance of it from herself.
Henrietta now tasted a happiness to which as yet her whole life had been a stranger; she was suddenly removed from turbulent vulgarity to the enjoyment of calm elegance; and the gentleness of her disposition, instead of being tyrannically imposed upon, not only made her loved with affection, but treated with the most scrupulous delicacy. Cecilia had her share in all the comfort she bestowed; she had now a friend to oblige, and a companion to converse with. She communicated to her all her schemes, and made her the partner of her benevolent excursions; she found her disposition as amiable upon trial, as her looks and her manners had been engaging at first sight; and her constant presence and constant sweetness, imperceptibly revived her spirits, and gave a new interest to her existence.
Meantime Mr Monckton, who returned in about a fortnight to the Grove, observed the encreasing influence of Albany with the most serious concern. The bounties of Cecilia, extensive, magnificent, unlimited, were the theme of every tongue, and though sometimes censured and sometimes admired, they were wondered at universally. He suffered her for a while to go on without remonstrance, hoping her enthusiasm would abate, as its novelty wore out: but finding that week following week was still distinguished by some fresh act of beneficence, he grew so alarmed and uneasy, he could restrain himself no longer. He spoke to her with warmth, he represented her conduct as highly dangerous in its consequence; he said she would but court impostors from every corner of the kingdom, called Albany a lunatic, whom she should rather avoid than obey; and insinuated that if a report was spread of her proceedings, a charity so prodigal, would excite such alarm, that no man would think even her large and splendid fortune, would ensure him from ruin in seeking her alliance.
Cecilia heard this exhortation without either terror or impatience, and answered it with the utmost steadiness. His influence over her mind was no longer uncontrolled, for though her suspicions were not strengthened, they had never been removed, and friendship has no foe so dangerous as distrust! She thanked him, however, for his zeal, but assured him his apprehensions were groundless, since though she acted from inclination, she acted not without thought. Her income was very large, and she was wholly without family or connection; to spend it merely upon herself would be something still worse than extravagance, it must result from wilfulness the most inexcusable, as her disposition was naturally averse to luxury and expence. She might save indeed, but for whom? not a creature had such a claim upon her; and with regard to herself, she was so provided for it would be unnecessary. She would never, she declared, run in debt even for a week, but while her estate was wholly clear, she would spend it without restriction.
To his hint of any future alliance, she only said that those who disapproved her conduct, would probably be those she should disapprove in her turn; should such an event however take place, the retrenching from that time all her present peculiar expences, would surely, in a clear u3000 a-year, leave her rich enough for any man, without making it incumbent upon her at present, to deny herself the only pleasure she could taste, in bestowing that money which to her was superfluous, upon those who received it as the prolongation of their existence.
A firmness so deliberate in a system he so much dreaded, greatly shocked Mr Monckton, though it intimidated him from opposing it; he saw she was too earnest, and too well satisfied she was right, to venture giving her disgust by controverting her arguments; the conversation, therefore, ended with new discontent to himself, and with an impression upon the mind of Cecilia, that though he was zealous and friendly, he was somewhat too worldly and suspicious.
She went on, therefore, as before, distributing with a lavish hand all she could spare from her own household; careful of nothing but of guarding against imposition, which, though she sometimes unavoidably endured, her discernment, and the activity of her investigating diligence, saved her from suffering frequently. And the steadiness with which she repulsed those whom she detected in deceit, was a check upon tricks and fraud, though it could not wholly put a stop to them.
Money, to her, had long appeared worthless and valueless; it had failed to procure her the establishment for which she once flattered herself it seemed purposely designed; it had been disdained by the Delviles, for the sake of whose connection she had alone ever truly rejoiced in possessing it; and after such a conviction of its inefficacy to secure her happiness, she regarded it as of little importance to herself, and therefore thought it almost the due of those whose distresses gave it a consequence to which with her it was a stranger.
In this manner with Cecilia passed the first winter of her majority. She had sedulously filled it with occupations, and her occupations had proved fertile in keeping her mind from idleness, and in restoring it to chearfulness. Calls upon her attention so soothing, and avocations so various for her time, had answered the great purpose for which originally she had planned them, in almost forcing from her thoughts those sorrows which, if indulged, would have rested in them incessantly.
The spring was now advancing, and the weather was remarkably fine; when one morning, while Cecilia was walking with Mrs Harrel and Henrietta on the lawn before her house, to which the last dinner bell was just summoning them, to return, Mrs Harrel looked round and stopt at sight of a gentleman galloping towards them, who in less than a minute approached, and dismounting and leaving his horse to his servant, struck them all at the same instant to be no other than young Delvile!
A sight so unexpected, so unaccountable, so wonderful, after an absence so long, and to which they were mutually bound, almost wholly over- powered Cecilia from surprise and a thousand other feelings, and she caught Mrs Harrel by the arm, not knowing what she did, as if for succour; while Henrietta with scarce less, though much more glad emotion, suddenly exclaimed, "'tis Mr Delvile!" and sprang forward to meet him.
He had reached them, and in a voice that spoke hurry and perturbation, respectfully made his compliments to them all, before Cecilia recovered even the use of her feet: but no sooner were they restored to her, than she employed them with the quickest motion in her power, still leaning upon Mrs Harrel, to hasten into the house. Her solemn promise to Mrs Delvile became uppermost in her thoughts, and her surprise was soon succeeded by displeasure, that thus, without any preparation, he forced her to break it by an interview she had no means to prevent.
Just as they reached the entrance into the house, the Butler came to tell Cecilia that dinner was upon the table. Delvile then went up to her, and said, "May I wait upon you for one instant before—or after you dine?"
"I am engaged, Sir," answered she, though hardly able to speak, "for the whole day."
"You will not, I hope, refuse to hear me," cried he, eagerly, "I cannot write what I have to say,—"
"There is no occasion that you should, Sir," interrupted she, "since I should scarcely find time to read it."
She then courtsied, though without looking at him, and went into the house; Delvile remaining in utter dismay, not daring, however wishing, to follow her. But when Mrs Harrel, much surprised at behaviour so unusual from Cecilia, approached him with some civil speeches, he started, and wishing her good day, bowed, and remounted his horse: pursued by the soft eyes of Henrietta till wholly out of sight.
They then both followed Cecilia to the dining-parlour.
Had not Mrs Harrel been of this small party, the dinner would have been served in vain; Cecilia, still trembling with emotion, bewildered with conjecture, angry with Delvile for thus surprising her, angry with herself for so severely receiving him, amazed what had tempted him to such a violation of their joint agreement, and irresolute as much what to wish as what to think, was little disposed for eating, and with difficulty compelled herself to do the honours of her table.
Henrietta, whom the sight of Delvile had at once delighted and disturbed, whom the behaviour of Cecilia had filled with wonder and consternation, and whom the evident inquietude and disappointment which that behaviour had given to Delvile, had struck with grief and terror, could not swallow even a morsel, but having cut her meat about her plate, gave it, untouched, to a servant.
Mrs Harrel, however, though she had had her share in the surprise, had wholly escaped all other emotion; and only concluded in her own mind, that Cecilia could sometimes be out of humour and ill bred, as well as the rest of the world.
While the dessert was serving, a note was brought to Henrietta, which a servant was waiting in great haste to have answered.
Henrietta, stranger to all forms of politeness, though by nature soft, obliging and delicate, opened it immediately; she started as she cast her eye over it, but blushed, sparkled, and looked enchanted, and hastily rising, without even a thought of any apology, ran out of the room to answer it.
Cecilia, whose quick eye, by a glance unavoidable, had seen the hand of Delvile, was filled with new amazement at the sight. As soon as the servants were gone, she begged Mrs Harrel to excuse her, and went to her own apartment.
Here, in a few minutes, she was followed by Henrietta, whose countenance beamed with pleasure, and whose voice spoke tumultuous delight. "My dear, dear Miss Beverley!" she cried, "I have such a thing to tell you!—you would never guess it,—I don't know how to believe it myself,—but Mr Delvile has written to me!—he has indeed! that note was from him.—I have been locking it up, for fear of accidents, but I'll run and fetch it, that you may see it yourself."
She then ran away; leaving Cecilia much perplexed, much uneasy for herself, and both grieved and alarmed for the too tender, too susceptible Henrietta, who was thus easily the sport of every airy and credulous hope.
"If I did not shew it you," cried Henrietta, running back in a moment, "you would never think it possible, for it is to make such a request— that it has frightened me almost out of my wits!"
Cecilia then read the note.
To Miss Belfield.
Mr Delvile presents his compliments to Miss Belfield, and begs to be permitted to wait upon her for a few minutes, at any time in the afternoon she will be so good as to appoint.
"Only think," cried the rapturous Henrietta, "it was me, poor simple me, of all people, that he wanted so to speak with!—I am sure I thought a different thought when he went away! but do, dearest Miss Beverley, tell me this one thing, what do you think he can have to say to me?"
"Indeed," replied Cecilia, extremely embarrassed, it is impossible for me to conjecture."
"If you can't, I am sure, then, it is no wonder I can't! and I have been thinking of a million of things in a minute. It can't be about any business, because I know nothing in the world of any business; and it can't be about my brother, because he would go to our house in town about him, and there he would see him himself; and it can't be about my dear Miss Beverley, because then he would have written the note to her and it can't be about any body else, because I know nobody else of his acquaintance."
Thus went on the sanguine Henrietta, settling whom and what it could not be about, till she left but the one thing to which her wishes pointed that it could be about. Cecilia heard her with true compassion, certain that she was deceiving herself with imaginations the most pernicious; yet unable to know how to quell them, while in such doubt and darkness herself.
This conversation was soon interrupted, by a message that a gentleman in the parlour begged to speak with Miss Belfield.
"O dearest, dearest Miss Beverley!" cried Henrietta, with encreasing agitation, "what in the world shall I say to him, advise me, pray advise me, for I can't think of a single word!"
"Impossible, my dear Henrietta, unless I knew what he would say to you!"
"O but I can guess, I can guess!"—cried she, her cheeks glowing, while her whole frame shook, "and I sha'n't know what in the whole world to answer him! I know I shall behave like a fool,—I know I shall disgrace myself sadly!"
Cecilia, truly sorry Delvile should see her in such emotion, endeavoured earnestly to compose her, though never less tranquil herself. But she could not succeed, and she went down stairs with expectations of happiness almost too potent for her reason.
Not such were those of Cecilia; a dread of some new conflict took possession of her mind, that mind so long tortured with struggles, so lately restored to serenity!
Henrietta soon returned, but not the same Henrietta she went;—the glow, the hope, the flutter were all over; she looked pale and wan, but attempting, as she entered the room, to call up a smile, she failed, and burst into tears.
Cecilia threw her arms round her neck, and tried to console her; but, happy to hide her face in her bosom, she only gave the freer indulgence to her grief, and rather melted than comforted by her tenderness, sobbed aloud.
Cecilia too easily conjectured the disappointment she had met, to pain her by asking it; she forbore even to gratify her own curiosity by questions that could not but lead to her mortification, and suffering her therefore to take her own time for what she had to communicate, she hung over her in silence with the most patient pity.
Henrietta was very sensible of this kindness, though she knew not half its merit: but it was a long time before she could articulate, for sobbing, that all Mr Delvile wanted, at last, was only to beg she would acquaint Miss Beverley, that he had done himself the honour of waiting upon her with a message from Mrs Delvile.
"From Mrs Delvile?" exclaimed Cecilia, all emotion in her turn, "good heaven! how much, then, have I been to blame? where is he now?—where can I send to him?—tell me, my sweet Henrietta, this instant!"
"Oh madam!" cried Henrietta, bursting into a fresh flood of tears, "how foolish have I been to open my silly heart to you!—he is come to pay his addresses to you!—I am sure he is!—"
"No, no, no!" cried Cecilia, "indeed he is not!—but I must, I ought to see him,—where, my love, is he?",
"In the parlour,—waiting for an answer.—"
Cecilia, who at any other time would have been provoked at such a delay in the delivery of a message so important, felt now nothing but concern for Henrietta, whom she hastily kissed, but instantly, however, quitted, and hurried to Delvile, with expectations almost equally sanguine as those her poor friend but the moment before had crushed.
"Oh now," thought she, "if at last Mrs Delvile herself has relented, with what joy will I give up all reserve, all disguise, and frankly avow the faithful affection of my heart!"
Delvile received her not with the eagerness with which he had first addressed her; he looked extremely disturbed, and, even after her entrance, undetermined how to begin.
She waited, however, his explanation in silence; and, after an irresolute pause, he said, with a gravity not wholly free from resentment, "I presumed, madam, to wait upon you from the permission of my mother; but I believe I have obtained it so late, that the influence I hoped from it is past!"
"I had no means, Sir," answered she, chearfully, "to know that you came from her: I should else have received her commands without any hesitation."
"I would thank you for the honour you do her, were it less pointedly exclusive. I have, however, no right of reproach! yet suffer me to ask, could you, madam, after such a parting, after a renunciation so absolute of all future claim upon you, which though extorted from me by duty, I was bound, having promised, to fulfil by principle,-could you imagine me so unsteady, so dishonourable, as to obtrude myself into your presence while that promise was still in force?"
"I find," cried Cecilia, in whom a secret hope every moment grew stronger, "I have been too hasty; I did indeed believe Mrs Delvile would never authorise such a visit; but as you have so much surprised me, I have a right to your pardon for a little doubt."
"There spoke Miss Beverley!" cried Delvile, reanimating at this little apology, "the same, the unaltered Miss Beverley I hoped to find!—yet is she unaltered? am I not too precipitate? and is the tale I have heard about Belfield a dream? an error? a falsehood?"
"But that so quick a succession of quarrels," said Cecilia, half smiling, "would be endless perplexity, I, now, would be affronted that you can ask me such a question."
"Had I, indeed, thought it a question," cried he, "I would not have asked it: but never for a moment did I credit it, till the rigour of your repulse alarmed me. You have condescended, now, to account for that, and I am therefore encouraged to make known to you the purpose of my venturing this visit. Yet not with confidence shall I speak if, scarce even with hope!—it is a purpose that is the offspring of despair,—
"One thing, Sir," cried Cecilia, who now became frightened again, "let me say before you proceed; if your purpose has not the sanction of Mrs Delvile, as well as your visit, I would gladly be excused hearing it, since I shall most certainly refuse it."
"I would mention nothing," answered he, "without her concurrence; she has given it me: and my father himself has permitted my present application."
"Good Heaven!" cried Cecilia, "is it possible!" clasping her hands together in the eagerness of her surprise and delight.
"Is it possible!" repeated Delvile, with a look of rapture; "ah Miss Beverley!—once my own Cecilia!—do you, can you wish it possible?"
"No, No!" cried she, while pleasure and expectation sparkled in her eyes, "I wish nothing about it.—Yet tell me how it has happened,—I am curious," added she, smiling, "though not interested in it."
"What hope would this sweetness give me," cried he, "were my scheme almost any other than it is!—but you cannot,—no, it would be unreasonable, it would be madness to expect your compliance!—it is next to madness even in me to wish it,—but how shall a man who is desperate be prudent and circumspect?"