"Spare, spare yourself," cried the ingenuous Cecilia, "this, unnecessary pain!—you will find from me no unnecessary scruples."
"You know not what you say!—all noble as you are, the sacrifice I have to propose—"
"Speak it," cried she, "with confidence! speak it even with certainty of success! I will be wholly undisguised, and openly, honestly own to you, that no proposal, no sacrifice can be mentioned, to which I will not instantly agree, if first it has had the approbation of Mrs Delvile."
Delvile's gratitude and thanks for a concession never before so voluntarily made to him, interrupted for a while, even his power of explaining himself. And now, for the first time, Cecilia's sincerity was chearful, since now, for the first time, it seemed opposed by no duty.
When still, therefore, he hesitated, she herself held out her hand to him, saying, "what must I do more? must I offer this pledge to you?"
"For my life would I not resign it!" cried he, delightedly receiving it; "but oh, how soon will you withdraw it, when the only terms upon which I can hold it, are those of making it sign from itself its natural right and inheritance?"
Cecilia, not comprehending him, only looked amazed, and he proceeded.
"Can you, for my sake, make such a sacrifice as this? can you for a man who for yours is not permitted to give up his name, give up yourself the fortune of your late uncle? consent to such settlements as I can make upon you from my own? part with so splendid an income wholly and for-ever?—and with only your paternal L10,000 condescend to become mine, as if your uncle had never existed, and you had been Heiress to no other wealth?"
This, indeed, was a stroke to Cecilia unequalled by any she had met, and more cruel than any she could have in reserve. At the proposal of parting with her uncle's fortune, which, desirable as it was, had as yet been only productive to her of misery, her heart, disinterested, and wholly careless of money, was prompt to accede to the condition; but at the mention of her paternal fortune, that fortune, of which, now, not the smallest vestige remained, horror seized all her faculties! she turned pale, she trembled, she involuntarily drew back her hand, and betrayed, by speechless agitation, the sudden agonies of her soul!
Delvile, struck by this evident dismay, instantly concluded his plan had disgusted her. He waited some minutes in anxious expectation of an answer, but finding her silence continued while her emotion encreased, the deepest crimson dyed his face, and unable to check his chagrin, though not daring to confess his disappointment, he suddenly quitted her, and walked, in much disorder, about the room. But soon recovering some composure, from the assistance of pride, "Pardon, madam," he said, "a trial such as no man can be vindicated in making. I have indulged a romantic whim, which your better judgment disapproves, and I receive but the mortification my presumption deserved."
"You know not then," said Cecilia, in a faint voice, "my inability to comply?"
"Your ability or inability, I presume, are elective?"
"Oh no!—my power is lost—my fortune itself is gone!"
"Impossible! utterly impossible!" cried he with vehemence.
"Oh that it were!—your father knows it but too well."
"Did he, then, never hint it to you?"
"Oh distraction!" cried Delvile, "what horrible confirmation is coming!" and again he walked away, as if wanting courage to hear her.
Cecilia was too much shocked to force upon him her explanation; but presently returning to her, he said, "you, only, could have made this credible!"
"Had you, then, actually heard it?"
"Oh I had heard it as the most infamous of falsehoods! my heart swelled with indignation at so villainous a calumny, and had it not come from my father, my resentment at it had been inveterate!"
"Alas!" cried Cecilia, "the fact is undeniable! yet the circumstances you may have heard with it, are I doubt not exaggerated."
"Exaggerated indeed!" he answered; "I was told you had been surprised concealed with Belfield in a back room, I was told that your parental fortune was totally exhausted, and that during your minority you had been a dealer with Jews!—I was told all this by my father; you may believe I had else not easily been made hear it!"
"Yet thus far," said she, "he told you but what is true; though—"
"True!" interrupted Delvile, with a start almost frantic. "Oh never, then, was truth so scandalously wronged!—I denied the whole charge!-I disbelieved every syllable!—I pledged my own honour to prove every assertion false!"
"Generous Delvile!" cried Cecilia, melting into tears, "this is what I expected from you! and, believe me, in your integrity my reliance had been similar!"
"Why does Miss Beverley weep?" cried he, softened, and approaching her, "and why has she given me this alarm? these things must at least have been misrepresented, deign, then, to clear up a mystery in which suspense is torture!"
Cecilia, then, with what precision and clearness her agitation allowed her, related the whole history of her taking up the money of the Jew for Mr Harrel, and told, without reserve, the reason of her trying to abscond from his father at Mrs Belfield's. Delvile listened to her account with almost an agony of attention, now admiring her conduct; now resenting her ill usage; now compassionating her losses; but though variously moved by different parts, receiving from the whole the delight he most coveted in the establishment of her innocence.
Thanks and applause the warmest, both accompanied and followed her narration; and then, at her request, he related in return the several incidents and circumstances to which he had owed the permission of this visit.
He had meant immediately to have gone abroad; but the indisposition of his mother made him unwilling to leave the kingdom till her health seemed in a situation less precarious. That time, however, came not; the Winter advanced, and she grew evidently worse. He gave over, therefore, his design till the next Spring, when, if she were able, it was her desire to try the South of France for her recovery, whither he meant to conduct her.
But, during his attendance upon her, the plan he had just mentioned occurred to him, and he considered how much greater would be his chance of happiness in marrying Cecilia with scarce any fortune at all, than in marrying another with the largest. He was convinced she was far other than expensive, or a lover of shew, and soon flattered himself she might be prevailed upon to concur with him, that in living together, though comparatively upon little, they should mutually be happier than in living asunder upon much.
When he started this scheme to his mother, she heard it with mingled admiration of his disinterestedness, and regret at its occasion: yet the loftiness of her own mind, her high personal value for Cecilia, her anxiety to see her son finally settled while she lived, lest his disappointment should keep him single from a lasting disgust, joined to a dejection of spirits from an apprehension that her interference had been cruel, all favoured his scheme, and forbid her resistance. She had often protested, in their former conflicts, that had Cecilia been portionless, her objections had been less than to an estate so conditioned; and that to give to her son a woman so exalted in herself, she would have conquered the mere opposition of interest, though that of family honour she held invincible. Delvile now called upon her to remember those words, and ever strict in fidelity, she still promised to abide by them.
Ah! thought Cecilia, is virtue, then, as inconsistent as vice? and can the same character be thus high-souled, thus nobly disinterested with regard to riches, whose pride is so narrow and so insurmountable, with respect to family prejudice!
Yet such a sacrifice from Cecilia herself, whose income intitled her to settlements the most splendid, Mrs Delvile thought scarcely to be solicited; but as her son was conscious he gave up in expectation no less than she would give up in possession, he resolved upon making the experiment, and felt an internal assurance of success.
This matter being finally settled with his mother, the harder task remained of vanquishing the father, by whom, and before whom the name of Cecilia was never mentioned, not even after his return from town, though loaded with imaginary charges against her. Mr Delvile held it a diminution of his own in the honour of his son, to suppose he wanted still fresh motives for resigning her. He kept, therefore, to himself the ill opinion he brought down, as a resource in case of danger, but a resource he disdained to make use of, unless driven to it by absolute necessity.
But, at the new proposal of his son, the accusation held in reserve broke out; he called Cecilia a dabler with Jews, and said she had been so from the time of her uncle's death; he charged her with the grossest general extravagance, to which he added a most insidious attack upon her character, drawn from her visits at Belfield's of long standing, as well as the particular time when he had himself surprised her concealed with the young man in a back parlour: and he asserted, that most of the large sums she was continually taking up from her fortune, were lavished without scruple upon this dangerous and improper favourite.
Delvile had heard this accusation with a rage scarce restrained from violence; confident in her innocence, he boldly pronounced the whole a forgery, and demanded the author of such cruel defamation. Mr Delvile, much offended, refused to name any authority, but consented, with an air of triumph, to abide by the effect of his own proposal, and gave him a supercilious promise no longer to oppose the marriage, if the terms he meant to offer to Miss Beverley, of renouncing her uncle's estate, and producing her father's fortune, were accepted.
"O little did I credit," said Delvile in conclusion, "that he knew indeed so well this last condition was impracticable! his assertions were without proof; I thought them prejudiced surmises; and I came in the full hope I should convict him of his error. My mother, too, who warmly and even angrily defended you, was as firmly satisfied as myself that the whole was a mistake, and that enquiry would prove your fortune as undiminished as your purity. How will she be shocked at the tale I have now to unfold! how irritated at your injuries from Harrel! how grieved that your own too great benevolence should be productive of such black aspersions upon your character!"
"I have been," cried Cecilia, "too facile and too unguarded; yet always, at the moment, I seemed but guided by common humanity. I have ever thought myself secure of more wealth than I could require, and regarded the want of money as an evil from which I was unavoidably exempted. My own fortune, therefore, appeared to me of small consequence, while the revenue of my uncle insured me perpetual prosperity.—Oh had I foreseen this moment—"
"Would you, then, have listened to my romantic proposal?"
"Would I have listened?—do you not see too plainly I could not have hesitated!"
"Oh yet, then, most generous of human beings, yet then be mine! By our own oeconomy we will pay off our mortgages; by living a while abroad, we will clear all our estates; I will still keep the name to which my family is bigotted, and my gratitude for your compliance shall make you forget what you lose by it!"
"Speak not to me such words!" cried Cecilia, hastily rising; "your friends will not listen to them, neither, therefore, must I."
"My friends," cried he with energy, "are henceforth out of the question: my father's concurrence with a proposal he knew you had not power to grant, was in fact a mere permission to insult you; for if, instead of dark charges, he had given any authority for your losses, I had myself spared you the shock you have so undeservedly received from hearing it.—But to consent to a plan which could not be accepted!— to make me a tool to offer indignity to Miss Beverley!—He has released me from his power by so erroneous an exertion of it, and my own honour has a claim to which his commands must give place. That honour binds me to Miss Beverley as forcibly as my admiration, and no voice but her own shall determine my future destiny."
"That voice, then," said Cecilia, "again refers you to your mother. Mr Delvile, indeed, has not treated me kindly; and this last mock concession was unnecessary cruelty; but Mrs Delvile merits my utmost respect, and I will listen to nothing which has not her previous sanction."
"But will her sanction be sufficient? and may I hope, in obtaining it, the security of yours?"
"When I have said I will hear nothing without it, may you not almost infer—I will refuse nothing with it!"
The acknowledgments he would now have poured forth, Cecilia would not hear, telling him, with some gaiety, they were yet unauthorized by Mrs Delvile. She insisted upon his leaving her immediately, and never again returning, without his mother's express approbation. With regard to his father, she left him totally to his own inclination; she had received from him nothing but pride and incivility, and determined to skew publicly her superior respect for Mrs Delvile, by whose discretion and decision she was content to abide.
"Will you not, then, from time to time," cried Delvile, "suffer me to consult with you?"
"No, no," answered she, "do not ask it! I have never been insincere with you, never but from motives not to be overcome, reserved even for a moment; I have told you I will put every thing into the power of Mrs Delvile, but I will not a second time risk my peace by any action unknown to her."
Delvile gratefully acknowledged her goodness, and promised to require nothing more. He then obeyed her by taking leave, eager himself to put an end to this new uncertainty, and supplicating only that her good wishes might follow his enterprise.
And thus, again, was wholly broken the tranquility of Cecilia; new hopes, however faint, awakened all her affections, and strong fears, but too reasonable, interrupted her repose. Her destiny, once more, was as undecided as ever, and the expectations she had crushed, retook possession of her heart.
The suspicions she had conceived of Mr Monckton again occurred to her; though unable to ascertain and unwilling to believe them, she tried to drive them from her thoughts. She lamented, however, with bitterness, her unfortunate connexion with Mr Harrel, whose unworthy impositions upon her kindness of temper and generosity, now proved to her an evil far more serious and extensive, than in the midst of her repugnance to them she had ever apprehended.
Delvile had been gone but a short time, before Henrietta, her eyes still red, though no longer streaming, opened the parlour door, and asked if she might come in?
Cecilia wished to be alone, yet could not refuse her.
"Well, madam," cried she, with a forced smile, and constrained air of bravery, "did not I guess right?"
"In what?" said Cecilia, unwilling to understand her.
"In what I said would happen?—I am sure you know what I mean."
Cecilia, extremely embarrassed, made no answer; she much regretted the circumstances which had prevented an earlier communication, and was uncertain whether, now, it would prove most kind or most cruel to acquaint her with what was in agitation, which, should it terminate in nothing, was unnecessarily wounding her delicacy for the openness of her confidence, and which, however serviceable it might prove to her in the end, was in the means so rough and piercing she felt the utmost repugnance to the experiment.
"You think me, madam, too free," said Henrietta, "in asking such a question; and indeed your kindness has been so great, it may well make me forget myself: but if it does, I am sure I deserve you should send me home directly, and then there is not much fear I shall soon he brought to my senses!"
"No, my dear Henrietta, I can never think you too free; I have told you already every thing I thought you would have pleasure in hearing; whatever I have concealed, I have been fearful would only pain you."
"I have deserved, madam," said she, with spirit, "to be pained, for I have behaved with the folly of a baby. I am very angry with myself indeed! I was old enough to have known better,—and I ought to have been wise enough."
"You must then be angry with yourself, next," said Cecilia, anxious to re-encourage her, "for all the love that I bear you; since to your openness and frankness it was entirely owing."
"But there are some things that people should not be frank in; however, I am only come now to beg you will tell me, madam, when it is to be;—and don't think I ask out of nothing but curiosity, for I have a very great reason for it indeed."
"What be, my dear Henrietta?—you are very rapid in your ideas!"
"I will tell you, madam, what my reason is; I shall go away to my own home,—and so I would if it were ten times a worse home than it is!— just exactly the day before. Because afterwards I shall never like to look that gentleman in the face,—never, never!—for married ladies I know are not to be trusted!"
"Be not apprehensive; you have no occasion. Whatever may be my fate, I will never be so treacherous as to betray my beloved Henrietta to any body."
"May I ask you, madam, one question?"
"Why did all this never happen before?"
"Indeed," cried Cecilia, much distressed, "I know not that it will happen now."
"Why what, dear madam, can hinder it?"
"A thousand, thousand things! nothing can be less secure."
"And then I am still as much puzzled as ever. I heard, a good while ago, and we all heard that it was to be; and I thought that it was no wonder, I am sure, for I used often to think it was just what was most likely; but afterwards we heard it was no such thing, and from that moment I always believed there had been nothing at all in it."
"I must speak to you, I find, with sincerity; my affairs have long been in strange perplexity: I have not known myself what to expect; one day has perpetually reversed the prospect of another, and my mind has been in a state of uncertainty and disorder, that has kept it—that still keeps it from comfort and from rest!"
"This surprises me indeed, madam! I thought you were all happiness! but I was sure you deserved it, and I thought you had it for that reward. And this has been the thing that has made me behave so wrong; for I took it into my head I might tell you every thing, because I concluded it could be nothing to you; for if great people loved one another, I always supposed they married directly; poor people, indeed, must stay till they are able to settle; but what in the whole world, thought I, if they like one another, should hinder such a rich lady as Miss Beverley from marrying such a rich gentleman at once?"
Cecilia now, finding there was no longer any chance for concealment, thought it better to give the poor Henrietta at least the gratification of unreserved confidence, which might somewhat sooth her uneasiness by proving her reliance in her faith. She frankly, therefore, confessed to her the whole of her situation. Henrietta wept at the recital with bitterness, thought Mr Delvile a monster, and Mrs Delvile herself scarce human; pitied Cecilia with unaffected tenderness, and wondered that the person could exist who had the heart to give grief to young Delvile! She thanked her most gratefully for reposing such trust in her; and Cecilia made use of this opportunity, to enforce the necessity of her struggling more seriously to recover her indifferency.
She promised she would not fail; and forbore steadily from that time to name Delvile any more: but the depression of her spirits shewed she had suffered a disappointment such as astonished even Cecilia. Though modest and humble, she had conceived hopes the most romantic, and though she denied, even to herself, any expectations from Delvile, she involuntarily nourished them with the most sanguine simplicity. To compose and to strengthen her became the whole business of Cecilia; who, during her present suspense, could find no other employment in which she could take any interest.
Mr Monckton, to whom nothing was unknown that related to Cecilia, was soon informed of Delvile's visit, and hastened in the utmost alarm, to learn its event. She had now lost all the pleasure she had formerly derived from confiding in him, but though averse and confused, could not withstand his enquiries.
Unlike the tender Henrietta's was his disappointment at this relation, and his rage at such repeated trials was almost more than he could curb. He spared neither the Delviles for their insolence of mutability in rejecting or seeking her at their pleasure, nor herself for her easiness of submission in being thus the dupe of their caprices. The subject was difficult for Cecilia to dilate upon; she wished to clear, as he deserved, Delvile himself from any share in the censure, and she felt hurt and offended at the charge of her own improper readiness; yet shame and pride united in preventing much vindication of either, and she heard almost in silence what with pain she bore to hear at all.
He now saw, with inexpressible disturbance, that whatever was his power to make her uneasy, he had none to make her retract, and that the conditional promise she had given Delvile to be wholly governed by his mother, she was firm in regarding to be as sacred as one made at the altar.
Perceiving this, he dared trust his temper with no further debate; he assumed a momentary calmness for the purpose of taking leave of her, and with pretended good wishes for her happiness, whatever might be her determination, he stifled the reproaches with which his whole heart was swelling, and precipitately left her.
Cecilia, affected by his earnestness, yet perplexed in all her opinions, was glad to be relieved from useless exhortations, and not sorry, in her present uncertainty, that his visit was not repeated.
She neither saw nor heard from Delvile for a week, and augured nothing but evil from such delay. The following letter then came by the post.
To Miss Beverley. April 2d, 1780
I must write without comments, for I dare not trust myself with making any; I must write without any beginning address, for I know not how you will permit me to address you.
I have lived a life of tumult since last compelled to leave you, and when it may subside, I am still in utter ignorance.
The affecting account of the losses you have suffered through your beneficence to the Harrels, and the explanatory one of the calumnies you have sustained from your kindness to the Belfields, I related with the plainness which alone I thought necessary to make them felt. I then told the high honour I had received, in meeting with no other repulse to my proposal, than was owing to an inability to accede to it; and informed my mother of the condescending powers with which you had invested her. In conclusion I mentioned my new scheme, and firmly, before I would listen to any opposition, I declared that though wholly to their decision I left the relinquishing my own name or your fortune, I was not only by your generosity more internally yours than ever, but that since again I had ventured, and with permission to apply to you, I should hold myself hence forward unalterably engaged to you.
And so I do, and so I shall! nor, after a renewal so public, will any prohibition but yours have force to keep me from throwing myself at your feet.
My father's answer I will not mention; I would I could forget it! his prejudices are irremediable, his resolutions are inflexible. Who or what has worked him into an animosity so irreclaimable, I cannot conjecture, nor will he tell; but something darkly mysterious has part in his wrath and his injustice.
My mother was much affected by your reference to herself. Words of the sweetest praise broke repeatedly from her; no other such woman, she said, existed; no other such instance could be found of fidelity so exalted! her son must have no heart but for low and mercenary selfishness, if, after a proof of regard so unexampled, he could bear to live without her! Oh how did such a sentence from lips so highly reverenced, animate, delight, confirm, and oblige me at once!
The displeasure of my father at this declaration was dreadful; his charges, always as improbable as injurious, now became too horrible for my ears; he disbelieved you had taken up the money for Harrel, he discredited that you visited the Belfields for Henrietta: passion not merely banished his justice, but, clouded his reason, and I soon left the room, that at least I might not hear the aspersions he forbid me to answer.
I left not, however, your fame to a weak champion: my mother defended it with all the spirit of truth, and all the confidence of similar virtue! yet they parted without conviction, and so mutually irritated with each other, that they agreed to meet no more.
This was too terrible! and I instantly consolidated my resentment to my father, and my gratitude to my mother, into concessions and supplications to both; I could not, however, succeed; my mother was deeply offended, my father was sternly inexorable: nor here rests the evil of their dissention, for the violence of the conflict has occasioned a return more alarming than ever of the illness of my mother.
All her faith in her recovery is now built upon going abroad; she is earnest to set off immediately; but Dr Lyster has advised her to make London in her way, and have a consultation of physicians before she departs.
To this she has agreed; and we are now upon the road thither.
Such is, at present, the melancholy state of my affairs. My mother advised me to write; forgive me, therefore, that I waited not something more decisive to say. I could prevail upon neither party to meet before the journey; nor could I draw from my father the base fabricator of the calumnies by which he has been thus abused.
Unhappily, I have nothing more to add: and whether intelligence, such as this, or total suspense, would be least irksome, I know not. If my mother bears her journey tolerably well, I have yet one more effort to make; and of that the success or the failure will be instantly communicated to Miss Beverley, by her eternally devoted, but half distracted.
Scarcely could Cecilia herself decide whether this comfortless letter or none at all were preferable. The implacability of Mr Delvile was shocking, but his slandering her character was still more intolerable; yet the praises of the mother, and her generous vindication, joined to the invariable reliance of Delvile upon her innocence, conferred upon her an honour that offered some alleviation.
The mention of a fabricator again brought Mr Monckton to her mind, and not all her unwillingness to think him capable of such treachery, could now root out her suspicions. Delvile's temper, however, she knew was too impetuous to be trusted with this conjecture, and her fear of committing injustice being thus seconded by prudence, she determined to keep to herself doubts that could not without danger be divulged.
She communicated briefly to Henrietta, who looked her earnest curiosity, the continuance of her suspense; and to her own fate Henrietta became somewhat more reconciled, when she saw that no station in life rendered happiness certain or permanent.
Another week past still without any further intelligence. Cecilia was then summoned to the parlour, and to Delvile himself.
He looked hurried and anxious; yet the glow of his face, and the animation of his eyes, immediately declared he at least came not to take leave of her.
"Can you forgive," cried he, "the dismal and unsatisfactory letter I wrote you? I would not disobey you twice in the same manner, and I could not till now have written in any other."
"The consultation with the physicians, then," said Cecilia, "is over?"
"Alas, yes; and the result is most alarming; they all agree my mother is in a dangerous way, and they rather forbear to oppose, than advise her going abroad: but upon that she is earnestly bent, and intends to set out without delay. I shall return to her, therefore, with all speed, and mean not to take any rest till I have seen her."
Cecilia expressed with tenderness her sorrow for Mrs Delvile: nor were her looks illiberal in including her son in her concern.
"I must hasten," he cried, "to the credentials by which I am authorised for coming, and I must hasten to prove if Miss Beverley has not flattered my mother in her appeal."
He then informed her that Mrs Delvile, apprehensive for herself, and softened for him by the confession of her danger, which she had extorted from her physicians, had tenderly resolved upon making one final effort for his happiness, and ill and impatient as she was, upon deferring her journey to wait its effect.
Generously, therefore, giving up her own resentment, she wrote to Mr Delvile in terms of peace and kindness, lamenting their late dissention, and ardently expressing her desire to be reconciled to him before she left England. She told him the uncertainty of her recovery which had been acknowledged by her physicians, who had declared a calmer mind was more essential to her than a purer air. She then added, that such serenity was only to be given her, by the removal of her anxiety at the comfortless state of her son. She begged him, therefore, to make known the author of Miss Beverley's defamation, assuring him, that upon enquiry, he would find her character and her fame as unsullied as his own; and strongly representing, that after the sacrifice to which she had consented, their son would be utterly dishonourable in thinking of any other connexion. She then to this reasoning joined the most earnest supplication, protesting, in her present disordered state, of health, her life might pay the forfeiture of her continual uneasiness.
"I held out," she concluded, "while his personal dignity, and the honour of his name and family were endangered; but where interest alone is concerned, and that interest is combated by the peace of his mind, and the delicacy of his word, my opposition is at an end. And though our extensive and well founded views for a splendid alliance are abolished, you will agree with me hereafter, upon a closer inspection, that the object for whom he relinquishes them, offers in herself the noblest reparation."
Cecilia felt gratified, humbled, animated and depressed at once by this letter, of which Delvile brought her a copy. "And what," cried she, "was the answer?"
"I cannot in decency," he replied, "speak my opinion of it: read it yourself,—and let me hear yours."
To the Honourable Mrs Delvile.
Your extraordinary letter, madam, has extremely surprised me. I had been willing to hope the affair over from the time my disapprobation of it was formally announced. I am sorry you are so much indisposed, but I cannot conclude your health would be restored by my acceding to a plan so derogatory to my house. I disapprove it upon every account, not only of the name and the fortune, but the lady herself. I have reasons more important than those I assign, but they are such as I am bound in honour not to mention. After such a declaration, nobody, I presume, will affront me by asking them. Her defence you have only from herself, her accusation I have received from authority less partial. I command, therefore, that my son, upon pain of my eternal displeasure, may never speak to me on the subject again, and I hope, madam, from you the same complaisance to my request. I cannot explain myself further, nor is it necessary; it is no news, I flatter myself, to Mortimer Delvile or his mother, that I do nothing without reason, and I believe nothing upon slight grounds.
A few cold compliments concerning her journey, and the re- establishment of her health, concluded the letter.
Cecilia, having read, hastily returned it, and indignantly said, "My opinion, Sir, upon this letter, must surely be yours; that we had done wiser, long since, to have spared your mother and ourselves, those vain and fruitless conflicts which we ought better to have foreseen were liable to such a conclusion. Now, at least, let them be ended, and let us not pursue disgrace wilfully, after suffering from it with so much rigour involuntarily."
"O no," cried Delvile, "rather let us now spurn it for ever! those conflicts must indeed be ended, but not by a separation still more bitter than all of them."
He then told her, that his mother, highly offended to observe by the extreme coldness of this letter, the rancour he still nourished for the contest preceding her leaving him, no longer now refused even her separate consent, for a measure which she thought her son absolutely engaged to take.
"Good heaven!" cried Cecilia, much amazed, "this from Mrs Delvile!—a separate consent?"—
"She has always maintained," he answered, "an independent mind, always judged for herself, and refused all other arbitration: when so impetuously she parted us, my father's will happened to be her's, and thence their concurrence: my father, of a temper immoveable and stern, retains stubbornly the prejudices which once have taken possession of him; my mother, generous as fiery, and noble as proud, is open to conviction, and no sooner convinced, than ingenuous in acknowledging it: and thence their dissention. From my father I may hope forgiveness, but must never expect concession; from my mother I may hope all she ought to grant, for pardon but her vehemence,—and she has every great quality that can dignify human nature!"
Cecilia, whose affection and reverence for Mrs Delvile were unfeigned, and who loved in her son this filial enthusiasm, readily concurred with him in praising her, and sincerely esteemed her the first among women.
"Now, then," cried he, with earnestness, "now is the time when your generous admiration of her is put to the test; see what she writes to you;—she has left to me all explanation: but I insisted upon some credential, lest you should believe I only owed her concurrence to a happy dream."
Cecilia in much trepidation took the letter, and hastily run it over.
To Miss Beverley.
Misery, my sweet young friend, has long been busy with us all; much have we owed to the clash of different interests, much to that rapacity which to enjoy any thing, demands every thing, and much to that general perverseness which labours to place happiness in what is with-held. Thus do we struggle on till we can struggle no longer; the felicity with which we trifle, at best is but temporary; and before reason and reflection shew its value, sickness and sorrow are commonly become stationary.
Be it yours, my love, and my son's, to profit by the experience, while you pity the errors, of the many who illustrate this truth. Your mutual partiality has been mutually unfortunate, and must always continue so for the interests of both: but how blind is it to wait, in our own peculiar lots, for that perfection of enjoyment we can all see wanting in the lot of others! My expectations for my son had "outstepped the modesty of" probability. I looked for rank and high birth, with the fortune of Cecilia, and Cecilia's rare character. Alas! a new constellation in the heavens might as rationally have been looked for!
My extravagance, however, has been all for his felicity, dearer to me than life,—dearer to me than all things but his own honour! Let us but save that, and then let wealth, ambition, interest, grandeur and pride, since they cannot constitute his happiness, be removed from destroying it. I will no longer play the tyrant that, weighing good and evil by my own feelings and opinions, insists upon his acting by the notions I have formed, whatever misery they may bring him by opposing all his own.
I leave the kingdom with little reason to expect I shall return to it; I leave it—Oh blindness of vanity and passion!—from the effect of that violence with which so lately I opposed what now I am content to advance! But the extraordinary resignation to which you have agreed, shews your heart so wholly my son's, and so even more than worthy the whole possession of his, that it reflects upon him an honour more bright and more alluring, than any the most illustrious other alliance could now confer.
I would fain see you ere I go, lest I should see you no more; fain ratify by word of mouth the consent that by word of mouth I so absolutely refused! I know not how to come to Suffolk,—is it not possible you can come to London? I am told you leave to me the arbitration of your fate, in giving you to my son, I best shew my sense of such an honour.
Hasten then, my love, to town, that I may see you once more! wait no longer a concurrence thus unjustly with-held, but hasten, that I may bless the daughter I have so often wished to own! that I may entreat her forgiveness for all the pain I have occasioned her, and committing to her charge the future happiness of my son, fold to my maternal heart the two objects most dear to it!
Cecilia wept over this letter with tenderness, grief and alarm; but declared, had it even summoned her to follow her abroad, she could not, after reading it, have hesitated in complying.
"O now, then," cried Delvile, "let our long suspenses end! hear me with the candour; my mother has already listened to me—be mine, my Cecilia, at once,—and force me not, by eternal scruples, to risk another separation."
"Good heaven, Sir!" cried Cecilia, starting, "in such a state as Mrs Delvile thinks herself, would you have her journey delayed?"
"No, not a moment! I would but ensure you mine, and go with her all over the world!"
"Wild and impossible!—and what is to be done with Mr Delvile?"
"It is on his account wholly I am thus earnestly precipitate. If I do not by an immediate marriage prevent his further interference, all I have already suffered may again be repeated, and some fresh contest with my mother may occasion another relapse."
Cecilia, who now understood him, ardently protested she would not listen for a moment to any clandestine expedient.
He besought her to be patient; and then anxiously represented to her their peculiar situations. All application to his father he was peremptorily forbid making, all efforts to remove his prejudices their impenetrable mystery prevented; a public marriage, therefore, with such obstacles, would almost irritate him to phrenzy, by its daring defiance of his prohibition and authority.
"Alas!" exclaimed Cecilia, "we can never do right but in parting!"
"Say it not," cried he, "I conjure you! we shall yet live, I hope, to prove the contrary." "And can you, then," cried she, reproachfully, "Oh Mr Delvile! can you again urge me to enter your family in secret?"
"I grieve, indeed," he answered, "that your goodness should so severely be tried; yet did you not condescend to commit the arbitration to my mother?"
"True; and I thought her approbation would secure my peace of mind; but how could I have expected Mrs Delvile's consent to such a scheme!"
"She has merely accorded it from a certainty there is no other resource. Believe me, therefore, my whole hope rests upon your present compliance. My father, I am certain, by his letter, will now hear neither petition nor defence; on the contrary, he will only enrage at the temerity of offering to confute him. But when he knows you are his daughter, his honour will then be concerned in yours, and it will be as much his desire to have it cleared, as it is now to have it censured."
"Wait at least your return, and let us try what can be done with him."
"Oh why," cried Delvile, with much earnestness, "must I linger out month after month in this wretched uncertainty! If I wait I am undone! my father, by the orders I must unavoidably leave, will discover the preparations making without his consent, and he will work upon you in my absence, and compel you to give me up!"
"Are you sure," said she, half smiling, "he would have so much power?"
"I am but too sure, that the least intimation, in his present irritable state of mind, reaching him of my intentions, would make him not scruple, in his fury, pronouncing some malediction upon my disobedience that neither of us, I must own, could tranquilly disregard."
This was an argument that came home to Cecilia, whose deliberation upon it, though silent, was evidently not unfavourable.
He then told her that with respect to settlements, he would instantly have a bond drawn up, similar to that prepared for their former intended union, which should be properly signed and sealed, and by which he would engage himself to make, upon coming to his estate, the same settlement upon her that was made upon his mother.
"And as, instead of keeping up three houses," he continued, "in the manner my father does at present, I mean to put my whole estate out to nurse, while we reside for a while abroad, or in the country, I doubt not but in a very few years we shall be as rich and as easy as we shall desire."
He told her, also, of his well-founded expectations from the Relations already mentioned; which the concurrence of his mother with his marriage would thence forward secure to him.
He then, with more coherence, stated his plan at large. He purposed, without losing a moment, to return to London; he conjured her, in the name of his mother, to set out herself early the next day, that the following evening might be dedicated wholly to Mrs Delvile: through her intercession he might then hope Cecilia's compliance, and every thing on the morning after should be prepared for their union. The long- desired ceremony over, he would instantly ride post to his father, and pay him, at least, the respect of being the first to communicate it. He would then attend his mother to the Continent, and leave the arrangement of everything to his return. "Still, therefore, as a single man," he continued, "I mean to make the journey, and I shall take care, by the time I return, to have all things in readiness for claiming my sweet Bride. Tell me, then, now, if you can reasonably oppose this plan?"
"Indeed," said Cecilia, after some hesitation, "I cannot see the necessity of such violent precipitancy."
"Do you not try me too much," cried Delvile, impatiently, "to talk now of precipitancy! after such painful waiting, such wearisome expectation! I ask you not to involve your own affairs in confusion by accompanying me abroad; sweet to me as would be such an indulgence, I would not make a run-away of you in the opinion of the world. All I wish is the secret certainty I cannot be robbed of you, that no cruel machinations may again work our separation, that you are mine, unalterably mine, beyond the power of caprice or ill fortune."
Cecilia made no answer; tortured with irresolution, she knew not upon what to determine.
"We might then, according to the favour or displeasure of my father, settle wholly abroad for the present, or occasionally visit him in England; my mother would be always and openly our friend—Oh be firm, then, I conjure you, to the promise you have given her, and deign to be mine on the conditions she prescribes. She will be bound to you for ever by so generous a concession, and even her health may be restored by the cessation of her anxieties. With such a wife, such a mother, what will be wanting for me! Could I lament not being richer, I must be rapacious indeed!—Speak, then, my Cecilia! relieve me from the agony of this eternal uncertainty, and tell me your word is invariable as your honour, and tell me my mother gives not her sanction in vain!"
Cecilia sighed deeply, but, after some hesitation, said, "I little knew what I had promised, nor know I now what to perform!—there must ever, I find, be some check to human happiness! yet, since upon these terms, Mrs Delvile herself is content to wish me of her family—"
She stopt; but, urged earnestly by Delvile, added "I must not, I think, withdraw the powers with which I entrusted her."
Delvile, grateful and enchanted, now forgot his haste and his business, and lost every wish but to re-animate her spirits: she compelled him, however, to leave her, that his visit might less be wondered at, and sent by him a message to Mrs. Delvile, that, wholly relying upon her wisdom, she implicitly submitted to her decree.
Cecilia now had no time for afterthoughts or anxious repentance, since notwithstanding the hurry of her spirits, and the confusion of her mind, she had too much real business, to yield to pensive indulgence.
Averse to all falsehood, she invented none upon this occasion; she merely told her guests she was summoned to London upon an affair of importance; and though she saw their curiosity, not being at liberty to satisfy it with the truth, she attempted not to appease it by fiction, but quietly left it to its common fare, conjecture. She would gladly have made Henrietta the companion of her journey, but Henrietta was the last to whom that journey could give pleasure. She only, therefore, took her maid in the chaise, and, attended by one servant on horseback, at six o'clock the next morning, she quitted her mansion, to enter into an engagement by which soon she was to resign it for ever.
Disinterested as she was, she considered her situation as peculiarly perverse, that from the time of her coming to a fortune which most others regarded as enviable, she had been a stranger to peace, a fruitless seeker of happiness, a dupe to the fraudulent, and a prey to the needy! the little comfort she had received, had been merely from dispensing it, and now only had she any chance of being happy herself, when upon the point of relinquishing what all others built their happiness upon obtaining!
These reflections only gave way to others still more disagreeable; she was now a second time engaged in a transaction she could not approve, and suffering the whole peace of her future life to hang upon an action dark, private and imprudent: an action by which the liberal kindness of her late uncle would be annulled, by which the father of her intended husband would be disobeyed, and which already, in a similar instance, had brought her to affliction and disgrace. These melancholy thoughts haunted her during the whole journey, and though the assurance of Mrs Delvile's approbation was some relief to her uneasiness, she involuntarily prepared herself for meeting new mortifications, and was tormented with an apprehension that this second attempt made her merit them.
She drove immediately, by the previous direction of Delvile, to a lodging-house in Albemarle Street, which he had taken care to have prepared for her reception. She then sent for a chair, and went to Mrs Delvile's. Her being seen by the servants of that house was not very important, as their master was soon to be acquainted with the real motive of her journey.
She was shewn into a parlour, while Mrs Delvile was informed of her arrival, and there flown to by Delvile with the most grateful eagerness. Yet she saw in his countenance that all was not well, and heard upon enquiry that his mother was considerably worse. Extremely shocked by this intelligence, she already began to lament her unfortunate enterprise. Delvile struggled, by exerting his own spirits, to restore hers, but forced gaiety is never exhilarating; and, full of care and anxiety, he was ill able to appear sprightly and easy.
They were soon summoned upstairs into the apartment of Mrs Delvile, who was lying upon a couch, pale, weak, and much altered. Delvile led the way, saying, "Here, madam, comes one whose sight will bring peace and pleasure to you!"
"This, indeed," cried Mrs Delvile, half rising and embracing her, "is the form in which they are most welcome to me! virtuous, noble Cecilia! what honour you do my son! with what joy, should I ever recover, shall I assist him in paying the gratitude he owes you!"
Cecilia, grieved at her situation, and affected by her kindness, could only answer with her tears; which, however, were not shed alone; for Delvile's eyes were full, as he passionately exclaimed, "This, this is the sight my heart has thus long desired! the wife of my choice taken to the bosom of the parent I revere! be yet but well, my beloved mother, and I will be thankful for every calamity that has led to so sweet a conclusion!"
"Content yourself, however, my son, with one of us," cried Mrs Delvile, smiling; "and content yourself, if you can, though your hard lot should make that one this creature of full bloom, health, and youth! Ah, my love," added she, more seriously, and addressing the still weeping Cecilia, "should now Mortimer, in losing me, lose those cares by which alone, for some months past, my life has been rendered tolerable, how peaceably shall I resign him to one so able to recompense his filial patience and services!"
This was not a speech to stop the tears of Cecilia, though such warmth of approbation quieted her conscientious scruples. Delvile now earnestly interfered; he told her that his mother had been ordered not to talk or exert herself, and entreated her to be composed, and his mother to be silent.
"Be it your business, then," said Mrs Delvile, more gaily, "to find us entertainment. We will promise to be very still if you will take that trouble upon yourself."
"I will not," answered he, "be rallied from my purpose; if I cannot entertain, it will be something to weary you, for that may incline you to take rest, which will he answering a better purpose."
"Mortimer," returned she, "is this the ingenuity of duty or of love? and which are you just now thinking of, my health, or a conversation uninterrupted with Miss Beverley?"
"Perhaps a little of both!" said he, chearfully, though colouring.
"But you rather meant it should pass," said Mrs Delvile, "you were thinking only of me? I have always observed, that where one scheme answers two purposes, the ostensive is never the purpose most at heart."
"Why it is but common prudence," answered Delvile, "to feel our way a little before we mention what we most wish, and so cast the hazard of the refusal upon something rather less important."
"Admirably settled!" cried Mrs Delvile: "so my rest is but to prove Miss Beverley's disturbance!—Well, it is only anticipating our future way of life, when her disturbance, in taking the management of you to herself, will of course prove my rest."
She then quietly reposed herself, and Delvile discoursed with Cecilia upon their future plans, hopes and actions.
He meant to set off from the church-door to Delvile Castle, to acquaint his father with his marriage, and then to return instantly to London: there he entreated Cecilia to stay with his mother, that, finding them both together, he might not exhaust her patience, by making his parting visit occasion another journey to Suffolk.
But here Cecilia resolutely opposed him; saying, her only chance to escape discovery, was going instantly to her own house; and representing so earnestly her desire that their marriage should be unknown till his return to England, upon a thousand motives of delicacy, propriety, and fearfulness, that the obligation he owed already to a compliance which he saw grew more and more reluctant, restrained him both in gratitude and pity from persecuting her further. Neither would she consent to seeing him in Suffolk; which could but delay his mother's journey, and expose her to unnecessary suspicions; she promised, however, to write to him often, and as, from his mother's weakness, he must travel very slowly, she took a plan of his route, and engaged that he should find a letter from her at every great town.
The bond which he had already had altered, he insisted upon leaving in her own custody, averse to applying to Mr Monckton, whose behaviour to him had before given him disgust, and in whom Cecilia herself no longer wished to confide. He had again applied to the same lawyer, Mr Singleton, to give her away; for though to his secrecy he had no tie, he had still less to any entire stranger. Mrs Delvile was too ill to attend them to church, nor would Delvile have desired from her such absolute defiance of his father.
Cecilia now gave another sigh to her departed friend Mrs Charlton, whose presence upon this awful occasion would else again have soothed and supported her. She had no female friend in whom she could rely; but feeling a repugnance invincible to being accompanied only by men, she accepted the attendance of Mrs Delvile's own woman, who had lived many years in the family, and was high in the favour and confidence of her lady.
The arrangement of these and other articles, with occasional interruptions from Mrs Delvile, fully employed the evening. Delvile would not trust again to meeting her at the church; but begged her to send out her servants between seven and eight o'clock in the morning, at which time he would himself call for her with a chair.
She went away early, that Mrs Delvile might go to rest, and it was mutually agreed they should risk no meeting the next day. Delvile conjured them to part with firmness and chearfulness, and Cecilia, fearing her own emotion, would have retired without bidding her adieu. But Mrs Delvile, calling after her, said, "Take with you my blessing!" and tenderly embracing her, added, "My son, as my chief nurse, claims a prescriptive right to govern me, but I will break from his control to tell my sweet Cecilia what ease and what delight she has already given to my mind! my best hope of recovery is founded on the pleasure I anticipate to witnessing your mutual happiness: but should my illness prove fatal, and that felicity be denied me, my greatest earthly care is already removed by the security I feel of Mortimer's future peace. Take with you, then, my blessing, for you are become one to me! long daughter of my affection, now wife of my darling son! love her, Mortimer, as she merits, and cherish her with tenderest gratitude!— banish, sweetest Cecilia, every apprehension that oppresses you, and receive in Mortimer Delvile a husband that will revere your virtues, and dignify your choice!"
She then embraced her again, and seeing that her heart was too full for speech, suffered her to go without making any answer. Delvile attended her to her chair, scarce less moved than herself, and found only opportunity to entreat her punctuality the next morning.
She had, indeed, no inclination to fail in her appointment, or risk the repetition of scenes so affecting, or situations so alarming. Mrs Delvile's full approbation somewhat restored to her her own, but nothing could remove the fearful anxiety, which still privately tormented her with expectations of another disappointment.
The next morning she arose with the light, and calling all her courage to her aid, determined to consider this day as decisive of her destiny with regard to Delvile, and, rejoicing that at least all suspense would be over, to support herself with fortitude, be that destiny what it might.
At the appointed time she sent her maid to visit Mrs Hill, and gave some errands to her man that carried him to a distant part of the town: but she charged them both to return to the lodgings by nine o'clock, at which hour she ordered a chaise for returning into the country.
Delvile, who was impatiently watching for their quitting the house, only waited till they were out of sight, to present himself at the door. He was shewn into a parlour, where she instantly attended him; and being told that the clergyman, Mr Singleton, and Mrs Delvile's woman, were already in the church, she gave him her hand in silence, and he led her to the chair.
The calmness of stifled hope had now taken place in Cecilia of quick sensations and alarm. Occupied with a firm belief she should never be the wife of Delvile, she only waited, with a desperate sort of patience, to see when and by whom she was next to be parted from him.
When they arrived near the church, Delvile stopt the chair. He handed Cecilia out of it, and discharging the chairmen, conducted her into the church. He was surprised himself at her composure, but earnestly wishing it to last, took care not to say to her a word that should make any answer from her necessary.
He gave her, as before, to Mr Singleton, secretly praying that not, as before, she might be given him in vain: Mrs Delvile's woman attended her; the clergyman was ready, and they all proceeded to the altar.
The ceremony was begun; Cecilia, rather mechanically than with consciousness, appearing to listen to it but at the words, If any man can shew any just cause why they may not lawfully be joined together, Delvile himself shook with terror, lest some concealed person should again answer it, and Cecilia, with a sort of steady dismay in her countenance, cast her eyes round the church, with no other view than that of seeing from what comer the prohibiter would start.
She looked, however, to no purpose; no prohibiter appeared, the ceremony was performed without any interruption, and she received the thanks of Delvile, and the congratulations of the little set, before the idea which had so strongly pre-occupied her imagination, was sufficiently removed from it to satisfy her she was really married.
They then went to the vestry, where their business was not long; and Delvile again put Cecilia into a chair, which again he accompanied on foot.
Her sensibility now soon returned, though still attended with strangeness and a sensation of incredulity. But the sight of Delvile at her lodgings, contrary to their agreement, wholly recovered her senses from the stupor which had dulled them. He came, however, but to acknowledge how highly she had obliged him, to see her himself restored to the animation natural to her, character, and to give her a million of charges, resulting from anxiety and tenderness. And then, fearing the return of her servants, he quitted her, and set out for Delvile Castle.
The amazement of Cecilia was still unconquerable; to be actually united with Delvile! to be his with the full consent of his mother,—to have him her's, beyond the power of his father,—she could not reconcile it with possibility; she fancied it a dream,—but a dream from which she wished not to wake.
Cecilia's journey back to the country was as safe and free from interruption as her journey had been to town, and all that distinguished them was what passed in her own mind: the doubts, apprehensions, and desponding suspense which had accompanied her setting out, were now all removed, and certainty, ease, the expectation of happiness, and the cessation of all perplexity, had taken their place. She had nothing left to dread but the inflexibility of Mr Delvile, and hardly any thing even to hope but the recovery of his lady.
Her friends at her return expressed their wonder at her expedition, but their wonder at what occasioned it, though still greater, met no satisfaction. Henrietta rejoiced in her sight, though her absence had been so short; and Cecilia, whose affection with her pity increased, intimated to her the event for which she wished her to prepare herself, and frankly acknowledged she had reason to expect it would soon take place.
Henrietta endeavoured with composure to receive this intelligence, and to return such a mark of confidence with chearful congratulations: but her fortitude was unequal to an effort so heroic, and her character was too simple to assume a greatness she felt not: she sighed and changed colour; and hastily quitted the room that she might sob aloud in another.
Warm-hearted, tender, and susceptible, her affections were all undisguised: struck with the elegance of Delvile, and enchanted by his services to her brother, she had lost to him her heart at first without missing it, and, when missed, without seeking to reclaim it. The hopelessness of such a passion she never considered, nor asked herself its end, or scarce suspected its aim; it was pleasant to her at the time, and she looked not to the future, but fed it with visionary schemes, and soothed it with voluntary fancies. Now she knew all was over, she felt the folly she had committed, but though sensibly and candidly angry at her own error, its conviction offered nothing but sorrow to succeed it.
The felicity of Cecilia, whom she loved, admired and revered, she wished with the genuine ardour of zealous sincerity; but that Delvile, the very cause and sole subject of her own personal unhappiness, should himself constitute that felicity, was too much for her spirits, and seemed to her mortified mind too cruel in her destiny.
Cecilia, who in the very vehemence of her sorrow saw its innocence, was too just and too noble to be offended by it, or impute to the bad passions of envy or jealousy, the artless regret of an untutored mind. To be penetrated too deeply with the merit of Delvile, with her wanted no excuse, and she grieved for her situation with but little mixture of blame, and none of surprise. She redoubled her kindness and caresses with the hope of consoling her, but ventured to trust her no further, till reflection, and her natural good sense, should better enable her to bear an explanation.
Nor was this friendly exertion any longer a hardship to her; the sudden removal, in her own feelings and affairs, of distress and expectation, had now so much lightened her heart, that she could spare without repining, some portion of its spirit to her dejected young friend.
But an incident happened two mornings after which called back, and most unpleasantly, her attention to herself. She was told that Mrs Matt, the poor woman she had settled in Bury, begged an audience, and upon sending for her up stairs, and desiring to know what she could do for her, "Nothing, madam, just now," she answered, "for I don't come upon my own business, but to tell some news to you, madam. You bid me never take notice of the wedding, that was to be, and I'm sure I never opened my mouth about it from that time to this; but I have found out who it was put a stop to it, and so I come to tell you."
Cecilia, extremely amazed, eagerly desired her to go on.
"Why, madam, I don't know the gentlewoman's name quite right yet, but I can tell you where she lives, for I knew her as soon as I set eyes on her, when I see her at church last Sunday, and I would have followed her home, but she went into a coach, and I could not walk fast enough; but I asked one of the footmen where she lived, and he said at the great house at the Grove: and perhaps, madam, you may know where that is: and then he told me her name, but that I can't just now think of."
"Good heaven!" cried Cecilia,—"it could not be Bennet?"
"Yes, ma'am, that's the very name; I know it again now I hear it."
Cecilia then hastily dismissed her, first desiring her not to mention the circumstance to any body.
Shocked and dismayed, she now saw, but saw with horror, the removal of all her doubts, and the explanation of all her difficulties, in the full and irrefragable discovery of the perfidy of her oldest friend and confident.
Miss Bennet herself she regarded in the affair as a mere tool, which, though in effect it did the work, was innocent of its mischief, because powerless but in the hand of its employer.
"That employer," cried she, "must be Mr Monckton! Mr Monckton whom so long I have known, who so willingly has been my counsellor, so ably my instructor! in whose integrity I have confided, upon whose friendship I have relied! my succour in all emergencies, my guide in all perplexities!—Mr Monckton thus dishonourably, thus barbarously to betray me! to turn against me the very confidence I had reposed in his regard for me! and make use of my own trust to furnish the means to injure me!"—
She was now wholly confirmed that he had wronged her with Mr Delvile; she could not have two enemies so malignant without provocation, and he who so unfeelingly could dissolve a union at the very altar, could alone have the baseness to calumniate her so cruelly.
Evil thoughts thus awakened, stopt not merely upon facts; conjecture carried her further, and conjecture built upon probability. The officiousness of Morrice in pursuing her to London, his visiting her when there, and his following and watching Delvile, she now reasonably concluded were actions directed by Mr Monckton, whose house he had but just left, and whose orders, whatever they might be, she was almost certain he would obey. Availing himself, therefore, of the forwardness and suppleness which met in this young man, she doubted not but his intelligence had contributed to acquaint him with her proceedings.
The motive of such deep concerted and accumulated treachery was next to be sought: nor was the search long; one only could have tempted him to schemes so hazardous and costly; and, unsuspicious as she was, she now saw into his whole design.
Long accustomed to regard him as a safe and disinterested old friend, the respect with which, as a child, she had looked up to him, she had insensibly preserved when a woman. That respect had taught her to consider his notice as a favour, and far from suspiciously shunning, she had innocently courted it: and his readiness in advising and tutoring her, his frank and easy friendliness of behaviour, had kept his influence unimpaired, by preventing its secret purpose from being detected.
But now the whole mystery was revealed; his aversion to the Delviles, to which hitherto she had attributed all she disapproved in his behaviour, she was convinced must be inadequate to stimulate him to such lengths. That aversion itself was by this late surmise accounted for, and no sooner did it occur to her, than a thousand circumstances confirmed it.
The first among these was the evident ill will of Lady Margaret, which though she had constantly imputed to the general irascibility for which her character was notorious, she had often wondered to find impenetrable to all endeavours to please or soften her. His care of her fortune, his exhortations against her expences, his wish to make her live with Mr Briggs, all contributed to point out the selfishness of his attentions, which in one instance rendered visible, became obvious in every other.
Yet various as were the incidents that now poured upon her memory to his disgrace, not one among them took its rise from his behaviour to herself, which always had been scrupulously circumspect, or if for a moment unguarded, only at a season when her own distress or confusion had prevented her from perceiving it. This recollection almost staggered her suspicions; yet so absolute seemed the confirmation they received from every other, that her doubt was overpowered, and soon wholly extinguished.
She was yet ruminating on this subject, when, word was brought her that Mr Monckton was in the parlour.
Mingled disgust and indignation made her shudder at his name, and without pausing a moment, she sent him word she was engaged, and could not possibly leave her room.
Astonished by such a dismission, he left the house in the utmost confusion. But Cecilia could not endure to see him, after a discovery of such hypocrisy and villainy.
She considered, however, that the matter could not rest here: he would demand an explanation, and perhaps, by his unparalleled address, again contrive to seem innocent, notwithstanding appearances were at present so much against him. Expecting, therefore, some artifice, and determined not to be duped by it, she sent again for the Pew-opener, to examine her more strictly.
The woman was out at work in a private family, and could not come till the evening: but, when further questioned, the description she gave of Miss Bennet was too exact to be disputed.
She then desired her to call again the next morning and sent a servant to the Grove, with her compliments to Miss Bennet, and a request that she might send her carriage for her the next day, at any time she pleased, as she wished much to speak with her.
This message, she was aware, might create some suspicion, and put her upon her guard; but she thought, nevertheless, a sudden meeting with the Pew-opener, whom she meant abruptly to confront with her, would baffle the security of any previously settled scheme.
To a conviction such as this even Mr Monckton must submit, and since he was lost to her as a friend, she might at least save herself the pain of keeping up his acquaintance.
The servant did not return till it was dark; and then, with a look of much dismay, said he had been able to meet with nobody who could either give or take a message; that the Grove was all in confusion, and the whole country in an uproar, for Mr Monckton, just as he arrived, had been brought home dead!
Cecilia screamed with involuntary horror; a pang like remorse seized her mind, with the apprehension she had some share in this catastrophe, and innocent as she was either of his fall or his crimes, she no sooner heard he was no more, than she forgot he had offended her, and reproached herself with severity for the shame to which she meant to expose him the next morning.
Dreadfully disturbed by this horrible incident, she entreated Mrs Harrel and Henrietta to sup by themselves, and going into her own room, determined to write the whole affair to Delvile, in a letter she should direct to be left at the post-office for him at Margate.
And here strongly she felt the happiness of being actually his wife; she could now without reserve make him acquainted with all her affairs, and tell to the master of her heart every emotion that entered it.
While engaged in this office, the very action of which quieted her, a letter was brought her from Delvile himself. She received it with gratitude and opened it with joy; he had promised to write soon, but so soon she had thought impossible.
The reading took not much time; the letter contained but the following words:
To Miss Beverley.
MY CECILIA!—Be alone, I conjure you; dismiss every body, and admit me this moment!
Great was her astonishment at this note! no name to it, no conclusion, the characters indistinct, the writing crooked, the words so few, and those few scarce legible!
He desired to see her, and to see her alone; she could not hesitate in her compliance,—but whom could she dismiss?—her servants, if ordered away, would but be curiously upon the watch,—she could think of no expedient, she was all hurry and amazement.
She asked if any one waited for an answer? The footman said no; that the note was given in by somebody who did not speak, and who ran out of sight the moment he had delivered it.
She could not doubt this was Delvile himself,—Delvile who should now be just returned from the castle to his mother, and whom she had thought not even a letter would reach if directed any where nearer than Margate!
All she could devise in obedience to him, was to go and wait for him alone in her dressing-room, giving orders that if any one called they might be immediately brought up to her, as she expected somebody upon business, with whom she must not be interrupted.
This was extremely disagreeable to her; yet, contrary as it was to their agreement, she felt no inclination to reproach Delvile; the abruptness of his note, the evident hand-shaking with which it had been written, the strangeness of the request in a situation such as theirs, —all concurred to assure her he came not to her idly, and all led her to apprehend he came to her with evil tidings.
What they might be, she had no time to conjecture; a servant, in a few minutes, opened the dressing-room door, and said, "Ma'am, a gentleman;" and Delvile, abruptly entering, shut it himself, in his eagerness to get rid of him.
At his sight, her prognostication of ill became stronger! she went forward to meet him, and he advanced to her smiling and in haste; but that smile did not well do its office; it concealed not a pallid countenance, in which every feature spoke horror; it disguised not an aching heart, which almost visibly throbbed with intolerable emotion! Yet he addressed her in terms of tenderness and peace; but his tremulous voice counteracted his words, and spoke that all within was tumult and war!
Cecilia, amazed, affrighted, had no power to hasten an explanation, which, on his own part, he seemed unable, or fearful to begin. He talked to her of his happiness in again seeing her before he left the kingdom, entreated her to write to him continually, said the same thing two and three times in a breath, began with one subject, and seemed unconscious he wandered presently into another, and asked her questions innumerable about her health, journey, affairs, and ease of mind, without hearing from her any answer, or seeming to miss that she had none.
Cecilia grew dreadfully terrified; something strange and most alarming she was sure must have happened, but what, she had no means to know, nor courage, nor even words to enquire.
Delvile, at length, the first hurry of his spirits abating, became more coherent and considerate: and looking anxiously at her, said, "Why this silence, my Cecilia?"
"I know not!" said she, endeavouring to recover herself, "but your coming was unexpected: I was just writing to you at Margate."
"Write still, then; but direct to Ostend; I shall be quicker than the post; and I would not lose a letter—a line—a word from you, for all the world can offer me!"
"Quicker than the post?" cried Cecilia; "but how can Mrs Delvile—" she stopt; not knowing what she might venture to ask.
"She is now on the road to Margate; I hope to be there to receive her. I mean but to bid you adieu, and be gone."
Cecilia made no answer; she was more and more astonished, more and more confounded.
"You are thoughtful?" said he, with tenderness; "are you unhappy?— sweetest Cecilia! most excellent of human creatures! if I have made you unhappy—and I must!—it is inevitable!—"
"Oh Delvile!" cried she, now assuming more courage, "why will you not speak to me openly?—something, I see, is wrong; may I not hear it? may I not tell you, at least, my concern that any thing has distressed you?"
"You are too good!" cried he; "to deserve you is not possible, but to afflict you is inhuman!" "Why so?" cried she, more chearfully; "must I not share the common lot? or expect the whole world to be new modelled, lest I should meet in it any thing but happiness?"
"There is not, indeed, much danger! Have you pen and ink here?"
She brought them to him immediately, with paper.
You have been writing to me, you say?—I will begin a letter myself."
"To me?" cried she.
He made no answer, but took up the pen, and wrote a few words, and then, flinging it down, said, "Fool!—I could have done this without coming!"
"May I look at it?" said she; and, finding he made no opposition, advanced and read.
I fear to alarm you by rash precipitation,—I fear to alarm you by lingering suspense,—but all is not well—
"Fear nothing!" cried she, turning to him with the kindest earnestness; "tell me, whatever it may be!—Am I not your wife? bound by every tie divine and human to share in all your sorrows, if, unhappily, I cannot mitigate them!"
"Since you allow me," cried he, gratefully, "so sweet a claim, a claim to which all others yield, and which if you repent not giving me, will make all others nearly immaterial to me,—I will own to you that all, indeed, is not well! I have been hasty,—you will blame me; I deserve, indeed, to be blamed!—entrusted with your peace and happiness, to suffer rage, resentment, violence, to make me forego what I owed to such a deposite!—If your blame, however, stops short of repentance— but it cannot!"
"What, then," cried she with warmth, "must you have done? for there is not an action of which I believe you capable, there is not an event which I believe to be possible, that can ever make me repent belonging to you wholly!"
"Generous, condescending Cecilia!" cried he; "Words such as these, hung there not upon me an evil the most depressing, would be almost more than I could bear—would make me too blest for mortality!"
"But words such as these," said she more gaily, "I might long have coquetted ere I had spoken, had you not drawn them from me by this alarm. Take, therefore, the good with the ill, and remember, if all does not go right, you have now a trusty friend, as willing to be the partner of your serious as your happiest hours."
"Shew but as much firmness as you have shewn sweetness," cried he, "and I will fear to tell you nothing."
She reiterated her assurances; they then both sat down, and he began his account.
"Immediately from your lodgings I went where I had ordered a chaise, and stopped only to change horses till I reached Delvile Castle. My father saw me with surprise, and received me with coldness. I was compelled by my situation to be abrupt, and told him I came, before I accompanied my mother abroad, to make him acquainted with an affair which I thought myself bound in duty and respect to suffer no one to communicate to him but myself. He then sternly interrupted me, and declared in high terms, that if this affair concerned you, he would not listen to it. I attempted to remonstrate upon this injustice, when he passionately broke forth into new and horrible charges against you, affirming that he had them from authority as indisputable as ocular demonstration. I was then certain of some foul play."—
"Foul play indeed!" cried Cecilia, who now knew but too well by whom she had been injured. "Good heaven, how have I been deceived, where most I have trusted!"
"I told him," continued Delvile, "some gross imposition had been practiced upon him, and earnestly conjured him no longer to conceal from me by whom. This, unfortunately, encreased his rage; imposition, he said, was not so easily played upon him, he left that for me who so readily was duped; while for himself, he had only given credit to a man of much consideration in Suffolk, who had known you from a child, who had solemnly assured him he had repeatedly endeavoured to reclaim you, who had rescued you from the hands of Jews at his own hazard and loss, and who actually shewed him bonds acknowledging immense debts, which were signed with your own hand."
"Horrible!" exclaimed Cecilia, "I believed not such guilt and perfidy possible!"
"I was scarce myself," resumed Delvile, "while I heard him: I demanded even with fierceness his author, whom I scrupled not to execrate as he deserved; he coldly answered he was bound by an oath never to reveal him, nor should he repay his honourable attention to his family by a breach of his own word, were it even less formally engaged. I then lost all patience; to mention honour, I cried, was a farce, where such infamous calumnies were listened to;—but let me not shock you unnecessarily, you may readily conjecture what passed."
"Ah me!" cried Cecilia, "you have then quarrelled with your father!"
"I have!" said he; "nor does he yet know I am married: in so much wrath there was no room for narration; I only pledged myself by all I held sacred, never to rest till I had cleared your fame, by the detection of this villainy, and then left him without further explanation."
"Oh return, then, to him directly!" cried Cecilia, "he is your father, you are bound to bear with his displeasure;—alas! had you never known me, you had never incurred it!"
"Believe me," he answered, "I am ill at ease under it: if you wish it, when you have heard me, I will go to him immediately; if not, I will write, and you shall yourself dictate what."
Cecilia thanked him, and begged he would continue his account.
"My first step, when I left the Castle, was to send a letter to my mother, in which I entreated her to set out as soon as possible for Margate, as I was detained from her unavoidably, and was unwilling my delay should either retard our journey, or oblige her to travel faster. At Margate I hoped to be as soon as herself, if not before her."
"And why," cried Cecilia, "did you not go to town as you had promised, and accompany her?"
"I had business another way. I came hither."
"No; but soon."
"Where did you go first?"
"My Cecilia, it is now you must summon your fortitude: I left my father without an explanation on my part;—but not till, in his rage of asserting his authority, he had unwarily named his informant."
"That informant—the most deceitful of men!—was your long pretended friend, Mr Monckton!"
"So I feared!" said Cecilia, whose blood now ran cold through her veins with sudden and new apprehensions.
"I rode to the Grove, on hack-horses, and on a full gallop the whole way. I got to him early in the evening. I was shewn into his library. I told him my errand.—You look pale, my love? You are not well?—"
Cecilia, too sick for speech, leant her head upon a table. Delvile was going to call for help; but she put her hand upon his arm to stop him, and, perceiving she was only mentally affected, he rested, and endeavoured by every possible means to revive her.
After a while, she again raised her head, faintly saying, "I am sorry I interrupted you; but the conclusion I already know,—Mr Monckton is dead!"
"Not dead," cried he; "dangerously, indeed, wounded, but thank heaven, not actually dead!"
"Not dead?" cried Cecilia, with recruited strength and spirits, "Oh then all yet may be well!—if he is not dead; he may recover!"
"He may; I hope he will!"
"Now, then," she cried, "tell me all: I can bear any intelligence but of death by human means."
"I meant not to have gone such lengths; far from it; I hold duels in abhorrence, as unjustifiable acts of violence, and savage devices of revenge. I have offended against my own conviction,—but, transported with passion at his infamous charges, I was not master of my reason; I accused hum of his perfidy; he denied it; I told him I had it from my father,—he changed the subject to pour abuse upon him; I insisted on a recantation to clear you; he asked by what right? I fiercely answered; by a husband's! His countenance, then, explained at least the motives of his treachery,—he loves you himself! he had probably schemed to keep you free till his wife died, and then concluded his machinations would secure you his own. For this purpose, finding he was in danger of losing you, he was content even to blast your character, rather than suffer you to escape him! But the moment I acknowledged my marriage he grew more furious than myself; and, in short-for why relate the frenzies of rage? we walked out together; my travelling pistols were already charged; I gave him his choice of them, and, the challenge being mine, for insolence joined with guilt had robbed me of all forbearance, he fired first, but missed me: I then demanded whether he would clear your fame? he called out 'Fire! I will make no terms,'—I did fire,—and unfortunately aimed better! We had neither of us any second, all was the result of immediate passion; but I soon got people to him, and assisted in conveying him home. He was at, first believed to be dead, and I was seized by his servants; but he afterwards shewed signs of life, and by sending for my friend Biddulph, I was released. Such is the melancholy transaction I came to relate to you, flattering myself it would something less shock you from me than from another: yet my own real concern for the affair, the repentance with which from the moment the wretch fell, I was struck in being his destroyer, and the sorrow, the remorse, rather, which I felt, in coming to wound you with such black, such fearful intelligence,—you to whom all I owe is peace and comfort!—these thoughts gave me so much disturbance, that, in fact, I knew less than any other how to prepare you for such a tale."
He stopt; but Cecilia could say nothing: to censure him now would both be cruel and vain; yet to pretend she was satisfied with his conduct, would be doing violence to her judgment and veracity. She saw, too, that his error had sprung wholly from a generous ardor in her defence, and that his confidence in her character, had resisted, without wavering, every attack that menaced it. For this she felt truly grateful; yet his quarrel with his father,—the danger of his mother,— his necessary absence,—her own clandestine situation,—and more than all, the threatened death of Mr Monckton by his hands, were circumstances so full of dread and sadness, she knew not upon which to speak,—how to offer him comfort,—how to assume a countenance that looked able to receive any, or by what means to repress the emotions which to many ways assailed her. Delvile, having vainly waited some reply, then in a tone the most melancholy, said, "If it is yet possible you can be sufficiently interested in my fate to care what becomes of me, aid me now with your counsel, or rather with your instructions; I am scarce able to think for myself, and to be thought for by you, would yet be a consolation that would give me spirit for any thing."
Cecilia, starting from her reverie, repeated, "To care what becomes of you-? Oh Delvile!—make not my heart bleed by words of such unkindness!"
"Forgive me," cried he, "I meant not a reproach; I meant but to state my own consciousness how little I deserve from you. You talked to me of going to my father? do you still wish it?"
"I think so!" cried she; too much disturbed to know what she said, yet fearing again to hurt him by making him wait her answer.
"I will go then," said he, "without doubt: too happy to be guided by you, which-ever way I steer. I have now, indeed much to tell him; but whatever may be his wrath, there is little fear, at this time, that my own temper cannot bear it! what next shall I do?"
"What next?" repeated she; "indeed I know not!"
"Shall I go immediately to Margate? or shall I first ride hither?"
"If you please," said she, much perturbed, and deeply sighing.
"I please nothing but by your direction, to follow that is my only chance of pleasure. Which, then, shall I do?-you will not, now, refuse to direct me?"
"No, certainly, not for the world!"
"Speak to me, then, my love, and tell me;—why are you thus silent?— is it painful to you to counsel me?"
"No, indeed!" said she, putting her hand to her head, "I will speak to you in a few minutes."
"Oh my Cecilia!" cried he, looking at her with much alarm, "call back your recollection! you know not what you say, you take no interest in what you answer."
"Indeed I do!" said she, sighing deeply, and oppressed beyond the power of thinking, beyond any power but an internal consciousness of wretchedness.
"Sigh not so bitterly," cried he, "if you have any compassion! sigh not so bitterly,—I cannot bear to hear you!"
"I am very sorry indeed!" said she, sighing again, and not seeming sensible she spoke.
"Good Heaven!" cried he, rising, "distract me not with this horror!— speak not to me in such broken sentences!—Do you hear me, Cecilia?— why will you not answer me?"
She started and trembled, looked pale and affrighted, and putting both her hands upon her heart, said, "Oh yes!—but I have an oppression here,—a tightness, a fulness,—I have not room for breath!"
"Oh beloved of my heart!" cried he, wildly casting himself at her feet, "kill me not with this terror!—call back your faculties,—awake from this dreadful insensibility! tell me at least you know me!—tell me I have not tortured you quite to madness!—sole darling of my affections! my own, my wedded Cecilia!—rescue me from this agony! it is more than I can support!"—-
This energy of distress brought back her scattered senses, scarce more stunned by the shock of all this misery, than by the restraint of her feelings in struggling to conceal it. But these passionate exclamations restoring her sensibility, she burst into tears, which happily relieved her mind from the conflict with which it was labouring, and which, not thus effected, might have ended more fatally.
Never had Delvile more rejoiced in her smiles than now in these seasonable tears, which he regarded and blest as the preservers of her reason. They flowed long without any intermission, his soothing and tenderness but melting her to more sorrow: after a while, however, the return of her faculties, which at first seemed all consigned over to grief, was manifested by the returning strength of her mind: she blamed herself severely for the little fortitude she had shewn, but having now given vent to emotions too forcible to be wholly stiffed, she assured him he might depend upon her' better courage for the future, and entreated him to consider and settle his affairs.
Not speedily, however, could Delvile himself recover. The torture he had suffered in believing, though only for a few moments, that the terror he had given to Cecilia had affected her intellects, made even a deeper impression upon his imagination, than the scene of fury and death, which had occasioned that terror: and Cecilia, who now strained every nerve to repair by her firmness, the pain which by her weakness she had given him, was sooner in a condition for reasoning and deliberation than himself.
"Ah Delvile!" she cried, comprehending what passed within him, "do you allow nothing for surprize? and nothing for the hard conflict of endeavouring to suppress it? do you think me still as unfit to advise with, and as worthless, as feeble a counsellor, as during the first confusion of my mind?"
"Hurry not your tender spirits, I beseech you," cried he, "we have time enough; we will talk about business by and by."
"What time?" cried she, "what is it now o'clock?"
"Good Heaven!" cried he, looking at his watch, "already past ten! you must turn me out, my Cecilia, or calumny will still be busy, even though poor Monckton is quiet."
"I will turn you out," cried she, "I am indeed most earnest to have you gone. But tell me your plan, and which way you mean to go?"
"That;" he answered, "you shall decide for me yourself: whether to Delvile Castle, to finish one tale, and wholly communicate another, or to Margate, to hasten my mother abroad, before the news of this calamity reaches her."
"Go to Margate," cried she, eagerly, "set off this very moment! you can write to your father from Ostend. But continue, I conjure you, on the continent, till we see if this unhappy man lives, and enquire, of those who can judge, what must follow if he should not!"
"A trial," said he, "must follow, and it will go, I fear, but hardly with me! the challenge was mine; his servants can all witness I went to him, not he to me,—Oh my Cecilia! the rashness of which I have been guilty, is so opposite to my principles, and, all generous as is your silence, I know it so opposite to yours, that never, should his blood be on my hands, wretch as he was, never will my heart be quiet more."
"He will live, he will live!" cried Cecilia, repressing her horror, "fear nothing, for he will live;—and as to his wound and his sufferings, his perfidy has deserved them. Go, then, to Margate; think only of Mrs Delvile, and save her, if possible, from hearing what has happened."
"I will go,—stay,—do which and whatever you bid me: but, should what I fear come to pass, should my mother continue ill, my father inflexible, should this wretched man die, and should England no longer be a country I shall love to dwell in,—could you, then, bear to own, —would you, then, consent to follow me?"
"Could I?—am I not yours? may you not command me? tell me, then, you have only to say,—shall I accompany you at once?"
Delvile, affected by her generosity, could scarce utter his thanks; yet he did not hesitate in denying to avail himself of it; "No, my Cecilia," he cried, "I am not so selfish. If we have not happier days, we will at least wait for more desperate necessity. With the uncertainty if I have not this man's life to answer for at the hazard of my own, to take my wife—my bride,—from the kingdom I must fly!— to make her a fugitive and an exile in the first publishing that she is mine! No, if I am not a destined alien for life I can never permit it. Nothing less, believe me, shall ever urge my consent to wound the chaste propriety of your character, by making you an eloper with a duelist."
They then again consulted upon their future plans; and concluded that in the present disordered state of their affairs, it would be best not to acknowledge even to Mr Delvile their marriage, to whom the news of the duel, and Mr Monckton's danger, would be a blow so severe, that, to add to it any other might half distract him.
To the few people already acquainted with it, Delvile therefore determined to write from Ostend, re-urging his entreaties for their discretion and secrecy. Cecilia promised every post to acquaint him how Mr Monckton went on, and she then besought him to go instantly, that he might out-travel the ill news to his mother.
He complied, and took leave of her in the tenderest manner, conjuring her to support her spirits, and be careful of her health. "Happiness," said he, "is much in arrears with us, and though my violence may have frightened it away, your sweetness and gentleness will yet attract it back: all that for me is in store must be received at your hands,— what is offered in any other way, I shall only mistake for evil! droop not, therefore, my generous Cecilia, but in yourself preserve me!"