Cecilia/Book 10/Chapter ii
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!"
"I will not droop," said she; "you will find, I hope, you have not intrusted yourself in ill hands."
"Peace then be with you, my love!—my comforting, my soul-reviving Cecilia! Peace, such as angels give, and such as may drive from your mind the remembrance of this bitter hour!"
He then tore himself away.
Cecilia, who to his blessings could almost, like the tender Belvidera, have exclaimed
- O do not leave me!—stay with me and curse me!
listened to his steps till she could hear them no longer, as if the remaining moments of her life were to be measured by them: but then, remembering the danger both to herself and him of his stay, she endeavoured to rejoice that he was gone, and, but that her mind was in no state for joy, was too rational not to have succeeded.
Grief and horror for what was past, apprehension and suspense for what was to come, so disordered her whole frame, so confused even her intellects, that when not all the assistance of fancy could persuade her she still heard the footsteps of Delvile, she went to the chair upon which he had been seated, and taking possession of it, sat with her arms crossed, silent, quiet, and erect, almost vacant of all thought, yet with a secret idea she was doing something right.
Here she continued till Henrietta came to wish her good night; whose surprise and concern at the strangeness of her look and attitude, once more recovered her. But terrified herself at this threatened wandering of her reason, and certain she must all night be a stranger to rest, she accepted the affectionate offer of the kind-hearted girl to stay with her, who was too much grieved for her grief to sleep any more than herself.
She told her not what had passed; that, she knew, would be fruitless affliction to her: but she was soothed by her gentleness, and her conversation was some security from the dangerous rambling of her ideas.
Henrietta herself found no little consolation in her own private sorrows, that she was able to give comfort to her beloved Miss Beverley, from whom she had received favours and kind offices innumerable. She quitted her not night nor day, and in the honest pride of a little power to skew the gratefulness of her heart, she felt a pleasure and self-consequence she had never before experienced.