Cecilia/Book 4/Chapter vi
At the door of the Pantheon they were joined by Mr Arnott and Sir Robert Floyer, whom Cecilia now saw with added aversion: they entered the great room during the second apt of the Concert, to which as no one of the party but herself had any desire to listen, no sort of attention was paid; the ladies entertaining themselves as if no Orchestra was in the room, and the gentlemen, with an equal disregard to it, struggling for a place by the fire, about which they continued hovering till the music was over.
Soon after they were seated, Mr Meadows, sauntering towards them, whispered something to Mrs Mears, who, immediately rising, introduced him to Cecilia; after which, the place next to her being vacant, he cast himself upon it, and lolling as much at his ease as his situation would permit, began something like a conversation with her.
"Have you been long in town, ma'am?"
"This is not your first winter?"
"Of being in town, it is."
"Then you have something new to see; O charming! how I envy you!— Are you pleased with the Pantheon?"
"Very much; I have seen no building at all equal to it."
"You have not been abroad. Travelling is the ruin of all happiness! There's no looking at a building here after seeing Italy."
"Does all happiness, then, depend upon the sight of buildings?" said Cecilia, when, turning towards her companion, she perceived him yawning, with such evident inattention to her answer, that not chusing to interrupt his reverie, she turned her head another way.
For some minutes he took no notice of this; and then, as if suddenly recollecting himself, he called out hastily, "I beg your pardon, ma'am, you were saying something?"
"No, Sir, nothing worth repeating." "O pray don't punish me so severely as not to let me hear it!"
Cecilia, though merely not to seem offended at his negligence, was then again beginning an answer, when, looking at him as she spoke, she perceived that he was biting his nails with so absent an air, that he appeared not to know he had asked any question. She therefore broke off, and left him to his cogitation.
Sometime after he addressed her again, saying, "Don't you find this place extremely tiresome, ma'am?"
"Yes, Sir," said she, half laughing, "it is, indeed, not very entertaining!"
"Nothing is entertaining," answered he, "for two minutes together. Things are so little different one from another, that there is no making pleasure out of any thing. We go the same dull round for ever; nothing new, no variety! all the same thing over again! Are you fond of public places, ma'am?"
"Yes, Sir, soberly, as Lady Grace says."
"Then I envy you extremely, for you have some amusement always in your own power. How desirable that is!"
"And have not you the same resources?"
"O no! I am tired to death! tired of every thing! I would give the universe for a disposition less difficult to please. Yet, after all, what is there to give pleasure? When one has seen one thing, one has seen every thing. O, 'tis heavy work! Don't you find it so, ma'am?"
This speech was ended with so violent a fit of yawning, that Cecilia would not trouble herself to answer it: but her silence, as before, passed wholly unnoticed, exciting neither question nor comment.
A long pause now succeeded, which he broke at last, by saying, as he writhed himself about upon his seat, "These forms would be much more agreeable if there were backs to them. "Tis intolerable to be forced to sit like a school-boy. The first study of life is ease. There is, indeed, no other study that pays the trouble of attainment. Don't you think so, ma'am?"
"But may not even that," said Cecilia, "by so much study, become labour?"
"I am vastly happy you think so."
"I beg your pardon, ma'am, but I thought you said—I really beg your pardon, but I was thinking of something else."
"You did very right, Sir," said Cecilia, laughing, "for what I said by no means merited any attention."
"Will you do me the favour to repeat it?" cried he, taking out his glass to examine some lady at a distance.
"O no," said Cecilia, "that would be trying your patience too severely."
"These glasses shew one nothing but defects," said he; "I am sorry they were ever invented. They are the ruin of all beauty; no complexion can stand them. I believe that solo will never be over; I hate a solo; it sinks, it depresses me intolerably."
"You will presently, Sir," said Cecilia, looking at the bill of the concert, "have a full piece; and that, I hope, will revive you."
"A full piece! oh insupportable! it stuns, it fatigues, it overpowers me beyond endurance! no taste in it, no delicacy, no room for the smallest feeling."
"Perhaps, then, you are only fond of singing?"
"I should be, if I could hear it; but we are now so miserably off in voices, that I hardly ever attempt to listen to a song, without fancying myself deaf from the feebleness of the performers. I hate every thing that requires attention. Nothing gives pleasure that does not force its own way."
"You only, then, like loud voices, and great powers?"
"O worse and worse!—no, nothing is so disgusting to me. All my amazement is that these people think it worth while to give Concerts at all; one is sick to death of music."
"Nay," cried Cecilia, "if it gives no pleasure, at least it takes none away; for, far from being any impediment to conversation, I think every body talks more during the performance than between the acts. And what is there better you could substitute in its place?"
Cecilia, receiving no answer to this question, again looked round to see if she had been heard; when she observed her new acquaintance, with a very thoughtful air, had turned from her to fix his eyes upon the statue of Britannia.
Very soon after, he hastily arose, and seeming entirely to forget that he had spoke to her, very abruptly walked away.
Mr Gosport, who was advancing to Cecilia, and had watched part of this scene, stopt him as he was retreating, and said "Why Meadows, how's this? are you caught at last?"
"O worn to death! worn to a thread!" cried he, stretching himself, and yawning; "I have been talking with a young lady to entertain her! O such heavy work! I would not go through it again for millions!
"What, have you talked yourself out of breath?"
"No; but the effort! the effort!—O, it has unhinged me for a fortnight!—Entertaining a young lady!—one had better be a galley-slave at once!"
"Well but, did she not pay your toils? She is surely a sweet creature."
"Nothing can pay one for such insufferable exertion! though she's well enough, too—better than the common run,—but shy, quite too shy; no drawing her out"
"I thought that was to your taste. You commonly hate much volubility. How have I heard you bemoan yourself when attacked by Miss Larolles!"
"Larolles? O distraction! She talks me into a fever in two minutes. But so it is for ever! nothing but extremes to be met with! common girls are too forward, this lady is too reserved—always some fault! always some drawback! nothing ever perfect!"
"Nay, nay," cried Mr Gosport, "you do not know her; she is perfect enough in all conscience."
"Better not know her, then," answered he, again yawning, "for she cannot be pleasing. Nothing perfect is natural;—I hate every thing out of nature."
He then strolled on, and Mr Gosport approached Cecilia.
"I have been wishing," cried he, "to address you this half hour, but as you were engaged with Mr Meadows, I did not dare advance."
"O, I see your malice!" cried Cecilia; "you were determined to add weight to the value of your company, by making me fully sensible where the balance would preponderate."
"Nay, if you do not admire Mr Meadows," cried he, "you must not even whisper it to the winds."
"Is he, then, so very admirable?"
"O, he is now in the very height of fashionable favour: his dress is a model, his manners are imitated, his attention is courted, and his notice is envied."
"Are you not laughing?"
"No, indeed; his privileges are much more extensive than I have mentioned: his decision fixes the exact limits between what is vulgar and what is elegant, his praise gives reputation, and a word from him in public confers fashion!"
"And by what wonderful powers has he acquired such influence?"
"By nothing but a happy art in catching the reigning foibles of the times, and carrying them to an extreme yet more absurd than any one had done before him. Ceremony, he found, was already exploded for ease, he, therefore, exploded ease for indolence; devotion to the fair sex, had given way to a more equal and rational intercourse, which, to push still farther, he presently exchanged for rudeness; joviality, too, was already banished for philosophical indifference, and that, therefore, he discarded, for weariness and disgust."
"And is it possible that qualities such as these should recommend him to favour and admiration?"
"Very possible, for qualities such as these constitute the present taste of the times. A man of the Ton, who would now be conspicuous in the gay world, must invariably be insipid, negligent, and selfish."
"Admirable requisites!" cried Cecilia; "and Mr Meadows, I acknowledge, seems to have attained them all."
"He must never," continued Mr Gosport, "confess the least pleasure from any thing, a total apathy being the chief ingredient of his character: he must, upon no account, sustain a conversation with any spirit, lest he should appear, to his utter disgrace, interested in what is said: and when he is quite tired of his existence, from a total vacuity of ideas, he must affect a look of absence, and pretend, on the sudden, to be wholly lost in thought."
"I would not wish," said Cecilia, laughing, "a more amiable companion!"
"If he is asked his opinion of any lady," he continued, "he must commonly answer by a grimace; and if he is seated next to one, he must take the utmost pains to shew by his listlessness, yawning, and inattention, that he is sick of his situation; for what he holds of all things to be most gothic, is gallantry to the women. To avoid this is, indeed, the principal solicitude of his life. If he sees a lady in distress for her carriage, he is to enquire of her what is the matter, and then, with a shrug, wish her well through her fatigues, wink at some bye-stander, and walk away. If he is in a room where there is a crowd of company, and a scarcity of seats, he must early ensure one of the best in the place, be blind to all looks of fatigue, and deaf to all hints of assistance, and seeming totally to forget himself, lounge at his ease, and appear an unconscious spectator of what is going forward. If he is at a ball where there are more women than men, he must decline dancing at all, though it should happen to be his favourite amusement, and smiling as he passes the disengaged young ladies, wonder to see them sit still, and perhaps ask them the reason!"
"A most alluring character indeed!" cried Cecilia; "and pray how long have these been the accomplishments of a fine gentleman?"
"I am but an indifferent chronologer of the modes," he answered, "but I know it has been long enough to raise just expectations that some new folly will be started soon, by which the present race of INSENSIBLISTS may be driven out. Mr Meadows is now at the head of this sect, as Miss Larolles is of the VOLUBLE, and Miss Leeson of the SUPERCILIOUS. But this way comes another, who, though in a different manner, labours with the same view, and aspires at the same reward, which stimulate the ambition of this happy Triplet, that of exciting wonder by peculiarity, and envy by wonder."
This description announced Captain Aresby; who, advancing from the fire-place, told Cecilia how much he rejoiced in seeing her, said he had been reduced to despair by so long missing that honour, and that he had feared she made it a principle to avoid coming in public, having sought her in vain partout.
He then smiled, and strolled on to another party.
"And pray of what sect," said Cecilia, "is this gentleman?"
"Of the sect of JARGONISTS," answered Mr Gosport; "he has not an ambition beyond paying a passing compliment, nor a word to make use of that he has not picked up at public places. Yet this dearth of language, however you may despise it, is not merely owing to a narrow capacity: foppery and conceit have their share in the limitation, for though his phrases are almost always ridiculous or misapplied, they are selected with much study, and introduced with infinite pains."
"Poor man!" cried Cecilia, "is it possible it can cost him any trouble to render himself so completely absurd?"
"Yes; but not more than it costs his neighbours to keep him in countenance. Miss Leeson, since she has presided over the sect of the SUPERCILIOUS, spends at least half her life in wishing the annihilation of the other half; for as she must only speak in her own Coterie, she is compelled to be frequently silent, and therefore, having nothing to think of, she is commonly gnawn with self-denial, and soured with want of amusement: Miss Larolles, indeed, is better off, for in talking faster than she thinks, she has but followed the natural bent of her disposition: as to this poor JARGONIST, he has, I must own, rather a hard task, from the continual restraint of speaking only out of his own [Lilliputian] vocabulary, and denying himself the relief of ever uttering one word by the call of occasion but what hardship is that, compared with what is borne by Mr Meadows? who, since he commenced INSENSIBLIST, has never once dared to be pleased, nor ventured for a moment to look in good humour!"
"Surely, then," said Cecilia, "in a short time, the punishment of this affectation will bring its cure."
"No; for the trick grows into habit, and habit is a second nature. A secret idea of fame makes his forbearance of happiness supportable to him: for he has now the self-satisfaction of considering himself raised to that highest pinnacle of fashionable refinement which is built upon apathy and scorn, and from which, proclaiming himself superior to all possibility of enjoyment, he views the whole world with contempt! holding neither beauty, virtue, wealth, nor power of importance sufficient to kindle the smallest emotion!"
"O that they could all round listen to you!" cried Cecilia; "they would soon, I think, sicken of their folly, if they heard it thus admirably exposed."
"No; they would but triumph that it had obtained them so much notice!—But pray do you see that gentleman, or don't you chuse to know him, who has been bowing to you this half hour?"
"Where?" cried Cecilia, and, looking round, perceived Mr Morrice; who, upon her returning his salutation, instantly approached her, though he had never ventured to shew himself at Mr Harrel's, since his unfortunate accident on the evening of the masquerade.
Entirely casting aside the easy familiarity at which he had latterly arrived, he enquired after her health with the most fearful diffidence, and then, bowing profoundly, was modestly retiring; when Mrs Harrel perceiving him, smiled with so much good-humour, that he gathered courage to return and address her, and found her, to his infinite delight, as obliging and civil as ever.
The Concert was now over; the ladies arose, and the gentlemen joined them. Morrice, at sight of Mr Harrel, was again shrinking; but Mr Harrel, immediately shaking hands with him, enquired what had kept him so long from Portman-Square? Morrice then, finding, to his great surprise, that no one had thought more of the mischief but himself who had committed it, joyously discarded his timidity, and became as sprightly as before his mortification.
A motion was now made for going to the tea-room; and as they walked on, Cecilia, in looking up to examine the building, saw in one of the galleries young Delvile, and almost at the same time caught his eye.
Scarcely now did a moment elapse before he joined her. The sight of him, strongly reviving in her mind the painful contrariety of opinion with which she had lately thought of him, the sentiments so much in his favour which but a few days before she had encouraged, and which it was only that morning she had endeavoured to crush, made her meet him with a kind of melancholy that almost induced her to lament he was amiable, and repine that she knew none like him.
His appearance, meantime, was far different; he seemed enchanted at the sight of her, he flew eagerly to meet her, and his eyes sparkled with pleasure as he approached her; a pleasure neither moderate nor disguised, but lively, unrestrained, and expressive.
Cecilia, whose plans since she had last seen him had twice varied, who first had looked forward to being united with him for ever, and afterwards had determined to avoid with him even a common acquaintance, could not, while these thoughts were all recurring to her memory, receive much delight from observing his gaiety, or feel at all gratified by his unembarrassed manners. The openness of his attentions, and the frankness of his admiration, which hitherto had charmed her as marks of the sincerity of his character, now shocked her as proofs of the indifference of his heart, which feeling for her a mere common regard, that affected neither his spirits nor his peace, he manifested without scruple, since it was not accompanied with even a wish beyond the present hour.
She now, too, recollected that such had always been his conduct, one single and singular moment excepted, when, as he gave to her his letter for Mr Belfield, he seemed struck as she was herself by the extraordinary co-incidence of their ideas and proceedings: that emotion, however, she now regarded as casual and transitory, and seeing him so much happier than herself, she felt ashamed of her delusion, and angry at her easy captivation.
Reflections such as these, though they added fresh motives to her resolution of giving up all thoughts of his alliance, were yet so humiliating, that they robbed her of all power of receiving pleasure from what was passing, and made her forget that the place she was in was even intended for a place of entertainment.
Young Delvile, after painting in lively colours the loss his house had sustained by her quitting it, and dwelling with equal force upon the regret of his mother and his own, asked in a low voice if she would do him so much honour as to introduce him to Mr Harrel; "As the son," added he, "of a brother guardian, I think I have a kind of claim to his acquaintance."
Cecilia could not refuse, though as the request was likely to occasion more frequent meetings, she persuaded herself she was unwilling to comply. The ceremony therefore past, and was again repeated with Mrs Harrel, who, though she had several times seen him, had never been formally made known to him.
The Harrels were both of them much pleased at this mark of civility in a young man whose family had prepared them rather to expect his scorn, and expressed their wishes that he would drink his tea in their party; he accepted their invitation with alacrity, and turning to Cecilia, said, "Have I not skilfully timed my introduction! But though you have done me this honour with Mr and Mrs Harrel, I must not yet, I presume, entreat you to extend it to a certain happy gentleman of this company;" glancing his eyes toward Sir Robert Floyer.
"No, Sir," answered she, with quickness, "yet, nor ever!"
They were now at the door leading down stairs to the tea-room. Cecilia saw that Sir Robert, who had hitherto been engaged with some gentlemen, seemed to be seeking her; and the remembrance of the quarrel which had followed her refusal of his assistance at the Opera-house, obliged her to determine, should he offer it again, to accept it: but the same brutality which forced this intention, contributed to render it repugnant to her, and she resolved if possible to avoid him, by hurrying down stairs before he reached her. She made, therefore, a sudden attempt to slip through the crowd, and as she was light and active, she easily succeeded; but though her hasty motion separated her from the rest of her party, Delvile, who was earnestly looking at her, to discover her meaning in the disclaiming speech she made about Sir Robert, saw into her design, but suffered her not to go alone; he contrived in a moment to follow and join her, while she was stopping at the foot of the stairs for Mrs Harrel.
"Why what a little thief you are," cried he, "to run away from us thus! what do you think Sir Robert will say? I saw him looking for you at the very instant of your flight."
"Then you saw at the same time," said Cecilia, "the reason of it."
"Will you give me leave," cried he, laughing, "to repeat this to my Lord Ernolf?"
"You may repeat it, Sir, if you please," said Cecilia, piqued that he had not rather thought of himself than of Lord Ernolf, "to the whole Pantheon."
"And if I should, "cried he, "half of it, at least, would thank me; and to obtain the applause of so noble an assembly, what would it signify that Sir Robert should cut my throat?"
"I believe," said Cecilia, deeply mortified by a raillery that shewed so little interest in her avowal of indifference, "you are determined to make me as sick of that man's name, as I am of his conversation."
"And is it possible," exclaimed Delvile, in a tone of surprise, "that such can be your opinion, and yet, situated as you are, the whole world at your command, and all mankind at your devotion—but I am answering you seriously, when you are only speaking by rule."
"What rule, Sir?"
"That which young ladies, upon certain occasions, always prescribe themselves."
Here they were interrupted by the arrival of the rest of the company; though not before Cecilia had received some little consolation for her displeasure, by finding that young Delvile still supposed she was engaged, and flattering herself his language would be different were he informed of the contrary.
Morrice now undertook to procure them a table for tea, which, as the room was very full, was not easily done; and while they were waiting his success, Miss Larolles, who from the stairs had perceived Cecilia, came running up to her, and taking her hand, called out "Lord, my dear creature, who'd have thought of seeing you here? I was never so surprised in my life! I really thought you was gone into a convent, it's so extreme long since I've seen you. But of all things in the world, why was you not at Lady Nyland's last assembly? I thought of asking Mrs Harrel fifty times why you did not come, but it always went out of my head. You've no notion how excessively I was disappointed."
"You are very obliging," said Cecilia laughing, "but I hope, since you so often forgot it, the disappointment did [not] much lessen your entertainment."
"O Lord no! I was never so happy in my life. There was such a crowd, you could not move a finger. Every body in the world was there. You've no idea how delightful it was. I thought verily I should have fainted with the heat."
"That was delightful indeed! And how long did you stay?"
"Why we danced till three in the morning. We began with Cotillons, and finished with country dances. It was the most elegant thing you ever saw in your life; every thing quite in a style. I was so monstrously fatigued, I could hardly get through the last dance. I really thought I should have dropt down dead. Only conceive dancing five hours in such a monstrous crowd! I assure you when I got home my feet were all blisters. You have no idea how they smarted."
"And whence comes it," cried young Delvile, "that you partake so little of these delights?"
"Because I fear," answered Cecilia, "I came too late into the school of fashion to be a ductile pupil."
"Do you know," continued Miss Larolles, "Mr Meadows has not spoke one word to me all the evening! Though I am sure he saw me, for I sat at the outside on purpose to speak to a person or two, that I knew would be strolling about; for if one sits on the inside, there's no speaking to a creature, you know, so I never do it at the Opera, nor in the boxes at Ranelagh, nor any where. It's the shockingest thing you can conceive to be made sit in the middle of those forms; one might as well be at home, for nobody can speak to one,"
"But you don't seem to have had much better success," said Cecilia, "in keeping at the outside."
"O yes I have, for I got a little chat with two or three people as they were passing, for, you know, when one sits there, they can't help saying something; though I assure you all the men are so exceedingly odd they don't care whether they speak to one or no. As to Mr Meadows, he's really enough to provoke one to death. I suppose he's in one of his absent fits. However, I assure you I think it's extreme impertinent of him, and so I shall tell Mr Sawyer, for I know he'll make a point of telling him of it again."
"I rather think," said Cecilia, "the best would be to return the compliment in kind, and when he next recollects you, appear to have forgotten him."
"O Lord, that's a very good notion! so I will, I declare. But you can't conceive how glad I am the Concert's over; for I assure you, though I sat as near the fire as possible, I was so extreme cold you've no idea, for Mr Meadows never would let me have the least peep at it. I declare I believe he does it on purpose to plague one, for he grows worse and worse every day. You can't think how I hate him!"
"Not easily, I believe indeed!" said Cecilia, archly.
"O do but look!" resumed the fair VOLUBLE, "if there is not Mrs Mears in her old red gown again! I begin to think she'll never have another. I wish she was to have an execution in her house, if it was only to get rid of it! I am so fatigued with the sight of it you can't conceive."
Mr Morrice now brought intelligence that he had secured one side of a table which would very well accommodate the ladies; and that the other side was only occupied by one gentleman, who, as he was not drinking tea himself, would doubtless give up his place when the party appeared.
Miss Larolles then ran back to her own set, and the rest followed Mr Morrice; Mrs Harrell, Mrs Mears and Cecilia took their places. The gentleman opposite to them proved to be Mr Meadows: Morrice, therefore, was much deceived in his expectations, for, far from giving up his place, he had flung himself all along upon the form in such a lounging posture, while he rested one arm upon the table, that, not contented with merely keeping his own seat, he filled up a space meant for three.
Mr Harrel had already walked off to another party: Delvile stood aloof for some minutes, expecting Sir Robert Floyer would station himself behind Cecilia; but Sir Robert, who would scarce have thought such a condescension due to a princess, disdained any appearance of assiduity, even while he made it his care to publish his pretensions: and therefore, finding no accommodation to please him, he stalked towards some gentlemen in another part of the room. Delvile then took the post he had neglected, and Mr Arnott, who had not had courage to make any effort in his own favour, modestly stood near him. Cecilia contrived to make room for Mr Gosport next to herself, and Morrice was sufficiently happy in being allowed to call the waiters, superintend, the provisions, and serve the whole party.
The task of making tea fell upon Cecilia, who being somewhat incommoded by the vicinity of her neighbours, Mrs Mears called out to Mr Meadows "Do pray, Sir, be so good as to make room for one of us at your side."
Mr Meadows, who was indolently picking his teeth, and examining them with a tooth pick case glass, did not, at first, seem to hear her; and when she repeated her request, he only looked at her, and said "umph?"
"Now really, Mr Meadows," said she, "when you see any ladies in such distress, I wonder how you can forbear helping them."
"In distress, are you?" cried he, with a vacant smile, "pray, what's the matter?"
"Don't you see? we are so crowded we can hardly sit."
"Can't you?" cried he, "upon my honour it's very shameful that these people don't contrive some seats more convenient"
"Yes," said Mrs Mears; "but if you would be so kind as to let somebody else sit by you we should not want any contrivance."
Here Mr Meadows was seized with a furious fit of yawning, which as much diverted Cecilia and Mr Gosport, as it offended Mrs Mears, who with great displeasure added, "Indeed, Mr Meadows, it's very strange that you never hear what's said to you."
"I beg your pardon," said he, "were you speaking to me?" and again began picking his teeth.
Morrice, eager to contrast his civility with the inattention of Mr Meadows, now flew round to the other side of the table, and calling out "let me help you, Miss Beverley, I can make tea better than anybody," he lent over that part of the form which Mr Meadows had occupied with one of his feet, in order to pour it out himself: but Mr Meadows, by an unfortunate removal of his foot, bringing him forwarder than he was prepared to go, the tea pot and its contents were overturned immediately opposite to Cecilia.
Young Delvile, who saw the impending evil, from an impetuous impulse to prevent her suffering by it, hastily drew her back, and bending down before her, secured her preservation by receiving himself the mischief with which she was threatened.
Mrs Mears and Mrs Harrel vacated their seats in a moment, and Mr Gosport and Mr Arnott assisted in clearing the table, and removing Cecilia, who was very slightly hurt, and at once surprised, ashamed, and pleased at the manner in which she had been saved.
Young Delvile, though a sufferer from his gallantry, the hot water having penetrated through his coat to his arm and shoulder, was at first insensible to his situation, from an apprehension that Cecilia had not wholly escaped; and his enquiries were so eager and so anxious, made with a look of such solicitude, and a voice of such alarm, that, equally astonished and gratified, she secretly blest the accident which had given birth to his uneasiness, however she grieved for its consequence to himself.
But no sooner was he satisfied of her safety, than he felt himself obliged to retire; yet attributing to inconvenience what was really the effect of pain, he hurried away with an appearance of sport, saying, "There is something I must own, rather unknightly in quitting the field for a wet jacket, but the company, I hope, will only give me credit for flying away to Ranelagh. So
- "Like a brave general after being beat,
- I'll exult and rejoice in a prudent retreat."
He then hastened to his carriage: and poor Morrice, frightened and confounded at the disaster he had occasioned, sneaked after him with much less ceremony. While Mr Meadows, wholly unconcerned by the distress and confusion around him, sat quietly picking his teeth, and looking on, during the whole transaction, with an unmeaning stare, that made it doubtful whether he had even perceived it.
Order being now soon restored, the ladies finished their tea, and went up stairs. Cecilia, to whom the late accident had afforded much new and interesting matter for reflection, wished immediately to have returned home, but she was not the leader of the party, and therefore could not make the proposal.
They then strolled through all the apartments, and having walked about till the fashionable time of retiring, they were joined by Sir Robert Floyer, and proceeded to the little room near the entrance to the great one, in order to wait for their carriages.
Here Cecilia again met Miss Larolles, who came to make various remarks, and infinite ridicule, upon sundry unfashionable or uncostly articles in the dresses of the surrounding company; as well as to complain, with no little resentment, that Mr Meadows was again standing before the fire!
Captain Aresby also advanced, to tell her he was quite abattu by having so long lost sight of her, to hope she would make a renounce of mortifying the world by discarding it, and to protest he had waited for his carriage till he was actually upon the point of being [accable.]
In the midst of this jargon, to which the fulness of Cecilia's mind hardly permitted her to listen, there suddenly appeared at the door of the apartment, Mr Albany, who, with his usual austerity of countenance, stopt to look round upon the company.
"Do you see," cried Mr Gosport to Cecilia, "who approaches? your poor sycophants will again be taken to task, and I, for one, tremble at the coming storm!"
"O Lord," cried Miss Larolles, "I wish I was safe in my chair! that man always frightens me out of my senses. You've no notion what disagreeable things he says to one. I assure you I've no doubt but he's crazy; and I'm always in the shockingest fright in the world for fear he should be taken with a fit while I'm near him."
"It is really a petrifying thing," said the Captain, "that one can go to no spectacle without the horreur of being obsede by that person! if he comes this way, I shall certainly make a renounce, and retire."
"Why so?" said Sir Robert, "what the d——l do you mind him for?"
"O he is the greatest bore in nature!" cried the Captain, "and I always do mon possible to avoid him; for he breaks out in such barbarous phrases, that I find myself degoute with him in a moment."
"O, I assure you," said Miss Larolles, "he attacks one sometimes in a manner you've no idea. One day he came up to me all of a sudden, and asked me what good I thought I did by dressing so much? Only conceive how shocking!"
"O, I have had the horreur of questions of that sort from him sans fin," said the Captain; "once he took the liberty to ask me, what service I was of to the world! and another time, he desired me to inform him whether I had ever made any poor person pray for me! and, in short, he has so frequently inconvenienced me by his impertinences, that he really bores me to a degree."
"That's just the thing that makes him hunt you down," said Sir Robert; "if he were to ask me questions for a month together, I should never trouble myself to move a muscle."
"The matter of his discourse," said Mr Gosport, "is not more singular than the manner, for without any seeming effort or consciousness, he runs into blank verse perpetually. I have made much enquiry about him, but all I am able to learn, is that he was certainly confined, at one part of his life, in a private mad-house: and though now, from not being mischievous, he is set at liberty, his looks, language, and whole behaviour, announce the former injury of his intellects."
"O Lord," cried Miss Larolles, half-screaming, "what shocking notions you put in one's head! I declare I dare say I sha'n't get safe home for him, for I assure you I believe he's taken a spite to me! and all because one day, before I knew of his odd ways, I happened to fall a laughing at his going about in that old coat. Do you know it put him quite in a passion! only conceive how ill-natured!"
"O he has distressed me," exclaimed the Captain, with a shrug, "partout! and found so much fault with every thing I have done, that I should really be glad to have the honour to cut, for the moment he comes up to me, I know what I have to expect!"
"But I must tell you," cried Miss Larolles, "how monstrously he put me in a fright one evening when I was talking with Miss Moffat. Do you know, he came up to us, and asked what we were saying! and because we could not think in a minute of something to answer him, he said he supposed we were only talking some scandal, and so we had better go home, and employ ourselves in working for the poor! only think how horrid! and after that, he was so excessive impertinent in his remarks, there was quite no bearing him. I assure you he cut me up so you've no notion."
Here Mr Albany advanced; and every body but Sir Robert moved out of the way.
Fixing his eyes upon Cecilia, with an expression more in sorrow than in anger, after contemplating her some time in silence, he exclaimed, "Ah lovely, but perishable flower! how long will that ingenuous countenance, wearing, because wanting no disguise, look responsive of the whiteness of the region within? How long will that air of innocence irradiate your whole appearance? unspoilt by prosperity, unperverted by power! pure in the midst of surrounding depravity! unsullied in the tainted air of infectious perdition!"
The confusion of Cecilia at this public address, which drew upon her the eyes and attention of all the company, was inexpressible; she arose from her seat, covered with blushes, and saying, "I fancy the carriage must be ready," pressed forward to quit the room, followed by Sir Robert, who answered, "No, no, they'll call it when it comes up. Arnott, will you go and see where it is?"
Cecilia stopt, but whispered Mrs Harrel to stand near her.
"And whither," cried Albany indignantly, "whither wouldst thou go? Art thou already disdainful of my precepts? and canst thou not one short moment spare from the tumultuous folly which encircles thee? Many and many are the hours thou mayst spend with such as these; the world, alas! is full of them; weary not then, so soon, of an old man that would admonish thee,—he cannot call upon thee long, for soon he will be called upon himself!"
This solemn exhortation extremely distressed her; and fearing to still further offend him by making another effort to escape, she answered in a low voice, "I will not only hear, but thank you for your precepts, if you will forbear to give them before so many witnesses."
"Whence," cried he sternly, "these vain and superficial distinctions? Do you not dance in public? What renders you more conspicuous? Do you not dress to be admired, and walk to be observed? Why then this fantastical scruple, unjustified by reason, unsupported by analogy? Is folly only to be published? Is vanity alone to be exhibited? Oh slaves of senseless contradiction! Oh feeble followers of yet feebler prejudice! daring to be wicked, yet fearing to be wise; dauntless in levity, yet shrinking from the name of virtue!"
The latter part of this speech, during which he turned with energy to the whole company, raised such a general alarm, that all the ladies hastily quitted the room, and all the gentlemen endeavoured to enter it, equally curious to see the man who made the oration, and the lady to whom it was addressed. Cecilia, therefore, found her situation unsupportable; "I must go," she cried, "whether there is a carriage or not! pray, Mrs Harrel, let us go!"
Sir Robert then offered to take her hand, which she was extremely ready to give him; but while the crowd made their passage difficult, Albany, following and stopping her, said, "What is it you fear? a miserable old man, worn out by the sorrows of that experience from which he offers you counsel? What, too, is it you trust? a libertine wretch, coveting nothing but your wealth, for the gift of which he will repay you by the perversion of your principles!"
"What the d—l do you mean by that?" cried the Baronet.
"To shew," answered he, austerely, "the inconsistency of false delicacy; to show how those who are too timid for truth, can fearless meet licentiousness."
"For Heaven's sake, Sir," cried Cecilia, "say no more to me now: call upon me in Portman-square when you please,—reprove me in whatever you think me blameable, I shall be grateful for your instructions, and bettered, perhaps, by your care;—but lessons and notice thus public can do me nothing but injury."
"How happy," cried he, "were no other injury near thee! spotless were then the hour of thy danger, bright, fair and refulgent thy passage to security! the Good would receive thee with praise, the Guilty would supplicate thy prayers, the Poor would follow thee with blessings, and Children would be taught by thy example!"
He then quitted her, every body making way as he moved, and proceeded into the great room. Mrs Harrel's carriage being announced at the same time, Cecilia lost not an instant in hastening away.
Sir Robert, as he conducted her, disdainfully laughed at the adventure, which the general licence allowed to Mr Albany prevented his resenting, and which therefore he scorned to appear moved at.
Miss Harrel could talk of nothing else, neither was Cecilia disposed to change the subject, for the remains of insanity which seemed to hang upon him were affecting without being alarming, and her desire to know more of him grew every instant stronger.
This desire, however, outlived not the conversation to which it gave rise; when she returned to her own room, no vestige of it remained upon her mind, which a nearer concern and deeper interest wholly occupied.
The behaviour of young Delvile had pained, pleased, and disturbed her; his activity to save her from mischief might proceed merely from gallantry or good nature; upon that, therefore, she dwelt little: but his eagerness, his anxiety, his insensibility to himself, were more than good breeding could claim, and seemed to spring from a motive less artificial.
She now, therefore, believed that her partiality was returned; and this belief had power to shake all her resolves, and enfeeble all her objections. The arrogance of Mr Delvile lessened in her reflections, the admonitions of Mr Monckton abated in their influence. With the first she considered that though connected she need not live, and for the second, though she acknowledged the excellence of his judgment, she concluded him wholly ignorant of her sentiments of Delvile; which she imagined, when once revealed, would make every obstacle to the alliance seem trifling, when put in competition with mutual esteem and affection.