Open main menu

One evening about this time, which was the latter end of July, Lady Honoria and Cecilia deferred walking out till very late, and then found it so pleasant, that they had strolled into the Park two miles from the house, when they were met by young Delvile; who, however, only reminded them how far they had to return, and walked on.

"He grows quite intolerable!" cried Lady Honoria, when he was gone; "it's really a melancholy thing to see a young man behave so like an old Monk. I dare say in another week he won't take off his hat to us; and, in about a fortnight, I suppose he'll shut himself up in one of those little round towers, and shave his head, and live upon roots, and howl if any body comes near him. I really half wonder he does not think it too dissipated to let Fidel run after him so. A thousand to one but he shoots him some day for giving a sudden bark when he's in one of these gloomy fits. Something, however, must certainly be the matter with him. Perhaps he is in love."

"Can nothing be the matter with him but that?" cried Cecilia.

"Nay, I don't know; but I am sure if he is, his Mistress has not much occasion to be jealous of you or me, for never, I think, were two poor Damsels so neglected!"

The utmost art of malice could not have furnished speech more truly mortifying to Cecilia than this thoughtless and accidental sally of Lady Honoria's: particularly, however, upon her guard, from the raillery she had already endured, she answered, with apparent indifference, "he is meditating, perhaps, upon Lady Euphrasia."

"O no," cried Lady Honoria, "for he did not take any notice of her when he saw her; I am sure if he marries her, it will only be because he cannot help it."

"Poor Lady Euphrasia!"

"O no, not at all; he'll make her two or three fine speeches, and then she'll be perfectly contented especially if he looks as dismally at her as he does at us! and that probably he will do the more readily for not liking to look at her at all. But she's such a romantic little thing, she'll never suspect him."

Here they were somewhat alarmed by a sudden darkness in the air, which was presently succeeded by a thunder storm; they instantly turned back, and began running home, when a violent shower of rain obliged them to take shelter under a large tree; where in two minutes they were joined by Delvile, who came to offer his assistance in hurrying them home; and finding the thunder and lightning continue, begged them to move on, in defiance of the rain, as their present situation exposed them to more danger than a wet hat and cloak, which might be changed in a moment.

Cecilia readily assented; but Lady Honoria, extremely frightened, protested she would not stir till the storm was over. It was in vain he represented her mistake in supposing herself in a place of security; she clung to the tree, screamed at every flash of lightning, and all her gay spirits were lost in her apprehensions.

Delvile then earnestly proposed to Cecilia conducting her home by herself, and returning again to Lady Honoria; but she thought it wrong to quit her companion, and hardly right to accept his assistance separately. They waited, therefore, some time all together; but the storm increasing with great violence, the thunder growing louder, and the lightning becoming stronger, Delvile grew impatient even to anger at Lady Honoria's resistance, and warmly expostulated upon its folly and danger. But the present was no season for lessons in philosophy; prejudices she had never been taught to surmount made her think herself in a place of safety, and she was now too much terrified to give argument fair play.

Finding her thus impracticable, Delvile eagerly said to Cecilia, "Come then, Miss Beverley, let us wait no longer; I will see you home, and then return to Lady Honoria."

"By no means," cried she, "my life is not more precious than either of yours, and therefore it may run the same risk."

"It is more precious," cried he with vehemence, "than the air I breathe!" and seizing her hand, he drew it under his arm, and, without waiting her consent, almost forced her away with him, saying as they ran, "How could a thousand Lady Honoria's recompense the world for the loss of one Miss Beverley? we may, indeed, find many thousand such as Lady Honoria, but such as Miss Beverley—where shall we ever find another?"

Cecilia, surprised, yet gratified, could not speak, for the speed with which they ran almost took away her breath; and before they were near home, slackening her pace, and panting, she confessed her strength was exhausted, and that she could go so fast no further.

"Let us then stop and rest," cried he; "but why will you not lean upon me? surely this is no time for scruples, and for idle and unnecessary scruples, Miss Beverley can never find a time."

Cecilia then, urged equally by shame at his speech and by weakness from fatigue, leant upon his arm but she soon repented her condescension; for Delvile, with an emotion he seemed to find wholly irrepressible, passionately exclaimed "sweet lovely burthen! O why not thus for ever!"

The strength of Cecilia was now instantly restored, and she hastily withdrew from his hold; he suffered her to disengage herself, but said in a faultering voice, "pardon me, Cecilia!—Madam!—Miss Beverley, I mean!—"

Cecilia, without making any answer, walked on by herself, as quick a pace as she was able; and Delvile, not venturing to oppose her, silently followed.

They had gone but a few steps, before there came a violent shower of hail; and the wind, which was very high, being immediately in their faces, Cecilia was so pelted and incommoded, that she was frequently obliged to stop, in defiance of her utmost efforts to force herself forward. Delvile then approaching her, proposed that she should again stand under a tree, as the thunder and lightning for the present seemed over, and wait there till the fury of the hail was past: and Cecilia, though never before so little disposed to oblige him, was so much distressed by the violence of the wind and hail, that she was forced to comply.

Every instant now seemed an age; yet neither hail nor wind abated: mean time they were both silent, and both, though with different feelings, equally comfortless.

Delvile, however, who took care to place himself on the side whence the wind blew hardest, perceived, in spite of his endeavours to save her, some hail-stones lodged upon her thin summer cloak: he then took off his own hat, and, though he ventured not to let it touch her, held it in such a manner as to shelter her better.

Cecilia now could no longer be either silent or unmoved, but turning to him with much emotion, said, "Why will you do this, Mr Delvile?"

"What would I not do," answered he, "to obtain forgiveness from Miss Beverley?"

"Well, well,—pray put on your hat."

"Do you command it?"

"No, certainly!—but I wish it."

"Ah!" cried he, instantly putting it on, "whose are the commands that would have half the weight with your wishes?"

And then, after another pause, he added, "do you forgive me?"

Cecilia, ashamed of the cause of their dissension, and softened by the seriousness of his manner, answered very readily, "yes, yes,—why will you make me remember such nonsense?"

"All sweetness," cried he warmly, and snatching her hand, "is Miss Beverley!—O that I had power—that it were not utterly impossible— that the cruelty of my situation—"

"I find," cried she, greatly agitated, and forcibly drawing away her hand, "you will teach me, for another time, the folly of fearing bad weather!"

And she hurried from beneath the tree; and Delvile perceiving one of the servants approach with an umbrella, went forward to take it from him, and directed him to hasten instantly to Lady Honoria.

Then returning to Cecilia, he would have held it over her head, but with an air of displeasure, she took it into her own hand.

"Will you not let me carry it for you?" he cried.

"No, Sir, there is not any occasion."

They then proceeded silently on.

The storm was now soon over; but it grew very dark, and as they had quitted the path while they ran, in order to get home by a shorter cut, the walk was so bad from the height of the grass, and the unevenness of the ground, that Cecilia had the utmost difficulty to make her way; yet she resolutely refused any assistance from Delvile, who walked anxiously by her side, and seemed equally fearful upon his own account and upon hers, to trust himself with being importunate.

At length they came to a place which Cecilia in vain tried to pass; Delvile then grew more urgent to help her; firm, however, in declining all aid, she preferred going a considerable way round to another part of the park which led to the house. Delvile, angry as well as mortified, proposed to assist her no more, but followed without saying a word.

Cecilia, though she felt not all the resentment she displayed, still thought it necessary to support it, as she was much provoked with the perpetual inconsistency of his behaviour, and deemed it wholly improper to suffer, without discouragement, occasional sallies of tenderness from one who, in his general conduct, behaved with the most scrupulous reserve.

They now arrived at the castle; but entering by a back way, came to a small and narrow passage which obstructed the entrance of the umbrella: Delvile once more, and almost involuntarily, offered to help her; but, letting down the spring, she coldly said she had no further use for it.

He then went forward to open a small gate which led by another long passage into the hall: but hearing the servants advance, he held it for an instant in his hand, while, in a tone of voice the most dejected, he said "I am grieved to find you thus offended; but were it possible you could know half the wretchedness of my heart, the generosity of your own would make you regret this severity!" and then, opening the gate, he bowed, and went another way.

Cecilia was now in the midst of servants; but so much shocked and astonished by the unexpected speech of Delvile, which instantly changed all her anger into sorrow, that she scarce knew what they said to her, nor what she replied; though they all with one voice enquired what was become of Lady Honoria, and which way they should run to seek her.

Mrs Delvile then came also, and she was obliged to recollect herself. She immediately proposed her going to bed, and drinking white wine whey to prevent taking cold: cold, indeed, she feared not; yet she agreed to the proposal, for she was confounded and dismayed by what had passed, and utterly unable to hold any conversation.

Her perplexity and distress were, however, all attributed to fatigue and fright; and Mrs Delvile, having assisted in hurrying her to bed, went to perform the same office for Lady Honoria, who arrived at that time.

Left at length by herself, she revolved in her mind the adventure of the evening, and the whole behaviour of Delvile since first she was acquainted with him. That he loved her with tenderness, with fondness loved her, seemed no longer to admit of any doubt, for however distant and cold he appeared, when acting with circumspection and design, the moment he was off his guard from surprise, terror, accident of any sort, the moment that he was betrayed into acting from nature and inclination, he was constantly certain to discover a regard the most animated and flattering.

This regard, however, was not more evident than his desire to conceal and to conquer it: he seemed to dread even her sight, and to have imposed upon himself the most rigid forbearance of all conversation or intercourse with her.

Whence could this arise? what strange and unfathomable cause could render necessary a conduct so mysterious? he knew not, indeed, that she herself wished it changed, but he could not be ignorant that his chance with almost any woman would at least be worth trying.

Was the obstacle which thus discouraged him the condition imposed by her uncle's will of giving her own name to the man she married? this she herself thought was an unpleasant circumstance, but yet so common for an heiress, that it could hardly out-weigh the many advantages of such a connection.

Henrietta again occurred to her; the letter she had seen in her hands was still unexplained: yet her entire conviction that Henrietta was not loved by him, joined to a certainty that affection alone could ever make him think of her, lessened upon this subject her suspicions every moment.

Lady Euphrasia Pemberton, at last, rested most upon her mind, and she thought it probable some actual treaty was negociating with the Duke of Derwent.

Mrs Delvile she had every reason to believe was her friend, though she was scrupulously delicate in avoiding either raillery or observation upon the subject of her son, whom she rarely mentioned, and never but upon occasions in which Cecilia could have no possible interest.

The Father, therefore, notwithstanding all Mr Monckton had represented to the contrary, appeared to be the real obstacle; his pride might readily object to her birth, which though not contemptible, was merely decent, and which, if traced beyond her grandfather, lost all title even to that epithet.

"If this, however," she cried, "is at last his situation, how much have I been to blame in censuring his conduct! for while to me he has appeared capricious, he has, in fact, acted wholly from necessity: if his father insists upon his forming another connection, has he not been honourable, prudent and just, in flying an object that made him think of disobedience, and endeavouring to keep her ignorant of a partiality it is his duty to curb?"

All, therefore, that remained for her to do or to resolve, was to guard her own secret with more assiduous care than ever, and since she found that their union was by himself thought impossible, to keep from his knowledge that the regret was not all his own.