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Cecilia continued in this private spot, happy at least to be alone, till she was summoned by the dinner bell to return home.

As soon as she entered the parlour, where every body was assembled before her, she observed, by the countenance of Mrs Delvile, that she had passed the morning as sadly as herself.

"Miss Beverley," cried Lady Honoria, before she was seated, "I insist upon your taking my place to-day." "Why so, madam?"

"Because I cannot suffer you to sit by a window with such a terrible cold."

"Your ladyship is very good, but indeed I have not any cold at all."

"O my dear, I must beg your pardon there; your eyes are quite bloodshot; Mrs Delvile, Lord Ernolf, are not her eyes quite red?— Lord, and so I protest are her cheeks! now do pray look in the glass, I assure you you will hardly know yourself."

Mrs Delvile, who regarded her with the utmost kindness, affected to understand Lady Honoria's speech literally, both to lessen her apparent confusion, and the suspicious surmises of Lord Ernolf; she therefore said, "you have indeed a bad cold, my love; but shade your eyes with your hat, and after dinner you shall bathe them in rose water, which will soon take off the inflammation."

Cecilia, perceiving her intention, for which she felt the utmost gratitude, no longer denied her cold, nor refused the offer of Lady Honoria: who, delighting in mischief, whencesoever it proceeded, presently added, "This cold is a judgment upon you for leaving me alone all this morning; but I suppose you chose a tête-à-tête with your favourite, without the intrusion of any third person."

Here every body stared, and Cecilia very seriously declared she had been quite alone.

"Is it possible you can so forget yourself?" cried Lady Honoria; "had you not your dearly beloved with you?"

Cecilia, who now comprehended that she meant Fidel, coloured more deeply than ever, but attempted to laugh, and began eating her dinner.

"Here seems some matter of much intricacy," cried Lord Ernolf, "but, to me, wholly unintelligible."

"And to me also," cried Mrs Delvile, "but I am content to let it remain so; for the mysteries of Lady Honoria are so frequent, that they deaden curiosity."

"Dear madam, that is very unnatural," cried Lady Honoria, "for I am sure you must long to know who I mean."

"I do, at least," said Lord Ernolf.

"Why then, my lord, you must know, Miss Beverley has two companions, and I am one, and Fidel is the other; but Fidel was with her all this morning, and she would not admit me to the conference. I suppose she had something private to say to him of his master's journey."

"What rattle is this?" cried Mrs Delvile; "Fidel is gone with my son, is he not?" turning to the servants.

"No, madam, Mr Mortimer did not enquire for him."

"That's very strange," said she, "I never knew him quit home without him before."

"Dear ma'am, if he had taken him," cried Lady Honoria, "what could poor Miss Beverley have done? for she has no friend here but him and me, and really he's so much the greater favourite, that it is well if I do not poison him some day for very spite."

Cecilia had no resource but in forcing a laugh, and Mrs Delvile, who evidently felt for her, contrived soon to change the subject: yet not before Lord Ernolf, with infinite chagrin, was certain by all that passed of the hopeless state of affairs for his son.

The rest of the day, and every hour of the two days following, Cecilia passed in the most comfortless constraint, fearful of being a moment alone, lest the heaviness of her heart should seek relief in tears, which consolation, melancholy as it was, she found too dangerous for indulgence: yet the gaiety of Lady Honoria lost all power of entertainment, and even the kindness of Mrs Delvile, now she imputed it to compassion, gave her more mortification than pleasure.

On the third day, letters arrived from Bristol: but they brought with them nothing of comfort, for though Mortimer wrote gaily, his father sent word that his fever seemed threatening to return.

Mrs Delvile was now in the extremest anxiety; and the task of Cecilia in appearing chearful and unconcerned, became more and more difficult to perform. Lord Ernolf's efforts to oblige her grew as hopeless to himself, as they were irksome to her; and Lady Honoria alone, of the whole house, could either find or make the smallest diversion. But while Lord Derford remained, she had still an object for ridicule, and while Cecilia could colour and be confused, she had still a subject for mischief.

Thus passed a week, during which the news from Bristol being every day less and less pleasant, Mrs Delvile skewed an earnest desire to make a journey thither herself, and proposed, half laughing and half seriously, that the whole party should accompany her.

Lady Honoria's time, however, was already expired, and her father intended to send for her in a few days.

Mrs Delvile, who knew that such a charge would occupy all her time, willingly deferred setting out till her ladyship should be gone, but wrote word to Bristol that she should shortly be there, attended by the two lords, who insisted upon escorting her.

Cecilia now was in a state of the utmost distress; her stay at the castle she knew kept Delvile at a distance; to accompany his mother to Bristol, was forcing herself into his sight, which equally from prudence and pride she wished to avoid; and even Mrs Delvile evidently desired her absence, since whenever the journey was talked of, she preferably addressed herself to any one else who was present.

All she could devise to relieve herself from a situation so painful, was begging permission to make a visit without delay to her old friend Mrs Charlton in Suffolk.

This resolution taken, she put it into immediate execution, and seeking Mrs Delvile, enquired if she might venture to make a petition to her?

"Undoubtedly," answered she; "but let it not be very disagreeable, since I feel already that I can refuse you nothing."

"I have an old friend, ma'am," she then cried, speaking fast, and in much haste to have done, "who I have not for many months seen, and, as my health does not require a Bristol journey,—if you would honour me with mentioning my request to Mr Delvile, I think I might take the present opportunity of making Mrs Charlton a visit."

Mrs Delvile looked at her some time without speaking, and then, fervently embracing her, "sweet Cecilia!" she cried, "yes, you are all that I thought you! good, wise, discreet, tender, and noble at once!— how to part with you, indeed, I know not,—but you shall do as you please, for that I am sure will be right, and therefore I will make no opposition."

Cecilia blushed and thanked her, yet saw but too plainly that all the motives of her scheme were clearly comprehended. She hastened, therefore, to write to Mrs Charlton, and prepare for her reception.

Mr Delvile, though with his usual formality, sent his permission: and Mortimer at the same time, begged his mother would bring with her Fidel, whom he had unluckily forgotten.

Lady Honoria, who was present when Mrs Delvile mentioned this commission, said in a whisper to Cecilia, "Miss Beverley, don't let him go."

"Why not?"

"O, you had a great deal better take him slyly into Suffolk."

"I would as soon," answered Cecilia, "take with me the side-board of plate, for I should scarcely think it more a robbery."

"Oh, I beg your pardon, I am sure they might all take such a theft for an honour; and if I was going to Bristol, I would bid Mortimer send him to you immediately. However, if you wish it, I will write to him. He's my cousin, you know, so there will be no great impropriety in it."

Cecilia thanked her for so courteous an offer, but entreated that she might by no means draw her into such a condescension.

She then made immediate preparations for her journey into Suffolk, which she saw gave equal surprize and chagrin to Lord Ernolf, upon whose affairs Mrs Delvile herself now desired to speak with her.

"Tell me, Miss Beverley," she cried, "briefly and positively your opinion of Lord Derford?"

"I think of him so little, madam," she answered, "that I cannot say of him much; he appears, however, to be inoffensive; but, indeed, were I never to see him again, he is one of those I should forget I had ever seen at all."

"That is so exactly the case with myself also," cried Mrs Delvile, "that to plead for him, I find utterly impossible, though my Lord Ernolf has strongly requested me: but to press such an alliance, I should think an indignity to your understanding."

Cecilia was much gratified by this speech; but she soon after added, "There is one reason, indeed, which would render such a connection desirable, though that is only one."

"What is it, madam?"

"His title."

"And why so? I am sure I have no ambition of that sort."

"No, my love," said Mrs Delvile, smiling, "I mean not by way of gratification to your pride, but to his; since a title, by taking place of a family name, would obviate the only objection that any man could form to an alliance with Miss Beverley."

Cecilia, who too well understood her, suppressed a sigh, and changed the subject of conversation.

One day was sufficient for all the preparations she required, and, as she meant to set out very early the next morning, she took leave of Lady Honoria, and the Lords Ernolf and Derford, when they separated for the night; but Mrs Delvile followed her to her room.

She expressed her concern at losing her in the warmest and most flattering terms, yet said nothing of her coming back, nor of the length of her stay; she desired, however, to hear from her frequently, and assured her that out of her own immediate family, there was nobody in the world she so tenderly valued.

She continued with her till it grew so late that they were almost necessarily parted: and then rising to be gone, "See," she cried, "with what reluctance I quit you! no interest but so dear a one as that which calls me away, should induce me, with my own consent, to bear your absence scarcely an hour: but the world is full of mortifications, and to endure, or to sink under them, makes all the distinction between the noble or the weak-minded. To you this may be said with safety; to most young women it would pass for a reflection."

"You are very good," said Cecilia, smothering the emotions to which this speech gave rise, "and if indeed you honour me with an opinion so flattering, I will endeavour, if it is possibly in my power, not to forfeit it."

"Ah, my love!" cried Mrs Delvile warmly, "if upon my opinion of you alone depended our residence with each other, when should we ever part, and how live a moment asunder? But what title have I to monopolize two such blessings? the mother of Mortimer Delvile should at nothing repine; the mother of Cecilia Beverley had alone equal reason to be proud."

"You are determined, madam," said Cecilia, forcing a smile, "that I shall be worthy, by giving me the sweetest of motives, that of deserving such praise." And then, in a faint voice, she desired her respects to Mr Delvile, and added, "you will find, I hope, every body at Bristol better than you expect."

"I hope so," returned she; "and that you too, will find your Mrs Charlton well, happy, and good as you left her: but suffer her not to drive me from your remembrance, and never fancy that because she has known you longer, she loves you more; my acquaintance with you, though short, has been critical, and she must hear from you a world of anecdotes, before she can have reason to love you as much."

"Ah, madam," cried Cecilia, tears starting into her eyes, "let us part now!—where will be that strength of mind you expect from me, if I listen to you any longer!"

"You are right, my love," answered Mrs Delvile, "since all tenderness enfeebles fortitude." Then affectionately embracing her, "Adieu," she cried, "sweetest Cecilia, amiable and most excellent creature, adieu!— you, carry with you my highest approbation, my love, my esteem, my fondest wishes!—and shall I—yes, generous girl! I will add my warmest gratitude!"

This last word she spoke almost in a whisper, again kissed her, and hastened out of the room.

Cecilia, surprised and affected, gratified and depressed, remained almost motionless, and could not, for a great length of time, either ring for her maid, or persuade herself to go to rest. She saw throughout the whole behaviour of Mrs Delvile, a warmth of regard which, though strongly opposed by family pride, made her almost miserable to promote the very union she thought necessary to discountenance; she saw, too, that it was with the utmost difficulty she preserved the steadiness of her opposition, and that she had a conflict perpetual with herself, to forbear openly acknowledging the contrariety of her wishes, and the perplexity of her distress; but chiefly she was struck with her expressive use of the word gratitude. "Wherefore should she be grateful," thought Cecilia, "what have I done, or had power to do? infinitely, indeed, is she deceived, if she supposes that her son has acted by my directions; my influence with him is nothing, and he could not be more his own master, were he utterly indifferent to me. To conceal my own disappointment has, been all I have attempted; and perhaps she may think of me thus highly, from supposing that the firmness of her son is owing to my caution and reserve: ah, she knows him not!—were my heart at this moment laid open to him,—were all its weakness, its partiality, its ill-fated admiration displayed, he would but double his vigilance to avoid and forget me, and find the task all the easier by his abatement of esteem. Oh strange infatuation of unconquerable prejudice! his very life will he sacrifice in preference to his name, and while the conflict of his mind threatens to level him with the dust, he disdains to unite himself where one wish is unsatisfied!"

These reflections, and the uncertainty if she should ever in Delvile Castle sleep again, disturbed her the whole night, and made all calling in the morning unnecessary: she arose at five o'clock, dressed herself with the utmost heaviness of heart, and in going through a long gallery which led to the staircase, as she passed the door of Mortimer's chamber, the thought of his ill health, his intended long journey, and the probability that she might never see him more, so deeply impressed and saddened her, that scarcely could she force herself to proceed, without stopping to weep and to pray for him; she was surrounded, however, by servants, and compelled therefore to hasten to the chaise; she flung herself in, and, leaning back, drew her hat over her eyes, and thought, as the carriage drove off, her last hope of earthly happiness extinguished.