Cecilia/Book 7/Chapter ix
At——they stopt for dinner; Mrs Charlton being too much fatigued to go on without some rest, though the haste of Cecilia to meet Delvile time enough for new arranging their affairs, made her regret every moment that was spent upon the road.
Their meal was not long, and they were returning to their chaise, when they were suddenly encountered by Mr Morrice, who was just alighted from his horse.
He congratulated himself upon the happiness of meeting them with the air of a man who nothing doubted that happiness being mutual; then hastening to speak of the Grove, "I could hardly," he cried, "get away; my friend Monckton won't know what to do without me, for Lady Margaret, poor old soul, is in a shocking bad way indeed; there's hardly any staying in the room with her; her breathing is just like the grunting of a hog. She can't possibly last long, for she's quite upon her last legs, and tumbles about so when she walks alone, one would swear she was drunk."
"If you take infirmity," said Mrs Charlton, who was now helped into the chaise, "for intoxication, you must suppose no old person sober."
"Vastly well said, ma'am," cried he; "I really forgot your being an old lady yourself, or I should not have made the observation. However, as to poor Lady Margaret, she may do as well as ever by and bye, for she has an excellent constitution, and I suppose she has been hardly any better than she is now these forty years, for I remember when I was quite a boy hearing her called a limping old puddle."
"Well, we'll discuss this matter, if you please," said Cecilia, "some other time." And ordered the postilion to drive on. But before they came to their next stage, Morrice having changed his horse, joined them, and rode on by their side, begging them to observe what haste he had made on purpose to have the pleasure of escorting, them.
This forwardness was very offensive to Mrs Charlton, whose years and character had long procured her more deference and respect: but Cecilia, anxious only to hasten her journey, was indifferent to every thing, save what retarded it.
At the same Inn they both again changed horses, and he still continued riding with them, and occasionally talking, till they were within twenty miles of London, when a disturbance upon the road exciting his curiosity, he hastily rode away from them to enquire into its cause.
Upon coming up to the place whence it proceeded, they saw a party of gentlemen on horseback surrounding a chaise which had been just overturned; and while the confusion in the road obliged the postilion to stop Cecilia heard a lady's voice exclaiming, "I declare I dare say I am killed!" and instantly recollecting Miss Larolles, the fear of discovery and delay made her desire the man to drive on with all speed. He was preparing to obey her, but Morrice, gallopping after them, called out, "Miss Beverley, one of the ladies that has been overturned, is an acquaintance of yours. I used to see her with you at Mrs Harrel's."
"Did you?" said Cecilia, much disconcerted, "I hope she is not hurt?'
"No, not at all; but the lady with her is bruised to death; won't you come and see her?"
"I am too much in haste at present,—and I can do them no good; but Mrs Charlton I am sure will spare her servant, if he can be of any use."
"O but the young lady wants to speak to you; she is coming up to the chaise as fast as ever she can."
"And how should she know me?" cried Cecilia, with much surprise; "I am sure she could not see me."
"O, I told her,", answered Morrice, with a nod of self-approbation for what he had done, "I told her it was you, for I knew I could soon overtake you."
Displeasure at this officiousness was unavailing, for looking out of the window, she perceived Miss Larolles, followed by half her party, not three paces from the chaise.
"O my dear creature," she called out, "what a terrible accident! I assure you I am so monstrously frightened you've no idea. It's the luckiest thing in the world that you were going this way. Never any thing happened so excessively provoking; you've no notion what a fall we've had. It's horrid shocking, I assure you. How have you been all this time? You can't conceive how glad I am to see you."
"And to which will Miss Beverley answer first," cried a voice which announced Mr Gosport, "the joy or the sorrow? For so adroitly are they blended, that a common auditor could with difficulty decide, whether condolence, or congratulation should have the precedency."
"How can you be so excessive horrid," cried Miss Larolles, "to talk of congratulation, when one's in such a shocking panic that one does not know if one's dead or alive!"
"Dead, then, for any wager," returned he, "if we may judge by your stillness."
"I desire, now, you won't begin joking," cried she, "for I assure you it's an excessive serious affair. I was never so rejoiced in my life as when I found I was not killed. I've been so squeezed you've no notion. I thought for a full hour I had broke both my arms."
"And my heart at the same time," said Mr Gosport; "I hope you did not imagine that the least fragile of the three?"
"All our hearts, give me leave to add," said Captain Aresby—just then advancing, "all our hearts must have been abimés, by the indisposition of Miss Larolles, had not their doom been fortunately revoked by the sight of Miss Beverley."
"Well, this is excessive odd,", cried Miss Larolles, "that every body should run away so from poor Mrs Mears; she'll be so affronted you've no idea. I thought, Captain Aresby, you would have stayed to take care of her."
"I'll run and see how she is myself," cried Morrice, and away he gallopped.
"Really, ma'am," said the Captain, "I am quite au desespoir to have failed in any of my devoirs; but I make it a principle to be a mere looker on upon these occasions, lest I should be so unhappy as to commit any faux pas by too much empressement."
"An admirable caution!" said Mr Gosport, "and, to so ardent a temper, a, necessary check!"
Cecilia, whom the surprise and vexation of so unseasonable a meeting, when she particularly wished to have escaped all notice, had hitherto kept in painful silence, began now to recover some presence of mind; and making her compliments to Miss Larolles and Mr Gosport, with a slight bow to the Captain, she apologized for hurrying away, but told them she had an engagement in London which could not be deferred, and was then giving orders to the postilion to drive on, when Morrice returning full speed, called out "The poor lady's so bad she is not able to stir a step; she can't put a foot to the ground, and she says she's quite black and blue; so I told her I was sure Miss Beverley would not refuse to make room for her in her chaise, till the other can be put to rights; and she says she shall take it as a great favour. Here, postilion, a little more to the right! come, ladies and gentlemen, get out of the way." This impertinence, however extraordinary, Cecilia could not oppose; for Mrs Charlton, ever compassionate and complying where there was any appearance of distress, instantly seconded the proposal: the chaise, therefore, was turned back, and she was obliged to offer a place in it to Mrs Mears, who, though more frightened than hurt, readily accepted it, notwithstanding, to make way for her without incommoding Mrs Charlton, she was forced to get out herself.
She failed not, however, to desire that all possible expedition might be used in refitting the other chaise for their reception; and all the gentlemen but one, dismounted their horses, in order to assist, or seem to assist in getting it ready.
This only unconcerned spectator in the midst of the apparent general bustle, was Mr Meadows; who viewed all that passed without troubling himself to interfere, and with an air of the most evident carelessness whether matters went well or went ill.
Miss Larolles, now returning to the scene of action, suddenly screamed out, "O dear, where's my little dog! I never thought of him, I declare! I love him better than any thing in the world. I would not have him hurt for a hundred thousand pounds. Lord, where is he?"
"Crushed or suffocated in the overturn, no doubt," said Mr Gosport; "but as you must have been his executioner, what softer death could he die? If you will yourself inflict the punishment, I will submit to the same fate."
"Lord, how you love to plague one!" cried she and then enquired among the servants what was become of her dog. The poor little animal, forgotten by its mistress, and disregarded by all others, was now discovered by its yelping; and soon found to have been the most material sufferer by the overturn, one of its fore legs being broken.
Could screams or lamentations, reproaches to the servants, or complaints against the Destinies, have abated his pain, or made a callus of the fracture, but short would have been the duration of his misery; for neither words were saved, nor lungs were spared, the very air was rent with cries, and all present were upbraided as if accomplices in the disaster.
The postilion, at length, interrupted this vociferation with news that the chaise was again fit for use; and Cecilia, eager to be gone, finding him little regarded, repeated what he said to Miss Larolles.
"The chaise?" cried she, "why you don't suppose I'll ever get into that horrid chaise any more? I do assure you I would not upon any account."
"Not get into it?" said Cecilia, "for what purpose, then, have we all waited till it was ready?"
"O, I declare I would not go in it for forty thousand worlds. I would rather walk to an inn, if it's a hundred and fifty miles off."
"But as it happens," said Mr Gosport, "to be only seven miles, I fancy you will condescend to ride."
"Seven miles! Lord, how shocking! you frighten me so you have no idea. Poor Mrs Mears! She'll have to go quite alone. I dare say the chaise will be down fifty times by the way. Ten to one but she breaks her neck! only conceive how horrid! I assure you I am excessive glad I am out of it."
"Very friendly, indeed!" said Mr Gosport. "Mrs Mears, then, may break her bones at her leisure!"
Mrs Mears, however, when applied to, professed an equal aversion to the carriage in which she had been so unfortunate, and declared she would rather walk than return to it, though one of her ancles was already so swelled that she could hardly stand.
"Why then the best way, ladies," cried Morrice, with the look of a man happy in vanquishing all difficulties, "will be for Mrs Charlton, and that poor lady with the bruises, to go together in that sound chaise, and then for us gentlemen to escort this young lady and Miss Beverley on foot, till we all come to the next inn. Miss Beverley, I know, is an excellent walker, for I have heard Mr Monckton say so."
Cecilia, though in the utmost consternation at a proposal, which must so long retard a journey she had so many reasons to wish hastened, knew not how either in decency or humanity to oppose it: and the fear of raising suspicion, from a consciousness how much there was to suspect, forced her to curb her impatience, and reduced her even to repeat the offer which Morrice had made, though she could scarce look at him for anger at his unseasonable forwardness.
No voice dissenting, the troop began to be formed. The foot consisted of the two young ladies, and Mr Gosport, who alighted to walk with Cecilia; the cavalry, of Mr Meadows, the Captain, and Morrice, who walked their horses a foot pace, while the rest of the party rode on with the chaise, as attendants upon Mrs Mears.
Just before they set off, Mr Meadows, riding negligently up to the carriage, exerted himself so far as to say to Mrs Mears, "Are you hurt, ma'am?" and, at the same instant, seeming to recollect Cecilia, he turned about, and yawning while he touched his hat, said, "O, how d'ye do, ma'am?" and then, without waiting an answer to either of his questions, flapped it over his eyes, and joined the cavalcade, though without appearing to have any consciousness that he belonged to it.
Cecilia would most gladly have used the rejected chaise herself, but could not make such a proposal to Mrs Charlton, who was past the age and the courage for even any appearance of enterprize. Upon enquiry, however, she had the satisfaction to hear that the distance to the next stage was but two miles, though multiplied to seven by the malice of Mr Gosport.
Miss Larolles carried her little dog in her arms, declaring she would never more trust him a moment away from her. She acquainted Cecilia that she had been for some time upon a visit to Mrs Mears, who, with the rest of the party, had taken her to see—house and gardens, where they had made an early dinner, from which they were just returning home when the chaise broke down.
She then proceeded, with her usual volubility, to relate the little nothings that had passed since the winter, flying from subject to subject, with no meaning but to be heard, and no wish but to talk, ever rapid in speech, though minute in detail. This loquacity met not with any interruption, save now and then a sarcastic remark, from Mr Gosport; for Cecilia was too much occupied by her own affairs, to answer or listen to such uninteresting discourse.
Her silence, however, was at length forcibly broken; Mr Gosport, taking advantage of the first moment Miss Larolles stopt for breath, said, "Pray what carries you to town, Miss Beverley, at this time of the year?"
Cecilia, whose thoughts had been wholly employed upon what would pass at her approaching meeting with Delvile, was so entirely unprepared for this question, that she could make to it no manner of answer, till Mr Gosport, in a tone of some surprise, repeated it, and then, not without hesitation, she said, "I have some business, Sir, in London,— pray how long have you been in the country?"
"Business, have you?" cried he, struck by her evasion; "and pray what can you and business have in common?"
"More than you may imagine," answered she, with greater steadiness; "and perhaps before long I may even have enough to teach me the enjoyment of leisure."
"Why you don't pretend to play my Lady Notable, and become your own steward?"
"And what can I do better?"
"What? Why seek one ready made to take the trouble off your hands. There are such creatures to be found, I promise you: beasts of burthen, who will freely undertake the management of your estate, for no other reward than the trifling one of possessing it. Can you no where meet with such an animal?"
"I don't know," answered she, laughing, "I have not been looking out."
"And have none such made application to you?"
"Why no,—I believe not."
"Fie, fie! no register-office keeper has been pestered with more claimants. You know they assault you by dozens."
"You must pardon me, indeed, I know not any such thing."
"You know, then, why they do not, and that is much the same."
"I may conjecture why, at least: the place, I suppose, is not worth the service."
"No, no; the place, they conclude, is already seized, and the fee— simple of the estate is the heart of the owner. Is it not so?"
"The heart of the owner," answered she, a little confused, "may, indeed, be simple, but not, perhaps, so easily seized as you imagine."
"Have you, then, wisely saved it from a storm, by a generous surrender? you have been, indeed, in an excellent school for the study both of attack and defence; Delvile-Castle is a fortress which, even in ruins, proves its strength by its antiquity: and it teaches, also, an admirable lesson, by displaying the dangerous, the infallible power of time, which defies all might, and undermines all strength; which breaks down every barrier, and shews nothing endurable but itself." Then looking at her with an arch earnestness, "I think," he added, "you made a long visit there; did this observation never occur to you? did you never perceive, never feel, rather, the insidious properties of time?"
"Yes, certainly," answered she, alarmed at the very mention of Delvile Castle, yet affecting to understand literally what was said metaphorically, "the havoc of time upon the place could not fail striking me."
"And was its havoc," said he, yet more archly, "merely external? is all within safe? sound and firm? and did the length of your residence shew its power by no new mischief?"
"Doubtless, not," answered she, with the same pretended ignorance, "the place is not in so desperate a condition as to exhibit any visible marks of decay in the course of three or four months."
"And, do you not know," cried he, "that the place to which I allude may receive a mischief in as many minutes which double the number of years cannot rectify? The internal parts of a building are not less vulnerable to accident than its outside; and though the evil may more easily be concealed, it will with greater difficulty be remedied. Many a fair structure have I seen, which, like that now before me" (looking with much significance at Cecilia), "has to the eye seemed perfect in all its parts, and unhurt either by time or casualty, while within, some lurking evil, some latent injury, has secretly worked its way into the very heart of the edifice, where it has consumed its strength, and laid waste its powers, till, sinking deeper and deeper, it has sapped its very foundation, before the superstructure has exhibited any token of danger. Is such an accident among the things you hold to be possible?"
"Your language," said she, colouring very high, "is so florid, that I must own it renders your meaning rather obscure."
"Shall I illustrate it by an example? Suppose, during your abode in Delvile Castle,"
"No, no," interrupted she, with involuntary quickness, "why should I trouble you to make illustrations?"
"O pray, my dear creature," cried Miss Larolles, "how is Mrs Harrel? I was never so sorry for any body in my life. I quite forgot to ask after her."
"Ay, poor Harrel!" cried Morrice, "he was a great loss to his friends. I had just begun to have a regard for him: we were growing extremely intimate. Poor fellow! he really gave most excellent dinners."
"Harrel?" suddenly exclaimed Mr Meadows, who seemed just then to first hear what was going forward, "who was he?"
"O, as good-natured a fellow as ever I knew in my life," answered Morrice; "he was never out of humour: he was drinking and singing and dancing to the very last moment. Don't you remember him, Sir, that night at Vauxhall?"
Mr Meadows made not any answer, but rode languidly on.
Morrice, ever more flippant than sagacious, called out, "I really believe the gentleman's deaf! he won't so much as say umph, and hay, now; but I'll give him such a hallow in his ears, as shall make him hear me, whether he will or no. Sir! I say!" bawling aloud, "have you forgot that night at Vauxhall?"
Mr Meadows, starting at being thus shouted at, looked towards Morrice with some surprise, and said, "Were you so obliging, Sir, as to speak to me?"
"Lord, yes, Sir," said Morrice, amazed; "I thought you had asked something about Mr Harrel, so I just made an answer to it;—that's all."
"Sir, you are very good," returned he, slightly bowing, and then looking another way, as if thoroughly satisfied with what had passed.
"But I say, Sir," resumed Morrice, "don't you remember how Mr Harrel"—
"Mr who, Sir?"
"Mr Harrel, Sir; was not you just now asking me who he was?"
"O, ay, true," cried Meadows, in a tone of extreme weariness, "I am. much obliged to you. Pray give my respects to him." And, touching his hat, he was riding away; but the astonished Morrice called out, "Your respects to him? why lord! Sir, don't you know he's dead?"
"Why Mr Harrel, Sir."
"Harrel?—O, very true," cried Meadows, with a face of sudden recollection; "he shot himself, I think, or was knocked down, or something of that sort. I remember it perfectly."
"O pray," cried Miss Larolles, "don't let's talk about it, it's the cruellest thing I ever knew in my life. I assure you I was so shocked, I thought I should never have got the better of it. I remember the next night at Ranelagh I could talk of nothing else. I dare say I told it to 500 people. I assure you I was tired to death; only conceive how distressing!"
"An excellent method," cried Mr Gosport, "to drive it out of your own head, by driving it into the heads of your neighbours! But were you not afraid, by such an ebullition of pathos, to burst as many hearts as you had auditors?"
"O I assure you," cried she, "every body was so excessive shocked you've no notion; one heard of nothing else; all the world was raving mad about it."
"Really yes," cried the Captain; "the subject was obsedé upon one partout. There was scarce any breathing for it: it poured from all directions; I must confess I was aneanti with it to a degree."
"But the most shocking thing in nature," cried Miss Larolles, "was going to the sale. I never missed a single day. One used to meet the whole world there, and every body was so sorry you can't conceive. It was quite horrid. I assure you I never suffered so much before; it made me so unhappy you can't imagine."
"That I am most ready to grant," said Mr Gosport, "be the powers of imagination ever so eccentric."
"Sir Robert Floyer and Mr Marriot," continued Miss Larolles, "have behaved so ill you've no idea, for they have done nothing ever since but say how monstrously Mr Harrel had cheated them, and how they lost such immense sums by him;—only conceive how ill-natured!"
"And they complain," cried Morrice, "that old Mr Delvile used them worse; for that when they had been defrauded of all that money on purpose to pay their addresses to Miss Beverley, he would never let them see her, but all of a sudden took her off into the country, on purpose to marry her to his own son."
The cheeks of Cecilia now glowed with the deepest blushes; but finding by a general silence that she was expected to make some answer, she said, with what unconcern she could assume, "They were very much mistaken; Mr Delvile had no such view."
"Indeed?" cried Mr Gosport, again perceiving her change of countenance; "and is it possible you have actually escaped a siege, while every body concluded you taken by assault? Pray where is young Delvile at present?"
"I don't—I can't tell, Sir."
"Is it long since you have seen him?"
"It is two months," answered she, with yet more hesitation, "since I was at Delvile Castle."
"O, but," cried Morrice, "did not you see him while he was in Suffolk? I believe, indeed, he is there now, for it was only yesterday I heard of his coming down, by a gentleman who called upon Lady Margaret, and told us he had seen a stranger, a day or two ago, at Mrs Charlton's door, and when he asked who he was, they told him his name was Delvile, and said he was on a visit at Mr Biddulph's."
Cecilia was quite confounded by this speech; to have it known that Delvile had visited her, was in itself alarming, but to have her own equivocation thus glaringly exposed, was infinitely more dangerous. The just suspicions to which it must give rise filled her with dread, and the palpable evasion in which she had been discovered, overwhelmed, her with confusion.
"So you had forgotten," said Mr Gosport, looking at her with much archness, "that you had seen him within the two months? but no wonder; for where is the lady who having so many admirers, can be at the trouble to remember which of them she saw last? or who, being so accustomed to adulation, can hold it worth while to enquire whence it comes? A thousand Mr Delviles are to Miss Beverley but as one; used from them all to the same tale, she regards them not individually as lovers, but collectively as men; and to gather, even from herself, which she is most inclined to favour, she must probably desire, like Portia in the Merchant of Venice, that their names may be run over one by one, before she can distinctly tell which is which."
The gallant gaiety of this speech was some relief to Cecilia, who was beginning a laughing reply, when Morrice called out, "That man looks as if he was upon the scout." And, raising her eyes, she perceived a man on horseback, who, though much muffled up, his hat flapped, and a handkerchief held to his mouth and chin, she instantly, by his air and figure, recognized to be Delvile.
In much consternation at this sight, she forgot what she meant to say, and dropping her eyes, walked silently on. Mr Gosport, attentive to her motions, looked from her to the horseman, and after a short examination, said, "I think I have seen that man before; have you, Miss Beverley?"
"Me?—no,"—answered she, "I believe not,—I hardly indeed, see him now."
"I have, I am pretty sure," said Morrice; "and if I could see his face, I dare say I should recollect him."
"He seems very willing to know if he can recollect any of us," said Mr Gosport, "and, if I am not mistaken, he sees much better than he is seen."
He was now come up to them, and though a glance sufficed to discover the object of his search, the sight of the party with which she was surrounded made him not dare stop or speak to her, and therefore, clapping spurs to his horse, he galloped past them.
"See," cried Morrice, looking after him, "how he turns round to examine us! I wonder who he is."
"Perhaps some highwayman!" cried Miss Larolles; "I assure you I am in a prodigious fright: I should hate to be robbed so you can't think."
"I was going to make much the same conjecture," said Mr Gosport, "and, if I am not greatly deceived, that man is a robber of no common sort. What think you, Miss Beverley, can you discern a thief in disguise?"
"No, indeed; I pretend to no such extraordinary knowledge."
"That's true; for all that you pretend to is extraordinary ignorance."
"I have a good mind," said Morrice, "to ride after him, and see what he is about."
"What for?" exclaimed Cecilia, greatly alarmed "there can certainly be no occasion!"
"No, pray don't," cried Miss Larolles, "for I assure you if he should come back to rob us, I should die upon the spot. Nothing could be so disagreeable I should scream so, you've no idea."
Morrice then gave up the proposal, and they walked quietly on; but Cecilia was extremely disturbed by this accident; she readily conjectured that, impatient for her arrival, Delvile had ridden that way, to see what had retarded her, and she was sensible that nothing could be so desirable as an immediate explanation of the motive of her journey. Such a meeting, therefore, had she been alone, was just what she could have wished, though, thus unluckily encompassed, it only added to her anxiety.
Involuntarily, however, she quickened her pace, through her eagerness to be relieved from so troublesome a party: but Miss Larolles, who was in no such haste, protested she could not keep up with her; saying, "You don't consider that I have got this sweet little dog to carry, and he is such a shocking plague to me you've no notion. Only conceive what a weight he is!"
"Pray, ma'am," cried Morrice, "let me take him for you; I'll be very careful of him, I promise you; and you need not be afraid to trust me, for I understand more about dogs than about any thing."
Miss Larolles, after many fond caresses, being really weary, consented, and Morrice placed the little animal before him on horseback: but while this matter was adjusting, and Miss Larolles was giving directions how she would have it held, Morrice exclaimed, "Look, look! that man is coming back! He is certainly watching us. There! now he's going off again!—I suppose he saw me remarking him."
"I dare say he's laying in wait to rob us," said Miss Larolles; "so when we turn off the high road, to go to Mrs Mears, I suppose he'll come galloping after us. It's excessive horrid, I assure you."
"'Tis a petrifying thing," said the captain, "that one must always be degouté by some wretched being or other of this sort; but pray be not deranged, I will ride after him, if you please, and do mon possible to get rid of him."
"Indeed I wish you would," answered Miss Larolles, "for I assure you he has put such shocking notions into my head, it's quite disagreeable."
"I shall make it a principle," said the captain, "to have the honour of obeying you." And was riding off, when Cecilia, in great agitation, called out "Why should you go, Sir?—he is not in our way,—pray let him alone,—for what purpose should you pursue him?"
"I hope," said Mr Gosport, "for the purpose of making him join our company, to some part of which I fancy he would be no very intolerable addition."
This speech again silenced Cecilia, who perceived, with the utmost confusion, that both Delvile and herself were undoubtedly suspected by Mr Gosport, if not already actually betrayed to him. She was obliged, therefore, to let the matter take its course, though quite sick with apprehension lest a full discovery should follow the projected pursuit.
The Captain, who wanted not courage, however deeply in vanity and affectation he had buried common sense, stood suspended, upon the request of Cecilia, that he would not go, and, with a shrug of distress, said, "Give me leave to own I am parfaitment in a state the most accablant in the world: nothing could give me greater pleasure than to profit of the occasion to accommodate either of these ladies; but as they proceed upon different principles, I am indecidé to a degree which way to turn myself!"
"Put it to the vote, then," said Morrice; "the two ladies have both spoke; now, then, for the gentlemen. Come, Sir," to Mr Gosport, "what say you?"
"O, fetch the culprit back, by all means," answered he; "and then let us all insist upon his opening his cause, by telling us in what he has offended us; for there is no part of his business, I believe, with which we are less acquainted."
"Well," said Morrice, "I'm for asking him a few questions too; so is the Captain; so every body has spoke but you, Sir," addressing himself to Mr Meadows, "So now, Sir, let's hear your opinion."
Mr Meadows, appearing wholly inattentive, rode on.
"Why, Sir, I say!" cried Morrice, louder, "we are all waiting for your vote. Pray what is the gentleman's name? it's deuced hard to make him hear one."
"His name is Meadows," said Miss Larolles, in a low voice, "and I assure you sometimes he won't hear people by the hour together. He's so excessive absent you've no notion. One day he made me so mad, that I could not help crying; and Mr Sawyer was standing by the whole time! and I assure you I believe he laughed at me. Only conceive how distressing!"
"May be," said Morrice, "it's out of bashfulness perhaps he thinks we shall cut him up."
"Bashfulness," repeated Miss Larolles; "Lord, you don't conceive the thing at all. Why he's at the very head of the ton. There's nothing in the world so fashionable as taking no notice of things, and never seeing people, and saying nothing at all, and never hearing a word, and not knowing one's own acquaintance. All the ton people do so, and I assure you as to Mr Meadows, he's so excessively courted by every body, that if he does but say a syllable, he thinks it such an immense favour, you've no idea."
This account, however little alluring in itself, of his celebrity, was yet sufficient to make Morrice covet his further acquaintance: for Morrice was ever attentive to turn his pleasure to his profit, and never negligent of his interest, but when ignorant how to pursue it. He returned, therefore, to the charge, though by no means with the same freedom he had begun it, and lowering his voice to a tone of respect and submission, he said, "Pray, Sir, may we take the liberty to ask your advice, whether we shall go on, or take a turn back?"
Mr Meadows made not any answer; but when Morrice was going to repeat his question, without appearing even to know that he was near him, he abruptly said to Miss Larolles, "Pray what is become of Mrs Mears? I don't see her amongst us."
"Lord, Mr Meadows," exclaimed she, "how can you be so odd? Don't you remember she went on in a chaise to the inn?"
"O, ay, true," cried he; "I protest I had quite forgot it; I beg your pardon, indeed. Yes, I recollect now,—she fell off her horse."
"Her horse? Why you know she was in her chaise."
"Her chaise, was it?—ay, true, so it was. Poor thing!—I am glad she was not hurt."
"Not hurt? Why she's so excessively bruised, she can't stir a step! Only conceive what a memory you've got!"
"I am most extremely sorry for her indeed," cried he, again stretching himself and yawning; "poor soul!—I hope she won't die. Do you think she will!"
"Die!" repeated Miss Larolles, with a scream, "Lord, how shocking! You are really enough to frighten one to hear you."
"But, Sir," said Morrice, "I wish you would be so kind as to give us your vote; the man will else be gone so far, we sha'n't be able to overtake him.—Though I do really believe that is the very fellow coming back to peep at us again!"
"I am ennuyé to a degree," cried the Captain; "he is certainly set upon us as a spy, and I must really beg leave to enquire of him upon what principle he incommodes us."—And instantly he rode after him.
"And so will I too," cried Morrice, following.
Miss Larolles screamed after him to give her first her little dog; but with a schoolboy's eagerness to be foremost, he galloped on without heeding her.
The uneasiness of Cecilia now encreased every moment; the discovery of Delvile seemed unavoidable, and his impatient and indiscreet watchfulness must have rendered the motives of his disguise but too glaring. All she had left to hope was arriving at the inn before the detection was announced, and at least saving herself the cruel mortification of hearing the raillery which would follow it.
Even this, however, was not allowed her; Miss Larolles, whom she had no means to quit, hardly stirred another step, from her anxiety for her dog, and the earnestness of her curiosity about the stranger. She loitered, stopt now to talk, and now to listen, and was scarce moved a yard from the spot where she had been left, when the Captain and Morrice returned.
"We could not for our lives overtake the fellow," said Morrice; "he was well mounted, I promise you, and I'll warrant he knows what he's about, for he turned off so short at a place where there were two narrow lanes, that we could not make out which way he went."
Cecilia, relieved and delighted by this unexpected escape, now recovered her composure, and was content to saunter on without repining.
"But though we could not seize his person," said the Captain, "we have debarrassed ourselves tout à fait from his pursuit; I hope, therefore, Miss Larolles will make a revoke of her apprehensions."
The answer to this was nothing but a loud scream, with an exclamation, "Lord, where's my dog?"
"Your dog!" cried Morrice, looking aghast, "good stars! I never thought of him!"
"How excessive barbarous!" cried Miss Larolles, "you've killed him, I dare say. Only think how shocking! I had rather have seen any body served so in the world. I shall never forgive it, I assure you."
"Lord, ma'am," said Morrice, "how can you suppose I've killed him? Poor, pretty creature, I'm sure I liked him prodigiously. I can't think for my life where he can be: but I have a notion he must have dropt down some where while I happened to be on the full gallop. I'll go look [for] him, however, for we went at such a rate that I never missed him."
Away again rode Morrice.
"I am abimé to the greatest degree," said the Captain, "that the poor little sweet fellow should be lost if I had thought him in any danger, I would have made it a principle to have had a regard to his person myself. Will you give me leave, ma'am, to have the honour of seeking him partout?"
"O, I wish you would with all my heart; for I assure you if I don't find him, I shall think it so excessive distressing you can't conceive."
The Captain touched his hat, and was gone.
These repeated impediments almost robbed Cecilia of all patience; yet her total inability of resistance obliged her to submit, and compelled her to go, stop, or turn, according to their own motions.
"Now if Mr Meadows had the least good-nature in the world," said Miss Larolles, "he would offer to help us; but he's so excessive odd, that I believe if we were all of us to fall down and break our necks, he would be so absent he would hardly take the trouble to ask us how we did."
"Why in so desperate a case," said Mr Gosport, "the trouble would be rather superfluous. However, don't repine that one of the cavaliers stays with us by way of guard, lest your friend the spy should take us by surprize while our troop is dispersed."
"O Lord," cried Miss Larolles, "now you put it in my head, I dare say that wretch has got my dog! only think how horrid!"
"I saw plainly," said Mr Gosport, looking significantly at Cecilia, "that he was feloniously inclined, though I must confess I took him not for a dog-stealer."
Miss Larolles then, running up to Mr Meadows, called out, "I have a prodigious immense favour to ask of you, Mr Meadows."
"Ma'am!" cried Mr Meadows, with his usual start.
"It's only to know, whether if that horrid creature should come back, you could not just ride up to him and shoot him, before he gets to us? Now will you promise me to do it?"
"You are vastly good," said he, with a vacant smile; "what a charming evening! Do you love the country?"
"Yes, vastly; only I'm so monstrously tired, I can hardly stir a step. Do you like it?"
"The country? O no! I detest it! Dusty hedges, and chirping sparrows! 'Tis amazing to me any body can exist upon such terms."
"I assure you," cried Miss Larolles, "I'm quite of your opinion. I hate the country so you've no notion. I wish with all my heart it was all under ground. I declare, when I first go into it for the summer, I cry so you can't think. I like nothing but London.—Don't you?"
"London!" repeated Mr Meadows, "O melancholy! the sink of all vice and depravity. Streets without light! Houses without air! Neighbourhood without society! Talkers without listeners!—'Tis astonishing any rational being can endure to be so miserably immured."
"Lord, Mr Meadows," cried she, angrily, "I believe you would have one live no where!"
"True, very true, ma'am," said he, yawning, "one really lives no where; one does but vegetate, and wish it all at an end. Don't you find it so, ma'am?"
"Me? no indeed; I assure you I like living of all things. Whenever I'm ill, I'm in such a fright you've no idea. I always think I'm going to die, and it puts me so out of spirits you can't think. Does not it you, too?"
Here Mr Meadows, looking another way, began to whistle.
"Lord," cried Miss Larolles, "how excessive distressing! to ask one questions, and then never hear what one answers!"
Here the Captain returned alone; and Miss Larolles, flying to meet him, demanded where was her dog?
"I have the malbeur to assure you," answered he, "that I never was more aneanti in my life! the pretty little fellow has broke another leg!"
Miss Larolles, in a passion of grief, then declared she was certain that Morrice had maimed him thus on purpose, and desired to know where the vile wretch was?
"He was so much discomposed at the incident," replied the Captain, "that he rode instantly another way. I took up the pretty fellow therefore myself, and have done mon possible not to derange him."
The unfortunate little animal was then delivered to Miss Larolles; and after much lamentation, they at length continued their walk; and, without further adventure, arrived at the inn.