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But here, instead of finding, as she expected, Mrs Charlton, and fresh horses in readiness, Cecilia saw neither chaise nor preparation; Mrs Charlton was quietly seated in a parlour, and drinking tea with Mrs Mears.

Vexed and disappointed, she ordered horses immediately to the chaise, and entreated Mrs Charlton to lose no more time. But the various delays which had already retarded them, had made it now so late that it was impossible to get into London by daylight, and Mrs Charlton not having courage to be upon the road after dark, had settled to sleep at the inn, and purposed not to proceed till the next morning.

Half distracted at this new difficulty, Cecilia begged to speak with her alone, and then represented in the most earnest manner, the absolute necessity there was for her being in London that night: "Every thing," said she, "depends upon it, and the whole purpose of my journey will otherwise be lost, for Mr Delvile will else think himself extremely ill used, and to make him reparation, I may be compelled to submit to almost whatever terms he shall propose."

Mrs Charlton, kind and yielding, withstood not this entreaty, which Cecilia made with infinite pain to herself, from the reluctance she felt to pursuing her own interest and inclination in opposition to those of her worthy old friend: but as she was now circumstanced, she considered the immediate prosecution of her journey as her only resource against first irritating Delvile by an abrupt disappointment, and appeasing him next by a concession which would make that disappointment end in nothing.

The chaise was soon ready, and Mrs Charlton and Cecilia were rising to take leave of the company, when a man and horse galloped full speed into the inn-yard, and in less than a minute, Morrice bounced into the room.

"Ladies and gentlemen," cried he, quite out of breath with haste, "I have got some news for you! I've just found out who that person is that has been watching us."

Cecilia, starting at this most unwelcome intelligence, would now have run into the chaise without hearing him proceed; but Mrs Charlton, who knew neither whom nor what he meant, involuntarily stopt, and Cecilia, whose arm she leant upon, was compelled to stay.

Every one else eagerly desired to know who he was.

"Why I'll tell you," said he, "how I found him out. I was thinking in my own mind what I could possibly do to make amends for that unlucky accident about the dog, and just then I spied the very man that had made me drop him; so I thought at least I'd find out who he was. I rode up to him so quick that he could not get away from me, though I saw plainly it was the thing he meant. But still he kept himself muffled up, just as he did before. Not so snug, thought I, my friend, I shall have you yet! It's a fine evening, Sir, says I; but he took no notice: so then I came more to the point; Sir, says I, I think, I have had the pleasure of seeing you, though I quite forget where. Still he made no answer: if you have no objection, Sir, says I, I shall be glad to ride with you, for the night's coming on, and we have neither of us a servant. But then, without a word speaking, he rode on the quicker. However, I jogged by his side, as fast as he, and said, Pray Sir, did you know anything of that company you were looking at so hard just now? And at this he could hold out no longer; he turned to me in a most fierce passion, and said Pray, Sir, don't be troublesome. And then he got off; for when I found by his voice who he was, I let him alone."

Cecilia, who could bear to hear no more, again hastened Mrs Charlton, who now moved, on; but Morrice, stepping between them both and the door, said Now do pray, Miss Beverley, guess who it was."

"No indeed, I cannot," said she, in the utmost confusion, "Nor have I any time to hear. Come, dear madam, we shall be very late indeed."

"O but I must tell you before you go;—why it was young Mr Delvile! the same that I saw with you one night at the Pantheon, and that I used to meet last spring at Mr Harrel's."

"Mr Delvile!" repeated every one; "very strange he should not speak."

"Pray, ma'am," continued Morrice, "is it not the same gentleman that was at Mr Biddulph's?"

Cecilia, half dead with shame and vexation, stammered out "No, no,—I believe not,—I can't tell;—I have not a moment to spare."

And then, at last, got Mrs Charlton out of the room, and into the chaise. But thither, before she could drive off, she was followed by Mr Gosport, who gravely came to offer his advice that she would immediately lodge an information at the Public Office at Bow Street, that a very suspicious looking man had been observed loitering in those parts, who appeared to harbour most dangerous designs against her person and property.

Cecilia was too much confounded to rally or reply, and Mr Gosport returned to his party with his speech unanswered.

The rest of the journey was without any new casualty, for late as it was, they escaped being robbed: but neither robbers nor new casualties were wanting to make it unpleasant to Cecilia; the incidents which had already happened sufficed for that purpose; and the consciousness of being so generally betrayed, added to the delay of her recantation, prepared her for nothing but mortifications to herself, and conflicts with Delvile the most bitter and severe.

It was near ten o'clock before they arrived in Pall-Mall. The house to which Delvile had given directions was easily found, and the servant sent forward had prepared the people of it for their reception.

In the cruellest anxiety and trepidation, Cecilia then counted every moment till Delvile came. She planned an apology for her conduct with all the address of which she was mistress, and determined to bear his disappointment and indignation with firmness: yet the part she had to act was both hard and artificial; she sighed to have it over, and repined she must have it at all.

The instant there was a knock at the door, she flew out upon the stairs to listen; and hearing his well-known voice enquiring for the ladies who had just taken the lodgings, she ran back to Mrs Charlton, saying, "Ah, madam, assist me I entreat! for now must I merit, or forfeit your esteem for ever!"

"Can you pardon," cried Delvile, as he entered the room, "an intrusion which was not in our bond? But how could I wait till to-morrow, when I knew you were in town to-night?"

He then made his compliments to Mrs Charlton, and, after enquiring how she had borne her journey, turned again to Cecilia, whose uneasy sensations he saw but too plainly in her countenance: "Are you angry," cried he, anxiously, "that I have ventured to come hither to-night?"

"No," answered she, struggling with all her feelings for composure; "what we wish is easily excused; and I am glad to see you to-night, because otherwise—"

She hesitated; and Delvile, little imagining why, thanked her in the warmest terms for her condescension. He then related how he had been tormented by Morrice, enquired why Mr Monckton had not accompanied her, and what could possibly have induced her to make her journey so late, or, with so large a party, to be walking upon the high road instead of hastening to London.

"I wonder not," answered she, more steadily, "at your surprise, though I have now no time to lessen it. You have never, I find, received my letter?"

"No," cried he, much struck by her manner; "was it to forbid our meeting till to-morrow?"

"To-morrow!" she repeated expressively, "no; it was to forbid—"

Here the door was suddenly opened, and Morrice burst into the room.

The dismay and astonishment of Delvile at sight of him could only be equalled by the confusion and consternation of Cecilia; but Morrice, perceiving neither, abruptly called out "Miss Beverley, I quite beg your pardon for coming so late, but you must know" then stopping short upon seeing Delvile, "Good lord," he exclaimed, "if here is not our gentleman spy! Why, Sir, you have not spared the spur! I left you galloping off quite another way."

"However that may be Sir," cried Delvile, equally enraged at the interruption and the observation, "you did not, I presume, wait upon Miss Beverley to talk of me?"

"No, Sir," answered he, lightly, "for I had told her all about you at the inn. Did not I, Miss Beverley? Did not I tell you I was sure it was Mr Delvile that was dodging us about so? Though I believe, Sir, you thought I had not found you out?"

"And pray, young man," said Mrs Charlton, much offended by this familiar intrusion, "how did you find us out?"

"Why, ma'am, by the luckiest accident in the world! Just as I was riding into town, I met the returned chaise that brought you; and I knew the postilion very well, as I go that road pretty often: so, by the merest chance in the world, I saw him by the light of the moon. And then he told me where he had set you down."

"And pray, Sir," again asked Mrs Charlton, "what was your reason for making the enquiry?"

"Why, ma'am, I had a little favour to ask of Miss Beverley, that made me think I would take the liberty to call."

"And was this time of night, Sir," she returned, "the only one you could chase for that purpose?"

"Why, ma'am, I'll tell you how that was; I did not mean to have called till to-morrow morning; but as I was willing to know if the postilion had given me a right direction, I knocked one soft little knock at the door, thinking you might be gone to bed after your journey, merely to ask if it was the right house; but when the servant told me there was a gentleman with you already, I thought there would be no harm in just stepping for a moment up stairs."

"And what, Sir," said Cecilia, whom mingled shame and vexation had hitherto kept silent, "is your business with me?"

"Why, ma'am, I only just called to give you a direction to a most excellent dog-doctor, as we call him, that lives at the comer of—"

"A dog-doctor, Sir?" repeated Cecilia, "and what have I to do with any such direction?"

"Why you must know, ma'am, I have been in the greatest concern imaginable about that accident which happened to me with the poor little dog, and so—"

"What little dog, Sir?" cried Delvile, who now began to conclude he was not sober, "do you know what you are talking of?"

"Yes, Sir, for it was that very little dog you made me drop out of my arms, by which means he broke his other leg."

"I made you drop him?" cried Delvile, angrily, "I believe, Sir, you had much better call some other time; it does not appear to me that you are in a proper situation for remaining here at present."

"Sir, I shall be gone in an instant," answered Morrice, "I merely wanted to beg the favour of Miss Beverley to tell that young lady that owned the dog, that if she will carry him to this man, I am sure he will make a cure of him."

"Come, Sir," said. Delvile, convinced now of his inebriety, "if you please we will walk away together."

"I don't mean to take you away, Sir," said Morrice, looking very significantly, "for I suppose you have not rode so hard to go so soon; but as to me, I'll only write the direction, and be off."

Delvile, amazed and irritated at so many following specimens of ignorant assurance, would not, in his present eagerness, have scrupled turning him out of the house, had he not thought it imprudent, upon such an occasion, to quarrel with him, and improper, at so late an hour, to be left behind; he therefore only, while he was writing the direction, told Cecilia, in a low voice, that he would get rid of him and return in an instant.

They then went together; leaving Cecilia in an agony of distress surpassing all she had hitherto experienced. "Ah, Mrs Charlton," she cried, "what refuge have I now from ridicule, or perhaps disgrace! Mr Delvile has been detected watching me in disguise! he has been discovered at this late hour meeting me in private! The story will reach his family with all the hyperbole of exaggeration;—how will his noble mother disdain me! how cruelly shall I sink before the severity of her eye!"

Mrs Charlton tried to comfort her, but the effort was vain, and she spent her time in the bitterest repining till eleven o'clock. Delvile's not returning then added wonder to her sadness, and the impropriety of his returning at all so late, grew every instant more glaring.

At last, though in great disturbance, and evidently much ruffled in his temper, he came: "I feared," he cried, "I had passed the time for admittance, and the torture I have suffered from being detained has almost driven me wild. I have been in misery to see you again,—your looks, your manner,—the letter you talk of,—all have filled me with alarm; and though I know not what it is I have to dread, I find it impossible to rest a moment without some explanation. Tell me, then, why you seem thus strange and thus depressed? Tell me what that letter was to forbid? Tell me any thing, and every thing, but that you repent your condescension."

"That letter," said Cecilia, "would have explained to you all. I scarce know how to communicate its contents: yet I hope you will hear with patience what I acknowledge I have resolved upon only from necessity. That letter was to tell you that to-morrow we must not meet;—it was to prepare you, indeed, for our meeting, perhaps, never more!"

"Gracious heaven!" exclaimed he, starting, "what is it you mean?"

"That I have made a promise too rash to be kept; that you must pardon me if, late as it is, I retract, since I am convinced it was wrong, and must be wretched in performing it."

Confounded and dismayed, for a moment he continued silent, and then passionately called out, "Who has been with you to defame me in your opinion? Who has barbarously wronged my character since I left you Monday? Mr Monckton received me coldly,—has he injured me in your esteem? Tell, tell me but to whom I owe this change, that my vindication, if it restores not your favour, may at least make you cease to that once I was honoured with some share of it!"

"It wants not to be restored," said Cecilia, with much softness, "since it has never been alienated. Be satisfied that I think of you as I thought when we last parted, and generously forbear to reproach me, when I assure you I am actuated by principles which you ought not to disapprove."

"And are you then, unchanged?" cried he, more gently, "and is your esteem for me still—"

"I thought it justice to say so once," cried she, hastily interrupting him, "but exact from me nothing more. It is too late for us now to talk any longer; to-morrow you may find my letter at Mrs Robert's, and that, short as it is, contains my resolution and its cause."

"Never," cried he vehemently, "can I quit you without knowing it! I would not linger till to-morrow in this suspence to be master of the universe!"

"I have told it you, Sir, already: whatever is clandestine carries a consciousness of evil, and so repugnant do I find it to my disposition and opinions, that till you give me back the promise I so unworthily made, I must be a stranger to peace, because at war with my own actions and myself."

"Recover, then, your peace," cried Delvile with much emotion, "for I here acquit you of all promise!—to fetter, to compel you, were too inhuman to afford me any happiness. Yet hear me, dispassionately hear me, and deliberate a moment before you resolve upon my exile. Your scruples I am not now going to combat, I grieve that they are so powerful, but I have no new arguments with which to oppose them; all I have to say, is, that it is now too late for a retreat to satisfy them."

"True, Sir, and far too true! yet is it always best to do right, however tardily; always better to repent, than to grow callous in wrong."

"Suffer not, however, your delicacy for my family to make you forget what is due to yourself as well as to me: the fear of shocking you led me just now to conceal what a greater fear now urges me to mention. The honour I have had in view is already known to many, and in a very short time there are none will be ignorant of it. That impudent young man, Morrice, had the effrontery to rally me upon my passion for you, and though I reproved him with great asperity, he followed me into a coffee-house, whither I went merely to avoid him. There I forced myself to stay, till I saw him engaged with a news-paper, and then, through various private streets and alleys, I returned hither; but judge my indignation, when the moment I knocked at the door, I perceived him again at my side!"

"Did he, then, see you come in?"

"I angrily demanded what he meant by thus pursuing me; he very submissively begged my pardon, and said he had had a notion I should come back, and had therefore only followed, me to see if he was right! I hesitated for an instant whether to chastise, or confide in him; but believing a few hours would make his impertinence immaterial, I did neither,—the door opened, and I came in."

He stopt; but Cecilia was too much shocked to answer him.

"Now, then," said he, "weigh your objections against the consequences which must follow. It is discovered I attended you in town; it will be presumed I had your permission for such attendance: to separate, therefore, now, will be to no purpose with respect to that delicacy which makes you wish it. It will be food for conjecture, for enquiry, for wonder, almost while both our names are remembered, and while to me it will bring the keenest misery in the severity of my disappointment, it will cast over your own conduct a veil of mystery and obscurity wholly subversive of that unclouded openness, that fair, transparent ingenuousness, by which it has hitherto been distinguished."

"Alas, then," said she, "how dreadfully have I erred, that whatever path I now take must lead me wrong!"

"You overwhelm me with grief," cried Delvile, "by finding you thus distressed, when I had hoped—Oh cruel Cecilia! how different to this did I hope to have met you!—all your doubts settled, all your fears removed, your mind perfectly composed, and ready, unreluctantly, to ratify the promise with so much sweetness accorded me!—where now are those hopes!—where now.—"

"Why will you not begone?" cried Cecilia, uneasily, "indeed it is too late to stay."

"Tell me first," cried he, with great energy, "and let good Mrs Charlton speak too,—ought not every objection to our union, however potent, to give way, without further hesitation, to the certainty that our intending it must become public? Who that hears of our meeting in London, at such a season, in such circumstances, and at such hours,—"

"And why," cried Cecilia, angrily, "do you mention them, and yet stay?"

"I must speak now," answered he with quickness, "or lose forever all that is dear to me, and add to the misery of that loss, the heart-piercing reflection of having injured her whom of all the world I most love, most value, and most revere!"

"And how injured?" cried Cecilia, half alarmed and half displeased: "Surely I must strangely have lived to fear now the voice of calumny?"

"If any one has ever," returned he, "so lived as to dare defy it, Miss Beverley is she: but though safe by the established purity of your character from calumny, there are other, and scarce less invidious attacks, from which no one is exempt, and of which the refinement, the sensibility of your mind, will render you but the more susceptible: ridicule has shafts, and impertinence has arrows, which though against innocence they may be levelled in vain, have always the power of wounding tranquility."

Struck with a truth which she could not controvert, Cecilia sighed deeply, but spoke not.

"Mr Delvile is right," said Mrs Charlton, "and though your plan, my dear Cecilia, was certainly virtuous and proper, when you set out from Bury, the purpose of your journey must now be made so public, that it will no longer be judicious nor rational."

Delvile poured forth his warmest thanks for this friendly interposition, and then, strengthened by such an advocate, re-urged all his arguments with redoubled hope and spirit.

Cecilia, disturbed, uncertain, comfortless, could frame her mind to no resolution; she walked about the room, deliberated,—determined,— wavered and deliberated again. Delvile then grew more urgent, and represented so strongly the various mortifications which must follow so tardy a renunciation of their intentions, that, terrified and perplexed, and fearing the breach of their union would now be more injurious to her than its ratification, she ceased all opposition to his arguments, and uttered no words but of solicitation that he would leave her.

"I will," cried he, "I will begone this very moment. Tell me but first you will think of what I have said, and refer me not to your letter, but deign yourself to pronounce my doom, when you have considered if it may not be softened."

To this she tacitly consented; and elated with fresh rising hope, he recommended his cause to the patronage of Mrs Charlton, and then, taking leave of Cecilia, "I go," he said, "though I have yet a thousand things to propose and to supplicate, and though still in a suspense that my temper knows ill how to endure; but I should rather be rendered miserable than happy, in merely overpowering your reason by entreaty. I leave you, therefore, to your own reflections; yet remember,—and refuse not to remember with some compunction, that all chance, all possibility of earthly happiness for me depends upon your decision."

He then tore himself away.

Cecilia, shocked at the fatigue she had occasioned her good old friend, now compelled her to go to rest, and dedicated the remaining part of the night to uninterrupted deliberation.

It seemed once more in her power to be mistress of her destiny; but the very liberty of choice she had so much coveted, now attained, appeared the most heavy of calamities; since, uncertain even what she ought to do, she rather wished to be drawn than to lead, rather desired to be guided than to guide. She was to be responsible not only to the world but to herself for the whole of this momentous transaction, and the terror of leaving either dissatisfied, made independence burthensome, and unlimited power a grievance.

The happiness or misery which awaited her resolution were but secondary considerations in the present state of her mind; her consent to a clandestine action she lamented as an eternal blot to her character, and the undoubted publication of that consent as equally injurious to her fame. Neither retracting nor fulfilling her engagement could now retrieve what was past, and in the bitterness of regret for the error she had committed she thought happiness unattainable for the remainder of her life.

In this gloomy despondence passed the night, her eyes never closed, her determination never formed. Morning, however, came, and upon something to fix was indispensable.

She now, therefore, finally employed herself in briefly, comparing the good with the evil of giving Delvile wholly up, or becoming his for ever.

In accepting him, she was exposed to all the displeasure of his relations, and, which affected her most, to the indignant severity of his mother: but not another obstacle could be found that seemed of any weight to oppose him.

In refusing him she was liable to the derision of the world, to sneers from strangers, and remonstrances from her friends, to becoming a topic for ridicule, if not for slander, and an object of curiosity if not of contempt.

The ills, therefore, that threatened her marriage, though most afflicting, were least disgraceful, and those which awaited its breach, if less serious, were more mortifying.

At length, after weighing every circumstance as well as her perturbed spirits would permit, she concluded that so late to reject him must bring misery without any alleviation, while accepting him, though followed by wrath and reproach, left some opening for future hope, and some prospect of better days.

To fulfil, therefore, her engagement was her final resolution.