Cecilia/Book 9/Chapter v
Cecilia was now left in a state of perturbation that was hardly to be endured. The contempt with which she had been treated during the whole visit was nothing short of insult, but the accusations with which it was concluded did not more irritate than astonish her.
That some strange prejudice had been taken against her, even more than belonged to her connection with young Delvile, the message brought her by Dr Lyster had given her reason to suppose: what that prejudice was she now knew, though how excited she was still ignorant; but she found Mr Delvile had been informed she had taken up money of a Jew, without having heard it was for Mr Harrel, and that he had been acquainted with her visits in Portland-street, without seeming to know Mr Belfield had a sister. Two charges such as these, so serious in their nature, and so destructive of her character, filled her with horror and consternation, and even somewhat served to palliate his illiberal and injurious behaviour.
But how reports thus false and thus disgraceful should be raised, and by what dark work of slander and malignity they had been spread, remained a doubt inexplicable. They could not, she was certain, be the mere rumour of chance, since in both the assertions there was some foundation of truth, however cruelly perverted, or basely over-charged.
This led her to consider how few people there were not only who had interest, but who had power to propagate such calumnies; even her acquaintance with the Belfields she remembered not ever mentioning, for she knew none of their friends, and none of her own knew them. How, then, should it be circulated, that she "visited often at the house?" however be invented that it was from her "attention to the young man?" Henrietta, she was sure, was too good and too innocent to be guilty of such perfidy; and the young man himself had always shewn a modesty and propriety that manifested his total freedom from the vanity of such a suspicion, and an elevation of sentiment that would have taught him to scorn the boast, even if he believed the partiality.
The mother, however, had neither been so modest nor so rational; she had openly avowed her opinion that Cecilia was in love with her son; and as that son, by never offering himself, had never been refused, her opinion had received no check of sufficient force, for a mind so gross and literal, to change it.
This part, therefore, of the charge she gave to Mrs Belfield, whose officious and loquacious forwardness she concluded had induced her to narrate her suspicions, till, step by step, they had reached Mr Delvile.
But though able, by the probability of this conjecture, to account for the report concerning Belfield, the whole affair of the debt remained a difficulty not to be solved. Mr Harrel, his wife, Mr Arnott, the Jew and Mr Monckton, were the only persons to whom the transaction was known; and though from five, a secret, in the course of so many months, might easily be supposed likely to transpire, those five were so particularly bound to silence, not only for her interest but their own, that it was not unreasonable to believe it as safe among them all, as if solely consigned to one. For herself, she had revealed it to no creature but Mr Monckton; not even to Delvile; though, upon her consenting to marry him, he had an undoubted right to be acquainted with the true state of her affairs; but such had been the hurry, distress, confusion and irresolution of her mind at that period, that this whole circumstance had been driven from it entirely, and she had, since, frequently blamed herself for such want of recollection. Mr Harrel, for a thousand reasons, she was certain had never named it; and had the communication come from his widow or from Mr Arnott, the motives would have been related as well as the debt, and she had been spared the reproach of contracting it for purposes of her own extravagance. The Jew, indeed, was, to her, under no obligation of secrecy, but he had an obligation far more binding,—he was tied to himself.
A suspicion now arose in her mind which made it thrill with horror; "good God! she exclaimed, can Mr Monckton—"
She stopt, even to herself;—she checked the idea;—she drove it hastily from her;—she was certain it was false and cruel,—she hated herself for having started it.
"No," cried she, "he is my friend, the confirmed friend of many years, my well-wisher from childhood, my zealous counsellor and assistant almost from my birth to this hour:—such perfidy from him would not even be human!"
Yet still her perplexity was undiminished; the affair was undoubtedly known, and it only could be known by the treachery of some one entrusted with it: and however earnestly her generosity combated her rising suspicions, she could not wholly quell them; and Mr Monckton's strange aversion to the Delviles, his earnestness to break off her connexion with them, occurred to her remembrance, and haunted her perforce with surmises to his disadvantage.
That gentleman, when he came home, found her in this comfortless and fluctuating state, endeavouring to form conjectures upon what had happened, yet unable to succeed, but by suggestions which one moment excited her abhorrence of him, and the next of herself.
He enquired, with his usual appearance of easy friendliness, into what had passed with her two guardians, and how she had settled her affairs. She answered without hesitation all his questions, but her manner was cold and reserved, though her communication was frank.
This was not unheeded by Mr Monckton, who, after a short time, begged to know if any thing had disturbed her.
Cecilia, ashamed of her doubts, though unable to get rid of them, then endeavoured to brighten up, and changed the subject to the difficulties she had had to encounter from the obstinacy of Mr Briggs.
Mr Monckton for a while humoured this evasion; but when, by her own exertion, her solemnity began to wear off, he repeated his interrogatory, and would not be satisfied without an answer.
Cecilia, earnest that surmises so injurious should be removed, then honestly, but without comments, related the scene which had just past between Mr Delvile and herself.
No comments were, however, wanting to explain to Mr Monckton the change of her behaviour. "I see," he cried hastily, "what you cannot but suspect; and I will go myself to Mr Delvile, and insist upon his clearing me."
Cecilia, shocked to have thus betrayed what was passing within her, assured him his vindication required not such a step, and begged he would counsel her how to discover this treachery, without drawing from her concern at it a conclusion so offensive to himself.
He was evidently, however, and greatly disturbed; he declared his own wonder equal to hers how the affair had been betrayed, expressed the warmest indignation at the malevolent insinuations against her conduct, and lamented with mingled acrimony and grief, that there should exist even the possibility of casting the odium of such villainy upon himself.
Cecilia, distressed, perplexed, and ashamed at once, again endeavoured to appease him, and though a lurking doubt obstinately clung to her understanding, the purity of her own principles, and the softness of her heart, pleaded strongly for his innocence, and urged her to detest her suspicion, though to conquer it they were unequal.
"It is true," said he, with an air ingenuous though mortified, "I dislike the Delviles, and have always disliked them; they appear to me a jealous, vindictive, and insolent race, and I should have thought I betrayed the faithful regard I professed for you, had I concealed my opinion when I saw you in danger of forming an alliance with them; I spoke to you, therefore, with honest zeal, thoughtless of any enmity I might draw upon myself; but though it was an interference from which I hoped, by preventing the connection, to contribute to your happiness, it was not with a design to stop it at the expence of your character, —a design black, horrible, and diabolic! a design which must be formed by a Daemon, but which even a Daemon could never, I think, execute!"
The candour of this speech, in which his aversion to the Delviles was openly acknowledged, and rationally justified, somewhat quieted the suspicions of Cecilia, which far more anxiously sought to be confuted than confirmed: she began, therefore, to conclude that some accident, inexplicable as unfortunate, had occasioned the partial discovery to Mr Delvile, by which her own goodness proved the source of her defamation: and though something still hung upon her mind that destroyed that firm confidence she had hitherto felt in the friendship of Mr Monckton, she held it utterly unjust to condemn him without proof, which she was not more unable to procure, than to satisfy herself with any reason why so perfidiously he should calumniate her.
Comfortless, however, and tormented with conjectures equally vague and afflicting, she could only clear him to be lost in perplexity, she could only accuse him to be penetrated with horror. She endeavoured to suspend her judgment till time should develop the mystery, and only for the present sought to finish her business and leave London.
She renewed, therefore, again, the subject of Mr Briggs, and told him how vain had been her effort to settle with him. Mr Monckton instantly offered his services in assisting her, and the next morning they went together to his house, where, after an obstinate battle, they gained a complete victory: Mr Briggs gave up all his accounts, and, in a few days, by the active interference of Mr Monckton, her affairs were wholly taken out of his hands. He stormed, and prophesied all ill to Cecilia, but it was not to any purpose; he was so disagreeable to her, by his manners, and so unintelligible to her in matters of business, that she was happy to have done with him; even though, upon inspecting his accounts, they were all found clear and exact, and his desire to retain his power over her fortune, proved to have no other motive than a love of money so potent, that to manage it, even for another, gave him a satisfaction he knew not how to relinquish.
Mr Monckton, who, though a man of pleasure, understood business perfectly well, now instructed and directed her in making a general arrangement of her affairs. The estate which devolved to her from her uncle, and which was all in landed property, she continued to commit to the management of the steward who was employed in his life-time; and her own fortune from her father, which was all in the stocks, she now diminished to nothing by selling out to pay Mr Monckton the principal and interest which she owed him, and by settling with her Bookseller.
While these matters were transacting, which, notwithstanding her eagerness to leave town, could not be brought into such a train as to permit her absence in less than a week, she passed her time chiefly alone. Her wishes all inclined her to bestow it upon Henrietta, but the late attack of Mr Delvile had frightened her from keeping up that connection, since however carefully she might confine it to the daughter, Mrs Belfield, she was certain, would impute it all to the son.
That attack rested upon her mind, in defiance of all her endeavours to banish it; the contempt with which it was made seemed intentionally offensive, as if he had been happy to derive from her supposed ill conduct, a right to triumph over as well as reject her. She concluded, also, that Delvile would be informed of these calumnies, yet she judged his generosity by her own, and was therefore convinced he would not credit them: but what chiefly at this time encreased her sadness and uneasiness, was the mention of Mrs Delvile's broken constitution and ruined health. She had always preserved for that lady the most affectionate respect, and could not consider herself as the cause of her sufferings, without feeling the utmost concern, however conscious she had not wilfully occasioned them.
Nor was this scene the only one by which her efforts to forget this family were defeated; her watchful monitor, Albany, failed not again to claim her promise; and though Mr Monckton earnestly exhorted her not to trust herself out with him, she preferred a little risk to the keenness of his reproaches, and the weather being good on the morning that he called, she consented to accompany him in his rambles: only charging her footman to follow where-ever they went, and not to fail enquiring for her if she stayed long out of his sight. These precautions were rather taken to satisfy Mr Monckton than herself, who, having now procured intelligence of the former disorder of his intellects, was fearful of some extravagance, and apprehensive for her safety.
He took her to a miserable house in a court leading into Piccadilly, where, up three pair of stairs, was a wretched woman ill in bed, while a large family of children were playing in the room.
"See here," cried he, "what human nature can endure! look at that poor wretch, distracted with torture, yet lying in all this noise! unable to stir in her bed, yet without any assistant! suffering the pangs of acute disease, yet wanting the necessaries of life!"
Cecilia went up to the bed-side, and enquired more particularly into the situation of the invalid; but finding she could hardly speak from pain, she sent for the woman of the house, who kept a Green Grocer's shop on the ground floor, and desired her to hire a nurse for her sick lodger, to call all the children down stairs, and to send for an apothecary, whose bill she promised to pay. She then gave her some money to get what necessaries might be wanted, and said she would come again in two days to see how they went on.
Albany, who listened to these directions with silent, yet eager attention, now clasped both his hands with a look of rapture, and exclaimed "Virtue yet lives,—and I have found her?"
Cecilia, proud of such praise, and ambitious to deserve it, chearfully said, "where, Sir, shall we go now?"
"Home;" answered he with an aspect the most benign; "I will not wear out thy pity by rendering woe familiar to it."
Cecilia, though at this moment more disposed for acts of charity than for business or for pleasure, remembered that her fortune however large was not unlimited, and would not press any further bounty for objects she knew not, certain that occasions and claimants, far beyond her ability of answering, would but too frequently arise among those with whom she was more connected, she therefore yielded herself to his direction, and returned to Soho-Square.
Again, however, he failed not to call the time she had appointed for re-visiting the invalid, to whom, with much gladness, he conducted her.
The poor woman, whose disease was a rheumatic fever, was already much better; she had been attended by an apothecary who had given her some alleviating medicine; she had a nurse at her bedside, and the room being cleared of the children, she had had the refreshment of some sleep.
She was now able to raise her head, and make her acknowledgments to her benefactress; but not a little was the surprise of Cecilia, when, upon looking in her face, she said, "Ah, madam, I have seen you before!"
Cecilia, who had not the smallest recollection of her, in return desired to know when, or where?
"When you were going to be married, madam, I was the Pew-Opener at—— Church."
Cecilia started with secret horror, and involuntarily retreated from the bed; while Albany with a look of astonishment exclaimed, "Married! —why, then, is it unknown?"
"Ask me not!" cried she, hastily; "it is all a mistake."
"Poor thing!" cried he, "this, then, is the string thy nerves endure not to have touched! sooner will I expire than a breath of mine shall make it vibrate! Oh sacred be thy sorrow, for thou canst melt at that of the indigent!"
Cecilia then made a few general enquiries, and heard that the poor woman, who was a widow, had been obliged to give up her office, from the frequent attacks which she suffered of the rheumatism; that she had received much assistance both from the Rector and the Curate of —— Church, but her continual illness, with the largeness of her family, kept her distressed in spite of all help.
Cecilia promised to consider what she could do for her, and then giving her more money, returned to Lady Margaret's.
Albany, who found that the unfortunate recollection of the Pew-Opener had awakened in his young pupil a melancholy train of reflections, seemed now to compassionate the sadness which hitherto he had reproved, and walking silently by her side till she came to Soho-Square, said in accents of kindness, "Peace light upon thy head, and dissipate thy woes!" and left her.
"Ah when!" cried she to herself, "if thus they are to be revived for-ever!"
Mr Monckton, who observed that something had greatly affected her, now expostulated warmly against Albany and his wild schemes; "You trifle with your own happiness," he cried, "by witnessing these scenes of distress, and you will trifle away your fortune upon projects you can never fulfil: the very air in those miserable houses is unwholesome for you to breathe; you will soon be affected with some of the diseases to which you so uncautiously expose yourself, and while not half you give in charity will answer the purpose you wish, you will be plundered by cheats and sharpers till you have nothing left to bestow. You must be more considerate for yourself, and not thus governed by Albany, whose insanity is but partially cured, and whose projects are so boundless, that the whole capital of the East India Company would not suffice to fulfil them."
Cecilia, though she liked not the severity of this remonstrance, acknowledged there was some truth in it, and promised to be discreet, and take the reins into her own hands.
There remained for her, however, no other satisfaction; and the path which had thus been pointed out to her, grew more and more alluring every step. Her old friends, the poor Hills, now occurred to her memory, and she determined to see herself in what manner they went on.
The scene which this enquiry presented to her, was by no means calculated to strengthen Mr Monckton's doctrine, for the prosperity in which she found this little family, amply rewarded the liberality she had shewn to it, and proved an irresistible encouragement to similar actions. Mrs Hill wept for joy in recounting how well she succeeded, and Cecilia, delighted by the power of giving such pleasure, forgot all cautions and promises in the generosity which she displayed. She paid Mrs Roberts the arrears that were due to her, she discharged all that was owing for the children who had been put to school, desired they might still be sent to it solely at her expense, and gave the mother a sum of money to be laid out in presents for them all.
To perform her promise with the Pew Opener was however more difficult; her ill health, and the extreme youth of her children making her utterly helpless: but these were not considerations for Cecilia to desert her, but rather motives for regarding her as more peculiarly an object of charity. She found she had once been a clear starcher, and was a tolerable plain work-woman; she resolved, therefore, to send her into the country, where she hoped to be able to get her some business, and knew that at least, she could help her, if unsuccessful, and see that her children were brought up to useful employments. The, woman herself was enchanted at the plan, and firmly persuaded the country air would restore her health. Cecilia told her only to wait till she was well enough to travel, and promised, in the mean time, to look out some little habitation for her. She then gave her money to pay her bills, and for her journey, and writing a full direction where she would hear of her at Bury, took leave of her till that time.
These magnificent donations and designs, being communicated to Albany, seemed a renovation to him of youth, spirit, and joy! while their effect upon Mr Monckton resembled an annihilation of all three! to see money thus sported away, which he had long considered as his own, to behold those sums which he had destined for his pleasures, thus lavishly bestowed upon beggars, excited a rage he could with difficulty conceal, and an uneasiness he could hardly endure; and he languished, he sickened for the time, when he might put a period to such romantic proceedings.
Such were the only occupations which interrupted the solitude of Cecilia, except those which were given to her by actual business; and the moment her affairs were in so much forwardness that they could be managed by letters, she prepared for returning into the country. She acquainted Lady Margaret and Mr Monckton with her design, and gave orders to her servants to be ready to set off the next day.
Mr Monckton made not any opposition, and refused himself the satisfaction of accompanying her: and Lady Margaret, whose purpose was now answered, and who wished to be in the country herself, determined to follow her.