Cecilia/Book 9/Chapter vi
This matter being settled at breakfast, Cecilia, having but one day more to spend in London, knew not how to let it pass without taking leave of Henrietta, though she chose not again to expose herself to the forward insinuations of her mother; she sent her, therefore, a short note, begging to see her at Lady Margaret's, and acquainting her that the next day she was going out of town.
Henrietta returned the following answer.
To Miss Beverley.
Madam,—My mother is gone to market, and I must not go out without her leave; I have run to the door at every knock this whole week in hopes you were coming, and my heart has jumpt at every coach that has gone through the street. Dearest lady, why did you tell me you would come? I should not have thought of such a great honour if you had not put it in my head. And now I have got the use of a room where I can often be alone for two or three hours together. And so I shall this morning, if it was possible my dear Miss Beverley could come. But I don't mean to be teasing, and I would not be impertinent or encroaching for the world; but only the thing is I have a great deal to say to you, and if you was not so rich a lady, and so much above me, I am sure I should love you better than any body in the whole world, almost; and now I dare say I shan't see you at all; for it rains very hard, and my mother, I know, will be sadly angry if I ask to go in a coach. O dear! I don't know what I can do! for it will half break my heart, if my dear Miss Beverley should go out of town, and I not see her!—I am, Madam, with the greatest respectfulness, your most humble servant,
This artless remonstrance, joined to the intelligence that she could see her alone, made Cecilia instantly order a chair, and go herself to Portland-street: for she found by this letter there was much doubt if she could otherwise see her, and the earnestness of Henrietta made her now not endure to disappoint her. "She has much," cried she, "to say to me, and I will no longer refuse to hear her; she shall unbosom to me her gentle heart, for we have now nothing to fear from each other. She promises herself pleasure from the communication, and doubtless it must be some relief to her. Oh were there any friendly bosom, in which I might myself confide!—happier Henrietta! less fearful of thy pride, less tenacious of thy dignity! thy sorrows at least seek the consolation of sympathy,—mine, alas! fettered by prudence, must fly it!"
She was shewn into the parlour, which she had the pleasure to find empty; and, in an instant, the warm-hearted Henrietta was in her arms. "This is sweet of you indeed," cried she, "for I did not know how to ask it, though it rains so hard I could not have walked to you, and I don't know what I should have done, if you had gone away and quite forgot me."
She then took her into the back parlour, which she said they had lately hired, and, as it was made but little use of, she had it almost entirely to herself.
There had passed a sad scene, she told her, at the meeting with her brother, though now they were a little more comfortable; yet, her mother, she was sure, would never be at rest till he got into some higher way of life; "And, indeed, I have some hopes," she continued, "that we shall be able by and bye to do something better for him; for he has got one friend in the world, yet; thank God, and such a noble friend!—indeed I believe he can do whatever he pleases for him,—that is I mean I believe if he was to ask any thing for him, there's nobody would deny him. And this is what I wanted to talk to you about."—
Cecilia, who doubted not but she meant Delvile, scarce knew how to press the subject, though she came with no other view: Henrietta, however, too eager to want solicitation, went on.
"But the question is whether we shall be able to prevail upon my brother to accept any thing, for he grows more and more unwilling to be obliged, and the reason is, that being poor, he is afraid, I believe, people should think he wants to beg of them: though if they knew him as well as I do, they would not long think that, for I am sure he would a great deal rather be starved to death. But indeed, to say the truth, I am afraid he has been sadly to blame in this affair, and quarrelled when there was no need to be affronted; for I have seen a gentleman who knows a great deal better than my brother what people should do, and he says he took every thing wrong that was done, all the time he was at Lord Vannelt's."
"And how does this gentleman know it?"
"O because he went himself to enquire about it; for he knows Lord Vannelt very well, and it was by his means my brother came acquainted with him. And this gentleman would not have wished my brother to be used ill any more than I should myself, so I am sure I may believe what he says. But my poor brother, not being a lord himself, thought every body meant to be rude to him, and because he knew he was poor, he suspected they all behaved disrespectfully to him. But this gentleman gave me his word that every body liked him and esteemed him, and if he would not have been so suspicious, they would all have done any thing for him in the world."
"You know this gentleman very well, then?"
"O no, madam!" she answered hastily, "I don't know him at all! he only comes here to see my brother; it would be very impertinent for me to call him an acquaintance of mine."
"Was it before your brother, then, he held this conversation with you?"
"O no, my brother would have been affronted with him, too, if he had! but he called here to enquire for him at the time when he was lost to us, and my mother quite went down upon her knees to him to beg him to go to Lord Vannelt's, and make excuses for him, if he had not behaved properly: but if my brother was to know this, he would hardly speak to her again! so when this gentleman came next, I begged him not to mention it, for my mother happened to be out, and so I saw him alone."
"And did he stay with you long?"
"No, ma'am, a very short time indeed; but I asked him questions all the while, and kept him as long as I could, that I might hear all he had to say about my brother."
"Have you never seen him since?"
"No, ma'am, not once! I suppose he does not know my brother is come back to us. Perhaps when he does, he will call."
"Do you wish him to call?"
"Me?" cried she, blushing, "a little;—sometimes I do;—for my brother's sake."
"For your brother's sake! Ah my dear Henrietta! but tell me,—or don't tell me if you had rather not,—did I not once see you kissing a letter? perhaps it was from this same noble friend?"
"It was not a letter, madam," said she, looking down, "it was only the cover of one to my brother."
"The cover of a letter only!—and that to your brother!—is it possible you could so much value it?"
"Ah madam! You, who are always used to the good and the wise, who see no other sort of people but those in high life, you can have no notion how they strike those that they are new to!—but I who see them seldom, and who live with people so very unlike them—Oh you cannot guess how sweet to me is every thing that belongs to them! whatever has but once been touched by their hands, I should like to lock up, and keep for ever! though if I was used to them, as you are, perhaps I might think less of them."
Alas! thought Cecilia, who by them knew she only meant him, little indeed would further intimacy protect you!
"We are all over-ready," continued Henrietta, "to blame others, and that is the way I have been doing all this time myself; but I don't blame my poor brother now for living so with the great as I used to do, for now I have seen a little more of the world, I don't wonder any longer at his behaviour: for I know how it is, and I see that those who have had good educations, and kept great company, and mixed with the world,—O it is another thing!—they seem quite a different species!— they are so gentle, so soft-mannered! nothing comes from them but what is meant to oblige! they seem as if they only lived to give pleasure to other people, and as if they never thought at all of themselves!"
"Ah Henrietta!" said Cecilia, shaking her head, "you have caught the enthusiasm of your brother, though you so long condemned it! Oh have a care lest, like him also, you find it as pernicious as it is alluring!"
"There, is no danger for me, madam," answered she, "for the people I so much admire are quite out of my reach. I hardly ever even see them; and perhaps it may so happen I may see them no more!"
"The people?" said Cecilia, smiling, "are there, then, many you so much distinguish?"
"Oh no indeed!" cried she, eagerly, "there is only one! there can be —I mean there are only a few—" she checked herself, and stopt.
"Whoever you admire," cried Cecilia, "your admiration cannot but honour: yet indulge it not too far, lest it should wander from your heart to your peace, and make you wretched for life."
"Ah madam!—I see you know who is the particular person I was thinking of! but indeed you are quite mistaken if you suppose any thing bad of me!"
"Bad of you!" cried Cecilia, embracing her, "I scarce think so well of any one!"
"But I mean, madam, if you think I forget he is so much above me. But indeed I never do; for I only admire him for his goodness to my brother, and never think of him at all, but just by way of comparing him, sometimes, to the other people that I see, because he makes me hate them so, that I wish I was never to see them again."
"His acquaintance, then," said Cecilia, "has done you but an ill office, and happy it would be for you could you forget you had ever made it."
"O, I shall never do that! for the more I think of him, the more I am out of humour with every body else! O Miss Beverley! we have a sad acquaintance indeed! I'm sure I don't wonder my brother was so ashamed of them. They are all so rude, and so free, and put one so out of countenance,—O how different is this person you are thinking of! he would not distress anybody, or make one ashamed for all the world! You only are like him! always gentle, always obliging!—sometimes I think you must be his sister—once, too, I heard—but that was contradicted."
A deep sigh escaped Cecilia at this speech; she guessed too well what she might have heard, and she knew too well how it might be contradicted.
"Surely, you cannot be unhappy, Miss Beverley!" said Henrietta, with a look of mingled surprise and concern.
"I have much, I own," cried Cecilia, assuming more chearfulness, "to be thankful for, and I endeavour not to forget it."
"O how often do I think," cried Henrietta, "that you, madam, are the happiest person in the world! with every thing at your own disposal,— with every body in love with you, with all the money that you can wish for, and so much sweetness that nobody can envy you it! with power to keep just what company you please, and every body proud to be one of the number!—Oh if I could chuse who I would be, I should sooner say Miss Beverley than any princess in the world!"
Ah, thought Cecilia, if such is my situation,—how cruel that by one dreadful blow all its happiness should be thrown away!
"Were I a rich lady, like you," continued Henrietta, "and quite in my own power, then, indeed, I might soon think of nothing but those people that I admire! and that makes me often wonder that you, madam, who are just such another as himself—but then, indeed, you may see so many of the same sort, that just this one may not so much strike you: and for that reason I hope with all my heart that he will never be married as long as he lives, for as he must take some lady in just such high life as his own, I should always be afraid that she would never love him as she ought to do!"
He need not now be single, thought Cecilia, were that all he had cause to apprehend!
"I often think," added Henrietta, "that the rich would be as much happier for marrying the poor, as the poor for marrying the rich, for then they would take somebody that would try to deserve their kindness, and now they only take those that know they have a right to it. Often and often have I thought so about this very gentleman! and sometimes when I have been in his company, and seen his civility and his sweetness, I have fancied I was rich and grand myself, and it has quite gone out of my head that I was nothing but poor Henrietta Belfield!"
"Did he, then," cried Cecilia a little alarmed, "ever seek to ingratiate himself into your favour?"
"No, never! but when treated with so much softness, 'tis hard always to remember one's meanness! You, madam, have no notion of that task: no more had I myself till lately, for I cared not who was high, nor who was low: but now, indeed, I must own I have some times wished myself richer! yet he assumes so little, that at other times, I have almost forgot all distance between us, and even thought—Oh foolish thought!—
"Tell it, sweet Henrietta, however!"
"I will tell you, madam, every thing! for my heart has been bursting to open itself, and nobody have I dared trust. I have thought, then, I have sometimes thought,—my true affection, my faithful fondness, my glad obedience,—might make him, if he did but know them, happier in me than in a greater lady!"
"Indeed," cried Cecilia, extremely affected by this plaintive tenderness, "I believe it—and were I him, I could not, I think, hesitate a moment in my choice!"
Henrietta now, hearing her mother coming in, made a sign to her to be silent; but Mrs Belfield had not been an instant in the passage, before a thundering knocking at the street-door occasioned it to be instantly re-opened. A servant then enquired if Mrs Belfield was at home, and being answered by herself in the affirmative, a chair was brought into the house.
But what was the astonishment of Cecilia, when, in another moment, she heard from the next parlour the voice of Mr Delvile senior, saying, "Your servant, ma'am; Mrs Belfield, I presume?"
There was no occasion, now, to make a sign to her of silence, for her own amazement was sufficient to deprive her of speech.
"Yes, Sir," answered Mrs Belfield; "but I suppose, Sir, you are some gentleman to my son."
"No, madam," he returned, "my business is with yourself."
Cecilia now recovering from her surprise, determined to hasten unnoticed out of the house, well knowing that to be seen in it would be regarded as a confirmation of all that he had asserted. She whispered, therefore, to Henrietta, that she must instantly run away, but, upon softly opening the door leading to the passage, she found Mr Delvile's chairmen, and a footman there in waiting.
She closed it again, irresolute what to do: but after a little deliberation, she concluded to out-stay him, as she was known to all his servants, who would not fail to mention seeing her; and a retreat so private was worse than any other risk. A chair was also in waiting for herself, but it was a hackney one, and she could not be known by it; and her footman she had fortunately dismissed, as he had business to transact for her journey next day.
Mean-while the thinness of the partition between the two parlours made her hearing every word that was said unavoidable.
"I am sure, Sir, I shall be very willing to oblige you," Mrs Belfield answered; "but pray, Sir, what's your name?"
"My name, ma'am," he replied, in a rather elevated voice, "I am seldom obliged to announce myself; nor is there any present necessity I should make it known. It is sufficient I assure you, you are speaking to no very common person, and probably to one you will have little chance to meet with again."
"But how can I tell your business, Sir, if I don't so much as know your name?"
"My business, madam, I mean to tell myself; your affair is only to hear it. I have some questions, indeed, to ask, which I must trouble you to answer, but they will sufficiently explain themselves to prevent any difficulty upon your part. There is no need, therefore, of any introductory ceremonial."
"Well, Sir," said Mrs Belfield, wholly insensible of this ambiguous greatness, "if you mean to make your name a secret."
"Few names, I believe, ma'am," cried he, haughtily, "have less the advantage of secrecy than mine! on the contrary, this is but one among a very few houses in this town to which my person would not immediately announce it. That, however, is immaterial; and you will be so good as to rest satisfied with my assurances, that the person with whom you are now conversing, will prove no disgrace to your character."
Mrs Belfield, overpowered, though hardly knowing, with what, only said he was very welcome, and begged him to sit down.
"Excuse me, ma'am," he answered, "My business is but of a moment, and my avocations are too many to suffer my infringing that time. You say you have a son; I have heard of him, also, somewhere before; pray will you give me leave to enquire—I don't mean to go deep into the matter, —but particular family occurrences make it essential for me to know,— whether there is not a young person of rather a capital fortune, to whom he is supposed to make proposals?"
"Lack-a-day, no, Sir!" answered Mrs Belfield, to the infinite relief of Cecilia, who instantly concluded this question referred to herself.
"I beg your pardon, then; good morning to you, ma'am," said Mr Delvile, in a tone that spoke his disappointment; but added "And there is no such young person, you say, who favours his pretensions?"
"Dear Sir," cried she, "why there's nobody he'll so much as put the question to! there's a young lady at this very time, a great fortune, that has as much a mind to him, I tell him, as any man need desire to see; but there's no making him think it! though he has been brought up at the university, and knows more about all the things, or as much, as any body in the king's dominions."
"O, then," cried Mr Delvile, in a voice of far more complacency, "it is not on the side of the young woman that the difficulty seems to rest?"
"Lord, no, Sir! he might have had her again and again only for asking! She came after him ever so often; but being brought up, as I said, at the university, he thought he knew better than me, and so my preaching was all as good as lost upon him."
The consternation of Cecilia at these speeches could by nothing be equalled but by the shame of Henrietta, who, though she knew not to whom her mother made them, felt all the disgrace and the shock of them herself.
"I suppose, Sir," continued Mrs Belfield, "you know my son?"
"No, ma'am, my acquaintance is—not very universal."
"Then, Sir, you are no judge how well he might make his own terms. And as to this young lady, she found him out, Sir, when not one of his own natural friends could tell where in the world he was gone! She was the first, Sir, to come and tell me news of him though I was his own mother! Love, Sir, is prodigious for quickness! it can see, I sometimes think, through bricks and mortar. Yet all this would not do, he was so obstinate not to take the hint!"
Cecilia now felt so extremely provoked, she was upon the point of bursting in upon them to make her own vindication; but as her passions, though they tried her reason never conquered it, she restrained herself by considering that to issue forth from a room in that house, would do more towards strengthening what was thus boldly asserted, than all her protestations could have chance to destroy.
"And as to young ladies themselves," continued Mrs Belfield, "they know no more how to make their minds known than a baby does: so I suppose he'll shilly shally till somebody else will cry snap, and take her. It is but a little while ago that it was all the report she was to have young Mr Delvile, one of her guardian's sons."
"I am sorry report was so impertinent," cried Mr Delvile, with much displeasure; "young Mr Delvile is not to be disposed of with so little ceremony; he knows better what is due to his family."
Cecilia here blushed from indignation, and Henrietta sighed from despondency.
"Lord, Sir," answered Mrs Belfield, "what should his family do better? I never heard they were any so rich, and I dare say the old gentleman, being her guardian, took care to put his son enough in her way, however it came about that they did not make a match of it: for as to old Mr Delvile, all the world says—"
"All the world takes a very great liberty," angrily interrupted Mr Delvile, "in saying any thing about him: and you will excuse my informing you that a person of his rank and consideration, is not lightly to be mentioned upon every little occasion that occurs."
"Lord, Sir," cried Mrs Belfield, somewhat surprised at this unexpected prohibition, "I don't care for my part if I never mention the old gentleman's name again! I never heard any good of him in my life, for they say he's as proud as Lucifer, and nobody knows what it's of, for they say—"
"They say?" cried he, firing with rage, "and who are they? be so good as inform me that?"
"Lord, every body, Sir! it's his common character."
"Then every body is extremely indecent," speaking very loud, "to pay no more respect to one of the first families in England. It is a licentiousness that ought by no means to be suffered with impunity."
Here, the street-door being kept open by the servants in waiting, a new step was heard in the passage, which Henrietta immediately knowing, turned, with uplifted hands to Cecilia, and whispered, "How unlucky! it's my brother! I thought he would not have returned till night!"
"Surely he will not come in here?" re-whispered Cecilia.
But, at the same moment, he opened the door, and entered the room. He was immediately beginning an apology, and starting back, but Henrietta catching him by the arm, told him in a low voice, that she had made use of his room because she had thought him engaged for the day, but begged him to keep still and quiet, as the least noise would discover them.
Belfield then stopt; but the embarrassment of Cecilia was extreme; to find herself in his room after the speeches she had heard from his mother, and to continue with him in it by connivance, when she knew she had been represented as quite at his service, distressed and provoked her immeasurably; and she felt very angry with Henrietta for not sooner informing her whose apartment she had borrowed. Yet now to remove, and to be seen, was not to be thought of; she kept, therefore, fixed to her seat, though changing colour every moment from the variety of her emotions.
During this painful interruption she lost Mrs Belfield's next answer, and another speech or two from Mr Delvile, to whose own passion and loudness was owing Belfield's entering his room unheard: but the next voice that called their attention was that of Mr Hobson, who just then walked into the parlour.
"Why what's to do here?" cried he, facetiously, "nothing but chairs and livery servants! Why, ma'am, what is this your rout day? Sir your most humble servant. I ask pardon, but I did not know you at first. But come, suppose we were all to sit down? Sitting's as cheap as standing, and what I say is this; when a man's tired, it's more agreeable."
"Have you any thing further, ma'am," said Mr Delvile, with great solemnity, "to communicate to me?"
"No, Sir," said Mrs Belfield, rather angrily, "it's no business of mine to be communicating myself to a gentleman that I don't know the name of. Why, Mr Hobson, how come you to know the gentleman?"
"To know me!" repeated Mr Delvile, scornfully.
"Why I can't say much, ma'am," answered Mr Hobson, "as to my knowing the gentleman, being I have been in his company but once; and what I say is, to know a person if one leaves but a quart in a hogshead, it's two pints too much. That's my notion. But, Sir, that was but an ungain business at 'Squire Monckton's t'other morning. Every body was no-how, as one may say. But, Sir, if I may be so free, pray what is your private opinion of that old gentleman that talked so much out of the way?"
"My private opinion, Sir?"
"Yes, Sir; I mean if it's no secret, for as to a secret, I hold it's what no man has a right to enquire into, being of its own nature it's a thing not to be told. Now as to what I think myself, my doctrine is this; I am quite of the old gentleman's mind about some things, and about others I hold him to be quite wide of the mark. But as to talking in such a whisky frisky manner that nobody can understand him, why its tantamount to not talking at all, being he might as well hold his tongue. That's what I say. And then as to that other article, of abusing a person for not giving away all his lawful gains to every cripple in the streets, just because he happens to have but one leg, or one eye, or some such matter, why it's knowing nothing of business! it's what I call talking at random."
"When you have finished, Sir," said Mr Delvile, "you will be so good to let me know."
"I don't mean to intrude, Sir; that's not my way, so if you are upon business—"
"What else, Sir, could you suppose brought me hither? However, I by no means purpose any discussion. I have only a few words more to say to this gentlewoman, and as my time is not wholly inconsequential, I should not be sorry to have an early opportunity of being heard."
"I shall leave you with the lady directly, Sir; for I know business better than to interrupt it: but seeing chairs in the entry, my notion was I should see ladies in the parlour, not much thinking of gentlemen's going about in that manner, being I never did it myself. But I have nothing to offer against that; let every man have his own way; that's what I say. Only just let me ask the lady before I go, what's the meaning of my seeing two chairs in the entry, and only a person for one in the parlour? The gentleman, I suppose, did not come in both; ha! ha! ha!"
"Why now you put me in mind," said Mrs Belfield, "I saw a chair as soon as I come in; and I was just going to say who's here, when this gentleman's coming put it out of my head."
"Why this is what I call Hocus Pocus work!" said Mr Hobson; "but I shall make free to ask the chairmen who they are waiting for."
Mrs Belfield, however, anticipated him; for running into the passage, she angrily called out, "What do you do here, Misters? do you only come to be out of the rain? I'll have no stand made of my entry, I can tell you!"
"Why we are waiting for the lady," cried one of them.
"Waiting for a fiddlestick!" said Mrs Belfield; "here's no lady here, nor no company; so if you think I'll have my entry filled up by two hulking fellows for nothing, I shall shew you the difference. One's dirt enough of one's own, without taking people out of the streets to help one. Who do you think's to clean after you?"
"That's no business of ours; the lady bid us wait," answered the man.
Cecilia at this dispute could with pleasure have cast herself out of the window to avoid being discovered; but all plan of escape was too late; Mrs Belfield called aloud for her daughter, and then, returning to the front parlour, said, "I'll soon know if there's company come to my house without my knowing it!" and opened a door leading to the next room!
Cecilia, who had hitherto sat fixed to her chair, now hastily arose, but in a confusion too cruel for speech: Belfield, wondering even at his own situation, and equally concerned and surprised at her evident distress, had himself the feeling of a culprit, though without the least knowledge of any cause: and Henrietta, terrified at the prospect of her mother's anger, retreated as much as possible out of sight.
Such was the situation of the discovered, abashed, perplexed, and embarrassed! while that of the discoverers, far different, was bold, delighted, and triumphant!
"So!" cried Mrs Belfield, "why here's Miss Beverley!—in my son's back room!" winking at Mr Delvile.
"Why here's a lady, sure enough!" said Mr Hobson, "and just where she should be, and that is with a gentleman. Ha! ha! that's the right way, according to my notion! that's the true maxim for living agreeable."
"I came to see Miss Belfield," cried Cecilia, endeavouring, but vainly, to speak with composure, "and she brought me into this room."
"I am but this moment," cried Belfield, with eagerness, "returned home; and unfortunately broke into the room, from total ignorance of the honour which Miss Beverley did my sister."
These speeches, though both literally true, sounded, in the circumstances which brought them out, so much as mere excuses, that while Mr Delvile haughtily marked his incredulity by a motion of his chin, Mrs Belfield continued winking at him most significantly, and Mr Hobson, with still less ceremony, laughed aloud.
"I have nothing more, ma'am," said Mr Delvile to Mrs Belfield, "to enquire, for the few doubts with which I came to this house are now entirely satisfied. Good morning to you, ma'am."
"Give me leave, Sir," said Cecilia, advancing with more spirit, "to explain, in presence of those who can best testify my veracity, the real circumstances—"
"I would by no means occasion you such unnecessary trouble, ma'am," answered he, with an air at once exulting and pompous, "the situation in which I see you abundantly satisfies my curiosity, and saves me from the apprehension I was under of being again convicted of a mistake!"
He then made her a stiff bow, and went to his chair.
Cecilia, colouring deeply at this contemptuous treatment, coldly took leave of Henrietta, and courtsying to Mrs Belfield, hastened into the passage, to get into her own.
Henrietta was too much intimidated to speak, and Belfield was too delicate to follow her; Mr Hobson only said "The young lady seems quite dashed;" but Mrs Belfield pursued her with entreaties she would stay.
She was too angry, however, to make any answer but by a distant bow of the head, and left the house with a resolution little short of a vow never again to enter it.
Her reflections upon this unfortunate visit were bitter beyond measure; the situation in which she had been surprised,—clandestinely concealed with only Belfield and his sister—joined to the positive assertions of her partiality for him made by his mother, could not, to Mr Delvile, but appear marks irrefragable that his charge in his former conversation was rather mild than over-strained, and that the connection he had mentioned, for whatever motives denied, was incontestably formed.
The apparent conviction of this part of the accusation, might also authorise, to one but too happy in believing ill of her, an implicit faith in that which regarded her having run out her fortune. His determination not to hear her shewed the inflexibility of his character; and it was evident, notwithstanding his parading pretensions of wishing her welfare, that his inordinate pride was inflamed, at the very supposition he could be mistaken or deceived for a moment.
Even Delvile himself, if gone abroad, might now hear this account with exaggerations that would baffle all his confidence: his mother, too, greatly as she esteemed and loved her, might have the matter so represented as to stagger her good opinion;—these were thoughts the most afflicting she could harbour, though their probability was such that to banish them was impossible.
To apply again to Mr Delvile to hear her vindication, was to subject herself to insolence, and almost to court indignity. She disdained even to write to him, since his behaviour called for resentment, not concession; and such an eagerness to be heard, in opposition to all discouragement, would be practising a meanness that would almost merit repulsion.
Her first inclination was to write to Mrs Delvile, but what now, to her, was either her defence or accusation? She had solemnly renounced all further intercourse with her, she had declared against writing again, and prohibited her letters: and, therefore, after much fluctuation of opinion, her delicacy concurred with her judgment, to conclude it would be most proper, in a situation so intricate, to leave the matter to chance, and commit her character to time.
In the evening, while she was at tea with Lady Margaret and Miss Bennet, she was suddenly called out to speak to a young woman; and found, to her great surprise, she was no other than Henrietta.
"Ah madam!" she cried, "how angrily did you go away this morning! it has made me miserable ever since, and if you go out of town without forgiving me, I shall fret myself quite ill! my mother is gone out to tea, and I have run here all alone, and in the dark, and in the wet, to beg and pray you will forgive me, for else I don't know what I shall do!"
"Sweet, gentle girl!" cried Cecilia, affectionately embracing her, "if you had excited all the anger I am capable of feeling, such softness as this would banish it, and make me love you more than ever!"
Henrietta then said, in her excuse, that she had thought herself quite sure of her brother's absence, who almost always spent the whole day at the bookseller's, as in writing himself he perpetually wanted to consult other authors, and had very few books at their lodgings: but she would not mention that the room was his, lest Cecilia should object to making use of it, and she knew she had no other chance of having the conversation with her she had so very long wished for. She then again begged her pardon, and hoped the behaviour of her mother would not induce her to give her up, as she was shocked at it beyond measure, and as her brother, she assured her, was as innocent of it as herself.
Cecilia heard her with pleasure, and felt for her an encreasing regard. The openness of her confidence in the morning had merited all her affection, and she gave her the warmest protestations of a friendship which she was certain would be lasting as her life.
Henrietta then, with a countenance that spoke the lightness of her heart, hastily took her leave, saying she did not dare be out longer, lest her mother should discover her excursion. Cecilia insisted, however, upon her going in a chair, which she ordered her servant to attend, and take care himself to discharge.
This visit, joined to the tender and unreserved conversation of the morning, gave Cecilia the strongest desire to invite her to her house in the country; but the terror of Mrs Belfield's insinuations, added to the cruel interpretations she had to expect from Mr Delvile, forbid her indulging this wish, though it was the only one that just now she could form.