Cecilia/Book 9/Chapter vii
Cecilia took leave over night of the family, as she would not stay their rising in the morning: Mr Monckton, though certain not to sleep when she was going, forbearing to mark his solicitude by quitting his apartment at any unusual hour. Lady Margaret parted from her with her accustomed ungraciousness, and Miss Bennet, because in her presence, in a manner scarcely less displeasing.
The next morning, with only her servants, the moment it was light, she set out. Her journey was without incident or interruption, and she went immediately to the house of Mrs Bayley, where she had settled to board till her own was finished.
Mrs Bayley was a mere good sort of woman, who lived decently well with her servants, and tolerably well with her neighbours, upon a small annuity, which made her easy and comfortable, though by no means superior to such an addition to her little income as an occasional boarder might produce.
Here Cecilia continued a full month: which time had no other employment than what she voluntarily gave to herself by active deeds of benevolence.
At Christmas, to the no little joy of the neighbourhood, she took possession of her own house, which was situated about three miles from Bury.
The better sort of people were happy to see her thus settled amongst them, and the poorer, who by what they already had received, knew well what they still might expect, regarded the day in which she fixed herself in her mansion, as a day to themselves of prosperity and triumph.
As she was no longer, as hitherto, repairing to a temporary habitation, which at pleasure she might quit, and to which, at a certain period, she could have no possible claim, but to a house which was her own for ever, or, at least, could solely by her own choice be transferred, she determined, as much as was in her power, in quitting her desultory dwellings, to empty her mind of the transactions which had passed in them, and upon entering a house where she was permanently to reside, to make the expulsion of her past sorrows, the basis upon which to establish her future serenity.
And this, though a work of pain and difficulty, was not impracticable; her sensibility, indeed, was keen, and she had suffered from it the utmost torture; but her feelings were not more powerful than her understanding was strong, and her fortitude was equal to her trials. Her calamities had saddened, but not weakened her mind, and the words of Delvile in speaking of his mother occurred to her now with all the conviction of experience, that "evils inevitable are always best supported, because known to be past amendment, and felt to give defiance to struggling."
A plan by which so great a revolution was to be wrought in her mind, was not to be effected by any sudden effort of magnanimity, but by a regular and even tenour of courage mingled with prudence. Nothing, therefore, appeared to her so indispensable as constant employment, by which a variety of new images might force their way in her mind to supplant the old ones, and by which no time might be allowed for brooding over melancholy retrospections.
Her first effort, in this work of mental reformation, was to part with Fidel, whom hitherto she had almost involuntarily guarded, but whom she only could see to revive the most dangerous recollections. She sent him, therefore, to the castle, but without any message; Mrs Delvile, she was sure, would require none to make her rejoice in his restoration.
Her next step was writing to Albany, who had given her his direction, to acquaint him she was now ready to put in practice their long concerted scheme. Albany instantly hastened to her, and joyfully accepted the office of becoming at once her Almoner and her Monitor. He made it his business to seek objects of distress, and always but too certain to find them, of conducting her himself to their habitations, and then leaving to her own liberality the assistance their several cases demanded: and, in the overflowing of his zeal upon these occasions, and the rapture of his heart in thus disposing, almost at his pleasure, of her noble fortune, he seemed, at times, to feel an extasy that, from its novelty and its excess, was almost too exquisite to be borne. He joined with the beggars in pouring blessings upon her head, he prayed for her with the poor, and he thanked her with the succoured.
The pew-opener and her children failed not to keep their appointment, and Cecilia presently contrived to settle them in her neighbourhood: where the poor woman, as she recovered her strength, soon got a little work, and all deficiencies in her power of maintaining herself were supplied by her generous patroness. The children, however, she ordered to be coarsely brought up, having no intention to provide for them but by helping them to common employments.
The promise, also, so long made to Mrs Harrel of an apartment in her house, was now performed. That lady accepted it with the utmost alacrity, glad to make any change in her situation, which constant solitude had rendered wholly insupportable. Mr Arnott accompanied her to the house, and spent one day there; but receiving from Cecilia, though extremely civil and sweet to him, no hint of any invitation for repeating his visit, he left it in sadness, and returned to his own in deep dejection. Cecilia saw with concern how he nourished his hopeless passion, but knew that to suffer his visits would almost authorise his feeding it; and while she pitied unaffectedly the unhappiness she occasioned, she resolved to double her own efforts towards avoiding similar wretchedness.
This action, however, was a point of honour, not of friendship, the time being long since past that the society of Mrs Harrel could afford her any pleasure; but the promises she had so often made to Mr Harrel in his distresses, though extorted from her merely by the terrors of the moment, still were promises, and, therefore, she held herself bound to fulfil them.
Yet far from finding comfort in this addition to her family, Mrs Harrel proved to her nothing more than a trouble and an incumbrance; with no inherent resources, she was continually in search of occasional supplies; she fatigued Cecilia with wonder at the privacy of her life, and tormented her with proposals of parties and entertainments. She was eternally in amazement that with powers so large, she had wishes so confined, and was evidently disappointed that upon coming to so ample an estate, she lived, with respect to herself and her family, with no more magnificence or shew than if Heiress to only ú500 a year.
But Cecilia was determined to think and to live for herself, without regard to unmeaning wonder or selfish remonstrances; she had neither ambition for splendour, nor spirits for dissipation; the recent sorrow of her heart had deadened it for the present to all personal taste of happiness, and her only chance for regaining it, seemed through the medium of bestowing it upon others. She had seen, too, by Mr Harrel, how wretchedly external brilliancy could cover inward woe, and she had learned at Delvile Castle to grow sick of parade and grandeur. Her equipage, therefore, was without glare, though not without elegance, her table was plain, though hospitably plentiful, her servants were for use, though too numerous to be for labour. The system of her oeconomy, like that of her liberality, was formed by rules of reason, and her own ideas of right, and not by compliance with example, nor by emulation with the gentry in her neighbourhood.
But though thus deviating in her actions from the usual customs of the young and rich, she was peculiarly careful not to offend them by singularity of manners. When she mixed with them, she was easy, unaffected, and well bred, and though she saw them but seldom, her good humour and desire of obliging kept them always her friends. The plan she had early formed at Mrs Harrel's she now studied daily to put in practice; but that part by which the useless or frivolous were to be excluded her house, she found could only be supported by driving from her half her acquaintance.
Another part, also, of that project she found still less easy of adoption, which was solacing herself with the society of the wise, good, and intelligent. Few answered this description, and those few were with difficulty attainable. Many might with joy have sought out her liberal dwelling, but no one had idly waited till the moment it was at her disposal. All who possessed at once both talents and wealth, were so generally courted they were rarely to be procured; and all who to talents alone owed their consequence, demanded, if worth acquiring, time and delicacy to be obtained. Fortune she knew, however, was so often at war with Nature, that she doubted not shortly meeting those who would gladly avail themselves of her offered protection.
Yet, tired of the murmurs of Mrs Harrel, she longed for some relief from her society, and her desire daily grew stronger to owe that relief to Henrietta Belfield. The more she meditated upon this wish, the less unattainable it appeared to her, till by frequently combating its difficulties, she began to consider them imaginary: Mrs Belfield, while her son was actually with herself, might see she took not Henrietta as his appendage; and Mr Delvile, should he make further enquiries, might hear that her real connection was with the sister, since she received her in the country, where the brother made no pretence to follow her. She considered, too, how ill she should be rewarded in giving up Henrietta for Mr Delvile, who was already determined to think ill of her, and whose prejudices no sacrifice would remove.
Having hesitated, therefore, some time between the desire of present alleviation, and the fear of future mischief, the consciousness of her own innocence at length vanquished all dread of unjust censure, and she wrote an invitation to Henrietta enclosed in a letter to her mother.
The answer of Henrietta expressed her rapture at the proposal; and that of Mrs Belfield made no objection but to the expence.
Cecilia, therefore, sent her own maid to travel with her into Suffolk, with proper directions to pay for the journey.
The gratitude of the delighted Henrietta at the meeting was boundless; and her joy at so unexpected a mark of favour made her half wild. Cecilia suffered it not to languish for want of kindness to support it; she took her to her bosom, became the soother of all her cares, and reposed in her, in return, every thought that led not to Delvile.
There, however, she was uniformly silent; solemnly and eternally parted from him, far from trusting the secret of her former connexion to Henrietta, the whole study of her life was to drive the remembrance of it from herself.
Henrietta now tasted a happiness to which as yet her whole life had been a stranger; she was suddenly removed from turbulent vulgarity to the enjoyment of calm elegance; and the gentleness of her disposition, instead of being tyrannically imposed upon, not only made her loved with affection, but treated with the most scrupulous delicacy. Cecilia had her share in all the comfort she bestowed; she had now a friend to oblige, and a companion to converse with. She communicated to her all her schemes, and made her the partner of her benevolent excursions; she found her disposition as amiable upon trial, as her looks and her manners had been engaging at first sight; and her constant presence and constant sweetness, imperceptibly revived her spirits, and gave a new interest to her existence.
Meantime Mr Monckton, who returned in about a fortnight to the Grove, observed the encreasing influence of Albany with the most serious concern. The bounties of Cecilia, extensive, magnificent, unlimited, were the theme of every tongue, and though sometimes censured and sometimes admired, they were wondered at universally. He suffered her for a while to go on without remonstrance, hoping her enthusiasm would abate, as its novelty wore out: but finding that week following week was still distinguished by some fresh act of beneficence, he grew so alarmed and uneasy, he could restrain himself no longer. He spoke to her with warmth, he represented her conduct as highly dangerous in its consequence; he said she would but court impostors from every corner of the kingdom, called Albany a lunatic, whom she should rather avoid than obey; and insinuated that if a report was spread of her proceedings, a charity so prodigal, would excite such alarm, that no man would think even her large and splendid fortune, would ensure him from ruin in seeking her alliance.
Cecilia heard this exhortation without either terror or impatience, and answered it with the utmost steadiness. His influence over her mind was no longer uncontrolled, for though her suspicions were not strengthened, they had never been removed, and friendship has no foe so dangerous as distrust! She thanked him, however, for his zeal, but assured him his apprehensions were groundless, since though she acted from inclination, she acted not without thought. Her income was very large, and she was wholly without family or connection; to spend it merely upon herself would be something still worse than extravagance, it must result from wilfulness the most inexcusable, as her disposition was naturally averse to luxury and expence. She might save indeed, but for whom? not a creature had such a claim upon her; and with regard to herself, she was so provided for it would be unnecessary. She would never, she declared, run in debt even for a week, but while her estate was wholly clear, she would spend it without restriction.
To his hint of any future alliance, she only said that those who disapproved her conduct, would probably be those she should disapprove in her turn; should such an event however take place, the retrenching from that time all her present peculiar expences, would surely, in a clear ú3000 a-year, leave her rich enough for any man, without making it incumbent upon her at present, to deny herself the only pleasure she could taste, in bestowing that money which to her was superfluous, upon those who received it as the prolongation of their existence.
A firmness so deliberate in a system he so much dreaded, greatly shocked Mr Monckton, though it intimidated him from opposing it; he saw she was too earnest, and too well satisfied she was right, to venture giving her disgust by controverting her arguments; the conversation, therefore, ended with new discontent to himself, and with an impression upon the mind of Cecilia, that though he was zealous and friendly, he was somewhat too worldly and suspicious.
She went on, therefore, as before, distributing with a lavish hand all she could spare from her own household; careful of nothing but of guarding against imposition, which, though she sometimes unavoidably endured, her discernment, and the activity of her investigating diligence, saved her from suffering frequently. And the steadiness with which she repulsed those whom she detected in deceit, was a check upon tricks and fraud, though it could not wholly put a stop to them.
Money, to her, had long appeared worthless and valueless; it had failed to procure her the establishment for which she once flattered herself it seemed purposely designed; it had been disdained by the Delviles, for the sake of whose connection she had alone ever truly rejoiced in possessing it; and after such a conviction of its inefficacy to secure her happiness, she regarded it as of little importance to herself, and therefore thought it almost the due of those whose distresses gave it a consequence to which with her it was a stranger.
In this manner with Cecilia passed the first winter of her majority. She had sedulously filled it with occupations, and her occupations had proved fertile in keeping her mind from idleness, and in restoring it to chearfulness. Calls upon her attention so soothing, and avocations so various for her time, had answered the great purpose for which originally she had planned them, in almost forcing from her thoughts those sorrows which, if indulged, would have rested in them incessantly.
- See Vol. ii. p. 317.