Cecilia/Book 9/Chapter viii
The spring was now advancing, and the weather was remarkably fine; when one morning, while Cecilia was walking with Mrs Harrel and Henrietta on the lawn before her house, to which the last dinner bell was just summoning them, to return, Mrs Harrel looked round and stopt at sight of a gentleman galloping towards them, who in less than a minute approached, and dismounting and leaving his horse to his servant, struck them all at the same instant to be no other than young Delvile!
A sight so unexpected, so unaccountable, so wonderful, after an absence so long, and to which they were mutually bound, almost wholly over-powered Cecilia from surprise and a thousand other feelings, and she caught Mrs Harrel by the arm, not knowing what she did, as if for succour; while Henrietta with scarce less, though much more glad emotion, suddenly exclaimed, "'tis Mr Delvile!" and sprang forward to meet him.
He had reached them, and in a voice that spoke hurry and perturbation, respectfully made his compliments to them all, before Cecilia recovered even the use of her feet: but no sooner were they restored to her, than she employed them with the quickest motion in her power, still leaning upon Mrs Harrel, to hasten into the house. Her solemn promise to Mrs Delvile became uppermost in her thoughts, and her surprise was soon succeeded by displeasure, that thus, without any preparation, he forced her to break it by an interview she had no means to prevent.
Just as they reached the entrance into the house, the Butler came to tell Cecilia that dinner was upon the table. Delvile then went up to her, and said, "May I wait upon you for one instant before—or after you dine?"
"I am engaged, Sir," answered she, though hardly able to speak, "for the whole day."
"You will not, I hope, refuse to hear me," cried he, eagerly, "I cannot write what I have to say,—"
"There is no occasion that you should, Sir," interrupted she, "since I should scarcely find time to read it."
She then courtsied, though without looking at him, and went into the house; Delvile remaining in utter dismay, not daring, however wishing, to follow her. But when Mrs Harrel, much surprised at behaviour so unusual from Cecilia, approached him with some civil speeches, he started, and wishing her good day, bowed, and remounted his horse: pursued by the soft eyes of Henrietta till wholly out of sight.
They then both followed Cecilia to the dining-parlour.
Had not Mrs Harrel been of this small party, the dinner would have been served in vain; Cecilia, still trembling with emotion, bewildered with conjecture, angry with Delvile for thus surprising her, angry with herself for so severely receiving him, amazed what had tempted him to such a violation of their joint agreement, and irresolute as much what to wish as what to think, was little disposed for eating, and with difficulty compelled herself to do the honours of her table.
Henrietta, whom the sight of Delvile had at once delighted and disturbed, whom the behaviour of Cecilia had filled with wonder and consternation, and whom the evident inquietude and disappointment which that behaviour had given to Delvile, had struck with grief and terror, could not swallow even a morsel, but having cut her meat about her plate, gave it, untouched, to a servant.
Mrs Harrel, however, though she had had her share in the surprise, had wholly escaped all other emotion; and only concluded in her own mind, that Cecilia could sometimes be out of humour and ill bred, as well as the rest of the world.
While the dessert was serving, a note was brought to Henrietta, which a servant was waiting in great haste to have answered.
Henrietta, stranger to all forms of politeness, though by nature soft, obliging and delicate, opened it immediately; she started as she cast her eye over it, but blushed, sparkled, and looked enchanted, and hastily rising, without even a thought of any apology, ran out of the room to answer it.
Cecilia, whose quick eye, by a glance unavoidable, had seen the hand of Delvile, was filled with new amazement at the sight. As soon as the servants were gone, she begged Mrs Harrel to excuse her, and went to her own apartment.
Here, in a few minutes, she was followed by Henrietta, whose countenance beamed with pleasure, and whose voice spoke tumultuous delight. "My dear, dear Miss Beverley!" she cried, "I have such a thing to tell you!—you would never guess it,—I don't know how to believe it myself,—but Mr Delvile has written to me!—he has indeed! that note was from him.—I have been locking it up, for fear of accidents, but I'll run and fetch it, that you may see it yourself."
She then ran away; leaving Cecilia much perplexed, much uneasy for herself, and both grieved and alarmed for the too tender, too susceptible Henrietta, who was thus easily the sport of every airy and credulous hope.
"If I did not shew it you," cried Henrietta, running back in a moment, "you would never think it possible, for it is to make such a request— that it has frightened me almost out of my wits!"
Cecilia then read the note.
To Miss Belfield.
Mr Delvile presents his compliments to Miss Belfield, and begs to be permitted to wait upon her for a few minutes, at any time in the afternoon she will be so good as to appoint.
"Only think," cried the rapturous Henrietta, "it was me, poor simple me, of all people, that he wanted so to speak with!—I am sure I thought a different thought when he went away! but do, dearest Miss Beverley, tell me this one thing, what do you think he can have to say to me?"
"Indeed," replied Cecilia, extremely embarrassed, it is impossible for me to conjecture."
"If you can't, I am sure, then, it is no wonder I can't! and I have been thinking of a million of things in a minute. It can't be about any business, because I know nothing in the world of any business; and it can't be about my brother, because he would go to our house in town about him, and there he would see him himself; and it can't be about my dear Miss Beverley, because then he would have written the note to her and it can't be about any body else, because I know nobody else of his acquaintance."
Thus went on the sanguine Henrietta, settling whom and what it could not be about, till she left but the one thing to which her wishes pointed that it could be about. Cecilia heard her with true compassion, certain that she was deceiving herself with imaginations the most pernicious; yet unable to know how to quell them, while in such doubt and darkness herself.
This conversation was soon interrupted, by a message that a gentleman in the parlour begged to speak with Miss Belfield.
"O dearest, dearest Miss Beverley!" cried Henrietta, with encreasing agitation, "what in the world shall I say to him, advise me, pray advise me, for I can't think of a single word!"
"Impossible, my dear Henrietta, unless I knew what he would say to you!"
"O but I can guess, I can guess!"—cried she, her cheeks glowing, while her whole frame shook, "and I sha'n't know what in the whole world to answer him! I know I shall behave like a fool,—I know I shall disgrace myself sadly!"
Cecilia, truly sorry Delvile should see her in such emotion, endeavoured earnestly to compose her, though never less tranquil herself. But she could not succeed, and she went down stairs with expectations of happiness almost too potent for her reason.
Not such were those of Cecilia; a dread of some new conflict took possession of her mind, that mind so long tortured with struggles, so lately restored to serenity!
Henrietta soon returned, but not the same Henrietta she went;—the glow, the hope, the flutter were all over; she looked pale and wan, but attempting, as she entered the room, to call up a smile, she failed, and burst into tears.
Cecilia threw her arms round her neck, and tried to console her; but, happy to hide her face in her bosom, she only gave the freer indulgence to her grief, and rather melted than comforted by her tenderness, sobbed aloud.
Cecilia too easily conjectured the disappointment she had met, to pain her by asking it; she forbore even to gratify her own curiosity by questions that could not but lead to her mortification, and suffering her therefore to take her own time for what she had to communicate, she hung over her in silence with the most patient pity.
Henrietta was very sensible of this kindness, though she knew not half its merit: but it was a long time before she could articulate, for sobbing, that all Mr Delvile wanted, at last, was only to beg she would acquaint Miss Beverley, that he had done himself the honour of waiting upon her with a message from Mrs Delvile.
"From Mrs Delvile?" exclaimed Cecilia, all emotion in her turn, "good heaven! how much, then, have I been to blame? where is he now?—where can I send to him?—tell me, my sweet Henrietta, this instant!"
"Oh madam!" cried Henrietta, bursting into a fresh flood of tears, "how foolish have I been to open my silly heart to you!—he is come to pay his addresses to you!—I am sure he is!—"
"No, no, no!" cried Cecilia, "indeed he is not!—but I must, I ought to see him,—where, my love, is he?",
"In the parlour,—waiting for an answer.—"
Cecilia, who at any other time would have been provoked at such a delay in the delivery of a message so important, felt now nothing but concern for Henrietta, whom she hastily kissed, but instantly, however, quitted, and hurried to Delvile, with expectations almost equally sanguine as those her poor friend but the moment before had crushed.
"Oh now," thought she, "if at last Mrs Delvile herself has relented, with what joy will I give up all reserve, all disguise, and frankly avow the faithful affection of my heart!"
Delvile received her not with the eagerness with which he had first addressed her; he looked extremely disturbed, and, even after her entrance, undetermined how to begin.
She waited, however, his explanation in silence; and, after an irresolute pause, he said, with a gravity not wholly free from resentment, "I presumed, madam, to wait upon you from the permission of my mother; but I believe I have obtained it so late, that the influence I hoped from it is past!"
"I had no means, Sir," answered she, chearfully, "to know that you came from her: I should else have received her commands without any hesitation."
"I would thank you for the honour you do her, were it less pointedly exclusive. I have, however, no right of reproach! yet suffer me to ask, could you, madam, after such a parting, after a renunciation so absolute of all future claim upon you, which though extorted from me by duty, I was bound, having promised, to fulfil by principle,-could you imagine me so unsteady, so dishonourable, as to obtrude myself into your presence while that promise was still in force?"
"I find," cried Cecilia, in whom a secret hope every moment grew stronger, "I have been too hasty; I did indeed believe Mrs Delvile would never authorise such a visit; but as you have so much surprised me, I have a right to your pardon for a little doubt."
"There spoke Miss Beverley!" cried Delvile, reanimating at this little apology, "the same, the unaltered Miss Beverley I hoped to find!—yet is she unaltered? am I not too precipitate? and is the tale I have heard about Belfield a dream? an error? a falsehood?"
"But that so quick a succession of quarrels," said Cecilia, half smiling, "would be endless perplexity, I, now, would be affronted that you can ask me such a question."
"Had I, indeed, thought it a question," cried he, "I would not have asked it: but never for a moment did I credit it, till the rigour of your repulse alarmed me. You have condescended, now, to account for that, and I am therefore encouraged to make known to you the purpose of my venturing this visit. Yet not with confidence shall I speak if, scarce even with hope!—it is a purpose that is the offspring of despair,—
"One thing, Sir," cried Cecilia, who now became frightened again, "let me say before you proceed; if your purpose has not the sanction of Mrs Delvile, as well as your visit, I would gladly be excused hearing it, since I shall most certainly refuse it."
"I would mention nothing," answered he, "without her concurrence; she has given it me: and my father himself has permitted my present application."
"Good Heaven!" cried Cecilia, "is it possible!" clasping her hands together in the eagerness of her surprise and delight.
"Is it possible!" repeated Delvile, with a look of rapture; "ah Miss Beverley!—once my own Cecilia!—do you, can you wish it possible?"
"No, No!" cried she, while pleasure and expectation sparkled in her eyes, "I wish nothing about it.—Yet tell me how it has happened,—I am curious," added she, smiling, "though not interested in it."
"What hope would this sweetness give me," cried he, "were my scheme almost any other than it is!—but you cannot,—no, it would be unreasonable, it would be madness to expect your compliance!—it is next to madness even in me to wish it,—but how shall a man who is desperate be prudent and circumspect?"
"Spare, spare yourself," cried the ingenuous Cecilia, "this, unnecessary pain!—you will find from me no unnecessary scruples."
"You know not what you say!—all noble as you are, the sacrifice I have to propose—"
"Speak it," cried she, "with confidence! speak it even with certainty of success! I will be wholly undisguised, and openly, honestly own to you, that no proposal, no sacrifice can be mentioned, to which I will not instantly agree, if first it has had the approbation of Mrs Delvile."
Delvile's gratitude and thanks for a concession never before so voluntarily made to him, interrupted for a while, even his power of explaining himself. And now, for the first time, Cecilia's sincerity was chearful, since now, for the first time, it seemed opposed by no duty.
When still, therefore, he hesitated, she herself held out her hand to him, saying, "what must I do more? must I offer this pledge to you?"
"For my life would I not resign it!" cried he, delightedly receiving it; "but oh, how soon will you withdraw it, when the only terms upon which I can hold it, are those of making it sign from itself its natural right and inheritance?"
Cecilia, not comprehending him, only looked amazed, and he proceeded.
"Can you, for my sake, make such a sacrifice as this? can you for a man who for yours is not permitted to give up his name, give up yourself the fortune of your late uncle? consent to such settlements as I can make upon you from my own? part with so splendid an income wholly and for-ever?—and with only your paternal L10,000 condescend to become mine, as if your uncle had never existed, and you had been Heiress to no other wealth?"
This, indeed, was a stroke to Cecilia unequalled by any she had met, and more cruel than any she could have in reserve. At the proposal of parting with her uncle's fortune, which, desirable as it was, had as yet been only productive to her of misery, her heart, disinterested, and wholly careless of money, was prompt to accede to the condition; but at the mention of her paternal fortune, that fortune, of which, now, not the smallest vestige remained, horror seized all her faculties! she turned pale, she trembled, she involuntarily drew back her hand, and betrayed, by speechless agitation, the sudden agonies of her soul!
Delvile, struck by this evident dismay, instantly concluded his plan had disgusted her. He waited some minutes in anxious expectation of an answer, but finding her silence continued while her emotion encreased, the deepest crimson dyed his face, and unable to check his chagrin, though not daring to confess his disappointment, he suddenly quitted her, and walked, in much disorder, about the room. But soon recovering some composure, from the assistance of pride, "Pardon, madam," he said, "a trial such as no man can be vindicated in making. I have indulged a romantic whim, which your better judgment disapproves, and I receive but the mortification my presumption deserved."
"You know not then," said Cecilia, in a faint voice, "my inability to comply?"
"Your ability or inability, I presume, are elective?"
"Oh no!—my power is lost—my fortune itself is gone!"
"Impossible! utterly impossible!" cried he with vehemence.
"Oh that it were!—your father knows it but too well."
"Did he, then, never hint it to you?"
"Oh distraction!" cried Delvile, "what horrible confirmation is coming!" and again he walked away, as if wanting courage to hear her.
Cecilia was too much shocked to force upon him her explanation; but presently returning to her, he said, "you, only, could have made this credible!"
"Had you, then, actually heard it?"
"Oh I had heard it as the most infamous of falsehoods! my heart swelled with indignation at so villainous a calumny, and had it not come from my father, my resentment at it had been inveterate!"
"Alas!" cried Cecilia, "the fact is undeniable! yet the circumstances you may have heard with it, are I doubt not exaggerated."
"Exaggerated indeed!" he answered; "I was told you had been surprised concealed with Belfield in a back room, I was told that your parental fortune was totally exhausted, and that during your minority you had been a dealer with Jews!—I was told all this by my father; you may believe I had else not easily been made hear it!"
"Yet thus far," said she, "he told you but what is true; though—"
"True!" interrupted Delvile, with a start almost frantic. "Oh never, then, was truth so scandalously wronged!—I denied the whole charge!-I disbelieved every syllable!—I pledged my own honour to prove every assertion false!"
"Generous Delvile!" cried Cecilia, melting into tears, "this is what I expected from you! and, believe me, in your integrity my reliance had been similar!"
"Why does Miss Beverley weep?" cried he, softened, and approaching her, "and why has she given me this alarm? these things must at least have been misrepresented, deign, then, to clear up a mystery in which suspense is torture!"
Cecilia, then, with what precision and clearness her agitation allowed her, related the whole history of her taking up the money of the Jew for Mr Harrel, and told, without reserve, the reason of her trying to abscond from his father at Mrs Belfield's. Delvile listened to her account with almost an agony of attention, now admiring her conduct; now resenting her ill usage; now compassionating her losses; but though variously moved by different parts, receiving from the whole the delight he most coveted in the establishment of her innocence.
Thanks and applause the warmest, both accompanied and followed her narration; and then, at her request, he related in return the several incidents and circumstances to which he had owed the permission of this visit.
He had meant immediately to have gone abroad; but the indisposition of his mother made him unwilling to leave the kingdom till her health seemed in a situation less precarious. That time, however, came not; the Winter advanced, and she grew evidently worse. He gave over, therefore, his design till the next Spring, when, if she were able, it was her desire to try the South of France for her recovery, whither he meant to conduct her.
But, during his attendance upon her, the plan he had just mentioned occurred to him, and he considered how much greater would be his chance of happiness in marrying Cecilia with scarce any fortune at all, than in marrying another with the largest. He was convinced she was far other than expensive, or a lover of shew, and soon flattered himself she might be prevailed upon to concur with him, that in living together, though comparatively upon little, they should mutually be happier than in living asunder upon much.
When he started this scheme to his mother, she heard it with mingled admiration of his disinterestedness, and regret at its occasion: yet the loftiness of her own mind, her high personal value for Cecilia, her anxiety to see her son finally settled while she lived, lest his disappointment should keep him single from a lasting disgust, joined to a dejection of spirits from an apprehension that her interference had been cruel, all favoured his scheme, and forbid her resistance. She had often protested, in their former conflicts, that had Cecilia been portionless, her objections had been less than to an estate so conditioned; and that to give to her son a woman so exalted in herself, she would have conquered the mere opposition of interest, though that of family honour she held invincible. Delvile now called upon her to remember those words, and ever strict in fidelity, she still promised to abide by them.
Ah! thought Cecilia, is virtue, then, as inconsistent as vice? and can the same character be thus high-souled, thus nobly disinterested with regard to riches, whose pride is so narrow and so insurmountable, with respect to family prejudice!
Yet such a sacrifice from Cecilia herself, whose income intitled her to settlements the most splendid, Mrs Delvile thought scarcely to be solicited; but as her son was conscious he gave up in expectation no less than she would give up in possession, he resolved upon making the experiment, and felt an internal assurance of success.
This matter being finally settled with his mother, the harder task remained of vanquishing the father, by whom, and before whom the name of Cecilia was never mentioned, not even after his return from town, though loaded with imaginary charges against her. Mr Delvile held it a diminution of his own in the honour of his son, to suppose he wanted still fresh motives for resigning her. He kept, therefore, to himself the ill opinion he brought down, as a resource in case of danger, but a resource he disdained to make use of, unless driven to it by absolute necessity.
But, at the new proposal of his son, the accusation held in reserve broke out; he called Cecilia a dabler with Jews, and said she had been so from the time of her uncle's death; he charged her with the grossest general extravagance, to which he added a most insidious attack upon her character, drawn from her visits at Belfield's of long standing, as well as the particular time when he had himself surprised her concealed with the young man in a back parlour: and he asserted, that most of the large sums she was continually taking up from her fortune, were lavished without scruple upon this dangerous and improper favourite.
Delvile had heard this accusation with a rage scarce restrained from violence; confident in her innocence, he boldly pronounced the whole a forgery, and demanded the author of such cruel defamation. Mr Delvile, much offended, refused to name any authority, but consented, with an air of triumph, to abide by the effect of his own proposal, and gave him a supercilious promise no longer to oppose the marriage, if the terms he meant to offer to Miss Beverley, of renouncing her uncle's estate, and producing her father's fortune, were accepted.
"O little did I credit," said Delvile in conclusion, "that he knew indeed so well this last condition was impracticable! his assertions were without proof; I thought them prejudiced surmises; and I came in the full hope I should convict him of his error. My mother, too, who warmly and even angrily defended you, was as firmly satisfied as myself that the whole was a mistake, and that enquiry would prove your fortune as undiminished as your purity. How will she be shocked at the tale I have now to unfold! how irritated at your injuries from Harrel! how grieved that your own too great benevolence should be productive of such black aspersions upon your character!"
"I have been," cried Cecilia, "too facile and too unguarded; yet always, at the moment, I seemed but guided by common humanity. I have ever thought myself secure of more wealth than I could require, and regarded the want of money as an evil from which I was unavoidably exempted. My own fortune, therefore, appeared to me of small consequence, while the revenue of my uncle insured me perpetual prosperity.—Oh had I foreseen this moment—"
"Would you, then, have listened to my romantic proposal?"
"Would I have listened?—do you not see too plainly I could not have hesitated!"
"Oh yet, then, most generous of human beings, yet then be mine! By our own oeconomy we will pay off our mortgages; by living a while abroad, we will clear all our estates; I will still keep the name to which my family is bigotted, and my gratitude for your compliance shall make you forget what you lose by it!"
"Speak not to me such words!" cried Cecilia, hastily rising; "your friends will not listen to them, neither, therefore, must I."
"My friends," cried he with energy, "are henceforth out of the question: my father's concurrence with a proposal he knew you had not power to grant, was in fact a mere permission to insult you; for if, instead of dark charges, he had given any authority for your losses, I had myself spared you the shock you have so undeservedly received from hearing it.—But to consent to a plan which could not be accepted!— to make me a tool to offer indignity to Miss Beverley!—He has released me from his power by so erroneous an exertion of it, and my own honour has a claim to which his commands must give place. That honour binds me to Miss Beverley as forcibly as my admiration, and no voice but her own shall determine my future destiny."
"That voice, then," said Cecilia, "again refers you to your mother. Mr Delvile, indeed, has not treated me kindly; and this last mock concession was unnecessary cruelty; but Mrs Delvile merits my utmost respect, and I will listen to nothing which has not her previous sanction."
"But will her sanction be sufficient? and may I hope, in obtaining it, the security of yours?"
"When I have said I will hear nothing without it, may you not almost infer—I will refuse nothing with it!"
The acknowledgments he would now have poured forth, Cecilia would not hear, telling him, with some gaiety, they were yet unauthorized by Mrs Delvile. She insisted upon his leaving her immediately, and never again returning, without his mother's express approbation. With regard to his father, she left him totally to his own inclination; she had received from him nothing but pride and incivility, and determined to skew publicly her superior respect for Mrs Delvile, by whose discretion and decision she was content to abide.
"Will you not, then, from time to time," cried Delvile, "suffer me to consult with you?"
"No, no," answered she, "do not ask it! I have never been insincere with you, never but from motives not to be overcome, reserved even for a moment; I have told you I will put every thing into the power of Mrs Delvile, but I will not a second time risk my peace by any action unknown to her."
Delvile gratefully acknowledged her goodness, and promised to require nothing more. He then obeyed her by taking leave, eager himself to put an end to this new uncertainty, and supplicating only that her good wishes might follow his enterprise.
And thus, again, was wholly broken the tranquility of Cecilia; new hopes, however faint, awakened all her affections, and strong fears, but too reasonable, interrupted her repose. Her destiny, once more, was as undecided as ever, and the expectations she had crushed, retook possession of her heart.
The suspicions she had conceived of Mr Monckton again occurred to her; though unable to ascertain and unwilling to believe them, she tried to drive them from her thoughts. She lamented, however, with bitterness, her unfortunate connexion with Mr Harrel, whose unworthy impositions upon her kindness of temper and generosity, now proved to her an evil far more serious and extensive, than in the midst of her repugnance to them she had ever apprehended.