Cecilia/Book 9/Chapter x
Another week past still without any further intelligence. Cecilia was then summoned to the parlour, and to Delvile himself.
He looked hurried and anxious; yet the glow of his face, and the animation of his eyes, immediately declared he at least came not to take leave of her.
"Can you forgive," cried he, "the dismal and unsatisfactory letter I wrote you? I would not disobey you twice in the same manner, and I could not till now have written in any other."
"The consultation with the physicians, then," said Cecilia, "is over?"
"Alas, yes; and the result is most alarming; they all agree my mother is in a dangerous way, and they rather forbear to oppose, than advise her going abroad: but upon that she is earnestly bent, and intends to set out without delay. I shall return to her, therefore, with all speed, and mean not to take any rest till I have seen her."
Cecilia expressed with tenderness her sorrow for Mrs Delvile: nor were her looks illiberal in including her son in her concern.
"I must hasten," he cried, "to the credentials by which I am authorised for coming, and I must hasten to prove if Miss Beverley has not flattered my mother in her appeal."
He then informed her that Mrs Delvile, apprehensive for herself, and softened for him by the confession of her danger, which she had extorted from her physicians, had tenderly resolved upon making one final effort for his happiness, and ill and impatient as she was, upon deferring her journey to wait its effect.
Generously, therefore, giving up her own resentment, she wrote to Mr Delvile in terms of peace and kindness, lamenting their late dissention, and ardently expressing her desire to be reconciled to him before she left England. She told him the uncertainty of her recovery which had been acknowledged by her physicians, who had declared a calmer mind was more essential to her than a purer air. She then added, that such serenity was only to be given her, by the removal of her anxiety at the comfortless state of her son. She begged him, therefore, to make known the author of Miss Beverley's defamation, assuring him, that upon enquiry, he would find her character and her fame as unsullied as his own; and strongly representing, that after the sacrifice to which she had consented, their son would be utterly dishonourable in thinking of any other connexion. She then to this reasoning joined the most earnest supplication, protesting, in her present disordered state, of health, her life might pay the forfeiture of her continual uneasiness.
"I held out," she concluded, "while his personal dignity, and the honour of his name and family were endangered; but where interest alone is concerned, and that interest is combated by the peace of his mind, and the delicacy of his word, my opposition is at an end. And though our extensive and well founded views for a splendid alliance are abolished, you will agree with me hereafter, upon a closer inspection, that the object for whom he relinquishes them, offers in herself the noblest reparation."
Cecilia felt gratified, humbled, animated and depressed at once by this letter, of which Delvile brought her a copy. "And what," cried she, "was the answer?"
"I cannot in decency," he replied, "speak my opinion of it: read it yourself,—and let me hear yours."
To the Honourable Mrs Delvile.
Your extraordinary letter, madam, has extremely surprised me. I had been willing to hope the affair over from the time my disapprobation of it was formally announced. I am sorry you are so much indisposed, but I cannot conclude your health would be restored by my acceding to a plan so derogatory to my house. I disapprove it upon every account, not only of the name and the fortune, but the lady herself. I have reasons more important than those I assign, but they are such as I am bound in honour not to mention. After such a declaration, nobody, I presume, will affront me by asking them. Her defence you have only from herself, her accusation I have received from authority less partial. I command, therefore, that my son, upon pain of my eternal displeasure, may never speak to me on the subject again, and I hope, madam, from you the same complaisance to my request. I cannot explain myself further, nor is it necessary; it is no news, I flatter myself, to Mortimer Delvile or his mother, that I do nothing without reason, and I believe nothing upon slight grounds.
A few cold compliments concerning her journey, and the re-establishment of her health, concluded the letter.
Cecilia, having read, hastily returned it, and indignantly said, "My opinion, Sir, upon this letter, must surely be yours; that we had done wiser, long since, to have spared your mother and ourselves, those vain and fruitless conflicts which we ought better to have foreseen were liable to such a conclusion. Now, at least, let them be ended, and let us not pursue disgrace wilfully, after suffering from it with so much rigour involuntarily."
"O no," cried Delvile, "rather let us now spurn it for ever! those conflicts must indeed be ended, but not by a separation still more bitter than all of them."
He then told her, that his mother, highly offended to observe by the extreme coldness of this letter, the rancour he still nourished for the contest preceding her leaving him, no longer now refused even her separate consent, for a measure which she thought her son absolutely engaged to take.
"Good heaven!" cried Cecilia, much amazed, "this from Mrs Delvile!—a separate consent?"—
"She has always maintained," he answered, "an independent mind, always judged for herself, and refused all other arbitration: when so impetuously she parted us, my father's will happened to be her's, and thence their concurrence: my father, of a temper immoveable and stern, retains stubbornly the prejudices which once have taken possession of him; my mother, generous as fiery, and noble as proud, is open to conviction, and no sooner convinced, than ingenuous in acknowledging it: and thence their dissention. From my father I may hope forgiveness, but must never expect concession; from my mother I may hope all she ought to grant, for pardon but her vehemence,—and she has every great quality that can dignify human nature!"
Cecilia, whose affection and reverence for Mrs Delvile were unfeigned, and who loved in her son this filial enthusiasm, readily concurred with him in praising her, and sincerely esteemed her the first among women.
"Now, then," cried he, with earnestness, "now is the time when your generous admiration of her is put to the test; see what she writes to you;—she has left to me all explanation: but I insisted upon some credential, lest you should believe I only owed her concurrence to a happy dream."
Cecilia in much trepidation took the letter, and hastily run it over.
To Miss Beverley.
Misery, my sweet young friend, has long been busy with us all; much have we owed to the clash of different interests, much to that rapacity which to enjoy any thing, demands every thing, and much to that general perverseness which labours to place happiness in what is with-held. Thus do we struggle on till we can struggle no longer; the felicity with which we trifle, at best is but temporary; and before reason and reflection shew its value, sickness and sorrow are commonly become stationary.
Be it yours, my love, and my son's, to profit by the experience, while you pity the errors, of the many who illustrate this truth. Your mutual partiality has been mutually unfortunate, and must always continue so for the interests of both: but how blind is it to wait, in our own peculiar lots, for that perfection of enjoyment we can all see wanting in the lot of others! My expectations for my son had "outstepped the modesty of" probability. I looked for rank and high birth, with the fortune of Cecilia, and Cecilia's rare character. Alas! a new constellation in the heavens might as rationally have been looked for!
My extravagance, however, has been all for his felicity, dearer to me than life,—dearer to me than all things but his own honour! Let us but save that, and then let wealth, ambition, interest, grandeur and pride, since they cannot constitute his happiness, be removed from destroying it. I will no longer play the tyrant that, weighing good and evil by my own feelings and opinions, insists upon his acting by the notions I have formed, whatever misery they may bring him by opposing all his own.
I leave the kingdom with little reason to expect I shall return to it; I leave it—Oh blindness of vanity and passion!—from the effect of that violence with which so lately I opposed what now I am content to advance! But the extraordinary resignation to which you have agreed, shews your heart so wholly my son's, and so even more than worthy the whole possession of his, that it reflects upon him an honour more bright and more alluring, than any the most illustrious other alliance could now confer.
I would fain see you ere I go, lest I should see you no more; fain ratify by word of mouth the consent that by word of mouth I so absolutely refused! I know not how to come to Suffolk,—is it not possible you can come to London? I am told you leave to me the arbitration of your fate, in giving you to my son, I best shew my sense of such an honour.
Hasten then, my love, to town, that I may see you once more! wait no longer a concurrence thus unjustly with-held, but hasten, that I may bless the daughter I have so often wished to own! that I may entreat her forgiveness for all the pain I have occasioned her, and committing to her charge the future happiness of my son, fold to my maternal heart the two objects most dear to it!
Cecilia wept over this letter with tenderness, grief and alarm; but declared, had it even summoned her to follow her abroad, she could not, after reading it, have hesitated in complying.
"O now, then," cried Delvile, "let our long suspenses end! hear me with the candour; my mother has already listened to me—be mine, my Cecilia, at once,—and force me not, by eternal scruples, to risk another separation."
"Good heaven, Sir!" cried Cecilia, starting, "in such a state as Mrs Delvile thinks herself, would you have her journey delayed?"
"No, not a moment! I would but ensure you mine, and go with her all over the world!"
"Wild and impossible!—and what is to be done with Mr Delvile?"
"It is on his account wholly I am thus earnestly precipitate. If I do not by an immediate marriage prevent his further interference, all I have already suffered may again be repeated, and some fresh contest with my mother may occasion another relapse."
Cecilia, who now understood him, ardently protested she would not listen for a moment to any clandestine expedient.
He besought her to be patient; and then anxiously represented to her their peculiar situations. All application to his father he was peremptorily forbid making, all efforts to remove his prejudices their impenetrable mystery prevented; a public marriage, therefore, with such obstacles, would almost irritate him to phrenzy, by its daring defiance of his prohibition and authority.
"Alas!" exclaimed Cecilia, "we can never do right but in parting!"
"Say it not," cried he, "I conjure you! we shall yet live, I hope, to prove the contrary." "And can you, then," cried she, reproachfully, "Oh Mr Delvile! can you again urge me to enter your family in secret?"
"I grieve, indeed," he answered, "that your goodness should so severely be tried; yet did you not condescend to commit the arbitration to my mother?"
"True; and I thought her approbation would secure my peace of mind; but how could I have expected Mrs Delvile's consent to such a scheme!"
"She has merely accorded it from a certainty there is no other resource. Believe me, therefore, my whole hope rests upon your present compliance. My father, I am certain, by his letter, will now hear neither petition nor defence; on the contrary, he will only enrage at the temerity of offering to confute him. But when he knows you are his daughter, his honour will then be concerned in yours, and it will be as much his desire to have it cleared, as it is now to have it censured."
"Wait at least your return, and let us try what can be done with him."
"Oh why," cried Delvile, with much earnestness, "must I linger out month after month in this wretched uncertainty! If I wait I am undone! my father, by the orders I must unavoidably leave, will discover the preparations making without his consent, and he will work upon you in my absence, and compel you to give me up!"
"Are you sure," said she, half smiling, "he would have so much power?"
"I am but too sure, that the least intimation, in his present irritable state of mind, reaching him of my intentions, would make him not scruple, in his fury, pronouncing some malediction upon my disobedience that neither of us, I must own, could tranquilly disregard."
This was an argument that came home to Cecilia, whose deliberation upon it, though silent, was evidently not unfavourable.
He then told her that with respect to settlements, he would instantly have a bond drawn up, similar to that prepared for their former intended union, which should be properly signed and sealed, and by which he would engage himself to make, upon coming to his estate, the same settlement upon her that was made upon his mother.
"And as, instead of keeping up three houses," he continued, "in the manner my father does at present, I mean to put my whole estate out to nurse, while we reside for a while abroad, or in the country, I doubt not but in a very few years we shall be as rich and as easy as we shall desire."
He told her, also, of his well-founded expectations from the Relations already mentioned; which the concurrence of his mother with his marriage would thence forward secure to him.
He then, with more coherence, stated his plan at large. He purposed, without losing a moment, to return to London; he conjured her, in the name of his mother, to set out herself early the next day, that the following evening might be dedicated wholly to Mrs Delvile: through her intercession he might then hope Cecilia's compliance, and every thing on the morning after should be prepared for their union. The long-desired ceremony over, he would instantly ride post to his father, and pay him, at least, the respect of being the first to communicate it. He would then attend his mother to the Continent, and leave the arrangement of everything to his return. "Still, therefore, as a single man," he continued, "I mean to make the journey, and I shall take care, by the time I return, to have all things in readiness for claiming my sweet Bride. Tell me, then, now, if you can reasonably oppose this plan?"
"Indeed," said Cecilia, after some hesitation, "I cannot see the necessity of such violent precipitancy."
"Do you not try me too much," cried Delvile, impatiently, "to talk now of precipitancy! after such painful waiting, such wearisome expectation! I ask you not to involve your own affairs in confusion by accompanying me abroad; sweet to me as would be such an indulgence, I would not make a run-away of you in the opinion of the world. All I wish is the secret certainty I cannot be robbed of you, that no cruel machinations may again work our separation, that you are mine, unalterably mine, beyond the power of caprice or ill fortune."
Cecilia made no answer; tortured with irresolution, she knew not upon what to determine.
"We might then, according to the favour or displeasure of my father, settle wholly abroad for the present, or occasionally visit him in England; my mother would be always and openly our friend—Oh be firm, then, I conjure you, to the promise you have given her, and deign to be mine on the conditions she prescribes. She will be bound to you for ever by so generous a concession, and even her health may be restored by the cessation of her anxieties. With such a wife, such a mother, what will be wanting for me! Could I lament not being richer, I must be rapacious indeed!—Speak, then, my Cecilia! relieve me from the agony of this eternal uncertainty, and tell me your word is invariable as your honour, and tell me my mother gives not her sanction in vain!"
Cecilia sighed deeply, but, after some hesitation, said, "I little knew what I had promised, nor know I now what to perform!—there must ever, I find, be some check to human happiness! yet, since upon these terms, Mrs Delvile herself is content to wish me of her family—"
She stopt; but, urged earnestly by Delvile, added "I must not, I think, withdraw the powers with which I entrusted her."
Delvile, grateful and enchanted, now forgot his haste and his business, and lost every wish but to re-animate her spirits: she compelled him, however, to leave her, that his visit might less be wondered at, and sent by him a message to Mrs. Delvile, that, wholly relying upon her wisdom, she implicitly submitted to her decree.