Cecilia vol. 3
Frances (Fanny) Burney (Madame d'Arblay)
Part 1 out of 7
Produced by Delphine Lettau, Charles Franks and the people at DP
Memoirs of an Heiress
BOOK VIII. _Continued_.
Scarce less unhappy in her decision than in her uncertainty, and every
way dissatisfied with her situation, her views and herself, Cecilia was
still so distressed and uncomfortable, when Delvile called the next
morning, that he could not discover what her determination had been,
and fearfully enquired his doom with hardly any hope of finding favour.
But Cecilia was above affectation, and a stranger to art. "I would not,
Sir," she said, "keep you an instant in suspense, when I am no longer
in suspense myself. I may have appeared trifling, but I have been
nothing less, and you would readily exculpate me of caprice, if half
the distress of my irresolution was known to you. Even now, when I
hesitate no more, my mind is so ill at ease, that I could neither
wonder nor be displeased should you hesitate in your turn."
"You hesitate no more?" cried he, almost breathless at the sound of
those words, "and is it possible--Oh my Cecilia!--is it possible your
resolution is in my favour?"
"Alas!" cried she, "how little is your reason to rejoice! a dejected
and melancholy gift is all you can receive!"
"Ere I take it, then," cried he, in a voice that spoke joy; pain, and
fear all at once in commotion, "tell me if your reluctance has its
origin in _me_, that I may rather even yet relinquish you, than merely
owe your hand to the selfishness of persecution?"
"Your pride," said she, half smiling, "has some right to be alarmed,
though I meant not to alarm it. No! it is with myself only I am at
variance, with my own weakness and want of judgment that I quarrel,--
in _you_ I have all the reliance that the highest opinion of your
honour and integrity can give me."
This was enough for the warm heart of Delvile, not only to restore
peace, but to awaken rapture. He was almost as wild with delight, as he
had before been with apprehension, and poured forth his acknowledgments
with so much fervour of gratitude, that Cecilia imperceptibly grew
reconciled to herself, and before she missed her dejection,
participated in his contentment.
She quitted him as soon as she had power, to acquaint Mrs Charlton with
what had passed, and assist in preparing her to accompany them to the
altar; while Delvile flew to his new acquaintance, Mr Singleton, the
lawyer, to request him to supply the place of Mr Monckton in giving her
All was now hastened with the utmost expedition, and to avoid
observation, they agreed to meet at the church; their desire of
secrecy, however potent, never urging them to wish the ceremony should
be performed in a place less awful.
When the chairs, however, came, which were to carry the two ladies
thither, Cecilia trembled and hung back. The greatness of her
undertaking, the hazard of all her future happiness, the disgraceful
secrecy of her conduct, the expected reproaches of Mrs Delvile, and the
boldness and indelicacy of the step she was about to take, all so
forcibly struck, and so painfully wounded her, that the moment she was
summoned to set out, she again lost her resolution, and regretting the
hour that ever Delvile was known to her, she sunk into a chair, and
gave up her whole soul to anguish and sorrow.
The good Mrs Charlton tried in vain to console her; a sudden horror
against herself had now seized her spirits, which, exhausted by long
struggles, could rally no more.
In this situation she was at length surprised by Delvile, whose uneasy
astonishment that she had failed in her appointment, was only to be
equalled by that with which he was struck at the sight of her tears. He
demanded the cause with the utmost tenderness and apprehension; Cecilia
for some time could not speak, and then, with a deep sigh, "Ah!" she
cried, "Mr Delvile! how weak are we all when unsupported by our own
esteem! how feeble, how inconsistent, how changeable, when our courage
has any foundation but duty!"
Delvile, much relieved by finding her sadness sprung not from any new
affliction, gently reproached her breach of promise, and earnestly
entreated her to repair it. "The clergyman," cried he, "is waiting; I
have left him with Mr Singleton in the vestry; no new objections have
started, and no new obstacles have intervened; why, then, torment
ourselves with discussing again the old ones, which we have already
considered till every possible argument upon them is exhausted?
Tranquillize, I conjure you, your agitated spirits, and if the truest
tenderness, the most animated esteem, and the gratefullest admiration,
can soften your future cares, and ensure your future peace, every
anniversary of this day will recompense my Cecilia for every pang she
Cecilia, half soothed and half ashamed, finding she had in fact nothing
new to say or to object, compelled herself to rise, and, penetrated by
his solicitations, endeavoured to compose her mind, and promised to
He would not trust her, however, from his sight, but seizing the very
instant of her renewed consent, he dismissed the chairs, and ordering a
hackney-coach, preferred any risk to that of her again wavering, and
insisted upon accompanying her in it himself.
Cecilia had now scarce time to breathe, before she found herself at the
porch of----church. Delvile hurried her out of the carriage, and then
offered his arm to Mrs Charlton. Not a word was spoken by any of the
party till they went into the vestry, where Delvile ordered Cecilia a
glass of water, and having hastily made his compliments to the
clergyman, gave her hand to Mr Singleton, who led her to the altar.
The ceremony was now begun; and Cecilia, finding herself past all power
of retracting, soon called her thoughts from wishing it, and turned her
whole attention to the awful service; to which though she listened with
reverence, her full satisfaction in the object of her vows, made her
listen without terror. But when the priest came to that solemn
adjuration, _If any man can shew any just cause why they may not
lawfully be joined together_, a conscious tear stole into her eye, and
a sigh escaped from Delvile that went to her heart: but, when the
priest concluded the exhortation with _let him now speak, or else
hereafter for-ever hold his peace_, a female voice at some distance,
called out in shrill accents, "I do!"
The ceremony was instantly stopt. The astonished priest immediately
shut up the book to regard the intended bride and bridegroom; Delvile
started with amazement to see whence the sound proceeded; and Cecilia,
aghast, and struck with horror, faintly shriekt, and caught hold of Mrs
The consternation was general, and general was the silence, though all
of one accord turned round towards the place whence the voice issued: a
female form at the same moment was seen rushing from a pew, who glided
out of the church with the quickness of lightning.
Not a word was yet uttered, every one seeming rooted to the spot on
which he stood, and regarding in mute wonder the place this form had
Delvile at length exclaimed, "What can this mean?"
"Did you not know the woman, Sir?" said the clergyman.
"No, Sir, I did not even see her."
"Nor you, madam?" said he, addressing Cecilia.
"No, Sir," she answered, in a voice that scarce articulated the two
syllables, and changing colour so frequently, that Delvile,
apprehensive she would faint, flew to her, calling out, "Let _me_
She turned from him hastily, and still, holding by Mrs Charlton, moved
away from the altar.
"Whither," cried Delvile, fearfully following her, "whither are you
She made not any answer; but still, though tottering as much from
emotion as Mrs Charlton from infirmity, she walked on.
"Why did you stop the ceremony, Sir?" cried Delvile, impatiently
speaking to the clergyman.
"No ceremony, Sir," he returned, "could proceed with such an
"It has been wholly accidental," cried he, "for we neither of us know
the woman, who could not have any right or authority for the
prohibition." Then yet more anxiously pursuing Cecilia, "why," he
continued, "do you thus move off?--Why leave the ceremony unfinished?
--Mrs Charlton, what is it you are about?--Cecilia, I beseech you
return, and let the service go on!"
Cecilia, making a motion with her hand to forbid his following her,
still silently proceeded, though drawing along with equal difficulty
Mrs Charlton and herself.
"This is insupportable!" cried Delvile, with vehemence, "turn, I
conjure you!--my Cecilia!--my wife!--why is it you thus abandon me?--
Turn, I implore you, and receive my eternal vows!--Mrs Charlton, bring
her back,--Cecilia, you _must_ not go!--"
He now attempted to take her hand, but shrinking from his touch, in an
emphatic but low voice, she said, "Yes, Sir, I must!--an interdiction
such as this!--for the world could I not brave it!"
She then made an effort to somewhat quicken her pace.
"Where," cried Delvile, half frantic, "where is this infamous woman?
This wretch who has thus wantonly destroyed me!"
And he rushed out of the church in pursuit of her.
The clergyman and Mr Singleton, who had hitherto been wondering
spectators, came now to offer their assistance to Cecilia. She declined
any help for herself, but gladly accepted their services for Mrs
Charlton, who, thunderstruck by all that had past, seemed almost robbed
of her faculties. Mr Singleton proposed calling a hackney coach, she
consented, and they stopt for it at the church porch.
The clergyman now began to enquire of the pew-opener, what she knew of
the woman, who she was, and how she had got into the church? She knew
of her, she answered, nothing, but that she had come in to early
prayers, and she supposed she had hid herself in a pew when they were
over, as she had thought the church entirely empty.
An hackney coach now drew up, and while the gentlemen were assisting
Mrs Charlton into it, Delvile returned.
"I have pursued and enquired," cried he, "in vain, I can neither
discover nor hear of her.--But what is all this? Whither are you
going?--What does this coach do here?--Mrs Charlton, why do you get
into it?--Cecilia, what are you doing?"
Cecilia turned away from him in silence. The shock she had received,
took from her all power of speech, while amazement and terror deprived
her even of relief from tears. She believed Delvile to blame, though
she knew not in what, but the obscurity of her fears served only to
render them more dreadful.
She was now getting into the coach herself, but Delvile, who could
neither brook her displeasure, nor endure her departure, forcibly
caught her hand, and called out, "You are _mine_, you are my _wife_!--I
will part with you no more, and go whithersoever you will, I will
follow and claim you!"
"Stop me not!" cried she, impatiently though faintly, "I am sick, I am
ill already,--if you detain me any longer, I shall be unable to support
"Oh then rest on _me_!" cried he, still holding her; "rest but upon me
till the ceremony is over!--you will drive me to despair and to madness
if you leave me in this barbarous manner!"
A crowd now began to gather, and the words bride and bridegroom reached
the ears of Cecilia; who half dead with shame, with fear, and with
distress, hastily said "You are determined to make me miserable!" and
snatching away her hand, which Delvile at those words could no longer
hold, she threw herself into the carriage.
Delvile, however, jumped in after her, and with an air of authority
ordered the coachman to Pall-Mall, and then drew up the glasses, with a
look of fierceness at the mob.
Cecilia had neither spirits nor power to resist him; yet, offended by
his violence, and shocked to be thus publickly pursued by him, her
looks spoke a resentment far more mortifying than any verbal reproach.
"Inhuman Cecilia!" cried he, passionately, "to desert me at the very
altar!--to cast me off at the instant the most sacred rites were
uniting us!--and then thus to look at me!--to treat me with this
disdain at a time of such distraction!--to scorn me thus injuriously at
the moment you unjustly abandon me!"
"To how dreadful a scene," said Cecilia, recovering from her
consternation, "have you exposed me! to what shame, what indignity,
what irreparable disgrace!"
"Oh heaven!" cried he with horror, "if any crime, any offence of mine
has occasioned this fatal blow, the whole world holds not a wretch so
culpable as myself, nor one who will sooner allow the justice of your
rigour! my veneration for you has ever equalled my affection, and could
I think it was through _me_ you have suffered any indignity, I should
soon abhor myself, as you seem to abhor me. But what is it I have done?
How have I thus incensed you? By what action, by what guilt, have I
incurred this displeasure?
"Whence," cried she, "came that voice which still vibrates in my ear?
The prohibition could not be on _my_ account, since none to whom I am
known have either right or interest in even wishing it."
"What an inference is this! over _me_, then, do you conclude this woman
had any power?"
Here they stopt at the lodgings. Delvile handed both the ladies out.
Cecilia, eager to avoid his importunities, and dreadfully disturbed,
hastily past him, and ran up stairs; but Mrs Charlton refused not his
arm, on which she lent till they reached the drawing-room.
Cecilia then rang the bell for her servant, and gave orders that a
post-chaise might be sent for immediately.
Delvile now felt offended in his turn; but suppressing his vehemence,
he gravely and quietly said "Determined as you are to leave me,
indifferent to my peace, and incredulous of my word, deign, at least,
before we part, to be more explicit in your accusation, and tell me if
indeed it is possible you can suspect that the wretch who broke off the
ceremony, had ever from me received provocation for such an action?"
"I know not what to suspect," said Cecilia, "where every thing is thus
involved in obscurity; but I must own I should have some difficulty to
think those words the effect of chance, or to credit that their speaker
was concealed without design."
"You are right, then, madam," cried he, resentfully, "to discard me! to
treat me with contempt, to banish me without repugnance, since I see
you believe me capable of duplicity, and imagine I am better informed
in this affair than I appear to be. You have said I shall make you
miserable,--no, madam, no! your happiness and misery depend not upon
one you hold so worthless!"
"On whatever they depend," said Cecilia, "I am too little at ease for
discussion. I would no more be daring than superstitious, but none of
our proceedings have prospered, and since their privacy has always been
contrary both to my judgment and my principles, I know not how to
repine at a failure I cannot think unmerited. Mrs Charlton, our chaise
is coming; you will be ready, I hope, to set off in it directly?"
Delvile, too angry to trust himself to speak, now walked about the
room, and endeavoured to calm himself; but so little was his success,
that though silent till the chaise was announced, when he heard that
dreaded sound, and saw Cecilia steady in her purpose of departing, he
was so much shocked and afflicted, that, clasping his hands in a
transport of passion and grief, he exclaimed. "This, then, Cecilia, is
your faith! this is the felicity you bid me hope! this is the
recompense of my sufferings, and the performing of your engagement!"
Cecilia, struck by these reproaches, turned back; but while she
hesitated how to answer them, he went on, "You are insensible to my
misery, and impenetrable to my entreaties; a secret enemy has had power
to make me odious in your sight, though for her enmity I can assign no
cause, though even her existence was this morning unknown to me! Ever
ready to abandon, and most willing to condemn me, you have more
confidence in a vague conjecture, than in all you have observed of the
whole tenour of my character. Without knowing why, you are disposed to
believe me criminal, without deigning to say wherefore, you are eager
to banish me your presence. Yet scarce could a consciousness of guilt
itself, wound me so forcibly, so keenly, as your suspecting I am
"Again, then," cried Cecilia, "shall I subject myself to a scene of
such disgrace and horror? No, never!--The punishment of my error shall
at least secure its reformation. Yet if I merit your reproaches, I
deserve not your regard; cease, therefore, to profess any for me, or
make them no more."
"Shew but to them," cried he, "the smallest sensibility, shew but for
me the most distant concern, and I will try to bear my disappointment
without murmuring, and submit to your decrees as to those from which
there is no appeal: but to wound without deigning even to look at what
you destroy,--to shoot at random those arrows that are pointed with
poison,--to see them fasten on the heart, and corrode its vital
functions, yet look on without compunction, or turn away with cold
disdain,--Oh where is the candour I thought lodged in Cecilia! where
the justice, the equity, I believed a part of herself!"
"After all that has past," said Cecilia, sensibly touched by his
distress, "I expected not these complaints, nor that, from me, any
assurances would be wanted; yet, if it will quiet your mind, if it will
better reconcile you to our separation---"
"Oh fatal prelude!" interrupted he, "what on earth can quiet my mind
that leads to our separation?--Give to me no condescension with any
such view,--preserve your indifference, persevere in your coldness,
triumph still in your power of inspiring those feelings you can never
return,--all, every thing is more supportable than to talk of our
"Yet how," cried she, "parted, torn asunder as we have been, how is it
now to be avoided?"
"Trust in my honour! Shew me but the confidence which I will venture to
say I deserve, and then will that union no longer be impeded, which in
future, I am certain, will never be repented!"
"Good heaven, what a request! faith so implicit would be frenzy."
"You doubt, then, my integrity? You suspect---"
"Indeed I do not; yet in a case of such importance, what ought to guide
me but my own reason, my own conscience, my own sense of right? Pain me
not, therefore, with reproaches, distress me no more with entreaties,
when I solemnly declare that no earthly consideration shall ever again
make me promise you my hand, while the terror of Mrs Delvile's
displeasure has possession of my heart. And now adieu."
"You give me, then, up?"
"Be patient, I beseech you; and attempt not to follow me; 'tis a step I
"Not follow you? And who has power to prevent me?"
"_I_ have, Sir, if to incur my endless resentment is of any consequence
She then, with an air of determined steadiness, moved on; Mrs Charlton,
assisted by the servants, being already upon the stairs.
"O tyranny!" cried he, "what submission is it you exact!--May I not
even enquire into the dreadful mystery of this morning?"
"And may I not acquaint you with it, should it be discovered?"
"I shall not be sorry to hear it. Adieu."
She was now half way down the stairs; when, losing all forbearance, he
hastily flew after her, and endeavouring to stop her, called out, "If
you do not hate and detest me,--if I am not loathsome and abhorrent to
you, O quit me not thus insensibly!--Cecilia! my beloved Cecilia!--
speak to me, at least, one word of less severity! Look at me once more,
and tell me we part not for-ever!"
Cecilia then turned round, and while a starting tear shewed her
sympathetic distress, said, "Why will you thus oppress me with
entreaties I ought not to gratify?--Have I not accompanied you to the
altar,--and can you doubt what I have thought of you?"
"_Have_ thought?--Oh Cecilia!--is it then all over?"
"Pray suffer me to go quietly, and fear not I shall go too happily!
Suppress your own feelings, rather than seek to awaken mine. Alas!
there is little occasion!--Oh Mr Delvile! were our connection opposed
by no duty, and repugnant to no friends, were it attended by no
impropriety, and carried on with no necessity of disguise,--you would
not thus charge me with indifference, you would not suspect me of
insensibility,--Oh no! the choice of my heart would then be its glory,
and all I now blush to feel, I should openly and with pride
She then hurried to the chaise, Delvile pursuing her with thanks and
blessings, and gratefully assuring her, as he handed her into it, that
he would obey all her injunctions, and not even attempt to see her,
till he could bring her some intelligence concerning the morning's
The chaise then drove off.
The journey was melancholy and tedious: Mrs Charlton, extremely
fatigued by the unusual hurry and exercise both of mind and body which
she had lately gone through, was obliged to travel very slowly, and to
lie upon the road. Cecilia, however, was in no haste to proceed: she
was going to no one she wished to see, she was wholly without
expectation of meeting with any thing that could give her pleasure. The
unfortunate expedition in which she had been engaged, left her now
nothing but regret, and only promised her in future sorrow and
Mrs Charlton, after her return home, still continued ill, and Cecilia,
who constantly attended her, had the additional affliction of imputing
her indisposition to herself. Every thing she thought conspired to
punish the error she had committed; her proceedings were discovered,
though her motives were unknown; the Delvile family could not fail to
hear of her enterprize, and while they attributed it to her temerity,
they would exult in its failure: but chiefly hung upon her mind the
unaccountable prohibition of her marriage. Whence that could proceed
she was wholly without ability to divine, yet her surmizes were not
more fruitless than various. At one moment she imagined it some frolic
of Morrice, at another some perfidy of Monckton, and at another an idle
and unmeaning trick of some stranger to them all. But none of these
suppositions carried with them any air of probability; Morrice, even if
he had watched their motions and pursued them to the church, which his
inquisitive impertinence made by no means impossible, could yet hardly
have either time or opportunity to engage any woman in so extraordinary
an undertaking; Mr Monckton, however averse to the connection, she
considered as a man of too much honour to break it off in a manner so
alarming and disgraceful; and mischief so wanton in any stranger,
seemed to require a share of unfeeling effrontery, which could fall to
the lot of so few as to make this suggestion unnatural and incredible.
Sometimes she imagined that Delvile might formerly have been affianced
to some woman, who having accidentally discovered his intentions, took
this desperate method of rendering them abortive: but this was a short-
lived thought, and speedily gave way to her esteem for his general
character, and her confidence in the firmness of his probity.
All, therefore, was dark and mysterious; conjecture was baffled, and
meditation was useless. Her opinions were unfixed, and her heart was
miserable; she could only be steady in believing Delvile as unhappy as
herself, and only find consolation in believing him, also, as
Three days passed thus, without incident or intelligence; her time
wholly occupied in attending Mrs Charlton; her thoughts all engrossed
upon her own situation: but upon the fourth day she was informed that a
lady was in the parlour, who desired to speak with her.
She presently went down stairs,--and, upon entering the room, perceived
Seized with astonishment and fear, she stopt short, and, looking
aghast, held by the door, robbed of all power to receive so unexpected
and unwelcome a visitor, by an internal sensation of guilt, mingled
with a dread of discovery and reproach.
Mrs Delvile, addressing her with the coldest politeness, said, "I fear
I have surprised you; I am sorry I had not time to acquaint you of my
intention to wait upon you."
Cecilia then, moving from the door, faintly answered, "I cannot, madam,
but be honoured by your notice, whenever you are pleased to confer it."
They then sat down; Mrs Delvile preserving an air the most formal and
distant, and Cecilia half sinking with apprehensive dismay.
After a short and ill-boding silence, "I mean not," said Mrs Delvile,
"to embarrass or distress you; I will not, therefore, keep you in
suspense of the purport of my visit. I come not to make enquiries, I
come not to put your sincerity to any trial, nor to torture your
delicacy; I dispense with all explanation, for I have not one doubt to
solve: I _know_ what has passed, I _know_ that my son loves you."
Not all her secret alarm, nor all the perturbation of her fears, had
taught Cecilia to expect so direct an attack, nor enabled her to bear
the shock of it with any composure: she could not speak, she could not
look at Mrs Delvile; she arose, and walked to the window, without
knowing what she was doing.
Here, however, her distress was not likely to diminish; for the first
sight she saw was Fidel, who barked, and jumped up at the window to
lick her hands.
"Good God! Fidel here!" exclaimed Mrs Delvile, amazed.
Cecilia, totally overpowered, covered her glowing face with both her
hands, and sunk into a chair.
Mrs Delvile for a few minutes was silent; and then, following her,
said, "Imagine not I am making any discovery, nor suspect me of any
design to develop your sentiments. That Mortimer could love in vain I
never, believed; that Miss Beverley, possessing so much merit, could be
blind to it in another, I never thought possible. I mean not,
therefore, to solicit any account or explanation, but merely to beg
your patience while I talk to you myself, and your permission to speak
to you with openness and truth."
Cecilia, though relieved by this calmness from all apprehension of
reproach, found in her manner a coldness that convinced her of the loss
of her affection, and in the introduction to her business a solemnity
that assured her what she should decree would be unalterable. She
uncovered her face to shew her respectful attention, but she could not
raise it up, and could not utter a word.
Mrs Delvile then seated herself next her, and gravely continued her
"Miss Beverley, however little acquainted with the state of our family
affairs, can scarcely have been uninformed that a fortune such as hers
seems almost all that family can desire; nor can she have failed to
observe, that her merit and accomplishments have no where been more
felt and admired: the choice therefore of Mortimer she could not doubt
would have our sanction, and when she honoured his proposals with her
favour, she might naturally conclude she gave happiness and pleasure to
all his friends."
Cecilia, superior to accepting a palliation of which she felt herself
undeserving, now lifted up her head, and forcing herself to speak, said
"No, madam, I will not deceive you, for I have never been deceived
myself: I presumed not to expect your approbation,--though in missing
it I have for ever lost my own!"
"Has Mortimer, then," cried she with eagerness, "been strictly
honourable? has he neither beguiled nor betrayed you?"
"No, madam," said she, blushing, "I have nothing to reproach him with."
"Then he is indeed my son!" cried Mrs Delvile, with emotion; "had he
been treacherous to you, while disobedient to us, I had indisputably
Cecilia, who now seemed the only culprit, felt herself in a state of
humiliation not to be borne; she collected, therefore, all her courage,
and said, "I have cleared Mr Delvile; permit me, madam, now, to say
something for myself."
"Certainly; you cannot oblige me more than by speaking without
"It is not in the hope of regaining your good opinion,--that, I see, is
"No, not lost," said Mrs Delvile, "but if once it was yet higher, the
fault was my own, in indulging an expectation of perfection to which
human nature is perhaps unequal."
Ah, then, thought Cecilia, all is over! the contempt I so much feared
is incurred, and though it may be softened, it can never be removed!
"Speak, then, and with sincerity," she continued, all you wish me to
hear, and then grant me your attention in return to the purpose of my
"I have little, madam," answered the depressed Cecilia, "to say; you
tell me you already know all that has past; I will not, therefore,
pretend to take any merit from revealing it: I will only add, that my
consent to this transaction has made me miserable almost from the
moment I gave it; that I meant and wished to retract as soon as
reflection pointed out to me my error, and that circumstances the most
perverse, not blindness to propriety, nor stubbornness in wrong, led me
to make, at last, that fatal attempt, of which the recollection, to my
last hour, must fill me with regret and shame."
"I wonder not," said Mrs Delvile, "that in a situation where delicacy
was so much less requisite than courage, Miss Beverley should feel
herself distressed and unhappy. A mind such as hers could never err
with impunity; and it is solely from a certainty of her innate sense of
right, that I venture to wait upon her now, and that I have any hope to
influence _her_ upon whose influence alone our whole family must in
future depend. Shall I now proceed, or is there any thing you wish to
"No, madam, nothing."
"Hear me, then, I beg of you, with no predetermination to disregard me,
but with an equitable resolution to attend to reason, and a candour
that leaves an opening to conviction. Not easy, indeed, is such a task,
to a mind pre-occupied with an intention to be guided by the dictates
"You wrong me, indeed, madam!" interrupted Cecilia, greatly hurt, "my
mind harbours no such intention, it has no desire but to be guided by
duty, it is wretched with a consciousness of having failed in it! I
pine, I sicken to recover my own good opinion; I should then no longer
feel unworthy of yours; and whether or not I might be able to regain
it, I should at least lose this cruel depression that now sinks me in
"To regain it," said Mrs Delvile, "were to exercise but half your
power, which at this moment enables you, if such is your wish, to make
me think of you more highly than one human being ever thought of
another. Do you condescend to hold this worth your while?"
Cecilia started at the question; her heart beat quick with struggling
passions; she saw the sacrifice which was to be required, and her
pride, her affronted pride, arose high to anticipate the rejection; but
the design was combated by her affections, which opposed the indignant
rashness, and told her that one hasty speech might separate her from
Delvile for ever. When this painful conflict was over, of which Mrs
Delvile patiently waited the issue, she answered, with much hesitation,
"To regain your good opinion, madam, greatly, truly as I value it,--is
what I now scarcely dare hope."
"Say not so," cried she, "since, if you hope, you cannot miss it. I
purpose to point out to you the means to recover it, and to tell you
how greatly I shall think myself your debtor if you refuse not to
She stopt; but Cecilia hung back; fearful of her own strength, she
dared venture at no professions; yet, how either to support, or dispute
her compliance, she dreaded to think.
"I come to you, then," Mrs Delvile solemnly resumed, "in the name of Mr
Delvile, and in the name of our whole family; a family as ancient as it
is honourable, as honourable as it is ancient. Consider me as its
representative, and hear in me its common voice, common opinion, and
"My son, the supporter of our house, the sole guardian of its name, and
the heir of our united fortunes, has selected you, we know, for the
lady of his choice, and so fondly has, fixed upon you his affections,
that he is ready to relinquish us all in preference to subduing them.
To yourself alone, then, can we apply, and I come to you--"
"O hold, madam, hold!" interrupted Cecilia, whose courage now revived
from resentment, "I know, what you would say; you come to tell me of
your disdain; you come to reproach my presumption, and to kill me with
your contempt! There is little occasion for such a step; I am
depressed, I am self-condemned already; spare me, therefore, this
insupportable humiliation, wound me not with your scorn, oppress me not
with your superiority! I aim at no competition, I attempt no
vindication, I acknowledge my own littleness as readily as you can
despise it, and nothing but indignity could urge me to defend it!"
"Believe me," said Mrs Delvile, "I meant not to hurt or offend you, and
I am sorry if I have appeared to you either arrogant or assuming. The
peculiar and perilous situation of my family has perhaps betrayed me
into offensive expressions, and made me guilty myself of an ostentation
which in others has often disgusted me. Ill, indeed, can we any of us
bear the test of experiment, when tried upon those subjects which call
forth our particular propensities. We may strive to be disinterested,
we may struggle to be impartial, but self will still predominate, still
shew us the imperfection of our natures, and the narrowness of our
souls. Yet acquit me, I beg, of any intentional insolence, and imagine
not that in speaking highly of my own family, I, mean to depreciate
yours: on the contrary, I know it to be respectable, I know, too, that
were it the lowest in the kingdom, the first might envy it that it gave
birth to such a daughter."
Cecilia, somewhat soothed by this speech, begged her pardon for having
interrupted her, and she proceeded.
"To your family, then, I assure you, whatever may be the pride of our
own, _you_ being its offspring, we would not object. With your merit we
are all well acquainted, your character has our highest esteem, and
your fortune exceeds even our most sanguine desires. Strange at once
and afflicting! that not all these requisites for the satisfaction of
prudence, nor all these allurements for the gratification of happiness,
can suffice to fulfil or to silence the claims of either! There are yet
other demands to which we must attend, demands which ancestry and blood
call upon us aloud to ratify! Such claimants are not to be neglected
with impunity; they assert their rights with the authority of
prescription, they forbid us alike either to bend to inclination, or
stoop to interest, and from generation to generation their injuries
will call out for redress, should their noble and long unsullied name
be voluntarily consigned to oblivion!"
Cecilia, extremely struck by these words, scarce wondered, since so
strong and so established were her opinions, that the obstacle to her
marriage, though but one, should be considered as insuperable.
"Not, therefore, to _your_ name are we averse," she continued, "but
simply to our own more partial. To sink that, indeed, in _any_ other,
were base and unworthy:--what, then, must be the shock of my
disappointment, should Mortimer Delvile, the darling of my hopes, the
last survivor of his house, in whose birth I rejoiced as the promise of
its support, in whose accomplishments I gloried, as the revival of its
lustre,--should _he_, should, _my_ son be the first to abandon it! to
give up the name he seemed born to make live, and to cause in effect
its utter annihilation!--Oh how should I know my son when an alien to
his family! how bear to think I had cherished in my bosom the betrayer
of its dearest interests, the destroyer of its very existence!"
Cecilia, scarce more afflicted than offended, now hastily answered,
"Not for me, madam, shall he commit this crime, not on _my_ account
shall he be reprobated by his family! Think of him, therefore, no more,
with any reference to me, for I would not be the cause of unworthiness
or guilt in him to be mistress of the universe!"
"Nobly said!" cried Mrs Delvile, her eyes sparkling with joy, and her
cheeks glowing with pleasure, "now again do I know Miss Beverley! now
again see the refined, the excellent young woman, whose virtues taught
me to expect the renunciation even of her own happiness, when found to
be incompatible with her duty!"
Cecilia now trembled and turned pale; she scarce knew herself what she
had said, but, she found by Mrs Delvile's construction of her words,
they had been regarded as her final relinquishing of her son. She
ardently wished to quit the room before she was called upon to confirm
the sentence, but, she had not courage to make the effort, nor to rise,
speak, or move.
"I grieve, indeed," continued Mrs Delvile, whose coldness and austerity
were changed into mildness and compassion, "at the necessity I have
been under to draw from you a concurrence so painful: but no other
resource was in my power. My influence with Mortimer, whatever it may
be, I have not any right to try, without obtaining your previous
consent, since I regard him myself as bound to you in honour, and only
to be released by your own virtuous desire. I will leave you, however,
for my presence, I see, is oppressive to you. Farewell; and when you
_can_ forgive me, I think you _will_."
"I have nothing, madam," said Cecilia, coldly, "to forgive; you have
only asserted your own dignity, and I have nobody to blame but myself,
for having given you occasion."
"Alas," cried Mrs Delvile, "if worth and nobleness of soul on your
part, if esteem and tenderest affection on mine, were all which that
dignity which offends you requires, how should I crave the blessing of
such a daughter! how rejoice in joining my son to excellence so like
his own, and ensuring his happiness while I stimulated his virtue!"
"Do not talk to me of affection, madam," said Cecilia, turning away
from her; "whatever you had for me is past,--even your esteem is gone,
--you may pity me, indeed, but your pity is mixed with contempt, and I
am not so abject as to find comfort from exciting it."
"O little," cried Mrs Delvile, looking at her with the utmost
tenderness, "little do you see the state of my heart, for never have
you appeared to me so worthy as at this moment! In tearing you from my
son, I partake all the wretchedness I give, but your own sense of duty
must something plead for the strictness with which I act up to mine."
She then moved towards the door.
"Is your carriage, madam," said Cecilia, struggling to disguise her
inward anguish under an appearance of sullenness, "in waiting?"
Mrs Delvile then came back, and holding out her hand, while her eyes
glistened with tears, said, "To part from you thus frigidly, while my
heart so warmly admires you, is almost more than I can endure. Oh
gentlest Cecilia! condemn not a mother who is impelled to this
severity, who performing what she holds to be her duty, thinks the
office her bitterest misfortune, who forsees in the rage of her
husband, and the resistance of her son, all the misery of domestic
contention, and who can only secure the honour of her family by
destroying its peace!--You will not, then, give me your hand?--"
Cecilia, who had affected not to see that she waited for it, now coldly
put it out, distantly [courtseying], and seeking to preserve her
steadiness by avoiding to speak. Mrs Delvile took it, and as she
repeated her adieu, affectionately pressed it to her lips; Cecilia,
starting, and breathing short, from encreasing yet smothered agitation,
called out "Why, why this condescension?--pray,--I entreat you,
"Heaven bless you, my love!" said Mrs Delvile, dropping a tear upon the
hand she still held, "heaven bless you, and restore the tranquillity
you so nobly deserve!"
"Ah madam!" cried Cecilia, vainly striving to repress any longer the
tears which now forced their way down her cheeks, "why will you break
my heart with this kindness! why will you still compel me to love!--
when now I almost wish to hate you!"--
"No, hate me not," said Mrs Delvile, kissing from her cheeks the tears
that watered them, "hate me not, sweetest Cecilia, though in wounding
your gentle bosom, I am almost detestable to myself. Even the cruel
scene which awaits me with my son will not more deeply afflict me. But
adieu,--I must now prepare for him!"
She then left the room: but Cecilia, whose pride had no power to resist
this tenderness, ran hastily after her, saying "Shall I not see you
"You shall yourself decide," answered she; "if my coming will not give
you more pain than pleasure, I will wait upon you whenever you please."
Cecilia sighed and paused; she knew not what to desire, yet rather
wished any thing to be done, than quietly to sit down to uninterrupted
"Shall I postpone quitting this place," continued Mrs Delvile, "till
to-morrow morning, and will you admit me this afternoon, should I call
upon you again?"
"I should be sorry," said she, still hesitating, "to detain you,"--
"You will rejoice me," cried Mrs Delvile, "by bearing me in your
And she then went into her carriage.
Cecilia, unfitted to attend her old friend, and unequal to the task of
explaining to her the cruel scene in which she had just been engaged,
then hastened to her own apartment. Her hitherto stifled emotions broke
forth in tears and repinings: her fate was finally determined, and its
determination was not more unhappy than humiliating; she was openly
rejected by the family whose alliance she was known to wish; she was
compelled to refuse the man of her choice, though satisfied his
affections were her own. A misery so peculiar she found hard to
support, and almost bursting with conflicting passions, her heart
alternately swelled from offended pride, and sunk from disappointed
Cecelia was still in this tempestuous state, when a message was brought
her that a gentleman was below stairs, who begged to have the honour of
seeing her. She concluded he was Delvile, and the thought of meeting
him merely to communicate what must so bitterly afflict him, redoubled
her distress, and she went down in an agony of perturbation and sorrow.
He met her at the door, where, before he could speak, "Mr Delvile," she
cried, in a hurrying manner, "why will you come? Why will you thus
insist upon seeing me, in defiance of every obstacle, and in contempt
of my prohibition?"
"Good heavens," cried he, amazed, "whence this reproach? Did you not
permit me to wait upon you with the result of my enquiries? Had I not
your consent--but why do you look thus disturbed?--Your eyes are red,
--you have been weeping.--Oh my Cecilia! have I any share in your
sorrow?--Those tears, which never flow weakly, tell me, have they--has
_one_ of them been shed upon my account?"
"And what," cried she, "has been the result of your enquiries?--Speak
quick, for I wish to know,--and in another instant I must be gone."
"How strange," cried the astonished Delvile, "is this language! how
strange are these looks! What new has come to pass? Has any fresh
calamity happened? Is there yet some evil which I do not expect?"
"Why will you not answer first?" cried she; "when _I_ have spoken, you
will perhaps be less willing."
"You terrify, you shock, you amaze me! What dreadful blow awaits me?
For what horror are you preparing me?--That which I have just
experienced, and which tore you from me even at the foot of the altar,
still remains inexplicable, still continues to be involved in darkness
and mystery; for the wretch who separated us I have never been able to
"Have you procured, then, no intelligence?"
"No, none; though since we parted I have never rested a moment."
"Make, then, no further enquiry, for now all explanation would be
useless. That we _were_ parted, we know, though _why_ we cannot tell:
but that again we shall ever meet---"
She, stopt; her streaming eyes cast upwards, and a deep sigh bursting
from her heart.
"Oh what," cried Delvile, endeavouring to take her hand, which she
hastily withdrew from him, "what does this mean? loveliest, dearest
Cecilia, my betrothed, my affianced wife! why flow those tears which
agony only can wring from you? Why refuse me that hand which so lately
was the pledge of your faith? Am I not the same Delvile to whom so few
days since you gave it? Why will you not open to him your heart? Why
thus distrust his honour, and repulse his tenderness? Oh why, giving
him such exquisite misery, refuse him the smallest consolation?"
"What consolation," cried the weeping Cecilia, "can I give? Alas! it is
not, perhaps, _you_ who most want it!--"
Here the door was opened by one of the Miss Charltons, who came into
the room with a message from her grandmother, requesting to see
Cecilia. Cecilia, ashamed of being thus surprised with Delvile, and in
tears, waited not either to make any excuse to him, or any answer to
Miss Charlton, but instantly hurried out of the room;--not, however, to
her old friend, whom now less than ever she could meet, but to her own
apartment, where a very short indulgence of grief was succeeded by the
severest examination of her own conduct.
A retrospection of this sort rarely brings much subject of exultation,
when made with the rigid sincerity of secret impartiality: so much
stronger is our reason than our virtue, so much higher our sense of
duty than our performance!
All she had done she now repented, all she had said she disapproved;
her conduct, seldom equal to her notions of right, was now infinitely
below them, and the reproaches of her judgment made her forget for a
while the afflictions which had misled it.
The sorrow to which she had openly given way in the presence of
Delvile, though their total separation but the moment before had been
finally decreed, she considered as a weak effusion of tenderness,
injurious to delicacy, and censurable by propriety. "His power over my
heart," cried she, "it were now, indeed, too late to conceal, but his
power over my understanding it is time to cancel. I am not to be his,
--my own voice has ratified the renunciation, and since I made it to his
mother, it must never, without her consent, be invalidated. Honour,
therefore, to her, and regard for myself, equally command me to fly
him, till I cease to be thus affected by his sight."
When Delvile, therefore, sent up an entreaty that he might be again
admitted into her presence, she returned for answer that she was not
well, and could not see any body.
He then left the house, and, in a few minutes, she received the
following note from him.
_To Miss Beverley_. You drive me from you, Cecilia, tortured with
suspense, and distracted with apprehension, you drive me from you,
certain of my misery, yet leaving me to bear it as I may! I would call
you unfeeling, but that I saw you were unhappy; I would reproach you
with tyranny, but that your eyes when you quitted me were swollen with
weeping! I go, therefore, I obey the harsh mandate, since my absence is
your desire, and I will shut myself up at Biddulph's till I receive
your commands. Yet disdain not to reflect that every instant will seem
endless, while Cecilia must appear to me unjust, or wound my very soul
by the recollection of her in sorrow. MORTIMER DELVILE.
The mixture of fondness and resentment with which this letter was
dictated, marked so strongly the sufferings and disordered state of the
writer, that all the softness of Cecilia returned when she perused it,
and left her not a wish but to lessen his inquietude, by assurances of
unalterable regard: yet she determined not to trust herself in his
sight, certain they could only meet to grieve over each other, and
conscious that a participation of sorrow would but prove a
reciprocation of tenderness. Calling, therefore, upon her duty to
resist her inclination, she resolved to commit the whole affair to the
will of Mrs Delvile, to whom, though under no promise, she now
considered herself responsible. Desirous, however, to shorten the
period of Delvile's uncertainty, she would not wait till the time she
had appointed to see his mother, but wrote the following note to hasten
_To the Hon. Mrs Delvile_. MADAM,--Your son is now at Bury; shall I
acquaint him of your arrival? or will you announce it yourself? Inform
me of your desire, and I will endeavour to fulfil it. As my own Agent I
regard myself no longer; if, as yours, I can give pleasure, or be of
service, I shall gladly receive your commands. I have the honour to be,
Madam, your most obedient servant, CECILIA BEVERLEY.
When she had sent off this letter, her heart was more at ease, because
reconciled with her conscience: she had sacrificed the son, she had
resigned herself to the mother; it now only remained to heal her
wounded pride, by suffering the sacrifice with dignity, and to recover
her tranquility in virtue, by making the resignation without repining.
Her reflections, too, growing clearer as the mist of passion was
dispersed, she recollected with confusion her cold and sullen behaviour
to Mrs Delvile. That lady had but done what she had believed was her
duty, and that duty was no more than she had been taught to expect from
her. In the beginning of her visit, and while doubtful of its success,
she had indeed, been austere, but the moment victory appeared in view,
she became tender, affectionate and gentle. Her justice, therefore,
condemned the resentment to which she had given way, and she fortified
her mind for the interview which was to follow, by an earnest desire to
make all reparation both to Mrs Delvile and herself for that which was
In this resolution she was not a little strengthened, by seriously
considering with herself the great abatement to all her possible
happiness, which must have been made by the humiliating circumstance of
forcing herself into a family which held all connection with her as
disgraceful. She desired not to be the wife even of Delvile upon such
terms, for the more she esteemed and admired him, the more anxious she
became for his honour, and the less could she endure being regarded
herself as the occasion of its diminution.
Now, therefore, her plan of conduct settled, with calmer spirits,
though a heavy heart, she attended upon Mrs Charlton; but fearing to
lose the steadiness she had just acquired before it should be called
upon, if she trusted herself to relate the decision which had been
made, she besought her for the present to dispense with the account,
and then forced herself into conversation upon less interesting
This prudence had its proper effect, and with tolerable tranquility she
heard Mrs Delvile again announced, and waited upon her in the parlour
with an air of composure.
Not so did Mrs Delvile receive her; she was all eagerness and emotion;
she flew to her the moment she appeared, and throwing her arms around
her, warmly exclaimed "Oh charming girl! Saver of our family! preserver
of our honour! How poor are words to express my admiration! how
inadequate are thanks in return for such obligations as I owe you!"
"You owe me none, madam," said Cecilia, suppressing a sigh; on my side
will be all the obligation, if you can pardon the petulance of my
behaviour this morning."
"Call not by so harsh a name," answered Mrs Delvile, "the keenness of a
sensibility by which you have yourself alone been the sufferer. You
have had a trial the most severe, and however able to sustain, it was
impossible you should not feel it. That you should give up any man
whose friends solicit not your alliance, your mind is too delicate to
make wonderful; but your generosity in submitting, unasked, the
arrangement of that resignation to those for whose interest it is made,
and your high sense of honour in holding yourself accountable to me,
though under no tie, and bound by no promise, mark a greatness of mind
which calls for reverence rather than thanks, and which I never can
praise half so much as I admire."
Cecilia, who received this applause but as a confirmation of her
rejection, thanked her only by courtsying; and Mrs Delvile, having
seated herself next her, continued her speech.
"My son, you have the goodness to tell me, is here,--have you seen
"Yes, madam," answered she, blushing, "but hardly for a moment."
"And he knows not of my arrival?" No,--I believe he certainly does
"Sad then, is the trial which awaits him, and heavy for me the office I
must perform! Do you expect to see him again?"
"No,--yes,--perhaps--indeed I hardly--" She stammered, and Mrs Delvile,
taking her hand, said "Tell me, Miss Beverley, _why_ should you see him
Cecilia was thunderstruck by this question, and, colouring yet more
deeply, looked down, but could not answer.
"Consider," continued Mrs Delvile, "the _purpose_ of any further
meeting; your union is impossible, you have nobly consented to
relinquish all thoughts of it why then tear your own heart, and torture
his, by an intercourse which seems nothing but an ill-judged invitation
to fruitless and unavailing sorrow?"
Cecilia was still silent; the truth of the expostulation her reason
acknowledged, but to assent to its consequence her whole heart refused.
"The ungenerous triumph of little female vanity," said Mrs Delvile, "is
far, I am sure, from your mind, of which the enlargement and liberality
will rather find consolation from lessening than from embittering his
sufferings. Speak to me, then, and tell me honestly, judiciously,
candidly tell me, will it not be wiser and more right, to avoid rather
than seek an object which can only give birth to regret? an interview
which can excite no sensations but of misery and sadness?" Cecilia then
turned pale, she endeavoured to speak, but could not; she wished to
comply,--yet to think she had seen him for the last time, to remember
how abruptly she had parted from him, and to fear she had treated him
unkindly;--these were obstacles which opposed her concurrence, though
both judgment and propriety demanded it.
"Can you, then," said Mrs Delvile, after a pause, "can you wish to see
Mortimer merely to behold his grief? Can you desire he should see you,
only to sharpen his affliction at your loss?"
"O no!" cried Cecilia, to whom this reproof restored speech and
resolution, "I am not so despicable, I am not, I hope, so unworthy!--I
will--be ruled by you wholly; I will commit to you every thing;--yet
_once_, perhaps,--no more!"--
"Ah, my dear Miss Beverley! to meet confessedly for _once_,--what were
that but planting a dagger in the heart of Mortimer? What were it but
infusing poison into your own?
"If you think so, madam," said she, "I had better--I will certainly--"
she sighed, stammered, and stopt.
"Hear me," cried Mrs Delvile, "and rather let me try to convince than
persuade you. Were there any possibility, by argument, by reflection,
or even by accident, to remove the obstacles to our connection, then
would it be well to meet, for then might discussion turn to account,
and an interchange of sentiments be productive of some happy
expedients: but here--"
She hesitated, and Cecilia, shocked and ashamed, turned away her face,
and cried "I know, madam, what you would say,--here all is over! and
therefore--" "Yet suffer me," interrupted she, "to be explicit, since
we speak upon, this matter now for the last time. Here, then, I say,
where not ONE doubt remains, where ALL is finally, though not happily
decided, what can an interview produce? Mischief of every sort, pain,
horror, and repining! To Mortimer you may think it would be kind, and
grant it to his prayers, as an alleviation of his misery; mistaken
notion! nothing could so greatly augment it. All his passions would be
raised, all his prudence would be extinguished, his soul would be torn
with resentment and regret, and force, only, would part him from you,
when previously he knew that parting was to be eternal. To yourself--"
"Talk not, madam, of me," cried the unhappy Cecilia, "what you say of
your son is sufficient, and I will yield---"
"Yet hear me," proceeded she, "and believe me not so unjust as to
consider him alone; you, also, would be an equal, though a less stormy
sufferer. You fancy, at this moment, that once more to meet him would
soothe your uneasiness, and that to take of him a farewell, would
soften the pain of the separation: how false such reasoning! how
dangerous such consolation! acquainted ere you meet that you were to
meet him no more, your heart would be all softness and grief, and at
the very moment when tenderness should be banished from your
intercourse, it would bear down all opposition of judgment, spirit, and
dignity: you would hang upon every word, because every word would seem
the last, every look, every expression would be rivetted in your
memory, and his image in this parting distress would-be painted upon
your mind, in colours that would eat into its peace, and perhaps never
"Enough, enough," said Cecilia, "I will not see him,--I will not even
"Is this compliance or conviction? Is what I have said true, or only
"Both, both! I believe, indeed, the conflict would have overpowered
me,--I see you are right,--and I thank you, madam, for saving me from a
scene I might so cruelly have rued."
"Oh Daughter of my mind!" cried Mrs Delvile, rising and embracing her,
"noble, generous, yet gentle Cecilia! what tie, what connection, could
make you more dear to me? Who is there like you? Who half so excellent?
So open to reason, so ingenuous in error! so rational! so just! so
feeling, yet so wise!"
"You are very good," said Cecilia, with a forced serenity, "and I am
thankful that your resentment for the past obstructs not your lenity
for the present."
Alas, my love, how shall I resent the past, when I ought myself to have
foreseen this calamity! and I _should_ have foreseen it, had I not been
informed you were engaged, and upon your engagement built our security.
Else had I been more alarmed, for my own admiration would have bid me
look forward to my son's. You were just, indeed, the woman he had least
chance to resist, you were precisely the character to seize his very
soul. To a softness the most fatally alluring, you join a dignity which
rescues from their own contempt even the most humble of your admirers.
You seem born to have all the world wish your exaltation, and no part
of it murmur at your superiority. Were any obstacle but this
insuperable one in the way, should nobles, nay, should princes offer
their daughters to my election, I would reject without murmuring the
most magnificent proposals, and take in triumph to my heart my son's
"Oh madam," cried Cecilia, "talk not to me thus!--speak not such
flattering words!--ah, rather scorn and upbraid me, tell me you despise
my character, my family and my connections,--load, load me with
contempt, but do not thus torture me with approbation!"
"Pardon me, sweetest girl, if I have awakened those emotions you so
wisely seek to subdue. May my son but emulate your example, and my
pride in his virtue shall be the solace of my affliction for his
She then tenderly embraced her, and abruptly took her leave.
Cecilia had now acted her part, and acted it to her own satisfaction;
but the curtain dropt when Mrs Delvile left the house, nature resumed
her rights, and the sorrow of her heart was no longer disguised or
repressed. Some faint ray of hope had till now broke through the
gloomiest cloud of her misery, and secretly flattered her that its
dispersion was possible, though distant: but that ray was extinct, that
hope was no more; she had solemnly promised to banish Delvile her
sight, and his mother had absolutely declared that even the subject had
been discussed for the last time.
Mrs Charlton, impatient of some explanation of the morning's
transactions, soon sent again to beg Cecilia would come to her. Cecilia
reluctantly obeyed, for she feared encreasing her indisposition by the
intelligence she had to communicate; she struggled, therefore, to
appear to her with tolerable calmness, and in briefly relating what had
passed, forbore to mingle with the narrative her own feelings and
Mrs Charlton heard the account with the utmost concern; she accused Mrs
Delvile of severity, and even of cruelty; she lamented the strange
accident by which the marriage ceremony had been stopt, and regretted
that it had not again been begun, as the only means to have rendered
ineffectual the present fatal interposition. But the grief of Cecilia,
however violent, induced her not to join in this regret; she mourned
only the obstacle which had occasioned the separation, and not the
incident which had merely interrupted the ceremony: convinced, by the
conversations in which she had just been engaged, of Mrs Delvile's
inflexibility, she rather rejoiced than repined that she had put it to
no nearer trial: sorrow was all she felt; for her mind was too liberal
to harbour resentment against a conduct which she saw was dictated by a
sense of right; and too ductile and too affectionate to remain unmoved
by the personal kindness which had softened the rejection, and the many
marks of esteem and regard which had shewn her it was lamented, though
considered as indispensable.
How and by whom this affair had been betrayed to Mrs Delvile she knew
not; but the discovery was nothing less than surprising, since, by
various unfortunate accidents, it was known to so many, and since, in
the horror and confusion of the mysterious prohibition to the marriage,
neither Delvile nor herself had thought of even attempting to give any
caution to the witnesses of that scene, not to make it known: an
attempt, however, which must almost necessarily have been unavailing,
as the incident was too extraordinary and too singular to have any
chance of suppression.
During this conversation, one of the servants came to inform Cecilia,
that a man was below to enquire if there was no answer to the note he
had brought in the forenoon.
Cecilia, greatly distressed, knew not upon what to resolve; that the
patience of Delvile should be exhausted, she did not, indeed, wonder,
and to relieve his anxiety was now almost her only wish; she would
therefore instantly have written to him, confessed her sympathy in his
sufferings, and besought him to endure with fortitude an evil which was
no longer to be withstood: but she was uncertain whether he was yet
acquainted with the journey of his mother to Bury, and having agreed to
commit to her the whole management of the affair, she feared it would
be dishonourable to take any step in it without her concurrence. She
returned, therefore, a message that she had yet no answer ready.
In a very few minutes Delvile called himself, and sent up an earnest
request for permission to see her.
Here, at least, she had no perplexity; an interview she had given her
positive word to refuse, and therefore, without a moment's hesitation,
she bid the servant inform him she was particularly engaged, and sorry
it was not in her power to see any company.
In the greatest perturbation he left the house, and immediately wrote
to her the following lines.
_To Miss Beverley_. I entreat you to see me! if only for an instant, I
entreat, I implore you to see me! Mrs Charlton may be present, all the
world, if you wish it, may be present,--but deny me not admission, I
supplicate, I conjure you!
I will call in an hour; in that time you may have finished your present
engagement. I will otherwise wait longer, and call again. You will not,
I think, turn me from' your door, and, till I have seen you, I can only
live in its vicinity. M. D.
The man who brought this note, waited not for any answer.
Cecilia read it in an agony of mind inexpressible: she saw, by its
style, how much Delvile was irritated, and her knowledge of his temper
made her certain his irritation proceeded from believing himself ill-
used. She ardently wished to appease and to quiet him, and regretted
the necessity of appearing obdurate and unfeeling, even more, at that
moment, than the separation itself. To a mind priding in its purity,
and animated in its affections, few sensations can excite keener
misery, than those by which an apprehension is raised of being thought
worthless or ungrateful by the objects of our chosen regard. To be
deprived of their society is less bitter, to be robbed of our own
tranquillity by any other means, is less afflicting.
Yet to this it was necessary to submit, or incur the only penalty
which, to such a mind, would be more severe, self-reproach: she had
promised to be governed by Mrs Delvile, she had nothing, therefore, to
do but obey her.
Yet _to turn_, as he expressed himself, _from the door_, a man who, but
for an incident the most incomprehensible, would now have been sole
master of herself and her actions, seemed so unkind and so tyrannical,
that she could not endure to be within hearing of his repulse: she
begged, therefore, the use of Mrs Charlton's carriage, and determined
to make a visit to Mrs Harrel till Delvile and his mother had wholly
quitted Bury. She was not, indeed, quite satisfied in going to the
house of Mr Arnott, but she had no time to weigh objections, and knew
not any other place to which still greater might not be started.
She wrote a short letter to Mrs Delvile, acquainting her with her
purpose, and its reason, and repeating her assurances that she would be
guided by her implicitly; and then, embracing Mrs Charlton, whom she
left to the care of her grand-daughters, she got into a chaise,
accompanied only by her maid, and one man and horse, and ordered the
postilion to drive to Mr Arnott's.
The evening was already far advanced, and before she arrived at the end
of her little journey it was quite dark. When they came within a mile
of Mr Arnott's house, the postilion, in turning too suddenly from the
turnpike to the cross-road, overset the carriage. The accident,
however, occasioned no other mischief than delaying their proceeding,
and Cecilia and her maid were helped out of the chaise unhurt. The
servants, assisted by a man who was walking upon the road, began
lifting it up; and Cecilia, too busy within to be attentive to what
passed without, disregarded what went forward, till she heard her
footman call for help. She then hastily advanced to enquire what was
the matter, and found that the passenger who had lent his aid, had, by
working in the dark, unfortunately slipped his foot under one of the
wheels, and so much hurt it, that without great pain he could not put
it to the ground.
Cecilia immediately desired that the sufferer might be carried to his
own home in the chaise, while she and the maid walked on to Mr
Arnott's, attended by her servant on horseback.
This little incident proved of singular service to her upon first
entering the house; Mrs Harrel was at supper with her brother, and
hearing the voice of Cecilia in the hall, hastened with the extremest
surprise to enquire what had occasioned so late a visit; followed by Mr
Arnott, whose amazement was accompanied with a thousand other
sensations too powerful for speech. Cecilia, unprepared with any
excuse, instantly related the adventure she had met with on the road,
which quieted their curiosity, by turning their attention to her
personal safety. They ordered a room to be prepared for her, entreated
her to go to rest with all speed, and postpone any further account till
the next day. With this request she most gladly complied, happy to be
spared the embarrassment of enquiry, and rejoiced to be relieved from
the fatigue of conversation. Her night was restless and miserable: to
know how Delvile would bear her flight was never a moment from her
thoughts, and to hear whether he would obey or oppose his mother was
her incessant wish. She was fixt, however, to be faithful in refusing
to see him, and at least to suffer nothing new from her own enterprize
Early in the morning Mrs Harrel came to see her. She was eager to learn
why, after invitations repeatedly refused, she was thus suddenly
arrived without any; and she was still more eager to talk of herself,
and relate the weary life she led thus shut up in the country, and
confined to the society of her brother.
Cecilia evaded giving any immediate answer to her questions, and Mrs
Harrel, happy in an opportunity to rehearse her own complaints, soon
forgot that she had asked any, and, in a very short time, was
perfectly, though imperceptibly, contented to be herself the only
subject upon which they conversed.
But not such was the selfishness of Mr Arnott; and Cecilia, when she
went down to breakfast, perceived with the utmost concern that he had
passed a night as sleepless as her own. A visit so sudden, so
unexpected, and so unaccountable, from an object that no discouragement
could make him think of with indifference, had been a subject to him of
conjecture and wonder that had revived all the hopes and the fears
which had lately, though still unextinguished, lain dormant. The
enquiries, however, which his sister had given up, he ventured not to
renew, and thought himself but too happy in her presence, whatever
might be the cause of her visit.
He perceived, however, immediately, the sadness that hung upon her
mind, and his own was redoubled by the sight: Mrs Harrel, also, saw
that she looked ill, but attributed it to the fatigue and fright of the
preceding evening, well knowing that a similar accident would have made
her ill herself, or fancy that she was so.
During breakfast, Cecilia sent for the postilion, to enquire of him how
the man had fared, whose good-natured assistance in their distress had
been so unfortunate to himself. He answered that he had turned out to
be a day labourer, who lived about half a mile off. And then, partly to
gratify her own humanity, and partly to find any other employment for
herself and friends than uninteresting conversation, she proposed that
they should all walk to the poor man's habitation, and offer him some
amends for the injury he had received. This was readily assented to,
and the postilion directed them whither to go. The place was a cottage,
situated upon a common; they entered it without ceremony, and found a
clean looking woman at work.
Cecilia enquired for her husband, and was told that he was gone out to
"I am very glad to hear it," returned she; "I hope then he has got the
better of the accident he met with last night?"
"It was not him, madam," said the woman, "met with the accident, it was
John;--there he is, working in the garden."
To the garden then they all went, and saw him upon the ground, weeding.
The moment they approached he arose, and, without speaking, began to
limp, for he could hardly walk; away.
"I am sorry, master," said Cecilia, "that you are so much hurt. Have
you had anything put to your foot?"
The man made no answer, but still turned away from her; a glance,
however, of his eye, which the next instant he fixed upon the ground,
startled her; she moved round to look at him again,--and perceived Mr
"Good God!" she exclaimed; but seeing him still retreat, she
recollected in a moment how little he would be obliged to her for
betraying him, and suffering him to go on, turned back to her party,
and led the way again into the house.
As soon as the first emotion of her surprise was over, she enquired how
long John had belonged to this cottage, and what was his way of life.
The woman answered he had only been with them a week, and that he went
out to day-labour with her husband.
Cecilia then, finding their stay kept him from his employment, and
willing to save him the distress of being seen by Mr Arnott or Mrs
Harrel, proposed their returning home. She grieved most sincerely at
beholding in so melancholy an occupation a young man of such talents
and abilities; she wished much to assist him, and began considering by
what means it might be done, when, as they were walking from the
cottage, a voice at some distance called out "Madam! Miss Beverley!"
and, looking round, to her utter amazement she saw Belfield
endeavouring to follow her.
She instantly stopt, and he advanced, his hat in his hand, and his
whole air indicating he sought not to be disguised.
Surprised at this sudden change of behaviour, she then stept forward to
meet him, accompanied by her friends: but when they came up to each
other, she checked her desire of speaking, to leave him fully at
liberty to make himself known, or keep concealed.
He bowed with a look of assumed gaiety and ease, but the deep scarlet
that tinged his whole face manifested his internal confusion; and in a
voice that attempted to sound lively, though its tremulous accents
betrayed uneasiness and distress, he exclaimed, with a forced smile,
"Is it possible Miss Beverley can deign to notice a poor miserable day-
labourer such as I am? how will she be justified in the beau monde,
when even the sight of such a wretch ought to fill her with horror?
Henceforth let hysterics be blown to the winds, and let nerves be
discarded from the female vocabulary, since a lady so young and fair
can stand this shock without hartshorn or fainting!"
"I am happy," answered Cecilia, "to find your spirits so good; yet my
own, I must confess, are not raised by seeing you in this strange
"My spirits!" cried he, with an air of defiance, "never were they
better, never so good as at this moment. Strange as seems my situation,
it is all that I wish; I have found out, at last, the true secret of
happiness! that secret which so long I pursued in vain, but which
always eluded my grasp, till the instant of despair arrived, when,
slackening my pace, I gave it up as a phantom. Go from me, I cried, I
will be cheated no more! thou airy bubble! thou fleeting shadow! I will
live no longer in thy sight, since thy beams dazzle without warming me!
Mankind seems only composed as matter for thy experiments, and I will
quit the whole race, that thy delusions may be presented to me no
This romantic flight, which startled even Cecilia, though acquainted
with his character, gave to Mrs Harrel and Mr Arnott the utmost
surprize; his appearance, and the account they had just heard of him,
having by no means prepared them for such sentiments or such language.
"Is then this great secret of happiness," said Cecilia, "nothing, at
last, but total seclusion from the world?"
"No, madam," answered he, "it is Labour with Independence."
Cecilia now wished much to ask some explanation of his affairs, but was
doubtful whether he would gratify her before Mrs Harrel and Mr Arnott,
and hurt to keep him standing, though he leant upon a stick; she told
him, therefore, she would at present detain him no longer, but
endeavour again to see him before she quitted her friends.
Mr Arnott then interfered, and desired his sister would entreat Miss
Beverley to invite whom she pleased to his house.
Cecilia thanked him, and instantly asked Belfield to call upon her in
"No, madam, no," cried he, "I have done with visits and society! I will
not so soon break through a system with much difficulty formed, when
all my future tranquility depends upon adhering to it. The
worthlessness of mankind has disgusted me with the world, and my
resolution in quitting it shall be immoveable as its baseness."
"I must not venture then," said Cecilia, "to enquire--"
"Enquire, madam," interrupted he, with quickness, "what you please:
there is nothing I will not answer to you,--to this lady, to this
gentleman, to any and to every body. What can I wish to conceal, where
I have nothing to gain or to lose? When first, indeed, I saw you, I
involuntarily shrunk; a weak shame for a moment seized me, I felt
fallen and debased, and I wished to avoid you: but a little
recollection brought me back to my senses, And where, cried I, is the
disgrace of exercising for my subsistence the strength with which I am
endued? and why should I blush to lead the life which uncorrupted
Nature first prescribed to man?"
"Well, then," said Cecilia, more and more interested to hear him, "if
you will not visit us, will you at least permit us to return with you
to some place where you can be seated?"
"I will with pleasure," cried he, "go to any place where you may be
seated yourselves; but for me, I have ceased to regard accommodation or
They then all went back to the cottage, which was now empty, the woman
being out at work.
"Will you then, Sir," said Cecilia, "give me leave to enquire whether
Lord Vannelt is acquainted with your retirement, and if it will not
much surprize and disappoint him?"
"Lord Vannelt," cried he, haughtily, "has no right to be surprised. I
would have quitted _his_ house, if no other, not even this cottage, had
a roof to afford me shelter!"
"I am sorry, indeed, to hear it," said Cecilia; "I had hoped he would
have known your value, and merited your regard."
"Ill-usage," answered he, "is as hard to relate as to be endured. There
is commonly something pitiful in a complaint; and though oppression in
a general sense provokes the wrath of mankind, the investigation of its
minuter circumstances excites nothing but derision. Those who give the
offence, by the worthy few may be hated; but those who receive it, by
the world at large will be despised. Conscious of this, I disdained
making any appeal; myself the only sufferer, I had a right to be the
only judge, and, shaking off the base trammels of interest and
subjection, I quitted the house in silent indignation, not chusing to
remonstrate, where I desired not to be reconciled."
"And was there no mode of life," said Cecilia, "to adopt, but living
with Lord Vannelt, or giving up the whole world?"
"I weighed every thing maturely," answered he, "before I made my
determination, and I found it so much, the most eligible, that I am
certain I can never repent it. I had friends who would with pleasure
have presented me to some other nobleman; but my whole heart revolted
against leading that kind of life, and I would not, therefore, idly
rove from one great man to another, adding ill-will to disgrace, and
pursuing hope in defiance of common sense; no; when I quitted Lord
Vannelt, I resolved to give up patronage for ever.
"I retired to private lodgings to deliberate what next could be done. I
had lived in many ways, I had been unfortunate or imprudent in all. The
law I had tried, but its rudiments were tedious and disgusting; the
army, too, but there found my mind more fatigued with indolence, than
my body with action; general dissipation had then its turn, but the
expence to which it led was ruinous, and self-reproach baffled pleasure
while I pursued it; I have even--yes, there are few things I have left
untried,--I have even,--for why now disguise it?--"
He stopt and coloured, but in a quicker voice presently proceeded.
"Trade, also, has had its share in my experiments; for that, in truth,
I was originally destined,--but my education had ill suited me to such
a destination, and the trader's first maxim I reversed, in lavishing
when I ought to have accumulated.
"What, then, remained for me? to run over again the same irksome round
I had not patience, and to attempt any thing new I was unqualified:
money I had none; my friends I could bear to burthen no longer; a
fortnight I lingered in wretched irresolution,--a simple accident at
the end of it happily settled me; I was walking, one morning, in Hyde
Park, forming a thousand plans for my future life, but quarrelling with
them all; when a gentleman met me on horseback, from whom, at my Lord
Vannelt's, I had received particular civilities; I looked another way
not to be seen by him, and the change in my dress since I left his
Lordship's made me easily pass unnoticed. He had rode on, however, but
a few yards, before, by some accident or mismanagement, he had a fall
from his horse. Forgetting all my caution, I flew instantly to his
assistance; he was bruised, but not otherwise hurt; I helpt him up, and
he leant 'pon my arm; in my haste of enquiring how he had fared, I
called him by his name. He knew me, but looked surprised at my
appearance; he was speaking to me, however, with kindness, when seeing
some gentlemen of his acquaintance gallopping up to him, he hastily
disengaged himself from me, and instantly beginning to recount to them
what had happened, he sedulously looked another way, and joining his
new companions, walked off without taking further notice of me. For a
moment I was almost tempted to trouble him to come back; but a little
recollection told me how ill he deserved my resentment, and bid me
transfer it for the future from the pitiful individual to the worthless
"Here finished my deliberation; the disgust to the world which I had
already conceived, this little incident confirmed; I saw it was only
made for the great and the rich;--poor, therefore, and low, what had I
to do in it? I determined to quit it for ever, and to end every
disappointment, by crushing every hope.
"I wrote to Lord Vannelt to send my trunks to my mother; I wrote to my
mother that I was well, and would soon let her hear more: I then paid
off my lodgings, and 'shaking the dust from my feet,' bid a long adieu
to London; and, committing my route to chance, strole on into the
country, without knowing or caring which way.
"My first thought was simply to seek retirement, and to depend for my
future repose upon nothing but a total seclusion from society: but my
slow method of travelling gave me time for reflection, and reflection
soon showed me the error of this notion.
"Guilt, cried I, may, indeed, be avoided by solitude; but will misery?
will regret? will deep dejection of mind? no, they will follow more
assiduously than ever; for what is there to oppose them, where neither
business occupies the time, nor hope the imagination? where the past
has left nothing but resentment, and the future opens only to a dismal,
uninteresting void? No stranger to life, I knew human nature could not
exist on such terms; still less a stranger to books, I respected the
voice of wisdom and experience in the first of moralists, and most
enlightened of men, [Footnote: Dr Johnson.] and reading the letter of
Cowley, I saw the vanity and absurdity of _panting after solitude_.
[Footnote: Life of Cowley, p.34.]
"I sought not, therefore, a cell; but, since I purposed to live for
myself, I determined for myself also to think. Servility of imitation
has ever been as much my scorn as servility of dependence; I resolved,
therefore, to strike out something new, and no more to retire as every
other man had retired, than to linger in the world as every other man
"The result of all you now see. I found out this cottage, and took up
my abode in it. I am here out of the way of all society, yet avoid the
great evil of retreat, _having nothing to do_. I am constantly, not
capriciously employed, and the exercise which benefits my health,
imperceptibly raises my spirits in despight of adversity. I am removed
from all temptation, I have scarce even the power to do wrong; I have
no object for ambition, for repining I have no time:--I have, found
out, I repeat, the true secret of happiness, Labour with Independence."
He stopt; and Cecilia, who had listened to this narrative with a
mixture of compassion, admiration and censure, was too much struck with
its singularity to be readily able to answer it. Her curiosity to hear
him had sprung wholly from her desire to assist him, and she had
expected from his story to gather some hint upon which her services
might be offered. But none had occurred; he professed himself fully
satisfied with his situation; and though reason and probability
contradicted the profession, she could not venture to dispute it with
any delicacy or prudence.
She thanked him, therefore, for his relation, with many apologies for
the trouble she had given him, and added, "I must not express my
concern for misfortunes which you seem to regard as conducive to your
contentment, nor remonstrate at the step you have taken, since you have
been led to it by choice, not necessity: but yet, you must pardon me if
I cannot help hoping I shall some time see you happier, according to
the common, however vulgar ideas of the rest of the world."
"No, never, never! I am sick of mankind, not from theory, but
experience; and the precautions I have taken against mental fatigue,
will secure me from repentance, or any desire of change; for it is not
the active, but the indolent who weary; it is not the temperate, but
the pampered who are capricious."
"Is your sister, Sir, acquainted with this change in your fortune and
"Poor girl, no! She and her unhappy mother have borne but too long with
my enterprizes and misfortunes. Even yet they would sacrifice whatever
they possess to enable me to play once more the game so often lost; but
I will not abuse their affection, nor suffer them again to be slaves to
my caprices, nor dupes to their own delusive expectations. I have sent
them word I am happy; I have not yet told them how or where. I fear
much the affliction of their disappointment, and, for a while, shall
conceal from them my situation, which they would fancy was disgraceful,
and grieve at as cruel."
"And is it not cruel?" said Cecilia, "is labour indeed so sweet? and
can you seriously derive happiness from what all others consider as
"Not sweet," answered he, "in itself; but sweet, most sweet and
salutary in its effects. When I work, I forget all the world; my
projects for the future, my disappointments from the past. Mental
fatigue is overpowered by personal; I toil till I require rest, and
that rest which nature, not luxury demands, leads not to idle
meditation, but to sound, heavy, necessary sleep. I awake the next
morning to the same thought-exiling business, work again till my powers
are exhausted, and am relieved again at night by the same health-
"And if this," cried Cecilia, "is the life of happiness, why have we so
many complaints of the sufferings of the poor, and why so eternally do
we hear of their hardships and distress?"
"They have known no other life. They are strangers, therefore, to the
felicity of their lot. Had they mingled in the world, fed high their
fancy with hope, and looked forward with expectation of enjoyment; had
they been courted by the great, and offered with profusion adulation
for their abilities, yet, even when starving, been offered nothing
else!--had they seen an attentive circle wait all its entertainment
from their powers, yet found themselves forgotten as soon as out of
sight, and perceived themselves avoided when no longer buffoons!--Oh
had they known and felt provocations such as these, how gladly would
their resentful spirits turn from the whole unfeeling race, and how
would they respect that noble and manly labour, which at once
disentangles them from such subjugating snares, and enables them to fly
the ingratitude they abhor! Without the contrast of vice, virtue
unloved may be lovely; without the experience of misery, happiness is
simply a dull privation of evil."
"And are you so content," cried Cecilia, "with your present situation,
as even to think it offers you reparation for your past sufferings?"
"Content!" repeated he with energy, "O more than content, I am proud of
my present situation! I glory in chewing to the world, glory still more
in shewing to myself, that those whom I cannot but despise I will not
scruple to defy, and that where I have been treated unworthily, I will
scorn to be obliged."
"But will you pardon me," said Cecilia, "should I ask again, why in
quitting Lord Vannelt, you concluded no one else worthy a trial?"
"Because it was less my Lord Vannelt, madam, than my own situation,
that disgusted me: for though I liked not his behaviour, I found him a
man too generally esteemed to flatter myself better usage would await
me in merely changing my abode, while my station was the same. I
believe, indeed, he never meant to offend me; but I was offended the
more that he should think me an object to receive indignity without
knowing it. To have had this pointed out to him, would have been at
once mortifying and vain; for delicacy, like taste, can only partially
be taught, and will always be superficial and erring where it is not
innate. Those wrongs, which though too trifling to resent, are too
humiliating to be borne, speech can convey no idea of; the soul must
feel, or the understanding can never comprehend them."
"But surely," said Cecilia, "though people of refinement are rare, they
yet exist; why, then, remove yourself from the possibility of meeting
"Must I run about the nation," cried he, "proclaiming my distress, and
describing my temper? telling the world that though dependent I demand
respect as well as assistance; and publishing to mankind, that though
poor I will accept no gifts if offered with contumely? Who will listen
to such an account? who will care for my misfortunes, but as they may
humble me to his service? Who will hear my mortifications, but to say I
deserve them? what has the world to do with my feelings and
peculiarities? I know it too well to think calamity will soften it; I
need no new lessons to instruct me that to conquer affliction is more
wise than to relate it."
"Unfortunate as you have been," said Cecilia, "I cannot wonder at your
asperity; but yet, it is surely no more than justice to acknowledge,
that hard-heartedness to distress is by no means the fault of the
present times: on the contrary, it is scarce sooner made known, than
every one is ready to contribute to its relief."
"And how contribute?" cried he, "by a paltry donation of money? Yes,
the man whose only want is a few guineas, may, indeed, obtain them; but
he who asks kindness and protection, whose oppressed spirit calls for
consolation even more than his ruined fortune for repair, how is his
struggling soul, if superior to his fate, to brook the ostentation of
patronage, and the insolence of condescension? Yes, yes, the world will
save the poor beggar who is starving; but the fallen wretch, who will
not cringe for his support, may consume in his own wretchedness without
pity and without help!"
Cecilia now saw that the wound his sensibility had received was too
painful for argument, and too recent immediately to be healed. She
forbore, therefore, to detain him any longer, but expressing her best
wishes, without venturing to hint at her services, she arose, and they
all took their leave;--Belfield hastening, as they went, to return to
the garden, where, looking over the hedge as they passed, they saw him
employed again in weeding, with the eagerness of a man who pursues his
Cecilia half forgot her own anxieties and sadness, in the concern which
she felt for this unfortunate and extraordinary young man. She wished
much to devise some means for drawing him from a life of such hardship
and obscurity; but what to a man thus "jealous in honour," thus
scrupulous in delicacy, could she propose, without more risk of
offence, than probability of obliging? His account had, indeed,
convinced her how much he stood in need of assistance, but it had shewn
her no less how fastidious he would be in receiving it.
Nor was she wholly without fear that an earnest solicitude to serve
him, his youth, talents, and striking manners considered, might
occasion even in himself a misconstruction of her motives, such as she
already had given birth to in his forward and partial mother.
The present, therefore, all circumstances weighed, seemed no season for
her liberality, which she yet resolved to exert the first moment it was
unopposed by propriety.
The rest of the day was passed in discussing this adventure; but in the
evening, Cecilia's interest in it was all sunk, by the reception of the
following letter from Mrs Delvile.
_To Miss Beverley_.
I grieve to interrupt the tranquillity of a retirement so judiciously
chosen, and I lament the necessity of again calling to trial the virtue
of which the exertion, though so captivating, is so painful; but alas,
my excellent young friend, we came not hither to enjoy, but to suffer;
and happy only are those whose sufferings have neither by folly been
sought, nor by guilt been merited, but arising merely from the
imperfection of humanity, have been resisted with fortitude, or endured
I am informed of your virtuous steadiness, which corresponds with my
expectations, while it excites my respect. All further conflict I had
hoped to have saved you; and to the triumph of your goodness I had
trusted for the recovery of your peace: but Mortimer has disappointed
me, and our work is still unfinished.
He avers that he is solemnly engaged to you, and in pleading to me his
honour, he silences both expostulation and authority. From your own
words alone will he acknowledge his dismission; and notwithstanding my
reluctance to impose upon you this task, I cannot silence or quiet him
without making the request.
For a purpose such as this, can you, then, admit us? Can you bear with
your own lips to confirm the irrevocable decision? You will feel, I am
sure, for the unfortunate Mortimer, and it was earnestly my desire to
spare you the sight of his affliction; yet such is my confidence in
your prudence, that since I find him bent upon seeing you, I am not
without hope, that from witnessing the greatness of your mind, the
interview may rather calm than inflame him.
This proposal you will take into consideration, and if you are able,
upon such terms, to again meet my son, we will wait upon you together,
where and when you will appoint; but if the gentleness of your nature
will make the effort too severe for you, scruple not to decline it, for
Mortimer, when he knows your pleasure, will submit to it as he ought.
Adieu, most amiable and but too lovely Cecilia; whatever you determine,
be sure of my concurrence, for nobly have you earned, and ever must you
retain, the esteem, the affection, and the gratitude of AUGUSTA
"Alas," cried Cecilia, "when shall I be at rest? when cease to be
persecuted by new conflicts! Oh why must I so often, so cruelly, though
so reluctantly, reject and reprove the man who of all men I wish to
accept and to please!"
But yet, though repining at this hard necessity, she hesitated not a
moment in complying with Mrs Delvile's request, and immediately sent an
answer that she would meet her the next morning at Mrs Charlton's.
She then returned to the parlour, and apologized to Mrs Harrel and Mr
Arnott for the abruptness of her visit, and the suddenness of her
departure. Mr Arnott heard her in silent dejection; and Mrs Harrel used
all the persuasion in her power to prevail with her to stay, her
presence being some relief to her solitude: but finding it ineffectual,
she earnestly pressed her to hasten her entrance into her own house,
that their absence might be shortened, and their meeting more
Cecilia passed the night in planning her behaviour for the next day;
she found how much was expected from her by Mrs Delvile, who had even
exhorted her to decline the interview if doubtful of her own strength.
Delvile's firmness in insisting the refusal should come directly from
herself, surprised, gratified and perplexed her in turn; she had
imagined, that from the moment of the discovery, he would implicitly
have submitted to the award of a parent at once so reverenced and so
beloved, and how he had summoned courage to contend with her she could
not conjecture: yet that courage and that contention astonished not
more than they soothed her, since, from her knowledge of his filial
tenderness, she considered them as the most indubitable proofs she had
yet received of the fervour and constancy of his regard for her. But
would he, when she had ratified the decision of his mother, forbear all
further struggle, and for ever yield up all pretensions to her? this
was the point upon which her uncertainty turned, and the ruling subject
of her thoughts and meditation.
To be steady, however, herself, be his conduct what it might, was
invariably her intention, and was all her ambition: yet earnestly she
wished the meeting over, for she dreaded to see the sorrow of Delvile,
and she dreaded still more the susceptibility of her own heart.
The next morning, to her great concern, Mr Arnott was waiting in the
hall when she came down stairs, and so much grieved at her departure,
that he handed her to the chaise without being able to speak to her,
and hardly heard her thanks and compliments but by recollection after
she was gone.
She arrived at Mrs Charlton's very early, and found her old friend in
the same state she had left her. She communicated to her the purpose of
her return, and begged she would keep her granddaughters up stairs,
that the conference in the parlour might be uninterrupted and unheard.
She then made a forced and hasty breakfast, and went down to be ready
to receive them. They came not till eleven o'clock, and the time of her
waiting was passed in agonies of expectation.
At length they were announced, and at length they entered the room.
Cecilia, with her utmost efforts for courage, could hardly stand to
receive them. They came in together, but Mrs Delvile, advancing before
her son, and endeavouring so to stand as to intercept his view of her,
with the hope that in a few instants her emotion would be less visible,
said, in the most soothing accents, "What honour Miss Beverley does us
by permitting this visit! I should have been sorry to have left Suffolk
without the satisfaction of again seeing you; and my son, sensible of
the high respect he owes you, was most unwilling to be gone, before he
had paid you his devoirs."
Cecilia courtsied; but depressed by the cruel task which awaited her,
had no power to speak; and Mrs Delvile, finding she still trembled,
made her sit down, and drew a chair next to her.
Mean while Delvile, with an emotion far more violent, because wholly
unrestrained, waited impatiently till the ceremonial of the reception
was over, and then, approaching Cecilia, in a voice of perturbation and
resentment, said, "In this presence, at least, I hope I may be heard;
though my letters have been unanswered, my visits refused, though
inexorably you have flown me--"
"Mortimer," interrupted Mrs Delvile, "forget not that what I have told
you is irrevocable; you now meet Miss Beverley for no other purpose
than to give and to receive a mutual release of all to or engagement
with each other."
"Pardon me, madam," cried he, "this is a condition to which I have
never assented. I come not to release, but to claim her! I am hers, and
hers wholly! I protest it in the face of the world! The time,
therefore, is now past for the sacrifice which you demand, since scarce
are you more my mother, than I consider her as my wife."
Cecilia, amazed at this dauntless declaration, now almost lost her fear
in her surprise; while Mrs Delvile, with an air calm though displeased,
answered, "This is not a point to be at present discussed, and I had
hoped you knew better what was due to your auditors. I only consented
to this interview as a mark of your respect for Miss Beverley, to whom
in propriety it belongs to break off this unfortunate connexion."
Cecilia, who at this call could no longer be silent, now gathered
fortitude to say, "Whatever tie or obligation may be supposed to depend
upon me, I have already relinquished; and I am now ready to declare--"
"That you wholly give me up?" interrupted Delvile, "is that what you
would say?--Oh how have I offended you? how have I merited a
displeasure that can draw upon me such a sentence?--Answer, speak to
me, Cecilia, what is it I have done?"
"Nothing, Sir," said Cecilia, confounded at this language in the
presence of his mother, "you have done nothing,--but yet--"
"Yet what?--have you conceived to me an aversion? has any dreadful and
horrible antipathy succeeded to your esteem?--tell, tell me without
disguise, do you hate, do you abhor me?"
Cecilia sighed, and turned away her head; and Mrs Delvile indignantly
exclaimed, "What madness and absurdity! I scarce know you under the
influence of such irrational violence. Why will you interrupt Miss
Beverley in the only speech you ought to hear from her? Why, at once,
oppress her, and irritate me, by words of more passion than reason? Go
on, charming girl, finish what so wisely, so judiciously you were
beginning, and then you shall be released from this turbulent
"No, madam, she must not go on!" cried Delvile, "if she does not
utterly abhor me, I will not suffer her to go on;--Pardon, pardon me,
Cecilia, but your too exquisite delicacy is betraying not only my
happiness, but your own. Once more, therefore, I conjure you to hear
me, and then if, deliberately and unbiassed, you renounce me, I will
never more distress you by resisting your decree."
Cecilia, abashed and changing colour, was silent, and he proceeded.
"All that has past between us, the vows I have offered you of faith,
constancy and affection, the consent I obtained from you to be legally
mine, the bond of settlement I have had drawn up, and the high honour
you conferred upon me in suffering me to lead you to the altar,--all
these particulars are already known to so many, that the least
reflection must convince you they will soon be concealed from none:
tell me, then, if your own fame pleads not for me, and if the scruples
which lead you to refuse, by taking another direction, will not, with
Back to Full Books