Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 3

A Summons.

Cecilia’s earliest care, almost at break of day, was to send to the Grove; from thence she heard nothing but evil; Mr Monckton was still alive, but with little or no hope of recovery, constantly delirious, and talking of Miss Beverley, and of her being married to young Delvile.

Cecilia, who knew well this, at least, was no delirium, though shocked that he talked of it, hoped his danger less than was apprehended.

The next day, however, more fatal news was brought her, though not from the quarter she expected it: Mr Monckton, in one of his raving fits, had sent for Lady Margaret to his bed side, and used her almost inhumanly: he had railed at her age and her infirmities with incredible fury, called her the cause of all his sufferings, and accused her as the immediate agent of Lucifer in his present wound and danger. Lady Margaret, whom neither jealousy nor malignity had cured of loving him, was dismayed and affrighted; and in hurrying out of the room upon his attempting, in his frenzy, to strike her, she dropt down dead in an apoplectic fit.

“Good Heaven!” thought Cecilia, “what an exemplary punishment has this man! he loses his hated wife at the very moment when her death could no longer answer his purposes! Poor Lady Margaret! her life has been as bitter as her temper! married from a view of interest, ill used as a bar to happiness, and destroyed from the fruitless ravings of despair!”

She wrote all this intelligence to Ostend, whence she received a letter from Delvile, acquainting her he was detained from proceeding further by the weakness and illness of his mother, whose sufferings from seasickness had almost put an end to her existence.

Thus passed a miserable week; Monckton still merely alive, Delvile detained at Ostend, and Cecilia tortured alike by what was recently passed, actually present, and fearfully expected; when one morning she was told a gentleman upon business desired immediately to speak with her.

She hastily obeyed the summons; the constant image of her own mind, Delvile, being already present to her, and a thousand wild conjectures upon what had brought him back, rapidly occurring to her.

Her expectations, however, were ill answered, for she found an entire stranger; an elderly man, of no pleasant aspect or manners.

She desired to know his business.

“I presume, madam, you are the lady of this house?”

She bowed an assent.

“May I take the liberty, madam, to ask your name?’

“My name, sir?”

“You will do me a favour, madam, by telling it me.”

“Is it possible you are come hither without already knowing it?”

“I know it only by common report, madam.”

“Common report, sir, I believe is seldom wrong in a matter where to be right is so easy.”

“Have you any objection, madam, to telling me your name?”

“No, sir; but your business can hardly be very important, if you are yet to learn whom you are to address. It will be time enough, therefore, for us to meet when you are elsewhere satisfied in this point.”

She would then have left the room.

“I beg, madam,” cried the stranger, “you will have patience; it is necessary, before I can open my business, that I should hear your name from yourself.”

“Well, sir,” cried she with some hesitation, “you can scarce have come to this house, without knowing that its owner is Cecilia Beverley.”

“That, madam, is your maiden name.”

“My maiden name?” cried she, starting.

“Are you not married, madam?”

“Married, sir?” she repeated, while her cheeks were the colour of scarlet.

“It is, properly, therefore, madam, the name of your husband that I mean to ask.”

“And by what authority, sir,” cried she, equally astonished and offended, “do you make these extraordinary enquiries?”

“I am deputed, madam, to wait upon you by Mr Eggleston, the next heir to this estate, by your uncle’s will, if you die without children, or change your name when you marry. His authority of enquiry, madam, I presume you will allow, and he has vested it in me by a letter of attorney.”

Cecilia’s distress and confusion were now unspeakable; she knew not what to own or deny, she could not conjecture how she had been betrayed, and she had never made the smallest preparation against such an attack.

“Mr Eggleston, madam,” he continued, “has been pretty credibly informed that you are actually married: he is very desirous, therefore, to know what are your intentions, for your continuing to be called Miss Beverley, as if still single, leaves him quite in the dark: but, as he is so deeply concerned in the affair, he expects, as a lady of honour, you will deal with him without prevarication.”

“This demand, sir,” said Cecilia, stammering, “is so extremely — so — so little expected —”

“The way, madam, in these cases, is to keep pretty closely to the point; are you married or are you not?”

Cecilia, quite confounded, made no answer: to disavow her marriage, when thus formally called upon, was every way unjustifiable; to acknowledge it in her present situation, would involve her in difficulties innumerable.

“This is not, madam, a slight thing; Mr Eggleston has a large family and a small fortune, and that, into the bargain, very much encumbered; it cannot, therefore, be expected that he will knowingly connive at cheating himself, by submitting to your being actually married, and still enjoying your estate though your husband does not take your name.”

Cecilia, now, summoning more presence of mind, answered, “Mr Eggleston, sir, has, at least, nothing to fear from imposition: those with whom he has, or may have any transactions in this affair, are not accustomed to practice it.”

“I am far from meaning any offence, madam; my commission from Mr Eggleston is simply this, to beg you will satisfy him upon what grounds you now evade the will of your late uncle, which, till cleared up, appears a point manifestly to his prejudice.”

“Tell him, then, sir, that whatever he wishes to know shall be explained to him in about a week. At present I can give no other answer.”

“Very well, madam; he will wait that time, I am sure, for he does not wish to put you to any inconvenience. But when he heard the gentleman was gone abroad without owning his marriage, he thought it high time to take some notice of the matter.”

Cecilia, who by this speech found she was every way discovered, was again in the utmost confusion, and with much trepidation, said, “since you seem so well, sir, acquainted with this affair, I should be glad you would inform me by what means you came to the knowledge of it?”

“I heard it, madam, from Mr Eggleston himself, who has long known it.”

“Long, sir? — impossible! when it is not yet a fortnight — not ten days, or no more, that ——”

She stopt, recollecting she was making a confession better deferred.

“That, madam,” he answered, “may perhaps bear a little contention: for when this business comes to be settled, it will be very essential to be exact as to the time, even to the very hour; for a large income per annum, divides into a small one per diem: and if your husband keeps his own name, you must not only give up your uncle’s inheritance from the time of relinquishing yours, but refund from the very day of your marriage.”

“There is not the least doubt of it,” answered she; nor will the smallest difficulty be made.”

“You will please, then, to recollect, madam, that this sum is every hour encreasing; and has been since last September, which made half a year accountable for last March. Since then there is now added ——”

“Good Heaven, Sir,” cried Cecilia, “what calculation are you making out? do you call last week last September?”

“No, madam; but I call last September the month in which you were married.”

“You will find yourself, then, sir, extremely mistaken; and Mr Eggleston is preparing himself for much disappointment, if he supposes me so long in arrears with him.”

“Mr Eggleston, madam, happens to be well informed of this transaction, as, if there is any dispute in it, you will find. He was your immediate successor in the house to which you went last September in Pall–Mall; the woman who kept it acquainted his servants that the last lady who hired it stayed with her but a day, and only came to town, she found, to be married: and hearing, upon enquiry, this lady was Miss Beverley, the servants, well knowing that their master was her conditional heir, told him the circumstance.”

“You will find all this, sir, end in nothing.”

“That, madam, as I said before, remains to be proved. If a young lady at eight o’clock in the morning, is seen — and she was seen, going into a church with a young gentleman, and one female friend; and is afterwards observed to come out of it, followed by a clergyman and another person, supposed to have officiated as father, and is seen get into a coach with same young gentleman, and same female friend, why the circumstances are pretty strong! —”

“They may seem so, Sir; but all conclusions drawn from them will be erroneous. I was not married then, upon my honour!”

“We have little, madam, to do with professions; the circumstances are strong enough to bear a trial, and —”

“A trial! —”

“We have traced, madam, many witnesses able to stand to divers particulars; and eight months share of such an estate as this, is well worth a little trouble.”

“I am amazed, sir! surely Mr Eggleston never desired you to make use of this language to me?”

“Mr Eggleston, madam, has behaved very honourably; though he knew the whole affair so long ago, he was persuaded Mr Delvile had private reasons for a short concealment; and expecting every day when they would be cleared up by his taking your name, he never interfered: but being now informed he set out last week for the continent, he has been advised by his friends to claim his rights.”

“That claim, sir, he need not fear will be satisfied; and without any occasion for threats of enquiries or law suits.”

“The truth, madam, is this; Mr Eggleston is at present in a little difficulty about some money matters, which makes it a point with him of some consequence to have the affair settled speedily: unless you could conveniently compromise the matter, by advancing a particular sum, till it suits you to refund the whole that is due to him, and quit the premises.”

“Nothing, sir, is due to him! at least, nothing worth mentioning. I shall enter into no terms, for I have no compromise to make. As to the premises, I will quit them with all the expedition in my power.”

“You will do well, madam; for the truth is, it will not be convenient to him to wait much longer.”

He then went away.

“When, next,” cried Cecilia, “shall I again be weak, vain, blind enough to form any plan with a hope of secresy? or enter, with any hope, into a clandestine scheme! betrayed by those I have trusted, discovered by those I have not thought of, exposed to the cruellest alarms, and defenceless from the most shocking attacks! — Such has been the life I have led since the moment I first consented to a private engagement! — Ah Delvile! your mother, in her tenderness, forgot her dignity, or she would not have concurred in an action which to such disgrace made me liable!”

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:32