Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 5

A Decision.

This business effectually occupied the present and following day; the third, Cecilia expected her answer from Delvile Castle, and the visit she so much dreaded from the attorney.

The answer arrived first.

To Miss Beverley.

MADAM— As my son has never apprized me of the extraordinary step which your letter intimates, I am too unwilling to believe him capable of so far forgetting what he owes his family, to ratify any such intimation by interfering with my counsel or opinion. — I am, Madam, &c.,

COMPTON DELVILE.

DELVILE CASTLE, May 1st, 1780.

Cecilia had little right to be surprised by this letter, and she had not a moment to comment upon it, before the attorney arrived.

“Well, madam,” said the man, as he entered the parlour, “Mr Eggleston has stayed your own time very patiently: he commissions me now to enquire if it is convenient to you to quit the premises.”

“No, Sir, it is by no means convenient to me; and if Mr Eggleston will wait some time longer, I shall be greatly obliged to him.”

“No doubt, madam, but he will, upon proper considerations.”

“What, Sir, do you call proper?”

“Upon your advancing to him, as I hinted before, an immediate particular sum from what must, by and bye, be legally restituted.”

“If this is the condition of his courtesy, I will quit the house without giving him further trouble.”

“Just as it suits you, madam. He will be glad to take possession tomorrow or next day.”

“You did well, Sir, to commend his patience! I shall, however, merely discharge my servants, and settle my accounts, and be ready to make way for him.”

“You will not take it amiss, madam, if I remind you that the account with Mr Eggleston must be the first that is settled.”

“If you mean the arrears of this last fortnight or three weeks, I believe I must desire him to wait Mr Delvile’s return, as I may otherwise myself be distressed for ready money.”

“That, madam, is not likely, as it is well known you have a fortune that was independent of your late uncle; and as to distress for ready money, it is a plea Mr Eggleston can urge much more strongly.”

“This is being strangely hasty, Sir! — so short a time as it is since Mr Eggleston could expect any of this estate!”

“That, madam, is nothing to the purpose; from the moment it is his, he has as many wants for it as any other gentleman. He desired me, however, to acquaint you, that if you still chose an apartment in this house, till Mr Delvile returns, you shall have one at your service.”

“To be a guest in this house, Sir,” said Cecilia, drily, “might perhaps seem strange to me; I will not, therefore, be so much in his way.”

Mr Carn then informed her she might put her seal upon whatever she meant hereafter to claim or dispute, and took his leave.

Cecilia now shut herself up in her own room, to meditate without interruption, before she would proceed to any action. She felt much inclination to send instantly for some lawyer; but when she considered her peculiar situation, the absence of her husband, the renunciation of his father, the loss of her fortune, and her ignorance upon the subject, she thought it better to rest quiet till Delvile’s own fate, and own opinion could be known, than to involve herself in a lawsuit she was so little able to superintend.

In this cruel perplexity of her mind and her affairs, her first thought was to board again with Mrs Bayley; but that was soon given up, for she felt a repugnance unconquerable to continuing in her native county, when deprived of her fortune, and cast out of her dwelling.

Her situation, indeed, was singularly unhappy, since, by this unforeseen vicissitude of fortune, she was suddenly, from being an object of envy and admiration, sunk into distress, and threatened with disgrace; from being every where caressed, and by every voice praised, she blushed to be seen, and expected to be censured; and, from being generally regarded as an example of happiness, and a model of virtue, she was now in one moment to appear to the world, an outcast from her own house, yet received into no other! a bride, unclaimed by a husband! an HEIRESS, dispossessed of all wealth!

To be first acknowledged as Mrs Delvile in a state so degrading, she could not endure; and to escape from it, one way alone remained, which was going instantly abroad.

Upon this, therefore, she finally determined: her former objections to such a step being now wholly, though unpleasantly removed, since she had neither estate nor affairs to demand her stay, and since all hopes of concealment were totally at an end. Her marriage, therefore, and its disgraceful consequences being published to the world, she resolved without delay to seek the only asylum which was proper for her, in the protection of the husband for whom she had given up every other.

She purposed, therefore, to go immediately and privately to London, whence she could best settle her route for the continent: where she hoped to arrive before the news of her distress reached Delvile, whom nothing, she was certain, but her own presence, could keep there for a moment after hearing it.

Thus decided, at length, in her plan, she proceeded to put it in execution with calmness and intrepidity; comforting herself that the conveniencies and indulgencies with which she was now parting, would soon be restored to her, and though not with equal power, with far more satisfaction. She told her steward her design of going the next morning to London, bid him pay instantly all her debts, and discharge all her servants, determining to keep no account open but that with Mr Eggleston, which he had made so intricate by double and undue demands, that she thought it most prudent and safe to leave him wholly to Delvile.

She then packed up all her papers and letters, and ordered her maid to pack up her clothes.

She next put her own seal upon her cabinets, draws, and many other things, and employed almost all her servants at once, in making complete inventories of what every room contained.

She advised Mrs Harrel to send without delay for Mr Arnott, and return to his house. She had first purposed to carry Henrietta home to her mother herself; but another scheme for her now occurred, from which she hoped much future advantage to the amiable and dejected girl.

She knew well, that deep as was at present her despondency, the removal of all possibility of hope, by her knowledge of Delvile’s marriage, must awaken her before long from the delusive visions of her romantic fancy; Mr Arnott himself was in a situation exactly similar, and the knowledge of the same event would probably be productive of the same effect. When Mrs Harrel, therefore, began to repine at the solitude to which she was returning, Cecilia proposed to her the society of Henrietta, which, glad to catch at any thing that would break into her loneliness, she listened to with pleasure, and seconded by an invitation.

Henrietta, to whom all houses appeared preferable to her own home, joyfully accepted the offer, committing to Cecilia the communication of the change of her abode to Mrs Belfield.

Cecilia, who in the known and tried honour of Mr Arnott would unreluctantly have trusted a sister, was much pleased by this little arrangement, from which should no good ensue, no evil, at least, was probable. But she hoped, through the mutual pity their mutual melancholy might inspire, that their minds, already not dissimilar, would be softened in favour of each other, and that, in conclusion, each might be happy in receiving the consolation each could give, and a union would take place, in which their reciprocal disappointment might, in time, be nearly forgotten.

There was not, indeed, much promise of such an event in the countenance of Mr Arnott, when, late at night, he came for his sister, nor in the unbounded sorrow of Henrietta, when the moment of leave-taking arrived. Mr Arnott looked half dead with the shock his sister’s intelligence had given him, and Henrietta’s heart, torn asunder between friendship and love, was scarce able to bear a parting, which from Cecilia, she regarded as eternal, added to the consciousness it was occasioned by her going to join Delvile for life!

Cecilia, who both read and pitied these conflicting emotions, was herself extremely hurt by this necessary separation. She tenderly loved Henrietta, she loved her even the more for the sympathy of their affections, which called forth the most forcible commiseration — that which springs from fellow-feeling!

“Farewell,” she cried, “my Henrietta, be but happy as you are innocent, and be both as I love you, and nothing will your friends have to wish for you, or yourself to regret.”

“I must always regret,” cried the sobbing Henrietta, “that I cannot live with you for ever! I should regret it if I were queen of all the world, how much more then, when I am nothing and nobody! I do not wish you happy, madam, for I think happiness was made on purpose for you, and nobody else ever had it before; I only wish you health and long life, for the sake of those who will be made as happy as you — for you will spoil them — as you have spoilt me — from being ever happy without you!”

Cecilia re-iterated her assurances of a most faithful regard, embraced Mrs Harrel, spoke words of kindness to the drooping Mr Arnott, and then parted with them all.

Having still many small matters to settle, and neither company nor appetite, she would eat no supper; but, in passing thro’ the hall, in her way to her own room, she was much surprised to see all her domestics assembled in a body. She stopt to enquire their intention, when they eagerly pressed forward, humbly and earnestly entreating to know why they were discharged? “For no reason in the world,” cried Cecilia, “but because it is at present out of my power to keep you any longer.”

“Don’t part with me, madam, for that,” cried one of them, “for I will serve you for nothing!”

“So will I!” cried another, “And I!” “And I!” was echoed by them all; while “no other such mistress is to be found!” “We can never bear any other place!” and “keep me, madam, at least!” was even clamorously urged by each of them.

Cecilia, distressed and flattered at once by their unwillingness to quit her, received this testimony of gratitude for the kind and liberal treatment they had received, with the warmest thanks both for their services and fidelity, and assured them that when again she was settled, all those who should be yet unprovided with places, should be preferred in her house before any other claimants.

Having, with difficulty, broken from them, she sent for her own man, Ralph, who had lived with her many years before the death of the Dean, and told him she meant still to continue him in her service. The man heard it with great delight, and promised to re-double his diligence to deserve her favour. She then communicated the same news to her maid, who had also resided with her some years, and by whom with the same, or more pleasure it was heard.

These and other regulations employed her almost all night; yet late and fatigued as she went to bed, she could not close her eyes: fearful something was left undone, she robbed herself of the short time she had allowed to rest, by incessant meditation upon what yet remained to be executed. She could recollect, however, one only thing that had escaped her vigilance, which was acquainting the pew-opener, and two or three other poor women who had weekly pensions from her, that they must, at least for the present, depend no longer upon her assistance.

Nothing indeed could be more painful to her than giving them such information, yet not to be speedy with it would double the barbarity of their disappointment. She even felt for these poor women, whose loss in her she knew would be irreparable, a compassion that drove from her mind almost every other subject, and determined her, in order to soften to them this misfortune, to communicate it herself, that she might prevent them from sinking under it, by reviving them with hopes of her future assistance.

She had ordered at seven o’clock in the morning an hired chaise at the door, and she did not suffer it long to wait for her. She quitted her house with a heart full of care and anxiety, grieving at the necessity of making such a sacrifice, uncertain how it would turn out, and labouring under a thousand perplexities with respect to the measures she ought immediately to take. She passed, when she reached the hall, through a row of weeping domestics, not one of whom with dry eyes could see the house bereft of such a mistress. She spoke to them all with kindness, and as much as was in her power with chearfulness: but the tone of her voice gave them little reason to think the concern at this journey was all their own.

She ordered her chaise to drive round to the pew-opener’s and thence to the rest of her immediate dependents. She soon, however, regretted that she had given herself this task; the affliction of these poor pensioners was clamorous, was almost heart-breaking; they could live, they said, no longer, they were ruined for ever; they should soon be without bread to eat, and they might cry for help in vain, when their generous, their only benefactress was far away!

Cecilia made the kindest efforts, to comfort and encourage them, assuring them the very moment her own affairs were arranged, she would remember them all, visit them herself, and contribute to their relief, with all the power she should have left. Nothing, however, could console them; they clung about her, almost took the horses from the chaise, and conjured her not to desert those who were solely cherished by her bounty!

Nor was this all she had to suffer; the news of her intention to quit the county was now reported throughout the neighbourhood, and had spread the utmost consternation among the poor in general, and the lower close of her own tenants in particular, and the road was soon lined with women and children, wringing their hands and crying. They followed her carriage with supplications that she would return to them, mixing blessings with their lamentations, and prayers for her happiness with the bitterest repinings at their own loss!

Cecilia was extremely affected; her liberal and ever-ready hand was every other instant involuntarily seeking her purse, which her many immediate expences, made her prudence as often check: and now first she felt the capital error she had committed, in living constantly to the utmost extent of her income, without ever preparing, though so able to have done it, against any unfortunate contingency.

When she escaped, at last, from receiving any longer this painful tribute to her benevolence, she gave orders to her man to ride forward and stop at the Grove, that a precise and minute account of Mr Monckton, might be the last, as it was now become the most important, news she should hear in Suffolk. This he did, when to her equal surprise and delight, she heard that he was suddenly so much better, there were hopes of his recovery.

Intelligence so joyful made her amends for almost every thing; yet she hesitated not in her plan of going abroad, as she knew not where to be in England, and could not endure to hurry Delvile from his sick mother, by acquainting him with her helpless and distressed situation. But so revived were her spirits by these unexpected tidings, that a gleam of brightest hope once more danced before her eyes, and she felt herself invigorated with fresh courage and new strength, sufficient to support her through all hardships and fatigues.

Spirits and courage were indeed much wanted for the enterprize she had formed; but little used to travelling, and having never been out of England, she knew nothing of the route but by a general knowledge of geography, which, though it could guide her east or west, could teach her nothing of foreign customs, the preparations necessary for the journey, the impositions she should guard against, nor the various dangers to which she might be exposed, from total ignorance of the country through which she had to pass.

Conscious of these deficiencies for such an undertaking, she deliberated without intermission how to obviate them. Yet sometimes, when to these hazards, those arising from her youth and sex were added, she was upon the point of relinquishing her scheme, as too perilous for execution, and resolving to continue privately in London till some change happened in her affairs.

But though to every thing she could suggest, doubts and difficulties arose, she had no friend to consult, nor could devise any means by which they might be terminated. Her maid was her only companion, and Ralph, who had spent almost his whole life in Suffolk, her only guard and attendant. To hire immediately some French servant, used to travelling in his own country, seemed the first step she had to take, and so essential, that no other appeared feasible till it was done. But where to hear of such a man she could not tell, and to take one not well recommended, would be exposing herself to frauds and dangers innumerable.

Yet so slow as Delvile travelled, from whom her last letter was still dated Ostend, she thought herself almost certain, could she once reach the continent, of overtaking him in his route within a day or two of her landing.

The earnest inclination with which this scheme was seconded, made her every moment less willing to forego it. It seemed the only harbour for her after the storm she had weathered, and the only refuge she could properly seek while thus houseless and helpless. Even were Delvile in England, he had no place at present to offer her, nor could any thing be proposed so unexceptionable as her living with Mrs Delvile at Nice, till he knew his father’s pleasure, and, in a separate journey home, had arranged his affairs either for her return, or her continuance abroad.

With what regret did she now look back to the time when, in a distress such as this, she should have applied for, and received the advice of Mr Monckton as oracular! The loss of a counsellor so long, so implicitly relied upon, lost to her also, only by his own interested worthlessness, she felt almost daily, for almost daily some intricacy or embarrassment made her miss his assistance: and though glad, since she found him so undeserving, that she had escaped the snares he had spread for her, she grieved much that she knew no man of honest character and equal abilities, that would care for her sufficiently to supply his place in her confidence.

As she was situated at present, she could think only of Mr Belfield to whom she could apply for any advice. Nor even to him was the application unexceptionable, the calumnies of Mr Delvile senior making it disagreeable to her even to see him. But he was at once a man of the world and a man of honour; he was the friend of Mortimer, whose confidence in him was great, and his own behaviour had uniformly shewn a respect far removed from impertinence or vanity, and a mind superior to being led to them by the influence of his gross mother. She had, indeed, when she last quitted his house, determined never to re-enter it; but determinations hasty or violent, are rarely observed, because rarely practicable; she had promised Henrietta to inform Mrs Belfield whither she was gone, and reconcile her to the absence she still hoped to make from home. She concluded, therefore, to go to Portland-street without delay, and enquire openly and at once whether, and when, she might speak with Mr Belfield; resolving, if tormented again by any forward insinuations, to rectify all mistakes by acknowledging her marriage.

She gave directions accordingly to the post-boy and Ralph.

With respect to her own lodgings while in town, as money was no longer unimportant to her, she meant from the Belfields to go to the Hills, by whom she might be recommended to some reputable and cheap place. To the Belfields, however, though very late when she arrived in town, she went first, unwilling to lose a moment in promoting her scheme of going abroad.

She left her maid in the chaise, and sent Ralph on to Mrs Hill, with directions to endeavour immediately to procure her a lodging.

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