Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 7

A Pursuit.

The moment the porter came to the door, Cecilia eagerly called out from the coach, “Is Mr Delvile here?”

“Yes, madam,” he answered, “but I believe he is engaged.”

“Oh no matter for any engagement!” cried she, on the door — I must speak to him this moment!”

“If you will please to step into the parlour, madam, I will tell his gentleman you are here; but he will be much displeased if he is disturbed without notice.”

“Ah heaven!” exclaimed she, “what Mr Delvile are you talking of?”

“My master, madam.”

Cecilia, who had got out of the coach, now hastily returned to it, and was some time in too great agony to answer either the porter, who desired some message, or the coachman, who asked whither he was to drive. To see Mr Delvile, unprotected by his son, and contrary to his orders, appeared to her insupportable; yet to what place could she go? where was she likely to meet with Delvile? how could he find her if she went to Mrs Hill’s? and in what other house could she at present claim admittance?

After a little recovering from this cruel shock, she ventured, though in a faultering voice, to enquire whether young Mr Delvile had been there?

“Yes, madam,” the porter answered; “we thought he was abroad, but he called just now, and asked if any lady had been at the house. He would not even stay to go up to my master, and we have not dared tell him of his arrival.”

This a little revived her; to hear that he had actually been enquiring for her, at least assured her of his safety from any immediate violence, and she began to hope she might now possibly meet with him time enough to explain all that had past in his absence, and occasioned her seemingly strange and suspicious situation at Belfield’s. She compelled herself, therefore, to summon courage for seeing his father, since, as he had directed her to the house, she concluded he would return there to seek her, when he had wandered elsewhere to no purpose.

She then, though with much timidity and reluctance, sent a message to Mr Delvile to entreat a moment’s audience.

An answer was brought her that he saw no company so late at night.

Losing now all dread of his reproaches, in her superior dread of missing Delvile, she called out earnestly to the man, “Tell him, Sir, I beseech him not to refuse me! tell him I have something to communicate that requires his immediate attention!”

The servant obeyed; but soon returning, said his master desired him to acquaint her he was engaged every moment he stayed in town, and must positively decline seeing her.

“Go to him again,” cried the harassed Cecilia, “assure him I come not from myself, but by the desire of one he most values: tell him I entreat but permission to wait an hour in his house, and that I have no other place in the world whither I can go!”

Mr Delvile’s own gentleman brought, with evident concern, the answer to this petition; which was, that while the Honourable Mr Delvile was himself alive, he thought the desire of any other person concerning his house, was taking with him a very extraordinary liberty; and that he was now going to bed, and had given orders to his servants to carry him no more messages whatsoever, upon pain of instant dismission.

Cecilia now seemed totally destitute of all resource, and for a few dreadful minutes, gave herself up to utter despondency: nor, when she recovered her presence of mind, could she form any better plan than that of waiting in the coach to watch the return of Delvile.

She told the coachman, therefore, to drive to a corner of the square, begging Mr Simkins to have patience, which he promised with much readiness, and endeavoured to give her comfort, by talking without cessation.

She waited here near half an hour. She then feared the disappointment of Delvile in not meeting her at first, had made him conclude she meant not to obey his directions, and had perhaps urged him to call again upon Belfield, whom he might fancy privy to her non-appearance. This was new horror to her, and she resolved at all risks to drive to Portland-street, and enquire if Belfield himself was returned home. Yet, lest they should mutually be pursuing each other all night, she stopt again at Mr Delvile’s, and left word with the porter, that if young Mr Delvile should come home, he would hear of the person he was enquiring for at Mrs Roberts’s in Fetter-lane. To Belfield’s she did not dare to direct him; and it was her intention, if there she procured no new intelligence, to leave the same message, and then go to Mrs Roberts without further delay. To make such an arrangement with a servant who knew not her connection with his young master, was extremely repugnant to her; but the exigence was too urgent for scruples, and there was nothing to which she would not have consented, to prevent the fatal catastrophe she apprehended.

When she came to Belfield’s, not daring to enter the house, she sent in Mr Simkins, to desire that Mrs Belfield would be so good as to step to the coach door.

“Is your son, madam,” she cried, eagerly, “come home? and is any body with him?”

“No, ma’am; he has never once been across the threshold since that gentleman took him out; and I am half out of my wits to think”—

“Has that gentleman,” interrupted Cecilia, “been here anymore?”

“Yes, ma’am, that’s what I was going to tell you; he came again just now, and said”—

“Just now? — good heaven! — and which way is he gone?”

“Why he is after no good, I am afraid, for he was in a great passion, and would hardly hear any thing I said.”

“Pray, pray answer me quick! — where, which way did he go?”

“Why, he asked me if I knew whither my son was come from the * * coffee-house; why, says I, I’m sure I can’t tell, for if it had not been for Mr Simkins, I should not so much as have known he ever went to the * * coffee-house; however, I hope he a’n’t come away, because if he is, poor Miss Beverley will have had all that trouble for nothing; for she’s gone after him in a prodigious hurry; and upon my only saying that, he seemed quite beside himself, and said, if I don’t meet with your son at the * * coffee-house myself, pray, when he comes in, tell him I shall be highly obliged to him to call there; and then he went away, in as great a pet as ever you saw.”

Cecilia listened to this account with the utmost terror and misery; the suspicions of Delvile would now be aggravated, and the message he had left for Belfield, would by him be regarded as a defiance. Again, however, to the * * coffee-house she instantly ordered the coach, an immediate explanation from herself seeming the only possible chance for preventing the most horrible conclusion to this unfortunate and eventful evening.

She was still accompanied by Mr Simkins, and, but that she attended to nothing he said, would not inconsiderably have been tormented by his conversation. She sent him immediately into the coffee-room, to enquire if either of the gentlemen were then in the house.

He returned to her with a waiter, who said, “One of them, madam, called again just now, but he only stopt to write a note, which he left to be given to the gentleman who came with him at first. He is but this moment gone, and I don’t think he can be at the bottom of the street.”

“Oh drive then, gallop after him!”— cried Cecilia; “coachman! go this moment!”

“My horses are tired,” said the man, “they have been out all day, and they will gallop no further, if I don’t stop and give them a drink.”

Cecilia, too full of hope and impatience for this delay, forced open the door herself, and without saying another word, jumped out of the carriage, with intention to run down the street; but the coachman immediately seizing her, protested she should not stir till he was paid.

In the utmost agony of mind at an hindrance by which she imagined Delvile would be lost to her perhaps for ever, she put her hand in her pocket, in order to give up her purse for her liberty; but Mr Simkins, who was making a tiresome expostulation with the coachman, took it himself, and declaring he would not see the lady cheated, began a tedious calculation of his fare.

“O pay him any thing!” cried she, “and let us be gone! an instant’s delay may be fatal!”

Mr Simkins, too earnest to conquer the coachman to attend to her distress, continued his prolix harangue concerning a disputed shilling, appealing to some gathering spectators upon the justice of his cause; while his adversary, who was far from sober, still held Cecilia, saying the coach had been hired for the lady, and he would be paid by herself.

“Good God!” cried the agitated Cecilia — “give him my purse at once! — give him every thing he desires!”—

The coachman, at this permission, encreased his demands, and Mr Simkins, taking the number of his coach, protested he would summons him to the Court of Conscience the next morning. A gentleman, who then came out of the coffee-house, offered to assist the lady, but the coachman, who still held her arm, swore he would have his right.

“Let me go! let me pass!” cried she, with encreasing eagerness and emotion; “detain me at your peril! — release me this moment — only let me run to the end of the street — good God! good Heaven! detain me not for mercy!”

Mr Simkins, humbly desiring her not to be in haste, began a formal apology for his conduct; but the inebriety of the coachman became evident; a mob was collecting; Cecilia, breathless with vehemence and terror, was encircled, yet struggled in vain to break away; and the stranger gentleman, protesting, with sundry compliments, he would himself take care of her, very freely seized her hand.

This moment, for the unhappy Cecilia, teemed with calamity; she was wholly overpowered; terror for Delvile, horror for herself, hurry, confusion, heat and fatigue, all assailing her at once, while all means of repelling them were denied her, the attack was too strong for her fears, feelings, and faculties, and her reason suddenly, yet totally failing her, she madly called out, “He will be gone! he will be gone! and I must follow him to Nice!”

The gentleman now retreated; but Mr Simkins, who was talking to the mob, did not hear her; and the coachman, too much intoxicated to perceive her rising frenzy, persisted in detaining her.

“I am going to France!” cried she, still more wildly, “why do you stop me? he will die if I do not see him, he will bleed to death!”

The coachman, still unmoved, began to grow very abusive; but the stranger, touched by compassion, gave up his attempted gallantry, and Mr Simkins, much astonished, entreated her not to be frightened: she was, however, in no condition to listen to him; with a strength hitherto unknown to her, she forcibly disengaged herself from her persecutors; yet her senses were wholly disordered; she forgot her situation, her intention, and herself; the single idea of Delvile’s danger took sole possession of her brain, though all connection with its occasion was lost, and the moment she was released, she fervently clasped her hands, exclaiming, “I will yet heal his wound, even at the hazard of my life!” and springing forward, was almost instantly out of sight.

Mr Simkins now, much alarmed, and earnestly calling after her, entered into a compromise with the coachman, that he might attend her; but the length of his negociation defeated its purpose, and before he was at liberty to follow her, all trace was lost by which he might have overtaken her. He stopt every passenger he met to make enquiries, but though they led him on some way, they led him on in vain; and, after a useless and ill-managed pursuit, he went quietly to his own home, determining to acquaint Mrs Belfield with what had happened the next morning.

Mean while the frantic Cecilia escaped both pursuit and insult by the velocity of her own motion. She called aloud upon Delvile as she flew to the end of the street. No Delvile was there! — she turned the corner; yet saw nothing of him; she still went on, though unknowing whither, the distraction of her mind every instant growing greater, from the inflammation of fatigue, heat, and disappointment. She was spoken to repeatedly; she was even caught once or twice by her riding habit; but she forced herself along by her own vehement rapidity, not hearing what was said, nor heeding what was thought. Delvile, bleeding by the arm of Belfield, was the image before her eyes, and took such full possession of her senses, that still, as she ran on, she fancied it in view. She scarce touched the ground; she scarce felt her own motion; she seemed as if endued with supernatural speed, gliding from place to place, from street to street; with no consciousness of any plan, and following no other direction than that of darting forward where-ever there was most room, and turning back when she met with any obstruction; till quite spent and exhausted, she abruptly ran into a yet open shop, where, breathless and panting, she sunk upon the floor, and, with a look disconsolate and helpless, sat for some time without speaking.

The people of the house, concluding at first she was a woman of the town, were going roughly to turn her out; but soon seeing their mistake, by the evident distraction of her air and manner, they enquired of some idle people who, late as it was, had followed her, if any of them knew who she was, or whence she came?

They could give no account of her, but supposed she was broke loose from Bedlam.

Cecilia then, wildly starting up, exclaimed, “No, no — I am not mad — I am going to Nice — to my husband.”

“She’s quite crazy,” said the man of the house, who was a Pawn–Broker; “we had better get rid of her before she grows mischievous —”

“She’s somebody broke out from a private mad house, I dare say,” said a man who had followed her into the shop; “and if you were to take care of her a little while, ten to one but you’ll get a reward for it.”

“She’s a gentlewoman, sure enough,” said the mistress of the house, “because she’s got such good things on.”

And then, under pretence of trying to find some direction to her upon a letter, or paper, she insisted upon searching her pockets: here, however, she was disappointed in her expectations: her purse was in the custody of Mr Simkins, but neither her terror nor distress had saved her from the daring dexterity of villainy, and her pockets, in the mob, had been rifled of whatever else they contained. The woman therefore hesitated some time whether to take charge of her or, not: but being urged by the man who made the proposal, and who said they might depend upon seeing her soon advertised, as having escaped from her keepers, they ventured to undertake her.

Mean while she endeavoured again to get out, calling aloud upon Delvile to rescue her, but so wholly bereft of sense and recollection, she could give no account who she was, whence she came, or whither she wished to go.

They then carried her up stairs, and attempted to make her lie down upon a bed; but supposing she refused because it was not of straw, they desisted; and, taking away the candle, locked the door, and all went to rest.

In this miserable condition, alone and raving, she was left to pass the night! in the early part of it, she called upon Delvile without intermission, beseeching him to come to her defence in one moment, and deploring his death the next; but afterwards, her strength being wholly exhausted by these various exertions and fatigues, she threw herself upon the floor, and lay for some minutes quite still. Her head then began to grow cooler, as the fever into which terror and immoderate exercise had thrown her abated, and her memory recovered its functions.

This was, however, only a circumstance of horror to her: she found herself shut up in a place of confinement, without light, without knowledge where she was, and not a human being near her!

Yet the same returning reason which enabled her to take this view of her own situation, brought also to her mind that in which she had left Delvile; — under all the perturbation of new-kindled jealousy, just calling upon Belfield — Belfield, tenacious of his honour even more than himself — to satisfy doubts of which the very mention would be received as a challenge!

“Oh yet, oh yet,” cried she, “let me fly and overtake them! — I may find them before morning, and to-night it must surely have been too late for this work of death!”

She then arose to feel for the door, and succeeded; but it was locked, and no effort she could make enabled her to open it.

Her agony was unspeakable; she called out with violence upon the people of the house, conjured them to set her at liberty, offered any reward for their assistance, and threatened them with a prosecution if detained.

Nobody, however, came near her: some slept on notwithstanding all the disturbance she could make, and others; though awakened by her cries, concluded them the ravings of a mad woman, and listened not to what she said.

Her head was by no means in a condition to bear this violence of distress; every pulse was throbbing, every vein seemed bursting, her reason, so lately returned, could not bear the repetition of such a shock, and from supplicating for help with all the energy of feeling and understanding, she soon continued the cry from mere vehemence of distraction.

Thus dreadfully passed the night; and in the morning, when the woman of the house came to see after her, she found her raving with such frenzy, and desperation, that her conscience was perfectly at ease in the treatment she had given her, being now firmly satisfied she required the strictest confinement.

She still, however, tried to get away; talked of Delvile without cessation, said she should be too late to serve him, told the woman she desired but to prevent murder, and repeatedly called out, “Oh beloved of my heart! wait but a moment, and I will snatch thee from destruction!”

Mrs Wyers, this woman, now sought no longer to draw from her whence she came, or who she was, but heard her frantic exclamations without any emotion, contentedly concluding that her madness was incurable: and though she was in a high fever, refused all sustenance, and had every symptom of an alarming and dangerous malady, she was fully persuaded that her case was that of decided insanity, and had not any notion of temporary or accidental alienation of reason.

All she could think of by way of indulgence to her, was to bring her a quantity of straw, having heard that mad people were fond of it; and putting it in a heap in one corner of the room, she expected to see her eagerly fly at it.

Cecilia, however, distracted as she was, was eager for nothing but to escape, which was constantly her aim, alike when violent or when quiet. Mrs Wyers, finding this, kept her closely confined, and the door always locked, whether absent or present.

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