Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 8

An Encounter.

Two whole days passed thus; no enquiries reached Mrs Wyers, and she found in the news-papers no advertisement. Meanwhile Cecilia grew worse every moment, tasted neither drink nor food, raved incessantly, called out twenty times in a breath, “Where is he? which way is he gone?” and implored the woman by the most pathetic remonstrances, to save her unhappy Delvile, dearer to her than life, more precious than peace or rest!

At other times she talked of her marriage, of the displeasure of his family, and of her own remorse; entreated the woman not to betray her, and promised to spend the remnant of her days in the heaviness of sorrow and contrition.

Again her fancy roved, and Mr Monckton took sole possession of it. She reproached him for his perfidy, she bewailed that he was massacred, she would not a moment out-live him, and wildly declared her last remains should moulder in his hearse! And thus, though naturally and commonly of a silent and quiet disposition, she was now not a moment still, for the irregular starts of a terrified and disordered imagination, were changed into the constant ravings of morbid delirium.

The woman, growing uneasy from her uncertainty of pay for her trouble, asked the advice of some of her friends what was proper for her to do; and they counselled her to put an advertisement into the papers herself the next morning.

The following, therefore, was drawn up and sent to the printer of the Daily Advertiser.

MADNESS.

Whereas a crazy young lady, tall, fair complexioned, with blue eyes and light hair, ran into the Three Blue Balls, in —— street, on Thursday night, the 2nd instant, and has been kept there since out of charity. She was dressed in a riding habit. Whoever she belongs to is desired to send after her immediately. She has been treated with the utmost care and tenderness. She talks much of some person by the name of Delvile.

N.B. — She had no money about her.

May, 1780.

This had but just been sent off, when Mr Wyers, the man of the house, coming up stairs, said, “Now we shall have two of them, for here’s the crazy old gentleman below, that says he has just heard in the neighbourhood of what has happened to us, and he desires to see the poor lady.”

“It’s as well let him come up, then,” answered Mrs Wyers, “for he goes to all sort of places and people, and ten to one but he’ll bustle about till he finds out who she is.”

Mr Wyers then went down stairs to send him up.

He came instantly. It was Albany, who in his vagrant rambles, having heard an unknown mad lady was at this pawn-broker’s, came, with his customary eagerness to visit and serve the unhappy, to see what could be done for her.

When he entered the room, she was sitting upon the bed, her eyes earnestly fixed upon the window, from which she was privately indulging a wish to make her escape. Her dress was in much disorder, her fine hair was dishevelled, and the feathers of her riding hat were broken and half falling down, some shading her face, others reaching to her shoulder.

“Poor lady!” cried Albany, approaching her, “how long has she been in this state?”

She started at the sound of a new voice, she looked round — but what was the astonishment of Albany to see who it was! — He stept back,-he came forward — he doubted his own senses — he looked at her earnestly, — he turned from her to look at the woman of the house — he cast his eyes round the room itself, and then, lifting up his hands, “O sight of woe!” he cried, “the generous and good! the kind reliever of distress! the benign sustainer of misery! — is This Cecilia!”—

Cecilia, imperfectly recollecting, though not understanding him, sunk down at his feet, tremblingly called out, “Oh, if he is yet to be saved, if already he is not murdered — go to him! fly after him! you will presently overtake him, he is only in the next street, I left him there myself, his sword drawn, and covered with human blood!”

“Sweet powers of kindness and compassion!” cried the old man, “look upon this creature with pity! she who raised the depressed, she who cheared the unhappy! she whose liberal hand turned lamentations into joy! who never with a tearless eye could hear the voice of sorrow! — is This she herself! — can This be Cecilia!” “O do not wait to talk!” cried she, “go to him now, or you will never see him more! the hand of death is on him — cold, clay-cold is its touch! he is breathing his last — Oh murdered Delvile! massacred husband of my heart! groan not so piteously! fly to him, and weep over him! — fly to him and pluck the poniard from his wounded bosom!”

“Oh sounds of anguish and horror!” cried the, melted moralist, tears running quick down his rugged cheeks; “melancholy indeed is this sight, humiliating to morality! such is human strength, such human felicity! — weak as our virtues, frail as our guilty natures!”

“Ah,” cried she, more wildly, “no one will save me now! I am married, and no one will listen to me! ill were the auspices under which I gave my hand! Oh it was a work of darkness, unacceptable and offensive! it has been sealed, therefore, with blood, and tomorrow it will be signed with murder!”

“Poor distracted creature!” exclaimed he, “thy pangs I have felt, but thy innocence I have forfeited! — my own wounds bleed afresh — my own brain threatens new frenzy.”—

Then, starting up, “Good woman,” he added, “kindly attend her — I will seek out her friends, put her into bed, comfort, sooth, compose her. — I will come to you again, and as soon as I can.”

He then hurried away.

“Oh hour of joy!” cried Cecilia, “he is gone to rescue him! oh blissful moment! he will yet be snatched from slaughter!”

The woman lost not an instant in obeying the orders she had received; she was put into bed, and nothing was neglected, as far as she had power and thought, to give a look of decency and attention to her accommodations.

He had not left them an hour, when Mary, the maid who had attended her from Suffolk, came to enquire for her lady. Albany, who was now wandering over the town in search of some of her friends, and who entered every house where he imagined she was known, had hastened to that of Mrs Hill the first of any, as he was well acquainted with her obligations to Cecilia; there, Mary herself, by the directions which her lady had given Mrs Belfield, had gone; and there, in the utmost astonishment and uneasiness, had continued till Albany brought news of her.

She was surprised and afflicted beyond measure, not only at the state of her mind, and her health, but to find her in a bed and an apartment so unsuitable to her rank of life, and so different to what she had ever been accustomed. She wept bitterly while she enquired at the bed-side how her lady did, but wept still more, when, without answering, or seeming to know her, Cecilia started up, and called out, “I must be removed this moment! I must go to St James’s-square — if I stay an instant longer, the passing-bell will toll, and then how shall I be in time for the funeral?”

Mary, alarmed and amazed, turned hastily from her to the woman of the house, who calmly said, the lady was only in a raving fit, and must not be minded.

Extremely frightened at this intelligence, she entreated her to be quiet and lie still. But Cecilia grew suddenly so violent, that force only could keep her from rising; and Mary, unused to dispute her commands, prepared to obey them.

Mrs Wyers now in her turn opposed in vain; Cecilia was peremptory, and Mary became implicit, and, though not without much difficulty, she was again dressed in her riding habit. This operation over, she moved towards the door, the temporary strength of delirium giving, her a hardiness that combated fever, illness, fatigue, and feebleness. Mary, however averse and fearful, assisted her, and Mrs Wyers, compelled by the obedience of her own servant, went before them to order a chair.

Cecilia, however, felt her weakness when she attempted to move down stairs; her feet tottered, and her head became dizzy; she leaned it against Mary, who called aloud for more help, and made her sit down till it came. Her resolution, however, was not to be altered; a stubbornness, wholly foreign to her genuine character, now made her stern and positive; and Mary, who thought her submission indispensable, cried, but did not offer to oppose her.

Mr and Mrs Wyers both came up to assist in supporting her, and Mr Wyers offered to carry her in his arms; but she would not consent; when she came to the bottom of the stairs, her head grew worse, she again lent it upon Mary, but Mr Wyers was obliged to hold them both. She still, however, was firm in her determination, and was making another effort to proceed, when Delvile rushed hastily into the shop.

He had just encountered Albany; who, knowing his acquaintance, though ignorant of his marriage, with Cecilia, had informed him where to seek her.

He was going to make enquiry if he was come to the right house, when he perceived her — feeble, shaking, leaning upon one person, and half carried by another! — he started back, staggered, gasped for breath — but finding they were proceeding, advanced with trepidation, furiously calling out, “Hold! stop! — what is it you are doing? Monsters of savage barbarity, are you murdering my wife?”

The well-known voice no sooner struck the ears of Cecilia, than instantly recollecting it, she screamed, and, is suddenly endeavouring to spring forward, fell to the ground.

Delvile had vehemently advanced to catch her in his arms and save her fall, which her unexpected quickness had prevented her attendants from doing; but the sight of her changed complection, and the wildness of her eyes and air, again made him start — his blood froze through his veins, and he stood looking at her, cold and almost petrified.

Her own recollection of him seemed lost already; and exhausted by the fatigue she had gone through in dressing and coming down stairs, she remained still and quiet, forgetting her design of proceeding, and forming no new one for returning.

Mary, to whom, as to all her fellow servants, the marriage of Cecilia had been known, before she left the country, now desired from Delvile directions what was to be done.

Delvile, starting suddenly at this call from the deepest horror into the most desperate rage, fiercely exclaimed, “Inhuman wretches! unfeeling, execrable wretches, what is it you have done to her? how came she hither? — who brought her? — who dragged her? — by what infamous usage has she been sunk into this state?”

“Indeed, sir, I don’t know!” cried Mary.

“I assure you, sir,” said Mrs Wyers, “the lady —”

“Peace!” cried he, furiously, “I will not hear your falsehoods! — peace, and begone!”—

Then, casting himself upon the ground by her side, “Oh my Cecilia,” he cried, “where hast thou been thus long? how have I lost thee? what dreadful calamity has befallen thee? — answer me, my love! raise your sweet head and answer me! — oh speak! — say to me any thing; the bitterest words will be mercy to this silence!”——

Cecilia then, suddenly looking up, called out with great quickness, “Who are you?”

“Who am I!” cried he, amazed and affrighted.

“I should be glad you would go away,” cried she, in a hurrying manner, “for you are quite unknown to me.”

Delvile, unconscious of her insanity, and attributing to resentment this aversion and repulse, hastily moved from her, mournfully answering, “Well indeed may you disclaim me, refuse all forgiveness, load me with hatred and reproach, and consign me to eternal anguish! I have merited severer punishment still; I have behaved like a monster, and I am abhorrent to myself!”

Cecilia now, half rising, and regarding him with mingled terror and anger, eagerly exclaimed, “If you do not mean to mangle and destroy me, begone this instant.”

“To mangle you!” repeated Delvile, shuddering, “how horrible! — but I deserve it! — look not, however, so terrified, and I will tear myself away from you. Suffer me but to assist in removing you from this place, and I will only watch you at a distance, and never see you more till you permit me to approach you.”

“Why, why,” cried Cecilia, with a look of perplexity and impatience, “will you not tell me your name, and where you come from?”

“Do you not know me?” said he, struck with new horror; “or do you only mean to kill me by the question?”

“Do you bring me any message from Mr Monckton?”

“From Mr Monckton? — no; but he lives and will recover.”

“I thought you had been Mr Monckton yourself.”

“Too cruel, yet justly cruel Cecilia! — is then Delvile utterly renounced? — the guilty, the unhappy Delvile! — is he cast off for ever? have you driven him wholly from your heart? do you deny him even a place in your remembrance?”

“Is your name, then, Delvile?”

“O what is it you mean? is it me or my name you thus disown?”

“’Tis a name,” cried she, sitting up, “I well remember to have heard, and once I loved it, and three times I called upon it in the dead of night. And when I was cold and wretched, I cherished it; and when I was abandoned and left alone, I repeated it and sung to it.”

“All-gracious powers!” cried Delvile, “her reason is utterly gone!” And, hastily rising, he desperately added, “what is death to this blow? — Cecilia, I am content to part with thee!”

Mary now, and Mrs Wyers, poured upon him eagerly an account of her illness, and insanity, her desire of removal, and their inability to control her.

Delvile, however, made no answer; he scarce heard them: the deepest despair took possession of his mind, and, rooted to the spot where he stood, he contemplated iii dreadful stillness the fallen and altered object of his best hopes and affections; already in her faded cheeks and weakened frame, his agonising terror read the quick impending destruction of all his earthly happiness! the sight was too much for his fortitude, and almost for his understanding; and when his woe became utterable, he wrung his hands, and groaning aloud, called out, “Art thou gone so soon! my wife! my Cecilia! have I lost thee already?”

Cecilia, with utter insensibility to what was passing, now suddenly, and with a rapid yet continued motion, turned her head from side to side, her eyes wildly glaring, and yet apparently regarding nothing.

“Dreadful! dreadful!” exclaimed Delvile, “what a sight is this!” and turning from her to the people of the house, he angrily said, “why is she here upon the floor? could you not even allow her a bed? Who attends her? Who waits upon her? Why has nobody sent for help? — Don’t answer me — I will not hear you, fly this moment for a physician — bring two, bring three — bring all you can find?”

Then, still looking from Cecilia, whose sight he could no longer support, he consulted with Mary whither she should be conveyed: and, as the night was far advanced, and no place was prepared for her elsewhere, they soon agreed that she could only be removed up stairs.

Delvile now attempted to carry her in his arms; but trembling and unsteady, he had not strength to sustain her; yet not enduring to behold the helplessness he could not assist, he conjured them to be careful and gentle, and, committing her to their trust, ran out himself for a physician.

Cecilia resisted them with her utmost power, imploring them not to bury her alive, and averring she had received intelligence they meant to entomb her with Mr Monckton.

They put her, however, to bed, but her raving grew still more wild and incessant.

Delvile soon returned with a physician, but had not courage to attend him to her room. He waited for him at the foot of the stairs, where, hastily stopping him,

“Well, sir,” he cried, “is it not all over? is it not impossible she can live?”

“She is very ill, indeed, sir,” he answered, “but I have given directions which perhaps ——”

Perhaps!” interrupted Delvile, shuddering, “do not stab me with such a word!”

“She is very delirious,” he continued, “but as her fever is very high, that is not so material. If the orders I have given take effect, and the fever is got under, all the rest will be well of course.”

He then went away; leaving Delvile as much thunderstruck by answers so alarming, as if he had consulted him in full hope, and without even suspicion of her danger.

The moment he recovered from this shock, he flew out of the house for more advice.

He returned and brought with him two physicians. They confirmed the directions already given, but would pronounce nothing decisively of her situation.

Delvile, half mad with the acuteness of his misery, charged them all with want of skill, and wrote instantly into the country for Dr Lyster.

He went out himself in search of a messenger to ride off express, though it was midnight, with his letter; and then, returning, he was hastening to her room, but, while yet at the door, hearing her still raving, his horror conquered his eagerness, and, hurrying down stairs, he spent the remnant of the long and seemingly endless night in the shop.

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