Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 9

A Tribute.

Mean while Cecilia went through very severe discipline, sometimes strongly opposing it, at other times scarce sensible what was done to her.

The whole of the next day passed in much the same manner, neither did the next night bring any visible alteration. She had now nurses and attendants even more than sufficient, for Delvile had no relief but from calling in more help. His terror of again seeing her encreased with his forbearance; the interview which had already past had almost torn him asunder, and losing all courage for attempting to enter her room, he now spent almost all his time upon the stairs which led to it. Whenever she was still, he seated himself at her chamber door, where, if he could hear her breathe or move, a sudden hope of her recovery gave to him a momentary extasy that recompensed all his sufferings. But the instant she spoke, unable to bear the sound of so loved a voice uttering nothing but the incoherent ravings of lightheadedness, he hastened down stairs, and flying out of the house, walked in the neighbouring streets, till he could again gather courage to enquire or to listen how she went on.

The following morning, however, Dr Lyster came, and every hope revived. He flew to embrace him, told him instantly his marriage with Cecilia, and besought him by some superior effort of his extraordinary abilities to save him the distraction of her loss.

“My good friend,” cried the worthy Doctor, “what is this you ask of me? and how can this poor young lady herself want advice more than you do? Do you think these able physicians actually upon the spot, with all the experience of full practice in London to assist their skill, want a petty Doctor out of the country to come and teach them what is right?”

“I have more reliance upon you,” cried Delvile, than upon the whole faculty; come, therefore, and prescribe for her — take some new course “—

“Impossible, my good Sir, impossible! I must not lose my wits from vanity, because you have lost yours from affliction. I could not refuse to come to you when you wrote to me with such urgency, and I will now go and see the young lady, as a friend, with all my heart. I am sorry for you at my soul, Mr Mortimer! She is a lovely young creature, and has an understanding, for her years and sex, unequalled.”

“Never mention her to me!” cried the impatient Delvile, “I cannot bear it! Go up to her, dear Doctor, and if you want a consultation, send, if you please, for every physician in town.”

Dr Lyster desired only that those who had already attended might be summoned; and then, giving up to his entreaties the accustomed ceremonial of waiting for them, he went to Cecilia.

Delvile did not dare accompany him; and so well was he acquainted with his plainness and sincerity, that though he expected his return with eagerness, he no sooner heard him upon the stairs, than fearing to know his opinion, he hastily snatched up his hat, and rushed vehemently out of the house to avoid him.

He continued to walk about the streets, till even the dread of ill news was less horrible to him than this voluntary suspense, and then he returned to the house.

He found Dr Lyster in a small back parlour, which Mrs Wyers, finding she should now be well paid, had appropriated for Delvile’s use.

Delvile, putting his hand upon the Doctor’s shoulder, said, “Well, my dear Dr Lyster, you, still, I hope”—

“I would I could make you easy!” interrupted the Doctor; “yet, if you are rational, one comfort, at all events, I can give you; the crisis seems approaching, and either she will recover, or before tomorrow morning”——

“Don’t go on, Sir!” cried Delvile, with mingled rage and horror, “I will not have her days limited! I sent not for you to give me such an account!”

And again he flew out of the house, leaving Dr Lyster unaffectedly concerned for him, and too kind-hearted and too wise to be offended at the injustice of immoderate sorrow.

In a few minutes, however, from the effect rather of despair than philosophy, Delvile grew more composed, and waited upon Dr Lyster to apologize for his behaviour. He received his hearty forgiveness, and prevailed upon him to continue in town till the whole was decided.

About noon, Cecilia, from the wildest rambling and most perpetual agitation, sunk suddenly into a state of such utter insensibility, that she appeared unconscious even of her existence; and but that she breathed, she might already have passed for being dead.

When Delvile heard this, he could no longer endure even his post upon the stairs; he spent his whole time in wandering about the streets, or stopping in Dr Lyster’s parlour to enquire if all was over.

That humane physician, not more alarmed at the danger of Cecilia, than grieved at the situation of Delvile, thought the present fearful crisis at least offered an opportunity of reconciling him with his father. He waited, therefore, upon that gentleman in St James’s-square, and openly informed him of the dangerous state of Cecilia, and the misery of his son.

Mr Delvile, though he would gladly, to have annulled an alliance he held disgraceful to his family, have received intelligence that Cecilia was no more, was yet extremely disconcerted to hear of sufferings to which his own refusal of an asylum he was conscious had largely contributed; and after a haughty struggle between tenderness and wrath, he begged the advice of Dr Lyster how his son might be drawn from such a scene.

Dr Lyster, who well knew Delvile was too desperate to be tractable, proposed surprising him into an interview by their returning together: Mr Delvile, however apprehensive and relenting, conceded most unwillingly to a measure he held beneath him, and, when he came to the shop, could scarce be persuaded to enter it. Mortimer, at that time, was taking a solitary ramble; and Dr Lyster, to complete the work he had begun of subduing the hard pride of his father, contrived, under pretence of waiting for him, to conduct him to the room of the invalide.

Mr Delvile, who knew not whither he was going, at first sight of the bed and the attendants, was hastily retreating; but the changed and livid face of Cecilia caught his eye, and, struck with sudden consternation, he involuntarily stopt.

“Look at the poor young lady!” cried Dr Lyster; “can you wonder a sight such as this should make Mr Mortimer forget every thing else?”

She was wholly insensible, but perfectly quiet; she seemed to distinguish nothing, and neither spoke nor moved.

Mr Delvile regarded her with the utmost horror: the refuge he so implacably refused her on the night when her intellects were disordered, he would now gladly have offered at the expence of almost similar sufferings, to have relieved himself from those rising pangs which called him author of this scene of woe. His pride, his pomp, his ancient name, were now sunk in his estimation; and while he considered himself the destroyer of this unhappy young creature, he would have sacrificed them all to have called himself her protector. Little is the boast of insolence when it is analysed by the conscience! bitter is the agony of self-reproach, where misery follows hardness of heart! yet, when the first painful astonishment from her situation abated, the remorse she excited being far stronger than the pity, he gave an angry glance at Dr Lyster for betraying him into such a sight, and hastily left the room.

Delvile, who was now impatiently waiting to see Dr Lyster in the little parlour, alarmed at the sound of a new step upon the stairs, came out to enquire who had been admitted. When he saw his father, he shrunk back; but Mr Delvile, no longer supported by pride, and unable to recover from the shock he had just received, caught him in his arms, and said “Oh come home to me, my son! this is a place to destroy you!”

“Ah, Sir,” cried Delvile, “think not of me now! — you must shew me no kindness; I am not in a state to bear it!” And, forcibly breaking from him, he hurried out of the house.

Mr Delvile, all the father awakened in his bosom, saw his departure with more dread than anger; and returned himself to St James’s-square, tortured with parental fears, and stung by personal remorse, lamenting his own inflexibility, and pursued by the pale image of Cecilia.

She was still in this unconscious state, and apparently as free from suffering as from enjoyment, when a new voice was suddenly heard without, exclaiming, “Oh where is she? where is she? where is my dear Miss Beverley?” and Henrietta Belfield ran wildly into the room.

The advertisement in the news-papers had at once brought her to town, and directed her to the house: the mention that the lost lady talked much of a person by the name of Delvile, struck her instantly to mean Cecilia; the description corresponded with this idea, and the account of the dress confirmed it: Mr Arnott, equally terrified with herself, had therefore lent her his chaise to learn the truth of this conjecture, and she had travelled all night.

Flying up to the bedside, “Who is this?” she cried, “this is not Miss Beverley?” and then screaming with unrestrained horror, “Oh mercy! mercy!” she called out, “yes, it is indeed! and nobody would know her! — her own mother would not think her her child!”

“You must come away, Miss Belfield,” said Mary, “you must indeed — the doctors all say my lady must not be disturbed.”

“Who shall take me away?” cried she, angrily, “nobody Mary! not all the doctors in the world! Oh sweet Miss Beverley! I will lie down by your side — I will never quit you while you live — and I wish, I wish I could die to save your precious life!”

Then, leaning over her, and wringing her hands, “Oh I shall break my heart,” she cried, “to see her in this condition! Is this the so happy Miss Beverley, that I thought every body born to give joy to? the Miss Beverley that seemed queen of the whole world! yet so good and so gentle, so kind to the meanest person! excusing every body’s faults but her own, and telling them how they might mend, and trying to make them as good as herself! — Oh who would know her! who would know her! what have they done to you, my beloved Miss Beverley? how have they altered and disfigured you in this wicked and barbarous manner?”

In the midst of this simple yet pathetic testimony, to the worth and various excellencies of Cecilia, Dr Lyster came into the room. The women all flocked around him, except Mary, to vindicate themselves from any share in permitting this new comer’s entrance and behaviour; but Mary only told him who she was, and said, that if her lady was well enough to know her, there was nobody she was certain she would have been so glad to see.

“Young lady,” said the doctor, “I would advise you to walk into another room till you are a little more composed.”

“Every body, I find, is for hurrying me away,” cried the sobbing Henrietta, whose honest heart swelled with its own affectionate integrity; “but they might all save themselves the trouble, for go I will not!”

“This is very wrong,” said the doctor, “and must not be suffered: do you call it friendship to come about a sick person in this manner?”

“Oh my Miss Beverley!” cried Henrietta, “do you hear how they all upbraid me? how they all want to force me away from you, and to hinder me even from looking at you! Speak for me, sweet lady! speak for me yourself! tell them the poor Henrietta will not do you any harm; tell them she only wishes just to sit by you, and to see you! — I will hold by this dear hand — I will cling to it till the last minute; and you will not, I know you will not, give orders to have it taken away from me!”

Dr Lyster, though his own good nature was much affected by this fond sorrow, now half angrily represented to her the impropriety of indulging it: but Henrietta, unused to disguise or repress her feelings, grew only the more violent, the more she was convinced of Cecilia’s danger: “Oh look but at her,” she exclaimed, “and take me from her if you can! see how her sweet eyes are fixed! look but what a change in her complexion! — She does not see me, she does not know me, — she does not hear me! her hand seems quite lifeless already, her face is all fallen away! — Oh that I had died twenty deaths before I had lived to see this sight! — poor wretched Henrietta, thou bast now no friend left in the world! thou mayst go and lie down in some corner, and no one will come and say to thee a word of comfort!”

“This must not be!” said Dr Lyster, “you must take her away.”

“You shall not!” cried she, desperately, “I will stay with her till she has breathed her last, and I will stay with her still longer! and if she was to speak to you this moment, she would tell you that she chose it. She loved the poor Henrietta, and loved to have her near her; and when she was ill, and in much distress, she never once bid me leave her room. Is it not true, my sweet Miss Beverley? do you not know it to be true? Oh look not so dreadfully! turn to your unhappy Henrietta; sweetest, best of ladies! will you not speak to her once more? will you not say to her one single word?”

Dr Lyster now grew very angry, and telling her such violence might have fatal consequences, frightened her into more order, and drew her away himself. He had then the kindness to go with her into another room, where, when her first vehemence was spent, his remonstrances and reasoning brought her to a sense of the danger she might occasion, and made her promise not to return to the room till she had gained strength to behave better.

When Dr Lyster went again to Delvile, he found him greatly alarmed by his long stay; he communicated to him briefly what had passed, and counselled him to avoid encreasing his own grief by the sight of what was suffered by this unguarded and ardent girl. Delvile readily assented, for the weight of his own woe was too heavy to bear any addition.

Henrietta now, kept in order by Dr Lyster, contented herself with only sitting on the bed, without attempting to speak, and with no other employment than alternately looking at her sick friend, and covering her streaming eyes with her handkerchief; from time to time quitting the room wholly, for the relief of sobbing at liberty and aloud in another.

But, in the evening, while Delvile and Dr Lyster were taking one of their melancholy rambles, a new scene was acted in the apartment of the still senseless Cecilia. Albany suddenly made his entrance into it, accompanied by three children, two girls and one boy, from the ages of four to six, neatly dressed, clean, and healthy.

“See here!”’ cried he, as he came in, “see here what I’ve brought you! raise, raise your languid head, and look this way! you think me rigid, — an enemy to pleasure, austere, harsh, and a forbidder of joy: look at this sight, and see the contrary! who shall bring you comfort, joy, pleasure, like this? three innocent children, clothed and fed by your bounty!”

Henrietta and Mary, who both knew him well, were but little surprised at anything he said or did, and the nurses presumed not to interfere but by whispers.

Cecilia, however, observed nothing that passed; and Albany, somewhat astonished, approached nearer to the bed; “Wilt thou not speak?” he cried.

“She can’t, Sir,” said one of the women; “she has been speechless many hours.”

The air of triumph with which he had entered the room was now changed into disappointment and consternation. For some minutes he thoughtfully and sorrowfully contemplated her, and then, with a deep sigh, said, “How will the poor rue this day!” Then, turning to the children, who, awed by this scene, were quiet from terror. “Alas!” he said, “ye helpless babes, ye know not what you have lost: presumptuously we came; unheeded we must return! I brought you to be seen by your benefactress, but she is going where she will find many such.”

He then led them away; but, suddenly coming back, “I may see her, perhaps, no more! shall I not, then, pray for her? Great and aweful is the change she is making; what are human revolutions, how pitiful, how insignificant, compared with it! — Come, little babies, come; with gifts has she often blessed you, with wishes bless her! Come, let us kneel round her bed; let us all pray for her together; lift up your innocent hands, and for all of you I will speak.”

He then made the children obey his injunctions, and having knelt himself, while Henrietta and Mary instantly did the same, “Sweet flower!” he cried, “untimely cropt in years, yet in excellence mature! early decayed in misery, yet fragrant in innocence! Gentle be thy exit, for unsullied have been thy days; brief be thy pains, for few have been thy offences! Look at her sweet babes, and bear her in your remembrance; often will I visit you and revive the solemn scene. Look at her ye, also, who are nearer to your end — Ah! will you bear it like her!”

He paused; and the nurses and Mrs Wyers, struck by this call, and moved by the general example, crept to the bed, and dropt on their knees, almost involuntarily.

“She departs,” resumed Albany, “the envy of the world! while yet no guilt had seized her soul, and no remorse had marred her peace. She was the hand-maid of charity, and pity dwelt in her bosom! her mouth was never open but to give comfort; her foot-steps were followed by blessings! Oh happy in purity, be thine the song of triumph! — softly shalt thou sink to temporary sleep — sublimely shalt thou rise to life that wakes for ever!”

He then got up, took the children by their little hands, and went away.

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