Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 6

A Family Party.

Cecilia the next morning, between nine and ten o’clock, went to St James’-Square; she found nobody immediately ready to receive her, but in a short time was waited upon by Mr Delvile.

After the usual salutations, “Miss Beverley,” he said, “I have given express orders to my people, that I may not be interrupted while I have the pleasure of passing some minutes in conversation with you before you are presented to Mrs Delvile.”

And then, with an air of solemnity, he led her to a seat, and having himself taken possession of another, continued his speech.

“I have received information, from authority which I cannot doubt, that the indiscretion of certain of your admirers last Saturday at the Opera-house occasioned a disturbance which to a young woman of delicacy I should imagine must be very alarming: now as I consider myself concerned in your fame and welfare from regarding you as my ward, I think it is incumbent upon me to make enquiries into such of your affairs as become public; for I should feel in some measure disgraced myself, should it appear to the world, while you are under my guardianship, that there was any want of propriety in the direction of your conduct.”

Cecilia, not much flattered by this address, gravely answered that she fancied the affair had been misrepresented to him.

“I am not much addicted,” he replied, “to give ear to any thing lightly; you must therefore permit me to enquire into the merits of the cause, and then to draw my own inferences. And let me, at the same time, assure you there is no other young lady who has any right to expect such an attention from me. I must begin by begging you to inform me upon what grounds the two gentlemen in question, for such, by courtesy, I presume they are called, thought themselves entitled publicly to dispute your favour?”

“My favour, Sir!” cried Cecilia, much amazed.

“My dear,” said he, with a complacency meant to give her courage, “I know the question is difficult for a young lady to answer; but be not abashed, I should be sorry to distress you, and mean to the utmost of my power to save your blushes. Do not, therefore, fear me; consider me as your guardian, and assure yourself I am perfectly well disposed to consider you as my ward. Acquaint me, then, freely, what are the pretensions of these gentlemen?”

“To me, Sir, they have, I believe, no pretensions at all.”

“I see you are shy,” returned he, with encreasing gentleness, “I see you cannot be easy with me; and when I consider how little you are accustomed to me, I do not wonder. But pray take courage; I think it necessary to inform myself of your affairs, and therefore I beg you will speak to me with freedom.”

Cecilia, more and more mortified by this humiliating condescension, again assured him he had been misinformed, and was again, though discredited, praised for her modesty, when, to her great relief, they were interrupted by the entrance of her friend the white domino.

“Mortimer,” said Mr Delvile, “I understand you have already had the pleasure of seeing this young lady?”

“Yes, Sir,” he answered, “I have more than once had that happiness, but I have never had the honour of being introduced to her.”

“Miss Beverley, then,” said the father, “I must present to you Mr Mortimer Delvile, my son; and, Mortimer, in Miss Beverley I desire you will remember that you respect a ward of your father’s.”

“I will not, Sir,” answered he, “forget an injunction my own inclinations had already out-run.”

Mortimer Delvile was tall and finely formed, his features, though not handsome, were full of expression, and a noble openness of manners and address spoke the elegance of his education, and the liberality of his mind.

When this introduction was over, a more general conversation took place, till Mr Delvile, suddenly rising, said to Cecilia, “You will pardon me, Miss Beverley, if I leave you for a few minutes; one of my tenants sets out tomorrow morning for my estate in the North, and he has been two hours waiting to speak with me. But if my son is not particularly engaged, I am sure he will be so good as to do the honours of the house till his mother is ready to receive you.”

And then, graciously waving his hand, he quitted the room.

“My father,” cried young Delvile, “has left me an office which, could I execute it as perfectly as I shall willingly, would be performed without a fault.”

“I am very sorry,” said Cecilia, “that I have so much mistaken your hour of breakfast; but let me not be any restraint upon you, I shall find a book, or a newspaper, or something to fill up the time till Mrs Delvile honours me with a summons.”

“You can only be a restraint upon me,” answered he, “by commanding me from your presence. I breakfasted long ago, and am now just come from Mr Belfield. I had the pleasure, this morning, of being admitted into his room.”

“And how, Sir, did you find him?”

“Not so well, I fear, as he thinks himself; but he was in high spirits, and surrounded by his friends, whom he was entertaining with all the gaiety of a man in full health, and entirely at his ease; though I perceived, by the frequent changes of his countenance, signs of pain and indisposition, that made me, however pleased with his conversation, think it necessary to shorten my own visit, and to hint to those who were near me the propriety of leaving him quiet.”

“Did you see his surgeon, Sir?”

“No; but he told me he should only have one dressing more of his wound, and then get rid of the whole business by running into the country.”

“Were you acquainted with him, Sir, before this accident?”

“No, not at all; but the little I have seen of him has strongly interested me in his favour: at Mr Harrel’s masquerade, where I first met with him, I was extremely entertained by his humour — though there, perhaps, as I had also the honour of first seeing Miss Beverley, I might be too happy to feel much difficulty in being pleased. And even at the Opera he had the advantage of finding me in the same favourable disposition, as I had long distinguished you before I had taken any notice of him. I must, however, confess I did not think his anger that evening quite without provocation — but I beg your pardon, I may perhaps be mistaken, and you, who know the whole affair, must undoubtedly be better able to account for what happened.”

Here he fixed his eyes upon Cecilia, with a look of curiosity that seemed eager to penetrate into her sentiments of the two antagonists.

“No, certainly,” she answered, “he had all the provocation that ill-breeding could give him.”

“And do you, madam,” cried he, with much surprize, “judge of this matter with such severity?”

“No, not with severity, simply with candour.”

“With candour? alas, then, poor Sir Robert! Severity were not half so bad a sign for him!”

A servant now came in, to acquaint Cecilia that Mrs Delvile waited breakfast for her.

This summons was immediately followed by the re-entrance of Mr Delvile, who, taking her hand, said he would himself present her to his lady, and with much graciousness assured her of a kind reception.

The ceremonies preceding this interview, added to the character she had already heard of Mrs Delvile, made Cecilia heartily wish it over; but, assuming all the courage in her power, she determined to support herself with a spirit that should struggle against the ostentatious superiority she was prepared to expect.

She found her seated upon a sofa, from which, however, she arose at her approach; but the moment Cecilia beheld her, all the unfavourable impressions with which she came into her presence immediately vanished, and that respect which the formalities of her introduction had failed to inspire, her air, figure, and countenance instantaneously excited.

She was not more than fifty years of age; her complection, though faded, kept the traces of its former loveliness, her eyes, though they had lost their youthful fire, retained a lustre that evinced their primeval brilliancy, and the fine symmetry of her features, still uninjured by the siege of time, not only indicated the perfection of her juvenile beauty, but still laid claim to admiration in every beholder. Her carriage was lofty and commanding; but the dignity to which high birth and conscious superiority gave rise, was so judiciously regulated by good sense, and so happily blended with politeness, that though the world at large envied or hated her, the few for whom she had herself any regard, she was infallibly certain to captivate.

The surprise and admiration with which Cecilia at the first glance was struck proved reciprocal: Mrs Delvile, though prepared for youth and beauty, expected not to see a countenance so intelligent, nor manners so well formed as those of Cecilia: thus mutually astonished and mutually pleased, their first salutations were accompanied by looks so flattering to both, that each saw in the other, an immediate prepossession in her favour, and from the moment that they met, they seemed instinctively impelled to admire.

“I have promised Miss Beverley, madam,” said Mr Delvile to his lady, “that you would give her a kind reception; and I need not remind you that my promises are always held sacred.”

“But I hope you have not also promised,” cried she, with quickness, “that I should give you a kind reception, for I feel at this very moment extremely inclined to quarrel with you.”

“Why so, madam?”

“For not bringing us together sooner; for now I have seen her, I already look back with regret to the time I have lost without the pleasure of knowing her.”

“What a claim is this,” cried young Delvile, “upon the benevolence of Miss Beverley! for if she has not now the indulgence by frequent and diligent visits to make some reparation, she must consider herself as responsible for the dissension she will occasion.”

“If peace depends upon my visits,” answered Cecilia, “it may immediately be proclaimed; were it to be procured only by my absence, I know not if I should so readily agree to the conditions.”

“I must request of you, madam,” said Mr Delvile, “that when my son and I retire, you will bestow half an hour upon this young lady, in making enquiries concerning the disturbance last Saturday at the Opera-house. I have not, myself, so much time to spare, as I have several appointments for this morning; but I am sure you will not object to the office, as I know you to be equally anxious with myself, that the minority of Miss Beverley should pass without reproach.”

“Not only her minority, but her maturity,” cried young Delvile, warmly, “and not only her maturity, but her decline of life will pass, I hope, not merely without reproach, but with fame and applause!”

“I hope so too;” replied Mr Delvile: “I wish her well through every stage of her life, but for her minority alone it is my business to do more than wish. For that, I feel my own honour and my own credit concerned; my honour, as I gave it to the Dean that I would superintend her conduct, and my credit, as the world is acquainted with the claim she has to my protection.”

“I will not make any enquiries,” said Mrs Delvile, turning to Cecilia with a sweetness that recompensed her for the haughtiness of her guardian, “till I have had some opportunity of convincing Miss Beverley, that my regard for her merits they should be answered.”

“You see, Miss Beverley,” said Mr Delvile, “how little reason you had to be afraid of us; Mrs Delvile is as much disposed in your favour as myself, and as desirous to be of service to you. Endeavour, therefore, to cast off this timidity, and to make yourself easy. You must come to us often; use will do more towards removing your fears, than all the encouragement we can give you.”

“But what are the fears,” cried Mrs Delvile, “that Miss Beverley can have to remove? unless, indeed, she apprehends her visits will make us encroachers, and that the more we are favoured with her presence, the less we shall bear her absence.”

“Pray, son,” said Mr Delvile, “what was the name of the person who was Sir Robert Floyer’s opponent? I have again forgotten it.”

“Belfield, sir.”

“True; it is a name I am perfectly unacquainted with: however, he may possibly be a very good sort of man; but certainly his opposing himself to Sir Robert Floyer, a man of some family, a gentleman, rich, and allied to some people of distinction, was a rather strange circumstance: I mean not, however, to prejudge the case; I will hear it fairly stated; and am the more disposed to be cautious in what I pronounce, because I am persuaded Miss Beverley has too much sense to let my advice be thrown away upon her.”

“I hope so, Sir; but with respect to the disturbance at the Opera, I know not that I have the least occasion to trouble you.”

“If your measures,” said he, very gravely, “are already taken, the Dean your uncle prevailed upon me to accept a very useless office; but if any thing is yet undecided, it will not, perhaps, be amiss that I should be consulted. Mean time, I will only recommend to you to consider that Mr Belfield is a person whose name nobody has heard, and that a connection with Sir Robert Floyer would certainly be very honourable for you.”

“Indeed, Sir,” said Cecilia, “here is some great mistake; neither of these gentlemen, I believe, think of me at all.”

“They have taken, then,” cried young Delvile with a laugh, “a very extraordinary method to prove their indifference!”

“The affairs of Sir Robert Floyer,” continued Mr Delvile, “are indeed, I am informed, in some disorder; but he has a noble estate, and your fortune would soon clear all its incumbrances. Such an alliance, therefore, would be mutually advantageous: but what would result from a union with such a person as Mr Belfield? he is of no family, though in that, perhaps, you would not be very scrupulous; but neither has he any money; what, then, recommends him?”

“To me, Sir, nothing!” answered Cecilia.

“And to me,” cried young Delvile, “almost every thing! he has wit, spirit, and understanding, talents to create admiration, and qualities, I believe, to engage esteem!”

“You speak warmly,” said Mrs Delvile; “but if such is his character, he merits your earnestness. What is it you know of him?”

“Not enough, perhaps,” answered he, “to coolly justify my praise; but he is one of those whose first appearance takes the mind by surprise, and leaves the judgment to make afterwards such terms as it can. Will you, madam, when he is recovered, permit me to introduce him to you?”

“Certainly;” said she, smiling; “but have a care your recommendation does not disgrace your discernment.”

“This warmth of disposition, Mortimer,” cried Mr Delvile, “produces nothing but difficulties and trouble: you neglect the connections I point out, and which a little attention might render serviceable as well as honourable, and run precipitately into forming such as can do you no good among people of rank, and are not only profitless in themselves, but generally lead you into expence and inconvenience. You are now of an age to correct this rashness: think, therefore, better of your own consequence, than thus idly to degrade yourself by forming friendships with every shewy adventurer that comes in your way.”

“I know not, Sir,” answered he, “how Mr Belfield deserves to be called an adventurer: he is not, indeed, rich; but he is in a profession where parts such as his seldom fail to acquire riches; however, as to me his wealth can be of no consequence, why should my regard to him wait for it? if he is a young man of worth and honour —”

“Mortimer,” interrupted Mr Delvile, “whatever he is, we know he is not a man of rank, and whatever he may be, we know he cannot become a man of family, and consequently for Mortimer Delvile he is no companion. If you can render him any service, I shall commend your so doing; it becomes your birth, it becomes your station in life to assist individuals, and promote the general good: but never in your zeal for others forget what is due to yourself, and to the ancient and honourable house from which you are sprung.”

“But can we entertain Miss Beverley with nothing better than family lectures?” cried Mrs Delvile.

“It is for me,” said young Delvile, rising, “to beg pardon of Miss Beverley for having occasioned them: but when she is so good as to honour us with her company again, I hope I shall have more discretion.”

He then left the room; and Mr Delvile also rising to go, said, “My dear, I commit you to very kind hands; Mrs Delvile, I am sure, will be happy to hear your story; speak to her, therefore, without reserve. And pray don’t imagine that I make you over to her from any slight; on the contrary, I admire and commend your modesty very much; but my time is extremely precious, and I cannot devote so much of it to an explanation as your diffidence requires.”

And then, to the great joy of Cecilia, he retired; leaving her much in doubt whether his haughtiness or his condescension humbled her most.

“These men,” said Mrs Delvile, “can never comprehend the pain of a delicate female mind upon entering into explanations of this sort: I understand it, however, too well to inflict it. We will, therefore, have no explanations at all till we are better acquainted, and then if you will venture to favour me with any confidence, my best advice, and, should any be in my power, my best services shall be at your command.”

“You do me, madam, much honour,” answered Cecilia, “but I must assure you I have no explanation to give.”

“Well, well, at present,” returned Mrs Delvile, “I am content to hear that answer, as I have acquired no right to any other: but hereafter I shall hope for more openness: it is promised me by your countenance, and I mean to claim the promise by my friendship.”

“Your friendship will both honour and delight me, and whatever are your enquiries, I shall always be proud to answer them; but indeed, with regard to this affair —”

“My dear Miss Beverley,” interrupted Mrs Delvile, with a look of arch incredulity, “men seldom risk their lives where an escape is without hope of recompence. But we will not now say a word more upon the subject. I hope you will often favour me with your company, and by the frequency of your visits, make us both forget the shortness of our acquaintance.”

Cecilia, finding her resistance only gave birth to fresh suspicion, now yielded, satisfied that a very little time must unavoidably clear up the truth. But her visit was not therefore shortened; the sudden partiality with which the figure and countenance of Mrs Delvile had impressed her, was quickly ripened into esteem by the charms of her conversation: she found her sensible, well bred, and high spirited, gifted by nature with superior talents, and polished by education and study with all the elegant embellishments of cultivation. She saw in her, indeed, some portion of the pride she had been taught to expect, but it was so much softened by elegance, and so well tempered with kindness, that it elevated her character, without rendering her manners offensive.

With such a woman, subjects of discourse could never be wanting, nor fertility of powers to make them entertaining: and so much was Cecilia delighted with her visit, that though her carriage was announced at twelve o’clock, she reluctantly concluded it at two; and in taking her leave, gladly accepted an invitation to dine with her new friend three days after; who, equally pleased with her young guest, promised before that time to return her visit.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/burney/fanny/cecilia/book2.6.html

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