Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 2

A Perplexity.

And here, at the door of his Father’s house, and just ascending the steps, she perceived young Delvile.

“Again!” cried he, handing her out of the chair, “surely some good genius is at work for me this morning!”

She told him she should not have called so early, now she was acquainted with the late hours of Mrs Delvile, but that she merely meant to speak with his Father, for two minutes, upon business.

He attended her up stairs; and finding she was in haste, went himself with her message to Mr Delvile: and soon returned with an answer that he would wait upon her presently.

The strange speeches he had made to her when they first met in the morning now recurring to her memory, she determined to have them explained, and in order to lead to the subject, mentioned the disagreeable situation in which he had found her, while she was standing up to avoid the sight of the condemned malefactors.

“Indeed?” cried he, in a tone of voice somewhat incredulous, “and was that the purpose for which you stood up?”

“Certainly, Sir; — what other could I have?”

“None, surely!” said he, smiling, “but the accident was singularly opportune.”

“Opportune?” cried Cecilia, staring, “how opportune? this is the second time in the same morning that I am not able to understand you!”

“How should you understand what is so little intelligible?”

“I see you have some meaning which I cannot fathom, why, else, should it be so extraordinary that I should endeavour to avoid a mob? or how could it be opportune that I should happen to meet with one?”

He laughed at first without making any answer; but perceiving she looked at him with impatience, he half gaily, half reproachfully, said, “Whence is it that young ladies, even such whose principles are most strict, seem universally, in those affairs where their affections are concerned, to think hypocrisy necessary, and deceit amiable? and hold it graceful to disavow today, what they may perhaps mean publicly to acknowledge tomorrow?”

Cecilia, who heard these questions with unfeigned astonishment, looked at him with the utmost eagerness for an explanation.

“Do you so much wonder,” he continued, “that I should have hoped in Miss Beverley to have seen some deviation from such rules? and have expected more openness and candour in a young lady who has given so noble a proof of the liberality of her mind and understanding?”

“You amaze me beyond measure!” cried she, “what rules, what candour, what liberality, do you mean?”

“Must I speak yet more plainly? and if I do, will you bear to hear me?”

“Indeed I should be extremely glad if you would give me leave to understand you.”

“And may I tell you what has charmed me, as well as what I have presumed to wonder at?”

“You may tell me any thing, if you will but be less mysterious.”

“Forgive then the frankness you invite, and let me acknowledge to you how greatly I honour the nobleness of your conduct. Surrounded as you are by the opulent and the splendid, unshackled by dependance, unrestrained by authority, blest by nature with all that is attractive, by situation with all that is desirable — to slight the rich, and disregard the powerful, for the purer pleasure of raising oppressed merit, and giving to desert that wealth in which alone it seemed deficient — how can a spirit so liberal be sufficiently admired, or a choice of so much dignity be too highly extolled?”

“I find,” cried Cecilia, “I must forbear any further enquiry, for the more I hear, the less I understand.”

“Pardon me, then,” cried he, “if here I return to my first question: whence is it that a young lady who can think so nobly, and act so disinterestedly, should not be uniformly great, simple in truth, and unaffected in sincerity? Why should she be thus guarded, where frankness would do her so much honour? Why blush in owning what all others may blush in envying?”

“Indeed you perplex me intolerably,” cried Cecilia, with some vexation, “why Sir, will you not be more explicit?”

“And why, Madam,” returned he, with a laugh, “would you tempt me to be more impertinent? have I not said strange things already?”

“Strange indeed,” cried she, “for not one of them can I comprehend!”

“Pardon, then,” cried he, “and forget them all! I scarce know myself what urged me to say them, but I began inadvertently, without intending to go on, and I have proceeded involuntarily, without knowing how to stop. The fault, however, is ultimately your own, for the sight of you creates an insurmountable desire to converse with you, and your conversation a propensity equally incorrigible to take some interest in your welfare.”

He would then have changed the discourse, and Cecilia, ashamed of pressing him further, was for some time silent; but when one of the servants came to inform her that his master meant to wait upon her directly, her unwillingness to leave the matter in suspense induced her, somewhat abruptly, to say, “Perhaps, Sir, you are thinking of Mr Belfield?”

“A happy conjecture!” cried he, “but so wild a one, I cannot but marvel how it should occur to you!”

“Well, Sir,” said she, “I must acknowledge I now understand your meaning; but with respect to what has given rise to it, I am as much a stranger as ever.”

The entrance of Mr Delvile here closed the conversation.

He began with his usual ostentatious apologies, declaring he had so many people to attend, so many complaints to hear, and so many grievances to redress, that it was impossible for him to wait upon her sooner, and not without difficulty that he waited upon her now.

Mean time his son almost immediately retired: and Cecilia, instead of listening to this harangue, was only disturbing herself with conjectures upon what had just passed. She saw that young Delvile concluded she was absolutely engaged to Mr Belfield, and though she was better pleased that any suspicion should fall there than upon Sir Robert Floyer, she was yet both provoked and concerned to be suspected at all. An attack so earnest from almost any other person could hardly have failed being very offensive to her, but in the manners of young Delvile good breeding was so happily blended with frankness, that his freedom seemed merely to result from the openness of his disposition, and even in its very act pleaded its own excuse.

Her reverie was at length interrupted by Mr Delvile’s desiring to know in what he could serve her.

She told him she had present occasion for L600, and hoped he would not object to her taking up that sum.

“Six hundred pounds,” said he, after some deliberation, “is rather an extraordinary demand for a young lady in your situation; your allowance is considerable, you have yet no house, no equipage, no establishment; your expences, I should imagine, cannot be very great —”

He stopt, and seemed weighing her request.

Cecilia, shocked at appearing extravagant, yet too generous to mention Mr Harrel, had again recourse to her bookseller’s bill, which she told him she was anxious to discharge.

“A bookseller’s bill?” cried he; “and do you want L600 for a bookseller’s bill?”

“No, Sir,” said she, stammering, “no — not all for that — I have some other — I have a particular occasion —”

“But what bill at all,” cried he, with much surprise, “can a young lady have with a bookseller? The Spectator, Tatler and Guardian, would make library sufficient for any female in the kingdom, nor do I think it like a gentlewoman to have more. Besides, if you ally yourself in such a manner as I shall approve and recommend, you will, in all probability, find already collected more books than there can ever be any possible occasion for you to look into. And let me counsel you to remember that a lady, whether so called from birth or only from fortune, should never degrade herself by being put on a level with writers, and such sort of people.”

Cecilia thanked him for his advice, but confessed that upon the present occasion it came too late, as the books were now actually in her own possession.

“And have you taken,” cried he, “such a measure as this without consulting me? I thought I had assured you my opinion was always at your service when you were in any dilemma.”

“Yes, Sir,” answered Cecilia; “but I knew how much you were occupied, and wished to avoid taking up your time.”

“I cannot blame your modesty,” he replied, “and therefore, as you have contracted the debt, you are, in honour, bound to pay it. Mr Briggs, however, has the entire management of your fortune, my many avocations obliging me to decline so laborious a trust; apply, therefore, to him, and, as things are situated, I will make no opposition to your demand.”

“I have already, Sir,” said Cecilia, “spoke to Mr Briggs, but —”

“You went to him first, then?” interrupted Mr Delvile, with a look of much displeasure.

“I was unwilling, Sir, to trouble you till I found it unavoidable.” She then acquainted him with Mr Briggs’ refusal, and entreated he would do her the favour to intercede in her behalf, that the money might no longer be denied her.

Every word she spoke his pride seemed rising to resent, and when, she had done, after regarding her some time with apparent indignation, he said, “I intercede! I become an agent!”

Cecilia, amazed to find him thus violently irritated, made a very earnest apology for her request; but without paying her any attention, he walked up and down the room, exclaiming, “an agent! and to Mr Briggs! — This is an affront I could never have expected! why did I degrade myself by accepting this humiliating office? I ought to have known better!” Then, turning to Cecilia, “Child,” he added, “for whom is it you take me, and for what?”

Cecilia again, though affronted in her turn, began some protestations of respect; but haughtily interrupting her, he said, “If of me, and of my rank in life you judge by Mr Briggs or by Mr Harrel, I may be subject to proposals such as these every day; suffer me, therefore, for your better information, to hint to you, that the head of an ancient and honourable house, is apt to think himself somewhat superior to people but just rising from dust and obscurity.”

Thunderstruck by this imperious reproof, she could attempt no further vindication; but when he observed her consternation, he was somewhat appeased, and hoping he had now impressed her with a proper sense of his dignity, he more gently said, “You did not, I believe, intend to insult me.”

“Good Heaven, Sir; no!” cried Cecilia, “nothing was more distant from my thoughts: if my expressions have been faulty, it has been wholly from ignorance.”

“Well, well, we will think then no more of it.”

She then said she would no longer detain him, and, without daring to again mention her petition, she wished him good morning.

He suffered her to go, yet, as she left the room, graciously said, “Think no more of my displeasure, for it is over: I see you were not aware of the extraordinary thing you proposed. I am sorry I cannot possibly assist you; on any other occasion you may depend upon my services; but you know Mr Briggs, you have seen him yourself — judge, then, how a man of any fashion is to accommodate himself with such a person!”

Cecilia concurred, and, courtsying, took her leave.

“Ah!” thought she, in her way home, “how happy is it for me that I followed the advice of Mr Monckton! else I had surely made interest to become an inmate of that house, and then indeed, as he wisely foresaw, I should inevitably have been overwhelmed by this pompous insolence! no family, however amiable, could make amends for such a master of it.”

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