Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 4

An Expectation.

In this disposition of mind Cecilia the next morning obeyed the summons of Mr Delvile, and for the first time went to St James’- square in a humour to look for evil instead of good, and meanness instead of nobleness.

She was shewn into an apartment where she found Mr Delvile alone, and was received by him, as usual, with the most stately solemnity.

When she was seated, “I have given you, Miss Beverley,” said he, “the trouble of calling, in order to discuss with you the internal state of your affairs; a duty which, at this juncture, I hold to be incumbent upon my character. The delicacy due to your sex would certainly have induced me to wait upon you myself for this purpose, but for the reasons I have already hinted to you, of fearing the people with whom you live might think it necessary to return my visit. Persons of low origin are commonly in those matters the most forward. Not, however, that I would prejudice you against them; though, for myself, it is fit I remember that a general and indiscriminate acquaintance, by levelling all ranks, does injury to the rites of society.”

Ah! thought Cecilia, how infallible is Mr Monckton! and how inevitably, in a family of which Mr Delvile is the head, should I be cruelly held down, as the disgrace of their alliance!

“I have applied,” continued he, “to Mrs Delvile, to know if the communication which I had recommended to you, and to which she had promised her attention, had yet passed; but I am informed you have not spoken to her upon the subject.”

“I had nothing, Sir, to communicate,” answered Cecilia, “and I had hoped, as Mrs Delvile made no enquiries, she was satisfied she had nothing to hear.”

“With respect to enquiries,” said Mr Delvile, “I fear you are not sufficiently aware of the distance between a lady of Mrs Delvile’s rank, both by birth and alliance, and such a young woman as Mrs Harrel, whose ancestors, but a short time since, were mere Suffolk farmers. But I beg your pardon; — I mean not any reflection upon yours: I have always heard they were very worthy people. And a farmer is certainly a very respectable person. Your father, I think, no more than the Dean your uncle, did nothing in that way himself?”

“No, Sir,” said Cecilia, drily, and much provoked by this contemptuous courtesy.

“I have always been told he was a very good sort of man: I knew none of the family myself, but the Dean. His connections with the Bishop of ——— my relation, put him often in my way. Though his naming me for one of his trustees, I must own, was rather extraordinary; but I mean not to hurt you; on the contrary, I should be much concerned to give you any uneasiness.”

Again Mr Monckton arose in the mind of Cecilia, and again she acknowledged the truth of his strictures; and though she much wondered in what an harangue so pompous was to end, her disgust so far conquered her curiosity, that without hearing it, she wished herself away.

“To return,” said he, “to my purpose. The present period of your life is such as to render advice particularly seasonable; I am sorry, therefore, as I before said, you have not disclosed your situation to Mrs Delvile. A young lady on the point of making an establishment, and with many engagements in her power, is extremely liable to be mistaken in her judgment, and therefore should solicit instruction from those who are able to acquaint her what connection would be most to her advantage. One thing, however, I am happy to commend, the young man who was wounded in the duel — I cannot recollect his name — is, I hear, totally out of the question.”

What next? thought Cecilia; though still she gave him no interruption, for the haughtiness of his manner was repulsive to reply.

“My design, therefore, is to speak to you of Sir Robert Floyer. When I had last the pleasure of addressing you upon this subject, you may probably remember my voice was in his favour; but I then regarded him merely as the rival of an inconsiderable young man, to rescue you from whom he appeared an eligible person. The affair is now altered, that young man is thought of no more, and another rival comes forward, to whom Sir Robert is as inconsiderable as the first rival was to Sir Robert.”

Cecilia started at this information, livelier sensations stimulated her curiosity, and surmises in which she was most deeply interested quickened her attention.

“This rival,” proceeded he, “I should imagine no young lady would a moment hesitate in electing; he is every way the superior of Sir Robert except in fortune, and the deficiencies of that the splendour of your own may amply supply.”

The deepest crimson now tinged the cheeks of Cecilia; the prophecy of Mr Monckton seemed immediately fulfilling, and she trembled with a rising conflict between her approbation of the offer, and her dread of its consequences.

“I know not, indeed,” continued he, “in what estimation you may have been accustomed to hold rank and connection, nor whether you are impressed with a proper sense of their superiority and value; for early prejudices are not easily rooted out, and those who have lived chiefly with monied people, regard even birth itself as unimportant when compared with wealth.”

The colour which first glowed in the cheeks of Cecilia from expectation, now rose yet higher from resentment: she thought herself already insulted by a prelude so ostentatious and humiliating to the proposals which were to follow; and she angrily determined, with whatever pain to her heart, to assert her own dignity by refusing them at once, too well satisfied by what she now saw of the present, that Mr Monckton had been just in his prediction of the future.

“Your rejection, therefore,” continued he, “of this honourable offer, may perhaps have been merely the consequence of the principles in which you have been educated. —”

“Rejection?” interrupted Cecilia, amazed, “what rejection, Sir?”

“Have you not refused the proposals of my Lord Ernolf for his son?”

“Lord Ernolf? never! nor have I ever seen either his Lordship or his son but in public.”

“That,” replied Mr Delvile, “is little to the purpose; where the connexion is a proper one, a young lady of delicacy has only to accede to it. But though this rejection came not immediately from yourself, it had doubtless your concurrence.”

“It had not, Sir, even my knowledge.”

“Your alliance then with Sir Robert Floyer is probably nearer a conclusion than I had imagined, for otherwise Mr Harrel would not, without consulting you, have given the Earl so determinate an answer.”

“No, Sir,” said Cecilia, impatiently, “my alliance with him was never more distant, nor do I mean it should ever approach more near.”

She was now little disposed for further conversation. Her heroic design of refusing young Delvile by no means reconciled her to the discovery she now made that he had not meant to address her; and though she was provoked and fretted at this new proof that Mr Harrel scrupled neither assertions nor actions to make her engagement with Sir Robert credited, her disappointment in finding that Mr Delvile, instead of pleading the cause of his son, was exerting his interest for another person, affected her so much more nearly, that notwithstanding he still continued his parading harangue, she scarcely knew even the subject of his discourse, and seized the first opportunity of a cessation to rise and take her leave.

He asked her if she would not call upon Mrs Delvile; but desirous to be alone, she declined the invitation; he then charged her to proceed no further with Sir Robert till he had made some enquiries concerning Lord Ernolf, and graciously promising his protection and counsel, suffered her to depart.

Cecilia now perceived she might plan her rejections, or study her dignity at her leisure, for neither Mr Delvile nor his son seemed in any haste to put her fortitude to the proof. With regard, therefore, to their plots and intentions, Mr Monckton she found was wrong, but with respect to their conduct and sentiments, she had every reason to believe him right: and though her heart refused to rejoice in escaping a trial of its strength, her judgment was so well convinced that his painting was from the life, that she determined to conquer her partiality for young Delvile, since she looked forward to nothing but mortification in a connexion with his family.

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