Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 6

A Surmise.

The next morning opened with another scene; Mrs Harrel ran into Cecilia’s room before breakfast, and acquainted her that Mr Harrel had not been at home all night.

The consternation with which she heard this account she instantly endeavoured to dissipate, in order to soften the apprehension with which it was communicated: Mrs Harrel, however, was extremely uneasy, and sent all the town over to make enquiries, but without receiving any intelligence.

Cecilia, unwilling to leave her in a state of such alarm, wrote an excuse to Mrs Delvile, that she might continue with her till some information was procured. A subject also of such immediate concern, was sufficient apology for avoiding any particular conversation with Miss Belfield, who called, as usual, about noon, and whose susceptible heart was much affected by the evident disturbance in which she found Cecilia.

The whole day passed, and no news arrived: but, greatly to her astonishment, Mrs Harrel in the evening prepared for going to an assembly! yet declaring at the, same time it was extremely disagreeable to her, only she was afraid, if she stayed away, every body would suppose something was the matter.

Who then at last, thought Cecilia, are half so much the slaves of the world as the gay and the dissipated? Those who work for hire, have at least their hours of rest, those who labour for subsistence are at liberty when subsistence is procured; but those who toil to please the vain and the idle, undertake a task which can never be finished, however scrupulously all private peace, and all internal comfort, may be sacrificed in reality to the folly of saving appearances!

Losing, however, the motive for which she had given up her own engagement, she now sent for her chair, in order to spend an hour or two with Mrs Delvile. The servants, as they conducted her up stairs, said they would call their lady; and in entering the drawing-room she saw, reading and alone, young Delvile.

He seemed much surprised, but received her with the utmost respect, apologizing for the absence of his mother, whom he said had understood she was not to see her till the next day, and had left him to write letters now, that she might then be at liberty.

Cecilia in return made excuses for her seeming inconsistency; after which, for some time, all conversation dropt.

The silence was at length broken by young Delvile’s saying “Mr Belfield’s merit has not been thrown away upon Lord Vannelt; he has heard an excellent character of him from all his former acquaintance, and is now fitting up an apartment for him in his own house till his son begins his tour.”

Cecilia said she was very happy in hearing such intelligence; and then again they were both silent.

“You have seen,” said young Delvile, after this second pause, “Mr Belfield’s sister?”

Cecilia, not without changing colour, answered “Yes, Sir.”

“She is very amiable,” he continued, “too amiable, indeed, for her situation, since her relations, her brother alone excepted, are all utterly unworthy of her.”

He stopt; but Cecilia made no answer, and he presently added “Perhaps you do not think her amiable? — you may have seen more of her, and know something to her disadvantage?”

“O no!” cried Cecilia, with a forced alacrity, “but only I was thinking that — did you say you knew all her relations?”

“No,” he answered, “but when I have been with Mr Belfield, some of them have called upon him.”

Again they were both silent; and then Cecilia, ashamed of her apparent backwardness to give praise, compelled herself to say, “Miss Belfield is indeed a very sweet girl, and I wish —” she stopt, not well knowing herself what she meant to add.

“I have been greatly pleased,” said he, after waiting some time to hear if she would finish her speech, “by being informed of your goodness to her, and I think she seems equally to require and to deserve it. I doubt not you will extend it to her when she is deprived of her brother, for then will be the time that by doing her most service, it will reflect on yourself most honour.”

Cecilia, confounded by this recommendation, faintly answered “Certainly — whatever is in my power — I shall be very glad —”

And just then Mrs Delvile made her appearance, and during the mutual apologies that followed, her son left the room. Cecilia, glad of any pretence to leave it also, insisted upon giving no interruption to Mrs Delvile’s letter writing, and having promised to spend all the next day with her, hurried back to her chair.

The reflections that followed her thither were by no means the most soothing: she began now to apprehend that the pity she had bestowed upon Miss Belfield, Miss Belfield in a short time might bestow upon her: at any other time, his recommendation would merely have served to confirm her opinion of his benevolence, but in her present state of anxiety and uncertainty, every thing gave birth to conjecture, and had power to alarm her. He had behaved to her of late with the strangest coldness and distance — his praise of Henrietta had been ready and animated — Henrietta she knew adored him, and she knew not with what reason — but an involuntary suspicion arose in her mind, that the partiality she had herself once excited, was now transferred to that little dreaded, but not less dangerous rival.

Yet, if such was the case, what was to become either of the pride or the interest of his family? Would his relations ever pardon an alliance stimulated neither by rank nor riches? would Mr Delvile, who hardly ever spoke but to the high-born, without seeming to think his dignity somewhat injured, deign to receive for a daughter-inlaw the child of a citizen and tradesman? would Mrs Delvile herself, little less elevated in her notions, though infinitely softer in her manners, ever condescend to acknowledge her? Cecilia’s own birth and connections, superior as they were to those of Miss Belfield, were even openly disdained by Mr Delvile, and all her expectations of being received into his family were founded upon the largeness of her fortune, in favour of which the brevity of her genealogy might perhaps pass unnoticed. But what was the chance of Miss Belfield, who neither had ancestors to boast, nor wealth to allure?

This thought, however, awakened all the generosity of her soul; “If,” cried she, “the advantages I possess are merely those of riches, how little should I be flattered by any appearance of preference! and how ill can I judge with what sincerity it may be offered! happier in that case is the lowly Henrietta, who to poverty may attribute neglect, but who can only be sought and caressed from motives of purest regard. She loves Mr Delvile, loves him with the most artless affection; — perhaps, too, he loves her in return — why else his solicitude to know my opinion of her, and why so sudden his alarm when he thought it unfavourable? Perhaps he means to marry her, and to sacrifice to her innocence and her attractions all plans of ambition, and all views of aggrandizement:— thrice happy Henrietta, if such is thy prospect of felicity! to have inspired a passion so disinterested, may humble the most insolent of thy superiors, and teach even the wealthiest to envy thee!”

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