Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 10

A Retreat.

The next morning Cecilia arose late, not only to avoid the raillery of Lady Honoria, but to escape seeing the departure of Delvile; she knew that the spirit with which she had left him, made him, at present, think her wholly insensible, and she was at least happy to be spared the mortification of a discovery, since she found him thus content, without even solicitation, to resign her.

Before she was dressed, Lady Honoria ran into her room, “A new scheme of politics!” she cried; “our great statesman intends to leave us: he can’t trust his baby out of his sight, so he is going to nurse him while upon the road himself. Poor pretty dear Mortimer! what a puppet do they make of him! I have a vast inclination to get a pap-boat myself, and make him a present of it.”

Cecilia then enquired further particulars, and heard that Mr Delvile purposed accompanying his son to Bristol, whose journey, therefore, was postponed for a few hours to give time for new preparations.

Mr Delvile, who, upon this occasion, thought himself overwhelmed with business, because, before his departure, he had some directions to give to his domestics, chose to breakfast in his own apartment: Mrs Delvile, also, wishing for some private conversation with her son, invited him to partake of hers in her dressing-room, sending an apology to her guests, and begging they would order their breakfasts when they pleased.

Mr Delvile, scrupulous in ceremony, had made sundry apologies to Lord Ernolf for leaving him; but his real anxiety for his son overpowering his artificial character, the excuses he gave to that nobleman were such as could not possibly offend; and the views of his lordship himself in his visit, being nothing interrupted, so long as Cecilia continued at the castle, he readily engaged, as a proof that he was not affronted, to remain with Mrs Delvile till his return.

Cecilia, therefore, had her breakfast with the two lords and Lady Honoria; and when it was over, Lord Ernolf proposed to his son riding the first stage with the two Mr Delviles on horseback. This was agreed upon, and they left the room: and then Lady Honoria, full of frolic and gaiety, seized one of the napkins, and protested she would send it to Mortimer for a slabbering-bib: she therefore made it up in a parcel, and wrote upon the inside of the paper with which she enveloped it, “A pin-a fore for Master Mortimer Delvile, lest he should daub his pappy when he is feeding him.” Eager to have this properly conveyed, she then ran out, to give it in charge to her own man, who was to present him with it as he got into the chaise.

She had but just quitted the room, when the door of it was again opened, and by Mortimer himself, booted, and equipped for his journey.

“Miss Beverley here! and alone!” cried he, with a look, and in a voice, which skewed that all the pride of the preceding evening was sunk into the deepest dejection; “and does she not fly as I approach her? can she patiently bear in her sight one so strange, so fiery, so inconsistent? But she is too wise to resent the ravings of a madman; — and who, under the influence of a passion at once hopeless and violent, can boast, but at intervals, full possession of his reason?”

Cecilia, utterly astonished by a gentleness so humble, looked at him in silent surprise; he advanced to her mournfully, and added, “I am ashamed, indeed, of the bitterness of spirit with which I last night provoked your displeasure, when I should have supplicated your lenity: but though I was prepared for your coldness, I could not endure it, and though your indifference was almost friendly, it made me little less than frantic; so strangely may justice be blinded by passion, and every faculty of reason be warped by selfishness!”

“You have no apology to make, Sir,” cried Cecilia, “since, believe me, I require none.”

“You may well,” returned he, half-smiling, “dispense with my apologies, since under the sanction of that word, I obtained your hearing yesterday. But, believe me, you will now find me far more reasonable; a whole night’s reflections — reflections which no repose interrupted! — have brought me to my senses. Even lunatics, you know, have lucid moments!”

“Do you intend, Sir, to set off soon?”

“I believe so; I wait only for my father. But why is Miss Beverley so impatient? I shall not soon return; that, at least, is certain, and, for a few instants delay, may surely offer some palliation; — See! if I am not ready to again accuse you of severity! — I must run, I find, or all my boasted reformation will end but in fresh offence, fresh disgrace, and fresh contrition! Adieu, madam! — and may all prosperity attend you! That will be ever my darling wish, however long my absence, however distant the climates which may part us!” He was then hurrying away, but Cecilia, from an impulse of surprise too sudden to be restrained, exclaimed “The climates? — do you, then, mean to leave England?”

“Yes,” cried he, with quickness, “for why should I remain in it? a few weeks only could I fill up in any tour so near home, and hither in a few weeks to return would be folly and madness: in an absence so brief, what thought but that of the approaching meeting would occupy me? and what, at that meeting, should I feel, but joy the most dangerous, and delight which I dare not think of! — every conflict renewed, every struggle re-felt, again all this scene would require to be acted, again I must tear myself away, and every tumultuous passion now beating in my heart would be revived, and, if possible, be revived with added misery! — No! — neither my temper nor my constitution will endure such another shock, one parting shall suffice, and the fortitude with which I will lengthen my self-exile, shall atone to myself for the weakness which makes it requisite!”

And then, with a vehemence that seemed fearful of the smallest delay, he was again, and yet more hastily going, when Cecilia, with much emotion, called out, “Two moments, Sir!”

“Two thousand! two million!” cried he, impetuously, and returning, with a look of the most earnest surprise, he added, “What is it Miss Beverley will condescend to command?”

“Nothing,” cried she, recovering her presence of mind, “but to beg you will by no means, upon my account, quit your country and your friends, since another asylum can be found for myself, and since I would much sooner part from Mrs Delvile, greatly and sincerely as I reverence her, than be instrumental to robbing her, even for a month, of her son.”

“Generous and humane is the consideration,” cried he; “but who half so generous, so humane as Miss Beverley? so soft to all others, so noble in herself? Can my mother have a wish, when I leave her with you? No; she is sensible of your worth, she adores you, almost as I adore you myself! you are now under her protection, you seem, indeed, born for each other; let me not, then, deprive her of so honourable a charge — Oh, why must he, who sees in such colours the excellencies of both, who admires with such fervour the perfections you unite, be torn with this violence from the objects he reveres, even though half his life he would sacrifice, to spend in their society what remained!”—

“Well, then, Sir,” said Cecilia, who now felt her courage decline, and the softness of sorrow steal fast upon her spirits, “if you will not give up your scheme, let me no longer detain you.”

“Will you not wish me a good journey?”

“Yes — very sincerely.”

“And will you pardon the unguarded errors which have offended you?”

“I will think of them, Sir, no more.”

“Farewell, then, most amiable of women, and may every blessing you deserve light on your head! I leave to you my mother, certain of your sympathetic affection for a character so resembling your own. When you, madam, leave her, may the happy successor in your favour — “ He paused, his voice faultered, Cecilia, too, turned away from him, and, uttering a deep sigh, he caught her hand, and pressing it to his lips, exclaimed, “O great be your felicity, in whatever way you receive it! — pure as your virtues, and warm as your benevolence! — Oh too lovely Miss Beverley! — why, why must I quit you!”

Cecilia, though she trusted not her voice to reprove him, forced away her hand, and then, in the utmost perturbation, he rushed out of the room.

This scene for Cecilia, was the most unfortunate that could have happened; the gentleness of Delvile was alone sufficient to melt her, since her pride had no subsistence when not fed by his own; and while his mildness had blunted her displeasure, his anguish had penetrated her heart. Lost in thought and in sadness, she continued fixed to her seat; and looking at the door through which he had passed, as if, with himself, he had shut out all for which she existed.

This pensive dejection was not long uninterrupted; Lady Honoria came running back, with intelligence, in what manner she had disposed of her napkin, and Cecilia in listening, endeavoured to find some diversion; but her ladyship, though volatile not undiscerning, soon perceived that her attention was constrained, and looking at her with much archness, said, I believe, my dear, I must find another napkin for you! not, how ever, for your mouth, but for your eyes! Has Mortimer been in to take leave of you?”

“Take leave of me? — No — is he gone?”

“O no, Pappy has a world of business to settle first; he won’t be ready these two hours. But don’t look so sorrowful, for I’ll run and bring Mortimer to console you.”

Away she flew, and Cecilia, who had no power to prevent her, finding her spirits unequal either to another parting, or to the raillery of Lady Honoria, should Mortimer, for his own sake, avoid it, took refuge in flight, and seizing an umbrella, escaped into the park; where, to perplex any pursuers, instead of chusing her usual walk, she directed her steps to a thick and unfrequented wood, and never rested till she was more than two miles from the house. Fidel, however, who now always accompanied her, ran by her side, and, when she thought herself sufficiently distant and private to be safe, she sat down under a tree, and caressing her faithful favourite, soothed her own tenderness by lamenting that he had lost his master; and, having now no part to act, and no dignity to support, no observation to fear, and no inference to guard against, she gave vent to her long smothered emotions, by weeping without caution or restraint.

She had met with an object whose character answered all her wishes for him with whom she should entrust her fortune, and whose turn of mind, so similar to her own, promised her the highest domestic felicity: to this object her affections had involuntarily bent, they were seconded by esteem, and unchecked by any suspicion of impropriety in her choice: she had found too, in return, that his heart was all her own: her birth, indeed, was inferior, but it was not disgraceful; her disposition, education and temper seemed equal to his fondest wishes: yet, at the very time when their union appeared most likely, when they mixed with the same society, and dwelt under the same roof, when the father to one, was the guardian to the other, and interest seemed to invite their alliance even more than affection, the young man himself, without counsel or command, could tear himself from her presence by an effort all his own, forbear to seek her heart, and almost charge her not to grant it, and determining upon voluntary exile, quit his country and his connections with no view, and for no reason, but merely that he might avoid the sight of her he loved!

Though the motive for this conduct was now no longer unknown to her, she neither thought it satisfactory nor necessary; yet, while she censured his flight, she bewailed his loss, and though his inducement was repugnant to her opinion, his command over his passions she admired and applauded.

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