Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 3

An Antique Mansion.

Delvile Castle was situated in a large and woody park, and surrounded by a moat. A drawbridge which fronted the entrance was every night, by order of Mr Delvile, with the same care as if still necessary for the preservation of the family, regularly drawn up. Some fortifications still remained entire, and vestiges were every where to be traced of more; no taste was shown in the disposition of the grounds, no openings were contrived through the wood for distant views or beautiful objects: the mansion-house was ancient, large and magnificent, but constructed with as little attention to convenience and comfort, as to airiness and elegance; it was dark, heavy and monastic, equally in want of repair and of improvement. The grandeur of its former inhabitants was every where visible, but the decay into which it was falling rendered such remains mere objects for meditation and melancholy; while the evident struggle to support some appearance of its ancient dignity, made the dwelling and all in its vicinity wear an aspect of constraint and austerity. Festivity, joy and pleasure, seemed foreign to the purposes of its construction; silence, solemnity and contemplation were adapted to it only.

Mrs Delvile, however, took all possible care to make the apartments and situation of Cecilia commodious and pleasant, and to banish by her kindness and animation the gloom and formality which her mansion inspired. Nor were her efforts ungratefully received; Cecilia, charmed by every mark of attention from a woman she so highly admired, returned her solicitude by encreasing affection, and repaid all her care by the revival of her spirits. She was happy, indeed, to have quitted the disorderly house of Mr Harrel, where terror, so continually awakened, was only to be lulled by the grossest imposition; and though her mind, depressed by what was passed, and in suspence with what was to come, was by no means in a state for uninterrupted enjoyment, yet to find herself placed, at last, without effort or impropriety, in the very mansion she had so long considered as her road to happiness, rendered her, notwithstanding her remaining sources of inquietude, more contented than she had yet felt herself since her departure from Suffolk.

Even the imperious Mr Delvile was more supportable here than in London: secure in his own castle, he looked around him with a pride of power and of possession which softened while it swelled him. His superiority was undisputed, his will was without controul. He was not, as in the great capital of the kingdom, surrounded by competitors; no rivalry disturbed his peace, no equality mortified his greatness; all he saw were either vassals of his power, or guests bending to his pleasure; he abated therefore, considerably, the stern gloom of his haughtiness, and soothed his proud mind by the courtesy of condescension.

Little, however, was the opportunity Cecilia found, for evincing that spirit and forbearance she had planned in relation to Delvile; he breakfasted by himself every morning, rode or walked out alone till driven home by the heat of the day, and spent the rest of his time till dinner in his own study. When he then appeared, his conversation was always general, and his attention not more engaged by Cecilia than by his mother. Left by them with his father, sometimes he appeared again at tea-time, but more commonly he rode or strolled out to some neighbouring family, and it was always uncertain whether he was again seen before dinner the next day.

By this conduct, reserve on her part was rendered totally unnecessary; she could give no discouragement where she met with no assiduity; she had no occasion to fly where she was never pursued.

Strange, however, she thought such behaviour, and utterly impossible to be the effect of accident; his desire to avoid her seemed scrupulous and pointed, and however to the world it might wear the appearance of chance, to her watchful anxiety a thousand circumstances marked it for design. She found that his friends at home had never seen so little of him, complaints were continually made of his frequent absences, and much surprise was expressed at his new manner of life, and what might be the occupations which so strangely engrossed his time.

Had her heart not interfered in this matter, she might now have been perfectly at rest, since she was spared the renunciation she had projected, and since, without either mental exertion or personal trouble, the affair seemed totally dropt, and Delvile, far from manifesting any design of conquest, shunned all occasions of gallantry, and sedulously avoided even common conversation with her. If he saw her preparing to walk out in an evening, he was certain to stay at home; if his mother was with her, and invited him to join them, he was sure to be ready with some other engagement; and if by accident he met her in the park, he merely stopt to speak of the weather, bowed, and hurried on.

How to reconcile a coldness so extraordinary with a fervour so animated as that which he had lately shewn, was indeed not easy; sometimes she fancied he had entangled not only the poor Henrietta but himself, at other times she believed him merely capricious; but that he studied to avoid her she was convinced invariably, and such a conviction was alone sufficient to determine her upon forwarding his purpose. And, when her first surprise was over, and first chagrin abated, her own pride came to her aid, and she resolved to use every method in her power to conquer a partiality so un gratefully bestowed. She rejoiced that in no instance she had ever betrayed it, and she saw that his own behaviour prevented all suspicion of it in the family. Yet, in the midst of her mortification and displeasure, she found some consolation in seeing that those mercenary views of which she had once been led to accuse him, were farthest from his thoughts, and that whatever was the state of his mind, she had no artifice to apprehend, nor design to guard against. All therefore that remained was to imitate his example, be civil and formal, shun all interviews that were not public, and decline all discourse but what good breeding occasionally made necessary.

By these means their meetings became more rare than ever, and of shorter duration, for if one by any accident was detained, the other retired; till, by their mutual diligence, they soon only saw each other at dinner: and though neither of them knew the motives or the intentions of the other, the best concerted agreement could not more effectually have separated them.

This task to Cecilia was at first extremely painful; but time and constancy of mind soon lessened its difficulty. She amused herself with walking and reading, she commissioned Mr Monckton to send her a Piano Forte of Merlin’s, she was fond of fine work, and she found in the conversation of Mrs Delvile a never-failing resource against languor and sadness. Leaving therefore to himself her mysterious son, she wisely resolved to find other employment for her thoughts, than conjectures with which she could not be satisfied, and doubts that might never be explained.

Very few families visited at the castle, and fewer still had their visits returned. The arrogance of Mr Delvile had offended all the neighbouring gentry, who could easily be better entertained than by receiving instructions of their own inferiority, which however readily they might allow, was by no means so pleasant a subject as to recompense them for hearing no other. And if Mr Delvile was shunned through hatred, his lady no less was avoided through fear; high-spirited and fastidious, she was easily wearied and disgusted, she bore neither with frailty nor folly — those two principal ingredients in human nature! She required, to obtain her favour, the union of virtue and abilities with elegance, which meeting but rarely, she was rarely disposed to be pleased; and disdaining to conceal either contempt or aversion, she inspired in return nothing but dread or resentment; making thus, by a want of that lenity which is the milk of human kindness, and the bond of society, enemies the most numerous and illiberal by those very talents which, more meekly borne, would have rendered her not merely admired, but adored!

In proportion, however, as she was thus at war with the world in general, the chosen few who were honoured with her favour, she loved with a zeal all her own; her heart, liberal, open, and but too daringly sincere, was fervent in affection, and enthusiastic in admiration; the friends who were dear to her, she was devoted to serve, she magnified their virtues till she thought them of an higher race of beings, she inflamed her generosity with ideas of what she owed to them, till her life seemed too small a sacrifice to be refused for their service.

Such was the love which already she felt for Cecilia; her countenance had struck, her manners had charmed her, her understanding was displayed by the quick intelligence of her eyes, and every action and every notion spoke her mind the seat of elegance. In secret she sometimes regretted that she was not higher born, but that regret always vanished when she saw and conversed with her.

Her own youth had been passed in all the severity of affliction: she had been married to Mr Delvile by her relations, without any consultation of her heart or her will. Her strong mind disdained useless complaints, yet her discontent, however private, was deep. Ardent in her disposition, and naturally violent in her passions, her feelings were extremely acute, and to curb them by reason and principle had been the chief and hard study of her life. The effort had calmed, though it had not made her happy. To love Mr Delvile she felt was impossible; proud without merit, and imperious without capacity, she saw with bitterness the inferiority of his faculties, and she found in his temper no qualities to endear or attract: yet she respected his birth and his family, of which her own was a branch, and whatever was her misery from the connection, she steadily behaved to him with the strictest propriety.

Her son, however, when she was blessed with his presence, had a power over her mind that mitigated all her sorrows, and almost lulled even her wishes to sleep: she rather idolised than loved him, yet her fondness flowed not from relationship, but from his worth and his character, his talents and his disposition. She saw in him, indeed, all her own virtues and excellencies, with a toleration for the imperfections of others to which she was wholly a stranger. Whatever was great or good she expected him to perform; occasion alone she thought wanting to manifest him the first of human beings.

Nor here was Mr Delvile himself less sanguine in his hopes: his son was not only the first object of his affection, but the chief idol of his pride, and he did not merely cherish but reverence him as his successor, the only support of his ancient name and family, without whose life and health the whole race would be extinct. He consulted him in all his affairs, never mentioned him but with distinction, and expected the whole world to bow down before him.

Delvile in his behaviour to his father imitated the conduct of his mother, who opposed him in nothing when his pleasure was made known, but who forbore to enquire into his opinion except in cases of necessity. Their minds, indeed, were totally dissimilar; and Delvile well knew that if he submitted to his directions, he must demand such respect as the world would refuse with indignation, and scarcely speak to a man whose genealogy was not known to him.

But though duty and gratitude were the only ties that bound him to his father, he loved his mother not merely with filial affection, but with the purest esteem and highest reverence; he knew, too, that while without him her existence would be a burthen, her tenderness was no effusion of weak partiality, but founded on the strongest assurances of his worth; and however to maternal indulgence its origin might be owing, the rectitude of his own conduct could alone save it from diminution.

Such was the house in which Cecilia was now settled, and with which she lived almost to the exclusion of the sight of any other; for though she had now been three weeks at the castle, she had only at church seen any family but the Delviles.

Nor did any thing in the course of that time occur to her, but the reception of a melancholy letter from Mrs Harrel, filled with complaints of her retirement and misery; and another, from Mr Arnott, with an account of the funeral, the difficulties he had had to encounter with the creditors, who had even seized the dead body, and the numerous expences in which he had been involved, by petitions he could not withstand, from the meaner and more clamorous of those whom his late brother-inlaw had left unpaid. He concluded with a pathetic prayer for her happiness, and a declaration that his own was lost for ever, since now he was even deprived of her sight. Cecilia wrote an affectionate answer to Mrs Harrel, promising, when fully at liberty, that she would herself fetch her to her own house in Suffolk: but she could only send her compliments to Mr Arnott, though her compassion urged a kinder message; as she feared even a shadow of encouragement to so serious, yet hopeless a passion.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/burney/fanny/cecilia/book6.3.html

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