Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 4

A Rattle.

At this time, the house was much enlivened by a visit from Lady Honoria Pemberton, who came to spend a month with Mrs Delvile.

Cecilia had now but little leisure, for Lady Honoria would hardly rest a moment away from her; she insisted upon walking with her, sitting with her, working with her, and singing with her; whatever she did, she chose to do also; wherever she went, she was bent upon accompanying her; and Mrs Delvile, who wished her well, though she had no patience with her foibles, encouraged this intimacy from the hope it might do her service.

It was not, however, that Lady Honoria had conceived any regard for Cecilia; on the contrary, had she been told she should see her no more, she would have heard it with the same composure as if she had been told she should meet with her daily: she had no motive for pursuing her but that she had nothing else to do, and no fondness for her society but, what resulted from aversion to solitude.

Lady Honoria had received a fashionable education, in which her proficiency had been equal to what fashion made requisite; she sung a little; played the harpsichord a little, painted a little, worked a little, and danced a great deal. She had quick parts and high spirits, though her mind was uncultivated, and she was totally void of judgment or discretion: she was careless of giving offence, and indifferent to all that was thought of her; the delight of her life was to create wonder by her rattle, and whether that wonder was to her advantage or discredit, she did not for a moment trouble herself to consider.

A character of so much levity with so little heart had no great chance of raising esteem or regard in Cecilia, who at almost any other period of her life would have been wearied of her importunate attendance; but at present, the unsettled state of her own mind made her glad to give it any employment, and the sprightliness of Lady Honoria served therefore to amuse her. Yet she could not forbear being hurt by finding that the behaviour of Delvile was so exactly the same to them both, that any common observer would with difficulty have pronounced which he preferred.

One morning about a week after her ladyship’s arrival at the castle, she came running into Cecilia’s room, saying she had very good news for her.

“A charming opening!” cried Cecilia, “pray tell it me.”

“Why my Lord Derford is coming!”

“O what a melancholy dearth of incident,” cried Cecilia, “if this is your best intelligence!”

“Why it’s better than nothing: better than going to sleep over a family party; and I vow I have sometimes such difficulty to keep awake, that I am frightened to death lest I should be taken with a sudden nap, and affront them all. Now pray speak the truth without squeamishness, don’t you find it very terrible?”

“No, I find nothing very terrible with Mrs Delvile.”

“O, I like Mrs Delvile, too, of all things, for I believe she’s the cleverest woman in the world; but then I know she does not like me, so there’s no being very fond of her. Besides, really, if I admired her as much again, I should be, dreadfully tired of seeing nothing else. She never stirs out, you know, and has no company at home, which is an extremely tiresome plan, for it only serves to make us all doubly sick of one another: though you must know it’s one great reason why my father likes I should come; for he has some very old-fashioned notions, though I take a great deal of pains to make him get the better of them. But I am always excessively rejoiced when the visit has been paid, for I am obliged to come every year. I don’t mean now, indeed, because your being here makes it vastly more tolerable.”

“You do me much honour,” cried Cecilia, laughing.

“But really, when my Lord Derford comes, it can’t possibly be quite so bad, for at least there will be something else to look at; and you must know my eyes tire extremely of always seeing the same objects. And we can ask him, too, for a little news, and that will put Mrs Delvile in a passion, which will help to give us a little spirit: though I know we shall not get the smallest intelligence from him, for he knows nothing in the world that’s going forward. And, indeed, that’s no great matter, for if he did, he would not know how to tell it, he’s so excessively silly. However, I shall ask him all sort of things, for the less he can answer, the more it will plague him; and I like to plague a fool amazingly, because he can never plague one again. — Though really I ought to beg your pardon, for he is one of your admirers.”

“Oh pray make no stranger of me! you have my free consent to say whatever you please of him.”

“I assure you, then, I like my old Lord Ernolf the best of the two, for he has a thousand times more sense than his son, and upon my word I don’t think he is much uglier. But I wonder vastly you would not marry him, for all that, for you might have done exactly what you pleased with him, which, altogether, would have been no inconvenient circumstance.”

“When I want a pupil,” answered Cecilia, “I shall think that an admirable recommendation: but were I to marry, I would rather find a tutor, of the two.”

“I am sure I should not,” cried Lady Honoria, carelessly, “for one has enough to do with tutors before hand, and the best thing I know of marrying is to get rid of them. I fancy you think so too, only it’s a pretty speech to make. Oh how my sister Euphrasia would adore you! — Pray are you always as grave as you are now?”

“No — yes — indeed I hardly know.”

“I fancy it’s this dismal place that hurts your spirits. I remember when I saw you in St James’s-square I thought you very lively. But really these thick walls are enough to inspire the vapours if one never had them before.”

“I don’t think they have had a very bad effect upon your ladyship!”

“O yes they have; if Euphrasia was here she would hardly know me. And the extreme want of taste and entertainment in all the family is quite melancholy: for even if by chance one has the good fortune to hear any intelligence, Mrs Delvile will hardly let it be repeated, for fear it should happen to be untrue, as if that could possibly signify! I am sure I had as lieve the things were false as not, for they tell as well one way as the other, if she would but have patience to hear them. But she’s extremely severe, you know, as almost all those very clever women are; so that she keeps a kind of restraint upon me whether I will or no. However, that’s nothing compared to her caro sposo, for he is utterly insufferable; so solemn, and so dull! so stately and so tiresome! Mortimer, too, gets worse and worse; O ’tis a sad tribe! I dare say he will soon grow quite as horrible as his father. Don’t you think so?”

“Why indeed — no — I don’t think there’s much resemblance,” said Cecilia, with some hesitation.

“He is the most altered creature,” continued her ladyship, “I ever saw in my life. Once I thought him the most agreeable young man in the world: but if you observe, that’s all over now, and he is getting just as stupid and dismal as the rest of them. I wish you had been here last summer; I assure you, you would quite have fallen in love with him.”

“Should I?” said Cecilia, with a conscious smile.

“Yes, for he was quite delightful; all spirit and gaiety, but now, if it was not for you, I really think I should pretend to lose my way, and instead of going over that old draw-bridge, throw myself into the moat. I wish Euphrasia was here. It’s just the right place for her. She’ll fancy herself in a monastery as soon as she comes, and nothing will make her half so happy, for she is always wishing to be a Nun, poor little simpleton.

“Is there any chance that Lady Euphrasia may come?”

“O no, she can’t at present, because it would not be proper: but I mean if ever she is married to Mortimer.”

“Married to him!” repeated Cecilia, in the utmost consternation.

“I believe, my dear,” cried Lady Honoria, looking at her very archly, “you intend to be married to him yourself?”

“Me? no, indeed!”

“You look very guilty, though,” cried she laughing, “and indeed when you came hither, every body said that the whole affair was arranged.”

“For shame, Lady Honoria!” said Cecilia, again changing colour, “I am sure this must be your own fancy — invention — ”

“No, I assure you; I heard it at several places; and every body said how charmingly your fortune would build up all these old fortifications: but some people said they knew Mr Harrel had sold you to Mr Marriot, and that if you married Mortimer, there would be a lawsuit that would take away half your estate; and others said you had promised your hand to Sir Robert Floyer, and repented when you heard of his mortgages, and he gave it out every where that he would fight any man that pretended to you; and then again some said that you were all the time privately married to Mr Arnott, but did not dare own it, because he was so afraid of fighting with Sir Robert.”

“O Lady Honoria!” cried Cecilia, half laughing, “what wild inventions are these! and all I hope, your own?”

“No, indeed, they were current over the whole town. But don’t take any notice of what I told you about Euphrasia, for perhaps, it may never happen.”

“Perhaps,” said Cecilia, reviving by believing it all fiction, “it has never been in agitation?”

“O yes; it is negociating at this very moment, I believe, among the higher powers; only Mr Delvile does not yet know whether Euphrasia has fortune enough for what he wants.”

Ah, thought Cecilia, how do I rejoice that my independent situation exempts me from being disposed of for life, by thus being set up to sale!

“They thought of me, once, for Mortimer,” continued Lady Honoria, “but I’m vastly glad that’s over, for I never should have survived being shut up in this place; it’s much fitter for Euphrasia. To tell you the truth, I believe they could not make out money enough; but Euphrasia has a fortune of her own, besides what we shall have together, for Grandmama left her every thing that was in her own power.”

“Is Lady Euphrasia your elder sister?”

“O no, poor little thing, she’s two years younger. Grandmama brought her up, and‘ she has seen nothing at all of the world, for she has never been presented yet, so she is not come out, you know: but she’s to come out next year. However, she once saw Mortimer, but she did not like him at all.”

“Not like him!” cried Cecilia, greatly surprised.

“No, she thought him too gay — Oh dear, I wish she could see him now! I am sure I hope she would find him sad enough! she is the most formal little grave thing you ever beheld: she’ll preach to you sometimes for half an hour together. Grandmama taught her nothing in the world but to say her prayers, so that almost every other word you say, she thinks is quite wicked.”

The conversation was now interrupted by their separating to dress for dinner. It left Cecilia in much perplexity; she knew not what wholly to credit, or wholly to disbelieve; but her chief concern arose from the unfortunate change of countenance which Lady Honoria had been so quick in observing.

The next time she was alone with Mrs Delvile, “Miss Beverley,” she said, “has your little rattling tormentor acquainted you who is coming?”

“Lord Derford, do you mean, ma’am?”

“Yes, with his father; shall you dislike to see them?”

“Not if, as I hope, they come merely to wait upon you and Mr Delvile.”

“Mr Delvile and myself,” answered she smiling, “will certainly have the honour of receiving them.”

“Lord Ernolf,” said Cecilia, “can never suppose his visit will make any change in me; I have been very explicit with him, and he seemed equally rational and well bred in forbearing any importunity upon the subject.”

“It has however been much believed in town,” said Mrs Delvile, “that you were strangely shackled by Mr Harrel, and therefore his lordship may probably hope that a change in your situation may be followed by a change in his favour.”

“I shall be sorry if he does,” said Cecilia, “for he will then find himself much deceived.”

“You are right, very right,” cried Mrs Delvile, “to be difficult in your choice, and to take time for looking around you before you make any. I have forborn all questions upon this subject, lest you should find any reluctance in answering them; but I am now too deeply interested in your welfare to be contented in total ignorance of your designs: will you, then, suffer me to make a few enquiries?”

Cecilia gave a ready, but blushing assent.

“Tell me, then, of the many admirers who have graced your train, which there is you have distinguished with any intention of future preference?”

“Not one, madam!”

“And, out of so many, is there not one that, hereafter, you mean to distinguish?”

“Ah madam!” cried Cecilia, shaking her head, “many as they may seem, I have little reason to be proud of them; there is one only who, had my fortune been smaller, would, I believe, ever have thought of me, and there is one only, who, were it now diminished, would ever think of me more.”

“This sincerity,” cried Mrs Delvile, “is just what I expected from you. There is, then, one?”

“I believe there is — and the worthy Mr Arnott is the man; I am much indeed deceived, if his partiality for me is not truly disinterested, and I almost wish”—

“What, my love?”

“That I could return it more gratefully!”

“And do you not?”

“No! — I cannot! I esteem him, I have the truest regard for his character, and were I now by any fatal necessity, compelled to belong to any one of those who have been pleased to address me, I should not hesitate a moment in shewing him my gratitude; but yet, for some time at least, such a proof of it would render me very miserable.”

“You may perhaps think so now,” returned Mrs Delvile; “but with sentiments so strongly in his favour, you will probably be led hereafter to pity — and accept him.”

“No, indeed, madam; I pretend not, I own, to open my whole heart to you; — I know not that you would have patience, for so uninteresting a detail; but though there are some things I venture not to mention, there is nothing, believe me, in which I will deceive you.”

“I do believe you,” cried Mrs Delvile, embracing her; “and the more readily because, not merely among your avowed admirers, but among the whole race of men, I scarce know one to whom I should think you worthily consigned!”

Ah! thought Cecilia, that scarce! who may it mean to except?

“To shew you,” she continued, “that I will deserve your confidence in future, I will refrain from distressing you by any further questions at present: you will not, I think, act materially without consulting me, and for your thoughts — it were tyranny, not friendship, to investigate them more narrowly.”

Cecilia’s gratitude for this delicacy, would instantly have induced her to tell every secret of her soul, had she not apprehended such a confession would have seemed soliciting her interest and assistance, in the only affair in which she would have disdained even to receive them.

She thanked her, therefore, for her kindness, and the conversation was dropt; she much wished to have known whether these enquiries sprung simply from friendly curiosity, or whether she was desirous from any nearer motive to be satisfied with respect to her freedom or engagements. This, however, she had no method of discovering, and was therefore compelled to wait quietly till time should make it clear.

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