Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 9

An Attack.

At dinner, with the assistance of Lord Ernolf, who was most happy to give it, Cecilia seemed tolerably easy. Lord Derford, too, encouraged by his father, endeavoured to engage some share of her attention; but he totally failed; her mind was superior to little arts of coquetry, and her pride had too much dignity to evaporate in pique; she determined, therefore, at this time, as at all others, to be consistent in shewing him he had no chance of her favour.

At tea, when they were again assembled, Mortimer’s journey was the only subject of discourse, and it was agreed that he should set out very early in the morning, and, as the weather was extremely hot, not travel at all in the middle of the day.

Lady Honoria then, in a whisper to Cecilia, said, “I suppose, Miss Beverley, you will rise with the lark tomorrow morning? for your health, I mean. Early rising, you know, is vastly good for you.”

Cecilia, affecting not to understand her, said she should rise, she supposed, at her usual time.

“I’ll tell Mortimer, however,” returned her ladyship, “to look up at your window before he goes off; for if he will play Romeo, you, I dare say, will play Juliet, and this old castle is quite the thing for the musty family of the Capulets: I dare say Shakespeare thought of it when he wrote of them.”

“Say to him what you please for yourself,” cried Cecilia, “but let me entreat you to say nothing for me.”

“And my Lord Derford,” continued she, “will make an excessive pretty Paris, for he is vastly in love, though he has got nothing to say; but what shall we do for a Mercutio? we may find five hundred whining Romeos to one gay and charming Mercutio. Besides, Mrs Delvile, to do her justice, is really too good for the old Nurse, though Mr Delvile himself may serve for all the Capulets and all the Montagues at once, for he has pride enough for both their houses, and twenty more besides. By the way, if I don’t take care, I shall have this Romeo run away before I have made my little dainty country Paris pick a quarrel with him.”

She then walked up to one of the windows, and motioning Lord Derford to follow her, Cecilia heard her say to him, “Well, my lord, have you writ your letter? and have you sent it? Miss Beverley, I assure you, will be charmed beyond measure by such a piece of gallantry.”

“No, ma’am,” answered the simple young lord, “I have not sent it yet, for I have only writ a foul copy.”

“O my lord,” cried she, “that is the very thing you ought to send! a foul copy of a challenge is always better than a fair one, for it looks written with more agitation. I am vastly glad you mentioned that.”

Cecilia then, rising and joining them, said, “What mischief is Lady Honoria about now? we must all be upon our guards, my lord, for she has a spirit of diversion that will not spare us.”

“Pray why do you interfere?” cried Lady Honoria, and then, in a lower voice, she added, “what do you apprehend? do you suppose Mortimer cannot manage such a poor little ideot as this?”

“I don’t suppose any thing about the matter!”

“Well, then, don’t interrupt my operations. Lord Derford, Miss Beverley has been whispering me, that if you put this scheme in execution, she shall find you, ever after, irresistible.”

“Lord Derford, I hope,” said Cecilia, laughing, is too well acquainted with your ladyship to be in any danger of credulity.”

“Vastly well!” cried she, “I see you are determined to provoke me, so if you spoil my schemes, I will spoil yours, and tell a certain gentleman your tender terrors for his safety.”

Cecilia now, extremely alarmed, most earnestly entreated her to be quiet; but the discovery of her fright only excited her ladyship’s laughter, and, with a look the most mischievously wicked, she called out “Pray Mr Mortimer, come hither!”

Mortimer instantly obeyed; and Cecilia at the same moment would with pleasure have endured almost any punishment to have been twenty miles off.

“I have something,” continued her ladyship, “of the utmost consequence to communicate to you. We have been settling an admirable plan for you; will you promise to be guided by us if I tell it you?”

“O certainly!” cried he; “to doubt that would disgrace us all round.”

“Well, then — Miss Beverley, have you any objection to my proceeding?” “None at all!” answered Cecilia, who had the understanding to know that the greatest excitement to ridicule is opposition.

“Well, then, I must tell you,” she continued, “it is the advice of us all, that as soon as you come to the possession of your estate, you make some capital alterations in this antient castle.”

Cecilia, greatly relieved, could with gratitude have embraced her: and Mortimer, very certain that such rattle was all her own, promised the utmost submission to her orders, and begged her further directions, declaring that he could not, at least, desire a fairer architect.

“What we mean,” said she, “may be effected with the utmost ease; it is only to take out these old windows, and fix some thick iron grates in their place, and so turn the castle into a gaol for the county.”

Mortimer laughed heartily at this proposition; but his father, unfortunately hearing it, sternly advanced, and with great austerity said, “If I thought my son capable of putting such an insult upon his ancestors, whatever may be the value I feel for him, I would banish him my presence for ever.”

“Dear Sir,” cried Lady Honoria, “how would his ancestors ever know it?”

“How? — why — that is a very extraordinary question, Lady Honoria!”

“Besides, Sir, I dare say the sheriff, or the mayor and corporation, or some of those sort of people, would give him money enough, for the use of it, to run him up a mighty pretty neat little box somewhere near Richmond.”

“A box!” exclaimed he indignantly; “a neat little box for the heir of an estate such as this!”

“I only mean,” cried she, giddily, “that he might have some place a little more pleasant to live in, for really that old moat and draw-bridge are enough to vapour him to death; I cannot for my life imagine any use they are of: unless, indeed, to frighten away the deer, for nothing else offer to come over. But, if you were to turn the house into a gaol —”

“A gaol?” cried Mr Delvile, still more angrily, “your ladyship must pardon me if I entreat you not to mention that word again when you are pleased to speak of Delvile Castle.”

“Dear Sir, why not?”

“Because it is a term that, in itself, from a young lady, has a sound peculiarly improper; and which, applied to any gentleman’s antient family seat — a thing, Lady Honoria, always respectable, however lightly spoken of! — has an effect the least agreeable that can be devised: for it implies an idea either that the family, or the mansion, is going into decay.”

“Well, Sir, you know, with regard to the mansion, it is certainly very true, for all that other side, by the old tower, looks as if it would fall upon one’s head every time one is forced to pass it.”

“I protest, Lady Honoria,” said Mr Delvile, “that old tower, of which you are pleased to speak so slightingly, is the most honourable testimony to the antiquity of the castle of any now remaining, and I would not part with it for all the new boxes, as you style them, in the kingdom.”

“I am sure I am very glad of it, Sir, for I dare say nobody would give even one of them for it.”

“Pardon me, Lady Honoria, you are greatly mistaken; they would give a thousand; such a thing, belonging to a man from his own ancestors, is invaluable.”

“Why, dear Sir, what in the world could they do with it? unless, indeed, they were to let some man paint it for an opera scene.”

“A worthy use indeed!” cried Mr Delvile, more and more affronted: “and pray does your ladyship talk thus to my Lord Duke?”

“O yes; and he never minds it at all.”

“It were strange if he did!” cried Mrs Delvile; “my only astonishment is that anybody can be found who does mind it.”

“Why now, Mrs Delvile,” she answered, “pray be sincere; can you possibly think this Gothic ugly old place at all comparable to any of the new villas about town?”

“Gothic ugly old place!” repeated Mr Delvile, in utter amazement at her dauntless flightiness; “your ladyship really does my humble dwelling too much honour!”

“Lord, I beg a thousand pardons!” cried she, “I really did not think of what I was saying. Come, dear Miss Beverley, and walk out with me, for I am too much shocked to stay a moment longer.”

And then, taking Cecilia by the arm, she hurried her into the park, through a door which led thither from the parlour.

“For heaven’s sake, Lady Honoria,” said Cecilia, “could you find no better entertainment for Mr Delvile than ridiculing his own house?”

“O,” cried she, laughing, “did you never hear us quarrel before? why when I was here last summer, I used to affront him ten times a day.”

“And was that a regular ceremony?”

“No, really, I did not do it purposely; but it so happened; either by talking of the castle, or the tower, or the draw-bridge, or the fortifications; or wishing they were all employed to fill up that odious moat; or something of that sort; for you know a small matter will put him out of humour.”

“And do you call it so small a matter to wish a man’s whole habitation annihilated?”

“Lord, I don’t wish anything about it! I only say so to provoke him.”

“And what strange pleasure can that give you?”

“O the greatest in the world! I take much delight in seeing anybody in a passion. It makes them look so excessively ugly!”

“And is that the way you like every body should look, Lady Honoria?”

“O my dear, if you mean me, I never was in a passion twice in my life: for as soon as ever I have provoked the people, I always run away. But sometimes I am in a dreadful fright lest they should see me laugh, for they make such horrid grimaces it is hardly possible to look at them. When my father has been angry with me, I have sometimes been obliged to pretend I was crying, by way of excuse for putting my handkerchief to my face: for really he looks so excessively hideous, you would suppose he was making mouths, like the children, merely to frighten one.”

“Amazing!” exclaimed Cecilia, “your ladyship can, indeed, never want diversion, to find it in the anger of your father. But does it give you no other sensation? are you not afraid?”

“O never! O what can he do to me, you know? he can only storm a little, and swear a little, for he always swears when he is angry; and perhaps order me to my own room; and ten to one but that happens to be the very thing I want; for we never quarrel but when we are alone, and then it’s so dull, I am always wishing to run away.”

“And can you take no other method of leaving him?”

“Why I think none so easily: and it can do him no harm, you know; I often tell him, when we make friends, that if it were not for a postilion and his daughter, he would be quite out of practice in scolding and swearing: for whenever he is upon the road he does nothing else: though why he is in such a hurry, nobody can divine, for go whither he will he has nothing to do.”

Thus ran on this flighty lady, happy in high animal spirits, and careless who was otherwise, till, at some distance, they perceived Lord Derford, who was approaching to join them.

“Miss Beverley,” cried she, “here comes your adorer: I shall therefore only walk on till we arrive at that large oak, and then make him prostrate himself at your feet, and leave you together.”

“Your ladyship is extremely good! but I am glad to be apprized of your intention, as it will enable me to save you that trouble.”

She then turned quick back, and passing Lord Derford, who still walked on towards Lady Honoria, she returned to the house; but, upon entering the parlour, found all the company dispersed, Delvile alone excepted, who was walking about the room, with his tablets in his hand, in which he had been writing.

From a mixture of shame and surprize, Cecilia, at the sight of him, was involuntarily retreating; but, hastening to the door, he called out in a reproachful tone, “Will you not even enter the same room with me?”

“O yes,” cried she, returning; “I was only afraid I disturbed you.”

“No, madam,” answered he, gravely; “you are the only person who could not disturb me, since my employment was making memorandums for a letter to yourself: with which, however, I did not desire to importune you, but that you have denied me the honour of even a five minutes’ audience.”

Cecilia, in the utmost confusion at this attack, knew not whether to stand still or proceed; but, as he presently continued his speech, she found she had no choice but to stay.

“I should be sorry to quit this place, especially as the length of my absence is extremely uncertain, while I have the unhappiness to be under your displeasure, without making some little attempt to apologize for the behaviour which incurred it. Must I, then, finish my letter, or will you at last deign to hear me?”

“My displeasure, Sir,” said Cecilia, “died with its occasion; I beg, therefore, that it may rest no longer in your remembrance.”

“I meant not, madam, to infer, that the subject or indeed that the object merited your deliberate attention; I simply wish to explain what may have appeared mysterious in my conduct, and for what may have seemed still more censurable, to beg your pardon.”

Cecilia now, recovered from her first apprehensions, and calmed, because piqued, by the calmness with which he spoke himself, made no opposition to his request, but suffering him to shut both the door leading into the garden, and that which led into the hall, she seated herself at one of the windows, determined to listen with intrepidity to this long expected explanation.

The preparations, however, which he made to obviate being overheard, added to the steadiness with which Cecilia waited his further proceedings, soon robbed him of the courage with which he began the assault, and evidently gave him a wish of retreating himself.

At length, after much hesitation, he said “This indulgence, madam, deserves my most grateful acknowledgments; it is, indeed, what I had little right, and still less reason, after the severity I have met with from you, to expect.”

And here, at the very mention of severity, his courage, called upon by his pride, instantly returned, and he went on with the same spirit he had begun.

“That severity, however, I mean not to lament; on the contrary, in a situation such as mine, it was perhaps the first blessing I could receive: I have found from it, indeed, more advantage and relief than from all that philosophy, reflection or fortitude could offer. It has shewn me the vanity of bewailing the barrier, placed by fate to my wishes, since it has shewn me that another, less inevitable, but equally insuperable, would have opposed them. I have determined, therefore, after a struggle I must confess the most painful, to deny myself the dangerous solace of your society, and endeavour, by joining dissipation to reason, to forget the too great pleasure which hitherto it has afforded me.”

“Easy, Sir,” cried Cecilia, “will be your task: I can only wish the re-establishment of your health may be found no more difficult.”

“Ah, madam,” cried he, with a reproachful smile, “he jests at scars who never felt a wound! — but this is a strain in which I have no right to talk, and I will neither offend your delicacy, nor my own integrity, by endeavouring to work upon the generosity of your disposition in order to excite your compassion. Not such was the motive with which I begged this audience; but merely a desire, before I tear myself away, to open to you my heart, without palliation or reserve.”

He paused a few moments; and Cecilia finding her suspicions just that this interview was meant to be final, considered that her trial, however severe, would be short, and called forth all her resolution to sustain it with spirit.

“Long before I had the honour of your acquaintance,” he continued, “your character and your accomplishments were known to me: Mr Biddulph of Suffolk, who was my first friend at Oxford, and with whom my intimacy is still undiminished, was early sensible of your excellencies: we corresponded, and his letters were filled with your praises. He confessed to me, that his admiration had been unfortunate:— alas! I might now make the same confession to him!”

Mr Biddulph, among many of the neighbouring gentlemen, had made proposals to the Dean for Cecilia, which, at her desire, were rejected.

“When Mr Harrel saw masks in Portman-square, my curiosity to behold a lady so adored, and so cruel, led me thither; your dress made you easily distinguished. — Ah Miss Beverley! I venture not to mention what I then felt for my friend! I will only say that something which I felt for myself, warned me instantly to avoid you, since the clause in your uncle’s will was already well known to me.”

Now, then, at last, thought Cecilia, all perplexity is over! — the change of name is the obstacle; he inherits all the pride of his family — and therefore to that family will I unrepining leave him!

“This warning,” he continued, “I should not have disregarded, had I not, at the Opera, been deceived into a belief you were engaged; I then wished no longer to shun you; bound in honour to forbear all efforts at supplanting a man, to whom I thought you almost united, I considered you already as married, and eagerly as I sought your society, I sought it not with more pleasure than innocence. Yet even then, to be candid, I found in myself a restlessness about your affairs that kept me in eternal perturbation: but I flattered myself it was mere curiosity, and only excited by the perpetual change of opinion to which occasion gave rise, concerning which was the happy man.”

“I am sorry,” said Cecilia, coolly, “there was any such mistake.”

“I will not, madam, fatigue you,” he returned, “by tracing the progress of my unfortunate admiration; will endeavour to be more brief, for I see you are already wearied.” He stopt a moment, hoping for some little encouragement; but Cecilia, in no humour to give it, assumed an air of unconcern, and sat wholly quiet.

“I knew not,” he then went on, with a look of extreme mortification, “the warmth with which I honoured your virtues, till you deigned to plead to me for Mr Belfield — but let me not recollect the feelings of that moment! — yet were they nothing — cold, languid, lifeless to what I afterwards experienced, when you undeceived me finally with respect to your situation, and informed me the report concerning Sir Robert Floyer was equally erroneous with that which concerned Belfield! O what was the agitation of my whole soul at that instant! — to know you disengaged — to see you before me — by the disorder of my whole frame to discover the mistake I had cherished —”

Cecilia then, half rising, yet again seating herself, looked extremely impatient to be gone.

“Pardon me, madam,” he cried; “I will have done, and trace my feelings and my sufferings no longer, but hasten, for my own sake as well as yours, to the reason why I have spoken at all. From the hour that my ill-destined passion was fully known to myself, I weighed all the consequences of indulging it, and found, added to the extreme hazard of success, an impropriety even in the attempt. My honour in the honour of my family is bound; what to that would seem wrong, in me would be unjustifiable: yet where inducements so numerous were opposed by one single objection! — where virtue, beauty, education and family were all unexceptionable — Oh cruel clause! barbarous and repulsive clause! that forbids my aspiring to the first of women, but by an action that with my own family would degrade me for ever!”

He stopt, overpowered by his own emotion, and Cecilia arose. “I see, madam,” he cried, “your eagerness to be gone, and however at this moment I may lament it, I shall recollect it hereafter with advantage. But to conclude: I determined to avoid you, and, by avoiding, to endeavour to forget you: I determined, also, that no human being, and yourself least of all, should know, should even suspect the situation of my mind: and though upon various occasions, my prudence and forbearance have suddenly yielded to surprise and to passion, the surrender has been short, and almost, I believe, unnoticed.

“This silence and this avoidance I sustained with decent constancy, till during the storm, in an ill-fated moment, I saw, or thought I saw you in some danger, and then, all caution off guard, all resolution surprised, every passion awake, and tenderness triumphant —”

“Why, Sir,” cried Cecilia, angrily, “and for what purpose all this?”

“Alas, I know not!” said he, with a deep sigh, “I thought myself better qualified for this conference, and meant to be firm and concise. I have told my story ill, but as your own understanding will point out the cause, your own benevolence will perhaps urge some excuse.

“Too certain, since that unfortunate accident, that all disguise was vain, and convinced by your displeasure of the impropriety of which I had been guilty, I determined, as the only apology I could offer, to open to you my whole heart, and then fly you perhaps for ever.

“This, madam, incoherently indeed, yet with sincerity, I have now done: my sufferings and my conflicts I do not mention, for I dare not! O were I to paint to you the bitter struggles of a mind all at war with itself — Duty, spirit, and fortitude, combating love, happiness and inclination — each conquering alternately, and alternately each vanquished — I could endure it no longer, I resolved by one effort to finish the strife, and to undergo an instant of even exquisite torture, in preference to a continuance of such lingering misery!”

“The restoration of your health, Sir, and since you fancy it has been injured, of your happiness,” said Cecilia, “will, I hope, be as speedy, as I doubt not they are certain.”

Since I fancy it has been injured!” repeated he; “what a phrase, after an avowal such as mine! But why should I wish to convince you of my sincerity, when to you it cannot be more indifferent, than to myself it is unfortunate! I have now only to entreat your pardon for the robbery I have committed upon your time, and to repeat my acknowledgments that you have endeavoured to hear me with patience.”

“If you honour me, Sir, with some portion of your esteem,” said the offended Cecilia, “these acknowledgments, perhaps, should be mine; suppose them, however made, for I have a letter to write, and can therefore stay no longer.”

“Nor do I presume, madam,” cried he proudly, “to detain you: hitherto you may frequently have thought me mysterious, sometimes strange and capricious, and perhaps almost always, unmeaning; to clear myself from these imputations, by a candid confession of the motives which have governed me, is all that I wished. Once, also — I hope but once — you thought me impertinent — there, indeed, I less dare vindicate myself —”

“There is no occasion, Sir,” interrupted she, walking towards the door, “for further vindication in any thing; I am perfectly satisfied, and if my good wishes are worth your acceptance, assure yourself you possess them.”

“Barbarous, and insulting!” cried he, half to himself; and then, with a quick motion hastening to open the door for her, “Go, madam,” he added, almost breathless with conflicting emotions, “go, and be your happiness unalterable as your inflexibility!”

Cecilia was turning back to answer this reproach, but the sight of Lady Honoria, who was entering at the other door, deterred her, and she went on’.

When she came to her own room, she walked about it some time in a state so unsettled, between anger and disappointment, sorrow and pride, that she scarce knew to which emotion to give way, and felt almost bursting with each.

“The die,” she cried, “is at last thrown; and this affair is concluded for ever! Delvile himself is content to relinquish me; no father has commanded, no mother has interfered, he has required no admonition, full well enabled to act for himself by the powerful instigation of hereditary arrogance! Yet my family, he says — unexpected condescension! my family and every other circumstance is unexceptionable; how feeble, then, is that regard which yields to one only objection! how potent that haughtiness which to nothing will give way! Well, let him keep his name! since so wondrous its properties, so all-sufficient its preservation, what vanity, what presumption in me, to suppose myself an equivalent for its loss!”

Thus, deeply offended, her spirits were supported by resentment, and not only while in company, but when alone, she found herself scarce averse to the approaching separation, and enabled to endure it without repining.

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