Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Book vii.

Chapter 1

A Renovation.

Cecilia was accompanied by her maid in the chaise, and her own servant and one of Mrs Delvile’s attended her on horseback.

The quietness of her dejection was soon interrupted by a loud cry among the men of “home! home! home!” She then looked out of one of the windows, and perceived Fidel, running after the carriage, and barking at the servants, who were all endeavouring to send him back.

Touched by this proof of the animal’s gratitude for her attention to him, and conscious she had herself occasioned his master’s leaving him, the scheme of Lady Honoria occurred to her, and she almost wished to put it in execution, but this was the thought of a moment, and motioning him with her hand to go back, she desired Mrs Delvile’s man to return with him immediately, and commit him to the care of somebody in the castle.

This little incident, however trifling, was the most important of her journey, for she arrived at the house of Mrs Charlton without meeting any other.

The sight of that lady gave her a sensation of pleasure to which she had long been a stranger, pleasure pure, unmixed, unaffected and unrestrained: it revived all her early affection, and with it, something resembling at least her early tranquility: again she was in the house where it had once been undisturbed, again she enjoyed the society which was once all she had wished, and again saw the same scene, the same faces, and same prospects she had beheld while her heart was all devoted to her friends.

Mrs Charlton, though old and infirm, preserved an understanding, which, whenever unbiassed by her affections, was sure to direct her unerringly; but the extreme softness of her temper frequently misled her judgment, by making it, at the pleasure either of misfortune or of artifice, always yield to compassion, and pliant to entreaty. Where her counsel and opinion were demanded, they were certain to reflect honour on her capacity and discernment; but where her assistance or her pity were supplicated, her purse and her tears were immediately bestowed, and in her zeal to alleviate distress she forgot if the object were deserving her solicitude, and stopt not to consider propriety or discretion, if happiness, however momentary, were in her power to grant.

This generous foible was, however, kept somewhat in subjection by the watchfulness of two grand-daughters, who, fearing the injury they might themselves receive from it, failed not to point out both its inconvenience and its danger.

These ladies were daughters of a deceased and only son of Mrs Charlton; they were single, and lived with their grand-mother, whose fortune, which was considerable, they expected to share between them, and they waited with eagerness for the moment of appropriation; narrow-minded and rapacious, they wished to monopolize whatever she possessed, and thought themselves aggrieved by her smallest donations. Their chief employment was to keep from her all objects of distress, and in this though they could not succeed, they at least confined her liberality to such as resembled themselves; since neither the spirited could brook, nor the delicate support the checks and rebuffs from the granddaughters, which followed the gifts of Mrs Charlton. Cecilia, of all her acquaintance, was the only one whose intimacy they encouraged, for they knew her fortune made her superior to any mercenary views, and they received from her themselves more civilities than they paid.

Mrs Charlton loved Cecilia with an excess of fondness, that not only took place of the love she bore her other friends, but to which even her regard for the Miss Charltons was inferior and feeble. Cecilia when a child had reverenced her as a mother, and, grateful for her tenderness and care, had afterwards cherished her as a friend. The revival of this early connection delighted them both, it was balm to the wounded mind of Cecilia, it was renovation to the existence of Mrs Charlton.

Early the next morning she wrote a card to Mr Monckton and Lady Margaret, acquainting them with her return into Suffolk, and desiring to know when she might pay her respects to her Ladyship. She received from the old lady a verbal answer, when she pleased, but Mr Monckton came instantly himself to Mrs Charlton’s.

His astonishment, his rapture at this unexpected incident were almost boundless; he thought it a sudden turn of fortune in his own favour, and concluded, now she had escaped the danger of Delvile Castle, the road was short and certain that led to his own security.

Her satisfaction in the meeting was as sincere, though not so animated as his own: but this similarity in their feelings was of short duration, for when he enquired into what had passed at the castle, with the reasons of her quitting it, the pain she felt in giving even a cursory and evasive account, was opposed on his part by the warmest delight in hearing it: he could not obtain from her the particulars of what had happened, but the reluctance with which she spoke, the air of mortification with which she heard his questions, and the evident displeasure which was mingled in her chagrin, when he forced her to mention Delvile, were all proofs the most indisputable and satisfactory, that they had either parted without any explanation, or with one by which Cecilia had been hurt and offended.

He now readily concluded that since the fiery trial he had most apprehended was over; and she had quitted in anger the asylum she had sought in extacy, Delvile himself did not covet the alliance, which, since they were separated, was never likely to take place. He had therefore little difficulty in promising all success to himself.

She was once more upon the spot where she had regarded him as the first of men, he knew that during her absence no one had settled in the neighbourhood who had any pretensions to dispute with him that pre-eminence, he should again have access to her, at pleasure, and so sanguine grew his hopes, that he almost began to rejoice even in the partiality to Delvile that had hitherto been his terror, from believing it would give her for a time, that sullen distaste of all other connections, to which those who at once are delicate and fervent are commonly led by early disappointment. His whole solicitude therefore now was to preserve her esteem, to seek her confidence, and to regain whatever by absence might be lost of the [ascendancy] over her mind which her respect for his knowledge and capacity had for many years given him. Fortune at this time seemed to prosper all his views, and, by a stroke the most sudden and unexpected, to render more rational his hopes and his plans than he had himself been able to effect by the utmost craft of worldly wisdom.

The day following Cecilia, in Mrs Charlton’s chaise, waited upon Lady Margaret. She was received by Miss Bennet, her companion, with the most fawning courtesy; but when conducted to the lady of the house, she saw herself so evidently unwelcome, that she even regretted the civility which had prompted her visit.

She found with her nobody but Mr Morrice, who was the only young man that could persuade himself to endure her company in the absence of her husband, but who, in common with most young men who are assiduous in their attendance upon old ladies, doubted not but he ensured himself a handsome legacy for his trouble.

Almost the first speech which her ladyship made, was “So you are not married yet, I find; if Mr Monckton had been a real friend, he would have taken care to have seen for some establishment for you.”

“I was by no means,” cried Cecilia, with spirit, “either in so much haste or distress as to require from Mr Monckton any such exertion of his friendship.”

“Ma’am,” cried Morrice, “what a terrible night we had of it at Vauxhall! poor Harrel! I was really excessively sorry for him. I had not courage to see you or Mrs Harrel after it. But as soon as I heard you were in St James’s-square, I tried to wait upon you; for really going to Mr Harrel’s again would have been quite too dismal. I would rather have run a mile by the side of a race-horse.”

“There is no occasion for any apology,” said Cecilia, “for I was very little disposed either to see or think of visitors.”

“So I thought, ma’am;” answered he, with quickness, “and really that made me the less alert in finding you out. However, ma’am, next winter I shall be excessively happy to make up for the deficiency; besides, I shall be much obliged to you to introduce me to Mr Delvile, for I have a great desire to be acquainted with him.”

Mr Delvile, thought Cecilia, would be but too proud to hear it! However, she merely answered that she had no present prospect of spending any time at Mr. Delvile’s next winter.

“True, ma’am, true,” cried he, “now I recollect, you become your own mistress between this and then; and so I suppose you will naturally chuse a house of your own, which will be much more eligible.”

“I don’t think that,” said Lady Margaret, “I never saw anything eligible come of young women’s having houses of their own; she will do a much better thing to marry, and have some proper person to take care of her.”

“Nothing more right, ma’am!” returned he; “a young lady in a house by herself must be subject to a thousand dangers. What sort of place, ma’am, has Mr Delvile got in the country? I hear he has a good deal of ground there, and a large house.”

“It is an old castle, Sir, and situated in a park.”

“That must be terribly forlorn: I dare say, ma’am, you were very happy to return into Suffolk.”

“I did not find it forlorn; I was very well satisfied with it.”

“Why, indeed, upon second thoughts, I don’t much wonder; an old castle in a large park must make a very romantic appearance; something noble in it, I dare say.”

“Aye,” cried Lady Margaret, “they said you were to become mistress of it, and marry Mr Delvile’s son and I cannot, for my own part, see any objection to it.”

“I am told of so many strange reports,” said Cecilia, “and all, to myself so unaccountable, that I begin now to hear of them without much wonder.”

“That’s a charming young man, I believe,” said Morrice; “I had the pleasure once or twice of meeting him at poor Harrel’s, and he seemed mighty agreeable. Is not he so, ma’am?”

“Yes — I believe so.”

“Nay, I don’t mean to speak of him as any thing very extraordinary,” cried Morrice, imagining her hesitation proceeded from dislike, “I merely meant as the world goes — in a common sort of a way.”

Here they were joined by Mr Monckton and some gentlemen who were on a visit at his house; for his anxiety was not of a sort to lead him to solitude, nor his disposition to make him deny himself any kind of enjoyment which he had power to attain. A general conversation ensued, which lasted till Cecilia ended her visit; Mr Monckton then took her hand to lead her to the chaise, but told her, in their way out, of some alterations in his grounds, which he desired to shew her: his view of detaining her was to gather what she thought of her reception, and whether she had yet any suspicions of the jealousy of Lady Margaret; well knowing, from the delicacy of her character, that if once she became acquainted with it, she would scrupulously avoid all intercourse with him, from the fear of encreasing her uneasiness.

He began, therefore, with talking of the pleasure which Lady Margaret took in the plantations, and of his hope that Cecilia would often favour her by visiting them, without waiting to have her visits returned, as she was entitled by her infirmities to particular indulgencies. He was continuing in this strain, receiving from Cecilia hardly any answer, when suddenly from behind a thick laurel bush, jumpt up Mr Morrice; who had run out of the house by a shorter cut, and planted himself there to surprise them.

“So ho!” cried he with a loud laugh, “I have caught you! This will be a fine anecdote for Lady Margaret; I vow I’ll tell her.”

Mr Monckton, never off his guard, readily answered “Aye, prithee do, Morrice; but don’t omit to relate also what we said of yourself.”

“Of me?” cried he, with some eagerness; “why you never mentioned me.”

“O that won’t pass, I assure you; we shall tell another tale at table by and by; and bring the old proverb of the ill luck of listeners upon you in its full force.”

“Well, I’ll be hanged if I know what you mean!”

“Why you won’t pretend you did not hear Miss Beverley say you were the truest Ouran Outang, or man-monkey, she ever knew?”

“No, indeed, that I did not!

“No? — Nor how much she admired your dexterity in escaping being horse-whipt three times a day for your incurable impudence?”

“Not a word on’t! Horse-whipt! — Miss Beverley, pray did you say any such thing?”

“Ay,” cried Monckton, again, “and not only horse-whipt, but horse-ponded, for she thought when, one had heated, the other might cool you; and then you might be fitted again for your native woods, for she insists upon it you was brought from Africa, and are not yet half tamed.”

“O Lord!” cried Morrice, amazed, “I should not have suspected Miss Beverley would have talked so!”

“And do you suspect she did now?” cried Cecilia.

“Pho, pho,” cried Monckton, coolly, “why he heard it himself the whole time! and so shall all our party by and bye, if I can but remember to mention it.”

Cecilia then returned to the chaise, leaving Mr Monckton to settle the matter with his credulous guest as he pleased; for supposing he was merely gratifying a love of sport, or taking this method of checking the general forwardness of the young man, she forbore any interference that might mar his intention. But Mr Monckton loved not to be rallied concerning Cecilia, though he was indifferent to all that could be said to him of any other woman; he meant, therefore, to intimidate Morrice from renewing the subject; and he succeeded to his wish; poor Morrice, whose watching and whose speech were the mere blunders of chance, made without the slightest suspicion of Mr Monckton’s designs, now apprehended some scheme to render himself ridiculous, and though he did not believe Cecilia had made use of such expressions, he fancied Mr Monckton meant to turn the laugh against him, and determined, therefore, to say nothing that might remind him of what had passed.

Mr Monckton had at this time admitted him to his house merely from an expectation of finding more amusement in his blundering and giddiness, than he was capable, during his anxiety concerning Cecilia, of receiving from conversation of an higher sort. The character of Morrice was, indeed, particularly adapted for the entertainment of a large house in the country; eager for sport, and always ready for enterprize; willing to oblige, yet tormented with no delicacy about offending; the first to promote mischief for any other, and the last to be offended when exposed to it himself; gay, thoughtless, and volatile,-a happy composition of levity and good-humour.

Cecilia, however, to quitting the house, determined not to visit it again very speedily; for she was extremely disgusted with Lady Margaret, though she suspected no particular motives of enmity, against which she was guarded alike by her own unsuspicious innocence, and by an high esteem of Mr Monckton, which she firmly believed he returned with equal honesty of undesigning friendship.

Her next excursion was to visit Mrs Harrel; she found that unhappy lady a prey to all the misery of unoccupied solitude: torn from whatever had, to her, made existence seem valuable, her mind was as listless as her person was inactive, and she was at a loss how to employ even a moment of the day: she had now neither a party to form, nor an entertainment to plan, company to arrange, nor dress to consider; and these, with visits and public places, had filled all her time since her marriage, which, as it had ‘happened very early in her life, had merely taken place of girlish amusements, masters and governesses.

This helplessness of insipidity, however, though naturally the effect of a mind devoid of all genuine resources, was dignified by herself with the appellation of sorrow: nor was this merely a screen to the world; unused to investigate her feelings or examine her heart, the general compassion she met for the loss of her husband, persuaded her that indeed she lamented his destiny; though had no change in her life been caused by his suicide, she would scarcely, when the first shock was over, have thought of it again.

She received Cecilia with great pleasure; and with still greater, heard the renewal of her promises to fit up a room for her in her house, as soon as she came of age; a period which now was hardly a, month distant. Far greater, however, as well as infinitely purer, was ‘the joy which her presence bestowed upon Mr Arnott; she saw it herself with a sensation of regret, not only at the constant passion which occasioned it, but even at her own inability to participate in or reward it for with him an alliance would meet with no opposition; his character was amiable, his situation in life unexceptionable: he loved her with the tenderest affection, and no pride, she well knew, would interfere to overpower it; yet, in return, to grant him her love, she felt as utterly impossible as to refuse him her esteem: and the superior attractions of Delvile, of which neither displeasure nor mortification could rob him, shut up her heart, for the present, more firmly than ever, as Mr Monckton had well imagined, to all other assailants. Yet she by no means weakly gave way to repining or regret: her suspence was at an end, her hopes and her fears were subsided into certainty; Delvile, in quitting her, had acquainted her that he had left her for ever, and even, though not, indeed, with much steadiness, had prayed for her happiness in union with some other; she held it therefore as essential to her character as to her peace, to manifest equal fortitude in subduing her partiality; she forbore to hint to Mrs Charlton what had passed, that the subject might never be started; allowed herself no time for dangerous recollection; strolled in her old walks, and renewed her old acquaintance, and by a vigorous exertion of active wisdom, doubted not compleating, before long, the subjection of her unfortunate tenderness. Nor was her task so difficult as she had feared; resolution, in such cases, may act the office of time, and anticipate by reason and self-denial, what that, much leas nobly, effects through forgetfulness and inconstancy.

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