Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 3

An Incident.

The spirits of Cecilia, however, internally failed her: she considered her separation from Delvile to be now, in all probability, for life, since she saw that no struggle either of interest, inclination, or health, could bend him from his purpose; his mother, too, seemed to regard his name and his existence as equally valuable, and the scruples of his father she was certain would be still more insurmountable. Her own pride, excited by theirs, made her, indeed, with more anger than sorrow, see this general consent to abandon her; but pride and anger both failed when she considered the situation of his health; sorrow, there, took the lead, and admitted no partner: it represented him to her not only as lost to herself, but to the world; and so sad grew her reflections, and so heavy her heart, that, to avoid from Mrs Charlton observations which pained her, she stole into a summer-house in the garden the moment she had done tea, declining any companion but her affectionate Fidel.

Her tenderness and her sorrow found here a romantic consolation, in complaining to him of the absence of his master, his voluntary exile, and her fears for his health: calling upon him to participate in her sorrow, and lamenting that even this little relief would soon be denied her; and that in losing Fidel no vestige of Mortimer, but in her own breast, would remain; “Go, then, dear Fidel,” she cried, “carry back to your master all that nourishes his remembrance! Bid him not love you the less for having some time belonged to Cecilia; but never may his proud heart be fed with the vain glory of knowing how fondly for his sake she has cherished you! Go, dear Fidel, guard him by night, and follow him by day; serve him with zeal, and love him with fidelity; — oh that his health were invincible as his pride! — there, alone, is he vulnerable —”

Here Fidel, with a loud barking, suddenly sprang away from her, and, as she turned her eyes towards the door to see what had thus startled him, she beheld standing there, as if immoveable, young Delvile himself!

Her astonishment at this sight almost bereft her of her understanding; it appeared to her supernatural, and she rather believed it was his ghost than himself. Fixed in mute wonder, she stood still though terrified, her eyes almost bursting from their sockets to be satisfied if what they saw was real.

Delvile, too, was some time speechless; he looked not at her, indeed, with any doubt of her existence, but as if what he had heard was to him as amazing as to her what she saw. At length, however, tormented by the dog, who jumpt up to him, licked his hands, and by his rapturous joy forced himself into notice, he was moved to return his caresses, saying, “Yes, dear Fidel! you have a claim indeed to my attention, and with the fondest gratitude will I cherish you ever!”

At the sound of his voice, Cecilia again began to breathe; and Delvile having quieted the dog, now entered the summer-house, saying, as he advanced, “Is this possible! — am I not in a dream? — Good God! is it indeed possible!”

The consternation of doubt and astonishment which had seized every faculty of Cecilia, now changed into certainty that Delvile indeed was present, all her recollection returned as she listened, to this question, and the wild rambling of fancy with which she had incautiously indulged her sorrow, rushing suddenly upon her mind, she felt herself wholly overpowered by consciousness and shame, and sunk, almost fainting, upon a window-seat.

Delvile instantly flew to her, penetrated with gratitude, and filled with wonder and delight, which, however internally combated by sensations less pleasant, were too potent for controul, and he poured forth at her feet the most passionate acknowledgments.

Cecilia, surprised, affected, and trembling with a thousand emotions, endeavoured to break from him and rise; but, eagerly detaining her, “No, loveliest Miss Beverley,” he cried, “not thus must we now part! this moment only have I discovered what a treasure I was leaving; and, but for Fidel, I had quitted it in ignorance for ever.”

“Indeed,” cried Cecilia, in the extremest agitation, “indeed you may believe me Fidel is here quite by accident. — Lady Honoria took him away — I knew nothing of the matter — she stole him, she sent him, she did every thing herself.”

“O kind Lady Honoria!” cried Delvile, more and more delighted, “how shall I ever thank her! — And did she also tell you to caress and to cherish him? — to talk to him of his master —”

“O heaven!” interrupted Cecilia, in an agony of mortification and shame, “to what has my unguarded folly reduced me!” Then again endeavouring to break from him, “Leave me, Mr Delvile,” she cried, “leave me, or let me pass! — never can I see you more! — never bear you again in my sight!”

“Come, dear Fidel!” cried he, still detaining her, “come and plead for your master! come and ask in his name who now has a proud heart, whose pride now is invincible!”

“Oh go!” cried Cecilia, looking away from him while she spoke, “repeat not those hateful words, if you wish me not to detest myself eternally!”

“Ever-lovely Miss Beverley,” cried he, more seriously, “why this resentment? why all this causeless distress? Has not my heart long since been known to you? have you not witnessed its sufferings, and been assured of its tenderness? why, then, this untimely reserve? this unabating coldness? Oh why try to rob me of the felicity you have inadvertently given me! and to sour the happiness of a moment that recompenses such exquisite misery!”

“Oh Mr Delvile!” cried she, impatiently, though half softened, “was this honourable or right? to steal upon me thus privately — to listen to me thus secretly —”

“You blame me,” cried he, “too soon; your own friend, Mrs Charlton, permitted me to come hither in search of you; — then, indeed, when I heard the sound of your voice — when I heard that voice talk of Fidel — of his master —”

“Oh stop, stop!” cried she; “I cannot support the recollection! there is no punishment, indeed, which my own indiscretion does not merit — but I shall have sufficient in the bitterness of self-reproach!”

“Why will you talk thus, my beloved Miss Beverley? what have you done — what, let me ask, have I done, that such infinite disgrace and depression should follow this little sensibility to a passion so fervent? Does it not render you more dear to me than ever? does it not add new life, new vigour, to the devotion by which I am bound to you?”

“No, no,” cried the mortified Cecilia, who from the moment she found herself betrayed, believed herself to be lost, “far other is the effect it will have! and the same mad folly by which I am ruined in my own esteem, will ruin me in yours! — I cannot endure to think of it! — why will you persist in detaining me? — You have filled me with anguish and mortification — you have taught me the bitterest of lessons, that of hating and contemning myself!”

“Good heaven,” cried he, much hurt, “what strange apprehensions thus terrify you? are you with me less safe than with yourself? is it my honour you doubt? is it my integrity you fear? Surely I cannot be so little known to you; and to make protestations now, would but give a new alarm to a delicacy already too agitated. — Else would I tell you that more sacred than my life will I hold what I have heard, that the words just now graven on my heart, shall remain there to eternity unseen; and that higher than ever, not only in my love, but my esteem, is the beautiful speaker.”—

“Ah no!” cried Cecilia, with a sigh, “that, at least, is impossible, for lower than ever is she sunk from deserving it!”

“No,” cried he, with fervour, “she is raised, she is exalted! I find her more excellent and perfect than I had even dared believe her; I discover new virtues in the spring of every action; I see what I took for indifference, was dignity; I perceive what I imagined the most rigid insensibility, was nobleness, was propriety, was true greatness of mind!”

Cecilia was somewhat appeased by this speech; and, after a little hesitation, she said, with a half smile, “Must I thank you for this good-nature in seeking to reconcile me with myself? — or shall I quarrel with you for flattery, in giving me praise you can so little think I merit?”

“Ah!” cried he, “were I to praise as I think of you! were my language permitted to accord with my opinion of your worth, you would not then simply call me a flatterer, you would tell me I was an idolater, and fear at least for my principles, if not for my understanding.”

“I shall have but little right, however,” said Cecilia, again rising, “to arraign your understanding while I act as if bereft of my own. Now, at least, let me pass; indeed you will greatly displease me by any further opposition.”

“Will you suffer me, then, to see you early tomorrow morning?”

“No, Sir; nor the next morning, nor the morning after that! This meeting has been wrong, another would be worse; in this I have accusation enough for folly — in another the charge would be far more heavy.”

“Does Miss Beverley, then,” cried he gravely, “think me capable of desiring to see her for mere selfish gratification? of intending to trifle either with her time or her feelings? no; the conference I desire will be important and decisive. This night I shall devote solely to deliberation; tomorrow shall be given to action. Without some thinking I dare venture at no plan; — I presume not to communicate to you the various interests that divide me, but the result of them all I can take no denial to your hearing.”

Cecilia, who felt when thus stated the justice of his request, now opposed it no longer, but insisted upon his instantly departing.

“True,” cried he, “I must go! — the longer I stay, the more I am fascinated, and the weaker are those reasoning powers of which I now want the strongest exertion.” He then repeated his professions of eternal regard, besought her not to regret the happiness she had given him, and after disobeying her injunctions of going till she was seriously displeased, he only stayed to obtain her pardon, and permission to be early the next morning, and then, though still slowly and reluctantly, he left her.

Scarce was Cecilia again alone, but the whole of what had passed seemed a vision of her imagination. That Delvile should be at Bury, that he should visit her at Mrs Charlton’s, surprise her by herself, and discover her most secret thoughts, appeared so strange and so incredible, that, occupied rather by wonder than, thinking, she continued almost motionless in the place where he had left her, till Mrs Charlton sent to request that she would return to the house. She then enquired if any body was with her, and being answered in the negative, obeyed the summons.

Mrs Charlton, with a smile of much meaning, hoped she had had a pleasant walk: but Cecilia seriously remonstrated on the dangerous imprudence she had committed in suffering her to be so unguardedly surprised. Mrs Charlton, however, more anxious for her future and solid happiness, than for her present apprehensions and delicacy, repented not the step she had taken; and when she gathered from Cecilia the substance of what had past, unmindful of the expostulations which accompanied it, she thought with exultation that the sudden meeting she had permitted, would now, by making known to each their mutual affection, determine them to defer no longer a union upon which their mutual peace of mind so much depended. And Cecilia, finding she had been thus betrayed designedly, not inadvertently, could hardly reproach her zeal, though she lamented its indiscretion.

She then asked by what means he had obtained admission, and made himself known; and heard that he had enquired at the door for Miss Beverley, and, having sent in his name, was shewn into the parlour, where Mrs Charlton, much pleased with his appearance, had suddenly conceived the little plan which she had executed, of contriving a surprise for Cecilia, from which she rationally expected the very consequences that ensued, though the immediate means she had not conjectured.

The account was still unsatisfactory to Cecilia, who could frame to herself no possible reason for a visit so extraordinary, and so totally inconsistent with his declarations and resolutions.

This, however, was a matter of but little moment, compared with the other subjects to which the interview had given rise; Delvile, upon whom so long, though secretly, her dearest hopes of happiness had rested, was now become acquainted with his power, and knew himself the master of her destiny; he had quitted her avowedly to decide what it should be, since his present subject of deliberation included her fate in his own: the next morning he was to call, and acquaint her with his decree, not doubting her concurrence which ever way be resolved.

A subjection so undue, and which she could not but consider as disgraceful, both shocked and afflicted her; and the reflection that the man who of all men she preferred, was acquainted with her preference, yet hesitated whether to accept or abandon her, mortified and provoked her, alternately, occupied her thoughts the whole night, and kept her from peace and from rest.

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