Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 6

A Discussion.

The day past away, and Cecilia had yet written no answer; the evening came, and her resolution was still unfixed. Delvile, at length, was again announced; and though she dreaded trusting herself to his entreaties, the necessity of hastening some decision deterred her from refusing to see him.

Mrs Charlton was with her when he entered the room; he attempted at first some general conversation, though the anxiety of his mind was strongly pictured upon his face. Cecilia endeavoured also to talk upon common topics, though her evident embarrassment spoke the absence of her thoughts.

Delvile at length, unable any longer to bear suspence, turned to Mrs Charlton, and said, “You are probably acquainted, madam, with the purport of the letter I had the honour of sending to Miss Beverley this morning?”

“Yes, Sir,” answered the old lady, “and you need desire little more than that her opinion of it may be as favourable as mine.”

Delvile bowed and thanked her; and looking at Cecilia, to whom he ventured not to speak, he perceived in her countenance a mixture of dejection and confusion, that told him whatever might be her opinion, it had by no means encreased her happiness.

“But why, Sir,” said Mrs Charlton, “should you be thus sure of the disapprobation of your friends? had you not better hear what they have to say?”

“I know, madam, what they have to say,” returned he; “for their language and their principles have been invariable from my birth: to apply to them, therefore, for a concession which I am certain they will not grant, were only a cruel device to lay all my misery to their account.”

“And if they are so perverse, they deserve from you nothing better,” said Mrs Charlton; “speak to them, however; you will then have done your duty; and if they are obstinately unjust, you will have acquired a right to act for yourself.”

“To mock their authority,” answered Delvile, “would be more offensive than to oppose it: to solicit their approbation, and then act in defiance of it, might justly provoke their indignation. — No; if at last I am reduced to appeal to them, by their decision I must abide.”

To this Mrs Charlton could make no answer, and in a few minutes she left the room.

“And is such, also,” said Delvile, “the opinion of Miss Beverley? has she doomed me to be wretched, and does she wish that doom to be signed by my nearest friends!”

“If your friends, Sir,” said Cecilia, “are so undoubtedly inflexible, it were madness, upon any plan, to risk their displeasure.”

“To entreaty,” he answered, “they will be inflexible, but not to forgiveness. My father, though haughty, dearly, even passionately loves me; my mother, though high-spirited, is just, noble, and generous. She is, indeed, the most exalted of women, and her power over my mind I am unaccustomed to resist. Miss Beverley alone seems born to be her daughter —”

“No, no,” interrupted Cecilia, “as her daughter she rejects me!”

“She loves, she adores you!” cried he warmly; and were I not certain she feels your excellencies as they ought to be felt, my veneration for you both should even yet spare you my present supplication. But you would become, I am certain, the first blessing of her life; in you she would behold all the felicity of her son — his restoration to health, to his country, to his friends!”

“O Sir,” cried Cecilia, with emotion, “how deep a trench of real misery do you sink, in order to raise this pile of fancied happiness! But I will not be responsible for your offending such a mother; scarcely can you honour her yourself more than I do; and I here declare most solemnly —”

“O stop!” interrupted Delvile, “and resolve not till you have heard me. Would you, were she no more, were my father also no more, would you yet persist in refusing me?”

“Why should you ask me?” said Cecilia, blushing; “you would then be your own agent, and perhaps —”

She hesitated, and Delvile vehemently exclaimed, “Oh make me not a monster! force me not to desire the death of the very beings by whom I live! weaken not the bonds of affection by which they are endeared to me, and compel me not to wish them no more as the sole barriers to my happiness!”

“Heaven forbid!” cried Cecilia, “could I believe you so impious, I should suffer little indeed in desiring your eternal absence.”

“Why then only upon their extinction must I rest my hope of your favour?”

Cecilia, staggered and distressed by this question, could make no answer. Delvile, perceiving her embarrassment, redoubled his urgency; and before she had power to recollect herself, she had almost consented to his plan, when Henrietta Belfield rushing into her memory, she hastily exclaimed, “One doubt there is, which I know not how to mention, but ought to have cleared up; — you are acquainted with — you remember Miss Belfield?”

“Certainly; but what of Miss Belfield that can raise a doubt in the mind of Miss Beverley?”

Cecilia coloured, and was silent.

“Is it possible,” continued he, “you could ever for an instant suppose — but I cannot even name a supposition so foreign to all possibility.”

“She is surely very amiable?”

“Yes,” answered he, “she is innocent, gentle, and engaging; and I heartily wish she were in a better situation.”

“Did you ever occasionally, or by any accident, correspond with her?”

“Never in my life.”

“And were not your visits to the brother sometimes —”

“Have a care,” interrupted he, laughing, “lest I reverse the question, and ask if your visits to the sister were not sometimes for the brother! But what does this mean? Could Miss Beverley imagine that after knowing her, the charms of Miss Belfield could put me in any danger?”

Cecilia, bound in delicacy and friendship not to betray the tender and trusting Henrietta, and internally satisfied of his innocence by his frankness, evaded any answer; and would now have done with the subject; but Delvile, eager wholly to exculpate himself, though by no means displeased at an enquiry which shewed so much interest in his affections, continued his explanation.

“Miss Belfield has, I grant, an attraction in the simplicity of her manners which charms by its singularity: her heart, too, seems all purity, and her temper all softness. I have not, you find, been blind to her merit; on the contrary, I have both admired and pitied her. But far indeed is she removed from all chance of rivalry in my heart! A character such as hers for a while is irresistibly alluring; but when its novelty is over, simplicity uninformed becomes wearisome, and softness without dignity is too indiscriminate to give delight. We sigh for entertainment, when cloyed by mere sweetness; and heavily drags on the load of life when the companion of our social hours wants spirit, intelligence, and cultivation. With Miss Beverley all these —”

“Talk not of all these,” cried Cecilia, “when one single obstacle has power to render them valueless.”

“But now,” cried he, “that obstacle is surmounted.”

“Surmounted only for a moment! for even in your letter this morning you confess the regret with which it fills you.”

“And why should I deceive you? Why pretend to think with pleasure, or even with indifference, of an obstacle which has had thus long the power to make me miserable? But where is happiness without allay? Is perfect bliss the condition of humanity? Oh if we refuse to taste it till in its last state of refinement, how shall the cup of evil be ever from our lips?”

“How indeed!” said Cecilia, with a sigh; “the regret, I believe, will remain eternally upon your mind, and she, perhaps, who should cause, might soon be taught to partake of it.”

“O Miss Beverley! how have I merited this severity? Did I make my proposals lightly? Did I suffer my eagerness to conquer my reason? Have I not, on the contrary, been steady and considerate? neither biassed by passion nor betrayed by tenderness?”

“And yet in what,” said Cecilia, “consists this boasted steadiness? I perceived it indeed, at Delvile Castle, but here —”

“The pride of heart which supported me there,” cried he, “will support me no longer; what sustained my firmness, but your apparent seventy? What enabled me to fly you, but your invariable coldness? The rigour with which I trampled upon my feelings I thought fortitude and spirit — but I knew not then the pitying sympathy of Cecilia!”

“O that you knew it not yet!” cried she, blushing; “before that fatal accident you thought of me, I believe, in a manner far more honourable.”

“Impossible! differently, I thought of you, but never, better, never so well as now. I then represented you all lovely in beauty, all perfect in goodness and virtue; but it was virtue in its highest majesty, not, as now, blended with the softest sensibility.”

“Alas!” said Cecilia, “how the portrait is faded!”

“No, it is but more from the life: it is the sublimity of an angel, mingled with all that is attractive in woman. But who is the friend we may venture to trust? To whom may I give my bond? And from whom may I receive a treasure which for the rest of my life will constitute all its felicity?”

“Where can I,” cried Cecilia, “find a friend, who, in this critical moment will instruct me how to act!”

“You will find one,” answered he, “in your own bosom: ask but yourself this plain question; will any virtue be offended by your honouring me with your hand?”

“Yes; duty will be offended, since it is contrary to the will of your parents.”

“But is there no time for emancipation? Am not I of an age to chuse for myself the partner of my life? Will not you in a few days be the uncontrolled mistress of your actions? Are we not both independent? Your ample fortune all your own, and the estates of my father so entailed they must unavoidably be mine?”

“And are these,” said Cecilia, “considerations to set us free from our duty?”

“No, but they are circumstances to relieve us from slavery. Let me not offend you if I am still more explicit. When no law, human or divine, can be injured by our union, when one motive of pride is all that can be opposed to a thousand motives of convenience and happiness, why should we both be made unhappy, merely lest that pride should lose its gratification?”

This question, which so often and so angrily she had revolved in her own mind, again silenced her; and Delvile, with the eagerness of approaching success, redoubled his solicitations.

“Be mine,” he cried, “sweetest Cecilia, and all will go well. To refer me to my friends is, effectually, to banish me for ever. Spare me, then, the unavailing task; and save me from the resistless entreaties of a mother, whose every desire I have held sacred, whose wish has been my law, and whose commands I have implicitly, invariably obeyed! Oh generously save me from the dreadful alternative of wounding her maternal heart by a peremptory refusal, or of torturing my own with pangs to which it is unequal by an extorted obedience!”

“Alas!” cried Cecilia, “how utterly impossible I can relieve you!”

“And why? once mine, irrevocably mine ——.”

“No, that would but irritate — and irritate past hope of pardon.”

“Indeed you are mistaken: to your merit they are far from insensible, and your fortune is just what they wish. Trust me, therefore, when I assure you that their displeasure, which both respect and justice will guard them from ever shewing you, will soon die wholly away. I speak not merely from my hopes; in judging my own friends, I consider human nature in general. Inevitable evils are ever best supported. It is suspence, it is hope that make the food of misery; certainty is always endured, because known to be past amendment, and felt to give defiance to struggling.”

“And can you,” cried Cecilia, “with reasoning so desperate be satisfied?

“In a situation so extraordinary as ours,” answered he, “there is no other. The voice of the world at large will be all in our favour. Our union neither injures our fortunes, nor taints our morality: with the character of each the other is satisfied, and both must be alike exculpated from mercenary views of interest, or romantic contempt of poverty; what right have we, then, to repine at an objection which, however potent, is single? Surely none. Oh if wholly unchecked were the happiness I now have in view, if no foul storm sometimes lowered over the prospect, and for the moment obscured its brightness, how could my heart find room for joy so superlative? The whole world might rise against me as the first man in it who had nothing left to wish!”

Cecilia, whose own hopes aided this reasoning, found not much to oppose to it; and with little more of entreaty, and still less of argument, Delvile at length obtained her consent to his plan. Fearfully, indeed, and with unfeigned reluctance she gave it, but it was the only alternative with a separation for-ever, to which she held not the necessity adequate to the pain.

The thanks of Delvile were as vehement as had been his entreaties, which yet, however, were not at an end; the concession she had made was imperfect, unless its performance were immediate, and he now endeavoured to prevail with her to be his before the expiration of a week.

Here, however, his task ceased to be difficult; Cecilia, as ingenuous by nature as she was honourable from principle, having once brought her mind to consent to his proposal, sought not by studied difficulties to enhance the value of her compliance: the great point resolved upon, she held all else of too little importance for a contest.

Mrs Charlton was now called in, and acquainted with the result of their conference. Her approbation by no means followed the scheme of privacy; yet she was too much rejoiced in seeing her young friend near the period of her long suspence and uneasiness, to oppose any plan which might forward their termination.

Delvile then again begged to know what male confidant might be entrusted with their project.

Mr Monckton immediately occurred to Cecilia, though the certainty of his ill-will to the cause made all application to him disagreeable: but his long and steady friendship for her, his readiness to counsel and assist her, and the promises she had occasionally made, not to act without his advice, all concurred to persuade her that in a matter of such importance, she owed to him her confidence, and should be culpable to proceed without it. Upon him, therefore, she fixed; yet finding in herself a repugnance insuperable to acquainting him with her situation, she agreed that Delvile, who instantly proposed to be her messenger, should open to him the affair, and prepare him for their meeting.

Delvile then, rapid in thought and fertile in expedients, with a celerity and vigour which bore down all objections, arranged the whole conduct of the business. To avoid suspicion, he determined instantly to quit her, and, as soon as he had executed his commission with Mr Monckton, to hasten to London, that the necessary preparations for their marriage might be made with dispatch and secrecy. He purposed, also, to find out Mr Belfield; that he might draw up the bond with which he meant to entrust Mr Monckton. This measure Cecilia would have opposed, but he refused to listen to her. Mrs Charlton herself, though her age and infirmities had long confined her to her own house, gratified Cecilia upon this critical occasion with consenting to accompany her to the altar. Mr Monckton was depended upon for giving her away, and a church in London was the place appointed for the performance of the ceremony. In three days the principal difficulties to the union would be removed by Cecilia’s coming of age, and in five days it was agreed that they should actually meet in town. The moment they were married Delvile promised to set off for the castle, while in another chaise, Cecilia returned to Mrs Charlton’s. This settled, he conjured her to be punctual, and earnestly recommending himself to her fidelity and affection, he bid her adieu.

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