Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 3

A Consternation.

The journey was melancholy and tedious: Mrs Charlton, extremely fatigued by the unusual hurry and exercise both of mind and body which she had lately gone through, was obliged to travel very slowly, and to lie upon the road. Cecilia, however, was in no haste to proceed: she was going to no one she wished to see, she was wholly without expectation of meeting with any thing that could give her pleasure. The unfortunate expedition in which she had been engaged, left her now nothing but regret, and only promised her in future sorrow and mortification.

Mrs Charlton, after her return home, still continued ill, and Cecilia, who constantly attended her, had the additional affliction of imputing her indisposition to herself. Every thing she thought conspired to punish the error she had committed; her proceedings were discovered, though her motives were unknown; the Delvile family could not fail to hear of her enterprize, and while they attributed it to her temerity, they would exult in its failure: but chiefly hung upon her mind the unaccountable prohibition of her marriage. Whence that could proceed she was wholly without ability to divine, yet her surmizes were not more fruitless than various. At one moment she imagined it some frolic of Morrice, at another some perfidy of Monckton, and at another an idle and unmeaning trick of some stranger to them all. But none of these suppositions carried with them any air of probability; Morrice, even if he had watched their motions and pursued them to the church, which his inquisitive impertinence made by no means impossible, could yet hardly have either time or opportunity to engage any woman in so extraordinary an undertaking; Mr Monckton, however averse to the connection, she considered as a man of too much honour to break it off in a manner so alarming and disgraceful; and mischief so wanton in any stranger, seemed to require a share of unfeeling effrontery, which could fall to the lot of so few as to make this suggestion unnatural and incredible.

Sometimes she imagined that Delvile might formerly have been affianced to some woman, who having accidentally discovered his intentions, took this desperate method of rendering them abortive: but this was a short-lived thought, and speedily gave way to her esteem for his general character, and her confidence in the firmness of his probity.

All, therefore, was dark and mysterious; conjecture was baffled, and meditation was useless. Her opinions were unfixed, and her heart was miserable; she could only be steady in believing Delvile as unhappy as herself, and only find consolation in believing him, also, as blameless.

Three days passed thus, without incident or intelligence; her time wholly occupied in attending Mrs Charlton; her thoughts all engrossed upon her own situation: but upon the fourth day she was informed that a lady was in the parlour, who desired to speak with her.

She presently went down stairs — and, upon entering the room, perceived Mrs Delvile!

Seized with astonishment and fear, she stopt short, and, looking aghast, held by the door, robbed of all power to receive so unexpected and unwelcome a visitor, by an internal sensation of guilt, mingled with a dread of discovery and reproach.

Mrs Delvile, addressing her with the coldest politeness, said, “I fear I have surprised you; I am sorry I had not time to acquaint you of my intention to wait upon you.”

Cecilia then, moving from the door, faintly answered, “I cannot, madam, but be honoured by your notice, whenever you are pleased to confer it.”

They then sat down; Mrs Delvile preserving an air the most formal and distant, and Cecilia half sinking with apprehensive dismay.

After a short and ill-boding silence, “I mean not,” said Mrs Delvile, “to embarrass or distress you; I will not, therefore, keep you in suspense of the purport of my visit. I come not to make enquiries, I come not to put your sincerity to any trial, nor to torture your delicacy; I dispense with all explanation, for I have not one doubt to solve: I know what has passed, I know that my son loves you.”

Not all her secret alarm, nor all the perturbation of her fears, had taught Cecilia to expect so direct an attack, nor enabled her to bear the shock of it with any composure: she could not speak, she could not look at Mrs Delvile; she arose, and walked to the window, without knowing what she was doing.

Here, however, her distress was not likely to diminish; for the first sight she saw was Fidel, who barked, and jumped up at the window to lick her hands.

“Good God! Fidel here!” exclaimed Mrs Delvile, amazed.

Cecilia, totally overpowered, covered her glowing face with both her hands, and sunk into a chair.

Mrs Delvile for a few minutes was silent; and then, following her, said, “Imagine not I am making any discovery, nor suspect me of any design to develop your sentiments. That Mortimer could love in vain I never, believed; that Miss Beverley, possessing so much merit, could be blind to it in another, I never thought possible. I mean not, therefore, to solicit any account or explanation, but merely to beg your patience while I talk to you myself, and your permission to speak to you with openness and truth.”

Cecilia, though relieved by this calmness from all apprehension of reproach, found in her manner a coldness that convinced her of the loss of her affection, and in the introduction to her business a solemnity that assured her what she should decree would be unalterable. She uncovered her face to shew her respectful attention, but she could not raise it up, and could not utter a word.

Mrs Delvile then seated herself next her, and gravely continued her discourse.

“Miss Beverley, however little acquainted with the state of our family affairs, can scarcely have been uninformed that a fortune such as hers seems almost all that family can desire; nor can she have failed to observe, that her merit and accomplishments have no where been more felt and admired: the choice therefore of Mortimer she could not doubt would have our sanction, and when she honoured his proposals with her favour, she might naturally conclude she gave happiness and pleasure to all his friends.”

Cecilia, superior to accepting a palliation of which she felt herself undeserving, now lifted up her head, and forcing herself to speak, said “No, madam, I will not deceive you, for I have never been deceived myself: I presumed not to expect your approbation — though in missing it I have for ever lost my own!”

“Has Mortimer, then,” cried she with eagerness, “been strictly honourable? has he neither beguiled nor betrayed you?”

“No, madam,” said she, blushing, “I have nothing to reproach him with.”

“Then he is indeed my son!” cried Mrs Delvile, with emotion; “had he been treacherous to you, while disobedient to us, I had indisputably renounced him.”

Cecilia, who now seemed the only culprit, felt herself in a state of humiliation not to be borne; she collected, therefore, all her courage, and said, “I have cleared Mr Delvile; permit me, madam, now, to say something for myself.”

“Certainly; you cannot oblige me more than by speaking without disguise.”

“It is not in the hope of regaining your good opinion — that, I see, is lost! — but merely —”

“No, not lost,” said Mrs Delvile, “but if once it was yet higher, the fault was my own, in indulging an expectation of perfection to which human nature is perhaps unequal.”

Ah, then, thought Cecilia, all is over! the contempt I so much feared is incurred, and though it may be softened, it can never be removed!

“Speak, then, and with sincerity,” she continued, all you wish me to hear, and then grant me your attention in return to the purpose of my present journey.”

“I have little, madam,” answered the depressed Cecilia, “to say; you tell me you already know all that has past; I will not, therefore, pretend to take any merit from revealing it: I will only add, that my consent to this transaction has made me miserable almost from the moment I gave it; that I meant and wished to retract as soon as reflection pointed out to me my error, and that circumstances the most perverse, not blindness to propriety, nor stubbornness in wrong, led me to make, at last, that fatal attempt, of which the recollection, to my last hour, must fill me with regret and shame.”

“I wonder not,” said Mrs Delvile, “that in a situation where delicacy was so much less requisite than courage, Miss Beverley should feel herself distressed and unhappy. A mind such as hers could never err with impunity; and it is solely from a certainty of her innate sense of right, that I venture to wait upon her now, and that I have any hope to influence her upon whose influence alone our whole family must in future depend. Shall I now proceed, or is there any thing you wish to say first?”

“No, madam, nothing.”

“Hear me, then, I beg of you, with no predetermination to disregard me, but with an equitable resolution to attend to reason, and a candour that leaves an opening to conviction. Not easy, indeed, is such a task, to a mind pre-occupied with an intention to be guided by the dictates of inclination ——”

“You wrong me, indeed, madam!” interrupted Cecilia, greatly hurt, “my mind harbours no such intention, it has no desire but to be guided by duty, it is wretched with a consciousness of having failed in it! I pine, I sicken to recover my own good opinion; I should then no longer feel unworthy of yours; and whether or not I might be able to regain it, I should at least lose this cruel depression that now sinks me in your presence!”

“To regain it,” said Mrs Delvile, “were to exercise but half your power, which at this moment enables you, if such is your wish, to make me think of you more highly than one human being ever thought of another. Do you condescend to hold this worth your while?”

Cecilia started at the question; her heart beat quick with struggling passions; she saw the sacrifice which was to be required, and her pride, her affronted pride, arose high to anticipate the rejection; but the design was combated by her affections, which opposed the indignant rashness, and told her that one hasty speech might separate her from Delvile for ever. When this painful conflict was over, of which Mrs Delvile patiently waited the issue, she answered, with much hesitation, “To regain your good opinion, madam, greatly, truly as I value it — is what I now scarcely dare hope.”

“Say not so,” cried she, “since, if you hope, you cannot miss it. I purpose to point out to you the means to recover it, and to tell you how greatly I shall think myself your debtor if you refuse not to employ them.”

She stopt; but Cecilia hung back; fearful of her own strength, she dared venture at no professions; yet, how either to support, or dispute her compliance, she dreaded to think.

“I come to you, then,” Mrs Delvile solemnly resumed, “in the name of Mr Delvile, and in the name of our whole family; a family as ancient as it is honourable, as honourable as it is ancient. Consider me as its representative, and hear in me its common voice, common opinion, and common address.

“My son, the supporter of our house, the sole guardian of its name, and the heir of our united fortunes, has selected you, we know, for the lady of his choice, and so fondly has, fixed upon you his affections, that he is ready to relinquish us all in preference to subduing them. To yourself alone, then, can we apply, and I come to you —”

“O hold, madam, hold!” interrupted Cecilia, whose courage now revived from resentment, “I know, what you would say; you come to tell me of your disdain; you come to reproach my presumption, and to kill me with your contempt! There is little occasion for such a step; I am depressed, I am self-condemned already; spare me, therefore, this insupportable humiliation, wound me not with your scorn, oppress me not with your superiority! I aim at no competition, I attempt no vindication, I acknowledge my own littleness as readily as you can despise it, and nothing but indignity could urge me to defend it!”

“Believe me,” said Mrs Delvile, “I meant not to hurt or offend you, and I am sorry if I have appeared to you either arrogant or assuming. The peculiar and perilous situation of my family has perhaps betrayed me into offensive expressions, and made me guilty myself of an ostentation which in others has often disgusted me. Ill, indeed, can we any of us bear the test of experiment, when tried upon those subjects which call forth our particular propensities. We may strive to be disinterested, we may struggle to be impartial, but self will still predominate, still shew us the imperfection of our natures, and the narrowness of our souls. Yet acquit me, I beg, of any intentional insolence, and imagine not that in speaking highly of my own family, I, mean to depreciate yours: on the contrary, I know it to be respectable, I know, too, that were it the lowest in the kingdom, the first might envy it that it gave birth to such a daughter.”

Cecilia, somewhat soothed by this speech, begged her pardon for having interrupted her, and she proceeded.

“To your family, then, I assure you, whatever may be the pride of our own, you being its offspring, we would not object. With your merit we are all well acquainted, your character has our highest esteem, and your fortune exceeds even our most sanguine desires. Strange at once and afflicting! that not all these requisites for the satisfaction of prudence, nor all these allurements for the gratification of happiness, can suffice to fulfil or to silence the claims of either! There are yet other demands to which we must attend, demands which ancestry and blood call upon us aloud to ratify! Such claimants are not to be neglected with impunity; they assert their rights with the authority of prescription, they forbid us alike either to bend to inclination, or stoop to interest, and from generation to generation their injuries will call out for redress, should their noble and long unsullied name be voluntarily consigned to oblivion!”

Cecilia, extremely struck by these words, scarce wondered, since so strong and so established were her opinions, that the obstacle to her marriage, though but one, should be considered as insuperable.

“Not, therefore, to your name are we averse,” she continued, “but simply to our own more partial. To sink that, indeed, in any other, were base and unworthy:— what, then, must be the shock of my disappointment, should Mortimer Delvile, the darling of my hopes, the last survivor of his house, in whose birth I rejoiced as the promise of its support, in whose accomplishments I gloried, as the revival of its lustre — should he, should, my son be the first to abandon it! to give up the name he seemed born to make live, and to cause in effect its utter annihilation! — Oh how should I know my son when an alien to his family! how bear to think I had cherished in my bosom the betrayer of its dearest interests, the destroyer of its very existence!”

Cecilia, scarce more afflicted than offended, now hastily answered, “Not for me, madam, shall he commit this crime, not on my account shall he be reprobated by his family! Think of him, therefore, no more, with any reference to me, for I would not be the cause of unworthiness or guilt in him to be mistress of the universe!”

“Nobly said!” cried Mrs Delvile, her eyes sparkling with joy, and her cheeks glowing with pleasure, “now again do I know Miss Beverley! now again see the refined, the excellent young woman, whose virtues taught me to expect the renunciation even of her own happiness, when found to be incompatible with her duty!”

Cecilia now trembled and turned pale; she scarce knew herself what she had said, but, she found by Mrs Delvile’s construction of her words, they had been regarded as her final relinquishing of her son. She ardently wished to quit the room before she was called upon to confirm the sentence, but, she had not courage to make the effort, nor to rise, speak, or move.

“I grieve, indeed,” continued Mrs Delvile, whose coldness and austerity were changed into mildness and compassion, “at the necessity I have been under to draw from you a concurrence so painful: but no other resource was in my power. My influence with Mortimer, whatever it may be, I have not any right to try, without obtaining your previous consent, since I regard him myself as bound to you in honour, and only to be released by your own virtuous desire. I will leave you, however, for my presence, I see, is oppressive to you. Farewell; and when you can forgive me, I think you will.”

“I have nothing, madam,” said Cecilia, coldly, “to forgive; you have only asserted your own dignity, and I have nobody to blame but myself, for having given you occasion.”

“Alas,” cried Mrs Delvile, “if worth and nobleness of soul on your part, if esteem and tenderest affection on mine, were all which that dignity which offends you requires, how should I crave the blessing of such a daughter! how rejoice in joining my son to excellence so like his own, and ensuring his happiness while I stimulated his virtue!”

“Do not talk to me of affection, madam,” said Cecilia, turning away from her; “whatever you had for me is past — even your esteem is gone, — you may pity me, indeed, but your pity is mixed with contempt, and I am not so abject as to find comfort from exciting it.”

“O little,” cried Mrs Delvile, looking at her with the utmost tenderness, “little do you see the state of my heart, for never have you appeared to me so worthy as at this moment! In tearing you from my son, I partake all the wretchedness I give, but your own sense of duty must something plead for the strictness with which I act up to mine.”

She then moved towards the door.

“Is your carriage, madam,” said Cecilia, struggling to disguise her inward anguish under an appearance of sullenness, “in waiting?”

Mrs Delvile then came back, and holding out her hand, while her eyes glistened with tears, said, “To part from you thus frigidly, while my heart so warmly admires you, is almost more than I can endure. Oh gentlest Cecilia! condemn not a mother who is impelled to this severity, who performing what she holds to be her duty, thinks the office her bitterest misfortune, who forsees in the rage of her husband, and the resistance of her son, all the misery of domestic contention, and who can only secure the honour of her family by destroying its peace! — You will not, then, give me your hand? —”

Cecilia, who had affected not to see that she waited for it, now coldly put it out, distantly [courtseying], and seeking to preserve her steadiness by avoiding to speak. Mrs Delvile took it, and as she repeated her adieu, affectionately pressed it to her lips; Cecilia, starting, and breathing short, from encreasing yet smothered agitation, called out “Why, why this condescension? — pray — I entreat you, madam! —”

“Heaven bless you, my love!” said Mrs Delvile, dropping a tear upon the hand she still held, “heaven bless you, and restore the tranquillity you so nobly deserve!”

“Ah madam!” cried Cecilia, vainly striving to repress any longer the tears which now forced their way down her cheeks, “why will you break my heart with this kindness! why will you still compel me to love! — when now I almost wish to hate you!”—

“No, hate me not,” said Mrs Delvile, kissing from her cheeks the tears that watered them, “hate me not, sweetest Cecilia, though in wounding your gentle bosom, I am almost detestable to myself. Even the cruel scene which awaits me with my son will not more deeply afflict me. But adieu — I must now prepare for him!”

She then left the room: but Cecilia, whose pride had no power to resist this tenderness, ran hastily after her, saying “Shall I not see you again, madam?”

“You shall yourself decide,” answered she; “if my coming will not give you more pain than pleasure, I will wait upon you whenever you please.”

Cecilia sighed and paused; she knew not what to desire, yet rather wished any thing to be done, than quietly to sit down to uninterrupted reflection.

“Shall I postpone quitting this place,” continued Mrs Delvile, “till tomorrow morning, and will you admit me this afternoon, should I call upon you again?”

“I should be sorry,” said she, still hesitating, “to detain you,”—

“You will rejoice me,” cried Mrs Delvile, “by bearing me in your sight.”

And she then went into her carriage.

Cecilia, unfitted to attend her old friend, and unequal to the task of explaining to her the cruel scene in which she had just been engaged, then hastened to her own apartment. Her hitherto stifled emotions broke forth in tears and repinings: her fate was finally determined, and its determination was not more unhappy than humiliating; she was openly rejected by the family whose alliance she was known to wish; she was compelled to refuse the man of her choice, though satisfied his affections were her own. A misery so peculiar she found hard to support, and almost bursting with conflicting passions, her heart alternately swelled from offended pride, and sunk from disappointed tenderness.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/burney/fanny/cecilia/book8.3.html

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