Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 4

A Perturbation.

Cecelia was still in this tempestuous state, when a message was brought her that a gentleman was below stairs, who begged to have the honour of seeing her. She concluded he was Delvile, and the thought of meeting him merely to communicate what must so bitterly afflict him, redoubled her distress, and she went down in an agony of perturbation and sorrow.

He met her at the door, where, before he could speak, “Mr Delvile,” she cried, in a hurrying manner, “why will you come? Why will you thus insist upon seeing me, in defiance of every obstacle, and in contempt of my prohibition?”

“Good heavens,” cried he, amazed, “whence this reproach? Did you not permit me to wait upon you with the result of my enquiries? Had I not your consent — but why do you look thus disturbed? — Your eyes are red, — you have been weeping. — Oh my Cecilia! have I any share in your sorrow? — Those tears, which never flow weakly, tell me, have they — has one of them been shed upon my account?”

“And what,” cried she, “has been the result of your enquiries? — Speak quick, for I wish to know — and in another instant I must be gone.”

“How strange,” cried the astonished Delvile, “is this language! how strange are these looks! What new has come to pass? Has any fresh calamity happened? Is there yet some evil which I do not expect?”

“Why will you not answer first?” cried she; “when I have spoken, you will perhaps be less willing.”

“You terrify, you shock, you amaze me! What dreadful blow awaits me? For what horror are you preparing me? — That which I have just experienced, and which tore you from me even at the foot of the altar, still remains inexplicable, still continues to be involved in darkness and mystery; for the wretch who separated us I have never been able to discover.”

“Have you procured, then, no intelligence?”

“No, none; though since we parted I have never rested a moment.”

“Make, then, no further enquiry, for now all explanation would be useless. That we were parted, we know, though why we cannot tell: but that again we shall ever meet ——”

She, stopt; her streaming eyes cast upwards, and a deep sigh bursting from her heart.

“Oh what,” cried Delvile, endeavouring to take her hand, which she hastily withdrew from him, “what does this mean? loveliest, dearest Cecilia, my betrothed, my affianced wife! why flow those tears which agony only can wring from you? Why refuse me that hand which so lately was the pledge of your faith? Am I not the same Delvile to whom so few days since you gave it? Why will you not open to him your heart? Why thus distrust his honour, and repulse his tenderness? Oh why, giving him such exquisite misery, refuse him the smallest consolation?”

“What consolation,” cried the weeping Cecilia, “can I give? Alas! it is not, perhaps, you who most want it! —”

Here the door was opened by one of the Miss Charltons, who came into the room with a message from her grandmother, requesting to see Cecilia. Cecilia, ashamed of being thus surprised with Delvile, and in tears, waited not either to make any excuse to him, or any answer to Miss Charlton, but instantly hurried out of the room; — not, however, to her old friend, whom now less than ever she could meet, but to her own apartment, where a very short indulgence of grief was succeeded by the severest examination of her own conduct.

A retrospection of this sort rarely brings much subject of exultation, when made with the rigid sincerity of secret impartiality: so much stronger is our reason than our virtue, so much higher our sense of duty than our performance!

All she had done she now repented, all she had said she disapproved; her conduct, seldom equal to her notions of right, was now infinitely below them, and the reproaches of her judgment made her forget for a while the afflictions which had misled it.

The sorrow to which she had openly given way in the presence of Delvile, though their total separation but the moment before had been finally decreed, she considered as a weak effusion of tenderness, injurious to delicacy, and censurable by propriety. “His power over my heart,” cried she, “it were now, indeed, too late to conceal, but his power over my understanding it is time to cancel. I am not to be his, — my own voice has ratified the renunciation, and since I made it to his mother, it must never, without her consent, be invalidated. Honour, therefore, to her, and regard for myself, equally command me to fly him, till I cease to be thus affected by his sight.”

When Delvile, therefore, sent up an entreaty that he might be again admitted into her presence, she returned for answer that she was not well, and could not see any body.

He then left the house, and, in a few minutes, she received the following note from him.

To Miss Beverley. You drive me from you, Cecilia, tortured with suspense, and distracted with apprehension, you drive me from you, certain of my misery, yet leaving me to bear it as I may! I would call you unfeeling, but that I saw you were unhappy; I would reproach you with tyranny, but that your eyes when you quitted me were swollen with weeping! I go, therefore, I obey the harsh mandate, since my absence is your desire, and I will shut myself up at Biddulph’s till I receive your commands. Yet disdain not to reflect that every instant will seem endless, while Cecilia must appear to me unjust, or wound my very soul by the recollection of her in sorrow. MORTIMER DELVILE.

The mixture of fondness and resentment with which this letter was dictated, marked so strongly the sufferings and disordered state of the writer, that all the softness of Cecilia returned when she perused it, and left her not a wish but to lessen his inquietude, by assurances of unalterable regard: yet she determined not to trust herself in his sight, certain they could only meet to grieve over each other, and conscious that a participation of sorrow would but prove a reciprocation of tenderness. Calling, therefore, upon her duty to resist her inclination, she resolved to commit the whole affair to the will of Mrs Delvile, to whom, though under no promise, she now considered herself responsible. Desirous, however, to shorten the period of Delvile’s uncertainty, she would not wait till the time she had appointed to see his mother, but wrote the following note to hasten their meeting.

To the Hon. Mrs Delvile. MADAM— Your son is now at Bury; shall I acquaint him of your arrival? or will you announce it yourself? Inform me of your desire, and I will endeavour to fulfil it. As my own Agent I regard myself no longer; if, as yours, I can give pleasure, or be of service, I shall gladly receive your commands. I have the honour to be, Madam, your most obedient servant, CECILIA BEVERLEY.

When she had sent off this letter, her heart was more at ease, because reconciled with her conscience: she had sacrificed the son, she had resigned herself to the mother; it now only remained to heal her wounded pride, by suffering the sacrifice with dignity, and to recover her tranquility in virtue, by making the resignation without repining.

Her reflections, too, growing clearer as the mist of passion was dispersed, she recollected with confusion her cold and sullen behaviour to Mrs Delvile. That lady had but done what she had believed was her duty, and that duty was no more than she had been taught to expect from her. In the beginning of her visit, and while doubtful of its success, she had indeed, been austere, but the moment victory appeared in view, she became tender, affectionate and gentle. Her justice, therefore, condemned the resentment to which she had given way, and she fortified her mind for the interview which was to follow, by an earnest desire to make all reparation both to Mrs Delvile and herself for that which was past.

In this resolution she was not a little strengthened, by seriously considering with herself the great abatement to all her possible happiness, which must have been made by the humiliating circumstance of forcing herself into a family which held all connection with her as disgraceful. She desired not to be the wife even of Delvile upon such terms, for the more she esteemed and admired him, the more anxious she became for his honour, and the less could she endure being regarded herself as the occasion of its diminution.

Now, therefore, her plan of conduct settled, with calmer spirits, though a heavy heart, she attended upon Mrs Charlton; but fearing to lose the steadiness she had just acquired before it should be called upon, if she trusted herself to relate the decision which had been made, she besought her for the present to dispense with the account, and then forced herself into conversation upon less interesting subjects.

This prudence had its proper effect, and with tolerable tranquility she heard Mrs Delvile again announced, and waited upon her in the parlour with an air of composure.

Not so did Mrs Delvile receive her; she was all eagerness and emotion; she flew to her the moment she appeared, and throwing her arms around her, warmly exclaimed “Oh charming girl! Saver of our family! preserver of our honour! How poor are words to express my admiration! how inadequate are thanks in return for such obligations as I owe you!” “You owe me none, madam,” said Cecilia, suppressing a sigh; on my side will be all the obligation, if you can pardon the petulance of my behaviour this morning.”

“Call not by so harsh a name,” answered Mrs Delvile, “the keenness of a sensibility by which you have yourself alone been the sufferer. You have had a trial the most severe, and however able to sustain, it was impossible you should not feel it. That you should give up any man whose friends solicit not your alliance, your mind is too delicate to make wonderful; but your generosity in submitting, unasked, the arrangement of that resignation to those for whose interest it is made, and your high sense of honour in holding yourself accountable to me, though under no tie, and bound by no promise, mark a greatness of mind which calls for reverence rather than thanks, and which I never can praise half so much as I admire.”

Cecilia, who received this applause but as a confirmation of her rejection, thanked her only by courtsying; and Mrs Delvile, having seated herself next her, continued her speech.

“My son, you have the goodness to tell me, is here — have you seen him?”

“Yes, madam,” answered she, blushing, “but hardly for a moment.”

“And he knows not of my arrival?” No — I believe he certainly does not.”

“Sad then, is the trial which awaits him, and heavy for me the office I must perform! Do you expect to see him again?”

“No — yes — perhaps — indeed I hardly —” She stammered, and Mrs Delvile, taking her hand, said “Tell me, Miss Beverley, why should you see him again?”

Cecilia was thunderstruck by this question, and, colouring yet more deeply, looked down, but could not answer.

“Consider,” continued Mrs Delvile, “the purpose of any further meeting; your union is impossible, you have nobly consented to relinquish all thoughts of it why then tear your own heart, and torture his, by an intercourse which seems nothing but an ill-judged invitation to fruitless and unavailing sorrow?”

Cecilia was still silent; the truth of the expostulation her reason acknowledged, but to assent to its consequence her whole heart refused.

“The ungenerous triumph of little female vanity,” said Mrs Delvile, “is far, I am sure, from your mind, of which the enlargement and liberality will rather find consolation from lessening than from embittering his sufferings. Speak to me, then, and tell me honestly, judiciously, candidly tell me, will it not be wiser and more right, to avoid rather than seek an object which can only give birth to regret? an interview which can excite no sensations but of misery and sadness?” Cecilia then turned pale, she endeavoured to speak, but could not; she wished to comply — yet to think she had seen him for the last time, to remember how abruptly she had parted from him, and to fear she had treated him unkindly; — these were obstacles which opposed her concurrence, though both judgment and propriety demanded it.

“Can you, then,” said Mrs Delvile, after a pause, “can you wish to see Mortimer merely to behold his grief? Can you desire he should see you, only to sharpen his affliction at your loss?”

“O no!” cried Cecilia, to whom this reproof restored speech and resolution, “I am not so despicable, I am not, I hope, so unworthy! — I will — be ruled by you wholly; I will commit to you every thing; — yet once, perhaps — no more!”—

“Ah, my dear Miss Beverley! to meet confessedly for once — what were that but planting a dagger in the heart of Mortimer? What were it but infusing poison into your own?

“If you think so, madam,” said she, “I had better — I will certainly —” she sighed, stammered, and stopt.

“Hear me,” cried Mrs Delvile, “and rather let me try to convince than persuade you. Were there any possibility, by argument, by reflection, or even by accident, to remove the obstacles to our connection, then would it be well to meet, for then might discussion turn to account, and an interchange of sentiments be productive of some happy expedients: but here —”

She hesitated, and Cecilia, shocked and ashamed, turned away her face, and cried “I know, madam, what you would say — here all is over! and therefore —” “Yet suffer me,” interrupted she, “to be explicit, since we speak upon, this matter now for the last time. Here, then, I say, where not ONE doubt remains, where ALL is finally, though not happily decided, what can an interview produce? Mischief of every sort, pain, horror, and repining! To Mortimer you may think it would be kind, and grant it to his prayers, as an alleviation of his misery; mistaken notion! nothing could so greatly augment it. All his passions would be raised, all his prudence would be extinguished, his soul would be torn with resentment and regret, and force, only, would part him from you, when previously he knew that parting was to be eternal. To yourself —”

“Talk not, madam, of me,” cried the unhappy Cecilia, “what you say of your son is sufficient, and I will yield ——”

“Yet hear me,” proceeded she, “and believe me not so unjust as to consider him alone; you, also, would be an equal, though a less stormy sufferer. You fancy, at this moment, that once more to meet him would soothe your uneasiness, and that to take of him a farewell, would soften the pain of the separation: how false such reasoning! how dangerous such consolation! acquainted ere you meet that you were to meet him no more, your heart would be all softness and grief, and at the very moment when tenderness should be banished from your intercourse, it would bear down all opposition of judgment, spirit, and dignity: you would hang upon every word, because every word would seem the last, every look, every expression would be rivetted in your memory, and his image in this parting distress would-be painted upon your mind, in colours that would eat into its peace, and perhaps never be erased.”

“Enough, enough,” said Cecilia, “I will not see him — I will not even desire it!”

“Is this compliance or conviction? Is what I have said true, or only terrifying?”

“Both, both! I believe, indeed, the conflict would have overpowered me — I see you are right — and I thank you, madam, for saving me from a scene I might so cruelly have rued.”

“Oh Daughter of my mind!” cried Mrs Delvile, rising and embracing her, “noble, generous, yet gentle Cecilia! what tie, what connection, could make you more dear to me? Who is there like you? Who half so excellent? So open to reason, so ingenuous in error! so rational! so just! so feeling, yet so wise!”

“You are very good,” said Cecilia, with a forced serenity, “and I am thankful that your resentment for the past obstructs not your lenity for the present.”

Alas, my love, how shall I resent the past, when I ought myself to have foreseen this calamity! and I should have foreseen it, had I not been informed you were engaged, and upon your engagement built our security. Else had I been more alarmed, for my own admiration would have bid me look forward to my son’s. You were just, indeed, the woman he had least chance to resist, you were precisely the character to seize his very soul. To a softness the most fatally alluring, you join a dignity which rescues from their own contempt even the most humble of your admirers. You seem born to have all the world wish your exaltation, and no part of it murmur at your superiority. Were any obstacle but this insuperable one in the way, should nobles, nay, should princes offer their daughters to my election, I would reject without murmuring the most magnificent proposals, and take in triumph to my heart my son’s nobler choice!”

“Oh madam,” cried Cecilia, “talk not to me thus! — speak not such flattering words! — ah, rather scorn and upbraid me, tell me you despise my character, my family and my connections — load, load me with contempt, but do not thus torture me with approbation!”

“Pardon me, sweetest girl, if I have awakened those emotions you so wisely seek to subdue. May my son but emulate your example, and my pride in his virtue shall be the solace of my affliction for his misfortunes.”

She then tenderly embraced her, and abruptly took her leave.

Cecilia had now acted her part, and acted it to her own satisfaction; but the curtain dropt when Mrs Delvile left the house, nature resumed her rights, and the sorrow of her heart was no longer disguised or repressed. Some faint ray of hope had till now broke through the gloomiest cloud of her misery, and secretly flattered her that its dispersion was possible, though distant: but that ray was extinct, that hope was no more; she had solemnly promised to banish Delvile her sight, and his mother had absolutely declared that even the subject had been discussed for the last time.

Mrs Charlton, impatient of some explanation of the morning’s transactions, soon sent again to beg Cecilia would come to her. Cecilia reluctantly obeyed, for she feared encreasing her indisposition by the intelligence she had to communicate; she struggled, therefore, to appear to her with tolerable calmness, and in briefly relating what had passed, forbore to mingle with the narrative her own feelings and unhappiness.

Mrs Charlton heard the account with the utmost concern; she accused Mrs Delvile of severity, and even of cruelty; she lamented the strange accident by which the marriage ceremony had been stopt, and regretted that it had not again been begun, as the only means to have rendered ineffectual the present fatal interposition. But the grief of Cecilia, however violent, induced her not to join in this regret; she mourned only the obstacle which had occasioned the separation, and not the incident which had merely interrupted the ceremony: convinced, by the conversations in which she had just been engaged, of Mrs Delvile’s inflexibility, she rather rejoiced than repined that she had put it to no nearer trial: sorrow was all she felt; for her mind was too liberal to harbour resentment against a conduct which she saw was dictated by a sense of right; and too ductile and too affectionate to remain unmoved by the personal kindness which had softened the rejection, and the many marks of esteem and regard which had shewn her it was lamented, though considered as indispensable.

How and by whom this affair had been betrayed to Mrs Delvile she knew not; but the discovery was nothing less than surprising, since, by various unfortunate accidents, it was known to so many, and since, in the horror and confusion of the mysterious prohibition to the marriage, neither Delvile nor herself had thought of even attempting to give any caution to the witnesses of that scene, not to make it known: an attempt, however, which must almost necessarily have been unavailing, as the incident was too extraordinary and too singular to have any chance of suppression.

During this conversation, one of the servants came to inform Cecilia, that a man was below to enquire if there was no answer to the note he had brought in the forenoon.

Cecilia, greatly distressed, knew not upon what to resolve; that the patience of Delvile should be exhausted, she did not, indeed, wonder, and to relieve his anxiety was now almost her only wish; she would therefore instantly have written to him, confessed her sympathy in his sufferings, and besought him to endure with fortitude an evil which was no longer to be withstood: but she was uncertain whether he was yet acquainted with the journey of his mother to Bury, and having agreed to commit to her the whole management of the affair, she feared it would be dishonourable to take any step in it without her concurrence. She returned, therefore, a message that she had yet no answer ready.

In a very few minutes Delvile called himself, and sent up an earnest request for permission to see her.

Here, at least, she had no perplexity; an interview she had given her positive word to refuse, and therefore, without a moment’s hesitation, she bid the servant inform him she was particularly engaged, and sorry it was not in her power to see any company.

In the greatest perturbation he left the house, and immediately wrote to her the following lines.

To Miss Beverley. I entreat you to see me! if only for an instant, I entreat, I implore you to see me! Mrs Charlton may be present, all the world, if you wish it, may be present — but deny me not admission, I supplicate, I conjure you!

I will call in an hour; in that time you may have finished your present engagement. I will otherwise wait longer, and call again. You will not, I think, turn me from’ your door, and, till I have seen you, I can only live in its vicinity. M. D.

The man who brought this note, waited not for any answer.

Cecilia read it in an agony of mind inexpressible: she saw, by its style, how much Delvile was irritated, and her knowledge of his temper made her certain his irritation proceeded from believing himself ill-used. She ardently wished to appease and to quiet him, and regretted the necessity of appearing obdurate and unfeeling, even more, at that moment, than the separation itself. To a mind priding in its purity, and animated in its affections, few sensations can excite keener misery, than those by which an apprehension is raised of being thought worthless or ungrateful by the objects of our chosen regard. To be deprived of their society is less bitter, to be robbed of our own tranquillity by any other means, is less afflicting.

Yet to this it was necessary to submit, or incur the only penalty which, to such a mind, would be more severe, self-reproach: she had promised to be governed by Mrs Delvile, she had nothing, therefore, to do but obey her.

Yet to turn, as he expressed himself, from the door, a man who, but for an incident the most incomprehensible, would now have been sole master of herself and her actions, seemed so unkind and so tyrannical, that she could not endure to be within hearing of his repulse: she begged, therefore, the use of Mrs Charlton’s carriage, and determined to make a visit to Mrs Harrel till Delvile and his mother had wholly quitted Bury. She was not, indeed, quite satisfied in going to the house of Mr Arnott, but she had no time to weigh objections, and knew not any other place to which still greater might not be started.

She wrote a short letter to Mrs Delvile, acquainting her with her purpose, and its reason, and repeating her assurances that she would be guided by her implicitly; and then, embracing Mrs Charlton, whom she left to the care of her grand-daughters, she got into a chaise, accompanied only by her maid, and one man and horse, and ordered the postilion to drive to Mr Arnott’s.

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