Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 6

A Contest.

The rest of the day was passed in discussing this adventure; but in the evening, Cecilia’s interest in it was all sunk, by the reception of the following letter from Mrs Delvile.

To Miss Beverley.

I grieve to interrupt the tranquillity of a retirement so judiciously chosen, and I lament the necessity of again calling to trial the virtue of which the exertion, though so captivating, is so painful; but alas, my excellent young friend, we came not hither to enjoy, but to suffer; and happy only are those whose sufferings have neither by folly been sought, nor by guilt been merited, but arising merely from the imperfection of humanity, have been resisted with fortitude, or endured with patience.

I am informed of your virtuous steadiness, which corresponds with my expectations, while it excites my respect. All further conflict I had hoped to have saved you; and to the triumph of your goodness I had trusted for the recovery of your peace: but Mortimer has disappointed me, and our work is still unfinished.

He avers that he is solemnly engaged to you, and in pleading to me his honour, he silences both expostulation and authority. From your own words alone will he acknowledge his dismission; and notwithstanding my reluctance to impose upon you this task, I cannot silence or quiet him without making the request.

For a purpose such as this, can you, then, admit us? Can you bear with your own lips to confirm the irrevocable decision? You will feel, I am sure, for the unfortunate Mortimer, and it was earnestly my desire to spare you the sight of his affliction; yet such is my confidence in your prudence, that since I find him bent upon seeing you, I am not without hope, that from witnessing the greatness of your mind, the interview may rather calm than inflame him.

This proposal you will take into consideration, and if you are able, upon such terms, to again meet my son, we will wait upon you together, where and when you will appoint; but if the gentleness of your nature will make the effort too severe for you, scruple not to decline it, for Mortimer, when he knows your pleasure, will submit to it as he ought.

Adieu, most amiable and but too lovely Cecilia; whatever you determine, be sure of my concurrence, for nobly have you earned, and ever must you retain, the esteem, the affection, and the gratitude of AUGUSTA DELVILE.

“Alas,” cried Cecilia, “when shall I be at rest? when cease to be persecuted by new conflicts! Oh why must I so often, so cruelly, though so reluctantly, reject and reprove the man who of all men I wish to accept and to please!”

But yet, though repining at this hard necessity, she hesitated not a moment in complying with Mrs Delvile’s request, and immediately sent an answer that she would meet her the next morning at Mrs Charlton’s.

She then returned to the parlour, and apologized to Mrs Harrel and Mr Arnott for the abruptness of her visit, and the suddenness of her departure. Mr Arnott heard her in silent dejection; and Mrs Harrel used all the persuasion in her power to prevail with her to stay, her presence being some relief to her solitude: but finding it ineffectual, she earnestly pressed her to hasten her entrance into her own house, that their absence might be shortened, and their meeting more sprightly.

Cecilia passed the night in planning her behaviour for the next day; she found how much was expected from her by Mrs Delvile, who had even exhorted her to decline the interview if doubtful of her own strength. Delvile’s firmness in insisting the refusal should come directly from herself, surprised, gratified and perplexed her in turn; she had imagined, that from the moment of the discovery, he would implicitly have submitted to the award of a parent at once so reverenced and so beloved, and how he had summoned courage to contend with her she could not conjecture: yet that courage and that contention astonished not more than they soothed her, since, from her knowledge of his filial tenderness, she considered them as the most indubitable proofs she had yet received of the fervour and constancy of his regard for her. But would he, when she had ratified the decision of his mother, forbear all further struggle, and for ever yield up all pretensions to her? this was the point upon which her uncertainty turned, and the ruling subject of her thoughts and meditation.

To be steady, however, herself, be his conduct what it might, was invariably her intention, and was all her ambition: yet earnestly she wished the meeting over, for she dreaded to see the sorrow of Delvile, and she dreaded still more the susceptibility of her own heart.

The next morning, to her great concern, Mr Arnott was waiting in the hall when she came down stairs, and so much grieved at her departure, that he handed her to the chaise without being able to speak to her, and hardly heard her thanks and compliments but by recollection after she was gone.

She arrived at Mrs Charlton’s very early, and found her old friend in the same state she had left her. She communicated to her the purpose of her return, and begged she would keep her granddaughters up stairs, that the conference in the parlour might be uninterrupted and unheard.

She then made a forced and hasty breakfast, and went down to be ready to receive them. They came not till eleven o’clock, and the time of her waiting was passed in agonies of expectation.

At length they were announced, and at length they entered the room.

Cecilia, with her utmost efforts for courage, could hardly stand to receive them. They came in together, but Mrs Delvile, advancing before her son, and endeavouring so to stand as to intercept his view of her, with the hope that in a few instants her emotion would be less visible, said, in the most soothing accents, “What honour Miss Beverley does us by permitting this visit! I should have been sorry to have left Suffolk without the satisfaction of again seeing you; and my son, sensible of the high respect he owes you, was most unwilling to be gone, before he had paid you his devoirs.”

Cecilia courtsied; but depressed by the cruel task which awaited her, had no power to speak; and Mrs Delvile, finding she still trembled, made her sit down, and drew a chair next to her.

Mean while Delvile, with an emotion far more violent, because wholly unrestrained, waited impatiently till the ceremonial of the reception was over, and then, approaching Cecilia, in a voice of perturbation and resentment, said, “In this presence, at least, I hope I may be heard; though my letters have been unanswered, my visits refused, though inexorably you have flown me —”

“Mortimer,” interrupted Mrs Delvile, “forget not that what I have told you is irrevocable; you now meet Miss Beverley for no other purpose than to give and to receive a mutual release of all to or engagement with each other.”

“Pardon me, madam,” cried he, “this is a condition to which I have never assented. I come not to release, but to claim her! I am hers, and hers wholly! I protest it in the face of the world! The time, therefore, is now past for the sacrifice which you demand, since scarce are you more my mother, than I consider her as my wife.”

Cecilia, amazed at this dauntless declaration, now almost lost her fear in her surprise; while Mrs Delvile, with an air calm though displeased, answered, “This is not a point to be at present discussed, and I had hoped you knew better what was due to your auditors. I only consented to this interview as a mark of your respect for Miss Beverley, to whom in propriety it belongs to break off this unfortunate connexion.”

Cecilia, who at this call could no longer be silent, now gathered fortitude to say, “Whatever tie or obligation may be supposed to depend upon me, I have already relinquished; and I am now ready to declare —”

“That you wholly give me up?” interrupted Delvile, “is that what you would say? — Oh how have I offended you? how have I merited a displeasure that can draw upon me such a sentence? — Answer, speak to me, Cecilia, what is it I have done?”

“Nothing, Sir,” said Cecilia, confounded at this language in the presence of his mother, “you have done nothing — but yet —”

“Yet what? — have you conceived to me an aversion? has any dreadful and horrible antipathy succeeded to your esteem? — tell, tell me without disguise, do you hate, do you abhor me?”

Cecilia sighed, and turned away her head; and Mrs Delvile indignantly exclaimed, “What madness and absurdity! I scarce know you under the influence of such irrational violence. Why will you interrupt Miss Beverley in the only speech you ought to hear from her? Why, at once, oppress her, and irritate me, by words of more passion than reason? Go on, charming girl, finish what so wisely, so judiciously you were beginning, and then you shall be released from this turbulent persecution.”

“No, madam, she must not go on!” cried Delvile, “if she does not utterly abhor me, I will not suffer her to go on; — Pardon, pardon me, Cecilia, but your too exquisite delicacy is betraying not only my happiness, but your own. Once more, therefore, I conjure you to hear me, and then if, deliberately and unbiassed, you renounce me, I will never more distress you by resisting your decree.”

Cecilia, abashed and changing colour, was silent, and he proceeded.

“All that has past between us, the vows I have offered you of faith, constancy and affection, the consent I obtained from you to be legally mine, the bond of settlement I have had drawn up, and the high honour you conferred upon me in suffering me to lead you to the altar — all these particulars are already known to so many, that the least reflection must convince you they will soon be concealed from none: tell me, then, if your own fame pleads not for me, and if the scruples which lead you to refuse, by taking another direction, will not, with much more propriety, urge, nay enjoin you to accept me! — You hesitate at least — O Miss Beverley! — I see in that hesitation —”

“Nothing, nothing!” cried she, hastily, and checking her rising irresolution; “there is nothing for you to see, but that every way I now turn I have rendered myself miserable!”

“Mortimer,” said Mrs Delvile, seized with terror as she penetrated into the mental yielding of Cecilia, “you have now spoken to Miss Beverley; and unwilling as I am to obtrude upon her our difference of sentiment, it is necessary, since she has heard you, that I, also, should claim her attention.”

“First let her speak!” cried Delvile, who in her apparent wavering built new hopes, “first let her answer what she has already deigned to listen to.”

“No, first let her hear!” cried Mrs Delvile, “for so only can she judge what answer will reflect upon her most honour.”

Then, solemnly turning to Cecilia, she continued: “You see here, Miss Beverley, a young man who passionately adores you, and who forgets in his adoration friends, family, and connections, the opinions in which he has been educated, the honour of his house, his own former views, and all his primitive sense of duty, both public and private! — A passion built on such a defalcation of principle renders him unworthy your acceptance; and not more ignoble for him would be a union which would blot his name from the injured stock whence he sprung, than indelicate for you, who upon such terms ought to despise him.”

“Heavens, madam,” exclaimed Delvile, “what a speech!”

“O never,” cried Cecilia, rising, “may I hear such another! Indeed, madam, there is no occasion to probe me so deeply, for I would not now enter your family, for all that the whole world could offer me!”

“At length, then, madam,” cried Delvile, turning reproachfully to his mother, “are you satisfied? is your purpose now answered? and is the dagger you have transfixed in my heart sunk deep enough to appease you?”

“O could I draw it out,” cried Mrs Delvile, “and leave upon it no stain of ignominy, with what joy should my own bosom receive it, to heal the wound I have most compulsatorily inflicted! — Were this excellent young creature portionless, I would not hesitate in giving my consent; every claim of interest would be overbalanced by her virtues, and I would not grieve to see you poor, where so conscious you were happy; but here to concede, would annihilate every hope with which hitherto I have looked up to my son.”

“Let us now, then, madam,” said Cecilia, “break up this conference. I have spoken, I have heard, the decree is past, and therefore,”—

“You are indeed an angel!” cried Mrs Delvile, rising and embracing her; “and never can I reproach my son with what has passed, when I consider for what an object the sacrifice was planned. You cannot be unhappy, you have purchased peace by the exercise of virtue, and the close of every day will bring to you a reward, in the sweets of a self-approving mind. — But we will part, since you think it right; I do wrong to occasion any delay.”

“No, we will not part!” cried Delvile, with encreasing vehemence; “if you force me, madam, from her, you will drive me to distraction! What is there in this world that can offer me a recompense? And what can pride even to the proudest afford as an equivalent? Her perfections you acknowledge, her greatness of mind is like your own; she has generously given me her heart — Oh sacred and fascinating charge! Shall I, after such a deposite, consent to an eternal separation? Repeal, repeal your sentence, my Cecilia! let us live to ourselves and our consciences, and leave the vain prejudices of the world to those who can be paid by them for the loss of all besides!”

“Is this conflict, then,” said Mrs Delvile, “to last for-ever? Oh end it, Mortimer, finish it, and make me happy! she is just, and will forgive you, she is noble-minded, and will honour you. Fly, then, at this critical moment, for in flight alone is your safety; and then will your father see the son of his hopes, and then shall the fond blessings of your idolizing mother soothe all your affliction, and soften all your regret!”

“Oh madam!” cried Delvile, “for mercy, for humanity, forbear this cruel supplication!”

“Nay, more than supplication, you have my commands; commands you have never yet disputed, and misery, ten-fold misery, will follow their disobedience. Hear me, Mortimer, for I speak prophetically; I know your heart, I know it to be formed for rectitude and duty, or destined by their neglect to repentance and horror.”

Delvile, struck by these words, turned suddenly from them both, and in gloomy despondence walked to the other end of the room. Mrs Delvile perceived the moment of her power, and determined to pursue the blow: taking, therefore, the hand of Cecilia, while her eyes sparkled with the animation of reviving hope, “See,” she cried, pointing to her son, “see if I am deceived! can he bear even the suggestion of future contrition! Think you when it falls upon him, he will support it better? No; he will sink under it. And you, pure as you are of mind, and steadfast in principle, what would your chance be of happiness with a man who never erring till he knew you, could never look at you without regret, be his fondness what it might?”

“Oh madam,” cried the greatly shocked Cecilia, “let him, then, see me no more! — take, take him all to yourself! forgive, console him! I will not have the misery of involving him in repentance, nor of incurring the reproaches of the mother he so much reverences!”

“Exalted creature!” cried Mrs Delvile; “tenderness such as this would confer honour upon a monarch.” Then, calling out exultingly to her son, “See,” she added, “how great a woman can act, when stimulated by generosity, and a just sense of duty! Follow then, at least, the example you ought to have led, and deserve my esteem and love, or be content to forego them.”

“And can I only deserve them,” said Delvile, in a tone of the deepest anguish, “by a compliance to which not merely my happiness, but my reason must be sacrificed? What honour do I injure that is not factitious? What evil threatens our union, that is not imaginary? In the general commerce of the world it may be right to yield to its prejudices, but in matters of serious importance, it is weakness to be shackled by scruples so frivolous, and it is cowardly to be governed by the customs we condemn. Religion and the laws of our country should then alone be consulted, and where those are neither opposed nor infringed, we should hold ourselves superior to all other considerations.”

“Mistaken notions!” said Mrs Delvile; “and how long do you flatter yourself this independent happiness would endure? How long could you live contented by mere self-gratification, in defiance of the censure of mankind, the renunciation of your family, and the curses of your father?”

“The curses of my father!” repeated he, starting and shuddering, “O no, he could never be so barbarous!”

“He could,” said she, steadily, “nor do I doubt but he would. If now, however, you are affected by the prospect of his disclaiming you, think but what you will feel when first forbid to appear before either of us! and think of your remorse for involving Miss Beverley in such disgrace!”

“O speak not such words!” cried he, with agonizing earnestness, “to disgrace her — to be banished by you — present not, I conjure you, such scenes to my imagination!”

“Yet would they be unavoidable,” continued she; “nor have I said to you all; blinded as you now are by passion, your nobler feelings are only obscured, not extirpated; think, then, how they will all rise in revenge of your insulted dignity, when your name becomes a stranger to your ears, and you are first saluted by one so meanly adopted! —”

“Hold, hold, madam,” interrupted he, “this is more than I can bear!”

“Heavens!” still continued she, disregarding his entreaty, “what in the universe can pay you for that first moment of indignity! Think of it well ere you proceed, and anticipate your sensations, lest the shock should wholly overcome you. How will the blood of your wronged ancestors rise into your guilty cheeks, and how will your heart throb with secret shame and reproach, when wished joy upon your marriage by the name of Mr Beverley!”

Delvile, stung to the soul, attempted not any answer, but walked about the room in the utmost disorder of mind. Cecilia would have retired, but feared irritating him to some extravagance; and Mrs Delvile, looking after him, added “For myself, I would still see, for I should pity your wife — but NEVER would I behold my son when sunk into an object of compassion!”

“It shall not be!” cried he, in a transport of rage; “cease, cease to distract me! — be content, madam — you have conquered!”

“Then you are my son!” cried she, rapturously embracing him; “now I know again my Mortimer! now I see the fair promise of his upright youth, and the flattering completion of my maternal expectations!”

Cecilia, finding all thus concluded, desired nothing so much as to congratulate them on their reconciliation; but having only said “Let me, too — ” her voice failed her, she stopt short, and hoping she had been unheard, would have glided out of the room.

But Delvile, penetrated and tortured, yet delighted at this sensibility, broke from his mother, and seizing her hand, exclaimed, “Oh Miss Beverley, if you are not happy ——”

“I am! I am!” cried she, with quickness; “let me pass — and think no more of me.”

“That voice — those looks — ” cried he, still holding her, “they speak not serenity! — Oh if I have injured your peace — if that heart, which, pure as angels, deserves to be as sacred from sorrow, through my means, or for my sake, suffers any diminution of tranquility —”

“None, none!” interrupted she, with precipitation.

“I know well,” cried he, “your greatness of soul; and if this dreadful sacrifice gives lasting torture only to myself — if of your returning happiness I could be assured — I would struggle to bear it.”

“You may, be assured of it,” cried she, with reviving dignity, “I have no right to expect escaping all calamity, but while I share the common lot, I will submit to it without repining.”

“Heaven then bless, and hovering angels watch you!” cried he, and letting go her hand, he ran hastily out of the room.

“Oh Virtue, how bright is thy triumph!” exclaimed Mrs Delvile, flying up to Cecilia, and folding her in her arms; “Noble, incomparable young creature! I knew not that so much worth was compatible with human frailty!”

But the heroism of Cecilia, in losing its object, lost its force; she sighed, she could not speak, tears gushed into her eyes, and kissing Mrs Delvile’s hand with a look that shewed her inability to converse with her, she hastened, though scarce able to support herself, away, with intention to shut herself up in her own apartment: and Mrs Delvile, who perceived that her utmost fortitude was exhausted, opposed not her going, and wisely forbore to encrease her emotion, by following her even with her blessings.

But when she came into the hall, she started, and could proceed no further; for there she beheld Delvile, who in too great agony to be seen, had stopt to recover some composure before he quitted the house.

At the first sound of an opening door, he was hastily escaping; but perceiving Cecilia, and discerning her situation, he more hastily turned back, saying, “Is it possible? — To me were you coming?”

She shook her head, and made a motion with her hand to say no, and would then have gone on.

“You are weeping!” cried he, “you are pale! — Oh Miss Beverley! is this your happiness!”

“I am very well — ” cried she, not knowing what she answered, “I am quite well — pray go — I am very —” her words died away inarticulated.

“O what a voice is that!” exclaimed he, “it pierces my very soul!”

Mrs Delvile now came to the parlour door, and looked aghast at the situation in which she saw them: Cecilia again moved on, and reached the stairs, but tottered, and was obliged to cling to the banisters.

“O suffer me to support you,” cried he; “you are not able to stand — whither is it you would go?”

“Any where — I don’t know — ” answered she, in faltering accents, “but if you would leave me, I should be well.”

And, turning from him, she walked again towards the parlour, finding by her shaking frame, the impossibility of getting unaided up the stairs.

“Give me your hand, my love,” said Mrs Delvile, cruelly alarmed by this return; and the moment they re-entered the parlour, she said impatiently to her son, “Mortimer, why are you not gone?”

He heard her not, however; his whole attention was upon Cecilia, who, sinking into a chair, hid her face against Mrs Delvile: but, reviving in a few moments, and blushing at the weakness she had betrayed, she raised her head, and, with an assumed serenity, said, “I am better — much better — I was rather sick — but it is over; and now, if you will excuse me, I will go to my own room.”

She then arose, but her knees trembled, and her head was giddy, and again seating herself, she forced a faint smile, and said, “Perhaps I had better keep quiet.”

“Can I bear this!” cried Delvile, “no, it shakes all my resolution! — loveliest and most beloved Cecilia! forgive my rash declaration, which I hear retract and forswear, and which no false pride, no worthless vanity shall again surprise from me! — raise, then, your eyes —”

“Hot-headed young man!” interrupted Mrs Delvile, with an air of haughty displeasure, “if you cannot be rational, at least be silent. Miss Beverley, we will both leave him.”

Shame, and her own earnestness, how restored some strength to Cecilia, who read with terror in the looks of Mrs Delvile the passions with which she was agitated, and instantly obeyed her by rising; but her son, who inherited a portion of her own spirit, rushed between them both and the door, and exclaimed, “Stay, madam, stay! I cannot let you go: I see your intention, I see your dreadful purpose; you will work upon the feelings of Miss Beverley, you will extort from her a promise to see me no more!”

“Oppose not my passing!” cried Mrs Delvile, whose voice, face and manner spoke the encreasing disturbance of her soul; “I have but too long talked to you in vain; I must now take some better method for the security of the honour of my family.”

This moment appeared to Delvile decisive; and casting off in desperation all timidity and restraint, he suddenly sprang forward, and snatching the hand of Cecilia from his mother, he exclaimed, “I cannot, I will not give her up! — nor now, madam, nor ever! — I protest it most solemnly! I affirm it by my best hopes! I swear it by all that I hold sacred!”

Grief and horror next to frenzy at a disappointment thus unexpected, and thus peremptory, rose in the face of Mrs Delvile, who, striking her hand upon her forehead, cried, “My brain is on fire!” and rushed out of the room.

Cecilia had now no difficulty to disengage herself from Delvile, who, shocked at the exclamation, and confounded by the sudden departure of his mother, hastened eagerly to pursue her: she had only flown into the next parlour; but, upon following her thither, what was his dread and his alarm, when he saw her extended, upon the floor, her face, hands and neck all covered with blood! “Great Heaven!” he exclaimed, prostrating himself by her side, “what is it you have done! — where are you wounded? — what direful curse have you denounced against your son?”

Not able to speak, she angrily shook her head, and indignantly made a motion with her hand, that commanded him from her sight.

Cecilia, who had followed, though half dead with terror, had yet the presence of mind to ring the bell. A servant came immediately; and Delvile, starting up from his mother, ordered him to fetch the first surgeon or physician he could find.

The alarm now brought the rest of the servants into the room, and Mrs Delvile suffered herself to be raised from the ground, and seated in a chair; she was still silent, but shewed a disgust to any assistance from her son, that made him deliver her into the hands of the servants, while, in speechless agony, he only looked on and watched her.

Neither did Cecilia, though forgetting her own sorrow, and no longer sensible of personal weakness, venture to approach her: uncertain what had happened, she yet considered herself as the ultimate cause of this dreadful scene, and feared to risk the effect of the smallest additional emotion.

The servant returned with a surgeon in a few minutes: Cecilia, unable to wait and hear what he would say, glided hastily out of the room; and Delvile, in still greater agitation, followed her quick into the next parlour; but having eagerly advanced to speak to her, he turned precipitately about, and hurrying into the hall, walked in hasty steps up and down it, without courage to enquire what was passing.

At length the surgeon came out: Delvile flew to him, and stopt him, but could ask no question. His countenance, however, rendered words unnecessary; the surgeon understood him, and said, “The lady will do very well; she has burst a blood vessel, but I think it will be of no consequence. She must be kept quiet and easy, and upon no account suffered to talk, or to use any exertion.”

Delvile now let him go, and flew himself into a corner to return thanks to heaven that the evil, however great, was less than he had at first apprehended. He then went into the parlour to Cecilia, eagerly calling out, “Heaven be praised, my mother has not voluntarily cursed me!”

“O now then,” cried Cecilia, “once more make her bless you! the violence of her agitation has already almost destroyed her, and her frame is too weak for this struggle of contending passions; — go to her, then, and calm the tumult of her spirits, by acquiescing wholly in her will, and being to her again the son she thinks she has lost!”

“Alas!” said he, in a tone of the deepest dejection; “I have been preparing myself for that purpose, and waited but your commands to finally determine me.”

“Let us both go to her instantly,” said Cecilia; “the least delay may be fatal.”

She now led the way, and approaching Mrs Delvile, who, faint and weak, was seated upon an arm chair, and resting her head upon the shoulder of a maid servant, said, “Lean, dearest madam, upon me, and speak not, but hear us!”

She then took the place of the maid, and desired her and the other servants to go out of the room. Delvile advanced, but his mother’s eye, recovering, at his sight, its wonted fire, darted upon him a glance of such displeasure, that, shuddering with the apprehension of inflaming again those passions which threatened her destruction, he hastily sank on one knee, and abruptly exclaimed, “Look at me with less abhorrence, for I come but to resign myself to your will.”

“Mine, also,” cried Cecilia, “that will shall be; you need not speak it, we know it, and here solemnly we promise that we will separate for ever.”

“Revive, then, my mother,” said Delvile, “rely upon our plighted honours, and think only of your health, for your son will never more offend you.”

Mrs Delvile, much surprised, and strongly affected, held out her hand to him, with a look of mingled compassion and obligation, and dropping her head upon the bosom of Cecilia, who with her other arm she pressed towards her, she burst into an agony of tears.

“Go, go, Sir!” said Cecilia, cruelly alarmed, “you have said all that is necessary; leave Mrs Delvile now, and she will be more composed.”

Delvile instantly obeyed, and then his mother, whose mouth still continued to fill with blood, though it gushed not from her with the violence it had begun, was prevailed upon by the prayers of Cecilia to consent to be conveyed into her room; and, as her immediate removal to another house might be dangerous, she complied also, though very reluctantly, with her urgent entreaties, that she would take entire possession of it till the next day.

This point gained, Cecilia left her, to communicate what had passed to Mrs Charlton; but was told by one of the servants that Mr Delvile begged first to speak with her in the next room.

She hesitated for a moment whether to grant this request; but recollecting it was right to acquaint him with his mother’s intention of staying all night, she went to him.

“How indulgent you are,” cried he, in a melancholy voice, as she opened the door; “I am now going post to Dr Lyster, whom I shall entreat to come hither instantly; but I am fearful of again disturbing my mother, and must therefore rely upon you to acquaint her what is become of me.”

“Most certainly; I have begged her to remain here to-night, and I hope I shall prevail with her to continue with me till Dr Lyster’s arrival; after which she will, doubtless, be guided either in staying longer, or removing elsewhere, by his advice.”

“You are all goodness,” said he, with a deep sigh; “and how I shall support — but I mean not to return hither, at least not to this house, — unless, indeed, Dr Lyster’s account should be alarming. I leave my mother, therefore, to your kindness, and only hope, only entreat, that your own health — your own peace of mind — neither by attendance upon her — by anxiety — by pity for her son —”

He stopt, and seemed gasping for breath; Cecilia turned from him to hide her emotion, and he proceeded with a rapidity of speech that shewed his terror of continuing with her any longer, and his struggle with himself to be gone: “The promise you have made in both our names to my mother, I shall hold myself bound to observe. I see, indeed, that her reason or her life would fall the sacrifice of further opposition: of myself, therefore, it is no longer time to think. — I take of you no leave — I cannot! yet I would fain tell you the high reverence — but it is better to say nothing —”

“Much better,” cried Cecilia, with a forced and faint smile; “lose not, therefore, an instant, but hasten to this good Dr Lyster.”

“I will,” answered he, going to the door; but there, stopping and turning round, “one thing I should yet,” he added, “wish to say — I have been impetuous, violent, unreasonable — with shame and with regret I recollect how impetuous, and how unreasonable: I have persecuted, where I ought in silence to have submitted; I have reproached, where I ought in candour to have approved; and in the vehemence with which I have pursued you, I have censured that very dignity of conduct which has been the basis of my admiration, my esteem, my devotion! but never can I forget, and never without fresh wonder remember, the sweetness with which you have borne with me, even when most I offended you. For this impatience, this violence, this inconsistency, I now most sincerely beg your pardon; and if, before I go, you could so far condescend as to pronounce my forgiveness, with a lighter heart, I think, I should quit you.”

“Do not talk of forgiveness,” said Cecilia, “you have never offended me; I always knew — always was sure — always imputed —” she stopt, unable to proceed.

Deeply penetrated by her apparent distress, he with difficulty restrained himself from falling at her feet; but after a moment’s pause and recollection, he said, “I understand the generous indulgence you have shewn me, an indulgence I shall ever revere, and ever grieve to have abused. I ask you not to remember me — far, far happier do I wish you than such a remembrance could make you; but I will pain the humanity of your disposition no longer. You will tell my mother — but no matter! — Heaven preserve you, my angelic Cecilia! — Miss Beverley, I mean, Heaven guide, protect, and bless you! And should I see you no more, should this be the last sad moment ——”

He paused, but presently recovering himself, added, “May I hear, at least, of your tranquillity, for that alone can have any chance to quiet or repress the anguish I feel here!”

He then abruptly retreated, and ran out of the house.

Cecilia for a while remained almost stupified with sorrow; she forgot Mrs Delvile, she forgot Mrs Charlton, she forgot her own design of apologizing to one, or assisting the other: she continued in the posture in which he had left her, quite without motion, and almost without sensibility.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/burney/fanny/cecilia/book8.6.html

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