Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 9

A Suspense.

Delvile had been gone but a short time, before Henrietta, her eyes still red, though no longer streaming, opened the parlour door, and asked if she might come in?

Cecilia wished to be alone, yet could not refuse her.

“Well, madam,” cried she, with a forced smile, and constrained air of bravery, “did not I guess right?”

“In what?” said Cecilia, unwilling to understand her.

“In what I said would happen? — I am sure you know what I mean.”

Cecilia, extremely embarrassed, made no answer; she much regretted the circumstances which had prevented an earlier communication, and was uncertain whether, now, it would prove most kind or most cruel to acquaint her with what was in agitation, which, should it terminate in nothing, was unnecessarily wounding her delicacy for the openness of her confidence, and which, however serviceable it might prove to her in the end, was in the means so rough and piercing she felt the utmost repugnance to the experiment.

“You think me, madam, too free,” said Henrietta, “in asking such a question; and indeed your kindness has been so great, it may well make me forget myself: but if it does, I am sure I deserve you should send me home directly, and then there is not much fear I shall soon he brought to my senses!”

“No, my dear Henrietta, I can never think you too free; I have told you already every thing I thought you would have pleasure in hearing; whatever I have concealed, I have been fearful would only pain you.”

“I have deserved, madam,” said she, with spirit, “to be pained, for I have behaved with the folly of a baby. I am very angry with myself indeed! I was old enough to have known better — and I ought to have been wise enough.”

“You must then be angry with yourself, next,” said Cecilia, anxious to re-encourage her, “for all the love that I bear you; since to your openness and frankness it was entirely owing.”

“But there are some things that people should not be frank in; however, I am only come now to beg you will tell me, madam, when it is to be; — and don’t think I ask out of nothing but curiosity, for I have a very great reason for it indeed.”

“What be, my dear Henrietta? — you are very rapid in your ideas!”

“I will tell you, madam, what my reason is; I shall go away to my own home — and so I would if it were ten times a worse home than it is! — just exactly the day before. Because afterwards I shall never like to look that gentleman in the face — never, never! — for married ladies I know are not to be trusted!”

“Be not apprehensive; you have no occasion. Whatever may be my fate, I will never be so treacherous as to betray my beloved Henrietta to any body.”

“May I ask you, madam, one question?”

“Certainly.”

“Why did all this never happen before?”

“Indeed,” cried Cecilia, much distressed, “I know not that it will happen now.”

“Why what, dear madam, can hinder it?”

“A thousand, thousand things! nothing can be less secure.”

“And then I am still as much puzzled as ever. I heard, a good while ago, and we all heard that it was to be; and I thought that it was no wonder, I am sure, for I used often to think it was just what was most likely; but afterwards we heard it was no such thing, and from that moment I always believed there had been nothing at all in it.”

“I must speak to you, I find, with sincerity; my affairs have long been in strange perplexity: I have not known myself what to expect; one day has perpetually reversed the prospect of another, and my mind has been in a state of uncertainty and disorder, that has kept it — that still keeps it from comfort and from rest!”

“This surprises me indeed, madam! I thought you were all happiness! but I was sure you deserved it, and I thought you had it for that reward. And this has been the thing that has made me behave so wrong; for I took it into my head I might tell you every thing, because I concluded it could be nothing to you; for if great people loved one another, I always supposed they married directly; poor people, indeed, must stay till they are able to settle; but what in the whole world, thought I, if they like one another, should hinder such a rich lady as Miss Beverley from marrying such a rich gentleman at once?”

Cecilia now, finding there was no longer any chance for concealment, thought it better to give the poor Henrietta at least the gratification of unreserved confidence, which might somewhat sooth her uneasiness by proving her reliance in her faith. She frankly, therefore, confessed to her the whole of her situation. Henrietta wept at the recital with bitterness, thought Mr Delvile a monster, and Mrs Delvile herself scarce human; pitied Cecilia with unaffected tenderness, and wondered that the person could exist who had the heart to give grief to young Delvile! She thanked her most gratefully for reposing such trust in her; and Cecilia made use of this opportunity, to enforce the necessity of her struggling more seriously to recover her indifferency.

She promised she would not fail; and forbore steadily from that time to name Delvile any more: but the depression of her spirits shewed she had suffered a disappointment such as astonished even Cecilia. Though modest and humble, she had conceived hopes the most romantic, and though she denied, even to herself, any expectations from Delvile, she involuntarily nourished them with the most sanguine simplicity. To compose and to strengthen her became the whole business of Cecilia; who, during her present suspense, could find no other employment in which she could take any interest.

Mr Monckton, to whom nothing was unknown that related to Cecilia, was soon informed of Delvile’s visit, and hastened in the utmost alarm, to learn its event. She had now lost all the pleasure she had formerly derived from confiding in him, but though averse and confused, could not withstand his enquiries.

Unlike the tender Henrietta’s was his disappointment at this relation, and his rage at such repeated trials was almost more than he could curb. He spared neither the Delviles for their insolence of mutability in rejecting or seeking her at their pleasure, nor herself for her easiness of submission in being thus the dupe of their caprices. The subject was difficult for Cecilia to dilate upon; she wished to clear, as he deserved, Delvile himself from any share in the censure, and she felt hurt and offended at the charge of her own improper readiness; yet shame and pride united in preventing much vindication of either, and she heard almost in silence what with pain she bore to hear at all.

He now saw, with inexpressible disturbance, that whatever was his power to make her uneasy, he had none to make her retract, and that the conditional promise she had given Delvile to be wholly governed by his mother, she was firm in regarding to be as sacred as one made at the altar.

Perceiving this, he dared trust his temper with no further debate; he assumed a momentary calmness for the purpose of taking leave of her, and with pretended good wishes for her happiness, whatever might be her determination, he stifled the reproaches with which his whole heart was swelling, and precipitately left her.

Cecilia, affected by his earnestness, yet perplexed in all her opinions, was glad to be relieved from useless exhortations, and not sorry, in her present uncertainty, that his visit was not repeated.

She neither saw nor heard from Delvile for a week, and augured nothing but evil from such delay. The following letter then came by the post.

To Miss Beverley. April 2d, 1780

I must write without comments, for I dare not trust myself with making any; I must write without any beginning address, for I know not how you will permit me to address you.

I have lived a life of tumult since last compelled to leave you, and when it may subside, I am still in utter ignorance.

The affecting account of the losses you have suffered through your beneficence to the Harrels, and the explanatory one of the calumnies you have sustained from your kindness to the Belfields, I related with the plainness which alone I thought necessary to make them felt. I then told the high honour I had received, in meeting with no other repulse to my proposal, than was owing to an inability to accede to it; and informed my mother of the condescending powers with which you had invested her. In conclusion I mentioned my new scheme, and firmly, before I would listen to any opposition, I declared that though wholly to their decision I left the relinquishing my own name or your fortune, I was not only by your generosity more internally yours than ever, but that since again I had ventured, and with permission to apply to you, I should hold myself hence forward unalterably engaged to you.

And so I do, and so I shall! nor, after a renewal so public, will any prohibition but yours have force to keep me from throwing myself at your feet.

My father’s answer I will not mention; I would I could forget it! his prejudices are irremediable, his resolutions are inflexible. Who or what has worked him into an animosity so irreclaimable, I cannot conjecture, nor will he tell; but something darkly mysterious has part in his wrath and his injustice.

My mother was much affected by your reference to herself. Words of the sweetest praise broke repeatedly from her; no other such woman, she said, existed; no other such instance could be found of fidelity so exalted! her son must have no heart but for low and mercenary selfishness, if, after a proof of regard so unexampled, he could bear to live without her! Oh how did such a sentence from lips so highly reverenced, animate, delight, confirm, and oblige me at once!

The displeasure of my father at this declaration was dreadful; his charges, always as improbable as injurious, now became too horrible for my ears; he disbelieved you had taken up the money for Harrel, he discredited that you visited the Belfields for Henrietta: passion not merely banished his justice, but, clouded his reason, and I soon left the room, that at least I might not hear the aspersions he forbid me to answer.

I left not, however, your fame to a weak champion: my mother defended it with all the spirit of truth, and all the confidence of similar virtue! yet they parted without conviction, and so mutually irritated with each other, that they agreed to meet no more.

This was too terrible! and I instantly consolidated my resentment to my father, and my gratitude to my mother, into concessions and supplications to both; I could not, however, succeed; my mother was deeply offended, my father was sternly inexorable: nor here rests the evil of their dissention, for the violence of the conflict has occasioned a return more alarming than ever of the illness of my mother.

All her faith in her recovery is now built upon going abroad; she is earnest to set off immediately; but Dr Lyster has advised her to make London in her way, and have a consultation of physicians before she departs.

To this she has agreed; and we are now upon the road thither.

Such is, at present, the melancholy state of my affairs. My mother advised me to write; forgive me, therefore, that I waited not something more decisive to say. I could prevail upon neither party to meet before the journey; nor could I draw from my father the base fabricator of the calumnies by which he has been thus abused.

Unhappily, I have nothing more to add: and whether intelligence, such as this, or total suspense, would be least irksome, I know not. If my mother bears her journey tolerably well, I have yet one more effort to make; and of that the success or the failure will be instantly communicated to Miss Beverley, by her eternally devoted, but half distracted.

Mortimer Delvile.

Scarcely could Cecilia herself decide whether this comfortless letter or none at all were preferable. The implacability of Mr Delvile was shocking, but his slandering her character was still more intolerable; yet the praises of the mother, and her generous vindication, joined to the invariable reliance of Delvile upon her innocence, conferred upon her an honour that offered some alleviation.

The mention of a fabricator again brought Mr Monckton to her mind, and not all her unwillingness to think him capable of such treachery, could now root out her suspicions. Delvile’s temper, however, she knew was too impetuous to be trusted with this conjecture, and her fear of committing injustice being thus seconded by prudence, she determined to keep to herself doubts that could not without danger be divulged.

She communicated briefly to Henrietta, who looked her earnest curiosity, the continuance of her suspense; and to her own fate Henrietta became somewhat more reconciled, when she saw that no station in life rendered happiness certain or permanent.

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