Dr Lyster and Delvile met them at the entrance into the house. Extremely alarmed lest Cecilia had received any disturbance, they both hastened up stairs, but Delvile proceeded only to the door. He stopt there and listened; but all was silent; the prayers of Albany had struck an awe into every one; and Dr Lyster soon returned to tell him there was no alteration in his patient.
“And he has not disturbed her?” cried Delvile.
“No, not at all.”
“I think, then,” said he, advancing, though trembling, “I will yet see her once more.”
“No, no, Mr Mortimer,” cried the doctor, “why should you give yourself so unnecessary a shock?”
“The shock,” answered he, “is over! — tell me, however, is there any chance I may hurt her?”
“I believe not; I do not think, just now, she will perceive you.”
“Well, then — I may grieve, perhaps, hereafter, that once more — that one glance!”— He stopt, irresolute the doctor would again have dissuaded him, but, after a little hesitation, he assured him he was prepared for the worst, and forced himself into the room.
When again, however, he beheld Cecilia — senseless, speechless, motionless, her features void of all expression, her cheeks without colour, her eyes without meaning — he shrunk from the sight, he leant upon Dr Lyster, and almost groaned aloud.
The doctor would have conducted him out of the apartment; but, recovering from this first agony, he turned again to view her, and casting up his eyes, fervently ejaculated, “Oh merciful powers! Take, or destroy her! let her not linger thus, rather let me lose her for ever! — O far rather would I see her dead, glad in this dreadful condition!”
Then, advancing to the bed side, and yet more earnestly looking at her, “I pray not now,” he cried, “for thy life! inhumanly as I have treated thee, I am not yet so hardened as to wish thy misery lengthened no; quick be thy restoration, or short as pure thy passage to eternity! — Oh my Cecilia! lovely, however altered! sweet even in the arms of death and insanity! and dearer to my tortured heart in this calamitous state, than in all thy pride of health and beauty!”—
He stopt, and turned from her, yet could not tear himself away; he came back, he again looked at her, he hung over her in anguish unutterable; he kissed each burning hand, he folded to his bosom her feeble form, and, recovering his speech, though almost bursting with sorrow, faintly articulated, “Is all over? no ray of reason left? no knowledge of thy wretched Delvile? — no, none! the hand of death is on her, and she is utterly gone! — sweet suffering excellence! loved, lost, expiring Cecilia! — but I will not repine! peace and kindred angels are watching to receive thee, and if thou art parted from thyself, it were impious to lament thou shouldst be parted from me. — Yet in thy tomb will be deposited all that to me could render existence supportable, every frail chance of happiness, every sustaining hope, and all alleviation of sorrow!”—
Dr Lyster now again approaching, thought he perceived some change in his patient, and peremptorily forced him away from her: then returning himself, he found that her eyes were shut, and she was dropt asleep.
This was an omen the most favourable he could hope. He now seated himself by the bedside, and determined not to quit her till the expected crisis was past. He gave the strictest orders for the whole house to be kept quiet, and suffered no one in the room either to speak or move.
Her sleep was long and heavy; yet, when she awoke, her sensibility was evidently returned. She started, suddenly raised her head from the pillow, looked round her, and called out, “where am I now?”
“Thank Heaven!” cried Henrietta, and was rushing forward, when Dr Lyster, by a stern and angry look, compelled her again to take her seat.
He then spoke to her himself, enquired how she did, and found her quite rational.
Henrietta, who now doubted not her perfect recovery, wept as violently for joy as she had before wept for grief; and Mary, in the same belief, ran instantly to Delvile, eager to carry to him the first tidings that her mistress had recovered her reason.
Delvile, in the utmost emotion, then returned to the chamber; but stood at some distance from the bed, waiting Dr Lyster’s permission to approach it.
Cecilia was quiet and composed, her recollection seemed restored, and her intellects sound: hut she was faint and weak, and contentedly silent, to avoid the effort of speaking.
Dr Lyster encouraged this stillness, and suffered not anyone, not even Delvile, to advance to her. After a short time, however, she again, and very calmly, began to talk to him. She now first knew him, and seemed much surprised by his attendance. She could not tell, she said, what of late had happened to her, nor could guess where she was, or by what means she came into such a place. Dr Lyster desired her at present not to think upon the subject, and promised her a full account of everything, when she was stronger, and more fit for conversing.
This for a while silenced her. But, after a short pause, “Tell me,” she said, “Dr Lyster, have I no friend in this place but you?”
“Yes, yes, you have several friends here,” answered the Doctor, “only I keep them in order, lest they should hurry or disturb you.”
She seemed much pleased by this speech; but soon after said, “You must not, Doctor, keep them in order much longer, for the sight of them, I think, would much revive me.”
“Ah, Miss Beverley!” cried Henrietta, who could not now restrain herself, “may not I, among the rest, come and speak to you?”
“Who is that?” said Cecilia, in a voice of pleasure, though very feeble; “is it my ever-dear Henrietta?”
“Oh this is joy indeed!” cried she, fervently kissing her cheeks and forehead, “joy that I never, never expected to have more!”
“Come, come,” cried Dr Lyster, “here’s enough of this; did I not do well to keep such people off?”
“I believe you did,” said Cecilia, faintly smiling; “my too kind Henrietta, you must be more tranquil!”
“I will, I will indeed, madam! — my dear, dear Miss Beverley, I will indeed! — now once you have owned me, and once again I hear your sweet voice, I will do any thing, and every thing, for I am made happy for my whole life!”
“Ah, sweet Henrietta!” cried Cecilia, giving her her hand, “you must suppress these feelings, or our Doctor here will soon part us. But tell me, Doctor, is there no one else that you can let me see?”
Delvile, who had listened to this scene in the unspeakable perturbation of that hope which is kindled from the very ashes of despair, was now springing forward; but Dr Lyster, fearful of the consequences, hastily arose, and with a look and air not to be disputed, took hold of his arm, and led him out of the room. He then represented to him strongly the danger of agitating or disturbing her, and charged him to keep from her sight till better able to bear it; assuring him at the same time that he might now reasonably hope her recovery.
Delvile, lost in transport, could make no answer, but flew into his arms, and almost madly embraced him; he then hastened out of sight to pour forth fervent thanks, and hurrying back with equal speed, again embraced the Doctor, and while his manly cheeks were burnt with tears of joy, he could not yet articulate the glad tumult of his soul.
The worthy Dr Lyster, who heartily partook of his happiness, again urged him to be discreet; and Delvile, no longer intractable and desperate, gratefully concurred in whatever he commanded. Dr Lyster then returned to Cecilia, and to relieve her mind from any uneasy suspense, talked to her openly of Delvile, gave her to understand he was acquainted with her marriage, and told her he had prohibited their meeting till each was better able to support it.
Cecilia by this delay seemed half gratified, and half disappointed; but the rest of the physicians, who had been summoned upon this happy change, now appearing, the orders were yet more strictly enforced for keeping her quiet.
She submitted, therefore, peaceably; and Delvile, whose gladdened heart still throbbed with speechless rapture, contentedly watched at her chamber door, and obeyed implicitly whatever was said to him.
She now visibly, and almost hourly grew better; and, in a short time, her anxiety to know all that was passed, and by what means she became so ill, and confined in a house of which she had not any knowledge, obliged Dr Lyster to make himself master of these particulars, that he might communicate them to her with a calmness that Delvile could not attain.
Delvile himself, happy to be spared the bitter task of such a relation, informed him all he knew of the story, and then entreated him to narrate to her also the motives of his own strange, and he feared unpardonable conduct, and the scenes which had followed their parting.
He came, he said, to England, ignorant of all that had past in his absence, intending merely to wait upon his father, and communicate his marriage, before he gave directions to his lawyer for the settlements and preparations which were to precede its further publication. He meant, also, to satisfy himself, of the real situation of Mr Monckton, and then, after an interview with Cecilia, to have returned to his mother, and waited at Nice till he might publicly claim his wife.
To this purpose he had written in his letter, which he meant to have put in the Post-office in London himself; and he had but just alighted from his chaise, when he met Ralph, Cecilia’s servant, in the street.
Hastily stopping him, he enquired if he had left his place? “No,” answered Ralph, “I am only come up to town with my lady.”
“With your lady?” cried the astonished Delvile, is your lady then in town?”
“Yes, sir, she is at Mrs Belfield’s.”
“At Mrs Belfield’s? — is her daughter returned home?
“No, sir, we left her in the country.”
He was then going on with a further account, but, in too much confusion of mind to hear him Delvile abruptly wished him good night, and marched on himself towards Belfield’s.
The pleasure with which he would have heard that Cecilia was so near to him, was totally lost in his perplexity to account for her journey. Her letters had never hinted at such a purpose — the news reached him only by accident — it was ten o’clock at night — yet she was at Belfield’s — though the sister was away — though the mother was professedly odious to her! — In an instant, all he had formerly heard, all he had formerly disregarded, rushed suddenly upon his memory, and he began to believe he had been deluded, that his father was right, and that Belfield had some strange and improper influence over her heart.
The suspicion was death to him; he drove it from him, he concluded the whole was some error: his reason as powerfully as his tenderness vindicated her innocence; and though he arrived at the house in much disorder, he yet arrived with a firm persuasion of an honourable explanation.
The door was open — a chaise was at it in waiting — Mrs Belfield was listening in the passage; these appearances were strange, and encreased his agitation. He asked for her son in a voice scarce audible — she told him he was engaged with a lady, and must not be disturbed.
That fatal answer, at a moment so big with the most horrible surmises, was decisive: furiously, therefore, he forced himself past her, and opened the door:— but when he saw them together — the rest of the family confessedly excluded, his rage turned to horror, and he could hardly support himself.
“O Dr Lyster!” he continued, “ask of the sweet creature if these circumstances offer any extenuation for the fatal jealousy which seized me? never by myself while I live will it be forgiven, but she, perhaps, who is all softness, all compassion, and all peace, may some time hence think my sufferings almost equal to my offence.”
He then proceeded in his narration.
When he had so peremptorily ordered her chaise to St James’s-square, he went back to the house, and desired Belfield to walk out with him. He complied, and they were both silent till they came to a Coffee-house, where they asked for a private room. The whole way they went, his heart, secretly satisfied of the purity of Cecilia, smote him for the situation in which he had left her; yet, having unfortunately gone so far as to make his suspicions apparent, he thought it necessary to his character that their abolition should be equally public.
When they were alone, “Belfield,” he said, “to obviate any imputation of impertinence in my enquiries, I deny not, what I presume you have been told by herself, that I have the nearest interest in whatever concerns the lady from whom we are just now parted: I must beg, therefore, an explicit account of the purpose of your private conversation with her.”
“Mr Delvile,” answered Belfield, with mingled candour and spirit, “I am not commonly much disposed to answer enquiries thus cavalierly put to me; yet here, as I find myself not the principal person concerned, I think I am bound in justice to speak for the absent who is. I assure you, therefore, most solemnly, that your interest in Miss Beverley I never heard but by common report, that our being alone together was by both of us undesigned and undesired, that the honour she did our house in calling at it, was merely to acquaint my mother with my sister’s removal to Mrs Harrel’s, and that the part which I had myself in her condescension, was simply to be consulted upon a journey which she has in contemplation to the South of France. And now, sir, having given you this peaceable satisfaction, you will find me extremely at your service to offer any other.”
Delvile instantly held out his hand to him; “What you assert,” he said, “upon your honour, requires no other testimony. Your gallantry and your probity are equally well known to me; with either, therefore, I am content, and by no means require the intervention of both.”
They then parted; and now, his doubts removed, and his punctilio satisfied, he flew to St James’s-square, to entreat the forgiveness of Cecilia for the alarm he had occasioned her, and to hear the reason of her sudden journey, and change of measures. But when he came there, to find that his father, whom he had concluded was at Delvile Castle, was in the house, while Cecilia had not even enquired for him at the door, —“Oh let me not,” he continued, “even to myself, let me not trace the agony of that moment! — where to seek her I knew not, why she was in London I could not divine, for what purpose she had given the postilion a new direction I could form no idea. Yet it appeared that she wished to avoid me, and once more, in the frenzy of my disappointment, I supposed Belfield a party in her concealment. Again, therefore, I sought him — at his own house — at the coffee-house where I had left him — in vain, wherever I came, I just missed him, for, hearing of my search, he went with equal restlessness, from place to place to meet me. I rejoice we both failed; a repetition of my enquiries in my then irritable state, must inevitably have provoked the most fatal resentment.
“I will not dwell upon the scenes that followed — my laborious search, my fruitless wanderings, the distraction of my suspense, the excess of my despair! — even Belfield, the fiery Belfield, when I met with him the next day, was so much touched by my wretchedness, that he bore with all my injustice; feeling, noble young man! never will I lose the remembrance of his high-souled patience.
“And now, Dr Lyster, go to my Cecilia; tell her this tale, and try, for you have skill sufficient, to soften, yet not wound her with my sufferings. If then she can bear to see me, to bless me with the sound of her sweet voice, no longer at war with her intellects, to hold out to me her loved hand, in token of peace and forgiveness. — Oh, Dr Lyster! preserver of my life in hers! give to me but that exquisite moment, and every past evil will be for ever obliterated!”
“You must be calmer, Sir,” said the Doctor, “before I make the attempt. These heroicks are mighty well for sound health, and strong nerves, but they will not do for an invalide.”
He went, however, to Cecilia, and gave her this narration, suppressing whatever he feared would most affect her, and judiciously enlivening the whole by his strictures. Cecilia was much easier for this removal of her perplexities, and, as her anguish and her terror had been unmixed with resentment, she had now no desire but to reconcile Delvile with himself.
Dr Lyster, however, by his friendly authority, obliged her for some time to be content with this relation; but when she grew better, her impatience became stronger, and he feared opposition would be as hurtful as compliance.
Delvile, therefore, was now admitted; yet slowly and with trepidation he advanced, terrified for her, and fearful of himself, filled with remorse for the injuries she had sustained, and impressed with grief and horror to behold her so ill and altered.
Supported by pillows, she sat almost upright. The moment she saw him, she attempted to bend forward and welcome him, calling out in a tone of pleasure, though faintly, “Ah! dearest Delvile! is it you?” but too weak for the effort she had made, she sunk back upon her pillow, pale, trembling, and disordered.
Dr Lyster would then have interfered to postpone their further conversation; but Delvile was no longer master of himself or his passions: he darted forward, and kneeling at the bed side, “Sweet injured excellence!” he cried, “wife of my heart! sole object of my chosen affection! dost thou yet live? do I hear thy loved voice? — do I see thee again? — art thou my Cecilia? and have I indeed not lost thee?” then regarding her more fixedly, “Alas,” he cried, “art thou indeed my Cecilia! so pale, so emaciated! — Oh suffering angel! and couldst thou then call upon Delvile, the guilty, but heart-broken Delvile, thy destroyer, thy murderer, and yet not call to execrate him?”
Cecilia, extremely affected, could not utter a word; she held out to him her hand, she looked at him with gentleness and kindness, but tears started into her eyes, and trickled in large drops down her colourless cheeks.
“Angelic creature!” cried Delvile, his own tears overflowing, while he pressed to his lips the kind token of her pardon, “can you give to me again a hand so ill deserved? can you look with such compassion on the author of your woes? on the wretch, who for an instant could doubt the purity of a mind so seraphic!”
“Ah, Delvile!” cried she, a little reviving, “think no more of what is past! — to see you — to be yours — drives all evil from my remembrance!”
“I am not worthy this joy!” cried he, rising, kneeling, and rising again; “I know not how to sustain it! a forgiveness such as this — when I believed You must hate me for ever! when repulse and aversion were all I dared expect — when my own inhumanity had bereft thee of thy reason — when the grave, the pitiless grave, was already open to receive thee.”—
“Too kind, too feeling Delvile!” cried the penetrated Cecilia, “relieve your loaded heart from these bitter recollections; mine is lightened already — lightened, I think, of every thing but its affection for you!” “Oh words of transport and extacy!” cried the enraptured Delvile, “oh partner of my life! friend, solace, darling of my bosom! that so lately I thought expiring! that I folded to my bleeding heart in the agony of eternal separation!”—
“Come away, Sir, come away,” cried Dr Lyster, who now saw that Cecilia was greatly agitated, “I will not be answerable for the continuation of this scene;” and taking him by the arm, he awakened him from his frantic rapture, by assuring him she would faint, and forced him away from her.
Soon after he was gone, and Cecilia became more tranquil, Henrietta, who had wept with bitterness in a corner of the room during this scene, approached her, and, with an attempted smile, though in a voice hardly audible, said, “Ah, Miss Beverley, you will, at last, then be happy! happy as all your goodness deserves. And I am sure I should rejoice in it if I was to die to make you happier!”
Cecilia, who but too well knew her full meaning, tenderly embraced her, but was prevented by Dr Lyster from entering into any discourse with her.
The first meeting, however, with Delvile being over, the second was far more quiet, and in a very short time, he would scarcely quit her a moment, Cecilia herself receiving from his sight a pleasure too great for denial, yet too serene for danger.
The worthy Dr Lyster, finding her prospect of recovery thus fair, prepared for leaving London: but, equally desirous to do good out of his profession as in it, he first, at the request of Delvile, waited upon his father, to acquaint him with his present situation, solicit his directions for his future proceedings, and endeavour to negociate a general reconciliation.
Mr Delvile, to whose proud heart social joy could find no avenue, was yet touched most sensibly by the restoration of Cecilia. Neither his dignity nor his displeasure had been able to repress remorse, a feeling to which, with all his foibles, he had not been accustomed. The view of her distraction had dwelt upon his imagination, the despondency of his son had struck him with fear and horror. He had been haunted by self reproach, and pursued by vain regret; and those concessions he had refused to tenderness and entreaty, he now willingly accorded to change repentance for tranquility. He sent instantly for his son, whom even with tears he embraced, and felt his own peace restored as he pronounced his forgiveness.
New, however, to kindness, he retained it not long, and a stranger to generosity, he knew not how to make her welcome: the extinction of his remorse abated his compassion for Cecilia, and when solicited to receive her, he revived the charges of Mr Monckton.
Cecilia, informed of this, determined to write to that gentleman herself, whose long and painful illness, joined to his irrecoverable loss of her, she now hoped might prevail with him to make reparation for the injuries he had done her.
To Mr Monckton.
I write not, Sir, to upbraid you; the woes which have followed your ill offices, and which you may some time hear, will render my reproaches superfluous. I write but to beseech that what is past may content you; and that, however, while I was single, you chose to misrepresent me to the Delvile family, you will have so much honour, since I am now become one of it, as to acknowledge my innocence of the crimes laid to my charge.
In remembrance of my former long friendship, I send you my good wishes; and in consideration of my hopes from your recantation, I send you, Sir, if you think it worth acceptance, my forgiveness.
Mr Monckton, after many long and painful struggles between useless rage, and involuntary remorse, at length sent the following answer.
To Mrs Mortimer Delvile.
Those who could ever believe you guilty, must have been eager to think you so. I meant but your welfare at all times, and to have saved you from a connection I never thought equal to your merit. I am grieved, but not surprised, to hear of your injuries; from the alliance you have formed, nothing else could be expected: if my testimony to your innocence can, however, serve to mitigate them, I scruple not to declare I believe it without taint.
Delvile sent by Dr Lyster this letter to his father, whose rage at the detection of the perfidy which had deceived him, was yet inferior to what he felt that his family was mentioned so injuriously.
His conference with Dr Lyster was long and painful, but decisive: that sagacious and friendly man knew well how to work upon, his passions, and so effectually awakened them by representing the disgrace of his own family from the present situation of Cecilia, that before he quitted his house he was authorised to invite her to remove to it.
When he returned from his embassy, he found Delvile in her room, and each waiting with impatience the event of his negociation.
The Doctor with much alacrity gave Cecilia the invitation with which he had been charged; but Delvile, jealous for her dignity, was angry and dissatisfied his father brought it not himself, and exclaimed with much mortification, “Is this all the grace accorded me?”
“Patience, patience, Sir,” answered the Doctor; “when you have thwarted any body in their first hope and ambition, do you expect they will send you their compliments and many thanks for the disappointment? Pray let the good gentleman have his way in some little matters, since you have taken such effectual care to put out of his reach the power of having it in greater.”
“O far from starting obstacles,” cried Cecilia, “let us solicit a reconciliation with whatever concessions he may require. The misery of DISOBEDIENCE we have but too fatally experienced; and thinking as we think of filial ties and parental claims, how can we ever hope happiness till forgiven and taken into favour?”
“True, my Cecilia,” answered Delvile, “and generous and condescending as true; and if you can thus sweetly comply, I will gratefully forbear making any opposition. Too much already have you suffered from the impetuosity of my temper, but I will try to curb it in future by the remembrance of your injuries.”
“The whole of this unfortunate business,” said Dr Lyster, “has been the result of PRIDE and PREJUDICE. Your uncle, the Dean, began it, by his arbitrary will, as if an ordinance of his own could arrest the course of nature! and as if he had power to keep alive, by the loan of a name, a family in the male branch already extinct. Your father, Mr Mortimer, continued it with the same self-partiality, preferring the wretched gratification of tickling his ear with a favourite sound, to the solid happiness of his son with a rich and deserving wife. Yet this, however, remember; if to PRIDE and PREJUDICE you owe your miseries, so wonderfully is good and evil balanced, that to PRIDE and PREJUDICE you will also owe their termination: for all that I could say to Mr Delvile, either of reasoning or entreaty — and I said all I could suggest, and I suggested all a man need wish to hear — was totally thrown away, till I pointed out to him his own disgrace, in having a daughter-inlaw immured in these mean lodgings!
“Thus, my dear young lady, the terror which drove you to this house, and the sufferings which have confined you in it, will prove, in the event, the source of your future peace: for when all my best rhetorick failed to melt Mr Delvile, I instantly brought him to terms by coupling his name with a pawnbroker’s! And he could not with more disgust hear his son called Mr Beverley, than think of his son’s wife when he hears of the Three Blue Balls! Thus the same passions, taking but different directions, do mischief and cure it alternately.
“Such, my good young friends, is the MORAL of your calamities. You have all, in my opinion, been strangely at cross purposes, and trifled, no one knows why, with the first blessings of life. My only hope is that now, having among you thrown away its luxuries, you will have known enough of misery to be glad to keep its necessaries.”
This excellent man was yet prevailed upon by Delvile to stay and assist in removing the feeble Cecilia to St James’s-square.
Henrietta, for whom Mr Arnott’s equipage and servants had still remained in town, was then, though with much difficulty, persuaded to go back to Suffolk: but Cecilia, however fond of her society, was too sensible of the danger and impropriety of her present situation, to receive from it any pleasure.
Mr Delvile’s reception of Cecilia was formal and cold: yet, as she now appeared publicly in the character of his son’s wife, the best apartment in his house had been prepared for her use, his domestics were instructed to wait upon her with the utmost respect, and Lady Honoria Pemberton, who was accidentally in town, offered from curiosity, what Mr Delvile accepted from parade, to be herself in St James’s-square, in order to do honour to his daughter-inlaw’s first entrance.
When Cecilia was a little recovered from the shock of the first interview, and the fatigue of her removal, the anxious Mortimer would instantly have had her conveyed to her own apartment; but, willing to exert herself, and hoping to oblige Mr Delvile, she declared she was well able to remain some time longer in the drawing-room.
“My good friends,” said Dr Lyster, “in the course of my long practice, I have found it impossible to study the human frame, without a little studying the human mind; and from all that I have yet been able to make out, either by observation, reflection, or comparison, it appears to me at this moment, that Mr Mortimer Delvile has got the best wife, and that you, Sir, have here the most faultless daughter-inlaw, that any husband or any father in the three kingdoms belonging to his Majesty can either have or desire.”
Cecilia smiled; Mortimer looked his delighted concurrence; Mr Delvile forced himself to make a stiff inclination of the head; and Lady Honoria gaily exclaimed, “Dr Lyster, when you say the best and the most faultless, you should always add the rest of the company excepted.”
“Upon my word,” cried the Doctor, “I beg your ladyship’s pardon; but there is a certain unguarded warmth comes across a man now and then, that drives etiquette out of his head, and makes him speak truth before he well knows where he is.”
“O terrible!” cried she, “this is sinking deeper and deeper. I had hoped the town air would have taught you better things; but I find you have visited at Delvile Castle till you are fit for no other place.”
“Whoever, Lady Honoria,” said Mr Delvile, much offended, “is fit for Delvile Castle, must be fit for every other place; though every other place may by no means be fit for him.”
“O yes, Sir,” cried she, giddily, “every possible place will be fit for him, if he can once bear with that. Don’t you think so, Dr Lyster?”
“Why, when a man has the honour to see your ladyship,” answered he, good-humouredly, “he is apt to think too much of the person, to care about the place.”
“Come, I begin to have some hopes of you,” cried she, “for I see, for a Doctor, you have really a very pretty notion of a compliment: only you have one great fault still; you look the whole time as if you said it for a joke.”
“Why, in fact, madam, when a man has been a plain dealer both in word and look for upwards of fifty years, ’tis expecting too quick a reformation to demand ductility of voice and eye from him at a blow. However, give me but a little time and a little encouragement, and, with such a tutress, ’twill be hard if I do not, in a very few lessons, learn the right method of seasoning a simper, and the newest fashion of twisting words from meaning.”
“But pray,” cried she, “upon those occasions, always remember to look serious. Nothing sets off a compliment so much as a long face. If you are tempted to an unseasonable laugh, think of Delvile Castle; ’tis an expedient I commonly make use of myself when I am afraid of being too frisky: and it always succeeds, for the very recollection of it gives me the head-ache in a moment. Upon my word, Mr Delvile, you must have the constitution of five men, to have kept such good health, after living so long at that horrible place. You can’t imagine how you’ve surprised me, for I have regularly expected to hear of your death at the end of every summer: and, I assure you, once, I was very near buying mourning.”
“The estate which descends to a man from his own ancestors, Lady Honoria,” answered Mr Delvile, “will seldom be apt to injure his health, if he is conscious of committing no misdemeanour which has degraded their memory.”
“How vastly odious this new father of yours is!” said Lady Honoria, in a whisper to Cecilia; “what could ever induce you to give up your charming estate for the sake of coming into this fusty old family! I would really advise you to have your marriage annulled. You have only, you know, to take an oath that you were forcibly run away with; and as you are an Heiress, and the Delviles are all so violent, it will easily be credited. And then, as soon as you are at liberty, I would advise you to marry my little Lord Derford.”
“Would you only, then,” said Cecilia, “have me regain my freedom in order to part with it?”
“Certainly,” answered Lady Honoria, “for you can do nothing at all without being married; a single woman is a thousand times more shackled than a wife; for she is accountable to every body; and a wife, you know, has nothing to do but just to manage her husband.”
“And that,” said Cecilia, smiling, “you consider as a trifle?”
“Yes, if you do but marry a man you don’t care for.”
“You are right, then, indeed, to recommend to me my Lord Derford!”
“O yes, he will make the prettiest husband in the world; you may fly about yourself as wild as a lark, and keep him the whole time as tame as a jack-daw: and though he may complain of you to your friends, he will never have the courage to find fault to your face. But as to Mortimer, you will not be able to govern him as long as you live; for the moment you have put him upon the fret, you’ll fall into the dumps yourself, hold out your hand to him, and, losing the opportunity of gaining some material point, make up at the first soft word.”
“You think, then, the quarrel more amusing than the reconciliation?”
“O, a thousand times! for while you are quarrelling, you may say any thing, and demand any thing, but when you are reconciled, you ought to behave pretty, and seem contented.”
“Those who presume to have any pretensions to your ladyship,” said Cecilia, “would be made happy indeed should they hear your principles!”
“O, it would not signify at all,” answered she, “for one’s fathers, and uncles, and those sort of people, always make connexions for one, and not a creature thinks of our principles, till they find them out by our conduct: and nobody can possibly do that till we are married, for they give us no power beforehand. The men know nothing of us in the world while we are single, but how we can dance a minuet, or play a lesson upon the harpsichord.”
“And what else,” said Mr Delvile, who advanced, and heard this last speech, “need a young lady of rank desire to be known for? your ladyship surely would not have her degrade herself by studying like an artist or professor?”
“O no, Sir, I would not have her study at all; it’s mighty well for children, but really after sixteen, and when one is come out, one has quite fatigue enough in dressing, and going to public places, and ordering new things, without all that torment of first and second position, and E upon the first line, and F upon the first, space!”
“Your ladyship must, however, pardon me for hinting,” said Mr Delvile, “that a young lady of condition, who has a proper sense of her dignity, cannot be seen too rarely, or known too little.”
“O but I hate dignity!” cried she carelessly, “for it’s the dullest thing in the world. I always thought it was owing to that you were so little amusing; — really I beg your pardon, Sir, I meant to say so little talkative.”
“I can easily credit that your ladyship spoke hastily,” answered he, highly piqued, “for I believe, indeed, a person of a family such as mine, will hardly be supposed to have come into the world for the office of amusing it!”
“O no, Sir,” cried she, with pretended innocence, “nobody, I am sure, ever saw you with such a thought.” Then, turning to Cecilia, she added in a whisper, “You cannot imagine, my dear Mrs Mortimer, how I detest this old cousin of mine! Now pray tell me honestly if you don’t hate him yourself?”
“I hope,” said Cecilia, “to have no reason.”
“Lord, how you are always upon your guard! If I were half as cautious, I should die of the vapours in a month; the only thing that keeps me at all alive, is now and then making people angry; for the folks at our house let me go out so seldom, and then send me with such stupid old chaperons, that giving them a little torment is really the only entertainment I can procure myself. O— but I had almost forgot to tell you a most delightful thing!”
“What is it?”
“Why you must know I have the greatest hopes in the world that my father will quarrel with old Mr Delvile!”
“And is that such a delightful thing!”
“O yes; I have lived upon the very idea this fortnight; for then, you know, they’ll both be in a passion, and I shall see which of them looks frightfullest.”
“When Lady Honoria whispers,” cried Mortimer, “I always suspect some mischief.”
“No indeed,” answered her ladyship, “I was merely congratulating Mrs Mortimer about her marriage. Though really, upon second thoughts, I don’t know whether I should not rather condole with her, for I have long been convinced she has a prodigious antipathy to you. I saw it the whole time I was at Delvile Castle, where she used to change colour at the very sound of your name; a symptom I never perceived when I talked to her of my Lord Derford, who would certainly have made her a thousand times a better husband.”
“If you mean on account of his title, Lady Honoria,” said Mr Delvile; “your ladyship must be strangely forgetful of the connections of your family, not to remember that Mortimer, after the death of his uncle and myself, must inevitably inherit one far more honourable than a new-sprung-up family, like my Lord Ernolf’s, could offer.”
“Yes, Sir; but then, you know, she would have kept her estate, which would have been a vastly better thing than an old pedigree of new relations. Besides, I don’t find that any body cares for the noble blood of the Delviles but themselves; and if she had kept her fortune, every body, I fancy, would have cared for that.”
“Every body, then,” said Mr Delvile, “must be highly mercenary and ignoble, or the blood of an ancient and honourable house, would be thought contaminated by the most distant hint of so degrading a comparison.”
“Dear Sir, what should we all do with birth if it was not for wealth? it would neither take us to Ranelagh nor the Opera; nor buy us caps nor wigs, nor supply us with dinners nor bouquets.”
“Caps and wigs, dinners and bouquets!” interrupted Mr Delvile; “your ladyship’s estimate of wealth is really extremely minute.”
“Why, you know, Sir, as to caps and wigs, they are very serious things, for we should look mighty droll figures to go about bare-headed; and as to dinners, how would the Delviles have lasted all these thousand centuries if they had disdained eating them?”
“Whatever may be your ladyship’s satisfaction,” said Mr Delvile, angrily, “in depreciating a house that has the honour of being nearly allied with your own, you will not, I hope at least, instruct this lady,” turning to Cecilia, “to adopt a similar contempt of its antiquity and dignity.”
“This lady,” cried Mortimer, “will at least, by condescending to become one of it, secure us from any danger that such contempt may spread further.”
“Let me but,” said Cecilia, looking gratefully at him, “be as secure from exciting as I am from feeling contempt, and what can I have to wish?”
“Good and excellent young lady!” said Dr Lyster, “the first of blessings indeed is yours in the temperance of your own mind. When you began your career in life, you appeared to us short-sighted mortals, to possess more than your share of the good things of this world; such a union of riches, beauty, independence, talents, education and virtue, seemed a monopoly to raise general envy and discontent; but mark with what scrupulous exactness the good and bad is ever balanced! You have had a thousand sorrows to which those who have looked up to you have been strangers, and for which not all the advantages you possess have been equivalent. There is evidently throughout this world, in things as well as persons, a levelling principle, at war with pre-eminence, and destructive of perfection.”
“Ah!” cried Mortimer, in a low voice to Cecilia, “how much higher must we all rise, or how much lower must you fall, ere any levelling principle will approximate us with YOU!”
He then entreated her to spare her strength and spirits by returning to her own apartment, and the conversation was broken up.
“Pray permit me, Mrs Mortimer,” cried Lady Honoria, in taking leave, “to beg that the first guest you invite to Delvile Castle may be me. You know my partiality to it already. I shall be particularly happy in waiting upon you in tempestuous weather! We can all stroll out together, you know, very sociably; and I sha’n’t be much in your way, for if there should happen to be a storm, you can easily lodge me under some great tree, and while you amuse yourselves with a tete-a-tete, give me the indulgence of my own reflections. I am vastly fond of thinking, and being alone, you know — especially in thunder and lightning!”
She then ran away; and they all separated: Cecilia was conveyed up stairs, and the worthy Dr Lyster, loaded with acknowledgments of every kind, set out for the country.
Cecilia, still weak, and much emaciated, for some time lived almost wholly in her own room, where the grateful and solicitous attendance of Mortimer, alleviated the pain both of her illness and confinement: but as soon as her health permitted travelling, he hastened with her abroad.
Here tranquility once more made its abode the heart of Cecilia; that heart so long torn with anguish, suspense and horrour! Mrs Delvile received her with the most rapturous fondness, and the impression of her sorrows gradually wore away, from her kind and maternal cares, and from the watchful affection and delighted tenderness of her son.
The Egglestons now took entire possession of her estate, and Delvile, at her entreaty, forbore shewing any personal resentment of their conduct, and put into the hands of a lawyer the arrangement of the affair.
They continued abroad some months, and the health of Mrs Delvile was tolerably re-established. They were then summoned home by the death of Lord Delvile, who bequeathed to his nephew Mortimer his town house, and whatever of his estate was not annexed to his title, which necessarily devolved to his brother.
The sister of Mrs Delvile, a woman of high spirit and strong passions, lived not long after him; but having, in her latter days, intimately connected herself with Cecilia, she was so much charmed with her character, and so much dazzled by her admiration of the extraordinary sacrifice she had made, that, in a fit of sudden enthusiasm, she altered her will, to leave to her, and to her sole disposal, the fortune which, almost from his infancy, she had destined for her nephew. Cecilia, astonished and penetrated, opposed the alteration; but even her sister, now Lady Delvile, to whom she daily became dearer, earnestly supported it; while Mortimer, delighted to restore to her through his own family, any part of that power and independence of which her generous and pure regard for himself had deprived her, was absolute in refusing that the deed should be revoked.
Cecilia, from this flattering transaction, received a further conviction of the malignant falsehood of Mr Monckton, who had always represented to her the whole of the Delvile family as equally poor in their circumstances, and illiberal in their minds. The strong spirit of active benevolence which had ever marked her character, was now again displayed, though no longer, as hitherto, unbounded. She had learnt the error of profusion, even in charity and beneficence; and she had a motive for oeconomy, in her animated affection for Mortimer.
She soon sent for Albany, whose surprise that she still existed, and whose rapture at her recovered prosperity, now threatened his senses from the tumult of his joy, with nearly the same danger they had lately been menaced by terror. But though her donations were circumscribed by prudence, and their objects were selected with discrimination, she gave to herself all her former benevolent pleasure, in solacing his afflictions, while she softened his asperity, by restoring to him his favourite office of being her almoner and monitor.
She next sent to her own pensioners, relieved those distresses which her sudden absence had occasioned, and renewed and continued the salaries she had allowed them. All who had nourished reasonable expectations from her bounty she remembered, though she raised no new claimants but with oeconomy and circumspection. But neither Albany nor the old pensioners felt the satisfaction of Mortimer, who saw with new wonder the virtues of her mind, and whose admiration of her excellencies, made his gratitude perpetual for the happiness of his lot.
The tender-hearted Henrietta, in returning to her new friends, gave way, with artless openness, to the violence of untamed grief; but finding Mr Arnott as wretched as herself, the sympathy Cecilia had foreseen soon endeared them to each other, while the little interest taken in either by Mrs Harrel, made them almost inseparable companions.
Mrs Harrel, wearied by their melancholy, and sick of retirement, took the earliest opportunity that was offered her of changing her situation; she married very soon a man of fortune in the neighbourhood, and, quickly forgetting all the past, thoughtlessly began the world again, with new hopes, new connections — new equipages and new engagements!
Henrietta was then obliged to go again to her mother, where, though deprived of all the indulgencies to which she was now become familiar, she was not more hurt by the separation than Mr Arnott. So sad and so solitary his house seemed in her absence, that he soon followed her to town, and returned not till he carried her back its mistress. And there the gentle gratitude of her soft and feeling heart, engaged from the worthy Mr Arnott the tenderest affection, and, in time, healed the wound of his early and hopeless passion.
The injudicious, the volatile, yet noble-minded Belfield, to whose mutable and enterprising disposition life seemed always rather beginning than progressive, roved from employment to employment, and from public life to retirement, soured with the world, and discontented with himself, till vanquished, at length, by the constant friendship of Delvile, he consented to accept his good offices in again entering the army; and, being fortunately ordered out upon foreign service, his hopes were revived by ambition, and his prospects were brightened by a view of future honour.
The wretched Monckton, dupe of his own cunning and artifices, still lived in lingering misery, doubtful which was most acute, the pain of his wound and confinement, or of his defeat and disappointment. Led on by a vain belief that he had parts to conquer all difficulties, he had indulged without restraint a passion in which interest was seconded by inclination. Allured by such fascinating powers, he shortly suffered nothing to stop his course; and though when he began his career he would have started at the mention of actual dishonour, long before it was concluded, neither treachery nor perjury were regarded by him as stumbling blocks.
All fear of failing was lost in vanity, all sense of probity was sunk in interest, all scruples of conscience were left behind by the heat of the chace. Yet the unforeseen and melancholy catastrophe of his long arts, illustrated in his despite what his principles had obscured, that even in worldly pursuits where fraud out-runs integrity, failure joins dishonour to loss, and disappointment excites triumph instead of pity.
The upright mind of Cecilia, her purity, her virtue, and the moderation of her wishes, gave to her in the warm affection of Lady Delvile, and the unremitting fondness of Mortimer, all the happiness human life seems capable of receiving:— yet human it was, and as such imperfect! she knew that, at times, the whole family must murmur at her loss of fortune, and at times she murmured herself to be thus portionless, tho’ an HEIRESS. Rationally, however, she surveyed the world at large, and finding that of the few who had any happiness, there were none without some misery, she checked the rising sigh of repining mortality, and, grateful with general felicity, bore partial evil with chearfullest resignation.
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