The following morning, therefore, Cecilia went early to St James’s-square: and, after the usual ceremonies of messages and long waiting, she was shewn into an apartment where she found Mr Delvile and his son.
She rejoiced to see them together, and determined to make known to them both the purport of her visit: and therefore, after some apologies and a little hesitation, she told Mr Delvile, that encouraged by his offers of serving her, she had taken the liberty to call upon him with a view to entreat his assistance.
Young Delvile, immediately arising, would have quitted the room; but Cecilia, assuring him she rather desired what she had to say should be known than kept secret, begged that he would not disturb himself.
Delvile, pleased with this permission to hear her, and curious to know what would follow, very readily returned to his seat.
“I should by no means,” she continued, “have thought of proclaiming even to the most intimate of my friends, the partiality which Sir Robert Floyer has been pleased to shew me, had he left to me the choice of publishing or concealing it: but, on the contrary, his own behaviour seems intended not merely to display it, but to insinuate that it meets with my approbation. Mr Harrel, also, urged by too much warmth of friendship, has encouraged this belief; nor, indeed, do I know at present where the mistake stops, nor what it is report has not scrupled to affirm. But I think I ought no longer to neglect it, and therefore I have presumed to solicit your advice in what manner I may most effectually contradict it.”
The extreme surprise of young Delvile at this speech was not more evident than pleasant to Cecilia, to whom it accounted for all that had perplext her in his conduct, while it animated every expectation she wished to encourage.”
“The behaviour of Mr Harrel,” answered Mr Delvile, “has by no means been such as to lead me to forget that his father was the son of a steward of Mr Grant, who lived in the neighbourhood of my friend and relation the Duke of Derwent: nor can I sufficiently congratulate myself that I have always declined acting with him. The late Dean, indeed, never committed so strange an impropriety as that of nominating Mr Harrel and Mr Briggs coadjutors with Mr Delvile. The impropriety, however, though extremely offensive to me, has never obliterated from my mind the esteem I bore the Dean: nor can I possibly give a greater proof of it than the readiness I have always shewn to offer my counsel and instruction to his niece. Mr Harrel, therefore, ought certainly to have desired Sir Robert Floyer to acquaint me with his proposals before he gave to him any answer.”
“Undoubtedly, Sir,” said Cecilia, willing to shorten this parading harangue, “but as he neglected that intention, will you think me too impertinent should I entreat the favour of you to speak with Sir Robert yourself, and explain to him the total inefficacy of his pursuit, since my determination against him is unalterable?”
Here the conference was interrupted by the entrance of a servant who said something to Mr Delvile, which occasioned his apologizing to Cecilia for leaving her for a few moments, and ostentatiously assuring her that no business, however important, should prevent his thinking of her affairs, or detain him from returning to her as soon as possible.
The astonishment of young Delvile at the strength of her last expression kept him silent some time after his father left the room; and then, with a countenance that still marked his amazement, he said “Is it possible, Miss Beverley, that I should twice have been thus egregiously deceived? or rather, that the whole town, and even the most intimate of your friends, should so unaccountably have persisted in a mistake.”
“For the town,” answered Cecilia, “I know not how it can have had any concern in so small a matter; but for my intimate friends, I have too few to make it probable they should ever have been so strangely misinformed.”
“Pardon me,” cried he, “it was from one who ought to know, that I had myself the intelligence.”
“I entreat you, then,” said Cecilia, “to acquaint me who it was?”
“Mr Harrel himself; who communicated it to a lady in my hearing, and at a public place.”
Cecilia cast up her eyes in wonder and indignation at a proof so incontrovertible of his falsehood, but made not any answer.
“Even yet,” continued he, “I can scarcely feel undeceived; your engagement seemed so positive, your connection so irretrievable — so — so fixed, I mean. —”
He hesitated, a little embarrassed; but then suddenly exclaimed, “Yet whence, if to neither favourable, if indifferent alike to Sir Robert and to Belfield, whence that animated apprehension for their safety at the Opera-house? whence that never to be forgotten oh stop him! good God! will nobody stop him! — Words of anxiety so tender! and sounds that still vibrate in my ear!”
Cecilia, struck with amazement in her turn at the strength of his own expressions, blushed, and for a few minutes hesitated how to answer him: but then, to leave nothing that related to so disagreeable a report in any doubt, she resolved to tell him ingenuously the circumstances that had occasioned her alarm: and therefore, though with some pain to her modesty, she confessed her fears that she had herself provoked the affront, though her only view had been to discountenance Sir Robert, without meaning to shew any distinction to Mr Belfield.
Delvile, who seemed charmed with the candour of this explanation, said, when she had finished it, “You are then at liberty? —— Ah madam! — how many may rue so dangerous a discovery!”
“Could you think,” said Cecilia, endeavouring to speak with her usual ease, “that Sir Robert Floyer would be found so irresistible?”
“Oh no!” cried he, “far otherwise; a thousand times I have wondered at his happiness; a thousand times, when I have looked at you, and listened to you, I have thought it impossible! — yet my authority seemed indisputable. And how was I to discredit what was not uttered as a conjecture, but asserted as a fact? asserted, too, by the guardian with whom you lived? and not hinted as a secret, but affirmed as a point settled?”
“Yet surely,” said Cecilia, “you have heard me make use of expressions that could not but lead you to suppose there was some mistake, whatever might be the authority which had won your belief.”
“No,” answered he, “I never supposed any mistake, though sometimes I thought you repented your engagement. I concluded, indeed, you had been unwarily drawn in, and I have even, at times, been tempted to acknowledge my suspicions to you, state your independence, and exhort you — as a friend, exhort you — to use it with spirit, and, if you were shackled unwillingly, incautiously, or unworthily, to break the chains by which you were confined, and restore to yourself that freedom of choice upon the use of which all your happiness must ultimately depend. But I doubted if this were honourable to the Baronet — and what, indeed, was my right to such a liberty? none that every man might not be proud of, a wish to do honour to myself, under the officious pretence of serving the most amiable of women.”
“Mr Harrel,” said Cecilia, “has been so strangely bigoted to his friend, that in his eagerness to manifest his regard for him, he seems to have forgotten every other consideration; he would not, else, have spread so widely a report that could so ill stand enquiry.”
“If Sir Robert,” returned he, “is himself deceived while he deceives others, who can forbear to pity him? for my own part, instead of repining that hitherto I have been mistaken, ought I not rather to bless an error that may have been my preservative from danger?”
Cecilia, distressed in what manner to support her part in the conversation, began now to wish the return of Mr Delvile; and, not knowing what else to say, she expressed her surprise at his long absence.
“It is not, indeed, well timed,” said young Delvile, “just now — at the moment when —” he stopt, and presently exclaiming “Oh dangerous interval!” he arose from his seat in manifest disorder.
Cecilia arose too, and hastily ringing the bell, said, “Mr Delvile I am sure is detained, and therefore I will order my chair, and call another time.”
“Do I frighten you away?” said he, assuming an appearance more placid.
“No,” answered she, “but I would not hasten Mr Delvile.”
A servant then came, and said the chair was ready.
She would immediately have followed him, but young Delvile again speaking, she stopt a moment to hear him. “I fear,” said he, with much hesitation, “I have strangely exposed myself — and that you cannot — but the extreme astonishment —” he stopt again in the utmost confusion, and then adding, “you will permit me to attend you to the chair,” he handed her down stairs, and in quitting her, bowed without saying a word more.
Cecilia, who was almost wholly indifferent to every part of the explanation but that which had actually passed, was now in a state of felicity more delightful than any she had ever experienced. She had not a doubt remaining of her influence over the mind of young Delvile, and the surprise which had made him rather betray than express his regard, was infinitely more flattering and satisfactory to her than any formal or direct declaration. She had now convinced him she was disengaged, and in return, though without seeming to intend it, he had convinced her of the deep interest which he took in the discovery. His perturbation, the words which escaped him, and his evident struggle to say no more, were proofs just such as she wished to receive of his partial admiration, since while they satisfied her heart, they also soothed her pride, by shewing a diffidence of success which assured her that her own secret was still sacred, and that no weakness or inadvertency on her part had robbed her of the power of mingling dignity with the frankness with which she meant to receive his addresses. All, therefore, that now employed her care, was to keep off any indissoluble engagement till each should be better known to the other.
For this reserve, however, she had less immediate occasion than she expected; she saw no more of young Delvile that day; neither did he appear the next. The third she fully expected him — but still he came not. And while she wondered at an absence so uncommon, she received a note from Lord Ernolf, to beg permission to wait upon her for two minutes, at any time she would appoint.
She readily sent word that she should be at home for the rest of the day, as she wished much for an opportunity of immediately finishing every affair but one, and setting her mind at liberty to think only of that which she desired should prosper.
Lord Ernolf was with her in half an hour. She found him sensible and well bred, extremely desirous to promote her alliance with his son, and apparently as much pleased with herself as with her fortune. He acquainted her that he had addressed himself to Mr Harrel long since, but had been informed that she was actually engaged to Sir Robert Floyer: he should, therefore, have forborn taking up any part of her time, had he not, on the preceding day, while on a visit at Mr Delvile’s, been assured that Mr Harrel was mistaken, and that she had not yet declared for any body. He hoped, therefore, that she would allow his son the honour of waiting upon her, and permit him to talk with Mr Briggs, who he understood was her acting guardian, upon such matters as ought to be speedily adjusted.
Cecilia thanked him for the honour he intended her, and confirmed the truth of the account he had heard in St James’-square, but at the same time told him she must decline receiving any visits from his lordship’s son, and entreated him to take no measure towards the promotion of an affair which never could succeed.
He seemed much concerned at her answer, and endeavoured for some time to soften her, but found her so steady, though civil in her refusal, that he was obliged, however unwillingly, to give up his attempt.
Cecilia, when he was gone, reflected with much vexation on the readiness of the Delviles to encourage his visit; she considered, however, that the intelligence he had heard might possibly be gathered in general conversation; but she blamed herself that she had not led to some enquiry what part of the family he had seen, and who was present when the information was given him.
Mean while she found that neither coldness, distance, nor aversion were sufficient to repress Sir Robert Floyer, who continued to persecute her with as much confidence of success as could have arisen from the utmost encouragement. She again, though with much difficulty, contrived to speak with Mr Harrel upon the subject, and openly accused him of spreading a report abroad, as well as countenancing an expectation at home, that had neither truth nor justice to support them.
Mr Harrel, with his usual levity and carelessness, laughed at the charge, but denied any belief in her displeasure, and affected to think she was merely playing the coquet, while Sir Robert was not the less her decided choice.
Provoked and wearied, Cecilia resolved no longer to depend upon any body but herself for the management of her own affairs, and therefore, to conclude the business without any possibility of further cavilling, she wrote the following note to Sir Robert herself.
To Sir Robert Floyer, Bart.
Miss BEVERLEY presents her compliments to Sir Robert Floyer, and as she has some reason to fear Mr Harrel did not explicitly acquaint him with her answer to the commission with which he was entrusted, she thinks it necessary, in order to obviate any possible misunderstanding, to take this method of returning him thanks for the honour of his good opinion, but of begging at the same time that he would not lose a moment upon her account, as her thanks are all she can now, or ever, offer in return.
Portman-square, May 11th, 1779.
To this note Cecilia received no answer: but she had the pleasure to observe that Sir Robert forbore his usual visit on the day she sent it, and, though he appeared again the day following, he never spoke to her and seemed sullen and out of humour.
Yet still young Delvile came not, and still, as her surprise encreased, her tranquillity was diminished. She could form no excuse for his delay, nor conjecture any reason for his absence. Every motive seemed to favour his seeking, and not one his shunning her: the explanation which had so lately passed had informed him he had no rival to fear, and the manner in which he had heard it assured her the information was not indifferent to him; why, then, so assiduous in his visits when he thought her engaged, and so slack in all attendance when he knew she was at liberty?
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