The day at length arrived of which the evening and the entrance of company were, for the first time, as eagerly wished by Cecilia as by her dissipated host and hostess. No expence and no pains had been spared to render this long projected entertainment splendid and elegant; it was to begin with a concert, which was to be followed by a ball, and succeeded by a supper.
Cecilia, though unusually anxious about her own affairs, was not so engrossed by them as to behold with indifference a scene of such unjustifiable extravagance; it contributed to render her thoughtful and uneasy, and to deprive her of all mental power of participating in the gaiety of the assembly. Mr Arnott was yet more deeply affected by the mad folly of the scheme, and received from the whole evening no other satisfaction than that which a look of sympathetic concern from Cecilia occasionally afforded him.
Till nine o’clock no company appeared, except Sir Robert Floyer, who stayed from dinner time, and Mr Morrice, who having received an invitation for the evening, was so much delighted with the permission to again enter the house, that he made use of it between six and seven o’clock, and before the family had left the dining parlour. He apologized with the utmost humility to Cecilia for the unfortunate accident at the Pantheon; but as to her it had been productive of nothing but pleasure, by exciting in young Delvile the most flattering alarm for her safety, she found no great difficulty in according him her pardon.
Among those who came in the first crowd was Mr Monckton, who, had he been equally unconscious of sinister views, would in following his own inclination, have been as early in his attendance as Mr Morrice; but who, to obviate all suspicious remarks, conformed to the fashionable tardiness of the times.
Cecilia’s chief apprehension for the evening was that Sir Robert Floyer would ask her to dance with him, which she could not refuse without sitting still during the ball, nor accept, after the reports she knew to be spread, without seeming to give a public sanction to them. To Mr Monckton therefore, innocently considering him as a married man and her old friend, she frankly told her distress, adding, by way of excuse for the hint, that the partners were to be changed every two dances.
Mr Monckton, though his principal study was carefully to avoid all public gallantry or assiduity towards Cecilia, had not the forbearance to resist this intimation, and therefore she had the pleasure of telling Sir Robert, when he asked the honour of her hand for the two first dances, that she was already engaged.
She then expected that he would immediately secure her for the two following; but, to her great joy, he was so much piqued by the evident pleasure with which she announced her engagement, that he proudly walked away without adding another word.
Much satisfied with this arrangement, and not without hopes that, if she was at liberty when he arrived, she might be applied to by young Delvile, she now endeavoured to procure herself a place in the music room.
This, with some difficulty, she effected; but though there was an excellent concert, in which several capital performers played and sung, she found it impossible to hear a note, as she chanced to be seated just by Miss Leeson, and two other young ladies, who were paying one another compliments upon their dress and their looks, settling to dance in the same cotillon, guessing who would begin the minuets, and wondering there were not more gentlemen. Yet, in the midst of this unmeaning conversation, of which she remarked that Miss Leeson bore the principal part, not one of them failed, from time to time, to exclaim with great rapture “What sweet music! —” “Oh. how charming!” “Did you ever hear any thing so delightful? —“
“Ah,” said Cecilia to Mr Gosport, who now approached her, “but for your explanatory observations, how much would the sudden loquacity of this supercilious lady, whom I had imagined all but dumb, have perplext me!”
“Those who are most silent to strangers,” answered Mr Gosport, “commonly talk most fluently to their intimates, for they are deeply in arrears, and eager to pay off their debts. Miss Leeson now is in her proper set, and therefore appears in her natural character: and the poor girl’s joy in being able to utter all the nothings she has painfully hoarded while separated from her coterie, gives to her now the wild transport of a bird just let loose from a cage. I rejoice to see the little creature at liberty, for what can be so melancholy as a forced appearance of thinking, where there are no materials for such an occupation?”
Soon after, Miss Larolles, who was laughing immoderately, contrived to crowd herself into their party, calling out to them, “O you have had the greatest loss in the world! if you had but been in the next room just now! — there’s the drollest figure there you can conceive: enough to frighten one to look at him.” And presently she added “O Lord, if you stoop a little this way, you may see him!”
Then followed a general tittering, accompanied with exclamations of “Lord, what a fright!” “It’s enough to kill one with laughing to look at him!” “Did you ever see such a horrid creature in your life?” And soon after, one of them screamed out “O Lord, see! — he’s grinning at Miss Beverley!”
Cecilia then turned her head towards the door, and there, to her own as well as her neighbours’ amazement, she perceived Mr Briggs! who, in order to look about him at his ease, was standing upon a chair, from which, having singled her out, he was regarding her with a facetious smirk, which, when it caught her eye, was converted into a familiar nod.
She returned his salutation, but was not much charmed to observe, that presently descending from his exalted post, which had moved the wonder and risibility of all the company, he made a motion to approach her; for which purpose, regardless of either ladies or gentlemen in his way, he sturdily pushed forward, with the same unconcerned hardiness he would have forced himself through a crowd in the street; and taking not the smallest notice of their frowns, supplications that he would stand still, and exclamations of “Pray, Sir!”—“Lord, how troublesome!” and “Sir, I do assure you here’s no room!” he fairly and adroitly elbowed them from him till he reached her seat: and then, with a waggish grin, he looked round, to show he had got the better, and to see whom he had discomposed.
When he had enjoyed this triumph, he turned to Cecilia, and chucking her under the chin, said “Well, my little duck, how goes it? got to you at last; squeezed my way; would not be nicked; warrant I’ll mob with the best of them! Look here! all in a heat! — hot as the dog days.”
And then, to the utter consternation of the company, he took off his wig to wipe his head! which occasioned such universal horror, that all who were near the door escaped into other, apartments, while those who were too much enclosed, for flight, with one accord turned away their heads.
Captain Aresby, being applied to by some of the ladies to remonstrate upon this unexampled behaviour, advanced to him, and said, “I am quite abimé, Sir, to incommode you, but the commands of the ladies are insuperable. Give me leave, Sir, to entreat that you would put on your wig.”
“My wig?” cried he, “ay, ay, shall in a moment, only want to wipe my head first.”
“I am quite assommé, Sir,” returned the Captain, “to disturb you, but I must really hint you don’t comprehend me: the ladies are extremely inconvenienced by these sort of sights, and we make it a principle they should never be accablées with them.”
“Anan!” cried Mr Briggs, staring.
“I say, Sir,” replied the Captain, “the ladies are quite au desespoir that you will not cover your head.”
“What for?” cried he, “what’s the matter with my head? ne’er a man here got a better! very good stuff in it: won’t change it with ne’er a one of you!”
And then, half unconscious of the offence he had given, and half angry at the rebuke he had received, he leisurely compleated his design, and again put on his wig, settling it to his face with as much composure as if he had performed the operation in his own dressing-room.
The Captain, having gained his point, walked away, making, however, various grimaces of disgust, and whispering from side to side “he’s the most petrifying fellow I ever was obsedé by!”
Mr Briggs then, with much derision, and sundry distortions of countenance, listened to an Italian song; after which, he bustled back to the outer apartment, in search of Cecilia, who, ashamed of seeming a party in the disturbance he had excited, had taken the opportunity of his dispute with the Captain, to run into the next room; where, however, he presently found her, while she was giving an account to Mr Gosport of her connection with him, to which Morrice, ever curious and eager to know what was going forward, was also listening.
“Ah, little chick!” cried he, “got to you again! soon out jostle those jemmy sparks! But where’s the supper? see nothing of the supper! Time to go to bed — suppose there is none; all a take in; nothing but a little piping.”
“Supper, Sir?” cried Cecilia; “the Concert is not over yet. Was supper mentioned in your card of invitation?”
“Ay, to be sure, should not have come else. Don’t visit often; always costs money. Wish I had not come now; wore a hole in my shoe; hardly a crack in it before.”
“Why you did not walk, Sir?”
Did, did; why not? Might as well have stayed away though; daubed my best coat, like to have spoilt it.”
“So much the better for the taylors, Sir,” said Morrice, pertly, “for then you must have another.”
“Another! what for? ha’n’t had this seven years; just as good as new.”
“I hope,” said Cecilia, “you had not another fall?”
“Worse, worse; like to have lost my bundle.”
“What bundle, Sir?”
“Best coat and waistcoat; brought ’em in my handkerchief, purpose to save them. When will Master Harrel do as much?”
“But had you no apprehensions, Sir,” said Mr Gosport drily, “that the handkerchief would be the sooner worn out for having a knot tied in it?”
“Took care of that, tied it slack. Met an unlucky boy; little dog gave it a pluck; knot slipt; coat and waistcoat popt out.”
“But what became of the boy, Sir?” cried Morrice, “I hope he got off?”
“Could not run for laughing; caught him in a minute; gave him something to laugh for; drubbed him soundly.”
“O poor fellow!” cried Morrice with a loud hallow, “I am really sorry for him. But pray, Sir, what became of your best coat and waistcoat while you gave him this drubbing? did you leave them in the dirt?”
“No, Mr Nincompoop,” answered Briggs angrily, “I put them on a stall.”
“That was a perilous expedient, Sir,” said Mr Gosport, “and I should fear might be attended with ill consequences, for the owner of the stall would be apt to expect some little douçeur. How did you manage, Sir?”
“Bought a halfpenny worth of apples. Serve for supper tomorrow night.”
“But how, Sir, did you get your cloaths dried, or cleaned?”
“Went to an alehouse; cost me half a pint.”
“And pray, Sir,” cried Morrice, “where, at last, did you make your toilette?”
“Sha’n’t tell, sha’n’t tell; ask no more questions. What signifies where a man slips on a coat and waist-coat?”
“Why, Sir, this will prove an expensive expedition to you,” said Mr Gosport, very gravely; “Have you cast up what it may cost you?”
“More than it’s worth, more than it’s worth”, answered he pettishly “ha’n’t laid out so much in pleasure these five years.”
“Ha! ha!” cried Morrice, hallowing aloud, “why it can’t be more than sixpence in all!”
“Sixpence?” repeated he scornfully, “if you don’t know the value of sixpence, you’ll never be worth fivepence three farthings. How do think got rich, hay? — by wearing fine coats, and frizzling my pate? No, no; Master Harrel for that! ask him if he’ll cast an account with me! — never knew a man worth a penny with such a coat as that on.”
Morrice again laughed, and again Mr Briggs reproved him; and Cecilia, taking advantage of the squabble, stole back to the music-room. Here, in a few minutes, Mrs Panton, a lady who frequently visited at the house, approached Cecilia, followed by a gentleman, whom she had never before seen, but who was so evidently charmed with her, that he had looked at no other object since his entrance into the house. Mrs Panton, presenting him to her by the name of Mr Marriot, told her he had begged her intercession for the honour of her hand in the two first dances: and the moment she answered that she was already engaged, the same request was made for the two following. Cecilia had then no excuse, and was therefore obliged to accept him.
The hope she had entertained in the early part of the evening, was already almost wholly extinguished; Delvile appeared not! though her eye watched the entrance of every new visitor, and her vexation made her believe that he alone, of all the town, was absent.
When the Concert was over, the company joined promiscuously for chat and refreshments before the ball; and Mr Gosport advanced to Cecilia, to relate a ridiculous dispute which had just passed between Mr Briggs and Morrice.
“You, Mr Gosport,” said Cecilia, “who seem to make the minutiae of absurd characters your study, can explain to me, perhaps, why Mr Briggs seems to have as much pleasure in proclaiming his meanness, as in boasting his wealth?”
“Because,” answered Mr Gosport, “he knows them, in his own affairs, to be so nearly allied, that but for practising the one, he had never possessed the other; ignorant, therefore, of all discrimination — except, indeed, of pounds, shillings and pence! — he supposes them necessarily inseparable, because with him they were united. What you, however, call meanness, he thinks wisdom, and recollects, therefore, not with shame but with triumph, the various little arts and subterfuges by which his coffers have been filled.”
Here Lord Ernolf, concluding Cecilia still disengaged from seeing her only discourse with Mr Gosport and Mr Monckton, one of discourse was old enough to be her father, and the other was a married man, advanced, and presenting to her Lord Derford, his son, a youth not yet of age, solicited for him the honour of her hand as his partner.
Cecilia, having a double excuse, easily declined this proposal; Lord Ernolf, however, was too earnest to be repulsed, and told her he should again try his interest when her two present engagements were fulfilled. Hopeless, now, of young Delvile, she heard this intimation with indifference; and was accompanying Mr Monckton into the ballroom, when Miss Larolles, flying towards her with an air of infinite eagerness, caught her hand, and said in a whisper “pray let me wish you joy!”
“Certainly!” said Cecilia, “but pray let me ask you of what?”
“O Lord, now,” answered she, “I am sure you know what I mean; but you must know I have a prodigious monstrous great favour to beg of you: now pray don’t refuse me; I assure you if you do, I shall be so mortified you’ve no notion.”
“Well, what is it?”
“Nothing but to let me be one of your bride maids. I assure you I shall take it as the greatest favour in the world.”
“My bride maid!” cried Cecilia; “but do you not think the bridegroom himself will be rather offended to find a bridesmaid appointed, before he is even thought of?”
“O pray, now,” cried she, “don’t be ill-natured, for if you are, you’ve no idea how I shall be disappointed. Only conceive what happened to me three weeks ago! you must know I was invited to Miss Clinton’s wedding, and so I made up a new dress on purpose, in a very particular sort of shape, quite of my own invention, and it had the sweetest effect you can conceive; well, and when the time came, do you know her mother happened to die! Never any thing was so excessive unlucky, for now she won’t be married this half year, and my dress will be quite old and yellow; for it’s all white, and the most beautiful thing you ever saw in your life.”
“Upon my word you are very obliging!” cried Cecilia laughing; “and pray do you make interest regularly round with all your female acquaintance to be married upon this occasion, or am I the only one you think this distress will work upon?”
“Now how excessive teazing!” cried Miss Larolles, “when you know so well what I mean, and when all the town knows as well as myself.”
Cecilia then seriously enquired whether she had really any meaning at all.
“Lord yes,” answered she, “you know I mean about Sir Robert Floyer: for I’m told you’ve quite refused Lord Derford.”
“And are you also told that I have accepted Sir Robert Floyer?”
“O dear yes! — the jewels are bought, and the equipages are built; it’s quite a settled thing, I know very well.”
Cecilia then very gravely began an attempt to undeceive her; but the dancing beginning also at the same time, she stayed not to hear her, hurrying, with a beating heart, to the place of action. Mr Monckton and his fair partner then followed, mutually exclaiming against Mr Harrel’s impenetrable conduct; of which Cecilia, however, in a short time ceased wholly to think, for as soon as the first cotillon was over, she perceived young Delvile just walking into the room.
Surprise, pleasure and confusion assailed her all at once; she had entirely given up her expectation of seeing him, and an absence so determined had led her to conclude he had pursuits which ought to make her join in wishing it lengthened; but now he appeared, that conclusion, with the fears that gave rise to it, vanished; and she regretted nothing but the unfortunate succession of engagements which would prevent her dancing with him at all, and probably keep off all conversation with him till supper time.
She soon, however, perceived a change in his air and behaviour that extremely astonished her: he looked grave and thoughtful, saluted her at a distance, shewed no sign of any intention to approach her, regarded the dancing and dancers as a public spectacle in which he had no chance of personal interest, and seemed wholly altered, not merely with respect to her, but to himself, as his former eagerness for her society was not more abated than [his] former general gaiety.
She had no time, however, for comments, as she was presently called to the second cotillon; but the confused and unpleasant ideas which, without waiting for time or reflection, crowded upon her imagination on observing his behaviour, were not more depressing to herself, than obvious to her partner; Mr Monckton by the change in her countenance first perceived the entrance of young Delvile, and by her apparent emotion and uneasiness, readily penetrated into the state of her mind; he was confirmed that her affections were engaged; he saw, too, that she was doubtful with what return.
The grief with which he made the first discovery, was somewhat lessened by the hopes he conceived from, the second; yet the evening was to him as painful as to Cecilia, since he now knew that whatever prosperity’ might ultimately attend his address and assiduity, her heart was not her own to bestow; and that even were he sure of young Delvile’s indifference, and actually at liberty to make proposals for himself, the time of being first in her esteem was at an end, and the long-earned good opinion which he had hoped would have ripened into affection, might now be wholly undermined by the sudden impression of a lively stranger, without trouble to himself, and perhaps without pleasure!
Reflections such as these wholly embittered the delight he had promised himself from dancing with her, and took from him all power to combat the anxiety with which she was seized; when the second cotillon, therefore, was over, instead of following her to a seat, or taking the privilege of his present situation to converse with her, the jealousy rising in his breast robbed him of all satisfaction, and gave to him no other desire than to judge its justice by watching her motions at a distance.
Mean while Cecilia, inattentive whether he accompanied or quitted her proceeded to the first vacant seat. Young Delvile was standing near it, and, in a short time, but rather as if he could not avoid than as if he wished it, he came to enquire how she did.
The simplest question, in the then situation of her mind, was sufficient to confuse her, and though she answered, she hardly knew what he had asked. A minute’s recollection, however, restored an apparent composure, and she talked to him of Mrs Delvile, with her usual partial regard for that lady, and with an earnest endeavour to seem unconscious of any alteration in his behaviour.
Yet, to him, even this trifling and general conversation was evidently painful, and he looked relieved by the approach of Sir Robert Floyer, who soon after joined them.
At this time a young lady who was sitting by Cecilia, called to a servant who was passing, for a glass of lemonade: Cecilia desired he would bring her one also; but Delvile, not sorry to break off the discourse, said he would himself be her cup-bearer, and for that purpose went away.
A moment after, the servant returned with some lemonade to Cecilia’s neighbour, and Sir Robert, taking a glass from him, brought it to Cecilia at the very instant young Delvile came with another.
“I think I am before hand with you, Sir,” said the insolent Baronet.
“No, Sir,” answered young Delvile, “I think we were both in together: Miss Beverley, however, is steward of the race, and we must submit to her decision.”
“Well, madam,” cried Sir Robert, “here we stand, waiting your pleasure. Which is to be the happy man!”
“Each, I hope,” answered Cecilia, with admirable presence of mind, “since I expect no less than that you will both do me the honour of drinking my health.”
This little contrivance, which saved her alike from shewing favour or giving offence, could not but be applauded by both parties: and while they obeyed her orders, she took a third glass herself from the servant.
While this was passing, Mr Briggs, again perceiving her, stumpt hastily towards her, calling out “Ah ha! my duck! what’s that? got something nice? Come here, my lad, taste it myself.”
He then took a glass, but having only put it to his mouth, made a wry face, and returned it, saying “Bad! bad! poor punch indeed! — not a drop of rum in it!
“So much the better, Sir,” cried Morrice, who diverted himself by following him, “for then you see the master of the house spares in something, and you said he spared in nothing.”
“Don’t spare in fools!” returned Mr Briggs, “keeps them in plenty.”
“No, Sir, nor in any out of the way characters,” answered Morrice.
“So much the worse,” cried Briggs, “so much the worse! Eat him out of house and home; won’t leave him a rag to his back nor a penny in his pocket. Never mind ’em, my little duck; mind none of your guardians but me: t’other two a’n’t worth a rush.”
Cecilia, somewhat ashamed of this speech, looked towards young Delvile, in whom it occasioned the first smile she had seen that evening.
“Been looking about for you!” continued Briggs, nodding sagaciously; “believe I’ve found one will do. Guess what I mean; —£100,0000 — hay? — what say to that? any thing better at the west end of the town?”
“£100,000!” cried Morrice, “and pray, Sir, who may this be?”
“Not you, Mr jackanapes! sure of that. A’n’t quite positive he’ll have you, neither. Think he will, though.”
“Pray; Sir, what age is he?” cried the never daunted Morrice.
“Why about — let’s see — don’t know, never heard — what signifies?”
“But, Sir, he’s an old man, I suppose, by being so rich?”
“Old? no, no such thing; about my own standing.”
“What, Sir, and do you propose him for an husband to Miss Beverley?”
“Why not? know ever a one warmer? think Master Harrel will get her a better? or t’other old Don, in the grand square?”
“If you please, Sir,” cried Cecilia hastily, “we will talk of this matter another time.”
“No, pray,” cried young Delvile, who could not forbear laughing, “let it be discussed now.”
“Hate ’em,” continued Mr Briggs, “hate ’em both! one spending more than he’s worth, cheated and over-reached by fools, running into gaol to please a parcel of knaves; t’other counting nothing but uncles and grandfathers, dealing out fine names instead of cash, casting up more cousins than guineas —”
Again Cecilia endeavoured to silence him, but, only chucking her under the chin, he went on, “Ay, ay, my little duck, never mind ’em; one of ’em i’n’t worth a penny, and t’other has nothing in his pockets but lists of the defunct. What good will come of that? would not give twopence a dozen for ’em! A poor set of grandees, with nothing but a tie-wig for their portions!”
Cecilia, unable to bear this harangue in the presence of young Delvile, who, however, laughed it off with a very good grace, arose with an intention to retreat, which being perceived by Sir Robert Floyer, who had attended to this dialogue with haughty contempt, he came forward, and said, “now then, madam, may I have the honour of your hand?”
“No, Sir,” answered Cecilia, “I am engaged.”
“Engaged again?” cried he, with the air of a man who thought himself much injured.
“Glad of it, glad of it!” said Mr Briggs; “served very right! have nothing to say to him, my chick!”
“Why not, Sir?” cried Sir Robert, with an imperious look.
“Sha’n’t have her, sha’n’t have her! can tell you that; won’t consent; know you of old.” “And what do you know of me, pray Sir?”
“No good, no good; nothing to say to you; found fault with my nose! ha’n’t forgot it.”
At this moment Mr Marriot came to claim his partner, who, very willing to quit this scene of wrangling and vulgarity, immediately attended him. Miss Larolles, again flying up to her, said “O my dear, we are all expiring to know who that creature is! I never saw such a horrid fright in my life!”
Cecilia was beginning to satisfy her, but some more young ladies coming up to join in the request, she endeavoured to pass on; “O but,” cried Miss Larolles, detaining her, “do pray stop, for I’ve something to tell you that’s so monstrous you’ve no idea. Do you know Mr Meadows has not danced at all! and he’s been standing with Mr Sawyer, and looking on all the time, and whispering and laughing so you’ve no notion. However, I assure you, I’m excessive glad he did not ask me, for all I have been sitting still all this time, for I had a great deal rather sit still, I assure you: only I’m sorry I put on this dress, for any thing would have done just to look on in that stupid manner.”
Here Mr Meadows sauntered towards them; and all the young ladies began playing with their fans, and turning their heads another way, to disguise the expectations his approach awakened; and Miss Larolles, in a hasty whisper to Cecilia, cried, “Pray don’t take any notice of what I said, for if he should happen to ask me, I can’t well refuse him, you know, for if I do, he’ll be so excessive affronted you can’t think.”
Mr Meadows then, mixing in the little group, began, with sundry grimaces, to exclaim “how intolerably hot it is! there’s no such thing as breathing. How can anybody think of dancing! I am amazed Mr Harrel has not a ventilator in this room. Don’t you think it would be a great improvement?”
This speech, though particularly addressed to no one, received immediately an assenting answer from all the young ladies.
Then, turning to Miss Larolles, “Don’t you dance?” he said.
“Me?” cried she, embarrassed, “yes, I believe so — really I don’t know — I a’n’t quite determined.”
“O, do dance!” cried he, stretching himself and yawning, “it always gives me spirits to see you.”
Then, turning suddenly to Cecilia, without any previous ceremony of renewing his acquaintance, either by speaking or bowing, he abruptly said “Do you love dancing, ma’am?”
“Yes, Sir, extremely well.”
“I’m very glad to hear it. You have one thing, then, to soften existence.”
“Do you dislike it yourself?”
“What dancing? Oh dreadful! how it was ever adopted in a civilized country I cannot find out; ’tis certainly a Barbarian exercise, and of savage origin. Don’t you think so, Miss Larolles?”
“Lord no,” cried Miss Larolles, “I assure you I like it better than any thing; I know nothing so delightful, I declare I dare say I could not live without it; I should be so stupid you can’t conceive.”
“Why I remember,” said Mr Marriot, “when Mr Meadows was always dancing himself. Have you forgot, Sir, when you used to wish the night would last for ever, that you might dance without ceasing?”
Mr Meadows, who was now intently surveying a painting that was over the chimney-piece, seemed of to hear this question, but presently called out “I am amazed Mr Harrel can suffer such a picture as this to be in his house. I hate a portrait, ’tis so wearisome looking at a thing that is doing nothing!”
“Do you like historical pictures, Sir, any better?”
“O no, I detest them! views of battles, murders, and death! Shocking! shocking! — I shrink from them with horror!”
“Perhaps you are fond of landscapes?”
“By no means! Green trees and fat cows! what do they tell one? I hate every thing that is insipid.”
“Your toleration, then,” said Cecilia, “will not be very extensive.”
“No,” said he, yawning, “one can tolerate nothing! one’s patience is wholly exhausted by the total tediousness of every thing one sees, and every body one talks with. Don’t you find it so, ma’am?” “Sometimes!” said Cecilia, rather archly.
“You are right, ma’am, extremely right; one does not know what in the world to do with one’s self. At home, one is killed with meditation, abroad, one is overpowered by ceremony; no possibility of finding ease or comfort. You never go into public, I think, ma’am?”
“Why not to be much marked, I find!” said Cecilia, laughing.
“O, I beg your pardon! I believe I saw you one evening at Almack’s: I really beg your pardon, but I had quite forgot it.”
“Lord, Mr Meadows,” said Miss Larolles, “don’t you know you are meaning the Pantheon? only conceive how you forget things!”
“The Pantheon, was it? I never know one of those places from another. I heartily wish they were all abolished; I hate public places. ’Tis terrible to be under the same roof with a set of people who would care nothing if they saw one expiring!”
“You are, at least, then, fond of the society of your friends?”
“O no! to be worn out by seeing always the same faces! — one is sick to death of friends; nothing makes one so melancholy.”
Cecilia now went to join the dancers, and Mr Meadows, turning to Miss Larolles, said, “Pray don’t let me keep you from dancing; I am afraid you’ll lose your place.”
“No,” cried she, bridling, “I sha’n’t dance at all.”
“How cruel!” cried he, yawning, “when you know how it exhilarates me to see you! Don’t you think this room is very close? I must go and try another atmosphere — But I hope you will relent, and dance?”
And then, stretching his arms as if half asleep, he sauntered into the next room, where he flung himself upon a sofa till the ball was over.
The new partner of Cecilia, who was a wealthy, but very simple young man, used his utmost efforts to entertain and oblige her, and, flattered by the warmth of his own desire, he fancied that he succeeded; though, in a state of such suspence and anxiety, a man of brighter talents had failed.
At the end of the two dances, Lord Ernolf again attempted to engage her for his son, but she now excused herself from dancing any more, and sat quietly as a spectatress till the rest of the company gave over. Mr Marriot, however, would not quit her, and she was compelled to support with him a trifling conversation, which, though irksome to herself, to him, who had not seen her in her happier hour, was delightful.
She expected every instant to be again joined by young Delvile, but the expectation was disappointed; he came not; she concluded he was in another apartment; the company was summoned to supper, she then thought it impossible to miss him; but, after waiting and looking for him in vain, she found he had already left the house.
The rest of the evening she scarce knew what passed, for she attended to nothing; Mr Monckton might watch, and Mr Briggs might exhort her, Sir Robert might display his insolence, or Mr Marriot his gallantry — all was equally indifferent, and equally unheeded; and before half the company left the house, she retired to her own room.
She spent the night in the utmost disturbance; the occurrences of the evening with respect to young Delvile she looked upon as decisive: if his absence had chagrined her, his presence had still more shocked her, since, while she was left to conjecture, though she had fears she had hopes, and though all she saw was gloomy, all she expected was pleasant; but they had now met, and those expectations proved fallacious. She knew not, indeed, how to account for the strangeness of his conduct; but in seeing it was strange, she was convinced it was unfavourable: he had evidently avoided her while it was in his power, and when, at last, he was obliged to meet her, he was formal, distant, and reserved.
The more she recollected and dwelt upon the difference of his behaviour in their preceding meeting, the more angry as well as amazed she became at the change, and though she still concluded the pursuit of some other object occasioned it, she could find no excuse for his fickleness if that pursuit was recent, nor for his caprice if it was anterior.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:06