Cecilia, by Fanny Burney

Chapter 7

A Message.

From this lethargy of sadness Cecilia was soon, however, awakened by the return of the surgeon, who had brought with him a physician to consult upon Mrs Delvile’s situation. Terror for the mother once more drove the son from her thoughts, and she waited with the most apprehensive impatience to hear the result of the consultation. The physician declined giving any positive opinion, but, having written a prescription, only repeated the injunction of the surgeon, that she should be kept extremely quiet, and on no account be suffered to talk.

Cecilia, though shocked and frightened at the occasion, was yet by no means sorry at an order which thus precluded all conversation; unfitted for it by her own misery, she was glad to be relieved from all necessity of imposing upon herself the irksome task of finding subjects for discourse to which she was wholly indifferent, while obliged with sedulity to avoid those by which alone her mind was occupied.

The worthy Mrs Charlton heard the events of the morning with the utmost concern, but charged her grand-daughters to assist her young friend in doing the honours of her house to Mrs Delvile, while she ordered another apartment to be prepared for Cecilia, to whom she administered all the consolation her friendly zeal could suggest.

Cecilia, however unhappy, had too just a way of thinking to indulge in selfish grief, where occasion called her to action for the benefit of others: scarce a moment, therefore now did she allow to sorrow and herself, but assiduously bestowed the whole of her time upon her two sick friends, dividing her attention according to their own desire or convenience, without consulting or regarding any choice of her own. Choice, indeed, she had none; she loved Mrs Charlton, she revered Mrs Delvile; the warmest wish with which her heart glowed, was the recovery of both, but too deep was her affliction to receive pleasure from either.

Two days passed thus, during which the constancy of her attendance, which at another time would have fatigued her, proved the only relief she was capable of receiving. Mrs Delvile was evidently affected by her vigilant tenderness, but seemed equally desirous with herself to make use of the prohibition to speech as an excuse for uninterrupted silence. She enquired not even after her son, though the eagerness of her look towards the door whenever it was opened, shewed either a hope, or an apprehension that he might enter. Cecilia wished to tell her whither he was gone, but dreaded trusting her voice with his name; and their silence, after a while, seemed so much by mutual consent, that she had soon as little courage as she had inclination to break it.

The arrival of Dr Lyster gave her much satisfaction, for upon him rested her hopes of Mrs Delvile’s re-establishment. He sent for her down stairs, to enquire whether he was expected; and hearing that he was not, desired her to announce him, as the smallest emotion might do mischief.

She returned up stairs, and after a short preparation, said, “Your favourite Dr Lyster, madam, is come, and I shall be much the happier for having you under his care.”

“Dr Lyster?” cried she, “who sent for him?”

“I believe — I fancy — Mr Delvile fetched him.”

“My son? — is he here, then?”

“No — he went, the moment he left you, for Dr Lyster — and Dr Lyster is come by himself.”

“Does he write to you?”

“No, indeed! — he writes not — he comes not — dearest madam be satisfied, he will do neither to me ever more!”

“Exemplary young man!” cried she, in a voice hardly audible, “how great is his loss! — unhappy Mortimer! — ill-fated, and ill-rewarded!”

She sighed, and said no more; but this short conversation, the only one which had passed between them since her illness, agitated her so much, that Dr Lyster, who now came up stairs, found her in a state of trembling and weakness that both alarmed and surprised him. Cecilia, glad of an opportunity to be gone, left the room, and sent, by Dr Lyster’s desire, for the physician and surgeon who had already attended.

After they had been some time with their patient, they retired to a consultation, and when it was over, Dr Lyster waited upon Cecilia in the parlour, and assured her he had no apprehension of danger for Mrs Delvile, “Though, for another week,” he added, “I would have her continue your patient, as she is not yet fit to be removed. But pray mind that she is kept quiet; let nobody go near her, not even her own son. By the way he is waiting for me at the inn, so I’ll just speak again to his mother, and be gone.”

Cecilia was well pleased by this accidental information, to learn both the anxiety of Delvile for his mother, and the steadiness of his forbearance for himself. When Dr Lyster came down stairs again, “I shall stay,” he said, “till tomorrow, but I hope she will be able in another week to get to Bristol. In the mean time I shall leave her, I see, with an excellent nurse. But, my good young lady, in your care of her, don’t neglect yourself; I am not quite pleased with your looks, though it is but an old fashioned speech to tell you so. — What have you been doing to yourself?”

“Nothing;” said she, a little embarrassed; “but had you not better have some tea?”

“Why yes, I think I had; — but what shall I do with my young man?”

Cecilia understood the hint, but coloured, and made no answer.

“He is waiting for me,” he continued, “at the inn; however, I never yet knew the young man I would prefer to a young woman, so if you will give me some tea here, I shall certainly jilt him.”

Cecilia instantly rang the bell, and ordered tea.

“Well now,” said he, “remember the sin of this breach of appointment lies wholly at your door. I shall tell him you laid violent hands on me; and if that is not, enough to excuse me, I shall desire he will try whether he could be more of a stoic with you himself.”

“I think I must unorder the tea,” said she, with what gaiety she could assume, “if I am to be responsible for any mischief from your drinking it.”

“No, no, you shan’t be off now; but pray would it be quite out of rule for you to send and ask him to come to us?”

“Why I believe — I think —” said she, stammering, “it’s very likely he may be engaged.”

“Well, well, I don’t mean to propose any violent incongruity. You must excuse my blundering; I understand but little of the etiquette of young ladies. ’Tis a science too intricate to be learned without more study than we plodding men of business can well spare time for. However, when I have done writing prescriptions, I will set about reading them, provided you will be my instructress.”

Cecilia, though ashamed of a charge in which prudery and affectation were implied, was compelled to submit to it, as either to send for Delvile, or explain her objections, was equally impossible. The Miss Charltons, therefore, joined them, and they went to tea.

Just as they had done, a note was delivered to Dr Lyster; “see here,” cried he, when he had read it, “what a fine thing it is to be a young man! Why now, Mr Mortimer understands as much of all this etiquette as you ladies do yourselves; for he only writes a note even to ask how his mother does.”

He then put it into Cecilia’s hand.

To Dr Lyster.

Tell me, my dear Sir, how you have found my mother? I am uneasy at your long stay, and engaged with my friend Biddulph, or I should have followed you in person.


“So you see,” continued the doctor, “I need not do penance for engaging myself to you, when this young gentleman can find such good entertainment for himself.”

Cecilia who well knew the honourable motive of Delvile’s engagement, with difficulty forbore speaking in his vindication. Dr Lyster immediately began an answer, but before he had finished it, called out, “Now as I am told you are a very good young woman, I think you can do no less than assist me to punish this gay spark, for playing the macaroni, when he ought to visit his sick mother.”

Cecilia, much hurt for Delvile, and much confused for herself, looked abashed, but knew not what to answer.

“My scheme,” continued the doctor, “is to tell him, that as he has found one engagement for tea, he may find another for supper; but that as to me, I am better disposed of, for you insist upon keeping me to yourself. Come, what says etiquette? may I treat myself with this puff?”

“Certainly,” said Cecilia, endeavouring to look pleased, “if you will favour us with your company, Miss Charltons and myself will think the puffing should rather be ours than yours.”

“That, then,” said the doctor, “will not answer my purpose, for I mean the puff to be my own, or how do I punish him? So, suppose I tell him I shall not only sup with three young ladies, but be invited to a tete-a-tete with one of them into the bargain?”

The young ladies only laughed, and the doctor finished his note, and sent it away; and then, turning gaily to Cecilia, “Come,” he said, “why don’t you give me this invitation? surely you don’t mean to make me guilty of perjury?”

Cecilia, but little disposed for pleasantry, would gladly now have dropt the subject; but Dr Lyster, turning to the Miss Charltons, said, “Young ladies, I call you both to witness if this is not very bad usage: this young woman has connived at my writing a downright falsehood, and all the time took me in to believe it was a truth. The only way I can think of to cure her of such frolics, is for both of you to leave us together, and so make her keep her word whether she will or no.”

The Miss Charltons took the hint, and went away; while Cecilia, who had not at all suspected he meant seriously to speak with her, remained extremely perplexed to think what he had to say.

“Mrs Delvile,” cried he, continuing the same air of easy good humour, “though I allowed her not to speak to me above twenty words, took up near ten of them to tell me that you had behaved to her like an angel. Why so she ought, cried I; what else was she sent for here to look so like one? I charged her, therefore, to take all that as a thing of course; and to prove that I really think what I say, I am now going to make a trial of you, that, if you are any thing less, will induce you to order some of your men to drive me into the street. The truth is, I have had a little commission given me, which in the first place I know not how to introduce, and which, in the second, as far as I can judge, appears to be absolutely superfluous.”

Cecilia now felt uneasy and alarmed, and begged him to explain himself. He then dropt the levity with which he had begun the discourse, and after a grave, yet gentle preparation, expressive of his unwillingness to distress her, and his firm persuasion of her uncommon worthiness, he acquainted her that he was no stranger to her situation with respect to the Delvile family.

“Good God!” cried she, blushing and much amazed; “and who”——

“I knew it,” said he, “from the moment I attended Mr Mortimer in his illness at Delvile Castle. He could not conceal from me that the seat of his disorder was his mind; and I could not know that, without readily conjecturing the cause, when I saw who was his father’s guest, and when I knew what was his father’s character. He found he was betrayed to me, and upon my advising a journey, he understood me properly. His openness to counsel, and the manly firmness with which he behaved in quitting you, made me hope the danger was blown over. But last week, when I was at the Castle, where I have for some time attended Mr Delvile, who has had a severe fit of the gout, I found him in an agitation of spirits that made me apprehend it would be thrown into his stomach. I desired Mrs Delvile to use her influence to calm him; but she was herself in still greater emotion, and acquainting me she was obliged to leave him, desired I would spend with him every moment in my power. I have therefore almost lived at the Castle during her absence, and, in the course of our many conversations, he has acknowledged to me the uneasiness under which he has laboured, from the intelligence concerning his son, which he had just received.”

Cecilia wished here to enquire how received, and from whom, but had not the courage, and therefore he proceeded.

“I was still with the father when Mr Mortimer arrived post at my house to fetch me hither. I was sent for home; he informed me of his errand without disguise, for he knew I was well acquainted with the original secret whence all the evil arose. I told him my distress in what manner to leave his father; and he was extremely shocked himself when acquainted with his situation. We agreed that it would be vain to conceal from him the indisposition of Mrs Delvile, which the delay of her return, and a thousand other accidents, might in some unfortunate way make known to him. He commissioned me, therefore, to break it to him, that he might consent to my journey, and at the same time to quiet his own mind, by assuring him all he had apprehended was wholly at an end.”

He stopt, and looked to see how Cecilia bore these words.

“It is all at an end, Sir;” said she, with firmness; “but I have not yet heard your commission; what, and from whom is that?”

“I am thoroughly satisfied it is unnecessary;” he answered, “since the young man can but submit, and you can but give him up.”

“But still, if there is a message, it is fit I should hear it.”

“If you chase it, so it is. I told Mr Delvile whither I was coming, and I repeated to him his son’s assurances. He was relieved, but not satisfied; he would not see him, and gave me for him a prohibition of extreme severity, and to you he bid me say —”

“From him, then, is my message?” cried Cecilia, half frightened, and much disappointed.

“Yes,” said he, understanding her immediately, “for the son, after giving me his first account, had the wisdom and forbearance not once to mention you.”

“I am very glad,” said she, with a mixture of admiration and regret, “to hear it. But, what, Sir, said Mr Delvile?”

“He bid me tell you that either he, or you must see his son never more.”

“It was indeed unnecessary,” cried she, colouring with resentment, “to send me such a message. I meant not to see him again, he meant not to desire it. I return him, however, no answer, and I will make him no promise; to Mrs Delvile alone I hold myself bound; to him, send what messages he may, I shall always hold myself free. But believe me, Dr Lyster, if with his name, his son had inherited his character, his desire of our separation would be feeble, and trifling, compared with my own!”

“I am sorry, my good young lady,” said he, “to have given you this disturbance; yet I admire your spirit, and doubt not but it will enable you to forget any little disappointment you may have suffered. And what, after all, have you to regret? Mortimer Delvile is, indeed, a young man that any woman might wish to attach; but every woman cannot have him, and you, of all women, have least reason to repine in missing him, for scarcely is there another man you may not chuse or reject at your pleasure.”

Little as was the consolation Cecilia could draw from this speech, she was sensible it became not her situation to make complaints, and therefore, to end the conversation she proposed calling in the Miss Charltons.

“No, no,” said he, “I must step up again to Mrs Delvile, and then be-gone. To-morrow morning I shall but call to see how she is, and leave some directions, and set off. Mr Mortimer Delvile accompanies me back: but he means to return hither in a week, in order to travel with his mother to Bristol. Mean time, I purpose to bring about a reconciliation between him and his father, whose prejudices are more intractable than any man’s I ever met with.”

“It will be strange indeed,” said Cecilia, “should a reconciliation now be difficult!”

“True; but it is long since he was young himself, and the softer affections he never was acquainted with, and only regards them in his son as derogatory to his whole race. However, if there were not some few such men, there would hardly be a family in the kingdom that could count a great grand-father. I am not, I must own, of his humour myself, but I think it rather peculiarly stranger, than peculiarly worse than most other peoples; and how, for example, was that of your uncle a whit the better? He was just as fond of his name, as if, like Mr Delvile, he could trace it from the time of the Saxons.”

Cecilia strongly felt the truth of this observation, but not chusing to discuss it, made not any answer, and Dr Lyster, after a few good-natured apologies, both for his friends the Delviles and himself, went up stairs.

“What continual disturbance,” cried she, when left alone, “keeps me thus for-ever from rest! no sooner is one wound closed, but another is opened; mortification constantly succeeds distress, and when my heart is spared; my pride is attacked, that not a moment of tranquility may ever be allowed me! Had the lowest of women won the affections of Mr Delvile, could his father with less delicacy or less decency have acquainted her with his inflexible disapprobation? To send with so little ceremony a message so contemptuous and so peremptory! — but perhaps it is better, for had he, too, like Mrs Delvile, joined kindness with rejection, I might still more keenly have felt the perverseness of my destiny.”


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:51