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- Cecilia Volume 1 - 39/65 -
alone it seemed deficient--how can a spirit so liberal be sufficiently admired, or a choice of so much dignity be too highly extolled?"
"I find," cried Cecilia, "I must forbear any further enquiry, for the more I hear, the less I understand."
"Pardon me, then," cried he, "if here I return to my first question: whence is it that a young lady who can think so nobly, and act so disinterestedly, should not be uniformly great, simple in truth, and unaffected in sincerity? Why should she be thus guarded, where frankness would do her so much honour? Why blush in owning what all others may blush in envying?"
"Indeed you perplex me intolerably," cried Cecilia, with some vexation, "why Sir, will you not be more explicit?"
"And why, Madam," returned he, with a laugh, "would you tempt me to be more impertinent? have I not said strange things already?"
"Strange indeed," cried she, "for not one of them can I comprehend!"
"Pardon, then," cried he, "and forget them all! I scarce know myself what urged me to say them, but I began inadvertently, without intending to go on, and I have proceeded involuntarily, without knowing how to stop. The fault, however, is ultimately your own, for the sight of you creates an insurmountable desire to converse with you, and your conversation a propensity equally incorrigible to take some interest in your welfare."
He would then have changed the discourse, and Cecilia, ashamed of pressing him further, was for some time silent; but when one of the servants came to inform her that his master meant to wait upon her directly, her unwillingness to leave the matter in suspense induced her, somewhat abruptly, to say, "Perhaps, Sir, you are thinking of Mr Belfield?"
"A happy conjecture!" cried he, "but so wild a one, I cannot but marvel how it should occur to you!"
"Well, Sir," said she, "I must acknowledge I now understand your meaning; but with respect to what has given rise to it, I am as much a stranger as ever."
The entrance of Mr Delvile here closed the conversation.
He began with his usual ostentatious apologies, declaring he had so many people to attend, so many complaints to hear, and so many grievances to redress, that it was impossible for him to wait upon her sooner, and not without difficulty that he waited upon her now.
Mean time his son almost immediately retired: and Cecilia, instead of listening to this harangue, was only disturbing herself with conjectures upon what had just passed. She saw that young Delvile concluded she was absolutely engaged to Mr Belfield, and though she was better pleased that any suspicion should fall there than upon Sir Robert Floyer, she was yet both provoked and concerned to be suspected at all. An attack so earnest from almost any other person could hardly have failed being very offensive to her, but in the manners of young Delvile good breeding was so happily blended with frankness, that his freedom seemed merely to result from the openness of his disposition, and even in its very act pleaded its own excuse.
Her reverie was at length interrupted by Mr Delvile's desiring to know in what he could serve her.
She told him she had present occasion for L600, and hoped he would not object to her taking up that sum.
"Six hundred pounds," said he, after some deliberation, "is rather an extraordinary demand for a young lady in your situation; your allowance is considerable, you have yet no house, no equipage, no establishment; your expences, I should imagine, cannot be very great--"
He stopt, and seemed weighing her request.
Cecilia, shocked at appearing extravagant, yet too generous to mention Mr Harrel, had again recourse to her bookseller's bill, which she told him she was anxious to discharge.
"A bookseller's bill?" cried he; "and do you want L600 for a bookseller's bill?"
"No, Sir," said she, stammering, "no,--not all for that,--I have some other--I have a particular occasion--"
"But what bill at all," cried he, with much surprise, "can a young lady have with a bookseller? The Spectator, Tatler and Guardian, would make library sufficient for any female in the kingdom, nor do I think it like a gentlewoman to have more. Besides, if you ally yourself in such a manner as I shall approve and recommend, you will, in all probability, find already collected more books than there can ever be any possible occasion for you to look into. And let me counsel you to remember that a lady, whether so called from birth or only from fortune, should never degrade herself by being put on a level with writers, and such sort of people."
Cecilia thanked him for his advice, but confessed that upon the present occasion it came too late, as the books were now actually in her own possession.
"And have you taken," cried he, "such a measure as this without consulting me? I thought I had assured you my opinion was always at your service when you were in any dilemma."
"Yes, Sir," answered Cecilia; "but I knew how much you were occupied, and wished to avoid taking up your time."
"I cannot blame your modesty," he replied, "and therefore, as you have contracted the debt, you are, in honour, bound to pay it. Mr Briggs, however, has the entire management of your fortune, my many avocations obliging me to decline so laborious a trust; apply, therefore, to him, and, as things are situated, I will make no opposition to your demand."
"I have already, Sir," said Cecilia, "spoke to Mr Briggs, but--"
"You went to him first, then?" interrupted Mr Delvile, with a look of much displeasure.
"I was unwilling, Sir, to trouble you till I found it unavoidable." She then acquainted him with Mr Briggs' refusal, and entreated he would do her the favour to intercede in her behalf, that the money might no longer be denied her.
Every word she spoke his pride seemed rising to resent, and when, she had done, after regarding her some time with apparent indignation, he said, "_I_ intercede! _I_ become an agent!"
Cecilia, amazed to find him thus violently irritated, made a very earnest apology for her request; but without paying her any attention, he walked up and down the room, exclaiming, "an agent! and to Mr Briggs!--This is an affront I could never have expected! why did I degrade myself by accepting this humiliating office? I ought to have known better!" Then, turning to Cecilia, "Child," he added, "for whom is it you take me, and for what?"
Cecilia again, though affronted in her turn, began some protestations of respect; but haughtily interrupting her, he said, "If of me, and of my rank in life you judge by Mr Briggs or by Mr Harrel, I may be subject to proposals such as these every day; suffer me, therefore, for your better information, to hint to you, that the head of an ancient and honourable house, is apt to think himself somewhat superior to people but just rising from dust and obscurity."
Thunderstruck by this imperious reproof, she could attempt no further vindication; but when he observed her consternation, he was somewhat appeased, and hoping he had now impressed her with a proper sense of his dignity, he more gently said, "You did not, I believe, intend to insult me."
"Good Heaven, Sir; no!" cried Cecilia, "nothing was more distant from my thoughts: if my expressions have been faulty, it has been wholly from ignorance."
"Well, well, we will think then no more of it."
She then said she would no longer detain him, and, without daring to again mention her petition, she wished him good morning.
He suffered her to go, yet, as she left the room, graciously said, "Think no more of my displeasure, for it is over: I see you were not aware of the extraordinary thing you proposed. I am sorry I cannot possibly assist you; on any other occasion you may depend upon my services; but you know Mr Briggs, you have seen him yourself,-- judge, then, how a man of any fashion is to accommodate himself with such a person!"
Cecilia concurred, and, courtsying, took her leave.
"Ah!" thought she, in her way home, "how happy is it for me that I followed the advice of Mr Monckton! else I had surely made interest to become an inmate of that house, and then indeed, as he wisely foresaw, I should inevitably have been overwhelmed by this pompous insolence! no family, however amiable, could make amends for such a master of it."
The Harrels and Mr Arnott waited the return of Cecilia with the utmost impatience; she told them with much concern the failure of her embassy, which Mr Harrel heard with visible resentment and discontent, while Mr Arnott, entreating him not to think of it, again made an offer of his services, and declared he would disregard all personal convenience for the pleasure of making him and his sister easy.
Cecilia was much mortified that she had not the power to act the same part, and asked Mr Harrel whether he believed his own influence with Mr Briggs would be more successful.
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