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- Cecilia Volume 1 - 43/65 -
Having settled this matter in her own mind, she went to the lodging of Mrs Hill, in order to conclude the affair. She found her and all her children, except the youngest, hard at work, and their honest industry so much strengthened her compassion, that her wishes for serving them grew every instant more liberal.
Mrs Hill readily undertook to make her cousin accept half the premium for the present, which would suffice to fix her, with three of her children, in the shop: Cecilia then went with her to Fetter- lane, and there, drawing up herself an agreement for their entering into partnership, she made each of them sign it and take a copy, and kept a third in her own possession: after which, she gave a promissory note to Mrs Roberts for the rest of the money.
She presented Mrs Hill, also, with 10 pounds to clothe them all decently, and enable her to send two of the children to school; and assured her that she would herself pay for their board and instruction, till she should be established in her business, and have power to save money for that purpose.
She then put herself into a chair to return home, followed by the prayers and blessings of the whole family.
Never had the heart of Cecilia felt so light, so gay, so glowing as after the transaction of this affair: her life had never appeared to her so important, nor her wealth so valuable. To see five helpless children provided for by herself, rescued from the extremes of penury and wretchedness, and put in a way to become useful to society, and comfortable to themselves; to behold their feeble mother, snatched from the hardship of that labour which, over- powering her strength, had almost destroyed her existence, now placed in a situation where a competent maintenance might be earned without fatigue, and the remnant of her days pass in easy employment--to view such sights, and have power to say "_These deeds are mine!_" what, to a disposition fraught with tenderness and benevolence, could give purer self-applause, or more exquisite satisfaction?
Such were the pleasures which regaled the reflections of Cecilia when, in her way home, having got out of her chair to walk through the upper part of Oxford Street, she was suddenly met by the old gentleman whose emphatical addresses to her had so much excited her astonishment.
He was passing quick on, but stopping the moment he perceived her, he sternly called out "Are you proud? are you callous? are you hard of heart so soon?"
"Put me, if you please, to some trial!" cried Cecilia, with the virtuous courage of a self-acquitting conscience.
"I already have!" returned he, indignantly, "and already I have found you faulty!"
"I am sorry to hear it," said the amazed Cecilia, "but at least I hope you will tell me in what?"
"You refused me admittance," he answered, "yet I was your friend, yet I was willing to prolong the term of your genuine [tranquillity]! I pointed out to you a method of preserving peace with your own soul; I came to you in behalf of the poor, and instructed you how to merit their prayers; you heard me, you were susceptible, you complied! I meant to have repeated the lesson, to have tuned your whole heart to compassion, and to have taught you the sad duties of sympathising humanity. For this purpose I called again, but again I was not admitted! Short was the period of my absence, yet long enough for the completion of your downfall!"
"Good heaven," cried Cecilia, "how dreadful is this language! when have you called, Sir? I never heard you had been at the house. Far from refusing you admittance, I wished to see you."
"Indeed?" cried he, with some softness, "and are you, in truth, not proud? not callous? not hard of heart? Follow me, then, and visit the humble and the poor, follow me, and give comfort to the fallen and dejected!"
At this invitation, however desirous to do good, Cecilia started; the strangeness of the inviter, his flightiness, his authoritative manner, and the uncertainty whither or to whom he might carry her, made her fearful of proceeding: yet a benevolent curiosity to see as well as serve the objects of his recommendation, joined to the eagerness of youthful integrity to clear her own character from the aspersion of hard-heartedness, soon conquered her irresolution, and making a sign to her servant to keep near her, she followed as her conductor led.
He went on silently and solemnly till he came to Swallow-street, then turning into it, he stopt at a small and mean-looking house, knocked at the door, and without asking any question of the man who opened it, beckoned her to come after him, and hastened up some narrow winding stairs.
Cecilia again hesitated; but when she recollected that this old man, though little known, was frequently seen, and though with few people acquainted, was by many personally recognized, she thought it impossible he could mean her any injury. She ordered her servant, however, to come in, and bid him keep walking up and down the stairs till she returned to him. And then she obeyed the directions of her guide.
He proceeded till he came to the second floor, then, again beckoning her to follow him, he opened a door, and entered a small and very meanly furnished apartment.
And here, to her infinite astonishment, she perceived, employed in washing some china, a very lovely young woman, [genteelly] dressed, and appearing hardly seventeen years of age.
The moment they came in, with evident marks of confusion, she instantly gave over her work, hastily putting the basin she was washing upon the table, and endeavouring to hide the towel with which she was wiping it behind her chair.
The old gentleman, advancing to her with quickness, said, "How is he now? Is he better? will he live?"
"Heaven forbid he should not!" answered the young woman with emotion, "but, indeed, he is no better!"
"Look here," said he, pointing to Cecilia, "I have brought you one who has power to serve you, and to relieve your distress: one who is rolling in affluence, a stranger to ill, a novice in the world; unskilled in the miseries she is yet to endure, unconscious of the depravity into which she is to sink! receive her benefactions while yet she is untainted, satisfied that while, she aids you, she is blessing herself!"
The young woman, blushing and abashed, said, "You are very good to me, Sir, but there is no occasion--there is no need--I have not any necessity--I am far from being so very much in want--"
"Poor, simple soul!" interrupted the old man, "and art thou ashamed of poverty? Guard, guard thyself from other shames, and the wealthiest may envy thee! Tell her thy story, plainly, roundly, truly; abate nothing of thy indigence, repress nothing of her liberality. The Poor not impoverished by their own Guilt, are Equals of the Affluent, not enriched by their own Virtue. Come, then, and let me present ye to each other! young as ye both are, with many years and many sorrows to encounter, lighten the burthen of each other's cares, by the heart-soothing exchange of gratitude for beneficence!"
He then took a hand of each, and joining them between his own, "_You_," he continued, "who, though rich, are not hardened, and you, who though poor, are not debased, why should ye not love, why should ye not cherish each other? The afflictions of life are tedious, its joys are evanescent; ye are now both young, and, with little to enjoy, will find much to suffer. Ye are both, too, I believe, innocent--Oh could ye always remain so!--Cherubs were ye then, and the sons of men might worship you!"
He stopt, checked by his own rising emotion; but soon resuming his usual austerity, "Such, however," he continued, "is not the condition of humanity; in pity, therefore, to the evils impending over both, be kind to each other! I leave you together, and to your mutual tenderness I recommend you!"
Then, turning particularly to Cecilia, "Disdain not," he said, "to console the depressed; look upon her without scorn, converse with her without contempt: like you, she is an orphan, though not like you, an heiress;--like her, you are fatherless, though not like her friendless! If she is awaited by the temptations of adversity, you, also, are surrounded by the corruptions of prosperity. Your fall is most probable, her's most excusable;--commiserate _her_ therefore now,--by and by she may commiserate _you_?"
And with these words he left the room.
A total silence for some time succeeded his departure: Cecilia found it difficult to recover from the surprise into which she had been thrown sufficiently for speech: in following her extraordinary director, her imagination had painted to her a scene such as she had so lately quitted, and prepared her to behold some family in distress, some helpless creature in sickness, or some children in want; but of these to see none, to meet but one person, and that one fair, young, and delicate,--an introduction so singular to an object so unthought of, deprived her of all power but that of shewing her amazement.
Mean while the young woman looked scarcely less surprised, and infinitely more embarrassed. She surveyed her apartment with vexation, and her guest with confusion; she had listened to the exhortation of the old man with visible uneasiness, and now he was gone, seemed overwhelmed with shame and chagrin.
Cecilia, who in observing these emotions felt both her curiosity and her compassion encrease, pressed her hand as she parted with it, and, when a little recovered, said, "You must think this a strange intrusion; but the gentleman who brought me hither is perhaps so well known to you, as to make his singularities plead with you their
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