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- Cecilia Volume 1 - 44/65 -
"No indeed, madam," she answered, bashfully, "he is very little known to me; but he is very good, and very desirous to do me service:--not but what I believe he thinks me much worse off than I really am, for, I assure you, madam, whatever he has said, I am not ill off at all--hardly."
The various doubts to her disadvantage, which had at first, from her uncommon situation, arisen in the mind of Cecilia, this anxiety to disguise, not display her distress, considerably removed, since it cleared her of all suspicion of seeking by artifice and imposition to play upon her feelings.
With a gentleness, therefore, the most soothing, she replied, "I should by no means have broken in upon you thus unexpectedly, if I had not concluded my conductor had some right to bring me. However, since we are actually met, let us remember his injunctions, and endeavour not to part till, by a mutual exchange of good-will, each has added a friend to the other."
"You are condescending, indeed, madam," answered the young woman, with an air the most humble, "looking as you look, to talk of a friend when you come to such a place as this! up two pair of stairs! no furniture! no servant! every thing in such disorder!--indeed I wonder at Mr. Albany! he should not--but he thinks every body's affairs may be made public, and does not care what he tells, nor who hears him;--he knows not the pain he gives, nor the mischief he may do."
"I am very much concerned," cried Cecilia, more and more surprised at all she heard, "to find I have been thus instrumental to distressing you. I was ignorant whither I was coming, and followed him, believe me, neither from curiosity nor inclination, but simply because I knew not how to refuse him. He is gone, however, and I will therefore relieve you by going too: but permit me to leave behind me a small testimony that the intention of my coming was not mere impertinence."
She then took out her purse; but the young woman, starting back with a look of resentful mortification, exclaimed, "No, madam! you are quite mistaken; pray put up your purse; I am no beggar! Mr Albany has misrepresented me, if he has told you I am."
Cecilia, mortified in her turn at this unexpected rejection of an offer she had thought herself invited to make, stood some moments silent; and then said, "I am far from meaning to offend you, and I sincerely beg your pardon if I have misunderstood the charge just now given to me."
"I have nothing to pardon, madam," said she, more calmly, "except, indeed, to Mr Albany; and to him, 'tis of no use to be angry, for he minds not what I say! he is very good, but he is very strange, for he thinks the whole world made to live in common, and that every one who is poor should ask, and every one who is rich should give: he does not know that there are many who would rather starve."
"And are you," said Cecilia, half-smiling, "of that number?"
"No, indeed, madam! I have not so much greatness of mind. But those to whom I belong have more fortitude and higher spirit. I wish I could imitate them!"
Struck with the candour and simplicity of this speech, Cecilia now felt a warm desire to serve her, and taking her hand, said, "Forgive me, but though I see you wish me gone, I know not how to leave you: recollect, therefore, the charge that has been given to us both, and if you refuse my assistance one way, point out to me in what other I may offer it."
"You are very kind, madam," she answered, "and I dare say you are very good; I am sure you look so, at least. But I want nothing; I do very well, and I have hopes of doing better. Mr Albany is too impatient. He knows, indeed, that I am not extremely rich, but he is much to blame if he supposes me therefore an object of charity, and thinks me so mean as to receive money from a stranger."
"I am truly sorry," cried Cecilia, "for the error I have committed, but you must suffer me to make my peace with you before we part: yet, till I am better known to you, I am fearful of proposing terms. Perhaps you will permit me to leave you my direction, and do me the favour to call upon me yourself?"
"O no, madam! I have a sick relation whom I cannot leave: and indeed, if he were well, he would not like to have me make an acquaintance while I am in this place."
"I hope you are not his only nurse? I am sure you do not look able to bear such fatigue. Has he a physician? Is he properly attended?"
"No, madam; he has no physician, and no attendance at all!"
"And is it possible that in such a situation you can refuse to be assisted? Surely you should accept some help for him, if not for yourself."
"But what will that signify when, if I do, he will not make use of it? and when he had a thousand and a thousand times rather die, than let any one know he is in want?"
"Take it, then, unknown to him; serve him without acquainting him you serve him. Surely you would not suffer him to perish without aid?"
"Heaven forbid! But what can I do? I am under his command, madam, not he under mine!"
"Is he your father?--Pardon my question, but your youth seems much to want such a protector."
"No, madam, I have no father! I was happier when I had! He is my brother."
"And what is his illness?"
"A fever, and without a physician! Are you sure, too, it is not infectious?"
"O yes, too sure!"
"Too sure? how so?"
"Because I know too well the occasion of it!"
"And what is the occasion?" cried Cecilia, again taking her hand, "pray trust me; indeed you shall not repent your confidence. Your reserve hitherto has only raised you in my esteem, but do not carry it so far as to mortify me by a total rejection of my good offices."
"Ah madam!" said the young woman, sighing, "you ought to be good, I am sure, for you will draw all out of me by such kindness as this! the occasion was a neglected wound, never properly healed."
"A wound? is he in the army?"
"No,--he was shot through the side in a duel."
"In a duel?" exclaimed Cecilia, "pray what is his name?"
"O that I must not tell you! his name is a great secret now, while he is in this poor place, for I know he had almost rather never see the light again than have it known."
"Surely, surely," cried Cecilia, with much emotion, "he cannot--I hope he cannot be Mr Belfield?"
"Ah Heaven!" cried the young woman, screaming, "do you then know him?"
Here, in mutual astonishment, they looked at each other.
"You are then," said Cecilia, "the sister of Mr Belfield? And Mr Belfield is thus sick, his wound is not yet healed,--and he is without any help!"
"And who, madam, are _you_?" cried she, "and how is it you know him?"
"My name is Beverley."
"Ah!" exclaimed she again, "I fear I have done nothing but mischief! I know very well who you are now, madam, but if my brother discovers that I have betrayed him, he will take it very unkind, and perhaps never forgive me."
"Be not alarmed," cried Cecilia; "rest assured he shall never know it. Is he not now in the country?"
"No, madam, he is now in the very next room."
"But what is become of the surgeon who used to attend him, and why does he not still visit him?"
"It is in vain, now, to hide any thing from you; my brother deceived him, and said he was going out of town merely to get rid of him."
"And what could induce him to act so strangely?"
"A reason which you, madam, I hope, will never know, Poverty!--he would not run up a bill he could not pay."
"Good Heaven!--But what can be done for him? He must not be suffered to linger thus; we must contrive some method of relieving and assisting him, whether he will consent or not."
"I fear that will not be possible. One of his friends has already found him out, and has written him the kindest letter! but he would not answer it, and would not see him, and was only fretted and angry."
"Well," said Cecilia, "I will not keep you longer, lest he should be alarmed by your absence. To-morrow morning, with your leave, I will call upon you again, and then, I hope, you will permit me to make some effort to assist you."
"If it only depended upon me, madam," she answered, "now I have the honour to know who you are, I believe I should not make much scruple, for I was not brought up to notions so high as my brother.
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