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- Cecilia Volume 1 - 60/65 -
and to obtain the applause of so noble an assembly, what would it signify that Sir Robert should cut my throat?"
"I believe," said Cecilia, deeply mortified by a raillery that shewed so little interest in her avowal of indifference, "you are determined to make me as sick of that man's name, as I am of his conversation."
"And is it possible," exclaimed Delvile, in a tone of surprise, "that such can be your opinion, and yet, situated as you are, the whole world at your command, and all mankind at your devotion--but I am answering you seriously, when you are only speaking by rule."
"What rule, Sir?"
"That which young ladies, upon certain occasions, always prescribe themselves."
Here they were interrupted by the arrival of the rest of the company; though not before Cecilia had received some little consolation for her displeasure, by finding that young Delvile still supposed she was engaged, and flattering herself his language would be different were he informed of the contrary.
Morrice now undertook to procure them a table for tea, which, as the room was very full, was not easily done; and while they were waiting his success, Miss Larolles, who from the stairs had perceived Cecilia, came running up to her, and taking her hand, called out "Lord, my dear creature, who'd have thought of seeing you here? I was never so surprised in my life! I really thought you was gone into a convent, it's so extreme long since I've seen you. But of all things in the world, why was you not at Lady Nyland's last assembly? I thought of asking Mrs Harrel fifty times why you did not come, but it always went out of my head. You've no notion how excessively I was disappointed."
"You are very obliging," said Cecilia laughing, "but I hope, since you so often forgot it, the disappointment did [not] much lessen your entertainment."
"O Lord no! I was never so happy in my life. There was such a crowd, you could not move a finger. Every body in the world was there. You've no idea how delightful it was. I thought verily I should have fainted with the heat."
"That was delightful indeed! And how long did you stay?"
"Why we danced till three in the morning. We began with Cotillons, and finished with country dances. It was the most elegant thing you ever saw in your life; every thing quite in a style. I was so monstrously fatigued, I could hardly get through the last dance. I really thought I should have dropt down dead. Only conceive dancing five hours in such a monstrous crowd! I assure you when I got home my feet were all blisters. You have no idea how they smarted."
"And whence comes it," cried young Delvile, "that _you_ partake so little of these delights?"
"Because I fear," answered Cecilia, "I came too late into the school of fashion to be a ductile pupil."
"Do you know," continued Miss Larolles, "Mr Meadows has not spoke one word to me all the evening! Though I am sure he saw me, for I sat at the outside on purpose to speak to a person or two, that I knew would be strolling about; for if one sits on the inside, there's no speaking to a creature, you know, so I never do it at the Opera, nor in the boxes at Ranelagh, nor any where. It's the shockingest thing you can conceive to be made sit in the middle of those forms; one might as well be at home, for nobody can speak to one,"
"But you don't seem to have had much better success," said Cecilia, "in keeping at the outside."
"O yes I have, for I got a little chat with two or three people as they were passing, for, you know, when one sits there, they can't help saying something; though I assure you all the men are so exceedingly odd they don't care whether they speak to one or no. As to Mr Meadows, he's really enough to provoke one to death. I suppose he's in one of his absent fits. However, I assure you I think it's extreme impertinent of him, and so I shall tell Mr Sawyer, for I know he'll make a point of telling him of it again."
"I rather think," said Cecilia, "the best would be to return the compliment in kind, and when he next recollects you, appear to have forgotten him."
"O Lord, that's a very good notion! so I will, I declare. But you can't conceive how glad I am the Concert's over; for I assure you, though I sat as near the fire as possible, I was so extreme cold you've no idea, for Mr Meadows never would let me have the least peep at it. I declare I believe he does it on purpose to plague one, for he grows worse and worse every day. You can't think how I hate him!"
"Not easily, I believe indeed!" said Cecilia, archly.
"O do but look!" resumed the fair VOLUBLE, "if there is not Mrs Mears in her old red gown again! I begin to think she'll never have another. I wish she was to have an execution in her house, if it was only to get rid of it! I am so fatigued with the sight of it you can't conceive."
Mr Morrice now brought intelligence that he had secured one side of a table which would very well accommodate the ladies; and that the other side was only occupied by one gentleman, who, as he was not drinking tea himself, would doubtless give up his place when the party appeared.
Miss Larolles then ran back to her own set, and the rest followed Mr Morrice; Mrs Harrell, Mrs Mears and Cecilia took their places. The gentleman opposite to them proved to be Mr Meadows: Morrice, therefore, was much deceived in his expectations, for, far from giving up his place, he had flung himself all along upon the form in such a lounging posture, while he rested one arm upon the table, that, not contented with merely keeping his own seat, he filled up a space meant for three.
Mr Harrel had already walked off to another party: Delvile stood aloof for some minutes, expecting Sir Robert Floyer would station himself behind Cecilia; but Sir Robert, who would scarce have thought such a condescension due to a princess, disdained any appearance of assiduity, even while he made it his care to publish his pretensions: and therefore, finding no accommodation to please him, he stalked towards some gentlemen in another part of the room. Delvile then took the post he had neglected, and Mr Arnott, who had not had courage to make any effort in his own favour, modestly stood near him. Cecilia contrived to make room for Mr Gosport next to herself, and Morrice was sufficiently happy in being allowed to call the waiters, superintend, the provisions, and serve the whole party.
The task of making tea fell upon Cecilia, who being somewhat incommoded by the vicinity of her neighbours, Mrs Mears called out to Mr Meadows "Do pray, Sir, be so good as to make room for one of us at your side."
Mr Meadows, who was indolently picking his teeth, and examining them with a tooth pick case glass, did not, at first, seem to hear her; and when she repeated her request, he only looked at her, and said "umph?"
"Now really, Mr Meadows," said she, "when you see any ladies in such distress, I wonder how you can forbear helping them."
"In distress, are you?" cried he, with a vacant smile, "pray, what's the matter?"
"Don't you see? we are so crowded we can hardly sit."
"Can't you?" cried he, "upon my honour it's very shameful that these people don't contrive some seats more convenient"
"Yes," said Mrs Mears; "but if you would be so kind as to let somebody else sit by you we should not want any contrivance."
Here Mr Meadows was seized with a furious fit of yawning, which as much diverted Cecilia and Mr Gosport, as it offended Mrs Mears, who with great displeasure added, "Indeed, Mr Meadows, it's very strange that you never hear what's said to you."
"I beg your pardon," said he, "were you speaking to me?" and again began picking his teeth.
Morrice, eager to contrast his civility with the inattention of Mr Meadows, now flew round to the other side of the table, and calling out "let _me_ help you, Miss Beverley, I can make tea better than anybody," he lent over that part of the form which Mr Meadows had occupied with one of his feet, in order to pour it out himself: but Mr Meadows, by an unfortunate removal of his foot, bringing him forwarder than he was prepared to go, the tea pot and its contents were overturned immediately opposite to Cecilia.
Young Delvile, who saw the impending evil, from an impetuous impulse to prevent her suffering by it, hastily drew her back, and bending down before her, secured her preservation by receiving himself the mischief with which she was threatened.
Mrs Mears and Mrs Harrel vacated their seats in a moment, and Mr Gosport and Mr Arnott assisted in clearing the table, and removing Cecilia, who was very slightly hurt, and at once surprised, ashamed, and pleased at the manner in which she had been saved.
Young Delvile, though a sufferer from his gallantry, the hot water having penetrated through his coat to his arm and shoulder, was at first insensible to his situation, from an apprehension that Cecilia had not wholly escaped; and his enquiries were so eager and so anxious, made with a look of such solicitude, and a voice of such alarm, that, equally astonished and gratified, she secretly blest the accident which had given birth to his uneasiness, however she grieved for its consequence to himself.
But no sooner was he satisfied of her safety, than he felt himself obliged to retire; yet attributing to inconvenience what was really the effect of pain, he hurried away with an appearance of sport, saying, "There is something I must own, rather _unknightly_ in quitting the field for a wet jacket, but the company, I hope, will only give me credit for flying away to Ranelagh. So
"Like a brave general after being beat, I'll exult and rejoice in a prudent retreat." [Footnote: Smart]
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