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- Cecilia vol. 2 - 4/63 -
"You, Mr Gosport," said Cecilia, "who seem to make the _minutiae_ of absurd characters your study, can explain to me, perhaps, why Mr Briggs seems to have as much pleasure in proclaiming his meanness, as in boasting his wealth?"
"Because," answered Mr Gosport, "he knows them, in his own affairs, to be so nearly allied, that but for practising the one, he had never possessed the other; ignorant, therefore, of all discrimination,-- except, indeed, of pounds, shillings and pence!--he supposes them necessarily inseparable, because with him they were united. What you, however, call meanness, he thinks wisdom, and recollects, therefore, not with shame but with triumph, the various little arts and subterfuges by which his coffers have been filled."
Here Lord Ernolf, concluding Cecilia still disengaged from seeing her only discourse with Mr Gosport and Mr Monckton, one of discourse was old enough to be her father, and the other was a _married man_, advanced, and presenting to her Lord Derford, his son, a youth not yet of age, solicited for him the honour of her hand as his partner.
Cecilia, having a double excuse, easily declined this proposal; Lord Ernolf, however, was too earnest to be repulsed, and told her he should again try his interest when her two present engagements were fulfilled. Hopeless, now, of young Delvile, she heard this intimation with indifference; and was accompanying Mr Monckton into the ballroom, when Miss Larolles, flying towards her with an air of infinite eagerness, caught her hand, and said in a whisper "pray let me wish you joy!"
"Certainly!" said Cecilia, "but pray let me ask you of what?"
"O Lord, now," answered she, "I am sure you know what I mean; but you must know I have a prodigious monstrous great favour to beg of you: now pray don't refuse me; I assure you if you do, I shall be so mortified you've no notion."
"Well, what is it?"
"Nothing but to let me be one of your bride maids. I assure you I shall take it as the greatest favour in the world."
"My bride maid!" cried Cecilia; "but do you not think the bridegroom himself will be rather offended to find a bridesmaid appointed, before he is even thought of?"
"O pray, now," cried she, "don't be ill-natured, for if you are, you've no idea how I shall be disappointed. Only conceive what happened to me three weeks ago! you must know I was invited to Miss Clinton's wedding, and so I made up a new dress on purpose, in a very particular sort of shape, quite of my own invention, and it had the sweetest effect you can conceive; well, and when the time came, do you know her mother happened to die! Never any thing was so excessive unlucky, for now she won't be married this half year, and my dress will be quite old and yellow; for it's all white, and the most beautiful thing you ever saw in your life."
"Upon my word you are very obliging!" cried Cecilia laughing; "and pray do you make interest regularly round with all your female acquaintance to be married upon this occasion, or am I the only one you think this distress will work upon?"
"Now how excessive teazing!" cried Miss Larolles, "when you know so well what I mean, and when all the town knows as well as myself."
Cecilia then seriously enquired whether she had really any meaning at all.
"Lord yes," answered she, "you know I mean about Sir Robert Floyer: for I'm told you've quite refused Lord Derford."
"And are you also told that I have accepted Sir Robert Floyer?"
"O dear yes!--the jewels are bought, and the equipages are built; it's quite a settled thing, I know very well."
Cecilia then very gravely began an attempt to undeceive her; but the dancing beginning also at the same time, she stayed not to hear her, hurrying, with a beating heart, to the place of action. Mr Monckton and his fair partner then followed, mutually exclaiming against Mr Harrel's impenetrable conduct; of which Cecilia, however, in a short time ceased wholly to think, for as soon as the first cotillon was over, she perceived young Delvile just walking into the room.
Surprise, pleasure and confusion assailed her all at once; she had entirely given up her expectation of seeing him, and an absence so determined had led her to conclude he had pursuits which ought to make her join in wishing it lengthened; but now he appeared, that conclusion, with the fears that gave rise to it, vanished; and she regretted nothing but the unfortunate succession of engagements which would prevent her dancing with him at all, and probably keep off all conversation with him till supper time.
She soon, however, perceived a change in his air and behaviour that extremely astonished her: he looked grave and thoughtful, saluted her at a distance, shewed no sign of any intention to approach her, regarded the dancing and dancers as a public spectacle in which he had no chance of personal interest, and seemed wholly altered, not merely with respect to her, but to himself, as his former eagerness for her society was not more abated than [his] former general gaiety.
She had no time, however, for comments, as she was presently called to the second cotillon; but the confused and unpleasant ideas which, without waiting for time or reflection, crowded upon her imagination on observing his behaviour, were not more depressing to herself, than obvious to her partner; Mr Monckton by the change in her countenance first perceived the entrance of young Delvile, and by her apparent emotion and uneasiness, readily penetrated into the state of her mind; he was confirmed that her affections were engaged; he saw, too, that she was doubtful with what return.
The grief with which he made the first discovery, was somewhat lessened by the hopes he conceived from, the second; yet the evening was to him as painful as to Cecilia, since he now knew that whatever prosperity' might ultimately attend his address and assiduity, her heart was not her own to bestow; and that even were he sure of young Delvile's indifference, and actually at liberty to make proposals for himself, the time of being first in her esteem was at an end, and the long-earned good opinion which he had hoped would have ripened into affection, might now be wholly undermined by the sudden impression of a lively stranger, without trouble to himself, and perhaps without pleasure!
Reflections such as these wholly embittered the delight he had promised himself from dancing with her, and took from him all power to combat the anxiety with which she was seized; when the second cotillon, therefore, was over, instead of following her to a seat, or taking the privilege of his present situation to converse with her, the jealousy rising in his breast robbed him of all satisfaction, and gave to him no other desire than to judge its justice by watching her motions at a distance.
Mean while Cecilia, inattentive whether he accompanied or quitted her proceeded to the first vacant seat. Young Delvile was standing near it, and, in a short time, but rather as if he could not avoid than as if he wished it, he came to enquire how she did.
The simplest question, in the then situation of her mind, was sufficient to confuse her, and though she answered, she hardly knew what he had asked. A minute's recollection, however, restored an apparent composure, and she talked to him of Mrs Delvile, with her usual partial regard for that lady, and with an earnest endeavour to seem unconscious of any alteration in his behaviour.
Yet, to him, even this trifling and general conversation was evidently painful, and he looked relieved by the approach of Sir Robert Floyer, who soon after joined them.
At this time a young lady who was sitting by Cecilia, called to a servant who was passing, for a glass of lemonade: Cecilia desired he would bring her one also; but Delvile, not sorry to break off the discourse, said he would himself be her cup-bearer, and for that purpose went away.
A moment after, the servant returned with some lemonade to Cecilia's neighbour, and Sir Robert, taking a glass from him, brought it to Cecilia at the very instant young Delvile came with another.
"I think I am before hand with you, Sir," said the insolent Baronet.
"No, Sir," answered young Delvile, "I think we were both in together: Miss Beverley, however, is steward of the race, and we must submit to her decision."
"Well, madam," cried Sir Robert, "here we stand, waiting your pleasure. Which is to be the happy man!"
"Each, I hope," answered Cecilia, with admirable presence of mind, "since I expect no less than that you will both do me the honour of drinking my health."
This little contrivance, which saved her alike from shewing favour or giving offence, could not but be applauded by both parties: and while they obeyed her orders, she took a third glass herself from the servant.
While this was passing, Mr Briggs, again perceiving her, stumpt hastily towards her, calling out "Ah ha! my duck! what's that? got something nice? Come here, my lad, taste it myself."
He then took a glass, but having only put it to his mouth, made a wry face, and returned it, saying "Bad! bad! poor punch indeed!--not a drop of rum in it!
"So much the better, Sir," cried Morrice, who diverted himself by following him, "for then you see the master of the house spares in something, and you said he spared in nothing."
"Don't spare in fools!" returned Mr Briggs, "keeps them in plenty."
"No, Sir, nor in any out of the way characters," answered Morrice.
"So much the worse," cried Briggs, "so much the worse! Eat him out of house and home; won't leave him a rag to his back nor a penny in his pocket. Never mind 'em, my little duck; mind none of your guardians but me: t'other two a'n't worth a rush."
Cecilia, somewhat ashamed of this speech, looked towards young Delvile, in whom it occasioned the first smile she had seen that evening.
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