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- Cecilia vol. 2 - 40/63 -
"I have something," continued her ladyship, "of the utmost consequence to communicate to you. We have been settling an admirable plan for you; will you promise to be guided by us if I tell it you?"
"O certainly!" cried he; "to doubt that would disgrace us all round."
"Well, then,--Miss Beverley, have you any objection to my proceeding?" "None at all!" answered Cecilia, who had the understanding to know that the greatest excitement to ridicule is opposition.
"Well, then, I must tell you," she continued, "it is the advice of us all, that as soon as you come to the possession of your estate, you make some capital alterations in this antient castle."
Cecilia, greatly relieved, could with gratitude have embraced her: and Mortimer, very certain that such rattle was all her own, promised the utmost submission to her orders, and begged her further directions, declaring that he could not, at least, desire a fairer architect.
"What we mean," said she, "may be effected with the utmost ease; it is only to take out these old windows, and fix some thick iron grates in their place, and so turn the castle into a gaol for the county."
Mortimer laughed heartily at this proposition; but his father, unfortunately hearing it, sternly advanced, and with great austerity said, "If I thought my son capable of putting such an insult upon his ancestors, whatever may be the value I feel for him, I would banish him my presence for ever."
"Dear Sir," cried Lady Honoria, "how would his ancestors ever know it?"
"How?--why--that is a very extraordinary question, Lady Honoria!"
"Besides, Sir, I dare say the sheriff, or the mayor and corporation, or some of those sort of people, would give him money enough, for the use of it, to run him up a mighty pretty neat little box somewhere near Richmond."
"A box!" exclaimed he indignantly; "a neat little box for the heir of an estate such as this!"
"I only mean," cried she, giddily, "that he might have some place a little more pleasant to live in, for really that old moat and draw-bridge are enough to vapour him to death; I cannot for my life imagine any use they are of: unless, indeed, to frighten away the deer, for nothing else offer to come over. But, if you were to turn the house into a gaol--"
"A gaol?" cried Mr Delvile, still more angrily, "your ladyship must pardon me if I entreat you not to mention that word again when you are pleased to speak of Delvile Castle."
"Dear Sir, why not?"
"Because it is a term that, in itself, from a young lady, has a sound peculiarly improper; and which, applied to any gentleman's antient family seat,--a thing, Lady Honoria, always respectable, however lightly spoken of!--has an effect the least agreeable that can be devised: for it implies an idea either that the family, or the mansion, is going into decay."
"Well, Sir, you know, with regard to the mansion, it is certainly very true, for all that other side, by the old tower, looks as if it would fall upon one's head every time one is forced to pass it."
"I protest, Lady Honoria," said Mr Delvile, "that old tower, of which you are pleased to speak so slightingly, is the most honourable testimony to the antiquity of the castle of any now remaining, and I would not part with it for all the new boxes, as you style them, in the kingdom."
"I am sure I am very glad of it, Sir, for I dare say nobody would give even one of them for it."
"Pardon me, Lady Honoria, you are greatly mistaken; they would give a thousand; such a thing, belonging to a man from his own ancestors, is invaluable."
"Why, dear Sir, what in the world could they do with it? unless, indeed, they were to let some man paint it for an opera scene."
"A worthy use indeed!" cried Mr Delvile, more and more affronted: "and pray does your ladyship talk thus to my Lord Duke?"
"O yes; and he never minds it at all."
"It were strange if he did!" cried Mrs Delvile; "my only astonishment is that anybody can be found who _does_ mind it."
"Why now, Mrs Delvile," she answered, "pray be sincere; can you possibly think this Gothic ugly old place at all comparable to any of the new villas about town?"
"Gothic ugly old place!" repeated Mr Delvile, in utter amazement at her dauntless flightiness; "your ladyship really does my humble dwelling too much honour!"
"Lord, I beg a thousand pardons!" cried she, "I really did not think of what I was saying. Come, dear Miss Beverley, and walk out with me, for I am too much shocked to stay a moment longer."
And then, taking Cecilia by the arm, she hurried her into the park, through a door which led thither from the parlour.
"For heaven's sake, Lady Honoria," said Cecilia, "could you find no better entertainment for Mr Delvile than ridiculing his own house?"
"O," cried she, laughing, "did you never hear us quarrel before? why when I was here last summer, I used to affront him ten times a day."
"And was that a regular ceremony?"
"No, really, I did not do it purposely; but it so happened; either by talking of the castle, or the tower, or the draw-bridge, or the fortifications; or wishing they were all employed to fill up that odious moat; or something of that sort; for you know a small matter will put him out of humour."
"And do you call it so small a matter to wish a man's whole habitation annihilated?"
"Lord, I don't wish anything about it! I only say so to provoke him."
"And what strange pleasure can that give you?"
"O the greatest in the world! I take much delight in seeing anybody in a passion. It makes them look so excessively ugly!"
"And is that the way you like every body should look, Lady Honoria?"
"O my dear, if you mean _me_, I never was in a passion twice in my life: for as soon as ever I have provoked the people, I always run away. But sometimes I am in a dreadful fright lest they should see me laugh, for they make such horrid grimaces it is hardly possible to look at them. When my father has been angry with me, I have sometimes been obliged to pretend I was crying, by way of excuse for putting my handkerchief to my face: for really he looks so excessively hideous, you would suppose he was making mouths, like the children, merely to frighten one."
"Amazing!" exclaimed Cecilia, "your ladyship can, indeed, never want diversion, to find it in the anger of your father. But does it give you no other sensation? are you not afraid?"
"O never! O what can he do to me, you know? he can only storm a little, and swear a little, for he always swears when he is angry; and perhaps order me to my own room; and ten to one but that happens to be the very thing I want; for we never quarrel but when we are alone, and then it's so dull, I am always wishing to run away."
"And can you take no other method of leaving him?"
"Why I think none so easily: and it can do him no harm, you know; I often tell him, when we make friends, that if it were not for a postilion and his daughter, he would be quite out of practice in scolding and swearing: for whenever he is upon the road he does nothing else: though why he is in such a hurry, nobody can divine, for go whither he will he has nothing to do."
Thus ran on this flighty lady, happy in high animal spirits, and careless who was otherwise, till, at some distance, they perceived Lord Derford, who was approaching to join them.
"Miss Beverley," cried she, "here comes your adorer: I shall therefore only walk on till we arrive at that large oak, and then make him prostrate himself at your feet, and leave you together."
"Your ladyship is extremely good! but I am glad to be apprized of your intention, as it will enable me to save you that trouble."
She then turned quick back, and passing Lord Derford, who still walked on towards Lady Honoria, she returned to the house; but, upon entering the parlour, found all the company dispersed, Delvile alone excepted, who was walking about the room, with his tablets in his hand, in which he had been writing.
From a mixture of shame and surprize, Cecilia, at the sight of him, was involuntarily retreating; but, hastening to the door, he called out in a reproachful tone, "Will you not even enter the same room with me?"
"O yes," cried she, returning; "I was only afraid I disturbed you."
"No, madam," answered he, gravely; "you are the only person who could _not_ disturb me, since my employment was making memorandums for a letter to yourself: with which, however, I did not desire to importune you, but that you have denied me the honour of even a five minutes' audience."
Cecilia, in the utmost confusion at this attack, knew not whether to stand still or proceed; but, as he presently continued his speech, she found she had no choice but to stay.
"I should be sorry to quit this place, especially as the length of my absence is extremely uncertain, while I have the unhappiness to be under your displeasure, without making some little attempt to apologize for the behaviour which incurred it. Must I, then, finish my letter, or will you at last deign to hear me?"
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