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- Cecilia vol. 2 - 63/63 -
"I have told it you, Sir, already: whatever is clandestine carries a consciousness of evil, and so repugnant do I find it to my disposition and opinions, that till you give me back the promise I so unworthily made, I must be a stranger to peace, because at war with my own actions and myself."
"Recover, then, your peace," cried Delvile with much emotion, "for I here acquit you of all promise!--to fetter, to compel you, were too inhuman to afford me any happiness. Yet hear me, dispassionately hear me, and deliberate a moment before you resolve upon my exile. Your scruples I am not now going to combat, I grieve that they are so powerful, but I have no new arguments with which to oppose them; all I have to say, is, that it is now too late for a retreat to satisfy them."
"True, Sir, and far too true! yet is it always best to do right, however tardily; always better to repent, than to grow callous in wrong."
"Suffer not, however, your delicacy for my family to make you forget what is due to yourself as well as to me: the fear of shocking you led me just now to conceal what a greater fear now urges me to mention. The honour I have had in view is already known to many, and in a very short time there are none will be ignorant of it. That impudent young man, Morrice, had the effrontery to rally me upon my passion for you, and though I reproved him with great asperity, he followed me into a coffee-house, whither I went merely to avoid him. There I forced myself to stay, till I saw him engaged with a news-paper, and then, through various private streets and alleys, I returned hither; but judge my indignation, when the moment I knocked at the door, I perceived him again at my side!"
"Did he, then, see you come in?"
"I angrily demanded what he meant by thus pursuing me; he very submissively begged my pardon, and said he had had a notion I should come back, and had therefore only followed, me to see if he was right! I hesitated for an instant whether to chastise, or confide in him; but believing a few hours would make his impertinence immaterial, I did neither,--the door opened, and I came in."
He stopt; but Cecilia was too much shocked to answer him.
"Now, then," said he, "weigh your objections against the consequences which must follow. It is discovered I attended you in town; it will be presumed I had your permission for such attendance: to separate, therefore, now, will be to no purpose with respect to that delicacy which makes you wish it. It will be food for conjecture, for enquiry, for wonder, almost while both our names are remembered, and while to me it will bring the keenest misery in the severity of my disappointment, it will cast over your own conduct a veil of mystery and obscurity wholly subversive of that unclouded openness, that fair, transparent ingenuousness, by which it has hitherto been distinguished."
"Alas, then," said she, "how dreadfully have I erred, that whatever path I now take must lead me wrong!"
"You overwhelm me with grief," cried Delvile, "by finding you thus distressed, when I had hoped--Oh cruel Cecilia! how different to this did I hope to have met you!--all your doubts settled, all your fears removed, your mind perfectly composed, and ready, unreluctantly, to ratify the promise with so much sweetness accorded me!--where now are those hopes!--where now.--"
"Why will you not begone?" cried Cecilia, uneasily, "indeed it is too late to stay."
"Tell me first," cried he, with great energy, "and let good Mrs Charlton speak too,--ought not every objection to our union, however potent, to give way, without further hesitation, to the certainty that our intending it must become public? Who that hears of our meeting in London, at such a season, in such circumstances, and at such hours,--"
"And why," cried Cecilia, angrily, "do you mention them, and yet stay?"
"I _must_ speak now," answered he with quickness, "or lose forever all that is dear to me, and add to the misery of that loss, the heart-piercing reflection of having injured her whom of all the world I most love, most value, and most revere!"
"And how injured?" cried Cecilia, half alarmed and half displeased: "Surely I must strangely have lived to fear now the voice of calumny?"
"If any one has ever," returned he, "so lived as to dare defy it, Miss Beverley is she: but though safe by the established purity of your character from calumny, there are other, and scarce less invidious attacks, from which no one is exempt, and of which the refinement, the sensibility of your mind, will render you but the more susceptible: ridicule has shafts, and impertinence has arrows, which though against innocence they may be levelled in vain, have always the power of wounding tranquility."
Struck with a truth which she could not controvert, Cecilia sighed deeply, but spoke not.
"Mr Delvile is right," said Mrs Charlton, "and though your plan, my dear Cecilia, was certainly virtuous and proper, when you set out from Bury, the purpose of your journey must now be made so public, that it will no longer be judicious nor rational."
Delvile poured forth his warmest thanks for this friendly interposition, and then, strengthened by such an advocate, re-urged all his arguments with redoubled hope and spirit.
Cecilia, disturbed, uncertain, comfortless, could frame her mind to no resolution; she walked about the room, deliberated,--determined,-- wavered and deliberated again. Delvile then grew more urgent, and represented so strongly the various mortifications which must follow so tardy a renunciation of their intentions, that, terrified and perplexed, and fearing the breach of their union would now be more injurious to her than its ratification, she ceased all opposition to his arguments, and uttered no words but of solicitation that he would leave her.
"I will," cried he, "I will begone this very moment. Tell me but first you will think of what I have said, and refer me not to your letter, but deign yourself to pronounce my doom, when you have considered if it may not be softened."
To this she tacitly consented; and elated with fresh rising hope, he recommended his cause to the patronage of Mrs Charlton, and then, taking leave of Cecilia, "I go," he said, "though I have yet a thousand things to propose and to supplicate, and though still in a suspense that my temper knows ill how to endure; but I should rather be rendered miserable than happy, in merely overpowering your reason by entreaty. I leave you, therefore, to your own reflections; yet remember,--and refuse not to remember with some compunction, that all chance, all possibility of earthly happiness for _me_ depends upon your decision."
He then tore himself away.
Cecilia, shocked at the fatigue she had occasioned her good old friend, now compelled her to go to rest, and dedicated the remaining part of the night to uninterrupted deliberation.
It seemed once more in her power to be mistress of her destiny; but the very liberty of choice she had so much coveted, now attained, appeared the most heavy of calamities; since, uncertain even what she ought to do, she rather wished to be drawn than to lead, rather desired to be guided than to guide. She was to be responsible not only to the world but to herself for the whole of this momentous transaction, and the terror of leaving either dissatisfied, made independence burthensome, and unlimited power a grievance.
The happiness or misery which awaited her resolution were but secondary considerations in the present state of her mind; her consent to a clandestine action she lamented as an eternal blot to her character, and the undoubted publication of that consent as equally injurious to her fame. Neither retracting nor fulfilling her engagement could now retrieve what was past, and in the bitterness of regret for the error she had committed she thought happiness unattainable for the remainder of her life.
In this gloomy despondence passed the night, her eyes never closed, her determination never formed. Morning, however, came, and upon something to fix was indispensable.
She now, therefore, finally employed herself in briefly, comparing the good with the evil of giving Delvile wholly up, or becoming his for ever.
In accepting him, she was exposed to all the displeasure of his relations, and, which affected her most, to the indignant severity of his mother: but not another obstacle could be found that seemed of any weight to oppose him.
In refusing him she was liable to the derision of the world, to sneers from strangers, and remonstrances from her friends, to becoming a topic for ridicule, if not for slander, and an object of curiosity if not of contempt.
The ills, therefore, that threatened her marriage, though most afflicting, were least disgraceful, and those which awaited its breach, if less serious, were more mortifying.
At length, after weighing every circumstance as well as her perturbed spirits would permit, she concluded that so late to reject him must bring misery without any alleviation, while accepting him, though followed by wrath and reproach, left some opening for future hope, and some prospect of better days.
To fulfil, therefore, her engagement was her final resolution.
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