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- Cecilia vol. 3 - 3/64 -
"Be patient, I beseech you; and attempt not to follow me; 'tis a step I cannot permit."
"Not follow you? And who has power to prevent me?"
"_I_ have, Sir, if to incur my endless resentment is of any consequence to you."
She then, with an air of determined steadiness, moved on; Mrs Charlton, assisted by the servants, being already upon the stairs.
"O tyranny!" cried he, "what submission is it you exact!--May I not even enquire into the dreadful mystery of this morning?"
"And may I not acquaint you with it, should it be discovered?"
"I shall not be sorry to hear it. Adieu."
She was now half way down the stairs; when, losing all forbearance, he hastily flew after her, and endeavouring to stop her, called out, "If you do not hate and detest me,--if I am not loathsome and abhorrent to you, O quit me not thus insensibly!--Cecilia! my beloved Cecilia!-- speak to me, at least, one word of less severity! Look at me once more, and tell me we part not for-ever!"
Cecilia then turned round, and while a starting tear shewed her sympathetic distress, said, "Why will you thus oppress me with entreaties I ought not to gratify?--Have I not accompanied you to the altar,--and can you doubt what I have thought of you?"
"_Have_ thought?--Oh Cecilia!--is it then all over?"
"Pray suffer me to go quietly, and fear not I shall go too happily! Suppress your own feelings, rather than seek to awaken mine. Alas! there is little occasion!--Oh Mr Delvile! were our connection opposed by no duty, and repugnant to no friends, were it attended by no impropriety, and carried on with no necessity of disguise,--you would not thus charge me with indifference, you would not suspect me of insensibility,--Oh no! the choice of my heart would then be its glory, and all I now blush to feel, I should openly and with pride acknowledge!"
She then hurried to the chaise, Delvile pursuing her with thanks and blessings, and gratefully assuring her, as he handed her into it, that he would obey all her injunctions, and not even attempt to see her, till he could bring her some intelligence concerning the morning's transaction.
The chaise then drove off.
The journey was melancholy and tedious: Mrs Charlton, extremely fatigued by the unusual hurry and exercise both of mind and body which she had lately gone through, was obliged to travel very slowly, and to lie upon the road. Cecilia, however, was in no haste to proceed: she was going to no one she wished to see, she was wholly without expectation of meeting with any thing that could give her pleasure. The unfortunate expedition in which she had been engaged, left her now nothing but regret, and only promised her in future sorrow and mortification.
Mrs Charlton, after her return home, still continued ill, and Cecilia, who constantly attended her, had the additional affliction of imputing her indisposition to herself. Every thing she thought conspired to punish the error she had committed; her proceedings were discovered, though her motives were unknown; the Delvile family could not fail to hear of her enterprize, and while they attributed it to her temerity, they would exult in its failure: but chiefly hung upon her mind the unaccountable prohibition of her marriage. Whence that could proceed she was wholly without ability to divine, yet her surmizes were not more fruitless than various. At one moment she imagined it some frolic of Morrice, at another some perfidy of Monckton, and at another an idle and unmeaning trick of some stranger to them all. But none of these suppositions carried with them any air of probability; Morrice, even if he had watched their motions and pursued them to the church, which his inquisitive impertinence made by no means impossible, could yet hardly have either time or opportunity to engage any woman in so extraordinary an undertaking; Mr Monckton, however averse to the connection, she considered as a man of too much honour to break it off in a manner so alarming and disgraceful; and mischief so wanton in any stranger, seemed to require a share of unfeeling effrontery, which could fall to the lot of so few as to make this suggestion unnatural and incredible.
Sometimes she imagined that Delvile might formerly have been affianced to some woman, who having accidentally discovered his intentions, took this desperate method of rendering them abortive: but this was a short- lived thought, and speedily gave way to her esteem for his general character, and her confidence in the firmness of his probity.
All, therefore, was dark and mysterious; conjecture was baffled, and meditation was useless. Her opinions were unfixed, and her heart was miserable; she could only be steady in believing Delvile as unhappy as herself, and only find consolation in believing him, also, as blameless.
Three days passed thus, without incident or intelligence; her time wholly occupied in attending Mrs Charlton; her thoughts all engrossed upon her own situation: but upon the fourth day she was informed that a lady was in the parlour, who desired to speak with her.
She presently went down stairs,--and, upon entering the room, perceived Mrs Delvile!
Seized with astonishment and fear, she stopt short, and, looking aghast, held by the door, robbed of all power to receive so unexpected and unwelcome a visitor, by an internal sensation of guilt, mingled with a dread of discovery and reproach.
Mrs Delvile, addressing her with the coldest politeness, said, "I fear I have surprised you; I am sorry I had not time to acquaint you of my intention to wait upon you."
Cecilia then, moving from the door, faintly answered, "I cannot, madam, but be honoured by your notice, whenever you are pleased to confer it."
They then sat down; Mrs Delvile preserving an air the most formal and distant, and Cecilia half sinking with apprehensive dismay.
After a short and ill-boding silence, "I mean not," said Mrs Delvile, "to embarrass or distress you; I will not, therefore, keep you in suspense of the purport of my visit. I come not to make enquiries, I come not to put your sincerity to any trial, nor to torture your delicacy; I dispense with all explanation, for I have not one doubt to solve: I _know_ what has passed, I _know_ that my son loves you."
Not all her secret alarm, nor all the perturbation of her fears, had taught Cecilia to expect so direct an attack, nor enabled her to bear the shock of it with any composure: she could not speak, she could not look at Mrs Delvile; she arose, and walked to the window, without knowing what she was doing.
Here, however, her distress was not likely to diminish; for the first sight she saw was Fidel, who barked, and jumped up at the window to lick her hands.
"Good God! Fidel here!" exclaimed Mrs Delvile, amazed.
Cecilia, totally overpowered, covered her glowing face with both her hands, and sunk into a chair.
Mrs Delvile for a few minutes was silent; and then, following her, said, "Imagine not I am making any discovery, nor suspect me of any design to develop your sentiments. That Mortimer could love in vain I never, believed; that Miss Beverley, possessing so much merit, could be blind to it in another, I never thought possible. I mean not, therefore, to solicit any account or explanation, but merely to beg your patience while I talk to you myself, and your permission to speak to you with openness and truth."
Cecilia, though relieved by this calmness from all apprehension of reproach, found in her manner a coldness that convinced her of the loss of her affection, and in the introduction to her business a solemnity that assured her what she should decree would be unalterable. She uncovered her face to shew her respectful attention, but she could not raise it up, and could not utter a word.
Mrs Delvile then seated herself next her, and gravely continued her discourse.
"Miss Beverley, however little acquainted with the state of our family affairs, can scarcely have been uninformed that a fortune such as hers seems almost all that family can desire; nor can she have failed to observe, that her merit and accomplishments have no where been more felt and admired: the choice therefore of Mortimer she could not doubt would have our sanction, and when she honoured his proposals with her favour, she might naturally conclude she gave happiness and pleasure to all his friends."
Cecilia, superior to accepting a palliation of which she felt herself undeserving, now lifted up her head, and forcing herself to speak, said "No, madam, I will not deceive you, for I have never been deceived myself: I presumed not to expect your approbation,--though in missing it I have for ever lost my own!"
"Has Mortimer, then," cried she with eagerness, "been strictly honourable? has he neither beguiled nor betrayed you?"
"No, madam," said she, blushing, "I have nothing to reproach him with."
"Then he is indeed my son!" cried Mrs Delvile, with emotion; "had he been treacherous to you, while disobedient to us, I had indisputably renounced him."
Cecilia, who now seemed the only culprit, felt herself in a state of humiliation not to be borne; she collected, therefore, all her courage, and said, "I have cleared Mr Delvile; permit me, madam, now, to say something for myself."
"Certainly; you cannot oblige me more than by speaking without disguise."
"It is not in the hope of regaining your good opinion,--that, I see, is
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