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- Cecilia vol. 3 - 6/64 -
reconciled with her conscience: she had sacrificed the son, she had resigned herself to the mother; it now only remained to heal her wounded pride, by suffering the sacrifice with dignity, and to recover her tranquility in virtue, by making the resignation without repining.
Her reflections, too, growing clearer as the mist of passion was dispersed, she recollected with confusion her cold and sullen behaviour to Mrs Delvile. That lady had but done what she had believed was her duty, and that duty was no more than she had been taught to expect from her. In the beginning of her visit, and while doubtful of its success, she had indeed, been austere, but the moment victory appeared in view, she became tender, affectionate and gentle. Her justice, therefore, condemned the resentment to which she had given way, and she fortified her mind for the interview which was to follow, by an earnest desire to make all reparation both to Mrs Delvile and herself for that which was past.
In this resolution she was not a little strengthened, by seriously considering with herself the great abatement to all her possible happiness, which must have been made by the humiliating circumstance of forcing herself into a family which held all connection with her as disgraceful. She desired not to be the wife even of Delvile upon such terms, for the more she esteemed and admired him, the more anxious she became for his honour, and the less could she endure being regarded herself as the occasion of its diminution.
Now, therefore, her plan of conduct settled, with calmer spirits, though a heavy heart, she attended upon Mrs Charlton; but fearing to lose the steadiness she had just acquired before it should be called upon, if she trusted herself to relate the decision which had been made, she besought her for the present to dispense with the account, and then forced herself into conversation upon less interesting subjects.
This prudence had its proper effect, and with tolerable tranquility she heard Mrs Delvile again announced, and waited upon her in the parlour with an air of composure.
Not so did Mrs Delvile receive her; she was all eagerness and emotion; she flew to her the moment she appeared, and throwing her arms around her, warmly exclaimed "Oh charming girl! Saver of our family! preserver of our honour! How poor are words to express my admiration! how inadequate are thanks in return for such obligations as I owe you!" "You owe me none, madam," said Cecilia, suppressing a sigh; on my side will be all the obligation, if you can pardon the petulance of my behaviour this morning."
"Call not by so harsh a name," answered Mrs Delvile, "the keenness of a sensibility by which you have yourself alone been the sufferer. You have had a trial the most severe, and however able to sustain, it was impossible you should not feel it. That you should give up any man whose friends solicit not your alliance, your mind is too delicate to make wonderful; but your generosity in submitting, unasked, the arrangement of that resignation to those for whose interest it is made, and your high sense of honour in holding yourself accountable to me, though under no tie, and bound by no promise, mark a greatness of mind which calls for reverence rather than thanks, and which I never can praise half so much as I admire."
Cecilia, who received this applause but as a confirmation of her rejection, thanked her only by courtsying; and Mrs Delvile, having seated herself next her, continued her speech.
"My son, you have the goodness to tell me, is here,--have you seen him?"
"Yes, madam," answered she, blushing, "but hardly for a moment."
"And he knows not of my arrival?" No,--I believe he certainly does not."
"Sad then, is the trial which awaits him, and heavy for me the office I must perform! Do you expect to see him again?"
"No,--yes,--perhaps--indeed I hardly--" She stammered, and Mrs Delvile, taking her hand, said "Tell me, Miss Beverley, _why_ should you see him again?"
Cecilia was thunderstruck by this question, and, colouring yet more deeply, looked down, but could not answer.
"Consider," continued Mrs Delvile, "the _purpose_ of any further meeting; your union is impossible, you have nobly consented to relinquish all thoughts of it why then tear your own heart, and torture his, by an intercourse which seems nothing but an ill-judged invitation to fruitless and unavailing sorrow?"
Cecilia was still silent; the truth of the expostulation her reason acknowledged, but to assent to its consequence her whole heart refused.
"The ungenerous triumph of little female vanity," said Mrs Delvile, "is far, I am sure, from your mind, of which the enlargement and liberality will rather find consolation from lessening than from embittering his sufferings. Speak to me, then, and tell me honestly, judiciously, candidly tell me, will it not be wiser and more right, to avoid rather than seek an object which can only give birth to regret? an interview which can excite no sensations but of misery and sadness?" Cecilia then turned pale, she endeavoured to speak, but could not; she wished to comply,--yet to think she had seen him for the last time, to remember how abruptly she had parted from him, and to fear she had treated him unkindly;--these were obstacles which opposed her concurrence, though both judgment and propriety demanded it.
"Can you, then," said Mrs Delvile, after a pause, "can you wish to see Mortimer merely to behold his grief? Can you desire he should see you, only to sharpen his affliction at your loss?"
"O no!" cried Cecilia, to whom this reproof restored speech and resolution, "I am not so despicable, I am not, I hope, so unworthy!--I will--be ruled by you wholly; I will commit to you every thing;--yet _once_, perhaps,--no more!"--
"Ah, my dear Miss Beverley! to meet confessedly for _once_,--what were that but planting a dagger in the heart of Mortimer? What were it but infusing poison into your own?
"If you think so, madam," said she, "I had better--I will certainly--" she sighed, stammered, and stopt.
"Hear me," cried Mrs Delvile, "and rather let me try to convince than persuade you. Were there any possibility, by argument, by reflection, or even by accident, to remove the obstacles to our connection, then would it be well to meet, for then might discussion turn to account, and an interchange of sentiments be productive of some happy expedients: but here--"
She hesitated, and Cecilia, shocked and ashamed, turned away her face, and cried "I know, madam, what you would say,--here all is over! and therefore--" "Yet suffer me," interrupted she, "to be explicit, since we speak upon, this matter now for the last time. Here, then, I say, where not ONE doubt remains, where ALL is finally, though not happily decided, what can an interview produce? Mischief of every sort, pain, horror, and repining! To Mortimer you may think it would be kind, and grant it to his prayers, as an alleviation of his misery; mistaken notion! nothing could so greatly augment it. All his passions would be raised, all his prudence would be extinguished, his soul would be torn with resentment and regret, and force, only, would part him from you, when previously he knew that parting was to be eternal. To yourself--"
"Talk not, madam, of me," cried the unhappy Cecilia, "what you say of your son is sufficient, and I will yield---"
"Yet hear me," proceeded she, "and believe me not so unjust as to consider him alone; you, also, would be an equal, though a less stormy sufferer. You fancy, at this moment, that once more to meet him would soothe your uneasiness, and that to take of him a farewell, would soften the pain of the separation: how false such reasoning! how dangerous such consolation! acquainted ere you meet that you were to meet him no more, your heart would be all softness and grief, and at the very moment when tenderness should be banished from your intercourse, it would bear down all opposition of judgment, spirit, and dignity: you would hang upon every word, because every word would seem the last, every look, every expression would be rivetted in your memory, and his image in this parting distress would-be painted upon your mind, in colours that would eat into its peace, and perhaps never be erased."
"Enough, enough," said Cecilia, "I will not see him,--I will not even desire it!"
"Is this compliance or conviction? Is what I have said true, or only terrifying?"
"Both, both! I believe, indeed, the conflict would have overpowered me,--I see you are right,--and I thank you, madam, for saving me from a scene I might so cruelly have rued."
"Oh Daughter of my mind!" cried Mrs Delvile, rising and embracing her, "noble, generous, yet gentle Cecilia! what tie, what connection, could make you more dear to me? Who is there like you? Who half so excellent? So open to reason, so ingenuous in error! so rational! so just! so feeling, yet so wise!"
"You are very good," said Cecilia, with a forced serenity, "and I am thankful that your resentment for the past obstructs not your lenity for the present."
Alas, my love, how shall I resent the past, when I ought myself to have foreseen this calamity! and I _should_ have foreseen it, had I not been informed you were engaged, and upon your engagement built our security. Else had I been more alarmed, for my own admiration would have bid me look forward to my son's. You were just, indeed, the woman he had least chance to resist, you were precisely the character to seize his very soul. To a softness the most fatally alluring, you join a dignity which rescues from their own contempt even the most humble of your admirers. You seem born to have all the world wish your exaltation, and no part of it murmur at your superiority. Were any obstacle but this insuperable one in the way, should nobles, nay, should princes offer their daughters to my election, I would reject without murmuring the most magnificent proposals, and take in triumph to my heart my son's nobler choice!"
"Oh madam," cried Cecilia, "talk not to me thus!--speak not such flattering words!--ah, rather scorn and upbraid me, tell me you despise my character, my family and my connections,--load, load me with contempt, but do not thus torture me with approbation!"
"Pardon me, sweetest girl, if I have awakened those emotions you so wisely seek to subdue. May my son but emulate your example, and my pride in his virtue shall be the solace of my affliction for his
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