Cecilia/Book 10/Chapter i
Cecilia's journey back to the country was as safe and free from interruption as her journey had been to town, and all that distinguished them was what passed in her own mind: the doubts, apprehensions, and desponding suspense which had accompanied her setting out, were now all removed, and certainty, ease, the expectation of happiness, and the cessation of all perplexity, had taken their place. She had nothing left to dread but the inflexibility of Mr Delvile, and hardly any thing even to hope but the recovery of his lady.
Her friends at her return expressed their wonder at her expedition, but their wonder at what occasioned it, though still greater, met no satisfaction. Henrietta rejoiced in her sight, though her absence had been so short; and Cecilia, whose affection with her pity increased, intimated to her the event for which she wished her to prepare herself, and frankly acknowledged she had reason to expect it would soon take place.
Henrietta endeavoured with composure to receive this intelligence, and to return such a mark of confidence with chearful congratulations: but her fortitude was unequal to an effort so heroic, and her character was too simple to assume a greatness she felt not: she sighed and changed colour; and hastily quitted the room that she might sob aloud in another.
Warm-hearted, tender, and susceptible, her affections were all undisguised: struck with the elegance of Delvile, and enchanted by his services to her brother, she had lost to him her heart at first without missing it, and, when missed, without seeking to reclaim it. The hopelessness of such a passion she never considered, nor asked herself its end, or scarce suspected its aim; it was pleasant to her at the time, and she looked not to the future, but fed it with visionary schemes, and soothed it with voluntary fancies. Now she knew all was over, she felt the folly she had committed, but though sensibly and candidly angry at her own error, its conviction offered nothing but sorrow to succeed it.
The felicity of Cecilia, whom she loved, admired and revered, she wished with the genuine ardour of zealous sincerity; but that Delvile, the very cause and sole subject of her own personal unhappiness, should himself constitute that felicity, was too much for her spirits, and seemed to her mortified mind too cruel in her destiny.
Cecilia, who in the very vehemence of her sorrow saw its innocence, was too just and too noble to be offended by it, or impute to the bad passions of envy or jealousy, the artless regret of an untutored mind. To be penetrated too deeply with the merit of Delvile, with her wanted no excuse, and she grieved for her situation with but little mixture of blame, and none of surprise. She redoubled her kindness and caresses with the hope of consoling her, but ventured to trust her no further, till reflection, and her natural good sense, should better enable her to bear an explanation.
Nor was this friendly exertion any longer a hardship to her; the sudden removal, in her own feelings and affairs, of distress and expectation, had now so much lightened her heart, that she could spare without repining, some portion of its spirit to her dejected young friend.
But an incident happened two mornings after which called back, and most unpleasantly, her attention to herself. She was told that Mrs Matt, the poor woman she had settled in Bury, begged an audience, and upon sending for her up stairs, and desiring to know what she could do for her, "Nothing, madam, just now," she answered, "for I don't come upon my own business, but to tell some news to you, madam. You bid me never take notice of the wedding, that was to be, and I'm sure I never opened my mouth about it from that time to this; but I have found out who it was put a stop to it, and so I come to tell you."
Cecilia, extremely amazed, eagerly desired her to go on.
"Why, madam, I don't know the gentlewoman's name quite right yet, but I can tell you where she lives, for I knew her as soon as I set eyes on her, when I see her at church last Sunday, and I would have followed her home, but she went into a coach, and I could not walk fast enough; but I asked one of the footmen where she lived, and he said at the great house at the Grove: and perhaps, madam, you may know where that is: and then he told me her name, but that I can't just now think of."
"Good heaven!" cried Cecilia,—"it could not be Bennet?"
"Yes, ma'am, that's the very name; I know it again now I hear it."
Cecilia then hastily dismissed her, first desiring her not to mention the circumstance to any body.
Shocked and dismayed, she now saw, but saw with horror, the removal of all her doubts, and the explanation of all her difficulties, in the full and irrefragable discovery of the perfidy of her oldest friend and confident.
Miss Bennet herself she regarded in the affair as a mere tool, which, though in effect it did the work, was innocent of its mischief, because powerless but in the hand of its employer.
"That employer," cried she, "must be Mr Monckton! Mr Monckton whom so long I have known, who so willingly has been my counsellor, so ably my instructor! in whose integrity I have confided, upon whose friendship I have relied! my succour in all emergencies, my guide in all perplexities!—Mr Monckton thus dishonourably, thus barbarously to betray me! to turn against me the very confidence I had reposed in his regard for me! and make use of my own trust to furnish the means to injure me!"—
She was now wholly confirmed that he had wronged her with Mr Delvile; she could not have two enemies so malignant without provocation, and he who so unfeelingly could dissolve a union at the very altar, could alone have the baseness to calumniate her so cruelly.
Evil thoughts thus awakened, stopt not merely upon facts; conjecture carried her further, and conjecture built upon probability. The officiousness of Morrice in pursuing her to London, his visiting her when there, and his following and watching Delvile, she now reasonably concluded were actions directed by Mr Monckton, whose house he had but just left, and whose orders, whatever they might be, she was almost certain he would obey. Availing himself, therefore, of the forwardness and suppleness which met in this young man, she doubted not but his intelligence had contributed to acquaint him with her proceedings.
The motive of such deep concerted and accumulated treachery was next to be sought: nor was the search long; one only could have tempted him to schemes so hazardous and costly; and, unsuspicious as she was, she now saw into his whole design.
Long accustomed to regard him as a safe and disinterested old friend, the respect with which, as a child, she had looked up to him, she had insensibly preserved when a woman. That respect had taught her to consider his notice as a favour, and far from suspiciously shunning, she had innocently courted it: and his readiness in advising and tutoring her, his frank and easy friendliness of behaviour, had kept his influence unimpaired, by preventing its secret purpose from being detected.
But now the whole mystery was revealed; his aversion to the Delviles, to which hitherto she had attributed all she disapproved in his behaviour, she was convinced must be inadequate to stimulate him to such lengths. That aversion itself was by this late surmise accounted for, and no sooner did it occur to her, than a thousand circumstances confirmed it.
The first among these was the evident ill will of Lady Margaret, which though she had constantly imputed to the general irascibility for which her character was notorious, she had often wondered to find impenetrable to all endeavours to please or soften her. His care of her fortune, his exhortations against her expences, his wish to make her live with Mr Briggs, all contributed to point out the selfishness of his attentions, which in one instance rendered visible, became obvious in every other.
Yet various as were the incidents that now poured upon her memory to his disgrace, not one among them took its rise from his behaviour to herself, which always had been scrupulously circumspect, or if for a moment unguarded, only at a season when her own distress or confusion had prevented her from perceiving it. This recollection almost staggered her suspicions; yet so absolute seemed the confirmation they received from every other, that her doubt was overpowered, and soon wholly extinguished.
She was yet ruminating on this subject, when, word was brought her that Mr Monckton was in the parlour.
Mingled disgust and indignation made her shudder at his name, and without pausing a moment, she sent him word she was engaged, and could not possibly leave her room.
Astonished by such a dismission, he left the house in the utmost confusion. But Cecilia could not endure to see him, after a discovery of such hypocrisy and villainy.
She considered, however, that the matter could not rest here: he would demand an explanation, and perhaps, by his unparalleled address, again contrive to seem innocent, notwithstanding appearances were at present so much against him. Expecting, therefore, some artifice, and determined not to be duped by it, she sent again for the Pew-opener, to examine her more strictly.
The woman was out at work in a private family, and could not come till the evening: but, when further questioned, the description she gave of Miss Bennet was too exact to be disputed.
She then desired her to call again the next morning and sent a servant to the Grove, with her compliments to Miss Bennet, and a request that she might send her carriage for her the next day, at any time she pleased, as she wished much to speak with her.
This message, she was aware, might create some suspicion, and put her upon her guard; but she thought, nevertheless, a sudden meeting with the Pew-opener, whom she meant abruptly to confront with her, would baffle the security of any previously settled scheme.
To a conviction such as this even Mr Monckton must submit, and since he was lost to her as a friend, she might at least save herself the pain of keeping up his acquaintance.