He could not then avoid it, but her touch seemed
painful to him, and he held her hand only for a moment.
During all this time he was evidently struggling for composure.
Elinor watched his countenance and saw its expression
becoming more tranquil. After a moment's pause, he spoke
"I did myself the honour of calling in Berkeley
Street last Tuesday, and very much regretted that I was
not fortunate enough to find yourselves and Mrs. Jennings
at home. My card was not lost, I hope."
"But have you not received my notes?" cried Marianne
in the wildest anxiety. "Here is some mistake I am
sure--some dreadful mistake. What can be the meaning
of it? Tell me, Willoughby; for heaven's sake tell me,
what is the matter?"
He made no reply; his complexion changed and all his
embarrassment returned; but as if, on catching the eye
of the young lady with whom he had been previously talking,
he felt the necessity of instant exertion, he recovered
himself again, and after saying, "Yes, I had the pleasure
of receiving the information of your arrival in town,
which you were so good as to send me," turned hastily away
with a slight bow and joined his friend.
Marianne, now looking dreadfully white, and unable
to stand, sunk into her chair, and Elinor, expecting every
moment to see her faint, tried to screen her from the
observation of others, while reviving her with lavender water.
"Go to him, Elinor," she cried, as soon as she
could speak, "and force him to come to me. Tell him
I must see him again--must speak to him instantly.--
I cannot rest--I shall not have a moment's peace till this
is explained--some dreadful misapprehension or other.--
Oh go to him this moment."
"How can that be done? No, my dearest Marianne,
you must wait. This is not the place for explanations.
Wait only till tomorrow."
With difficulty however could she prevent her
from following him herself; and to persuade her to check
her agitation, to wait, at least, with the appearance
of composure, till she might speak to him with more privacy
and more effect, was impossible; for Marianne continued
incessantly to give way in a low voice to the misery
of her feelings, by exclamations of wretchedness.
In a short time Elinor saw Willoughby quit the room by the
door towards the staircase, and telling Marianne that he
was gone, urged the impossibility of speaking to him again
that evening, as a fresh argument for her to be calm.
She instantly begged her sister would entreat Lady
Middleton to take them home, as she was too miserable
to stay a minute longer.
Lady Middleton, though in the middle of a rubber,
on being informed that Marianne was unwell, was too
polite to object for a moment to her wish of going away,
and making over her cards to a friend, they departed
as soon the carriage could be found. Scarcely a word
was spoken during their return to Berkeley Street.
Marianne was in a silent agony, too much oppressed even
for tears; but as Mrs. Jennings was luckily not come home,
they could go directly to their own room, where hartshorn
restored her a little to herself. She was soon undressed
and in bed, and as she seemed desirous of being alone,
her sister then left her, and while she waited the return
of Mrs. Jennings, had leisure enough for thinking over
That some kind of engagement had subsisted
between Willoughby and Marianne she could not doubt,
and that Willoughby was weary of it, seemed equally clear;
for however Marianne might still feed her own wishes,
SHE could not attribute such behaviour to mistake
or misapprehension of any kind. Nothing but a thorough
change of sentiment could account for it. Her indignation
would have been still stronger than it was, had she
not witnessed that embarrassment which seemed to speak
a consciousness of his own misconduct, and prevented
her from believing him so unprincipled as to have been
sporting with the affections of her sister from the first,
without any design that would bear investigation.
Absence might have weakened his regard, and convenience
might have determined him to overcome it, but that such
a regard had formerly existed she could not bring herself
As for Marianne, on the pangs which so unhappy a meeting
must already have given her, and on those still more
severe which might await her in its probable consequence,
she could not reflect without the deepest concern.
Her own situation gained in the comparison; for while she
could ESTEEM Edward as much as ever, however they might be
divided in future, her mind might be always supported.
But every circumstance that could embitter such an evil
seemed uniting to heighten the misery of Marianne
in a final separation from Willoughby--in an immediate
and irreconcilable rupture with him.
Before the house-maid had lit their fire the next day,
or the sun gained any power over a cold, gloomy morning
in January, Marianne, only half dressed, was kneeling
against one of the window-seats for the sake of all
the little light she could command from it, and writing
as fast as a continual flow of tears would permit her.
In this situation, Elinor, roused from sleep by her agitation
and sobs, first perceived her; and after observing her
for a few moments with silent anxiety, said, in a tone
of the most considerate gentleness,
"Marianne, may I ask-?"
"No, Elinor," she replied, "ask nothing; you will
soon know all."
The sort of desperate calmness with which this was said,
lasted no longer than while she spoke, and was immediately
followed by a return of the same excessive affliction.
It was some minutes before she could go on with her letter,
and the frequent bursts of grief which still obliged her,
at intervals, to withhold her pen, were proofs enough of her
feeling how more than probable it was that she was writing
for the last time to Willoughby.
Elinor paid her every quiet and unobtrusive attention
in her power; and she would have tried to sooth and
tranquilize her still more, had not Marianne entreated her,
with all the eagerness of the most nervous irritability,
not to speak to her for the world. In such circumstances,
it was better for both that they should not be long together;
and the restless state of Marianne's mind not only prevented
her from remaining in the room a moment after she was dressed,
but requiring at once solitude and continual change of place,
made her wander about the house till breakfast time, avoiding
the sight of every body.
At breakfast she neither ate, nor attempted to eat
any thing; and Elinor's attention was then all employed,
not in urging her, not in pitying her, nor in appearing
to regard her, but in endeavouring to engage Mrs. Jenning's
notice entirely to herself.
As this was a favourite meal with Mrs. Jennings,
it lasted a considerable time, and they were just setting
themselves, after it, round the common working table, when a
letter was delivered to Marianne, which she eagerly caught
from the servant, and, turning of a death-like paleness,
instantly ran out of the room. Elinor, who saw as plainly
by this, as if she had seen the direction, that it must
come from Willoughby, felt immediately such a sickness
at heart as made her hardly able to hold up her head,
and sat in such a general tremour as made her fear it
impossible to escape Mrs. Jenning's notice. That good lady,
however, saw only that Marianne had received a letter
from Willoughby, which appeared to her a very good joke,
and which she treated accordingly, by hoping, with a laugh,
that she would find it to her liking. Of Elinor's distress,
she was too busily employed in measuring lengths of worsted
for her rug, to see any thing at all; and calmly continuing
her talk, as soon as Marianne disappeared, she said,
"Upon my word, I never saw a young woman so
desperately in love in my life! MY girls were nothing
to her, and yet they used to be foolish enough; but as
for Miss Marianne, she is quite an altered creature.
I hope, from the bottom of my heart, he won't keep her
waiting much longer, for it is quite grievous to see her
look so ill and forlorn. Pray, when are they to be married?"
Elinor, though never less disposed to speak than at
that moment, obliged herself to answer such an attack
as this, and, therefore, trying to smile, replied, "And have
you really, Ma'am, talked yourself into a persuasion
of my sister's being engaged to Mr. Willoughby? I thought
it had been only a joke, but so serious a question seems
to imply more; and I must beg, therefore, that you will not
deceive yourself any longer. I do assure you that nothing
would surprise me more than to hear of their being going
to be married."
"For shame, for shame, Miss Dashwood! how can you
talk so? Don't we all know that it must be a match, that
they were over head and ears in love with each other from
the first moment they met? Did not I see them together
in Devonshire every day, and all day long; and did not I
know that your sister came to town with me on purpose
to buy wedding clothes? Come, come, this won't do.
Because you are so sly about it yourself, you think nobody
else has any senses; but it is no such thing, I can tell you,
for it has been known all over town this ever so long.
I tell every body of it and so does Charlotte."
"Indeed, Ma'am," said Elinor, very seriously,
"you are mistaken. Indeed, you are doing a very unkind thing
in spreading the report, and you will find that you have
though you will not believe me now."
Mrs. Jennings laughed again, but Elinor had not
spirits to say more, and eager at all events to know
what Willoughby had written, hurried away to their room,
where, on opening the door, she saw Marianne stretched on
the bed, almost choked by grief, one letter in her hand,
and two or three others laying by her. Elinor drew near,
but without saying a word; and seating herself on the bed,
took her hand, kissed her affectionately several times,
and then gave way to a burst of tears, which at first
was scarcely less violent than Marianne's. The latter,
though unable to speak, seemed to feel all the tenderness
of this behaviour, and after some time thus spent in
joint affliction, she put all the letters into Elinor's hands;
and then covering her face with her handkerchief,
almost screamed with agony. Elinor, who knew that such grief,
shocking as it was to witness it, must have its course,
watched by her till this excess of suffering had somewhat
spent itself, and then turning eagerly to Willoughby's letter,
read as follows: