"Bond Street, January.
"MY DEAR MADAM,
"I have just had the honour of receiving your
letter, for which I beg to return my sincere
acknowledgments. I am much concerned to find there
was anything in my behaviour last night that did
not meet your approbation; and though I am quite at
a loss to discover in what point I could be so
unfortunate as to offend you, I entreat your
forgiveness of what I can assure you to have been
perfectly unintentional. I shall never reflect on
my former acquaintance with your family in Devonshire
without the most grateful pleasure, and flatter
myself it will not be broken by any mistake or
misapprehension of my actions. My esteem for your
whole family is very sincere; but if I have been so
unfortunate as to give rise to a belief of more than
I felt, or meant to express, I shall reproach myself
for not having been more guarded in my professions
of that esteem. That I should ever have meant more
you will allow to be impossible, when you understand
that my affections have been long engaged elsewhere,
and it will not be many weeks, I believe, before
this engagement is fulfilled. It is with great
regret that I obey your commands in returning the
letters with which I have been honoured from you,
and the lock of hair, which you so obligingly bestowed
"I am, dear Madam,
"Your most obedient
With what indignation such a letter as this must
be read by Miss Dashwood, may be imagined. Though aware,
before she began it, that it must bring a confession
of his inconstancy, and confirm their separation for ever,
she was not aware that such language could be suffered
to announce it; nor could she have supposed Willoughby
capable of departing so far from the appearance of every
honourable and delicate feeling--so far from the common
decorum of a gentleman, as to send a letter so impudently
cruel: a letter which, instead of bringing with his desire
of a release any professions of regret, acknowledged no
breach of faith, denied all peculiar affection whatever--
a letter of which every line was an insult, and which
proclaimed its writer to be deep in hardened villainy.
She paused over it for some time with indignant
astonishment; then read it again and again; but every
perusal only served to increase her abhorrence of the man,
and so bitter were her feelings against him, that she
dared not trust herself to speak, lest she might wound
Marianne still deeper by treating their disengagement,
not as a loss to her of any possible good but as an
escape from the worst and most irremediable of all
evils, a connection, for life, with an unprincipled man,
as a deliverance the most real, a blessing the most important.
In her earnest meditations on the contents of the letter,
on the depravity of that mind which could dictate it,
and probably, on the very different mind of a very different
person, who had no other connection whatever with the affair
than what her heart gave him with every thing that passed,
Elinor forgot the immediate distress of her sister,
forgot that she had three letters on her lap yet unread,
and so entirely forgot how long she had been in the room,
that when on hearing a carriage drive up to the door,
she went to the window to see who could be coming so
unreasonably early, she was all astonishment to perceive
Mrs. Jennings's chariot, which she knew had not been
ordered till one. Determined not to quit Marianne,
though hopeless of contributing, at present, to her ease,
she hurried away to excuse herself from attending
Mrs. Jennings, on account of her sister being indisposed.
Mrs. Jennings, with a thoroughly good-humoured concern
for its cause, admitted the excuse most readily, and Elinor,
after seeing her safe off, returned to Marianne, whom she
found attempting to rise from the bed, and whom she reached
just in time to prevent her from falling on the floor,
faint and giddy from a long want of proper rest and food;
for it was many days since she had any appetite, and many
nights since she had really slept; and now, when her
mind was no longer supported by the fever of suspense,
the consequence of all this was felt in an aching head,
a weakened stomach, and a general nervous faintness.
A glass of wine, which Elinor procured for her directly,
made her more comfortable, and she was at last able to express
some sense of her kindness, by saying,
"Poor Elinor! how unhappy I make you!"
"I only wish," replied her sister, "there were
any thing I COULD do, which might be of comfort to you."
This, as every thing else would have been,
was too much for Marianne, who could only exclaim,
in the anguish of her heart, "Oh! Elinor, I am miserable,
indeed," before her voice was entirely lost in sobs.
Elinor could no longer witness this torrent
of unresisted grief in silence.
"Exert yourself, dear Marianne," she cried,
"if you would not kill yourself and all who love you.
Think of your mother; think of her misery while YOU suffer:
for her sake you must exert yourself."
"I cannot, I cannot," cried Marianne; "leave me,
leave me, if I distress you; leave me, hate me, forget me!
but do not torture me so. Oh! how easy for those,
who have no sorrow of their own to talk of exertion! Happy,
happy Elinor, YOU cannot have an idea of what I suffer."
"Do you call ME happy, Marianne? Ah! if you knew!--And
can you believe me to be so, while I see you so wretched!"
"Forgive me, forgive me," throwing her arms round
her sister's neck; "I know you feel for me; I know what
a heart you have; but yet you are--you must be happy;
Edward loves you--what, oh what, can do away such happiness
"Many, many circumstances," said Elinor, solemnly.
"No, no, no," cried Marianne wildly, "he loves you,
and only you. You CAN have no grief."
"I can have no pleasure while I see you in this state."
"And you will never see me otherwise. Mine is
a misery which nothing can do away."
"You must not talk so, Marianne. Have you no
comforts? no friends? Is your loss such as leaves
no opening for consolation? Much as you suffer now,
think of what you would have suffered if the discovery
of his character had been delayed to a later period--
if your engagement had been carried on for months and months,
as it might have been, before he chose to put an end to it.
Every additional day of unhappy confidence, on your side,
would have made the blow more dreadful."
"Engagement!" cried Marianne, "there has been
"No, he is not so unworthy as you believe him.
He has broken no faith with me."
"But he told you that he loved you."
"Yes--no--never absolutely. It was every day implied,
but never professedly declared. Sometimes I thought it
had been--but it never was."
"Yet you wrote to him?"--
"Yes--could that be wrong after all that had passed?--
But I cannot talk."
Elinor said no more, and turning again to the three
letters which now raised a much stronger curiosity
than before, directly ran over the contents of all.
The first, which was what her sister had sent him
on their arrival in town, was to this effect.
Berkeley Street, January.
"How surprised you will be, Willoughby, on
receiving this; and I think you will feel something
more than surprise, when you know that I am in town.
An opportunity of coming hither, though with Mrs.
Jennings, was a temptation we could not resist.
I wish you may receive this in time to come here
to-night, but I will not depend on it. At any rate
I shall expect you to-morrow. For the present, adieu.
Her second note, which had been written on the morning
after the dance at the Middletons', was in these words:--
"I cannot express my disappointment in having
missed you the day before yesterday, nor my astonishment
at not having received any answer to a note which
I sent you above a week ago. I have been expecting
to hear from you, and still more to see you, every
hour of the day. Pray call again as soon as possible,
and explain the reason of my having expected this
in vain. You had better come earlier another time,
because we are generally out by one. We were last
night at Lady Middleton's, where there was a dance.
I have been told that you were asked to be of the
party. But could it be so? You must be very much
altered indeed since we parted, if that could be
the case, and you not there. But I will not suppose
this possible, and I hope very soon to receive your
personal assurance of its being otherwise.
The contents of her last note to him were these:--
"What am I to imagine, Willoughby, by your
behaviour last night? Again I demand an explanation
of it. I was prepared to meet you with the pleasure
which our separation naturally produced, with the
familiarity which our intimacy at Barton appeared
to me to justify. I was repulsed indeed! I have
passed a wretched night in endeavouring to excuse
a conduct which can scarcely be called less than
insulting; but though I have not yet been able to
form any reasonable apology for your behaviour,
I am perfectly ready to hear your justification of
it. You have perhaps been misinformed, or purposely
deceived, in something concerning me, which may have
lowered me in your opinion. Tell me what it is,
explain the grounds on which you acted, and I shall
be satisfied, in being able to satisfy you. It
would grieve me indeed to be obliged to think ill
of you; but if I am to do it, if I am to learn that
you are not what we have hitherto believed you, that
your regard for us all was insincere, that your
behaviour to me was intended only to deceive, let
it be told as soon as possible. My feelings are at
present in a state of dreadful indecision; I wish
to acquit you, but certainty on either side will be
ease to what I now suffer. If your sentiments are
no longer what they were, you will return my notes,
and the lock of my hair which is in your possession.