"Good heavens!" cried Elinor, "could it be--could
"The first news that reached me of her," he continued,
"came in a letter from herself, last October.
It was forwarded to me from Delaford, and I received it
on the very morning of our intended party to Whitwell;
and this was the reason of my leaving Barton so suddenly,
which I am sure must at the time have appeared strange
to every body, and which I believe gave offence to some.
Little did Mr. Willoughby imagine, I suppose, when his
looks censured me for incivility in breaking up the party,
that I was called away to the relief of one whom he
had made poor and miserable; but HAD he known it,
what would it have availed? Would he have been less
gay or less happy in the smiles of your sister? No,
he had already done that, which no man who CAN feel
for another would do. He had left the girl whose
youth and innocence he had seduced, in a situation of
the utmost distress, with no creditable home, no help,
no friends, ignorant of his address! He had left her,
promising to return; he neither returned, nor wrote,
nor relieved her."
"This is beyond every thing!" exclaimed Elinor.
"His character is now before you; expensive, dissipated,
and worse than both. Knowing all this, as I have now
known it many weeks, guess what I must have felt on seeing
your sister as fond of him as ever, and on being assured
that she was to marry him: guess what I must have felt
for all your sakes. When I came to you last week and
found you alone, I came determined to know the truth;
though irresolute what to do when it WAS known.
My behaviour must have seemed strange to you then;
but now you will comprehend it. To suffer you all to be
so deceived; to see your sister--but what could I do?
I had no hope of interfering with success; and sometimes
I thought your sister's influence might yet reclaim him.
But now, after such dishonorable usage, who can tell what
were his designs on her. Whatever they may have been,
however, she may now, and hereafter doubtless WILL
turn with gratitude towards her own condition, when she
compares it with that of my poor Eliza, when she considers
the wretched and hopeless situation of this poor girl,
and pictures her to herself, with an affection for him so strong,
still as strong as her own, and with a mind tormented
by self-reproach, which must attend her through life.
Surely this comparison must have its use with her.
She will feel her own sufferings to be nothing. They
proceed from no misconduct, and can bring no disgrace.
On the contrary, every friend must be made still more
her friend by them. Concern for her unhappiness,
and respect for her fortitude under it, must strengthen
every attachment. Use your own discretion, however,
in communicating to her what I have told you. You must
know best what will be its effect; but had I not seriously,
and from my heart believed it might be of service,
might lessen her regrets, I would not have suffered
myself to trouble you with this account of my family
afflictions, with a recital which may seem to have been
intended to raise myself at the expense of others."
Elinor's thanks followed this speech with grateful
earnestness; attended too with the assurance of her
expecting material advantage to Marianne, from the
communication of what had passed.
"I have been more pained," said she, "by her
endeavors to acquit him than by all the rest; for it
irritates her mind more than the most perfect conviction
of his unworthiness can do. Now, though at first she
will suffer much, I am sure she will soon become easier.
Have you," she continued, after a short silence,
"ever seen Mr. Willoughby since you left him at Barton?"
"Yes," he replied gravely, "once I have. One meeting
Elinor, startled by his manner, looked at him anxiously,
"What? have you met him to--"
"I could meet him no other way. Eliza had confessed
to me, though most reluctantly, the name of her lover;
and when he returned to town, which was within a fortnight
after myself, we met by appointment, he to defend,
I to punish his conduct. We returned unwounded,
and the meeting, therefore, never got abroad."
Elinor sighed over the fancied necessity of this;
but to a man and a soldier she presumed not to censure it.
"Such," said Colonel Brandon, after a pause,
"has been the unhappy resemblance between the fate of mother
and daughter! and so imperfectly have I discharged my trust!"
"Is she still in town?"
"No; as soon as she recovered from her lying-in,
for I found her near her delivery, I removed her and her
child into the country, and there she remains."
Recollecting, soon afterwards, that he was probably
dividing Elinor from her sister, he put an end to his visit,
receiving from her again the same grateful acknowledgments,
and leaving her full of compassion and esteem for him.
When the particulars of this conversation were repeated
by Miss Dashwood to her sister, as they very soon were,
the effect on her was not entirely such as the former
had hoped to see. Not that Marianne appeared to distrust
the truth of any part of it, for she listened to it all
with the most steady and submissive attention, made neither
objection nor remark, attempted no vindication of Willoughby,
and seemed to shew by her tears that she felt it to
be impossible. But though this behaviour assured Elinor
that the conviction of this guilt WAS carried home to
her mind, though she saw with satisfaction the effect of it,
in her no longer avoiding Colonel Brandon when he called,
in her speaking to him, even voluntarily speaking,
with a kind of compassionate respect, and though she
saw her spirits less violently irritated than before,
she did not see her less wretched. Her mind did become
settled, but it was settled in a gloomy dejection.
She felt the loss of Willoughby's character yet more heavily
than she had felt the loss of his heart; his seduction and
desertion of Miss Williams, the misery of that poor girl,
and the doubt of what his designs might ONCE have been
on herself, preyed altogether so much on her spirits,
that she could not bring herself to speak of what she felt
even to Elinor; and, brooding over her sorrows in silence,
gave more pain to her sister than could have been communicated
by the most open and most frequent confession of them.
To give the feelings or the language of Mrs. Dashwood
on receiving and answering Elinor's letter would be only
to give a repetition of what her daughters had already felt
and said; of a disappointment hardly less painful than
Marianne's, and an indignation even greater than Elinor's.
Long letters from her, quickly succeeding each other,
arrived to tell all that she suffered and thought;
to express her anxious solicitude for Marianne, and entreat
she would bear up with fortitude under this misfortune.
Bad indeed must the nature of Marianne's affliction be,
when her mother could talk of fortitude! mortifying
and humiliating must be the origin of those regrets,
which SHE could wish her not to indulge!
Against the interest of her own individual comfort,
Mrs. Dashwood had determined that it would be better for
Marianne to be any where, at that time, than at Barton,
where every thing within her view would be bringing back
the past in the strongest and most afflicting manner,
by constantly placing Willoughby before her, such as
she had always seen him there. She recommended it to
her daughters, therefore, by all means not to shorten their
visit to Mrs. Jennings; the length of which, though never
exactly fixed, had been expected by all to comprise at least
five or six weeks. A variety of occupations, of objects,
and of company, which could not be procured at Barton,
would be inevitable there, and might yet, she hoped,
cheat Marianne, at times, into some interest beyond herself,
and even into some amusement, much as the ideas of both
might now be spurned by her.
From all danger of seeing Willoughby again,
her mother considered her to be at least equally safe
in town as in the country, since his acquaintance must
now be dropped by all who called themselves her friends.
Design could never bring them in each other's way:
negligence could never leave them exposed to a surprise;
and chance had less in its favour in the crowd of London
than even in the retirement of Barton, where it might
force him before her while paying that visit at Allenham
on his marriage, which Mrs. Dashwood, from foreseeing at
first as a probable event, had brought herself to expect
as a certain one.
She had yet another reason for wishing her children
to remain where they were; a letter from her son-in-law
had told her that he and his wife were to be in town
before the middle of February, and she judged it right
that they should sometimes see their brother.
Marianne had promised to be guided by her mother's opinion,
and she submitted to it therefore without opposition,
though it proved perfectly different from what she wished
and expected, though she felt it to be entirely wrong,
formed on mistaken grounds, and that by requiring her
longer continuance in London it deprived her of the only
possible alleviation of her wretchedness, the personal
sympathy of her mother, and doomed her to such society and
such scenes as must prevent her ever knowing a moment's rest.
But it was a matter of great consolation to her,
that what brought evil to herself would bring good to
her sister; and Elinor, on the other hand, suspecting that
it would not be in her power to avoid Edward entirely,
comforted herself by thinking, that though their longer
stay would therefore militate against her own happiness,
it would be better for Marianne than an immediate return