Mrs. Dashwood again assured him that no alteration
of the kind should be attempted.
"You are a good woman," he warmly replied.
"Your promise makes me easy. Extend it a little farther,
and it will make me happy. Tell me that not only your
house will remain the same, but that I shall ever find
you and yours as unchanged as your dwelling; and that you
will always consider me with the kindness which has made
everything belonging to you so dear to me."
The promise was readily given, and Willoughby's
behaviour during the whole of the evening declared
at once his affection and happiness.
"Shall we see you tomorrow to dinner?" said Mrs. Dashwood,
when he was leaving them. "I do not ask you to come in
the morning, for we must walk to the park, to call on Lady Middleton."
He engaged to be with them by four o'clock.
Mrs. Dashwood's visit to Lady Middleton took place
the next day, and two of her daughters went with her;
but Marianne excused herself from being of the party,
under some trifling pretext of employment; and her mother,
who concluded that a promise had been made by Willoughby
the night before of calling on her while they were absent,
was perfectly satisfied with her remaining at home.
On their return from the park they found Willoughby's
curricle and servant in waiting at the cottage,
and Mrs. Dashwood was convinced that her conjecture
had been just. So far it was all as she had foreseen;
but on entering the house she beheld what no foresight
had taught her to expect. They were no sooner in the
passage than Marianne came hastily out of the parlour
apparently in violent affliction, with her handkerchief
at her eyes; and without noticing them ran up stairs.
Surprised and alarmed they proceeded directly into the room
she had just quitted, where they found only Willoughby,
who was leaning against the mantel-piece with his back
towards them. He turned round on their coming in,
and his countenance shewed that he strongly partook
of the emotion which over-powered Marianne.
"Is anything the matter with her?" cried Mrs. Dashwood
as she entered--"is she ill?"
"I hope not," he replied, trying to look cheerful;
and with a forced smile presently added, "It is I who may
rather expect to be ill--for I am now suffering under a
very heavy disappointment!"
"Yes, for I am unable to keep my engagement with you.
Mrs. Smith has this morning exercised the privilege
of riches upon a poor dependent cousin, by sending me on
business to London. I have just received my dispatches,
and taken my farewell of Allenham; and by way of exhilaration
I am now come to take my farewell of you."
"To London!--and are you going this morning?"
"Almost this moment."
"This is very unfortunate. But Mrs. Smith must
be obliged;--and her business will not detain you from
us long I hope."
He coloured as he replied, "You are very kind, but I
have no idea of returning into Devonshire immediately.
My visits to Mrs. Smith are never repeated within
"And is Mrs. Smith your only friend? Is Allenham the only
house in the neighbourhood to which you will be welcome?
For shame, Willoughby, can you wait for an invitation here?"
His colour increased; and with his eyes fixed
on the ground he only replied, "You are too good."
Mrs. Dashwood looked at Elinor with surprise.
Elinor felt equal amazement. For a few moments every one
was silent. Mrs. Dashwood first spoke.
"I have only to add, my dear Willoughby, that at
Barton cottage you will always be welcome; for I will not
press you to return here immediately, because you only
can judge how far THAT might be pleasing to Mrs. Smith;
and on this head I shall be no more disposed to question
your judgment than to doubt your inclination."
"My engagements at present," replied Willoughby,
confusedly, "are of such a nature--that--I dare not flatter myself"--
He stopt. Mrs. Dashwood was too much astonished
to speak, and another pause succeeded. This was broken
by Willoughby, who said with a faint smile, "It is folly
to linger in this manner. I will not torment myself
any longer by remaining among friends whose society
it is impossible for me now to enjoy."
He then hastily took leave of them all and left
the room. They saw him step into his carriage,
and in a minute it was out of sight.
Mrs. Dashwood felt too much for speech, and instantly
quitted the parlour to give way in solitude to the concern
and alarm which this sudden departure occasioned.
Elinor's uneasiness was at least equal to her mother's.
She thought of what had just passed with anxiety and distrust.
Willoughby's behaviour in taking leave of them, his embarrassment,
and affectation of cheerfulness, and, above all, his unwillingness
to accept her mother's invitation, a backwardness so unlike a lover,
so unlike himself, greatly disturbed her. One moment she feared
that no serious design had ever been formed on his side; and the
next that some unfortunate quarrel had taken place between him and
her sister;--the distress in which Marianne had quitted the room
was such as a serious quarrel could most reasonably account for,
though when she considered what Marianne's love for him was,
a quarrel seemed almost impossible.
But whatever might be the particulars of their separation,
her sister's affliction was indubitable; and she thought
with the tenderest compassion of that violent sorrow
which Marianne was in all probability not merely giving
way to as a relief, but feeding and encouraging as a duty.
In about half an hour her mother returned, and though
her eyes were red, her countenance was not uncheerful.
"Our dear Willoughby is now some miles from Barton, Elinor,"
said she, as she sat down to work, "and with how heavy a heart
does he travel?"
"It is all very strange. So suddenly to be gone! It
seems but the work of a moment. And last night he was
with us so happy, so cheerful, so affectionate? And now,
after only ten minutes notice--Gone too without intending
to return!--Something more than what be owned to us must
have happened. He did not speak, he did not behave
like himself. YOU must have seen the difference as well as I.
What can it be? Can they have quarrelled? Why else should he
have shewn such unwillingness to accept your invitation here?"--
"It was not inclination that he wanted, Elinor; I could
plainly see THAT. He had not the power of accepting it.
I have thought it all over I assure you, and I can
perfectly account for every thing that at first seemed
strange to me as well as to you."
"Can you, indeed!"
"Yes. I have explained it to myself in the most
satisfactory way;--but you, Elinor, who love to doubt
where you can--it will not satisfy YOU, I know; but you
shall not talk ME out of my trust in it. I am persuaded
that Mrs. Smith suspects his regard for Marianne,
disapproves of it, (perhaps because she has other views
for him,) and on that account is eager to get him away;--
and that the business which she sends him off to transact
is invented as an excuse to dismiss him. This is what I
believe to have happened. He is, moreover, aware that she
DOES disapprove the connection, he dares not therefore
at present confess to her his engagement with Marianne,
and he feels himself obliged, from his dependent situation,
to give into her schemes, and absent himself from
Devonshire for a while. You will tell me, I know,
that this may or may NOT have happened; but I will listen
to no cavil, unless you can point out any other method
of understanding the affair as satisfactory at this.
And now, Elinor, what have you to say?"
"Nothing, for you have anticipated my answer."
"Then you would have told me, that it might or might not
have happened. Oh, Elinor, how incomprehensible are your
feelings! You had rather take evil upon credit than good.
You had rather look out for misery for Marianne, and guilt
for poor Willoughby, than an apology for the latter.
You are resolved to think him blameable, because he took
leave of us with less affection than his usual behaviour
has shewn. And is no allowance to be made for inadvertence,
or for spirits depressed by recent disappointment? Are
no probabilities to be accepted, merely because they
are not certainties? Is nothing due to the man whom we
have all such reason to love, and no reason in the world
to think ill of? To the possibility of motives unanswerable
in themselves, though unavoidably secret for a while? And,
after all, what is it you suspect him of?"
"I can hardly tell myself. But suspicion of
something unpleasant is the inevitable consequence
of such an alteration as we just witnessed in him.
There is great truth, however, in what you have now urged
of the allowances which ought to be made for him, and it
is my wish to be candid in my judgment of every body.
Willoughby may undoubtedly have very sufficient
reasons for his conduct, and I will hope that he has.
But it would have been more like Willoughby to acknowledge
them at once. Secrecy may be advisable; but still I
cannot help wondering at its being practiced by him."
"Do not blame him, however, for departing from
his character, where the deviation is necessary.
But you really do admit the justice of what I have said
in his defence?--I am happy--and he is acquitted."