To do him justice, he did every thing in his power
to promote their unreserve, by making the Miss Steeles
acquainted with whatever he knew or supposed of his cousins'
situations in the most delicate particulars,--and Elinor
had not seen them more than twice, before the eldest of
them wished her joy on her sister's having been so lucky
as to make a conquest of a very smart beau since she
came to Barton.
"'Twill be a fine thing to have her married so young
to be sure," said she, "and I hear he is quite a beau,
and prodigious handsome. And I hope you may have as good
luck yourself soon,--but perhaps you may have a friend
in the corner already."
Elinor could not suppose that Sir John would be more
nice in proclaiming his suspicions of her regard for Edward,
than he had been with respect to Marianne; indeed it was
rather his favourite joke of the two, as being somewhat
newer and more conjectural; and since Edward's visit,
they had never dined together without his drinking to her
best affections with so much significancy and so many nods
and winks, as to excite general attention. The letter F--
had been likewise invariably brought forward, and found
productive of such countless jokes, that its character
as the wittiest letter in the alphabet had been long
established with Elinor.
The Miss Steeles, as she expected, had now all the
benefit of these jokes, and in the eldest of them they
raised a curiosity to know the name of the gentleman
alluded to, which, though often impertinently expressed,
was perfectly of a piece with her general inquisitiveness
into the concerns of their family. But Sir John did not
sport long with the curiosity which he delighted to raise,
for he had at least as much pleasure in telling the name,
as Miss Steele had in hearing it.
"His name is Ferrars," said he, in a very audible whisper;
"but pray do not tell it, for it's a great secret."
"Ferrars!" repeated Miss Steele; "Mr. Ferrars is
the happy man, is he? What! your sister-in-law's brother,
Miss Dashwood? a very agreeable young man to be sure;
I know him very well."
"How can you say so, Anne?" cried Lucy, who generally
made an amendment to all her sister's assertions.
"Though we have seen him once or twice at my uncle's, it
is rather too much to pretend to know him very well."
Elinor heard all this with attention and surprise.
"And who was this uncle? Where did he live? How came
they acquainted?" She wished very much to have the subject
continued, though she did not chuse to join in it herself;
but nothing more of it was said, and for the first time
in her life, she thought Mrs. Jennings deficient either
in curiosity after petty information, or in a disposition
to communicate it. The manner in which Miss Steele had
spoken of Edward, increased her curiosity; for it struck
her as being rather ill-natured, and suggested the suspicion
of that lady's knowing, or fancying herself to know something
to his disadvantage.--But her curiosity was unavailing,
for no farther notice was taken of Mr. Ferrars's name by
Miss Steele when alluded to, or even openly mentioned by Sir John.
Marianne, who had never much toleration for any
thing like impertinence, vulgarity, inferiority of parts,
or even difference of taste from herself, was at
this time particularly ill-disposed, from the state
of her spirits, to be pleased with the Miss Steeles,
or to encourage their advances; and to the invariable
coldness of her behaviour towards them, which checked every
endeavour at intimacy on their side, Elinor principally
attributed that preference of herself which soon became
evident in the manners of both, but especially of Lucy,
who missed no opportunity of engaging her in conversation,
or of striving to improve their acquaintance by an easy
and frank communication of her sentiments.
Lucy was naturally clever; her remarks were often
just and amusing; and as a companion for half an hour
Elinor frequently found her agreeable; but her powers
had received no aid from education: she was ignorant
and illiterate; and her deficiency of all mental improvement,
her want of information in the most common particulars,
could not be concealed from Miss Dashwood, in spite of her
constant endeavour to appear to advantage. Elinor saw,
and pitied her for, the neglect of abilities which education
might have rendered so respectable; but she saw, with less
tenderness of feeling, the thorough want of delicacy,
of rectitude, and integrity of mind, which her attentions,
her assiduities, her flatteries at the Park betrayed;
and she could have no lasting satisfaction in the company
of a person who joined insincerity with ignorance;
whose want of instruction prevented their meeting
in conversation on terms of equality, and whose conduct
toward others made every shew of attention and deference
towards herself perfectly valueless.
"You will think my question an odd one, I dare say,"
said Lucy to her one day, as they were walking together
from the park to the cottage--"but pray, are you
personally acquainted with your sister-in-law's mother,
Elinor DID think the question a very odd one,
and her countenance expressed it, as she answered that she
had never seen Mrs. Ferrars.
"Indeed!" replied Lucy; "I wonder at that, for I
thought you must have seen her at Norland sometimes.
Then, perhaps, you cannot tell me what sort of a woman
"No," returned Elinor, cautious of giving her real
opinion of Edward's mother, and not very desirous
of satisfying what seemed impertinent curiosity--
"I know nothing of her."
"I am sure you think me very strange, for enquiring
about her in such a way," said Lucy, eyeing Elinor attentively
as she spoke; "but perhaps there may be reasons--I wish
I might venture; but however I hope you will do me the justice
of believing that I do not mean to be impertinent."
Elinor made her a civil reply, and they walked on
for a few minutes in silence. It was broken by Lucy,
who renewed the subject again by saying, with some
"I cannot bear to have you think me impertinently curious.
I am sure I would rather do any thing in the world than be
thought so by a person whose good opinion is so well worth
having as yours. And I am sure I should not have the smallest
fear of trusting YOU; indeed, I should be very glad of your
advice how to manage in such and uncomfortable situation
as I am; but, however, there is no occasion to trouble YOU.
I am sorry you do not happen to know Mrs. Ferrars."
"I am sorry I do NOT," said Elinor, in great astonishment,
"if it could be of any use to YOU to know my opinion of her.
But really I never understood that you were at all connected
with that family, and therefore I am a little surprised,
I confess, at so serious an inquiry into her character."
"I dare say you are, and I am sure I do not at all
wonder at it. But if I dared tell you all, you would not be
so much surprised. Mrs. Ferrars is certainly nothing to me
at present--but the time MAY come--how soon it will come
must depend upon herself--when we may be very intimately connected."
She looked down as she said this, amiably bashful,
with only one side glance at her companion to observe its
effect on her.
"Good heavens!" cried Elinor, "what do you mean?
Are you acquainted with Mr. Robert Ferrars? Can you be?"
And she did not feel much delighted with the idea of such
"No," replied Lucy, "not to Mr. ROBERT Ferrars--I
never saw him in my life; but," fixing her eyes upon Elinor,
"to his eldest brother."
What felt Elinor at that moment? Astonishment,
that would have been as painful as it was strong, had not
an immediate disbelief of the assertion attended it.
She turned towards Lucy in silent amazement, unable to divine
the reason or object of such a declaration; and though
her complexion varied, she stood firm in incredulity,
and felt in no danger of an hysterical fit, or a swoon.
"You may well be surprised," continued Lucy;
"for to be sure you could have had no idea of it before;
for I dare say he never dropped the smallest hint of it
to you or any of your family; because it was always meant
to be a great secret, and I am sure has been faithfully
kept so by me to this hour. Not a soul of all my relations
know of it but Anne, and I never should have mentioned
it to you, if I had not felt the greatest dependence
in the world upon your secrecy; and I really thought my
behaviour in asking so many questions about Mrs. Ferrars
must seem so odd, that it ought to be explained.
And I do not think Mr. Ferrars can be displeased,
when he knows I have trusted you, because I know he has
the highest opinion in the world of all your family,
and looks upon yourself and the other Miss Dashwoods quite
as his own sisters."--She paused.
Elinor for a few moments remained silent.
Her astonishment at what she heard was at first too
great for words; but at length forcing herself to speak,
and to speak cautiously, she said, with calmness of manner,
which tolerably well concealed her surprise and solicitude--
"May I ask if your engagement is of long standing?"
"We have been engaged these four years."
Elinor, though greatly shocked, still felt unable
to believe it.
"I did not know," said she, "that you were even
acquainted till the other day."