"Marianne is not well," said she. "She has been
indisposed all day, and we have persuaded her to go to bed."
"Perhaps, then," he hesitatingly replied, "what I
heard this morning may be--there may be more truth in it
than I could believe possible at first."
"What did you hear?"
"That a gentleman, whom I had reason to think--in short,
that a man, whom I KNEW to be engaged--but how shall I
tell you? If you know it already, as surely you must,
I may be spared."
"You mean," answered Elinor, with forced calmness,
"Mr. Willoughby's marriage with Miss Grey. Yes, we DO
know it all. This seems to have been a day of general
elucidation, for this very morning first unfolded it to us.
Mr. Willoughby is unfathomable! Where did you hear it?"
"In a stationer's shop in Pall Mall, where I
had business. Two ladies were waiting for their carriage,
and one of them was giving the other an account of the
intended match, in a voice so little attempting concealment,
that it was impossible for me not to hear all. The name
of Willoughby, John Willoughby, frequently repeated,
first caught my attention; and what followed was a positive
assertion that every thing was now finally settled
respecting his marriage with Miss Grey--it was no longer
to be a secret--it would take place even within a few weeks,
with many particulars of preparations and other matters.
One thing, especially, I remember, because it served
to identify the man still more:--as soon as the ceremony
was over, they were to go to Combe Magna, his seat
in Somersetshire. My astonishment!--but it would be
impossible to describe what I felt. The communicative
lady I learnt, on inquiry, for I stayed in the shop
till they were gone, was a Mrs. Ellison, and that, as I
have been since informed, is the name of Miss Grey's guardian."
"It is. But have you likewise heard that Miss Grey
has fifty thousand pounds? In that, if in any thing,
we may find an explanation."
"It may be so; but Willoughby is capable--at least
I think"--he stopped a moment; then added in a voice
which seemed to distrust itself, "And your sister--
how did she--"
"Her sufferings have been very severe. I have
only to hope that they may be proportionately short.
It has been, it is a most cruel affliction. Till yesterday,
I believe, she never doubted his regard; and even now,
perhaps--but I am almost convinced that he never was
really attached to her. He has been very deceitful! and,
in some points, there seems a hardness of heart about him."
"Ah!" said Colonel Brandon, "there is, indeed! But
your sister does not--I think you said so--she does
not consider quite as you do?"
"You know her disposition, and may believe how eagerly
she would still justify him if she could."
He made no answer; and soon afterwards, by the removal
of the tea-things, and the arrangement of the card parties,
the subject was necessarily dropped. Mrs. Jennings, who had
watched them with pleasure while they were talking, and who
expected to see the effect of Miss Dashwood's communication,
in such an instantaneous gaiety on Colonel Brandon's side,
as might have become a man in the bloom of youth, of hope
and happiness, saw him, with amazement, remain the whole
evening more serious and thoughtful than usual.
From a night of more sleep than she had expected,
Marianne awoke the next morning to the same consciousness
of misery in which she had closed her eyes.
Elinor encouraged her as much as possible to talk
of what she felt; and before breakfast was ready, they had
gone through the subject again and again; and with the same
steady conviction and affectionate counsel on Elinor's side,
the same impetuous feelings and varying opinions on
Marianne's, as before. Sometimes she could believe
Willoughby to be as unfortunate and as innocent as herself,
and at others, lost every consolation in the impossibility
of acquitting him. At one moment she was absolutely
indifferent to the observation of all the world, at another
she would seclude herself from it for ever, and at a third
could resist it with energy. In one thing, however,
she was uniform, when it came to the point, in avoiding,
where it was possible, the presence of Mrs. Jennings,
and in a determined silence when obliged to endure it.
Her heart was hardened against the belief of Mrs. Jennings's
entering into her sorrows with any compassion.
"No, no, no, it cannot be," she cried;
"she cannot feel. Her kindness is not sympathy;
her good-nature is not tenderness. All that she wants
is gossip, and she only likes me now because I supply it."
Elinor had not needed this to be assured of the injustice
to which her sister was often led in her opinion of others,
by the irritable refinement of her own mind, and the too
great importance placed by her on the delicacies of a
strong sensibility, and the graces of a polished manner.
Like half the rest of the world, if more than half there
be that are clever and good, Marianne, with excellent
abilities and an excellent disposition, was neither
reasonable nor candid. She expected from other people
the same opinions and feelings as her own, and she judged
of their motives by the immediate effect of their actions
on herself. Thus a circumstance occurred, while the
sisters were together in their own room after breakfast,
which sunk the heart of Mrs. Jennings still lower
in her estimation; because, through her own weakness,
it chanced to prove a source of fresh pain to herself,
though Mrs. Jennings was governed in it by an impulse
of the utmost goodwill.
With a letter in her outstretched hand, and countenance
gaily smiling, from the persuasion of bringing comfort,
she entered their room, saying,
"Now, my dear, I bring you something that I am sure
will do you good."
Marianne heard enough. In one moment her imagination
placed before her a letter from Willoughby, full of tenderness
and contrition, explanatory of all that had passed, satisfactory,
convincing; and instantly followed by Willoughby himself,
rushing eagerly into the room to inforce, at her feet,
by the eloquence of his eyes, the assurances of his letter.
The work of one moment was destroyed by the next.
The hand writing of her mother, never till then unwelcome,
was before her; and, in the acuteness of the disappointment
which followed such an ecstasy of more than hope,
she felt as if, till that instant, she had never suffered.
The cruelty of Mrs. Jennings no language, within
her reach in her moments of happiest eloquence,
could have expressed; and now she could reproach her
only by the tears which streamed from her eyes with
passionate violence--a reproach, however, so entirely
lost on its object, that after many expressions of pity,
she withdrew, still referring her to the letter of comfort.
But the letter, when she was calm enough to read it,
brought little comfort. Willoughby filled every page.
Her mother, still confident of their engagement, and relying
as warmly as ever on his constancy, had only been roused
by Elinor's application, to intreat from Marianne greater
openness towards them both; and this, with such tenderness
towards her, such affection for Willoughby, and such
a conviction of their future happiness in each other,
that she wept with agony through the whole of it.
All her impatience to be at home again now returned;
her mother was dearer to her than ever; dearer through
the very excess of her mistaken confidence in Willoughby,
and she was wildly urgent to be gone. Elinor, unable herself
to determine whether it were better for Marianne to be
in London or at Barton, offered no counsel of her own
except of patience till their mother's wishes could be known;
and at length she obtained her sister's consent to wait
for that knowledge.
Mrs. Jennings left them earlier than usual; for she
could not be easy till the Middletons and Palmers were able
to grieve as much as herself; and positively refusing
Elinor's offered attendance, went out alone for the rest
of the morning. Elinor, with a very heavy heart, aware of
the pain she was going to communicate, and perceiving,
by Marianne's letter, how ill she had succeeded in laying
any foundation for it, then sat down to write her mother
an account of what had passed, and entreat her directions
for the future; while Marianne, who came into the drawing-room
on Mrs. Jennings's going away, remained fixed at the table
where Elinor wrote, watching the advancement of her pen,
grieving over her for the hardship of such a task,
and grieving still more fondly over its effect on her mother.
In this manner they had continued about a quarter
of an hour, when Marianne, whose nerves could not then
bear any sudden noise, was startled by a rap at the door.
"Who can this be?" cried Elinor. "So early too! I
thought we HAD been safe."
Marianne moved to the window--
"It is Colonel Brandon!" said she, with vexation.
"We are never safe from HIM."
"He will not come in, as Mrs. Jennings is from home."
"I will not trust to THAT," retreating to her own room.
"A man who has nothing to do with his own time has no
conscience in his intrusion on that of others."
The event proved her conjecture right, though it
was founded on injustice and error; for Colonel Brandon
DID come in; and Elinor, who was convinced that
solicitude for Marianne brought him thither, and who saw
THAT solicitude in his disturbed and melancholy look,
and in his anxious though brief inquiry after her,
could not forgive her sister for esteeming him so lightly.