Marianne was afraid of offending, and said no more
on the subject; but the kind of approbation which Elinor
described as excited in him by the drawings of other
people, was very far from that rapturous delight, which,
in her opinion, could alone be called taste. Yet, though
smiling within herself at the mistake, she honoured
her sister for that blind partiality to Edward which produced it.
"I hope, Marianne," continued Elinor, "you do not
consider him as deficient in general taste. Indeed, I think
I may say that you cannot, for your behaviour to him
is perfectly cordial, and if THAT were your opinion,
I am sure you could never be civil to him."
Marianne hardly knew what to say. She would
not wound the feelings of her sister on any account,
and yet to say what she did not believe was impossible.
At length she replied:
"Do not be offended, Elinor, if my praise of him
is not in every thing equal to your sense of his merits.
I have not had so many opportunities of estimating the minuter
propensities of his mind, his inclinations and tastes,
as you have; but I have the highest opinion in the world
of his goodness and sense. I think him every thing that is
worthy and amiable."
"I am sure," replied Elinor, with a smile,
"that his dearest friends could not be dissatisfied
with such commendation as that. I do not perceive
how you could express yourself more warmly."
Marianne was rejoiced to find her sister so easily pleased.
"Of his sense and his goodness," continued Elinor,
"no one can, I think, be in doubt, who has seen him
often enough to engage him in unreserved conversation.
The excellence of his understanding and his principles
can be concealed only by that shyness which too often
keeps him silent. You know enough of him to do justice
to his solid worth. But of his minuter propensities,
as you call them you have from peculiar circumstances
been kept more ignorant than myself. He and I have
been at times thrown a good deal together, while you
have been wholly engrossed on the most affectionate
principle by my mother. I have seen a great deal of him,
have studied his sentiments and heard his opinion on
subjects of literature and taste; and, upon the whole,
I venture to pronounce that his mind is well-informed,
enjoyment of books exceedingly great, his imagination lively,
his observation just and correct, and his taste delicate
and pure. His abilities in every respect improve
as much upon acquaintance as his manners and person.
At first sight, his address is certainly not striking;
and his person can hardly be called handsome, till the
expression of his eyes, which are uncommonly good,
and the general sweetness of his countenance, is perceived.
At present, I know him so well, that I think him
really handsome; or at least, almost so. What say you,
"I shall very soon think him handsome, Elinor, if I
do not now. When you tell me to love him as a brother,
I shall no more see imperfection in his face, than I now do
in his heart."
Elinor started at this declaration, and was sorry for
the warmth she had been betrayed into, in speaking of him.
She felt that Edward stood very high in her opinion.
She believed the regard to be mutual; but she required
greater certainty of it to make Marianne's conviction
of their attachment agreeable to her. She knew that
what Marianne and her mother conjectured one moment,
they believed the next--that with them, to wish was to hope,
and to hope was to expect. She tried to explain the real
state of the case to her sister.
"I do not attempt to deny," said she, "that I think
very highly of him--that I greatly esteem, that I like him."
Marianne here burst forth with indignation--
"Esteem him! Like him! Cold-hearted Elinor! Oh!
worse than cold-hearted! Ashamed of being otherwise.
Use those words again, and I will leave the room this moment."
Elinor could not help laughing. "Excuse me,"
said she; "and be assured that I meant no offence to you,
by speaking, in so quiet a way, of my own feelings.
Believe them to be stronger than I have declared;
believe them, in short, to be such as his merit, and the
suspicion--the hope of his affection for me may warrant,
without imprudence or folly. But farther than this you must
not believe. I am by no means assured of his regard for me.
There are moments when the extent of it seems doubtful;
and till his sentiments are fully known, you cannot wonder
at my wishing to avoid any encouragement of my own partiality,
by believing or calling it more than it is. In my heart
I feel little--scarcely any doubt of his preference.
But there are other points to be considered besides
his inclination. He is very far from being independent.
What his mother really is we cannot know; but, from Fanny's
occasional mention of her conduct and opinions, we have
never been disposed to think her amiable; and I am very
much mistaken if Edward is not himself aware that there
would be many difficulties in his way, if he were to wish
to marry a woman who had not either a great fortune or
Marianne was astonished to find how much the imagination
of her mother and herself had outstripped the truth.
"And you really are not engaged to him!" said she.
"Yet it certainly soon will happen. But two advantages
will proceed from this delay. I shall not lose you so soon,
and Edward will have greater opportunity of improving
that natural taste for your favourite pursuit which must
be so indispensably necessary to your future felicity.
Oh! if he should be so far stimulated by your genius as to
learn to draw himself, how delightful it would be!"
Elinor had given her real opinion to her sister.
She could not consider her partiality for Edward
in so prosperous a state as Marianne had believed it.
There was, at times, a want of spirits about him which,
if it did not denote indifference, spoke a something almost
as unpromising. A doubt of her regard, supposing him
to feel it, need not give him more than inquietude.
It would not be likely to produce that dejection of mind
which frequently attended him. A more reasonable cause
might be found in the dependent situation which forbad
the indulgence of his affection. She knew that his mother
neither behaved to him so as to make his home comfortable
at present, nor to give him any assurance that he might form
a home for himself, without strictly attending to her views
for his aggrandizement. With such a knowledge as this,
it was impossible for Elinor to feel easy on the subject.
She was far from depending on that result of his preference
of her, which her mother and sister still considered
as certain. Nay, the longer they were together the more
doubtful seemed the nature of his regard; and sometimes,
for a few painful minutes, she believed it to be no more
But, whatever might really be its limits, it was enough,
when perceived by his sister, to make her uneasy,
and at the same time, (which was still more common,)
to make her uncivil. She took the first opportunity of
affronting her mother-in-law on the occasion, talking to
her so expressively of her brother's great expectations,
of Mrs. Ferrars's resolution that both her sons should
marry well, and of the danger attending any young woman
who attempted to DRAW HIM IN; that Mrs. Dashwood could
neither pretend to be unconscious, nor endeavor to be calm.
She gave her an answer which marked her contempt,
and instantly left the room, resolving that, whatever might
be the inconvenience or expense of so sudden a removal,
her beloved Elinor should not be exposed another week
to such insinuations.
In this state of her spirits, a letter was delivered
to her from the post, which contained a proposal
particularly well timed. It was the offer of a small house,
on very easy terms, belonging to a relation of her own,
a gentleman of consequence and property in Devonshire.
The letter was from this gentleman himself, and written
in the true spirit of friendly accommodation.
He understood that she was in need of a dwelling;
and though the house he now offered her was merely a cottage,
he assured her that everything should be done to it which
she might think necessary, if the situation pleased her.
He earnestly pressed her, after giving the particulars
of the house and garden, to come with her daughters to
Barton Park, the place of his own residence, from whence
she might judge, herself, whether Barton Cottage, for the
houses were in the same parish, could, by any alteration,
be made comfortable to her. He seemed really anxious to
accommodate them and the whole of his letter was written
in so friendly a style as could not fail of giving pleasure
to his cousin; more especially at a moment when she was
suffering under the cold and unfeeling behaviour of her
nearer connections. She needed no time for deliberation
or inquiry. Her resolution was formed as she read.
The situation of Barton, in a county so far distant from
Sussex as Devonshire, which, but a few hours before,
would have been a sufficient objection to outweigh every
possible advantage belonging to the place, was now its
first recommendation. To quit the neighbourhood of Norland
was no longer an evil; it was an object of desire;
it was a blessing, in comparison of the misery of continuing
her daughter-in-law's guest; and to remove for ever
from that beloved place would be less painful than to
inhabit or visit it while such a woman was its mistress.
She instantly wrote Sir John Middleton her acknowledgment
of his kindness, and her acceptance of his proposal;
and then hastened to shew both letters to her daughters,
that she might be secure of their approbation before her
answer were sent.