Sense and sensibility, p.10
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       Sense and Sensibility, p.10
 

           Jane Austen

  CHAPTER VIII

  Mrs. Jennings was a widow with an ample jointure. She had only twodaughters, both of whom she had lived to see respectably married, andshe had now therefore nothing to do but to marry all the rest of theworld. In the promotion of this object she was zealously active, asfar as her ability reached; and missed no opportunity of projectingweddings among all the young people of her acquaintance. She wasremarkably quick in the discovery of attachments, and had enjoyed theadvantage of raising the blushes and the vanity of many a young ladyby insinuations of her power over such a young man; and this kind ofdiscernment enabled her soon after her arrival at Barton decisively topronounce that Colonel Brandon was very much in love with MarianneDashwood. She rather suspected it to be so, on the very first eveningof their being together, from his listening so attentively while shesang to them; and when the visit was returned by the Middletons'dining at the cottage, the fact was ascertained by his listening toher again. It must be so. She was perfectly convinced of it. It wouldbe an excellent match, for _he_ was rich, and _she_ was handsome. Mrs.Jennings had been anxious to see Colonel Brandon well married, eversince her connection with Sir John first brought him to her knowledge;and she was always anxious to get a good husband for every prettygirl.

  The immediate advantage to herself was by no means inconsiderable, forit supplied her with endless jokes against them both. At the park shelaughed at the colonel, and in the cottage at Marianne. To the formerher raillery was probably, as far as it regarded only himself,perfectly indifferent; but to the latter it was at firstincomprehensible; and when its object was understood, she hardly knewwhether most to laugh at its absurdity, or censure its impertinence,for she considered it as an unfeeling reflection on the colonel'sadvanced years, and on his forlorn condition as an old bachelor.

  Mrs. Dashwood, who could not think a man five years younger thanherself, so exceedingly ancient as he appeared to the youthful fancyof her daughter, ventured to clear Mrs. Jennings from the probabilityof wishing to throw ridicule on his age.

  "But at least, Mamma, you cannot deny the absurdity of the accusation,though you may not think it intentionally ill-natured. Colonel Brandonis certainly younger than Mrs. Jennings, but he is old enough to be_my_ father; and if he were ever animated enough to be in love, musthave long outlived every sensation of the kind. It is too ridiculous!When is a man to be safe from such wit, if age and infirmity will notprotect him?"

  "Infirmity!" said Elinor, "do you call Colonel Brandon infirm? I caneasily suppose that his age may appear much greater to you than to mymother; but you can hardly deceive yourself as to his having the useof his limbs!"

  "Did not you hear him complain of the rheumatism? and is not that thecommonest infirmity of declining life?"

  "My dearest child," said her mother, laughing, "at this rate you mustbe in continual terror of _my_ decay; and it must seem to you amiracle that my life has been extended to the advanced age of forty."

  "Mamma, you are not doing me justice. I know very well that ColonelBrandon is not old enough to make his friends yet apprehensive oflosing him in the course of nature. He may live twenty years longer.But thirty-five has nothing to do with matrimony."

  "Perhaps," said Elinor, "thirty-five and seventeen had better not haveany thing to do with matrimony together. But if there should by anychance happen to be a woman who is single at seven and twenty, Ishould not think Colonel Brandon's being thirty-five any objection tohis marrying _her_ ."

  "A woman of seven and twenty," said Marianne, after pausing a moment,"can never hope to feel or inspire affection again, and if her home beuncomfortable, or her fortune small, I can suppose that she mightbring herself to submit to the offices of a nurse, for the sake of theprovision and security of a wife. In his marrying such a womantherefore there would be nothing unsuitable. It would be a compact ofconvenience, and the world would be satisfied. In my eyes it would beno marriage at all, but that would be nothing. To me it would seemonly a commercial exchange, in which each wished to be benefited atthe expense of the other."

  "It would be impossible, I know," replied Elinor, "to convince youthat a woman of seven and twenty could feel for a man of thirty-fiveanything near enough to love, to make him a desirable companion toher. But I must object to your dooming Colonel Brandon and his wife tothe constant confinement of a sick chamber, merely because he chancedto complain yesterday (a very cold damp day) of a slight rheumaticfeel in one of his shoulders."

  "But he talked of flannel waistcoats," said Marianne; "and with me aflannel waistcoat is invariably connected with aches, cramps,rheumatisms, and every species of ailment that can afflict the old andthe feeble."

  "Had he been only in a violent fever, you would not have despised himhalf so much. Confess, Marianne, is not there something interesting toyou in the flushed cheek, hollow eye, and quick pulse of a fever?"

  Soon after this, upon Elinor's leaving the room, "Mamma," saidMarianne, "I have an alarm on the subject of illness which I cannotconceal from you. I am sure Edward Ferrars is not well. We have nowbeen here almost a fortnight, and yet he does not come. Nothing butreal indisposition could occasion this extraordinary delay. What elsecan detain him at Norland?"

  "Had you any idea of his coming so soon?" said Mrs. Dashwood. "I hadnone. On the contrary, if I have felt any anxiety at all on thesubject, it has been in recollecting that he sometimes showed a wantof pleasure and readiness in accepting my invitation, when I talked ofhis coming to Barton. Does Elinor expect him already?"

  "I have never mentioned it to her, but of course she must."

  "I rather think you are mistaken, for when I was talking to heryesterday of getting a new grate for the spare bed-chamber, sheobserved that there was no immediate hurry for it, as it was notlikely that the room would be wanted for some time."

  "How strange this is! what can be the meaning of it! But the whole oftheir behaviour to each other has been unaccountable! How cold, howcomposed were their last adieus! How languid their conversation thelast evening of their being together! In Edward's farewell there wasno distinction between Elinor and me: it was the good wishes of anaffectionate brother to both. Twice did I leave them purposelytogether in the course of the last morning, and each time did he mostunaccountably follow me out of the room. And Elinor, in quittingNorland and Edward, cried not as I did. Even now her self-command isinvariable. When is she dejected or melancholy? When does she try toavoid society, or appear restless and dissatisfied in it?"

 
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