Sense and sensibility, p.11
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       Sense and Sensibility, p.11

           Jane Austen
 

  CHAPTER IX

  The Dashwoods were now settled at Barton with tolerable comfort tothemselves. The house and the garden, with all the objects surroundingthem, were now become familiar, and the ordinary pursuits which hadgiven to Norland half its charms were engaged in again with fargreater enjoyment than Norland had been able to afford, since the lossof their father. Sir John Middleton, who called on them every day forthe first fortnight, and who was not in the habit of seeing muchoccupation at home, could not conceal his amazement on finding themalways employed.

  Their visitors, except those from Barton Park, were not many; for, inspite of Sir John's urgent entreaties that they would mix more in theneighbourhood, and repeated assurances of his carriage being always attheir service, the independence of Mrs. Dashwood's spirit overcame thewish of society for her children; and she was resolute in declining tovisit any family beyond the distance of a walk. There were but few whocould be so classed; and it was not all of them that were attainable.About a mile and a half from the cottage, along the narrow windingvalley of Allenham, which issued from that of Barton, as formerlydescribed, the girls had, in one of their earliest walks, discoveredan ancient respectable looking mansion which, by reminding them alittle of Norland, interested their imagination and made them wish tobe better acquainted with it. But they learnt, on enquiry, that itspossessor, an elderly lady of very good character, was unfortunatelytoo infirm to mix with the world, and never stirred from home.

  The whole country about them abounded in beautiful walks. The highdowns which invited them from almost every window of the cottage toseek the exquisite enjoyment of air on their summits, were a happyalternative when the dirt of the valleys beneath shut up theirsuperior beauties; and towards one of these hills did Marianne andMargaret one memorable morning direct their steps, attracted by thepartial sunshine of a showery sky, and unable longer to bear theconfinement which the settled rain of the two preceding days hadoccasioned. The weather was not tempting enough to draw the two othersfrom their pencil and their book, in spite of Marianne's declarationthat the day would be lastingly fair, and that every threatening cloudwould be drawn off from their hills; and the two girls set offtogether.

  They gaily ascended the downs, rejoicing in their own penetration atevery glimpse of blue sky; and when they caught in their faces theanimating gales of a high south-westerly wind, they pitied the fearswhich had prevented their mother and Elinor from sharing suchdelightful sensations.

  "Is there a felicity in the world," said Marianne, "superior tothis?--Margaret, we will walk here at least two hours."

  Margaret agreed, and they pursued their way against the wind,resisting it with laughing delight for about twenty minutes longer,when suddenly the clouds united over their heads, and a driving rainset full in their face. Chagrined and surprised, they were obliged,though unwillingly, to turn back, for no shelter was nearer than theirown house. One consolation however remained for them, to which theexigence of the moment gave more than usual propriety,--it was that ofrunning with all possible speed down the steep side of the hill whichled immediately to their garden gate.

  They set off. Marianne had at first the advantage, but a false stepbrought her suddenly to the ground; and Margaret, unable to stopherself to assist her, was involuntarily hurried along, and reachedthe bottom in safety.

  A gentleman carrying a gun, with two pointers playing round him, waspassing up the hill and within a few yards of Marianne, when heraccident happened. He put down his gun and ran to her assistance. Shehad raised herself from the ground, but her foot had been twisted inher fall, and she was scarcely able to stand. The gentleman offeredhis services; and perceiving that her modesty declined what hersituation rendered necessary, took her up in his arms without fartherdelay, and carried her down the hill. Then passing through the garden,the gate of which had been left open by Margaret, he bore her directlyinto the house, whither Margaret was just arrived, and quitted not hishold till he had seated her in a chair in the parlour.

  Elinor and her mother rose up in amazement at their entrance, andwhile the eyes of both were fixed on him with an evident wonder and asecret admiration which equally sprung from his appearance, heapologized for his intrusion by relating its cause, in a manner sofrank and so graceful that his person, which was uncommonly handsome,received additional charms from his voice and expression. Had he beeneven old, ugly, and vulgar, the gratitude and kindness of Mrs.Dashwood would have been secured by any act of attention to her child;but the influence of youth, beauty, and elegance, gave an interest tothe action which came home to her feelings.

  She thanked him again and again; and, with a sweetness of addresswhich always attended her, invited him to be seated. But this hedeclined, as he was dirty and wet. Mrs. Dashwood then begged to knowto whom she was obliged. His name, he replied, was Willoughby, and hispresent home was at Allenham, from whence he hoped she would allow himthe honour of calling tomorrow to enquire after Miss Dashwood. Thehonour was readily granted, and he then departed, to make himselfstill more interesting, in the midst of a heavy rain.

  His manly beauty and more than common gracefulness were instantly thetheme of general admiration, and the laugh which his gallantry raisedagainst Marianne received particular spirit from his exteriorattractions. Marianne herself had seen less of his person than therest, for the confusion which crimsoned over her face, on his liftingher up, had robbed her of the power of regarding him after theirentering the house. But she had seen enough of him to join in all theadmiration of the others, and with an energy which always adorned herpraise. His person and air were equal to what her fancy had ever drawnfor the hero of a favourite story; and in his carrying her into thehouse with so little previous formality, there was a rapidity ofthought which particularly recommended the action to her. Everycircumstance belonging to him was interesting. His name was good, hisresidence was in their favourite village, and she soon found out thatof all manly dresses a shooting-jacket was the most becoming. Herimagination was busy, her reflections were pleasant, and the pain of asprained ankle was disregarded.

  Sir John called on them as soon as the next interval of fair weatherthat morning allowed him to get out of doors; and Marianne's accidentbeing related to him, he was eagerly asked whether he knew anygentleman of the name of Willoughby at Allenham.

  "Willoughby!" cried Sir John; "what, is _he_ in the country? That isgood news however; I will ride over tomorrow, and ask him to dinner onThursday."

  "You know him then," said Mrs. Dashwood.

  "Know him! to be sure I do. Why, he is down here every year."

  "And what sort of a young man is he?"

  "As good a kind of fellow as ever lived, I assure you. A very decentshot, and there is not a bolder rider in England."

  "And is that all you can say for him?" cried Marianne, indignantly."But what are his manners on more intimate acquaintance? What hispursuits, his talents, and genius?"

  Sir John was rather puzzled.

  "Upon my soul," said he, "I do not know much about him as to all_that._ But he is a pleasant, good humoured fellow, and has got thenicest little black bitch of a pointer I ever saw. Was she out withhim today?"

  But Marianne could no more satisfy him as to the colour of Mr.Willoughby's pointer, than he could describe to her the shades of hismind.

  "But who is he?" said Elinor. "Where does he come from? Has he a houseat Allenham?"

  On this point Sir John could give more certain intelligence; and hetold them that Mr. Willoughby had no property of his own in thecountry; that he resided there only while he was visiting the old ladyat Allenham Court, to whom he was related, and whose possessions hewas to inherit; adding, "Yes, yes, he is very well worth catching Ican tell you, Miss Dashwood; he has a pretty little estate of his ownin Somersetshire besides; and if I were you, I would not give him upto my younger sister, in spite of all this tumbling down hills. MissMarianne must not expect to have all the men to herself. Brandon willbe jealous, if she does not take care."

  "
I do not believe," said Mrs. Dashwood, with a good humoured smile,"that Mr. Willoughby will be incommoded by the attempts of either of_my_ daughters towards what you call _catching him._ It is not anemployment to which they have been brought up. Men are very safe withus, let them be ever so rich. I am glad to find, however, from whatyou say, that he is a respectable young man, and one whoseacquaintance will not be ineligible."

  "He is as good a sort of fellow, I believe, as ever lived," repeatedSir John. "I remember last Christmas at a little hop at the park, hedanced from eight o'clock till four, without once sitting down."

  "Did he indeed?" cried Marianne with sparkling eyes, "and withelegance, with spirit?"

  "Yes; and he was up again at eight to ride to covert."

  "That is what I like; that is what a young man ought to be. Whateverbe his pursuits, his eagerness in them should know no moderation, andleave him no sense of fatigue."

  "Aye, aye, I see how it will be," said Sir John, "I see how it willbe. You will be setting your cap at him now, and never think of poorBrandon."

  "That is an expression, Sir John," said Marianne, warmly, "which Iparticularly dislike. I abhor every common-place phrase by which witis intended; and 'setting one's cap at a man,' or 'making a conquest,'are the most odious of all. Their tendency is gross and illiberal; andif their construction could ever be deemed clever, time has long agodestroyed all its ingenuity."

  Sir John did not much understand this reproof; but he laughed asheartily as if he did, and then replied--

  "Ay, you will make conquests enough, I dare say, one way or other.Poor Brandon! he is quite smitten already, and he is very well worthsetting your cap at, I can tell you, in spite of all this tumblingabout and spraining of ankles."

 
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