Sense and sensibility, p.15
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       Sense and Sensibility, p.15
 

           Jane Austen

  CHAPTER XIII

  Their intended excursion to Whitwell turned out very different fromwhat Elinor had expected. She was prepared to be wet through,fatigued, and frightened; but the event was still more unfortunate,for they did not go at all.

  By ten o'clock the whole party was assembled at the park, where theywere to breakfast. The morning was rather favourable, though it hadrained all night, as the clouds were then dispersing across the sky,and the sun frequently appeared. They were all in high spirits andgood humour, eager to be happy, and determined to submit to thegreatest inconveniences and hardships rather than be otherwise.

  While they were at breakfast the letters were brought in. Among therest there was one for Colonel Brandon:--he took it, looked at thedirection, changed colour, and immediately left the room.

  "What is the matter with Brandon?" said Sir John.

  Nobody could tell.

  "I hope he has had no bad news," said Lady Middleton. "It must besomething extraordinary that could make Colonel Brandon leave mybreakfast table so suddenly."

  In about five minutes he returned.

  "No bad news, Colonel, I hope;" said Mrs. Jennings, as soon as heentered the room.

  "None at all, ma'am, I thank you."

  "Was it from Avignon? I hope it is not to say that your sister isworse."

  "No, ma'am. It came from town, and is merely a letter of business."

  "But how came the hand to discompose you so much, if it was only aletter of business? Come, come, this won't do, Colonel; so let us hearthe truth of it."

  "My dear madam," said Lady Middleton, "recollect what you are saying."

  "Perhaps it is to tell you that your cousin Fanny is married?" saidMrs. Jennings, without attending to her daughter's reproof.

  "No, indeed, it is not."

  "Well, then, I know who it is from, Colonel. And I hope she is well."

  "Whom do you mean, ma'am?" said he, colouring a little.

  "Oh! you know who I mean."

  "I am particularly sorry, ma'am," said he, addressing Lady Middleton,"that I should receive this letter today, for it is on business whichrequires my immediate attendance in town."

  "In town!" cried Mrs. Jennings. "What can you have to do in town atthis time of year?"

  "My own loss is great," he continued, "in being obliged to leave soagreeable a party; but I am the more concerned, as I fear my presenceis necessary to gain your admittance at Whitwell."

  What a blow upon them all was this!

  "But if you write a note to the housekeeper, Mr. Brandon," saidMarianne, eagerly, "will it not be sufficient?"

  He shook his head.

  "We must go," said Sir John. "It shall not be put off when we are sonear it. You cannot go to town till tomorrow, Brandon, that is all."

  "I wish it could be so easily settled. But it is not in my power todelay my journey for one day!"

  "If you would but let us know what your business is," said Mrs.Jennings, "we might see whether it could be put off or not."

  "You would not be six hours later," said Willoughby, "if you were todefer your journey till our return."

  "I cannot afford to lose _one_ hour."

  Elinor then heard Willoughby say, in a low voice to Marianne, "Thereare some people who cannot bear a party of pleasure. Brandon is one ofthem. He was afraid of catching cold I dare say, and invented thistrick for getting out of it. I would lay fifty guineas the letter wasof his own writing."

  "I have no doubt of it," replied Marianne.

  "There is no persuading you to change your mind, Brandon, I know ofold," said Sir John, "when once you are determined on anything. But,however, I hope you will think better of it. Consider, here are thetwo Miss Careys come over from Newton, the three Miss Dashwoods walkedup from the cottage, and Mr. Willoughby got up two hours before hisusual time, on purpose to go to Whitwell."

  Colonel Brandon again repeated his sorrow at being the cause ofdisappointing the party; but at the same time declared it to beunavoidable.

  "Well, then, when will you come back again?"

  "I hope we shall see you at Barton," added her ladyship, "as soon asyou can conveniently leave town; and we must put off the party toWhitwell till you return."

  "You are very obliging. But it is so uncertain, when I may have it inmy power to return, that I dare not engage for it at all."

  "Oh! he must and shall come back," cried Sir John. "If he is not hereby the end of the week, I shall go after him."

  "Ay, so do, Sir John," cried Mrs. Jennings, "and then perhaps you mayfind out what his business is."

  "I do not want to pry into other men's concerns. I suppose it issomething he is ashamed of."

  Colonel Brandon's horses were announced.

  "You do not go to town on horseback, do you?" added Sir John.

  "No. Only to Honiton. I shall then go post."

  "Well, as you are resolved to go, I wish you a good journey. But youhad better change your mind."

  "I assure you it is not in my power."

  He then took leave of the whole party.

  "Is there no chance of my seeing you and your sisters in town thiswinter, Miss Dashwood?"

  "I am afraid, none at all."

  "Then I must bid you farewell for a longer time than I should wish todo."

  To Marianne, he merely bowed and said nothing.

  "Come Colonel," said Mrs. Jennings, "before you go, do let us knowwhat you are going about."

  He wished her a good morning, and, attended by Sir John, left theroom.

  The complaints and lamentations which politeness had hithertorestrained, now burst forth universally; and they all agreed again andagain how provoking it was to be so disappointed.

  "I can guess what his business is, however," said Mrs. Jenningsexultingly.

  "Can you, ma'am?" said almost every body.

  "Yes; it is about Miss Williams, I am sure."

  "And who is Miss Williams?" asked Marianne.

  "What! do not you know who Miss Williams is? I am sure you must haveheard of her before. She is a relation of the Colonel's, my dear; avery near relation. We will not say how near, for fear of shocking theyoung ladies." Then, lowering her voice a little, she said to Elinor,"She is his natural daughter."

  "Indeed!"

  "Oh, yes; and as like him as she can stare. I dare say the Colonelwill leave her all his fortune."

  When Sir John returned, he joined most heartily in the general regreton so unfortunate an event; concluding however by observing, that asthey were all got together, they must do something by way of beinghappy; and after some consultation it was agreed, that althoughhappiness could only be enjoyed at Whitwell, they might procure atolerable composure of mind by driving about the country. Thecarriages were then ordered; Willoughby's was first, and Mariannenever looked happier than when she got into it. He drove through thepark very fast, and they were soon out of sight; and nothing more ofthem was seen till their return, which did not happen till after thereturn of all the rest. They both seemed delighted with their drive;but said only in general terms that they had kept in the lanes, whilethe others went on the downs.

  It was settled that there should be a dance in the evening, and thatevery body should be extremely merry all day long. Some more of theCareys came to dinner, and they had the pleasure of sitting downnearly twenty to table, which Sir John observed with greatcontentment. Willoughby took his usual place between the two elderMiss Dashwoods. Mrs. Jennings sat on Elinor's right hand; and they hadnot been long seated, before she leant behind her and Willoughby, andsaid to Marianne, loud enough for them both to hear, "I have found youout in spite of all your tricks. I know where you spent the morning."

  Marianne coloured, and replied very hastily, "Where, pray?"

  "Did not you know," said Willoughby, "that we had been out in mycurricle?"

  "Yes, yes, Mr. Impudence, I know that very well, and I was determinedto find out _where_ you had been to. I hope you like your house, MissMarianne. It is a very large one, I
know; and when I come to see you,I hope you will have new-furnished it, for it wanted it very much whenI was there six years ago."

  Marianne turned away in great confusion. Mrs. Jennings laughedheartily; and Elinor found that in her resolution to know where theyhad been, she had actually made her own woman enquire of Mr.Willoughby's groom; and that she had by that method been informed thatthey had gone to Allenham, and spent a considerable time there inwalking about the garden and going all over the house.

  Elinor could hardly believe this to be true, as it seemed veryunlikely that Willoughby should propose, or Marianne consent, to enterthe house while Mrs. Smith was in it, with whom Marianne had not thesmallest acquaintance.

  As soon as they left the dining-room, Elinor enquired of her about it;and great was her surprise when she found that every circumstancerelated by Mrs. Jennings was perfectly true. Marianne was quite angrywith her for doubting it.

  "Why should you imagine, Elinor, that we did not go there, or that wedid not see the house? Is not it what you have often wished to doyourself?"

  "Yes, Marianne, but I would not go while Mrs. Smith was there, andwith no other companion than Mr. Willoughby."

  "_I have found you out in spite of all your tricks._"]

  "Mr. Willoughby however is the only person who can have a right toshow that house; and as he went in an open carriage, it wasimpossible to have any other companion. I never spent a pleasantermorning in my life."

  "I am afraid," replied Elinor, "that the pleasantness of an employmentdoes not always evince its propriety."

  "On the contrary, nothing can be a stronger proof of it, Elinor; forif there had been any real impropriety in what I did, I should havebeen sensible of it at the time, for we always know when we are actingwrong, and with such a conviction I could have had no pleasure."

  "But, my dear Marianne, as it has already exposed you to some veryimpertinent remarks, do you not now begin to doubt the discretion ofyour own conduct?"

  "If the impertinent remarks of Mrs. Jennings are to be the proof ofimpropriety in conduct, we are all offending every moment of ourlives. I value not her censure any more than I should do hercommendation. I am not sensible of having done anything wrong inwalking over Mrs. Smith's grounds, or in seeing her house. They willone day be Mr. Willoughby's, and--"

  "If they were one day to be your own, Marianne, you would not bejustified in what you have done."

  She blushed at this hint; but it was even visibly gratifying to her;and after a ten minutes' interval of earnest thought, she came to hersister again, and said with great good humour, "Perhaps, Elinor, it_was_ rather ill-judged in me to go to Allenham; but Mr. Willoughbywanted particularly to show me the place; and it is a charming house,I assure you. There is one remarkably pretty sitting room up stairs;of a nice comfortable size for constant use, and with modern furnitureit would be delightful. It is a corner room, and has windows on twosides. On one side you look across the bowling-green, behind thehouse, to a beautiful hanging wood, and on the other you have a viewof the church and village, and, beyond them, of those fine bold hillsthat we have so often admired. I did not see it to advantage, fornothing could be more forlorn than the furniture; but if it were newlyfitted up--a couple of hundred pounds, Willoughby says, would make itone of the pleasantest summer-rooms in England."

  Could Elinor have listened to her without interruption from theothers, she would have described every room in the house with equaldelight.

 
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