Sense and sensibility, p.16
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       Sense and Sensibility, p.16

           Jane Austen


  The sudden termination of Colonel Brandon's visit at the park, withhis steadiness in concealing its cause, filled the mind, and raisedthe wonder of Mrs. Jennings for two or three days; she was a greatwonderer, as every one must be who takes a very lively interest in allthe comings and goings of all their acquaintance. She wondered, withlittle intermission what could be the reason of it; was sure theremust be some bad news, and thought over every kind of distress thatcould have befallen him, with a fixed determination that he should notescape them all.

  "Something very melancholy must be the matter, I am sure," said she."I could see it in his face. Poor man! I am afraid his circumstancesmay be bad. The estate at Delaford was never reckoned more than twothousand a year, and his brother left everything sadly involved. I dothink he must have been sent for about money matters, for what elsecan it be? I wonder whether it is so. I would give anything to knowthe truth of it. Perhaps it is about Miss Williams and, by the bye, Idare say it is, because he looked so conscious when I mentioned her.May be she is ill in town; nothing in the world more likely, for Ihave a notion she is always rather sickly. I would lay any wager it isabout Miss Williams. It is not so very likely he should be distressedin his circumstances _now_, for he is a very prudent man, and to besure must have cleared the estate by this time. I wonder what it canbe! May be his sister is worse at Avignon, and has sent for him over.His setting off in such a hurry seems very like it. Well, I wish himout of all his trouble with all my heart, and a good wife into thebargain."

  So wondered, so talked Mrs. Jennings. Her opinion varying with everyfresh conjecture, and all seeming equally probable as they arose.Elinor, though she felt really interested in the welfare of ColonelBrandon, could not bestow all the wonder on his going so suddenlyaway, which Mrs. Jennings was desirous of her feeling; for besidesthat the circumstance did not in her opinion justify such lastingamazement or variety of speculation, her wonder was otherwisedisposed of. It was engrossed by the extraordinary silence of hersister and Willoughby on the subject, which they must know to bepeculiarly interesting to them all. As this silence continued, everyday made it appear more strange and more incompatible with thedisposition of both. Why they should not openly acknowledge to hermother and herself, what their constant behaviour to each otherdeclared to have taken place, Elinor could not imagine.

  She could easily conceive that marriage might not be immediately intheir power; for though Willoughby was independent, there was noreason to believe him rich. His estate had been rated by Sir John atabout six or seven hundred a year; but he lived at an expense to whichthat income could hardly be equal, and he had himself often complainedof his poverty. But for this strange kind of secrecy maintained bythem relative to their engagement, which in fact concealed nothing atall, she could not account; and it was so wholly contradictory totheir general opinions and practice, that a doubt sometimes enteredher mind of their being really engaged, and this doubt was enough toprevent her making any inquiry of Marianne.

  Nothing could be more expressive of attachment to them all, thanWilloughby's behaviour. To Marianne it had all the distinguishingtenderness which a lover's heart could give, and to the rest of thefamily it was the affectionate attention of a son and a brother. Thecottage seemed to be considered and loved by him as his home; manymore of his hours were spent there than at Allenham; and if no generalengagement collected them at the park, the exercise which called himout in the morning was almost certain of ending there, where the restof the day was spent by himself at the side of Marianne, and by hisfavourite pointer at her feet.

  One evening in particular, about a week after Colonel Brandon left thecountry, his heart seemed more than usually open to every feeling ofattachment to the objects around him; and on Mrs. Dashwood's happeningto mention her design of improving the cottage in the spring, hewarmly opposed every alteration of a place which affection hadestablished as perfect with him.

  "What!" he exclaimed, "Improve this dear cottage! No. _That_ I willnever consent to. Not a stone must be added to its walls, not an inchto its size, if my feelings are regarded."

  "Do not be alarmed," said Miss Dashwood, "nothing of the kind will bedone; for my mother will never have money enough to attempt it."

  "I am heartily glad of it," he cried. "May she always be poor, if shecan employ her riches no better."

  "Thank you, Willoughby. But you may be assured that I would notsacrifice one sentiment of local attachment of yours, or of any onewhom I loved, for all the improvements in the world. Depend upon itthat whatever unemployed sum may remain, when I make up my accounts inthe spring, I would even rather lay it uselessly by than dispose of itin a manner so painful to you. But are you really so attached to thisplace as to see no defect in it?"

  "I am," said he. "To me it is faultless. Nay, more, I consider it asthe only form of building in which happiness is attainable, and were Irich enough I would instantly pull Combe down, and build it up againin the exact plan of this cottage."

  "With dark narrow stairs and a kitchen that smokes, I suppose," saidElinor.

  "Yes," cried he in the same eager tone, "with all and every thingbelonging to it--in no one convenience or inconvenience about it,should the least variation be perceptible. Then, and then only, undersuch a roof, I might perhaps be as happy at Combe as I have been atBarton."

  "I flatter myself," replied Elinor, "that even under the disadvantageof better rooms and a broader staircase, you will hereafter find yourown house as faultless as you now do this."

  "There certainly are circumstances," said Willoughby, "which mightgreatly endear it to me; but this place will always have one claim ofmy affection, which no other can possibly share."

  Mrs. Dashwood looked with pleasure at Marianne, whose fine eyes werefixed so expressively on Willoughby, as plainly denoted how well sheunderstood him.

  "How often did I wish," added he, "when I was at Allenham this timetwelvemonth, that Barton cottage were inhabited! I never passed withinview of it without admiring its situation, and grieving that no oneshould live in it. How little did I then think that the very firstnews I should hear from Mrs. Smith, when I next came into the country,would be that Barton cottage was taken: and I felt an immediatesatisfaction and interest in the event, which nothing but a kind ofprescience of what happiness I should experience from it, can accountfor. Must it not have been so, Marianne?" speaking to her in a loweredvoice. Then continuing his former tone, he said, "And yet this houseyou would spoil, Mrs. Dashwood? You would rob it of its simplicity byimaginary improvement! and this dear parlour in which our acquaintancefirst began, and in which so many happy hours have been since spent byus together, you would degrade to the condition of a common entrance,and every body would be eager to pass through the room which hashitherto contained within itself more real accommodation and comfortthan any other apartment of the handsomest dimensions in the worldcould possibly afford."

  Mrs. Dashwood again assured him that no alteration of the kind shouldbe attempted.

  "You are a good woman," he warmly replied. "Your promise makes meeasy. Extend it a little farther, and it will make me happy. Tell methat not only your house will remain the same, but that I shall everfind you and yours as unchanged as your dwelling; and that you willalways consider me with the kindness which has made everythingbelonging to you so dear to me."

  The promise was readily given, and Willoughby's behaviour during thewhole of the evening declared at once his affection and happiness.

  "Shall we see you tomorrow to dinner?" said Mrs. Dashwood, when he wasleaving them. "I do not ask you to come in the morning, for we mustwalk to the park, to call on Lady Middleton."

  He engaged to be with them by four o'clock.

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