Sense and sensibility, p.24
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       Sense and Sensibility, p.24
 

           Jane Austen

  CHAPTER XXII

  Marianne, who had never much toleration for any thing likeimpertinence, vulgarity, inferiority of parts, or even difference oftaste from herself, was at this time particularly ill-disposed, fromthe state of her spirits, to be pleased with the Miss Steeles, or toencourage their advances; and to the invariable coldness of herbehaviour towards them, which checked every endeavour at intimacy ontheir side, Elinor principally attributed that preference of herselfwhich soon became evident in the manners of both, but especially ofLucy, who missed no opportunity of engaging her in conversation, or ofstriving to improve their acquaintance by an easy and frankcommunication of her sentiments.

  Lucy was naturally clever; her remarks were often just and amusing;and as a companion for half an hour Elinor frequently found heragreeable; but her powers had received no aid from education: she wasignorant and illiterate; and her deficiency of all mental improvement,her want of information in the most common particulars, could not beconcealed from Miss Dashwood, in spite of her constant endeavour toappear to advantage. Elinor saw, and pitied her for, the neglect ofabilities which education might have rendered so respectable; but shesaw, with less tenderness of feeling, the thorough want of delicacy,of rectitude, and integrity of mind, which her attentions, herassiduities, her flatteries at the Park betrayed; and she could haveno lasting satisfaction in the company of a person who joinedinsincerity with ignorance; whose want of instruction prevented theirmeeting in conversation on terms of equality, and whose conduct towardothers made every show of attention and deference towards herselfperfectly valueless.

  "You will think my question an odd one, I dare say," said Lucy to herone day, as they were walking together from the park to thecottage--"but pray, are you personally acquainted with yoursister-in-law's mother, Mrs. Ferrars?"

  Elinor _did_ think the question a very odd one, and her countenanceexpressed it, as she answered that she had never seen Mrs. Ferrars.

  "Indeed!" replied Lucy; "I wonder at that, for I thought you must haveseen her at Norland sometimes. Then, perhaps, you cannot tell me whatsort of a woman she is?"

  "No," returned Elinor, cautious of giving her real opinion of Edward'smother, and not very desirous of satisfying what seemed impertinentcuriosity; "I know nothing of her."

  "I am sure you think me very strange, for enquiring about her in sucha way," said Lucy, eyeing Elinor attentively as she spoke; "butperhaps there may be reasons--I wish I might venture; but however Ihope you will do me the justice of believing that I do not mean to beimpertinent."

  Elinor made her a civil reply, and they walked on for a few minutes insilence. It was broken by Lucy, who renewed the subject again bysaying, with some hesitation--

  "I cannot bear to have you think me impertinently curious. I am sure Iwould rather do any thing in the world than be thought so by a personwhose good opinion is so well worth having as yours. And I am sure Ishould not have the smallest fear of trusting _you_; indeed, I shouldbe very glad of your advice how to manage in such and uncomfortablesituation as I am; but, however, there is no occasion to trouble_you._ I am sorry you do not happen to know Mrs. Ferrars."

  "I am sorry I do _not_," said Elinor, in great astonishment, "if itcould be of any use to _you_ to know my opinion of her. But really Inever understood that you were at all connected with that family, andtherefore I am a little surprised, I confess, at so serious an inquiryinto her character."

  "I dare say you are, and I am sure I do not at all wonder at it. Butif I dared tell you all, you would not be so much surprised. Mrs.Ferrars is certainly nothing to me at present--but the time _may_come--how soon it will come must depend upon herself--when we may bevery intimately connected."

  She looked down as she said this, amiably bashful, with only one sideglance at her companion to observe its effect on her.

  "Good heavens!" cried Elinor, "what do you mean? Are you acquaintedwith Mr. Robert Ferrars? Can you be?" And she did not feel muchdelighted with the idea of such a sister-in-law.

  "No," replied Lucy, "not to Mr. _Robert_ Ferrars--I never saw him inmy life; but," fixing her eyes upon Elinor, "to his eldest brother."

  What felt Elinor at that moment? Astonishment, that would have been aspainful as it was strong, had not an immediate disbelief of theassertion attended it. She turned towards Lucy in silent amazement,unable to divine the reason or object of such a declaration; andthough her complexion varied, she stood firm in incredulity, and feltin no danger of an hysterical fit, or a swoon.

  "You may well be surprised," continued Lucy; "for to be sure you couldhave had no idea of it before; for I dare say he never dropped thesmallest hint of it to you or any of your family; because it wasalways meant to be a great secret, and I am sure has been faithfullykept so by me to this hour. Not a soul of all my relations know of itbut Anne, and I never should have mentioned it to you, if I had notfelt the greatest dependence in the world upon your secrecy; and Ireally thought my behaviour in asking so many questions about Mrs.Ferrars must seem so odd, that it ought to be explained. And I do notthink Mr. Ferrars can be displeased, when he knows I have trustedyou, because I know he has the highest opinion in the world of allyour family, and looks upon yourself and the other Miss Dashwoodsquite as his own sisters."--She paused.

  _Amiably bashful._]

  Elinor for a few moments remained silent. Her astonishment at what sheheard was at first too great for words; but at length forcing herselfto speak, and to speak cautiously, she said, with calmness of manner,which tolerably well concealed her surprise and solicitude--"May I askif your engagement is of long standing?"

  "We have been engaged these four years."

  "Four years!"

  "Yes."

  Elinor, though greatly shocked, still felt unable to believe it.

  "I did not know," said she, "that you were even acquainted till theother day."

  "Our acquaintance, however, is of many years date. He was under myuncle's care, you know, a considerable while."

  "Your uncle!"

  "Yes; Mr. Pratt. Did you never hear him talk of Mr. Pratt?"

  "I think I have," replied Elinor, with an exertion of spirits, whichincreased with her increase of emotion.

  "He was four years with my uncle, who lives at Longstaple, nearPlymouth. It was there our acquaintance begun, for my sister and mewas often staying with my uncle, and it was there our engagement wasformed, though not till a year after he had quitted as a pupil; but hewas almost always with us afterwards. I was very unwilling to enterinto it, as you may imagine, without the knowledge and approbation ofhis mother; but I was too young, and loved him too well, to be soprudent as I ought to have been. Though you do not know him so well asme, Miss Dashwood, you must have seen enough of him to be sensible heis very capable of making a woman sincerely attached to him."

  "Certainly," answered Elinor, without knowing what she said; but aftera moment's reflection, she added, with revived security of Edward'shonour and love, and her companion's falsehood--"Engaged to Mr. EdwardFerrars!--I confess myself so totally surprised at what you tell me,that really--I beg your pardon; but surely there must be some mistakeof person or name. We cannot mean the same Mr. Ferrars."

  "We can mean no other," cried Lucy, smiling. "Mr. Edward Ferrars, theeldest son of Mrs. Ferrars, of Park Street, and brother of yoursister-in-law, Mrs. John Dashwood, is the person I mean; you mustallow that I am not likely to be deceived as to the name of the man onwho all my happiness depends."

  "It is strange," replied Elinor, in a most painful perplexity, "that Ishould never have heard him even mention your name."

  "No; considering our situation, it was not strange. Our first care hasbeen to keep the matter secret. You knew nothing of me, or my family,and, therefore, there could be no _occasion_ for ever mentioning myname to you; and, as he was always particularly afraid of his sister'ssuspecting any thing, _that_ was reason enough for his not mentioningit."

  She was silent. Elinor's security sunk; but her self-command did notsink with it.
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  "Four years you have been engaged," said she with a firm voice.

  "Yes; and heaven knows how much longer we may have to wait. PoorEdward! It puts him quite out of heart." Then taking a small miniaturefrom her pocket, she added, "To prevent the possibility of mistake, beso good as to look at this face. It does not do him justice, to besure, but yet I think you cannot be deceived as to the person it wasdrew for. I have had it above these three years."

  She put it into her hands as she spoke; and when Elinor saw thepainting, whatever other doubts her fear of a too hasty decision, orher wish of detecting falsehood might suffer to linger in her mind,she could have none of its being Edward's face. She returned it almostinstantly, acknowledging the likeness.

  "I have never been able," continued Lucy, "to give him my picture inreturn, which I am very much vexed at, for he has been always soanxious to get it! But I am determined to set for it the very firstopportunity."

  "You are quite in the right," replied Elinor calmly. They thenproceeded a few paces in silence. Lucy spoke first.

  "I am sure," said she, "I have no doubt in the world of yourfaithfully keeping this secret, because you must know of whatimportance it is to us, not to have it reach his mother; for shewould never approve of it, I dare say. I shall have no fortune, and Ifancy she is an exceeding proud woman."

  "I certainly did not seek your confidence," said Elinor; "but you dome no more than justice in imagining that I may be depended on. Yoursecret is safe with me; but pardon me if I express some surprise at sounnecessary a communication. You must at least have felt that my beingacquainted with it could not add to its safety."

  As she said this, she looked earnestly at Lucy, hoping to discoversomething in her countenance; perhaps the falsehood of the greatestpart of what she had been saying; but Lucy's countenance suffered nochange.

  "I was afraid you would think I was taking a great liberty with you,"said she, "in telling you all this. I have not known you long to besure, personally at least, but I have known you and all your family bydescription a great while; and as soon as I saw you, I felt almost asif you was an old acquaintance. Besides in the present case, I reallythought some explanation was due to you after my making suchparticular inquiries about Edward's mother; and I am so unfortunate,that I have not a creature whose advice I can ask. Anne is the onlyperson that knows of it, and she has no judgment at all; indeed, shedoes me a great deal more harm than good, for I am in constant fear ofher betraying me. She does not know how to hold her tongue, as youmust perceive, and I am sure I was in the greatest fright in the worldt'other day, when Edward's name was mentioned by Sir John, lest sheshould out with it all. You can't think how much I go through in mymind from it altogether. I only wonder that I am alive after what Ihave suffered for Edward's sake these last four years. Every thing insuch suspense and uncertainty; and seeing him so seldom--we can hardlymeet above twice a-year. I am sure I wonder my heart is not quitebroke."

  Here she took out her handkerchief; but Elinor did not feel verycompassionate.

  "Sometimes," continued Lucy, after wiping her eyes, "I think whetherit would not be better for us both to break off the matter entirely."As she said this, she looked directly at her companion. "But then atother times I have not resolution enough for it. I cannot bear thethoughts of making him so miserable, as I know the very mention ofsuch a thing would do. And on my own account too--so dear as he is tome--I don't think I could be equal to it. What would you advise me todo in such a case, Miss Dashwood? What would you do yourself?"

  "Pardon me," replied Elinor, startled by the question; "but I can giveyou no advice under such circumstances. Your own judgment must directyou."

  "To be sure," continued Lucy, after a few minutes silence on bothsides, "his mother must provide for him sometime or other; but poorEdward is so cast down by it! Did you not think him dreadfullow-spirited when he was at Barton? He was so miserable when he leftus at Longstaple, to go to you, that I was afraid you would think himquite ill."

  "Did he come from your uncle's, then, when he visited us?"

  "Oh, yes; he had been staying a fortnight with us. Did you think hecame directly from town?"

  "No," replied Elinor, most feelingly sensible of every freshcircumstance in favour of Lucy's veracity; "I remember he told us,that he had been staying a fortnight with some friends near Plymouth."She remembered too, her own surprise at the time, at his mentioningnothing farther of those friends, at his total silence with respecteven to their names.

  "Did not you think him sadly out of spirits?" repeated Lucy.

  "We did, indeed, particularly so when he first arrived."

  "I begged him to exert himself for fear you should suspect what wasthe matter; but it made him so melancholy, not being able to stay morethan a fortnight with us, and seeing me so much affected. Poorfellow!--I am afraid it is just the same with him now; for he writesin wretched spirits. I heard from him just before I left Exeter;"taking a letter from her pocket and carelessly showing the directionto Elinor. "You know his hand, I dare say, a charming one it is; butthat is not written so well as usual. He was tired, I dare say, for hehad just filled the sheet to me as full as possible."

  Elinor saw that it _was_ his hand, and she could doubt no longer. Thispicture, she had allowed herself to believe, might have beenaccidentally obtained; it might not have been Edward's gift; but acorrespondence between them by letter, could subsist only under apositive engagement, could be authorised by nothing else; for a fewmoments, she was almost overcome--her heart sunk within her, and shecould hardly stand; but exertion was indispensably necessary; and shestruggled so resolutely against the oppression of her feelings, thather success was speedy, and for the time complete.

  "Writing to each other," said Lucy, returning the letter into herpocket, "is the only comfort we have in such long separations. Yes, Ihave one other comfort in his picture, but poor Edward has not even_that._ If he had but my picture, he says he should be easy. I gavehim a lock of my hair set in a ring when he was at Longstaple last,and that was some comfort to him, he said, but not equal to a picture.Perhaps you might notice the ring when you saw him?"

  "I did," said Elinor, with a composure of voice, under which wasconcealed an emotion and distress beyond any thing she had ever feltbefore. She was mortified, shocked, confounded.

  Fortunately for her, they had now reached the cottage, and theconversation could be continued no farther. After sitting with them afew minutes, the Miss Steeles returned to the Park, and Elinor wasthen at liberty to think and be wretched.

 
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