Sense and sensibility, p.25
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       Sense and Sensibility, p.25
 

           Jane Austen

  CHAPTER XXIII

  However small Elinor's general dependence on Lucy's veracity might be,it was impossible for her on serious reflection to suspect it in thepresent case, where no temptation could be answerable to the folly ofinventing a falsehood of such a description. What Lucy had asserted tobe true, therefore, Elinor could not, dared not longer doubt;supported as it was too on every side by such probabilities andproofs, and contradicted by nothing but her own wishes. Theiropportunity of acquaintance in the house of Mr. Pratt was a foundationfor the rest, at once indisputable and alarming; and Edward's visitnear Plymouth, his melancholy state of mind, his dissatisfaction athis own prospects, his uncertain behaviour towards herself, theintimate knowledge of the Miss Steeles as to Norland and their familyconnections, which had often surprised her, the picture, the letter,the ring, formed altogether such a body of evidence, as overcameevery fear of condemning him unfairly, and established as a fact,which no partiality could set aside, his ill-treatment of herself. Herresentment of such behaviour, her indignation at having been its dupe,for a short time made her feel only for herself; but other ideas,other considerations, soon arose. Had Edward been intentionallydeceiving her? Had he feigned a regard for her which he did not feel?Was his engagement to Lucy an engagement of the heart? No; whatever itmight once have been, she could not believe it such at present. Hisaffection was all her own. She could not be deceived in that. Hermother, sisters, Fanny, all had been conscious of his regard for herat Norland; it was not an illusion of her own vanity. He certainlyloved her. What a softener of the heart was this persuasion! How muchcould it not tempt her to forgive! He had been blamable, highlyblamable, in remaining at Norland after he first felt her influenceover him to be more than it ought to be. In that, he could not bedefended; but if he had injured her, how much more had he injuredhimself; if her case were pitiable, his was hopeless. His imprudencehad made her miserable for a while; but it seemed to have deprivedhimself of all chance of ever being otherwise. She might in timeregain tranquillity; but _he_, what had he to look forward to? Couldhe ever be tolerably happy with Lucy Steele; could he, were hisaffection for herself out of the question, with his integrity, hisdelicacy, and well-informed mind, be satisfied with a wife likeher--illiterate, artful, and selfish?

  The youthful infatuation of nineteen would naturally blind him toevery thing but her beauty and good nature; but the four succeedingyears--years, which if rationally spent, give such improvement to theunderstanding, must have opened his eyes to her defects of education,while the same period of time, spent on her side in inferior societyand more frivolous pursuits, had perhaps robbed her of that simplicitywhich might once have given an interesting character to her beauty.

  If in the supposition of his seeking to marry herself, hisdifficulties from his mother had seemed great, how much greater werethey now likely to be, when the object of his engagement wasundoubtedly inferior in connections, and probably inferior in fortuneto herself. These difficulties, indeed, with a heart so alienatedfrom Lucy, might not press very hard upon his patience; but melancholywas the state of the person by whom the expectation of familyopposition and unkindness, could be felt as a relief!

  As these considerations occurred to her in painful succession, shewept for him, more than for herself. Supported by the conviction ofhaving done nothing to merit her present unhappiness, and consoled bythe belief that Edward had done nothing to forfeit her esteem, shethought she could even now, under the first smart of the heavy blow,command herself enough to guard every suspicion of the truth from hermother and sisters. And so well was she able to answer her ownexpectations, that when she joined them at dinner only two hours aftershe had first suffered the extinction of all her dearest hopes, no onewould have supposed from the appearance of the sisters, that Elinorwas mourning in secret over obstacles which must divide her for everfrom the object of her love, and that Marianne was internally dwellingon the perfections of a man, of whose whole heart she felt thoroughlypossessed, and whom she expected to see in every carriage which drovenear their house.

  The necessity of concealing from her mother and Marianne, what hadbeen entrusted in confidence to herself, though it obliged her tounceasing exertion, was no aggravation of Elinor's distress. On thecontrary it was a relief to her, to be spared the communication ofwhat would give such affliction to them, and to be saved likewise fromhearing that condemnation of Edward, which would probably flow fromthe excess of their partial affection for herself, and which was morethan she felt equal to support.

  From their counsel, or their conversation, she knew she could receiveno assistance, their tenderness and sorrow must add to her distress,while her self-command would neither receive encouragement from theirexample nor from their praise. She was stronger alone, and her owngood sense so well supported her, that her firmness was as unshaken,her appearance of cheerfulness as invariable, as with regrets sopoignant and so fresh, it was possible for them to be.

  Much as she had suffered from her first conversation with Lucy on thesubject, she soon felt an earnest wish of renewing it; and this formore reasons than one. She wanted to hear many particulars of theirengagement repeated again, she wanted more clearly to understand whatLucy really felt for Edward, whether there were any sincerity in herdeclaration of tender regard for him, and she particularly wanted toconvince Lucy, by her readiness to enter on the matter again, and hercalmness in conversing on it, that she was no otherwise interested init than as a friend, which she very much feared her involuntaryagitation, in their morning discourse, must have left at leastdoubtful. That Lucy was disposed to be jealous of her appeared veryprobable: it was plain that Edward had always spoken highly in herpraise, not merely from Lucy's assertion, but from her venturing totrust her on so short a personal acquaintance, with a secret soconfessedly and evidently important. And even Sir John's jokingintelligence must have had some weight. But indeed, while Elinorremained so well assured within herself of being really beloved byEdward, it required no other consideration of probabilities to make itnatural that Lucy should be jealous; and that she was so, her veryconfidence was a proof. What other reason for the disclosure of theaffair could there be, but that Elinor might be informed by it ofLucy's superior claims on Edward, and be taught to avoid him infuture? She had little difficulty in understanding thus much of herrival's intentions, and while she was firmly resolved to act by her asevery principle of honour and honesty directed, to combat her ownaffection for Edward and to see him as little as possible; she couldnot deny herself the comfort of endeavouring to convince Lucy that herheart was unwounded. And as she could now have nothing more painful tohear on the subject than had already been told, she did not mistrusther own ability of going through a repetition of particulars withcomposure.

  But it was not immediately that an opportunity of doing so could becommanded, though Lucy was as well disposed as herself to takeadvantage of any that occurred; for the weather was not often fineenough to allow of their joining in a walk, where they might mosteasily separate themselves from the others; and though they met atleast every other evening either at the park or cottage, and chieflyat the former, they could not be supposed to meet for the sake ofconversation. Such a thought would never enter either Sir John orLady Middleton's head; and therefore very little leisure was evergiven for a general chat, and none at all for particular discourse.They met for the sake of eating, drinking, and laughing together,playing at cards, or consequences, or any other game that wassufficiently noisy.

  One or two meetings of this kind had taken place, without affordingElinor any chance of engaging Lucy in private, when Sir John called atthe cottage one morning, to beg, in the name of charity, that theywould all dine with Lady Middleton that day, as he was obliged toattend the club at Exeter, and she would otherwise be quite alone,except her mother and the two Miss Steeles. Elinor, who foresaw afairer opening for the point she had in view, in such a party as thiswas likely to be, more at liberty among themselves under the tranquiland well-bred direction of Lady Middleton
than when her husband unitedthem together in one noisy purpose, immediately accepted theinvitation; Margaret, with her mother's permission, was equallycompliant, and Marianne, though always unwilling to join any of theirparties, was persuaded by her mother, who could not bear to have herseclude herself from any chance of amusement, to go likewise.

  The young ladies went, and Lady Middleton was happily preserved fromthe frightful solitude which had threatened her. The insipidity of themeeting was exactly such as Elinor had expected; it produced not onenovelty of thought or expression, and nothing could be lessinteresting than the whole of their discourse both in the diningparlour and drawing room: to the latter, the children accompaniedthem, and while they remained there, she was too well convinced of theimpossibility of engaging Lucy's attention to attempt it. They quittedit only with the removal of the tea-things. The card-table was thenplaced, and Elinor began to wonder at herself for having everentertained a hope of finding time for conversation at the park. Theyall rose up in preparation for a round game.

  "I am glad," said Lady Middleton to Lucy, "you are not going to finishpoor little Annamaria's basket this evening; for I am sure it musthurt your eyes to work filigree by candlelight. And we will make thedear little love some amends for her disappointment to-morrow, andthen I hope she will not much mind it."

  This hint was enough, Lucy recollected herself instantly and replied,"Indeed you are very much mistaken, Lady Middleton; I am only waitingto know whether you can make your party without me, or I should havebeen at my filigree already. I would not disappoint the little angelfor all the world: and if you want me at the card-table now, I amresolved to finish the basket after supper."

  "You are very good, I hope it won't hurt your eyes:--will you ring thebell for some working candles? My poor little girl would be sadlydisappointed, I know, if the basket was not finished tomorrow, forthough I told her it certainly would not, I am sure she depends uponhaving it done."

  Lucy directly drew her work table near her and reseated herself withan alacrity and cheerfulness which seemed to infer that she couldtaste no greater delight than in making a filigree basket for a spoiltchild.

  Lady Middleton proposed a rubber of Casino to the others. No one madeany objection but Marianne, who with her usual inattention to theforms of general civility, exclaimed, "Your Ladyship will have thegoodness to excuse _me_--you know I detest cards. I shall go to thepiano-forte; I have not touched it since it was tuned." And withoutfarther ceremony, she turned away and walked to the instrument.

  Lady Middleton looked as if she thanked heaven that _she_ had nevermade so rude a speech.

  "Marianne can never keep long from that instrument you know, ma'am,"said Elinor, endeavouring to smooth away the offence; "and I do notmuch wonder at it; for it is the very best toned piano-forte I everheard."

  The remaining five were now to draw their cards.

  "Perhaps," continued Elinor, "if I should happen to cut out, I may beof some use to Miss Lucy Steele, in rolling her papers for her; andthere is so much still to be done to the basket, that it must beimpossible I think for her labour singly, to finish it this evening. Ishould like the work exceedingly, if she would allow me a share init."

  "Indeed I shall be very much obliged to you for your help," criedLucy, "for I find there is more to be done to it than I thought therewas; and it would be a shocking thing to disappoint dear Annamariaafter all."

  "Oh! that would be terrible, indeed," said Miss Steele. "Dear littlesoul, how I do love her!"

  "You are very kind," said Lady Middleton to Elinor; "and as youreally like the work, perhaps you will be as well pleased not to cutin till another rubber, or will you take your chance now?"

  Elinor joyfully profited by the first of these proposals, and thus bya little of that address which Marianne could never condescend topractise, gained her own end, and pleased Lady Middleton at the sametime. Lucy made room for her with ready attention, and the two fairrivals were thus seated side by side at the same table, and, with theutmost harmony, engaged in forwarding the same work. The pianoforte atwhich Marianne, wrapped up in her own music and her own thoughts, hadby this time forgotten that any body was in the room besides herself,was luckily so near them that Miss Dashwood now judged she mightsafely, under the shelter of its noise, introduce the interestingsubject, without any risk of being heard at the card-table.

 
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