Sense and sensibility, p.28
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       Sense and Sensibility, p.28

           Jane Austen
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  CHAPTER XXVI

  Elinor could not find herself in the carriage with Mrs. Jennings, andbeginning a journey to London under her protection, and as her guest,without wondering at her own situation, so short had theiracquaintance with that lady been, so wholly unsuited were they in ageand disposition, and so many had been her objections against such ameasure only a few days before! But these objections had all, withthat happy ardour of youth which Marianne and her mother equallyshared, been overcome or overlooked; and Elinor, in spite of everyoccasional doubt of Willoughby's constancy, could not witness therapture of delightful expectation which filled the whole soul andbeamed in the eyes of Marianne, without feeling how blank was her ownprospect, how cheerless her own state of mind in the comparison, andhow gladly she would engage in the solicitude of Marianne's situationto have the same animating object in view, the same possibility ofhope. A short, a very short time however must now decide whatWilloughby's intentions were; in all probability he was already intown. Marianne's eagerness to be gone declared her dependence onfinding him there; and Elinor was resolved not only upon gaining everynew light as to his character which her own observation or theintelligence of others could give her, but likewise upon watching hisbehaviour to her sister with such zealous attention, as to ascertainwhat he was and what he meant, before many meetings had taken place.Should the result of her observations be unfavourable, she wasdetermined at all events to open the eyes of her sister; should it beotherwise, her exertions would be of a different nature--she must thenlearn to avoid every selfish comparison, and banish every regret whichmight lessen her satisfaction in the happiness of Marianne.

  They were three days on their journey, and Marianne's behaviour asthey travelled was a happy specimen of what future complaisance andcompanionableness to Mrs. Jennings might be expected to be. She sat insilence almost all the way, wrapt in her own meditations, and scarcelyever voluntarily speaking, except when any object of picturesquebeauty within their view drew from her an exclamation of delightexclusively addressed to her sister. To atone for this conducttherefore, Elinor took immediate possession of the post of civilitywhich she had assigned herself, behaved with the greatest attention toMrs. Jennings, talked with her, laughed with her, and listened to herwhenever she could; and Mrs. Jennings on her side treated them bothwith all possible kindness, was solicitous on every occasion for theirease and enjoyment, and only disturbed that she could not make themchoose their own dinners at the inn, nor extort a confession of theirpreferring salmon to cod, or boiled fowls to veal cutlets. Theyreached town by three o'clock the third day, glad to be released,after such a journey, from the confinement of a carriage, and ready toenjoy all the luxury of a good fire.

  The house was handsome, and handsomely fitted up, and the youngladies were immediately put in possession of a very comfortableapartment. It had formerly been Charlotte's, and over the mantelpiecestill hung a landscape in coloured silks of her performance, in proofof her having spent seven years at a great school in town to someeffect.

  As dinner was not to be ready in less than two hours from theirarrival, Elinor determined to employ the interval in writing to hermother, and sat down for that purpose. In a few moments Marianne didthe same. "I am writing home, Marianne," said Elinor; "had not youbetter defer your letter for a day or two?"

  "I am _not_ going to write to my mother," replied Marianne, hastily,and as if wishing to avoid any farther inquiry. Elinor said no more;it immediately struck her that she must then be writing to Willoughby;and the conclusion which as instantly followed was, that, howevermysteriously they might wish to conduct the affair, they must beengaged. This conviction, though not entirely satisfactory, gave herpleasure, and she continued her letter with greater alacrity.Marianne's was finished in a very few minutes; in length it could beno more than a note; it was then folded up, sealed, and directed witheager rapidity. Elinor thought she could distinguish a large W in thedirection; and no sooner was it complete than Marianne, ringing thebell, requested the footman who answered it to get that letterconveyed for her to the two-penny post. This decided the matter atonce.

  Her spirits still continued very high; but there was a flutter in themwhich prevented their giving much pleasure to her sister, and thisagitation increased as the evening drew on. She could scarcely eat anydinner, and when they afterwards returned to the drawing room, seemedanxiously listening to the sound of every carriage.

  It was a great satisfaction to Elinor that Mrs. Jennings, by beingmuch engaged in her own room, could see little of what was passing.The tea things were brought in, and already had Marianne beendisappointed more than once by a rap at a neighbouring door, when aloud one was suddenly heard which could not be mistaken for one at anyother house, Elinor felt secure of its announcing Willoughby'sapproach, and Marianne, starting up, moved towards the door. Everything was silent; this could not be borne many seconds; she openedthe door, advanced a few steps towards the stairs, and after listeninghalf a minute, returned into the room in all the agitation which aconviction of having heard him would naturally produce; in the ecstasyof her feelings at that instant she could not help exclaiming, "Oh,Elinor, it is Willoughby, indeed it is!" and seemed almost ready tothrow herself into his arms, when Colonel Brandon appeared.

  It was too great a shock to be borne with calmness, and sheimmediately left the room. Elinor was disappointed too; but at thesame time her regard for Colonel Brandon ensured his welcome with her;and she felt particularly hurt that a man so partial to her sistershould perceive that she experienced nothing but grief anddisappointment in seeing him. She instantly saw that it was notunnoticed by him, that he even observed Marianne as she quitted theroom, with such astonishment and concern, as hardly left him therecollection of what civility demanded towards herself.

  "Is your sister ill?" said he.

  Elinor answered in some distress that she was, and then talked ofhead-aches, low spirits, and over fatigues; and of every thing towhich she could decently attribute her sister's behaviour.

  He heard her with the most earnest attention, but seeming to recollecthimself, said no more on the subject, and began directly to speak ofhis pleasure at seeing them in London, making the usual inquiriesabout their journey, and the friends they had left behind.

  In this calm kind of way, with very little interest on either side,they continued to talk, both of them out of spirits, and the thoughtsof both engaged elsewhere. Elinor wished very much to ask whetherWilloughby were then in town, but she was afraid of giving him pain byany enquiry after his rival; and at length, by way of sayingsomething, she asked if he had been in London ever since she had seenhim last. "Yes," he replied, with some embarrassment, "almost eversince; I have been once or twice at Delaford for a few days, but ithas never been in my power to return to Barton."

  This, and the manner in which it was said, immediately brought back toher remembrance all the circumstances of his quitting that place, withthe uneasiness and suspicions they had caused to Mrs. Jennings, andshe was fearful that her question had implied much more curiosity onthe subject than she had ever felt.

  Mrs. Jennings soon came in. "Oh! Colonel," said she, with her usualnoisy cheerfulness, "I am monstrous glad to see you--sorry I could notcome before--beg your pardon, but I have been forced to look about mea little, and settle my matters; for it is a long while since I havebeen at home, and you know one has always a world of little odd thingsto do after one has been away for any time; and then I have hadCartwright to settle with. Lord, I have been as busy as a bee eversince dinner! But pray, Colonel, how came you to conjure out that Ishould be in town today?"

  "I had the pleasure of hearing it at Mr. Palmer's, where I have beendining."

  "Oh, you did; well, and how do they all do at their house? How doesCharlotte do? I warrant you she is a fine size by this time."

  "Mrs. Palmer appeared quite well, and I am commissioned to tell you,that you will certainly see her to-morrow."

  "Ay, to be sure, I thought as much. Well, Colonel, I have broug
ht twoyoung ladies with me, you see--that is, you see but one of them now,but there is another somewhere. Your friend, Miss Marianne, too--whichyou will not be sorry to hear. I do not know what you and Mr.Willoughby will do between you about her. Ay, it is a fine thing to beyoung and handsome. Well! I was young once, but I never was veryhandsome--worse luck for me. However, I got a very good husband, and Idon't know what the greatest beauty can do more. Ah! poor man! he hasbeen dead these eight years and better. But Colonel, where have youbeen to since we parted? And how does your business go on? Come, come,let's have no secrets among friends."

  He replied with his accustomary mildness to all her inquiries, butwithout satisfying her in any. Elinor now began to make the tea, andMarianne was obliged to appear again.

  After her entrance, Colonel Brandon became more thoughtful and silentthan he had been before, and Mrs. Jennings could not prevail on him tostay long. No other visitor appeared that evening, and the ladies wereunanimous in agreeing to go early to bed.

  Marianne rose the next morning with recovered spirits and happy looks.The disappointment of the evening before seemed forgotten in theexpectation of what was to happen that day. They had not long finishedtheir breakfast before Mrs. Palmer's barouche stopped at the door, andin a few minutes she came laughing into the room: so delighted to seethem all, that it was hard to say whether she received most pleasurefrom meeting her mother or the Miss Dashwoods again. So surprised attheir coming to town, though it was what she had rather expected allalong; so angry at their accepting her mother's invitation afterhaving declined her own, though at the same time she would never haveforgiven them if they had not come!

  "Mr. Palmer will be so happy to see you," said she; "What do you thinkhe said when he heard of your coming with Mamma? I forget what it wasnow, but it was something so droll!"

  After an hour or two spent in what her mother called comfortable chat,or in other words, in every variety of inquiry concerning all theiracquaintance on Mrs. Jennings's side, and in laughter without cause onMrs. Palmer's, it was proposed by the latter that they should allaccompany her to some shops where she had business that morning, towhich Mrs. Jennings and Elinor readily consented, as having likewisesome purchases to make themselves; and Marianne, though declining itat first was induced to go likewise.

  Wherever they went, she was evidently always on the watch. In BondStreet especially, where much of their business lay, her eyes were inconstant inquiry; and in whatever shop the party were engaged, hermind was equally abstracted from every thing actually before them,from all that interested and occupied the others. Restless anddissatisfied every where, her sister could never obtain her opinion ofany article of purchase, however it might equally concern them both:she received no pleasure from anything; was only impatient to be athome again, and could with difficulty govern her vexation at thetediousness of Mrs. Palmer, whose eye was caught by every thingpretty, expensive, or new; who was wild to buy all, could determine onnone, and dawdled away her time in rapture and indecision.

  It was late in the morning before they returned home; and no soonerhad they entered the house than Marianne flew eagerly up stairs, andwhen Elinor followed, she found her turning from the table with asorrowful countenance, which declared that no Willoughby had beenthere.

  "Has no letter been left here for me since we went out?" said she tothe footman who then entered with the parcels. She was answered in thenegative. "Are you quite sure of it?" she replied. "Are you certainthat no servant, no porter has left any letter or note?"

  The man replied that none had.

  "How very odd!" said she, in a low and disappointed voice, as sheturned away to the window.

  "How odd, indeed!" repeated Elinor within herself, regarding hersister with uneasiness. "If she had not known him to be in town shewould not have written to him, as she did; she would have written toCombe Magna; and if he is in town, how odd that he should neither comenor write! Oh! my dear mother, you must be wrong in permitting anengagement between a daughter so young, a man so little known, to becarried on in so doubtful, so mysterious a manner! I long to inquire;and how will _my_ interference be borne."

  She determined, after some consideration, that if appearancescontinued many days longer as unpleasant as they now were, she wouldrepresent in the strongest manner to her mother the necessity of someserious enquiry into the affair.

  Mrs. Palmer and two elderly ladies of Mrs. Jennings's intimateacquaintance, whom she had met and invited in the morning, dined withthem. The former left them soon after tea to fulfill her eveningengagements; and Elinor was obliged to assist in making a whist tablefor the others. Marianne was of no use on these occasions, as shewould never learn the game; but though her time was therefore at herown disposal, the evening was by no means more productive of pleasureto her than to Elinor, for it was spent in all the anxiety ofexpectation and the pain of disappointment. She sometimes endeavouredfor a few minutes to read; but the book was soon thrown aside, and shereturned to the more interesting employment of walking backwards andforwards across the room, pausing for a moment whenever she came tothe window, in hopes of distinguishing the long-expected rap.

 
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