Sense and sensibility, p.30
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       Sense and Sensibility, p.30

           Jane Austen


  Nothing occurred during the next three or four days, to make Elinorregret what she had done, in applying to her mother; for Willoughbyneither came nor wrote. They were engaged about the end of that timeto attend Lady Middleton to a party, from which Mrs. Jennings was keptaway by the indisposition of her youngest daughter; and for thisparty, Marianne, wholly dispirited, careless of her appearance, andseeming equally indifferent whether she went or staid, prepared,without one look of hope or one expression of pleasure. She sat by thedrawing-room fire after tea, till the moment of Lady Middleton'sarrival, without once stirring from her seat, or altering herattitude, lost in her own thoughts, and insensible of her sister'spresence; and when at last they were told that Lady Middleton waitedfor them at the door, she started as if she had forgotten that any onewas expected.

  They arrived in due time at the place of destination, and as soon asthe string of carriages before them would allow, alighted, ascendedthe stairs, heard their names announced from one landing-place toanother in an audible voice, and entered a room splendidly lit up,quite full of company, and insufferably hot. When they had paid theirtribute of politeness by curtsying to the lady of the house, they werepermitted to mingle in the crowd, and take their share of the heat andinconvenience, to which their arrival must necessarily add. After sometime spent in saying little or doing less, Lady Middleton sat down toCassino, and as Marianne was not in spirits for moving about, she andElinor luckily succeeding to chairs, placed themselves at no greatdistance from the table.

  They had not remained in this manner long, before Elinor perceivedWilloughby, standing within a few yards of them, in earnestconversation with a very fashionable looking young woman. She sooncaught his eye, and he immediately bowed, but without attempting tospeak to her, or to approach Marianne, though he could not but seeher; and then continued his discourse with the same lady. Elinorturned involuntarily to Marianne, to see whether it could beunobserved by her. At that moment she first perceived him, and herwhole countenance glowing with sudden delight, she would have movedtowards him instantly, had not her sister caught hold of her.

  "Good heavens!" she exclaimed, "he is there--he is there--Oh! why doeshe not look at me? why cannot I speak to him?"

  "Pray, pray be composed," cried Elinor, "and do not betray what youfeel to every body present. Perhaps he has not observed you yet."

  This however was more than she could believe herself; and to becomposed at such a moment was not only beyond the reach of Marianne,it was beyond her wish. She sat in an agony of impatience whichaffected every feature.

  _At that moment she first perceived him._]

  At last he turned round again, and regarded them both; she started up,and pronouncing his name in a tone of affection, held out her hand tohim. He approached, and addressing himself rather to Elinor thanMarianne, as if wishing to avoid her eye, and determined not toobserve her attitude, inquired in a hurried manner after Mrs.Dashwood, and asked how long they had been in town. Elinor was robbedof all presence of mind by such an address, and was unable to say aword. But the feelings of her sister were instantly expressed. Herface was crimsoned over, and she exclaimed, in a voice of the greatestemotion, "Good God! Willoughby, what is the meaning of this? Have younot received my letters? Will you not shake hands with me?"

  He could not then avoid it, but her touch seemed painful to him, andhe held her hand only for a moment. During all this time he wasevidently struggling for composure. Elinor watched his countenance andsaw its expression becoming more tranquil. After a moment's pause, hespoke with calmness.

  "I did myself the honour of calling in Berkeley Street last Tuesday,and very much regretted that I was not fortunate enough to findyourselves and Mrs. Jennings at home. My card was not lost, I hope."

  "But have you not received my notes?" cried Marianne in the wildestanxiety. "Here is some mistake I am sure--some dreadful mistake. Whatcan be the meaning of it? Tell me, Willoughby; for heaven's sake tellme, what is the matter?"

  He made no reply; his complexion changed and all his embarrassmentreturned; but as if, on catching the eye of the young lady with whomhe had been previously talking, he felt the necessity of instantexertion, he recovered himself again, and after saying, "Yes, I hadthe pleasure of receiving the information of your arrival in town,which you were so good as to send me," turned hastily away with aslight bow and joined his friend.

  Marianne, now looking dreadfully white, and unable to stand, sunk intoher chair, and Elinor, expecting every moment to see her faint, triedto screen her from the observation of others, while reviving her withlavender water.

  "Go to him, Elinor," she cried, as soon as she could speak, "and forcehim to come to me. Tell him I must see him again--must speak to himinstantly. I cannot rest--I shall not have a moment's peace till thisis explained--some dreadful misapprehension or other. Oh, go to himthis moment."

  "How can that be done? No, my dearest Marianne, you must wait. This isnot the place for explanations. Wait only till tomorrow."

  With difficulty however could she prevent her from following himherself; and to persuade her to check her agitation, to wait, atleast, with the appearance of composure, till she might speak to himwith more privacy and more effect, was impossible; for Mariannecontinued incessantly to give way in a low voice to the misery of herfeelings, by exclamations of wretchedness. In a short time Elinor sawWilloughby quit the room by the door towards the staircase, andtelling Marianne that he was gone, urged the impossibility of speakingto him again that evening, as a fresh argument for her to be calm. Sheinstantly begged her sister would entreat Lady Middleton to take themhome, as she was too miserable to stay a minute longer.

  Lady Middleton, though in the middle of a rubber, on being informedthat Marianne was unwell, was too polite to object for a moment to herwish of going away, and making over her cards to a friend, theydeparted as soon as the carriage could be found. Scarcely a word wasspoken during their return to Berkeley Street. Marianne was in asilent agony, too much oppressed even for tears; but as Mrs. Jenningswas luckily not come home, they could go directly to their own room,where hartshorn restored her a little to herself. She was soonundressed and in bed, and as she seemed desirous of being alone, hersister then left her, and while she waited the return of Mrs.Jennings, had leisure enough for thinking over the past.

  That some kind of engagement had subsisted between Willoughby andMarianne she could not doubt, and that Willoughby was weary of it,seemed equally clear; for however Marianne might still feed her ownwishes, _she_ could not attribute such behaviour to mistake ormisapprehension of any kind. Nothing but a thorough change ofsentiment could account for it. Her indignation would have been stillstronger than it was, had she not witnessed that embarrassment whichseemed to speak a consciousness of his own misconduct, and preventedher from believing him so unprincipled as to have been sporting withthe affections of her sister from the first, without any design thatwould bear investigation. Absence might have weakened his regard, andconvenience might have determined him to overcome it, but that such aregard had formerly existed she could not bring herself to doubt.

  As for Marianne, on the pangs which so unhappy a meeting must alreadyhave given her, and on those still more severe which might await herin its probable consequence, she could not reflect without the deepestconcern. Her own situation gained in the comparison; for while shecould _esteem_ Edward as much as ever, however they might be dividedin future, her mind might be always supported. But every circumstancethat could embitter such an evil seemed uniting to heighten the miseryof Marianne in a final separation from Willoughby--in an immediate andirreconcilable rupture with him.

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