Sense and sensibility, p.33
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       Sense and Sensibility, p.33

          

  CHAPTER XXXI

  From a night of more sleep than she had expected, Marianne awoke thenext morning to the same consciousness of misery in which she hadclosed her eyes.

  Elinor encouraged her as much as possible to talk of what she felt;and before breakfast was ready, they had gone through the subjectagain and again; and with the same steady conviction and affectionatecounsel on Elinor's side, the same impetuous feelings and varyingopinions on Marianne's, as before. Sometimes she could believeWilloughby to be as unfortunate and as innocent as herself, and atothers, lost every consolation in the impossibility of acquitting him.At one moment she was absolutely indifferent to the observation of allthe world, at another she would seclude herself from it for ever, andat a third could resist it with energy. In one thing, however, shewas uniform, when it came to the point, in avoiding, where it waspossible, the presence of Mrs. Jennings, and in a determined silencewhen obliged to endure it. Her heart was hardened against the beliefof Mrs. Jennings's entering into her sorrows with any compassion.

  "No, no, no, it cannot be," she cried; "she cannot feel. Her kindnessis not sympathy; her good-nature is not tenderness. All that she wantsis gossip, and she only likes me now because I supply it."

  Elinor had not needed this to be assured of the injustice to which hersister was often led in her opinion of others, by the irritablerefinement of her own mind, and the too great importance placed by heron the delicacies of a strong sensibility, and the graces of apolished manner. Like half the rest of the world, if more than halfthere be that are clever and good, Marianne, with excellent abilitiesand an excellent disposition, was neither reasonable nor candid. Sheexpected from other people the same opinions and feelings as her own,and she judged of their motives by the immediate effect of theiractions on herself. Thus a circumstance occurred, while the sisterswere together in their own room after breakfast, which sunk the heartof Mrs. Jennings still lower in her estimation; because, through herown weakness, it chanced to prove a source of fresh pain to herself,though Mrs. Jennings was governed in it by an impulse of the utmostgood-will.

  With a letter in her outstretched hand, and countenance gaily smiling,from the persuasion of bringing comfort, she entered their room,saying--

  "Now, my dear, I bring you something that I am sure will do you good."

  Marianne heard enough. In one moment her imagination placed before hera letter from Willoughby, full of tenderness and contrition,explanatory of all that had passed, satisfactory, convincing; andinstantly followed by Willoughby himself, rushing eagerly into theroom to enforce, at her feet, by the eloquence of his eyes, theassurances of his letter. The work of one moment was destroyed by thenext. The hand writing of her mother, never till then unwelcome, wasbefore her; and, in the acuteness of the disappointment which followedsuch an ecstasy of more than hope, she felt as if, till that instant,she had never suffered.

  The cruelty of Mrs. Jennings, no language, within her reach in hermoments of happiest eloquence, could have expressed; and now she couldreproach her only by the tears which streamed from her eyes withpassionate violence;--a reproach, however, so entirely lost on itsobject, that after many expressions of pity, she withdrew, stillreferring her to the letter of comfort. But the letter, when she wascalm enough to read it, brought little comfort. Willoughby filledevery page. Her mother, still confident of their engagement, andrelying as warmly as ever on his constancy, had only been roused byElinor's application, to entreat from Marianne greater opennesstowards them both; and this, with such tenderness towards her, suchaffection for Willoughby, and such a conviction of their futurehappiness in each other, that she wept with agony through the whole ofit.

  All her impatience to be at home again now returned; her mother wasdearer to her than ever; dearer through the very excess of hermistaken confidence in Willoughby, and she was wildly urgent to begone. Elinor, unable herself to determine whether it were better forMarianne to be in London or at Barton, offered no counsel of her ownexcept of patience till their mother's wishes could be known; and atlength she obtained her sister's consent to wait for that knowledge.

  Mrs. Jennings left them earlier than usual; for she could not be easytill the Middletons and Palmers were able to grieve as much asherself; and positively refusing Elinor's offered attendance, went outalone for the rest of the morning. Elinor, with a very heavy heart,aware of the pain she was going to communicate, and perceiving, byMarianne's letter, how ill she had succeeded in laying any foundationfor it, then sat down to write her mother an account of what hadpassed, and entreat her directions for the future; while Marianne, whocame into the drawing-room on Mrs. Jennings's going away, remainedfixed at the table where Elinor wrote, watching the advancement of herpen, grieving over her for the hardship of such a task, and grievingstill more fondly over its effect on her mother.

  In this manner they had continued about a quarter of an hour, whenMarianne, whose nerves could not then bear any sudden noise, wasstartled by a rap at the door.

  "Who can this be?" cried Elinor. "So early too! I thought we _had_been safe."

  Marianne moved to the window--

  "It is Colonel Brandon!" said she, with vexation. "We are never safefrom _him._"

  "He will not come in, as Mrs. Jennings is from home."

  "I will not trust to _that_," retreating to her own room. "A man whohas nothing to do with his own time has no conscience in his intrusionon that of others."

  The event proved her conjecture right, though it was founded oninjustice and error; for Colonel Brandon _did_ come in; and Elinor,who was convinced that solicitude for Marianne brought him thither,and who saw _that_ solicitude in his disturbed and melancholy look,and in his anxious though brief inquiry after her, could not forgiveher sister for esteeming him so lightly.

  "I met Mrs. Jennings in Bond Street," said he, after the firstsalutation, "and she encouraged me to come on; and I was the moreeasily encouraged, because I thought it probable that I might find youalone, which I was very desirous of doing. My object--my wish--my solewish in desiring it--I hope, I believe it is--is to be a means ofgiving comfort;--no, I must not say comfort--not present comfort--butconviction, lasting conviction to your sister's mind. My regard forher, for yourself, for your mother--will you allow me to prove it, byrelating some circumstances which nothing but a _very_ sincereregard--nothing but an earnest desire of being useful--I think I amjustified--though where so many hours have been spent in convincingmyself that I am right, is there not some reason to fear I may bewrong?" He stopped.

  "I understand you," said Elinor. "You have something to tell me of Mr.Willoughby, that will open his character farther. Your telling it willbe the greatest act of friendship that can be shown Marianne. _My_gratitude will be insured immediately by any information tending tothat end, and _hers_ must be gained by it in time. Pray, pray let mehear it."

  "You shall; and, to be brief, when I quitted Barton last October,--butthis will give you no idea--I must go farther back. You will find me avery awkward narrator, Miss Dashwood; I hardly know where to begin. Ashort account of myself, I believe, will be necessary, and it _shall_be a short one. On such a subject," sighing heavily, "can I havelittle temptation to be diffuse."

  He stopt a moment for recollection, and then, with another sigh, wenton.

  "You have probably entirely forgotten a conversation--(it is not to besupposed that it could make any impression on you)--a conversationbetween us one evening at Barton Park--it was the evening of adance--in which I alluded to a lady I had once known, as resembling,in some measure, your sister Marianne."

  "Indeed," answered Elinor, "I have _not_ forgotten it." He lookedpleased by this remembrance, and added--

  "If I am not deceived by the uncertainty, the partiality of tenderrecollection, there is a very strong resemblance between them, as wellin mind as person. The same warmth of heart, the same eagerness offancy and spirits. This lady was one of my nearest relations, anorphan from her infancy, and under the guardianship of my father. Ourages were nearly the same, and from our earliest years we wereplayfellows and friends. I cannot remember the time when I did notlove Eliza; and my affection for her, as we grew up, was such, asperhaps, judging from my present forlorn and cheerless gravity, youmight think me incapable of having ever felt. Her's, for me, was, Ibelieve, fervent as the attachment of your sister to Mr. Willoughbyand it was, though from a different cause, no less unfortunate. Atseventeen she was lost to me for ever. She was married--marriedagainst her inclination to my brother. Her fortune was large, and ourfamily estate much encumbered. And this, I fear, is all that can besaid for the conduct of one, who was at once her uncle and guardian.My brother did not deserve her; he did not even love her. I had hopedthat her regard for me would support her under any difficulty, and forsome time it did; but at last the misery of her situation, for sheexperienced great unkindness, overcame all her resolution, and thoughshe had promised me that nothing--but how blindly I relate! I havenever told you how this was brought on. We were within a few hours ofeloping together for Scotland. The treachery, or the folly, of mycousin's maid betrayed us. I was banished to the house of a relationfar distant, and she was allowed no liberty, no society, no amusement,till my father's point was gained. I had depended on her fortitude toofar, and the blow was a severe one, but had her marriage been happy,so young as I then was, a few months must have reconciled me to it,or at least I should not have now to lament it. This however was notthe case. My brother had no regard for her; his pleasures were notwhat they ought to have been, and from the first he treated herunkindly. The consequence of this, upon a mind so young, so lively, soinexperienced as Mrs. Brandon's, was but too natural. She resignedherself at first to all the misery of her situation; and happy had itbeen if she had not lived to overcome those regrets which theremembrance of me occasioned. But can we wonder that, with such ahusband to provoke inconstancy, and without a friend to advise orrestrain her (for my father lived only a few months after theirmarriage, and I was with my regiment in the East Indies) she shouldfall? Had I remained in England, perhaps--but I meant to promote thehappiness of both by removing from her for years, and for that purposehad procured my exchange. The shock which her marriage had given me,"he continued, in a voice of great agitation, "was of triflingweight--was nothing to what I felt when I heard, about two yearsafterwards, of her divorce. It was _that_ which threw thisgloom,--even now the recollection of what I suffered--"

  He could say no more, and rising hastily walked for a few minutesabout the room. Elinor, affected by his relation, and still more byhis distress, could not speak. He saw her concern, and coming to her,took her hand, pressed it, and kissed it with grateful respect. A fewminutes more of silent exertion enabled him to proceed with composure.

  "It was nearly three years after this unhappy period before I returnedto England. My first care, when I _did_ arrive, was of course to seekfor her; but the search was as fruitless as it was melancholy. I couldnot trace her beyond her first seducer, and there was every reason tofear that she had removed from him only to sink deeper in a life ofsin. Her legal allowance was not adequate to her fortune, norsufficient for her comfortable maintenance, and I learnt from mybrother that the power of receiving it had been made over some monthsbefore to another person. He imagined, and calmly could he imagine it,that her extravagance, and consequent distress, had obliged her todispose of it for some immediate relief. At last, however, and after Ihad been six months in England, I _did_ find her. Regard for a formerservant of my own, who had since fallen into misfortune, carried meto visit him in a spunging-house, where he was confined for debt; andthere, in the same house, under a similar confinement, was myunfortunate sister. So altered--so faded--worn down by acute sufferingof every kind! hardly could I believe the melancholy and sickly figurebefore me, to be the remains of the lovely, blooming, healthful girl,on whom I had once doted. What I endured in so beholding her--but Ihave no right to wound your feelings by attempting to describe it--Ihave pained you too much already. That she was, to all appearance, inthe last stage of a consumption, was--yes, in such a situation it wasmy greatest comfort. Life could do nothing for her, beyond giving timefor a better preparation for death; and that was given. I saw herplaced in comfortable lodgings, and under proper attendants; I visitedher every day during the rest of her short life: I was with her in herlast moments."

  Again he stopped to recover himself; and Elinor spoke her feelings inan exclamation of tender concern, at the fate of his unfortunatefriend.

  "Your sister, I hope, cannot be offended," said he, "by theresemblance I have fancied between her and my poor disgraced relation.Their fates, their fortunes, cannot be the same; and had the naturalsweet disposition of the one been guarded by a firmer mind, or ahappier marriage, she might have been all that you will live to seethe other be. But to what does all this lead? I seem to have beendistressing you for nothing. Ah! Miss Dashwood--a subject such asthis--untouched for fourteen years--it is dangerous to handle it atall! I _will_ be more collected--more concise. She left to my care heronly child, a little girl, the offspring of her first guiltyconnection, who was then about three years old. She loved the child,and had always kept it with her. It was a valued, a precious trust tome; and gladly would I have discharged it in the strictest sense, bywatching over her education myself, had the nature of our situationsallowed it; but I had no family, no home; and my little Eliza wastherefore placed at school. I saw her there whenever I could, andafter the death of my brother, (which happened about five years ago,and which left to me the possession of the family property,) shevisited me at Delaford. I called her a distant relation; but I amwell aware that I have in general been suspected of a much nearerconnection with her. It is now three years ago (she had just reachedher fourteenth year,) that I removed her from school, to place herunder the care of a very respectable woman, residing in Dorsetshire,who had the charge of four or five other girls of about the same timeof life; and for two years I had every reason to be pleased with hersituation. But last February, almost a twelvemonth back, she suddenlydisappeared. I had allowed her, (imprudently, as it has since turnedout,) at her earnest desire, to go to Bath with one of her youngfriends, who was attending her father there for his health. I knew himto be a very good sort of man, and I thought well of hisdaughter--better than she deserved, for, with a most obstinate andill-judged secrecy, she would tell nothing, would give no clue, thoughshe certainly knew all. He, her father, a well-meaning, but not aquick-sighted man, could really, I believe, give no information; forhe had been generally confined to the house, while the girls wereranging over the town and making what acquaintance they chose; and hetried to convince me, as thoroughly as he was convinced himself, ofhis daughter's being entirely unconcerned in the business. In short, Icould learn nothing but that she was gone; all the rest, for eightlong months, was left to conjecture. What I thought, what I feared,may be imagined; and what I suffered too."

  "Good heavens!" cried Elinor, "could it be--could Willoughby!"--

  "The first news that reached me of her," he continued, "came in aletter from herself, last October. It was forwarded to me fromDelaford, and I received it on the very morning of our intended partyto Whitwell; and this was the reason of my leaving Barton so suddenly,which I am sure must at the time have appeared strange to every body,and which I believe gave offence to some. Little did Mr. Willoughbyimagine, I suppose, when his looks censured me for incivility inbreaking up the party, that I was called away to the relief of onewhom he had made poor and miserable; but _had_ he known it, what wouldit have availed? Would he have been less gay or less happy in thesmiles of your sister? No, he had already done that, which no man who_can_ feel for another would do. He had left the girl whose youth andinnocence he had seduced, in a situation of the utmost distress, withno creditable home, no help, no friends, ignorant of his address! Hehad left her, promising to return; he neither returned, nor wrote, norrelieved her."

  "This is beyond every thing!" exclaimed Elinor.

  "His character is now before you; expensive, dissipated, and worsethan both. Knowing all this, as I have now known it many weeks, guesswhat I must have felt on seeing your sister as fond of him as ever,and on being assured that she was to marry him: guess what I must havefelt for all your sakes. When I came to you last week and found youalone, I came determined to know the truth; though irresolute what todo when it _was_ known. My behaviour must have seemed strange to youthen; but now you will comprehend it. To suffer you all to be sodeceived; to see your sister--but what could I do? I had no hope ofinterfering with success; and sometimes I thought your sister'sinfluence might yet reclaim him. But now, after such dishonorableusage, who can tell what were his designs on her. Whatever they mayhave been, however, she may now, and hereafter doubtless _will_, turnwith gratitude towards her own condition, when she compares it withthat of my poor Eliza, when she considers the wretched and hopelesssituation of this poor girl, and pictures her to herself, with anaffection for him so strong, still as strong as her own, and with amind tormented by self-reproach, which must attend her through life.Surely this comparison must have its use with her. She will feel herown sufferings to be nothing. They proceed from no misconduct, and canbring no disgrace. On the contrary, every friend must be made stillmore her friend by them. Concern for her unhappiness, and respect forher fortitude under it, must strengthen every attachment. Use your owndiscretion, however, in communicating to her what I have told you. Youmust know best what will be its effect; but had I not seriously, andfrom my heart believed it might be of service, might lessen herregrets, I would not have suffered myself to trouble you with thisaccount of my family afflictions, with a recital which may seem tohave been intended to raise myself at the expense of others."

  Elinor's thanks followed this speech with grateful earnestness;attended too with the assurance of her expecting material advantageto Marianne, from the communication of what had passed.

  "I have been more pained," said she, "by her endeavors to acquit himthan by all the rest; for it irritates her mind more than the mostperfect conviction of his unworthiness can do. Now, though at firstshe will suffer much, I am sure she will soon become easier. Haveyou," she continued, after a short silence, "ever seen Mr. Willoughbysince you left him at Barton?"

  "Yes," he replied gravely, "once I have. One meeting was unavoidable."

  Elinor, startled by his manner, looked at him anxiously, saying--

  "What? have you met him to--"

  "I could meet him no other way. Eliza had confessed to me, though mostreluctantly, the name of her lover; and when he returned to town,which was within a fortnight after myself, we met by appointment, heto defend, I to punish his conduct. We returned unwounded, and themeeting, therefore, never got abroad."

  Elinor sighed over the fancied necessity of this; but to a man and asoldier she presumed not to censure it.

  "Such," said Colonel Brandon, after a pause, "has been the unhappyresemblance between the fate of mother and daughter! and soimperfectly have I discharged my trust!"

  "Is she still in town?"

  "No; as soon as she recovered from her lying-in, for I found her nearher delivery, I removed her and her child into the country, and thereshe remains."

  Recollecting, soon afterwards, that he was probably dividing Elinorfrom her sister, he put an end to his visit, receiving from her againthe same grateful acknowledgments, and leaving her full of compassionand esteem for him.

 
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