Sense and sensibility, p.36
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       Sense and Sensibility, p.36
 

           Jane Austen

  CHAPTER XXXIV

  Mrs. John Dashwood had so much confidence in her husband's judgment,that she waited the very next day both on Mrs. Jennings and herdaughter; and her confidence was rewarded by finding even the former,even the woman with whom her sisters were staying, by no meansunworthy her notice; and as for Lady Middleton, she found her one ofthe most charming women in the world!

  Lady Middleton was equally pleased with Mrs. Dashwood. There was akind of cold hearted selfishness on both sides, which mutuallyattracted them; and they sympathised with each other in an insipidpropriety of demeanor, and a general want of understanding.

  The same manners, however, which recommended Mrs. John Dashwood to thegood opinion of Lady Middleton did not suit the fancy of Mrs.Jennings, and to _her_ she appeared nothing more than a littleproud-looking woman of uncordial address, who met her husband'ssisters without any affection, and almost without having anything tosay to them; for of the quarter of an hour bestowed on BerkeleyStreet, she sat at least seven minutes and a half in silence.

  Elinor wanted very much to know, though she did not choose to ask,whether Edward was then in town; but nothing would have induced Fannyvoluntarily to mention his name before her, till able to tell her thathis marriage with Miss Morton was resolved on, or till her husband'sexpectations on Colonel Brandon were answered; because she believedthem still so very much attached to each other, that they could not betoo sedulously divided in word and deed on every occasion. Theintelligence however, which _she_ would not give, soon flowed fromanother quarter. Lucy came very shortly to claim Elinor's compassionon being unable to see Edward, though he had arrived in town with Mr.and Mrs. Dashwood. He dared not come to Bartlett's Buildings for fearof detection, and though their mutual impatience to meet, was not tobe told, they could do nothing at present but write.

  Edward assured them himself of his being in town, within a very shorttime, by twice calling in Berkeley Street. Twice was his card found onthe table, when they returned from their morning's engagements. Elinorwas pleased that he had called; and still more pleased that she hadmissed him.

  The Dashwoods were so prodigiously delighted with the Middletons,that, though not much in the habit of giving anything, they determinedto give them--a dinner; and soon after their acquaintance began,invited them to dine in Harley Street, where they had taken a verygood house for three months. Their sisters and Mrs. Jennings wereinvited likewise, and John Dashwood was careful to secure ColonelBrandon, who, always glad to be where the Miss Dashwoods were,received his eager civilities with some surprise, but much morepleasure. They were to meet Mrs. Ferrars; but Elinor could not learnwhether her sons were to be of the party. The expectation of seeing_her_, however, was enough to make her interested in the engagement;for though she could now meet Edward's mother without that stronganxiety which had once promised to attend such an introduction, thoughshe could now see her with perfect indifference as to her opinion ofherself, her desire of being in company with Mrs. Ferrars, hercuriosity to know what she was like, was as lively as ever.

  The interest with which she thus anticipated the party, was soonafterwards increased, more powerfully than pleasantly, by her hearingthat the Miss Steeles were also to be at it.

  So well had they recommended themselves to Lady Middleton, soagreeable had their assiduities made them to her, that though Lucy wascertainly not so elegant, and her sister not even genteel, she was asready as Sir John to ask them to spend a week or two in ConduitStreet; and it happened to be particularly convenient to the MissSteeles, as soon as the Dashwoods' invitation was known, that theirvisit should begin a few days before the party took place.

  Their claims to the notice of Mrs. John Dashwood, as the nieces ofthe gentleman who for many years had had the care of her brother,might not have done much, however, towards procuring them seats at hertable; but as Lady Middleton's guests they must be welcome; and Lucy,who had long wanted to be personally known to the family, to have anearer view of their characters and her own difficulties, and to havean opportunity of endeavouring to please them, had seldom been happierin her life, than she was on receiving Mrs. John Dashwood's card.

  On Elinor its effect was very different. She began immediately todetermine, that Edward who lived with his mother, must be asked as hismother was, to a party given by his sister; and to see him for thefirst time, after all that passed, in the company of Lucy!--she hardlyknew how she could bear it!

  These apprehensions, perhaps, were not founded entirely on reason, andcertainly not at all on truth. They were relieved however, not by herown recollection, but by the good will of Lucy, who believed herselfto be inflicting a severe disappointment when she told her that Edwardcertainly would not be in Harley Street on Tuesday, and even hoped tobe carrying the pain still farther by persuading her that he was keptaway by the extreme affection for herself, which he could not concealwhen they were together.

  The important Tuesday came that was to introduce the two young ladiesto this formidable mother-in-law.

  "Pity me, dear Miss Dashwood!" said Lucy, as they walked up the stairstogether--for the Middletons arrived so directly after Mrs. Jennings,that they all followed the servant at the same time--"There is nobodyhere but you, that can feel for me. I declare I can hardly stand. Goodgracious!--In a moment I shall see the person that all my happinessdepends on--that is to be my mother!"--

  Elinor could have given her immediate relief by suggesting thepossibility of its being Miss Morton's mother, rather than her own,whom they were about to behold; but instead of doing that, she assuredher, and with great sincerity, that she did pity her--to the utteramazement of Lucy, who, though really uncomfortable herself, hoped atleast to be an object of irrepressible envy to Elinor.

  Mrs. Ferrars was a little, thin woman, upright, even to formality, inher figure, and serious, even to sourness, in her aspect. Hercomplexion was sallow; and her features small, without beauty, andnaturally without expression; but a lucky contraction of the brow hadrescued her countenance from the disgrace of insipidity, by giving itthe strong characters of pride and ill nature. She was not a woman ofmany words; for, unlike people in general, she proportioned them tothe number of her ideas; and of the few syllables that did escape her,not one fell to the share of Miss Dashwood, whom she eyed with thespirited determination of disliking her at all events.

  Elinor could not _now_ be made unhappy by this behaviour. A few monthsago it would have hurt her exceedingly; but it was not in Mrs.Ferrars' power to distress her by it now; and the difference of hermanners to the Miss Steeles, a difference which seemed purposely madeto humble her more, only amused her. She could not but smile to seethe graciousness of both mother and daughter towards the veryperson--for Lucy was particularly distinguished--whom of all others,had they known as much as she did, they would have been most anxiousto mortify; while she herself, who had comparatively no power to woundthem, sat pointedly slighted by both. But while she smiled at agraciousness so misapplied, she could not reflect on the mean-spiritedfolly from which it sprung, nor observe the studied attentions withwhich the Miss Steeles courted its continuance, without thoroughlydespising them all four.

  Lucy was all exultation on being so honorably distinguished; and MissSteele wanted only to be teased about Dr. Davies to be perfectlyhappy.

  The dinner was a grand one, the servants were numerous, and everything bespoke the Mistress's inclination for show, and the Master'sability to support it. In spite of the improvements and additionswhich were making to the Norland estate, and in spite of its ownerhaving once been within some thousand pounds of being obliged to sellout at a loss, nothing gave any symptom of that indigence which he hadtried to infer from it; no poverty of any kind, except ofconversation, appeared; but there, the deficiency was considerable.John Dashwood had not much to say for himself that was worth hearing,and his wife had still less. But there was no peculiar disgrace inthis; for it was very much the case with the chief of their visitors,who almost all laboured under one or other of these disqualifications
for being agreeable--Want of sense, either natural or improved--wantof elegance--want of spirits--or want of temper.

  When the ladies withdrew to the drawing-room after dinner, thispoverty was particularly evident, for the gentlemen _had_ supplied thediscourse with some variety--the variety of politics, inclosing land,and breaking horses--but then it was all over; and one subject onlyengaged the ladies till coffee came in, which was the comparativeheights of Harry Dashwood, and Lady Middleton's second son William,who were nearly of the same age.

  Had both the children been there, the affair might have beendetermined too easily by measuring them at once; but as Harry only waspresent, it was all conjectural assertion on both sides; and everybody had a right to be equally positive in their opinion, and torepeat it over and over again as often as they liked.

  The parties stood thus:--

  The two mothers, though each really convinced that her own son was thetallest, politely decided in favour of the other. The twograndmothers, with not less partiality, but more sincerity, wereequally earnest in support of their own descendant.

  Lucy, who was hardly less anxious to please one parent than the other,thought the boys were both remarkably tall for their age, and couldnot conceive that there could be the smallest difference in the worldbetween them; and Miss Steele, with yet greater address gave it, asfast as she could, in favour of each.

  Elinor, having once delivered her opinion on William's side, by whichshe offended Mrs. Ferrars and Fanny still more, did not see thenecessity of enforcing it by any farther assertion; and Marianne, whencalled on for her's, offended them all, by declaring that she had noopinion to give, as she had never thought about it.

  Before her removing from Norland, Elinor had painted a very prettypair of screens for her sister-in-law, which being now just mountedand brought home, ornamented her present drawing room; and thesescreens, catching the eye of John Dashwood on his following the othergentlemen into the room, were officiously handed by him to ColonelBrandon for his admiration.

  "These are done by my eldest sister," said he; "and you, as a man oftaste, will, I dare say, be pleased with them. I do not know whetheryou have ever happened to see any of her performances before, but sheis in general reckoned to draw extremely well."

  The Colonel, though disclaiming all pretensions to connoisseurship,warmly admired the screens, as he would have done any thing painted byMiss Dashwood; and on the curiosity of the others being of courseexcited, they were handed round for general inspection. Mrs. Ferrars,not aware of their being Elinor's work, particularly requested to lookat them; and after they had received gratifying testimony of LadyMiddleton's approbation, Fanny presented them to her mother,considerately informing her, at the same time, that they were done byMiss Dashwood.

  "Hum"--said Mrs. Ferrars--"very pretty,"--and without regarding themat all, returned them to her daughter.

  Perhaps Fanny thought for a moment that her mother had been quite rudeenough,--for, colouring a little, she immediately said--

  "They are very pretty, ma'am--an't they?" But then again, the dread ofhaving been too civil, too encouraging herself, probably came overher, for she presently added, "Do you not think they are something inMiss Morton's style of painting, Ma'am?--She _does_ paint mostdelightfully!--How beautifully her last landscape is done!"

  "Beautifully indeed! But _she_ does every thing well."

  Marianne could not bear this. She was already greatly displeased withMrs. Ferrars; and such ill-timed praise of another, at Elinor'sexpense, though she had not any notion of what was principally meantby it, provoked her immediately to say with warmth--

  "This is admiration of a very particular kind! what is Miss Morton tous? who knows, or who cares, for her?--it is Elinor of whom _we_ thinkand speak."

  And so saying, she took the screens out of her sister-in-law's hands,to admire them herself as they ought to be admired.

  _Mrs. Ferrars._]

  Mrs. Ferrars looked exceedingly angry, and drawing herself up morestiffly than ever, pronounced in retort this bitter philippic, "MissMorton is Lord Morton's daughter."

  Fanny looked very angry too, and her husband was all in a fright athis sister's audacity. Elinor was much more hurt by Marianne's warmththan she had been by what produced it; but Colonel Brandon's eyes, asthey were fixed on Marianne, declared that he noticed only what wasamiable in it, the affectionate heart which could not bear to see asister slighted in the smallest point.

  Marianne's feelings did not stop here. The cold insolence of Mrs.Ferrars's general behaviour to her sister, seemed, to her, to foretellsuch difficulties and distresses to Elinor, as her own wounded hearttaught her to think of with horror; and urged by a strong impulse ofaffectionate sensibility, she moved after a moment, to her sister'schair, and putting one arm round her neck, and one cheek close tohers, said in a low, but eager, voice--

  "Dear, dear Elinor, don't mind them. Don't let them make _you_unhappy."

  She could say no more; her spirits were quite overcome, and hiding herface on Elinor's shoulder, she burst into tears. Every body'sattention was called, and almost every body was concerned. ColonelBrandon rose up and went to them without knowing what he did. Mrs.Jennings, with a very intelligent "Ah! poor dear," immediately gaveher her salts; and Sir John felt so desperately enraged against theauthor of this nervous distress, that he instantly changed his seat toone close by Lucy Steele, and gave her, in a whisper, a brief accountof the whole shocking affair.

  In a few minutes, however, Marianne was recovered enough to put an endto the bustle, and sit down among the rest; though her spiritsretained the impression of what had passed, the whole evening.

  "Poor Marianne!" said her brother to Colonel Brandon, in a low voice,as soon as he could secure his attention: "She has not such goodhealth as her sister,--she is very nervous,--she has not Elinor'sconstitution;--and one must allow that there is something very tryingto a young woman who _has been_ a beauty in the loss of her personalattractions. You would not think it perhaps, but Marianne _was_remarkably handsome a few months ago; quite as handsome as Elinor. Nowyou see it is all gone."

 
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