Sense and sensibility, p.38
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       Sense and Sensibility, p.38

          

  CHAPTER XXXVI

  Within a few days after this meeting, the newspapers announced to theworld, that the lady of Thomas Palmer, Esq. was safely delivered of ason and heir; a very interesting and satisfactory paragraph, at leastto all those intimate connections who knew it before.

  This event, highly important to Mrs. Jennings's happiness, produced atemporary alteration in the disposal of her time, and influenced, in alike degree, the engagements of her young friends; for as she wishedto be as much as possible with Charlotte, she went thither everymorning as soon as she was dressed, and did not return till late inthe evening; and the Miss Dashwoods, at the particular request of theMiddletons, spent the whole of every day, in Conduit Street. For theirown comfort they would much rather have remained, at least all themorning, in Mrs. Jennings's house; but it was not a thing to be urgedagainst the wishes of everybody. Their hours were therefore made overto Lady Middleton and the two Miss Steeles, by whom their company, infact was as little valued, as it was professedly sought.

  They had too much sense to be desirable companions to the former; andby the latter they were considered with a jealous eye, as intruding on_their_ ground, and sharing the kindness which they wanted tomonopolize. Though nothing could be more polite than Lady Middleton'sbehaviour to Elinor and Marianne, she did not really like them at all.Because they neither flattered herself nor her children, she could notbelieve them good-natured; and because they were fond of reading, shefancied them satirical: perhaps without exactly knowing what it was tobe satirical; but _that_ did not signify. It was censure in commonuse, and easily given.

  Their presence was a restraint both on her and on Lucy. It checked theidleness of one, and the business of the other. Lady Middleton wasashamed of doing nothing before them, and the flattery which Lucy wasproud to think of and administer at other times, she feared they woulddespise her for offering. Miss Steele was the least discomposed of thethree, by their presence; and it was in their power to reconcile herto it entirely. Would either of them only have given her a full andminute account of the whole affair between Marianne and Mr.Willoughby, she would have thought herself amply rewarded for thesacrifice of the best place by the fire after dinner, which theirarrival occasioned. But this conciliation was not granted; for thoughshe often threw out expressions of pity for her sister to Elinor, andmore than once dropt a reflection on the inconstancy of beaux beforeMarianne, no effect was produced, but a look of indifference from theformer, or of disgust in the latter. An effort even yet lighter mighthave made her their friend. Would they only have laughed at her aboutthe Doctor! But so little were they, anymore than the others, inclinedto oblige her, that if Sir John dined from home, she might spend awhole day without hearing any other raillery on the subject, than whatshe was kind enough to bestow on herself.

  All these jealousies and discontents, however, were so totallyunsuspected by Mrs. Jennings, that she thought it a delightful thingfor the girls to be together; and generally congratulated her youngfriends every night, on having escaped the company of a stupid oldwoman so long. She joined them sometimes at Sir John's, sometimes ather own house; but wherever it was, she always came in excellentspirits, full of delight and importance, attributing Charlotte's welldoing to her own care, and ready to give so exact, so minute a detailof her situation, as only Miss Steele had curiosity enough to desire.One thing _did_ disturb her; and of that she made her daily complaint.Mr. Palmer maintained the common, but unfatherly opinion among hissex, of all infants being alike; and though she could plainlyperceive, at different times, the most striking resemblance betweenthis baby and every one of his relations on both sides, there was noconvincing his father of it; no persuading him to believe that it wasnot exactly like every other baby of the same age; nor could he evenbe brought to acknowledge the simple proposition of its being thefinest child in the world.

  I come now to the relation of a misfortune, which about this timebefell Mrs. John Dashwood. It so happened that while her two sisterswith Mrs. Jennings were first calling on her in Harley Street, anotherof her acquaintance had dropt in--a circumstance in itself notapparently likely to produce evil to her. But while the imaginationsof other people will carry them away to form wrong judgments of ourconduct, and to decide on it by slight appearances, one's happinessmust in some measure be always at the mercy of chance. In the presentinstance, this last-arrived lady allowed her fancy to so far outruntruth and probability, that on merely hearing the name of the MissDashwoods, and understanding them to be Mr. Dashwood's sisters, sheimmediately concluded them to be staying in Harley Street; and thismisconstruction produced within a day or two afterwards, cards ofinvitation for them as well as for their brother and sister, to asmall musical party at her house. The consequence of which was, thatMrs. John Dashwood was obliged to submit not only to the exceedinglygreat inconvenience of sending her carriage for the Miss Dashwoods,but, what was still worse, must be subject to all the unpleasantnessof appearing to treat them with attention: and who could tell thatthey might not expect to go out with her a second time? The power ofdisappointing them, it was true, must always be her's. But that wasnot enough; for when people are determined on a mode of conduct whichthey know to be wrong, they feel injured by the expectation of anything better from them.

  Marianne had now been brought by degrees, so much into the habit ofgoing out every day, that it was become a matter of indifference toher, whether she went or not: and she prepared quietly andmechanically for every evening's engagement, though without expectingthe smallest amusement from any, and very often without knowing, tillthe last moment, where it was to take her.

  To her dress and appearance she was grown so perfectly indifferent, asnot to bestow half the consideration on it, during the whole of hertoilet, which it received from Miss Steele in the first five minutesof their being together, when it was finished. Nothing escaped _her_minute observation and general curiosity; she saw every thing, andasked every thing; was never easy till she knew the price of everypart of Marianne's dress; could have guessed the number of her gownsaltogether with better judgment than Marianne herself, and was notwithout hopes of finding out before they parted, how much her washingcost per week, and how much she had every year to spend upon herself.The impertinence of these kind of scrutinies, moreover, was generallyconcluded with a compliment, which though meant as its douceur, wasconsidered by Marianne as the greatest impertinence of all; for afterundergoing an examination into the value and make of her gown, thecolour of her shoes, and the arrangement of her hair, she was almostsure of being told that upon "her word she looked vastly smart, andshe dared to say she would make a great many conquests."

  With such encouragement as this, was she dismissed on the presentoccasion, to her brother's carriage; which they were ready to enterfive minutes after it stopped at the door, a punctuality not veryagreeable to their sister-in-law, who had preceded them to the houseof her acquaintance, and was there hoping for some delay on their partthat might inconvenience either herself or her coachman.

  The events of this evening were not very remarkable. The party, likeother musical parties, comprehended a great many people who had realtaste for the performance, and a great many more who had none at all;and the performers themselves were, as usual, in their own estimation,and that of their immediate friends, the first private performers inEngland.

  As Elinor was neither musical, nor affecting to be so, she made noscruple of turning her eyes from the grand pianoforte, whenever itsuited her, and unrestrained even by the presence of a harp, andvioloncello, would fix them at pleasure on any other object in theroom. In one of these excursive glances she perceived among a group ofyoung men, the very he, who had given them a lecture ontoothpick-cases at Gray's. She perceived him soon afterwards lookingat herself, and speaking familiarly to her brother; and had justdetermined to find out his name from the latter, when they both cametowards her, and Mr. Dashwood introduced him to her as Mr. RobertFerrars.

  He addressed her with easy civility, and twisted his head into a bowwhich assured her as plainly as words could have done, that he wasexactly the coxcomb she had heard him described to be by Lucy. Happyhad it been for her, if her regard for Edward had depended less on hisown merit, than on the merit of his nearest relations! For then hisbrother's bow must have given the finishing stroke to what theill-humour of his mother and sister would have begun. But while shewondered at the difference of the two young men, she did not find thatthe emptiness of conceit of the one, put her out of all charity withthe modesty and worth of the other. Why they _were_ different, Robertexclaimed to her himself in the course of a quarter of an hour'sconversation; for, talking of his brother, and lamenting the extreme_gaucherie_ which he really believed kept him from mixing in propersociety, he candidly and generously attributed it much less to anynatural deficiency, than to the misfortune of a private education;while he himself, though probably without any particular, any materialsuperiority by nature, merely from the advantage of a public school,was as well fitted to mix in the world as any other man.

  "Upon my soul," he added, "I believe it is nothing more; and so Ioften tell my mother, when she is grieving about it. 'My dear Madam,'I always say to her, 'you must make yourself easy. The evil is nowirremediable, and it has been entirely your own doing. Why would yoube persuaded by my uncle, Sir Robert, against your own judgment, toplace Edward under private tuition, at the most critical time of hislife? If you had only sent him to Westminster as well as myself,instead of sending him to Mr. Pratt's, all this would have beenprevented.' This is the way in which I always consider the matter, andmy mother is perfectly convinced of her error."

  Elinor would not oppose his opinion, because, whatever might be hergeneral estimation of the advantage of a public school, she could notthink of Edward's abode in Mr. Pratt's family, with any satisfaction.

  "You reside in Devonshire, I think,"--was his next observation, "in acottage near Dawlish."

  Elinor set him right as to its situation; and it seemed rathersurprising to him that anybody could live in Devonshire, withoutliving near Dawlish. He bestowed his hearty approbation however ontheir species of house.

  "For my own part," said he, "I am excessively fond of a cottage; thereis always so much comfort, so much elegance about them. And I protest,if I had any money to spare, I should buy a little land and build onemyself, within a short distance of London, where I might drive myselfdown at any time, and collect a few friends about me, and be happy. Iadvise every body who is going to build, to build a cottage. My friendLord Courtland came to me the other day on purpose to ask my advice,and laid before me three different plans of Bonomi's. I was to decideon the best of them. 'My dear Courtland,' said I, immediately throwingthem all into the fire, 'do not adopt either of them, but by all meansbuild a cottage.' And that I fancy, will be the end of it.

  "Some people imagine that there can be no accommodations, no space ina cottage; but this is all a mistake. I was last month at my friendElliott's, near Dartford. Lady Elliott wished to give a dance. 'Buthow can it be done?' said she; 'my dear Ferrars, do tell me how it isto be managed. There is not a room in this cottage that will hold tencouple, and where can the supper be?' I immediately saw that therecould be no difficulty in it, so I said, 'My dear Lady Elliott, do notbe uneasy. The dining parlour will admit eighteen couple with ease;card-tables may be placed in the drawing-room; the library may be openfor tea and other refreshments; and let the supper be set out in thesaloon.' Lady Elliott was delighted with the thought. We measured thedining-room, and found it would hold exactly eighteen couple, and theaffair was arranged precisely after my plan. So that, in fact, yousee, if people do but know how to set about it, every comfort may beas well enjoyed in a cottage as in the most spacious dwelling."

  Elinor agreed to it all, for she did not think he deserved thecompliment of rational opposition.

  As John Dashwood had no more pleasure in music than his eldest sister,his mind was equally at liberty to fix on any thing else; and athought struck him during the evening, which he communicated to hiswife, for her approbation, when they got home. The consideration ofMrs. Dennison's mistake, in supposing his sisters their guests, hadsuggested the propriety of their being really invited to become such,while Mrs. Jennings's engagements kept her from home. The expensewould be nothing, the inconvenience not more; and it was altogether anattention which the delicacy of his conscience pointed out to berequisite to its complete enfranchisement from his promise to hisfather. Fanny was startled at the proposal.

  "I do not see how it can be done," said she, "without affronting LadyMiddleton, for they spend every day with her; otherwise I should beexceedingly glad to do it. You know I am always ready to pay them anyattention in my power, as my taking them out this evening shows. Butthey are Lady Middleton's visitors. How can I ask them away from her?"

  Her husband, but with great humility, did not see the force of herobjection. "They had already spent a week in this manner in ConduitStreet, and Lady Middleton could not be displeased at their giving thesame number of days to such near relations."

  Fanny paused a moment, and then, with fresh vigor, said--

  "My love I would ask them with all my heart, if it was in my power.But I had just settled within myself to ask the Miss Steeles to spenda few days with us. They are very well behaved, good kind of girls;and I think the attention is due to them, as their uncle did so verywell by Edward. We can ask your sisters some other year, you know; butthe Miss Steeles may not be in town any more. I am sure you will likethem; indeed, you _do_ like them, you know, very much already, and sodoes my mother; and they are such favourites with Harry!"

  Mr. Dashwood was convinced. He saw the necessity of inviting the MissSteeles immediately, and his conscience was pacified by the resolutionof inviting his sisters another year; at the same time, however, slylysuspecting that another year would make the invitation needless, bybringing Elinor to town as Colonel Brandon's wife, and Marianne as_their_ visitor.

  Fanny, rejoicing in her escape, and proud of the ready wit that hadprocured it, wrote the next morning to Lucy, to request her companyand her sister's, for some days, in Harley Street, as soon as LadyMiddleton could spare them. This was enough to make Lucy really andreasonably happy. Mrs. Dashwood seemed actually working for her,herself; cherishing all her hopes, and promoting all her views! Suchan opportunity of being with Edward and his family was, above allthings, the most material to her interest, and such an invitation themost gratifying to her feelings! It was an advantage that could notbe too gratefully acknowledged, nor too speedily made use of; and thevisit to Lady Middleton, which had not before had any precise limits,was instantly discovered to have been always meant to end in two days'time.

  When the note was shown to Elinor, as it was within ten minutes afterits arrival, it gave her, for the first time, some share in theexpectations of Lucy; for such a mark of uncommon kindness, vouchsafedon so short an acquaintance, seemed to declare that the good-willtowards her arose from something more than merely malice againstherself; and might be brought, by time and address, to do every thingthat Lucy wished. Her flattery had already subdued the pride of LadyMiddleton, and made an entry into the close heart of Mrs. JohnDashwood; and these were effects that laid open the probability ofgreater.

  The Miss Steeles removed to Harley Street, and all that reached Elinorof their influence there, strengthened her expectation of the event.Sir John, who called on them more than once, brought home suchaccounts of the favour they were in, as must be universally striking.Mrs. Dashwood had never been so much pleased with any young women inher life, as she was with them; had given each of them a needle bookmade by some emigrant; called Lucy by her Christian name; and did notknow whether she should ever be able to part with them.

 
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