Sense and sensibility, p.39
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       Sense and Sensibility, p.39
 

           Jane Austen

  CHAPTER XXXVII

  Mrs. Palmer was so well at the end of a fortnight, that her motherfelt it no longer necessary to give up the whole of her time to her;and, contenting herself with visiting her once or twice a day,returned from that period to her own home, and her own habits, inwhich she found the Miss Dashwoods very ready to resume their formershare.

  About the third or fourth morning after their being thus resettled inBerkeley Street, Mrs. Jennings, on returning from her ordinary visitto Mrs. Palmer, entered the drawing-room, where Elinor was sitting byherself, with an air of such hurrying importance as prepared her tohear something wonderful; and giving her time only to form that idea,began directly to justify it, by saying--

  "Lord! my dear Miss Dashwood! have you heard the news?"

  "No, ma'am. What is it?"

  "Something so strange! But you shall hear it all. When I got to Mr.Palmer's, I found Charlotte quite in a fuss about the child. She wassure it was very ill--it cried, and fretted, and was all over pimples.So I looked at it directly, and, 'Lord! my dear,' says I, 'it isnothing in the world, but the red gum--' and nurse said just the same.But Charlotte, she would not be satisfied, so Mr. Donavan was sentfor; and luckily he happened to just come in from Harley Street, so hestepped over directly, and as soon as ever he saw the child, he saidjust as we did, that it was nothing in the world but the red gum, andthen Charlotte was easy. And so, just as he was going away again, itcame into my head, I am sure I do not know how I happened to think ofit, but it came into my head to ask him if there was any news. So uponthat, he smirked, and simpered, and looked grave, and seemed to knowsomething or other, and at last he said in a whisper, 'For fear anyunpleasant report should reach the young ladies under your care as totheir sister's indisposition, I think it advisable to say, that Ibelieve there is no great reason for alarm; I hope Mrs. Dashwood willdo very well.'"

  "What! is Fanny ill?"

  _In a whisper._]

  "That is exactly what I said, my dear. 'Lord!' says I, 'is Mrs.Dashwood ill?' So then it all came out; and the long and the short ofthe matter, by all I can learn, seems to be this. Mr. Edward Ferrars,the very young man I used to joke with you about (but however, as itturns out, I am monstrous glad there was never any thing in it), Mr.Edward Ferrars, it seems, has been engaged above this twelvemonth tomy cousin Lucy! There's for you, my dear! And not a creature knowing asyllable of the matter, except Nancy! Could you have believed such athing possible? There is no great wonder in their liking one another;but that matters should be brought so forward between them, and nobodysuspect it! _That_ is strange! I never happened to see them together,or I am sure I should have found it out directly. Well, and so thiswas kept a great secret, for fear of Mrs. Ferrars, and neither she noryour brother or sister suspected a word of the matter: till this verymorning, poor Nancy, who, you know, is a well-meaning creature, but noconjurer, popt it all out. 'Lord!' thinks she to herself, 'they areall so fond of Lucy, to be sure they will make no difficulty aboutit;' and so, away she went to your sister, who was sitting all aloneat her carpet-work, little suspecting what was to come--for she hadjust been saying to your brother, only five minutes before, that shethought to make a match between Edward and some Lord's daughter orother, I forget who. So you may think what a blow it was to all hervanity and pride. She fell into violent hysterics immediately, withsuch screams as reached your brother's ears, as he was sitting in hisown dressing-room down stairs, thinking about writing a letter to hissteward in the country. So up he flew directly, and a terrible scenetook place, for Lucy was come to them by that time, little dreamingwhat was going on. Poor soul! I pity _her._ And I must say, I thinkshe was used very hardly; for your sister scolded like any fury, andsoon drove her into a fainting fit. Nancy, she fell upon her knees,and cried bitterly; and your brother, he walked about the room, andsaid he did not know what to do. Mrs. Dashwood declared they shouldnot stay a minute longer in the house, and your brother was forced togo down upon _his_ knees too, to persuade her to let them stay tillthey had packed up their clothes. _Then_ she fell into hystericsagain, and he was so frightened that he would send for Mr. Donavan,and Mr. Donavan found the house in all this uproar. The carriage wasat the door ready to take my poor cousins away, and they were juststepping in as he came off; poor Lucy in such a condition, he says,she could hardly walk; and Nancy, she was almost as bad. I declare, Ihave no patience with your sister; and I hope, with all my heart, itwill be a match in spite of her. Lord! what a taking poor Mr. Edwardwill be in when he hears of it! To have his love used so scornfully!for they say he is monstrous fond of her, as well he may. I should notwonder, if he was to be in the greatest passion!--and Mr. Donavanthinks just the same. He and I had a great deal of talk about it; andthe best of all is, that he is gone back again to Harley Street, thathe may be within call when Mrs. Ferrars is told of it, for she wassent for as soon as ever my cousins left the house, for your sisterwas sure _she_ would be in hysterics too; and so she may, for what Icare. I have no pity for either of them. I have no notion of people'smaking such a to-do about money and greatness. There is no reason onearth why Mr. Edward and Lucy should not marry; for I am sure Mrs.Ferrars may afford to do very well by her son, and though Lucy hasnext to nothing herself, she knows better than any body how to makethe most of every thing; I dare say, if Mrs. Ferrars would only allowhim five hundred a-year, she would make as good an appearance with itas any body else would with eight. Lord! how snug they might live insuch another cottage as yours--or a little bigger--with two maids, andtwo men; and I believe I could help them to a housemaid, for my Bettyhas a sister out of place, that would fit them exactly."

  Here Mrs. Jennings ceased, and as Elinor had had time enough tocollect her thoughts, she was able to give such an answer, and makesuch observations, as the subject might naturally be supposed toproduce. Happy to find that she was not suspected of any extraordinaryinterest in it; that Mrs. Jennings (as she had of late often hopedmight be the case) had ceased to imagine her at all attached toEdward; and happy above all the rest, in the absence of Marianne, shefelt very well able to speak of the affair without embarrassment, andto give her judgment, as she believed, with impartiality on theconduct of every one concerned in it.

  She could hardly determine what her own expectation of its eventreally was; though she earnestly tried to drive away the notion of itsbeing possible to end otherwise at last, than in the marriage ofEdward and Lucy. What Mrs. Ferrars would say and do, though therecould not be a doubt of its nature, she was anxious to hear; and stillmore anxious to know how Edward would conduct himself. For _him_ shefelt much compassion;--for Lucy very little--and it cost her somepains to procure that little;--for the rest of the party none at all.

  As Mrs. Jennings could talk on no other subject, Elinor soon saw thenecessity of preparing Marianne for its discussion. No time was to belost in undeceiving her, in making her acquainted with the real truth,and in endeavouring to bring her to hear it talked of by others,without betraying that she felt any uneasiness for her sister, or anyresentment against Edward.

  Elinor's office was a painful one. She was going to remove what shereally believed to be her sister's chief consolation,--to give suchparticulars of Edward as she feared would ruin him for ever in hergood opinion,-and to make Marianne, by a resemblance in theirsituations, which to _her_ fancy would seem strong, feel all her owndisappointment over again. But unwelcome as such a task must be, itwas necessary to be done, and Elinor therefore hastened to perform it.

  She was very far from wishing to dwell on her own feelings, or torepresent herself as suffering much, any otherwise than as theself-command she had practised since her first knowledge of Edward'sengagement, might suggest a hint of what was practicable to Marianne.Her narration was clear and simple; and though it could not be givenwithout emotion, it was not accompanied by violent agitation, norimpetuous grief. _That_ belonged rather to the hearer, for Mariannelistened with horror, and cried excessively. Elinor was to be thecomforter of others in her own distresses, no le
ss than in theirs; andall the comfort that could be given by assurances of her own composureof mind, and a very earnest vindication of Edward from every chargebut of imprudence, was readily offered.

  But Marianne for some time would give credit to neither. Edward seemeda second Willoughby; and acknowledging as Elinor did, that she _had_loved him most sincerely, could she feel less than herself! As forLucy Steele, she considered her so totally unamiable, so absolutelyincapable of attaching a sensible man, that she could not be persuadedat first to believe, and afterwards to pardon, any former affection ofEdward for her. She would not even admit it to have been natural; andElinor left her to be convinced that it was so, by that which onlycould convince her, a better knowledge of mankind.

  Her first communication had reached no farther than to state the factof the engagement, and the length of time it had existed. Marianne'sfeelings had then broken in, and put an end to all regularity ofdetail; and for some time all that could be done was to soothe herdistress, lessen her alarms, and combat her resentment. The firstquestion on her side, which led to farther particulars, was--

  "How long has this been known to you, Elinor? has he written to you?"

  "I have known it these four months. When Lucy first came to BartonPark last November, she told me in confidence of her engagement."

  At these words, Marianne's eyes expressed the astonishment which herlips could not utter. After a pause of wonder, she exclaimed--

  "Four months!--Have you known of this four months?"

  Elinor confirmed it.

  "What!--while attending me in all my misery, has this been on yourheart?--And I have reproached you for being happy!"--

  "It was not fit that you should then know how much I was the reverse!"

  "Four months!" cried Marianne again. "So calm! so cheerful! how haveyou been supported?"

  "By feeling that I was doing my duty. My promise to Lucy, obliged meto be secret. I owed it to her, therefore, to avoid giving any hint ofthe truth; and I owed it to my family and friends, not to create inthem a solicitude about me, which it could not be in my power tosatisfy."

  Marianne seemed much struck.

  "I have very often wished to undeceive yourself and my mother," addedElinor; "and once or twice I have attempted it; but without betrayingmy trust, I never could have convinced you."

  "Four months! and yet you loved him!"

  "Yes. But I did not love only him;--and while the comfort of otherswas dear to me, I was glad to spare them from knowing how much I felt.Now, I can think and speak of it with little emotion. I would not haveyou suffer on my account; for I assure you I no longer suffermaterially myself. I have many things to support me. I am notconscious of having provoked the disappointment by any imprudence ofmy own, I have borne it as much as possible without spreading itfarther. I acquit Edward of essential misconduct. I wish him veryhappy; and I am so sure of his always doing his duty, that though nowhe may harbour some regret, in the end he must become so. Lucy doesnot want sense, and that is the foundation on which every thing goodmay be built. And after all, Marianne, after all that is bewitching inthe idea of a single and constant attachment, and all that can be saidof one's happiness depending entirely on any particular person, it isnot meant--it is not fit--it is not possible that it should be so.Edward will marry Lucy; he will marry a woman superior in person andunderstanding to half her sex; and time and habit will teach him toforget that he ever thought another superior to _her._"

  "If such is your way of thinking," said Marianne, "if the loss of whatis most valued is so easily to be made up by something else, yourresolution, your self-command, are, perhaps, a little less to bewondered at. They are brought more within my comprehension."

  "I understand you. You do not suppose that I have ever felt much. Forfour months, Marianne, I have had all this hanging on my mind, withoutbeing at liberty to speak of it to a single creature; knowing that itwould make you and my mother most unhappy whenever it were explainedto you, yet unable to prepare you for it in the least. It was toldme,--it was in a manner forced on me by the very person herself, whoseprior engagement ruined all my prospects; and told me, as I thought,with triumph. This person's suspicions, therefore, I have had tooppose, by endeavouring to appear indifferent where I have been mostdeeply interested;--and it has not been only once;--I have had herhopes and exultation to listen to again and again. I have known myselfto be divided from Edward for ever, without hearing one circumstancethat could make me less desire the connection. Nothing has proved himunworthy; nor has anything declared him indifferent to me. I have hadto contend against the unkindness of his sister, and the insolence ofhis mother; and have suffered the punishment of an attachment, withoutenjoying its advantages. And all this has been going on at a time,when, as you know too well, it has not been my only unhappiness. Ifyou can think me capable of ever feeling, surely you may suppose thatI have suffered _now._ The composure of mind with which I have broughtmyself at present to consider the matter, the consolation that I havebeen willing to admit, have been the effect of constant and painfulexertion; they did not spring up of themselves; they did not occur torelieve my spirits at first. No, Marianne. _Then_, if I had not beenbound to silence, perhaps nothing could have kept me entirely--noteven what I owed to my dearest friends--from openly showing that I was_very_ unhappy."--

  Marianne was quite subdued.

  "Oh! Elinor," she cried, "you have made me hate myself for ever. Howbarbarous have I been to you!--you, who have been my only comfort, whohave borne with me in all my misery, who have seemed to be onlysuffering for me! Is this my gratitude? Is this the only return I canmake you? Because your merit cries out upon myself, I have been tryingto do it away."

  The tenderest caresses followed this confession. In such a frame ofmind as she was now in, Elinor had no difficulty in obtaining from herwhatever promise she required; and at her request, Marianne engagednever to speak of the affair to any one with the least appearance ofbitterness;--to meet Lucy without betraying the smallest increase ofdislike to her;--and even to see Edward himself, if chance shouldbring them together, without any diminution of her usual cordiality.These were great concessions;--but where Marianne felt that she hadinjured, no reparation could be too much for her to make.

  She performed her promise of being discreet, to admiration. Sheattended to all that Mrs. Jennings had to say upon the subject, withan unchanging complexion, dissented from her in nothing, and was heardthree times to say, "Yes, ma'am."--She listened to her praise of Lucywith only moving from one chair to another, and when Mrs. Jenningstalked of Edward's affection, it cost her only a spasm in her throat.Such advances towards heroism in her sister, made Elinor feel equal toany thing herself.

  The next morning brought a farther trial of it, in a visit from theirbrother, who came with a most serious aspect to talk over the dreadfulaffair, and bring them news of his wife.

  "You have heard, I suppose," said he with great solemnity, as soon ashe was seated, "of the very shocking discovery that took place underour roof yesterday."

  They all looked their assent; it seemed too awful a moment for speech.

  "_You have heard, I suppose._"]

  "Your sister," he continued, "has suffered dreadfully. Mrs. Ferrarstoo--in short it has been a scene of such complicated distress--butI will hope that the storm may be weathered without our being any ofus quite overcome. Poor Fanny! she was in hysterics all yesterday. ButI would not alarm you too much. Donavan says there is nothingmaterially to be apprehended; her constitution is a good one, and herresolution equal to any thing. She has borne it all, with thefortitude of an angel! She says she never shall think well of anybodyagain; and one cannot wonder at it, after being so deceived!--meetingwith such ingratitude, where so much kindness had been shown, so muchconfidence had been placed! It was quite out of the benevolence of herheart, that she had asked these young women to her house; merelybecause she thought they deserved some attention, were harmless,well-behaved girls, and would be pleasant companions; for otherwis
e weboth wished very much to have invited you and Marianne to be with us,while your kind friend there, was attending her daughter. And now tobe so rewarded! 'I wish, with all my heart,' says poor Fanny in heraffectionate way, 'that we had asked your sisters instead of them.'"

  Here he stopped to be thanked; which being done, he went on.

  "What poor Mrs. Ferrars suffered, when first Fanny broke it to her, isnot to be described. While she with the truest affection had beenplanning a most eligible connection for him, was it to be supposedthat he could be all the time secretly engaged to anotherperson!--such a suspicion could never have entered her head! If shesuspected _any_ prepossession elsewhere, it could not be in _that_quarter. '_There_ to be sure,' said she, 'I might have thought myselfsafe.' She was quite in an agony. We consulted together, however, asto what should be done, and at last she determined to send for Edward.He came. But I am sorry to relate what ensued. All that Mrs. Ferrarscould say to make him put an end to the engagement, assisted too asyou may well suppose by my arguments, and Fanny's entreaties, was ofno avail. Duty, affection, every thing was disregarded. I neverthought Edward so stubborn, so unfeeling before. His mother explainedto him her liberal designs, in case of his marrying Miss Morton; toldhim she would settle on him the Norfolk estate, which, clear ofland-tax, brings in a good thousand a-year; offered even, when mattersgrew desperate, to make it twelve hundred; and in opposition to this,if he still persisted in this low connection, represented to him thecertain penury that must attend the match. His own two thousand poundsshe protested should be his all; she would never see him again; and sofar would she be from affording him the smallest assistance, that ifhe were to enter into any profession with a view of better support,she would do all in her power to prevent him advancing in it."

  Here Marianne, in an ecstasy of indignation, clapped her handstogether, and cried, "Gracious God! can this be possible!"

  "Well may you wonder, Marianne," replied her brother, "at theobstinacy which could resist such arguments as these. Your exclamationis very natural."

  Marianne was going to retort, but she remembered her promises, andforbore.

  "All this, however," he continued, "was urged in vain. Edward saidvery little; but what he did say, was in the most determined manner.Nothing should prevail on him to give up his engagement. He wouldstand to it, cost him what it might."

  "Then," cried Mrs. Jennings with blunt sincerity, no longer able to besilent, "he has acted like an honest man! I beg your pardon, Mr.Dashwood, but if he had done otherwise, I should have thought him arascal. I have some little concern in the business, as well asyourself, for Lucy Steele is my cousin, and I believe there is not abetter kind of girl in the world, nor one who more deserves a goodhusband."

  John Dashwood was greatly astonished; but his nature was calm, notopen to provocation, and he never wished to offend anybody, especiallyanybody of good fortune. He therefore replied, without anyresentment--

  "I would by no means speak disrespectfully of any relation of yours,madam. Miss Lucy Steele is, I dare say, a very deserving young woman,but in the present case you know, the connection must be impossible.And to have entered into a secret engagement with a young man underher uncle's care, the son of a woman especially of such very largefortune as Mrs. Ferrars, is perhaps, altogether a littleextraordinary. In short, I do not mean to reflect upon the behaviourof any person whom you have a regard for, Mrs. Jennings. We all wishher extremely happy; and Mrs. Ferrars's conduct throughout the whole,has been such as every conscientious, good mother, in likecircumstances, would adopt. It has been dignified and liberal. Edwardhas drawn his own lot, and I fear it will be a bad one."

  Marianne sighed out her similar apprehension; and Elinor's heart wrungfor the feelings of Edward, while braving his mother's threats, for awoman who could not reward him.

  "Well, sir," said Mrs. Jennings, "and how did it end?"

  "I am sorry to say, ma'am, in a most unhappy rupture:--Edward isdismissed for ever from his mother's notice. He left her houseyesterday, but where he is gone, or whether he is still in town, I donot know; for _we_ of course can make no inquiry."

  "Poor young man!--and what is to become of him?"

  "What, indeed, ma'am! It is a melancholy consideration. Born to theprospect of such affluence! I cannot conceive a situation moredeplorable. The interest of two thousand pounds--how can a man live onit?--and when to that is added the recollection, that he might, butfor his own folly, within three months have been in the receipt of twothousand, five hundred a-year (for Miss Morton has thirty thousandpounds,) I cannot picture to myself a more wretched condition. We mustall feel for him; and the more so, because it is totally out of ourpower to assist him."

  "Poor young man!" cried Mrs. Jennings, "I am sure he should be verywelcome to bed and board at my house; and so I would tell him if Icould see him. It is not fit that he should be living about at his owncharge now, at lodgings and taverns."

  Elinor's heart thanked her for such kindness towards Edward, thoughshe could not forbear smiling at the form of it.

  "If he would only have done as well by himself," said John Dashwood,"as all his friends were disposed to do by him, he might now have beenin his proper situation, and would have wanted for nothing. But as itis, it must be out of anybody's power to assist him. And there is onething more preparing against him, which must be worse than all--hismother has determined, with a very natural kind of spirit, to settle_that_ estate upon Robert immediately, which might have been Edward's,on proper conditions. I left her this morning with her lawyer,talking over the business."

  _Talking over the business._]

  "Well!" said Mrs. Jennings, "that is _her_ revenge. Everybody has away of their own. But I don't think mine would be, to make one sonindependent, because another had plagued me."

  Marianne got up and walked about the room.

  "Can anything be more galling to the spirit of a man," continued John,"than to see his younger brother in possession of an estate whichmight have been his own? Poor Edward! I feel for him sincerely."

  A few minutes more spent in the same kind of effusion, concluded hisvisit; and with repeated assurances to his sisters that he reallybelieved there was no material danger in Fanny's indisposition, andthat they need not therefore be very uneasy about it, he went away;leaving the three ladies unanimous in their sentiments on the presentoccasion, as far at least as it regarded Mrs. Ferrars's conduct, theDashwoods', and Edward's.

  Marianne's indignation burst forth as soon as he quitted the room; andas her vehemence made reserve impossible in Elinor, and unnecessary inMrs. Jennings, they all joined in a very spirited critique upon theparty.

 
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