Sense and sensibility, p.49
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       Sense and Sensibility, p.49

           Jane Austen


  Mrs. Dashwood did not hear unmoved the vindication of her formerfavourite. She rejoiced in his being cleared from some part of hisimputed guilt;--she was sorry for him;--she wished him happy. But thefeelings of the past could not be recalled. Nothing could restore himwith a faith unbroken--a character unblemished, to Marianne. Nothingcould do away the knowledge of what the latter had suffered throughhis means, nor remove the guilt of his conduct towards Eliza. Nothingcould replace him, therefore, in her former esteem, nor injure theinterests of Colonel Brandon.

  Had Mrs. Dashwood, like her daughter, heard Willoughby's story fromhimself,--had she witnessed his distress, and been under the influenceof his countenance and his manner, it is probable that her compassionwould have been greater. But it was neither in Elinor's power, nor inher wish, to rouse such feelings in another, by her retailedexplanation, as had at first been called forth in herself. Reflectionhad given calmness to her judgment, and sobered her own opinion ofWilloughby's deserts; she wished, therefore, to declare only thesimple truth, and lay open such facts as were really due to hischaracter, without any embellishment of tenderness to lead the fancyastray.

  In the evening, when they were all three together, Marianne beganvoluntarily to speak of him again; but that it was not without aneffort, the restless, unquiet thoughtfulness in which she had been forsome time previously sitting, her rising colour, as she spoke, and herunsteady voice, plainly showed.

  "I wish to assure you both," said she, "that I see every thing--as youcan desire me to do."

  Mrs. Dashwood would have interrupted her instantly with soothingtenderness, had not Elinor, who really wished to hear her sister'sunbiased opinion, by an eager sign, engaged her silence. Marianneslowly continued--

  "It is a great relief to me--what Elinor told me this morning--I havenow heard exactly what I wished to hear."--For some moments her voicewas lost; but recovering herself, she added, and with greater calmnessthan before--"I am now perfectly satisfied, I wish for no change. Inever could have been happy with him, after knowing, as sooner orlater I must have known, all this. I should have had no confidence, noesteem. Nothing could have done it away to my feelings."

  "I know it--I know it," cried her mother. "Happy with a man oflibertine practices!--With one who so injured the peace of the dearestof our friends, and the best of men!--No--my Marianne has not a heartto be made happy with such a man!--Her conscience, her sensitiveconscience, would have felt all that the conscience of her husbandought to have felt."

  Marianne sighed, and repeated, "I wish for no change."

  "You consider the matter," said Elinor, "exactly as a good mind and asound understanding must consider it; and I dare say you perceive, aswell as myself, not only in this, but in many other circumstances,reason enough to be convinced that your marriage must have involvedyou in many certain troubles and disappointments, in which you wouldhave been poorly supported by an affection, on his side, much lesscertain. Had you married, you must have been always poor. Hisexpensiveness is acknowledged even by himself, and his whole conductdeclares that self-denial is a word hardly understood by him. Hisdemands and your inexperience together, on a small, very small income,must have brought on distresses which would not be the _less_ grievousto you, from having been entirely unknown and unthought of before._Your_ sense of honour and honesty would have led you, I know, whenaware of your situation, to attempt all the economy that would appearto you possible: and, perhaps, as long as your frugality retrenchedonly on your own comfort, you might have been suffered to practice it,but beyond that--and how little could the utmost of your singlemanagement do to stop the ruin which had begun before your marriage?beyond _that_, had you endeavoured, however reasonably, to abridge_his_ enjoyments, is it not to be feared, that instead of prevailingon feelings so selfish to consent to it, you would have lessened yourown influence on his heart, and made him regret the connection whichhad involved him in such difficulties?"

  Marianne's lips quivered, and she repeated the word "Selfish?" in atone that implied, "do you really think him selfish?"

  "The whole of his behaviour," replied Elinor, "from the beginning tothe end of the affair, has been grounded on selfishness. It wasselfishness which first made him sport with your affections; whichafterwards, when his own were engaged, made him delay the confessionof it, and which finally carried him from Barton. His own enjoyment,or his own ease, was, in every particular, his ruling principle."

  "It is very true. _My_ happiness never was his object."

  "At present," continued Elinor, "he regrets what he has done. And whydoes he regret it?--Because he finds it has not answered towardshimself. It has not made him happy. His circumstances are nowunembarrassed--he suffers from no evil of that kind; and he thinksonly that he has married a woman of a less amiable temper thanyourself. But does it follow that had he married you, he would havebeen happy?--The inconveniences would have been different. He wouldthen have suffered under the pecuniary distresses which, because theyare removed, he now reckons as nothing. He would have had a wife ofwhose temper he could make no complaint, but he would have been alwaysnecessitous--always poor; and probably would soon have learned to rankthe innumerable comforts of a clear estate and good income as of farmore importance, even to domestic happiness, than the mere temper of awife."

  "I have not a doubt of it," said Marianne; "and I have nothing toregret--nothing but my own folly."

  "Rather say your mother's imprudence, my child," said Mrs. Dashwood;"_she_ must be answerable."

  Marianne would not let her proceed;--and Elinor, satisfied that eachfelt their own error, wished to avoid any survey of the past thatmight weaken her sister's spirits; she, therefore, pursuing the firstsubject, immediately continued--

  "One observation may, I think, be fairly drawn from the whole of thestory--that all Willoughby's difficulties have arisen from the firstoffence against virtue, in his behaviour to Eliza Williams. That crimehas been the origin of every lesser one, and of all his presentdiscontents."

  Marianne assented most feelingly to the remark; and her mother was ledby it to an enumeration of Colonel Brandon's injuries and merits, warmas friendship and design could unitedly dictate. Her daughter did notlook, however, as if much of it were heard by her.

  Elinor, according to her expectation, saw on the two or threefollowing days, that Marianne did not continue to gain strength as shehad done; but while her resolution was unsubdued, and she still triedto appear cheerful and easy, her sister could safely trust to theeffect of time upon her health.

  Margaret returned, and the family were again all restored to eachother, again quietly settled at the cottage; and if not pursuing theirusual studies with quite so much vigour as when they first came toBarton, at least planning a vigorous prosecution of them in future.

  Elinor grew impatient for some tidings of Edward. She had heardnothing of him since her leaving London, nothing new of his plans,nothing certain even of his present abode. Some letters had passedbetween her and her brother, in consequence of Marianne's illness; andin the first of John's, there had been this sentence:--"We knownothing of our unfortunate Edward, and can make no enquiries on soprohibited a subject, but conclude him to be still at Oxford"; whichwas all the intelligence of Edward afforded her by the correspondence,for his name was not even mentioned in any of the succeeding letters.She was not doomed, however, to be long in ignorance of his measures.

  Their man-servant had been sent one morning to Exeter on business; andwhen, as he waited at table, he had satisfied the inquiries of hismistress as to the event of his errand, this was his voluntarycommunication--

  "I suppose you know, ma'am, that Mr. Ferrars is married."

  Marianne gave a violent start, fixed her eyes upon Elinor, saw herturning pale, and fell back in her chair in hysterics. Mrs. Dashwood,whose eyes, as she answered the servant's inquiry, had intuitivelytaken the same direction, was shocked to perceive by Elinor'scountenance how much she really suffered, and a moment afterwards,ali
ke distressed by Marianne's situation, knew not on which child tobestow her principal attention.

  The servant, who saw only that Miss Marianne was taken ill, had senseenough to call one of the maids, who, with Mrs. Dashwood's assistance,supported her into the other room. By that time, Marianne was ratherbetter, and her mother leaving her to the care of Margaret and themaid, returned to Elinor, who, though still much disordered, had sofar recovered the use of her reason and voice as to be justbeginning an inquiry of Thomas, as to the source of his intelligence.Mrs. Dashwood immediately took all that trouble on herself; and Elinorhad the benefit of the information without the exertion of seeking it.

  "_I suppose you know, ma'am, that Mr. Ferrars ismarried._"]

  "Who told you that Mr. Ferrars was married, Thomas?"

  "I see Mr. Ferrars myself, ma'am, this morning in Exeter, and his ladytoo, Miss Steele as was. They was stopping in a chaise at the door ofthe New London Inn, as I went there with a message from Sally at thePark to her brother, who is one of the post-boys. I happened to lookup as I went by the chaise, and so I see directly it was the youngestMiss Steele; so I took off my hat, and she knew me and called to me,and inquired after you, ma'am, and the young ladies, especially MissMarianne, and bid me I should give her compliments and Mr. Ferrars's,their best compliments and service, and how sorry they was they hadnot time to come on and see you, but they was in a great hurry to goforwards, for they was going further down for a little while, buthowever, when they come back, they'd make sure to come and see you."

  "But did she tell you she was married, Thomas?"

  "Yes, ma'am. She smiled, and said how she had changed her name sinceshe was in these parts. She was always a very affable and free-spokenyoung lady, and very civil behaved. So, I made free to wish her joy."

  "Was Mr. Ferrars in the carriage with her?"

  "Yes, ma'am, I just see him leaning back in it, but he did not lookup;--he never was a gentleman much for talking."

  Elinor's heart could easily account for his not putting himselfforward; and Mrs. Dashwood probably found the same explanation.

  "Was there no one else in the carriage?"

  "No, ma'am, only they two."

  "Do you know where they came from?"

  "They come straight from town, as Miss Lucy--Mrs. Ferrars told me."

  "And are they going farther westward?"

  "Yes, ma'am--but not to bide long. They will soon be back again, andthen they'd be sure and call here."

  Mrs. Dashwood now looked at her daughter; but Elinor knew better thanto expect them. She recognised the whole of Lucy in the message, andwas very confident that Edward would never come near them. Sheobserved in a low voice, to her mother, that they were probably goingdown to Mr. Pratt's, near Plymouth.

  Thomas's intelligence seemed over. Elinor looked as if she wished tohear more.

  "Did you see them off, before you came away?"

  "No, ma'am--the horses were just coming out, but I could not bide anylonger; I was afraid of being late."

  "Did Mrs. Ferrars look well?"

  "Yes, ma'am, she said how she was very well; and to my mind she wasalways a very handsome young lady--and she seemed vastly contented."

  Mrs. Dashwood could think of no other question, and Thomas and thetablecloth, now alike needless, were soon afterwards dismissed.Marianne had already sent to say, that she should eat nothing more.Mrs. Dashwood's and Elinor's appetites were equally lost, and Margaretmight think herself very well off, that with so much uneasiness asboth her sisters had lately experienced, so much reason as they hadoften had to be careless of their meals, she had never been obliged togo without her dinner before.

  When the dessert and the wine were arranged, and Mrs. Dashwood andElinor were left by themselves, they remained long together in asimilarity of thoughtfulness and silence. Mrs. Dashwood feared tohazard any remark, and ventured not to offer consolation. She nowfound that she had erred in relying on Elinor's representation ofherself; and justly concluded that every thing had been expresslysoftened at the time, to spare her from an increase of unhappiness,suffering as she then had suffered for Marianne. She found that shehad been misled by the careful, the considerate attention of herdaughter, to think the attachment, which once she had so wellunderstood, much slighter in reality, than she had been wont tobelieve, or than it was now proved to be. She feared that under thispersuasion she had been unjust, inattentive, nay, almost unkind, toher Elinor; that Marianne's affliction, because more acknowledged,more immediately before her, had too much engrossed her tenderness,and led her away to forget that in Elinor she might have a daughtersuffering almost as much, certainly with less self-provocation, andgreater fortitude.

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