Sense and sensibility, p.51
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       Sense and Sensibility, p.51

          

  CHAPTER XLIX

  Unaccountable, however, as the circumstances of his release mightappear to the whole family, it was certain that Edward was free; andto what purpose that freedom would be employed was easilypre-determined by all;--for after experiencing the blessings of _one_imprudent engagement, contracted without his mother's consent, as hehad already done for more than four years, nothing less could beexpected of him in the failure of _that_, than the immediatecontraction of another.

  His errand at Barton, in fact, was a simple one. It was only to askElinor to marry him;--and considering that he was not altogetherinexperienced in such a question, it might be strange that he shouldfeel so uncomfortable in the present case as he really did, so much inneed of encouragement and fresh air.

  How soon he had walked himself into the proper resolution, however,how soon an opportunity of exercising it occurred, in what manner heexpressed himself, and how he was received, need not be particularlytold. This only need be said;--that when they all sat down to table atfour o'clock, about three hours after his arrival, he had secured hislady, engaged her mother's consent, and was not only in the rapturousprofession of the lover, but, in the reality of reason and truth, oneof the happiest of men. His situation indeed was more than commonlyjoyful. He had more than the ordinary triumph of accepted love toswell his heart, and raise his spirits. He was released without anyreproach to himself, from an entanglement which had long formed hismisery, from a woman whom he had long ceased to love; and elevated atonce to that security with another, which he must have thought ofalmost with despair, as soon as he had learnt to consider it withdesire. He was brought, not from doubt or suspense, but from misery tohappiness; and the change was openly spoken in such a genuine,flowing, grateful cheerfulness, as his friends had never witnessed inhim before.

  His heart was now open to Elinor, all its weaknesses, all its errorsconfessed, and his first boyish attachment to Lucy treated with allthe philosophic dignity of twenty-four.

  "It was a foolish, idle inclination on my side," said he, "theconsequence of ignorance of the world and want of employment. Had mymother given me some active profession when I was removed at eighteenfrom the care of Mr. Pratt, I think, nay, I am sure, it would neverhave happened; for though I left Longstaple with what I thought, atthe time, a most unconquerable preference for his niece, yet had Ithen had any pursuit, any object to engage my time and keep me at adistance from her for a few months, I should very soon have outgrownthe fancied attachment, especially by mixing more with the world, asin such case I must have done. But instead of having any thing to do,instead of having any profession chosen for me, or being allowed tochoose any myself, I returned home to be completely idle; and for thefirst twelvemonth afterwards I had not even the nominal employment,which belonging to the university would have given me; for I was notentered at Oxford till I was nineteen. I had therefore nothing in theworld to do, but to fancy myself in love; and as my mother did notmake my home in every respect comfortable, as I had no friend, nocompanion in my brother, and disliked new acquaintance, it was notunnatural for me to be very often at Longstaple, where I always feltmyself at home, and was always sure of a welcome; and accordingly Ispent the greatest part of my time there from eighteen to nineteen:Lucy appeared everything that was amiable and obliging. She was prettytoo--at least I thought so _then_; and I had seen so little of otherwomen, that I could make no comparisons, and see no defects.Considering everything, therefore, I hope, foolish as our engagementwas, foolish as it has since in every way been proved, it was not atthe time an unnatural or an inexcusable piece of folly."

  The change which a few hours had wrought in the minds and thehappiness of the Dashwoods, was such--so great--as promised them all,the satisfaction of a sleepless night. Mrs. Dashwood, too happy to becomfortable, knew not how to love Edward, nor praise Elinor enough,how to be enough thankful for his release without wounding hisdelicacy, nor how at once to give them leisure for unrestrainedconversation together, and yet enjoy, as she wished, the sight andsociety of both.

  Marianne could speak _her_ happiness only by tears. Comparisons wouldoccur--regrets would arise;--and her joy, though sincere as her lovefor her sister, was of a kind to give her neither spirits norlanguage.

  But Elinor--how are _her_ feelings to be described? From the moment oflearning that Lucy was married to another, that Edward was free, tothe moment of his justifying the hopes which had so instantlyfollowed, she was every thing by turns but tranquil. But when thesecond moment had passed, when she found every doubt, every solicituderemoved, compared her situation with what so lately it had been,--sawhim honourably released from his former engagement,--saw him instantlyprofiting by the release, to address herself and declare an affectionas tender, as constant as she had ever supposed it to be,--she wasoppressed, she was overcome by her own felicity; and happily disposedas is the human mind to be easily familiarized with any change for thebetter, it required several hours to give sedateness to her spirits,or any degree of tranquillity to her heart.

  Edward was now fixed at the cottage at least for a week;--for whateverother claims might be made on him, it was impossible that less than aweek should be given up to the enjoyment of Elinor's company, orsuffice to say half that was to be said of the past, the present, andthe future;--for though a very few hours spent in the hard labor ofincessant talking will despatch more subjects than can really be incommon between any two rational creatures, yet with lovers it isdifferent. Between _them_ no subject is finished, no communication iseven made, till it has been made at least twenty times over.

  Lucy's marriage, the unceasing and reasonable wonder among them all,formed of course one of the earliest discussions of the lovers;--andElinor's particular knowledge of each party made it appear to her inevery view, as one of the most extraordinary and unaccountablecircumstances she had ever heard. How they could be thrown together,and by what attraction Robert could be drawn on to marry a girl, ofwhose beauty she had herself heard him speak without anyadmiration,--a girl too already engaged to his brother, and on whoseaccount that brother had been thrown off by his family--it was beyondher comprehension to make out. To her own heart it was a delightfulaffair, to her imagination it was even a ridiculous one, but to herreason, her judgment, it was completely a puzzle.

  Edward could only attempt an explanation by supposing, that, perhaps,at first accidentally meeting, the vanity of the one had been soworked on by the flattery of the other, as to lead by degrees to allthe rest. Elinor remembered what Robert had told her in Harley Street,of his opinion of what his own mediation in his brother's affairsmight have done, if applied to in time. She repeated it to Edward.

  "_That_ was exactly like Robert," was his immediate observation. "And_that_," he presently added, "might perhaps be in _his_ head when theacquaintance between them first began. And Lucy perhaps at first mightthink only of procuring his good offices in my favour. Other designsmight afterward arise."

  How long it had been carrying on between them, however, he was equallyat a loss with herself to make out; for at Oxford, where he hadremained for choice ever since his quitting London, he had had nomeans of hearing of her but from herself, and her letters to the verylast were neither less frequent, nor less affectionate than usual. Notthe smallest suspicion, therefore, had ever occurred to prepare himfor what followed;--and when at last it burst on him in a letter fromLucy herself, he had been for some time, he believed, half stupifiedbetween the wonder, the horror, and the joy of such a deliverance. Heput the letter into Elinor's hands.

  "DEAR SIR,

  "Being very sure I have long lost your affections, I have thought myself at liberty to bestow my own on another, and have no doubt of being as happy with him as I once used to think I might be with you; but I scorn to accept a hand while the heart was another's. Sincerely wish you happy in your choice, and it shall not be my fault if we are not always good friends, as our near relationship now makes proper. I can safely say I owe you no ill-will, and am sure you will be too generous to do us any ill offices. Your brother has gained my affections entirely, and as we could not live without one another, we are just returned from the altar, and are now on our way to Dawlish for a few weeks, which place your dear brother has great curiosity to see, but thought I would first trouble you with these few lines, and shall always remain--

  "Your sincere well-wisher, friend, and sister,

  "LUCY FERRARS."

  "I have burnt all your letters, and will return your picture the first opportunity. Please to destroy my scrawls--but the ring with my hair you are very welcome to keep."

  Elinor read and returned it without any comment.

  "I will not ask your opinion of it as a composition," said Edward."For worlds would not I have had a letter of hers seen by _you_ informer days. In a sister it is bad enough, but in a wife! how I haveblushed over the pages of her writing! and I believe I may say thatsince the first half year of our foolish business this is the onlyletter I ever received from her, of which the substance made me anyamends for the defect of the style."

  "However it may have come about," said Elinor, after a pause,--"theyare certainly married. And your mother has brought on herself a mostappropriate punishment. The independence she settled on Robert,through resentment against you, has put it in his power to make hisown choice; and she has actually been bribing one son with a thousanda-year, to do the very deed which she disinherited the other forintending to do. She will hardly be less hurt, I suppose, by Robert'smarrying Lucy, than she would have been by your marrying her."

  "She will be more hurt by it, for Robert always was her favourite. Shewill be more hurt by it, and on the same principle will forgive himmuch sooner."

  In what state the affair stood at present between them, Edward knewnot, for no communication with any of his family had yet beenattempted by him. He had quitted Oxford within four and twenty hoursafter Lucy's letter arrived, and with only one object before him, thenearest road to Barton, had had no leisure to form any scheme ofconduct, with which that road did not hold the most intimateconnection. He could do nothing till he were assured of his fate withMiss Dashwood; and by his rapidity in seeking _that_ fate, it is to besupposed, in spite of the jealousy with which he had once thought ofColonel Brandon, in spite of the modesty with which he rated his owndeserts, and the politeness with which he talked of his doubts, he didnot, upon the whole, expect a very cruel reception. It was hisbusiness, however, to say that he _did_, and he said it very prettily.What he might say on the subject a twelvemonth after, must be referredto the imagination of husbands and wives.

  That Lucy had certainly meant to deceive, to go off with a flourish ofmalice against him in her message by Thomas, was perfectly clear toElinor; and Edward himself, now thoroughly enlightened on hercharacter, had no scruple in believing her capable of the utmostmeanness of wanton ill-nature. Though his eyes had been long opened,even before his acquaintance with Elinor began, to her ignorance and awant of liberality in some of her opinions, they had been equallyimputed, by him, to her want of education; and till her last letterreached him, he had always believed her to be a well-disposed,good-hearted girl, and thoroughly attached to himself. Nothing butsuch a persuasion could have prevented his putting an end to anengagement, which, long before the discovery of it laid him open tohis mother's anger, had been a continual source of disquiet and regretto him.

  "I thought it my duty," said he, "independent of my feelings, to giveher the option of continuing the engagement or not, when I wasrenounced by my mother, and stood to all appearance without a friendin the world to assist me. In such a situation as that, where thereseemed nothing to tempt the avarice or the vanity of any livingcreature, how could I suppose, when she so earnestly, so warmlyinsisted on sharing my fate, whatever it might be, that any thing butthe most disinterested affection was her inducement? And even now, Icannot comprehend on what motive she acted, or what fancied advantageit could be to her, to be fettered to a man for whom she had not thesmallest regard, and who had only two thousand pounds in the world.She could not foresee that Colonel Brandon would give me a living."

  "No; but she might suppose that something would occur in your favour;that your own family might in time relent. And at any rate, she lostnothing by continuing the engagement, for she has proved that itfettered neither her inclination nor her actions. The connection wascertainly a respectable one, and probably gained her considerationamong her friends; and, if nothing more advantageous occurred, itwould be better for her to marry _you_ than be single."

  Edward was, of course, immediately convinced that nothing could havebeen more natural than Lucy's conduct, nor more self-evident than themotive of it.

  Elinor scolded him, harshly as ladies always scold the imprudencewhich compliments themselves, for having spent so much time with themat Norland, when he must have felt his own inconstancy.

  "Your behaviour was certainly very wrong," said she; "because--to saynothing of my own conviction, our relations were all led away by it tofancy and expect _what_, as you were _then_ situated, could never be."

  He could only plead an ignorance of his own heart, and a mistakenconfidence in the force of his engagement.

  "I was simple enough to think, that because my _faith_ was plighted toanother, there could be no danger in my being with you; and that theconsciousness of my engagement was to keep my heart as safe and sacredas my honour. I felt that I admired you, but I told myself it was onlyfriendship; and till I began to make comparisons between yourself andLucy, I did not know how far I was got. After that, I suppose, I _was_wrong in remaining so much in Sussex, and the arguments with which Ireconciled myself to the expediency of it, were no better thanthese:--The danger is my own; I am doing no injury to anybody butmyself."

  Elinor smiled, and shook her head.

  Edward heard with pleasure of Colonel Brandon's being expected at theCottage, as he really wished not only to be better acquainted withhim, but to have an opportunity of convincing him that he no longerresented his giving him the living of Delaford--"Which, at present,"said he, "after thanks so ungraciously delivered as mine were on theoccasion, he must think I have never forgiven him for offering."

  _Now_ he felt astonished himself that he had never yet been to theplace. But so little interest had he taken in the matter, that he owedall his knowledge of the house, garden, and glebe, extent of theparish, condition of the land, and rate of the tithes, to Elinorherself, who had heard so much of it from Colonel Brandon, and heardit with so much attention, as to be entirely mistress of the subject.

  One question after this only remained undecided, between them, onedifficulty only was to be overcome. They were brought together bymutual affection, with the warmest approbation of their real friends;their intimate knowledge of each other seemed to make their happinesscertain--and they only wanted something to live upon. Edward had twothousand pounds, and Elinor one, which, with Delaford living, was allthat they could call their own; for it was impossible that Mrs.Dashwood should advance anything; and they were neither of them quiteenough in love to think that three hundred and fifty pounds a-yearwould supply them with the comforts of life.

  Edward was not entirely without hopes of some favourable change in hismother towards him; and on _that_ he rested for the residue of theirincome. But Elinor had no such dependence; for since Edward wouldstill be unable to marry Miss Morton, and his choosing herself hadbeen spoken of in Mrs. Ferrars's flattering language as only a lesserevil than his choosing Lucy Steele, she feared that Robert's offencewould serve no other purpose than to enrich Fanny.

  About four days after Edward's arrival Colonel Brandon appeared, tocomplete Mrs. Dashwood's satisfaction, and to give her the dignity ofhaving, for the first time since her living at Barton, more companywith her than her house would hold. Edward was allowed to retain theprivilege of first comer, and Colonel Brandon therefore walked everynight to his old quarters at the Park; from whence he usually returnedin the morning, early enough to interrupt the lovers' firsttete-a-tete before breakfast.

  A three weeks' residence at Delaford, where, in his evening hours atleast, he had little to do but to calculate the disproportion betweenthirty-six and seventeen, brought him to Barton in a temper of mindwhich needed all the improvement in Marianne's looks, all the kindnessof her welcome, and all the encouragement of her mother's language, tomake it cheerful. Among such friends, however, and such flattery, hedid revive. No rumour of Lucy's marriage had yet reached him:--he knewnothing of what had passed; and the first hours of his visit wereconsequently spent in hearing and in wondering. Every thing wasexplained to him by Mrs. Dashwood, and he found fresh reason torejoice in what he had done for Mr. Ferrars, since eventually itpromoted the interest of Elinor.

  It would be needless to say, that the gentlemen advanced in the goodopinion of each other, as they advanced in each other's acquaintance,for it could not be otherwise. Their resemblance in good principlesand good sense, in disposition and manner of thinking, would probablyhave been sufficient to unite them in friendship, without any otherattraction; but their being in love with two sisters, and two sistersfond of each other, made that mutual regard inevitable and immediate,which might otherwise have waited the effect of time and judgment.

  The letters from town, which a few days before would have made everynerve in Elinor's body thrill with transport, now arrived to be readwith less emotion than mirth. Mrs. Jennings wrote to tell thewonderful tale, to vent her honest indignation against the jiltinggirl, and pour forth her compassion towards poor Mr. Edward, who, shewas sure, had quite doted upon the worthless hussy, and was now, byall accounts, almost broken-hearted, at Oxford. "I do think," shecontinued, "nothing was ever carried on so sly; for it was but twodays before Lucy called and sat a couple of hours with me. Not a soulsuspected anything of the matter, not even Nancy, who, poor soul! camecrying to me the day after, in a great fright for fear of Mrs.Ferrars, as well as not knowing how to get to Plymouth; for Lucy itseems borrowed all her money before she went off to be married, onpurpose we suppose to make a show with, and poor Nancy had not sevenshillings in the world;--so I was very glad to give her five guineasto take her down to Exeter, where she thinks of staying three or fourweeks with Mrs. Burgess, in hopes, as I tell her, to fall in with theDoctor again. And I must say that Lucy's crossness not to take themalong with them in the chaise is worse than all. Poor Mr. Edward! Icannot get him out of my head, but you must send for him to Barton,and Miss Marianne must try to comfort him."

  Mr. Dashwood's strains were more solemn. Mrs. Ferrars was the mostunfortunate of women--poor Fanny had suffered agonies ofsensibility--and he considered the existence of each, under such ablow, with grateful wonder. Robert's offence was unpardonable, butLucy's was infinitely worse. Neither of them were ever again to bementioned to Mrs. Ferrars; and even, if she might hereafter be inducedto forgive her son, his wife should never be acknowledged as herdaughter, nor be permitted to appear in her presence. The secrecy withwhich everything had been carried on between them, was rationallytreated as enormously heightening the crime, because, had anysuspicion of it occurred to the others, proper measures would havebeen taken to prevent the marriage; and he called on Elinor to joinwith him in regretting that Lucy's engagement with Edward had notrather been fulfilled, than that she should thus be the means ofspreading misery farther in the family. He thus continued:--

  "Mrs. Ferrars has never yet mentioned Edward's name, which does notsurprise us; but, to our great astonishment, not a line has beenreceived from him on the occasion. Perhaps, however, he is kept silentby his fear of offending, and I shall, therefore, give him a hint, bya line to Oxford, that his sister and I both think a letter of propersubmission from him, addressed perhaps to Fanny, and by her shown toher mother, might not be taken amiss; for we all know the tendernessof Mrs. Ferrars's heart, and that she wishes for nothing so much as tobe on good terms with her children."

  This paragraph was of some importance to the prospects and conduct ofEdward. It determined him to attempt a reconciliation, though notexactly in the manner pointed out by their brother and sister.

  "A letter of proper submission!" repeated he; "would they have me begmy mother's pardon for Robert's ingratitude to _her_, and breach ofhonour to _me_? I can make no submission. I am grown neither humblenor penitent by what has passed. I am grown very happy; but that wouldnot interest. I know of no submission that _is_ proper for me tomake."

  "You may certainly ask to be forgiven," said Elinor, "because you haveoffended;--and I should think you might _now_ venture so far as toprofess some concern for having ever formed the engagement which drewon you your mother's anger."

  He agreed that he might.

  "And when she has forgiven you, perhaps a little humility may beconvenient while acknowledging a second engagement, almost asimprudent in _her_ eyes as the first."

  He had nothing to urge against it, but still resisted the idea of aletter of proper submission; and therefore, to make it easier to him,as he declared a much greater willingness to make mean concessions byword of mouth than on paper, it was resolved that, instead of writingto Fanny, he should go to London, and personally entreat her goodoffices in his favour. "And if they really _do_ interest themselves,"said Marianne, in her new character of candour, "in bringing about areconciliation, I shall think that even John and Fanny are notentirely without merit."

  After a visit on Colonel Brandon's side of only three or four days,the two gentlemen quitted Barton together. They were to go immediatelyto Delaford, that Edward might have some personal knowledge of hisfuture home, and assist his patron and friend in deciding on whatimprovements were needed to it; and from thence, after staying there acouple of nights, he was to proceed on his journey to town.

 
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