The Misses Dashwood had now been rather more than two months in
town, and Marianne's impatience to be gone increased every day. She
sighed for the air, the liberty, the quiet of the country; and
fancied, that if any place could give her ease, Barton must do it.
Elinor was hardly less anxious
than herself for their removal, and
only so much less bent on its being effected immediately, as that
she was conscious of the difficulties of so long a journey, which
Marianne could not be brought to acknowledge. She began, however,
seriously to turn her thoughts towards its accomplishment; and had
already mentioned their wishes to their kind hostess, who resisted
them with all the eloquence
of her good-will, when a plan was
suggested, which, though detaining them from yet a few weeks longer,
appeared to Elinor altogether much more eligible
than any other. The
Palmers were to remove to Cleveland
, about the end of March, for the
holidays; and Mrs. Jennings, with both her friends, received
a very warm invitation from Charlotte to go with them. This would not,
in itself, have been sufficient for the delicacy of Miss Dashwood; but
it was enforced with so much real politeness by Mr. Palmer himself,
as, joined to the very great amendment of his manners towards them
since her sister had been known to be unhappy, induced her to accept
it with pleasure.
When she told Marianne what she had done, however, her first reply
was not very auspicious.
"Cleveland!" she cried, with great agitation. "No I cannot go to Cleveland."
"You forget," said Elinor gently, "that its situation is not- that
it is not in the neighbourhood of-"
"But it is in Somersetshire. I cannot go into Somersetshire.
There, where I looked forward to going;- no, Elinor, you cannot expect
me to go there."
Elinor would not argue upon the propriety of overcoming such
feelings; she only endeavoured to counteract them by working on
others; and represented it, therefore, as a measure which would fix
the time of her returning to that dear mother, whom she so much wished
to see, in a more eligible, more comfortable manner, than any other
plan could do, and perhaps without any greater delay. From
Cleveland, which was within a few miles of Bristol, the distance to
Barton was not beyond one day, though a long day's journey; and
their mother's servant might easily come there to attend them down;
and as there could be no occasion of their staying above a week at
Cleveland, they might now be at home in little more than three
weeks' time. As Marianne's affection for her mother was sincere, it
must triumph with little difficulty, over the imaginary evils she had started.
Mrs. Jennings was so far from being weary of her that she
pressed them very earnestly to return with her again from Cleveland.
Elinor was grateful for the attention, but it could not alter her
design; and their mother's concurrence being readily gained, every
thing relative to their return was arranged as far as it could be; and
Marianne found some relief in drawing up a statement of the hours that
were yet to divide her from Barton.
"Ah! Colonel, I do not know what you and I shall do without the
Misses Dashwood," was Mrs. Jennings's address to him when he first
called on her, after their leaving her was settled; "for they are
quite resolved upon going home from the Palmers; and how forlorn we
shall be when I come back! Lord! we shall sit and gape at one
another as dull as two cats."
Perhaps Mrs. Jennings was in hopes, by this vigorous sketch of
their future ennui, to provoke him to make that offer, which might
give himself an escape from it; and if so, she had soon afterwards
good reason to think her object gained; for, on Elinor's moving to the
window to take more expeditiously the dimensions of a print, which she
was going to copy for her friend, he followed her to it with a look of
particular meaning, and conversed with her there for several
minutes. The effect of his discourse on the lady, too, could not
escape her observation; for though she was too honorable to listen,
and had even changed her seat, on purpose that she might not hear,
to one close by the piano-forte on which Marianne was playing, she
could not keep herself from seeing that Elinor changed colour,
attended with agitation, and was too intent on what he said to
pursue her employment. Still farther in confirmation of her hopes,
in the interval of Marianne's turning from one lesson to another, some
words of the Colonel's inevitably reached her ear, in which he
seemed to be apologising for the badness of his house. This set the
matter beyond a doubt. She wondered, indeed, at his thinking it
necessary to do so; but supposed it to be the proper etiquette. What
Elinor said in reply she could not distinguish, but judged, from the
motion of her lips, that she did not think that any material
objection; and Mrs. Jennings commended her in her heart for being so
honest. They then talked on for a few minutes longer without her
catching a syllable, when another lucky stop in Marianne's performance
brought her these words in the Colonel's calm voice,-
"I am afraid it cannot take place very soon."
Astonished and shocked at so unlover-like a speech, she was almost
ready to cry out, "Lord! what should hinder it?" but checking her
desire, confined herself to this silent ejaculation,-
"This is very strange!- sure he need not wait to be older."
This delay on the Colonel's side, however, did not seem to
offend or mortify his fair companion in the least; for, on their
breaking up the conference soon afterwards, and moving different ways,
Mrs. Jennings very plainly heard Elinor say, and with a voice which
showed her to feel what she said,-
"I shall always think myself very much obliged to you."
Mrs. Jennings was delighted with her gratitude, and only wondered,
that, after hearing such a sentence, the Colonel should be able to
take leave of them, as he immediately did, with the utmost sang-froid,
and go away without making her any reply! She had not thought her
old friend could have made so indifferent a suitor.
What had really passed between them was to this effect.
"I have heard," said he, with great compassion, "of the
injustice your friend Mr. Ferrars has suffered from his family; for,
if I understand the matter right, he has been entirely cast off by
them for persevering in his engagement with a very deserving young
woman. Have I been rightly informed? Is it so?"
Elinor told him that it was.
"The cruelty, the impolitic cruelty," he replied, with great
feeling, "of dividing, or attempting to divide, two young people
long attached to each other, is terrible. Mrs. Ferrars does not know
what she may be doing- what she may drive her son to. I have seen
Mr. Ferrars two or three times in Harley Street, and am much pleased
with him. He is not a young man with whom one can be intimately
acquainted in a short time, but I have seen enough of him to wish
him well for his own sake, and as a friend of yours, I wish it still
more. I understand that he intends to take orders. Will you be so good
as to tell him that the living of Delaford, now just vacant, as I am
informed by this day's post, is his, if he think it worth his
acceptance; but that, perhaps, so unfortunately circumstanced as he is
now, it be nonsense to appear to doubt; I only wish it were more
valuable. It is a rectory, but a small one; the late incumbent, I
believe, did not make more than 200 per annum; and though it is
certainly capable of improvement, I fear not to such an amount as to
afford him a very comfortable income. Such as it is, however, my
pleasure in presenting him to it will be very great. Pray assure him of it."
Elinor's astonishment at this commission could hardly have been
greater had the Colonel been really making her an offer of his hand.
The preferment, which only two days before she had considered as
hopeless for Edward, was already provided to enable him to marry;
and she, of all people in the world, was fixed on to bestow it! Her
emotion was such as Mrs. Jennings had attributed to a very different
cause; but whatever minor feelings less pure, less pleasing, might
have a share in that emotion, her esteem for the general
benevolence, and her gratitude for the particular friendship, which
together prompted Colonel Brandon to this act, were strongly felt
and warmly expressed. She thanked him for it with all her heart, spoke
of Edward's principles and disposition with that praise which she knew
them to deserve; and promised to undertake the commission with
pleasure, if it were really his wish to put off so agreeable an office
to another. But, at the same time, she could not help thinking that no
one could so well perform it as himself. It was an office, in short,
from which, unwilling to give Edward the pain of receiving an
obligation from her, she would have been very glad to be spared
herself; but Colonel Brandon, on motives of equal delicacy,
declining it likewise, still seemed so desirous of its being given
through her means, that she would not, on any account, make farther
opposition. Edward, she believed, was still in town, and fortunately
she had heard his address from Miss Steele. She could undertake,
therefore, to inform him of it, in the course of the day. After this
had been settled, Colonel Brandon began to talk of his own advantage
in securing so respectable and agreeable a neighbour, and then it
was that he mentioned, with regret, that the house was small and
indifferent; an evil which Elinor, as Mrs. Jennings had supposed her
to do, made very light of, at least as far as regarded its size.
"The smallness of the house," said she, "I cannot imagine any
inconvenience to them; for it will be in proportion to their family and income."
By which the Colonel was surprised to find that she was
considering Mr. Ferrars's marriage as the certain consequence of the
presentation; for he did not suppose it possible that Delaford
living could supply such an income as anybody in his style of life
would venture to settle on, and he said so.
"This little rectory can do no more than make Mr. Ferrars
comfortable as a bachelor; it cannot enable him to marry. I am sorry
to say that my patronage ends with this; and my interest is hardly
more extensive. If, however, by an unforseen chance it should be in my
power to serve him farther, I must think very differently of him
from what I now do, if I am not as ready to be useful to him then as I
sincerely wish I could be at present. What I am now doing, indeed,
seems nothing at all, since it can advance him so little towards
what must be his principal, his only object of happiness. His marriage
must still be a distant good; at least, I am afraid it cannot take
place very soon."
Such was the sentence which, when misunderstood, so justly
offended the delicate feelings of Mrs. Jennings; but, after this
narration of what really passed between Colonel Brandon and Elinor,
while they stood at the window, the gratitude expressed by the
latter on their parting may perhaps appear, in general, not less
reasonably excited, nor less properly worded, than if it had arisen
from an offer of marriage.
Sense and Sensibility - Chapter 38 Sense and Sensibility Sense and Sensibility - Chapter 40