"If this open weather holds much longer," said Mrs. Jennings, when
they met at breakfast the following morning, "Sir John will not like
leaving Barton next week; 'tis a sad thing for sportsmen
to lose a
day's pleasure. Poor souls! I always pity them when they do; they seem
to take it so much to heart."
"That is true," cried Marianne, in a cheerful voice, and walking
to the window as she spoke, to examine the day. "I had not thought
of that. This weather will keep many sportsmen in the country."
It was a lucky recollection; all her good spirits were restored by
it. "It is charming weather for them indeed," she continued, as she
sat down to the breakfast table with a happy countenance. "How much
they must enjoy it! But" (with a little return of anxiety) "it
cannot be expected to last long. At this time of the year, and after
such a series of rain, we shall certainly have very little more of it.
Frosts will soon set in, and in all probability with severity. In
another day or two, perhaps; this extreme mildness can hardly last
longer- nay, perhaps it may freeze to-night!"
"At any rate," said Elinor, wishing to prevent Mrs. Jennings
from seeing her sister's thoughts as clearly as she did, "I dare say
we shall have Sir John and Lady Middleton in town by the end of next week."
"Ay, my dear, I'll warrant you we do. Mary always has her own way."
"And now," silently conjectured Elinor, "she will write to Combe
by this day's post."
But if she did, the letter was written and sent away with a
privacy which eluded all her watchfulness to ascertain the fact.
Whatever the truth of it might be, and far as Elinor was for feeling
thorough contentment about it, yet while she saw Marianne in
spirits, she could not be very uncomfortable herself. And Marianne was
in spirits; happy in the mildness of the weather, and still happier
in her expectation of a frost.
The morning was chiefly spent in leaving cards at the houses of
Mrs. Jennings's acquaintance, to inform them of her being in town; and
Marianne was all the time busy in observing the direction of the wind,
watching the variations of the sky, and imagining an alteration in the air.
"Don't you find it colder than it was in the morning, Elinor?
There seems to me a very decided difference. I can hardly keep my
hands warm even in my muff. It was not so yesterday, I think. The
clouds seem parting too; the sun will be out in a moment, and we shall
have a clear afternoon."
Elinor was alternately diverted and pained; but Marianne
perserved, and saw every night in the brightness of the fire, and
every morning in the appearance of the atmosphere, the certain
symptoms of approaching frost.
The Misses Dashwood had no greater reason to be disatisfied with
Mrs. Jennings's style of living, and set of acquaintance, than with
her behaviour to themselves, which was invariably kind. Every thing in
her household arrangements was conducted on the most liberal plan, and
excepting a few old city friends, whom, to Lady Middleton's regret,
she had never dropped, she visited no one to whom an introduction
could at all discompose the feelings of her young companions.
Pleased to find herself more comfortably situated in that particular
than she had expected, Elinor was very willing to compound for the
want of much real enjoyment from any of their evening parties,
which, whether at home or abroad, formed only for cards, could have
little to amuse her.
Colonel Brandon, who had a general invitation to the house, was
with them almost every day: he came to look at Marianne, and talk to
Elinor, who often derived more satisfaction from conversing with him
than from any other daily occurrence, but who saw, at the same time,
with much concern, his continued regard for her sister. She feared
it was a strengthening regard. It grieved her to see the earnestness
with which he often watched Marianne; and his spirits were certainly
worse than when at Barton.
About a week after their arrival, it became certain that
Willoughby was also arrived. His card was on the table when they
came in from the morning's drive.
"Good God!" cried Marianne, "he has been here while we were
out." Elinor, rejoiced to be assured of his being in London, now
ventured to say, "Depend upon it, he will call again to-morrow." But
Marianne seemed hardly to hear her, and, on Mrs. Jenning's entrance,
escaped with the precious card.
This event, while it raised the spirits of Elinor, restored to
those of her sister all, and more than all, their former agitation.
From this moment her mind was never quiet; the expectation of seeing
him every hour of the day made her unfit for any thing. She insisted
on being left behind, the next morning, when the others went out.
Elinor's thoughts were full of what might be passing in Berkeley
Street during their absence; but a moment's glance at her sister, when
they returned, was enough to inform her that Willoughby had paid no
second visit there. A note was just then brought in, and laid on the table,
"For me!" cried Marianne, stepping hastily forward.
"No, ma'am, for my mistress."
But Marianne, not convinced, took it instantly up.
"It is, indeed, for Mrs. Jennings; how provoking!"
"You are expecting a letter, then?" said Elinor, unable to be
"Yes, a little- not much."
After a short pause. "You have no confidence in me, Marianne."
"Nay, Elinor this reproach from you- you who have confidence in no one!"
"Me!" returned Elinor, in some confusion; "indeed, Marianne, I
have nothing to tell."
"Nor I," answered Marianne with energy; "our situations then are
alike. We have neither of us any thing to tell; you, because you
communicate, and I, because I conceal nothing."
Elinor, distressed by this charge of reserve in herself, which she
was not at liberty to do away, knew not how, under such circumstances,
to press for greater openness in Marianne.
Mrs. Jennings soon appeared, and the note being given her, she
read it aloud. It was from Lady Middleton, announcing their arrival in
Conduit Street the night before, and requesting the company of her
mother and cousins the following evening. Business on Sir John's part,
and a violent cold on her own, prevented their calling in Berkeley
Street. The invitation was accepted; but when the hour of
appointment drew near, necessary as it was, in common civility to Mrs.
Jennings, that they should both attend her on such a visit, Elinor had
some difficulty in persuading her sister to go, for still she had seen
nothing of Willoughby; and therefore was not more indisposed for
amusement abroad than unwilling to run the risk of his calling again
in her absence.
Elinor found, when the evening was over, that disposition is not
materially altered by a change of abode; for, although scarcely
settled in town, Sir John had contrived to collect around him nearly
twenty young people, and to amuse them with a ball. This was an
affair, however, of which Lady Middleton did not approve. In the
country, an unpremediated dance was very allowable; but in London,
where the reputation of elegance was more important, and less easily
obtained, it was risking too much for the gratification of a few
girls, to have it know that Lady Middleton had given a small dance, of
eight or nine couple, with two violins, and a mere sideboard collation.
Mr. and Mrs. Palmer were of the party; from the former, whom
they had not seen before since their arrival in town, as he was
careful to avoid the appearance of any attention to his mother-in-law,
and therefore never came near her, they received no mark of
recognition on their entrance. He looked at them slightly, without
seeming to know who they were, and merely nodded to Mrs. Jennings from
the other side of the room. Marianne gave one glance round the
apartment, as she entered: it was enough- he was not there; and she
sat down, equally ill-disposed to receive or communicate pleasure.
After they had been assembled about an hour, Mr. Palmer sauntered
towards the Misses Dashwood, to express his surprise on seeing them in
town, though Colonel Brandon had been first informed of their
arrival at his house, and he had himself said something very droll
on hearing that they were to come.
"I thought you were both in Devonshire," said he.
"Did you?" replied Elinor. "When do you go back again?"
"I do not know." And thus ended their discourse.
Never had Marianne been so unwilling to dance in her life as she
was that evening, and never so much fatigued by the exercise. She
complained of it, as they returned to Berkeley street.
"Ay, ay," said Mrs. Jennings, "we know the reason of all that very
well: if a certain person, who shall be nameless had been there, you
would not have been a bit tired; and, to say the truth, it was not
very pretty of him not to give you the meeting when he was invited."
"Invited!" cried Marianne.
"So my daughter Middleton told me; for it seems Sir John met him
somewhere in the street this morning."
Marianne said no more, but looked exceedingly hurt. Impatient,
in this situation, to be doing something that might lead to her
sister's relief, Elinor resolved to write the next morning to her
mother, and hoped, by awakening her fears for the health of
Marianne, to procure those enquiries which had been so long delayed;
and she was still more eagerly bent on this measure by perceiving,
after breakfast on the morrow, that Marianne was again writing to
Willoughby, for she could not suppose it to be to any other person.
About the middle of the day, Mrs. Jennings went out by herself
on business, and Elinor began her letter directly, while Marianne, too
restless for employment, too anxious for conversation, walked from one
window to the other, or sat down by the fire in melancholy meditation.
Elinor was very earnest in her application to her mother, relating all
that had passed, her suspicions of Willoughby's inconstancy, urging
her, by every plea of duty and affection, to demand from Marianne an
account of her real situation with respect to him.
Her letter was scarcely finished, when a rap foretold a visitor,
and Colonel Brandon was announced. Marianne, who had seen him from the
window, and who hated company of any kind, left the room before he
entered it. He looked more than usually grave; and, though
expressing satisfaction at finding Miss Dashwood alone, as if he had
somewhat in particular to tell her, sat for some time without saying a
word. Elinor, persuaded that he had some communication to make, in
which her sister was concerned, impatiently expected its opening. It
was not the first time of her feeling the same kind of conviction;
for, more than once before, beginning with the observation of, "Your
sister looks unwell to-day," or, "Your sister seems out of spirits,"
he had appeared on the point, either of disclosing, or of enquiring,
something particular about her. After a pause of several minutes,
their silence was broken by his asking her, in a voice of some
agitation, when he was to congratulate her on the acquisition of a
brother? Elinor was not prepared for such a question; and, having no
answer ready, was obliged to adopt the simple and common expedient
of asking what he meant? He tried to smile, as he replied: "Your
sister's engagement to Mr. Willoughby is very generally known."
"It cannot be generally known," returned Elinor, "for her own
family do not know it."
He looked surprised, and said, "I beg your pardon, I am afraid
my enquiry has been impertinent; but I had not supposed any secresy
intended, as they openly correspond, and their marriage is universally
"How can that be? By whom can you have heard it mentioned?"
"By many- by some of whom you know nothing, by others with whom
you are most intimate, Mrs. Jennings, Mrs. Palmer, and the Middletons.
But still I might not have believed it, for where the mind is,
perhaps, rather unwilling to be convinced, it will always find
something to support its doubts, if I had not, when the servant let me
in to-day, accidentally seen a letter in his hand, directed to Mr.
Willoughby, in your sister's writing. I came to enquire, but I was
convinced before I could ask the question. Is everything finally
settled? Is it impossible to-? But I have no right, and I could have
no chance of succeeding. Excuse me, Miss Dashwood. I believe I have
been wrong in saying so much, but I hardly know what to do, and on
your prudence I have the strongest dependence. Tell me that it is
all absolutely resolved on, that any attempt, that in short
concealment, if concealment be possible, is all that remains."
These words, which conveyed to Elinor a direct avowal of his
love for her sister, affected her very much. She was not immediately
able to say anything; and even when her spirits were recovered, she
debated for a short time on the answer it would be most proper to
give. The real state of things between Willoughby and her sister was
so little known to herself, that, in endeavouring to explain it, she
might be as liable to say too much as too little. Yet, as she was
convinced that Marianne's affection for Willoughby could leave no hope
of Colonel Brandon's success, whatever the event of that affection
might be, and at the same time wished to shield her conduct from
censure, she thought it most prudent and kind, after some
consideration, to say more than she really knew or believed. She
acknowledged, therefore, that though she had never been informed by
themselves of the terms on which they stood with each other, of
their mutual affection she had no doubt, and of their correspondence
she was not astonished to hear.
He listened to her with silent attention; and on her ceasing to
speak, rose directly from his seat, and after saying, in a voice of
emotion, "To your sister I wish all imaginable happiness; to
Willoughby that he may endeavour to deserve her,"- took leave, andwent away.
Elinor derived no comfortable feelings from this conversation to
lessen the uneasiness of her mind on other points; she was left, on
the contrary, with a melancholy impression of Colonel Brandon's
unhappiness, and was prevented even from wishing it removed, by her
anxiety for the very event that must confirm it.
Sense and Sensibility - Chapter 26 Sense and Sensibility Sense and Sensibility - Chapter 28