Mrs. John Dashwood had so much confidence in her husband's
judgment, that she waited the very next day both on Mrs. Jennings
and her daughter; and her confidence was rewarded by finding even
the former, even the woman with whom her sisters were staying, by no
means unworthy of notice; and as for Lady Middleton, she found her one
of the most charming women in the world.
Lady Middleton was equally pleased with Mrs. Dashwood. There was a
kind of cold-hearted selfishness on both sides, which mutually
attracted them; and they sympathised with each other in an insipid
propriety of demeanor, and a general want of understanding.
The same manners, however, which recommended Mrs. John Dashwood to
the good opinion of Lady Middleton did not suit the fancy of Mrs.
Jennings, and to her she appeared nothing more than a little
proud-looking woman, of uncordial address, who met her husband's
sisters without any affection, and almost without having anything to
say to them; for of the quarter of an hour bestowed on Berkeley
Street, she sat at least seven minutes and a half in silence.
Elinor wanted very much to know, though she did not choose to ask,
whether Edward was then in town; but nothing would have induced
Fanny voluntarily to mention his name before her, till able to tell
her, that his marriage with Miss Morton was resolved on, or till her
husband's expectations on Colonel Brandon were answered; because she
believed them still so very much attached to each other, that they
could not be too seduously divided in word and deed on every occasion.
The intelligence, however, which she would not give, soon flowed
from another quarter. Lucy came very shortly to claim Elinor's
compassion on being unable to see Edward, though he had arrived in
town with Mr. and Mrs. Dashwood. He dared not come to Bartlett's
Buildings for fear of detection; and though their mutual impatience to
meet was not to be told, they could do nothing at present but write.
Edward assured them himself of his being in town, within a very
short time, by twice calling in Berkeley Street. Twice was his card
found on the table, when they returned from their morning's
engagements. Elinor was pleased that he had called; and still more
pleased that she had missed him.
The Dashwoods were so prodigiously delighted with the
Middletons, that, though not much in the habit of giving anything,
they determined to give them a dinner; and soon after their
acquaintance began, invited them to dine in Harley Street, where
they had taken a very good house for three months. Their sisters and
Mrs. Jennings were invited likewise; and John Dashwood was careful
to secure Colonel Brandon, who, always glad to be where the Misses
Dashwood were, received his eager civilities with some surprise, but
much more pleasure. They were to meet Mrs. Ferrars; but Elinor could
not learn whether her sons were to be of the party. The expectation of
seeing her, however, was enough to make her interested in the
engagement; for though she could now meet Edward's mother without that
strong anxiety which had once promised to attend such an introduction,
though she could now see her with perfect indifference as to her
opinion of herself, her desire of being in company with Mrs.
Ferrars, her curiosity to know what she was like, was as lively as ever.
The interest with which she thus anticipated the party was soon
afterwards increased, more powerfully than pleasantly, by her
hearing that the Misses Steele were also to be at it.
So well had they recommended themselves to Lady Middleton, so
agreeable had their assiduities made them to her, that though Lucy was
certainly not so elegant, and her sister not even genteel, she was
as ready as Sir John to ask them to spend a week or two in Conduit
Street; and it happened to be particularly convenient to the Misses
Steele, as soon as the Dashwoods' invitation was known, that their
visit should begin a few days before the party took place.
Their claims to the notice of Mrs. John Dashwood, as the nieces of
the gentleman who for many years had had the care of her brother,
might not have done much, however, towards procuring them seats at her
table; but as Lady Middleton's guests they must be welcome; and
Lucy, who had long wanted to be personally known to the family, to
have a nearer view of their characters and her own difficulties, and
to have an opportunity of endeavouring to please them, had seldom been
happier in her life, than she was on receiving Mrs. John Dashwood's card.
On Elinor its effect was very different. She began immediately
to determine, that Edward, who lived with his mother, must be asked,
as his mother was, to a party given by his sister; and to see him, for
the first time, after all that passed, in the company of Lucy!- she
hardly knew how she could bear it!
These apprehensions, perhaps, were not founded entirely on reason,
and certainly not at all on truth. They were relieved, however, not by
her own recollection, but by the good will of Lucy, who believed
herself to be inflicting a severe disappointment, when she told her,
that Edward certainly would not be in Harley Street on Tuesday, and
even hoped to be carrying the pain still farther, by persuading her
that he was kept away by the extreme affection for herself, which
she could not conceal when they were together.
The important Tuesday came that was to introduce the two young
ladies to this formidable mother-in-law.
"Pity me, dear Miss Dashwood!" said Lucy, as they walked up the
stairs together- for the Middletons arrived so directly after Miss
Jennings, that they all followed the servant at the same time:- "there
is nobody here but you that can feel for me. I declare I can hardly
stand. Good gracious! In a moment I shall see the person that all my
happiness depends on- that is to be my mother!"
Elinor could have given her immediate relief, by suggesting the
possibility of its being Miss Morton's mother, rather than her own,
whom they were about to behold; but instead of doing that, she assured
her, and with great sincerity, that she did pity her- to the utter
amazement of Lucy, who, though really uncomfortable herself, hoped
at least to be an object of irrepressible envy to Elinor.
Mrs. Ferrars was a little, thin woman, upright, even to formality,
in her figure, and serious, even to sourness, in her aspect. Her
complexion was sallow; and her features small, without beauty, and
naturally without expression; but a lucky contraction of the brow
had rescued her countenance from the disgrace of insipidity, by giving
it the strong characters of pride and ill-nature. She was not a
woman of many words; for, unlike people in general, she proportioned
them to the number of her ideas; and of the few syllables that did
escape her, not one fell to the share of Miss Dashwood, whom she
eyed with the spirited determination of disliking her at all events.
Elinor could not now be made unhappy by this behaviour. A few
months ago it would have hurt her exceedingly; but it was not in
Mrs. Ferrars' power to distress her by it now; and the difference of
her manners to the Misses Steele, a difference which seemed
purposely made to humble her more, only amused her. She could not
but smile to see the graciousness of both mother and daughter
towards the very person- for Lucy was particularly distinguished- whom
of all others, had they known as much as she did, they would have been
most anxious to mortify; while she herself, who had comparatively no
power to wound them, sat pointedly slighted by both. But while she
smiled at a graciousness so misapplied, she could not reflect on the
mean-spirited folly from which it sprung, nor observe the studied
attentions with which the Misses Steele courted its continuance,
without thoroughly despising them all four.
Lucy was all exultation on being so honorably distinguished; and
Miss Steele wanted only to be teazed about Dr. Davis to be perfectly happy.
The dinner was a grand one, the servants were numerous, and
everything bespoke the mistress's inclination for show, and the
master's ability to support it. In spite of the improvements and
additions which were making to the Norland estate, and in spite of its
owner having once been within some thousand pounds of being obliged to
sell out at a loss, nothing gave any symptom of that indigence which
he had tried to infer from it; no poverty of any kind, except of
conversation, appeared; but there the deficiency was considerable.
John Dashwood had not much to say for himself that was worth
hearing, and his wife had still less. But there was no peculiar
disgrace in this; for it was very much the case with the chief of
their visitors, who almost all laboured under one or other of these
disqualifications for being agreeable- want of sense, either natural
or improved- want of elegance- want of spirits- or want of temper.
When the ladies withdrew to the drawing-room after dinner, this
poverty was particularly evident, for the gentlemen had supplied the
discourse with some variety- the variety of politics, enclosing
land, and breaking horses- but then it was all over; and one subject
only engaged the ladies till coffee came in, which was the comparative
heights of Harry Dashwood, and Lady Middleton's second son William,
who were nearly of the same age.
Had both the children been there, the affair might have been
determined too easily by measuring them at once; but as Harry only was
present, it was all conjectural assertion on both sides; and everybody
had a right to be equally positive in their opinion, and to repeat
it over and over again as often as they liked.
The parties stood thus-
The two mothers, though each really convinced that her own son was
the tallest, politely decided in favour of the other.
The two grandmothers, with not less partiality, but more
sincerity, were equally earnest in support of their own descendant.
Lucy, who was hardly less anxious to please one parent than the
other, thought the boys were both remarkably tall for their age, and
could not conceive that there could be the smallest difference in
the world between them; and Miss Steele, with yet greater address,
gave it, as fast as she could, in favour of each.
Elinor, having once delivered her opinion on William's side, by
which she offended Mrs. Ferrars and Fanny still more, did not see
the necessity of enforcing it by any farther assertion; and
Marianne, when called on for hers, offended them all, by declaring
that she had no opinion to give, as she had never thought about it.
Before her removing from Norland, Elinor had painted a very pretty
pair of screens for her sister-in-law, which being now just mounted
and brought home, ornamented her present drawing-room; and these
screens catching the eye of John Dashwood on his following the other
gentlemen into the room, were officiously handed by him to Colonel
Brandon for his admiration.
"These are done by my eldest sister," said he; "and you, as a
man of taste, will, I dare say, be pleased with them. I do not know
whether you have ever happened to see any of her performances
before, but she is in general reckoned to draw extremely well."
The Colonel, though disclaiming all pretensions to
connoisseurship, warmly admired the screens, as he would have done
anything painted by Miss Dashwood; and on the curiosity of the
others being of course excited, they were handed round for general
inspection. Mrs. Ferrars, not aware of their being Elinor's work,
particularly requested to look at them; and after they had received
gratifying testimony of Lady Middletons's approbation, Fanny presented
them to her mother, considerately informing her, at the same time,
that they were done by Miss Dashwood.
"Hum"- said Mrs. Ferrars- "very pretty,"- and without regarding
them at all, returned them to her daughter.
Perhaps Fanny thought for a moment that her mother had been
quite rude enough; for, colouring a little, she immediately said,-
"They are very pretty, ma'am- an't they?" But then again the dread
of having been too civil, too encouraging herself, probably came
over her, for she presently added,-
"Do you not think they are something in Miss Morton's style of
painting, ma'am?- She does paint most delightfully!- How beautifully
her last landscape is done!"
"Beautifully indeed! But she does everything well."
Marianne could not bear this. She was already greatly displeased
with Mrs. Ferrars; and such ill-timed praise of another, at Elinor's
expense, though she had not any notion of what was principally meant
by it, provoked her immediately to say, with warmth,-
"This is admiration of a very particular kind! what is Miss Morton
to us? who knows, or who cares, for her?- it is Elinor of whom we
think and speak."
And so saying, she took the screens out of her sister-in-law's
hands to admire them herself as they ought to be admired.
Mrs. Ferrars looked exceedingly angry, and drawing herself up more
stiffly than ever, pronounced, in retort, this bitter philippic, "Miss
Morton is Lord Morton's daughter."
Fanny looked very angry too, and her husband was all in a fright
at his sister's audacity. Elinor was much more hurt by Marianne's
warmth than she had been by what produced it; but Colonel Brandon's
eyes, as they were fixed on Marianne, declared that he noticed only
what was amiable in it, the affectionate heart which could not bear to
see a sister slighted in the smallest point.
Marianne's feelings did not stop here. The cold insolence of
Mrs. Ferrars's general behaviour to her sister, seemed to her to
foretell such difficulties and distresses to Elinor as her own wounded
heart taught her to think of with horror; and, urged by a strong
impulse of affectionate sensibility, she moved after a moment, to
her sister's chair, and putting one arm round her neck, and one
cheek close to hers, said in a low, but eager, voice,-
"Dear, dear Elinor, don't mind them. Don't let them make youunhappy."
She could say no more; her spirits were quite overcome; and hiding
her face on Elinor's shoulder, she burst into tears. Everybody's
attention was called, and almost everybody was concerned. Colonel
Brandon rose up and went to them without knowing what he did. Mrs.
Jennings, with a very intelligent "Ah! poor dear," immediately gave
her her salts; and Sir John felt so desperately enraged against the
author of this nervous distress, that he instantly changed his seat to
one close by Lucy Steele, and gave her, in a whisper, a brief
account of the whole shocking affair.
In a few minutes, however, Marianne was recovered enough to put an
end to the bustle, and sit down among the rest; though her spirits
retained the impression of what had passed the whole evening.
"Poor Marianne!" said her brother to Colonel Brandon, in a low
voice, as soon as he could secure his attention; "she has not such
good health as her sister,- she is very nervous,- she has not Elinor's
constitution;- and one must allow that there is something very
trying to a young woman who has been a beauty in the loss of her
personal attractions. You would not think it, perhaps, but Marianne
was remarkably handsome a few months ago; quite as handsome as Elinor.
Now you see it is all gone."
Sense and Sensibility - Chapter 33 Sense and Sensibility Sense and Sensibility - Chapter 35