As Elinor and Marianne were walking together the next morning
the latter communicated a piece of news to her sister, which, in spite
of all that she knew before of Marianne's imprudence
and want of
, surprised her by its extravagant testimony of both.
Marianne told her, with the greatest delight, that Willoughby had
given her a horse, one that he had bred himself on his estate in
, and which was exactly calculated to carry a woman.
Without considering that it was not in her mother's plan to keep any
horse, that if she were to alter her resolution in favour of this
gift, she must buy another for the servant, and keep a servant to ride
it, and after all, build a stable to receive them, she had accepted
the present without hesitation, and told her sister of it in raptures.
"He intends to send his groom into Somersetshire immediately for
it," she added, "and when it arrives we will ride every day. You shall
share its use with me. Imagine to yourself, my dear Elinor, the
delight of a gallop on some of these downs."
Most unwilling was she to awaken from such a dream of felicity
to comprehend all the unhappy truths which attended the affair; and
for some time she refused to submit to them. As to an additional
servant, the expense would be a trifle; mamma she was sure would never
object to it; and any horse would do for him; he might always get
one at the Park; as to a stable, the merest shed would be
sufficient. Elinor then ventured to doubt the propriety of her
receiving such a present from a man so little, or at least so
lately, known to her. This was too much.
"You are mistaken, Elinor," said she, warmly, "in supposing I know
very little of Willoughby. I have not known him long indeed; but I
am much better acquainted with him than I am with any other creature
in the world, except yourself and mamma. It is not time or opportunity
that is to determine intimacy; it is disposition alone. Seven years
would be insufficient to make some people acquainted with each
other, and seven days are more than enough for others. I should hold
myself guilty of greater impropriety in accepting a horse from my
brother than from Willoughby. Of John I know very little, though we
have lived together for years; but of Willoughby my judgment has
long been formed."
Elinor thought it wisest to touch that point no more. She knew her
sister's temper. Opposition on so tender a subject would only attach
her the more to her own opinion. But by an appeal to her affection for
her mother, by representing the inconveniences which that indulgent
mother must draw on herself, if (as would probably be the case) she
consented to this increase of establishment, Marianne was shortly
subdued; and she promised not to tempt her mother to such imprudent
kindness by mentioning the offer, and to tell Willoughby, when she saw
him next, that it must be declined.
She was faithful to her word; and when Willoughby called at the
cottage, the same day, Elinor heard her express her disappointment
to him in a low voice on being obliged to forego the acceptance of his
present. The reasons for this alteration were at the same time
related, and they were such as to make further entreaty on his side
impossible. His concern, however, was very apparent; and after
expressing it with earnestness, he added, in the same low voice, "But,
Marianne, the horse is still yours, though you cannot use it now. I
shall keep it only till you can claim it. When you leave Barton to
form your own establishment in a more lasting home, Queen Mab shall receive you."
This was all overheard by Miss Dashwood; and in the whole of the
sentence, in his manner of pronouncing it, and in his addressing her
sister by her Christian name alone, she instantly saw an intimacy so
decided, a meaning so direct, as marked a perfect agreement between
them. From that moment she doubted not of their being engaged to
each other; and the belief of it created no other surprise than that
she, or any of their friends, should be left by tempers so frank, to
discover it by accident.
Margaret related something to her the next day, which placed
this matter in a still clearer light. Willoughby had spent the
preceding evening with them; and Margaret, by being left some time
in the parlour with only him and Marianne, had had opportunity for
observations, which, with a most important face, she communicated to
her eldest sister, when they were next by themselves.
"Oh, Elinor!" she cried, "I have such a secret to tell you about
Marianne. I am sure she will be married to Mr. Willoughby very soon."
"You have said so," replied Elinor, "almost every day since they
first met on Highchurch Down; and they had not known each other a
week, I believe, before you were certain that Marianne wore his
picture round her neck; but it turned out to be only the miniature
of our great uncle."
"But indeed this is quite another thing. I am sure they will be
married very soon, for he has got a lock of her hair."
"Take care, Margaret. It may be only the hair of some greatuncle of his."
"But, indeed, Elinor, it is Marianne's. I am almost sure it is,
for I saw him cut it off. Last night, after tea, when you and mamma
went out of the room, they were whispering and talking together as
fast as could be, and he seemed to be begging something of her, and
presently he took up her scissors and cut off a long lock of her hair,
for it was all tumbled down her back; and he kissed it, and folded
it up in a piece of white paper; and put it into his pocket-book."
For such particulars, stated on such authority, Elinor could not
withhold her credit; nor was she disposed to it, for the
circumstance was in perfect unison with what she had heard and seen herself.
Margaret's sagacity was not always displayed in a way so
satisfactory to her sister. When Mrs. Jennings attacked her one
evening at the Park, to give the name of the young man who was
Elinor's particular favourite, which had been long a matter of great
curiosity to her, Margaret answered by looking at her sister, and
saying, "I must not tell, may I, Elinor?"
This of course made everybody laugh; and Elinor tried to laugh
too. But the effort was painful. She was convinced that Margaret had
fixed on a person whose name she could not bear with composure to
become a standing joke with Mrs. Jennings.
Marianne felt for her most sincerely; but she did more harm than
good to the cause, by turning very red and saying in an angry manner to Margaret-
"Remember that whatever your conjectures may be, you have no right
to repeat them."
"I never had any conjectures about it," replied Margaret; "it
was you who told me of it yourself."
This increased the mirth of the company, and Margaret was
eagerly pressed to say something more.
"Oh, pray, Miss Margaret, let us know all about it," said Mrs.
Jennings. "What is the gentleman's name?"
"I must not tell ma'am. But I know very well what it is; and I
know where he is too."
"Yes, yes, we can guess where he is; at his own house at Norland
to be sure. He is the curate of the parish, I dare say."
"No, that he is not. He is of no profession at all."
"Margaret," said Marianne, with great warmth, "you know that all
this is an invention of your own, and that there is no such person in existence."
"Well, then, he is lately dead, Marianne, for I am sure there
was such a man once, and his name begins with an F."
Most grateful did Elinor feel to Lady Middleton for observing,
at this moment, "that it rained very hard," though she believed the
interruption to proceed less from any attention to her, than from
her ladyship's great dislike of all such inelegant subjects of
raillery as delighted her husband and mother. The idea, however,
started by her, was immediately pursued by Colonel Brandon, who was on
every occasion mindful of the feelings of others; and much was said on
the subject of rain by both of them. Willoughby opened the
piano-forte, and asked Marianne to sit down to it; and thus amidst the
various endeavours of different people to quit the topic it fell to
the ground. But not so easily did Elinor recover from the alarm into
which it had thrown her.
A party was formed this evening for going on the following day
to see a very fine place about twelve miles from Barton, belonging
to a brother-in-law of Colonel Brandon, without whose interest it
could not be seen, as the proprietor, who was then abroad, had left
strict orders on that head. The grounds were declared to be highly
beautiful; and Sir John, who was particularly warm in their praise,
might be allowed to be a tolerable judge, for he had formed parties to
visit them, at least, twice every summer for the last ten years.
They contained a noble piece of water,- a sail on which was to a
form a great part of the morning's amusement: cold provisions were
to be taken, open carriages only to be employed, and everything
conducted in the usual style of a complete party of pleasure.
To some few of the company it appeared rather a bold
undertaking, considering the time of year, and that it had rained
every day for the last fortnight; and Mrs. Dashwood, who had already a
cold, was persuaded by Elinor to stay at home.
Sense and Sensibility - Chapter 11 Sense and Sensibility Sense and Sensibility - Chapter 13