Mrs. Dashwood's visit to Middleton took place the next day, and
two of her daughters went with her; but Marianne excused herself
from being of the party, under some trifling pretext
and her mother, who concluded that a promise had been made by
Willoughby the night before of calling on her while they were
absent, was perfectly satisfied with her remaining at home.
On their return from the Park they found Willoughby's curricle and
servant in waiting at the cottage, and Mrs. Dashwood was convinced
that her conjecture had been just. So far it was all as she had
foreseen; but on entering the house she beheld what no foresight had
taught her to expect. They were no sooner in the passage than Marianne
came hastily out of the parlour apparently in violent affliction, with
her handkerchief at her eyes, and without noticing them ran up stairs.
Surprised and alarmed, they proceeded directly into the room she had
just quitted, where they found only Willoughby, who was leaning
against the mantel-piece with his back towards them. He turned round
on their coming in, and his countenance showed that he strongly
partook of the emotion which overpowered Marianne.
"Is anything the matter with her?" cried Mrs. Dashwood, as she
entered:- "is she ill?"
"I hope not," he replied, trying to look cheerful; and with a
forced smile presently added, "It is I who may rather expect to be
ill- for I am now suffering under a very heavy disappointment!"
"Yes, for I am unable to keep my engagement with you. Mrs. Smith
has this morning exercised the privilege of riches upon a poor,
dependent cousin, by sending me on business to London. I have just
received my despatches, and taken my farewell of Allenham; and by
way of exhilaration I am now come to take my farewell of you."
"To London!- and are you going this morning?"
"Almost this moment."
"This is very unfortunate. But Mrs. Smith must be obliged; and her
business will not detain you from us long, I hope."
He coloured as he replied, "You are very kind; but I have no
idea of returning into Devonshire immediately. My visits to Mrs. Smith
are never repeated within the twelvemonth."
"And is Mrs. Smith your only friend? Is Allenham the only house in
the neighbourhood to which you will be welcome? For shame, Willoughby,
can you wait for an invitation here?"
His colour increased; and, with his eyes fixed on the ground, he
only replied, "You are too good."
Mrs. Dashwood looked at Elinor with surprise. Elinor felt equal
amazement. For a few moments every one was silent. Mrs. Dashwood first spoke.
"I have only to add, my dear Willoughby, that at Barton cottage
you will always be welcome; for I will not press you to return here
immediately, because you only can judge how far that might be pleasing
to Mrs. Smith; and on this head I shall be no more disposed to
question your judgment than to doubt your inclination."
"My engagements at present," replied Willoughby, confusedly,
"are of such a nature- that- I dare not flatter myself-"
He stopt. Mrs. Dashwood was too much astonished to speak, and
another pause succeeded. This was broken by Willoughby, who said, with
a faint smile, "It is folly to linger in this manner. I will not
torment myself any longer by remaining among friends whose society
it is impossible for me now to enjoy."
He then hastily took leave of them all, and left the room. They
saw him step into his carriage, and in a minute it was out of sight.
Mrs. Dashwood felt too much for speech, and instantly quitted
the parlour to give way in solitude to the concern and alarm which
this sudden departure occasioned.
Elinor's uneasiness was at least equal to her mother's. She
thought of what had just passed with anxiety and distrust.
Willoughby's behaviour in taking leave of them, his embarrassment, and
affection of cheerfulness, and, above all, his unwillingness to accept
her mother's invitation, a backwardness so unlike a lover, so unlike
himself, greatly disturbed her. One moment she feared that no
serious design had ever been formed on his side; and the next that
some unfortunate quarrel had taken place between him and her
sister:- the distress in which Marianne had quitted the room was
such as a serious quarrel could most reasonably account for, though,
when she considered what Marianne's love for him was, a quarrel seemed
But whatever might be the particulars of their separation, her
sister's affliction was indubitable; and she thought with the
tenderest compassion of that violent sorrow which Marianne was in
all probability not merely giving way to as a relief, but feeding
and encouraging as a duty.
In about half an hour her mother returned, and though her eyes
were red, her countenance was not uncheerful.
"Our dear Willoughby is now some miles from Barton, Elinor,"
said she, as she sat down to work, "and with how heavy a heart does he travel?"
"It is all very strange. So suddenly to be gone! It seems but
the work of a moment. And last night he was with us so happy, so
cheerful, so affectionate? And now, after only ten minutes' notice,-
gone, too, without intending to return!- something more than what be
owned to us must have happened. He did not speak, he did not behave
like himself. You must have seen the difference as well as I. What can
it be? Can they have quarrelled? Why else should he have shown such
unwillingness to accept your invitation here?"
"It was not inclination that he wanted, Elinor; I could plainly
see that. He had not the power of accepting it. I have thought it
all over, I assure you, and I can perfectly account for everything
that at first seemed strange to me as well as to you."
"Can you, indeed!"
"Yes. I have explained it to myself in the most satisfactory
way; but you, Elinor, who love to doubt where you can- it will not
satisfy you, I know; but you shall not talk me out of my trust in
it. I am persuaded that Mrs. Smith suspects his regard for Marianne,
disapproves of it (perhaps because she has other views for him), and
on that account is eager to get him away; and that the business
which she sends him off to transact is invented as an excuse to
dismiss him. This is what I believe to have happened. He is, moreover,
aware that she does dissapprove the connection; he dares not therefore
at present confess to her his engagement with Marianne, and he feels
himself obliged, from his dependent situation, to give in to her
schemes, and absent himself from Devonshire for a while. You will tell
me, I know, that this may or may not have happened; but I will
listen to no cavil, unless you can point out any other method of
understanding the affair as satisfactory at this. And now, Elinor,
what have you to say?"
"Nothing, for you have anticipated my answer."
"Then you would have told me, that it might or might not have
happened. Oh, Elinor, how incomprehensible are your feelings! You
had rather take evil upon credit than good. You had rather look out
for misery for Marianne, and guilt for poor Willoughby, than an
apology for the latter. You are resolved to think him blamable,
because be took leave of us with less affection than his usual
behaviour has shown. And is no allowance to be made for
inadvertence, or for spirits depressed by recent disappointment? Are
no probabilities to be accepted, merely because they are not
certainties? Is no thing due to the man whom we have all such reason
to love, and no reason in the world to think ill of? To the
possibility of motives unanswerable in themselves, though
unavoidably secret for a while? And, after all, what is it you suspecthim of?"
"I can hardly tell myself. But suspicion of something unpleasant
is the inevitable consequence of such an alteration as we just
witnessed in him. There is great truth, however, in what you have
now urged of the allowances which ought to be made for him, and it
is my wish to be candid in my judgment of every body. Willoughby
may, undoubtedly, have very sufficient reasons for his conduct, and
I will hope that he has. But it would have been more like Willoughby
to acknowledge them at once. Secrecy may be advisable; but still I
cannot help wondering at its being practiced by him."
"Do not blame him, however, for departing from his character,
where the deviation is necessary. But you really do admit the
justice of what I have said in his defence am happy and he isnacquitted."
"Not entirely. It may be proper to conceal their engagement (if
they are engaged) from Mrs. Smith; and if that is the case, it must be
highly expedient for Willoughby to be but little in Devonshire at
present. But this is no excuse for their concealing it from us."
"Concealing it from us! my dear child, do you accuse Willoughby
and Marianne, of concealment? This is strange, indeed, when your
eyes have been reproaching them every day for incautiousness."
"I want no proof of their affection," said Elinor, "but of their
engagement I do."
"I am perfectly satisfied of both."
"Yet not a syllable has been said to you on the subject by either of them."
"I have not wanted syllables where actions have spoken so plainly.
Has not his behaviour to Marianne and to all of us, for at least the
last fortnight, declared that he loved and considered her as his
future wife, and that he felt for us the attachment of the nearest
relation? Have we not perfectly understood each other? Has not my
consent been daily asked by his looks, his manner, his attentive and
affectionate respect? My Elinor, is it possible to doubt their
engagement? How could such a thought occur to you? How is it to be
supposed that Willoughby, persuaded as he must be of your sister's
love, should leave her, and leave her perhaps for months, without
telling her of his affection,- that they should part without a
mutual exchange of confidence?"
"I confess," replied Elinor, "that every circumstance except
one, is in favour of their engagement; but that one is the total
silence of both on the subject, and with me it almost outweighs every other."
"How strange this is! You must think wretchedly indeed of
Willoughby, if, after all that has openly passed between them, you can
doubt the nature of the terms on which they are together. Has he
been acting a part in his behaviour to your sister all this time? Do
you suppose him really indifferent to her?"
"No, I cannot think that. He must and does love her, I am sure."
"But with a strange kind of tenderness, if he can leave her with
such indifference, such carelessness of the future, as you attribute to him."
"You must remember, my dear mother, that I have never considered
this matter as certain. I have had my doubts, I confess; but they
are fainter than they were, and they may soon he entirely done away.
If we find they correspond, every fear of mine will be removed."
"A mighty concession, indeed! If you were to see them at the
altar, you would suppose they were going to be married. Ungracious
girl! But I require no such proof. Nothing in my opinion has ever
passed to justify doubt; no secrecy has been attempted; all has been
uniformly open and unreserved. You cannot doubt your sister's
wishes. It must be Willoughby, therefore, whom you suspect. But why?
Is he not a man of honour and feeling? Has there been any
inconsistency on his side to create alarm? can he be deceitful?"
"I hope not, I believe not," cried Elinor. "I love Willoughby,
sincerely love him; and suspicion of his integrity cannot be more
painful to yourself than to me. It has been involuntary, and I will
not encourage it. I was startled, I confess, by the alteration in
his manners this morning: he did not speak like himself, and did not
return your kindness with any cordiality. But all this may be
explained by such a situation of his affairs as you have supposed.
He had just parted from my sister, had seen her leave him in the
greatest affliction; and if he felt obliged, from a fear of
offending Mrs. Smith, to resist the temptation of returning here soon,
and yet aware that by declining your invitation, by saying that he was
going away for some time, he should seem to act an ungenerous, a
suspicious part by our family, be might well be embarrassed and
disturbed. In such a case, a plain and open avowal of his difficulties
would have been more to his honour, I think, as well as more
consistent with his general character;- but I will not raise
objections against any one's conduct on so liberal a foundation, as
a difference in judgment from myself, or a deviation from what I may
think right and consistent."
"You speak very properly. Willoughby certainly does not deserve to
be suspected. Though we have not known him long, be is no stranger
in this part of the world; and who has ever spoken to his
disadvantage? Had he been in a situation to act independently and
marry immediately, it might have been odd that he should leave us
without acknowledging everything to me at once: but this is not the
case. It is an engagement in some respects not prosperously begun, for
their marriage must be at a very uncertain distance; and even secrecy,
as far as it can be observed, may now be very advisable."
They were interrupted by the entrance of Margaret; and Elinor
was then at liberty to think over the representations of her mother,
to acknowledge the probability of many, and hope for the justice of all.
They saw nothing of Marianne till dinner-time, when she entered
the room and took her place at the table without saying a word. Her
eyes were red and swollen; and it seemed as if her tears were even
then restrained with difficulty. She avoided the looks of them all,
could neither eat nor speak, and after some time, on her mother's
silently pressing her hand with tender compassion, her small degree of
fortitude was quite overcome, she burst into tears, and left the room.
This violent oppression of spirits continued the whole evening.
She was without any power, because she was without any desire of
command over herself. The slightest mention of anything relative to
Willoughby overpowered her in an instant; and though her family were
most anxiously attentive to her comfort, it was impossible for them,
if they spoke at all, to keep clear of every subject which her
feelings connected with him.
Sense and Sensibility - Chapter 14 Sense and Sensibility Sense and Sensibility - Chapter 16