Nothing occurred during the next three or four days to make Elinor
regret what she had done, in applying to her mother; for Willoughby
neither came nor wrote. They were engaged about the end of that time
to attend Lady Middleton to a party, from which Mrs. Jennings was kept
away by the indisposition of her youngest daughter; and for this party
Marianne, wholly dispirited, careless of her appearance, and seeming
equally indifferent whether she went or stayed, prepared, without
one look of hope or one expression of pleasure. She sat by the
drawing-room fire after tea till the moment of Lady Middleton's
arrival, without once stirring from her seat, or altering her
, lost in her own thoughts
, and insensible of her sister's
presence; and when at last they were told that Lady Middleton waited
for them at the door, she started as if she had forgotten that any one
They arrived in due time at the place of destination; and as
soon as the string of carriages before them would allow, alighted,
ascended the stairs, heard their names announced from one
landing-place to another in an audible voice, and entered a room
splendidly lit up, quite full of company, and insufferably hot. When
they had paid their tribute of politeness by courtesying to the lady
of the house, they were permitted to mingle in the crowd, and take
their share of the heat and inconvenience to which their arrival
must necessarily add. After some time spent in saying little or
doing less, Lady Middleton sat down to cassino; and as Marianne was
not in spirits for moving about, she and Elinor luckily succeeding
to chairs, placed themselves at no great distance from the table.
They had not remained in this manner long, before Elinor perceived
Willoughby, standing within a few yards of them, in earnest
conversation with a very fashionable looking young woman. She soon
caught his eye, and he immediately bowed, but without attempting to
speak to her, or to approach Marianne, though he could not but see
her; and then continued his discourse with the same lady. Elinor
turned involuntarily to Marianne, to see whether it could be
unobserved by her. At that moment she first perceived him; and her
whole countenance glowing with sudden delight, she would have moved
towards him instantly, had not her sister caught hold of her.
"Good heavens!" she exclaimed, "he is there- he is there! Oh,
why does he not look at me? Why cannot I speak to him?"
"Pray, pray be composed," cried Elinor, "and do not betray what
you feel to every body present. Perhaps he has not observed you yet."
This, however, was more than she could believe herself; and to
be composed at such a moment was not only beyond the reach of
Marianne, it was beyond her wish. She sat in an agony of impatience
which affected every feature.
At last he turned round again, and regarded them both; she started
up, and pronouncing his name in a tone of affection, held out her hand
to him. He approached; and addressing himself rather to Elinor than
Marianne, as if wishing to avoid her eye, and determined not to
observe her attitude, enquired, in a hurried manner, after Mrs.
Dashwood, and asked how long they had been in town. Elinor was
robbed of all persence of mind by such an address, and was unable to
say a word. But the feelings of her sister were instantly expressed.
Her face was crimsoned over, and she exclaimed, in a voice of the
greatest emotion, "Good God! Willoughby, what is the meaning of
this? Have you not received my letters? Will you not shake hands with me?"
He could not then avoid it; but her touch seemed painful to him,
and he held her hand only for a moment. During all this time he was
evidently struggling for composure. Elinor watched his countenance and
saw its expression becoming more tranquil. After a moment's pause,
he spoke with calmness.
"I did myself the honour of calling in Berkeley Street last
Tuesday, and very much regretted that I was not fortunate enough to
find yourselves and Mrs. Jennings at home. My card was not lost, I hope."
"But have you not received my notes?" cried Marianne in the
wildest anxiety. "Here is some mistake, I am sure- some dreadful
mistake. What can be the meaning of it? Tell me, Willoughby; for
Heaven's sake tell me; what is the matter?"
He made no reply: his complexion changed, and all his
embarrassment returned; but as if, on catching the eye of the young
lady with whom he had been previously talking, he felt the necessity
of instant exertion, he recovered himself again, and after saying,
"Yes, I had the pleasure of receiving the information of your
arrival in town, which you were so good as to send me," turned hastily
away with a slight bow, and joined his friend.
Marianne, now looking dreadfully white, and unable to stand,
sunk into her chair; and Elinor, expecting every moment to see her
faint, tried to screen her from the observation of others, while
reviving her with lavender water.
"Go to him, Elinor," she cried, as soon as she could speak, "and
force him to come to me. Tell him I must see him again must speak to
him instantly. I cannot rest- I shall not have a moment's peace till
this is explained- some dreadful misapprehension or other. Oh, go to
him this moment."
"How can that be done? No, my dearest Marianne, you must wait.
This is not the place for explanations. Wait only till to-morrow."
With difficulty, however, could she prevent her from following him
herself; and to persuade her to check her agitation, to wait, at
least, with the appearance of composure, till she might speak to him
with more privacy and more effect, was impossible, for Marianne
continued incessantly to give way in a low voice to the misery of
her feelings, by exclamations of wretchedness. In a short time
Elinor saw Willoughby quit the room by the door towards the staircase;
and telling Marianne that he was gone, urged the impossibility of
speaking to him again that evening, as a fresh argument for her to
be calm. She instantly begged her sister would entreat Lady
Middleton to take them home, as she was too miserable to stay a minute longer.
Lady Middleton, though in the middle of a rubber, on being
informed that Marianne was unwell, was too polite to object for a
moment to her wish of going away, and making over her cards to a
friend, they departed as soon the carriage could be found. Scarcely
a word was spoken during their return to Berkeley Street. Marianne was
in a silent agony, too much oppressed even for tears; but as Mrs.
Jennings was luckily not come home, they could go directly to their
own room, where hartshorn restored her a little to herself. She was
soon undressed and in bed; and as she seemed desirous of being
alone, her sister then left her, and while she waited the return of
Mrs. Jennings, had leisure enough for thinking over the past.
That some kind of engagement had subsisted between Willoughby
and Marianne she could not doubt, and that Willoughby was weary of it,
seemed equally clear; for however Marianne might still feed her own
wishes, she could not attribute such behaviour to mistake or
misapprehension of any kind. Nothing but a thorough change of
sentiment could account for it. Her indignation would have been
still stronger than it was, had she not witnessed that embarrassment
which seemed to speak a consciousness of his own misconduct, and
prevented her from believing him so unprincipled as to have been
sporting with the affections of her sister from the first, without any
design that would bear investigation. Absence might have weakened
his regard, and convenience might have determined him to overcome
it; but that such a regard had formerly existed she could not bring
herself to doubt.
As for Marianne, on the pangs which so unhappy a meeting must
already have given her, and on those still more severe which might
await her in its probable consequence, she could not reflect without
the deepest concern. Her own situation gained in the comparison; for
while she could esteem Edward as much as ever, however they might be
divided in future, her mind might be always supported. But every
circumstance that could embitter such an evil seemed uniting to
heighten the misery of Marianne in a final separation from Willoughby-
in an immediate and irreconcilable rupture with him.
Sense and Sensibility - Chapter 27 Sense and Sensibility Sense and Sensibility - Chapter 29