"That is true," cried Marianne, in a cheerful voice, and walking to thewindow 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 satdown to the breakfast table with a happy countenance. "How much theymust enjoy it! But" (with a little return of anxiety) "it cannot beexpected to last long. At this time of the year, and after such aseries of rain, we shall certainly have very little more of it. Frostswill soon set in, and in all probability with severity. In another dayor two perhaps; this extreme mildness can hardly last longer--nay,perhaps it may freeze tonight!"
"At any rate," said Elinor, wishing to prevent Mrs. Jennings fromseeing her sister's thoughts as clearly as she did, "I dare say weshall 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 bythis day's post."
But if she DID, the letter was written and sent away with a privacywhich eluded all her watchfulness to ascertain the fact. Whatever thetruth of it might be, and far as Elinor was from feeling thoroughcontentment about it, yet while she saw Marianne in spirits, she couldnot be very uncomfortable herself. And Marianne was in spirits; happyin the mildness of the weather, and still happier in her expectation ofa 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; andMarianne was all the time busy in observing the direction of the wind,watching the variations of the sky and imagining an alteration in theair.
"Don't you find it colder than it was in the morning, Elinor? Thereseems to me a very decided difference. I can hardly keep my hands warmeven in my muff. It was not so yesterday, I think. The clouds seemparting too, the sun will be out in a moment, and we shall have a clearafternoon."
Elinor was alternately diverted and pained; but Marianne persevered,and saw every night in the brightness of the fire, and every morning inthe appearance of the atmosphere, the certain symptoms of approachingfrost.
The Miss Dashwoods had no greater reason to be dissatisfied with Mrs.Jennings's style of living, and set of acquaintance, than with herbehaviour to themselves, which was invariably kind. Every thing in herhousehold arrangements was conducted on the most liberal plan, andexcepting a few old city friends, whom, to Lady Middleton's regret, shehad never dropped, she visited no one to whom an introduction could atall discompose the feelings of her young companions. Pleased to findherself more comfortably situated in that particular than she hadexpected, Elinor was very willing to compound for the want of much realenjoyment from any of their evening parties, which, whether at home orabroad, formed only for cards, could have little to amuse her.
Colonel Brandon, who had a general invitation to the house, was withthem almost every day; he came to look at Marianne and talk to Elinor,who often derived more satisfaction from conversing with him than fromany other daily occurrence, but who saw at the same time with muchconcern his continued regard for her sister. She feared it was astrengthening regard. It grieved her to see the earnestness with whichhe often watched Marianne, and his spirits were certainly worse thanwhen at Barton.
About a week after their arrival, it became certain that Willoughby wasalso arrived. His card was on the table when they came in from themorning'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 tosay, "Depend upon it, he will call again tomorrow." But Marianneseemed hardly to hear her, and on Mrs. Jennings's entrance, escaped withthe precious card.
This event, while it raised the spirits of Elinor, restored to those ofher sister all, and more than all, their former agitation. From thismoment her mind was never quiet; the expectation of seeing him everyhour of the day, made her unfit for any thing. She insisted on beingleft behind, the next morning, when the others went out.
Elinor's thoughts were full of what might be passing in Berkeley Streetduring their absence; but a moment's glance at her sister when theyreturned was enough to inform her, that Willoughby had paid no secondvisit 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 longersilent.
"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 noone!"
"Me!" returned Elinor in some confusion; "indeed, Marianne, I havenothing 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 do notcommunicate, and I, because I conceal nothing."
Elinor, distressed by this charge of reserve in herself, which she wasnot at liberty to do away, knew not how, under such circumstances, topress for greater openness in Marianne.
Mrs. Jennings soon appeared, and the note being given her, she read italoud. It was from Lady Middleton, announcing their arrival in ConduitStreet the night before, and requesting the company of her mother andcousins the following evening. Business on Sir John's part, and aviolent cold on her own, prevented their calling in Berkeley Street.The invitation was accepted; but when the hour of appointment drewnear, necessary as it was in common civility to Mrs. Jennings, thatthey should both attend her on such a visit, Elinor had some difficultyin persuading her sister to go, for still she had seen nothing ofWilloughby; 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 notmaterially altered by a change of abode, for although scarcely settledin town, Sir John had contrived to collect around him, nearly twentyyoung people, and to amuse them with a ball. This was an affair,however, of which Lady Middleton did not approve. In the country, anunpremeditated dance was very allowable; but in London, where thereputation of elegance was more important and less easily attained, itwas risking too much for the gratification of a few girls, to have itknown that Lady Middleton had given a small dance of eight or ninecouple, with two violins, and a mere side-board collation.
Mr. and Mrs. Palmer were of the party; from the former, whom they hadnot seen before since their arrival in town, as he was careful to avoidthe appearance of any attention to his mother-in-law, and thereforenever came near her, they received no mark of recognition on theirentrance. He looked at them slightly, without seeming to know who theywere, and merely nodded to Mrs. Jennings from the other side of theroom. Marianne gave one glance round the apartment as she entered: itwas enough--HE was not there--and she sat down, equally ill-disposed toreceive or communicate pleasure. After they had been assembled aboutan hour, Mr. Palmer sauntered towards the Miss Dashwoods to express hissurprise on seeing them in town, though Colonel Brandon had been firstinformed of their arrival at his house, and he had himself saidsomething 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 wasthat evening, and never so much fatigued by the exercise. Shecomplained of it as they returned to Berkeley Street.
"Aye, aye," said Mrs. Jennings, "we know the reason of all that verywell; if a certain person who shall be nameless, had been there, youwould not have been a bit tired: and to say the truth it was not verypretty 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 himsomewhere in the street this morning." Marianne said no more, butlooked exceedingly hurt. Impatient in this situation to be doingsomething that might lead to her sister's relief, Elinor resolved towrite the next morning to her mother, and hoped by awakening her fearsfor the health of Marianne, to procure those inquiries which had beenso long delayed; and she was still more eagerly bent on this measure byperceiving after breakfast on the morrow, that Marianne was againwriting to Willoughby, for she could not suppose it to be to any otherperson.
About the middle of the day, Mrs. Jennings went out by herself onbusiness, and Elinor began her letter directly, while Marianne, toorestless for employment, too anxious for conversation, walked from onewindow to the other, or sat down by the fire in melancholy meditation.Elinor was very earnest in her application to her mother, relating allthat had passed, her suspicions of Willoughby's inconstancy, urging herby every plea of duty and affection to demand from Marianne an accountof her real situation with respect to him.
Her letter was scarcely finished, when a rap foretold a visitor, andColonel Brandon was announced. Marianne, who had seen him from thewindow, and who hated company of any kind, left the room before heentered it. He looked more than usually grave, and though expressingsatisfaction at finding Miss Dashwood alone, as if he had somewhat inparticular to tell her, sat for some time without saying a word.Elinor, persuaded that he had some communication to make in which hersister was concerned, impatiently expected its opening. It was not thefirst time of her feeling the same kind of conviction; for, more thanonce before, beginning with the observation of "your sister looksunwell to-day," or "your sister seems out of spirits," he had appearedon the point, either of disclosing, or of inquiring, somethingparticular about her. After a pause of several minutes, their silencewas broken, by his asking her in a voice of some agitation, when he wasto congratulate her on the acquisition of a brother? Elinor was notprepared for such a question, and having no answer ready, was obligedto adopt the simple and common expedient, of asking what he meant? Hetried 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 donot know it."
He looked surprised and said, "I beg your pardon, I am afraid myinquiry has been impertinent; but I had not supposed any secrecyintended, as they openly correspond, and their marriage is universallytalked of."
"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 aremost intimate, Mrs. Jennings, Mrs. Palmer, and the Middletons. Butstill I might not have believed it, for where the mind is perhapsrather unwilling to be convinced, it will always find something tosupport its doubts, if I had not, when the servant let me in today,accidentally seen a letter in his hand, directed to Mr. Willoughby inyour sister's writing. I came to inquire, but I was convinced before Icould ask the question. Is every thing finally settled? Is itimpossible to-? But I have no right, and I could have no chance ofsucceeding. Excuse me, Miss Dashwood. I believe I have been wrong insaying so much, but I hardly know what to do, and on your prudence Ihave the strongest dependence. Tell me that it is all absolutelyresolved on, that any attempt, that in short concealment, ifconcealment be possible, is all that remains."
These words, which conveyed to Elinor a direct avowal of his love forher sister, affected her very much. She was not immediately able tosay anything, and even when her spirits were recovered, she debated fora short time, on the answer it would be most proper to give. The realstate of things between Willoughby and her sister was so little knownto herself, that in endeavouring to explain it, she might be as liableto say too much as too little. Yet as she was convinced thatMarianne's affection for Willoughby, could leave no hope of ColonelBrandon's success, whatever the event of that affection might be, andat the same time wished to shield her conduct from censure, she thoughtit most prudent and kind, after some consideration, to say more thanshe really knew or believed. She acknowledged, therefore, that thoughshe had never been informed by themselves of the terms on which theystood with each other, of their mutual affection she had no doubt, andof 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 hemay endeavour to deserve her,"--took leave, and went away.
Elinor derived no comfortable feelings from this conversation, tolessen the uneasiness of her mind on other points; she was left, on thecontrary, with a melancholy impression of Colonel Brandon'sunhappiness, and was prevented even from wishing it removed, by heranxiety for the very event that must confirm it.