On their return from the park they found Willoughby's curricle andservant in waiting at the cottage, and Mrs. Dashwood was convinced thather 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 herto expect. They were no sooner in the passage than Marianne camehastily out of the parlour apparently in violent affliction, with herhandkerchief at her eyes; and without noticing them ran up stairs.Surprised and alarmed they proceeded directly into the room she hadjust quitted, where they found only Willoughby, who was leaning againstthe mantel-piece with his back towards them. He turned round on theircoming in, and his countenance shewed that he strongly partook of theemotion which over-powered Marianne.
"Is anything the matter with her?" cried Mrs. Dashwood as sheentered--"is she ill?"
"I hope not," he replied, trying to look cheerful; and with a forcedsmile presently added, "It is I who may rather expect to be ill--for Iam now suffering under a very heavy disappointment!"
"Yes, for I am unable to keep my engagement with you. Mrs. Smith hasthis morning exercised the privilege of riches upon a poor dependentcousin, by sending me on business to London. I have just received mydispatches, and taken my farewell of Allenham; and by way ofexhilaration 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 herbusiness will not detain you from us long I hope."
He coloured as he replied, "You are very kind, but I have no idea ofreturning into Devonshire immediately. My visits to Mrs. Smith arenever repeated within the twelvemonth."
"And is Mrs. Smith your only friend? Is Allenham the only house in theneighbourhood to which you will be welcome? For shame, Willoughby, canyou wait for an invitation here?"
His colour increased; and with his eyes fixed on the ground he onlyreplied, "You are too good."
Mrs. Dashwood looked at Elinor with surprise. Elinor felt equalamazement. For a few moments every one was silent. Mrs. Dashwoodfirst spoke.
"I have only to add, my dear Willoughby, that at Barton cottage youwill always be welcome; for I will not press you to return hereimmediately, because you only can judge how far THAT might be pleasingto Mrs. Smith; and on this head I shall be no more disposed to questionyour judgment than to doubt your inclination."
"My engagements at present," replied Willoughby, confusedly, "are ofsuch a nature--that--I dare not flatter myself"--
He stopt. Mrs. Dashwood was too much astonished to speak, and anotherpause succeeded. This was broken by Willoughby, who said with a faintsmile, "It is folly to linger in this manner. I will not tormentmyself any longer by remaining among friends whose society it isimpossible for me now to enjoy."
He then hastily took leave of them all and left the room. They saw himstep into his carriage, and in a minute it was out of sight.
Mrs. Dashwood felt too much for speech, and instantly quitted theparlour to give way in solitude to the concern and alarm which thissudden departure occasioned.
Elinor's uneasiness was at least equal to her mother's. She thought ofwhat had just passed with anxiety and distrust. Willoughby's behaviourin taking leave of them, his embarrassment, and affectation ofcheerfulness, and, above all, his unwillingness to accept her mother'sinvitation, a backwardness so unlike a lover, so unlike himself,greatly disturbed her. One moment she feared that no serious designhad ever been formed on his side; and the next that some unfortunatequarrel had taken place between him and her sister;--the distress inwhich Marianne had quitted the room was such as a serious quarrel couldmost reasonably account for, though when she considered what Marianne'slove for him was, a quarrel seemed almost impossible.
But whatever might be the particulars of their separation, her sister'saffliction was indubitable; and she thought with the tenderestcompassion of that violent sorrow which Marianne was in all probabilitynot merely giving way to as a relief, but feeding and encouraging as aduty.
In about half an hour her mother returned, and though her eyes werered, 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 workof a moment. And last night he was with us so happy, so cheerful, soaffectionate? And now, after only ten minutes notice--Gone too withoutintending to return!--Something more than what he owned to us must havehappened. He did not speak, he did not behave like himself. YOU musthave seen the difference as well as I. What can it be? Can they havequarrelled? Why else should he have shewn such unwillingness to acceptyour invitation here?"--
"It was not inclination that he wanted, Elinor; I could plainly seeTHAT. He had not the power of accepting it. I have thought it allover I assure you, and I can perfectly account for every thing that atfirst seemed strange to me as well as to you."
"Can you, indeed!"
"Yes. I have explained it to myself in the most satisfactory way;--butyou, 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 ampersuaded that Mrs. Smith suspects his regard for Marianne, disapprovesof it, (perhaps because she has other views for him,) and on thataccount is eager to get him away;--and that the business which shesends him off to transact is invented as an excuse to dismiss him.This is what I believe to have happened. He is, moreover, aware thatshe DOES disapprove the connection, he dares not therefore at presentconfess to her his engagement with Marianne, and he feels himselfobliged, from his dependent situation, to give into her schemes, andabsent 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 affairas 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 rathertake evil upon credit than good. You had rather look out for miseryfor Marianne, and guilt for poor Willoughby, than an apology for thelatter. You are resolved to think him blameable, because he took leaveof us with less affection than his usual behaviour has shewn. And isno allowance to be made for inadvertence, or for spirits depressed byrecent disappointment? Are no probabilities to be accepted, merelybecause they are not certainties? Is nothing due to the man whom wehave all such reason to love, and no reason in the world to think illof? To the possibility of motives unanswerable in themselves, thoughunavoidably secret for a while? And, after all, what is it you suspecthim of?"
"I can hardly tell myself. But suspicion of something unpleasant isthe inevitable consequence of such an alteration as we just witnessedin him. There is great truth, however, in what you have now urged ofthe allowances which ought to be made for him, and it is my wish to becandid in my judgment of every body. Willoughby may undoubtedly havevery sufficient reasons for his conduct, and I will hope that he has.But it would have been more like Willoughby to acknowledge them atonce. Secrecy may be advisable; but still I cannot help wondering atits being practiced by him."
"Do not blame him, however, for departing from his character, where thedeviation is necessary. But you really do admit the justice of what Ihave said in his defence?--I am happy--and he is acquitted."
"Not entirely. It may be proper to conceal their engagement (if theyARE engaged) from Mrs. Smith--and if that is the case, it must behighly expedient for Willoughby to be but little in Devonshire atpresent. But this is no excuse for their concealing it from us."
"Concealing it from us! my dear child, do you accuse Willoughby andMarianne of concealment? This is strange indeed, when your eyes havebeen reproaching them every day for incautiousness."
"I want no proof of their affection," said Elinor; "but of theirengagement I do."
"I am perfectly satisfied of both."
"Yet not a syllable has been said to you on the subject, by either ofthem."
"I have not wanted syllables where actions have spoken so plainly. Hasnot his behaviour to Marianne and to all of us, for at least the lastfortnight, declared that he loved and considered her as his futurewife, and that he felt for us the attachment of the nearest relation?Have we not perfectly understood each other? Has not my consent beendaily asked by his looks, his manner, his attentive and affectionaterespect? My Elinor, is it possible to doubt their engagement? Howcould such a thought occur to you? How is it to be supposed thatWilloughby, persuaded as he must be of your sister's love, should leaveher, and leave her perhaps for months, without telling her of hisaffection;--that they should part without a mutual exchange ofconfidence?"
"I confess," replied Elinor, "that every circumstance except ONE is infavour of their engagement; but that ONE is the total silence of bothon 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 thenature of the terms on which they are together. Has he been acting apart in his behaviour to your sister all this time? Do you suppose himreally 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 suchindifference, such carelessness of the future, as you attribute to him."
"You must remember, my dear mother, that I have never considered thismatter as certain. I have had my doubts, I confess; but they arefainter than they were, and they may soon be entirely done away. If wefind they correspond, every fear of mine will be removed."
"A mighty concession indeed! If you were to see them at the altar, youwould suppose they were going to be married. Ungracious girl! But Irequire no such proof. Nothing in my opinion has ever passed tojustify doubt; no secrecy has been attempted; all has been uniformlyopen and unreserved. You cannot doubt your sister's wishes. It mustbe Willoughby therefore whom you suspect. But why? Is he not a man ofhonour and feeling? Has there been any inconsistency on his side tocreate 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 morepainful to yourself than to me. It has been involuntary, and I willnot encourage it. I was startled, I confess, by the alteration in hismanners this morning;--he did not speak like himself, and did notreturn your kindness with any cordiality. But all this may beexplained by such a situation of his affairs as you have supposed. Hehad just parted from my sister, had seen her leave him in the greatestaffliction; and if he felt obliged, from a fear of offending Mrs.Smith, to resist the temptation of returning here soon, and yet awarethat by declining your invitation, by saying that he was going away forsome time, he should seem to act an ungenerous, a suspicious part byour family, he might well be embarrassed and disturbed. In such acase, a plain and open avowal of his difficulties would have been moreto his honour I think, as well as more consistent with his generalcharacter;--but I will not raise objections against any one's conducton so illiberal 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 besuspected. Though WE have not known him long, he is no stranger inthis 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 acknowledgingeverything to me at once: but this is not the case. It is anengagement in some respects not prosperously begun, for their marriagemust be at a very uncertain distance; and even secrecy, as far as itcan be observed, may now be very advisable."
They were interrupted by the entrance of Margaret; and Elinor was thenat liberty to think over the representations of her mother, toacknowledge the probability of many, and hope for the justice of all.
They saw nothing of Marianne till dinner time, when she entered theroom and took her place at the table without saying a word. Her eyeswere red and swollen; and it seemed as if her tears were even thenrestrained with difficulty. She avoided the looks of them all, couldneither eat nor speak, and after some time, on her mother's silentlypressing her hand with tender compassion, her small degree of fortitudewas quite overcome, she burst into tears and left the room.
This violent oppression of spirits continued the whole evening. Shewas without any power, because she was without any desire of commandover herself. The slightest mention of anything relative to Willoughbyoverpowered her in an instant; and though her family were mostanxiously attentive to her comfort, it was impossible for them, if theyspoke at all, to keep clear of every subject which her feelingsconnected with him.