When breakfast was over she walked out by herself, and wandered aboutthe village of Allenham, indulging the recollection of past enjoymentand crying over the present reverse for the chief of the morning.
The evening passed off in the equal indulgence of feeling. She playedover every favourite song that she had been used to play to Willoughby,every air in which their voices had been oftenest joined, and sat atthe instrument gazing on every line of music that he had written outfor her, till her heart was so heavy that no farther sadness could begained; and this nourishment of grief was every day applied. She spentwhole hours at the pianoforte alternately singing and crying; her voiceoften totally suspended by her tears. In books too, as well as inmusic, she courted the misery which a contrast between the past andpresent was certain of giving. She read nothing but what they had beenused to read together.
Such violence of affliction indeed could not be supported for ever; itsunk within a few days into a calmer melancholy; but these employments,to which she daily recurred, her solitary walks and silent meditations,still produced occasional effusions of sorrow as lively as ever.
No letter from Willoughby came; and none seemed expected by Marianne.Her mother was surprised, and Elinor again became uneasy. But Mrs.Dashwood could find explanations whenever she wanted them, which atleast satisfied herself.
"Remember, Elinor," said she, "how very often Sir John fetches ourletters himself from the post, and carries them to it. We have alreadyagreed that secrecy may be necessary, and we must acknowledge that itcould not be maintained if their correspondence were to pass throughSir John's hands."
Elinor could not deny the truth of this, and she tried to find in it amotive sufficient for their silence. But there was one method sodirect, so simple, and in her opinion so eligible of knowing the realstate of the affair, and of instantly removing all mystery, that shecould not help suggesting it to her mother.
"Why do you not ask Marianne at once," said she, "whether she is or sheis not engaged to Willoughby? From you, her mother, and so kind, soindulgent a mother, the question could not give offence. It would bethe natural result of your affection for her. She used to be allunreserve, and to you more especially."
"I would not ask such a question for the world. Supposing it possiblethat they are not engaged, what distress would not such an enquiryinflict! At any rate it would be most ungenerous. I should neverdeserve her confidence again, after forcing from her a confession ofwhat is meant at present to be unacknowledged to any one. I knowMarianne's heart: I know that she dearly loves me, and that I shall notbe the last to whom the affair is made known, when circumstances makethe revealment of it eligible. I would not attempt to force theconfidence of any one; of a child much less; because a sense of dutywould prevent the denial which her wishes might direct."
Elinor thought this generosity overstrained, considering her sister'syouth, and urged the matter farther, but in vain; common sense, commoncare, common prudence, were all sunk in Mrs. Dashwood's romanticdelicacy.
It was several days before Willoughby's name was mentioned beforeMarianne by any of her family; Sir John and Mrs. Jennings, indeed, werenot so nice; their witticisms added pain to many a painful hour;--butone evening, Mrs. Dashwood, accidentally taking up a volume ofShakespeare, exclaimed,
"We have never finished Hamlet, Marianne; our dear Willoughby went awaybefore we could get through it. We will put it by, that when he comesagain...But it may be months, perhaps, before THAT happens."
"Months!" cried Marianne, with strong surprise. "No--nor many weeks."
Mrs. Dashwood was sorry for what she had said; but it gave Elinorpleasure, as it produced a reply from Marianne so expressive ofconfidence in Willoughby and knowledge of his intentions.
One morning, about a week after his leaving the country, Marianne wasprevailed on to join her sisters in their usual walk, instead ofwandering away by herself. Hitherto she had carefully avoided everycompanion in her rambles. If her sisters intended to walk on thedowns, she directly stole away towards the lanes; if they talked of thevalley, she was as speedy in climbing the hills, and could never befound when the others set off. But at length she was secured by theexertions of Elinor, who greatly disapproved such continual seclusion.They walked along the road through the valley, and chiefly in silence,for Marianne's MIND could not be controlled, and Elinor, satisfied withgaining one point, would not then attempt more. Beyond the entrance ofthe valley, where the country, though still rich, was less wild andmore open, a long stretch of the road which they had travelled on firstcoming to Barton, lay before them; and on reaching that point, theystopped to look around them, and examine a prospect which formed thedistance of their view from the cottage, from a spot which they hadnever happened to reach in any of their walks before.
Amongst the objects in the scene, they soon discovered an animated one;it was a man on horseback riding towards them. In a few minutes theycould distinguish him to be a gentleman; and in a moment afterwardsMarianne rapturously exclaimed,
"It is he; it is indeed;--I know it is!"--and was hastening to meethim, when Elinor cried out,
"Indeed, Marianne, I think you are mistaken. It is not Willoughby.The person is not tall enough for him, and has not his air."
"He has, he has," cried Marianne, "I am sure he has. His air, hiscoat, his horse. I knew how soon he would come."
She walked eagerly on as she spoke; and Elinor, to screen Marianne fromparticularity, as she felt almost certain of its not being Willoughby,quickened her pace and kept up with her. They were soon within thirtyyards of the gentleman. Marianne looked again; her heart sunk withinher; and abruptly turning round, she was hurrying back, when the voicesof both her sisters were raised to detain her; a third, almost as wellknown as Willoughby's, joined them in begging her to stop, and sheturned round with surprise to see and welcome Edward Ferrars.
He was the only person in the world who could at that moment beforgiven for not being Willoughby; the only one who could have gained asmile from her; but she dispersed her tears to smile on HIM, and in hersister's happiness forgot for a time her own disappointment.
He dismounted, and giving his horse to his servant, walked back withthem to Barton, whither he was purposely coming to visit them.
He was welcomed by them all with great cordiality, but especially byMarianne, who showed more warmth of regard in her reception of him thaneven Elinor herself. To Marianne, indeed, the meeting between Edwardand her sister was but a continuation of that unaccountable coldnesswhich she had often observed at Norland in their mutual behaviour. OnEdward's side, more particularly, there was a deficiency of all that alover ought to look and say on such an occasion. He was confused,seemed scarcely sensible of pleasure in seeing them, looked neitherrapturous nor gay, said little but what was forced from him byquestions, and distinguished Elinor by no mark of affection. Mariannesaw and listened with increasing surprise. She began almost to feel adislike of Edward; and it ended, as every feeling must end with her, bycarrying back her thoughts to Willoughby, whose manners formed acontrast sufficiently striking to those of his brother elect.
After a short silence which succeeded the first surprise and enquiriesof meeting, Marianne asked Edward if he came directly from London. No,he had been in Devonshire a fortnight.
"A fortnight!" she repeated, surprised at his being so long in the samecounty with Elinor without seeing her before.
He looked rather distressed as he added, that he had been staying withsome friends near Plymouth.
"Have you been lately in Sussex?" said Elinor.
"I was at Norland about a month ago."
"And how does dear, dear Norland look?" cried Marianne.
"Dear, dear Norland," said Elinor, "probably looks much as it alwaysdoes at this time of the year. The woods and walks thickly coveredwith dead leaves."
"Oh," cried Marianne, "with what transporting sensation have I formerlyseen them fall! How have I delighted, as I walked, to see them drivenin showers about me by the wind! What feelings have they, the season,the air altogether inspired! Now there is no one to regard them. Theyare seen only as a nuisance, swept hastily off, and driven as much aspossible from the sight."
"It is not every one," said Elinor, "who has your passion for deadleaves."
"No; my feelings are not often shared, not often understood. ButSOMETIMES they are."--As she said this, she sunk into a reverie for afew moments;--but rousing herself again, "Now, Edward," said she,calling his attention to the prospect, "here is Barton valley. Look upto it, and be tranquil if you can. Look at those hills! Did you eversee their equals? To the left is Barton park, amongst those woods andplantations. You may see the end of the house. And there, beneaththat farthest hill, which rises with such grandeur, is our cottage."
"It is a beautiful country," he replied; "but these bottoms must bedirty in winter."
"How can you think of dirt, with such objects before you?"
"Because," replied he, smiling, "among the rest of the objects beforeme, I see a very dirty lane."
"How strange!" said Marianne to herself as she walked on.
"Have you an agreeable neighbourhood here? Are the Middletons pleasantpeople?"
"No, not all," answered Marianne; "we could not be more unfortunatelysituated."
"Marianne," cried her sister, "how can you say so? How can you be sounjust? They are a very respectable family, Mr. Ferrars; and towardsus have behaved in the friendliest manner. Have you forgot, Marianne,how many pleasant days we have owed to them?"
"No," said Marianne, in a low voice, "nor how many painful moments."
Elinor took no notice of this; and directing her attention to theirvisitor, endeavoured to support something like discourse with him, bytalking of their present residence, its conveniences, &c. extortingfrom him occasional questions and remarks. His coldness and reservemortified her severely; she was vexed and half angry; but resolving toregulate her behaviour to him by the past rather than the present, sheavoided every appearance of resentment or displeasure, and treated himas she thought he ought to be treated from the family connection.