"I should be undeserving of the confidence you have honoured me with,if I felt no desire for its continuance, or no farther curiosity on itssubject. I will not apologize therefore for bringing it forward again."
"Thank you," cried Lucy warmly, "for breaking the ice; you have set myheart at ease by it; for I was somehow or other afraid I had offendedyou by what I told you that Monday."
"Offended me! How could you suppose so? Believe me," and Elinor spokeit with the truest sincerity, "nothing could be farther from myintention than to give you such an idea. Could you have a motive forthe trust, that was not honourable and flattering to me?"
"And yet I do assure you," replied Lucy, her little sharp eyes full ofmeaning, "there seemed to me to be a coldness and displeasure in yourmanner that made me quite uncomfortable. I felt sure that you wasangry with me; and have been quarrelling with myself ever since, forhaving took such a liberty as to trouble you with my affairs. But I amvery glad to find it was only my own fancy, and that you really do notblame me. If you knew what a consolation it was to me to relieve myheart speaking to you of what I am always thinking of every moment ofmy life, your compassion would make you overlook every thing else I amsure."
"Indeed, I can easily believe that it was a very great relief to you,to acknowledge your situation to me, and be assured that you shallnever have reason to repent it. Your case is a very unfortunate one;you seem to me to be surrounded with difficulties, and you will haveneed of all your mutual affection to support you under them. Mr.Ferrars, I believe, is entirely dependent on his mother."
"He has only two thousand pounds of his own; it would be madness tomarry upon that, though for my own part, I could give up every prospectof more without a sigh. I have been always used to a very smallincome, and could struggle with any poverty for him; but I love him toowell to be the selfish means of robbing him, perhaps, of all that hismother might give him if he married to please her. We must wait, itmay be for many years. With almost every other man in the world, itwould be an alarming prospect; but Edward's affection and constancynothing can deprive me of I know."
"That conviction must be every thing to you; and he is undoubtedlysupported by the same trust in your's. If the strength of yourreciprocal attachment had failed, as between many people, and undermany circumstances it naturally would during a four years' engagement,your situation would have been pitiable, indeed."
Lucy here looked up; but Elinor was careful in guarding her countenancefrom every expression that could give her words a suspicious tendency.
"Edward's love for me," said Lucy, "has been pretty well put to thetest, by our long, very long absence since we were first engaged, andit has stood the trial so well, that I should be unpardonable to doubtit now. I can safely say that he has never gave me one moment's alarmon that account from the first."
Elinor hardly knew whether to smile or sigh at this assertion.
Lucy went on. "I am rather of a jealous temper too by nature, and fromour different situations in life, from his being so much more in theworld than me, and our continual separation, I was enough inclined forsuspicion, to have found out the truth in an instant, if there had beenthe slightest alteration in his behaviour to me when we met, or anylowness of spirits that I could not account for, or if he had talkedmore of one lady than another, or seemed in any respect less happy atLongstaple than he used to be. I do not mean to say that I amparticularly observant or quick-sighted in general, but in such a caseI am sure I could not be deceived."
"All this," thought Elinor, "is very pretty; but it can impose uponneither of us."
"But what," said she after a short silence, "are your views? or haveyou none but that of waiting for Mrs. Ferrars's death, which is amelancholy and shocking extremity?--Is her son determined to submit tothis, and to all the tediousness of the many years of suspense in whichit may involve you, rather than run the risk of her displeasure for awhile by owning the truth?"
"If we could be certain that it would be only for a while! But Mrs.Ferrars is a very headstrong proud woman, and in her first fit of angerupon hearing it, would very likely secure every thing to Robert, andthe idea of that, for Edward's sake, frightens away all my inclinationfor hasty measures."
"And for your own sake too, or you are carrying your disinterestednessbeyond reason."
Lucy looked at Elinor again, and was silent.
"Do you know Mr. Robert Ferrars?" asked Elinor.
"Not at all--I never saw him; but I fancy he is very unlike hisbrother--silly and a great coxcomb."
"A great coxcomb!" repeated Miss Steele, whose ear had caught thosewords by a sudden pause in Marianne's music.-- "Oh, they are talking oftheir favourite beaux, I dare say."
"No sister," cried Lucy, "you are mistaken there, our favourite beauxare NOT great coxcombs."
"I can answer for it that Miss Dashwood's is not," said Mrs. Jennings,laughing heartily; "for he is one of the modestest, prettiest behavedyoung men I ever saw; but as for Lucy, she is such a sly littlecreature, there is no finding out who SHE likes."
"Oh," cried Miss Steele, looking significantly round at them, "I daresay Lucy's beau is quite as modest and pretty behaved as MissDashwood's."
Elinor blushed in spite of herself. Lucy bit her lip, and lookedangrily at her sister. A mutual silence took place for some time.Lucy first put an end to it by saying in a lower tone, though Mariannewas then giving them the powerful protection of a very magnificentconcerto--
"I will honestly tell you of one scheme which has lately come into myhead, for bringing matters to bear; indeed I am bound to let you intothe secret, for you are a party concerned. I dare say you have seenenough of Edward to know that he would prefer the church to every otherprofession; now my plan is that he should take orders as soon as hecan, and then through your interest, which I am sure you would be kindenough to use out of friendship for him, and I hope out of some regardto me, your brother might be persuaded to give him Norland living;which I understand is a very good one, and the present incumbent notlikely to live a great while. That would be enough for us to marryupon, and we might trust to time and chance for the rest."
"I should always be happy," replied Elinor, "to show any mark of myesteem and friendship for Mr. Ferrars; but do you not perceive that myinterest on such an occasion would be perfectly unnecessary? He isbrother to Mrs. John Dashwood--THAT must be recommendation enough toher husband."
"But Mrs. John Dashwood would not much approve of Edward's going intoorders."
"Then I rather suspect that my interest would do very little."
They were again silent for many minutes. At length Lucy exclaimed witha deep sigh,
"I believe it would be the wisest way to put an end to the business atonce by dissolving the engagement. We seem so beset with difficultieson every side, that though it would make us miserable for a time, weshould be happier perhaps in the end. But you will not give me youradvice, Miss Dashwood?"
"No," answered Elinor, with a smile, which concealed very agitatedfeelings, "on such a subject I certainly will not. You know very wellthat my opinion would have no weight with you, unless it were on theside of your wishes."
"Indeed you wrong me," replied Lucy, with great solemnity; "I knownobody of whose judgment I think so highly as I do of yours; and I doreally believe, that if you was to say to me, 'I advise you by allmeans to put an end to your engagement with Edward Ferrars, it will bemore for the happiness of both of you,' I should resolve upon doing itimmediately."
Elinor blushed for the insincerity of Edward's future wife, andreplied, "This compliment would effectually frighten me from giving anyopinion on the subject had I formed one. It raises my influence muchtoo high; the power of dividing two people so tenderly attached is toomuch for an indifferent person."
"'Tis because you are an indifferent person," said Lucy, with somepique, and laying a particular stress on those words, "that yourjudgment might justly have such weight with me. If you could besupposed to be biased in any respect by your own feelings, your opinionwould not be worth having."
Elinor thought it wisest to make no answer to this, lest they mightprovoke each other to an unsuitable increase of ease and unreserve; andwas even partly determined never to mention the subject again. Anotherpause therefore of many minutes' duration, succeeded this speech, andLucy was still the first to end it.
"Shall you be in town this winter, Miss Dashwood?" said she with allher accustomary complacency.
"I am sorry for that," returned the other, while her eyes brightened atthe information, "it would have gave me such pleasure to meet youthere! But I dare say you will go for all that. To be sure, yourbrother and sister will ask you to come to them."
"It will not be in my power to accept their invitation if they do."
"How unlucky that is! I had quite depended upon meeting you there.Anne and me are to go the latter end of January to some relations whohave been wanting us to visit them these several years! But I only gofor the sake of seeing Edward. He will be there in February, otherwiseLondon would have no charms for me; I have not spirits for it."
Elinor was soon called to the card-table by the conclusion of the firstrubber, and the confidential discourse of the two ladies was thereforeat an end, to which both of them submitted without any reluctance, fornothing had been said on either side to make them dislike each otherless than they had done before; and Elinor sat down to the card tablewith the melancholy persuasion that Edward was not only withoutaffection for the person who was to be his wife; but that he had noteven the chance of being tolerably happy in marriage, which sincereaffection on HER side would have given, for self-interest alone couldinduce a woman to keep a man to an engagement, of which she seemed sothoroughly aware that he was weary.
From this time the subject was never revived by Elinor, and whenentered on by Lucy, who seldom missed an opportunity of introducing it,and was particularly careful to inform her confidante, of her happinesswhenever she received a letter from Edward, it was treated by theformer with calmness and caution, and dismissed as soon as civilitywould allow; for she felt such conversations to be an indulgence whichLucy did not deserve, and which were dangerous to herself.
The visit of the Miss Steeles at Barton Park was lengthened far beyondwhat the first invitation implied. Their favour increased; they couldnot be spared; Sir John would not hear of their going; and in spite oftheir numerous and long arranged engagements in Exeter, in spite of theabsolute necessity of returning to fulfill them immediately, which wasin full force at the end of every week, they were prevailed on to staynearly two months at the park, and to assist in the due celebration ofthat festival which requires a more than ordinary share of privateballs and large dinners to proclaim its importance.