"Oh, Lord! I am sure your mother can spare you very well, and I DO begyou will favour me with your company, for I've quite set my heart uponit. Don't fancy that you will be any inconvenience to me, for I shan'tput myself at all out of my way for you. It will only be sending Bettyby the coach, and I hope I can afford THAT. We three shall be able togo very well in my chaise; and when we are in town, if you do not liketo go wherever I do, well and good, you may always go with one of mydaughters. I am sure your mother will not object to it; for I have hadsuch good luck in getting my own children off my hands that she willthink me a very fit person to have the charge of you; and if I don'tget one of you at least well married before I have done with you, itshall not be my fault. I shall speak a good word for you to all theyoung men, you may depend upon it."
"I have a notion," said Sir John, "that Miss Marianne would not objectto such a scheme, if her elder sister would come into it. It is veryhard indeed that she should not have a little pleasure, because MissDashwood does not wish it. So I would advise you two, to set off fortown, when you are tired of Barton, without saying a word to MissDashwood about it."
"Nay," cried Mrs. Jennings, "I am sure I shall be monstrous glad ofMiss Marianne's company, whether Miss Dashwood will go or not, only themore the merrier say I, and I thought it would be more comfortable forthem to be together; because, if they got tired of me, they might talkto one another, and laugh at my old ways behind my back. But one orthe other, if not both of them, I must have. Lord bless me! how do youthink I can live poking by myself, I who have been always used tillthis winter to have Charlotte with me. Come, Miss Marianne, let usstrike hands upon the bargain, and if Miss Dashwood will change hermind by and bye, why so much the better."
"I thank you, ma'am, sincerely thank you," said Marianne, with warmth:"your invitation has insured my gratitude for ever, and it would giveme such happiness, yes, almost the greatest happiness I am capable of,to be able to accept it. But my mother, my dearest, kindest mother,--Ifeel the justice of what Elinor has urged, and if she were to be madeless happy, less comfortable by our absence--Oh! no, nothing shouldtempt me to leave her. It should not, must not be a struggle."
Mrs. Jennings repeated her assurance that Mrs. Dashwood could sparethem perfectly well; and Elinor, who now understood her sister, and sawto what indifference to almost every thing else she was carried by hereagerness to be with Willoughby again, made no farther directopposition to the plan, and merely referred it to her mother'sdecision, from whom however she scarcely expected to receive anysupport in her endeavour to prevent a visit, which she could notapprove of for Marianne, and which on her own account she hadparticular reasons to avoid. Whatever Marianne was desirous of, hermother would be eager to promote--she could not expect to influence thelatter to cautiousness of conduct in an affair respecting which she hadnever been able to inspire her with distrust; and she dared not explainthe motive of her own disinclination for going to London. ThatMarianne, fastidious as she was, thoroughly acquainted with Mrs.Jennings' manners, and invariably disgusted by them, should overlookevery inconvenience of that kind, should disregard whatever must bemost wounding to her irritable feelings, in her pursuit of one object,was such a proof, so strong, so full, of the importance of that objectto her, as Elinor, in spite of all that had passed, was not prepared towitness.
On being informed of the invitation, Mrs. Dashwood, persuaded that suchan excursion would be productive of much amusement to both herdaughters, and perceiving through all her affectionate attention toherself, how much the heart of Marianne was in it, would not hear oftheir declining the offer upon HER account; insisted on their bothaccepting it directly; and then began to foresee, with her usualcheerfulness, a variety of advantages that would accrue to them all,from this separation.
"I am delighted with the plan," she cried, "it is exactly what I couldwish. Margaret and I shall be as much benefited by it as yourselves.When you and the Middletons are gone, we shall go on so quietly andhappily together with our books and our music! You will find Margaretso improved when you come back again! I have a little plan ofalteration for your bedrooms too, which may now be performed withoutany inconvenience to any one. It is very right that you SHOULD go totown; I would have every young woman of your condition in lifeacquainted with the manners and amusements of London. You will beunder the care of a motherly good sort of woman, of whose kindness toyou I can have no doubt. And in all probability you will see yourbrother, and whatever may be his faults, or the faults of his wife,when I consider whose son he is, I cannot bear to have you so whollyestranged from each other."
"Though with your usual anxiety for our happiness," said Elinor, "youhave been obviating every impediment to the present scheme whichoccurred to you, there is still one objection which, in my opinion,cannot be so easily removed."
Marianne's countenance sunk.
"And what," said Mrs. Dashwood, "is my dear prudent Elinor going tosuggest? What formidable obstacle is she now to bring forward? Do letme hear a word about the expense of it."
"My objection is this; though I think very well of Mrs. Jennings'sheart, she is not a woman whose society can afford us pleasure, orwhose protection will give us consequence."
"That is very true," replied her mother, "but of her society,separately from that of other people, you will scarcely have any thingat all, and you will almost always appear in public with LadyMiddleton."
"If Elinor is frightened away by her dislike of Mrs. Jennings," saidMarianne, "at least it need not prevent MY accepting her invitation. Ihave no such scruples, and I am sure I could put up with everyunpleasantness of that kind with very little effort."
Elinor could not help smiling at this display of indifference towardsthe manners of a person, to whom she had often had difficulty inpersuading Marianne to behave with tolerable politeness; and resolvedwithin herself, that if her sister persisted in going, she would golikewise, as she did not think it proper that Marianne should be leftto the sole guidance of her own judgment, or that Mrs. Jennings shouldbe abandoned to the mercy of Marianne for all the comfort of herdomestic hours. To this determination she was the more easilyreconciled, by recollecting that Edward Ferrars, by Lucy's account, wasnot to be in town before February; and that their visit, without anyunreasonable abridgement, might be previously finished.
"I will have you BOTH go," said Mrs. Dashwood; "these objections arenonsensical. You will have much pleasure in being in London, andespecially in being together; and if Elinor would ever condescend toanticipate enjoyment, she would foresee it there from a variety ofsources; she would, perhaps, expect some from improving heracquaintance with her sister-in-law's family."
Elinor had often wished for an opportunity of attempting to weaken hermother's dependence on the attachment of Edward and herself, that theshock might be less when the whole truth were revealed, and now on thisattack, though almost hopeless of success, she forced herself to beginher design by saying, as calmly as she could, "I like Edward Ferrarsvery much, and shall always be glad to see him; but as to the rest ofthe family, it is a matter of perfect indifference to me, whether I amever known to them or not."
Mrs. Dashwood smiled, and said nothing. Marianne lifted up her eyes inastonishment, and Elinor conjectured that she might as well have heldher tongue.
After very little farther discourse, it was finally settled that theinvitation should be fully accepted. Mrs. Jennings received theinformation with a great deal of joy, and many assurances of kindnessand care; nor was it a matter of pleasure merely to her. Sir John wasdelighted; for to a man, whose prevailing anxiety was the dread ofbeing alone, the acquisition of two, to the number of inhabitants inLondon, was something. Even Lady Middleton took the trouble of beingdelighted, which was putting herself rather out of her way; and as forthe Miss Steeles, especially Lucy, they had never been so happy intheir lives as this intelligence made them.
Elinor submitted to the arrangement which counteracted her wishes withless reluctance than she had expected to feel. With regard to herself,it was now a matter of unconcern whether she went to town or not, andwhen she saw her mother so thoroughly pleased with the plan, and hersister exhilarated by it in look, voice, and manner, restored to allher usual animation, and elevated to more than her usual gaiety, shecould not be dissatisfied with the cause, and would hardly allowherself to distrust the consequence.
Marianne's joy was almost a degree beyond happiness, so great was theperturbation of her spirits and her impatience to be gone. Herunwillingness to quit her mother was her only restorative to calmness;and at the moment of parting her grief on that score was excessive.Her mother's affliction was hardly less, and Elinor was the only one ofthe three, who seemed to consider the separation as any thing short ofeternal.
Their departure took place in the first week in January. TheMiddletons were to follow in about a week. The Miss Steeles kept theirstation at the park, and were to quit it only with the rest of thefamily.