They were three days on their journey, and Marianne's behaviour as theytravelled was a happy specimen of what future complaisance andcompanionableness to Mrs. Jennings might be expected to be. She sat insilence almost all the way, wrapt in her own meditations, and scarcelyever voluntarily speaking, except when any object of picturesque beautywithin their view drew from her an exclamation of delight exclusivelyaddressed to her sister. To atone for this conduct therefore, Elinortook immediate possession of the post of civility which she hadassigned herself, behaved with the greatest attention to Mrs. Jennings,talked with her, laughed with her, and listened to her whenever shecould; and Mrs. Jennings on her side treated them both with allpossible kindness, was solicitous on every occasion for their ease andenjoyment, and only disturbed that she could not make them choose theirown dinners at the inn, nor extort a confession of their preferringsalmon to cod, or boiled fowls to veal cutlets. They reached town bythree o'clock the third day, glad to be released, after such a journey,from the confinement of a carriage, and ready to enjoy all the luxuryof a good fire.
The house was handsome, and handsomely fitted up, and the young ladieswere immediately put in possession of a very comfortable apartment. Ithad formerly been Charlotte's, and over the mantelpiece still hung alandscape in coloured silks of her performance, in proof of her havingspent seven years at a great school in town to some effect.
As dinner was not to be ready in less than two hours from theirarrival, Elinor determined to employ the interval in writing to hermother, and sat down for that purpose. In a few moments Marianne didthe same. "I am writing home, Marianne," said Elinor; "had not youbetter defer your letter for a day or two?"
"I am NOT going to write to my mother," replied Marianne, hastily, andas if wishing to avoid any farther inquiry. Elinor said no more; itimmediately struck her that she must then be writing to Willoughby; andthe conclusion which as instantly followed was, that, howevermysteriously they might wish to conduct the affair, they must beengaged. This conviction, though not entirely satisfactory, gave herpleasure, and she continued her letter with greater alacrity.Marianne's was finished in a very few minutes; in length it could be nomore than a note; it was then folded up, sealed, and directed witheager rapidity. Elinor thought she could distinguish a large W in thedirection; and no sooner was it complete than Marianne, ringing thebell, requested the footman who answered it to get that letter conveyedfor her to the two-penny post. This decided the matter at once.
Her spirits still continued very high; but there was a flutter in themwhich prevented their giving much pleasure to her sister, and thisagitation increased as the evening drew on. She could scarcely eat anydinner, and when they afterwards returned to the drawing room, seemedanxiously listening to the sound of every carriage.
It was a great satisfaction to Elinor that Mrs. Jennings, by being muchengaged in her own room, could see little of what was passing. The teathings were brought in, and already had Marianne been disappointed morethan once by a rap at a neighbouring door, when a loud one was suddenlyheard which could not be mistaken for one at any other house, Elinorfelt secure of its announcing Willoughby's approach, and Marianne,starting up, moved towards the door. Every thing was silent; thiscould not be borne many seconds; she opened the door, advanced a fewsteps towards the stairs, and after listening half a minute, returnedinto the room in all the agitation which a conviction of having heardhim would naturally produce; in the ecstasy of her feelings at thatinstant she could not help exclaiming, "Oh, Elinor, it is Willoughby,indeed it is!" and seemed almost ready to throw herself into his arms,when Colonel Brandon appeared.
It was too great a shock to be borne with calmness, and she immediatelyleft the room. Elinor was disappointed too; but at the same time herregard for Colonel Brandon ensured his welcome with her; and she feltparticularly hurt that a man so partial to her sister should perceivethat she experienced nothing but grief and disappointment in seeinghim. She instantly saw that it was not unnoticed by him, that he evenobserved Marianne as she quitted the room, with such astonishment andconcern, as hardly left him the recollection of what civility demandedtowards herself.
"Is your sister ill?" said he.
Elinor answered in some distress that she was, and then talked ofhead-aches, low spirits, and over fatigues; and of every thing to whichshe could decently attribute her sister's behaviour.
He heard her with the most earnest attention, but seeming to recollecthimself, said no more on the subject, and began directly to speak ofhis pleasure at seeing them in London, making the usual inquiries abouttheir journey, and the friends they had left behind.
In this calm kind of way, with very little interest on either side,they continued to talk, both of them out of spirits, and the thoughtsof both engaged elsewhere. Elinor wished very much to ask whetherWilloughby were then in town, but she was afraid of giving him pain byany enquiry after his rival; and at length, by way of saying something,she asked if he had been in London ever since she had seen him last."Yes," he replied, with some embarrassment, "almost ever since; I havebeen once or twice at Delaford for a few days, but it has never been inmy power to return to Barton."
This, and the manner in which it was said, immediately brought back toher remembrance all the circumstances of his quitting that place, withthe uneasiness and suspicions they had caused to Mrs. Jennings, and shewas fearful that her question had implied much more curiosity on thesubject than she had ever felt.
Mrs. Jennings soon came in. "Oh! Colonel," said she, with her usualnoisy cheerfulness, "I am monstrous glad to see you--sorry I could notcome before--beg your pardon, but I have been forced to look about me alittle, and settle my matters; for it is a long while since I have beenat home, and you know one has always a world of little odd things to doafter one has been away for any time; and then I have had Cartwright tosettle with-- Lord, I have been as busy as a bee ever since dinner!But pray, Colonel, how came you to conjure out that I should be in towntoday?"
"I had the pleasure of hearing it at Mr. Palmer's, where I have beendining."
"Oh, you did; well, and how do they all do at their house? How doesCharlotte do? I warrant you she is a fine size by this time."
"Mrs. Palmer appeared quite well, and I am commissioned to tell you,that you will certainly see her to-morrow."
"Ay, to be sure, I thought as much. Well, Colonel, I have brought twoyoung ladies with me, you see--that is, you see but one of them now,but there is another somewhere. Your friend, Miss Marianne, too--whichyou will not be sorry to hear. I do not know what you and Mr.Willoughby will do between you about her. Ay, it is a fine thing to beyoung and handsome. Well! I was young once, but I never was veryhandsome--worse luck for me. However, I got a very good husband, and Idon't know what the greatest beauty can do more. Ah! poor man! he hasbeen dead these eight years and better. But Colonel, where have youbeen to since we parted? And how does your business go on? Come,come, let's have no secrets among friends."
He replied with his accustomary mildness to all her inquiries, butwithout satisfying her in any. Elinor now began to make the tea, andMarianne was obliged to appear again.
After her entrance, Colonel Brandon became more thoughtful and silentthan he had been before, and Mrs. Jennings could not prevail on him tostay long. No other visitor appeared that evening, and the ladies wereunanimous in agreeing to go early to bed.
Marianne rose the next morning with recovered spirits and happy looks.The disappointment of the evening before seemed forgotten in theexpectation of what was to happen that day. They had not long finishedtheir breakfast before Mrs. Palmer's barouche stopped at the door, andin a few minutes she came laughing into the room: so delighted to seethem all, that it was hard to say whether she received most pleasurefrom meeting her mother or the Miss Dashwoods again. So surprised attheir coming to town, though it was what she had rather expected allalong; so angry at their accepting her mother's invitation after havingdeclined her own, though at the same time she would never have forgiventhem if they had not come!
"Mr. Palmer will be so happy to see you," said she; "What do you thinkhe said when he heard of your coming with Mama? I forget what it wasnow, but it was something so droll!"
After an hour or two spent in what her mother called comfortable chat,or in other words, in every variety of inquiry concerning all theiracquaintance on Mrs. Jennings's side, and in laughter without cause onMrs. Palmer's, it was proposed by the latter that they should allaccompany her to some shops where she had business that morning, towhich Mrs. Jennings and Elinor readily consented, as having likewisesome purchases to make themselves; and Marianne, though declining it atfirst was induced to go likewise.
Wherever they went, she was evidently always on the watch. In BondStreet especially, where much of their business lay, her eyes were inconstant inquiry; and in whatever shop the party were engaged, her mindwas equally abstracted from every thing actually before them, from allthat interested and occupied the others. Restless and dissatisfiedevery where, her sister could never obtain her opinion of any articleof purchase, however it might equally concern them both: she receivedno pleasure from anything; was only impatient to be at home again, andcould with difficulty govern her vexation at the tediousness of Mrs.Palmer, whose eye was caught by every thing pretty, expensive, or new;who was wild to buy all, could determine on none, and dawdled away hertime in rapture and indecision.
It was late in the morning before they returned home; and no sooner hadthey entered the house than Marianne flew eagerly up stairs, and whenElinor followed, she found her turning from the table with a sorrowfulcountenance, which declared that no Willoughby had been there.
"Has no letter been left here for me since we went out?" said she tothe footman who then entered with the parcels. She was answered in thenegative. "Are you quite sure of it?" she replied. "Are you certainthat no servant, no porter has left any letter or note?"
The man replied that none had.
"How very odd!" said she, in a low and disappointed voice, as sheturned away to the window.
"How odd, indeed!" repeated Elinor within herself, regarding her sisterwith uneasiness. "If she had not known him to be in town she would nothave written to him, as she did; she would have written to Combe Magna;and if he is in town, how odd that he should neither come nor write!Oh! my dear mother, you must be wrong in permitting an engagementbetween a daughter so young, a man so little known, to be carried on inso doubtful, so mysterious a manner! I long to inquire; and how willMY interference be borne."
She determined, after some consideration, that if appearances continuedmany days longer as unpleasant as they now were, she would represent inthe strongest manner to her mother the necessity of some seriousenquiry into the affair.
Mrs. Palmer and two elderly ladies of Mrs. Jennings's intimateacquaintance, whom she had met and invited in the morning, dined withthem. The former left them soon after tea to fulfill her eveningengagements; and Elinor was obliged to assist in making a whist tablefor the others. Marianne was of no use on these occasions, as shewould never learn the game; but though her time was therefore at herown disposal, the evening was by no means more productive of pleasureto her than to Elinor, for it was spent in all the anxiety ofexpectation and the pain of disappointment. She sometimes endeavouredfor a few minutes to read; but the book was soon thrown aside, and shereturned to the more interesting employment of walking backwards andforwards across the room, pausing for a moment whenever she came to thewindow, in hopes of distinguishing the long-expected rap.