Mrs. Dashwood's visit to Lady Middleton took place
the next day, and two of her daughters went with her;
but Marianne excused herself from being of the party,
under some trifling pretext of employment; and her mother,
who concluded that a promise had been made by Willoughby
the night before of calling on her while they were absent,
was perfectly satisfied with her remaining at home.
On their return from the park they found Willoughby's
curricle and servant in waiting at the cottage,
and Mrs. Dashwood was convinced that her 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 her to expect. They were no sooner in the
passage than Marianne came hastily out of the parlour
apparently in violent affliction, with her handkerchief
at her eyes; and without noticing them ran up stairs.
Surprised and alarmed they proceeded directly into the room
she had just quitted, where they found only Willoughby,
who was leaning against the mantel-piece with his back
towards them. He turned round on their coming in,
and his countenance shewed that he strongly partook
of the emotion which over-powered Marianne.
"Is anything the matter with her?" cried Mrs. Dashwood
as she entered--"is she ill?"
"I hope not," he replied, trying to look cheerful; and with a forced smile presently added, "It is I who may rather expect to be ill--for I am now suffering under a very heavy disappointment!"
"Yes, for I am unable to keep my engagement with you.
Mrs. Smith has this morning exercised the privilege
of riches upon a poor dependent cousin, by sending me on
business to London. I have just received my dispatches,
and taken my farewell of Allenham; and by way of exhilaration
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 her business will not detain you from
us long I hope."
He coloured as he replied, "You are very kind, but I
have no idea of returning into Devonshire immediately.
My visits to Mrs. Smith are never repeated within
"And is Mrs. Smith your only friend? Is Allenham the
house in the neighbourhood to which you will be welcome?
For shame, Willoughby, can you wait for an invitation here?"
His colour increased; and with his eyes fixed
on the ground he only replied, "You are too good."
Mrs. Dashwood looked at Elinor with surprise.
Elinor felt equal amazement. For a few moments every one
was silent. Mrs. Dashwood first spoke.
"I have only to add, my dear Willoughby, that at
Barton cottage you will always be welcome; for I will not
press you to return here immediately, because you only
can judge how far THAT might be pleasing to Mrs. Smith;
and on this head I shall be no more disposed to question
your judgment than to doubt your inclination."
"My engagements at present," replied Willoughby,
confusedly, "are of such a nature--that--I dare not flatter myself"--
He stopt. Mrs. Dashwood was too much astonished
to speak, and another pause succeeded. This was broken
by Willoughby, who said with a faint smile, "It is folly
to linger in this manner. I will not torment myself
any longer by remaining among friends whose society
it is impossible for me now to enjoy."
He then hastily took leave of them all and left
the room. They saw him step into his carriage,
and in a minute it was out of sight.
Mrs. Dashwood felt too much for speech, and instantly
quitted the parlour to give way in solitude to the concern
and alarm which this sudden departure occasioned.
Elinor's uneasiness was at least equal to her mother's.
She thought of what had just passed with anxiety and distrust.
Willoughby's behaviour in taking leave of them, his embarrassment,
and affectation of cheerfulness, and, above all, his unwillingness
to accept her mother's invitation, a backwardness so unlike a lover,
so unlike himself, greatly disturbed her. One moment she feared
that no serious design had ever been formed on his side; and the
next that some unfortunate quarrel had taken place between him and
her sister;--the distress in which Marianne had quitted the room
was such as a serious quarrel could most reasonably account for,
though when she considered what Marianne's love for him was,
a quarrel seemed almost impossible.
But whatever might be the particulars of their separation,
her sister's affliction was indubitable; and she thought
with the tenderest compassion of that violent sorrow
which Marianne was in all probability not merely giving
way to as a relief, but feeding and encouraging as a duty.
In about half an hour her mother returned, and though
her eyes were red, her countenance was not uncheerful.
"Our dear Willoughby is now some miles from Barton,
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 work of a moment. And last night he was
with us so happy, so cheerful, so affectionate? And now,
after only ten minutes notice--Gone too without intending
to return!--Something more than what be owned to us must
have happened. He did not speak, he did not behave
like himself. YOU must have seen the difference as well as I.
What can it be? Can they have quarrelled? Why else should he
have shewn such unwillingness to accept your invitation here?"--
"It was not inclination that he wanted, Elinor; I could
plainly see THAT. He had not the power of accepting it.
I have thought it all over I assure you, and I can
perfectly account for every thing that at first seemed
strange to me as well as to you."
"Can you, indeed!"
"Yes. I have explained it to myself in the most
satisfactory way;--but you, 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 am persuaded
that Mrs. Smith suspects his regard for Marianne,
disapproves of it, (perhaps because she has other views
for him,) and on that account is eager to get him away;--
and that the business which she sends him off to transact
is invented as an excuse to dismiss him. This is what I
believe to have happened. He is, moreover, aware that she
DOES disapprove the connection, he dares not therefore
at present confess to her his engagement with Marianne,
and he feels himself obliged, from his dependent situation,
to give into her schemes, and absent 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 affair as 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 rather take evil upon credit than good.
You had rather look out for misery for Marianne, and guilt
for poor Willoughby, than an apology for the latter.
You are resolved to think him blameable, because he took
leave of us with less affection than his usual behaviour
has shewn. And is no allowance to be made for inadvertence,
or for spirits depressed by recent disappointment? Are
no probabilities to be accepted, merely because they
are not certainties? Is nothing due to the man whom we
have all such reason to love, and no reason in the world
to think ill of? To the possibility of motives unanswerable
in themselves, though unavoidably secret for a while? And,
after all, what is it you suspect him of?"
"I can hardly tell myself. But suspicion of
something unpleasant is the inevitable consequence
of such an alteration as we just witnessed in him.
There is great truth, however, in what you have now urged
of the allowances which ought to be made for him, and it
is my wish to be candid in my judgment of every body.
Willoughby may undoubtedly have very sufficient
reasons for his conduct, and I will hope that he has.
But it would have been more like Willoughby to acknowledge
them at once. Secrecy may be advisable; but still I
cannot help wondering at its being practiced by him."
"Do not blame him, however, for departing from
his character, where the deviation is necessary.
But you really do admit the justice of what I have said
in his defence?--I am happy--and he is acquitted."
"Not entirely. It may be proper to conceal their
engagement (if they ARE engaged) from Mrs. Smith--
and if that is the case, it must be highly expedient
for Willoughby to be but little in Devonshire at present.
But this is no excuse for their concealing it from us."
"Concealing it from us! my dear child, do you accuse
Willoughby and Marianne of concealment? This is strange
indeed, when your eyes have been reproaching them every day
"I want no proof of their affection," said Elinor;
"but of their engagement I do."
"I am perfectly satisfied of both."
"Yet not a syllable has been said to you on the
subject, by either of them."
"I have not wanted syllables where actions have
spoken so plainly. Has not his behaviour to Marianne
and to all of us, for at least the last fortnight,
declared that he loved and considered her as his future wife,
and that he felt for us the attachment of the nearest
relation? Have we not perfectly understood each other?
Has not my consent been daily asked by his looks, his manner,
his attentive and affectionate respect? My Elinor,
is it possible to doubt their engagement? How could
such a thought occur to you? How is it to be supposed
that Willoughby, persuaded as he must be of your
sister's love, should leave her, and leave her perhaps
for months, without telling her of his affection;--that
they should part without a mutual exchange of confidence?"
"I confess," replied Elinor, "that every circumstance
except ONE is in favour of their engagement;
but that ONE is the total silence of both on 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 the nature of the terms on which they are together.
Has he been acting a part in his behaviour to your sister
all this time? Do you suppose him really 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 such indifference, such carelessness
of the future, as you attribute to him."
"You must remember, my dear mother, that I have never
considered this matter as certain. I have had my doubts,
I confess; but they are fainter than they were, and they
may soon be entirely done away. If we find they correspond,
every fear of mine will be removed."
"A mighty concession indeed! If you were to see
them at the altar, you would suppose they were going to
be married. Ungracious girl! But I require no such proof.
Nothing in my opinion has ever passed to justify doubt;
no secrecy has been attempted; all has been uniformly open
and unreserved. You cannot doubt your sister's wishes.
It must be Willoughby therefore whom you suspect. But why?
Is he not a man of honour and feeling? Has there been any
inconsistency on his side to create 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 more painful to yourself than to me.
It has been involuntary, and I will not encourage it.
I was startled, I confess, by the alteration in his
manners this morning;--he did not speak like himself,
and did not return your kindness with any cordiality.
But all this may be explained by such a situation of his
affairs as you have supposed. He had just parted from
my sister, had seen her leave him in the greatest affliction;
and if he felt obliged, from a fear of offending Mrs. Smith,
to resist the temptation of returning here soon, and yet
aware that by declining your invitation, by saying
that he was going away for some time, he should seem
to act an ungenerous, a suspicious part by our family,
be might well be embarrassed and disturbed. In such a case,
a plain and open avowal of his difficulties would have been
more to his honour I think, as well as more consistent
with his general character;--but I will not raise objections
against any one's conduct on 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 be suspected. Though WE have not known
him long, he is no stranger in this 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
acknowledging everything to me at once: but this is not the case.
It is an engagement in some respects not prosperously begun,
for their marriage must be at a very uncertain distance;
and even secrecy, as far as it can be observed, may now
be very advisable."
They were interrupted by the entrance of Margaret;
and Elinor was then at liberty to think over the representations
of her mother, to acknowledge the probability of many,
and hope for the justice of all.
They saw nothing of Marianne till dinner time,
when she entered the room and took her place at the table
without saying a word. Her eyes were red and swollen;
and it seemed as if her tears were even then restrained
with difficulty. She avoided the looks of them all,
could neither eat nor speak, and after some time, on her
mother's silently pressing her hand with tender compassion,
her small degree of fortitude was quite overcome, she burst
into tears and left the room.
This violent oppression of spirits continued the whole evening. She was without any power, because she was without any desire of command over herself. The slightest mention of anything relative to Willoughby overpowered her in an instant; and though her family were most anxiously attentive to her comfort, it was impossible for them, if they spoke at all, to keep clear of every subject which her feelings connected with him.