However small Elinor's general dependence on
Lucy's veracity might be, it was impossible for her
on serious reflection to suspect it in the present case,
where no temptation could be answerable to the folly
of inventing a falsehood of such a description. What Lucy
had asserted to be true, therefore, Elinor could not,
dared not longer doubt; supported as it was too on every
side by such probabilities and proofs, and contradicted
by nothing but her own wishes. Their opportunity of
acquaintance in the house of Mr. Pratt was a foundation
for the rest, at once indisputable and alarming; and Edward's
visit near Plymouth, his melancholy state of mind,
his dissatisfaction at his own prospects, his uncertain
behaviour towards herself, the intimate knowledge of the
Miss Steeles as to Norland and their family connections,
which had often surprised her, the picture, the letter,
the ring, formed altogether such a body of evidence,
as overcame every fear of condemning him unfairly,
and established as a fact, which no partiality could
set aside, his ill-treatment of herself.--Her resentment
of such behaviour, her indignation at having been its dupe,
for a short time made her feel only for herself;
but other ideas, other considerations, soon arose.
Had Edward been intentionally deceiving her? Had he feigned
a regard for her which he did not feel? Was his engagement
to Lucy an engagement of the heart? No; whatever it might
once have been, she could not believe it such at present.
His affection was all her own. She could not be deceived
in that. Her mother, sisters, Fanny, all had been
conscious of his regard for her at Norland; it was not
an illusion of her own vanity. He certainly loved her.
What a softener of the heart was this persuasion! How much
could it not tempt her to forgive! He had been blamable,
highly blamable, in remaining at Norland after he first
felt her influence over him to be more than it ought
to be. In that, he could not be defended; but if he
had injured her, how much more had he injured himself;
if her case were pitiable, his was hopeless.
His imprudence had made her miserable for a while; but it
seemed to have deprived himself of all chance of ever
being otherwise. She might in time regain tranquillity;
but HE, what had he to look forward to? Could he
ever be tolerably happy with Lucy Steele; could he,
were his affection for herself out of the question,
with his integrity, his delicacy, and well-informed mind,
be satisfied with a wife like her--illiterate, artful,
The youthful infatuation of nineteen would naturally
blind him to every thing but her beauty and good nature;
but the four succeeding years--years, which if rationally
spent, give such improvement to the understanding, must
have opened his eyes to her defects of education,
while the same period of time, spent on her side
in inferior society and more frivolous pursuits,
had perhaps robbed her of that simplicity which might
once have given an interesting character to her beauty.
If in the supposition of his seeking to marry herself,
his difficulties from his mother had seemed great,
how much greater were they now likely to be, when
the object of his engagement was undoubtedly inferior
in connections, and probably inferior in fortune to herself.
These difficulties, indeed, with a heart so alienated
from Lucy, might not press very hard upon his patience;
but melancholy was the state of the person by whom the
expectation of family opposition and unkindness, could
be felt as a relief!
As these considerations occurred to her in painful
succession, she wept for him, more than for herself.
Supported by the conviction of having done nothing to
merit her present unhappiness, and consoled by the belief
that Edward had done nothing to forfeit her esteem,
she thought she could even now, under the first smart
of the heavy blow, command herself enough to guard every
suspicion of the truth from her mother and sisters.
And so well was she able to answer her own expectations,
that when she joined them at dinner only two hours
after she had first suffered the extinction of all her
dearest hopes, no one would have supposed from the
appearance of the sisters, that Elinor was mourning
in secret over obstacles which must divide her for ever
from the object of her love, and that Marianne was
internally dwelling on the perfections of a man, of whose
whole heart she felt thoroughly possessed, and whom she
expected to see in every carriage which drove near their house.
The necessity of concealing from her mother and
Marianne, what had been entrusted in confidence to herself,
though it obliged her to unceasing exertion, was no
aggravation of Elinor's distress. On the contrary
it was a relief to her, to be spared the communication
of what would give such affliction to them, and to be
saved likewise from hearing that condemnation of Edward,
which would probably flow from the excess of their partial
affection for herself, and which was more than she felt
equal to support.
From their counsel, or their conversation, she knew
she could receive no assistance, their tenderness and
sorrow must add to her distress, while her self-command
would neither receive encouragement from their example
nor from their praise. She was stronger alone,
and her own good sense so well supported her, that her
firmness was as unshaken, her appearance of cheerfulness
as invariable, as with regrets so poignant and so fresh,
it was possible for them to be.
Much as she had suffered from her first conversation
with Lucy on the subject, she soon felt an earnest wish
of renewing it; and this for more reasons than one.
She wanted to hear many particulars of their engagement
repeated again, she wanted more clearly to understand
what Lucy really felt for Edward, whether there were any
sincerity in her declaration of tender regard for him,
and she particularly wanted to convince Lucy, by her
readiness to enter on the matter again, and her calmness
in conversing on it, that she was no otherwise interested
in it than as a friend, which she very much feared
her involuntary agitation, in their morning discourse,
must have left at least doubtful. That Lucy was disposed
to be jealous of her appeared very probable: it was plain
that Edward had always spoken highly in her praise,
not merely from Lucy's assertion, but from her venturing
to trust her on so short a personal acquaintance,
with a secret so confessedly and evidently important.
And even Sir John's joking intelligence must have had
some weight. But indeed, while Elinor remained so well
assured within herself of being really beloved by Edward,
it required no other consideration of probabilities
to make it natural that Lucy should be jealous;
and that she was so, her very confidence was a proof.
What other reason for the disclosure of the affair could
there be, but that Elinor might be informed by it of Lucy's
superior claims on Edward, and be taught to avoid him
in future? She had little difficulty in understanding thus
much of her rival's intentions, and while she was firmly
resolved to act by her as every principle of honour and
honesty directed, to combat her own affection for Edward
and to see him as little as possible; she could not deny
herself the comfort of endeavouring to convince Lucy
that her heart was unwounded. And as she could now have
nothing more painful to hear on the subject than had already
been told, she did not mistrust her own ability of going
through a repetition of particulars with composure.
But it was not immediately that an opportunity
of doing so could be commanded, though Lucy was as well
disposed as herself to take advantage of any that occurred;
for the weather was not often fine enough to allow
of their joining in a walk, where they might most easily
separate themselves from the others; and though they
met at least every other evening either at the park
or cottage, and chiefly at the former, they could
not be supposed to meet for the sake of conversation.
Such a thought would never enter either Sir John or Lady
Middleton's head; and therefore very little leisure
was ever given for a general chat, and none at all for
particular discourse. They met for the sake of eating,
drinking, and laughing together, playing at cards,
or consequences, or any other game that was sufficiently noisy.
One or two meetings of this kind had taken place,
without affording Elinor any chance of engaging Lucy
in private, when Sir John called at the cottage one morning,
to beg, in the name of charity, that they would all
dine with Lady Middleton that day, as he was obliged
to attend the club at Exeter, and she would otherwise be
quite alone, except her mother and the two Miss Steeles.
Elinor, who foresaw a fairer opening for the point she
had in view, in such a party as this was likely to be,
more at liberty among themselves under the tranquil
and well-bred direction of Lady Middleton than when
her husband united them together in one noisy purpose,
immediately accepted the invitation; Margaret, with her
mother's permission, was equally compliant, and Marianne,
though always unwilling to join any of their parties,
was persuaded by her mother, who could not bear to have her
seclude herself from any chance of amusement, to go likewise.
The young ladies went, and Lady Middleton was happily
preserved from the frightful solitude which had threatened her.
The insipidity of the meeting was exactly such as Elinor
had expected; it produced not one novelty of thought
or expression, and nothing could be less interesting
than the whole of their discourse both in the dining
parlour and drawing room: to the latter, the children
accompanied them, and while they remained there, she was
too well convinced of the impossibility of engaging Lucy's
attention to attempt it. They quitted it only with the
removal of the tea-things. The card-table was then placed,
and Elinor began to wonder at herself for having ever
entertained a hope of finding time for conversation
at the park. They all rose up in preparation for a round game.
"I am glad," said Lady Middleton to Lucy,
"you are not going to finish poor little Annamaria's
basket this evening; for I am sure it must hurt your
eyes to work filigree by candlelight. And we will make
the dear little love some amends for her disappointment
to-morrow, and then I hope she will not much mind it."
This hint was enough, Lucy recollected herself instantly
and replied, "Indeed you are very much mistaken,
Lady Middleton; I am only waiting to know whether you can
make your party without me, or I should have been at my
filigree already. I would not disappoint the little angel
for all the world: and if you want me at the card-table now,
I am resolved to finish the basket after supper."
"You are very good, I hope it won't hurt your eyes--
will you ring the bell for some working candles?
My poor little girl would be sadly disappointed, I know,
if the basket was not finished tomorrow, for though I
told her it certainly would not, I am sure she depends
upon having it done."
Lucy directly drew her work table near her
and reseated herself with an alacrity and cheerfulness
which seemed to infer that she could taste no greater
delight than in making a filigree basket for a spoilt child.
Lady Middleton proposed a rubber of Casino to the others.
No one made any objection but Marianne, who with her usual
inattention to the forms of general civility, exclaimed,
"Your Ladyship will have the goodness to excuse ME--you
know I detest cards. I shall go to the piano-forte;
I have not touched it since it was tuned." And without
farther ceremony, she turned away and walked to the instrument.
Lady Middleton looked as if she thanked heaven
that SHE had never made so rude a speech.
"Marianne can never keep long from that instrument
you know, ma'am," said Elinor, endeavouring to smooth
away the offence; "and I do not much wonder at it; for it
is the very best toned piano-forte I ever heard."
The remaining five were now to draw their cards.
"Perhaps," continued Elinor, "if I should happen
to cut out, I may be of some use to Miss Lucy Steele,
in rolling her papers for her; and there is so much still
to be done to the basket, that it must be impossible
I think for her labour singly, to finish it this evening.
I should like the work exceedingly, if she would allow
me a share in it."
"Indeed I shall be very much obliged to you
for your help," cried Lucy, "for I find there is more
to be done to it than I thought there was; and it would
be a shocking thing to disappoint dear Annamaria after all."
"Oh! that would be terrible, indeed," said Miss Steele--
"Dear little soul, how I do love her!"
"You are very kind," said Lady Middleton to Elinor;
"and as you really like the work, perhaps you will be
as well pleased not to cut in till another rubber,
or will you take your chance now?"
Elinor joyfully profited by the first of these proposals, and thus by a little of that address which Marianne could never condescend to practise, gained her own end, and pleased Lady Middleton at the same time. Lucy made room for her with ready attention, and the two fair rivals were thus seated side by side at the same table, and, with the utmost harmony, engaged in forwarding the same work. The pianoforte at which Marianne, wrapped up in her own music and her own thoughts, had by this time forgotten that any body was in the room besides herself, was luckily so near them that Miss Dashwood now judged she might safely, under the shelter of its noise, introduce the interesting subject, without any risk of being heard at the card-table.