Within a few days after this meeting, the newspapers
announced to the world, that the lady of Thomas Palmer,
Esq. was safely delivered of a son and heir; a very
interesting and satisfactory paragraph, at least to all
those intimate connections who knew it before.
This event, highly important to Mrs. Jennings's happiness,
produced a temporary alteration in the disposal of her time,
and influenced, in a like degree, the engagements
of her young friends; for as she wished to be as much
as possible with Charlotte, she went thither every morning
as soon as she was dressed, and did not return till late
in the evening; and the Miss Dashwoods, at the particular
request of the Middletons, spent the whole of every day,
in every day in Conduit Street. For their own comfort
they would much rather have remained, at least all
the morning, in Mrs. Jennings's house; but it was not
a thing to be urged against the wishes of everybody.
Their hours were therefore made over to Lady Middleton
and the two Miss Steeles, by whom their company, in fact
was as little valued, as it was professedly sought.
They had too much sense to be desirable companions
to the former; and by the latter they were considered with
a jealous eye, as intruding on THEIR ground, and sharing
the kindness which they wanted to monopolize. Though nothing
could be more polite than Lady Middleton's behaviour to
Elinor and Marianne, she did not really like them at all.
Because they neither flattered herself nor her children,
she could not believe them good-natured; and because they
were fond of reading, she fancied them satirical: perhaps
without exactly knowing what it was to be satirical;
but THAT did not signify. It was censure in common use,
and easily given.
Their presence was a restraint both on her and on Lucy.
It checked the idleness of one, and the business of the other.
Lady Middleton was ashamed of doing nothing before them,
and the flattery which Lucy was proud to think of
and administer at other times, she feared they would despise
her for offering. Miss Steele was the least discomposed
of the three, by their presence; and it was in their power
to reconcile her to it entirely. Would either of them
only have given her a full and minute account of the whole
affair between Marianne and Mr. Willoughby, she would
have thought herself amply rewarded for the sacrifice
of the best place by the fire after dinner, which their
arrival occasioned. But this conciliation was not granted;
for though she often threw out expressions of pity for her
sister to Elinor, and more than once dropt a reflection
on the inconstancy of beaux before Marianne, no effect
was produced, but a look of indifference from the former,
or of disgust in the latter. An effort even yet lighter
might have made her their friend. Would they only have
laughed at her about the Doctor! But so little were they,
anymore than the others, inclined to oblige her,
that if Sir John dined from home, she might spend a whole
day without hearing any other raillery on the subject,
than what she was kind enough to bestow on herself.
All these jealousies and discontents, however, were so
totally unsuspected by Mrs. Jennings, that she thought
it a delightful thing for the girls to be together;
and generally congratulated her young friends every night,
on having escaped the company of a stupid old woman so long.
She joined them sometimes at Sir John's, sometimes
at her own house; but wherever it was, she always came
in excellent spirits, full of delight and importance,
attributing Charlotte's well doing to her own care, and ready
to give so exact, so minute a detail of her situation,
as only Miss Steele had curiosity enough to desire.
One thing DID disturb her; and of that she made her
daily complaint. Mr. Palmer maintained the common,
but unfatherly opinion among his sex, of all infants being alike;
and though she could plainly perceive, at different times,
the most striking resemblance between this baby and every
one of his relations on both sides, there was no convincing
his father of it; no persuading him to believe that it
was not exactly like every other baby of the same age;
nor could he even be brought to acknowledge the simple
proposition of its being the finest child in the world.
I come now to the relation of a misfortune,
which about this time befell Mrs. John Dashwood.
It so happened that while her two sisters with
Mrs. Jennings were first calling on her in Harley Street,
another of her acquaintance had dropt in--a circumstance
in itself not apparently likely to produce evil to her.
But while the imaginations of other people will carry
them away to form wrong judgments of our conduct,
and to decide on it by slight appearances, one's happiness
must in some measure be always at the mercy of chance.
In the present instance, this last-arrived lady allowed
her fancy to so far outrun truth and probability,
that on merely hearing the name of the Miss Dashwoods,
and understanding them to be Mr. Dashwood's sisters,
she immediately concluded them to be staying in Harley Street;
and this misconstruction produced within a day
or two afterwards, cards of invitation for them
as well as for their brother and sister, to a small
musical party at her house. The consequence of which was,
that Mrs. John Dashwood was obliged to submit not only
to the exceedingly great inconvenience of sending her
carriage for the Miss Dashwoods, but, what was still worse,
must be subject to all the unpleasantness of appearing
to treat them with attention: and who could tell that they
might not expect to go out with her a second time? The power
of disappointing them, it was true, must always be her's.
But that was not enough; for when people are determined
on a mode of conduct which they know to be wrong, they feel
injured by the expectation of any thing better from them.
Marianne had now been brought by degrees, so much
into the habit of going out every day, that it was become
a matter of indifference to her, whether she went or not:
and she prepared quietly and mechanically for every
evening's engagement, though without expecting the smallest
amusement from any, and very often without knowing,
till the last moment, where it was to take her.
To her dress and appearance she was grown so perfectly
indifferent, as not to bestow half the consideration on it,
during the whole of her toilet, which it received from
Miss Steele in the first five minutes of their being
together, when it was finished. Nothing escaped HER minute
observation and general curiosity; she saw every thing,
and asked every thing; was never easy till she knew the price
of every part of Marianne's dress; could have guessed the
number of her gowns altogether with better judgment than
Marianne herself, and was not without hopes of finding out
before they parted, how much her washing cost per week,
and how much she had every year to spend upon herself.
The impertinence of these kind of scrutinies, moreover,
was generally concluded with a compliment, which
though meant as its douceur, was considered by Marianne
as the greatest impertinence of all; for after undergoing
an examination into the value and make of her gown,
the colour of her shoes, and the arrangement of her hair,
she was almost sure of being told that upon "her word
she looked vastly smart, and she dared to say she would
make a great many conquests."
With such encouragement as this, was she dismissed
on the present occasion, to her brother's carriage;
which they were ready to enter five minutes after it
stopped at the door, a punctuality not very agreeable
to their sister-in-law, who had preceded them to the house
of her acquaintance, and was there hoping for some delay
on their part that might inconvenience either herself
or her coachman.
The events of this evening were not very remarkable.
The party, like other musical parties, comprehended a
great many people who had real taste for the performance,
and a great many more who had none at all; and the performers
themselves were, as usual, in their own estimation,
and that of their immediate friends, the first private
performers in England.
As Elinor was neither musical, nor affecting to be so,
she made no scruple of turning her eyes from the grand
pianoforte, whenever it suited her, and unrestrained even
by the presence of a harp, and violoncello, would fix
them at pleasure on any other object in the room. In one
of these excursive glances she perceived among a group
of young men, the very he, who had given them a lecture
on toothpick-cases at Gray's. She perceived him soon
afterwards looking at herself, and speaking familiarly
to her brother; and had just determined to find out his
name from the latter, when they both came towards her,
and Mr. Dashwood introduced him to her as Mr. Robert Ferrars.
He addressed her with easy civility, and twisted
his head into a bow which assured her as plainly as
words could have done, that he was exactly the coxcomb
she had heard him described to be by Lucy. Happy had
it been for her, if her regard for Edward had depended
less on his own merit, than on the merit of his nearest
relations! For then his brother's bow must have given
the finishing stroke to what the ill-humour of his mother
and sister would have begun. But while she wondered
at the difference of the two young men, she did not find
that the emptiness of conceit of the one, put her out
of all charity with the modesty and worth of the other.
Why they WERE different, Robert exclaimed to her himself
in the course of a quarter of an hour's conversation;
for, talking of his brother, and lamenting the extreme
GAUCHERIE which he really believed kept him from mixing
in proper society, he candidly and generously attributed it
much less to any natural deficiency, than to the misfortune
of a private education; while he himself, though probably
without any particular, any material superiority
by nature, merely from the advantage of a public school,
was as well fitted to mix in the world as any other man.
"Upon my soul," he added, "I believe it is nothing more;
and so I often tell my mother, when she is grieving
about it. 'My dear Madam,' I always say to her, 'you must
make yourself easy. The evil is now irremediable,
and it has been entirely your own doing. Why would
you be persuaded by my uncle, Sir Robert, against your
own judgment, to place Edward under private tuition,
at the most critical time of his life? If you had only sent
him to Westminster as well as myself, instead of sending
him to Mr. Pratt's, all this would have been prevented.'
This is the way in which I always consider the matter,
and my mother is perfectly convinced of her error."
Elinor would not oppose his opinion, because,
whatever might be her general estimation of the advantage
of a public school, she could not think of Edward's
abode in Mr. Pratt's family, with any satisfaction.
"You reside in Devonshire, I think,"--was his
next observation, "in a cottage near Dawlish."
Elinor set him right as to its situation;
and it seemed rather surprising to him that anybody
could live in Devonshire, without living near Dawlish.
He bestowed his hearty approbation however on their
species of house.
"For my own part," said he, "I am excessively fond
of a cottage; there is always so much comfort, so much
elegance about them. And I protest, if I had any money
to spare, I should buy a little land and build one myself,
within a short distance of London, where I might drive
myself down at any time, and collect a few friends
about me, and be happy. I advise every body who is going
to build, to build a cottage. My friend Lord Courtland
came to me the other day on purpose to ask my advice,
and laid before me three different plans of Bonomi's.
I was to decide on the best of them. 'My dear Courtland,'
said I, immediately throwing them all into the fire, 'do not
adopt either of them, but by all means build a cottage.'
And that I fancy, will be the end of it.
"Some people imagine that there can be no accommodations,
no space in a cottage; but this is all a mistake.
I was last month at my friend Elliott's, near Dartford.
Lady Elliott wished to give a dance. 'But how can it
be done?' said she; 'my dear Ferrars, do tell me how it
is to be managed. There is not a room in this cottage
that will hold ten couple, and where can the supper be?'
I immediately saw that there could be no difficulty in it,
so I said, 'My dear Lady Elliott, do not be uneasy.
The dining parlour will admit eighteen couple with ease;
card-tables may be placed in the drawing-room; the library
may be open for tea and other refreshments; and let the
supper be set out in the saloon.' Lady Elliott was delighted
with the thought. We measured the dining-room, and found
it would hold exactly eighteen couple, and the affair
was arranged precisely after my plan. So that, in fact,
you see, if people do but know how to set about it,
every comfort may be as well enjoyed in a cottage
as in the most spacious dwelling."
Elinor agreed to it all, for she did not think
he deserved the compliment of rational opposition.
As John Dashwood had no more pleasure in music than his
eldest sister, his mind was equally at liberty to fix on
any thing else; and a thought struck him during the evening,
which he communicated to his wife, for her approbation,
when they got home. The consideration of Mrs. Dennison's mistake,
in supposing his sisters their guests, had suggested the
propriety of their being really invited to become such,
while Mrs. Jenning's engagements kept her from home.
The expense would be nothing, the inconvenience not more;
and it was altogether an attention which the delicacy
of his conscience pointed out to be requisite to its
complete enfranchisement from his promise to his father.
Fanny was startled at the proposal.
"I do not see how it can be done," said she,
"without affronting Lady Middleton, for they spend every day
with her; otherwise I should be exceedingly glad to do it.
You know I am always ready to pay them any attention
in my power, as my taking them out this evening shews.
But they are Lady Middleton's visitors. How can I ask them
away from her?"
Her husband, but with great humility, did not see
the force of her objection. "They had already spent a week
in this manner in Conduit Street, and Lady Middleton
could not be displeased at their giving the same number
of days to such near relations."
Fanny paused a moment, and then, with fresh vigor, said,
"My love I would ask them with all my heart, if it
was in my power. But I had just settled within myself
to ask the Miss Steeles to spend a few days with us.
They are very well behaved, good kind of girls; and I think
the attention is due to them, as their uncle did so very
well by Edward. We can ask your sisters some other year,
you know; but the Miss Steeles may not be in town any more.
I am sure you will like them; indeed, you DO like them,
you know, very much already, and so does my mother; and they
are such favourites with Harry!"
Mr. Dashwood was convinced. He saw the necessity
of inviting the Miss Steeles immediately, and his conscience
was pacified by the resolution of inviting his sisters
another year; at the same time, however, slyly suspecting
that another year would make the invitation needless,
by bringing Elinor to town as Colonel Brandon's wife,
and Marianne as THEIR visitor.
Fanny, rejoicing in her escape, and proud of the ready
wit that had procured it, wrote the next morning to Lucy,
to request her company and her sister's, for some days,
in Harley Street, as soon as Lady Middleton could spare them.
This was enough to make Lucy really and reasonably happy.
Mrs. Dashwood seemed actually working for her, herself;
cherishing all her hopes, and promoting all her views!
Such an opportunity of being with Edward and his family was,
above all things, the most material to her interest,
and such an invitation the most gratifying to her
feelings! It was an advantage that could not be too
gratefully acknowledged, nor too speedily made use of;
and the visit to Lady Middleton, which had not before had
any precise limits, was instantly discovered to have been
always meant to end in two days' time.
When the note was shown to Elinor, as it was within ten
minutes after its arrival, it gave her, for the first time,
some share in the expectations of Lucy; for such a mark
of uncommon kindness, vouchsafed on so short an acquaintance,
seemed to declare that the good-will towards her arose
from something more than merely malice against herself;
and might be brought, by time and address, to do
every thing that Lucy wished. Her flattery had already
subdued the pride of Lady Middleton, and made an entry
into the close heart of Mrs. John Dashwood; and these
were effects that laid open the probability of greater.
The Miss Steeles removed to Harley Street, and all that reached Elinor of their influence there, strengthened her expectation of the event. Sir John, who called on them more than once, brought home such accounts of the favour they were in, as must be universally striking. Mrs. Dashwood had never been so much pleased with any young women in her life, as she was with them; had given each of them a needle book made by some emigrant; called Lucy by her Christian name; and did not know whether she should ever be able to part with them.