Their intended excursion to Whitwell turned out very different from wha_linor had expected. She was prepared to be wet through, fatigued, an_rightened; but the event was still more unfortunate, for they did not go a_ll.
By ten o'clock the whole party was assembled at the park, where they were t_reakfast. The morning was rather favourable, though it had rained all night, as the clouds were then dispersing across the sky, and the sun frequentl_ppeared. They were all in high spirits and good humour, eager to be happy, and determined to submit to the greatest inconveniences and hardships rathe_han be otherwise.
While they were at breakfast the letters were brought in. Among the rest ther_as one for Colonel Brandon;—he took it, looked at the direction, change_olour, and immediately left the room.
"What is the matter with Brandon?" said Sir John.
Nobody could tell.
"I hope he has had no bad news," said Lady Middleton. "It must be somethin_xtraordinary that could make Colonel Brandon leave my breakfast table s_uddenly."
In about five minutes he returned.
"No bad news, Colonel, I hope;" said Mrs. Jennings, as soon as he entered th_oom.
"None at all, ma'am, I thank you."
"Was it from Avignon? I hope it is not to say that your sister is worse."
"No, ma'am. It came from town, and is merely a letter of business."
"But how came the hand to discompose you so much, if it was only a letter o_usiness? Come, come, this won't do, Colonel; so let us hear the truth of it."
"My dear madam," said Lady Middleton, "recollect what you are saying."
"Perhaps it is to tell you that your cousin Fanny is married?" said Mrs.
Jennings, without attending to her daughter's reproof.
"No, indeed, it is not."
"Well, then, I know who it is from, Colonel. And I hope she is well."
"Whom do you mean, ma'am?" said he, colouring a little.
"Oh! you know who I mean."
"I am particularly sorry, ma'am," said he, addressing Lady Middleton, "that _hould receive this letter today, for it is on business which requires m_mmediate attendance in town."
"In town!" cried Mrs. Jennings. "What can you have to do in town at this tim_f year?"
"My own loss is great," he continued, "in being obliged to leave so agreeabl_ party; but I am the more concerned, as I fear my presence is necessary t_ain your admittance at Whitwell."
What a blow upon them all was this!
"But if you write a note to the housekeeper, Mr. Brandon," said Marianne, eagerly, "will it not be sufficient?"
He shook his head.
"We must go," said Sir John.—"It shall not be put off when we are so near it.
You cannot go to town till tomorrow, Brandon, that is all."
"I wish it could be so easily settled. But it is not in my power to delay m_ourney for one day!"
"If you would but let us know what your business is," said Mrs. Jennings, "w_ight see whether it could be put off or not."
"You would not be six hours later," said Willoughby, "if you were to defe_our journey till our return."
"I cannot afford to lose ONE hour."—
Elinor then heard Willoughby say, in a low voice to Marianne, "There are som_eople who cannot bear a party of pleasure. Brandon is one of them. He wa_fraid of catching cold I dare say, and invented this trick for getting out o_t. I would lay fifty guineas the letter was of his own writing."
"I have no doubt of it," replied Marianne.
"There is no persuading you to change your mind, Brandon, I know of old," sai_ir John, "when once you are determined on anything. But, however, I hope yo_ill think better of it. Consider, here are the two Miss Careys come over fro_ewton, the three Miss Dashwoods walked up from the cottage, and Mr.
Willoughby got up two hours before his usual time, on purpose to go t_hitwell."
Colonel Brandon again repeated his sorrow at being the cause of disappointin_he party; but at the same time declared it to be unavoidable.
"Well, then, when will you come back again?"
"I hope we shall see you at Barton," added her ladyship, "as soon as you ca_onveniently leave town; and we must put off the party to Whitwell till yo_eturn."
"You are very obliging. But it is so uncertain, when I may have it in my powe_o return, that I dare not engage for it at all."
"Oh! he must and shall come back," cried Sir John. "If he is not here by th_nd of the week, I shall go after him."
"Ay, so do, Sir John," cried Mrs. Jennings, "and then perhaps you may find ou_hat his business is."
"I do not want to pry into other men's concerns. I suppose it is something h_s ashamed of."
Colonel Brandon's horses were announced.
"You do not go to town on horseback, do you?" added Sir John.
"No. Only to Honiton. I shall then go post."
"Well, as you are resolved to go, I wish you a good journey. But you ha_etter change your mind."
"I assure you it is not in my power."
He then took leave of the whole party.
"Is there no chance of my seeing you and your sisters in town this winter, Miss Dashwood?"
"I am afraid, none at all."
"Then I must bid you farewell for a longer time than I should wish to do."
To Marianne, he merely bowed and said nothing.
"Come Colonel," said Mrs. Jennings, "before you go, do let us know what yo_re going about."
He wished her a good morning, and, attended by Sir John, left the room.
The complaints and lamentations which politeness had hitherto restrained, no_urst forth universally; and they all agreed again and again how provoking i_as to be so disappointed.
"I can guess what his business is, however," said Mrs. Jennings exultingly.
"Can you, ma'am?" said almost every body.
"Yes; it is about Miss Williams, I am sure."
"And who is Miss Williams?" asked Marianne.
"What! do not you know who Miss Williams is? I am sure you must have heard o_er before. She is a relation of the Colonel's, my dear; a very near relation.
We will not say how near, for fear of shocking the young ladies." Then, lowering her voice a little, she said to Elinor, "She is his natura_aughter."
"Oh, yes; and as like him as she can stare. I dare say the Colonel will leav_er all his fortune."
When Sir John returned, he joined most heartily in the general regret on s_nfortunate an event; concluding however by observing, that as they were al_ot together, they must do something by way of being happy; and after som_onsultation it was agreed, that although happiness could only be enjoyed a_hitwell, they might procure a tolerable composure of mind by driving abou_he country. The carriages were then ordered; Willoughby's was first, an_arianne never looked happier than when she got into it. He drove through th_ark very fast, and they were soon out of sight; and nothing more of them wa_een till their return, which did not happen till after the return of all th_est. They both seemed delighted with their drive; but said only in genera_erms that they had kept in the lanes, while the others went on the downs.
It was settled that there should be a dance in the evening, and that ever_ody should be extremely merry all day long. Some more of the Careys came t_inner, and they had the pleasure of sitting down nearly twenty to table, which Sir John observed with great contentment. Willoughby took his usua_lace between the two elder Miss Dashwoods. Mrs. Jennings sat on Elinor'_ight hand; and they had not been long seated, before she leant behind her an_illoughby, and said to Marianne, loud enough for them both to hear, "I hav_ound you out in spite of all your tricks. I know where you spent th_orning."
Marianne coloured, and replied very hastily, "Where, pray?"—
"Did not you know," said Willoughby, "that we had been out in my curricle?"
"Yes, yes, Mr. Impudence, I know that very well, and I was determined to fin_ut WHERE you had been to.— I hope you like your house, Miss Marianne. It is _ery large one, I know; and when I come to see you, I hope you will have new- furnished it, for it wanted it very much when I was there six years ago."
Marianne turned away in great confusion. Mrs. Jennings laughed heartily; an_linor found that in her resolution to know where they had been, she ha_ctually made her own woman enquire of Mr. Willoughby's groom; and that sh_ad by that method been informed that they had gone to Allenham, and spent _onsiderable time there in walking about the garden and going all over th_ouse.
Elinor could hardly believe this to be true, as it seemed very unlikely tha_illoughby should propose, or Marianne consent, to enter the house while Mrs.
Smith was in it, with whom Marianne had not the smallest acquaintance.
As soon as they left the dining-room, Elinor enquired of her about it; an_reat was her surprise when she found that every circumstance related by Mrs.
Jennings was perfectly true. Marianne was quite angry with her for doubtin_t.
"Why should you imagine, Elinor, that we did not go there, or that we did no_ee the house? Is not it what you have often wished to do yourself?"
"Yes, Marianne, but I would not go while Mrs. Smith was there, and with n_ther companion than Mr. Willoughby."
"Mr. Willoughby however is the only person who can have a right to shew tha_ouse; and as he went in an open carriage, it was impossible to have any othe_ompanion. I never spent a pleasanter morning in my life."
"I am afraid," replied Elinor, "that the pleasantness of an employment doe_ot always evince its propriety."
"On the contrary, nothing can be a stronger proof of it, Elinor; for if ther_ad been any real impropriety in what I did, I should have been sensible of i_t the time, for we always know when we are acting wrong, and with such _onviction I could have had no pleasure."
"But, my dear Marianne, as it has already exposed you to some very impertinen_emarks, do you not now begin to doubt the discretion of your own conduct?"
"If the impertinent remarks of Mrs. Jennings are to be the proof o_mpropriety in conduct, we are all offending every moment of our lives. _alue not her censure any more than I should do her commendation. I am no_ensible of having done anything wrong in walking over Mrs. Smith's grounds, or in seeing her house. They will one day be Mr. Willoughby's, and—"
"If they were one day to be your own, Marianne, you would not be justified i_hat you have done."
She blushed at this hint; but it was even visibly gratifying to her; and afte_ ten minutes' interval of earnest thought, she came to her sister again, an_aid with great good humour, "Perhaps, Elinor, it WAS rather ill-judged in m_o go to Allenham; but Mr. Willoughby wanted particularly to shew me th_lace; and it is a charming house, I assure you.—There is one remarkabl_retty sitting room up stairs; of a nice comfortable size for constant use, and with modern furniture it would be delightful. It is a corner room, and ha_indows on two sides. On one side you look across the bowling-green, behin_he house, to a beautiful hanging wood, and on the other you have a view o_he church and village, and, beyond them, of those fine bold hills that w_ave so often admired. I did not see it to advantage, for nothing could b_ore forlorn than the furniture,—but if it were newly fitted up—a couple o_undred pounds, Willoughby says, would make it one of the pleasantest summer- rooms in England."
Could Elinor have listened to her without interruption from the others, sh_ould have described every room in the house with equal delight.