The sudden termination of Colonel Brandon's visit at the park, with hi_teadiness in concealing its cause, filled the mind, and raised the wonder o_rs. Jennings for two or three days; she was a great wonderer, as every on_ust be who takes a very lively interest in all the comings and goings of al_heir acquaintance. She wondered, with little intermission what could be th_eason of it; was sure there must be some bad news, and thought over ever_ind of distress that could have befallen him, with a fixed determination tha_e should not escape them all.
"Something very melancholy must be the matter, I am sure," said she. "I coul_ee it in his face. Poor man! I am afraid his circumstances may be bad. Th_state at Delaford was never reckoned more than two thousand a year, and hi_rother left everything sadly involved. I do think he must have been sent fo_bout money matters, for what else can it be? I wonder whether it is so. _ould give anything to know the truth of it. Perhaps it is about Miss William_nd, by the bye, I dare say it is, because he looked so conscious when _entioned her. May be she is ill in town; nothing in the world more likely,
for I have a notion she is always rather sickly. I would lay any wager it i_bout Miss Williams. It is not so very likely he should be distressed in hi_ircumstances NOW, for he is a very prudent man, and to be sure must hav_leared the estate by this time. I wonder what it can be! May be his sister i_orse at Avignon, and has sent for him over. His setting off in such a hurr_eems very like it. Well, I wish him out of all his trouble with all my heart,
and a good wife into the bargain."
So wondered, so talked Mrs. Jennings. Her opinion varying with every fres_onjecture, and all seeming equally probable as they arose. Elinor, though sh_elt really interested in the welfare of Colonel Brandon, could not bestow al_he wonder on his going so suddenly away, which Mrs. Jennings was desirous o_er feeling; for besides that the circumstance did not in her opinion justif_uch lasting amazement or variety of speculation, her wonder was otherwis_isposed of. It was engrossed by the extraordinary silence of her sister an_illoughby on the subject, which they must know to be peculiarly interestin_o them all. As this silence continued, every day made it appear more strang_nd more incompatible with the disposition of both. Why they should not openl_cknowledge to her mother and herself, what their constant behaviour to eac_ther declared to have taken place, Elinor could not imagine.
She could easily conceive that marriage might not be immediately in thei_ower; for though Willoughby was independent, there was no reason to believ_im rich. His estate had been rated by Sir John at about six or seven hundre_ year; but he lived at an expense to which that income could hardly be equal,
and he had himself often complained of his poverty. But for this strange kin_f secrecy maintained by them relative to their engagement, which in fac_oncealed nothing at all, she could not account; and it was so wholl_ontradictory to their general opinions and practice, that a doubt sometime_ntered her mind of their being really engaged, and this doubt was enough t_revent her making any inquiry of Marianne.
Nothing could be more expressive of attachment to them all, than Willoughby'_ehaviour. To Marianne it had all the distinguishing tenderness which _over's heart could give, and to the rest of the family it was th_ffectionate attention of a son and a brother. The cottage seemed to b_onsidered and loved by him as his home; many more of his hours were spen_here than at Allenham; and if no general engagement collected them at th_ark, the exercise which called him out in the morning was almost certain o_nding there, where the rest of the day was spent by himself at the side o_arianne, and by his favourite pointer at her feet.
One evening in particular, about a week after Colonel Brandon left th_ountry, his heart seemed more than usually open to every feeling o_ttachment to the objects around him; and on Mrs. Dashwood's happening t_ention her design of improving the cottage in the spring, he warmly oppose_very alteration of a place which affection had established as perfect wit_im.
"What!" he exclaimed—"Improve this dear cottage! No. THAT I will never consen_o. Not a stone must be added to its walls, not an inch to its size, if m_eelings are regarded."
"Do not be alarmed," said Miss Dashwood, "nothing of the kind will be done;
for my mother will never have money enough to attempt it."
"I am heartily glad of it," he cried. "May she always be poor, if she ca_mploy her riches no better."
"Thank you, Willoughby. But you may be assured that I would not sacrifice on_entiment of local attachment of yours, or of any one whom I loved, for al_he improvements in the world. Depend upon it that whatever unemployed sum ma_emain, when I make up my accounts in the spring, I would even rather lay i_selessly by than dispose of it in a manner so painful to you. But are yo_eally so attached to this place as to see no defect in it?"
"I am," said he. "To me it is faultless. Nay, more, I consider it as the onl_orm of building in which happiness is attainable, and were I rich enough _ould instantly pull Combe down, and build it up again in the exact plan o_his cottage."
"With dark narrow stairs and a kitchen that smokes, I suppose," said Elinor.
"Yes," cried he in the same eager tone, "with all and every thing belonging t_t;—in no one convenience or INconvenience about it, should the leas_ariation be perceptible. Then, and then only, under such a roof, I migh_erhaps be as happy at Combe as I have been at Barton."
"I flatter myself," replied Elinor, "that even under the disadvantage o_etter rooms and a broader staircase, you will hereafter find your own hous_s faultless as you now do this."
"There certainly are circumstances," said Willoughby, "which might greatl_ndear it to me; but this place will always have one claim of my affection,
which no other can possibly share."
Mrs. Dashwood looked with pleasure at Marianne, whose fine eyes were fixed s_xpressively on Willoughby, as plainly denoted how well she understood him.
"How often did I wish," added he, "when I was at Allenham this tim_welvemonth, that Barton cottage were inhabited! I never passed within view o_t without admiring its situation, and grieving that no one should live in it.
How little did I then think that the very first news I should hear from Mrs.
Smith, when I next came into the country, would be that Barton cottage wa_aken: and I felt an immediate satisfaction and interest in the event, whic_othing but a kind of prescience of what happiness I should experience fro_t, can account for. Must it not have been so, Marianne?" speaking to her in _owered voice. Then continuing his former tone, he said, "And yet this hous_ou would spoil, Mrs. Dashwood? You would rob it of its simplicity b_maginary improvement! and this dear parlour in which our acquaintance firs_egan, and in which so many happy hours have been since spent by us together,
you would degrade to the condition of a common entrance, and every body woul_e eager to pass through the room which has hitherto contained within itsel_ore real accommodation and comfort than any other apartment of the handsomes_imensions in the world could possibly afford."
Mrs. Dashwood again assured him that no alteration of the kind should b_ttempted.
"You are a good woman," he warmly replied. "Your promise makes me easy. Exten_t a little farther, and it will make me happy. Tell me that not only you_ouse will remain the same, but that I shall ever find you and yours a_nchanged as your dwelling; and that you will always consider me with th_indness which has made everything belonging to you so dear to me."
The promise was readily given, and Willoughby's behaviour during the whole o_he evening declared at once his affection and happiness.
"Shall we see you tomorrow to dinner?" said Mrs. Dashwood, when he was leavin_hem. "I do not ask you to come in the morning, for we must walk to the park,