In a firm, though cautious tone, Elinor thus began.
"I should be undeserving of the confidence you have honoured me with, if _elt no desire for its continuance, or no farther curiosity on its subject. _ill not apologize therefore for bringing it forward again."
"Thank you," cried Lucy warmly, "for breaking the ice; you have set my hear_t ease by it; for I was somehow or other afraid I had offended you by what _old you that Monday."
"Offended me! How could you suppose so? Believe me," and Elinor spoke it wit_he truest sincerity, "nothing could be farther from my intention than to giv_ou such an idea. Could you have a motive for the trust, that was no_onourable and flattering to me?"
"And yet I do assure you," replied Lucy, her little sharp eyes full o_eaning, "there seemed to me to be a coldness and displeasure in your manne_hat made me quite uncomfortable. I felt sure that you was angry with me; an_ave been quarrelling with myself ever since, for having took such a libert_s to trouble you with my affairs. But I am very glad to find it was only m_wn fancy, and that you really do not blame me. If you knew what a consolatio_t was to me to relieve my heart speaking to you of what I am always thinkin_f every moment of my life, your compassion would make you overlook ever_hing else I am sure."
"Indeed, I can easily believe that it was a very great relief to you, t_cknowledge your situation to me, and be assured that you shall never hav_eason to repent it. Your case is a very unfortunate one; you seem to me to b_urrounded with difficulties, and you will have need of all your mutua_ffection to support you under them. Mr. Ferrars, I believe, is entirel_ependent on his mother."
"He has only two thousand pounds of his own; it would be madness to marry upo_hat, though for my own part, I could give up every prospect of more without _igh. I have been always used to a very small income, and could struggle wit_ny poverty for him; but I love him too well to be the selfish means o_obbing him, perhaps, of all that his mother might give him if he married t_lease her. We must wait, it may be for many years. With almost every othe_an in the world, it would be an alarming prospect; but Edward's affection an_onstancy nothing can deprive me of I know."
"That conviction must be every thing to you; and he is undoubtedly supporte_y the same trust in your's. If the strength of your reciprocal attachment ha_ailed, as between many people, and under many circumstances it naturall_ould during a four years' engagement, your situation would have bee_itiable, indeed."
Lucy here looked up; but Elinor was careful in guarding her countenance fro_very expression that could give her words a suspicious tendency.
"Edward's love for me," said Lucy, "has been pretty well put to the test, b_ur long, very long absence since we were first engaged, and it has stood th_rial so well, that I should be unpardonable to doubt it now. I can safely sa_hat he has never gave me one moment's alarm on that account from the first."
Elinor hardly knew whether to smile or sigh at this assertion.
Lucy went on. "I am rather of a jealous temper too by nature, and from ou_ifferent situations in life, from his being so much more in the world tha_e, and our continual separation, I was enough inclined for suspicion, to hav_ound out the truth in an instant, if there had been the slightest alteratio_n his behaviour to me when we met, or any lowness of spirits that I could no_ccount for, or if he had talked more of one lady than another, or seemed i_ny respect less happy at Longstaple than he used to be. I do not mean to sa_hat I am particularly observant or quick-sighted in general, but in such _ase I am sure I could not be deceived."
"All this," thought Elinor, "is very pretty; but it can impose upon neither o_s."
"But what," said she after a short silence, "are your views? or have you non_ut that of waiting for Mrs. Ferrars's death, which is a melancholy an_hocking extremity?—Is her son determined to submit to this, and to all th_ediousness of the many years of suspense in which it may involve you, rathe_han run the risk of her displeasure for a while by owning the truth?"
"If we could be certain that it would be only for a while! But Mrs. Ferrars i_ very headstrong proud woman, and in her first fit of anger upon hearing it,
would very likely secure every thing to Robert, and the idea of that, fo_dward's sake, frightens away all my inclination for hasty measures."
"And for your own sake too, or you are carrying your disinterestedness beyon_eason."
Lucy looked at Elinor again, and was silent.
"Do you know Mr. Robert Ferrars?" asked Elinor.
"Not at all—I never saw him; but I fancy he is very unlike his brother—sill_nd a great coxcomb."
"A great coxcomb!" repeated Miss Steele, whose ear had caught those words by _udden pause in Marianne's music.— "Oh, they are talking of their favourit_eaux, I dare say."
"No sister," cried Lucy, "you are mistaken there, our favourite beaux are NO_reat coxcombs."
"I can answer for it that Miss Dashwood's is not," said Mrs. Jennings,
laughing heartily; "for he is one of the modestest, prettiest behaved youn_en I ever saw; but as for Lucy, she is such a sly little creature, there i_o finding out who SHE likes."
"Oh," cried Miss Steele, looking significantly round at them, "I dare sa_ucy's beau is quite as modest and pretty behaved as Miss Dashwood's."
Elinor blushed in spite of herself. Lucy bit her lip, and looked angrily a_er sister. A mutual silence took place for some time. Lucy first put an en_o it by saying in a lower tone, though Marianne was then giving them th_owerful protection of a very magnificent concerto—
"I will honestly tell you of one scheme which has lately come into my head,
for bringing matters to bear; indeed I am bound to let you into the secret,
for you are a party concerned. I dare say you have seen enough of Edward t_now that he would prefer the church to every other profession; now my plan i_hat he should take orders as soon as he can, and then through your interest,
which I am sure you would be kind enough to use out of friendship for him, an_ hope out of some regard to me, your brother might be persuaded to give hi_orland living; which I understand is a very good one, and the presen_ncumbent not likely to live a great while. That would be enough for us t_arry upon, and we might trust to time and chance for the rest."
"I should always be happy," replied Elinor, "to show any mark of my esteem an_riendship for Mr. Ferrars; but do you not perceive that my interest on suc_n occasion would be perfectly unnecessary? He is brother to Mrs. Joh_ashwood—THAT must be recommendation enough to her husband."
"But Mrs. John Dashwood would not much approve of Edward's going into orders."
"Then I rather suspect that my interest would do very little."
They were again silent for many minutes. At length Lucy exclaimed with a dee_igh,
"I believe it would be the wisest way to put an end to the business at once b_issolving the engagement. We seem so beset with difficulties on every side,
that though it would make us miserable for a time, we should be happie_erhaps in the end. But you will not give me your advice, Miss Dashwood?"
"No," answered Elinor, with a smile, which concealed very agitated feelings,
"on such a subject I certainly will not. You know very well that my opinio_ould have no weight with you, unless it were on the side of your wishes."
"Indeed you wrong me," replied Lucy, with great solemnity; "I know nobody o_hose judgment I think so highly as I do of yours; and I do really believe,
that if you was to say to me, 'I advise you by all means to put an end to you_ngagement with Edward Ferrars, it will be more for the happiness of both o_ou,' I should resolve upon doing it immediately."
Elinor blushed for the insincerity of Edward's future wife, and replied, "Thi_ompliment would effectually frighten me from giving any opinion on th_ubject had I formed one. It raises my influence much too high; the power o_ividing two people so tenderly attached is too much for an indifferen_erson."
"'Tis because you are an indifferent person," said Lucy, with some pique, an_aying a particular stress on those words, "that your judgment might justl_ave such weight with me. If you could be supposed to be biased in any respec_y your own feelings, your opinion would not be worth having."
Elinor thought it wisest to make no answer to this, lest they might provok_ach other to an unsuitable increase of ease and unreserve; and was eve_artly determined never to mention the subject again. Another pause therefor_f many minutes' duration, succeeded this speech, and Lucy was still the firs_o end it.
"Shall you be in town this winter, Miss Dashwood?" said she with all he_ccustomary complacency.
"I am sorry for that," returned the other, while her eyes brightened at th_nformation, "it would have gave me such pleasure to meet you there! But _are say you will go for all that. To be sure, your brother and sister wil_sk you to come to them."
"It will not be in my power to accept their invitation if they do."
"How unlucky that is! I had quite depended upon meeting you there. Anne and m_re to go the latter end of January to some relations who have been wanting u_o visit them these several years! But I only go for the sake of seein_dward. He will be there in February, otherwise London would have no charm_or me; I have not spirits for it."
Elinor was soon called to the card-table by the conclusion of the firs_ubber, and the confidential discourse of the two ladies was therefore at a_nd, to which both of them submitted without any reluctance, for nothing ha_een said on either side to make them dislike each other less than they ha_one before; and Elinor sat down to the card table with the melanchol_ersuasion that Edward was not only without affection for the person who wa_o be his wife; but that he had not even the chance of being tolerably happ_n marriage, which sincere affection on HER side would have given, for self-
interest alone could induce a woman to keep a man to an engagement, of whic_he seemed so thoroughly aware that he was weary.
From this time the subject was never revived by Elinor, and when entered on b_ucy, who seldom missed an opportunity of introducing it, and was particularl_areful to inform her confidante, of her happiness whenever she received _etter from Edward, it was treated by the former with calmness and caution,
and dismissed as soon as civility would allow; for she felt such conversation_o be an indulgence which Lucy did not deserve, and which were dangerous t_erself.
The visit of the Miss Steeles at Barton Park was lengthened far beyond wha_he first invitation implied. Their favour increased; they could not b_pared; Sir John would not hear of their going; and in spite of their numerou_nd long arranged engagements in Exeter, in spite of the absolute necessity o_eturning to fulfill them immediately, which was in full force at the end o_very week, they were prevailed on to stay nearly two months at the park, an_o assist in the due celebration of that festival which requires a more tha_rdinary share of private balls and large dinners to proclaim its importance.