"If this open weather holds much longer," said Mrs. Jennings, when they met a_reakfast the following morning, "Sir John will not like leaving Barton nex_eek; 'tis a sad thing for sportsmen to lose a day's pleasure. Poor souls! _lways pity them when they do; they seem to take it so much to heart."
"That is true," cried Marianne, in a cheerful voice, and walking to the windo_s she spoke, to examine the day. "I had not thought of that. This weathe_ill keep many sportsmen in the country."
It was a lucky recollection, all her good spirits were restored by it. "It i_harming weather for THEM indeed," she continued, as she sat down to th_reakfast table with a happy countenance. "How much they must enjoy it! But"
(with a little return of anxiety) "it cannot be expected to last long. At thi_ime of the year, and after such a series of rain, we shall certainly hav_ery little more of it. Frosts will soon set in, and in all probability wit_everity. In another day or two perhaps; this extreme mildness can hardly las_onger—nay, perhaps it may freeze tonight!"
"At any rate," said Elinor, wishing to prevent Mrs. Jennings from seeing he_ister's thoughts as clearly as she did, "I dare say we shall have Sir Joh_nd Lady Middleton in town by the end of next week."
"Ay, my dear, I'll warrant you we do. Mary always has her own way."
"And now," silently conjectured Elinor, "she will write to Combe by this day'_ost."
But if she DID, the letter was written and sent away with a privacy whic_luded all her watchfulness to ascertain the fact. Whatever the truth of i_ight be, and far as Elinor was from feeling thorough contentment about it, yet while she saw Marianne in spirits, she could not be very uncomfortabl_erself. And Marianne was in spirits; happy in the mildness of the weather, and still happier in her expectation of a frost.
The morning was chiefly spent in leaving cards at the houses of Mrs.
Jennings's acquaintance to inform them of her being in town; and Marianne wa_ll the time busy in observing the direction of the wind, watching th_ariations of the sky and imagining an alteration in the air.
"Don't you find it colder than it was in the morning, Elinor? There seems t_e a very decided difference. I can hardly keep my hands warm even in my muff.
It was not so yesterday, I think. The clouds seem parting too, the sun will b_ut in a moment, and we shall have a clear afternoon."
Elinor was alternately diverted and pained; but Marianne persevered, and sa_very night in the brightness of the fire, and every morning in the appearanc_f the atmosphere, the certain symptoms of approaching frost.
The Miss Dashwoods had no greater reason to be dissatisfied with Mrs.
Jennings's style of living, and set of acquaintance, than with her behaviou_o themselves, which was invariably kind. Every thing in her househol_rrangements was conducted on the most liberal plan, and excepting a few ol_ity friends, whom, to Lady Middleton's regret, she had never dropped, sh_isited no one to whom an introduction could at all discompose the feelings o_er young companions. Pleased to find herself more comfortably situated i_hat particular than she had expected, Elinor was very willing to compound fo_he want of much real enjoyment from any of their evening parties, which, whether at home or abroad, formed only for cards, could have little to amus_er.
Colonel Brandon, who had a general invitation to the house, was with the_lmost every day; he came to look at Marianne and talk to Elinor, who ofte_erived more satisfaction from conversing with him than from any other dail_ccurrence, but who saw at the same time with much concern his continue_egard for her sister. She feared it was a strengthening regard. It grieve_er to see the earnestness with which he often watched Marianne, and hi_pirits were certainly worse than when at Barton.
About a week after their arrival, it became certain that Willoughby was als_rrived. His card was on the table when they came in from the morning's drive.
"Good God!" cried Marianne, "he has been here while we were out." Elinor, rejoiced to be assured of his being in London, now ventured to say, "Depen_pon it, he will call again tomorrow." But Marianne seemed hardly to hear her, and on Mrs. Jenning's entrance, escaped with the precious card.
This event, while it raised the spirits of Elinor, restored to those of he_ister all, and more than all, their former agitation. From this moment he_ind was never quiet; the expectation of seeing him every hour of the day, made her unfit for any thing. She insisted on being left behind, the nex_orning, when the others went out.
Elinor's thoughts were full of what might be passing in Berkeley Street durin_heir absence; but a moment's glance at her sister when they returned wa_nough to inform her, that Willoughby had paid no second visit there. A not_as just then brought in, and laid on the table,
But Marianne, not convinced, took it instantly up.
"It is indeed for Mrs. Jennings; how provoking!"
"You are expecting a letter, then?" said Elinor, unable to be longer silent.
"Yes, a little—not much."
After a short pause. "You have no confidence in me, Marianne."
"Nay, Elinor, this reproach from YOU—you who have confidence in no one!"
"Me!" returned Elinor in some confusion; "indeed, Marianne, I have nothing t_ell."
"Nor I," answered Marianne with energy, "our situations then are alike. W_ave neither of us any thing to tell; you, because you do not communicate, an_, because I conceal nothing."
Elinor, distressed by this charge of reserve in herself, which she was not a_iberty to do away, knew not how, under such circumstances, to press fo_reater openness in Marianne.
Mrs. Jennings soon appeared, and the note being given her, she read it aloud.
It was from Lady Middleton, announcing their arrival in Conduit Street th_ight before, and requesting the company of her mother and cousins th_ollowing evening. Business on Sir John's part, and a violent cold on her own, prevented their calling in Berkeley Street. The invitation was accepted; bu_hen the hour of appointment drew near, necessary as it was in common civilit_o Mrs. Jennings, that they should both attend her on such a visit, Elinor ha_ome difficulty in persuading her sister to go, for still she had seen nothin_f Willoughby; and therefore was not more indisposed for amusement abroad, than unwilling to run the risk of his calling again in her absence.
Elinor found, when the evening was over, that disposition is not materiall_ltered by a change of abode, for although scarcely settled in town, Sir Joh_ad contrived to collect around him, nearly twenty young people, and to amus_hem with a ball. This was an affair, however, of which Lady Middleton did no_pprove. In the country, an unpremeditated dance was very allowable; but i_ondon, where the reputation of elegance was more important and less easil_ttained, it was risking too much for the gratification of a few girls, t_ave it known that Lady Middleton had given a small dance of eight or nin_ouple, with two violins, and a mere side-board collation.
Mr. and Mrs. Palmer were of the party; from the former, whom they had not see_efore since their arrival in town, as he was careful to avoid the appearanc_f any attention to his mother-in-law, and therefore never came near her, the_eceived no mark of recognition on their entrance. He looked at them slightly, without seeming to know who they were, and merely nodded to Mrs. Jennings fro_he other side of the room. Marianne gave one glance round the apartment a_he entered: it was enough—HE was not there—and she sat down, equally ill- disposed to receive or communicate pleasure. After they had been assemble_bout an hour, Mr. Palmer sauntered towards the Miss Dashwoods to express hi_urprise on seeing them in town, though Colonel Brandon had been firs_nformed of their arrival at his house, and he had himself said something ver_roll on hearing that they were to come.
"I thought you were both in Devonshire," said he.
"Did you?" replied Elinor.
"When do you go back again?"
"I do not know." And thus ended their discourse.
Never had Marianne been so unwilling to dance in her life, as she was tha_vening, and never so much fatigued by the exercise. She complained of it a_hey returned to Berkeley Street.
"Aye, aye," said Mrs. Jennings, "we know the reason of all that very well; i_ certain person who shall be nameless, had been there, you would not hav_een a bit tired: and to say the truth it was not very pretty of him not t_ive you the meeting when he was invited."
"Invited!" cried Marianne.
"So my daughter Middleton told me, for it seems Sir John met him somewhere i_he street this morning." Marianne said no more, but looked exceedingly hurt.
Impatient in this situation to be doing something that might lead to he_ister's relief, Elinor resolved to write the next morning to her mother, an_oped by awakening her fears for the health of Marianne, to procure thos_nquiries which had been so long delayed; and she was still more eagerly ben_n this measure by perceiving after breakfast on the morrow, that Marianne wa_gain writing to Willoughby, for she could not suppose it to be to any othe_erson.
About the middle of the day, Mrs. Jennings went out by herself on business, and Elinor began her letter directly, while Marianne, too restless fo_mployment, too anxious for conversation, walked from one window to the other, or sat down by the fire in melancholy meditation. Elinor was very earnest i_er application to her mother, relating all that had passed, her suspicions o_illoughby's inconstancy, urging her by every plea of duty and affection t_emand from Marianne an account of her real situation with respect to him.
Her letter was scarcely finished, when a rap foretold a visitor, and Colone_randon was announced. Marianne, who had seen him from the window, and wh_ated company of any kind, left the room before he entered it. He looked mor_han usually grave, and though expressing satisfaction at finding Mis_ashwood alone, as if he had somewhat in particular to tell her, sat for som_ime without saying a word. Elinor, persuaded that he had some communicatio_o make in which her sister was concerned, impatiently expected its opening.
It was not the first time of her feeling the same kind of conviction; for, more than once before, beginning with the observation of "your sister look_nwell to-day," or "your sister seems out of spirits," he had appeared on th_oint, either of disclosing, or of inquiring, something particular about her.
After a pause of several minutes, their silence was broken, by his asking he_n a voice of some agitation, when he was to congratulate her on th_cquisition of a brother? Elinor was not prepared for such a question, an_aving no answer ready, was obliged to adopt the simple and common expedient, of asking what he meant? He tried to smile as he replied, "your sister'_ngagement to Mr. Willoughby is very generally known."
"It cannot be generally known," returned Elinor, "for her own family do no_now it."
He looked surprised and said, "I beg your pardon, I am afraid my inquiry ha_een impertinent; but I had not supposed any secrecy intended, as they openl_orrespond, and their marriage is universally talked of."
"How can that be? By whom can you have heard it mentioned?"
"By many—by some of whom you know nothing, by others with whom you are mos_ntimate, Mrs. Jennings, Mrs. Palmer, and the Middletons. But still I migh_ot have believed it, for where the mind is perhaps rather unwilling to b_onvinced, it will always find something to support its doubts, if I had not, when the servant let me in today, accidentally seen a letter in his hand, directed to Mr. Willoughby in your sister's writing. I came to inquire, but _as convinced before I could ask the question. Is every thing finally settled?
Is it impossible to-? But I have no right, and I could have no chance o_ucceeding. Excuse me, Miss Dashwood. I believe I have been wrong in saying s_uch, but I hardly know what to do, and on your prudence I have the stronges_ependence. Tell me that it is all absolutely resolved on, that any attempt, that in short concealment, if concealment be possible, is all that remains."
These words, which conveyed to Elinor a direct avowal of his love for he_ister, affected her very much. She was not immediately able to say anything, and even when her spirits were recovered, she debated for a short time, on th_nswer it would be most proper to give. The real state of things betwee_illoughby and her sister was so little known to herself, that in endeavourin_o explain it, she might be as liable to say too much as too little. Yet a_he was convinced that Marianne's affection for Willoughby, could leave n_ope of Colonel Brandon's success, whatever the event of that affection migh_e, and at the same time wished to shield her conduct from censure, sh_hought it most prudent and kind, after some consideration, to say more tha_he really knew or believed. She acknowledged, therefore, that though she ha_ever been informed by themselves of the terms on which they stood with eac_ther, of their mutual affection she had no doubt, and of their correspondenc_he was not astonished to hear.
He listened to her with silent attention, and on her ceasing to speak, ros_irectly from his seat, and after saying in a voice of emotion, "to you_ister I wish all imaginable happiness; to Willoughby that he may endeavour t_eserve her,"—took leave, and went away.
Elinor derived no comfortable feelings from this conversation, to lessen th_neasiness of her mind on other points; she was left, on the contrary, with _elancholy impression of Colonel Brandon's unhappiness, and was prevented eve_rom wishing it removed, by her anxiety for the very event that must confir_t.