Nothing occurred during the next three or four days, to make Elinor regre_hat she had done, in applying to her mother; for Willoughby neither came no_rote. They were engaged about the end of that time to attend Lady Middleto_o a party, from which Mrs. Jennings was kept away by the indisposition of he_oungest daughter; and for this party, Marianne, wholly dispirited, careles_f her appearance, and seeming equally indifferent whether she went or staid,
prepared, without one look of hope or one expression of pleasure. She sat b_he drawing-room fire after tea, till the moment of Lady Middleton's arrival,
without once stirring from her seat, or altering her attitude, lost in her ow_houghts, and insensible of her sister's presence; and when at last they wer_old that Lady Middleton waited for them at the door, she started as if sh_ad forgotten that any one was expected.
They arrived in due time at the place of destination, and as soon as th_tring of carriages before them would allow, alighted, ascended the stairs,
heard their names announced from one landing-place to another in an audibl_oice, and entered a room splendidly lit up, quite full of company, an_nsufferably hot. When they had paid their tribute of politeness by curtsyin_o the lady of the house, they were permitted to mingle in the crowd, and tak_heir share of the heat and inconvenience, to which their arrival mus_ecessarily add. After some time spent in saying little or doing less, Lad_iddleton sat down to Cassino, and as Marianne was not in spirits for movin_bout, she and Elinor luckily succeeding to chairs, placed themselves at n_reat distance from the table.
They had not remained in this manner long, before Elinor perceived Willoughby,
standing within a few yards of them, in earnest conversation with a ver_ashionable looking young woman. She soon caught his eye, and he immediatel_owed, but without attempting to speak to her, or to approach Marianne, thoug_e could not but see her; and then continued his discourse with the same lady.
Elinor turned involuntarily to Marianne, to see whether it could be unobserve_y her. At that moment she first perceived him, and her whole countenanc_lowing with sudden delight, she would have moved towards him instantly, ha_ot her sister caught hold of her.
"Good heavens!" she exclaimed, "he is there—he is there—Oh! why does he no_ook at me? why cannot I speak to him?"
"Pray, pray be composed," cried Elinor, "and do not betray what you feel t_very body present. Perhaps he has not observed you yet."
This however was more than she could believe herself; and to be composed a_uch a moment was not only beyond the reach of Marianne, it was beyond he_ish. She sat in an agony of impatience which affected every feature.
At last he turned round again, and regarded them both; she started up, an_ronouncing his name in a tone of affection, held out her hand to him. H_pproached, and addressing himself rather to Elinor than Marianne, as i_ishing to avoid her eye, and determined not to observe her attitude, inquire_n a hurried manner after Mrs. Dashwood, and asked how long they had been i_own. Elinor was robbed of all presence of mind by such an address, and wa_nable to say a word. But the feelings of her sister were instantly expressed.
Her face was crimsoned over, and she exclaimed, in a voice of the greates_motion, "Good God! Willoughby, what is the meaning of this? Have you no_eceived my letters? Will you not shake hands with me?"
He could not then avoid it, but her touch seemed painful to him, and he hel_er hand only for a moment. During all this time he was evidently strugglin_or composure. Elinor watched his countenance and saw its expression becomin_ore tranquil. After a moment's pause, he spoke with calmness.
"I did myself the honour of calling in Berkeley Street last Tuesday, and ver_uch regretted that I was not fortunate enough to find yourselves and Mrs.
Jennings at home. My card was not lost, I hope."
"But have you not received my notes?" cried Marianne in the wildest anxiety.
"Here is some mistake I am sure—some dreadful mistake. What can be the meanin_f it? Tell me, Willoughby; for heaven's sake tell me, what is the matter?"
He made no reply; his complexion changed and all his embarrassment returned;
but as if, on catching the eye of the young lady with whom he had bee_reviously talking, he felt the necessity of instant exertion, he recovere_imself again, and after saying, "Yes, I had the pleasure of receiving th_nformation of your arrival in town, which you were so good as to send me,"
turned hastily away with a slight bow and joined his friend.
Marianne, now looking dreadfully white, and unable to stand, sunk into he_hair, and Elinor, expecting every moment to see her faint, tried to scree_er from the observation of others, while reviving her with lavender water.
"Go to him, Elinor," she cried, as soon as she could speak, "and force him t_ome to me. Tell him I must see him again—must speak to him instantly.— _annot rest—I shall not have a moment's peace till this is explained—som_readful misapprehension or other.— Oh go to him this moment."
"How can that be done? No, my dearest Marianne, you must wait. This is not th_lace for explanations. Wait only till tomorrow."
With difficulty however could she prevent her from following him herself; an_o persuade her to check her agitation, to wait, at least, with the appearanc_f composure, till she might speak to him with more privacy and more effect,
was impossible; for Marianne continued incessantly to give way in a low voic_o the misery of her feelings, by exclamations of wretchedness. In a shor_ime Elinor saw Willoughby quit the room by the door towards the staircase,
and telling Marianne that he was gone, urged the impossibility of speaking t_im again that evening, as a fresh argument for her to be calm. She instantl_egged her sister would entreat Lady Middleton to take them home, as she wa_oo miserable to stay a minute longer.
Lady Middleton, though in the middle of a rubber, on being informed tha_arianne was unwell, was too polite to object for a moment to her wish o_oing away, and making over her cards to a friend, they departed as soon th_arriage could be found. Scarcely a word was spoken during their return t_erkeley Street. Marianne was in a silent agony, too much oppressed even fo_ears; but as Mrs. Jennings was luckily not come home, they could go directl_o their own room, where hartshorn restored her a little to herself. She wa_oon undressed and in bed, and as she seemed desirous of being alone, he_ister then left her, and while she waited the return of Mrs. Jennings, ha_eisure enough for thinking over the past.
That some kind of engagement had subsisted between Willoughby and Marianne sh_ould not doubt, and that Willoughby was weary of it, seemed equally clear;
for however Marianne might still feed her own wishes, SHE could not attribut_uch behaviour to mistake or misapprehension of any kind. Nothing but _horough change of sentiment could account for it. Her indignation would hav_een still stronger than it was, had she not witnessed that embarrassmen_hich seemed to speak a consciousness of his own misconduct, and prevented he_rom believing him so unprincipled as to have been sporting with th_ffections of her sister from the first, without any design that would bea_nvestigation. Absence might have weakened his regard, and convenience migh_ave determined him to overcome it, but that such a regard had formerl_xisted she could not bring herself to doubt.
As for Marianne, on the pangs which so unhappy a meeting must already hav_iven her, and on those still more severe which might await her in it_robable consequence, she could not reflect without the deepest concern. He_wn situation gained in the comparison; for while she could ESTEEM Edward a_uch as ever, however they might be divided in future, her mind might b_lways supported. But every circumstance that could embitter such an evi_eemed uniting to heighten the misery of Marianne in a final separation fro_illoughby—in an immediate and irreconcilable rupture with him.