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Chapter 29

  • Before the house-maid had lit their fire the next day, or the sun gained an_ower over a cold, gloomy morning in January, Marianne, only half dressed, wa_neeling against one of the window-seats for the sake of all the little ligh_he could command from it, and writing as fast as a continual flow of tear_ould permit her. In this situation, Elinor, roused from sleep by he_gitation and sobs, first perceived her; and after observing her for a fe_oments with silent anxiety, said, in a tone of the most considerat_entleness,
  • "Marianne, may I ask-?"
  • "No, Elinor," she replied, "ask nothing; you will soon know all."
  • The sort of desperate calmness with which this was said, lasted no longer tha_hile she spoke, and was immediately followed by a return of the sam_xcessive affliction. It was some minutes before she could go on with he_etter, and the frequent bursts of grief which still obliged her, a_ntervals, to withhold her pen, were proofs enough of her feeling how mor_han probable it was that she was writing for the last time to Willoughby.
  • Elinor paid her every quiet and unobtrusive attention in her power; and sh_ould have tried to sooth and tranquilize her still more, had not Mariann_ntreated her, with all the eagerness of the most nervous irritability, not t_peak to her for the world. In such circumstances, it was better for both tha_hey should not be long together; and the restless state of Marianne's min_ot only prevented her from remaining in the room a moment after she wa_ressed, but requiring at once solitude and continual change of place, mad_er wander about the house till breakfast time, avoiding the sight of ever_ody.
  • At breakfast she neither ate, nor attempted to eat any thing; and Elinor'_ttention was then all employed, not in urging her, not in pitying her, nor i_ppearing to regard her, but in endeavouring to engage Mrs. Jenning's notic_ntirely to herself.
  • As this was a favourite meal with Mrs. Jennings, it lasted a considerabl_ime, and they were just setting themselves, after it, round the commo_orking table, when a letter was delivered to Marianne, which she eagerl_aught from the servant, and, turning of a death-like paleness, instantly ra_ut of the room. Elinor, who saw as plainly by this, as if she had seen th_irection, that it must come from Willoughby, felt immediately such a sicknes_t heart as made her hardly able to hold up her head, and sat in such _eneral tremour as made her fear it impossible to escape Mrs. Jenning'_otice. That good lady, however, saw only that Marianne had received a lette_rom Willoughby, which appeared to her a very good joke, and which she treate_ccordingly, by hoping, with a laugh, that she would find it to her liking. O_linor's distress, she was too busily employed in measuring lengths of worste_or her rug, to see any thing at all; and calmly continuing her talk, as soo_s Marianne disappeared, she said,
  • "Upon my word, I never saw a young woman so desperately in love in my life! M_irls were nothing to her, and yet they used to be foolish enough; but as fo_iss Marianne, she is quite an altered creature. I hope, from the bottom of m_eart, he won't keep her waiting much longer, for it is quite grievous to se_er look so ill and forlorn. Pray, when are they to be married?"
  • Elinor, though never less disposed to speak than at that moment, oblige_erself to answer such an attack as this, and, therefore, trying to smile, replied, "And have you really, Ma'am, talked yourself into a persuasion of m_ister's being engaged to Mr. Willoughby? I thought it had been only a joke, but so serious a question seems to imply more; and I must beg, therefore, tha_ou will not deceive yourself any longer. I do assure you that nothing woul_urprise me more than to hear of their being going to be married."
  • "For shame, for shame, Miss Dashwood! how can you talk so? Don't we all kno_hat it must be a match, that they were over head and ears in love with eac_ther from the first moment they met? Did not I see them together i_evonshire every day, and all day long; and did not I know that your siste_ame to town with me on purpose to buy wedding clothes? Come, come, this won'_o. Because you are so sly about it yourself, you think nobody else has an_enses; but it is no such thing, I can tell you, for it has been known al_ver town this ever so long. I tell every body of it and so does Charlotte."
  • "Indeed, Ma'am," said Elinor, very seriously, "you are mistaken. Indeed, yo_re doing a very unkind thing in spreading the report, and you will find tha_ou have though you will not believe me now."
  • Mrs. Jennings laughed again, but Elinor had not spirits to say more, and eage_t all events to know what Willoughby had written, hurried away to their room, where, on opening the door, she saw Marianne stretched on the bed, almos_hoked by grief, one letter in her hand, and two or three others laying b_er. Elinor drew near, but without saying a word; and seating herself on th_ed, took her hand, kissed her affectionately several times, and then gave wa_o a burst of tears, which at first was scarcely less violent than Marianne's.
  • The latter, though unable to speak, seemed to feel all the tenderness of thi_ehaviour, and after some time thus spent in joint affliction, she put all th_etters into Elinor's hands; and then covering her face with her handkerchief, almost screamed with agony. Elinor, who knew that such grief, shocking as i_as to witness it, must have its course, watched by her till this excess o_uffering had somewhat spent itself, and then turning eagerly to Willoughby'_etter, read as follows:
  • "Bond Street, January.
  • "MY DEAR MADAM,
  • "I have just had the honour of receiving your
  • letter, for which I beg to return my sincere
  • acknowledgments. I am much concerned to find there
  • was anything in my behaviour last night that did
  • not meet your approbation; and though I am quite at
  • a loss to discover in what point I could be so
  • unfortunate as to offend you, I entreat your
  • forgiveness of what I can assure you to have been
  • perfectly unintentional. I shall never reflect on
  • my former acquaintance with your family in Devonshire
  • without the most grateful pleasure, and flatter
  • myself it will not be broken by any mistake or
  • misapprehension of my actions. My esteem for your
  • whole family is very sincere; but if I have been so
  • unfortunate as to give rise to a belief of more than
  • I felt, or meant to express, I shall reproach myself
  • for not having been more guarded in my professions
  • of that esteem. That I should ever have meant more
  • you will allow to be impossible, when you understand
  • that my affections have been long engaged elsewhere,
  • and it will not be many weeks, I believe, before
  • this engagement is fulfilled. It is with great
  • regret that I obey your commands in returning the
  • letters with which I have been honoured from you,
  • and the lock of hair, which you so obligingly bestowed
  • on me.
  • "I am, dear Madam,
  • "Your most obedient
  • "humble servant,
  • "JOHN WILLOUGHBY."
  • With what indignation such a letter as this must be read by Miss Dashwood, ma_e imagined. Though aware, before she began it, that it must bring _onfession of his inconstancy, and confirm their separation for ever, she wa_ot aware that such language could be suffered to announce it; nor could sh_ave supposed Willoughby capable of departing so far from the appearance o_very honourable and delicate feeling—so far from the common decorum of _entleman, as to send a letter so impudently cruel: a letter which, instead o_ringing with his desire of a release any professions of regret, acknowledge_o breach of faith, denied all peculiar affection whatever— a letter of whic_very line was an insult, and which proclaimed its writer to be deep i_ardened villainy.
  • She paused over it for some time with indignant astonishment; then read i_gain and again; but every perusal only served to increase her abhorrence o_he man, and so bitter were her feelings against him, that she dared not trus_erself to speak, lest she might wound Marianne still deeper by treating thei_isengagement, not as a loss to her of any possible good but as an escape fro_he worst and most irremediable of all evils, a connection, for life, with a_nprincipled man, as a deliverance the most real, a blessing the mos_mportant.
  • In her earnest meditations on the contents of the letter, on the depravity o_hat mind which could dictate it, and probably, on the very different mind o_ very different person, who had no other connection whatever with the affai_han what her heart gave him with every thing that passed, Elinor forgot th_mmediate distress of her sister, forgot that she had three letters on her la_et unread, and so entirely forgot how long she had been in the room, tha_hen on hearing a carriage drive up to the door, she went to the window to se_ho could be coming so unreasonably early, she was all astonishment t_erceive Mrs. Jennings's chariot, which she knew had not been ordered til_ne. Determined not to quit Marianne, though hopeless of contributing, a_resent, to her ease, she hurried away to excuse herself from attending Mrs.
  • Jennings, on account of her sister being indisposed. Mrs. Jennings, with _horoughly good-humoured concern for its cause, admitted the excuse mos_eadily, and Elinor, after seeing her safe off, returned to Marianne, whom sh_ound attempting to rise from the bed, and whom she reached just in time t_revent her from falling on the floor, faint and giddy from a long want o_roper rest and food; for it was many days since she had any appetite, an_any nights since she had really slept; and now, when her mind was no longe_upported by the fever of suspense, the consequence of all this was felt in a_ching head, a weakened stomach, and a general nervous faintness. A glass o_ine, which Elinor procured for her directly, made her more comfortable, an_he was at last able to express some sense of her kindness, by saying,
  • "Poor Elinor! how unhappy I make you!"
  • "I only wish," replied her sister, "there were any thing I COULD do, whic_ight be of comfort to you."
  • This, as every thing else would have been, was too much for Marianne, wh_ould only exclaim, in the anguish of her heart, "Oh! Elinor, I am miserable, indeed," before her voice was entirely lost in sobs.
  • Elinor could no longer witness this torrent of unresisted grief in silence.
  • "Exert yourself, dear Marianne," she cried, "if you would not kill yoursel_nd all who love you. Think of your mother; think of her misery while YO_uffer: for her sake you must exert yourself."
  • "I cannot, I cannot," cried Marianne; "leave me, leave me, if I distress you; leave me, hate me, forget me! but do not torture me so. Oh! how easy fo_hose, who have no sorrow of their own to talk of exertion! Happy, happ_linor, YOU cannot have an idea of what I suffer."
  • "Do you call ME happy, Marianne? Ah! if you knew!—And can you believe me to b_o, while I see you so wretched!"
  • "Forgive me, forgive me," throwing her arms round her sister's neck; "I kno_ou feel for me; I know what a heart you have; but yet you are—you must b_appy; Edward loves you—what, oh what, can do away such happiness as that?"
  • "Many, many circumstances," said Elinor, solemnly.
  • "No, no, no," cried Marianne wildly, "he loves you, and only you. You CAN hav_o grief."
  • "I can have no pleasure while I see you in this state."
  • "And you will never see me otherwise. Mine is a misery which nothing can d_way."
  • "You must not talk so, Marianne. Have you no comforts? no friends? Is you_oss such as leaves no opening for consolation? Much as you suffer now, thin_f what you would have suffered if the discovery of his character had bee_elayed to a later period— if your engagement had been carried on for month_nd months, as it might have been, before he chose to put an end to it. Ever_dditional day of unhappy confidence, on your side, would have made the blo_ore dreadful."
  • "Engagement!" cried Marianne, "there has been no engagement."
  • "No engagement!"
  • "No, he is not so unworthy as you believe him. He has broken no faith wit_e."
  • "But he told you that he loved you."
  • "Yes—no—never absolutely. It was every day implied, but never professedl_eclared. Sometimes I thought it had been—but it never was."
  • "Yet you wrote to him?"—
  • "Yes—could that be wrong after all that had passed?— But I cannot talk."
  • Elinor said no more, and turning again to the three letters which now raised _uch stronger curiosity than before, directly ran over the contents of all.
  • The first, which was what her sister had sent him on their arrival in town, was to this effect.
  • Berkeley Street, January.
  • "How surprised you will be, Willoughby, on
  • receiving this; and I think you will feel something
  • more than surprise, when you know that I am in town.
  • An opportunity of coming hither, though with Mrs.
  • Jennings, was a temptation we could not resist.
  • I wish you may receive this in time to come here
  • to-night, but I will not depend on it. At any rate
  • I shall expect you to-morrow. For the present, adieu.
  • "M.D."
  • Her second note, which had been written on the morning after the dance at th_iddletons', was in these words:—
  • "I cannot express my disappointment in having
  • missed you the day before yesterday, nor my astonishment
  • at not having received any answer to a note which
  • I sent you above a week ago. I have been expecting
  • to hear from you, and still more to see you, every
  • hour of the day. Pray call again as soon as possible,
  • and explain the reason of my having expected this
  • in vain. You had better come earlier another time,
  • because we are generally out by one. We were last
  • night at Lady Middleton's, where there was a dance.
  • I have been told that you were asked to be of the
  • party. But could it be so? You must be very much
  • altered indeed since we parted, if that could be
  • the case, and you not there. But I will not suppose
  • this possible, and I hope very soon to receive your
  • personal assurance of its being otherwise.
  • "M.D."
  • The contents of her last note to him were these:—
  • "What am I to imagine, Willoughby, by your
  • behaviour last night? Again I demand an explanation
  • of it. I was prepared to meet you with the pleasure
  • which our separation naturally produced, with the
  • familiarity which our intimacy at Barton appeared
  • to me to justify. I was repulsed indeed! I have
  • passed a wretched night in endeavouring to excuse
  • a conduct which can scarcely be called less than
  • insulting; but though I have not yet been able to
  • form any reasonable apology for your behaviour,
  • I am perfectly ready to hear your justification of
  • it. You have perhaps been misinformed, or purposely
  • deceived, in something concerning me, which may have
  • lowered me in your opinion. Tell me what it is,
  • explain the grounds on which you acted, and I shall
  • be satisfied, in being able to satisfy you. It
  • would grieve me indeed to be obliged to think ill
  • of you; but if I am to do it, if I am to learn that
  • you are not what we have hitherto believed you, that
  • your regard for us all was insincere, that your
  • behaviour to me was intended only to deceive, let
  • it be told as soon as possible. My feelings are at
  • present in a state of dreadful indecision; I wish
  • to acquit you, but certainty on either side will be
  • ease to what I now suffer. If your sentiments are
  • no longer what they were, you will return my notes,
  • and the lock of my hair which is in your possession.
  • "M.D."
  • That such letters, so full of affection and confidence, could have been s_nswered, Elinor, for Willoughby's sake, would have been unwilling to believe.
  • But her condemnation of him did not blind her to the impropriety of thei_aving been written at all; and she was silently grieving over the imprudenc_hich had hazarded such unsolicited proofs of tenderness, not warranted b_nything preceding, and most severely condemned by the event, when Marianne, perceiving that she had finished the letters, observed to her that the_ontained nothing but what any one would have written in the same situation.
  • "I felt myself," she added, "to be as solemnly engaged to him, as if th_trictest legal covenant had bound us to each other."
  • "I can believe it," said Elinor; "but unfortunately he did not feel the same."
  • "He DID feel the same, Elinor—for weeks and weeks he felt it. I know he did.
  • Whatever may have changed him now, (and nothing but the blackest art employe_gainst me can have done it), I was once as dear to him as my own soul coul_ish. This lock of hair, which now he can so readily give up, was begged of m_ith the most earnest supplication. Had you seen his look, his manner, had yo_eard his voice at that moment! Have you forgot the last evening of our bein_ogether at Barton? The morning that we parted too! When he told me that i_ight be many weeks before we met again—his distress—can I ever forget hi_istress?"
  • For a moment or two she could say no more; but when this emotion had passe_way, she added, in a firmer tone,
  • "Elinor, I have been cruelly used; but not by Willoughby."
  • "Dearest Marianne, who but himself? By whom can he have been instigated?"
  • "By all the world, rather than by his own heart. I could rather believe ever_reature of my acquaintance leagued together to ruin me in his opinion, tha_elieve his nature capable of such cruelty. This woman of whom h_rites—whoever she be—or any one, in short, but your own dear self, mama, an_dward, may have been so barbarous to bely me. Beyond you three, is there _reature in the world whom I would not rather suspect of evil than Willoughby, whose heart I know so well?"
  • Elinor would not contend, and only replied, "Whoever may have been s_etestably your enemy, let them be cheated of their malignant triumph, my dea_ister, by seeing how nobly the consciousness of your own innocence and goo_ntentions supports your spirits. It is a reasonable and laudable pride whic_esists such malevolence."
  • "No, no," cried Marianne, "misery such as mine has no pride. I care not wh_nows that I am wretched. The triumph of seeing me so may be open to all th_orld. Elinor, Elinor, they who suffer little may be proud and independent a_hey like—may resist insult, or return mortification—but I cannot. I mus_eel—I must be wretched—and they are welcome to enjoy the consciousness of i_hat can."
  • "But for my mother's sake and mine—"
  • "I would do more than for my own. But to appear happy when I am s_iserable—Oh! who can require it?"
  • Again they were both silent. Elinor was employed in walking thoughtfully fro_he fire to the window, from the window to the fire, without knowing that sh_eceived warmth from one, or discerning objects through the other; an_arianne, seated at the foot of the bed, with her head leaning against one o_ts posts, again took up Willoughby's letter, and, after shuddering over ever_entence, exclaimed—
  • "It is too much! Oh, Willoughby, Willoughby, could this be yours! Cruel, cruel—nothing can acquit you. Elinor, nothing can. Whatever he might hav_eard against me— ought he not to have suspended his belief? ought he not t_ave told me of it, to have given me the power of clearing myself? 'The loc_f hair, (repeating it from the letter,) which you so obligingly bestowed o_e'—That is unpardonable. Willoughby, where was your heart when you wrot_hose words? Oh, barbarously insolent!—Elinor, can he be justified?"
  • "No, Marianne, in no possible way."
  • "And yet this woman—who knows what her art may have been?—how long it may hav_een premeditated, and how deeply contrived by her!—Who is she?—Who can sh_e?—Whom did I ever hear him talk of as young and attractive among his femal_cquaintance?—Oh! no one, no one—he talked to me only of myself."
  • Another pause ensued; Marianne was greatly agitated, and it ended thus.
  • "Elinor, I must go home. I must go and comfort mama. Can not we be gone to- morrow?"
  • "To-morrow, Marianne!"
  • "Yes, why should I stay here? I came only for Willoughby's sake—and now wh_ares for me? Who regards me?"
  • "It would be impossible to go to-morrow. We owe Mrs. Jennings much more tha_ivility; and civility of the commonest kind must prevent such a hasty remova_s that."
  • "Well then, another day or two, perhaps; but I cannot stay here long, I canno_tay to endure the questions and remarks of all these people. The Middleton_nd Palmers—how am I to bear their pity? The pity of such a woman as Lad_iddleton! Oh, what would HE say to that!"
  • Elinor advised her to lie down again, and for a moment she did so; but n_ttitude could give her ease; and in restless pain of mind and body she move_rom one posture to another, till growing more and more hysterical, her siste_ould with difficulty keep her on the bed at all, and for some time wa_earful of being constrained to call for assistance. Some lavender drops, however, which she was at length persuaded to take, were of use; and from tha_ime till Mrs. Jennings returned, she continued on the bed quiet an_otionless.