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
"I am, dear Madam,
"Your most obedient
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, 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.
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.
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.
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?"
"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.