Mrs. Dashwood did not hear unmoved the vindication of her former favourite.
She rejoiced in his being cleared from some part of his imputed guilt;—she wa_orry for him;—she wished him happy. But the feelings of the past could not b_ecalled.—Nothing could restore him with a faith unbroken—a characte_nblemished, to Marianne. Nothing could do away the knowledge of what th_atter had suffered through his means, nor remove the guilt of his conduc_owards Eliza. Nothing could replace him, therefore, in her former esteem, no_njure the interests of Colonel Brandon.
Had Mrs. Dashwood, like her daughter, heard Willoughby's story fro_imself—had she witnessed his distress, and been under the influence of hi_ountenance and his manner, it is probable that her compassion would have bee_reater. But it was neither in Elinor's power, nor in her wish, to rouse suc_eelings in another, by her retailed explanation, as had at first been calle_orth in herself. Reflection had given calmness to her judgment, and sobere_er own opinion of Willoughby's deserts;— she wished, therefore, to declar_nly the simple truth, and lay open such facts as were really due to hi_haracter, without any embellishment of tenderness to lead the fancy astray.
In the evening, when they were all three together, Marianne began voluntaril_o speak of him again;— but that it was not without an effort, the restless, unquiet thoughtfulness in which she had been for some time previousl_itting—her rising colour, as she spoke,— and her unsteady voice, plainl_hewed.
"I wish to assure you both," said she, "that I see every thing—as you ca_esire me to do."
Mrs. Dashwood would have interrupted her instantly with soothing tenderness, had not Elinor, who really wished to hear her sister's unbiased opinion, by a_ager sign, engaged her silence. Marianne slowly continued—
"It is a great relief to me—what Elinor told me this morning—I have now hear_xactly what I wished to hear."—For some moments her voice was lost; bu_ecovering herself, she added, and with greater calmness than before—"I am no_erfectly satisfied, I wish for no change. I never could have been happy wit_im, after knowing, as sooner or later I must have known, all this.—I shoul_ave had no confidence, no esteem. Nothing could have done it away to m_eelings."
"I know it—I know it," cried her mother. "Happy with a man of libertin_ractices!—With one who so injured the peace of the dearest of our friends, and the best of men!—No—my Marianne has not a heart to be made happy with suc_ man!—Her conscience, her sensitive conscience, would have felt all that th_onscience of her husband ought to have felt."
Marianne sighed, and repeated, "I wish for no change."
"You consider the matter," said Elinor, "exactly as a good mind and a soun_nderstanding must consider it; and I dare say you perceive, as well a_yself, not only in this, but in many other circumstances, reason enough to b_onvinced that your marriage must have involved you in many certain trouble_nd disappointments, in which you would have been poorly supported by a_ffection, on his side, much less certain. Had you married, you must have bee_lways poor. His expensiveness is acknowledged even by himself, and his whol_onduct declares that self-denial is a word hardly understood by him. Hi_emands and your inexperience together, on a small, very small income, mus_ave brought on distresses which would not be the LESS grievous to you, fro_aving been entirely unknown and unthought of before. YOUR sense of honour an_onesty would have led you, I know, when aware of your situation, to attemp_ll the economy that would appear to you possible: and, perhaps, as long a_our frugality retrenched only on your own comfort, you might have bee_uffered to practice it, but beyond that— and how little could the utmost o_our single management do to stop the ruin which had begun before you_arriage?— Beyond THAT, had you endeavoured, however reasonably, to abridg_IS enjoyments, is it not to be feared, that instead of prevailing on feeling_o selfish to consent to it, you would have lessened your own influence on hi_eart, and made him regret the connection which had involved him in suc_ifficulties?"
Marianne's lips quivered, and she repeated the word "Selfish?" in a tone tha_mplied—"do you really think him selfish?"
"The whole of his behaviour," replied Elinor, "from the beginning to the en_f the affair, has been grounded on selfishness. It was selfishness whic_irst made him sport with your affections; which afterwards, when his own wer_ngaged, made him delay the confession of it, and which finally carried hi_rom Barton. His own enjoyment, or his own ease, was, in every particular, hi_uling principle."
"It is very true. MY happiness never was his object."
"At present," continued Elinor, "he regrets what he has done. And why does h_egret it?—Because he finds it has not answered towards himself. It has no_ade him happy. His circumstances are now unembarrassed—he suffers from n_vil of that kind; and he thinks only that he has married a woman of a les_miable temper than yourself. But does it follow that had he married you, h_ould have been happy?—The inconveniences would have been different. He woul_hen have suffered under the pecuniary distresses which, because they ar_emoved, he now reckons as nothing. He would have had a wife of whose tempe_e could make no complaint, but he would have been always necessitous—alway_oor; and probably would soon have learned to rank the innumerable comforts o_ clear estate and good income as of far more importance, even to domesti_appiness, than the mere temper of a wife."
"I have not a doubt of it," said Marianne; "and I have nothing t_egret—nothing but my own folly."
"Rather say your mother's imprudence, my child," said Mrs. Dashwood; "SHE mus_e answerable."
Marianne would not let her proceed;—and Elinor, satisfied that each felt thei_wn error, wished to avoid any survey of the past that might weaken he_ister's spirits; she, therefore, pursuing the first subject, immediatel_ontinued,
"One observation may, I think, be fairly drawn from the whole of th_tory—that all Willoughby's difficulties have arisen from the first offenc_gainst virtue, in his behaviour to Eliza Williams. That crime has been th_rigin of every lesser one, and of all his present discontents."
Marianne assented most feelingly to the remark; and her mother was led by i_o an enumeration of Colonel Brandon's injuries and merits, warm as friendshi_nd design could unitedly dictate. Her daughter did not look, however, as i_uch of it were heard by her.
Elinor, according to her expectation, saw on the two or three following days, that Marianne did not continue to gain strength as she had done; but while he_esolution was unsubdued, and she still tried to appear cheerful and easy, he_ister could safely trust to the effect of time upon her health.
Margaret returned, and the family were again all restored to each other, agai_uietly settled at the cottage; and if not pursuing their usual studies wit_uite so much vigour as when they first came to Barton, at least planning _igorous prosecution of them in future.
Elinor grew impatient for some tidings of Edward. She had heard nothing of hi_ince her leaving London, nothing new of his plans, nothing certain even o_is present abode. Some letters had passed between her and her brother, i_onsequence of Marianne's illness; and in the first of John's, there had bee_his sentence:— "We know nothing of our unfortunate Edward, and can make n_nquiries on so prohibited a subject, but conclude him to be still at Oxford;"
which was all the intelligence of Edward afforded her by the correspondence, for his name was not even mentioned in any of the succeeding letters. She wa_ot doomed, however, to be long in ignorance of his measures.
Their man-servant had been sent one morning to Exeter on business; and when, as he waited at table, he had satisfied the inquiries of his mistress as t_he event of his errand, this was his voluntary communication—
"I suppose you know, ma'am, that Mr. Ferrars is married."
Marianne gave a violent start, fixed her eyes upon Elinor, saw her turnin_ale, and fell back in her chair in hysterics. Mrs. Dashwood, whose eyes, a_he answered the servant's inquiry, had intuitively taken the same direction, was shocked to perceive by Elinor's countenance how much she really suffered, and a moment afterwards, alike distressed by Marianne's situation, knew not o_hich child to bestow her principal attention.
The servant, who saw only that Miss Marianne was taken ill, had sense enoug_o call one of the maids, who, with Mrs. Dashwood's assistance, supported he_nto the other room. By that time, Marianne was rather better, and her mothe_eaving her to the care of Margaret and the maid, returned to Elinor, who, though still much disordered, had so far recovered the use of her reason an_oice as to be just beginning an inquiry of Thomas, as to the source of hi_ntelligence. Mrs. Dashwood immediately took all that trouble on herself; an_linor had the benefit of the information without the exertion of seeking it.
"Who told you that Mr. Ferrars was married, Thomas?"
"I see Mr. Ferrars myself, ma'am, this morning in Exeter, and his lady too, Miss Steele as was. They was stopping in a chaise at the door of the Ne_ondon Inn, as I went there with a message from Sally at the Park to he_rother, who is one of the post-boys. I happened to look up as I went by th_haise, and so I see directly it was the youngest Miss Steele; so I took of_y hat, and she knew me and called to me, and inquired after you, ma'am, an_he young ladies, especially Miss Marianne, and bid me I should give he_ompliments and Mr. Ferrars's, their best compliments and service, and ho_orry they was they had not time to come on and see you, but they was in _reat hurry to go forwards, for they was going further down for a littl_hile, but howsever, when they come back, they'd make sure to come and se_ou."
"But did she tell you she was married, Thomas?"
"Yes, ma'am. She smiled, and said how she had changed her name since she wa_n these parts. She was always a very affable and free-spoken young lady, an_ery civil behaved. So, I made free to wish her joy."
"Was Mr. Ferrars in the carriage with her?"
"Yes, ma'am, I just see him leaning back in it, but he did not look up;—h_ever was a gentleman much for talking."
Elinor's heart could easily account for his not putting himself forward; an_rs. Dashwood probably found the same explanation.
"Was there no one else in the carriage?"
"No, ma'am, only they two."
"Do you know where they came from?"
"They come straight from town, as Miss Lucy— Mrs. Ferrars told me."
"And are they going farther westward?"
"Yes, ma'am—but not to bide long. They will soon be back again, and the_hey'd be sure and call here."
Mrs. Dashwood now looked at her daughter; but Elinor knew better than t_xpect them. She recognised the whole of Lucy in the message, and was ver_onfident that Edward would never come near them. She observed in a low voice, to her mother, that they were probably going down to Mr. Pratt's, nea_lymouth.
Thomas's intelligence seemed over. Elinor looked as if she wished to hea_ore.
"Did you see them off, before you came away?"
"No, ma'am—the horses were just coming out, but I could not bide any longer; _as afraid of being late."
"Did Mrs. Ferrars look well?"
"Yes, ma'am, she said how she was very well; and to my mind she was always _ery handsome young lady—and she seemed vastly contented."
Mrs. Dashwood could think of no other question, and Thomas and the tablecloth, now alike needless, were soon afterwards dismissed. Marianne had already sen_o say, that she should eat nothing more. Mrs. Dashwood's and Elinor'_ppetites were equally lost, and Margaret might think herself very well off, that with so much uneasiness as both her sisters had lately experienced, s_uch reason as they had often had to be careless of their meals, she had neve_een obliged to go without her dinner before.
When the dessert and the wine were arranged, and Mrs. Dashwood and Elinor wer_eft by themselves, they remained long together in a similarity o_houghtfulness and silence. Mrs. Dashwood feared to hazard any remark, an_entured not to offer consolation. She now found that she had erred in relyin_n Elinor's representation of herself; and justly concluded that every thin_ad been expressly softened at the time, to spare her from an increase o_nhappiness, suffering as she then had suffered for Marianne. She found tha_he had been misled by the careful, the considerate attention of her daughter, to think the attachment, which once she had so well understood, much slighte_n reality, than she had been wont to believe, or than it was now proved t_e. She feared that under this persuasion she had been unjust, inattentive, nay, almost unkind, to her Elinor;— that Marianne's affliction, because mor_cknowledged, more immediately before her, had too much engrossed he_enderness, and led her away to forget that in Elinor she might have _aughter suffering almost as much, certainly with less self-provocation, an_reater fortitude.