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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesSense And Sensibility - Volume 2 - Chapter 31
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Sense And Sensibility - Volume 2 - Chapter 31 Post by :rrm7777 Category :Long Stories Author :Jane Austen Date :January 2011 Read :983

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Sense And Sensibility - Volume 2 - Chapter 31

From a night of more sleep than she had expected,
Marianne awoke the next morning to the same consciousness
of misery in which she had closed her eyes.

Elinor encouraged her as much as possible to talk
of what she felt; and before breakfast was ready, they had
gone through the subject again and again; and with the same
steady conviction and affectionate counsel on Elinor's side,
the same impetuous feelings and varying opinions on
Marianne's, as before. Sometimes she could believe
Willoughby to be as unfortunate and as innocent as herself,
and at others, lost every consolation in the impossibility
of acquitting him. At one moment she was absolutely
indifferent to the observation of all the world, at another
she would seclude herself from it for ever, and at a third
could resist it with energy. In one thing, however,
she was uniform, when it came to the point, in avoiding,
where it was possible, the presence of Mrs. Jennings,
and in a determined silence when obliged to endure it.
Her heart was hardened against the belief of Mrs. Jennings's
entering into her sorrows with any compassion.

"No, no, no, it cannot be," she cried;
"she cannot feel. Her kindness is not sympathy;
her good-nature is not tenderness. All that she wants
is gossip, and she only likes me now because I supply it."

Elinor had not needed this to be assured of the injustice
to which her sister was often led in her opinion of others,
by the irritable refinement of her own mind, and the too
great importance placed by her on the delicacies of a
strong sensibility, and the graces of a polished manner.
Like half the rest of the world, if more than half there
be that are clever and good, Marianne, with excellent
abilities and an excellent disposition, was neither
reasonable nor candid. She expected from other people
the same opinions and feelings as her own, and she judged
of their motives by the immediate effect of their actions
on herself. Thus a circumstance occurred, while the
sisters were together in their own room after breakfast,
which sunk the heart of Mrs. Jennings still lower
in her estimation; because, through her own weakness,
it chanced to prove a source of fresh pain to herself,
though Mrs. Jennings was governed in it by an impulse
of the utmost goodwill.

With a letter in her outstretched hand, and countenance
gaily smiling, from the persuasion of bringing comfort,
she entered their room, saying,

"Now, my dear, I bring you something that I am sure
will do you good."

Marianne heard enough. In one moment her imagination
placed before her a letter from Willoughby, full of tenderness
and contrition, explanatory of all that had passed, satisfactory,
convincing; and instantly followed by Willoughby himself,
rushing eagerly into the room to inforce, at her feet,
by the eloquence of his eyes, the assurances of his letter.
The work of one moment was destroyed by the next.
The hand writing of her mother, never till then unwelcome,
was before her; and, in the acuteness of the disappointment
which followed such an ecstasy of more than hope,
she felt as if, till that instant, she had never suffered.

The cruelty of Mrs. Jennings no language, within
her reach in her moments of happiest eloquence,
could have expressed; and now she could reproach her
only by the tears which streamed from her eyes with
passionate violence--a reproach, however, so entirely
lost on its object, that after many expressions of pity,
she withdrew, still referring her to the letter of comfort.
But the letter, when she was calm enough to read it,
brought little comfort. Willoughby filled every page.
Her mother, still confident of their engagement, and relying
as warmly as ever on his constancy, had only been roused
by Elinor's application, to intreat from Marianne greater
openness towards them both; and this, with such tenderness
towards her, such affection for Willoughby, and such
a conviction of their future happiness in each other,
that she wept with agony through the whole of it.

All her impatience to be at home again now returned;
her mother was dearer to her than ever; dearer through
the very excess of her mistaken confidence in Willoughby,
and she was wildly urgent to be gone. Elinor, unable herself
to determine whether it were better for Marianne to be
in London or at Barton, offered no counsel of her own
except of patience till their mother's wishes could be known;
and at length she obtained her sister's consent to wait
for that knowledge.

Mrs. Jennings left them earlier than usual; for she
could not be easy till the Middletons and Palmers were able
to grieve as much as herself; and positively refusing
Elinor's offered attendance, went out alone for the rest
of the morning. Elinor, with a very heavy heart, aware of
the pain she was going to communicate, and perceiving,
by Marianne's letter, how ill she had succeeded in laying
any foundation for it, then sat down to write her mother
an account of what had passed, and entreat her directions
for the future; while Marianne, who came into the drawing-room
on Mrs. Jennings's going away, remained fixed at the table
where Elinor wrote, watching the advancement of her pen,
grieving over her for the hardship of such a task,
and grieving still more fondly over its effect on her mother.

In this manner they had continued about a quarter
of an hour, when Marianne, whose nerves could not then
bear any sudden noise, was startled by a rap at the door.

"Who can this be?" cried Elinor. "So early too! I
thought we HAD been safe."

Marianne moved to the window--

"It is Colonel Brandon!" said she, with vexation.
"We are never safe from HIM."

"He will not come in, as Mrs. Jennings is from home."

"I will not trust to THAT," retreating to her own room.
"A man who has nothing to do with his own time has no
conscience in his intrusion on that of others."

The event proved her conjecture right, though it
was founded on injustice and error; for Colonel Brandon
DID come in; and Elinor, who was convinced that
solicitude for Marianne brought him thither, and who saw
THAT solicitude in his disturbed and melancholy look,
and in his anxious though brief inquiry after her,
could not forgive her sister for esteeming him so lightly.

"I met Mrs. Jennings in Bond Street," said he,
after the first salutation, "and she encouraged me
to come on; and I was the more easily encouraged,
because I thought it probable that I might find you alone,
which I was very desirous of doing. My object--my
wish--my sole wish in desiring it--I hope, I believe
it is--is to be a means of giving comfort;--no, I must
not say comfort--not present comfort--but conviction,
lasting conviction to your sister's mind. My regard for her,
for yourself, for your mother--will you allow me to prove it,
by relating some circumstances which nothing but a VERY
sincere regard--nothing but an earnest desire of being
useful--I think I am justified--though where so many hours
have been spent in convincing myself that I am right,
is there not some reason to fear I may be wrong?"
He stopped.

"I understand you," said Elinor. "You have something
to tell me of Mr. Willoughby, that will open his character
farther. Your telling it will be the greatest act of friendship
that can be shewn Marianne. MY gratitude will be insured
immediately by any information tending to that end, and HERS
must be gained by it in time. Pray, pray let me hear it."

"You shall; and, to be brief, when I quitted Barton
last October,--but this will give you no idea--I must go
farther back. You will find me a very awkward narrator,
Miss Dashwood; I hardly know where to begin. A short
account of myself, I believe, will be necessary, and it
SHALL be a short one. On such a subject," sighing heavily,
"can I have little temptation to be diffuse."

He stopt a moment for recollection, and then,
with another sigh, went on.

"You have probably entirely forgotten a conversation--
(it is not to be supposed that it could make any impression
on you)--a conversation between us one evening at Barton
Park--it was the evening of a dance--in which I alluded
to a lady I had once known, as resembling, in some measure,
your sister Marianne."

"Indeed," answered Elinor, "I have NOT forgotten it."
He looked pleased by this remembrance, and added,

"If I am not deceived by the uncertainty, the partiality
of tender recollection, there is a very strong resemblance
between them, as well in mind as person. The same warmth
of heart, the same eagerness of fancy and spirits.
This lady was one of my nearest relations, an orphan from
her infancy, and under the guardianship of my father.
Our ages were nearly the same, and from our earliest years
we were playfellows and friends. I cannot remember the
time when I did not love Eliza; and my affection for her,
as we grew up, was such, as perhaps, judging from my
present forlorn and cheerless gravity, you might think me
incapable of having ever felt. Her's, for me, was, I believe,
fervent as the attachment of your sister to Mr. Willoughby
and it was, though from a different cause, no less unfortunate.
At seventeen she was lost to me for ever. She was
married--married against her inclination to my brother.
Her fortune was large, and our family estate much encumbered.
And this, I fear, is all that can be said for the
conduct of one, who was at once her uncle and guardian.
My brother did not deserve her; he did not even love her.
I had hoped that her regard for me would support her
under any difficulty, and for some time it did; but at
last the misery of her situation, for she experienced
great unkindness, overcame all her resolution, and though
she had promised me that nothing--but how blindly I
relate! I have never told you how this was brought on.
We were within a few hours of eloping together for Scotland.
The treachery, or the folly, of my cousin's maid betrayed us.
I was banished to the house of a relation far distant,
and she was allowed no liberty, no society, no amusement,
till my father's point was gained. I had depended on her
fortitude too far, and the blow was a severe one--
but had her marriage been happy, so young as I then was,
a few months must have reconciled me to it, or at least
I should not have now to lament it. This however
was not the case. My brother had no regard for her;
his pleasures were not what they ought to have been,
and from the first he treated her unkindly. The consequence
of this, upon a mind so young, so lively, so inexperienced
as Mrs. Brandon's, was but too natural. She resigned
herself at first to all the misery of her situation;
and happy had it been if she had not lived to overcome those
regrets which the remembrance of me occasioned. But can we
wonder that, with such a husband to provoke inconstancy,
and without a friend to advise or restrain her (for
my father lived only a few months after their marriage,
and I was with my regiment in the East Indies) she
should fall? Had I remained in England, perhaps--but I
meant to promote the happiness of both by removing
from her for years, and for that purpose had procured
my exchange. The shock which her marriage had given me,"
he continued, in a voice of great agitation, "was of
trifling weight--was nothing to what I felt when I heard,
about two years afterwards, of her divorce. It was
THAT which threw this gloom,--even now the recollection
of what I suffered--"

He could say no more, and rising hastily walked for a few
minutes about the room. Elinor, affected by his relation,
and still more by his distress, could not speak. He saw
her concern, and coming to her, took her hand, pressed it,
and kissed it with grateful respect. A few minutes more
of silent exertion enabled him to proceed with composure.

"It was nearly three years after this unhappy
period before I returned to England. My first care,
when I DID arrive, was of course to seek for her;
but the search was as fruitless as it was melancholy.
I could not trace her beyond her first seducer, and there
was every reason to fear that she had removed from him
only to sink deeper in a life of sin. Her legal allowance
was not adequate to her fortune, nor sufficient for her
comfortable maintenance, and I learnt from my brother that
the power of receiving it had been made over some months
before to another person. He imagined, and calmly could he
imagine it, that her extravagance, and consequent distress,
had obliged her to dispose of it for some immediate relief.
At last, however, and after I had been six months in England,
I DID find her. Regard for a former servant of my own,
who had since fallen into misfortune, carried me to visit
him in a spunging-house, where he was confined for debt;
and there, the same house, under a similar confinement,
was my unfortunate sister. So altered--so faded--worn
down by acute suffering of every kind! hardly could I
believe the melancholy and sickly figure before me,
to be the remains of the lovely, blooming, healthful girl,
on whom I had once doted. What I endured in so beholding
her--but I have no right to wound your feelings by attempting
to describe it--I have pained you too much already.
That she was, to all appearance, in the last stage
of a consumption, was--yes, in such a situation it was
my greatest comfort. Life could do nothing for her,
beyond giving time for a better preparation for death;
and that was given. I saw her placed in comfortable lodgings,
and under proper attendants; I visited her every day
during the rest of her short life: I was with her in her
last moments."

Again he stopped to recover himself; and Elinor
spoke her feelings in an exclamation of tender concern,
at the fate of his unfortunate friend.

"Your sister, I hope, cannot be offended," said he,
"by the resemblance I have fancied between her and my
poor disgraced relation. Their fates, their fortunes,
cannot be the same; and had the natural sweet
disposition of the one been guarded by a firmer mind,
or a happier marriage, she might have been all that you
will live to see the other be. But to what does all this
lead? I seem to have been distressing you for nothing.
Ah! Miss Dashwood--a subject such as this--untouched
for fourteen years--it is dangerous to handle it at all!
I WILL be more collected--more concise. She left to my care
her only child, a little girl, the offspring of her first
guilty connection, who was then about three years old.
She loved the child, and had always kept it with her.
It was a valued, a precious trust to me; and gladly
would I have discharged it in the strictest sense,
by watching over her education myself, had the nature
of our situations allowed it; but I had no family, no home;
and my little Eliza was therefore placed at school.
I saw her there whenever I could, and after the death of my
brother, (which happened about five years ago, and which
left to me the possession of the family property,) she
visited me at Delaford. I called her a distant relation;
but I am well aware that I have in general been suspected
of a much nearer connection with her. It is now three
years ago (she had just reached her fourteenth year,)
that I removed her from school, to place her under the care
of a very respectable woman, residing in Dorsetshire,
who had the charge of four or five other girls of about
the same time of life; and for two years I had every reason
to be pleased with her situation. But last February,
almost a twelvemonth back, she suddenly disappeared.
I had allowed her, (imprudently, as it has since turned
out,) at her earnest desire, to go to Bath with one of
her young friends, who was attending her father there
for his health. I knew him to be a very good sort of man,
and I thought well of his daughter--better than she deserved,
for, with a most obstinate and ill-judged secrecy,
she would tell nothing, would give no clue, though she
certainly knew all. He, her father, a well-meaning,
but not a quick-sighted man, could really, I believe,
give no information; for he had been generally confined
to the house, while the girls were ranging over the town
and making what acquaintance they chose; and he tried
to convince me, as thoroughly as he was convinced himself,
of his daughter's being entirely unconcerned in the business.
In short, I could learn nothing but that she was gone;
all the rest, for eight long months, was left to conjecture.
What I thought, what I feared, may be imagined; and what I
suffered too."

"Good heavens!" cried Elinor, "could it be--could
Willoughby!"--

"The first news that reached me of her," he continued,
"came in a letter from herself, last October.
It was forwarded to me from Delaford, and I received it
on the very morning of our intended party to Whitwell;
and this was the reason of my leaving Barton so suddenly,
which I am sure must at the time have appeared strange
to every body, and which I believe gave offence to some.
Little did Mr. Willoughby imagine, I suppose, when his
looks censured me for incivility in breaking up the party,
that I was called away to the relief of one whom he
had made poor and miserable; but HAD he known it,
what would it have availed? Would he have been less
gay or less happy in the smiles of your sister? No,
he had already done that, which no man who CAN feel
for another would do. He had left the girl whose
youth and innocence he had seduced, in a situation of
the utmost distress, with no creditable home, no help,
no friends, ignorant of his address! He had left her,
promising to return; he neither returned, nor wrote,
nor relieved her."

"This is beyond every thing!" exclaimed Elinor.

"His character is now before you; expensive, dissipated,
and worse than both. Knowing all this, as I have now
known it many weeks, guess what I must have felt on seeing
your sister as fond of him as ever, and on being assured
that she was to marry him: guess what I must have felt
for all your sakes. When I came to you last week and
found you alone, I came determined to know the truth;
though irresolute what to do when it WAS known.
My behaviour must have seemed strange to you then;
but now you will comprehend it. To suffer you all to be
so deceived; to see your sister--but what could I do?
I had no hope of interfering with success; and sometimes
I thought your sister's influence might yet reclaim him.
But now, after such dishonorable usage, who can tell what
were his designs on her. Whatever they may have been,
however, she may now, and hereafter doubtless WILL
turn with gratitude towards her own condition, when she
compares it with that of my poor Eliza, when she considers
the wretched and hopeless situation of this poor girl,
and pictures her to herself, with an affection for him so strong,
still as strong as her own, and with a mind tormented
by self-reproach, which must attend her through life.
Surely this comparison must have its use with her.
She will feel her own sufferings to be nothing. They
proceed from no misconduct, and can bring no disgrace.
On the contrary, every friend must be made still more
her friend by them. Concern for her unhappiness,
and respect for her fortitude under it, must strengthen
every attachment. Use your own discretion, however,
in communicating to her what I have told you. You must
know best what will be its effect; but had I not seriously,
and from my heart believed it might be of service,
might lessen her regrets, I would not have suffered
myself to trouble you with this account of my family
afflictions, with a recital which may seem to have been
intended to raise myself at the expense of others."

Elinor's thanks followed this speech with grateful
earnestness; attended too with the assurance of her
expecting material advantage to Marianne, from the
communication of what had passed.

"I have been more pained," said she, "by her
endeavors to acquit him than by all the rest; for it
irritates her mind more than the most perfect conviction
of his unworthiness can do. Now, though at first she
will suffer much, I am sure she will soon become easier.
Have you," she continued, after a short silence,
"ever seen Mr. Willoughby since you left him at Barton?"

"Yes," he replied gravely, "once I have. One meeting
was unavoidable."

Elinor, startled by his manner, looked at him anxiously,
saying,

"What? have you met him to--"

"I could meet him no other way. Eliza had confessed
to me, though most reluctantly, the name of her lover;
and when he returned to town, which was within a fortnight
after myself, we met by appointment, he to defend,
I to punish his conduct. We returned unwounded,
and the meeting, therefore, never got abroad."

Elinor sighed over the fancied necessity of this;
but to a man and a soldier she presumed not to censure it.

"Such," said Colonel Brandon, after a pause,
"has been the unhappy resemblance between the fate of mother
and daughter! and so imperfectly have I discharged my trust!"

"Is she still in town?"

"No; as soon as she recovered from her lying-in,
for I found her near her delivery, I removed her and her
child into the country, and there she remains."

Recollecting, soon afterwards, that he was probably
dividing Elinor from her sister, he put an end to his visit,
receiving from her again the same grateful acknowledgments,
and leaving her full of compassion and esteem for him.

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When the particulars of this conversation were repeatedby Miss Dashwood to her sister, as they very soon were,the effect on her was not entirely such as the formerhad hoped to see. Not that Marianne appeared to distrustthe truth of any part of it, for she listened to it allwith the most steady and submissive attention, made neitherobjection nor remark, attempted no vindication of Willoughby,and seemed to shew by her tears that she felt it tobe impossible. But though this behaviour assured Elinorthat the conviction of this guilt WAS carried home toher mind, though she saw with satisfaction the effect
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Mrs. Jennings came immediately to their room on her return,and without waiting to have her request of admittance answered,opened the door and walked in with a look of real concern."How do you do my dear?"--said she in a voice of greatcompassion to Marianne, who turned away her face withoutattempting to answer."How is she, Miss Dashwood?--Poor thing! she looks very bad.--No wonder. Ay, it is but too true. He is to be marriedvery soon--a good-for-nothing fellow! I have no patiencewith him. Mrs. Taylor told me of it half an hour ago,and she was told it by a particular
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