The sudden termination of Colonel Brandon's visit at the Park,
with his steadiness in concealing its cause, filled the mind, and
raised the wonder, of Mrs. Jennings for two or three days: she was a
, as every one must be who takes a very lively
interest in all the comings and goings of all their acquaintance.
She wondered, with little intermission, what could be the reason of
it; was sure there must be some bad news, and thought over every
kind of distress that could have befallen him, with a fixed
determination that he should not escape them all.
"Something very melancholy must be the matter, I am sure," said
she. "I could see it in his face. Poor man! I am afraid his
circumstances may be bad. The estate at Delaford was never reckoned
more than two thousand a year, and his brother left everything sadly
involved. I do think he must have been sent for about money matters,
for what else can it be? I wonder whether it is so. I would give
anything to know the truth of it. Perhaps it is about Miss Williams-
and, by the by, I dare say it is, because he looked so conscious
when I mentioned her. May be she is ill in town; nothing in the
world more likely, for I have a notion she is always rather sickly.
I would lay any wager it is about Miss Williams. It is not so very
likely he should be distressed in his circumstances now, for he is a
very prudent man, and to be sure must have cleared the estate by
this time. I wonder what it can be! May be his sister is worse at
Avignon, and has sent for him over. His setting off in such a hurry
seems very like it. Well, I wish him out of all his trouble, with
all my heart, and a good wife into the bargain."
So wondered, so talked Mrs. Jennings. Her opinion varying with
every fresh conjecture, and all seeming equally probable as they
arose. Elinor, though she felt really interested in the welfare of
Colonel Brandon, could not bestow all the wonder on his going so
suddenly away, which Mrs. Jennings was desirous of her feeling; for
besides that the circumstance did not, in her opinion, justify such
lasting amazement or variety of speculation, her wonder was
otherwise disposed of. It was engossed by the extraordinary silence of
her sister and Willoughby on the subject, which they must know to be
peculiarly interesting to them all. As this silence continued, every
day made it appear more strange and more incompatible with the
disposition of both. Why they should not openly acknowledge to her
mother and herself, what their constant behaviour to each other
declared to have taken place, Elinor could not imagine.
She could easily conceive that marriage might not be immediately
in their power; for though Willoughby was independent, there was no
reason to believe him rich. His estate had been rated by Sir John at
about six or seven hundred a year; but he lived at an expense to which
that income could hardly be equal, and he had himself often complained
of his poverty. But for this strange kind of secrecy, maintained by
them relative to their engagement, which, in fact, concealed nothing
at all, she could not account; and it was so wholly contradictory to
their general opinions and practice, that a doubt sometimes entered
her mind of their being really engaged, and this doubt was enough to
prevent her making any enquiry of Marianne.
Nothing could be more expressive of attachment to them all than
Willoughby's behaviour. To Marianne it had all the distinguishing
tenderness which a lover's heart could give, and to the rest of the
family it was the affectionate attention of a son and a brother. The
cottage seemed to be considered and loved by him as his home; many
more of his hours were spent there than at Allenham; and if no general
engagement collected them at the Park, the exercise which called him
out in the morning was almost certain of ending there, where the
rest of the day was spent by himself at the side of Marianne, and by
his favourite pointer at her feet.
One evening in particular, about a week after Colonel Brandon left
the country, his heart seemed more than usually open to every
feeling of attachment to the objects around him; and on Mrs.
Dashwood's happening to mention her design of improving the cottage in
the spring, he warmly opposed every alteration of a place which
affection had established as perfect with him.
"What!" he exclaimed- "improve this dear cottage! No. That I
will never consent to. Not a stone must be added to its walls, not
an inch to its size, if my feelings are regarded."
"Do not be alarmed," said Miss Dashwood, "nothing of the kind will
be done; for my mother will never have money enough to attempt it."
"I am heartily glad of it", he cried. "May she always be poor,
if she can employ her riches no better."
"Thank you, Willoughby. But you may be assured that I would not
sacrifice one sentiment of local attachment of yours, or of any one
whom I love, for all the improvements in the world. Depend upon it
that whatever unemployed sum may remain, when I make up my accounts in
the spring, I would even rather lay it uselessly by than dispose of it
in a manner so painful to you. But are you really so attached to
this place as to see no defect in it?"
"I am," said he. "To me it is faultless. Nay, more, I consider
it as the only form of building in which happiness is attainable,
and were I rich enough I would instantly pull Combe down, and build it
up again in the exact plan of this cottage."
"With dark narrow stairs and a kitchen that smokes, I suppose," said Elinor.
"Yes," cried he in the same eager tone, "with all and every
thing belonging to it;- in no one convenience or in-convenience
about it, should the least variation be perceptible. Then, and then
only, under such a roof I might perhaps be as happy at Combe as I have
been at Barton."
"I flatter myself," replied Elinor, "that, even under the
disadvantage of better rooms and a broader staircase, you will
hereafter find your own house as faultless as you now do this."
"There certainly are circumstances," said Willoughby, "which might
greatly endear it to me; but this place will always have one claim
of my affection, which no other can possibly share."
Mrs. Dashwood looked with pleasure at Marianne, whose fine eyes
were fixed so expressively on Willoughby, as plainly denoted how
well she understood him.
"How often did I wish," added he, "when I was at Allenham this
time twelvemonth, that Barton cottage were inhabited! I never passed
within view of it without admiring its situation, and grieving that no
one should live in it. How little did I then think that the very first
news I should bear from Mrs. Smith, when I next came into the country,
would be that Barton cottage was taken; and I felt an immediate
satisfaction and interest in the event, which nothing but a kind of
prescience of what happiness I should experience from it can account
for. Must it not have been so, Marianne?" speaking to her in a lowered
voice. Then continuing his former tone, he said, "And yet this house
you would spoil, Mrs. Dashwood? You would rob it of its simplicity
by imaginary improvement! and this dear parlour in which our
acquaintance first began, and in which so many happy hours have been
since spent by us together, you would degrade to the condition of a
common entrance, and every body would be eager to pass through the
room which has hitherto contained within itself more real
accommodation and comfort than any other apartment of the handsomest
dimensions in the world could possibly afford."
Mrs. Dashwood again assured him that no alteration of the kind
should be attempted.
"You are a good woman," he warmly replied. "Your promise makes
me easy. Extend it a little farther, and it will make me happy. Tell
me that not only your house will remain the same, but that I shall
ever find you and yours as unchanged as your dwelling; and that you
will always consider me with the kindness which has made everything
belonging to you so dear to me."
The promise was readily given, and Willoughby's behaviour during
the whole of the evening declared at once his affection and happiness.
"Shall we see you to-morrow to dinner?" said Mrs. Dashwood, when
he was leaving them. "I do not ask you to come in the morning, for
we must walk to the Park, to call on Lady Middleton."
He engaged to be with them by four o'clock.
Sense and Sensibility - Chapter 13 Sense and Sensibility Sense and Sensibility - Chapter 15