Marianne, who had never much toleration for any thing like
, inferiority of parts, or even difference of
taste from herself, was at this time particularly ill-disposed, from
the state of her spirits, to be pleased with the Misses Steele, or
to encourage their advances; and to the invariable coldness of her
behaviour towards them, which checked every endeavour at intimacy on
their side, Elinor principally attributed that preference of herself
which soon became evident in the manners of both, but especially of
Lucy, who missed no opportunity of engaging her in conversation, or of
striving to improve their acquaintance by an easy and frank
communication of her sentiments.
Lucy was naturally clever; her remarks were often just and
amusing; and as a companion for half an hour Elinor frequently found
her agreeable; but her powers had received no aid from education:
she was ignorant and illiterate; and her deficiency of all mental
improvement, her want of information in the most common particulars,
could not be concealed from Miss Dashwood, in spite of her constant
endeavour to appear to advantage. Elinor saw, and pitied her for the
neglect of abilities which education might have rendered so
respectable; but she saw, with less tenderness of feeling, the
thorough want of delicacy, of rectitude, and integrity of mind,
which her attentions, her assiduities, her flatteries at the Park
betrayed; and she could have no lasting satisfaction in the company of
a person who joined insincerity with ignorance; whose want of
instruction prevented their meeting in conversation on terms of
equality, and whose conduct toward others made every show of attention
and deference towards herself perfectly valueless.
"You will think my question an odd one, I dare say," said Lucy
to her one day, as they were walking together from the Park to the
cottage; "but, pray, are you personally acquainted with your
sister-in-law's mother, Mrs. Ferrars?"
Elinor did think the question a very odd one, and her
countenance expressed it, as she answered that she had never seen Mrs. Ferrars.
"Indeed!" replied Lucy; "I wonder at that, for I thought you
must have seen her at Norland sometimes. Then, perhaps, you cannot
tell me what sort of a woman she is?"
"No," returned Elinor, cautious of giving her real opinion of
Edward's mother, and not very desirious of satisfying what seemed
impertinent curiosity; "I know nothing of her."
"I am sure you think me very strange, for enquiring about her in
such a way," said Lucy, eyeing Elinor attentively as she spoke; "but
perhaps there may be reasons- I wish I might venture; but, however,
I hope you will do me the justice of believing that I do not mean to
Elinor made her a civil reply, and they walked on for a few
minutes in silence. It was broken by Lucy, who renewed the subject
again by saying, with some hesitation,-
"I cannot bear to have you think me impertinently curious. I am
sure I would rather do any thing in the world than be thought so by
a person whose good opinion is so well worth having as yours. And I am
sure I should not have the smallest fear of trusting you; indeed, I
should be very glad of your advice how to manage in such and
uncomfortable situation as I am; but, however, there is no occasion to
trouble you. I am sorry you do not happen to know Mrs. Ferrars."
"I am sorry I do not," said Elinor, in great astonishment, "if
it could be of any use to you to know my opinion of her. But really
I never understood that you were at all connected with that family,
and therefore I am a little surprised, I confess, at so serious an
inquiry into her character."
"I dare say you are, and I am sure I do not at all wonder at it.
But if I dared tell you all, you would not be so much surprised.
Mrs. Ferrars is certainly nothing to me at present; but the time may
come- how soon it will come must depend upon herself- when we may be
very intimately connected."
She looked down as she said this, amiably bashful, with only one
side glance at her companion to observe its effect on her.
"Good heavens!" cried Elinor, "what do you mean? Are you
acquainted with Mr. Robert Ferrars? Can you be?" And she did not
feel much delighted with the idea of such a sister-in-law.
"No," replied Lucy, "not to Mr. Robert Ferrars- I never saw him in
my life; but," fixing her eyes upon Elinor, "to his eldest brother."
What felt Elinor at that moment? Astonishment, that would have
been as painful as it was strong, had not an immediate disbelief of
the assertion attended it. She turned towards Lucy in silent
amazement, unable to divine the reason or object of such a
declaration; and though her complexion varied, she stood firm in
incredulity, and felt in no danger of an hysterical fit or a swoon.
"You may well be surprised," continued Lucy; "for to be sure you
could have had no idea of it before; for I dare say he never dropped
the smallest hint of it to you or any of your family; because it was
always meant to be a great secret, and I am sure has been faithfully
kept so by me to this hour. Not a soul of all my relations know of
it but Anne, and I never should have mentioned it to you, if I had not
felt the greatest dependence in the world upon your secrecy; and I
really thought my behaviour in asking so many questions about Mrs.
Ferrars must seem so odd, that it ought to be explained. And I do
not think Mr. Ferrars can be displeased, when he knows I have
trusted you, because I know he has the highest opinion in the world of
all your family, and looks upon yourself and the other Misses Dashwood
quite as his own sisters." She paused.
Elinor for a few moments remained silent. Her astonishment at what
she heard was at first too great for words; but at length forcing
herself to speak, and to speak cautiously, she said, with calmness
of manner which tolerably well concealed her surprise and solicitude,-
"May I ask if your engagement is of long standing?"
"We have been engaged these four years."
Elinor, though greatly shocked, still felt unable to believe it.
"I did not know," said she, "that you were even acquainted till
the other day."
"Our acquaintance, however, is of many years' date. He was under
my uncle's care, you know, a considerable while."
"Yes; Mr. Pratt. Did you never hear him talk of Mr. Pratt?"
"I think I have," replied Elinor, with an exertion of spirits,
which increased with her increase of emotion.
"He was four years with my uncle, who lives at Longstaple, near
Plymouth. It was there our acquaintance begun, for my sister and me
was often staying with my uncle, and it was there our engagement was
formed, though not till a year after he had quitted as a pupil; but he
was almost always with us afterwards. I was very unwilling to enter
into it, as you may imagine, without the knowledge and approbation
of his mother; but I was too young, and loved him too well, to be so
prudent as I ought to have been. Though you do not know him so well as
me, Miss Dashwood, you must have seen enough of him to be sensible
he is very capable of making a woman sincerely attached to him."
"Certainly," answered Elinor, without knowing what she said; but
after a moment's reflection, she added, with revived security of
Edward's honour and love, and her companion's falsehood, "Engaged to
Mr. Edward Ferrars!- I confess myself so totally surprised at what you
tell me, that really- I beg your pardon; but surely there must be some
mistake of person or name. We cannot mean the same Mr. Ferrars."
"We can mean no other," cried Lucy, smiling. "Mr. Edward
Ferrars, the eldest son of Mrs. Ferrars, of Park Street, and brother
of your sister-in-law, Mrs. John Dashwood is the person I mean; you
must allow that I am not likely to be deceived as to the name of the
man on whom all my happiness depends."
"It is strange," replied Elinor, in a most painful perplexity,
"that I should never have heard him even mention your name."
"No; considering our situation, it was not strange. Our first care
has been to keep the matter secret. You knew nothing of me, or my
family, and, therefore, there could be no occasion for ever mentioning
my name to you; and, as he was always particularly afraid of his
sister's suspecting any thing, that was reason enough for his not mentioning it."
She was silent. Elinor's security sunk; but her self-command did
not sink with it.
"Four years you have been engaged," said she, with a firm voice.
"Yes; and heaven knows how much longer we may have to wait. Poor
Edward! It puts him quite out of heart." Then taking a small miniature
from her pocket, she added, "To prevent the possibility of mistake, be
so good as to look at this face. It does not do him justice, to be
sure, but yet I think you cannot be deceived as to the person it was
drew for. I have had it above these three years."
She put it into her hands as she spoke; and when Elinor saw the
painting, whatever other doubts her fear of a too hasty decision, or
her wish of detecting falsehood, might suffer to linger in her mind,
she could have none of its being Edward's face. She returned it almost
instantly, acknowledging the likeness.
"I have never been able," continued Lucy, "to give him my
picture in return, which I am very much vexed at, for he has been
always so anxious to get it! But I am determined to sit for it the
very first opportunity."
"You are quite in the right," replied Elinor, calmly.
proceeded a few paces in silence. Lucy spoke first.
"I am sure," said she, "I have no doubt in the world of your
faithfully keeping this secret, because you must know of what
importance it is to us, not to have it reach his mother; for she would
never approve of it, I dare say. I shall have no fortune, and I
fancy she is an exceeding proud woman."
"I certainly did not seek your confidence," said Elinor; "but
you do me no more than justice in imagining that I may be depended on.
Your secret is safe with me; but pardon me if I express some
surprise at so unnecessary a communication. You must at least have
felt that my being acquainted with it could not add to its safety."
As she said this, she looked earnestly at Lucy, hoping to discover
something in her countenance; perhaps the falsehood of the greatest
part of what she had been saying; but Lucy's countenance suffered no change.
"I was afraid you would think I was taking a great liberty with
you," said she, "in telling you all this. I have not known you long,
to be sure, personally at least, but I have known you and all your
family by description a great while; and as soon as I saw you, I
felt almost as if you was an old acquaintance. Besides, in the present
case, I really thought some explanation was due to you, after my
making such particular enquiries about Edward's mother; and I am so
unfortunate, that I have not a creature whose advice I can ask. Anne
is the only person that knows of it, and she has no judgment at all;
indeed, she does me a great deal more harm than good, for I am in
constant fear of her betraying me. She does not know how to hold her
tongue, as you must perceive; and I am sure I was in the greatest
fright in the world the other day, when Edward's name was mentioned by
Sir John, lest she should out with it all. You can't think how much
I go through in my mind from it altogether. I only wonder that I am
alive, after what I have suffered for Edward's sake these last four
years. Every thing in such suspense and uncertainty; and seeing him so
seldom- we can hardly meet above twice a year. I am sure I wonder my
heart is not quite broke."
Here she took out her handkerchief; but Elinor did not feel very
"Sometimes." continued Lucy, after wiping her eyes, "I think
whether it would not be better for us both to break off the matter
entirely." As she said this, she looked directly at her companion.
"But then, at other times, I have not resolution enough for it. I
cannot bear the thoughts of making him so miserable, as I know the
very mention of such a thing would do. And on my own account too- so
dear as he is to me- I don't think I could be equal to it. What
would you advise me to do in such a case, Miss Dashwood? What would
you do yourself?"
"Pardon me," replied Elinor, startled by the question; "but I
can give you no advice under such circumstances. Your own judgment
must direct you."
"To be sure," continued Lucy, after a few minutes' silence on both
sides, "his mother must provide for him some time or other; but poor
Edward is so cast down by it! Did you not think him dreadful
low-spirited when he was at Barton? He was so miserable when he left
us at Longstaple, to go to you, that I was afraid you would think him quite ill."
"Did he come from your uncle's, then, when he visited us?"
"Oh, yes; he had been staying a fortnight with us. Did you think
he came directly from town?"
"No," replied Elinor, most feelingly sensible of every fresh
circumstance in favour of Lucy's veracity; "I remember he told us,
that he had been staying a fortnight with some friends near Plymouth."
She remembered, too, her own surprise at the time, at his mentioning
nothing farther of those friends, at his total silence with respect
even to their names.
"Did not you think him sadly out of spirits?" repeated Lucy.
"We did, indeed, particularly so when he first arrived."
"I begged him to exert himself for fear you should suspect what
was the matter; but it made him so melancholy, not being able to
stay more than a fortnight with us, and seeing me so
much affected. Poor fellow! I am afraid it is just the same with him
now; for he writes in wretched spirits. I heard from him just before I
left Exeter;" taking a letter from her pocket, and carelessly
showing the direction to Elinor. "You know his hand, I dare say,- a
charming one it is; but that is not written so well as usual. He was
tired, I dare say, for he had just filled the sheet to me as full as possible."
Elinor saw that it was his hand, and she could doubt no longer.
This picture, she had allowed herself to believe, might have been
accidentally obtained; it might not have been Edward's gift; but a
correspondence between them by letter could subsist only under a
positive engagement, could be authorised by nothing else: for a few
moments she was almost overcome- her heart sunk within her, and she
could hardly stand; but exertion was indispensably necessary; and
she struggled so resolutely against the oppression of her feelings,
that her success was speedy, and for the time complete.
"Writing to each other," said Lucy, returning the letter into
her pocket, "is the only comfort we have in such long separations.
Yes, I have one other comfort in his picture, but poor Edward has
not even that. If he had but my picture, he says he should be easy.
I gave him a lock of my hair set in a ring when he was at Longstaple
last, and that was some comfort to him, he said, but not equal to a
picture. Perhaps you might notice the ring when you saw him?"
"I did," said Elinor, with a composure of voice, under which was
concealed an emotion and distress beyond any thing she had ever felt
before. She was mortified, shocked, confounded.
Fortunately for her, they had now reached the cottage, and the
conversation could be continued no farther. After sitting with them
a few minutes, the Misses Steeles returned to the Park, and Elinor was
then at liberty to think and be wretched.
Sense and Sensibility - Chapter 21 Sense and Sensibility Sense and Sensibility - Chapter 23