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 was sorry for him; she wished him happy. But the
feelings of the past could not be recalled. Nothing could restore
him with a faith unbroken, a character unblemished, to Marianne.
Nothing could do away the knowledge of what the latter had suffered
through his means, nor remove the guilt of his conduct towards
Eliza. Nothing could replace him, therefore, in her former esteem, nor
injure the interests of Colonel Brandon.
Had Mrs. Dashwood, like her daughter, heard Willoughby's story
from himself,- had she witnessed his distress, and been under the
influence of his countenance and his manner,- it is probable that
her compassion would have been greater. But it was neither in Elinor's
power, nor in her wish, to rouse such feelings in another, by her
retailed explanation, as had at first been called forth in herself.
Reflection had given calmness to her judgment, and sobered her own
opinion of Willoughby's deserts; she wished, therefore, to declare
only the simple truth, and lay open such facts as were really due to
his character, without any embellishment of tenderness to lead the fancy astray.
In the evening, when they were all three together, Marianne
began voluntarily to speak of him again; but that it was not without
an effort, the restless, unquiet thoughtfulness in which she had
been for some time previously sitting, her rising colour, as she
spoke, and her unsteady voice, plainly showed.
"I wish to assure you both," said she, "that I see every thing
as you can desire me to do."
Mrs. Dashwood would have interrupted her instantly with soothing
tenderness, had not Elinor, who really wished to hear her sister's
unbiassed opinion, by an eager sign, engaged her silence. Marianne
"It is a great relief to me, what Elinor told me this morning; I
have now heard exactly what I wished to hear." For some moments her
voice was lost; but recovering herself, she added, and with greater
calmness than before,- "I am now perfectly satisfied, I wish no
change. I never could have been happy with him, after knowing, as
sooner or later I must have known, all this. I should have had no
confidence, no esteem. Nothing could have done it away to my feelings."
"I know it, I know it," cried her mother. "Happy with a man of
libertine practices! 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 such a man! Her conscience would have felt
all that the conscience 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 sound understanding must consider it; and I dare say you
perceive, as well as myself, not only in this, but in many other
circumstances, reason enough to be convinced that your marriage must
have involved you in many certain troubles and disappointments, in
which you would have been poorly supported by an affection, on his
side, much less certain. Had you married, you must have been always
poor. His expensiveness is acknowledged even by himself; and his whole
conduct declares, that self-denial is a word hardly understood by him.
His demands, and your inexperience together, on a small, very small
income, must have brought on distresses which would not be the less
grievous to you, from having been entirely unknown and unthought of
before. Your sense of honour and honesty would have led you, I know,
when aware of your situation, to attempt all the economy that would
appear to you possible: and, perhaps, as long as your frugality
retrenched only on your own comfort, you might have been suffered to
practice it, but beyond that and how little could the utmost of your
single management do to stop the ruin which had begun before your
marriage? beyond that, had you endeavoured, however reasonably, to
abridge his enjoyments, is it not to be feared, that instead of
prevailing on feelings so selfish to consent to it, you would have
lessened your own influence on his heart, and made him regret the
connection which had involved him in such difficulties?"
Marianne's lips quivered, and she repeated the word "selfish" in
a tone that implied, "Do you really think him selfish?"
"The whole of his behaviour," replied Elinor, "from the
beginning to the end of the affair, has been grounded on
selfishness. It was selfishness which first made him sport with your
affections; which afterwards, when his own were engaged, made him
delay the confession of it, and which finally carried him from Barton.
His own enjoyment, or his own ease, was, in every particular, his
"It is very true. My happiness never was his object."
"At present," continued Elinor, "he regrets what he has done.
And why does he regret it? Because he finds it has not answered
towards himself. It has not made him happy. His circumstances are
now unembarrassed- he suffers from no evil of that kind; and he thinks
only that he has married a woman of a less amiable temper than
yourself. But does it follow that had he married you, he would have
been happy? The inconveniences would have been different. He would
then have suffered under the pecuniary distresses which, because
they are removed, he now reckons as nothing. He would have had a
wife of whose temper he could make no complaint, but he would have
been always necessitous- always poor; and probably would soon have
learned to rank the innumerable comforts of a clear estate and good
income as of far more importance, even to domestic happiness, than the
mere temper of a wife."
"I have not a doubt of it," said Marianne; "and I have nothing
to regret- nothing but my own folly."
"Rather say your mother's imprudence, my child," said Mrs.
Dashwood: "she must be answerable."
Marianne would not let her proceed; and Elinor, satisfied that
each felt their own error, wished to avoid any survey of the past that
might weaken her sister's spirits; she, therefore, pursuing the
first subject, immediately continued-
"One observation may, I think, be fairly drawn from the whole of
the story- that all Willoughby's difficulties have arisen from the
first offence against virtue, in his behaviour to Eliza Williams. That
crime has been the origin of every lesser one, and of all his
Marianne assented most feelingly to the remark; and her mother was
led by it to an enumeration of Colonel Brandon's injuries and
merits, warm as friendship and design could unitedly dictate. Her
daughter did not look, however, as if much 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 her resolution was unsubdued, and she still
tried to appear cheerful and easy, her sister could safely trust to
the effect of time upon her health.
Margaret returned, and the family were again all restored to
each other, again quietly settled at the cottage; and if not
pursuing their usual studies with quite so much vigour as when they
first came to Barton, at least planning a vigorous prosecution of them in future.
Elinor grew impatient for some tidings of Edward. She had heard
nothing of him since her leaving London, nothing new of his plans,
nothing certain even of his present abode. Some letters had passed
between her and her brother, in consequence of Marianne's illness; and
in the first of John's there had been this sentence:- "We know nothing
of our unfortunate Edward, and can make no enquiries 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 was not 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
enquiries of his mistress as to the 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
turning pale, and fell back in her chair in hysterics. Mrs.
Dashwood, whose eyes, as she answered the servant's enquiry, had
intuitively taken the same direction, was shocked to perceive by
Elinor's countenance, how much she really suffered; and, in a moment
afterwards, alike distressed by Marianne's situation, knew not on
which child to bestow her principal attention.
The servant, who saw only that Miss Marianne was taken ill, had
sense enough to call one of the maids, who, with Mrs. Dashwood's
assistance, supported her into the other room. By that time,
Marianne was rather better; and her mother, leaving 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 and voice as to
be just beginning an enquiry of Thomas, as to the source of his
intelligence. Mrs. Dashwood immediately took all that trouble on
herself; and Elinor 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 New London Inn, as I went there with a message from
Sally at the Park to her brother, who is one of the post-boys. I
happened to look up as I went by the chaise, and so I see directly
it was the youngest Miss Steele, so I took off my hat, and she knew me
and called to me, and enquired after you, ma'am, and the young ladies,
especially Miss Marianne, and bid me I should give her compliments and
Mr. Ferrars's, their best compliments and service, and how sorry
they was they had not time to come on and see you; but they was in a
great hurry to go forwards, for they was going further down for a
little while, but however when they come back, they'd make sure to
come and see you."
"But did she tell you she was married, Thomas?"
"Yes, ma'am. She smiled, and said how she had changed her name
since she was in these parts. She was always a very affable and
free-spoken young lady, and very civil behaved. So, I made free towish 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: he never was a gentleman much for talking."
Elinor's heart could easily account for his not putting himself
forward; and Mrs. 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 then they'd be sure and call here."
Mrs. Dashwood now looked at her daughter; but Elinor knew better
than to expect them. She recognised the whole of Lucy in the
message, and was very confident 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, near Plymouth.
Thomas's intelligence seemed over. Elinor looked as if she
wished to hear more.
"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; I was 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 a very handsome young lady- and she seemed vastly contented."
Mrs. Dashwood could think of no other question; and Thomas and the
table-cloth, now alike needless, were soon afterwards dismissed.
Marianne had already sent to say, that she should eat nothing more.
Mrs. Dashwood's and Elinor's appetites were equally lost; and Margaret
might think herself very well off that, with so much uneasiness as
both her sisters had lately experienced, so much reason as they had
often had to be careless of their meals, she had never been obliged to
go without her dinner before.
When the dessert and the wine were arranged, and Mrs. Dashwood and
Elinor were left by themselves, they remained long together in a
similarity of thoughtfulness and silence. Mrs. Dashwood feared to
hazard any remark, and ventured not to offer consolation. She now
found that she had erred in relying on Elinor's representation of
herself; and justly concluded that every thing had been expressly
softened at the time, to spare her from an increase of unhappiness,
suffering as she then had suffered for Marianne. She found that she
had been misled by the careful, the considerate attention of her
daughter, to think the attachment of which once she had so well
understood, much slighter in reality than she had been wont to
believe, or than it was now proved to be. She feared that under this
persuasion she had been unjust, inattentive, nay, almost unkind, to
her Elinor; that Marianne's affliction, because more acknowledged,
more immediately before her, had too much engrossed her tenderness,
and led her away to forget that in Elinor she might have a daughter
suffering almost as much, certainly with less self-provocation and
Sense and Sensibility - Chapter 46 Sense and Sensibility Sense and Sensibility - Chapter 48