Little had Mrs. Dashwood or her daughters imagined
when they first came into Devonshire, that so many
engagements would arise to occupy their time as shortly
presented themselves, or that they should have such frequent
invitations and such constant visitors as to leave them little
leisure for serious employment. Yet such was the case.
When Marianne was recovered, the schemes of amusement at home
and abroad, which Sir John had been previously forming,
were put into execution. The private balls at the park
then began; and parties on the water were made and
accomplished as often as a showery October would allow.
In every meeting of the kind Willoughby was included;
and the ease and familiarity which naturally attended
these parties were exactly calculated to give increasing
intimacy to his acquaintance with the Dashwoods, to afford
him opportunity of witnessing the excellencies of Marianne,
of marking his animated admiration of her, and of receiving,
in her behaviour to himself, the most pointed assurance
of her affection.
Elinor could not be surprised at their attachment.
She only wished that it were less openly shewn; and once
or twice did venture to suggest the propriety of some
self-command to Marianne. But Marianne abhorred all
concealment where no real disgrace could attend unreserve;
and to aim at the restraint of sentiments which were not
in themselves illaudable, appeared to her not merely
an unnecessary effort, but a disgraceful subjection
of reason to common-place and mistaken notions.
Willoughby thought the same; and their behaviour at
all times, was an illustration of their opinions.
When he was present she had no eyes for any one else.
Every thing he did, was right. Every thing he said, was clever.
If their evenings at the park were concluded with cards,
he cheated himself and all the rest of the party to get
her a good hand. If dancing formed the amusement
of the night, they were partners for half the time;
and when obliged to separate for a couple of dances,
were careful to stand together and scarcely spoke a word
to any body else. Such conduct made them of course
most exceedingly laughed at; but ridicule could not shame,
and seemed hardly to provoke them.
Mrs. Dashwood entered into all their feelings with
a warmth which left her no inclination for checking this
excessive display of them. To her it was but the natural
consequence of a strong affection in a young and ardent mind.
This was the season of happiness to Marianne.
Her heart was devoted to Willoughby, and the fond attachment
to Norland, which she brought with her from Sussex,
was more likely to be softened than she had thought it
possible before, by the charms which his society bestowed
on her present home.
Elinor's happiness was not so great. Her heart was not
so much at ease, nor her satisfaction in their amusements
so pure. They afforded her no companion that could make
amends for what she had left behind, nor that could teach
her to think of Norland with less regret than ever.
Neither Lady Middleton nor Mrs. Jennings could supply
to her the conversation she missed; although the latter
was an everlasting talker, and from the first had regarded
her with a kindness which ensured her a large share of
her discourse. She had already repeated her own history
to Elinor three or four times; and had Elinor's memory been
equal to her means of improvement, she might have known
very early in their acquaintance all the particulars of
Mr. Jenning's last illness, and what he said to his wife
a few minutes before he died. Lady Middleton was more
agreeable than her mother only in being more silent.
Elinor needed little observation to perceive that her
reserve was a mere calmness of manner with which sense
had nothing to do. Towards her husband and mother she
was the same as to them; and intimacy was therefore
neither to be looked for nor desired. She had nothing
to say one day that she had not said the day before.
Her insipidity was invariable, for even her spirits were
always the same; and though she did not oppose the parties
arranged by her husband, provided every thing were conducted
in style and her two eldest children attended her,
she never appeared to receive more enjoyment from them
than she might have experienced in sitting at home;--
and so little did her presence add to the pleasure
of the others, by any share in their conversation,
that they were sometimes only reminded of her being
amongst them by her solicitude about her troublesome boys.
In Colonel Brandon alone, of all her new acquaintance,
did Elinor find a person who could in any degree claim the
respect of abilities, excite the interest of friendship,
or give pleasure as a companion. Willoughby was out
of the question. Her admiration and regard, even her
sisterly regard, was all his own; but he was a lover;
his attentions were wholly Marianne's, and a far less
agreeable man might have been more generally pleasing.
Colonel Brandon, unfortunately for himself, had no such
encouragement to think only of Marianne, and in conversing
with Elinor he found the greatest consolation for the
indifference of her sister.
Elinor's compassion for him increased, as she had reason
to suspect that the misery of disappointed love had already
been known to him. This suspicion was given by some words
which accidently dropped from him one evening at the park,
when they were sitting down together by mutual consent,
while the others were dancing. His eyes were fixed
on Marianne, and, after a silence of some minutes,
he said, with a faint smile, "Your sister, I understand,
does not approve of second attachments."
"No," replied Elinor, "her opinions are all romantic."
"Or rather, as I believe, she considers them
impossible to exist."
"I believe she does. But how she contrives it
without reflecting on the character of her own father,
who had himself two wives, I know not. A few years
however will settle her opinions on the reasonable basis
of common sense and observation; and then they may be
more easy to define and to justify than they now are,
by any body but herself."
"This will probably be the case," he replied;
"and yet there is something so amiable in the prejudices
of a young mind, that one is sorry to see them give way
to the reception of more general opinions."
"I cannot agree with you there," said Elinor.
"There are inconveniences attending such feelings
as Marianne's, which all the charms of enthusiasm and
ignorance of the world cannot atone for. Her systems have
all the unfortunate tendency of setting propriety at nought;
and a better acquaintance with the world is what I look
forward to as her greatest possible advantage."
After a short pause he resumed the conversation
"Does your sister make no distinction in her objections
against a second attachment? or is it equally criminal
in every body? Are those who have been disappointed
in their first choice, whether from the inconstancy
of its object, or the perverseness of circumstances,
to be equally indifferent during the rest of their lives?"
"Upon my word, I am not acquainted with the minutiae
of her principles. I only know that I never yet heard her
admit any instance of a second attachment's being pardonable."
"This," said he, "cannot hold; but a change,
a total change of sentiments--No, no, do not desire it;
for when the romantic refinements of a young mind
are obliged to give way, how frequently are they
succeeded by such opinions as are but too common, and too
dangerous! I speak from experience. I once knew a lady
who in temper and mind greatly resembled your sister,
who thought and judged like her, but who from an inforced
change--from a series of unfortunate circumstances"--
Here he stopt suddenly; appeared to think that he had said
too much, and by his countenance gave rise to conjectures,
which might not otherwise have entered Elinor's head.
The lady would probably have passed without suspicion,
had he not convinced Miss Dashwood that what concerned
her ought not to escape his lips. As it was,
it required but a slight effort of fancy to connect his
emotion with the tender recollection of past regard.
Elinor attempted no more. But Marianne, in her place,
would not have done so little. The whole story would
have been speedily formed under her active imagination;
and every thing established in the most melancholy order
of disastrous love.