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Sense and Sensibility, a novel by Jane Austen


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_ Marianne, who had never much toleration for any
thing like impertinence, vulgarity, 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 Miss Steeles,
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 shew 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 desirous
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 be impertinent."

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

"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

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 Miss Dashwoods 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."

"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."

"Your uncle!"

"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 who all my happiness

"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 set for it the very first opportunity."

"You are quite in the right," replied Elinor calmly.
They then 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 inquiries 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 t'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 compassionate.

"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
sometime 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 Miss Steeles
returned to the Park, and Elinor was then at liberty
to think and be wretched. _

Read next: VOLUME 2: CHAPTER 23

Read previous: VOLUME 1: CHAPTER 21

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