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Sense and Sensibility, a novel by Jane Austen


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_ In a firm, though cautious tone, Elinor thus began.

"I should be undeserving of the confidence you have
honoured me with, if I felt no desire for its continuance,
or no farther curiosity on its subject. I will
not apologize therefore for bringing it forward again."

"Thank you," cried Lucy warmly, "for breaking
the ice; you have set my heart at ease by it; for I was
somehow or other afraid I had offended you by what I
told you that Monday."

"Offended me! How could you suppose so? Believe me,"
and Elinor spoke it with the truest sincerity,
"nothing could be farther from my intention than to give
you such an idea. Could you have a motive for the trust,
that was not honourable and flattering to me?"

"And yet I do assure you," replied Lucy, her little
sharp eyes full of meaning, "there seemed to me to be
a coldness and displeasure in your manner that made me
quite uncomfortable. I felt sure that you was angry with me;
and have been quarrelling with myself ever since, for having
took such a liberty as to trouble you with my affairs.
But I am very glad to find it was only my own fancy,
and that you really do not blame me. If you knew what a
consolation it was to me to relieve my heart speaking to you
of what I am always thinking of every moment of my life,
your compassion would make you overlook every thing else
I am sure."

"Indeed, I can easily believe that it was a very great
relief to you, to acknowledge your situation to me, and be
assured that you shall never have reason to repent it.
Your case is a very unfortunate one; you seem to me to
be surrounded with difficulties, and you will have need
of all your mutual affection to support you under them.
Mr. Ferrars, I believe, is entirely dependent on his mother."

"He has only two thousand pounds of his own; it would
be madness to marry upon that, though for my own part,
I could give up every prospect of more without a sigh.
I have been always used to a very small income, and could
struggle with any poverty for him; but I love him too well
to be the selfish means of robbing him, perhaps, of all that
his mother might give him if he married to please her.
We must wait, it may be for many years. With almost every
other man in the world, it would be an alarming prospect;
but Edward's affection and constancy nothing can deprive me of
I know."

"That conviction must be every thing to you;
and he is undoubtedly supported by the same trust in your's.
If the strength of your reciprocal attachment had failed,
as between many people, and under many circumstances
it naturally would during a four years' engagement,
your situation would have been pitiable, indeed."

Lucy here looked up; but Elinor was careful
in guarding her countenance from every expression
that could give her words a suspicious tendency.

"Edward's love for me," said Lucy, "has been pretty
well put to the test, by our long, very long absence
since we were first engaged, and it has stood the trial
so well, that I should be unpardonable to doubt it now.
I can safely say that he has never gave me one moment's
alarm on that account from the first."

Elinor hardly knew whether to smile or sigh
at this assertion.

Lucy went on. "I am rather of a jealous temper too
by nature, and from our different situations in life,
from his being so much more in the world than me, and our
continual separation, I was enough inclined for suspicion,
to have found out the truth in an instant, if there had been
the slightest alteration in his behaviour to me when we met,
or any lowness of spirits that I could not account for,
or if he had talked more of one lady than another,
or seemed in any respect less happy at Longstaple than he
used to be. I do not mean to say that I am particularly
observant or quick-sighted in general, but in such a case
I am sure I could not be deceived."

"All this," thought Elinor, "is very pretty;
but it can impose upon neither of us."

"But what," said she after a short silence,
"are your views? or have you none but that of waiting for
Mrs. Ferrars's death, which is a melancholy and shocking
extremity?--Is her son determined to submit to this,
and to all the tediousness of the many years of suspense
in which it may involve you, rather than run the risk
of her displeasure for a while by owning the truth?"

"If we could be certain that it would be only
for a while! But Mrs. Ferrars is a very headstrong
proud woman, and in her first fit of anger upon hearing
it, would very likely secure every thing to Robert,
and the idea of that, for Edward's sake, frightens away
all my inclination for hasty measures."

"And for your own sake too, or you are carrying
your disinterestedness beyond reason."

Lucy looked at Elinor again, and was silent.

"Do you know Mr. Robert Ferrars?" asked Elinor.

"Not at all--I never saw him; but I fancy he
is very unlike his brother--silly and a great coxcomb."

"A great coxcomb!" repeated Miss Steele, whose ear had
caught those words by a sudden pause in Marianne's music.--
"Oh, they are talking of their favourite beaux, I dare say."

"No sister," cried Lucy, "you are mistaken there, our
favourite beaux are NOT great coxcombs."

"I can answer for it that Miss Dashwood's is not,"
said Mrs. Jennings, laughing heartily; "for he is one
of the modestest, prettiest behaved young men I ever saw;
but as for Lucy, she is such a sly little creature,
there is no finding out who SHE likes."

"Oh," cried Miss Steele, looking significantly round
at them, "I dare say Lucy's beau is quite as modest
and pretty behaved as Miss Dashwood's."

Elinor blushed in spite of herself. Lucy bit her lip,
and looked angrily at her sister. A mutual silence took
place for some time. Lucy first put an end to it by saying
in a lower tone, though Marianne was then giving them
the powerful protection of a very magnificent concerto--

"I will honestly tell you of one scheme which has
lately come into my head, for bringing matters to bear;
indeed I am bound to let you into the secret, for you
are a party concerned. I dare say you have seen enough
of Edward to know that he would prefer the church to every
other profession; now my plan is that he should take
orders as soon as he can, and then through your interest,
which I am sure you would be kind enough to use out of
friendship for him, and I hope out of some regard to me,
your brother might be persuaded to give him Norland living;
which I understand is a very good one, and the present
incumbent not likely to live a great while. That would
be enough for us to marry upon, and we might trust to time
and chance for the rest."

"I should always be happy," replied Elinor, "to show
any mark of my esteem and friendship for Mr. Ferrars;
but do you not perceive that my interest on such an
occasion would be perfectly unnecessary? He is brother
to Mrs. John Dashwood--THAT must be recommendation enough
to her husband."

"But Mrs. John Dashwood would not much approve
of Edward's going into orders."

"Then I rather suspect that my interest would
do very little."

They were again silent for many minutes. At length
Lucy exclaimed with a deep sigh,

"I believe it would be the wisest way to put an end
to the business at once by dissolving the engagement.
We seem so beset with difficulties on every side,
that though it would make us miserable for a time,
we should be happier perhaps in the end. But you will
not give me your advice, Miss Dashwood?"

"No," answered Elinor, with a smile, which concealed
very agitated feelings, "on such a subject I certainly
will not. You know very well that my opinion would have
no weight with you, unless it were on the side of your wishes."

"Indeed you wrong me," replied Lucy, with great
solemnity; "I know nobody of whose judgment I think
so highly as I do of yours; and I do really believe,
that if you was to say to me, 'I advise you by all means
to put an end to your engagement with Edward Ferrars,
it will be more for the happiness of both of you,'
I should resolve upon doing it immediately."

Elinor blushed for the insincerity of Edward's
future wife, and replied, "This compliment would effectually
frighten me from giving any opinion on the subject
had I formed one. It raises my influence much too high;
the power of dividing two people so tenderly attached
is too much for an indifferent person."

"'Tis because you are an indifferent person," said Lucy,
with some pique, and laying a particular stress on those words,
"that your judgment might justly have such weight with me.
If you could be supposed to be biased in any respect
by your own feelings, your opinion would not be worth having."

Elinor thought it wisest to make no answer to this,
lest they might provoke each other to an unsuitable increase
of ease and unreserve; and was even partly determined
never to mention the subject again. Another pause
therefore of many minutes' duration, succeeded this speech,
and Lucy was still the first to end it.

"Shall you be in town this winter, Miss Dashwood?"
said she with all her accustomary complacency.

"Certainly not."

"I am sorry for that," returned the other,
while her eyes brightened at the information,
"it would have gave me such pleasure to meet you there!
But I dare say you will go for all that. To be sure,
your brother and sister will ask you to come to them."

"It will not be in my power to accept their invitation
if they do."

"How unlucky that is! I had quite depended upon
meeting you there. Anne and me are to go the latter end
of January to some relations who have been wanting us to
visit them these several years! But I only go for the sake
of seeing Edward. He will be there in February, otherwise
London would have no charms for me; I have not spirits for it."

Elinor was soon called to the card-table by the
conclusion of the first rubber, and the confidential
discourse of the two ladies was therefore at an end,
to which both of them submitted without any reluctance,
for nothing had been said on either side to make them
dislike each other less than they had done before;
and Elinor sat down to the card table with the melancholy
persuasion that Edward was not only without affection
for the person who was to be his wife; but that he had
not even the chance of being tolerably happy in marriage,
which sincere affection on HER side would have given,
for self-interest alone could induce a woman to keep a man
to an engagement, of which she seemed so thoroughly aware
that he was weary.

From this time the subject was never revived by Elinor,
and when entered on by Lucy, who seldom missed an opportunity
of introducing it, and was particularly careful to inform
her confidante, of her happiness whenever she received a letter
from Edward, it was treated by the former with calmness
and caution, and dismissed as soon as civility would allow;
for she felt such conversations to be an indulgence which
Lucy did not deserve, and which were dangerous to herself.

The visit of the Miss Steeles at Barton Park was
lengthened far beyond what the first invitation implied.
Their favour increased; they could not be spared;
Sir John would not hear of their going; and in spite
of their numerous and long arranged engagements in Exeter,
in spite of the absolute necessity of returning to fulfill
them immediately, which was in full force at the end
of every week, they were prevailed on to stay nearly two
months at the park, and to assist in the due celebration
of that festival which requires a more than ordinary
share of private balls and large dinners to proclaim
its importance. _

Read next: VOLUME 2: CHAPTER 25

Read previous: VOLUME 2: CHAPTER 23

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