JA quotes and intro

"I should infinitely prefer a book." -- Chapter 39, Pride and Prejudice
"...I wish my collection were larger for your benefit and my own credit..." -- Chapter 8, Pride and Prejudice
"I shall be glad to have the library to myself as soon as may be." -- Chapter 20, Pride and Prejudice

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Friday, July 26, 2013

The Excursion to Whitwell, Part 4

Marianne awoke to bright sunlight. She had not believed that she would sleep at all and was on the point of berating herself for such a lack of sensibility when she decided that Willoughby’s guilt militated against doing so. He was the one who deserved to spend a sleepless night, not she.

Nevertheless, she was far from rested and far from happy.

Sick of being alone with her misery and ready to avail herself of what solace could be found in the company of her family, she sought them out with determined steps, only faltering when a man’s voice reached her ears.

“I am for London almost this moment. I must see her,” he insisted, “before I go.”

She knew the voice as well as she knew her own. Part of her wished to fly back up the stairs and shut herself in her room. Part of her could not resist seeing his face again, searching it in hopes of finding something like remorse.

“Elinor?” she called, and Elinor was at her side at once, steadying her, lest she swoon. She had not felt at first how light-headed she had become.

“Marianne,” Willoughby and Elinor said together, the former having followed the latter.

“What do you do here?” Marianne said to Willoughby, looking fully at him and feeling tears begin to form.

“Marianne,” he pleaded, “I must speak to you.”

“Do you wish me to stay with you?” Elinor asked as she supported Marianne and walked with her to the parlour. “And you, sir,” she said over her shoulder at Willoughby, “I must request again that you kindly leave.”

“Do not worry, Elinor. He cannot harm me now.” Truly, whatever harm he could have done had already been accomplished. “I shall be quite safe here.” She blinked at the sight of Willoughby, standing there with a touch of anxiety showing on his face, but on the whole appearing as though nothing of great import had occurred. It angered her. “Quite as safe,” she added with emphasis, “as I was with Colonel Brandon yesterday.” She watched Willoughby as she spoke. “We shall not be long.”

Willoughby grimaced just as she had expected, but he said nothing. Elinor seemed not at all satisfied but reluctantly left them to themselves, as it seemed Willoughby would say nothing more while she remained with them.

Now they were alone, Marianne was not as confident in her safety. She feared she was in greater danger of falling apart rather than falling for any scheme of Willoughby’s, however.

“I suppose I have been supplanted,” Willoughby said, sulking. “Shall I congratulate you on your latest conquest?”

“Considering our last conversation, I do not imagine you have serious designs.”

“You cannot think I was toying with you! Marianne—”

“You have no right to call me that.” The very words stung, but she felt she must say them.

“You have never complained before!”

“Sir,” she said, trying to control the trembling of her voice, “I believe all claims to intimacy were forfeited the moment I learned of—and you yourself confirmed—your callous treatment of Miss Williams.”

“Marianne, you—”

“Mr. Willoughby, please!”

Miss Marianne, I will not pretend that…Uh! This is so unnatural!” He leapt up and walked to the mantel. “You know I did not come of age yesterday,” he said in a soft voice, not devoid of feeling. “Surely you do not think I have never been in the company of women.”

“I understand that men do have…that there are things that men do that might not suit the sensibilities of many women, including their future wives. Oh!” She put her hand to her mouth. “I did not mean to say it that way, as if there are expectations, as if any hopes on my part had survived—but it hardly matters now.” She swallowed and would not look at him. “It was not so much the idea that you had met someone before me.” It had very much been the idea, however, on that fateful day at Whitwell, even before she had discovered the worst of it. She had never felt jealousy like that. Who, before that moment, had denied her anything she had truly wanted? Whom had she ever wanted before she met Willoughby?

“Then why are you so cold? I told you there was nothing,” he insisted, “that she was nothing, is nothing now. And how can you take the side of that man—you, who ignored and ridiculed him by turns along with me?”

To question her loyalty when he had been the cause of the breach between them was bad enough, but to attack the man he had injured, who had put aside the notion of a duel for her sake and who had refrained from any further displays of open hostility, was entirely too much!

That man, as you call him, has his ward to think of. At least someone is thinking of Miss Williams.”

“Do you really believe that I should go running to London to entangle myself again with a girl who does not know what she is about? She is in every way inferior to you!”

To this Marianne did not know what to say. How could she enjoy being flattered at Miss Williams’s expense? She did not like it at all, and she thought less of Willoughby for it, if that were even possible.

Willoughby went on. “Have you even given any thought,” he hissed in what she supposed was meant to pass as a whisper, “to the reason she is the ward of Colonel Brandon?” He looked at her with a triumphant smile: If you do not condemn him for his indiscretion, it said as clearly as if he had spoken the words, then you cannot condemn me for mine.

“He is her ward for the usual reasons—tragedy. Of the father I know nothing, but the girl’s mother, a close relation of the colonel, has been dead these thirteen years. He did what was asked of him and has done it so well, despite this recent lapse of his ward, that a much nearer relationship than cousin has been assumed by some.”

Marianne expected Willoughby to be disappointed, but his mood seemed somehow lightened by her news. It made no sense to her. “Ha! Only a cousin! And for his devotion to his cousin, this dull man suddenly wins your approval? How can that be?”

“Mr. Willoughby,” she said, “if I had no right to demand an explanation from you yesterday, then you have no right to demand one from me now.” She shook with anger, sorry that by so doing she was prevented from speaking as forcefully as she wished, but hardly able to help it under such provocation. “I recall very clearly the way you attempted to justify your actions and claim innocence of any wrongdoing. I remember your expression as you declared the whole situation ‘unconscionable’ and turned away from it and from me. You refused to remain and sort the matter out with Colonel Brandon, which would have been the honourable thing to do. You could not get away from him rapidly enough.”

As she paused for breath and watched Willoughby’s eyes evade hers and flit from object to object around the room, an idea struck her, and it seemed so obvious she almost laughed. “You were afraid, were you not?” If she could have smiled then, she would have. “And not just of being found out! You were terrified that the colonel would call you out right where you stood! He did say he ought to do so, I remember! So you left before he could form the words.”

She did not smile then, but she did laugh, hollow though the sound was, for she did not think the situation funny at all. “You left Eliza because you did not want to know whether she was with child and then have to make some provision for her. You did not want to face her guardian, and rightly so. You…are a coward.”

He blanched but did not contradict her.

How could she have been so wrong about him? True, he had not been tested until now. Everything had been easy for him here. He had been at leisure his whole time in the country, with no one to please but himself, and pleasing her had seemed a natural consequence of his being the man he was, an effortless certainty.

“Did you know,” she wondered aloud, her eyes growing wide as she considered the possibility, “that he was her guardian? Is that the true reason for your dislike of Colonel Brandon?”

“I…I did not know! I swear I did not!” She had succeeded in discomposing him, but she could not determine whether a lack of composure or a lack of forthrightness caused him to stumble in his speech. “She never said,” he continued, “and I never asked. Why would I have cared?” The sound of his voice tapered almost to a choked whisper.

“Marianne,” Elinor called just before entering the room. “Forgive me for interrupting, but—”

“I was just leaving, Miss Dashwood,” Willoughby said, standing. He bowed. “Please give my regards to Mrs. Dashwood and Miss Margaret.” His manner at parting seemed but a shadow of what the ladies had known it to be in happier times. Marianne felt sorry for him. There seemed to be so little left of those qualities that had appealed to her in the beginning. His charm was forced, and his customary warmth was eclipsed by his obvious desire to be away. His face appeared less handsome when marred by unreasonable discontent, or by some emotion just short of shame. For he still did not seem ashamed of what he had done, merely embarrassed and angry at having been caught.

“Are you well, Marianne?” Elinor asked when Willoughby was out of sight and hearing.

“No, but I am no worse off than I was before I saw him.”

“How I wish you had never had to endure this! There is much I would say, but I am afraid of giving you pain.”

“You can do no worse than what Willoughby himself has done, and your motives and manner must be superior to his. If you mean to remind me of your advice to proceed carefully, I assure you I feel my lack of attention to the lesson as strongly as you could desire. And yet I do not see how I could have been other than what I was!”

“No, no! Now is not the time for recrimination! All the circumspection in the world would not have brought you knowledge of that which he had determined to conceal! There would now be fewer explanations expected from our friends, perhaps, but I daresay your heartbreak would still have been as acute.”

Marianne closed her eyes, thankful to be understood and not admonished at such a moment.

Elinor clasped her hands. “You must eat,” she insisted.

“I have no appetite.”

“Just a little, then.” Her sister left the room and came back with her hands full. “Here,” she said, setting down the tray and handing Marianne something from it immediately. “As you eat, I shall read you the note Colonel Brandon left for Mama this morning. She showed it to me earlier.” Elinor glanced at her. “But perhaps you would like to read it yourself.”

The only thing that stopped Marianne from reaching for the letter was the plate Elinor had thrust into her hands. She placed it in her lap. “I told you, Elinor, my appetite is nonexistent.”

“One bite. I will not be satisfied with less.”

“One!” Marianne took her one bite, which turned into two, and then into more.

“It is as I thought, Elinor said, smiling. “Your appetite was only waiting to be coaxed out of hiding.”

“I think I will read the letter after all.”

Elinor smiled even more broadly.