Elinor’s distress was acute. Marianne saw her sister struggle and fail to contain her feelings and provided a sorely needed shoulder upon which to weep. Though she suffered as well, Marianne struggled to be strong for Elinor. It was a rather novel service for her to perform for her usually steady sister, but the shock of Elinor’s emotion rendered any other course untenable.
Marianne’s first urging, once Elinor had exhausted her tears, was that they return to Norland at once. She knew what she sacrificed in suggesting such a course of action, knew that a hasty departure would likely bring an end to the very delightful acquaintance she had so recently begun, yet she hesitated not at all in so martyring herself. The moment, she reasoned, warranted sacrifice and tribulation. Elinor, however, even in her affliction, thought more was due to the hospitality of their hostess and brother than so unceremonious a desertion. Yes, she longed for the comfort of her mother’s embrace, but words on paper would suffice. Further, her pride demanded more than a retreat to Sussex. Though she was unlikely to meet Edward now that he was ruptured from his family, the ever reliable gossip mill would surely keep him informed regarding the actions of the estranged, and she would not have him know how deeply he wounded her heart. She would have her season and would hold her head high throughout, as befit a Dashwood of Norland.
Marianne found her sister’s bravery inspiring and praised her nobility to Mr. Willoughby when next he called. He had heard of the family’s falling out, though he was not previously privy to Miss Dashwood’s unique role in the drama. Marianne would not tell him all, for she could never so forget herself as to betray sisterly confidences, but she revealed enough in her enthusiasm for Elinor’s virtue for him to largely surmise the truth. Elinor, had she been privy to the exchange, would not have approved, but she was riding in the park with John, who was on a determined campaign to make sure his sister’s spirits and looks suffered no harm due to what he termed “Edward’s foolishness.”
The following weeks saw Mr. Willoughby as constantly in attendance of the Dashwood party as decorum and Fanny could sanction. Whenever possible, it was seen that he was invited to the same parties and gatherings. When such requests were untenable, he somehow managed to find himself included nonetheless. Elinor could not be surprised at their attachment. She only wished that it were less openly shown, but Marianne abhorred all concealment where no real disgrace could attend unreserve. Had not Elinor now learned all too well the folly of such diffidence? 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 behavior at all times was an illustration of their opinions.
When he was present, she had no eyes for anyone else. Everything he did was right. Everything he said was clever. If their evenings 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 taxed the bounds of politeness by the frequency with which they partnered and their neglect of everybody else. Such conduct made them most exceedingly laughed at, but ridicule could not shame and seemed hardly to provoke them. Their behavior rendered their engagement a foregone conclusion. Only Mrs. Dashwood’s absence from London delayed it.
This was the season of happiness to Marianne, her joy only checked by her sister’s less fruitful romance. Elinor's happiness could not be so great, but her disillusionment in Edward’s character and conduct went far to heal her wound. Also efficacious was her continued exposure to his disagreeable relations. She could not lament the loss of a future comprising a considerable amount of time spent in such unappealing company. She was fortunate enough to be spared any attempt on her sister-in-law’s part to attach her to the despicable Robert following the desertion of Miss Grey, much to Fanny’s chagrin, by the introduction to their circle of one Miss Morton, only daughter of the late Lord Morton and possessor of thirty thousand pounds.
It was soon learned that Mr. Ferrars had married Miss Steele, an act made possible by the generosity of an acquaintance procured in Devonshire, one Colonel Brandon, who, despite having no interest in the couple beyond pity for the treatment they had endured, had given Edward the living attached to his estate of Delaford in Dorsetshire. His alienated relations congratulated themselves on the likelihood of never seeing him again, his income not permitting trips to the capital, and wondered that anyone so unconnected to him should be so generous when they, who most properly should have provided him assistance, were so determined against anything of the kind.
Elinor bore the news of Edward’s marriage with equanimity. She had made good use of the intervening months and had gone a long way to feeling perfectly herself once more. The attentions of two competing suitors, both worthy, intelligent, and admirable, even if they had not engaged her feelings to the same degree as Edward once had, did much to elevate her spirits, even as she was forced to reason that first love might always be more dizzying than the more mature emotions that followed. Both Mr. Mathers and Sir William had much to offer towards the establishment of her future happiness. She would certainly choose between them before long, and she refused to harbor any regrets for what might have been.
When the Misses Dashwood returned to Norland that spring, they were accompanied by Mr. Mathers and Mr. Willoughby, both having been successful in petitioning Mrs. Dashwood for the hands of her daughters and now bound to meet the great lady herself for the first time. The warmth of their reception was guaranteed. Mrs. Dashwood could never love by halves, and any gentleman who so recognized the worth of her precious girls was the instant possessor of her truest affection.