Thursday, October 29, 2020

The Ladies of Norland: Part Six

Part One / Part Two / Part Three / Part Four / Part Five

Mr. Willoughby was prompt in his attentions. He called the next morning to assure himself of the fair damsel’s well-being, and he remained much beyond his half hour, so great was his delight in his new acquaintance. Indeed, there was much to entrance a young man in Harley Street, for Elinor had a delicate complexion, regular features, and a remarkably pretty figure, yet Marianne was still handsomer. Her form, though not so correct as her sister's, in having the advantage of height was more striking, and her face was so lovely that when, in the common cant of praise, she was called a beautiful girl, truth was less violently outraged than usually happens. Her complexion was uncommonly brilliant, her features were all good, her smile was sweet and attractive, and in her eyes, which were very dark, there was a life, a spirit, an eagerness which could hardly be seen without delight. From Willoughby their expression was at first held back by the embarrassment which the remembrance of his assistance created, but when this passed away, when her spirits became collected, when she saw that to the perfect good-breeding of the gentleman, he united frankness and vivacity, and above all, when she heard him declare that of music and dancing he was passionately fond, she gave him such a look of approbation as secured the largest share of his discourse to herself for the rest of his stay.

It was only necessary to mention any favorite amusement to engage her to talk. She could not be silent when such points were introduced, and she had neither shyness nor reserve in their discussion. They speedily discovered that their enjoyment of dancing and music was mutual, and that it arose from a general conformity of judgment in all that related to either. Encouraged by this to a further examination of his opinions, she proceeded to question him on the subject of books. Her favorite authors were brought forward and dwelt upon with so rapturous a delight that any young man of five and twenty must have been insensible, indeed, not to become an immediate convert to the excellence of such works, however disregarded before. Thereby, their taste proved strikingly alike. The same books, the same passages were idolized by each. If any difference appeared or any objection arose, it lasted no longer than till the force of her arguments and the brightness of her eyes could be displayed. He acquiesced in all her decisions, caught all her enthusiasm, and long before his visit concluded, they conversed with the familiarity of a long-established acquaintance.

"Well, Marianne," said Elinor as soon as he had left them, "for one morning I think you have done pretty well. You have already ascertained Mr. Willoughby's opinion in almost every matter of importance. You know what he thinks of Cowper and Scott, you are certain of his estimating their beauties as he ought, and you have received every assurance of his admiring Pope no more than is proper. But how is your acquaintance to be long supported under such extraordinary dispatch of every subject for discourse? You will soon have exhausted each favorite topic. Another meeting will suffice to explain his sentiments on picturesque beauty and second marriages, and then you can have nothing further to ask."

"Elinor," cried Marianne, "is this fair? Is this just? Are my ideas so scanty? But I see what you mean. I have been too much at my ease, too happy, too frank. I have erred against every commonplace notion of decorum. I have been open and sincere where I ought to have been reserved, spiritless, dull, and deceitful. Had I talked only of the weather and the roads, and had I spoken only once in ten minutes, this reproach would have been spared."

“I believe your sister speaks in jest,” Fanny placated her charge, of whose temper she was somewhat afraid. “No reproach was intended to youI ought to have sent him on his way sooner, but he is such a diverting young man, and the time passed so very quickly.”

Elinor was quick to dispel any suggestion that she should dare to chastise her hostess, and Fanny, pleased by this deference, changed the subject to what each lady would wear that evening, when they were engaged to dine with Mrs. Ferrars.

That lady was looking forward to finally meeting the famed Misses Dashwood, in whose fortunes she had invested so much interest, as she ever was making any new acquaintance. It was no easy feat for a woman of her nature to bestow a small fortune upon her child, let alone for marrying a lady whom she had never yet seen, but she trusted her daughter’s judgment (it had, of course, been molded by her own), and truth be told, she had begun to rather despair of Edward ever making anything of himself in the least. As Robert often noted, it was the private tuition that was to blame. Both her sons ought to have been sent to Westminster for their education, and then, perhaps, both would be equally presentable.

As it was, securing Edward a respectable maintenance and a secluded life where his backwardness could not embarrass herself began to seem a worthy goal. And she had once harbored such lofty ambitions for the boy, yet even such a moderate objective looked to prove beyond him. She had been informed by Fanny of his odd defection from Norland the previous summer, and though he professed that business in London had called him away, she knew full well that he instead fled to Plymouth to while away his time with the meaningless connections formed while living with Mr. Pratt, the private instructor of Edward’s formative education, in whom she had been so misled. There was simply no comprehending the boy: fleeing from the lady of his own choosing like a cowering dog. Thank goodness Robert showed greater promise. He would do something worthy with himself. Sometimes the spare proved preferable to the heir.

The Misses Dashwood were almost as eager for the evening as Mrs. Ferrars, but their excitement was entirely inspired by the knowledge that Edward resided with his mother, not in making her acquaintance. Certainly the lady, even one as disagreeable as they had been taught to find her, who might have such influence upon Elinor’s future happiness must be of interest, but she was a secondary concern and, unfortunately, proved to be just as they expected. She was a little, thin woman, upright even to formality in her figure, and serious even to sourness in her aspect. Her complexion was sallow and her features were small, without beauty, and naturally without expression, but a lucky contraction of the brow had rescued her countenance from the disgrace of insipidity by giving it the strong characters of pride and ill-nature. She was not a woman of many words, for, unlike people in general, she proportioned them to the number of her ideas, but of the few syllables that did escape her, the bulk fell to the share of Elinor, whom she eyed with a spirited determination to charm, a task as much beyond her as the acquirement of fame and fortune was to Edward. Not repulsing Miss Dashwood would have to suffice.


Mrs. Ferrars made great inroads towards that goal by simply being able to announce that the disappointing Edward was expected to join them shortly. He was, however, not prompt, and his brother Robert, also expected, preceded him. Never having before made his acquaintance, Elinor harbored hopes that he might prove more personable than Fanny and Mrs. Ferrars, but she was destined to be disappointed.


Happy had it been for Elinor, if her regard for Edward depended less on his own merit than on the merit of his nearest relations, for then his brother's bow must have given the finishing stroke to what the ill-humor of his mother would have begun. Here was strong, natural, sterling insignificance, though adorned in the first style of fashion. And while she wondered at the difference between the two young men, she was sorry to discover that the emptiness and conceit of the one put her somewhat out of charity with the other, though not enough to deter her wish that he would hasten and present himself. That they were different, Robert eloquently evidenced himself upon learning of Edward’s tardiness by lamenting the gaucherie which he believed kept his brother from mixing in proper society. Beyond that display, he fortunately had no leisure to bestow any further attention on the two ladies than what was comprised in three or four very broad stares, and those politenesses his mother’s insistence procured before Mr. Ferrars was, to Elinor and Marianne’s infinite relief, finally announced.


Come back tomorrow for part seven!

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