Both ladies were prudent enough not to mention such monetary concerns to Edward or Elinor themselves, Mrs. Dashwood out of respect for the young lovers’ sensibilities and Fanny due to her belief that a character so uncommon as her brother’s might reject their mother’s generosity merely to disoblige her. Edward being forever uncooperative, he could be expected to react precisely contrary to the dictates of reason.
Marianne was not so discrete, and she soon confronted her sister regarding the deficiencies in what she considered an acknowledged attachment. "What a pity it is, Elinor," said Marianne, "that Edward should have no taste for drawing."
"No taste for drawing!" replied Elinor. "Why should you think so? He does not draw himself, indeed, but he has great pleasure in seeing the performances of other people, and I assure you he is by no means deficient in natural taste. Rather, he distrusts his own judgment in such matters so much that he is always unwilling to give his opinion on any picture, but he has an innate propriety and simplicity of taste, which in general direct him perfectly right."
Marianne was afraid of offending and said no more on the subject, but the kind of approbation which Elinor described as excited in him by the drawings of other people, and the diffidence in expressing himself that she so easily explained away, was very far from that rapturous delight which, in Marianne’s opinion, could alone be called taste. Yet, though smiling within herself at the mistake, she honored her sister for that blind partiality to Edward which must have produced it.
"I hope, Marianne," continued Elinor, "you do not consider him as deficient in general taste. Indeed, I think I may say that you cannot, for your behavior to him is perfectly cordial, and if that were your opinion, I am sure you could never be civil to him."
Marianne hardly knew what to say. She would not wound the feelings of her sister on any account, and yet to say what she did not believe was impossible. At length she replied, "Do not be offended, Elinor, if my praise of him is not in everything equal to your sense of his merits. I have not had so many opportunities of estimating the minuter propensities of his mind, his inclinations and tastes, as you have, but I have the highest opinion in the world of his goodness and sense. I think him everything that is worthy and amiable."
"I am sure," replied Elinor, with a smile, "that his dearest friends could not be dissatisfied with such commendation as that. I do not perceive how you could express yourself more warmly."
Marianne was rejoiced to find her sister so easily pleased.
"Of his sense and his goodness," continued Elinor, "no one can, I think, be in doubt who has seen him often enough to engage him in unreserved conversation. The excellence of his understanding and his principles can be concealed only by that shyness which too often keeps him silent.”
Such reasoning broke Marianne’s restraint. “Yet why ought a gentleman of sense and goodness, as you say, be so reserved? I had always thought a young man should be forthcoming in his manners.”
“It surprises me not in the least that he fails to fulfill your notions of manly perfection, but you know enough of him to do justice to his solid worth. At first sight, his address is certainly not striking, and his person can hardly be called handsome until the expression of his eyes, which are uncommonly good, and the general sweetness of his countenance are perceived. At present, I know him so well that I think him really handsome, or at least almost so. What say you, Marianne?"
"I shall very soon think him handsome, Elinor, if I do not now. When you tell me to love him as a brother, I shall no more see imperfection in his face than I now do in his heart."
Elinor started at this declaration and was sorry for the warmth she had been betrayed into. She felt that Edward stood very high in her opinion, and while she believed that regard to be mutual, she required greater certainty of it to make Marianne's conviction of their attachment agreeable to her. She knew that what Marianne and her mother conjectured one moment, they believed the next. With them, to wish was to hope, and to hope was to expect. She tried to explain the real state of the case to her sister.
"I do not attempt to deny," said she, "that I think very highly of him, that I greatly esteem him, that I like him."
Marianne here burst forth with indignation. "Esteem him! Like him! Coldhearted Elinor! Oh, worse than coldhearted! Ashamed of being otherwise. Use those words again, and I will leave the room this moment."
Elinor could not help laughing. "Excuse me," said she, "and be assured that I meant no offense to you by speaking in so quiet a way of my own feelings. Believe them to be stronger than I have declared. Believe them, in short, to be such as his merit and the suspicion of his affection for me may warrant, but farther than this you must not believe. I am by no means assured of his regard for me. There are moments when the extent of it seems doubtful, and until his sentiments are fully known, you cannot wonder at my wishing to avoid any encouragement of my own partiality by believing or calling it more than it is.”
Marianne was astonished to find how much the imagination of her mother and herself had outstripped the truth. "And you really are not engaged to him! Yet you certainly will be shortly. No degree of shyness can account for a gentleman’s failure to speak when his affections are plainly apparent. But no matter. His reticence is my gain, as I shall not lose you so soon.”
Elinor had given her real opinion to her sister. She could not consider her partiality for Edward in so prosperous a state as Marianne believed. There was, at times, a want of spirits about him which, if it did not denote indifference, spoke of something almost as unpromising. Perhaps Marianne was correct to be wary of his reserve, for certainly she could not depend on that result of his preference for her which her mother and sister considered so certain. Nay, the longer they were together, the more doubtful seemed the nature of his regard, and sometimes, for a few painful minutes, she believed it to be no more than friendship.
Come back tomorrow for part four!