"You may well be surprised," continued Lucy; "for to be sure you could have had no idea of it before; for I dare say he never dropped the smallest hint of it to you or any of your family; because it was always meant to be a great secret, and I am sure has been faithfully kept so by me to this hour. Not a soul of all my relations know of it but Anne, and I never should have mentioned it to you, if I had not felt the greatest dependence in the world upon your secrecy; and I really thought my behaviour in asking so many questions about Mrs. Ferrars must seem so odd, that it ought to be explained. And I do not think Mr. Ferrars can be displeased, when he knows I have trusted you, because I know he has the highest opinion in the world of all your family, and looks upon yourself and the other Miss Dashwoods quite as his own sisters." — She paused.
Elinor for a few moments remained silent. Her astonishment at what she heard was at first too great for words; but at length forcing herself to speak, and to speak cautiously, she said, with calmness of manner, which tolerably well concealed her surprise and solicitude — "May I ask if your engagement is of long standing?"
"We have been engaged these four years."
Elinor, though greatly shocked, still felt unable to believe it.
"I did not know," said she, "that you were even acquainted till the other day."
"Our acquaintance, however, is of many years date. He was under my uncle's care, you know, a considerable while."
"Yes; Mr. Pratt. Did you never hear him talk of Mr. Pratt?"
"I think I have," replied Elinor, with an exertion of spirits, which increased with her increase of emotion.
"He was four years with my uncle, who lives at Longstaple, near Plymouth. It was there our acquaintance begun, for my sister and me was often staying with my uncle, and it was there our engagement was formed, though not till a year after he had quitted as a pupil; but he was almost always with us afterwards. I was very unwilling to enter into it, as you may imagine, without the knowledge and approbation of his mother; but I was too young, and loved him too well, to be so prudent as I ought to have been. — Though you do not know him so well as me, Miss Dashwood, you must have seen enough of him to be sensible he is very capable of making a woman sincerely attached to him."
"Certainly," answered Elinor, without knowing what she said; but after a moment's reflection, she added, with revived security of Edward's honour and love, and her companion's falsehood — "Engaged to Mr. Edward Ferrars! — I confess myself so totally surprised at what you tell me, that really — I beg your pardon; but surely there must be some mistake of person or name. We cannot mean the same Mr. Ferrars."
"We can mean no other," cried Lucy, smiling. "Mr. Edward Ferrars, the eldest son of Mrs. Ferrars, of Park Street, and brother of your sister-in-law, Mrs. John Dashwood, is the person I mean; you must allow that I am not likely to be deceived as to the name of the man on who all my happiness depends."
"It is strange," replied Elinor, in a most painful perplexity, "that I should never have heard him even mention your name."
"No; considering our situation, it was not strange. Our first care has been to keep the matter secret. — You knew nothing of me, or my family, and, therefore, there could be no OCCASION for ever mentioning my name to you; and, as he was always particularly afraid of his sister's suspecting any thing, THAT was reason enough for his not mentioning it."
She was silent. — Elinor's security sunk; but her self-command did not sink with it.
"Four years you have been engaged," said she with a firm voice.
"Yes; and heaven knows how much longer we may have to wait. Poor Edward! It puts him quite out of heart." Then taking a small miniature from her pocket, she added, "To prevent the possibility of mistake, be so good as to look at this face. It does not do him justice, to be sure, but yet I think you cannot be deceived as to the person it was drew for. — I have had it above these three years."
She put it into her hands as she spoke; and when Elinor saw the painting, whatever other doubts her fear of a too hasty decision, or her wish of detecting falsehood might suffer to linger in her mind, she could have none of its being Edward's face. She returned it almost instantly, acknowledging the likeness.
"I have never been able," continued Lucy, "to give him my picture in return, which I am very much vexed at, for he has been always so anxious to get it! But I am determined to set for it the very first opportunity."
"You are quite in the right," replied Elinor calmly. They then proceeded a few paces in silence. Lucy spoke first.