In this manner they had continued about a quarter of an hour, when Marianne, whose nerves could not then bear any sudden noise, was startled by a rap at the door.
"Who can this be?" cried Elinor. "So early too! I thought we HAD been safe."
Marianne moved to the window —
"It is Colonel Brandon!" said she, with vexation. "We are never safe from HIM."
"He will not come in, as Mrs. Jennings is from home."
"I will not trust to THAT," retreating to her own room. "A man who has nothing to do with his own time has no conscience in his intrusion on that of others."
The event proved her conjecture right, though it was founded on injustice and error; for Colonel Brandon DID come in; and Elinor, who was convinced that solicitude for Marianne brought him thither, and who saw THAT solicitude in his disturbed and melancholy look, and in his anxious though brief inquiry after her, could not forgive her sister for esteeming him so lightly.
"I met Mrs. Jennings in Bond Street," said he, after the first salutation, "and she encouraged me to come on; and I was the more easily encouraged, because I thought it probable that I might find you alone, which I was very desirous of doing. My object — my wish — my sole wish in desiring it — I hope, I believe it is — is to be a means of giving comfort; — no, I must not say comfort — not present comfort — but conviction, lasting conviction to your sister's mind. My regard for her, for yourself, for your mother — will you allow me to prove it, by relating some circumstances which nothing but a VERY sincere regard — nothing but an earnest desire of being useful — I think I am justified — though where so many hours have been spent in convincing myself that I am right, is there not some reason to fear I may be wrong?" He stopped.
"I understand you," said Elinor. "You have something to tell me of Mr. Willoughby, that will open his character farther. Your telling it will be the greatest act of friendship that can be shewn Marianne. MY gratitude will be insured immediately by any information tending to that end, and HERS must be gained by it in time. Pray, pray let me hear it."
"You shall; and, to be brief, when I quitted Barton last October, — but this will give you no idea — I must go farther back. You will find me a very awkward narrator, Miss Dashwood; I hardly know where to begin. A short account of myself, I believe, will be necessary, and it SHALL be a short one. On such a subject," sighing heavily, "can I have little temptation to be diffuse."
He stopt a moment for recollection, and then, with another sigh, went on.
"You have probably entirely forgotten a conversation — (it is not to be supposed that it could make any impression on you) — a conversation between us one evening at Barton Park — it was the evening of a dance — in which I alluded to a lady I had once known, as resembling, in some measure, your sister Marianne."
"Indeed," answered Elinor, "I have NOT forgotten it." He looked pleased by this remembrance, and added,
"If I am not deceived by the uncertainty, the partiality of tender recollection, there is a very strong resemblance between them, as well in mind as person. The same warmth of heart, the same eagerness of fancy and spirits. This lady was one of my nearest relations, an orphan from her infancy, and under the guardianship of my father. Our ages were nearly the same, and from our earliest years we were playfellows and friends. I cannot remember the time when I did not love Eliza; and my affection for her, as we grew up, was such, as perhaps, judging from my present forlorn and cheerless gravity, you might think me incapable of having ever felt. Her's, for me, was, I believe, fervent as the attachment of your sister to Mr. Willoughby and it was, though from a different cause, no less unfortunate. At seventeen she was lost to me for ever. She was married — married against her inclination to my brother. Her fortune was large, and our family estate much encumbered. And this, I fear, is all that can be said for the conduct of one, who was at once her uncle and guardian. My brother did not deserve her; he did not even love her. I had hoped that her regard for me would support her under any difficulty, and for some time it did; but at last the misery of her situation, for she experienced great unkindness, overcame all her resolution, and though she had promised me that nothing — but how blindly I relate! I have never told you how this was brought on. We were within a few hours of eloping together for Scotland. The treachery, or the folly, of my cousin's maid betrayed us. I was banished to the house of a relation far distant, and she was allowed no liberty, no society, no amusement, till my father's point was gained. I had depended on her fortitude too far, and the blow was a severe one — but had her marriage been happy, so young as I then was, a few months must have reconciled me to it, or at least I should not have now to lament it. This however was not the case. My brother had no regard for her; his pleasures were not what they ought to have been, and from the first he treated her unkindly. The consequence of this, upon a mind so young, so lively, so inexperienced as Mrs. Brandon's, was but too natural. She resigned herself at first to all the misery of her situation; and happy had it been if she had not lived to overcome those regrets which the remembrance of me occasioned. But can we wonder that, with such a husband to provoke inconstancy, and without a friend to advise or restrain her (for my father lived only a few months after their marriage, and I was with my regiment in the East Indies) she should fall? Had I remained in England, perhaps — but I meant to promote the happiness of both by removing from her for years, and for that purpose had procured my exchange. The shock which her marriage had given me," he continued, in a voice of great agitation, "was of trifling weight — was nothing to what I felt when I heard, about two years afterwards, of her divorce. It was THAT which threw this gloom, — even now the recollection of what I suffered — "