Elinor, having once delivered her opinion on William's side, by which she offended Mrs. Ferrars and Fanny still more, did not see the necessity of enforcing it by any farther assertion; and Marianne, when called on for her's, offended them all, by declaring that she had no opinion to give, as she had never thought about it.
Before her removing from Norland, Elinor had painted a very pretty pair of screens for her sister-in-law, which being now just mounted and brought home, ornamented her present drawing room; and these screens, catching the eye of John Dashwood on his following the other gentlemen into the room, were officiously handed by him to Colonel Brandon for his admiration.
"These are done by my eldest sister," said he; "and you, as a man of taste, will, I dare say, be pleased with them. I do not know whether you have ever happened to see any of her performances before, but she is in general reckoned to draw extremely well."
The Colonel, though disclaiming all pretensions to connoisseurship, warmly admired the screens, as he would have done any thing painted by Miss Dashwood; and on the curiosity of the others being of course excited, they were handed round for general inspection. Mrs. Ferrars, not aware of their being Elinor's work, particularly requested to look at them; and after they had received gratifying testimony of Lady Middletons's approbation, Fanny presented them to her mother, considerately informing her, at the same time, that they were done by Miss Dashwood.
"Hum" — said Mrs. Ferrars — "very pretty," — and without regarding them at all, returned them to her daughter.
Perhaps Fanny thought for a moment that her mother had been quite rude enough, — for, colouring a little, she immediately said,
"They are very pretty, ma'am — an't they?" But then again, the dread of having been too civil, too encouraging herself, probably came over her, for she presently added,
"Do you not think they are something in Miss Morton's style of painting, Ma'am? — She DOES paint most delightfully! — How beautifully her last landscape is done!"
"Beautifully indeed! But SHE does every thing well."
Marianne could not bear this. — She was already greatly displeased with Mrs. Ferrars; and such ill-timed praise of another, at Elinor's expense, though she had not any notion of what was principally meant by it, provoked her immediately to say with warmth,
"This is admiration of a very particular kind! — what is Miss Morton to us? — who knows, or who cares, for her? — it is Elinor of whom WE think and speak."
And so saying, she took the screens out of her sister-in-law's hands, to admire them herself as they ought to be admired.
Mrs. Ferrars looked exceedingly angry, and drawing herself up more stiffly than ever, pronounced in retort this bitter philippic, "Miss Morton is Lord Morton's daughter."
Fanny looked very angry too, and her husband was all in a fright at his sister's audacity. Elinor was much more hurt by Marianne's warmth than she had been by what produced it; but Colonel Brandon's eyes, as they were fixed on Marianne, declared that he noticed only what was amiable in it, the affectionate heart which could not bear to see a sister slighted in the smallest point.
Marianne's feelings did not stop here. The cold insolence of Mrs. Ferrars's general behaviour to her sister, seemed, to her, to foretell such difficulties and distresses to Elinor, as her own wounded heart taught her to think of with horror; and urged by a strong impulse of affectionate sensibility, she moved after a moment, to her sister's chair, and putting one arm round her neck, and one cheek close to hers, said in a low, but eager, voice,
"Dear, dear Elinor, don't mind them. Don't let them make YOU unhappy."
She could say no more; her spirits were quite overcome, and hiding her face on Elinor's shoulder, she burst into tears. Every body's attention was called, and almost every body was concerned. — Colonel Brandon rose up and went to them without knowing what he did. — Mrs. Jennings, with a very intelligent "Ah! poor dear," immediately gave her her salts; and Sir John felt so desperately enraged against the author of this nervous distress, that he instantly changed his seat to one close by Lucy Steele, and gave her, in a whisper, a brief account of the whole shocking affair.
In a few minutes, however, Marianne was recovered enough to put an end to the bustle, and sit down among the rest; though her spirits retained the impression of what had passed, the whole evening.
"Poor Marianne!" said her brother to Colonel Brandon, in a low voice, as soon as he could secure his attention, — "She has not such good health as her sister, — she is very nervous, — she has not Elinor's constitution; — and one must allow that there is something very trying to a young woman who HAS BEEN a beauty in the loss of her personal attractions. You would not think it perhaps, but Marianne WAS remarkably handsome a few months ago; quite as handsome as Elinor. — Now you see it is all gone."