But Marianne for some time would give credit to neither. Edward seemed a second Willoughby; and acknowledging as Elinor did, that she HAD loved him most sincerely, could she feel less than herself! As for Lucy Steele, she considered her so totally unamiable, so absolutely incapable of attaching a sensible man, that she could not be persuaded at first to believe, and afterwards to pardon, any former affection of Edward for her. She would not even admit it to have been natural; and Elinor left her to be convinced that it was so, by that which only could convince her, a better knowledge of mankind.
Her first communication had reached no farther than to state the fact of the engagement, and the length of time it had existed. — Marianne's feelings had then broken in, and put an end to all regularity of detail; and for some time all that could be done was to soothe her distress, lessen her alarms, and combat her resentment. The first question on her side, which led to farther particulars, was,
"How long has this been known to you, Elinor? has he written to you?"
"I have known it these four months. When Lucy first came to Barton Park last November, she told me in confidence of her engagement."
At these words, Marianne's eyes expressed the astonishment which her lips could not utter. After a pause of wonder, she exclaimed —
"Four months! — Have you known of this four months?"
Elinor confirmed it.
"What! — while attending me in all my misery, has this been on your heart? — And I have reproached you for being happy!" —
"It was not fit that you should then know how much I was the reverse!"
"Four months!" — cried Marianne again. — "So calm! — so cheerful! — how have you been supported?" —
"By feeling that I was doing my duty. — My promise to Lucy, obliged me to be secret. I owed it to her, therefore, to avoid giving any hint of the truth; and I owed it to my family and friends, not to create in them a solicitude about me, which it could not be in my power to satisfy."
Marianne seemed much struck.
"I have very often wished to undeceive yourself and my mother," added Elinor; "and once or twice I have attempted it; — but without betraying my trust, I never could have convinced you."
"Four months! — and yet you loved him!" —
"Yes. But I did not love only him; — and while the comfort of others was dear to me, I was glad to spare them from knowing how much I felt. Now, I can think and speak of it with little emotion. I would not have you suffer on my account; for I assure you I no longer suffer materially myself. I have many things to support me. I am not conscious of having provoked the disappointment by any imprudence of my own, I have borne it as much as possible without spreading it farther. I acquit Edward of essential misconduct. I wish him very happy; and I am so sure of his always doing his duty, that though now he may harbour some regret, in the end he must become so. Lucy does not want sense, and that is the foundation on which every thing good may be built. — And after all, Marianne, after all that is bewitching in the idea of a single and constant attachment, and all that can be said of one's happiness depending entirely on any particular person, it is not meant — it is not fit — it is not possible that it should be so. — Edward will marry Lucy; he will marry a woman superior in person and understanding to half her sex; and time and habit will teach him to forget that he ever thought another superior to HER." —
"If such is your way of thinking," said Marianne, "if the loss of what is most valued is so easily to be made up by something else, your resolution, your self-command, are, perhaps, a little less to be wondered at. — They are brought more within my comprehension."
"I understand you. — You do not suppose that I have ever felt much. — For four months, Marianne, I have had all this hanging on my mind, without being at liberty to speak of it to a single creature; knowing that it would make you and my mother most unhappy whenever it were explained to you, yet unable to prepare you for it in the least. — It was told me, — it was in a manner forced on me by the very person herself, whose prior engagement ruined all my prospects; and told me, as I thought, with triumph. — This person's suspicions, therefore, I have had to oppose, by endeavouring to appear indifferent where I have been most deeply interested; — and it has not been only once; — I have had her hopes and exultation to listen to again and again. — I have known myself to be divided from Edward for ever, without hearing one circumstance that could make me less desire the connection. — Nothing has proved him unworthy; nor has anything declared him indifferent to me. — I have had to contend against the unkindness of his sister, and the insolence of his mother; and have suffered the punishment of an attachment, without enjoying its advantages. — And all this has been going on at a time, when, as you know too well, it has not been my only unhappiness. — If you can think me capable of ever feeling — surely you may suppose that I have suffered NOW. The composure of mind with which I have brought myself at present to consider the matter, the consolation that I have been willing to admit, have been the effect of constant and painful exertion; — they did not spring up of themselves; — they did not occur to relieve my spirits at first. — No, Marianne. — THEN, if I had not been bound to silence, perhaps nothing could have kept me entirely — not even what I owed to my dearest friends — from openly shewing that I was VERY unhappy." —