"Watched us out of the house!"
"Even so. You would be surprised to hear how often I watched you, how often I was on the point of falling in with you. I have entered many a shop to avoid your sight, as the carriage drove by. Lodging as I did in Bond Street, there was hardly a day in which I did not catch a glimpse of one or other of you; and nothing but the most constant watchfulness on my side, a most invariably prevailing desire to keep out of your sight, could have separated us so long. I avoided the Middletons as much as possible, as well as everybody else who was likely to prove an acquaintance in common. Not aware of their being in town, however, I blundered on Sir John, I believe, the first day of his coming, and the day after I had called at Mrs. Jennings's. He asked me to a party, a dance at his house in the evening. — Had he NOT told me as an inducement that you and your sister were to be there, I should have felt it too certain a thing, to trust myself near him. The next morning brought another short note from Marianne — still affectionate, open, artless, confiding — everything that could make MY conduct most hateful. I could not answer it. I tried — but could not frame a sentence. But I thought of her, I believe, every moment of the day. If you CAN pity me, Miss Dashwood, pity my situation as it was THEN. With my head and heart full of your sister, I was forced to play the happy lover to another woman! — Those three or four weeks were worse than all. Well, at last, as I need not tell you, you were forced on me; and what a sweet figure I cut! — what an evening of agony it was! — Marianne, beautiful as an angel on one side, calling me Willoughby in such a tone! — Oh, God! — holding out her hand to me, asking me for an explanation, with those bewitching eyes fixed in such speaking solicitude on my face! — and Sophia, jealous as the devil on the other hand, looking all that was — Well, it does not signify; it is over now. — Such an evening! — I ran away from you all as soon as I could; but not before I had seen Marianne's sweet face as white as death. — THAT was the last, last look I ever had of her; — the last manner in which she appeared to me. It was a horrid sight! — yet when I thought of her to-day as really dying, it was a kind of comfort to me to imagine that I knew exactly how she would appear to those, who saw her last in this world. She was before me, constantly before me, as I travelled, in the same look and hue."
A short pause of mutual thoughtfulness succeeded. Willoughby first rousing himself, broke it thus:
"Well, let me make haste and be gone. Your sister is certainly better, certainly out of danger?"
"We are assured of it."
"Your poor mother, too! — doting on Marianne."
"But the letter, Mr. Willoughby, your own letter; have you any thing to say about that?"
"Yes, yes, THAT in particular. Your sister wrote to me again, you know, the very next morning. You saw what she said. I was breakfasting at the Ellisons, — and her letter, with some others, was brought to me there from my lodgings. It happened to catch Sophia's eye before it caught mine — and its size, the elegance of the paper, the hand-writing altogether, immediately gave her a suspicion. Some vague report had reached her before of my attachment to some young lady in Devonshire, and what had passed within her observation the preceding evening had marked who the young lady was, and made her more jealous than ever. Affecting that air of playfulness, therefore, which is delightful in a woman one loves, she opened the letter directly, and read its contents. She was well paid for her impudence. She read what made her wretched. Her wretchedness I could have borne, but her passion — her malice — At all events it must be appeased. And, in short — what do you think of my wife's style of letter-writing? — delicate — tender — truly feminine — was it not?"
"Your wife! — The letter was in your own hand-writing."
"Yes, but I had only the credit of servilely copying such sentences as I was ashamed to put my name to. The original was all her own — her own happy thoughts and gentle diction. But what could I do! — we were engaged, every thing in preparation, the day almost fixed — But I am talking like a fool. Preparation! — day! — In honest words, her money was necessary to me, and in a situation like mine, any thing was to be done to prevent a rupture. And after all, what did it signify to my character in the opinion of Marianne and her friends, in what language my answer was couched? — It must have been only to one end. My business was to declare myself a scoundrel, and whether I did it with a bow or a bluster was of little importance. — 'I am ruined for ever in their opinion — ' said I to myself — 'I am shut out for ever from their society, they already think me an unprincipled fellow, this letter will only make them think me a blackguard one.' Such were my reasonings, as, in a sort of desperate carelessness, I copied my wife's words, and parted with the last relics of Marianne. Her three notes — unluckily they were all in my pocketbook, or I should have denied their existence, and hoarded them for ever — I was forced to put them up, and could not even kiss them. And the lock of hair — that too I had always carried about me in the same pocket-book, which was now searched by Madam with the most ingratiating virulence, — the dear lock — all, every memento was torn from me."