Elinor was not inclined, after a little observation, to give him credit for being so genuinely and unaffectedly ill-natured or ill-bred as he wished to appear. His temper might perhaps be a little soured by finding, like many others of his sex, that through some unaccountable bias in favour of beauty, he was the husband of a very silly woman, — but she knew that this kind of blunder was too common for any sensible man to be lastingly hurt by it. — It was rather a wish of distinction, she believed, which produced his contemptuous treatment of every body, and his general abuse of every thing before him. It was the desire of appearing superior to other people. The motive was too common to be wondered at; but the means, however they might succeed by establishing his superiority in ill-breeding, were not likely to attach any one to him except his wife.
"Oh, my dear Miss Dashwood," said Mrs. Palmer soon afterwards, "I have got such a favour to ask of you and your sister. Will you come and spend some time at Cleveland this Christmas? Now, pray do, — and come while the Westons are with us. You cannot think how happy I shall be! It will be quite delightful! — My love," applying to her husband, "don't you long to have the Miss Dashwoods come to Cleveland?"
"Certainly," he replied, with a sneer — "I came into Devonshire with no other view."
"There now," — said his lady, "you see Mr. Palmer expects you; so you cannot refuse to come."
They both eagerly and resolutely declined her invitation.
"But indeed you must and shall come. I am sure you will like it of all things. The Westons will be with us, and it will be quite delightful. You cannot think what a sweet place Cleveland is; and we are so gay now, for Mr. Palmer is always going about the country canvassing against the election; and so many people came to dine with us that I never saw before, it is quite charming! But, poor fellow! it is very fatiguing to him! for he is forced to make every body like him."
Elinor could hardly keep her countenance as she assented to the hardship of such an obligation.
"How charming it will be," said Charlotte, "when he is in Parliament! — won't it? How I shall laugh! It will be so ridiculous to see all his letters directed to him with an M.P. — But do you know, he says, he will never frank for me? He declares he won't. Don't you, Mr. Palmer?"
Mr. Palmer took no notice of her.
"He cannot bear writing, you know," she continued — "he says it is quite shocking."
"No," said he, "I never said any thing so irrational. Don't palm all your abuses of languages upon me."
"There now; you see how droll he is. This is always the way with him! Sometimes he won't speak to me for half a day together, and then he comes out with something so droll — all about any thing in the world."
She surprised Elinor very much as they returned into the drawing-room, by asking her whether she did not like Mr. Palmer excessively.
"Certainly," said Elinor; "he seems very agreeable."
"Well — I am so glad you do. I thought you would, he is so pleasant; and Mr. Palmer is excessively pleased with you and your sisters I can tell you, and you can't think how disappointed he will be if you don't come to Cleveland. — I can't imagine why you should object to it."
Elinor was again obliged to decline her invitation; and by changing the subject, put a stop to her entreaties. She thought it probable that as they lived in the same county, Mrs. Palmer might be able to give some more particular account of Willoughby's general character, than could be gathered from the Middletons' partial acquaintance with him; and she was eager to gain from any one, such a confirmation of his merits as might remove the possibility of fear from Marianne. She began by inquiring if they saw much of Mr. Willoughby at Cleveland, and whether they were intimately acquainted with him.
"Oh dear, yes; I know him extremely well," replied Mrs. Palmer; — "Not that I ever spoke to him, indeed; but I have seen him for ever in town. Somehow or other I never happened to be staying at Barton while he was at Allenham. Mama saw him here once before; — but I was with my uncle at Weymouth. However, I dare say we should have seen a great deal of him in Somersetshire, if it had not happened very unluckily that we should never have been in the country together. He is very little at Combe, I believe; but if he were ever so much there, I do not think Mr. Palmer would visit him, for he is in the opposition, you know, and besides it is such a way off. I know why you inquire about him, very well; your sister is to marry him. I am monstrous glad of it, for then I shall have her for a neighbour you know."
"Upon my word," replied Elinor, "you know much more of the matter than I do, if you have any reason to expect such a match."