How she should begin — how she should express herself in her note to Edward, was now all her concern. The particular circumstances between them made a difficulty of that which to any other person would have been the easiest thing in the world; but she equally feared to say too much or too little, and sat deliberating over her paper, with the pen in her hand, till broken in on by the entrance of Edward himself.
He had met Mrs. Jennings at the door in her way to the carriage, as he came to leave his farewell card; and she, after apologising for not returning herself, had obliged him to enter, by saying that Miss Dashwood was above, and wanted to speak with him on very particular business.
Elinor had just been congratulating herself, in the midst of her perplexity, that however difficult it might be to express herself properly by letter, it was at least preferable to giving the information by word of mouth, when her visitor entered, to force her upon this greatest exertion of all. Her astonishment and confusion were very great on his so sudden appearance. She had not seen him before since his engagement became public, and therefore not since his knowing her to be acquainted with it; which, with the consciousness of what she had been thinking of, and what she had to tell him, made her feel particularly uncomfortable for some minutes. He too was much distressed; and they sat down together in a most promising state of embarrassment. — Whether he had asked her pardon for his intrusion on first coming into the room, he could not recollect; but determining to be on the safe side, he made his apology in form as soon as he could say any thing, after taking a chair.
"Mrs. Jennings told me," said he, "that you wished to speak with me, at least I understood her so — or I certainly should not have intruded on you in such a manner; though at the same time, I should have been extremely sorry to leave London without seeing you and your sister; especially as it will most likely be some time — it is not probable that I should soon have the pleasure of meeting you again. I go to Oxford tomorrow."
"You would not have gone, however," said Elinor, recovering herself, and determined to get over what she so much dreaded as soon as possible, "without receiving our good wishes, even if we had not been able to give them in person. Mrs. Jennings was quite right in what she said. I have something of consequence to inform you of, which I was on the point of communicating by paper. I am charged with a most agreeable office (breathing rather faster than usual as she spoke.) Colonel Brandon, who was here only ten minutes ago, has desired me to say, that understanding you mean to take orders, he has great pleasure in offering you the living of Delaford now just vacant, and only wishes it were more valuable. Allow me to congratulate you on having so respectable and well-judging a friend, and to join in his wish that the living — it is about two hundred a-year — were much more considerable, and such as might better enable you to — as might be more than a temporary accommodation to yourself — such, in short, as might establish all your views of happiness."
What Edward felt, as he could not say it himself, it cannot be expected that any one else should say for him. He LOOKED all the astonishment which such unexpected, such unthought-of information could not fail of exciting; but he said only these two words,
"Yes," continued Elinor, gathering more resolution, as some of the worst was over, "Colonel Brandon means it as a testimony of his concern for what has lately passed — for the cruel situation in which the unjustifiable conduct of your family has placed you — a concern which I am sure Marianne, myself, and all your friends, must share; and likewise as a proof of his high esteem for your general character, and his particular approbation of your behaviour on the present occasion."
"Colonel Brandon give ME a living! — Can it be possible?"
"The unkindness of your own relations has made you astonished to find friendship any where."
"No," replied be, with sudden consciousness, "not to find it in YOU; for I cannot be ignorant that to you, to your goodness, I owe it all. — I feel it — I would express it if I could — but, as you well know, I am no orator."
"You are very much mistaken. I do assure you that you owe it entirely, at least almost entirely, to your own merit, and Colonel Brandon's discernment of it. I have had no hand in it. I did not even know, till I understood his design, that the living was vacant; nor had it ever occurred to me that he might have had such a living in his gift. As a friend of mine, of my family, he may, perhaps — indeed I know he HAS, still greater pleasure in bestowing it; but, upon my word, you owe nothing to my solicitation."
Truth obliged her to acknowledge some small share in the action, but she was at the same time so unwilling to appear as the benefactress of Edward, that she acknowledged it with hesitation; which probably contributed to fix that suspicion in his mind which had recently entered it. For a short time he sat deep in thought, after Elinor had ceased to speak; — at last, and as if it were rather an effort, he said,
"Colonel Brandon seems a man of great worth and respectability. I have always heard him spoken of as such, and your brother I know esteems him highly. He is undoubtedly a sensible man, and in his manners perfectly the gentleman."
"Indeed," replied Elinor, "I believe that you will find him, on farther acquaintance, all that you have heard him to be, and as you will be such very near neighbours (for I understand the parsonage is almost close to the mansion-house,) it is particularly important that he SHOULD be all this."