The next morning produced no abatement in these happy symptoms. On the contrary, with a mind and body alike strengthened by rest, she looked and spoke with more genuine spirit, anticipating the pleasure of Margaret's return, and talking of the dear family party which would then be restored, of their mutual pursuits and cheerful society, as the only happiness worth a wish.
"When the weather is settled, and I have recovered my strength," said she, "we will take long walks together every day. We will walk to the farm at the edge of the down, and see how the children go on; we will walk to Sir John's new plantations at Barton Cross, and the Abbeyland; and we will often go the old ruins of the Priory, and try to trace its foundations as far as we are told they once reached. I know we shall be happy. I know the summer will pass happily away. I mean never to be later in rising than six, and from that time till dinner I shall divide every moment between music and reading. I have formed my plan, and am determined to enter on a course of serious study. Our own library is too well known to me, to be resorted to for any thing beyond mere amusement. But there are many works well worth reading at the Park; and there are others of more modern production which I know I can borrow of Colonel Brandon. By reading only six hours a-day, I shall gain in the course of a twelve-month a great deal of instruction which I now feel myself to want."
Elinor honoured her for a plan which originated so nobly as this; though smiling to see the same eager fancy which had been leading her to the extreme of languid indolence and selfish repining, now at work in introducing excess into a scheme of such rational employment and virtuous self-control. Her smile however changed to a sigh when she remembered that promise to Willoughby was yet unfulfilled, and feared she had that to communicate which might again unsettle the mind of Marianne, and ruin at least for a time this fair prospect of busy tranquillity. Willing therefore to delay the evil hour, she resolved to wait till her sister's health were more secure, before she appointed it. But the resolution was made only to be broken.
Marianne had been two or three days at home, before the weather was fine enough for an invalid like herself to venture out. But at last a soft, genial morning appeared; such as might tempt the daughter's wishes and the mother's confidence; and Marianne, leaning on Elinor's arm, was authorised to walk as long as she could without fatigue, in the lane before the house.
The sisters set out at a pace, slow as the feebleness of Marianne in an exercise hitherto untried since her illness required; — and they had advanced only so far beyond the house as to admit a full view of the hill, the important hill behind, when pausing with her eyes turned towards it, Marianne calmly said,
"There, exactly there," — pointing with one hand, "on that projecting mound, — there I fell; and there I first saw Willoughby."
Her voice sunk with the word, but presently reviving she added,
"I am thankful to find that I can look with so little pain on the spot! — shall we ever talk on that subject, Elinor?" — hesitatingly it was said. — "Or will it be wrong? — I can talk of it now, I hope, as I ought to do." —
Elinor tenderly invited her to be open.
"As for regret," said Marianne, "I have done with that, as far as HE is concerned. I do not mean to talk to you of what my feelings have been for him, but what they are NOW. — At present, if I could be satisfied on one point, if I could be allowed to think that he was not ALWAYS acting a part, not ALWAYS deceiving me; — but above all, if I could be assured that he never was so VERY wicked as my fears have sometimes fancied him, since the story of that unfortunate girl" —
She stopt. Elinor joyfully treasured her words as she answered,
"If you could be assured of that, you think you should be easy."
"Yes. My peace of mind is doubly involved in it; — for not only is it horrible to suspect a person, who has been what HE has been to ME, of such designs, — but what must it make me appear to myself? — What in a situation like mine, but a most shamefully unguarded affection could expose me to" —
"How then," asked her sister, "would you account for his behaviour?"
"I would suppose him, — Oh, how gladly would I suppose him, only fickle, very, very fickle."
Elinor said no more. She was debating within herself on the eligibility of beginning her story directly, or postponing it till Marianne were in stronger health; — and they crept on for a few minutes in silence.
"I am not wishing him too much good," said Marianne at last with a sigh, "when I wish his secret reflections may be no more unpleasant than my own. He will suffer enough in them."
"Do you compare your conduct with his?"
"No. I compare it with what it ought to have been; I compare it with yours."
"Our situations have borne little resemblance."