Is Caroline Bingley green with envy as she notices Mr. Darcy’s attentions to Elizabeth Bennet? Does Emma Woodhouse wish unspeakable horrors on Harriet Smith because of Harriet’s crush on Mr. Knightley? After Willoughby, does Marianne covet Elinor’s more sensible behaviour? We could go on for ages, but it’s only for this month so don’t miss a post!
At the manor house, John Willoughby took his usual place between Marianne and Elinor. They had not been long seated before Mrs. Jennings said loud enough for all to hear: “I have found you out in spite of all your tricks, Willoughby. I know where you spent the morning.”
While Marianne colored at Mrs. Jennings’s remark, Elinor blanched. From the very beginning of their acquaintance, Willoughby and Marianne’s behavior had invited comment. The manner in which the pair had met—a rainy afternoon, a messy fall, and a sprained ankle—was most unusual, and it was only a few days later when Willoughby was heard to brag that it was his intention to give Marianne a horse. What followed the equine offer had been the first of several arguments between the two sisters with regard to Mr. Willoughby:
Elinor, who was in charge of the family purse, had protested. Even if propriety had allowed such a gift, a horse would require the hiring of an additional servant to ride it, a stable to house it, and money to feed it—money they did not have.
Marianne had dismissed her sister’s objection with a wave of the hand and an assurance that Willoughby would provide a groom to exercise the animal.
“There is also the matter of the impropriety of your receiving such a present from a man you know so little of.”
“You are wrong, Elinor. I know all there is to know of John Willoughby. It is not time or opportunity that determines intimacy; it is disposition alone.”
“I am disposed to think the neighbors will be unkind when they hear of it.” But that was all Elinor had to say on the matter as any further protests would have only produced obstinacy, and the horse never put in an appearance at Barton Cottage.
There were other examples of where Marianne had revealed too much of her feelings for Willoughby, and now Mrs. Jennings was saying that some indiscretion had happened that very morning.
“Yes, Mrs. Jennings, Miss Marianne and I have been for a drive in my curricle,” Willoughby said by way of confirmation.
That alone would have caused village tongues to wag, but there was more as Mrs. Jennings had been determined to find out where the pair had gone.
“I hope you like your house, Miss Marianne. Allenham is a very large one, and when I come to see you, I hope you will have it newly furnished.”
Marianne was with Willoughby at Allenham? Elinor wondered. Yes, it is true that he is to inherit, but it is still very much Mrs. Smith’s home, and she was not in residence! She must speak to her younger sister.
That evening, as soon as the Dashwoods entered Barton Cottage, Marianne went upstairs to their bedroom, and Elinor followed.
“You were alone in Allenham with Mr. Willoughby?” Elinor asked as soon as she had closed the door behind her. “Please tell me it is not true.”
“As you well know, Willoughby and I went in an open carriage, and it was therefore impossible to have any other companion. I have never spent a pleasanter morning in my life.”
“My dear, it has already exposed you to some very impertinent remarks.”
“Impertinent remarks? By whom? Mrs. Jennings?” Marianne said, scoffing. “If that lady’s remarks are to be proof of impropriety, we are all offending every moment of our lives.”
“Do you not see how your behavior affects us all?”
“How could it possibly affect you? You do nothing. You go nowhere. I actually think you are jealous of my happiness.”
Elinor was taken aback by Marianne’s reaction to her caution. In addition to caring nothing for what others thought of her actions, she now declared that the reason for her rebuke was jealousy.
“Please do tell me, Marianne, exactly what I am jealous of?”
“Willoughby’s regard for me. Although I daresay that Edward was very fond of you, your reticence, your caution, gave him no encouragement, and as a result, you have lost him. Because I will not replicate your errors, you scold me. I am beginning to think you are an enemy to fun!”
Stunned into silence, Elinor left the room and went to the kitchen. As the servants had already retired, and with Margaret and Mama in the parlor, she found herself sitting in the dark next to a dying fire.
“Is Marianne right?” Elinor asked aloud. “Do I begrudge her the joy she feels because I have not heard from Edward since his brief visit a few weeks earlier? Have I become so resigned to the idea of a life lived as a spinster that I wish the same for Marianne?”
Elinor was searching for an answer when she felt Marianne’s arms around her shoulders.
“I am so sorry, Elinor,” Marianne whispered. “What I said was terribly unkind. It is just that you and I are so dissimilar that we can never agree on this subject. I care nothing for what others say.”
Elinor shook her head. Marianne’s dismissal of the damage gossip could do was naïve at best. “It is true that Mrs. Jennings can be petty, but in her remarks, there is a caution,” she said, turning to face her sister. “She has seen others slip and fall. In her own way, she is giving you a warning so that you do not make the same mistakes.”
“I think you are giving Mrs. Jennings far more credit than is her due. In my mind, she is a gossip—nothing more. But let us leave the topic of Willoughby and Mrs. Jennings for the moment. I want you to know that despite what I said, I do not think your opinions are a result of jealousy. But I do think that your failure to pursue Edward may have cost you his love.”
“Pursue Edward! And how am I to do that?” Elinor asked aghast at the suggestion.
“Write to him and invite him to Barton Cottage. He came once. Why should he not come again if given any encouragement?”
Elinor stood up. “You are right, Marianne. We can never agree on this topic. I could no more write to Edward, a man who is not related to me, than I could re-enact Lady Godiva’s famous ride.”
“There is a price to pay for such guarded behavior.”
“I understand that,” Elinor answered with sadness in her voice. “But you must understand that there is a price to be paid for its opposite. And neither of us knows what the cost will be.”
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