Elinor, dreading her being tired, led her towards home; and till they reached the door of the cottage, easily conjecturing what her curiosity must be though no question was suffered to speak it, talked of nothing but Willoughby, and their conversation together; and was carefully minute in every particular of speech and look, where minuteness could be safely indulged. As soon as they entered the house, Marianne with a kiss of gratitude and these two words just articulate through her tears, "Tell mama," withdrew from her sister and walked slowly up stairs. Elinor would not attempt to disturb a solitude so reasonable as what she now sought; and with a mind anxiously pre-arranging its result, and a resolution of reviving the subject again, should Marianne fail to do it, she turned into the parlour to fulfill her parting injunction.
Mrs. Dashwood did not hear unmoved the vindication of her former favourite. She rejoiced in his being cleared from some part of his imputed guilt;--she was sorry for him;--she wished him happy. But the feelings of the past could not be recalled.--Nothing could restore him with a faith unbroken--a character unblemished, to Marianne. Nothing could do away the knowledge of what the latter had suffered through his means, nor remove the guilt of his conduct towards Eliza. Nothing could replace him, therefore, in her former esteem, nor injure the interests of Colonel Brandon.
Had Mrs. Dashwood, like her daughter, heard Willoughby's story from himself--had she witnessed his distress, and been under the influence of his countenance and his manner, it is probable that her compassion would have been greater. But it was neither in Elinor's power, nor in her wish, to rouse such feelings in another, by her retailed explanation, as had at first been called forth in herself. Reflection had given calmness to her judgment, and sobered her own opinion of Willoughby's deserts;-- she wished, therefore, to declare only the simple truth, and lay open such facts as were really due to his character, without any embellishment of tenderness to lead the fancy astray.
In the evening, when they were all three together, Marianne began voluntarily to speak of him again;-- but that it was not without an effort, the restless, unquiet thoughtfulness in which she had been for some time previously sitting--her rising colour, as she spoke,-- and her unsteady voice, plainly shewed.
"I wish to assure you both," said she, "that I see every thing--as you can desire me to do."
Mrs. Dashwood would have interrupted her instantly with soothing tenderness, had not Elinor, who really wished to hear her sister's unbiased opinion, by an eager sign, engaged her silence. Marianne slowly continued--
"It is a great relief to me--what Elinor told me this morning--I have now heard exactly what I wished to hear."--For some moments her voice was lost; but recovering herself, she added, and with greater calmness than before--"I am now perfectly satisfied, I wish for no change. I never could have been happy with him, after knowing, as sooner or later I must have known, all this.--I should have had no confidence, no esteem. Nothing could have done it away to my feelings."
"I know it--I know it," cried her mother. "Happy with a man of libertine practices!--With one who so injured the peace of the dearest of our friends, and the best of men!--No--my Marianne has not a heart to be made happy with such a man!--Her conscience, her sensitive conscience, would have felt all that the conscience of her husband ought to have felt."
Marianne sighed, and repeated, "I wish for no change."
"You consider the matter," said Elinor, "exactly as a good mind and a sound understanding must consider it; and I dare say you perceive, as well as myself, not only in this, but in many other circumstances, reason enough to be convinced that your marriage must have involved you in many certain troubles and disappointments, in which you would have been poorly supported by an affection, on his side, much less certain.