"If that is all, you may be satisfied already,-- for Marianne DOES--she has LONG forgiven you."
"Has she?"--he cried, in the same eager tone.-- "Then she has forgiven me before she ought to have done it. But she shall forgive me again, and on more reasonable grounds.--NOW will you listen to me?"
Elinor bowed her assent.
"I do not know," said he, after a pause of expectation on her side, and thoughtfulness on his own,--"how YOU may have accounted for my behaviour to your sister, or what diabolical motive you may have imputed to me.-- Perhaps you will hardly think the better of me,--it is worth the trial however, and you shall hear every thing. When I first became intimate in your family, I had no other intention, no other view in the acquaintance than to pass my time pleasantly while I was obliged to remain in Devonshire, more pleasantly than I had ever done before. Your sister's lovely person and interesting manners could not but please me; and her behaviour to me almost from the first, was of a kind--It is astonishing, when I reflect on what it was, and what SHE was, that my heart should have been so insensible! But at first I must confess, my vanity only was elevated by it. Careless of her happiness, thinking only of my own amusement, giving way to feelings which I had always been too much in the habit of indulging, I endeavoured, by every means in my power, to make myself pleasing to her, without any design of returning her affection."
Miss Dashwood, at this point, turning her eyes on him with the most angry contempt, stopped him, by saying,
"It is hardly worth while, Mr. Willoughby, for you to relate, or for me to listen any longer. Such a beginning as this cannot be followed by any thing.-- Do not let me be pained by hearing any thing more on the subject."
"I insist on you hearing the whole of it," he replied, "My fortune was never large, and I had always been expensive, always in the habit of associating with people of better income than myself. Every year since my coming of age, or even before, I believe, had added to my debts; and though the death of my old cousin, Mrs. Smith, was to set me free; yet that event being uncertain, and possibly far distant, it had been for some time my intention to re-establish my circumstances by marrying a woman of fortune. To attach myself to your sister, therefore, was not a thing to be thought of;--and with a meanness, selfishness, cruelty-- which no indignant, no contemptuous look, even of yours, Miss Dashwood, can ever reprobate too much--I was acting in this manner, trying to engage her regard, without a thought of returning it.--But one thing may be said for me: even in that horrid state of selfish vanity, I did not know the extent of the injury I meditated, because I did not THEN know what it was to love. But have I ever known it?--Well may it be doubted; for, had I really loved, could I have sacrificed my feelings to vanity, to avarice?--or, what is more, could I have sacrificed hers?-- But I have done it. To avoid a comparative poverty, which her affection and her society would have deprived of all its horrors, I have, by raising myself to affluence, lost every thing that could make it a blessing."
"You did then," said Elinor, a little softened, "believe yourself at one time attached to her?"
"To have resisted such attractions, to have withstood such tenderness!--Is there a man on earth who could have done it?--Yes, I found myself, by insensible degrees, sincerely fond of her; and the happiest hours of my life were what I spent with her when I felt my intentions were strictly honourable, and my feelings blameless. Even THEN, however, when fully determined on paying my addresses to her, I allowed myself most improperly to put off, from day to day, the moment of doing it, from an unwillingness to enter into an engagement while my circumstances were so greatly embarrassed. I will not reason here--nor will I stop for YOU to expatiate on the absurdity, and the worse than absurdity, of scrupling to engage my faith where my honour was already bound. The event has proved, that I was a cunning fool, providing with great circumspection for a possible opportunity of making myself contemptible and wretched for ever.