I say awakened, because time and London, business and dissipation, had in some measure quieted it, and I had been growing a fine hardened villain, fancying myself indifferent to her, and chusing to fancy that she too must have become indifferent to me; talking to myself of our past attachment as a mere idle, trifling business, shrugging up my shoulders in proof of its being so, and silencing every reproach, overcoming every scruple, by secretly saying now and then, 'I shall be heartily glad to hear she is well married.'-- But this note made me know myself better. I felt that she was infinitely dearer to me than any other woman in the world, and that I was using her infamously. But every thing was then just settled between Miss Grey and me. To retreat was impossible. All that I had to do, was to avoid you both. I sent no answer to Marianne, intending by that to preserve myself from her farther notice; and for some time I was even determined not to call in Berkeley Street;--but at last, judging it wiser to affect the air of a cool, common acquaintance than anything else, I watched you all safely out of the house one morning, and left my name."
"Watched us out of the house!"
"Even so. You would be surprised to hear how often I watched you, how often I was on the point of falling in with you. I have entered many a shop to avoid your sight, as the carriage drove by. Lodging as I did in Bond Street, there was hardly a day in which I did not catch a glimpse of one or other of you; and nothing but the most constant watchfulness on my side, a most invariably prevailing desire to keep out of your sight, could have separated us so long. I avoided the Middletons as much as possible, as well as everybody else who was likely to prove an acquaintance in common. Not aware of their being in town, however, I blundered on Sir John, I believe, the first day of his coming, and the day after I had called at Mrs. Jennings's. He asked me to a party, a dance at his house in the evening.--Had he NOT told me as an inducement that you and your sister were to be there, I should have felt it too certain a thing, to trust myself near him. The next morning brought another short note from Marianne-- still affectionate, open, artless, confiding--everything that could make MY conduct most hateful. I could not answer it. I tried--but could not frame a sentence. But I thought of her, I believe, every moment of the day. If you CAN pity me, Miss Dashwood, pity my situation as it was THEN. With my head and heart full of your sister, I was forced to play the happy lover to another woman!--Those three or four weeks were worse than all. Well, at last, as I need not tell you, you were forced on me; and what a sweet figure I cut!--what an evening of agony it was!-- Marianne, beautiful as an angel on one side, calling me Willoughby in such a tone!--Oh, God!--holding out her hand to me, asking me for an explanation, with those bewitching eyes fixed in such speaking solicitude on my face!--and Sophia, jealous as the devil on the other hand, looking all that was--Well, it does not signify; it is over now.-- Such an evening!--I ran away from you all as soon as I could; but not before I had seen Marianne's sweet face as white as death.--THAT was the last, last look I ever had of her;-- the last manner in which she appeared to me. It was a horrid sight!--yet when I thought of her to-day as really dying, it was a kind of comfort to me to imagine that I knew exactly how she would appear to those, who saw her last in this world. She was before me, constantly before me, as I travelled, in the same look and hue."
A short pause of mutual thoughtfulness succeeded. Willoughby first rousing himself, broke it thus:
"Well, let me make haste and be gone. Your sister is certainly better, certainly out of danger?"
"We are assured of it."
"Your poor mother, too!--doting on Marianne."
"But the letter, Mr. Willoughby, your own letter; have you any thing to say about that?"
"Yes, yes, THAT in particular.