At my time of life opinions are tolerably fixed. It is not likely that I should now see or hear any thing to change them."
"Marianne is as steadfast as ever, you see," said Elinor, "she is not at all altered."
"She is only grown a little more grave than she was."
"Nay, Edward," said Marianne, "you need not reproach me. You are not very gay yourself."
"Why should you think so!" replied he, with a sigh. "But gaiety never was a part of MY character."
"Nor do I think it a part of Marianne's," said Elinor; "I should hardly call her a lively girl--she is very earnest, very eager in all she does--sometimes talks a great deal and always with animation--but she is not often really merry."
"I believe you are right," he replied, "and yet I have always set her down as a lively girl."
"I have frequently detected myself in such kind of mistakes," said Elinor, "in a total misapprehension of character in some point or other: fancying people so much more gay or grave, or ingenious or stupid than they really are, and I can hardly tell why or in what the deception originated. Sometimes one is guided by what they say of themselves, and very frequently by what other people say of them, without giving oneself time to deliberate and judge."
"But I thought it was right, Elinor," said Marianne, "to be guided wholly by the opinion of other people. I thought our judgments were given us merely to be subservient to those of neighbours. This has always been your doctrine, I am sure."
"No, Marianne, never. My doctrine has never aimed at the subjection of the understanding. All I have ever attempted to influence has been the behaviour. You must not confound my meaning. I am guilty, I confess, of having often wished you to treat our acquaintance in general with greater attention; but when have I advised you to adopt their sentiments or to conform to their judgment in serious matters?"
"You have not been able to bring your sister over to your plan of general civility," said Edward to Elinor, "Do you gain no ground?"
"Quite the contrary," replied Elinor, looking expressively at Marianne.
"My judgment," he returned, "is all on your side of the question; but I am afraid my practice is much more on your sister's. I never wish to offend, but I am so foolishly shy, that I often seem negligent, when I am only kept back by my natural awkwardness. I have frequently thought that I must have been intended by nature to be fond of low company, I am so little at my ease among strangers of gentility!"
"Marianne has not shyness to excuse any inattention of hers," said Elinor.
"She knows her own worth too well for false shame," replied Edward. "Shyness is only the effect of a sense of inferiority in some way or other. If I could persuade myself that my manners were perfectly easy and graceful, I should not be shy."
"But you would still be reserved," said Marianne, "and that is worse."
Edward started--"Reserved! Am I reserved, Marianne?"
"I do not understand you," replied he, colouring. "Reserved!--how, in what manner? What am I to tell you? What can you suppose?"
Elinor looked surprised at his emotion; but trying to laugh off the subject, she said to him, "Do not you know my sister well enough to understand what she means? Do not you know she calls every one reserved who does not talk as fast, and admire what she admires as rapturously as herself?"
Edward made no answer. His gravity and thoughtfulness returned on him in their fullest extent--and he sat for some time silent and dull.
Elinor saw, with great uneasiness the low spirits of her friend. His visit afforded her but a very partial satisfaction, while his own enjoyment in it appeared so imperfect. It was evident that he was unhappy; she wished it were equally evident that he still distinguished her by the same affection which once she had felt no doubt of inspiring; but hitherto the continuance of his preference seemed very uncertain; and the reservedness of his manner towards her contradicted one moment what a more animated look had intimated the preceding one.