Elinor could hardly keep her countenance as she assented to the hardship of such an obligation.
"How charming it will be," said Charlotte, "when he is in Parliament! - won't it? How I shall laugh! It will be so ridiculous to see all his letters directed to him with an M.P. - But do you know, he says, he will never frank for me? He declares he won't. Don't you, Mr. Palmer?"
Mr. Palmer took no notice of her.
"He cannot bear writing, you know," she continued - "he says it is quite shocking."
"No," said he, "I never said any thing so irrational. Don't palm all your abuses of languages upon me."
"There now; you see how droll he is. This is always the way with him! Sometimes he won't speak to me for half a day together, and then he comes out with something so droll - all about any thing in the world."
She surprised Elinor very much as they returned into the drawing-room, by asking her whether she did not like Mr. Palmer excessively.
"Certainly," said Elinor; "he seems very agreeable."
"Well - I am so glad you do. I thought you would, he is so pleasant; and Mr. Palmer is excessively pleased with you and your sisters I can tell you, and you can't think how disappointed he will be if you don't come to Cleveland. - I can't imagine why you should object to it."
Elinor was again obliged to decline her invitation; and by changing the subject, put a stop to her entreaties. She thought it probable that as they lived in the same county, Mrs. Palmer might be able to give some more particular account of Willoughby's general character, than could be gathered from the Middletons' partial acquaintance with him; and she was eager to gain from any one, such a confirmation of his merits as might remove the possibility of fear from Marianne. She began by inquiring if they saw much of Mr. Willoughby at Cleveland, and whether they were intimately acquainted with him.
"Oh dear, yes; I know him extremely well," replied Mrs. Palmer; - "Not that I ever spoke to him, indeed; but I have seen him for ever in town. Somehow or other I never happened to be staying at Barton while he was at Allenham. Mama saw him here once before; - but I was with my uncle at Weymouth. However, I dare say we should have seen a great deal of him in Somersetshire, if it had not happened very unluckily that we should never have been in the country together. He is very little at Combe, I believe; but if he were ever so much there, I do not think Mr. Palmer would visit him, for he is in the opposition, you know, and besides it is such a way off. I know why you inquire about him, very well; your sister is to marry him. I am monstrous glad of it, for then I shall have her for a neighbour you know."
"Upon my word," replied Elinor, "you know much more of the matter than I do, if you have any reason to expect such a match."
"Don't pretend to deny it, because you know it is what every body talks of. I assure you I heard of it in my way through town."
"My dear Mrs. Palmer!"
"Upon my honour I did. - I met Colonel Brandon Monday morning in Bond-street, just before we left town, and he told me of it directly."
"You surprise me very much. Colonel Brandon tell you of it! Surely you must be mistaken. To give such intelligence to a person who could not be interested in it, even if it were true, is not what I should expect Colonel Brandon to do."
"But I do assure you it was so, for all that, and I will tell you how it happened. When we met him, he turned back and walked with us; and so we began talking of my brother and sister, and one thing and another, and I said to him, 'So, Colonel, there is a new family come to Barton cottage, I hear, and mama sends me word they are very pretty, and that one of them is going to be married to Mr. Willoughby of Combe Magna. Is it true, pray? for of course you must know, as you have been in Devonshire so lately.'"
"And what did the Colonel say?"
"Oh - he did not say much; but he looked as if he knew it to be true, so from that moment I set it down as certain. It will be quite delightful, I declare! When is it to take place?"
"Mr. Brandon was very well I hope?"
"Oh! yes, quite well; and so full of your praises, he did nothing but say fine things of you."
"I am flattered by his commendation. He seems an excellent man; and I think him uncommonly pleasing."
"So do I. - He is such a charming man, that it is quite a pity he should be so grave and so dull. Mamma says HE was in love with your sister too. - I assure you it was a great compliment if he was, for he hardly ever falls in love with any body."
"Is Mr. Willoughby much known in your part of Somersetshire?" said Elinor.
"Oh! yes, extremely well; that is, I do not believe many people are acquainted with him, because Combe Magna is so far off; but they all think him extremely agreeable I assure you. Nobody is more liked than Mr. Willoughby wherever he goes, and so you may tell your sister. She is a monstrous lucky girl to get him, upon my honour; not but that he is much more lucky in getting her, because she is so very handsome and agreeable, that nothing can be good enough for her. However, I don't think her hardly at all handsomer than you, I assure you; for I think you both excessively pretty, and so does Mr. Palmer too I am sure, though we could not get him to own it last night."
Mrs. Palmer's information respecting Willoughby was not very material; but any testimony in his favour, however small, was pleasing to her.
"I am so glad we are got acquainted at last," continued Charlotte. - "And now I hope we shall always be great friends. You can't think how much I longed to see you! It is so delightful that you should live at the cottage! Nothing can be like it, to be sure! And I am so glad your sister is going to be well married! I hope you will be a great deal at Combe Magna. It is a sweet place, by all accounts."
"You have been long acquainted with Colonel Brandon, have not you?"
"Yes, a great while; ever since my sister married. - He was a particular friend of Sir John's. I believe," she added in a low voice, "he would have been very glad to have had me, if he could. Sir John and Lady Middleton wished it very much. But mama did not think the match good enough for me, otherwise Sir John would have mentioned it to the Colonel, and we should have been married immediately."
"Did not Colonel Brandon know of Sir John's proposal to your mother before it was made? Had he never owned his affection to yourself?"
"Oh, no; but if mama had not objected to it, I dare say he would have liked it of all things. He had not seen me then above twice, for it was before I left school. However, I am much happier as I am. Mr. Palmer is the kind of man I like."