As the Miss Dashwoods entered the drawing-room of the park the next day, at one door, Mrs. Palmer came running in at the other, looking as good humoured and merry as before. She took them all most affectionately by the hand, and expressed great delight in seeing them again.
"I am so glad to see you!" said she, seating herself between Elinor and Marianne, "for it is so bad a day I was afraid you might not come, which would be a shocking thing, as we go away again tomorrow. We must go, for the Westons come to us next week you know. It was quite a sudden thing our coming at all, and I knew nothing of it till the carriage was coming to the door, and then Mr. Palmer asked me if I would go with him to Barton. He is so droll! He never tells me any thing! I am so sorry we cannot stay longer; however we shall meet again in town very soon, I hope."
They were obliged to put an end to such an expectation.
"Not go to town!" cried Mrs. Palmer, with a laugh, "I shall be quite disappointed if you do not. I could get the nicest house in world for you, next door to ours, in Hanover-square. You must come, indeed. I am sure I shall be very happy to chaperon you at any time till I am confined, if Mrs. Dashwood should not like to go into public."
They thanked her; but were obliged to resist all her entreaties.
"Oh, my love," cried Mrs. Palmer to her husband, who just then entered the room - "you must help me to persuade the Miss Dashwoods to go to town this winter."
Her love made no answer; and after slightly bowing to the ladies, began complaining of the weather.
"How horrid all this is!" said he. "Such weather makes every thing and every body disgusting. Dullness is as much produced within doors as without, by rain. It makes one detest all one's acquaintance. What the devil does Sir John mean by not having a billiard room in his house? How few people know what comfort is! Sir John is as stupid as the weather."
The rest of the company soon dropt in.
"I am afraid, Miss Marianne," said Sir John, "you have not been able to take your usual walk to Allenham today."
Marianne looked very grave and said nothing.
"Oh, don't be so sly before us," said Mrs. Palmer; "for we know all about it, I assure you; and I admire your taste very much, for I think he is extremely handsome. We do not live a great way from him in the country, you know. Not above ten miles, I dare say."
"Much nearer thirty," said her husband.
"Ah, well! there is not much difference. I never was at his house; but they say it is a sweet pretty place."
"As vile a spot as I ever saw in my life," said Mr. Palmer.
Marianne remained perfectly silent, though her countenance betrayed her interest in what was said.
"Is it very ugly?" continued Mrs. Palmer - "then it must be some other place that is so pretty I suppose."
When they were seated in the dining room, Sir John observed with regret that they were only eight all together.
"My dear," said he to his lady, "it is very provoking that we should be so few. Why did not you ask the Gilberts to come to us today?"
"Did not I tell you, Sir John, when you spoke to me about it before, that it could not be done? They dined with us last."
"You and I, Sir John," said Mrs. Jennings, "should not stand upon such ceremony."
"Then you would be very ill-bred," cried Mr. Palmer.
"My love you contradict every body," said his wife with her usual laugh. "Do you know that you are quite rude?"
"I did not know I contradicted any body in calling your mother ill-bred."
"Ay, you may abuse me as you please," said the good-natured old lady, "you have taken Charlotte off my hands, and cannot give her back again. So there I have the whip hand of you."
Charlotte laughed heartily to think that her husband could not get rid of her; and exultingly said, she did not care how cross he was to her, as they must live together. It was impossible for any one to be more thoroughly good-natured, or more determined to be happy than Mrs. Palmer. The studied indifference, insolence, and discontent of her husband gave her no pain; and when he scolded or abused her, she was highly diverted.
"Mr. Palmer is so droll!" said she, in a whisper, to Elinor. "He is always out of humour."
Elinor was not inclined, after a little observation, to give him credit for being so genuinely and unaffectedly ill-natured or ill-bred as he wished to appear. His temper might perhaps be a little soured by finding, like many others of his sex, that through some unaccountable bias in favour of beauty, he was the husband of a very silly woman, - but she knew that this kind of blunder was too common for any sensible man to be lastingly hurt by it. - It was rather a wish of distinction, she believed, which produced his contemptuous treatment of every body, and his general abuse of every thing before him. It was the desire of appearing superior to other people. The motive was too common to be wondered at; but the means, however they might succeed by establishing his superiority in ill-breeding, were not likely to attach any one to him except his wife.
"Oh, my dear Miss Dashwood," said Mrs. Palmer soon afterwards, "I have got such a favour to ask of you and your sister. Will you come and spend some time at Cleveland this Christmas? Now, pray do, - and come while the Westons are with us. You cannot think how happy I shall be! It will be quite delightful! - My love," applying to her husband, "don't you long to have the Miss Dashwoods come to Cleveland?"
"Certainly," he replied, with a sneer - "I came into Devonshire with no other view."
"There now," - said his lady, "you see Mr. Palmer expects you; so you cannot refuse to come."
They both eagerly and resolutely declined her invitation.
"But indeed you must and shall come. I am sure you will like it of all things. The Westons will be with us, and it will be quite delightful. You cannot think what a sweet place Cleveland is; and we are so gay now, for Mr. Palmer is always going about the country canvassing against the election; and so many people came to dine with us that I never saw before, it is quite charming! But, poor fellow! it is very fatiguing to him! for he is forced to make every body like him."