"It was necessary to my own pride. I could not bear to leave the country in a manner that might lead you, or the rest of the neighbourhood, to suspect any part of what had really passed between Mrs. Smith and myself - and I resolved therefore on calling at the cottage, in my way to Honiton. The sight of your dear sister, however, was really dreadful; and, to heighten the matter, I found her alone. You were all gone I do not know where. I had left her only the evening before, so fully, so firmly resolved within my self on doing right! A few hours were to have engaged her to me for ever; and I remember how happy, how gay were my spirits, as I walked from the cottage to Allenham, satisfied with myself, delighted with every body! But in this, our last interview of friendship, I approached her with a sense of guilt that almost took from me the power of dissembling. Her sorrow, her disappointment, her deep regret, when I told her that I was obliged to leave Devonshire so immediately - I never shall forget it - united too with such reliance, such confidence in me! - Oh, God! - what a hard-hearted rascal I was!"
They were both silent for a few moments. Elinor first spoke.
"Did you tell her that you should soon return?"
"I do not know what I told her," he replied, impatiently; "less than was due to the past, beyond a doubt, and in all likelihood much more than was justified by the future. I cannot think of it. - It won't do. - Then came your dear mother to torture me farther, with all her kindness and confidence. Thank Heaven! it DID torture me. I was miserable. Miss Dashwood, you cannot have an idea of the comfort it gives me to look back on my own misery. I owe such a grudge to myself for the stupid, rascally folly of my own heart, that all my past sufferings under it are only triumph and exultation to me now. Well, I went, left all that I loved, and went to those to whom, at best, I was only indifferent. My journey to town - travelling with my own horses, and therefore so tediously - no creature to speak to - my own reflections so cheerful - when I looked forward every thing so inviting! - when I looked back at Barton, the picture so soothing! - oh, it was a blessed journey!"
"Well, sir," said Elinor, who, though pitying him, grew impatient for his departure, "and this is all?"
"Ah! - no, - have you forgot what passed in town? - That infamous letter - Did she shew it you?"
"Yes, I saw every note that passed."
"When the first of hers reached me (as it immediately did, for I was in town the whole time,) what I felt is - in the common phrase, not to be expressed; in a more simple one - perhaps too simple to raise any emotion - my feelings were very, very painful. - Every line, every word was - in the hackneyed metaphor which their dear writer, were she here, would forbid - a dagger to my heart. To know that Marianne was in town was - in the same language - a thunderbolt. - Thunderbolts and daggers! - what a reproof would she have given me! - her taste, her opinions - I believe they are better known to me than my own, - and I am sure they are dearer."
Elinor's heart, which had undergone many changes in the course of this extraordinary conversation, was now softened again; - yet she felt it her duty to check such ideas in her companion as the last.
"This is not right, Mr. Willoughby. - Remember that you are married. Relate only what in your conscience you think necessary for me to hear."
"Marianne's note, by assuring me that I was still as dear to her as in former days, that in spite of the many, many weeks we had been separated, she was as constant in her own feelings, and as full of faith in the constancy of mine as ever, awakened all my remorse. 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."