Elinor, starting back with a look of horror at the sight of him, obeyed the first impulse of her heart in turning instantly to quit the room, and her hand was already on the lock, when its action was suspended by his hastily advancing, and saying, in a voice rather of command than supplication,
"Miss Dashwood, for half an hour - for ten minutes - I entreat you to stay."
"No, sir," she replied with firmness, "I shall NOT stay. Your business cannot be with ME. The servants, I suppose, forgot to tell you that Mr. Palmer was not in the house."
"Had they told me," he cried with vehemence, "that Mr. Palmer and all his relations were at the devil, it would not have turned me from the door. My business is with you, and only you."
"With me!" - in the utmost amazement - "well, sir, - be quick - and if you can - less violent."
"Sit down, and I will be both."
She hesitated; she knew not what to do. The possibility of Colonel Brandon's arriving and finding her there, came across her. But she had promised to hear him, and her curiosity no less than her honor was engaged. After a moment's recollection, therefore, concluding that prudence required dispatch, and that her acquiescence would best promote it, she walked silently towards the table, and sat down. He took the opposite chair, and for half a minute not a word was said by either.
"Pray be quick, sir," - said Elinor, impatiently; - "I have no time to spare."
He was sitting in an attitude of deep meditation, and seemed not to hear her.
"Your sister," said he, with abruptness, a moment afterwards - "is out of danger. I heard it from the servant. God be praised! - But is it true? is it really true?"
Elinor would not speak. He repeated the inquiry with yet greater eagerness.
"For God's sake tell me, is she out of danger, or is she not?"
"We hope she is."
He rose up, and walked across the room.
"Had I known as much half an hour ago - But since I AM here," - speaking with a forced vivacity as he returned to his seat - "what does it signify? - For once, Miss Dashwood - it will be the last time, perhaps - let us be cheerful together. - I am in a fine mood for gaiety. - Tell me honestly" - a deeper glow overspreading his cheeks - "do you think me most a knave or a fool?"
Elinor looked at him with greater astonishment than ever. She began to think that he must be in liquor; - the strangeness of such a visit, and of such manners, seemed no otherwise intelligible; and with this impression she immediately rose, saying,
"Mr. Willoughby, I advise you at present to return to Combe - I am not at leisure to remain with you longer. - Whatever your business may be with me, will it be better recollected and explained to-morrow."
"I understand you," he replied, with an expressive smile, and a voice perfectly calm; "yes, I am very drunk. - A pint of porter with my cold beef at Marlborough was enough to over-set me."
"At Marlborough!" - cried Elinor, more and more at a loss to understand what he would be at.
"Yes, - I left London this morning at eight o'clock, and the only ten minutes I have spent out of my chaise since that time procured me a nuncheon at Marlborough."
The steadiness of his manner, and the intelligence of his eye as he spoke, convincing Elinor, that whatever other unpardonable folly might bring him to Cleveland, he was not brought there by intoxication, she said, after a moment's recollection,
"Mr. Willoughby, you OUGHT to feel, and I certainly DO - that after what has passed - your coming here in this manner, and forcing yourself upon my notice, requires a very particular excuse. - What is it, that you mean by it?" -
"I mean," - said he, with serious energy - "if I can, to make you hate me one degree less than you do NOW. I mean to offer some kind of explanation, some kind of apology, for the past; to open my whole heart to you, and by convincing you, that though I have been always a blockhead, I have not been always a rascal, to obtain something like forgiveness from Ma - from your sister."
"Is this the real reason of your coming?"
"Upon my soul it is," - was his answer, with a warmth which brought all the former Willoughby to her remembrance, and in spite of herself made her think him sincere.
"If that is all, you may be satisfied already, - for Marianne DOES - she has LONG forgiven you."
"Has she?" - he cried, in the same eager tone. - "Then she has forgiven me before she ought to have done it. But she shall forgive me again, and on more reasonable grounds. - NOW will you listen to me?"
Elinor bowed her assent.
"I do not know," said he, after a pause of expectation on her side, and thoughtfulness on his own, - "how YOU may have accounted for my behaviour to your sister, or what diabolical motive you may have imputed to me. - Perhaps you will hardly think the better of me, - it is worth the trial however, and you shall hear every thing. When I first became intimate in your family, I had no other intention, no other view in the acquaintance than to pass my time pleasantly while I was obliged to remain in Devonshire, more pleasantly than I had ever done before. Your sister's lovely person and interesting manners could not but please me; and her behaviour to me almost from the first, was of a kind - It is astonishing, when I reflect on what it was, and what SHE was, that my heart should have been so insensible! But at first I must confess, my vanity only was elevated by it. Careless of her happiness, thinking only of my own amusement, giving way to feelings which I had always been too much in the habit of indulging, I endeavoured, by every means in my power, to make myself pleasing to her, without any design of returning her affection."
Miss Dashwood, at this point, turning her eyes on him with the most angry contempt, stopped him, by saying,
"It is hardly worth while, Mr. Willoughby, for you to relate, or for me to listen any longer. Such a beginning as this cannot be followed by any thing. - Do not let me be pained by hearing any thing more on the subject."