"You are never like me, dear Elinor, or I should wonder at your composure now. Had I sat down to wish for any possible good to my family, I should have fixed on Colonel Brandon's marrying one of you as the object most desirable. And I believe Marianne will be the most happy with him of the two."
Elinor was half inclined to ask her reason for thinking so, because satisfied that none founded on an impartial consideration of their age, characters, or feelings, could be given; - but her mother must always be carried away by her imagination on any interesting subject, and therefore instead of an inquiry, she passed it off with a smile.
"He opened his whole heart to me yesterday as we travelled. It came out quite unawares, quite undesignedly. I, you may well believe, could talk of nothing but my child; - he could not conceal his distress; I saw that it equalled my own, and he perhaps, thinking that mere friendship, as the world now goes, would not justify so warm a sympathy - or rather, not thinking at all, I suppose - giving way to irresistible feelings, made me acquainted with his earnest, tender, constant, affection for Marianne. He has loved her, my Elinor, ever since the first moment of seeing her."
Here, however, Elinor perceived, - not the language, not the professions of Colonel Brandon, but the natural embellishments of her mother's active fancy, which fashioned every thing delightful to her as it chose.
"His regard for her, infinitely surpassing anything that Willoughby ever felt or feigned, as much more warm, as more sincere or constant - which ever we are to call it - has subsisted through all the knowledge of dear Marianne's unhappy prepossession for that worthless young man! - and without selfishness - without encouraging a hope! - could he have seen her happy with another - Such a noble mind! - such openness, such sincerity! - no one can be deceived in HIM."
"Colonel Brandon's character," said Elinor, "as an excellent man, is well established."
"I know it is" - replied her mother seriously, "or after such a warning, I should be the last to encourage such affection, or even to be pleased by it. But his coming for me as he did, with such active, such ready friendship, is enough to prove him one of the worthiest of men."
"His character, however," answered Elinor, "does not rest on ONE act of kindness, to which his affection for Marianne, were humanity out of the case, would have prompted him. To Mrs. Jennings, to the Middletons, he has been long and intimately known; they equally love and respect him; and even my own knowledge of him, though lately acquired, is very considerable; and so highly do I value and esteem him, that if Marianne can be happy with him, I shall be as ready as yourself to think our connection the greatest blessing to us in the world. What answer did you give him? - Did you allow him to hope?"
"Oh! my love, I could not then talk of hope to him or to myself. Marianne might at that moment be dying. But he did not ask for hope or encouragement. His was an involuntary confidence, an irrepressible effusion to a soothing friend - not an application to a parent. Yet after a time I DID say, for at first I was quite overcome - that if she lived, as I trusted she might, my greatest happiness would lie in promoting their marriage; and since our arrival, since our delightful security, I have repeated it to him more fully, have given him every encouragement in my power. Time, a very little time, I tell him, will do everything; - Marianne's heart is not to be wasted for ever on such a man as Willoughby. - His own merits must soon secure it."
"To judge from the Colonel's spirits, however, you have not yet made him equally sanguine."
"No. - He thinks Marianne's affection too deeply rooted for any change in it under a great length of time, and even supposing her heart again free, is too diffident of himself to believe, that with such a difference of age and disposition he could ever attach her. There, however, he is quite mistaken. His age is only so much beyond hers as to be an advantage, as to make his character and principles fixed; - and his disposition, I am well convinced, is exactly the very one to make your sister happy. And his person, his manners too, are all in his favour. My partiality does not blind me; he certainly is not so handsome as Willoughby - but at the same time, there is something much more pleasing in his countenance. - There was always a something, - if you remember, - in Willoughby's eyes at times, which I did not like."
Elinor could NOT remember it; - but her mother, without waiting for her assent, continued,
"And his manners, the Colonel's manners are not only more pleasing to me than Willoughby's ever were, but they are of a kind I well know to be more solidly attaching to Marianne. Their gentleness, their genuine attention to other people, and their manly unstudied simplicity is much more accordant with her real disposition, than the liveliness - often artificial, and often ill-timed of the other. I am very sure myself, that had Willoughby turned out as really amiable, as he has proved himself the contrary, Marianne would yet never have been so happy with HIM, as she will be with Colonel Brandon."
She paused. - Her daughter could not quite agree with her, but her dissent was not heard, and therefore gave no offence.
"At Delaford, she will be within an easy distance of me," added Mrs. Dashwood, "even if I remain at Barton; and in all probability, - for I hear it is a large village, - indeed there certainly MUST be some small house or cottage close by, that would suit us quite as well as our present situation."
Poor Elinor! - here was a new scheme for getting her to Delaford! - but her spirit was stubborn.
"His fortune too! - for at my time of life you know, everybody cares about THAT; - and though I neither know nor desire to know, what it really is, I am sure it must be a good one."
Here they were interrupted by the entrance of a third person, and Elinor withdrew to think it all over in private, to wish success to her friend, and yet in wishing it, to feel a pang for Willoughby.