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Chapter 38
Mrs. Jennings was very warm in her praise of Edward's conduct, but only Elinor
and Marianne understood its true merit. They only knew how little he had had to
tempt him to be disobedient, and how small was the consolation, beyond the
consciousness of doing right, that could remain to him in the loss of friends and
fortune. Elinor gloried in his integrity; and Marianne forgave all his offences in
compassion for his punishment. But though confidence between them was, by
this public discovery, restored to its proper state, it was not a subject on which
either of them were fond of dwelling when alone. Elinor avoided it upon principle,
as tending to fix still more upon her thoughts, by the too warm, too positive
assurances of Marianne, that belief of Edward's continued affection for herself
which she rather wished to do away; and Marianne's courage soon failed her, in
trying to converse upon a topic which always left her more dissatisfied with
herself than ever, by the comparison it necessarily produced between Elinor's
conduct and her own.
She felt all the force of that comparison; but not as her sister had hoped, to urge
her to exertion now; she felt it with all the pain of continual self-reproach,
regretted most bitterly that she had never exerted herself before; but it brought
only the torture of penitence, without the hope of amendment. Her mind was so
much weakened that she still fancied present exertion impossible, and therefore
it only dispirited her more.
Nothing new was heard by them, for a day or two afterwards, of affairs in Harley
Street, or Bartlett's Buildings. But though so much of the matter was known to
them already, that Mrs. Jennings might have had enough to do in spreading that
knowledge farther, without seeking after more, she had resolved from the first to
pay a visit of comfort and inquiry to her cousins as soon as she could; and
nothing but the hindrance of more visitors than usual, had prevented her going to
them within that time.
The third day succeeding their knowledge of the particulars, was so fine, so
beautiful a Sunday as to draw many to Kensington Gardens, though it was only
the second week in March. Mrs. Jennings and Elinor were of the number; but
Marianne, who knew that the Willoughbys were again in town, and had a
constant dread of meeting them, chose rather to stay at home, than venture into
so public a place.
An intimate acquaintance of Mrs. Jennings joined them soon after they entered
the Gardens, and Elinor was not sorry that by her continuing with them, and
engaging all Mrs. Jennings's conversation, she was herself left to quiet reflection.
She saw nothing of the Willoughbys, nothing of Edward, and for some time
nothing of anybody who could by any chance whether grave or gay, be
interesting to her. But at last she found herself with some surprise, accosted by
Miss Steele, who, though looking rather shy, expressed great satisfaction in
meeting them, and on receiving encouragement from the particular kindness of
Mrs. Jennings, left her own party for a short time, to join theirs. Mrs. Jennings
immediately whispered to Elinor,