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Chapter 23
However small Elinor's general dependence on Lucy's veracity might be, it was
impossible for her on serious reflection to suspect it in the present case, where
no temptation could be answerable to the folly of inventing a falsehood of such a
description. What Lucy had asserted to be true, therefore, Elinor could not, dared
not longer doubt; supported as it was too on every side by such probabilities and
proofs, and contradicted by nothing but her own wishes. Their opportunity of
acquaintance in the house of Mr. Pratt was a foundation for the rest, at once
indisputable and alarming; and Edward's visit near Plymouth, his melancholy
state of mind, his dissatisfaction at his own prospects, his uncertain behaviour
towards herself, the intimate knowledge of the Miss Steeles as to Norland and
their family connections, which had often surprised her, the picture, the letter, the
ring, formed altogether such a body of evidence, as overcame every fear of
condemning him unfairly, and established as a fact, which no partiality could set
aside, his ill-treatment of herself.--Her resentment of such behaviour, her
indignation at having been its dupe, for a short time made her feel only for
herself; but other ideas, other considerations, soon arose. Had Edward been
intentionally deceiving her? Had he feigned a regard for her which he did not
feel? Was his engagement to Lucy an engagement of the heart? No; whatever it
might once have been, she could not believe it such at present. His affection was
all her own. She could not be deceived in that. Her mother, sisters, Fanny, all
had been conscious of his regard for her at Norland; it was not an illusion of her
own vanity. He certainly loved her. What a softener of the heart was this
persuasion! How much could it not tempt her to forgive! He had been blamable,
highly blamable, in remaining at Norland after he first felt her influence over him
to be more than it ought to be. In that, he could not be defended; but if he had
injured her, how much more had he injured himself; if her case were pitiable, his
was hopeless. His imprudence had made her miserable for a while; but it
seemed to have deprived himself of all chance of ever being otherwise. She
might in time regain tranquillity; but he, what had he to look forward to? Could he
ever be tolerably happy with Lucy Steele; could he, were his affection for herself
out of the question, with his integrity, his delicacy, and well-informed mind, be
satisfied with a wife like her--illiterate, artful, and selfish?
The youthful infatuation of nineteen would naturally blind him to every thing but
her beauty and good nature; but the four succeeding years--years, which if
rationally spent, give such improvement to the understanding, must have opened
his eyes to her defects of education, while the same period of time, spent on her
side in inferior society and more frivolous pursuits, had perhaps robbed her of
that simplicity which might once have given an interesting character to her
If in the supposition of his seeking to marry herself, his difficulties from his mother
had seemed great, how much greater were they now likely to be, when the object
of his engagement was undoubtedly inferior in connections, and probably inferior
in fortune to herself. These difficulties, indeed, with a heart so alienated from