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Sense and Sensibility, Page 3

Jane Austen


  The family of Dashwood had long been settled in Sussex. Their estatewas large, and their residence was at Norland Park, in the centre oftheir property, where, for many generations, they had lived in sorespectable a manner as to engage the general good opinion of theirsurrounding acquaintance. The late owner of this estate was a singleman, who lived to a very advanced age, and who for many years of hislife, had a constant companion and housekeeper in his sister. But herdeath, which happened ten years before his own, produced a greatalteration in his home; for to supply her loss, he invited andreceived into his house the family of his nephew Mr. Henry Dashwood,the legal inheritor of the Norland estate, and the person to whom heintended to bequeath it. In the society of his nephew and niece, andtheir children, the old Gentleman's days were comfortably spent. Hisattachment to them all increased. The constant attention of Mr. andMrs. Henry Dashwood to his wishes, which proceeded not merely frominterest, but from goodness of heart, gave him every degree of solidcomfort which his age could receive; and the cheerfulness of thechildren added a relish to his existence.

  By a former marriage, Mr. Henry Dashwood had one son: by his presentlady, three daughters. The son, a steady respectable young man, wasamply provided for by the fortune of his mother, which had been large,and half of which devolved on him on his coming of age. By his ownmarriage, likewise, which happened soon afterwards, he added to hiswealth. To him therefore the succession to the Norland estate was notso really important as to his sisters; for their fortune, independentof what might arise to them from their father's inheriting thatproperty, could be but small. Their mother had nothing, and theirfather only seven thousand pounds in his own disposal; for theremaining moiety of his first wife's fortune was also secured to herchild, and he had only a life-interest in it.

  The old gentleman died: his will was read, and like almost everyother will, gave as much disappointment as pleasure. He was neither sounjust, nor so ungrateful, as to leave his estate from his nephew; buthe left it to him on such terms as destroyed half the value of thebequest. Mr. Dashwood had wished for it more for the sake of his wifeand daughters than for himself or his son; but to his son, and hisson's son, a child of four years old, it was secured, in such a way,as to leave to himself no power of providing for those who were mostdear to him, and who most needed a provision by any charge on theestate, or by any sale of its valuable woods. The whole was tied upfor the benefit of this child, who, in occasional visits with hisfather and mother at Norland, had so far gained on the affections ofhis uncle, by such attractions as are by no means unusual in childrenof two or three years old; an imperfect articulation, an earnestdesire of having his own way, many cunning tricks, and a great deal ofnoise, as to outweigh all the value of all the attention which, foryears, he had received from his niece and her daughters. He meant notto be unkind, however, and, as a mark of his affection for the threegirls, he left them a thousand pounds a-piece.

  Mr. Dashwood's disappointment was, at first, severe; but his temperwas cheerful and sanguine; and he might reasonably hope to live manyyears, and by living economically, lay by a considerable sum from theproduce of an estate already large, and capable of almost immediateimprovement. But the fortune, which had been so tardy in coming, washis only one twelvemonth. He survived his uncle no longer; and tenthousand pounds, including the late legacies, was all that remainedfor his widow and daughters.

  His son was sent for as soon as his danger was known, and to him Mr.Dashwood recommended, with all the strength and urgency which illnesscould command, the interest of his mother-in-law and sisters.

  Mr. John Dashwood had not the strong feelings of the rest of thefamily; but he was affected by a recommendation of such a nature atsuch a time, and he promised to do every thing in his power to makethem comfortable. His father was rendered easy by such an assurance,and Mr. John Dashwood had then leisure to consider how much theremight prudently be in his power to do for them.

  _His son's son, a child of four years old._]

  He was not an ill-disposed young man, unless to be rather cold heartedand rather selfish is to be ill-disposed: but he was, in general, wellrespected; for he conducted himself with propriety in the discharge ofhis ordinary duties. Had he married a more amiable woman, he mighthave been made still more respectable than he was: he might even havebeen made amiable himself; for he was very young when he married, andvery fond of his wife. But Mrs. John Dashwood was a strong caricatureof himself; more narrow-minded and selfish.

  When he gave his promise to his father, he meditated within himself toincrease the fortunes of his sisters by the present of a thousandpounds a-piece. He then really thought himself equal to it. Theprospect of four thousand a-year, in addition to his present income,besides the remaining half of his own mother's fortune, warmed hisheart, and made him feel capable of generosity. "Yes, he would givethem three thousand pounds: it would be liberal and handsome! It wouldbe enough to make them completely easy. Three thousand pounds! hecould spare so considerable a sum with little inconvenience." Hethought of it all day long, and for many days successively, and he didnot repent.

  No sooner was his father's funeral over, than Mrs. John Dashwood,without sending any notice of her intention to her mother-in-law,arrived with her child and their attendants. No one could dispute herright to come; the house was her husband's from the moment of hisfather's decease; but the indelicacy of her conduct was so much thegreater, and to a woman in Mrs. Dashwood's situation, with only commonfeelings, must have been highly unpleasing. But in _her_ mind therewas a sense of honor so keen, a generosity so romantic, that anyoffence of the kind, by whomsoever given or received, was to her asource of immovable disgust. Mrs. John Dashwood had never been afavourite with any of her husband's family; but she had had noopportunity, till the present, of showing them with how littleattention to the comfort of other people she could act when occasionrequired it.

  So acutely did Mrs. Dashwood feel this ungracious behaviour, and soearnestly did she despise her daughter-in-law for it, that, on thearrival of the latter, she would have quitted the house for ever, hadnot the entreaty of her eldest girl induced her first to reflect onthe propriety of going, and her own tender love for all her threechildren determined her afterwards to stay, and for their sakes avoida breach with their brother.

  Elinor, this eldest daughter, whose advice was so effectual, possesseda strength of understanding, and coolness of judgment, which qualifiedher, though only nineteen, to be the counsellor of her mother, andenabled her frequently to counteract, to the advantage of them all,that eagerness of mind in Mrs. Dashwood which must generally have ledto imprudence. She had an excellent heart; her disposition wasaffectionate, and her feelings were strong; but she knew how to governthem: it was a knowledge which her mother had yet to learn; and whichone of her sisters had resolved never to be taught.

  Marianne's abilities were, in many respects, quite equal to Elinor's.She was sensible and clever; but eager in everything: her sorrows, herjoys, could have no moderation. She was generous, amiable,interesting: she was everything but prudent. The resemblance betweenher and her mother was strikingly great.

  Elinor saw, with concern, the excess of her sister's sensibility; butby Mrs. Dashwood it was valued and cherished. They encouraged eachother now in the violence of their affliction. The agony of griefwhich overpowered them at first, was voluntarily renewed, was soughtfor, was created again and again. They gave themselves up wholly totheir sorrow, seeking increase of wretchedness in every reflectionthat could afford it, and resolved against ever admitting consolationin future. Elinor, too, was deeply afflicted; but still she couldstruggle, she could exert herself. She could consult with her brother,could receive her sister-in-law on her arrival, and treat her withproper attention; and could strive to rouse her mother to similarexertion, and encourage her to similar forbearance.

  Margaret, the other sister, was a good-humored, well-disposed girl;but as she had already imbibed a good deal of Marianne's romance,without having
much of her sense, she did not, at thirteen, bid fairto equal her sisters at a more advanced period of life.