فصل 11

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فصل 11

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CHAPTER ELEVEN

The Secret is Out

A few days later, Charlotte Palmer, Mrs Jennings’ younger daughter, gave birth to her first child - a son. Mrs Jennings was delighted, and she now spent many hours each day with her daughter and new grandchild.

When Sir John Middleton heard the news, he hurried to Mrs Jennings’ house in Berkeley Street. He had an invitation for the Miss Dashwoods.

‘My dear Miss Dashwood,’ he said to Elinor, ‘you and your sister must not stay here by yourselves. While Mrs Jennings is with Charlotte, you must spend every day with us in Conduit Street. Anne and Lucy will be pleased to see you and so will Lady Middleton.’

Elinor was too polite to refuse the invitation. But no one was happy with Sir John’s idea, except Mrs Jennings and Sir John himself.

Mrs Jennings thought that the Dashwood sisters and the Steele sisters were the best of friends. Sir John Middleton did not understand that his wife did not take Elinor and Marianne Dashwood. Lady Middleton thought that the Dashwoods were too clever, and that they read too many books. She liked Anne and Lucy Steele because the sisters flattered her and her badly-behaved children.

Anne and Lucy Steele did not like the Miss Dashwoods because both Elinor and Marianne were pretty and honest. The Dashwoods thought that the Miss Steeles were silly and vulgar.

As usual, Elinor was able to hide her feelings and she was always polite to the Steeles. But Marianne could not hide her feelings easily. She always said what she thought. And now the four girls had to meet every day.

One evening, at a party at the Middletons house in Conduit Street, all four young women met Mr Robert Ferrars- Elinor recognised him immediately. He was the handsome young man whom she had seen in the jeweller’s shop in Bond Street.

Robert Ferrars was unlike his elder brother, Edward. Robert was good-looking and confident. He was dressed in expensive, fashionable clothes and he never stopped talking.

He bowed to Elinor, smiled, and began talking to her.

‘You know my elder brother, Edward, I believe,’ he said with a laugh. ‘He visited you and your family in your little cottage in Devon. If I had enough money, I would buy a little cottage. But I should want to live much closer to London. My brother Edward likes the country, of course. He does not like meeting people, and I do. Edward and I are very different, Miss Dashwood.’

Elinor agreed.

‘Yes, Edward is shy,’ Robert Ferrars continued. ‘It is our mother’s fault that he is so uncomfortable when he meets strangers. She made a mistake when he was a boy. I have told her this many times. She sent Edward to a private tutor in Plymouth, but I went to Westminster School in London.

‘At Westminster there were many students and I had many friends,’ Robert went on. I can talk to anyone, as you see. But poor Edward will sometimes sit silently for a whole evening. My brother is not confident. He cannot talk easily when there are large groups of people. He will never change now.’

Elinor was very pleased to hear that, but she did not tell Robert.

When John Dashwood saw Robert Ferrars talking to Elinor, he had an idea.

‘Perhaps we should ask my sisters to stay with us for a time, my dear Fanny,’ John said to his wife. ‘It would help them to meet the best people while they are in London. What do you think, my dear?’

Fanny did not like the idea at all.

‘My dear, I would ask them, of course. But I have decided to invite Anne and Lucy Steele to stay here with us for a few days,’ Fanny replied. ‘My mother is very fond of them and dear little Harry loves them. We can invite your sisters at any time.’

As always, John Dashwood agreed with his wife and the next day, Fanny sent an invitation to Lucy Steele. Lucy showed Fanny’s letter to Elinor as soon as she received it.

‘This invitation makes me feel hopeful for the future,’ Lucy said. ‘Fanny is Edward’s sister and now she has invited me to stay in her house in Harley Street. I shall often meet Mrs Ferrars there - and my dear Edward too, of course.’

Anne and Lucy Steele had flattered Lady Middleton and now they flattered Mrs John Dashwood. Fanny Dashwood was delighted with the Miss Steeles and she hoped that they would stay as long as possible.

Two weeks after the birth of her son, Mrs Palmer was well and strong again. So Mrs Jennings no longer spent all her time at the Palmers’ house in Hanover Square. Elinor and Marianne were delighted to leave the Middletons’ house and return to Mrs Jennings’ house in Berkeley Street.

Lucy Steele was very happy in the Dashwoods’ house in Harley Street. She was already thinking of Fanny Dashwood as her sister-in-law, as well as her friend. But things did not happen as she had hoped.

One day, Mrs Jennings came to Elinor with a piece of gossip that she had just heard.

‘My dear Miss Dashwood!’ Mrs Jennings cried. ‘You will never believe my news! I could not believe it myself at first.’

‘What is it, ma’am?’ Elinor asked in surprise.

‘You will never believe it!’ the old lady said again. ‘Mr Edward Ferrars has been secretly engaged to my cousin, Lucy Steele, for more than a year! And no one knew about it except her sister, Anne! This is what happened. This is how the secret came out.

‘Yesterday, Fanny Dashwood and Anne Steele were sitting together,’ Mrs Jennings went on. ‘Fanny began to talk about her brother, Edward, marrying Lord Morton’s daughter. As you know, Anne and Lucy were warmly welcomed into Fanny’s house. Fanny became especially fond of Lucy. She was pleasant to her and gave her gifts. Perhaps Anne thought that she had to tell Fanny the truth about Edward and Lucy. So the foolish young woman told Fanny Dashwood about Lucy’s secret.

‘My dear Fanny,’ Anne told Fanny, with a laugh. ‘Your brother Edward cannot marry Miss Morton. He is already engaged to my sister, Lucy. I know how happy you will be to hear their secret, now that we are all friends!’

‘When Fanny heard the news, she began crying and screaming at Anne - everyone in the house could hear her!’ Mrs Jennings continued. ‘John Dashwood hurried into the room and then Lucy ran in. Fanny saw Lucy and began screaming at her. She called Lucy “wicked and sly” and told her and her sister to leave the house at once. Lucy nearly fainted and Anne wept loudly. But Fanny would not take back her words. Anne and Lucy Steele were out of the house in less than an hour. John Dashwood sent for the doctor, and then he sent for his mother-in-law, Mrs Ferrars.

‘I feel sorry for Edward and Lucy,’ the kind-hearted Mrs Jennings said. ‘Mrs Ferrars thinks far too much about herself and about money. If Edward and Lucy are in love, is it wrong that they should marry?’

As she heard Mrs Jennings tell this story, Elinor felt very sorry for Edward too. But she did not feel sorry for Lucy. Elinor believed that Edward would marry Lucy, although his mother did not want this to happen. Elinor decided that Marianne had to hear the news at once, but she had to hear it from Elinor herself.

At first, when she heard Elinor’s story, Marianne thought that Edward was as cruel as Willoughby. But a few seconds later, she changed her mind, Marianne had always liked Edward. She believed that he loved Elinor and she knew that Elinor loved him. Marianne was sure of one thing. She had never liked Lucy Steele. Now she hated her.

‘How long have you known about this engagement, Elinor?’ Marianne asked. ‘Did Edward write and tell you about it?’

‘No, he did not,’ Elinor replied. ‘Lucy told me when we were all at Barton. She told me about it four months ago. She made me promise to keep the engagement a secret. And I did.’

‘You have known about this engagement for four months!’ Marianne repeated in surprise. ‘You are very strong Elinor, and you keep your feelings hidden. But this secret must have made you very unhappy. I know that you love Edward.’

‘Yes, I do love him, Marianne, but my love has to be a secret too. I do not want to hurt Edward. He will behave like a gentleman, I am sure. He will marry Lucy. He made a promise to her before he met me. Edward and Lucy may have a happy life together. I do not know. I do know that I have been very unhappy tor the past four months.’

‘Oh, Elinor! I have been selfish!’ Marianne cried. ‘All these months, you have been helping me and I should have been helping you. I am a bad sister. I have been thinking only about myself and I am sorry.’

The sisters agreed to say nothing about their feelings to anyone. They found that very difficult when their brother came to see them the next morning.

‘Sisters, you have heard the terrible news, I am sure,’ John began. ‘My dear wife is still feeling very ill, but please do not worry. The doctor says that she will be better very soon.

‘Mrs Ferrars is very upset and she is very angry with Edward,’ John Dashwood went on. ‘My mother-in-law wished Edward to marry a rich woman from a good family. She had found a suitable young woman - Miss Morton. Miss Morton is very rich, as you know. As soon as she heard about the secret engagement, Mrs Ferrars sent for Edward at once. When he reached her house in Park Street, she told him to end his engagement to Lucy Steele. But he refused to do this. Mrs Ferrars first offered Edward money, then she said that she would take all his money away. But Edward would not change his mind.’

‘Who can believe it!’ Marianne said. But her brother did not understand her.

‘Your surprise at Edward’s behaviour is quite correct,’ John Dashwood said.

‘I think that Edward Ferrars has behaved very well,’ Mrs Jennings said. ‘My cousin, Lucy Steele, is a good girl who should marry a good husband. Edward has thought of Lucy’s feelings and he has behaved like an honest man!’

‘An honest man!’ John Dashwood repeated. ‘No, Edward has not behaved honestly. He has made an unsuitable engagement and he kept this a secret. Now he has refused to obey his mother.

‘But Edward will wish that he had not behaved in this way,’ John Dashwood went on. ‘Mrs Ferrars has sent him away. Her younger son, Robert, is now her heir and he will inherit all her money. Edward will have nothing. I feel sorry for him, but it is his own fault.’

After John Dashwood had left her house, Mrs Jennings had many things to say to her young friends about the news. They were all very sorry for Edward and they thought that Mrs Ferrars had behaved very badly.

A few days later, Mrs Jennings and Elinor were walking together in a London park when they saw a young woman walking towards them.

‘Look, there is Miss Steele,’ Mrs Jennings said to Elinor. ‘Go and talk to her. She is sure to tell you everything about Edward and Lucy.’

Mrs Jennings walked away to speak to a friend and Miss Steele walked up to Elinor.

‘I am so pleased to see you, Miss Dashwood!’ Anne Steele cried. ‘You have heard the news, of course. I am afraid that Lucy was angry with me because I told Mrs John Dashwood about the engagement! People have been saying such bad things about Lucy and Edward. I am sure that you have heard the gossip.’

‘I have heard nothing,’ Elinor replied.

‘Well, I can tell you the truth,’ Anne said. ‘We are now staying in Bartlett’s Buildings. My uncle, Mr Pratt, has an apartment there. We did not hear from Edward for three days and Lucy wept all that time. Then Edward came back to London today and we are all happy!

‘After leaving his mother’s house in Park Street, Edward went into the country,’ Anne Steele said. ‘He stayed there all of Thursday and Friday. Then he decided to come back to us. Dear Edward! I heard every word that he said to Lucy.

‘At first, Edward said that he was too poor to marry. Then Lucy said that she did not mind being poor, as long as she had love. Are those not beautiful words, Miss Dashwood? Then they moved away from the door and I could not hear any more.’

‘What do you mean, Miss Steele?’ Elinor said. ‘Are you saying that you listened to their private conversation?’

‘Well, they would not be talking about love if I was in the room!’ Miss Steele said with a laugh. ‘Lucy would listen at a door if I was talking about love with a young man, I am sure!’

‘I am sure that she would,’ Elinor said quietly, but Miss Steele did not hear this.

‘Edward has decided to become a clergyman,’ Anne Steele continued. ‘He is going to be ordained as soon as possible. Then he will look for a church where he can live and work.

‘I know that Edward and Lucy will be happy!’

Elinor could not agree with this, but she said nothing.

‘Well, I must go,’ Miss Steele said. ‘Please give my best wishes to Mrs Jennings and Miss Marianne. Perhaps we shall all meet when Lucy and Edward are married!’ And, with another foolish laugh, Miss Anne Steele walked away.

The next morning, Elinor had a letter from Lucy herself.

My Dear Miss Dashwood,

I am writing to you as a friend. I want to tell you about my dear Edward and myself. We have both been very unhappy, but now all is well.

I spent two hours with Edward yesterday afternoon. He is not afraid of his mother’s anger, because he has my love. We will have love, but no money! Before we can marry, Edward must be ordained and find a church to work in.

My dear friend - can you, Mrs Jennings, your brother John, or Mr Palmer, help Edward? If you know a suitable church where he can be a clergyman, we could live happily for ever.

I must end this letter now. Please give my best wishes to dear Mrs Jennings. I hope that she will come and see me soon. I also send my best wishes to Miss Marianne, Sir John and Lady Middle ton and their dear, dear children.

I am your very dear and true friend,

Lucy Steele

Elinor showed the letter to Mrs Jennings, because that was what Lucy wished.

‘Poor Lucy,’ the kind old lady said. ‘She has written a very good letter and I shall go and visit her. I hope that someone will be able to help Lucy and Edward soon. I feel sorry for them both.’

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