Mrs. Dashwood's visit to Lady Middleton took place the next day, and two of her daughters went with her; but Marianne excused herself from being of the party under some trifling pretext of employment; and her mother, who concluded that a promise had been made by Willoughby the night before of calling on her while they were absent, was perfectly satisfied with her remaining at home.
On their return from the park, they found Willoughby's curricle and servant in waiting at the cottage, and Mrs. Dashwood was convinced that her conjecture had been just. So far it was all she had foreseen, but on entering the house she beheld what no foresight had taught her to expect. They were no sooner in the passage than Marianne came hastily out of the parlour apparently in violent affliction with her handkerchief at her eyes; and without noticing them ran upstairs. Surprised and alarmed, they proceeded directly into the room she had just quitted, where they found only Willoughby, who was leaning against the mantelpiece with his back towards them. He turned round on their coming in, and his countenance showed that he strongly partook of the emotion which overpowered Marianne.
They saw nothing of Marianne till dinner time, when she entered the room and took her place at the table without saying a word. Her eyes were red and swollen; and it seemed as if her tears were even then restrained with difficulty. She avoided the looks of them all, could neither eat nor speak, and after some time, on her mother's silently pressing her hand with tender compassion, her small degree of fortitude was quite overcome; she burst into tears and left the room.
“Why do you not ask Marianne at once [said Elinor to Mrs. Dashwood] whether she is or is not engaged to Willoughby? From you, her mother, and so kind, so indulgent a mother, the question could not give offence. It would be the natural result of your affection for her….”
“I would not ask such a question for all the world. Supposing it possible that they are not engaged, what distress would not such an inquiry inflict! At any rate, it would be most ungenerous. I should never deserve her confidence again after forcing from her a confession of what is meant at present to be unacknowledged to anyone…. I would not attempt to force the confidence of anyone, of a child much less; because a sense of duty would prevent the denial which her wishes might direct.”
Sense and Sensibility tells the story of Mrs. Dashwood, newly a widow, and her three daughters. The novel focuses on the two older daughters, Elinor and Marianne, and their romantic fortunes. In this scene, Marianne runs from the room in tears, having learned that her suitor, Willoughby, is leaving for an indeterminate but likely lengthy period of time. Marianne's mother and her “sensible” sister, Elinor, enter the room just as Marianne flees it, and try to learn from Willoughby the cause of Marianne's distress. Mrs. Dashwood had believed that Marianne and Willoughby were engaged, and so is quite upset by the news.