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Being Sensible

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"Oh Elinor, how cruel you are!  To quit Norland entirely?  How can you ask such a thing of us?" Mrs. Dashwood demanded.

"Mama, we must be sensible.  There is nothing around Norland that we can afford.  I am as unhappy as you are at the thought of leaving but--"

"You are not," Marianne interrupted with much passion.  "How can you be? You have never admired the beautiful woods and wide lawns of our fair home.  It passes beyond your notice how lovely the meadows are in spring or how lively the village is at Michaelmas or how magical the pond is frozen in winter.  After losing Father, you would deprive us of all comfort and familiarity to ease our burden?  I did not think even you would be so unfeeling." 

"That is unfair.  After spending so many years here, naturally leaving is exceedingly painful to me.  Norland is very dear to me.  Have I not spent many hours recreating its beauty on canvas?  I shall miss all of my dear acquaintances and the pattern of life I am accustomed to here.  But we are obliged to quit our home anyway.  Even if our nearest neighbor made his home available and it was within our means to rent, you would find its charm unsatisfying simply for not being Norland.  Prudence dictates we look further away for our new home."

"Speak not to me of prudence," Mrs. Dashwood said.  "How can anyone think of prudence at a time like this?  When my husband has so recently been torn from me, when the new mistress of Norland has the audacity to install herself before your father has scarce been buried, when she even now inflicts upon us her brother whom we know nothing about -- how can I think of anything prudent at such a time?  How can I contemplate leaving our friends?  How can you ask me to wake each morning and not have this beautiful countryside to soothe my heartache?"

So saying, she promptly burst into tears.  Marianne was quick to join her, mother and daughter so alike in temperament and sentiment that their outlooks were perfectly united.  It was even more so the case in their current shared grief.  Neither thought it acceptable to be anything but utterly and wholly distraught.  The violence of their grief could not be too great.  Anything less must surely be shameful.

Elinor waited for the worst of the outpouring of grief to dissipate.  She was distressed at having caused their current anguish but she knew that their future happiness would depend much on their choice of residence.  She knew how vital it was to convince her mother to choose wisely.  A different approach was clearly called for.

"Mama," she said, putting as much warmth and compassion in her tone as she was able.  "I would not divide you from anything that is so necessary for your well being.  But I would ask that you at least make inquiries of all your friends and relations, no matter how far away they may reside.  If you still feel that here is the only place you can find solace, we need not accept the invitations that come in.  But perhaps you will be surprised."

If she could not immediately turn their minds to her cause, she could at least begin the process.  Elinor felt assured that a few more weeks living in close quarters with her sister-in-law would cure Mrs. Dashwood and Marianne of any desire to stay nearby.

Marianne shook her head vigorously.  "No place could be the equal of Norland.  There can be no offer enticing enough to tempt us from here."

"Then there is no harm in merely asking," Elinor said quickly.  "Please, Mama, will you not at least inquiry?  For me?"

It was clear from Mrs. Dashwood's countenance that her heart was very much against the idea.  But her heart also belonged to her daughters equally and she divined the heartfelt nature of Elinor's plea.  After unreservedly supporting Marianne's assertion that there was no equal to Norland and that her mind was fixed on staying nearby, she allowed that making inquiries would not hinder her resolve, and if Elinor was so desirous of it, she would make the effort.

Elinor expressed her appreciation as ardently as she felt prudent, and then made some excuse to quit the room as quickly as was seemly.  Her mother and sister looked on the verge of once again indulging in their passionate misery, and Elinor knew herself to be an object of offense -- however mild -- and she thought it better to remove herself so that any lingering affront would mend quickly under the bonds of familial affection.

For her own part, she was not unmoved by her mother and sister's sorrow nor was she the detached creature they accused her of being.  She was sure she felt the loss of Norland no less keenly than they.  She still remembered the wonder she'd felt as a little girl when they had first moved to the great estate.  Her father had quickly taken up all the duties related to its care, and even now Elinor felt her father's spirit infused in the very air. 

Fanny had not the subtly of taste that Henry Dashwood benefited from.  The very thought of what she would do to their much beloved home was enough to make anyone weep, so Elinor understood her sister and mother's sentiments very well.  She was only divided from them in their belief that emotions must be displayed for all to see or be as nothing.  Her command over her feelings did not remove them.  Consequently she was unsettled by the emotion she had just unleashed. 

It was her custom to sit at her desk and work on a painting when her mind was agitated, and she went directly to do just that.  She found the activity allowed for quiet contemplation and a general calming to her being.

Today proved an aberration.  While she was indeed afforded quiet and tranquility and she tried her best to turn her mind to her usual reflections, she found her mind would not obey her command.  There was a faint anxiety growing inside her that demanded attention, but its cause remained elusive for the duration of half the picture's drafting.

Her subject was the landscape immediately before her window, the very landscape that her sister had accused her of being insensate to.  As she carefully filled out the leaves of the ancient oak across the lawn, she thought how much more closely did she note the composition of her home for, to reproduce it, she must by needs know it to its smallest parts.

Could Marianne boast such intimacy?

Elinor instantly chastised herself for such a thought, knowing her sister's accusation against her held no true malice and was spoken out of grief.  But the thought itself brought with it a new enlightenment.

Elinor knew within herself that she mourned the loss of her father no less than the rest of her family.  But she also knew that her manner of mourning was different than her family as well.  In her mind, she was not diminished in any way, but for the first time she felt the isolation of her temperament.

She realized that the unpleasant argument she had just waged was likely to be the first of many, and it would indeed prove a template for the future.  With their dispositions so similar, Mrs. Dashwood and Marianne would almost always support each other, and it appeared Margaret was quickly following in their example. 

Elinor foresaw that she would be set against them in all matters of practicality.  It seemed like such a natural development that Elinor could not doubt it, and yet she was puzzled at how such an inevitability had escaped her notice before now.  Arguments were not unknown in their household, and yet it was only now that Elinor felt so very beleaguered.

In a moment of stunningly clear insight, Elinor was suddenly struck with her father's absence in this matter.  Marianne took after their mother but Elinor took after her father.  When there was debate, Henry Dashwood generally exhibited prudence and wisdom, but perhaps more optimism than Elinor felt could always be warranted.  She and her father were so often alike in mind and temperament that, even though Elinor had never relied on his unwavering support in her opinions and recommendations, she had had his support nevertheless.

And now he was gone, and she was left to fill the void of his reason in their family.  With that realization, Elinor felt as if an enormous burden had suddenly dropped onto her shoulders -- too large a burden for her to manage on her own.  She indulged in a moment of panic, but only a moment.  For as daunting as this role was, it did not overshadow the sudden grief that assailed her as she felt a new way of missing her father.

"Excuse me."

Startled from her thoughts, Elinor turned in her chair to find Mr. Ferrars standing awkwardly by the door.

"I did not mean to interrupt you."

"You did not," Elinor reassured him, for she was glad to be pulled from her unhappy thoughts.  With firmness of mind, she willed herself back to composure.  Her desire was helped by the sudden distraction provided in the presence of Fanny's brother.  They had only been acquainted for two days now, which was really no time at all.  Though nothing of his demeanor so far suggested he was capable of diverting conversation, any exchange right now was most welcomed.  "Was there something I can help you with?"

"Er, yes, actually.  Fanny desired that I return several books to the library, but in performing that task, I now find myself rather uncertain how to again regain the front parlor and the sense of direction I had achieved there.  I have circled this floor twice, I think, with the firm conviction of achieving progress and yet I have seen the bust across the hall three times now and must acknowledge that I am truly lost."

Elinor laughed, rising to her feet.  "You would not be the first to lose themselves on this floor.  There are actually four such busts; if you examine them closely, you will see how they differ.  But from afar, they do all look similar.  You may not be as lost as you believe, but I would be happy to direct you."

Seeing her turn to put her art supplies away, Edward said, "Oh, but you are currently employed!  Please forgive me.  I have no desire of disrupting your work.  I am sure I can find my way on my own now that I know the busts are different."

"Nonsense," Elinor said.  "It is an hour at least since I sat down to this labor.  A respite is called for, I should say.  Please but give me a moment, and I shall walk you to the parlor myself."

Edward still looked awkward and unconvinced but he did not venture more arguments.  With apparent curiosity, he came forward and examined the drawing Elinor had been working on.

"This is very beautiful."

"You are much too kind, sir.  The drawing is still far from finished."

Her words seemed to startle him, as if he had not praised her work for her benefit but rather spoken as if to himself.  It made his remark more sincere, and Elinor was warmed by that.

He colored at having been caught speaking his mind uncensored, and said, "I am the last to realize a finished work from an unfinished one; I fear I reveal my shortcomings.  I must admit to much deficiency when it comes to the discernment of greatness in art.  I have no talent for judging.  I do think it very fair though.  I like especially how you have captured the tree's bowed branches."

Elinor knew it was her office to continue to protest his praise, but she was actually rather proud of the trees in her picture for they had been difficult to capture correctly.  With only a moment's hesitation, she told Edward as much.

He continued his study of her art, and she was just about to finish putting away her materials when Edward said, "I have always admired the skill of artists.  It seems to me a very mysterious endeavor and I am much in awe of it.  Would you . . ."

He trailed off, the awkward expression returning with the color to his cheeks.  Curious, Elinor prompted, "Would I?"

"Forgive me, it was an impertinent request.  I had only wished to ask if I might observe you in your employment."

"You wish to watch me draw?" Elinor could not keep the surprise from her voice, for indeed it was an odd request.  Edward colored further.

"Forgive me," he repeated.  "I should not have--"

"If it pleases you, I have no objection," Elinor interrupted, surprising herself.

Edward looked equally surprised.  "You do not?"

Considering the matter, Elinor realized that she honestly did not mind.  If Marianne would allow Elinor a passion for anything, surely it would be her art.  The idea of sharing what she loved and possibly earning a convert to it intrigued and pleased her.

She smiled.  "I do not.  Was there a particular subject you desired to see drawn?"

"Oh no.  No.  I shall be happy to see anything rendered, for it is the process that interests me.  Please choose whatever you desire most to draw and I will be content."

So, Elinor directed Edward to bring forward a chair while she unpacked her art materials and made herself comfortable.  She considered for a moment what she should draw.  Her first thought was to draw Edward himself, but that was a highly impudent idea and she accordingly discarded it.  She finally settled on drawing a potted plant that sat on the table to her right.

At first she was conscious of her observer, which made her lines hesitant.  But soon enough, the familiarity of the work settled around her and she gave Edward no more than a passing smile for he seemed happy to let their conversation lapse to silence.

As she worked, Elinor did not even realize that the tranquility that she had sought for earlier and found wanting now permeated the air.  Strange as it seemed, she found herself perfectly content in Edward's quiet presence and thus they spent the whole of the afternoon without interruption.