‘No, sir,’ Elinor said quickly. ‘I shall not stay. I do not want to hear your explanation. Perhaps you have business with Mr Palmer. I am sorry, but he is away at the moment.’
‘I do not know Mr Palmer and I have no business with him,’ Willoughby said. ‘I came as soon as I heard the terrible news about your sister. Please, let me explain why I am here, Miss Dashwood.’
Elinor sat down.
‘Then please be quick, sir,’ she said. ‘My sister needs me and I have no time to talk to you.’
‘The servant told me that your sister is now out of danger. Is that true? Is she a little better? For God’s sake, tell me if that is true or not!’ Willoughby cried. His face was pale and his eyes were wide and dark.
‘We hope that it is true,’ Elinor said quietly.
Willoughby stood up and began to walk about the room. Then he stopped and turned towards Elinor.
‘Tell me, Miss Dashwood,’ he said. ‘What do you think about me? Am I bad or stupid?’ He laughed suddenly. His face had now become red.
Willoughby was speaking very strangely. Elinor began to think that he was drunk.
‘Mr Willoughby, I think that you should go home and rest,’ Elinor said, frowning.
‘No, Miss Dashwood, I am not drunk,’ he said. ‘I have come here for a very good reason. I am very, very sorry. I have come here to make an apology and explain my behaviour to your sister. Perhaps, in time, she may even forgive me.’
‘Marianne has already forgiven you,’ Elinor replied. ‘She forgave you long ago.’
‘Then you must listen to me, Miss Dashwood. Last autumn, I had to spend some time in Devon — at Allenham Court, with Mrs Smith. Then I met your sister. Her interest in me was very flattering and I did my best to please her.’
‘I have heard enough,’ Elinor said coldly. ‘I cannot listen to you anymore.’
‘But you must,’ Willoughby replied, ‘I have to tell you everything now.
‘I am a gentleman, but I have never had much money of my own. My friends have always been much richer than me. When I was with them, I spent money freely and I soon had many debts.’
‘I was not going to inherit Mrs Smith’s money for many years, so I decided that I must marry a rich woman. I had no thought of marrying anyone like your sister. That was not possible. But Marianne is very beautiful and I began to grow very fond of her. I fell in love — I could not help it.’
‘Then you did have feelings for Marianne,’ Elinor said.
‘The hours that I spent with your sister, were the happiest of my life,’ Willoughby said. ‘But then something happened that changed everything. Mrs Smith heard a story about me. She heard about someone — a lady — whom I… But I believe that you have been told everything, Miss Dashwood,’ Willoughby said.
‘Yes, I have heard it all,’ Elinor said angrily. ‘You left a young, pregnant girl alone, and without money. You behaved very badly towards that poor girl. She had no one to help her. It was a wicked thing that you did.’
‘Remember who told you that story!’ Willoughby cried. ‘Colonel Brandon is no friend of mine!’
‘You should be ashamed!’ Elinor answered. ‘You treated that girl badly and you treated my sister badly too. You deceived them. You flattered them and made them love you. Marianne loved you and she believed your flattery. By then, Eliza Williams had no hope and no friends. You knew that, but you did nothing to help her.’
‘I did not know that Eliza was in trouble,’ Willoughby said quickly. ‘I had forgotten to give her my address and she could not write to me.
‘Mrs Smith thought the worst of me too,’ Willoughby went on. ‘She is an old woman and she does not understand a young man’s feelings. She said that she would forgive me, if I married Eliza. I could not do that. So Mrs Smith sent me away. She told me that I would never inherit her money.
‘Miss Sofia Grey was very rich and I decided to marry her,’ Willoughby said. ‘She was pleased to get a husband. That is all. We do not love each other.’
‘Miss Grey is now your wife,’ Elinor said quietly. ‘Please don’t speak about her in that way. You have made two young women unhappy — first Eliza and then my poor sister. You were cruel to Marianne when you said goodbye to her at Barton. You were cruel to her again in London, in front of her friends and many other people. Your last letter to Marianne was the cruellest thing of all. You have not behaved like a gentleman, Mr Willoughby.’
‘My wife made me write that letter,’ Willoughby said. ‘She was angry and jealous. Oh, why did I leave Marianne for her?’
‘You have already told me why,’ Elinor said. ‘Do not say that your wife is the reason for your bad behaviour. Perhaps you have been foolish, rather than wicked. But you have hurt my sister terribly. She has been very unhappy.’
‘Then please tell your sister that now I am unhappy too,’ Willoughby replied. ‘I still love Marianne. I came here tonight because I met Sir John Middleton in London. He told me that Marianne was dying. Mrs Jennings had written to tell him the news. You must tell Marianne everything that I have told you tonight.’