Sense and Sensibility Chapter 31
Marianne does not believe Mrs. Jennings is being compassionate. She insists that all Mrs. Jennings likes is gossip, and she is interested in Marianne because she is a good source of it. Elinor, convinced of Mrs. Jennings' sincere kindness, feels sorry that Marianne comes to her judgments of people so quickly and keeps them so firmly. After breakfast, Mrs. Jennings again unwittingly hurts Marianne, by bringing her a letter which she claims will make Marianne feel much better. Marianne imagines it is from Willoughby, and becomes so excited that she falls hard when she realizes it is from her mother. Marianne blames Mrs. Jennings, thinking her action was a cruel joke rather than a kind act. The letter from Mrs. Dashwood, who knows nothing of what has happened, mentions Willoughby, and how certain she is of their engagement. The letter brings Marianne much sadness, and she wants more than ever to go home to Barton.
The task of writing to their mother and informing her of what has happened falls to Elinor. While writing, the Colonel shows up, and has a long story to tell Elinor.
His story concerns Willoughby. The Colonel tells Elinor that the woman he spoke of at Barton, the one who resembled Marianne, this woman was his first love. Her name was Eliza, an orphan who was under the care of the Colonel's father. He fell in love with her open heart and her passion, and she fell in love with him. But the Colonel's father wanted Eliza to marry the Colonel's older brother, because Eliza was wealthy and the Brandon family estate was in debt. Eliza loved the Colonel, not his brother, and the two of them tried to elope to Scotland, but Eliza's maid betrayed them. The Colonel was sent away, and his father confined Eliza until she would agree to marry the older brother. This brother did not love her, and after they were wed, he treated her poorly. Unable to stand the loveless marriage, she divorced. The Colonel, who had gone to the East Indies in the hope of causing Eliza less pain by his absence, came home to the news of what had happened. Nearly broke, Eliza had taken many lovers, and ended up in a debtor's prison. She was sick, and the Colonel removed her from the prison and took care of her until she died.
Eliza had a three-year-old daughter from one of her many lovers, and the Colonel took on her care. Having no family, he had to send her away to school, and had her visit Delaford often. Miss Williams had moved from school to the care of an older woman, and she asked to go away with one of her friends. They went to Bath, and there she met Willoughby. The two ran off together, he got her pregnant, and then he left her, promising to return, but never did. The letter the Colonel received before their trip to Whitwell had to do with Miss Williams.
The Colonel asks Elinor to tell Marianne whatever she imagines is best; he would never have revealed the story if he did not think it might help for Marianne to hear it, and realize what kind of man she had lost, and how lucky she was compared to Miss Williams. The Colonel and Willoughby had a duel, but nobody was injured. The Colonel then leaves, after having gained even more of Elinor's respect.