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December 27, 2014
After a proper resistance on the part of Mrs. Ferrars, just so violent and so steady as to preserve her from that reproach which she always seemed fearful of incurring, the reproach of being too amiable, Edward was admitted to her presence. She sat in state, ensconced in her grandest, highest-backed armchair, the closest approximation to a throne the house contained. The effect was magnified by the elaborate urns flanking her position, filled with lavish bouquets that scented the air with a heady perfume. It was not her custom to be accommodating, but the scowl with which she greeted her eldest son betokened nothing so much as ill will. A man unfamiliar with this formidable lady’s behavior might falter under the scrutiny of such a daunting countenance, but Edward, gifted with the familiarity of kinship, knew that his very admission was already something of a victory. Certainly his mother would demand of him a display of humility, but the end result was preordained: he was again her acknowledged son.
“Hello Mother. How do you do?”
“I am in excellent health, though my children seem bent on destroying it.”
“I am pleased to know you are well,” he replied, ignoring her jab.
“You heard of your brother’s abominable behavior, I dare say. Is this what brings you here?”
“As his action had rather a profound effect on myself, I could not long remain in ignorance.”
“He has preserved you from a most disastrous union. So much can be said for him.”
“Yes. I believe we can agree on that point. Robert might indeed be called my savior.”
“I see you have come to regard the matter just as you ought. That horrid girl, whose name I cannot bear to pronounce, has wrecked an unimaginable degree of havoc upon our family. You, at least, are well rid of her.”
“I cannot regret her loss.”
“Very well. I suppose it behooves me to once again call you my son, though after such ingratitude and disobedience as you so recently indulged, I might be thought inordinately lenient to do so.”
Edward bit his tongue rather than respond.
“Well, Edward? Have you nothing to say for yourself?”
“Only that to cause you pain is one of the great regrets of my life.”
“As it should be. That being said, other than the loss of your brother to that conniving hussy, no great harm has been wrought. Miss Morton is still available and will surely accept your offer just as well as Robert’s, after you exert some effort to win her favor. A few weeks of earnest courtship should suffice.”
“I am afraid, Madame, that I cannot proceed as you suggest. It pains me to go against your wishes, but my hand is already the property of another.”
“Surely you do not so mourn the loss of that woman, she who has made a fool of all the men in this family? Why, you just told me yourself that you do not regret her!”
“It is not my brother’s wife to whom I refer, but another lady of infinitely greater worth, for love of whom my engagement with the former Miss Steele had become a source of pain long before it caused my estrangement from you, my dear Mother.”
Mrs. Ferrars rose to her feet in rancor. “And of whom do you speak?”
He steadied himself. “Miss Elinor Dashwood, Ma’am.”
“Miss Dashwood, indeed! I guessed as much! A lady of little fortune and no prospects! At least she is of respectable family, unlike your last infatuation, but any connection with the Dashwoods is rendered redundant through Fanny’s marriage. She offers nothing of merit to our family. It is a nonsensical attachment.”
“Pardon me, Ma’am, if I disagree so soon upon our reconciliation, but Miss Dashwood is a lady of education and grace. She offers not only perfect gentility to our union, but also the promise of great happiness to myself.”
“That is not why people marry.”
“It is why I wish to marry.”
“And if I forbid you to ask for her hand?”
“I am sorry to inform you, Madame, but her hand I have already secured. I ask only for your blessing.”
“What can you mean by this, Edward? Do you come to my house, seeking forgiveness for one clandestine engagement, only to thrust yet another in my face?”
With the knowledge of Elinor’s love bolstering his courage, Edward declared, “Again I beg your pardon, Mother, but your facts are not quite correct. I have not asked your forgiveness. I should not have contracted an engagement in secret, this I readily own, but to have broken my promise to Lucy would have made me a scoundrel, and not even for the lady I love most in this world was I willing to debase myself so. Furthermore, there is nothing clandestine in my betrothal to Elinor Dashwood. I have her mother’s blessings, and at the time of my engagement, no acknowledged parent of my own to consult.”
Mrs. Ferrars seethed. “You would reject Miss Morton, heiress to thirty thousand pounds and offspring of Lord Morton, for the daughter of a country gentleman of little connection and a mere three?”
Mrs. Ferrars looked much like a serpent about to attack, but then something seemed to check her instinctive response. With a forced coolness she said, “Do not think I will supplement your income should you proceed with such foolishness. You will have this living you have somehow secured – yes, I do know that much of your recent actions – and the funds due to you upon your marriage, but no more than what Fanny received shall you enjoy!”
“You will give me 10,000 pounds upon my marriage?” Edward asked in disbelief.
“Yes, and how you will survive upon a daughter’s share will be entirely your own concern. I wash my hands of the matter.”
“But I have your blessing?”
“Certainly not! How you can contemplate such a union when Miss Morton is available and agreeable is unfathomable! Consider your position carefully, young man, and you will surely come to realize the folly of continuing your engagement. Come see me in two days, and we will see how that matter stands.”
To her great astonishment, Edward stepped forward with a joyful expression and grasped her hand warmly. “Thank you, Mother. I will see you in two days time.” And with a kiss and a rather ecstatic adieu, Edward took himself off to his lodgings, leaving behind him an utterly befuddled Mrs. Ferrars.
John Dashwood was at his brother’s door the next morning, eager to acknowledged the restored relations between Edward and his family, and to put forth those arguments, so unimpeachable in the minds of himself, his wife, and his mother, that were to persuade the younger gentleman of the error of his ways. In Mr. Dashwood’s defense, so rarely taken up, the task before him required an enormous amount of verbal dexterity, as he could not be reasonably expected to deprecate his own sister on behalf of Miss Morton, no matter how great her fortune. It was, therefore, his lot to praise the latter lady without sacrificing the virtues of the former, an undertaking that might have been rendered easier had Miss Morton anything but status of which to boast. Nevertheless, Mr. Dashwood entered upon his mission quite convinced of his success. What man, after all, would behave in a manner so detrimental to his own best interest? Such confidence, when his brother’s behavior had never before reconciled itself to John’s own notions of propriety, might surprise those of deep thought. It was, of course, entirely misplaced. All his best efforts to elevate Miss Morton in Edward’s esteem were for naught, and Mr. Dashwood returned home to share his befuddlement with those who could best sympathize.
When Edward again presented himself before his austere mother, though he remained stubborn in his intentions towards Miss Dashwood, he was nevertheless again embraced, however frigidly, as a son. After enduring such uncommon fluctuations in the state of her family, having for many years been in possession of two sons, then robbed of first one, and then both, Mrs. Ferrars felt the good of resuscitating at least the eldest.
Letters of triumph to first Elinor and then Colonel Brandon were posted that very day. The inquisitive will like to know that the contents of the first were just what one supposes, and those of the second had all to do with sanctioning the suggested improvements to Delaford Parsonage, that the workers might commence at once. There was nothing else but the banns for which the engaged couple’s union need wait. Be assured that the recipients of these missives were just as exultant in reluctant blessings and a grudging 10,000 pounds as they were baffling to the giver and her coterie.
When Edward followed his letter to Barton Cottage, he was greeted with a warmth that melted away his own family’s distance. In Mrs. Dashwood, he discovered all the maternal affection Mrs. Ferrars lacked; in Marianne and Margaret, he felt all the camaraderie absent between himself, Fanny, and Robert; and in Elinor, formerly so guarded in her feelings, he discovered the perfection of his heart’s delight. His liberation was indubitable, and in its embrace, he flourished.
“Where would I be without you, my dear Elinor?” he mused one morning as they walked along the downs, enjoying the summer verdure.
She smiled, “Certainly not at Barton, though you already formed an affinity for Devonshire without my influence, so perhaps we might at least depend on the vicinity.”
“It is cruel of you to tease me on this point,” he responded, though the charge was belied by a relaxed grin that encompassed his eyes, “for you know I don’t mean physically. What kind of man would I be in the process of becoming without your influence? What sort of clergyman? I’m sure I might commence well enough, but time and despondency, I fear, must take their tolls. I might have deteriorated into the saddest of figures, consumed by bitter regrets, yet now my future is secure. I have every good ambition of diligently guiding my flock towards righteousness, but if I should stumble myself, I can count on you to set me right.”
“What a thing to say of yourself, dear Edward! Even so, who is to say that our union will prove a happy one? One never quite knows how such things will unfold in a marriage. I always thought Lucy was well prepared for the challenges of running a rectory. She would have been a far better economizer than I shall ever prove.”
“Must we speak of her?” Edward sighed wearily.
“Unfortunately, I think courtesy demands it. When we consider how much she, in all likelihood, is discussing us, it is only right that we return the consideration.” They shared an amused glance, and she continued in a more serious tone, “No one is more pleased with the outcome of our predicament than I, but had Lucy not been so accommodating as to elope with your brother, and your marriage had proceeded as planned, you would be no less the master of your own destiny. You can always choose to succumb to the kind of hopelessness you describe, or you can make the best of your situation, finding new forms of fulfillment.”
“You only prove my point by always knowing just how one should behave, and I insist that with you at my side, I shall prove a far better man than I ever could manage to be without you. Do accept the compliment.”
She smiled, but shook her head negatively. “What you now perceive as my worth may very well be precisely what you someday regard as a plague. A fine companion I would make if forced to constantly harass you into goodness! What kind of man would require it? If my judgment is so infallible, you must concede yourself more honorable than you think, else how could I love you so?”
“I do concede the point, but only because to argue it would be a serious breach of gallantry. I think your tactics most unfair.” She laughed, and he took her hand, wrapping it securely in the crook his arm.
While Elinor and Edward basked in the joys of newly declared love, Colonel Brandon called regularly to discuss the progress at the parsonage, often loitering with Marianne over her books once his official business was complete. Even if Mrs. Dashwood had not been rather forthcoming about her hopes for this pairing, it would not have taken Edward long to perceive Colonel Brandon’s intentions, yet somehow Marianne remained oblivious. Fortunate for the Colonel then that the completion of construction, like every project of the kind, was subject to repeated delays. After three months of setback, a thousand disappointments, and an unaccountable dilatoriness on the part of the workmen, Elinor declared herself unwilling to wait any longer. The wedding was to be held forthwith, and Colonel Brandon, ever accommodating, offered the newlyweds the hospitality of his house as they oversaw the remaining work. It would not be the most romantic wedding trip, but Elinor and Edward, pragmatic and complacent, were appropriately grateful. The Colonel, for his part, entertained some hope that Marianne would act as companion to her sister, an idea enthusiastically suggested by Mrs. Dashwood, but in spite of her own wish to bring the two together, Elinor refused to further impose upon her host, much to his disappointment.
Edward’s relations, upon receiving news of the upcoming event, put aside their great incomprehension of their son and brother and began to make travel plans. It was of great assistance in this effort that Sir John, long before a date was set, had already invited the entire family to stay at Barton Park “ … for as long as it suits you. There’s sure to be some game in season and many an outing and dancing in the evening for the ladies.” Lady Middleton, once the wedding plans were set, provided a more formal invitation. All Mrs. Ferrars and the Dashwoods need do was invade Barton at their leisure.
It was the reading of the banns that brought first wind of their brother’s impending marriage to Mr. and Mrs. Robert Ferrars. Lucy learned of it from her newly hired lady’s maid, who proved her value in useful gossip. No woman can like to know her affections supplanted, and Elinor’s formal ascendance in Edward’s heart must cause some chagrin, but the image of the young couple struggling along and economizing on a parson’s salary quickly restored her humor. Quick to see the approaching marriage as opportunity for her husband to reassert himself into his mother’s good graces and lucrative pockets, Lucy set about trying to convince him to attend the wedding. His reluctance to present himself was understandable, for not only did it mean confronting a hostile family, but also enduring Edward’s wedding, which he asserted could be nothing but a dead bore. Nevertheless, with careful flattery and calculated cajolery, Lucy at last gained her point. Let credit go where it is due, for she managed the accomplishment while convincing her malleable husband that it was his good notion in the first place.
In what Robert was inclined to condemn as a poor show, people of taste and sense saw all that was most important. Pomp may have been lacking in the marriage of Elinor and Edward, the bride bedecked in a useful gown that would serve many a purpose other than that of mere wedding finery, but the love shared by our couple was abundantly apparent. Marianne joyfully accompanied her sister, while Colonel Brandon stood beside his new rector and friend. All those who wished them well were in attendance, no matter how reluctant the sensation. John, Fanny, and Mrs. Ferrars never dared speak to Robert even once, but they all agreed that he cut a fine figure. His elegance stood in stark contrast to the groom, dressed in a manner befitting his clerical pretensions, and such considerations proved paramount in amending the familial breech. Thus it was remembered as a day of abounding happiness for all.
The first month of marriage saw Mr. and Mrs. Ferrars every day at the parsonage, directing progress and spurring on the workers. They chose papers, planned shrubberies, and invented a sweep, all which went far in elevating the humble abode to gentility. Their host would have happily kept the couple for a far longer time, but even dilatory workmen will, eventually, complete their assigned tasks, and soon our newlyweds were finally sleeping beneath their very own roof, which no longer suffered from the slightest propensity to leak. All that was left to wish for, as long as their privacy lasted, was rather better pasturage for their cows.
The limits of such domestic tranquility were not tested for long, for just a week following their move to the parsonage, Mrs. Jennings arrived to ward off any fear of solitude. As far as the good lady was concerned, the happy couple enjoyed her two week stay as much as she did and could only regret that it did not last longer. Mrs. Jennings, a lover of company herself, was not to be burdened by any thought of being intrusive, and if the loss of newfound privacy was resented, neither Edward nor Elinor did anything to reveal it. However, upon the young Palmer child coming down with its first cold, and the matron’s presence being deemed essential at Cleveland, the Ferrars secretly, and guiltily, felt the good of such a well-timed ailment. Promising Mrs. Jennings that she was welcome at any time, they saw her off with few regrets, sincere in both their expressed sentiments and their shared desire that “anytime” might not come too soon.
Mrs. Jennings was merely the first of several guests, so anxious were their connections to grace the parsonage with their presence. Mrs. Ferrars arrived not long thereafter, direct from Barton Park, intent on inspecting the happiness that she was almost ashamed of having authorized. What were Elinor’s feelings upon welcoming the woman who had once gone to such excessive lengths to offend her, and whom she now called mother? Let’s just say it took strict adherence to her policy of general civility to weather the ordeal. Fortunately, the grand lady did not stay long, for while she felt her own consequence increase within walls too small to retain such magnificence, she also felt enough concern for her son’s welfare not to wish them to buckle under the burden of such unaccustomed pressure. Having done her maternal duty, she quickly made her way back to the more commodious dimensions of her London home.
There is nothing like a most disagreeable guest to render those only mildly so comparatively attractive. Thus the arrival of John and Fanny Dashwood, not far on the heels of their mother, was greeted with less feigned pleasure than might be expected. It was Fanny who suffered the most discomfort in the visit, having voiced so vociferously her opposition to the match now come to fruition. She and Elinor were necessarily destined to spend a considerable amount of time in each other’s company, and, loath as one is to admit it, some credit is Fanny’s due for quickly referencing the vast quantity of compliments she regularly received for the pair of screens Elinor had made her. Understanding this as a peace offering, and Elinor not being one to expect more from such a quarter, the two were able to proceed in relative amity from that point on. Marianne occasionally joined them, the lure of Colonel Brandon’s library drawing her forth to Delaford whenever she could contrive it, and she modeled her behavior upon her sister’s. While she could not so easily forgive as Elinor, her demeanor never betrayed her lingering resentment.
Elinor used the opportunity afforded by the Dashwoods’ visit to reaffirm her relationship with her brother, knowing it was what her father would wish. They often walked together in the mornings, when Edward’s parish duties kept him occupied, and as Fanny was no walker, here was ample time for the siblings to share confidences. It was on one such occasion towards the end of his stay that John, as they passed by the gates of Delaford House, began the following soliloquy:
“I will not say I am disappointed, my dear sister. That would be saying too much, for certainly you have been one of the most fortunate young women in the world, as it is. But, I confess, it would give me great pleasure to call Colonel Brandon brother. His property here, his place, his house, everything is in such respectable and excellent condition! And his woods! I have not seen such timber anywhere in Dorsetshire as there is now standing in Delaford Hanger! And though, perhaps, Marianne may not seem exactly the person to attract him, yet I think it would altogether be advisable for you to have them now frequently staying with you, for as Colonel Brandon seems a great deal at home, nobody can tell what then may happen. When people are much thrown together, and see little of anybody else — and it will always be in your power to set her off to advantage, and so forth; in short, you may as well give her a chance. You understand me.”
Elinor had the grace to betray neither her own hopes in this direction, nor any shame for her brother. It was not until John renewed the subject with his wife on their journey home to Norland that his hopes received any encouragement
“I would not be surprised if that is precisely how matters unfold,” Fanny declared, having heard him out. “Our next visit to my brother will surely find us staying at the great house.”
“But do you think Marianne could attract a man like Colonel Brandon? A year ago, perhaps, but having lost her bloom, I see nothing but the convenience of her company to entrance him. I have suggested to Elinor that she would do well to throw them together quite often.”
“You miss a great deal, John! Marianne has fully recovered her looks, and with her disposition so vastly improved, I think her prospects better than ever. Her manners used to be impertinent — never a characteristic to endear a potential husband — but she has grown quite presentable. Furthermore, she seeks out the Colonel with surprising regularity, his library being her excuse. I am rather shocked your mother allows it, but she never was able to regulate the conduct of her daughters. Even were such advantages not hers, you must see that when any comely young lady sets her sights in the direction of an aging bachelor, one should not bet against her success.”
John, as usual, was quite pleased to embrace his wife’s perspective. “Indeed? I think you might be right, my dear. What a match! What timber! Did you take the time to properly observe the hanger?”
“Who could not? It is a vast deal more than Marianne has any right to expect, but I always did think your sisters would do well for themselves. I suppose we must have the entire family to Norland soon.”
“Yes indeed!” exclaimed John, allowing free reign to his most sanguine expectations.
Not long upon reaching Norland, Fanny received a letter from her mother, announcing her reconciliation with Robert. Her second son was penitent, and though the mere mention of his wife remained intolerable, she was inclined to be forgiving of his trespasses. John Dashwood was quick to fulfill his familial duties by passing the tidings along to Delaford Parsonage, where he felt certain they must be received with as much interest as he felt upon the occasion. In keeping with custom, he could not have been more wrong. Edward was not to be bogged down in the mire of his mother’s fluctuating affections. Snug in his parsonage with a beloved wife, the eventual fate of the Ferrars fortune held little interest for him. Such contentment was not only a totally foreign notion to Mr. Dashwood, but were he to understand the matter, he would disdain to know it. One would be hard pressed to find two minds so different.
The onslaught continuing, the remaining ladies of Barton Cottage arrived on the heels of John and Fanny’s departure, the need to collect Marianne being their excuse, which somehow required them to linger an additional week. Thus all the ladies were on hand to hear report of Robert’s ongoing adventures. Though she had never met the man, nothing Mrs. Dashwood knew of him inspired her esteem, and she felt easy indignation at the favor won by an undeserving man instead of her own dear Edward. She took the issue up with Colonel Brandon when they dined at Delaford.
“Do you think it reasonable, my dear Colonel, that Mrs. Ferrars show such preference for her younger son? I hope I never betrayed such prejudices amongst my own children.”
“Do you then admit to having them, Mama?” questioned Marianne teasingly.
“That is not what I meant, my dear,” her mother gently rebuked. “If it were you, Colonel, would you not take a more active interest in your own welfare? I do not think I can be called mercenary, but to be deprived of one’s birthright should not be borne.”
“When the law ties one’s hands, there is little to be done,” he replied with a meaningful look. “Regardless, there is no law against a fickle temperament.”
“Indeed there is not,” said Elinor. “We are pleased that Edward and his mother are back on amiable terms, and if not being perfectly restored keeps our time together at a minimum, I shall not complain.”
“Should I take umbrage at that? For I don’t. It was very well said, my dear,” Edward declared, lifting his glass in salute.
“You must be more than ready to see us off tomorrow,” said Mrs. Dashwood in ready sympathy. “You have had so little time alone.”
“You are always welcome, Mama, as you well know, and we will miss you when you are gone.”
“That does not preclude being ready to say goodbye,” quipped Edward.
“For shame, Edward!” scolded Elinor playfully. “And when I have just invited Marianne back in a month, too. You shall make her feel unwelcome!”
“In a month’s time my sister knows I shall be delighted to see her once more. Marianne is more likely to scold me for pretending I am ready to continue sharing my wife with all the world than for speaking truthfully.”
“Quite right, Edward,” she applauded. “How well you know me! There is no need for pretense with such friends. Just as I have no hesitation in saying that I look forward with great zeal to again intruding upon your privacy. I will miss all the residents of Delaford.”
“You shan’t be quite rid of all of us,” inserted the Colonel. “I am expected at Barton Park next week.”
“Excellent!” Marianne exclaimed. “We shall have an opportunity to discuss the book you lent me.”
Mrs. Dashwood caught Elinor‘s eye and smiled.
In the course of his life, Sir John Middleton had known little concern more pressing in his imagination than the fate of Marianne Dashwood. It was a heavy blow to watch a beautiful young lady — a relation, no less — fall into decline following an ill-fated romance conducted under his very own roof! Here was an item of such interest as to be frequently raised with many a willing ear, but most often with his mother-in-law, who was as deeply interested as he. Miss Dashwood would recover, had already regained much of her former bloom, but only a new love could make all right again. Thus Sir John put even more energy than usual into gathering all the young people he knew together that winter. Surely, if they could only be gay enough, the right gentleman would come their way.
The Colonel frequently joined in their festivities, as he was often with them, but Sir John was convinced that the lucky gentleman would have to be in the same style as Willoughby, our young lady’s tastes being clear. Mrs. Jennings, on the other hand, must have retained some hopes for such a match — he was still rich, after all, and she was still handsome — for on one such festive occasion she suddenly remarked, “There, Sir John! You see this is the second time the Colonel has asked Miss Dashwoods to dance.”
“Yes, indeed. Sad thing too! I’ll speak to Brandon about not monopolizing her.”
“You’ll do no such thing, Sir John, if you will mind me. Perhaps there might be something there after all.”
It took Sir John a moment to consider before responding, “I did once think that was where the wind blew, but now I believe Miss Dashwood sets her cap at Mr. Carey instead.” He laughed, “How she would scold me for using that expression! Perfectly charming!”
“Mr. Carey! What is a young scrub like him next to the Colonel?”
“He’s a bruising rider. That must be to his advantage.”
She dismissed his point. “Do not deny that it is just the match to make us all most comfortable! Why, she would be located next to a favorite sister, near her family, and mistress of a very pretty estate!”
“True, but I would hate to see Brandon disappointed again.”
“By all means say nothing about it to anyone. I told myself I would make no more matches for the Colonel, as it never has worked out with him when I do.” She winked conspiratorially, and Sir John put a finger to his mouth as an indication of silence, yet despite the best intentions of both, before the evening was out nearly everyone present was speaking of nothing else, and in tones loud enough for the objects of their conjecture to hear. When the Colonel said good-bye to the Dashwoods that night, Marianne, though polite, would not meet his eye. The damage was done: their easy friendship at an end.
Marianne experienced a jolt of panic when she spotted the Colonel walking up the path to the cottage the next day, but rather than making herself scarce, as she might once have done, she steeled herself for what she fervently prayed would not be too painful an interview.
Having risen earlier than usual, she had strolled the downs at daybreak, trying to make sense out of the confusion of her thoughts. She regarded the Colonel in the light of a dear friend, with whom she need not feel the least reserve, and if she still retained some lingering suspicion that there was more than friendship on his part, she had not dwelt upon it before now. The rumors of the previous evening forced her to confront what she had been most happy to ignore.
Marianne Dashwood was not one to easily forgo her convictions. While Elinor might be able to lightly, and even rightly, dismiss her stance on second attachments as the romanticism of youth, it was no small feat for her sister to set aside a favorite belief. Such a change in philosophy as required by Marianne to love once more could not happen overnight, and while she admitted a great affection for the Colonel, her sensations towards him were so starkly dissimilar from what she had experienced with Willoughby that she truly did not recognize them as romantic.
As she walked, she pondered the nature of her affections and, while she knew it would be painful, resolved to reject the Colonel if he were to propose. She wished most fervently he never would, so as to avoid the pain and discomfort such a scene would necessarily entail. She could not help being struck by how very gratifying a marriage to Colonel Brandon would be to all her friends, particularly her mother and sisters, though they would never urge her to marry where she did not love. He would do far better finding a different woman to marry, she reasoned, for he deserved far better than what she, heartbroken, could ever provide. Taking comfort in martyrdom, she turned homewards, and by the time she reached the cottage had even determined to keep an eye out for an appropriate lady for her friend, though she disdained even the hint of matchmaking.
Fortunate for Marianne, as well as her future happiness, that the Colonel knew the lay of the land to an inch, having made a most thorough study of his sweetheart.
Mrs. Dashwood greeted her visitor with a glance at her daughter: a way of letting Colonel Brandon know that Marianne was not herself. He nodded in understanding, sitting down in his customary way and talking comfortably. Such behavior began to put Marianne at ease until Margaret said candidly, “When Mama saw you approach, Colonel Brandon, she thought you wanted to speak privately with Marianne, in order to discuss what everyone was saying last evening about the two of you.”
“Margaret!” mother and daughter admonished together, but the Colonel only laughed.
Glancing at a blushing Marianne, he declared, “My dear friends mean well, but they really should stop making matches. I am a bachelor — a decrepit one, no doubt, but single nonetheless — and as such my friendship with your family must always be misconstrued. If I were not madly in love with Miss Dashwood, it would surely be the beautiful widow who had stolen my heart.” Mrs. Dashwood laughed. “And perhaps you too, Miss Margaret, will someday know the privileged of being the next lady to whom Mrs. Jennings would have me play beau.”
The words were spoken lightheartedly, enough so to allow Marianne to regain her composure, but the look with which they were spoken told her so much more. She thought – though how could one be sure of such a thing? – that he had just openly declared his love for her. Even if said in jest: If I were not madly in love with Miss Dashwood…. Yes, Marianne felt convinced of his sincerity. The realization made her blush anew, but she saw he would never press her on the subject, or do anything that might jeopardize their ease together. How neatly he provided an escape from their uncomfortable predicament, and all without compromising himself in the slightest! Her overwhelming sensation was gratitude for his friendship. He continued to quiz Margaret, who was highly amused by the notion of having the Colonel as her suitor, and Marianne was overcome by an unbearable wave of sadness. She said a silent prayer that he would find a worthier object for his affections, and, though she was not aware of it at the time, it was at that moment Marianne Dashwood fell in love with Colonel Brandon.
Marianne knew not her affliction until she next came to Delaford. Business had taken Colonel Brandon to London.
“He may return at any time,” Elinor assured her, “and Edward and I will do our best to make sure you are well entertained.”
“I have no doubt of having a very pleasant stay, Elinor. The Colonel’s absence shall not be a detriment, I assure you, unless we mourn the loss of invitations to the manor house. His chef is very fine.”
“I was not concerned about your palate, my dear, only you have become quite good friends with Colonel Brandon, have you not? I thought his presence was one of the attractions for you here.”
“You underestimate yourself, dear Elinor! There is no one whose company I find more felicitous than yours,” but even as she said the words, Marianne feared that they were not quite true.
Her visit to the parsonage at an end and still no Colonel Brandon to be found, Marianne was happy to accept her sister’s invitation to return no more than a month hence. The master of Delaford was home when she arrived, and an invitation to dinner soon followed, but this would be the only night in which Marianne would enjoy his company, unexpected business taking the Colonel away again the very next day. When Marianne learned that he was unlikely to return before she was due to leave, her disappointment was acute enough to attract Elinor’s attention.
“It is not like you to mope, Marianne.”
“I am not moping, Elinor,” she replied, determinedly turning the page of her book. “I am reading.”
“Yes. I’ve noticed what progress you make. Come now, and tell me what it is that troubles you. Since when were you one to guard your feelings so?”
Marianne blushed. “Since I learned how badly they can be hurt,” she declared, choking on the words. Elinor put aside her work and went to her sister, sincerely repentant.
“I did not think, my dear Marianne, of how my thoughtless wording might sound to you. I am so very sorry!”
“Oh, I know you did not! I cannot say why I am in such dreadful humor,” she took herself in line. “I certainly have no reason to be out of sorts, especially not with you.”
“With whom would you prefer to be out of humor?” Elinor questioned cautiously.
She chortled, “I have a few choice words to say to dear Colonel Brandon, should he ever make himself available to hear them.”
“Whatever has he done to invoke your ire? You seemed to be on fine terms last evening.”
She ignored the question, rising to pace up and down the room. “Do you think he would intentionally avoid me?”
“Where in heaven’s name did you get such a notion?”
Marianne stopped to gaze out the window in the direction of Delaford House. “He always has business that takes him away just when I arrive.”
“Only twice, and then pure coincidence!”
“Can you be certain?” she asked quietly.
“Only reasonably. Why are you so suspicious, Marianne? Did I not know better, I would think you had deeper feelings for him than that of friendship.”
Turning to face her sister, revealing eyes full of tears, she replied, “I am not certain, but I begin to suspect that I do.”
Elinor beamed at her sister. “Oh, my dear Marianne! Nothing could make me happier!”
Marianne gasped. “How can you say so, Elinor! There is absolutely no reason to suppose that anything resembling happiness would result from such a catastrophe!”
“A catastrophe? How can you say so?” Elinor almost laughed. “Colonel Brandon is a wonderful man who has long loved you. If you could return his affections, it would be a marvelous thing for you both.”
“You do not know his feelings,” Marianne said accusingly.
“I am tolerably certain of them,” was Elinor’s smug reply.
“But it is impossible! Do you not see that? After the entanglement with Willoughby, to say nothing of his assistance during my illness, how can I, the lady who scorned the notion of second attachments, propose to transfer my affections? Who would believe me? I do not accept it myself.”
“My dear sister, there is no need to convince anyone of your sincerity, as all who have observed you these past months already know your feelings. Do not glare at me so! Just because some of us know not to speak such thoughts aloud does not mean they don’t resemble Mrs. Jennings and Sir John’s on certain points. Mama, for one. She will be delighted.”
“Elinor!” Marianne gasped. “Mama does not think of the Colonel in such a way! She has no notion of my falling in love with anyone.”
“I assure you it has been her most ardent wish this past year.”
Marianne sat down, stunned. “I know not what to say! I can’t believe she never said anything!”
“My mother would not manipulate a daughter’s feelings so! She could not speak on such an issue.”
“I suppose not,” she replied quietly. A long silence ensued, broken only when Marianne declared her intention of taking a long walk. Elinor did not offer her company, knowing perfectly well it was neither necessary nor wanted.
When Marianne’s visit came to an end without the reappearance of the Colonel, Elinor again invited her to return soon, but her sister demurred. She would not impose her presence where it was unwanted, and she rightly reasoned that the Colonel could easily seek her company at Barton Cottage whenever he might so wish. He was not expected at the Park, and Marianne told herself it was silly to look out for his arrival, but, nevertheless, each passing day found her watching the road expectantly. On a morning two weeks after her return, a figure that in height and stature might be Colonel Brandon was seen approaching.
Margaret looked out the window from Marianne’s side. “Why it’s the Colonel!” she declared gaily.
“You do not know that. He is too far away to tell,” scolded her sister.
“Of course it is he, Marianne. Whom else should it be?”
Marianne could not answer the question and so returned her gaze to the gentleman, who certainly did appear more and more like Colonel Brandon.
“I shall go out to greet him,” declared Margaret, rushing off to fetch her cape.
Marianne watched as her sister ran out in welcome of the visitor, who responded warmly to such enthusiasm. She wondered if he was just paying a courtesy call on the family, or if his presence might be on her account. The tumult of emotions overwhelming her kept her mind from being able to focus clearly. All was feeling, and the wait for him to enter interminable.
When he was finally announced and the pleasantries complete, Marianne could not tell if she had acquitted herself well. Reclaiming her seat, she hoped her greeting was at least cordial. She could not recall. Now unable to attend the inquiries her mother made, she tried to focus on her work, but her head remained stubbornly uncooperative. She could not even guess how much time had passed when the Colonel suggested the ladies join him in a walk, the day being particularly fine. Mrs. Dashwood dependably demurred while encouraging her daughters, and soon the three were wandering the downs. Margaret raced ahead of her elders, leaving Colonel Brandon and a dazed Marianne to converse privately.
“I am sorry I had to depart from Delaford so unexpectedly when you were last visiting your sister,” he began
“Think nothing of it,” she managed.
“Luck has certainly run against me. Every time you are in the neighborhood, I seem to be called away.”
“Please, Colonel,” she rapidly replied. “You must not trouble yourself over it.”
“I would hate for you to suppose I planned my absences to coincide with your residence in the neighborhood.”
“Why should I conceive of such an absurd notion?” she defensively retorted.
“Mrs. Ferrars indicated that you felt slighted after my sudden departure,” he admitted.
“Did she?” Marianne asked, suddenly anger focusing her mind. “She had certainly no business, or reason, to make such conjectures. Let me assure you, Colonel Brandon, that while the pleasure of your company is a benefit to my time at Delaford, it is not essential.”
“I would never presume it was,” he replied cautiously, taken aback by her vehemence, “but do you not allow that the pleasure of your company might be essential to me?”
She looked at him cautiously, and his nervous smile told her all she needed to know. A blush overspread her cheeks as she smiled back. His heart was hers still, and she now had a mind to appreciate it. In the heat of the moment she stepped towards him, not minding the ground beneath her feet as she did so, and readily slipped on a loose stone, twisting her ankle, and falling into the safety of the Colonel’s open arms.
“Marianne!” Margaret cried, rushing over towards sister.
“Are you all right?” the Colonel inquired. “It is the same ankle you twisted before, is it not?”
“Yes,” said Marianne, tears springing to her eyes. “How foolish of me!”
“Nonsense,” was his determined reply. “The joint is weakened from the previous injury, and might very well give you trouble for years to come. We must get you home and bind it,” and placing his free arm behind her, he swept her into his embrace and walked towards the cottage, Margaret running ahead.
“Mama! Come quick! Marianne has hurt her ankle again!” Margaret cried as she entered.
Mrs. Dashwood arrived just in time to see Colonel Brandon carrying Marianne over the threshold. Vividly she recalled the other time a gentleman carried her daughter through that door. How different her feelings now! She knew this man – his friendship, his integrity, and his heart – and though she felt distress in Marianne’s plight, she could also rejoice. Sending Margaret off to gather supplies, she saw one daughter seated on the sofa before excusing herself to supervise the other.
“I cannot believe my clumsiness,” lamented Marianne. “Thank you, sir, for your assistance.”
“While I cannot agree that you are clumsy, I do wish you had better timing. I was most interested in pursuing our conversation.”
She looked away and said quietly, “As was I.”
“Forgive me if I am opportunistic, but I cannot allow this moment to slip by. I do not know when you might again hurt your ankle.”
“Pardon me?” Marianne blinked in perplexity.
“Forgive me, Miss Dashwood, my dear Marianne, but I have noticed your heart is susceptible when you sustain such injuries. Would you not allow me to always be the one to assist you when in need?”
“I know not whether to laugh or be offended! Are you asking …” her voice trailed off, afraid of her presumption.
“Yes, Marianne. Will you be my wife?”
Tears completely unrelated to her injury spilled down her face as she enthusiastically responded, “Yes, Colonel Brandon. There is nothing I desire more.”
When Mrs. Dashwood returned, the new couple was so absorbed in their own happiness that they did not even hear the door open. Deciding that Margaret was in need of still further supervision, she quietly closed it again and tiptoed away.
A wedding announcement will always be received in a vast variety of ways. Most who read it will not think anything of it, rarely even pausing long enough to poke fun at an odd name, but those who are intimate with the particular he and she in question can be relied upon to betray the entire universe of human emotions, from perfect happiness to rancorous malevolence. On the negative side of the spectrum sat Mr. Willoughby, of whom the less said the better. I will spare only a few more words for his nearest neighbor, Mrs. Ferrars, whose son-in-law had been promoting the notion of Colonel Brandon marrying one or another of his sisters since she first made his acquaintance, and who could find it in her heart to begrudge the Dashwood ladies any good fortune at all. She was well entertained by Lucy Ferrars, ensconced to her right, who possessed a seemingly endless supply of intimate anecdotes displaying Marianne in the most unfavorable light. Such camaraderie greatly bridged the divide between the two women, gradually wiping away the sins of the past and rendering Lucy a valued companion. Nevertheless, Lucy had no scruples in composing a fawning missive to the future Mrs. Brandon, full of reference to affection that never existed, reminding her of the excellent times they shared at Barton Park, and offering her sincerest congratulations.
John Dashwood received the announcement with as much joy as deference to Mrs. Ferrars allowed, no easy thing as his pleasure was twofold, for not only was his sister contracting so suitable a marriage, but he also knew himself instrumental in the promotion of the match. Surely this was precisely the kind of assistance his father had asked him to provide his sisters. He would be happy to look about, in a few more years, for someone appropriate for Margaret.
More sincere were the sentiments of Sir John and Mrs. Jennings, who used the occasion to toast the happy couple through a great deal of brandy, predicting competing heights of felicity for the marriage all the while. Lady Middleton thought it would be appropriate to host an engagement party, also the perfect occasion to début her new plate, only just arrived.
To Elinor and Mrs. Dashwood, seeing Marianne happily engaged to a thoroughly good man, who would not only care for her during his own life, but would also see to securing her future and that of their children, was nothing less than a dearest dream come true. This union brought peace and stability to the entire family, two sensations absent for far too long from their lives.
Marianne Dashwood was born to an extraordinary fate. She was born to discover the falsehood of her own opinions, and to counteract, by her conduct, her most favorite maxims. She was born to overcome an affection formed so late in life as at seventeen, and voluntarily give her hand to another, and that other, a man who had suffered no less than herself under the event of a former attachment, whom, two years before, she had considered too old to be married: and who still sought the constitutional safeguard of a flannel waistcoat!
But so it was. Instead of falling sacrifice to an irresistible passion, as once she had fondly anticipated, she found herself at nineteen submitting to new attachments, entering on new duties, planning a wedding, enjoying a courtship, and adjusting to the notion of patronizing a village. The transition came easily to her, and on the day that saw her leave the name Dashwood behind, as she walked down the aisle aglow with happiness, no one watching could doubt that she would flourish in her new role. Edward recited the marriage ceremony, and she felt as if all that tarnished her life thus far was falling away, revealing a pristine future ahead. Bumps and blemishes might leave their mark, but for them she was ready. She had her husband to help her and a most cherished sister, who would always be nearby. Marianne could never love by halves; and her whole heart embraced the future as she spoke the words that codified, forever, her devotion to Colonel Brandon.
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