Is there any Felicity in the World Superior to This?
Disclaimer: As always, I do not own nor possess Jane Austen's works or her characters. My work is solely based as a creative appreciation. The story has many parts; will post regularly.
Story: Marianne Dashwood finds the Colonel's charms and noble qualities irresistible and it seems that a proposal of marriage from the noble Brandon is pleasantly inevitable. However, as a possible handsome new suitor enters the neighbourhood, eager to grab hold of Marianne's affections, Brandon finds himself, once again, at odds with a rival – will their wishes of a well-suited marriage eventually come about?
The gentlemen passed, bowing, tipping their hats politely as they did so. And if they ever hoped to entertain the thoughts of receiving Miss Marianne Dashwood's affection, they were bitterly disappointed when she strode past them, utterly oblivious of their various frivolous attempts to capture her attention.
It was hardly surprising. Marianne Dashwood was currently out of sorts and had little inclination to converse with others, lest it be her mother, sisters or her dear brother-in-law. However, her inclination to talk with her family was feeble in comparison to the one that she felt when she thought of the person that she wanted dearly to discuss with. A certain person who was currently not present at this dance.
It had been three days since Colonel Brandon had left the manor owing to pressing family matters in town. It had been with great reluctance that he had left his newly instated parson in charge of the village parish as well as the Dashwoods who he was very close to calling family – he, in turn, could not easily recall a time where he felt much at ease and welcomed by all. Marianne and herself alone knew this for he had mentioned it during one of their much animated discussions at 'Delaford manor, although the Colonel's sentiments were generally well known by all.
Marianne missed the easy frankness of their discourse, their frequent readings of their favourite poems, excerpts and paragraphs from their much-perused books and the intelligent conversations that quickly followed them. Her mind and knowledge had improved considerably, much to her delight and her intended goal of achieving an intellectually sound mind, full of profound knowledge and philosophical understanding had gradually become more of a reality under Brandon's superb tutelage. Nevertheless, despite all this, Marianne was starting to wonder whether it was only the Colonel's steadfast guidance and knowledge that drew her attention to him, above all the other gentlemen that she had been acquainted with – or was it his admirable, noble qualities? Recently and even more so during his present absence, she had realised her admiration of him had vastly increased since their established friendship at Cleveland where she had been taken ill a year ago, and she felt that she held him in an admiration that surpassed both esteem and affection – but she was far from knowing exactly what it was.
'Good evening, Miss Dashwood.'
Marianne turned sharply at the mention of her name, even more so when she instantly recognized the voice that had so pleasantly pronounced it. She, in her state of reverie, had not noticed the Colonel come forth from the doors of the adjoining room and her mood brightened immediately at the sight of him. He stepped forth from the crowd and gracefully bowed.
She looked remarkably well, Brandon thought, her complexion having retained its usual healthy pink glow and her full figure, which had been nearly wasted a year ago had returned and radiated youthful liveliness once again. Her evening gown, fit for the purpose of dancing and a pleasant change from the usual gowns, dresses she had worn during her visits at Delaford as well at Barton, in a way, heightened her remarkable beauty, and it was with some difficulty that Brandon was able to pry his admiring gaze from her person.
'Why, good evening, Colonel! What a great pleasure it is to see you so soon for we thought that you were not to be expected until tomorrow! We were nearly overcome with disappointment when you mentioned that you were unable to join us.'
Exceedingly flattered by the obvious delight in her tone, it was a moment before he could trust himself to reply coherently. 'Ah, yes…it was with great relief that I was able to conclude my business in town earlier than I had expected.' On arriving in London, he had discovered that his solicitor through a mistake had called upon him and upon realizing this; he had immediately set off for Delaford, regardless of the heavy onslaught of rain that had threatened to impede his progress.
'You must have had a tiring journey, Colonel. Did you only arrive this morning?' she inquired concernedly; for he looked faintly exhausted yet remarkably handsome in his evening clothes; he too very infrequently refrained from wearing his customary riding wear and leather boots which were always to be seen during his visits.
'Only this afternoon, to be more precise,' said he smiling.
'Good heavens, Colonel! You must have ridden through the rain for it was raining the whole day! I hope you have not taken a cold, Colonel – are you feeling in the least unwell?' He shook his head, wanting to dispel her anxiety but she was not to be so easily discouraged in her efforts. What care I for rain or illness when you are at the end of my journey?
'Believe me, Miss Dashwood,' rejoined he after Marianne's concerns had been calmed considerably. 'Pray assure yourself that I am not in the least unwell from any sort of affliction. No doubt having lasted for the past day or so, I feel confident that I can see through the next few hours with little difficulty,' added he with a small, amused smile that reflected in his eyes.
A familiar voice came from behind them: 'My dearest sister, I hope you have not troubled our good friend Colonel Brandon since his arrival.'
Edward approached them, glass of wine in hand and a most un-parson-like grin on his face. Several faces in the surrounding crowd simply stared at this odd behaviour and then hastily turned away to chatter with their party when they finally realised what exactly they were doing.
Much to the surprise of all those in the village, the newly elected pastor had decided to attend the assembly, the first of his long line of predecessors to actually do so, much less even contemplate the very thought. This had amused Brandon greatly to whose laughter Edward had defiantly replied: 'Good heavens! The people of this village clearly believe that if you are in relation to God, you must become one. We have danced in celebration of His deeds for nearly six thousand years, then surely there must be a possibility that He Himself danced a jig at least…and very well indeed in my opinion, for I hope that He has been learning from our numerous examples.' The result of this had been only ensuing laughter from his patron, his wife, mother-in-law and sisters. Edward, in the face of this, took this as a vote of confidence and being the good-humoured person that he was, eventually joined the laughter.
Marianne turned, finding it difficult to suppress a smile in the face of Edward's newfound jolliness of manner. 'Troubled? Edward, I have not done so in the least!'
'Very well…for I have heard it for myself that the Colonel wishes to enjoy the evening by dancing rather than discuss the tedious conditions of the roads and the horses and etcetera –' Here he broke off airily before turning to Brandon, in mock seriousness. 'And may I inquire, sir, in the interests of Miss Dashwood, how are the conditions of the roads and your faithful horse?'
'They are not so well at present, Mr. Ferrars, if that satisfies your new-found curiosity…or would you wish me to continue?' said Brandon laughingly. Edward, under his new post, had gained the advantage of improving his confidence and good humour, much to the delight of those who loved him. Presently, his stern countenance, under the influence of his patron's laughter, broke and transformed into one of pure amusement.
'Nay, mock not, sir, mock not,' returned he merrily. He turned genially to his sister. 'Now that I have taken, what I hope to be one of your last enquiries off your shoulders, my dear sister, I can only advise you to dance with our dear friend – unless you have some other enquiries resting up your sleeve?'
Marianne shook her head and could only smile once again at the remarkable change that newfound confidence had instilled in her brother-in-law. A hint of embarrassment always followed her new admiration of her dearest brother, for she had boldly declared that there was always 'something wanting' in his manner, and his lack of the passionate fire that Marianne was no stranger to in all that she did, seemed to persuade her further in this wise.
However, her newborn maturity had lent her a profound insight into the qualities of others, qualities that were valued beyond all recognition. Her romantic sensibilities had led her, in the past, to believe that a man, who sung, rode, danced and read well…all that Willoughby had been had been the perfect example of the ideal gentleman. A cruel and brutally swift realisation had proved her wrong…her nearly fatal experience with death had taught her so.
She felt her eyes lead her astray, her vision fixed on the dancing flames of the various candles on the other side of the room. She found herself contemplating the tribulations that she had suffered under her foolishness; the memories of which were still engraved deeply in her mind. Of course, she was not in a state where she felt abandoned, even betrayed by the world – not at all – but she knew, deep within her soul, that she must now proceed cautiously. Her heart, though strong in nature, had been weakened by her disastrous dealings with Willoughby – it would and could not cope if she were to fall into that monstrous trap again. If she were to be married, if a proposal of marriage was ever to be conceived – she needed a husband who could support her, to guide her through every hardship – a quality she knew that Willoughby had never possessed.
Jolted from her state of reverie, she was surprised to find Edward staring at her in some bemusement. She glanced about her and realised that the Colonel was no longer at her side. To her immediate look of distress, Edward only gestured towards the doors at the end of the room, which led to the dance hall. In response to an encouraging wink from the young pastor, she set off through the gathering crowd.
Music stemmed through the open doors, the elegant steps of the participating dancers gracefully timed and executed in skilled precision. Immensely crowded as the hall was, it was with very little difficulty that Marianne eventually spotted the Colonel, easily the most attractive figure in the room, leading his partner, the eldest Miss Littlewood into the dance. Having wasted her earlier opportunities at watching him dance, as she had been so preoccupied with Willoughby at the time, it was with a detached sense of admiration that she saw him commence. For a man of his age at seven and thirty, where Marianne would have once felt that a man at that age would have deserted all human emotion and the pleasures of entertainment, his graceful movements far surpassed all those who were present in the room, even those who were more than ten years his junior. If he had felt any tiredness for lack of rest and sleep, the Colonel concealed it well, his countenance showing no hint of exhaustion whatsoever. He seemed to move effortlessly through the crowd, his figure tall and upright while his steps, flawless and remarkably skilled, moved harmoniously in time with the music. The unfortunate Miss Littlewood, however, was not as skilfully adapted and it was on several occasions that she stumbled upon the hem of her dress to which her partner with great kindness, supported her – raising her up to her feet and greatly encouraging to ignore her faults even in the face of the poor girl's ever-growing embarrassment.
Eventually, the music stopped, the dance ended, and with a polite and delighted round of applause, all those who had managed to keep their partners or gain a new one waited expectedly in their places to begin. Marianne, whose gaze was still fixed upon the Colonel and his grateful partner, watched the latter with a certain sense of envy.
She saw them share a pleasant word in conversation, the fortunate Miss Littlewood smiling in response to the Colonel's recently invigorated good humour. Unbeknownst to her, her approbation of Brandon had been greatly stirred and it displeased her to see Miss Littlewood look so jovial…had she not a right to feel so as well? To gain the pleasure of his attention and consideration? She stared mutely at their relaxed forms, which were both now trembling with uncontrollable laughter at some polite joke or other put forward by a hearty Sir John, who had just entered the room to look for his friend. It was only when the Colonel politely refrained from the next dance and Miss Littlewood taken by the younger Mr Jameson that Marianne realised that she had been feeling so. Turning away in her confusion and the Colonel's approach, she hastily left the room.
Amidst the tumultuous noise and chatter in the next room, it did little to soothe and eradicate Marianne's sense of bemusement. Why had she been feeling so forlorn? Envy! It was quite inconceivable! And to feel it of Miss Littlewood, a kind soul who refused to inflict harm or ill will on anyone! What on earth was she thinking – or feeling? Envy? Why had she felt so? And as to what cause?
The sudden arrival of Mrs. Jennings and her brood left Marianne with little time to consider her predicament and it was with a forced, unwilling patience that she endured the endless chatter of Charlotte Palmer, who hardly drew breath from the moment she commenced while a delighted Mrs. Jennings only encouraged her youngest daughter to continue, interjecting numerous lively comments here and there. Edward and Elinor, who had beforehand been immersed in conversation with several members of the established clergy, rushed forth to their sister's aid while a thoroughly reluctant Margaret was dragged from the flirtatious company of young officers, John and William Harris by a determined looking Mrs. Dashwood.
'I am so glad you could join us…what a merry event this all is! Can you not believe the hysteria that greeted us at the door? Mrs. Johnson was absolutely delighted to see us, was she not, mother?' – (here Mrs. Jennings gave an enthusiastic nod) – 'I must say I have never seen her so eager to greet us and it was so much due to you marrying off her daughter to that very charming naval officer…yes, yes…what was his name? Ah, of course, Mr. Bunting, how could I have been so absent-minded? It must all be due to dear Mr. Palmer, he never discusses, you know, Miss Dashwood…and when he does he only says but a few words, dear me!' Here Mrs. Palmer gave a short, screeching laugh, which Edward described afterwards as 'the best and most effective remedy available for those with thoroughly blocked ears'. Mrs. Palmer's screeching laughter only increased in volume as the solitary figure of Colonel Brandon reached the company, the latter looking so positively genial that Mrs. Jennings could not but venture a comment on his improved state of spirits.
'Colonel Brandon, here you are at last! You could not have known how much you were missed by all of us during your short absence from town, especially so by some of the younger members of our pleasant group here.' At this, she gave a knowing look in Marianne's direction to her immense embarrassment. Brandon only responded with a small smile of his own.
'And by the bye, Colonel, I have never seen you dance half as well as you have today!' burst in Mrs. Palmer enthusiastically. He gave a diffident shake of the head. 'Oh, come, come, Colonel, you cannot deny it, for I would wager everyone would agree with me…' Here she looked about eagerly for support, only to be greeted with a row of glassy stares and a fervent nod from her mother.
'Well, you have certainly caught me out, madam,' returned Brandon amusedly before adding kindly: 'I thank you.'
'Ah, here you are, Miss Farley!' burst Mrs. Jennings suddenly, in turn, startling more than one member of the surrounding party; Edward was very close to spilling his glass of wine had not Elinor stilled his hand. A young, elegant lady had approached them, her various pieces of jewellery sparkling in the bright candlelight. 'And Mr. Farley! How are you this evening?'
'Very well, madam, I thank you,' replied he. Compared to his younger sister, Mr. Henry Farley was obviously the handsomer, tall and slim in physique with his dark hair and sparkling eyes, he had been the beau of London until his change of house in the neighbouring country. He had purchased a house in Barton for the sole purpose of marriage – for at the prime age of seven and twenty, he could not let the issue of finding a suitable wife linger any longer. He turned gracefully to party, scanning the faces before him until his eyes immediately fixed on Marianne. His smile immediately warmed.
'Ah, Mrs. Jennings, pray, do the kindness of introducing your acquaintances – my sister Helena is in dear want of company, the country unfortunately holds few familiar friends –'
'Of course, of course – my daughter Charlotte as you will already know, Mrs. Dashwood, Miss Dashwood, (here Marianne gave a short curtsy, slightly embarrassed of Mr. Farley's intent gaze), Miss Margaret over there, Mr and Mrs Ferrars and of course, Colonel Brandon,' piped Mrs. Jennings enthusiastically, nodding at each person in turn.
Mr. Farley bowed politely to each of the women while offering a generous handshake to both Edward and Brandon as they were eventually introduced. Brandon noted with lurking discomfiture that Mr. Farley had not yet torn his gaze from Marianne.
'Mrs. Jennings talks of you greatly, Miss Dashwood,' said Miss Farley eventually, evidently overcoming her habitual shyness in order to start a conversation. 'From what I have heard, you are an avid reader of books and poetry…and a great admirer of music, is that not so?'
'Yes, indeed, it is, Miss Farley,' managed Marianne finally, grateful for this distraction so that she could, at last, find a reason to look away from Mr. Farley's flattering yet piercing gaze. If this is what Marianne had hoped for, her wishes were swiftly dashed when Miss Farley turned to her brother eagerly: 'Is that not completely enchanting, Henry? At last, we have found a perfect friend in which combines all our tastes!' Marianne saw him smile genially in reply before saying: 'Very enchanting, Helena, I assure you. Miss Dashwood, you are familiar, I take it, with the poetry of Cowper?'
'Of course, Mr. Farley –' responded Marianne almost happily, not being of quite a strong enough will to resist the temptation of discussing her favourite subject. As if on realising a need for redemption, her eyes wandered in Brandon's direction, who was presently in conversation with Elinor and her mind quickly and instinctively endeavoured to include him ' – but Colonel Brandon is as well read and knowledgeable about poetry and music, as myself, Mr. Farley, for I have been under his excellent tutelage for the past year.' Stealing a short glance at the Colonel, she was contented with a small smile of admiration that danced fleetingly upon his lips.
If she was not mistaken, she saw a shadow of irritancy fall upon Mr. Farley's countenance at this but he seemed to hide it well, replacing it with a polite look of benign interest within moments.
'Is he, indeed?' said he finally, breaking into a smile. 'Most interesting.' (reverting back to her gaze and stepping closer to her) Now, Miss Dashwood, I wonder whether you have read that recently delightful poem by Byron…'
A sudden hush came over the crowd around them and a hearty, animated burst of chatter soon ensued, many of the men and in some cases, women led their respective partners through the doors of the other room. Mrs. Jennings, rubbing her hands eagerly, was unable to avoid the temptation of involving herself in the raptures of further matchmaking.
Edward, unaware of Mrs. Jennings' almost ecstatic behaviour, glanced around him and muttered: 'It seems that the last set of the assembly is about to begin – ' Margaret almost immediately took off at this, gathering the hand of John Harris, who had been making eyes with her from a distance during the whole conversation. A stunned and thoroughly embarrassed Mrs. Dashwood let herself be soothed with the calming words of her elder daughters while an encouraged Mrs. Jennings broke loose.
'Ah, very well spotted indeed, Mr. Ferrars!' trilled Mrs. Jennings loudly. 'Colonel Brandon, would you not do the honour of dancing with our dear Miss Dashwood here? For I have sworn that she has not had a single dance since the start of the evening and it would do her very well not to waste this opportunity…'
Brandon smiled inwardly as he gave a slight nod of assent. 'Of course, Mrs. Jennings – Miss Dashwood, may –'
'Pardon me, Colonel – might I do the honour of dancing with Miss Dashwood here?' broke forth Mr. Farley eagerly, stepping abruptly forward at this. Brandon froze in astonishment and felt his expression swiftly harden to the discomfiture of the party, where a barely audible gasp of astonishment was to be heard amongst them. Marianne could really do nothing but shut her eyes in disbelief – this could not be happening…what had she done to deserve this? Subconsciously, she felt her face grow hot with embarrassment and vexation.
Brandon felt the glassy stares of those around pierce through him – he overcame the urge to strike this man in the face – and, feeling an urgent need to assure himself, he cast a fleeting glance about him, only to be disappointed at Marianne's expressionless countenance. The rules of strict society and his rational sense soon bound Brandon to his miserable fate. Unable to trust his voice for he feared that it would tremble with resentment, he only attempted a short nod.
'Good heavens…I wonder what the young men are about these days…' Mrs. Jennings managed a high-pitched laugh, clearly in an effort to dispel the abrupt change of spirits in her listeners. It was short and distinctly uncomfortable and a myriad of cool, concerned glances looked her way in answer.
It was as Marianne turned, her hand clasped tightly by an immensely satisfied Mr. Farley that she saw the party murmuring astonishedly amongst themselves. But she had overlooked their flummoxed expressions, her eyes were then fixed by a far more distressing vision: the solitary figure of the Colonel, smiling sadly from afar, his head bowing before vanishing into the rapidly moving crowd.
Mr. Farley was unceasing in his daily visits to Barton Cottage and if Marianne had cause to be unimpressed with his behaviour at the Town Assembly, there were indeed many handsomely refined attributes that that young man possessed to redeem himself in her eyes. He was indeed an avid reader as far as Marianne could possibly incline to admit and their frequent, intelligent conversations garnered much discussion upon the usually complex yet fascinating world of English poetry.
And so often and prolonged were his visits to the 'fair' Miss Dashwood, there was much talk amongst the villagers that the two were undoubtedly in the very great danger of falling in love with each other. Indeed, there were far more sightings of the 'charming' Mr. Farley leading his dear friend on more tours upon his extensive grounds than had ever been recorded since the start of his being resident in Barton. And it was with a smile and a giggle amongst the young man's servants that with the introduction of frequent tea parties and a weekly musical club that Mr. Farley was soon to have secured a fitting wife that he had so longed for. Helena Farley was in no doubt glad of her brother's newfound friend and when she finally overcame her natural shyness, which came at increasingly regular intervals as time passed, she brought it upon herself to be as a wonderful a hostess as so great a host Mr. Farley had justly proved to be.
'It is indeed wonderful to have finally made your acquaintance, Miss Dashwood,' said Miss Farley earnestly during tea as they sat alone in the lavishly decorated sitting room when Mr. Farley had been called upon to tend to his estate duties. 'I would venture to say that I have never seen my brother so joyously contented as he is now...we had previously expected to find little to entertain us in the country – but we are so glad to have left town, it has truly raised our spirits!'
Marianne, in all due respect, had simply smiled politely at this statement before sipping her tea. As glad as she had been during the past few weeks in the Farleys' pleasant company – her thoughts were continually sited upon the Colonel – for it was clear that that good gentleman's spirits were far from being raised joyously to raptures.
She had seen very little of him since the Assembly, her frequent meetings with the Farleys had obviously taken its unrelenting toll upon their sessions in the privacy of the Colonel's library at Delaford. Their daily meetings had so far been reduced to mere bows and curtsies in the passing streets of the village as well as the occasional kind word and inquiry. She felt that they had not lost their mutual trust and friendship – but the solemn and alarmingly tired expressions upon Brandon's countenance which he had tried to hide with an adequately convincing smile, told Marianne with a certain, pressing urgency that if she did not act soon to at least endeavour to offer him more of her time and attention; their frank, intelligent conversations would come to an abrupt end.
With this in mind, she had pressed her mother into inviting the Colonel to dine with them at the parsonage. Edward, in his own mind, was as glad of this as anyone was but the more so since he had the pressing matter of the expansion of the parish school to discuss with his benefactor. The invitation, set at seven on Thursday evening, was then gladly offered and was, in turn, graciously accepted.
Thursday evening came and Colonel Brandon, strangely and completely at odds with the cheerful mood of the situation, was contemplative in his distracted thoughts as took his solitary journey past the gates of Delaford and onto the well-paved road towards the parsonage. And although he was currently running ten minutes late for his appointment, his horse, Gawain trotted slowly, as if sensing his master's subdued mood and his eyes glanced about him more tentatively than usual, perhaps uneasy at the abrupt change in Brandon's spirits. To this, Brandon barely noticed. Indeed, he had been so pensive during the past few weeks that he had been regularly late for numerous meetings and appointments, surprising all those that were long under his acquaintance for he was a man of punctuality, a habit long reinforced by the incomparable discipline of the military. Typically an early riser, he had recently come to the 'unpardonable' (as he had put it himself) habit of sleeping late and rising later than was usual which had no doubt an effect on his sterling record of punctuality.
Had they but known the cause of such a disturbing change in his habits, Brandon would have been easily and humouredly excused – but his customary reserve reigned supreme in his show of his true affections and he, in all misfortune and misunderstanding, became a target for their combined criticism…but now, trotting at snail's pace in the privacy of this lonely road without a single creature in sight, his feelings were laid bare upon his sleeve.
He had never been fortunate in the throes of love and passion, he admitted it truly – his disastrous relationship with Eliza had proved it so and in the most tortuous way imaginable. He became vaguely aware of Gawain's stopping on the road and half-heartedly struck his sides with his booted heels, Gawain with a small neigh of irritancy, grudgingly pressed on. Yes, Charles had been to take her cruelly from his arms. Charles, Father, you cannot do this! Eliza and I are engaged! He sighed broodingly; twenty years ago, he had sworn never to love again, to risk his heart to the cruel, mischievous hands of Love itself.
And yet, twenty years on and with his introduction to the Dashwoods and Marianne by the way of Sir John had allowed him to hope once more, for Marianne's startling beauty when he first came across her at Barton Park could do nothing but mesmerise him into a state of pure blissfulness. An unexpected wind of opportunity had finally caught adrift and meandered his way. But Willoughby, as with Charles, had dashed his hopeful aspirations once again. Was he to ever find peace? He had asked himself not so long ago in his melancholy gloom during one of his evenings of pure rumination in his study. Were all his sins combined too immoral, too evil for his realisation of domestic happiness?
However, – and Brandon sat up higher in the saddle at this – at their established friendship at Cleveland had allowed him to hope, as he had never dared hope before, that at the increasingly desperate age of six and thirty, Providence had offered him to relieve him of his anxiety, an opportunity to secure what he had been severely lacking the whole of his life, the promise of happiness in the hands of one that he truly loved. He had been cautious throughout the course of their first year of friendship – the shattered innocence of Marianne's heart was dangerous ground onto which he could pitch his true affections – but the easiness and frankness of their discourse as well as their similar and combined interests and sensibilities had made the experience an enjoyable one and for them both.
For us both…
The distant shimmering lights from the parsonage were in sight but Brandon did not bring himself to spur Gawain forward. Yes, enjoyable for them both – but incompetent fool that he was if he thought that it would last – Henry Farley, the third man to endanger his dreams… he bit his lip broodingly.
But as profoundly immersed in his disappointment as he was, Brandon had the lurking suspicion that Farley was to be the most suitable match that Marianne had so far come across though in his behaviour, he was no better than the scoundrel who had galloped her way with his pocket book of sonnets. Farley was wealthy, handsome – and dare he admit it, combined all the necessary qualities that a suitor might encompass and all that a young woman of refined sensibility and intelligence could possibly seek in a man.
Brandon unconsciously felt the torment of repressed tears well up in his eyes – yes, Marianne with her innocence broken by the pangs of tragic love deserved a man who was young and whole, a man who could provide to fulfil all her dear heart's desires. What was he to become to her? A mere soldier of moderate wealth, emotionally scarred by the misfortunes of life and a man of seven and thirty, a man in advancing years and old enough to be her father! He had seen, quite reluctantly, what happened in marriages such as these, the overflowing of youth on the one side and the restrained maturity on the other…it would not do – he would never do…
Marianne had been waiting outside upon the steps of the parsonage, pacing about in her woollen shawl against the chill of the mid-February night, refuting Edward's offer of doing the task instead in the hopes of displaying, at least, some of her true constancy of her affection to the Colonel. She was determined to demonstrate that their mutual friendship had not faltered in her eyes even in the face of the past few weeks of separation and was eager to do so. Seeing his graceful figure amidst the dark shadows of the various trees planted at the parsonage's gate, she had called him at last and rushed down to greet him.
Brandon dismounted swiftly, consulting his pocket watch with hasty decorum: it was twenty minutes past seven. Had she been waiting all this while in the cold awaiting his arrival? Seeing Gawain off with one of Edward's grooms, he removed his hat and bowed promptly before offering his apologies.
'Forgive my tardiness, Miss Dashwood, I hope that you have not been waiting in the cold all this while for my sake –'
'No, it is fine, Colonel – nevertheless, I enjoy the fresh air,' Marianne managed smilingly. She had noticed that he had not stated the cause of his lateness but in sensing his gloom, ignored this and ventured to add quietly: 'We were anxious for your arrival, Colonel – we were wondering whether you were taken ill or suffered a grievous accident on your journey here, you are not unwell, I hope, sir?'
Brandon was glad that his tears were concealed by the darkness of the night so that she could not see them. 'No, not at all, I am perfectly well.' Attempting a smile despite himself, he extended his ungloved right hand: 'Now, madam, may I have the honour of being led to your dear family by the hand of a most charming young lady?' before being led warmly into the house.
The evening passed in a most leisurely manner. Edward, immensely contented with the detailed plans that Brandon had so far derived for the parish school and pleased with his friend's improved spirits since their last meeting, talked greatly at length with his mother-in-law and his quiet wit flowed long, the more so as it brought a pleasurable laugh to Elinor's lips, an event that he still had not quite grown used to in their six months of marriage.
Through the bountiful mirth that simply brimmed and bubbled joyously in the small expanse of the parsonage, Brandon could not be but susceptible prey to such happiness, and he felt his gloomy spirits rise up in accordance to the occasion. Marianne made every possible means to account for her unpardonable absence from her companion's company throughout the evening, engaging and encouraging Brandon in their usual fervent discussions about what new books he had purchased in their few weeks of separation or the various spirited critiques of the words of Wordsworth. They then talked at great length about a wide range of subjects, each in passing much more interesting and spirited than the first; it was quite impossible to be melancholy when they were each in the other's mere presence.
Contented and somewhat happier than when he had initially entered the parsonage a few hours earlier, Brandon had volunteered to escort the Dashwoods back to the cottage, offering his carriage to be sent from Delaford by his valet, Will, the weather having turned especially chilly and dark during the course of the evening. Marianne herself was satisfied by her progress throughout the evening, the brightened countenance and his familiar broad smiles that he bore now was all that was necessary to bring a delighted grin to her face.
Their discourse, somewhat awkward and disjointed from the earliest minutes of the evening had finally regained their frank, pleasant familiarity – but his solemn countenance upon their meeting outside amidst the tall trees and bushes of the garden had disturbed her. A familiar question ruminated within her mind: What had he been thinking of during their weeks of the absence of the other's company? His unusual lateness – he was always very prompt and punctual to each of their invitations – and his affected voice, so full of an indescribable sadness in his tone – she was certain that she had seen tears glisten in his eyes but the darkness about them at the time made her unsure. Others may have seen him in such a state…but not her, it came as a shock to see him thus and a sinking jolt had jumped at her heart. She felt that she owed something to him, that she was in some deplorable debt – but as to the cause…she knew not what.
They had set off and all was silent within the carriage. Mrs. Dashwood and Margaret had fallen asleep in their seats, no doubt overcome by the large portions of dinner that Edward had pressed upon them as well as the long drain of the evening while Marianne was engrossed within her thoughts. Colonel Brandon rode astride them, his countenance unreadable under the dark shadow of his wide-brimmed hat – what was he thinking now? Marianne felt her gaze being drawn inevitably to his tall figure, his billowing riding coat that flayed pleasantly in the breeze…
As if sensing this observation, his head suddenly snapped downwards, no doubt to look down at her from atop his horse and immediately, she felt her face blush hotly and she involuntarily turned away. Again, the darkness of the night played a part in disguising the truer of their emotions – and even Brandon's piercing and trained eye did not see her reddened and flushed countenance. She felt his eyes stare down at her intensely for a moment longer…and his sudden cautionary remark to Will who was directing the horses soon told her that he at last had looked away.
Within what seemed hours, the carriage drew to a halt and the excited voices of Betsy and Thomas from close by told Marianne that they were in the gravel drive outside the gate of the cottage. Through the faint moonlight that glimmered hopefully through the grey clouds, she saw Brandon dismount gracefully off his horse before opening the door of the carriage, extending out his gloved hand to help the ladies out of the carriage. Being the one farthest from the door, Marianne waited patiently until her mother and sister were safely out of the carriage, both yawning widely despite themselves to the wry amusement of their servants who had never seen them in so exhausted a state as they did now. They were only too glad to have finally reached the house that they were unusually nimble and quick in their steps as they ascended the path. Smiling, she let herself be led towards the lightened doorway of the cottage, his gloved hand comfortably warm around her own.
'I must say, Miss Dashwood,' Brandon ventured quietly as they reached the small doorway of the house, ' – that I am very grateful that we have finally had an opportunity to – discuss, to have finally talked about the various topics that we have so been used to conversing about…' He hesitated a little before adding: 'Indeed, three weeks has been too long a separation, if truth be told.'
Her heart was oddly flattered by this otherwise simple remark – he too had been missing their discussions at Delaford and her company as she had herself! She smiled kindly at him.
'Indeed, it has, Colonel, for no one has missed our discussions as much as I!' A sudden thought materialised upon her consciousness. 'And I shall make it up to you, sir –' She grasped his hands tightly at this and she barely noticed the small gasp that escaped his lips, she being much too intent on making her promise to him. She saw him smile wryly at her enthusiasm. 'I shall make it up to you by –'
What ever she had planned to do was never said because Betsy, of all the moments she could have chosen, had chose to appear before them, a wide grin spread across her face and vanished the moment she saw her mistress clasping hands of the Colonel.
'Miss Dash – oh, forgive me, sir – I did not mean to –'
'No, it is fine, Betsy,' managed Marianne quickly as they both released their hands abruptly, Brandon clearing his throat quietly and nodding in acknowledgement. 'Betsy, what is it that you wish to tell me?' she added nonchalantly and in as comfortable a tone as she could manage. She was aware that she was gradually becoming increasingly crimson by the minute – as poor Betsy had so far set so excellently an example. Given her mistress' permission to go on, she took heart from this and continued.
'When you were all up at the parsonage, Miss Dashwood – Mr. Farley came by to give you a visit, ma'am –' Out of the corner of her eye, Marianne saw Brandon recognisably stiffen at the name and it was with increasing apprehension that she heard more of Betsy's narrative, her mixed feelings of curiosity mingling with an overwhelming urge to force Betsy to stop. Marianne's face showed nothing more than sheer embarrassment and Brandon's a ghostly paleness that simply told of his silent indignation. Betsy took notice of neither and merely continued, oblivious to the feelings that she were stirring in both of her listeners.
' – and since we told him that you were visiting Mr. Ferrars and your dear sister, he had the heart to leave you a message which I was told to give you the moment you arrived.' At this, Betsy handed her several sheets of folded paper, which very obviously seemed far more detailed and descriptive than the usual, ordinary message that one in those times were to expect. Marianne felt her eyes close slowly in mortification. Again, Mr. Farley had chosen the worst time imaginable to send her a 'message'. To add further insult to the situation, (and a further flush in her cheek) Mr. Farley had taken the time to seal the letter with an overly ornate wax seal and with a very imposing address To the dear Miss Dashwood in an extremely large, cursive hand.
The maid left, smiling happily on a job well done, leaving her more unfortunate listeners shifting uneasily in her wake. Marianne stared down at the letter in her hands, her whole self frozen and her eyes quite unwilling to meet the Colonel's own. He too stood stiffly before her, his ungloved hand clenched upon his hat, knuckles pale white in the darkness. An awkward silence stretched painfully between them.
At last, Brandon felt his jaw unclench involuntarily and he breathed deeply, steadying himself, as a strange, inner roar suddenly resided within his head.
'I – feel that I have trespassed too long upon your time, Miss Dashwood,' he managed finally. 'I must away to Delaford…my groom is waiting for me in the drive…' He forced his hat back upon his head, throwing his countenance into shadow, and as try as hard as she could, Marianne could barely see his detached expression. 'I shall leave you with your correspondence – Mr. Farley and yourself have no doubt much to discuss between yourselves. It would seem that –' He hesitated then… 'No, no, forgive me – forgive me…' He sighed deeply and stepped back. 'Good night, Miss Dashwood.'
Without anything further to say, he bowed hastily and acknowledging her hesitant curtsy, he quickly descended down the path, more than aware of the hurt, reproachful looks that observed his every movement from the lady that stood stunned at the front of the cottage.
Seeing Will waiting patiently atop the box of the carriage, he gestured brusquely to him to start their journey back to Delaford while he himself mounted Gawain with an unusual impatience. Sensing his master's irritability, Will decided that it would be best to comply and spurred the horses without a word. Reluctantly glancing around him one last time, Brandon caught the brief glimpse of Marianne stare bemusedly in his direction before she entered the house and closed the door swiftly behind her.
To the surprise of those who might have strayed past her bedroom door during the night, they would have been greeted by the sound of the younger Miss Dashwood's restless pacing and quiet sighs: Marianne was ill at ease and the memory of the Colonel's mortified and indignant expression only further increased her anxiety. Of all her sins, what had she done that would cause her and her dearest companion so much unwanted misery? She had satisfied herself that all she had done during the evening at the parsonage had eventually brought her sole aim of raising the Colonel's spirits and encourage him to hope that their mutual friendship was not at all at an end, even in the face of a new face in the neighbourhood. She had hoped that this short evening would be the start of many more that would gradually lead to their habitual afternoons on the grounds at Delaford as well as in his extensive library. So often were her visits to his estate was that she came away with an extensive knowledge of the state of the rooms and the beauty of the picturesque grounds.
But with the arrival of Mr. Farley's letter…her wishes of reconciliation for her absence and seemingly unpardonable lack of attention for him during the past few weeks were immediately and inevitably dashed. The pain that flared in his eyes when he saw that letter – even at this moment, she could not bear to open that infamous letter, the one thing that had brought him pain and disappointment. Even a brief glance of Mr. Farley's grand writing upon the cover disgusted her to such an extent that she had angrily shoved the letter into the bottom drawer of her writing desk, a place which was only very occasionally used and therefore so full of greyish dust that rose forebodingly into the air (and also a place where she had never expected to subject her correspondence to).
What was to be done? She contemplated silently, pacing her room restlessly, much too agitated to stay still for prolonged periods of time. And what could be done? Another dinner at the parsonage was simply foolish and quite impossible, Edward and Elinor could simply not cope with such an event coming so soon just when they had just held one a few hours earlier! And what an inconvenience it would be for them all – simply for her own selfish goals…it was unthinkable.
And their discussions, what was to be said? She felt herself quite unable to bear the overwhelming awkwardness that would no doubt play an inexorable and daily part in their subsequent conversations, if another meeting between them were at all to be conceived. She had cherished the frank easiness that they had adopted, never was with anyone else had she found the courage to speak of what was truly on her mind, lest it be her mother and sisters. She was convinced that this was also the case with the Colonel; she had never seen him so at ease than in the company of herself and at times, even his customary reserve had gone willingly to its surrender.
Was this all to be changed? Change was undoubtedly unavoidable in society; it was part of the advance of human civilization…but so soon? When she had barely the time to finally recognise the true worthiness of the situation that they had gradually found themselves in?
Sighing one last time and discarding her dressing gown, she lay down against the soft pillows of her bed, gathering the bedcovers closely to her chest against the winter chill. Entranced by the sudden warmth that surrounded it, her body began to relax and as her mind slowly succumbed to the hypnotic powers of approaching sleep, it was resolved quite firmly in her head that she would pay a surprise visit to Delaford in the morning.
The morning proved to be quite a dismal one. A greyish dawn welcomed her tired eyes when she finally opened them after several long minutes of contemplation. She had at last fell into a state of fitful sleep – only for it to be interrupted soon after by the incongruously cheerful chirping of the birds outside. She was anxious and unusually on edge, and when she had barely sat to breakfast for only a few brief moments, she declared loudly that she was to pay a visit to Delaford and that she would not be expected at the cottage for the rest of the morning. To the sheer astonishment of her mother and a wide-eyed Margaret, she marched moodily out of the door, only stopping once to retrieve her bonnet and gloves.
Since there was not a carriage or horse to welcome her on the road, due to the fact that the Colonel hadn't the faintest idea to expect her company at so early an hour or on such a day, this was to be a surprise visit, after all, she thought to herself – she presently had no other means to achieve her aim but to walk to Delaford.
But by no means was she discouraged, the morning, though grey was lightening on the horizon and the chill February air, to some extent, invigorated her sprits, clearing her head and allowing her to feel reasonably at ease. As she reached the open iron-wrought gates of Delaford Manor some quarter of an hour later, she was surprised that not a single trace of light glimmered through any of the windows. As a habit, the Colonel would allow the lights to be lit if the morning started unusually dark until the weather eventually brightened. What also alarmed her was the lack of activity that greeted her – the grounds, which were regularly filled with people from the village seeking the Colonel's guidance in settling disputes between the other inhabitants or other, were quite empty save the odd gardener or two that made their monthly rounds.
Perhaps it was the earliness of the hour, Marianne thought. Nevertheless, she had never ventured out onto the Colonel's grounds at eight in the morning and it was easily understood that people were not to be expected to enquire after their patron's advice at this time of day. With this thought in mind, she decided to continue up the path to the door.
Marianne turned swiftly on her heel and saw the Colonel's valet, James, come striding anxiously up the path, quite out of breath. He bowed, small beads of perspiration posed upon his greying temples.
'Miss Dashwood, I came to see you the moment I saw you enter the gates – you should not be out on a morning like this and at so early an hour –' he puffed wearily.
'Unfortunately, necessity requires it so,' said Marianne quietly. She gestured up towards the door. 'I am here to see the Colonel, James – if it is not too inconvenient for him, I know it is quite improper for me to arrive this early when I –'
James shook his head regretfully. 'I am afraid he has just left for town, Miss Dashwood.'
Marianne's heart sunk deep within her breast. All her hopes of an early reconciliation… 'Left for town, James?'
'Yes, I have just seen him off only ten minutes ago…' He glanced at her apologetically, almost as if it were his own fault that his master had left on a departure most ill timed. 'Colonel Brandon did not mention that you were to visit this morning, Miss Dashwood, if he had, I am certain that he would have postponed his departure until later.'
'Is he to be back soon, James?' A flicker of hope gleamed momentarily within her heart.
Again, James shook his head slowly – poor prey to the circumstances. 'I am sorry, Miss Dashwood, the Colonel did not mention when he would be returning to the country. It is usually at this time that he visits his associates and he is never to be expected at Delaford for at least a fortnight.' The hope that had stirred within her heart died as quickly as it had flared up. Noting the forlorn expression upon her expression, James ventured very quietly: 'If there is anything at all, I can do for you, Miss Dashwood, to make up for the time you have spent to come here – have you taken breakfast, Miss Dashwood? I could inquire whether Mrs. Harris can offer a –'
'No, no, but thank you, James. Breakfast would not be necessary.' Indeed, she had not eaten a thing since awaking at dawn but at present, she had neither the appetite nor inclination to bear the quizzical glances of Delaford's kindly yet inquisitive housekeeper. Where would she go now? She was not to be expected at Barton till the later afternoon, she had told her mother and sister exactly so. She could intend to reside at Delaford for the morning but with the Colonel gone to town, this was highly inappropriate, she would deem it no less than trespassing upon his good servants' time. Yet, if she returned to Barton, her mother would inquire after why the visit was so short and unthinkable suspicions and questions would then be subsequently imposed. What was her dear mamma to think if she thought that a quarrel or disagreement of some sort were to have passed between them? And when she had pressed her constantly and unwaveringly throughout the year to bring him up to spirits as best as it was in her power to do so! What was she to do?
'I – I would be pleased to visit my sister at the parsonage, if that would be at all possible?' she managed eventually after a moment's contemplation. James barely suppressed a small sigh of relief.
'Yes, of course, Miss Dashwood – I saw Mr. Ferrars leave the parsonage earlier this morning for the village and I am quite sure that Mrs. Ferrars would not mind to have you for company.'
To this, Marianne could only but smile and head out of the gates and walk determinedly towards the parsonage until James called after her: 'Miss Dashwood, would you rather not take the carriage – the Colonel said that it is much safer to do so.'
Having refused all the other of James' offers, she thought it best to accept this, merely based for the sake of etiquette and the Colonel's carriage was speedily prepared with a bewildered and clearly disorientated Will at the reins, having abruptly awoken from his slumber. The ride to the parsonage offered no complications and the cold wind what whipped across Will's face eventually stirred his waning concentration.
Elinor could not be but a little surprised at her sister coming at so unusually early an hour but upon seeing Marianne's sullen countenance, the latter was pressed kindly to enter the house and a grateful Will was told to return to the manor until the young Miss Dashwood was to return to the cottage in the later afternoon.
'Whatever is the matter, dearest?' asked Elinor concernedly as she passed a cup of tea into her sister's hands when they had finally settled in the parsonage's modest sitting room. 'Has Colonel Brandon sent you down to speak with Edward on a matter of –?'
Marianne's brows raised in surprise. 'Did you not know that the Colonel has left for town, Elinor?'
Elinor frowned in bewilderment. 'The Colonel has left for town? But I thought that he had sent you here –'
A miserable laugh nearly escaped Marianne's lips at this point but it was then swiftly repressed. It was evident that her sister was as in the dark as she was on this matter and she had no wish to either embarrass her or herself by discussing it.
'No, I came here merely on my account, Elinor – James was kind enough to lend me the use of the Colonel's carriage,' she managed with a smile as a way of explanation. She was eager to change the subject but the Colonel leaving so early in the morning without even leaving a word to Edward of his sudden departure disturbed her profoundly. Had the Colonel been so hasty to leave the country? Was it merely due to last night's horrid events? 'Did Edward not receive word that the Colonel was due to leave this morning?'
Elinor gazed at her briefly and shook her head. 'Indeed, I have only realised when you told me of it just this moment, Marianne –' She paused reflectively. 'But I cannot help feeling that you have come to me for something rather more important than to simply pass on this information. Is that not so?'
'Indeed, indeed it is.' Marianne took a nervous sip of her tea before suddenly setting the cup erratically upon its saucer. 'Elinor – I fear that I might have offended him, I mean, the Colonel,' she added hastily upon glancing at Elinor's look of puzzlement. 'Oh, Elinor, I have been so headstrong and foolish during the past few weeks…'
'Marianne, what on earth would make you think so?'
'I have not told anyone else this but I fear that I might have displeased him. Ever since our acquaintances with the Farleys, I have barely spent above a minute in the Colonel's company, excluding last night, of course, when we have been so accustomed to spending hours in pleasant discussion at Delaford for the past year or so! He has probably left for town merely on this reason, Elinor, I feel sure of it!' She glared forlorn, into the depths of her swirling tea.
Elinor barely suppressed a small smile at this; Marianne's temperament, despite having matured greatly since her illness at Cleveland, still had the tendency for moving wildly towards irrational conclusions. Moreover, she could not imagine a man of Colonel Brandon's good sense and life's experience to have departed on so trivial a reason.
'Marianne, Colonel Brandon is not a man to be easily offended by such small matters, he is not a man to be swayed by his emotions in the face of a few weeks separation from his friends and companions,' said Elinor consolingly. She was eager to put her sister's mind at rest. 'Reflect…consider the fact that he is a military man…a person of great discipline –'
'Ah, but if you knew more of it, Elinor! It is not only that that led to his displeasure…' murmured Marianne agitatedly. She had to mention the events of last night, as tortuous as they had been to her as well as himself…it was the core of the dilemma that had arisen before them. 'For last night, as we arrived at Barton, I was on the brink of believing that we had finally settled our differences until Betsy interrupted us –' She could not bring herself to say what exactly had been so abruptly interrupted but her the sudden redness welling up in her cheeks offered Elinor the faintest of clues on what had evidently ensued. But that sensible sister said not a word and merely implored her sister to continue. 'Betsy interrupted us with the news that Mr. Farley had left me a letter in our absence…Good heavens, and you cannot imagine what a letter it was, Elinor! I was overwhelmed with embarrassment…three pages thick and in large, ornate handwriting!'
'Have you read this letter, Marianne?' inquired Elinor suddenly.
'No – I can barely even look at it now, Elinor – it is evident that its considerable length officiates its importance and that Mr. Farley had clearly took his time in writing me such a letter…but if you saw the indignation in the Colonel's eyes last night, you would comprehend my unhappiness! And I have dared not tell Mamma of his disappointment, for she has tried so hard to improve our friendship…' She paused, contemplating sadly, her eyes glancing distractedly about the sitting room, at times staring at the grey mist accumulating outside and then the fine threading of Elinor's embroidery between her hands. 'Is it unacceptable in his eyes to pursue an acquaintance with the Farleys? The Farleys are not at all a scandalous family –'
Elinor's eyes darted sharply in Marianne's direction. Surely, Marianne had realised the true cause of the Colonel's gloom by now? She could not help feeling somewhat mystified at Marianne's naivety of the matters of the world, the core of human nature and emotions.
But who can dare blame her? Her sister's innocence of the heart had been cruelly shattered by Willoughby…Do not be hard on the innocence of her mind, Elinor…
'Yes, they are hardly people of that sort, Marianne, I agree wholeheartedly with you…' She hesitated slightly before stumbling tentatively: 'But, Marianne, I think it is your particular friendship with Mr. Farley that has brought him much grief.'
Marianne started at that; she had not thought so in that respect and she instinctively grew defensive. 'My friendship with Mr. Farley? But it has merely consisted of invitations to tea and readings of poetry at Barton – there is hardly any impropriety in that, Elinor!'
Her sister only shook her head. 'That is not the reason why the Colonel has felt so forlorn. What does the Colonel care for Mr. Farley inviting you to tea or spirited readings of poetry? Sir John or even himself could have done the very same. If you have heard what was Mr. Farley's sole reason to have bought a house in Barton, you might begin to understand the source of the Colonel's unhappiness.' Elinor knew that she was being unduly harsh but Marianne was much too vulnerable to allow circumstances trail on simply as they currently were. She paused and continued determinedly: 'It was so that he could find a suitable wife to share it with in matrimony, not merely for discussions of Shakespeare, Milton or Cowper! Why, only yesterday afternoon, I horrified to hear Mrs. Jennings herself tell me of Mr. Farley's intentions! Clearly the word around the village is that my younger sister is to become inevitably, Mrs. Henry Farley in due course!'
'And Colonel Brandon believed that to be the true case of matters?' gasped Marianne, realisation dawning upon her horrified features. 'This is what led to him to believe – this is what caused his departure?'
'And no doubt that letter he saw last night confirmed his suspicions that you and Mr. Farley had corresponded frequently, causing his displeasure. He is not invulnerable to emotions like jealousy or resentment, Marianne – you know the Colonel's affections for you, even the more so since he has cherished them for the past two years…'
Marianne closed her eyes in terrified disbelief. She had been so foolish, blinded…why had she not seen this before when it was laid bare before her very eyes? Foolish, headstrong girl that she was! And her innumerable visits to the Farleys' estate, what she had deemed as simply politeness, had no doubt given the impression that she had the mind to return Mr. Farley's attentions…she grimaced at the very thought…
'My God, Elinor – what is to be done? What can I do to ever clear, to resolve this horrendous misunderstanding? And he is gone to London for a fortnight!' She sunk miserably into her chair.
Elinor abandoned her embroidery and set herself firmly before her sister, grasping her shoulders kindly in support.
'Talk to him when he returns, Marianne…that is the only thing one in your situation can do now. Tell him of your true feelings for Mr. Farley – and if possible, for himself. You have both suffered enough in this, Marianne – do not allow yourselves to suffer this anguish again.'
Colonel Brandon did not return within a fortnight as James had previously anticipated – and Marianne was growing ever more anxious for his arrival. Ever since her revelation at the parsonage and many more hours of contemplation, she had thought it best to distance herself from the Farleys' company as well as she could. She could not let the village bury itself pleasurably in their gross misconceptions…she had already played the unwitting fool in this folly…she would not allow herself to do so again. She was not to be at home when either Mr. Farley or Miss Farley was to visit, altering her plans to visiting Elinor and Edward at the parsonage or out with her mother and Margaret when dining at Barton Park.
Her abrupt change in habits would no doubt surprise or offend her new acquaintances, it was the way of the world, she had experienced the same many times in the past. To her astonishment, they did not react as she had duly expected: they did not pass her cold looks or glances in the village or at Barton, or inquire stiffly after her health. On the contrary, they seemed quite, bizarrely welcome to accept this newly fangled distance that Marianne had established between them; they did not seem troubled in the very least!
Glad as she was, the odd visit or invitation to tea was at times still to be honoured and accepted – decorum and etiquette had not escaped her being in their strange and new relationship but she did note that Mr. Farley was not as jovial and good-humoured as she seen him in the past. At times, when she expected him to laugh, he only responded with a bright yet unnatural smile that did not reach his eyes. Sometimes, a fleeting glance in his direction when he least expected it would reveal a dark uncertainty in his eyes…perhaps even a certain fear?
However, Mr. Farley's change of attitude was the least on her mind. With the Colonel gone for over a fortnight and without a single word from London to ease her distress, every new day in his absence only heightened Marianne's anxiety. She had taken Elinor's words of advice to heart and yes, it was definitely declared within herself that she was to tell, to inform him of her true sentiments immediately upon his arrival. This, she had assured herself, was not so difficult a task and she faced it, determined. But with each passing day, her determination had waned; her anticipation for the moment of his return was mingled with a inexplicable sense of hopefulness and forthcoming dread. His appearance would be both indescribable relief and torture to her…and heaven help her when that day came!
These thoughts followed her throughout the duration of the Colonel's absence. It was impossible to shake them off no matter how hard she tried to relieve herself of them. They did not give her peace at mealtimes, visits, when she was tending to the cottage's garden or sewing up the tears in Margaret's petticoat. Nor did they leave her alone at night; she slept but only fitfully – her thoughts lurking in the shadows, waiting to be revealed in the light of truth.
'I must say, Miss Dashwood, that you looked quite unwell this afternoon.' She turned to Mr. Farley's countenance, which was creased in genuine concern, his dark eyes gleaming with alarm. It was a while before Marianne could coherently form an answer, for they passed an extremely sharp turn and Mr. Farley was forced to lend his attention to the horses. It was late afternoon and Mr. Farley had offered to escort Marianne home, as was his custom in his curricle. They were currently tackling the steep track that led the way up the main road from his estate into the village from which there were numerous smaller paths, which then led straight to Barton.
'Yes – I am afraid that I feel so as well, Mr. Farley…I have not felt at ease for the past fortnight or so.'
'A fortnight?' He glanced at her in puzzlement and his expression, upon realizing some fact quite unbeknownst to her, immediately darkened. 'I hope it is not the letter that you received at Barton has been the cause of your distress.'
'Letter?' For a moment, she knew not to what he was currently referring to. Perhaps it was the sheer bewilderment that registered within her voice that led him to say in a tone of strained anxiety: 'Had not your maid told you of a letter that I left at Barton about a fortnight ago? You and your family were not to be found at home and I had entertained hopes that –'
She interrupted him then, quite unable to bear any more mention of that infamous letter. 'Please, Mr. Farley, do not distress yourself. For your immediate relief, yes – I did receive your – letter.' She said this dismissively, she did not want to continue further on this particular issue and she looked around her surroundings in the hopes of finding something that might aid her in changing the subject. But Mr. Farley was insistent, capturing her attention fiercely as soon as she had threatened to relinquish it.
'And what did you think of my letter, Miss Dashwood? Pray, excuse my persistence but you have barely mentioned above a word to me ever since and I am unable to go on much longer without my curiosity satisfied…' He turned to her eagerly, holding her eyes firmly with his own brightened gaze, alight with anticipation.
In truth, she had not yet removed that particular letter from its dusty threshold at the bottom of her writing desk since the night of the dinner at the parsonage. To discuss it when she had not even brought herself to open it and read its contents was quite impossible. There was always to be the alternative decision of lying but as soon as she launched into a pitfall of polite lies, it would be exceedingly obvious even to simplest of fools that she had evidently no information at all about the subject. He had forced her into a tight corner and there was no other alternative but to disclose the truth, he had forced her hand and she had no choice but to reveal it. She turned to him apologetically.
'My dear Mr. Farley – I wish that –'
She barely had the time to finish her sentence for a brief glimpse of the brown hides of the horses erupted suddenly into the air and the world seemed to rotate and rise violently beneath her.
Knocked backwards, her breath was robbed sharply from her body as her head hit the hard, oak side of the curricle –
A fierce, strange ringing in her ears and the amber sky seemed to melt away into nothingness…
A loud voice shouting above the din, her body seemed to be sinking, dragged forcibly across a rocky outcrop, the sound of panicked horses filled the air, the thundering of hooves against the hard ground…
The trees, dark and overshadowing ever approaching, a flash of a black cloak, a tender voice in her ear whispering her name…a familiar, soothing warmness at her side…then descending, overpowering – darkness.