Is there any Felicity in the World Superior to This?
'So it is to be so – you are finally to be married, Marianne,' said Elinor, looking on her sister's reflection in the mirror as they prepared for the dance at Delaford. Marianne smiled in return and the two shared another smile as they heard Margaret, with customary panache, storm disgruntledly downstairs at Edward's hasty departure.
Edward, earlier that afternoon, had proposed on joining his soon-to-be-wed sister at Barton, where from thence on, the three sisters; Elinor, Marianne and Margaret, as well as their mother, along with himself would then venture on together to Delaford. Elinor had rejoiced at the idea and they had dressed into their evening wear in such haste that poor Edward left his gloves and stick at the parsonage and was now hesitantly venturing back home to retrieve them.
'Yes, Elinor – and I am glad of it that, for once, I sustained enough sense to see through my actions,' said Marianne. She looked at her sister warmly. 'And you to be a mother, Elinor!' she exclaimed. 'Surely this is happiness indeed. And I, to be a aunt and wife – and only seven months between these marvellous events!'
'I would pray that you will not spoil him…or her,' teased Elinor. 'It would be quite a sight to see another familiar figure dashing about the country in heavy rain.'
'Far better it be by me than Margaret, Elinor,' interjected Marianne wryly. 'I would imagine that Edward would be hardly amused when he finds that 'familiar' figure rolling about in the leaves of the garden.'
A loud stomping noise alerted them from outside the corridor, seeming like the heels of ones shoes marching madly against the floorboards. The two sisters shared an amused laugh, acknowledging the other's thoughts.
Elinor's brows were raised. 'Quite intriguing, Marianne…for I have never heard you say such a thing.' She ventured a mock gasp. 'Is it possible that my dearest sister is finally maturing?' asked Elinor teasingly.
Marianne, quite used to her sister's humorous turn of remarks, merely smiled in return before turning back to her reflection in her looking-glass. Elinor was quite correct; by all means…she was indeed, as she had always been so during her entire life. However, Elinor had changed…quite interestingly since her marriage to Edward. She was much more inclined to be humorous than grave and composed as Marianne had so unjustly criticised a year before. There, Marianne felt a sudden pang in her heart…although it was not wholly beyond her to recognise that sudden pain as a relapse of fleeting guilt. For Elinor to have harboured such a pain, such a heartache that seemed to beyond her abilities on the surface had shaken Marianne completely…and to have suffered it all, even her own selfish and neglectful acts after Willoughby's departure! That was indeed suffering! But perhaps not all pain is wholly bad. For we must all suffer in life to achieve our utmost best…and the rewards that await us at the end of the long, arduous journey…purely inexplicable!
For Elinor had finally attained the love of Edward, despite all her suffering. Oh, and what marvellous change it had sprung up within her. Perhaps the idea of entering the sanctuary of marriage was indeed more important than Marianne had ever dared to dream of. It was not as romantic a union as she had once thought it to be…not merely poetry and sonnets and endless songs sung into the fleeting nights. But a union, a journey into self-exploration into the depths of one's mind and soul and not of one's own self but as well as the other.
She started, Elinor's voice abruptly drawing her out of train of thought. The world slowly shifted into view and through her looking-glass saw Elinor's own concerned reflection. Turning and willing herself not to glance at the fleeting blush that had rose in her cheeks; she ventured a confident smile.
'It is nothing, Elinor,' she said assuringly.
Elinor raised yet another inquisitive brow. 'Surely that nothing was certainly something, Marianne.' Her eyes glanced about her face before she rose to her feet. 'Your cheeks are red, Marianne…' She gave her a concerned frown, suddenly fearing the worst. 'You are not venturing second thoughts, are you, Marianne?'
'Second thoughts?' started Marianne, her eyes widening in surprise. 'Elinor…'
'It is surprising but not wholly unexpected,' continued Elinor quietly, obviously engaged in thoughts quite beyond her. Mistaking Marianne's surprise as confirmation of her lurking doubts and insecurities, Elinor felt a familiar sensation wash over her. She too had doubted whether Edward's marriage to her could be deemed as suitable and heaven knows how long she had been so engrossed in her various doubts. In the end, her anxieties had given way to emotion…and for once, Elinor had allowed her heart to take over her mind. With Marianne, it would be quite different…for there was too much heart within her that no mind could ever dare contradict the various emotions flowing within! Or so it had been a year ago…and if mind could, for once, ever dare contradict…?
The heart alone tells genuine emotion – thoughts distil, leaving only doubts and endless mutterings of opportunities long lost.
'Marianne, whatever doubts and anxieties you must harbour…you must understand that they are only there to mislead you,' started Elinor a trifle desperately. 'Do not let your mind take over what you feel within…'
'Elinor, please!' cried Marianne with a small laugh as she realised the true course of where her sister's conversation was heading. Slightly alarmed at Elinor's urgent tone and earnest countenance, Marianne then managed, once again, to assuage her sister's fears.
'Elinor, you have no need to be fearful for my state of mind.' Another small laugh left her lips before the latter were graced with a kindly smile. 'You mistook my reddened countenance for anxiety…I assure you that the matter that had been running in my mind was something of a quite different nature.'
'Indeed?' ventured Elinor faintly, with the slightest trace of embarrassment. If her voice failed to reveal her embarrassment, then it was with the slight reddening of her cheeks that betrayed it.
'But I appreciate your advice, Elinor,' said Marianne, eager to make her sister more at ease. 'Although anxiety was not chiefly in my mind at present, it was indeed a matter which had been troubling me for some time. And words from the dearest sister in world should never be let go and unheeded,' she said, gleaming a smile. 'Experience has taught us that.'
'Experience or the noble Colonel Brandon, may I ask?' came a voice from outside the door. Mrs. Dashwood had made her entrance, looking upon her two eldest daughters with a smile that simply alight with a mother's pride. 'Marianne, you look very lovely indeed. I still cannot quite believe that my daughters are married...it seems a long time indeed when we were last at Norland…' she wavered off pensively.
'And inviting a passion for dead leaves,' interjected Elinor wryly, regaining some of her confidence as she shot a pointed glance towards Marianne.
Marianne was spared from returning an amused smile towards her sister as there was a clatter of hooves down below.
Mrs Dashwood gave a contented sigh, throwing her hands up into the air. 'I do believe that is Edward returning with his gloves and stick.'
'And I do believe that is Margaret,' added Marianne as an excited shout resounded from below, followed by the determined marching of shoes against the floorboards. The three ladies shared a silent glance of acknowledgement before letting out a combined laugh of amusement and left the room, to be greeted with the sight of the Colonel's carriage waiting patiently in the drive – and with a resolute-looking Margaret pulling Edward quite firmly by the hand into the carriage, despite the latter's obvious hesitation.
It was indeed an occasion to behold for the many inhabitants of Delaford. With the grounds cleared for the celebratory dance, the house glowed under the soft influence of candlelight while the interior, most notably the great hall that had been the host of many gatherings for the past centuries under the Brandon family's grave yet just eye – and Brandon was barely able to suppress a smile of incomparable triumph as the party slowly but surely filtered in.
For the past few years or so, the Delaford estate had been abandoned and neglected under the influence of Charles Brandon, his malicious scheming brother. Only after his brother's untimely yet justifiable demise had Brandon, along with the assistance of his valet, James and the housekeeper, Mrs. Harris been able to restore the old manor house to its former glory. The task itself upon its first preconception had been deemed as unthinkable – and the inhabitants of the village were terrified of the inevitable increase in taxes that had already drained them of their livelihoods under Charles Brandon's 'patronage'.
But the taxes were never passed…or even entered Brandon's mind upon his first inheriting the property. It was only to his brother's neglect alone that had caused the sorry dilapidation of the house and grounds – and was therefore his responsibility alone in putting rights to wrongs. Meagre as his Colonel's wage worth as well as his trifling inheritance, already so ill-used by the greedy hands of his brother, Brandon had been determined that none within the village be taken up with the burden of resurrecting, as if were, the property. Undoubtedly, this action had somehow endeared him to his beneficiaries and the gratitude that greeted him upon the beaming countenances that turned his way this evening was quite a fulfilling experience indeed.
He watched the festivities for a short while, returning the odd smile or bow as the village passed him by as he stood at his vantage-point by the double doors that led into the great hall. Consulting his pocket-watch, he ascertained that it was nearly a quarter to seven – and his brow creased in slight concern at the time. Surely, it was time for the Dashwoods to have arrived by now – and his mind whirred with a strange anxiety that tempted him to venture out himself, completely ignorant of his place as host and discover the cause of their unusual tardiness.
Confident steps down the far corridor alerted him of James' approach, and the bright smile upon the valet's features dispelled all irrationality from his thoughts.
'The Dashwoods have arrived, sir – along with Mr and Mrs Ferrars as well as Sir John and Mrs. Jennings.' From the knowing look on James' wizened countenance, it was not difficult to understand that he had undoubtedly understood what thoughts had been racing through his master's mind. Brandon nodded his head in acknowledgement.
'Should I inform them that you are here, sir?'
'No, no,' said Brandon firmly, as he made his way towards the front doors. 'There will be no need. And thank you, James,' he added with a grateful smile.
'Not at all, sir.'
He was feeling nervous…quite strangely so. It was not foreboding, not at all…indeed, it was quite an extraordinary sensation. His mind seemed empty, as if it had been momentarily replaced with a floating, mesmerising whirl of mist that seemed to tantalise every fibre of his being. Was it ordinary, he wondered, for anyone betrothed to be so? He was becoming increasingly aware of the steps he made upon the oak floorboards, the soft taps of his well-heeled shoes upon the lengths of carpet at the main steps…
'Ah, Colonel Brandon.'
His head levelled with the party at the door, his gaze wandering about the glowing faces that greeted him. He bowed gracefully, extending his hand in welcome.
'Mrs. Dashwood, a pleasure once again. ' His eye caught the harassed-looking Edward, Elinor placing a supportive hand on her husband's arm.
'I offer my apologies for our tardiness, Colonel,' said Edward abashedly. 'Through a careless mishap of mine, I –'
'Come, Mr Ferrars, since you have successfully graced this house with this delightful party, I will not…' he said wryly, an amused gleam in his eye, '…in the words of a familiar acquaintance of mine, "brook any apologies" since your presence here quite outweighs my former anxieties.' A combined laugh rumbled within the party, delighted at his uplifted spirits. Edward received his patron's handshake with a grateful smile before stepping aside to reveal a smiling Marianne standing behind him. Upon his noting that smile upon her joyful features, his nervous anxiety – by now, had completed dissolved.
'Miss Dashwood,' he pronounced, giving another graceful bow. His gesture was polite and courteous, but Marianne had caught the playful twinkle that had radiated betrayingly in his countenance. 'Colonel Brandon,' she replied, lowering into a polite curtsy…allowing herself the mischievous delight of seeing a look of amused surprise flit across his auburn gaze. They stood there, seemingly devoid of the surrounding party's presence, gazing wryly into each other's eyes, daring the other to break their teasing stance. A smile finally broke upon Brandon's lips. 'Touché.'
The party shared another laugh: 'Quite a charmer you are, Brandon,' chuckled a jovial Sir John. 'For Miss Dashwood here has undoubtedly met her match,' agreed Mrs. Jennings heartily, nodding her head.
Acknowledging their remarks with a small smile, Brandon offered his arm, his eyes gleaming, to which Marianne readily accepted, laying her hand upon his well-tailored sleeve.
'Excellent work, Brandon – quite excellent,' remarked Sir John as they entered the great hall. 'I never enter this house without a pure sense of amazement…for one can hardly believe that this was a completely ramshackle sort of a place before Brandon's return to Delaford,' he exclaimed jovially as his gaze wandered and revolved about the large room, his eyes distracted by the vast array of movement that flittered here and there; the excited bustle of the hems of dresses skimming about the polished floor, the numerous bows from the gentlemen that quite epitomised the easy grace and joviality that had taken over the evening's proceedings.
'And neither can I,' added Mrs. Jennings unabatedly, seemingly so full of vigorous energy that one was almost on the verge of calling for a couch to be drawn up beside her hence she fell over in her excitement.
Brandon smiled slightly as he observed his friend become increasingly engrossed with the contents of the room. However, his own attention was wholly fixed upon the small warmth at his side, the precious feminine presence on his arm and he turned to her, murmuring gently as soon as the party had turned away from him, their own ears engrossed in the commentary of Sir John: 'You are quite enchanting tonight, Marianne.' He pressed his hand upon her gloved one, smiling. 'I was entirely devoid of thought when I greeted you at the door.'
Marianne smiled. 'As was the case with me, Christopher,' she whispered back. His countenance, usually grave with a determined solemnity, reddened slightly at her praise.
'Marianne, you indeed make it exceedingly difficult for me to maintain my station as a gentleman,' he teased, a grin upon his amused lips.
'Which I intend to do so for the rest of my life,' replied Marianne smoothly. He gave a warm chuckle in return.
'And what comment could have made our dear Colonel Brandon release such a merry laugh?' exclaimed Mrs. Jennings good-naturedly as she turned back towards them. 'And such a merry laugh indeed, is it not, John?'
'A very merry one indeed,' agreed Sir John, taking a sip of the wine that he was holding. Brandon bowed modestly. 'And still much too modest for his own good sake,' added Sir John, shaking his head amicably as he let out a laugh of his own, although it was clearly lacking in the unaffected charm that epitomised his good friend's.
'And we should take it among ourselves in increasing the frequency of hearing it,' cried Mrs Jennings enthusiastically, her doggedness in further match-making not yet diminishing in her advancing years. 'A dance is what is called for, dear Colonel –'
Marianne turned sharply at this, her reddened countenance clearly conveying her embarrassment at Mrs. Jennings' forward tone…and her mind stopped entirely in momentary confusion. Embarrassment? Surely, she had no need to be embarrassed?
'Oh, not aga –' exclaimed Margaret suddenly, realising the turn that had been taken.
'Margaret!' cried her mother sternly, shocked at her youngest daughter's rudeness.
Brandon smiled inwardly with amusement at Margaret's outburst, forgiving the girl's impatient spirits. It was true that Mrs. Jennings had called on him to do so before…until he was so abruptly interrupted from doing so by the disdainful presence of Mr Farley. But it had been different then. For he had not been entirely sure of Marianne's feelings for him – and his own for her. However, with the comforting presence beside him… it was obvious that no such interruptions were to be endured tonight and Brandon accepted with an easy conscience.
Marianne's 'embarrassment', however, did little to disguise the secret joy and delight that had welled up in her at the prospect of dancing with him and her happiness was rich in the depths of her eyes. Being an excellent reader of emotions, Brandon silently took note of this before turning his attention to his young beneficiary who was now under the scrutiny of Mrs. Jennings' persuasive attempts to press him into dancing with his wife: 'Oh, you shall not escape me, Mr. Ferrars! Let us not be shy – it is better for you to set an example to the whole village – I cannot remember when I last saw a clergyman dance at an assembly, dear me…and I must say that this will also benefit not only your reputation but also that of Mrs. Ferrars, especially so when one is in her present state of condition!'
Now it was Elinor's turn to be shy and she flushed deeply at Mrs. Jennings' telling tone, only to be greeted by a gleeful chuckle from the vivacious old woman. Edward, his expression looking quite the opposite of his discomfited wife, looked proudly and ardently upon her before leading her slowly to the dance hall.
Taking Brandon's offered hand as he stepped forward under the combined and scrutinising gaze of Mrs. Jennings and Mrs. Dashwood, Marianne smilingly allowed herself to be led towards the doors of the other room as her brother and sister had done so before her. She cast a fleeting glance at his countenance and the amicable smile that she received in return assured her of his state of mind; he had no objection whatsoever at the thought of dancing with her.
The hall was alive with mingled noise, chatter and laughter; all three combined as if resonating as a single voice in an uproarious pitch of uncontrollable gaiety. There was very little room and it was almost unbearably packed but Brandon, with his unbreakable soldier's determination eventually found them a large enough space where it would be fairly comfortable to carry out their steps with little difficulty.
The room grew silent as the music commenced. Brandon, expecting it to be a jig due to the rest of the evening having followed in this pattern, realised with a certain alarm that it was to be a waltz. Surely, he had not agreed to such a dance as this included in the musical repertoire this evening? He was certain that he had not. Or was it… He passed a glance across to the end of the room and noted James looking upon the situation with a visibly triumphant smile.
Ah, so there was the answer, Brandon observed, repressing the urge to be amused at the humorous turn his fate had taken him. James had obviously yet unexpectedly meant well but – oh, his thoughts were currently an inconceivable blur. Ruminating, though comforting, would not get them anywhere.
Marianne, no doubt having thought the same, looked and felt as alarmed as he did. A look passed between them. Their Austrian counterparts in Vienna had only very recently introduced this somewhat scandalous dance to their English friends, raising a considerable amount of mixed controversy as they did so, mostly due to the rather considerable amount of increased closeness required between the lady and the gentleman. Even at this moment, several of the men and women gathered in the room had left in disgust at the mere sound of the music and this only further augmented the awkwardness of the situation.
Sighing quietly, Brandon resigned himself to his task. It was preposterous to assume that she would dance with him, especially so in this condition. He started awkwardly, stumbling slightly on his words. 'Perhaps, Marianne, you would think it best to dance another evening?' He waited in suspense for her answer. Marianne's face was presently creased in a frown, deep in thought. She will refuse, she is certain to refuse to dance this evening. She raised her eyes to his.
'No, Christopher…I would think it an honour to dance with you – this evening.' Brandon was taken aback by the firmness of her reply and was only assured of the true honesty of her meaning when she placed her hands expectantly into his. Impressed by her willingness, he placed his left hand on the small of her back and taking her right one into his, he confidently set into his stride.
If his dancing seemed ever so flowing and effortless when she watched and observed him from afar, it was entirely indescribable if she was forced to recount the whole of her experience of actually dancing with him. Her feet seemed to float off the floor, the hem of her dress billowing and trailing elegantly behind her; the entirety of her whole being seeming to be immersed in a idyllic trance as he took the graceful lead in elegant, flowing steps. In her blissful state, she, quite involuntarily fell prey to her upraised emotions, and to Brandon's astonishment, suddenly laid her head gently on his shoulder. It was then that she heard the strong pulsing beats of his heart, which effectively betrayed the quiet exterior that he had so far assumed during the evening.
She looked up at him then in amazement. Brandon turned to her briefly and she caught a glimpse of a small smile that reflected in his expressive hazel eyes. She flushed in embarrassment as well as…dare she admit it, a certain flattered pleasure. That youthful smile was for her alone.
Time swirled away from consciousness and it seemed a short while before Marianne felt them slowly glide to a halt as the faint, lingering traces of music finally faded away and transformed into the noisy, boisterous chatter that had so recently preceded it. Brandon lowered his hands, his countenance somewhat flushed and reddened with the recent experience of dancing…and with so lovely and graceful a partner! He had not expected a pleasure, an exhilarating pleasure, such as this! He saw her look reluctantly about her; the rest of the party were quickly disappearing through the doors to converse animatedly with their various acquaintances as well as to greet the great dinner that lay before them in the dining hall.
'I presume that you are not in the mood to go to dinner just yet, Miss Dashwood?' he asked, his voice shaking slightly.
She seemed startled at his renewed formality but then gave a pleased smile of her own when she saw the wry twinkle in his eye. He was merely bluffing – so not as to succumb to his upraised feelings in the full view of public opinion, where unavoidable scrutiny was rampant.
'Yes, you are quite right – would it displease you that we should –'
'Take a walk in the gardens?' he smiled. She nodded, quite unable to refuse the growing glimmer of inexplicable tenderness that had taken hold of his gaze…nor refuse the extraordinary flutterings that had taken hold of her own racing heart.
He offered his arm; she willingly took it, eager to stay, to while away the remaining time in his presence. He too, although it was not immediately evident, was in no mood to go to dinner at the present moment…he was much too overwhelmed, as she very evidently was. As they left through the glass doors to the terrace, Brandon caught sight of a beaming Elinor and Edward, the latter giving yet another encouraging wink before being pulled away by an exuberant Mrs. Jennings, animatedly praising his 'admirable' dancing skills.
The night was warmer than it had been for many days, comfortably so and the beams of moonlight that glimmered and shimmered across the lawn illuminated the expanse of the gardens before them, offering a delightful haven of flowering nature as well as the enchanting privacy that the present situation required. They had walked on quietly for a while, though without any particular sense of direction. The exhilaration of their first dance drummed tremulously amongst their veins and Brandon could not help himself from smiling before the two beauties that lay before him, that one of nature – and the one so comfortingly walking by his side.
'It was marvellous to have finally danced with you, Marianne – indeed, 'marvellous' can hardly describe the state I'm in –' started Brandon, at last, turning to her.
'And pray, what could describe it, dear sir?' asked Marianne smilingly as he looked up at him. She need not asked for the vibrancy of his emotions were all too readily expressed in his joyous countenance, the tender smile on his lips and the gleaming expression in his gaze as he looked upon her.
'With no words imaginable – for I am quite bereft of them with you before me,' he answered softly. He lifted her hand to his lips and pressed it tenderly against them. 'Although with nature's beauty before me…' He bent gracefully and straightened, a rose in hand and murmuring: '…Nor did I wonder at the lily's white, nor praise the deep vermillion rose…' He offered it to her, smiling. 'They were but sweet, but figures of delight, drawn after you – you pattern of all those.' He gazed into her gleaming eyes, alight with some intoxicating emotion that caused his breath to stop completely. Taking both her hands into his own, he leaned towards her, pressing a gentle kiss upon her lips. A restrained one, although it hinted at more, for the fear that someone might unexpectedly join them outside.
It was fortunate then that Brandon's wits were about him as hesitant footsteps soon alerted them of another's presence. Stepping away, he turned to find Edward and Elinor making their way down the path to join them, their expressions pleased – yet quite too much so that it hinted that they had seen at least a little of their nightly walk.
'Revelling in the warm night, Colonel?' inquired Edward amusedly.
'Indeed, I am – Mr Ferrars,' Brandon answered in equal good-humour.
'As with us, Colonel,' added Elinor smilingly. 'Although there were other reasons that we have come here to join you both.'
Brandon nodded. 'Indeed,' he answered smoothly. 'I fear that I am neglecting my duties as host.'
Edward sighed, gesturing back to the house. 'I fear so, Colonel. The assembly is awaiting your presence – or to be unduly honest, quite in need to begin dinner.' They shared a laugh, each already comfortable with the other's company – an optimistic sign to be seen, one of many, of their future roles as dear brothers and sisters.
'To the house, perhaps, brother?' ventured Edward smilingly.
Brandon nodded in agreement. 'Lead on, Mr. Ferrars.'
They each took the arm of their respective ladies, with Edward leading the way upon the gravel path. From where they stood, it was not an exceptionally large distance from the house but with spirited, unabated thoughts flowing through their minds…of their first dance, the majestic beauty that surrounded them; it seemed quite a distance indeed. Time seemed no longer a matter, an abstract figment of the mind and when Brandon finally prised his gaze from her, Edward and Elinor were completely out of sight.
They quickened their pace, now quite aware of the mass of guests awaiting their arrival at the house. The lights glowing through the windows were visible now, only a few feet from where they now walked. The music had stopped, only to be replaced by the intermingling sounds of the surrounding night. Brandon had taken the lead yet only slightly, for he still looked back at her, slowing his pace until she managed to catch up.
A voice rang out from behind them. 'Miss Dashwood.'
Marianne turned in surprise, unaware that they had been followed. For a moment, she knew not who had addressed her for there seemed to be no one in sight apart from the various statues that littered the grounds. The voice addressed her again, this time familiar and hesitant. 'Miss Dashwood.'
It had come from her right and to her dismay; the anxious countenance of Mr Farley greeted her from the darkness. Her initial reaction was dart away from him, to be free from the sight of the gentleman who had caused such havoc within their lives. But something within Mr Farley's gaze implored her to stay, as if he strove to tell of something that had plaguing his mind.
'Mr. Farley,' she stated flatly, devoid of any emotion. Mr. Farley flinched ever so slightly and his eyes darted about the place, only to be startled at Brandon's disapproving countenance observing him with obvious abhorrence. He bowed, noting that the Colonel only returned it curtly. Perhaps it was Brandon's chilly reception along with Marianne's own that purged the thoughts from his mind for he stood there rather awkwardly before raising his hand, and in it, a carefully folded cloth.
'Your handkerchief, Miss Dashwood,' he managed pathetically. 'You dropped it in your haste.'
Marianne reached out her hand, only to refrain herself from doing so. It seemed a trivial matter, a handkerchief in the hands of a man that she now disliked and to take it back into her possession seemed only sensible. But, her mind cried in protest, to take it would be to give him hope. A hope that she would not dare again present. Her hand stilled at her side. She regarded him coldly. 'Mr. Farley,' she pronounced, dropping into a polite curtsy. Without a further word, she dismissed him, returning to Brandon's side. They said nothing for a moment, only speaking when the hesitant footsteps from afar alerted them of Mr. Farley's departure. Marianne looked up tentatively.
'I was not aware that you invited him,' she said quietly.
'Neither was I,' said Brandon coolly as he heard the last of Farley's footsteps. A brave smile tugged at his lips. 'Come; let us return to the house. We should not allow him to ruin our evening, Marianne.' He observed her carefully, awaiting her next reaction. He had not enjoyed watching her interact with Farley and the irrepressible ghosts of jealousy played about with his present insecurities – upon realising this, he pushed the thoughts away.
She turned. 'Yes, let us return. And I hope to the heavens above that we do not see that odious man ever again.' For there is no one else now in the world but you, dearest Christopher.
Brandon's eyes studied hers closely, marvelling at the newfound emotion that greeted him there – and the realisation that it was wholly for him alone. Slowly, he leaned his head towards her, his words a soft caress against her ear: 'Is there any felicity in the world superior to this?'
To this, she merely smiled but the look in her ardent gaze was enough to mesmerise him completely. Without a word, he offered his arm and smiling, they both stepped into the crisp, glittering light together.
A/N: Yes, this is the end of my story…but not the end of the Brandons' own story, I am very glad to say. To all my readers, I thank you for your support and reviews over the past year – they've meant a great deal to me – thank you again! I am planning to write a sequel…although I can't guarantee that it will be posted anytime soon. By the way if any of you were interested, the words that Brandon says to Marianne in this part were from Shakespeare's Sonnet 98, lines 9 – 12. Until my next S&S posting, feel free to check out my other stories if you are unable to wait…until then, farewell – but not goodbye!