A/N: All right, well, I've wanted to write a sequel to "Sense & Sensibility" for a very long time, and I finally decided to start it. I have a pretty good idea of where I'm taking it, and I certainly hope it works! I'm taking background from both the movie and the book (probably more the movie, because, alas, I prefer that over the book).
Also…if you read this, please review!
Disclaimer: Unfortunately, none of these characters are mine. Rather, they belong to Jane Austen, history's Ultimate Authoress.
For the third time in the past hour, Marianne put down her book, hardly conscious of her mind drifting away from the words on the page, far beyond the window and over the vast lawns of Delaford. This had been happening more frequently in the past few weeks, since she and her husband returned from their honeymoon and settled into their home.
There had been her wedding to concentrate on, followed by weeks of traveling through the country. Afterward, of course, she had to settle into her new role as mistress of Delaford. For this particular matter, she employed what she considered a simple solution—she left everything alone. The estate was run exactly as it had always been, without her changing a thing, and she gave the servants no new orders. She spent a great deal of her time as she was now, with a book in her hands, reclining in the library's window seat.
Truth be told, she hardly knew what else to do. Her husband, though exceptionally attentive during their travels, had absorbed himself in his business affairs—whatever they might be—once they had returned to Devonshire. She rarely saw him, except at mealtimes. Her treatment of him had transformed, over time, into the dignified, quiet affection suitable for a wife of her status. Christopher Brandon would deny her nothing, she knew, and thus far, he had not. But oddly enough, she had grown shy around him.
Goodness, she had become just like her sister! Marianne had always criticized Elinor for being so calm and rational when it came to love, and scoffed at the politeness between her sister and brother-in-law. She would never have stood for it. Love was passionate and all-consuming, a fire within one's soul that came only once in a lifetime, only once to those individuals capable of retaining such a conflagration. Yet she had learned, the hard way, that it was not always so. In that, she became a kind of woman she had always despised. It really was not as bad as she thought it would be, just…different. Very different.
Scarcely five minutes after she had begun reading again, a floorboard squeaked and she heard the hesitantly approaching steps of her husband's boots. Though she hated to be interrupted whenever she was reading, Marianne smiled dryly. He was always very careful about disturbing her, but she often sensed him coming anyway. He was not a man who called attention to himself by his clumsiness; there was not an uncouth particle in his entire body. Marianne did not know what it was, but even when he was completely silent…she knew he was there.
"Marianne?" He finally announced his presence in the library doorway.
"Good afternoon, Colonel," she said, using his title as a given name. It was how she had addressed him before their marriage, and even afterward, she had not seen fit to alter it.
"I believe we must be going now, to call on Mr. and Mrs. Ferrars."
With a little gasp, Marianne realized she had completely forgotten what day it was. They had previously arranged to visit Edward and Elinor.
"Of course!" As she sprang to her feet, she dropped her book back onto the window seat. With another glance at it, she picked it back up and sheepishly returned it to its place on the vast shelves. What had she expected—that he would reprimand her like a child, and force her to pick up after herself? Certainly it was absurd to imagine, but it passed through her mind just the same.
If only he was more like herself! Then she might better read his thoughts and know his emotions…if he had any. Scolding herself even as she thought it, she bit her lip and nervously glanced at him sideways. She could not help allowing these thoughts to occupy her mind as they went down the staircase together and set off across the lawn. Why was she feeling so awkward with him? Their wedding had long since passed, and they seemed to be well established. Why did she now fully realize what had happened to her, and how uncertain she was about it?You might well have thought of all this before you married him!
Oh, that would not have changed things. She knew firsthand that he was kind and generous, and he loved her deeply. Sir John Middleton was quick to exaggerate many things, but in his praise of Colonel Brandon, he had not done so. Marianne knew Elinor and her mother were terribly pleased with her husband, and Margaret was fond of him. Marianne had nothing against him—anymore. She was certainly not indifferent. Her affection for him was real enough—how could it be otherwise? He had those enduring virtues that came most often through age and grief.
But he's so different…from anyone I would have wanted before…
Willoughby entered her mind, and she pushed thoughts of him away with a tightening of her throat. Did he ever think of her anymore? No matter how hard she tried, she could not forget him. She could not forget how he had loved her once, even when he was forced to reject her. Perhaps she ought to loathe him for all the pain she had suffered, but she found herself unable to do so. Did he suffer now, with his own wife, knowing he would forever be separated from the woman he had loved with such abandon? Or had he learned to relocate his feelings?
I cannot think of him anymore. It is wrong, and unfair to my husband, who deserves better. At least that I can admit even to myself.
"Your mind is very much elsewhere today."
Brandon's voice cut into her secret thoughts and startled her. She almost jerked her arm away from his, causing him to stop walking. She grinned, a little too brightly, to conceal her fear that he was somehow reading her mind.
"Forgive me, Colonel. It was, indeed." Once the words had flown from her mouth, she silently cursed them. Hoping he would say nothing, she kept walking.
He followed suit. "May I inquire where that 'elsewhere' might be?"
She looked up and caught his slight smile. The warmth in his eyes broke a dam somewhere inside her, and she was flooded with guilt. What would Elinor say if she knew what her dear sister was thinking about as she strolled along on her husband's arm?
Oh, Elinor, I promised you I would be better! And what have I done about it? I stand here with the Colonel, thinking about Willoughby and wishing…
That Brandon was more like Willoughby—the man who had failed her!
I am such a fool…Willoughby was no Romeo…
She grimaced to herself, remembering that even Romeo had been passionately in love with Rosalind before Juliet came along. He had not been truly faithful to her, and with Juliet, well…he had never quite had the time to be untrue, had he? He had fallen deeply in love, and very quickly. Their spark had not faded; their fire had not gone out before they died. Marianne glanced at her husband. His love was no impetuous flame of youth. She knew in her heart and soul that it was something lasting.
Then why should she worry?
"I was thinking about the book I had been reading," she lied. "The Castle of Otranto. It is dark and frightening, and, to be honest, I had not imagined such a book to ever be in your possession."
"It was probably added by another family member," Brandon said with a small smile. "I have no recollection of purchasing anything of that title myself."
"That must be so," she murmured.
"A grim topic for a day such as this," he said, indicating the sunshine and expansive greenery. Marianne only then noticed the loveliness of the birds' songs, and her dry, troubled spirit drank it in gratefully. She found herself breaking into a sincere smile this time, though she continued to nervously pick at the lace on her shawl with her free hand.
They walked the rest of the way in silence, but when they came over the last rise and saw the little house, with the church in the distance, Marianne detached herself from the Colonel and began to run in her eagerness to see her sister. Elinor came out of the door as Marianne's laughter rang out, and even from a distance, it was clear that she was a little embarrassed by her younger sister's display. If Elinor had been close enough to see Brandon's face, she would have known they were both thinking the same thing—that Marianne's hurriedness would not cause her to take a tumble down the slope.
"Good afternoon, Colonel!" Elinor managed to call out, just before Marianne's arms encircled her neck, rendering her temporarily incapable of speech.
"How are you Elinor?" Marianne asked, gasping for breath.
She laughed. "Marianne, one would think we had not seen each other in months, and it has not been two days!"
"What is time and distance when dear sisters are parted?" Marianne asked, spreading her hands. Already her cheeks were rosier than when they had left, less from the exercise than the company. "I have still missed you!"
Elinor could only sigh and shake her head until Brandon approached.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Ferrars."
"Do come in and sit down," Elinor said. "Edward is off writing next Sunday's sermon, but he knows you were coming and he should be back shortly."
As they came into the little parlor, Marianne was astonished to realize that, for once, she envied her sister. Elinor and Edward were perfectly matched, and took such pleasure from each other's company. Not that Marianne disliked being with her own husband, but she was never quite comfortable in her own skin, when the two of them were alone. The cause was a complete mystery to her, and she knew better than to lay all the blame upon him.
But though she knew much of his past, and trusted his character…she still felt herself married to a complete stranger.
"Have you been to visit our mother lately?" Elinor asked, once tea was distributed and remarks on the outstanding weather had been spoken.
"She and Margaret dined with us the other night," Marianne said, lifting her chin, her tone slightly accusing. "We sent the carriage for them and could have had it come for you, as well, had you seen fit to attend."
Elinor smirked. "Marianne, you know perfectly well that we had been invited to dine in Exeter with—"
"Yes," Marianne interrupted with an exaggerated sigh of long-suffering. "I suppose it is the duty of a minister and his wife to sometimes spurn family for the sake of the rest of the flock."
"My apologies, Marianne," Edward said, chuckling as he entered the room and took a seat beside Elinor. "You must forgive the duties of my occupation."
Marianne dropped her teasing as soon as she saw her brother-in-law, and her smile became affectionate again. "Oh, Edward, you know you shall always have my forgiveness. Yet you will never truly commit an act that would require it!"
"I am most deeply relieved," he said, before turning to the other man in the room. "How do you do, Colonel."
After a time of general conversation, Marianne and Elinor excused themselves to take a turn in the Ferrars' little garden. In a little while, the men followed suit, taking a different route in order to talk of more business-related matters. As they went along their way, Marianne could feel Elinor's mood change a little, as though a shadow was passing over her. She was not entirely surprised at the conversation that ensued.
"Marianne," Elinor said, quietly, hesitantly, "you know I am always delighted to see you, and Edward is, as well. It is a pleasure for you to call on us, or for us to visit you at Delaford."
"Thank you," Marianne said, restraining herself, knowing Elinor had not said all she wished.
"Yet, I cannot help but wonder if you seek my company…in order to avoid that of…others."
Marianne looked down at the ground. "You mean my husband." She felt her sister's hand tighten on her own.
"Dearest, if there is something badly amiss, won't you please tell me?" Elinor stopped walking and moved to stand in front of her. "Colonel Brandon is a fine man, widely respected, and I can see he loves you very much. But I have only my own viewpoint to speak from, and I do hope we have not been mistaken."
There was no sign of blame in Elinor's voice, but Marianne felt it anyway.
"There was no mistake—it is as you say," she said, not looking up. She heard a sigh of relief.
"Oh, I am glad," Elinor said. After a few tense moments, she said, in a lower voice, "Marianne…look at me."
"Even so, all is not well?"
With a sigh of her own, Marianne looked away from Elinor and focused on a tree somewhere behind her.
"Colonel Brandon is just as everyone says. He is an agreeable, honorable man, of good taste, and he is very kind. I know he loves me, Elinor." She forced herself to look into her sister's matching blue eyes. "But I do not love him, and that pains me more than anything."
"What is his great failing?" Elinor asked, not without a hint of sarcasm, as she was long familiar with her sister's choosy nature.
Marianne felt more color collecting in her cheeks. "It is no failing on his part. It is mine. I somehow cannot bring myself to love him, as I know he deserves. He must be deeply disappointed with me. Try as I might, I cannot remedy it. His gaze does not make me blush, and I do not tremble when he comes near. I have no great burning within me to be forever by his side, and I know he is worthy of such feelings."
"Oh, Marianne," Elinor groaned. "That is but one kind of love."
"But it is my kind!"
Elinor closed her eyes, and Marianne imagined she was sending up a quick prayer for patience.
"It is not that I dislike him," Marianne said lamely. "Indeed, I like him very much, and I have a great deal of respect for him."
Elinor smiled, and Marianne realized what was so amusing. "You respect him, Marianne? You like him? As I recall, you once despised the use of such dull language, and even reprimanded me for the use of those words."
Marianne swallowed, blinking rapidly. "I know. Look what I have been reduced to."
"Oh, dearest," Elinor said, reaching out to touch her sister's warm cheek. "Whyever did you marry him?"
Marianne frowned. "I am not wholly without logic, Elinor. I know he loves me, and I am grateful for all he has done for us. We may not be here, at this moment, if it were not for Colonel Brandon. I know what Sir John said was true, and there is no better man to find. I have no disregard for him, and I have no complaint that is solely due to his failing. Yet he is so far from my girlhood dreams, I cannot help but regret…" Her lips trembled, and the tears welling in her eyes finally escaped.
"Elinor," she gasped, "what am I to do?"
Distressed by this new information, her sister quickly enclosed Marianne in her arms. Poor, pitiable Marianne, and her fairytale inclinations! Elinor had hoped, after the disaster with John Willoughby, that Marianne would loosen her fierce hold on the romantic sensibilities she had always possessed. To her credit, she had married wisely, but because she did not feel the sting of Cupid's arrow, she did not believe herself capable of loving Brandon. There was hope for Marianne in her awareness of the situation, but Elinor was at a loss for advice. Would time alone be sufficient to generate stronger affection within Marianne's heart? Or, because she would probably never feel the burning madness of infatuation, was she only meant for disappointment?
"You must be patient, Marianne," she finally said. "I know it is against your very nature, but you must be patient. The ardent, overwhelming love you want to feel may never come. Even if it did, it would not last. It never has, in all of history. The more reign you give to your passions, the further they fly, and the faster they are gone."
She placed her hands on Marianne's shoulders and gently pushed her away, just enough to look her in the face. "Even in your favorite love stories, dear Marianne, there is some end to such passion—too often unhappy. But if you are kind, gracious, and agreeable, I daresay you will find yourself quite in love with your husband."
Through her tears and sniffles, Marianne wryly mumbled, "You always offer the most difficult solutions."
Elinor's grip strengthened. "I did not tell you to display feelings you do not have! Do you not want to love him?"
After a lengthy pause, Marianne said, "More than anything, I wish I could."
I'm sure she already does, Elinor thought, but she would not believe me if I told her so. She nodded to her sister. "It is a promising beginning, then."