Colonel Christopher Brandon was led across a long hall of Barton manor by a servant. It had been long since the colonel had visited his friend, Sir John Middleton at his estate. At first glance not much had changed, or so he thought. Perhaps there were a few new poorly executed water color paintings of Lady Middleton's design, but apart from that everything seemed pretty much the same. There was still the rustic wooden paneling along the walls and the same squeaky floor boards under the colonel's feet. It was only when the servant had taken Colonel Brandon to the parlor door did he realize that everything was different.
Sweet singing filled Brandon's ears, song from a voice so bright and pure. It was the sweetest sound that the colonel had heard since Eliza.
He distractedly dismissed the servant, not wanting to interrupt this angelic recital with the awkwardness of his untimely arrival. Colonel Brandon did not believe that Sir John, a good humored man, would take offense to him entering unannounced. So the servant left him alone with the angel behind the door.
The Colonel closed his eyes and listened to this most beautiful sound. Just like Eliza, he thought. He reached for the doorknob with a trembling hand; he turned it quietly and gently opened the door just enough to peer inside.
Colonel Brandon had almost convinced himself that it was Eliza's voice coming from behind the door; that she was there just beyond his reach. He had almost convinced himself that when he glanced into the parlor she would be there smiling at him from behind the pianoforte and when he moved around the edge of the door to see who the singer was, his heart began to beat violently in this chest, for there she was, his Eliza.
No, this could not be! It was impossible. No, this was not Eliza; it was just a woman that looked very much like Eliza. The colonel could see now that this woman had brown eyes and as lovely as they were they were not the same as Eliza's brilliant green ones. This woman's hair was darker than Eliza's and she was not as tall, but she was extraordinarily beautiful. Her eyes had the familiar sparkle that Eliza's had when she sang and her tiny fingers moved effortlessly across the keys of the pianoforte as Eliza's used to.
Who was this woman? Colonel Brandon remembered Sir John mentioning his new neighbors that had recently moved into Barton cottage, a widow cousin of John's and her three daughters. The colonel especial remembered this bit of information because Sir John declared that one of the two eldest daughter was sure to suit Brandon as a wife. John was utterly confounded by Brandon, him being a wealthy man at the wrong end of five and thirty, not being able to secure a wife. Perhaps Sir John was beginning to believe that there was something wrong with the colonel, for he had practically thrown one suitable wife after another at Brandon and yet he was still not married.
The colonel smiled with irony as he secretly looked upon the singing beauty before him. Did Sir John not know that no woman could penetrate Brandon's wasted heart?
Eliza admired her reflection in the looking glass. She was so ravished in decadent jewels and fineries she hardly recognized herself.
Her hair was carefully curled and held up with glittering combs and fine ribbons. Her dress was made of silk, with thousands of tiny beads sewn to it with immense care. Eliza pulled at the front of the dress, trying to raise it over her chest; this dressed revealed so much more than she was used to, but it was time for Eliza to be a lady. At the age of sixteen it was time for Eliza to come out.
Her guardian, Mr. Brandon, had been making plans for months to provide Eliza with a splendid coming out celebration. He had bought her all new garments and jewels just for the occasion. Once this night was over, Eliza Williams would be officially out and available to be wooed by potential husbands.
Marriage was closing in upon her now. It was so close she could hardly breathe, or perhaps it was the extreme tightness of her corset that was restricting her lungs. Never the less the thought of marrying some faceless man scared her. There was only one man that Eliza had ever wanted to become her husband and he was her best friend.
The door suddenly burst open.
Eliza jumped and raised a stunned hand to her pounding heart.
"Forgive me if I startled you," said a gentle voice behind her.
She turned away from the mirror. Standing in the doorway was the youngest Brandon son.
Eliza glared at the man with forced irritation. "Christopher Brandon, what do you think you are doing?" said she.
"I just wanted a last glimpse of you while you are still a child," said Christopher, smiling at her. "You look beautiful."
Eliza smiled in spite of herself. "You know it is quite rude for a gentleman to enter a lady's room without announcing himself first," said Eliza playfully.
"You are quite right, Miss Williams," said Christopher in the same tone as she.
Christopher then strode from the room and shut the door behind him. Seconds later Eliza heard a knock on the other side of the wall. She giggled to herself.
"Who is there?" asked Eliza.
She heard a small chuckle outside the door. "It is I, Mr. Christopher William Brandon," said he in a tone mocking all propriety and seriousness.
"Oh pray, do come in, Mr. Christopher," said Eliza, through giggles.
The door swung open once more and young Christopher Brandon entered, leaving the door ajar as he did.
"I am to escort you down to the party," said Christopher, looking very pleased with himself.
"You?" asked Eliza with great surprise.
Christopher suddenly appeared very affronted. "Does that displease you?"
"No," said Eliza quickly, "not at all. I just thought that your brother Henry would be escorting me, for he is the eldest." Color suddenly flooded her cheeks, "I am actually extremely pleased it will be you."
Christopher smiled widely at Eliza. "Henry was originally going to be your escort, but I convinced my father that I should be the one to do it." He paused to admire the woman in front of him. "You are extraordinarily beautiful, Eliza," said Christopher softly.
Eliza admired the young man in front of her. He had light brown hair and though it was slicked back, a few stray- away locks fell on to his forehead; how Eliza longed to stroke them back in place. His eyes were grey but in the flicker of the candle light they almost looked blue. And his lips, well, only she knew how beautiful his lips could be.
Eliza blushed when she realized she had been staring at Christopher. She turned back to look at herself in her mirror and only seconds later Christopher's reflection was there too.
He slowly moved his hands around her waist, throwing all rules of social acceptability out the window.
"Give me a kiss, Eliza," Christopher breathed in her ear.
She smiled, but then pulled away.
"You do know the point of a coming out party is for me to find a husband," said Eliza.
"Give me a kiss," said Christopher again. "Kiss me once before I have to share you with all the men downstairs."
Eliza let out as sigh and walked to the window. "Your father has mentioned his desire for me to marry, your brother Henry," she said as she looked out at the lake, in which she had spent many blissful afternoons with her love.
"That will not happen," said Christopher mutinously.
"How can you be so sure," said Eliza as she turned to him with wide eyes. "Your Father told me if he cannot find me a suitable husband tonight, he wants me to wed Henry."
Christopher said nothing but stared out the window sternly.
"Oh Christopher," she cried. "I fear this will come to pass. Henry has so many debts; he seeks to marry a rich wife, and here I am so conveniently placed." She suddenly fell onto Christopher's shoulder and wept into it.
"I will not let this happen, Eliza," said Christopher as he wrapped his arms around her.
"But it already is happening," sobbed Eliza. "I do not want to marry."
Christopher pulled away to look at her. "You never want to marry, Eliza?" Christopher asked incredulously.
"No," she said stubbornly as she wiped away her tears with the back of her hand.
"You would not even marry me?" He asked seriously.
She let out a small humorous laugh.
"That is not an option," said she.
"But what if it were?" asked Christopher.
"It is not," Eliza said shortly.
"Eliza," said Christopher, desperate for an answer. "If it was entirely of your choice, would you have me as a husband?"
Tears formed in her eyes once more and with her soft hands she reached to stroke Christopher's cheek. "If it were my decision, my darling, I would marry you a thousand times over," Eliza sobbed. "If it were my choice I would be your wife. I would sit with you by the fire every night, relish in the low tones of your voice as you scold me for my foolish acquisitions and what bliss I would find trying to outwit you in our disputes. I would go where you go and when I may not go I shall wait with much impatience for your return. I love you with all that I am Christopher Brandon and though I am forced to give my mind and body to another, they will never possess my heart, for it will always be yours."
"Eliza, I love you more than anything in this world," declared Christopher. "If I am without you I shall be a broken man. A love like ours, should not be undone. We must be together."
"But how?" asked Eliza hopelessly.
"We must elope," said Christopher plainly, but with a note of determination in his voice. Eliza's eyes widened, to elope was to renounce all respect in any good society, to lose all connections and support from friends and family, to be completely estranged from everything you once knew. "I do not see any other way." Christopher told her. "I know what I am asking of you, Eliza and if it is too much I shall never mention such a foolish thing again, for it is your happiness that matters to me. If you tell me you will be happy in dutifully marrying whomever my father chooses for you, I shall step aside and let it be, earning my happiness from yours, but if I am a fortunate man, you will say that your happiness lies with me and if so I shall quit everything to be with you, Eliza."
Eliza had her face hidden in her hands and she was sobbing profusely.
"What say you, my dearest," asked Christopher, "are you willing to risk everything for our love?"
Eliza looked up and though her eyes were filled with tears, she smiled brilliantly at Christopher.
"I would risk anything," said Eliza emotionally, "and no matter what happens, with you I shall be happy."
With that they embraced in a kiss full of love and passion.
Henry, Christopher's brother walked by Eliza's room, completely unnoticed by the embracing couple; he was grinning to himself maliciously. Henry had heard everything from outside the open door.
The angel stopped singing and stood from the pianoforte. There was applause from an audience that the colonel had forgotten existed.
Now he heard the rumbling, scraping sounds of the restless audience standing and babbling on about who knows what. The sounds of voices seemed to draw the colonel out of his trance and force him back into reality. He decided it was about time he stopped skulking in doorways and made himself known.
"Brandon, Brandon, my boy!" called out Sir John as he saw the colonel. John leaped forward cheerfully to shake Brandon's hand. Colonel Brandon was pleased to see John looking just as he had left him, plump, short, joyful and wearing his favorite powdered wig.
"It is very nice to see you again, Sir," said Colonel Brandon formally. "How are you?"
"Never mind that, Brandon," said Sir John. "Come, come and meet our lovely new neighbors!"
Sir John strode across the room, completely neglecting to acknowledge the presence of his wife and mother-in-law, not out of rudeness for nothing Sir John did was of bad intentions, but simply out of the excitement of creating new acquaintances. The Colonel quickly bowed to Lady Middleton, the tall, humorless wife of Sir John and Mrs. Jennings, Lady Middleton's mother who was the wildest and silly of women that the colonel had ever known.
"Stop your loitering, dear boy," said Sir John good-naturedly. "Do not keep these lovely ladies waiting."
Colonel Brandon hastened to his friend's side.
"Now then," said Sir John. "This is my cousin, Mrs. Dashwood," Sir John gestured to a woman that did not look much older than the colonel; she curtsied politely. "This is her youngest daughter, Miss Margret," continued Sir John, gesturing to a young girl of about twelve, standing very close to her mother."
"Pleasure to meet you, sir," said Miss Margret, curtsying.
"The pleasure is mine," said Brandon, smiling politely at her.
"Sir John told us that you fought in the East Indies together," Margret said with sudden excitement.
"We did," Colonel Brandon told her.
"What was it like?" Margret asked eagerly.
"Like!" exclaimed Sir John, laughing, "it was hot and the mosquitos were unbelievable; I got bitten in many places that I would not care to mention."
Lady Middleton let out a noise of disapproval, while her mother next to her roared with laughter at Sir John's comment.
"It was very hot in the East Indies, indeed and because of that many colorful, exotic plants were able to grow. I have seen flowers as big as your head," Colonel Brandon told the little girl, trying his best to romanticize the hellish climate.
"Really?" asked Margret.
"Oh yes," said Colonel Brandon. "And the air always smelled of different kinds of spices and people rode on gigantic elephants instead of horses."
"Why would they do that?" asked Margret, laughing. "That seems so strange."
"Margret," Mrs. Dashwood said sternly. Margret caught her mother's firm gaze and stopped laughing.
"Well perhaps it does seem peculiar to us," said Colonel Brandon kindly, "but just think, if someone from the East Indies came to England, they would wonder where all the elephants were."
Margret laughed again. The colonel glanced to the side and caught the eyes of the angel still standing near the pianoforte. She seemed to be listening to his story just as intently as little Margret. Colonel Brandon quickly turned away.
"Well," said Sir John, "let us let by gones be by gones and let's move right along, Dear Sir." Now, John pointed to a young, beautiful, yet very stern faced girl, who appeared to have the wit of someone far beyond her years. "Now, Brandon," said Sir John, throwing the colonel a little wink. "This is Miss Elinor Dashwood, the eldest."
"It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Colonel Brandon," said Miss Dashwood drily as she curtsied to him. The colonel bowed back.
"And what a pity you missed the delight of hearing our little song bird," said Sir John as he turn towards the angel. "This is Miss Marianne."
"A great pity, indeed," said Colonel Brandon slowly.
The girl did not speak, but curtsied, surveying the colonel with the same look of curiosity that Eliza had had and as the colonel bowed to the young woman he wished her all the happiness, love and life in which Eliza missed out on.