Her Eyes Opened: Chapter 1
Ever since bringing them back home after Marianne's fever broke, Colonel Brandon had become a steady presence in the Dashwoods existence. Of course he was around as he still visited his friend Sir John frequently at Barton, but he also made a point of coming to see the Dashwoods as well. He brought Marianne music and books every now and then and early on when Marianne still tired so easily he even read to her. In the garden on nice days, in the front room on the days that were not so nice. Their's was a a friendship in the making.
Marianne had already understood that the Colonel had a great deal to do with first finding her in the rain and then getting her mother to her when she had been so very poorly, but until Elinor had told her exactly how he had been sick with worry, waiting up in case he could help in any way, unshaven and dishevelled until Elinor had sent him to fetch Mrs Dashwood, Marianne had not quite understood the man's character. In the hours and hours the two girls spent talking in the bedroom when Marianne was getting her strength back Elinor even told her about Brandon duelling Willoughby for what the younger man had done to the Colonel's ward. First Marianne had been a little shocked, but Elinor had rushed to continue that of course Brandon had simply taught Willoughby a lesson and had not harmed him. Not physically anyways.
When Brandon had come to see them at Barton Cottage for the first time after their return, Marianne had made a point of asking him to come again. She wanted him to know he was a very welcome visitor and that she would like the opportunity to make up for her less than admirable behaviour towards him before. She had started to see him in such different light since their return to Barton: if before she thought him unremarkable, old and plain, he now appeared to her strong and fierce in the most trustworthy manner. She could now see how it was the quiet and hidden strength of character that was most powerful, and this man had so much of it. When he talked to her, it was clear he gave her his fullest attention. Nothing he did was in half measures, yet he was able to remain civil and polite at all times. You would not catch him light-heartedly scolding other people's character behind their backs. Not like Willoughby. Marianne was so ashamed now – to think that back then she had thought Willoughby's disrespect good fun!
It was one of the nice, sunny afternoons when Brandon had come to see them all at Barton Cottage again that prompted Marianne to want to apologize for her earlier behaviour. He was taking a short, slow walk with Marianne and Elinor in the fields behind the cottage when Marianne again felt that there was something holding him back, something stopping him from feeling easy with them. Since he and Elinor were great friends, it had to be Marianne herself causing it.
"You seem to be getting your usual colour back," he conversed, complementing her complexion, which was, indeed, improving. She had been sickly pale for such a long time after having to spend a short eternity in her bed even after the fever broke. She had been so weak.
"Thank you, Colonel," she replied, her gaze directed at the path. She wasn't quite sure how to approach him and that made even looking at him difficult. She then collected herself and summoned her courage.
"My dear Colonel, it really is thanks to you – and Elinor – that I had a chance of getting well again. I'm quite at a loss as how to thank you properly," she started.
"Please, Miss Marianne, don't…" he tried to interrupt, but she would not have it. She had to say this now or she might never be able to.
"Please, Colonel, I have to apologize to you as well," she said and looked at him. His face expressed confusion. Apologize? Before he could ask, she went on.
"Before, well, London… and even there… I know the way I behaved towards you was not fair or respectful and I wish to apologize for my foolishness."
He looked at her, not knowing what to say. Elinor had, he noted, stopped and stayed behind to pick some flowers.
"I can only offer my naivety and inexperience with the world as an excuse and express my hope that perhaps now I might learn to know you a little more and perhaps we can start our acquaintance as if… well… anew?"
Brandon took a moment to think about what she was saying. She was asking if they could start over. He didn't mind at all. It was all forgiven ages ago as far as he was concerned. The feelings he had harboured for her from the moment he first laid his eyes on her had not gone anywhere and if anything they had become stronger each time he had visited Barton Cottage and got to know this lovely young woman a little better.
"Please do not worry yourself with such thoughts anymore. What was, was and today is a new day. I would be honoured if you would consider me a friend," he eventually managed to say, and received the sweetest of smiles from Marianne.
However, what he also realized as he thought of what she had said, was that she really was so very young. Very young and already she had been hurt so badly by someone she had trusted, naïvely or not. He could see that Marianne had not bounced back to the sparkly, bubbly person she was before the whole Willoughby thing. She smiled at him and seemed pleased enough to spend a little time with him, but she was more quiet and she was more withdrawn. He observed this even in how she was with her own family. She was polite and was able to carry out good conversation. She still seemed to have an interest in reading and music, but there was just something amiss and he would have to tread carefully around her not to upset her again. When on his own he would so often think of her and he came to understand that if he wanted there to be a chance that she might return his feelings, he would have to give her more space to heal.
He would have to let her find her own two feet again and regain her confidence. Otherwise he would just be taking advantage of her vulnerable state and that would not be a viable start to anything. It would not be a solid base to build anything on. It pained him to admit it, but he would have to keep a little distance and to give her space while all the time his heart and very soul were craving to be near her and the desire to show her how much he cared for her was almost overpowering.
Brandon was right about Marianne's confidence. Elinor could see it, too, even though their mother seemed not want to see it. Marianne was pulling away from people emotionally. Where the old Marianne easily got involved in discussions and activities of all sort, the present Marianne made enough effort for most people not to notice anything amiss, but Elinor could see Marianne was rarely if ever investing herself fully in anything. She was guarded in her conversation and usually excused herself from almost all company soon after the minimum effort required by social expectations was fulfilled. Elinor herself and Colonel Brandon were the only exceptions.
Some weeks after their walk, Elinor came to realize that Brandon's visits were not as frequent anymore. She also noticed that he seemed somewhat withdrawn now, not trying so much to keep Marianne company, not devoting most of his visit to trying to cheer her up and converse with her. He no longer read to her either unless Marianne specifically asked him to. What was happening? Elinor was suddenly worried: what had the two talked about back then on that walk? She had not asked Marianne, figuring her sister would tell her if she wanted to.
"Marianne?" Elinor asked that night when she and Marianne had both climbed into their bed and had tucked themselves under the covers.
"Do you know if there is something worrying Colonel Brandon?" Elinor asked. Marianne was quiet for a moment. She, too, had noticed that Brandon had seemed preoccupied and withdrawn, but could not work out what it was. After all, he had accepted her apology and she had no reason to think he would be terribly displeased with anything she had said or done since.
"I don't know, Elinor. He's been very quiet lately and hasn't come around quite as often lately, and to be perfectly honest, I'm a little worried myself," Marianne answered.
"Well, I've told him I would like us to be friends and I apologized for being so horrid to him before. And he seemed to forgive me and said he wanted to be friends too, but then he's stopped coming so often and I just worry that perhaps he couldn't forgive me after all or he's started to find me boring." All these thoughts had come to Marianne one after another. He was being polite to her because he was a real gentleman, but perhaps he was growing weary of her? She had lost weight during her illness, her hair was not shiny, she was pale and still tired easily. And she had acted so naïvely and stupidly before. What if he now saw her simply as a juvenile and why would someone who had so much experience and had travelled the world want to spend time with a silly girl like her?