"She'll catch her death out there you know," Mrs. Palmer remarked lightly, regarding the churning storm outside with a nonchalant, flighty smile. Eleanor Dashwood nodded in agreement, eyebrows perched high into her forehead as if she longed to retort something about the woman's knack for stating the obvious, but she remained silent. Colonel Brandon stood like stone before the window, hazel eyes feverishly scanning the horizon for any sign of the girl he so dearly loved. When the driving rain continued to pound for several long, painful minutes with no sign of her to be found, Brandon whirled away from the window and started briskly for the door.
"I'll check the gardens," he tossed loudly over his shoulder, leaving the warmth and safety of the house with a sharp slam of the front door. He'd be a fool to say he knew not where she had gone, but on the off chance she had had the sense to stay close to the house, Brandon made for the greenhouse gardens despite the nagging tug on his heart. He thrust open the glass door with a worried, "Marianne?!" and he was admittedly unsurprised when she did not answer. He turned slowly in the doorway to gaze out into the vast damp green of the Palmer's land and squinted against the pelting rain.
She had gone to him, then. This too was no surprise, but the blatant truth of it still stung the deepest recesses of his heart. The scoundrel was likely gone and therefore, Marianne's journey was ultimately fruitless. She would not find what she had so deeply and hopelessly sought over those rolling green hills, and that too pulled at the Colonel's heart. Her rejection had pierced him, certainly, but her mistreatment at the hands of a man she so loved wounded him all the greater, especially when she was so lost without Willoughby's empty affections. The bastard would not come for her, however. He was off gallivanting elsewhere, oblivious to the danger his former plaything had subjected herself to.
The Colonel set off in a dead run across the fields and under the trees as thunder boomed and lightning cracked and sizzled in the black sky overhead. He pushed himself faster as the rain came down in droves all around and over him. She would be soaked through to the bone by the time he managed to find her, and if illness hadn't latched onto her already, it surely would during the night. Brandon clenched his teeth together with a snap. Idiot girl. Foolish girl. Frightened, hurting, miserable, beautiful, wonderful girl. A dull ache settled into his pounding heart and he pushed on, though his legs smarted beneath him. Willoughby might have used his infamous little rescue mission to worm his way into Marianne's passionate heart, but the Colonel could not find it in himself to use this event to his advantage, however tempting it was. Marianne might've adored the idea of a hero sweeping in to her rescue, but he was not so shallow a man to say that he was only out here, catching his own death, for the sake of obtaining her affections. It was wholly unfair, a ghastly notion. The woman he so loved was out here somewhere, soaked through and chilled and miserable, and if he didn't find her, he wasn't sure if she might ever be found in time. He cared not if she rejected him one thousand times over after tonight. If she did, it meant she was alive and well, and that, though a meagre consolation, was more than enough.
Over the wet grass he flew. Mud splashed up in wild streams to stain his clothes and black boots, but he paid it no mind. He did, however, sorely regret failing to mount his horse instead of setting off on foot. There was little time now, though and he pushed himself onward. Marianne needed hi-There! As he broke through the trees and onto a wide, grassy hill overlooking what he could only imagine was Willoughby's towering stone mansion, a shape came into view at the edge of the hill. He quickened his pace and upon nearing the figure, realized with staggering relief that it was the shape of a woman, cold and absolutely wet with the rain, but alive from what he could tell.
"Marianne! Marianne!" he called desperately as he reached her side and fell to his knees next to her. She turned a white, weary face to him and blinked slowly with bloodshot eyes. Tremors wracked her small shoulders and Brandon immediately pulled her to him with both arms, propriety be damned. Her hands clenched his wet overcoat with trembling fingers and she heaved a shuddering, feathery sigh into his chest. The Colonel guessed she might've wept if she had any tears left to spare, but the cold and coming illness had robbed her of them and so she shook violently in his embrace. He carefully peered into her glassy eyes and stroked the golden hair had the rain had so thoughtlessly plastered to her fair face.
"Are you hurt, Marianne?" he asked worriedly, watching as she silently summoned her voice. When she did speak, her words were as wisps of unraveled thread and had he not leaned in close to hear her, they might've been lost in the storm.
"Everything a-aches," she moaned miserably in a whisper. Brandon held her close once more and rubbed slow circles over her back in an attempt to offer whatever warmth and consolation he could give. Marianne shuddered again in his arms and then turned her face longingly out to gaze upon the mansion once more. She shook her head sadly and her lower lip trembled, but no tears fell. "I-I just don't understand…"
"Nor do I, my dear," the Colonel offered sympathetically, thought he longed to strangle the bastard Willoughby with his own fists. "We must get you home now, Marianne. You need dry clothes." She nodded her understanding and Brandon carefully hoisted her into his arms, where she curled snugly into his chest. And so began the long journey back to the Palmers' home. Colonel Brandon moved as quickly as he was able, but his lovely burden slowed their progress, though he scarcely minded. Marianne clung to him like a lifeline, but she was silent, staring off over his shoulder in a way that unnerved him immensely. They had scarcely crossed the halfway point when a hoarse sob erupted from Marianne's throat and she wept brokenly into his overcoat. Brandon was taken aback, to say the least, and quickened his pace a little. His warm eyes stared down on her in concern, but she wept all the harder against him and he found that he felt utterly powerless.
"I-I'm so s-s-sorry," she cried weakly. Brandon carefully adjusted her weight in his embrace and pulled her close to rest her head beneath his chin.
"Hush now, my dear," he said gently as she continued to cry against him. "It's all right now. I have you, and we're going home. Hush…" She quieted after a few long moments, presumably from sheer exhaustion, and fell limp in his arms. Brandon was alarmed by her stillness, but downward glance told him she still breathed and therefore, hope was not at all lost. He still spoke to her in soft reassurances as they trekked slowly over the muddied ground, sweet words that promised health and safety, and oh how he wished he could give her both if she allowed it.
The muscles in his forearms burned as they approached the house at last, and Marianne was beginning to wake. She whimpered quietly against his chest and shivered. "Nearly there, Marianne," the Colonel reassured her gently, "Just a moment more and you'll be warm and dry again." He burst in the door with her cradled securely in his arms, and though he knew she would be well cared for by the others who had rushed to them in an instant, he was reluctant to release her to their waiting hands. A moment's decision left him gently settling Marianne upon the floor where she wavered about like a newborn chick who had been pushed from the nest far too soon. Mr. Palmer snatched her up firmly in his arms then and suddenly, the Colonel was alone. They had taken her down to the Palmer woman's quarters, and he was left behind to catch his breath and drip little puddles of rainwater onto the floor. Brandon settled into a nearby chair with a heavy, pained sigh and swiped a large hand down his wet face. Nothing to do now but wait and pray.