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“I am afraid Marianne has gone to town Colonel” explained Mrs Dashwood.

His unexpected arrival brought a little more chaos to her afternoon than she would have hoped.

“She is there alone?” questioned Brandon.

“Oh no, she has accompanied Thomas. I had a complaint about the vegetables he was sold and asked him to retrieve others, as we are in no position to throw away money” explained Mrs Dashwood.

“You are welcome to wait till they return” she suggested. “Can I fetch you some tea?”

“That is most kind Madam but I am afraid I have an urgent need to see Marianne, the town may not have been the wisest place to send her” explained Brandon, already retreating to his horse.

“Why ever not!” cried Mrs Dashwood. “Is there danger for her there Colonel? Are highwaymen in the town!”

Seeing that is tone had shaken the lady he could not leave without consolation.

“Perhaps Miss Dashwood is here?” he asked.

“Elinor” called Mrs Dashwood. “Please come quickly”

Already aware of the Colonel’s presence she hurried to the doorway.

“A moment, I beg you,” asked Brandon.

“Of-of course” stammered Elinor, unsure of the reason.

Returning to his horse she joined him and listened to his reasons.

“A vulgar rumour has spread from London concerning Marianne,” he said in a hushed tone. “I imagine I do not need to tell you from whom it originated”

Elinor was troubled. “What rumour?”

“A rumour of your sister’s honour” replied Brandon. “Her virtue has been placed under suspicion”

“Good God,” said Elinor, barely able to speak.

“I only heard this rumour this afternoon from a friend who was concerned for my prospects in marrying Marianne” added Brandon.

Seeing Elinor’s face fall he was swift in his assurance. “Miss Dashwood, you may rest easy. My love for your sister is not so easily shaken”

“Oh Colonel” she replied. “I would never have sent her to town alone if I’d have known”

“Miss Dashwood, permit me to retrieve her,” he asked. “I did not see her as I was leaving town or on my journey here. Where would she go with your servant?”

“They- they had to make a stop at the farm first” explained Elinor hurriedly. She pointed to a small dirt track leading away from the main road. “They would have entered the town through a different way, that is why you did not see her”

“Thank you, I shall return her to you very soon,” said Brandon, bowing his head before urging his horse onwards.

-

“I think I shall look in the bookshop Thomas” called Marianne, as they approached the market.

“Very good Miss” smiled Thomas. “I will return in a short while”

With a smile, Marianne left him and hurried across the busy street.

As she entered the bookshop a gaggle of young women caught sight of her and she heard amongst the whispers two words, ‘Dashwood’ and ‘Willoughby’

She turned upon hearing this and the girls broke into laughter and walked away, almost turning their noses up at her.

Confused more than offended, Marianne entered the bookshop, calling a greeting to the owner who always treated her kindly. “Good afternoon Mr Allen”

The old man gave a simple nod but made no effort to converse.

With a little huff, Marianne began to wander. She was hoping to find something to give to Christopher, who after all had showered her with music and the pianoforte.

Though her mind was fixed upon him, Marianne could not help looking for her own books. Almost without trying, she found her favourite genre and began to gaze at the titles and first few pages.

Lost in her own little world she did not hear the first snide remark from two women behind her.

“I do not know how the little harlot can show her face” one said, not trying to be subtle. “She nearly ruined poor John Willoughby’s chances”

Hearing his name, she perked up, turning her head to hear the other one sneer, “Did you hear of how she acted in London? Practically threw herself at him in front of a host of strangers and in mixed company. I am shocked she did not die of embarrassment, but alas, she seems to have no shame”

Meeting their eyes, her cheeks coloured. “Are you speaking of me, Ma’am?”

“Yes, I am” the woman remarked. “I think you are a disgrace to your mother!”

“I beg your pardon!” cried Marianne.

“They way you acted with John Willoughby is unforgivable, have you no sense of honour?” the woman spat. “And now it seems you are trying to ruin the reputation of another fine man. Whatever little web you have spun shall not convince Colonel Brandon to be near you for long”

“I do not know of what you mean Madame!” exclaimed Marianne. “I have ensnared no one”

“With the damning report of your behaviour with Willoughby, you won’t find a man in England who will marry you. A girl with such taint as yours will never find her place in respectable company ever again” the woman cried.

Marianne was not used to such harsh words from strangers, her eyes welling with hot angry tears she went to flee from them but was stopped by the unexpected arrival of Brandon with Thomas.

Brandon immediately sensed what had just occurred.

The women were not being quiet in their onslaught, half the shop had heard the accusations.

Himself and Thomas had only heard the tail end of the remarks, and Marianne stood crying and shaking before him.

Seeing him there, she could not keep standards. She threw her arms around him and clung to the material of his coat.

“My dearest” he hushed, “Come away”

“Colonel Brandon” scolded one of the women. “How can you treat that little harlot with such attentiveness. So many others would be more fitting to a man such as yourself”

“Mrs Ashford” warned Brandon, with a tone Marianne had never heard. “I would advise you to keep such unclean and foul words to yourself. My fiance should not be subject to such remarks”

“Your fiance” cried the other woman. “Oh Colonel surely not!”

“You would believe the sordid rumours of a notorious libertine than the faithful account of myself and this fine young woman?” retorted Brandon. “Madame you must consult your own morals before you dare to insult Miss Dashwood’s”

The two women scoffed. “I am sure you will regret your choice Colonel”

“I am sure you will learn to regret your words. For from this day forward, I will no longer do business with either of your husbands” replied Brandon smoothly. “When I remove my account from them I will leave the explanation to yourselves”

The women changed colour, the brightness of their cheeks vanished.

“Good afternoon” finished Brandon, turning with Marianne on his arm.

Thomas did not bow his head to ladies, instead, calling out to the small crowd that had gathered.

“There! Let it be known that Colonel Brandon defended Miss Dashwood’s honour here, so don’t you be listening to any reports you hear unless they come from him!”

Outside Marianne was still shaking, partly with fear and with anger.

“I promised your sister I would bring you home” whispered Brandon. “Please allow me to accompany you”

Unable to speak, Marianne simply nodded her head and allowed herself to be lifted onto his horse.

Thomas followed with his basket and three of them headed for the cottage.

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