Marianne lay awake, her mind still deeply troubled.
Thoughts of Willoughby spun round and round, his every word and action replaying itself.
Her own actions were subject to her scrutiny.
She felt as if she had grown so much since the previous spring, a season of joy brought to an end, then love's rebirth after such a hard winter.
Willoughby was the man of her girlish dreams, flying to her side with flowers in his hands and promises in his words.
Now Brandon made her doubt herself, her desires and her dreams. They shared much in taste, if not in temperament. But his stillness and compassion she had come to rely on.
She did not need loud and passionate declarations if they were nothing but hollow words. Deeds and actions she decided weighed far more in value. Words, of course, are a cheap and dispensable commodity.
Rather than laugh in the face of rumour, Brandon had faced it, come to her defence. Quite different to Willoughby who saw it as an advantage. 'The more people that speak of you the better', he once told her. 'One day your name will end up in the right person's mouth, then you wait and see!'.
'If we could only go to London together Marianne', he'd say again and again. 'How glorious to escape to that world and leave this all behind'
She was not a vain creature. She knew that she was beautiful but he sought to use that to an advantage.
'You would thrive amongst my kind' he'd say. 'Young men and women with their own thoughts and not a care for actions. That is true freedom I think'
Little did she know at the time what he meant.
But Marianne did not desire to be known. If she could venture to London but once a year and taste of that society she would be content. She did not need to be spoken of, admired by scores of men and idolised by women. She wanted to be loved and cherish by one man, have a close circle of friends and never taste of rumour or scandal.
Now through the thoughtlessness of her own heart and the contemptable nature of Willoughby, she was almost robbed of it all.
That is of course until she opened her eyes and at last, saw the shining figure that had been at her side since the moment they arrived in Devonshire.
Marianne remembered the first afternoon in Brandon's company, a quiet but well-spoken man, handsome for his age and good-tempered. Of course her motives at first being that a decent and intelligent conversation could be held with him, without the offset of laughter or jokes.
Then after hearing Mrs Jennings remarks, she had tried to keep her conversation with him to a minimum. She was not going to be matched so easily, and at the time Brandon seemed too old, too rational and hard.
It seemingly took heartbreak and illness to finally reveal his nature to her. Blinded by broken promises it was almost wrong to suddenly gain feelings for him.
But they grew, faster than she anticipated. Each day she grew stronger in his company, each day loving him a little more.
It was almost beyond belief that his love for her had stood the test of time, let alone still desire her to be his wife after her scandal.
He had promised her so much happiness she was sure to receive it, but would he truly find happiness with her?
Would her temperament suddenly become too great? Her passion for music and dance outrival his own?
Even perhaps a wish for children? Marianne had always wanted to be a mother but had Brandon any desire to be a father?. Would she be blamed by him if she became great with child?
Now with the contents of this rumour that still largely remained unknown to her, she was unsure what tomorrow would bring. Willoughby could have claimed anything and it would be her word against his.
This night Brandon had to simply bring her home, he could not stay longer, the sun was already setting.
There was a look about him than worried Marianne and even when she voiced her concerns to Elinor, her sister spoke to her in the greatest assurance, that she had heard from the Colonel's own lips that this rumour would affect nothing in regards to their engagement.
Marianne tried her best to believe her, Brandon is a good man, but is he good to a fault?.
Brandon arrived the next morning, he had also spent much of the night awake and suffering.
To hear those harsh words spoken about Marianne angered him. She should never have been subject to a scandal such as this.
It had pained him to reiterate the rumour once again but Marianne insisted.
Before he would do so he asked Elinor for some tea.
“Perhaps you would be good enough to send in a small glass of brandy as well?” he added.
“Oh Colonel” she replied. “We cannot even afford a small bottle”
“Then I must assist,” he said, pulling a small flask from his overcoat. “For certain situations you understand”
He handed it to Marianne who looked puzzled. “I do not want this”
“You will” he replied.
Before Elinor left he whispered. “I believe you would deliver this message to your mother far better than I ever could. I know Marianne’s temper but I could not begin to gage anyone else's. Please lead her away from the door and tell her with your own discretion.”
Ellenor agreed at urged her Mother away, along with a curious Margaret. She understood Brandon’s wishes.
As the door to the parlour closed Marianne begged, “Why were those women so cruel to me? I do not understand I was to have everyone’s sympathy I thought, not their hatred?”
“No one hates you dearest” replied Brandon. “But people have been subjected to a report”
“A report?” she cried.
“With mine and your own absence from town, especially with your recovery these last months. A rumour, a falsehood has been allowed to fester and travel from London” he began. “The rumour surrounds a claim from none other than John Willoughby”
Marianne grew pale. “What is the rumour?”
Brandon shifted from his chair. “I wish I had means to use delicate words Marianne, but a vulgar rumour such as this cannot be disguised”
“Tell me” she pleaded.
“Willoughby has been making claims about your so-called engagement,” he said slowly. “He claims an intimate relationship was formed and from that supposed union-
“Union?” cried Marianne. “What does he mean?”
Brandon sighed deeply, hating himself for the destruction in the words. “The wretch claims that be bedded you during his stay in Devonshire and your eagerness to marry me must come from the event of you being with child”
Marianne’s green eyes grew wide and teary.
Her breathing grew erratic and she swiftly moved the flask to her lips, taking more than she was used to.
She recoiled at the taste before finally breaking into sobs.
Brandon was at her side in moments, cradling her in his arms.
“Why would he say such things?” she wept. “I have shown him not one ounce of cruelty. Yes, I’m angry with him but I’d not cause such ruin to his name. He’s done it all himself”
“John Willoughby is the worst of men” replied Brandon. “I cannot deny that anymore”
“Christopher” she cried suddenly, “You do not believe him do you?”
He cursed himself for the fear in her eyes, “Would I be by your side if I believed one word?”
“But your own reputation” she breathed. “It will be ruined by me!”
“Oh!” she sobbed, “You won’t want to marry me now!”
“Marianne” soothed Brandon. “Nothing but death itself will stop me from marrying you”
She tried to smile, feeling so safe as he took out his handkerchief and wiped the tears from her face.
“All I ask,” he said softly. “Did anything yourself and Willoughby spend time together that he could twist into such a report?”
She tried to clear her thoughts but the rumour was swirling so she could not think. “Only...well surely not...he wouldn’t”
“What is it?” asked Brandon.
“The day of the Delaford picnic when you had to leave us,” said Marianne slowly. “Willoughby asked if on our return if I would like to see his home, Combe Magnor”
“And you agreed?”
“Nothing happened Christopher,” she urged. “He gave me a tour of the gardens and I saw the library. Then he returned me to the cottage, I was there for all of half an hour”
“But you can understand how that could be twisted” replied Brandon.
“Oh God” cried, Marianne. “No there’s more. I remember now!”
“He said the view from his upper windows were much finer than those below. I went to the upstairs landing with him before we left”
“Servants witnessed you going upstairs with him” concluded Brandon.
At this realisation, her state grew so distressed that Brandon was afraid she would do herself harm.
“My dearest” he pleaded, “Please try to calm yourself”
“You do believe he’s lying don’t you!” she begged. “I would never-marriage is the place for such things-I’d never-”
“Marianne,” said Brandon seriously. “You do not need to explain yourself to me”
“But if the event had taken place, you-you could not marry me. A rumour would be enough to send most men away!” she whimpered.
“You believe my love for you is so easily open to compromise?” he muttered.
Marianne released a breath. “My lost virtue would not be a compromise. You would grow to hate me!”
“Marianne” began Brandon. “I once thought you lost to me forever. I saw how happy you were with Willoughby and I was determined to crush my feelings and be joyful for you. I examined Willoughby, and saw in him something I hadn’t witnessed before, a seeming genuine affection for someone other than his own person”
“When he abandoned you, just as he did with my Beth I confess I was filled with sorrow. I had spoken to your sister and wished you happiness. But when the news reached me of your separation I desired to be useful to you, knowing full well you could never love me in return. If I were to you a friend, confidante or protector that would suffice”
“In these past months when you seemed to return my affections, I dared to hope as I have never hoped before. Your sudden illness nearly sent me mad and once you had recovered I was determined to fight for your love. I confess I did not fight as much as I should have done for dear Eliza. I could not lose another woman whom I cherished”
“Could you believe in your heart that someone could love you unconditionally Marianne? Do not ask me to love you any less, because I cannot”
This speech had turned her tears of fear to ones of sheer happiness.
“Christopher” smiled Marianne, cupping his face with her hand. “You are truly the best of men. I can only strive to deserve you”
He bent and kissed her hands, “You deserve only happiness, Marianne. I will strive to give you a life of it”
Marianne spent much of the next week recovering.
Her spirits were dampened by the rumour, even with Brandon's continuous assurance.
The idea of going to town frightened her, even the prospect of attending church was too much to bear.
After the rest of the family had returned from church, she overheard Elinor and Edward speaking.
Brandon had also joined them, paying daily visits to his dear Marianne.
He observed her gaze and followed it, "Are you certain that you should be listening?"
"She is my sister" replied Marianne, "And Edward sounds upset"
As if on cue, the pair appeared in the parlour, both seemingly shocked.
"Elinor," asked Marianne, "Whatever is the matter?"
Brandon felt intrusive, "I shall leave you to discuss"
"Sit down Colonel" urged Edward, "This concerns us all"
Mrs Dashwood and Margaret were busy with Mrs Jennings, so this tale would have to be broken again.
"I am sure you know that I recently returned to London to visit Fanny, but also my Mother" began Edward, sitting on the edge of the seat.
"And?" urged Marianne.
Brandon gently placed his hand on hers and his eyes seemed to cause silence.
Edward opened his mouth to speak but no words could be formed, he looked to Elinor for relief which she provided.
Elinor sat down beside him, "Edward's mother took the news of our engagement as well as we expected she would. She does not wish to ever set eyes on either of us. She will refuse to acknowledge the marriage and any children borne from the union. Her son Edward is dead to her, she has one son now"
Marianne's jaw dropped, "Surely not!"
Edward forced a smile, "It is hard to believe that I am related to her is it not?"
"I am deeply saddened for you both," said Brandon, "Please do not hesitate if any assistance can be had on my part"
Edward and Elinor met eyes, almost as if they were to speak the same sentiment.
"Colonel" sighed Edward. "You heard my name mentioned but six months ago and you have given me a living and the ability to marry the women I love. I am forever indebted to you, I cannot begin to ask anything more of you"
Brandon shook his head, "You are a good man Edward, those are few and far between. I despise seeing the underserving happy whilst the good suffer. You shall not know hardships whilst I am living, either of you, that I can assure"
"Your generosity knows no bounds" smiled Elinor. "I can only assure you that Edward and I will forever be at your service, in whatever capacity you choose"