Married life treated them well, most days spent on walks with the occasional afternoons apart, but the evenings concluded with the same routine, dinner, lovemaking, sleep.
Brandon had been concerned that his young wife would grow tired of his attempts to satisfy her, but she assured him, she had never felt better.
Though it had been only a matter of weeks Marianne had begun to understand her husband more by the day, and of course, he was learning more about her.
Every so often his soft expression would crack, especially each time he heard from Beth.
Receiving yet another letter from her he kept the subject far from Marianne. Until his mood had become so reflective she had no choice but to ask.
“Christopher, is Beth well?”
“Yes yes,” he replied. “She is- do not worry about her, my dear”
“But I feel I must” she urged. “I see how she affects you.”
“I worry for her” he replied. “But that does not mean you need to”
“Christopher, how can I be your wife and not share your burdens?” cried Marianne. “Please, these letters come almost daily, what is wrong with Beth?”
“Marianne, she is my ward and my burden alone,” he said, a sharpness to his tone. “Please do not interfere”
“I shall write to her myself if you shall not tell me” she proclaimed. “This secrecy is beneath you, I know the details of her seduction. I know Willoughby’s crimes concerning her!”
“Then why do wish to concern yourself with them?” he asked.
“Because” replied Marianne, moving to stand beside him. “I worry how it all concerns you.”
“I know you have not been sleeping, you go for walks late at night, you even have a drink sometimes” he added. “I wake up countless times to find you gone from me”
Brandon sighed deeply, of course, she knew his secrets.
“Please Christopher, what troubles you?”
Allowing her to perch on his armchair, he began. “A week ago, Beth had her baby. It happened with such speed that I could not be sent for”
“Oh,” she cried. “Are they both well?”
“Yes,” he replied. “There was, of course, an obvious concern for Beth as her body at fifteen is not suited for childbirth, but she and her son are both healthy”
“She had a son” repeated Marianne. “That would change some things I assume”
Brandon grunted, “Ever since she gave birth she writes to me, begging me to contact Willoughby, give him her location so he can come and see his son. Who she, for some unknown God forsaken reason, named the boy after his father”
“And you have not written?” she asked. “About little...John”
“No” replied Brandon. “I told Beth that I will continue to be a father to her and a grandfather to her son. I do seek to find her a match for marriage once she is older, but that will take a substantial dowry to convince any man”
“And Willoughby will never marry her, she does understand this?”
“You know first hand how convincing John Willoughby can be, he promised to return and marry her, she still believes him” pointed Brandon.
“The poor girl” whispered Marianne. “Would it help if she spent some time here with us?”
He cleared his throat, “No, I think it’s for the best she stays where she is”
“But surely you want to see her?” she remarked. “You obviously love her a great deal”
“Yes I do, it is not a question of my seeing her, but more so, her determination to never set her eyes on you”
Marianne was taken aback. “Me?”
“She harbours a hatred unceasing towards yourself, one that I cannot shake from her” he replied.
“Is it of my connection with Willoughby?” she asked nervously.
Brandon nodded, “She is convinced he only abandoned her to go to you, if not for you, she believes in her innocence that he would have married her”
“Beth thinks I stole Willoughby from her!” cried Marianne. “Christopher, forgive but what utter nonsense!”
“I have defended you my love” he urged, “Almost to the point of losing my temper with her, but she is so headstrong and stubborn, she will not be convinced”
“I imagine she disapproves of our marriage?” she guessed.
“Had it not been for her confinement I am sure she would have found another excuse to avoid the ceremony. She says I should have sought affections elsewhere”
Marianne held her tongue. Wanting nothing more than to be rude, she had to remind herself that he cared for Beth a great deal, though the young girl's words filled her with emotion she stayed silent.
Brandon kissed her hand, “You are holding your tongue for which I am grateful. In this matter at least we both must”
“Christopher, are you sure that Willoughby would not see the child?”
He shifted in his chair, “I made the mistake once, not again”
“I do not understand?”
“After Beth was found, and I discovered who the father of her unborn child was I allowed her to contact Willoughby. This was before Lady Allen had thrown him from her house. I dictated much of the letter, demanding that he make amends. His reply was nothing short of despicable, to such a degree that I never allowed her to see it. I made her believe he simply never responded”
“What did he say?” asked Marianne worriedly, “I thought his crimes had been revealed in their entirety?”
He rose and unlocked a wooden box atop his desk, fingering past several letters till he found it.
“Prepare yourself,” he said, handing her the note.
I am quite unsure as to your letter and its damning contents as I do not believe I have ever had the pleasure of conversing with you in person. Your opinion of me seems quite decided and I cannot find a reason for it.
If I may defend myself to your bold claim that the child in your belly is mine, that is a frank impossibility as I am sure to my own knowledge that we never shared a bed.
I have spent much of the past year in Devonshire and London, enjoying the delightful company on offer. Your claims that I spent a whole eight months at your side is puzzling as I find no recollection in my memory.
I must conclude that you have me mistaken for another, and I ask that any such communication between us ceases. I am a man of honour who does not take kindly to rumour or the publication of falsehoods.
Your bastard is most certainly not mine.
Signed, J. Willoughby.
Marianne felt sick. “Evil cruel man!” she exploded. “This is contemptible!!”
“You see now why perhaps I kept it from her” replied Brandon, taking the letter back. “I was so much afeared it may send her into early childbirth to read such words”
“And I imagine the 'delightful company' in the letter is me?” she observed.
“Yes,” he replied. “Though she only learnt of your connection to him through myself, for which I now see was wrong of me”
“You could not have known it” she urged. “None of us did. My heart breaks for her, I know what it is to love that man, how wonderful and awful he can choose to make you feel”
“Beth was not the first and I imagine not the last” remarked Brandon.
Marianne agreed, “He told me he spent several years of his youth in the continent, I am sure Beth is at the end of a long list of women and girls he’s used and tossed aside”
“His past has begun to catch up with him, we shall see how long Miss Grey chooses to amuse him,” he added.
“He needs the money,” said Marianne. “I think even now, if he came to me again, weeping and begging I would never accept him. I have been shown his true character”
She saw Brandon’s brow crease slightly, and she was quick to pacify his doubts. “Of course why ever would I accept him when I have such a wonderful husband already”