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Marianne found Brandon in a secluded corner of the garden.

It was obvious that Beth’s words had hurt him but he was doing his best to hide it.

“My love?” she called as she approached. “Beth and I are no longer at odds. I believe it’s safe to return to the house”

She hoped he’d find the humour in her speech but he did not.

“She does not trust me,” he said bitterly.

“No no” cried Marianne, “she loves you, she’s just in pain”

His senses snapped awake, “Pain? Now?”

“Dearest, Beth wants to know about her mother-“

“No” he replied. “She has heard everything”

“Everything you appear willing to tell,” said Marianne. “She confessed it to me, she knows nothing of her”

“She knows how wonderful she was, how she is the very image of her” replied Brandon.

“That is not enough” urged Marianne. “Those are not memories, they are not tangible”

“Then I do not understand what she needs” confessed Brandon.

“Stories Christopher, things she did and said, habits and things she adored to do” she cried. “Beth's mother is only a painting to her, you must use your words to bring her to life”

“And you think this will help Beth?” observed Brandon.

“More than you know” nodded Marianne. “More than she knows”

“Perhaps the knowledge will mature her, ease her wildness” he suggested.

“Perhaps, or it will heal that broken part of her that is her reason for rebelling” Marianne took his hands. “You love her and she loves you, so you must tell her about Eliza”

“I fear I would say too much” he confessed. “I do not know if I can say those words about her anymore”

“What are you afraid of?” she asked.

“That I still love her more than I think I do” he replied. “And that would be an injustice to you”

“I have made my peace with a tiny part of my heart always loving Willoughby,” said Marianne. “How can I condemn you for loving someone else just as much?”

Brandon leant and kissed her head. “You are life itself to me, Marianne. No one could ever take your place, but Eliza-“

“Was the love of your life for a time” finished Marianne. “As Willoughby was mine”

“Do you truly think Beth wants to know about her mother?” he asked again.

“I think it would do her a great amount of good” she replied.

-

Marianne closed the door to the library, letting Beth and Brandon speak alone.

Mrs Jennings and the nurse had been kept amused by little John who had become far more relaxed after his feed.

“Ah you have returned to us!” cried Mrs Jennings. “I was beginning to think that you had come to harm”

“Nothing of the kind” replied Marianne, searing herself beside her. “Beth had need of me”

“And her son has need of her” remarked Mrs Jennings. “I hope my Charlotte can help her”

“She is far to young to be a mother” reminded Marianne. “We mustn’t forget that”

“Oh it’s not her age!” cried Mrs Jennings. “I was married at sixteen myself and I had a child within a year. It’s her nature that needs taming, especially that temper”

“With age will come maturity” added Marianne.

“I hear the Colonel’s voice behind those words” chuckled Mrs Jennings. “He does dote on her”

“She is special to him” replied Marianne. “She is almost his daughter”

“If that pleases you,” said Mrs Jennings. “But I think the Colonel wants sons, you are bound to give him several”

“If I am blessed in that way” replied Marianne. “But if not, he has expressed a wish that I do not torment myself”

“A good man and a good heart” smiled Mrs Jennings. “You must guard him well my dear”

“I cannot see many women who would compete with me?” remarked Marianne. “Even I thought him too old six months ago”

“Now now, people have come to hear of his goodness and charms” smirked Mrs Jennings. “And his handsome face is not hard to miss”

“Are you implying I should be wary of my husband’s faithfulness Madam?” asked Marianne.

“My dear I meant no offence” cried, Mrs Jennings. “I’d never do yourself or the Colonel the dishonour”

Marianne smiled politely and rose to admire baby John. He’s such a sweet child isn’t he?”

Mrs Jennings allowed the conversation to be steered. “Yes he’s sure to be handsome”

“Yes” replied Marianne, running her finger of his soft dark tufts of hair. “But we hope with a better nature”

-

The rest of that day passed with ease, with all parties now at peace with each other it allowed bright conversation and such bouts of laughter such that Marianne had not experienced in months.

The Autumn weather was quite mild and filled with an energy and Brandon’s wish to see Edward, a walk to the Parsonage became very agreeable.

Beth decided to stay at Delaford, the walk presented no enjoyment for her so she prefered to stay in the warm.

Leaving her and little John in the very capable hands of Mrs Jennings, Marianne and Brandon set off.

Marianne had not seen his estate in Autumn, the vast expanse of trees painted yellow, brown and crimson. She ran ahead like a child, delightedly bouncing on the leaves.

Brandon did enter this fun, momentary kicking leaves to the sky with his boot.

As she was so enveloped in her amusement, she did not spot the protruding roots of a large oak tree that lay in her path. The soft leaves beneath her caught the weight of her fall and she wanted to laugh at her stupidity rather than at any injury.

She looked behind her to see if Brandon would find it as funny as she did but he had not kept up her pace and was still hidden behind some bushes.

However, the sound of hurried footsteps from another direction alerted her, soon a handsome face and gentle voice addressed her, “Are you well Miss?”

“Yes, thank you” she stammered, moving to stand up.

“Please let me help you, I saw you fall” the man urged, holding out his arm for support.

Marianne wavered but graciously accepted it, brushing the leaves off her overcoat as she tried to avoid looking at him.

“Are you walking alone Miss?” he asked.

“No” she replied, a little affronted at his boldness. “But I would not normally be asked of a stranger without suspicion”

The young man smiled, “Then let us not be strangers”

He removed his hat and bowed, “Thomas Morton, at your service”

“Mrs Marianne Brandon, at yours,” she replied.

“Brandon?” he asked, “I have heard that name in town”

“Yes my husband is well known in the area,” she replied.

“And everyone also speaks of his lovely wife, which might I say their praises do not do justice” he smiled.

Marianne oppressed the colour that rose in her cheeks. “I thank you, even if you are a little bold”

At this time Brandon turned the corner, alerted to the presence of this stranger. “Marianne Are you alright?”

She turned and looked relieved at the sound of his voice, “Yes, I stumbled a little”

“Fell actually” injected the man. “I hoped no damage had been done”

Brandon walked over and stood close to Marianne. “I thank you for your assistance Sir”

“Colonel Brandon isn't’ it,” the man asked, “I was just introducing myself to your wife. He lay his hand on his chest, “Thomas Morton”

Brandon bowed his head, “Pleasure Sir, how have you to come to end up on my lands if I may ask?”

“Forgive me” Thomas replied, going quite red. “I believed them to be public lands”

“No, you will find a gate several meters in that direction which marks the end of them” pointed Brandon.

“Then I must ask you to spare me the jail this once” replied Thomas. “I was trying to find my way to the tailors”

Marianne almost replied but Brandon was faster, “Follow the lane there for a half-mile, you’ll reach the town market and it is beside the church”

“Thank you” Thomas smiled. “I have only just arrived in Devonshire so my direction is not what it should be”

“Where are you staying?” inquired Marianne. “Somewhere in town?”

“Yes for day or so, then I return to my home at Combe Magnor, I imagine you know the house?” he replied.

“You must be mistaken” questioned Brandon. “A John Willoughby lives in that house when he resides in Devonshire”

“You do not know either” sighed Thomas. “It seems no one does but I! Willoughby has sold the property and now permanently resides in London”

“Thank God” cried Marianne, quickly hiding her joy. “He was not popular here”

“Yes I have heard he is well disliked, I hope I can lift the taint that hangs over that quite lovely old house” he smiled. “Some young ladies have suggested a ball?”

“That would be delightful,” said Marianne. “I do not recall one being held since I came to Devonshire”

“Well, as long as you can promise that yourselves will be in attendance I shall set a date” urged Thomas.

“Perhaps you would be so good as to join us for dinner first” replied Brandon. “I have learnt to become acquainted with someone before enjoying their company”

“Why I would be delighted, I know almost no one here, it would be some much-needed friendship,” said Thomas, “I will await your invitation”

He replaced his hat, “I will not delay your journey any longer, I wish you both a pleasant day”

Marianne smiled as he continued past them, noticing Brandon looking a little unsure.

“What a fine young gentlemen,” she remarked, once they were walking again. “He shall add such energy to public engagements”

“We all thought the same of another young man,” said Brandon.

“Not every young man who has a handsome face and countenance is a villain my love” replied Marianne.

“I have yet to be proven otherwise” he sighed. After a short pause, he added, “So you think him handsome?”

Marianne released a laugh, “Why yes, is that wrong? I hope you will not feel the need to ask me to seal my lips, should I meet a hundred such men”

“No” he smiled. “I am just curious”

“As long as your curiosity comes from a place of humour and not suspicion?” she remarked. “I should not be able to hold my temper if it is the latter”

“I would not seek to vex your temper for all the handsome faces of England” he chuckled.

“I give you leave to remark if you think a certain woman is handsome, and I shall do the same with men,” said Marianne. “That is fair”

“And what if I cannot observe a woman more beautiful than my own wife?” he replied.

“Well,” remarked Marianne, slightly enjoying his compliment. “Then you can say so”

Brandon smiled, “Very well, I give you leave to think Mr Morton handsome”

“As long as it is followed with ‘none is more handsome than you?’ she teased.

“Quite right” he replied.