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Brandon spent some time amongst the crowds looking for Marianne.

He had become preoccupied in good conversation and was unaware of just how long she had been gone.

Worried that her health may be suffering and she has retreated to another part of the house, he asked various servants and the few guests that knew her, inquiring as to her whereabouts.

He spotted Morton, wishing farewell to the steady stream of guests who were leaving, and approached him. “You haven’t seen my Marianne tonight?”

“Not in the last hour Sir” replied Morton. “Though my sister appears to have vanished with her, perhaps they have found a quiet corner to talk?”

“Thank you” replied Brandon. “If I see Miss Morton I shall direct her back to you”

Morton nodded before addressing his guests.

Brandon spent a few moments in thought before hearing joyful laughter as if two young children were playing.

He followed the laughter and hushed whispers to the balcony, finding Marianne and Eliza in a state of excitement.

“Marianne?” called Brandon. “Dearest?”

Her eyes shot to his and she gave a huge smile, “Christopher, there you are!”

As he approached, the smell of alcohol was emanating from the pair. “Marianne, have you been drinking?”

“Only a little” she confessed, “Miss Morton has also”

Brandon looked down at the tray of almost empty glasses. “Rather to an excess?”

He observed that Miss Morton looked far better than Marianne, guessing that she had encouraged drinking. “I would have hoped Miss Morton that Marianne being your junior would have made you more sensitive to her limits”

Eliza stood up, “There is a pointed tone in your manner Colonel which I do not deserve”

Marianne had taken up another flute of drink, sipping away before wiping her mouth inelegantly. “Now please don’t fight, I’m quite well!”

Brandon did not wish to argue, more concerned about how long Marianne had been exposed to the cold. “My dear, you will catch a chill, I think we should return home”

“Oh no” cried Marianne, “don’t say that!”

“You look very cold Marianne” urged Brandon. “You are not in a fit state”

“Fit state!” exclaimed Marianne, almost slipping as she stood up. “I have never felt better”

Eliza found it hard not to smile at her young companion, but Brandon failed to see the humour. “I don’t see how this is funny Miss Morton?”

“You have a young wife Colonel, she must be allowed some fun now and again” replied Eliza.

“She is at liberty to do so” reminded Brandon. “But I would expect her not to be led astray by those who should be wiser”

Eliza scoffed, “I will not be lectured by you Sir, I shall return to my brother”

“Perhaps it’s best” replied Brandon.

Marianne was unable to pay any attention to the subject, simply waving happily at her friend. “Goodnight Miss Eliza! Write to me about Monday”

“Of course my dear Marianne” smiled Eliza, before slipping back into the ballroom.

Despite professing she was well, Brandon could see her shivering against the night air, throwing off his dinner jacket he draped it over her shoulders.

Protesting at first Marianne snuggled into the material, “Shall we dance now, I haven’t danced all evening!”

“To bed now I think my dear,” said Brandon, hoping to lead her to the carriage quietly through the gardens.

“Oh” smiled Marianne, a flirtatious gleam in her eyes. “That’s why you want to go home”

“Not quite” replied Brandon. “Though the thought delights me”

“Oh let’s go!” said Marianne suddenly. “But we must say goodbye to Morton first, I must confess I still quite dislike the man but it would be terribly rude of us to leave without a word”

Brandon sensed a presence behind them and turned to see Morton, a little embarrassed to have heard Marianne’s speech.

Marianne, of course, had forgotten her words, rushing towards him, rather boldly embracing him. “Oh Morton there you are”

“Yes Madam” he replied, trying to show Brandon that his hands were nowhere near his wife.

“Eliza told me there is to be a hunt on Monday, why ever did you not invite us?” she asked.

Morton coloured. “I was not aware the Colonel was a hunting man, neither would I expect you, Madam”

“Come, Marianne, let’s leave Morton to his guests” called Brandon.

Marianne pouted, “You see how mean he can be sometimes”

Morton didn’t know how to reply, a little murmur all he could summon.

She spoke very plainly, “I think it’s because I’ve not conceived yet”

Both men were incredibly startled and Brandon moved to retrieve her. “Morton you will forgive my wife, your sister helped her indulge a little too much”

“It appears so” replied Morton. “Will she require anything?”

“A good nights rest and to never hear of this again” replied Brandon.

“You are both more than welcome to join the hunt on Monday” urged Morton.

“We’d be delighted” cried Marianne, “how kind”

Brandon forced a polite nod, “Might I ask which way is quietest?”

“Down these steps then to the gates” replied Morton. “Your carriage is already waiting”

“Thank you” replied Brandon. “Come, my dear”

Marianne waved excitedly at Morton. “Til Monday dear Thomas, good night!”

Morton smiled nervously. “Til then Miss Marianne, Colonel”

-

Both Mrs Andrews and Mr Laine were waiting on the steps at Delaford. Knowing they were over an hour late returning, Brandon did his best to try and disguise Marianne’s true condition.

However as the carriage pulled into place, Marianne stuck her head out of the carriage window. “Mrs Andrews, oh what fun I’ve had!”

The two servants were taken aback. “Yes, Miss Marianne?”

Brandon dismounted his horse. “Unfortunately Mrs Brandon enjoyed herself too much tonight”

He practically carried her inside as Marianne kept spouting inconsistent details about the night events.

“Mr Laine, would you perhaps get a maid to prepare Marianne’s room? I expect she’ll sleep better without me”

“Certainly Sir” replied Laine, slipping into the house.

Brandon managed to get Marianne to drink some tea whilst the fire was stoked in her room, this seemed to send her into a sleepy state.

With the help of Mrs Andrews, Brandon got Marianne into bed, watching as she snuggled amongst the blankets.

“Thank you Mrs Andrews” sighed Brandon. “I wouldn’t have got her up the stairs without your assistance”

“Not with that shoulder of yours Sir” agreed Mrs Andrews. “But if it is not too bold of me, why did you allow her to enter into such a state!”

“I became distracted with good conversation” he confessed. “I did expect better of Miss Morton, who seems to have encouraged this excessive drinking”

“Those Morton’s are a bad influence, Sir,” said Mrs Andrews. “Not that I listen to servant gossip...but the tales are never good”

“Marianne has in this state invited us to the hunt being held at Combe Magnor this Monday, I’m inclined to get Sir John to join us” replied Brandon.

“Surely you can decline it” suggested Mrs Andrews.

“I’m rather inclined not to” he replied. “I would like Marianne to learn against drinking to an excess, perhaps a day of awkward conversation will cure her”

“I cannot say I agree with you” replied Mrs Andrews, brushing down her apron.

Brandon smiled. “I wonder, would you possibly be able to prepare a tonic for when Marianne wakes up this morning? I imagine she will need it”

“I can be persuaded,” said Mrs Andrews, “We should have everything I need”

“Thank you” replied Brandon, “I am sorry to trouble you”

“For the lady, Sir” smiled Mrs Andrews, “I will do all I can”

-

Marianne regretted the moment she opened her eyes. Groaning as she lifted her head she saw the fuzzy outline of Brandon.

“Good Morning beloved” he called.

Marianne hushed him, “Not so loud”

“Rise and shine my dear” he added, throwing open the curtains. “It’s a beautiful day!”

Retreating under the blankets she begged, “Close them, Christopher please!”

“Sunlight is best” he replied, lifting the covers away from her face.

“What’s the matter with me?” she said, “Everything hurts!”

“You do not remember?” he asked, perching on the bed.

“No, I remember going to the ball...Eliza gave me a drink...then nothing” she replied slowly.

“Not just one drink, you finished a tray,” said Brandon.

“I did not!” cried Marianne. “What an idea!”

“Yes you did, you returned here with me last night in quite a state,” he replied. "This is the result of your behaviour"

Marianne grimaced, “I did not embarrass myself did I?”

Brandon paused, “I must say, it shall be a long time before this town sees the polka performed atop a dining table again”

She looked horrified until she saw his face crack. “Oh, you wicked man! I was fit to die in this very spot!”

“But tell me, I did not say anything or act foolishly did I?”

“You did embrace a rather surprised Thomas Morton, adding a few too many ‘dears’ before you spoke, accused me of being mean on occasion and discussed our lack of children” listed Brandon, a humorous glint in his eyes.

Marianne’s eyes went wide. “I said all that, to Morton?”

“Yes”

Her head fell into her hands, “I shall never be able to set eyes on him again as long as I shall live”

“That may be a problem,” remarked Brandon.

“How so?” asked Marianne, an eye peeking through her fingers.

“You insisted upon our presence on their hunting party tomorrow,” said Brandon.

“Tell me that’s not true,” she cried.

“I tried to decline, but Morton felt obliged to ask us in person after you confessed knowledge of it” explained Brandon. “Besides, I have not shot in a few years, and you can reacquaint yourself with Miss Morton, and perhaps reevaluate your friendship?”