Actions

Work Header

Sense and Insanity

Chapter Text

everyone can master a grief but he that has it.” – Much Ado About Nothing


Marianne smiled at Colonel Brandon as they walked out of the church. She was glad that she had accepted his offer and eternally grateful that he had made her such an offer. She was even more grateful to know it hadn't been a proposal made with the intention of saving the scraps of her ruined reputation. No, the Colonel had made his offer because he thought only of her with regard and high esteem. She doubted if Julia and Hippolitus could ever be this happy. She had to be fair, the feelings she felt for her husband were not esteemed enough to be called love, and doing so would dramatize and exaggerate the nature of the feeling she felt, but it was something more than a mere platonic friendship.
Although she had felt urged to accept his offer as her mother and sister thought so highly of Colonel Brandon, she had accepted him not only to please the women in her life, she had accepted his offer because she would have a secure future if she did. With a man who loved her dearly. Perhaps it had never been her fate to love more greatly than anyone else, but to be loved more fiercely than anyone could ever dream of. At first Marianne had been blind to the Colonel's growing affection, but once Willoughby had disappeared out of her life, hopefully for all eternity and beyond, and Marianne started paying attention to what Mrs. Jennings and Sir John were saying, she realized that a great love had already entered her life, many months ago, albeit unknown to her. Although she didn't feel love for the Colonel, she esteemed him, the thought seemed laughable and ironic to her as she had scolded her sister Elinor all those months ago for feeling so underwhelmingly little for her now husband. Marianne was certain that she would grow to love the Colonel one day. Perhaps not as fiercely as she had loved Willoughby, the rascal, but she deemed it impossible for such a grandeur of love to ever touch her again.
The Colonel smiled at her and helped Marianne enter the carriage. He opened the purse and threw gold coins at the spectators and guests. Though the two of them had wanted it to be a small secluded affair, Mrs. Jennings wouldn't hear of it, and had, without asking permission, invited most of Barton. They sat down and Marianne waved at her sisters and her crying mother. Mrs. Dashwood blew her nose quite obscenely and then looked up at her wedded daughter, with snot running down her chin and tears dribbling down her cheeks. She pulled Margaret into her bosom and wept bitterly over her loss.
Colonel Brandon urged the coachman to start driving and Marianne turned around and waved at the guests, then turned around to face her newly acquired husband. Colonel Brandon smiled widely at her and placed an arm around her shoulders. He ordered the coachman to pick up his pace and they rode to Delaford, Marianne’s new home.
Once they had finally arrived there, Colonel Brandon was the first to exit the carriage and he held out his hand to aid Marianne’s descent. Marianne noticed that he was rather silent. Marianne knew Colonel Brandon had always been a man of few words, but this silence seemed unnatural to her. ‘Colonel Brandon, is something amiss?’ Marianne wondered if he had began to have doubts, there was after all her reputation that had certainly already tarnished his own good name. Silently he offered her his arm and led them inside. Marianne was not a complete stranger to the estate as the Colonel had helped her with her studies by gracefully extending her visiting privileges of his extensive library whenever she had felt the need to do so in the past few months, even before he had made his offer. ‘My dear, I do wish you would refrain from calling me “Colonel Brandon”, we are husband and wife, please call me by my Christian name, “Christopher”. You do not want me to keep referring to you as “Miss Marianne”?’ ‘Certainly not, sir. I repeat my statement, is something the matter?’ He stayed silent and Marianne pulled away from him. A fear overcame her and she had difficulty containing the unsettled noise that rose in her throat. She had ruined things already and the thing that was worse, was that she had no notion of what it was she had done to displease him! ‘Sir! Is it something I did? Tell me, I will try my hardest to set things to right! Please enlighten me of my misdoings!’ Colonel Brandon turned to her and a smile settled on his mouth. ‘It was nothing that you did, how could it be, when you have made me the happiest man on this earth?’ ‘Then tell me what plagues you, by the cause of your silence!’ He watched his wife in silence and wondered what indeed was the matter. The bout of depression had overcome him suddenly and had lowered his spirits greatly.
She was his wife. He was hers. Christopher was not blind to the reasons why she had married him. He didn’t mind much but there was a small part of him that did. He could understand why she had felt the need to accept his proposal, security of income and lodgings and protection from the prying eyes of men. By his marrying her, she had managed to salvage the scraps of her tarnished reputation and Christopher’s name was held by most in such great esteem that their union had barely harmed his own good reputation. It had been nearly three years since he had seen her for the first time and had fallen in love at once. He had served her family for most of that time with the utmost pleasure; finding joy in his wife’s mother, companionship in his sister-in-law and a younger sister he had always wished to have had when younger, in the youngest Dashwood family member. Simply put, Colonel Brandon was overjoyed with their union and yet the sadness had settled on his shoulders as she had accepted him in front of the clergy. Perhaps it was the knowledge that she was permanently bound to him, an old man who had seen better days and her in the prime of her youth, not yet twenty and already chained for the remainder of her life, and she would never be able to experience anything as an unattached woman. She would forever have to be by his side, something he did not mind but knew that she might be opposed to. There were after all things a married woman could not do. ‘Colonel- Christopher?’ He was pulled from his reverie and saw the colour rise high in Marianne’s cheeks. Worry had creased her brow and she had pulled her generous bottom lip between her teeth. ‘Are you positive that it was not me, to cause you such despair?’ Marianne watched his expression meticulously, hoping for a sign that would give his feelings away, but he remained looking passive. Her stomach tied itself in knots and a fierce frustration overcame her. How could his melancholy have been caused by her hand? She had married him! She had been referred to as “his reward” by those most close to her, and perhaps even by himself, she had done nothing wrong, except finally reward him! She flushed with anger and frustration and took a step back. She needed a moment of peace and quiet to herself. Oh but she couldn’t! He was behaving most strangely and it appeared to be her fault! Marianne couldn’t stand for this, no matter the voice in the back of her mind telling her that she needed to suppress her feelings and keep him satisfied. If she was his reward and he was not pleased with that he would learn that she was no reward, certainly not his. This had never been the case but Marianne felt that this was especially not the case in this precise moment.
‘I do not know what offense I have caused you, sir, but if you are already offended, it will matter little if I think this a most opportune moment to make myself scarce for the time being! We will talk when your spirits have lifted or mine have lowered!’ She stepped past him, and out of the hall. She greeted the staff politely and stepped out into the large gardens Delaford possessed.
Marianne was furious and she couldn’t believe the nerve of her husband. He had wanted her for months, if the rumours were actually true and not false in hindsight, and here she was, his to have and the man could barely look her in the eye! Had his feelings lessened and settled now that the hunt was finally over? Marianne walked over to the nearest tree in sight and with little care sunk down in the grass. It was dry out, which was uncommon, and she would not stain her dress with mud stains. With a growl she pulled her headdress off her head and growled softly when she pulled a few hairs out. She wouldn’t cry, he didn’t deserve her tears. It could most certainly not be her doing as she had done everything he had ever desired of her. Well, except for relations but it was not yet time for such matters. Marianne scoffed. He would certainly not be welcomed into the marriage bed tonight or tomorrow, with his cross and strange behaviour. If he wanted her, he would have to use force and Marianne knew that he would never do such a thing. Even though she had promised and sworn that she wouldn’t cry, she shed a few miserable tears and wondered how things could have taken a turn for the wrong so quickly. She wiped at her damp cheeks and exhaled slowly. The sun was already setting in the sky and clouds had gathered. It would rain soon, there was no doubt about it, but it was not raining yet and Marianne had grown stiff from sitting motionless underneath the tree for such a long time and wanted to exercise her legs. Some fresh air would do her well.
She rose slowly for her joints were stiff and ached, and walked around the estate. The sky burst open and rain poured down on her. She cursed when she saw that she was nowhere near close to the entrance of her new home. She hastened her pace but it came pouring down so violently that she could barely see her surroundings.
Colonel Brandon had been feeling sorry for himself ever since his wife had left the house. He sat in his sitting room and watched her from a distance. He felt no harm in keeping an eye on her, just to secure that she was safe and comfortable. He took a deep breath and tried to read for a little while to settle himself down. She had been right, he was behaving ridiculously, and played a few notes on his pianoforte but nothing seemed to lift his spirits. He went back to the window and looked up. It was quite dark out for the time of day and from the look of it, it would start to rain soon. Marianne was still out there, because his staff had not yet made her presence known to him. Colonel Brandon looked to the tree where she had sat for several hours, in animated contemplation, but was surprised to see her. Or rather, to not see her. She had disappeared! Her being out there when it was bound to rain soon, made him worry. He had not forgotten her recent illness which had almost cost her life, and in turn, his. He pulled on his coat and ordered a horse to be readied. He lit a lantern and saddled the horse. He would not have Marianne catch another cold or fall ill, not if he could help it. Now that he was her husband, he could, although he did not like to take such liberties and went out to look for her.
Marianne was soaked to the bone. Her teeth chattered and she was forced to stand still when she tripped. Her dress was now soiled past the point of salvation. Marianne pushed herself up and continued. She only needed to walk beyond this side of the house and she would be at the front of the house. A shout nearby made Marianne turn around. She saw no-one and turned back around. She continued her pace but stopped when she heard the shout again. It was a name, her name. She turned back around, in the direction of which the voice had come but couldn’t see anything. Except for a light which rapidly grew bigger. She could hear the hooves of a galloping horse and waited for the rider to reach her. For the briefest of moments she thought it was Willoughby who had made up his mind and had come for her. She discarded that thought immediately, after all he had done and all she had discovered about him, she wouldn’t take him back, even if he was the last man on the planet. The horse was brought to a halt and only very nearly avoided running her over. ‘Marianne!’ It was Colonel Brandon and she didn’t know why she was surprised. These were his grounds after all. Who else would it be?
‘I have been looking for you for the past ten minutes.’ He didn’t wait for her response, he descended and handed her the lantern, then put his arms around her waist and sat her down in the saddle. He swung himself up and took the reins. He clicked with his tongue and they rode to the stables. He helped her down and ordered the stable boy to attend to his horse. He blew out the lantern and stepped inside, lifting Marianne up and carrying her over the threshold. Marianne scoffed but the Colonel didn’t hear her. He truly thought Marianne would forgive him so easily? Marianne couldn’t believe this man. He turned out to be so different than everyone’s character descriptions of him. ‘You can put me down, thank you. I am perfectly capable of walking.’ Colonel Brandon didn’t hear her and carried her through the house, into the sitting room where a fire was burning steadily and he put her down in the chair closest to the fire. He put a wool blanket around her shoulders and started pacing the room. He turned to her and threw his hands up. He made a noise low in his throat and huffed a breath. ‘How can you be this obtuse? Have you truly learnt nothing from your previous experiences?’ Marianne couldn’t believe it. He was angry with her! He, who had no right to be. Marianne had never been very good at keeping her feelings to herself, even when she was displeased, and rose from the chair. She discarded the wool blanket. Her movements caught Colonel Brandon’s attention and he gaped at her. ‘What do you think you are doing? Get back into that chair, immediately!’ ‘I will not stand to be yelled at. Especially when I have done no wrong and harmed not a single soul.’ Her words were clipped and curt. The day had started off so well and she had been so happy and now she had difficulty suppressing the bile which had risen in her throat at his behaviour. She was most disappointed with him. He had seemed so perfect and even-tempered but it turned out that his temper was fickle and prone to angry fancies. ‘You have harmed me.’ Colonel Brandon lifted his hand and Marianne stepped back and laughed a little hysterically. ‘Go ahead, strike me. It is after all, a husband’s duty to keep his wife in line, is it not?’ ‘What?’ Colonel Brandon stared at her and then followed her gaze to his hand. ‘I was not going to strike you! I would never strike you.’ He reached his hand up and pulled on a cord that Marianne had failed to see in the heat of the moment.
She flushed a little but wouldn’t admit her misjudgement, after all, the man had been behaving most oddly today! ‘I was going to call a servant in here and have him prepare us supper. You must get out of those wet clothes, miss Marianne.’ Miss Marianne? Fie! Were they to be strangers? ‘Marianne. If I am to call you by your Christian name, you will address me with mine.’ The slightest of smiles pulled at the corners of the Colonel’s mouth, but he refrained from smiling at her fully. She was cross with him. She had every right to be, although the Colonel couldn’t believe that she had ventured into the gardens while it rained. He couldn’t live with himself if she fell ill again.
‘Marianne, please, tend to yourself and dress for dinner.’ Colonel Brandon looked at the ruined wedding dress a little wistfully and hoped that it could be salvaged somehow. She looked so pristine and beautiful in it that he hoped that a tailor would be able to make some alterations and turn it into a day dress. ‘Have I told you yet, my love, that you look radiant?’ Her response was to scoff at him. ‘Do you truly think me so doltish? Flattering utterances shall not make me comply, Colonel Brandon.’ She walked past him and he stopped her by a single utterance of her name. ‘Where do you think you are going, Marianne?’ She lifted the hem of her dress and opened the door. ‘I am going to change my dress, not because you told me to, but because of my own desire to change. I am going to that in the privacy of a bedroom, unless you would want me to undress here, in front of every member of the staff to see and witness!’ She huffed in annoyance when her curls fell in her eyes and she pushed them angrily behind her ears. The Colonel’s heart warmed even though she was nothing but cold towards him, it warmed to her nonetheless, as it always did.
Marianne excused herself to the member of staff that stood behind the doors and she crossed the entrance hall to the flight of stairs on her left. She ascended the stairs and stopped at the top. Marianne had no idea where the bedchamber was and she wondered if she wanted to sacrifice her dignity by going back down and asking the Colonel for assistance. She decided not to, in case she would get more upset and fling something at his head. The fancy to do so was most difficult to suppress at the moment as it was, and she didn’t want to do something so incredibly rash that he would divorce her. Her family’s name would never recover from it, nor would she and Marianne didn’t wish to bring lower Margaret’s marriage prospects more than she had already done. Marianne opened the first door she passed and closed it immediately. A study. The next two doors revealed a guest room and dressing room. The bed was freshly made and Marianne didn’t open other doors, having found what she was looking for. Marianne entered the dressing room and was surprised to find most of her belongings there. She was grateful that the Colonel had set up a room for her. This discovery worked in his favour and Marianne’s anger dissipated a little. She undressed and put on an easy white frock, one she had worn often. She tried to maintain some part of the intricate hairdo she had started the day with, but it was no use. She decided to forego any efforts to her person and tried to dry herself off as well as she could. Once Marianne had finally calmed down enough to know that she wouldn’t fling any cutlery in her husband’s direction, she descended the stairs and went back to the sitting room. Her husband rose and bowed in her direction. Marianne didn’t acknowledge his presence and sat down far away from him.
Colonel Brandon knew he had to make amends and he would, but for now he needed Marianne warm, dry and he needed her to eat. He rose and gestured in the direction of his chair. Marianne looked up, apparently lost deep in thought and followed his hands. ‘Oh I could not, I would be taking your seat.’ ‘Marianne, it is nearest to the hearth. Please, sit down.’ Marianne seemed conflicted and it became apparent to Christopher that she would not take the offered seat, he sat down on the floor, although his old knee injury protested at the strange position. Marianne sighed deeply and sat down in his chair. Christopher pulled himself up by the support of the chair’s arm and sat down across from Marianne. He reached over and handed Marianne a glass of wine. He took his own and drank deeply from it. Marianne watched him, disdain clear in her eyes. Colonel Brandon put his glass down on the table and tried not to fidget under her unrelenting gaze.
‘I apologize, my darling, for my behaviour.’ Her gaze softened but her brow was still set and her jaw was still clenched. Even infuriated, she looked beautiful. ‘I do not know what overcame me, but my fit of melancholic feelings has faded. I feel quite well.’ She opened her mouth to say something but Christopher cut in. ‘The cause of it was only my doing. I saw you standing next to me and accepting to tie yourself to me, and I started to think how you would forever be held down by a man like me.’ The confession seemed to stoke the fire in Marianne’s eyes.
‘You are not a burden to me, sir, how could you be? It is I who is a burden to you. I will not stand for such self-pitying from your side.’ Christopher couldn’t stand the bitterness in her tone and rose. He kneeled beside her and took her hand. It was still colder than he liked and pressed it between his hands. ‘Marianne, you could never be a burden to me. You are my reward.’ His voice choked off and he bowed his head to bring his mouth to her wedding ring. He kissed it and kissed the other hand as well. He held her hands and she stayed silent for a brief moment before she pulled her hands out of his own. ‘Yes, I am well aware of the latter. Everyone and their mother has said that. You have said it. It is no secret to me how big of a reward I am to you. Yet not even hours later you already find the reward too little, or not rewarding enough and I have become an unshakeable burden to you.’ Christopher’s heart clenched at her words and the sneering of her voice. ‘Marianne, you are not my reward, I spoke too rashly. I understand why you married me, believe me no ignorant fool to the harsh and unforgiving ways of society. Especially regarding to women.’
Marianne didn’t know what to say or think anymore. She only wanted to weep and the man in front of her had seen her do just that often enough as it was. She wanted to go to bed and sleep. Perhaps before going to bed, she would read a little, if she dared to enter the library that was and claim one of the works there, or perhaps a little music could dissuade her tears. She was spent. She felt a little feverish and chilly and she knew that if she stayed in his presence any longer, she would begin to tremble and he would think her to have fallen ill. Marianne didn’t want him to worry and she choked back a sob. She reached past the Colonel and brought the wine to her mouth. She drank from it deeply and made certain to avoid eye contact with the man at her knees. The Colonel took the glass out of her hands and set it down. He rose and sat down. ‘I guess I started doubting our union when I thought of the relations. Queer of me is it not? A man afeared of his wedding night!’ Marianne truly didn’t know what to say then. ‘You do not have to worry about such a thing because no relations will be had any time soon.’ The rage inside her rose again and she knew she had teared up in frustration. She couldn’t help herself, she lifted her glass and emptied the remains of her wine in the Colonel’s face. She put it down a bit too harshly and the glass broke and cut her. Her husband rose in alarm and wanted to go to her. Marianne lifted her hand in attempt to convey the message that she did not need or want him anywhere near her. ‘I can take care of myself, although recent events have made it seem like I am incapable of doing thus. Goodnight, Colonel Brandon.’ ‘Marianne, I-’ Marianne left the sitting room and went back to the guest room she had encountered earlier that evening.
She undressed and readied herself for bed. The tears she had suppressed the last hour finally excited their ducts and Marianne sobbed heavily, frustrated with the way things had turned out. The day should have ended quite differently and instead she had, with her temper, robbed the Colonel of offering her his apologies and making things right. She had been awful and cruel. The worst thing was that she was still so upset with him that she couldn’t account for her behaviour towards him in the morning.
Colonel Brandon ate little and sat in his chair for an hour, waiting for Marianne to return but she didn’t. With a serviette he cleaned his face and rose. He ordered one of his servants to bring the scarcely touched food back to the kitchen and eat it themselves, for he was certain neither the master or his mistress would do so. He ascended the stairs and he passed her bedchamber. His was next to it and he entered his own bedchamber. He undressed and prepared himself for a night of pensive thoughts and restlessness. He could hear her sob through the wall and his heart clenched painfully. He would have to make amends somehow.

Chapter Text

“Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say” – King Lear

Marianne rose, her heart in her throat, her head pounding and her eyes swollen. She dressed and went downstairs, into the dining room. She had at first wanted nothing more than to hide from the Colonel and avoid him at all costs, but she knew she would have to offer her apologies to him. She had behaved most terribly and he did not deserve her ignoring him. There were few servants at Delaford and Marianne was grateful of that. When she entered the dining room, she saw that the Colonel hadn’t. At least not yet. She sat down and mulled over this. It was true then, he had tired of her already. She poked at the eggs and toast put in front of her and absentmindedly thanked the cook who had placed it there. She couldn’t stomach much and shoved the plate aside after only a few bites. This wouldn’t stand, it couldn’t. Just when Marianne had made up her mind to leave, the Colonel entered but froze when his eye fell on Marianne. ‘You are here.’ ‘A keen observation, Colonel.’ ‘Christopher.’ He replied and remained on the threshold. ‘Marianne about yesterday and in particular, last night.’ ‘I apologize for my behaviour.’ Marianne lowered her chin and stared at the table in front of her. She heard him step into the room, pull a chair to him and sit down and she could hear his soft pained groan. Did their quarrel truly affect him that much? Marianne looked up and met his eyes. ‘No need to apologize, it was I who was at fault. You are not a burden to me, my dearest. A reward and nothing else.’ The anger that had dissipated while she slept returned in full force and Marianne rose again. ‘I am not your reward. Stop saying that I am, for I am no such thing, nor will I ever be!’ ‘Then stop calling yourself a burden for it pains me to hear it!’ Both of them remained silent for a long while and the cook reappeared and put a plate down in front of the Colonel.

He didn’t reach for the toast or his cutlery, he reached for Marianne’s hand and brought it up to his mouth so he could kiss it. ‘Marianne, I adore you and I do not attempt to believe that you reciprocate my feelings and I have made my peace with that. I only ask of you to treat me like your close friend.’ ‘An interesting friendship it would be then, to raise children together and share a bed, would it not? Most peculiar, I have not yet heard of such a thing before.’ Marianne knew she was being petty and not acting her age, but she couldn’t help it. There was something about him that never failed to ruffle her feathers. Perhaps it was his eternal patience and kindness and regard for her. Perhaps it was his disregard for the arts or the world around them. Maybe the reason he upset her so was because he couldn’t seem to get upset with her. Only grieved, like he had shown yesterday. The urge to fling something at his head rose again and the Colonel seemed to notice, because he took both her hands in his own and waited for her to settle down. He kissed her knuckles and lowered their hands again.

‘My darling Marianne, forgive me for yesterday. I was not myself. I have been dreaming of our union for the last two and a half years. I woke up this morning, afeard that it was all a dream. It is not. I was out of sorts yesterday because I could scarcely believe my luck at having won your hand.’ ‘You have not won anything. I willingly accepted your offer. Again, I am not your reward.’ ‘I know. It is an ill-used phrase that I will not use again.’ ‘You feel it in your heart.’ To that Colonel Brandon could not respond. Marianne’s heart sunk and the anger fled from her.

Was it to be like this? ‘If you do not mind, I would like to excuse myself. I am going to walk the grounds a while.’ ‘Marianne, it is raining.’ ‘It matters not to me.’ He rose and cupped his chin with the palm of his hand. ‘I could not bear to see you ill again.’ ‘I am not a child.’ ‘Then stop acting like one and listen to me for once.’ ‘You are not my father, Colonel Brandon.’ He said nothing else and Marianne couldn’t take it any longer. She dropped to the ground and wrapped her arms around her knees. She wished she could make herself very little and could distance herself from it all. ‘Marianne?’ She couldn’t keep her tears from rolling soundlessly down her cheeks.

The woman looked at him and he could see the tears in her eyes. ‘I have ruined things. I ruin all I touch. Forgive me. I will be better.’ Christopher went to her and kneeled by her side, softly groaning when his knee gave a twinge of pain. He didn’t know if he could wrap his arms around her but he longed to bring her comfort. He hadn’t seen Marianne like this. He had been warned of her moods by both her mother and her sisters but he had never witnessed such an episode. It pained him to see her like this. Before he could make the decision, she had wrapped her arms around him and sobbed into his chest. Colonel Brandon hadn’t known she had a nervous condition, she didn’t seem the type, as she had always held herself with grace and even though she always said what she thought and took great pains at time to prevent herself from doing thus, he had never thought to see her in a condition such as this one. Marianne went silent in his arms and pulled away, although Colonel Brandon was reluctant to let her go.

She rubbed her eyes and wiped her cheeks dry. She appeared skittish and the Colonel didn’t want to make a wrong move and scare her off. ‘Marianne, are you quite well?’ ‘I am well. I apologize you had to see that. Forgive me, I shall retreat to the library, if allowed to.’ Brandon rose and bowed in her direction. He didn’t want to leave her alone after all he had witnessed, but he could tell she needed to be alone for a moment or two. He would come round later and see how she was faring. He had the upcoming twelve days all to himself, all his business plans and meetings cancelled or rescheduled. The duration of their honeymoon. Marianne hadn’t wanted to travel someplace, as she wanted to stay close to her family. ‘Why would you not be allowed to do such a thing?’ Her cheeks coloured and the Colonel feared that if he kept on talking, she might have another episode. He bowed again because he didn’t know what to do with himself, he wanted to go to her but he knew he could not. ‘I will take my leave then.’ She curtsied in response to his bow which made the Colonel smile and left the room.

Marianne was mortified that he had witnessed her in such a state of disarray and nervous angst. She had episodes such as these more often than she liked and she had learned throughout her life that it meant that she needed to stay away from large crowds and intense situations. Her mind became overwhelmed and all she could do in such moments was weep. It was truly unfortunate that Colonel Brandon had witnessed her in such a state. Her mother and sisters didn’t know of her condition, let them think her haughty and unsocial, but now the Colonel knew. The one person she wanted to hide it most from. It was why she liked walking so much, it cleared her mind and gave her the solitude she needed. Especially when it was raining and dark or gloomy. There was something about looking up in the middle of a heavy rain storm and feeling like the smallest speck in the universe. This feeling of infinite possibilities seemed to rise up inside her. Yes, Marianne liked it best when it rained.
She found the library at once and stepped inside. She browsed the shelves for something to read and settled on her favourite poet and play writer. Shakespeare. It was a pleasant surprise to see her beloved favourite on the shelves of the Colonel’s extensive collection and in such beautiful editions. They were heavy and she could hardly carry a single volume on her own, but she managed and set it down on the small table next to the chair. She took off her shoes, tucked her ankles beneath her person and pulled her dress over her legs. She pulled the volume into her lap and eagerly flipped through the pages until she reached the index. It seemed she had taken the tragedies with her. Perhaps a little tragedy very much unlike the one that her own life was becoming, would soothe her.
She flipped to her preferred play and hesitated. The tale of the star-crossed lovers of Verona seemed much too romantic and she no longer wished to be Juliet, as she had once wanted. To die for love had seemed to be the ultimate token of affection then, now that she had very nearly experienced such a death, it no longer appealed to her, nor would she like to read about it. The sonnets, which were not in this volume, would also never be read by her. They reminded her too much of a man she did not wish to ever think of again. She skipped past Othello and Hamlet and settled for King Lear. Its subject seemed farthest from her own situation, and started reading.

Colonel Brandon spent his day doing moderately little, only waiting for his wife to call upon him. When the clock struck four, the Colonel decided that he would see how she was faring and have some food brought to her. He wouldn’t have her starving in his care. He went to the library, carrying a tray with tea and sandwiches and Eccles cakes and scones and clotted cream. He had slung a wool blanket over his arm in case she was cold, and made his way to the library. He had hoped she would be playing the piano, but it was not the case. He heard her cry and his spirits sunk, was it to be like this? Him incapable of keeping her as his wife because he was unable to make her happy or provide for her? He had been an old, besotted fool when he had kneeled before her and asked her for her hand in marriage. He saw her seated in the chair closest to an unlit hearth. It was raining fiercely outside and it was quite dark in the room. He marvelled at her ability to stay in here so long, without needing light or warmth or nourishment. It worried him at the same time that she didn’t acknowledge these bodily needs and such. It was not entirely healthy.

He carefully opened the door and beheld her for a few moments, her unaware of his presence, she had something clutched in her lap, although he couldn’t see what it was, he figured it must be a book, and it dawned on him that he had never seen her sit like that. It looked awfully uncomfortable yet she barely moved. It then dawned on the Colonel that this might be her favoured reading position and a warmth flooded his senses with the knowledge that she felt at home enough to start adapting her habits here without feeling like she couldn’t do so.

Christopher almost stepped back outside, but he felt that she must eat and drink and get warm again. Her eyes were rimmed with red and when he cleared his throat and she looked up, startled by his sudden appearance, he could see the tears roll down her cheeks. He put down the tray and started lighting the candles placed strategically around the room, far away from the books. He went to the hearth and knelt, his knee protesting as he did so, and lit the fire. He draped the blanket over Marianne’s shoulders. She had closed her book and watched him with thoughtful gaze. The Colonel felt a little guilty for disturbing her reading but figured that he had already done so and sat down across from her. He poured the tea into the cups and poured a little milk in Marianne’s cup and handed it to her so she didn’t have to get up. She put it down on the table and sniffed once. ‘I apologize for interrupting you. If you do not mind me asking, what were you reading?’ ‘Shakespeare.’ ‘Ah, Romeo and Juliet perhaps?’ ‘No.’ ‘Othello then? Or perhaps a Roman tragedy?’ ‘King Lear. I had forgotten how sad it was, but beautiful.’ She put the volume down on the table next to her and pulled the wool blanket into her lap, then spread it over her lower body. She wiped at her cheeks and smiled at him. She reached for her cup of tea and cradled it in her hands. She observed him as she sipped from his tea and he watched her. The tea brought back a little colour in her cheeks and she didn’t protest when he handed her a plate of sandwiches. She took one and nibbled from it, then handed him the plate. The Colonel took one for himself and ate from it eagerly, wanting to show her that she need not care about etiquette. It had the desired effect for Marianne began to take bigger bites and the Colonel was pleased to see she finished all of it. She took another sip of tea and sighed again. Marianne looked out the window for a brief moment and then turned to him.

Marianne put the cup down and stretched her back. Several lines of King Lear had made her think of what she could do in this situation. Communication. She accepted another sandwich and tried to appease her ravenous appetite. ‘What is the hour?’ ‘Four.’ ‘Oh.’ Marianne didn’t know what else to say and warmed her hands on her cup. She finished her tea and watched the Colonel pour her more tea. He handed her another sandwich but she declined. ‘Colonel- Christopher, I would like to talk about what transpired last night and this morning.’ He sat back in silence and gestured for her to go on. Marianne blushed and a lump formed in her throat which made it hard to swallow. ‘I am certain my mother and sisters have told or warned you of my moods.’ She laughed a little uncomfortably and feared she could not go on, but she must. If she didn’t tell him now, she would lose the courage to do so forever and this great divide between them would only grow in distance. ‘They are not aware of mood swings as intense as the one I had this morning. I have these episodes often when I am overwhelmed. I have tried all my life to hide them from the rest of the world as I did not want special treatment, nor do I require it, and I did not want people to treat me differently. It is why I go out on long walks as often as I can. It is why I like the rain so much. Sometimes I feel like there is a raging fire within me which can only be doused by the cold.’ ‘It is why you were out when you fell ill.’ ‘Yes. Although no-one until you, up to this day, has ever witnessed any of my nervous attacks. It is not something I am proud of. I do not want people to think me weak. Or delusional.’ Marianne felt better now that she had gotten it off her chest, consequences be damned, it felt good to confess. To finally share this secret she had been carrying with her all these years. She reached for her tea and drank from it deeply. It replenished her and warmed her. She was a little wary of the Colonel’s response, which lacked from the conversation. It was apparently a monologue and she felt herself Hamlet. But perhaps she was Ophelia if she was prone to such wild behaviour. The thought of Ophelia’s demise and the imagined likeness between her and the mistress of the Prince of Denmark, soured her mood. The Colonel’s silence helped sour it further. ‘The dogs are growing a little restless and could do well with a short walk.’ It took her by surprise but her heart warmed when she realized the meaning behind his words. ‘I am the first to know of this?’ Marianne nodded and rose, finishing her tea and putting the blanket down at the same time. ‘I will make certain that this will remain the case until you decide differently.’ She was nearly out the door when he stopped her. ‘Marianne, one more thing, about something else entirely.’ ‘Yes?’ ‘You and I having relations. Do not concern yourself with it. I want us to be friends. Our marriage does not change that. Friends first, then perhaps later on in our union, lovers.’ This surprised Marianne greatly. ‘Do you not desire it? And what in the eyes of the Church? Must consummation of this union not take place?’ ‘The Church is not invited into my marriage bed and regarding my desire, it is best if I keep that to myself.’ ‘Very well then.’ He called her one more time. A little impatiently Marianne turned back to face him again. ‘Yes?’ ‘Do not stay out long. I do not want you to catch a cold or fall ill.’ ‘I shall not. I shall see you at supper.’ The Colonel bowed and Marianne curtsied.

She took the dogs out for a walk and delighted in the heavy down pour. It lifted her spirits more than Shakespeare, which she mused could have been because she had been reading tragedies when she should have read something much more light-hearted, such as a comedy or even a history. The dogs were glad to be outside and led her through the gardens. Marianne sneezed once and continued her walk. She called the dogs to her and they came running, knocking her down in their excitement. They slobbered on her and Marianne couldn’t help but laugh. Sweet loyal creatures. She tipped her head back and enjoyed the feeling of the rain on her face. She was soaked but it mattered little to her. The rain helped wash away her reverie entirely and cleared her mind enough to think of the things the Colonel had said.

They returned to the estate and entered it. The Colonel was there to greet them all and helped her inside. Marianne could tell that he would not stop worrying until she had dried herself off and gotten warm, so she went upstairs at once and changed her clothes and dried herself off as well as she could. She went downstairs again and smiled when she saw him waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs. ‘May I escort the Mrs. Brandon into the dining room?’ ‘It is quite odd for you to call me Mrs. Brandon, but I have to refer to you as Col. Brandon, is it not?’ ‘Yes, well the matter is easily resolved. Christopher.’ ‘Very well, Christopher. Lead the way.’
It felt good to both of them to jest with one another like this. Supper was an easy, quiet yet comfortable, affair and both parties went to bed and slept through the night.

Chapter Text

“though this be madness, yet there is method in it.” – Hamlet

The two of them were sat at the dining table, both enjoying their toast and eggs in a companionable silence. It had been nearly two weeks since they were married, and Marianne took pleasure in the knowledge that she had not ruined things so far. Brandon took great pleasure in knowing that Marianne was well and seemed to be more at ease with him. They had developed the routine of reading at breakfast. He would read the papers, or his correspondence and Marianne would read from one of the volumes she had taken with her to bed the night before.

At present Colonel Brandon opened a letter, it was informally addressed, which told him that a friend had sent it, and he opened it. He read the letter, which turned out to be a direct summons, and looked up at Marianne. She was fully immersed in the play she was reading at this hour and seemed so serene that the Colonel didn’t want to disturb her with this news. Then again, their presence at social gatherings was to be expected now that the honeymoon was over, and they were at Delaford. Marianne had taken great pains in telling the others to keep their honeymoon location from the ears of Mrs. Jennings and Mrs. Jennings had never learnt of their stay at Delaford. Colonel Brandon cleared his throat and watched her eyes lose focus on the page and slowly rise to meet his. She blushed when she met his gaze and the Colonel supressed a smile.

‘Marianne, we have been summoned.’ ‘Oh? By whom?’ ‘A close friend of mine’s relative.’ Marianne’s nose scrunched up in disgust and she closed the book. ‘Oh no not that horrible woman!’ Then she cleared her throat, flushed, and took a big gulp of her tea. The Colonel had seen the steam rising from the cup and he knew that Marianne had most undoubtedly scalded her mouth and throat. The only sign of his suspicion was the twitch of her right eyelid. ‘I mean to say, when does the mistress expect us?’

Marianne took another sip of her tea, careful this time not to scald herself, and met her husband’s eyes. She saw that he couldn’t contain his laughter, which was easy to tell. He would bite down on his bottom lip and his eyes would close for the briefest of moments. Then his laugh would ring out and fill whatever room they were in. The sound was not altogether unpleasant, but Marianne didn’t like that it was directed at her person. ‘Why, you are laughing at me!’ ‘I was, but only partially, for most of my mirth was directed at your strong dislike of Mrs. Jennings.’ ‘The woman is inquisitive, talkative and foul-mouthed!’ He laughed again and it was infective, for the corners of Marianne’s mouth quirked up. ‘It is not amusing! You do not have to suffer through her many inquiries about relations and the conception of bairns!’ His face grew solemn, although the corners of his mouth were still turned upwards, and he nodded in agreement. ‘That is correct. I do not have to answer such questions. However, you forget a time before you came into my life and remember a time before we were courting? My goodness the inquisitive nature of the woman knows no bounds!’ Marianne straightened and rose from the table. She would continue reading later that evening. ‘Then why should we subject ourselves to her presence if she bothers us both?’ The Colonel tilted his head and Marianne knew she had crossed a line. She sat down a little demure and nodded. ‘Let me walk the dogs first, I forgot to do so yesterday.’ ‘Of course. I will have the staff ready the carriage.’ ‘Can we not go on horseback?’ ‘Usually we could and would, but my knee is acting up with the coldness in the air and I would not be able to ride back.’ ‘Your knee?’

She looked at him and Colonel Brandon suddenly realized that he had never before mentioned his injuries or aches. He felt old, older so when he rose with difficulty and saw gentility in Marianne’s eyes that he had never seen in them before. ‘Do you have others? When I was younger Elinor and I climbed a lot of trees. I fell out of one once and managed to break my pointer finger. It smarts in the winter. It had to be stitched as well.’ She rose again and stepped around the table to go to him. It had been quite some time since they had been this close. Marianne didn’t seem to mind. She held out her hand to him and he indeed saw the faintest of scars on her left pointer finger. He lifted her hand and pressed a chaste kiss on the knuckle. ‘There, all better.’ ‘My mother did the same after the doctor had seen to it.’ ‘You are now drawing comparisons between me and your mother. I will have you know that your mother is five years my senior!’ She smiled and pulled her hand away. ‘I meant no offense. Do you have any other injuries?’ And just like that the warmth that had overcome him, disappeared. He had many. He didn’t want to scare her off. ‘I have an old shoulder injury that I retained during the war. I was shot and then the wound got infected. I can not lift my arm entirely.’ He demonstrated and Marianne watched him with interest. ‘Sir John cannot entirely open his hand, can he not?’ ‘No, but he was cutting open a letter and managed to slice into the palm of his hand when someone bumped into him.’ ‘Well, I shall never write him a letter then, to keep him out of harm’s way.’ She smiled and Colonel Brandon smiled. He straightened his turncoat and laughed despite himself. ‘You are wicked, Marianne. Let us go about our duties.’

Marianne walked the dogs twice around the estate and then handed their care over to one of the servants, sauntering around the stables. She went to the front of the estate and saw the carriage, drawn and waiting for her. Colonel Brandon stood next to the door and opened it for her. He offered her his hand, but Marianne didn’t take it and entered the carriage on her own. Had she looked around; she would have seen the briefest flashes of pain trek across the Colonel’s face. She sat down and waited for him to enter.

Colonel Brandon hated that he would have to be aided by his servants. Though he rather preferred their help than his wife’s. He didn’t want her to think him old. He’d made the mistake once today already and didn’t want to cause her grief or help her in remembering the limitations of his age and his past experiences. Although time had been kind to him, the Colonel possessed no disillusionment to his looks. Years of worrying had been etched into his skin and he appeared older than his actual age. He was not yet forty! A servant helped him up and the Colonel was nearly there when his knee gave out. Two hands grabbed his wrist and pulled him up. He looked up and inclined his chin at her. She helped him inside and he closed the door. Then pounded, perhaps with a bit too much force, on the ceiling of the carriage and the driver took off. It was a short ride and it embarrassed the Colonel of his temporary incapability to cross such a short distance on horseback. They stopped quarter of an hour later in front of Sir John’s estate and Marianne descended first, then waited for the Colonel to get out as well. He took a bit of liberty as he did, by letting his hand settle on her shoulder for needed support, but he withdrew as soon as his feet were firmly planted on the ground beneath them. They walked towards the entrance and no later than perhaps a minute, the doors were thrown open and Mrs. Jennings awaited them with open arms.

Mrs. Jennings was apparently so keen and eager to see them that she had foregone propriety and greeted them at the door, instead of seated in a chair in the sitting room. Marianne took the Colonel’s arm, squeezed it for a second and let go of him. She stepped forward and smiled at the older woman. ‘Oh, my dears! You must tell me everything! Marianne, I have a little surprise for you, my child!’ Mrs. Jennings hugged Marianne and pinched Marianne’s cheek before patting it a bit too harshly. Marianne looked over Mrs. Jennings’ shoulder at the Colonel and pointedly glared at the side of the woman’s head in whose arms she now found herself. The Colonel suppressed his laughter and stepped closer to them, gently pulling Mrs. Jennings away from his bride. Mrs. Jennings looked past him and cocked up an eyebrow at the carriage that was driven to the stables. ‘The carriage, Colonel Brandon?’

Christopher hated that he would have to explain the reason. He didn’t want her to worry, nor subject Marianne to more knowledge of the limits of his age. Marianne, who looked relief to be out of Mrs. Jennings’ grasp, took his arm and patted his hand, which he placed on his chest. The Colonel was a little taken aback by the physical contact and was at a loss for words. ‘I felt a little under the weather, I caught myself in a heavy downpour a few days ago and I was feeling a little low in spirits. Christopher was so kind as to have the servants prepare the carriage for us.’ The Colonel could kiss her. Not that he never wanted to before, he had wanted to since he had seen her for the first time, but this was different. This wouldn’t be a kiss made with amorous intentions, this would be purely out of gratitude. Mrs. Jennings embraced Marianne and the Colonel and stepped to the side. ‘Oh, my poor child, sit down in the sitting room, close to the fire that will help warm you.’ Mrs. Jennings started walking in the direction of the mentioned sitting room and Marianne followed but the Colonel held her back for a brief moment. ‘Thank you. You are not ill, are you?’ She smiled. ‘No, and otherwise you would not know of it, because I can look after myself.’ ‘Marianne, I hope that will never have to be the case. It is the reason I am in your life, to look after you.’ Before he lost his courage completely, the Colonel leaned in and pressed a chaste kiss on her cheek. Marianne pulled out of his grasp and brought her hand up to her cheek, caressing the spot he had kissed her for a moment. ‘What was that for?’ ‘Lying to Mrs. Jennings.’ ‘As if I have not done that before.’ ‘Never to me, I hope.’ ‘A lady never tells.’

Marianne didn’t wait for the Colonel to follow her and instead made her way into the sitting room. Elinor was seated in the chair closest to the fire! A pleasant surprise indeed! Marianne forgot herself and hastened to where her sister was sitting. Marianne embraced her sister and suppressed her tears of joy. It had only been two weeks, but the sisters had never been separated for such a long period. Even when Elinor had gotten married and moved into the small parsonage with her husband, Edward Ferrars, Marianne had been over nearly every day. Their honeymoon had been a brief one to London. They had only been parted from one another for a week. ‘Oh Marianne, it is so good to see you! I feared you would be ill and keep us from your presence!’ Marianne detected the twinkle in Elinor’s eyes and suppressed a witty remark. Elinor was as aware as the other members of Marianne’s family, of Marianne’s dislike of Mrs. Jennings. ‘No. I did feel a little under the weather earlier this morning, but Colonel Brandon saw to it that my health was fully restored.’ ‘Oh, my dear Mrs. Brandon, where is your husband?’ ‘I cannot say that I know, perhaps you should take a look while I talk to my sister?’ Marianne innocently suggested and Elinor gave her a pointed look, but Mrs. Jennings didn’t seem to notice or wouldn’t remark on it and left the two former Dashwoods alone. ‘The Colonel made you go, did he not?’ ‘Yes. He will come to regret that one day.’ ‘Oh Marianne, please behave!’ ‘Will Edward, I mean Mr. Ferrars be joining us today?’ ‘Yes, at midday. It is very good to see you again.’ ‘How are Margaret and Mother?’ ‘Well, although Margaret is very bored with all of us. She has been asking for a fortnight now when she can visit you at Delaford. How was the honeymoon?’

Mrs. Jennings, who truly had an uncanny ability to enter rooms at the most inopportune moments exclaimed in eagerness. She was followed by her son-in-law and Colonel Brandon. They settled into two chairs situated a little away from the ladies and continued talking. ‘Well, if she looks that gloomy and pale, I would say that very little did happen. Oh Marianne, you must bear his children. I was afraid at first, but it really is not so bad, and it is a reward to your husband, as he is your master.’ Elinor stiffened and peered at her sister. Marianne pursed her lips and tried to control her temper, for her sister’s sake and that of her husband. Elinor cleared her throat and smiled at something behind Marianne’s shoulder. Marianne followed her gaze. Edward Ferrars. Elinor’s husband of a little over a year and a half. Elinor’s husband crossed the room and kissed his wife on the cheek before he sat down besides her. ‘Elinor and I have news.’ Elinor smiled and brought her hands to cup her stomach. Marianne couldn’t contain her exclamation of joy and went over to the happy couple to embrace and congratulate them both. ‘I am indeed with child.’ Mrs. Jennings had sat down again and drank deeply from her tea. She put the cup back on its saucer and smiled at the pair. ‘That took you two long enough! I feared that I would never hear the pitter-patter of your children’s little feet!’

A red haze fell over Marianne’s sight. ‘I would ask you to refrain from making comments about my sister’s fertility and virility and you would do well to abstain from such remarks on Mr. Ferrars account, Mrs. Jennings!’ Marianne stared at Mrs. Jennings who had her mouth half open, as if about to make such a remark with a nature of either of the two disapproved subjects and closed her mouth again. Marianne didn’t know who looked more taken aback by her words; Edward or Elinor. Perhaps Marianne had crossed a boundary or two. She sat down again and folded her hands in her lap. Mr. Ferrars went to the men on the other side of the room and as soon as he was out of hearing, Mrs. Jennings turned back to Marianne and took her hand. ‘See, it is expected of a wife to have relations with her husband and bear him children! Your sister is so dutiful, can you not follow in her footsteps?’ ‘Really Mrs. Jennings I do not think it-’ Elinor tried to interrupt but Mrs. Jennings continued. ‘Marianne, my sweet Marianne, are you afraid? Is the Colonel not a good man? He deserves to be rewarded for all he has done for you and your family. Does he not?’ Marianne pulled her hand out of the witch’s grip and tried not to snarl at the old hag.

‘Mrs. Jennings, have you a need to see the scarlet on our linens before you take my word for truth?’ ‘Mrs. Brandon! Fie! Shame on you for uttering such uncouth words!’ ‘Was it not you yourself, who said that married women were allowed to be bold in their speech?’ ‘My dear, it is only expected of you, it is really not so terrible an affair after the first time. It is expected of you to reward your dear Colonel for his proposal.’ ‘Mrs. Jennings would you be satisfied if Colonel Brandon and I went upstairs and invited you to witness our relations? It can be accounted for!’ Mrs. Jennings gasped dramatically and blushed. She spluttered, at a loss for words and drank deeply from her tea. She put the cup back on the saucer with such force that the saucer fell to the carpet and the draughts of the tea stained the plush fabric. Marianne looked up and saw Colonel Brandon already looking at her and his cheek was pulled a bit into his mouth and his shoulders were shaking with silent laughter.

Sir John and Edward Ferrars blinked at her. Perhaps Marianne had been a bit too loud. She blushed and fidgeted with the lace on her dress. Marianne looked to Elinor who had paled and tried to lift her cup to her mouth, but she trembled so heavily that she to put it back down again. Marianne felt a little guilty for shocking her sister so, but the aghast expression on Mrs. Jennings’ face had made it all worth it. Even if she was a little mortified herself at the boldness of her words. Mrs. Jennings opened her mouth and made a gesture to contradict Marianne or perhaps say something else of an infuriating nature but stopped halfway and closed her mouth again. ‘Please excuse me, I shall talk a scroll through the gardens.’ ‘Oh, Marianne, it looks like it is going to rain soon!’ Her sister exclaimed but Marianne was determined to keep away from Mrs. Jennings for the rest of her visit. Who knew what else she would say to the old woman! She might even make her faint or bring on a nervous attack, which was the last thing Marianne wanted to happen. She greeted the servant who opened the door for her and stepped outside. She hastened her pace and stilled next to the hedge nearly on the other side of Sir John Middleton’s gardens. She pulled at the leaves and curled them between her fingers. She had ruined the happy news of Elinor and Edward. Had brought shame to the Colonel’s good name and had made an utter and complete fool of herself. All that in a few sentences. She felt the hot tears on her skin and angrily wiped them away. Crying and self-pitying would do her no good.

The Colonel made eye contact with his oldest friend and smiled a little sheepishly. Sir John had lifted an eyebrow at him and wanted to say something but wisely refrained from doing so. Edward, the poor sod, looked like he could use a few sips of a strong liquor. He looked at Elinor who was flushed with embarrassment of her sister’s behaviour and Mrs. Jennings kept waving to herself, trying to get some cool air to keep her from fainting no doubt. Although the Colonel did think Marianne shouldn’t have spoken so boldly, he was proud of her for silencing Mrs. Jennings. The Colonel liked Mrs. Jennings but he could see why Marianne did not. ‘I think I will go see where my wife has run off to. I apologize for her behaviour, she was feeling a little under the weather earlier this morning and I may have given her a little brandy with tea when she was not paying close attention to her cup.’ He didn’t like that Marianne would now be seen as a spirited drinker, but he also didn’t want Mrs. Jennings to keep on looking so insulted and offended. John didn’t seem to mind but Mrs. Jennings had taken great offense at his wife’s words.

He went outside and it had started drizzling. At first Colonel Brandon couldn’t find Marianne and fear entered his heart. What if she had decided to walk back to Delaford? She had walked once nearly to Combe Magna, where he had found her unconscious that day, amidst a heavy downpour. Yes, Marianne was prone to doing extreme things when she was overwhelmed. Over the noise the rain made, the Colonel could hear snide remarks and barely contained curses. He had found his beloved. His heart swelled at the sight of her. She was standing there, in the rain, cheeks red with cold, anger and perhaps shame and her eyes were red and swollen. Her fists were clenched and clutched to her sides. He cleared his throat, not wanting to scare her and she looked up and coloured further. ‘Forgive me, Christopher, I could not restrain myself. I should not have said that.’ ‘My love-’ ‘That ghastly woman! How dare she criticise Elinor’s private conditions! That wretched hag!’ She looked up at him, glaring and huffed a breath. ‘You crossed a line, Marianne.’ ‘I am aware that I did!’ ‘She is an old friend of mine and you will behave accordingly around her!’ Marianne lifted her arms and brought her hands to the sides of her face. ‘She thinks me improper when she is the one who is improper if anything! I shall show her improper!’ Before the Colonel could comprehend what had happened, Marianne had already kissed him, on the mouth, and pulled away. She crossed her arms in front of her chest and the Colonel reached after her in a belated response. He lowered his arms and blinked. That was all he could do for a moment, blink and try to remember what they had been talking about. Marianne’s cheeks were flushed with anger. The rain had started pouring down and the two were standing opposite of one another, heaving. One with rage and the other with confusion and desire.

‘There! How incredibly improper to show affection to my husband in public, where anyone might see! Oh, dear me, I am a fallen woman!’ She raised her arms dramatically to the skies and tipped her head back. ‘Dear Lord, strike me down for my insolence!’ The Colonel finally collected his thoughts and stepped closer and lowered her arms to her sides. He wrapped his arms around her and she stiffened in his arms. Then she settled down and wrapped her arms around his neck. He could feel her cheek on his shoulder. The warmth of it seeped straight through his coat and clothes. ‘I apologize. I forget myself often. I should not have taken such liberties with my speech. Will you believe me when I say I did not mean to be so crass? I should go back inside and offer my apologies.’ The Colonel nodded, for a moment distracted by her warmth and the fact that she had not shunned his embrace and had in turn embraced him. ‘I would also like to apologize for kissing you. I should not have done that. Especially in regard to any feelings you might have for me. That was wrong of me. I apologize.’ Colonel Brandon had married the love of his life, but what a most singular woman she was!
‘Marianne, I think it best if we take our leave.’ ‘Oh no, I shall apologize, it is no trouble, truly, I know I was wrong.’ ‘Yes, that is very honourable of you, but I fear that you have traumatised Mrs. Jennings enough for the time being, and the others feel much the same, methinks.’ ‘I apologize. Next time I shall behave and hold my tongue, I promise.’ Marianne let go of him and he pulled away from her, a little too intoxicated with her closeness and tried to keep his mind clear. Marianne sneezed once and worry overcame him. What if she fell ill again? They needed to get out this rain at once! The pair walked back to Barton Manor and as they rode back to Delaford Colonel Brandon couldn’t help but wonder to himself if there would even be a next time.

Chapter Text

“Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried, grapple them unto thy soul with hoops of steel” – Hamlet

Her words were not only an insult to Marianne, but to himself and the Colonel swiftly rose. ‘Mrs. Jennings I will thank you to keep such thoughts to yourself. It wounds my pride and Marianne’s honour. What I have disclosed to you already is of a most private nature and I expect you will keep such matters to yourself.’ ‘She could always go back to that Willoughby.’ ‘I thank you not to finish that statement if you cherish my friendship and if you respect Marianne. I come bearing gifts. Marianne saw this in a shop while we were on our honeymoon and thought it would perfectly fit in the interior of this room.’ He handed the woman a brass candelabra and the woman exclaimed in delight. ‘Such a thoughtful darling girl!’ Now that the woman was pleased and the rift between him and Mrs. Jennings seemed to have closed, the Colonel thought it best if he left, in case Mrs. Jennings thought of more inquisitive questions.
‘I fear I must take my leave now, Mrs. Jennings, my knee smarts a bit. It looks like it is bound to rain soon and I do not want to ride through the rain, for I do not want to catch a cold. Farewell.’ He bowed and saw himself out. He released a breath and rode back with haste to Delaford.

He found his wife there, walking the dogs and playing with them. One of them jumped at her and Marianne fell backwards in the grass. The Colonel wanted to go to her, but didn’t want to interrupt the beautiful scene. One of his dogs turned their head in his direction and Marianne looked up. She waved. It was clear that today was a better day than the one yesterday had been. She went to him, followed closely by the dogs and she surprised him by pressing a quick kiss on his cheek. ‘Hello, you were not at breakfast this morning.’ ‘Yes, I had some business to attend to. I apologize for my absence.’ ‘You have returned. I wanted to show you something, come.’ He followed her, for he would do so to the end of the world and into the depths of the deepest ocean, to the centre of the earth. She led them inside and to the library, her beloved library. His beloved library. Since Marianna had entered his life, he had traded the thirst for knowledge about the globe, in for knowledge about Marianne. If he was in the library these days, he was usually spending his time looking at her, or read the things she loved so dearly, even if he had read the works she was reading before in his life, it was an entirely new experience to him to attempt to read it through her perspective and see what it was, she loved so dearly. She held the door open for him and he entered, the fire in the hearth already burning. The room was warm and comfortable and the heat did his injuries well. ‘Please sit down.’ He did so and couldn’t refrain the smile from creeping unto his face. Whatever his wife was up to, up to this point it had been most entertaining to see her so spirited. She waited for him to sit down, then turned around and took something from the shelf closest to her. She held it out to him and smiled a little hesitantly. He looked at what she was holding out to him and his eyes began to water.

He recognized the handwriting immediately. The sight of it took him back years and he had to bring his hand up in front of his eyes to shield the sight of the tears that were running down his cheeks. She kneeled beside the arm of his chair and took his hand. ‘I found this when I was looking for books on music history and theory. I thought you would like it. I hope you do not mind me touching it or presenting it to you.’ He took her hand and with his other carefully turned the first page of the sheet music. It was lovely. It was Eliza’s and it was absolutely lovely. ‘I taught her to play piano and to read notes, but I never knew she would be able to write her own music. I have never seen this before.’ ‘There is a date there, in the corner.’ The date brought the Colonel chills and he pulled away from Marianne. She rose and carefully went to stand behind him. She placed her hands on his shoulders and gently applied a little pressure. ‘She wrote this when she was pregnant and divorced from my brother. She was all alone when she wrote this.’ His voice choked off at the ending and he brought one hand to one of Marianne’s and grasped it. ‘I think now would be a good time for you to meet my warden, Eliza.’ ‘I would be honoured.’

Marianne watched the Colonel rise and carefully walked over to the pianoforte. He placed the sheet music on the pianoforte and left the room. Marianne followed in close pursuit, excited, thrilled and nervous all at once at the thought of meeting Eliza and her daughter. Willoughby’s child. Marianne followed the Colonel into the stables and watched him saddle a fresh horse. He was helped by the stable boy up on the horse with little difficulty and pulled the reins to him. ‘Please ask the servants to prepare the sitting room and library and prepare supper and have them ready a guest room. I will be back with her in an hour.’ ‘Could you not better take the carriage? It would be unfair to force the child to ride over bad roads.’ The Colonel smiled and leapt down, off his horse. ‘You are right. Have them prepare the carriage.’ Marianne went back inside and ordered the servants to prepare the carriage. She watched the Colonel leave and turned back inside. She went to the kitchen where she found most of the staff on their breaks, enjoying their tea and biscuits. The youngest on the staff was the first to spy Marianne and choked on her tea. Marianne rushed to her and helped her calm down her breathing. ‘Hello. The master of the house has asked me that you prepare the guest room, prepare the sitting room for our guest of honour and start preparing lunch. Colonel Brandon expects that she will sup with us as well.’

After having lived three years in the Barton Cottage, Marianne couldn’t sit idly by and helped where she could. She even helped in the kitchen, albeit it she knew very little, she took pleasure in watching the others and then attempting to imitate them. She left them a little while later and went to her dressing room to wash her face and brush her hair. She put it back up in a bun and went downstairs, ready to receive the Colonel and his ward. She saw the carriage drive up to the front of the house and saw the Colonel step outside and extend his hand to a girl only two years younger than Marianne, carrying a toddler on her hip. The servants opened the doors and Marianne came face to face with the Colonel’s ward. Marianne dropped into a curtsy and rose. Eliza’s cheeks had coloured and she inclined her head in Marianne’s direction. Colonel Brandon led them to the sitting room and made certain that his daughter was comfortable. The girl sat down and tried to keep her child from squirming in her lap. A servant entered, carrying a tray and put it down. The Colonel poured tea for the three of them and ordered the maid to retrieve a glass of milk for the child. The little boy began to make sounds of discomfort and Eliza let go of him. The boy toddled around the table and fell against the side of the Colonel’s chair. The Colonel laughed and lifted the boy into his lap.

Marianne had never seen a child look so smug with himself. ‘Eliza, this is Mrs. Brandon, Marianne, my wife. Marianne, this is Eliza and this is her son.’ Marianne inclined her head at the girl and smiled at the young boy. Both women were uneasy.

Colonel Brandon watched the two women he cared more for than anything or anyone else in the world, take one another in. He could tell they both felt uncomfortable. Perhaps he should have introduced the pair of them sooner but there was a part of the Colonel that was afraid that the confrontation of seeing Willoughby’s child would cause Marianne to think of him and the hurt that blasted rascal had caused her. The Colonel didn’t want her to think of that horrid man and all the ill fortune he had bestowed on her. He also didn’t want Eliza to come face to face with the only girl Willoughby had ever loved. She would only start to doubt her own worth and possibly come to resent Marianne. The Colonel couldn’t stand the thought of the two of them resenting one another. He wanted them to be friends. He wanted to see his grandchild. Although he had never outright referred to Eliza as his daughter, he felt in his heart that she was his, despite being the opposite.

‘Excuse me, I did not hear the name of your little boy.’ ‘His name is Christopher. After the most wonderful man in the universe. I named him that to prevent Young Chris of turning out like that miscreant father of his.’ The Colonel felt his cheeks slowly set fire to themselves and he made certain not to look in Marianne’s direction.

‘I think it is a name most suited to such a handsome young lad. With such a strong name, he shall grow up to be a strong, honourable man, I am certain of it. If he is even a tenth like Mr. Brandon, he will be most wonderful.’ The speech took the Colonel by surprise for this was the first time Marianne had addressed him as “Mr. Brandon” and secondly because she spoke so kindly of him. He had expected amicable praise, but not such high esteem of him. Of his character. He looked to Eliza and saw her smiling softly. The girl held out her arms and Young Chris left the Colonel’s lap and went to his mother. She kissed him firmly on the cheek and the boy squealed in delight. The Colonel glanced at Marianne and saw her smiling at the two. ‘Your boy reminds me of my youngest sister. She would squeal whenever my mother came near her. When my mother showed affections, my youngest sister would run away, squealing and laughing and my mother would follow her around the room, lips puckered.’ Eliza smiled and kissed her son again. ‘I am certain you would do the same. It is hard not to show my affections with him. He is so dear.’
Marianne did not often take to strangers, but there was something about Eliza that made her heart sing. The girl, although Marianne should refer to her as the woman, as they were the same age, was precisely everything Marianne hoped and looked for in a companion. She felt certain that the two would begin the most amiable of relationships. Although Marianne didn’t like that Eliza spoke of Willoughby in such a way that it put him in such a bad light, she knew the woman was right and she herself, was at fault for still thinking amiably of him, at times, late at night, when the weight of her married life pressed down on her chest.

She rubbed over the centre of her palm with her thumb and looked at mother and son. They were most sweet together and Eliza had done a most admirable profession at raising and educating the boy. He was well-mannered for his age, sweet and considerate and he was well accustomed to grown ups talking and him having to be quiet. Something Marianne had always found most difficult when she was growing, a trait which Margaret seemed to share. She looked up at the Colonel and he smiled at her in such a way that it became impossible to keep from smiling back at him. His smile widened and Marianne smiled back again, then turned to Eliza. ‘Forgive me for directing the subject of the conversation to a very stark opposite of what we were just discussing, but Mr. Brandon told me that you enjoyed a most esteemed education for most of your years, and I was wondering if you knew Shakespeare, well a certain part of me expects that you do, and I felt certain that you must have for it is nearly impossible not to, but something inside me urged me to ask you if you knew his works.’

Eliza widened her eyes at Marianne and laughed. Colonel Brandon couldn’t keep from laughing himself, his wife was most certainly something else. A part of him grieved knowing that if she had been born a man, she would have been an academic. It pained him that she couldn’t be one, hindered only by her sex, but mostly by the perceived notions of his sex and the way these notions put obstacles in women’s way on a daily basis. He was grateful as well, for Eliza shared a love for Shakespeare, albeit not as grand a love as Marianne had for his works, but Eliza had been known to quote him on many an occasion and the Colonel was grateful that the two would have something to talk about that didn’t entirely revolve around their personal affairs and Willoughby. ‘Eliza, would you mind very much if I took Young Chris out for a short walk to the hothouse?’ ‘Not at all, Colonel! In fact, your wife and I have much to discuss in your absence.’ Marianne stepped out at that moment, reasons unknown and the Colonel watched her with concern growing in his heart. Had the encounter wearied her? Did she need to have a moment to herself before she would burst into hysterics? The Colonel hoped all was well. He turned to Eliza and leaned in. ‘Eliza, I must ask you to keep from mentioning the child’s father. It will cause you both harm, which is something I do not wish upon you both.’ ‘Of course. I did not mean to speak of him and waste more time of my life on him, a breath such as this one is already giving him too much of me, and only adds to the great debt he already owes me and the toll his appearance in my life has already took of me and mine. I do not wish to speak of him, especially not of his romantic connection to your wife. It will bring me more pain than it will bring her, of that I am certain. After all, she was triumphant and I, I was not. It is she who should watch her words, not I. However, it is not my desire to speak of him anymore than I have already spoken of him. Now, do not let Christopher leave the path, his stockings will get awfully muddy and I am down to my last soap and will not be able to get the stains out.’ ‘What happened to the maid I paid to look after the child, and in turn, you?’

Eliza shifted in her seat and stroked the Young Chris’s cheek. She kissed him on his temple and the little boy giggled then pushed her fingers away from his skin. He looked at the Colonel and he reminded him so much of his mother at that age. Beautiful children, the two of them, both in their own manner. The Colonel was happy to see that the child, so far, had not taken after his father but after his mother and the Colonel was certain that this should ought to please the mother as well, for it meant that to look upon the boy’s countenance would not push unwanted memories to the front of her mind nor cause her more grief than the boy’s birth perhaps might have done already. Although the Colonel was loathe to think the last part for Eliza never spoke ill of her child and never showered him with anything but love and motherly affection and mannerisms. ‘I sent her home, I could not bear the thought of being more indebted to you than I already am.’ ‘Eliza you must know you are not in debt with me.’ ‘Knowing and feeling are two entirely different things, for I know that Mrs. Brandon is married to you, but I feel that there is very little of an actual amorous connection between the two of you.’ She blushed briefly but consoled herself. The Colonel couldn’t quite contain his anger at her words and his grip tightened to the point of his knuckles turning white on the arms of his chair. ‘I would thank you to keep such opinions to yourself. Keep in mind that I am your warden and not a friend. It would cause me grief if I knew you spoke to your superiors in such a manner on a daily basis.’ ‘Forgive me, I was out of turn, and yet, I would like to add, as an afterthought, that you inquired into my business, a business of matters to which you have no right as they concern my personal affairs and I was only returning the favour to show you how painful and out of place it can be. I have every right to speak of what and whomsoever as I please.’ ‘Not when the subject may hurt my wife, Eliza. Alas, you are right. It was unforgiving of me to enquire after your personal affairs but you must promise me one thing: rehire the maid and allow me to provide for you. Now, I do believe it is time for that walk, young man.’ The Colonel rose and extended his hand to the boy who was still seated in his mother’s lap. The child leapt up and went to him with the enthusiasm only a toddler possesses. Marianne appeared again and the Colonel couldn’t help but wonder if she had been listening in on them at the door, for her timing was most excellent.

They passed her and the Colonel wondered if leaving the two of them on their own had been a mistake, but it was too late now to change things. He went outside with the energetic boy and couldn’t keep the yearning from rising up in him, the yearning and the wondering if he would ever walk like this with a child of his own. He dismissed the thought. If Marianne ever came to love him, it would be nothing short of a miracle, let alone grant him a child. He watched his grandchild and couldn’t help but feel old and weary. The stark opposite between him and his bride painfully clear to him.
Marianne crossed the room and sat down beside Eliza. She couldn’t keep thinking about the factoid that the two of them were the same age. That if Willoughby had pressed her and the two of them had been acquainted only a little longer, she might find herself in the position Eliza found herself in. She kept telling herself that she would have been cleverer, but a big part of her knew that she wouldn’t have, that she would have allowed herself to be swept up, decorum be damned. Marianne was grateful again that things had turned out quite differently. She was lucky to have married the Colonel and restored the family’s good name. Not that it helped much, given the scandal around Elinor’s marriage to Edward Ferrars who had been disowned, very nearly twice, and Elinor’s poor background. Marianne had only continued to sully the family name with her prancing about with Willoughby and then falling so ill in his absence. She had made such a fool of herself. She was quite glad to no longer possess such tumultuous feelings for another person, let alone for a man. She had continued to sully the good family name by allowing Colonel Brandon to court her for such a long time, and had chosen to spend her time studying and enhancing her wit. Yes, her finally marrying the Colonel had put paid to many a rumour that had been spread through the town of Devonshire. ‘What is your favourite work by Shakespeare?’ ‘Romeo and Juliet. Although I like other works of his, the Sonnets for example.’ Eliza was warm and friendly and again, Marianne couldn’t help but take a liking to her. ‘I can no longer stomach Shakespearean Sonnets, or any sonnets.’ ‘I hope you did not overhear my conversation with your husband just yet. It would pain me to have you think ill of me.’ Marianne hadn’t heard them. She had needed to leave the room to relieve herself and to take a little fresh air. She had even snuck into the kitchens and downed a bit of Dutch courage to help settle her nerves. It was a thing she had seen her mother do often after receiving bad news and needing lent strength to bear it and Marianne wondered why she had never done it before. It would have helped with the wedding nerves. Eliza and her never touched upon the subject of Willoughby and Marianne was quite glad that he wasn’t discussed. Although she no longer loved him wholeheartedly, there was a small part of her that loved him still, or better yet, loved the memory of loving him. ‘Do you love my father? Forgive me for putting it that way, he is nothing of the sort, yet, I cannot help think of him as being my parent. He has always been so good to me.’ Marianne didn’t know how to answer Eliza and instead settled for a nod.

The Colonel entered the sitting room with the small boy and he surprised them all by running to Marianne and crawling into her lap. ‘Christopher!’ ‘It is fine, I was hoping I would be able to embrace him once, if that is alright with you?’ Eliza looked at Marianne in a perplexed daze and the Colonel couldn’t help but feel puzzled and a little jealous. Was Marianne imagining Willoughby’s child as her own child? Eliza watched a little wary but it turned out that Marianne was a natural with children, or at least with young Christopher. Eventually the boy got weary of Marianne and climbed out of Marianne’s lap, only to climb into his mother’s lap. When one of the Colonel’s most faithful servants entered the sitting room with the announcement that supper was served, the company rose and moved to the supping room. They supped in a comfortable silence and Eliza and Young Christopher headed up, to bed.

For the first time that day it was just him and Marianne and he couldn’t help but take note of the blue circles under her eyes. ‘You are not sleeping.’ He had meant it as a question but instead it had come out as a statement and he didn’t know how to reverse it. He managed to make a questioning noise at the back of his throat and salvaged part of the conversation. They had moved to the library and Marianne was sipping from her cup of tea. She looked up, she had been staring at the hearth in quiet contemplation for a few moments, but she spoke now, softly but sternly. ‘Yes, but it is nothing to worry about.’ The Colonel moved to sit on the armchair she was seated in and took her hand, and brought the back of it to his mouth. He kissed her skin and watched her watch him. He lowered her hand and she cupped her cup of tea again. She was still looking at him. ‘It is my nature to worry about you, and it is my right to be concerned for your health. I am after all, your friend and your husband.’ ‘Yes, I suppose you are right, however, it is very silly to concern yourself with this. It is nothing but bad dreams and an absence from my mother and sisters. It will pass soon.’ ‘You may always call on them, they would not mind and neither would I, you know this.’ Marianne put her cup back on its saucer and rubbed her eyes. She didn’t look at him when she opened her mouth and began to speak.
‘Yes I know this, I do not want my mother to see me settled, yet unhappy. It would make her unhappy and I do not want to burden her more than I have already done.’ The words were a blow to his heart. Yet, he figured he could understand that she was unhappy. To be married to someone you didn’t love was quite a feat. It was then that the Colonel wished he had been younger, more charming, more deserving of her, more worthy, but he wasn’t. He could provide for her and offer her only a companion for the remainder of either of their lives and offer her protection and whatever she may have need of. He didn’t wish to remark on Marianne’s words and instead went to sit back in his own chair. He tipped his head back and closed his eyes.
‘It is not that I am very unhappy here, Christopher, but she has seen me with Willoughby and she will start to compare the two of you and draw conclusions that will never be entirely untrue.’ She sighed deeply but couldn’t look in the direction of her husband. The words were painful to say and must undoubtedly be harder to hear. She didn’t quite know what had possessed her to bring up her problems. He was so kind and patient to her and she was nothing but ungrateful all the time. ‘I have taken quite a strong liking to your ward, Eliza. Her son is so sweet and genteel. I fear my expectations of any future children we might have, will forever be held up to his character.’ The words had their desired effect on the Colonel. He opened his eyes and looked at her. His eyes were one of Marianne’s favourite features set in his face, they were always so sweet and kind and they never judged. ‘I spoke with Mrs. Jennings today and the rift betwixt us has been mended. Expect her to call on us quite soon.’ ‘I apologize for my behaviour of yesterday and the words I spoke. I was out of turn, incredibly so. Forgive me, please?’

She asked him, but he already had. He would forgive her, no matter what she did, even if she left him. He just wished to see her happy, even if she couldn’t be happy with him. He was happy if she was. She took his hand and pressed it, then kissed the back of it and the Colonel was deeply touched by the gesture. His wife let go of his hand and straightened her back. ‘I think it best if I head up to bed now.’ ‘Marianne, could you perhaps wait for a few more moments? I do not want Eliza to know that we sleep in separate rooms.’ ‘And why not?’ ‘I need her to believe in true love and I do not want her to abstain from forming a new romantic attachment because her past experiences have scarred her. You are an example of that. I need Eliza to believe in happy endings. Truly happy endings.’ Marianne stayed silent for quite some time before she nodded softly. ‘I suppose I am an example of that, am I not? I was thwarted by my lover, as was she, and I have found bliss in the married life, with you.’ ‘Well, bluntly put, yes.’ ‘Would you mind awfully much if I did not join the two of you tomorrow? I fear I have a headache coming on and I would like to pay a visit to my mother.’ The Colonel needed her to be with him, but he understood perfectly well why Marianne needed a bit of space. Why she wanted it and had requested it of him. Her absence, even though she was still near him, already weighed on him and he knew that it would continue to weigh him down until she returned home, safely and unharmed. They waited in silence and listened to the sounds the fire made as the flames licked and burned the logs. It was quite comfortable. ‘Sometimes I fear that my heart will burst. Catch aflame and ravish every part of my body. I want too much and I feel too much. I wish I could be more like you, Colonel, or like Elinor. Always so sedate and calm. I wish I could be like that. Do you wish for me to be like that? I can try, I will try.’ The confession took the Colonel by surprise. He wouldn’t have expected Marianne to be annoyed or frustrated with herself. Her passion was one of the things he admired greatly about her character. He was a silent admirer but she was loud and perhaps more worth admiring than anything she would ever admire. The Colonel couldn’t imagine her hating that vocal part of herself. ‘I do not wish you to be quiet. If I had wanted solitude and silence, I would not have married or kept visiting Mrs. Jennings all these years, a little bit of ruckus now and then can only serve someone well.’ ‘I am not “a little bit of ruckus now and then”, I am a lot of noise at all times of the day. That cannot be good for anyone.’ ‘It is good for me. I have needed such noise to ban all the eternal quietness in my life. Thank you, Marianne.’ She didn’t speak after that and although the Colonel felt a little embarrassed at the brashness of his words, he meant every single one of them. ‘You are free to leave tomorrow. You will be missed, of course, but I shall tell Eliza that your mother called on you and it was urgent.’ She rose and smiled, then inclined her chin at him. ‘Thank you, Colonel. I shall begin packing a few essentials then. Thank you, truly.’ She dipped her head low and walked to the other end of the library. She picked up a stack of books and put them back in their assigned places on the shelves. Once she had finished, she curtsied in his direction and left the room. The Colonel followed after her and greeted the servant who stepped inside once the Colonel had left the room. He followed Marianne upstairs and waited for her to open her door, then did the same. They closed it at the same time, giving the illusion that only one door had closed, instead of two.

The Colonel didn’t get much rest that night.

Chapter Text

“Make not your thoughts your prison.” – Antony and Cleopatra

Marianne rose and got dressed. She was the first one up and went downstairs to have breakfast in silence and solitude. She spoke with the staff and giggled over the many amorous mishaps one of the kitchen servants seemed to have whenever he went out in society. The Colonel appeared and sat down across from her and opened the paper. He sipped deeply from the tea that had been put down in front of him and buttered his toast. Marianne watched him eat and once he must have felt her stare, looked up. ‘The carriage will be drawn soon. Have you packed all of your things you require, for your journey?’ ‘Yes. Thank you for allowing me to pay my mother a visit.’ ‘In the future you need not ask permission, Marianne, you are free to go wherever you please and do what strikes your fancy. I shall not be holding you back. At least not with intention.’ Marianne was oddly touched by his words and extended her hand. He took it and she allowed him to bring it to his lips and kiss the back of her hand. He let go and she finished the eggs that were on her plate.

‘Eliza has not yet risen?’ ‘No, I believe she is sleeping in, as is the boy, miraculously enough.’ ‘Then I will be off, before she can see me take my leave, or see me here and think she is the cause of my absence.’ The Colonel was grateful that Marianne could be so considerate at times and that she thought like him at times. He watched her rise and leave the room. He followed after having finished the dregs of his tea and helped her carry her things. Not that she needed a lot of things. He helped her put the presents they had bought for her mother and youngest sister into the carriage and he waited for the driver to get seated. The Colonel helped his wife enter the carriage by extending his hand and providing the support she needed to step inside and sit down. Marianne leaned out of the carriage and pressed a kiss on his cheek. She pulled back, blushing furiously and cleared her throat in discomfort.

Marianne watched the Colonel look at her in surprise and turn as red as she probably was. The colour moved from his throat to his cheeks and disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. A shy smile played on his mouth and the corners of his lips quirked up nervously, only to lower immediately. The Colonel lifted his hand and took hers, kissed it and let go of it. Marianne waved at him, feeling quite silly as she did so. The dogs barked close to the back of the carriage and jumped up at the wheels and the Colonel. The Colonel hadn’t been able to foresee this and fell backwards. Marianne hurried out of the carriage and helped him stand upright. He helped her back inside the carriage, his touch lingering on her hand as he did so. It made Marianne look up. The Colonel squeezed her hand and let go. ‘Take good care of yourself. I am well aware you will only be absent for most of the morning and afternoon, but please, look after yourself. I do not want you to trouble yourself. Give my best to your mother and Miss Margaret.’ ‘Thank you for your concern, sir, but it is quite misplaced. Care for yourself, Eliza and her son; she needs your aid more than I do, or ever will. Thank you and I shall see you all before the end of the day, I promise.’ She pulled the curtain of the window in the carriage closed and the Colonel motioned to the driver that he should start driving. Marianne closed her eyes and waited for the horses to take her to Barton Park, and in turn, the cottage.

The Colonel watched the carriage leave and turned around, motioning at the dogs to follow him. He entered the hallway and watched Eliza walk down the stairs with the Young Chris on her hip. It was quite uncommon for women of a certain social class to nurse and care for their own children. Eliza was clearly decided on this and wouldn’t see to it that a governess or a wet nurse should take her place. It was one of the things the Colonel greatly respected in his ward. She put the boy down as soon as she had reached the bottom of the staircase. The little vivacious young’un ran to the Colonel and bumped into his knee. The Colonel wasn’t capable of suppressing the wince, and Eliza quickly pulled her child back into her arms. She looked at him poignantly, and her scrutinizing gaze made the Colonel feel sorry for the child she was carrying, should he ever do something that would cause him to receive such a glare. ‘How many years have I been telling you to go see a doctor for that knee injury of yours?’ ‘Long enough, but the doctor will not be able to help me. I know this already, that is often the case with old war injuries, especially those which were received under traumatising circumstances.’ ‘I suppose your wife knows of this and has told you the same?’ ‘She has.’ ‘Then you are a stubborn old git and a fool with a hard heart.’ The Colonel tutted at her and she tutted back. Then the two of them walked back to sit down and eat breakfast. Considering that the Colonel had already eaten, he only sipped sparingly from his cup of tea and watched Eliza feed Christopher and in between feeding him and wiping his chin whenever he spilled or swallowed sloppily, eat from her own plate. ‘Is your wife, Mrs. Brandon, Marianne, not joining us today?’ ‘No. Her mother called on her early this morning and as the matter was somewhat of an urgent nature, Marianne decided to go to her at once, without further delay. She is assured that she will return before nightfall.’ ‘Let us hope that her mother is well later today, then. Christopher, you cannot eat that, it is inedible.’ She took a serviette out of the boy’s mouth and tutted at the child.

‘Eliza, will you allow me to play the piece of music your mother wrote for you, once you have quite finished eating your breakfast?’ ‘I would be in your debt, and delighted.’ She took Young Christopher by the hand and followed the Colonel into the sitting room. There was a pianoforte in both the sitting room and the library, placed there on a whim once, and it was warmer in the library, but the Colonel didn’t want to play the piece there. There was something about the library that was strictly Marianne’s, and his. To play the piece there, would mean that his past would entwine with his present in such a way that the two would be inseparable. It felt like a giant intrusion he didn’t want to make.

They entered the sitting room and the Colonel sat down in front of the pianoforte and began to play once his company was seated. At first he stumbled a bit with reading Eliza’s handwriting, as it had been so long since he’d seen it; nigh on twenty years, and as the piece was unfamiliar to him. Once he had read through the entire thing, he began again and this time made no faults. There was something about this piece: he could close his eyes and play it without fault. There was something in it that reminded him of Eliza’s soul. Perhaps part of Eliza’s soul was attached to this piece. The Colonel had held and loved her soul for most of his life, that as he played it, she came to life before his eyes and he would only have to reach out and she would be there beside him. A tingle went down his spine and he got gooseflesh. Once he finished the piece, he turned around and looked at his ward. She was crying silent tears and rubbing pointlessly at her eyes. He rose and sat down beside her, wrapped his arms around her and consoled her.

‘This was written for me?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘It is so beautiful.’ ‘She was so beautiful, Eliza, breath-taking, in and out.’ After that Eliza became a blubbering mess. Young Christopher looked at his mother in concern and attempted to climb into her lap. The Colonel let go of her and watched the toddler climb into his mother’s lap and embrace her, while clumsily wiping away her tears with his pudgy hands. He sloppily pressed kisses on her cheeks and whispered ‘mother’ repeatedly, in a futile attempt to comfort her. Eliza wrapped her arms around her child and clutched him to her chest. She rocked to and fro with the child and the Colonel thought it best if he left the two alone for a moment. He rose quietly and left, closing the door behind him. The morning was nearly over. He looked outside and saw that it was raining. The sight reminded him of Marianne, his wife. He was aghast with his behaviour. For several hours it had been as if she had never existed. As if Marianne hadn’t brought him back to life and hadn’t mended his broken heart. The Colonel was mortified and ashamed of himself. How dare he so carelessly think about past lovers when he knew she didn’t do the same. Didn’t allow herself to think of Willoughby? He knew she didn’t, because her eyes were clear of that forlorn look they had carried in them, all those years ago, when she had been deeply and sporadically in love with the man. He was truly not worthy of her if he forgot her existence thus easily. He didn’t know how he would be able to face her later today and not sink to his knees and beg for forgiveness. The thought of doing that was ridiculous; he owed her nothing and he was allowed to think of what and who whenever he liked and she would never be able to stop him or read his thoughts. He was so devoted to her, but it seemed that he had been wrong. Only a few hours this morning had shown him how rocky his relationship with Marianne was, if it was so easy to forget about her.

Eliza was still crying and she excused herself, carrying Young Christopher on her hip, out of the sitting room. The Colonel didn’t know what he ought to do. He wished his wife were here, who would have known what to do in situations such as these. The words she had said last night kept echoing through his mind. She had admitted to being unhappy here. Was there anything in his might that could make her happy? Anything he could do, short from killing Willoughby’s wife and divorcing Marianne so the two could be together. He would do anything in the world to see Marianne happy, but that. He would never help her go back to Willoughby. Even if Marianne was convinced that the rascal would make her happy, the Colonel knew that Willoughby never would. When Eliza reappeared again it was time for the luncheon to begin and they went to the kitchens.

Marianne watched her younger sister throw her needlework through the sitting room and growl. The sight of her impatient youngest sibling did Marianne well. Her mother tutted at her daughter and retrieved the needlework. ‘Margaret, dear, do not lose your temper. You will get better at it, you will see, I promise.’ ‘No I will not, for I shall not continue with this. Why must I learn such things when I want to become a privateer and sail the seven seas with Edward and Elinor?’ ‘Margaret you are now nearly of age to be introduced into society, I will not have you spouting such things in the presence of others. You will do well to remember that you are a lady.’ ‘And ladies do not have dreams or ambitions, I know.’ ‘Margaret!’ Marianne decided that now was a good time to take Margaret out for a walk. ‘Meg, how about we take a walk?’ ‘It is going to rain soon.’ ‘It will not rain. Come, let us go outside.’ ‘You always say that and you are always wrong.’ However, even though Margaret protested, she allowed her older sister to pull her off the settee and out of the cottage. They walked quietly for a while and then Margaret halted and turned to her older sister. ‘Are you truly happy, Marianne? You look so tired and unwell.’ ‘I slept poorly last night that is all my sweet sister. Do not worry about me. Worry about yourself and your lack of propriety and your bad needlework.’ ‘Sewing is for dull witted fools.’ ‘Mother is not a dull witted fool. Wherever did you learn such language?’ ‘You are beginning to sound like Elinor. Marriage makes bores of all women, or so it seems.’

Marianne didn’t know if she wanted to laugh at her younger sister or if she wanted to give her a good turn about the ears. The insolence of the girl! Marianne settled for a laugh that came all the way from her belly and pulled her younger sibling closer. ‘It looks like it is going to rain now, let us head inside.’ ‘See! In the past nothing short of a blizzard would have kept you inside and now you willingly volunteer to go back inside!’ ‘With marriage and age and experience, comes wisdom, my sweet.’ Margaret made a rather improper snoring sound and Marianne couldn’t help but laugh. Her sister could be so unbelievably silly at times, yet at others incredibly serious and patient. That’s what Marianne loved most about Margaret; how she was both Elinor and Marianne, and possessed both of their personalities and had grown into her own. Marianne’s head spun when she thought of how quickly time seemed to pass her by at times and how it seemed like it had been frozen at other times. It really wasn’t quite fair that all the things Marianne wanted to hold on to, slipped through her fingers like infinitesimally tiny grains of wheat. It was infuriating. Was that how the Colonel felt all the time? Did he feel panic at the thought of growing older? She did, so much so that sometimes it kept her up at night. The idea that the world would move on without her, or that she would move on without anyone by her side. Innovation was only scary when you were on your own. The two girls entered the hall and their mother fussed over them. When Margaret had gone to her room, which she now had for herself, now that Marianne and Elinor no longer lived at the cottage. Marianne wished she could do more. Could offer them enough money that they could move into something more of their fitting, well suited to their status, what was left of it, but her mother would refuse, and Marianne didn’t want to insult her by offering. Yes, Marianne’s mother had made it clear on several occasions that she and Margaret got on perfectly well without any of her married daughters interfering.

‘Are you happy with the Colonel?’ Marianne took a moment to think of how she wanted to answer her mother’s question. She didn’t want her to worry, but she didn’t want to lie either. She went to her mother and knelt in front of her, taking her hands in her own and bringing them up to her mouth so she could kiss them. ‘I am content mother. The Colonel- He is good to me.’ ‘It is good to hear my sweet. Are you certain you are happy?’ ‘I am, mother, I am. I could not have asked for a better husband.’ ‘I cannot help but think back of your fervent feelings for Mr. Willoughby, and how there is a great absence of such with the Colonel.’ Marianne couldn’t contain the soft chuckle. Hadn’t she told the Colonel the very thing last night? That her mother would start comparing the two of them? She had prepared for this question, last night as she was packing her things and trying to fall asleep. Marianne cleared her throat and rose, letting go of her mother’s hands. She walked to the window and followed the trail of a rain drop with her fingernail. ‘I am happy, mother. I was young once and I knew little of the world. I am older now and have more experience. I would like to think myself wiser as well. Believe me when I say that my days are filled with content and happiness.’ She looked outside and could suddenly see the Colonel ride up to the house and see him get off his horse and walk up to the front door. Marianne couldn’t believe her eyes. She rubbed at the glass which had fogged over with her breath and narrowed her eyes in an attempt to see anything through the rain. There was no-one. She had imagined it.

How wonderful, she was losing her mind! ‘Perhaps I have done you a great misdeed, my Marianne,’ her mother began and the sombre tone of her voice caused Marianne to turn around and look at Mrs. Dashwood. ‘What do you mean, you adore the Colonel?’ ‘I do, but I love you more. I should not have pressed you into accepting his proposal. I should have kept you here at home with me.’ A flood of rage overcame Marianne and she clenched her hands into fists to keep herself from saying something that would certainly hurt her mother. ‘Mother, I am happy. I would not have been happy here.’ They both knew that was a lie but Mrs. Dashwood nodded and rose. ‘I wonder what is taking Margaret so long to reappear. I will only be a minute.’ Marianne was grateful that her mother had left the room. She went back to the window and stared outside. What she wouldn’t do to go outside right now. Only a moment wouldn’t hurt her. She went into the hall and opened the front door. She stuck her head outside and inhaled deeply before closing the door again. Her mother and sister reappeared and Margaret held out a book to Marianne.

The Colonel watched his ward speak and play with her child as they left Delaford and stepped into the carriage. His grandchild waved at him and the Colonel couldn’t help but wave back. Eliza had grown silent after she had returned and asked him if she could go back to her house with her son. The Colonel felt loathe to do so, but had the servants prepare the carriage for her. They rode off and the Colonel went back inside. He went to the library and sat down. The fire hadn’t yet been lit and it was a little chilly in the room. His eye fell on the thick volume Marianne had been reading a few days earlier and reached over to grab it. The book fell open on the page she had stopped at, thanks to her handkerchief that she had placed between it, and the Colonel let his eyes skim across the page. She was reading poetry. He thought she’d been reading Shakespeare as always, but it was poetry.
His eye fell on two specific stanzas, following one another.

“Ladies gambling night and morning;
Fools the works of genius scorning;
Ancient dames for girls mistaken,
Youthful damsels quite forsaken.

Some in luxury delighting;
More in talking than in fighting;
Lovers old, and beaux decrepid;
Lordlings empty and insipid.”

The last two lines of the second stanza were smeared, as if someone had dragged their finger over it, in agreement. Did Marianne think him old and decrepit? Was he empty and insipid? Why was she reading this? Marianne was known to read whatever she fancied, pertaining to the mood she was in. Had he disappointed her? He read the words over and over again until he could cite them with his eyes closed. He put the handkerchief back into place and put the volume down. A servant entered the room and went to light the fire in the hearth. ‘Will you be having supper here, sir?’ Supper? The Colonel looked outside for the first time in hours and saw that the sun had set without him knowing or seeing. ‘Mrs. Brandon has not yet arrived?’ ‘No, sir.’ The servant left and the Colonel couldn’t the worry that had overtaken him. What if something had happened and Marianne was lying somewhere in the rains and in the dark? He needed to find her and assure himself that she was well.

He rose but then sat back down. Mrs. Dashwood probably had asked her to stay the night. It was a normal thing, nothing to worry about. Yet, the Colonel was worried. Incredibly worried and restless and uneasy. He had half a mind to ride to Barton cottage but it was already late and dark out and it would do no-one good if he got lost himself. He would have to wait until the morrow dawned on them all. He ate little and eventually he couldn’t contain himself anymore. He ordered the stable boy to ready his horse and he put on his riding habits. The Colonel lifted himself up on the horse and rode into the dark. It was impossible to see anything in this weather, and with the wind constantly stealing his voice and his hearing, the Colonel couldn’t call out to Marianne nor would he have been able to hear her. Gutted, he rode back, soaked to the bone. Most of the servants had already gone to bed by the time he returned to the stables and he saw to his own horse, not wanting to wake up the stable boy. He entered the house and went up the stairs immediately. The clock downstairs told him it was thirty minutes past two in the morning. He had been out for five hours, looking for Marianne. It became clear to the Colonel that he had never even made it to Barton park, let alone the cottage. He had ridden off into the wrong direction and the Colonel presumed he had come closer to reaching Bath than to reaching Marianne. He had no spirits or energy left. He felt weathered, wearied and worried and the lines he’d read kept resurfacing to the front of his mind. He took off his wet clothes and sunk down into his pillows and sheets. Sleep came fast and even in his dreams he couldn’t stop thinking about Marianne. He dreamt that she was burning, not knowing that the heat he felt in his mind was caused by the exposure of cold for so many hours.

Marianne spent the night at home, rising at dawn. She had been so silly yesterday, sending the carriage back. She would have to walk back to Delaford which would take her quite a few hours and then she would be back at Delaford. She’d shared a bed with Margaret who had been fast asleep by the time Marianne finally joined her and was still asleep when Marianne rose. She greeted the two servants they did still have and went on her way, back to Delaford. The sun was shining a little bleakly, as if it hadn’t wanted to do so today, and the air smelt crisp and clean. Marianne relished in the smell of the wet landscape around her, everything being more vivid and vivacious. She was tired after the long trek but her mind was clear and she readily greeted the dogs that stove in her direction as she reached the gardens of Delaford. A servant spotted her and made her way over to Marianne. ‘Mrs. Brandon, welcome back. The master has not yet risen, but I expect he will soon.’ The servant curtsied and Marianne thanked her. The Colonel had not yet risen? This was most odd and out of sorts, as he often rose with the lark. Marianne couldn’t help but feel guilty that she had not sent word of her delayed departure and only hoped that he hadn’t worried too much. She went to her rooms and changed her dress after having washed herself. She went downstairs again but the Colonel was nowhere to be seen. ‘Mistress, I was just about to take this tray to his rooms.’ Marianne took the plate up to the Colonel instead, even though the servant had protested. She knocked at first but received no answer. Marianne carefully opened the door and walked into the room. This was the first time she was in his bedchamber and it felt strangely intrusive of her to be here.

The curtains were drawn and he was indeed still abed, asleep even. Had something happened with Eliza? She put down the tray and went to the side of the bed. Marianne battled the instinct that told her this was overstepping boundaries and carefully sat down on the mattress. The Colonel didn’t move. ‘Colonel Brandon?’ No answer. ‘Christopher?’ She reached out and gently shook him. He made a sound then, a groan and turned restlessly before he eventually woke. ‘Christopher, is something the matter?’ He didn’t respond and stared at her. He didn’t seem to recognize her because he mumbled something and closed his eyes again. Marianne rose and pulled the drapes open. She went back to the Colonel and took him in. He was undressed. Marianne’s cheeks warmed as she took in his chest. It carried scars in places and a small patch of hairs in the middle. She cleared her throat and looked away but he hadn’t moved and she turned her head back to look at him once more. He was covered in transpiration. His cheeks were flushed and his hair was damp. He was pale. She sat down and placed her hand on his forehead. He was burning up.

Marianne rose and went outside. She ordered a servant to bring a doctor to Delaford and then went downstairs, into the kitchens, to the shock of most, to draw up a kettle of hot water. She looked for a jar of honey and found it eventually, tucked behind a large jar of salt and sugar. She found dried peppermint leaves and prepared the tea and put some honey in it. She went back upstairs and entered the Colonel’s room. He was still asleep and she didn’t know how long he had gone without nutrition. She sat down beside him and gently shook him by his shoulder. He winced in his sleep and finally opened his eyes. This time he was more alert because he recognized her. ‘Marianne, what are you doing here, in my room? When did you arrive home? Am I dreaming?’ He made no move to cover himself but he did push himself up a bit, so he could sit up straight. Marianne rose and soaked a piece of cloth in his washbasin and returned to his side. She dabbed at his forehead and cheeks and then after a moment’s hesitation, dabbed his chest with the damp fabric as well. The Colonel had stiffened and watched her in silence, lips thinned. ‘When did you return?’ ‘About an hour ago, has Eliza gone?’ ‘Yes, yesterday afternoon.’ ‘I suspect you have a fever. What did you do?’

The Colonel would never admit to her that he had spent hours, outside in the rain, looking for her. He would take that to his grave. His head was pounding and his throat hurt. He felt poorly and old. The lines spooked through his mind again. Marianne dabbed the cloth at his chest and she had probably seen all of him by now, so he didn’t bother to cover himself. Though he wished for covering as he was shivering from the cold. She rose again and left him. Had he dreamt it? She returned and he knew he hadn’t. She dabbed at his brow again, but after a few moments, she took it back, folded the cloth and placed it on his forehead. She then rose and returned with a cup of steaming tea. The idea of food made him sick and he shook his head, which he regretted instantly as the world swam momentarily before his eyes. ‘Back when we still lived at home, and not in Barton cottage, with my father, my mother would prepare this for us whenever one of us fell ill.’ She brought the rim of the cup to the Colonel’s lips and brought her hand to the back of his neck to tip his head back a little. He carefully opened his mouth and drank from the concoction. He couldn’t tell what it tasted like, but he made certain to drink all of it, as he wanted to please Marianne. ‘The doctor will be here soon, I think. Are you cold?’ He went to answer but a moment of clarity alerted him to the fact that she was nursing him.
More proof that he was old and insipid and decrepit. Anger and shame rose in him so quickly that it overrode his worry and he pulled away from her touch. She retracted her hands, which had been resting on the cloth on his forehead and on the back of his neck and folded them in her lap. ‘Leave. Please leave.’ ‘Christopher, you are ill.’ ‘Do not call me that!’ She rose from his side and stepped back. She went to the window, closed it and pulled the curtains shut. She hesitated, then took the cup and placed it on a tray the Colonel hadn’t seen, and left the room, softly closing the door behind her. He sank back down into his pillows and closed his eyes again. He was going to be sick. Very sick.

Marianne had planned on staying out of his room, as he had requested, but she hadn’t even made it halfway down the stairs when she heard a loud crash coming from his end of the hall. She nearly dropped the tray she was holding, in her hurry to go back upstairs. She put it down after having placed the vase with flowers on the ground. She opened the door and stepped inside. He was no longer lying in his bed, but he fallen out of it and he had been sick in his chamber pot. Why were there no servants on this floor? The Colonel was much too heavy to carry back into his bed. Marianne went to the basin again and washed his face. He was barely awake and Marianne was grateful for that because he would have been embarrassed to have been found in such a position. Eventually she managed to put him back down on his bed and pulled the sheets over his body. It pained her to see him ill. She leaned in and kissed his brow, pushing his unruly hair back to do so.

She took the chamber pot with her and found the nearest servant who was able to clean it for her. Marianne welcomed the doctor and followed him into her husband’s bedchamber. The doctor concerned himself with the Colonel’s wellbeing and eventually turned back to Marianne. ‘I will let blood to restore his humours. He has a fever and needs rest and fluids.’ He brought out his scalpel and went to sit beside the Colonel. He made a small incision in the upper arm, and snapped his fingers at Marianne to bring him the pot in which he would be able to catch the blood. It was an unsightly sight, the Colonel looked so pale and ill and now to see him bleeding like that, it upset Marianne and shook her to her core. Had she looked like this all those years ago? Her poor sister! What must she have suffered through! After what seemed like an eternity, the doctor bound the wound and gathered his things. He took his leave and left. Marianne went to her own chamber and washed her face feverishly. Trying to keep the things she had just witnessed from staying in her mind.

She went downstairs and made another cup of tea for the Colonel and brought both her needlework and a book from the library with her back into his bedchamber and sat down. She lit a candle and read by candlelight.

When the Colonel woke, he noticed that his arm hurt. He looked down and saw the wrappings. The doctor had visited then and taken his blood. He didn’t know if he agreed with that. He was against bloodletting, and now it had happened to him, and he felt worse. His eyes slowly grew accustomed to the darkness and fell on a small figure next to a lit candle. It was Marianne, pulling a needle through fabric placed in her lap. The sight was uncommon. He hadn’t known she had such skills. She had stayed, against his wishes. Yet, he couldn’t stay angered at her. It warmed his heart to know that she had stayed by his side all this time. He couldn’t even muster the feeling of embarrassment and shame because he felt touched. He must have made a sound because Marianne looked up and smiled at him. She put down her needlework and went to his bedside. She looked like she had stepped out of a dream. A fever dream no doubt, but he knew it was real when she touched his hand. She lifted a cup and brought it up to his mouth. He drank from it and sat upright. ‘You are still here.’ ‘Yes. You would not do the same?’ He didn’t have to answer that because they both knew he would have done the same. ‘What were you reading?’ ‘I was reading a favourite of mine again.’ ‘Do you think me old?’ The question surprised the both of them. He hadn’t expected to ask it, and she hadn’t expected to answer it.

‘I used to. However, now that I am older, I still you as old, but it is a different kind of old. It is an increase in wisdom and experience that comes with age, not necessarily ailments and a death that draws near. You are old. In the eyes of a young person, everyone is old, when older than themselves. It depends on the decades that separate young and old. Perhaps it is the idea of the elderly being unattainable as they have lived longer and seen more. Yes, I do think you are old, but I no longer see it as a burden or a problem. Your age shall not faze me again. Perhaps you think me silly for being young and inexperienced.’ Her voice was like honey and the Colonel closed his eyes, no longer able to look at her. ‘Somehow, during these last few years, age has taken on a different meaning. It started taking on a different meaning when I heard others talk of me, when I nearly died and when I was compared to you or Willoughby. It matters what you do with all your years, not how many of them you have lived through or seen.’ He felt himself slowly getting lulled back to sleep. He reached out to her and took her hand. He brought it to his mouth and kissed her skin. ‘Thank you.’ ‘My sister called me old yesterday.’ She said it softly but the Colonel had heard and it drew a surprised laugh. The idea was idiotic. Marianne, old? Absurd! She retracted her hand and he felt her withdraw. ‘Besides, being old does not guarantee death. Young people die as often as the old do. What is a few years to Death?’ She left the room, he could hear her close the door and he exhaled. She was right.

In the days that followed, Marianne looked after the Colonel, never straying far from his side. She read to him, read her favourite plays to him and sang to him when he requested it of her and made certain that he was warm enough. He should have felt embarrassed but instead he felt cared for, something he hadn’t felt in a long time, a feeling so unfamiliar to him that he wondered if he had ever felt this way and if the feeling had been unknown to him all these years. He was grateful to learn it now and become accustomed with it at this time in his life. He wouldn’t want to feel this way with anyone but Marianne by his side and he was grateful to know that it was her and not someone else who looked after him.

Chapter Text

“I love thee with a love I seemed to lose with my lost saints.” – Sonnet 43

The Colonel had recovered after nearly a fortnight of being bed bound and ill. He was grateful that he could finally rise without seeing spots in his vision or having his head feel like he had been deep in drink, and most of all he was grateful that Marianne no longer would have to witness him at his worst. She had scarcely left his side all this time and despite his closeness, he was grateful for her absence. He rose from his bed and walked without needing aid or rests, to his basin and washed his face. He washed himself and inspected himself in the mirror. He lifted his razor and dragged it across his skin. His whiskers came off and once he had shaved his face meticulously, he felt a little better. He washed his face again, getting rid of any remnants of shaving cream, and then dipped his entire head underwater. He rose and reached for a hand towel to dry his face with. He attempted to dry his hair as well as he could and went to his dresser to find a clean shirt and a set of trousers. He opened the curtains and looked outside. It was pouring rain and he was grateful that Marianne was indoors. As the Colonel thought this to himself, he spied Marianne running towards the back of the house. She was soaked to the marrow of her bone and her dress clung to her. Her hair which had most likely been carefully arranged before, now hung in strands down the sides of her face. She opened her mouth and he could hear her delighted whoop. He had half a mind to go down and pull her inside, but there was this other part of him that enjoyed watching her unguarded.

She tipped her head back and closed her eyes. The Colonel should feel guilty for spying on her, but he couldn’t feel guilty. She was his wife after all. Marianne opened her eyes and they made eye contact. She smiled a little sheepishly, looking like she had been caught doing something she hadn’t been allowed to do, and went inside. The Colonel grinned to himself. He could hear her ascend the stairs and enter her rooms. He stepped out of his own and met her in the hallway as she stepped out of her own rooms. She spotted him and smiled a little tentatively. ‘Good morning.’ ‘Afternoon,’ she whispered. Why was she whispering? ‘Are you ill?’ Something changed in her eyes and she crossed her arms in front of her. ‘Are you?’ The Colonel grinned and offered her his arm. ‘No. I have recovered after your close and most attentive care.’ ‘I am relieved to hear it. My mother was most concerned with your health.’ ‘She thought I would drop dead and leave you?’ Marianne laughed and the sound was most welcome to the Colonel’s ears.

Marianne watched the Colonel closely when he wasn’t paying attention to her. He was indeed looking much better, and he even sounded better. It was good to see him up and about. They walked down the stairs together and went into the sitting room. After a while the Colonel rose and went to the pianoforte. He stretched his fingers and then began to play. Marianne watched his fingers move and eventually walked through the room to sit down beside him and join him. They played a duet and Marianne had difficulty concentrating on the keys, as they seldom sat this close. This up close she could see that he had nicked himself while shaving this morning and she could smell him, he smelt clean and there was something about his scent that was uniquely his own. The Colonel suddenly stopped playing and turned his head in her direction. He smiled. ‘Marianne, you are not paying attention.’ Marianne was jolted from her thoughts and looked up to meet his eyes. His sweet kind eyes. ‘I was distracted, forgive me. We shall continue.’ ‘What were you thinking about?’ ‘That you cut yourself this morning, right there.’ She held out a hand and cupped his chin, then wetted the tip of her thumb and wiped away the small drop of blood that had welled up on his skin, close to line of his jaw. He stilled as she wiped it away and only moved when she had let go of her hold on his chin. He brought his fingers up to the small cut and tried to feel the small wound. ‘It seems that I did.’ ‘Does it hurt?’ ‘I was not aware of its presence until you remarked upon it.’ Marianne smiled at him and turned back to the piano.

They played together for some time but the Colonel noticed that while she was physically there, mentally Marianne was elsewhere. He wondered where her thoughts had taken her and what or who they were concerned with. He didn’t feel like he had the freedom or the privilege to ask, so he let her be and tried not to interrupt her thoughts. Marianne stopped playing altogether at one point and moved away from the pianoforte, and rose to stand before the window. She looked out of it and watched the rain come down. After a few moments of quiet contemplation, the Colonel rose and went to stand beside her. He carefully touched the back of her elbow.

Marianne looked up. Touches between them were few and brief and the idea that she had the freedom to touch him whenever she liked and he had that same freedom, still baffled her. Being married was entirely from being unmarried and without dalliances. There were things she could do now, that she couldn’t before. Yet, because this was a loveless marriage, in the sense of amorous love, touching one another felt like a liberty she didn’t like to take. It seemed that the Colonel shared her sentiments.

‘Is something the matter?’ ‘No. I feel a little melancholy today that is all. My spirits will lift in a bit, I a certain of it.’ ‘Is there anything I can do?’ ‘I was wondering how my sister is faring with her pregnancy. She is not yet lying in, but she will soon and with Edward gone so often to see to his parishioners, I fear she will be lonely.’ ‘We could attend on her. Tomorrow, if the weather clears up.’ ‘I would like that.’ Yet her spirits didn’t lift over the course of the next few hours. If anything, they lowered and Marianne had to bite back tears at one point. The Colonel had left her alone in the library, to see to some urgent papers in his study. She was sat reading in front of the fire when she suddenly knew why her spirits had been so low. She had risen to see to her private needs when she had seen the stain on her dress. This shouldn’t mortify her as she and the Colonel had been living together for the last few months, a total of four, but the maid who served Marianne had been sent home as her mother was ill and had needed looking after. The Colonel had few female servants and Marianne was the only woman in the house at the moment. When her father had still been alive, it had been a taboo subject. As she had lived with her sisters and her mother in the cottage it had been discussed a little bit more often, but still been mentioned very rarely. Marianne and the Colonel had never spoken of it. The only time they every spoke about female anatomy was when they had spoken twice about relations, or rather the absence of it. She retreated to her room and changed her dress. She would, Marianne decided, stay in her room for the upcoming few days and only when things were back to normal, would she come out again.

The Colonel wandered whatever ailment it was that could trouble Marianne thus but he felt like he was overstepping boundaries if he asked. Still, after having gone down to the library and finding it empty, he went to her rooms and knocked on the door. ‘Marianne, is something the matter?’ ‘I am well. Please refrain from entering the room.’ The Colonel laughed but then realized she was serious. ‘Has something transpired? I am entering your room.’ ‘I said no.’ The Colonel hesitated in front of the door, his hand already outstretched, reaching for the doorknob. ‘Are you indecent?’ ‘No.’ ‘Any secret lovers in there?’ He jested but was relieved to hear the laughter in her voice when she answered that that was not the case. The Colonel turned the knob and entered the room. She was lying on her bed, sheets pulled up to her chin. She looked up when he entered the room. Her eyes were wide as saucers and she turned rapidly pink. ‘What are you doing in here? I specifically told you not to.’ ‘Sometimes I can be a bit of a rebel myself.’ ‘Would you be so kind as to tell me whatever is the matter? I want to help, or be able to provide aid for you.’ She sat up, wincing as she did so. She was still blushing and from the way she twitched as he came closer, it looked like the red wouldn’t fade any time soon.

‘You are in no position to help.’ This answer halted him. He couldn’t help her? She turned red again as the two of them looked at one another. She averted her eyes and the Colonel couldn’t believe it! His Marianne, turning away in embarrassment! The very same woman who had announced to Mrs. Jennings of their private relations!
Marianne realized after a few moments of looking at the Colonel and then turning away from him to hide her face that he wasn’t going to leave any time soon. She then figured that at one point the Colonel and her would be having relations, at the very least once, whether that was in the upcoming months or years from now, it would take place one day and he would be introduced to her privates then, no matter how perfunctory and this was a part of that, so why shouldn’t she be mentioning the working of things to him. He probably was no virgin, not at his age, and it hopefully wouldn’t be the first time he heard of it. Marianne cleared her throat and turned back to look at her husband. She coloured as she thought of what she was about to do. Such things as these were simply not done, even among women this was not often spoken of. She straightened her back. The Colonel was hovering beside her mattress and Marianne noticed, perhaps for the first time, how close they were. How little the distance between them was. She coloured again and when she made eye contact with the Colonel, he coloured as well. He sat down after a few moments, on the edge of her bed. He folded his hands in his lap and cleared his throat in discomfort.

‘You know the Bible of course. ‘ ‘I do.’ ‘In Genesis they talk of Eve’s punishment for betraying God and how this punishment differed from Adam’s.’ ‘I am familiar with the Old Testament.’ He stared at her then coloured, but she had to give him credit for not recoiling in disgust, as the bleedings were seen as a sign of the woman being unclean and devilish. ‘I am plagued at this time with precisely her punishment and I have retreated to keep you from seeing me in such a state. Normally my maid would help me, but she is not here at this time.’ She looked down at her hands and coughed uncomfortably. She sensed his nearness and he tilted her chin up with his hand. ‘Marianne, I have to admit that I have little experience with and knowledge of this subject, I am assured that we will think of something. It is no use to hide in your room. Did you not attend on me every day and night, for the last fortnight?’

She had. ‘Whatever you need, I will be at your service. If you want me to leave, I shall do so. Consider me entirely at your disposal. This is also the case whenever you are not… indisposed.’ ‘I would like you to leave, but thank you nonetheless. I am much obliged.’ That was wholeheartedly untrue and Marianne was trying her hardest to contain her anger at him entering her room and troubling him with her troubles when he had no right to, and she was struggling not to cry from the embarrassment that had risen in her when she had had to explain her situation to him. She was most of all in pain and she wanted him to leave. He rose and left the room.

The Colonel didn’t see his wife for the next four days and at that time Marianne’s maid had returned and the small glimpse he had had into her private life, disappeared. He supposed some would be disappointed to know that their wives were bleeding, but he preferred it. There was still this uncertainty that she wouldn’t stay with him, and this proved that she hadn’t strayed from his side, at least not too far. He felt guilty for thinking this way and feeling this way, but the feeling of relief that he had experienced when he heard of her woes, was too big to be denied and could only be obliged.
He was glad that Marianne could not read thoughts. He did feel angry not being able to help. He felt angry at God for doing women yet another disfavour, among the many others he had done them. He was annoyed at the gentility of these matters and the decorum of it all. Why couldn’t he openly speak with his wife about such things? It caused her great discomfort every month, only absent when she was with child, and they would stay married, hopefully, for many years to come, and he strongly disliked this absence from her side when in some way or the other she had need of him.
When Marianne finally showed her face again and came down to eat dinner with him, the Colonel was overjoyed. It did him well to see her face again and be able to talk to her. She coloured when she entered the room first, but slowly but certainly fell into old habits and the matter was not brought up again.

‘Mrs. Jennings has called on us.’ ‘Really? I presume you have no love for me and have accepted this call.’ ‘You assume correctly.’ ‘Miscreant.’ She murmured something else under her breath and reached for the cutlery on the sides of her plate. She ate in silence and when she was finished, put her fork and knife down with force. ‘Must we go see that woman?’ ‘I am afraid so, yes.’ ‘Can I not pretend to have caught a dizzy spell or an illness?’ ‘You are aware that she would only come to see you here, to tend to you.’ ‘Blast, you are right.’ ‘I would not blaspheme in her presence, if you want to see another day.’ She folded her arms in front of her and the Colonel couldn’t help but be highly entertained with his wife’s behaviour. ‘There is no escaping Mrs. Jennings and you would do well to behave yourself, I will not apologize on your behalf to the woman again.’ ‘I shall tie myself to a tree.’ ‘Then I would cut it down and strap you to the top of the carriage, and ride to Mrs. Jennings.’ She tipped her head back and laughed. ‘I cannot bear another question of when I am with child. If she calls it a “wife’s duty” one more time, I cannot be held accountable for my response.’ ‘I shall never stray from your side, so you shall not do her harm or strike her or mouth foul language. I do not want her to have a stroke. Especially not by your hand.’ The Colonel knew Marianne liked Mrs. Jennings at times but he knew just as well that those times were rare and few. ‘We will ride on horseback and when we go home, we shall stop and call on your sister.’ Marianne’s eyes met his and it pleased him to see the glint in them. ‘That will do.’ ‘Good. Well, I am headed to the library, will you join me?’ ‘Of course.’

They rose and left the room. The Colonel offered her his arm and felt like a cat who had gotten cream, when she accepted it. They walked through the hall and went to the stairs. ‘The library is downstairs, do not tell me your mind is going so soon?’ ‘Very funny, mock me for my age.’ She laughed and while her response had confirmed a fear in him, he was also pleased to hear her laugh. ‘I do not believe you have yet seen this library.’ She halted halfway up the stairs and turned to face him. Her eyes were full of wonder and disbelief. ‘You mean to say that you possess two vast collections of books?’ ‘Yes.’ Something changed in her features and she narrowed her eyes at him. ‘You mean to tell me that all these months I have been carrying big volumes up the stairs when there was no need for it?’ She swatted at him and tutted, then pursed her lips. Her mood changed so quickly at times that the Colonel could barely keep up with them. He fell silent. Had the news truly upset her thus? Her features again rearranged themselves and she tipped her head back to laugh. ‘I am in jest. Show me the library, if you please.’ ‘I shall.’ Show me the library, if you please.’ ‘I shall.’ They went to the upstairs library and the Colonel took the liberty of placing the palm of his hand over Marianne’s eyes to prevent her from seeing it before he could show it to her. The gesture felt inherently wrong to him as he was obstructing her sight and decided what she was allowed to see, but he didn’t want to spoil the surprise. They shuffled to the entrance and he leant past her, their elbows touched as he brushed past her and turned the handle. He put his hand on the small of her back, taking yet another liberty, and gently lead her over the threshold. He took away his hand and revelled in the gasp that came forth from her. She stepped back into him and she clutched at his hand. She turned around and let go, her eyes filled with wonder and her mouth had fallen open in an ‘o’ with disbelief. ‘I might have told some falsities about the size of this library.’ ‘ “Some falsities” he says. Have you seen the sheer and vast size of your collection? I would quite possibly commit homicide to even come near possessing such a thing.’ ‘Well you shall only have to wait for me to die or murder me in my sleep and all your wishes will have been granted.’ Her head snapped up at him and the smile that had graced her lips, turned into a frown. ‘That is not amusing at all. Believe it or not, to fathom the thought of your death brings me grief. I would advice you in the future to abstain from such statements.’ Her words shook him to his very core and it felt like it was his wedding day all over again.

He had never dared dream of her ever speaking such words, let alone mean them. He knew she meant them. ‘I apologize, never again shall I speak such words, unless they are meant and I am at death’s door.’ ‘Even then I do not care to hear them.’ They spoke little after that.

Marianne had a sour taste in the back of her mouth. His words, although spoken in jest, had caused her great distress. She was confronted with the difference in years between and his perhaps nearing mortality. Then again, as she had recently told him herself, young people died every day as well. What would she bequeath him? She would not give him off spring. At least not any time in the near future. What if he died before he conceived? He would leave her the estate, or at least she presumed that he would. It mattered little to her what she would inherit. It gave her palpitations to think of her own demise. She would hardly leave anything to him. The Colonel tugged on the sleeve of her dress, the gesture pulling her from her thoughts. ‘You do not have to kill me, for all of this is already yours. It is my gift to you. A late wedding present.’ Marianne was floored with emotion, again. There were few times she had actually been speechless and this was one of those times. She stuttered and tried to come up with an appropriate response but she couldn’t think of anything that would pay proper respects to the grandeur of the gesture. Nothing seemed to properly convey her gratitude.

She opened her mouth and closed it again on several occasions and the sight of it was quite comical, but the Colonel wasn’t used to Marianne’s silence and slowly started getting concerned. ‘You dislike it?’ The sheer absurdity of that statement was enough to make her laugh. ‘I strongly dislike it, in fact I think this is the gravest insult to my person, I have ever received. There are not enough books. You think me incapable?’ The Colonel needed a moment to realize she was in jest and then laughed. ‘Well, I do expect that you will add to this collection over the years to follow. Am I wrong in my assumptions?’ ‘No. I already have an addition to the shelves.’ This surprised the Colonel and he watched her take her leave. She wasn’t gone for too long, she returned with a book in her hands. ‘This,’ she said as she handed it to him, ‘is my gift to you.’ He accepted it and looked at the cover. ‘What do we have here then?’ ‘It is one of my favourite novels, and I noticed as I was browsing your vast collection that you were not in the possession of this book. I took my copy from my home, last time I visited there; a few weeks ago, when you had fallen so ill.’ ‘You never mentioned it until now.’ She coloured. ‘I kind of forgot about it, up until this moment. I hope you will enjoy reading this, as much as I did.’ ‘I am certain of it.’ ‘Mind you, as it has been passed down from my sister to me and Margaret never showed any interest in reading it, there are notations of mine in its margins.’ ‘I shall look forward to reading them and hearing your thoughts and opinions.’ The Colonel meant that from the bottom of his heart.

He went to a comfortable chair and sat down in it, watching Marianne browse and look about. Her joy was infectious and the Colonel wouldn’t be able to fight for his life the smile that made the corners of his mouth ache. It truly took very little to please Marianne. Other women would have wanted expensive dresses and jewellery and while Marianne might enjoy those things as well, anyone with eyes could see that the art of writing and language held her heart. Music was of great importance to her as well. Marianne went to the other chair and slumped into it quite ungracefully. She looked a little bewildered. ‘What is the matter?’ ‘It is overwhelming. If I do not abstain from eating, sleeping and socializing and talking with you and others joys of life such as music, I will never be able to read all of them. I never thought I would encounter such a thing nor have I ever dreamt of it, but there are simply too many books!’ Her despair was quite comical.

‘I felt like that at first, but after aging through the years, you will be able to get to more of them than you might think possible. Not having children or a wife to look after gives you seas of time.’ He regretted the words as soon as he had said them. ‘Thank you for that sobering prospect. If I resign these hopes now, they will not cause me regret in the future. Thank you.’ She didn’t sound mad, she sounded… defeated, which was somehow much worse. The Colonel didn’t want her to resign to the standard fate of any other wife. She was his wife and she could do whatever she wished to do. Although there would one day hopefully be children to see to and look after. The Colonel decided that this was a conversation he did not want to have in this very moment.
The joy which had overtaken the both of them only a few moments before, had evaporated like snow in the sun did and a tension had taken its place. The Colonel opened the book he had received and began reading. After a while the world disappeared around him as he spied the first of what turned out to be many markings and notations in the margins.
Marianne left the library once she noticed that the Colonel was no longer paying attention to her every move and she went to her sleeping chambers. She changed and lay down, her heart aching painfully in her chest. It throbbed with despair and resentment. Resentment at the inevitability of her fate.

When the Colonel finally went to turn in for the night, he took the book with him to his room. He stopped in front of Marianne’s room when he heard her cries. The sounds clawed their way into his chest and tore at him. He wouldn’t enter her room, not again, unless she expressed and stated clearly without anyone pressuring her that she wanted him to enter the room. He didn’t like knowing that her grief had been caused by his words. Her future hadn’t dawned on him until he had spoken those words out loud tonight. He had once looked forward to it, but now he didn’t. Of course they could hire a wet nurse and a nanny and a governess and so on, but the Colonel suspected that Marianne would be the kind of mother who wanted to be involved with her child and take the utmost care in her upraising. Marianne would make a wonderful mother to any and all future children they might have.

He changed his clothes, pulled the sheets up to his chin and then leaned against the headboard with his back as he lit a candle and opened the book again. He read deep into the night. He read until he was certain that Marianne had settled down and fallen asleep. He read until he was certain she would be alright one way or another. He read until he forgot about everything but the sound of his own voice in his head and that of Marianne’s which he could so clearly summon whenever he stumbled upon a notation or opinions or just a small thing she had noticed. He read the sentences she had underlined in her voice and reminded him again why he loved reading the books she herself had already read. The Colonel hoped she would leave markings in the books here at Delaford. She probably wouldn’t do so unless he specifically asked her to or told her so but perhaps he should leave some subtle hints that she was free to use the books as she saw fit. He read until he fell asleep, knocked out with the book open on his chest. The candle light dimmed until it went out thanks to the wick having burnt out and the wax dousing the small flame about two hours after the Colonel had fallen asleep.

Chapter Text

“The more I know of the world, the more I am convinced that I shall never see a man whom I can really love. I require so much!” – Sense and Sensibility

Marianne was morose at breakfast. She didn’t look at him as they ate and said nothing. There was nothing the Colonel could do, because if he was to say to her that he would give her all the time in the world, and never require children of her, and although that was partially true, the Colonel did want children. Of course he wanted some time with just Marianne first and he was grateful that they had not yet had relations, as it meant that she was not yet with child and it was just for a while longer, the two of them. Still, there was a part of him that wanted children with her. As he was too conflicted, the Colonel decided to keep quiet.

Marianne knew well enough that her behaviour was wretched but she couldn’t bring herself to talk to the man who would tie her down. Last night’s conversation had made her face realizations she had never thought of before. She couldn’t sort out her feelings. Was she enraged or despaired at the future’s prospects? She didn’t understand why she experienced these feelings now, seeing as she had known this was to be expected of her, when she married the Colonel. She had been willing to perform these duties then, what had changed since then? She looked at the Colonel and knew that she couldn’t take her anger out on him. They had been friends for the last two and a half years and it would serve neither of them well if she continued to keep him in the dark about her thoughts and emotions. She sighed deeply and he looked up, fleetingly, looking down at once when their eyes met across the table. Marianne felt a little guilty for that. Had he truly expected her to have a fit? Then she blushed as she often did when the conversation steered in the direction of their amorous future together. Perhaps there was some part of her that would want to have children, but she knew that she didn’t want to have them in this moment. She was grateful to the Colonel that he had never pressed her and they had been able to enjoy this time together. Sooner or later he would grow weary and Marianne knew that she would have to perform her duty. The thought sunk like a brick to the bottom of her stomach and her appetite disappeared. She pushed her plate out of her sight and drank deeply from the tea in front of her.

‘I would like to apologize, Christopher, for my behaviour.’ She had apologized, when there had been nothing to apologize for. Although she meant well, her response had the opposite effect on the Colonel. He felt guilty for making her feel like she needed to be sorry for something that should be entirely hers to decide. Something that was entirely up to her to decide. He would never force himself on her. Never. ‘It is quite alright Marianne, I am not upset. It is you I am concerned about.’ ‘Thank you but your concern is misplaced. At what time did Mrs. Jennings expect us?’ ‘About an hour. We best get going.’ They rose in silence, this time companionable, and went outside. The horses had been prepared for the journey and Marianne slung herself up onto the horse, without needing his help. He felt a little proud at the sight of her. Marianne rode side saddle.

Marianne felt elated at experiencing the crisp air biting into the skin of her cheeks as they rode to Barton Park. She forgot about all her concerns, which was a miracle in and of itself, and spurred her horse gently to go faster. She heard the Colonel call after her as she hastened her pace, but the wind carried his voice away and she couldn’t make out what it was precisely that he was saying. She closed her eyes and allowed herself to feel the horse move under her. She caressed its mane and let go of the reins. She could hear the hooves come into contact with the earth and she entertained herself for a brief moment with the idea of taking of her riding gloves and letting the wind caress her bare palms. Of course she wouldn’t do this, but she thoroughly enjoyed the idea of it. She was suddenly brought to a halt and the force of the halt nearly flung her off the horse. She opened her eyes and grabbed the reins to prevent herself from doing so. A steady hand on her wrist helped her regain her balance. She looked up to see the Colonel besides her. He was breathing hard and his eyes had widened in shock. ‘Marianne, what on earth possessed you to behave so recklessly? Have you no regard for your own life?’ ‘The highest. I was enjoying the weather.’ ‘You were galloping so fast you nearly injured both your horse and yourself. Please Marianne, have a care.’ ‘You caught up to me.’ ‘Yes. Can I trust you to behave yourself the rest of the way?’ ‘I am not a child.’ ‘Then stop acting like one.’

The Colonel felt guilty for snapping at Marianne, but he had been so worried for her health and as she had darted off, he could just imagine her crashing and fracturing something or crashing into something and dying. She was too reckless at times and he could only barely keep up. He let go of her wrist and straightened his back. He spurred his horse to start walking again and for good measure, took a hold of Marianne’s reins. He couldn’t tell which one of them bristled at this but he suspected that it was Marianne who didn’t agree. She would just have to accept that this was how things would be. The blush that had crept up into her cheeks, disappeared, taking with it her healthy, joyous, complexion.

They rode onwards and Marianne couldn’t keep the frustration from rising up in her. She wanted to say a myriad of things that would embarrass or hurt him, but the still functioning part of her mind knew that would amount to nothing but a greater rift between the two of them. ‘I apologize. I let myself go. I should not have done that. My apologies, Colonel.’ She met his gaze and he met hers, then he let go of the reins. She took them and kept a steady pace next to his horse.

The Colonel wanted the silence between them to end, yet he didn’t have the faintest idea how he would accomplish this without possibly saying the wrong thing and making her resent him more. He was certain that she did resent him. It was so clearly visible in the way she behaved and talked to him. He cleared his throat. ‘I started reading in the book you gifted me.’ That caught her interest, her head turned in his direction and she smiled. ‘What are your thoughts on it so far?’ ‘I am enjoying it so far. It is unlike any book I have read.’ She smiled again and he had to tear his gaze away to keep his attention on the road ahead of them. At least one of them ought to pay attention as they rode. ‘I get that feeling every time I read it. It is so singular.’ ‘The thing I enjoy most is reading your thoughts and opinions written in the margins. It really enhances the reading experience.’ He turned to her and saw her ears turn a pretty pink colour. ‘In fact, I do believe the greater amount of words in the book are yours, not the author’s herself.’ ‘I am certain you have noticed the different stylings of my writing?’ ‘Yes, it was noticeable.’ ‘Some of the more poorly written thoughts were from when I was much younger.’ This pleased the Colonel so much that he couldn’t keep from smiling. The idea that he was getting an intimate insight into the mind of Marianne, a Marianne much younger than when he had met her, made him feel closer to her and her past. Suddenly it felt like he knew another part of her. The book had already been a cherished possession when she had gifted it to him, but knowing it was part of her past, it became his most prized possession. Fortunately for the Colonel, Marianne had turned her head to look at the road in front of them and couldn’t see him grinning from ear to ear.
They arrived a little after the first hour of the afternoon and servants were waiting outside the stables to lead them to the stables. Marianne required help getting off the horse and it annoyed the Colonel on some primal level of his being that she didn’t ask him for help. Actually, she hadn’t gotten the opportunity to ask him, as the servant at her right had already extended his hand and she had taken it without question. She descended and pulled her skirts in place. She blushed a little and consciously touched her hair, which had come undone a bit after her sprint. He wanted to reach out and tuck one of the loose tendrils behind her ear, but he felt that he would be taking a liberty he didn’t possess. Such a touch was that of a lover’s, or a parental figure’s. The Colonel wasn’t the first and he absolutely didn’t want her to see him as a member of the second category. They were left alone briefly. ‘You have a strand of hair, right there.’ He pointed a little hopelessly at his own ear and she mimicked his movements. She tucked it behind her ear and blushed a little. ‘Thank you.’ ‘Shall we?’ ‘Patience is a virtue.’ The Colonel smiled to himself and Marianne accepted the arm he held out to her. They made their way through the stables to the back of the house and then, because the Colonel knew Mrs. Jennings liked greeting guests at the front of the house, crossed the garden to the main entrance of the house. He was proven right. Mrs. Jennings was anxiously peering out over the lawn from behind a lace curtain. She pulled away from the window at once and most likely went into the sitting room, to be able to pretend that she hadn’t been impatiently expecting them. In all the years the Colonel had known her, she hadn’t changed this behaviour, hence why the Colonel knew it by heart. When he had been younger, and she had been as well, she had often sent him in her stead. The Colonel was glad that he no longer had to do that. It was most uncomfortable to see someone arrive and then have to pretend a few moments later that you didn’t see them walk up to the front door.

Marianne snorted when she Mrs. Jennings dart away from the window. ‘Mrs. Jennings feared that I wouldn’t allow the two of us to leave the house.’ ‘She probably suspects foul play for the late hour of our arrival.’ ‘Well I will be most obliged to take the credit for that. I do hope she understands that I sincerely dislike her.’ ‘You do not dislike her. She frustrates you. You would do well to remember that. She had shown nothing but kindness to you in all the years that you have known her.’ The Colonel was right of course and Marianne really should not allow herself to get carried away so easily.

They entered the house and went to the sitting room at once. Mrs. Jennings, who was out of breath, stretched out her arms to the both of them and pulled Marianne into her bosom. Marianne mouthed for help and the Colonel couldn’t help but grin at her. She narrowed her eyes at him when she realized he wasn’t going to cut in and free her. She relented and wrapped her arms around Mrs. Jennings. The woman exclaimed in pleasure and hugged Marianne tighter.

Marianne liked embraces. She did, she just didn’t like it when she didn’t initiate contact. This was such a case and she felt out of breath by the fierceness of Mrs. Jennings embrace. Ridiculous woman. The Colonel looked as useful as a pet in the corner of the room and with much difficulty Marianne eventually managed to free herself from the crushing arms of Mrs. Jennings. ‘My dear Mrs. Brandon, it is my greatest pleasure to receive you! I am most obliged to you for your thoughtful consideration of the gift you brought home from your honeymoon.’ Marianne didn’t have to the time to respond. ‘Yet both the Colonel and I have yet to receive the greatest gift you could give him or me. A child.’ Marianne took great care in keeping her facial features expressionless but she could feel a muscle twitch about her brow. She set her jaw and then inhaled deeply. She looked at the Colonel who had cast his eyes downward, whether that was in shame or amusement, Marianne couldn’t tell. It was preposterous that she had to suffer this abuse, this pressure, when he did not! ‘I am not yet with child, my dear Mrs. Jennings.’ ‘Perhaps you are barren. I shall have a doctor visit you in a fortnight.’ Something snapped in Marianne and her mind turned blank. She could no longer process what was being said to her and all she could do was sit there and stare.

The thought had never occurred to her. Not once before. Then she couldn’t help but laugh. Out loud. Of course she was not barren, she hadn’t even attempted to conceive! If Marianne didn’t watch herself, she would bed the Colonel that very night. The idea made her laugh louder and the shock that crossed Mrs. Jennings’s features was even more comical. ‘Why Marianne, this is no laughing matter!’ Marianne attempted to smother the laughter still rising up in her by biting down on the inside of her cheek, and nodded. Careful to shield her features once more. ‘Of course. It is nerves. I had expected to be with child by now.’ She went to great lengths to avoid the Colonel’s gaze and Mrs. Jennings became quiet, mulling things over in her mind no doubt.

‘Is Sir John not at home?’ ‘No, my dear Colonel Brandon, he is out for the time being.’ ‘That is quite a shame. I would have liked to discuss some matters with him. Correlating to business.’ ‘Of course! Well if you write down the proposal I shall see to it that he receives it immediately when he arrives at home.’ ‘Why Mrs. Jennings I am most obliged with your hospitality.’ ‘Oh for such an old friend of mine, no favour is too great or grand to go unfulfilled or granted.’ The exclamation made dread settle in Marianne’s stomach. She really ought to be much kinder to Mrs. Jennings. She had after all, never said so much as an unkind word to her. Marianne was disappointed in the Colonel. He had promised that he would not let the conversation go in this direction, yet he had done nothing when it was indeed brought up. She was used to disappointment, but not in relation to him. Marianne had high expectations and these were very rarely met, and thus Marianne was accustomed to disappointment. She knew how to handle herself, but in this moment she was at a loss. The Colonel hadn’t even tried.

It was confusing to Marianne, because disappointment was between joy and anger. It echoed the depth of both of those emotions, but this was much more permanent than the other two. She wished she could communicate with him in some way or another, but no opportunity presented itself in the course of the afternoon. The long hours were filled with more questions as to why Marianne was not yet with child, how it was her duty and how she was letting the Colonel down. The Colonel had left the sitting room at one point and had yet to return. His departure made her feel even more let down and betrayed and the fierceness of these two feelings and the depth of the emptiness they created in her chest as the two collided, made it difficult for her to suppress her tears.

‘How is Elinor? I hope she and her child are well.’ ‘We were planning on visiting her when we went home today.’ Mrs. Jennings slurped loudly from her tea, a good indication that she did not agree with Marianne’s words and that she was annoyed. ‘You mean to say that you will be leaving me so soon, all by myself? My dear Mrs. Brandon, you would dare leave me all alone when Sir John is not at home and I have nothing or no-one to amuse myself with?’ When Mrs. Jennings put it like that, Marianne did feel slightly guilty, but she was determined. She just did not yet know how to inform Mrs. Jennings of this determination. A loud crack outside caught Marianne’s attention and she rose before she could stop herself, and walked over to the window. It was raining outside, it was storming and the loud crack they had heard, had been a tree that had been uprooted. It would be impossible for them to leave. Marianne knew fully well that witchcraft didn’t exist, yet there was a small part of her suspected that Mrs. Jennings had been behind the sudden change in weather. The Colonel reappeared, drenched and he was bleeding. Mrs. Jennings exclaimed in fright and Marianne wanted to shout at her to be quiet, but refrained from doing so and went to the Colonel’s side. ‘What did you do?’ ‘I secured the horses and mine bit me. Then I caught on a nail.’

His wife looked at him, a coldness in her eyes that he was not familiar with and then lowered her head and pulled his hand towards her. She examined the wound and without paying heed to Mrs. Jennings, left the room. The Colonel felt a little uncomfortable, he had after all, left the two of them alone for hours while he had made his rounds and visited Eliza. He had returned as the skies above him had opened and very nearly drowned him. ‘Might I ask for a cloth to dry myself with?’ ‘Of course. I shall ring a servant.’ Mrs. Jennings then sat down and pulled her fan close to her, fanning herself frantically as she tried not to faint. Marianne returned with cloth and steaming water. She took his hand none too gently in her own and soaked the cloth in the bowl of steaming water. She dabbed at the wound with quick movements, causing him pain, but she didn’t seem to realize this. She went about it quite quickly and then wrapped his hand with cloth. She left, without a spoken word, though the Colonel doubted her mind had been as silent, and it was just him and Mrs. Jennings again.

‘I take it you rode here in the carriage?’ ‘We did not. Horseback.’ ‘Then that settles it! You shall dine here and spend the night in one of the many guestrooms Barton Park possesses.’ The Colonel winced and didn’t look forward to telling Marianne that they wouldn’t be going back to Delaford today. When he looked up, it mattered not as she had entered the room when Mrs. Jennings had made the announcement. The Colonel couldn’t read her thoughts. He didn’t know if the thought greatly repulsed her or appealed to her. Well, he did know with absolute certainty, that it wouldn’t be the latter, but would it be the first? Truly she wouldn’t mind dining with Mrs. Jennings that much?

A loud knock could be heard and then a servant entered the room to announce that Sir John had arrived. Mrs. Jennings was delighted and Marianne couldn’t believe it. The Colonel left, again! Mrs. Jennings tried to rope Marianne into another conversation about her wifely duties, but Marianne couldn’t stomach the topic anymore. She never would, but if Mrs. Jennings brought up the subject once more, Marianne would be physically ill.

‘My dear Mrs. Jennings, I feel a bit faint. Might I be excused?’ ‘Certainly my dear girl! You are aware faintness is a symptom of pregnancy? Is there something you are not telling me, my dear?’ ‘Not to my knowledge.’ She could feel the bile rise in her throat and Mrs. Jennings must have seen something in Marianne’s gaze, because the girl was quickly escorted to a guestroom. Marianne needed fresh air. There was none to be had here, but she didn’t want to risk going downstairs and being thought of as better and then be obliged to discuss the idea of childbirth and childbearing again.
She lay down on the bed and closed her eyes. She stayed like this until the nausea disappeared and she no longer felt dizzy when turning her head. She rose again and went to the door. A servant was just about to knock and exclaimed in surprise when she saw her. ‘The mistress expects to see you downstairs.’ Marianne didn’t reply but followed the maid downstairs and sat down across from the Colonel as the evening meal was served.

The Colonel had had the hardest time trying to return to the sitting room and once he had finally managed to do so, the food had been served and he was ushered into the dining room. He waited for the two ladies to sit down and then both he and Sir John sat down. Sir John and Mrs. Jennings spoke animatedly of hunting and picnics and the Colonel tried to stay polite and reply to all their inquiries, but he was distracted. Distracted by the silence across from him. Marianne only sipped from her wine and never even touched her plate. She looked paler than usual and she wouldn’t meet his eyes. No matter how hard he tried to get her to speak her mind, she refused to. ‘Eliza is well, thank you for asking. I went round to visit her and Young Chris this afternoon.’ That did gain Marianne’s attention. He couldn’t make sense of what she was thinking. ‘Colonel, did you hear what I said?’ He forced himself to look at Mrs. Jennings and smiled sheepishly. ‘I said that Marianne had felt faint earlier this evening, a vital sign of her being with child. I could not weasel the truth out of her, but you will certainly enlighten me on the subject and let Sir John and me in on the secret? Certainly you would not deprive a woman of old age such as myself of such pleasure?’ She had truly felt faint? The Colonel chanced a look in the direction of the woman seated across from him, but it became evident to him that she would not meet his eyes. Could it be possible? It was impossible. They hadn’t had relations. What if there was someone else in her life? Would she bed him to cover up her affair? Would she come clean to him and they would decide together on how to proceed forward? Had it been amorous violence? The Colonel’s head was racing and he felt quite ill as well. The meal seemed endless as the only thing Mrs. Jennings could talk about was children and Sir John only wanted to talk about how Marianne had been the Colonel’s reward and the Colonel felt caged. He couldn’t imagine how Marianne must have felt. After dinner they went into the sitting room where the conversation continued. It was tedious.

‘Might I be excused?’

Marianne didn’t like to be at the centre of attention, especially not in this situation but she had begun to feel really poorly again and it was probably one of her melancholic moods, but she didn’t want anyone to be a witness to them, more than they had already been when she had discovered the truth about Willoughby. She wanted to sleep and do little else. Mrs. Jennings looked up and nodded. ‘Of course my dear, I shall send the maid up with tea that will make you feel better. I promise.’ Marianne could sob at the thought of finally being able to leave the room, but she didn’t. She nodded and thanked Mrs. Jennings, then went upstairs. The hour was quite late already. Mrs. Jennings had put out a nightgown and Marianne changed into it. She washed her face and then after a moment of hesitation, lowered her head entirely in the washbasin. The cold water made her feel a little better and she no longer smelt like everybody else, which was a relief. Her hair dried relatively quickly and her headache disappeared for a moment. In that moment of clarity the door opened and the Colonel stepped inside. Marianne halted and went to stand in the corner, where the light of the candle couldn’t reach her. He halted when he saw her. ‘Might I inquire after your presence here?’ ‘I could ask the same thing but remember that Mrs. Jennings thinks us married in the Biblical sense and expects us to share a room.’ Marianne paled. How had she not realized that sooner? All she could do was stare at him.

The Colonel was overwhelmed by a number of thoughts, the main one being that he really needed to talk to Marianne, the second being that they would share a room for several hours, and that they would be sleeping in the same bed. His shoulder would not be able to handle the floor. ‘I truly hope Mrs. Jennings catches a fatal cold tomorrow.’ ‘Marianne!’ ‘I mean it! Despicable woman! I suspect she shall be listening at the door and peeking into the keyhole to see if we are having relations!’ ‘She would not, stop tarnishing her good name. This is perfectly respectable. We can handle this.’
Marianne couldn’t contain the rage rising in her any longer. She was so disappointed and angry with him and she needed and outlet. This was not the place. ‘Well then let us go about it. I shall lie down and you will perform… it and then the matter is done, I shall be with child and she will talk about something else.’ The Colonel laughed and Marianne went to the bed and chucked one of the pillows in his direction. He stepped to the side and easily avoided it, but he stopped laughing. He started unbuttoning his overcoat and vest and then he was dressed in only his shirt and his trousers and his shoes and Marianne had seen much more of him. However this was different. She had seen him at his most vulnerable and he was far from fragile now. ‘I am not going to touch you. You think so little of me.’ ‘I do not.’ ‘You do.’ She didn’t argue then, perhaps she did. ‘Mrs. Jennings mentioned that you felt faint earlier, has your health improved?’ Marianne was trembling with barely restrained anger and she needed an outlet. She couldn’t breathe and the concern that brought along with it, dispelled a bit of the anger in her. The Colonel took off his boots.

She sunk down on the mattress and pressed her hands to her chest. She tried inhaling but failed. ‘Marianne, what are you doing? Are you well?’ ‘I cannot draw breath.’ She gasped but air refused to fill her lungs and she gasped again, desperate this time. Colonel Brandon went to her side and brought the candle close to her face. He put it down on the nightstand and quite unexpectedly, drew her into his arms. She stiffened and waited for his next gesture, but it never came. She kept gasping and wheezing and even choked on air that she couldn’t seem to draw into her chest. He placed his hand on her back and tenderly pressed her into him. He leaned back against the pillows and Marianne went with him. The position was uncomfortably intimate and Marianne didn’t like but she also didn’t hate it. It caused her more discomfort but she could hear his heartbeat and the sound of it caught her attention. She forced herself to calm down. When they were back at Delaford, they would have a lengthy discussion about today but not now. It was late and Marianne was exhausted. After what seemed like ages, her breathing became easier and Marianne gulped and hiccupped. The Colonel let go of her at once and she went to the other side of the bed. She crawled between the covers and pulled them up to her chin. Her hair was still a little damp but it felt clean which steadily improved her mood.
The Colonel kept watching Marianne as he took off his pants and he wanted to take off his shirt as well, but no nightshirt had been put out for him and he didn’t want to cause Marianne more discomfort than he already had. He washed his face and then lowered his head in the water. He used the cloth, which was already damp, which meant that Marianne had used it before him and that thought made fire course through his veins, and dried his face, then he tried to dry his hair. He then waited for the desire that had risen so suddenly in him, to disappear and he blew out the candle, then lifted the sheets and once he lowered them again, was again overwhelmed with the close proximity.

‘Are you certain you are alright?’ ‘I do not want to talk to you, Christopher.’ She sounded defeated, exhausted and annoyed. He was the cause for most of these feelings and that didn’t sit well with the Colonel. Their arms touched and she pulled away as if stung by a wasp.

Marianne felt a little guilty for responding like that, but she didn’t want to give him false hope. Her head was pounding. The room was too quiet and the magnitude of its silence weighed on her and pressed her down into the mattress behind her back and she released a shivering breath. She felt caged. Was this what her life would be like? Sleeping next to this man until either of them died? She felt the panic claw its way up and settle in her chest. She wished she could talk to someone about this, but there was no-one who would understand, who wouldn’t tell her that she was lucky to have caught the attention of the Colonel. She supposed that they wouldn’t be entirely wrong, there was a truth to that even, but why didn’t it feel like she had been lucky? She didn’t feel lucky in this moment. She became aware of the body next to her. It had been a few weeks since she had slept next to someone. Margaret was still fairly young, and had not required as much space. It had been years since Marianne had slept next to Elinor, someone much older who required more space. She missed the warmth of Margaret and Elinor. She missed her sisters, and she missed her mother and suddenly she was reminded of her father. It had been quite some time since she had thought of him, but she missed him as well. He had been kind and caring. He had loved hearing her play, perhaps mostly because he couldn’t play himself and had bought the pianoforte when he had heard Marianne talking of playing one day. Her throat closed and she couldn’t stop the sound from leaving her throat. Next to her the Colonel stiffened. She could feel him shift next to her, towards her and the next thing she knew, was that his hand had taken hers and he clutched it, as if she was the only thing in the world that could stabilize him. It was absolutely ridiculous, she tried to pull her hand away but he wouldn’t allow it. ‘Are you in pain?’ ‘My head aches.’ ‘I thought the maid was going to stop by with one of Mrs. Jennings’s concoctions?’ ‘She never did. The hour is much too late for me to call on anyone. Sleep will help cure it.’ He let go of her hand and surprised her by getting up. He lit the candle on the nightstand after trying and failing to do so several times. ‘Colonel, where are you going?’ ‘Do not worry, I will be back shortly.’ ‘Yes, what would I do without you. I have managed to do so all afternoon.’ His expression changed and it was much too dark, even with the lit candle, to make out his facial features and his emotions. He was a mystery, even after having known him for the last two years. He remained an enigma, even after all those months of their marriage. Part of Marianne had hoped that she would come to learn more about him, know him when others did not, with their marriage, but this had not been the case. He was a greater stranger to her now than before.

Would it always be like this? She hated thinking that, but there was a part of her that didn’t hesitate when it answered her question. If she didn’t try harder, it would always be like this. She would try her best to please him, but that wouldn’t start today. She watched him take his leave and she was grateful for his absence. He returned a short while later with a rattling tray. Marianne sat up, with the sheets pulled up to her throat, and stretched her legs out in front of her. ‘What is all this then?’ ‘I got you some tea.’ ‘Thank you.’ He handed the cup to her and Marianne took it. She sipped from it immediately, not caring that the contents were burning the insides of her mouth and her throat as she swallowed.

The Colonel watched Marianne drink her tea. He was overwhelmed with her emotions. There was a storm brewing inside her and this was the calm before it. It was only the calm before it because Marianne was now exhausted. She finished and without looking at him, held it out. The Colonel took it and placed the tray and the cup on the small table close to the window. He went back to the bed, where he was aware of Marianne’s unwavering gaze. She clutched at the sheets. Did she truly think he was going to attempt something? She had been crying earlier, right before he left. Was that in pain or with fear? It felt wrong to the Colonel, that Marianne was afraid of him. He didn’t want her to be afraid of him, ever. He would never hurt her. ‘I can sleep on the floor.’ He would be unable to move both his shoulder and his knee tomorrow, but right now he couldn’t care less. He wanted her to be comfortable and he didn’t want to cause her more anger and pain. He just wanted the two of them to sleep.
Marianne looked at the Colonel. She knew her features were drawn in surprise but she was. He had offered to sleep on the floor when they both very well knew what it would cost him. How much pain it would give him. No matter how angry and disappointed Marianne was, she couldn’t allow him to sleep on the floor. She also knew he wouldn’t allow her to sleep anywhere but in the bed she was now seated on. There was only one option. It was only for one night. One night. Besides, it was getting colder at night and the presence of someone close to her would be most welcomed. Marianne made up her mind. She pulled the sheets back and crossed her arms in front of her. She looked more dishevelled than usual but that was only because her hair was wet and she couldn’t see a brush in sight. ‘Join me.’

For a moment the Colonel thought that he had misheard and then that she was joking. She must be. Certainly she couldn’t want him there, in the bed, sleeping next to her? She didn’t repeat herself and instead stared at him. He blew out the candle and joined her. It felt strange to lie next to her. Very strange. She lifted the sheets, only to pull them down again seconds later and the Colonel knew that she was no longer sitting up. The silence weighed on him and he wanted to reach out, assure himself that she was really there, but that would be taking the biggest liberty he had taken so far.
Marianne didn’t know if the Colonel had gone to sleep yet. Her own thoughts were too loud and it was nearly impossible to hear anything but them. She exhaled slowly and lifted her hands above the sheets. She placed them on her stomach and folded them. It didn’t help. She was still on the verge of crying and her head still hurt as well. The tea had helped her calm down a little but not much. She took a deep breath and held it, trying to count the seconds it would take her before she got light-headed. She exhaled again. Then she reached out and took his hand. He didn’t respond at first, but then he slowly wrapped his fingers around her own. She didn’t want to speak and he seemed to realize this.

The Colonel couldn’t believe it. She had voluntarily touched him, was touching him still. He didn’t know what to say and to be frank, he didn’t want to say anything, afraid that she might pull away. He’d heard her breathing deeply and assumed that she had fallen asleep, but she hadn’t yet. This made things more difficult and yet easier. He wasn’t the only one who felt uncomfortable but he also wasn’t alone with his thoughts. He turned to his side and propped his face up with his hand. She was not looking at him. She was staring at the ceiling. Even though it was dark, he knew she was looking away from him. He let go of her hand and she exhaled softly. Then he took the liberty of stroking with the tops of his fingers past the inside of her wrist and further up the inside of her arm. It was a mesmerizing thing to do. She was so soft and smooth. He traced a circle on her lower arm with his thumb and she gasped softly. He pulled away immediately, afraid that he had somehow hurt her.
Marianne didn’t know why she had allowed him to touch her so freely but it had felt nice and all the thoughts in her head had been silenced. They were not in close proximity to one another and yet it had felt good to feel him so close. When he started tracing circles on her skin and traced the inside of her wrist, her skin began to tingle. She gasped, quite unsettled by the feeling. He retracted his fingers immediately. She wished he hadn’t and that confused her even more. She turned to face him and shuffled closer to him. Her forehead bumped into his chin as she had raised it and she pulled away immediately. He had moved away from her at once. ‘Did I hurt you?’ Marianne didn’t know why she was whispering but it felt out of place to speak out loud. ‘No. Did I hurt you? You gasped. Is your head still pounding?’ It was, but the ache had dulled when she had been focused on his touch. She would not tell him this. Instead she reached for his hand and he allowed her to take it. She mimicked his movements and was determined to make him feel the same.

The Colonel had to try his hardest not to move or touch her in return. Her fingers traced over his skin and he was ashamed that his skin would not be like hers. It would be covered with scars. She stiffened when she felt the biggest one. She continued and traced his wrist with her thumb. The feeling that accompanied her touch suddenly made fire ignite in his veins. It became worse when she traced her thumb up into the palm of his hand. It was most peculiar. He had never known that he could be sensitive there to touches that were sensual, even though this one wasn’t meant to be. He wondered if that had been the reason for Marianne’s gasp. ‘It does.’ Not because of him then. He pulled his wrist away and moved away from him. He lay back down and tried not to think too much of other things that caused him pleasure. He especially didn’t want to think about things that might be pleasurable to her, afraid that he would act on his impulses, out of curiosity, to see if she would like them. It seemed like an eternity had passed when he finally heard Marianne’s breathing even out. As soon as she had, he finally allowed himself to close his eyes and go to sleep.

Marianne woke, feeling a little dizzy and confused and wondered why she was so warm. Her head still hurt, but it no longer pounded. It was still early in the morning, but she couldn’t tell how early it was. The curtains were thick and didn’t let any light through. She did hear the servants walking through the house so she knew it was morning. She was lying on something hard and there was an added weight to her waist. There was something hard at her back as well. She was warm, sickeningly so and wanted to get out of bed. She tried to do so, but was restrained. Her head was lying on an arm, and after careful inspection, she surmised that it wasn’t hers. The weight around her waist was also not hers. It was another arm. Marianne touched the arm and knew suddenly to whom it belonged. Shame and embarrassment filled and Marianne figured that she ought to move away from the Colonel, yet, she didn’t. There was something incredibly comforting about being held like this. The warmth no longer bothered her. She traced the length of his arm with her fingers and stilled when he moved a bit. He pressed himself closer to her and mumbled something. She couldn’t make out the words, but it sounded like her name. Was he awake? Would he be scandalized with her behaviour? She was, but more at how not scandalizing this felt. Her head still hurt and thinking about these things made it pound again. Marianne decided to close her eyes again and try to get some more sleep.

The Colonel woke, unknowingly, only a few moments after Marianne had fallen asleep again, and he stilled when he realized how close he was to her. How his arm was around her waist and under her neck. He could feel her breath on the inside of his elbow. It was so warm under the sheets. No bedpan could have more proficiently warmed a bed. It would never get this hot. The Colonel contemplated whether or not he should pull away from Marianne. He didn’t want her to wake and be ashamed at their close proximity. Not yet. He wanted to relish in the moment just a bit longer. He didn’t know when he would get this close to her again. His intentions were completely innocent. Until Marianne moved as she slept and turned her hips against him. His throat became dry and parched, he stiffened and desire shot through his veins. He definitely didn’t want Marianne to feel that part of him. It felt too incriminating, and it would only frighten her. That was the last thing he wanted. She moved again and he bit his lip to keep from releasing a sound. Then he slowly and very gently removed his arm from around her waist and propped himself up to remove the arm from beneath her neck. He managed to pull away successfully and sat on the edge of the bed, his hands folded behind his neck. He took a few deep breaths in an attempt to calm himself down.

Marianne was vaguely aware of the warmth around her disappearing but it didn’t succeed in waking her up, not until she heard a loud gasp that caught her attention. She pushed herself up to see where it had come from. The Colonel had been in the middle of getting dressed and had stopped. She didn’t know why but he had.

His hand. He had forgotten about the deep cut in his hand. As he had washed them, the soap had bit into the wound and it stung fiercely. It was deep and started bleeding rapidly again. He wondered if the sheets were specked with blood and if Marianne’s nightdress had suffered the same fate. Marianne. He saw her move from the corner of his eye and he couldn’t help but fall in love with her even more as he looked at her small eyes. She was still half asleep. Her brow was furrowed and her hair was a curly mess. Never before had her dark complexion suited her fair skin so well as in this precise moment. She assessed him. ‘What is the matter?’ ‘My hand.’ He lifted said hand and the sleep disappeared from her eyes.

The wound was so much deeper than it had appeared to be last night. If it got inflamed, it could mean that the Colonel could lose his hand. Marianne didn’t want him to lose his hand. He would be unable to do anything he loved doing. Horse-riding, gardening, reading and writing. She rose and got out of the bed. The dizziness overwhelmed her and she had to grab a hold of the bedpost before she would fall down. It was odd, it was unlike her to be dizzy. She went to the Colonel’s side and brought his hand closer to her face for inspection. Then she pulled him to the bowl with water and lowered his hand in it. The blood made strangely intriguing whirls as it flowed into the water.

‘I was washing my hands and I got soap into the wound. It is nothing. How are you feeling?’ Marianne was concerned, disappointed, and angry. It was overwhelming to feel all of this at the same time and she wished that she hadn’t woken. Their closeness felt like it had been hours ago, when it could only be mere minutes. A small part of her that intrigued and irritated her, wished that she could wake up more often like that, so warm and comfortable. She knew it would never happen again. After relations men and women didn’t stay close together. At least her mother had told her so. Even Elinor had remarked on it, the night before Marianne’s wedding.

The Colonel looked at Marianne freely, allowing his eyes to roam and wander. Her nightdress was a bit too small on her and she hadn’t yet brushed her hair. Her mouth was set in a stern line, however the plumpness of her lips, a fullness that only came with the morning, made her mouth pinker than he had ever seen it before. Desire coursed through his veins again and her hands on his own were most distracting. He wished for the first time in a long time that they had an amorous relationship. That he could touch her as he pleased, that she would want him to touch her. It pained him that she didn’t but he would never force himself on her. Never. As his gaze was once again drawn to her collarbones, he noticed her hips and how the fabric clung to her there as well. He stepped back, dizzy. Marianne was a woman, no longer a child. He was a fool. A great big fool who would only ruin her life. He had imprisoned her and no matter how often she’d say that she had accepted him, it still felt as if he had stolen her. Stolen her right out of the arms of someone who was much more deserving of Marianne. Not Willoughby, but someone else.

Marianne let go of his hands and looked at him. He was avoiding her gaze and the gesture sparked the flames that had simmered in her. She stepped away from him and folded her hands in front of her chest. ‘You need to go see a doctor. Go ahead, leave at once, leave while Mrs. Jennings belittles me and harasses me again. You excelled at it yesterday, why not excel at it today as well?’ She turned around and gathered her things. She then went to stand behind the screen and got dressed again. She found a small dresser behind the screen and felt most pleased when she found a hairbrush. She pulled it through her curls and with the help of the mirror, was able to put her hair up. She turned around and left the room.

Mrs. Jennings was surprisingly quiet at breakfast and Sir John was now the one who brought up the subject of children. Colonel Brandon couldn’t bear it anymore, not on account of Marianne or himself. ‘I would like to mention that Marianne and I have other interests that do not all revolve around children.’ It was quite a scandalous thing of him to say but he would seriously harm either himself or his friend if they kept talking about this. Sir John blushed a little and inclined his chin in Colonel Brandon’s direction. Marianne didn’t say anything and only kissed Mrs. Jennings goodbye right as she was about to ascend her horse. Mrs. Jennings hugged her tightly and then let go. The Colonel watched her mount the horse and waved at his friends, promising himself to keep from returning to Barton Manor for at least a month, if not two.

Marianne rode ahead, in front of him. She didn’t stray far, but she kept her distance. She made certain that the Colonel knew this. Whenever he sped up to catch up to her, she would put more distance between them. They stopped at Elinor’s and tragedy struck. At least for Marianne. Elinor and Edward were out. The only reason why Marianne had agreed to come with the Colonel and sit through so much humiliation was the thought of getting to see her sister afterwards. She had slept next to him and it had all amounted to nothing. Elinor was not at home. She wouldn’t be able to talk with her sister, embrace her and kiss the child Elinor was carrying. She wouldn’t see Edward Ferrars and get the chance to talk with him. She wouldn’t see Elinor’s knew paintings and drawings and wouldn’t be able to gift her the needlework she had been carrying with her for two days. A small present for the unborn Ferrars. Marianne was crushed. And dizzy and faint and angry and disappointed. Her head was still pounding and nothing so far had helped. She felt the overwhelming urge to cry, but managed to stay silent.

The Colonel could see his wife’s face fall. She had been looking forward to this and now they weren’t at home. The Colonel should have called on them, announced that they would come to visit. He didn’t know why he hadn’t done so. He had forgotten in the commotion of things. He blamed himself. Marianne’s spirits sunk and he knew that there was nothing he could do to lift them. They rode on in silence, back to Delaford and Marianne descended the horse. She tripped and the Colonel wanted to reach out and make certain that she was unharmed, but she didn’t give him the chance to do so. She rushed inside, only stopping to greet the servants, and then, as Colonel Brandon rushed after her, went up directly to her rooms. The Colonel was left standing at the bottom of the stairway.
He greeted his servants and ordered them to start preparing the last meal of the day and to light the fires in the library, sitting room and in his bedroom. He hardly ever ordered the servants to light the hearth in his room, mostly because he couldn’t stand the heat, but he needed it now. Marianne’s coldness toward him was nearly unbearable. He walked up and changed into a different set of clothes. Ones much more loose and comfortable. He stepped out and bumped into Marianne who was nearly sent down the stairs. He caught her just in time and curled his hands around her upper arms. She looked at him with so much anger in her eyes that he let go of her immediately. He winced when he realized that the wound had opened again.

Marianne looked at the sleeve of her dress and her frustration grew. There was blood on her dress. His blood. She closed her eyes and exhaled deeply. ‘Marianne, I apologize for not-’ ‘I do not care or want to hear your apologies.’ ‘I mean them. I am truly sorry.’ He probably didn’t even know what he was supposed to be apologizing for. Marianne exploded and she allowed herself to do so as there were no servants around and this was Delaford. The comfort of her own home. His home. Their home? ‘You promised me you would not allow her to bring that up and yet you stood idly by when she did. You left!’ ‘I did. I am sorry.’ ‘I was completely and utterly humiliated. Both by her and by you. You think you can, just because you are my husband?’ The tears now flowed freely down her cheeks and her breath came out in gasps and hiccups. He had seen her cry much too often. She didn’t bother to wipe away her tears, knowing well that more would follow.

‘Marianne-’ He sounded pained. Marianne couldn’t believe it. He was allowed to feel pain and she wasn’t? ‘Do you have any idea how utterly and completely mortifying and humiliating that was?’ She waited for his answer.

The Colonel felt even more guilty and ashamed. He wanted to do something, anything, to make her forgive him. She was crying and the sight tore at him. He wished he could embrace her and offer her comfort, but if he touched her now, she would attack him. He was certain she would. He also knew that he would let her. Which is why he kept his distance. She was waiting for an answer. An answer that wouldn’t satisfy her. ‘I do know what it is like.’ ‘You have no idea. You only ever needed to have a wife. A good wife. A proper wife who could look after you and tend to you. I needed a husband, any would do and children. Always this. Never something about my interests. My passions, my dreams. That is all I am to society. A mother, a wife, an old maid.’ She wiped at her cheeks, futilely and stomped with her foot. Her fists were balled at her side.

‘You have no idea what it is like, Christopher,’ she spat and choked on her own anger. ‘No idea what it is like to have to sit there and listen to her. I have never been more insulted. Never.’ Red crept into her cheeks and her bottom lip wavered. ‘She called me barren. I had never thought about it, until she brought it up. I was so frazzled that it took me a good while before I realized that I could not be. We have never had relations. Never. Not once. Yet this woman, this stupid old hag with nothing better to do than meddle in other people’s private lives, had the audacity to make me believe and worry about this. What if I turn out to be incapable of bearing children?’

Marianne allowed the words to settle in her heart. What if this indeed turned out to be the case? ‘I will never make a proper wife. Never. I should never have accepted your proposal, Colonel. We were friends once but after last night I do not see how we can be.’ He took a step in her direction, quite without wanting to. He didn’t want to hear her say these things. They only caused him pain and anguish. She must have felt absolutely horrible yesterday and he had done nothing but stand around or leave. He took another step in her direction and pulled her closer, even though she protested at first. She hit his upper arms but he wouldn’t budge. He needed to hold her and reassure him that she wasn’t going to harm herself. He made sure not to touch her with his bleeding hand.
She resisted at first and then, instead of hitting him, fisted his sleeves tightly and buried her face in his shirt. She cried loudly. She stepped away from him, sniffing loudly. ‘You were supposed to be my friend. Supposed to change the subject, knock her unconscious, anything! You had promised me and yet you did nothing. I feel sick.’ She did look a little pale.

She stepped away from him. ‘If I have your child, will you allow me to leave?’ Marianne said the words but didn’t mean them. She wouldn’t want to leave her child. She wouldn’t and she couldn’t, but he didn’t know that. It seemed that he knew very little about her. She looked at her husband and his eyes were wide and filled with disbelief. ‘Marianne… I-’ He couldn’t finish his sentence.
‘If I have your child, am I allowed to leave? Will you divorce me then?’

It stayed silent for a long time. Marianne’s anger had disappeared mostly and she felt depleted and exhausted. If only she could go back to this morning when he had had his arms wrapped around her, asleep. Things had seemed so peaceful and uncomplicated then. ‘Divorce you?’ She couldn’t tell what he was feeling. His tone matched hers and he stepped away from her. Turned his back to her. ‘If you are truly unhappy, Marianne, I will never stand in your way. Feel free to leave. I will help and assist in any way I possibly can, but do understand that if you leave, it will be so much harder to see your family. You will have to move far away. You can start a new life.’ Those words sounded alluring and if they had been spoken months ago, Marianne would have been keener and more eager to accept but now after nearly five months of living together, she wasn’t as keen anymore.

She would not disgrace her family again. The thought of having to leave the Colonel didn’t sit well with her either. It didn’t seem right to abandon him or Delaford. She had made a home here, even if it wasn’t quite as conventional in the eyes of society. She turned and walked down the stairs, into the sitting room and sat down in the chair closest to the fire. She had the overwhelming sense that she was going to cry, again.

Colonel Brandon couldn’t stand to see her walk away from him, and so he followed, determined to get one last look at her before she walked out of the gates forever. He was surprised to see her head into the sitting room and he followed. She sat down and buried her head in her hands. He sat down across from her. ‘Marianne?’ She looked up. ‘I would like to apologize. I should never have left. I am your friend, but I did not act like it. I am truly sorry. I am sorry you are so unhappy. It is all my fault. If you want to leave, you can leave. I will not stop you. Just tell me what it is that you want.’
His words made Marianne feel ashamed. Even though he hadn’t kept his promise yesterday, he was good. He was quite possibly one of the few good things in Marianne’s life and she couldn’t just leave him. She couldn’t, nor did she want to. Not now, at least. She wanted to stay here.

‘I do not want to leave.’ ‘Then please, stay.’

Chapter Text

“The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.” – As You Like It

The two of them hadn’t really spoken since the visit to Mrs. Jennings and even though Colonel Brandon was certain that she would stay, he knew she had left, mentally. She was elsewhere. Perhaps fantasizing about another, perhaps about Willoughby. He watched her play with Young Chris and looked at Eliza. She was smiling at his wife and her child. ‘I have good news for you, Colonel.’ ‘How many times have I told you that there is no need for titles. Just call me ‘Christopher’.’ ‘Your wife does not address you with your first name.’ ‘I think you are wrong.’ ‘No. I am not. We both know it. Your wife does not love you. I do not attempt to understand why you chose her to be your wife, but I think it was a rather poor decision on your part.’ Colonel Brandon listened patiently to Eliza but he was upset with her. He hadn’t chosen Marianne, she had chosen him. He was extremely blessed.

She chose him, out of all the men she could have had, she chose him, no matter the consequences or reasons for her choice. She chose him. ‘She loves me.’ Eliza bristled. ‘She does not. You might be happy with her now, but in a few years, will you be happy still?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘I think such a young wife, a wild one, will start to get on your nerves.’ ‘You are very nearly the same in age and experience. Do not criticize her.’ ‘Yes, you are right but that is also where you are wrong. I had a much different experience than your wife did and I learned from my mistakes, it seems at times, that she has yet to learn. There is no place in this world for girls like her.’ ‘She is a grown woman. Please do not belittle her.’ ‘She does the belittling herself. Are you truly happy, Christopher?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Somehow, I doubt that.’ The Colonel found himself eager to change the subject. ‘You told me you had good news.’ ‘I am engaged.’ The floor felt like it had disappeared from under him, yet he somehow managed to stay upright. ‘Engaged?’ ‘To be married, yes. Young Chris and I will be moving to Scotland with my husband.’ ‘S-Scotland?’ Eliza turned to face him and took his hands. She pressed them and smiled at him. ‘He is such a good man, Colonel, he very nearly puts you to shame. He cares so much about Young Chris.’ ‘Does he care about you?’ ‘He does. He truly does. He is such a gentleman. I do not think anyone has ever truly cared for me.’ The comment stung despite knowing her real meaning.

‘How old is he?’ Eliza blushed and cleared her throat before speaking up. ‘He is nearing fifty.’ ‘Fifty!’ ‘Yes. He has no children of his own and he loves me and he wants to make Young Chris his heir.’ ‘You are marrying a fifty year old Scot?’ The Colonel knew he sounded incredulous, but he couldn’t believe his daughter. Had she gone daft? An old coot like that? What on earth could she possibly be thinking? ‘I love him, he loves me. It is perfect.’ Colonel Brandon was about to explain why it was not perfect, anything but perfect and always would be far from perfect, when Marianne and Young Chris ran into their direction. Marianne was growling at the boy and the boy screamed in frightful delight and ducked behind his mother’s skirts. Eliza bend over to kiss him and pulled him away from the back of her skirts. She placed her hands firmly on the child’s shoulders and then kissed his cheek again. Young Chris’s eyes were sparkling and a bright blue he had inherited from his mother, and his cheeks were a deep red. ‘Mama, she nearly caught me! She is a monster.’ Marianne laughed and wriggled her fingers at Young Chris. His mother caressed his cheek and leaned in. She spoke to Young Chris, but her eyes addressed the Colonel. ‘Darling, she is a monster. A ferocious one that you need to look out for.’ The Colonel’s irritation with his daughter grew. ‘Marianne, I have good news. I am getting married.’ ‘That is wonderful news! Who is the lucky man?’ ‘You would not know him.’ Marianne embraced Eliza briefly and pulled away again when Young Chris began to whine. His mother lifted him and held him on her hip.

‘We will be moving to Scotland.’ Marianne glanced at the Colonel, but he remained impassive. Certainly it was quite a feat, to have to process this. He must have expected that he would be in her life, close to her, for the remainder of his own life. To realize that this was not going to happen must be devastating. Marianne stepped closer to the Colonel and grabbed his hand, stroking over his knuckles.
‘When will the wedding take place?’ ‘A week from now.’ Colonel Brandon was grateful that Marianne was next to him, because the world seemed to spin before his eyes. ‘A week?’ ‘It is quite impressive that you have an echo considering the flat structure of the land.’ ‘I am certain it is a bit of shock. We are most happy. Will you be leaving for Scotland right away?’ ‘My husband wants to leave as soon as possible. He does not like to leave Scotland for long. You are invited to the wedding.’ ‘We are looking forward to meeting your husband, are we not?’ The Colonel nodded stiffly and after that Eliza left and Colonel Brandon was left alone to work through his loss of another person who was of the utmost importance to him. He would lose his daughter to an old man. A Scot!

He stalked inside and went straight to the basement, he rarely went there, but now he had a need of it. He walked down the stairs, knowing the place by heart and he didn’t bother lighting the torches on his way down. He lit a few candles in the room itself and pulled his sword off the wall. There was a big block of wood in the centre of the room and it was chipped. The Colonel forced himself to release a breath and lifted the sword above his head, then he struck at the wood. Chips flew and one hit him on the cheek. He continued doing this. He hacked, as that was truly the only word for his choppy technique with the blade, and hacked away the pain of losing Eliza, again. He hacked at the wood and tried to quell the anger and desperation inside him that could burst through the surface of his carefully kept façade as the weeks without love from Marianne wounded him. She had said more today, to Eliza and Young Chris, than she had said to him in weeks. It had been a month and a half since their disastrous visit to Barton Park.

Perhaps Eliza was right. Would he be happy in a few years? Would he really? Would friendship be enough for him? Now that he knew what it was like to have her sleep in his arms, now that he had seen her in a state of undress, had been a witness to her innermost thoughts? Could he keep this all up? What if he couldn’t? What if he ended up resenting her, resenting himself more than he already did? What then?

Marianne had followed Colonel Brandon inside and had fallen behind when she hadn’t immediately realized he had gone down to the basement. She lit the torch that was placed on the wall and lifted it, to light the path in front of her. It was cold down in the basement. She could hear the strangest sound, a sound she had never heard before and it got on her nerves. She opened the heavy doors and the sight before her was surreal. The Colonel was lifting a sword above his head, repeatedly and chopping away at a big block of wood. He was silent, the only sound was the swish of the blade and the wood that cracked under the great violence that was administered upon it. She went out of the basement to put the torch back in its holder and went back down. He was going to hurt himself.

The Colonel felt a scream building up inside him and this time, just because no-one could hear him, he let it out. He bellowed and roared and hacked at the block of wood. He was still angry and upset. He lowered the sword and let it clatter to the floor. His back was wet with perspiration and he hadn’t the faintest idea how long he had been hacking away. It was still not enough. He punched the wall and cursed. Then he picked up the sword again and went back to the disfigured wood. He didn’t get far. Two small hands wrapped themselves around his waist and he was pulled into someone’s chest.
‘Christopher, stop. You will hurt yourself. Stop, please.’ It was Marianne. He let his sword clatter to the ground and turned around. All the rage left him at once and he felt exhausted and empty. ‘You do not love me.’ ‘Not the way you want me to.’ ‘The way I need you to.’ ‘I am sorry.’ ‘I keep losing the people I love most.’ He barely registered that she was pulling him out of the basement, and up the stairs, then she brought him into the hallway and then up another flight of stairs. She opened the door to the upstairs library and pushed him into his chair. She left the room and returned with a bowl of steaming water and a piece of cloth. She kneeled beside him and carefully dabbed at the wounds on his knuckles. ‘She is leaving me.’ ‘She is starting her own life.’ ‘She needs me.’ ‘Perhaps you need her more than she needs you.’ ‘I was not talking about us.’ ‘Nor was I. Can you not imagine why she wants to leave? After wanting someone who loves her?’ The Colonel couldn’t imagine why. He couldn’t comprehend why she was leaving him and his protection. ‘She does not want you to look out for her, for her the remainder of her life. She wants to be able to provide for herself, in any way possible. She wants Young Christopher to have a father. You are not his father.’ Even though what Marianne had said made sense, and he knew it to be at least partially true, he felt like she was leaving him. ‘I am never going to see her again.’ Marianne leaned in and kissed the back of his hand. ‘You will. You have the means to go to Scotland often.’ ‘She is leaving me, like her mother did.’ Suddenly the Colonel could no longer hold back the tears that he had been holding back for months.

He pulled his hand over his eyes in an attempt to keep Marianne from seeing him cry, but she had already seen enough. Marianne wrapped her arms around his shoulders and they nearly toppled out of the chair. It didn’t matter. Colonel Brandon wrapped his arms around her waist and buried his face in her lap. He sobbed loudly and the sound tore at Marianne. She stroked the side of his face. ‘She is going to be happy. She has found someone who is going to make her happy and feel loved and who has the means to provide for her and her son. She wants to marry him. She is not running away or leaving to try and better your life. She wants this. This is a conscious decision on her side. She has always loved nature. You said so yourself. It is why you gave her that cottage near the woods. With lots of space for Young Chris to round around and play and grow up with.’

Colonel Brandon didn’t want to hear the logic of her words. Didn’t want to see Eliza leave. ‘I am not going next week.’ ‘You are.’ ‘She is not my little girl anymore.’ ‘All young fledglings have to leave the nest some day.’ ‘I do not want her to leave.’ ‘She will not truly leave. You will always be in her thoughts and she is in yours.’ ‘It is not enough. I want her and Young Chris by my side.’ He dug his fingers into the sides of her hips, bunched up the fabric there. ‘If something happens, I cannot help her.’ ‘She can take care of herself. Has she not proven so these last few years?’

The Colonel had stopped sobbing but his shoulders were still shaking and he was soundlessly crying. ‘If I was her, I would have stayed with you, because no one is as good as you. No-one. This must be a most interesting man, if he is capable of measuring up to you. Even if he is a Scot.’ ‘He is a Scot!’ Colonel Brandon considered her words and he thought it a great kindness on her side to have said that she would have chosen him. They both knew she wouldn’t. She’d leave. The lump in his throat formed again and the tears began to flow freely once more. ‘She will be happy. Far away, but happy. You can go visit her, we will go visit her. This is not a definitive goodbye. Only for a little while. Christopher, please. I cannot stand to see you in such pain.’ It had been the wrong thing for her to say. Not when he was still so frustrated, when she hadn’t spoken to him in six weeks. Six weeks. He stiffened. ‘You lie. You lie because you are at the root of my pain and I cannot do anything. You cannot do anything. We are both trapped by our own means and while I might be happy, you will never be. Stop lying and saying you care for me.’ Marianne brought her mouth to his cheek and kissed him. She stroke with her thumb over the shell of his ear. She didn’t say anything, only continued to caress him.

Marianne didn’t know if he wanted to hear a response. She would tell him the truth, a truth he knew and she knew he didn’t want to hear it. He settled down eventually and tried to push himself out of her lap, but she didn’t allow him to. He tried again and this time she let him go, then wrapped her arms around his shoulders again and embraced him. His arms wound up around her and they sat there for what seemed like hours, in front of the fire. Marianne gently rocked the two of them to and fro.

Colonel Brandon pulled away from her but she cupped his cheeks and stroked the skin under his eyes with her thumbs. She wiped away a tear and then bent his head. She planted her lips on his forehead and the touch burnt. She rose and helped him up. He sat down in the chair he had previously been seated in and watched Marianne take off his boots and watched her leave, then return with a blanket. She wrapped it around him and kissed his cheek again. It smelled like her. It must have been lying on her bed. ‘I will be right back, do not go anywhere.’ As if he could. He felt empty and exhausted.
She stayed away a bit longer, then returned with a tray with a teapot, cups, saucers and a plate with sandwiches. She put them down on the small table between them and sat down in the chair across from him. She poured the tea and handed him his cup.

It stayed quiet for some time. She drank deeply and in silence. She didn’t make eye contact with him and this realization frustrated him to no end. Only mere minutes ago they had been having a conversation and now suddenly she was unable to look at him. The anger rose in him again and this time it was, for once, directed at her. Bitterness clawed up his throat and jealousy and despair over the possibility that there might be someone else. She cleared her throat and met his gaze. The fury in his veins settled as soon as it had risen. ‘I want to apologize for my past behaviour. It is inexcusable. I had no reason, no validating excuse for the way I spoke to you and treated you.’ Oh. She was apologizing to him. She handed him one of the sandwiches and he took it all too willingly. A voice in the back of his mind whispered that he would take anything she’d give him and while that didn’t sit well with the Colonel, he knew it to be true. He would never scorn this woman or refuse her anything as long as there was even the smallest acceptance on her side. All she had to do was ask. Had Eliza had this great of an influence on him? He couldn’t recall that she did, straightaway. Which didn’t necessarily mean that his love for her had been shallow, just different, perhaps, in nature.

‘Marianne, I should have prevented Mrs. Jennings from bringing it up. I should have done something.’ ‘I think it best if we keep from visiting Mrs. Jennings or allowing her to call on us, for the near future.’ ‘That might be the brightest idea you have ever had.’ ‘You do not think me bright all hours of the day? Why, Colonel Brandon, I am most aghast at this shocking revelation!’ She smiled and he grinned at her. Then he thought of Eliza again and sighed deeply. To his surprise, she reached out to him and held his hand. ‘We will visit her. She will be well.’ ‘He is old enough to have been fighting at Culloden!’ ‘No, he is not. He is too young. He is proper and he loves your daughter and her son. He will be so good to her. Adoring, gentle.’ ‘We do not know this.’ ‘I suppose we will have to believe your daughter’s character witness of him.’ ‘What if she is telling falsehoods?’ ‘Is that in Eliza’s nature?’ The Colonel couldn’t keep the grumble from leaving his mouth. Marianne smiled and with her thumb, stroke over his knuckles. He turned his hand and took hold of her hand.

She let it lie in his hand, and he traced the bones in her hand, until he reached the tips of her fingers and then traced the bones down to her slender wrist. The Colonel admired the fine structure of her bones. He let go of her hand but then reached for it again and was taken by surprise when she allowed him to do so. ‘Do you truly think I only married you for offspring?’ He looked up just in time to see her cheeks grow red and Marianne tucked her chin in. ‘No. I know you love me. Love me in more ways than I love you. I am well aware of that being one of the reasons why you proposed. I expected you to expect of me to bear you children.’ Colonel Brandon sighed and leaned in. He took her other hand as well and kissed both of them. He pressed them and looked up at her.

Marianne looked at the Colonel and he looked at her from under his lashes. He looked so serene, but Marianne knew from the tell-tale sign of the crease in his brow that he was anything but. He was probably thinking about hidden meanings in her words. She bent forward and wanted to smooth the crease in his brow, she had very nearly reached out to him, when she pulled back and folded her hands in her lap. She pressed her lips firmly together and nodded in his direction. His brows furrowed and the glaze in his eyes disappeared. ‘I will never pressure you. Marianne, we are companions, and I do not want to endanger that companionship by pressuring you or forcing you to something you do not want to do.’ ‘Thank you.’ Still Marianne knew that this would never be entirely true. At one point the Colonel would grow weary of her resistance and change his mind.

‘Would you mind terribly if I leave you for the time being. I feel rather peckish and tired.’ He rose and Marianne watched him take his leave of her.