Marianne Brandon sat in her sunny sitting room one morning, musing on the pleasures of married life, as she had done often during the past weeks when she was not actually engaging in them. Her husband had fallen in love with her because he found her intelligent, sweet natured, open hearted, passionate, impulsive, immoderate, generous and vulnerable. She found all those appealing qualities and others in him too, especially in their amorous moods, where he was both tender and playful. They had been open with each other before marriage, but now they gave themselves to each other more completely than she could have imagined. She marveled that she could ever have thought him too old for marriage.
During the past week she had noticed some changes in herself. After discussing them with her mother and Elinor, she thought she might already have conceived. Last night she had told James her suspicions.
He was both delighted and concerned. "Will you be well, Marianne? Do you think I can be a good father to our child?" They talked far into the night about the prospect of parenthood if her suspicions were correct. Never had he shown himself so vulnerable yet proud and excited. She felt the same.
She roused herself from her reverie to look for some writing paper in the pretty desk they had just moved from a disused room into her sitting room. In one of its drawers was nothing but a book, bound in pale blue watered silk, nearly filled in a small feminine hand. A pressed flower lay between the last page and the back cover.
Curious, she began reading. It appeared to be a diary. The first entry was dated twenty- two years earlier, and she saw it must be the diary of Eliza Brandon. Appalled at her thoughtless invasion of another woman's privacy, she closed the book and went to show it to James.
"James, it was Eliza's, wasn't it? I should not be reading it."
He took the book from her and handled it carefully without opening it. "I gave this to her on her fifteenth birthday. I haven't seen it since then," he said and handed it back. "Marianne, darling, you don't need my permission to read Eliza's diary. She is dead and has nothing to protect. Even when she was alive, I'm sure that whatever privacy she had was stripped from her by my brother and his lawyers in the divorce. They surely would have used her diary against her if they had known of it. As for any privacy of mine, you know that everything in my life is open to you. You can't hurt anyone by reading Eliza's diary."
2 June 1777
I am fifteen today, and James gave me this beautiful book to celebrate my birthday. I think I may be falling in love with my handsome and charming cousin. He is only four months older than I, and we have been playmates as long as we both can remember, but I am beginning to have a different feeling toward him. When he came home from school for the summer, I felt shy with him in a way I have never felt before. He acted that way too, and I wonder if his feelings are changing as well. But of course we don't speak of it.
5 June 1777
I wish to record that my benefactor, James Brandon, donor of this book, is brave, strong, intelligent, caring, protective, kind, respectful and honest. I am sure I must have omitted some of his best attributes, but so it is. He is a paragon.
It is true that I hardly have anyone to compare him with, except in literature or history. I know hardly anyone outside of this house: James, my uncle and guardian Mr. Brandon, and my older cousin Roger. And my governess, Miss Wilson, and the servants, of course.
I was so young when my parents died that I don't remember either of them, and I don't remember any other home than Delaford. We have an older cousin, but I have never met him. James and Roger's sister Alice has been married for the past two or three years and has gone to live in France, where her husband's family has interests. They also have an estate in Devonshire called Whitwell, which they sometimes visit, but we never see them at Delaford. Alice corresponds regularly with James and sometimes with me. She and James are practically my only contacts with the world outside Delaford.
2 July 1777
Although I have already described many of James's virtues, I forgot to say that he is also sensitive, loyal and entertaining. He tells long amusing stories but can also be serious. He also has a very pleasing singing voice. Also, I am convinced now that he does love me. However, I do not dare to discuss this matter with him.
My cousin Roger is about twenty-three and as unlike James as any brother could be. Roger is coarse, careless, dishonest and stupid except where his interests are concerned -- then he is as clever as one could wish. He also gambles and womanizes, although I am not supposed to know about those things. Of course, I do know, mostly because the servants talk about his exploits, and also sometimes he boasts in front of me.
25 September 1777
James's long vacation is over and he has gone back to school. I am left alone with my books, music and drawing. I have had a new governess (Miss Threadwell) for two weeks but I do not think she will last until Christmas; she disapproves of Roger and he disparages her as too plain and not amusing. But while she is here I shall take advantage of her tutelage to learn a little French and needlework. I am a better musician than she is, so there is nothing to be gotten from her there.
21 December 1777
James is home for Christmas, but he must surely regret coming. Yesterday there was such an argument in this house that I have not felt able to write about it until today. It began when Roger boasted of some great gambling loss involving horses or cards. James dared to reprove him for wasting the Brandon estate. My guardian took Roger's side and said that James had no right to criticize his elder brother because he (James) will never get Delaford or the rest of the Brandon wealth -- naturally Roger gets everything as the eldest son. There was a great deal of shouting, cursing and red faces, and I'm sure they forgot that I was present. I don't understand why Mr. Brandon always indulges Roger and treats James harshly -- it is unfair and only encourages Roger in his profligacy. Mr. Brandon shows no love toward his younger son, and James must often feel as much an orphan as I do.
10 February 1778
Miss Threadwell is gone, as I predicted, although her longevity of service surprised me: she lasted until the beginning of the year. Now that I have no governess, my only female companionship consists of cook, our housekeeper (housekeepers at Delaford have no longevity) and some of the servants, and also the occasional letter from Alice.
I have no one to learn from except my books and James's letters from school. He understands my loneliness and tries to entertain and comfort me. He is even trying to help me with my French by writing me amusing stories which I must translate. Sadly, my efforts to respond in French are less successful.
16 March 1778
My marvelous James, again! When I complained to him of my lack of female companionship, he promptly wrote back that he was procuring some for me but that I must wait patiently for their arrival. Today's post brought me a variety of keyboard compositions by female composers! In fact, two of them have immediately endeared themselves to me by sharing my name -- Elizabeth Hardin and Elisabetta de Gambarini. By the time James comes home from school for the long vacation, I shall be able to perform all of these ladies' music for him. He deserves at least that much!
2 June 1778
My birthday again -- sixteen. This year James did not give me a present but gave me something better. He told me he loves me! He has loved me for a long time, maybe forever. I told him I love him too, of course, because I do. We agreed that it would be better not to mention our feelings to his brother and father, although I suppose that if they paid any attention to us they would notice. He gave me a flower as a token, which I am pressing to keep in this book. The book and the flower are two tangible things he has given me, together with his priceless love, which I feel even though it cannot be touched.
If I play for him every day one or two of the pieces he sent me, the summer will be half over before I am done. There are a few songs, which he says he is learning in secret and will perform with me when he is ready.
~~~~~13 June 1778
Yesterday was the worst day of my life. My guardian called me into his study 'to discuss my future' now that I am sixteen. Roger was there but not James. Mr. Brandon informed me that I am to marry Roger. When I protested that I cannot marry Roger because I don't love him (of course, I was too prudent to say I love James), my guardian said that my feelings do not signify and that it will be better for everyone if I agree to marry Roger sooner rather than later.
It is not enough that my guardian intends to give me to my repellent cousin against my will, but also the two of them had to explain to me that the motivation is my large fortune, not any regard on Roger's part. It seems that his extravagance has run the estate into some difficulties and that my fortune, which is under my guardian's control, of course, will be just the thing to rescue the estate from inevitable ruin.
I burst into tears and could not stop. My guardian sent me to my room, saying we would discuss the matter another time when I had better control of myself.
I told James all about it today. He says we should elope but that perhaps when his father and brother consider how much I hate the idea of marrying Roger, they will relent and find some other way to save the estate. So we will wait and see. Neither of us has any money.
30 August 1778
Today my guardian announced that the banns will be read next Sunday. So our period of grace has evidently expired. Marriage to Roger has not been mentioned in my hearing since the middle of June, when I made such a scene. James and I have been making our plans since then, because we knew this day would come.
It is a journey of several days to Scotland from here, and so our main obstacles are how to avoid being followed and brought back, and how to pay for our journey. We don't make light of those difficulties.
31 August 1778
I shall have to bring my maid Mary into our confidence, because there is no other way to deceive James's father and brother. I wish we did not have to include her, because she is not trustworthy.
2 September 1778
We are lost!
Mary must have betrayed us, because barely an hour before we were to get away last night, my guardian stopped us. He quite literally dragged us both into his study, and we endured the most humiliating scene. Roger was there, and Mary also, smirking and casting conspiratorial glances at Roger. I said almost nothing but cried a great deal.
James was respectful but defiant. He explained that we love each other and desire to marry, that we would wait if assured that we would be allowed to marry when we are older and that I would not be forced to marry Roger, that I do not love Roger, and that we had seen no alternative to elopement because we knew that my guardian would never consent because of my fortune. James was magnificently calm and well-spoken, especially in the face of my guardian's nearly uncontrolled fury. Roger said very little, as my guardian said everything for him.
James's self possession was to no avail. Our punishment is that we are never to see each other again. He must go to live with our cousin in Yorkshire. We will not be allowed to correspond. If he writes to me, his letters will be burnt before I see them, and I am not to know his address. I am to be locked in my room until I come to my senses. I am to see no one except Mary, who will bring me my meals, and she is not to speak to me.
If James and I were hero and heroine of one of Mrs. Radcliffe's horrid novels, our punishment could hardly be more terrible, except that I doubt I shall be forced to subsist only on bread and water. I shall probably die of sorrow.
5 September 1778
In my last I attempted to make light of my plight, but the truth is much worse than I had anticipated. I am not allowed to leave my room and no one is allowed to visit me. I have no books, and my instrument has been removed. I spend my days crying and sitting by my window, whence I try to imagine I would be able to see Yorkshire if there were not a grove of trees in my way. I have not written more in my diary because there is nothing to write.
I miss James so very much!
6 September 1778
Today I had a visitor -- Roger. He spoke kindly to me although I ignored him. He soon went away but said he would come again.
9 September 1778
Roger comes to visit me every day now. He always speaks kindly and sometimes reads to me. Today he brought my dinner instead of Mary. His visits are all that breaks the monotony of my solitary days, and I am ashamed to relate that today I almost looked forward to his visit.
14 September 1778
Five days have passed since Roger last came. I have gone back to spending my days crying and looking toward Yorkshire, with nothing else to look forward to.
I suppose they intend to make me desperate to see Roger again in hopes that eventually I will accept him.
I think about James constantly. I wonder what he is doing, whether he is thinking about me. I wonder if he is composing letters to me, that he will not be allowed to send. I wonder if he cries too.
22 September 1778
Exactly three weeks have passed since our failed elopement. Roger visited me again and says he will come every day. He was surprisingly kind and considerate of my feelings today, and was not nearly as coarse in his conduct and expressions as he used to be.
29 September 1778
Roger visits daily. He is polite and sometimes even amusing. I am so lonely that I actually look forward to seeing him. He usually stays only about ten minutes. They took my watch from me days ago, so I judge time according to the sun and when my meals are brought. I am not hungry, and sometimes I don't bother to eat what they bring me.
I suppose I am being subjected to a strange form of courtship, in which the jailer rather unnecessarily courts the prisoner. Of course, the prize that is really offered is freedom. Marriage to him remains very unappealing, but I do long for freedom and my books.
4 October 1778
I miss James as much as ever, and I wonder what he is doing and thinking, and whether he thinks about me. But I am ashamed to confess that I begin to imagine accepting Roger. Could I be so faithless? I am sure James is not thinking of marrying another!
10 October 1778
With nothing but brief visits from Roger to vary my days, I suspect I am going mad. I have read that is what happens to prisoners left in dungeons. While my room is certainly no dungeon, I feel it as much a prison as if it were. And I know I hold the key to my freedom in my hand -- just give it to Roger.
13 October 1778
Today I capitulated. I told Roger I would marry him. He is not so bad as I had thought.
Immediately my guardian came to see me and congratulated me on my wisdom. He made a great show of demonstrating that now I am free to roam the house and grounds again. I may even go as far as the village if accompanied.
I am so ashamed. I want to write to James to explain myself, but that will not be allowed. My guardian promised that he would inform James of my intended marriage. I know James would want to know, but he will hate not hearing it from me.
I hate to think of him believing that I could forget him so quickly, or if not forget him at least be so easily persuaded. He would never be so weak!
6 January 1779
Christmas without James, and not a word from him. Life has never seemed so bleak.
The banns are to be read this month, beginning on 17 January. I can hardly expect that James will turn up to object that I cannot marry his brother because I am betrothed to him. The matter of banns is revealed as a sham, when one's true love is immured in Yorkshire and cannot come to the church to protest.
1 February 1779
There is no going back now. Today the attorney came, and I signed the papers giving Roger control of my fortune three days hence when I am married. My guardian will no longer have formal control, although it makes no difference to me who controls my money, since it will not be I. As it happens, my wedding day will also be James's seventeenth birthday.
6 February 1779
I have been too miserable to write until today. I was married two days ago in Delaford church, by a clergyman whom I did not know and who must have been blind and deaf not to notice that I said my vows most unwillingly.
My wedding night was a horror. Roger was drunk, and rough, and I was frightened. He satisfied himself in two minutes and then rolled over and went to sleep, leaving me to weep in humiliation. I never imagined that becoming a wife would be so disgusting, and I am sure it would not have been if it had been James.
12 February 1779
I have not had to share Roger's bed again except once. It was pretty much like the first time, except that I knew what to expect.
15 February 1779
Today my uncle informed me that James has a commission in the army and is on his way to India to join a regiment. He will be gone at least five years. My uncle told me that James knows I am married and voluntarily chose to leave England because of it.
The cruelty! It was bad enough when I knew James was exiled to Yorkshire, but now it is India, nearly as far from me as he could be. When I wake up in the morning, I do not even know what time it is wherever he is, probably still on shipboard. Is he awake too, or is he already sleeping?
I do not know what James's address will be, and I would not be allowed to write to him if I did. Although of course he knows mine, if he writes I will never be allowed to receive his letters.
I don't know how I shall survive this.
20 April 1779
My uncle is dead. I cannot say that I am sorry, but I confess I am a little frightened by it. There is no longer anyone to restrain Roger.
5 May 1779
No sooner is Mr. Brandon in his grave but I am made to suffer the consequences of Roger's lack of parental restraint, such as it was. Roger no longer pretends to be a husband to me or to respect my position. When he is home, he brings women into the house and expects me to be polite to them. The first time it happened was two days after his father's funeral. When I protested, he struck me and said I had better get used to it. I locked myself in my room and refused to speak to him, but he did not appear to mind.
The second time was yesterday. He made me serve the woman tea and address her as Miss Smith, and they made no effort to conceal the nature of their relationship from me. The servants are embarrassed for me and find it difficult to look me in the eye, but they are very kind.
25 May 1779
Alice has promised to send me James's address in India, though he will not even arrive there for another two months. It is kind of her, but this knowledge will be a mixed blessing. Even when I know exactly where he is, I shall not write to him. I do not want him to know my humiliation and do not want to hurt him. In any event, I don't know what he could do. It is his duty to remain with his regiment. He is not a person to abandon his duty, even for love and even if he believed that he could accomplish something good by doing so. And what could he do? I am married to his brother and he cannot change that. The kindest thing I can do for both of us is to remain silent. Let him think I am contentedly married and have forgotten him. Though I never shall.
28 August 1779
I have had nothing to write. Roger is as neglectful as ever. He spends most of his time in town, and when he is here he is usually drunk and has women with him, never the same one twice, as far as I can tell. I never know when he will appear. Occasionally he comes alone and exercises his marital rights, an ordeal which I have learned to endure.
8 October 1779
I have an illicit friend. He is actually Roger's friend, who came for a month of shooting. S. is outwardly as different from Roger as he could be -- polite, considerate, charming and gentle. He has begun to visit me in my chamber and has shown me that the activity is quite pleasurable if done in the right way. Of course, we are careful not to show any special regard for each other in anyone else's presence.
25 November 1779
S. is back, this time without Roger although with other friends. Roger has so little regard for his wife's reputation that he permits his male friends to visit Delaford in his absence. I don't care about my reputation, but S. and I remain as discreet as we can to avoid gossip that could get back to Roger. Nothing in Roger's character leads me to think he would accept being cuckolded, or that he would consider that my conduct was mitigated by his own.
5 March 1780
In the past months I have been almost happy. S. has been a regular visitor at Delaford, with my husband's permission. My husband has other companions and does not require my company at night when he is here. I do not see why this state of affairs cannot continue indefinitely.
30 March 1780
How wrong I was to think that I could continue with S. and that Roger would not find out! Roger's suspicions were somehow raised, and he arrived home unexpectedly to find S. in my bed. He beat his friend cruelly and expelled him from the house, barely allowing him to put on his clothes. Roger did not touch me, did not even speak to me except to say that he would divorce me as soon as he could.
20 April 1780
I have not seen or heard from Roger since the day he discovered my liaison with his friend. Today, however, two things happened. The first was that I received divorce papers from Roger's solicitor. The second is that I am almost certainly pregnant. I would never convince Roger that the child is his. He is not that stupid.
I have heard nothing from S. and doubt that I ever will.
5 January 1781
There has been nothing to write for nearly nine months. I have been healthy during my pregnancy. Although I had hoped at the beginning that somehow I would lose the child early, that did not occur. My delivery will probably be near the end of this month.
During all this time, I have thought often of writing to James to inform him of my troubles. I know he would help me if he could, but of course he is still in India and would not be free to come home. What could he do if he knew? I am ashamed to inform him of my troubles, the more so because they are of my own making. Roger's cruelty does not excuse my conduct.
I have not even informed Alice. She is in France, and I hope she may still be ignorant of my shame. She must eventually find out, because my divorce has been in all the papers for months.
7 January 1781
The divorce trial in Parliament will begin tomorrow, but I would not attend even if I were allowed. Why should I, when the result is foregone? Showing the Lords my swollen belly would hardly convince them of my innocence.
Until now, I have had a home at Delaford, but when the decree is issued, Roger will have no further obligation to provide me a roof. In fact, I have been informed that he intends to install one of his mistresses.
I will go to London to have the baby. After that, I don't know what will become of me.
This is my final entry in the book James gave me three and a half years ago. I shall leave it here at Delaford. Perhaps one day he will find it and will forgive me when he reads it, although I am sure that is a forlorn hope. He will not return to Delaford, and I would not deserve his forgiveness if he did.
"James, I think if you read Eliza's diary it might answer some questions you still have."
He read it as they sat together by the fire in the library. When he had finished, he sighed and looked into the fire for many minutes. At last he said, "My poor girl. When I found her in London and we spent the last three weeks of her life together, she told me all that had happened to her but not the depth of the humiliations she suffered here, and she would never tell me why she never asked me for help. Now I know she was deliberately silent when she knew where I was. It was not my own failure, was it?"
"No, it wasn't. She told me more about you than I had known -- that you were unloved by your father, but that your loving steadfastness even then was the same as it is now. And she answered many of my questions about herself -- what kind of person she was, why she did what she did -- her temperament was like mine, wasn't it? She never forgot you, and she hoped you would forgive her."
"Yes, and I thought I had. But until a few months ago, I hadn't really forgiven her. I felt I was wrong to blame her for dying and leaving little Eliza for me to struggle to rear alone and for everything else she had done, so I blamed myself for being unreasonably angry. It was you who finally showed me how to forgive her, when you said you understood that I could be angry."
"I am so fortunate in your love and my secure home and our baby, James. I feel I have supplanted her in that way. They should have been hers."
"No, dearest, you didn't supplant her. If she had lived, my original wishes would probably have been satisfied -- we would have gone to live as husband and wife, she would have borne my children, and I never would have fallen in love with you. Or if I had never met you or you had refused me, then I would simply have continued as an old bachelor, while you would have recovered from Willoughby's betrayal and gone on to marry and be happy with a man who deserved you. But it happened otherwise.
"The ancients thought that our lives are like threads. Some are spun too short or are cut or they snap. Some become knotted or tangled. And some unaccountably become entwined like yours and mine. We are not the weaver but the woven."
In silence they watched the fire turn to embers. Then they went upstairs to comfort each other in a different way.
~ FINIS ~