Col. James Brandon
12 November 1799
I seek your permission to wait upon you at your convenience, in order to apply for the hand of your ward, Miss Eliza Williams. I await your reply
Walter Barnes, Jr.
Colonel James Brandon chuckled in pleasure as he handed this missive to his wife to read. They were both still aglow from their orchestrated celebration of the spectacular full moon and meteor shower the night before. He hugged Marianne to show his pleasure in her, and in someone else's good fortune.
"It would be an opportunity for me to meet her too, wouldn't it, James? Perhaps a little less embarrassing for her than if you were to take me to visit her." James agreed and immediately penned his reply:
Mr. Walter Barnes, Jr.
13 November 1799
I should be pleased to receive you here at Delaford concerning the matter that you mentioned in your note. Would this Friday at 3:00 o'clock be convenient for you? My wife would be most pleased if you would bring your intended with you.
Col. J. Brandon (Ret.)
Mr. Barnes and Miss Williams arrived most punctually, accompanied by a small boy of about two years. They were greeted warmly by the Brandons, and while the Colonel ushered the young man into his study, Marianne led the others to her sitting room.
In his study, Brandon appraised the young man. He was tall and thin and looked to be about twenty years old. He was dressed neatly but plainly, and did not appear to be nervous. He remained standing respectfully until Brandon invited him to be seated.
"Mr. Barnes, I am pleased to meet you. I have been acquainted with your parents for about seven years and respect them highly. I hope you will convey to them my good wishes."
"I shall, thank you, sir. I do not wish to be abrupt, but I should like to come to the point without wasting your time. I came to ask for the hand of your ward. I have known her for about a year and have come to regard her so highly that I wish to spend the rest of my life with her. She is an extraordinary person and has done me the honor of assuring me that she will accept me if I have your permission. While I am of age and do not need my parents' permission, I have sought and received their blessing. They have come to know Miss Williams and have said that they would welcome her unreservedly as a beloved daughter.
"I know that I may appear younger than I am, and I assume you are wondering whether I can provide for Miss Williams and her child. He would become my child. As you know, my father is the principal printer of Beaminster and publishes the Beaminster News. Upon reaching my twenty-first birthday earlier this year, I completed a formal seven year apprenticeship with him. It may be somewhat unusual for a tradesman to insist upon a formal apprenticeship for his son, but my father did so. While he is loving and generous at home, he has been a rigorous master. He has taught me all he knows and entrusts the shop to me. I am fully capable of earning my living and supporting a family anywhere in England. However, my father has accepted me as his business partner, and I am proud to have earned his confidence. I intend to stay in Beaminster.
"I am sure you must have many questions that you wish to put to me, sir, before giving me your decision. I am prepared to answer them to the best of my ability." Upon concluding his speech, the young man relaxed slightly but remained at attention in his seat as if ready to be examined.
Brandon took his time replying. "Mr. Barnes, I will not toy with you. The way you have presented yourself has impressed me, and I am pleased that you wish to take on the responsibilities of my ward and her child. She deserves to be loved and cared for. I have observed you a few times in your father's shop, although I doubt that you noticed me."
"No, sir, I was well aware that you were Colonel Brandon of Delaford, but until today there was no occasion for me to introduce myself to you."
"My ward has confided to me her feelings toward you, and I have no doubt that you both have the ability to make each other happy. I give you my permission unreservedly, and I wish to say that before I say anything further.
"My ward has a loving and confiding nature. Although she made a very great mistake several years ago, she has learned from that experience and, I believe, has become wiser and stronger for it. I assume that she has told you all that you wish to know about that mistake."
"I know the man's name and where he lives, that he is about seven years older than I and has never offered to accept any responsibility for his child. I have not discussed with Miss Williams that I also know he has estates in Devonshire and Somersetshire and a house in town. He is married, has no occupation other than breeding dogs and horses and gambling fairly discreetly, and would be deeply in debt if he did not control his wife's large fortune. Naturally it is a delicate subject between us, but she has told me that he did not force her and that she went with him willingly. I know that at the time he took advantage of her, she was staying in Bath with friends and was not properly protected."
Brandon paused for a moment before he replied, "Mr. Barnes, you have just increased my respect for you to a considerable degree. You have dared to point out, in a perfectly respectful way, that I did not protect my young ward from harm when it was my responsibility to do so."
"Sir, I --."
"No, -- please. That is the truth. Has my ward told you about my history with her?"
"I know that you are not her natural father but are thought in some quarters to be so, and that you never trouble to correct that misapprehension. She has always thought of you as her father and has never known another. Until you married Mrs. Brandon last year, you did not have a suitable home in which to rear Miss Williams, but you oversaw her education and throughout her life you have protected her and been with her as much as you could, and she has spent considerable time here with you since you became master of Delaford. And she does not feel that you failed to protect her, sir. She says that she was young and wilful and that you could have done nothing to stop her on that occasion in Bath."
"Has she told you about her parents?"
"Only that her mother died when she was very young and that she does not recall her father."
"I think she may wish to spare you what she feels is a sordid family history, but she knows more than that about her mother. I think it proper for you, as Eliza's future husband, to know something about her parents. What I am about to disclose about Eliza's mother she already knows. While it is sordid, it does not reflect badly on Eliza.
"Her mother was a beautiful, lively, confiding woman, and Eliza is much like her in character. She was my cousin and we intended to marry, but she was forced to marry my elder brother. He treated her badly, and she took a lover -- in this house. My brother divorced her when she was pregnant with Eliza by that lover. Eliza was born a few weeks after the trial. I always wished that I had been Eliza's father, and that is why I have never disabused anyone of their mistaken belief in the nature of my connection to her. My wife and also Eliza know this, and now you.
"After the divorce and Eliza's birth, her mother had no one to help her, as I was in India and still unaware of her circumstances. She drifted from one lover to another and eventually ended up in circumstances of the worst degradation. She died when she was only twenty-two, and Eliza was only three. I had returned from India about six months earlier and immediately began searching for my cousin, but I did not find her until a few weeks before her death. I promised to care for Eliza as a precious trust and have done so to the best of my poor ability -- how poor you know from the result. If she has any pleasant memories of the period when her mother lived, I am grateful for them, because it must have been a frightening time.
"I know something about Eliza's father but have discussed none of my knowledge with her. I have read the parliamentary reports of her mother's trial, and from them I discovered the name of her liaison who gave my brother cause for divorce. He is still alive, and I know his address in town as well as his club. He is about ten years older than I, that is, than my cousin was when they had their adulterous relationship. As the result of the divorce trial, he must know that he fathered my cousin's child, but he has never attempted to take any responsibility for her. He has been married for almost all of her life and has legitimate offspring. If you or she wish, I would be happy to give you my proofs."
"Thank you, sir. I will tell her, but I suspect she will feel as I do. He never acted as her father but left all his responsibilities to you to discharge. You, in turn, are kind enough to allow me to take over those responsibilities. In fact, the character of Eliza's natural father appears to be similar to that of the natural father of little Jemmy. I have no wish to intrude upon either gentleman at this point, and would not wish them to intrude upon us. If Eliza agrees, we will leave your knowledge with you."
"Very well. May I call you Walter?"
"There are two more matters that I would like to discuss with you, Walter, and they are related. One is that you are marrying a woman who, though dear to you, has an unenviable reputation and, in fact, your awareness of her history is uncontrovertible because of your decision to adopt the fruit of her error. Are you not concerned about your own reputation?"
"No, sir, I am not. My wife's reputation is of no concern to anyone but us. Regardless of the mistake she made in the past, under the influence of a man much older that she who should have respected her innocence and vulnerability, I do not reproach her for it and will not permit anyone else to do so. Her experience, and the gossip and other indignities that she has borne as the unmarried mother of a child, have helped make her the strong person whom I love and admire. We intend to settle in Beaminster, where my family has been known for generations. I do not intend to hide in some other county simply in order to avoid general knowledge of my wife's and child's history, and she generously says she agrees with me. I am confident that my customers will not hold my family circumstances against me, and any who do will only be spiting themselves. You know my parents, sir, and will not be surprised to learn that they agree with me.
"I think you are asking me something further, sir, that you do not wish to state explicitly. You are asking me how I feel about marrying a woman who will not come to me as a maiden, is that not correct?"
Brandon nodded, blushing a little at the young man's directness.
"I do not care. If 'purity' is not required of men when they marry, why is it fair to require it of women? Neither a man's nor a woman's essence is in that empty kind of 'virtue.' Several of our modern poets and essayists, male and female, have pointed out the hypocrisy in demanding a different standard for the two sexes. I consider myself an idealist, and I reject that kind of inequality.
"I love dancing and, until I began to court Eliza, went to every assembly that I could. At such assemblies, and at the shop and in our neighborhood, I have met many girls. While many are pretty and pleasant, none of them can compare with her in intelligence, temperament and courage. I find the others insipid. While I recognize that I am young for marriage, I have seen no reason to think that if I waited I might find a woman more suited to me than Eliza. By marrying her now, I can protect her from any further hurts of the kind she has suffered. Why should we wait, when it would only pain both of us to do so?"
Relaxing his guard a little, he continued, "We have discussed my desire to introduce her as my wife at the first assembly after our wedding and have been improving our dancing skills in my parents' parlor so that we will both be prepared. Only she and my parents know how proud I am to be marrying a woman able to hold up her head like that!"
The two men shook hands. Brandon said, "Mr. Walter Barnes the younger, I congratulate myself on having granted your request for my ward's hand early in this interview. I shall be pleased to present it to you in Delaford church. I shall be proud to have you as my son, or at least as near to that relationship as is possible without being her father! Shall we join the others in my wife's sitting room?"
As Brandon conducted his guest to Marianne's sitting room, he thought wryly, Of the two of us, he is the more at ease. And why not? He knows he is upright and full of youthful energy and confidence. He knows he has impressed me with his character his integrity and unconventionality -- and has even challenged me successfully. He has never yet encountered a difficulty in life that he could not overcome with hard work and confidence, has never made a serious mistake and has nothing to regret. And he has the approval and support of his parents. Eliza is fortunate to be loved by such a man.
Meanwhile, Marianne led her guests to her sitting room. It was a lovely room, reflecting her temperament painted white and light yellow with accents of green and blue. She invited Eliza to sit on the comfortable settee, while she took a nearby chair. The little boy looks shockingly like Willoughby! No one could doubt his parentage. And poor Eliza is as nervous about this meeting as I am.
As soon as she sat down, her little boy in her lap, Miss Williams exclaimed, "What a lovely room! And you have made Delaford into a warm and comfortable home! It was without a mistress for far too long."
Marianne thanked Miss Williams. "You have lived in this house far longer than I, and I would always wish you to feel comfortable in it."
Miss Williams blushed and said, "Mrs. Brandon, would you call me Eliza?"
"Yes, Eliza, if you will call me Marianne. After all, I am scarcely older than you -- and I have been Mrs. Brandon for less than two months."
"Marianne, I can see that those two months have made a great difference in my guardian. He is much happier than I have ever known him to be, as well he deserves! It has always seemed to me that he carried great burdens of sadness and responsibility. Since marrying you, I see that his responsibilities are no fewer, but that he carries them lightly, as though they were no burden to him at all."
Marianne replied, "Thank you. It is generous of you to say so, Eliza. I feel I am an interloper in your very long relationship with him. But I am indeed very happy with him. Any woman would be. I am very fortunate to be the one."
"My father I should not call him that. I hope you are not offended by my mistake? He is the only father I have ever known, but he is your husband and my guardian, not my father. --"
"Eliza, please do not be embarrassed. I am very young to be your stepmother, am I not? Not even a full year older than you. And my husband feels that you are like a daughter to him." Touching her own belly, Marianne said, "Within a few months, he will become a father in his own right."
Before Eliza could answer, Marianne noticed that her little boy, whom she called Jemmy, was restless and wished to be free of his mother's restraint. Marianne said, "Jemmy, I believe I have something for you."
She opened her work basket and produced a curious pincushion, never used and with no pins in it. It looked like a doll with long yellow hair and a long red skirt and pink striped blouse. However, Marianne showed Jemmy that if he pulled the doll's skirt up over her head, there was a boy doll with short brown hair, a green plaid shirt, and a blue skirt! But one could fasten a button through a buttonhole at the center of the blue skirt, making it look like pants. Jemmy was fascinated by the double doll, and made his mother repeatedly button and unbutton the pants- skirt. Marianne could see that he knew what to do with the buttons on his own shirt but had difficulty with the doll's smaller button and buttonhole. The doll continued to occupy him as the two women talked.
Marianne abruptly said, "He resembles his father, does he not?"
Eliza looked startled, "I did not know --"
"That I knew Willoughby?"
"I don't know whether my husband has told you enough about me for you to know that what befell you could have befallen me. A short time before Jemmy here was born, Willoughby came to stay in our neighborhood in Devonshire, where he had an aunt who intended to make him her heir. I fell in love with him and believed that he loved me in return. But he spurned me and married someone else. As the result of my disappointment I became ill and might have died. As it happened, I did not make the precise mistake with him that you made, but I, too, was unguarded with him, and it might have happened . I have the greatest respect for your strength of character in overcoming a misfortune far greater than what I suffered."
"I didn't know that he was married," said Eliza softly.
"When you knew him, he was not. You need not worry about that."
"I was weak he was very charming and persuasive, and I allowed my passions to rule me and did not resist. In fact I was most willing to be persuaded."
"But in all that has happened since, you have shown yourself to be admirably strong. You had the determination and resourcefulness to find yourself a safe place, working for a family who sheltered you. You finally gathered enough courage to contact my husband. Since Jemmy's birth, you have worked hard and honorably in Mrs. Gordon's school and have established your character as a modest woman.
"You know, don't you, that my husband never would have abandoned you, no matter what you had done?"
"I do know that now, but at the time I was so ashamed that I could not think clearly. When I went with Willoughby, of course I knew it was wrong, but I was feeling rebellious and was not thinking of the consequences for my own future. Afterward, I felt I could not visit my shame on my guardian, who had done so much for me and whom I felt I had dishonored. I did not want to disappoint him or hurt him further."
"But Eliza, he suffered so much not knowing what had become of you, whether you were even still alive ."
"I know," she whispered, "I was too absorbed by my own feelings to think of how he might be hurt by not knowing about me."
Marianne replied, "I have been like that also, when I had less right than you to plead youth and vulnerability as an excuse. You must have felt all alone, unwilling to ask my husband for the help he wanted to give you, and yet rather than abandoning yourself to the streets and to the kind of life that your mother was forced --"
Here Eliza blanched. "Mrs. Brandon, I had not thought --"
"Forgive me, Eliza, for alluding to it. And I am Marianne. You must understand that my husband has told me all about certain important passages in his life, and his relationship with your mother was such a one.
Eliza whispered, "But I haven't told my fiancee about my mother. He knows all about me but not her."
"You must tell him, don't you think, Eliza? Can he truly know you unless he knows about her? And how can it hurt him? He accepts what happened to you he will not censure either you or her when he knows what happened to her."
"But he might think that I would ."
"After what he has committed himself to, do you really think he would draw back for such a reason? I could not believe he is that kind of man."
Getting up, Marianne said, "I have something that belongs to you." From one of the drawers of the pretty writing desk she drew the little blue silk-bound book that she had recently found. "It was your mother's diary, from her fifteenth birthday until shortly before your birth. I have read it, and so has my husband, and it is the saddest document I have ever seen. From it I learned what your mother was like, how you came into being, and her relationship with my husband. I believe I know why she entrusted you to him: she loved you both very much and knew that she could safely leave you with him."
Marianne made to hand it to her, but Eliza shook her head. "Marianne, would you keep it for now? This is not the right time for me to read my mother's diary. I am about to begin a new life, which I believe will have little similarity to hers. Perhaps when I have been married for a while, or even after Walter and I have had a child together . I know you will keep the book safe for me. And I will tell him about her."
Jemmy came to climb into his mother's lap so that she would unbutton the doll's pants in order to turn it back into a girl doll. Marianne said, "Eliza, I saw how your fiancee loves him, and little Jemmy himself is very confiding with your Walter. I believe that both you and Jemmy must be very fortunate. It seems extraordinary for a young man like him to take on such responsibility." Marianne thought of how James at twenty-two had been prepared to do the same for Eliza's mother. "I think your fiancee must be very like my husband in his character, in that way."
"I believe I must be the most fortunate woman alive, Marianne. I met Walter about a year ago, when I visited his father's shop on my employer's business. I had Jemmy with me. I said I was Eliza Williams and Walter addressed me politely as Mrs. Williams, but I corrected him and told him I was Miss Williams and that Jemmy was my son. So you see, he knew from the beginning that I was an unmarried woman with a child out of wedlock, but he was never deterred. I love him for many reasons, but that was the first.
"He is steadfast, like my guardian. I am proud that after we are married he wants to stay in Beaminster, where all his family have been known for generations. He does not want to hide me or Jemmy. I feel I could face anything with a man like that!"
She confided, "My wedding present to him is nearly the most difficult thing I have ever done. We are practicing so that he will be able to present me as his wife at the next assembly in Beaminster. Of course, it is not dancing that is so hard, but schooling myself to walk into a ballroom as Walter's wife, holding my head high as if I did not know or care what others may say about me. I do not want him to know how difficult this is for me, because he believes I am strong. I don't want to disappoint him."
"Eliza, I am sure he will not be disappointed."
"There is something I would like to ask of you, Marianne. I hope it is not too much . Would you attend me when I marry Walter next month? It will be in Delaford church, you know."
"I would be honored to attend you as the bride's particular friend. Though we met only this afternoon, I feel that we are connected and have known each other nearly all our lives. And may I visit you when you are Mrs. Barnes of Beaminster?"
"Yes, of course I would be honored. But you will still have to call me Eliza."
Brandon and Walter knocked and entered. Jemmy ran to Walter, who scooped him up and sat with him on his lap, next to his fiancee. Marianne poured tea and passed a plate of biscuits. Brandon squeezed his ward's hand and stood to rest his hands on her shoulders. With glistening eyes and voice full of emotion, he said, "Eliza, my dear, for fifteen years you have been a precious trust from your dear mother, and I have tried my best though very imperfectly at times to carry out that trust. I have loved you as dearly as if you were my own daughter, and I consider that you have been my daughter. You have grown into a lovely, strong, judicious woman of integrity whom any father would be proud to have reared, and I am proud.
"Today I have met the man who wishes to relieve me of my trust by marrying you and adopting Jemmy. Although I have known him for less than an hour, I am pleased to relinquish you to him, Eliza dear. He appears to be a remarkable person, and I am sure the two of you will make each other happy."
Eliza grasped one of his hands and looked up at him, her eyes also shining. "Guardian, in my own mind I call you father, because that is what you have been to me. I could not have had a better one. But I am happy that you have granted Walter permission to marry me, because I could not have found a better husband. He is so very like you.
"And today I met Marianne at last, and I believe we will be firm friends. We have so much in common, especially you. I have asked her to attend me at our wedding, father, and she has generously consented. So both of you will be there to give me to Walter."
Walter cleared his throat. "I thank you, sir, for caring for my bride all these years, before I could know her and care for her myself. I have already told you why I admire her so much. I promise that I will do my utmost to keep her and Jemmy safe, and happy. I know why he is named for you."
Marianne only said, "I have made a friend today, and although I have not had an opportunity yet to know you, Walter, I have no doubt of your future happiness together. May you be as happy as James and I."
The following announcement appeared in the Beaminster News of 20 December 1799:
At Delaford, Mr. Walter Barnes, the younger, printer, of Beaminster, to Miss Eliza Williams, ward of Colonel James Brandon of Delaford, about 19 years of age. The bride was attended by Mrs. Brandon. Upon return from their wedding trip to Lyme, Mr. and Mrs. Barnes will reside in Beaminster.
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