It burst on Marianne at last that Colonel Brandon loved her.
She awoke one morning from a pleasant dream, in which they had been sitting under a tree reading to each other. He closed the book as he finished a passage. Looking into her eyes, he said, "Marianne, you know I love you."
She had known no such thing. He had never spoken of love to her. No change in him had prompted her dream; he was the same kind, honest, unassuming man he had always been. She had changed since her depression and dangerous fever: she again found joy in life, and she credited much of that change to Colonel Brandon himself. Despite her thoughtless treatment of him before her illness, he had not retreated but rather had worked to return her to health and happiness. By now, they had spent countless contented hours in each other's company, indoors and out, discussing books and music, philosophy and history and science, exploring the countryside together. When she played for him, he would sometimes sing in a fine baritone voice. They would dance together whenever Sir John Middleton had a party.
And while he was changing her, he also changed: he seemed to grow younger. Formerly, he had seemed reserved and humorless, even infirm. She could never have imagined him in love, though she knew from Elinor that as a youth he had passionately loved his cousin, the mother of his unfortunate ward Eliza Williams. That cousin had died three or four years after Marianne was born, so long ago that Marianne could hardly imagine the man she knew today as the one who had survived a tragic young love.
As she lay in bed that morning, she considered the revelation of her dream. If he had not changed overnight, how had she? And what should she do about it?
Marianne dressed and slipped out of the chamber she shared with Margaret whenever the Dashwoods stayed at Delaford Parsonage. She found Elinor about to go out for her early morning walk and asked to accompany her.
When they had climbed to the top of a little rise from which they could see both the parsonage and the manor house, they sat down on a bench to rest. Marianne seized the moment to tell her sister about her dream.
"Of course he loves you," responded Elinor.
"How do you know?"
"Everybody knows it."
"How can everybody know when I didn't know? He has never told me he loves me."
"He wouldn't, would he? If he declared himself without knowing your feelings, he might fear he would scare you away. He knows you've been hurt. He might be waiting for you. He has been able to enjoy your company, simply knowing that you enjoyed his. And he could hope that some day you would return his feelings."
"The day seems wasted if I don't see him. But I am scared. And it's not his fault. He hasn't changed toward me. But now, everything is different."
"How are things different? You just said he hasn't changed."
"What's different is that now I know. I can't pretend I don't. How can I meet him as if nothing were changed, when now I know his secret?"
"How do you know his feelings are meant to be secret from you, when everyone knows how he feels about you? Now you've seen it too, that's all."
"He's the best man I can imagine, but I don't love him. He's too old, too quiet, not passionate enough. He's only five years younger than Mother. How can I hurt him by telling him that I can't love him as he loves me? I won't know how to act when I meet him."
"As you always do. You don't have to tell him; he knows you."
Marianne spent the rest of the morning wondering what she would say to him. He came to the parsonage in the early afternoon as usual, and they wandered toward the same spot she had visited with Elinor in the morning. They sat on the little bench, and he remarked, "You are very quiet today, Miss Marianne. Has something worried you?"
After a long pause, she replied, "I dreamed about you, Colonel. I dreamed you said, 'You know I love you.'"
He turned to her then and took both her hands, with a smile she had seen before when he looked at her and which in fact she seemed to recall from her dream. "That's true, Marianne, I love you. But I haven't been sure if you knew. I haven't even known whether I wanted you to know. I've loved you since I met you. I never pretended otherwise, but I didn't want to impose my feelings on you in case you would reject them."
He hesitated. "Do you feel different about me now?"
"No ..., yes ..., I mean I don't know," she replied, turning away. Turning back after a moment, she said, "My dream comes as such a surprise. Since Cleveland, I've felt that you were my dear friend, to whom I could say anything and who would always be near and to whom I could always turn and who would always be candid with me, no matter what we discussed. But now I don't know how I feel. I don't know what to do."
"Marianne, you know I'm the same as I was, don't you? I haven't changed since yesterday, and essentially you haven't either. Only your awareness is different. If you want, nothing need change between us. Or everything could, if that's what you want. I won't pressure you. I only want your happiness."
"May I tell you later, Colonel?"
"You don't ever have to tell me. I'll see what you want."
She looked away for a time, then pressed his hands and stood up. "I'd like to go back now, may we?"
"Yes, of course."
Marianne never decided what to do about her discovery. When next they met, and for some time afterward, neither acknowledged her dream or his declaration. They met as frequently as before and did the same things together as always. But they began to use each other's names, as he had done in her dream and his declaration to her. And where previously both had scrupulously guarded their own privacy and respected each other's, now they both began to reveal more.
One day she asked him why he had persisted in his attentions to her in London when she did everything to repel him.
"I was never repelled, Marianne, only pained."
"I never intended to hurt you, I only wanted you to go away and let me feel my grief -- enjoy it -- without interruption."
"But I couldn't go away. I was in love, for the first time in my adult life, but I thought you were engaged to Willoughby. What could I do? I stopped visiting you. But when we heard he was engaged to Miss Grey and not you, I came back to Berkeley Street to try to comfort you."
She replied, "The first time I saw Willoughby after ten weeks' separation, he was with Miss Grey, and he cut me very publicly. The next day he returned all my letters to me, in a manner so insulting and also so cowardly that you, James, could never imagine it. When you were trying to comfort me, I thought you were calling to torment me, and so I refused to see you. My ideas of romantic love prejudiced me against you -- I thought you couldn't understand my feelings because you were not young and handsome."
"Yes. But then you did something so gracious that it forced me to see you as you are: you sacrificed your privacy to comfort me. You told Elinor, for her to tell me, about your own tragic losses, some recent and some that you had kept to yourself for years. You had no obligation to open your wounds for me, and you must not have known whether they would ever heal over again.
"And then I also learned that, while I had been enjoying the drama of my feelings and forcing all my family -- and you, too -- to suffer with me, Elinor had been suffering her own pain in silence, knowing that her Edward was secretly engaged to Lucy Steele. I was ashamed for selfishly supposing that I alone could suffer from love, and I began to see your value. But even though I treated you so badly, you were never afraid and never gave up."
"I was afraid. That you would always run away, never look at me -- would marry Willoughby and be unhappy with him -- would be unhappy without him -- that you would die --."
"I was fortunate to survive and be happy again -- and to apologize to you for my insensitivity. Now I can hardly imagine not seeing you constantly."
"I don't want an apology, Marianne. I am fortunate that you survived to be happy again."
She said one day, "James, you have taught me so much. I want to teach you something."
"No, I haven't."
"Yes, you have."
"Then will you teach me to play the harpsichord?"
They spent an hour every day at his harpsichord, if they were at Delaford, or at her pianoforte if they were at Barton. He ordered some books of easy keyboard duets by Haydn, Mozart and others, and when he was proficient enough, they played them together.
His music collection included several books of duets for high and low voices, and they entertained each other and her family with them. Their favorite was the lovely seduction duet, La ci darem la mano, between the innocent peasant bride and the libertine in Mozart's opera. She liked to tease him about singing the role of Don Giovanni, who could catalogue more than two thousand conquests.
When he confessed how much he liked flirting with her, she had another revelation. He's been courting me ever since Willoughby jilted me. How did I not notice it sooner?
Another day she said to him, "I wish I had known you when you were seventeen."
"Because then I would know what you were like when you were the age I was when you fell in love with me."
"I suppose I was much the same as I am now. But not as I was when you first met me. And of course I didn't wear a flannel waistcoat then."
"Were you handsome?"
"Lively and charming?"
"I had been."
"I had been that too."
"Were you courteous?"
"I hope so."
"I don't know."
"I tried to be."
"I know you were."
"You don't know that at all."
"Yes, I do. From the way you treated your cousin and later me. And were you a loving and generous friend?
"Yes. At least I thought I was generous."
"Did you ignore what other people thought of you?"
"Were you full of romantic ideas?"
"Were you impulsive?
"I tried to be that too."
"Of course. I was young."
The next day, Brandon again seemed as grave as when she first knew him. "Marianne," he said, "I misrepresented myself yesterday as a gallant young man. The truth is, I was and am a failure. I did not protect the two young women whom I had to protect."
She said, "James, we don't have to talk about that. Elinor told me all about Eliza Brandon and Eliza Williams last year, when you tried to show me I was not Willoughby's only victim. There is nothing more you need to say."
"No, Marianne, that is not enough. Unless we talk about it -- unless I answer all your questions -- how will you know whether you can trust me? Perhaps you cannot."
He told her then his whole history with his cousin, from when they were children and she came into his father's house as his young ward, until her death at the age of twenty-two, leaving him as the young bachelor guardian of her three-year-old natural daughter.
"For years I tried to preserve my boyhood love for my dead Eliza, as if in ice. I was reserved, felt cold, wore flannel to try to keep warm. That's how I was when I met you. But you were beautiful, intelligent, sweet natured, open hearted, passionate, opinionated, immoderate, vulnerable, the age I was when I had many of those qualities myself -- --. I can't say I chose you, Marianne. I couldn't help myself."
She giggled, "You fell a sacrifice to an irresistible passion. Like me."
"Yes," acknowledging her reference to her attachment to Willoughby.
"But," Marianne asked, "how did you fail your cousin? What could you have done? Even if your elopement had succeeded, what if your father had been able to have the marriage annulled so that your brother could marry her for her fortune, as he did? You were both so young, how could you have opposed the will of those two men?
"And once she was married, it would have been wrong to see each other or even to correspond, and surely your brother would not have admitted you to his house. You were prudent -- gallant, even -- to go abroad in order to give her marriage the chance to succeed. You could not know that your father would soon die, leaving her with no one to advise her when her husband was unfaithful."
"But," he replied, "I knew my brother and my cousin well. I knew he would not treat his bride as he ought, and that she would not have the strength to withstand an unhappy marriage. I should not have gone so far away, and should not have put myself in a position that would prevent me from returning home as soon as she needed me."
"Did she never write to you after her divorce? Did she know where you were?"
"I believe she knew, from my sister. But no, she never wrote."
"James, you were young. How could you have done better?"
"I don't know, but I've always believed that if I had been in England when my brother divorced her, I could have saved her. I would have known about the divorce and would somehow have come to her aid. And she would have known I still loved her. That's how I failed her."
"You can't blame yourself for going to the East Indies. You went for the most honorable of reasons, and only in hindsight does your removal appear unfortunate.
"What happened was tragic, but surely it was more her fault than yours. She allowed herself to be seduced when a married woman. She must have known that what would be forgiven in her husband would not be forgiven in her. Her husband's neglect, your absence and her father-in-law's death could hardly excuse her behavior.
"You told Elinor once that I reminded you of your cousin. But I believe I had more in common with her than you knew. I despaired when the man I thought would marry me humiliated me instead in order to marry a rich woman. I was deliberately careless of my health, because I wanted to die. Perhaps Eliza did the same, only she succeeded. When her husband humiliated her, she turned to other men, became pregnant, gave up what little financial independence she had, and contracted an incurable illness. She could have sought you out -- she must have known you would do anything to rescue her -- yet she didn't do it. She would rather die than turn to the man who loved her."
Marianne put her hand on his arm. "You might grieve for her, even be angry with her. But I cannot see a reason for you to feel guilty on her account."
Brandon also confessed how he had failed his ward, whom he had struggled to raise from infancy, though a bachelor with no home of his own.
"My loving care and guidance were not enough -- Eliza needed a mother. When she was about Margaret's age and went to live under the care of a respectable woman in Dorsetshire, I thought she was learning the things that girls and young women need to know -- what you and your sisters have learned from your mother. But when she visited Bath with a friend and the friend's father, I found how wrong I had been.
"In February, Eliza disappeared, but I was not immediately informed. After refusing to speak to me at first, the daughter eventually revealed that Eliza had met a handsome young man named John. He had nice manners, and the friend had liked him as much as Eliza did. That was all she knew, or would tell me. I was never sure whether her reluctance arose from loyalty to Eliza or envy.
"I searched diligently in Bath and Bristol, all along the road from Bath to London and in town itself, but no one admitted seeing a girl of Eliza's age traveling either alone or with a young man. For six months I searched personally and engaged other searchers as well, but we never found any trace of her. By that September, when I came to stay with the Middletons, all I could hope was that she was still alive and one day would contact me. When she was near her time, she finally did -- that was the letter that prevented our visit to Whitwell."
Marianne colored at that, recalling how she had joined Willoughby in mocking him for canceling their outing.
"When I met Willoughby, I strongly disliked him because he had your affection and so obviously despised me, but I had no idea that he was the John whom Eliza had eloped with. I learned that only after I found her in London. She was working in a scullery for a family who at least kept her from starving and worse, but they were not going to keep her once the child was born."
"What you must have felt when you learned that Willoughby was Eliza's seducer!"
"I was furious. Though I knew you were attached to him and I believed that he returned some of your affection, I tried to induce him to marry Eliza by offering to pay him a large sum of money -- as much cash as I could raise on short notice. But he refused, and now I suspect that Miss Grey's fifty thousand was the reason. But at the time I did not know."
"Where is Miss Williams now?"
"In a village near Delaford, where she helps a woman who has a school for neighborhood girls. I visit her often. Eliza has money of her own, which she will receive when she reaches twenty-one, or if she marries sooner. In fact, I believe a young man there wants to marry her and rear her child as his own.
"Marianne, Eliza is nearly your age. Having failed her so, how can I -- or you -- know that I will not also fail you?"
"But was it you who failed? She was sixteen; she should have guarded her own virtue. Every girl knows that, I'm sure, whether she has a mother or not. No one could have protected her if she was reckless. Nothing you have said suggests that she was forced, rather that she gave it up willingly."
She reached up to touch his cheek and said, "James, I'm sure you take upon yourself burdens of guilt that don't belong to you. If we have learned anything from the poets and essayists we have been reading, it must be that we are all our own masters and are responsible for our own conduct. It is noble to protect the weak from oppression by the strong or the unjustly influential, and in that way you are the noblest person I know. But it does not follow at all that you fail whenever one whom you wish to protect fails to control herself. That would detract from the merit of one who does govern herself, would it not?
"What I just said of Miss Williams was advice that I myself ignored. I was no more virtuous than she was, and I might have fallen Willoughby's victim in the same way."
He put his finger on her lips and shook his head, but she took his hand and went on, though he still tried to stop her with a look.
"I spent hours alone with him and often far from home. I visited his aunt's home in her absence -- he even showed me some of the bed chambers -- and I saw nothing wrong in doing so. I ridiculed my sister for her prudent advice. I knew I was risking my reputation and did not care. I suppose Miss Williams may have felt the same as I did. I am sure she was passionate, like her mother; so was I."
"Please, Marianne, you need not tell me about --."
But she disregarded his protest. "While Willoughby and I never engaged in physical intimacies, I would have done so without hesitation, because I wanted to sacrifice myself to love. I know his charm and persuasiveness, which he must have exerted when he seduced poor Miss Williams, who was even younger than I. It seems very unfair that she should suffer for it and he should not. I don't know what saved me -- perhaps that I lived with my mother and sisters."
"Or perhaps he really did care for you and did not want to injure you. Perhaps he honestly wished to marry you and become a better man."
"You are generous, James. I can only say that I also risked my virtue, but I was fortunate."
"Do you think you were fortunate, Marianne? You nearly died."
"But don't you blame me, James, for what I did? How can you blame yourself or Miss Williams, and not blame me? I'm sure you must!"
Brandon winced and looked away. He was silent for a long time, and she did not interrupt him. Turning back at last, he said, "Marianne, I don't blame you for anything. I blame only him, never you. And now you have truly taught me something -- of course while I excuse you I can't continue to blame Eliza and myself."
She took his hand in both of hers. She hesitated, then said, "James, you are too considerate to ask me about my feelings for him, but --
"Marianne, please don't -- ! You need tell me nothing about those days, what you did or felt."
"James, I owe you the same candor you have shown me. Please let me."
He only sighed in reply.
"You know I believed myself in love and that he broke my heart. You may think it was because he left me for Miss Grey, but it was not. I realize now that I wasn't in love with him but with a romantic idea. I had thought he was good and true simply because he was handsome and charming and sensitive and energetic."
"Everything that I was not."
"At least I didn't think you were. But how could I ever have been happy with him? You, Elinor, Mrs. Jennings, Sir John -- even his elderly aunt -- all knew what he had done to Miss Williams; it could never have remained a secret only from me. The very day I thought he was going to propose to me, his aunt expelled him from Allenham for refusing to marry Miss Williams. When I was ill, Elinor told me, he confessed to her what he called his 'libertine practices.' He would never have been a faithful husband, when he had been a faithless lover.
"I always wanted the truth -- I never wished I had remained ignorant. I grieved so because my illusions about him and myself had been destroyed, and I learned the man I loved did not exist. But I also learned -- your steady friendship taught me -- how fortunate I am that Willoughby chose Miss Grey's fortune over me.
"I foolishly thought you were too old. You will always be young in candor and feeling. But Willoughby was already very old when I met him -- a man who could seduce a girl almost ten years his junior and blame her for it, abandon his own son, court me while becoming engaged to a third woman, blame his wife for how he treated me, beg my sister to intercede with me for him when he was already married, wish his wife dead so that he could marry me, wish me an old maid rather than married to you. That is what he is!"
Marianne thought she saw his eyes glisten, and she squeezed his hand. He returned the pressure, but when they spoke again it was of other things.
Marianne found that the more they revealed themselves to each other, the more she wished to know about him. He seemed more concerned to protect her privacy than his own and had tried to stop her from exposing herself to him, but she was glad that now he knew the worst of her and still had not retreated. She wondered if his confessions were similarly motivated.
When next they met, she ventured to ask, "James, will you tell me about your meeting with Willoughby?"
"It was the only way I knew to obtain some sort of justice for Eliza and to teach him not to trifle with women I love -- I did it for you too, not only Eliza. I had reasons of vanity as well - - he had deprecated my manhood in front of you."
She touched his hand but said nothing, as he continued.
"I was not exactly impulsive, because I had time to consider before we met, but in a fog of hatred and fury. My second tried hard to dissuade me and even accompanied me once to try to coerce Willoughby into accepting my bribe. But he mocked us both as two impotent old men.
"I never intended to kill him, only to frighten him, but dueling pistols are not very accurate. There could have been a different outcome than I intended.
"If I had killed him he would not have broken your heart -- but I would have. You would have hated me forever. You would have thought of me only as the old man who killed the young man you loved. I would have become a fugitive or, if I had been caught, I would have been tried and convicted, probably hanged. If there were some lenience for a former soldier avenging the honor of his ward, perhaps I would have merely been transported. It appalls me now to think of what I risked."
"But he might have killed you, James. I would never have learned to know and value you."
"He might have. When we met, I didn't think much about dying myself. Afterwards, though, I saw I had been reckless and had been trying to punish myself as well as him, for not taking better care of Eliza. If I had died, I would have left my responsibilities unfulfilled -- to her and to you."
"But you had no responsibilities toward me."
"But I did. From the moment I learned that Eliza's seducer was Willoughby, I wanted to protect you from him as well as I could, without interfering in what I then supposed was his successful courtship of you.
"Meeting Willoughby in that way was the most absurd thing I have ever done. I risked my freedom and my life, in an archaic, illegal ritual that could effect nothing good. No 'punishment' of Willoughby could have restored Eliza to what she was before he seduced and abandoned her. He gave me no reason to believe that our meeting might awaken his conscience or even cause him to respect me. So why did I do it?
"In the East Indies once, I watched two bull elephants charge each other, one younger, stronger and quicker, the other cannier and more deliberate. They appeared to be fighting over a young female, following some innate rule whose logic I could not perceive."
"They challenged each other with their trunks raised, in great trumpeting screams. Then they attacked each other with their tusks. When both had been wounded, they retired. I couldn't tell which was the victor, if either.
"I think of that elephantine encounter whenever I try to understand my duel with Willoughby. I know I would have withdrawn my challenge if he had accepted responsibility for his child, or offered to marry Eliza or shown any remorse for ruining her, or even if he had said he could not marry her because he was engaged to you or someone else. But when he did none of those, some primal compulsion kept me from retreating. Like an elephant."
She reached up and lightly brushed his cheek with the back of her fingers. "But your hide is not as thick as an elephant's, is it?"
"No, I'm pretty thin skinned. -- -- After all, our meeting was inconclusive. I still hate him, and I assume he still despises me. I've never even glimpsed him again in the street. Perhaps he avoids me or perhaps our paths simply have never crossed. If we met now, I would cut him, but I would never again try to fight him."
"James, you know you don't have to concern yourself with Willoughby anymore. He is married now, and he essentially told Elinor that he submits to his wife. Though his aunt lives at Allenham, he never comes near Barton. Miss Williams is safe from further injury. I have no affection for him. We can let him go."
Marianne eventually realized that they had been courting each other, in both their teasing and seriousness -- that she was doing so as purposefully as he. She began to want to marry him as much as he evidently wished the same. But what could she do? He would not declare himself further than he had already done. Though she knew he loved her, apparently he did not know what she wanted, and she did not know how to tell him.
So one day she asked him to move her pianoforte from Barton Cottage. She said she wanted it at Delaford because she and her mother spent more than half their time there and it would be better for their music making than Delaford's harpsichord. She hoped he would understand the unspoken wish underlying her request.
The piano arrived and was installed in the drawing room. The next day, they sang La ci darem la mano and marveled together at how much better they did with the piano than with the harpsichord.
He sat down beside her at the keyboard and took both her hands. "Marianne, I'm glad you asked me to bring your piano here. But I don't know if you had another reason besides the musical one you said. Was there something more you want to tell me -- or want me to ask you?"
She regarded him expectantly but said nothing. He swallowed and went on. "I want to --. That is, -- but after all this I still don't know how you feel. -- -- Would you ever --. Marianne, will you marry me?"
She laughed and threw her arms around him. "James, I've been waiting for you to ask me. I thought if I asked you to move my piano, you would know why -- I felt I was asking you to marry me. But you're so diffident, maybe you didn't see -- . Yes, I will marry you. I want to."
That evening when the Dashwoods all retired, Marianne knocked on her mother's door and asked to come in.
"Mama, Colonel Brandon asked me to marry him today. I accepted him. I think he will come tomorrow after breakfast to seek your permission. I don't want to see him hurt by rejection -- will you grant it?"
Mrs. Dashwood hugged her daughter tightly. "Oh, Marianne, I am so happy for you both. I gave him my permission long ago, and I'm sure he knows I would never retract it. Nothing could make me happier than to see you married to him!"
"When did you give your permission, if he only asked me this afternoon?"
"He came to fetch me to Cleveland when we thought you might be dying. He told me then that he loved you. I said I thought you would be happy with him and that I would do all I could to promote your marriage."
"Mama! Have you done that?"
"What do you think? That I was merely being a careless parent in leaving you two alone so much?"
"I only learned in recent weeks that he loves me. He never said so before."
"No, he knew you had been hurt. He wanted you to see it in your own time. I knew he would have the patience."
"But Mama -- he's not too old for me?"
"Your father and I were fifteen years apart; I was twenty and your brother was already a boy of nine when we married. We made each other happy our whole lives together. Happiness depends on the man and the woman, not on their ages. -- But you have already accepted the Colonel. Do you think you were mistaken?"
"No, I think he will make me happy -- he already does -- and that I can make him happy. I would miss him so if I rejected him. It's only that I want to feel passion too, as I did with Willoughby."
"In the past months I've seen you and the Colonel care for each other and both become happy in each other's companionship, Marianne. That's the basis for a loving marriage. He obviously has romantic feelings for you, which he expresses less than he might wish so as not to frighten you. I have no doubt that you, with your passionate nature, will soon find your feelings equal to his.
"Don't worry about your young man, Marianne. I won't send him away."
After Marianne's pianoforte was moved to Delaford, the harpsichord received little use. Elinor shyly asked whether it might be moved to the rectory. Marianne could see that Brandon wondered a little at this, because Elinor and Edward were no musicians, but in the happy occupation of his engagement he seemed to forget his curiosity.
About two weeks later, Elinor said, with embarrassment, that she and Edward found they did not have room for the harpsichord after all and asked Brandon to take it back. They came to help him and Marianne set it up again in its former place in his drawing room.
One of them made sure that he happened to open the lid of the instrument: On its inside was now painted a scene of a shepherd playing a pipe to a seated shepherdess, who was playing a violin. She looked like Marianne and wore a dress like one Brandon had admired. The shepherd looked like him, but shepherd and shepherdess were both young. He was astonished.
The others laughed and applauded their own conspiracy in arranging for the harpsichord to be moved into the rectory so that Elinor could decorate it, as an engagement present from them all.
"James, the shepherd reminds me of you in more than one way. You have protected me ever since we met, and it was when I realized it that I began to appreciate you."
"I knew you no longer needed looking after, Marianne, when you wanted us to learn La ci darem la mano together. You could tease me about being Don Juan, when you had never before teased me about anything at all."
"James, how could I tease you about being even a fictional libertine if you were not the truest, most considerate and honest man in the world? That is the meaning of the shepherds in the harpsichord, you know -- that we will always be faithful companions."
Two weeks before their wedding, Brandon took his fianc≠e on a formal inspection of his house, which was soon to become hers. The house had not had a mistress for nearly twenty years, and they talked about changes that Marianne might want to make. When they had seen every room and she had chosen their bedchamber, he suggested going for a walk before tea.
He led her to a part of the grounds not far from the house where they had never happened to go before. In a clearing beside a little stream, she was charmed to find a room formed of young willow trees. It was not small but not large either -- about the size of one of the drawing rooms at Barton Cottage. The willow wands had been bent to form the beginning of an arched doorway on one side and windows on each of the other three. The trees were not yet tall enough to form a roof, but a framework was already in place for that purpose. Stepping stones had been laid in the stream so that one could easily approach from any direction.
Marianne cried out in delight and clapped her hands. "It's yours. Come inside," he said.
He led her inside, ducking his head a little in the doorway. The room was already comfortably furnished with two cushioned chairs and a small table. The table held a tea tray with a pot of hot tea and a plate of little cakes. She looked in wonder, but before she could say anything, he led her to a chair and poured her a cup of tea.
"How did this get here? When did you do this? What is it for?"
"You know I came back here from Cleveland alone. It was a confusing time. I expected your complete recovery. But at the same time I could hardly forget that I was twice your age and that probably you would never consider me as anything but a kindly family friend. That would have been better than no relationship with you at all, but it wasn't what I wanted. I was full of restless energy, with no useful outlet for it.
"One morning soon after my return, I awoke with the desire to build you a living house. It was a sentimental notion -- I imagined planting something for you that was healthy and growing, so that you would grow healthy again too. As I went about my business that day, I found myself elaborating my idea further. I enlisted my steward -- his first grandchild had just been born, and I suppose he was full of enthusiasm for a project that would embody some of his own emotion. So we planned the house together, and before I left for Barton a fortnight later, the walls had been planted. That was almost a year and a half ago. It marked the beginning of my campaign to make you my bride.
"It is the only secret I have ever kept from you. You know -- I hope you know -- that everything in my life is open to you. But I wanted to be able to surprise you -- if the occasion should ever arise. If you had not accepted me, then I never would have shown it to you. I don't know what would have become of it then, because I never planned for a different outcome. -- Do you like it, Marianne?"
"James, you are the most astonishing man! Your head is full of the most romantic ideas, that you will probably surprise me with forever. First you make me mistress of Delaford Manor, an old house that, during the seven years you have been its master, you have rescued from ruin and decades of sad memories and have made into a home. Then you give me this nest of my own, begun for me when all you had was a bare hope that I would ever give up my selfishness and come to see you in a friendlier light."
She flung her arms about him and they shared a long kiss. Later recalling this embrace and the exciting sensations it stirred, she wondered whether what she had felt for Willoughby had really been an irresistible passion after all.
But there in the little willow house that afternoon, Willoughby never entered her thoughts. She and Brandon kissed some more. They fed each other tea and cakes and talked about their future. When the air turned chilly, they returned to the warmth of the manor house.
"Marianne, are you afraid -- of our wedding night?"
"A little, James. I don't know what -- . I suppose -- that is, I thought I knew what to expect when I asked you to bring my piano to Delaford. I had talked with Elinor, and she -- "
"And what did she say?"
"That we are made to fit together, in a joyous intimacy between two dear friends -- as our minds already do. And she told me what she meant."
"Marianne, I'm not --, I haven't often -- that is, I have little experience in pleasing ladies in that way, despite my advanced age and knowledge of the world."
She giggled. "James, you don't have to please ladies. It will only be me."
"I'm glad, because my advisor, who will be my brother by the time I have the opportunity to take his advice, has said --. Well, I can't tell you now but must show you tomorrow. But I hope you will like it when I do. Marianne, I want -- "
"I'm eager for -- --. James, what do you want?"
"You're teasing me, Marianne. You know what I want."
"Yes, James. I want it too -- you know I do."
Two years after Brandon first saw Marianne in his friend's drawing room at Barton Park, they married, disproving both of their formerly firm convictions that second attachments are impossible. Marianne found her husband to be a tender and ardent lover. She could never love by halves, and she returned his passion as much as they both could wish.