Never Love By Halves
Section I, Part 1
As the sun escaped into the clouds, Elinor Ferras diligently attempted to finish her labours. Since noon, she was knee-deep in the damp soil, planting the remaining flower bulbs, a gift from Colonel Brandon. Under her expert guidance, the parsonage, in the space of a year, had been transformed into a most comfortable home. Her garden was a particular source of pride, a treasure-chest of fresh, leafy vegetables and fruit. Elinor continued to make improvements every day. Her next project involved enlarging Edward's den, making the room more suitable for visits from parishioners.
Not long after, Mrs. Jennings appeared, skirts flying, moving as fast as her ample girth permitted. For Elinor, the immediacy and haste of her arrival could only mean one thing. Undoubtedly, she had just received news from town, which hung precariously on her lips. Rising, Elinor carefully wiped her hands with the white-lace apron and met Mrs. Jennings at the gate.
"How do you do my dear? Tis' a terribly hot day. I am drenched to the bone! But-what I have just learned from Mrs. Taylor. Well, my dear, you could have knocked me over with a feather! But-tell me. How is your poor sister, Mrs. Brandon?"
"Much better physically, Mrs. Jennings. Thank-you for your concern. Her strength returns every day. But, naturally, her spirits are still low."
"Poor thing! Tis a great loss indeed for she and the Colonel-a stillborn infant. How it grieves me to think about it. Aye-but she has youth and health on her side. Mark my words, Mrs. Ferras-if we do not have a bouncing baby girl or boy at Delaford by next spring-I shall be very surprised. I've told the Colonel the same thing and advised him to get on with producing an heir. What is with the men these days? Too much gallivanting about the countryside hunting when there's a job to be done at home!"
Elinor blushed deeply at Mrs. Jennings innumerable vulgarities. And while once again expressing gratitude for Mrs. Jennings sincere concern for Marianne, Elinor next endeavoured to remind the lady of the news which had so eagerly compelled her to visit the parsonage.
"Oh! Yes! What a shock it was to me! Even more so as it involves dear, sweet Marianne. For it was only an hour ago that my very good friend, Mrs. Taylor, informed me in the strictest of confidences that Mr. Willoughby is lately a widower. Poor soul-such a stylish creature! They say it was consumption. No doubt, it took her quickly. But, as I told Mrs. Taylor and so I shall always say, it was her husband that drove her to her grave. You can depend on it! A particular friend of mine is acquainted with the Ellisons. Do you remember them-Mrs. Willoughby's former guardians? Well, Mrs. Ferras, I have heard tales of such terrible rows that would make your hair turn white!" Lowering her voice, Mrs. Jennings then whispered: "They even say the poor thing was found by a chamber-maid, a bottle of spirits by her bed. That good-for-nothing fellow of hers off somewhere with his hunters, while his wife was gasping her last breath!"
All the while Mrs. Jennings was speaking, Elinor's mind wandered with the velocity and dexterity of a lightning bolt. To be completely truthful, Elinor had not once thought of Willoughby since her marriage to Edward, nor had she desired too. It was a source of great bewilderment, then, that the mere mention of Willoughby's name could insistently and powerfully open up a floodgate of memories (and not all negative memories) which rocked her like the hypnotic motion of a boat. In particular, Elinor remembered the last meeting and the wild ride through the rain which had brought a repentant Willoughby to the Palmer's doorstep. His words, the tone of his voice and his demeanor instantly re-appeared in her mind, with all the clarity and nuance, as if it had just occurred the day before. Elinor reflected that at the time she had found herself responding to Willoughby almost in spite of herself. Indeed, his ardent expression of love for Marianne had so influenced her, she even wished for the briefest of moments that he was a widower. And now he was!
"A rascal he is if ever there was one! And rich now-to be sure! Fifty-thousand pounds, my dear at least. That's what he stands to inherit. And they say he means to return to Allenham for the summer. Did you not know that Mrs. Smith left him the house in her will? Well, all I can say is that if he has the audacity to show his face in Devonshire again-with that little love-child of his only miles away-I shall personally give him a tongue lashing that will make his head spin." Mrs. Jennings further added in a voice tinged with great concern: "I only tell you this Mrs. Ferras so that you might spare your sister any embarrassment that Mr. Willoughby's presence might bring."
Once again, Elinor attempted to thank Mrs. Jennings for her kindness and assure her that Mr. Willoughby's re-appearance, if even true, would have little effect on her sister's spirits. Marianne had ceased to think of him long ago. Moreover, his return could only be business-related, tying up his affairs in the wake of his wife's death. Thus, it would no doubt be of short duration. All the time Elinor was speaking, Willoughby's words from their last meeting echoed in her mind, drowning the sound of her own voice.
Marianne to be sure is lost to me forever. Were I even by any blessed chance at liberty again-----
Although Elinor would never have admitted this to Mrs. Jennings, she immediately and fervently wished that Mrs. Taylor, Mrs. Jennings' perpetual source of reliable gossip, was wrong.
Colonel Brandon entered Delaford House, magically drawn to the music room by the sweetest and most beguiling of all voices. It filled his heart to hear her singing once again, the first time in many weeks. For the moment, the Colonel was content to remain behind the door, delighting in the warmth and gentleness which Marianne bestowed on her two pupils, Suzy and Tommy. Since the earliest days of their marriage, Marianne had eagerly accepted her duties as patroness of Delaford. The little music school that she had started for the village children was particularly successful. The people of Delaford had taken the lovely Mrs. Brandon to their hearts as Colonel Brandon had long expected. No one, however, could love Marianne more deeply and completely than the Colonel. Indeed, there were still times when he could not believe that she was really and truly his. His love for Marianne only served to grow with each passing day. Those countless, intoxicating graces and gestures of hers had become a inexorable part of his soul. He felt that he would recognize them anywhere. Even when Brandon was away from Marianne, he only had to close his eyes and her loveliness would re-appear, washing over him like the vibrant colours of a rainbow; thus, Marianne was always with him. There was nothing the Colonel loved more than to watch his wife instructing the village children: the sinuous grace of her fingers as her small, white hands effortlessly passed over the keys. And, there was that one, stubborn curl which her playing would inevitably and charmingly unlock, setting it tumbling down her cheek. Brandon never failed to feel the overwhelming desire to push back that lock of hair, but something always held him back. Although, he was never completely certain what that something was.
That Marianne was content-he did not need proof. There had been exquisite moments, moments that would live forever in his heart, when he felt that she loved him almost as deeply as he loved her. The months preceding the tragic birth of their child had been a particularly joyous time for Brandon. Although, even then, that inexplicable, impenetrable barrier always remained. Brandon often wished that his wife could be as open and free with him as she was with these children. Too often, Marianne seemed to be enveloped in a glass shell through which he did not know how to break. The loss of their child only caused her to retreat even further into that shell, increasing their distance from each other. Many days, he would find Marianne at her bedside window staring blankly, endlessly out into space. The dull, lifeless look in her eyes always haunted him. The very light had dimmed in Marianne's eyes, only to be re-ignited when she was with the village children. Instinctively, Brandon felt that another baby would help to fill her loss. The Doctor had assured him again and again that there was no physical danger involved and the Colonel wanted nothing more than to share a child with her. It would serve to make his happiness complete. Yet, he hesitated.
"Col Brandon!" Tommy cried, interrupting Brandon's reverie and pulling him into the music room. Colonel Brandon affectionately patted the children on the head, giving each of them a small box of candy. Turning to his wife, he deferentially bowed, placing a fresh bouquet of wildflowers in her hands.
"That will be all children. Mrs. Edwards will see you home. Thank-you Colonel. They are very beautiful." When they were alone, Marianne gracefully stood up, busying herself with the flowers. Silently, Brandon walked up behind his wife, tenderly placing his lips against her hair. Drawing the silk shawl from her shoulders, he bent to kiss her neck, only to stop when Marianne froze at his touch. Instinctively, she pulled back, almost dropping the vase.
"Don't-please don't!" she cried, drawing the shawl about her shoulders again. Lifting her white face to meet his, she attempted to continue: "I am most dreadfully tired. Please forgive me Colonel. I think I shall retire early. It has been a very long day. And I am still not sleeping well, so I would prefer if you continued to stay in the dressing room. I would not wish to disturb you." Before Brandon could manage a response, Marianne swept passed him and began the climb upstairs.
Section I--Part 2
Many days later, Marianne emerged from the seclusion of her bedchamber, her two constant companions, Tommy and Suzy, trailing gaily in front of her. Prevailed on by the children, Marianne had finally agreed to a picnic on the estate grounds. Nearly twenty years old, Marianne Brandon's tread was still as light and nimble as Suzy's. But, there was now a palatable caution and gravity in every step, incongruous with the rosy cheeks and girlish, yellow-ribboned hat. It is often and commonly remarked that the eyes are the window to the soul; undoubtedly, Marianne Brandon was this saying's greatest testament. In the space of two years, she had become a wife, a patroness to a village, and had borne, and subsequently lost, a child. Amazingly, this swirl of tragedy and responsibilities left little imprint on her lovely face and figure. It was chiefly her dark, wistful eyes that were touched. As Colonel Brandon observed, a haunting sadness and emptiness now dominated, usurping the characteristic vitality. It was almost as if Marianne's eyes were years, even decades, older than she was.
At a particular turn in the road, Marianne reverentially paused. Far beyond, at the top of the grassy, emerald-green hill, was her daughter Katherine's resting place. Undetected by the servants and the Colonel, Marianne spent more and more time there, stealing away whenever she could, endlessly and diligently pulling at the stubborn mass of weeds. Almost every other day, Marianne placed a fresh bouquet of flowers on the small grave. It comforted her more than any number of kind words and well-meaning, if always awkward, expressions of sympathy to be near the child she would never hold. Solitude was her greatest friend these days. No one, not even her husband, could hope to understand the depth of her sorrow and loss.
Quickly taking one last look at the hill, Marianne smiled down at Suzy's angelic face and dark curls. Seeing Suzy was a constant if painful reminder of what her own daughter might have looked like. Tears welling up in her eyes, Marianne instantly turned; and, taking the children even more firmly by the hand, she next led them to the great oak tree, overlooking the crystal-blue lake. After a indeterminate amount of time, Tommy and Suzy grew restless and entreated Mrs. Brandon to entertain them with a story. For some reason known only to herself, Marianne found herself reciting a sonnet from her youth:
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste.
To Marianne's great shock, a deep, masculine voice joined her own in the recitation of the last two lines and looking up, she gazed upon Willoughby. For the longest of moments, they said nothing, locked inexorably in each other's gaze. Marianne trembled and coloured visibly. A thousand thoughts darted into her mind, especially the frightening possibility that Colonel Brandon would decide to join them, as he often did, and find Willoughby there. With a calmness that she did not feel, Marianne gently asked Tommy and Suzy to collect walnuts in the valley. It was she that finally spoke when they were alone.
"Sir-whatever your business is here, it cannot concern or interest me. Surely, you are aware of the consequences, if my husband should find you here. I beg you, if you ever cared for me, to leave." Turning sharply, she attempted to re-join the children.
"Care for you! Good God! Marianne-please stay. Stay!" Gently but firmly, Willoughby reached out and grabbed her hand. "Brandon would not dare to interfere with me! I have faced worse devils than him! Believe me Marianne-I have been waiting for days, years for this opportunity and I mean to speak with you. Even if you do not desire to hear it. You cannot understand my misery." When he was certain that she was ready to listen to him, he relaxed his touch and related the circumstances of his wife's death which had brought him into Devonshire. To Marianne's amazement, he next spoke of having observed her for days, hoping to find her alone. What Willoughby neglected to tell Marianne was that he had even witnessed her most private moments at Katherine's grave. Within days of his arrival in Allenham, he learned the unimaginable from a servant: This most delicate and tender of all creatures had borne Brandon a child. Secretly, he reflected again and again that it should have been his child.
"Undoubtedly, your sister conveyed to you the details of our last conversation. My behaviour to you was wrong, unpardonable. If only for myself, I merely wish to add that there has not been a single hour, a single day that I have not thought of you. Indeed-Marianne there has never been anyone...."
"Marianne," Colonel Brandon cried anxiously, apparently from the direction of the woods. "I have brought you a shawl. It is terribly damp."
"Yes-Colonel. We were on our way home." Desperately turning to Willoughby, Marianne once again implored him to leave. The Colonel was but minutes from the lake.
"Not until you promise me that you will see me again. Nothing else matters. Promise me." The renewed vigor in Marianne's eyes appeared to be all that Willoughby needed. Raising her hand to his lips, he then leapt over the fence, running for his horse.
Section I--Part 3
"Mrs. Brandon is in the sitting room, Ma'am-writing her letters."
"Thank-you Henrietta." Elinor replied softly. Turning, Elinor dismissed Henrietta with a slight nod of the head and proceeded to make her way upstairs. The Colonel's visit, earlier that morning, was still fresh in her mind, weighing her down as she continued the climb. While the memory of the visit washed over her, Elinor firmly grasped the brownish-hued railing for support.
For Elinor, Brandon looked alarmingly pale and unusually grave. Indeed, he remained silent for some time, playing with his hat, only interjecting praise now and then for some household improvement which had hitherto escaped his notice. It was only when Elinor inquired after Marianne's health that the Colonel divulged the purpose of his visit. The annual Delaford ball was fast approaching and Brandon wondered if the strain of the preparations might further weaken Marianne's spirits. Elinor attempted to assuage his concerns as best as she could, finally agreeing to the proposal to assist her sister with the many preparations. The sincere look of relief and gratitude which flashed across the Colonel's face continued to remain with Elinor long after his departure. So deeply had his manner affected her.
"How much he loves her," Elinor silently remarked again and again. Many times, Elinor wondered if Marianne fully appreciated the depth and constancy of the Colonel's love. Marianne was truly his heart, so much so that the Colonel's eyes shone brighter and his figure became more prominent whenever she was near. Elinor doubted if there was anything Colonel Brandon would refuse his wife, and yet she also felt that her sister was not happy. It was not that Elinor questioned Marianne's affection for her husband, but very little touched her sister's heart these days. In the wake of Katherine's death, Marianne deliberately erected a protective shield about her heart; it was a source of great sadness to Elinor that her sister had altered from feeling too much to feeling too little.
Finally reaching the sitting room, Elinor gazed upon Marianne, her pink skirts attractively and decoratively arranged about the gold-rimmed desk. The determined look in Marianne's dark eyes and the faint line charmingly etched across her brow particularly interested Elinor. The intensity of her manner as she composed a letter seemed incongruous with estate business and Elinor found herself reflecting that the letter must be highly personal in nature. Inexplicably and insistently, a paralyzing sense of fear then swept over her, heightening the colour of her cheeks. When Elinor finally regained her composure, she softly called her sister's name.
"Oh Elinor-I did not expect you until later. Please come in. I trust that Edward is well." Elinor could not help noticing how Marianne discretely tucked the letter inside a folder as her sister entered.
"Marianne dearest-you look very pale. Do tell me what is the matter? Are you not happy? It tortures me to see you so miserable. The Colonel is so concerned about your health. Indeed dearest, we are all concerned.."
"The Colonel is always concerned about something. It is his nature. It seems I am never safe from his concern," she remarked rather harshly, wringing her hands. "Elinor-please leave me be. Happiness is something about which I know nothing. I have had sympathy from everyone-you, Mama, Mrs. Jennings and I can bear it no longer. None of you can understand-the impolitic cruelty of having a child snatched away from you. Elinor-how could you of all people understand my misery, my sorr-" Marianne's voice faltered, the awful meaning of her words falling on her ears. For she knew only too well that Elinor was not able to bear children.
"Elinor-please forgive me," Marianne cried, tenderly embracing her sister. "I know you mean well, but there is nothing you could say which would alter my feelings. You are happy-you have a husband who loves you and whom you love."
"And Marianne-does not the Colonel love you? I have never seen a man more in love with his wife and yet you shut him out. Are his sufferings somehow less important than yours? Does he not suffer enough for you?"
Elinor suddenly paused and in a hushed voice continued: "Marianne-you have seen Willoughby again, haven't you? You are aware of his wife's death and you were writing a letter to him when I came in the room." Marianne's flushed cheeks and stricken face spoke more than any number of words. Before Elinor could proceed, however, Henrietta entered the sitting-room to inform Mrs. Brandon that the children had arrived for their music lessons. When Marianne excused herself, Elinor slumped into a nearby chair, burying her face between her hands. Never had she felt more alone or lost.
Later on that evening, Marianne left the house to visit her daughter's grave, a fresh bouquet of multicoloured wildflowers in her arms. This evening, however, her thoughts were elsewhere; and, as giant tears welled up in her eyes, Marianne re-lived the ugliness of that afternoon's conversation with Elinor. Marianne continually asked herself if she would have denied seeing Willoughby to her sister, and she honestly did not know. The truth was, of course, undeniable. She had seen Willoughby two more times since that first surprise meeting. In Marianne's heart, she tried to justify the deception by affirming that the subsequent meetings were never planned. In fact, they resembled the first in the setting and the manner of Willoughby's arrival. He seemed to instinctively know when she would be with the children by the lake, as if he were always watching her.
Marianne might take comfort in the fact that she never willingly promoted the meetings, but she never protested against them either. Did she love Willoughby? Again, she did not know her heart. He represented youth, vitality, freedom to her-everything that she had lost. Something inside her clung to him almost despite herself, as much for these qualities as for himself. She did not doubt, though, Willoughby's continuing love for her. Just as in the days of their earlier courtship, every look and word implied his regard and affection, but it was never openly declared. Always, inevitably, the danger of discovery would re-surface or one of the children would interrupt them. What haunted Marianne the most then was what she would say when Willoughby declared his love.
Her mind heavy with emotion, Marianne emerged from the shrubbery and froze, instantly recognizing the distinctive figure of Colonel Brandon kneeling beside Katherine's gravesite. So startled was she that she almost called out to him, but a stronger impulse pulled her back behind the trees. And so Marianne remained, cloaked by the black night, reflecting once again how little she knew her husband, so overwhelmed was she with her own grief. Elinor's words immediately came back to her:
"Does he not suffer enough for you?"
A single, eloquent tear trickled down Marianne's face stinging her cheek as much, if not more, as the memory of Elinor's words. The comfortable ease of the Colonel's manner and the tender care in which he placed a single white rose on the grave suggested frequent, habitual visits. Marianne silently noted that it was a bitter testament to her own selfishness that he should find comfort in the same place, and she never once suspected. All at once, a melodious voice broke the powerful silence of her thoughts.
Your monument shall be my gentle verse,
Which eyes not yet created shall o'er-read,
And tongues to be your being shall rehearse
When all the breathers of this world are dead;
You still shall live--such virtue hath my pen--
Where breath most breathes, even in the mouths of men.
Marianne found herself unconsciously mouthing the words with her husband, more moved by the gentle, caressing tones of his voice than his words. She immediately envisioned herself walking up behind Brandon and wrapping her arms about his neck, drowning his hypnotic voice with her lips. With all of her heart, Marianne wanted to go to him. There was nothing she wanted more; the image of an unfinished letter, however, asserted itself with renewed vigor, freezing Marianne to her place. Still undetected, she breathlessly ran back to the House, carried onwards by the cool night breeze.
Section I--Part 4
"Good evening Colonel Brandon. Dreadfully cold night for walk. Awful weather for June, I must say. Shall I prepare a tray for you, Sir?"
"No thank you, Mrs. Edwards. I shall retire for the night. I leave early in the morning for London." Mrs. Edwards could only gaze upon her master with the deepest, most sincere pity in her heart. The uncertainty of his tread as climbed the stairs, and the new gauntness of face and figure attracted her keen eyes and sharp perception. For Mrs. Edwards, the Colonel's eyes seemed to bear all the sadness of the world. Nor had it escaped Mrs. Edwards' notice that her master and mistress were no longer occupying the same bedchamber. It was her fondest wish that they should find their way back to one another and the halls of Delaford would be filled once again with the lilting bell-tones of a child's laughter. As much as Mrs. Edwards adored Mrs. Brandon, she desired this happiness even more for her master. There was not a better or kinder man, and she had never seen any man more in love with his wife.
Perhaps happily unaware that someone had guessed and pitied his misery, Colonel Brandon walked down the darkened hall, the sharp night air still clinging to his clothes and face. He had visited Katherine's grave and now there was only one thing left to do. The faint light emanating from Marianne's sitting room attracted his attention and with some degree of hesitation, he entered. He found Marianne facing the fireplace, intently turning the hearth logs, her slight figure outlined in an eerie silhouette. Brandon's heart beat wildly as he gazed admiringly and longingly at the delicate curve of her white neck and the beauty of her dark eyes, highlighted by the soft, caressing light. When he found his voice, Marianne turned, even jumped, as the colour deepened in her cheeks. It was a source of great pain to Brandon that his wife should be so uncomfortable in his presence.
"Good evening Colonel. Come sit by the fire." With some trepidation, she seated herself by the hearth, nervously picking up her embroidery.
"Marianne-I must away tomorrow. There is some business which I must attend to..."
"Away? But, is this not sudden? Where?" With great care and gentleness, Brandon assured his wife that he would be back before the Delaford ball, relating the details of his morning conversation with Elinor and her agreement to aid in the preparations.
"Yes-Elinor informed me..," Marianne softly uttered, her voice weakening. "So-this is goodbye then.
"Will you be away long," Marianne continued after some silence, raising her eyes to his.
Still leaning against the door, Brandon suddenly detected an expression in Marianne's eyes, which he had never seen before. There was a spirit and glow which filled him with awe, rushing the blood to his temples. Was there really reason to hope? Surely, there was a difference in her voice and countenance. He did not imagine it. He could not have imagined it. Like some madman, then, Brandon rushed towards his wife, hat and coat flying; and kneeling before Marianne, he took her firmly in his arms, tenderly brushing his lips against her forehead. Grasping her face between his hands, Brandon kissed her long, deep and full. Marianne drew her arms about his neck and surrendered to his kiss, visibly trembling at his touch; but as he lowered her from the chair, he felt her stiffen in his arms.
"No! No!" she cried, pushing him aside and rising to her feet. Her voice and words kept Brandon at a distance and with a sense of utter defeat and weariness, he sank into the chair. Just as Marianne reached the door, she turned back and faced Brandon again, her dark eyes glistening with emotion: "Colonel Brandon...I---...Safe journeys, Colonel." As quickly as she spoke those few halting words, she was gone.
Long after Marianne retired, Colonel Brandon remained in his wife's sitting room, his head throbbing. How deeply he loved Marianne, but he truly did not understand her. Colonel Brandon had seen a glimmer of hope tonight amidst the swirl of darkness, only to be plunged back into the black abyss. The responsiveness and softness of Marianne's touch as he pulled her to him had been more than he had even dreamed possible. Her last words in particular haunted him. What was it that she wanted to tell him and why had she held back? Did she not trust him? All at once, Brandon silently cursed his behaviour; no doubt he had frightened her. He would never make the same mistake again. No-he would not push her. No matter how long it took, he would wait. Above all, it was his fervent desire that Marianne should come to him.
Springing to his feet, Brandon endlessly walked about the room. For weeks, he had been labouring under the most painful sufferings. It was not the Colonel's nature to be secretive, but he had taken great pains to hide the news of Mr. Willoughby's return to Devonshire from his wife. He had learned of Mrs. Willoughby's death from Mrs. Jennings and had since received confirmation from his steward that Willoughby had indeed removed to Lady Allen's estate. In his heart, Brandon tried to justify this decision as his attempt to protect Marianne. Her spirits, dangerously low since Katherine's death, had only begun to revive, invigorated every day by her work with the village children. Colonel Brandon did not want to risk her health by bringing up so painful a reminder from her past.
"Mr. Willoughby," Colonel Brandon muttered to himself, tenderly lifting Marianne's embroidery to his face. How much he despised, loathed the man. For Willoughby had seduced Eliza, leaving her alone with no idea of his whereabouts, promising her that he would return. And then there was Marianne. Brandon was in no doubt that Willoughby would have married her if it had not been for his debts. He had learned as much of his intentions from Lady Allen. Brandon did not allow himself to think about this much, but he had often wondered, especially in the wake of the growing distance between himself and Marianne, if she ever regretted Willoughby. He could not deny that Marianne had loved him with all of her heart, so much so that she had made herself ill. Could that kind of love cease and be transferred completely, inexorably to another? And now Willoughby was free and possessed not only his wife's five thousand pounds but his aunt's sizable legacy as well.
Feeling a slight chill, the Colonel rose again from the chair and furiously poked at the hearth logs. For the moment, he was content to rest his aching body against the mantle-piece, bathed in the fire's searing warmth. A slightly scorched slip of paper soon captured Brandon's eyes. About to throw it back into the fire, the Colonel instead found himself drawn to graceful slant of his wife's handwriting..
I do not wish to give you pain Willoughby. But, I cannot see you again and I beg you to respect my wishes. My feelings at present are in a dreadful state of confusion. But, I will always love--
At this point, the letter was unreadable. But, Brandon hardly realized it as he crushed the remaining portion between his hands, his face a deathly white.
Section I--Part 5
As the rising sun struggled against the clouds, a deafening roar sounded, bringing with it a torrent of rain showers against Delaford House. A palatable chill and dampness invaded Marianne's sitting room, choking the remnants of the once roaring hearth fire. It was a great shock to Thomas, then, that he should find his master in that very room, staring blankly into the darkness. The glowing red embers only served to heighten the faint lines about Colonel Brandon's mouth and eyes; indeed, it appeared to Thomas that the Colonel had not the slept the whole night. With great delicacy and tact, for Thomas deeply loved his master, he attempted to remind Colonel Brandon of the long journey ahead. It did not escape Thomas' notice that he had to repeat his remarks twice before the Colonel responded. Mechanically rising, Colonel Brandon went about bathing and dressing, seemingly eager for an occupation, no matter how mundane and banal. When he was done, Brandon instructed Thomas to see about his carriage. His words and the tone of his voice implied more of an order than a request and Thomas hastily retreated. The Colonel had never once spoken to him, or indeed any of the servants, in such a harsh fashion.
Alone again, Colonel Brandon left his wife's sitting room, the first time since the previous night, and slipped into her bedchamber, located directly across the hall. Marianne lay in a pensive slumber, her right hand resting against a flushed cheek. For Brandon, she looked like a veritable angel, the mass of dark curls sprawled across the pillow-case charmingly framed her small, white face. The freshness and purity of her beauty never ceased to affect him and impulsively he bent towards her, lifting the coverlet to her chin. The parted lips insistently invited him and ever so gently he bestowed the faintest of kisses on his wife's lips.
"No. It is not possible. One could never suspect such a heart of a betrayal," he silently remarked, tenderly brushing his hand against a tangled curl. "There is only one person respons---." All at once, Marianne sighed deeply, interrupting his thoughts; greatly alarmed, Colonel Brandon walked back towards the door, only to stop and take one last look. After the longest, most wretched of nights, he now knew what to do. Half running down the stairs, Brandon instructed his driver to take him to Allenham.
Roused by a servant, Willoughby emerged from his bedchamber, his white shirt unbuttoned to the waist, to find the person he despised most in the world at the bottom of the stairs. His black boots unlaced at the top, Willoughby carefully descended, more conscious of his rumpled appearance than his words.
"Brandon-what the devil are you doing here at this ungodly hour? Forgive me if I do not say it is a pleasure. My word man! You look like the very death! You will have to excuse me if I do not offer you tea as my aunt once did, but I fear you would leave a watermark on my furniture. The wheel of fortune seems to have turned in my direction, wouldn't you say? I have many improvements in mind. Lady Allen was a great lady, but I cannot say the same for her taste. Much too provincial. Still so silent..And no condolences in the wake of my wife's untimely demise. Well-tell me how is your lovely wife, Marian--?"
Colonel Brandon, who had been meditatively eyeing Mr. Willoughby with a forced, expression-less demeanor he did not feel, suddenly sprang to life. At the mere voicing of his wife's name on the latter's lips, he lost all sense of control; and grabbing Willoughby by the throat, he pinned him against the wall. "Would I had killed you when I had the chance!" he cried, the wild, blood-shot expression in his eyes sharply contrasting with the decided, dangerously quiet tones of his voice. Firmly digging his fingers into Willoughby's flesh, he slowly muttered against his rival's face: "I know. I know everything." With that, Brandon released him violently throwing him against a nearby chair.
After an indeterminable amount of silence, Willoughby regained his composure and managed to speak. "She has told you then," he mumbled, still coughing uncontrollably.
"I am aware of your recent correspondence and I know it is her wish that you leave Devonshire. And I am here to see to your removal. I advise you at present to return to Combe Magna, or---"
"Or-another meeting to defend a lady's honor? Brandon-you are a fool! Do you really think a removal can erase my influence. Do you not know of the many meetings on your estate, no less? Right under your nose. Once we were almost discovered. A shawl-it was, I believe. How very solicitous and lover-like of you Brandon. A pity your wife does not feel the same way! Can you not deny her attachment for me? She has never loved anyone but me. And see here proof itself, bestowed in her last letter." Wildly and dramatically walking about, Willoughby fumbled in an antique gold-plated desk, only to produce a single, silken curl. With great confidence, he placed the treasure between Brandon's shaking hands.
"Her heart has never belonged to anyone but me. What can she feel for you? Duty, honor, obligation-hardly love! Would you keep her your unhappy prisoner, Sir? If you love her as deeply and unselfishly as you claim-then release her!"
"You do not deserve her," Colonel Brandon muttered, in the most quiet, barely audible of voices.
"Who can claim to deserve such an angel-the warmest, most tender of hearts! I behaved like a scoundrel. But, my folly has only served to strengthen my attachment. I may not deserve her, but she is what I want. And she loves me! I now have the means to secure her comfort-to take her far--"
"Enough!" Brandon cried, although he did not feel those words in his heart. Slumping into a chair, he prepared himself to hear Mr. Willoughby's wishes.
Section II, Part 1
"This just came for you, Sir. An express from Allenham."
"Thank-you Thomas. That will be all," Colonel Brandon replied heavily. Despite the urgency of the letter's arrival, the Colonel was in no haste to view its contents. With a stony expression, he tossed the envelope on top of the snowy pile that was now his desk. Since returning to Delaford three days ago, the Colonel had been attempting to reply to all of the correspondence, accumulated during his absence. The mysterious express, did not appear to warrant the Colonel's immediate attention. Indeed, for Thomas, his master seemed to be acutely aware of the contents of the letter. But, for reasons known only to Brandon himself, he had no desire to view the message, at least not at the moment.
"Oh Thomas, before you take your leave. Mrs. Brandon-is she still in the music room with the children?"
"No, Sir. She is in her private rooms, I believe. Mrs. Edwards and she are thick as thieves, finishing her gown for the masked ball. If I may take the liberty, Sir, there is surely no one who will touch Mrs. Brandon this evening.
"She is the most beautiful creature," Brandon silently thought, breathing deeply. He remembered the moment he had first gazed upon her, the golden sunlight illuminating her face. As long as Brandon lived, that was how he would always see Marianne. As he stood watching her in the shadows at Barton Park, she had entered his heart swiftly, haunting his thoughts like the melancholy song she had sung. It was impossible for Brandon not to have fallen in love with Marianne. She was like a warm, summer breeze awakening him from the dullest and coldest of slumbers.
Colonel Brandon suddenly felt a sharp sensation grip his heart. Not wishing to alarm Thomas, he held onto the chair's armrests for support. When he was able to, the Colonel, endeavoured to address Thomas again.
"Thomas-would you inform Mrs. Brandon I wish to see her at her convenience."
"Very good Sir. Will that be all, Sir?" Brandon dismissed him this time with a slight nod of the head. Frantically wringing his hands, Colonel Brandon walked around and around his study. It was only when he detected Marianne's light, quick tread that he forced himself to sit down, eagerly picking up a pen and paper. When Marianne entered, he seemed to be calmly conducting business, although it did not escape her eyes how very pale he was. She was the first to speak.
"Colonel-you wished to see me," she said somewhat nervously.
"Yes-Marianne-please sit down. I neglected to give you something yesterday. "
"Colonel-you are much too generous. May I thank you again for the beautiful yard of lace from London. Mrs. Edwards and I have been making alterations to my gown. The lace is perfect, almost too perfect. How ever did you know I desired antique lace?
Colonel Brandon gazed upon Marianne with wordless admiration. He had not seen her this happy in many months.. There was a time when the Colonel had been concerned that the preparations for the ball might have been too strenuous for Marianne; but it appeared to have the opposite effect, much to his obvious relief and delight. Shyly smiling, he turned and placed a small, cloth-bound, book of poetry in his wife's hands.
"Spenser-how exquisite! I have always loved his beautiful lines!" she brightly said, her dark eyes glowing almost like the old Marianne. Her next remark was uttered before she even realized it. It surprised them both. "Would you recite one of the poems, Colonel? I would so much like it--"
Brandon hesitated and eyed her cautiously, wondering if she were in earnest. After a long silence, he finally picked up the book from the table and sat down behind the desk. Marianne was opposite him, her chair pointed towards the hearth. The force of his voice hypnotized her, causing Marianne to lower her head. She sat motionless, her face partially obscured by a mass of curls. The blood rushed to her face and flushed her cheeks hot; her breath came quickly and unevenly. Once again, she was seized by the overwhelming, desperate desire to be held in his arms. Indeed, Marianne felt very much as she did the starry night she had observed Brandon at Katherine's grave.
Such ones ill judge of love, that cannot love,
Ne in their frozen hearts feele kindly flame;
For they ought not thing unknown reprove,
Ne natural affection faultless blame,
For fault of few that have abused the same;
For it of honour and all vertue is
The roote, and brings forth glorious flowres of fame
That crowne true lovers with immortal bliss,
The meed of them that love, and do not love amisse.
About halfway through the poem, Colonel Brandon's voice trailed off and the spell was broken. The meaning of his words washed over her, swimming in her head. Even though he was but a few steps from her, Colonel Brandon suddenly appeared a long way off, unreachable even. It was as if she were standing on a pier watching him fade into the horizon.
Just as Brandon finished the poem, Marianne looked up and realized that he was reciting the poem from memory. Slowly and surely, tears flowed like rivers down her face, and allowing herself to give way to the emotion, Marianne threw her face between her hands. Before she knew it, he was kneeling by her side, mingling his tears with hers. With great gentleness and tenderness, Colonel Brandon lifted Marianne's face to his and stared searchingly, deeply into her eyes. Marianne ran the back of her hand along his face, breathlessly waiting for the gentle pressure of his lips against hers. But, as his face drew near, Colonel Brandon pulled back and walked once again towards his desk.
"She feels only pity for me," Colonel Brandon muttered to himself, moments after Marianne excused herself. Slumping his body against the desk, he crushed Willoughby's letter between his hands.
Section II, Part 2
Elinor stood at the far corner of the ballroom, near the grey-stone steps leading down to the balcony. The night of the Delaford ball was terribly hot, even for midsummer, without even the whisper of a breeze. Under the intense heat, Colonel Brandon's white and red roses were in full bloom. In particular, the lush red-wine petals had swelled, filling the room with an intoxicating sweetness, which bewitched the guests into dance despite the effort.
Seemingly unaffected by the co-conspiracy of music and moonlight, Elinor was content to stand alone and observe the dancers as they swirled about her. The sight of Edward was the one constant pleasure the night had afforded. A smile crept up Elinor's face as she gazed upon her husband, a deep scarlett blush colouring his cheeks as he attempted to assist Marianne adjust her mask. Edward appeared to be uncertain which side of the ivory-silk mask faced front.
It was a source of great sorrow to Elinor, however, that the sight of her sister did not provide the same comfort. There was a forced gaiety in Marianne's manner tonight, so ill at ease with her essential openness of nature and manner, which Elinor found especially unsettling and alarming. Since that last awkward confrontation, Elinor had not attempted to force any confidence from Marianne; it was her desire that her sister should seek her counsel when she was ready. Still, the image of Colonel Brandon standing still and solitary by the card tables was sufficient enough to inform Elinor that very little had changed between Marianne and the Colonel since his return from London. If anything, Colonel Brandon appeared paler and more somber than ever. Meeting the Colonel's eyes, Elinor nodded and walked to his side.
"Good evening Colonel. Marianne seems very happy with the ball."
"Yes, yes. Very happy," he softly replied, nervously shifting a white rose between his hands. Looking away from Elinor, Colonel Brandon's eyes insistently sought out Marianne among the maze of dancers. Dressed in flowing white as Guinevere, her hair filled with white flowers as a gesture of deference to her husband, Marianne was indeed a vision of loveliness. With her head thrown back, awash with curls, her laugh reached his ears, sweeter and softer than any music.
Elinor was so affected by the change in Brandon's countenance, she found herself looking away from this most intimate of moments. The Colonel's deep love for her sister was visible in every expression. She had never seen a man who could gaze upon his wife's beauty as if he were only seeing her for the first time and once again Elinor felt discomfited, acutely aware that she was intruding. When she was finally able to speak, she gently touched his arm and attempted to turn his attention to the roses.
"The roses are beautiful, Colonel. The white roses in particular. Edward and I were admiring them before--"
"Mrs. Ferrars-I-" Colonel Brandon interrupted, his pallor heightening.
"Colonel, are you unwell? Is there anything I can do?"
"I have just received word that I am needed in London. A business matter is all. However, it might take some time. I-I have not spoken to Marianne as yet. Mrs. Ferrars-it would be a great comfort to me if you would see to Marianne's comfort while I am away. If I could only be assured that you would always take care---."
"Colonel-what do you mean? I am certain Marianne would desire nothing more than to accompany you to London."
"Forgive me-I. Forgive me." With a slight bow, Colonel Brandon turned and walked away from the ballroom, leaving Elinor with an even more agitated mind and spirits. His wife's troubled face was not lost on Edward when he came to her side, vigorously wiping his brow.
"Are you sure you are all right, Elinor? We shall make our excuses and leave shortly. But, I have not had the pleasure of dancing with my wife all evening. Would you do me the honour, Mrs. Ferrars?"
"Indeed. But Edward, where is Marianne?"
"She found a better partner, I believe. The pair are attracting quite the attention on the floor. Elinor-what is the matter?"
Her heart literally turning over, Elinor furiously walked back inside the ballroom. Along with everyone, her eyes fixed on Marianne and her partner, engaged in an intimate pas de deux at the centre of the floor. Elinor coloured as much from anger as mortification. The masked stranger's shock of dark hair and tall, imposing form could only belong to Willoughby. With a complete disregard for propriety, Marianne and Willoughby endlessly circled each other in the dance, magically drawn away and back towards one other by the single thread of their outstretched arms. Willoughby's eyes never left Marianne for a moment, disdainfully avoiding the crowd. Oddly, Marianne seemed to be enclosed in a self-imposed reverie, dancing more for herself than her partner. Determined to confront them before anyone else discovered Willoughby's presence, Elinor attempted to reach the couple as the music lulled, only to be stopped by Mrs. Jennings and the Palmers.
"There you are my dear! I thought you were hiding from me! My word! How hot it is! I was just telling Charlotte... You do remember my daughter Charlotte?"
"How could she forget," Mr. Palmer replied under his breath.
"Yes. Of course, Mrs. Jennings. How do you do Mr. Palmer..Mrs. Palmer?"
"Lovely to see you again Mrs. Ferrars. This is very merry indeed! As I was just telling Mama, the last time we met was at your sister's wedding. I cannot believe it was that long ago. I cannot! There was never a more beautiful bride than Miss Marianne. How exquisite she looks this evening, so very much like a bride! And such an attentive partner. Mama and I cannot remember where we have seen the gentleman before. And yet-there is something...Better run and make mischief with the Colonel!"
"You will do nothing of the sort." Mr. Palmer muttered firmly.
With a forced calmness, Elinor pretended she did not hear Mrs. Palmer's last remark: "Pray excuse me Mrs. Jennings, Mr. and Mrs. Palmer. I must speak with Marianne. Edward and I have decided to leave early. He is eager to prepare this Sunday's sermon."
Before Mrs. Jennings' opened mouth could voice the words hanging on her lips, music filled the room once again in full force. As dancers noisily returned to the floor, their clothing visibly clinging to their backs, Elinor's eyes frantically searched for her sister; but, Marianne's ethereal, white figure was nowhere is sight. Her head spinning, Elinor's heart sank as it dawned on her, with all the force and mortification such a realization can produce, that Willoughby had also disappeared from view.
Section II, Part 3
As the intense summer heat deepened the roses of her cheeks, Marianne breathlessly ran towards the lake. The night was hauntingly still. Even the music from the ballroom had trailed off to but a murmur, drowned out by the plaintive wail of a nightingale's lament. Tender and bittersweet, the melody lingered in Marianne's ears, enveloping her in a veil of warmth amidst the stretch of darkness. Like a lost child, Marianne began to turn wildly in search of this beacon of light and music, at once so near and then so far away. Words as bell-like and lyrical as the melody itself filled her head. Words which only hours before had been so softly spoken by her husband. Marianne was certain than if she could have magically bestowed the nightingale with the capacity of human speech, it would have echoed her very thoughts:
Such ones ill judge of love, that cannot love,
Ne in their frozen hearts feele kindly flame.
All too soon, a strong masculine voice pierced the perfect serenity and harmony of the moment. "Colonel Brandon," she began to cry, half-dazed.
Emerging from the dense shrubbery, Marianne was momentarily blinded by the brilliant patch of gold illuminating up the sky. It was then that she saw Willoughby. At the propitious moment, the ever fickle moon had conspired to bestow its charms, shining down brightly and strongly on Willoughby's dark, perfectly cut features. The moon was so deceptively near that Marianne once again became a child; and eagerly she ran towards the light, believing like all dreamers that if she would only run a little faster, she could somehow catch it. Willoughby's strong arms caught her trembling figure at the base of the pavilion. Almost too easily, he swept her off her feet and cradling Marianne's head against his chest, he carried her up the marble steps inside the glass-domed haven. His words and immense, almost palatable physicality brought her reluctant spirit back to earth.
"My darling, sweet Marianne!" Marianne cautiously backed away from him.
"Willoughby! Are you mad? What if someone had recognized you. Good god! My husband-if he should have seen you."
"Forgive me Marianne. But-I am leaving Devonshire tonight. To Combe Magna-I go and then to France. Nothing could have prevented me from seeing you one last time. Not even Brandon! Oh God Marianne! And you tell me that you love him and yet I see you so unhappy! The beautiful light of your eyes dulled forever! You do not know how it tortures me to think of you with him! Night after night, I lie awake. Your last letter haunts me. Speak those words to my face and I will believe them. Look into my eyes and tell me that you don't love me when your every action betrays it!"
"You are wrong Sir! And if I have led you to believe anything more I am sorry. You pain me greatly with your words and your presence. You entreated me to meet with you privately or you would not leave the ball. And how dare you speak ill of my husband! You shame him and me by inference. You who do not know his kindness. His heart. "
"What was that?" Marianne cried, her voice filled with alarm.
"It is but the music from the House. The dancing has started again." Willoughby slowly replied, his countenance signaling more concern than his words .
"We cannot stay here! Willoughby-I do not wish to part enemies. Believe me when I say I wish you every happiness. But, I must go before someone--."
"No. Not yet. Not just yet," Willoughby muttered, firmly grasping Marianne's arm as she attempted to leave the pavilion. "Surely so beautiful and gracious a lady would not deprive me of one last dance. Exposing me to my enemies like this. Come Marianne."
With his free arm, Willoughby encircled Marianne's waist and drew her to him. Marianne was virtually powerless at his touch. It had been so long since she had been held in a man's arms. Willoughby's strong, firm shoulders and steady, unwavering gaze seemed to promise refuge from all the world's harsh realities. He was her link to the golden past when the stars seemed to shine only for her, ready to be arranged in some elaborate design of her own creation. He reacquainted her with girlish romantic longings and dreams she had thought long forgotten. But, decidedly no. Made all the clearer by his nearness, Marianne knew now, more than ever, that in her heart she did not love him. Her love for Willoughby belonged to another time, another place, a girl she no longer knew or cared to know anymore. For to love Willoughby would mean denying Katherine, denying the melodious voice which haunted her like the nightengale's lament. Real love was not a whim made under the bright moon, a succession of hushed promises. Nor was it the product of an innocent's imagination, nurtured by Shakespeare and Scott's exquisite, tortured beings. Real love was indeed a circle unbroken, tested, tried and proven by the ravages of time and circumstance. It suddenly washed over Marianne that she had come face to face with real love at least once, the night she had discovered Brandon kneeling before Katherine's gravesite. And what had she done? Run away. She, Marianne Dashwood, had been afraid of the power and strength of real love, detectable in every treasured, velvety tone.
All the while Marianne's head was throbbing, Willoughby held her face between hands, endlessly tracing her lips with his fingertips. In one swift, even violent motion, he pushed her into the shadows against the hard, sharp glass. Marianne felt his lips on hers, first soft and moist like the most delicate of rose petals. Then, insistently he parted her lips, pressing her deeper against the glass, until both were gasping for breath.
"Say you love me. Say it!" he commanded, unaware that Marianne's kiss spoke more of an ending than a beginning. With a fierce possessiveness, Willoughby rested his forehead against hers.
"Willoughby..I--" she sighed, gently stroking his face.
"What is the matter, my darling? Are you afraid of Brandon? Believe me, you have nothing to concern yourself with. It is all arranged. We can leave tonight. Let me take you away from here-Paris, Rome-all of the places you have dreamed about."
"Arranged? What is arranged?" It was at the precise moment that Marianne looked over Willoughby's right shoulder and saw Colonel Brandon's distinctive figure on the steps of the pavilion. The colour had so drained from the Colonel's face that he appeared to be apart of the shadows. Before Marianne could speak, he swiftly turned and escaped further into the darkness, becoming one with the night.
Section2, Part 4
Her face filled with the most dreadful anxiety, Marianne sought to follow Colonel Brandon. Willoughby caught her from behind and pinning her arms high above her head, he once again pushed her deep into the shadows of the pavilion. It was only when Marianne winced from pain that he relaxed his grasp and lowered her to the bench. For the moment, the bright red mark against the ivory of Marianne's left wrist bewitched him to silence. From every angle, he hungrily eyed his creation with its irregular, heart-shape proportions. Then, lowering his mouth to the small imprint, he circled her skin in decided motions, tasting her. Marianne turned crimson and shivered inwardly. There was something desperate in Willoughby's dark eyes, so at odds with characteristic easy banter and imposing form, which frightened her.
"Good God Willoughby!" she cried. "Release me. What is the matter with you? I must speak to him. Did you not see? I must explain everything. I love-"
"Upon my soul, I would never injure you! My darling, sweet Marianne whose heart I believe is better known to me than my own. Has Brandon ever kissed you in such a fashion? Tell me my lady, does your heart beat wildly at his clumsy touch, as it does now? You blush and tremble in the darkness and it's for me! To see such a soul crushed. Oh God! Such a dagger to my heart! To the devil with duty! What care we of such things, Marianne? We who live by the stars. You are the best part of me, my angel-Marianne. Let us be free to love one another, to make our own worlds. Believe me, if I did not truly believe in your attachment to me..if I were not convinced of your continued unhappiness.. For the last time Marianne, will you come away with me?
"Colonel Brandon! " Marianne cried wildly. Reaching deep into his coat, Willoughby muffled Marianne's cries with a white silk handkerchief. Despite her struggles, a fruity aroma soon overwhelmed her and with a deep sigh, she slumped against his chest. The last image she saw clearly was Thomas, Colonel Brandon's manservant as he rushed to Willoughby's side.
Thomas had long admired his mistress' beauty, but never more so than at this moment. With her dark curls entwined in white flowers and her long eyelashes veiling her face, she looked for all the world like the sleeping fairy princess his mother would read about when he was a boy. Envisioning himself the prince, he bent his greasy head to awaken her. The force of Willoughby's clenched fist sent him flying to the floor.
"Shall I carry her for you, Sir? It might be easier for you if I-"
"Damned, bloody fool! Do you really think I would let your dirty hands touch her?" In one sweeping motion, Willoughby gathered Marianne in his arms.
"Where is Brandon?"
"In his study, Sir. He leaves for London. He saw everything just as you planned. And Mrs...Miss Marianne's trunks are in the back of the coach. Oh-but Sir-you must leave at once! Mrs. Fur, Mrs. F-"
"Get a hold of yourself-Man! Mrs. who?"
"Mrs. Ferras. The parson's wife. She comes this way. I saw her by the gardens."
Balancing Marianne against his chest, Willoughby slowly walked towards Thomas. With a cold disdain at the childish gleam in Thomas's eye, he waved a billfold in front of the latter's nose. "This is for this evening's service. And this-this is for your continued silence."
Long after Mr. Willoughby left the pavilion, Thomas remained nursing a bruised cheek. A muddied handkerchief peaking out from his black boot entranced him from counting his wages. Even to Thomas' untrained eye, it looked expensive. Bending to inspect the lacy treasure further, he snickered at the initials JW, boldly embroidered in the centre. It suddenly occurred to Thomas that if his wife cleaned the handkerchief, he could get a handsome price for it in town. Grinning at his ingenuity, he forgot all about the discomfort produced by smiling and with his earnings safely encased in the handkerchief, he raced all the way home.
Section 3, Part 1
Behind a forest green curtain, Willoughby stood, intently staring down at his lady of the roses. He savoured this moment, letting it swirl and dance in his head like the most intoxicating of wines. This moment belonged to him like nothing else before or ever would again in his existence. As odd as it sounded even to his own mind, the mere sight of Marianne, her dark curls brushing against the lush yellow petals, was a fulfillment of a dream for Willoughby. With the sun setting in the sky, illuminating her hair and deepening the dusky light of her eyes, she took his breath away. If true happiness is the realization of one's collective imaginations and longings then this was happiness for Willoughby.
It had been some two years past that Willoughby discovered the chateau Mirabeau, nestled like some bastion of serenity and seclusion five miles from Versailles. Mirabeau was a world of his own making, as if he had conspired with the gods to design it himself. Not a day had gone by since he had first glimpsed its delicate, ivory walls that his memory of Mirabeau did not immediately and insistently conjure up Marianne's loveliness. The purity and beauty of Mirabeau and Marianne Dashwood were the one in the same and he had determined to one day make her his wife there. In every flower, he saw her sweet face. Even the stillness of the night air and constancy of the flowing river, the most mesmerizing of all musical refrains, was her. Some times the memory of Mirabeau's soothing breeze lazily caressing his face seemed more real to him than reality itself.
That he had first gazed upon Mirabeau with Sophia did not alter his countenance, save for a slight smile. Sophia had been interested in purchasing Mirabeau as a summer cottage until even in one of her drunken stupors she had guessed whose form her husband was seeing in every graceful curve of the house's structure.
Acutely aware that her every step was watched, Marianne self-consciously walked back towards the house, her figure half-obscured by flowers. A claw-like branch from a nearby tree slackened her pace, lifting her skirt and revealing a milky thigh. Willoughby found himself clutching onto the curtain for support. How much Willoughby desired her. She haunted him. It was as if every thought, dream he ever had inevitably came back to her. Marianne Dashwood was the one true, pure, constant beauty he had ever known and he meant to possess her, no matter how long he had to wait.
Willoughby's eyes followed her until he could no more. One dream realized, his thoughts effortlessly leapt to the next dream. He now lived for the moment when Marianne Dashwood's bewitching eyes would look upon him with the sinuous care and angelic grace that she lavished on those flowers and tell him she loved him, only him. For someone who had regarded love as a game and diversion, a fool's illusion, the reality that his very happiness depended on another was surprising and ultimately terrifying. The mere act of losing her and to the man he despised most had made him realize that he could not live without her. And Willoughby was not a man who needed anyone.
It must be stated that when Willoughby said Marianne Dashwood, he truly believed in his heart that she had never belonged to anyone but him. Circumstances and his own stupid vanity and cowardice had divided them. But, they now had a chance at victory over the past. Even the child buried on that leafy hilltop had faded from memory. Such was the magic Mirabeau cast over Willoughby.
Undoubtedly, to win her love once again was a challenge, but there was nothing that Willoughby delighted in more than a challenge. Marianne's favorite books, clothes from the finest Parisian couturiers, even a broadwood grand had been faithfully and meticulously brought to Mirabeau. Nothing, however, enticed her from her chamber except a solitary walk about the gardens, taken more out of necessity than pleasure. For some time, the local doctor had been seriously concerned for Marianne's health. It cut into Willoughby's soul that Marianne continued to resist his company on such occasions for he had so much he wished to share with her and show her; but he did not persist, at least not yet. By sheer force of will, he swept from his mind that what Marianne desired most, he could not or, in his lady's words, would not give her.
"Damn him! Damn him. I will have her yet." Willoughby uttered to himself. Those words still echoing in his head, Willoughby rushed to his dressing room. He and Marianne had resided one month at Mirabeau and this was the first time she had consented to dine with him. His white shirt unbuttoned to the waist, Willoughby was about to remove it when James hesitantly entered.
"Sir-Miss Marianne begs that you would excuse her absence this evening. The afternoon's walk has tired her. She-"
Already at Marianne's door before James had summoned the courage to finish the last sentence, Willoughby touched the small knob. The shock of the cold, unmoveable metal sent a shock of searing pain up his right arm. Stepping back once more from the door, Willoughby set the door flying, the force of his black boot splintering wood against metal. Marianne's startled, white face met his as he entered. Her beauty as always never ceased to enchant him. Like a sculptor admiring his creation, he never tired of the graceful miracle that was her neck, or the small, child-like mouth which would magically deepen at the corners into the most disarming of smiles. It pleased him that Marianne did not need adornments. Dressed in the most simple of robes, she was more lovely than the most elegantly attired of queens.
"And is this how you treat my gifts? Willoughby casually remarked, motioning to the green-beaded dress sprawled across the floor. "And did you not promise to dine with me this evening?
"And did you not promise me Sir, that my privacy would be respected in the gardens? You say I am not your prisoner, that I am as free as you are and then-" The intensity and passion of her speech brought a smile to Willoughby's lips. Slowly, he walked towards her.
"Some day Marianne," Willoughby murmured seductively, as he relaxed the belt holding up her robe. "Some day a man is going to look into those magnificent eyes of yours and lose himself." Raising her hand to his lips, Willoughby pulled her to him in one swift motion. It was Willoughby who was the first to break away from the embrace. With a sense of ownership, he held Marianne's face between his hands and stared deeply into her eyes.
"Save your virtue, Marianne. You know what I want."
"Willoughby, I can never love you the way you desire. What kind of a happiness could we hope for under such a deception. You say that we are free here and I know that we are not. How everyone must be suffering at my expense! Elinor and Mama...If you truly love me, let me return to my family, to my hus-"
"To return to Brandon!" Willoughby cried wildly. Do not talk to me of him! To think of such a spirit lavished on such a broken down waste of a man. How miserable you were that day I happened upon you by the lake. It was to my arms, my words that you sought comfort. Do not look at me like that Marianne! I cannot bear it or your tears. I am not such a hard hearted blackguard. You of all people should know that! And Love you-Good God!! There are moments when I cannot even remember how I lived without you, the sound of your sweet voice. Return you to your wretched Devonshire, anything you asked I would provide simply because you desire it. But-Brandon-Never! This is our destiny, Marianne. Do you not feel it when I hold you in my arms? We belong together more than any two people ever have or ever will."
"Yes, yes." Marianne endlessly repeated through sobs. "But, do you not see? I'm in love with him. I will always love him."
Willoughby's face drained of all its colour. Like a drowning man, he grasped onto the sturdy white mantelpiece for support. "Marianne, you will dine with me this evening and every evening, even if I have to carry you downstairs myself!"
Head held high, Elinor Ferrars silently made her way toward Delaford House, painfully aware of every caustic remark and prying eyes. Marianne and Willoughby's indiscretions hurt her deeply and in her heart, she blamed herself. She had suspected Marianne and Willoughby's renewed association, and yet she had done nothing. The explosive image of Marianne and Willoughby endlessly circling on the dance floor, magically in tune with the other's successive body movement, always rushed the blood to Elinor's face. Yes-she could not ignore the truth; her sister still loved Willoughby. The two exerted a powerful physical and emotional hold over each other.
In the same breath, though, Elinor could not deny her sister's sincere attachment to Colonel Brandon. It was unthinkable that Marianne could have married Brandon, bore his child, and then mourned Katherine so wholeheartedly without ever loving her husband. It was not in Marianne's nature to love by halves and she had seen too many tender moments between husband and wife to believe that Marianne's heart had only belonged to Willoughby. The way Marianne would wait by the window for the sound of a carriage on the days Brandon returned from London, only to rush out the door and fly into his arms was not the sign of a woman miserable in marriage. The manner in which Colonel Brandon would tenderly place her head on his shoulder and Marianne's contented smile again weighed heavily with Elinor. There was no duplicity and meanness in her sister's heart and yet she had run away with Willoughby from her husband's house, and of all nights- the night of the Delaford ball. How often and insistently that night swam in Elinor's throbbing head. Even more perplexing was that Marianne had failed to write, not even to Mama. Over and over again, Elinor played out the events of the last few months, only to conclude that something was not right.
Entering the gates of Delaford, Elinor eyed Thomas, Colonel Brandon's manservant and motioned for him to come to her. She had learned of the Colonel's return from London a week before but had yet to speak to him. Brandon had contracted a fever on his recent trip which appeared to be more serious than she or anyone else had earlier thought. For three days, she had been told that he could not see anyone.
"Thomas-we have all been so concerned for Colonel Brandon's health? Pray, how is he?"
"Oh much better Ma'am. The fever finally broke late last night. He is already sitting up. Mrs. Edwards is setting about preparing his favorite dishes. T'was a terrible fever, Mrs. Ferrars . The master kept calling for the mistress as if she were in the room. "
It took all of Elinor's' powers of composure to hold the tears back. How long and deeply Colonel Brandon loved her sister. Even now, he loved her.
"I trust I did not offend you M'am." Thomas added, delighting in the possibility that such a lady might swoon in his arms. With exaggerated elan, he placed a small, white handkerchief in her hands.
"Would you be so kind as to take me to the Colonel?" Elinor was about to return the neatly folded handkerchief when her eyes glanced on the familiar scrawl of JW.
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