Mistress of a Family
The next morning was spent by the ladies in quiet pursuits. The post brought to Sarah a letter from Mrs. MacIntyre, welcoming the family home and laying out the plans for the workmen, and providing a long list of items her mistress might choose to purchase in Exeter before her relocation to the less abundantly supplied Whitwell; an expedition to that town was immediately planned for the day before Eliza was to depart. While Marianne worked on her accounts and Eliza her sewing, Sarah filled several pages to Claude, telling him in greater detail about their journey and the health of the children than in her hasty letter from Plymouth--by a ship departing almost the minute they themselves had landed--and in what happy spirits she had found her brother and his wife.
Marianne was disappointed to see so little of her husband that day, but he had promised to meet with a tenant who had proposed the taking over of some marginal land at a greatly reduced rent for the purpose of installing some ingenious drains and testing their effects, and the two men with Baynes were closeted in the steward's office with diagrams and estate maps and agricultural treatises for much of the morning, emerging with satisfied expressions about one o'clock to ride over to look at the site. But as they dressed for dinner his attention was all her own; they drifted back and forth from one dressing room to the other while arranging petticoats or buttoning breeches, talking of the period of their separation, each intensely interested in the minutest of details simply because the other had experienced them.
During the meal and the late conversation afterward in the sitting room, however, their attention was riveted naturally upon Sarah and her sons, whose audience also included the usual four from the parsonage; and the hurried manner of the maids bringing in the dumb-waiter suggested that they were eager to return to a similar story unfolding from Madeleine in the nursery.
"Our friend's export business has been all but ruined by the blockade," said Sarah, the primary narrator, "as have so many other trading enterprises out of Marseilles and Toulon. Those cities have always been centers of counter-revolution, for war is very bad for business, and finally we decided to take advantage of the passage our friend had long been offering us. He has made a pretty sum over the years transporting Emigres. From Marseilles we traveled along the coast--"
"And the first mate let us look through his glass at a British ship he spied on the horizon!" said Philippe excitedly to Margaret, being clearly of the opinion that his mother's narration lacked verve. He lowered his voice, attempting a theatrical menace. "He said their first mate was probably looking right back at us!" Margaret, however, having frequently been regaled with her brother's dramatic tales of army life, of enemies positioned so near he could smell what they were cooking for supper, was not impressed.
"Near the Spanish border," continued Sarah, "we pulled away from the coast and made for Minorca under a flag of truce. We were stopped by a very imposing ship--"
"She had forty-four guns--I counted!" (from Christophe).
"--but when the captain understood that the cargo consisted entirely of Emigres he let us pass, and we spent two weeks in Mahon with friends who had settled there. We intended to wait for Claude, but he sent word that he would be delayed, and that we should take the next ship we could to England."
"Christophe and I explored the entire fortification--as much as we were allowed, I mean, which was not actually very much--but we climbed the towers with an officer who was a friend of our captain's and looked out over the sea--"
"Toward home," said Christopher, briefly crestfallen, and there was a silence around the table, broken by the boy himself. "Mama was very brave," he said, and she rested her hand on his, but only for a moment so as not to embarrass him more than he had already embarrassed himself.
"I believe you all have been very brave," Eliza declared. "I should have been frightened to death."
"What made you decide to come now, if I may ask? It is my understanding that the situation in France is much calmer now since Bonaparte has come to power."
At Edward's question and observation Sarah gave a sigh. "Yes, it is. But even if those who are talking so stupidly now in Avignon about revolt can be made to see reason, we are simply tired. Tired of tension, of war, of worry. Bonaparte promised peace and order, but his 'order' is in fact repression, and within only months he had invaded Austria. There seems no end to his ambition. He wants to be not merely a military dictator but a king, and he has the ability and power to become one. But if France is to return to monarchy, then what has France gained from so many years of chaos?"
"Could a revolution happen here as well?" Margaret asked.
"Not now," Brandon answered her. "Our tradition of liberty for all men is very strong and so our society is more stable than that of France had become. And Mr. Pitt's legislation has virtually silenced those misguided few who wanted to follow the French example." His interest in happenings within France was professional as well as personal. He had been involved in the organizing and supplying of General Abercromby's army that had attempted invasion from Holland the summer before--an unpleasant position to be in, torn between desire for success and concern for his family should they be caught up in the fighting, a southern offensive also being hoped for. He was as well-informed as an Englishman could be who was not himself a diplomat or politician, following Parliamentary debates in the papers and questioning every Emigre priest and soldier and merchant he met in London in search of insights that could develop only from close observation. "And remember the treasonous rebellion in Ireland two years ago--how quickly and thoroughly that was crushed. You may sleep sweetly, my dear Miss Dashwood, with such competent soldiers to protect you." She rewarded his teasing boast with a pert smile.
"Besides," Edward offered dryly, "we got regicide out of our system some time ago."
"And thank Heaven for that," was the fervent comment of Mrs. Dashwood, who well remembered the newspapers bordered in black, the theaters closed for three days, the general wearing of mourning following the French king's murder. "I would not want to raise a family in such an atmosphere."
"That is another reason we have left, of course," said Sarah. "Bonaparte has already betrayed many of the principles of the Revolution. We did not want our sons to fight for his government; his grasping expansion, apart from the moral wrong, drains resources from a country that cannot spare them. But conscription would be difficult to evade." She smiled at each of her sons in turn. "I suppose for all our love of France we are English enough to want a little stability."
When the boys had gone reluctantly to bed and Mrs. Dashwood, pleading fatigue herself, had taken Margaret, equally unwilling, back to the parsonage, Sarah could be more free in her descriptions of insurrections and reprisals, of terror and subjugation and the incessant seesaw of Avignon politics that made a modest country estate a very insecure haven. Brandon asked her if she were weary of talking, distressed by reliving the turmoil, but she replied that she had not spoken with complete freedom on political matters except to her own husband for ten years--indeed, her letters to her brother had always been very discreet--and the relief was so welcome she did not want to give it up until they fell asleep in their chairs while listening to her.
"I really do not know how you have borne it," said Elinor. "To have always to be careful what one says and to whom one says it, with the consequences so severe if one makes a misstep--"
"Well at first it was quite peaceful, you know, disorganized but not violent, and really so many aspects of government did need changing. And the '80s were very exciting, with all the new ideas, so much energy, new opportunities for women to be heard and take part. But then the republicans wanted France to annex Avignon and the papists resisted, and Marseilles sent armies against the city, and all of that was quite bloody and frightening. And then those madmen got into power in Paris and the anti-Jacobin Federalists rose in the south, and the Convention sent a guillotine into the square at Avignon. It was on wheels--I thought it somehow more horrible to treat it like any other tool, like a portable drill, or a loom--"
"Did you know anyone who--?" Marianne could not finish her question.
"Oh yes," Sarah replied, not without some strain. "Several of our friends tried to drag us into Federalism, and we broke with them at once, though in truth our sympathies did lie in that direction. It was simply safer not to be political. We were very fortunate in that our neighborhood saw little actual fighting, but we brought at least part of our good fortune to ourselves by remaining aloof. We were proved right when the tribunal handed down the sentences of execution."
"Why did you not leave then?"
Sarah seemed to glance at her brother before she replied. "For quite a long time I was very ill with fever after a stillbirth." Marianne cast her eyes briefly to her hands folded protectively over her abdomen. Her husband did not look at her but for an instant his face set with worry. He said nothing, however, but merely sipped his coffee. "I have always had troublesome pregnancies and deliveries--please forgive my speaking so bluntly, but these are not delicate subjects we have been considering all evening, are they?--and that time it was a strange sort of blessing. Had I not been too ill to travel, we might have fled and thus lost our lands and perhaps our lives, for the laws against Emigres were harsh then, and ever-changing. First one was in violation if one left, then if one returned, then if one did not return. We were already in the habit of keeping papers and witnesses ready to prove we had never left, in case our names appeared on the lists, as the names of those who had not left often did. But at this time Claude was so anxious about me he hardly knew there was a revolution, and was able to plead genuine ignorance of whatever he was accused of."
Eliza gasped softly, her eyes widening. "And was he accused?"
"Yes, of being a Federalist. But he was able to produce statements enough from friends and administrators that he was not charged. Some of them were later--" She had paled a little. "He faced that crisis alone. I was no good to him then."
"But all turned out well," said her brother gently.
"Yes. Yes." She drew a deep breath and visibly forced memory aside. "It was very much worse in Toulon and Marseilles than it was for us--thousands upon thousands fled. Lyons was a horror; some two thousand people were executed there. --But then the situation improved, you see. Robespierre fell and something like calm was restored, and by the time I was recovered there was not the impetus to flee."
"We are very insulated here." Marianne spoke almost in a whisper. "We really have no idea--"
"No," Brandon agreed. "I remember debating the anti-sedition laws with friends. They called them Mr. Pitt's 'reign of terror,' and I often thought that they should be taken to France to experience a true reign of terror before they made such hyperbolical and ridiculous pronouncements."
But Marianne was thinking of the issue in terms much more personal. When Sarah spoke of her sickening anxiety when Claude was late returning from town, of seeing smoke from a burning chateau on the horizon, of keeping the boys always within sight of the house, she could imagine, or nearly imagine, what it would be to have a soldier husband on active field duty, to live with the constant risk of losing him. She could imagine a ceaseless agony of mind and spirit, a continual alarm, and though she could appreciate that a marriage might be strengthened by hardship, by husband and wife facing emergency together, she was grateful that Sarah would soon be reunited with her husband in safety, grateful to be able to turn her head and see her own husband at her side.
It was not until the following morning that Marianne at last found herself alone with Sarah, the colonel having taken his nephews out shooting and then, with Baynes, to the stock day at the Delaford fair, and Eliza being occupied in reading to John for as long as he would sit still to listen. She was in the still-room preparing a receipt of her mother's special cold remedy to send to an ailing tenant, when Sarah appeared at the door with an offer of assistance, having finished her daily letter to her husband after sleeping quite late, an indulgence perfectly understandable after so many days of exertion and tension. With thanks Marianne handed her a mortar and pestle and a bowl of ammonia salt.
"I am so glad you have come back to England. Christopher has been worried about you ever since I have known him."
"He has been trying to get us to come 'home,' as he says, ever since the Revolution began. But France is home to me now. The countryside, I mean--I am not fond of Paris; it is too big and too dirty, like London. I told him he would have to help us learn to be English again. I cannot imagine having no political societies!"
Marianne smiled. "He says that if the radicals need a mob to disseminate their ideas he is happy to refuse them licenses for their meetings--though crowds of fifty or more are hardly a frequent occurrence in Delaford."
"A Frenchman would hardly consider only fifty people a mob! But in a country that calls a half-dozen demonstrators a riot, one should not be surprised by such an attitude."
"Even if it is unreasonable," Marianne said, in a tone that did not necessarily concede, "the law cannot tell us what we may discuss over the dinner table. Some of our neighbors are very political indeed. Mr. Wilverton intends to stand at the next election, and is always courting Christopher's vote and influence. Do not lose hope of political debate now that you are home!"
"Well then, I shall simply have to institute the first salon in Whitwell--though I shall call it my weekly tea-party!"
To Marianne, Sarah herself was an intriguing mixture of the familiar and the foreign, her opinions and manners formed in two cultures, for she had lived in France fully half her life and had not set foot in her native land for eleven years. She was freer of expression and more exuberant in wit than most women--or men--of Marianne's acquaintance; her overall bearing was less constrained, and certainly she seemed to think no subject unfit for ladies' conversation. The difference was not more apparent than in her attitude toward Eliza, now being chased about the lawn by her energetic son. Marianne laughed to see them, and envisioned similar activity with her own child, for whose appearance she grew more eager every day. Would he resemble herself or Christopher? Whose temperament and tastes would he share? Could they save him from repeating their own mistakes?
"I want to thank you, Sarah, for being so understanding about Eliza. Your sons as well--they have been so kind to her, playing with John just as they play with Louise. I know she is family, but her situation--"
"Pish, my dear--we are French, after all! Some of our acquaintances thought Claude and I were quite eccentric not to have several lovers apiece and dozens of stray children littered about. It is simply scandalous what they get up to, but quite charming sometimes how cheerful they are about it. Wait until Claude returns and we have a ball on a Sunday. Do you suppose anyone will attend?"
Marianne's eyes danced. "No one would forego it, if only for the purpose of talking afterward about how indecent it was."
"Perfect--do say you will come!"
Sarah had certainly imbibed many of the ideas of the French "century of light," as had so many of her English countrymen. She spoke highly, for example, of Mr. Rousseau's theories of a natural education, the question of her sons' schooling being brought up at dinner that night by their uncle.
"I have followed many of Mr. Rousseau's recommendations with Philippe and Christophe--though I have tempered them with a helping of Mr. Locke's rational contemplation--and more often than not they do seem to be a credit to my efforts."
The objects of this discussion rolled their eyes and nudged each other under the table in cheerful scorn of the effort required to turn them into civilized human beings. "I beg to differ," said their uncle gravely. "I believe they are the most unpromising specimens of young manhood I have ever had the misfortune to meet. I despair of them utterly." The boys greeted this irreverent pronouncement with all the seriousness it was due, and kicked each other even harder.
Sharing their giggles, Marianne wondered which side of himself her husband would show most often to his own sons--this fond jester, or the disciplinarian who insisted that Philippe and Christophe read for an hour after dinner in the library since they had not done so that afternoon as their mother had instructed them, spending the time playing dominoes instead. Clearly he was more comfortable with children who had reached the age of reason, sturdy creatures who were not so fragile and helpless as were babies. Elinor, for one, predicted that he would be the stricter and more observant parent, but also the more doting. Edward was now asserting the dangers of sending boys away to school rather than educating them at home, citing the usual lack of supervision that could allow a young man to get himself into various scrapes. He colored a little here, thinking of Lucy Steele though he really had intended his comment to have a broader application, but his host prevented any awkward pause by agreeing with him and offering the evidence of several of the neighborhood boys who had grown quite wild as a result of spending so much of the year away from their parents' watchful gazes. "Though, of course," he admitted, "a boy is far better off being separated from too-indulgent parents. If your offspring persist in their barbarity, Sarah, you will simply be forced to send them to Mr. Dawson's academy in Exeter."
"Oh, I have met Mr. Dawson," said Edward, ominously. "He requires ten pages of Greek and Latin translation a day, chemical experiments that smell bad and blow things up, and he locks rogue boys like you two in his cellar."
"No doubt feeding them on bread and water through a knot-hole."
"Exactly so. A terrifying man."
This combined, perfectly straight-faced assault drove Philippe and Christophe into new heights of hilarity, and it was some minutes before the table quieted enough to allow Elinor to ask, "And what are your plans for your daughters, Mrs. Marchbanks? I know it is early to surround our Rosalind with schoolbooks, but we have been discussing the various avenues open to us. My sisters and I were all educated at home, but I do see the benefit for a parson's daughter of some attendance, at least, at a day school. She will be called upon to assist me in sick-visiting and so forth; would it not be useful for her to mix a little with other girls of the parish?" She had discussed the issue also with Marianne but not so much with Colonel Brandon, his views on the evils of sending girls to school being already well known to her. He would have overseen Eliza's education himself had his circumstances permitted, and his failure to safeguard her would be a sorrow for him all his life. She was sincerely sympathetic, but she also realized that on this subject his was not the most rational judgment she might find.
"I believe she would set a good example for them," Sarah replied. "You will expect a higher level of performance from her than will less-educated parents, and she will then raise the standard of performance in the schoolroom. I do differ with Mr. Rousseau on his views about the education of girls. He believes that a woman's virtues are practical rather than intellectual, but I am for a more equal education of the two sexes. After all, if a woman is expected to be a hostess for her husband she should have something to talk about, should she not? Teach a young lady to sew and to paint, of course, but teach her also in subjects that will yield substantive conversation. Our travelling friends often exclaimed over English gentlemen drinking and talking politics in the dining room instead of enjoying the company of their ladies after dinner. Perhaps they find their ladies too dull to want to do otherwise. And if a higher level of discourse among women does not lure the gentlemen into the drawing room, it will at least give the ladies something besides their gowns and the weather to talk about while their husbands are avoiding them--not that I observe much evidence of that habit in this house." Fond glances passed between the two husbands present and their wives. "Of course the same objections apply to schools for girls as to those for boys. Young ladies, too, can fall under pernicious influence--"
This time Brandon, having just taken a bite of plum pudding, could not deflect disaster, and Marianne, not knowing on whose behalf to feel the most miserable--Sarah, her husband, or Eliza, toward whom all eyes were turning--could not settle on which diversionary comment would be of most use. But just as Sarah drew breath to offer apology, Eliza herself intervened.
"If the young lady follows the better judgment that has been instilled in her by her guardians, then she will not be swayed from what is right." And at the look that passed between Eliza and the colonel, Marianne's heart swelled so for him that she could not have spoken if she had wanted to.
Philippe and Christophe, however, possessing the usual sensitivity of adolescents of their sex, chose that moment to explode into laughter that despite their best efforts they could not suppress, having been whispering to each other upon some subject or other that was, to judge from the shade of red that reached to the roots of their hair, not fit for polite company. Their mother only smiled, understanding that their raucous mood was simply the natural outgrowth of relief after too many weeks of grim and necessary self-control, exacerbated today by several hours at the fair running from sheep to horses to cattle and looking over the latest in farming equipment, and eating a very great quantity of sweets. There was no settling them just now, and everyone knew it. "I for one will be happy to keep my sons at home, for they will be grown and gone away all too soon. --But I think tomorrow we shall seat you across from each other rather than side by side."
Brandon and Edward exchanged a long-suffering glance across the table. "I shall fetch the key to the cellar," said the former.
"And I shall bring the bread and water--"
The ladies joined the gentlemen for the second and closing day of the fair--the fifth largest in the county, the toll-taker informed them proudly as Brandon counted out the pennies for their sizable group at the gate of the pasture belonging to Mr. Swale, the innkeeper who had sponsored the event. Today was featured cheese, cloth, haberdashery, every sort of fruit and vegetable, every sort of peddler's wares, and two booths of clever children's toys and games, to which were immediately drawn Sarah, Elinor, Marianne, and Eliza, with little John and Louise on leading-strings controlled by Madeleine. Brandon doled out pennies to his nephews and to Margaret, who darted off to see if the "sweets lady" were installed in her booth today, then he and Edward began to haunt the bookstalls while Mrs. Dashwood roamed from one cloth dealer to another, talking of new curtains and seat covers. Eliza's visit had been timed for the fair, Oakhill boasting no such large diversion, and she declared her great enjoyment in the incessant activity all around--the exciting bouts between boxers and wrestlers, the footraces and carthorse-pulling contests and cudgel play, the hawkers with their patter, the aromas of fruit pies and savories and several varieties of ale, the tang emitting from the cheese stalls, the sweet scent of wagonloads of apples and pears and late plums, and even a miasma of spice from an importer's cart. John's eyes bulged comically when a magician pulled an egg from behind his ear, and Louise squealed with delight when an Emigre Breton flower-seller, her eyes misting to hear her native tongue in these remote environs, placed a little bracelet of cyclamen around her wrist.
By one o'clock the two children were whining and rubbing their eyes, and were sent home with Madeleine, who would there exchange places with Nurse Garmey, who had been minding Rosalind and Marie during the morning. Husbands and wives converged and displayed their respective purchases, toys and books for the children, scarves and gloves and knitting needles and penknives for themselves. They met with friends and neighbors and servants, Marianne encountering Susan Wilverton while buying music, Elinor chatting with Mrs. Holcombe while poring over prints, Edward meeting some of his fellow clergymen come in from nearby villages, Brandon willingly being drawn into various political debates. Margaret and Philippe and Christophe appeared from time to time with tales of midgets and giants and caged tigers and peacocks, and always managed to go away again with more money in their pockets. Eliza walked for a while with her arm through her guardian's, and Marianne was glad to see how easy they were together, how many smiles she elicited from him with her enthusiasm. He also had the honor of serving as escort to both wife and sister, the latter joking him about one of his purchases.
"I see you have bought at least six blends of curry-powder from that spice and condiment man, to dump on your boiled beef so you will not know how bland it is. How I shall miss the heavenly sauces and cheeses and sumptuous desserts of France!"
"I will grant you that they are delicious, but can you honestly tell me that Mrs. Howell's soused mackerel is bland, or her Wiltshire ham with raisin sauce, or her pheasant with rosemary and sage, or her plum pudding and whipped syllabubs and almond and lemon custards--?"
"But do they compare with boeuf bourguinon, pate de foie gras with truffles, strawberries in cream and champagne--?"
"Beef and kidney pie, lamb ragoo, walnut and mushroom catchups, apple dumplings with ginger and cinnamon--"
"Chicken puff-pie with Bechamel sauce, oxtail with puree of chestnuts, endive salad with mahonnaise--"
They continued this spirited exchange for ten minutes or more, until Marianne actually felt a little queasy at the very thought of so much rich food, though she would not think of stopping them, so much were they reveling in what she sensed was a long-familiar and beloved argument.
"My poor deprived Sarah, I shall take you to the French House in Leicester Square. It is run by Emigres, you know, and there you will find a table d'hte exactly as you would find in Paris. And la Comtesse de Guğry is said to make the finest ices in London; she is patronized by the Prince of Wales himself and all the royal dukes."
"I do not want London to give me French cuisine," Sarah scoffed. "I intend to have a French cook at Whitwell. Mrs. MacIntyre is already making inquiries."
"Ah well. I suppose Marianne and I will simply have to bring our boiled beef with us when we visit you--"
"And your curry-powders," Marianne put in, glad that she was now able to stomach them again.
"Most definitely," he replied. "I believe they would vastly improve boeuf bourguinon, do you not agree?"--to which his wife replied with a giggle and his sister a groan.
Up ahead in the row of stalls Marianne espied Mrs. Holcombe haranguing Jemmy Rivers about some transgression or other--though how she had ever got Jemmy to stand still to be harangued, Marianne could not guess. She could not help but regret Mrs. Holcombe's diligence; hooligan Jemmy Rivers might be, but surely on fair-day a boy ought to be allowed some latitude in his behavior. The two walking with her now, for example, hardly looked the young gentlemen they professed to be; Philippe's hair was in total disarray and his hands and boots were dirty, and Christophe's coat was fouled, having been spat upon, he explained, by a camel.
"Do not so much as look cross-eyed at that lady in the flowered hat," she warned them, knowing it was a comment unworthy of a lady of the manor and silently promising that she would chastise herself for it at a later hour. "She is very proper, and if she sees your appearance at this moment she will order your uncle to throw you in the lock-up for a whole month."
"But Uncle would not do it," they protested. "He is a magistrate--it is he who tells others what to do."
"Ordinarily, yes--but Mrs. Holcombe is a force to be reckoned with."
"But do not worry," Brandon assured them with a wink, and it shall be left to the reader to decide whether the lord of the manor was allowing his spirited lady an unfortunate degree of influence over him, "we shall visit you every day. And the Delaford lock-up, you know, does not house very many rats--"
The boys chortled and jovially cuffed each other, each declaring that the other was more terrified of vermin, and then, hearing a fiddler start up, dashed off to find Margaret, placing bets with each other over whether she would agree to dance with them. The remainder of their group started for the gate, having worn out their legs and their appetite for trinkets as well, Brandon and Edward handing out pennies along the way to all the poor children who claimed to have worked hard at the harvest, which of course turned out to be every one of them.
Just then there was a disturbance in the crowd--cries of "Here you!" and "Mind your way, boy!" and shouts for the constable--and in a moment Jemmy Rivers came pelting toward them as if the devil were at his heels. And so he was, in the person of Mr. Increase Jones, whose Puritan heritage was reflected in his name, his numerous offspring, and his principles. Catching sight of the equally imposing figures toward whom he was rushing, Jemmy tried to dodge to one side, but too late; Brandon grabbed for one wiry arm and Edward for the other, and brought him to a struggling halt.
Mr. Jones joined them in a moment and proceeded to accuse the boy of picking his pocket. "I felt a sort of pluck at the cloth and reached my hand down, and felt his little paw just pulling out of my pocket. He dropped a penny and ha'penny when he ran off."
It did not occur to Brandon to disbelieve him. Mr. Jones was the industrious tenant of the drains, never late with his rent, never less than honorable in all his dealings with his neighbors. And the accused, after all, was Jemmy Rivers--who had, in fact, spent an hour in the stocks in the middle of September after letting loose Widow Barrett's chickens. He held out his hand, flicking his fingers in a hand-it-over gesture.
The boy tried to bluff it out, but he was soon surrounded by others who had missed funds during the day, some of it carefully saved for weeks for the occasion, word having flashed through the crowd that the colonel had apprehended a pickpocket. When Jemmy's own pockets were turned out, he was found to be in possession of eleven pennies and three halfpennies--disturbing evidence of misapplied cleverness and industry. Several of his victims called for a whipping, but Brandon, requiring a greater offense than this before he would see a child's back reddened by the lash, quieted them by restoring the coins to their proper owners and supplementing them with a shilling each from his own purse for their inconvenience; and most went away feeling that they would happily suffer their pockets to be picked daily if such generosity on the part of their patron were to be the usual result.
"Now," he said, turning his attention toward the miscreant before him, "I shall expect you to reimburse me--" At Jemmy's blank look he clarified, "--to pay me back--for the eight shillings I have just dispensed because of your crimes. You will work it off in my stables, if only an hour each day; my coachman will expect you at six tomorrow morning. And the next complaint I receive about you will mean a summons and perhaps a sentence in the lock-up. Do you understand?" He was aware of Mrs. Holcombe's hat (daisies and dahlias) performing a veritable jig at the corner of his eye.
Jemmy had listened in defiant silence, but this last threat made an impression. "What will my mum do if you put me in the lock-up? I work out, you know. What'll she do without my wages?"
But Jemmy was not aware that his mum was just behind him, and had been looking on with approval at the colonel's every word. "You do such as this again," she said, and Jemmy's head whipped around in startlement and filial terror, "and your mum'll thrash you. And then she'll send for Constable Parker herself." She put her face nose to nose with his. "Do--you--understand?"
Jemmy was beaten. He hung his head and gave a single nod, and Edward, whose grip on his shoulders had not slackened, released him now to the stern custody of the poor woman so unfortunate in her disobedient son, who marched him off by the ear. Brandon pronounced himself satisfied with the level of public humiliation that had been inflicted, and predicted that the village would have no more trouble from Jemmy Rivers for at least a week. Marianne's pride in her husband surprised even herself--so commanding had he been, just as he must have been on the battlefield; so authoritative, just as when dressing down any number of lackadaisical or insubordinate privates. The drama having given everyone a renewed vigor, they altered their plan and went in search of the dancing, and spun about for an hour with gentry and tenants alike. Marianne lacked her usual boundless energy and was content to sometimes watch from a convenient bale of hay while her husband partnered Sarah or Elinor or Eliza, his gallantry and grace suggesting to her appreciative and unwearied imagination other reasons why she might want to conserve her strength.
Music and laughter echoed across the fields as the sun dipped low, and the villagers commented to each other that they had never known the colonel stay so long at the fair.
"My brother seems a very conscientious magistrate," Sarah commented to Marianne. It was the Monday after the fair, and the two were in the still-room making potpourri of lavender and roses, while the colonel dispensed summary justice in the cases of brawling, cheating, and drunkenness that were the inevitable and annual result of high spirits and too much ale. "I am not surprised to learn it."
"He is always available to anyone who has a complaint and will not take any fees, and he generally never misses the sessions or the assizes--excepting he would not go this past summer when I was so ill, even though the judge made him pay a fine. He says he wants to make up for the alternating neglect and severity of his father and brother. He is urging my brother Edward to take the oath as well, believing that clergymen should make use of every opportunity to set an example for their parishes, especially when they are men of such stellar character. My brother, however, is inclined to believe that the clergy should not involve themselves in secular disputes, that they should be impartial mediators between magistrates and those they judge. But Christopher is known for his strict impartiality; he will fine a gentleman as quickly as he will a laborer, and as a result there are one or two neighbors who will not speak to him. He is merciful toward those who are trying to feed or protect their families--by talking prosecutors into lesser charges, and so forth--but uncompromising toward those who offend out of malice or indifference. During the food shortages several years ago, he gave orders to quit to some of his tenants for hoarding their grain and driving prices higher. I believe his own sad experience, and Eliza's as well, have given him a keener sense of what is just than many men possess--" She noted Sarah's indulgent look. "Listen to me talk on and on. I am sure it is hardly necessary for me to tell you what a superior gentleman your brother is."
"No," Sarah said with a smile, "but I assure you I am delighted to hear you agree with me."
"What was he like as a boy?"
"Oh--quiet and studious, as you might imagine, always careful in word and deed. But he was never dull--you mustn't think that. He took greatly after our mother, and shared her style of humor--though theirs was quiet laughter, nothing raucous. But he loved a satirical essay, or a witty caricature. We had a good deal of laughter in the house then. He was quite lost after she died, he and Eliza both. I have often wondered how it might have been for them had she lived. She was very warm and kind--but she was also the dutiful wife. I am sorry to say it, but I really do not share Christopher's conviction that with the estate at stake she would have stood up for them. She was not a clever woman; I do not know whether she could have found another solution to the problem. She would have liked you very much. She always loved those more energetic than herself. Christopher became more cautious after her death, always wanting to see the end result of a project before he began it. He would watch as Charles climbed a tree or rode a course, learning from Charles's mistakes. He wanted always to get a thing right the first attempt. The army was hard for him in the beginning. So many details were not within his control or influence. The mess of battle affected him very badly, for he always liked an orderly life, and he was thrown into disorder completely unprepared, and still reeling from the disaster with Eliza. He wrote only to me--such wrenching letters. He felt totally adrift, helpless in the face of life, but time and Jonah Masters--whom I have never yet met but love dearly for the service and care he rendered my brother--made him stronger, and thank God he lived long enough for it. I did worry about him so in that dreadful heat and all those diseases; every letter was a relief, though as it took months for them to reach me, I was always aware that he might have died in the interim. In time he came to see the army as an instrument of order, though not perfect order, and made himself a place within it. After a few years he was calling himself a competent soldier, but as he is modest I think he was probably quite a good one."
"Were you witness to the--argument about Christopher and Eliza?"
"No, I was gone from home before anything came of it. I was married at eighteen, when they were still children. The first I ever heard of it was a letter from Christopher after he had been banished to our cousin's house--Wilfrid's father, and if you know Wilfrid you know his father. He had been sent there on threat of disinheritance, which is a fearsome prospect for a young gentleman with no fortune of his own and for whom no provision has yet been made. Even so, if he had known the effect of his absence upon Eliza--that she would lose all fortitude--he never would have gone. Claude's mother and father were still alive, and he and I were living at Whitwell. Christopher pleaded with me to intervene--'Father will listen to you,' he said, but Father did not. I very much resented Eliza's giving in, the pain she caused my favorite brother, and I told him he was better off without her. I think he knew it even then, but--I hurt him by saying it, and I should have kept that bit of sisterly opinion to myself. He accused me of being cold-hearted, and compared with him I suppose I am, for I am more like our father, less easily wounded and quicker to recover. I thought he might choose the church, but once Eliza had married Charles, his preference was the army, so that he could take himself far away--and perhaps, I have often thought, lose himself. He sent me a miniature he sat for when he was one and twenty. He was as brown as a Hindoo and looked so much older, so stern and humorless, that I hardly recognized him."
"How often did you see him after--?" How to phrase it--
"After the dissolution of our family?" Sarah finished for her, quite calmly. "He stayed a summer with us in '86 and again in '88, and we visited London in the spring of '89--that is the only time I had ever seen young Eliza. Once he moved into administrative posts his visits became more frequent, especially in the first years of the Revolution when travel was easier. I must tell you, Marianne, how wonderful he looks now--so calm and happy and the very picture of health! He hardly ever teased the boys before. For years it was hard to see in him that laughter of old--but now I can. I think with you he has found order at last--as much as we can count on in this life."
"Oh, I do hope so. He is so very dear to me." A less forthright sister-in-law might here have said "I do love him so," but such was the earnestness, the whole-hearted sincerity with which Marianne said what she did say that it would not be a cause for wonder if Sarah had felt only satisfaction upon hearing it.
For Marianne it was fascination and pleasure to talk of her husband with another who knew him better than she yet knew him herself. She thought about the meaning of intimacy, about how one might share physical intimacy with another without ever knowing anything of his mind and heart, and about how that second form of intimacy required far greater trust; about how generously Eliza and Sarah had shared their knowledge of him and how eagerly she had welcomed it. The more she learned of him the more she wanted to know, for the more she knew and understood the more she could support him as his wife and friend and, someday, as the woman who returned his love.
Her delight when he emerged from his study in the early afternoon caused her to reflect that talking about one's husband with others was perhaps a way to see him more clearly and to appreciate him more fully. He was very pleased with himself for having avoided binding any offender over to appear at petty or quarter sessions; he had been able to settle everything with apologies, remunerations, and fines, from which the poor box would benefit. "It is so much preferable to have an end to it here if we can; swift justice is not only more effective but also more economical. At last year's fair we had an accused pickpocket--an authentic one, pilfering his way, apparently, across the whole south of England--and there was also an allegation that a horse at the market had been stolen. The prosecutors would not relent on their charges, so I was forced to commit both of the accused to the jail and to prepare recognizances for the quarter sessions. But by then the prosecutors had decided that the offenses did not warrant a possible sentence of hanging, and did not appear, so after all that preliminary work the cases had to be dismissed. If they had settled here they could have received some reparations from the culprits and saved themselves the lawyers' fees and the court fines for non-appearance."
"Clearly they should have listened to my wise husband."
"I shall inform them you have said so. What did you and Sarah find to talk about for such a length of time this morning?"
"Can you not guess what subject could be of equal fascination to us both?" He shook his head, all puzzlement. "You, of course. She told me all about you when you were a boy."
"And you found that fascinating?" He could not have said whether he was more gratified or touched--perhaps his reaction varied even from instant to instant--but whichever emotion might triumph he tried very hard not to attach any great significance to the revelation that had prompted it.
"Of course I did. She said--that you wrote some very moving letters to her from India. You must tell me if I presume upon you too far, but--might I read them? Of course I shall understand if you say no." She certainly would not want him to read the letters she might have written to Elinor after Willoughby's betrayal, had her sister been separated from her.
So surprised was he by her request that at first he could respond only indirectly. "I never wrote without wishing--I also had a wife to write to. But that of course would have meant I was far away from her." He called to his mind, as well as he was able across so many years, what sentiments had filled those pages. There had been a few comments about Eliza, but nothing that he had not already revealed to Marianne, his deepest anguish having been always private, never expressed. "Yes," he said, "you may read them"--and tried not to attach any great significance to her request, or to her grateful embrace at this expression of his trust in her sympathy.
Somewhat later in the evening he said to Sarah, "I have heard that you have been extolling my virtues today." They were in his study, having taken this opportunity to discuss some family business--his will and investments, etc.--about which she should be informed.
"Yes--to my wife. Are you deliberately promoting my interest?" Though he said it with a smile, he was really only half in jest, wondering if he should intimate to her that even the best of sisters might err if she interfered in the private relationship of her brother and his wife.
"I did nothing but answer her questions. It was she who extolled your virtues."
"She did? Marianne?"
"To which other she would I be talking about you?" Her smile was knowing, for she comprehended better than he was aware the mingling of expressions upon his face. "You have nothing to worry about, dear Kit--she is devoted to you. Can you not see it?"
"I--" He reflected upon the pleasures of the night before, the lateness of the hour at which he and Marianne had finally slept and her consequent fatigue this evening that accounted for his being left alone with his sister at only ten o'clock. "I--suppose so," he said, and thought he must be very unreasonable to want not only to see it, and sense it, but to hear it as well. They are only words, he told himself. Are not actions more important than words?
The day before Eliza's departure was spent in Exeter, Sarah making sorties into the crockery shops; the fabric shops, where Eliza's advice was very helpful indeed; and the cabinetmakers with Mrs. MacIntyre's list in hand; while Marianne, after fulfilling commissions from both Elinor and Mrs. Baynes, discovered many more items for her own child and her niece which, though an hour before she had not known they existed, she now deemed essential. She also, to Eliza's misty-eyed gratitude, bought gifts for John and the several other children at Mrs. Sutton's establishment. Mrs. Dashwood and Margaret, who had accompanied them in Edward and Elinor's carriage, then bade them farewell and continued on to Barton, to return to Delaford for Christmas. In the afternoon the Delaford party visited Mr. Dawson's academy for the purpose of evaluation; Brandon was amused to see the boys' wary approach to this fine institution and their surreptitious glances all about them in search of the cellar door. But Mr. Dawson's genial humor and genuine interest reassured them, and they pretended they had never been nervous at all. The party dined at the ancient Turks Head inn, and returned by sunset and then moonlight, the boys riding atop the carriage like stage passengers rather than sensibly in the boot, and their uncle periodically thumping against the ceiling with a shout of "Roll call!" to make certain they had not fallen asleep and dropped off. The next morning Eliza stepped with real sorrow into the cart she had stepped out of ten days earlier with real apprehension, both she and Marianne feeling that her visit had been much too brief, whereas at its commencement they had thought ten days little short of forever. Promising to correspond, they said farewell as friends, Eliza carrying away with her a gift far more precious than any material item, the assurance of a happy welcome at Delaford for herself and her son whenever they were free to take advantage of it.
"Eliza could not say enough in praise of you," Brandon said to his wife as the cart was drawn away, tightening his hand over Marianne's where it rested on his arm. "She admired your compassion and your wit and your courage, and of course I agreed with all she said."
"I have very much enjoyed her visit, and I shall miss her." She was deeply satisfied to be able to add, "And John as well. I am glad Louise and Marie are here--it will need both of them to match his noise."
"They love you as well, as do Sarah and the boys."
Though Marianne was not as quick as her husband to discern affection for herself in a toddler and an infant, she did admit regard in his sister and nephews and kindly did not try to disabuse him of the rest of his conjecture. "And I love them already in return." She laughed. "Goodness, do we not sound mawkish! Elinor would be appalled."
"Perhaps you will now look forward to John and Fanny's visit next month," said Elinor when her sister relayed this conversation. "That should cure you of any illness induced by an excess of honey." Their brother and sister would not be the Brandons' only visitors during the autumn, though they might be the least welcome; the Middletons and Mrs. Jennings had expressed a desire to come before they departed for London after the Christmas season, and a visit by the Careys, who had actually waited for an invitation, would overlap. But before that flurry of company in middle to late November it developed that they would spend a short while at Whitwell. Sarah had planned to wait at Delaford for her husband, but a long letter from Claude arrived containing many pages of legal and political detail, the upshot of which was that it would be weeks before he could hope to leave Avignon. Whatever tears of dismay might have greeted this news Sarah wept in private; she was composed when she announced to her hosts her plan to go on to Whitwell to oversee the repairs. They immediately insisted upon accompanying her, to be of whatever use they could, and she did not hesitate to accept their offer, though she warned them that they might have nothing to sleep on but the bolts of cloth she had purchased in Exeter. "Poor Mrs. MacIntyre--I told her she would have at least a month to ready the house, but now we are invading almost overnight."
"We are not particular," said Brandon. "A straw pallet would do." He was gratified when Marianne, remembering, flushed pink.
They stayed at Whitwell the greater part of two weeks, and did sleep in a bed, though there was in fact only one extra mattress by the time the family beds had been assigned. Marianne helped to plan curtains and rugs and upholstery--and new bedding--while Brandon met with the steward and the chief laborers about preparing the fields and buying stock for the re-establishing of the home farm. The attic and ceiling work had just begun when they arrived; all during their visit carpenters and plasterers tramped through the house, and bangings and sawings and occasionally curses could be heard from the work area. Sarah had decided that as long as she must have a ceiling replastered she would alter the design, and consulted pattern books and sketches of plasterwork in great houses across Europe. The carpet, too, had suffered water damage, but replacement for that would not be obtained until a journey to London.
Sarah had actually not lived at Whitwell very long before she and Claude had removed to France, and thus was almost as new in her neighborhood as Marianne had been in hers upon her marriage. "Will I be an alarming hostess, do you think," she asked with a laugh, "shocking everyone with foreign ideas?"
"I believe very firmly that people should be shocked," Marianne declared, "at least now and then. People should be exposed to foreign ideas--provincial must not be allowed to mean ignorant. So many conventions are restrictive without good reason."
"I can see I must invite you to all my political tea parties, my dear--"
When they parted, Sarah promised to let them know how they all got on in their new home. "It is difficult to believe," said her brother, "that this time when I say good-bye to you I shall see you again in only a few weeks. What a joy it is to have you so near!"
She embraced them and told them to go away before she began to cry, and she and her sons and little Louise stood on the porch and waved them down the drive.
Marianne, though she would miss Sarah, was eager to be home. Imbued with a new energy as a result of her recent social triumphs, she determined to throw herself into the Delaford musical and book societies, despite the fact that Mrs. Holcombe was president of both. When her husband expressed surprise, saying he had not expected her to become quite such a gregarious creature as that, she replied, "It was all very well for Elinor to make excuses for me when I was ill, or only just arrived and organizing the household, and becoming acquainted with the village and your tenants. But the household is organized now and I am no longer ill, and I have met everyone of consequence. Now I have no excuse except that I cannot summon the forbearance, and that is a weakness of character I must yet work to overcome. As that is the only excuse that remains to me, it would be rude to stay away any longer--or so Elinor has the nerve to tell me, though you would not." He admitted this small cowardice with a smile. "Besides, I want to."
She was less enthusiastic once she had attended a meeting or two, and seen the petty jealousies with which each society was rife. She very soon learned that Mrs. Bagglesham believed herself better qualified to be president of the Book Society, from her having been educated by a governess when Mrs. Holcombe had only attended a modest day school in Beaminster that had been closed years before; and that Mrs. Thornton thought herself most qualified to preside over the Musical Society because she could play both pianoforte and harp, though possessing no great aptitude for either. Neither of these ladies, however, could boast Mrs. Holcombe's head for accounts and budgets or her officious willingness to assail the purses of her neighbors for subscription money or unpaid dues. Everybody else was fully aware of this, and repeatedly voted Mrs. Holcombe into the president's chair despite her patently insincere wish that they would not. Marianne was determined not to be drawn in to these internecine squabbles, and it was through no fault of her own that her best intentions were defeated. When she was informed by Mrs. Bagglesham and Mrs. Thornton that they had, each in her pet society, suggested a rotating presidency on the model of other such societies about which they had some knowledge, she observed politely that such a system did seem more fair, as offering opportunity for every lady to take part. ("Opportunity for them all to become as insufferable as Mrs. Holcombe," was the thought to which she did not give voice.) And then, before she was aware of it, though she could have done nothing to prevent it, Mrs. Bagglesham and Mrs. Thornton had given notice to the other ladies of the neighborhood that Mrs. Brandon desired a wider distribution of authority, and in the next meeting of each society Mrs. Holcombe was overturned.
"Now what shall I do?" she wailed to Elinor. "Mrs. Holcombe is the last person I should want to be angry with me. I shall never express an opinion again! If you ever hear that Mrs. Brandon has expressed an opinion you will know the speaker is deceiving you or deceived himself. So many ladies join these societies for no other reason than to feel important and gain influence with their neighbors--they have no genuine affinity for reading or music. And now they want to use my position to further their own ends. I understand now why Christopher is always so careful what he says. I have almost found myself thinking that if women could take part in real politics they would not have to look for politics in areas of life that should be above such ignoble concerns."
"But we have enough of such men in government already. Better perhaps to keep women of similar tendency where they can do little harm."
"You suggest that by tolerating them among ourselves we are saving England? Perhaps so, but the cost is very high. Oh Elinor, what am I to do about Mrs. Holcombe?"
"Mrs. Holcombe is a veteran of such battles. She will have her president's chairs again before very much time has passed. And she is an observant woman. I do not imagine she holds you responsible for her ouster."
Elinor was evidently right. The very next day Marianne, to her horror, found herself standing beside that very Mrs. Holcombe at the lace and riband counter at Foster's General Store. But the formidable lady, far from displaying any resentment, seemed in excellent spirits and passed several minutes with Marianne in friendly chat about hats and umbrellas. (Today Mrs. Holcombe was crowned with chrysanthemums, and Marianne wondered in passing where she located her preferred ornamentation in the depths of winter.) Just before they parted, Mrs. Holcombe further astonished her companion by remarking, "May I venture to say, Mrs. Brandon, that you have brought a much-needed expertise to our meetings? Few of our ladies are really as well-read as yourself, and none but Miss Wilverton can claim your sensitivity to music. I am so glad you have joined us." For a moment Marianne wondered whether Mrs. Holcombe were plotting some revenge in which her support might be useful; but then decided that she could safely assume that Mrs. Holcombe's confidence in her own abilities would not allow her to imagine a circumstance in which she could possibly want anybody's influence but her own.
After this surprisingly cordial exchange Marianne found that she did not joke about Mrs. Holcombe's hats quite as often as she had used to do, and upon reflection was relieved that there was one important lady in Delaford who did not flatter her. How easily a position such as hers could be abused! "You must tell me if you think me guilty of any such affront," she said to Elinor.
"Have I ever refrained from bringing it to your attention when I believed you had erred?" asked her sister with a smile.
"No, you have not, and I am at last grown mature enough to be occasionally grateful for it!"
She could depend on one other lady of her new acquaintance to spare her any obsequiousness. Susan Wilverton's father was by far the wealthiest gentleman in this part of Dorset, and consequently Miss Wilverton had suffered flattery all her life, first from the mothers and fathers of her friends and then from her friends themselves, from cousins and suitors and governesses and servants; at eighteen she was cynical far beyond her years about everything but her books and her music. In Marianne she found a friend who valued what she valued, and thus valued herself for reasons far more noble than the size of her father's income. The two young ladies learned several duets on the pianoforte, and played so well together that they were generally invited to the same dinner parties. Marianne already mourned the inevitable day when Miss Wilverton would marry--for she would marry, as soon as she came to know someone who could awaken the idealist often lurking beneath the facade of the cynic. But perhaps by then some of the younger Wilvertons, one or two of whom seemed to share her passions, would be willing to offer themselves as partners.
Thanks partly to the relief granted by her half-hours at the pianoforte--for she was usually called upon to play even if Miss Wilverton were not present--Marianne was finding that the constant dinner parties and visiting to which her position obligated her were day by day becoming less onerous to her. It was, of course, much easier to be a guest than a hostess, with the freedom to be talkative or quiet, to chat in whichever group of which her husband or sister was a part or seek out other acquaintance, as the fancy took her. She had come to appreciate the efforts of her many hosts and hostesses over the years, and when as hostess she was faced with a sullen guest who made no attempt to be interested in any topic of conversation she introduced, or disappeared into the library and burrowed into the sofa with a book, she felt an urge to write to them all, even Lady Middleton, with abject apologies.
Her sister's new sociability had escaped Elinor's notice no less than Brandon's. To Elinor it seemed that Marianne was less inclined to cling to her husband or her sister at parties, that she was more willing to mingle with her guests and even head a card table. "I have wondered if my pregnancy has lent me patience," Marianne said when Elinor broached the subject. "I have always heard that pregnancy can affect a woman in the oddest ways. I remember that you were rather more outspoken than usual; perhaps I am less."
"If that is the case then 'lent' is the appropriate word. I do not recall being outspoken since Rosalind was born."
"Hmm. I must remember to investigate your claim--perhaps I, too, will be in danger of regression. I wonder if I feel a need to affect the world on behalf of my child, to make a mark, if only a small one."
"I feel something like that. It is rewarding to know that nearly every day I am able to give aid, great or small, to someone in need. I can look at Rosalind in her cradle and tell myself that the parish is just that little bit improved because I did my duty, because I practiced the virtues I shall preach to her. That sounds terribly pompous and self-serving, I know, and probably I would not say it aloud but to you and Edward, but that is what I feel."
"You are well placed to make a difference. The best way I can is to find a way to fit in to my society."
Some might have wished that whatever had tempered Marianne's impatience had also given her tact; might actually have preferred that younger Marianne who would immerse herself in a novel or a thunderous concerto rather than criticize those whose reading or playing could not thrill her. Her offense, however, was merely the natural result of a perfectionist and candid nature, and her criticism was never offered except in response to invitation. Its having become generally known that Mrs. Brandon was a fine musician and reader, a habit developed for others to say, "Mrs. Brandon must judge my performance." She did not hesitate to oblige, for really most of them were very dull indeed. Brandon saw the danger in this practice and was trying to decide how to avert it, when Elinor intervened, giving him further reason to rejoice that she lived so near.
"Marianne, surely you must realize that people do not really want criticism."
"Then they should not ask for it."
"They ask to compliment you, to be polite. It would be polite for you to refrain from judging them."
"It would also be dishonest. If they ask me when they do not mean it, they are fawning, which behavior as you know disgusts me. I do not mind that they suffer for it."
Nevertheless she gave the matter serious thought and made an effort to be less frank, and was amused to realize that most had already learned not to ask. Now she offered advice only to those still in the schoolroom and those who might be seeking a husband or wife; though they might not enjoy being told that a performance was not a consummate delight, they did concede that these were skills worth perfecting, and Marianne was not above appreciating their improvement even though their motivation might be less exalted than her own.
With the colder weather of mid-November the visitors descended. Sir John and Mrs. Jennings were hearty and vulgar and welcome, Lady Middleton was formal and aloof and ignored as much as possible, and the Middleton children were insupportable, to the point that Marianne accused her husband of turning himself into a sportsman so that he could avoid their hullabaloo by spending his days in the fields. But she too adopted that ruse once the Careys arrived, for Mrs. Carey enjoyed shooting as well as her husband, and Marianne felt justified in accompanying the party for one morning at least--though her aim was such that the family would have gone hungry if she were ever assigned to bring in the dinner. Once the Middletons had departed, the Brandons passed a pleasant visit with the Careys, who were full of the wedding of their youngest daughter, Anne, to Mr. Charles Trevor.
"I hope she will be as happy a bride as I am," Marianne said warmly, and had her arm been curled through her husband's at that moment she might have felt the joyous leap of his heart.
On the heels of the Careys' departure arrived John and Fanny Dashwood for a visit of one week, in a spanking new barouche with numerous brass excrescences and velvet curtains and upholstery. They were as appalling as usual, placing a value upon everything they saw, from the paintings in the library that were worth, they assured their owner, every bit of two or three thousand pounds, to the medieval tapestry that surely would bring five hundred if it were sold, to the vase in the entry hall that must have set the Brandons back no less than a hundred guineas, and even to the bronze sundial in the garden, acquired in Italy by Brandon's grandfather on his grand tour, which after long consultation between them was valued at fifteen or twenty pounds if it was worth a shilling. They were stymied only by the precious black-figured Attic amphora, the treasure of the house, over two thousand years old and acquired by the same roving grandfather in a wager on the outcome of a footrace in Athens. They stood before it in awe--not of its exquisite craftsmanship, but of its incalculable value. Marianne was painfully conscious on her husband's behalf of the fact that he had once, of acute necessity, walked through his home with just such a cold, evaluating eye; but he did not seem at all perturbed, and calmly corrected their appraisals upward as if he shared their sensibilities and engaged in such pecuniary conversation every day. From almost the moment they entered the house they speculated about how well this bust or that carpet would look at Norland, and Marianne, feeling wicked, took especial care to show them the mahogany table and chairs in her pretty sitting room, following her husband's example and listening without objection to all that was evil about its size and placement relative to the dimensions and other furnishings of the room. On the whole she bore them well, taking long walks every morning to escape them for an hour and stifling giggles into her pillow every night as Christopher reported the inanities with which John had favored him over their port.
But when John pronounced, "Well, you have certainly done well for yourself, sister Marianne," she felt her indignation slipping from her control. Had she been a hound her hackles would have risen. She would not allow anyone, not even those she had otherwise learned to laugh at, suggest in the presence of her husband that she had married him for any material consideration. But her avaricious brother meant it, she knew, as a compliment to both of them, and so a simple retort was out of the question; he would not comprehend his offense.
What she said was this: "I should really like for both of you to meet my husband's cousin Wilfrid and his wife. You have a great deal in common. We must have you all to visit one day soon."
Her husband, innocently sipping his tea, found it necessary to swallow very quickly to avoid an awful indignity. Much later, having lost count of how many times he had had to suppress a sudden burst of recollective laughter, he said to her, "I have married a madwoman."
She knew exactly to what he was referring. "It would be vastly entertaining, do you not think? They will either love each other on first meeting and occupy themselves in examining your account books, or they will hate each other and depart at once. Either way we shall have done our duty and yet be spared them all."
"I had no idea you were so devious."
"I have learned to be. Let me tell you my strategy for coping with callers. I adopt the method of a prosecutor and ask leading questions, such as 'And how are all your children?'--the more children the better--or 'What did you like best about the concert?' They then must do the talking, you see. I am required to say very little unless I choose to, and they go away believing that I am infinitely interested in all the opinions and activities of my neighbors. Of course the next time I meet them I am expected to recall at least something of our most recent conversation, and I have not quite mastered that as yet--"
He had been standing next to the bed, winding his watch. Now he turned down the lamp, removed his dressing gown, and slipped beneath the bedclothes beside her. "Devious and clever and considerate--for I know you are making this effort for me. I am so proud of your achievements, my Marianne--"
"Are you?" She found that it meant a great deal to have earned his praise.
"Of course I am. It cannot be easy for a woman to fit herself into her husband's life, especially when that life is already well established and in many ways cannot be adapted to her preferences. I worried that you might not be comfortable here. But look how quickly you have made yourself a place, designed a role--"
"I have been able to do it because of the freedom you give me. Though you are a soldier you are not an authoritarian. I could not be married to a man who ordered me about, but I do hope I never take advantage of your sweet nature-- Mmm--" He had begun to kiss her.
"My 'sweet' nature?" he murmured.
"Yes--'One of a sweet nature, comely presence, courteous carriage.'1 I read that somewhere in The Worthies of England, and thought of you."
"Of me?" His shyly delighted smile quite melted her. "You know not what you risk, my lady, letting such sentiment fall from your lips." She had never before offered him a quotation under such intimate circumstances. Her gesture made him bold. "'What heart of man is proof against thy sweet seducing charms?' 'Sweet scent, or lovely form, or both combined.'"2
Her own smile turned impish. "'When a rake he is comely, and sweet in his bed.'"3
What heady delirium to engage in such wordplay with her! "'O 'tis most sweet, when in one line two crafts directly meet'--"4
"Christopher! You are a rake--"
Their guests would probably have been scandalized had they known at what small hour of the morning the lamp was finally extinguished.
[Yes, a couple of these are obscure, but they were too good to pass up. You'll just have to forgive me. *g*]
1 Thomas Fuller, The History of the Worthies of England, 1662, II. 140, describing Christopher Potter, D.D., of Westmoreland. The coincidence of the first name is, of course, why Marianne remembered the line. :) Dr. Potter was also, we are told, of "devout life, and deep learning." Fuller, incidentally, was rector of Broadminster in Dorset.
2 William Cowper, The Task, 1784, II. 482; Cowper, "Hope," 1781, 290.
3 Laing, Selected Ancient Popular Poems of Scotland (before 1800) (1822) xxiii, Introd. [This is the citation in the OED online; I don't have access to this myself.]
4 William Shakespeare, Hamlet, 1604, III.iv.209, Qo. 2.
Continued in Part 4
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