A Death at Delaford
My dear Mrs. Ferrars,
I write to you in a kind of desperation, and I trust that when you have read my explanation you will forgive an appeal that might by some be considered ungenerous, perhaps even ill-advised. I have just within the hour left my brother very desolate in his spirits, a mood that I believe is more frequent with him than he wishes me to see, but that he conceals with less success as the days advance. I cannot write this to Marianne; to her I send reassurances. Though she asks for the truth, I cannot tell her that the relentless strain is written in his face, that his shoulders are bowed beneath the despair that he yet struggles to keep at bay. He was confident of resolution long before now, as were we all; and he knows better than any of us that the chance of locating the guilty man decreases with every hour. I do not write, however, to heap upon you my own worries, but to plead with you to urge Marianne, without alarming her, to press her case with him--her desire to see him. He will not send for her, though he wants nothing more than to see her; but he should send for her, for she would steady and cheer him. Perhaps it is unwise to actively encourage her to defy her husband's wishes when she has never done so before--though when has she ever had cause to disagree with him, so similar are their interests and habits?--but he is my brother and I fear for him, not for his life at present but for his reason. He always demands more of himself than he demands, or accepts, of others, not understanding that those who love him want nothing more than to be allowed to help him.-- You must do what you think best with respect to your sister's state of mind, but it is my hope that you can persuade her to do as I believe she wishes to do, to disregard Christopher's selfless concerns and travel to Dorchester, if but for a day (for I know she will be reluctant to leave her child). I remember what it is, you see, for a devoted husband and wife to be torn apart--the feeling of helplessness, of constant uneasiness, the continual expectation of devastating news--and Christopher and Marianne were not permitted even a moment to confer about his situation before he was taken away. I truly believe that he would benefit from the merest sight of her, whether he himself realizes it or not. For my brother's sake, I do hope you will consider my request.
Yours in gratitude and affection,
"He is my brother as well, and has for much longer been my friend," said Elinor to Edward when he had read to the end of Sarah's letter. "But how I am to impress upon Marianne the necessity of visiting him without causing her anxiety, I do not know."
"As the colonel's plight is rather frequently discussed between you," Edward replied, "an opportunity will no doubt present itself. You will find a way."
An opportunity presented itself very quickly indeed, for as they exited the parsonage gate they saw Marianne, Mrs. Dashwood, and Margaret walking down the lane, also on their way to church. "I have had a letter from Sarah this morning," Marianne informed her sister and brother. "She reports that Christopher is as well as can be expected, though of course weary of confinement and uncertainty. Oh, how I wish I could see him!"
"And why should you not?" Elinor hastened to inquire, before opportunity should slip away. "Surely he would benefit from your coming, in the lifting of his spirits and the pleasant passage of several hours, even if you should return in the same day."
"I believe he would, but he does not want me to venture within the prison walls, and I do not wish to cause him any greater apprehension than he suffers already on his own account and Sarah's."
"Could you not meet in the keeper's quarters, away from the cells and the yards?"
"My dear, you are very clever," said Edward. "Marianne, you must suggest it to the colonel, and if he does not at once agree I shall harass him into sense when next I visit him."
Marianne was pressing their hands with thanks, while they tried not to give any hint by a glance or a significant smile of their earlier consultation, when Mrs. Dashwood, a little ahead of them and able to see around the curve of the lane toward the church, called over her shoulder that "she hoped Edward was in good voice today."
Curiosity quickened the others' pace, but Marianne's step was slowed by the return of the foreboding with which she had awakened and which had been only thrust aside, not vanquished, by the receipt of Sarah's letter.
"Look at all the people!" Margaret cried--and indeed they crowded by the dozen around the church doors and milled in the yard and flowed out into the lane amidst a tangle of creaking carriages and snorting horses, a greater segment of the parish than had ever come to church since they had had any acquaintance with the village--"probably since before the Reformation!" Margaret exclaimed delightedly.
"They must have been arriving since long before the bells were rung," Edward said, hurrying ahead to see that his curate had brought in all the extra chairs from the vestry and store-room.
"Dear God," Marianne whispered, for she knew full well that most of them--those who were not on such intimate terms with the great house that they could properly have paid a call without a sound reason of business (which they had no doubt tried but failed to invent)--had come to look at her, perhaps in the hope of seeing her swoon under the trial of facing the entire village. Determining at once not to afford them that satisfaction, she lifted her chin and thrust her shoulders back, and walked on.
"Those must be correspondents," Margaret said, pointing to two young men standing a little apart from the throng; "--they have ink on their hands just like that man who talked to Mr. Marchbanks. I should think it very entertaining to observe people and write about them and be paid for it."
Elinor often despaired that Margaret, though now nearly seventeen years of age, yet showed very little less inclination to be inquisitive and indiscreet than she had three years previously, when she had set the equally inquisitive and indiscreet Mrs. Jennings upon the scent of a young man whose name began with an F. She gave it as her opinion that Margaret would be wiser to become a novelist, "for then she could observe and write about people without exposing the foibles of her neighbors to the world."
"But a correspondent can write equally well about his neighbors' virtues, cannot he?" her sister rejoined with an air of wounded dignity. "The colonel's innocence and integrity, for example, or Marianne's bravery and forbearance. You need not think me always gossiping, Elinor."
Realizing that she had done her sister something of an injustice, that Margaret in her naivete yet believed that indiscretion could be well-meaning, Elinor bent her efforts to an apology that was at the same time not devoid of a little counsel; and by the time they had reached the fringes of the crowd they were friends again.
The multitude fell silent as Marianne approached and made her way among them to the gates of the churchyard, no one daring to speak to her as they performed their courtesies, no one turning their eyes away; somehow she managed to smile at every body and at the same time watch her feet so she should not trip on the uneven flags of the walk and be said to have collapsed. When she had passed through the doors, she heard the buzz of conversation resume behind her, and the shuffle of dozens of pairs of shoes and boots on the stone floor as the crowd now flooded into the church and battled for seats; but she stared resolutely forward as she walked down the aisle and stepped into the family pew, drawing strength from Edward's encouraging smile before her and the consoling presence of her mother and sisters at her either side.
The enthusiasm displayed during the opening portions of the service was not very remarkable, but when Edward had finished thanking the choir and band and drawn breath to begin his sermon, pulses beat faster and breathing quickened in anticipation. His first comment, however, expressing his happiness that they were so eager to hear his thoughts on the latest game laws, caused some consternation in those who had allowed their expectation of a very different topic to entice them into an edifice with which they were in general very little acquainted. He restored himself to their favor soon enough, however, by stating that he really did intend to address that issue of most immediate concern to all the village. Among most of his listeners his opinion and assurances counted for something, and when he asserted that Colonel Brandon was a gentleman of irreproachable behavior and unbreakable word, there were many murmurs of agreement, albeit a few rather grudging from those who usually held varying opinions from Brandon's on one divisive issue or another. Even Mr. Potter and Mr. Oakley, who had recently felt his disdain for their obstinacy, in their new friendship could vigorously bob their heads. "And so it should be of some relief and comfort to you," Edward said, "that he has given me his word that he is not guilty of this crime." It may have been that most of the congregation were relieved and comforted, but Elinor, looking about, could see that some were in fact disappointed, preferring excitement to reassurance. Edward went on to explain some of the measures that were being taken, and to express his faith in Constable Parker and Mr. Haydock, the latter of whom was present and stood (without being asked) to receive the gratitude of his neighbors. Edward next pointed out, very gently--as he was hardly a disinterested party, and also from a danger of its being conjectured that Marianne had asked him to intervene--that while curiosity about a neighbor's affairs was quite natural and even justified, it could also be a torment to those who were the objects of it. He then closed with a quietly powerful sermon on courage and neighborly succor in a time of adversity; and lastly he was obliged, as the congregation compressed themselves back through the doors with an even louder buzz of discussion, to offer apology for bringing to tears the very person he had hoped to sustain with his public support and care.
"Oh Edward," said Marianne, dabbing at her eyes, "do not ask my pardon for such benevolence; I am very moved, that is all, and thankful that you are my brother. Let me but sit here a moment and compose myself, and perhaps some of them will have gone by the time I come out."
Her hope was in vain. When the family party at last emerged, they found the churchyard even more closely packed with onlookers, a gauntlet of them all the way to the gate. They were no longer silent, however; provoked into solicitude by Edward's sermon, they overwhelmed Marianne with offers of food and servants, and lodging should she have so many guests she could not accommodate them all; of advice; of the names of competent lawyers (Mr. Haydock, overhearing this, turned the color of the violets that topped Mrs. Holcombe's hat); of prayers; with promises of letters to the papers and the magistrates; and above all such generous sympathy that, though she knew that most wanted simply to stare at her for as long as they could, she felt rather more kindly disposed toward them than she had upon her arrival.
She did not feel so charitable, however, that she could see Mr. Wilverton with aplomb. He stood next his carriage with his wife and three of his daughters, about to step in; but upon their gazes meeting he hesitated, and then turned a little as if to start toward her. "I cannot encounter him now," she declared. "I have felt so wounded by his actions that I do not know what I might say to him."
"You cannot cut him in the churchyard!" protested Mrs. Dashwood.
"And why not, when he has so willingly persecuted my husband?"
"Wait--he is coming forward, and Susan with him--"
Marianne was thus forced to halt, for she would not cut Susan, and she suspected that Susan had attached herself to her father's arm with that very awareness in mind. But when they had come up to her, upon the completion of curtsies and bows all around it became quickly obvious that none of them had any idea what they should say.
It was Susan who at last broke the heavy silence. "I am sorry, Mrs. Brandon, that I have not called. I have had nothing to offer but horrified commiseration, and I did not know whether you felt that I had the right to offer it."
Marianne gave her a warm smile, glad to be shown that Susan's opinion of the matter did not match her father's. "I should have been very glad to see you, Miss Wilverton, but I understood that if your sympathies did lie with my husband and myself, you were doubtless in an awkward position within your own family." She was ignoring Mr. Wilverton very pointedly, but her attention was suddenly drawn to him by the inescapable attack of Mrs. Holcombe.
"Robert Wilverton, I have not seen a letter bearing your signature in any of the papers. I am aware that you were in the arresting party, but as I am certain you cannot approve of Lord Melgrove's indefensible treatment of Colonel Brandon, who is your friend and fellow magistrate, I cannot think that any impropriety would attend your writing in support, at the very least, of his being granted bail."
"Indefensible," murmured Mrs. Laraby, barely visible behind the violets. "Bail."
As by the end of this harangue a significant portion of the remaining parishioners had gathered about them, the entire party were now suffering a certain degree of embarrassment. Elinor was at first inclined to feel for Susan especially, but on that young lady's countenance she espied an odd little smile, almost of satisfaction, as if she shared Mrs. Holcombe's sentiments and had expressed them to her father, but had not been heeded. Mrs. Holcombe, however, would always be heeded, and Mr. Wilverton was obliged to think of some kind of answer.
"I point out, Mrs. Holcombe, that the papers have not the space to print every letter they receive--but it is true that I have not written one. Not--yet," he added slowly, and both Marianne and his daughter looked at him with amazement. "I have given the matter a great deal of thought since that very unpleasant day. Colonel Brandon is, as you say, my colleague and my friend, and I was so greatly astounded and dismayed to learn of such an unsavory incident in his recent past that I was incapable of accepting his protestations of innocence. But after some significant exertion within my own conscience I have come to accept that some gentlemen do still hold to what I consider to be rather barbaric notions of honor, and that they are no less gentlemen for doing so. I said that day to Lord Melgrove that I would vouch for the colonel's word, and this morning, through Mr. Ferrars--whose own word and judgment I trust implicitly--I have been given his word again, at a moment when I can hear it, that he is innocent of this crime." He looked directly at Marianne. "I have no reason to believe, Mrs. Brandon, that my opinion will carry more weight than any other, but for what it may be worth, Lord Melgrove and the newspapers will hear from me on the morrow."
Upon the conclusion of his speech, Susan was so brimming with filial regard that she promptly kissed his cheek, and Marianne pressed his hand in a warm renewal of friendship and respect--while Elinor privately thought that if Mr. Wilverton took as much notice of village activity and feeling as her sister Margaret, who did not even reside there, instead of focusing his attentions always on London and the nation, he would have been apprised of Edward's judgment and assurance long before now.
"May I write a letter to the newspaper, Mama?" Margaret asked.
Before Mrs. Dashwood could reply, Mrs. Holcombe interjected, "If you do, my dear, you will be thought very forward--as I am."
"Forward," whispered Mrs. Laraby.
"But I am forward--Elinor tells me so almost every day."
"Obviously that is not often enough," her sister said in a tone both wry and affectionate, and Margaret smiled very proudly.
"If your Mama permits you to write, Miss Dashwood, come to see me for advice with the wording. You must be forceful and to the point, you know, without being so vituperative as to make the readers think you a radical and thus pay no attention to you."
"Yes, ma'am, I shall come," Margaret said, clearly considering the matter well settled. "Thank you, Mrs. Holcombe!"
"And at the same time I shall loose another epistle of my own at Lord Melgrove, who has not yet responded to my first--"
While Edward's urging of compassionate reserve as well as the passage of time did cause the number of callers to slacken noticeably, the succeeding days brought Marianne an alternate irritation to take the place of the first: she was now overwhelmed with correspondence, the newspaper accounts of the case making her family objects of fervent interest to relations and friends from whom they had received no news or inquiry for months or even years. Letters were forwarded to her mother from Barton, and she herself spent hours at her desk every day, sometimes with Joy dozing in her lap; she often read passages aloud to her mother and sisters when they kept her company while they worked, or even jumped up and sought them in the still-room or garden if she came across a really repugnant phrase.
That they "simply could not believe it" was the universal refrain, and their state of being shocked and appalled was always beyond their power of description; but as most lived some distance away and were not daily beset with fear and failure, they could, after sending sympathy and confidence of a speedy resolution, be full of plans for Bath or Brighton, and close with "we will surely see you in town when all this unpleasantness is but a memory." She received a note from Robert and Lucy Ferrars, who rarely wrote even to Elinor and Edward unless each wanted to complain about the other, or both wanted to complain about Mrs. Ferrars and congratulate Edward for having the good fortune to be not very often in his mother's orbit. They did not even bother being shocked and appalled, though they did profess to be confident; in truth they could not have been more satisfied with the colonel's difficulty, for their connection to the Brandons had made them valuable additions to a dinner party, even to a few great tables to which they had never before been invited.
John and Fanny Dashwood were shocked and appalled by the scandal to the family and the consequent risk to their own social prospects and those of their young Harry, more than by the insult to their brother-in-law. "We have been questioned pretty thoroughly," John wrote, "and have of course assured every body that the colonel is not the sort of man--(etc., etc.) We trust we have your assurances on that point,--(etc., etc.) Should such a situation arise again we do hope you will warn us before we read about it in the papers with the rest of the country,--(etc., etc.)" Marianne resolved not to expend her entire store of teacup missiles before their next visit.
Brandon's cousin Fanny was shocked and appalled, but brusquely confident that justice would soon prevail, and much more interested in recounting her family's recent journey to the wilds of Scotland for the purpose of trying to empty the highland streams of all their fish. His cousin Wilfrid was, in addition to being shocked and appalled, proud that he was a new grandfather, and already dreaming of a match between Wilfrid the Third and Joy. Marianne resolved to locate a law of consanguinity that would prohibit such an union.
Even Mrs. Jennings, though Marianne had no doubt that her being shocked and appalled was quite genuinely felt, was too eager to let her know the opinions of every body in Barton and half of Exeter besides for her to believe that the good woman was entirely uninterested in the incident as a subject for the gossip to which she was so cheerfully devoted. And so great was Sir John's indignation owing to Lord Melgrove's not having responded to his letter that he could not conceive of any other outcome than his friend's well-deserved triumph, and so had no need of being shocked or appalled at all.
Of all her correspondents, only two were sincerely dismayed and alarmed to the exclusion of all other emotion or concern. "I do not yet know what to feel regarding Mr. Willoughby's death," Eliza wrote. "It leaves so many things unresolved--and perhaps, as you say of yourself, I shall never decide what to feel. But I feel a pure, clear horror to know that my cousin Brandon has been accused of his murder. Though of course I did not witness their encounter I did see my cousin just before and after it; I saw his grim purpose, his determination to do what he believed was right even at the risk of his life. Only a coward could commit the act you describe, and my guardian is as far from being a coward as it is possible for a man to be. I beg you to be a regular correspondent, Mrs. Brandon, and keep me informed of what develops. In the meanwhile I shall write to my cousin at once, as you ask, in the hope that a word or two from me, and a scribble from John Brandon, might divert him a little--"
And on Wednesday she at last received a brief communication from Jonah Masters. "My dear Mrs. Brandon-- I have just this moment received yours of the 9th inst., having been away on army business. I have also now seen the newspapers, and am very anxious indeed. Of course I shall come. Mrs. Masters sends warm thanks for your concern, but she is very well and insists I depart at once. You may expect me on the heels of this letter. Your good friend, Jonah Masters."
The sergeant arrived a little before noon on the following day, surrounded by his usual air of good cheer, only a little dimmed by the circumstance that had brought him, and the fatigue of a long and swift journey. He told Mrs. Dashwood that "she grew lovelier every time he set eyes upon her," and chided Margaret for "breaking Robbie's heart when you both were here last--the poor boy can't contend with two French lads! He has sworn off women until the next assembly." Marianne expended several minutes in expressing her gratitude for his coming, until he grew very self-conscious and red in the face, and begged her to desist. "He would come for me, were I the one in a predicament."
"Of course he would, but you must allow us to be grateful nonetheless. And I say 'us,' because I wrote to him yesterday of your plan and have already had a reply from him this morning, in which he echoes my own sentiments." She had hoped that her husband would take the opportunity to suggest that she accompany Masters to Dorchester, but she was disappointed; clearly he would require a broader hint than that, or even an open suggestion after all. "I am so glad to hear that Mrs. Masters is well enough that you may leave her for a short while." The sergeant's wife was no longer in the first bloom of youth, being about thirty, and had suffered a miscarriage with her first child earlier in the year.
"She does very well, madam. You'll recall that the doctor never did like her color before, and that she continued to bleed. But this time she is as robust as ever she was, and the doctor is very pleased."
Marianne found Masters a comfortable man, who more than compensated for his lack of elegance and occasional vulgarity with a limitless capacity for friendship of the truest kind. She had ordered tea in the drawing room, and when Polly had departed, the sergeant continued with that directness Marianne always admired. "And now, tell me how does the colonel."
With a sigh she replied, "He claims he is well, but I do not believe him, for I am guilty of some equivocation to him regarding my own spirits--though you must of course never tell him so!--and there is too much reassurance in his and Sarah's letters for me to entirely trust them."
"May I ask what has been done--or would you rather I talk to Mr. Ferrars or to the lawyer?"
"No, I am well informed, and long past feeling faint at the very mention of prisons or trials." She gave him some understanding of the facts of the case, including a few pertinent details regarding her association with Willoughby, some of which, to her brief confusion, he seemed already to know. The irony was not lost on her that while every body else tried to shield her feelings and her reputation, she herself was often, willingly if not eagerly, revealing details of a past attachment and humiliation that most women would prefer to keep to themselves. She was pleased and proud to be able to apprise him, to be thus actively helpful, to be calm when talking of such awful possibilities. "Mr. Haydock is not at this moment optimistic about his ability to disprove a charge of murder, since the button has not yet been explained away, and so he places his hopes on persuading the jury to convict on the lesser charge of manslaughter. But thus far my husband refuses to allow it, because he will not admit to the slightest degree of guilt."
Masters's genial face wore a troubled frown. "To be frank, Mrs. Brandon, it don't seem to me that there's much hope of a manslaughter conviction, given that there was a previous meeting between them."
"But it is years in the past."
"Are you aware, ma'am, that the challenge weren't completely carried out?"
"Yes--my husband told me once that Mr. Willoughby--behaved in a cowardly manner and that he could not murder him."
"Aye, he could not, and I never saw a man hold himself' under tighter rein."
"You were his second!" Marianne exclaimed softly. "I have always wondered. Christopher never revealed it, and I never asked."
"I had that honor, ma'am. And if I hadn't checked Mr. Willoughby's pistol with the care I did, things might have gone forward and it really would have been over and done three years ago. The colonel might not have killed the blackguard in the end, but it would have been his choice--not taken out of his hands."
"What do you mean--'had you not checked his pistol'?"
Masters looked puzzled, and a little apprehensive. "But--you yourself spoke of his cowardly behavior."
"Christopher said that he begged for mercy--I know nothing more."
"Then--you did not refer to the rifled barrel?"
"What is a rifled barrel?"
"Oh lord, Mrs. Brandon--I thought you knew all! I am sorry to have blabbed something the colonel thought would distress you--for he'd have told you otherwise."
"You must explain it now, you know."
"But--to a lady--"
"Sergeant, I have spent a great deal of time in recent days discussing matters that ladies are not believed to be capable of discussing but actually do with little hesitation when it is necessary. Besides, your delicacy is completely feigned, and is simply a ruse in order to avoid telling me."
"That it is, ma'am," the sergeant conceded ruefully. "Well, if you insist, then--" He paused, but Marianne did not relent. Here was apparently vital information of which she was ignorant, and her questioning gaze was so intent that Masters almost could not meet it. "I'm no gunsmith, but I understand this much, that when there are grooves inside a pistol barrel as there are inside a rifle barrel--thus the term, you see--the pistol is more powerful and accurate than those with plain barrels. Rifled barrels are forbidden by the Code, and it is the duty of the seconds to examine the pistols for signs of this or any other violation. Mr. Willoughby tried to use such a pistol, and I discovered him in the attempt. It was being caught and the thought of losing his evil advantage that made him so fearful he couldn't lift a weapon. You see how a jury might be persuaded that the colonel has been angry all this while that he wasn't able to dispatch his opponent then; that he was cheated of the satisfaction he sought three years ago. If they believe that he attacked Mr. Willoughby for coming too near to you--you'll forgive me, ma'am--they'll call that murder, for though it might be a crime of passion and unpremeditated, its origin goes back a long way, and anything smelling of revenge is going to bring a conviction."
Marianne had never taken her eyes from his face. "I see," she said now, though no sound emerged from her lips. "I see. --Well then," (trying to bolster her courage with a smile) "--I suppose Joy and I must simply learn to like Australia, if we are to spend seven or fourteen years there. I have consulted with Mr. Haydock about my situation. I am free to sell my equity property, so there is no pecuniary obstacle to my making the journey with Joy and a nurse and a companion--though I fully expect my husband to object mightily--" She noted then that Masters looked stricken. "What is it, Sergeant?"
Had the particulars of the duel been the most awful information he had had to convey, Masters would have been grateful. "They don't as a rule transport murderers, Mrs. Brandon. They hang them."
At the certainty in his tone, Marianne's heart gave a sickening lurch. "But--he is a gentleman!"
"Rank won't protect him. Remember Earl Milcomb."
"But-- Of course I knew it was a possible penalty, but I assumed Christopher would be safe from it-- Mr. Haydock allowed me to assume it-- I see that I was not as well informed as I believed. Mr. Haydock is always afflicted with extreme sensitivity when talking with a lady."
"That is usually a very praiseworthy trait."
"Perhaps, but I shall have something to say to him when I am recovered enough to be angry." Her voice was weak, her vision not quite clear; she knew her knees would buckle if she tried to stand. "A petition, then, to the home secretary for mercy. All his friends and neighbors would sign it--his tenants, his general and brother officers--"
"His lawyer would certainly attempt it, but the secretary and the judge--the same judge who passed sentence, mind--would have to believe the conviction unjust. That doesn't happen often. And he could get no better than a conditional pardon, the condition being transportation for life--or worse, confinement to a hulk, and the colonel would choose the gallows before he'd want to be shut up in such a filthy, godforsaken place. At best it's a very uncertain hope, Mrs. Brandon."
"But it is a hope," Marianne cried, "and I shall cling to it. I must cling to it." Her lips quivered in an unsuccessful attempt at a smile. "Joy and I might see a kangaroo yet." The exertion of a few deep breaths steadied her a little so that she could think. "You are saying, then, that the only way to be absolutely certain of saving his life is to prove him innocent."
"And to do that the real killer must be found."
"Yes, ma'am--and I swear I'll do everything in my power to find him."
My dearest Christopher,
I send this by Sergeant Masters, who arrived at midday today and will be with you by the same time tomorrow. Please forgive the unsteadiness of my hand--I can hardly read what I have just written--but I have only just learned from the sergeant some information which neither you nor Mr. Haydock thought necessary to share with me. I speak of the rifled barrel, and the added motive it will give you in the minds of a jury. Mr. Haydock is too fastidious, but I know that you wanted only to protect me; all the same I wish you had not withheld such a crucial, a decisive, detail. I now truly understand the danger you face, and why it is so vital that you approve Mr. Haydock's strategy, which has thus far been so unpalatable to you. I am sure you have heard this justification from Mr. Haydock until you are heartily disgusted by it, but consider that a jury might be inclined to forgive you, to convict on the lesser charge if they are asked to do so. You need not tell me that you have done nothing for which you need beg forgiveness, but others do not know and trust you as I do and will not be so easily convinced. Christopher, it is the difference between a brief term of imprisonment with a fine--and the gallows. Sergeant Masters is very grieved that he has upset me, but I have told him he should not feel so. Do not you feel it either, for he has only freed me from a misconception, and you know that I value candor and honesty above all things. I now understand that your assured safety lies only in the apprehension of the guilty party, and though Mr. Parker is very determined, he has so far met with no success. Of course we are yet blessed with a considerable length of time, and Mr. Parker may yet save us; or perhaps it will be Sgt. Masters, who has pledged to do his all on your behalf, as the loyal friend he is. When they must return to their homes and other duties, there will then be the thief-takers--but I beg you to allow Mr. Haydock to proceed with his alternate plan. He must prepare arguments and locate witnesses, such as Willoughby's second, and to do this he requires every possible moment and also your authorization of the further expense. And of course he must be given your word that you will not undermine his efforts in the courtroom. As for me, I care only that you are freed--I care not by what means, or argument, or admission, if such a last resort is all that is left you six months hence. Please, my husband, consider the feelings of all whom you love. Think of your wife, so early perhaps a widow. Think of your darling Joy, so soon deprived of her dear father, and never knowing him. I desire more than anything that you should be exonerated, but to me it is more important, more necessary, that you be freed. If you are concerned about the opinion of your neighbors, we can remove to another part of the country, or even go abroad. Oh Christopher, I know that you will not thank me for this plea, that I risk causing you more misery than you already suffer, but I must try to impress upon you how I miss you, how I fear for you! So many avenues are open to you; I beg you do not deliberately travel that one from which there is no returning-- I cannot write more, I cannot see the paper-- In anguish, your faithful and devoted Marianne.
"How can she ask this of me?" Brandon stared at Marianne's letter as if it were composed in a language unknown to him. "I thought her better acquainted with my character. How can she say she does not understand?" So deeply distressed was he by her plea and by the misery that had prompted it, but at the same time so very astonished to receive it, that his exclamation had burst forth before he could think to suppress it. He quickly read the letter again, as if in the hope that the words had miraculously altered, and then held it up toward Masters in disbelief. "She begs me to yield to Haydock's wishes, to allow a false and malicious accusation to stand unchallenged-- You do not seem surprised."
Masters had watched his companion's demeanor change in only moments, from so great a delight upon being presented with a letter from Marianne that he could hardly greet his good friend or express thanks for his coming, to confusion and dismay upon absorbing its contents; watched him spring up from his chair to pace about as he read, clutching the paper in hands that trembled with strong emotion. "Mrs. Brandon informed me of what she had written, and begged me to add my urgings to hers. I am very sorry that I frightened her so."
"You have merely hastened the inevitable: Haydock would have reported her inquiries to me, and should himself have explained matters to her more completely. But how she gained her fuller comprehension scarcely concerns me. That she is unable or unwilling to understand my position in this matter--I did not expect that from Marianne. From my lawyer, from my friends, even from Sarah--but not from my wife." It wounded him greatly to be the slightest disappointed in his confidence, to receive such a blow when he had come to depend always upon her favor.
"And who should question your resistance more than your wife? Mrs. Brandon loves you and does not want to be made a widow." A strange expression appeared briefly on Brandon's face, but Masters could wonder at it for only an instant before his host replied.
"There is the possibility that the grand jury will not return an indictment at all, or that the trial jury will ignore the judge's directions and acquit. In either case I would be free without having sacrificed truth and principle."
Masters appeared very dubious. "Mights and might nots are all a great gamble, and you have never been a gaming man. Why don't you allow Haydock to proceed, in case it should happen that you lose your wager?"
"So you, too, would ask me to disregard principle, to disregard honor?" Brandon's tone was very sharp. "How can you, when you have seen the lengths to which I will go to defend it?--when you have even supported me--?"
"I did support you, and so you are well aware that I value honor as much as you. My opinion should then have the greater influence. But it seems I'm more particular than you about how and why I give up my life. Confound it, Brandon, why must you be so stubborn?"
"Because I must think of my wife, and especially of my daughter, who depends upon me for her name, her status, her reputation--"
"A manslaughter conviction wouldn't leave much of a stain--it's no different from one man killing another in a boxing match or a carriage accident."
"Among those from whose friendship and society I should want Joy to benefit, it would. Wilverton, for one, though we have sat together on the bench and dined at each other's tables for years, was not rational about the matter for days after I was charged, though he had heard my oath and all my arguments in his own study. What then would strangers believe? They would point and say, 'There is Joy Brandon--the daughter of a murderer.' And I must consider Sarah and Claude and their children as well."
"The family of Earl Milcomb weren't much affected, from what I've ever heard."
"I am not an earl, nor am I more than modestly wealthy. In the eyes of some, Joy's marriage portion would be insufficient to erase any stain at all. Moreover, if I am freed there will be more children, and should I not succeed in increasing my income, less money will be available for the establishment of each in an apprenticeship or profession."
"But if you're convicted of murder the stain will be all the greater. Wouldn't you rather suffer the lesser conviction and so remain alive and with your family?"
"In hiding, as Marianne suggests? In some isolated hamlet with no society to speak of, or in exile across an ocean?"
"But alive--to win back your reputation, and to prove your innocence. While there is life, there's hope, you know."
Something like a smile flickered across Brandon's face. "You should have remained a law clerk instead of enlisting, Jonah--you would be Lord Chancellor by now."
"You cannot imagine how unspeakably dull I found it to sit at a desk all the day long, or carry papers to and fro. I must say, Brandon, my association with you has ever been anything but dull!"
Brandon glanced at the letter in his hand. "I know a lady who once held a differing view. I thank Providence daily that she revised her evaluation." There was no actual fault attached to Marianne's feeling something other than what her husband had expected, and that husband was quite foolish to behave otherwise. At last he joined Masters at the table. "I seem to remember that we have had this debate once before."
"We have at that, sir--I don't wonder I am weary of it. Will you taste the arrack, or have I lugged it all the way from St. Ives for naught?"
In addition to Marianne's disconcerting communication, Masters had brought the unqualified blessing of two bottles of the coconut liquor he acquired regularly by the case from friends still stationed in India. Brandon took a long draught, savoring the sweet fire. "You regarded very seriously your duty as my second to try to dissuade me from my purpose. I did not like to contemplate the possibility of leaving Eliza alone in the world, especially with an infant to care for--though I had made generous provision for them, it would have been no substitute for an attentive guardian--but I could not leave Willoughby unpunished. It was a point of honor--not imagined honor, not a matter of name-calling or dirtying a man's boots or some such nonsense, but a real, a devastating injury. The injury done to all my family were I to yield now would be almost as great."
Masters scowled into his glass. "You should have killed him then. They never would have convicted you."
"Under those circumstances they would. Willoughby's second would have accused me of murder."
"He'd have found no one to support his story," Masters replied staunchly. "I say if the blackguard had a weapon in his hand, it was a duel."
"The jury would have regarded it otherwise, and I would not have allowed you to perjure yourself."
"Then I wish to Heaven above I had let him cheat! You'd have dispatched him and the matter would have been over and done."
"But in that event I might not now be a proud and happy husband and father," Brandon said softly. If the duel had ended differently, he would have been guilty of hurting Marianne in the full knowledge of what he did. "Many choices risk evil as well as good; and the greater the risk, the more difficult the choice." He set his glass down hard on the table, and when he continued his tone was bitter. "It is Willoughby's effect on us all. If I had never challenged him--"
"You did what you believed was right, and only after sober consideration."
"But if I had not challenged him then, I would not have an obvious motive for murdering him now."
"And doubtless any man but you would have realized at that time that somebody would shoot the knave not a mile from his house three years later."
Brandon's mouth quirked wryly. "I grant you your point." He reached for the arrack bottle and refilled his glass. "It is good of you to come, Masters, though I cannot think what you will accomplish by your trouble."
"If I can bring you to reason, I'll count my trouble well spent."
Brandon's answering expression gave him no hope, and when the colonel directed the conversation toward a consideration of their respective duties, Masters did not resist. They talked for a while of the campaign in Egypt and the peace negotiations with Bonaparte, and the condition of the soldiers whose training Masters supervised. "You are a treasure to your regiment, Sergeant. Colonel Richmond thanks me for recommending you every time he writes."
"You were good to take an interest in my future when I couldn't tolerate that infernal heat any longer. As to your own future, sir, I wonder--can you be pardoned for the king's service if you be already in the king's service?" Masters meant to jest, but Brandon's capacity for anything but gloom had clearly been exhausted. In a more serious tone, he continued, "It's early yet. We'll find him. It's been but ten days."
Brandon was momentarily nonplussed. "Only that? It feels--rather longer." He emptied the arrack bottle into their two glasses. "Constable Parker is near to giving it up, you know. He has inquired at every hut that calls itself an alehouse or inn between here and Poole, showing a sketch taken from the body. He has found no one who has a certain memory of seeing even Willoughby, let alone any companions."
Masters made a noise of frustration in his throat. "He might have stayed with friends, then."
"Parker cannot inquire at every house in the county, nor could an army of thief-takers. But anyone whose hospitality Willoughby would enjoy ought surely to see the papers. I cannot fathom how there can be no trace of his movements!"
"Still there is time," Masters insisted, though his usually cheerful countenance was grim. He finished the last of his arrack and stood. "I'll get myself a room and come back to dine with you."
"Sarah and Claude will join us. In fact, if you stay at the Royal George you can commiserate with them every evening."
"The coach pulled up there--it's far too rich for me. I'll find a tavern close by--"
"Jonah--I wish you would allow me to install you at the George."
Masters lifted his eyebrows, considered a moment, and then gave a nod. "All right, sir, and I thank you. It don't happen often that a sergeant has quarters finer than a colonel's! But if my Anna tells me I've acquired fancy airs, I shall set the blame squarely upon you!" Chuckling to himself, he started away, but stopped and turned in the doorway of the cell. "Colonel, let me say that I do understand your feelings--as well as any man can who hasn't faced the same trouble--but I also understand what Anna would feel were she in Mrs. Brandon's place. A principle is all well and good, but you must be certain that in sticking to it you don't do a greater evil." He came to attention briefly, and then departed, the sound of his boot heels echoing against the stone.
Brandon sat quietly for a time, sipping from his glass with a pensive air. Then he removed to his desk, but when he had arranged the paper and taken pen in hand, he did not know what he should write. Reading Marianne's letter again, he felt only wretched for having caused her greater grief. At last he dipped the pen, and began.
"My love-- Please believe that I never meant to cause you pain by withholding information from you. Indeed I was not aware that your misapprehension had carried you so far as to think of accompanying your husband to Botany Bay, else I should have relieved you of it myself--though the shock of disillusionment is always very great, no matter when or from whom it comes. Never would I want you to suspect that I think you anything but strong and brave, but you were striving so hard in your letters to appear bright and unworried, in an effort to shield me from any additional misery, that I could not take away from you any dream of an outcome more bearable than that which is thus far most likely. But your letter strikes at my heart, your fear leaps off the page, and I so very much regret being the cause, if only indirectly, of your greater misery."
She need not be uneasy with regard to her own future. Though she might be deprived of his physical protection she would always enjoy Edward's and Claude's; and she would be entirely safe from financial distress, for as soon as he was able he had purchased for her a small estate worth about five hundred pounds a year. Though he had hoped to acquire a larger property at a later date, such an income would support Marianne comfortably enough after Delaford had passed to Joy and her future husband, or to his nephew Christophe should Joy, though he could hardly think of it, not survive childhood. He had no reason to believe that with such a mother Joy would not develop into a loving and dutiful daughter, but a son-in-law, even if respectful and kind, might well be an incompetent estate manager, and he wanted Marianne dependent on no one's fortune but his own.
He was glad he had not delayed making these arrangements, that he was spared by his foresight and planning any similar worry on her behalf--though he had not expected to leave her alone quite so soon as this. Once he would not have minded the cutting short of his life--but no longer. Now it was agony to think that he might never see his home again, never see Marianne again except in this cold cell or from the court-room dock, might never hold his Joy again--for he did not dare allow an infant within these walls--might never give her brother or sister-- It was thoughts such as these, he knew, that also tormented Marianne, rather than considerations of a more pragmatic nature--for though she was not the heedless, immature girl she had been, she was yet more inclined than he to act without full examination of possible consequences. She was very sincerely attached to him--though not more than that: Masters was mistaken when he asserted that she loved him, but his heart had nonetheless leapt to hear the words, to know that an intimate friend had witnessed feelings of sufficient strength to make him believe that she did. She did not love him, else she would have told him, perhaps on the first anniversary of their marriage--for him a celebration of the first year in his life of total happiness since he was a small boy--when she had been especially generous with proofs of her affection and he had thought, wondered, hoped all the day and night that she would. He had hoped that day to be able at last to read to her the sort of poem he had put away years before and only in recent months dared to read again, poems that spoke of intertwined souls, of joined hearts, of love wholly reciprocal. Thus far he had been careful to share with her only those poems that spoke of the poet's love, careful not to imply that the object of his own felt, or should feel, something more for him than she had declared. Her regard for him had certainly increased, to the extent that there were moments--as while reading together, when a sentiment might cause her to regard him steadily for the space of two or three beats of his heart, or take his hand and press it to her lips--that he was certain, he was almost certain, that she did love him--loved him, at least, as someone more necessary to her life than the dear friend she had married. He had been content to wait, to be patient, to bask in her ever-growing devotion and tenderness, intensifying with shared experience just as his love had deepened; but now it was perhaps too late for her feelings to ripen further, this crisis having stolen the time as well as the energy for such self-examination. On their anniversary she had said to him that she grew happier by the day, happier than she had thought possible. It was a declaration he had rejoiced to hear; but it was not "I love you," and now he might go to his grave without ever hearing those longed-for words from her lips. Willoughby had cheated him of this satisfaction as well.
But Willoughby could not cheat him of the elation he had known with Marianne in their brief time together. She was his life and his world, she was friend and lover, in a continually strengthening union of which for so long he had not presumed even to dream. He missed long hours of conversation with her, walking and riding with her, the feel of her body pressed against his. He missed her companionship most during the quiet nights when he woke alone and often confused, so strange were his surroundings--when he could not kiss her shoulder before trying to fall asleep again, or brush his fingertips over her hair, or hear her breathing or feel the mattress shift as she stirred, or seek solace in her sleepy but passionate embrace.
Verses came to his mind, from collections of ancient Sanskrit poetry he had discovered while in India. Having lost Eliza, he had thought never to apply them to his own experience, but they spoke to him now as never before:
My love rests in my mind
as if melted therein
or reflected or painted or sculpted
or set therein as a jewel or mortised with cement or engraved;
as if nailed thereto by Love's five arrows
or as if tightly sewn into the very threads
of its continuum of thought.1
Perfumed, O wind, with the rich scent of pollen
dripping from jasmine branches dentate with opening buds,
embrace my love
whose eye half flirts, whose body bends; and then,
touch me on every limb.2
Though separated by a hundred lands,
by rivers, woods, and hills,
and knowing that for all he strives
he cannot see his love;
the traveller stands on tiptoe,
stretching, and with tear-filled eyes
still gazes, lost in thought,
in her direction.3
He was startled from his reverie by angry shouts, yelps of pain, and the slamming of an iron door--Padgett confining a troublesome prisoner to his cell for the remainder of the day. Wrenched away from a green and lovely place and flung back within these bleak gray walls, he was briefly disoriented, dazed. He set to work cleaning the nib of his pen where the ink had dried to a crust. Such melancholy ruminations were the curse of too many idle hours; he must stop tormenting himself, must cease undermining his own will.
"Allow me to assure you that I do not love honor more than life--not more than life with you, my Marianne--but should I forsake my honor, your life and Joy's would be bitter and hard. You say you would not mind it, but you do not truly comprehend. You would be talked about and pointed at, pitied and shunned--not by every body and not everywhere, but you could never know when to expect it, and that expectation would fester between us and destroy the life we have made together. I do know that you value candor and honesty above all things, and I love and admire you for it. How then can you not value honor?--for an inextricable component of honor is truth. Even to save my life I cannot say I have done something I have not. Masters tells me that I should live to prove my innocence--but that will be all the more difficult if I have already confessed.
"I cannot do better than to remind you of a song you well know, for you sing it often, and it is played at all the reviews. It is 'The Girl I Left Behind Me,' and I particularly draw your attention to its last verse--
"The hope of final victory
Within my bosom burning
Is mingling with sweet thoughts of thee
And of my fond returning.
But should I ne'er return again
Still with thy love I'll bind me
Dishonor's breath shall never stain
The name I leave behind me.4
"My beloved Marianne, I do despair of our being ever wholly of one mind on this issue, when even Masters does not entirely share my view; but I grieve to think of our opinions as being wholly opposed, and I should be a desolate, piteous creature indeed should you ever actually think ill of me. If you could but come a little nearer to my way of thinking, I should be so much easier in my mind. You know that I do not act, or speak, or think, but I first consider you and Joy. Know also that even as I hold to this position I pray that I shall be delivered safely unto home and family, for it is all I desire, all I dream of. You will ask how then can I contemplate parting from you, in a way intentionally, of my own free will; and in response I can only beg you reflect on Lovelace to Lucasta: 'I could not love thee, dear, so much, Lov'd I not Honor more.'5
"In heartfelt apology and plea, your loving Christopher."
1Bhavabhuti, in Sanskrit Poetry from Vidyakara's "Treasury", ed. and tr. Daniel H. H. Ingalls, Harvard University Press, 1965, rpt. 2000, pp. 183.
2Bhavabhuti, in Ingalls, p. 181.
3Sri Harsa, in Ingalls, p. 182.
4Hear the music and see the complete lyrics at Lesley Nelson's Folk Music Site: The Girl I Left Behind Me.
5Richard Lovelace, "To Lucasta, Going to the Wars," 1649. For the full text click here.
Hats off! rose the shout as the condemned man appeared on the roof of the entrance lodge of the gaol. From some of the thousands of observers it was a cry of respect, and of something approaching empathy; from those who knew him it was a voicing of their angry awareness that they would soon witness a most grievous miscarriage of justice; but from most it was nothing more than a demand that their view be unobstructed, as if they attended a stage performance. The gallows was black and clean-lined against a bright morning sky, easily visible to the watching crowd below; they cheered when the hangman mounted the platform to adjust the rope. In family parties, in groups of vulgar women or half-drunken laborers, in gangs of boys, they had walked and ridden and driven from as far as twenty miles away, having perhaps ignored the exhortations of clergymen or fathers or husbands or masters and all now aquiver with eager excitement. Some had waited in their chosen places the whole of the night before, on walls, in trees, in the beds of wagons and carts; others had paid for a foot or so of rooftop or window. Many had worn their best clothing, and had brought food and drink and a few extra coins with which to buy roasted chestnuts or perhaps a copy of the condemned man's "last dying speech," hawked with zest by enterprising printers. In contrast, little interest was shown in the broadside distributed by his friends, a last proclamation of his innocence after all their letters and petitions had failed. A hanging was rare in the country, especially of a murderer, and the hanging of a gentleman rarer still; to doubt his guilt would rob the proceedings of any pleasure. "And besides," said some, "he is a rich man. If he an't guilty of this, he be guilty of something else."
As the condemned man set foot upon the steps of the scaffold a sudden hush descended over the gaping multitude, but it was very soon replaced by catcalls and hisses. He was pale but calm, his dread, if he felt it, his private concern, not for the sight and comment of others. Very deliberate were his movements, with particular care given to the placing of his feet, for his hands being bound before him he would not easily be able to catch himself should he trip. He bore his own rope wrapped about his waist, and carried the noose in his hands; when he had been cut down the hangman would sell bits of it for a shilling or more a piece. Dressed in a fine black suit and shiny black pumps, the white of his shirt and stockings gleaming, he made a noble figure, though he looked older and was certainly thinner than he had been only a few weeks before. The keeper and chaplain and turnkeys walked very near him, ready to brace him if he should faint; but his unwavering composure made them look foolish in their hovering. As proudly as if on a review stand, he stepped to his place under the beam, feet squarely upon the drop.
The hangman took the noose from the condemned man's steady hand, and then began to unwind the rope from about his waist. He asked whether the hood would be wanted, to which the man replied that it would, though not until the very last; and he also requested the hangman fix the noose very tightly with the knot beneath the left ear, in the hope that the breath would be choked from him a little more swiftly. To this the hangman agreed, and, being well acquainted with his victim, he also promised to allow a longer drop than usual, and to jump down and pull on the man's legs should his agonies not have ceased within five minutes. This exchange was heard by those in the front of the crowd and relayed at once to their neighbors, so that in minutes all the assemblage knew what had been said on both sides. Some applauded the condemned man's self-possession; others insisted that a murderer, whether or not a gentleman, deserved no such merciful consideration.
The words came also to the ears of that person who watched most intently, not with any modicum of pleasure but in the most acute and immediate horror, herself composed only because she had summoned every scrap of her will into a determination not to falter while her husband lived. He had not wanted her to be present, but in the face of her abject pleading had been unable to deny her this last sight of him.
He was asked if he would like to address the crowd, and he nodded and lifted his voice. He wished, he said, only that he could look out upon his neighbors and assert his innocence directly to them, and hoped that those of his friends he could see in the crowd would convey his message to all the rest whom he would be very sorry to leave.
His gaze then sought that of his wife, who stood alone to one side, trembling but upright, weeping but not hysterical, eyes locked upon him as if to engrave these final moments upon her memory. He did not speak to her, all they had wanted to say to one another having been said the night before, when she had been permitted to visit him in the tiny windowless cell for the condemned, and he, though she had felt the shivers of fear run through him when he clutched her to his breast, yet had been more comfort to her than she to him, even as the crowd outside cheered the erection of the gallows. In her hand, damp with perspiration from her palm, was the letter he had given to her, extracting her solemn promise not to read it until she was alone. He did not speak to her now, only gazed at her in a warm and loving silence until the hangman asked him if he had anything further to say. He answered that he did not, and so the hood was placed on his head and drawn down over his face; and with the covering of his eyes she felt that the bond that had stretched between them had been cruelly severed. She cried out his name, though she knew it was his wish that she be spared the awful sight of his distorted features. Dizzy and faint with hopeless misery at the thought of what was to come, nevertheless she would not turn away, though the tears streamed from her eyes so that she could hardly see, and she could draw so little breath that the noose seemed tight about her own neck; would not turn away even as the hangman pulled on the lever and the trap slid back and all around her rose the shrieks and cheers of the crowd--
Marianne woke with sobs tearing her throat, sick with nightmare that would not at once release her. Heart pounding and ears roaring, she flung back the curtains to let in the moonlight and fumbled to light a candle. Unsteady on her feet, she went into her dressing room and splashed water on her face, shivering with the cold shock and all the while seeing the hooded figure convulsing at the end of the rope, hearing the hurrahs of the mob at every spasm. Still her lips moved in prayer, not for his life but for his quick death. When the body was motionless, she saw the ignorant and superstitious approach to press the lifeless hands against a wart or a cancer in the belief of a cure, the hands whose touch she knew so well; later saw people file past his body where it was displayed in the town hall, laying foul hands upon him, snipping locks of his hair, the hair that her hands had so frequently caressed; heard the bawling of ghoulish execution ballads from street-corners.
She dried her face but her cheeks were at once wet again with tears. She could not stop herself imagining the accounts of the trial and execution, with their lurid illustrations of the crime, of the innocent rider in the turnpike shot from the concealment of the hedge by a villain in gentleman's clothing, and of course the death grip of the victim on the great coat and button; or the broadsides with sober homilies for the edification of children and servants, demonstrating that even a gentleman could not escape justice.
"Justice!" she cried aloud into the empty room, slipping back into bed and burying her face in the pillow, and feeling very much alone as she waited for the daylight--for she knew that further sleep, with its risk of such attendant horror, was impossible.
She had not slept well since Christopher's arrest, but neither had she once awakened in such a panic. She knew what had been its origin: his staunch refusal to bend terrified her, and having read and answered his letter during the evening, it had weighed heavily on her mind when she had gone to bed.
"Of course I know that you did not intend to hurt me," she had written. "I never believed such a thing, and in any case your withholding information wounds me far less than the position you have taken. All the poems and songs you may recite will not divert me from the fact that you would rather die than fight for your good name in any way you can. I simply cannot believe that the degree of ostracism, if we suffered any at all, would be very severe; but even if I am wrong I do not care. I do not care. I would rather have you still with us; I would rather have you than all the society in the world. And I reject absolutely your gloomy prediction that the expectation of ostracism would poison and erode our affection, for I believe our union is stronger than that. We are stronger. Christopher, I beg you to reconsider. You will tire of hearing it, but I shall not stop saying it. I can tell you how to be easier in your mind: only agree with me. --Oh, how petulant I sound, when I read what I have written! Could you hear my voice you would know that I am not--you would see how hard I am trying to understand. And you need not write as if a woman had no notion of honor--I assure you we do, though it might differ from a man's--but I could come closer to sympathy, if never outright agreement, if you would but allow a tete-a-tete. No matter how lengthy our letters or how finely reasoned, they are not equivalent to a conversation. May I not come to see you? A kiss, an embrace, the mere sight of you would ease my mind."
She had little hope that he would relent so soon, but she had determined to ask him directly, and ask again and again, if only to demonstrate to him how badly she missed him, how great was her need to see him, talk with him, hold him. He would have received her reply before he retired, but she prayed it had not prompted such dreams as her own.
Christopher's letter had not been the only blow she had received the day before. She had also been paid a visit by Mr. Haydock, who was so disconcerted by her forcing him to admit that he had not quite honored his promise to keep his client's wife informed, that he atoned for his sin of omission by disillusioning her still further: a conditional pardon, he told her, was really very unlikely, its refusal almost a certainty, the assize judge being unalterably opposed to duelling and consequently to any misbehavior that could be said to have arisen from it. "You see, Mrs. Brandon," in a very conciliatory tone, "why I could not bring myself to be entirely straightforward with you." She was obliged to respect his motivation if not its result, especially when she reflected that even her husband had not yet told her as much as this. And to complete the happiness of the day, she had received a letter from Mrs. Jennings, who, though continuing sincerely indignant and sympathetic, was also day by day surrendering what restraint she had ever exercised upon the natural propensities of her imagination. "It is such a pity," she had written, "that little Joy will never know her dear father if he is hung--"
At that moment she needed very much to see her child, no matter that it was not yet four o'clock, and she donned her dressing gown and slippers and went down the quiet hallway to the nursery. Nurse Tarville was snoring softly in her adjacent closet, but her sleep was habitually very light and in fact she soon appeared in the doorway in her gown and nightcap, awakened by the moving glow of Marianne's candle. Assured that all was well, and unable in the poor light to distinguish her mistress's puffy eyes and blotched cheeks, she bobbed her head and went back to her bed. As Marianne looked down at her sleeping daughter, contemplating the small reflection of her own eyes and Christopher's mouth, and the nose that as yet refused to announce its provenance, her tears began to flow all over again. How could she one day explain to Joy the unexplainable--that a good and innocent man could be executed for a crime he had not committed? It might happen, she knew. He might be taken from her forever in just that horrible, humiliating way. Nothing had come of the several letters to Lord Melgrove, for which the correspondents readily blamed Mr. Humphries, who would, they were persuaded, make certain his lordship did not soften even if he were so inclined. Nor had the many letters to the papers generated significant relevant response, the space allotted to a discussion of Brandon's case very soon, upon the printing of Mrs. Holcombe's tart offensive, being given over to a tangential debate upon the evils of female interest in political and legal matters. Margaret's letter, so carefully composed and refined through many drafts, to her great disappointment had never been printed. But as awful, as ghastly as it would be, his suffering would end, while she must live on without him.
He had looked so striking on their wedding day, dashing and almost handsome in his uniform. Oddly, on that occasion she had been subdued and he exuberant, throwing the coins with abandon while she sat pensive, suffused with a quiet joy and tolerant affection for every body within her sight. When contemplating whether to marry him she had found it easy to imagine a life with him, and, finding what she imagined pleasing, had made her decision. Her imagination, however, had fallen far short of the truth; her life with him was richer and more satisfying than she had ever conceived it could be, her delighted infatuation with the novelty and intimacy of marriage having grown into a more mature and settled contentment. Seeing him enter a room she occupied was a pleasure; conversing with him was by turns amusing or informative or thought-provoking, but always stimulating. They did not meet as often in a day as in the early months of their marriage, yet she was all the more aware of him, of both his presence and his absence. Since Joy's birth she could no longer accompany him when he journeyed to Exeter or Dorchester on business, or to the sessions or assizes, and when he was away she missed him more completely than she had before, if not perhaps as acutely--yet a sharp, localized pain is sometimes more easily endured than a dull but pervasive ache. Now it was impossible to imagine a life without him, so constant and cherished and indispensable a presence he had become, interwoven in the fabric of her days. It was impossible to imagine being deprived of the one person with whom she could share the minutiae of her life in which not even her mother and sisters would be interested, the one person who would listen to her play or read for hours on end, with whom she could discover new books and music, or ride beneath a gray sky, or wade in a stream on a hot summer's day, or walk out on a frosty morn-- From even the conjecture of a future so lonely, she shrank in anguish.
They had shared so many experiences during their marriage--birthdays, tours, a somewhat sentimental anniversary. They had suffered together the least charming members of each other's families--for instance when Wilfrid and two of his sons had paid a visit to Delaford on their way to Plymouth, for the purpose, Marianne declared suspiciously, of judging whether there were any hope of Joy's being a sickly child; or when John and Fanny, with the added enchantment of their spoilt son, Harry, had stopped for a week on their way to bathe at Weymouth, and Marianne was reduced to wishing the cold sea would turn them so blue that they could never again set foot outside their own house. Through happy and trying events her husband was calm, competent, and understanding, soothing her disgust and pique without once criticizing her for feeling them, never demanding that she be other than what she was.
The most profound experience they had shared had been, of course, Joy's dramatic and, looking backward now from a relatively safe distance, rather humorous entrance into the world. She could not bear to think of her child raised fatherless, never knowing the good, dear man who doted on her so, or of all the deeply satisfying moments he himself might be denied. Even now Joy was trying to pull herself up by means of a chair leg or a low table; would he miss her first unassisted step? her first intelligible word? the first time she said "Mama" or "Papa"? How long would this waking nightmare extend? When would it be resolved, and with what outcome? If it were that most feared by all those who loved him, she would witness their daughter's milestones alone. Until Joy reached the age of reason she herself might be unconscious of her loss, but in later years when she painted a picture or wrote a poem, learned to ride a horse or to roll a hoop all the way across the lawn, no father would praise her achievements. No father would lead her in a dance at her first ball, or protect her from too-ardent admirers. No father would give her into marriage--nor brother either, for she would never know the tribulations and delights of siblings. Marianne remembered the pangs of grief that had visited her at her own wedding, that her father had not lived to witness it or take his part, to be glad and relieved in her choice of husband. But her father, at least, had died of common illness, at home in his bed surrounded by his loving family, not brutally before thousands of strangers, an object of scorn or obscene fascination. On every occasion when a father should be present, Joy would be agonizingly reminded of why hers was not.
It struck Marianne suddenly that this direction of thought assumed that she would never marry again. But if widowed so very young, why should she not? Indeed she would be widely expected to seek the protection of another husband, and being in possession of her own little estate she would not lack for suitors. Yet the thought repulsed her--and not simply because her husband was yet alive. It was not only a betrayal of him to think of it, it was also a betrayal of herself, for where could she find another man who united all her colonel's noble qualities? Her mother did not discount the possibility of marrying again should a sufficiently worthy gentleman offer for her hand, but she declared that her happy union had made her very unreasonable in what she would expect from a prospective second husband. "And he must understand, you know," she often said, "that I still miss your papa every day." Her mother's grief for her husband, Marianne recalled, had contained a wrenching, tortured quality that hers for her father had lacked; her mother's sobs had been of a more heartbreaking timbre even than her own--for though she had lost her father she had been left whole. She had no doubt that should she lose Christopher now, she would miss him as unceasingly all the remaining days of her life; that should he be torn away from her, a piece of her heart would be torn away with him--that part of herself she had slowly, by perhaps immeasurable increments, given to him over the course of the past two years and a half. And she had given it. He had not taken, or demanded, or even asked for it. He had asked for nothing but her affection, but could it be--and she caught her breath even to skirt the edge of the notion--could it be that she had given him, without conscious thought, something more?
She found that all her muscles were tense, that her hands gripped the edge of Joy's crib so tightly her knuckles were white. To lose Christopher now would alter her heart and mind forever--just as they had been altered when she had lost Willoughby.
There could be but one explanation. It had happened at last. "I love him," she said--in a whisper, but aloud, as if testing the sound of the words and the feeling behind them. "I love him," she said, and knew that it was true.
Suddenly dizzy, she reached behind her for her nursing chair and sat down upon it with a jar that forced a small sound past her lips--a moan, a sigh, perhaps a laugh, or all three blended. She felt she should ponder this realization--but she pondered no more than a moment. "One simply knows," she had told Margaret upon her sister's asking how one could know that one was in love. And she did know. She was staggered by new and unexpected discovery, by a revelation as abrupt and significant as that which had set her on the path to marriage. She got up, paced about, and sat down again, dabbing with her handkerchief at her eyes and nose. She examined her feelings, and complimented herself that she did it coolly and rationally. She must be certain she was not guilty this time of the same artificial heightening of emotion that had plunged her into a passion for Willoughby so all-consuming that she almost had not recovered from it, must be certain that the present terrifying circumstances had not caused her to mistake one emotion for another. But she knew. She knew that this time every feeling was wholly genuine, for this time she listened to her heart rather than commanding what it should feel. She remembered Elinor's speaking so calmly about perhaps coming to love another should Edward be taken from her--her confident assumption that she would not be destroyed by grief as her sister had almost been. That sister was no longer in like danger; should she be forever separated from Christopher she would be for a time overwhelmed, certainly, but not destroyed. She would recover, changed but still useful, a reaction exactly opposite to that she had suffered upon being separated from Willoughby. Greater maturity and experience had allowed her to understand that a feeling was no less love for her being able to survive its loss; was perhaps more truly love for giving her a particular kind of confidence and strength, for being supportive rather than debilitating.
"Oh Christopher, I do love you," she said, though her chest and throat were constricted and aching and she hardly made a sound, such was the whirl of her thoughts, the storm of her emotions, exhilaration and despair mingled in equal measure in her breast. Might she lose not only a husband, but the man she loved?
--The man who was yet ignorant of her new awareness! How strange that he did not know, when she seemed to have always felt it. She must tell him at once! She had come to stand by Joy's crib again, and her tears fell onto the fuzzy head. "Someday, my love, perhaps I shall tell you how you helped me to know myself." She kissed the tip of the tiny ear and then hurried downstairs through the awakening house, her dressing gown billowing behind her, the servants looking askance in her direction but saying nothing, having grown somewhat accustomed to displays of unchecked emotion in recent days. She sat down at her desk, in her haste nearly tipping over the chair and spilling the ink. "My dearest, most wonderful husband-- There is something I simply must tell you at once--it is very urgent that I see you--please may I--" No, she must not give him opportunity to refuse her. She put the page aside and began again. "My dearest, most wonderful husband-- As there is something I simply must tell you at once, something too important to commit to paper, I am coming to see you this very morning--" Surely he could not refuse her admittance if she were already outside the gate! But if he would not allow her within the privacy of his cell, she would give voice to what was in her heart any way she could, would shout her love up toward his window, heedless of stares and titters, until he was at once so mortified by her abandon and so impatient to take her in his arms and shower her with ecstatic kisses, that he could not but submit. She laughed through tears of joy to picture the scene--
And then her hand slowed, and stilled, and she sat motionless for some minutes, her brow furrowed in thought. At last she laid down the quill, blotted the pages, and folded them and put them away--for he would like to see the beginnings of such a letter even though she might now have no occasion to complete and send it. Her jaw and shoulders set with determination, her movements deliberate, she pushed away from the desk and started up the stairs. Within a few minutes she was knocking on her mother's door.
Elinor was very startled indeed to see Marianne hurrying toward her along the garden path, where she was weeding the herbs while at the same time trying to keep Rosalind from abandoning her blanket and all her toys for the irresistible enticement of eating dirt.
"Elinor," her sister called out even before she had approached very near, "I have come to tell you that I shall be out for several hours, perhaps all the day. Margaret will accompany me and Mama will look out for Joy, but I wanted you to know that I was not at the house. The carriage will stop for me at any moment."
"Where are you going?" --but before Marianne could answer she came near enough that Elinor could see the red rims and dark circles about her eyes, and the handkerchief clutched in her hand. "Marianne, what is wrong? Has something happened to Colonel Brandon?" She had heard such terrible tales of what went on inside a prison-- "Edward has just departed for Dorchester--"
"Yes, I knew he was going today." And then, to Elinor's astonishment, Marianne beamed at her, a smile both girlish and discerning. "No, nothing has happened to Christopher."
"But-- I beg your pardon, I know that I am prying, but--it is very obvious that you have been weeping--"
"Yes, yes I have--it is--I am never a delicate weeper. But I do not weep because anything is wrong--anything new, I mean, anything that was not wrong yesterday. No, these tears are from a happy cause. To me it is a happy cause, and I believe it will be for my husband as well."
"Marianne, will you stop talking in riddles? --Rosalind, put that down--"
Marianne knelt to brush a mouthful of England from her niece's grubby hand and captured her in an affectionate embrace, from which Rosalind immediately attempted to extricate herself. "Did you know," said her aunt into her ear as if imparting a secret, and Rosalind quieted, intrigued by the tone of her voice, "that your cousin Joy is a very wise little girl, though she cannot yet walk or talk?"
"Marianne, in a moment I shall begin to doubt your faculties--"
"You might doubt them in any case. And you will probably laugh at me."
"I endeavor always to laugh at you only when you will not see me. Please will you release me from suspense!"
"Well then--I have this morning realized something. I have realized that I am in love with my husband. There--am I not the most foolish woman on earth, to be so long about falling in love with such a man? --I said that you would laugh."
"I have made no sound at all--can I not smile because my sister is happy? I did wonder when you would--or when you would put the proper name to your feelings for him--I was not certain which of my speculations applied."
"I am not certain either, now that you have posed the question," Marianne replied after some consideration. "I always believed I would one day love him--I would not have married him without that belief--but I expected it to come as a jolt, as it did with Willoughby. I fell in an instant for Willoughby, or at least in the course of the first day of our being acquainted. So dramatic were the circumstances of our meeting, and of course I adored a fantasy, an ideal that he seemed to embody, that to a certain extent he made himself embody. How could I not have loved him? But with Christopher it has been a slow evolution of feeling, and the jolt a result of the realization rather than the cause. Why it has taken so long, I do not know. Perhaps if we had not married so soon after our betrothal-- Possibly it is more difficult to recognize falling in love after marrying, because the shared anticipation of lovers has been replaced by the independent daily routines of husband and wife; or because there are fewer periods of separation, even as long as the hours of the night, to heighten passion or pining. Or perhaps, on the contrary, it is being always together with him, the continuous passing of the days in his company, that has made me love him. I do believe my love might have quickened when Joy was born, and therefore might not have done so without her, for I did feel then, even an hour after her birth, that her very existence had joined us together as we had not been joined before. But however it has happened, or why, or when, I do love him, as much as I ever loved Willoughby--more so--in a different way--" Tears filled her eyes again, to which she applied a handkerchief that was already damp. "But poor Elinor--I have made you ill with my unbridled romantic babblings!"
Though she knew her sister teased her, Elinor nonetheless pressed her hand in affectionate protest. "They are hardly babblings, and I shall recover soon enough from hearing them. But ill or not, I am very happy for you, and for your husband. Must I perform a somersault to prove it to you?"
Marianne burst into laughter, whereupon Rosalind squealed in delighted echo and clapped her hands. "Your daughter and I should both like to witness such a feat! My dear sister, someday I shall learn to decipher your moods. --Oh heaven, it is wonderful to laugh!--even if my heart is light but briefly."
"I cannot but think that your present troubles have had some influence upon your feelings."
"Oh, without a doubt! Absent this danger, how much longer might I have been? I do seem at times to require being hit upon the head to see what is in front of me."
"What a pity your husband did not know what method he should employ in order to enlighten you! Have you informed him of your realization?"
"Not as yet. I did begin a letter, but then I knew I must tell him, and show him."
"You are going to Dorchester, then." Elinor was very glad to think of Sarah's enjoying a little relief with regard to her brother's state of mind.
"No--that is, I do not go there this morning--but I will go tomorrow, for I will not be kept from him any longer. Just now, however, there is another errand to which I give priority from the expectation of its yielding something of more practical value. Are you not proud of me, that I can be practical even while in the intoxicating throes of new rapture?" Her eyes danced with delight at her own hyperbole.
"Very proud indeed," Elinor said drily. "What then is your errand?"
The crunch of carriage wheels was heard in the lane, followed by Margaret's footsteps on the path and her voice calling out her sister's name. Marianne deposited Rosalind in her mother's arms and started away to meet her. "I go this moment to Allenham, to consult with Mrs. Smith."
Continued in Part 4