A Death at Delaford
During the early part of their journey, Marianne and Margaret had set a fine pace, though a rising wind buffeted the carriage and a sullen sky promised a storm before morning. Only let me reach Dorchester, Marianne thought, and the whole county may be flooded before I will mind it. She put her trust in George, and lost herself in weary reflection.
By the time she had emerged from the house the astonishing news had already reached Margaret, for which Marianne was grateful, as it allowed her to escape the immediate reporting of what had occurred. She could not, however, escape her sister's excited narration of how she had been informed. "You were within for such a long time that I had got out to walk about and pet the horses and talk to George and Ned and Ezra--that is the postilion, and he has worked in almost every county in England!--when a carriage was brought out from the stables. I asked George to find out from the coachman whose it was, for knowing that Mrs. Smith never stirs from home I could not imagine who in this house would possess a carriage so fine. And the coachman said that Mr. Willoughby had ordered it! How he did laugh at the looks on our faces! I craned my neck to see within when the door was opened to let you out, but I did not espy him. Is it true, Marianne, that Willoughby is alive? Did you see him?"
"Yes, he is alive. I saw him, and talked with him."
"What did he look like? What did he say? What did you say? I was trembling with the thought of what must be occurring within! Is it true that he has been back for two days? How I wish you had let me come! I could have told him how I loathe him--even if I am glad for Colonel Brandon's sake that he is not dead, for the colonel will now be freed, will not he? I heard Ned ask George if he thought you would shoot Willoughby! If I had my workbag I could prick him with a very large needle-- Marianne, what is the matter?"--for tears were coursing down her sister's cheeks.
"Margaret, please do not ask me for explanations just now. I am exhausted--and--and bewildered--"
She felt battered by one extreme emotion after another. Relief and joy were mingled with anger and sorrow, as were the love of one man and the hatred of another, so that there was very little difference in degree between her agitation now and that she had felt at the commencement of this long ordeal. But at last she could convince herself that her meeting with Willoughby had not existed only in her imagination, as the product of her urgent need to help her husband, and she was able to give Margaret as full a report, of what had been said on all sides and what she herself had thought and observed and surmised, as she could have wished.
"How much of this will you tell Colonel Brandon?" her sister asked, considerably calmer now herself, though still wishing very much for her needles.
"I do not know. He is entitled to be told what portion of his sufferings have been due to Willoughby's deliberate inaction. At the same time, however, I want only that this horrible situation should end. But when Christopher is made aware how grievously Willoughby has wronged him again--"
Gone was Margaret's earlier romantic excitement; she was all gravity now. "Would he challenge him a second time, do you think?"
"Oh, I do not know! The risk would be tremendous-- But were I in his place, I believe I should certainly be inclined to retaliate in some manner or other--"
Further upsetting speculation was prevented by the sudden deceleration of the carriage. When they did not at once resume their former speed, Marianne opened the panel and asked George why he had slowed.
"We've come upon a prodigious lot of traffic, ma'am, all bunched together," was his reply. "Something brewing up ahead--though maybe it's only a fair has closed down for the night, for it'll be dark soon. I've sent Ned to see."
"Am I not to reach Dorchester tonight after all?" Marianne cried. "To be delayed now, when I am on my way to him--!" All she asked for in the world was to throw her arms about her husband and pour out her love to him; to be denied a wish so profoundly simple and generous would be intolerable. "Oh, why must there be a fair just here today?"
But it was not a fair, as they learned when Ned returned out of the twilight half an hour later with the report that a crowd was gathering in the village of Pimmerton just ahead, to protest the hoarding of grain by some local farmers with the intention of sending it to London where it would fetch a higher price. "It an't right for folk to go hungry when we've finally had a good harvest, they say." Ned delivered his information through the window Marianne had opened, easily keeping pace with the crawling carriage. "They're talking of breaking into the store-house, and some want to see the farmers swing--"
"Ned!" George barked.
"Beg your pardon, ma'am--but that's what they're saying. Only some, though."
"How far to the crossroads?" George asked. "Maybe we can go around."
"About a mile, but they're t'other side of the village--we'll never get through. There's another way, though, a fellow told me, if we can take the turning by the mill."
"With your leave, ma'am, we'll do that. Hop up, Ned!"
Marianne had no choice but to rely upon the judgment of her coachman, and summoned what little patience she could as they crept along, ever more slowly due to the other travellers around them following the same plan as their own and creating a lengthening congestion, the side-road being narrow and rutted and generally inadequate to such heavy use. George grumbled continually about the danger of a complete halt should two carriages become ensnarled and block the way, and Marianne envied the horsemen who could ride along the verge or even over the fields; had they been within five miles of Dorchester she would happily have completed the distance on her own two feet, if necessary disdaining the roads entirely.
George's dire prognostications were proven accurate; in a very little while they found themselves at a standstill. The ladies heard shouted conversation among George, Ned, and the postilion, and the carriage shook as Ned climbed down. Marianne was about to open the window again, despite the dust stirred up by feet and hooves and wheels and blown about by the wind, when George raised the panel. "That's torn it. There are three chaises all blundered together up ahead--horses plunging about, grooms and postilions hanging on for dear life. We're stuck here for a while, ma'am."
"Can we not turn around?"
"No, ma'am--we're hemmed in. Several gentlemen have sent their servants back along the road to warn folk to cut away earlier, so maybe we won't have too many more crowding up behind us. When the stream of folk heading for the village thins a bit, the rest of us ought to be able to back out one by one."
But the stream of angry humanity did not thin; rather it swelled and surged, dozens growing into hundreds, so that many carriages, including their own, were shoved gradually forward and packed more and more tightly together. Marianne and Margaret clasped each other's hands in alarm but at the same time gave a strange kind of thanks for the jam of vehicles around them; the solid wheels and bodies shielded them from the mob, and though they were jostled repeatedly they could be certain they would not be overturned, for there simply was not the space to allow it.
Bellowed conversation ensued between George and Ned and the neighboring coachmen and grooms, from whom but a few feet of space separated them, all of them trying to subdue their nervous, snorting horses and protect their irritated passengers in a melee that showed no indication of imminent subsidence. Though the ladies felt blind and trapped, it required but one glance out the window, at the numbers of men and women threading their way amongst the carriages even at the risk of being crushed, to see that they themselves were far safer where they were than they should be if they tried to make their way to the side of the road, even with George and Ned to breast a way for them--and as they would hardly be safe then unless they could take shelter, and the only shelter nearby was in the very village that was in an uproar, there seemed no sense in such an endeavor.
Suddenly the shouts of the coachmen and grooms reached a new pitch, and the carriage shook violently as if George were jumping about. "Good heaven!" Marianne exclaimed, and was about to inquire when George slapped open the panel.
"Some ruffians are cutting loose every horse they can reach! They've got both our leaders and several from the carriages nearest us. Ezra and Ned have gone after them, but what hope they have in this crowd I don't know. Confound it, ma'am, I'm that sorry--but it's fair certain now that we won't get even to Delaford tonight, let alone Dorchester."
This state of paralysis continued for more than two hours. Ezra and Ned rejoined them safely but empty-handed, the postilion far more concerned about his failure to recover the horses than his several bruises and badly scraped cheek. He wondered whether he ought not escape into the army rather than return only two animals to his employer instead of the four with which he had been sent out; but he was heartened upon receiving Marianne's assurances that she would verify his explanation of their loss. The throng continued to expand, so that by ten o'clock George was estimating that above eight hundred folk had squeezed themselves into tiny Pimmerton, with another fifty carriages with their irate passengers and scurrying servants piled behind--"and that's only at this end of the village." Shouts rose, and answering threats, the center of the disturbance seeming to be a confrontation between a group of men wielding pitchforks and axes, and another group, unarmed, standing their ground before the store-house doors. Ned wished very much to move closer, but George ordered him to remain with his mistress. Comforted by distance and having faith that her husband's men would ensure the safety of herself and her sister, Marianne was far more vexed than frightened, and Margaret could not be entirely displeased that she had not been deprived of all the excitement of the day.
Sufficient torches had been kindled that progress could be seen in the disentangling of carriages to the rear of the jam. "Another hour or two might free us, ma'am," George was saying, "though we'll be slow with only two horses--" when the sudden cry of "Fire!" was raised--and the crowd began to surge back the way it had come and the carriages were compressed together from the opposite direction even closer than before. Over the sea of heads, bright orange tongues of flame could be seen licking at the roof line of a row of shops. Amidst shrieks and yells and the frantic neighs of horses terrified by the bite of smoke at their nostrils, some in the crowd managed to form bucket brigades from the mill pond. "Don't worry, Mrs. Brandon, Miss Dashwood," George said, while Ezra and Ned jumped down to try to calm their remaining pair of horses, "if it starts to spread this way, we'll get you ladies out somehow."
That he should feel it necessary to reassure them filled Marianne with a sudden chill. "Oh Margaret, I am so sorry I brought you--"
"You could hardly have foreseen a riot!" her sister pointed out reasonably, though her voice did quaver. "All will be well, you will see."
The wind had continued to strengthen, and though it blew showers of sparks about it was more welcomed than feared, the sparks being easily smothered or stamped out and the coming rain promising to save Pimmerton from conflagration. Heavy clouds scudded across the sky and obscured the moon, and finally broke apart to drench the multitude. "Might serve to cool off a few warm heads," George commented hopefully, pulling oil-cloths from his box for himself and Ned and Ezra, and indeed there did seem to be some desertion at the fringes of the crowd, on the part of those who had not felt sufficiently compelled by outrage or interest to force their way forward. Sheets of water extinguished torches and hissed on the blazing roof, and there was general optimism all around--until the adjacent building, in the direction approaching the Brandon carriage, was seen to be in flames.
Remembering all too clearly his master's express order that he should take care of his mistress, poor George was tormented with greater agonies than he would ever allow that mistress to observe. He was faced with the awful choice of waiting to determine whether the villagers could put out the fire before it spread to the carriages, all the while hoping he did not wait too long, or assisting Mrs. Brandon and Miss Dashwood into the much more certain peril of muddy footing amidst shifting carriage wheels and panicked horses. He peered through the panel time and again, relieved to see that they were not hysterical as were some of the ladies in the carriages nearby, and told himself that it was not necessary to decide just yet. He watched in horror as one gentleman, attempting to convey his wife to safety, carrying her so as to protect her feet in their dainty slippers, was caught between two carriage wheels; the man cried out, the lady screamed, and when he was freed by the wheels jerking in the opposite direction, a large stain of red showed above his boot as he hobbled on. "Oh God, Ned," George cried, looking all about and seeing no pathway open, "I don't know what I should do--"
Some while later George began to shout again, and though Marianne could not distinguish the words, it seemed to her that he was calling out to someone. "He sounds very pleased--perhaps they are able to maneuver us free at last," she was saying, when the carriage door opened and her husband held out his hand to her.
"Christopher!"--"Colonel Brandon!"--were the cries that greeted his appearance, and Marianne, clumsy because she could not see through the sudden welling of her tears, threw herself into his arms. Because of his injury he could not catch her properly, and they swayed a little until he braced his shoulders against the side of the carriage. Though it was very far from being prudent, for a few blissful seconds they allowed the world to fall away around them, clinging to each other heedless of rain, mud, or decorum. She stroked his damp hair, sobbing endearments but also smiling through her tears, and his heart swelled in response to the force of her greeting even as he ascribed it to fright and relief; he did his utmost to soothe her, though he himself trembled with the easing of his own terror.
So tight was Marianne's embrace that she could feel against her own breast the pounding of his heart and its gradual slowing. "You are free," she said again and again, "you are free and returned to me!" She knew they must not linger, but for this moment she simply could not let him go.
"Yes, I am free--but more important, you are safe. I cannot describe the fear that coursed through me when we saw the flames, or the thanks I gave to see George against the light-- My Marianne--" He kissed her forehead, her nose, her lips. "But--we must go, my love--"
"Yes--yes--I know--" She was drowning in her love for him, as if the shocks of the day had intensified the feeling she had so recently--only that morning!--recognized; but she could not tell him here and now, in a hurried shout over the surrounding bedlam. She could, however, look her love, and for an instant something like wonder took hold of his expression, as if he had read something new in hers.
Their unspoken communication was interrupted, however, by Willoughby. He had taken charge of Margaret, who could hardly stand for gaping at him, while Masters and Ned and Tim kept a little space clear around them all. "Good evening, Mrs. Brandon, Miss Dashwood," he said with apparent cheer but a strange tautness to his voice, which might not be entirely attributable to haste. "You see I have brought you an army of rescuers."
Marianne turned to him with a beaming smile, having hitherto scarcely noticed him (or any of the others) but realizing now that he had done what he had said he would do--he had saved her husband--and so grateful was she in that moment that she almost loved him again. She clasped his hand, and he seemed grateful in his turn for this open expression of her thanks; but Brandon was spared any misinterpretation of her gesture by the snugness of the arm that remained around him, by the pressure of her body against his own.
"I didn't know how we would get through with just two of us to protect the ladies," George was saying, "and that's if Ezra would stay with the carriage. Nor where we could take them out of the way of harm if we did. I'm that glad to see you, sir."
"It was not an easy feat to get through with five," Brandon told him. He handed up a guinea or two. "Defend the carriage if you can, but do not give limb or life for it. That will hire another team when the crowd disperses, and buy you lodgings for a night if necessary. Divide what is left among you."
"Thank you, sir. You watch your own horses, Mr. Willoughby--there's a gang here very quick with a knife at the harness. We'll see you at Delaford, Colonel, as soon as ever may be!"
They started through the crowd in a tightly knit group, the men forcing the way with Tim, the burliest of them, in the lead. Employing his right arm in shoving aside those who would impede their progress, Brandon had no choice but to support Marianne with his left, and black spots danced again before his eyes. Now and then Marianne heard him exhale sharply, as if in pain, but in that hazardous tangle she could not question him. The rain had eased somewhat but water yet ran into their eyes, their clothing was saturated, and the ladies' shoes and hems were a ruin; all of them slipped now and then in the mud, and clutched at each other for balance. They made for the edge of the crowd, where Willoughby's carriage was under the protection of his coachman and groom, who brandished whip and stick to ward off thieves. As they came nearer, the bedraggled party could hear the two men urging them to hurry, Willoughby's carriage, too, in impending danger of being engulfed.
But they reached it in safety, the men blowing hard and sweating, Margaret staring even more amazedly at Willoughby in the direct light of the carriage lamps; and in a moment the ladies were handed inside, Willoughby followed, and Masters joined the coachman upon his box. While they wrapped themselves in the blankets Willoughby always carried, Brandon stood on the step, holding fast to the rack, trying to see through the haze of rain and steam whether there were any magistrate or constable reading the Riot Act and attempting to pacify the crowd. He saw none, and though his sense of duty urged him to make the effort himself, his judgment of the circumstances told him it was hopeless. Such assemblages as this were usually well known before-hand; how the local magistrates, with whom he was acquainted, could have permitted such an explosion of hostility in a rare time of plenty, he could not fathom. But this was hardly the time to meditate upon magisterial competence; he must get Marianne and Margaret home. He prepared to swing down.
He was holding on with his strong right hand, so that when the panicked horse careered toward him out of the darkness and the mob, he had only the injured left arm to thrust out to protect himself. The impact of the animal slammed him back against the carriage, for he had been leaning out a little so as to see better, and the agony that shot through his arm as it was crushed against the frame was such that he thought he must now know how it felt to have one's limb blown off by a cannon. The horse plunged away. Brandon's fingers went slack, and he fell.
Marianne cried out his name. Masters, having seen the horse and anticipated the collision too late to shout a warning--though a warning would have done little good--was yet able to lunge forward and catch hold of Brandon's shirt and waistcoat, so that he might retard his friend's fall enough that Willoughby, alerted by Marianne's cry, could leap out and help to ease him down. Masters in his turn then jumped down from the box, and the two men together lifted Brandon, stunned but conscious, into the carriage. He was bleeding badly from a gash behind his left ear, and Masters produced a handkerchief and instructed Marianne to press firmly on the wound. He said her name and fumbled for her hand, and she cradled him against her. She had noted that he was not wearing a coat but only now saw the bandage on his arm, though she did not at that moment trouble Masters for an explanation.
This delay had allowed the seething crowd to move nearer, and a shout from the coachman was their indication that some toughs had in fact laid hands on the horses. Willoughby, wild-eyed with alarm but determined that his horses should not be stolen and that Marianne should not be stranded in a mob overnight, grabbed one of Brandon's pistols and aimed it at the nearest thief, who upon seeing his peril yelled an order, and with his minions vanished into the crowd. Panting with agitation, Willoughby slammed the door and climbed up onto the box, Masters having appropriated his place within the carriage and showing no sign of voluntarily giving it up. They started swiftly away, Willoughby at first keeping the pistol at hand; but at last they were free of any outlying disturbance, and he set it aside and took the reins himself.
They retraced their route through Milton Grange, even in the darkness making fair speed without the necessity of stopping every mile to make inquiries. Within the carriage Marianne, heedless of the others' presence, told her husband how much she had missed him, and how glad their little Joy would be to see her dear papa. Brandon was able to murmur replies and clasp her hand, though his grip was weak in the right hand and he could not move his left at all, and he sagged against her from not being able to hold himself upright. She applied Masters's handkerchief to the gash until it was soaked through, and then exchanged it for the strips of linen that Margaret had torn from a petticoat, tears of renewed fright falling all the while. In the mottled moonlight he looked terribly pale. As they neared Delaford village his speech became slurred, and by the time they pulled up at the manor house he was insensible in her arms.
"It is exhaustion as much as injury, I believe," said Mr. Avery as he washed his instruments after stitching up Brandon's cut, "for he has been under an appalling strain, and simply has not the reserves of strength at present to bear the shock of repeated excruciating pain. But the bones of the arm are not broken, there is no sign of damage to the skull, and the pulse is very strong. I predict that you will be amazed what twelve or fifteen hours' sleep will do for him. I shall come to see him after dinner, but if he is not himself when he awakes, send your servant for me at once. And you must get some sleep as well, Mrs. Brandon--it is the energy of alarm that sustains you now, and it will not last."
Indeed Marianne did feel faint with cautious relief when the surgeon had gone, though she could not at once relax into slumber. She shed her soiled clothing and bathed, then donned a night dress and dressing gown and pulled a chair close to the bed, so that she would be able to observe every alteration in her husband's face or position. In her hand were the letters he had sent her the day before--its being nearly three o'clock in the morning by the time Mr. Avery had finished his work--the first regretfully denying her request to come to Dorchester, the second asking the reverse. It seemed years since she had implored him to permit her to visit him, years since he had been taken from her, years since she had come to love him.
Tim was on a horse and halfway to Avery's house before Masters and Willoughby had carried Brandon up the stairs. He did not wake during the transfer, nor during any of Mr. Avery's ministrations, in which Masters assisted as he could, at the same time informing the surgeon of Brandon's earlier clash with Padgett and the general state of his health and spirits. Not once did Marianne leave him, and she kept one eye upon the proceedings while talking quietly in her dressing room with her mother and sisters and with Edward, who had returned to the parsonage about midnight and was told by the maid that he would find his wife and child at the manor house. Thus Marianne was apprised of the events of the day in which she had not participated; and poor Edward was staggered almost to tears to learn that he might have spared his sister and brother every moment of their distress, had he but once been introduced to the gentleman of whom he had heard so much. Sometime in the night when she was alone with her husband, the others having withdrawn only after insisting upon her summoning them at once if they were needed, Marianne thought of Willoughby; but Mrs. Baynes informed her that he had gone.
Despite Avery's optimism, she could not be easy until she saw, holding a candle near his face some while later, that Christopher's color had improved. By the time the night sky began to lighten, he seemed rather asleep than unconscious, and stirred a little as one does just before waking. At about five o'clock he tried to turn, and came suddenly awake with a gasp and grimace of pain.
If he thought it odd that his wife should be smiling when he was in such obvious distress, her kisses at once demonstrated the true cause of her joy. "I have been so worried! I was afraid of concussion, or amnesia, or fever-- But Mr. Avery said you needed only rest. Are you yourself?"
"I--believe so." Gradually he took in his surroundings, and the circumstance of his being warm and dry and clean--and the beloved face so near his own; once his eyes had come to rest there, they did not stray again. "Do I look and sound myself?"
"Yes, you do, and I cannot tell you my relief at the sight of your smile, and the sound of your voice. Probably I should not ask, but--how do you feel?"
"Rather as though I have been run down by a maddened horse--but I cannot mind it, for I have awakened to you. --Avery has been here, then?"
"Yes, he has sewn up an awful cut behind your ear," (he investigated the square of plaster with careful fingertips) "--and made certain that your arm is not broken." She gestured toward the bandaged limb, but did not touch it. "Does it hurt very badly?"
He had not moved the arm at all since his waking. "I am not ashamed to admit that it does. Nonetheless I feel contemptible and inept for having fainted because of it."
"You would not have fainted had you not known that I was in competent hands. We were all safe and on our way home--as perfect a time for your fainting as I have ever heard of. Here, drink this--Mr. Avery said that I should give you a little laudanum if you were in pain, for you must have your sleep."
"Every body offers me laudanum--" but this time he accepted it willingly. When she had set aside the glass, he said, "Come and lie beside me, my love--I want to hold you and feel your warmth--and you look as spent as I feel. My God--can it really be over--"
She slipped off her dressing gown and joined him, pressing the length of her body against his and tucking her arm protectively across his chest, and he stroked her arm and hand until their eyes closed and their breathing slowed and deepened.
"Oh!" she exclaimed softly, struggling up out of sleep as the first birds of the morning began to sing, "my darling Christopher, I forgot to tell you that I love you." Her fingers caressed his stubbled cheek, gently so as not to wake him. "Well, I shall tell you tomorrow, and our every tomorrow hereafter."
She was herself asleep almost before she uttered the final syllable, and did not see that he had opened his eyes and was gazing at her in uncertain astonishment.
When Brandon woke again it was to see Marianne nursing Joy in the chair next the bed, and so deeply moved was he to be greeted by this echo of the morning of his daughter's birth, after a separation from her of thirteen days, that he could only watch them with a wordless smile. "Look, Joy, my love," said Marianne, "your papa is awake now,"--but Joy was at that moment far more interested in sustenance than reunion. When she had finished, however, and had emitted a satisfactory burp or two, Marianne set her on a thick towel spread upon his stomach, helping to balance her so that he would not in reflex use his left arm to catch her should she be about to teeter off. She studied his countenance as if considering whether she were in fact acquainted with him; evidently deciding that she was, she soon began to play with his hair and his nose, while he blinked very hard and tried to judge how much she had grown in his absence.
"Oh, but I should not hold her--" he began to say, but Marianne interrupted him.
"If it is possible contamination that concerns you, did you not realize that you had been bathed?"
"Of course--yes, I had. I had forgot." He frowned. "Now that I think of it, I should not have held you there by the carriage."
"The rain no doubt washed us clean, and I bathed last night as well, for I was a shocking sight." Her face set with frightful memory. "I shall not wear that dress again even if Polly can get out the stains."
After a moment he said, "Then I shall not wear that suit--though I will myself remove every button before I part with it." Both their smiles trembled with too-recent fear.
It became necessary to remove Joy to the nursery, and Marianne scooped her up in her towel and started for the door. "You will not stay away long?" he asked, and she smiled and shook her head. "Only a short while, for I have a great deal to say to you."
By the time she returned he had tended to his own necessities, had combed his hair and pulled a dressing gown about his shoulders, and added pillows to the bolster so that he could sit more upright. "You have been up and about!" she said delightedly.
"Yes--I am very slow and inclined to wobble, but I do seem able to function."
"And your arm?"
"A little better. No well-meaning sergeant or surgeon pummelled it while I slept, and the laudanum has helped--in fact I have just taken a little more."
"You will be wanting some dinner soon."
"Dinner? Is it so late? I do feel rather--empty, if not precisely hungry."
"We have all eaten, but the plates are keeping warm for you. I dined in here, but you never stirred, so soundly were you sleeping. Sarah will want to see you--she and Claude arrived this morning, very happy at first until they knew you had been hurt, and then they were anxious with all the rest of us, but now they are happy again. And Edward was so eager to return that he shortened his sermon, and people could not decide, he said, whether to be pleased by his being so brief, or piqued because they had received very little instruction in exchange for their troubling themselves to come to church. Instead he told every body the general happenings of yesterday, and the entire village would be in this room to welcome you home, he said, if they could fit themselves in. The calls will begin in earnest tomorrow, and how I will enjoy our receiving company together!"
He imagined that she was looking at him differently from how she had been used to do, and could not but recall the instant in the rain beneath the fire lit night, when he thought he might have seen a new shade of regard in her expression; could not but try to decide whether the breathless moment in the dawn had been real or a fragment of euphoric dream.
And then she said: "You did not hear, I believe, what I told you as we were falling asleep?" She sat very straight in the chair, her hands clasped in her lap, her entire body suffused with a captivating eagerness.
"I--not very well--" He dared not tell her what he thought he had heard, for he could not trust such a strange, vague memory--if memory it were, and not an hallucination induced by the peace of the house and Marianne so lovely and golden in the glow of candlelight--not when he had for so long ached to hear those words--
"I told you that I love you," she said, looking at once shy for having said it and proud for having said it so forthrightly, "and I shall tell you at every opportunity henceforth to make up for my not having realized it long before now."
For some moments he could not seem to speak, there being some obstruction in his throat, some constriction about his chest; and Marianne's shining eyes and smile had begun to blur. He had not dreamed it, had not imagined it, after all. At last, however, he managed to say, with hardly more volume than a whisper, "Are you certain, my Marianne?"
She gave a laugh that was half a sob, and held out to him a folded piece of paper. He knew what it was before he opened it clumsily with his single hand: the note he had slipped beneath her door on the night before they had wed. Are you certain, my Marianne?
"You have kept it," he murmured, "--just as I have kept yours."
Her expression told him that she had not guessed this but felt that she should have, his claim to a romantic character being no less strong than her own. He had asked her the identical question one other time, upon her acceptance of his proposal. Twice before she had replied, as she replied now, "I have never been more certain of anything." This time, however, maturity and confidence allowed her to elaborate: "We share a home, and a bed. We have made a child together, and feared for her and rejoiced in her. We converse daily on all manner of subjects, and every word you utter is of interest to me. I have entrusted you with my life, my heart, my soul, my mind. I take no action but I think of you first, make no plan but I consult you first--not because of any demand you place on me but because I cannot conceive of passing my days without a constant awareness of you. When I thought you might not come back to me, to us, a piece of my heart withered and all but died. Only now, when I see color returning to your cheeks and brightness to your eyes" (touching his face) "do I feel it quicken again." Her own throat was constricted now, but she must continue, must say it all-- "If that is not love--a deep, enduring love born of friendship and strengthened by intimacy and experience, then I have no understanding of love--"
She had taken his hand, and he had clung to it and pressed it to his lips, and now, heedless of any discomfort, he pulled her forward so that he could cover her mouth with his in a searing kiss, his embrace as tight as if he sought to fuse their bodies together, his good hand tangled in her curls. Lamenting his weakness but already anticipating when he might demonstrate his emotion more fully, he murmured her name between kisses, dizzy with happiness to hear her say again and again, laughing all the while with the joy of bestowing such a precious gift and seeing its effect, three simple but soul-shaking words.
When they could speak again with coherence--and neither could have said how many minutes or hours later that ability was restored to them--they talked for a long while, their conversation interspersed with many kisses and caresses. She told him of her revelation and of the part their child had played in it; and he confessed to her the recent overpowering increase in his patient longing, and his fear that he would never be granted its assuagement.
She also told him of what had transpired at Allenham. "I am very sorry that I added to your worry by the single-minded pursuit of my own scheme; yet I am glad I had occasion to see Willoughby again."
"As am I. It was your inadvertent confrontation made him come to Dorchester several days sooner than he had planned; and as your visit was prompted by your fervent loyalty to your husband, you hardly have cause for apology to him."
"It was a confrontation, and Willoughby was forced into it when I was in health and in full possession of my reason. It is good to know that my love for him truly did end all that time ago, and that he can no longer blind me with his charm. But I said dreadful things to him, that possibly I would never have said had I not been so terrified for you."
"He deserves neither kindness nor consideration from you."
"Neither does he from you. Christopher--why did you not tell me he had cheated in the duel?"
He sighed. "I did not want to increase your disappointment and bitterness toward him any more than was necessary--and--I did not want you to believe that I was attempting to improve my own standing in your estimation at his expense."
"My dear husband, your standing had long been higher in my estimation than his! Nothing you could have said by that time would have made any difference."
"Even your learning my intentions toward him did not--that surprised me very much. Does that still make no difference, after all the misery my challenging him has caused us?"
"I shall tell you something. I understand now how you felt. I told Willoughby that I myself would put the pistol in your hand should any man behave toward Joy as he behaved toward Eliza." His eyebrows lifted, and then he gave a slight nod of comprehension. "Perhaps it is not right to feel that way, but I do. And because I understand a little how you felt then, I must ask you, with very great trepidation, how you feel now. My love--what will you do about Willoughby now?"
His demeanor turned suddenly cold, and she knew she glimpsed how he must have appeared during that long dark ride with Willoughby--perhaps even on that fateful morning so long ago. "It would be a different matter entirely had he meant to hurt you, but in the present circumstance--" He drew a deep breath and let it out, and the disturbing mood passed away with his sigh. "Nothing." She sagged against him in relief, and his arm went round her shoulders. "I could charge him with withholding evidence, I suppose, but I would rather put this ordeal behind us, my Marianne. I want to return to my life with you and Joy--a life which will now" (kissing her forehead, her hair) "seem wondrous and new. I do not wish to succumb to a desire for revenge. And perhaps Mr. Willoughby has learned a harsher lesson than any fine would teach him. He was genuinely worried when he did not find you at the gaol as he expected, and was well aware that any harm you might have suffered was indirectly his doing. Your own censure of his actions was severe. And I can feel a little sympathy for him, you know--that I had no reason to feel when I challenged him--in his wanting you without hope of having you. A general loneliness is far less poignant than a particular yearning, and he has lived to see the woman he yearns for wed to a man he detests. And now he has seen that I have been rewarded not only with your hand--" (a sudden softening of his voice) "--but also with your love. That is grief indeed."
"You might have known that grief yourself."
"I did know it, for a while."
Tears glistened again in her eyes at the thought that she could ever have caused him such pain. "But no longer. She whom you want is yours, completely, and her head is spinning with the elation of loving you--"
Her lips were warm and insistent upon his, and in the ensuing while she was as amazed as Mr. Avery had predicted--though he had not perhaps referred to precisely this activity--by the benefit of twelve or fifteen hours' sleep upon the energy and ingenuity of a husband who was determined, despite all disadvantage, to be passionate.
The next several days passed in a flurry of conversation and correspondence, yet offered more serenity to the inhabitants of Delaford House and parsonage than had any portion of the preceding fortnight. For two days Brandon continued rather tired and rested a great deal, content to be loved and petted by his wife and babbled at by his child. Marianne was almost constantly with him, reading or talking or rubbing his aches with liniment, and by the Wednesday he was feeling very much himself except for the pain in his arm, which would diminish slowly, Mr. Avery said, during the course of the next few weeks. The papers reported that the riot at Pimmerton had been dispersed soon after their escape by the arrival of several special constables with a body of armed men; the fire had at last been doused by the rain, and in the aftermath of the disturbance the farmers had yielded to reason and threats and agreed to sell their grain within the neighborhood at a fixed price. Brandon felt that he should write immediately to his colleagues about the matter, and he knew that Baynes was waiting patiently to discuss estate business with him, but he really could not summon much interest in anything but his restored freedom and newfound happiness.
It was something like a confirmation of the former that Mr. Henley was willing to liberate his furnishings, George having brought the carriage from Pimmerton on Monday and then gone immediately with Tim to Dorchester in the cart. Mr. Henley did, however, send a bill for the balance of his erstwhile prisoner's fees, in which he did not neglect to request reimbursement for his having paid the express rider carrying reassurances from Delaford, who had arrived an hour after Brandon had been released. When Tim handed their most cherished cargo to his master--Marianne's letters, especially the sketch of Joy--Brandon considered his servant's extraordinary duties done, and rewarded him for his faithful service, to Tim's open-mouthed amazement and stammered thanks, with a bonus of five pounds, which would both aid his family and allow him to take himself to see Mr. Henley's pretty maid on his next day off, if he so desired.
Eliza arrived with John Brandon for a visit of a week or ten days, still in a state of stupefaction from perusing Marianne's report of Willoughby's resurrection, and eager to converse at length with someone who could readily sympathize with her mixed emotions on that account--though her relief at her cousin's deliverance was boundless. Eliza was also eager to relate that a friendship of sorts had developed between herself and the youngest brother of one of Mrs. Sutton's clients, a Mr. Fleming. "He is terribly shy and rather unpolished in his manner, and is only a penniless shop clerk; he will no doubt be unable to marry until he is sixty. But he is well-read and intelligent, and kind to me and to John Brandon, and I like him." Privately Marianne thought it very probable that if Eliza's liking should grow into a stronger feeling, and the young man prove himself worthy of her favor, her guardian would not allow Mr. Fleming's poverty to stand in the way of his marrying her, a competent shop clerk's being very easily set up in a shop of his own. Philippe and Christophe came from Whitwell, and Margaret was overjoyed to be the teller of a lurid tale rather than always the hearer; such was the boys' relish for every detail that Sarah felt it necessary to remind them that their uncle had not resided two weeks in a prison cell with the object of providing them entertainment. But Brandon was willing enough to talk about his experiences, if not his private dark reflections, and his nephews were more easily satisfied than their mother had feared. All lamented the absence of Louise and Marie, but Sarah did not like to think of their travelling in the care of only servants; she would in any case be returned to them in a week's time, as her brother and sister were planning their own visit to Whitwell very soon.
Brandon revelled in the fullness of his house, and even in his many callers, for though he found the latter somewhat enervating, he admitted under his wife's interrogation that it was hardly very onerous to be admired for his bravery and durability.
"We could not bear to see your good name and character so shamefully maligned--though as Delaford tends to be a quiet place it was rather exciting to see it named so prominently in the papers--though not, I know, very exciting for you--"
"We-e-ll, it could not be doubted that justice and right would prevail in the end, and really it was but a fortnight. I'll wager you were not truly worried--"
"I am incensed that you should be subjected to such treatment. You will discharge that man Padgett at once, of course."
"I am sure I should have gone mad in such a place, simply stark raving. I said to my wife, 'he is certainly made of sterner stuff than I,' and I am grieved to report that she did not disagree--"
"My dear colonel, I do believe your cheeks are turning pink! You must allow yourself to be praised--"
When the Wilvertons called, Philippe and Christophe scurried in, trampling upon each other's boots in their eagerness to gaze at Susan, who clearly thought them very puppyish and was no more than polite to them. Their worshipful chatter, however, eased the subtle tension that existed between Brandon and Mr. Wilverton until the latter's venturing, "I hope you will accept my apology for coming so late to your aid," and the former's replying, "I place all the blame squarely upon William Roberts, for his being so careless as to leave my button at the scene of his crime"--Brandon having wanted only an expression of regret from his friend and colleague to grant his complete forgiveness for an attitude that he had, after all, partly understood.
Inquiries about the notorious Wrecker Bill--whose most common nickname had its origin in his murderous and dastardly practice of luring ships by false lights onto the rocks and then rowing out to loot them--had been made by Parker and Masters to better effect now that the criminal's name was known. Parker's chagrin at having learned nothing from all his labors had been greatly ameliorated by his relief that an alternate confirmation of Brandon's innocence had surfaced, and by his now being able to pursue a more fruitful line of investigation. He and his temporary deputy, aided by Parker's very vocal confidence that should he look hard enough he would uncover some violation of the alehouse licensing laws, were able to wrest from Mr. Havers the information that William Roberts--whose name Mr. Havers had "never known before, and if the sergeant and Mr. Haydock had only told him a more detailed description he could have been such a help to them previously"--had been seen in the George on the night in question in the company of one Hannah Lovett. Hannah Lovett, cowed in her turn by Parker's pointed curiosity about her many male callers, admitted that Roberts had visited her that night and had not arrived until after midnight, and offered the further detail that he usually came to Delaford from Bridport or Poole.
Convinced now beyond any doubt that Roberts was the culprit, Parker alerted the authorities in both towns, and on the Thursday he received word from a fellow constable in Bridport that Roberts had been seen at one of his regular haunts. He and Masters made immediate preparations to journey there, in the hope of bringing the villain to the justice he so richly deserved. Despite Marianne's dismay, Brandon was tempted to accompany them; but Masters quite rightly objected that he would not assign an injured soldier to a raiding party when there were sound ones to be had all around him, and so he was forced to watch them canter away in a hearty predatory enthusiasm.
"I do not like depending upon others to rescue me," he grumbled to his wife. "First Willoughby--Willoughby!--and now Masters and Parker--"
"As I do not see William Roberts waving his pistol outside your door, I hardly think Sergeant Masters or Mr. Parker can be said to be 'rescuing' you," Marianne countered. "In any case, Mr. Parker is simply doing his duty in apprehending a criminal. And besides, were you to go with them in your present condition, would they not be distracted by protecting you?"
"Yes," he conceded, with no little exasperation.
His arm was yet sore enough that it was more comfortable in bandage and sling, though as the sling tended to irritate his neck he often removed it while resting; he had done so now, for they had come to the nursery for a little while before dinner. Sitting in adjacent chairs with their fingers intertwined, they watched Joy scoot hither and yon across the floor. Her meanderings brought her to the sling, which had slipped onto the floor from the arm of his chair; and in an instant it was atop her head and completely obscuring her face.
Her parents burst into laughter, and Joy squealed with delight and clapped her hands at this gratifying response to her antics. When Marianne could draw breath again, she said, "Do you know, I believe our daughter is partly responsible not only for my new self-perception, but also for my delay in reaching it. There are pleasant as well as unpleasant distractions, and I cannot but think that our very quick progression from engagement to marriage to the condition of being parents interfered, in a way, with my awareness of my strengthening feelings for you. I was a mother-to-be and then a mother before I had very long experienced being a wife. I might even have come to really love you before we married, had our engagement been longer."
"Or you might have come to rue your acceptance," he said seriously.
"No--of that I am certain as well. What I am not certain of--is how long I might have continued unconscious of that stronger emotion without your being in danger. Another year--two--even more?" Her hand had tightened on his, and he raised it and pressed it to his lips.
Just then Joy, who had discarded her amusing headgear and returned to her explorations, sallied into Nurse Tarville's closet, and Marianne got up to retrieve her and shut the door. When she returned, depositing Joy once again in the midst of her dolls and the animals made from old stockings and linens, her face wore an expression that combined impishness with a remembered anguish. "I had decided that if Mr. Haydock did not begin to display more optimism, I was going to suggest--I would have asked you--I should have liked to conceive another child."
Brandon's eyes widened in surprise, and then he smiled rather sadly. "Such a sweet notion--but I should hardly have wanted to leave behind me a pregnant widow. And besides, I might not have been bailed--" She simply looked at him, her mischief now undimmed. "Marianne!" He refused to contemplate the shade of red that flooded his cheeks.
"You cannot tell me it is not done--and, my love, if--if I had had to lose you, I should have liked so much to have another child by you--perhaps a son, with your eyes, your smile--"
"Especially your nose!"
He kissed her hand again, his mouth slow and teasing on her palm and wrist; and then, seduced by her parted lips and quiet sighs, he rose and knelt before her, and she bent her face to his. They had discovered in recent days the effect of profound emotion upon desire and pleasure; and as a silence settled over the nursery, and her fingers stroked his face and ran through his hair, for some minutes even their adored daughter could not command any significant portion of their attention. But they were saved from the sin of parental neglect by the arrival of Nurse Tarville, who had lately taken to singing or coughing or chatting loudly with a maid as she approached the nursery door; they laughed to be so interrupted, and went down to dinner not very much caring that they might appear a little flushed and foolish.
Marianne loved him. Brandon knew it, and felt it, as surely as he knew the sun would rise each morning. Even had she not kept her promise to tell him every day, he would have known it by the warmth of her glance and her touch, by the melting smile she bestowed upon him as she played his favorite concerti, by the resonance in her voice as she sang an ardent ballad, or read such poems as she had never read to him before. She transcribed lines onto slips of paper and left them where he would find them--making up for time lost, she said, when he told her how they moved him. On his pillow he found,
If ever two were one, then surely we.
If ever man were lov'd by wife, then thee.
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.1
--and by his wash basin:
Till a' the seas gang dry, my Dear,
And the rocks melt wi' the sun;
I will luve thee still, my Dear,
While the sands o' life shall run.2
--or slipped into the book he was reading:
Were you the earth, dear Love, and I the skies,
My love should shine on you like to the sun,
And look upon you with ten thousand eyes,
Till heaven wax'd blind, and till the world were done.3
And one bright day he had just sat down at his desk, when his eyes fell upon a bit of paper fluttering underneath the blotter:
But neither breath of Morn when she ascends
With charm of earliest Birds, nor rising Sun
On this delightful land, nor herb, fruit, floure,
Glistring with dew, nor fragrance after showers,
Nor grateful Evening mild, nor silent Night
With this her solemn Bird, nor walk by Moon,
Or glittering Starr-light without thee is sweet.4
--and he forgot his account books and correspondence, and sought her out to beg a walk in the fresh autumn air.
Within a very few days she had even given him the confidence to read to her the sort of verse he had so long avoided.
Her glances first came hesitant and sidelong,
then soft and shy with love;
a while they rested on me motionless,
then slowly turned away.
Her pupils widening behind long lashes
told of the admiration that she felt.
My heart, poor thing without defense, was captured, cut up, swallowed,
and now is lost for aye.5
When she is by me
as much as words,
and closed eyes see.
Our limbs, though hid,
are so by interchange of dress,
and so confess
naught was forbid.6
The painful warrior famoused for fight,
After a thousand victories once foil'd,
Is from the book of honour razed quite,
And all the rest forgot for which he toil'd:
Then happy I, that love and am belov'd,
Where I may not remove nor be remov'd.7
They did and said nothing they had not done and said before, yet he was conscious of a new liveliness in all their interaction, a complete freedom of expression--on his own part as well as hers, for he had not realized how heavy had been his self-restraint. Now he was secure, and his soaring happiness could not be contained.
Their new infatuation did not go unremarked. "Did not I tell you, brother?" Sarah said to Brandon with a knowing and tender smile. Elinor, however, though affected herself by the atmosphere of thankfulness pervading the house and indeed the entire village, very much feared a mortifying regression to the inconsiderate Marianne of old. But her sister only laughed at her admonitions, her spirits irrepressible.
"Oh, I cannot be as bad as that! Do I not converse with others when my wonderful husband is in the room, even when he is just beside me? I will not hide my joy, Elinor, though I risk the disapproval of the best sister in the world. I feel more alive than I have ever felt before, more receptive to great surges of emotion. It is as if we were courting, after almost a year and a half of marriage!--though better, for it is the greatest happiness to be married with love. Do you not feel that way, too, about Edward?"
"Of course--but the whole world does not want to know it. Edward's knowing is enough." She sighed. "But I accept that our reserve is not right for every husband and wife."
Her visible effort made her sister smile. "How comical we are!--you a rationalist who married for love, and I a romantic who married without it."
"Considering your present unfortunate delirium--do you now believe you were wrong to marry your husband without being in love with him?"
Marianne pondered for some minutes before replying. "No--I have come to believe that when I married him I was part way to loving him, though I could not recognize it then because I yet assumed that I would never love again. Esteem and friendship I felt for him and could name, but though I feel esteem and friendship for Edward I would never marry him, for he is not the husband for me nor I the wife for him. It is the same with you and Christopher--your mutual esteem and friendship are obvious, and yet you would neither of you think of marrying the other. With Christopher there was something more. Why could I not let him pass from my life? Why was it only devastation to contemplate hurting him with a refusal? No--I believe the seed of love was planted before I married him, and has simply flowered."
"Well," Elinor said wryly, "I suppose, as you are already married, there is no real harm--so long as you do not ravish him in the drawing room in front of guests."
"Elinor!" (bursting into peals of laughter). "My poor sister! Take heart--we shall settle one day, and then you will think us properly dull!"
But when Elinor's own husband began to be even more attentive than usual, gravitating toward her across a room and frequently seeking her eye across a table, and remarked that she herself had become more demonstrative of her affection, she could perhaps admit to there being some benefit in others' finding the Brandons' amorous deportment infectious.
Sergeant Masters, sporting a very pretty black eye, and Constable Parker, himself boasting a sprained thumb, returned the following Tuesday in time for dinner, to which Elinor and Edward and Mr. Haydock were also invited, so that Brandon presided over a crowded table indeed. The gathering was partly a farewell, for Masters would go home to his Anna on the morrow, but primarily a celebration, for William Roberts had been caught early on Saturday, and on Monday Parker and Masters had transported him in handcuffs to Dorchester and placed him in the custody of Mr. Henley. Pressed for the details of the chase and capture, they were happy to oblige, sharing the telling rather in the manner of Philippe and Christophe, and proving that during the course of their mission they had become fast friends. With the Bridport constables they had devised a plan for storming the quarters of the gang, a rough-hewn cottage near the sea. They struck at dawn, when such men could be expected to be dazed by sleep or drink, and in a close altercation, the details of which Masters promised to relate to the boys when the ladies were not present (this to Margaret's great annoyance), arrested not only Roberts but three members of his gang.
"We were interviewed over our breakfast this morning by two correspondents," Masters said, "who are very glad to be able to look forward to a murder trial at the Lent assizes after all--with a gentleman as a witness, if not a defendant."
"Will not Willoughby be a witness at the quarter sessions as well?" Margaret asked; "--at Padgett's trial for assault?"
"Only if that case ever comes to trial, Miss Dashwood," replied Haydock. "I rather expect the grand jury to consider the charge malicious and refuse to indict, saying that Padgett could not have been expected to act in any other way without knowing the true circumstances."
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Haydock," said Margaret with great indignation, "but my brother would never stoop to making a malicious charge--"
"I am very much afraid he would, dear Miss Dashwood," said Brandon, showing no sign of repentance, "and he takes great pleasure in thinking of Mr. Padgett's being locked away for six months in the company of those whom he has tyrannized, and of the inconvenience to Mr. Willoughby, Mr. Humphries, and Mr. Henley in being bound over to appear at sessions. I hasten to add that I am not guilty of inconveniencing Mr. Haydock, as he will always have a case or two. If I could somehow inconvenience Lord Melgrove, my satisfaction would be complete!"
When they had all adjourned to the drawing room and separated into various groups, Masters finding Brandon briefly in a chair rather than dancing with his wife, took the opportunity of asking, with a glint of amusement in his eye, whether his friend now felt any more sympathy with the plight of prisoners for his having been one of them.
"Allow me to point out," Brandon replied with some asperity, "that if they would not commit crimes they would not be put inside a prison, as I told more than one of them. But while I have always tried to suit the punishment to the crime, many magistrates do not, and I will not deny that I am now somewhat more inclined to heed the reformers who would see that they do. Perhaps in future my experience will grant me a little influence among my colleagues upon that subject." He intended to follow the cases of those folk in whom he had taken an interest, and had already enlisted Haydock's aid in the matter of Annie Ragg's missing children. He must also visit the felon whose request for assistance he had put off on the feverish day his own case had been so surprisingly resolved--though he knew he would need a fair portion of his courage to walk back through those iron gates. He added softly, "I will certainly now regard a claim of innocence in a capital case with rather less objectivity--"
"Why so pensive, my love?" Brandon asked--for he had come in from his dressing room to see Marianne sitting on the bed with her chin propped on her drawn-up knees, looking preoccupied and troubled.
"I am thinking of poor Mrs. Brownlow. Mr. Haydock says that though poverty is not a danger for her, she is not well, and she has four children under ten years of age. I have gained you, but she has lost her husband. I am so terribly sorry for her."
"You have a compassionate heart."
"No, I have a selfish heart, for I would rather anybody be murdered but someone whom you might be thought to have a motive to kill. So I would rather poor Mr. Brownlow, who did nothing but win too many tricks of whist, be dead than Willoughby, though he leave behind a wife and four children and Willoughby no one who cares overmuch for him. It is hateful!"
He joined her on the bed and drew her into his arms. "It is not hateful. Do you not think that I have felt the same? Do you not think that I resent in a number of ways what has happened to us? A lifetime of terror endured in a fortnight, a strain placed on our marriage, the lives of all my closest friends and relations disrupted, debts of friendship incurred that I can never repay--and nothing to do but hope that Mrs. Brownlow has strength enough to endure what she must."
He was warm and solid against her back, his very presence a comfort. "Dearest--what would you have done, finally, if your case had come to trial?"
"You mean to ask, what would you have been forced to endure. --I do not know. I do believe in principle, and in truth, but if to stand upon principle meant to abandon wife and child--I do not know-- Honor encompasses many aspects, including a responsibility for the safety and welfare of one's family--but to lie, or to be silent in the face of a lie-- To say that I would not live with such a stain on my name sounds at first utterance very noble, but when I consider that such 'nobility' would have meant your bearing that stain alone, without my protection--for my death would not have erased it--it sounds only cowardly--" He kissed her hair, and the curve where her neck met her shoulder. "And I believed, you know, that I would leave you with a whole heart. Learning otherwise might have made a difference-- I do not know. And I have not at all answered your question."
"It was not a fair question."
"In fact, it was--but I do not believe I shall ever be able to answer it."
She nestled more snugly against him. "I can answer it. You would have told the truth, because you cannot do less, and trusted to Providence for justice. But that you are now less positive of your own course means that you are able to understand my position just a little, and I appreciate that more than I can say."
His arms tightened around her. "I will simply give thanks from now until the end of my days that I never had to trust Providence quite so far as that."
On the succeeding Thursday morning, Willoughby called at last. He was known to be lodging at the inn, and the household were apprised of his every activity by Mrs. Baynes, who heard it from George, who heard it from Jemmy Rivers, who was acquainted with every boy who worked at the inn, the livery stable, and the post office. It was Jemmy who discovered when Willoughby had his carriage cleaned inside and out and what he had paid for it; when he sent for his valet from Allenham and how many trunks of fine clothes the fellow had brought; when he journeyed to Dorchester or Bridport; when he sent thick letters by express to Exeter or London; when he identified the body exhumed from Delaford churchyard as that of Mr. Brownlow. As the days passed, Marianne tensed a little with every crunch of carriage wheels in the sweep, and then relaxed when the new visitors proved not to be Willoughby. She was persuaded, however, that he would not leave Delaford without seeing her once more, and under the circumstances she could not reproach herself for relying upon intelligence gleaned from servants in an attempt to predict when he would seek her out. It surprised no one, however, that he did not attend church on the Sunday, knowing as he must that Brandon would be in the focus of every body's attention, and perhaps choosing not to witness Marianne's beaming smile on the occasion of any compliments to her husband. But on Thursday they understood the chief cause of his delay in calling or departing, when the corrected accounts of the case appeared in the papers; and at about eleven o'clock he presented himself to receive their gratitude and bid his adieus.
As the Brandons were out for a walk, he was received after hasty discussion by Mrs. Dashwood and Elinor, who was helping to alter one of Margaret's dresses for a dance at the Middletons' soon after her and her mother's return to Barton. Mrs. Dashwood doubted whether they should permit Willoughby to enter the house in Colonel Brandon's absence; while Elinor felt that to refuse him would be equally presumptuous--and also that some acknowledgment was due him for his recent honest, if reluctant, efforts on her brother's behalf.
He was admitted and offered a chair, in which he sat with none of the ease he had once felt and shown in the presence of this family. So much had he been in their thoughts of late, that Elinor was surprised to realize she had seen him but once or twice, and had not spoken to him, since that dreadful night at Cleveland; for her mother and Margaret the period of separation had begun many months before that, when he had fled the cottage parlor. He was clearly disappointed not to be greeted by Marianne, though perhaps even more relieved not to be greeted by her husband. As Mrs. Dashwood and Margaret kept their eyes resolutely on their work, it fell to Elinor to speak to him; she could see that he knew he was not wanted, and she felt suddenly very awkward and sad.
"We saw the accounts in the papers this morning. That was your doing, I presume?"
He turned to her with an earnest and obvious appreciation. "Yes, Mrs. Ferrars. I had written to the various editors, who sent correspondents to examine my letters of identity and confirm the story with Mr. Haydock before they printed any sort of correction. You must have thought me dilatory, but I assure you I lost no time--as I promised Mar--Mrs. Brandon I should do."
"Colonel Brandon is of course very gratified to be cleared of all suspicion."
"And has--Mrs. Brandon seen the accounts?"
"Yes, and she is much relieved as well." This seemed to please him and make him hopeful--of what, Elinor did not want to guess. "We heard that you had gone to Bridport on Saturday."
"Yes--I was very willing to make the journey the moment Constable Parker summoned me, to identify Roberts as the man with whom I had played--it was necessary before they could transfer him. If any slight misgiving still exists in anybody's mind, Roberts's being charged with the murder should end it."
Mrs. Dashwood could be silent no longer. Drawing herself very upright, she said, "We were all naturally very glad to learn that you were not dead, Mr. Willoughby; but the remainder of your conduct leaves a great deal to be desired."
"Madam," he said, with a pathetic eagerness as if he had longed to speak to her but would not presume until she invited it, "allow me to say that I welcome your censure, knowing how richly I deserve it, but also that it grieves me that you hate me now, when we were all once united in such warm friendship." Margaret, taking advantage of the latitude granted youth, gave a little sniff and did not look up.
"Did you expect a feeling any less strong?" Mrs. Dashwood said in a voice heavy with reproach. "I have not forgot how you broke my daughter's heart. If this were my house you would not have been admitted within."
Willoughby blanched as if she had struck him. "Mama!" Elinor began, but her mother, fighting back tears of anger, quickly excused herself, Margaret as quickly following.
Willoughby had stood as they left the room, and now resumed his seat, looking more ill at ease even than before. "I thank you, Mrs. Ferrars. I must say that after the treatment I received the other night--amply merited, of course; I do not in the least deny it-- Indeed I later thought how fitting it had been that I was forced to travel with two armed enemies, and was then sent away to seek lodgings at two o'clock in the morning, when all I wished was to hear a single word of thanks from Mar--a certain person-- Well, after such as that, as I say, I had not expected to find any friend at all in this house."
By the time he had finished this speech, all of Elinor's unwilling pity for him had vanished, from its being no longer needed, he providing plenty for himself. "Mr. Willoughby, allow me to make my feelings clear. I am not your friend, and I understand my mother's bitterness very well. How my sister can bring herself to speak to you, I do not know." She had been very interested to learn the particulars of Marianne's encounter with Willoughby at Allenham. Willoughby had seemed, according to Marianne, less aware of his own faults than he had professed to be at Cleveland. Instead of expecting reproof he had been shocked to receive it; instead of deploring his own actions, he had congratulated himself for them. "You will always be entitled to a portion of gratitude from me for the part you have played in safeguarding my sister and brother and restoring his good reputation; but at the same time you are entitled to a greater portion of blame, for the conduct that prolonged his suffering and caused their recent peril. You can hardly claim credit for doing right when you did it only in response to my sister's urging."
She had the impression that had he been standing he would have backed away from her. "This is like former days, Mrs. Ferrars--you were always very quick with a reprimand!"
"Only if it were warranted." She could see that his confident pose was withering under her attack and that part of him wished he could go; but for the sake of talking with Marianne he could yet nerve himself to stay. "I do apologize for neglecting you when you had brought my family and friends home safely. There was much going on, but I should have seen that a bed was made up for you."
He seemed really to regret having complained. "Oh--that is nothing. I dare say somebody would have thought of it had I not taken myself off. I was glad to be at hand, for I am an able driver at night. It is lucky, in fact, that I went to the gaol at all, for my presence was no longer required once the release order had been issued. I wanted--I wanted Marianne to know that I had done what she asked of me. I wanted, I suppose, a softening of her condemnation--and I have come looking for it now before I go."
"You leave for Allenham today?"
It was not lost on him that this time, unlike at their last meeting, she did not assure him of her sister's forgiveness. "Yes, this morning." He displayed no great eagerness to be going, however, and in fact looked as though he was sorry he had mentioned Allenham at all, for fear of a suggestion from her that as he had some distance to travel he had best be on his way.
He was looking toward the door, in the hope of being granted by the Brandons' entrance a justification for his lingering, when movement behind him caught his eye. He turned, and for a moment sat very still, for out on the lawn were John Brandon and Eliza tossing a ball about, their happy chatter reaching the parlor intermittently on the breeze through the open window. Margaret forming the third point of a triangle, Elinor thus deduced how Eliza had known to position herself and her son in just that place at just this moment. Clearly she did not want to talk to Willoughby, but she had long harbored a wish that Willoughby could see his son, and had contrived to bring it about. Elinor waited to see what he would do.
He turned away--with a smile. "He is a handsome, sturdy lad, is he not? Look how well he catches the ball!"
Elinor's answer was very cold. "He is--but as you refuse to acknowledge his connection to you, you have not the right to take any pride in his looks or his accomplishments."
His eyes narrowed slightly. "Did you think to wound me, then--to make me defensive--with that charming tableau?"
"I had no part in its arranging--for I must grant you that it was arranged--but your reaction proves you conscious of how you wrong him--and his mother."
He looked at her a moment--and then abruptly changed the subject, and Elinor was left to wonder whether he really had dismissed John Brandon from his mind and was only angry to be reminded of him. He pulled an envelope from his pocket and offered it to her. "I entrust this to you, for I believe I can be certain that Colonel Brandon will not take it from my hand. I do not know the exact amount of his expenses, as Mr. Haydock is properly discreet with information about his clients; but he assures me that the notes in that envelope are more than sufficient to defray them."
Stunned, Elinor hardly knew what to say, and stood holding the envelope in mid-air between them. "That I should be the one to transfer this to him does not change the fact that it comes from you. I do not know that he will accept it."
"Then do with it as you see fit"--and Elinor wondered whether his glance actually flickered toward the window, or she only wished it had.
She was spared any further reply or objection by the arrival of her brother and sister; seeing their faces of stone--they had obviously spied Willoughby's carriage in the sweep or been given warning by a servant--she excused herself at once, having enjoyed quite enough awkwardness for one day.
Willoughby forced a little brightness into his expression. "Your sister was very kind to talk with me while awaiting your return. Allow me to express my delight at your both looking so well"--for he could hardly make such a comment to Marianne without extending his delight to include her husband.
Marianne's hand was tight on Brandon's arm; his muscles were tense beneath her fingers. Neither wished to receive this particular guest; neither could completely disregard the service, such as it had been, that he had rendered them. Willoughby's eyes were all for Marianne, and he clearly hoped to see her alone; but he needed only a moment to realize that her husband would never permit it, and that Marianne herself did not desire it.
"I have not expressed my thanks to you, Mr. Willoughby, for your exertions in ensuring the safety of my wife and her sister." Brandon spoke with a cool courtesy, but did not offer his hand.
"I was honored to be granted the opportunity to help--though" (with a glance at Marianne) "--I deserve no thanks from you." It was not necessary for Brandon to voice his obvious agreement.
Marianne was satisfied to see that though there would never exist any feeling between the two men milder than animosity, Willoughby now displayed a humility while facing his elder and better of which she approved. "I did not have an opportunity to take my leave of Mrs. Smith," she said, her tone matching her husband's. "I would have told her that I was grateful for her assistance, and that I hope to see her again soon."
They had neither sat nor offered him a chair, and Willoughby understood very clearly that he was being dismissed. "I shall convey your regards." He gave a quick, humorless smile. "She will relish another opportunity to scold me."
"Mr. Willoughby," Brandon said, "your actions have gained you favor in this village, and because you have some claim toward being considered a gentleman and because you did risk yourself on behalf of my wife and myself, I have chosen not to correct that false impression to the extent that I could. I trust that you will never give me reason to alter my thinking." His glance shifted briefly to the group on the lawn, which now included Elinor and Rosalind. "Miss Williams is welcome to invite you to my home whenever she may like, but otherwise do not suppose that you may frequent this neighborhood with impunity."
Willoughby looked directly at Marianne. "I have no reason to frequent this neighborhood." He bowed to them and departed without another word, to take his way back with no great speed to Allenham and the wife he had chosen.
They stood almost motionless until his carriage could no longer be heard in the sweep, and then Marianne drew a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. "Now it is over," she said; and arm-in-arm they went to join the romping party on the lawn.
The matter could not be put fully behind them, however, until the Lent assizes, at which William Roberts was convicted of murder and the sentence passed and carried out. In the renewed flurry of publicity attending the trial, the Brandons decided to take a house in town for a month, in the hope of laying the matter finally to rest by presenting a normal face to the world rather than being thought to be hiding in the country. They were also not unaware that their presence would ensure Willoughby's accurate representation of the facts of the case and his involvement in it, should he hazard speaking about it at all. London was not the favorite abode of either, but the city took on new interest and significance in their lives as the location in which they celebrated their second anniversary; and they would invite a continuance of the heightened feeling of that day when they proceeded to the Lakes in June, taking for another month the same cottage in which they had resided during their wedding trip.
"Mrs. Jennings is proclaiming to all and sundry that we are the most devoted couple in England, and that she is responsible for our union," Marianne said to her husband while they dressed for a dinner party at the Palmers'. "And Charlotte repeats it to every body she knows. We will be stared at all evening."
"There are worse causes of notoriety," he replied with a smile, standing behind her and straightening the knot of his neck cloth in the mirror. "And as we have already been restored to a level of public sanity of which even your sister approves, I do not know how else we can prevent our being talked about in that fashion."
She handed him the pearl necklace he had given her before their wedding, so that he could fasten it round her neck and follow the operation, as he always did, with a kiss to her nape. Her eyes, shining in the candlelight, followed his every movement in the glass. "'My true-love hath my heart and I have his, By just exchange one for the other given: I hold his dear, and mine he cannot miss; There never was a bargain better driven.'"8
His thanks were appropriate to her offering. "Surely you do not think to cool my ardor with such a recitation as that? I shall want to claim every dance."
"In fact I had intended to ignore you all night!"
"Please, lady, not all the night--"
Joy toddled into the room, under the close supervision of her nurse, emitting a stream of happy gibberish in which the words "Mama" and "Papa" were frequently intelligible. They kissed her and told her to be a good little girl while they were out, lavishing all the more affection upon her for their recent certainty that she would soon be given a brother or sister. Brandon had greeted Marianne's announcement with great pleasure and pride closely followed by anxiety, but experience lending him a modicum of confidence, he did not panic at her every sign of illness--or had learned to reveal his alarm only to Edward, who was at present suffering a like affliction.
"Have you chosen a name yet?" he asked as they started down the stairs; he clasped her arm with firm protectiveness so that she would be in no danger of a stumble. "It is your turn, you know."
"I was thinking of Chrysanthemum, perhaps, or Fritillaria."
"Good heaven! I believe your condition has deranged you. May I suggest Aeschylus, or Eratosthenes?"
"Those are not at all colorful enough. Possibly Nebuchadnezzar."
"Nefertiti, then, or Thucydides--"
Laughing, they stepped out into the crisp, starlit night together.
1Anne Dudley Bradstreet, "To My Dear and Loving Husband," 1678. For the full text, click on the title.
2Robert Burns, "A Red, Red Rose," 1799.
3Joshua Sylvester, "Ubique," 1602. Also known as "Love's Omnipresence." At a couple of sites on the web this is credited erroneously to Samuel Daniel.
4John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 4, ll. 650-656, 1667.
5Bhavabhuti, in Sanskrit Poetry from Vidyakara's "Treasury", ed. and tr. Daniel H. H. Ingalls, Harvard University Press, 1965, p. 141.
6Kalidasa, in Ingalls, p. 143.
7William Shakespeare, Sonnet XXV, 1609.
8Sir Philip Sidney, "Song from Arcadia," 1593.hyg