The Reward of All
Upon hearing of her mother's courtship by one, Sir Richard Morgan, Marianne could only express delight with words, while she ruminated fretfully in her mind. Months had passed since romance had been a part of her life, but also months had passed since misery, too, and she felt she had finally found the cure to all emotional maladies, present and future. Visits to her newly married sister, Elinor, were arranged, with the intent of allowing Marianne closer access to Delaford, its library and music room. Thus, she found the materials she needed to embark upon this new life she had chosen, a life of rigid discipline in her musical studies and in the reading of prose (not poetry---she was quite through with poetry, completely and utterly immune to it----she absolutely disliked poetry!) Not one pretty little phrase about the glories of death, war, or love did she read----but instead, sought to improve her mind with books on rational thought and steady logic. She gave over to the reasoning of the great philosophers of both present times and ancient; she let their words freeze the warm little beating organ that had been her heart, and also the emotions housed within. In addition, she steadfastly refused to appear at all assemblies, balls, parties, boating excursions, picnics----in short, any activity that might possibility cause her heart to beat fast, her cheeks to blush, and her appetite to sharpen into a hunger for all things exciting and sweet. A small card party----a visit with conversation about such quiet topics as the weather and fashions---or her visits to Delaford, home of the silent and dignified Colonel Brandon----such diversions were her only choices these days.
No one who knew Marianne well much liked this new person she had become; yet, no one seemed to recall they had found her earlier exploits improper and excessive. Only Mrs. Jennings, with her typical bluntness of opinon, could say: "We have such staid, uninteresting parties these days -- what I wouldn't give for a secret flirtation or flushed face! Or a broken engagement....even an adultery would be----!" Lady Middleton would then interrupt her mother's vulgar complaints with a comment about some other aspect of nature----the beauty of the trees, for example---designed to quell a possible discussion about the less savory aspects of human nature.
But, poor Marianne could only seem to place her mind in the position of thoughts toward the situation of mama. Mrs. Dashwood had become acquainted with Sir Richard during one of Sir John's very large dinner parties; they had been seated next to one another, the fine, older gentlemen past his sixth decade, and the matronly, but attractive mother of three grown daughters. Amiability seemed a quality well established in Sir Richard: he found himself drawn to Mrs. Dashwood beyond that of her being his dinner partner. It being a very pleasant evening outside, and with the garden at its best due to the time of year, Sir Richard had offered his arm to Mrs. Dashwood when she expressed a desire to enjoy the roses----and thereafter, his arm was ever hers at any event they mutually attended. Within that same week, Sir Richard rode to Barton Cottage to take tea, and to surreptiously admire his new interest, to make himself useful to her in any way possible, and to acquaint himself with the daughters...both of whom he had heard were very modest in dowry....but not in character, amiability or in beauty. Sir Richard had son, something of a rake, whom he believed that marriage could tame....but only marriage to a girl of exquisite beauty and quiet temparment, qualities very evident in Marianne.
But the girl seemed distant, yet polite when Sir Richard mentioned that "my son, Stephen, I gifted with his own curricle this past Spring-----and he makes a sight to melt any lady's heart like butter.... ," with this significant description, Marianne only smiled slightly, looked away with a distant gaze, and calmly stirred her tea.. "She must have her heart set on another," he thought, quickly dismissing the possibility of Marianne .....and instead, turned his thoughts and attention on Margaret, who, though only fifteen, would not remain fifteen all her life, and who also possessed a lovely face and sweet disposition.
Of course, Marianne's heart was set on no one, but she had felt as much discomfort as if it had upon the words: "his own curricle...."
However, soon Sir Richard became more involved with plans for his own courtship and marriage, and decided that, "the devil take Stephen, he can matchmake for himself," and proceeded to pay Mrs. Dashwood all those attentions, both small and large that would soon capture her heart. Every week he was at Barton Cottage, and every dinner, ball or picnic given by Sir John included Sir Richard as guest.....and also Mrs. Dashwood. Sir John was delighted: though marriage he could not recommend, the drama leading to the engagement provided him with much entertainment, and considering that Sir John loved to hunt, it does not seem very odd that he would enjoy the chase, as opposed to the capture.
Marianne's happiness for her mother was somewhat negated by her fears for her mother acquiring an honest, affectionate, and rich husband. Of course, such a marriage must hold the promise of much danger, and Marianne's notions of romantic attachment had been diluted by all that had happened to her. However, the residue of them still remained: Marianne believed the heart, once hardened by heartbreak, could never soften into love again. Every day, she proved this to herself: did she not regard all men, even the handsomest and most kindest---with absolutely no interest, no delight, no acknowledgement of any kind save the most minimal politeness? And did these ploys not work? It had been weeks since her heart had quickened its beat, or her face brightened with a flush at the thought of being held in masculine arms, being kissed by an ardent mouth. Weeks it had been; and to Marianne, the amount of time that had passed indicated that she had sufficiently removed herself from love. And each day after, she felt certain of victory, not knowing that time and effort do not always equal success, especially in those matters of the heart.
So it was in this state of mind that Marianne continued her weekly journey to Delaford: these days began with Sir John's carriage calling for her, then onto the Parsonage, where she would get Elinor to accompany as chaperone. From there, they walked to Delaford, a brisk and beautful walk surrounded by a green hedge, which paralleled a sparkling brook. Elinor was often in verbal rhapsodies as to the natural loveliness they saw: Marianne wondered what had happened to Elinor that she found rapture in the color green, and in a small sliver of water; she saw them as pleasant enough, but hardly worth the energy of emotion. But, there again, Elinor was newly married, and probably saw romance in everything: Marianne was quite done with it all---and happier for it.
Colonel Brandon greeted them with his usual joyous dignity. That most of this feeling was extended toward Marianne was something that only the most dimwitted person could not have noticed. But the lady to whom all this goodwill was given did not notice, leaving one to suppose the worst of her intellectual capabilities. The tea service, in all its glory, arrived with its suitable array of sandwiches and small cakes: Marianne always loved the food at Delaford and it seemed to her that Colonel Brandon asked her a great many questions about what kinds of sandwich ingredients she especially enjoyed; he thus used this knowledge to make certain that Marianne's favorites were always prepared. She had never considered that the reason for the excellence of food at Delaford was due to the Colonel's concern for her delight: she believed it was all coincidental, due to the expertise of the cook.
After this tea, the ladies were escorted into the library, with Elinor once again in thrilled exultation of the fineness of the books, the gloss on the furniture, and view of the garden from the large windows. Marianne gazed at her in rapt amazement, thinking that perhaps this was proof that marriage could not be good, and that she was quite right in avoiding it, if this is what happened to a pragmatic, sensible, forthright young woman like Elinor that she became giddy with foolish feelings, and felt the need to go into ecstasies over the commonplace. She sighed a bit, and turned to look at Colonel Brandon, hoping he did not notice her sister's excessive emoting. Unfortunately, it looked to her as if he did, and was very concerned, for when she met his eyes, his gaze seemed full of meaning, as if he wished to say something, but could not.
"Of course, he is worried that Elinor has become unhinged, somehow...and that would never do for the wife of the Delaford parson," Marianne immediately conjectured. She then addressed Colonel Brandon, who then looked so startled, that she could only suppose he was deeply concerned about having Elinor upon his premises...and perhaps wished Marianne would leave, thus taking Elinor with her.
"Perhaps, Mr. Brandon....we should forgo music this afternoon, and return to the parsonage."
The Colonel looked even more distressed, which Marianne interpreted as: "He is emotionally distraught! Elinor must be making him very nervous, and he wishes us gone..."
However, he then began to speak with pleading urgency that they remain; he found afternoons so tiresome without company, and since Miss Marianne rarely attended any social event these days, it was not likely that their paths would cross at any other time. "Nor do I see much of Mrs. Ferrars, either," He very hastily added, " though she lives so close, but her duties as wife of our clergyman often keeps her and Mr. Ferrars too busy for many visits to Delaford..."
Elinor quickly interrupted with, "But Colonel Brandon...we were just here at dinner two nights ago." She turned nervously to Marianne, "We visit here at least twice a week...three times if we count the times I accompany you."
Marianne could not believe this: Elinor speaking her feelings with such passion and candor. Not only interrupting the sentence of her patron, the Colonel, but contradicting his information, making him sound false and silly. Marianne tried not to look at the him; but in her anxiety, she needed reassurance that her sister's rudeness did not hurt him, so her eyes met his once again, and she saw that he was looking at the shelf above her head. Marianne started to take Elinor's arm to begin the movement toward out of doors, and back to the Parsonage, when Brandon's voice, heavy with its velvet tone, spoke:
"I, for one, have looked forward to Miss Marianne's music all week. I procured a new piece for her to try and would enjoy hearing it," He tilted his head towards her earnestly, "It is only a short piece, and....I will release you once you have played it.." and he voice trailed, one almost able to hear the word "for me" attached to his last sentence. Well, Elinor heard it at any case, but Marianne did not....the blindness of her heart seemed to deafen all sound to her ears as well.
The Colonel had a room that was only used for the musical: the pianoforte had its place of prominance, but also there was a harp (Eliza Williams, his ward, played it when visiting Delaford, which was not often since her disgrace), and cabinets that stored other small instruments, sheet music, and musical equipment. Marianne thought it the nicest room at Delaford; Brandon thought it nicest when she was there----and Elinor thought everything nice, and commented on it with a profusion that caused Marianne's cheeks to burn: "I do hope it a very short piece, " was her thought, as the Colonel escorted her to the piano, and bent near her to arrange the sheet music.
It was during this closeness of person, that Marianne felt a bit odd: her breath caught in her throat, and the beat of her heart pounded so loudly she was certain Colonel Brandon knew of it. But he seemed very busily searching through the music, and she turned her head, hoping to calm herself. The worst then happened when he walked around her to search some piles on top, and his coat sleeve brushed against her hand. Fire came to her face, and seemed to creep ever further down, much further down than her own sense of modesty could describe: this weakening warmth made her feel faint---then she made the fatal mistake of attempting to stand up, get some air....
And in the next moment, she fell against the Colonel, who quickly turned from the music to hold her up, and she heard his gasp of surprise, then felt the strength of his arms under hers. The room seemed warm and wavering: she saw his face, and the concern---almost panic---evident there in his eyes and she felt him very close...closer than ever she had been to any man since...since..
Elinor was also there, attempting to put a handkerchief over Marianne's mouth, but Marianne jerked her head, and clear thought was restored to her without the smelling salts. But her eyes did not quite agree, they very much wanted to continue their gaze upon Brandon: her body also uttered its allegiance to something besides rationality, and Marianne stood in his arms a bit longer than she would have otherwise. Brandon did not loosen his grip, and although Marianne attempted to stand more firmly, and to appear more composed, something compelled her to lean a bit closer against Colonel Brandon, at which point, Elinor cried out, "Oh, dear, dear Marianne...my sister, I hope you do not take ill as last time..."
But Marianne soon recovered, calming her sister and Colonel Brandon with every reassurance that she was feeling very well: she removed herself from Brandon's arms, though he seemed hesitant to trust her to her own legs, keeping his arms poised to catch her if another fall seemed in process. She looked into his face, puzzling at the expression found there: almost as if he had nearly fainted, and for a moment, she thought he might, but he only seemed to swallow rather hard, and made a suggestion that perhaps Marianne might prefer not to play.
"Of course, not---musical enjoyment is the best thing to discourage our further worry upon the subject of my health, which I can assure you is quite excellent. My program of rational thought, and enthusiastic study has kept illness from me: to deny me additional practice at the pianoforte may allow sickness to somehow gain its hold on me: please let it not happen. I am quite able to continue; Colonel did you find the piece you wish played?"
Colonel Brandon said he did not, but that anything she chose to perform would be pleasing, though he would enjoy hearing her voice if she felt she could manage it. She could....but when she began an aria, a very gorgeous song of love, of longing, and desire withheld----she found the words hard to pronounce, though she sang it with more feeling than she realized. The man who loved her did notice the tremor in her voice, the rise in feeling she gave to some words and not to others, the pauses, the caressing of the keys so that their tone broke the listener's heart: all of these effects came from a soul that tried too hard not to feel, but could do nothing else but feel. As hard as she had tried not to experience tenderness, to know compassion, to see love----it had come out through each note she sang and played.
These odd feelings continued, distressing and confusing Marianne to the point that she decided to not sing any longer: surely part of her problem was a tiredness of the throat, a fatigue of the tongue, and that her hands would not betray her in this embarrassing manner. But, alas---this was not to be: it was like wishing that her heart would stop beating, or that she stop breathing! In fact, she may have had more power over those things, than she had over the responsiveness of the keys to the plight in her soul. Each note was singing: "You love him...you love him..." and though she attempted to restrain this melody----it simply could not be done. It was a seed pod bursting, with hundred of seeds everywhere: and as she could not have chased all those seeds, and bring back each one it original place----so were her emotions scattered everywhere, and were free to grow where they chose.
"In love...in love?....with Colonel Brandon!" came this most startling thought, "A man who is never been more to me than that: Colonel Brandon. I hardly believe that I could call him anything else besides 'the Colonel' or 'Mr. Brandon', or even simply, 'my very good friend.' I only regard him as a ....friend, but no more surely. I cannot think of him as more. It is not that I think of him as never having loved, as I know that he has loved with depth, passion, and constancy....but, he needs so much more than I am sure I can give. A wife with a generous dowry, and whose heart has had no other man's name stamped upon it. Thus, such a woman could never make comparisons, as none would exist for her to make. And he would have additional wealth to leave his children, and to increase his property. I cannot even offer the most basic of dowries that a man such as himself might need or require. And as to anything else---my heart---I think it impossible to believe he would want that! It is a heart weakened by the abuse of another! It is heart hardened by disappointment, toughened into practicality, and abandoned to its own sweet loneliness. It is not a heart that will yield to another."
But then-----what was she to make of her mother, loving a new man, and loving him without comparison, yet not without regard to her late husband, Marianne's dear father. She recalled how affectionate, and how devoted had been that relationship; did it not follow, if Marianne what thought about a wife for Colonel Brandon should be true----then, did it not mean that an untried and unknowing woman might not be the best life companion for him? Was love something that the more tried, the better known----and the better known, thus the better employed for the happiness of both people? Such was the debate raging in her mind, as she continued her piece, the music well known to her, and because it was well known, very well played.
"Consider this music," the argument in her head continued, "You have played this piece for five years, and so well do you know it, that you do not even require the music for each note to be perfectly executed....yet, think: what else is music? Is it not expression? Dynamics? Interpretation? It is all those things and more besides---and since you know the basics: reading the music, where the notes are located on this keyboard---you need not place much of your concentration upon those skills, but can turn your mind to making this song very beautiful....and thus very pleasing to the ears of your listeners, and to yourself. Now, is not love the same?"
To those observing her, Marianne seemed very intent upon the keys of the pianoforte, quite the image of serious concentration and utter involvement with the music---but her mind was spinning thoughts that she found most disarming, and almost---unpleasant. Her shoulders began to tremble, and her hands to shake, but not a mistake did she make in her performance. Once, she glanced up to look at the face of Brandon, and saw his eyes that seemed, even from a distance, shining and wet with tears wanting to be shed. This distracted her in an awful way, and her heart thumped hard against her throat. To reassure herself that he was alright, she looked again, this time with a longer gaze, and this caused him to quickly avert his look elsewhere, though she saw enough of his cheek to see it blush.
She looked at Colonel Brandon, wanting him to know, suddenly wanting it very desperately, and wishing with all her heart she had known before now: how many fewer months of joy would she have to give him now all because of her blindness! But that could be overcome by her complete devotion and affection that would follow him to the grave. This thought of death did not depress her---but heartened her into the secure knowledge that she had found a love that would make death seem only a box that could hold it for eternity.
Marianne then launched into another piece, and from then on, she played only for and to Colonel Brandon; that he seemed to feel it only heightened her desire for him to know it as well. In that room, they saw only one another: Elinor chaperoned in name only, for she could not quell their thoughts, their emotions----and had she known, she would not have wanted to discourage this outpouring. It was the wish of them all that Marianne and Colonel Brandon should marry----but it was also the wish of them all that it happen naturally, and for the lightening to strike over music seemed most natural of all. Elinor let this happy illumination take its course, and did not suggest, as she usually did, that five songs were enough; but instead, remained seated silently and complacently as Marianne completed a sixth, seventh, and an eighth melody!
Finally, however (but not because Marianne had not the energy for it: she knew she could have played to her lover for many hours yet), but because Elinor had the usual chores to do at the parsonage, that they needed to prepare to take leave. First, though, Elinor requested that she might take some rose cuttings from the fine Delaford garden, and the Colonel eagerly encouraged this; and summoned a maidservant to assist in the cuttings, which Elinor believed could take as long, perhaps a bit longer than half an hour: "And, of course, if I find these cuttings difficult to take, it may be at least three quarters of an hour..."
"It is," said the Colonel, "often difficult to make good, clean cuts...much time and effort can be expended before one is successful, so I will quite understand if you remain gone for as long as an hour, Mrs. Ferrars."
They went to the drawing room, and the large doors had been opened onto the courtyard so that the finest breeze greeted them as they entered; Marianne using both arms to hold onto the arm of Colonel Brandon----heretofore, her custom had been to merely place her hand upon his forearm whenever he had escorted her anywhere about the house. He seemed quite affected by this change, and asked her to walk outside with him.
"I have learned that congratulations are in order for your mother," he commented.
Marianne did not particularly want to discuss the romance of her mother, but since it seemed that the Colonel wished it discussed, she replied with, "Yes, Sir Richard is....very kind, pleasing, and amiable. Most importantly, he loves my mother, and at her time of life, to find love is rare, but then the rarity of love must make it greater..."
"More precious..." added Brandon, "Love after having lost a loved one through death...through any type of loss, makes us believe love is too painful, too hard----thereafter we stay far away from it . Then one day, love has its way with us: we see someone, meet someone---we know joy with knowing this person, and wish to give them joy in return....and we then realize that while hurting can be part of love, it is not just that: love has so many sides, and most of them exist to increase human happiness."
Marianne squeezed his arm, though she did not know she was doing it: the Colonel did, however, and knew its meaning. It was the sign he had been hoping for these many months, and at times, he had despaired of ever seeing it. Then, Marianne suddenly removed her arm, and stepped away, a blush on her face very evident to the both of them. She removed herself to a nearby bench, looking away as much as possible from Brandon, and set her gaze upon a nearby clump of lavender, carefully studying its form, and wondering why this particular plant seemed not as healthy as others nearby. But though she tried to avoid looking at him, she could not avoid hearing him. His voice, wrapping her name with its rich depth, could only be obeyed; she did look at him, and saw his eyes, bright with meaning, and his mouth, seeming to quiver with some joy he could barely name. Then he knelt before her, saying very little, but that little containing the most ardent of declarations, followed by the most profound of requests, and then, after she had made her response, it was followed still yet by the most tender of promises.
Elinor observed all this from afar, the rose garden being on a nearby hill, and affording her the best view of the grounds upon where her sister walked with Brandon. Oh, to have Margaret with her now, she was taller, and could have seen the better! But, after awhile, Elinor knew all was done, and done in no better fashion than she could have hoped....and really, considering Marianne's mood all day, it seemed all the more surprising. What had changed her? Probably just another one of those lightening strikes that love was always so famously bestowing upon startled humanity.....while ruminating upon the impulsiveness of love, Elinor neglected to give attention to her task, and once again, a long scratch appeared on her arm.
"Oh, dear, Mrs. Ferrars!" exclaimed the maidservant who had accompanied her, "You've yet another scratch! Your arm will be look like a well traveled road before you're through!"
Elinor did not hear her words, nor notice her concern for her wound, as she was thinking that by the time the scratches did heal, she should be well able to serve as bridesmaid to her sister...and upon this thought, she went to greet her sister and Brandon, upon which another type of healing had taken place, as the reward of all.
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