Christmas at Delaford

By Kathlyn

Part 1

May - Elinor's Wedding

Is it possible that I had never before seen him in his uniform? I must admit to being somewhat amazed at how handsome he looks in that scarlet coat. The sash around his waist and the coat's many brass buttons adds a nobility to his figure that I don't believe I have ever noticed before. He smiles at me as I walk up the church aisle and I blush, embarrassed, and look away. He must have noticed my stare.

I look towards Edward standing next to the parson. Edward -- lucky, lucky man! To be marrying my most excellent sister today, I certainly hope that he has a full understanding of his good fortune in being accepted by Elinor, after all the heartache that he visited upon her! I truly believe, however, that he is more than willing to make amends for all of her pain. He had better do so, for his new sister, myself, will be their earliest visitor at the parsonage at Delaford and will be very outspoken to him if I sense anything less than complete overindulgence.

I finally reach the altar and turn to look at the bride now making her way down the aisle. Elinor, dear, loving Elinor! How beautiful she looks! Mrs. Jennings just had to take her to London to buy the wedding clothes. It was not possible to refuse her and I am so glad that Elinor finally agreed to her plan. The dress that she allowed Mrs. Jennings to purchase is equal to my sister's beauty, ivory silk, with lace at the sleeves and bodice. I turn to look at Edward. Good! He can't take his eyes off her! Colonel Brandon, at his side, also seems similarly affected. But then, he stops gazing down the aisle and turns toward me. He smiles again.

Oh that smile! I have to stare down at the flowers clutched in my hands, knowing how obvious my emotion must be. I feel a little thrill of enchantment run through me when I think of his smile and how the corners of his eyes crinkle up when he grins. Visions of him run through my mind. "Oh, Brandon, you must have some idea of how you affect me!" I think as I recall how transparent my face is. My mother has often told me how I "wear my emotions on my sleeve." I wish to be a better mistress of my own feelings, but have no hope on that score.

And now here I am, at my own sister's wedding and I hardly know what is going on. All of my thoughts are for Colonel Brandon! At any moment, I will be called upon to perform some sort of duty and I will not know what to do! I try to remain more focused on the ceremony at hand. Such reveries are better suited for the room that I will not share with Elinor tonight.

I selfishly wish that it was myself being married today, but have little hope on that score either. After my shocking behavior with Mr. Willoughby, it is a wonder that the Colonel even allows himself to be my friend. It is true that he was very attentive during my illness, even personally escorting my mother to my sickbed at Cleveland, but I believe he would do that for any person in distress. He is that good, that compassionate! His purchase of a pianoforte for my family during my recovery was another example of his charitable nature.

I furtively allow my eyes to look his way. One white gloved hand is resting on the hilt of his sword. When I think of the time that he spent serving his King in the East Indies and all of the dangers and deprivations that he must have endured, I feel weak. He hardly ever speaks of his time in the army; he only occasionally gives my younger sister Margaret some exotic bit of information to savor. She is a hopeless lover of adventure! Sir John, however, is more forthcoming about the difficulties of overseas service. He once told me of how the Colonel personally nursed his company through a deadly illness whose name I have chosen not to remember. Had Brandon himself become sick and died! I cannot bear to think of it! To have never met him at all!

It is the greatest of comforts to me to know that he is alive in the world and has befriended me. I must rest upon that joy and hope for no more.

But as the parson pronounces my sister and Edward husband and wife, I do wish for more.

The happy couple turn towards the congregation, which has broken into joyful applause. I hand my sister the bunch of late spring flowers that I gathered for her from the top of our hill and she and Edward start to walk down the aisle. The Colonel waits for me to join him. How dashing he looks in his uniform! He holds out his hand to me and I take it. I look helplessly into his eyes as he places my hand through the crook of his arm. There is so much life, so much warmth in his eyes! He smiles at me again and I feel myself go weak, but, this time, I can't look away.

December - The Pianoforte at Delaford

She left her music at the pianoforte. I see it sitting on the bench as I walk past the music room. Breakfast forgotten, I choose to examine the score sitting there. I place the sheet on the instrument and sit down in front of it. Heaven knows why my mother ever chose to teach me how to play the pianoforte. It is not a skill that is often given to sons and my older brother never was expected to learn. I am grateful, though, for her care in this regard. How often I have enjoyed being able to play on solitary nights, when I have had no other companions.

I begin to play the piece and immediately recognize it. I remember it as the first song I ever heard Miss Marianne play. She is Miss Dashwood now since her older sister's marriage and has come over with her family for a visit and to attend Delaford's annual Christmas ball. I have, as always, invited her to use my Broadwood Grand for her practice. She often comes in the afternoon to play. I try to stay out of her way during these sessions, allowing her the solitude that I believe she would desire. Oh, but how often I have walked silently past the door, just for the opportunity to listen to her.

I begin the piece again and my mind is immediately filled with the memory of her voice, singing the words in a clear, sweet tone. I believe I fell in love first with her voice all those months ago. I recall arriving late to a dinner party at my friend Sir John's and hearing her melody through the window. I walked in the door and followed the sound to the drawing room, where I waited at the entryway, watching the performer, wanting her song to continue as long as possible..

I haven't heard her play this song since then, but have carried it with me always. How I would love to hear her sing it again. How I would love to hear her sing it for me.

I stop playing, embarrassed by my thoughts. I know that she does not think of me with anything stronger than affection. To her, I am only the elderly patron of her new brother, too old and sad to consider as a husband.

How grateful I am for her affection, though. I have not wished to frighten her with anything greater than a return of her affectionate consideration, so I have kept my larger feelings in check, an almost impossible task. The warmth of her smile, the sweetness of her personality; how lucky the man will be to have her as a wife.

I do wonder if she might not agree to dance with me tonight. The Delaford Ball is an annual Christmas tradition dating back to my grandfather's time. It has been kept up, not for my own benefit, but for the enjoyment of the neighborhood. For some reason everyone looks upon it as the highlight of the season in our little corner of Devon. I have always tried to be a good host to it, wanting all to enjoy that little bit of holiday cheer. I have not danced at the ball, even though a good host would do so. I have also never led the way into the first set, managing to escape by always choosing some couple in the area to honor in that way. Tonight, Edward and Elinor will be the first couple on the floor.

But how wonderful it would be to lead Marianne... Miss Dashwood onto the floor.

But I forget myself. I certainly must ensure that she dances with some suitable younger gentlemen tonight.

I sigh hopelessly and place my fingers on the keys. If I must pine after the young lady, at least I can enjoy myself by playing her song and allowing the memory of her voice to fill my mind.

As I play the notes on the page, I begin to imagine that I hear footsteps crossing the room from the door. I imagine that I hear a scarf being dragged off a neck and a coat being unbuttoned and shrugged off. I imagine that I hear a hat being lifted off a head and dropped on the coat and neck. I can almost hear someone pulling off a pair of gloves.

Then I imagine a voice, her voice, melding with the one in my mind. No figment now, I can hear the music coming towards me. I sense her behind me. I feel the warmth of her breath as she leans over my shoulder to follow the words on the page. Her voice is as clear and lovely as it always is in my mind. I can't turn around. I can't look up. My concentration is on the music in front of me, fearful of losing this delicious consciousness by stopping the song. "Is this some dream?" I ask myself.

But I can see the curls of her hair out of the corner of my eye as she leans in further. One brushes my cheek. I lose my place on the page and have to stop.

"I've never heard you play." Marianne says behind me.

"You left your music." I whisper, not trusting myself to say anything further.

"Your were playing that song so beautifully. Why did you stop?" she questions.

"I lost my place." I admit.

"Will you pick up where you left off?" she asks.

My eyes locate the passage on the score while Marianne finds a place on the bench beside me. I shudder involuntarily from the thrill of having her so close. Did she notice it? I play on in the hopes that she won't notice how affected I am by her presence. She sings on and we finish together.

I don't know what to say to her. She sits still, silent, on the bench next to me. Her presence overwhelms me. I have to know if I can ever hope for something more than friendship with her. "I can handle anything," I think "but I must know!"

It must be the closeness of her that inspires this rash decision. "Marianne," I whisper, turning towards her. "Marianne," I repeat as I take her hand in mine. "I must know," I go on, looking into her eyes. "Is there no hope for me?"

"No hope?" she repeats.

"Can I ever hope for you to love me, as much as I love you?" I rush on.

"You love me?" she questions.

"Yes," I say, and with it, and feel some sense of release. After all of these months attempting to hold back this admission, it feels as if a weight had been lifted.

"You love me?" she repeats, louder this time as if this realization is giving some force to her thoughts.

"You must know that."

"You love me..." she looks away. I feel my heart drop. But then, she looks back and a smile spreads over her face. "You love me." She says, with a voice touched with a surprising sense of wonder.

"Of course I love you." I admit. "I've loved you ever since I heard you play this song. You must know that." I rush on.

"I thought that I had lost your love, when..." she stops.

"No, never."

"Never?" she asks.


She smiles again and I begin to hope as I never allowed myself to hope before. She is holding my hand and I feel the warmth of her small hand in mind. How can I ever let that hand go?

"Marianne," I begin, "I want to marry you. I want to be your husband and spend my life with you. But if that is never to be, I can content myself with being your friend. But I must know." I finish.

She says nothing. She just sits on the bench next to me, the same sweet smile playing on her face. "Marianne," I prod, "Marianne, please tell me."

"I feel as if I say something, I might awaken from this beautiful dream," she murmurs, "and that I will be at the parsonage alone instead of here, with you."

"Please..." I beg her.

"Of course I love you." she says, looking up at me, her eyes shining.

Those words are all I need, all I've lived for these last few months. My heart feels too full, I can't speak. The need to hold more of her is uncontrollable. I gather her up in my arms. My hands search for her face. I touch her cheeks, her brow, her lips. In an instant my mouth finds her own. "How could I live life without her," I think, wanting to remain locked in this embrace forever.

Part 3--December - The Christmas Ball

Delaford's windows shine a bright welcome. The drive is clogged with carriages and among the last guests to arrive is the party from the parsonage: Elinor and Edward, Marianne, Margaret, and Mrs. Dashwood. They find Brandon inside, greeting the arrivals with warmth and skill. Marianne can't help but think about how handsome he looks in his blue coat. How could she have ever thought that he was too old to marry? She blushes slightly at this remembrance and hopes that he never had the opportunity to hear of her impertinent words.

He shakes hands with the next couple in line and welcomes them. Marianne, waiting further back in line with her family, overhears his remarks and realizes that she will be standing with him during the next Christmas season, helping him to welcome their guests to their home. This is a thought almost too delicious to be tasted in public. To belong here at Delaford. To be at his side. To be his wife.

He glances up from his guests and recognizes Marianne standing in the hall with her family. He looks at her earnestly, a smile of delight beginning to play over his face.

But there are a few more guests to be welcomed before Marianne's party and so he turns back to those couples and tries to speak sensibly to them, but he finds it difficult, now that he is aware that she is in the room.

"Edward, Elinor, Mrs. Dashwood, Miss Margaret," he speaks to her family, shaking their hands. "Miss Dashwood..." he says to her as he takes her hand in his and presses it. He calls her by her last name, thrilled to know that it will be one of the last times that he calls her it.

"Thank you for letting me come tonight, Colonel!" Margaret pipes up. Her mother had thought that she was too young to attend his ball, but after calling upon Mrs. Dashwood to gain her approval of his engagement to her older daughter and knowing that he planned to announce their plans at the ball tonight, Mrs. Dashwood relented. Margaret would never be able to recover from the slight of not being at the ball where her favorite, Colonel Brandon, told everyone of his engagement.

Brandon directs his attention towards Marianne's impulsive little sister. "How could we have a ball without you?" he asks her in a lively voice. Margaret and the Colonel were always good friends, he being willing to spend time entertaining the young girl with stories about his time spent overseas. Margaret's eyes shine brightly.

"We will leave you to your other guests, Colonel." reminds Elinor, gesturing to the lengthening line behind them.

Brandon realizes then that he is still holding onto Marianne's hand. Regretfully, he gives it up and nods warmly to them as they turn to walk into the ballroom. Marianne turns and looks back at him as her sisters usher her away. She wonders how she is ever going to be sensible tonight. She closes her eyes and begins to dream of the delights of the evening. "Too much happiness," she murmurs to herself and Elinor smiles at her wryly. But she is glad that her sister will not have to give up her understanding of "romantic attachments" in marrying Colonel Brandon.

Earlier in the day, Elinor had watched the couple walk over the hill separating Delaford from the parsonage. The surprise of seeing Marianne return so quickly from her practice session and with Colonel Brandon in tow was the first herald of their good news. It didn't take Elinor much longer to learn that he had finally asked and she had finally accepted. This information was visible on her sister's shining face and as the sound of that couple's laughter reached her through the frosty windowpanes, Elinor looked over at her mother in surprise and ran eagerly towards the door, opening it as the pair tumbled into the hall.

"Elinor!" Marianne ran towards her, trailing her scarf, coat buttoned slightly askew, "Where's Mamma?"

"She was sitting with me in the parlor," she responded, turning in that direction and seeing her mother standing in the doorway, watching the scene in the entry with some degree of amusement.

"Madam, may I have a word?" The Colonel petitioned the older lady.

"Of course you may," Mrs. Dashwood responded, nearly clapping her hands with pleasure.

Brandon turned towards Marianne and squeezed her hand before following her mother back into the parlor. He closed the door behind him.

Marianne squealed with pleasure and flung her arms around her sister. "He loves me!" she nearly shouted.

"Of course he does!" Elinor smiled in return.

Edward walked out of his book room upon hearing Marianne and Brandon's voice in the entry way and was with Marianne and Elinor when Mrs. Dashwood and Colonel Brandon came out of the parlor. Edward immediately asked one of the servants to locate Margaret, who had gone on one of her walks and scouted around for something that could be used to offer a proper toast. Elinor and Edward would no longer hear of leading the way into the first dance that night. "That you must do for yourself, sir," was how Edward had put it to his patron.

That night, there were a few audible gasps and a smattering of applause when the musicians began the introduction to the first dance and Colonel Brandon led Miss Dashwood to the top of the row. Those standing around began to whisper questions and comments to one another. "He never dances," one lady was heard to say to another. "Isn't that the parson's sister?" said another. "I thought that Mr. and Mrs. Ferrars had been asked to..."

This change in plans had excited quite a bit of speculation, some of which could be easily answered by Colonel Brandon's happy countenance as he led his lovely partner through the dance. "He must be in love with her," one lady whispered to another. "Yes, I quite agree, he must be in love," the other lady affirmed.

Elinor and Edward, standing in the set next to Marianne and Brandon, managed to hear some of these whispers and exchanged more than a few meaningful glances. Elinor, looking at her sister, realized that she had no idea of the interest her dance with the Colonel was exciting. It seemed as if that couple had dismissed all of the others in the room. It was as if they were dancing only with one another, if that is possible to do during a country dance.

"My, but she does look lovely," one lady whispered to her husband as Marianne swept past them. Elinor smiled as she overheard that comment. Marianne's happiness always managed to magnify her natural beauty. Which was just as well, because Marianne's head had been too firmly placed in the clouds to be completely aware of her appearance as she dressed for that evening's ball. She did want to look her best and was very thankful to Elinor for dressing her hair and assisting her with her gown. Marianne kept on interrupting those preparations with unstoppable peals of laughter. "I'm just so happy!" she remarked to Elinor as her sister took the comb from her hands, "I can't seem to hold the comb!"

Delaford did have a sobering effect on Marianne. She realized that she couldn't break into hysterical laughter without the entire neighborhood wondering if Colonel Brandon weren't attaching himself to an escapee from the lunatic asylum. She wanted him to be proud of her and have confidence that she would become an excellent mistress of the estate. That thought kept her happiness from bubbling over and exposing her to ridicule.

"Elinor had to become cross with me," Marianne admitted to Brandon as they went down the row together, "I've been laughing all day and haven't been able to do anything useful!"

"She should commiserate with my housekeeper," he responded to her, "The poor woman has been very patient with me today, but she did have to ask every question twice before I could properly answer her."

"Do you think that we will eventually regain our sense?" Marianne asked, teasingly

"I think that our friends may have to be patient with us for quite some time," he said, smilingly. "I am not sure if I wish to recover the use of my sense."

Colonel Brandon chose to make his announcement before dinner rather than after, the better to satisfy the curiousity of his guests. Too many of his old friends had come up to him between dances in order to quiz him about his changed countenance. Sir John had become very impertinent as he tried to wheedle the truth out of his old friend. "Come now, Brandon, I must know!" he said and made a good case for his right to the information. "You would never have met the young lady if I had not brought them to Barton Cottage."

"John, I promise to satisfy you before dinner," he finally said, "But I want to make the announcement and, as much as I love you and Mrs. Jennings, I know that you cannot be trusted with secrets."

Sir John pretended to be affronted, but loved Brandon too well to be really offended. Especially if it meant that his good friend was to become a cousin to him as well.

The noisy crowd managed to hush itself into silence when Colonel Brandon mounted a staircase and turned to address them. "Dear friends," he began, "I want to thank you all for celebrating the Christmas season with me again this year. Your attendance at my holiday party has always given me joy."

To this there was a murmuring of appreciation.

"This year is an especially happy one for me. It became so when Mr. Ferrars agreed to minister in our little church and became even more so when he then brought his wife into our midst." Brandon looked at Elinor, smiling up at him, her arm on the shoulder of her sister. "And it became complete when her sister, Miss Dashwood, agreed to become my wife."

The crowd broke into surprised chatter. "I knew it, I knew it" someone was heard to say over the din. "How lovely," a younger lady cooed. Colonel Brandon held out his hand to Marianne and she walked up the stairs to stand beside him, her eyes shining with unshed tears.

© 1997 Copyright held by the author.