The Seventh Week and The Seventh Month
The first indication of problems for Mrs. Marianne Brandon was her sudden intense dislike for certain kinds of food, most particularly any fish, and occasionally, some types of meat. The weather had turned hot, and she attributed most of her sick feeling to the weather, and quite possibly, to her own anxiety at the newness of marriage, and the challenging responsibilities of mistress to a large estate. Since her wedding, about seven weeks ago, there had been parties, visits, and balls----some of these had been outdoor affairs, which could be more informal and less difficult; but most had required extensive planning, which often meant that Marianne kept very late hours, and even when she slept, it was not a restful sleep, so populated were her dreams with visions of social disaster.
To herself, she was most critical of her abilities in this strange arena, and could not know that all the women in her circle well understood the strain she was under, and that most of them did not judge her, and of those that did, their opinions had always meant nothing to her. However, it was not for herself she minded, but for the sake of her dear husband, whose heart had come first when choosing a marriage partner: for Marianne had brought only a small dowry, and little else except a lovely face, striking figure, clever mind, and upright character. To be sure, the first few weeks of their marriage had been quite blissful-----probably just as happy----as if Marianne had been an heiress worth twenty thousand, but she felt this lack, and knew that if Brandon had consulted anyone with a practical turn of mind, he would have been advised to seek a bride who could enrich his estate----and forgo the bride who could only offer enrichment of soul. But, Colonel Brandon had always been frugal with his money, and generous with his feelings; both strategies had allowed him more freedom of choice, and Marianne had been what he had wanted; her comparative poverty had only endeared him to her in the way he could enjoy giving her lavish gifts, and thus alleviate some of the vile behavior of her brother and sister in law. He was not a man much given to sudden and complete dislike of anyone: he usually allowed any person a chance to convince him of their worth, but, from the first John and Fanny Dashwood made him positively ill----though, of course, he acted as though they inspired quite the opposite effect whenever they visited.
It was all because her husband was very considerate, kind, generous, and affectionate that Marianne so badly wanted to do him justice. Thus, her hard efforts toward hospitality, which not only included several sleepless nights, but also much distress of mind and constant activity of thought, were no doubt beginning to have negative efforts on her physical health. So, at first, her symptoms did not seem so very odd, when one allowed for the strain she had been under. However, as the weeks passed, and her discomfort not only did not abate, but seemed to increase and to invite new miseries, that Marianne realized she needed to put aside her deep worries concerning the number of musicians to be hired, or the type of sauce to be chosen for the roast mutton----and to concentrate on getting well.
Alas! This plan to rest and relax did not produce the desired effect, and it was at this time she discovered her dislike for fish, and veal, and beef, and mutton, and----! The worst of it was that all these things were included in Brandon's favorite dishes: nary a day did not pass that at least one of these foods was not served at Delaford. Of course, she could simply not eat them----but it was more problematic than that: the very smell of any of these caused her to be sick, and so even their presence on the table----smoking hot and offering their various, tantalizing aromas----- were enough to torture Marianne. Brandon ate heartily---sportsmen, and men of activity, such as he was, generally did---and just observing his enthusiastic enjoyment of each dish provoked queasiness. How could he eat, and eat happily---any of it was quite beyond her comprehension, though she recalled that a month previously, she had loved this food, too.
Day passed each day----and the other alarming symptoms began to appear: headaches, faintness, and lowness of spirits. If there was any thing positive to gleaned from her illness it was that she only had to endure one discomfort at time---and she felt that whatever was her problem, it could not be so very bad. No doubt it was some type of strange influenza, or simply, as she felt from the first, the new worries that accompanied her new life. Once, she became easy and accustomed to the ways at Delaford----once she conquered her shyness she felt when alone with her husband---once she learned how best to deal with some of the complexities inherent in patronizing a village----then perhaps her physical discomforts would cease.
Of this list of anxieties, one of them would be, all by itself, enough to instigate an emotional distress into a physical one: but this one anxiety was that which occurred in their most private moments, and of which she dared not even think---let alone speak---because it was something so unlike anything she had ever previously known. Certainly, Marianne had experienced affection, and caresses, and even the sighs of an admirer; but, she had never realized that she would be required to expose herself to such intimacy, and to such vulnerability in front of someone whom, before her marriage, she would not have dreamed of even allowing him a glimpse of her petticoat or of more dÈcolletage than was deemed proper. In her more rational moments, Marianne thought it seemed silly to expect a bride to hide her ankle from her beloved the day before their wedding, yet be expected, within twenty four hours, to affect a complete transformation in the other direction towards discarding everything above that ankle. But, it seemed to be the normal practice, and no one seemed shocked, or concerned, or even much in wonder of this inconsistency. On Brandon's part, he was respectful and sensitive to her plight: he never forced any need upon her, never demanded any exotic artifice, never even requested much consideration for himself beyond her presence and attention to him.
But yet, she had not been married long enough to be completely easy in his presence: she still blushed and stammered and averted her eyes whenever approached by her husband. Though her romanticism was not quite so extensive as formerly, Marianne still cherished a sensibility about certain things-----she thought herself, of all people, would have, without shame or hesitancy, succumbed to the secrets of marital life; she, who had always loved intrigue, drama, and excitement-----she, who had always relished the quickening pulse and the warmth of fever ----she, who could become intoxicated by merely gazing upon a pathway covered with dead, brown leaves!
But, that high spirited and sensual young girl had been replaced by a nervous, fatigued young woman who found the very things she wished to enjoy were making her ill. And that illness of such a queer nature; just as impulsive as she was once, and just as inconsistent----it seemed she felt her worst in the morning, and usually, in the evening, but felt rather well anytime after nine o'clock until about six. This posed multiple problems, especially where evening social events were concerned: did she do her best to attend, or, knowing her probable state----should she decline? Perhaps once or twice she might be given a reprieve-----but on the third refusal, the county gossip mill (Mrs. Jennings) would begin its speculation and inquiry----and then she would be forced to reveal her inability to handle the awesome responsibilities of wife and mistress. What pity there would be! Did you hear---? Poor Colonel Brandon----well, we all said he would live to regret marrying a woman so much younger than he! And, overemotional as we all know she was----and must still be! Marianne made a furious effort to silence these voices----no, she would not, must not yield to these thoughts! Melancholy was understandable in her case, but she must not let it tyrannize her soul.
Marianne was thus determined to follow a course of deception: she laughed often, and with enthusiasm whenever her nerves were at their worst. She feigned, as much appetite as she could during dinner---while covertly feeding the hound under the table whenever her symptoms of sickness seemed overwhelming. And she also took long walks---very brisk, very long walks---at the first notice of fatigue and depression. If none of these methods did cure her malady, at least she was able to convince others that she was well, and of course, she did fool everyone.
Well, almost.....there was one who was not fooled. Not at all. And who could have named her problem had she been able to confide in him, but given her embarrassment over other issues, he knew she was not likely to do this. So, he kept watch over her, and decided to let her keep her secret a bit longer. But, this could not be for more than a few days at most, for it kept him from the joy of it, and after all that he had been through, for so many years, the denial of happiness was not a comfort to him. So, protecting Marianne as much as possible, and keeping silent as much as possible (which often seemed impossible), Colonel Brandon observed her, wondering why she did not tell him what could only be the best news in the world, and also, wondering, with great uneasiness, if there was some reason for her silence on the issue. They had not been married long, just past seven weeks; therefore, this had begun in their very first night together----but, what if....what if....a coil of pain twisted within, and he, not for the first time, felt the vague jealousy that always caused him to picture the face of John Willoughby among his thoughts. Then, quickly he discounted any possibility that Marianne..... No, Willoughby had been in France the last few months....his jealousy of Willoughby and anxiety for Marianne was causing him to think in this irrational way. This was not like him, and Brandon decided, with great determination, that before the day was through, that he would reveal to Marianne what he suspected, and thus end the suspense. There had been drama enough in his life, and he had little taste for prolonging its stay.
At this point, Marianne walked into the study. He arose, his face very serious, very resolute, and Marianne could only think, "He knows! He knows I am too ill....and is disappointed and saddened to be burdened with such a wife.....he, who has endured so much!.....I have failed him in every way, even from the very beginning when I chased after Willoughby, and his broken heart followed after me! I have failed! And have failed at the point when I most wished to succeed, when it really did finally matter to me!" While she thought hysterically, Brandon noted her alabaster look, the shadowed eyes, and the staggering walk, and quickly went to meet her, but she knew it not: the room blurred into a darkness, and then only the words..."I have failed him....I have failed him...," were her last thoughts before she fell onto the floor.
The fog was thick, but she knew if she ran fast enough, it would not overwhelm her; though she could not see what was in front of her, something seemed to press against her, calling her name in his voice, a voice as deep and thick as the fog. Hands passed through her hair, and someone was kissing her mouth, her mouth was not her own, nor did her body seem to be hers, but part of something much greater, much bigger than she was. Small golden suns appeared, and she wondered why there were so many, she could only recall there being one, but here was six glowing little suns, and the voice penetrated her mind, a voice heavy with relief, and she thought she heard a sigh.....then the darkness came to her, and she could feel herself melting, and she died to his need of her, as she had been wanting to do for ever so long, since it had all been denied her, forgetting all her modesty and thinking only of this moment, and knowing that in this moment, they had created another soul.
"Marianne...Marianne....Marianne.." she heard Elinor, and then the much deeper tone of Brandon's voice, saying, "I knew what was the problem....I should have talked to her, not letting her go on this way....I have failed her...."
Where had she heard these words before? The memory disappeared, and she felt her strength go with it: she was quite ready to give it up, succumb to the life of an invalid, but she would not let her husband succumb as well. Divorce was an ugly thought, but it offered dear Christopher an escape from the confines of the sickroom, and if divorce were not possible, she would offer to live away from him, perhaps meeting once in a great while to read poetry together. He could live as he did before, and maybe, one day, her health might recover....sometimes sickly people did get better, though not often.....
His face was above hers, concerned, gentle, and somewhat inquisitive, almost as if he had some happy secret to bestow upon her, very much the look he might have when teasing her. But, surely she imagined this----none of this was amusing, and she had to be mistaken in supposing him thinking his new role as husband to an invalid would be enjoyable. Elinor, too, had a bit of merriment evident in her eyes----just what could this mean? Was illness suddenly considered some kind of fashionable joke?
Brandon walked to the nearest window, and Marianne thought he was smiling, though it was hard to tell----the light shone at an odd angle, and perhaps she only thought the corners of his mouth seemed to turn up. Elinor leaned forward, inquiring after her condition, and Marianne feebly responded that she felt very tired, a little sick, and rather sad.
"Sad? How so, Marianne?"
Marianne related the entire sequence of her miseries to her sister; she feared Brandon's response, but only saw him slowly approach their bed, and then say:
"In these instances, it is not usually the case for the husband to be more knowledgeable than his wife. But, it appears that I am in the happy, if not unusual position of being able to announce that....we....Marianne....you and I....are to expect a child to be born to us, by all appearances, sometime in the early Spring of next year..." Brandon's face was bright with color, and his eyes seemed to have misted over somewhat, plus he seemed to be having some problem with keeping his hands from trembling as he grasped hers.
These words made little sense to her at first: how could that be, and so very soon at that! Marianne had some vague theory that a woman only conceived under certain conditions---but what these were, she could not say, only that she had heard differing folklore on the subject, and thought it to be true. It still seemed very odd to her that this had to happen so quickly. Everyone would suppose, at least at first, that the baby was conceived before the wedding, and a very cold fear seized Marianne's heart, as she stammered:
"We must not announce this too soon!"
Elinor looked puzzled, then asked her why. Marianne explained, and Brandon commented: "Only the truly vulgar would think so, Marianne."
"And they live among us! Have you forgotten Sir John and Mrs. Jennings!"
"They are not so coarse as that, Marianne," remarked Elinor, "Even they recognize that such things are not even thought, let alone imagined or discussed. It would be a breach of propriety of the worst sort, to think you and Colonel Brandon...." Here Elinor blushed, realizing she was speaking of her dearest sister and beloved brother in law. So, she stopped, then continued: "If they are the friends they pretend to be.....they will not believe anything other than what should be believed. And certainly, they would not dare say otherwise, even amongst themselves. They would not wish to invite the censure from the neighborhood if their supposition proved false, as it surely would as soon as the baby was born."
"But until then, Elinor! Until that is the case!" cried out Marianne. Brandon could see that such thinking could only further distress his wife, and calmly suggested that perhaps it would not be such a bad thing to postpone making an announcement, at least for awhile. Elinor herself was to have a child, and she recalled her own reluctance on this very issue when her condition was new. So she agreed it might be the wisest course for now, and then she absented herself, as she was certain that husband and wife had much to discuss; she sensed that Marianne was upset about rather more than her efficiency in providing an heir.
Had she remained in the room, Elinor would have thought herself able to read minds: Marianne sat looking down at the quilt on the bed, clasping her hands tightly together, and not looking very happy at the prospect of future motherhood. Her husband sat near her, remained silent for several minutes, then, with great emotion, said:
"I hardly know how....I....Marianne, I can only say that, aside from a certain day some seven weeks ago...that this is the most joyous moment of my life."
Marianne's reply was equally emotional: "It is not for me! And, if you knew all---you might not find it so, either!"
These five, brutal words caused Brandon's eyes to jerk with alarm, as if he were stabbed...and, in effect, he was. In fact, he felt very much as if this were true: heavy pain seared his heart, his head became giddy, and he could feel his blood rushing everywhere, as if he could be profusely bleeding elsewhere... "The baby must not be mine! But that cannot be true! Or could it be---men have been bewitched into believing less! And why not you? Haven't you been under some sort of spell from the first ? Have I been blinded in some way.....? What can she mean?"
Nothing, he would feel nothing. That would be best, whatever her next words could be, at least it would hurt him no longer. All had been a dream, and he was now awakening to the reality, and that reality about to be revealed to him by the very person who had first allowed him to dream. The sob forming in his throat would have to wait its release, the thoughts in his head would remain frozen, and his heart must stop its miserable beating while he listened to what was sure to end his happiness and begin his hate.
His eyes never left hers. He stood up, putting his hands behind his back (he did not quite trust himself with them so close to her throat), and with a gaze that was both deadly and dying, and with a slow, dark voice, said:
"So. Pray. Tell me, Marianne. What is it.....that I...don't know!"
The deepening shadows in her husband's face alerted Marianne that her words were being misinterpreted; and she knew in what direction Brandon was thinking: she was horrified that he could believe her so weak that she would....
"Well...?" Brandon questioned, his countenance calm, with great dignity, yet malice spoke in his eyes, and Marianne could no longer wonder at his ability to command an army regiment or...to fight a duel. He possessed all the iron control, steady discipline, and seething passion to defend or avenge any situation that threatened to destroy his peace. Never had she really known this side to him, and now that, for the first time, she was actually witnessing its power, a thought came to her, fearfully delicious: "He is quite ready to defend what is his.....or.....what isn't, because he thinks I have a confession that will suddenly take it all away from him....and if I did have such crimes to admit, Brandon would instantly leave this room....and Willoughby, probably just as instantly, leave this life..."
Her voice shook just a little at the knowledge that Brandon was, at that very moment, accusing her so thoroughly, but she began her explanation:
"I am afraid, quite simply....afraid."
Colonel Brandon deliberately lowered himself onto the bed, now very puzzled, but at least the hard, dangerous glint was gone from his look, and Marianne had now steadied herself to continue:
"I know that babies make their appearance when God wills it....but.....I can't help wishing...that is..." At this point she rushed onward, desperate to share with her husband everything, but still a little shy about discussing certain things.
"I do not think I am happy about this child making its appearance....my initial feeling, when you told me, was of the keenest disappointment. I would have expected to feel the most momentous joy, but instead, I could only recall Charlotte Palmer's descriptions of her own confinements.....and the Palmers seem so very unhappy, and Mrs. Jennings has commented that Charlotte should have had more time to be married before her children arrived and perhaps that is the reason Mr. Palmer detests her so!" Marianne unsuccessfully stifled a sob at this point, and Brandon looked to say something, but he let her continue: "I....I will not be able to bear it if you should become disgusted with me! And....I will be fat, with swollen ankles, and skin rashes....and probably, no doubt, many strange humors that will cause me to say things that might hurt you terribly....as I have already done a few moments earlier. Any one of these things might cause a husband to lose his affection...but all of them together....! I am quite miserable!" She began to cry silently, and he moved closer, gathering her against him, his murmur very sweet in her ear:
"Disgust is something I should never feel for you!"
His relief was great-----greater than she could imagine at knowing the true reasons for her severe apprehension, and finding that it had nothing to do with Willoughby.
"There is something else, Christopher...and I dislike it most of all. I do not think you know what hardship this will cause us."
He encouraged her to proceed.
"I find it extremely vexing that....just as I am learning to love you...in the way...." Her voice was trembling, and she was most annoyed at the hot feeling to her face, but she forced out her words: "in the way that occurs between us privately....and now this baby, it will bring an end to that delight of being yours!" She gasped out this last, and embraced him very tightly, as though it might be the final embrace.
Brandon said nothing, knowing that what she said was very true: most doctors recommended that relations be severed once the wife knew herself to be with child. Whether or not it really had any benefit, or prevented any future difficulty had yet to be proven. Many women in the lower classes claimed that such was not the case, and their marital life went on as before: but these women were used to hard labor, and it was thought they were of stronger stock, thus they could endure such things. Still, he was a bit surprised that Marianne would feel this lack as acutely as he would. He had known, from the first, that Marianne had been having a few difficulties with this part of marriage. It was no less than he had expected, however, and for her to have mentioned it made him realize how she had struggled to overcome her uneasiness. She had been very brave that first night----and even more so all the nights after, when no longer could she pretend that love ended with a kiss, or a brief embrace, or that darkness did not hide everything.... But, she had yielded to it all, and had seemed to be awakened to some of its ecstasy; though what it had cost her in doing so, he was just now beginning to understand. This ardent, gentle creature had done her best to please him----and how had he, her loving husband, thanked her? By believing her guilty of the worst!
So, Brandon reassured his young wife that nothing could change, and that Charlotte Palmer was not an example for her, plus he would arrange the best care during her confinement that could be obtained. Marianne lay against his shoulder, calmly listening, but still not thoroughly convinced. Finally, he held her face in his hands, and said:
"Marianne, the resumption of our togetherness will only be the sweeter for the parting which will separate us...." Then she met his kiss, and suddenly, she knew the passion would always be there, whatever the parting, whatever the circumstances, and for however long....they would always have this to look forward to when the separation ended.
"Until next Spring..." said Brandon, "Let us hope it comes early...."
The Seventh Month
Seven months it had been since Marianne Brandon knew she was to become a mother; seven months of some discomfort, most of it physical, but not all. Backaches, muscle cramps, and melancholy were all part of her condition, and gladly did she tolerate them---but they paled in comparison to the enforced loneliness in her chambers at night, when, seven months ago, her most beloved husband had moved to another room. It had seemed quite unnecessary, but just the same, Christopher had removed himself and all his belongings to another apartment, offering the explanation that he would be much less tempted if he slept apart from Marianne.
She thought it could not be possible for a happily married woman to suffer a broken heart---but Marianne hurt as much as if Brandon had been disinterested, unfaithful, or cruel to her. In those first few weeks of marriage, his presence next to her had been comforting, especially afterwards, when she had often been so wrought up in her new experience, and needed him stroking her face, or fondling her hair, or just expressing his delight and pleasure in possessing her. With such encouragements, she had been able to become better accustomed to these affections. Still, she had not found it easy----and wondered how on earth women managed who did not marry someone as gentle, as thoughtful, as sensitive, and as affectionate as her own dearest love.
"The answer to that question is-----they become Charlotte Palmer," Marianne mused to herself.
Indeed, she wondered if many of the women of her acquaintance who talked too much, or laughed too much, or spent too much, or were sick too much----she wondered if their problems really began when unkindly forced on their wedding night to succumb to a man who might be brutal, mocking, unfeeling, or a combination of all these.
"I could never have faced him a second time," thought Marianne, "If his touch had been harsh,, his endearments sarcastic, and his treatment of me vulgar. But, from gossip I have heard, such is the normal experience of most ladies. How can they bear it! How do they sit down with these men at meals, attend parties with them, manage their households, and raise their children----and yet do not go completely mad, and end up as inmates in an asylum."
Marianne's delicate nature sickened with these thoughts: she realized she was becoming more and more fanciful as the day which would fulfill her confinement drew closer; but she had little else with which to attach her thoughts. Unlike most ladies of her acquaintance, she had not made the usual journey to London for the services of a doctor; she intended to have her baby right here, at the Delaford estate. Naturally, Brandon, always with her well being uppermost in his mind, had attempted to persuade her not to do this, but Marianne would have it no other way: her baby must be born in the their bedchamber, just as was Brandon thirty eight years ago. Not to mention that fact that their child had been conceived in that very room----and what better reason could there be than for their baby to draw his first breath in the very place he was, in love, created?
Marianne had utilized such arguments to her husband, and when faced with these sweet sentiments, Brandon had to concede to her wishes that London be avoided as their child's birthplace. Yet, if questioned, Colonel Brandon would have expressed his unease with this plan, hoping that Marianne might still allow the trip to be made. However, it was past the point where the journey was wise: the baby would be due within two weeks (and Marianne hoped it did not arrive much sooner, as the nine months' anniversary since their marriage had yet to make its arrival). Of course, she knew decent people would never believe her child was the result of premarital bliss, but just the same, she would feel better if the baby arrived after mid-March, instead of before.
Marianne picked up her looking glass, gazing at her face in wonderment: though not a vain creature, she was amazed at the radiant beauty shown in its reflection. "Another proof I have become a victim of fancy, " she thought, "To think myself beautiful at such a time! When my waistline has all but vanished, and my ankles are as delicate as Mrs. Jennings'! The figure I strike would not even tempt Christopher----he could easily return to our chamber with little danger of yielding to my charms! Perhaps I should say as much to him at dinner..."
And dinner was fast approaching, so Marianne completed her toilette, summoning the maid to curl her hair, and arrange her gown. She was looking forward to having the folds removed from her dresses, and everything tucked back into place. At first, when her condition became apparent, she had been anxious that all see her state, and share in this proof that love could happen between nineteen and thirty eight----but the thrill of looking pear shaped had ceased its romance, and Marianne would be glad to relinquish it.
A knock came at her door; it had to be Christopher, of course, wishing to escort her down the stairs. For seven months he had never failed to perform this service, and he was always worried she could trip, or become dizzy and lose her balance while going downstairs. But, when she opened the door, she saw Edward, her brother in law. She was happy to see him, but puzzled, as an earlier message had arrived from Elinor, stating that they would be unable to dine with them. So, they must have changed their mind, but the look on Edward's face was one of distress, and his next words confirmed it:
"Anna is very sick. I was hoping the find the Colonel with you....I..."
Edward, extremely upset, was ushered into the room by Marianne without further talk. Colonel Brandon was summoned, and while they awaited his arrival, Edward related the situation: Anna, their baby daughter, four months old, had awakened an hour ago with a hideous fever, and so very sick, that the poor baby could not utter a sound, not even a cry. Elinor, though trying to remain calm, was becoming a bit distraught, and had asked Edward to request the carriage that they might bring the doctor to the parsonage.
"You need not even ask the colonel! I speak for him, Edward, and will order the carriage brought round immediately! Poor Anna! How I wish I could do something! But I can---I will order Mary to go with you; her mother was a herbalist of great repute, and she knows many remedies...oh, Edward...your poor baby! My dear niece! Please, God, let nothing happen to her!"
Edward listened to all this with his head in his hands; his voice was muffled with misery when he said, "Elinor fears the worse, Marianne....I must tell you, it looks very bad, indeed. Anna appears almost completely unresponsive....so different from this morning when she awoke like an angel, and cooed in such a pretty way...." Edward stifled a sob: "Please let us not lose her....it cannot be!"
The carriage arrived, Edward got into it, and Marianne could only helplessly watch as it drove away; she could do little else as it was expressly forbidden that a woman in her state could enter a house where contagious illness existed. But she could pray....and did, with her husband finding her in this position, he immediately questioned her. Marianne related Anna's illness, and the colonel suddenly looked very grave, announcing that, as soon as dinner was over, he would send a messenger to the parson house, and inquire if anything further might be needed.
The evening passed with little word, and Marianne startled at every movement from the doorway, expecting news at every moment. The colonel watched her, concerned, as always, that such distress might be detrimental to her, but instead, Marianne suddenly changed her demeanor, and became somewhat teasing. She stood up, and carefully arranging her dress so that the bulge in front was noticeable, said: "Dearest beloved---do look upon this attractive, intoxicating form! Glorious, is it not? And rather of a good size, too, wouldn't you say?"
Brandon was very surprised that Marianne should so suddenly seem frivolous, when such seriousness was happening around them, but he gave her one of his slow smiles, and replied: "I think its size only indicates the grace of the lady, who carries it with such a joyous step."
Marianne laughed, "Of course. You would think so. But, my love---most do not. Figures of women should be the shape of the hourglass....not the apple. An hourglass invites respect, but apples only invite laughter....thus, I think you could not possibly desire me, nor trouble me, nor find me dangerous enough that you should remain in another room. Can I not entreat you to return to sleep by my side? Surely, my days as an alluring temptress have ended...for now."
As usual, Christopher's face looked impassive, but his eyes showed the full feeling of his heart: "In fact, you are more beautiful than ever, and so much so that I fear separate rooms are not enough.....I may soon have to move in with one of my tenants, to avoid the enchantment you seem to inspire, my love."
"Is it as difficult as all that?" Marianne gave a sigh that was both happy and unhappy.
Gravely, he said, "I am afraid, so. Even now, just looking at you....that the calendar might say 'May' instead of 'March'...the difference is just a few letters, but what it would mean to us both to push everything ahead two months....!"
He then quickly arose and went to her, gathering her against him, only to be reminded of what his passion had placed between them....but, at that moment, he was overcome, and he urgently kissed her face, and she, just as urgently pressed closer....
"My days are nearly complete....can we not? Could we....what can be the harm?" she whispered.
"I know for certain that no harm shall come to either you or the baby if we remain as we are..." came his thoughtful, yet trembling, answer.
Marianne pushed away from him, and angrily began re-arranging the flowers in a nearby vase:
"Nothing is certain, Christopher...nothing. Look at Elinor and Edward...no doubt, they have done everything that is right and good for their daughter. Yet, her life may be in peril this very instant. Do you say that they did something to bring this misfortune upon their baby?"
He shook his head, "Of course not. Yes, much in this life is guided by chance. But, where one can possibly persuade fate to smile upon them....then, they should do all they can to solicit it. Truly, even without all our precaution, your confinement may not end well. Then, at least, if nothing else, we can both live easily in the knowledge that we followed the doctor's advice, and that it was merely the cruel hand of Fate. But, if we should allow ourselves....this one...indulgence, and then, if something did occur that was shown to result directly from our actions, well, it would be double the tragedy."
He arose, and went to her, cupping her sweet face in his hands, and murmuring that the sacrifice had been, for him, also extremely difficult. "Living in this world almost guarantees that difficulties will arise....only love can make them easier to bear..." After these words, they both made the effort to make their difficulties a bit easier, by expressions of affection no less chaste---but much more passionate----than those that had occurred during the days of courtship.
Within the next hour news came from the parsonage that Anna appeared to be recovering. Mary had given the baby a draught of some sort, and also baths of cool water, along with some very sweet lullabies. The child seemed more animated, less feverish, and even able to nurse. Such news was vastly relieving, and at nine o'clock, Marianne decided to retire for the evening; Brandon escorted her to their chambers, bending to kiss her cheek as he did so. Marianne stood for a moment watching his casual stride to his quarters in the western portion of the house: he never looked behind, so she was at complete liberty to send her gaze after him with as much love and longing as was possible. Then she went into her room.
But sleep was quite the elusive creature that night: Marianne yielded to her body's energy after a very lengthy hour which included much tossing and turning. Lighting a candle, she thought to procure a book, but instead, went to the large picture window, and looking down into the gardens below, she sat upon the window seat, and, chin in hand, meditated upon their loveliness in the full moonlight.
"On just such a night...." her thoughts began, "The moon shining just this way, and the garden all lit up in glowing exclamation....that I first looked upon it as a woman."
On their first night together, she had come to the window afterwards, and did as she was now doing, and thus could recall just exactly how it all looked: everything silver dappled and moon speckled, the pathways brilliant roads to the ominous looking darkness in the distance, and her own body feeling just as illuminated, as would follow its nineteen years of being locked away in shadow. Colonel Brandon (their marriage was so new that she still thought of him this way), had come up from behind her, and she had turned to look: the moonlight cast its mystical glow upon his face, but even so, it could not compete with the warm light in his eyes, the happy flush in his cheek. He had inquired, a bit shakily, if she was feeling well, if she desired anything, and she had replied by falling into his arms, while he, had lifted her up and carried her back into the dark room...
A spike of pain seemed to enter her heart : she thought she might cry, as these memories only served to remind her of what she did not have...and what she did not appreciate at the time they were happening. Yet, he had been so careful that first night, extinguishing the lights, and with his touch so reverent that.....their lives had changed so much that this memory almost seemed just another thing she had imagined, not something she had really lived through at all.
"But it did happen..." she laughed softly, caressing her enlarged form, "Here, I have proof..." For several minutes, she was silent, as she doing some counting in her head; and came to this conclusion: "There have been exactly nine full moons since that night....tonight is the ninth..."
Marianne might have thought on this a bit longer, except for another spike of pain, rather harsh, and since she was not thinking on anything very sad, she could not believe it was emotional in origin.
"Dinner must not be agreeing with me...perhaps a shift in position..." and she rearranged herself a bit upon the seat, also wondering if perhaps she was just fatigued. However, bedtime still did not seem very inviting, and seeing her books on a nearby table, took up one, and began reading by moonlight. The words just seemed to jump around, and she could get little solace from them: what she really desired was a good, long walk, and then, in the next moment, she was putting on shoes, and wrapping herself up very warmly, made her way down the stairs.
Halfway down, she felt a painful knife slowly dig its way into her; but walk she would, and within a few minutes, Marianne was out the door, and into the night, with its moon painted landscape. As briskly as possible for woman in her state, she walked. Feeling the use of her leg muscles, and just the joy of movement seemed to refresh her strongly: not desirable! She needed to sleep, and knew if Brandon had even a suspicion of her behavior, he would be immediately at her side, and would just as immediately, carry her back into the house. Well, she would only walk just one more minute---she would count it out, just to make sure---and then she would turn back. Christopher need never know.
That minute was somehow extended into five more; and when Marianne turned back to face Delaford----it looked such a very long way. And when she experienced yet another sharp, digging pain----the distance looked impossible to manage. But, she must....
At first, she thought the ground had lifted up to meet her, and that it brought with it some kind of flooding river---but no, her legs were drenched, and shaking, and there appeared to be blood! This gushing liquid was coming from her, and Marianne thought: "It's the baby! Oh, something must be dreadfully wrong! Look at all this blood.....what is this, water? And----!"
But Marianne never was able to finish her panicked thoughts: a searing pain spread all around her, and suddenly, she knew----knew beyond a doubt----that this piece of lawn would be the birthplace of her baby.....
As hard and loud as she could, Marianne began calling the name of her husband....
Mary was returning to Delaford after having finished nursing at the parsonage. The Ferrars baby seemed much better, and though Mrs. Ferrars, always the kindliest of women, had encouraged Mary to stay, the maidservant much preferred the more comfortable servants' quarters at Delaford over the modest accommodations at the parsonage. The pathway before was brightly lit from the full moon above; Mary enjoyed the walk and fresh air after having spent the day in the gloominess of a sick room. She did not often have many free moments, so she had sought to prolong them by taking the long way back from the parsonage to the mansion house. It was a lovely night, though not a very warm one, and Mary was happily deep in thought about some new ribbon she planned to buy, when she heard the sound of a strange animal.......Whatever it was, it whimpered like something in pain, so it could not hurt her, but Mary's heart quickened a beat, and her feet also hurried along. She would just step through this hedge, and would be on the broad lawn back of Delaford, and, within five minutes, she could be sitting in the warm kitchen, enjoying something good to drink before she went to bed....
The sight that greeted her after she walked through the hedge was startling: the mistress of Delaford, lying on her side, in the grass.
Within a few minutes, Mary ascertained the situation: Mrs. Brandon was certainly in active labor, but in Mary's experience, it did not look likely the baby was to be born anytime soon. Soothingly, she encouraged Mrs. Brandon to stand on her two feet, which was quite easy to accomplish once the lady's fears were eased. Mary's knowledge of midwifery and herbal remedies for illness was well known by all of Delaford; Marianne trusted her, and allowed Mary to put her arm about her, and guide her back up the lawn toward Delaford.
For a servant to question its mistress was quite improper, and Mary did not attempt to ask very much, but she did wonder, a little, how Mrs. Brandon had gotten into this predicament. Their progress was slow, but, finally, they reached a small bench in the garden, and Mary ran inside to summon help. Several servants arrived immediately at Marianne's side---but all stopped, and looked about awkwardly, not knowing quite what to do, and awaiting instructions from their mistress. Marianne, rather embarrassed at her dilemma, dismissed all but one of them, her own maid, who was then dispatched to fetch some brandy. However, before she returned, Colonel Brandon appeared, and with the most exquisite gentleness, lifted his wife up into his arms, and carried her into the house, up the large staircase, and onto her bed.
Mary was asked to accompany them, and she did so, staying with the mistress, while the Colonel sent for the doctor. From all appearances, Mrs. Brandon seemed to be comfortable enough, and Mary sent for some warm cloths to bathe her face with after each moment of pain had passed. Her mistress was quite the beauty, but childbirth was usually hard work, and Mary was somewhat fearful that the delicate frame of Mrs. Brandon might be unable to withstand this difficulty. However, she gave no indication of this fear, and nursed her patient with great care until the arrival of the doctor.
The doctor did examine Marianne, and agreed with Mary's assessment: the birth itself could be hours away. He suggested to Colonel Brandon that he return to bed; the Colonel retorted that all the laudanum in the world could not make him sleep. The doctor then suggested that perhaps the Colonel would be interested in a game of cards. The Colonel said he was only interested in his wife, and his baby----to play cards at this time would only be boring for whomever played with him, as his anxiety did not allow any kind of concentration.
Marianne whimpered, though she tried to suppress the sound. Her husband rushed to her---with his fatigued look, his disheveled hair, and the ragged sound of his voice as he said, "Marianne---are you in much pain, dear?" ---one might have thought he was having the baby. But she only said: "It isn't very much---and it never lasts long."
Six hours later, Marianne could not have uttered this sentence, and believed it true. Someone had broken her back, or at least it felt as much---and the pain seemed never to end, though she was aware that sometimes it seemed to ease a bit. Several people were in the room, but all faces seemed a blur, except for Brandon's, whose face was always above hers----a frightened face, flushed with anxiety, its jaw slack with agony, its eyes, brimming with pity.....and at times, she thought, tears. The doctor spoke in serious, though hopeful tones....her maid, Bella, fluttered here and there....and Elinor was here, too, having been sent for when Marianne began to cry out her name, not even aware that Elinor had a sick child that needed tending. The earlier events of the evening she could no longer remember. The pain was her----the pain had always been there---the pain would never leave....
Finally, the Colonel asked the doctor to remove with him to an upstairs sitting room, where he wished a private discussion of his wife's condition. "First babies can take a devilishly long time to arrive...." began the doctor's comments, which he never finished because Brandon, his entire countenance cloaked in torment, grabbed the doctor's arm. "She doesn't know me....she hardly knows who she is! Her anguish must be beyond what is normal! And----I have noticed this, even if you think I did not----she seems to be losing a great deal of blood! I want just one answer----none of your false reassurances, or placating words----at what point must we start to be concerned?"
The doctor knew the Colonel was man much in love with his wife; and this knowledge had made his task all the more problematic. Some men were brutally uncaring when their wives were brought to bed----at best, most men used the event as an excuse to drink excessively. Oftentimes, these men needed more medical care than their wives, and the doctor had often stayed the night after a birth to administer to a man made ill by too much drink. However, Brandon was cold sober, and even more importantly, obviously thought the sun rose to set on his lady. The doctor could only resort to honesty with such a man:
"At what point must we start to be concerned, Mr. Brandon?" began the doctor ominously, "I think that point may have already arrived...."
Colonel Brandon stumbled a bit as he made for the nearest chair, slowly, lowering himself into it, grasping its arms until his knuckles were white. Nothing was said for several minutes, then the Colonel said, his voice hoarse with excruciating misery: "Can nothing be done for her?"
"You can pray, sir," suggested the doctor.
arianne thought she might be floating.....yes, she was...! above the bed, looking down, she saw only the heads of those in attendance on her. It was so silly, really....did they not know she was up above them? She giggled.....and called out to her husband, whom she could see below bending down to her....he seemed so sad, his words were just sobs, really....and Elinor, standing in the corner of the room, she also appeared to be crying. Marianne felt certain she could swoop down below....she could fly around the room, the pain was just a dim little numbness now! How free and weightless did she feel!....and so very happy, the greatest of joy was within her, like a flower bud about to burst into bloom! Why was everyone so serious and sad below?....they were quite foolish to wish to deny her this pleasure.....death was not difficult, not difficult at all...certainly much easier than birth! She, for one, was tremendously at peace, and though a little sad at this untimely separation from her husband----well, they would all be together, she, he, and their baby....
Then, without warning, Marianne felt her body turn to lead, and back into its former cocoon of torment. She was back upon the bed, propped up against pillows, a lacerating tightness spreading itself across her waist, her legs ceasing to exist; her flight around the room appeared to be over. The most puzzling aspect was that the room was empty, even of furniture----then, out of what seemed to be a fog, appeared Mary. Marianne, though she did not know it---began to cry out in a gasping, sobbing incoherent way---and for those observing, this expression of painful affliction was the most distressful sight that could be imagined. But Mary, who had been the calmest person in the room during the ordeal, simply took the hand of her mistress and bent down to her ear, said, "Ma'am...if you do not mind my saying so....you need to fight....fight hard as you can....it could all be done, if you don't give up." Then, someone was putting a cup to her mouth, with the words: "I have seen this bring many a baby..." and Marianne had to swallow this liquid: it repelled and sickened her, she wanted to be left alone, left alone to be miserable, to die.
But, no, she was being lifted, carried, and set back down again, with someone's arms about her, sitting right behind her, and she looked behind to see who it could be....it was her husband, his mouth tight with a strange resolve, and the lines of his face shadowed with fatigue, sorrow, and worry. Another face appeared in front of her---another man, which seemed odd, especially considering the most undignified position she seemed to be in....then she heard the resonant voice of the Colonel in her ear, telling her he loved her, and she was certain he was crying a little. Other people seemed to be hovering near, like flies, and she tried to swat at them, but her arms were held fast, and she heard the Colonel say, each word surrounded by a little sob: "Please, my love, you must keep still..."
A knife of searing agony attacked her; and once again, to those in the room, Marianne's torture was frightening to see: she screamed, the scream of one assaulted by demons. Brandon was sitting behind her, using as much of his physical strength as was necessary to subdue her---and as much emotional strength as was necessary to subdue his breaking heart. How could she possibly survive this? He knew she could not. The doctor's eyes looked dead with fear: Mary, however, portrayed a calmness in her demeanor and a sureness in her movements. But, what was taking place below looking exceedingly distressing, so Brandon looked away. Instead he concentrated on caressing his face against Marianne's hair, savoring its herbal sweetness, and its memory of another time, right here in this room, where he had enjoyed its enchanting scent, with her skin, also damp as it was now, but all of it under very different circumstances....
Shall I ever know it again ?" This question seemed to cause his heart to explode into raw agony---he hid his face in her luxuriant hair, only wanting to feel her aliveness for as long as that lasted. In the next moment, he was sure it had ended, for he felt her slump in his arms; and he almost cried out, but Mary came quickly forward. Cupping Marianne's face in her hands, Mary then yelled out directions to her, and Brandon wanted to hit the woman....until, Marianne seemed to revive, her body gathering its strength to do as it was bid.
Marianne only knew that someone was begging her not to die, and that someone was behind her, his hands in hers, and somehow, she recalled that she was supposed to be having his child. A resolve formed within her to complete the task, though she very much feared she had not the strength to do this....she swiveled her head so she could see her husband, and moving her cracked lips, said the words, "I need your help....I feel so weak....do try to help me..."
His voice, hoarse with misery, replied: "I wish I could...somehow...do this for you. But, my love...it is something only you can do..."
Christopher's words made little sense to her. Nothing made sense as she began slipping into a dark cavern, yielding to its depth, its peace, its nothingness....but voices were shouting to her, and they would not allow her to leave. She could feel some power growing within her, and she thought her skin might burst, and there seemed to be a great deal of movement happening all around her, the doctor pulling at something, and Mary coming forward, a small blanket in her hands. Her body was nothing but a mass of tension, like an horizon before the first sunlight explodes upon it, and just as she wondered if she might shatter into many tiny pieces....a very small, but extremely powerful little sound claimed all other sound in the room. Christopher was trembling behind her, under some violent emotion, and she heard voices, and the small crying sound of a kitten, and everyone's else's crying, but she could not summon up any tears; her eyes had only the ability to shut themselves, sending her away into a deep sleep.
Marianne was certain she was dead: her senses had left her, she was unable to talk, but she could think-----a little. Upon awakening, she had attempted to speak, but she had lost all ability to know if she could open her mouth or move her tongue. Vainly, she made what movements she could toward communicating through words, but her mouth did not seem a part of her anymore, and thus, would not obey the commands from her head. She might have cried had she the ability: but, that, too, seemed just as lost as everything else. Had she truly died, then? Was she, even now, laid out upon the bed, only waiting to be enshrouded, mourned, and then, dispatched to the grave? What of her baby?
Marianne decided that it was a waste of valuable effort to speak, so she instead concentrated upon hearing what might be said in the room. Looking about, she could see it was empty, though she thought she could hear sounds. So, she lay very still, allowing her ears to capture any noise they could; and this they did: she heard the wind against the windows, and the cracking of the logs in the fire. True, they were quite muffled---but they could be heard. Then, she heard a few keys of piano music, distant, weak, but coming closer....
"I have come with a confession to make, Miss Marianne....."
This voice could be heard----a voice she knew well, and the words were ones she had heard before...
"....a confession that needs only your absolution..."
The room began to fade a bit, and then, Marianne saw herself observing, as though in another part of a room, the actions of two people: a beautiful young girl in pale green muslin; an older, thoughtful man in white cravat and dark green broadcloth...
"...from a soul that has little else within but...."
The lovely young lady wore her hair loosely about her shoulders; the stray ringlets trickled down her neck, and framed her suddenly pink cheeks. She looked a bit nervous...
"...the love you have placed there....."
The warm, honeyed drone of the manís voice was hypnotic....remaining unresponsive to such words surrounded by this sweetness would be impossible!
"....that now desperately wishes to announce its existence...."
The young ladyís blush disappeared; her pallor became that of a ghost, but there seemed a happy sparkle in her eyes.
"...to the one who has the power to accept it..."
The man had been sitting across from the lady, but now he leaned forward a bit, to take the hand she offered.
"....and thus render me a man rich in happiness..."
The man did slowly kneel before the lady.
"...but until you say I have won your heart...."
His look was pleading; hers was placating.
"...I must remain in poverty..."
" I love you...but...I feel that my feelings must be allowed to go their full extent... "
The lady drew in her breath, and looked as if she might have stopped breathing....
"And my love for you will only be completely fulfilled when you are able to live within the same walls as I do....Miss Marianne....my dearest Marianne...."
The next few words he said were brief, only lasting a few heartbeats, but containing all the joys of the future. A little sob was uttered by the lady, who seemed to have said, "Yes, I will, " and the gentlemen arose from his kneeling position, and she, with him, to meet in an embrace. They did not part for several minutes, and they said little, the silence filled with only the whispering hush as they pressed their faces together, each to the other. Then, the young lady lifted her head, tilting her eyes toward the man, her lips seeking his, and his finding hers, and together they remained in this way for quite some time. Strong sighs from both announced their separation, but not completely, for with a quick movement, one that was hesitant, yet expedient---the man cupped her cheeks in his hands, and once again, his lips grasped hers very firmly, very breathlessly, and for a very long time...
Marianneís sudden start of awareness disrupted this dreamlike state, though all of what she had just experienced had really happened, yet her present situation seemed far removed from that happy time: it seemed to belong to someone else. She felt frightened, and her happy reverie was replace by thoughts of a negative nature: Where was her husband? He had never left her side during the birth, including the painful hours beforehand----why was he not here to see her regain consciousness, to see her with their baby, and to enjoy the first hours of a new life together? Why might he have abandoned her in this complete way, if not....
Because she had died? But, if that were true....should there not be some kind of bustle, people entering and leaving the room and preparations made for burial....and why the large fire? A corpse needed no warmth. Her face was also uncovered...her skin felt warm...she was aware of her surroundings...and---!
Marianne noticed that she had her hands to her face, stroking her skin to feel its warmth...she could move! To test this new sensation, she attempted to sit up....and did so, in one fluid movement. Next, she tensed her throat to utter a few sounds, and was able to speak aloud, though alone, to the empty room: "I have not died....thank God!" As she was now able to see a bit better, she looked quickly and eagerly about the room, hoping to see the cradle and her baby in it. However--she saw nothing, in fact, the entire room looked as serene as it had always been: not an indication that any kind of trauma had existed within its four walls. For a few seconds, she marveled at the ability of the servants at Delaford to clean and straighten...but only for a few seconds, for now that she was fully able, she wished to see her baby, hers and Brandonís, and she pulled the bell rope nearby, setting in motion those actions which would bring her child to her.
While she waited, Marianne had convinced herself that her baby must not be well...perhaps had even died. How else to explain the strange calm in the house, the missing cradle, and most importantly, the fact that her summons did not seem to be getting an answer. She would wait one more minute (and this time, it really would be only one minute!) and pull the rope a second time. She feared the worst, and as she could not even remember if her child were a boy or girl, she also wondered if the baby had even survived the birth....but, try as she would, she remembered nothing.
Her fears were quickly answered in the next few minutes with the opening of her bedchamber door and the admittance of three faces: the intensely worried look of Elinor, the soft cooing gaze of Mary, and yet a third face---one unseen, wrapped in a soft blanket---and brought forth to be placed in the arms of Marianne, accompanied with this announcement from Elinor:
"A beautiful little maiden has been born to you...."
The soft, warm bundle----much tinier than Marianne had ever imagined---seemed to melt into her arms, and she almost could not feel her daughter at all, but looking down, saw the pink face with its round head, its tiny raindrop nose, and the little silken eyelids, as delicate as that fabric, and trimmed with a rich fringe of black lash. For the first time in many hours, Marianne found her voice:
"Has her father seen her?"
"Can you not recall? He was quite near as she gave her first cry..."
No, I cannot recall....I did not hear her first cry.....but I will never miss another...
"Where is he? Can I speak with him?
The hesitation in Elinorís eyes was confusing: Marianne did not know if it was merely the fact that her sisterís face was lined with fatigue, and she was, therefore, misreading her countenance----or if some troubling circumstance had occurred, and Elinor was debating inwardly as to whether or not Marianne needed to be informed of it. Finally, though, Elinor did reply, and what she did not say was almost as ominous as what she did:
"The colonel left two hours ago, I believe, on an errand concerning a tenant of his...."
This was the sole explanation given to Marianne, and before much more could be discussed on the topic, the little baby girl began to fidget, and indicating her need for nourishment, Marianne, with the help of her more experienced sister, began the procedure of feeding the baby.
Thus, Marianne was distracted from thoughts of her husbandís absence, to which Elinor could only say to herself: "Thank God...thank God she did not ask another question...for how shall I explain the events of the past day to her?"
Elinor knew, however that this role of diplomat would fall to her if Colonel Brandon did not soon return to Delaford; he had been quite distressed when he mounted his horse two hours ago, riding away toward the village. The answer she had given had been singular in its vagueness and brevity: she well knew her sisterís temper and realized that her brief reply would be unacceptable...
And she will soon want to know the particulars of her husbandís reaction to the babyís birth, and will ask many questions....and answers I must give her, unless the colonel returns fairly soon...
Elinor sat near Marianne, positioning the baby, arranging pillows, and giving all the encouragement her position and experience allowed her: for the time being, the baby was the whole world, and Elinor was grateful for the innate ability of an infant to keep its motherís attention.
The events that Elinor did not relate to her sister began to manifest themselves several hours after the little girlís arrival. The baby lay in the nursery that had been lovingly prepared for her residence, and her nurse, already very proud to have such a beautiful little baby to attend, had kept her clean and happy, and ready at any moment to be received in this pristine state by either parent.
Yet---except for a short interlude in her fatherís arms, and some cuddling by her aunt, little Miss Brandon seemed destined to be entirely in the care of her nurse, who, while not minding this responsibility---it was, after all, what she had been trained to do---did wonder just a little that such a devoted and loving husband as Mr. Brandon did not seem to be the devoted and loving father. But---the poor man had experienced such a scare, and had probably seen more than he should have seen, since he had been present in the room when the baby was born.
However, eventually, the diligence of the nurse was thus rewarded when she was summoned, and instructed to prepare the little girl to meet her mother. Such was her joy, which was then given to disappointment when she realized that she would not be carrying the baby to Mrs. Brandon. This honor was to be given to Mary, one of the maids who had been present at the birth, and, according to rumor, had quite possibly saved the life of both mother and infant by administering some kind of herbal remedy at the height of the crisis. Elinor, however, immediately sensed the effect of this slight upon the nurse, and requested that she be present also, with the excuse that assistance might be wanted should Mrs. Brandon wish to feed her baby. The nurse rearranged her irritated look with one more pleasing, and acquiesced to this idea; she was not very surprised at much of what happened at Delaford: that an upper housemaid should bring in the baby did not surprise her, nor the fact that no wet nurse was wanted. She had been warned of the unorthodoxy of Delaford before she had entered into its service----but she also had been informed that it was a household filled with kindness, plenty, and contentment----and had taken the position, knowing that strange ways would feel much less strange in such a place.
At the moment when Elinor was bringing the baby to Marianne, the babyís father was galloping rather madly across field and stream, attempting to distance himself from any reminders of Marianne, their daughter, or anything concerning the past three years... He had to ride far in order to do this, but finally he ended up at a place called Waterton, which boasted a small tavern. He entered this place, ordered a drink and a meal----and sat down near the fire to ponder miserably and uselessly...
His painful and endless ruminations had nearly worn a groove in his mind---and in that groove stood two feelings: betrayal and anger----betrayal, for what she had done to him---and anger, for what he had allowed her to do to him. And he also felt shame----shame that after such trauma as they both had been through, that after such support as he had given her earlier---that he could believe this of her, and that his beliefs were all tied to a mere mathematical calculation---well, he hardly knew whom to hate more---Marianne or himself.
While waiting for his meat and ale, he withdrew from his coat pocket the piece of paper on which was scribbled a neat column of tiny numbers. To any undiscerning eye, these numbers looked like any sum about to be added, but one had only to look upon them for several minutes to realize the pattern of months in the year. The same months in the year since the marriage between himself and Marianne; adding these numbers together produced an amount he wished with all his heart were larger...
It only added the number 228...approximately forty days less than was needed to completely exonerate his wife from possible wrongdoing. No matter how he added them together, or pretended, or ignored: there the facts stood---his baby---no---her baby must have been conceived prior to their wedding.... No other explanation was possible.
He had not wished to think about it, not at first, so soon after the dramatic birth, and the danger as was feared for Marianne: however, the doctor had given reassurances that Marianne appeared to be sleeping deeply, and this state could only hasten her recovery. Then, the doctor had made the remark of the size of the baby---a good size, a fully developed infant, no doubt born on schedule, perhaps even a bit late, as her fingernails were somewhat long....
A bit shaken, and despising himself for even thinking, let alone trying to prove, his wifeís infidelity, Brandon had thus written down the days since they had been married. He then counted them---and found much wanting---except for the desire to be struck dead rather than face the possibility that his happiness had been as false as Marianne.
But....why was he so very upset? It was not the first time he had loved a woman whose morals were not what they should be....a woman who obviously had been had by someone else...a woman who had born a baby that was not his....yet, this same woman he had been willing----most very willing to marry----! And Marianne had obviously committed the same grievous transgression, but---wherein was the difference?
"The difference is in their circumstances....and in mine," came his answer. Eliza had been given no choice about her situation----and neither had he. Before either of them could think, he had been sent to the Indies---she, to the alter. The difficulties inherent in their situation---his distance from England, hers in being married to an unloving and unnamable man---and all the betrayals, cruelties, and pressures to remain as they were, or be turned away without a farthing, dishonored and expelled---had contributed to Elizaís depression, and complete degeneration into the life of a transient mistress.
Had Eliza been as fortunate as Marianne----to know his love, to have the power of his name and influence, as well as no intruders to betray them---she would not have entered into the despair of one shocking liaison after another. Their marriage could have taken place----and he would not be sitting here now, in this crude little room, listening to the slow, miserable beating of his breaking heart.
As for Marianne---she had no such excuse! She, unlike dear Eliza, had enjoyed from her infancy the affection of a mother and father. Though Marianneís father had died before the colonel could ever know him, he did know of the affection and support of Mrs. Dashwood for her all daughters, and in particular, Marianne seemed to enjoy a definite rapport with her mother. What might Eliza have been with such parental enthusiasm and approval attached to her pursuits! But she had also the burden of fortune, which gave others the temptation to manipulate her for their own purposes. With Marianne, there had been no such complications, indeed, she had been penniless when they married, and perhaps her lack of fortune had worked against her in some respects----namely, the sadness over Willoughby. But, in truth, Marianneís poverty had probably protected her from other kinds of heartbreak, another instance in which Elizaís fate had been different with her own.
Well...what to do? He could not remain gone from Delaford---but neither could he continue to live there, knowing what other persons lived there, too. The baby----he felt for the tiny girl, so very lovely, so much like her mother---and so deserving of more. Elizaís daughter, Beth---she, too, had not deserved the stigma thrust upon her---but, then again, most people were born with misfortunes, and some did rise above them. Could he rise above his misfortune? He thought he had----but the last day had taught him that the prizes of Fate were often packages filled with cruel pranks---and he was victim of the cruelest one of all...
"This is the paper upon which the colonel did his figuring?" asked Edward of Elinor. She replied that it was, and Edward sat down upon the desk in the Delaford library, and carefully made his own calculations...
"The sum appears to be....268....a day or two short, but we must make allowances for the caprices of Nature..." Edward musingly said, then he considered something, and snapped his head around to Elinor, who stood directly over his shoulder.
"Elinor....did you see how he added up the days of the months....did he consult the calendar?"
Elinor thought, then said: "I believe he copied directly from this..." She opened a small book, one designed to keep accounts, and under a heading entitled "Baby", she found a group of numbers, and these they did add together, each adding twice to make certain of accuracy. Edward consulted the calendar, carefully checking and re-checking each month, and after adding these numbers, he shook his head.
"It certainly does not follow...two different sums...a mistake is somewhere..."
But only a few minutes were required to discover the error: a month had been left out of the second set of numbers, and added to that, two other small addition errors...this made the discrepancy. But, if the colonel had used these numbers in his figuring----
"Then he is riding about, in hurtful gloom, believing that Marianne has been dishonorable towards him!" exclaimed Edward.
"Is it possible?" said Elinor, "He is a man of sense, and of composure....it does seem unlike him to believe the worst----and to believe it without careful consideration and rational reflection!"
"Do recall..." reminded Edward, "Of his duel with Willoughby....and his feelings of earlier years, which do seem to indicate a slight tendency to passion?"
"His personality has always been difficult to ascertain...his silence on many issues that would often inflame others....his careful prudence in his business matters...and his concern with maintaining propriety, while not sacrificing his character...."
"Each person is often comprised of so many different parts, Elinor....and so many variations, each subject to place and time and circumstance. One can never know one person as well as they might think....you can never know a person in all ways, and in every moment of the day..... And of course, he was exhausted....worried....and no doubt a bit overwhelmed at the somewhat earlier than planned arrival of his daughter, and in such extraordinary circumstances! What must your sister have been about, going out in that late hour, and in her situation!"
Elinor sighed, "She has always done as she has felt....and she probably just felt like walking, and with the moon so very full....and she, of such romantic tendencies....the temptation for a stroll must have been overwhelming!" She paused, with another sigh, this one more pronounced: "Would that Christopher appear to all of us immediately! I confess, Edward, I do not like the strangeness of his actions.."
Edward quickly began to reassure his wife: "He may have left Delaford for some fresh air----he, of us all, desperately needed some respite from the anxiety that has been in attendance since Marianneís time began. Recall, my dear Elinor, how it was with our baby: you, too, had a difficult confinement, and though I chose to affect a complacent attitude throughout, I can tell you that attitude was all it was! Had I been able to portray my real feelings----I must tell you, my love, that the very least thing I might have done would be to take to the countryside on horseback!"
Elinor sweetly teased him with: "And what might have been the worst?"
Edward sighed out this answer: "Probably find some distant tavern, where I might inebriate myself into total sodden-headed oblivion..."
But, he then quickly pulled Elinor against him, and she caressed his hair---so thick, yet charmingly disheveled---while they still stared at the figures upon the paper. It hardly seemed possible that their brother, Christopher, might have acted in this manner had he really believed the baby not to be his own. He might have done any number of things, but to leave in such a mysterious way did not seem like him at all, not when one considered his treatment of Eliza, and of her daughter----and of women in general. He had always expressed such compassion for those forced onto the streets of London; he always took care to assist the poor in his own parish, and gave liberally to any beggar he saw, especially women and children. Edward had once warned him that often women and children were sent to beg for others, usually men, who most often took the money from them and used it for drink....but, still, Colonel Brandon always gave, with the comment: "I prefer to believe that this is money well spent..." Indeed, he seemed so naÔve at times, but so certain that goodness existed everywhere, even among the least washed and most degenerate.
"Did he seem disappointed that his first born was a daughter?" asked Edward.
Elinor shook her head very definitely: "At first, he seemed delighted beyond imagining....he never let go of her....constantly praised her beauty, and her temper....no, he was probably the happiest father I have ever seen..."
Edward smiled, "I doubt him the happiest, my love...." And the look in his eyes made Elinor realized how she had wronged Edward with her words. "Dearest Edward, he could only be second to you in that regard..." She fondly squeezed his hand, while Edward mused out these words: "And when did you notice his change of sentiment for his child?"
"I recall him conversing with the doctor for several minutes----his face had such a thoughtful look at first---then his eyes met mine, and I thought for a moment he had heard some bad news. Then, he quickly handed the baby to Mama, and left. I was puzzled, but only momentarily----and then, I went to fetch the nurse, as I felt the baby needed tending. I passed by the library, and noticed Christopher seated at his desk, a rather far off look to his face. But, I then attributed it to fatigue----everyone was getting tired after such a night! Yet, when I returned by that way again, and glanced into the library, he was looking out the window, his shoulders hunched, and seemed somewhat distressed......I almost entered the room, but decided I must be mistaken....and just as I turned away, Christopher looked round, and I....for a brief moment, he looked to be crying. He did not see me----or at least, took no notice of me---and that is when I saw him toss this piece of paper onto the desk." Elinor picked up the offending piece of evidence. "I believe this is what he tossed aside....and the thoughts resulting from the information written upon it, were a torture to him!"
"Had he only confided in one of us...." Began Edward.
"His confidence has always been limited to Marianne....and this confidence, he could not limit even to her..."
"Then I must go and find him, as our knowing of Marianneís innocence is much less important than his knowing it!"
Elinor made haste with all arrangements for Edwardís departure, yet wondering just what the two men would say to each other. Were it not that Marianne lay upstairs, the baby beside her, and gossiping Delaford servants all around her----Elinor might well have mounted a horse beside Edward and ridden with him. Yet, before she had much time to dwell upon this, Edward had already gone.....and Marianneís request that her sister appear in her bedchamber had arrived.
Elinor dawdled for many minutes, in the hope that they might be asleep when she entered the room----but both were very wide awake when she entered. The baby lay in her cradle near the window; Marianne lay in her bed, her face turned in a direction that did not speak of happiness.
Her form remained quite still as she said:
"Why does my husband remain far from my side, Elinor?"
"Who has said he does?"
"The whole house speaks of it---!"
"Servants have been talking of what they do not know, Marianne!" Elinor started to say more, but Marianne interrupted:
"I do not mean anything about the servants, Elinor----this house, where he has lived for so many years----it has been too silent. I should hear his voice----feel his joy---know his presence! Yet, now, all I know is his absence!"
Marianne arose on her elbows, her tears and her hair streaked across her face, a testament to her distress. The baby began to cry, rather weakly. Elinor glanced at the cradle, then looked steadily at Marianne:
"I believe your daughter wants feeding."
Marianneís next words astounded her sister:
"If she is the cause of his leaving----then let her hunger! She will fare better if she were to die without food----then without a father!"
Elinor immediately went to the cradle, and scooped the child up in her arms, and made ready to feed her. Marianne then flung herself back onto her pillow, and made use of it to muffle harsh sobs. Some minutes passed, with only the slight sounds of the babyís nursing, and Marianne rustling her bedclothes as she restlessly tossed and turned. Observing her, Elinor wondered if a dose of laudanum would be appropriate: sleep was often the best restorative to an anxious mind, and Marianne clearly needed to be calmed. The baby seemed satisfied, so Elinor lay her back in the cradle, and left to find the medicine, and this took some time to accomplish, as so much seemed to be in disarray. But, finally, she did return-----
To an empty room----and an empty cradle!
It had taken some doing to move from her bed to the cradle to the door, and down the long hallway, through the doorway that led to the servantsí stairway----and when she had reached this place, Marianne had sat down on the landing, her daughter held close, and she herself, almost ready to collapse. But----leave this place she would! Though just how she might do this without that most necessary ingredient of physical strength, Marianne did not take the trouble to ponder. She only wanted to take her baby elsewhere---perhaps to Barton Cottage, where she and the child would be welcome---and away from this place, where, obviously, they were not.
This place....she had taken to calling her exquisite home, the house of her beloved husband and all his ancestors----this place! How very dear it had been barely two days ago!---and now, how very sickening! It disgusted her! He---particularlyódisgusted her! His touch she would never allow---ever! She never should have allowed any of it----she should have pretended she knew nothing of intimacy, or of love! She should have, right from the start, thrown his beautiful attentions back in his face----and run off to London, where she might live dishonorably, but at least there she would know she was a trollop----and not merely be thought one, as was presently the case.
Yet, you do not know this is true....you can only conjecture..."
But her conjectures were based upon the facts of her husbandís character and habits and values: he would never have left her alone so long, especially when she had been so ill, and had produced him such a beautiful daughter. Elinor, also, had acted and looked very discomfited whenever Marianne had asked of Brandon----and had been most active in producing distractions so that further questioning was impossible. This evasion, more than anything else, told Marianne something was wrong---very wrong. If such were not the case, she knew Elinor would have behaved more openly and expediently toward her requests for information----she would have fetched Brandon herself, knowing how important this would be to Marianne. But, as she recalled the episodes in her bedchamber, she only remembered that Elinorís manner suggested a distress she was vainly trying to hide.
Whatever the case may be, Marianne did not wish to think upon it: perhaps his disappointment at having a daughter was at the root of it, but if so, he would be questioning the dictates of God. He could hardly blame Marianne for that! And if he did----he was no kind of man she wanted as father for her daughter! How dare he be disappointed! For all he knew, this baby could be all they might ever receive----and she should be viewed and respected accordingly. And if he should prove unwilling to perform his duty of affection as father----then not one child more would they have. Such would be Brandonís double punishment, as he would be refused both a male heir, and the comfort of his wife.
These thoughts were like bits of hazy fog in her mind----in truth, she was so weak, that she was passing in and out of consciousness. The baby slept, and Marianne thought to arise, and be on her way, but this easy act of physical removal seemed impossible. Her legs and arms were lead weights, not to be lifted, and her mind was quite heavy as well. For a while, she dozed, awakening when commotion seemed near to her-----and she knew must leave Delaford before her disappearance was discovered! Since thoughts were not the same as actions, however. Marianne remained huddled on the landing, life slowly leaving her body as minute passed minute.
Water flowed recklessly over the large mass of rocks at the edge of the brook, much like the thoughts rambling through the colonelís mind. The tavern he had left far behind, and he knew not his location; he might well be two counties away....or four... He did not care . Distance was often a curative for emotional pain, and he hoped its healing powers would soon begin....
When, however, has absence from your heartís desire ever been of benefit to you?
Never. The removal of his beloved had never released him from his obsessions: it always increased his desire to the point where he had worried it could never be appeased. After Elizaís death, Brandon saw something of her in every woman he encountered: one woman might have her hair color---another, her melodious voice---and another, her way of thinking.... And so distressed was he, that, for a time he had avoided all feminine company, rather concerned he might throw himself into utter debauchery.
And at that time, he was still young, resilient, hopeful---then later, he became the heir, and wealthy----but, somehow, he never became so cynical that he chose to hurt others as a way to become cleansed of his sorrow. Truly, it would have been easy enough: women were plentiful, eager, and available----and what of it if he chose to pretend each of them was Eliza? In the darkness, only the wishes of his heart would be reality.....
Yet, he knew the dawn always would come, and Eliza would not be there----just a stranger, with feelings and thoughts and hopes all her own----and eventually, he would be in the cruel position of having to discard the lady. Colonel Brandon might have been broken in heart...but he had little inclination to pass this condition onto anyone else, especially if a child should result....and, in any case, he felt he could never marry anyone who was not Eliza.
So, this way of life he chose to shun. He became busy with his estate, living like a monk, feeling like a man---but choosing not to act like so many men. This enforced abstention did increase his self-discipline, sensitizing him to the needs of others, as he had no clandestine activities to hide from the world. No unsavory memories disturbed his sleep----no vivid passions kept him distracted---no remorse or regret of any kind, except where Eliza was concerned---gave him any cause to seek comfort in drink or sport or gambling. Overall, he liked his neighbors, and did his part in socializing, though he tended to allow them all the burden of entertaining, and later, when he became the subject of so much raillery and speculation and at times, blunt curiosity, Brandon did begin to limit his company to just the immediate area. Not that this strategy did much: the Middletons, Mrs. Jennings, and the Careys had been the main source of gossip about him, and he might have done just as well to keep within the larger circle. But, at least he had fewer invitations to manage, and thus this gave him some extra hours for other, more worthier pursuits.
In fact, the day he met Marianne at Sir Johnís had been merely happy chance----he had only meant to stop in briefly to discuss some minor point of business with him---and had been subsequently bewitched. For weeks after, he had been out of his mind with joy, alternating with anxiety that he might never see its fulfillment: for who was he to a young girl of seventeen? Old enough to be her father---thatís who he was. And she treated him as such for many months, until her own heavy disappointment in love, which, by stages led to her preference for his comforting attention----then her decided admiration----and finally, her passionate love for him!
Now, he had to wonder about whether or not her love had been based on a passion, a desire for his company for the rest of their lives---or was based upon the need for a father for her child. Certainly, she had been eager for their wedding----but he had never sensed anything more than that. Marianne had been nervous, but in that very delightful way of a child about to be given a special surprise. She never seemed to be the victim of any kind of paralyzing anxiety during the weeks before their marriage----as she might have been, had she committed an indiscretion, and thought a child might result.
But---it was possible---and he knew it---that she had yielded to someone. Or perhaps....she had not yielded at all! The countryside was generally a very safe place, but occasionally, persons of disrepute did enter into it, and make a deserted glade of trees or clump of vegetation the setting for their vile attacks. Marianne was well known to enjoy walking, and on just such a walk, was she accosted, overcome, and attacked? Any young lady thus destroyed would not allow further destruction by telling anyone of her experience; she would keep her miserable secret, and hope for the best.
If such were the true circumstances, however, it amazed the colonel that Marianne had not seemed embittered by her experience: she had been shy, embarrassed, a little clumsy----but certainly, she had been very willing to come to him that first night, and on all that nights that followed....
Darkness had fallen heavily all around him, and the sounds of swirling water over the rocks below were all the evidence he now had of the pretty brook, for it had disappeared into the night.....and he felt he must do the same. However it had happened, Marianne was a deceiver, and he could not live with her at Delaford, knowing that she had married with this black secret upon her heart, and in doing so, had ruined him, as well as herself.
He rode into the next town, and intended to keep to this plan until he reached the coast, whereupon he would cross the channel and into France. He spoke the language, was a man of fortune....and could thus remain far from Marianne (was anywhere really far enough?), while remaining married, avoiding scandal. He still loved her: she had betrayed him, but she could do anything, and still, he would love her enough that he wished her comfortable, untainted by scandal....and by his disgust. For, he was disgusted, and yet---he wished to spare her the knowing of it. Brandon still cared enough for Marianne that he preferred she think him grown tired of her. This situation was common enough, and held no shame for the wife: men were like this, and a wife could be comforted that it was not she who had become indifferent.
But, as to Brandon----he might now take his comforts as he had previously forsaken. He no longer had the idealism of that time after Eliza. The flexibility of youthful hopefulness had fled, and the sooner he was in France, a glass of wine in one hand----and perhaps a mistress waiting in another room---the sooner he could begin his own path to self-deception.
From town to town did Edward Ferrars ride in pursuit of his brother. He gave every minute of the day to the search, stopping only when he needed to rest the horse, but avoiding rest himself. During the times when the horse was drinking and eating, he sat, gazing upon meadow and stream, attempting to see as far in the distance as he could for the possible sight of Brandon. Edward did not really expect to see him, but any action that might end the search was employed, and he hated to think he might narrowly miss the colonel simply because he had failed to look about him.
But, twelve hours after he had left Delaford, he was still no closer to finding the colonel than when the search began. He did stop in each small town, make inquiries, and left messages at different places....but he was told nothing that could end his journey, so he went on. The tavern at Waterton he missed, simply because he did not ride to the north far enough to find it, and thus, was kept from knowing the valuable information of Brandonís having stopped there. And had he found it, the innkeeper would not have been able to tell him much beyond, "such a fine gentlemen, he were..." , a description though accurate, yet of no help at all. Brandon had also ridden away without being seen by anyone; so information about the general direction of his journey could not have been determined.
In fact, had Edward found Waterton, and discovered Brandonís presence there, he might well have ended his search, and returned to Delaford with the erroneous thought that the colonel would be back at home before nightfall. As it was, he knew nothing, and thus, could make no false guess that might lead to disaster. So, Edward kept to the road, worrying about the approach of evening, and hoping he would have nothing to fear when it arrived, as he truly hoped he would find Brandon before the sun set.
That fear came to fruition, as the dark shadows of the night descended, and Edward decided to stop at the next inn he could find. At least the moon was full, and he could ride on until he found such a place....otherwise, a bed in the moss might be his only choice.
Finally, a small village did appear, and it possessed a rather modest inn, but the room Edward entered was clean, and he felt an instant comfort upon seeing its kindly owners. He was led into a small room with a fireplace, which appeared unoccupied, but was warm and pleasant. The tavern owner promised Edward some very good ale, bread, and slices of roast chicken, if he did not mind the wait. Edward did not, and he sank in the chair, the fire warming his face, the only feeling he knew, as the rest of him was quite numb with fatigue and concern.
He then fell to dozing, so tired was he, and his sleep was of a duration long enough to dream: Elinorís happy smile appeared to him, her words forming a sentence of sweet encouragement. He could not truly understand what she said, only that he felt revived by her words. Then, abruptly, the mood changed, and Edward felt a ominous shadow across his face, and he thought he heard thunder....and then he realized it wasnít thunder, just the heavy words of a heart in agony:
Edward opened his eyes, suddenly completely awake, and heard the words, and saw who spoke them:
"Edward....I suppose I can guess why you might be here..."
Sitting in the chair opposite, was Colonel Brandon.
Edward, never eloquent of speech, and certainly prone to stutter a bit, found himself quite unable to say a word at this moment. His vast relief, his sleepiness, and his utter surprise all combined against him to produce any conversation for at least a minute....and Brandon sat there, almost as if he had forgotten Edwardís presence, and worse still, wanted to forget it.
Edward sensed this problem, and as he became more fully awake, remembered that he had information that would transform Brandon from the miserable man he so obviously was---to the formerly ecstatic husband and father. Such power as lay in his hands! And so quickly did he discharge it, absolving Marianne of any wrongdoing....and having the privilege of watching his brotherís face change from disinterest to enlightenment to joyful relief....all within less than ten minutes.
Upon Edward producing proof of his arithmetic error, Brandon seemed overcome with the realization that this slight mistake had caused such torment, and began to express an urgency that they must return to Delaford immediately.
"My dearest Marianne must still suffer the remainder of this night in thinking me faithless and uncaring....but the dawn must prove my ceaseless love for her ! Edward! We must begin immediately to return! Every minuteís delay means further pain for everyone back at Delaford! Sir, are you with me?"
Edward replied that he was, and the horses were brought around, and within half an hour, two men were riding hard in the direction of Delaford. Both were hungry and tired, but one had joy to sustain him....the other had relief....and by the first light of dawn, they entered the iron gates of the ancestral Brandon home.
Elinor, who had been up all night, ran out quickly, her fatigued face all the more distressing due to the fear written upon it. So expediently did her brother in law dismount, and enter the house that Elinor had little time to do more than give Edward a hasty greeting, and a look of warning, while she followed Brandon, nearly running to catch up to his stride.
"Brother!" she cried, and the note of urgency in her voice made the colonel pause, and turn to face her.
Elinor had the unhappy task of watching the serenity in Brandonís face become stricken with the most acute anxiety, as she related the news of Marianneís disappearance. When she finished speaking, she almost thought the colonel might have become the victim of some kind of apoplexy, so paralyzed was his look. Yet, in the next instant, he closed his eyes and bowed his head, with a voice dark and trembling, announced his intention to search for his wife and child.
"It has been done, Colonel. We have been looking all the night for her and the baby..."
"Of course you have, Mrs. Ferrars....I know you have spared no corner of this house. I dread to think that if you could not find her....." Any further words from Brandon were muffled as he made an agonized cry.
"Now that it is daylight," suggested Edward, "Perhaps we shall be able to see the better....she cannot have gone far, in any case!"
It was agreed that they should begin another thorough search of both the house and the grounds. The night had been no friend of theirs, and now that the morning had come, and dark corners were illuminated, they might discover previously overlooked clues. Edward, whose eyesight was the better of the three, volunteered for the out of doors, and summoned servants to assist him. Elinor would search all the downstairs rooms----Brandon, everything above the stairs, including the attic.
All three were exhausted, and all three were hopeful, but not as much as they might have been if well rested. The house was large, and probably had many ancient hiding places covered over. Elinor hoped for the sake of Marianne that the places were not covered too well....for to God, what would they do if she had become trapped in just such a place? Elinor gave a deep breath for strength, and began looking for what could not be obviously seen.
Several hours previously, Marianne had made it to the bottom of the stairs...the very bottom, which led to a cold, dank little cellar, which had been part of an old stone partition of the house, and was probably very old. So weak was she, that her thinking was not very clear, and it had taken her some while to realize this was not the best place for her to be, but she was past caring about comfort. As she was probably to die, this little nook was as good an introduction to the grave as one could hope for, and she resigned herself to its embrace. Curling up into a ball, she placed her daughter at its center, and fell into an unconscious state....
And it was in this manner that she was found...
The harsh light of August had faded into a soft summer haze, and just as if on cue, so did the conversation change from bright, laughing words to short, slow sentences, punctuated from time to time, with the cooing of a baby girl.
"Aye...so like her mother! How we all had hoped....!" sighed Mrs. Jennings, who seemed about to bring about a sad little remembrance, and upon thinking it over, decided it was best not to do so.
Elinor also sighed, but hers was a sigh of relief that her merry old neighbor had shown some discretion, for Colonel Brandon was approaching their group, and she did not wish him a return to any melancholy thoughts. In the past several months, they had all been, for a time, surrounded by terrible anxiety, and prolonged suffering. They had survived a passing acquaintance with Death, but they wished not to invite its presence by words of reminiscence, so Elinor sought to distract Mrs. Jennings by asking her of news concerning Charlotte, who was approaching another confinement.
Mrs. Jennings always found such self-importance when discussing female news, and she described each indisposition of her daughter in minute detail, while Colonel Brandon walked up slowly behind, a slightly amused expression upon his face.
Elinor was glad to see him smile, even if it was for something as silly as the stories of Mrs. Jennings. For many weeks, his mouth had been a stranger to smiling, and his tongue only seemed to know words of fear, and of longing....but now, he looked nearly normal again, and almost happy, as he scooped his little daughter into his arms, and kissed her cherubic little cheek.
Indeed, little Mari did look like her mother, and she responded happily to her fatherís attentions, as she always had done----in that way, she was also like her mother. Elinor had been comforted by the little girlís affectionate manner, and her responsiveness to her father during the disturbing weeks following her birth: the babyís happy temparment had probably kept her father from completing succumbing to depression, and allowed him to live for the future, when the present had looked so ominous.
But this day was now that future....and finally, nightfall did arrive, the group made its final farewells, and Elinor took the baby from the colonel for one last kiss, then Mari was given to her nurse, who also had charge of Anna Ferrars for the evening. Of course, both babies were so placid that the nurse felt she did not really earn her wages, and that in having the charge of two such delightful children, she often felt she was quite amply rewarded in both wages and satisfaction.
Mrs. Jennings, and her party left first, the loud, happy good-byes, and enthusiastically waving hands disappearing down the lane as her carriage exited the Delaford grounds. The silence was very welcome to Elinor, Edward, and Christopher, as they could now take their leave at a leisurely and affectionate pace. Edward thanked his brother in law for the use of Mariís nurse for their own daughter, and Brandon replied with; "I owe you and Elinor more than I can express.....more than is possible to repay. This small favor of which you speak is a mere nothing compared to...." Here, as usual when the colonel felt strong emotion, silence replaced any words he might have spoken. He did try to continue, but he seemed only able to choke out this trembling conclusion: "I only beg you accept my humble gratefulness for all these past weeks..."
Elinor moved forward to embrace the lowered, tearful face of her brother in law; Edward clasped his hand, murmuring, "May God go with you, my brother...." All three stood together for several minutes, the only sounds were that of human contemplation after any event, great or small, that has caused a change in conditions. It had only been several months, but to them all, this brief passing of time had contained much meaning, and time for thought, and promises for the future. To Elinor, she had resolved to cherish those closest to her, and do this not only with a silent heart....but also with her words and actions. Edward believed he would never be able to visit a sick or dying parishioner without recalling the bravery of his sister as the darkness came near.....and Brandon, what did these past few months teach him?
But, he hardly had much time to dwell on the thoughts which seemed to be causing his heart to swell, and in the agitation of this moment, he could only begin walking with Elinor and Edward to the parsonage. This stroll only took several minutes, and very shortly, he was returning back through the iron gates of Delaford, thinking it might be pleasant to stop in the garden before he went to bed.
As Brandon approached the stone walls, he thought he might have some pear trees planted, and thus replace those that had died. And the roses needed some pruning, and probably manure as well...he should speak to the gardener....
He made all these mundane plans in an effort to avoid thinking of what awaited him, inside the house.....the expectation that he might find her there...
But once his eyes fell upon some late summer daisies in the corner....a type of wildflower, and one he had ordered planted for her pleasure....he bent to pick one, gazing at its jaunty design, twirling it in his hands, and saying these soft words: "My love...were that you were here, beside me..."
He heard a rustle, then a soft voice assailed him with, "Christopher...." And out of a hidden archway appeared Marianne.
She had been napping since the afternoon, as ordered by her doctor, who, though he had pronounced her health quite vigorous about a week ago, still advised her to rest as much as she could. She had slept through the company, although no one begrudged her this----in fact, Mrs. Jennings was beginning to believe Mrs. Brandon was quite the invalid, and had initiated rumors to that effect.
She might have found material for further gossip had she witnessed what was now occurring between Brandon and his wife: they quickly entered into a strong embrace, which did not admit to any separation for several minutes.
"I hate to think of the many hours in which I was certain I might never have this again!" Brandon cried, his shaking words indicating his past distress.
Marianne put her hand against his cheek, "Then consider those hours as never existing....for they might as well not, since they did not bring about any real sorrow..."
"I owe to them much realization, even so. When I feared I might lose you, and after all my foolishness, thinking you....oh, Marianne! It was quite different during this illness, than during your first, at Cleveland!"
Marianne smiled, "Just over two years ago..."
Brandon continued: "Yes, two years ago....that illness was so different, because I had not yet given myself fully....I knew, and expected that the result might possibly be hopeless...."
"Yet, you did go fetch my mother....and remained right by my side, caring for me...even as you might know I did not care for you..." reminisced Marianne.
"I did do what I could. What I felt would be a comfort to you...and a solace to your mother, should you have died. I held back my feelings, hoping, but always thinking: "even if Miss Marianne should survive....so may her love for Willoughby, despite his marrying another...so do not plan too much, or count upon too much, Brandoníóthat is what I told myself."
"Itís been so long since I was called ëMiss Marianneí----oh, Christopher, how I have been such a direct cause of your suffering!"
"But you have been a more direct cause of my delight....my love, my Marianne....this time the loss would have been so much the greater because the experience was so much the deeper. It pained me to think of our sweet daughter, growing to womanhood, yet without knowing the best example of womanhood---her mother! I prayed so hard during those days----and Edward prayed with me, and Elinor watched over the both of us, when she wasnít watching over you...."
"Poor Elinor! I do hope someday to repay all she has done for me, " Marianne then paused, then thought further: "On second thought, I would prefer that she not be in a position to need such extensive services as I have required! Repayment must be in the form of sisterly devotion and affection----and making easy any difficulty she may encounter."
Colonel Brandon then drew his wife to him, as he had done many times before, except that, before kissing her, he simply looked into her eyes. This produced a bit of awkwardness between them, and Marianne gave a little laugh, asking if he had forgotten how to proceed. He slowly shook his head, and replied:
"I am only attempting to prolong the sweetness, my love. That is the lesson I learned during this last illness of yours----not to hurry, and to savor all that life is giving at the moment, for we cannot know when our lives could end. Perhaps we should really live as if death were imminent....and then, we might not squander time, and live less than we ought."
Marianne looked at her husbandís gentle face: he had never been traditionally handsome, but his beauty came from within, and did show his eyes to be kind, his smile to be tender, and his love for her very unceasing and strong. Sickness and separation had wrenched her memory from her mind, and for several weeks she had cared not if anyone had ever loved her----did not even know, sometimes, that someone else besides herself was suffering. And I would have left this world never knowing....perhaps not even able to say a how glad I was to have been even his for the few short weeks we were allowed.....and how I would never be happy in Heaven until he was also there. But I should tell him these things, now....before another near tragedy threatens to leave one of us alone, and never knowing what the other might have wanted the survivor to know...
Marianne then said these thoughts as had been upon her mind, and many others as well. Christopher Brandon said nothing, only listened, cherishing each word that expressed how much he was adored by Marianne. Perhaps he had always known it, but to hear her say it, with such feeling, and such attention to detail----it destroyed all of his doubt and suspicion. This reaffirmation was very like saying their wedding vows again, and all the accompanying anticipation and excitement that first event had given.
So, he faced her, and said, "I would have gone on without you, Marianne---but that is all it would have been. Just living from one day to the next, not really thinking or feeling, and except for our daughter, I would have loved no one else. I can never love anyone else, I think----and in any case, I do not wish to know if I could. I know I only love, and will only love----you--my dearest, my most beloved----the wife I could never have dreamed would be mine...." He then gave a heavy, choked sigh, and bent to kiss her....
In many ways, this reunion between them had some of the same aspects as the first giving of one another: the dark room, the quiet preparations-----and the candlelight flickering, not from any stirring of air----but from Brandonís trembling hands as he extinguished their light, and unlike that first night, he left one candle to burn. This dim light gave a small amount of visibility upon the bed, but this time Marianne was not the shy, trembling, innocent girl who would have to endure an initiation: this time, her movements were eager and hungry, and she hesitated not when he reached across to her. In one melting, fluid awakening, they became as one, and each gave up as much of themselves physically as could be done without dying from the sheer blissful pleasure of it all.
It was definitely dark night now, and they both lay, in misty wonder, at their strong passion and complete abandon to its bidding. While innocence has its charm, it was quite nothing compared to the complete knowledge and ease of experience and familiarity. So, as they lay in each otherís embrace, they began to recall the happenings of nearly fourteen months past, reflecting on their journey together since. Both could compare this time with that first----and ponder how they might have ever, as they left the alter on the wedding day---looked forward to that night of awkward intimacy. Marianne recalled how she could not---almost would not---reveal herself to her husband, stammering that she had been cold, or some such excuse. Brandon remembered succumbing to his own feelings, forgetting that in her newness, Marianne needed careful handling----and to his horror, having to put her flushed, agonized face against his, attempting to kiss away what was then tears of pain....
"Thank God it is only to be once endured!" smiled Marianne, "Now you need only fear my tears of joy!"
"And that is much better than any other kinds of tears!" he replied, then he said, a bit soberly: "I cannot promise that you shall never cry tears of pain, my Marianne....but I can promise that you shall have my kiss, and my comfort with which to dry them."
Time passed once again, the night grew old, and both husband and wife did not fall asleep until the faint dawn began to make its appearance. Even so, they both managed to enter the breakfast room at half past nine, hand in hand, smiling shyly, looking flushed, their quiet happiness quite evident to those who served them. An hour later, they both went to the nursery, removing Anna and Mari to the garden for their daily airing.
"I cannot help but....," began Brandon.
Marianne encouraged him to continue, as much seemed to prey on his mind.
"I will be blunt in my thoughts, though, I hope, not in words: my dearest Marianne, it is of great concern to me that the next child might end your life, or possibly, maim you to such a degree that living would be torment. We have a fine daughter, and while I would like a son, in order to have an heir.....I would gladly sacrifice this privilege, if it meant you remain alive, healthy, and able to reign as mistress of Delaford....and of my heart, body, mind, and soul!"
This pretty speech had great effect on Marianne, as it appealed to every aspect of her romantic nature in dealing with issues of love and death. However, she was well aware that if Brandon were to give up the possibility of a heir-----he must also give up something else, and as she was still glowing with the nightís joy, she felt she could hardly agree to anything that would mean marital celibacy.
Marianne put Anna down upon a blanket, but the little girl, newly learning to crawl, would not remain stationary. A nurserymaid was summoned, though with the instructions that she was not to put the child to bed, but simply to watch so that she did not crawl into a nest of rosebush thorns or take a tumble down some steps.
"I think, Christopher, you are attempting to suggest a way of life which will make both of us unhappy. You seem to hope to avoid one type of misery, the loss of my health....by instilling another, the loss of my pleasure in you."
He nodded slowly, but resignedly: "I have given this long and careful thought---truly, I have, my love. It does seem the only way....and is not uncommon. If it were not done----many women would be burdened physically. Have you ever wondered at the reason some families have only one or two children....and others many more?"
Thinking of Charlotte Palmer, who was looking to have a baby nearly every year since her marriage, Marianne had a ghastly thought.
"I wonder if Mr. Palmer....hopes, by bringing Charlotte to bed so often...!" The idea was so awful, Marianne blanched with disgust.
"I, too, have often wondered the same....that her frequent confinements are not the result of any great love on her husbandís part, but perhaps of his hope...his desire...that...numerous babies increase the likelihood of an early death-----and his freedom..."
"Ugly, ugly thoughts!" Marianne cried, burying her face in her hands, "Why do people not love? And if they cannot love----why do they hate so as to wish another dead?"
"Not a question that has found an answer, my love....but, we can have our own answer! I refuse to expose you to the possibility of further illness or possible death. Having you sitting across from me every morning at breakfast....and not buried in the family vault....that is worth any price I must pay, including that of repressing my desire for you...."
Marianne had been quietly sobbing, but now, she looked up: "Christopher....what of my desires? Has it ever occurred to you that my passion might be as profound as your own....or are only men allowed great feelings such as these? This....this lack of you will be a terrible emptiness for me, too!"
Then she began her argument, which was as follows: that none of them could presume upon God, and if her time to die was preordained, then all the enforced chastity in the world would do nothing to prevent it. Also, who washe, Brandon to ask that they renounce any pleasure to achieve prolonged life-----he might as well give up hunting, or riding, both dangerous pastimes under certain conditions. As he rode every day, and hunted during many months of the year, it was quite likely that he would be the one to die before she did.
"And, even at most I could be brought to bed no more than once per year-----how many times in that same year do you, dearest husband, participate in risky pursuits? Going to London, as you do several times a year, contains more opportunities to be exposed to illness---than does my having a child...."
It hardly matters how Brandon was convinced----but he was. Life could be made as safe as possible, but as his love had pointed out, one might has well lock oneself up in a closet, and never risk at all, for risk was everywhere. Just eating one bite of food provides some dangers, as no doubt one could choke under the right conditions.
"So....let us give up everything, and be done! Which closet shall I lock you in, dearest husband? Where shall you feel safest!"
"Nowhere..." he answered, very solemnly, "Nowhere," he said again, but then whispered...."but here.." And with these words, Brandon reached for Marianne, the circle of his arms holding her within, not only safely....but with the strong passion that suggested that the continuance of the night....and of all the nights to follow.
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