The Other Sister
Since her two elder sisters were comfortably married, the foremost concern occupying those dear to Margaret Dashwood, as well those who had nothing better to do, was to find her a suitable husband. Her lack of fortune or the scarcity of eligible young men for miles or even her own feelings in the matter were of no significance in their earnest hopes and endeavors.
"Troubling yourself to mend another gown is utterly useless, Elinor, this trip to London is going to be of such little advantage and consequence", pronounced Margaret in a lively tone, while gently rocking her little nephew, cradled in her arms.
The mid-afternoon sun's rays were streaming through the window, brightening everything in the small parlor at the parsonage at Delaford. Elinor was sitting amidst a flurry of muslin and silk intently working on a pretty purple gown, sewing some beads on it according to the dictates of the latest fashion. The momentous occasion of Margaret leaving to London for the season was the main topic instead of their usual conversations about Edward's sermons or the children's appetite or even the poultry and pasturage, and the reason for this occupation that day.
"You sounded more enthusiastic when Marianne and I went to London", Elinor paused her needle work for a moment to look up at her sister and said playfully. "And here I was overjoyed that Mrs. Jennings had finally persuaded you to see all the earthy happiness you will procure in London"
Margaret chuckled delightfully at this rejoinder. "Indeed I thought I had disposed of my duties with the ball that Col.Brandon gave for me three years ago and sincerely believed that my failure to obtain a husband till now would discourage everyone sufficiently. But that is not to be the case".
Elinor returned to her work, smiling. Margaret had stoutly refused to allow them to invest in more dresses for her. The gowns made for her coming out ball were still as good as new since she had hardly used it and Elinor had resolved to do her best to at least make them look as fashionable as possible. "We have all grown tired of your excuses for not leaving Barton, after all, dearest... my lying in, mama's rheumatism.. You are one and twenty and it is just everyone's wish to see you find someone that you can love."
"Love? Come now, Elinor, It is a worthless, idle emotion for young men with no serious occupation, and encouraged generally to keep women in bondage", Margaret declared forcefully as she sat down , her hands circling her now asleep nephew secure. Elinor smiled since she had heard her quote radical views for some years now, but her smile turned into a slight frown when Margaret added, "Do not wish that for me. All that it brought you and Marianne is heart ache and pain"
Upon this statement, Elinor looked up with a concerned expression and queried somewhat agitated, "Margaret, do you think we are not happy?"
With a thoughtful look, Margaret conceded after a moment of silence. "I think you are both happy", and then continued in a serious voice, "but that has come about purely by chance, if you ask me. I am still surprised that you both eventually found happiness. All I remember after that trip to London is the pained, hurt, forlorn faces of my beloved sisters and I will never forget that".
"Are you saying you will marry without love?", a flustered Elinor exclaimed.
"No", Margaret refuted, shaking her head. "No indeed. I am questioning the need for marriage in the first place. What is this notion that says one will find happiness only if one finds someone to love and marry?", she asked, tilting her head slightly at Edward, who presently entered the room, with a notebook in his ink stained hand, scratching his head no doubt about the length of his impending sermon, "Happiness is totally in your heart, not in another's hands. Do you not agree Edward?"
Elinor smiled at her husband. She was not particularly concerned about Margaret's authoritative announcements against marriage. Somehow they seemed very abstract and juvenile and she would have been more worried if she had said she was going to marry without love. Margaret's everyday behavior and judgement had hardly given them any worry and thus such declarations were always heard with some mirth. "Edward, you should not be giving those books to Margaret. She is becoming positively rebellious day by day", she gently chided him.
"Oh, no she was already that, were you not Captain Margaret?", Edward smiled as he took his wife's hand and gently kissed it. "Pray tell Margaret, what do you propose to do if you do not plan on marrying?"
"Why piracy of course, Edward, you ought to know that", Margaret said with an injured air.
"Ah", nodded Edward sagely.
"Seriously Elinor, I can always mend something, bother you and Marianne, quarrel with mamma and be generally happy ever after", she continued.
Seeing his wife's worried expression returning, Edward consoled very sensibly, "Do not worry Elinor, she is saying all this because she has not found a suitable man yet"
"Even if that unlikely thing does happen, he will not find me suitable at all. I have no fortune and even mamma thinks I do not bid fair to equal you both". This was said with utmost cheer that Elinor was quite bemused and knew not what to say.
"Of course, you are even better than them, my dear", Edward corrected her with a smile and patted her head fondly.
Margaret laughed. "It is no doubt your affection for me that is the reason for these words", and then she continued with feeling, "If only you or Marianne could accompany me. I will be back before Marianne's confinement, at the least. I hope this time she has a girl Elinor. I am tired of playing with nephews. At any rate, I am not very keen on this trip. I do not know who to pity more - myself or Mrs.Jennings to have each other for company. And mamma says I should visit Fanny and John too",
This was followed by a brief conversation about Mrs. Dashwood and about Norland for some time. Later after playing with her nephews and then reading to them for a good amount of time as she usually did, Margaret took leave.
After riding in a steady gallop for some time, once she reached the village, she set forth in a much slower pace enjoying the peace and quiet of the green, fertile meadows. After much pressing, Margaret had accepted the horse from Col. Brandon. It helped her visit her sisters more often. The benefits in this case had outweighed her normal practice of not imposing on her sisters. The income of four hundred pounds, for the two of them, since she was most satisfied with the simple pleasures and did not have any particular desire for fine things, provided a living comfortable enough for her. She had become so adept in managing the expenses that even Elinor was proud of her. Her only regret was that she could not afford to own as many books as she would have liked to. There was hardly any company of her age, or providing sufficient stimulation to her agile mind, even the number of Sir John's private balls had dwindled considerably, that the only thing that captured her imagination was books. She devoured them - the dated collection at Barton park, the few volumes at the parsonage, the little circulating library at the village, and even those at Delaford. Her taste and talent had gone through solid improvement, in a unique manner, away form the shadow of her sisters, because of this.
A fine day. Fitting to spend in her tree house spying the chirping birds and the babbling brook. She still climbed up her tree house and spent some lazy afternoons there, reading a book, while listening to the wind, much to her mother's chagrin. She rode at a leisurely pace to her home, enjoying the beauty of it all. As she opened the wooden gate and went up the path to Barton cottage, she was actually quite depressed thinking about her trip to London. To give up her kingdom, however temporary it may be. Perhaps she can visit the sights. She sighed. At any rate, listening to Mrs. Ferrars, Mrs. Dashwood and Mrs. Palmer would in itself be vastly entertaining. Then she brightened, after this, even Mrs.Jennings would be disheartened enough to give up on her matchmaking.
"So I tell you Margaret, in our present circumstances, after the purchase of the London house and the new furniture, which I must say have caused a serious drain, we are very grateful to every little help from Mrs. Ferrars. I dare say she has such noble spirits"
Margaret smiled tightly, wondering how on earth she had allowed herself to be in this situation. John Dashwood was going on and on about his finances. After a tiring journey of two days, Margaret, accompanying Mrs. Jennings and her kind reports on various neighbors, had arrived in Berkeley Square in London. Her first impressions of London had not been very favorable, it had been foggy and smelt like a stable. But she had been vastly relieved to be installed in a charming room, that of Charlotte, after having been cooped up in a carriage for so long. After a day of rest, she had spent the next few mornings calling on Mrs.Jennings's acquaintances with her and leaving cards, and was beginning to enjoy her stay.
Almost after a week, during their walk one day, they had unexpectedly come upon John and Fanny. Much to her surprise, Fanny had insisted on Margaret spending a few days with her and for her mother's sake, Margaret had agreed to this scheme, by generally accepting the invitation, planning to visit her for a day or two much later. But Fanny had immediately arranged for her carriage to be sent for Margaret and here she was at Harley Street, with a promise to visit Mrs. Jennings as soon as Fanny was able to spare her. Mrs. Jennings's dislike for Fanny had increased over the years and thus she had not been very happy about it. Her mother's good intentions and strong desire not to be estranged from John, since as she put it, he was the son of the man most dear to her, had persuaded Margaret to be cordial to them as much as she can. Though for the life of her could not understand this sudden change of heart and love from Fanny, who she surely had thought, loathed all of them, especially herself.
After hearing about John's finances till her ears started hurting, Margaret put down her tea cup and conveyed to him politely that he need not worry on her account and that the good Colonel was paying for her expenses. John seemed to like her all the more because of this assurance. Fanny's conversation was no improvement, centered on her young Harry, the great things he said and did and Margaret after bearing that too for some time in good humor, deciding she had done enough of her duty for her mother, put a stop to that discourse by talking at every pause about her other nephews. Despite all this, Fanny did not seem inclined to drive her out as she had hoped, and she spent the next two days, making more calls, this time on Fanny's acquaintances. Fanny strangely seemed interested in what she was wearing, how she presented herself and even introduced her to a few eligible young men.
Soon enough the reason for all this began to become apparent. During their conversation with an acquaintance, she first heard of a Miss Ferrars, now staying in Lucy's house. And then later that day she met both Lucy Ferrars and her young friend a Miss Maria Ferrars, Fanny's cousin. Fanny had just finished more rounds of shopping buying everything that was expensive and in fashion, and they were walking in Bond Street when they saw them.
"Dear Fanny, how are you? It gives me such pleasure every time I see you", Lucy cooed after the introductions. Though far away from this crowd, having met Lucy or Fanny on a very few occasions, based on the various reports that somehow managed to reach them, Margaret and her sisters had often discussed their relationship how it alternated between being the thickest friends to bitter jealous rivals with much ill-will. Over the years, Lucy had slowly reduced the flattery that she used to shower upon Fanny and was wont to do something from time to time to snub her. This time, from the icy conversation Margaret could understand that a new battle was going on between the two. And further noticing Fanny's pointed questions regarding Miss.Ferrars and the way Lucy had taken her under her wing, Margaret realized she was Fanny's answer to Lucy's Maria. So, Fanny was launching her, in competition, and at no extra cost, and at the added benefit of getting congratulations for helping her poor sister-in-law. A spark of anger flared at being used like a toy, then Margaret realized that all she had to do was be herself to get her revenge. Fanny was probably already regretting it. She must have been really angry and desperate about Lucy and Maria, thought Margaret smiling to herself. Miss. Ferrars was a very stylish girl, fashionable and very handsome. A young man who was accompanying them seemed to have captured much of her attention.
Glancing in their direction, Lucy said with a pleased air, "Oh, I have high hopes for Maria, I am sure she will have plenty of offers before the season is out", then she continued letting out a deep breath, "Though I do not know how I am going to ward off all the fortune hunters. Of course, you do not have that trouble", in a silken tone, waving her hands in a dismissible gesture at Margaret.
Fanny smiled tightly and responded in a low voice that Margaret, standing closer to her, could hear, "You have been a Ferrars a long time now Lucy and I am surprised that you still think of seven thousand pounds as a fortune", unmasking Lucy's angry eyes momentarily. Recovering she whimpered with a smile that still did not reach her eyes.
Margaret turned hastily and smothered a laugh. This may turn out to be an interesting time after all. Though she was vastly amused by this petty rivalry, later she spent some time contemplating on how pitiful indeed they were, with such silly things occupying their time and mind.
Two days later, Margaret found herself accompanying Fanny to a ball given by Lady Anne, an invitation to which, Fanny assured, was an absolute honor. She decided to wear a light blue gown on which Elinor had toiled quite a bit, everyone seemed to be wearing emerald green that season. With ribbons adorning her hair set in an uncomplicated fashion and a simple necklace, she felt she was quite up to the task.
They arrived, with their names announced, walked into the hot, crowded rooms, after curtsying to her Ladyship, climbed up the stairs and joined the many fashionable people and Margaret enjoyed observing everything around her with insatiable curiosity - the bright lights in the globe lamps, monumental amounts of food, the musicians, the young men standing on the doorways ogling, the latest fashions - the turbans and the plumes and the fans in pretty colors, everything was fascinating to her.
Margaret was solicited for quite a few dances, much to her surprise. She danced with a few agreeable men, though none of them caught her fancy. During one of the few she did not, she was standing near a pillar, while Fanny and her party were busy chattering, observing everyone nearby. A voice exclaiming, "Grenville, there you are!", particularly caught her attention.
Could it be the Earl of Grenville she had read and heard so much about, she strained a little to see.
Margaret could only see his back, a tall man with dark hair, a blue superfine coat on his broad shoulders, he was looking at someone near him.
"Grenville, if what I hear is true and you are planning to marry soon,you ought to go and check the new arrivals, instead of standing in the sides", the man said in a boisterous voice laughing.
"You might as well announce it to all the matchmaking mothers out there,man", Lord Grenville groaned and then asked irrepressibly, "Notice anyone worthwhile?", his voice rich with amusement.
"Yes, a few. But I do not know your preference"
A few other men around them laughed and they exchanged something in a low voice.
"My dear friends, there are ladies present, and we are talking about the future Lady Grenville", he said with an affected air much to the mirth of those around him and then continued when his friends prodded him further, "Let us see, I want someone who is calm, demure, delicate, prime example of ladylike behavior and decorum", eliciting some murmured concurrence and more laughter from those around him. "Someone who is well accomplished, I need some entertainment on lonely evenings after all - she should be able to play and sing very well, fortune is not required but if she has a good dowry it will ease my heart to know that she is not marrying me..", his next words were drowned by Fanny's laughter.
Margaret strained to hear further and to see his face. This man cannot be the same Lord Grenville. These simple words completely belied his scintillating orations in the house of Lords on various subjects. Margaret was a great admirer of his grasp and commitment to a variety of things. She had heard he was a double first at Oxford. 'Demure, delicate..' He probably did not even realize how offensive his words were to someone like her. How very unlike from the picture she had in mind. She had imagined him to be an elderly sort of a man, his gray hair and kind eyes showing his wisdom. Margaret shrugged. Even great men were stupid in some things, she supposed. Did she not know of many perfectly intelligent, sensible men marrying good looking girls with an ignorant mind.
Thinking of which, her attention was soon grasped by the arrival of the Palmers. "Miss Dashwood, how are you?" asked the Honorable Mr.Palmer, his eyes softening a little, after glaring at the rest of the party with disdain. Margaret smiled. His behavior towards her was very different from that towards others, why if she did not know better she would say he treated her as his equal.
"Sir, I am very disappointed with your vote in the recent house legislation", she assailed, jumping into the point right away.
"Indeed?" he asked gravely, and then bestowing one of his rare smiles, said, "Miss Dashwood, perhaps you should enjoy the evening and we should postpone our arguments on my political position to a more opportune moment. And may I compliment you on your appearance. Very becoming. You are the prettiest girl I have seen all evening"
She smiled at this quirking her brows a little and then stood talking to him agreeably. Presently she asked him, remembering that as the under secretary, he ought to know about Lord Grenville, the parliamentary secretary for the same ministry.
"Mr. Palmer, I heard a young man called Grenville talking, could it be the Earl?"
"Yes, must be. Splendid fellow", nodded Mr. Palmer giving him his supreme seal of approval, "Is he here?"
"Oh, yes Margaret, Dowager Lady Grenville is a great friend of mama and I must say I have had the privilege of meeting him myself", interrupted Fanny.
Margaret could almost sympathize with the man. His mother was a friend of Mrs. Ferrars. Still, his remarks were deplorable. Lost in her thoughts about Mrs. Ferrars and her loathsome behavior towards her sister, she almost started when she heard a voice greet them. She looked up, to see his dark eyes and his piercing glance colliding with hers. An exceedingly handsome man, his noble bearing, his countenance everything bespoke his authoritative nature.
Margaret sank into a curtsy. It was Lord Grenville, indeed. After talking pleasantly about things of little consequence for only a few moments, he surprised her by applying for her hand to dance, and she found herself walking to the floor, with him. So she was his first choice among the new arrivals. She quashed a monstrous desire to flutter her hands and exclaim in a squeaky voice, "Oh, my Lord, how wonderful, you chose me". Margaret's lips twitched slightly and she suppressed a smile with great difficulty. He might be thinking that he was not wasting any time, but little did he know that she was most unsuitable.
He talked with her agreeably as he escorted her. "Do you like London, Miss Dashwood?"
"Much better than I originally thought, Sir", she replied as they joined others. She found herself near the top of the set, no doubt owing to his position.
He smiled at her reply and continued, "And you reside in Devonshire, did you say?"
"Yes, in a valley surrounded by beautiful hills", she enthused.
"I have been there when I was a young boy. My father's friend lives in Dorset. He invites me there quite often, perhaps I should visit him and enjoy the countryside"
They danced, exchanging a few words, and before long, she caught a look exchanged between him and one of the men standing, the same man, who had talked to him earlier. He seemed amused and though Lord Grenville's face was remarkably polite, she was sure the exchange was meant for her. Deciding this was not to be borne she said boldly, "My lord, perhaps I must point out that it'd be better if you employed yourself in some other pursuit, since dancing with me would hardly suit your purpose", a smile playing in her lips.
"How so, Miss Dashwood?", he queried, undoubtedly surprised.
"I will not say I overheard, since you did not seem to have been particularly worried about your audience, but I had the fortune of hearing your list of requirements a few minutes ago"
Much to her annoyance, instead of being embarrassed by it, he seemed thoroughly amused. The man actually laughed. "Ah, and you do not fit the, um", he cleared his throat, "requirements? how unfortunate", he said with a twinkle in his eyes.
"No", she responded hotly, stressing the word, "fortunately I do not, Sir, I refuse to become the humble dependent of a husband, or to be bought in a market for my obedient qualities"
After a brief silence when they danced, with a more curious and thoughtful expression, he said "I see where your leanings are", with a light smile.
"Yes, I am not apologetic about my views on the matter. I do sincerely think a time should come when women are judged not for their obedience and calmness and demure nature but for their character. The women of this land need more recognition, their rights are to be protected, time must come to restore to them their lost dignity ", she sallied forth, getting a little carried away with her lecture.
He silently waited for her to finish and then said softly, "Madam, look around you, do you think these women need any more rights", raising his brows mockingly.
Margaret momentarily faltered by his question and the grain of truth in it, recovered immediately and met his eyes without hesitation. "My lord, I do not think that the women in this room represent all the women in England, nor do I think all of them here are what they seem to be". She then asked him somewhat eagerly, "Have you read the 'vindication of the rights of women' by Mary Wollstonecraft?"
"Of course not", he said with a sarcastic smile, "I do not have time to read some absurd rants of an immoral woman"
Margaret was thoroughly angry at this reply, she stopped any further conversation and went through the motions of the dance with a severe expression. This man is a veriest idiot, she decided, annoyed. She will not waste her breath talking to him.
After a few moments of silence, he asked with curiosity, "Are you not going to tell me that I am wrong?"
She hesitated and then remarked with indignation, "I think her work merits serious arguments. Not plain ridicule from someone who had not even taken the pains to read them.", and then after a pause added slowly, "It does not become you, My Lord"
"How do you mean?", he questioned in surprise.
"I follow your speeches in the house of the Lords and had till now thought you consider various aspects of matters before taking your particular stance. But you are being so s.. I am most seriously disappointed", she blurted and then bit her lips. What was it about him, she usually did not say such things or openly censure someone. She, now waited expecting a cutting reply from him reminding her of her position and her consequence.
"How extraordinary", is all he said, his eyes studying her face so intently that Margaret averted her eyes, unable to meet his.
Their dance came to an end, at this point, and after bowing he escorted her towards her party with a thoughtful silence on his part and a curious disappointment in hers.
As they walked trying to move through the crowd, he began to say something when she almost collided into someone. Everything faded as Margaret stood completely still when the man turned to her about to apologize.
"Willoughby", she exclaimed.
The last time she had seen Willoughby was when he had departed hastily from their home, that fateful afternoon. 'Marianne's Preserver', she used to call him. What painful irony. Margaret still remembered with acute distress her silly flights of fancy about him kneeling down in front of Marianne. How much love they had showered upon him and how much anguish he had caused them in return.
His stay in Allenham over the years had been very limited in both frequency and length, and he was not particularly invited in the neighborhood, and thus though she had heard of him from time to time, their paths had never crossed. Here he was still as handsome, if not more, dapperly clad, his appearance every inch a man of means and consequence.
He looked momentarily confused, and he started saying, "Pardon me, madam, with much shame I must tell you that I do not..", and then he stopped with a stunned look on his face, his brows clearing, "Good God, Margaret?", he exclaimed taking her hands.
Margaret despite the shock of seeing him, recovered, suddenly very much aware of Lord Grenville who had gone completely rigid by her side. She turned to him hastily to introduce them and noticed the very abrupt nod that he bestowed upon Willoughby. Though the sudden meeting with Willoughby was crowding her mind, Margaret watched Lord Grenville withdraw stiffly, with some apprehension.
She had somehow never thought she would see Willoughby and now wanted to leave him as soon and as politely as possible, without drawing any undue attention to them, but was obliged to answer his stilted questions. He enquired after her mother, after Mrs. and Mr. Ferrars and then with his voice catching in his throat, he asked, "And how is Mrs. Brandon? Is she in good health?", in a particular way as though he knew she was with her next child. Margaret responded to his questions stiffly and started to say, "Now if you will excuse me Mr.Willoughby, I must find my party".
"Margaret", He interrupted her in a deep voice filled with emotion, "Please do not address me in such unfamiliar tone. Will you not even shake hands with me? You must allow me to use this occasion to at the least beg your forgiveness, to demonstrate my regard for Ma.., your family, my repentance for all the misconduct", he entreated urgently, "Please do not leave me without hearing me", and he then added gravely, "and indeed it is fortunate that I see you here, for I have something very particular to ask you".
Despite the imprudence of talking to such a man, Margaret's curiosity was piqued. A few years after, afraid of what she might deduce from the different sources of information like Mrs. Jennings and Mrs. Palmer and her own mother, both her sisters had enlightened her briefly as to what exactly was his character, what agony he had put them through. After Marianne's marriage, Margaret had deemed him a closed chapter. Now, after all these years, what could he possibly have to tell her.
The surrounding was not conducive to a private conversation and whatever he was going to say, was further prevented from the Palmers and the Dashwoods joining them. Margaret watched bitterly how well they all dealt with each other, how fortune and connections restored a man such as this so favorably upon the eyes of those around him. They both had partners to dance and friends to meet and talk with and thus the rest of the evening did not afford any opportunity for a conversation. She caught a glimpse of him now and then looking consistently at her direction with an intense expression but did not know what to make of it.
She also caught Lord Grenville dancing with quite a few eligible young girls, including Miss.Ferrars but was most disappointed when he did not even cast a passing glance at her direction. Maria would suit him, all sweet and delicate she thought bitingly. Then was promptly ashamed of her vehemence, after all she knew nothing of Miss Ferrars who might be a very pleasant girl. That thought hardly comforted her though.
Margaret spent a sleepless night after all the excitement, with the little sleep she had during the wee hours of the morning filled with dreams. She woke up to the same thoughts and questions plaguing her and deciding to cool off some of the tension with some exercise and fresh air, she set off on a brisk walk about the Square and was surprised to be accosted immediately by Willoughy.
"Margaret, Miss Dashwood, I thought you would come out for a walk" , he said with an affectionate smile that had endeared him so much before. "you have not changed. Do you still have your tree house?", he asked with a smile, offering his arms, walking with her.
Margaret resolved to get to the bottom of this enigmatic issue, simply nodded, took his offered arm and walked in silence. After a few mundane exchanges, he asked again about Marianne's health and if it was not her third after the loss of her second, confirming her earlier suspicion. When she asked him directly, he replied with a sigh, that he had always been interested in everything that befell her.
Margaret was now most worried and asked him quite abruptly, "Willoughby, you said there was something particular you wanted to ask me, now I must ask you to tell me what it is without further delay"
"Has Col. or Mrs. Brandon told you about my letters", he asked.
She replied with a confused look on her face, "Not at all".
"Perhaps, Ma.., Mrs.Brandon knows not of it either. For I am sure she will understand, she would have definitely supported me..", he said as though he was talking to himself and then paused seeing her uncertain expression. "But I must explain this to you Margaret from the beginning", he spoke slowly. "You are in no doubt familiar with a grave mistake that I committed in the folly and passion of youth some years ago", he stopped, shifted uncomfortably and looked at her.
She nodded slightly and he continued, "I do not know the extent to which you know about it, but believe me I am not the only one to be blamed. Nevertheless, the child, a son, and the mother, Miss Williams are under Col. Brandon's care somewhere in the country, not known to me". He stopped again, swallowing hard and then continued slowly in a deep voice, "You might also have known that my wife Sophia has not been blessed with child and our house after years of matrimony remains barren. I have lately found myself often thinking about my only son, and after much deliberation I wrote a letter to Col. Brandon. I have sent three letters now, since that first one sent about six months ago, asking him to allow me to meet my only son and beg forgiveness. But he refuses", he let out a deep sigh, "In fact, he would not even merit them with a reply"
Margaret stood still for a moment surprised by this revelation.
"Tell me Margaret", he said with a face filled with anguish and his eyes glistening with unshed tears, "You may think of me as the worst kind of libertine, but because of that, I have paid dearly by having to lose the one woman that I loved, that I still love, to be punished everyday in living life without her smile, her touch", his voice choked with emotion, "is that not enough, do I not even have the right to repent, to see my son and shower his cheeks with tears", he asked.
"Margaret, Please I beseech you, you must apply to your sister's goodwill, for her tender heart will definitely help me. She will persuade Col. Brandon to allow me to meet my son. I will forever be in your debt", he said pressing her hands.
After that conversation with Willoughby, Margaret was quite perplexed as to her next course of action. Long ago, she had liked him very much. Her first impressions of him, a knight in a shining armor riding to rescue her sister, had only been strengthened by his dashing personality and his gregarious manners. All of which had been, one horrible day, shattered by a letter. Margaret still remembered clearly how she had come skipping to hear the wonderful things Elinor had written about London. Instead all she saw was her mother looking stunned, tears streaming down her cheeks. "What deception.. such cruelty.. from Willoughby", she had murmured. And then a few days later, Col.Brandon had arrived, tired, beaten, his pained heart in his eyes, with the grave news that Marianne was very ill. Her mother had departed in a hurry leaving her to her nightmares. She had spent days and sleepless nights, petrified, nobody close to talk to, dreading whatever news for waiting to reach her.
First she had only thought Willoughby had married someone else, later from Mrs. Jennings, she had first heard about Eliza. And then, after a few years, Marianne had sat with her one day, and explained everything. "To learn from my mistakes", she had said. When they had finally learnt to live with the pain, began to not think of him from one month end to another, here he was.
Pushing aside the anguish in his eyes compelling to gain her sympathy, she contemplated and her deliberations resulted, along with a headache, in the decision that his claims had some merit. First of all, she could not imagine any fortune or connection he might gain out of this. She also felt that the respectable way in which he had approached Col.Brandon ought to be weighed in. Lastly, on the chance that this would, even in some small way compensate all the pain he had caused Eliza, Margaret could not bring herself to stay quiet. Thus, Col. Brandon, she felt, needed to inform Eliza and ought not to stand in the way of whatever goodness that might come out of this for her son. However she concluded not to appeal to Marianne as he had suggested, neither sure of the motive, nor the results. Besides, she would not cause even the slightest amount of distress to her sister in her present condition. Thus, she decided to write to Col.Brandon himself.
After pondering for a few hours, she composed a brief but clear letter. She first related her meeting with Willoughby and what passed between them and then related her views in a very persuasive manner and concluded the letter with words urging him to reconsider his decision. She was somewhat relieved after sending this letter out, for she confidently believed that it would convince Col. Brandon.
She spent the next few days accompanying Fanny to purchase more things and call on her acquaintances. She met Willoughby once more during her walk and informed him about her letter to Col. Brandon and was despite her skepticism, moved by his profound gratitude for such a simple act. However, the prudence that she had imbibed by being Elinor's sister, advised her to forgo her morning walks and thus she managed to avoid him for quite some time.
After a week later, she found herself accompanying Fanny to a party, arriving in a brightly lit room full of company. Since she was never much of a card player, she was content to capture a seat on the sides and sat there watching those around her. It was a rather large party and she hoped that if someone took the pains to come and talk to her, it was someone interesting.
It was Robert Ferrars. After inquiring about 'poor' Edward and the cottage, unmindful of her indignant sarcastic replies, he launched into a lengthy description of his new malacca cane. An elaborate account on its length and grip was followed by further details on the ornamental design on the handle. He paused briefly giving her a pointed smile. When Margaret looked at him puzzled, he repeated his previous statements finishing it with an encouraging smile again. At last Margaret understanding that he will not leave her if she did not suitably admire it said, "I have never seen anything quite like it Mr. Ferrars". Having his conceit satisfied, he left her soon enough for another unsuspecting victim.
She heaved a sigh of relief. "That was the wise course", murmured a voice behind her. Margaret's heart beat a little bit faster. Must be the heat, she told herself. "Ha, Miss Dashwood, how very nice to see you. Is there anything against card playing - gambling to keep women bonded?", he asked quirking a brow, his cheery voice taking the bite out of his words.
"My Lord, how do you do?", she replied in a calm voice controlling the flutter in her heart. "I am not very interested in playing cards, and like better to observe people"
"I know that already, do I not", he smiled. They talked agreeably for a few minutes about parties in general and then he asked her if she was related to the Palmers.
"Remotely, I am", she smiled. "But I have known them for years now. They are related to the owners, the Middletons, of Barton Park near where we live", she added looking at him, "in a cottage".
He hardly paid attention to the cottage part and continued tapping his forehead, "I believe I know them. Sir John was also acquainted with my father. I vaguely remember going to Barton Park, when we visited Delaford"
She exclaimed, "Delaford? Is Col. Brandon that friend of your father you mentioned the other night?"
"Yes, he served with my father in the East Indies, do you know him?", he asked in surprise.
"Oh yes. Very well. Mrs.Brandon is my sister"
"Ah. And do you have brothers?"
"No only two sisters. The best", she replied with pride. He smiled slightly at this.
Margaret then added ruefully. "How I would have liked to talk with your father, My Lord, about the East Indies. Neither Col. Brandon, nor Sir John tells me enough. I have grown weary of their accounts of mosquitoes."
"Well, perhaps you can talk to me then", he said with a smile playing in his lips.
"You have been there", she almost squealed in delight, "What's it like?"
"Hot", he said dryly, laughed at her enthusiasm, and initially said little about it. But soon, motivated by her questions, realizing her real interest and depth of knowledge, he became more involved and talked in length about the ancient temples and exotic ruins, tropical flowers, fruits and the spices, he described the battles he had fought , the nabobs and the mystics he had met, with such fluency and articulation that Margaret was thoroughly captivated and sat there with dream in her huge eyes, all her attention riveted on him. Not just the East Indies, she found him well traveled in the continent, had a real familiarity of the places he had visited unlike a lot of people who went there for fun and frolicking. His depth of understanding on such a wide range of land and people and his experience, captured her imagination, it was like playing with her atlas only so many times more wonderful. When some men joined them later and the conversation changed, she experienced so great a disappointment, unlike she had ever felt before. He was very much the man she had thought him to be. And much more, a little voice added.
She spent the whole evening acutely aware of him, her eyes drawn to wherever he was, her eyes tuned only to his rich voice, her heart envying whoever he spoke to and her good sense reminding her not to be a fool. Once or twice, their eyes collided across the room, causing a strange feeling tumble about in her stomach. It was not the heat, something was definitely wrong with her.
She spent another sleepless night only this time her thoughts crowded with Lord Grenville, with no room for anything else.
The next day she received a reply from Col. Brandon.
Continued in Section 2
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