JA quotes and intro

"I should infinitely prefer a book." -- Chapter 39, Pride and Prejudice
"...I wish my collection were larger for your benefit and my own credit..." -- Chapter 8, Pride and Prejudice
"I shall be glad to have the library to myself as soon as may be." -- Chapter 20, Pride and Prejudice

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Beyond Her Wishes

Sense and Sensibility
General request for more S&S fanfic
While still at Norland Park, Elinor discovers that Edward Ferrars is not at liberty to make her an offer of marriage.

During the final week of Miss Elinor Dashwood’s residence at Norland, her childhood home, she indulged in a tour of the park. “The grounds seem a bit lovelier each time I take this path.” She sighed and smiled as she recalled that she had very lately, and very often, traversed it in the company of the gentleman at her side.

To her surprise, Mr Ferrars laughed. “You reminded me of your sister just now. Are you certain this is Miss Dashwood’s arm in mine and not Miss Marianne’s?”

Elinor shivered at his light caress of her sleeve, relishing their physical proximity. Their previous strolls had not been as cosy as this one. “Mock me all you like, Mr Ferrars, but you must admit it is a beautiful day.”

That I readily concede.” His warm smile made him appear almost handsome. His warm eyes and the kindness about his mouth were already dear to her.

Elinor forced her attention to the scenery. She had determined not to waste the day on melancholy thoughts; she would have more than enough sadness and regret to occupy her once she and her family were on the road to Barton Cottage. She wanted to take advantage of her last opportunity to store up pleasant memories of Norland as her home, not John and Fanny’s.

A few glances at Edward convinced her he was likewise in a pensive mood. Perhaps he was thinking of their parting. We need not part, she thought. She bit her lip and exerted herself not to dwell on what might never be.

The silence that settled over them lasted for the greater part of their walk. Not until they had turned back and were quickly approaching the house did the gentleman breach it. “You will miss this place.” He required no corroboration, appearing instead wholly caught up in his own musings. “So shall I, when you and your mother and sisters are gone. I wish Fanny had not… I could wish a great many things undone for your sake.” He whispered, “And for mine.”

Elinor felt certain Edward had not meant her to hear his last utterance. Her heart ached upon seeing the lines of dejection on his face. For a brief moment, she desired to possess Marianne’s assurance that he would propose, but only for a moment. At least if he did not offer—as the days passed, it seemed more and more probable he would not, despite their growing intimacy—she would fare better than she otherwise must for not having counted it as certain. She would not be overwhelmed by both disappointment and disbelief. The disappointment itself would be difficult enough to bear.

“Mr Ferrars? Edward?” He had stopped near the windows of the blue parlour, a room to which Fanny had taken a fancy in the last weeks. Elinor often saw her peering around the curtains at them as they returned from one of their frequent rambles. She wondered if her sister-in-law favoured that room because it allowed her to keep an eye on Edward. Heaven forbid the woman should permit her brother to manage his own affairs without sisterly interference.

Elinor turned from the window. She gently coaxed her still-silent companion through the grass and down a different path. As she watched him struggle for words, the awkwardness increased between them. “Perhaps we should go inside after all. I doubt Fanny will mind if we ring for tea a little early.” We need something to distract you from your thoughts and me from mine. He was going to say aloud what she had no wish to hear: ‘My mother will never consent to my marrying you.’ She had already concluded as much. There could be no comfort in the confirmation of it.

He faced her just then with an expression that radiated pain. It was more than her composure could withstand. She did not think; she could not speak. Her eyes and throat filled with the pressure of unshed tears.

He flinched, gasped, stared at her.

“You feel it, too,” she heard him say, her discomfiture augmented by the wonder and tenderness in his voice. “It is all over your face! I had not simply imagined it, or hoped… Had I before now been this certain of your feelings, as certain as I am of my own, I would have spared you. I would have departed Norland at once.” He continued speaking, unaware of the blow he had just dealt her, delivered on the heels of exquisite pleasure of knowing her feelings were returned. “Can you believe I had become convinced the danger was all my own, that I was doing injury to nobody but myself?” He laughed mirthlessly. “I had been fooling myself that you were only being kind, as you would have been to anyone, for you have such an affectionate heart. You would think me a scoundrel if you knew.”

“Knew what?” Anxiety for both their sakes had turned to fear of what his next words might be.

“A mistake,” declared he, his tone clear and commanding. “A wretched mistake, a dreadful error I made four years ago. It haunts me every day, and at this moment more than ever. And now I see I have made an even graver one.”

An even graver one? But he loved her; he had all but said the actual words. How might it have been a mistake to fall in love with her? Inconvenient, yes, but certainly not wrong. “Is there,” she stammered, “is there nothing you can do?” She tried desperately to calm herself. “Is there no remedy at all?”

“None within my power. That is, if I wish to remain a gentleman in the eyes of the world.” He shuddered. “It is a matter of honour.”

All sorts of notions flew through Elinor’s head: a love-child; a horrible crime that, although long past, would lead to scandal if generally known; a betrothal arranged by his mother; a promise—or debt—that someone held over him. She dismissed the first two ideas out of hand. A young child might be a concern for a man but would not necessarily impede his marriage. Edward did not appear to be the type of man to entangle himself in criminal behaviour. Nor did he seem the sort to spend his inheritance in the gaming hells of London, so she ruled out debt. A prior claim, an understanding with some other young lady, was a possibility, but if he were promised to another, Fanny certainly knew nothing of it. And Edward himself had acted as though his heart had been free for her to claim.

Four years! Elinor blinked. It made no sense! What could he have done four years ago that could affect his prospects now? She must know. She would go mad if he did not tell her.

“Can you not speak plainly?” she entreated him. “Will you not confide in me?”

“You would despise me, Elinor. If you knew, you would never want to see me again.”

Despise you? she mouthed. No! The fear preying on her swallowed every thought. The usually tight rein on her emotions slipped away, and to her horror, she felt tears streaming down her face.

Edward did not leave her side. He murmured soft nothings and offered his handkerchief, which she took. A minute passed; yet, the tears continued to flow. In an attempt to avoid further embarrassment, Elinor raised her head at last. “I believe I will go in now, if you will excuse me.” Her voice, thick with sorrow, sounded foreign to her ears.

She took several steps and was relieved to see he had not followed her. Once out of his sight, she hitched up her skirts and ran into the house. She hoped to avoid the scrutiny of her mother and sisters, but she cared not a whit whether Fanny had seen her and triumphed from her precious post at the window.

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