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, August 29, 2011

The Excursion to Whitwell, Part 2

Marianne could hear her own breathing and Willoughby’s—no, Willoughby was silent. She looked about her. The colonel’s, then, confounded man! But she had no time or thought to spare for him.

How, after this revelation, could she trust that Willoughby’s affection for her would last? With all her being she felt it would, but perhaps this other girl had felt the same. Would he, heaven forbid, discard and discount her, too? Impossible! Would he, nine months from now in some other country, confess with equal embarrassment to some other young lady that Miss Marianne Dashwood was nothing to him? Unthinkable!

Marianne could not imagine loving someone other than Willoughby. If ever she were to believe in second attachments, this would be a most convenient time.

“I do not understand you,” she said at last, for she, rarely at a loss for words, did not know what else to say. And Colonel Brandon still hovered. Why was he always near? She saw that Willoughby had gripped the railing and was looking out over the water. She turned to flee.

The movement of the boat slowed her pace after only a few steps. She stopped and felt her anger and amazement deepen. She had never thought she would desire to leave Willoughby’s side. Elinor! Elinor’s company would be such a comfort! Squinting and shading her eyes from the afternoon sun, she searched for her sister’s form in the distant cluster—they all appeared to be suffering under some monologue of Sir John’s—but she could not help glancing over her shoulder at the place where Willoughby stood.

With her feelings so affronted, she turned away from the sight of him almost immediately but not before noticing that the colonel had no difficulty at all in fixing his attention on Willoughby. Marianne imagined it was not a kindly look the colonel gave him, for when he spoke, it was not a kindly voice that broke the silence:

“You were in Bath nine months ago?”

“You obviously heard me say that I was, but what can that be to you?”

The colonel took a step away from her and towards Willoughby. “I have here,” he said, waving the sheet of paper, “the mention of a ‘W,’ who was intimately acquainted with someone I know. Much more intimately acquainted than was proper.”

“And what has that to do with me? I am hardly the only ‘W’ who was in Bath at the time.”

“I imagine not, but neither can I imagine that Eliza expected to wed and be brought to her new home, Combe Magna, by anyone other than you.”

“What?”

Marianne’s simultaneous cry came out as a squeak, and she looked helplessly at Willoughby. His exclamation had been powerful, but he looked anything but strong now—he seemed greatly agitated. And then the most terrible chant pounded in her head: Nine months ago, I might have prevented this. Nine months, nine months, nine months. It was shocking that the colonel had let those telling words slip from his mouth. She felt like a fool for having missed their significance. She could scarcely breathe. She tried her best to keep her wits, for the colonel was speaking again.

“She blotted the words,” the colonel was saying, “almost beyond recognition, but when I read the letter once more, I just barely made it out.”

“How could she think....I never said I would marry her!”

Marianne’s breath came in quick puffs as she acknowledged that this person—Eliza, had Colonel Brandon said?—must be the lady who meant nothing to Willoughby.

“No,” the colonel bit out, and for a moment Marianne could imagine his fierceness on the battlefield. “Men often do not precisely say such things, merely enough to let the woman think that is what she has heard.”

“I cannot be held culpable for that!”

“Not for that, perhaps, but for something much more serious than a few careless words, the consequences of which are the reason she wrote to me.”

Willoughby blustered and tried to laugh off the colonel’s accusations, declaring them ridiculous, but his voice sounded almost shrill in its panic. The colonel’s aspect must have been dreadful just then.

“Miss Marianne?”

Marianne started at the sound of her own name coming from the colonel’s mouth, and coming forth with such gentleness.

He had turned his head, though not enough to face her. “I know you are still behind me.” He waited a few seconds for her to confirm it.

She continued to stare at the colonel and beyond him to Willoughby. The latter looked at her with wide eyes, as if he had forgot her presence entirely until that moment.

Please, Miss Marianne,” continued the colonel, “you must allow that the present topic of conversation is not fit for your ears. I may have lost my composure but not my sense. I apologise for what I have exposed you to thus far, but I beg you now to grant us privacy to conclude our conversation.” He turned back to Willoughby, who appeared frozen in fear. “Besides, should I lose what little remains of my control and decide to toss this bounder overboard, I should hate to see your lovely striped muslin dampened by the splash.”

“You would not hurt him!”

“I ought to call him out this instant.”

“Marianne, come,” Willoughby insisted, walking gingerly around his accuser and giving him a wide berth. “Let us leave the colonel to his mad ravings.” He reached for her hand. “See!” he pointed out. “We shall miss the beauty of our surroundings by wasting our time here. Let us join our friends.”

The shock of his touch caused Marianne to shudder. She thrust her hand behind her back and out of his reach. “Willoughby.” She shook her head and moved aside. Her tears began to blur her view of him. “Can you not comfort me? I would rather believe anything than what I am hearing!” She sounded miserable and sorry and felt immeasurably worse. “Will you not tell me this is all a horrible dream, that my ears have deceived me? Until then, I cannot take your hand. As much as I wish to, I cannot!”

“Marianne!”

“Are you,” she asked, sobbing now, “the same gentleman I have known these many weeks, or are you the libertine the colonel declares you to be? Which is it?”

“I am as ever I was, Marianne.”

“But what is it that you are? Who are you?”

“Why must I explain myself to you,” Willoughby demanded to know, drawing up in anger, “or to him?” He seemed very unlike the gentleman she knew. “This is unconscionable!”

“On that we agree,” said the colonel.

Willoughby turned and walked off before the colonel could say another word.

“If he cared for her then,” Marianne said through her tears as she watched him go, “how can he…”—her voice dropped to a whisper—“care for me now? Impossible!”

“It is possible,” the colonel said hesitantly, “to love more than once.”

She took immediate offence at his words. “Or perhaps,” she said in a thickening voice, “it was not love at all.”

“That, too, is possible.”

“You are just rife with possibilities, Colonel,” she said, fairly laughing through her tears, though there was acrimony, not amusement, in the sound.

“Of one thing I am certain: Eliza loved him, though I wish she had not.”

“And I!” She pressed her hand to her mouth and wept and wept. She wished Willoughby had never met Eliza, or that Eliza had never loved him, or that she herself had never loved him. “Why?”

“Who knows why we love?” the colonel asked, his gaze unwavering, the man himself never once shying away from her grief.

The sky was a brilliant blue, and the water…oh, but now the picture was spoilt. Sky and water alike might as well have been grey. She ought to have been enjoying this adventure with Willoughby. Yet here she was, talking of love with the colonel, of all people! Marianne could not control her sudden impulse to laugh her humourless laugh again, despite the tears flowing down her cheeks. The result, somewhere between a ragged sigh and hysteria, was not loud enough to draw attention from their friends; she supposed it, like Willoughby’s earlier cry, could not penetrate the garrulous banter of some of their party. Besides, her throat felt so constricted that no noise came forth from it now with much power.

The colonel smiled; it was a sad, sober gesture. “I must apologise again, Miss Marianne. I had no right to subject you to that scene.”

“It was awful!”

“I know. And I took an unholy pleasure, I am now realising, in exposing Mr. Willoughby’s misdeeds in your hearing. I suppose my anger on Eliza’s behalf spurred me on, as well as my wish that no other young woman be vulnerable to that man, but it was beneath me, and I am sorry for the suffering my selfishness brought upon you.”

She had suffered and did suffer still, but as the colonel continued to look at her, the seriousness of his accusations against Willoughby struck her with fresh force and brought to mind one who, she imagined, had suffered even more. “Has he truly injured your…your…friend so grievously that she is…” How could she speak plainly to this man about so delicate a topic? She ought not to have alluded to it at all! This girl that had written to him—who was she to him? Did the colonel have his own little love-child sequestered away somewhere? My word! She was not ready to hear of any more bad behaviour on the part of men of her acquaintance!

He seemed to understand her; he certainly did not appear offended by her inquiry. “She is my ward,” he said, “my cousin’s orphaned daughter. And yes.”

Marianne watched his eyes when he did not say more. He appeared on the point of speaking several times. She did not mind his silence, for his eyes fascinated her with their eloquence. She wondered that she had never seen anything in them before but dullness. They were alight now with intelligence and pain.

At last, with his mouth closed in a grim line, he held out the letter to her, and she took it without thinking.

She felt more anger at him at that moment when the paper changed hands than she had during the whole of the episode. This accursed letter! She was furious with Sir John, and with Eliza, and with every person responsible for conveying the post from London to Dorsetshire and from Dorsetshire to Devonshire. As her hand closed around the missive, she realised it was unfair of her. Colonel Brandon had done nothing but read a letter, and his world had been turned upside down. She still could not reconcile that this same piece of correspondence had disordered her world as well, but none of it was the colonel’s fault, unless he could be blamed for having trusted his ward’s companions to keep careful watch over her. ‘Oh, Lord!’ she thought, looking at the haphazard script, hardly the work of the deliberate colonel. ‘Willoughby said the colonel wrote this letter himself, and I agreed with him! I had forgot!’

“I have asked too much,” Brandon said. “I have imposed upon you enough as it is. I do not know how you can ever forgive me. I cannot expect you to read that.”

He must have noted her brief burst of fury. “No,” she began, but then she saw Elinor approaching, and she tucked the letter away. “It may be too much,” she agreed. “It is all too much! But I—”

“Marianne,” Elinor cried before Marianne could continue, “whatever is the matter? Willoughby seems in the blackest of moods. I have never seen him so out of sorts, so reserved! He said you were distressed.”

“He spoke nothing but the truth, and he is the—”

“Miss Marianne,” the colonel interrupted, “will you not go with Miss Dashwood? Perhaps the motion of the boat has been too much for you.”

“Yes, come sit here. You do look pale, dear. Have you been crying, too?” Elinor led her to a seat and sat beside her. “I thought you seemed very well when we boarded. I had thought I would be the one to feel ill.”

“I do not know when I have ever felt so wretched,” cried Marianne, melting under the solicitous care of her sister.

“Is there any way I can be of assistance?” asked Colonel Brandon.

“I cannot think of anything at present, Colonel, but thank you for your concern,” Elinor answered. “I shall stay with her.”

Marianne looked into her sister’s worried face. “Willoughby,” she said, choking on his name, “is not what he seems, Elinor. I cannot tell you now what he has done, but I shall when we return to the cottage.”

Elinor looked even more alarmed at this news but did not press her for details, for which Marianne was grateful.

Colonel Brandon did not leave them, and for once Marianne found she did not mind that he remained near her.

Marianne remembered the letter and retrieved it, staying her sister’s clear curiosity with a gesture. The colonel, when not fixing his gaze upon her, glared in Willoughby’s direction. Such a mixture of fierceness and gallantry he was, but Marianne had little leisure to contemplate this with the purported evidence of Willoughby’s offences in her very own hands.

She read quickly, and she felt wonder and sorrow and disgust. Eliza had been approached by ‘W,’ had been captivated, had succumbed to his advances though she had known better. There was Combe M—, scratched through and blotted but still visible, certainly to one who had had similar expectations—oh! the loss!—and there was the confession: Eliza was with child and very near her lying-in. She had gone to London when her condition could no longer be concealed. ‘W’ had left her with no address; rather, she could not locate him in Bath or in London, and the letter she had dared to send to him in the country she was certain had been misdirected, for she had received no reply. He had provided her no assistance. He had given her no hope. Yet behind Eliza’s sadness, Marianne could discern, was the hope that she would eventually be reunited with him, even as she refused to reveal his full name to her guardian.

Marianne, too, had hoped some word, some phrase might convert every horror she had experienced in the last half hour to nothing more than a night terror brazen enough to show itself in daylight, but these vain wishes had been abandoned almost as quickly as they had been formed. Moreover, she could not escape the truth that her own troubles, however grievous, were as nothing compared to this. “The poor girl!” she cried out. “She was wrong, and she knows it. But he used her ill!”

“Marianne? What poor girl?”

“How could he have done it? And what price will he pay? She shall have disgrace for her pains, and he merely a little distress, from which he will quickly recover.” She scowled and looked at Willoughby but only for a moment.

“Please, Marianne, I beg you do not distress yourself any further—”

That is beyond my control, Elinor. I am hardly the author of my own distress.” She folded the letter and handed it to Colonel Brandon. “Take it. I cannot bear to look at it any longer. You will need the direction. I am glad you will go to her, for I am certain he will not.” She recalled something she had read. “All this time you knew nothing of her whereabouts?”

“I tried to find her for months. I had no idea where she was.”

“Sir,” Elinor said to Colonel Brandon with no little agitation, “what is in that letter? Have you also done something to upset my sister?”

“Elinor, the colonel is innocent in this.”

“Not innocent,” the colonel returned.

“You are not to blame!” Marianne insisted. “Another is culpable, though he will not own it.”

“I should have spared you.”

“And allowed me to continue in my ignorance? And to become another Eliza, were it possible to forget myself so completely?” She turned back to her sister. “Oh, Elinor!”

For a time she was lost to all around her as her tears returned in full force.

* * *


At last the others noticed and gathered round. Marianne did not look up. She was confident that her sister would shield her—dear, dependable Elinor!

“What is the matter, Miss Marianne?” she heard Mrs. Jennings inquire.

“Please, my dear madam,” said Lady Middleton, “do not crowd her. She is clearly upset.”

“I can see that, Mary! An’t I been a mother to you and to Charlotte these many years? I know when a girl needs mothering, and since Mrs. Dashwood is not at hand, I must do the job. Now, now, Miss Marianne, you look terribly unwell. We must get back, Sir John!”

“What was that, ma’am?” Sir John called out.

Marianne followed little more of the noisy conversation, clinging instead to Elinor and murmuring her miseries and regrets. Colonel Brandon stood and spoke and managed to deflect the worst of the meddlesome inquiries and offers of help. What help could they give her? Her heart was not merely rent in two but splintered into a million pieces, and there was nothing they could do to restore it short of proving Eliza to be a liar. But Willoughby’s own words and countenance had condemned him. There was nothing anybody could do.

Somehow they reached the shore; somehow they disembarked and returned to the carriages, this time with the sisters sat together. Marianne did not look to see where Willoughby was. She wished she could have put him entirely out of her head, but that was impossible. She dabbed her eyes with her soggy handkerchief and stared into the colonel’s concerned ones. How odd!—how she and Willoughby would have laughed to think of her sharing a carriage with Colonel Brandon after the morning’s arrangements! Yet how little she was inclined towards mirth at this moment! The colonel’s presence was very welcome and infinitely preferable to that of Willoughby.

The scenery that had enraptured Marianne on the way to Whitwell passed by in a blur, unnoticed by her. Her mind was full of another subject.

At last she spoke to the colonel. “He must be made to do right by her.”

“I intend,” he said, nodding in agreement, “to use whatever means are in my power to ensure it.”

“But you will not call him out? Say you will not!”

“Call him out?” Elinor repeated, looking shocked.

The colonel’s eyes darted to Elinor and back to Marianne. “I cannot say that, Miss Marianne. I consider our meeting inevitable.”

“You must not! You must not take such a risk! Miss Williams depends upon you!”

“Which is why I must defend her honour.” He then asked, “Do you believe I would lose such a contest?”

“He is considered to be a very good shot.”

“And I am not?”

“Marianne!” Elinor called out. “You are pale again! Please, let us leave this dreadful subject, Colonel.”

“You must not, Colonel!” Marianne whispered, ignoring Elinor’s concern. This was too important. “Please promise me! Please! For Miss Williams’s sake and…and….”

For Willoughby’s sake as well? The question was in his look, although Marianne herself was not at all certain she would have included Willoughby in her plea. But before she could go on, the colonel said, “You feel strongly about this. The only promise I will make is to consider what else might be done and not to act rashly. For Miss Williams’s sake, as you say.” He looked very sad. “And for your own.”

“Thank you,” Marianne replied.

Elinor asked no more questions save with her eyes; Elinor would soon know all, as soon as they crossed the threshold of Barton Cottage if Marianne had her way. But Mama! What would she think? How her dear heart would grieve when forced to see Willoughby in such a light! Even Margaret must be made aware of Willoughby’s unworthiness, if not the proof of it.

Marianne felt her eyes grow moist again. She closed them and wished the carriage back to Barton and herself out of it and in the company of her family, where she would find solace for the misery inflicted upon her. And then, since her wishes had no effect on the speed of the horses, she fixed her gaze upon the colonel’s steady hands as he gripped the reins.



Next

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Excursion to Whitwell


(2011)
Sense and Sensibility
This story begins after Chapter 12 of the novel with the following change: Colonel Brandon does not receive a certain letter while breakfasting at Barton Park, and the outing to Whitwell proceeds as planned.
*WIP*



Part One

Their excursion to Whitwell turned out to be very like what Marianne had expected, yet different in ways she never would have anticipated, not in her wildest imaginings. She had hoped to be entertained, excited, and even enthralled, which she could not have failed to be in the presence of a certain gentleman of her acquaintance; and while the actual event rendered her all of those things, it also effected a shocking change in her circle of friends, in her view of the world, and, most notably, in her heart.

By ten o'clock the whole party were assembled at the park, where they were to breakfast. The morning was certainly favourable—the previous night’s rain was as nothing—for the clouds were dispersing across the sky and the sun forcing its way through them with greater and greater frequency. All were in high spirits and good humour, eager to be happy, and determined to submit to any inconvenience or hardship rather than be otherwise.

The breakfasters were just beginning to rise from the table when the letters were brought in. Sir John, anxious to be gone, gathered them up. He glanced at the first one and smiled in that silly way of his. “Another day, my dear,” he said to his wife, “I should be very glad to read of Mr. Polk’s exploits in town, but I shall defer that particular enjoyment until tomorrow.” He did not wait for any acknowledgement from Lady Middleton but left the room immediately to put the letters away, perusing them as he went.

“Mr. Polk!” exclaimed Mrs. Jennings. “That man thinks entirely too well of himself.” She relayed what she could recall from that gentleman’s previous letter to Sir John, and she was not half done with her account by the time her son-in-law returned. Marianne did her best to ignore the woman’s inane chatter, but the volume of Mrs. Jennings’s voice made it a difficult undertaking.

“Let us be off!” was the host’s cry as he reached the door of Barton Park, and not a moment too soon! As all were ready, they quickly filled the carriages. They made a merry party. There were those who were merry by nature and those whose company rendered them so, and the prospect of the outing was enough to animate even the less lively members of the group.

Marianne sat down and Willoughby sat beside her. She looked back to see Elinor in a carriage with Colonel Brandon, and she pitied her. “Whatever will they talk of?”

Willoughby caught the direction of her glance and shrugged. “Your sister always finds something to say to him. We need not worry about it.”

“I do not know how she does it.”

The colonel was not mentioned again during the remainder of their ride, despite his connection to the owners of the estate they were to visit. There were views to be appreciated, observations to be made, feelings to be treasured; they had not even arrived at their destination, and yet the day already promised to be one that would linger long in Marianne’s memory.

At Whitwell’s entrance, Marianne drew Elinor to her side, thinking to provide her with better companionship in herself and Willoughby than what she had endured during the journey, and they joined the others on the tour. The grand fa├žade, the avenue, the formal garden and the little wilderness to the east of it all pleased the eye and drew forth exclamations of delight. The rooms of the manor house were very fine, fitted up in modern style, but the visitors spent little time indoors. It was a day to be out, and here, where the ground was drier and less dirty than at Barton, they took full advantage of the chance to wander about.

Marianne and Elinor in particular, missing their childhood home, felt all the pleasure of the opportunity afforded them. Acknowledgement of the occasional resemblance to their family seat was mainly restricted to a shared glance after coming upon a familiar-looking stand of trees here, or a certain variety of flower there. Marianne could not keep an exclamation or two from escaping her lips, though she determinedly restrained herself from more, deeming the majority of the hearers unworthy or unable to appreciate what had precipitated them. Elinor had no such difficulty, she knew; a slight nod or raised brow was enough for her, and further expression of sentiment Marianne had long ago been taught not to expect from her elder sister, especially in company.

Yet there arose a moment when the loss did threaten Elinor’s composure: there was a turn in one of the walks that resembled its counterpart at Norland Park to such a degree that neither Dashwood sister could be insensible of it. It was too much even for Elinor, and though the sentiment, Marianne doubted not as they looked at each other, was mirrored in their faces to an unequal degree as befitted the disposition of each, there was no disparity in the sincerity of feeling, which was greatly to the credit of the former and enough to satisfy the latter. Assured that her sister felt as she ought, Marianne was able to turn aside and indulge her own memories.

“You sigh.”

She looked up to see Willoughby staring down at her in attentive concern. “Yes.”

“What troubles you, Marianne?” he spoke in a low voice. Not that they were near enough to anyone else to hear him address her so; not that there would truly be any harm done if anyone heard him do so. How could there be? Nonetheless, it was sweet and accentuated the sense of intimacy and accord she always felt in his company.

“This reminds me—”

“Ah. Of course.”

Of course she did not need to explain. He understood her in this, as in everything else. An allusion to the superiority of her mother’s management of the estate to that of the Mrs. Dashwood now in residence there and her spirits almost rallied. It seemed he always knew the perfect thing to say! There were times she felt his love and loyalty in every spoken phrase, and this was one of them.

Despite Marianne’s love of Norland, she wished at that moment to be exactly where she was, for she was with Willoughby—the one source of unalloyed pleasure she had found in having removed to Devonshire, and her more than sufficient compensation for having to bear the tedious company of some of the others of their set. Then Willoughby happened to look at her and happened to smile, and her adoration of him banished all traces of sorrow in an instant. Surely she would have her own home again soon, first in Somersetshire and later in Devonshire. Surely she was not being presumptuous in thinking so, despite whatever Elinor may say—and however often she may say it!—to impress upon her the wisdom of discretion and caution. Discretion? Caution? Dissemblance and cowardice, more like! In her own case, keeping company with such inferior companions would be unforgivable, for admiration had rapidly turned to love, and that love was certain to lead to matrimony before very long. It was inevitable.

* * *


They were well away from the shore when Sir John called to Colonel Brandon and handed him a piece of paper. The colonel examined it, paled, and ran off to an isolated spot to open and read what appeared to be a letter. Marianne would not have noticed had the colonel not been standing near her when Sir John had sought him out; much like his mother-in-law’s, the baronet’s voice was too loud to shut out completely.

“He is always hovering about,” she said to Willoughby, nodding towards Mr. Brandon.

“Lonely old man.”

We do not want his company.” She huffed and turned away from the sight of him. “Reading a letter, of all things. At least his occupation with it has removed him to a more comfortable distance.”

“That is exactly what I think, Marianne.”

Marianne was not so lucky as to have escaped the colonel’s presence entirely, for he soon returned to speak with Sir John. The latter, not being content with answering his own oft-repeated questions regarding the colonel’s odd behaviour, had attempted unsuccessfully to ply satisfactory explanations from Willoughby and Marianne.

“Can we not,” Colonel Brandon begged as he approached them, “return to shore? I must get back to Barton at once. I have a pressing matter of business, and I—”

“Business!” Sir John exclaimed. “Who can think of business on a day like this?”

“Why did you delay in giving me the letter?”

“You were not the only one to set aside ‘pressing matters’ to-day. One cannot enjoy a party of pleasure otherwise.”

“I can barely believe you carried it on your person for so many hours! Had you dropped it, lost it—No! I will not dwell on that possibility.”

“It was as safe as can be, right here in my pocket,” Sir John assured him, patting the now-empty place where it had been.

“Oh, that I had seen this,” the colonel said, clutching the letter, “before we departed!”

“Eh? Then I am glad I waited as long as I did to give it to you.”

“What! What can you mean by that?”

“That lioness of a housekeeper seemed quite set against admitting us until she saw your face, never mind that I have been here a dozen times over. She might have chased us off the grounds had you not come,” he said, gesturing and chuckling, vastly amused.

Willoughby smirked and then laughed—a short, sharp sound. “There are some people,” he whispered to Marianne, “who cannot bear a party of pleasure. Brandon is one of them. He was afraid of catching cold I dare say, and invented this trick for getting out of it. I would lay fifty guineas the letter was of his own writing.”

“I have no doubt of it,” replied Marianne, noticing that the colonel indeed looked ill at that moment.

“You know, Brandon,” Sir John was saying, “how you are. Had you seen that letter when it arrived, you would have thrown us over in an instant in favour of writing to some solicitor or other, or worse, you would have fled the house and taken yourself off to town to meet with him!”

Marianne, sharing a knowing glance with Willoughby, marvelled that even Sir John had the right of it.

“Oh, yes, Colonel,” said Mrs. Jennings with a laugh. That she had been drawn to the conversation and had now joined it was no surprise; she was quick, Marianne thought, when it came to matters that were none of her concern, the vulgar woman. “Do not deny you would have chosen business over pleasure.”

“I have no wish to deny it!” Brandon replied. “I do wish, however, I dearly wish, that there had been no delay. It is late now for a ride to town. Yet I must go.”

“Then leave at first light,” said Willoughby, and Sir John agreed. “Surely that will be soon enough.”

“Soon enough!” he said as Sir John and Mrs. Jennings wandered off in high spirits, abusing the colonel for his wish to desert the party for the sake of some trifling business matter. “I have waited far too long already. Would that I had gone nine months ago! I might have prevented this.”

Marianne heard him and wondered aloud to Willoughby, “What can he mean by that? Nine months? If his business is that old, there is no occasion to rush to see to it now, is there?” She closed her eyes and savoured the feel of the breeze on her face. “Nine months ago, I was at my dear Norland, never thinking I would have to leave it so soon.” The moment her eyes rested on Willoughby again, she began to smile. “Where were you nine months ago? Can you recall?”

“In town, I imagine. No, I…” He blushed—absolutely blushed! Marianne was astonished to see it. “I was in Bath.” His mouth curved a tiny bit.

“Bath! I should love to see Bath.” Marianne touched his arm, for he seemed lost in thought. “Did you enjoy it? Did you form any interesting acquaintance?”

“No,” he said in a too-quick, too-loud voice. “No. I cannot say that I did.” His face flushed red again.

“Willoughby?”

He refused to meet her eye at first, and when he finally returned her gaze, he looked—why, he looked like a little boy expecting to be scolded! She could not account for it.

“Willoughby, what is this?” she asked him, peering into his face. “We have no reserve between us!” She laughed. “You are hardly shy. I am sure you make friends wherever you go. Any gentleman would be happy to make your acquaintance, and any lady is certain to…” “To adore you,” she whispered, but suddenly that idea was not very comforting. It did not help that Willoughby behaved as if he had some great embarrassment to conceal. “You did meet someone there, then.” She could feel her brow furrow. “A lady?” she asked with a cheerfulness that sounded hollow to her as she tried to convince herself it must be of no consequence.

“You are becoming too skilled,” he said, half-laughing himself, “at discerning my thoughts. If you continue to improve, soon I shall not have to speak at all.”

“Willoughby!” For once she could not tell whether he was jesting or speaking seriously. “Tell me!” She hoped it was a joke.

“Marianne, they were only—”

“THEY?” She saw him swallow.

“They were only”—his voice was not so steady now—“a couple of silly girls.”

“TWO?”

“ONE of them—” He coughed. “One of them was particularly fond of me I admit, but she was nothing to me, truly.” He leant towards her and whispered, “She was certainly nothing to you. You must believe that.”

She gasped. She did not like this at all.

How could there exist any thing having to do with Willoughby that she did not like?

She tried to think. This girl was nothing, and he was still her Willoughby, was he not? “How can I blame any girl for being drawn to you?” she murmured. “That seems ungenerous. As long as you were not drawn to her,” she said, turning over in her mind this prickly, unwieldy feeling of jealousy, “I shall be satisfied.”

“Good,” he said, visibly relieved.

His assurances notwithstanding, she found, after the reflection of a moment, that there was little satisfaction to be had. Either he had loved this girl or he had not—was there anything between love and not love?—and when she reviewed his behaviour, every sign pointed to an attachment. She was partial, exceedingly partial to him, but she was not blind! Despite his words to the contrary, he had blushed and stammered and all but admitted to a romance. Neither was she deaf. His tone had warmed when he had spoken of the girl’s affection for him, as if he had relished it—as if he were proud of having created it! Had the girl’s feelings been completely unrequited and unwelcome, there would have been no cause for embarrassment, no tenderness of expression. They might now laugh together at the lady’s folly if folly it had been, or if not, pity her for having been so unlucky as to have fixed her affections on someone who did not return them.

“You did not sound as though she were nothing to you. Did you care for her a little?” She despised the notion that one she loved so much might be capable of loving merely a little, but she despised even more the notion of being second in his heart. “Did you care for her at all?” she pressed. “And if you did, what happened? Why did it come to nothing, Willoughby?” He who, like herself, did nothing by halves—she was bewildered. “I had thought there had been no one else. It never occurred to me to think otherwise! I had thought that I….” She could not say it. She had believed herself to be the first, the only woman to truly attach him. She had believed a person could love—really love—only one other.

This was a sort of thing she could not fathom.



Next

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Writing Away...

Currently working on: a Sense and Sensibility story

Would like to try: a Northanger Abbey story

Wonder if I'll ever finish: continuations of "Beyond Her Wishes" and "Much Better Fitted" and a Persuasion/Emma crossover I began some time ago

Recent non-JAFF writing, finished or unfinished: a children's book about a cat, definitely unfinished

What about you?