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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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Excursion to Whitwell, Part 5

Dear Mrs. Dashwood,

I deeply regret that I must leave the neighbourhood just now, and for an undetermined period. Be assured that your family have my support as far as I can give it. To that purpose, I have endeavoured to persuade my friends that Miss Marianne will recover more quickly if left to do so in her family party. I hope I have succeeded.

I shall take the liberty of calling once the business that compels me to town has been completed. Should you have need of me before that time, however, should Miss Marianne need anything within my power to provide, please send me word express at

The name of a hotel followed, but Marianne had no attention to spare for it. She had not expected the sudden flutter in her breathing and hammering of her pulse, but seeing her name written in the colonel's hand.... Should she need anything within his power...

She looked away and then down again to the final lines, where her gaze lingered:

Your servant,
Colonel James Brandon

“James.”

“What did you say?” asked Elinor.

Marianne squeezed her hands tightly, and a sound startled her. She looked at the paper crumpling in her fist. “Oh!” she said, smoothing it out on her lap. Elinor was still looking at her. “His name,” Marianne answered. “I was reading his name.” She looked away as Elinor smiled.

“It was kind of the colonel to take the time to write.”

Marianne nodded. Her thoughts were drifting far from the cottage and Devonshire, off to the east, in the general direction of London, on whichever path an express rider might take while carrying with him word of that thing she might require. ‘I need...’ she thought, ‘...to be spared the meddlesome inquiries of our neighbours.’ To be sure, the colonel had already done his part in that quarter; whether it would last was another matter, as one could hardly guarantee one man’s good breeding would completely subdue the vulgarity of both Sir John and his mother-in-law.

‘I need a delicacy to tempt the most reluctant appetite.’ She left aside practicalities and allowed her musings to take a fanciful turn. ‘I need a holiday by the sea.’ To her surprise, she felt intrigued by the idea of the colonel’s arranging such a diversion for her. Then just as quickly, her spirits sank as she recalled how easily and thoroughly the previous day’s sailing had been ruined.

She tried to focus on those whose present cares must exceed her own.

‘I need Eliza Williams’s fate not to be so dire,’ she decided, a desire no less sincerely felt for its futility.

Self, however, would intrude. How could it not?

‘I need the world to go back to what it was before, for Willoughby not to be….No, I don’t need Mr. Willoughby at all. I can have no use for a man without honour or fortitude. It is better to have been undeceived than to have gone on blindly with Mr. Willoughby only to have my eyes opened too late. Colonel Brandon very well may have spared me a lifetime of misery and regret.’

She sighed aloud, feeling her weariness as a weight. There was such a burden in knowing. Yet there was something else in it as well—something not exactly onerous, but neither was it comfortable.

“I need to know,” she whispered, closing her eyes, “though why I should feel so compelled…. I need to know who you are, Colonel James Brandon.”

“I am relieved,” Elinor said after they had both been quiet for a minute or two, “that the colonel has resolved not to meet Mr. Willoughby. ‘Field of honour’ – is that not what they say? I must admit I cannot see any honour in it. I think it a barbarous practice.”

Elinor’s words brought Marianne swiftly out of her reverie. “What do you mean? Did he say more of the duel? He said nothing of it when he was here in the house with us. I had merely hoped—”

“It is there,” Elinor said, pointing and appearing confused. “He wrote of it. Did you not see it?”

Marianne realised she had not yet read all and returned her attention to the letter, quickly finding what she had missed:

I beg you to assure your daughter that in accordance with her wishes, though it more than chafes against my sense of honour and duty, I shall avoid a certain meeting that otherwise would have been inevitable. I do not wish to add to her sorrow by injuring one she may still hold in esteem. Much as I want to hope recent events have lessened that esteem, I find I cannot force myself to desire a hardening of so generous a heart.

I have said too much and must be gone at first light.

Your servant,
Colonel James Brandon

Agitated, Marianne read the words again, not quite believing them. “He—he cannot think I asked him to forbear because of that man!”

“It seems to be exactly what he thinks.”

“It is exactly wrong! When I begged him not to go through with it, I was not thinking of Mr. Willoughby at all!”

“No?”

“I thought of Miss Williams! I did not want Colonel Brandon to place himself in danger just when her dependence upon him would be greatest. It was for her sake.” Marianne recalled the brief argument the day before, her concern that such an unworthy man might injure the colonel when the colonel was already the injured party. If Mr. Willoughby had even the smallest chance of winning, the duel should not be attempted. “And for his own sake, too,” she admitted quietly. “He had done nothing wrong. Why should he suffer further? I tried to tell him that. That he should believe, after everything—!”

She rose abruptly from her seat, sat immediately back down, got up again, and paced. She stopped just as abruptly and said, “He cannot remain deceived on that point. I will not have him thinking I sought to protect that man. I am not so weak as that.”

“When he returns, perhaps you will be able to correct the misunderstanding.”

“That is too long to wait.” She knew what she must do. She walked to the door.

“Where are you going?” Elinor’s voice trailed her out of the room. “Surely you are not—”

“Do not try to dissuade me, Elinor. I am going to answer this letter.”

“Marianne!”

“Do not worry. I shall allow Mama to read it.”

“Of course,” Elinor murmured, following her up the stairs with that familiar look, the look that came over her face whenever she was on the verge of asking why her sister must flout propriety yet again.

After all Marianne had experienced in the last twenty-four hours, after realising how much pain she would have been spared had she heeded her elder sister’s similar admonishments, that look truly should have given her pause.

It should have. But the colonel’s pull was stronger.

Marianne stopped walking and turned to face her sister. “He said anything, Elinor. And I need this.”

Elinor’s expression remained as serious as ever, but all hint of censure faded from her countenance. “I shall come with you.”

“You do not have to.”

“You almost fainted on the stairs this morning! I will see you settled in your room, and then I will leave you to your letter.”


* * *


Alone in her room, Marianne recalled what the colonel had written. There was a time she would have considered his repeated mention of her name an unforgivable impertinence, along with his promise to call upon his return. Only yesterday morning she would have been repulsed by the very notion that he would distinguish her or her family in any way.

Now she clung to his words, to every memory of his kindness and consideration, to his firmness of purpose, to his ability and willingness to act—or to refrain from acting where he thought restraint would better promote her welfare or earn her good opinion.

He loved her.

He would not be so bold as to say it in his farewell or to write of it in a letter addressed to her mother. Yet he had said it, in his eyes, in his touch, in his turn of phrase—it was in every way implied.

The idea felt odd, foreign, as if she would never quite grow accustomed to it, or it would always retain the power to surprise her.

If only she could comprehend it! Must not his heart still belong to the elder Eliza? He had been so very devoted to his cousin, had nearly run off with her! When she had given in to familial pressure to marry the colonel's elder brother, and afterwards had managed to sink her character to irredeemable depths, he had stood her friend, even to the point of caring for her illegitimate child.

Had she been mistaken in thinking second attachments unreasonable, just as she had been mistaken in the characters of two particular men of her acquaintance? The colonel provided compelling evidence, for he clearly loved, and he was certainly a reasonable man.

“Perhaps,” she allowed, “I have been too inflexible in my position. I have not made allowances for what Elinor would call a penchant for exertion, I suppose. An active sort of character might love passionately and yet force himself to move beyond a situation when there is nothing more than can be done, when he has exhausted every means of recovery. Should the heart of such a one forever be denied the benefits of love?

“So many years have passed since Colonel Brandon, then just Mr. James Brandon, suffered the blow of disastrous love. Another lifetime,” she said in wonder, thinking of the difference in their ages. Such an interval would not have caused the change, but it may have aided it.

Although the possibility of the colonel’s having engaged his heart again in vain held no pleasure, she did not draw any conclusions regarding whether his more recent affections might ever be requited. However, she could not forget that he believed her heart to be generous. Nor could she stop the spread of warmth through her at the remembrance of the compliment.

She sat at last, paper before her, pen and ink within easy reach, and pondered how she ought to begin. She thrust her hands into her hair. A moment later she felt something, and her fingers stilled as she remembered. “Willoughby,” she grumbled, overwhelmed of a sudden by anger and disgust. She hoped he would discard the lock of hair he had begged of her, for she did not want the trouble of asking him to return it to her, or ever seeing him again if she could help it. “I want none of him, not his apologies, not his explanations, not his Queen Mab—”

She sobbed at this, for he had been so very tender, so sweet in offering her the horse. Sweet and thoughtless, and as heedless of the realities as she had been. Heedlessness had been at the root of the entire business, in her case not excepting that tumble down the hill that had first brought her to his attention, and in his case—no, she would not dwell on that. “Well, he may have the lock, but beyond that, he shall not have so much as my sympathy. Nor will I delay another minute and allow a far better man to think that he has it!”

With fresh determination, she applied herself to her task.

Dear Colonel Brandon,

I thank you for your kind note, which you were so good as to leave for us despite your need for haste. We are well. I have no wish to alarm you. In fact, I hope it will ease your mind to know that while I am glad you will not meet Mr. W

Marianne paused, determined to remove what traces she could of a name that had brought such misery to them both, and continued:

know that while I am glad you will not meet Mr. W that man, my concern has been for your welfare, not his. You should not risk injury. You have done nothing to deserve it. Others rely upon your assistance and would suffer with you, and your friends would not wish you to come to harm.

We look forward to your call as soon as duty is satisfied and you are at leisure. I hope for the most fortunate of outcomes for your cousin. I do not doubt that through your diligent care, she is receiving the best that can be provided for her.

M. D.




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