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In Primal Sympathy

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Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower;
We will grieve not, rather find
Strength in what remains behind;
In the primal sympathy
Which having been must ever be;
In the soothing thoughts that spring
Out of human suffering;
In the faith that looks through death,
In years that bring the philosophic mind.

- William Wordsworth, Intimations of Immortality

 

Elinor thought that she had dozed off for but a moment, before jerking back into wakefulness, in her cramped and uncomfortable chair at Marianne’s bedside. For a moment, she could not see what had changed, though something had, and the weak light of morning straining through the curtains. She rubbed her eyes sleepily and whispered, “Marianne, dearest. Are you awake?”

But she was answered by silence. Elinor scrambled out of her chair -- though an absent voice muttered in her brain that she need not rush now -- and held her hand against Marianne’s mouth. There was no warm breath against her palm.

Elinor felt her sister’s cheek. It was tepidly warm, and she collapsed against the bed and began to cry. She was not an easy crier, and often she had been teased about it by Marianne herself. But how much rather Elinor would have the soft cruelty that sprang up between sisters who were too close than this -- this utter abandonment!

Ugly sobs rose from her, as if they were ripped from her throat. Elinor had never been without her sister, except for the three unremarkable years that she had spent as John Dashwood’s only daughter.

Eventually, her voice quavering, Elinor said,“Marianne, darling, please…” I promise I will not be cross with you. I promise I will never call you silly. I will always share my secrets with you. “Come back,” she said to an empty room.

 

*

 

It was dull morning, waiting for her mother and Colonel Brandon to come. Only when Elinor heard that sounds of the stagecoach nearing did she leave Marianne’s body -- closing her sister’s eyes to better mirror the attitude of repose, which was to be Marianne’s eternal occupation. Walking to the main doors, Elinor tried to straighten her dress and hair, and put on a smile before she opened the door.

She must have looked very strange to both of them. When she began to speak to mother, her voice was not quite as it should be: “Mama,” she said, “I’m afraid…” Without another word, her mother pushed past her and rushed down the hall, leaving Elinor to face Colonel Brandon alone.

Colonel Brandon looked as Elinor felt, like he was stricken to the core. It was the first time that Elinor could have described him as old, shrinking from his healthy frame with the weight of his grief. But Elinor could not find the words to comfort him, nor could she reasonably claim that it was her place to do so. So they stood, like statues, until her mother came to the door again, with instruction as to how to proceed.

 

*

 

Elinor returned from her walk to a letter from Sir John Middleton. It relieved a little of the worries that had oppressed her, in the months after Marianne’s death. What little savings they had had were exhausted by the funeral. It began to look as if Elinor would have to seek out employment as a governess and that her mother and Margaret would have to seek out an even smaller, less expensive home.

But, according to Sir John’s letter, such drastic measures might indeed be avoided. A new maid, he said, overzealous in her cleaning, happened upon some old letters in a drawer, unopened and subsequently forgotten. One such letter was from the late John Dashwood, forwarding to Sir John some modest amount of money, if should his cousin, Mrs. Dashwood ever need it. As it happened, Sir John wrote in his excitable hand, it was the exact amount of money needed to keep Mrs. Dashwood and her girls in the little cottage beside the sea for as long as she wished to stay.

Elinor could not believe that such a letter from her father existed -- it was surely a concoction devised by Sir John and his mother-in-law, but it was kindly meant, and she knew it would ease some of her mother’s worries. She went now to find her mother and tell her the news.

But even such kind gestures were not enough. Every day it seemed that Margaret sprouted another inch, and though she could grow into Marianne’s things, she did not want them, and in truth, Elinor could not blame her for it. So she began to alter some of her own dresses to fit Margaret. And she was in the midst of fixing up a hem, a needle hanging on the side of her mouth and her hands a tangle of threads, when there was a knock at the door. “

“Come in,” Elinor said distractedly, thinking that it was her mother come in with the tea.

But indeed it was not. Colonel Brandon came in, looking uncertain. He bowed and Elinor got up quickly, and spat out the needle into her hand in a very unladylike fashion. “Colonel Brandon!” she said, with a quick dip of her head, her knees shaking somewhat. “I was not expecting you.”

“I am sorry. I came across Margaret down the lane and she promised to tell you of my coming at once, but I must have outraced her.”

“Yes,” Elinor said, feeling like an imbecile. And then, because something more was expected from her, she continued on, awkwardly, “It is possible that she saw something at absorbed her attention. Margaret's newest passion is insects, you see, and she cannot bring them inside the house because my mother has a horror of all such things.” It was a horror that Elinor shared, but she did not think this was relevant.

She thought it was not possible to spend another more uncomfortable moment than she had already experienced -- in Lucy Steele’s company, perhaps, or as a victim of one of Mrs. Jennings’ good-natured sallies, or even an evening with her brother and his wife -- but nothing was equal to the pain and distress she felt when Colonel Brandon got down on his knee and proposed to her.

“Oh no! I couldn’t possibly,” she said, and covered her mouth.

Colonel Brandon got up quickly and took a step backward. His face was red under his tan, and he said, “Forgive me for asking such thing for you. I must -- I must go.” He turned to leave and Elinor ran forward, crying out.

“No, no, please Colonel Brandon, do not mistake me! I know your proposal comes from a place of kindness to me and my family, but I cannot -- you see, I am --”

Colonel Brandon stood still, his hand gripping the door frame. Every word out of his mouth was slow, distinct and painful to hear. “Believe me, Miss Dashwood, I did not ask out of kindness to you. And as for your reasons for refusing me, you need not go on, I understand you perfectly.”

“No,” Elinor said miserably, “I don’t think you do. That is to say, I can hardly understand myself, so I cannot believe that you could! You think that I refused you because I hope that Edward Ferrers will one day make me his wife.

“Well, I tell you now that I have no such expectations, and I have not for a very long time. It was not for Edward Ferrers I refused you, but because I have accepted a position to be a governess for two children, in the north of the country. I leave in a matter of days.”

He looked at her intently, as if to measure her worth. “Do you wish to go?”

Elinor laughed unhappily. She wished that she was in a habit of lying to him, but the strength of their friendship, born in those last, miserable days in London, under the cloud of Marianne’s illness, prevented her. She said, “No, I do not! But there is nothing more I can do. My mother cannot work and Margaret is still young. And we must eat.”

“Miss Dashwood -- Elinor, if I may --”

“Of course you may! Colonel Brandon, I have confessed my heart to you -- it would be odd if we kept calling each other Miss and -- “ she paused, suddenly realizing, “forgive me, Colonel, but I do not think I know your Christian name.”

It was the first time that Elinor had seen a smile grace the Colonel’s face for so long that she was amazed to see it spread across his handsome, though woeful countenance. “My Christian name is Christopher, but no one save my mother ever used it.”

“Oh no, I do not think I could,” Elinor said, “it does not suit you at all. And I am too used to thinking of you as Colonel Brandon.” And the relief of tension was too much for her, and Elinor burst out laughing, and astonishingly, Colonel Brandon joined her.

“You must think I am very flighty and stupid,” Elinor said, brushing the tears from her face. “No doubt I am. You cannot think I would be a good wife to you now.”

“On the contrary,” Colonel Brandon said, and impatiently, he began to pace about the room. “Miss Dashwood -- Elinor -- I wonder if I may share a confession of my own?”

“Of course,” Elinor said, going back to her seat, and gesturing the one opposite hers for the Colonel. But he thanked her and remained standing. “I do not suppose you remember my ward Eliza and her child by -- her child,” he said awkwardly.

“I do not think I could easily forget her,” Elinor said with apprehension, wondering what new calamity had visited upon the unfortunate young woman, to agitate her guardian so.

“I have decided that it would be best that she should come and live with me. I should have done so long ago. My father is no longer living, and my brother -- the less said of him, the better. The only thing stopping me is the fact that I am unmarried and propriety --” he said the last word with such heavy sarcasm that Elinor could not help but smile again -- “Dictates that I should not. So, Miss Dashwood, you see, by asking you to marry me, I was being entirely selfish, and had no thought of helping you or your family at all.”

“Not entirely selfish, no,” Elinor said, rising. “And your offer still stands, Colonel Brandon, I would be honored to be your wife.”

“Yes,” Colonel Brandon said, after a long moment. “It does.”

 

*

 

Marianne would have looked much better in silks and laces that made up Elinor’s wedding dress, Elinor had long decided. Even now, after the wedding and the wedding feast, and the dance, and having herself pulled away at midnight to begin her new life as Colonel Brandon’s wife, thoughts of Marianne haunted her every step. Imposter, they cried. Bad sister, stepping to your dead sister’s shoes. Could she fool herself into think that she did this for her mother, for Margaret -- and even poor unknown Eliza?

You did not wish to be a governess, unloved and unregarded. You still love Edward Ferrers, though he is married to someone else and thinks nothing of you. You have wronged a kind and honourable man, marrying him under false pretenses. You do not love him.

Elinor took a deep breath and began to take off her earrings, one by one. They were fine earrings, made of gold and pearl, unlike anything she had had since her father’s death. She tried not to notice how badly her hands were shaking.

And you know that the Colonel still loves Marianne.

“Marianne is dead,” Elinor said, glaring at herself in the mirror. “Punishing me will not bring her back.” She put the earrings back into the jewelry case and closed it with a snap.

 

*

 

Her chemise and its accompanying night jacket was, perhaps, even more lovely than her wedding dress. Elinor was left to her own devices as the maids cleared from the room, leaving her in the dark -- save for a blazing fire in the fireplace. As soon as the door closed, Elinor sat bold upright, convinced that she had made a terrible mistake. She looked to the mullioned windows, wondering if there was a way to open them and escape, like one of the heroine's of Marianne’s favorite novels.

Too late. The door opened again, and Colonel Brandon stepped in. Despite the merriment in the hall below, the Colonel had come up by himself and shut the door behind him with a final-sounding bang. Elinor had never considered herself the sort of woman who would be frightened of her wedding night, but now as the Colonel approach her bed -- his bed -- their bed, she found herself growing -- if not afraid, exactly, then at least very apprehensive.

“You need not worry,” Brandon -- well, she could not exactly call him Christopher now, could she? -- said, “there is a very comfortable room off this one, where I plan to spend the night.”

“That is very kind of you,” Elinor said, “but I would not like to put you out.” She pulled the sheet around her neck, not so much defensively as cautiously. Gathering more courage, she said, “And I would like it if you stayed here. With me.”

For a moment, she thought she had said the wrong thing, that she had completely misunderstood how being married to Colonel Brandon would be. But instead, though his face was mostly in shadow, she could a familiar twist in his mouth, and a tell-tale trace of amusement in his tone. “If Madame wishes.”

Elinor had never seen a man undressed before, unless she counted the time when she had walked into her brother’s room without knocking and had seen him without a shirt on. Brandon’s body was nothing like the pale flabbiness of John Dashwood. Well, perhaps he was pale, with clear delineations between the places where the sun rarely touched and the places it did -- for the Colonel led an active life, and was often out of doors.

Elinor bit her lip. She could not actually call her new husband Colonel on their marriage bed, could she?

“What are you thinking of?”

Your nakedness seemed too direct, and your name seemed too trivial, so Elinor said the third thing that was on her mind. “Marianne.”

“Ah,” Brandon said, slipping into bed.

“You loved her,” Elinor said, turning to face him. She winced internally her use of the past tense. “You love her still.”

Brandon looked her, his manner as reserved as man could be, naked save for a bedsheet laid over him. “I - I did not know her well. And at times, I suppose I saw -- I saw my Eliza interposed over her, until I was not sure who was before me.”

“I loved Marianne with all my heart, and I know it is my fault that she is dead,” Elinor whispered. “I should have never let her come to London, I should have never let her seek Willoughby. I was too heart-sick over Edward Ferrers to notice at first how she had changed, how ill she looked. It is my fault that she is dead. And yet no one will ever blame me, not even my mother, who broke her heart over her.”

“Would you feel better knowing that someone did blame you?”

“I -- I don’t know.”

“When I found her the first time -- Eliza, I mean, I blamed myself for what happened to her, I swore that I would care for her child like she was my own. Though I grieved for her, in the end, my thoughts were for myself. My grief. My pain.”

Elinor recoiled. “I did not do that with Marianne.”

“Why not? It is natural to do so. You are still living, and Marianne is dead. Everything that happened in her life, her thoughts, her loves, her hates -- you have but an imperfect knowledge of them. You were her sister, but perhaps not her confidant. She is gone and only you remain.”

 

“You are cruel,” Elinor whispered and kissed him. It was as if a dam had broken, and Brandon was upon her in an instant. Elinor’s lovely night jacket flew over her head, followed closely by her chemise.

The night before, her mother had discreetly hinted that Elinor’s first time would no doubt hurt, but, she said, with a comforting pat on Elinor’s shoulder, “You will get used to it. And perhaps even get to enjoy it, in time.” Elinor had given her an embarrassed assent before returning to her work, but now she wondered. Brandon sucked kisses on her neck and collarbone, he did not put his weight on her, however -- Elinor was not delicate, and wondered how it would be if he did.

It felt as if there was a fire burning against her skin and she ached in new, strange places. Cautiously, she reached for Brandon, to his -- cock, yes, that was it. There had been medical textbooks in the library at Norland Park, and Margaret was not the only one who had free reign there. When Elinor first saw what was underneath a man’s breeches, she laughed and until she cried and then went to show Marianne, who pronounced it wholly tragicomic.

But in truth, a cock did not seem so silly now, as Elinor slide her hand down its length and to its tip before going back up again. Brandon groaned and cupped her breasts before kissing them and Elinor grew more bold. After all, she had a mouth as well as hands.

She pulled herself together and arched upward, “Brandon,” she said hotly, “Will you -- ah.” Brandon’s fingers had found her outer folds, and began to stroke.

“You must tell me if you feel at ease -- not all woman can bear to be touched there,” Brandon murmured in her ear.

“I am not exactly at ease, but pray, do not stop,” Elinor said, opening her legs up a little farther. Brandon smirked and his fingers went further, always stroking gently, until he grazed against a spot that made Elinor gasp.

“More, there,” she gasped, and he obliged her until Elinor’s toes curled and she came, gasping against Brandon’s shoulder. He pulled back with a groan, the hand that had previously been -- inside her -- flat against his chest. Elinor could not help but stare at him, wondering where the grave and reserved Colonel Brandon had gone off to. This man felt-- well, almost Willoughby-ish in his pleasures.

Elinor could not suppress a shudder at the thought. Brandon noticed and lifted up his head inquisitively. “Are you cold?” Perhaps not Willoughby, then. Despite his theatrical claims of devotion, Elinor doubted very much that he cared if Eliza caught a chill -- if Marianne --

“Yes,” Elinor said, shuddering again. “Will you warm me?”

 

*

 

There was no blood or tearing, but Elinor did not expect there to be. When she was younger, she had been an avid horsewoman, after all. Brandon too, seemed to take no notice of it. Still, Elinor could not say she was quite comfortable with it, and wished Brandon would do that thing with his hands again. Without her speaking it, however, Brandon reached down again and Elinor practically purred with pleasure.

The actual mechanics of love-making was painfully obvious, but Elinor at last began to see how it could be pleasurable indeed. She came again, before he did, and did not think of Marianne -- or Edward Ferrers -- even once.

When it was over, Elinor curled up against Brandon and listened to the beating of his heart. Sleepily, he murmured in her ear, “What I meant was that Marianne lives in you.”

“And your sweetheart, Eliza, in you?”

“And in her daughter.”

“Yes,” Elinor said, with a sigh. “I want to meet her daughter.”

“You will, soon.”

 

*

 

Their honeymoon was cut short by the news that Sir John had an attack of gout and was bedridden. Elinor did not mind leaving Scotland -- it had rained there every day of their stay and she felt as if she herself would soon grow moss -- and on the stagecoach ride back, she put Brandon’s clenched hand under her own and felt him relax.

“He will be all right,” she said.

“He eats too much, he talks too much, and he is as relentless as a dog on a scent, but -- I am fond of him. He was kind to me when my father was not.”

“You are a good friend to have,” Elinor said, kissing him.

When they had returned to Delaford, Eliza had already arrived and was waiting for them at the front doors with a little bundle in her arms. Colonel Brandon greeted her quietly and took her burden, which began to move and fret. A nursemaid had been hired from the village, but had not yet arrived. Brandon went off to find someone else would could look after the child while Elinor and Eliza began acquainted.

The first thing Elinor noticed about Eliza was her age. She was eighteen and still willowy, and according to Brandon, very much her mother's daughter. Elinor tried not to look for similarities between Eliza and Marianne. They had had such very different lives. Eliza looked at her with eyes full of fear and heartache, seeming much older than her body. Had Marianne ever felt fear? Perhaps not until she had lost Willoughby.

The thought made Elinor want to embrace her, and she did, and though Eliza was stiff for a moment her arms, and terribly thin, soon she melted into Elinor’s arms with a deep sigh. When they pulled away, Elinor thought that she would cry and Eliza’s eyes were just as bright.

“I am so happy to meet you, Eliza,” Elinor said, trying to smile. “Colonel Brandon has told me so much about you that I feel as if I know you already.”

“Thank you, ma’am,” Eliza said, looking down, “the Colonel has been very kind to me, and I know that he has always held you and your sister in high regard.”

“Please do not call me ma’am or anything else, I am Elinor and we are family,” Elinor said, taking Eliza’s hand and leading her back to the house.

Willoughby's name was not mentioned in the house and his son knew nothing about him. Everyone loved little Kit on first sight. He was ostensibly named after Colonel Brandon, and the long-neglected name seemed to find a good home at last. All was well. Margaret, who now spent more time in Delaford than she did at Barton Cottage, became good friends with Eliza, as unlikely as the friendship seemed to all, at first.

Elinor watched as the three -- Margaret, Eliza and Kit -- romped on the grass outside and smiled. This is happiness, she thought, as I’m living in it. She came away from the window, and began to look for Brandon.


*

 

Mrs. John Dashwood looked around with an attitude of grave study. “What a delightful place you have here, dear Elinor. Though of course this room is no doubt very gloomy during the winter.”

Elinor felt her lips thin into a grim sort of smile. How much she wished that she could have refused to host Fanny, ostensibly in this part of the country to visit an elderly aunt and had only stopped by Delaford to see how dear Elinor was faring.

Elinor had never been particularly dear to Fanny before, and she could not help but think that this change in her sister-in-law’s attitude had more to do with Elinor’s new status as a married woman, rather than anything. This suspicion was borne out by Fanny’s further remarks.

“Well, Elinor, you have done better than anyone could have expected. But I told John that he needn’t worry about your future, Your mother was always clever about these things. Look at how she managed to catch the late Mr. Dashwood’s eye.”

Elinor knew if Marianne had been sitting beside her, she would have now a passionate but perfectly true rejoinder that would make Fanny furious. But Elinor alone simply had to endure, and concentrate on Fanny, rather than the person sitting next to her -- namely, her brother, Edward Ferrers.

“You are always so thoughtful, Fanny,” Elinor said, reaching out and pouring some more tea into Fanny’s proffered cup. “I confess I am very happy in Delaford.”

“You are,” Edward said abruptly, his expression a mixture of sadness and puzzlement.

Certainly, it had been a shock to see Edward again, after all this time. Fanny’s letter, of course, made no mention that she would bring her brother along, but that was not to be unexpected when dealing with Fanny. She did like unpleasant surprises. And indeed, Fanny looked avidly upon both Edward and Elinor’s faces, to see if either of them cracked under the strain.

“Yes,” Elinor said tranquilly. She would never give Fanny the pleasure of seeing her discomfited. But fortunately, she was saved from saying more by a crash outside the door, and Margaret coming in, chasing the little Kit, who was true to his name by both his tuft of red-gold hair and the fact that he was rarely caught.

“My!” Fanny said, “is this the --?”

“Kit is the child of Colonel Brandon’s ward, and he is a very charming little boy,” Elinor said repressively, hoping that Fanny would not pursue the subject further.

“I am sorry, Elinor," Margaret said, as she caught Kit at last. "It is only that I wanted to go out and Eliza wanted to rest, and then Kit gave his nurse the slip -- oh, Edward! Hello!”

“Captain Margaret,” Edward said with a slight smile. “Greetings.”

“You haven’t written,” Margaret said, reproachfully.

“My brother has been very busy,” Fanny said with asperity. “He plans to stand for Parliament next year, and of course there’s the appalling mess Robert left when he ran off with that vulgar Steele girl.”

“But I thought you were --” Elinor began before she collected herself. “Pardon me, I thought you were to join the Church. But politics is a noble endeavour as well.”

Margaret snorted loudly and Elinor aimed a severe glance at her. Pouting she left, grabbing Kit as she went along.

“There is no money in the Church, unless you are well-placed and frankly, I do not think my brother had a bishopric in him.”

“Y-yes, my sister is right, I need to be practical,” Edward said, his eyes searching hers.

“Don’t we all,” Elinor said with smile.

 

*

 

Dinner was a tedious affair, made more so by Colonel Brandon’s absence. He had been called away suddenly a day ago, and was not expected until the next day. Both Mrs. Jennings and Sir John were in attendance, though the latter was quieter of late, since his illness. However, Mrs. Jennings took up the slack and spoke at length of her new grandchild. “Another boy!” she exhaled, “and of course Mr. Palmer is quite delighted.”

Elinor hid a smile at the thought of the normally dour gentleman’s delight, and looking up, she caught Edward’s gaze. They exchanged a private sort of smile. Only after dinner did Elinor get to speak to Edward privately -- as privately as she played on the pianoforte (badly, Marianne had been the musician in the family) and he turned the pages.

"Are you truly happy?" Edward asked her, loudly enough so that she could hear but not so much as to be overheard.

Was she? She was content, she knew, and happy that her family was at least secure. Marianne’s loss would always haunt her, and she suspected that there was much about her husband that she did not know, or could not reach. But happiness? Had she achieved it?

“Yes,” Elinor said quietly as she could, as Edward leaned in closer -- to turn her page. “I am, I think, much happier than I have right to be. And what of you, Edward? Are you still saddened by Lucy’s deflection?”

Edward started a little at the mention of Lucy’s name. He shook his head, ruefully, and said, “Heavens, no. I was very young when I became entangled with her, and then it seemed impossible to get out of our engagement. I should have told you, but as you see, I am quite a coward about matters of the heart.”

Elinor felt as though she could not completely disagree and kept playing. “I find,” she said finally, as she reached the end of the piece, “that respect and friendship is not all the worst reasons for entering into a marriage.”

“Yes,” Edward said, with a touch of regret. “I expect you are right.”

*

 

When finally the dust settled back on the ground from the wheels of Fanny’s coach, Elinor allowed herself a measure of relief. Her mother had followed her out to the steps, and now took her hand and they walked back into the house.

“My dear,” Mrs. Dashwood began to say, a familiar note of concern in her voice.

“Mother,” Elinor said, looking at her. Her mother looked far older now than she had but a few years ago. The loss of her husband and then Marianne had aged her almost beyond believing. Her fair hair was now pure white, and her skin felt papery to Elinor’s touch.

“Mama,” Elinor said again. “You are taking care of yourself, aren’t you? I know that you prefer to live in Barton Cottage, but there is a room for you here. Margaret seems to like it as well.”

“My dear, I am perfectly happy to stay in my little cottage. I do not want to interfere with the running of your household!”

“But you don’t,” Elinor said firmly. “And you know that I love your company.”

“And what about my advice?”

Elinor nodded. “Do you have some for me?”

“I do. Elinor, my darling girl, I am not used to giving advice to you! You always had more sense than I did at your age, and perhaps more than I do now -- but I have lived almost two and fifty years and know something about life. I ask you to be careful.”

“Careful? Of what?” Elinor said, before she sighed. “Oh Mama, really! I expect such nonsense from Mrs. Jennings but not from you. There is no understanding between Edward Ferrers and I, illicit or otherwise. I hadn’t imagined that Fanny would bring him here, nor that he would still be--”

“Unmarried?”

“It doesn’t matter!” Elinor said loudly.

“Come,” her mother said, leading her to an empty room and seating her in a chair in front of the window. She sat opposite of Elinor and seemed to blend into the gloominess of the room, except for her eyes, which were luminous and blue, and fixed on Elinor.

Elinor breathed in deeply and said, “Shall I ring for tea?”

“No, Elinor, dear, only listen. It is only that -- well, men are fragile creatures and their emotions are sometimes difficult for them to grapple with. Even the best of men -- your father and Colonel Brandon among them -- may be misled by … appearances. Do not let them be!”

Elinor felt a headache coming on. She rose from her seat and said, rather distantly, “Thank you, Mama, for your advice. I feel quite tired. I think I shall -- retire for the night.”

“Of course my dear,” her mother said agreeably, and receded into shadow.

 

*

 

Of course, Elinor was unable to sleep. Instead, she lay in bed and worried. She was very good at that, had mastered the skill since she was in the cradle. She turned to her husband’s side of the bed to ask for his advice but stopped short. Colonel Brandon had been called away suddenly the day before -- he was not expected to return until tomorrow evening.

No matter. She could not ask him anyway, not about this.

Was it not wrong to feel -- well, anything -- about Edward Ferrers? It was true that he looked well, but that hardly mattered. Elinor silently chastised herself for remaining at his side for longer than necessary after dinner. Had she forgotten that there were so many eyes upon them?

At Norland, her emotions had been entirely opaque -- at least, to herself -- and she had loved Edward Ferrers with all of her heart. And now he was here again, mostly unchanged, and she felt differently than she had before.

“Oh Marianne, what would you say to me now?,” Elinor said aloud and pushed her head against a pillow with a sigh.

As if in answer, there was a hesitant knock of at her door. “Mama,” Elinor sighed, lifting her head from her pillow with great effort. “Please, I don’t want any supper today…”

“It’s me,” Eliza said, “I’m sorry if I woke you -- I only thought -- I am sorry…”

“No, Eliza, come in, please,” Elinor said, and the door flew open. By now, Elinor had quite gotten used to Eliza’s resemblance to Marianne. It was not a strong one in the daytime -- Eliza’s hair was fairer and did not curl easily -- but in the darkness of the hallway, it was as if Elinor was looking at a ghost.

She swallowed painfully and said, “Come in, dearest, and sit by me.” She patted the space next to hers and Eliza took several steps forward towards her. “I know I have been unbearable the whole day, and I shall have to apologize to my mother tomorrow.”

Eliza quietly tucked herself into Elinor’s arms, and Elinor sighed and put her chin against Eliza’s head.

“I do not think you were unbearable. But that man who visited yesterday, your sister-in-law’s brother? Was he -- ah,” Eliza blushed and Elinor smiled.

She said, “You have been listening to Mrs. Jennings.”

Eliza looked apologetic. “It is hard not to listen to her. But if you do not wish to speak about it…”

“No, I am -- there is nothing much to speak of! I was once -- fond of Edwards Ferrers, and I think the affection was returned, but it came to nothing.”

“Elinor, you speak of it as if you are very old! But you cannot be so much older than I am,” Eliza said, her brow wrinkling in thought.

“I suppose not,” Elinor replied, “but it is different how, and I suppose difference makes it distant.”

“Because you are married now,” Eliza said gravely. “Do you like it, being married?”

“It is not a bad state, though perhaps not worth the anxieties that precede it,” Elinor said, with not a trace of irony in her voice.

“I do not suppose I will ever be married now,” Eliza said, her voice dropping low. “Since I am ruined.”

“You will not need to!” Elinor said fiercely. And then looking downward and catching the startled look on Eliza’s face, she softened and said, “My dear! Do not think life has deserted you yet.” She kissed the top of Eliza’s head and sighed.

She thought, suddenly, that she missed her husband’s presence now more than ever.

 

*

 

“Oh, but you do like your mysteries, don’t you?,” Elinor said to Brandon when he arrived the next day, accompanied by a large, wooden crate that had been spirited away a group of servants, before she could take a closer look at it.

Brandon smiled, a faint uptick of his lips, and did not answer.

“What is it? I hope it is not a pianoforte, at least,” Elinor said with an exasperated sigh. “The one you have now is quite serviceable for Margaret and Eliza to practise on, and I am not as accomplished as Marianne -- was.” She dropped her glance down at the hem of dress. Fool!

“No, but you have other talents,” Brandon said, his voice low and intimate and Elinor felt herself flush as she looked up.

“Truly?” she said, with a smile.

“I never lie,” Brandon and she laughed.

“But you do not always answer questions!” Elinor said with a laugh. “Fine. It will be a surprise, then.” And she took his hand, and they went up the stairs, to home, where their family awaited.