She met his gaze, her eyes rolling just a little, a tight smile upon her lips hinting at the frustration she was feeling. Elinor Dashwood was an expert at hiding her feelings, always able to act proper and with regard whilst in the companies of others, it was one of the traits he had so admired in her, but he also had, over the past few years, come to know her quite well and could read the small adjustments in her body that gave way to her true feelings, even before she expressed them.
The the stiffness of her posture and the way she scratched lightly at her one nail, both signs of her rising frustration with the direction of the conversation. They’d been visiting with the Fairchilds, a politically well-positioned family if a bit dull, but a family who had the connections to assemble a decent array of dinner guests, as was the case this evening.
Elinor had the misfortune to find herself in a long-winded discussion with the younger Master Fairchild on the viability of Thomas More’s /Utopia/, who had barely a moments pause to allow Elinor to speak. This, Brandon knew, frustrated Elinor, as he had learned early on that she was a woman who hated to be spoken to as if she was an idiot or indeed spoken over as if she was a child, both of which the younger Master Fairchild had committed against her this discussion.
Ms Dashwood was an accomplished woman, well read in the fields of literature and philosophy and Brandon had found himself spending many a wonderful evening in her company debating the finer points of the written word. They had spent several such evenings discussing the very text Master Fairchild was lecturing her about and Brandon was aware of Elinor’s opinions on the text.
“I found it sentiment and dull. The plight of the everyday rustic bores me,” Fairchild had bemoaned, and it was at this point that Elinor had rolled her eyes ever-so-slightly.
The slight roll to her eyes - a look meant just for him, a look she knew he had the wherewithal to understand and not take offence to - was her being more open than she normally was, an he recognized it to be an honour; Elinor Dashwood let her true feelings known to very few people and he was honoured to be within such exclusive company. He returned her gaze with a slight smile, one he knew she would interpret as encouragement, for as much as he could read her, she was leagues more skilled in her ability to read him, a skill that had on occasion alarmed him.
“Do you not agree Ms Dashwood?” he continued, though Brandon felt confident the other man had not see her reactions as Elinor would never risk such a social faux-pax.
“I do not agree, Mr Fairchild. That everyday rustic is what defines a country’s character. They are the legs upon which we stand, by which we succeed and by which we fail, and thusly we ought to respect that position and to refer to that position or that experience as dull is a great offence to the very character of this great nation,” she continued.
Brandon’s chest swelled with pride, Elinor standing her ground and letting that wonderful intellect of hers shine. He was delighted at the surprised look upon Fairchild’s face at her disagreement, he having barely given her the chance to get a word in prior to this, let alone a fully nuanced disagreement. His Elinor was smart and would not sit idly by when she had an opinion worth sharing on a topic she knew well, least alone at a dinner.
He was not sure when he began to internally refer to her as his Elinor, nor when he began referring to her as Elinor within his own monologue as opposed to the more appropriate Ms Dashwood, but it had been ongoing for many months now and he’d decided not to examine it too closely, not wanting to potentially jeopardize the intimate friendship they had built. He valued her counsel and her friendship and, while he had pondered the possibility for more, he dared not entertain those thoughts further.
But there were times when it was hard to not entertain those thoughts, instances like this evening, where she was clearly the smartest woman in the room and her irritation let her demonstrate that, her pride needing to make a point. Or when they would sit in front of the fire, discussing politics until the early hours of the morning, the time flirting with the boundaries of impropriety had they not been properly chaperoned.
He would never risk her reputation, for his Elinor held that with the utmost respect and value; and he understood why, for a woman in today’s world had little else but her reputation, particularly one upon which hard times had settled in recent memory. Elinor Dashwood was highly respected amongst higher society, both in town and in the country, her reputation and intellect garnering her an additional reputation as a desired dinner guest.
He would never risk that, he admired her far too much to give in to any potential weakness that may lay within him; even when he would assist her in ascending into a carriage, and his fingers lingered upon her wrist and he desired to touch more, to let his fingers linger elsewhere upon her person.
Nor would he later that evening, when escorting her back to her residence, being every bit the gentleman as her hand was placed firmly within his as he aided in her descent from the carriage, walking her to her front entryway, reluctantly releasing her hand.
“Thank you for the …spirited evening, Colonel,” she said warmly, eyes alight with memories of the debate earlier.
“Spirited indeed,” he agreed. “He certainly seemed surprised at your spirited candour,”
“I was not nearly as candid as I would have liked to be,”
He chuckled, knowing well the full weight of her candour, having been on the receiving end of it many a time.
“Edmund, please, I know you disagreed with his vile, aristocratic interpretation of More,”
Brandon paused, having never heard her refer to him by his first name, despite all their years of friendship, she always maintained the appropriate honourifics. He enjoyed the way his name sounded coming from her, her lips wrapping around his name to sound ever more intimate than the action suggested, for it was just a name.
“I do disagree, as you know all too well. I was chuckling at the memory of your candour, having been the recipient of that candour on more than one occasion. In a way I pity the man,” he teased, the darkness of the hour and her speaking of his name bolstering his confidence as he reached out and lightly touched one of the soft curls around her brow, “…for not having had the pleasure of being the target of your candour, for it is an experience I believe all men of intellect ought to experience,” he continued, releasing the soft hair, watching as it bounced back against her face.
A silence fell between them and Brandon worried that he had pushed past the boundaries of their friendship or had made her feel uncomfortable in the overt demonstration of his affection for her, for there was no other way to interpret his action than an indication of interest, the act an intimate one between courting parties.
“Colonel….” She started and his heart sank with the return of the honourific, wishing that they may be able to salvage their friendship from this indiscretion.
“…Edmund,” she corrected, her eyes casting downwards, her hand raising to rest upon the hand of his that had just been near her face.
“Elinor,” he started, turning his hand to wrap around her own, taking a moment to revel in the gesture, the reciprocation of his feelings and the promise for more. While the darkness provided some cover, he realized where they were and the impropriety of such a display in a reasonably public position, “we should discuss matters,”
“Yes,” she agreed, releasing his hand, her gaze casting around for witnesses, but there were none. “Tomorrow perhaps? Over tea?”
“Yes, that would be amenable,” he agreed, already looking forward to it, hope blossoming in his chest for the first time in years, the possibility and hope of more, of partnership, of happiness. “Until tomorrow, my dear Elinor,” he said, this time his to bring her hand up to his mouth to place a chaste kiss upon the top.