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Their little cottage had never seen so much joy.

Edward left that afternoon after proposing to Elinor, returning to town to make preparations.

Marianne, after being enveloped so long in her own heartbreak and disparity, was delighted to see her gentle sister almost fit to burst with love. Convincing herself that Elinor had earned it far more than she did.

Amongst the excitement emerged Colonel Brandon, his approach announced by and eager Margaret who burst into the cottage.

“Marianne! Marianne!” she cried, “Colonel Brandon has come”

“Oh,” exclaimed Marianne, nervously running fingers over her curls. “Is he close?”

“Very” nodded Margaret. “I could see his horse just coming over the hill”

Once their mother was informed of his imminent arrival, pulling what little composure she had remaining, gathered her three daughters into the parlour.

Elinor met Marianne’s eyes and read them easily.

“Stop it” hushed Marianne, giving Elinor a playful shove.

“Girls” scolded Mrs Dashwood, before the room was brought to attention.

Thomas entered and called, “Colonel Brandon to see you, Ma’am”

“Thank you Thomas” replied Mrs Dashwood.

The ladies rose as Brandon entered and after the bows of rank had marked politeness the conversation quickly began.

“I met a very pleased Edward Ferris on my journey here,” remarked Brandon.

Turning to face Elinor he urged, “I give you my hearty congratulations Miss Dashwood”

“Thank you Colonel” she smiled.

“Are you here to see Marianne?” piped Margaret, quickly receiving a glare from her mother and sister. “What?” she protested quietly. “Why else would he come?”

“Meg keep your conversation to the subject of the weather” hushed Marianne frustratedly.

“You will forgive Margaret Colonel” urged Mrs Dashwood. “We have had far too much excitement here today”

“Not at all,” said Brandon. “Young Miss Dashwood has intuition. I came here hoping for an audience with Miss Marianne”

“Well, we shall not keep you from her” smiled Mrs Dashwood, moving with Elinor and Margaret towards the door.

“No” cried Marianne. Her voice so abrupt that it startled them all.

Seeing the concern in the Colonel’s eyes she quickly addressed him, “I simply meant, so much as to be done now with Elinor’s wedding. I would not want to delay any progress. We need the space in this room at present. I would gladly walk a while if you could be so good as to accompany me?”

With peace restored in his mind, Brandon politely held out his arm for her and the pair left the cottage.

-

Marianne led Brandon to one of her favourite spots, high on the cliffs with a view all the way down the sea and cottage.

An unintended pang for her lost Willoughby dared to resurface, as past memories of their happy spring adventures danced around her.

“What a view this is” remarked, Brandon. “You have such taste in all areas it seems, even in nature”

Marianne smiled. “I found this spot with...well some time ago. But I am far happier to share it with you”

Brandon understood the tension in her voice, which made his next subject difficult.

“Marianne” he began. “I imagine my affections towards you have not gone unnoticed. I have come to feel for you such a deep love that I can no longer hide behind words or stand on ceremony.”

“Colonel please,” said Marianne.

“No, if I may finish” pleaded Brandon. “You are my junior by many years, which has been known to cause distaste in young ladies. But I want to assure you my motives are honourable and I desire nothing more than to see you happy and cherished”

“Colonel” cried, Marianne. “You should not say these things!”

She watched his face fall, he clearly was awaiting a polite rejection.

Gently taking his hand in her own she smiled. “You do not need to tell me this, you have shown me in all your conduct and actions, past and present that you love me and want me to happy and cherished. It is my desire to see you have the same”

Brandon felt his throat tighten. “You...you feel an affection for me?”

“A great one” replied Marianne. “I owe you so very much, I owe you the very air I breathe”

“It is a love made of gratitude?” asked Brandon.

“No” cried Marianne. “Gratitude and love are two very different things. No other man has saved me as you did, it showed me not only your love but your clear character. Of which we both know I can be easily deceived”

“Marianne,” said Brandon softly. “You have given me such hope that I could still find love when I thought it died all those years ago. You would have my complete devotion for the rest of my days”

“As you will have mine” replied Marianne.

This last revelation was enough for him. “Then you will accept me?”

Marianne gave a smirk and stepped back, “Only if you ask me properly”

Brandon chuckled at her impertinence but obeyed willingly.

Throwing back the tale of his overcoat he knelt down on his knee and took her hands.

“Miss Marianne Dashwood, would you do me the honour of becoming my wife?”

As if to tease him further Marianne withheld her reply for several moments before she could hide her joy no longer.

“Yes, yes I will” she beamed, throwing her arms around him.

Brandon raised them both up, lifting Marianne in their elation and twirling her around as if they were children.

Breathless Marianne met his eyes and felt the urge to kiss him.

Despising herself that her first kiss was taken by Willoughby, she wanted nothing more than for her Colonel Brandon to make him vanish from her memory.

Moving with gentleness Brandon cupped her cheek with his hand and as Marianne leant closer he pushed their lips together.

Never had a kiss felt so long and overdue.

Marianne felt her cheeks colour as they parted, Brandon, smiling at her sweetness.

With an engagement only in words, Brandon took a small box from his coat and opened it, revealing a beautiful band of gold.

“I had hoped this ring would match your finger,” he said. “It belonged to my mother”

Marianne’s heart swelled, not only was she receiving a ring but the romantic idea of the source rivalled the heroines of her books.

The ring fit snug on her finger and without restraint, Brandon kissed her hand.

With an unbashful urgency, Marianne embraced him. Feeling such security as he, in turn, wrapped his arms around her, pulling her closer to his chest.

“Brandon” she whispered, playing with a button on his coat.

“Christopher” he urged gently. “Please”

The name felt foreign on her tongue after months of knowing him as the dear Colonel.

“Christopher” she repeated with a contented sigh.

Hearing his name, sent a wave of emotion through his body. He had waited so long to hear it and hoped she’d never have cause to stop saying it.

Enveloped in their love, the pair sat and watched the sun make it’s journey across the sky before Marianne knew she must return home.

Chapter Text

“I knew it” gasped Mrs Dashwood, seeing Marianne watch Brandon leave. “I knew he would make you an offer”

“Mama” smiled Elinor. “It was never us who had any doubt over the Colonel’s affections”

Marianne rolled her eyes. “He did not just make me his fiancee in his words, look”

Flaying out her hand she watched as her mother and sisters cried out in delight.

“Oh a ring!” squealed Margaret. “Oh, Marianne he must love you!”

Mrs Dashwood released yet more tears of joy, two daughters engaged before the sun had set was too much to comprehend.

“Marianne” smiled Elinor, “Colonel Brandon will make such an agreeable husband, I am so happy for you”

“As will your Edward” replied Marianne. “We have both made fine choices!”

“I wonder” added Elinor. “As we are engaged together, would it not fit to be married together?”

“A joint wedding?” cried Mrs Dashwood.

“Oh, how romantic” sighed Marianne. “I do not see a reason to oppose it”

“Edward promised he would write and visit in the coming week,” said Elinor. “I shall speak to him of the idea”

“I will write to the Colonel...Christopher this very moment, Thomas can take it to the post office in the morning” replied Marianne.

Hearing Brandon’s name for the first time their mother remarked, “He is a Christopher? I confess I knew only his initial”

“I knew nothing” replied Marianne. “He bid me call him Christopher now, naturally he may call me Marianne, no need for a Miss beforehand”

Mrs Dashwood smiled, “My only wish is that you dear father could be here to see you both married”

“Papa is watching over us Mama” encouraged Elinor. “I am sure of it”

-

Marianne climbed into bed with a contented sigh, watching Elinor climb into her own.

“This will not be a case for much longer,” said Marianne. “We shall require a larger bed if so”

Elinor gave a gasp and scolded her, “You and I are only just engaged, I will not hear such talk”

Marianne laughed and sat up embracing a pillow. “What do you suppose Mama will do with our room?”

“Well,” thought Elinor. “Margaret is getting older and I am sure would soon appreciate a larger room of her own. Or failing that, Sir John may allow Mama to have some lodgers for an extra source of income”

“Or if we find our husbands tiresome and intolerable we could always come home?” smirked Marianne.

Even Elinor could not hide her amusement, trying to hold back her laughter to little result.

Once their composure had returned, she asked, “Have you written your letter to Brandon?”

“Yes” replied Marianne, pointing to the neatly written envelope beside her bed. “Did Edward mention anything of where you are to live while he was here?”

“Nothing is sure” reminded Elinor. “But your husband to be has made a mention of a reasonable parsonage just five miles from his home at Delaford, on his estate. I am to understand that it does require some work but Edward is not shy in that respect. And to be so close to you and a day's journey from Mama and Margaret will be utter bliss”

“Oh, Elinor” cried Marianne. “I should adore that! An easy five-mile walk will keep Christopher and I in such good health”

“It is quite lovely,” remarked Elinor, observing her sister.

“What is?” questioned Marianne.

“Your eyes and cheeks glow each time you say his name”

“Stop it” hushed her sister, now embarrassed.

“No” she cried. “You were never that way with Willoughby, always so excitable and loud. With Brandon, you have an ease in your manner which I did not know existed”

“I feel so-” breathed Marianne, pausing in thought.

“Feel so what?” smiled Elinor.

“Loved,” said Marianne, “At peace and all manner of lovely things. He makes me feel so safe Elinor. Even now he is gone I am not afraid for I know he is to return to me.”

“That is just what he should make you feel” agreed, her sister. “I pray he never causes the violent emotion that Willoughby did”

“Oh don’t speak of it” groaned Marianne, her core shivering at the memory of her conduct. “I do not know how Christopher did not lose faith in me”

“He adores you” reminded Elinor. “That much is clear”

“Now that I know Willoughby’s character I hope I never lay my eyes on him or that wife of his for the rest of my days” exclaimed Marianne.

“Brava” mused Elinor. “I believe that is the most spite I have ever heard you speak of him. I am not surprised in the slightest that you hate him. His behaviour is unforgivable”

“I do not hate him” sighed Marianne, “though perhaps I should. But he never showed that vulgar side of himself to me, we all witnessed it. Now, to think that I could have been just a rejected plaything of his...it does not bear thinking about”

“What does bear thinking about is your future” smiled Elinor. “What has passed is over, you can only look to what is yet to come”

Chapter Text

It was the middle of the day when Marianne spotted Thomas lugging the cart over the hill.

He abandoned his task upon seeing her calling, “A letter for you Miss Marianne”

“Already?” remarked Elinor, seeing her sister jump up. “The post is not due today!”

Unphased Marianne happily met Thomas who explained.

“I was walking through town to the market Miss when who should I see but your Colonel Brandon” he said. “So I called over I did, and he greeted me with pleasantness. I handed him your letter and he was very happy to receive it. He asked what business I had in town and I told him, he then asked if I would be good enough to meet again at the place we spoke in one hour, should me business take me that long and he would have a reply for me”

“Well I said, I would be pleased to be agreeable to him and we both went on our way. I returned at the time we agreed and I now have the letter for you Miss”

Thomas wiped his hand on his coat before lifting the letter from his pocket.

“That is most kind of you Thomas” thanked Marianne. “I am very grateful”

“It’s no trouble Miss” smiled Thomas, lifting his cap before lugging the cart down towards the cottage.

Marianne could not wait to reach the house so she found a flat rock close by and opened the letter.

My dearest Marianne,

Your letter brought such delight to my otherwise dreary morning. I hope to finish my business in town over the next few days so I may visit you and your family.

Once my business is concluded I am determined to have you all visit my home in Delaford, we shall make quite the day of it. As you will recall the last attempt was not to everyone’s pleasure. You may ask Miss Dashwood on my behalf to extend this invitation to Mr Ferrars, as I also wish to know more of my future brother-in-law. I will wait for you to name the date.

As you mentioned in your letter I see no living reason as to why the marriage of both couples cannot be completed in one day, I should enjoy the ceremony in whatever capacity, as long as you become my wife at its conclusion.

I should expect to call on Friday, until then my dearest.

Yours with affection, Christopher Brandon.

Marianne smiled and brought the letter to her chest.

She returned to the cottage and eagerly showed it off to Elinor.

“Well, what a fine gentleman,” she remarked. “I am sure Edward would be delighted to join us”

“I will wait till Friday to ask for a date, I would not seek to hurry him,” said Marianne.

“Do you know where he is staying in town?” asked Elinor. "Or has he returned to Delaford, it is close enough"

“No” replied Marianne. “He told me that he is staying in town, in some inn I imagine, quite improper for a man such as him!"

“Well” mused Elinor. “He cannot stay here and with Mrs Jenning's daughter in the house, they've all but run out of rooms!”

“I know” huffed Marianne. “I just hate the thought of him enduring unsuitable accommodation just to be near me”

“A gentleman's business does not always mean you” reminded Elinor. “He does not seem to be a man of high grace, I am sure a week in an inn will not harm him forever”

“Very well” agreed, Marianne. “Where is Edward staying in town? Surely he would have room for Christopher!”

Elinor sighed, “He had to return to London, to tell his mother what he shall do”

“And aren’t you worried she’ll confine him or rebuke him further!” cried Marianne. “If she disapproved of Miss Steel, imagine how she will react with you!”

Elinor gave a scoff. “My dearest, Yes she has disinherited him but he still has a duty to her, as will I”

“Oh tell me you will never have the cause to meet her?” exclaimed Marianne. “She was such a cold woman!”

“She shan't come to the wedding if that is what you are implying” replied Elinor. “But yes I shall have to see her at times, despite her newfound hatred of her son”

“I will never understand it” proclaimed Marianne. “If I were to have a son I would cherish him, not play favourites”

“Now my love” hushed Elinor. “You are going red, this is a burden for myself and Edward, please do not worry for us”

“As you wish” sighed Marianne.

-

Unbeknownst to Marianne, Brandon was not being subject to the loud and crowded inn.

He had taken up a small set of rooms with an old companion from his days in the military who took great delight in seeing him again.

The man's name was Colonel Henry Keats, a charming man, not dissimilar in age to Brandon or in temperament.

Keats observed Brandon reading over what appeared to be the same letter and called, “I can smell the scent of a woman Brandon. What are you reading pray?”

Lost in Marianne’s words it took several remarks from his friend to warrant a response. “Forgive me,” he replied, tucking the letter away.

“You are very political in your avoidance” teased Keats. “I asked if it was from a woman and you hide it from me”

Brandon smiled. “I confess, you are correct”

“Well” scoffed Keats. “Do not withhold information from me. Who is she?”

“The woman I am to marry” replied Brandon, a joy in is manner as the words left his lips.

“Marriage?” cried Keats. “You Brandon?”

“Yes, the notion came as a shock to my old bones as it does to yours” replied Brandon.

“I cannot let you marry just anyone,” remarked Keats humorously. “Who is the girl?”

“Miss Marianne Dashwood” responded Brandon. “You must have heard of the family that recently took up residence with the Middletons”

He watched his friends face lose its smile. “Oh surely not”

“You know of the lady?” inquired Brandon. “I was not aware you have had cause to meet the family?”

“Well” breathed Keats, rising from his chair. “Her fall from grace is known by all in this town”

Brandon brow creased, “Fall from grace?”

“That whole attachment to John Willoughby, surely you are not unaware of it” replied Keats. “The rumours of such are-”

He cut his sentence short when he remembered to whom he spoke.

Henry Keats was one of the few people alive who knew of Beth’s seduction by Willoughby, in intimate detail. This provocation stopped his speech in its entirety.

Brandon sat forward on his chair. “Do not let me stop you"

Keats ran a hand over his hair. “I would not wish to offend the lady”

“Not in my presence” snapped Brandon. “What would you say to others I wonder?”

“It is not I who wish to speak ill of her” reminded Keats. “I have heard such tales from the townsfolk who each seem to take a side. Some pity Miss Dashwood and others shame her”

“You will tell me of these tales immediately” demanded Brandon. “Then you will inform me of those who wish to tarnish her name”

“Come Brandon” cried, Keats. “She is just one young woman”

“To whom I will marry” exclaimed Brandon. “I do not wish for anyone to slight her name which will soon be my own”

“I do not know what purpose it will serve to tell you, I am sure Miss Dashwood has heard the rumours for herself” added Keats.

“She has been recovering from a serious bout of illness” explained Brandon. “She has not entered town since last Autumn”

“Then I do not feel it to ask you to burden her with them,” said Keats.

“As her fiance, I believe I understand her emotions far better than you would” retorted Brandon. “It is not for you to decide”

Keats returned to his seat. “If you insist”

“I do” replied Brandon resolutely.

Keats sighed, “It is a rumour that apparently originated from John Willoughby himself. He obviously cared for her to some degree, but he is not so careful with her feelings anymore"

“Go on,” asked Brandon.

“All I have heard is that he proudly states of an intimacy to their so-called 'engagement'. He claims to have not only bedded Miss Dashwood but that her seeming urgency to marry must be due to the seed of his child in her belly”

Brandon’s dark eyes widened. “This-this is a public statement?”

“In London at least” replied Keats. “Word travels, as it does. I am shocked that you have heard nothing”

“Once I announce Marianne and I’s engagement I am sure I will hear enough” replied Brandon. “If he speaks a word after that I must act”

Keats sensed his actions. “You are not fit to duel him, Brandon”

“I will duel him with a pistol or a sword” exclaimed Brandon angrily. "He has already harmed Beth, I will not tolerate his mistreatment a second time"

“Christopher,” said Keats. “I feel I must ask. Are you certain that Willoughby remarks may not be as damning as they sound? Perhaps even a small truth lies behind them?”

Bradon could not control himself, he rose from the chair and with an explosive passion he shouted, “How dare you!”

“Come” pleaded Keats, following his friend who had charged from the room. “I care about your well-being!”

Brandon would not be stopped.

“For God’s sake, don’t be a bloody fool” cried Keats. “I know you love the girl but I cannot bear to think you would be saddled with another of Willoughby spawns”

He finally halted his friend by the door, physically preventing him from entering the street.

“Brandon, I only want you to be happy. I know how much you suffered from the loss of Eliza, but you must think rationally. If you marry Miss Dashwood, your once noble reputation would be as tainted as hers”

Brandon took a steadying breath. “You will understand this. Your concern for me is honourable and I appreciate your blatant honesty. But I warn you, I will not allow such remarks concerning my future wife to leave your lips ever again”

“Miss Marianne Dashwood is one of the finest women I have ever laid my eyes upon. I would dare say I love her more than I did Eliza, and you know the feelings I bore for her very well. She is as pure in my eyes as the first day I saw her. I see no taint against her character”

“But Brandon” pleaded Keats. “Could you honestly, in your heart, love her knowing that she had been bedded by another man? Or worse, that the event occurred and she has not told you of any of it?”

“That is what leads me to believe that the rumour is sheer folly” replied Brandon. “I know that Marianne would not have withheld such information from me, it is not in her character”

Seeing that Keats looked at him with such confusion he added,

“But even if such an event took place it will not change a thing”

Keats face changed colour. “You would marry her regardless?”

“Without hesitation” replied Brandon swiftly. “My love for her goes beyond what flesh can offer me”

“Brandon” protested Keats. “You are a man of values. Surely you cannot do this”

“If Willoughby somehow seduced Marianne my only wish is that he did not do so through violence” retorted Brandon. “The idea of that brings me more pain than the thought of the event occurring with love as his motive”

Retrieving his hat Brandon called a servant for his horse, before opening the door.

“Where are you going?” called Keats.

Swinging onto his horse Brandon replied sharply. “I am going to the newspaper to order a publication of my engagement and then I will go and visit my fiance and tell her this rumour for myself. It is best she hears it from my lips than through unkind whispers”

Keats could not stop his friend, only shaking his head as he rode away.

Chapter Text

“I am afraid Marianne has gone to town Colonel” explained Mrs Dashwood.

His unexpected arrival brought a little more chaos to her afternoon than she would have hoped.

“She is there alone?” questioned Brandon.

“Oh no, she has accompanied Thomas. I had a complaint about the vegetables he was sold and asked him to retrieve others, as we are in no position to throw away money” explained Mrs Dashwood.

“You are welcome to wait till they return” she suggested. “Can I fetch you some tea?”

“That is most kind Madam but I am afraid I have an urgent need to see Marianne, the town may not have been the wisest place to send her” explained Brandon, already retreating to his horse.

“Why ever not!” cried Mrs Dashwood. “Is there danger for her there Colonel? Are highwaymen in the town!”

Seeing that is tone had shaken the lady he could not leave without consolation.

“Perhaps Miss Dashwood is here?” he asked.

“Elinor” called Mrs Dashwood. “Please come quickly”

Already aware of the Colonel’s presence she hurried to the doorway.

“A moment, I beg you,” asked Brandon.

“Of-of course” stammered Elinor, unsure of the reason.

Returning to his horse she joined him and listened to his reasons.

“A vulgar rumour has spread from London concerning Marianne,” he said in a hushed tone. “I imagine I do not need to tell you from whom it originated”

Elinor was troubled. “What rumour?”

“A rumour of your sister’s honour” replied Brandon. “Her virtue has been placed under suspicion”

“Good God,” said Elinor, barely able to speak.

“I only heard this rumour this afternoon from a friend who was concerned for my prospects in marrying Marianne” added Brandon.

Seeing Elinor’s face fall he was swift in his assurance. “Miss Dashwood, you may rest easy. My love for your sister is not so easily shaken”

“Oh Colonel” she replied. “I would never have sent her to town alone if I’d have known”

“Miss Dashwood, permit me to retrieve her,” he asked. “I did not see her as I was leaving town or on my journey here. Where would she go with your servant?”

“They- they had to make a stop at the farm first” explained Elinor hurriedly. She pointed to a small dirt track leading away from the main road. “They would have entered the town through a different way, that is why you did not see her”

“Thank you, I shall return her to you very soon,” said Brandon, bowing his head before urging his horse onwards.

-

“I think I shall look in the bookshop Thomas” called Marianne, as they approached the market.

“Very good Miss” smiled Thomas. “I will return in a short while”

With a smile, Marianne left him and hurried across the busy street.

As she entered the bookshop a gaggle of young women caught sight of her and she heard amongst the whispers two words, ‘Dashwood’ and ‘Willoughby’

She turned upon hearing this and the girls broke into laughter and walked away, almost turning their noses up at her.

Confused more than offended, Marianne entered the bookshop, calling a greeting to the owner who always treated her kindly. “Good afternoon Mr Allen”

The old man gave a simple nod but made no effort to converse.

With a little huff, Marianne began to wander. She was hoping to find something to give to Christopher, who after all had showered her with music and the pianoforte.

Though her mind was fixed upon him, Marianne could not help looking for her own books. Almost without trying, she found her favourite genre and began to gaze at the titles and first few pages.

Lost in her own little world she did not hear the first snide remark from two women behind her.

“I do not know how the little harlot can show her face” one said, not trying to be subtle. “She nearly ruined poor John Willoughby’s chances”

Hearing his name, she perked up, turning her head to hear the other one sneer, “Did you hear of how she acted in London? Practically threw herself at him in front of a host of strangers and in mixed company. I am shocked she did not die of embarrassment, but alas, she seems to have no shame”

Meeting their eyes, her cheeks coloured. “Are you speaking of me, Ma’am?”

“Yes, I am” the woman remarked. “I think you are a disgrace to your mother!”

“I beg your pardon!” cried Marianne.

“They way you acted with John Willoughby is unforgivable, have you no sense of honour?” the woman spat. “And now it seems you are trying to ruin the reputation of another fine man. Whatever little web you have spun shall not convince Colonel Brandon to be near you for long”

“I do not know of what you mean Madame!” exclaimed Marianne. “I have ensnared no one”

“With the damning report of your behaviour with Willoughby, you won’t find a man in England who will marry you. A girl with such taint as yours will never find her place in respectable company ever again” the woman cried.

Marianne was not used to such harsh words from strangers, her eyes welling with hot angry tears she went to flee from them but was stopped by the unexpected arrival of Brandon with Thomas.

Brandon immediately sensed what had just occurred.

The women were not being quiet in their onslaught, half the shop had heard the accusations.

Himself and Thomas had only heard the tail end of the remarks, and Marianne stood crying and shaking before him.

Seeing him there, she could not keep standards. She threw her arms around him and clung to the material of his coat.

“My dearest” he hushed, “Come away”

“Colonel Brandon” scolded one of the women. “How can you treat that little harlot with such attentiveness. So many others would be more fitting to a man such as yourself”

“Mrs Ashford” warned Brandon, with a tone Marianne had never heard. “I would advise you to keep such unclean and foul words to yourself. My fiance should not be subject to such remarks”

“Your fiance” cried the other woman. “Oh Colonel surely not!”

“You would believe the sordid rumours of a notorious libertine than the faithful account of myself and this fine young woman?” retorted Brandon. “Madame you must consult your own morals before you dare to insult Miss Dashwood’s”

The two women scoffed. “I am sure you will regret your choice Colonel”

“I am sure you will learn to regret your words. For from this day forward, I will no longer do business with either of your husbands” replied Brandon smoothly. “When I remove my account from them I will leave the explanation to yourselves”

The women changed colour, the brightness of their cheeks vanished.

“Good afternoon” finished Brandon, turning with Marianne on his arm.

Thomas did not bow his head to ladies, instead, calling out to the small crowd that had gathered.

“There! Let it be known that Colonel Brandon defended Miss Dashwood’s honour here, so don’t you be listening to any reports you hear unless they come from him!”

Outside Marianne was still shaking, partly with fear and with anger.

“I promised your sister I would bring you home” whispered Brandon. “Please allow me to accompany you”

Unable to speak, Marianne simply nodded her head and allowed herself to be lifted onto his horse.

Thomas followed with his basket and three of them headed for the cottage.

-

Chapter Text

Marianne lay awake, her mind still deeply troubled.

Thoughts of Willoughby spun round and round, his every word and action replaying itself.

Her own actions were subject to her scrutiny.

She felt as if she had grown so much since the previous spring, a season of joy brought to an end, then love's rebirth after such a hard winter.

Willoughby was the man of her girlish dreams, flying to her side with flowers in his hands and promises in his words.

Now Brandon made her doubt herself, her desires and her dreams. They shared much in taste, if not in temperament. But his stillness and compassion she had come to rely on.

She did not need loud and passionate declarations if they were nothing but hollow words. Deeds and actions she decided weighed far more in value. Words, of course, are a cheap and dispensable commodity.

Rather than laugh in the face of rumour, Brandon had faced it, come to her defence. Quite different to Willoughby who saw it as an advantage. 'The more people that speak of you the better', he once told her. 'One day your name will end up in the right person's mouth, then you wait and see!'.

'If we could only go to London together Marianne', he'd say again and again. 'How glorious to escape to that world and leave this all behind'

She was not a vain creature. She knew that she was beautiful but he sought to use that to an advantage.

'You would thrive amongst my kind' he'd say. 'Young men and women with their own thoughts and not a care for actions. That is true freedom I think'

Little did she know at the time what he meant.

But Marianne did not desire to be known. If she could venture to London but once a year and taste of that society she would be content. She did not need to be spoken of, admired by scores of men and idolised by women. She wanted to be loved and cherish by one man, have a close circle of friends and never taste of rumour or scandal.

Now through the thoughtlessness of her own heart and the contemptable nature of Willoughby, she was almost robbed of it all.

That is of course until she opened her eyes and at last, saw the shining figure that had been at her side since the moment they arrived in Devonshire.

Marianne remembered the first afternoon in Brandon's company, a quiet but well-spoken man, handsome for his age and good-tempered. Of course her motives at first being that a decent and intelligent conversation could be held with him, without the offset of laughter or jokes.

Then after hearing Mrs Jennings remarks, she had tried to keep her conversation with him to a minimum. She was not going to be matched so easily, and at the time Brandon seemed too old, too rational and hard.

It seemingly took heartbreak and illness to finally reveal his nature to her. Blinded by broken promises it was almost wrong to suddenly gain feelings for him.

But they grew, faster than she anticipated. Each day she grew stronger in his company, each day loving him a little more.

It was almost beyond belief that his love for her had stood the test of time, let alone still desire her to be his wife after her scandal.

He had promised her so much happiness she was sure to receive it, but would he truly find happiness with her?

Would her temperament suddenly become too great? Her passion for music and dance outrival his own?

Even perhaps a wish for children? Marianne had always wanted to be a mother but had Brandon any desire to be a father?. Would she be blamed by him if she became great with child?

Now with the contents of this rumour that still largely remained unknown to her, she was unsure what tomorrow would bring. Willoughby could have claimed anything and it would be her word against his.

This night Brandon had to simply bring her home, he could not stay longer, the sun was already setting.

There was a look about him than worried Marianne and even when she voiced her concerns to Elinor, her sister spoke to her in the greatest assurance, that she had heard from the Colonel's own lips that this rumour would affect nothing in regards to their engagement.

Marianne tried her best to believe her, Brandon is a good man, but is he good to a fault?.

-

Brandon arrived the next morning, he had also spent much of the night awake and suffering.

To hear those harsh words spoken about Marianne angered him. She should never have been subject to a scandal such as this.

It had pained him to reiterate the rumour once again but Marianne insisted.

Before he would do so he asked Elinor for some tea.

“Perhaps you would be good enough to send in a small glass of brandy as well?” he added.

“Oh Colonel” she replied. “We cannot even afford a small bottle”

“Then I must assist,” he said, pulling a small flask from his overcoat. “For certain situations you understand”

He handed it to Marianne who looked puzzled. “I do not want this”

“You will” he replied.

Before Elinor left he whispered. “I believe you would deliver this message to your mother far better than I ever could. I know Marianne’s temper but I could not begin to gage anyone else's. Please lead her away from the door and tell her with your own discretion.”

Ellenor agreed at urged her Mother away, along with a curious Margaret. She understood Brandon’s wishes.

As the door to the parlour closed Marianne begged, “Why were those women so cruel to me? I do not understand I was to have everyone’s sympathy I thought, not their hatred?”

“No one hates you dearest” replied Brandon. “But people have been subjected to a report”

“A report?” she cried.

“With mine and your own absence from town, especially with your recovery these last months. A rumour, a falsehood has been allowed to fester and travel from London” he began. “The rumour surrounds a claim from none other than John Willoughby”

Marianne grew pale. “What is the rumour?”

Brandon shifted from his chair. “I wish I had means to use delicate words Marianne, but a vulgar rumour such as this cannot be disguised”

“Tell me” she pleaded.

“Willoughby has been making claims about your so-called engagement,” he said slowly. “He claims an intimate relationship was formed and from that supposed union-

“Union?” cried Marianne. “What does he mean?”

Brandon sighed deeply, hating himself for the destruction in the words. “The wretch claims that be bedded you during his stay in Devonshire and your eagerness to marry me must come from the event of you being with child”

Marianne’s green eyes grew wide and teary.

Her breathing grew erratic and she swiftly moved the flask to her lips, taking more than she was used to.

She recoiled at the taste before finally breaking into sobs.

Brandon was at her side in moments, cradling her in his arms.

“Why would he say such things?” she wept. “I have shown him not one ounce of cruelty. Yes, I’m angry with him but I’d not cause such ruin to his name. He’s done it all himself”

“John Willoughby is the worst of men” replied Brandon. “I cannot deny that anymore”

“Christopher” she cried suddenly, “You do not believe him do you?”

He cursed himself for the fear in her eyes, “Would I be by your side if I believed one word?”

“But your own reputation” she breathed. “It will be ruined by me!”

“Oh!” she sobbed, “You won’t want to marry me now!”

“Marianne” soothed Brandon. “Nothing but death itself will stop me from marrying you”

She tried to smile, feeling so safe as he took out his handkerchief and wiped the tears from her face.

“All I ask,” he said softly. “Did anything yourself and Willoughby spend time together that he could twist into such a report?”

She tried to clear her thoughts but the rumour was swirling so she could not think. “Only...well surely not...he wouldn’t”

“What is it?” asked Brandon.

“The day of the Delaford picnic when you had to leave us,” said Marianne slowly. “Willoughby asked if on our return if I would like to see his home, Combe Magnor”

“And you agreed?”

“Nothing happened Christopher,” she urged. “He gave me a tour of the gardens and I saw the library. Then he returned me to the cottage, I was there for all of half an hour”

“But you can understand how that could be twisted” replied Brandon.

“Oh God” cried, Marianne. “No there’s more. I remember now!”

“He said the view from his upper windows were much finer than those below. I went to the upstairs landing with him before we left”

“Servants witnessed you going upstairs with him” concluded Brandon.

At this realisation, her state grew so distressed that Brandon was afraid she would do herself harm.

“My dearest” he pleaded, “Please try to calm yourself”

“You do believe he’s lying don’t you!” she begged. “I would never-marriage is the place for such things-I’d never-”

“Marianne,” said Brandon seriously. “You do not need to explain yourself to me”

“But if the event had taken place, you-you could not marry me. A rumour would be enough to send most men away!” she whimpered.

“You believe my love for you is so easily open to compromise?” he muttered.

Marianne released a breath. “My lost virtue would not be a compromise. You would grow to hate me!”

“Marianne” began Brandon. “I once thought you lost to me forever. I saw how happy you were with Willoughby and I was determined to crush my feelings and be joyful for you. I examined Willoughby, and saw in him something I hadn’t witnessed before, a seeming genuine affection for someone other than his own person”

“When he abandoned you, just as he did with my Beth I confess I was filled with sorrow. I had spoken to your sister and wished you happiness. But when the news reached me of your separation I desired to be useful to you, knowing full well you could never love me in return. If I were to you a friend, confidante or protector that would suffice”

“In these past months when you seemed to return my affections, I dared to hope as I have never hoped before. Your sudden illness nearly sent me mad and once you had recovered I was determined to fight for your love. I confess I did not fight as much as I should have done for dear Eliza. I could not lose another woman whom I cherished”

“Could you believe in your heart that someone could love you unconditionally Marianne? Do not ask me to love you any less, because I cannot”

This speech had turned her tears of fear to ones of sheer happiness.

“Christopher” smiled Marianne, cupping his face with her hand. “You are truly the best of men. I can only strive to deserve you”

He bent and kissed her hands, “You deserve only happiness, Marianne. I will strive to give you a life of it”

-

Marianne spent much of the next week recovering.

Her spirits were dampened by the rumour, even with Brandon's continuous assurance.

The idea of going to town frightened her, even the prospect of attending church was too much to bear.

After the rest of the family had returned from church, she overheard Elinor and Edward speaking.

Brandon had also joined them, paying daily visits to his dear Marianne.

He observed her gaze and followed it, "Are you certain that you should be listening?"

"She is my sister" replied Marianne, "And Edward sounds upset"

As if on cue, the pair appeared in the parlour, both seemingly shocked.

"Elinor," asked Marianne, "Whatever is the matter?"

Brandon felt intrusive, "I shall leave you to discuss"

"Sit down Colonel" urged Edward, "This concerns us all"

Mrs Dashwood and Margaret were busy with Mrs Jennings, so this tale would have to be broken again.

"I am sure you know that I recently returned to London to visit Fanny, but also my Mother" began Edward, sitting on the edge of the seat.

"And?" urged Marianne.

Brandon gently placed his hand on hers and his eyes seemed to cause silence.

Edward opened his mouth to speak but no words could be formed, he looked to Elinor for relief which she provided.

Elinor sat down beside him, "Edward's mother took the news of our engagement as well as we expected she would. She does not wish to ever set eyes on either of us. She will refuse to acknowledge the marriage and any children borne from the union. Her son Edward is dead to her, she has one son now"

Marianne's jaw dropped, "Surely not!"

Edward forced a smile, "It is hard to believe that I am related to her is it not?"

"I am deeply saddened for you both," said Brandon, "Please do not hesitate if any assistance can be had on my part"

Edward and Elinor met eyes, almost as if they were to speak the same sentiment.

"Colonel" sighed Edward. "You heard my name mentioned but six months ago and you have given me a living and the ability to marry the women I love. I am forever indebted to you, I cannot begin to ask anything more of you"

Brandon shook his head, "You are a good man Edward, those are few and far between. I despise seeing the underserving happy whilst the good suffer. You shall not know hardships whilst I am living, either of you, that I can assure"

"Your generosity knows no bounds" smiled Elinor. "I can only assure you that Edward and I will forever be at your service, in whatever capacity you choose"

-

Chapter Text

The day of the wedding had arrived.

Sir John and Mrs Jennings had insisted that the girls be married from The Manor House, not from the cottage.

With some reluctance, Marianne and Mrs Dashwood agreed but Elinor reminded them that their landlords were being kind and it would be suitable, despite the intrusion that it would cause.

With the two girls marrying on the same day, their respective husbands had each gifted an amount towards the dresses of their brides as well as the wedding itself.

Edward Ferrars, now having lost his fortune was unable to give as much as he wanted, but Elinor used the money to simply update and embellish a gown of her own.

Marianne felt somewhat uncomfortable with the situation. Of course, Colonel Brandon did not have to think of money as much as Mr Ferrars. Her allowance far exceeded Elinor’s and allowed her to chose fine silk for her own gown and instead of her mother creating the garment she was sent to Plymouth to have it tailored.

Elinor felt no jealousy in that respect, her sister was marrying a man far richer than her own. What she wore was of little consequence, Edward, of course, agreed, complimenting her regardless of what garment she owned.

This morning Mrs Jennings hurried between rooms, eagerly ordering around the various maids who had been summoned to assist Marianne and Elinor.

Mrs Dashwood helped as much as she could, but Margaret insisted upon getting herself into mischief, in great danger of damaging her own gown.

“Oh what a happy day for you Mrs Dashwood” cried Mrs Jennings. “Two daughters married!”

“Yes” smiled Mrs Dashwood. “Heaven has blessed us”

“No doubt of it” agreed, Mrs Jennings. “A fine match for the pair of them. That Willoughby would never have sufficed for dear Marianne. The Colonel is a fair better match, naturally, you saw that as well as I”

“Of course,” said Mrs Dashwood. “And Edward will make a fine husband for Elinor”

“Yes indeed!” replied Mrs Jennings. “Both so alike in temper and person. I doubt they shall ever have cause to argue!”

“Hello?” called a voice. “Mrs Dashwood?”

Both women hurried to the stairwell, seeing Mr Ferrars and Colonel Brandon standing in the lobby.

“Away away” cried Mrs Jennings. “Away both of you, we cannot have any bad luck today!”

The men smiled and Brandon spoke. “We wanted to ensure that no problems had arisen”

“If there is a problem Colonel I shall inform you” assured Mrs Dashwood. “Now please go, if Marianne sees you before she reaches the altar I pity you in advance”

“Be so good as to give her this” asked Brandon, leaving a note on the table by the stairs. He bowed at left.

Mr Ferrars however remained. “You as well dear boy” ordered Mrs Jennings. “Elinor will not pardon you either!”

“No” replied Edward. “Of course, but like the Colonel, I also wish to pass on a gift”

He took a box from his coat and placed it with a letter of his own.

“Til shortly Madam” he smiled, before following Brandon from the house.

-

Marianne sat in front of a mirror, helping the maid style her hair.

“Oh, Alice,” she said, “We had best place my veil on directly. I shan’t be taking it off today”

“Very good Miss” the maid replied. “I shall fetch it”

As the maid left the room Mrs Dashwood and a ready Elinor entered.

“Oh you are not already finished!” cried Marianne. “Am I late?”

“No dearest” smiled Elinor. “I did not have to prepare much”

“You look beautiful” urged Marianne. “That dress looks as if it came from London!”

“If I am beautiful what are you?” cried Elinor. “Are you quite sure Colonel Brandon will not swoon at the altar”

“Stop it” chuckled Marianne.

“Speaking of your dear Colonel,” said Mrs Dashwood. “He came and delivered this personally just now”

“He was here!” gasped Marianne. “Is anything the matter?”

“No dearest” hushed her mother. “He came to check the same”

Marianne relieved took the letter and opened it.

My dearest, loveliest Marianne,

Though tradition dictates I cannot see you this morning, I saw no reason to not write.

The prospect of being united with you as husband and wife in just a few hours brings me more joy than I thought imaginable.

You have made me the happiest of men and I vow to spend the remainder of my days creating a life with you, that will bring you an equal amount of splendour.

All my affection,

Yours, Christopher Brandon

“Well?” poked Mrs Dashwood. “What says he?”

“Too many lovely things” replied Marianne, “He is so good”

“Edward is the same,” remarked her mother, “Look at the gift he gave Elinor”

Marianne had not noticed the beautiful necklace adorning her sister’s neck.

“Oh, my heavens!” she exclaimed. “Forgive me, Elinor, I thought it must have belonged to Mrs Jennings or her daughter!”

“I shall scold him for it” proclaimed Elinor. “It is far to fine for me”

Marianne would not hear of it, “To scold him for being generous! Oh, he loves you!”

“Until his affairs are settled I hate to think of him spending money on me” reminded Elinor. “He can shower me with all the jewellery of the Empire once we are settled”

Mrs Dashwood tutted, “Colonel Brandon has everything under control. He spoke with Edward just yesterday about the parsonage and living”

“So?” asked Marianne eagerly.

Mrs Dashwood smiled, “Your husband-to-be has been most generous, your sister and Edward are to have three thousand pounds a year!”

“Heavens!” cried Marianne. “Oh how comfortable you shall be!”

“The parsonage also has a farm as a means of employment for the Colonel and Edward, they shall divide the profits equally” added Elinor.

“Oh how quaint” sighed Marianne. “You and Edward, lots of children and a farm”

Elinor laughed, “We are not married yet!”

“But how lovely you shall both live” urged her sister. “And so close to me!”

“Yes, the new Lady of Delaford” teased Elinor. “Shall I bow when I see you?”

“Hush!” gasped Marianne. “I will have no such ceremony with you”

The maid returned amongst the laughter and helped Marianne with her veil.

Rising from her seat, at last, she said, “Well, what do you think?”

Mrs Dashwood’s hand rested on her chest, and Elinor gave a bright smile.

“The Colonel is a very lucky man dearest”

“Elinor, please” reminded Marianne. “I am the lucky one”

-

The local church was covered in flowers, such a vast crowd of villagers and townsfolk gathered to see the two Dashwood sisters.

Despite clear opposition from Fanny, Robert had been commandeered to walk Elinor down the aisle. Mrs Dashwood would hear no protests, for Robert was the eldest brother and in the absence of their father, he was the next suitable man.

Sir John had nominated himself to accompany Marianne, as she only had one male sibling.

Tempted to decline him at first, she eventually accepted him, as Brandon had expressed his wish for it to be so.

In some ways Marianne was glad she had Sir John, away from Mrs Jennings he was quite a lovely man, very attentive and his humour and ease was greatly appreciated. He knew the little comments to soothe any nerves.

“This is the worst part of the day” he whispered, as they stood outside the church. “If I had it my way you get a quick prayer from above an out again. Not all this ceremony and pomp”

Marianne gave a small laugh, “Yes I am quite eager to sit down”

“I could summon you my horse” teased Sir John. “But I do not think such beasts are permitted into the church”

The pair gave such a laugh that some of the bridal party turned and looked curious.

“Sir John we had best behave” hushed Marianne, composing herself.

“Behave?” remarked Sir John. “I think it is a little late at my age to start now!”

Marianne bit her lip, she finally understood how Brandon had survived the Indies. How could you take anything too seriously with a friend such as him? The ease in Brandon’s manner could have only come from Sir John.

“Now now” hushed Sir John. “I see those eyes of yours grow nervous again! Rest easy, your life is about to begin my girl, it is all happiness from here”

-

Naturally, Elinor proceeded into the church first, after Margaret who had been untrusted to scatter rose petals properly.

Sir John led Marianne through doors and for a moment her eyes gazed only at the ground in front of her.

Once she finally had the courage to look up, she met the eyes of Brandon.

She had never seen him look so handsome. She knew of his army past but had no idea that he would have his scarlet regimentals pressed and ready for the wedding. He could have been a general with his appearance, boots gleaming and an exquisite sword tied to his waist.

Brandon was also trying to hide his true feelings. Marianne looked like an angel, her delicate features seemingly complemented by the cream and gold accents in her gown. He was still in unbelief that she would choose him to marry, even more so as with a wink Sir John released her at the altar.

Brandon saw how nervous she looked and brushed his fingers against her own, “Miss Dashwood” he whispered. “I am quite undone”

She looked up at him, her smile taking restraint to hide.

-

Sir John and Mrs Jennings had spent the last fortnight organising the most wonderful wedding celebration.

“I am sure your family from London will have never seen such a display from us country folk” Mrs Jennings took to boasting.

Edward, Elinor, Brandon and Marianne all took their seats around the main table, with the adjoining room already alive with music and dance.

There was not much time for eating, as conversation kept each of the couples busy.

Brandon, of course, took time and great pride in introducing Marianne to those gentlemen whom in kept in close company with, especially those he served with during the war.

“Dearest, this is Henry Keats, we served together for many years"

“It is a pleasure Sir” smiled Marianne, politely receiving a kiss from the gentlemen on her gloved hand.

“Miss Marianne, might I personally offer you my congratulations and my sincere apologies”

“You have not offended me to my knowledge Sir?” replied Marianne, looking to Brandon for insight.

“I did so without your knowledge” confessed Keats. “I know full well I offended Brandon”

“The rumour in town, of which I will bring no detail to on this happy day” he began. “I listened to the report of those I should not have. I have only heard from sources I trust that you are a most remarkable young woman”

“I think anyone who manages to win Brandon’s heart deserves that merit” he added. “For you know he holds only a few people in it”

“Thank you Mr Keats” replied Marianne.

“He is a Colonel my love” pointed Brandon, the amusement on his face as well as Keats.

Seeing the same dress as her husband, each with matching attachments Marianne offered an apology of her own. “Now it is I who have offended you Colonel, shall we call a draw?”

The three of them laughed and Keats gave them his compliments before leaving their side.

The dining room was almost empty, leaving the two of them at their own liberty.

“Well, Mrs Brandon” he smiled. “How do you feel?”

She took up his hand, which now was proudly embellished with a gold band, and kissed it.

The smile on her lips, however, vanished as her eyes darted to the window.

The sudden change in her demeanour did not go unchecked. “Marianne, what is the matter?”

“Nothing” she stammered, her eyes scanning the garden. “It’s nothing”

“Why are you shaking?” demanded Brandon. “What did you see?”

He watched fear creep back into her eyes, “I think-I saw Willoughby”

At this revelation, Brandon spun to look for himself, deeply angered that that wretch would dare show himself.

“My love” cried Marianne, seeing him grow tense. “It may have just been a servant, a guest. Please do not let it ruin this day”

Disguising his true emotions behind a smile he agreed, “Of course. I will ask Spencer and three boys to search the gardens, then we shall have peace”

Marianne would have advised against it, had Elinor not called her from the other room.

“Go on” said Brandon. “I will join you in a moment”

Marianne went to her sister and Brandon, once alone, turned sharply towards the window.

Looking out he spotted a man creep suddenly back behind a gazebo, not fair from the house.

The colour of their hair and build, it could not have been anyone else.

Whilst trying to decide on a course of action, Keats reentered the room and saw his friend stiffen.

“Is everything well Brandon?” he asked.

His friend turned to him, with emotion on his face, unlike anything he had seen since the fighting in the Indies.

“Keats, go and fetch our fellow soldiers. I am coming to fetch Mr Ferrars, the gardens require our immediate attention” said Brandon quietly.

“A problem Christopher?” whispered Keats.

“A John Willoughby sized problem” replied Brandon sharply.

“That scheming wretch” snapped Keats. “I’ll fetch the gentlemen”

“Not a word and no fuss” ordered Brandon. “Marianne saw him already and is startled”

Keats nodded and pair walked back into the celebrations.

-

Marianne was trying her best to stay calm, politely smiling and thanking the well-wishers.

She saw Brandon re-enter with Keats, both exchanging not a word before splitting directions at the doorway.

Much to her ease Brandon came straight to Marianne, waylaid only once by a cheerful guest.

“My dear” he whispered. “I believe it is him”

“Oh God” she breathed, still trying to maintain her emotions. “What are you going to do?”

“Keats, myself and those in my old regiment will seek him out and escort him from the grounds, nothing more. I am avoiding confrontation” he assured, keeping his vow low.

“Christopher, he may be armed” replied Marianne, an alarm in her voice.

“So am I” replied Brandon, nudging his sword.

“No” pleaded Marianne, turning away from peering eyes. “Stay with me, let the servants handle this, please do not go”

“I must Marianne” he replied, pressing a kiss to her head.

“No” cried Marianne, grabbing his arm. “I will not let you”

Eyes and ears were upon them, Brandon planted a firm smile on his face and an ease to his countenance. “I will only be gone a moment dearest,” he said cheerfully.

Marianne had no choice but to release her grasp, she disguised her fear from everyone, apart from Elinor.

“My dear one” she urged, “You have quite lost your colour, whatever is the matter?” she asked gently.

“It is nothing” replied Marianne, rising from her seat. “I just need a moment alone”

Elinor could not force her to stay and was soon interested in her own husband.

“Forgive me dearest” he whispered. “Brandon has need of me, my return shall be imminent”

“Oh yes of course” stammered Elinor, allowing his departure.

Scanning the room she could no longer see Marianne, and her concern soon turned to panic.

-

“Brandon what the devil is going on?” remarked Sir John, who had also been summoned.

“I believe John Willoughby to be hiding on your property John” replied Brandon. “I seek to remove him”

“That rascal?” exclaimed Sir John. “On my land, I shall not hear of it”

“I am afraid so” muttered Brandon, his seeking eyes not stopping for a moment.

Keats arrived with the four other members of his old regiment, all dressed in their scarlet garments.

“Brandon, where did you see him?” he asked.

“By that gazebo” pointed Brandon. “Marianne saw him much closer to the house”

“Spread out” ordered Keats. “This villain cannot get near Miss Marianne”

Marianne watched the search take place from the window, she constantly turned her head, beyond afraid the man would sneak into her presence.

Sudden voices and shouting alerted her and she saw Brandon and others pursue Willoughby across the grounds.

Running from the room she flung open a side door that led directly to the gardens, desperate to stop what she feared most in the world.

-

“Willoughby” shouted Brandon, seeing him disappear into some trees.

Keats tried to stop him and the other men managed to retrieve him.

Willoughby was obviously under some influence, as he laughed as they dragged him towards Sir John and Brandon.

A hard punch from Brandon wiped the smile clean off his face.

His hand unused to such action ached with the force, “That is for the report you made of Marianne”

Willoughby moaned, spat out blood onto the grass. “It was to my advantage”

“What advantage boy?” barked Sir John. “You are trespassing, you could hang!”

“Hang me?” proclaimed Willoughby, his voice haggard. “That would do me a great service”

“What was the purpose of your visit?” demanded Brandon.

“I think you know the answer to that” smirked Willoughby. “To pull Marianne from under your nose and marry her myself”

“She is a married woman now” cried, Sir John. “You cannot get close to her”

“I got as far as the window, you should have seen the look she gave me” mocked Willoughby.

“That is as close to my wife as you will ever reach in this lifetime” threatened Brandon. “If I see you near her, I warn you I will show no restraint”

“Come along old man” replied Willoughby. “You may have married her, but I got the first taste, sweet as it was”

Brandon’s hand wrapped around the hilt of his sword.

“Of course she would deny it” he added. “A woman of her class would never admit to it, not even to you. For if she cannot secure the love of an old Colonel, who can she seduce?”

“Hold your tongue boy” ordered Sir John. “How dare you speak of Miss Marianne in such vulgar fashion!”

Willoughby laughed, “Look, Colonel”

He then stuck two of his fingers together in an unsightly intimate gesture.“I have had her up to here!”

Brandon reached for his sword, in one swift motion he pressed the blade against the apple of his rival’s throat.

“Brandon” cried Keats, moving towards his friend. “Not here”

Willoughby smiled, “I’d listen to him”

In a low but threatening voice, Brandon hissed, “You have one final warning Willoughby. If you dare to venture near Marianne or even speak her name in company, I will not hesitate as I do today. This sword is as old as I am, and I will take much pleasure in ridding the world of you with it”

With skilled efficiency, Brandon reunited his sword to his belt. “Keats, remove him from my sight”

Willoughby resisted, “I demand to see Marianne!”

“To what end?” remarked Brandon. “Her love for you is gone”

“Never” cried Willoughby, trying to punch the men restraining him.

Close to losing his composure again, Brandon took a handful of Willoughby’s hair, pulling him back with roughness, forcing him to face him.

“Every word you ever told her was a lie. She knows your affections to be false and your heart a selfish one. Her love is lost to you forever, she is further from your corruption now than she ever was”

Throwing back his rivals head, he turned away.

“This is not over Brandon” spat Willoughby.

He was not granted a response.

-

Marianne flew out onto the patio, seeing the confrontation on the lawn just metres away.

Before she could act, Edward Ferrars caught her.

“No Edward” she cried. “I must reach Christopher!”

“He has asked me to keep you away” pleaded Edward.

“I cannot let him come to harm” begged Marianne. “Please release me”

“A vow was made Marianne,” said Edward, “I am your brother now, I cannot let you”

Seeing that he was not going to let her past, Marianne saw the men break away. Three men dragging a furious Willoughby towards the gates.

“Christopher!” she shouted.

“Marianne” hushed Edward, “Please it is not safe!”

She realised her error in moments.

Willoughby, charged with a new strength upon seeing and hearing her, broke away from his captors, breaking into a charge towards Marianne and Edward.

He looked like a madman and Edward backed them both against the wall, standing protectively in front of her.

The men who had recovered from Willoughby’s attack were already on his tail, Brandon and Sir John running to Marianne’s aid.

Breathless Willoughby climbed onto the patio and gave a smile.

“My sweetheart” he cried. “Come here to me!”

“I would advise you to step away from us Sir” ordered Edward.

“You advise do you?” mocked Willoughby. “What consequence shall I receive if I come closer?”

“A regiment of the Kings Army is hell-bent on catching you” replied Edward. “Is that not enough?”

Willoughby gave a laugh, “A band of old soldiers? Hardly the King’s Men?”

“Why did you come?” cried Marianne. “You hate me?”

“No no” replied Willoughby desperately. “How can I hate the woman my heart cries out for?”

“If you loved me, you would not spread that rumour” snapped Marianne. “You do not love me”

“I showed you how much I loved you that afternoon at my home didn’t I?” replied Willoughby. “Or has it been so long you need reminding”

Marianne recoiled at the sound of his voice, darkness coated his words in a way that made her shiver.

Edward could not hold back his anger. “How dare you!”

“How dare I?” questioned Willoughby.

“You still have not told them my angel?” he added with a tut. “Your bedroom tonight will hold some interesting secrets”

He saw the men, now climbing onto the patio themselves, Brandon and Sir John were charging up the steps, so Willoughby made his final desperate attempt to reach her.

Marianne made a run for the door as Edward faced Willoughby.

With an animalistic desire, Willoughby grabbed Marianne’s wrist.

She screamed at the force of his grasp, crying out as she watched Edward hit the ground with one good hit.

Righting himself Edward rubbed his hand along his jaw, before throwing himself at Willoughby.

With some force he broke Marianne away from him, sending Willoughby reeling with a punch to his chest then his face.

Edward shook his hand and Marianne clung to his coat. “You will not come near her”

“I hate you” cried Marianne, tears in her eyes as she spat “I will hate you till I die!”

These words had more effect on Willoughby than she thought possible.

He made no further movements towards her or resisted when he was finally captured.

His dark eyes had grown hazy as if she had snuffed out their light.

Keats and the other men each took hold of him, dragging him away from the house.

Brandon flew to her, eagerly taking her frame into his arms.

“I told you to stay inside,” he said breathless from the excursion.

“How could I do that?” she replied, “Knowing who you sought out”

Her tender wrist was brought to his lips, willing the mark of that man to disappear.

Marianne was soothed by his presence, not allowing tears to escape her eyes on such a fine day.

Edward rubbed his fingers and winced, which alerted Brandon.

“You came to my wife’s aid, tell me you have not injured yourself in that duty?”

“No no” urged Edward. “I have not hit another person in my life, my hand is unused to it”

“Rest the hand as much as possible” nodded Brandon. “I hope you will never have to do my bidding again”

-

The rest of the celebration moved with a steady pace, all of the guests even Mrs Dashwood had no idea of the violence that took place on the lawn. Sir John, even at the consistent prodding from Mrs Jennings would give nothing away.

Elinor, meeting Marianne’s eyes knew something must have occurred, and once confirmed by Edward who showed off his bruising fingers, she could hardly hold her composure.

“Tell me he is removed?” she whispered to Edward.

“Quite so” he assured. “He shall not be disturbing us again”

Somewhat eased, Elinor allowed herself to enjoy what little afternoon was left, always keeping a watchful eye on Marianne.

Brandon stayed close to Marianne for the rest of the celebration, socialising and the occasional dance kept the two in steady proximity.

As the afternoon peaked, they were due to take their leave.

Brandon had a wish to spend his first night of marriage in his own home at Delaford, Marianne was also delighted by the idea.

Moreso after the events of the day, he wanted them to reach his home in the daylight and good weather.

The pair climbed into the carriage, Marianne blowing kisses to her mother and sisters.

It pulled onto the lane with gently jolt, fixing Brandon to his seat.

They had, of course, shared a carriage ride before, but never once could either of them relax. The fear of an overlapping garment or fingers and hands misplacing their balance kept a modest distance between them.

Now, that had all changed, Marianne had no shame or restraint. Her body shuffled to be closer to him, her head resting delicately on his firm shoulder.

Seeing her so eager, Brandon wrapped his arm around her, placing a kiss on her hair.

“You are well my darling?” he asked softly. “I hate to think of that man ruining our day”

“Be assured” she replied. “He ruined nothing, it served only as a reminder”

“Of what may I ask?”

Marianne raised her head to meet his eyes. “That I made the right choice of husband”

Love swelled from his eyes and the pair met with a kiss.

“As I was so rudely interrupted earlier” he whispered with a smile. “How do you feel Mrs Brandon?”

Marianne gave a sigh, “Happy, quite beyond reason”

Chapter Text

Delaford looked more glorious that afternoon than it had ever looked before.

The sun was just beginning to creep behind the hills, sending golden light across each window and surface.

Marianne would never admit it to him, but it was obvious that some extra care had been taken due to her arrival.

Two rows of uniform servants stood outside waiting for them, each bowing politely as Marianne and Brandon left the carriage.

“Heavens” she whispered. “Even at Norland we only had ten servants”

“But this estate is slightly larger” reminded Brandon. “You’ll notice the garden staff are here also, that is what has raised the numbers”

“Oh” agreed Marianne, “it shall take me a day or two to place the right name with the right face”

“They are eager to know you as you are to know them my dear” he urged, walking them forward to meet the head butler.

Marianne rather wished he had not, but the older gentleman was most sincere.

“Marianne, this is our butler Laine, he has known myself since I was a child, he served my father for many years,” said Brandon.

“What a pleasure it is may I say, Sir, to finally greet a Mrs Brandon” the butler smiled.

“You will now have a mistress to answer to” remarked Brandon. “How will that fair I wonder?”

“Most pleasing Sir” replied Laine.

“It is a pleasure to meet you Mr Laine” smiled Marianne, she gently reached out and touched his hand. “You must thank your staff for their hard work, I have never seen the house look so fine”

Laine looked rather overcome with such tenderness, “You are most kind Madam”

“Miss Marianne” she urged, “Please”

After several more introductions, Marianne’s head was getting full. Names and faces would undoubtedly become mismatched.

When it was finally time to enter the house, Brandon quite in-line with tradition, though coming as a surprise to her, lifted her into his arms and carried her over the threshold.

He nuzzled a kiss onto her neck and whispered, “Welcome home”

With a tease, she remarked, “Home? I do not know the location of anything, apart from the library”

“It will become easier to find your way around, I promise,” he replied. “Besides I have a room to show you”

Marianne led by his hand travelled towards the staircase. She always felt that the upper level of someone’s home was very intimate. Visitors did not normally gain access unless it was required. Being led to this area by her husband felt strange yet inviting. The start of a long list of intimacies they were yet to share.

He stood by a closed door, obviously preparing a speech.

“I was not sure where you would like to sleep and rest,” he said. “I had this room prepared, as I believe some women prefer to sleep away from their husband's if...well acts of marriage are not taking place”

“You can, of course, share a room with myself, I would enjoy that very much,” he added quickly.

Marianne smiled. “Christopher, I wish to spend as much time with you as possible, even in rest”

“Then you please me” he replied. “This room can be to whatever purpose you wish”

He opened the door and allowed her inside.

It was as fine as her home at Norland, coloured paper and panelling on the walls, light-coloured furnishings and a large fireplace.

“The windows face full west,” he said. “The evening sun casts a fine light into here, or so I'm told”

Marianne admired each and every item, she could not find a way to express her gratitude. “My dear this is too good for me”

“Nonsense” he replied. “Only the best”

The large bed in the room did look inviting, Marianne brushed her hand over the bedclothes, sighing at how soft they felt.

“Where are we to sleep?” she asked, her cheeks warming. “I do not wish to seem ungrateful”

“You possess many virtues Marianne” urged Brandon. “Ungratefulness is not one of them”

With a smile, she took his hand and the pair entered a second room.

A little larger than the first, but no less fine, if lacking perhaps a feminine touch. As the bedchambers of men unattached tend to be.

She was almost surprised to see a little clutter and dare she say, un-organisation amongst his belongings.

He seemed slightly embarrassed by this. “Old habits die hard I am afraid. My letters never end up where they should”

“Oh do not worry” she replied. “I am glad I am not the only one who can never find a place for them”

Conversation dwindled for a moment until both tried to speak, only to speak over one another.

After insistence bounced back and forth for a time, Marianne was prevailed to say her piece. “I just wish to ask, with whom and where do I undress?”

Brandon replied, “There is a maid who I can summon and you can do so in the room of your own or even in here, should we spend the night together”

His eagerness startled her somewhat, a look of nervousness crept over her.

He observed this and quickly retracted, “That is if you feel well enough and wish to come to me tonight”

Marianne nodded resolutely. “Oh yes, but-”

“But?”

“Perhaps some refreshments?” she said with a small grin. “I confess I ate very little of the food earlier”

He smiled and summoned the housekeeper. Shall I set the table Sir?” she asked.

“I do not think so” replied Brandon. “A small set in the library will suffice”

-

Marianne adored the library at Delaford.

The wooden panelling and hideaway corners reminded her of her childhood home. Of course, Brandon had a much larger collection than her own father, but she delighted in the idea of all the books being at her disposal.

As the pair sat and waited for the food and tea, Brandon became aware of her discomfort.

Though she was trying her best to hide it, the decision the pin her veil into her hair was perhaps not a wise one. Her head was becoming very hot and itchy, which made her continuous scratching rather unsightly.

She did not know which servant to summon and that left her frustrated, choosing to suffer in silence than admit her situation. Even when Brandon asked her what the matter was she denied there being anything wrong.

“My love” he observed. “That veil is not sitting well is it? We are not at the ceremony any longer, you can have leave to remove it”

Marianne finally gave in, “I cannot get it off”

Brandon looked quizzical, “Surely it is a case of lifting it…”

“No” cried Marianne. “Its pinned and I can’t find them all”

“Then let me assist you,” he said, rising from his chair.

“Oh,” she urged. “A maid could do it surely!”

“There are some tasks I will not be able to help with” he reminded her. “But locating pins I am sure is within my capabilities”

“I never meant that you were not able” cried Marianne, afraid she had insulted him.

He pressed a kiss on her forehead. “I am can tie a ladies shoe, tie a ribbon to stockings and even on occasion help with a hat, pins are my new task”

Relaxing, she smiled. “There should be quite a few, I won’t squirm I promise”

“And I shall endeavour to not prick you” he replied, looking at the elaborate structure of the headpiece.

Once the first pin lay on the table, Brandon grew confident.

Marianne felt the veil loosen with every moment, her head finally able to breathe.

Lifting the piece off her head, she gave a sudden yelp, “Ouch!”

Brandon moved no further, “Forgive me, I must have missed one”

The wayward pin was quickly discovered and laid with all the rest, at last, the heavy piece was removed.

“Thank you” she sighed, finally able to reach an itchy spot. “I confess I shall stick to bonnets, no headpieces for me!”

Brandon gave a small chuckle. He found the spot where the pin had grazed her scalp and pressed a kiss against her hair.

Perhaps she would have returned the gesture, but the arrival of the maid brought any such activities to an end.

Marianne since leaving Norland had been growing used to small, simple meals. Seeing the maid bring in more food than the two of them could possibly eat did not sit well with her.

Brandon saw the look on her face, “is it not to your taste?”

“Oh it looks lovely” she replied quickly. “There is just so much of it. I shall never finish it all”

Brandon laughed. “Nor would I expect you too”

“But is it not a waste?” She questioned.

“Once the plate leaves the table I have given leave to the servants to consume what they wish. The cook replates much of it for them” he replied.

“Oh,” said Marianne. “I see”

“So please,” urged Brandon. “Eat”

At first, she was ladylike and restrained with just how ravenous she was, gently placing bread and pieces of meat on her plate.

But as she saw Brandon having no intention of standing on ceremony, with some inelegance tossing a piece for fruit into his mouth, she smiled.

“A childish habit” he confessed. “We used to terrorise the matrons at boarding school, throwing food to each other”

“Mama would never let us” replied Marianne. “I very nearly choked on a cherry once, then she forbade it”

“Then I shall not give you cause to worry,” he added, putting a stop to the practice at once.

-

No sooner had the day started, had it come to an end.

Brandon gave Marianne some time alone before they were to rest, eager to not stifle her.

Marianne’s nerves however in her solitude had only grown. And with no Elinor to repress them she was certain that she would never regain any manner of calm.

She waited in her own room, a maid had come and assisted in the removal of her gown. She was glad for this, as nervous fingers have been known to dislodge buttons and tear holes.

Now all that covered her modesty was her nightgown and a softcover, tied at her waist.

She waited for some time, but no knock came. Deciding that no harm could come of admitting how tired she was to her husband. That if the said activity was going to occur it would have to take place within an hour or so, otherwise her anticipation would surely lose the battle against fatigue.

Opening her door, she jumped. Brandon stood on the other side, moments away from knocking.

“Oh,” she cried, quite startled. “I was hoping you would come”

Brandon smiled, “I got quite lost in my reading, forgive me, this hour is far later than I would have liked”

She watched his eyes lower, he had never seen her in so little. Noticing his gaze had wandered he pulled himself together, “Would you join me?”

Marianne took his hand and followed him to their room.

Despite the vicious rumours, she had little to no idea as to what to expect of this first night of matrimony. Her mother had only made mention that the activity brought on children and she would need to initiate it around her monthly bleed. Nothing of the physicality was spoken of.

Even the organs involved are not to be openly discussed.

Marianne knew where a man must go, but knew not what he possessed to complete the act.

Her Christopher could be hiding anything under his layers of linen.

Brandon seemed to sense this in her. Unphased by the foul remarks made by Willoughby he knew Marianne was a woman of honour and dignity, her raising in life would have kept her shielded from any such talk.

Despite the desire, he felt he wanted to ensure Marianne was well enough. She deserved the respect that just hours ago he had promised.

Her weary eyes were not easily ignored.

“You look tired my dearest” he observed. “You wish to rest?”

Marianne could not disguise how pleasant the idea sounded. “I do not want to disappoint you”

“How so?” he smiled.

“Christopher,” she remarked, stating the obvious. “Men want things on their wedding night”

“Well,” he replied, brushing a stray lock of her hair from her face. “This man is quite patient”

“To a fault” she cried. “I can will myself to stay awake”

“My dear come” he urged. “Rest”

She gripped his hand. “You are sure?”

Kissing her cheek he playfully shoved her towards the bed. “Go on” he teased. “Before I change my mind”

She gasped at his impertinence but took no offence.

As he approached the door she called. “Am I to sleep alone!”

“No” he replied. “I shall return in a moment”

Relaxing under the covers, Marianne wrapped her body in the soft linen. She sheets had obviously been changed but the lingering scent of Brandon had remained.

Determined to at least stay awake till he returned she kept rubbing her eyes with vigilance.

-

Gone for all of five minutes Brandon chuckled to himself, returning to find Marianne sound asleep.

As no martial activity had taken place, he had a sudden embarrassment at removing his clothing.

He went about as quietly as he could manage, first shedding his jacket.

Marianne was not quite as asleep as he thought. The opening of the door had roused her and she cracked open her eyes to see him expose his bare back.

Such a display of masculinity caused heat to rise to her cheeks.

Even though they were husband and wife, Marianne felt deceitful watching him in this manner.

When she saw his breeches beginning to fall, she shut her eyes tight and kept them that way until she felt the bed shift as he climbed in beside her.

He made no move towards her, simply extinguishing the remaining candle sending the room into darkness.

Wanting to at least share an embrace she pretended to rouse properly. “Christopher?” she whispered.

“Darling” he replied, “did I wake you?”

Marianne shook her head, “No, and I am glad but I cannot send you to bed without this”

“Without wh-

Pressing her lips against his own, she held the gesture for a moment.

Bradon sighed contently as they parted, taking the initiative he gently snaked his arm to her back. Urging her frame to rest on his own.

Marianne almost resisted his touch as it felt so strange. His hand felt warm on her back, the thin fabric concealing little.

Her head came to rest on his shoulder, his thumb softly smoothing the small of her back.

Feeling such a sense of safety and comfort, it did not take long for her to slip into a restful sleep.

-

Chapter Text

The gentle light of the morning awoke Marianne, she was confused for a moment at the silence. For as long as she could recall in these last few months of living in Devon, she had often been roused from her sleep by the sound of seagulls overhead.

With a yawn, she stretched out, finding Brandon already awake.

“Good morning” she smiled.

“Good morning” he replied, kissing her head softly. “I trust you slept well?”

Sitting up she gave a nod, before noticing her nightgown was slipping off her shoulder.

Before she could right it herself, Brandon caught the material, allowing her modesty to stay intact.

His diligence and attentiveness to her made her heart swell.

Perhaps other men would have let it fall, catching sight of what he had been denied last night.

He made no mention of it, simply asking, “Shall we rise my dearest?”

“What time is it?” she asked.

“Almost nine” he replied, glancing at the clock beside them.

Marianne felt guilty, Brandon was not a man to waste the day. “You should have woken me, Mama ensures we rise at seven”

“Wake you?” he mused. “When you looked so peaceful?”

Repressing a pitiful laugh, she urged, “Do we have anything to do today?”

“I thought perhaps a walk of the grounds, and of course, should you wish to venture into town, I-I would not be against it”

Marianne shook her head, “Not today”

“The talk has stopped” he assured, “Keats has seen to that”

“Oh let them talk” she proclaimed. “You and I know the truth of the matter,”

Brandon chuckled. “Nevertheless, I will not tolerate the mistreatment of the Lady of Delaford.”

“Heavens” teased Marianne. “Am I a Lady?”

“In these four walls, you can be anything you wish,” he replied.

She shuffled forward, so the pair were close, “I think being your wife is my favourite”

Brandon pressed a kiss to her hand, “Very well then, Mrs Brandon”

-

Elinor and Edward made a surprise visit that afternoon.

Edward had plans to discuss with Brandon, so it left the sisters to converse.

Marianne took Elinor to the impressive library. “Look at this!”

“Heavens Marianne, you shall read for a lifetime with this many titles” gasped Elinor.

“Christopher is so agreeable” replied Marianne, “I have complete free range in here”

“You are very fortunate” smiled her sister. “He makes a good husband?”

“He is the very best of men, that I am sure” proclaimed Marianne. “We have not been married a day and it is as if I’ve always known him”

“I trust that your night together was as agreeable as mine” whispered Elinor.

Marianne gave a gasp. “You are very forward Mrs Ferras!”

“Married women can be can they not” replied Elinor. “I confess I am quite content”

“Edward was…?” Marianne couldn’t find the words. “All was well?”

“Quite so” replied Elinor. “Mama told me nothing of what to expect, but Edward was patient, gentle and quite eager to please”

Colour shot to Marianne’s cheeks, “Elinor!”

“He wants me to be open about such matters” chuckled Elinor. “And we are both married women, if I cannot be open with you, who can I be with?”

“Well, that’s just it” replied Marianne, “Christopher and I did not do anything last night”

Elinor suddenly looked embarrassed, “Oh Marianne, I should not have been so coarse, forgive me. Is everything well? Lowering her voice, she asked, “Did your bleed come early?”

“No no,” said Marianne. “Nothing of the sort. I was very tired last night and Christopher...well he wants me to be in a fit state to partake in the union”

“Did you sleep apart?” asked Elinor.

“No, I slept in his bed, but nothing occurred” replied Marianne. “He even caught my nightdress this morning as it has slipped in my sleep, wanting to preserve my dignity even though I am his”

“And do you plan to consummate the marriage?” whispered Elinor. “Properly?”

“Oh of course” hushed Marianne. “But I suppose now I - I have you to ask for guidance”

She paused before suddenly blurting, “What does a man look like?”

Elinor paused, “I cannot go into inmate detail about my husband with you Marianne, it is not proper”

“No I know” nodded Marianne, “Nor would I want to hear it, but I do not know what a man’s true physique looks like? What my husband will look like?”

“Surely you must not think that I have thought about the body of Colonel Brandon?”

“I’d hope not!” cried Marianne. “But please, tell me something!”

Elinor took a sharp breath, looking over her shoulder at the closed door. “I am sure you know that men have different organs than women, and how they can be used differently”

Marianne nodded eagerly. “Go on”

“So...in this particular situation a man’s...organ, is designed to fit with that of a woman. This sensation can feel a little uncomfortable at first, but your body quickly grows used to the feeling” said Elinor, colour firmly sitting on her cheeks.

“It is not such a chore as women have made it out to be” assured her sister. “It must be their husbands, not the act itself which is such a task”

“I hope all will be well” confessed Marianne. “Christopher has not mentioned children, but this beautiful home must be inherited by someone”

“Quite right” replied Elinor. “But no women in our family have ever disappointed in that respect”

Marianne smiled. “I should like to be a Mother”

“I know you shall be a fine one,” said Elinor.

-

With Elinor’s assurance, Marianne felt she had some knowledge of what was yet to come.

And as night fell that evening she was determined to become his wife, properly.

This time she had dismissed the maid, something about Brandon undressing her seemed exciting.

As they finished dinner, both seemed to read each other well.

Brandon rose and Marianne joined him, neither of them speaking until they reached the door of the bedroom.

“Will you do me the honour of sleeping beside me again?” he asked.

“Christopher” she urged. “I wish to do more than just sleep”

He gave a breathy laugh, “You feel well?”

“Never better” she replied.

Without wanting to admit it, Brandon was delighted she was so eager. His own desire was going mad, any longer and it would have been insufferable.

In a preemptive act, he had ordered the candles to be lit early, so the room was coated in a soft glow as they entered.

Marianne wandered further into the room, initially seating herself on the closest chair, beginning to untie her soft leather shoes.

Brandon closed the door behind them, turning back to see her stockings exposed as the shoes slipped off.

Just a taste of her sent a surge long since forgotten through his body.

As her eyes met his, she watched him colour and his own gaze snap away.

“Why do you act as if you have no right to look?”

Brandon’s throat tightened.

“I am your wife, if anything, you are the only man allowed to look” she smiled.

“My-my advances in such an instance could frighten you” he confessed. “I would not wish that”

“If your advances are done in love, why should they frighten me?” asked Marianne. “I want to be loved, not feared”

Wondering if he had somehow insulted her, he quickly replied. “I do love you, Marianne, deeply and wholly. I can only wait to show you how much”

“Come” she cried. “This sounds like the talk of a yet to be engaged couple! We are far past that now”

Brandon found the humour in her speech. “May I show you then?”

Marianne got up. “I would like that very much”

He began with a gentle kiss on her hand before she caught his lips with her own.

Brandon trailed her neck and collarbone, placing gentle pecks as he went.

His frame travelled behind her, his lips still pressed to her skin as he went about removing her dress.

Marianne leant back into him, an involuntary shiver leaving her body as her dress slipped off her shoulders.

Brandon helped her out of the hoop of material at her ankles, his hands wavering for a moment as they tried to undo the ribbons of her stays.

The garment was quickly removed and for a moment she felt exposed a little beyond her comfort.

“Come” he whispered.

Marianne sat on the edge of the bed, joined by Brandon who wrapped his hand around her face, his thumb brushing her cheek.

She was overcome with the urge to kiss him, for the first time placing her hands on his chest and shoulder she joined them together.

His own hands wandered a strong hand on her back, tentatively cupping her newly exposed breasts.

As his hand brushed her nipple she gave a little moan, blushing instantly at the unladylike sound of it.

This small sound however sent waves through Brandon, opening his eyes just to be sure she was not displeased.

Her ample bosom and figure pleased the more animalistic trait within all men, but in truth he wanted her to feel the same about his physique.

Years in the army and the discipline that came after had left him in good shape, compared to his peers, he had stayed quite slender whilst others had rounded out. However, his time in the Indies had not left him unscathed. He had received a large scar across his left chest, only surviving the attack because of Sir John. Though it had faded in the twenty years since, he was still acutely aware of it and unsure as to how Marianne would react.

It was this sudden tension that Marianne observed. Whilst feeling the need to see his own body, she fumbled with his cravat, until he stopped her.

Her eyes met his, “I’m sorry” she said. “Have I done something wrong?”

Seeing her look so concerned, Brandon cursed himself. “No my dear. Nothing at all”

“Do you not desire for me to touch your skin?” she asked quietly. “I do not know about these things you see. I shan’t if you do not wish it”

“I would wish it very much. I cannot think of a better pleasure, but I have a scar-an old scar that-that the appearance-may repulse you” he replied, stumbling over his words.

“From the Indies?” she said, understanding him as he nodded.

“Christopher, nothing you have done or anything you have, will ever repulse me”

“Marianne-”

She brought two fingers to his lips, silencing his speech.

With her other hand, she tugged at the strings that held up her chemise, before letting the garment fall she whispered. “I will show you all of me if you will do the same”

He nodded, admitting that the sight of her would far outweigh any issues he bore with himself.

Marianne watched him seemingly wait for the material to fall, but she teased him, “I am not going first you know!”

His eyebrows shot up, her bold nature seemed to know no bounds. “Is that so?”

Brandon threw off the tiresome cravat, taking a breath before pulling his shirt over his head.

Marianne guarded her expression fiercely, knowing that a simple widening of the eyes could end all such loveliness she wanted to happen.

The scar was present and faded, but she felt it simply added to his physique rather than took from it.

Moving with gentleness, her fingers brushed his chest, enjoying the sculpt of muscle that he had, accompanied by the masculine trope of hair.

Brandon had not known how this would feel, he had not been with a woman since the injury, Marianne was the first in more than twenty years.

Marianne then pressed her lips to the scar, before she began to plant a series of tiny kisses across the whole expanse of him.

Brandon could barely take in air, the sensation of her lips against his skin was enough to send him mad.

What sent him over the edge was Marianne finally sitting up, at last, letting the fabric of her chemise fall to her waist.

Her eyes and body welcomed his caress, her skin prickled as his fingers explored her exposed skin.

Once his hands had wandered, his lips and tongue joined the dance, Marianne gasped at the newfound feeling of his mouth on her body.

His tongue circled her nipples, which hardened at his touch, hearing a moan of pleasure as he gently bit down.

Marianne was trying to sound innocent, whatever that meant. These seeming moans of pleasure had her worried that Brandon would think that she knew how to respond as if this had indeed happened before.

Her reactions, however, proved to Brandon that his actions were pleasing, rather than a copy of a previous engagement.

Laying her down on the bed, he moved to her legs.

Marianne watched with eagerness as his hands travelled up her lower leg, stopping to release the ribbons that held up her stockings.

He rolled the garments down, his fingertips brushing her soft skin.

Once both stockings lay discarded, his hand moved steadily up her legs.

Marianne had never felt a touch like it, something inside willing him to go higher, go further.

Avoiding her most intimate area for a moment, Brandon’s hands moved to her rear and up to her back, before finding her lips again.

Growing tired of all her coverings, she started to shove the chemise over her hips, wanting Brandon to see all of her.

At first, he thought she was pushing him away, breaking from their kiss as the chemise finally revealed her complete frame which had always been hidden from him

His mouth lost its moisture and his breathing almost ceased. She was easily the finest woman he had ever laid eyes on. It would be a crime every hour she wore clothing in front of him, to keep this sight from him now would be unthinkable.

Marianne watched him with a nervous curiosity, for a time he just stared, moving from place to place.

As no words left his lips she worried that perhaps this ceasing in activities was because something was wrong with her. Did everything look as it should?

He was silent for so long that she sat up abruptly, and reached for her chemise, wanting it back on her body.

He caught her hand, “I have no words because I cannot find them. You are truly a perfect and exquisite creature”

A small laugh and coloured cheeks were her replies.

Not wanting to delay a moment more, he laid her back down, this time vowing to explore her completely.

Marianne received his kisses as she felt his hand travel down her frame, tensing as his hand reached her womanhood.

His hand stopped as he felt her freeze, of course, she had every right to be cautious. From birth she had been taught to protect her honour, handing it over was never going to be easy.

His dark eyes met her hazel orbs, “May I?”

Hearing Elinor’s words of an unspoken pleasure she replied, “Yes”

Brandon parted the coarse hair that marked her womanhood and pushed his fingers against her bud.

The noise that emanated from her mouth as he did so almost disgusted her, it seemed so wrong to sound as she did.

With each little caress, she likened to clay in his hands, submitting completely to his touch as telltale signs of her arousal began to grow.

His fingers danced at her entrance, glad to find it warm and slick, the fluid covering his fingertips.

Had he not looked so pleased, Marianne was sure she would die, her body’s reaction was unknown and mortifying.

Brandon seemed to sense this as she squirmed with unpleasantness.

“Your body is doing all that it should my love. If this was not occurring I would begin to fear that you were having no enjoyment”

Slightly relieved she began to enjoy the feeling, there was a forbidden taste to it that was heightened with every caress.

Seeing that his lovely bride was as ready as he could make her, his breeches were next to be lost.

His desire needed no stimulation, his member was fit for the task ahead.

Catching sight of the masculine frame in arousal was very agreeable to her, she only hoped that what he possessed would match with what she owned. She would hope to never have a comparison, for Brandon seemed the most handsome man in the world.

He held his weight above her, positioning himself at her entrance before he saw a flash of fear on her face.

“It-it won’t hurt will it?” she whispered.

“If only for a moment” he vowed, “no more than that”

Surely a moment could be borne for what promise lay after.

Brandon moved with gentleness, easing his manhood inside her.

Despite his efforts, Marianne did not like the sensation it made, unable to disguise a grunt of discomfort.

Reading her eyes and ignoring his own desire, his movements were slow, only the tip of his member inside her.

Feeling her body relax he dared to venture further, his actions this time were met with a slight sharp intake of air nothing more.

The whole affair felt strange, yet somehow right. Instead of pain, she felt a pressure, which the less she tensed her body, the weaker it became.

With a final thrust, Brandon let his full length inside her, groaning as her velvet walls accommodated his girth.

Marianne soon grew used to that feeling and the burning she felt dwindled.

“Pain?” he whispered, seeing her face still unsure.

Marianne shook her head, “No”

With measured determination, he began to do his duty. Perhaps unlike other men of his standing the pleasure of his wife was something he felt a need to provide, as much as a home or stability. Knowing that he had undoubtedly caused her discomfort, dare he even think any pain; kept his own desire away from the cliff edge. He would be in no danger of leaving her wanting, he’d never forgive himself.

He took steady pauses, allowing her body’s fluid to replenish and ease the process, paying attention to every inch of her. He knew in time he would not have to take things so slowly, Marianne would grow used to him and perhaps even request the act.

With every few pumps from her husband, Marianne felt more excited, beginning to feel something build inside her.

As she saw him fit to pause again she pulled him closer, “Christopher, please don’t stop”

The worry in his eyes dispersed, his desire fueled that his efforts were pleasing to her.

Their lips collided and with each moment Marianne could no longer hide how utterly wonderful it felt to have Brandon within her, Elinor had been right.

Now in a state of bliss, her hands which had stayed close to her body began to wander, mapping a path over her his chest, finding a home grasping the bands on muscle on his upper back.

Her hips rocked with this new sensation, arching her back to be closer to him.

Marianne felt she was on the edge of something, a warmth, a need was surging to her lower belly, and each glance at Brandon, the thought of him and the feeling of him made it even stronger.

Her moaning became more frantic and then all at once she felt as if she was amongst the clouds.

His name left her lips with such passion, each thrust carrying her further to the heavens.

Brandon delighted in each moan and delighted whimper, the very feeling of her climax against his member was just enough.

His release came swiftly, a satisfied groan parting his lips.

After several deep breaths following such exertion on his part, Brandon separated their union, falling on the sheets beside her.

Marianne felt like she was under some spell. As if she had just run from the cottage to Delaford with one breath.

“Christopher” she panted, “Did-did you feel that?”

He gently laughed at her sweet innocence, “Yes my love, I felt it all”

“When can we do it again?” she asked eagerly.

Brandon ran his thumb over her lips. “Madam, I am at your service, you name the date”

Marianne wrapped herself next to his frame, “I should like to partake as much as possible, it was divine”

Brandon felt a boyish pride hearing her compliment his actions, pressing a kiss to the crown of her head.

“Was I pleasing to you?” she asked.

He almost laughed at her boldness. “Dearest, need you even ask?”

-

Chapter Text

Married life treated them well, most days spent on walks with the occasional afternoons apart, but the evenings concluded with the same routine, dinner, lovemaking, sleep.

Brandon had been concerned that his young wife would grow tired of his attempts to satisfy her, but she assured him, she had never felt better.

Though it had been only a matter of weeks Marianne had begun to understand her husband more by the day, and of course, he was learning more about her.

Every so often his soft expression would crack, especially each time he heard from Beth.

Receiving yet another letter from her he kept the subject far from Marianne. Until his mood had become so reflective she had no choice but to ask.

“Christopher, is Beth well?”

“Yes yes,” he replied. “She is- do not worry about her, my dear”

“But I feel I must” she urged. “I see how she affects you.”

“I worry for her” he replied. “But that does not mean you need to”

“Christopher, how can I be your wife and not share your burdens?” cried Marianne. “Please, these letters come almost daily, what is wrong with Beth?”

“Marianne, she is my ward and my burden alone,” he said, a sharpness to his tone. “Please do not interfere”

“I shall write to her myself if you shall not tell me” she proclaimed. “This secrecy is beneath you, I know the details of her seduction. I know Willoughby’s crimes concerning her!”

“Then why do wish to concern yourself with them?” he asked.

“Because” replied Marianne, moving to stand beside him. “I worry how it all concerns you.”

“I know you have not been sleeping, you go for walks late at night, you even have a drink sometimes” he added. “I wake up countless times to find you gone from me”

Brandon sighed deeply, of course, she knew his secrets.

“Please Christopher, what troubles you?”

Allowing her to perch on his armchair, he began. “A week ago, Beth had her baby. It happened with such speed that I could not be sent for”

“Oh,” she cried. “Are they both well?”

“Yes,” he replied. “There was, of course, an obvious concern for Beth as her body at fifteen is not suited for childbirth, but she and her son are both healthy”

“She had a son” repeated Marianne. “That would change some things I assume”

Brandon grunted, “Ever since she gave birth she writes to me, begging me to contact Willoughby, give him her location so he can come and see his son. Who she, for some unknown God forsaken reason, named the boy after his father”

“And you have not written?” she asked. “About little...John”

“No” replied Brandon. “I told Beth that I will continue to be a father to her and a grandfather to her son. I do seek to find her a match for marriage once she is older, but that will take a substantial dowry to convince any man”

“And Willoughby will never marry her, she does understand this?”

“You know first hand how convincing John Willoughby can be, he promised to return and marry her, she still believes him” pointed Brandon.

“The poor girl” whispered Marianne. “Would it help if she spent some time here with us?”

He cleared his throat, “No, I think it’s for the best she stays where she is”

“But surely you want to see her?” she remarked. “You obviously love her a great deal”

“Yes I do, it is not a question of my seeing her, but more so, her determination to never set her eyes on you”

Marianne was taken aback. “Me?”

“She harbours a hatred unceasing towards yourself, one that I cannot shake from her” he replied.

“Is it of my connection with Willoughby?” she asked nervously.

Brandon nodded, “She is convinced he only abandoned her to go to you, if not for you, she believes in her innocence that he would have married her”

“Beth thinks I stole Willoughby from her!” cried Marianne. “Christopher, forgive but what utter nonsense!”

“I have defended you my love” he urged, “Almost to the point of losing my temper with her, but she is so headstrong and stubborn, she will not be convinced”

“I imagine she disapproves of our marriage?” she guessed.

“Had it not been for her confinement I am sure she would have found another excuse to avoid the ceremony. She says I should have sought affections elsewhere”

Marianne held her tongue. Wanting nothing more than to be rude, she had to remind herself that he cared for Beth a great deal, though the young girl's words filled her with emotion she stayed silent.

Brandon kissed her hand, “You are holding your tongue for which I am grateful. In this matter at least we both must”

“Christopher, are you sure that Willoughby would not see the child?”

He shifted in his chair, “I made the mistake once, not again”

“I do not understand?”

“After Beth was found, and I discovered who the father of her unborn child was I allowed her to contact Willoughby. This was before Lady Allen had thrown him from her house. I dictated much of the letter, demanding that he make amends. His reply was nothing short of despicable, to such a degree that I never allowed her to see it. I made her believe he simply never responded”

“What did he say?” asked Marianne worriedly, “I thought his crimes had been revealed in their entirety?”

He rose and unlocked a wooden box atop his desk, fingering past several letters till he found it.

“Prepare yourself,” he said, handing her the note.

Dear Madam,

I am quite unsure as to your letter and its damning contents as I do not believe I have ever had the pleasure of conversing with you in person. Your opinion of me seems quite decided and I cannot find a reason for it.

If I may defend myself to your bold claim that the child in your belly is mine, that is a frank impossibility as I am sure to my own knowledge that we never shared a bed.

I have spent much of the past year in Devonshire and London, enjoying the delightful company on offer. Your claims that I spent a whole eight months at your side is puzzling as I find no recollection in my memory.

I must conclude that you have me mistaken for another, and I ask that any such communication between us ceases. I am a man of honour who does not take kindly to rumour or the publication of falsehoods.

Your bastard is most certainly not mine.

Signed, J. Willoughby.

Marianne felt sick. “Evil cruel man!” she exploded. “This is contemptible!!”

“You see now why perhaps I kept it from her” replied Brandon, taking the letter back. “I was so much afeared it may send her into early childbirth to read such words”

“And I imagine the 'delightful company' in the letter is me?” she observed.

“Yes,” he replied. “Though she only learnt of your connection to him through myself, for which I now see was wrong of me”

“You could not have known it” she urged. “None of us did. My heart breaks for her, I know what it is to love that man, how wonderful and awful he can choose to make you feel”

“Beth was not the first and I imagine not the last” remarked Brandon.

Marianne agreed, “He told me he spent several years of his youth in the continent, I am sure Beth is at the end of a long list of women and girls he’s used and tossed aside”

“His past has begun to catch up with him, we shall see how long Miss Grey chooses to amuse him,” he added.

“He needs the money,” said Marianne. “I think even now, if he came to me again, weeping and begging I would never accept him. I have been shown his true character”

She saw Brandon’s brow crease slightly, and she was quick to pacify his doubts. “Of course why ever would I accept him when I have such a wonderful husband already”

Chapter Text

Marianne awaited the arrival of everyone with eagerness.

The last time a picnic was hosted at Delaford, Brandon was unable to enjoy the occasion, now with the beautiful Marianne at his side, the day was set to be a grand one.

Mrs Jennings and Sir John had, of course, arrived early, but were happy to sit in the drawing-room and tuck into the food that he had been prepared.

“You look well Brandon” exclaimed Sir John, patting his friend's shoulder.

“I am”

Sir John lowered his voice, “No doubt thanks to that lovely wife of yours, most agreeable I imagine”

Mrs Jennings heard the remark and laughed heartily, Brandon smiling politely.

“This house is a little less dreary now she is here” agreed, Brandon.

Marianne entered the room to the sound of laughter, “Hello Mrs Jennings, Sir John”

“Oh let me see you!” cried Mrs Jennings happily. “Such rosiness in those cheeks!”

Receiving a fierce embrace, Marianne tolerated the eagerness. If only to please Brandon.

“Brandon has been telling us what a delight it is to have you here”

“Has he indeed?” smiled Marianne, throwing him a glance.

“But what I wonder” whispered Mrs Jennings, in a whisper that might as well have been a shout. “When we shall come and hear little feet running around the place?”

Sir John laughed, Brandon looked to the rug and Marianne coloured. “As soon as I know Madame, I can assure you, you shall be the first to hear”

Mrs Jennings clapped her hands, “Nothing will bring me more joy!”

Grateful for the arrival of Edward and Elinor, Marianne excused herself, followed by Brandon.

He caught up with her in the corridor. “You are most forgiving with them, thank you. Not everyone can tolerate their impertinence”

Marianne smiled, “They are family to you, so they must also be family to me. Besides, I know they mean well, even if they do not know how to say it”

He kissed her head and took a pause, “But I will be the first to know surely?”

She laughed heartily as his obvious jealousy at her little remark to Mrs Jennings. “Naturally, we shall make her think she was the first”

-

With the arrival of Mrs Dashwood and Margaret, the party was set to leave.

However as Brandon helped Marianne onto her horse, history seemed to repeat itself.

A man with an express charged up the entranceway, calling loudly, “Colonel Brandon!”

Mrs Jennings cried out, “Now Colonel not again!”

Brandon with some reluctance opened the message, Marianne watched his composure change.

Glancing around he simply folded the letter and placed it into his pocket. “Carry on”

Sir John was not satisfied, “Come to Brandon, what is it?”

“Business, but nothing that needs my immediate attention,” he replied. “Please, all is well”

Marianne was unconvinced, she grasped his hand, “Christopher?”

“Later” he whispered.

Keeping up appearances, he swung onto his horse. “Shall we?”

The party all agreed and they all headed for the coast.

-

The August weather was exceptionally agreeable, and almost no one had ventured towards the sea.

Mrs Dashwood and Mrs Jennings set themselves upon the banks of sand, whilst Sir John and Edward fought to keep Margaret from causing herself damage, continuously swinging a large stick about.

Elinor took to sketching out the delightful scene before her, having always excelled in painting, but never wishing for the compliments she received.

Marianne almost instantly wished to walk and Brandon was happy to accompany her.

The pair wandered down to the water’s edge, a small competition emerging with a game of stones.

To her frustration she was awful and he was quite good at it.

His stones moved fast and far, skimming the water as they went. Her stones flopping into the foam, never surpassing more than a few metres.

“Blame the war” he whispered teasingly. “I’m a good shot”

“I think my true calling is the pianoforte, with that I shall stay” she concluded, throwing the last rock to the sand.

“You excel at many things, my dear” he assured.

“I’m so warm” she complained, all of a sudden. “I think I shall paddle”

“Marianne, you’ve no change, besides you shall get cold” warned Brandon, quite against the idea.

“I can get cold Christopher” she replied. “I am not fit to drop with each and every passing breeze”

“I would rather you did not” he replied. “Come have a drink of something”

“I am not asking for your permission,” she remarked, seating herself to untie her shoes.

“Then I shall fetch your sister, perhaps she would share my wishes,” he said.

“No, don't” cried Marianne, now pulling off her stockings. “Christopher please”

“Yes,” he replied.

“Will you come in with me, then I can’t go far?” she asked, a cheeky smile on her face.

He raised an eyebrow, “Why would I want to do that?”

“You tell me you never desire to walk in the sea?” she mused. “Yes, its cold but how lovely it will feel against your feet. She pointed down at his riding boots. They must be warmer than mine, those boots look unbearably hot!”

Hating to admit it, Brandon was growing rather uncomfortable in the heat.

Amongst friends and genuine company, surely this quite childish practice would not shake their view of him.

With a defeated sigh he began to tug off his boots, whilst Marianne looked on victorious.

As he rolled up his breeches, she ventured into the water, holding her dress high above the waves, but not so high as to appear immodest.

She waded out a little further, before noticing that Brandon had made no move to follow her.

“Come on” she laughed, “It’s quite nice”

“The last time I was in the sea was in the Indies, and it was warm” he called, looking at the water with discontent.

“I imagine if a large wave came and carried me away you’d be here fast enough,” remarked Marianne.

“Naturally” he replied. “But alas there is none in sight”

Wading her way back to the shore, she waited with her arm outstretched, “Come”

Taking a deep breath Brandon stepped forward allowing a wave to rush over his feet.

“Ah yes,” he said through gritted teeth, “as bad as I remember”

Marianne could only laugh as he stepped like the floor was made of glass, edging towards her slowly.

Once she was satisfied with how far he had come, she added, “There, it is not so bad?”

“A little refreshing,” he remarked.

The child her in her spirit could not resist, she reached down and flicked water at him, biting her lip as he jolted.

Brandon tried to look serious, bending over he prepared to throw some water of his own.

“No Christopher!” she squealed, “I did not mean it!”

Despite her pleas, she received a shower of water, and let out a little scream as the cold penetrated her.

With a determined grin, she splashed water at him, not holding back.

Brandon laughed, watching her quickly wade out of the water as he prepared to strike again.

He caught up with her on the sand, pulling her into an embrace, rubbing the goose-pimples that covered her arms.

“Are you quite cool now?” he asked.

“Oh yes” she replied, “Much better”

“Come,” he said, grabbing his boots. “Let’s return to the others”

She nodded, shaking the sand from her stockings.

-

“Margaret” called Mrs Dashwood. “Leave poor Edward alone, he’s done nothing but chase you for the last half hour”

“Yes, Mama” panted Margaret, flopping at her mother’s feet. “But Edward is so good at it”

Edward smiled. “And I will always be at your service”

He collapsed beside Elinor, who was in a fixed state of concentration.

Pressing a kiss to her cheek he praised, “My dear that is quite lovely”

She smiled. “I shall come here more often I think, the view paints with such ease”

“Of course, when such talent is the one doing to painting” he replied.

Marianne gave her sister equal praise as they rejoined the group, “Oh Christopher look! I told you how wonderful she was!”

“You have a good eye” agreed Brandon. “I have a mind to ask you to paint Marianne if you are able to do portraiture?”

“Of course she can!” urged Marianne. “Can’t you Elinor!”

Elinor paused, “I fear landscapes are the height of my talent, though I would be delighted to try”

“I will gladly be the test subject” proclaimed Edward.

“It was a passing thought, dear Elinor, please there is no pressure” urged Brandon.

“Thank you Colonel” she nodded.

-

As evening fell the party returned to Delaford.

A hearty meal followed by good conversation was an added delight to the day.

“I must say” cried, Sir John. “Our picnic last summer does not even rival today, the company is vastly improved”

“Here here” agreed Mrs Jennings. “There is one young man who I certainly do not miss”

“Quite” piped Marianne, “Let us not even give his name our breath”

“But now my dear” urged Sir John. “these old ears have been deprived of your voice for too long, come little songbird, sing for us!”

Brandon was swift, “John, Marianne is quite tired”

“Nonsense” cried Mrs Jennings, “These young people do not feel the night as we do!”

Marianne politely agreed, “One song and that is all”

Opening the pianoforte she did not require the notes before her. This song needed no introduction.

As her fingers glided up the opening scale the room all smiled.

Brandon felt fit to melt, the song when he had first seen Marianne. He sure she never sounded finer than when she sang.

As Marianne brought the piece to an end, the room agreed.

Mrs Jennings And Sir John applauded as loud and as enthusiastically as the first time.

“There Brandon” mused Sir John. “You have a pearl in this wife of yours”

“Believe me” replied Brandon. “I am blissfully aware of it”

Marianne abandoned the instrument happily, Margaret had a mind to show off her scales.

However, upon returning to her seat, she let out a gasp as pain shot through her stomach.

Brandon leapt to his feet and Elinor rose as well as Mrs Dashwood.

Slightly embarrassed as she knew the cause for her reaction, Marianne was eager to dismiss it. “I am well” she urged. “Overtired I imagine”

“Perhaps it is time we departed” suggested Edward.

“I see no reason to,” she remarked. “I am well honestly, do not leave just yet”

Elinor saw behind her pretending. “Marianne you look unwell, please shall we summon the doctor?”

“Bring the poor man out for no good reason!” cried Marianne. “How mortifying, no I beg you”

Mrs Jennings called. “Let us leave you now my dear. If I hear the doctor has not been sent for in the morning I shall send for him myself”

“A little fuss over nothing” urged Marianne. “Please Madam”

“Marianne, your friends have every right to worry” replied Mrs Dashwood. “Perhaps we should send for the Doctor”

“Must I speak in a second language?” cried Marianne. “I am well”

Seeing her growing upset Brandon eased her. “A nights rest shall put it right I’m sure”

“Quite right!” added Sir John. “That’s is what we shall leave you for”

-

Marianne fumbled to get ready for bed.

Brandon waited outside her door, unsure as to why she had not mentioned the cause of the pain to him.

Since her serious bout of illness the autumn past, her monthly bleeds had gradually gotten worse. The doctor had told her that it was an effect on the attack on her body, that would hopefully ease in time. But for some reason tonight felt far worse, the pain was greater than ever before.

Stuffing the designated pieces of cloth into their place, she tried to ignore how awful she felt.

Would Brandon be understanding of this? Surely she could not partake in the nightly activities that had almost been regular since their wedding.

She heard shuffling on the other side of the door, “Christopher?”

“Yes?” he replied.

“You may come in if you wish,” she added.

He tentatively opened the door, “Marianne you look pale, please may I send for the Doctor”

“There is no cause for concern,” she assured, “I have little choice in the matter”

“I’m not sure I understand?” he asked.

“My-“ She almost flushed. How could they live as man and wife and yet somehow she could not bring herself to speak out such a normal topic.

“My bleeding” she replied, unable to look him in the eyes. “Since my illness, they have become more severe, it began suddenly tonight, that is why I reacted the way I did”

Brandon almost laughed at his stupidity. His wife was indeed in her childbearing years, how could he have not pieced this together himself. Forcing her to practically spell out her condition.

“Of course my dear” he replied. “Can the pain be eased?”

“Mama sometimes gave me a hot compress but I did not-“

“I shall have Laine prepare one immediately,” he said.

She smiled gratefully, “Would you wish me to sleep in here tonight? “I’ve heard that men normally like to keep away at this time”

“I believe I would object more to not have you in my bed,” he replied. “Please do not feel the need to move”

“But you understand I cannot lie with you,” she added. “It’s quite impossible”

“Did we not spend our first night in the same way? smiled Brandon. “I dislike the idea of knowing you to be apart from me and in pain”

“The pain is not great” she lied. Then, as if to prove her bluff the twisting in her lower abdomen grew in a wave.

“Come” he urged gently. “Lie down”

-

The hot compress did wonders. Marianne had not felt such relief all evening.

Brandon was very gentle that night, rubbing her back and kissing her head.

She was surprised at how considerate he was. Even Marianne’s own father and half brother would not tolerate the mentioning of it. Far better to keep that sort of talk between women, as most feminine matters must stay.

Brandon, however, saw no reason to stand on such ceremony with his own wife. He had vowed to love her at all times, even when her body did things he could not begin to understand. Some of the young men in his acquaintance almost mocked the time in their wife’s lives, complaining that all such material relations must remain on a schedule rather than at their whim.

He partly wished he could do more. Seeing her in pain, even a pain she was used to was frustrating. “Is there nothing else I can do?”

Marianne smiled, “No I assure you, lying down is a tonic in itself”

“Perhaps a night of quiet and relaxation is overdue?” he replied.

After a pause he noticed that she was trying to hide her tears.

“Marianne!” he asked softly. “Dearest one, what can I do?. Is it the pain?”

“No” she sniffed. “It’s the whole event, what it means”

“It is natural”

“It means I’m not with child” she replied.

Brandon was silent. “Perhaps it is a good thing?”

“Good!” she cried bitterly. “Do you not want children!”

“Well, of course, they would be a joy” he replied. “But I’ve seen too many women and men in unhappy marriages because of children, or the lack of”

“But it is my duty”

Brandon hated that word and how she used it. “You owe me nothing Marianne” he replied. “Not one thing”

“I can’t seem to give you children” she urged. “That is my duty as your wife isn’t it?”

“No it is not” he replied. “Whatever would happen if I became the reason we would be childless?”

Marianne paused. “I am young and able. It would be my fault”

“Says whom?” he asked. “We are not half a year married, we can afford to wait”

“But I want so much to make you happy” she cried.

“Marianne, waking up beside you in the morning, walking the gardens with you, hearing you sing whilst I write. These things make me the happiest of men”

“And a child would not?”

“Children are a blessing but not for everyone,” he added. “I never had it in my mind to marry-until my eyes saw you. Everything in our lives is susceptible to change”

“But everything you have built and done will be left to no one”

“Beth is my heir in the present time,” he added. “All will go to her and now of course yourself”

“Will she not grow to hate me more now I could take it away from her and her son?” cried Marianne.

“The feud will not last forever,” he assured. “With age will come wisdom”

She was rather unconvinced but the subject of her speech changed. “You never told me what was in that letter”

Brandon sighed. “Did I not?”

“No” she replied. “You didn’t”

“And you desire to know the contents?”

“Of course, you seemed so startled!”

“It is not a subject for now” he concluded, “The morning will be best”

Marianne had not the strength to argue, sighing she turned away from him.

Brandon noticed, “I have offended you?”

“No” she replied. “I turned for comfort”

He nodded and tried to rest, disliking the distance between them.

Despite his urge to move closer, he did not, especially as she soon had drifted to sleep.

Chapter Text

Brandon awoke and instinctively reached out in search of Marianne.

Finding her gone alarmed him, the cold sheets still holding her shape.

"My love?" he called quietly, looking about the room.

He sat up and his movement shifted the bedclothes, his eyes caught the sight of blood.

Lifting up the cover he found more blood than he expected, in a patch where she had been lying.

The sight made him recoil, but it soon turned to panic. "Marianne?" he called louder, slipping out of bed.

He padded around the room until he heard a cry of pain echo through the wall.

With no time he burst into her room, finding her curled up on the floor, a pool of blood seeping from her.

"Somethings wrong" she sobbed, before crying out again in agony.

Brandon was at her side in seconds, his eyes wide with worry. "What can I do!"

"Doctor, Elinor" she panted, "Please"

He leapt to his feet, relieved to hear the maid had risen to light the fires.

"Hannah!" he called, startling the girl as she approached the first room.

"Yes, Sir" she replied.

"Send for the Doctor this moment, Miss Marianne is unwell" he ordered, "Quickly!"

The maid threw down her tools and flew towards the stairs, already shouting for Mr Laine.

Brandon returned to Marianne who was trying to stand.

"My love" he cried, "Stay where you are"

"It hurts" she sobbed, grabbing his arm to support her. "Please make it stop"

Lifting her into his arms, he carried her to the bed, hoping lying down would relieve some of this unexplained pain.

Nothing he could do seemed to help her or the blood that kept seeping from under her nightgown.

He was left to simply cradle her, feeling the most defenceless he had since losing Eliza.

Those thoughts once again crept into his mind, was every woman he ever loved destined to leave him?

Marianne gripped his frame tightly. Having him there was some relief but this unholy pain was not ceasing. Was she to expect this every month till she conceived a child and then for how long after? Surely this pain could not be borne every month, she could not survive it.

What seemed like an age passed before Laine, accompanied by the housekeeper and the Doctor finally burst into the room.

Both servants were equally horrified but the Doctor read the situation with skilled efficiency.

"Colonel, be so good as to leave us. You will not want to be here for much longer"

Brandon made no move to leave. "How can I leave my wife when she is in such agony?"

"You love your wife Sir, you have summoned me to cure her, please allow me to do so," the doctor replied.

Marianne urged him, "Christopher, please go"

The Doctor also addressed the servants, "Madam I shall require your assistance, but you good man must leave with the Colonel. This is a delicate matter"

Pressing a kiss to her head, Brandon pulled himself away from her side. "I love you"

"I love you" whispered Marianne, before another cry of pain tore her in half.

"Gentlemen please!" urged the Doctor.

Laine held the door open for Brandon who left the room in a trance.

-

Brandon paced the corridor outside the room.

Laine had insisted that he change from his nightclothes, lest he should suffer from the cold morning. But at this moment he felt nothing.

Every so often a servant would peek from the stairwell and Laine would wave them away, all of them below concerned for their new mistress.

After almost two hours, Brandon jolted at the sound of the door handle shifting.

The Doctor had Marianne's blood on his shirt and arms, which he had partially cleaned off, the housekeeper was laying a towel over a chamber pot with tears on her face.

Brandon's eyes snapped to Marianne who lay sleeping on the bed. "How is she?"

"I have given her a heavy dose of ether" the doctor replied, "The pain would be unbearable if she were awake"

He paused, "the matter is delicate Colonel, where may I speak with you in private?"

With no real emotion, Brandon led him to his own room, which he now saw had small drops of blood across the floor.

"Please sit Colonel" the Doctor urged.

As he did so Brandon spoke. "I will not pretend and say that I understand the time of a woman's bleeding, "But surely that is not normal, even she admitted that"

The Doctor nodded, "I will be frank with you Sir, how long have you known your wife was pregnant?"

Brandon's eyes narrowed, "Say that again?"

"Miss Marianne, how long have you known she was with child?" repeated the doctor.

"I did not know she was" he replied. "She was not aware either"

"You are sure?"

"Yes I am sure" replied Brandon sharply. "Just last night she became upset as her bleed had come and that meant she was not-not with child"

"It was quite early in the pregnancy which would explain why no symptoms had presented themselves" the doctor concluded. "A heavy bleeding can often be mistaken for it"

"Mistaken for what?" urged Brandon.

The Doctor took a deep breath. "Your wife has had a miscarriage Colonel, she has lost the baby she was carrying"

Brandon could barely comprehend the emotion that swelled in him. "Why?" he demanded. "How?"

"In this age of medicine I wish I could present you with an answer," the doctor replied bitterly. "But it seems that God and nature still hold mysteries that we cannot yet explain. You wife is young, healthy and in her childbearing years, I cannot make sense of it"

"But she-she will be well again?" asked Brandon desperately. "Doctor I cannot lose her!"

"Miss Marianne will be well, after a period of recovery and rest I am hopeful that she will conceive again" the man assured him. "Though the outward appearance of this event seemed so violent, the foetus itself left her body with little resistance. I am sure no permanent damage has been done to her."

Brandon's eyes were locked to the floor. "Thank you, Doctor"

"This is a delicate matter Sir, but as your wife is not able to make the decision, what do you wish to have done with the foetus?" asked the Doctor gently. "I can take it with me now and ensure it is properly buried-"

"Our child will be buried on this land" finished Brandon. "You will leave it here with me"

"Of course" understood the Doctor. "I have left with your housekeeper various medical and herbal remedies that will ease your wife's pain, and I offer you my sincere condolences Colonel"

"Thank you, for your knowledge and efficiency Sir" replied Brandon.

Before he took his leave the Doctor added, "Your wife is asleep but she will be able to sense your presence, and possibly can hear you"

"Yes, I will go to her" he breathed. "Thank you"

Brandon allowed the Doctor to collect his belongings and leave before entering the room.

The housekeeper was at Marianne's bedside and a maid was beginning to clean the blood from the floor.

Upon seeing him entered the housekeeper, Mrs Andrews urged the maid out.

"I am so terribly sorry Sir," she said sadly. "For you both"

"Thank you Mrs Andrews" sighed Brandon. "As long as Marianne is well we can both survive this"

The older woman looked towards the chamber pot where the baby had been placed, "You will wish to bury the child?"

"With urgency" he replied. "I beg you to speak with the gardeners to arrange somewhere in the grounds by the house that would be suitable, marked with a flowering bush of some sort"

"I will see to this moment" the woman replied, quietly taking her leave.

Finally alone with Marianne, Brandon released his tears.

"Oh, my dearest" he wept, pressing a kiss to her hand. "I am sorry I could not stop this"

As he spoke, she gave a small whimper as if she wished to reply, though her eyes remained shut in slumber.

"I will go nowhere" he vowed, brushing his hand over her soft hair. "You shall not be alone like this"

"Come back to me soon my love" he whispered. "For I shall be quite lost until you do"

Chapter Text

Marianne awoke from her induced sleep, feeling like a heavy weight rested upon her.

Unsure as to what had occurred, her mind flashed back to searing pain and blood, the doctor's eyes and breath on her face and the whimper of the dear housekeeper.

A figure stood beside the window, a silhouette she knew well.

With a hoarse whisper, she called, "Christopher?"

He jolted as he heard her voice, at her bedside before she had taken a second breath. "My dearest, are you in any pain?"

"No" she replied. "What-what happened?"

Brandon busied himself with the bedcovers, making sure she was warm. Trying his best to avoid the topic, knowing what pain it would cause her.

Marianne would not be silenced, gripping his hand with what little strength she had left, "Tell me, please"

He took the closest chair and sat by her side, "I do not know where to begin"

Before he could speak again Marianne noticed something about herself. "I am not bleeding anymore, why?"

Brandon took a deep breath, barely able to utter the words. "It seems you were carrying a child. The blood accompanied the loss of that child"

"Loss?" whispered Marianne.

"A- a miscarriage is what the Doctor named it" he replied.

Marianne had heard that word before, whispered and muttered amongst women, always followed by sadness and even contempt. Her own mother had experienced it, losing a child before the birth of Margaret a year later. The details of such were kept from a young Elinor and Marianne to protect them, only hearing of it when the death of their own father threw up emotions in their mother.

"A baby?" she whimpered, "Our baby"

A feeling of overwhelming sadness struck her, swiftly overpowered by guilt. "I did something that killed our baby didn't I"

Brandon could not process what he had just heard.

Marianne looked down at her flat stomach, "You were right, I should never have gone in the sea"

He took her face in his hands with such passion it almost startled her. "Do not say such things, do you hear me"

"But Christopher, it's my fault!" she cried, tears falling down her cheeks.

Trying to hold back tears himself he urged, "It is not your fault Marianne, you are blameless in this, do you understand?"

"But why did our baby die?" she wept. "What did I do wrong?"

"You did not even know you were carrying a child" he cried.

"Exactly!" she replied. "I should have known!"

"The Doctor found no cause for it" urged Brandon, trying to soothe her. "You are young, healthy and well capable of bearing children, he could not understand why it happened. But neither yourself or any of your actions were the cause Marianne"

She nodded and tried to seem relieved, but she could not. "I am sorry our baby is gone"

Brandon shook his head, pressing her hand into his. "You have nothing to be sorry for, please do not seek my forgiveness because you have done nothing the requires it"

"You are my wife and I adore you. Should children come or if we are not to have them, I will love you no less than I do now."

Marianne took his hand and kissed it, holding it to her chest.

The pair remained in this state for some time, until she asked, "Where is Elinor? Can I see her?"

"The hour was too early for me to send for her, I shall do so now," he replied.

-

Both Elinor and Edward were summoned to the house.

Brandon met them outside, still in a state of bewilderment. "Thank you both for coming so swiftly"

"Colonel your letter did distress me," remarked Elinor. "I beg you what is the matter?"

Edward furthered these sentiments, "Nothing bad I hope Colonel?"

Brandon cleared his throat and rubbed his eyes. "I still can't quite understand it myself, forgive me I fear I will be coarse in my speech"

Elinor instinctively reached for Edward's hand, "It's Marianne isn't it?"

He quickly urged, "She is well Elinor, but-"

"Yes?"

"You will recall she had pains last night" sighed Brandon. "Quite suddenly"

"Vividly" replied Elinor.

"Yes well, they only intensified once you had all left" he took a pause. "Edward you are like a brother to her and you have a wife of your own so I will be frank"

"Please" nodded Edward.

"Marianne attributed these sudden pains and the blood that followed to her monthly bleeding" confess Brandon. "I being a single man for much of my life and quite inexperienced to such a time in her life, I believed her and did not take it as seriously as perhaps I should have"

"When I awoke this morning I found a pool of blood in our bed and followed the sound of her crying. Marianne knew something was wrong and I felt a sinister cause behind the bleeding. The blood being lost meant something else which the Doctor confirmed as he left"

He watched as Elinor pieced his words together. "Oh my God"

Edward almost felt as if she would faint, taking her weight on his arms. He had grown up with Fanny and knew a little, but otherwise, he was utterly clueless. "Colonel forgive my ignorance. I do not understand what you mean?"

Elinor answered for him. "Marianne has lost a child Edward" her voice barely above a whisper.

He couldn't believe her words and looked to Brandon who simply bent his head to confirm it. "My God" he stammered, "And is she-is she well?"

"She is weak and full of sorrow" replied Brandon, "We both are"

"Of course" muttered Edward, "foolish question"

"Elinor," asked Brandon. "She has been asking for you since daybreak, I believe seeing you would ease her greatly"

"I will go to her this moment" she nodded, gently taking his hand, "Colonel I am so sorry"

Brandon forced a small smile as she left them.

Edward moved to follow her but was stopped. "I wonder, Edward if you would do me a great service?"

"Anything" he replied.

"I know you are not yet a man of the cloth but would you have any authority to perhaps bless the ground or pray over the ground where I am placing the child?"

"Yes, I can" replied Edward. "This moment if you wish"

Brandon laid his hand on his shoulder. "If you would follow me"

-

Marianne heard footsteps and watched as the door slowly opened.

"Dearest I am here," said Elinor, swiftly coming to her bedside.

"Oh, Elinor" she cried. "It is the worst news!"

"The Colonel has told me," replied Elinor. "Marianne I am so sorry"

"He is being so good to me" she wept. "But I did not know I was carrying a baby, that is what haunts me"

"None of this was your fault" urged her sister. "You must understand that"

"I am not blameless" cried Marianne. "My child died and I knew nothing of it!"

"Babies are delicate but Marianne so are you" reminded Elinor. "You are not yet a year recovered from your illness, this will only weaken you further. Do not lose hope my darling"

"And what if I am always to be recovering? What if each breeze or drop of rain can cause such damage?!"

"Dearest" hushed Elinor, "Please do not upset yourself further. Your mind is running away with you"

Marianne grasped her sister's hand. "Am I going to be a mother Elinor?"

Elinor's soft eyes met hers. "I see no reason why not. Many women experience this sorrow but at your age, do not accept this as a death sentence but rather a beginning"

Marianne found comfort in those words, Elinor had that power were no one else had.

After some time Elinor noticed her sister's eyes closing with fatigue. "Did you sleep much?"

"No" replied Marianne. "I kept thinking I would wake Christopher I tossed so much"

"Get some rest now" urged Elinor. "Sometimes even medicine cannot beat proper sleep"

Kissing her forehead she whispered. "Call if you need anything"

Marianne nodded and let her tired eyes close.

-

Elinor spent much of the day caring for Marianne. All of her needs efficiently and gently cared for.

It left Edward and Brandon very much as loose ends, both unable to assist as much as they wanted because of the personal nature of Marianne's needs.

They both sat outside her room, questioning Elinor each time she emerged.

Soon Brandon could take it no longer and ventured inside, but Edward stood by the door, awkwardly shuffling, his direction indecisive.

Marianne was glad to have Brandon join her, but could not help but notice the figure in the doorway. "Edward?" she called weakly. "Is that you?"

"Yes" he replied, "It is"

"Come in" she urged, "I can feel a draft"

Hearing this Edward muttered to himself and swiftly closed the door behind him. He came to her bedside and perched on the frame. "Dear Marianne, I do not possess the words to say how sorry I am"

Marianne gently took his hand. "Thank you for coming, and for bringing Elinor"

"If she cannot make you well then no one can" he urged.

"Yes" she sighed, "She makes everything right"

Though she would not admit it to her gentlemen, she was still in considerable pain. Even with the relief that ether and heat brought, she could not escape the discomfort.

Seeing that Brandon was in no fit state to do anything but hold her hand in his own, she turned once again to Edward. "Elinor tells me you have been reading and that you have a fine tone"

Edward nodded, "Yes I am trying to expand my library, but I cannot speak for the tone in which I say the words"

"Would you be so good as to read to me?" asked Marianne. "I long to hear someone"

"I see no book to hand" he replied. "Would you like me to find one?"

"Allow me," said Brandon, rising from his seat and leaving them.

With Brandon gone, Marianne felt she could show a little of how she felt, wincing as another dull pain twisted her abdomen.

Edward looked at her helplessly, "Can I find you more relief? Anything?"

Marianne shook her head, "Elinor says I must not take too much, or I shall become reliant"

"Of course" he replied. "But will nothing help? Shall I fetch the Colonel?"

"No" breathed Marianne. "He is suffering enough"

"He hates seeing you in pain just as much, if not more than I" replied Edward. "He would dislike you to hide it from him"

"He saw me at the height of my agony" she replied. "I should hate for him to see more of it"

"I would not wish to be a wedge between you both" remarked Edward. "That is not fair"

"Oh, kind Edward" sighed Marianne. "I feel I can speak freely with you, that is all"

"And you cannot with the Colonel?"

"Of course I can" she replied. "But you are always so measured in all things, you have Elinor's sense"

"That is perhaps why we are so good together" agreed Edward.

"Would you come with Elinor when she visits?" asked Marianne. "I should like to see you"

"I am at your beck and call Madam" he assured. "It is by your husband's grace I am on this estate"

"But you would not come out of duty?" she asked.

"No, of course, well-no not always" he replied. "You know the brotherly love I have for you and the eternal gratitude I must give to the Colonel. If you need me here as your friend, brother or parson I will come"

Marianne gave away the only smile she had left on that day, and as Elinor returned, followed by Brandon, her anguish was temporarily eased.

Chapter Text

Marianne spent much of the summer recovering. Her body was healed but her mind was still deeply troubled.

Brandon did everything in his power to bring joy back in her eyes, to see her in such despair was destroying him.

She awoke with the cold one morning in her own bed. She had felt it best to remain apart despite the hurt she knew it caused Brandon. However, this morning felt different than the others.

Marianne felt an overwhelming need to be beside him, to the point where tears formed in her eyes at the thought of starting another day apart.

Bearing the cold for a moment she tiptoed into the hallway, glad to find the servants still well below. Creeping into Brandon's room she smiled a little, he was laid out on the bed but looked decidedly lonely.

Moving slowly against the cold was difficult but she managed to slip under the covers without rousing him.

Her frame almost seemed built for his as she could wrap herself so close with him.

The heat of his body warmed her and she sighed, drinking in his scent.

Brandon thought he had been dreaming again, but this felt almost too real.

He cracked open an eye and saw for himself, Marianne curled up next to him, completely of her own accord.

With a sigh he pulled her a little closer, "I've missed you"

Marianne smiled, "So have I"

-

She wanted to stay close with him on this day, but eager not to stifle him Marianne found herself in the library.

It had been some weeks, almost months since she had played the beautiful pianoforte. She herself had missed the enjoyment and was sure that Brandon also longed to hear music again.

Edward had come to see her almost daily, one of his many new duties as Parson was to help those in need, physically and emotionally. Seeing Marianne as his own true sister he felt that she needed his guidance more than ever.

In his goodness, he had seen how music helped her sorrow, even after the heartbreak of Willoughby she had been revived when Brandon gifted her music. At the right time, several days previous Edward had given her a new piece of music, titled The Swan's Song. He had hoped the gentle and soft melody would ease her suffering.

Marianne had thanked him greatly and left the music on the instrument, on this day finding the strength to open it.

The melody was beautiful and yet simplistic. It did not take long for her to master the rhythm and her hands quickly floated across the scales.

Brandon was writing at his desk, suddenly pulled from his letters at the sound of music. His movements were involuntary, following the sound until he reached the doorway of the library.

Marianne looked up and saw him, her fingers were startled and played a flat note, bringing the piece to a stop. "I'm sorry, did I disturb you!"

He shook his head, "Play on"

With a smile, she found her place and continued, watching as Brandon came to rest behind her, assisting with the music.

As the piece ended Marianne sat back, resting against him. "Did you like it?"

"Hm" nodded Brandon. Reaching over he turned the sheet music back to its front, searching for the composer. "Schubert? Where did you find this?"

"I did not, Edward gave it to me" replied Marianne. "He knows music is my tonic"

"Then may I oblige you to play it again?" he asked softly. "I was deprived of the first movement"

Kissing his hand she replied, "As you asked so nicely, of course"

Brandon perched beside the pianoforte, delighted with the music and the look of joy that had returned to his dearests eyes.

-

That afternoon Edward came by the house to visit Marianne.

"You are looking a little brighter today" he observed, seating himself with her in the library.

"I feel somewhat happier" she replied. "I played the pianoforte this morning for the first time since my loss"

"I am glad to hear that. Music heals you I think, in ways that words and affection cannot" said Edward,

Marianne nodded, "Christopher sensed it too, I think my grieving is perhaps starting to lift at last"

"You must not feel you have to rush your grief Marianne" urged Edward. "Your child was very real and so will your grief be."

"I know" she replied. "But I have been doing a lot of thinking, I suppose, unlike any thinking, I've done before. It's as you've told me, my baby is with God and that brings me such comfort. Even though I may not be able to hold them in my arms, someone can"

"That's right" smiled Edward.

"And should more children follow, I pray that I might be able to hold them for myself. Those little ones will need all my love, not just part of it," she added.

"You can always hold the child that you lost in your heart" replied Edward. "They do not ever have to leave you, but you can take all that love you would have given and store it, but release the sadness and guilt"

Marianne smiled though tears welled in her eyes. Having Edward to talk to was surely a gift from heaven. Her own mother had tried to comfort her, Elinor also, but to have someone so un-opinionated and genuine as he was just what she needed.

Despite their standings, Marianne wrapped her arms around him, a true brother deserving of a sisterly embrace. "Thank you" she whispered.

Edward halted for a moment, but returned the gesture, even as Brandon entered the room.

Raising a curious eyebrow he smiled, "I trust all is well"

Marianne wiped her eyes, releasing Edward from her arms. "Yes, quite well"

Edward rose, "Marianne is quite improved would you not say?"

"Yes" agreed Brandon. "Your guidance has been most appreciated"

Deciding to tease him he hardened his expression adding, "And am I to assume you will continue to bestow gifts to my wife?"

Marianne looked at him quite confused and colour rose in Edward's cheeks. "Colonel I can assure you that I never intended to-"

Brandon gave a laugh, patting his young friend's shoulder. "A jest, nothing more"

Edward let out a relieved sigh and found the joke, Marianne simply rolled her eyes.

"You have brought her back to us Edward," said Brandon. "I cannot thank you enough"

"Not all women are as lucky to have a husband as obliging and understanding as yourself" urged Edward, not wanting to take such credit. "Marianne only ever speaks of you with praise"

"Oh believe me" smiled Marianne. "He knows"

As Edward collected his belongings she called, "I wonder, Mama and Margaret are with us for dinner tonight, would yourself and Elinor join us?"

Edward gave a pause. "Yes-well- yes we would be delighted"

Brandon observed his slight reluctance. "If you are already promised elsewhere you are quite within leave to decline"

"No, I assure you" urged Edward. "We'd be delighted"


 

As they all sat for dinner that night both Brandon and Marianne spotted something off about Elinor.

Never one to reject the food, even if it was decidedly foul lest she should cause offence, she sat absentmindedly picking at what lay before her.

What was more peculiar was Edward and Mrs Dashwood's obliviousness towards it. Edward tossed his wife a glance and a smile every so often and her mother made no mention of it, only occasionally scolding Margaret should her table manners slip.

As the servants came to clear the plates away, Marianne could not help but notice the almost full plate of food leaving her sisters place. "Elinor, is there anything the matter?"

"No dearest" she replied, still her cheerful self.

"Were you not hungry? Can cook fetch you something else?"

"I am afraid that I feel a little under the weather tonight, food has not been agreeing with me" replied Elinor.

"Well," remarked Mrs Dashwood happily. "We all know the reason why!"

Both Elinor and Edward looked at her, their eyes urging silence. "Mama," said Elinor sharply. "Please"

"Everyone knows" protested Mrs Dashwood. "I do not understand this secrecy from you Elinor"

"Mama" urged Elinor, louder this time. "Please stop"

The tension in the air was tangible, Marianne cast a look to Brandon who sat in equal confusion at the events before him.

"Elinor, what is going on?" she asked. "I feel that I have been overlooked"

"Nothing dearest" urged Elinor. "I assure you"

"What is amiss?" cried Marianne. "Mama, what is going on?"

Mrs Dashwood sighed, "I had best not speak. For I am just to be silenced it seems"

Margaret was unusually quiet which did not go unnoticed.

Marianne asked her, "Meg, what is going on?"

"It's not my secret to tell," she muttered, playing with her napkin.

"It's not a secret" urged Elinor. "Nothing of the sort"

"Well it may well as be one" replied Marianne. "Elinor what have you not told me!"

Edward met eyes with Brandon as they both sat in silence. "Dearest, perhaps now is the time?"

Elinor sighed, "Marianne I never wanted it to be a secret from you, nor announced like this. But it appears that Mama was not aware that I had not told you, or you Colonel"

"Not told them," remarked Mrs Dashwood. "Elinor, why did you not say?"

"Because I was so sure that you would not be so bold Mama" replied Elinor. "Surely you knew why I restrained from mentioning it to Marianne?"

"That's it" proclaimed Marianne, throwing down her napkin. "Tell me at once or I shall leave the room. You know I despise secrets!"

Elinor took a deep breath, her hand wrapped around Edward's. "I did not tell you, because I feared I would be taking salt and rubbing it into a very fresh wound"

Marianne still could not understand, "Just tell me, please"

"I am with child Marianne," Elinor said finally.

The room fell almost silent until Marianne's voice replied. "Why Elinor, how wonderful!

Brandon also was swift to respond, "That is marvellous news"

"Why did you not tell me?" asked Marianne.

"Oh, dearest" cried Elinor. "How could I tell you after what you have been through"

"But this is such wonderful news" replied Marianne. "How could I be anything but happy for you?"

"Elinor and myself were afeared that our joy would only heighten any grief you may have been feeling, both of you" urged Edward.

"I love you both so much" smiled Marianne. "I could never be jealous of your joy!"

"It was out of love" urged Elinor. "I could not bear to see you upset"

Rising from her seat Marianne rushed to her sister and embraced her. "You are most deserving of happiness Elinor"

"Oh my dearest," said Elinor, "None deserve more happiness than you"

"When will the baby come?" asked Marianne delightedly.

"It's a little too soon to know" replied Elinor. "These things take time"

Marianne felt such a surge of joy and even pride grow inside her, her sister, her Elinor was soon to be a mother. What a beautiful and good-tempered child it was bound to be, boy or girl, to take after either of its parents would be most agreeable.

"You have my hearty congratulations, both of you" called Brandon.

"Thanks to yourself Colonel I can rest easy, my child will not be raised in poverty because of your goodness" replied Edward.

"It is due to your own goodness that I am inclined to share mine" replied Brandon.

"Now I can only pray that yourself and Marianne can share in that same happiness Colonel" called Mrs Dashwood.

He smiled politely and looked to Marianne who replied, "I am sure in time Mama, quite sure"

-

As nightfall came, Marianne followed Brandon to bed.

The idea of sleeping separately now to her seemed unthinkable.

Both readied themselves for their rest and Marianne was sure to stay close to him.

"I must say I was surprised that Elinor had kept the news from you for so long," he said.

"She is quite accustomed to keeping her word, if she chooses to remain silent, nothing will prevail her to speak" replied Marianne. "But I am so happy for her"

"I am glad you are, I can understand why they chose to keep it from us" agreed Brandon.

"Oh yes," she sighed, "But now all is told they shan't have to pretend anymore. If Elinor is feeling tired or sick we all know why"

"Perhaps in a strange way it may benefit us to see how its all done before our turn" smiled Brandon.

Marianne chuckled, "Yes I had considered that, though I do not think Elinor would approve of being observed in such a way"

"No I agree" replied Brandon.

She thought for a time as they lay together, "I wonder if I should just enjoy my life, just with you for a while"

"I would not object" he replied. "I do not think I am ready to share you yet either"

"Share me?" cried Marianne. "Hardly!"

Brandon laughed and kissed her head, "I shall have to put up with it one day"

"I will always have time for you," she vowed. "I just wonder where I fall in regards to your letters? Are they so far above me in your interests?"

He raised an eyebrow teasingly, "I would dare to say you are on par with them my dear"

Marianne tried her best to look insulted, but her efforts were betrayed by her laughter.

"Now that laugh is something I shall never grow tired of" mused Brandon, pulling her into a kiss.

Chapter Text

Brandon awoke first, his arm still wrapped around the warm body of his wife.

Each morning he began the day in slight disbelief that Marianne could and did love him. Waking up with such a creature of heaven beside him was nothing short of a blessing.

Her figure pleased him, not just those areas which brought him pleasure but little pieces of her. The hair, her chin, even the back of her knee. Every inch of her was utterly perfect.

That made him feel more conscious of his own frame, especially his scarring. He was relieved that her reaction had been a compassionate one, but she would nevertheless have her questions.

Feeling her shift against the covers he kissed her head. “Good morning beloved”

Marianne stretched and gave a yawn. Feeling the morning air acutely she shuffled to be closer to him. She sighed contently, one of her hands slipping inside his nightshirt.

Almost involuntary her hand brushed the scar and she brought her touch away with a suddenness that broke him. “It is displeasing to you?” he asked quietly.

“No” she replied, unable to wield enough passion in her speech so early in the day. “I did not want to hurt you,”

“I cannot feel touch on it directly” he confessed. “I haven’t since it healed”

“How did it happen?” she dared to ask. Seeing him pause she instantly took back her question. “No do not! It was wrong of me to ask!”

He gave a sad smile. “You have a right to know seeing as you are one of the few that see it”

“But it’s painful to recount no?” she urged. “I’m too bold!”

“Nonetheless” he sighed, pulling her closer. “If you wish to know I shall tell you”

“You have never seen a bullet wound so I would never expect you to recognise that of a machete” he began.

“A mach-“ she muttered. “How do you say it?”

“Machete” he repeated, but seeing her still utterly lost he simplified, “a large sword”

“Oh,” she replied, for a moment not fully understanding. “Oh!” she cried, more fear in her voice. “How awful! Christopher why were you attacked!”

“It was the height of war” he added. “Most men were shot so when a man came at me with a sword I was not capable to fight him”

“Did you suffer greatly?” she asked worriedly.

“I would wish to never have the pain again,” he replied. “Sir John killed the man who attacked me. I was therefore indebted to him.”

“That explains why you are so close” replied Marianne.

“War makes brothers of strangers” replied Brandon. “Each time I see the scar I reminded of it”

“Well,” she said. “You shall have no fear from me if anything I think it suits you”

“Imperfectness suits me?” he remarked.

“No” she replied, “Courage and honour are what it means to me, not all men fight with bravery or survive injury. You have done both and are still quite handsome for it”

Brandon was quite touched by her words. “You must promise to remind me of that when I am old and grey”

Marianne kissed him, “With pleasure”

-

That afternoon an express came to the house.

Marianne moved towards the door as their butler collected the letter. “What is it, Laine?”

“For the Colonel M’lady,” he replied. “From his ward, I believe”

“Beth” muttered Marianne, “I shall take it to him”

“Yes, Miss” Laine replied, handing her the small envelope.

Marianne found Brandon in the library. “This just came for you”

Lost in his work, he had not noticed the arrival of the horseman, “Thank you”

“I believe it is from Beth” she added. “It came by express”

“Express?” he questioned, now urging her to hand him the letter.

“Yes,” she said, watching him open it quickly. “Is everything well?”

Brandon’s eyes scanned down the letter, sighing as he reached the bottom. “I think so”

“This would not have anything to do with that other letter?” she asked, perching on the edge of his desk. “The one you still have yet to tell me about?”

He raised an eyebrow, “You have a marvellous memory my dear. Have I really not told you?”

“No” she replied, “So please, does this letter follow its sentiments?”

“Yes” replied Brandon. “The first letter on the day of the picnic was from Mrs Winters, the woman with whom I have placed Beth and her son. An outbreak of some sort had begun to affect the children in their area and she was eager for myself to act”

“And I assume you have done?”

“Of course, I have arranged for Beth to spend some time here in Devonshire” he added, trying to gauge her reaction.

Marianne’s face visibly changed, “Well, I am glad to hear of it now. Is she to stay here?”

“No” he urged, “This is not just my home any longer, and I would not have you subject to her presence knowing that she despises you, that would be cruel. Perhaps a day or so can be spent here but no longer”

“Well, where is she to stay?” she asked.

“Herself and her son are staying with Sir John, Mrs Jennings and her daughter,” he replied. “I am eager for Beth to meet with another mother and perhaps gain some of the self-discipline that goes with it”

“Beth is still quite wild then?” remarked Marianne.

Brandon grunted, “From what I hear motherhood has matured her slightly, but she has been known to still evade Mrs Winters and visit friends and travel to dances unchaperoned”

“She sounds quite-” she paused. “Almost beyond control?”

“For which I blame myself” he confessed. “I should have not indulged her”

Marianne hated to see him look so guilt-stricken. “Christopher, you cannot blame yourself, children develop personalities, she must be bold by nature, not indulgence”

“But I have indulged her” replied Brandon. “Anything in my power to give her was hers in an instant. Beth has her mother’s eyes and I cannot deny them anything”

“Is she aware she has this control over you?” remarked Marianne.

“She knows I like to see her happy” sighed Brandon. “I am not wrapped around her finger, but she knows how to ask for things”

“And has she changed at all since her son was born?” she asked. “Or is she still a child?”

“When I see her again I will know” he replied. “Beth has always wanted to be older than she is, she couldn’t wait to be taken to town or presented, meet lots of young people and converse with everyone. I always insisted that her time will come and when she is old enough she will do all those things, but that was never good enough”

“Is that how she ended being with Willoughby, impatience?”

Brandon reflected for a moment, “That spring she had been complaining of headaches and she had convinced Mrs Winters and I that going to Bath for the summer to relax and drink of those famous fountains would do her good. At fifteen I demanded she go with Mrs Winters and another woman, Miss Linton who deceived us all greatly”

“It appears that Beth was not sick at all, but as I had not seen her for myself in almost four months I believed her letters. Had I known whose hands she would fall into, I would never have allowed her to go”

Marianne listened to the story unfold, “Christopher, what state was she in, when you found her?”

“A pitiful one” he replied. It seemed that Willoughby had kept moving with her as his mistress for eight months, eventually returning to Bath to seek a new companion. It was Mrs Winters who found her, abandoned in an inn near the edge of the city. Willoughby had left her to pay for everything and vanished in the night, without glancing back. When Mrs Winters arrived she paid the innkeeper and took Beth back home. When I got there and entered the room she sat on the bed, her hands trying to cover the swell of her stomach, trying to hide the shame in her eyes-”

He paused as emotion rose within him, taking a deep breath he continued but with a strained voice. “The girl who had convinced herself that she was mature and confident had become her age at last. It is the second time I have ever seen her look afraid of me, the first being when I took her in after her mother died. That same look of worry and of the unknown was in her eyes. I think she expected me to fly into a rage or disown her on the spot, but just as I did those ten years ago I took her in my arms and let her cry”

Marianne listened and her heart swelled, trying to repress the tears that glazed her eyes.

“You have done right by her” she urged. “Surely you know this. I do not know many men who would do what you have done for a child that is not yours!”

“Beth is a very troubled child, she always has been” replied Brandon. “Knowing what her mother suffered I could never abandon her”

“I would never suggest it,” said Marianne. “I know how special she is to you”

“That is why I am so saddened that she despises you” he sighed. “But perhaps when she meets you and sees-“

“Sees, that I do not have a tail or two spikes growing from my head?” she urged. “That I only wish her well?”

“Yes,” he replied. “All I want is for you to know each other and for her to treat you with the respect that you deserve”

“And if she does not?”

“Then” he paused. “Then I shall have to take measures to ensure that she does”

Somewhat unconvinced Marianne simply nodded. “She is only several years younger than myself, it is only life experiences that separate us”

“And in time, some of them may bring you together” he added, gently kissing her hand.

-

Marianne, out of her good nature insisted that Beth and her son stay at least one day and night at Delaford. It only seemed correct to try and be civil with a girl who Brandon considered as almost his own child.

She oversaw much of the preparation, organising her room and even removing a maid from the position of serving her to always be available to Beth should she need assistance.

Once they received word that Beth was in Devonshire Brandon thought it best to escort her to Sir John’s estate.

“You won’t be long will you?” Marianne asked as he mounted his horse.

“I shall be home again by nightfall” he assured.

“Is that a promise?” she urged, her tone quite pointed.

Brandon leant forward on his horse and playfully retorted, “You believe she has complete control of me don’t you?”

“Stranger remarks have been made” she replied with a smile. “Send her my love and be back soon”

-

Brandon returned that evening, fatigued from his journey and with pain in his shoulder.

Marianne was distressed by this, urging him to lay down, watching as he winced removing his jacket.

“Is it the scar?” she asked. “Your injury?”

“Yes” he replied, “it gets worse after riding”

“Then perhaps you should avoid it,” she remarked.

Brandon tried to laugh but the pain stopped him. “Somehow I do not think I can give it up just yet.”

“Come now,” she said worriedly. “Where does it hurt?”

“Now my dearest” he smiled. “The pain is not great, simply passing”

She placed her hands on her hips. “Where does it hurt?”

“My shoulder” he replied, wincing as she started to rub the skin, using her fingers to massage the sore joint.

After a sharp pain or two, Brandon felt some of the tension release, causing the throbbing to subside.

With a relaxed sigh, he began to enjoy the feeling. “I may have to request this from now on”

“I am at your service” she replied, kissing his head. “And-how was Beth?”

Brandon nodded. “Tired from the journey, her son had not travelled well and was quite agitated. But she was happy to see me”

“I’m glad to hear it” she replied. “And she shall arrive here tomorrow at what time?”

“Sir John is sending a carriage at ten,” he said.

Marianne tried to be excited, but inside she wished she had not needed to be so kind.

However, her mind wandered to the notion that this would be their last night alone for the week, as Beth would inevitably stay longer.

With her body healed and her mind returned to balance, she contemplated how long it had genuinely been since herself and Brandon had spent a night together.

As his shoulder seemed quite soothed, one of her hand slipped inside the collar of his shirt, whilst the other boldly travelled down his body, towards his waist and groin.

Naturally, Brandon reacted, “And what do you think you are doing my dear?”

“Well,” she whispered. “It has been some time since-“ she blushed. “If you do not wish to of course-“

With ease, Brandon pulled her onto his lap. “If you are well enough”

She brushed her hand over his soft hair. “Oh yes, quite well enough. Shall we retire?”

“With pleasure” he replied.

Chapter Text

Marianne waited nervously, Beth's carriage had just arrived and Brandon stepped forward to greet her.

Beth stepped out and embraced him, "Colonel," she said happily.

She was a beautiful young girl, tall for her age and seemingly far more developed. Dark auburn curls hung around her face, complimented greatly by startling blue eyes. It was almost easy to understand how Willoughby had desired her, she looked almost twenty, not close to the tender age of fifteen.

Marianne observed she called him Colonel and not Papa or Uncle. It seemed that the distance had kept their relationship a certain way.

Brandon led Beth over to Marianne who smiled politely. "Beth, this is my wife, Marianne"

"It is a pleasure to meet you at last," said Marianne. "Brandon does not go a day without speaking of you"

Beth simply curtsied to mark politeness, then immediately turning to Brandon. "Am I staying in my old room?"

Brandon did not excuse her coldness, "Beth, this is my wife, Marianne"

She looked back at Marianne who repeated her sentiment. "Brandon speaks of you highly, I have heard so much about you"

"Yes, you said" replied Beth, walking past her towards the door.

"Elizabeth" called Brandon sharply, watching her stop and face him. "Greet Marianne properly"

With a sigh, Beth bowed her head, "Madam" and continued into the house.

Brandon moved to catch her, but Marianne stopped him. "Leave her, it's clear she does not like me"

"Like or not, I will not have cheek" he replied, exhaling deeply. "You are the lady of this house, not her"

"She is playing a game" observed Marianne. "We shall wait and see how long she chooses to keep it up"

As the pair walked inside, Beth was already arguing with Mrs Andrews. Brandon immediately put a stop to the noise, "What's this?"

"You've put her in my room?" cried Beth, pointing accusingly at Marianne. "Her?"

Marianne did her best not to look insulted, the way Beth looked at her as if she had stolen a priceless item. "The room was given to me by my husband, I have not knowingly taken anything"

"I was not talking to you" snapped Beth.

"That is quite enough" hushed Brandon. "Young lady you do not live here, you have no right to claim rooms. You have been placed in that room before so I can keep my eyes on you, nothing more"

Beth raised an eyebrow, "Is that so?"

"Yes" he replied, "Now before this goes any further you will address my wife properly"

"I am far more grown than she is, she does not deserve my respect, not after what she's done" remarked Beth.

"That is quite enough," said Brandon. "You will behave, understood?"

"Do not treat me like a child," she replied.

"Then do not insist upon acting like one," he replied. "Act like the grown woman you so much want to be, accept the room you have been given"

Beth relented, "Does the room have a cradle? My son is being brought by Mrs Jennings later"

"Marianne has gone to great lengths to ensure all is prepared for you and your son," said Brandon. "You owe her your thanks"

Marianne met her eyes as she muttered, "Thank you"

Beth quickly disappeared into the house, leaving Brandon to once again repeat his apologies to his wife.

-

Marianne felt as if she was a visitor in her home, she entered each room with caution and kept a distance from Beth's room.

As lunch approached she ventured to the room, knocking once and entering, finding Beth staring out of the window.

"Beth my dear, lunch will be served at-"

"12.30, yes I know" Beth cut in. "It's always been that way"

Marianne took a silent deep breath, "You know, you do not need to treat me this way"

Beth let out a shrill laugh, "I am treating you as you deserve to be treated"

"No" replied Marianne. "I have nothing but affection for you, nothing but a wish for your happiness"

"Such a little saint aren't we?" mocked Beth, turning to face her. "The dear Colonel's sweet wife"

"Do not mock me" urged Marianne. "And do not mock the love that I have for my husband, nor his for me"

Beth simply rolled her eyes and continued to stare out the window

Marianne noticed a small envelope on the bed amongst the girl's belongings and reached out for it. She noticed the hand almost immediately.

Beth flew forward and snatched the letter away. "Do not touch my things"

"When was this written" demanded Marianne. "Who gave you permission to write to him?"

"I do not need permission to write to the man who shall be my husband" replied Beth. "Besides this letter is from months ago"

Marianne scoffed. "Beth please"

"He shall marry me" she proclaimed, "it was the last thing he told me"

"Yes, you and I and countless other girls" replied Marianne. "He's a libertine, he does not care for you"

"Liar" cried, Beth. "You stole him from me"

"He made no mention of you when I met him," said Marianne. "He made me believe that he loved me, just to leave me for another woman. Just the same as yourself"

"No," said Beth. "He loves me"

"I'm sure he loved you for a moment" replied Marianne. "But he has made no mention of wanting to see you or your child as long as he breathes"

"How do you know that?" asked Beth.

Marianne realised her fault. "The-the rumour was everywhere, most people know he fathered a child"

"But he did not reply to my letter, how do you know he won't see me?"

"I know Willoughby as well as you" lied Marianne. "We know what his character is, even without him writing a letter"

Beth was unconvinced. "You know something don't you?" her tone angry and pointed.

Marianne stood her ground. "You do not need to question me Beth, for I have nothing to tell"

"You all treat me like a child!" exploded Beth. "I am a mother and I should be a wife, why do you treat me like I'm nothing but a baby"

"Because of this" cried Marianne. "Your constant shouting and bullying. Act like a woman and the Colonel and I shall treat you like one"

"How did you manage to seduce him?" questioned Beth, a cruel gleam in her eyes. "He's never loved anyone but my mother"

"Time can change and heal hearts" replied Marianne. "I love the Colonel and he loves me. There was no great seduction"

"That is hard to believe," said Beth. "He never so much looks at women, why you?"

"You may ask the Colonel that himself, I know that he loves me, you must ask him why" replied Marianne.

Still fixated on the mention of a letter, Beth asked. "I believe there is a letter. And I shall find it"

"You would have sooner hope writing to him yourself" replied Marianne. "Can you not just accept what I have a told you"

"No" replied Beth. "Because I know you to be a liar"

It took a great amount of strength for Marianne not to roll her eyes. Turning to leave she called. "Lunch is served soon, please do not be late"

"I'll find that letter" called Beth angrily. "You wait!"

-

Marianne kept her eye on Beth at lunch, keeping news of their altercation from Brandon.

She sat and spoke politely, but there was an undertone of a plan.

"You seem relaxed," remarked Brandon, glad to see her mood improved.

"Your wife spoke with me, I'm trying to lead by example" replied Beth.

"You did?" asked Brandon, looking to Marianne.

"Yes," said Marianne. "I hope you know I only want the best for you"

"Of course" smiled Beth. "And I'm grateful"

The rest of lunch continued in the same unknown happiness, it was fragile and seemed waiting to shatter with a word.

Mrs Jennings arrived as it was concluding, bringing with her baby John and Beth's belongings.

Marianne did not know how she would react upon seeing Willoughby's child. For a time that was the only thing, she dreamed of, being the mother of his child and the love of his heart. But she had since learned that those dreams were hollow and now belonged to another.

The small bundle was carried into the drawing-room by a wet nurse, followed by Mrs Jennings.

"My dear Marianne" she cried. "How I have longed to see you well again"

"I am quite recovered Ma'am" assured Marianne. "The tonics you sent eased me greatly"

Beth seemed to perk up, not at the sight of her child, but eagerly asked Brandon. "Is she sick?"

"No" he replied. "Since recovered"

"Yes from what?"

"Business that concerns others" he replied, receiving a grateful smile from his wife.

Beth huffed and sat back in her chair, taking her son almost by insistence. "He's been crying for your arms Miss," the nurse said.

"You can hold him" urged Beth. "I do not wish to"

"But Miss-"

"Why are you arguing with me?" demanded Beth. "I said you hold him"

Baby John mewled as he was lifted from her arms and Marianne felt a pang. She would have given anything to feed and care for her own child. To see Beth so dismissive and uncaring towards her son was almost aggravating.

"Now, at least let me see him," said Brandon. "I'll hold him for a while"

"He won't quieten until he's eaten" sighed Beth. "You'll only get a wriggly unhappy baby"

"Never-mind that" replied Brandon, "nurse I'll take him"

The nurse handed Baby John to him and the boy still cried for his mother. Brandon tried to soothe him but the little one kept crying.

"Might I?" asked Marianne, hovering beside Brandon.

Almost as soon as baby John was in her arms he quietened, snuffled and looked up at her face.

Beth almost scowled. "He thinks you are me"

"No, he doesn't" replied Marianne. "He's just happy now"

"And he wasn't with me?" cried Beth. "I want him back, nurse don't let her touch him anymore"

"Now that's a little rash" hushed Mrs Jennings. "You didn't want him, let Miss Marianne hold him a while"

Beth rolled her eyes, "It's only because she wants the child for herself"

Marianne tried her best not to snap back at her, Brandon brought her arm around her. "Marianne loves children Beth, you should be grateful that she desires to be attentive"

"Apparently" sighed Beth.

"I'm sure you love him very much, but for one so young it must undoubtedly be some pressure" replied Marianne, gently rocking the little one in her arms.

"And you'd understand that?" retorted Beth.

"Yes" replied Marianne. "My younger sister is six years my junior. I remember her birth and helped to care for her. There were days I hated her, all the crying and endless attention she required. But I soon came to love her and found ways I could help my mother"

For the first time, Beth paid attention. "You are saying you don't mind holding him for me?"

"Not if you wish to rest, or if you require help" smiled Marianne.

For the first time, she looked down at the young baby's face. There was no doubt who was the father was, little John was already the very image of his father.

Beth seemed to observe her in a similar mind. "So much like his father isn't he?"

Brandon denied it. "No my dear, I see you far more in that sweet face than him"

But Marianne agreed. "No, Beth is correct. Willoughby is in this face"

"Well" added Mrs Jennings. "Let us hope he can learn from the mistakes of his father. You can set a good example for him, Colonel"

"I'll see to that" he replied.

"I do not know how he is to be different to his father if he is never allowed to meet him" muttered Beth.

"He will hear the stories of his father and learn that way" replied Brandon. "Besides he is a Brandon now, just as you are"

"So you keep saying" sighed Beth, rising from her chair. "Is the instrument still in the library?"

Brandon nodded. "Yes"

"I'll play a while" she proclaimed, standing beside him. "If that is alright?"

Marianne was distracted with baby John, but as Beth talked to Brandon she watched her little hand snake into one of his pockets and steal the key to his desk. As if to taint her behaviour more, she leant up and kissed his cheek, concealing the key in her hand.

Marianne said nothing, she wanted to follow her. Letting Beth have a moment to gain a head start, she quickly handed baby John to the nurse. "I'll just go and show Beth where I have moved the music. She probably will just get lost"

Brandon nodded and went about conversing with Mrs Jennings.

Moving very slowly, avoiding treading heavily, Marianne crept into the library and caught Beth rummaging through Brandon's private letters.

Marianne flew forward and grabbed her by the wrist. "Wicked girl!" she exclaimed. "How dare you!"

Beth was greatly surprised by this intervention, immediately going on the defensive. "I have every right to search for Willoughby's letters, get your hands off me"

"I will not allow stealing in my home!"

"I stole nothing!" exploded Beth. "Let go of me!"

Marianne tried to snatch the key from the table but Beth was quicker, this action then resulted in a tug of war.

The resulting noise caused Brandon to quickly enter the room, quite horrified to see Marianna fighting with Beth so passionately. "Stop this at once!" he barked.

"She attacked me" cried, Beth. "Please make her stop"

Marianne was close to losing her composure completely. "You are going to lie to him?"

"Beth?" asked Brandon.

Seeing that she was silent, Marianne finally managed to yank the key from her hands. "She stole this from you, moments ago"

Brandon looked at the key closely, seeing that letters and his desk had been tampered with. "Beth is this true?"

The young girl rolled her eyes and would not reply.

"Elizabeth I asked you a question" he urged, with a sharpness to his voice.

"She's framing me!" cried Beth suddenly. "She hates me!"

"Do not speak such nonsense, Marianne cares for you a great deal"

"She hates me, she is trying to turn you against me!" cried Beth.

"Why would I do that?" demanded Marianne. "You are the one who has shown me anger and hatred for a reason you created in your mind"

"You know something I don't," said Beth. "I simply want to know what you lied to me about. Willoughby did write to me about his son and you both kept it from me!"

Marianne looked to Brandon. "Christopher I have told her nothing"

He believed her but knew that Beth would never rest until she knew the truth. "Even if the truth will hurt you? You still wish to know?"

Beth nodded and stepped away from the desk. "I want to see the letter"

With some reluctance Brandon retrieved the letter and handed to Beth, almost watching as her face crumbled. "I'm sorry my dearest"

"No" whispered Beth, shaking the letter as if the letters would somehow reposition themselves. "He did not send this"

"You know his hand" replied Brandon. "Better than anyone"

Beth's icy glare fixed itself on Marianne. "Everyone accept for her"

Marianne could not hide her insult. "You are making a fool of yourself, this is nonsense"

"But you could have written it" cried, Beth. "Why won't you admit it?"

"And why won't you admit the truth that is before your eyes!" exclaimed Marianne. "Christopher please, tell her"

Brandon came to her defence, "Beth this letter came in April, too close to your confinement, I was so sure hearing those cruel and untruthful words would send you into childbirth. Marianne was not aware of any of this, she only became aware once his crimes were brought to light in May. Time is what tells the truth in this matter"

"I do not believe it" whispered Beth.

"Have I ever lied to you?" asked Brandon. "Truly?"

Beth gave no reply.

Marianne watched him take a slow deep breath, turn and leave them alone. The girl's lack of response had finally broken him.

Beth stood and watched him leave, clearly never witnessing that side of him before.

Marianne took her by the hands and forced her face to look at her own. "You do not know how lucky you are Beth. What he has done for you is above and beyond what most fathers would do for their own children, and yet you treat him as if all he has done is send his compliments to you once a year."

"This world and the men in it are cruel to our sex, you and I are a testament to that. This world is not meant for us to flourish and all he has done is give you the opportunity to try. If he had not taken you in, you'd be in the gutter or worse, do you understand?"

Beth pulled back her hands. "I remember my life before the Colonel. I was seven when my mother died. I remember the smell of gin and the taste of smoke. I remember the sounds of the men she'd bring into our home, their laughter and their violence."

Marianne watched her fly across the room. "I can't forget it" she cried. "I watched my mother die before my eyes, choking on blood and water, her eyes glazed over with fog. And I remember how afraid I was of the man by her side. But he treated her differently to all the men I'd ever seen. I remember he took me in his arms from that place and I fell asleep in them and awoke in the bedroom upstairs. He was there right beside me, stroking my hair, his eyes soft and pleading, he did not even have to speak to me. I have never felt so safe than at that moment. Every time I am here I stay in that room, sleep in that bed because each time I awaken in that bed I feel safe, that the world outside cannot touch me"

"He won't even speak to me about her," said Beth. "Each time I try I am silenced, it's as if she never existed"

She took a deep breath, "I know how lucky I am Madam, I really do. As much as he tries, I know what I am and what a burden I am to him."

"You are not a burden Beth" urged Marianne. "He adores you"

"He loves me because I look like my mother," said Beth. "But whoever my father was, has given me his spirit and a tongue I cannot control"

"He loves you" replied Marianne, taking another firm grip of the girl's hands. "He would not like me to say it but I think he loves you too much for his own good. I dare say he loves you more than me"

"Then I am a burden to him," said Beth

"If you are, then it as a burden of love he bears most willingly" replied Marianne. "And I wish to help him as much as I can. Which means this feud between us must end"

"You-you did not take Willoughby from me did you?" Beth whispered.

Marianne shook her head, "If I did so, it was unknowingly done. I thought he loved me and he certainly acted very well if he did not"

"I don't think he loved me either" muttered Beth before her face crumpled. "But I still love him"

As her sobs grew Marianne pulled her into her arms, letting her weep against her shoulder.

"I gave him everything and he promised me that he'd do the same" she cried bitterly. "I knew it was wrong but he made it sound so agreeable and sacred. I was foolish to think he loved me"

"John Willoughby is scoundrel by nature. He has learnt to rely on charm and his looks that he forgets he has a soul" urged Marianne. "He may not receive the punishment he deserves in this life but he will be held accountable for his crimes in the next"

"You must think it strange to name my son after him" sniffed Beth.

"The name is a fine one, and your son shall be everything that his father is not. You can be sure of it" assured Marianne.

Beth lifted her head and wiped the tears that hung to her face. "Do you believe that?"

"I do" nodded Marianne. "He can learn of his father when he is old enough and until then we can raise him to be noble and wise, and you must be an example to him. You must love him and nurture him"

"It is not easy" replied Beth. "babies are difficult and I do not know what he wants when he cries"

"That is why you have a nurse and why Mrs Jennings and her daughter will help you if you let them," said Marianne.

Beth nodded and for the first time smiled at her.

"So can we be friends?" asked Marianne. "Please?"

"I think I can manage that" she replied.

-

Chapter Text

Marianne found Brandon in a secluded corner of the garden.

It was obvious that Beth’s words had hurt him but he was doing his best to hide it.

“My love?” she called as she approached. “Beth and I are no longer at odds. I believe it’s safe to return to the house”

She hoped he’d find the humour in her speech but he did not.

“She does not trust me,” he said bitterly.

“No no” cried Marianne, “she loves you, she’s just in pain”

His senses snapped awake, “Pain? Now?”

“Dearest, Beth wants to know about her mother-“

“No” he replied. “She has heard everything”

“Everything you appear willing to tell,” said Marianne. “She confessed it to me, she knows nothing of her”

“She knows how wonderful she was, how she is the very image of her” replied Brandon.

“That is not enough” urged Marianne. “Those are not memories, they are not tangible”

“Then I do not understand what she needs” confessed Brandon.

“Stories Christopher, things she did and said, habits and things she adored to do” she cried. “Beth's mother is only a painting to her, you must use your words to bring her to life”

“And you think this will help Beth?” observed Brandon.

“More than you know” nodded Marianne. “More than she knows”

“Perhaps the knowledge will mature her, ease her wildness” he suggested.

“Perhaps, or it will heal that broken part of her that is her reason for rebelling” Marianne took his hands. “You love her and she loves you, so you must tell her about Eliza”

“I fear I would say too much” he confessed. “I do not know if I can say those words about her anymore”

“What are you afraid of?” she asked.

“That I still love her more than I think I do” he replied. “And that would be an injustice to you”

“I have made my peace with a tiny part of my heart always loving Willoughby,” said Marianne. “How can I condemn you for loving someone else just as much?”

Brandon leant and kissed her head. “You are life itself to me, Marianne. No one could ever take your place, but Eliza-“

“Was the love of your life for a time” finished Marianne. “As Willoughby was mine”

“Do you truly think Beth wants to know about her mother?” he asked again.

“I think it would do her a great amount of good” she replied.

-

Marianne closed the door to the library, letting Beth and Brandon speak alone.

Mrs Jennings and the nurse had been kept amused by little John who had become far more relaxed after his feed.

“Ah you have returned to us!” cried Mrs Jennings. “I was beginning to think that you had come to harm”

“Nothing of the kind” replied Marianne, searing herself beside her. “Beth had need of me”

“And her son has need of her” remarked Mrs Jennings. “I hope my Charlotte can help her”

“She is far to young to be a mother” reminded Marianne. “We mustn’t forget that”

“Oh it’s not her age!” cried Mrs Jennings. “I was married at sixteen myself and I had a child within a year. It’s her nature that needs taming, especially that temper”

“With age will come maturity” added Marianne.

“I hear the Colonel’s voice behind those words” chuckled Mrs Jennings. “He does dote on her”

“She is special to him” replied Marianne. “She is almost his daughter”

“If that pleases you,” said Mrs Jennings. “But I think the Colonel wants sons, you are bound to give him several”

“If I am blessed in that way” replied Marianne. “But if not, he has expressed a wish that I do not torment myself”

“A good man and a good heart” smiled Mrs Jennings. “You must guard him well my dear”

“I cannot see many women who would compete with me?” remarked Marianne. “Even I thought him too old six months ago”

“Now now, people have come to hear of his goodness and charms” smirked Mrs Jennings. “And his handsome face is not hard to miss”

“Are you implying I should be wary of my husband’s faithfulness Madam?” asked Marianne.

“My dear I meant no offence” cried, Mrs Jennings. “I’d never do yourself or the Colonel the dishonour”

Marianne smiled politely and rose to admire baby John. He’s such a sweet child isn’t he?”

Mrs Jennings allowed the conversation to be steered. “Yes he’s sure to be handsome”

“Yes” replied Marianne, running her finger of his soft dark tufts of hair. “But we hope with a better nature”

-

The rest of that day passed with ease, with all parties now at peace with each other it allowed bright conversation and such bouts of laughter such that Marianne had not experienced in months.

The Autumn weather was quite mild and filled with an energy and Brandon’s wish to see Edward, a walk to the Parsonage became very agreeable.

Beth decided to stay at Delaford, the walk presented no enjoyment for her so she prefered to stay in the warm.

Leaving her and little John in the very capable hands of Mrs Jennings, Marianne and Brandon set off.

Marianne had not seen his estate in Autumn, the vast expanse of trees painted yellow, brown and crimson. She ran ahead like a child, delightedly bouncing on the leaves.

Brandon did enter this fun, momentary kicking leaves to the sky with his boot.

As she was so enveloped in her amusement, she did not spot the protruding roots of a large oak tree that lay in her path. The soft leaves beneath her caught the weight of her fall and she wanted to laugh at her stupidity rather than at any injury.

She looked behind her to see if Brandon would find it as funny as she did but he had not kept up her pace and was still hidden behind some bushes.

However, the sound of hurried footsteps from another direction alerted her, soon a handsome face and gentle voice addressed her, “Are you well Miss?”

“Yes, thank you” she stammered, moving to stand up.

“Please let me help you, I saw you fall” the man urged, holding out his arm for support.

Marianne wavered but graciously accepted it, brushing the leaves off her overcoat as she tried to avoid looking at him.

“Are you walking alone Miss?” he asked.

“No” she replied, a little affronted at his boldness. “But I would not normally be asked of a stranger without suspicion”

The young man smiled, “Then let us not be strangers”

He removed his hat and bowed, “Thomas Morton, at your service”

“Mrs Marianne Brandon, at yours,” she replied.

“Brandon?” he asked, “I have heard that name in town”

“Yes my husband is well known in the area,” she replied.

“And everyone also speaks of his lovely wife, which might I say their praises do not do justice” he smiled.

Marianne oppressed the colour that rose in her cheeks. “I thank you, even if you are a little bold”

At this time Brandon turned the corner, alerted to the presence of this stranger. “Marianne Are you alright?”

She turned and looked relieved at the sound of his voice, “Yes, I stumbled a little”

“Fell actually” injected the man. “I hoped no damage had been done”

Brandon walked over and stood close to Marianne. “I thank you for your assistance Sir”

“Colonel Brandon isn't’ it,” the man asked, “I was just introducing myself to your wife. He lay his hand on his chest, “Thomas Morton”

Brandon bowed his head, “Pleasure Sir, how have you to come to end up on my lands if I may ask?”

“Forgive me” Thomas replied, going quite red. “I believed them to be public lands”

“No, you will find a gate several meters in that direction which marks the end of them” pointed Brandon.

“Then I must ask you to spare me the jail this once” replied Thomas. “I was trying to find my way to the tailors”

Marianne almost replied but Brandon was faster, “Follow the lane there for a half-mile, you’ll reach the town market and it is beside the church”

“Thank you” Thomas smiled. “I have only just arrived in Devonshire so my direction is not what it should be”

“Where are you staying?” inquired Marianne. “Somewhere in town?”

“Yes for day or so, then I return to my home at Combe Magnor, I imagine you know the house?” he replied.

“You must be mistaken” questioned Brandon. “A John Willoughby lives in that house when he resides in Devonshire”

“You do not know either” sighed Thomas. “It seems no one does but I! Willoughby has sold the property and now permanently resides in London”

“Thank God” cried Marianne, quickly hiding her joy. “He was not popular here”

“Yes I have heard he is well disliked, I hope I can lift the taint that hangs over that quite lovely old house” he smiled. “Some young ladies have suggested a ball?”

“That would be delightful,” said Marianne. “I do not recall one being held since I came to Devonshire”

“Well, as long as you can promise that yourselves will be in attendance I shall set a date” urged Thomas.

“Perhaps you would be so good as to join us for dinner first” replied Brandon. “I have learnt to become acquainted with someone before enjoying their company”

“Why I would be delighted, I know almost no one here, it would be some much-needed friendship,” said Thomas, “I will await your invitation”

He replaced his hat, “I will not delay your journey any longer, I wish you both a pleasant day”

Marianne smiled as he continued past them, noticing Brandon looking a little unsure.

“What a fine young gentlemen,” she remarked, once they were walking again. “He shall add such energy to public engagements”

“We all thought the same of another young man,” said Brandon.

“Not every young man who has a handsome face and countenance is a villain my love” replied Marianne.

“I have yet to be proven otherwise” he sighed. After a short pause, he added, “So you think him handsome?”

Marianne released a laugh, “Why yes, is that wrong? I hope you will not feel the need to ask me to seal my lips, should I meet a hundred such men”

“No” he smiled. “I am just curious”

“As long as your curiosity comes from a place of humour and not suspicion?” she remarked. “I should not be able to hold my temper if it is the latter”

“I would not seek to vex your temper for all the handsome faces of England” he chuckled.

“I give you leave to remark if you think a certain woman is handsome, and I shall do the same with men,” said Marianne. “That is fair”

“And what if I cannot observe a woman more beautiful than my own wife?” he replied.

“Well,” remarked Marianne, slightly enjoying his compliment. “Then you can say so”

Brandon smiled, “Very well, I give you leave to think Mr Morton handsome”

“As long as it is followed with ‘none is more handsome than you?’ she teased.

“Quite right” he replied.

Chapter Text

“Who is coming to dinner?” asked Beth curiously.

“The new owner of Combe Magnor” replied Brandon. “It seems the previous owner has left the county for good”

“Oh” replied Beth. “And is this new man like Willoughby?”

“Not at all it seems” added Marianne.

“I would not go that far” replied Brandon. “We do not know his character yet”

“All seemed well,” said Marianne.

“And I thought so to about a certain young man” he replied. “I would not wish such an influence to regain my favour”

“May I meet him?” asked Beth. “I’ll be proper, I vow it”

“Not to dinner,” said Brandon. “You shall retire back to Sir John’s”

“But surely-“ whined Beth. “I only want to say hello to him”

“And you will” assured Brandon. “Once I decipher his character”

-

Marianne did her best to not appear excited at Mr Morton’s visit.

It had a long time since she had enjoyed company close to her own age, she hoped to make a friend of him. She did keep her thoughts to herself as Beth was visibly deflated about being sent away.

Brandon was determined to find out more about this new young man, he ventured into town to visit his friend, Henry Keats, in the hope that he had knowledge from different sources.

“Thomas Morton,” said Keats. “Yes I’ve met the man”

“And what of him?” asked Brandon. “My Marianne seems quite taken with him”

“He is a good man” replied Keats. “It’s his unfortunate connection that makes him disagreeable”

“Connection?”

“I doubt his charming eyes and countenance have passed your notice!” remarked Keats.

“I am quite ignorant to your point?” replied Brandon.

“He is a distant cousin to our dear rogue Willoughby. Since the scandal he has done his best to hide it” said Keats.

Brandon sighed. “That does explain how he came to own Combe Magnor so easily”

“I would avoid him Brandon” urged Keats. “He still sees Willoughby, that could be used to influence Beth and Marianne”

“I wish I knew that before I invited him to dinner,” said Brandon.

“Why would you do that?” asked Keats.

“As it was the gentlemanly thing to do” replied Brandon. “He made talk of a ball being held and I suggested dinner first”

Keats shook his head. “I’d withdraw your invite”

“On the day the dinner was scheduled?” said Brandon. “Hardly”

“Claim an illness or urgent business” suggested Keats. “Don’t let that man get close to you”

“It would thoroughly displease my wife” replied Brandon. “I will have to deal with her sadness, not yourself”

“She’s attached to him?”

“No of course not,” said Brandon. “Nothing of the sort. I think she sees a companion of sorts, not a romantic connection”

“I’d hope she would not think so,” remarked Keats. “Nor you to allow it. She is your wife, not just the lonely girl whom you gave your affections to. She is a wonderful girl Brandon, you must work to keep her”

“I would not tame her nature. She is curious and inquisitive. I would not love her if she were any different” replied Brandon.

“I do not mean change her, change yourself,” said Keats. “You must look for potential danger, just because she is your wife does not mean that men will not try and lure her away”

“I will not declare a threat to every man I encounter who gazes at my wife” replied Brandon. “Marianne is a beautiful woman, I can’t hide her away”

Keats sighed. “My friend you misunderstand me. Keep Morton away from her, it’s best”

“I will question him about his past,” said Brandon. “I shall see how he reacts”

-

“I shall tell you everything” assured Marianne, as Beth and little John were escorted to the carriage.

Beth sighed and nodded. “I think I shall never be allowed to have fun again”

“Nonsense” hushed Marianne. “If he is reasonable I will make sure you meet him”

“It will be a long time before the Colonel lets me see anyone” concluded Beth. “I’m sure I’ll meet him myself”

“Now” warned Marianne. “Please do not sneak about. Sir John will not tolerate it”

“I wasn’t planning to” replied Beth. “I promise”

“I will believe you,” said Marianne. “As long as you don’t prove me wrong”

-

Brandon watched Morton climb off his horse, happily approaching the entrance to his home.

This attachment to Willoughby was a true concern, a true danger to Marianne and Beth that had yet to be understood.

Marianne had heard nothing about Morton’s past, Brandon wanted her reaction to be genuine.

Marianne waited politely at the door for him, glancing behind as Brandon joined her.

Morton thanked the doorman and removed his hat. “I apologise I believe I am slightly late”

“Not at all” replied Marianne. “It is our pleasure to have you”

“Join us in the library” called Brandon.

“I’d be delighted,” said Morton. “I’ve heard fine tales about your collection of books Sir”

“Do come” urged Marianne, already at the door.

Brandon politely swung his arm in that direction and tailed him closely.

Marianne watched Morton’s eyes widen as he entered the library. “My God, what a collection, and such a room to place it in”

“It’s beautiful no?” smiled Marianne. “I spend more time here than anywhere else”

“I can understand why” cried Morton. “Colonel, how have you come by such an expanse of books?”

“My father was an avid collector” replied Brandon. “I indulge in music instead of books”

“The collection at Combe Magnor is severely out of order” confessed Morton. “I must say I am envious”

“A good librarian is hard to find” replied Brandon. “You may have to complete the task yourself”

“Do you have a favourite author Mr Morton?” asked Marianne.

“I do not read as much as I should” replied Morton. “I do have a love for Shakespeare”

“Then you are in good company,” remarked Brandon. “You won’t find a more avid lover of his works than my wife”

“I do adore him” agreed Marianne.

“Who do you wish to be Madam?” asked Morton. “Juliet? Desdemona? Helena?”

Marianne laughed. “None of them anymore. I’ve quite grown out of calling for my love from a rose-covered balcony”

“I think I shall plant some roses” muttered Brandon, just within her hearing. “I should quite like to see that”

Morton laughed politely, “I must say, your ease with each other is enviable. I hope to find such countenance with a wife of my own”

“I had to wait twenty years” smiled Brandon. “Patience is key”

“I’m afraid I don’t possess a great deal of it” replied Morton.

Brandon chose his words mindfully. “A family trait perhaps?”

Morton seemed to understand but Marianne was puzzled. “Why do you say so?”

Morton was silent so Brandon changed the subject. “I think dinner should be served by now, shall we go through?”

-

Marianne kept trying to shake the comment that Brandon had made about Mr Morton. Was he making a joke? Or was the little familiarity that she saw in his eyes something to worry about.

Morton seemed to sense it too, his conversation was constant and engaging but you could feel he was on edge about something.

Brandon watched him closely, he knew his remark had startled the young man and was waiting for him to reveal himself or keep his mount shut, either of which would reveal to him his true character.

As Morton met eyes with Brandon again and as the room came to a quiet he spoke up. “Sir I believe your comment to me earlier was prompting a confession of sorts”

“Perhaps,” said Brandon.

“What confession?” asked Marianne. “I knew something was being spoken of”

“I imagine my character has been thrown into question once again” sighed Morton. “I had some hope that it would slip by everyone”

“Not here” replied Brandon.

“Please, Mr Morton” urged Marianne. “I can’t abide all this secrecy, I’ve had my fill of it. What were you hoping we would all ignore?”

Morton sighed. “My unfortunate relation to John Willoughby”

“Willoughby?” cried Marianne. “I don’t understand!”

“He is a distant relation on my mother’s side, he’s my second cousin” explained Morton. “I do my best to keep our names far away from each other”

“But why take up residence in his old home?” remarked Brandon. “Why move to the very county he is hated?”

“Foolishness and hope” replied Morton. “Our family is tarnished by his behaviour, my wish is to show this fine county that not all the men in my family are abysmal”

“But why keep it from us?” asked Marianne. “You are aware of his crimes?”

“Yes but I’ve never met the two ladies not heard much about them. My thought was perhaps they lived in seclusion, though I heard one married well” replied Morton. “They would have to after such disgrace, unfortunately, falling prey to my cousin's seduction, but I can’t imagine without small encouragement”

“I am one of those encouraging ladies” replied Marianne. “And you are correct I married very well”

As his face coloured deeply, she rose from the table, “Good evening Mr Morton” she added throwing down her napkin.

“Miss Marianne” he cried, rising abruptly. “Please I mean no offence”

“But you’ve caused it” she replied, swiftly leaving the room.

Morton stood for several moments, his gaze moving between the table and the door, utterly silent.

Brandon coughed to break the silence. “I think it might be time you left us, Morton”

“Please Colonel I meant no disrespect to your wife, my mouth can be too liberal. it’s one of my faults” urged Morton.

“I will try my best to soothe her, I fear your comments will sit with her for a while” replied Brandon. “I commend you for revealing your past and your opinions. Now that you have I would ask that you stay away from Marianne”

“Sir I so enjoy your company, both of you!” cried Morton.

“We once enjoyed the company of Willoughby and he caused nothing but sadness” replied Brandon. “He could use your position here to get to Marianne, I expect that's why you’ve been placed here”

“I am no spy!” exclaimed Morton. “I despise the man, why would I seek to help him?”

“But you move into his home? Befriend his previous victims?” remarked Brandon. “Can you not see why I’d be suspicious of you?”

“I can Sir” replied Morton. “But I have not seen him in almost three years, I could not possibly be a pawn for him”

“Nevertheless” sighed Brandon, rising from his chair. “Stay well away from Marianne”

Chapter Text

Despite gentle encouragement, Marianne was still furious upon going to bed.

“How could he speak that way?” she cried, pacing the room. “He sounds just like his cousin”

Brandon called her from the bed. “Marianne you’ll freeze, if you must rant please do so from the warmth”

She relented to his wish, but still continued, “I must warn Elinor about him. No doubt he’ll try and introduce himself to Edward”

“Even so, we have no cause to see him again” soothed Brandon. “Not even a ball”

“Oh but surely-“

“Surely what?” asked Brandon. “Weren’t you just speaking ill of him?”

“Yes but, a ball is so lovely,” she replied. “I shouldn’t speak to him of course”

“Perhaps you are not as angry as you appear?” remarked Brandon.

“He wounded me greatly with his talk” cried Marianne. “But if everyone else goes to the ball and we don’t-”

“If people ask why, we can tell them” replied Brandon. “I’m sure most people will avoid him when they hear the truth of his family”

“And you are going to tell everyone?” asked Marianne.

“The news already appears to be in town, Keats told himself about Morton and mused to himself that I was oblivious to the facts” replied Brandon.

“News seems to travel very slow here,” remarked Marianne. “Perhaps I should encourage maid gossip?”

“I’d rather you didn’t” replied Brandon. “We’ll have a ball of our own”

Marianne cried out excitedly. “You mean that?”

“Yes, Mrs Andrews shall play the piano and I shall dance with you all night, most agreeable no?”

Realising he was simply teasing she sighed. “All these fine dresses I have, and no one to see them”

“I have been demoted to no one?” he mused.

“Women’s opinions matter to me” she replied plainly. “Men don’t care for them”

“I think you look divine in everything” he replied.

“See my point” she replied. “I could wear a bedsheet and you’d still like me”

Seeing him move to tease her again, she added. “Which I will not ever wear, so don’t get any ideas”

Thoroughly hushed Brandon tried not to laugh.

“Women will comment on my fine choice in fabric, lace and choice of ribbons. Men just nod and say ‘yes dear, you look quite lovely’ That is no help at all” she remarked.

“If you wish me to expand my vocabulary when it comes to compliments, just say the word” he smiled.

“I’ll write you a list shall I?” she replied, tucking herself under the covers. “If you cannot praise my vanity, who can?”

“Now I wouldn’t go that far,” he said, wrapping his arm around her. “You are not a vain creature”

Marianne smiled, “I’m glad we agree on something at least”

-

“Elinor?” called Marianne, stepping through the open door of the parsonage. “Elinor? Edward? Hello?”

“Here Marianne!” called Edward, seemingly from above.

She wandered cluelessly outside and gasped as she saw Edward on the roof, trying to fix some tiles.

“Edward! What are you doing up there!” she cried. “Come down at once!”

“I have a roof to fix” he assured. “I shall be down presently”

“If you insist,” said Marianne nervously. “Where is Elinor? She knows about this?”

“Yes shes painting, you’ll find her in the parlour” he called.

“Don’t you fall while I’m gone!” she urged, before slipping back inside.

She did indeed find Elinor, but rather than painting a canvas she was up a small step, painting the walls.

“Is that you Marianne?” she called. “I thought I heard your voice”

“Yes, but what on earth are you doing? You could fall! Both of you seem to have a death wish! cried, Marianne. “Edward on the roof and you, climbing up walls! And besides what about the baby? You could hurt the baby if you were to fall!”

“A step off the ground does not have me or my child in any danger” assured Elinor, climbing down and setting aside her makeshift brush. “Now, have you come to help?”

“Well,” said Marianne. “I’m expected back at lunch”

“You obviously have come to tell me something” smiled Elinor. “You can talk and paint no?”

“I-I don’t know how” urged Marianne. “I’d make a mess”

“This room will be a testament to mess until the painting is done” replied Elinor. “Here, have an apron”

“But Christopher expects me back in an hour” urged Marianne.

“Do you have plans? I obviously won’t keep you if so” said Elinor.

“Not exactly,” replied Marianne. “I could stay for a while”

“If need be, there are plenty of charming farm boys who would delight to run a message to the ‘big house’, for you” assured Elinor.

“Very well” sighed Marianne. “As you are so persistent”

“And you are so agreeable” smiled Elinor. “I’m grateful my darling”

“When I make a mess you won’t thank me” laughed Marianne.

-

Marianne stayed with Elinor for some time, beginning to breach the topic of Mr Morton over a break for tea.

Almost as the words left her mouth she heard his voice outside and Edward happily brought him inside. “Elinor dearest, this is the delightful young man I was telling you about”

The embarrassment on Morton’s face was so clear that Marianne had to speak. “Mr Morton I did not expect to see you so soon”

“You have met?” asked Elinor.

“I had the pleasure of dining with the Colonel and his wife last night, though my speech became too liberal for which I must again apologise” interjected Morton.

“Yes, all his forgotten,” said Marianne trying to smile properly.

“Forgiven as well, I hope?” He asked.

Marianne was a little taken aback at his boldness, Elinor reading the situation quickly cut in. “Morton is it?”

Morton stared at Marianne for a little longer, a sadness in his eyes before addressing Elinor’s question. “Yes Madam, Thomas Morton”

“My husband spoke of you so highly, it’s my understanding you also wish for a career in the church?” asked Elinor.

“Yes that has been my wish since boyhood” he replied. “Your husband has been most obliging to all my questions, some as ignorant as they are”

“Nonsense” smiled Edward. “You are a most promising student”

“You are his student?” asked Marianne, quite shocked.

“Yes, I contacted Mr Ferrars a few months ago, trying to arrange a meeting” replied Morton. “Long before I knew about-“

He stopped, “but that is not important now, how can I assist you, ladies? Painting I hear?”

“Yes the parlour needs attention” replied Elinor. “Marianne and I are doing our best”

“Then I shall be all the help you need” smiled Morton. “Lead the way, Madam”

-

Marianne did not enjoy the monotony of painting, especially painting plain walls.

Elinor enjoyed the peace of it and Morton assisted wherever he could, quite happy to reach the top corners.

“Are you alright Marianne?” asked Elinor, seeing her sister slump into a chair.

“Yes, but my arms are sore,” she complained. “I shall sit for a moment”

“Not used to the labour?” mused Morton playfully.

Marianne sat forwards on her chair. “I hope you are not making a joke of me Sir?”

“No, I would never” replied Morton.

“He’s trying to be humorous,” said Elinor. "Do not snap"

“I don’t like humour if it’s at my expense” replied Marianne. “So Mr Morton please desist”

“Now Marianne,” said Elinor. “You are in my home, I won’t have you speak to a guest in such a way”

“No please Mrs Ferrars, my speech to your sister last night was deplorable, she has every right to scorn me” piped Morton. “It only gives me leave to apologise once more”

“You are not a spiteful creature Marianne” added Elinor. “Please do not act like one”

“Very well” sighed Marianne, for the sake of her sister, trying to be civil.

-

After another hour of painting, Marianne wanted fresh air, happily leaving Elinor and Morton to their tea.

She would not have peace for long as she heard him call. “Miss Marianne? Might we speak a moment?"

“You never seem to stop speaking about me” replied Marianne, barely noticing him.

“I am sorry about what I said” he urged. “It was hurtful and unjustified, you asked me if I knew the women, not what rumours I had heard”

“You knew how Willoughby treated me and yet you chose to hide your identity” snapped Marianne.

“Everywhere I go I am met with contempt” he cried. “He and I could not be further apart”

“But can you not understand how seeing you and realising who you are, would upset me?” replied Marianne.

“Of course” he urged. “I could not begin to understand your distress, that is why I am so determined to balm the wound I have created” he replied.

“And what do you suggest?” she asked.

“I would like to host a ball,” he said. “And I would like yourself and the Colonel to be my guests of honour”

“The Colonel would not approve of being an honourable guest, he does not have those high graces and neither do I” replied Marianne. “Despite what others would say of me”

“Then at the least come” urged Morton. “You would encourage others”

“To what?”

“Accept me” he replied. “No one here wants to do business with me, apart from Mr Ferrars"

“Is it any wonder why?” she replied. “The name Willoughby is met with contempt in this town”

“Then if that is so I must leave it” exclaimed Morton. “I am not here to play his pawn and try and seduce you on his behalf. Lying to women is not an amusement to me”

“Part of me wants to believe you” she replied. “But part of me still fears that you have the talent of being a beautiful liar, just as he is”

“And nothing I can say will ever change that?” he replied. “It must be through action then?”

“You don’t have to do anything” cried Marianne. “Now please, leave me whilst I continue my walk”

Morton reached out and grabbed her arm. “Please, let us not end it like this”

“Mr Morton, let go of my arm” warned Marianne. “My husband shall be here at any moment and will not stand for it”

Unrelenting he pleaded. “My cousin’s crimes against you are unforgivable, but can you hold such a grudge against all who share the same blood?”

“And yet it begs the question, are you just blood or are you of the same nature?” she replied, trying to pull herself away. “How do I know you to be different?”

“Please, Marianne” he exclaimed. “I beg you”

She sighed frustratedly as his persistence. “Let me go, Sir, I won’t ask again”

“And neither will I”

Marianne turned her head to see Brandon, staring Morton down disapprovingly.

Immediately he released her arm. “Colonel please I did not want this to appear threatening-“

“It’s a little late for that” replied Brandon. “I warned you once, and I will give you the same chance as your cousin. Come near Marianne again and we shall duel, understood?”

The young man’s face drained of colour. “It would never come to that, I’d never accept such a challenge”

“I shall go if that is what you wish, I wanted nothing more than to try and mend the void between us, but I see that it is impossible,” he added.

“Only furthered by your actions here” cried Marianne. “You can not touch a married woman, what possessed you?”

“Passion” cried, Morton. “The desperate need to be understood!”

“A lack of restraint which shall only end in disaster,” said Brandon, standing protectively beside Marianne. “You are fortunate I have a cool temper, other husbands may not be as forgiving”

“I never meant to cause offence” pleaded Morton.

“Such a favourite phrase of yours it seems” added Brandon. “Now, be so good as to leave us, do not make me ask again”