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Story [Sense & Sensibility] "All Fools In Love" | OTP Challenge #22 | Epilogue Vignette(s)

Discussion in 'Non Star Wars Fan Fiction' started by Mira_Jade , Oct 10, 2021.

  1. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Jun 29, 2004
    Title: “All Fools in Love”
    Author: Mira_Jade
    Fandom: Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility

    Rating: PG
    Genre: Humor, Romance
    Time Frame: the Missing Year of Chapter 50; September, 1798
    Characters: Elinor Dashwood/Edward Ferrars, pre-Marianne Dashwood/Colonel Brandon

    Summary: A discussion of fools and blessings, on a late summer's day.

    Notes: Hello, all! This story is my happy contribution to the OTP thread's 22nd "Our Song + Plot Point" challenge. The song I chose was With You 'til the End by Tommee Profitt, ft. Sam Tinnesz; the plot point I received at random was humorous mix-up. To say that I didn't know what to write, at first, would be something of an understatement. But I did know that if I wanted to graft these two elements together I would either have to make my song somewhat less serious or my prompt a great deal more so. I chose the former, and this 9k words of fluffy banter and gratuitous descriptions of the English countryside is what my muse spilled out as a result. (Why S&S, you may wonder? A recent reread has me quite captivated, and I just couldn't resist!) While this vignette evolved along the way, the song's theme of persevering through life's trials thanks to love is still very present, as is a very humorous (or, at least, Edward thinks he's funny) mix-up to start it all. [face_love]

    I thank anyone who has ventured in to read, that said, and hope that you enjoy! [:D]

    Disclaimer: Nothing is mine, but for the words. The title, somewhat fittingly, is a Pride & Prejudice nab, which I don't even have to say is also by Jane Austen. ;)

    "All Fools in Love"
    by Mira_Jade

    The first Sunday of September saw Edward Ferrars presiding over his flock as the newly appointed rector of Delaford.

    If Elinor did not know her husband as well as she did, his discomfort for public speaking may have gone unnoticed. Yet she did know him, and thus knew the tremor in his voice for the apprehension it represented; she knew the way he shaped certain vowels so as not to stutter outright; how he chose to pause completely and catch his breath rather than risk a dreaded um making its way into his reading. His hands clenched the lectern when he was not holding his Bible, white-knuckled to keep from trembling, though he did not commit his ultimate fear in dropping the good book outright. If, perhaps, he had a tendency to stare too long at his notes – written and then rewritten and practiced aloud so many times that Elinor herself knew the words by heart – she took pride in how conscious he was of doing so throughout the sermon. He made a marked effort to look his parishioners in the eye, and met a different individual gaze every time. What more could Edward ask of himself than those small acts of courage? Such fortitude was a form of bravery all its own.

    Breathe, Elinor wanted to whisper when he sneaked a glance to judge his progress by her expression, just breathe. Perhaps it wasn’t quite ecclesiastical, the way Edward paused just long enough to smile down at her – his mouth quirking in that same half-grin that had first drawn her eye and then later her heart back at Norland – but as his doing so had the added benefit of ensuring that Edward did, indeed, draw breath without reciting his concluding Psalm all in one rushed exhale, Elinor couldn’t bring herself to be even the slightest bit critical.

    When the service was concluded and the church emptied, she waited in the nave for Edward to discard his vestments. Alone, Elinor paused to admire the late-morning sunlight as it spilled through the stained-glass panels in a molten play of jeweled greens and blue and reds, now interspersed with bursts of white-hot yellows and orange. To pass the time, she considered just how she would attempt to paint such a scene herself, if only her talents were advanced enough to allow her to do so with any sort of integrity.

    She was so taken by the sight – often as of late, for all that Marianne claimed that she was endeavoring to be more like her, Elinor found the reverse true and she was rather becoming more and more like her sister – that she didn’t even notice that Edward had completed his transformation from parish rector to country gentleman until he came out to stand behind her. He didn’t interrupt her contemplation of the glass, but instead wrapped his arms around her waist to gently draw her close in an embrace. He sighed, content with relief, and she responded as a month (an entire month; how was such a blessing hers?) of marriage had conditioned her to respond by sinking, quite contentedly, back against him. She covered his hands with her own, then wanting nothing more than to be held by and hold onto him in return.

    Deeply, Edward inhaled; she could feel his breath as it expanded in his lungs. She wondered, then, if his thoughts were similar to her own, and would have asked him outright had he not first ventured: “Would it be terribly untoward for a rector to kiss his wife in an empty church?” The grin in his voice echoed in that hallowed way that all churches turned sound to prayer, and he added, “Or would that be unthinkably improper?”

    Perhaps Elinor should have left her husband’s embrace without a kiss; the rules of propriety certainly demanded as much. Instead – as she was then very conscious of her blessings, so much so that she believed that same higher power who'd granted her those blessings couldn’t possibly begrudge her showing her gratitude in a more tangible way – she turned in Edward’s arms to quite boldly kiss him in answer. She felt him smile in delight against her mouth, and for that she had to kiss him again.

    Goodness, but she was most certainly behaving more and more like Marianne now, wasn’t she?

    When Elinor did pull away – all too soon, yet she was still sensible of the fact that they were in a church – Edward's grin widened as if he’d learned something new about her, and quite relished the discovery. Even so, he glanced to the left and then to the right – it would have been quite scandalous if the churchwarden or some parishioner or, heaven forbid, Marianne had come in while they were thus distracted – before he looked up at the vaulted arches of the ceiling. “Thank you,” he said simply, and then offered her his arm in an exaggeratedly courtly gesture. “Shall we, Mrs. Ferrars?”

    “I would be delighted, Mr. Ferrars.” Elinor couldn’t help but share her husband’s good humor, and they exited the church together.

    Nearly the entirety of that morning’s congregants were still gathered out in the churchyard, waiting to congratulate Edward on the success of his first sermon. Though Edward had yet to take the pulpit until that morning (the part of his duties he’d dreaded the most, oddly enough for a minister), he’d been almost wholly in residence at Delaford since his ordination back in July to aid in overseeing the repairs to their parsonage and to further acquaint himself with the particulars of his new living. Part of those duties, or so he’d tasked himself, was forming an acquaintance with each and every member of his parish. While Edward would always feel unsuited to preaching, he did rather enjoy putting his mind to untangling the everyday particulars and minor crises the villagers came to solicit his advice for. He was quick to listen, slow to speak, and ever ready to add his own sort of wry humor to any situation where he felt it applied. He’d already served the county more than once as a magistrate, as the appointment accompanied his benefice, and he was making a name for being fair and just and kind.

    That, Elinor had assured him, would ultimately be more important to his parishioners than any ability to recite the scriptures by heart.

    Even now she watched as Edward graciously received the praise that was his due, making as much time for the neighborhood’s wealthier residents – Judge Stapleton, Doctor Kettlewell, and Sir and Lady Everleigh of Weatherly Park, who did not have a rector of their own – as he did those less – from Mr. and Mrs. Goring, who ran the village inn, along with their many children, to Mr. Nye the blacksmith, and Miss Ansley the quite literal spinster – and even less so, from every tenant farmer and working man and women who found employment from field to shop to house and everywhere in between. That he did so without an eye to class – he greeted the young and newlywed Mr. and Mrs. Cherrington, who had just taken over one of Delaford’s smallest farms, right before and just as warmly as he did Mr. Fawcett, the old widower of Redbrook Mill – endeared him to many, even as it made him something of an oddity to others (only Mrs. Leybourne of Afinus Lodge had sniffed outright for the new rector’s appallingly dreadful lack of manners), but Elinor wouldn’t have it any other way.

    By the time they made their way through the gathering of well-wishers, it was just past noon – or so said the sun, then at its zenith in the cloudless sky high above them. It was a cool day for September, teasing them with a glimpse of the autumn that was soon to come. The land was poised on the brink of change, turning the air crisp with promise even as the sun beamed down with the last of the late summer’s warmth. As if to punctuate her thoughts, a pleasant breeze teased through the still leafy boughs of the trees overhead before sweeping down to dance with the verdant meadow grasses that covered the knoll leading up to the church. Teasel and thistle grew among the knotgrass, while purple wild basil decorated the lane that ambled across the down in clumps and tangles with the milkwort and flowering ragweed. It was such a beautiful day that there would be no carriage called to take them back to Delaford House (their residence, still, until work on the parsonage could be completed; on that point Colonel Brandon had been most insistent). Instead, Elinor was looking forward to their walk back to their temporary home with an anticipation that could very nearly rival Marianne's for any time she could spend out of doors.

    Should we walk?” Edward had asked, just that morning. She'd only half-attended his words then as she inwardly debated whether or not she would need her gloves. “It’s promising to be quite a fine day, but it’s such a terribly long way to travel on foot. Indeed, it's quite unattainable when you stop to consider the distance.”

    Elinor had thought his tone of voice most peculiar – as if he asked a question that he already full knew the answer to. Frowning, she would have said, “The church isn’t even a mile away, and you’ve walked there dozens of times already. What has changed now?” before -

    Who would not want to walk on such a beautiful morning as this one? I would still convey myself by my own power if the church was twice as far away!” Marianne had, quite predictably, replied to Edward’s query with no small amount of feeling. This would have been nothing unusual for Marianne, had Colonel Brandon not said at exactly the same time: “It is much too fine a morning to be wasted inside a carriage.”

    That is, if the ladies are amiable to the idea?” Brandon had quickly demurred – though not so much for having so baldly stated his own opinion before ascertaining the wishes of his guests, Elinor suspected, but for speaking as one with, rather than over, Marianne. For her own part, Marianne had fallen silent in favor of merely staring at the colonel in that increasingly perplexed way that had become her norm as of late.

    Edward, in answer, had smiled like a fox in the shadow of a hen-house. "Walking it is, then."

    As he turned to hide his grin, Elinor had fixed him with a most pointed look – for which Edward had dared to respond in all innocence to. But she knew better: Edward had been playing such small games ever since he’d first asked if Marianne too could infringe on the colonel’s hospitality for a little while longer after Mrs. Dashwood and Margaret returned to Barton Cottage following their wedding. Elinor suspected that her mother and husband had thought of the scheme together, if Emma Dashwood’s softly spoken, “my daughters quite depend on each other, and have not lived apart a day in their lives,” was anything to measure by. The Dashwood matron usually quite frowned on charity, and Elinor previously would have never thought her capable of infringing upon another as a guest. She had not liked, nor had she yet come to like, being proven wrong in her estimation of her mother’s character – of her husband’s character.

    Yet there wasn't anything she could have said, even in polite objection. Marianne’s eyes had sparked for the idea – turning aglow with a light that was returning to her slowly, but surely, as the months went by – and that was that. Following such a look from her sister, Brandon could see or hear nothing else, and it was decided: Marianne would stay with them until the Ferrarses were settled in their parsonage, hopefully before the first of October at Michaelmas.

    Elinor sighed for the memory, even as she practically pushed her misgivings aside. What was done was done; and, at the very least, their scheme was founded in no small amount of truth: she did not know what she would do without Marianne when her sister did finally return to Barton, and she had no desire to quicken their separation. Even the mere twenty miles between Devonshire and Dorsetshire felt like the span of an ocean, and she was not yet ready to brave such a distance from one who was as dear to her as her own self before she was absolutely required to do so.

    As such, it was easy for Elinor to find Marianne in the crowd; she was drawn to her sister as much by instinct as she followed the merry sound of her laughter, just as bright as the sunshine and twice as warm. Marianne was standing by the willow tree that she had previously dubbed the most gloriously melancholic of her acquaintance, just before the start of the graveyard. With her, of course, was Colonel Brandon, and the both of them were speaking to Mr. Jonas Knowlton – a former captain in the Navy and Brandon’s steward – and his Cornish wife Anstice, who had quickly befriended and found a friend in Marianne over the summer.

    Once the gathered throng of people had mostly dispersed, they were finally free to join their friends. Edward’s smile was beaming once the bows and curtsies of formality were seen to, and he wasted no time in turning to Marianne. “Well, what say you, Miss Dashwood?" he invited her opinion. "Did I present myself sufficiently enough for even the most exacting of tastes within the audience?”

    “I have considered just how I may answer this very question for almost the entire time we have waited,” Marianne paused long enough to tease. Her gaze was impish, and, inspired by her good humor, Edward came to stand at – surely the military men with them would say – a rather sloppy semblance of attention as he gave her a playful salute.

    “I declare myself ready, ma’am,” he stood even straighter, and then closed his eyes for good measure. “Do your worst.”

    “Her worst?” Jonas chuckled for their exchange. “It was a most excellent sermon, Mr. Ferrars. You needn’t have any worries on that account.”

    “I did not have to fight off a yawn throughout the whole of the service,” Anstice was eager to add. “Not even once!”

    “Is that so? Not even a small yawn, perhaps?” For that, Edward allowed himself to crack first one eye open, and then the next. “And to think that my mother currently believes me to be throwing away my true calling in politics, or the law. Goodness, no. I can’t imagine speaking as such before a court, let alone Parliament. My parishioners are divinely required to listen to what I say with a smile, and cannot dare argue back.”

    Edward did not give himself enough credit, Elinor thought, and was prepared to say as much when: “You do not give yourself enough credit, Ferrars,” Brandon softly interjected. “It was an engaging sermon.”

    “Ah, but this comes from a man who gives me too much credit. Indeed, Brandon, you are – as you have always been – far too kind.” Yet, no matter the blithe manner of his words, Edward bowed to sincerely accept the compliment. Beyond the initial parameters of gratitude and obligation that had so unexpectedly formed their acquaintance, a true friendship had grown between the two men over the summer, so much so that it gladdened Elinor’s heart to see.

    She was not the only one to glance so warmly between them, Elinor couldn't help but notice. Marianne too looked, and for a moment her expression was unreadable before she focused her attention again on Edward. “An engaging sermon?” she echoed. “Perhaps it was, in the end.” Unseen by Edward, Elinor skewered her sister with a warning glance. For as much as Edward could banter with all apparent ease in company, she knew how long he would reflect over each and every self-perceived flaw later when he was alone. Sure enough, she felt as Edward drew in a breath to fortify himself.

    “You will never be a passionate orator, it is true. Yet that does not matter.” As soon as the tension built with her first words, Marianne dispelled it just as quickly with a smile. “You are sincere, and that sincerity shines through your words. You could have read aloud from any religious tract, but instead you composed your own lines with the particulars of your congregation in mind. You did not preach down from above; instead, you spoke. For your parishioners, what more could be desired in any spiritual guardian?”

    Elinor could have thrown her arms around Marianne and kissed her for saying exactly the right thing at exactly the right time. “Well said,” and, “for truth!” Marianne was praised aloud by the Knowltons. Elinor looked and saw, for his part, just how softly Brandon smiled at her sister.

    Edward, in contrast, reared back as if Marianne had instead slapped him with the sharpest of critiques. “No, no, I cannot believe it!” he declared – his humor nonetheless failing to hide the pleasure he took in her commendation. “Who are you, and what have you done with Marianne Dashwood?” He leaned forward to peer almost dramatically into Marianne’s eyes – even as she forgot herself in company and then rolled those same eyes with quite a bit of feeling for Edward’s rejoinder.

    “Honestly, Edward,” she huffed, “you exaggerate - ”

    “ - exaggerate?
    No, no, I most certainly do not!” Edward would not let Marianne escape so easily. “I cannot help but recall the young lady who, for my rather tepid reading of a most beloved Cowper poem, scolded me with such hitherto unimaginable ferocity and then demanded that I read the passage again to her satisfaction! Truly she did,” he looked between Brandon and the Knowltons to share with no small amount of glee. “She’s exacting as any of the dons at Oxford, I am not at all shamed to say. If you can but imagine - ”

    “ - yet tepid and Cowper are two words that cannot and should not be used together! What else could you have expected of me?” Marianne, by that point, could hold herself back no longer. “However,” she drew in a breath to visibly constrain her passions. “However, I am trying to better myself . . . in this and in so many ways.” Marianne ever made it a point to speak directly and without subterfuge, even about her own flaws as she perceived them to be. Elinor wanted, very much then, to reach out and press her hand. “I hope that you can find it in your heart to forgive me for how I treated you back at Norland, Edward. I was . . . I was most unkind.”

    “Forgive you?” The tenderness in Edward’s expression for his new sister was all the more understandable if one considered his own true-blood siblings in the likes of Fanny Dashwood and Robert Ferrars. “My dear Marianne, you feel that you must apologize, but there’s truly nothing for me to forgive. Without your words ringing in my ear, how may I have done even half so well? Or, at least, I may pride myself for doing well – without taking too much pride, of course. The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool. See? Feste had the right of it, did he not?”

    “Touchstone,” came the correction at once – from both Marianne and Brandon. Their voices, spoken in perfect harmony at precisely the exact moment, caused their eyes to snap towards each other before just as quickly breaking away. Edward’s considering gaze was then shared by the Knowltons, who had no qualms in staring outright when Marianne was determined to look up at the willow tree and Brandon at some fixed point far in the distance. If Edward had played at a militant pose just earlier, one only had to look at the colonel then to see how straight and severe a soldier could truly stand.

    “Silly me,” Edward said, smiling so slyly that Elinor had no doubt that he knew exactly what he was doing. “I do not know Much Ado About Nothing as well as I know All’s Well That Ends Well.”

    “As You Like It,” came, again, from both Marianne and Brandon. Once more, they turned towards each other and then away.

    “Indeed? Ah, my mistake. That would make Feste the fool from Macbeth, then.”

    Twelfth Night.”

    “ . . . I see,” Edward’s grin was, by then, all smirk and teeth.

    “It shocks me that you do not know Shakespeare’s fools any better, my love,” Elinor finally intervened with the most pointed censure she could summon without elbowing her husband outright in company. Yet she needn't have worried; for her retort, the Knowltons then pretended to be most interested in catching up with another one of their acquaintances in the yard and happily said their farewells. The couple was hardly less obvious than Edward, in their own way, even without a word spoken aloud in teasing. Heaven grant her patience, but the entire population of Delaford who thought themselves helpful with their gossiping and constant little remarks and pointed looks couldn’t be any less obvious, and Elinor wanted to sigh on her sister’s behalf. How could Marianne know her own heart when she was constantly being told of its beat by everyone around her?

    With that, Elinor found it prudent to suggest that they start back to the mansion-house. As they embarked down the lane, Edward was quick to take her arm – he had to be, given Marianne’s still reflexive habit of reaching out to do exactly the same. That morning, he’d glibly used the excuse: “I am only going to practice reciting my sermon again, and I do not want to spoil the surprise,” before shooing Marianne to walk ahead of them with Brandon. Elinor had swatted his arm then, yet Edward had only laughed to catch her hand and kiss it – vexing man that he was, she could never stay vexed with him for long.

    Yet Edward did not have to employ such measures this time, and Elinor did not have to catch her sister’s eye to see if she required rescue. Instead, Marianne and Brandon fell into step quite naturally next to each other without any prompting from their companions. The only sign of any lingering tension was in the way that Brandon, uncharacteristically, did not offer his arm, just as Marianne did not reach out to take what would have been freely given her, had she so desired. Instead, a pointed space was left, yawning and empty, between them. Brandon clasped his hands behind his back, and Marianne absently fiddled with the strings of her reticule. Their carefully polite. . . distance, however, felt just as charged as any more intimate a procession, and it turned even more so when Marianne ventured to ask, “What is your favorite of Shakespeare’s plays, Colonel? Would you believe that is normally one of the first questions I ask of any new acquaintance, and yet, with you . . . I do not know.”

    A pause was her reply, stretching on in silence for so long that Elinor had time enough to glance over and catch Edward staring between the two, not even pretending at disinterest. Elinor would have frowned in exasperation, except . . . well, she was so impolitely listening too.

    “The entirety of Shakespeare's work is worthy of admiration as a whole,” Brandon finally answered. “Each piece can stand on its own merit, all in different ways.”

    “But one cannot equivocate about Shakespeare so easily!” Marianne protested. “Your answer, sir, is no answer at all.”

    “And yet,” there was a wry sort of humor in the utmost gravity of Brandon’s response, “such is the only answer I may give.”

    “No, I cannot believe it,” Marianne was unwilling to accept his stance without objection. “Fine; if you shall insist on such staid neutrality, then I will simply have to assign you a favorite.” She tilted her head in consideration, and after a moment – wherein Brandon looked at her almost as if to challenge – proclaimed: “Henry V!”

    “Henry V may appear an obvious choice for a soldier, I grant you.” Marianne smiled, certain of her triumph, before Brandon added, “Upon first glance, at least.”

    “Yet, upon second, it is a play where jus ad bellum is questioned so thoroughly that it ought to be at the forefront of the mind of any military man,” Marianne returned. “Henry is a hero, yet there is duality in his character; he oscillates between piety and ruthlessness so often that one is left to wonder which is true and which is mere necessity for a king. Was there legitimacy in Henry’s invasion of France? Was his war holy or political? Was a soldier then to be found guilty of the crimes of his king if the king's war was unjust? The questions Shakespeare posed about the nature of war for the sake of gain in land and riches are questions we ask even now; its themes are timeless.”

    “And as a formerly paid invader of a foreign land, you think that such themes must appeal to me?”

    Marianne did not hesitate to say: “Yes.” Boldly, she tilted her chin. “I know they do.”

    Elinor would have once called it singular: Marianne’s ability to take any seemingly innocuous topic and dive in deep to discover its innermost depths, even in casual conversation. Yet, for how Brandon stared at her in return, Marianne’s ability did not seem quite so odd then.

    “No,” Brandon finally said, “it is not Henry V.”

    Yet Marianne was far from deterred. “Ah, but you give yourself away: you do have a favorite!” she crowed in delight. “Hmm, how about Julius Caesar?” with that, Marianne was just being waggish. “Perhaps, if so, we may debate whether or not Brutus was truly the traitor, or Caesar first?”

    “As much as I appreciate the philosophical rhetoric in Julius Caesar and would enjoy discussing such a subject with you,” Brandon gave such a small sound that couldn’t quite be called a laugh, “would you believe that I do not seek out tragedies if I can otherwise avoid them?”

    “No Romeo and Juliet, then? That is, indeed, the far greater tragedy,” Marianne said before she faltered. Her stride lost its rhythm, and she glanced to the side so violently that the ribbons of her bonnet streamed out behind her. “No, no, of course you would not favor Romeo and Juliet. Please, forgive me.” Yet before the specter of the first Eliza Williams – who, in giving her own heart where she was forbidden to love, had been paid in the miserable dividends of ruination, poverty, and ultimately death – could rise, Marianne rushed to amend her error only by compounding it yet further with another: “What about Hamlet?”

    In profile, Elinor could clearly see Marianne wince, inwardly berating herself. Her cheeks turned a fiery shade of pink for having jumped to another senseless tragedy, where a young woman had once again been caught at the heart of the plot and left victim to the caprices of men – fatally so.

    Yet, wasn’t such merely the way of the world? That, Marianne already unfairly knew.

    “I respect Hamlet for its value as a work of art. It is impossible not to admire the writing,” Brandon’s voice gentled, taking on a quiet rumble that sounded pitched to sooth. You have not hurt me, the lessening space between them seemed to say. It then shortened by a full half with, time has dulled my pains, as, I think you know, it does with all pains. If anything, Elinor rather suspected that the colonel thought not of his own first love in Ophelia, but rather Marianne herself. Sure enough, he then whispered, so low that Elinor wasn’t first sure that she heard him so much as an echo of her own thoughts, “Even if that same writing was unjustly cruel to Ophelia.”

    Marianne’s reply was so equally muttered that Elinor could not quite make out her words, even when straining to hear. For whatever she said, though, the space between the couple lessened yet again.

    So intent was her focus that Elinor almost started when Edward said, “What do you think they would say if they knew that I’ve read not even a third of the plays they've mentioned?”

    From where their arms were still linked together, Elinor patted his hand in consolation. “I cannot comment on their behalf, yet I would maintain that you’d be able to speak very well on the third you have read.”

    “My wife thinks too well of me.” Edward smiled such a smile that she found it difficult to attend what Marianne and Brandon were saying in any sort of entirety. “Such, however, is my gain.”

    “I have been blessed with such a husband that it is easy to think very well of.”

    For a happy minute, she let herself bask in the simple pleasure of walking with Edward on a beautiful day. She kept only half an eye and ear ahead, as it was anyone’s guess how many plays Marianne would eventually have to cycle through before she stumbled across the correct one. Though her sister would not agree, Elinor was of the opinion that there was already ample enough beauty in their surroundings without the need to add the glory of Shakespeare to such a picturesque scene to make it complete.

    Thus, it came almost as a surprise when she heard Marianne cry: “A Midsummer Night’s Dream? No matter your evasions, Colonel, I have found you out!” She laughed, then; a full, deep laugh such as Elinor had not heard in . . . well, it had been far too long. For the unexpected joy of hearing such joy, Elinor felt tears burn behind her eyes, grateful as she was to have her sister returned to her after so long a drought. That delighted peal was Marianne stripped to her very essence, untouched by worries or constraints or grief, as she was always meant to be. “You, sir, are a romantic.”

    “Yes, well,” for a moment Brandon faltered in reply – as if he too had filled on the sound of Marianne's laughter as if it was air or water or sunlight, instead. “Perhaps you may now dub me as such with irrefutable proof on your side, but I would only say that there is something agreeable to be found in a happy ending after so much struggle on the part of the characters.”

    “Isn’t there?” Marianne agreed, and, only for a moment, her voice turned wistful.

    Yet, with a stubbornness that was also so quintessentially Marianne, she did not allow herself to linger overly long on her memories of heartache. She could not, not when it was time to discuss modern playwrights with all imaginable zeal for so vital a subject. For that, Elinor was quite happy to let her attention wander. Even Edward gave up his eavesdropping as they cycled through so many names, so quickly, that they two were left lagging behind. Instead, for nearly the next quarter mile, he hummed under his breath – one of the Irish airs Marianne had sang for them the night before – and Elinor let her eyes fall half-closed in contentment, before:

    “Voltaire?!” Marianne objected so sharply that Elinor blinked for the sound. “How you can hold such an opinion, I most certainly do not understand!”

    “You demand that I defend my answer, but I would instead ask,” Brandon returned with only a discernable fraction of Marianne’s feeling, but with no less her ability for remonstrance, “how you can hold your own opinion so certainly without allowing yourself to examine it from another point of view?”

    For that – words which she herself had turned on Marianne no few times over the years – Elinor could not help but recall playing chess with the colonel while living at Delaford over the summer. She took great pride in her own skill with the game – her father had considered her one of the most formidable opponents of his acquaintance, which she'd ever delighted in – but while she endeavored to see the next two or three moves ahead, Brandon somehow seemed to consider the board some ten or so more. Perhaps his proficiency with tactics wasn't so much of a surprise, considering his rank and years of service to the Crown. Playing with lifeless little pieces on a rigid board, Elinor had long since concluded, must have been easier compared to leading true men in battle, for a loss at chess was simply that: a loss at chess.

    However, Brandon didn’t seem to be setting Marianne up for ambush then so much as he was daring her to both evaluate her own opinions and examine others to see if they better fit with her sensibilities. Even now, Marianne fell silent to consider her reply – Marianne, who was ever dauntless to state her stance on any particular subject and then leave her words for others to agree or disagree with as they would, so unchangeable was she in her views. While such a turn in her sister's usual manner was surprising, it was not wholly unwelcome.

    Or, perhaps Elinor was simply thinking too deeply about the matter, for hardly a moment passed before Marianne threw up her hands and spluttered, “I can think of no response that would satisfy! No, you are simply being . . .” she faltered for something – anything that would suffice, before she finally decided on, “Your opinion is downright unpatriotic!”

    The ridiculousness of Marianne’s words affected them all; Edward loosed a snort he couldn’t hold back in time, even as Elinor bit her lip to keep from betraying her own amusement aloud. Colonel Brandon had no such pretense to keep: he threw his head back, and laughed.

    If the sound shocked Elinor – for she had never heard Brandon laugh before, at least, not like this – then it stunned Marianne into a full stop on the path. Her eyes flew wide for such an unmeasured show of feeling on Brandon's part before he composed himself, clearly calling himself back to order with a rueful shake of his head. A soft, unfocused look slowly spread across her features in reply as she watched him – a happiness that came from inspiring happiness, and a yearning to continue doing so that bordered on wanting in another way. It was an expression that Elinor had never seen from her sister before, not even with him – though the sentiment was one she well knew from her own bond with Edward. With Willoughby, Marianne had been so certain of her every thought and feeling; she’d been fearless in love, even reckless with her heart to proclaim it aloud to anyone who would hear its beat. This, however . . . this was as if she was discovering that fire could warm for the first, just as well as it could heat and burn.

    Elinor did not have to look at Brandon to know that he stared back at her sister as if the sun had come out after decades of storms; he always had.

    “Unpatriotic may be the opinion that every English soldier should read Henry V in order to question the rights of kings in war,” Brandon released them from their moment of . . . well, it was simply just a moment, with a gentle quip. “Would you not agree?”

    “I have never considered myself a radical, no matter how I sometimes make statements that must surely sound as such.” Marianne glanced down to answer, before looking up again. Not so much fearlessly, but determinedly, she held his gaze. “Perhaps we may think boldly together, then?”

    For a long moment, Brandon was silent as he studied her in return, before, "Perhaps," he agreed. Marianne from a year ago would have ridiculed his response as lacking in all feeling – as if restraint in a man was simply indicative of a void of sentiment rather than an all too telling warning of its abundance. Marianne now, a year older and a year wiser in knowing what love was and what love was not, flushed for every unspoken feeling that single word implied before returning her attention back down the road ahead.

    For a time, not a word was said between the four of them. Marianne visibly collected her thoughts, and Brandon allowed her retreat even as his own manner returned to its usual contemplative state. Not even Edward uttered a word aloud to draw them back out again, no matter how closely he watched them otherwise. As for herself, Elinor found that she was still reluctant to join her husband – her husband and Mrs. Jennings and Sir John and even her own mother – in their well-meaning endeavors. She would never see her sister handed over as a reward just because a man loved her, no matter how well she respected and truly liked that man otherwise. However, she did want every possible happiness in the world for her sister; she wanted much the same for Brandon. If those two desires just so happened to coincide in the future Elinor would give them her whole-souled blessing a hundred times over. Yet, until Marianne knew what it was that she wanted, and felt safe to trust herself in love again . . .

    . . . well, Elinor foresaw a long winter ahead, before the spring came anew.

    Sure enough, Marianne then shook her head as if to clear away some disquieting thought. She doubted herself in so many things now, and was still of the opinion that she would never find – nor deserved to find – romantic love nor marital happiness. While Elinor could forgive much, she would always hold her sister’s unjust view of herself against Willoughby, for unjust it was! (How can my grief possibly compare with what you have suffered, Elinor? And yet, look at the dignity with which you have composed yourself! If I could have but a fraction of your grace, I would be done with my foolish heart! Marianne had wept so bitterly, that first morning after her fever broke at Cleveland Park. Elinor, then, could only hold her sister and let her cry. How does my grief compare to Eliza’s, or to that of the first Eliza Williams, or even Colonel Brandon for the sake of them both? Yet, look at how I reacted to having my heart broken by a worthless man? I did not care if I lived or died, and were it not for you and your love . . .

    How could Elinor have insisted, then, that there was no such thing as a contest of pains? A wound was a wound was a wound for how it bled. And oh, how grievously Marianne was wounded as she continued: I merely escaped an unhappy marriage or even worse, looking at poor Eliza; yet there was a time when I was so horribly wicked that I envied her son. Elinor, I envied her so badly that it still hurts! Eliza, at least, has the memory of Willoughby to cling to, while I . . . I have nothing. I have nothing of him and I should be grateful, but I am not! I do not know if I can bear this at all, and, for that, what healing do I even or will I ever deserve? No . . . there is no more selfish a creature in love and loss than I am. In that way, he and I are well and truly matched.)

    For merely the memory of such an awful speech, Elinor had to breathe deeply, in and out – so unchristian then was her anger towards and even loathing of a fellow human being. John Willoughby had broken what had been entrusted to him like glass, yet was unfathomably more precious in its fragility, and Elinor knew he didn’t feel the sting on his own heart nearly enough to understand just how grievous it was the damage he’d wrought. She'd tried; oh she’d tried to forgive him and think him pitiful in the shallow depth of his emotions towards every woman he’d so ill-used and yet thought himself ill-used by in his life, but . . .

    It simply what it was, wasn’t it? Men were allowed to call out men for their actions, while a woman was expected to constrain her own emotions, unable as she was to see to her own recourse. Even Elinor could hardly admit that there had been a time, when she thought Marianne to be on her deathbed, that she had imagined picking up the sword that Brandon had put down – so much so that she could envision the grip of the pommel in her hand and the sharp edge of the blade as it caught the faint reflection of an overcast dawn. Would she have spared Willoughby in a duel of honor? Oh, she understood why the colonel had stayed his hand – Willoughby had refused to wed Eliza Williams and legitimize the son he’d left her with, even when on his knees and staring down his own death, but, at the time, was that because of his love for Marianne, or the fortune he hoped to secure through his marriage to Sophia Grey? Brandon was not and could not be an impartial executioner and call it justice. Elinor, however . . .

    But no . . . no. She’d already sheathed her figurative sword, and there it would stay. What other choice did she have? There was nothing more to do for her anger but to let it go when next she exhaled. When she opened her eyes again, she was not on that imagined foggy green somewhere in London, but back home underneath such an impossibly blue sky, where no such shadowed thoughts could long reside.

    Yet, while Elinor fought to sooth the disquieting turmoil of her own fraught emotions, it was Marianne who picked herself up to brightly continue her conversation with Brandon as if nothing was amiss. Though they still did not link arms or discernably touch, the space between them was now little more than a whisper, as if they couldn’t help but be drawn towards each other even as they consciously held themselves apart. In many ways, they had always been kindred spirits – a seemingly contrary enough statement given their differences in age and outward temperament, perhaps, but only to those who didn’t know them any better – and she wondered then if spirit called to spirit to complete their match. She suspected they just might.

    Perhaps, Elinor grudgingly allowed herself to admit, Mrs. Jennings possessed more insight about these things than she previously would have given the willy old widow credit for. Mrs. Jennings, and . . .

    “You know very well that Touchstone is the fool from As You Like It,” Elinor finally confronted her husband for the intentional misunderstanding that had begun this . . . well, this most enlightening of interludes. They had fallen back a stride or two by then, and she trusted herself to speak freely so long as she kept her voice low and measured.

    “Yes,” Edward was shameless to agree. He turned to her, a glint in his eye, “Just as I knew it would be a most excellent day for walking.”

    How could she accuse him of anything untoward when he smiled at her in such a way? Still: “My husband, it seems,” she tilted her nose to proclaim, “is somewhat of a trickster.”

    “A trickster? Indeed not, madam! I’d rather call myself a romantic.” He chuckled under his breath, far too pleased with his own cleverness. Elinor merely huffed, marveling to reflect that she’d ever thought Edward quiet and reserved (or at least he had been around his family, where any and all light had to compete to shine lest it be smothered out completely) – what an enlightenment marriage had turned out to be thus far!

    “A romantic? Mischief-maker, I’d call you instead.”

    “Mischief-maker? Well, as Mrs. Jennings already has the title of match-maker, I suppose you should call me what you must!”

    “What I must do is point out that you have most certainly escaped your calling with politics or the law. You can be downright sneaky when you desire to be; herein lies irrefutable proof.”

    All the while she bantered with her husband and reveled in the joy of such free speech, Elinor still kept half an ear out for her sister. Marianne was now going on about . . . the side-saddle? Somewhere in her distraction, they'd gone from debating their views on modern French philosophers to them each applauding the recently released Reveries of a Silent Walker, by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. When Rousseau’s published opinions on civil liberties were mentioned, Marianne nonetheless pointed out that any conversation about equality between men should also extend to include similar equality for women, but yet rarely did. From the side-saddle, Marianne inevitably liked to go onto the injustices she perceived in women’s fashion – which was one thing to discuss between sisters, yet Elinor silently implored Marianne not to mention women’s undergarments or, heaven forbid, women in breeches with a man she wasn’t even courting (was she not?) and thus shouldn’t -

    “Please,” Elinor raised her eyes to the sky to implore, “don’t let her start on about trusses and stays.”

    “Why ever not?” Edward asked – then looking her up and down in a way that left little doubt as to his thoughts, even when they were walking so close together that he could hardly see the whole of her. “I’d say, it’s a fine a subject as any.”

    Even after a month of marriage, Elinor felt her cheeks flame with an all too telling blush. And yet: “We are walking back from church,” she returned on a sharp whisper, punctuating her last word most emphatically. She had to cling to her indignation, then, lest she fall to laughing outright!

    Of course, Edward only saw how valiantly she attempted to constrain her mirth, and nothing else. Thus encouraged, he continued: “Yet how can I censor myself in all honesty? Wouldn't a lie be the greater sin? Especially on a day like today, when my wife looks so alluringly beautiful in the sunshine. You know, they would hardly notice if we fell back five – even three more paces. If we were to duck behind that obliging elm tree, I could very easily kiss you - ”

    “ - Edward!” she protested, but with not nearly enough fervor to grant her any sort of believably as her eyes did so traitorously fall to the elm tree he mentioned. The elm tree . . . and then the oak tree it so closely neighbored.

    Perhaps it spoke to her joy that day, and pride too, for just how far her husband had come and she along with him: the rush of bravery that then coursed through her veins. She felt very much like one of Marianne’s heroines when she stopped long enough to kiss her husband’s cheek, there in full view of anyone on the lane who could see them. She didn’t even mind when Edward turned ever so slightly – mischief-maker! – so that she caught the corner of his mouth with her lips before she quickly drew away.

    So endearing was the way that he looked at her then – and a little more than endearing, truth be told – that Elinor quite boldly whispered: “Maybe the next elm tree.”

    For that, Edward stopped walking completely and beamed at her in abject delight. “Mrs. Ferrars, how shocking you are for a rector’s wife!” He then took both her hands in his own, and she was very glad that she had decided against gloves when he kissed them. “You know,” he dropped his voice low to whisper, “I do so like having a shocking wife.”

    With that, they fell contentedly back into step with each other – even if Edward did pause every so often to kiss her hand again. When he was not, he held her hand palm facing out against his heart, and in that manner she was quite content to say.

    All the while, Marianne had thankfully surprised her – or was her greater sense really so surprising now? Instead of embarking on one of her well worn crusades, her voice had turned even more spirited to discuss. . . Widow Lucas and the repairs that needed to be made to her cowshed? Of all things?

    Fondly, Elinor's smile softened to hear Marianne paint quite the picture of the plight of Mr. Nettles, who lived in the cottage adjacent to Mrs. Lucas' small acreage. Apparently, his gardens were continually being trampled by the hungry bovines, and he was of an age where it was difficult to herd the stubborn creatures back out of his yard whenever they ambled towards freedom. Mrs. Lucas had no living family, and was thus quite dependent on the charity of others, which made it imperative for the master of the estate to see to both the necessary renovations and intermittent cattle wrangling himself – or so Marianne insisted. It was no small thing, Elinor then reflected, that their neighbors already considered Marianne’s ear as good as Brandon’s – who had undoubtedly already decided on a way to help Mrs. Lucas, she rather suspected, but nevertheless still welcomed Marianne to share her own ideas for a solution. Elinor felt no small amount of pride as she listened to Marianne's opinions, each one as well thought out and as practical as the next. For this village, Marianne would someday make the finest of patronesses, Elinor couldn't help but think with pride, to say nothing of the good she would do as mistress of the estate -

    . . . but no, no, Elinor stopped herself. She would not even think as such until Marianne – and Marianne, alone – made her thoughts on that matter clear. She would not put any undue pressure on her sister otherwise; not after her precipitous first love.

    And, yet . . .

    It was then, just as her mind was thus engaged, that Edward muttered: “Maybe we should push them behind an elm tree.”

    “Edward Ferrars!”

    “What?" Edward summoned a much put upon expression. "Cannot a shocking wife be matched by an equally shocking husband? You were thinking much the same as I; admit it.”

    “I was thinking no such thing!” Elinor heartily denied.

    “Yet I rather suspect Marianne was," Edward waggled his brows, undoubtedly looking to inspire another irate response – or, better yet from his point of view, a grin – from his wife. Elinor, for her part, stubbornly pressed her mouth into as thin a line as she could manage and refused to yield to either impulse. "Or she will have to, at any rate," Edward amended after a moment. He then adopted a more thoughtful mien, and sighed outright. "Brandon will never make a move for her hand otherwise, you know. He’ll never think himself worthy of her – or, worse yet, he’ll fear that she’s acting out of some misplaced sense of obligation, no matter all proof that there is to be had to the contrary in Marianne’s very nature. She never does anything by halves; she certainly never loves by halves.”

    Elinor almost pointed out that Edward was one of those meddling forces who could be seen as trying to persuade Marianne into obliging the wishes of the greater number, but held herself back. Edward may have thought that he was truly helping a new friend and a much beloved sister, but he was instead pushing for an outcome that, to a great extent, must have felt certain to everyone but for the couple in question. Yet, rather than voicing such a thought aloud – for now, at least – Elinor cautioned, “Edward, they will hear you.”

    “Hear me?” Edward actually winked at her then – the utter scoundrel! “They can hear nothing more than their talk of cowpens. I'd wager my benefice that we could even discuss trusses and stays all we'd like now and neither of their heads would even turn.”

    “Your bishop is going to be rather surprised,” Elinor felt it necessary to regain some control of the conversation with a dose of sobering good sense, “when he receives his first complaint about that finest of young men, endeavoring to make the church his profession. You quite have him swindled.”

    “If such a fate comes to pass, we will simply have to tell him that I give such engaging sermons that he cannot help but forgive my impertinence. I have answered my true calling in life, Elinor, and I will not be so easily put aside.”

    For the strength of his words and how easily he spoke them, Elinor could not help but fall silent to reflect on how deeply their meaning resonated with her. She looked up to examine her husband’s profile, quite at her leisure, taking in every beloved detail. Nothing about their own union had felt certain in its conclusion, she nearly shuddered to remember. They had struggled and faced the grief of loss in irreparable separation, so much so that, for so long, Elinor had consigned herself to living the rest of her life alone without him. How were they here now, she still couldn't help but marvel? How was this her reality: walking arm in arm with him through the sunlight, with everything so happily at peace in their little corner of the world? They’d come so far, and she yet delighted to see just how further still they would go.

    “Are you happy here?” this time, when Edward spoke, his voice was a ghosted reflection of the shuttered shell of himself that she'd first met back at Norland. It was a tone she hadn't heard from him in so long now, and would strive to ensure that she never heard again.

    “I was just thinking of how fortunate I am to be here with you,” Elinor assured him, her heart in her words. “For I am happy, Edward; truly.”

    “It is just,” still, Edward hesitated. She looked, and watched as his jaw locked, “as much as I find myself suited to our present circumstances, I would have never thought . . . I worry that you - ”

    “ - you imagine that I would have rather wed some famed barrister?”

    “Nothing less than a sergeant-at-law,” Edward gravely intoned. “A member of the King’s Counsel, even.”

    “No.” That idea, however, struck such a chord as wrong within her that Elinor couldn't help but grimace in distaste. “I do not think that I could have been happy with such a husband.”

    “You are happy, then, with a somewhat shocking rector who has to consciously focus so as not to stutter through his sermons?”

    “Merely happy with? Indeed, I could want nothing more, somewhat shocking and all.”

    “Mrs. Lucas and her escaped cows may be the most excitement we ever have to contend with,” Edward went on to playfully warn. “They may even ransack our glebe in the future; just consider our poor carrots.”

    “Such shall be all the excitement I ever need or desire: guarding the carrots with you.”

    For that, Edward kissed her hand again, his gaze so intense upon her own that she couldn't help but think of herself as the most fortunate of women. What was wealth and prestige when she had this man, and this life to live with him? Hers was a course truly blessed.

    “I would say that love makes fools out of formerly sensible beings,” Edward softly remarked, “but I am very happy that it has done so in this case.”

    “And you?” Elinor couldn't help but return. “Are you happy, Edward . . . truly happy? Here you are, cut off from all fortune and promise of fame, made reliant on delivering sermons every Sunday for your income, and with a glebe that is in constant danger of being trampled by a herd of hungry cattle. Does that satisfy the want for purpose you had before?”

    “Somehow,” Edward, for once, did not reply to her teasing with any banter of his own, “I feel as if I have simply ended right where I was always meant to be.”

    “That,” Elinor found her voice strangely breathless to reply, “doesn’t sound foolish at all.”

    “Perhaps,” he mused, something of his smile returning, “we’re merely forgetting that fools are usually used as voices of wisdom by Shakespeare. They provide insights that we the audience, in our own foolishness, may otherwise overlook.”

    As if she was acting on cue in just such a stage-play, Marianne then exclaimed: “But the cows will only escape such temporary measures! No, we need a more permanent solution. Jonas has suggested, and I do believe that you will agree . . .” before her voice lowered again, then lost to their ability to overhear without straining.

    For that, what was there to do but laugh? Laugh and kiss her husband quickly and sweetly before anyone else could notice and wonder at her sensibilities, all as she looked forward to the future and everything it held with all eager anticipation.

    “In keeping with such profound wisdom,” Elinor whispered, her head still bowed very close to his, “I am supremely happy to be a fool with you.”


    * This is where I disclaim that it's been years since I've read a good deal of Shakespeare, and apologize for any errors there may be within this text in interpreting the great Bard's work. All mistakes are my own! But, I just couldn't resist the setting for this scene. [face_mischief]

    * Another worry of mine was in stretching certain themes of feminism and anti-imperialism within this story. Yet, as Jane Austen often used her own characters as mouthpieces for satire, I figured that I could safely do the same; she merely set the foundation for me to follow. Still, if I stretched believability in any way, you have my most sincere apologies.

    * This note is not so much a worry as it is an acknowledgement: yes, Elinor's opinion of Willoughby is slightly AU. It always vexed me when, in the book, Elinor forgave Willoughby following his "apology" at Cleveland Park in the midst of Marianne's fever. Or, at least, the way she forgave him bothered me. Her reaction in London following his letter felt more true to me as a sister injured on behalf of a sister, badly used. Sure, Willoughby may have truly "loved" Marianne, but the way he spoke about every other woman in his life and blamed them for his misfortunes, not to mention his disgusting attitude towards Eliza and lack of feeling for his child . . . that Elinor could "forgive, pity, wish him well, and even be invested in his happiness" smacked me as horribly wrong years ago and it still does now. It felt good to allow Elinor to be angry, instead, and then choose to forgive only for her own sake, as well as Marianne's. Is that out of character? Perhaps. But I couldn't bring myself to cut the lines once I wrote them, and so, there they remain.

    * Lastly, to disclaim: Edward's line about Marianne never loving by halves is straight from S&S. Jane Austen used those words to describe Marianne's eventual relationship with Brandon, saying that, "Marianne could never love by halves; and her whole heart became, in time, as much devoted to her husband, as it had once been to Willoughby." Maybe I'm too much of a sappy romantic, and I just wish that had come before her wedding rather than after, but Edward has the right of it: Marianne does nothing by halves, and I can't imagine that she'd marry by half. So, how long did that attachment truly take to form? But those are my thoughts, not Austen's. Call this a slight AU, again, as you will. [face_mischief]


    ~ MJ @};-
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2022
  2. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Aug 31, 2004
    Wonderfully gentle and besotted response to the challenge. =D=
    Kahara, pronker and Mira_Jade like this.
  3. Gabri_Jade

    Gabri_Jade Fan Fiction Archive Editor Emeritus star 5 VIP

    Nov 9, 2002
    I don't generally read a lot of non-SW fanfic, and I haven't read Sense and Sensibility in years, but Mira, you have completely captured the style and feel of Austen here. I shouldn't be surprised; your talent for description is certainly Austenesque. Still, hers is a tricky voice to capture and you did it exceedingly well.

    Here is where, despite not having read Sense and Sensibility for at least a decade, I laughed out loud, because yes, this is Marianne Dashwood. 100%.

    Totally Austen. Could have been lifted from one of her actual books.

    Oh, hello, me :p


    A set-up! :eek:

    Also perfectly in character for Marianne. And seriously, it says something that I instantly know this with such certainty, when my Sense and Sensibility knowledge is so faded. I'm very impressed. (With you, not with me. My wording's a little vague there :p )

    Scoundrel! :eek:


    Aw [face_love] Far too often, and it seems especially so in fanfic, mere semblances of love are hailed as the highest summit to be reached, as though the greatest happiness that can be attained is some shallow, exaggerated affection. This, right here, is the real thing, and it's so very much more satisfying than all the mush in the world.

    What can I say, you may wind up drawing me into NSWFF every now and then if you're writing stuff like this [face_love]
  4. ViariSkywalker

    ViariSkywalker Kessel Run & FoF Hostess Extraordinaire star 4 VIP - Game Host

    Aug 9, 2002
    Mira, this was so beautiful, and my comments aren't going to do this story nearly the justice it deserves, but just know that I loved it ALL. Every word. [face_love]

    Lolol the horror. *thinks back to every assigned presentation and/or speech in high school and shudders*

    This description was incredibly evocative, Mira. It actually took me back to a single moment in time when my husband (my fiancé at the time) and I were in a bookstore on an unseasonably warm and lazy afternoon in January. He came up behind me as I was perusing the Star Wars novels (naturally :p) and things played out exactly as described here. And I just love that this vig made me relive that moment again and reminded me of all the soft, quiet moments we've shared together since. [face_love] [face_love] [face_love]

    [face_laugh] I really need to read S&S; I like Edward's sense of humor.


    Lol, I like Marianne already, too. Gloriously melancholic indeed!


    Oh? [face_batting] [face_mischief]

    This was such a fantastic take on the "humorous mix-up" part of your prompt, and I loved seeing it play out. Edward is so devious, I love it.

    Oh, I know exactly how that feels. :p

    [face_laugh] I am so Edward here. So much so. (I likewise hope that my knowledge of the books and plays I have read makes up for my otherwise limited literary knowledge. :oops:)

    I couldn't agree more! :D

    Aw, this is such a soft, sweet observation. Much like this whole vignette, really.

    This. It's clear that though Brandon is quiet and reserved, he is constantly observing and thinking, and I do so enjoy characters like that. It's good to see that Marianne has learned to appreciate the different way in which he processes the world and his emotions. It might be different than how she does, but that doesn't mean he feels any less than she.

    I LOVE IT. (And again, I really need to read S&S, if only just to have more Edward and Elinor. [face_mischief])


    I have to echo everything @Gabri_Jade said in her last comment, 100%. From start to finish, this was just a lovely, warm, gentle testament to the joys of real love, whether it was the love of husband and wife or the love of sisters. I'm so glad you were inspired to write this beautiful story, and I will certainly be here to read any more that you have to write about these characters! =D= [face_batting] [:D]
  5. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Jun 29, 2004
    Gentle and besotted! I could ask for no better descriptors than that, thank you! [face_love] [:D]

    Aw, you do me a great honor in saying so! This feedback meant everything to me, thank you. [face_love]

    This absolutely ridiculous dork of an uber-romantic has no match, it's true! She's singular, and I love her for being so just as much as I love that you were able to recognize her so easily!

    I am still stupid grinning over this, thank you!

    There's a lot to identify with in Edward, that's for certain. :p

    That's still one of my favorite passages in the book and top scenes from the 1995 film, so I COULD NOT RESIST bringing it up again. [face_laugh] [face_laugh]

    These nerds are so predictable. How could Edward resist? :p

    Not vague at all! Again, this made me so happy to hear. [face_love] [:D]

    Edward is rather shockingly dissolute, isn't he? [face_laugh] But I figured that if Jane Austen could be so risqué as to write of seductions, elopements, divorces, and duels, then I could write about a married couple who are so in love that they'd very much like to kiss each other. [face_mischief] [face_tee_hee]

    He's just calling it like he sees it. :p

    If I wasn't grinning before, I most certainly was by this point! I just loved writing this real, every day sort of love and am thrilled beyond words that the entire vignette resonated so clearly with you. [face_love]

    Thank you so much, again! Your kind words completely and utterly made my day, and they still give me joy to look back on. [face_love] [:D]

    But, just that fast, I was already SO HAPPY to hear that you enjoyed this story so much, especially with it being in a rather surprise NSW fandom for my muse. I still can't thank you enough for all of your kind words! :D [face_dancing] [:D]

    Right??? I think a great many of us can understand Edward's dread. :p

    Oh how beautiful - both your memory and your recollection here of it! Thank you so much for sharing! I can think of no higher compliment as an author than to know that this was evocative enough to call you back to another moment in time. [face_love] [:D]

    (And of course you were perusing the SW novels. Naturally. :p)

    I LOVE EDWARD AND HIS SASS MORE THAN WORDS CAN SAY. Honestly, for most of the novel he's stuck in a well deserved melancholy of spirits, but even in his depression he's just so quick witted (even saucy - Marianne's word, not mine) once he's comfortable enough to speak freely with others. By the end of the novel he's so ridiculously happy that I can only imagine that he's all the more playful in jest. It fits with the "genuine, grateful, flowing cheerfulness" that Jane Austen describes for him. [face_love] (Plus, I can't lie: as much as I try to write based on the book, I hear Hugh Grant's version of Edward in my mind, and that makes it very easy to write him with a very particular sense of humor. :p)

    Sometimes you just gotta write happy couples being happy couples!

    Marianne is the truest Romantic to ever Romance, and I adore her for her sensibilities just as much as I love being able to share that adoration in my turn! [face_love]

    I was trying to figure out what drew Edward to the church as a profession besides wanting to live a quiet life in the country, and there it was. :p

    Indeed. [face_mischief] [face_tee_hee]

    Edward is so proud of himself, it's true! [face_laugh] [face_love] This bit of dialogue was the first thing that came to mind for my prompt, and the story just wrote itself from there!

    Ha! This seems to be a defining trait of the best of men! [face_mischief] [face_love]

    Oh I'd most certainly say that it does! ;) [:D] And, honestly, I was calling back to very old knowledge from school myself while writing this story and depending on Wikipedia for all the rest! 8-} ;)


    Soft and sweet! I could ask for no better impression than that! (The happiness that comes from inspiring happiness sentiment is gleaned from the novel, even, when Austen is describing Marianne and Brandon's developing relationship, and I imagine that's something Elinor and Edward can more than identify with. [face_love])

    *pulls up a chair and sits down* Lemme tell you, I have feelings where Brandon and Marianne are concerned, and this is exactly why! I love 'still waters run deep' sorta characters, and Brandon checks so many boxes for me: he's an honorable man whose power is in his restraint (he fits the Romantic image of a soldier, especially in regards to chivalry), and he's just so matter-of-factly kind when he could have let life beat him down and make him bitter and mean instead. I love Marianne just as much for her vivacity and candor, even when she gets herself into trouble for being too outspoken. She's so full of warmth and life and appreciation for art and nature, as all befits a true Romantic of the time!

    Superficially, I like them together just for the sake of shipping my faves and wanting them both to be happy - but it's more than that. Yes, on the surface, they are very different in the way they perceive the world and process their emotions, but at the heart they are similar in every way that truly matters. They think deeply, feel passionately, and are both genuine and generous and loyal - at times even to their own detriment. And that's before how their experiences in life have mirrored each other's and further shaped their personalities. Jane Austen went through quite a few words to set them up as narrative foils, and they match at the core despite the outward differences that first set them apart. If you want to see a character who reflects Marianne on the surface, but doesn't share her best qualities deep down inside, then you need look no further than Willoughby. o_O

    Personally, on that score, I think that Austen did a great job with what easily could have been the 'girl is punished for liking the bad boy while ignoring the good guy' trope otherwise. Yes, Brandon was always right there and quietly doing whatever he could for Marianne and her family and even Edward too, but never selfishly. He would have preferred Marianne happy with Willoughby rather than her endure any pain, and he kept his distance afterwards when Marianne was emotionally vulnerable, especially when her friends and family were all encouraging her in his direction. That said, could there have been some sense of obligation on Marianne's part in the beginning? Sure. But I would then argue that no one can persuade Marianne act in a way that she doesn't truly feel inside. There's no artifice in her character, especially where love is concerned. I'd rather infer that, a year later, Marianne simply just knows Brandon - and herself - better, and makes her choice for happiness accordingly. [face_love]

    But, then again, I'm also a sappy sap who's a sucker for happy endings. So, regarding all of this: see the coda to come. [face_whistling] [face_mischief]

    ELINOR AND EDWARD ARE ABSOLUTELY THE BEST AND I LOVE THEM!!! Honestly, for as much as Jane Austen liked to guide her heroines to better understand themselves and the world around them before finding true love, there's something so refreshing about Elinor and Edward in contrast. They met, fell in love, and knew their attachment for exactly what it was without any sort of silly runaround. They would have happily married much earlier had there not been any outside obstacles. Even at the height of everything that went wrong with Lucy Steele, Elinor never doubted Edward's affection for her, and one of my favorite lines at the end of the novel was that Edward was ready to propose, not with the usual uncertainty of being loved in return, but rather with uncertainty for how Elinor felt about everything they'd gone through in the meantime. Jane Austen didn't even write out the scene besides showing Elinor bursting into happy tears - which, for Elinor, says everything - and then saying that by the time the whole family sat down to dinner they were engaged. :p I'm paraphrasing, of course, all to say that these two are too adorable for words and deserve all of the happiness and good things. [face_love]


    Aw, thank you so much, again, for your kind words! I appreciated every last one of them. [face_love] [:D]

    And, um, speaking of more, my hand kinda slipped and my muse did a thing . . . but that's coming up next. [face_mischief] [face_whistling]

    ~ MJ @};-
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2021
  6. Mira_Jade

    Mira_Jade The Fanfic Manager With The Cape star 5 Staff Member Manager

    Jun 29, 2004
    Author's Note: Believe it or not, there was even more dialogue I cut from the original story. I know: what a monster! The other day, I read those sections again and it occurred to me that they could just maybe stand on their own as something new. Now, here I am a few thousand words later with a continuation to share. 8-} [face_mischief] :p

    That said, this coda is from Marianne's POV to stand as a bookend for Elinor's, and it continues quite a few ideas and themes I started developing in "... and Shake the Rising Soul". The title is yet another Jane Austen nick from Pride and Prejudice. [face_love]

    Enjoy! [:D]

    "Before I Knew That I Had Begun"
    (an All Fools in Love coda)

    “I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.” ~ Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

    A service of tea and a treat of baked apples awaited them in celebration of Edward's success upon their return to Delaford. The tea was fragrant in readiness to be poured, and the apples, freshly picked from the orchards and hot from the bake house, steamed in their saucers. The hearth fire was newly stoked in the grate, with the flames crackling as if in cheerful invitation for them to take respite before its warmth. Such expedient efforts could only have been through the work of fey magic, Marianne Dashwood first imagined before practically acknowledging that Mrs. Rowe, the housekeeper, simply must not have dawdled after the service and hurried back posthaste. Undoubtedly, her staff had instructions to do much the same. Marianne considered this, yet hoped that Mrs. Rowe had at least lingered long enough to observe the last of the late summer’s foxgloves blooming in the hedgerow, right before the lane turned up towards the mansion-house. She would have to ask later, just to make sure.

    Even more happily for Elinor and Edward, selections of fabric and paper had newly arrived from Southampton for the outfitting of their parsonage. They were both eager to discuss the samples – with Edward, of course, choosing the most alarmingly garish patterns possible in an effort to draw a smile from his wife, and Elinor sensibly first sorting those she deemed affordable from those that were not. Marianne hid a smile when Edward, determined for his efforts not to go in vain, fixed his attention on a particularly loud design of pine and cone in green and gold – such as would only shame the view any window could ever hope to frame – and was further amused when Elinor took the swatch from her husband’s hand without a discernible change in her countenance otherwise and placed it down next to her plate.

    “Since you’ve so ardently stated your attachment to this one, we shall consider it,” Elinor said so seriously that Edward looked rather alarmed for the possibility, however slight, of having doomed himself to a home that boasted the most loudly dressed windows in all of Dorsetshire.

    For that, Marianne could not help but laugh. Yet no matter how happy she was on her sister's behalf – and without that pang of subverted hopes she'd once feared would never fade for herself – she could only humor such talk of domestic fripperies for so long. No matter her best efforts, Elinor’s pile of considerations had begun to look much the same to her eyes – minus the aforementioned monstrously green swatch. More was the pity, she thought as her mind wandered, that Colonel Brandon had been called upon to leave them just as soon as they'd returned. The two of them could have easily entertained themselves with something – anything – else, had not Mr. Rowe – the butler and husband of the aforementioned Mrs. Rowe – announced that two of Brandon’s tenants were waiting to speak with him in his study. Any discussion that insisted to be heard on a Sunday must have been serious enough, and with a bow and a brief apology on the colonel’s part they were left alone to their leisure.

    Marianne’s initial instinct to follow after him had been a surprise enough all its own. She'd even found herself in motion before consciously understanding the need to check herself, which she then did with a marked effort. Her impulse had been nothing more than curiosity – and a useless curiosity, at that, for what was the running of such an estate to her, a guest and a woman besides? She'd ignored Edward’s “you must still feel your victory with the cowpens, and wish to repeat it” in jest – for of course he'd noticed her lapse – and instead gratefully turned to accept the cup of tea Elinor had poured for her. She was determined not to linger overly long on thoughts that didn't bear further reflection; hers had been mere curiosity and a genuine desire to be of assistance, nothing more. There, she knew herself true.

    By the time her plate was cleared and she'd finished a second cup of tea, her opinions on the samples were quite exhausted. In her silence, Marianne chastised herself for looking up at the door so often (was she really so eager for him to return, or was she merely bored with this discussion of fabrics?) and then finally excused herself to the library after she deemed an acceptable amount of time had passed. With the adjacent door to the sitting room left open between them she did not truly leave Elinor and Edward behind – for she was trying to cure herself of the ruder impulses that she'd so often allowed to govern her, she was. Mrs. Rowe well knew their preferences by then – or, rather, her preferences – and had undoubtedly situated them as such on purpose.

    Purposefully or not, Marianne was heartily grateful to the housekeeper, for there was no more perfect a place in all of Delaford than the library – indoors, at least. Out of doors, her love was torn between the giant cedar tree beyond the paddocks that, in all its majesty, commanded an entire field as its own, and the great mulberry tree that framed the west side of the house with its crooked trunk and prosperous boughs. Then there was the greenhouses, the yew arbor before the shrubbery, and the gardens; all of which she adored, yes, but none so highly as she regarded the happy waterway that flowed fast and merrily out to the trout lake that formed the boundary between the home farm and the first of the tenant fields. She’d already found her favorite spot in a thick copse of hornbeam trees, where an obliging tumble of old stones and tangled roots formed a natural seat where a smaller stream offered tribute to the canal. She’d already read many stories and verses aloud to the brook and eaves while the water gurgled and the branches swayed overhead as if in happy reply. Sometimes she didn’t even read at all, but instead merely sat in that most beloved spot, alone with her thoughts. She considered everything and nothing, but, more often than not, reflected on her own heart in all of its irregularities and particulars as it once again recovered its beat.

    Inside, however, the library was her particular delight for the sight of so many books all snugly ensconced within their gleaming mahogany shelves. From floor to ceiling there were pages enough to keep even the most intrepid traveler of words occupied for years to come, with titles ranging from classics to histories to fiction and poetry and everything in between. Her eye caught the newly released The Reveries of a Silent Walker, recently returned to its place on one of the first shelves from the doorway, and, now that she knew what she was looking for, she spied a copy of Voltaire's radical Candide in its native French. It rested oh so proudly in the company of Hume’s A Treatise on Human Nature and Kant’s A Critique of Pure Reason. Next in the parade of modern philosophers there was even a copy of The Declaration of the Rights of Women – the controversial French title that had seen its authoress executed during the Terror by the very same men of the Revolution who'd stood firm to demand their own rights. Marianne had read none of the books in whole herself, and, as such, was left to wonder which contained philosophies that Brandon shared and which were merely read to better examine the ideas that all rational human beings should consider and decide for themselves. She would have to ask him later.

    Her father, too, had owned a copy of Candide, Marianne accepted the sting of her memory for the fondness it also inspired. Fanny, upon becoming mistress of Norland, had demanded that book and every one similar to it in sentiment be disposed of, much to Marianne’s outrage for the unthinkable impudence of her brother’s wife. Just imagine, Fanny had sniffed, what a guest would say, stumbling across these titles – or worse, our own little Henry filling his mind on such thoughts! Marianne had entreated John to allow her to take the books with her from Norland, but that idea had drawn nearly as much horror from Fanny, if not more so – for a gentleman could make his own decisions regarding the words he consumed, but an impressionable young lady was something else entirely. John had been persuaded by his wife then, much the same as he ever was.

    Besides, dearest, Elinor had later tried to offer what comfort she could, where will we manage to keep all of the books you already have? But Marianne had been deaf to such reasonable consolation, and could only bitterly weep for all she that had lost and would yet continue to lose.

    Now, she took the book from its place on the shelf with careful hands and placed it on the table to take with her later.

    From there, Marianne continued on her journey, greeting the books as either old friends or dear acquaintances yet to be made. When she came to the histories, right after the volumes on flora and fauna and the natural world, she traced her fingertips over a very old collection of Julius Caesar’s Commentaries. The spines were cracked in places and even showed naked canvas on the worn edges in others. It was a complete set, ranging from the famed general's campaigns in Gaul and Britain to the dynastic dispute he'd settled in Egypt along with Rome's own civil war. All were translated into English but for the Bellum Gallicum – which was a common enough book used to teach Latin that even her brother had transcribed it during his school days. Brandon had once mentioned Oxford to Edward, she recalled, but only to say that he’d hardly spent enough time there to quantify before his relocation to the army. She wondered if he’d gone far enough in his education to learn the language, or had this book been placed here by those who'd come before him?

    That was a thought she cared but little for: sharing this hallowed, most beloved space with the likes of old Jack Brandon and his eldest son. Pursing her mouth, Marianne banished those ghosts by turning from the shelves to greet the room’s most defining feature: a glorious grand pianoforte, with its shining keys and richly dressed stain upon the wood demanding the attention of the eye just as much as it promised delights to the ear and succor to the soul. The instrument – one of the new Broadwood line, with that company's revolutionary expanded keyboard – was perfectly placed to receive the natural sunlight from the windows during the day and close enough to the marble framed hearth to benefit from its light at night. The library itself was generously sized to provide ample space for the pianoforte; a broad, sturdy table for examining the larger volumes; adequate seating to accommodate a small party; and a writing desk; all the while keeping room enough that one could examine the shelves and move about at leisure without any concern for bumping into the furniture.

    There was another pianoforte – an older, more traditional Zumpe, which was still a proud instrument in its own right – that stood off to the side in the drawing room. Yet that pianoforte was more for the use of guests (was she not a guest?) and entertaining. This instrument, in contrast, was clearly cherished as a personal delight and thus given a setting equal to its value in the eyes of the master of the house. For such, Marianne knew what would greet her should she choose to sit and play: a perfectly tuned, glorious range of sound, from the achingly sweet uppermost registers to the bass tones that would thrum in her chest and fill the entire room with its reverberations if she but pressed upon the lowest keys. She could well hear the instrument sing, calling out to her even in silence.

    Marianne was tempted to continue practicing her current undertaking: the latest sonata by a young composer out of Vienna named Beethoven. Her father had been an avid admirer of Haydn, and was thus familiar with his student’s first independent trios when they debuted in England. Henry Dashwood had long prophesized that Beethoven would someday surpass the fame of his master so as to eclipse his genius completely, and in Marianne’s opinion his work was already vastly superior – and Haydn himself was a fine composer, worthy of every accolade attached to his name. She’d already learned the whole of Beethoven's current portfolio for the pianoforte, even if she still held that her father had played with greater spirit and far more integrity before his death. Since his passing, she’d been determined to perfect her own technique in honor of his memory. With some pieces she felt as if she succeeded, while others yet remained beyond the current capacity of her talent. The Piano Sonata No. 1 in F minor, particularly, still had nuances she struggled to capture, though she’d been told that her rendition was lovely enough by most who heard her perform.

    (Even now she recalled the praise she'd reaped from her mother and sisters and Edward and all their friends when she played the forth movement at Barton Park earlier that summer. Sir John and Mrs. Jennings had gone out of their way to see who could more exuberantly praise the most frantic energy of the piece – never mind that they had just talked near through the entirety of her performance – and Edward had been equally as robust in his commendations. Only Colonel Brandon had held back on such animated effusions; to the contrary, he'd merely inclined his head in acknowledgement when she'd purposefully caught his eye and said nothing at all. Almost instantly, she’d felt her temper rise for his decided lack of a reaction – a reaction that she now knew was not unfelt, but rather unshared. Only her temper had been stoked, surely, for why else would her cheeks flush and her pulse race when she marched up to him immediately afterwards to demand:

    “Tell me, sir, where you believe that I erred in my playing?” She came upon him so quickly that she hardly thought twice about standing so very close. How could she be concerned with such a paltry propriety, when she'd been so focused on scuttling the urge she had to poke his chest with her finger to better punctuate her words, instead? “For you did find my rendition lacking, admit it!”

    Brandon had not retreated from her assault; as it was, he only ever shared her space after she first invaded his. As a result of her own impetuousness, she had to tilt her neck back to meet his gaze due to the difference in their heights. Her hands clenched into fists when he gave her such a small smile that it hardly qualified as such, along with a slightly raised brow in answer. The combination of the two gestures, together, nonetheless betrayed what she knew masked a stronger emotion inside. She knew, and that knowledge made her want to -

    . . . well, she knew not exactly what. She only knew that it – that he – aggravated her; oh, how he aggravated her!

    “Where do you believe that you played in error?” Brandon’s mild return – made even milder still in contrast with her own roused ire – was too insufferable to be endured!

    “Nay, I posed the question to you first!” Marianne was all petulance to retort. “Oblige me as a gentlemen ought and speak freely now that I have given you leave to do so! Was it my speed? I know that I was too slow; I was certainly not too fast – for who can play this piece faster than Beethoven himself must have first envisioned in its perfection? I have never managed the prestissimo he demands, much to my everlasting regret, let alone - ”

    “ - no, you never achieved the prestissimo, it’s true.”

    Drawn up short, Marianne could only dumbly gape. She very nearly poked him anyway, before he continued, “Yet you played the movement with such energy that few would be able to differentiate between what you wished to achieve and what you actually accomplished. Your vivace was spirited enough in its own right to be remarkable.”

    Once, Marianne would have taken insult for his words and ignored the subtlety of his compliment outright. It had been easier to imagine that he only looked to find fault with her and took no delight in the wider world around him, rather than trying to understand just why she desired his high regard in the first place. How opposite, she now could reflect as time went by, would Willoughby’s opinion have been. Willoughby, who had loved everything she had loved with a devotion that had ever rivaled her own devotion, would have opined most passionately against her every want for improvement and decried any attempt she made at honest critique. He certainly never encouraged modesty; instead he would find – and had found – every other performance in their party lacking in comparison to her. Once, she'd reveled in the singularity of his adoration and called it love, and yet now . . .

    . . . well, she hardly knew anymore.

    “If not my speed or lack thereof, was it my poor mastery of the chords?” she continued without pause. If she stopped, she would stare, and if she made a study of his face while standing so close to him she knew she would blush. (She did not want to blush; she had no reason to blush.) “All those beautiful flutters and percussive triplets . . .” how could she not close her eyes then to better imagine their consummate execution within her innermost ear? “I know, I know,” she sighed, blinking to wryly admit, “I was either too soft or too bold in my interpretation, and I failed to - ”

    “ - yet the fourth movement is all about finding unity in disharmony, is it not? One section asks a question, and the next section answers.”

    “The entire piece sounds as if it is searching for something unattainable,” Marianne felt her heart twist to agree. Beethoven had prodigiously captured the complex nature of yearning through sound. He'd given a voice to the innermost struggle of mankind to make finite explanations of the infinite, and then extolled the agony of what it was to wonder and want before finally resolving that question in silence.

    However, such an insight wasn't one for polite drawing room conversation – little as she would have censored herself before. Yet: self-improvement. Marianne only had to look over and catch Elinor’s eye – ignoring Mrs. Jennings’ considering gaze, all the while – to remind herself of everything she admired and yet wished to emulate in her own character.

    “The sonata is a study in the illusive.” As such, she was surprised to hear Brandon say – as if he'd somehow gleaned her mute thoughts from the very air they shared to speak them in her stead. Though not as passionate as her own description may have been, there was something about the deep timbre of his voice and how carefully he measured his words that . . . well, Marianne shook her head to clear her thoughts and instead listened as he continued, “Perhaps it is only fitting that you ask such questions of yourself following your own attempt to capture its meaning.”

    “I have long thought the same of the fourth movement,” she was delighted to find her opinion shared. Quite against her conscious will, her smile softened as she vowed, “Someday, I will be able to play the entire sonata as I truly feel it inside.” She could not keep her hand from coming up to rest over her heart then if she tried.

    In answer, there was nothing at all teasing about Brandon's expression. She could not have identified what was in his eyes then if she tried, even with all of her words and how freely they flowed for every possible subject otherwise. “You played the recapitulation beautifully,” he offered. “You've bid me to find fault with your performance, but that was all I could think as the piece came to an end.”

    Brandon’s was not the most effusive compliment she'd ever received; his words were hardly as exorbitant as the adulation the rest of their party had just bestowed upon her, even. If I could only hear one last thing my whole life through, let it be this, Willoughby had once sighed after she'd practiced this very same sonata. Yet she felt the truth of these measured words settle over her like a warmth, as if she was standing in the sunlight with all the world made new around her. As such, she very well was blushing when she whispered, “Thank you.” She at last found her courtesies, and then finally – move, Marianne, just back away – put a more appropriate space between them when she recovered sufficient enough command of her limbs to do so.

    “Whilst we remain on the subject, Colonel, I find that I must raise a grievance with you." It took her a moment, but she managed to continue in polite conversation. Yes, better was it then to make light of something – anything – else, rather than focus on how that same warmth that had first settled over her now contracted to rest somewhere deep down inside, drowsy like an ember.

    "A grievance? Pray tell, so that I may make amends." Though there was no discernable change in his voice or expression, when Brandon bowed – just deeper and longer than necessary – Marianne had to fight back a wholly unexpected smile to know that she was being teased in return.

    "Yes, your grievance is most egregious, but you may yet make some reparations. For, you see, I’ve had the pleasure of your acquaintance for a year now, but I've never heard you play the pianoforte.” Her smile took on a saccharine note, daring him to deny her. “Sir John still insists that you're the best musician of his acquaintance, even after hearing me play. Yet, as my cousin can be a most ebullient friend with nary an unkind word to say about anyone, I feel that I must reserve judgment for myself.”

    “A most egregious error, indeed. Someday,” there was the return of that look she could not quite define (could she not?) as he tipped his head to her request, “I shall have to oblige you.”)

    Someday was apparently a day yet still far off, Marianne huffed to consider. She'd yet to hear Brandon play these months later, no matter her supplications. What was worse, she thought that he played when she could not hear, for there were times when she knew that her pages were turned and left in places other than where last she’d marked them. (A part of her wondered if he left his disturbances behind on purpose, even – though why would he?) Once, she thought she'd heard stray notes after turning in for the night. It had been late enough so that no human being should still be restlessly about, and she'd concluded that it was a happy thing to have a musically inclined ghost in such an old house before she drifted off to sleep with a smile. The next morning, however, none of her pages had been in order, and as ghosts certainly did not need sheet music to aid in their hauntings she'd narrowed her eyes at Brandon to resume her practice. Yet her intention to challenge him on the subject had been pushed aside when she instead saw how far behind she was; she could then focus on nothing more than her determination to catch up.

    For, following the end of his apprenticeship with Haydn, Beethoven had recently released a flurry of new sonatas. Fresh reams of paper, crisp and white in their folios, now waited on the shelf directly behind the pianoforte, with each one as worthy of admiration as the last. Yet, for all of their collective brilliance, there was none so dear to her as Sonata No. 8. Marianne found the Pathétique particularly glorious – violent and melancholic and wistful by turns – and she would have happily sat down to practice then and there had Elinor and Edward not remained in the sitting room beyond the library.

    After everything they'd endured, they deserved something happier than the same impassioned measures of Beethoven fumbled over and over again while they planned their future.

    Rather than attend the instrument – though perhaps she yet still would when they ran out of samples to discuss – Marianne walked the library from wall to wall, taking her time to examine each of the titles as she passed. She spent some minutes engrossed as such until, on one particularly happy shelf, she reached the library’s proud collection of Shakespeare.

    And what a collection it was! Many plays were bound in single editions, while one particularly striking gold embellished spine proclaimed the wealth of sonnets held within. A few titles were even translated into French – somewhat ironically, first by Voltaire and then by la Place, though she knew that the latter censored his translations so thoroughly as to make them almost unrecognizable from their source. He'd removed entire passages outright (anything supernatural or violent or supposedly vulgar) and merely summarized others; he'd even committed the grievous sin of overwriting portions of the original text with verses of his own! When they'd first taken residence at Delaford, she’d opened one of la Place’s translations to find a hand written note in English that said, “You will laugh more for what has been kept, rather than what has been thrown away.” Marianne herself had then delighted to see what differences she could find – though perhaps she too had laughed at more than a few ribald lines the French had omitted than her mother would have preferred otherwise.

    No matter the many smaller gems, for each was truly priceless, the defining treasure of the collection was the two massive tomes that held every single one of Shakespeare’s plays within. Leather bound and tooled with intricate floral motifs, the titles were set in gold-leaf and the pages too were gilded to preserve their edges. There were illustrations for all the definitive scenes, and actual colors had been inked by hand into the ornately decorated title-pages for each play. Marianne was sure that she’d never seen a more handsome pair than these – and that was superficially to the eye, before considering the plethora of evocative words they held within. How could a mere two books together – even these two books – contain the height and breadth of the entire spectrum of human emotion? Such should not have been possible, yet here was irrefutable proof to the contrary. She indulged her more fanciful contemplations as her fingers traced over the depressions and raised patterns in the spines, all to better learn their welcoming texture and introduce herself in return.

    Marianne stood there for quite some time, communing with the books and breathing in that uniquely library scent of leather and paper and wax, before she became aware of a presence at the door. A whisper fluttered across her senses, and even before she turned to see Brandon she knew that he was there.

    How long had he observed her in silence before she took notice? She flushed to consider the question, knowing how peculiar her actions must have seemed to an outside eye. Brandon was casually leaning against the jamb, his arms loosely crossed – the pose so notable to her for its variance from the usual militancy of his posture that she couldn't help but stare. She would have asked him outright, had her words not been caught somewhere between her mind and her mouth, and then Brandon surprised her entirely by speaking first. “It has occurred to me,” he said in that quiet way of his, “that I do not know your own answer to the question you earlier posed.”

    “Which question would that be?” Marianne returned. She unconsciously stepped to the side as if to make a space for him, even though the library held plenty enough room for them both. “We spoke of so many things.”

    “Shakespeare,” Brandon modified, even as he kept to his place and came no closer. “Which play is your favorite?”

    For the invitation to discuss such a beloved subject, she found herself leaning forward almost eagerly. Yet her usual ready answer was then slow to come; to her innermost horror, she even hesitated. What was her favorite of Shakespeare’s plays now, after everything? She found . . . she found that she hardly knew.

    Yet even if she had been certain of her own mind, her own heart, she comforted herself with the knowledge that she would not have been able to resist the opportunity to echo back his own frustratingly vague: “The entirety of Shakespeare's work is worthy of admiration as a whole." She deepened her voice, to poor effect, to mimic his. "Each piece can stand on its own merit, all in different ways.”

    Ha! See how he liked it when others so unsatisfyingly equivocated.

    “Yours is a most wise opinion,” Brandon returned with such gravity that she was reasonably certain that she too was being mocked. Marianne waited, but that was all he seemed inclined to say. His posture straightened, his eyes remained fixed upon her, yet he still did not come any farther into the room.

    “You are all politeness, sir.” She found herself advancing instead, taking a step towards him. “You truly would not press me for more, even when you know my feelings on the matter to be deeper than that which I have first professed?”

    Yet where her words were light and even purposefully impish, he returned her cheerfulness with a solemn, “No, never that,” that she rather perceived as felt more so than heard.

    Marianne stopped before the pianoforte; she did not cross its boundary as her hands came to rest on the brace that framed the keys. For a long moment she was silent, lost in consideration, and then and only then did Brandon venture forth. He came to stand at the opposite side of the instrument, mirroring her pose.

    Finally, she said: “I know what my answer would have been. I . . . I do not know if it remains the same.”

    “Your opinion has changed?” The curiosity in his inquiry was measured, but it was curiosity nonetheless.

    “I have changed,” she bit her lip to confess, looking down at the keyboard to trace between those black and those white with her gaze. It was a small difference, but one that contained worlds within its meaning. “My likes and dislikes, my previously held convictions, and even my once sure view of the world has been shaken at its foundation. I am . . . I am learning what it is to be myself again. I find, in doing so, that I am reconsidering a great many things that I once thought to know for certain.”

    Too much, too much, too much! a voice that sounded remarkably like Elinor's chastised within her thoughts. Oh, why had she not picked a play at random and been done with it?

    (Why was it so very easy to say as much to him, even for she, who never held back from speaking her mind to anyone?)

    “There is much to be admired in your capacity for adaptability,” Brandon said after a pause. She offered what a smile she could in answer, yet the expression felt pained. Perhaps there was the resilience of adaptability in her healing, in her reclamation of self, even – but what of steadfastness? What of integrity and loyalty and devotion, all? There were times when even these small moments of . . . well, whatever they were, felt like a betrayal of Willoughby in the worst possible way. He may have broken fidelity with her in his sybarite pursuit of his own selfish desires, yet her feelings had been true . . . hadn't they? Was her love so faithless, so shallow as his had been, that she was standing here now and -

    . . . what exactly was she doing? There was nothing about her current conversation with Brandon, nor in any of their previous interactions, that even approached the dizzying flirtation and all-consuming romance she’d enjoyed with Willoughby. Still . . . there were eighty-eight keys on this board – seven octaves of sound waiting, untouched, between them – yet the very tips of her fingers tingled for the knowledge of where his hands were. For the sudden intensity of her thoughts and all they could possibly portend, she snatched her hands away and took a full step back from the instrument. Through the still open doorway she felt as her sister’s eyes turned towards her, summoned to her aid as if sensing the sudden turbulence in her spirit. Marianne caught Elinor's stare and offered what a smile she could in assurance. Whatever she'd seen must have satisfied her, for Elinor returned her attention to the swatches of fabric on the table and pointedly called for Edward to do the same.

    Then wanting nothing more than to make her sister's poise her own, Marianne breathed in deeply and settled her errant thoughts when next she exhaled. “Have I ever complimented you on how beautiful this room is?” she found what a safe topic she could and latched onto the mooring it provided. She spun to encompass the library with a gesture, and her smile turned sincere.

    As if she was some celestial object fixing his orbit, Brandon followed, though still never any closer than the distance she first set. Even so, she watched him move, and felt strangely aware of his presence.

    Marianne wasn’t sure what she expected in answer, if anything. Brandon so rarely spoke of himself; that day on the road back from church had been the most she’d ever heard of his opinions at once throughout the entirety of their acquaintance. How quickly she found herself wanting to know more (or was it truly quickly, these many months later?); there was so much that she now wanted to ask and hear in return.

    So, much was her delight when he offered without her having to draw him out: “I have spent most of my life moving from one place to another. Books," he observed somewhat wryly, "take poorly to forced marches and music even less so. Thus, when the option became available to me here . . .” but he faltered, his voice tapering off for silence. He did not immediately recover his words again.

    Yet he did not have to speak. Marianne could grimly infer all that he could not politely say aloud: Delaford had been no home to him for so long – not while his father was still alive, and certainly not after his banishment to the army to secure Eliza William’s fortune for the eldest Brandon son. Following his brother’s death she suspected that he would have rather washed his hands of his unexpected inheritance entirely, had the land not been so encumbered near to the point of insolvency after so many years of mismanagement. His family had failed the tenants and the village that depended upon them for their livelihood, and from that Brandon could not turn aside. His honor had demanded that he fix what was in his power to fix, no matter what his personal wishes may have been on the matter.

    And now? Yes, this old manor had seen much in the way of tragedy; it had sheltered oppression and fostered sins that could scarce be spoken and given a roof to heartache. Yet, to Marianne, Delaford only represented joy: the hopes and happiness of her sister, fulfilled, and a place of rest and repair for her own wounded spirit. Even in church, surrounded by so many contented faces, it was difficult to imagine that those same faces may have been anything but even just a few short years ago. Healing, here, was apparently not uncommon for so many.

    “Please," she whispered as gently as she could, "continue.”

    “My brother had this room shut up, even before . . .” his divorce. Yet that too Brandon could not say aloud, even as Marianne read the horrible truth from his silence. But from that subject her Brandon quickly carried on to say, “The only truly drastic change I have made to the architecture of this house is to make the library bigger. The prior surplus of sitting rooms, to me, seemed in excess when there was a want here in space for shelves.”

    Marianne could agree with such wisdom whole-heartedly. “I had wondered,” she beamed to have that small mystery revealed. “Delaford’s library is on par with Norland’s – no matter that Norland is the larger estate, and my father and great-uncle before him took every pride in the collection they curated. Yet," she added with no small amount of fondness, "even Norland did not have a pianoforte as fine as this one.”

    His eyes fell to where she'd returned to the instrument and absently trailed her fingers over the graceful line of its encasing. Curiously, she felt her breath catch.

    “You have many French titles,” she stepped away from the pianoforte again to comment on an overly bright tone. “More so than we had at Norland, by far.”

    For her words she was treated to the rare sight of a genuine smile from Brandon. He looked . . . well, she would have first said younger before she settled that he merely looked more himself when he smiled. “The French titles are mostly from my sister," he shared yet another insight. "She has lived abroad for a great deal of her marriage, and she makes it a point to collect books wherever she goes.”

    “Your sister from Whitwell?” It was then impossible not to recall their aborted expedition to that estate last October. With a pang that was almost a flinch, Marianne remembered how suddenly Brandon had been called away from their party. Willoughby’s censure for the much anticipated outing they’d been denied had been most severe, and the memory of how she'd simpered to agree with his casual cruelty filled her with no small amount of shame in retrospect. If she'd only known that it was for the discovery and aid of the younger Eliza Williams after months of having been missing that Brandon had left them . . . if Willoughby had known, would he have been able to hold onto his smiles and easy confidence in his sense of superiority then?

    Yes . . . Marianne rather suspected that no tormented affliction of honor would have held him back from seeking his own pleasure, much the same as he ever did. Contrition for his actions never quite equaled reformation for Willoughby, after all.

    But she was not thinking about Willoughby, then – she refused to give him any more of herself than he’d already taken – especially when she saw how Brandon's gaze darkened, undoubtedly for the same memories she revisited. For that knowledge, Marianne nearly found herself reaching out for him in an instinctive gesture to sooth before she curled her fingers in against her palm – such a disobedient hand! Instead, she recovered her bearings to continue: “Susanna Géroux, correct?” To her further shame, she had to search her memory for the name. She'd been only too happy to visit the woman's home when Willoughby was amongst their party, yet she'd considered everything else a mere trifling detail. “Her husband is French, is he not?” she nonetheless remembered that bit of Sir John's gossip with no small amount of wonder. What a peculiar thing, especially in their day and age!

    “Yes," Brandon confirmed. He was fond of his brother-in-law, she could tell from the warmth that infused his voice. "Auguste was born and raised in Devonshire, though, and he considers himself an Englishman at heart. Last spring, after the Peace of Basel was declared, he returned to Avignon to sell his family’s land and close out his local accounts. He intends to settle in England permanently, as it is . . . well, it is no longer as safe to travel between our two countries as it once was. It may be some time before it ever is again.”

    Marianne nodded as she listened, wishing that this was a subject she knew more about. Sir John sent his newspaper down to the cottage daily, but only Elinor had ever made use of the information it provided; by the rest of the family Dashwood, the paper was consigned to the tinderboxes more often than not. Marianne had much preferred the fiction in her novels to the affairs of the wider world, and she'd never paid the articles much attention. Yet: following the dissolution of the French monarchy, the treaties that had broken up the answering Coalition against the Directory had not extended so far as to England. She knew that much, at the very least. For the ominous tensions that still lingered, this was not a time when any of their countrymen should be in France unless it was absolutely necessary – and especially not a couple of mixed nationalities.

    For her conclusions, Marianne saw her own worries reflected in Brandon’s expression – which was telling enough in and of itself. She then imagined Elinor parted from her, gone so far into a country so long embroiled in violence, and could well empathize with his fears. Her heart clenched in distress for merely the idea! Again, she felt the urge to reach for him; again, she stubbornly kept to her place.

    "They are well, I trust?" Are they safe? she wanted to know, but wasn't sure, precisely, how to ask.

    “They are well enough, or at least they were according to the last correspondence I received. At this time, letters are slow to cross our borders, if they cross at all.” She thought Brandon would stop there, his customary allotment of words reached, before he looked at her. He must have seen something encouraging in her expression, for he added, “Auguste initially asked Susanna to remain behind, but she wouldn’t be persuaded to part from him. They should have been back some months ago, but the instability there has made it difficult for them to secure their passage home. The Directory is . . . it is not what’s best for France, and from such ill set foundations I fear for what will arise next.”

    “You expect a return to the monarchy?”

    “Not if France can help it; the people there are still bitter to any perceived overlord, especially after so many lives were lost to secure their freedoms otherwise. Yet there are whispers of . . . well, only time will tell.”

    Marianne frowned, hearing the ominous echo of the name Napoleon even when it was not spoken aloud. She vaguely knew of General Bonaparte, of his victories in Italy and his current campaigns in Egypt. Rumor even said that he’d first wanted to make a stand against England outright, but had to abandon that plan due to their naval superiority in the waters of Northern Europe. Now, he instead sought to cut of their contact with India through attacking both their allies in the Ottoman Empire and the physical route their correspondence took across land, even if their trade ships still made the long journey around the continent of Africa. Napoleon would, if he had his way, strike at the finances of their empire when he could not strike a more tangible blow against them on their native soil.

    Yet that was all she knew, and her scant knowledge was mostly obtained through overhearing Edward and Brandon discuss the subject. How she then wished that she had asked more questions! France's troubles had always seemed so far away when she had more pressing concerns weighing upon her own heart. And yet . . . Colonel Brandon . . . how infrequently did she stop to consider what his title truly meant, and never seriously so until that moment. Currently, the British Navy was primarily employed in the Mediterranean rather than their armed forces, but in the future . . .

    . . . what would come of the future? While just last year she had so immaturely declared that there was no possible life left to be lived beyond five and thirty, she doubted that the Crown felt the same. Was Brandon's commission still active? Had he retired his command in whole upon inheriting Delaford, or was he kept as an officer in reserve? Could he be recalled to fight again if the conflict demanded that he take up arms? She did not know; she had never wanted to know. For the sudden, intense anxiety her thoughts inspired – oh how she loathed the very name Napoleon then – she felt an alarming catch in her breath. She wavered, unsteady on her feet, and had to struggle to maintain her equilibrium.

    (Why, oh why, did this spiral of thoughts suddenly cause her so much dread?)

    Even if he didn't understand precisely why she'd suddenly gone so pale, Brandon nonetheless knew that something had unsettled her. For that knowledge he broke the distance between them, concern obvious upon his features in a rare moment of unconstrained emotion. She felt certain that he would offer his hand if she did not recover herself, and so, instead of launching into a sudden barrage of questions regarding his professional pursuits and all that could mean for their future – his future, she grasped the first anchor that would steady her: “Avignon.” If her voice was still rather not her own, Brandon was polite enough not to comment on her distress aloud – and yet neither did he retreat from her again. “That is where your sister is? I’ve heard it's a beautiful country.”

    “It is,” there was a pause before Brandon confirmed. He still looked at her searchingly, until, for the first, she felt as his attention turned from her – beyond that room and even beyond England itself. “The south of France is without parallel in many ways, and the Mediterranean is like nothing England has to offer. The ocean that forms our shores is cold and wild, but there – the blues are so bright and the greens are so green. Sunlight feels to be a different entity entirely. Everything is warmth and color and light, so much so that I . . . well, I do not know how to describe it any better than that.”

    Marianne thought that he did well enough – and certainly better than she would have believed him capable of for so long. His words even sounded like something she would say, had she been familiar with the country herself. Never had her small corner of England seemed so constricted to her as it did then – for all that she knew and loved in these rolling hills and rivers and glens was all that she knew and loved in all of their great wide globe. She'd never been farther north than London, farther west than Devonshire, farther east than Sussex, even in her own native British Isles.

    “You’ve seen so much of the world,” she muttered. How little she’d seen and known herself . . . and yet how certainly she'd judged.

    But how did one confess such a failing of character aloud?

    “I've been fortunate to see some small part of it, yes.” Yet Brandon's smile faded for a more rueful expression, and she perceived more so than she physically saw him take a step back from her – as if he was reminding himself that the gap between them (in years, in experience, in temperament) was much too wide a chasm to ever attempt crossing.

    For, wasn't it? Hadn’t she once insisted that such a distance was all but insurmountable, herself? (Just why was she even considering such a thought now?)

    “Once,” she found herself admitting, “I thought the journey from Sussex to Devonshire to be very brave. It felt like traveling to the distant ends of the earth, moving so far away. Now, I know better.”

    After what she'd since experienced – after what she knew he'd experienced – how laughably childish her previous fears and paltry woes now seemed!

    Yet they were not paltry to him. “Who’s to say that your removal was not an act of the utmost bravery?" Brandon disagreed. "You were forced to abandon your home, one you should never have had to quit, and certainly not in the manner of your leaving. You were still mourning the untimely death of your father, and yet had no option but to seek comfort in the kindness of distant, unknown relations. To depart for strangers when your own immediate family failed to honor the least ties of common decency, let alone any deeper sentiment as should exist between siblings – and especially as should bind a brother to his sisters as God has naturally instilled the instinct to provide for, and, what's more than that, demands of a man to protect – ” but there Brandon abruptly cut himself short. Undoubtedly, he had no kind words for her half-brother to spare, but he would not disparage John Dashwood any further to her ears other than what he'd already betrayed aloud.

    Marianne merely stared at him in answer, surprised (though not surprised, when had she stopped being surprised to glimpse such depths of feeling within this man?) that he'd been moved to such a speech to begin with. Had she ever heard him say so much, and with such emotion, all at once? She looked, and saw where his posture was then more tension than precision; his jaw was squared in what could have been anger, and his eyes . . . she glimpsed something there he could not completely hide away so quickly that she failed to discern its presence. It felt . . . good, this defense on her behalf; it felt . . . safe, even; the warmth she felt then was the sort of warmth that promised she would never go cold again.

    Maybe that sense of security was why her loose tongue spilled her next words: “A removal from Sussex to Devonshire still hardly compares with being displaced from England to India. I departed for family, at that, no matter how distant or unknown, and you for combat.” She felt as something righteously indignant rose from the depths of her own spirit, as if she could be moved to protect and defend against the actions of those now long dead for how deeply their wounds had been inflicted. She very much felt as if she had claws and teeth then, and capable, was she, of using them. “You too were forced from home for that same lack of tender regard which should be, as you said, instinctual between immediate relations. For the same avarice that made my brother ignore my father’s dying wishes, you were cast out to an uncertain fate on the opposite side of the world, left to live or die by your own strength when, instead - ”

    Too much, too much, too much! Elinor's voice again insisted and at last succeeded in snapping her mouth shut for the sensibility of silence. But she'd meant her every word true, and she would not take them back. How could she, when she found herself thinking that she could very well imagine the intensity of the Mediterranean sunlight he’d described for how he looked at her then? That feeling only settled in deeper when he said, “Distance alone cannot trump one circumstance over another; you are being unfair to yourself by insisting otherwise.”

    Was she? Marianne did not agree, and yet, before she could say as much Brandon gave the most imperceptible of shrugs to continue, “Besides, while there is much about my service in the East Indies that I do not think on with pride, the years I spent there allowed me to see much of a beautiful country and a resilient people. Once peace with the Marathas was declared and we were recalled back to England, John and I were even granted leave to seek a more expedient route home. He’d just won renown enough to grant him a knighthood at the Battle of Sipri, and I in turn earned my captaincy, to allow us the indulgence of such favors. We sailed the Arabian coast up to the Red Sea, crossed through Egypt to the Mediterranean, and then went by land over the Continent to the Channel. It was a rare time of peace for so many countries, with all the major powers having laid down their arms and America only just recently having won her freedom. As such, the journey was . . . well, it was definitive.”

    Marianne thought of a dozen questions then, not the least of which being how Sir John – the kindhearted and yet oftentimes most absurd man of her acquaintance – had not only cultivated a deep and lasting friendship with someone as grave and studious as Brandon, but had also once earned a knighthood for valor? Yet so many of her words fought for dominance that she could speak none of them aloud. Instead, she found herself sighing to say, “I’ve long since contented myself with only traveling so far in books.”

    And she had been content with that, hadn't she? She’d never sought anything more than to eventually become the mistress of some English house as a wife and mother; what else could she possibly expect? Yet, for a moment . . .

    . . . she paused, and allowed herself to wonder.

    “You still have many years to see everything you'd like to see of the world,” Brandon shook his head to offer an alternative option. “When peace is regained with France the Continent will again be more hospitable to travelers. You would like Geneva and Switzerland, I’d wager, and Italy too. There is no one, for a certainty, who would appreciate the sight of the Alps more than you.”

    She met his eyes, and then allowed herself to acknowledge the thrill she felt to be so intimately known. For it was a thrill, the way he looked at her then – a sweetness and a glow and a joy, so much so that she told herself that she ought not feel as she felt. How very fickle you are, Marianne Dashwood! a part of her even despaired. For she could not call herself anything but as she wondered if this was what Willoughby had first chased in her: a sparked delight of discovered alignment, and such a giddy rush of sensation for the meeting of eyes and words and the heightened awareness of even the slightest possibility of touch? Was it merely romance for the sake of romance she now craved? Was she even capable of loving truly and completely if her heart was so faithless so as to hesitantly pulse with life again? Was she any better than Willoughby had been, at that, to so quickly transfer her affections from one conquest to the next?

    It was a terrible thing to consider, even as something deep inside whispered that this wasn’t the same, not nearly.

    . . . but wasn’t it? Marianne hardly knew. She’d been out in society for less than a season when her father first took ill, and she'd then had no thoughts but for mourning and the sad necessity of starting over in the world. No young man had caught her eye during those harried months in London – her nearly nonexistent dowry was hardly an enticement, after all, and her options had been scarce. Her father may have been a prosperous man, but his fortune and Norland in its entirety was entailed to her half-brother and his heirs. There were a few men who had been drawn in by the possibility of what John would share with she and her sisters in Christian generosity when the time came, combined with what she could admit was some beauty on her part, but none who had tempted her in return. She’d alienated George Evans when she’d dared to correct his recitation of Pope at a ball (and she didn’t even like Pope), and Thomas Langley had been so insulted by the fact that she had urged her horse over a jump he had refused to try (such a jump that even Margaret and her pony could have crossed!) that he’d never spoken a word to her again thereafter.

    That same season, her father had urged her not to look for love, but rather to let it come upon her organically – even as her mother, with all of her usual romantic sensibilities otherwise, had pursed her mouth in concern for his words. I promise that I will not leave this world until I am certain that you will be well cared for, Marianne had once caught her parents in an embrace, her father comforting her mother as she wept, before she'd turned to leave just as quickly as she'd happened upon them. Her cheeks had flooded with color to have witnessed the rawness of their emotions, yet she'd resolved then and there that no affection – no great love – less than what her parents shared would ever move her to matrimony. She could never have been satisfied with a George Evans or a Thomas Langley or a -

    . . . or a John Willoughby, she forced herself to admit. She inhaled with her pain, and let it out slow when next she exhaled. Every time she did so, she found it easier and yet easier still to breathe.

    “I hardly know where I would start with the wider world,” she was still half lost in reflection to confess. What did she think? What did she feel? What did she want? She found that she hardly knew. “I do not even know what to think about Shakespeare anymore.”

    Brandon had left her to her thoughts in silence until then – a conscious decision for her sake, she suspected, as much as she'd never known him to forcibly fill a conversation with idle chatter otherwise. Yet for her last remark he was moved to say, “Perhaps, we could start anew?”

    “What was that?” Her eyes snapped back to meet his gaze. She was then wholly in the present as he flushed, all thoughts of her own romantic history pushed aside for her sudden awareness of this man in this moment. No matter the slight grimace that betrayed him in self-recrimination, Brandon did not take a step back from her as she may have first expected. She was glad for that, she finally admitted . . . she did not want him to.

    “You could start anew,” Brandon corrected himself. “Pick a play, any play, and read his work from the beginning. In that way, you could form your opinions over again.”

    "That is quite a bit of reading you suggest.”

    “Yet, would not the reading of such words be worth the investment of time?”

    “I think," Marianne found herself whispering when she'd first intended for a stronger voice, "it just might be.”

    A whisper was all that she was capable of for how her breath seemingly caught in her chest. She was then so very aware of him, aware of how far apart they stood and now how close she yet wanted him to come. That remaining distance separating them felt like a touch in and of itself, and she felt the sudden intense urge to reach out and close it. The feeling came upon her so quickly that it startled her – a feeling that she had once thought she would never feel again and yet so unlike any other she'd previously experienced that for a moment she faltered. She didn't want to feel this way; she couldn't feel this way . . . could she? Didn't she? And for this man, of all men? Yet it was everything she'd since come to greatly esteem and even like (oh how she'd once mocked Elinor for such insipid, empty words when they now felt anything but!) about Brandon that had since set him apart as singular in her estimation. Maybe, it felt terrifying to consider . . . perhaps someday, when she better knew herself and the world around her. For now, her heart still had the rest of its winter to pass before she could even begin to look forward to any sort of spring.

    It was enough, then, just to know that such a season was yet still possible.

    “Perhaps we could start tonight?” she gently put aside her reflections for a wonderful, wicked thought. “Yes! We should all sit together and pick characters to voice. We will read aloud – even poor Edward – and discover all that there is to be found.”

    Marianne merely suspected that Edward and Elinor had been listening before that – the sitting room had gone suspiciously quite of the debate between the merits of satin versus sateen weaves for quite some time – and she knew their eavesdropping for a fact when she heard an audible sound of dismay come from Edward.

    “After all," she ruthlessly continued, immeasurably satisfied to have cornered her brother-in-law, "I am not the only one who could better acquaint themselves with Shakespeare – if you think that Touchstone and Feste are to be confused, Edward dearest.” She pointedly raised her voice to ensure she was heard.

    Brandon, for his part, gazed at her with what she thought was abject delight – even if the expression was almost too slight to tell. She was not the only one, she distantly allowed herself to admit, who then thought of spring. “Though she be but little," his voice was drawn from deep within his chest to recite, "she is fierce.”

    “A Midsummer Night’s Dream!” Marianne eagerly matched his words with their source. “Yes, we shall start there!”

    With that, what was there to do but go to the shelf and pick out the independently bound volume of the play - and the omnibus too? She and Brandon could share one, and Edward and Elinor the other. With her bounty thus secured, she turned towards the sitting room – where Edward watched her approach with no small amount of trepidation and Elinor with such fond amusement resting in her eyes. How happy she was in that moment, with a joy she had once thought never to return again. How happy, Marianne next allowed herself to admit, she could yet still choose to become.

    “Fierce," she breathed out, looking back over her shoulder at Brandon. I like the sound of that, an innermost voice whispered even as she said, aloud, “I think, I am remembering that I can be.”

    With that – all that needed to be said, for the time being – she walked out of the library and towards her sister, certain that Brandon would follow just a step behind.


    I feel like I spent as much time researching this story as I did actually writing! 8-} So:

    The Books: I must confess that I've hardly read any of the titles I mentioned in the text - shhhh! Instead, I perused many a wiki page to fill in this imaginary library. La Place was an especially fun find; he was one of the first authors to translate Shakespeare's work into French, but only after extensively editing the text so as to make it more palpable to genteel readers! That fun fact highly amused me, so I had to include it here. :p

    The Music: I also have to admit that I don't really care for BBC's 2008 S&S adaptation. But I did enjoy the scene where Marianne took offence when Brandon tried to compliment her skills as a musician; she then protested that the music he gave her the next day was beyond her skills, yet practiced throughout the entirety of the series until she mastered the piece. Call certain parts of this fic a throwback, if you'd like. [face_mischief] Especially with this fun fact in mind: Beethoven did release his sonatas at this time, right when the keyboard for the pianoforte was expanding to more greatly resemble the modern piano we better know. Beethoven released his first ten sonatas in 1795-1799, which must have been a very exciting time to be a musician! The interpretation of the meaning behind Sonata No. 1's fourth movement I took straight from Wikipedia, as it fit my story all too perfectly! If you're curious, you can listen to No. 1 and No. 8 played on the pianoforte here, which was the instrument Beethoven originally wrote them for.

    The History: I have no idea how a mixed French and English couple would have been safe in France in 1798 - the last year of the Directory before the Coup of Brumaire that resulted in Napoleon Bonaparte being appointed as First Consul. But Jane Austen certainly knew this time period better than I do, so if she says it was so, it was so! Still, I can only imagine how nerve wracking it would have been to have family abroad during such a turbulent time. If anyone's curious, Napoleon would have just been defeated at the Battle of the Nile not even a month before this fic. Though he suffered a naval loss in that particular battle, both Cairo and Alexandria remained under French control until 1800, and it wasn't until the Treaty of Paris in 1802 that all hostilities between France and the English/Ottoman Empire ceased. Momentarily, at least. :p

    Brandon's History: If you've only seen the 1995 film, some of this fic may have read like gibberish. Saying that he fell in love with a poor woman who was then cast out and he sent to the army to separate them rather simplifies a much more complicated story. Instead, in the novel: Eliza Williams was a rich heiress who was a ward of the Brandon family. She was the same age as our Brandon; they grew up together, fell in love, and were caught trying to elope when they came of age to marry. Because, the catch was this: Brandon Sr. wanted Eliza to marry his eldest son so that her fortune could be used to benefit the family estate. She was locked up in her rooms until she agreed to the marriage and our Brandon was sent away to the army and then off to India. Jack Brandon, as I have named him, was "unkind" and "his pleasures as a married man were not what they ought to have been", which is Austen-speak for abuse. Eliza eventually fled her marriage with another unnamed man, and Jack Brandon divorced her. That first seducer left her when he got what he could of her allowance, and it's implied that Eliza resorted to passing herself from man to man in order to survive. By the time our Brandon came back from India and searched for her, she was dying of consumption in a sponging house - which is a sort of debtor's prison. Before she passed away, Eliza left care of her daughter, who was also named Eliza, to Brandon - though he couldn't raise her outright due to his still serving in the army and having no fixed home for many years. He only inherited Delaford following his brother's death five years before S&S, which brings us right into the events of the novel.

    . . . I know. Jane Austen had a lot to say about the inability of women - and even men, at times - to influence their fates due to the constraints of society. As perhaps is fitting for her first novel, this is one of the more shocking stories she ever had to tell. [face_plain]

    Did I cover everything? I think I covered everything! If there's anything I missed - or flat out got wrong, let's be honest, but I probably made more than one error in writing for this time - I apologize in advance and thank you for your forbearance as kind readers. I do hope that you enjoyed this tale as much as I enjoyed telling it. [face_love] [:D]

    ~ MJ @};-
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2022
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  7. WarmNyota_SweetAyesha

    WarmNyota_SweetAyesha Chosen One star 8

    Aug 31, 2004
    Excellent opening quote to the coda and superb introspection from Marianne. You write Brandon most sympathetically.

    And as for writing "happy couples being happy", that is so much a thing! [face_love]
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