It’s our anniversary, and we’re in the mood to celebrate! Throughout February, we’re commemorating the success of Austen Variations‘ first year by dropping in on some of our favorite Austen couples on their anniversaries. We started with the Darcys and the Bingleys on the 2nd. Today, we’re visiting our favorite couples from Sense and Sensibility: Elinor and Edward, Marianne and Col. Brandon. I wonder how they’re doing after two years and twelve months together respectively. Does connubial bliss live on, or is the honeymoon definitely over?
When I first set out to write this little tale, I knew Elinor and Marianne had not married at the same time, but I wasn’t sure exactly how far apart. Thank you to the research of wonderful people like Ellen Moody who has written extensively on this subject, I now know it was a year apart, but around the same time in the autumn. I wanted to combine the two couples, living as they do so closely together at Delaford Park, celebrating their anniversaries together.
I’m hoping to make this into a free read which I will make available in our Reader’s library – I hope you enjoy it!
A Happy Anniversary at Delaford Park
Elinor Ferrars untied her apron, and checked her reflection in the looking glass in the hall before dashing upstairs to tidy her hair. No matter how many times her darling husband Edward told her she should leave domestic duties to the servants, she found she couldn’t stand by and watch as they struggled with their daily tasks. Old habits die hard, and having become practised at helping out in the kitchen at Barton cottage, or outside in the vegetable garden, she was determined to be as useful at Delaford parsonage where she could. Not that she’d been idle at Norland, her former childhood home, but her pursuits had tended to fall into that category thought suitable for the daughter of a rich landowner. Reading and drawing had been her daily tasks, but, when their circumstances had changed, Elinor had been the first to embrace the real chores at hand, helping the servants wherever she could to lighten their load.
On this chilly autumnal morning, she was in a hurry to finish the jobs that needed doing; especially as her sister Marianne was expected in a short while to discuss their anniversary plans.
Elinor thought with pleasure how fortunate they were to be married to the men who suited them best in the world, and to live within a stone’s throw of the other was the greatest comfort. It would be fun to celebrate their anniversaries with a ball – Elinor could not help but wonder where the last two years had gone, and to think there had been a time when she thought she might never be able to marry the man she loved so well. Of course it had taken Marianne a little longer to fall in love with the colonel, and Elinor smiled to think about how she and her mother had contrived to get her sister up to Delaford as often as possible to assist the wheels that had been set in motion. A year later all that had been accomplished, and Edward had even had the pleasure of marrying them.
It was just like Marianne to want to celebrate her first wedding anniversary with a grand ball, and her plans to have musicians, poets and players as a surprise for her husband was just the sort of lavish entertainment to keep Mrs Brandon amused. Elinor knew how excited Marianne was about her schemes, and as she took up her hairbrush to sweep her curls back into place, she knew Marianne would be arriving in her carriage at any moment.
Elinor recollected her first anniversary last autumn. She and Edward had just wanted to spend the time quietly at home, wrapped in one another’s arms by the fire, as the copper leaves drifted from the oaks by the gate, scattering like topaz jewels over the gravel sweep.
‘Who would have thought when we first met at Norland that I would be the lucky man to marry you?’ Edward whispered, pulling Elinor closer and stroking her hair.
‘No, indeed – certainly not me,’ said Elinor, a smirk forming on her lips. ‘You were such a puzzle to me, warm and confiding one moment, acting like a lover should, and then cold and distant the next. I was so confused, I could not decide if you even liked me, let alone if you had any true feelings for me.’
‘You did not know I was engaged, and in such a complete turmoil of feeling, unable to solve my dilemma. Having met you, and after spending time with you, I realised that my infatuation with Lucy as a very young man, had been exactly that. I’d fallen in love with you before I left Norland, but knew I could do nothing to secure your affections. How I suffered.’
‘How you suffered?’ Elinor laughed. ‘You didn’t have to listen to Lucy telling me all about your secret engagement, and how you looked upon me quite as a sister!’
‘Dearest, it pains me to hear how you were treated. By my own stupidity I might never have been in a position to claim you as my wife,’ said Edward, serious for a moment. He took Elinor’s hand, and kissed her palm. ‘Thank heaven for my brother Robert. I do not think he knows what an excellent service he did me, though I am sure he must regret such haste in taking Lucy off my hands.’
‘Oh, I think they suit one another very well, they’re both very adept at putting their own needs first. Goodness, how long ago it all seems now. I shall never forget your face at Barton on that fateful day when I enquired after Mrs Edward Ferrars. When Thomas told me he’d seen Lucy, “Mrs Ferrars” he called her, I naturally assumed he meant she’d married you.’
Edward laughed. ‘You hadn’t reckoned on the fact that the younger Mr Ferrars was now a much more interesting prospect having lately come into my inheritance.’
‘Oh, they are welcome to it,’ Elinor sighed. ‘I could not be more happy with you if we had fifty thousand pounds in the bank. We have all that we need and more.’
‘Except … there is one thing I would like,’ said Edward, ‘something that I think would increase our happiness.’
Elinor struggled out of Edward’s arms to turn and look at him. ‘Increase our happiness? You may speak for yourself alone because my happiness is quite complete, I assure you.’
‘Perhaps you will think my request is a selfish one, but it is something I find myself thinking about more and more.’
‘Not selfish, Edward, you could never be that. But, I confess, I am surprised. I cannot imagine how I could be more content. I adore every moment, each second we spend together – there never is enough time to sit with you, like this, in such felicity. I am sorry to think you find it wanting.’
‘Oh, my sweet Elinor, how very wrong you are in thinking I should find such precious moments wanting. I must explain myself.’
‘Please do, for I am anxious for an answer.’
He looked thoughtful. ‘I would like to see the chamber next to ours put to full use.’
‘Is it your mother that you’re wanting to invite? Edward, I sincerely hope to make her very welcome when she does come, but I do not think that chamber would do. It is rather on the small side.’
Edward put out his hand, and with one finger silenced his wife, stroking the lips he loved. She looked so beautiful and he could wait no longer to kiss her. Pulling her closer his lips found hers, and she kissed him back, savouring every moment. When he finally pulled away, the look of love was such that made his wife blush quite pink.
‘I have never been very good with words, Elinor, but I can only tell you what’s in my heart. What I’m trying so badly to say is that I think it would be wonderful if we were a family with our own babe in the nursery.’
Elinor started to laugh, showing her pretty mouth off to perfection. ‘Edward, I am so relieved to find it is a baby who will be my rival for your affections. And I couldn’t agree more, my darling … I’m sure when the time is right, we shall be so blessed.’
‘We are blessed indeed, Elinor, and I do wonder if it’s wrong to be asking for more ‘riches’ in our life when we have so much besides.’
‘I do not know that it is wrong to keep hoping that the desires of your heart will have a happy outcome. In our case I longed for you and waited, and it came right in the end. I have high hopes our wishes will be realised if we are patient.’
Edward nodded. ‘You are always so wise. You’d make an excellent clergyman.’
‘Now for that to be accomplished would be a hope in vain, I think, and I am sure I’d never do such an excellent job as you. Amongst your other talents in the pulpit, I’ve watched you settle the babies after their wetting at the font. You have quite a way with them.’
‘I enjoy holding them, soothing them. I like to imagine what it would be like to hold one’s own flesh and blood, to have a baby of our own to love.’
‘Oh, Edward, wouldn’t it be wonderful?’ Elinor draped her arms about her husband’s neck and gazed into his eyes. ‘Having a baby with you would satisfy all my dreams … but, you know the trouble with talking about babies … it does not produce them.’
She didn’t need to say anything more.
Elinor was brought back to the present by the sounds of endearing snuffles and shuffles from the cradle in the nursery close by, aware that her first-born son was awake and stirring. Colonel Brandon had insisted she have a nurse to help in the first few months, but she’d had little to do. When Elinor walked into the room, the nurse handed little Henry into her arms, and she was greeted with such gurgling smiles that she couldn’t help thinking, once more, how lucky she was to have him. His face was rosy and pink from sleep; his dark curls damp against his forehead.
‘Do you have any idea just how much you are loved?’ she whispered to him and planted a kiss on a cheek that was as smooth as a peach.
The sounds coming from below heralded her sister’s arrival. She heard the front door shutting, steps across the hallway and low voices. Reluctantly she handed her precious bundle back into his nurse’s arms. Marianne would require all her attention, she knew. Elinor gave him one more squeeze with a promise to attend him later before heading downstairs.
‘Marianne,’ she called, ‘as she entered the parlour, ‘how wonderful, you’re early!’
But it wasn’t Marianne she saw, and for a moment she couldn’t think exactly whom it was standing by the fireplace warming his hands against the chill of the damp autumn morning, until he turned around.
‘Mr Willoughy!’ Elinor blurted out the words, the shock was so great.
Mr Willoughby, expensively dressed in a black mourning coat and hat, bowed gravely, before moving swiftly towards her to offer his hand.
Elinor took it briefly, her mind racing with all the possibilities of his intrusion.
‘I imagine you are very shocked to see me, Mrs Ferrars, and I hope you will forgive me for not giving you notice of my visit. I hope you are well. I heard about the birth of your child, and would like to offer my congratulations. He must be about three months old now, I believe.’
‘I thank you, Mr Willoughby. Yes, little Henry was born in June.’
Elinor was more than a little taken aback. She couldn’t help thinking back to the last time she’d seen him when Marianne was ill, and he’d come to ask for her forgiveness. He’d broken her sister’s heart and married for money, but those were not his only crimes. She couldn’t help thinking also of the colonel’s ward, Miss Williams, who’d been preyed upon by Willoughby, and she wondered about their child, the baby he’d never even seen. Elinor had forgiven him, but when he’d declared his undying love for her sister, she had told him in no uncertain terms that Marianne was lost to him forever.
‘I am expecting Mrs Brandon to call at any moment,’ Elinor continued, deciding she would not offer him a seat. She did not wish to be uncivil, but she did not want to encourage him to stay. ‘Forgive me, but I hope your visit will be brief, Mr Willoughby. I do not think my sister will be pleased to learn you are in the vicinity, and I am certain that if Colonel Brandon had any idea he would not be at all happy.’
‘I’ve seen the colonel lately in town, Mrs Ferrars. He doesn’t change much … he’s still one of those people whom people speak well of, but nobody cares about, whom all are pleased to see, and yet no one can be bothered to converse with. I had business with him on another matter, and he was as polite as any gentleman could be.’
Elinor could imagine what the other matter must be – she was sure it was something to do with Miss Williams.
‘Colonel Brandon is always very kind, an exemplary gentleman,’ Elinor answered. ‘And now, may I ask what brings you here, Mr Willoughby? Time is most pressing.’
‘I wondered if you had ever received news of my present circumstances? My wife sadly died these twelve months past, along with the poor dead babe that didn’t take his first breath.’
Elinor had heard something of the matter from Mrs Jennings, their old friend and mother-in-law to their cousin, Sir John Middleton. Marianne had been very quiet on the matter, and not spoken about it to her knowledge.
‘I was very sorry to hear of it, please accept my condolences.’
Why was he here? Elinor wondered. If Marianne were to see him … Elinor did not want to risk upsetting her sister by making her revisit the past. She knew her sister held no regrets, but even so, she knew that as time had gone on her heart had hardened further against the man who’d used her so ill.
‘I have thought about you and your sister very often, and of happier times,’ Willoughby went on. ‘Is it an impossible wish that we could be friends, that I might find some peace. My guilt, my anguish over the way I treated your sister, Mrs Ferrars, has only increased over time. You were so very generous to grant me your forgiveness that last time I saw you when Marianne was ill, but I still have not received the pardon from the one person who still has such a hold on my heart. I will never rest easy until I have it from her lips.’
‘Mr Willoughby, you know your desire is fruitless. I am very sorry that you should feel so, but cannot you see that your expectation is a hopeless one. Mrs Brandon has forgiven you in her own way. More than that, you cannot anticipate.’
‘Please do not speak her name in that way … not with his name. Could I not stay now, and see her, just for five minutes? I need to explain myself.’
‘I am sure she would not wish to see you. I am sorry, but I must ask you to leave,’ Elinor said in her firmest tone. ‘Be assured that you have nothing to feel anxious about. Marianne does not think any more on the matter. She is very happy, and I must say, I do not think your coming here was kind of you. Even if you could see her, what could you hope to achieve?’
Before Elinor had finished speaking, voices could be heard out in the hall.
‘You must go, Mr Willoughby,’ Elinor commanded.
‘It’s too late – she’s here now, I can hear her voice. I know she will listen to me.’
The door opened and Marianne waltzed through in her usual fashion. She was looking exceptionally beautiful this morning in a blue gown, the perfect foil for her hair, which was swept up and caught in a silk sash wreathed about her head. Her smiling countenance changed as she halted in her tracks, suddenly aware who was standing in the room addressing her sister.
Mr Willoughby bowed once more. ‘Marianne … Mrs Brandon, forgive me, I know you will be surprised to see me here.’
Marianne could not speak, her emotions showed in the blush that immediately spread over her pale cheeks.
‘I am sorry, Marianne, I had no idea of Mr Willoughby’s calling this morning,’ said Elinor, ‘but he is leaving now so you must not trouble yourself. Mr Willoughby, let me see you out.’
‘Please, I beg you, Mrs Brandon. I came to see you with no other intent than to beg just a few minutes of your time. I will not rest easy until I have explained to you all that happened, and until I have your forgiveness I will have no peace.’
Marianne was in such a state of shock she hardly knew what to do or say. Seeing him again aroused so many emotions. He was more handsome than she’d ever seen him, and his manners were so very much the same as they had always been. And yet, despite these outward attractions she felt herself able to look on him with equanimity, and see him quite like a stranger. She would be lying to herself if she did not admit that she’d wondered about him, and what might have been, emotions that had stirred once more when she’d heard of his wife’s untimely death. But, those feelings had soon passed. Marianne loved the colonel too well to be disturbed by the recollection of a lost love who’d chosen money and his pocketbook over her.
‘Leave us, Elinor,’ she said at last. ‘I will hear what Mr Willoughby has to say, on the condition that he leaves immediately afterwards, and makes no futher attempt to make any contact with me.’
‘If you are sure, dearest,’ said Elinor hesitantly, ‘I shall just be without, if you need me.’
Silence filled the room when she’d gone. Only the sound of the rain drumming against the casement window could be heard, reminding her of the tears she’d spent over this man when he’d first broken her heart. Marianne put those thoughts aside, bade him sit down, and waited.
He spoke at last; his voice soft and low. ‘You are, without doubt, the singularly most beautiful woman of my acquaintance, Marianne.’
‘I do not wish to hear what my husband tells me every morning, Mr Willoughby,’ said Marianne, knowing that her words would remind him of her waking in the colonel’s arms, and a small part of her hoped they would wound. ‘My time is limited, I have much to be accomplished today and I would be very grateful if you’d be swift.’
‘I hope I may still call you by your name, Marianne, that we might be friendly again.’
Marianne was beginning to lose her patience, and her composure. ‘I do not understand why you have come here, Mr Willoughby. Please speak plainly of your business with me, and let me get on with mine.’
‘I have never had the chance to explain all that happened to you in person, though I trust that your sister relayed my words to you. I was so worried for your welfare when you were taken ill that time, and you became more dear to me than you had ever been when I realised that Marianne Dashwood might be taken away from us forever.’
‘My sister told me everything, Mr Willoughby. I have no doubt that you had true feelings for me at one time, but the fact remains that you chose to marry someone else. Money was evidently more important to you than any love you might have had for me then. I admit, I felt wounded at the time, but I have since come to realise that you would never have been happy had you married me, especially if we’d been poor. And I would have been made miserable by the connection.’
‘But, Mrs Smith would have made us rich, she said as much in the end, and I cannot tell you how much I have regretted my decision not to claim you there and then. I have loved only you, and longed only for you. Can you not admit that you felt the same?’
‘Mr Willoughby, even had you decided against Miss Grey with her fifty thousand pounds, or come to me later, I’d had time to reflect on your conduct. And not only on your behaviour to me, but on your despicable actions towards the colonel’s ward. She is the woman you should have married.’
Willoughby twisted the hat he held in his hands, gazing at the floor as he spoke. ‘I cannot excuse the past, but I want you to know I have tried to make amends to Miss Williams and her child, as far as I can. Your husband is a most generous man in assisting me in that endeavour.’
‘He is the most wonderful man I have ever known, Mr Willoughby, and he has made me the happiest of women. I want you to know you should have no regrets, you have in fact done me the greatest service in the world. If anything had happened to the contrary, I could not be in the present situation I enjoy, nor be able to appreciate how very fortunate I am.’
‘Then I take it, there is no hope ever of a reconciliation between us?’
Marianne shook her head in disbelief. ‘I do not understand you, Mr Willoughby. I think you know we could not be friends, though I have forgiven you completely, let me assure you. I did love you once, and a part of me will always remember that time with fondness, but it was a first love, and with passing time comes wisdom. A first love is not always the foundation for a lasting one, though it is a useful exercise in training for an enduring one.’
‘You heard my wife had died?’
‘I did, and I am sorry for you.’
‘I wish I were more sorry, but I cannot lie to you, Marianne. It was a marriage of convenience, there was no love on either side.’
‘But, you are rich now, and you will be able to marry again.’
‘Is it too much to hope that if you ever found yourself in similar circumstances … I have thought of marrying again, but whilst you live and breathe in this world, I have only hope …’
Willoughby’s voice trailed away. He knew it was useless to continue – she would never consider becoming his wife even if the colonel were carried off to an early grave and had inscribed it in his will. No, he could see perfectly well that she was truly lost to him more than ever.
Mrs Brandon took a deep breath. ‘I think it’s time for you to go now, Mr Willoughby.’
Marianne watched his carriage depart through the window of the parlour. She had no regrets, and could not even take satisfaction from the knowledge that she was still very much an object of Willoughby’s desires. At least it was over, and she could get on with the business of planning the ball.
‘I hope he did not upset you, dearest,’ said Elinor, shocked to see her sister’s drawn expression when she came back into the room.
‘No, not at all,’ came Marianne’s reply. ‘I feel rather sorry for him. He’s still in love with me, you know.’
‘Of that I have no doubt, but I hope he did not come to make mischief between you and the colonel.’
Marianne laughed. ‘He could not, even if he wished to do it. I love my darling James with all my heart and soul. We could never be parted, however many good-looking scoundrels might come my way.’
‘Are you ready to get on with our plans?’
‘Oh yes, Elinor! I am so excited … now, what do you think? I’ve managed to secure a troupe of performing gypsy players; won’t that be most romantic?’
Elinor couldn’t help but smile, and was relieved to see her sister most happy once more.
The evening of the ball was soon upon them. Elinor and Edward were staying up at the mansion house so they would not have to worry about travelling the short distance back to the parsonage in the dark. Baby Henry was tucked up in a cradle with his nurse in attendance, and his doting parents wished him goodnight before dressing for the festivities.
‘Do you realise this is the first time we’ve been dancing in quite a while, Elinor?’ said Edward, straightening his satin waistcoat. ‘I must admit, though I’ve never been a dancing man, I’m looking forward to showing you off at the ball.’
‘There hasn’t been much time for dancing,’ Elinor laughed. ‘I am looking forward to the celebrations, I just hope I haven’t forgotten my dancing steps, and will do you proud!’
‘Two years today, my love. Elinor, thank you for making me the happiest man alive and for giving me all that my heart desires.’
‘Thank you, Edward,’ Elinor replied, helping him on with his coat. ‘I could not ask for more love or happiness.’
Edward smiled, and opened the drawer on his washstand. ‘I have a little trifle, my dear, something I hope you will wear tonight.’
Elinor gazed in wonder as her beloved husband produced a slim leather box. She couldn’t speak, she was so touched, and when she opened her gift she gasped with pleasure. Nestled on green velvet was a topaz cross on a gold chain, and it was only when Edward put it around her neck that she found her voice again.
‘Oh, my darling, it’s so wonderful, I cannot thank you enough.’
‘It’s a charming cross, if I say so myself,’ Edward replied, ‘rendered more beautiful by the lady who stands by my side. Happy Anniversary!’
James Brandon and his wife were putting the final touches to their evening dress. Marianne had never looked more divine, he thought. She looked like a goddess dressed in white silk satin, and with a sparkling diadem in her hair, a gift on their wedding day, she had the regal stature of a queen. He’d never loved her more than he did at this moment, but there was something troubling him. There’d been a report of such a nature that he didn’t know quite what to think about it. One of his men had told him there’d been a sighting of his old foe in the neighbourhood, and if it was correct that could only mean trouble. If Willoughby had merely been passing through, he might have dismissed it, but Colonel Brandon had it on good authority that his carriage had been seen coming from Delaford Parsonage. The fact that neither his wife nor his sister-in-law had mentioned the visit was perturbing, though he reasoned that there had not been much opportunity for bringing up a subject bound to cause him discomfort. Most of all, he wished to know exactly what Willoughby was doing, and why he’d had the damned nerve not only to trespass on his land, but to seek out his wife. That must have been his true course of action. He must admit, when he’d heard that Sophia Willoughby had died, making her husband a free man, he’d felt concerned that Marianne might have harboured regrets. Would she have preferred to be with the much younger, handsome Willoughby, he wondered, and had spent many nights torturing himself with this idea. Not that Marianne had ever given him any concern for his wild imaginings. No, he was sure of her love, and as if to prove the point, though no words had ever been spoken, Marianne had seemed to love him with more tenderness and more passion in the time following the news that Mrs Jennings had delighted in relating. However, despite all these ruminations, it was no good, he could not let the evening start without knowing the truth, he decided, whatever it might be.
Marianne, ever sensitive to her husband’s moods knew something was amiss. James had been quiet and withdrawn all day. She wondered if his business with Willoughby was preying on his mind, but she wasn’t quite sure how she should bring up the subject. She wanted to tell him that Willoughby had been to see her at Delaford, that she’d spoken to him, but was sure the news might upset him. However, she hated to keep anything from James, and felt that now was as good a time as any to get it over and done with.
When they spoke, they did so at the same time. There was a little nervous laughter before Marianne begged that the colonel should speak first, but when he started to say that he’d been concerned about something reported to him, she stopped him in mid-sentence.
‘Dearest James, I didn’t know how to tell you. I would have said something eventually, but what with the ball and everything else, there just hasn’t been the right moment. You are referring, I think, to the fact that Mr Willoughby came up to the parsonage when I was visiting Elinor.’
‘How dare he invite himself! To have the very nerve to come to Delaford, and then demand your attention is the last straw. Marianne, my darling, if he has harmed you in any way at all, I will bring him to justice.’
‘My love, he wanted nothing, but to talk to me. Please let me explain.’
‘I know him of old. Talking is not what he wants, Marianne.’
Marianne saw the colonel’s expression, and the mixture of fear and love in his eyes. His fear that Willoughby might take her away from him, as Brandon’s brother once took away his first love, was etched on every feature.
‘No, it is not what he wants, but he can never have what his heart desires. My darling, when I married you I was marrying the man I love most in the whole world, and you are still the only one that stirs the greatest feelings I possess deep within my soul. No man, except you, will ever lay a claim to my heart, not as long as I live, nor for all eternity.’
‘Oh, Marianne, I thought I might lose you for a moment. I’ve never doubted that you love me, but I must admit, when Willoughby became a widower all those months ago, I was made to wonder if he might tempt you away from me.’
Marianne threw her arms around the colonel’s neck, and peppered his face with kisses. ‘Never, never could I be tempted away from you. James, please believe me when I say, for better or for worse, you are saddled with me forever.’
Colonel Brandon hugged his wife tighter. ‘Likewise, my beloved Marianne. Having found you, I am not about to let anyone steal you away.’
‘He’s gone for good, I promise you. Mr Willoughby knows exactly what I think of him, and precisely how much I am in love with you.’ Marianne gazed into her husband’s eyes and whispered softly. ‘Besides, I could not very well run away in my condition.’
The colonel stared blankly for a moment, before his eyes grew wide with wonder. ‘Marianne, you cannot mean …’
‘I do, indeed. How will you like being a father, do you think?’
James Brandon could hardly contain his feelings. ‘How will I like it? Good lord, Marianne, I am beyond all words with happiness.’
‘As am I, my love. Come, we have a ball to open, and I am in the mood for dancing. While I think on it, may I wish you a very happy anniversary.’
‘And a very happy anniversary to you, my darling. But let me look at you once more. The ball can wait, and as for dancing, are you quite sure you should be thinking of such galloping about now? I’d much rather have you rest with your feet up.’
Mrs Brandon looked sideways at her spouse, who was showing all the signs of a concerned father. ‘I am not ill, and I’m assured by our very own doctor that it is quite safe so long as I do not tire. You should know me better after a year of marriage – nothing will stop me from dancing with my husband.’
Colonel Brandon swooped her up in his arms to twirl her around until she laughed. ‘And never have I been so proud to dance with my wife. Just you watch, you’ll be begging me to sit down before this night is over!’
© Jane Odiwe