Since her two elder sisters were comfortably married, the foremost concern occupying those dear to Margaret Dashwood, as well those who had nothing better to do, was to find her a suitable husband. Her lack of fortune or the scarcity of eligible young men for miles or even her own feelings in the matter were of no significance in their earnest hopes and endeavors.
"Troubling yourself to mend another gown is utterly useless, Elinor, this trip to London is going to be of such little advantage and consequence", pronounced Margaret in a lively tone, while gently rocking her little nephew, cradled in her arms.
The mid-afternoon sun's rays were streaming through the window, brightening everything in the small parlor at the parsonage at Delaford. Elinor was sitting amidst a flurry of muslin and silk intently working on a pretty purple gown, sewing some beads on it according to the dictates of the latest fashion. The momentous occasion of Margaret leaving to London for the season was the main topic instead of their usual conversations about Edward's sermons or the children's appetite or even the poultry and pasturage, and the reason for this occupation that day.
"You sounded more enthusiastic when Marianne and I went to London", Elinor paused her needle work for a moment to look up at her sister and said playfully. "And here I was overjoyed that Mrs. Jennings had finally persuaded you to see all the earthy happiness you will procure in London"
Margaret chuckled delightfully at this rejoinder. "Indeed Ithought I had disposed of my duties with the ball that Col.Brandon gave for me three years ago and sincerely believed that my failure to obtain a husband till now would discourage everyone sufficiently. But that is not to be the case".
Elinor returned to her work, smiling. Margaret had stoutly refused to allow them to invest in more dresses for her. The gowns made for her coming out ball were still as good as new since she had hardly used it and Elinor had resolved to do her best to at least make them look as fashionable as possible. "We have all grown tired of your excuses for not leaving Barton, after all, dearest? my lying in, mama's rheumatism.. You are one and twenty and it is just everyone's wish to see you find someone that you can love."
"Love? Come now, Elinor, It is a worthless, idle emotion for young men with no serious occupation, and encouraged generally to keep women in bondage", Margaret declared forcefully as she sat down , her hands circling her now asleep nephew secure. Elinor smiled since she had heard her quote radical views for some years now, but her smile turned into a slight frown when Margaret added, "Do not wish that for me. All that it brought you and Marianne is heart ache and pain"
Upon this statement, Elinor looked up with a concerned expression and queried somewhat agitated, "Margaret, do you think we are not happy?"
With a thoughtful look, Margaret conceded after a moment of silence. "I think you are both happy", and then continued in a serious voice, "but that has come about purely by chance, if you ask me. I am still surprised that you both eventually found happiness. All I remember after that trip to London is the pained, hurt, forlorn faces of my beloved sisters and I will never forget that".
"Are you saying you will marry without love?", a flustered Elinor exclaimed.
"No", Margaret refuted, shaking her head. "No indeed. I am questioning the need for marriage in the first place. What is this notion that says one will find happiness only if one finds someone to love and marry?", she asked, tilting her head slightly at Edward, who presently entered the room, with a notebook in his ink stained hand, scratching his head no doubt about the length of his impending sermon, "Happiness is totally in your heart, not in another's hands. Do you not agree Edward?"
Elinor smiled at her husband. She was not particularly concerned about Margaret's authoritative announcements against marriage. Somehow they seemed very abstract and juvenile and she would have been more worried if she had said she was going to marry without love. Margaret's everyday behavior and judgement had hardly given them any worry and thus such declarations were always heard with some mirth. "Edward, you should not be giving those books to Margaret. She is becoming positively rebellious day by day", she gently chided him.
"Oh, no she was already that, were you not Captain Margaret?", Edward smiled as he took his wife's hand and gently kissed it. "Pray tell Margaret, what do you propose to do if you do not plan on marrying?"
"Why piracy of course, Edward, you ought to know that", Margaret said with an injured air.
"Ah", nodded Edward sagely.
"Seriously Elinor, I can always mend something, bother you and Marianne, quarrel with mamma and be generally happy ever after", she continued.
Seeing his wife's worried expression returning, Edward consoled very sensibly, "Do not worry Elinor, she is saying all this because she has not found a suitable man yet"
"Even if that unlikely thing does happen, he will not find me suitable at all. I have no fortune and even mamma thinks I do not bid fair to equal you both". This was said with utmost cheer that Elinor was quite bemused and knew not what to say.
"Of course, you are even better than them, my dear", Edward corrected her with a smile and patted her head fondly.
Margaret laughed. "It is no doubt your affection for me that is the reason for these words", and then she continued with feeling, "If only you or Marianne could accompany me. I will be back before Marianne's confinement, at the least. I hope this time she has a girl Elinor. I am tired of playing with nephews. At any rate, I am not very keen on this trip. I do not know who to pity more - myself or Mrs.Jennings to have each other for company. And mamma says I should visit Fanny and John too",
This was followed by a brief conversation about Mrs. Dashwood and about Norland for some time. Later after playing with her nephews and then reading to them for a good amount of time as she usually did, Margaret took leave.
After riding in a steady gallop for some time, once she reached the village, she set forth in a much slower pace enjoying the peace and quiet of the green, fertile meadows. After much pressing, Margaret had accepted the horse from Col. Brandon. It helped her visit her sisters more often. The benefits in this case had outweighed her normal practice of not imposing on her sisters. The income of four hundred pounds, for the two of them, since she was most satisfied with the simple pleasures and did not have any particular desire for fine things, provided a living comfortable enough for her. She had become so adept in managing the expenses that even Elinor was proud of her. Her only regret was that she could not afford to own as many books as she would have liked to. There was hardly any company of her age, or providing sufficient stimulation to her agile mind, even the number of Sir John's private balls had dwindled considerably, that the only thing that captured her imagination was books. She devoured them - the dated collection at Barton park, the few volumes at the parsonage, the little circulating library at the village, and even those at Delaford. Her taste and talent had gone through solid improvement, in a unique manner, away form the shadow of her sisters, because of this.
A fine day. Fitting to spend in her tree house spying the chirping birds and the babbling brook. She still climbed up her tree house and spent some lazy afternoons there, reading a book, while listening to the wind, much to her mother's chagrin. She rode at a leisurely pace to her home, enjoying the beauty of it all. As she opened the wooden gate and went up the path to Barton cottage, she was actually quite depressed thinking about her trip to London. To give up her kingdom, however temporary it may be. Perhaps she can visit the sights. She sighed. At any rate, listening to Mrs. Ferrars, Mrs. Dashwood and Mrs. Palmer would in itself be vastly entertaining. Then she brightened, after this, even Mrs.Jennings would be disheartened enough to give up on her matchmaking.
Margaret smiled tightly, wondering how on earth she had allowed herself to be in this situation. John Dashwood was going on and on about his finances. After a tiring journey of two days, Margaret, accompanying Mrs. Jennings and her kind reports on various neighbors, had arrived in Berkeley Square in London. Her first impressions of London had not been very favorable, it had been foggy and smelt like a stable. But she had been vastly relieved to be installed in a charming room, that of Charlotte, after having been cooped up in a carriage for so long. After a day of rest, she had spent the next few mornings calling on Mrs.Jennings's acquaintances with her and leaving cards, and was beginning to enjoy her stay.
Almost after a week, during their walk one day, they had unexpectedly come upon John and Fanny. Much to her surprise, Fanny had insisted on Margaret spending a few days with her and for her mother's sake, Margaret had agreed to this scheme, by generally accepting the invitation, planning to visit her for a day or two much later. But Fanny had immediately arranged for her carriage to be sent for Margaret and here she was at Harley Street, with a promise to visit Mrs. Jennings as soon as Fanny was able to spare her. Mrs. Jennings's dislike for Fanny had increased over the years and thus she had not been very happy about it. Her mother's good intentions and strong desire not to be estranged from John, since as she put it, he was the son of the man most dear to her, had persuaded Margaret to be cordial to them as much as she can. Though for the life of her could not understand this sudden change of heart and love from Fanny, who she surely had thought, loathed all of them, especially herself.
After hearing about John's finances till her ears started hurting, Margaret put down her tea cup and conveyed to him politely that he need not worry on her account and that the good Colonel was paying for her expenses. John seemed to like her all the more because of this assurance. Fanny's conversation was no improvement, centered on her young Harry, the great things he said and did and Margaret after bearing that too for some time in good humor, deciding she had done enough of her duty for her mother, put a stop to that discourse by talking at every pause about her other nephews. Despite all this, Fanny did not seem inclined to drive her out as she had hoped, and she spent the next two days, making more calls, this time on Fanny's acquaintances. Fanny strangely seemed interested in what she was wearing, how she presented herself and even introduced her to a few eligible young men.
Soon enough the reason for all this began to become apparent. During their conversation with an acquaintance, she first heard of a Miss Ferrars, now staying in Lucy's house. And then later that day she met both Lucy Ferrars and her young friend a Miss Maria Ferrars, Fanny's cousin. Fanny had just finished more rounds of shopping buying everything that was expensive and in fashion, and they were walking in Bond Street when they saw them.
"Dear Fanny, how are you? It gives me such pleasure every time I see you", Lucy cooed after the introductions. Though far away from this crowd, having met Lucy or Fanny on a very few occasions, based on the various reports that somehow managed to reach them, Margaret and her sisters had often discussed their relationship how it alternated between being the thickest friends to bitter jealous rivals with much ill-will. Over the years, Lucy had slowly reduced the flattery that she used to shower upon Fanny and was wont to do something from time to time to snub her. This time, from the icy conversation Margaret could understand that a new battle was going on between the two. And further noticing Fanny's pointed questions regarding Miss.Ferrars and the way Lucy had taken her under her wing, Margaret realized she was Fanny's answer to Lucy's Maria. So, Fanny was launching her, in competition, and at no extra cost, and at the added benefit of getting congratulations for helping her poor sister-in-law. A spark of anger flared at being used like a toy, then Margaret realized that all she had to do was be herself to get her revenge. Fanny was probably already regretting it. She must have been really angry and desperate about Lucy and Maria, thought Margaret smiling to herself. Miss. Ferrars was a very stylish girl, fashionable and very handsome. A young man who was accompanying them seemed to have captured much of her attention.
Glancing in their direction, Lucy said with a pleased air, "Oh, I have high hopes for Maria, I am sure she will have plenty of offers before the season is out", then she continued letting out a deep breath, "Though I do not know how I am going to ward off all the fortune hunters. Of course, you do not have that trouble", in a silken tone, waving her hands in a dismissive gesture at Margaret.
Fanny smiled tightly and responded in a low voice that Margaret, standing closer to her, could hear, "You have been a Ferrars a long time now Lucy and I am surprised that you still think of seven thousand pounds as a fortune", unmasking Lucy's angry eyes momentarily. Recovering she whimpered with a smile that still did not reach her eyes.
Margaret turned hastily and smothered a laugh. This may turn out to be an interesting time after all. Though she was vastly amused by this petty rivalry, later she spent some time contemplating on how pitiful indeed they were, with such silly things occupying their time and mind.
Two days later, Margaret found herself accompanying Fanny to a ball given by Lady Anne, an invitation to which, Fanny assured, was an absolute honor. She decided to wear a light blue gown on which Elinor had toiled quite a bit, everyone seemed to be wearing emerald green that season. With ribbons adorning her hair set in an uncomplicated fashion and a simple necklace, she felt she was quite up to the task.
They arrived, with their names announced, walked into the hot, crowded rooms, after curtsying to her Ladyship, climbed up the stairs and joined the many fashionable people and Margaret enjoyed observing everything around her with insatiable curiosity - the bright lights in the globe lamps, monumental amounts of food, the musicians, the young men standing on the doorways ogling, the latest fashions - the turbans and the plumes and the fans in pretty colors, everything was fascinating to her.
Margaret was solicited for quite a few dances, much to her surprise. She danced with a few agreeable men, though none of them caught her fancy. During one of the few she did not, she was standing near a pillar, while Fanny and her party were busy chattering, observing everyone nearby. A voice exclaiming, "Grenville, there you are!", particularly caught her attention.
Could it be the Earl of Grenville she had read and heard so much about, she strained a little to see.
Margaret could only see his back, a tall man with dark hair, a blue superfine coat on his broad shoulders, he was looking at someone near him.
"Grenville, if what I hear is true and you are planning to marry soon,you ought to go and check the new arrivals, instead of standing in the sides", the man said in a boisterous voice laughing.
"You might as well announce it to all the matchmaking mothers out there,man", Lord Grenville groaned and then asked irrepressibly, "Notice anyone worthwhile?", his voice rich with amusement.
"Yes, a few. But I do not know your preference"
A few other men around them laughed and they exchanged something in a low voice.
"My dear friends, there are ladies present, and we are talking about the future Lady Grenville", he said with an affected air much to the mirth of those around him and then continued when his friends prodded him further, "Let us see, I want someone who is calm, demure, delicate, prime example of ladylike behavior and decorum ", eliciting some murmured concurrence and more laughter from those around him. "Someone who is well accomplished, I need some entertainment on lonely evenings after all - she should be able to play and sing very well, fortune is not required but if she has a good dowry it will ease my heart to know that she is not marrying me..", his next words were drowned by Fanny's laughter.
Margaret strained to hear further and to see his face. This man cannot be the same Lord Grenville. These simple words completely belied his scintillating orations in the house of Lords on various subjects. Margaret was a great admirer of his grasp and commitment to a variety of things. She had heard he was a double first at Oxford. 'Demure, delicate..' He probably did not even realize how offensive his words were to someone like her. How very unlike from the picture she had in mind. She had imagined him to be an elderly sort of a man, his gray hair and kind eyes showing his wisdom . Margaret shrugged. Even great men were stupid in some things, she supposed. Did she not know of many perfectly intelligent, sensible men marrying good looking girls with an ignorant mind.
Thinking of which, her attention was soon grasped by the arrival of the Palmers. "Miss Dashwood, how are you?" asked the Honorable Mr.Palmer, his eyes softening a little, after glaring at the rest of the party with disdain. Margaret smiled. His behavior towards her was very different from that towards others, why if she did not know better she would say he treated her as his equal.
"Sir, I am very disappointed with your vote in the recent house legislation", she assailed, jumping into the point right away.
"Indeed?" he asked gravely, and then bestowing one of his rare smiles, said, "Miss Dashwood, perhaps you should enjoy the evening and we should postpone our arguments on my political position to a more opportune moment. And may I compliment you on your appearance. Very becoming. You are the prettiest girl I have seen all evening"
She smiled at this quirking her brows a little and then stood talking to him agreeably. Presently she asked him, remembering that as the under secretary, he ought to know about Lord Grenville, the parliamentary secretary for the same ministry.
"Mr. Palmer, I heard a young man called Grenville talking, could it be the Earl?"
"Yes, must be. Splendid fellow", nodded Mr. Palmer giving him his supreme seal of approval, "Is he here?"
"Oh, yes Margaret, Dowager Lady Grenville is a great friend of mama and I must say I have had the privilege of meeting him myself", interrupted Fanny.
Margaret could almost sympathize with the man. His mother was a friend of Mrs. Ferrars. Still, his remarks were deplorable. Lost in her thoughts about Mrs. Ferrars and her loathsome behavior towards her sister, she almost started when she heard a voice greet them. She looked up, to see his dark eyes and his piercing glance colliding with hers. An exceedingly handsome man, his noble bearing, his countenance everything bespoke his authoritative nature.
Margaret sank into a curtsy. It was Lord Grenville, indeed. After talking pleasantly about things of little consequence for only a few moments, he surprised her by applying for her hand to dance, and she found herself walking to the floor, with him. So she was his first choice among the new arrivals. She quashed a monstrous desire to flutter her hands and exclaim in a squeaky voice, "Oh, my Lord, how wonderful, you chose me". Margaret's lips twitched slightly and she suppressed a smile with great difficulty. He might be thinking that he was not wasting any time, but little did he know that she was most unsuitable.
He talked with her agreeably as he escorted her. "Do you like London, Miss Dashwood?"
"Much better than I originally thought, Sir", she replied as they joined others. She found herself near the top of the set, no doubt owing to his position.
He smiled at her reply and continued, "And you reside in Devonshire, did you say?"
"Yes, in a valley surrounded by beautiful hills", she enthused.
"I have been there when I was a young boy. My father's friend lives in Dorset. He invites me there quite often, perhaps I should visit him and enjoy the countryside"
They danced, exchanging a few words, and before long, she caught a look exchanged between him and one of the men standing, the same man, who had talked to him earlier. He seemed amused and though Lord Grenville's face was remarkably polite, she was sure the exchange was meant for her. Deciding this was not to be borne she said boldly, "My lord, perhaps I must point out that it'd be better if you employed yourself in some other pursuit, since dancing with me would hardly suit your purpose", a smile playing in her lips.
"How so, Miss Dashwood?", he queried, undoubtedly surprised.
"I will not say I overheard, since you did not seem to have been particularly worried about your audience, but I had the fortune of hearing your list of requirements a few minutes ago"
Much to her annoyance, instead of being embarrassed by it, he seemed thoroughly amused. The man actually laughed. "Ah, and you do not fit the, um", he cleared his throat, "requirements? how unfortunate", he said with a twinkle in his eyes.
"No", she responded hotly, stressing the word, "fortunately I do not, Sir, I refuse to become the humble dependent of a husband, or to be bought in a market for my obedient qualities"
After a brief silence when they danced, with a more curious and thoughtful expression, he said "I see where your leanings are", with a light smile.
"Yes, I am not apologetic about my views on the matter. I do sincerely think a time should come when women are judged not for their obedience and calmness and demure nature but for their character. The women of this land need more recognition, their rights are to be protected, time must come to restore to them their lost dignity ", she sallied forth, getting a little carried away with her lecture.
He silently waited for her to finish and then said softly, "Madam, look around you, do you think these women need any more rights", raising his brows mockingly.
Margaret momentarily faltered by his question and the grain of truth in it, recovered immediately and met his eyes without hesitation. "My lord, I do not think that the women in this room represent all the women in England, nor do I think all of them here are what they seem to be". She then asked him somewhat eagerly, "Have you read the 'vindication of the rights of women' by Mary Wollstonecraft?"
"Of course not", he said with a sarcastic smile, "I do not have time to read some absurd rants of an immoral woman"
Margaret was thoroughly angry at this reply, she stopped any further conversation and went through the motions of the dance with a severe expression. This man is a veriest idiot, she decided, annoyed. She will not waste her breath talking to him.
After a few moments of silence, he asked with curiosity, "Are you not going to tell me that I am wrong?"
She hesitated and then remarked with indignation, "I think her work merits serious arguments. Not plain ridicule from someone who had not even taken the pains to read them.", and then after a pause added slowly, "It does not become you, My Lord"
"How do you mean?", he questioned in surprise.
"I follow your speeches in the house of the Lords and had till now thought you consider various aspects of matters before taking your particular stance. But you are being so s.. I am most seriously disappointed", she blurted and then bit her lips. What was it about him, she usually did not say such things or openly censure someone. She, now waited expecting a cutting reply from him reminding her of her position and her consequence.
"How extraordinary", is all he said, his eyes studying her face so intently that Margaret averted her eyes, unable to meet his.
Their dance came to an end, at this point, and after bowing he escorted her towards her party with a thoughtful silence on his part and a curious disappointment in hers.
As they walked trying to move through the crowd, he began to say something when she almost collided into someone. Everything faded as Margaret stood completely still when the man turned to her about to apologize.
"Willoughby", she exclaimed.
The last time she had seen Willoughby was when he had departed hastily from their home, that fateful afternoon. 'Marianne's Preserver', she used to call him. What painful irony. Margaret still remembered with acute distress her silly flights of fancy about him kneeling down in front of Marianne. How much love they had showered upon him and how much anguish he had caused them in return.
His stay in Allenham over the years had been very limited in both frequency and length, and he was not particularly invited in the neighborhood, and thus though she had heard of him from time to time, their paths had never crossed. Here he was still as handsome, if not more, dapperly clad, his appearance every inch a man of means and consequence.
He looked momentarily confused, and he started saying, "Pardon me, madam, with much shame I must tell you that I do not..", and then he stopped with a stunned look on his face, his brows clearing, "Good God, Margaret?", he exclaimed taking her hands.
Margaret despite the shock of seeing him, recovered, suddenly very much aware of Lord Grenville who had gone completely rigid by her side. She turned to him hastily to introduce them and noticed the very abrupt nod that he bestowed upon Willoughby. Though the sudden meeting with Willoughby was crowding her mind, Margaret watched Lord Grenville withdraw stiffly, with some apprehension.
She had somehow never thought she would see Willoughby and now wanted to leave him as soon and as politely as possible, without drawing any undue attention to them, but was obliged to answer his stilted questions. He enquired after her mother, after Mrs. and Mr. Ferrars and then with his voice catching in his throat, he asked, "And how is Mrs. Brandon? Is she in good health?", in a particular way as though he knew she was with her next child. Margaret responded to his questions stiffly and started to say, "Now if you will excuse me Mr.Willoughby, I must find my party".
"Margaret", He interrupted her in a deep voice filled with emotion, "Please do not address me in such unfamiliar tone. Will you not even shake hands with me? You must allow me to use this occasion to at the least beg your forgiveness, to demonstrate my regard for Ma.., your family, my repentance for all the misconduct", he entreated urgently, "Please do not leave me without hearing me", and he then added gravely, "and indeed it is fortunate that I see you here, for I have something very particular to ask you".
Despite the imprudence of talking to such a man, Margaret's curiosity was piqued. A few years after, afraid of what she might deduce from the different sources of information like Mrs. Jennings and Mrs. Palmer and her own mother, both her sisters had enlightened her briefly as to what exactly was his character, what agony he had put them through. After Marianne's marriage, Margaret had deemed him a closed chapter. Now, after all these years, what could he possibly have to tell her.
The surrounding was not conducive to a private conversation and whatever he was going to say, was further prevented from the Palmers and the Dashwoods joining them. Margaret watched bitterly how well they all dealt with each other, how fortune and connections restored a man such as this so favorably upon the eyes of those around him. They both had partners to dance and friends to meet and talk with and thus the rest of the evening did not afford any opportunity for a conversation. She caught a glimpse of him now and then looking consistently at her direction with an intense expression but did not know what to make of it.
She also caught Lord Grenville dancing with quite a few eligible young girls, including Miss.Ferrars but was most disappointed when he did not even cast a passing glance at her direction. Maria would suit him, all sweet and delicate she thought bitingly. Then was promptly ashamed of her vehemence, after all she knew nothing of Miss Ferrars who might be a very pleasant girl. That thought hardly comforted her though.
Margaret spent a sleepless night after all the excitement, with the little sleep she had during the wee hours of the morning filled with dreams. She woke up to the same thoughts and questions plaguing her and deciding to cool off some of the tension with some exercise and fresh air, she set off on a brisk walk about the Square and was surprised to be accosted immediately by Willoughy.
"Margaret, Miss Dashwood, I thought you would come out for a walk" , he said with an affectionate smile that had endeared him so much before. "you have not changed. Do you still have your tree house?", he asked with a smile, offering his arms, walking with her.
Margaret resolved to get to the bottom of this enigmatic issue, simply nodded, took his offered arm and walked in silence. After a few mundane exchanges, he asked again about Marianne's health and if it was not her third after the loss of her second, confirming her earlier suspicion. When she asked him directly, he replied with a sigh, that he had always been interested in everything that befell her.
Margaret was now most worried and asked him quite abruptly, "Willoughby, you said there was something particular you wanted to ask me, now I must ask you to tell me what it is without further delay"
"Has Col. or Mrs. Brandon told you about my letters", he asked.
She replied with a confused look on her face, "Not at all".
"Perhaps, Ma.., Mrs.Brandon knows not of it either. For I am sure she will understand, she would have definitely supported me..", he said as though he was talking to himself and then paused seeing her uncertain expression. "But I must explain this to you Margaret from the beginning", he spoke slowly. "You are in no doubt familiar with a grave mistake that I committed in the folly and passion of youth some years ago", he stopped, shifted uncomfortably and looked at her.
She nodded slightly and he continued, "I do not know the extent to which you know about it, but believe me I am not the only one to be blamed. Nevertheless, the child, a son, and the mother, Miss Williams are under Col. Brandon's care somewhere in the country, not known to me". He stopped again, swallowing hard and then continued slowly in a deep voice, "You might also have known that my wife Sophia has not been blessed with child and our house after years of matrimony remains barren. I have lately found myself often thinking about my only son, and after much deliberation I wrote a letter to Col. Brandon. I have sent three letters now, since that first one sent about six months ago, asking him to allow me to meet my only son and beg forgiveness. But he refuses", he let out a deep sigh, "In fact, he would not even merit them with a reply"
Margaret stood still for a moment surprised by this revelation.
"Tell me Margaret", he said with a face filled with anguish and his eyes glistening with unshed tears, "You may think of me as the worst kind of libertine, but because of that, I have paid dearly by having to lose the one woman that I loved, that I still love, to be punished everyday in living life without her smile, her touch", his voice choked with emotion, "is that not enough, do I not even have the right to repent, to see my son and shower his cheeks with tears", he asked.
"Margaret, Please I beseech you, you must apply to your sister's goodwill, for her tender heart will definitely help me. She will persuade Col. Brandon to allow me to meet my son. I will forever be in your debt", he said pressing her hands.
After that conversation with Willoughby, Margaret was quite perplexed as to her next course of action. Long ago, she had liked him very much. Her first impressions of him, a knight in a shining armor riding to rescue her sister, had only been strengthened by his dashing personality and his gregarious manners. All of which had been, one horrible day, shattered by a letter. Margaret still remembered clearly how she had come skipping to hear the wonderful things Elinor had written about London. Instead all she saw was her mother looking stunned, tears streaming down her cheeks. "What deception.. such cruelty.. from Willoughby", she had murmured. And then a few days later, Col.Brandon had arrived, tired, beaten, his pained heart in his eyes, with the grave news that Marianne was very ill. Her mother had departed in a hurry leaving her to her nightmares. She had spent days and sleepless nights, petrified, nobody close to talk to, dreading whatever news for waiting to reach her.
First she had only thought Willoughby had married someone else, later from Mrs. Jennings, she had first heard about Eliza. And then, after a few years, Marianne had sat with her one day, and explained everything. "To learn from my mistakes", she had said. When they had finally learnt to live with the pain, began to not think of him from one month end to another, here he was.
Pushing aside the anguish in his eyes compelling to gain her sympathy, she contemplated and her deliberations resulted, along with a headache, in the decision that his claims had some merit. First of all, she could not imagine any fortune or connection he might gain out of this. She also felt that the respectable way in which he had approached Col.Brandon ought to be weighed in. Lastly, on the chance that this would, even in some small way compensate all the pain he had caused Eliza, Margaret could not bring herself to stay quiet. Thus, Col. Brandon, she felt, needed to inform Eliza and ought not to stand in the way of whatever goodness that might come out of this for her son. However she concluded not to appeal to Marianne as he had suggested, neither sure of the motive, nor the results. Besides, she would not cause even the slightest amount of distress to her sister in her present condition. Thus, she decided to write to Col.Brandon himself.
After pondering for a few hours, she composed a brief but clear letter. She first related her meeting with Willoughby and what passed between them and then related her views in a very persuasive manner and concluded the letter with words urging him to reconsider his decision. She was somewhat relieved after sending this letter out, for she confidently believed that it would convince Col. Brandon.
She spent the next few days accompanying Fanny to purchase more things and call on her acquaintances. She met Willoughby once more during her walk and informed him about her letter to Col. Brandon and was despite her skepticism, moved by his profound gratitude for such a simple act. However, the prudence that she had imbibed by being Elinor's sister, advised her to forgo her morning walks and thus she managed to avoid him for quite some time.
After a week later, she found herself accompanying Fanny to a party, arriving in a brightly lit room full of company. Since she was never much of a card player, she was content to capture a seat on the sides and sat there watching those around her. It was a rather large party and she hoped that if someone took the pains to come and talk to her, it was someone interesting.
It was Robert Ferrars. After inquiring about 'poor' Edward and the cottage, unmindful of her indignant sarcastic replies, he launched into a lengthy description of his new malacca cane. An elaborate account on its length and grip was followed by further details on the ornamental design on the handle. He paused briefly giving her a pointed smile. When Margaret looked at him puzzled, he repeated his previous statements finishing it with an encouraging smile again. At last Margaret understanding that he will not leave her if she did not suitably admire it said, "I have never seen anything quite like it Mr. Ferrars". Having his conceit satisfied, he left her soon enough for another unsuspecting victim.
She heaved a sigh of relief. "That was the wise course", murmured a voice behind her. Margaret's heart beat a little bit faster. Must be the heat, she told herself. "Ha, Miss Dashwood, how very nice to see you. Is there anything against card playing - gambling to keep women bonded?", he asked quirking a brow, his cheery voice taking the bite out of his words.
"My Lord, how do you do?", she replied in a calm voice controlling the flutter in her heart. "I am not very interested in playing cards, and like better to observe people"
"I know that already, do I not", he smiled. They talked agreeably for a few minutes about parties in general and then he asked her if she was related to the Palmers.
"Remotely, I am", she smiled. "But I have known them for years now. They are related to the owners, the Middletons, of Barton Park near where we live", she added looking at him, "in a cottage".
He hardly paid attention to the cottage part and continued tapping his forehead, "I believe I know them. Sir John was also acquainted with my father. I vaguely remember going to Barton Park, when we visited Delaford"
She exclaimed, "Delaford? Is Col. Brandon that friend of your father you mentioned the other night?"
"Yes, he served with my father in the East Indies, do you know him?", he asked in surprise.
"Oh yes. Very well. Mrs.Brandon is my sister"
"Ah. And do you have brothers?"
"No only two sisters. The best", she replied with pride. He smiled slightly at this.
Margaret then added ruefully. "How I would have liked to talk with your father, My Lord, about the East Indies. Neither Col. Brandon, nor Sir John tells me enough. I have grown weary of their accounts of mosquitoes."
"Well, perhaps you can talk to me then", he said with a smile playing in his lips.
"You have been there", she almost squealed in delight, "What's it like?"
"Hot", he said dryly, laughed at her enthusiasm, and initially said little about it. But soon, motivated by her questions, realizing her real interest and depth of knowledge, he became more involved and talked in length about the ancient temples and exotic ruins, tropical flowers, fruits and the spices, he described the battles he had fought , the nabobs and the mystics he had met, with such fluency and articulation that Margaret was thoroughly captivated and sat there with dream in her huge eyes, all her attention riveted on him. Not just the East Indies, she found him well traveled in the continent, had a real familiarity of the places he had visited unlike a lot of people who went there for fun and frolicking. His depth of understanding on such a wide range of land and people and his experience, captured her imagination, it was like playing with her atlas only so many times more wonderful. When some men joined them later and the conversation changed, she experienced so great a disappointment, unlike she had ever felt before. He was very much the man she had thought him to be. And much more, a little voice added.
She spent the whole evening acutely aware of him, her eyes drawn to wherever he was, her eyes tuned only to his rich voice, her heart envying whoever he spoke to and her good sense reminding her not to be a fool. Once or twice, their eyes collided across the room, causing a strange feeling tumble about in her stomach. It was not the heat, something was definitely wrong with her.
She spent another sleepless night only this time her thoughts crowded with Lord Grenville, with no room for anything else.
The next day she received a reply from Col. Brandon.
Margaret woke up to a bright fine morning, resolved not to abandon herself to flights of fancy. She will not think about Lord Grenville, she will not, she will not.
Since her pointed comments to return to keep Mrs.Jennings company had gone unheeded, Margaret decided she should at the least visit Mrs. Jennings and thus set to meet her for breakfast. Fanny to emerge a victor in her little battle, had become intent on promoting a young man, and his barouche, to be her suitor, and was getting on Margaret's nerves, thus she was very much relieved to be out of the house.
Mrs. Jennings, true to her form, had many jokes and reports to share. But much to her horror, Margaret found out that she had managed from her obliging daughter to get wind of the fact that she had danced with Lord Grenville and that she had spent sometime the previous night talking to him, "with eyes to spare for no body else". Her protests were brushed off and she watched with growing alarm, her attempts at matchmaking.
"Mr. Palmer tells me my dear that his Lordship was most impressed with your intellect and I am sure that is not the only thing, though he might not have admitted", she giggled. "He maybe a peer of the realm but my dear, all suitors need some help. So Charlotte and I have concocted a plan. Charlotte is going to give a party for which she will invite Mrs. Ferrars and you. We will persuade Mr.Palmer to invite Lord Grenville. You know he does not frequent many parties, but he will surely come for this and I will see in person how smitten he is"
Margaret was sure that it would be a death-warrant to the practically non-existent chances that she had. Mrs. Jennings was prone to be a tease and she shuddered at what his reaction could possibly be. However, once her mind was fixed on it, nothing could deter Mrs. Jennings from it. And Margaret could only hope that he would refuse, this being such a late invitation. However, despite all her trepidation, she was excited at this another opportunity to see him and possibly talk to him. Perhaps, in her kind scheme of things, Mrs. Jennings would place him next to her.
As soon as she returned, she was handed a letter from Col. Brandon and having been quite restless to hear from him, she almost pounced on it and started perusing the contents eagerly. He had expressed himself briefly but clearly just like her.
I urge you to not have any dealings with Mr.Willoughby. Do not be allured by his arts and forget why you are in London. She read with mounting alarm. I am happy that you have the good sense to have brought this to my attention immediately. I sincerely hope that the same good sense will prevail and you will allow me to perform my duties, in the manner I see fit. Eliza's mother had left her on my charge and I know I am discharging my duty in the best possible way when I tell you that this is not helpful for Eliza or for her son Christopher, in any way. Willoughby is not to meet Eliza, it is final.
Surprise, disappointment and horror seized her. She could recognize Col.Brandon's controlled anger and his resolute decision from the letter. Her first reaction was to feel slightly sorry for Willoughby, but soon another feeling, a more overwhelming pity for Eliza took its place. The girl because of one dreadful mistake, who was not even aware, who did not have any say on her destiny or on her son's. The more she thought about it, the more distressed she became. She hardly knew what else she could do. She read the letter again and again, her perturbed mind memorizing every word, deliberating if there was some way she could do something, she weighed in various probabilities, trying to remember whatever she could about Eliza, all the recollections making her grow tired and weary. She did not venture out, for the fear of meeting Willoughby. She was not ready to meet him yet. For want of some occupation, she wrote another letter to Col. Brandon repeating her previous assertions. If it were Edward, with whom she had a much easy going relationship, she would have still remained confident. With Col.Brandon, her affections aside, she had always been somewhat restrained. She never had any silly clashes or saucy words with him. And now, she simply did not know how to approach him. She wrote a letter to Elinor as well, asking her if she knew anything about Eliza's whereabouts. How did one go about employing a Bow street runner? She could not simply go to her club, meet some friends and ask for help over a glass of port. She punched a pillow forcefully, letting out a deep sigh. Perhaps she should suggest Willoughby do that? Something, perhaps the feeling that she had not exhausted all other options, stopped her from doing it.
In the meanwhile, the date of the Palmers' party approached and she found herself arriving with dread at meeting Willoughby. She knew that over the years Charlotte had become acquainted with the beautiful, sophisticated Mrs. Sophia Willougbhy and thus he will be of the party. As soon as she climbed up to the drawing room, she saw Maria and Lucy talking with a young captain and the suitor that Fanny was counting on for her. "I do not know why Charlotte invited that hussy", murmured Mrs. Jennings in a low voice. Willougby had not yet arrived. Preoccupied with her predicament, engaged in a mundane conversation with the Hon. Mr.Palmer, when she saw Lord Grenville resplendent in his evening clothes, her heart skipped a beat. She had strongly concluded that he will not be there and became suddenly aware of her dowdy gown in comparison to the dazzling fashions others were showing off.
"Margaret , here is Lord Grenville himself, why do you not ask him about our vote and the legislation", Mr. Palmer smiled as his Lordship sought them purposefully. "My Lord, you may be surprised but Miss. Dashwood has some strong opinions on the matter"
"Am not surprised any more. Mr. Palmer", he said somewhat enigmatically.
She tried to participate in the conversation calmly, succeding in her efforts to be collected and when she finally thought she had gained complete control of her faculties, Mrs. Jennings came bustling about suggesting, "Come Lord Grenville, what is a party without dancing? You must dance with our beautiful Miss. Dashwood". She turned with a conspiratorial wink at her and Margaret was thoroughly mortified.
He bore it exceedingly well, extended his arm, with intelligent laughter alightin his eyes. Margaret's heart soared. They proceeded to the floor and commenced dancing, talking about politics for a while.
Presently, he said with a searching look, in a soft voice, "You know Miss. Dashwood, I read Wollstonecroft's book as you suggested "
With genuine delight, she exclaimed, "You did My Lord! And..?" she asked eagerly.
"I will grant that there was definitely some interesting ideas", he said cautiously and then seeing the mischief in her eyes, grinned sheepishly. "It is a very thought provoking piece and I am glad I read it", he replied sincerely and added with an intense look on his face, "Thank you". Margaret's senses became muddled at the expression she read there.
Then with his eyes enthralling her in a gentle caress, holding hers captive, he quoted in a coarse whisper, "Judgement residing on the brow, intelligence beaming in the eye, humanity curving the cheek, this fair assemblage is not brought together by chance". He was just quoting from the book. That is all, that is all.
Margaret hastily averted her eyes and did something she had never done before and never thought possible. She blushed furiously, feeling the heat flooding her face.
He cleared his throat. She would not look up. "Some of her thoughts on education are very valid. I do agree with it quite a bit", he said in a surprisingly gentle and kind voice, giving her an opportunity to control her faculties and she smiled, recovering quickly. Their eyes interlocked for a timeless moment.
Then his expression changed. There was a brief flash of dicomfort even anger and then he hesitated, "Miss Dashwood, I know you would not be keen on receiving advice", he paused again wrestling with some inner thought, "I must tell you, um., that is there is this girl.", and then as though he made up his mind about something with a "forgive me. It was nothing", he became silent and his eyes wore a cold mask. She turned at the same time and saw Willoughby looking at them with an intense expression of hope and concern on his eyes. Her heart sank immdeiately forgetting everything else. What would she tell him. She felt so guilty to have forgotten him, so angry with herself to have been diverted from his misery, considering the news she was going to give him. The dance ended soon and she approached him, with a heavy heart, Lord Grenville's strange behavior and expression nagging her in the back of her mind.
Willoughby came near Margaret as quickly as possible. "Margaret", he asked, "Forgive me but I am impatient for happy tidings"
"Willoughby, I do not know how to tell you this, it pains me most, but Col. Brandon has completely denied to permit a meeting between you and..", she stopped at his crestfallen face.
"Oh, Margaret why, why must I still be punished", he cried in agitation.
"Willoughby", she hushed him, as a few who were close by, turned to look at them. "Pull yourself together. I will try to do what I can", she assured him, instinctively holding his extended hands.
He moved closer to a pillar and she followed him for some privacy with at the least three pairs of eyes following them.
"You must help me Margaret. All the years, the pain and the sufferings. Does not he have a heart?", he asked hastily, "Mrs. Brandon, does she agree with him?".
"I do not think it is advisable to bring her into this Willoughby", she reasoned.
He briefly considered this and then said, "I agree Margaret. In her delicate condition I do not want to cause her anything ill. I want only the very best for my, for Mrs. Brandon. I am doomed to suffer and I will bear it", he said in a most dejected voice.
Margaret, disturbed by this, told softly her voice filled with compassion, "Willoughby, all hope is not lost. I will somehow make sure you meet your son", new steely resolution entering her voice. She will. She must.
Seeing Willoughby's anguish, despite all her love for Col.Brandon, despite Col.Brandon's goodness of heart she could not condone his decision. How can he decide something so momentous for Eliza and her son, without consulting her. All her critical views on the lack of power for women to get what they wanted, was now focused on Col. Brandon. With his own growing family, the attention and fortune he can humanly spare for little Christopher would dwindle in the coming years and he ought to welcome Willoughby she thought emotionally. Was it not the fact that he was busy with estate business that left Eliza ungoverned in the first place. By Willoughby acknowledging his son, things will definitely get better for Eliza. Her son will have connections far superior to what she must have hitherto resigned herself to. She must do something. She would find her whereabouts and then she will personally meet her. It cannot be that much of a secret. Marianne would definitely know. Elinor and Edward might though they may not tell her.
She joined others, warming up to her schemes, trying hard not to let her thoughts influence the conversation.
She found that there was now talk of music. Lucy asked Margaret, too sweetly, if she would like to play first.
Margaret declined, admitting tightly that she never mastered it, her eyes inevitably seeking Lord Grenville's. His eyes, a few moments ago, so eloquent were now unfathomable.
"Let us hear Maria then", Lucy declared, as though exhibiting her trophy.
As they all sat down to hear her, thanks to Mrs. Jennings, she found herself closer to him. He was careful not to look in her direction at all. Margaret told herself that she did not care. It is his business what he wanted to do.
When Miss Ferrars started playing a song from The Marriage of Figaro, she let out a soft "oh". He turned to her side, and compelled to explain, she said in a low voice, "My father's favourite", and then added in a wistful voice "My sister plays it so beautifully. She is so accomplished. Sometimes when I hear her, it moves me so much, it brings tears to my eyes."
"But you do not play", he stated flatly.
She responded morosely at this reminder, "No, I do not", all well too remembering his words the other night. Why did she not have the discipline to master anything. How much at that moment that she wished she had the ability to play, to convey her feelings, Good God, what is the matter with her? Feelings.. for him? She tried uselessly to awaken all her rebellious thoughts, told herself in futile attempts that she did not care for him. What he wants did not matter one bit. She drew herself up stiffly. She was what she was.
Between songs, she saw Mrs. Sophia Willoughby approach her and ask her much to her surprise, "Will you take a turn with me Miss. Dashwoood?"
Margaret did not know what to make of it. It was rude enough, but something in her eyes, a very intense expression, put her on guard and she got up without refusal.
"Miss Dashwood, I do not know what you are about, but stay away from my husband", she hissed without preamble.
Surprised by this unreasonable and vicious attack, Margaret responded, "Mrs. Willoughby, please, do not be hasty in your accusation. I am just an acquaintance from the country"
"Acquaintance from the country", high strung she repeated bitterly, "I know it all too well. Is it not enough that your sister has ruined my life, must you ruin whatever is left of it"
She continued not really looking at Margaret, deep in her own misery, "Do you know what it is to fall in love with a man and marry him only to find that you were his wife only because of the money. That he is in love with another woman. No one will ever be more beautiful to him that she is, no one more accomplished. Do you know?", she cried her voice a little raised now. "Whatever I do, I could never reach her place in his heart. And after all these years, you are here"
"Mrs. Willoughby, please, I assure you, I do not.."
"I do not want to hear your empty sympathies or your fancy assurances. Take heed Miss Dashwood, I will ruin you. No body will turn to even look at you. You will be shunned from all society", she whispered, her whole body rigid, her knuckles white, her teeth clenched.
"Mrs. Willoughby, perhaps this is not the time to.., you look very ill"
Unmindful of Margaret's protests, she abruptly left her and after only a few minutes, they both left with some excuse of Mrs. Willoughby being suddenly indisposed. Their carriage was ordered and Willoughby turned to look at Margaret for one parting glance before leaving.
Margaret was aware that, though they pretended to have not paid attention to what went on, those close by could not have missed her expressions if not her words. It was a small party after all.
Mrs. Jennings was looking at her across the room with open curiosity and she expected her to come demanding to know what passed. Hon. Mr. Palmer was looking at her with concern. Fanny looked completely uncomfortable, embarrassed and Lord Grenville, what was that expression in his face?
"Tell me Margaret", a peevish voice interrupted her. "Mr. Willoughby has always been such a favourite of all the Dashwood sisters has he not? I remember all those picnics and the curricle rides. Whatever is the reason for this partiality?", Lucy asked, a sarcastic, superior smile in her lips, derision in her eyes.
Margaret was angry beyond any self control. How dare she? That, that petty, silly, woman, that hussy. How dare she drag Marianne's name into this? She did not deserve to even say their names. The nerve of the woman.
She turned slowly and said in a voice dipped in sarcasm, her face flushed with anger. "I do not know. But not the same reason for your partiality to the Ferrars brothers"
And then turning with an angry toss of her hand, she went to sit in a lonesome corner stiffly. How did everything get so out of hand?
Margaret was very curious as to what form Lucy's revenge would take. After the party that had turned out to be disastrous in every front, Margaret had come home to lie down sleepless, angry tears stinging her eyes. She relived the scene of the party again and again. As the night wore off into another bright new morning, she regained some of her indomitable good humor and decided to approach things rationally. As far as Sophia was concerned, Margaret understood her feelings perfectly. The horrible woman who stole Marianne's first love turned out to be a pitiable creature. If at all she was angry, then her anger was towards Willoughby for his abominable treatment of Sophia. There was nothing in her powers to change in that.
As for Eliza, despite all her new found resentment and wariness towards Willoughby, rekindled by Lucy's reminder, she still believed that the only person who had the right to refuse or grant a meeting between Christopher and Willoughby was Eliza. She could also not think it right to deny his request for a meeting solely on his past mistakes. Thus, fashioning herself as the champion of the downtrodden women, very well aware of the repercussions, she decided that she will somehow convey this whole affair to Eliza. Once she reached that decision she became impatient to leave London and confront Col.Brandon. There was nothing more she could do there in town, at the least if she went back to Devonshire, she could glean some information. She also thought about Lord Grenville, as painful as it was. Last evening must have clinched everything. She stared out the window unhappily. There was nothing she could do. Lucy arrived the very next morning and showered heaps of flattery upon Fanny suggesting that she would not be against Maria staying with Fanny for some time. Fanny now extremely uncomfortable with Margaret, was most willing and she suggested that she go back to Mrs. Jenning's house. Thus Lucy's revenge turned out to be a blessing for Margaret. Amazed as to how petty, Fanny and Lucy were, she happily left them.
Once she sorted her thoughts, she became impatient to go back to Barton. Mrs. Jennings had not planned to return for another month. Her suggestion that she would leave with a servant on a coach was met with horror. How can I face your mother, was the argument that Mrs. Jennings put forth and Margaret had to return with an adamant threat that she would go without a servant, otherwise.
She had arranged for one last meeting with Willoughby before she left and when he came in that morning she faced him with a straight, piercing look that he could not meet.
"Margaret", he began, "I am so sorry for the way Sophia behaved"
"You should be", she snapped.
His eyes flew open for a moment and then he said in a painful voice, "Now you see what I have to go through everyday for the rest of my life, the type.."
"Willoughby stop it!", she exclaimed, unable to take it. "I cannot imagine anything worse than this. She is your wife, for God's sakes. You married her for her money and have used her so ill, and you are complaining of heartache..?", she asked in a heated voice. Willoughby looked at her horror creeping into his eyes.
"But Margaret, she abused you.."
"Yes, and it is completely your fault.", she exploded. "You have a woman of good fortune and generally good humor as your wife, a house that is comfortable, even good breed of dogs and horses and yet you complain of the punishment, the suffering. You have brought this all upon yourself. . Fidelity and complaisance are the principal duties of marriage. Instead of constantly spending your time on fancying how your life would have been with Marianne, another man's wife, at the least endeavor to not let your wife think she would have been better off with somebody else", she stopped out of breath after releasing all her anger on him in a torrent. "You are Not the victim, so stop acting like one"
He looked stunned. He swallowed, a light sheen of sweat appearing on his forehead. "Margaret..", he started and then stopped, words failing him. After a few moments of absolute silence, he stammered in a low voice, "Does this mean you have changed your mind about..?"
"No", she said impatiently. "I am going to try and arrange for a meeting. Though I pity Sophia for this insult. I will convey where and when to you within a fortnight", then she said softly, "Willoughby, if there is any decency left in you, go to her. Treat her well."
He left a few minutes later, for once struggling for words, turning to look at her before he crossed the threshold. This time, it was most thoughtful and filled with respect. He said, "Thank you Margaret, God bless you", and left.
Margaret did not have any illusion that he would immediately love his wife, but she hoped that she had given him a jolt to at the least wake up a little. Now she had to find a way to keep her assurance.
Mrs. Jennings came in with news that afternoon. She had found a friend of hers going up to Exeter who had agreed to accompany her to Barton. She heaved a sigh of relief at this. She was now very impatient to see Col. Brandon. Her second letter would most likely have reached him now.
That afternoon, she sat taking tea, wondering if she will ever meet Lord Grencille again. He had tried to tell her something, something about a girl. Perhaps about Maria. Even if she did stay here for a few more days, Mrs. Jennings's circle and his did not overlap except for the Palmers and thus she hardly had any chance of meeting him unless he called on her. At that precise moment, intrigued by the voice of someone asking for her, she looked up to see Lord Grenville being ushered in.
As soon as the maid left, he thundered, "Devil it, Miss Dashwood, what do you think you are doing?"
Margaret looked at him in awe. Hair ruffled slightly, face set grim, eyes blazing - this is how he must look when he made one of those impassioned speeches at the house. She stood immoblie, her wide eyes drinking his appearance thirstily.
"Miss Dashwood?", he repeated, his brows furrowed, at her silence.
"Yes, My Lord", she asked recovering. Why was he so angry?
"I just got this letter from Brandon. He says you have been talking to Willoughby about a meeting with Eliza?", he asked sharply.
"My Lord, you know? How, what do you know?", she asked confused and surprised at the same time. Col. Brandon my father's dear friend" Suddenly his words the previous night came back to her. There is this girl He was trying to tell her about Eliza. But how?
"Eliza and her son are in my estate, they have rented a cottage from me, their companion Mrs. Ainsley used to be my governess. They have been there since he was born. But what the devil is all this meeting business about?", he demanded, his voice still very angry.
"You see My Lord", she tried to explain calmly, all the while her mind forming new thoughts. So that is where she is. Perhaps she can go talk to her. "Willoughby would like to acknowledge his son and I think, I strongly believe that.."
"his heart is full of repentance? That scoundrel", he interrupted. "Miss Dashwood, I did not think you were such a fool, surely you understand that it is all an act"
"Act? For what my Lord", she asked angrily. She was not a fool.
"For what? What do I know how that rascal's mind works", he waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. "Maybe he was bored, maybe he wanted to try and renew his attentions to poor Eliza, I have lately come to understand that he treated your sister ill. Maybe he wanted to gain her sympathy and approach her again. There can be many reasons. Why, maybe he saw you, you are a b..", he paused, "Miss Dashwood, I came in here as soon as I saw Brandon's letter. He is understandably very angry with him and he has written to me that he is thinking of sending Eliza someplace else. He is most worried about Mr. Willoughby's motives towards you all. I hope you change your mind and drop all this nonsense about.."
"But my Lord, No..", she cried.
"No?", he exploded. "You are refusing? Madam, do not entertain any grand ideas of going to meet Eliza. If you or Willoughby set foot there.."
"My Lord, think of it", she almost pleaded. " Even if it is true, we are not susceptible to his charms. It does not matter what his motives are. It does not matter if he started this scheme for some devious reason. Using this opportunity to make him acknowledge his son, will it not be the best justice"
"And in the process, let him leave Eliza with another child?", he asked sarcastically.
Margaret became incensed. "Why does every man think that he knows what is best for the women in his life?", she asked hotly.
"What?", he responded with an incredulous expression. "Eliza was left with child, because of this man. Her decision as you put it. She was lucky to have had Col. Brandon. And now you want Col. Brandon to not protect her?"
"My Lord, I do not disagree about how great Col. Brandon has been. But think of it, she was just fourteen years old at the time. She is hardly two or three years older than me. Amd her whole life has been ruined because of that. You do not think she would have learned something from it? Why do you assume all women are delicate creatures with no rationality, intelligence. And even if Eliza does seem to fall for Willoughby, we will all be there this time. Instead of not giving her an opportunity, is it not more appropriate to guide her, to teach her to apply her mind?", she asked in an sorrowful voice, suddenly tired. "My Lord, Mr. Willougbhy has approached Col. Brandon. He has asked him. He could have just gone to see her instead, what is to stop him. You cannot keep her your prisoner."
"Maybe because he knows this time Brandon will kill him if he attempts to reach her. Look, Miss. Dashwood, that devious rascal, wants Brandon's sanction to make her his mistress. I should not have fixed the powder, I should have let Brandon kill him", he muttered, angrily.
"What are you talking about, My Lord?"
"About the duel. Do you not know?"
"Duel?", she whispered, stunned. "Are you telling me that Col. Brandon and Willoughby?"
"Yes, Do you not know? My father was very ill at the time. He was Col. Brandon's dearest friend. I took my father's place and was one of the seconds. We, myself and Col. Perkins, knew that Brandon will not miss, Willoughby did not have any chance. But if he killed Willoughby then he would have had to leave the country, so we fixed the powder. Brandon was initially angry with us but later forgave us, especially after a few months when he became a suitor for your sister's hand, I think"
Margaret stood immobile. A Duel. "He fought a duel. I cannot believe it. And you were his second? I hope you will not do something like that yourself My Lord", she said shakily, still reeling from the shock.
He shifted, looked away, and stated in a low voice. "Miss Dashwood, when a man finds that there has been some harm done to a woman in his charge, a woman he loves, something savage awakens inside him and.."
She stared at him and said in an unsteady voice, "Good God, are you saying that you will do something like that. I will not..", she stopped.
He looked at her, said in a very cold voice, "I know Miss. Dashwood, you would not need any man to protect you or fight for you"
No, that was not what she was about to say. There could be nothing glorious, nothing more wondeful than having him treat her as his woman, the woman that he loves.Only, she was about to blurt out that she will not be able to bear the thought of him in any danger such as that. She will not be able to live if something happens to him. She swallowed the threatening tears. They stood in silence.
"Miss Dashwood", he broke it in an irritated voice. "I came to try and talk some sense into you. I do think there is any use of my stay here. I will take leave of you now. Good bye" and with a curt bow he left her alone.
She was not some kind of an amazon woman, as he implied, she wanted to run after him and tell him that she was in love with him. Over head and ears in love with him. She felt tears welling up in her eyes, at the thought that she had finally found the one man she could truly love and respect, but had no hope, no chance of him ever returning her love. If last evening's fiasco had not driven him away completely, this terrible row would have. She had proved utterly and completely, beyond any doubt that she was most unsuitable for him. No fortune, no accomplishments and definitely no decorum. He will marry some beautiful girl and she would go back to Barton. For the first time in her life, she sat down and wept uncontrollably, despair washing over her.
"Margaret, what happened in London?", asked Edward, as they walked towards the parsonage, concern in his eyes.
Margaret had reached Barton, after a two days journey with Mrs. Harvey, who chattered even more than Mrs. Jennings if it is at all possible. She had arrived, with thoughts and concerns about Eliza filling her mind. Lord Grenville's statements about Col.Brandon planning to send Eliza somewhere else and his unfinished threat about Willoughby or herself setting foot in his estate were uppermost in her mind.
As soon as she had arrived, she had learnt from her mother, much to her horror, that Col. Brandon had already left for London. That night she had spent at Barton cottage, tossing and turning plagued by dreams of Eliza and her son standing lonely on a vast barren land, or travelling to some far off place vanishing into the sunset and woke up with red eyes.
The next morning, as soon as possible, she had set off to Delaford, her face set with determination. But upon seeing Marianne, more beautiful than ever, full of laughter, dream and life in her eyes, she had dropped the idea of sharing her experiences in London. Her pointed inquiries to her about Col.Brandon had fetched only a sketchy reply. He was off to London on some urgent business. He will be back in a fortnight. After spending some time with Marianne, feeling her little niece kick, for she was sure it was a niece this time, she had managed to acquire Eliza's address from the steward. She had immediately written a long letter to her explaining the situation.
Margaret was feeling thoroughly elated when she met Edward, after sending the letter. She had a sense of accomplishment and worth. She had achieved something. She was ready to face anyone who dared to censure her for what she did. She was confident after seeing the letter Eliza will demand to know more about the matter. She had cautiously not blamed anyone and had just related the facts, but whatever it was, it was no longer a secret. She would soon know.
She replied to Edward that nothing interesting happened, with a smile.
"I have been most worried about Col. Brandon, my dear. You see before he left he came to see me and said in a most particular tone that he hoped Elinor and I would take care of Marianne. I did not know what to make of it. He muttered something about you and Willoughby, what happened?", asked Edward.
Margaret stopped walking, something cold clutching her heart. With mounting dread she asked Edward slowly to repeat what he had just said. Good God. Whatever did he mean? Surely not another duel. This was not worth a duel, really. Beads of sweat formed on her forehead as the weight of what he had just said began to oppress her.
Words tumbled out of her as she explained everything about Willoughby. "Edward, you do think that..?", she asked in a hoarse voice. Marianne, how can she face her if something happens to the Colonel? How can she face herself? What had she done? He was a righteous man, a soldier, an older man with a specific sense of honor - she should have realized what he might do.
Edward shifted uncomfortably not knowing what to do as they walked in silence. There was nothing she could do. The Colonel must already be in London. She wished Willoughby had left for his estate. She wished Col. Brandon would come back after seeing Eliza. She wished many things.
She spent the next two weeks in Delaford, in anticipation of the Colonel's arrival or some tidings about him. She spent her days in agony, and her nights with nightmares. She often woke up gasping. Her dreams always ended with Col. Brandon clutching his heart with blood oozing from his heart, and falling down with an accusing look on his face. The few times it varied with Lord Grenville intercepting the bullet.
She hardly ate, she wore herself out pacing, and she rarely even played with her nephews. Her mother kept Marianne good company and she remained out of her sight unable to look her in the eye.
Then one morning, she was circling the fountain and the lawn when she saw his carriage come in. She ran right up to the door, before he even stepped down. "Oh Colonel Brandon, thank God you are well. I am so sorry. Forgive me please. Oh, I am so happy", she cried tears welling in her eyes. Realizing she was blabbering and that he must have come from a long, tiring journey and the grooms were giving her a curious look, she stepped back hastily. He gently wiped her eyes and said in a soft voice, "It is alright Margaret", before greeting the other who joined them.
A day later after breakfast, Colonel Brandon asked her to join him in the study. She accompanied him, curious about what happened and after closing the door he said with a teasing smile, "Margaret, a good captain will have to be prepared for casualties."
She smiled at this uncharacteristic playfulness and then said thoughtfully, "I have been thinking about it Colonel. I have come to the conclusion that a good Captain should first examine and estimate the price of any battle. I entered into this without a clear idea, not even remotely thinking that you might engage in a duel. Now I know. Next time, I will be more prepared and will have a better strategy"
"So, there will be a next time"
"That I am sure of", she replied laughing, "There will be many more opportunities to fight for some woman's rights"
"Good to see that you have your spirit", he said smiling. "I suppose you would want to know what happened", he looked outside for a few moments. "When I got your letter, all I could feel was anger towards Willoughby. That blackguard was still after my family, was the thought uppermost in my mind. I sincerely hoped that my reply will keep you away from him. However, uneasy about what he might try with Eliza, I decided to change her residence. That is why I wrote a letter to Grenville. I also knew I could trust him to warn you. But soon after I got your second letter, where you had insisted on taking his side, and I could no longer stay in Delaford. Because of my experiences with him, I imagined worst possible things about his influence on you and my blood boiled. I set off to London, determined to ask Willoughby to leave Christopher, Eliza and you alone or else..", he paused
"Or else face your pistol", she finished quietly.
"Yes. Margaret you were too young then to understand what this man had.. Nevertheless, Lord Grenville asked me to promise to not do anything for three days in the name of our friendship. I could not refuse. He invited me to stay with him and put forth various arguments slowly molding me into becoming more and more receptive to it. Mark Antony could have learned something from that man! First he convinced me that a duel was not necessary. After a few days, he convinced me completely into agreeing to his schemes. He arranged for a meeting and had his solicitors write up a contract. Willoughby has agreed to spend a generous amount on Christopher's education, will pay for their general upkeep and will introduce him into society as his son. He will take his name in return. All in all, I must say it was a very favorable agreement. I could never meet him, so Lord Grenville took it upon himself to do all that was necessary", he sighed and then added "He said, we are all indebted to you, my dear and that you convinced him"
Margaret sat immobile. He had considered her views, and had executed them brilliantly, even better than the way she would have. He had in essence agreed to what she was saying. He had trusted her and in turn Eliza's judgement. What vindication. Her heart soared. "What about Eliza?", she asked.
"Eliza, my dear, surprised us all. She refused to meet Willoughby and asked him to never, ever try to contact her. She and Christopher will remain at Grenville. Willoughby will meet him from time to time. It was most gratifying to me Margaret and I must thank you for that.", he said in a gentle voice.
That evening in her own bed at Barton cottage, Margaret thought of all the things that had happened to her in the past few weeks. She was most pleased with herself, no doubt, but she was also aware of the things she had learned. Most of all, her heart overflowed with love and gratitude towards Lord Grenville for his understanding and acknowledgement of her reasoning. She no longer cried for him. After all her happiness did not depend on him, it depended solely on herself. She would remain at Barton, happy as always, just that she would not talk of marriage being a bondage anymore.
She slept peacefully that night.
Margaret spent the next few days, enjoying her days with renewed vigor. They were to remove to Delaford for Marianne's lying in within a month. She helped her mother prepare some things for that, read a few books that she had recently purchased in London, went riding every morning, played with Sir John's dogs and was generally back to her old self. As always, she rode to Delaford every now and then and spent time with her nephews.
Her thoughts inevitably returned to Lord Grenville, from time to time. He had been the only man to keep her captivated in a conversation, stimulate her mind, and every time she read an interesting thought or even saw a beautiful scenery she had a wistful longing for the opportunity to share it with him. She read about him in the newspaper, a recent legislation had passed with a very narrow vote and Lord Grenville had voted just as she would have liked him to.
It was a week since Col.Brandon's return. Reclining on a small cushion, up in her tree house, she woke up from her reverie when she heard Col. Brandon's voice. He and Marianne joined them for tea every other week when they visited Sir. John. He was to come alone today, perhaps Edward was joining him. She got down two rungs at a time, tripping slightly as she jumped to the ground, "Good after..", her cheery greeting never found her voice. He was there. Almost a mirage conjured by her musings, tall and handsome as ever, his eyes smiling, coming up the path towards her, Lord Grenville was there.
"Hello Margaret. I can see that you are as astonished as I was when I saw him this morning. He did not want me to cancel my tea with you all, so I brought him along", said Colonel Brandon, starting in a casual voice and finishing up with a thoughtful look on his face, looking at the expression on their faces.
"Indeed", she stammered a little, and belatedly bobbed a curtsy. "Do come in My Lord, Col. Brandon", she invited them, clearing her throat.
As they walked back she found herself uncharacteristically worrying about the mud stained petticoat and her unruly hair. "I told you, Grenville that we would find Margaret up in her tree house", said Col. Brandon.
"Indeed, you did", he sounded amused, not put off.
Her mother came in, was introduced to him and they all sat down. Margaret hardly talked. Col. Brandon and her mother seemed to carry the conversation with some little contribution from him. His eyes seemed to linger and drawn to hers, assessing her face, trying to tell her something.
"I must tell you My Lord, Margaret did not tell me that you were acquainted in London. She is a great admirer of yours you know", her mother said blithely.
Margaret coloring deeply, said hastily, "Yes, My Lord. I must congratulate you on your recent vote", trying to sound very academic. "It was a narrow margin"
"Yes. I am glad you noticed that", he said relief showing in his face. Why was he concerned about her approval on that one. It was something about turnpikes was it not?
After some more minutes, with mostly silence on their part, after bearing the burden of carrying on the conversation, exchanging a look with her mother, Col. Brandon, looked at them and suggested, "Margaret perhaps you would like to show Lord Grenville the fine prospect from the raise, in the grounds while I discuss the renovations we are planning with your mother". She accepted it first with alacrity and then confusion colored her face.
They walked in silence, out in the late afternoon sunlight, to the chorus of the birds returning home. He seemed to be wrestling with some inner thought, looked as though he was about to say something, then stopped, restless, running his hand through his hair.
She started , "I must use this opportunity to thank you My Lord, for what.."
"For Eliza? please do not", he interrupted hastily brushing off her gratitude with a general wave of his hand and then added, "By the bye, I also met Sophia and told her about your role in it"
"Sophia?", she exclaimed.
"Yes, It was intolerable to have someone thinking ill of you", he said slowly and turned with a look on his eyes that completely overpowered her.
"Oh", she said softly her face turned up towards him, her eyes not leaving his face.
"Miss Dashwood", he swallowed, stopped in his tracks. "Margaret", he started again, "With anybody else, I would have no doubts", he paused and with a searching look asked, "You are not angry?"
"Angry, about what?", she asked in confusion.
"About the delay", he spoke trying to explain something that he obviously thought was very important, but of which she had no idea. "I rode without stopping as soon as the vote was over, It was too narrow to risk. I simply could not follow you right away, first I took care of this affair with Willoughby and then it was too late for me to come to Barton and then return to London in time", he stopped after looking at her face. After a moment of silence, he laughed a little self consciously, "Margaret, Good Lord, Surely you realized I would come", and then paused with an uncomfortable silence, his brows furrowing, "You did want me to.., Oh Dash it Margaret, you do understand do you not?", he asked, lifting her face with a finger, holding her eyes captive.
The weight of what he was trying to convey with his eyes filled with emotion bridging the gaps left by his words, brought tears welling in her eyes. "My Lord", she sniffled. "I am penniless"
"I did not doubt for one moment that you would marry anyone for his money. Besides I have enough for you and any number of children we would have", he said softly, his thumb caressing her cheeks.
"I have no accomplishments", she persisted.
"Madam, you are forgetting your ability to talk", he said with a smile, "Anyway I noticed how moved you were by music and that is enough"
"I have no sense of decorum. You might approve of me as a Miss Dashwood, My Lord, But I hardly have the lady like demeanor to be your wife", she said tears spilling on to her cheeks.
"That I think is your greatest charm. I do not know which Margaret I love better, the one with open censure on her eyes, daring me to do the right thing, her words sharp as a dagger.. Or this one..", he wiped her tears in a very gentle motion. "I cannot bear to see tears in your eyes, Margaret", He dropped his hand only to pull hers closer to his heart and said after a moment laughter bubbling in his voice, "Tell me honestly, you do not think you deserve me"
Margaret gave him a watery smile, as mischief crept into her eyes, and joined his laughter.
He then asked in a serious voice, "And do I deserve you?"
"Deserve me? Oh my Lord!" she whispered softly, "I thought you did not care for me like that and I..", she moved her hands in a helpless gesture, "I love you, more than anything in this world", she looked at him love brimming her eyes.
"Ah, My very own, loveliest, sweetest Margaret", his voice a hoarse whisper he bent down as his lips met hers in the most glorious kiss.
He did kneel down as the little girl in her always imagined, when he asked to her to make him the happiest man, to marry him.