Posted on Tuesday, 10 August 2004
"As for Marianne, I know her greatness of soul, there would not be music enough in London to content her. And books! -- Thomson, Cowper, Scott -- she would buy them all over and over again; she would buy up every copy, I believe, to prevent their falling into unworthy hands; and she would have every book that tells her how to admire an old twisted tree." - Edward Ferrars, Chapter 17
Cleveland was a spacious, modern-built house, situated on a sloping lawn. It had no park, but the pleasure-grounds were tolerably extensive, and Marianne entered with a heart swelling with emotion from the consciousness of being only eighty miles from Barton, and not thirty from Combe Magna. Before she had been five minutes within its walls, while the others were busily helping Charlotte shew her child to the housekeeper, she quitted it again, stealing away through the winding shrubberies, now just beginning to be in beauty, to gain a distant eminence; where, from its Grecian temple, her eye, wandering over a wide tract of country to the south-east, could fondly rest on the farthest ridge of hills in the horizon, and fancy that from their summits Combe Magna might be seen.
In such moments of precious, of invaluable misery, she rejoiced in tears of agony to be at Cleveland; and as she returned by a different circuit to the house, feeling all the happy privilege of country liberty, of wandering from place to place in free and luxurious solitude, she resolved to spend almost every hour of every day while she remained with the Palmers, in the indulgence of such solitary rambles.
She took two delightful twilight walks on the third and fourth evenings of her being there, not merely on the dry gravel of the shrubbery, but all over the grounds, and especially in the most distant parts of them, where there was something more of wildness than in the rest, where the trees were the oldest, and the grass was the longest and wettest.
With transporting sensations, she observed droplets from recent rains shimmering in the trees. She trembled in awe as the wind drove them in showers about her. For a brief moment she recalled Edward Ferrars’ insensibility to the picturesque, remembering how amidst some of the most pleasant scenery, all he saw was dirt. This recollection occasioned a fresh bout of sobs, for her pity for Elinorin her heartbreak and disappointment was acute, but her thoughts did not dwell there for long, for the stab of betrayal that she had suffered must overtake everything else. Hot tears mingled with the cold raindrops down her cheeks, and as she wiped them away, she again surveyed her surroundings. She took particular notice of a pair of trees, the likes of which she had never before seen. They stood side by side but they leaned toward each other so that they touched and crossed, as though beginning to embrace.
"This is how Willoughby and I should have been," she thought, "growing so that love would entwine us." She sat down by the trees, paying no heed to the dampness of the grass or its effect on her clothing, and was again moved to tears by the poignant symbolism.
The loud chop of an axe made her leap to her feet.
"Sorry to disturb you, Miss, though pr’aps it’s good you’re off the wet ground. Ought to take better care o’ yourself, Miss."
The groundsman swung his axe again.
Marianne was turning away to seek privacy elsewhere when she noticed the trees the man was chopping down. They were even more extraordinary than the embracing trees. One tree had coiled itself around the other like a snake.
"What are you doing?" she cried. "You cannot destroy that; it is Nature’s work of art!"
The groundsman laughed. "The things they teach you misses in them fine schools! That there’s a blight. The one is choking the life out of the other. Look!" He pointed upward to dead branches devoid of leaves. "And look at the bark. You see, the two trees are not quite the same. The parasite is mimicking the other, disguising itself as another one of its kind. And see how it is taking root? If I don’t kill it now, it will attack all these other trees. Those trees where you were sitting are at an earlier stage of the same blight. Examine the bark and you’ll see the difference. One will be killing the other if left to its own."
"They are embracing," whispered Marianne.
The groundsman laughed again and resumed his chopping. Marianne ran back to Cleveland so she should not have to witness the destruction of trees whose picturesque beauty had so inspired her. If they were not to be allowed to live, at least she might preserve her impressions of them. To keep her thoughts pure from any outside influence, she found pen and paper immediately on entering the house, and poured her observations and feelings onto the page, stopping for nothing, not even to remove her wet shoes and stockings. By morning, she had a cold so violent as would force itself by increasing ailments on the concern of everybody. Though heavy and feverish, with a pain in her limbs, a cough, and a sore throat, it was with difficulty that Elinor prevailed on her, when she went to bed, to try one or two of the simplest of the remedies.
Marianne got up the next morning at her usual time; to every inquiry replied that she was better, and tried to prove herself so, by engaging in her customary employments. But a day spent in sitting shivering over the fire with a book in her hand which she was unable to read, or in lying, weary and languid, on a sofa, did not speak much in favour of her amendment; and when, at last, she went early to bed, more and more indisposed, Colonel Brandon was only astonished at her sister's composure, who, though attending and nursing her the whole day, against Marianne's inclination, and forcing proper medicines on her at night, trusted like Marianne to the certainty and efficacy of sleep, and felt no real alarm.
A very restless and feverish night, however, disappointed the expectation of both; and when Marianne, after persisting in rising, confessed herself unable to sit up, and returned voluntarily to her bed, Elinor was very ready to adopt Mrs. Jennings's advice, of sending for the Palmers' apothecary.
He came, examined his patient, and though encouraging Miss Dashwood to expect that a very few days would restore her sister to health, pronounced her disorder to have a putrid tendency, and allowing the word "infection" to pass his lips, gave instant alarm to Mrs. Palmer on her baby's account. Mrs. Jennings urged the necessity of her daughter’s immediate removal with her infant but with a kindness of heart which made Elinor really love her, declared her resolution of not stirring from Cleveland as long as Marianne remained ill, and of endeavoring by her own attentive care, to supply to her the place of the mother she had taken her from; and Elinor found her on every occasion a most willing and active helpmate, desirous to share in all her fatigues, and often, by her better experience in nursing, of material use.
Marianne was of course kept in ignorance of all these arrangements. She had in fact lost all sense of time and place. Sometimes she was aware of Elinor’s attending her, but at others, she fancied those loving caresses to be Willoughby’s. She had fallen and sprained her ankle, and he was carrying her into Barton, placing her down carefully and comfortingly. These sensations repeated themselves many times, but inevitably the soothing strokes on her brow and cheek would be suddenly and unpleasantly interrupted. One night was particularly nightmarish. Her limbs grew stiff and heavy, and before her very eyes, her skin became rough and scaly like the bark of a tree. As if these strange changes to her person were not horrifying enough, in the next instant, something seized her and would not let her breathe. Then, as if in a distance, her own thoughts spoke to her: "I am dying." She awoke screaming for her mother.
Elinor assisted in lying her down again and for some time, she knew not how long, she slept fitfully, continuing to dream of twisted trees. At one point, a man stood beside her, and thinking he was the groundsman, she cried, "I am alive! Do not destroy me!"
"I shall not," said he, as he forced her to drink a bitter draught. She slept soundly after that, and finally awoke to the anxious face of her mother. Marianne’s thoughts were by then coherent, and satisfied in knowing her mother was near her, she submitted to the silence and quiet prescribed by every nurse around her. She continued to mend every day and amidst much relief and happiness, was at last returned to Barton.
On the first soft, genial morning that appeared, leaning on Elinor’s arm, she was authorized to walk as long as she could without fatigue in the lane before the house. They advanced only so far beyond it as to admit a full view of the hill, the important hill behind, when pausing with her eyes turned toward it, Marianne calmly said, "There, exactly there I fell and there I first saw Willoughby."
Her voice sank with the word, but presently reviving she added, "I am thankful to find that I can look with so little pain on the spot! Shall we ever talk on that subject, Elinor? I can talk about it now, I hope, as I ought to do."
Elinor tenderly invited her to be open, and she shared all the reflections that resulted from her illness, for in her wretched weakness, there was nothing else for her to do but think. The indulgence of her sorrow, her fixation on Willoughby, had been dangerous folly. The twisted trees which she fancied as herself and Willoughby were apt symbols indeed, but until their image haunted her feverish dreams, she had been perceiving them wrongly. Willoughby, in trifling with her love, would ultimately have destroyed her. She was resolved to amend her manners and her judgment, and would live a life of reason and discipline. "If I could but know his heart," she concluded, "everything would become easy."
Elinor then related simply and honestly the chief points on which Willoughby had grounded an apology, and spoke of his own repentance. Marianne said not a word. She trembled; her eyes were fixed on the ground and her lips became whiter than even sickness had left them. A thousand inquiries sprang up from her heart, but she dared not urge one. She caught every syllable with panting eagerness; her hand, unknowingly to herself, closely pressed her sister’s, and tears covered her cheeks.
Elinor, dreading her being tired, led her toward home, and resolved to allow Marianne to bring up the subject of Willoughby whenever she again chose. And Marianne did so that very evening when they were sitting with their mother.
"I wish to assure you both that I see everything as you can desire me to." For some moments, her voice was lost, but recovering herself added, "I never could have been happy with him, after knowing, as sooner or later I must have known, all this. I should have had no confidence, no esteem. I wish for no change."
And for Marianne and Willoughby, there was no change. For Elinor and Edward, however, happy changes rapidly followed, and after much suffering borne with great and unacknowledged fortitude, the couple was settled in the parsonage at Delaford. Marianne visited frequently, and it was during one of her walks around the grounds that a pair of trees caught her eye for their picturesque contrast. One was a majestic oak with a solid trunk whose widespread branches cast a great shadow, except in one small spot in which the oak had been trimmed, and in that patch of sunshine grew a young flowering tree.
The gardener was working nearby, and Marianne ventured to observe, "Those blossoms are lovely. What sort are they?"
Before the man could reply, the deep voice of Colonel Brandon came up behind them and answered, "Cherry, Miss Dashwood. Do you like the tree?"
"It is very pretty, but the oak is even more impressive. I am surprised you curtailed it for the sake of the other. Standing alone, it would have been more stark and stoic, a commanding central point over your entire grounds."
"Perhaps. But I daresay my grounds would lack more without the cherry blossom. The oak does not suffer from a little trimming. Strength has restrained itself to dwell with beauty."
Marianne listened to his words attentively and looked at him in astonished admiration. She had felt gratitude and esteem for him from the time she learned that he was responsible for bringing her mother to her in her illness, but never in all their acquaintance had she credited him for such depth of sensibility. His steady silence seemed to conceal the passion within him.
"Shall we walk on together, Miss Dashwood?" said he, offering his arm.