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Cost of Wishes, 2

October 26, 2022 12:19PM

Part 2

Again Marianne Dashwood was sitting with her mother and sisters when the mail came. Again her mother then Elinor read the letter of John Dashwood’s death. Had not Marianne wished that her brother’s family lived? Again her mother then Elinor left the room. Again she read the letter.

This time, instead of hiding in her room and calling for Nelly, she grabbed her shawl and bonnet and headed outside. A walk was what she needed: a walk to clear her head. John Dashwood was dead, but he had died twice already. Surely she was allowed to overcome her grief faster than the rest of her family, given how accustomed she was to this death by now.

She walked along the downs on her solitary ramble, wondering how much time she had. Nelly had not told her, nor did Marianne know what would happen if she ran out of wishes without achieving her heart's desire. Probably, she would die an old maid, but this was no different than what her fate would have been if Willoughby went through with his engagement to someone else. If she couldn't have him, she couldn't imagine herself happy with anyone.

She looked about her and realized this was the spot where she was to meet him. She scanned the landscape but saw no one so she sat down to await him. Sitting gave way to daydreaming, daydreaming gave way to lying down, lying down gave way to actual sleep.

When she woke, hours had passed. The sun was much farther advanced in together sky and the breeze had turned colder. A view of the hilltops revealed no approaching Willoughby. Instead, to her dismay, Marianne recognized the figure of Col. Brandon on horseback. What was worse was that he recognized her too, and directed his house toward her so that he might speak with her.

He was polite about it, as he was in all things, waiting until he was close enough to hail her rather than shouting and halloing and waving his arms madly as Sir John would have done, but he was still unwelcome. Why was he here instead of Willoughby?

He asked why she was out unattended while the weather was worsening. She was a little curt in her answer: her family had just received distressing news and she wanted to be alone.

He took the unsubtle hint and bid her good day, yet he made no move to leave her. With a sigh of exasperation, she bobbed a curtsy and walked home.

Nelly was waiting for her, leaving heavily on the first door. "What went wrong this time?" she snapped, implying Marianne was at fault.

'"How should I know?" Marianne snapped back. "Willoughby was supposed to rescue me. I fell asleep and Col. Brandon found me instead."

"You fell asleep!" The maid didn't hide her disgust. "You fell asleep when there's a wish happening? Are you trying to lose?"

Marianne gaped wide-eyed. "What do you mean?"

Nelly glared at her harshly, her once-cheery expression gone. "Never you mind," she answered darkly. "Just say the word and I'll take care of Brandon for you." She held up her hand, ready to snap her fingers.

Marianne was temporarily repulsed by the maid's bloodthirstiness. "No," she said with force. "There's no need. I already know what I want for my fourth wish."

"Fourth?" cackled Nelly. "Ha! This will be your fifth by my reckoning."

"What do you mean by that?" asked Marianne with a jolt. "It cannot be. I wished to be rich; I wished for John and his family not to die so quickly; and I wished to come back here. That is only three."

Nelly looked patronizing. "I agree that is three wishes but there is one more you are forgetting about. Your very first wish was to go home, which is when I brought you here."

"No!" cried Marianne. "That can't count. You said I could ask for anything."

"Yes," Nelly agreed, "and you asked for a fire. And after I gave it to you, and told you my limit is ten, you then wished yourself home to Barton. That makes four." She held up her fingers to illustrate the point.

Nelly hobbled about the room in her agitation. "So I ask you again, do you want me to take care of Brandon for you? It was perhaps a bit of a trick to count that first wish. If you want, I'll take care of the colonel and it won't cost you anything."

Marianne turned away, too horrified to consider deeply what kind of bargain she had struck. "No, please, leave him alone. I know what I want for my next wish and I am eager to make it."

"Are you?" Nelly's demeanor immediately changed. Marianne would be hard pressed to call it sunny, but the maid was gleeful. "Then let's hear it!"

Marianne lifted her chin and spoke with confidence. "I wish for Willoughby to propose to me." Were he already engaged to her, he could not become engaged to any other woman.

Nelly cackled.

Marianne was alone in the cottage. There was a knock on the front door and she heard Willoughby be admitted. A moment later, he was standing before her.

With words and actions, he told her that he loved her and, finally, that he wanted to marry her. She consented with alacrity.

In due course, he family returned and were greeted with the happy news. At that moment, Marianne could have died from an excess of bliss. Her wish had worked! She had at last achieved her heart's desire.

After being sufficiently feted by the Dashwoods, Willoughby asked to take her to Allenham to be introduced to his aunt. There was no argument against it, so the young couple set off.

Marianne was seated next to Willoughby in an open gig. He held the reins and with a flick of his wrist, the horses sped to a canter. Instinctively, she clutched at his arm. While she loved to ride with him like this, recent memories of her brother's demise made her nervous. With Nelly around, anything could happen.

She cautioned him to be safe and he humored her. Eventually they arrived at Allenham and a groom stepped forward to take control of the gig.

The servant tugged his forelock respectfully and announced that Mrs. Smith had received a disturbing letter shortly after Mr. Willoughby had left that morning and had insisted he nephew report to her as soon as he returned.

Willoughby looked confused and Marianne tried not to worry as he led her into the hall and sent word to Mrs. Smith that he was arrived with a very important guest.

He was summoned in a trice, and alone. He did not want to leave Marianne, but he could not defy his aunt in this.

Marianne was left behind with the hope that he would send for her as soon as possible. Fifteen minutes passed. A half-hour. She had resolved to ring for tea after her next circuit of the room when Willoughby returned. His grave looks, however, could not set her at ease.

She begged to know what was the matter. He gave her no specifics, only saying that his aunt had forbade the match. She pressed for details but he gave none. Marianne insisted that she speak with Willoughby's aunt. Surely if Mrs. Smith met her, all objections would cease.

Willoughby was then forced to admit that his aunt had just announced that she had another bride in mind for him. She had given her ultimatum: marry the girl of her choosing, or be disinherited and banned from Allenham. Without his aunt's support and eventual fortune, he couldn't afford to marry. As it was, he might be forced to let Combe Magna in a year or two. To require his beloved Marianne to live in such reduced circumstances would be too galling. How could he truly be her provider if he could not provide her the life she deserved? No, without his aunt's consent he could not afford to marry her.

They argued and pleaded with each other but the end result was that Marianne Dashwood returned home alone in a closed carriage driven by a groom.

Through the ride home, Marianne thought of what had just happened, the injustice to which she and Willoughby had been subjected, who was to blame, and how she might fix it with another wish. She also thought darkly that Nelly had done a poor job of it. It felt, indeed, like a dirty trick, and she was sure to tell the maid when she was back at the Cottage.

"Why wait?" came a voice as, without warning, Marianne was not alone in the carriage.

"Nelly!" was all she could say for a moment.

The maid made no move to speak, but stared at her with a harsh and unyielding expression.

When her heart finally lowered itself to its accustomed spot, Marianne spoke again. "You knew that was going to happen, didn't you? I want to marry him. You know this yet you do nothing to prevent his aunt from breaking us up."

Nelly looked ready to argue, and Marianne realized this was not a battle she would win. "You asked to be engaged, but you expressed no desire for the good things that follow. It was you who restricted your own wish. Someone else has a claim on your Willoughby; she always had. I was able to delay the presentation of her claim until after Willoughby proposed, but I could go no further without costing you another wish."

"Impossible!" cried Marianne. "Willoughby loves me. He could not have attached himself to anyone else."

"As to whether and how he attached himself," leered Nelly, "suffice it to say that this happened before he met you, and the affection was all on her side. He had quite broke with her. In desperation she wrote to Mrs. Smith and the old woman believed her. At least, that is what happened originally. However, once he had proposed to you and been accepted, how was I to know the old woman would still enforce such a spurious claim?"

Marianne thought about it. "It was Miss Gray, wasn't it?"

Nelly regarded her. "She will have no recourse should Mrs. Smith not oppose the match before it can be widely known," she said in confirmation. "After that, Willoughby is as good as yours, until death do you part." She let that sink in before making her next offer. "I can take care of her -- take care of them both -- if you wish it."

There was something in the unholy light coming from the maid's eye that gave Marianne pause. She might have given the maid full latitude to deal with the problem in any way she saw fit but for her obviously murderous disposition. Had Marianne not known for certain that Nelly would resolve the obstacles to wedded bliss by simply killing anyone who stood in the way, she could have turned a blind eye to it. As it was, it was growing more difficult with each wish.

"You may prevent Mrs. Smith from breaking our engagement, but you may not kill her."

Nelly was displeased at the restriction. "And what of the girl?" she spat.

"Do not harm her," said Marianne, her voice trembling.

The maid looked at her with contempt. "Shall I tell you what happens?" she asked. "Would you like to know what damage your benevolence will cause? She will follow him. She will haunt your marriage."

"You cannot know that," said Marianne quietly. "You cannot know that if you didn't know how Mrs. Smith would react."

Nelly grimaced. "It is a guess. She has yet to be dissuaded. She is obsessed with the man you love. You had best do something now while you still can."

It was a moral dilemma and Marianne felt it shake her confidence in everything. "If you kill Miss Gray," she said at last, "will that be enough?"

Nelly smiled at her thoughtfulness. "Now you are planning it right!" she congratulated. "Unfortunately, no. Mrs. Smith will still receive the letter. You must kill them both; only then will you be truly happy."

But Marianne didn't think that her happiness could be rooted in two deaths, especially if one of them was her fiancé's aunt. The practical side of her realized that any wedding would have to be delayed if Willoughby was in mourning. Miss Gray, on the other hand, was only instrumental in Marianne's unhappiness and played no part in her joy. If Miss Gray were dead, and Marianne had nothing to do with it, there was nothing to regret.

The slow indecision weighed on Nelly who was aching for a wish. "Suppose we take care of Miss Gray permanently and leave Mrs. Smith temporarily indisposed. She'll be right as rain in time for the wedding."

"Must we harm Mrs. Smith?" asked Marianne.

Nelly patted her hand. "It'll be nothing that can't be fixed. After all, were it not for a sprained ankle, you wouldn't have met Mr. Willoughby."

"And what of Miss Gray?"

"Would you ever give up on Mr. Willoughby?" asked Nelly. "If you cannot, how can you imagine someone else doing so?"

Marianne wracked her brain for an alternative. "What if she fell in love with another man?" she said in a moment of inspiration.

"Could you imagine falling in love with another man after knowing Mr. Willoughby?" Nelly was trying to sound kindly but, with her yellow, crooked teeth and her stooped back, the grotesque picture spoiled the effect.

"Do not harm Miss Gray," said Marianne at last. "When she hears of our engagement, her hopes will be ruined and she may withdraw her claim."

"She may indeed," agreed Nelly darkly. "So long as no one offers her ten wishes."

Marianne was alarmed. Surely Nelly wouldn't give Miss Gray the means to undo everything? It was unfair and capricious.

Nelly would not be chastised. "Do you imagine I am the only one of my kind? No. There are others, and we don't always get on well together. Leave your rival alive, and she might still do mischief when you have no more wishes to protect you. I tell you what: I shall let you retract an earlier wish about your brother and his family, and use it on this other girl. Get her out of the way, get Mrs. Smith on your side. Then nothing would stop you."

"I don't want you to kill anyone," Marianne said.

Nelly shook her head. "But it is often the easiest way. No one finds death odd when it causes deserving, young people to inherit their fortune, but if I made coins fall from the sky like rain, people would never stop asking questions. Trust me. I have been doing this a long time. Death is best."

"Do not kill her," Marianne repeated. "I do not want you to kill anyone for my sake."

The maid was ready to argue her case again but Marianne preempted her. "I wish for Mrs. Smith to be stopped from reading the letter, but not killed. Just sprain her ankle, just like mine. That will be enough."

Nelly did not look pleased.

Again Marianne was sitting alone in the Cottage. Again Willoughby came. He proposed and was accepted. Again her returning family heaped congratulations and joy on the couple. Again he received permission to present her to his aunt at Allenham. Again she nervously asked him to drive carefully. He found her as amusing and novel as before, and she wondered if people were constantly reliving scenes according to wishes.

The same groom greeted them as before but his message was different. Mrs. Smith had not read a disturbing letter. She had tripped on the carpet, he began to tell them.

Marianne, who had been dreading some misinterpretation on Nelly's part, nearly laughed in relief. "Willoughby," she teased, "it appears the women closest to you have the unfortunate tendency to sprain our ankles."

The groom shuffled uncomfortably. "Yes, Miss," he said. "Only Mrs. Smith hit her head when she fell and she hasn't woke up yet. We sent for Mr. Harris as soon as we found her but he hasn't come yet."

"Good God!" exclaimed Willoughby, overcome with surprise.

Marianne was equally horrified, feeling the additional guilt of wishing Nelly would sprain Mrs. Smith's ankle.

They wasted no more time in the yard but repaired immediately inside and up the stairs. The servants wore their relief on their faces to see Mr. Willoughby returned, taking no notice of Marianne as she hurried beside him.

As they entered Mrs. Smith 's private chamber, the maid sitting with his aunt leapt to her feet, tears springing to her eyes. After brief greetings and introductions, she told her story.

"I delivered her tea at the usual time, and Mr. Jerome brought in the post. Then we left her. And then Mrs. Michael had some mending for me so I lost track of time. When I looked at the clock, a whole hour had passed and she hadn't rung for me, so I went to check on her. That's when I found her lying on the floor, unconscious. I was never so scared. I think I screamed. Mr. Jerome sent directly for Mr. Harris, and some of us carried her to her room. She hasn't opened her eyes yet, sir, but I've heard her mumble."

"The groom said she tripped," said Marianne, instantly feeling like an interloper.

"Yes, Miss," the girl said. "She must have been going for the post when she fell. It was sitting exactly where Mr. Jerome left it, unopened. I don't know how long she was lying there, Mr. Willoughby, but her cup was nearly full. Oh, I feel awful, sir! If only I had been quicker with the mending!" Marianne felt sick to her stomach to recognize Nelly's handiwork.

"Where are the letters?" Willoughby asked.

"I picked them up and brought them here," volunteered Ginny, handing a small packet of envelopes to him.

As Willoughby took possession of the post, Marianne hoped Nelly's magic would enable Mrs. Smith to wake, but the old woman remained as still as before.

"Thank you, Ginny. You may go, but please return with Mr. Harris as soon as he arrives."

When the maid left them, Marianne offered up her deep and sincere apologies. "There is nothing to forgive," he told her, which only made her feel worse.

He fiddled with the packet of letters for a while as he talked of inconsequential interactions he had shared with his aunt over the years. Slowly and by degrees his eye was caught by the return address on one of the envelopes. He frowned and became fixated on it: running a finger over the ink as if to rub it away, placing it at the bottom of the pile, moving it to the top again, holding it aside as if he might almost slip it into his pocket.

Marianne saw, and understood. It pierced her heart. "Is something amiss?" she asked with a mouth full of ashes.

He shook his head but still could not put the letter with the rest. "It is nothing," he said with distraction, "just a bill from a tradesman that I have already paid. I -- I think I will take it, and confront the fellow for engaging in dishonest practices." So saying, he slipped the offensive missive into his pocket. He struggled for words that would lead the conversation somewhere else, but his ears suddenly caught a noise in the hall. In an instant, he was at the door, greeting Mr. Harris, discussing his aunt's fall, watching and waiting for a greater sign of hope.

Mr. Harris was able to revive her in no time. The old woman was woozy, and her head and ankle ached mightily, but there was no reason to expect lasting harm.

Marianne stayed long enough for an introduction and was received with all possible warmth. She did not linger long enough to wear out her welcome. Willoughby remained at Allenham to dote on his aunt and he sent Marianne home in a closed carriage, much though it pained him to separate from her.

Marianne reflected as the carriage gently rocked, but her musings were uninterrupted. It seemed that she had finally gotten her wish.

Notes: if you want a HEA for this story, just slap a "the end" right here and claim victory.

Cost of Wishes, 2

NN SOctober 26, 2022 12:19PM

Re: Cost of Wishes, 2

KaleeOctober 29, 2022 05:09PM

Re: Cost of Wishes, 2

NN SOctober 29, 2022 09:06PM

Re: Cost of Wishes, 2

Lucy J.October 27, 2022 05:41AM

Re: Cost of Wishes, 2

Shannon KOctober 27, 2022 03:55AM

Re: Cost of Wishes, 2

NN SOctober 29, 2022 09:07PM


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