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Cost of Wishes, 3 (end)

October 30, 2022 01:09PM

Part 3



The affianced lovers were celebrated throughout the neighborhood, constantly invited to dine or take tea at every house, for every member of the community found something charming in them.

After the first two weeks, Marianne found it all quite fatiguing. All she wanted was the perfect communion of spirits that they had experienced during the time which she called their courtship. How she longed for the peace of Combe Magna, where she did not have to suffer from meddling Middletons or jesting Jennings at every turn.

Hearing that, Willoughby could only tease her, for his neighborhood included a Mr. and Mrs. Palmer, the fair half being the younger daughter of Mrs. Jennings and therefore sufficient lure to draw that loquacious dignitary often into his circle.

Marianne bore it as well as she could, but one evening when their nuptials were less than a week away, Sir John had insisted they all come to dinner with the promise of music to follow. This invitation felt especially irksome because she knew she would be paraded about as proof of Mrs. Jennings' prowess as a matchmaker while Sir John made some very amused observations to Willoughby, and her mother and Elinor turned a blind eye to the lack of decorum on display. Then, to cap the evening, Lady Middleton would ask for music, and Sir John would call upon Marianne to play and then insist that Willoughby sit beside her to turn the pages so everyone present could gawk at the couple without reserve.

But the worst part of it all was the music itself. Marianne always had a passionate nature. Whether it was poetry, or music, or even taking a walk, she felt deeply about everything she experienced. That passion was most easily observed and appreciated by those that listened to her music. But not now! Between the unending social whirl of her engagement, and the desire to spend her quiet moments talking with Willoughby about their future, she hadn't time to practice and the effect was undeniable. Sir John noticed, and he would tease her about it, and mention it to anyone else who might listen. In no time at all, Mrs. Jennings took up the banter, joking that now that Miss Marianne had found a husband, she had no need for the instrument. It was unsupportable that Marianne should be criticized, however lightheartedly, by such a buffoon, and as soon as she could, she made her excuse and stepped aside so that others could perform.

She quietly excused herself from the room and paced the hall, waiting for her anger to subside. Her sister soon joined her.

"Marianne, are you alright?" she asked thoughtfully.

"Did you hear the things that woman was saying about me?" Marianne asked heatedly. "How rude of her! I believe she is still talking about something ridiculously inconsequential, never mind who is playing. Who could listen to anything else with that vulgar creature constantly braying?"

"Marianne!" exclaimed Elinor in shock.

Marianne took a deep breath. "I am sorry, Elinor," she said, "but you must admit that there is a heavy dose of the absurd in her."

Elinor was still dissatisfied. "I know you were hurt by her comments, but you must realize that she did not mean to be unkind."

"She called my playing soulless!" complained Marianne. "How is that not unkind?"

"Because she meant to compliment your earlier playing," explained Elinor. "You did not hear her full statement."

That did not make it better, but Elinor eventually soothed her nettled spirits and the two sisters returned to the room.

As she stood on the threshold, Marianne regarded the company. "I just wish," she whispered to her sister, "that I didn't have to listen to that woman ever again."

She heard a snapping noise from behind her in the hall, and then Mrs. Jennings stood up in a panic, grabbing at her throat and trying to speak. Something was obstructing her breathing, and the more she struggled for air, the harder it became. She staggered about the room silently but for the sound of her bumping into the furniture. Everyone else had likewise fallen silent, mouths gaping slightly in horror.

"Mother!" Lady Middleton cried at last, breaking the spell. "Mother! Somebody do something! Help her!"

Marianne's unused wishes had not expired once her engagement became official. She had achieved her heart's desire but that hadn't ended Nelly's magic. Marianne realized she now had three wishes left, and she knew how she needed to spend one.

"I wish Mrs. Jennings is not harmed," she whispered, like a prayer.

The effect was not immediate but when the Colonel thumped a hand hard across her back, pieces of a biscuit fell from her mouth and she made loud gasping noises.

The danger had passed but it left everyone shaken, Marianne most of all. The party broke up of its own accord, and guests trickled out as their conveyances were ready. As Marianne and Willoughby were guests of honor, they were the last to be called, and Marianne spent her time showering Mrs. Jennings with every arrears of civility, trying to assuage the guilt brought on by her heartless wish. The old woman, not realizing how responsible Miss Marianne truly was for her choking, was quick to return every attention. Between the two of them, they made quite the comedy to anyone who chose to see it.

Willoughby's carriage was finally on the drive and so they made their goodbyes. The Colonel had been called earlier but he was still outside on the gravel, standing by his horse and waiting for something.

Colonel Brandon had not been in the area when the engagement was first announced. Something had called him away unexpectedly and he had only recently returned. He had given the happy couple a brief bow when they had met in the drawing room but, as they were called upon by all, he had not the opportunity of speaking privately with either of them.

Upon seeing him after his long and unexplained absence, Marianne felt pity for him. He was old -- much too old for someone like her or even Elinor -- but she pitied him for being a bachelor, for being so mild and immune to passion and feeling, for being in love with someone who could never love him.

Marianne went to him and gave her thanks for his actions that saved Mrs. Jennings. He demurred. She then hinted brightly at her own happiness, giving him leave to wish her joy.

He apologized, but he "must speak with Mr. Willoughby on a matter of grave importance." And none of Marianne's smiles could lure another word from him.

Willoughby helped the Dashwood ladies into his coach and then stepped away for a private conversation with the older man.

Marianne feigned disinterest; after all, Willoughby would surely tell her later. But after a while, she couldn't help herself and craned her neck to catch a glimpse of what was happening. After all, Elinor wasn't going to look.

She could hear nothing of their conversation from that distance so she had to rely solely on interpreting their posture and gestures. They were having an argument and it was assuredly escalating. Just when the thought that they would come to blows shifted from impossible to probable, Colonel Brandon slapped Willoughby's face.

Marianne gasped, which drew Elinor's attention. They both sat mesmerized for what followed.

The colonel issued his challenge clearly. Willoughby accepted it.

Marianne could not sit idle. She bolted from the carriage and ran to the two men as they exchanged a few more terse phrases. Her sister followed close at her heels.

"Willoughby!" Marianne cried as soon as she reached him, but her fiancé ignored her.

"Mr. Willoughby," tried Elinor, "I already think of you as a brother and as such --"

Willoughby was in no mood for gentle advice. "Forgive me, Miss Dashwood, but I've never had a sister and as such I would not know how to listen to her." He would have turned to stalk away but Marianne blocked his path.

"What did the colonel say to you?" she asked him, mindless of who might hear. "What is going on?"

"It is of no import," he said dismissively.

"How can you say that?" said Marianne. "It will be swords or pistols."

"I misspoke," Willoughby corrected. "It is of grave importance to Col. Brandon, but it cannot matter to you why he has sought such an interview."

"You are wrong, sir," she shook her head. "It matters very much to me why an old yet respectable man thinks my fiancé has committed a crime so gross as to necessitate a duel."

Willoughby glared at her, coldly furious at her reproach.

"If you will not tell me," she threatened, "I shall ask the colonel."

Willoughby almost laughed. "The 'old yet respectable man' is much too fastidious to answer your question, be you ever so direct."

He was right. Col. Brandon would never tell her anything. Whatever Willoughby had done, the colonel misguided sensibilities would no doubt prevent him from revealing the ugly truth to Marianne. And it was certainly ugly to inflame such a reserved man.

She stared at him, trying to account for it. Nelly was behind this, to be sure, but by his voice and manner Willoughby knew he was not blameless. The only sin she would lay at his door was that he lied to her about the letter to his aunt. Perhaps the girl who had fallen in love with him had got word to the colonel? But why would she do that? What could she say? What lie could she tell that would lead the colonel to attack Willoughby and challenge him to a duel?

Marianne felt Nelly’s presence and shut her eyes. “I wish,” she said sadly, “to know the truth.” She then turned her eyes on Willoughby. “Tell me what happened.”

He looked ready to walk away. Instead, he grit out, “Brandon called me out for having an affair with his ward. It was over before I met you. It never meant anything to me. The girl just wouldn’t realize she was beneath me. She tried to get in touch with me; apparently she is pregnant. When I refused her letters, she tried writing to my aunt. And when that failed, she finally wrote to her uncle Brandon and confessed everything. And so now he attacks me and impugns my honor, when it was his own ward who was the paragon of depravity.”

Here the colonel spoke up, unable to allow Willoughby to repeat his distortions. But Marianne had heard enough; whatever the colonel might have to say, it could not make matters worse.

She had trusted Willoughby and adored him with her whole being. And he had shown himself, over and over again, to be unworthy of her constancy. At that moment, her heart broke and freed itself from the torment of loving him.

She turned away from the scene, and saw Nelly waiting for her. In the general commotion, no one else seemed to see her.

The maid hobbled to her side, smiling with crooked, yellow teeth. “One more wish, my dear. That’s all you get.” She rubbed her hands. “What would you like, Miss? Shall I kill one of them, or both of them? Or do you have a special punishment in mind for your Mr. Willoughby?”

“He is not my Mr. Willoughby,” said Marianne. “I was deceived ever to think it. And I might have continued to be deceived had I not insisted on the truth. I can never trust him again, and yet I still ache.”

“I can make that pain go away, Miss,” said Nelly, “if you wish it.”

Marianne looked back at Willoughby briefly. “How would you do it?” she asked the maid. “How would you take the pain away?”

“Death,” answered Nelly calmly. “Death is always the easiest way. Just say the word, and it won’t even hurt.”

“I wish it,” sighed Marianne.

Nelly smiled, her teeth as sharp as knives.
SubjectAuthorPosted

Cost of Wishes, 3 (end)

NN SOctober 30, 2022 01:09PM

Re: Cost of Wishes, 3 (end)

AdriDecember 09, 2022 11:34PM

Re: Cost of Wishes, 3 (end)

Steph DNovember 02, 2022 09:48PM

Re: Cost of Wishes, 3 (end)

Maria VNovember 20, 2022 01:56PM

Notes

NN SOctober 30, 2022 01:27PM

Re: Notes

Maria VNovember 20, 2022 01:59PM

Re: Notes

Anne VOctober 30, 2022 11:44PM

Re: Notes

Shannon KOctober 30, 2022 08:10PM

Re: Notes

HarveyOctober 30, 2022 02:37PM

Re: Notes

KaleeOctober 30, 2022 09:30PM



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